Monthly Archives: October 2005

Cisco announces emergency communications integration system

This week both ComputerWorld and NetworkWorld carried the story about Cisco announcing their IPICS product. Unfortunatly, the headlines, if not the articles, are misleading or at least confusing in their description of the product.

Ever since September 11 there has been a big discussion in the emergency services community about the need for communications interoperability. Out of this discussion the APCO Project 25 standard for public safety digital voice systems emerged. The big downside is that this requires the (expensive) replacement of radio equipment in the service area. While many states have started statewide P25 programs (such as the ARMER project in Minnesota) full capabilities are still a long way off.

With the recent natural disasters there has been an increased awareness of the challenges faced by communications interoperability. My understanding of the Cisco product is that it is a server and gateway product designed not to create a new communications system (a la Project 25) but to tie existing Nextel talkgroups, cell phones, VoIP systems and radio systems together for emergency communications. Think of it like an autopatch on steroids. It’s certainly a big undertaking, especially when you consider how reliable and easy to use it needs to be in emergency situations. It’s pretty tough to explain the server going down and cutting off communications in these situations. It will be interesting to see how Cisco fares in the public safety market which is decidedly different from areas they’ve been in before. For more information on the IPICS system check out the Cisco product annoucement and get it straight from the horse’s mouth.

Ever wanted to run your own library?

Getting Integrated Library System (ILS) software is often an expensive and proprietary propisition. Koha is an open-source web-based ILS system designed for complete library systems with multiple branches, patron management, bar code printing and more. With releases dating back to 2000 this software has some stability and users behind it making it a good bet for libraries in need of an open or inexpensive ILS.

News Source for IT in Education

Those who work in higher ed certainly are familiar with the Chronicle of Higher Education which is the trade paper du jour. You may be interested to know that the Chronicle also has a “Wired Campus Blog” which is devoted to technology news for educators and educational institutions.

Ungoliant and Shelob Protect Networks From Themselves

Last week IT professionals from the University of Indianapolis demonstrated their network virus detection and quarantine tool, called Shelob, at the Educause 2005 conference in Orlando, FL.

Shelob was designed to stem the rapid spread of network-propagated viruses by combining several existing protocols and services. This server-based management tool, capable of removing infected computers from the network, went into production in fall of 2004, monitoring all nonwireless traffic from resident halls, computer labs, and desktop computers.

My understanding is that the product, built on open source software, detects infections and automatically moves infected systems into a quarantine VLAN which points them towards a web page explaining the problem and how to fix it. The programs designers are working on gleaning up the project to make it usable by other instituions and groups through the Ungoliant project. Handouts from Educause and additional information are avilible at that site.

Space Photography

While NASA makes a lot of public domain images availible via its six websites devoted to imagery, I find that some of the most stunning photography can be found at the third party “Project Apollo Image Gallery” site. Among these images you’ll find some truly amazing photographs of both earth and space.

Cool Desktop Wallpaper

I don’t think I’ve shared this link here but there’s a really cool site with “Nearly-Live Planetary Desktop Backgrounds.” It’s basically a site that takes a static satellite map combines it with current cloud data and shading to show day/night and generates an hourly image to use as a desktop background. The site also includes instructions for automatically downloading and changing the background hourly so you’ll always have a current world view.

Satellite Imagery Virtual Globe

It was brought to my attention that NASA has released a product that shares some similarities with the popular Google Earth program. While it doesn’t include the comprehensive mapping data fo Google Earth, World Wind does had some pretty cool features. For example, using GLOBE data you can superimpose weather information on the virtual globe, SVS data to watch storms develop or MODIS data to see where current natural world events are taking place. NASA World Wind is a fun and educational way to look at some of this cool (and free!) government data.

When the command line says it best

Sometimes nothing beats a command line tool. Especialoly if you’re writing batch files it’d helpful to have a way to control your operating system from the command line. Microsoft has a list of the command line tools for Windows XP on their web site. If they won’t do you may want to check out the CMD/Command Prompt Tools for 32 bit Windows site which has a number of third party command line utilities.

VoIP Peering

One of the advantages of VoIP is the ability to bypass the PSTN alltogether when making a VoIP-VoIP call. Unfortunatly it’s still relatively hard to do that but at least two websitea are aiming to change that. SIP Broker allows people with VoIP servers to register and setup a peering so inbound and outbound VoIP calls can be routed using an assigned provider prefix between users. For example anyone on a VoIP network with access to SIP Broker can call me by getting into the SIP Broker dialout for their service and then using my povider code “*363” followed by my extension “3711”. IAX Broker is a similar service that works using the IAX protocol instead of SIP.

Internet Downtime and Uptime

A few weeks ago Cogent and Level3 (two tier one ISPs) had a business dispute and “depeered” causing a problem preventing many people from getting to certain websites for about a week. Last week Level3 had some more issues with a bad router upgrade that essentially removed them (and all their customers) from the internet for about 4 hours (although it was during the middle of the night in the United States).

Two sites I like to visit to check on internet-wide problems are the Internet Traffic Report and the Internet Health Report. ITR gives you a good geographic overview of packet loss on the internet and IHR gives you delay and availibility statistics between each of the tier one carriers.

Another great resource is the North American Network Operator’s Group which has a mailing list where major internet service providers discuss things like outages. You can see an example of the discussion that took place last week on this page and the first mention of a problem in this message.