Saturday, August 11, 2012

Virgin and Children travelling alone: Not bad policy, bad implementation

So if you're an Australian reader you would have heard the controversy recently when a male passenger was asked to move so that he wasn't sitting next to a pair unaccompanied minors. There are heaps of stories floating around in the media about it at the moment and it's even made headlines in the US. So basically they have a policy that unaccompanied minors shouldn't be seated next to males, with preferences given to having an empty seat next to them, then to have a woman. Now, for sure it is stereotyping males, but as with many such rules like this it is based on statistics. This is the same reason the Red Cross asks so many questions and eliminates people that have travelled to the UK etc. You'll probably find that the reason Qantas won't comment is that they also have the same policy.

Now, whether you disagree with the policy or not we can (probably) all agree that it was handled a little badly. This policy should be one of those silently enacted policies. That way minors are protected and no one becomes offended. By this I mean that better management of the seating arrangements tied into the booking system would mean that the policy could be enforced but it not be obvious to any passengers. I believe that the system already records when you make a booking that it will be an unaccompanied minor, so that part is covered. The next part is the seating arrangements. If it hasn't been arranged prior to boarding then simply issue them a new ticket. As every frequent flyer will tell you getting a last minute seating change is not uncommon. In this case, a last minute change for "operational reasons" to the gentleman's seating probably wouldn't have raised an objection. If you need move them to an exit row or something so it seems like an "upgrade". Ideally this would of course occur much earlier, say before the person even tried to select a seat, by marking the seats as unavailable on the booking system.

So my view is, good policy, bad implementation.

Friday, August 10, 2012

iOS 6 Wifi Plus Cellular

So apparently Apple as introduced a "Wifi plus Cellular" option for data in iOS 6. The idea is that data can be sourced primarily via Wifi but if Wifi is spotty it can be backed up by using the cellular connection as well. While this idea sounds great I am not sure how well it will work in practice. Firstly, how many applications are designed to take advantage of such redundant connections resolving to different IP addresses and the like. Unless the switch over is transparent and instantaneous, more time may be lost with flipping and application recovery than is gained by the dual channel feature. Ideally I'd like to see the feature go further and say bind specific applications to either Cellular only, Wifi only or both. Consider the situation where you are using your phone for work, you'd like your work emails to come through immediately but you're probably not too concerned if Facebook updates slowly in the background. Secondly it will be interesting to see how the carriers respond to this, there are lots of efforts underway to push users off the RAN and onto Wifi, this setting will ensure that a user on Wifi still consumes cellular resources beyond those required for voice termination. This is particularly a factor in networks where voice is still circuit switched but data is packet switched.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Syncing any existing folder to Dropbox/Google Drive/Sky Drive

I am a big fan of cloud storage. I've used Dropbox for documents and Sugasync for work for quite a while. They are both great but with the recent addition to the family I decided it was about time to start backing up my photos in the cloud as well. I've currently got somewhere between 25 and 30 Gb of photos on my computers and this exceeds the free storage limit for Dropbox, even if I do maximise my referrals (click here to sign up and earn me more space please :) ). Thankfully I managed to dredge up my (poorly named) Hotmail address from the dark ages (I think I signed up in '97!) and score a 25 Gb Skydrive account I am not sure if the offer still exists but you get 7 Gb just for signing up). Unfortunately this still wasn't quite enough space for all my photos so I had to sign up for Google Drive as well to get enough storage overall.

The downside of these tools (except I might add SugaSync) is that they create a folder on the drive and everything in there is synchronised into the cloud. This is great as it is quite simple, but it is a pain if you want to maintain an existing folder structure, such as the storage hierarchy for all my photos. On *nix you'd simply create a symlink or two in the newly created folder pointing to the existing folders you want to mirror and be done with it. Unfortunately it is not that simple in Windows world, NTFS (the file system used by newer versions of Windows) does support the idea of Symbolic links through something they call junctions, but it is not available by default. Fortunately, there a a few programs out there that can be used. After a bit of poking around I found a few different programs and ways to go about it. Starting from this blog post which has a good description of the nitty gritty, I also found this question on SuperUser to be helpful. In the end I installed Link Shell Extension which adds handy options in the contextual menu and works in both XP (where I tested it) and Windows 7 environments.

Once it is installed you need to pick your source folder right click on it and select "Pick Link Source" then you navigate to your SkyDrive/Google Drive/Dropbox folder and select "Drop As.." then "Hardlink clone" if you are dropping a single file then "Junction" should work. "Hardlink Clone" ensures that all the underlying folders and files are linked as well.

Now I am slowly uploading the files to their various destinations and maintaining my file structure at the same time!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Telco's starting to charge extra for VoIP traffic

TeliaSonera has declared that it will start charging users higher rates for VoIP traffic according to the WSJ. AFAIK this makes them the first ISP to do this. Now, I've said it before that I would really like to see ISPs start to introduce quality of service management for different traffic classes on their network. This will be an integral part of the NBN, but it is not seen in many residential offerings and I have yet to see it anywhere in mobile networks. Now, if TeliaSonera started to differentiate the voice traffic AND used packet marking and adjusted queues on routers etc. to optimise the call flows then they could possibly justify charging extra. However, it is hard to justify charging extra without some sort of service differentiation. In order for people to accept the charges you need to give them a carrot, otherwise you're just beating them with a stick and pissing them off in the process.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What Telstra should do with its NBN cash stash!

Telstra is expected to have around $9 billion in 'spare' cash over the next 3 years thanks to the NBN and its retirement of the copper infrastructure. This amount of money provides an unprecedented opportunity for an Australian company to invest in research and development for new products and services. An article in the Age today mentions that they have nominated cloud computing, media asset management and expansion into Asia as potential growth areas.

Isn't this kind of boring? I mean they are already focussed on cloud computing and they have been trying to expand into Asia for quite a while, so neither of these is exciting. Media asset management has the potential for some excitement, but it is so vague it is hard to say exactly what they are referring to. I think that they are referring to managing their pay TV services and perhaps provided a better offering via the T-Box. None of these are particularly new or exciting developments, just incremental additions or logical extensions of work they are already doing.

Now, given the large some of cash that they have there is a potential for Telstra to take some risks and perhaps introduce some innovative products. I've got a few ideas, but to be honest I think that these may not be out of the box enough.

  • Multiple number services on one mobile handset. There are lots of business people out there forced to carry two handsets regularly, one for personal use and one for business. This just seems silly to me. Now, technically this shouldn't be too hard to implement, however to make the service really compelling the user interaction probably needs some interaction. Think about this, you have a personal and business number, when you add contacts you can select which number they ring on the phone and which number rings them when you ring out. Different ring tones and profiles are assigned to the numbers and can be changed individually. Schedules could be added so that say work calls automatically only use silent alerting outside of business hours. They could be tied to your Out of Office settings so that if out of office is set then business calls go straight to voice mail. I've raised this before and the main objection was that the carrier would lose business on this model. To me however this is probably not the case. Firstly you can charge for this service. Secondly most people with two phones have the secondary phone on a low cost carrier and not Telstra. Thirdly reducing the number of handsets reduces network and radio congestion. Finally, you can win customers over from the other networks based on the extra service.
  • Video enable the entire Telstra network. Add a camera to the T-box and Foxtel offerings and allow people to call from their mobiles to home TVs. This would be great for business travellers that wants to call home and see their family. These people probably currently use Skype, but a clean user experience and not thinking that you can charge an arm and a leg for it, will get people using it. Also, all the Telstra connected businesses should be able to call each other via video. Also, don't forget that with the NBN coming every home phone could now easily be a video phone.
  • Add service mapping to the smart phone apps. This is a simple addition and mainly to do with improving both customer feedback. Essentially what I am talking about is something as simple as a button on their application to allow instant reporting of service problems, such as the recently reported CBD 3G congestion issues. Of course such an app would require that Telstra actually admits that there is an issue. As an extra which gives the user improved feedback is that after a submission is made the user could get feedback on planned network upgrades in the area.

I am sure if I brainstorm long enough I can come up with plenty more ideas and perhaps Telstra is quietly working on these in the background, however I am not so sure. Lack of updates around network upgrades and the like just shows that they are still too arrogant for their own good.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Performing NAPTR queries on Windows

While testing out my PowerDNS setup, which I blogged about yesterday I discovered that nslookup can not perform NAPTR queries.I poked around for a while to see what I was doing wrong, however it seems that even though Windows Server supports supplying NAPTR responses to DNS nslookup can not perform this query. (Yeah this seems odd to me as well.)

Thankfully I found this easy to use port of dig for Windows and within 30 seconds of downloading it I was performing successful NAPTR queries from my windows box. It is worth grabbing if you need anything beyond simple DNS queries on your windows box.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Setting up PowerDNS for ENUM

I have a few installations coming up that are going to be using ENUM for call routing. ENUM is a form of DNS that allows mapping of telephone numbers to URIs. While I understand the idea behind ENUM and how it works in a basic sense I wanted to get some hands on experience. So with that in mind I decided to set-up PowerDNS. I built mine within a VM running Cent OS but it can easily run on any version of *nix.

There are heaps of guides out there on how to set it up and I ended up using a combination including this one. Now, I didn't end up installing PowerAdmin as really it seemed like overkill in my case so I just stopped at step 3. Now all that is left is to add ENUM records into the database. These are simply standard NAPTR records with the correct format for ENUM which is specified in RFC 2916. I followed the instructions here, mainly because SQL is something that I can never seem to remember after a few days. 

Obviously I wanted to check that I had everything set-up by performing some queries. In my case local queries worked fine but I had some troubles with remote queries, I was getting no response. Stopping iptables sorted this out for me, obviously in a more permanent machine you would want to open up the firewall not remove it completely. Finally, while nslookup worked great for normal DNS queries it couldn't perform NAPTR queries so I had to turn to a windows port of dig, which can be found here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wifi Roaming

Some of you may have read my post a week or so ago entitled Wifi is too Fiddly. Well, according to this press release on Engadget it seems that the GSMA and WBA agree with me. It is nice to feel vindicated.

Essentially they are proposing that SIM based authentication could be utilised to connect to WiFi access points. Thus your mobile service provider could setup some access points in areas where there is very high data usage and shift users onto this, thus freeing up the radio network for voice traffic and users outside the wireless range. Areas like airports and train stations immediately spring to mind for this type of hand off.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

No battery backup of NBN data connection

I'm not sure if everyone out there is following the National Broadband Network (NBN) as closely as I am, so I thought I should point out one small snippet that I know a lot of people are missing. In fact, it was only recently confirmed for me when reading the NBN blog yesterday.

The UNI-D port will not have battery backup.

This means of course during a power outage you'll lose your internet connection. If you do opt for the battery backup option it will only back up voice services connected via the UNI-V port (up to 5 hours of talk time is the stated backup). Now, initially this struck me as quite a silly option, however on second thoughts it does make some sense. I can't imagine too many people will be connecting to the NBN with an ethernet cable and a laptop. Most will use some form of router, most likely with wireless. This of course would also require some form of battery backup. So really if people want to ensure their internet connection (and any voice services delivered over the UNI-D port) they'll need a UPS providing backup to the NBN CPE and their router.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Wifi is too fiddly...

I have to travel a fair bit for work and hence waste a bit of time connecting to various wireless networks hotels, offices etc.

If everything goes smoothly then typically the steps are something like this:
  1. What's the name of the wireless network?
  2. The password is "ASDAHSDknaksdnaskjdnSAdasdasdaslkdj" great thanks.
  3. Re type password.
  4. Re type password
  5. Re type password
  6. Connect to wireless.
  7. Wait 30 seconds for IP address to be assigned and to get actual internet connection.
More typically in hotels etc you have no security and a web landing page that you have to answer some questions on, so it goes something like this.
  1. Find wireless network "AwesomeHotelWifi" "Free Airport Wifi"
  2. Open browser and try to go to random page (better not be a https page though).
  3. Repeat for ~45 seconds until login page appears. (Or alternatively when you have opened your browser all of your saved tabs have reloaded and gone to the network landing page that doesn't have working redirect after logging in.)
  4. Enter details
  5. View cheesy ad/sign life away
  6. Get disconnected after ten minutes for no apparent reason.

A recent post on BuddeBlog got me thinking that there has to be a better way of connecting to wifi networks that would make them more widely used, trusted and less frustrating. The main idea is a better way of communicating the connection information or rather a method that allows most of the above steps to be automated.

I've seen a couple of applications, like Wifi Joiner, that have basically nailed the connecting to private network problem.  Wifi Joiner lets you create QR codes with network connection information and then others to scan it to connect, no need to enter pesky passwords. While this is a great idea I think to be successful we need to see it expanded initially to other smart phones (I'm looking at you here Apple) and secondly into desktops via a little config utility. In addition, beyond just carrying the bare bones network information it could also contain account details etc so that your login can be personalise and automated. Obviously you would need to have the data on the laptop initially for it to be useful but consider this.
  1. You book at a new hotel overseas that has internet over wifi.
  2. Hotel sends a confirmation email containing a config file/text string that contains all the information needed to connect to the network.
  3. You check in, sit down in your room open your laptop and run the network utility.
  4. It connects to the correct network, logs into the access control system and connects you to the internet in one step.
I would also like to see more advanced routing in mobile phones, so that I can go to a dedicated site over wifi connection but maintain the rest of my connections over my mobile data link. Think of the uses, you are in a shopping centre and the store is giving you discounts if you use their app or similar. Or you would like to be able to look at the directory for the centre to find a particular store. In this case the centre would like to provide you access to a certain webpage but nothing else. So you scan a QR code in the store, automagically connect to their network and this adds a route so that you can hit their server over the wifi, but everything else stays on your data connection.

Obviously there are some security implications that need to be worked out for these scenarios and I can't profess to have thought of all the attack vectors and problems with the new approaches. (Now that I work from home I don't have anyone technical to bounce my ideas off before posting.)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Priority Data Access: the one smart pipe feature I want to see now

Mobile carriers, even if they have the best network (e.g. Telstra in Australia), will always at some point suffer from congestion on their network. If you're a Telstra mobile broadband user that spends time in the CBD of either Sydney or Melbourne you may have experienced slow and unreliable data connections whenever you are near one of the (many) Telstra offices, particularly around lunch time. My suspicion is that this is directly caused by the large number of phones in the vicinity that are connecting to the available towers.

I would say that somewhere in the vicinity of 80-90% of my data access is for work, on a mobile plan that is paid for by my employer. This means that I am more than happy to have my employer fork out extra, say $10 a month more to have priority data access on congested nodes. This deviates from the current service offerings of a large number of ISPs that punish users of bandwidth hungry services, such as bit torrent, without giving anyone the ability to easily raise their connection priority above that of other users. Additionally, there is no reward for being a user that doesn't use services such as these.

Further refining this offering you could even pay a lesser amount, say $5 and have the priority access to only a selected number of sites, say your employers domains, thus covering business access as required. This solution would obviously be harder to implement than blanket priority for a given user.

What are your thoughts on this?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Synology and External Drives

I was having trouble with my DS211J taking ages, in the order of 2 days, to backup ~1TB to the external drive (A Samsung Story Station 3). Occasionally it would also fail at some random point and require restarting further prolonging the pain.

Initially when I set-up the external drive I used NTFS thinking that I would want to be able to read it from my Windows PCs. After some digging around on the Synology Forums and finding plenty of posts like this one I decided it was time to reformat the drive to native format (i.e. EXT4).

All I can say is wow, the backups are 4 times as quick now.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

QuickLoc: A Robust “on the fly” Indoor Localisation System Using Ad-hoc Sensor Networks

So I stumbled across my Electrical Engineering Undergrad thesis the other day. It was excitingly titled

Design and Implementation of QuickLoc: A Robust “on the fly” Indoor Localisation System Using Ad-hoc Sensor Networks

We engineers sure know how to come up with titles! :)