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Document Retention vs. Disaster Recovery

Subject:Record Retention and Disaster Recovery & EPHI & PHI

Hello Ian and Ben,

HR would like to meet with the two of you and discuss [the] record retention program and the safeguards in place to restore data.

We would also like to discuss EPHI & PHI policies to ensure [we stay] in compliance.  It would be helpful to gain a better understanding of IT’s processes and procedures concerning data back-up and the access to sensitive personnel information.

Would you please suggest a day and time when we can meet for about half an hour?

Thanks.

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ACS NTU-7550 (RTU) Power Supply Replacement

Power Supply Problems

We have a SCADA system from Advanced Control Solutions.   While it is an older system, it works well for us.  Due to the antiquated relays we are using in many of our substations, we don’t have much more than a bunch of binary states to monitor.  Analog is connected to PT/CT direct to the NTU.  This configuration is going to change in the future when we upgrade the substation’s equipment.  For now, we must work with what we got.

Steve came to me about some AC power supplies that were failing.  He mentioned that the ones that are failing have been in service for over 15 years.  Since being here, I have been adamant about moving all AC power supplies to 12-48VDC – whatever voltage our batteries are on site.  This has eliminated the need for placing a UPS in every cabinet.  In our communications tower sites, I have installed DC-to-AC inverters.  Since going this route, we have had a significant decrease in power related failures and reduced the number of batteries we must maintain at each site.  DC-to-DC converters are being used for equipment we can’t get DC power supplies in higher/lower voltages.  Up to this point, one component would fail due to a power issue rendering the entire system useless during outages.  The AC UPS’s that powered the AC equipment were usually the culprit in all of the failures.  Since moving to an all DC power plant, there is only one power source to worry about.  Failures decreased.  Maintenance costs also decreased.

The ACS NTU’s were powered by AC power supplies.  Knowing that the NTU series of RTUs are becoming obsolete, there are only two power supplies ACS manufacturers as replacements.  They cost $1,500-$1,700 depending on input voltage.

Steve told me that he used up all of the replacement stock and needed to order some new NTU power supplies.  After seeing the cost of each, I asked what was so special about them.  He gave me the manual and we hacked open an old busted power supply to see its guts.

What we found was nothing special.  It was a switched power supply that looked like many others.  The manual was nondescript.  It didn’t describe all the output pin voltages.

Direct from the ACS NTU manual

Testing the output voltages without load was interesting.  They varied from the NTU-7550 documentation.  Once we used a resistor to add load, I determined that the NTU required two +24, +12, -12, and +5.  “Well, these voltages a simple ATX power supply can provide.  Want to try it?”

The Idea

I went to mini-box.com and purchased two DC-DC PicoPSU ATX power supplies.  These power supply’s intended use is to put computers in a vehicle and power them off of the 12VDC supply.  An automobile environment is a rugged place.  The automotive voltage going into the supply are not constant nor are they entirely clean.  These ATX power supplies are ROHS compliant, are filtered, made for harsh conditions, and have a 2 year warranty.  This is a perfect fit for a SCADA field environment.  The PicoPSU can accept voltages from 6-34VDC.  Being that all of our NTU cabinets have 12VDC batteries, the PicoPSU could be used to power the NTU and eliminate the need for an AC UPS.  I figured that I could cut a ATX extension cable to make pigtails and peel off the necessary voltages. Also, we could short the PC power button so that the power supply is always on. So, I ordered some extension cables.  The total order was $110 including shipping for 2 ATX DC-DC power supplies.

Test

Bench testing was a snap.  After hooking up 12VDC to the supply, a green SMT LED began to flash.  We shorted the PC power switch with a jumper (pins 13 & 14) on the ATX header.  The green LED went solid.  We were then able to measure voltages from the ATX header with a volt meter.  Steve came up with the following schematic to hook the PicoPSU to an ACS NTU-7550:

Steve's ATX power supply schematic. Note: +24V to J3 is provided by wiring the ATX PicoPSU -12VDC (pin 12) and +12VDC (pin 10) in series.

We ran the NTU on the bench for two weeks while running random relay operations once every minute during the burn-in test.  We experienced no problem during the test weeks.

Burn-in testing

Steve used a hot-glue gun to mount the PicoPSU to a DIN rail clip and cleaned up the extra cables.  The end result was impressive looking.

 

Summary

This power supply has been in service since August 2011.  We have experienced no issues with it.  So, you can use an ATX power supply to power an ACS NTU.  This will save you between $1,400-$1,600 and gives you a wider range of voltages to power your ACS SCADA system.


Steve Jobs and Other Artists

With the subject line, “Listen to this”, a mentor forwarded me this video today. I believe that I know why.  There are some subjects, ideas, and ideologies that Jobs says during his speech that were once discussed behind closed doors.  This got me thinking on my drive to work this morning while listening to the NPR news tributes about Steve Jobs death.  What was Steve Jobs to me?  What legacy did he leave behind in my eyes?

To me, Steve Jobs, was not a technologist.  He was an artist, idealist, and a dreamer.  While he invested his soul in his ideas, we now invest our pocketbooks in the gadgets that came from them.  Similar to how Michelangelo envisioned David prior to picking up his chisel to a piece of ‘badly blocked’ marble, Jobs’ visions were also fully distilled in his mind. Like Vincent Van Gogh whose color was the medium of his expression, Jobs used his mashups of technology to show his expression in his medium as if to say, “The medium is my message.” He never seemed to release a half-baked product, a half-finished piece of art, or something that he wouldn’t put his name on.  At times, his ideas and vision got him into financial trouble. His dreams and ideas existed prior to the technology that would eventually support them.

Jobs was a college dropout.  He chased after the knowledge that he felt was important and consistently made fun of those that went with the crowd or mimicked his style. Like many artists, his confidence boarder-lined as arrogance.

But he loved what he did.  He didn’t fear embarrassment or failure.

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
-Steve Jobs


Is there anything an iPad can’t do?

Give a man a hammer, everything is a nail. Give a man an iPad, everything is an ‘app’.

When I went to the theater this weekend, an iPad and several iPhones were used to set the mood by casting a rainbow of soft, shifting colors on the movie screen.

Then there’s the heavy, but high tech, name tag app. This app shows a sense of style and prowess while attending a conference about ‘technology’:

The salsa app is my personal favorite:

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/268823/april-01-2010/stephen-gets-a-free-ipad

“Remember the iPod?” That is sooo 2001…  But the iPad: now that’s here to stay!

Paperless at the Co-op Board Meeting?

ECT.coop posted some material that made its way into one of our board packets.  Read the full article here.

“I rolled into the board room a handcart carrying 22 reams of paper, I told them, ‘this is a year’s worth of paper.’”

This quote came from the same source.  Read the full article here.

“Before you know it you’ve gone through 25,000 sheets of paper, or 50 reams, in a year. [We’re] going paperless to cut costs and increase efficiency.”

Seriously?

I decided to decipher all the articles and posts about cutting costs by using iPads in place of paper or a web page in Electric Co-ops.  Is there more wheat than chaff or is it more hype and type?

Not wanting to miss out on the efficiencies offered by iPad presentation technology, I called the accounting department and asked them how much a box of paper cost us: $27.90.  So, $27.90 for 5,000 sheets; printing on each is .02 per page: that gives me $127.90 for 5000 printed sheets of paper or $0.026 per sheet.  Each of our 7 board members are getting an average 85-page summary per month – this amounts to around 600 printed pages a year for each board member * 7 board members = $185.64.

Using mathematics technology I learned in the third-grade, I was able to derive that printing board reports are costing the co-op $15.35 per annum negating the capital expense of the fully-depreciated $350 printer on the executive secretary’s desk.  Needing to get the reports to the board members, it would cost $5 in postage * 7 board members = $35 per month * 12 months = $420 postage per annum.

(Start Edit) It was later brought up to me that the executive secretary’s time was not accounted for in my 3rd grade calculation.  I did ask payroll if the secretary was getting a significant amount of overtime during the board weeks: “No”.  Armed with this information, I made the assumption that overall time spent compiling the reports was not significant enough to take into account. My rationale was that the wage is going to be paid if time was spent surfing Facebook or stuffing envelopes, regardless.  The time to compile the information is the most significant factor no matter if the effort goes into printed or digital medium.
I’m sure that there’s one person out there who is going to argue that time could be spent doing “other” things – such as researching the cure for cancer, taking on a teaching job with an online university, or some other noble cause.  Unfortunately, I can’t quantify this in real terms. SO… (End Edit)

In total, it is costing me $605.64 per year for all board members to get their reports using the latest of USPS and yesteryear laser printing technology.

Now to find the cost savings! First, let’s add the costs involved with a ‘high-tech’ iPad board report:

  1. iPod2 (mid-grade): $599.99
  2. ‘apps’: $50 (let’s be conservative)
  3. 4/3G Internet MRC@ $59 per month * 12 months = $708 * 7 board members…

huh…

Need I calculate further?

facetious & sarcastic curmudgeon


Mitsubishi Galant Door Rattle

My noise problem

I bought this 2002 Mitsubishi Galant in 2001.  The only thing that went wrong with it was basic maintenance things: O2 sensor, shocks and struts, radiator, timing belt.  I continue to feel a strange push-pull while driving downhill after turning 90k miles, possibly due to an engine_torque:load_inertia mismatch caused by a transmission sensor going bad.  I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of this – even with my Fluke scope and the dealer diagnostics.

Overall, it has been a good car; however, it started developing an interior rattle noise after 20k miles.  I never took it in during the warranty period and, of course, after 190k miles it got worse.  Riding in other Mitsubishi’s, I am finding that this noise is a common problem.  The sounds are similar and there is a distinct ‘bell’ sound when you slam the passenger door of every Mitsubishi I’ve been in.  Needless to say, the rattling was driving me crazy.  After several months of listening to it, I decided to take aggressive action to find the root of the problem…

Step 1 – Remove the door panel

To remove the door panel, there are 3 screws with little covers over them, one black screw in the door handle and another behind the latch door-release handle.  There is a wire harness connected to the power door controls that must be removed from the panel.  Set the panel aside somewhere safe.

Step 2 – Remove the weatherproofing

Peel the plastic sheet back from the door frame. The black tar will remain sticky enough to tack it back on when you are done.

Step 3 – Analyze

On the bottom right of the door (facing from the interior) you’ll see two white blocks of Styrofoam mounted back to back. I believe they are intended to baffle the vibrations of road noise and door slamming. Look closely.  Now look closlier…

Step 4 – Repair

The culprit to my rattle was the NYLON PUSH FASTENERS that hold these blocks. From the looks of it, they aren’t sized properly to the holes drilled in the sheet metal. Take them out, curse at them, and set them on fire. Replace with a nylon bolt, washer, and nut (about 2$) from your local hardware store.

Step 5 – Put everything back together

The root cause of my ’02 Galant Rattle:

The culprit...


How to Complain to the Power Company

Via Internet message board:Not the original poster, but giving my old house in central MD as a data point: my 20A Furman unit would sometimes show line voltages above 130. My two APCs would regularly have the “trim” light on and occasionally some red overvoltage lights. In the last year I was there the Furman would trip its protection breaker about once every week or two, so I’d come home to find my rack powered off (including the DVR, which made it extra annoying).The Innovolt protector I got back in August logged over a dozen current spike events.

Almost every X10 device installed in that house failed after a couple years, and the more expensive Leviton ones died the fastest. I had some Insteon in there for a year or two and lost one dimmer so far. I got this behavior even on my freshly-run 20A circuits. The power in that community was just dreadful and was at the far end of some old, convoluted lines that were subject to wind and tree problems. Every time it went out (up to several times per month in storm season) the Insteon would freak out for about 20 minutes, the halogen under-counter lighting in the kitchen might start flickering, and if the furnace happened to be running at the time it would trip an internal breaker that required removing several panels and feeling around blindly inside to reset it.The analog phone lines were even worse. My 56K modem never once managed any better than 28.8.

Earlier this year I moved about 10 minutes away and the power situation seems to be much better so far. I think I’ve had one outage in four months and as I write this my kill-a-watts are showing a reasonable 122.6V.

Reply:

I am sorry to hear about your issue. Are you renting or buying? If you are renting, move. You will spend a fortune on electronics. If you are buying, call the electric company every time you have issues. I mean every time. Take pictures, take notes, and start a log of everything that goes wrong with the power. Complain, complain, complain. This, I have learned, is a good way to get things fixed. You are paying for a service they are providing. If that service is causing you financial ruins, you have rights. I have the H10 and I have everything plugged into it. I love it. I have stable power where I live, but I don’t want to take chances. When I say complain: I’m saying to be a pain in the power company’s ass.

Via YouTube:

Audience Definition

My audience is usually IT people who work for electric cooperatives.  The audience for this post is being expanded and intended to all consumers of electric service from an electric cooperative or company.  If you do not use electric service but are a technical employee for a coop that fields consumer complaints, this also pertains to you.  Please comment below if you work in the industry and have anything to add.  I’m writing this to “get the word out” to us consumers on how to communicate with their utility to address service issues.

What is an Electric Cooperative?

Your electric cooperative is a non-profit organization.  Our existence is based on serving you with power because no for-profit business believes you are worth serving.  The USDA gives cooperatives low-interest funding to the members of cooperatives to build infrastructure and to provide you with power.  You might not know it, but you are an owner of the system.  By electing and talking with your board member, your stake in the company is being represented.
It is common for your electric cooperative to have an average of less than one person per mile of line.  Last I checked, electric cooperatives own a considerable percentage of the miles of power line in the nation yet they serve a very small portion of the national population. In a rural area, it takes an awful lot to distribute the power and keep your lights on.  With IOUs (investor owned utilities), investors will go only where big cities and big profits are.  With one mile of power line, an IOU in a city can serve thousands of people. They maintain less and serve more.  Keep this in mind when making comparisons to the quality of power you experienced when you lived in a city.  If you are going to compare a city’s grid to a rural area as the basis of your complaint… well, your mileage will vary.

Complaints

Over the years, I have fielded a number of consumer complaints regarding power quality.  Working in both cooperative IT and engineering departments, I am usually brought in when a member’s computer equipment is not operating normally or if a piece of power protection equipment is being questioned for an insurance claim.  These devices have ranged from APC UPS to a simple surge arrester.  I have also been called in to investigate other abnormalities that were outside of the scope of IT: an improperly-grounded swimming pool that would cause a person to be shocked when the water was touched and when lights were flickering only on one side of the customer’s house.

The end result of investigating these abnormal cases was usually a hefty repair bill being sent to the member by their electrician.  Unfortunately, we took the majority of the blame, red-faced screaming, and continued acts of belligerence from the customer when it came to power quality issues behind the point of delivery (POD) or their load center (breaker box).  It upsets me because the POD is legally where our responsibility ends and the homeowner’s responsibility begins – there’s nothing we can do about bad house wiring, open neutral, or a loose ground on the customer premise side.

How to complain

I searched the Internet looking for “how to complain to the electric company” and to my dismay read the top hits on Google had common thread-of-thought and method to simply “be a pain in the ass”.

I’ll just tell you now that being a nuisance will get you only so far having your service problem addressed.  As a consumer subscribing to electric service, I can understand that a service issue is frustrating and as an employee in the industry, I really want to fix it.  But realize that sometimes there’s nothing I can do to fix certain problems because, well, the problem is not mine to fix.  Directing anger at me in these cases would be like yelling at the fuel pump attendant because your vehicle wont start:

“Go see a mechanic; the poor guy at the service station only pumped the darn fuel.”

I’m not inferring that in all cases the problem lies behind the meter and is the consumer’s responsibility.  Being a consumer of electricity myself, I have personally filed three complaints with electric utilities resulting in them fixing/reconfiguring their equipment: two regarding low voltage and one regarding an abnormal number of outages.

In these cases, my number-one goal was to raise awareness by collecting empirical data as the basis of my service complaint.  After collecting the data, I dropped it off with the electric utility’s engineers to analyze it and correlate it with other problems they confirmed to have on record.

Let’s get started collecting the data – but in order to collect this data, you must first…

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Wallow Fire Week 2

Click here for a view of the Wallow Fire from Greens Peak

After I received word that the road to Alpine was closed and received the page that my tower at South Mountain was inaccessible, I came up with a plan to re-route all of the SCADA via a backup VPN through the branch office in Reserve, NM. The point-to-point connection to the tower site in Frisco Ridge was still operational. The other side of the link was not because South Mountain was inoperable.

My plan was to re-route the data and office voice traffic to go through the other end. What was an end-point, is now the gateway. This required some quick addressing assignments and re-IP’ing the site.

When I was done with routing the traffic, everything came online except for some sites that we thought might have been burnt down due to the fire. Everyone was happy and amazed.

Here are some video’s of my trip:

Before leaving, I stopped by the Reserve substation. We got a generator to keep some basic power on for the public in Reserve, Luna, and Glenwood. It was an interesting thing to see.

Take a look at some of the others.

Update 6-11

Just got this from the New Mexico News:

Sorry New Mexico… Fires suck.

The funny thing is that the cell phone tower has it’s own generator.  I have not been paged once since we rerouted communications to that site.  In fact, we are responsible for the generator on the tower site (well, not really.  But we have worked on it before)  Reserve, New Mexico has only one cell tower and in a good day, people who live there are lucky to get signal.  I once had a flat tire out there.  OnStar was inoperable.  I had to walk about 18 miles to get help.  Yep: my cell phone was useless.