It’s been a long time since I have posted here so I thought I’d tell you about the excellent conference I attended last month. It was the annual get-together of Oxford and Cambridge College IT Staff and was a great success as ever. Our venue was the Tower of London and it included a tour of the site including the Crown Jewels and the day was rounded off with a very good dinner at the Tower Hotel. Oxford College IT Staff plus hangers-on like me all left central Oxford in a coach at 7.10am!
The day was kicked off with a fascinating plenary talk from Andy Harter, the CEO of RealVNC. He gave us a fascinating run down of the history of what started as a simple piece of code in Cambridge to enable people share each other’s screens over coffee so they could collaborate on computing work.
VNC started internal use 1994 and became open source and cross platform in 1998. The RealVNC company was founded in 2002 and has gone from strength to strength. I didn’t know that VNC is used very extensively in medical equipment both for remote repair and routine maintenance as well as for remote diagnosis for patients. VNC is also the technology embedded in i5 and i7 processors for remote management and mobile phone networks are starting to use it in handsets – this has resulted in a huge drop in the return rate of “defective” handsets by just helping user problems. Facebook and RealVNC integration is interesting. Most non-work IT Support comes from friends and family and these are of course connected on facebook. Deskhop is starting to spread and is free, powered by VNC. Have a look in the Facebook app centre!
My next session was a fascinating outline from Brian Hicks and Richard Carpenter of St. Peter’s College Oxford showing us how they have deployed Microsoft 365 in many parts of the college both for staff and students. The provided a very honest and in-depth explanation of what had worked well and what had not. They are clearly impressed with a lot of the cloud provision but it’s clear that the Skydrive Pro product is a long way behind its competitors like Dropbox and Google drive. Advice to use SSDs in workstations was also given as it makes them much, much faster and more responsive when dealing with Microsoft cloud provision
Following this was a fascinating session from James Davis of Janet CSIRT about the Dark Web. I can’t tell you too much about this as I’d have to shoot you but I can say that he gave a useful overview of the TOR network and some of the more sinister ways things like crypto-currencies (e.g Bitcoin) and other anonymising technologies are used. There was also a rather strong “Don’t try anything illegal at home” warning!
It was good that there was plenty of time for networking, catching up with old friends and speaking to the exhibitors over lunch. After lunch and the tours of the Tower of London we moved on to more sessions. My next was one with James Dore of New College Oxford telling us about his work with Thinstation and how he had got lots more life out of old computers by using them as dumb terminals. it’s amazing what a new keyboard, mouse and monitor can do to make a PC in a student computer room look new again!
My final session was one given by me about communication and assertiveness in the workplace. I talked about the importance of clear and concise written communication and about the need to use appropriate language both in written and spoken communication. We looked a bit about assertiveness as a balance between aggressive over-emphasis of our own needs and passive over-emphasis of others’ needs. Finally we looked at how things can easily go wrong in emails and how email is not always the best way to have a difficult conversation. I was grateful to Hannah Boschen of the Oxford Learning Institute for letting me use some of her material about assertiveness during this talk.
We finished the evening with a nice meal at the Tower Hotel followed by a great talk by Dr Russ Strand from the United Kingdom Rocketry Association about amateur rocketry and a somewhat messy coach journey back to Oxford!
This conference is definitely one of the highlights of the year for me as Cambridge is a very similar University to Oxford so there is a really good amount of sharing of excellent ideas.