National Capital FreeNet / Libertel de la Capitale nationale

Executive Director's Report

For the year of 2008

Part I: January to August (John Selwyn)

We have always strived to provide members with a community service; a local office with local people providing excellent value.   Excellent value usually means picking an optimal trade-off between cost and outcome.  Office hours are a good example of this.  It would be nice to be open 24hr a day, but for the few members wanting to call late at night, all members would have to bear the cost. Our balance point is to receive calls at all hours and address them on a first come, first served basis during normal hours.

Another example is email.  We want NCF's email service to be great. We have often said to ourselves that we must do everything we can to avoid ever losing a member’s email.  While I can say that we’ve had success with this, it is only by the heroic work of a few individuals that we were saved this year.  2008 was a great year for the NCF with the exception of one event – the great disk disaster, on May 9.

In May we had a failure of multiple hard drives that toppled our RAID disk storage system.   Mail and system files stored on the server at that time became unreachable.  New drives were installed and the mail system was returned to operation quickly but it was a challenge of daunting proportions to recover the stored email on the failed discs.

I would not normally discuss this in an annual report but this is such a neat story I thought that I would share it now. 

To create a robust system, a RAID disk system spreads single files across multiple drives (eleven, in this case).  Bits and pieces of files are everywhere. To view and recover the mail, one must reconstruct the formula for how files are scattered.   Andre Dalle, our system administrator, had tried all of the standard storage formulas and each time it returned garbage.  We thought we had lost it.  Several weeks later, Jim Elder, a friend of NCF, back in town, took a look at it.  After many days of trying, Jim noticed that one of the files looked like a dictionary.  A search of the internet found the identical dictionary on a Russian web site.  This provided the key to how the bits and pieces of the files were spread across the faulty drives.  With this knowledge, Jim and Andre were able recover 100% of the email and files.  Hurray for Jim and Andre!

As I write this the aging hardware is being replaced so hopefully we will never have the opportunity to tell a story like this again.

In September, I left NCF to pursue studies in chemistry at University of Ottawa.  Bitter sweet is the term to describe my thoughts at this time.  I really enjoyed my time at NCF, working with members and building up the services.  Over the five plus years I think back on the team of developers, the support staff, the volunteer Board members and all of the members that have sent a card or dropped by to say hi.  I especially liked range of individuals that have been volunteering over the years, helping other enjoy the benefits of the internet but also helping themselves.  The NCF has been a springboard for many that are looking to return to the workforce, a chance to sharpen their skills.  The Trailhead building has been a great fit for the NCF.  It’s kind of funky and a bit alternative, yet it works really well for us and is so convenient – actually that describes the NCF pretty well too.

The final part that I will always remember is the members.  So many nationalities, so many stories.  From all walks of life and all capabilities.  I have really enjoyed getting to know many of you  There are lots of average families that use the NCF but the stories of the elderly and the new immigrants that always seem to touch me the most.   I am now a member like everyone else who appreciates that NCF is local and provides great service at great price.  It’s a really nice community and part of a really nice city.   

I was originally sidetracked from returning to university when I was asked to help out the NCF and so in many ways I am returning to my original path.  There are so many problems in the world today that I believe are solvable.  I am hoping to use my energy going forward to finding some of the solutions.

Since September, the role of Executive Director of the NCF is in the hands of an old friend from Ottawa’s technology community, Rowland Few.   Rowland is a very motivated and capable individual that would like to make the NCF work even better for the members and a great local resource for the Nation’s capital.   I hope that you will reach out to help Rowland in any way that you can.

Thanks for all your help,


Part II: September to December (Rowland Few)

I’m pleased to be taking the role of Executive Director and will take this opportunity to say thank you to John for his support in my first three months. John’s dedication and drive has ensured a strong NCF community, with the organisation in good financial standing.

The internet plays an increasingly central role in our society. Families, students, and community organisations are expected to have access and a presence on the internet.  Government provides services through the internet.  Health care and commerce are also greatly aided.  Those not having access to the internet are being left farther and farther behind.  Since 1992, the National Capital FreeNet has helped over 100,000 people get started on the internet, and today offers high-speed DSL broadband for members who can afford the benefits of full participation in everything the internet has to offer, and dial-up for people who are content with basic internet services or who cannot afford or justify the expense of broadband.

In 2008, an increasing percentage of members are using our high-speed DSL services.  This is quite an exciting time for members as they really start to unlock the potential of the internet with the higher speeds available through DSL technology. In 2008, members benefited from a decrease in the cost of DSL gateways, and the monthly bandwidth allocation per member was increased to 200GB – essentially unlimited.

Donations were down from the previous year as more and more members switch to high speed internet access. I hope to remind DSL members that their support with donations is still appreciated. We aim to keep the price of the DSL service as low as possible but it is hoped that members will 'tip' for the service that we provide, so that we can assist others less fortunate, though our dial-up services.

Volunteers continue to play an important role in the functioning of the FreeNet. Volunteers help with operations, documentation, and especially in helping other members by answering technical questions. 2008 saw an increase of the number of our volunteers and staff. As members switch over to high speed internet services, an increased level of support is required to ensure that members have the highest quality of connection.

FreeNet is a community organization with local support that provides high quality internet services.  FreeNet is helping to make the National Capital Region a better place by helping local residents and their organizations enjoy the benefits of the internet. FreeNet is also a place to connect local residents with both the needs and abilities of others. The "members-helping-members" and the "DSL at NCF" discussion groups are more active than ever providing a depth of knowledge that a normal "help" desk would be hard pressed to match.

Our space in the Trailhead building is popular with members; more visit us each day. For many of our members, being able to visit the people who make their internet services work is a big advantage, whether problem solving or getting advice.  We too live in the Ottawa region and want it to be a great place to live.

Rowland Few
Executive Director
National Capital FreeNet