Archive for the 'Technology' Category

Updated Android

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

I’ve had a Samsung Galaxy S2 for about 2.5 years now, originally bought as a Vodafone contract handset. It’s a great phone; nicely put together and reasoanably durable and powerful, but of late I’d got it in my head that the version of Android was getting on, and the combination of Samsung and Vodafone apps over the top annoyed me and cluttered the OS.

Enter Cyanogenmod, a community-generated derivation from the Android source. As the S2 is a popular device, it’s well supported, and a quick prompt from a nice chap on Twitter pointed me in the right direction, and with a few Android developer tools installed on Ubuntu ( damned site easier than Windows), I was done. With the phone rebooted, I’ve got Android Kitkat, no Vodafone bloat, and a generic Android interface, and seemingly, better performance and battery life :-)

Digital Audio in a FLAC

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

Reading The Register earlier this week, this story popped up.

I thought it was interesting that the article talks about various encoding methods, master tape quality, speaker and amplifier quality, and the problems of re-encoding into Apple lossless (full marks, incidentally, to Fruitco for implementing a lossless codec, though why not use FLAC?), but manages to skip over a critical point of digital audio: the DAC.

There is of course, a lot of bollocks spoken and written about audio: this leads to crap like what this article is handily debunking, *edit* LOL */edit* but one thing is for certain: if you’ve picked a god encoding scheme and a decent bitrate, the digital path is less important than the analogue one (digital signals do not degrade gradually, analogue ones do) and the quality of the conversion is critical.

The analogue stages in most phones and computers is simply not designed for high quality, and the article doesn’t mention this: if you’re using a PC or a phone to play music, if you’re fussy, you really need to do the conversion externally to the PC itself- so either amplifier with a digital input and a PC with digital out, or a USB DAC, or maybe good bluetooth headphones, though there’s a caveat on compression and limited bandwidth with bluetooth audio, which may mean you lose what you gain, but having said that, given that bluetooth headphones are likely to be used on the move with a lot of background noise, it’s probably not important.

Surface Treatment

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

A few days ago, we got a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 at work. It’s not a bad machine: it’s a Laplet: a hybrid laptop/tablet, and it works well, if we excuse it for Windows 8- the hardware is nice, thin, light, and i7 versions are quick, so it’s a good fit for the very mobile staff that
will be using it.

I remain convinced that Win 8 is a bastardisation of touch-screen tablet OS and a desktop OS that feels like an unholy marriage, though I’m hating it less as I get used to it.

What really creates a whinge is this little stroke of genius, which caused a support call and much fannying around testing chargers this week.

You can see the product launch meeting now:


Yes, Microsoft launched a device, launched a dock for it at the same time (we got the dock a day or two after the device itself), and managed to make the two not work together at launch. Cue a large loss of faith in what should be a good product.


You see this a lot with technology, and come to that, with poorly managed processes outside of tech:

1. Decide on arbitary launch date and fix everything to that.
2. Skimp on the preparation/testing, or ignore the problems.
3. Wonder why it’s all gone wrong.

The result is pretty much as you’d expect; you look inept…

Dirty Boy

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

I’ve gone on here before about how web filtering is wrong and doesn’t work properly, and how the bigger the scale, the harder it is.

We’ve also seen that, according to an Ofcom report (PDF, 1.1MB) customers have greeted the filters with rejection.

That’s quite gratifying, I think. People are being actively prompted to allow censorship, and are rejecting it. Of course, that the tech required is now in place will make it easier to do more packet inspection should law (or other means) request it…

Here’s the Open Rights Group‘s take on it, the approach is humourous, but the message is serious.

If you think this won’t happen, try the Scunthorpe Problem for size.

I’m personally of the opinion that an ISP should do one thing: provide the infrastructure to route packets to the internet, and maybe a few basic services (like DNS, SMTP etc). You might note that the sponsors of that video refuse to offer a filtered connection, something they’re to be congratulated on.

If, like me, you want to defend an open, uncensored Internet with reasonably privacy, then consider joining the Open Rights Group or the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Note that ORG is a UK organisation, EFF is US-based.

Loosely Comnnected

Saturday, July 26th, 2014

This is quite a wierd one: some time ago at a company I work for sometimes, a colleague tried to replace some old 15″ LCD monitors with shiny new 19″ ones, to be confronted by extereme flickering. I had a look, tried the monitors with my laptop, and got a flicker-free picture. I made sure the leads weren’t too close to mains cable, but no change.

We assumed some incompatibility with the (elderly) PCs, and another colleague changed the PCs recently. In the course of doing so, he discovered the real cause. A power lead- just a normal BS1363-IEC C13 (colloquially known as a kettle lead), but, tellingly, with a rewireable BS1363 plug, not a moulded one. Remove the lead, problem stops. This lead was connecting one of the PCs that was working perfectly well, and flicker-free with the 15″ monitor.

I looked at the lead the next day:

The culprit: a badly fitted plug.

The culprit: a badly fitted plug.

and it seemed kind of OK at a glance, though that neutral lead should have been cut shorter.

What did turn out to be wrong was every terminal was loose: loose enough to turn by hand, so I presume that the intermittent connection caused enough noise to upset the new monitor, but not the old one. Disturbingly, this lead had passed a current PAT test, when potentially it’s a fire hazard: loose connections can overheat.

I don’t know if the connections had worked loose (which is one reason why connections in screw terminals should not be tinned with solder) or just sloppily fitted in the first case. The plug did rattle when shaken, but it would do that even with tight terminals, as the pins have a bit of play in the housing. Full marks to my colleague for spotting an obscure fault.


Monday, June 16th, 2014

Last September, I’d finally had enough of Vodafone; a phone network that, at one time, I was very happy with: I think that their coverage has acutally degraded- if not in objective terms, then at least in relation to my expectations and the marketing of a supposedly leading network, and I was surprised by how poorly Voda’s coverage met my needs. I went to the lengths of testing: coverage maps, I find, are at best a guide, and at worst misleading.

Long story short, I decided on giffgaff, on the basis that there’s no contract (effectively it’s pay-as-you-go, but the auto top-up and goodybag arrangement means you can get the benefits of not having to piss about the top-ups and having a fixed cost) and that the coverage seemed good enough everywhere I regularly went.

A revelation: I have a smartphone that now works as intended- in contact with the Internet most of the time, and that can, you know, make or receive calls. It no longer drops out of coverage randomly, which at times had made me think the phone performed below-par, simply because I thought the network couldn’t be that poor, surely?

On the whole the testing showed EE to be a bit better, performance-wise, but a good bit more costly. The nice thing is that now I have no commitment: should giffgaff be troublesome I can drop them instantly, but the first month of use is encouraging.

Talking Law

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

As the Internet acronym goes, IANAL, and don’t claim to be, or indeed to know that much about legal process, but Tim Turner does: he trains people “on Data Protection, FOI, EIR, PECR and Information Rights“.

He’s written a very good blog post here on what actually is legal when it comes to direct marketing (what I would call spam…), and indeed, what isn’t, which would seem to make a pretty clear statement about this, for a start, and also, I was pleased to see, mentioned that lovely firm Amber Windows getting a kicking.

Please read the blog, and then start to think about the unsolicited calls, texts, and email you receive.


Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Can anyone tell me how BT’s line providing division, Openretch Openreach survive?

The company I work for provides network services to varying people and organisations, and this means dealing with telecoms providers, and that almost certainly means the loose collective of fuckwits we know and love.

So far this week, I’ve had:

1) In response to a circuit order in a building that is partially let out (and where the BT duct enters via the let out area, and is a retail shop) “can we come tomorrow”.

2) In response to an order made 3 months ago, in a central Birmingham hotel, with the clear stipulation “you must make an advance appointment, the circuit is required by 17/4/14″, an “engineer” arrives today, has to wait a few minutes and is told “no, sorry, the room is in use, come back tomorrow”, and says “no”.

Said engineer was told “sorry, you have to. This is required by 1pm tomorrow, and was ordered 3 months ago. It cost a metric shitload of cash, and you haven’t called in advance, like we told you to, and you do this *every time* we request this. The room is available afer 5:30, or anytime tomorrow”

*shaking of head*

This barely describes the quantity of fucks the engineer didn’t give. “Resourcing”, he said. “not gonna happen”. “we’re only supposed to wait 15 minutes, and I’ve been 20″. The guy was, to be fair, a master of fuck not giving.

and not a single fuck was given.


He departed. I called my colleague, among whom’s many talents are shouting at BT (and personally, I think it would be worth his salary just for that). He did so. Our circuit should be active tomorrow AM. We have a reference and everything. I will not hold my breath.

Honestly, if they weren’t still a virtual monopoly, they’d be fucked. I’m very thankful to the abilities of my colleagues, and still wondering what shape BT would be in had they not inherited a state-owned monopoly, but thanking my lucky stars I don’t have do deal with Cable and Hopeless Wireless any more, because they had sufficent sense to disappear.


The engineer (the same one) came back the next day, and it worked….

Compare the Meraki

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

(The title thanks to my colleagues who misread the SSID (Meraki-test1)I sent them by email)

I’ve been playing with wireless networks a good bit at work: I’ve finally got PEAP going to do 802.1x authentication- the practical result being WPA-2 Enterprise wireless networking with the Cisco 1600i access points. As I’ve commented before, Cisco gear is great, but it can be a game to get going when you come across something new, and this was the case here: there were guides for doing this with wireless LAN contoller systems, but not for autonomous APs, and the interface was just different enough to confuse. Getting the right amount of debug info was tricky too.

Enter Meraki. Like earlier with Aironet, they’re now a division of Cisco, which makes me wonder if we’ll see a merging of product…

‘s product is a [*cough*] cloud-based solution. It pains me to say that. Cloud is today’s IT bullshit phrase that is just a new way of saying things. “In the cloud” means “on a server or servers somewhere on the Internet”: the cloud everything bollocks wears thin after a while, but here’s a clever application.

You unpack the AP, power it up, and connect it to any Internet connection. The AP establishes a connection to “the cloud” [cough]bollocks[/cough], and establishes a tunnel. You log into a web page, enter the serial number, place a marker on a Google map, and then manage the device from the web:

The clever dashboard

The clever dashboard

From there you can implement multiple SSIDs, Captive portals, the aforementioned 802.1x, you can monitor devices and applications, time access, and create mesh networks that will track clients (handy for marketing tossers) and all manner of stuff, with an embarrasingly few mouse clicks compared to the pain of a conventional Cisco AP. It’s quick too.

Sounds too good to be true?

Maybe. There is a downside. While the dashboard is impressive, it costs. The APs themselves are a similar price to an enterprise-level conventional AP (a good 300-400 quid or so list), but on top of that, you need a licence for the dashboard (£150 for 1 device for one year list, reducing for quantity), and without the licence, your AP is an expensive ornament.

There’s applications that are a perfect fit: if you have remote sites with no IT staff, the Meraki devices can be shipped with no config, then set up remotely. Potentially big savings there. The tools on the dash are very clever too, but you’re tying yourself to the cloud dash for a few years, effectively leasing the kit.

Next on the list? Aerohive, who seem to do the clever online managment but still allow local config, so no tie-in.

Everything Everywhere?

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Following on from my whinge against Vodafone, I’ve done some limited, semi-controlled testing.

I’ve had the following:

* My own contract Vodafone 3G SIM.
* A PAYG Three SIM.
* A PAYG GiffGaff SIM
* A borrowed contract EE SIM.

and my own Samsung Galaxy S2, a more basic Nokia 302, and a borrowed Galaxy S3 to test with.

This, I think, covers all the underlying networks: Vodafone, Three, O2, and what was T-Mobile/Orange respectively. As I only had 3G-capable handsets (I had thought the S3 might be 4G-ready: it isn’t.), EE was effectively being backed off to Orange or T-Mobile 3G.

I tested 4 locations: My house (1), a pub in Walsall Wood High St (2), my Mom’s house in WS4 (3), and work, south of Birmingham (4).

At location 1, Vodafone works. Data is a little slow, but calls usually work, but can break up. Here, all other networks perform orders of magnitude better for data, and slightly better for calls.

At location 2, Vodafone is, to all intents and purposes, unusable. All other networks perform well.

At location 3, all perform quite well, but EE and Three are noticeably better.

At location 4, Three doesn’t work *at all*. Not much to choose between GiffGaff (O2) on data, but voice calls noticeably better for GG, while EE’s data was nothing short of remarkable, rivalling wi-fi.

In summary, based on my testing:

Vodafone on average performed poorly, but it *can* perform well: on a trip into the darkest Black Country the other day, it consistently worked well.

Three works well, *when* it works.

O2 can work well, and seems ahead of Vodafone in my chosen areas.

EE stood out ahead everywhere (heh!), with very quick data at all locations.

So, that sorts out the underlying networks. Now what about the full spectrum including a couple of MVNOs, if we try to go SIM-only? It’s quite hard to try to compare: the tariffs and prices don’t match up (deliberately, at a guess)- but I’ll try to pick on what *I* would choose.

Well, I’m dumping Vodafone, but I want at least 512MB of data: almost any amount of calls and texts will cover me, so £13/month for 12 months or £15 for 1 month should do it.

Orange want £16 or £18 for the same thing, but bundle many more minutes.

Virgin (an MVNO on EE’s network) are only £10, but critically don’t allow *any* tethering.

EE will stick you £21- but bundle unlimited calls and texts. If you’re a heavy user, it’s a good deal.

O2 want £16/month- or £21 for a 1 month contract.

T-mobile seems good, at only £8 or £10 (with relatively few calls/texts), but again, no tethering.

GiffGaff has no contract, but instead has “goody bags”. The SIM is effectively PAYG, and you add the bags for inclusive minutes/texts/data- and £10 gives 1GB, 500 mins, and unlimited texts.

There’s others- Lebara, for instance, and the supermarkets: Tesco (spit) are an MVNO for O2, Sainsburys and Lebara are the same for Vodafone.

So then. Conclusions?

If money was no object, and I used my phone more, it would have to be EE: the performance is great, and no silly restrictions. As it is, I think I’ll give GiffGaff a punt, as it’s cheap, it works where I need it, and there’s no contract, but a goodybag auto-renew will stop all that tedious PAYG top-up idiocy. If it proves to not work out, I can switch again easily. It *would* have been Virgin, as they give good prices, a discount, and effectively the EE network for a 3G device, but no tethering is dumb.

The thing I found really surprising is that comparing all this is hard- and there doesn’t seem to be an online tool *really* compare in depth. I can’t help but think this is deliberate.

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