Category Archives: Gyst Another Technology Blog

This category covers everything tech related that didn’t go into the newspaper or get syndicated to other blogs.

Project Liaison and POS

Several months ago, I accepted a new role within Quickservice Technologies. Unsure what title to bestow on my newly minted position (such a role had never existed, I like to think that I created it), it became the vague but all-encompassing ‘Project Liaison’. And that’s what I do now.

Accepting this role meant stepping down from the VSS team to focus on development of several internal projects (hence the title), intended to develop and bolster our internal knowledge bases and staff training systems, as well as provide new resources for our client base. Exciting times indeed.

The development of our client systems is the area I would like to focus on in this post.

First, some background. The Quickservice point-of-sale (POS) system, iQtouch, is a complete solution for all quick service food restaurants. It takes customer orders from the counter registers or drive-thru, sends them to the kitchen teams, accepts payments, allows for discounts and coupons as well as transaction histories and business reporting and… a lot more. The point is, though simple to use once you know how, it’s not something you can just walk up to and jump in. Until now. Enter me, and my customer training sites. Continue reading Project Liaison and POS

Training site soft launch a technical success

As part of their ongoing commitment to supporting the Tim Hortons  restaurant group, the Quickservice Technology range of services has quietly been expanded to include a dedicated Tim Hortons training web site where owners and staff members will be able to learn all the equipment and software provided by Quickservice, most notably at this initial launch stage the Point Of Sale (POS) system developed specifically with Tim Hortons in mind, iQtouch.

The site will supplement the 24/7 bilingual technical support help desk which currently supports over 3,500 Tim Hortons restaurant installations. It will be a source of on-demand reference material and assist in the training of new staff members. The site will be expanded over time to include complete courses for Drive Thru Wireless, DVR Security and Timer software, as well as courses for owners on financial, administrative and operational reporting systems.

The site is driven by a complete LMS, (Learning Management System) as used by colleges and universities, and allows for class structures, grading, certification and student histories. Multiple choice questions, quizzes and essays are only three of the full raft of available options around which courses can be created and mutlimedia and video will naturally play a large part in the course structures. Full certification courses may follow, providing owners with the ability to confirm the training levels of their staff, providing peace of mind and measurable educational progression.

Enrollment has already begun, with over 50 students to date and more being added daily. It is envisaged that student numbers will soon be in the thousands and additional course materials and a roll out plan have already been prepared. Filming begins later this week on the very next course, DVR and restaurant security.

Exciting times are ahead.

On a personal note, I am proud to be the developer and administrator (Call me Dean) of this online college.  I look forward to creating the additional courses and materials for the growing student base to explore. It’s all about support, and that’s what I and the rest of the Quickservice team do well.

The site is publicly available, but to access any course materials you will need a login. Those are currently being made available on request to Tim Hortons restaurant owners. If you are an owner and want to enroll, contact the Quickservice team by email to and we will be happy to assist.

So, class is in session. Welcome to college.

Windows 10 New Default Settings May Open Back Doors. Or not.

Like 67 million others in the first week of release, I have upgraded to Windows 10. It was a painless transition which held no real drama – it just worked. I was, however, interested to discover the defaults that the new Microsoft operating system ships with.

The new Microsoft defaults could potentially compromise the security and stability of medical practices and facilities, or indeed of any organization that uses computers.

As many of you know, I author technical blogs for several multinational companies, one of which is the VSS Medical Group, a group of companies specializing in medical software. So what? Well, the product range includes hospital and practice management systems called EHR’s that hold vast amounts of patient health and treatment data, along with associated personal health information (PHI). That prompted me to write this piece, which has already gone out across North America and Canada to all our subscribers.

In a nutshell, then, this is what you need to know.

Windows-10Windows 10 introduces automatic updating by default. Updates will occur when Microsoft says they will. This is good, in that any zero day patches for serious issues will be rolled out automatically, protecting the entire Windows using population even while they sleep. That is pretty amazing. It could be problematic, however, if Microsoft decides to reboot all your office computers during the working day. Imagine a power outage. Same result. In a hospital, that could even be fatal.

You can override this new default and set your own schedule, and I will show you how to do this further on.

This version of Windows also introduces peer-to-peer updates. Yes, just like BitTorrent. Up until now all updates have come from the dedicated servers at Microsoft. This new default really changes this playing field. Here’s how it works now.

Rather than all updates downloading from Microsoft, they are now by default pulled from and shared with the strongest connection offering the fastest available download source. That source could be your other PC’s, or a computer down the block. Conversely, others can get their updates from your PC. Note that.

This is fantastic news if, as in our home here at Gyst Towers, there are a half dozen computers scattered around. Rather than each computer having to download massive individual updates, any update is only downloaded once, to the first PC. The rest of the computers on the networks then share that update among themselves, saving huge amounts of extra download time and bandwidth. Pretty neat.

This will be advantageous in a medical practice (or any organization) with multiple computers on their own internal network. However, it is in principal no different than having a virus: A software patch that spreads automatically across your network and updates all your computers without your knowledge. You may find this to be of concern. I do. And I know many IT administrators that are already losing sleep over this. Because bad guys are good at finding holes.

The update system has been extensively tested by Microsoft and is undoubtedly robust and secure. But. Bad guys find new ways into secured computer systems every day. From that, it is not a huge leap to foresee a malicious update finding its way into computers through this new update system. If such a thing happens the results could, no, would be catastrophic. Review the data breach headlines for 2015. Of course, it may never happen. But…it could.

Fortunately, this default too can be changed. Here’s how.

Click your snazzy new Start Button (hooray!) and then Settings. Click ‘Update & security’. If not selected, click the Windows Update tab over on the left. Then back in the centre choose Advanced options. This is where you set how your updates are installed.

I suggest setting this to ‘Notify to schedule restart’. This will notify you when an update is available and let you avoid those automatic midday restarts mentioned earlier. You can schedule a more convenient time, say during the evening when the office is closed. Note well, you are now responsible for your own updates. Keep an eye out for notifications or you could miss an important one.

Next, look a little further down the same screen to find ‘Choose how updates are delivered’. Click that to turn on or off ‘Updates from more than one place’. After reading the provided explanation of the benefits of this new system, you will want to turn this OFF if you are paranoid. Frankly, you should be if you are handling medical data and PHI. HIPAA will be proud of you. Even if you are not, you may want to close this potential loophole. Doing this will ensure all your updates come from Microsoft and only from Microsoft. If you have a network of computers, you can instead leave this set to ON, and click the radio button which says ‘PC’s on my local network’. That offers the best of both worlds: You only download from Microsoft, but your computers will share each update between themselves.

The new defaults are now modified and you can go about your day.

Windows-10I have found Windows 10 to be solid, extremely fast, reliable and a pleasure to use. The upgrade was amazingly smooth and went without a hitch. This was an absolutely phenomenal achievement for any company. Microsoft effectively upgraded the whole world overnight, and did it with nary a noticeable hitch. Kudos to them. With the small exception of these new default settings and the concerns they raise, I can whole-heartedly say the experience has, for me, been exceptional. I am enjoying the new features immensely.

P.S. – I have spoken with some people that have expressed concern that the Windows 10 upgrade would affect some of their web or cloud-based services. Be reassured. The upgrade only affects your own computer(s). Cloud solution are unaffected, as your provider is the one hosting the service and all your data. You simply log in via your web interface as before: No change to any files or way of working. Business as usual. Nice.


Windows 10…9…8…

I updated my PC to Windows 10 on the same day it launched.
This is how it went.

First, I was impatient. Like the rest of the world, I clicked that little white Windows icon in the system tray, and it told me I could click to be notified when Windows 10 was available. Huh. I went into the Windows Update section of Control Panel to see for myself and perform any other updates. That’s when I saw that the Windows 10 update had actually been tried twice. And failed. Double huh.

I figured that maybe the download had failed because of the massive bandwidth pulling on the MS servers. The whole world was trying to get this update at the same time, after all, so that made sense. It would have sorted itself out over time, when the MS update system rolled itself around to it. But that could take hours. Days. Weeks. Triple uh uh. I chose not to wait for Microsoft to tell me when I could update. I forced it.

The way to do that (and if you choose to try this yourself, you do so at your own risk) is to put the Windows updater into a position where it does not see those failed updates. That makes it think the update was never attempted, so it pulls the download again and tries to install again, thinking it’s the first time. Sneaky, eh?

All Windows updates are downloaded into a specific folder – C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\Download – and the system runs them from there like any other installation file. Deleting all the files and folders within this folder (again, entirely at your own risk, I’m not taking the blame for you messing your computer up!) is step one to fooling the updater. Step two requires a command prompt with Admin privileges. In Windows 7 and upwards, right click your start button and select Command Prompt (Admin).  In the box that opens (the command prompt), we manually force the Windows updater to scan for updates, by typing: wuauclt.exe /updatenow and hitting Enter.

If you did this right, a window will open and you will see the magical phrase “Windows 10 Downloading”. This will take some time. It’s a huge download, the size of which is variable depending on your own setup, but no less than 3Gb. Tip: If you are on dialup or slow connection, forget it. Have a friend download the ISO installer and run it from a CD or USB stick instead.

In my case, I have to say the installation failed two more times. I had to download the full Windows 10 three times before I got as far as the first “Click to install” screen. That was a 5Gb, a 4Gb and a 3Gb download respectively. Good job I have a great Internet connection and no cap on traffic. It seems that for each download a portion of the update was applied before failing. I was in essence updating a little at a time. And that was fine, because the third time was the charm, and I was on my way.

The actual installation went without a hitch. It took around 40 minutes. Files were extracted, Windows components were updated and configuration settings transferred. All without user intervention. All without a hitch. This was a very pleasant surprise.

When the PC rebooted into Windows 10 it performed some final tweaks, and that was it. Done. Every program on my computer still worked. All their settings were kept. Everything just worked. No reinstalls required. No files lost. And the new features? Amazing. But that’s another story. The speed increase was phenomenal. My computer is already fast, but after this upgrade it’s like a new machine. The search function alone makes the upgrade worth it. I have eight big hard drives. Finding a file is now as easy as pie. As fast as I can type the results come up.  My whole system is indexed, properly. Truly phenomenal.

For a guy used to fixing problems caused by updates and making old programs work with new operating systems, it was in many ways disappointing. I felt a little cheated. I had nothing to do. No cleanup. No registry hacks. No driver re-installs. One final reboot and my graphics card was automatically updated with a Windows 10 compatible driver and I had both my screens up and running. No sweat. This was great! But also…not great!

How can I make money fixing computers that aren’t broken? This is serious! I may have to sue Microsoft for lost earnings.


2014: A Year in Review

As 2014 draws to a close I look back over the accomplishments from this year with, I think, a justifiable sense of pride.

42,149 views of my medical technology blog at Sigmund Software. And that is just on Google Plus. That’s over 100 people per day following what I write. Or to put it another way, over 850 readers per article. On a highly targeted subject like behavioral health, that’s reaching a lot of medical professionals. That’s pretty good. Add in the hits from Twitter, Reddit and Facebook, as well as those following the blog on RSS, and I’m one very happy camper.

I also placed a dozen print items on the pages of some national publications, reaching several million more. These ads also went out in e-blasts across the USA, one of which set new records for ‘open’ rates (according to the vendor, and he should know). And these numbers represent just one of the five companies in the Group for which I run the social media and web sites.

We did good. I did good.

Separately from the day job

2014 was also the year I moved into Event photography. In 2014 I shot four weddings, one 50th wedding anniversary, a music concert and several parties, and I already have bookings for next year.

This is a great way to spend evenings and weekends and I love being invited to take part in these special occasions. My main focus as a photographer is to capture emotions, to freeze forever those fleeting moments of pure happiness. My clients to date have without exception told me I do it very well.  The customer is always right, they say. I’m not going to argue the point…

I am increasing my service offerings in Event photography to include online photos, photo books and video. To this end I am pleased to announce the launch of a dedicated web site, where guests and families can now view photos from the event of the day, and even download them or have prints made for the coffee table or the wall. I will be adding to this site over time to include unique artwork for sale. I am going to show my creative side. Watch this space.

As well as providing opportunities to cherry-pick your very own wall-mounted and framed art from your own event, those that did not attend may simply view the photos from the happy day, and feel as though they were a part of it. Great for out-of-country relatives, just send them the link to your personal album!

I am very excited to be able to offer this particular service to my brides and grooms, and hope to expand this even further over time.

Dear reader, I would welcome the opportunity to be a part of your own special event. Take a look at these shots from the portfolio. If you like my style, contact me to discuss your needs. Let’s talk.

I also managed

to keep a couple of dozen commercial web sites running without interruption. The busiest of these, the News in Port Colborne and Wainfleet, is a Niagara peninsula based online community newspaper which I took control of last year. Since then, the numbers have gone through the roof.

Pulling in visitors from the entire Niagara peninsula and the Golden Horseshoe, we are fully accredited members of the Ontario Press Council, and yes, I have a press pass. The site has so far this year reached 403,000 viewers, 33,000 in December alone. I live in a small community of just over 19,000, so I will consider this a huge success.

I only handle the technology behind the site and keep it running, taking care of the practicalities of ad management, updates, backups, security, and bandwidth management. The bandwidth requirement for this site has grown exponentially since January, which saw me having to juggle servers three times during the Summer, and throw ever more resources in, just to keep us online and operational: We have a lot of visitors, growing every day.

Though I write an infrequent column, the lion’s share of content is supplied by Heidi, the founder. She keeps the content flowing and her hard work keeps people coming flooding back. Whether you enjoy her style or not, it is highly effective. The results show it.

Our December bounce rate is 0.76%. That is an amazing number for those that understand it. According to Google, fewer than 6% of sites achieve a bounce rate below 25%, placing us squarely in the top one percentile of web sites. Globally. Fewer than one in a hundred visitors click away without reading further.

Which makes this site a gem of an opportunity for advertising. If you operate a business in the Niagara peninsula, please consider throwing some of your marketing budget in this direction. You will find it a great return on your investment. This is not a sales pitch, but if you do want to consider it, please contact me direct to discuss your options. I can answer all your questions, and get your ad up and running quickly. Again, let’s talk.

That’s enough, I think

I have written about a few of the professional highlights of the year just gone. There have been plenty of others, too many to list in full.

I created a 10’ by 12’ trade show booth, several promotional videos and three rolling attract mode ads. I graduated college. As a member of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals I received an Honorable Mention’ for a piece I submitted, and I contributed to a couple of their seminar/webinars. Not the least of my accomplishments is simply keeping up with the software learning curve, from Photoshop to Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere Pro, After Effects, Dreamweaver, Muse… It’s a very long list and a lot of hard work went into staying on top of the game. But that’s just part of the deal, if you want to play this game. And I do.

In closing this review of 2014, I want to point out one personal highlight: My one year anniversary with Nikki. She and I are looking forward to bigger and better things every year, both personally and professionally. We have Plans with a capital P.

We look forward to riding the roller coaster of 2015, and beyond. We hope to share the ride with those of you reading this.

Get ready to scream. In a good way.

Dutch Engineer Develops Unusual Ambulance Network

As some of you know, when I am not designing graphics or running web sites I write for a series of medical technology blogs. As part of that, I research. And as part of that, I came across this amazing story.

This is the story of Alex Momont, a design engineer at the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands. He recently graduated by presenting his Master Thesis, a research project that we will come to later. You should know that Alex is one of only five people ever to achieve a maximum grade during the fifty years that the University has been open. What he worked on is spectacular. No other word does it justice.

Background: In the European Union, around 800,000 people per year suffer a cardiac arrest. Ambulance response times vary, but average at ten minutes from first call. Irreversible brain death occurs at around 4 to 6 minutes after the heart stops beating. First responders know before they even turn on the ambulance siren that 8% of cardiac arrest victims will need to be pronounced dead on arrival. Enter Alex.

Alex developed what is technically called an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or UAD. In regular speech, a drone. But not just a drone. Alex developed a network of drones. A network of lifesaving drones. Drones that can be on site with any patient inside a 12 square kilometer (5 Sq. Mile) radius in under 1 minute. Drones that incorporate two-way video and audio, and which are supported by 112 human operators and first-responders. Drones that, with this human backup, can walk lay people through how to use the flying defibrillators they carry.

The statistical average success rate for untrained lay people using an AED (defibrillator) is 20%. That means that even if you happen to have to hand a convenient defibrillator (they are not exactly hanging on every wall), 4 in 5 cardiac victims will still die. With the drones’ built-in audiovisual feedback from trained operators, the lay person success rate increases. Dramatically. We are talking 90%. 9 out of 10 victims will survive.

Drones are not subject to traffic delays. They take direct line of sight paths to their patients, guided unerringly to the exact GPS coordinates of the phone being used by the person calling in. Human operators can input destinations manually if required. Currently the ambulance drones move at up to 100 kph (60 mph). Work is already under way to increase that to 160 kph (100 mph). Which in many cases will bring the response time down to under thirty seconds.

Imagine this fleet of lifesaving worker bees navigating rush hour New York. Or a crowded subway platform. Or a rural farm, an hour from the nearest hospital. Or the top of a bridge, or the bottom of a cliff. Think of all the places an ambulance either cannot go or will take too long. Then imagine you are the one on the ground.

I for one would welcome the buzz of an approaching ambulance drone. Response time under 1 minute? Where do I sign?

Think this sounds like science fiction? Then why not watch the video.

True Tales of Technology

In the week of the OPEN MINDS conference on technology, which focuses in part on the future of data security and breach protection, this next item seems highly relevant. It is a story which shows how easy it can be to be the unwitting source of a data breach.

First, let me say this. I have worked in various sectors of the computer industry for many years. So has my lovely and talented wife. This is her story, one she shared with me about an event earlier this week. With her kind permission, I now share it with you. It goes like this…

A wholesaler regularly purchases consignments of returned electrical equipment from a well-known outlet chain. Now, like any consignment purchase, some things are good and some are not, and you don’t know which is which until you unpack the skid. My wife is on a retainer to go through anything computerish (a technical term curiously absent from most spell checkers) and see what still works, and whether it can be fixed. She restores computers to default, resets routers, tests printers, leaps tall buildings in a single bound, that kind of thing. Did I mention, she is talented?

In this particular consignment was a 1 Tb hard drive, which had been returned because it was apparently no longer working. Dead. Using her suite of diagnostic tools, my wife was easily able to identify the problem and fix the drive within thirty minutes, ready for resale. Job, as they say, done.

What she discovered once the drive was functional is of more interest. This once dead drive now leapt to life and divulged the full contents of every file and folder. Those contents consisted of over 350 Gb of business and personal tax accounts going back several years. For the original owner, an accounting firm, had used this drive for making backups of their client data. And all of this highly sensitive data, including addresses and SIN numbers, was now at our feet. Now you see why I am naming no names.

Being ethical and honest, my wife immediately destroyed the data, running several passes and a few formats to ensure complete shredding of every single byte of data, before passing this now harmless drive back to the aforementioned wholesaler. That unnamed accounting firm can rest easy and are blissfully unaware of the potential disaster they narrowly avoided. However, a less ethical person, gaining possession of such a hard drive, would have been in a very good position to leverage all that unsolicited data in all kinds of ways, none of them good.

So here, finally, is the point. Security is often about the things that you don’t think you need to worry about. I am certain the original drive owner had no fears about the data on this drive. They gave no thought to what could happen if it fell into the wrong hands. It was dead, right? Clearly not. Fortunately, this drive landed in the hands of someone that takes such things in their stride as part of their everyday work and knows how to handle it. This is not, I regret to say, the first time something like this has happened.

I have written before about the possible security problem of the hard drive sitting innocently inside your office printer right now. Today I write about a seemingly dead backup drive. The take away here is that any hard drive may still contain data which could source the next data breach headline, and take your business with it.

If your business involves personally identifiable health information, or any other sensitive data for which you are legally and ethically accountable, a breach of which you would not like to see emblazoned in three-inch high letters across your Sunday newspaper, you would be well advised to treat physical security precautions seriously and add them into the rotation for your next security risk analysis.

So, before throwing it away, returning it to the outlet, or even selling your printer, make absolutely certain that you have taken every step you can to ensure that any drives contain zero data. Even the dead ones. And that goes double for any computer upgrades, too, by the way.

Even if you have to disassemble it physically (with, say, a hammer). Even if you have to keep the drives locked in a cupboard, forever. Never underestimate the power of a good computer technician to revive dead equipment, or even to forensically analyse and rebuild files you think securely deleted. After all, many companies make a legitimate living by specializing in data recovery services. In the right hands, almost any drive can be resurrected. She is really talented.

And so are many others. That this drive found itself in the tender care of my tender beloved was a matter more of luck than of any advance planning. In hindsight, I hope we can agree that this is clearly not something anyone would want to leave to chance.

Think about that before you send back or throw away any hard drives. Please.

Quite A Week at Work

After a much needed week away from computers, during which I devoted myself to spending time with wife and family, I returned on Monday to find everything ticking over nicely. No missed deadlines, no broken web sites, no panic e-mails and no problems. Nice. I cleared my desk well before I left for vacation, clearly.

Still, there were some items on the table that needed cleaning up by the end of this week.

A graphic for a three-panel 10 foot by 10 foot trade show booth. Complimentary table skirt and two tablet stands. One attract mode video to loop on the monitor during the event (I really like what I did for this one). One broadcast e-blast announcing the upcoming trade show next week in Vegas, shared across our social media channels.

Also, two 16 inch by 20 inch posters for the Executive sit-rep meeting on Tuesday. Four medical technology articles for three blogs. Backed up, upgraded databases and security tested all web sites (end of month schedule). Research and development, learned a little 3D goodness in Blender and pushed some pixels around in Photoshop developing a few new concepts to put in the bank for future use. Plus the usual incidentals as required. All good.

And it’s not even Friday yet.

Tomorrow, I have a 2-page hardware brochure to turn out, I want to firm up an appointment to shoot some corporate video on-site with the client and I need to talk more to the boss about graphics for another booth for the next trade show in Montreal at the beginning of November.

I have no plans for after lunch. I’m keeping that free, just in case something comes up.

iPhone 6 Owners, Beware!

An interesting piece about the iPhone 6 crossed my desk today. It was about a new phone feature which allows owners to charge their devices wirelessly by ‘Wave-Charging’ it. The idea is that the sensors in this phone can detect microwave emissions. The oscillations they induce in the sensors will charge the phone. All you do, is place your iPhone into the microwave and turn it on for a couple of minutes. There was a video and everything. Cool, eh?

No. This is not a good idea. There is no such feature. The story revolves around a fake Apple ad which went viral. That means that people shared this story without knowing whether it was true or not, or even thinking about it sensibly. But don’t get me started on that subject just yet. Moving on…

Please do not under any circumstances place your iPhone into a microwave and turn it on. Not only will your phone melt, the metal innards may even cause your microwave to explode. Literally, and potentially fatally.

Even if it doesn’t, do you really want to see the smirks on the faces of those assistants when you try to return your now melted and fused table art for a refund? I’m pretty sure the warranty doesn’t cover putting metal into microwaves.

Which brings me to the other side of the coin. Apple are famous for bringing out new technology and amazing devices, which can each do more than the one that came before it. I can see why people are unsurprised when the next fantastic feature is announced. In some ways it is a testament to Apple’s innovation and design skills that nobody questions this anymore. It is Apple. That is all we need to know.

But a microwave is a microwave. Really. You don’t put metal in a microwave. Who doesn’t get that? Well apparently quite a few new iPhone owners got their fingers burned on this tall story. Some, again, literally.

iphonemicrowaveWith great computing power comes a small requirement for some personal responsibility. Also, there is an expectation that owners will have a certain amount of basic technical knowledge. After all, you can’t realistically just walk in to a store and walk out with a hideously complex and expensive piece of modern technology and start waving it around in the parking lot. Oh. Wait. You can.

OK, let’s look at that again. Even if you didn’t read the iPhone manual (which explicitly warns about microwaves), I must believe that the majority of people out there know not to put forks and spoons into a microwave. They were taught that in grade school, along with not sticking a fork into a toaster. And no, you also categorically cannot charge your iPhone by putting it in a toaster. Let’s just squash that idea right now, before it goes viral.

What makes people think they can charge an iPhone in a microwave? The Internet.

Back to my previous point, don’t believe everything you read. Just because it is viral does not make the story true. Use a modicum of common sense. Don’t retell a story you have doubts about. And keep your iPhone in your pocket. It will last a lot longer.