Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

Microsoft’s reaction to open

It’s interesting to follow what Microsoft has been doing, especially in relation to their reactions to the open world.

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project was always interesting. It ships with Linux as a default, and it didn’t take long for Microsoft to offer Windows on this device. Though its likely that there were never any large deployments for this.

Now, you find that Microsoft Windows 10 is basically a free upgrade for users from the days of Windows 7. And it looks like upgrades are going to be free going forward. This follows what Apple has done with OSX, and if you look back even a decade, this seemed like an odd choice – there was money to be made with the OS. This will adjust some TCO calculations for sure.

Now there’s the Raspberry Pi 2. It is also the first Raspberry Pi to be able to run Windows for IoT devices. Apparently this will also be free (for makers; whatever that means). You’re buying a $35 computer, and using the SD card as an easily swappable OS.

I should probably also mention that you can run Linux on Azure, their cloud platform.

So all in, it’s interesting to watch Microsoft, the company once the epitome of being proprietary, now learning to embrace open.

Switching costs

When I was a desktop Linux user, I’d just sync /etc and /home to a freshly installed Linux box. When I became a desktop Mac user, I would just rely on Migration Assistant.

With iOS, the trick is to have iTunes make an encrypted backup of your device so that passwords are saved upon backup & restored perfectly with your new device.

However, it’s always rosier than it looks. During my switch I noticed passwords missing from Rdio, audiobooks lost their last played time, and Kindle was completely wiped, thus requiring re-entering a password. These weren’t the only offenders – SoundCloud needed a re-login, Facebook too (and Spotify that depended on it).

You’d think that Apple itself would have figured this out for their apps. On some devices iMessage and FaceTime would get disabled for the phone numbers (so disabling & re-enabling would make things better again).

As I have to update a “fleet” of iOS devices, I wish there was more predictable central management of such devices.

This is another reason I’m very cautious about updating to the latest releases of software, especially iOS or OSX. I depend on these devices and can’t afford downtime. Lately Apple software has been quite bug ridden.

The ecosystem & devices are a charm. But upgrades are expensive as there are switching costs. Imagine switching to a completely new ecosystem?

Taxi safe return home service in Seoul

Apparently taxis can be dangerous for ladies at night in Seoul. So there is a program called the Safe Return Home Service now in Seoul.

How does it work? The assumption is that many people have NFC enabled phones. They just need to tap their phone on this NFC-enabled pad, and automatically a text message is sent to one’s guardian giving the taxi’s model, current time & location, and probably more.


This ensures that you now travel with a better sense of security. Read the press release, which suggests this is a program from SK Planet (I’ve had the pleasure of working with this group in the past).

I think something like this can be really useful in markets like Malaysia, where the taxi system requires a serious overhaul.

SSL + website rankings

I read this: HTTPS as a ranking signal. You should then also read this: My blog doesn’t need HTTPS.

Frankly, I agree with Dave Winer here – blogs and many websites/publications don’t need to deliver content over HTTPS. For Google to say they are going to use this as a signal for PageRank, is kind of nasty. 

SSL on sites is also likely to spur IPv6 further – many SSL sites, especially e-commerce (whom I think need SSL), need to have a unique IP per site. Soon we’ll have blogs require an IP/site. Of course, there are workarounds to this, but not all web browsers support this.

You can then see that sites like Cloudflare tell you that this is now provided with their Pro plans – a great way to start charging free accounts. You can also get your own SSL certs (which you’ll have to add on as a yearly fee), and then maybe pay more for hosting…

For testing, use Why No Padlock? and Qualys SSL Labs SSL Server Test.

Apple laptops not made for enterprise use

Like my recent upgrade to 10.8, I was forced to upgrade to 10.9 because my 13” MacBook Air succumbed to an odd logic board error involving a heat sensor going kaput. Turns out that kernel_task would go up to 300%, ensuring that the load averages on my machine would be in excess of 40-60s. The only fix seems to be swapping logic boards, and that usually takes 2-3 weeks. Too long to live without a laptop.

For reference, the Apple Hardware Test revealed: 4SNS/1/C0000008: THSP—124.

So I had to order a new laptop, and chose the 11” MacBook Air. I was always conflicted between the 11” & 13”, and left the world of MacBook Pro’s for a 13” due to the same resolution. I travel a lot, so I think smaller is better now, and got the 11” – max specs. So far, I have no complaints. When home its docked to a much larger monitor. On the road, it seems just fine. In a span of a couple of years, I’ve gone from 15” -> 13” -> 11”. I can’t complain.

Apple hardware is just not made for enterprise use. Next day on-site warranties from Dell are amazing (I’ve experienced it plenty of times), but they just don’t exist in the world of Apple even with AppleCare. 

I’ve been locked into some software (I know, silly me but there are things I depend on in my workflow) which makes it hard to switch away from OSX. If I ran Linux, I know I could have bought another machine within a day, but because Apple is all-integrated, I had to order another MacBook Air (who would want a MacBook Air with an i5 processor, small storage (128-256GB) and 4GB of RAM?). I mean if Apple plans to integrate everything, sell top-end machines – picking stuff up retail is important in my opinion.

It took me 5 working days to get my custom-built Mac delivered. That’s just too long to be using hardware you’re not familiar with (I actually did a lot of “work” with a Chromebook – also known as answering a lot of email, but nothing more productive than that).

The upgrade from 10.8 to 10.9 was surprisingly easy with Time Machine again. The only problem was Mail was misbehaving (caching folders), so I had to upgrade to 10.9.2, and just wait it out. I’m not happy with Mail, but its about the only desktop client that handles multiple IMAP accounts and works in an offline fashion.

I read recently an article by David Sobotta about how he moved away from the Mac, and to me it felt like this was my path too. It is not going to happen anytime soon, but I’ve set aside 2 years to get things done. I want to live more in the browser, I want to be able to make use of OfflineStorage, and I want to be rid of depending on just one piece of hardware. It is likely that even after a move to the cloud I will buy Apple hardware, it just won’t mean I’m “locked in” to the wonderful application ecosystem that it has.

If anyone says the 11” MacBook Air is not good enough, I can attest that its got a small screen but in many of my use cases I have it docked to a 24” or 27” monitor, so for coding, comparative studies, etc, I find that to be a great environment. But walking to a cafe or working in a cramped airplane seat? You can’t beat the 11” Air (11.6” if you look closely).

2-factor authentication and time

Flinders Street StationI use Google Authenticator for 2-factor authentication for some of the services I access. I had trouble accessing some of my sites due to getting an invalid token, and I was wondering what was going on.

Turns out, the time on my phone was off. You need to let the network set the time, and you will suddenly be generating sensible codes again. This is documented for Android (you can do this within the app), but on iOS it is a system-wide setting.