PAIN! (I’ve lost my interweb)

Monday afternoon was painful.

While I was at work, I’d received a notification that my community wireless point had gone offline – this hadn’t happened since I’d switched to my new router, but regardless, I wasn’t too concerned… until I got home. No interweb, then a call on my cellphone “I’ve been ringing and ringing – where are you?”. Oh crap. It appears the phone was also dead (in my defense, what self respecting geek checks a POTS line these days?!).

On the phone to 120 and, after 2 arguments with the automated voice recognition system, I got through to the people I needed to talk to, well – the queue anyway. Fifteen minutes later I had a human on the phone and, nice chap that he was he quickly determined it was an external issue “might be a cut line out on the street or something”, diverted calls to our home line over to my mobile, and told me the earliest I could expect resolution would be “around midday on Wednesday”. Frick – 2 days of no web?!

Continue reading “PAIN! (I’ve lost my interweb)”

Weather Station is go!

My son Max and I have finished installing our weather station on the roof and will hook it up to the interweb as soon as we are able.

We went for a pole mount mainly for the WAF (Wife Approval Factor) and because it also allows us somewhere to hook up the outdoor Meraki WiFi aerial. As discussed in a previous post, I’ve got a La Crosse WS2300 and, while all the bits were in the box and things were relatively simply to setup, I did need to do a bit of a garage mod on the rainfall gauge so it too could sit on the pole (WAF wouldn’t extend to wires going to multiple (but more ideally placed) locations). The wiring was simple and the hardest bit was hunting the shelves in the sporting section of The Warehouse for a compass so we could orientate the Anemometer.

Continue reading “Weather Station is go!”

Wh EEE ! It’s here

My ASUS EEE 701 arrived today and was delivered over a tasty lunch of chicken fried  rice (not that that has anything to do with the device, but it may go someway to explaining some of the out of box images I took while unpacking it at the lunch table 🙂 ).

 Overall I’m impressed by the device, however I do think I will be installing Ubuntu on the device (using this guide?), as it seems to lack some of the functionality and flexibiliy that I want out to use it for. That said, it’s 110% fine for a normal user in my opinion, it has all the applications on it you’d expect, it crazy fast and very very nice to use (loving the tactility of the keyboard).

The unopened boxBox opened - Quick UserguideThe unit itselfThe rest of the box contents

The Product Details

It’s got a bit of interest in the office today – and I’ll spend much of this weekend fnarkling with it I’m sure 🙂

Wahoo! Just ordered my ASUS EEE 701

Sweeet… My ASUS EEE 701 sub notebook is on its way 🙂

Fortuantly (for me) I still had enough left in my ‘Technology Refresh’ budget to secure one of the first of these units to come into New Zealand and of course, big thanks go out to Tom for getting the wheels in motion to make this happen.


For those who’ve not heard of these units, they are specced as follows:

  • Display 7″
  • CPU & Chipset: Intel mobile CPU & chipset (900Mhz)
  • OS: Linux/ Microsoft Windows XP compatible
  • Communication: 10/100 Mbps Ethernet; 56K modem
  • WLAN: WiFi 802.11b/g
  • Graphic: Intel UMA
  • Memory: 512MB, DDR2-400
  • Storage: 4/ 8/ 16GB Flash
  • Webcam: 300K pixel video camera
  • Audio: Hi-Definition Audio CODEC; Built-in stereo speaker; Built-in microphone
  • Battery Life: ~3hrs (4 cells: 5200mAh, 2S2P)
  • Dimension & Weight: 22.5 x 16.5 x 2.1~3.5cm, 0.89kg

So – small, low powered (in a relitive sense) and ideal to take it’s place as my kitchen PC or the thing that travels with me when I want connectivity but not the weight or power of my primary laptop. Devices like this would have been ideal for me back in the days when I was timing multisport events. With the additional power – better connectivity, and better battery life they would have allowed me to provide more ‘real-time’ results from each of the timing stations – of course, 802.11g would have had to have been invented then but – let’s not quibble with fond memories eh?

I’ll do my best to restrain myself sufficiently to provide an out of box experience post when the unit arrives… HURRY!

From the Studio to the Home

I’ve just finished giving a presentation at the Conferenz ‘Digital Media & Content Summit’ in Auckland. While it was a lot of work putting the presentation and supporting document together, I found it quite a rewarding experience to be able to capture my thinking on the subject of Digital Entertainment.
The conference organisers are publishing my whitepaper and presentation notes on their website, but I felt it would be appropriate to also distribute them here to gain additional feedback on the topic.

So please feel free to download the documents, have a read, and let me know what you think. This is open source thinking, but an example of what I’m doing in my current role.
Note also the disclaimers in the documents, this is not a company policy statement, it is “free thinking” around what the future could look like and what challenges and opportunities exist therein.

Please note that the presentation is a ‘Notes View’ of a Microsoft Powerpoint slide pack and as such doesn’t have the transitions or builds of the slides, so things will look a little.. strange. I did try to host this on Slideshare, but it doesn’t handle builds either so, let me know if you have ideas as to where it can be hosted to represent the actual run through.

Has wireless come of age? Will 802.11n be the silver bullet?

This post is sparked by an article on CNet which covers a recent Burton Group report comparing Gigabit Ethernet to 802.11n, the latest version of WiFi. So – will it happen?

I’m still not convinced. It’s not because 802.11n isn’t a good technology, it’s because I don’t really like the idea of sharing, at least when I need guarantees as to my level and quality of service (read: bandwidth).

We have a ‘pre-n’ access point and some devices where I work and it’s great, it’s fast and it works – but it’s still not a ‘standard’. If you follow the Wikipedia link above you will find a timeline of the .11n draft which started back in 2004. I still remember discussing it when it was first proposed and it sounded oh so wonderful, theoretical 270 Mbit/s easier and better security… It would make right what was so wrong of the current .11 standards of the day (at that point being mostly .11b with a smattering of .11g gear and the glimmer of .11a on the horizon – which incidentally still hasn’t really taken off). The specification is still in the IEEE process and it’s expected in March 2009 and has been through a couple of drafts now, the 2.0 version of which has seen manufacturers such as Belkin, Linksys (Cisco) and Apple become impatient and release their own ‘pre-n’ gear.

While it’s good that the market is driving urgency into the process, it must also be recognised that the consumer is the potential loser here should radio design and spectrum management change significantly between the premature release of the pre-n and the eventual release spec due in 2009. The manufacturers won’t care, they will just build new kit – and they get to save themselves the anguish of handholding ‘early adopters’ through upgrading the firmware of their pre-n devices to bring the device into line with the released spec.

Now – to the nuts and bolts of my concerns (let’s focus on the technology and ignore the customer). There are five major things wrong with wireless which I’d like someone to reassure me over:

  1. Shared Spectrum (thus bandwidth/throughput)
  2. Ease of Setup for normal people
  3. Security of Networks
  4. Connectivity / Coexistance with ‘legacy’ a/b/g standards
  5. The growing number of ‘connected devices’

So, let’s knock them off one at a time (as best we can anyway). The 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrum is shared that means that if (which over a 3-7 year period will turn into WHEN) my neighbours also get .11n gear, they too will be wanting to use that spectrum, along with my (and their) legacy .11b/g devices, and DECT phones, and baby monitors etc. etc. Of course, the reach of .11n is just over 5 times that of it’s .11a/b/g predecessors so, while I can see one of my neighbours access points currently, and need to walk outside and to the back hedge to pick up another two, with .11n I will be exposed to a whole heap more access points, all wanting to use the 2.4 & 5GHz spectrum around my home. That then raises the question of how can this cross over be mitigated, how easy can we, as an interested/responsible community, make it for end users to switch on their gear and tune it for their (and only their) environment?

So ease of use is the next point we need to cover. “It’s working I don’t need to do anything more” seems to be the attitude of many users, and I base this on my semi regular drives around the streets in my suburb with a Laptop on the dashboard and NetStumbler running. There are a frightening number of access points out there not only broadcasting their SSID, but broadcasting the default name of DLINK or Linksys. Logic would predict that, if someone has neglected to turn off the SSID, or at least change the default SSID for their access point, then the odds are also good that they have not changed the administrative password for their device, which then exposes them to people not only ripping off their bandwidth, but also accessing their system, opening up holes in their home network and potentially (if they’re “bad people(tm)”) implementing a war pharming attack on their modem.

You may be interested in seeing what size the issue is where you live, there are some good resources here to help you with that, just bear in mind that in many countries, use or even possession of these tools may be considered an offence. It’s not good practise to go changing peoples settings, or to leech their bandwidth, so I’d recommend you educate yourself in the regulations covering your corner of the globe before you set out on your investigation, and if you do find open nodes and have an overwhelming urge to do something about it, how about just dropping a few notes into the letter boxes surrounding the location of the strongest signal advising them that their AP can be seen and accessed from the road.

If it’s easy to setup, this ease also needs to extend not only to the radio strength to avoid crossovers with other nearby networks, it also must account for the security of the home network.

So, security then – an unsecured AP allows a malicious (*#&(* to change your DNS settings so, the next time you head off to do your internet banking you are in fact directed by their rogue DNS server to a site they have setup to look like your favourite bank and, a few seconds later they have your credentials, they display a “failed attempt” message, and then direct you to the real site where you log in again (being careful with your typing) and successfully complete your transaction. The fake site in the meantime has sent your details to them (or someone in a country with more… flexible internet crime laws) and your account is cleaned out. Okay, that’s bad – you lose some money, per haps a lot, perhaps none because you bank has some two factor authentication running and you are alerted to the fraud. But consider this… with access to your local network, the malicious (*#&(* scans the address space, finds the machines which are switched on, including the one where all your digital photos and videos are shared and… deletes them. All your digital memories gone in the click of a mouse – you’d better have a good backup regime, or a very comfy couch and understanding spouse because there’s otherwise no way of getting those images back of your wedding / kids birthdays / special anniversary where you got drunk and… well… the images have gone, or have been compromised and posted somewhere where you may not want them to be.

Connectivity and co-existence… Now (uncaffinated) I’m an easy going kind of guy, but if someone is affecting my ability to stream HD content to the average 2.3 televisions in my home, then I’m going to get grumpy. If my neighbour starts a big P2P download in the middle of an All Blacks test, pumps up his wireless signal to boost his throughput, and kills my bandwidth in the process, then I’m going to get grumpy. If my legacy 802.11b web cams are reserving the 2.4GHz channels for themselves and not playing nice with my .11n gear, then I’m going to get grumpy – and let’s not even discuss the lowest common denominator approach to wireless security, I don’t care if my Webcams can only handle 64bit WEP, I want the rest of my devices, regardless of their a/b/g or n to be using the strongest possible encryption available to them.
Let’s also look at the throughput question. Wireless technologies tend to have nice theoretical maximum rates, and this is what the crayon eaters plaster all over the box when you go to buy your kit. But the reality is that the typical throughput of wireless is around half that of the theoretical maximum – except for .11n, which is around a third of the posted top rate. Now don’t get me wrong – 74 Mbits/s is better than what we’ve had to work with previously, but as I stated in one of the previous paragraphs, we need to remember that this is shared spectrum and, as the spectrum becomes more and more saturated by wireless enabled devices from laptops to set-top boxes, IP security cameras to video and VoIP phones, we are going to get a lot of traffic all wanting to use this shared highway, and for those of you based in Auckland, you’ll know all too well what happens when lots of traffic wants to get from A to B (or A to D, or wherever) all at the same time. This could be a “Very Bad Thing(tm)” for the user experience.

So how many things are going to expect an IP connection? Well, Yamaha, Pioneer and Denon are just three of many examples of manufactures of home audio equipment who are putting IP connectivity into their Amps for streaming media and in home distribution. As ‘no new wires’ connectivity increases, so too will the desire to run multiple zones of media, Korsakov in the kitchen, “Rage against the Machine” in the rumpus room and Lucy Lawless in all her flat screen, DVD box set glory in the lounge. Our appliances will also have data they need to share with the house, air conditioning units need to respond to remote sensors reporting a change, the fridge may be reporting that it no longer detects any bottles of milk inside itself. That’s not forgetting that we still will have data driven devices for VoIP calling, email and playing games all of which will have impacts and differing quality of service requirements on the home network. Then question very quickly becomes not if 74 Mbits/s can deliver a good experience, it becomes – will 74 Mbit/s be enough for all of the devices in your home to co-exist and transmit what they need to, without you noticing.

To summarise what has become a very long post – I’m looking forward to 802.11n. It’s been far too long coming and as an industry we need to shorten the cycle time for standardisation, 5 years is way too long to wait for a new generation of wireless.
I don’t think that 802.11n will solve all of our issues – and believe that there is still the need for a structured cable / wireless connectivity hybrid in the home. Am I wrong? Tell me why!

Taking it to the street(s) – I’m providing an open WiFi node…

Continuing on in the vein of community content, I’ve just started running an open wireless access point, segregated from my network and throttled to protect my cap from leechers, but open none the less.

People joining the network are greeted by a splash page prior to continuing on to their content

This is an experiment in offering open wireless access to the community in which I live.
I have throttled the speed of this network to protect my usage cap, but it should be fine for commuters pulling down emails etc. (Don’t read and drive 😉 ). This network is UNSECURED so it is up to YOU to protect YOUR machine, and make appropriate choices about what data you transmit across this link.
If you are interested in seeing how this project is going, please check out the following:

[A Graph Goes Here]

Please do not abuse this network or I will be forced to block your PC and/or pull the access from everyone.

I’m hoping that no one does screw with the network as it’d be nice to think that people will appreciate the access for what it is, freely given as a service to SHARE with others.

Can the end-user be trusted?

One of the undeniable truths of backups is you never really respect their worth, until you lose data that you value(d).

Interestingly enough, as more homes become more digital centric, more forensic data recovery services are cropping up to save people from themselves and that accidential, click happy spree that we’ve all enjoyed (until the sickening reliasation hits that we have deleted the ORIGINAL digital photo / video / document that we’ll never be able to recover  (by ourselves)).

Don’t get me wrong, I love that fact that I have 300+GB of digital memories avalible from a central location in my home, and displayable on a number of screens throughout – but I’m ever mindful of the possibility of hardware failure taking them all away in a heartbeat and so I do have a fairly stringent backup procedure in place. One of these measures is via scheduled backups of my machines to my shared network storage, but that only fires when the machine is left on. Another measure is a Windows Home Server, which I am on the Beta programme for (so I don’t really know how much I can discuss without breaching the NDA). If you are interested, the developers are keeping a blog of their progress prior to launch which makes for interesting reading. My point is this – my memories are no longer kept in an analogue format which I can pickup off the bookshelf as I run, screaming like a little girl, while the house burns down around me. My memories are increasingly being helf on fragile pieces of magnitised material, spinning at ridiculous speeds, and – if it wasn’t for the magic of external hard drives and USB connectors, the only copy of these memories would be held in my home. (Note to self, refresh my offsite backup – and say hi to my folks while I’m picking up/returning the external HDD from their place)

So – what’s the solution to this ‘eggs in one basket’ approach?

  • An offsite backup regime like I run (via a USB HDD and infrequent trips to my parents) is fine, but only as long as I remember to do it – and it would really suck if my house burnt down on the night where I was pulling my digital memories backup onto my external HDD, or if that unit also suffered a failure when I needed to restore.
  • Perhaps then a transfer via the network to my parents place? Well – that would work if they had an always on connection, but the initial sync would destroy both of our data caps, and the smarts around historical copies would be hard to implement as well
  • So – what about an online community such as Flicker and/or YouTube where I can upload my stuff? Well – resolution issues aside, if I wanted to share only with a select group – they would need to join that community (who honestly needs yet another identity to remember?) – and, what’s worse – these communities could have the plug pulled at a moments notice (it’s happened before)- and THEN where is your data sitting?

Which brings me back to my original question I posed at the top of this blog (see, I got there eventually) – “Can the end-user be trusted?” My feeling is no, they can’t, or at least I as a sample size of one, who does appreciate the need for backups, form speaking to some of my friends and collegues I can extend this statement to say we (royally, as in ‘most of us’) are bad at doing backups – if we have to think about doing them, then they don’t get done.

So, when the Web 2.0 bust comes along and whole communities of user generated content are lost (as predicted by Laurel in this blog post) there will be crying and gnashing of teeth. And out of the ashes, the phoneix of Web 3.0 will rise blah blah… My question is this – can we as an online community afford to lose this content?, is it an intergral part of the history of how content has grown in the online space?, will any Web 2.0 companies stand up, place their hands on their collective hearts and say “Yes – we believe your content is important, and this is how we plan to protect it should our business model/service fail”

Any takers?? – I’m off to backup my blog database…

Migrating my Mail

I’ve been running a mail server in-house (home) for the last 4 or so years. Initially I had previously tried a few different Linux distros, mainly because the hardware I was running the mail server on was a little… underpowered (Tecra 8000 Celeron with 64MB ram). But also because I wanted some geek-cred points in being able to run my own Linux based mail server.
Anyway – I kind of had things working under Linux but then figured that since there would be waaay more people out there who knew a lot more about *nix and mail servers than I did, the possibility of getting my machine turned into a remote mailbot to serve some evil spamming purpose was kinda high, so back to the safety familiarity of a windows based mail platform.

Through a recommendation of a colleague at work, I looked at and finally settled on a product called 602LAN Suite which, provided a free 5 user, personal use version which was easy to setup and administer, integrated well with another freeware product for Anti-virus scanning and all and all allowed me to do what I wanted, have a catch all address hosted offsite, which I could then go pickup my incoming mail and sort/distribute the incoming messages to their relevant recipients.

Unfortunately for me, the product enjoyed a lot of success over the years that I used it to the point that the developers could no longer support a free licence community and sent out a, kind of terse (I thought) message back on the 13th of March which read as follows:

Subject: 602LAN SUITE freeware has been discontinued

Hello Rob,

Effective immediately, distribution, registration and support of 602LAN SUITE freeware has ended. You will NOT be able to re-register your server software in the future unless you upgrade to the commercial version.

You can read the press release if you’re interested here.

So, anyway – I’m always looking to reduce my operational costs of being a geek (as I foolishly continue to believe that it will afford me more CAPEX budget with which I will be able to upgrade my gear/buy new gadgets). The end-of-life of the 602 Freeware platform was a catalyst to transfer my personal domain over to my web hosting company ‘Dreamhost’ who offer email services, however, in discussions with another colleague who’s done similar things on a number of his domains, he suggested that I give Google Apps a try – and a brilliant idea it was!!

Yeah – that ought to almost do it…

Yeah… 100Gb/s – that’s what I’m talking about!!

I just saw this article on Engadget about the University of California who have sucessfully stood up a 100Gb/s link over fibre between Houston, Texas and Tampa, Florida.

Now THAT kind of speed to the premisis would certainly support multiple HD streams for all the TV and PVR devices in the home! Now if only we could sort out a fair DRM system and allow for local caching so as not to kill New Zealands international link 🙂