Hello, my name is James. I'm a Software & Database developer, and Design things for Print and the Web. Phew, that was a mouthful.

What to do when your SA account gets locked in SQL Server

By default, SQL Server 2008R2 when using mixed mode Windows and SQL Server authentication, sets up the SA account with a password policy, set to lock after a number of failed login attempts. This is particularly troublesome when a rogue process attempts to login with an incorrect / outdated set of SA credentials, and it’s all too easy to skip over setting up additional administrators with Windows accounts.

On my development server, where I have a number of projects underway, I naively missed the step of setting a local or domain account as an administrator, meaning SA was the only account with sysadmin privileges on the instance. This, paired with the default option of enforcing password policy on the account, meant it was too easy to inadvertently lock the SA account, losing access completely to the entire contents of the databases.

Apex SQL produce a number of SQL related tools, for the one I was trialling, one of the first steps of running their software is to setup a database connection, you enter a server / instance name, and choose Windows or SQL authentication. A helpful (but dangerous) feature is that this software appears to attempt to connect using credentials as you type, this leads to the SQL server being spammed with incorrect logins if you’re not quick, eventually leading to the account being locked.

Time to panic.

The trick, in this circumstance, is to make sure you are logged on to the server with an account with local administrator privileges. As long as you have this, you can leverage SQL’s administrative connection in Single User mode. To achieve this, shut down the SQL Server service for the instance – remember this will disconnect any / everyone on the instance, so only do this out of hours, when you have no choice, or on a server only you are connecting to.

Then, open up a command prompt with administrator privileges and navigate to the SQL executables for your instance, it’ll be something like: c:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\MSSQL10_50.1\MSSQL\Binn

Run sqlservr.exe with the additional switch of -m and you’ll fire it up in Single User mode. Now, open up management studio and go and connect using Windows Authentication. With a bit of luck, you’ll be in.

Now, go unlock the SA account. You’ll have to change the password as part of the unlocking process, but go ahead and change it back once this has been completed if it’s needed.

With this complete, you can terminate the SQL Server running in single user mode by hitting CTRL + C and confirming with Y. Now, bring up the SQL Service, and normality should be restored.

Social Media Masterclass at Business South

I was privileged to be invited to speak at the Social Media Masterclass at Business South 2012. I spoke about Facebook as part of a panel of Social Media experts to offer some insight into using Social Media for business.

The panel fielded questions that were pre-recorded by some of the estimated 2000 delegates who attended the Business to Business event, as well as taking questions from the attendees at the session – an estimated 200 local business leaders took part at the WOW Business Growth Zone at the event.

It was a real pleasure to see my experience in the field of Social Media acknowledged by being invited to speak at this prestigious event.

KLM prove they ‘get’ social media

Dutch airline KLM, who you may remember me writing about previously with their ‘Tile and Inspire’ campaign have demonstrated they have a great understanding of social media with a number of successful and innovative campaigns in the past.

Their latest stroke of social media brilliance goes by the name of ‘Seatmates’ – whilst not a completely new concept, taking inspiration from Ticketmaster’s interactive seat maps, allows passengers to choose seats based on the social media profiles of those already on the flight.

The service currently works with Facebook and LinkedIn, and using the service is completely optional – passengers are of course able to opt-out of the feature, or at least restrict what information is published about them, but could prove a great way for passengers to meet and interact with people who share the same interests or other characteristics.

It would certainly liven up a 15 hours transatlantic journey knowing I could choose to sit next to someone I would share some common ground with.

I wonder what’s next for KLM?

Think it’s ok to Cross Post on Social Media? Here’s why you shouldn’t

Cross-Posting is the process of linking together Social Media accounts and making a single post that reflects across each platform.

It might be tempting to link together your Social Media accounts to save a little time when you’ve just written a great piece of content, but don’t do it, please.

What you write about your post is probably more important the post itself so far as social media is concerned – after all, what’s the point of writing great content, if nobody is prepared to read it.

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn particularly, have very different users and therefore culture – Twitter is fast moving and constantly changing – the average tweet has a lifespan of seconds so you need to write your post in such a way that it captures the attention as it flies past in the stream. Facebook posts can be highly targeted, and are generally to a restricted audience – your Business Page (unless you want to spend £s on promoting your content) so you can go into more detail and make it more appealing to your fans. LinkedIn is geared for professional users, discussing business related topics so you may find that not all content is suitable. All 3 are very different, so 1 post will certainly not fit all.

A carefully crafted 140 character tweet about your new blog article will go down much better than a shortened post, linking to Facebook, linking to your blog. In this case, you’ll lose potential readers who choose not to have a Facebook account, or don’t want to sign in. I’m certainly not going to sign in to Facebook to visit a link I found on Twitter!

Cross Posting could be perceived as laziness, do you really want to be perceived as not caring about your fan base, and not willing to embrace the fact that each network has it’s own culture – you are not a robot, you are representing a brand and have a personality?

It’ll also make it difficult to track your users – how can you find out if your Tweet was effective, when your referral traffic has been routed through Facebook before arriving on your web page?

Spend a little time crafting your posts, tailoring your content and knowing how to engage with your audience and you’ll find it might not take as much time as you expect.

Do you cross post? if so, does it work for you?

Social Media – not just another Megaphone

As part of Mashable’s Social Media Day in 2010, I attended a meetup hosted by a local marketing company, that included a seminar on Social Media for business.

Attended by 70 local business owners, directors and managers, the seminar aimed at introducing the business benefits of using social media to generate sales, awareness and engagement.

Part of the presentation included a slide entitled ‘Just another megaphone’. That, to me, says that the marketing agency intended to teach you to use Social Media as a method of broadcasting a message and hope enough people pay attention to it. At the time, Social Media for business was a very new consideration, and broadcasting a message seemed to be the right way to use it, at least in their eyes.

Of course now, everyone knows that Social Media as a broadcast platform is a terrible idea – yes, there can be a mixture of broadcast, conversation and sharing, but to do Social Media properly, you must recognise your users and actively engage with them – start a conversation, ask questions, make comments. Broadcasting alone just won’t be tolerated.

So has Social Media changed, or has our perception and understanding of how to use it to communicate with our audience changed? Comment below on your experience of using Social Media for business – do you use it to broadcast messages alone, has it worked for you?

The first rule of London 2012, you don’t talk about London 2012…

… that’s the message LOCOG, the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games are telling the 75,000 Olympic Volunteers, and hundreds of thousands of other hopefuls, in the lead up the the biggest sporting event in the world.

As someone who uses social media daily, in both personal and professional capacities, I can understand the need to produce guidelines on what can and can’t be done, but 75,000 volunteers are finding themselves unable to tell people they’ve been selected for a role, what they are doing and where they are. They’re also forbidden from publishing photos and videos.

Security is a huge consideration in this year’s games – so publishing your location, or taking photos of something potentially sensitive are guidelines I can completely understand and support.

I can tell you I’m one of the 300,000 who applied to be an Olympic volunteer – or GamesMaker as they’re being called. To be a part of London 2012 is something I would be incredibly proud of, and would want to tell my family, friends and other contacts about. Especially as I will be giving up two weeks of annual leave from my full-time job, to give up my time for free to be a part of the Games. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you any more than this for fear of breaching these stringent policies.

Do you think this is taking things too far, is censoring the 75,000 biggest fans (they must be, to be willing to give up their time, travel across the country and all this without being paid) of the Olympics a wise move?

Project Insight: Online alerting system for Gosport Ferry

I’ve recently had the pleasure of working with a local ferry company to build a new and complex website. Part of the suggested technical specification was to provide methods of alerting users to issues and cancellations that would affect the service, and I’m going to run through how we achieved this here.

The plan

We looked at all the available methods of easily showing service updates on the service – we decided we would approach it in a number of ways in order to get maximum exposure.

  1. Provide a graphical representation of the status on every page on the site
  2. Provide a mobile version of the website that focuses solely on the operational status of the ferry
  3. Provide an RSS feed of status updates, allowing users to subscribe and therefore be alerted to any change
  4. Automate alerting through Twitter under a specific hashtag
  5. Email alerts to the ferry operator to ensure the status is returned to normal following an event causing disruption to the service
  6. Provide a secure method of updating the status, with prepopulated choices of alert to prevent potential abuse

Planning

Firstly, we needed to decide upon the best way to allow the flexibility of altering and creating statuses, but only for authorised users (ie the senior management team of the ferry company). We embarked on some custom PHP coding to interface with the CMS allowing each status to essentially be a page within the system – this then tied in with the relevant forms needed to facilitate the updates and worked perfectly.

We then built a HTML form, which generated the values dynamically from the database and populated the select box with the options required. This was built to prevent tampering, as the submission was sanity checked against those allowed values.

Secondly, we needed to get this information out. We used Twitter and RSS feeds as an effective way of relaying the information alongside the graphical status information. The RSS feed was relatively simple and could be subscribed to by a number of pieces of software and used within other services. Twitter would be used to instantly distribute the news to a wide audience. We were aware that local media use Twitter and would take this information on board and potentially help with the news distribution.

Thirdly, we needed to remind the staff that they had changed the status – if ferry users planned around these updates, and the issue was no longer relevant, it could cause lost custom for the company. We decided that we’d alert the staff that the status had been changed away from normal, and keep reminding them regularly that this was the case – sure this would generate a lot of emails, but it would encourage the status to be updated as soon as practical.

Finally, we needed this to work on a mobile platform – the ferry crew are the best placed to make decisions on the safety of the operations, and they don’t necessarily have access to a computer. The solution therefore needed to work from mobile devices over a 3G connection. We provided a mobile template that showed the status, and allowed authorised users to change this – the mobile interface had exactly the same effect as updating from a regular browser, in that the emails would be generated, and Tweets sent.

The results

See them for yourself, visit Gosport Ferry’s website and you’ll be able to see it all in action. If you are local, and make use of the Gosport Ferry, follow them on Twitter.

I worked on this project at Hampshire Graphics 

The HP Touchpad, the zombie of the tablet world and customer service nightmare

Huge demand for the HP touchpad at it’s heavily reduced prices caused websites of many huge retailers to buckle under the strain, with thousands of frustrated customers either unable to get on the websites, or unable to complete their purchase.

HP had to stop and rethink their entire thought process over the dead tablet, and have now decided that there will be a further production run, of up to 500,000 units. To me, that says the Touchpad is actually far from dead, why commit to manufacturing half a million units of a device that they are making a loss on unless you have a bigger plan? Of course at the moment, it’s not technically alive either, rather it’s undead. A zombie in the tablet world.

I stand by my original hunch, this is their strategy to do some serious market penetration – the Touchpad quickly took the throne as the number 2 selling tablet device in a matter of days. HP may be making a loss on the hardware, but with it’s own App Catalog growing quickly and offering applications both free and paid-for, could this revenue subsidise the losses they are making?

With the huge demand for the Touchpads, it caused a headache for many retailers – Amazon took a number of orders and subsequently cancelled them without hesitation or warning. A similar situation happened at Comet, and also at Insight.

Personally, I had three orders placed, with three different retailers – Comet, Insight and John Lewis. After queuing for 40 minutes to be allowed onto their website, Comet finally accepted an order and confirmed it to me on screen. I thought that meant I had secured an elusive Touchpad, however it wouldn’t be that simple. They contacted me a few days after receiving my order saying that they’d oversold and would I mind waiting for more stock. I was happy to oblige as this mean’t I would definitely be getting one. A day after this, I received an email saying my order had been cancelled. Very frustrating.

Fortunately, at this time, there was still rumours of stock at other retailers, so I turned to InsightUK – they happily took my money and promised delivery the next day. When I didn’t receive it as promised, I picked up the phone and they told me there were still some orders waiting to go out, so again, I waited patiently. Another day passed and I called again, this time I spoke with a Corporate Accounts Manager called Gio. He looked into it and saw that although I had an order confirmed, there was no stock to fulfil it. He refunded my money, and offered little more than a half-hearted apology. So, a second national retailer had let me down too. I later heard they were selling 16GB Touchpad’s for £150 + Vat and delivery, not so much as a call asking if I were interested.

Finally, I heard there was stock coming to John Lewis, and sure enough, their website had some listed – I placed an order, made a payment and waited patiently for confirmation of my order. What I received instead was a message informing me there was no longer any stock and my order was being cancelled.

What is it about retailers and their estimation of stock levels? Surely, if you have 1000 units in stock, you only sell 1000 units on your website.

My confidence is severely dented when dealing with any of these retailers now, so unfortunately for Comet, John Lewis and Insight, they will not have my custom in future. Not that they will care of course.

I eventually turned to eBay, as even at double the new RRP, I thought it would be worth the price, and I’m glad I did. With Android for the Touchpad progressing nicely, even if WebOS disappears from existence, I’m sure the hardware will have a use.

Did you manage to get a Touchpad for yourself through normal channels? Did you purchase more than one and sell on for a profit, or did you turn to eBay and pay over RRP to get one? Comment and let me know.

HP Touchpad – gone for good or marketing genius?

The HP Touchpad arrived to lukewarm response in an already Apple-dominated market, but nonetheless it offered impressive hardware specs and was build on the WebOS operating system HP inherited from their purchase of Palm.

Just a few months after the launch, HP announced a u-turn in their strategy, and a shock exit of the Tablet and PC hardware market. HP then made steps to sell off their remaining stock (up to 250,000 units) by making heavy reductions to $99 for the entry-level model.

At this price level, it’s a serious consideration as a digital photo frame, or inexpensive web tablet – but there are already plans from groups of independent developers to try and port Android to the hardware.

Today, the UK had their turn at getting ahold of one of these devices, starting at £89. Within hours of it’s announcement, major retailers had been brought to their knees, with Carphone Warehouse and Comet’s websites becoming inaccessible and Currys, Dixons and PC World also receiving huge visitor numbers. 3 hours on, it is believed that the retailers who reduced their prices have sold out.

This leads me to think, what is going to happen to these 250,000 Touchpads in existence? Are HP really turning their back on them just months after their launch, or was this part of some master plan to do some serious market penetration?

Of course sales numbers are nothing like that of the iPad, but thousands have flocked to try and get one. The WebOS operating system was promising when launched on Palm devices, and perhaps reports of it’s death were premature, and this was part of a seriously clever PR stunt.

I spent a good hour fighting with Comet.co.uk to eventually place my order, and fingers crossed they have the stock to fulfil my order. Did you order one? How was your experience? 

Social Media and the UK Riots

There has been much speculation recently as to the exact role Social Media played in the Riots, which spread quickly across the nation, causing up to £200million in damage – all as a result of a peaceful protest that turned bad.

In Tottenham, London on Saturday, 6th August, tensions were building in the community after an incident involving a local resident and the Police. Initial reports suggested that shots may have been exchanged, however the injury sustained by a Police officer was found to have been caused by a Police-issued gun.

Mark Duggan, a local resident, had been shot dead. The people of Tottenham felt many questions needed to be answered of the Police, and launched a peaceful protest outside a police station – this escalated to violence and destruction and lit the fuse on what would turn to nationwide rioting, looting and violence.

It was believed that early on, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) was used as a method of planning and spreading information among individuals, as this method of communication was private and relatively secure. Groups soon sprung up on Facebook, and discussions also took place over Twitter. Events such as ‘Smash Northwich Down’ were created, openly inviting and inciting violence at predetermined times and locations. The Police were able to take swift action based on this posted information, and tough sentencing was delivered to those found guilty of inciting rioting and violence.

It’s important to remember, Social Media, and the networks associated with them, are simply tools. When somebody gets stabbed, do you blame the knife?These tools can be used for good as well as bad. A very simple analogy that I think sums things up perfectly is comparing Social Media to a knife. Now a knife is very good at cutting things, whether it be chopping vegetables, carving meat or stabbing someone. When somebody gets stabbed, do you blame the knife? No! You blame the person who used the knife – Don’t blame the tool, blame the user.

To me, Social Media played a much more important part than that the media had sensationalised – the sense of community, charity and co-operation that was to follow meant that people were using Social Media to plan and co-ordinate events where huge numbers of people came together to clean up riot-affected areas and provide assistance in many ways to those affected. Topics such as RiotCleanup, CleanUpLondon and RiotRebuild became Twitter trends, and people from far and wide made donations, sent food, clothes, building materials and all manner of other goods to help those in need.

It also played a role in quelling any rumours that had been spread across Social Media, the ability for misinformation and lies to spread quickly had become apparent, with places such as Portsmouth and Southampton supposedly coming under attack and causing wide discussion over Twitter.  Nothing of the sort ever happened there. Local users took to Twitter to calm concerned users who had heard of disorder and destruction hitting their home-town, with very specific rumours being posted. They also took action to identify those behind the misinformation and rumours. Four arrests were made by Hampshire Police.

Hampshire Police and Portsmouth City Centre Policing Unit both used their Twitter accounts incredibly successfully to confirm and reassure people that there had been no reports of any disorder, and it was perfectly safe to go about their usual activities.

With the talk of the UK Government taking steps to deny access to BBM and Social Media sites in future cases of disorder – I think they are seriously underestimating Social Media’s power for good.

Was your area affected by rioting? Do you think Social Media can be to blame? What good have you seen come using Social Media in the aftermath?

© 2011 James Coleman