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About Me

I am the "IBM Collaboration & Productivity Advisor" for IBM Asia Pacific. I'm based in Singapore.
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Understanding the Needs of the Next Generation Digital Consumer

My friend Jonathan Wong published an article on titled "Understanding the Needs of the Next Generation Digital Consumer". In it he describes the three core needs of the digital consumer. I 100% second his point of view and would summarize it with this little graphic:
Mobile Connected Empowered


Newspeak - if there is no word for something, does it still exist?

George Orwell's famous novel 1984 introduces the concept of NewSpeak, a language where certain thoughts and the communication of them are impossible since the vocabulary has been removed from the language. In IT and collaboration we do have an "inverted newspeak" problem. The (technical) language of collaboration are the protocols and data formats. The very moment your application does understand a data format and a protocol communication becomes possible. There is a very long list of protocols in use. Besides the open standards like HTTP, SMTP or IPv6 there are plenty of propriety ones like NRPC, MAPI or LU6.2.
I'm quite surprised how little corporate IT pays attention to protocols. I hear sentences like: "eMail is POP3, what else would you need?" (and then act surprised why messages on a mobile device and a desktop client aren't in sync) - IMAP4 would be the bare minimum there, only that mobile devices probably use ActiveSync and SyncML. Calendaring works using iCalendar, chat XMPP (which is now fully supported by all but one vendor) and telephony SIP. Interactive web applications want to use ws:// protocol and all mobile devices use IPv6. Each format and protocol comes with its own set of challenges (just look how well calendar clients and servers interoperate). With the push towards web2.0 that challenges seemed to have stopped, only to resurface in the different pace of HTML5 implementation (if IE is your standard and you are still on XP - too bad).
So I claim: Show me your protocols and I'll tell you if you missed the boat


What trains and servers have in common - bandwidth

Practising deduction and investigation with my kids I raised the question: "Does a MRT station need more entry or exit gates?" (MRT is Singapore's local train/subway operator). So we came up with:
  • People reach the station at their own time, but together in a train, so much less people will at any given time want to enter concurrently than want to leave concurrently
  • unless of course the station caters to an event, where visitors leave at the end and want to enter the station
  • Depending on the time of day streams might be reversed. From 8am to 9am everybody wants to leave at the Central Business District stations, while 17:00 onwards they want to enter
  • Depending on the frequency of trains and the gate capacity you need more holding area in the station. If you increase the frequency of the trains too much you won't get enough people through the gates in time to fill them
  • How fast can one individual pass the gate (a.k.a access latency)?
MRT solved that dilemma by having gates that can be switched on demand and once the ticket presentation at the gate (we use contactless tickets) exceeds a certain frequency the gates switch to an "stay open" mode which allows passing through at almost walking speed. In Munich there are no gates, you even could run in, but that invites to cheating and the city of Munich has a team of people randomly checking tickets on trains which always feels akward.
CPU power growth has exceeded I/O growth /
Similar considerations are needed in server design:
  • Like in a train system (where you have: train capacity, train frequency, station capacity, gate/platform thruput, access path capacity etc.) a server system has CPU speed, CPU throughput, Cache capacity, storage throughput (commonly referred to as storage I/O) and network throughput (using Ethernet and its CSMA/CD protocol throughput declines with number of network participants, this is why we have all these expansive switches)
  • Increasing the memory bandwidth by moving from 32 to 64 Bit doesn't make a system faster (your car doesn't get faster because your lanes widen from 2 to 4), but more able to handle higher demands e.g. with concurrent access or larger reads. It is like switching from a 2.8T lorry (truck for the American readers) to a 8T truck. Both are (in Germany by law) limited to a top speed of 80 km/h, but when you move the later does only need to make the distance once. Of course if your system was memory-bus or memory challenged in the first place 64Bit will help instantly
  • Your CPU gets pretty bored (trains stay empty) if you can't get data in and out fast enough. What I see a lot are blade centers, virtual machine clusters or private clouds that have abundant CPU, so-so network bandwidth and (almost criminally) lacking storage I/O capabilities (not this one). This might relate to past memories where CPU tended to be the bottleneck (often today when a CPU maxes out it is due to I/O wait cycles)
  • Data in and out both covers storage as well as network access. And the question How much bandwidth does a Domino server need? still missed the part "for this amount and type of payload and that response time expectation". If your network bandwidth doesn't scale, you can still change strategy
In conclusion: Your first order when planning a server, a virtual environment or a cloud:
Take care of your I/O!

As usual YMMV


Echelon 2011 - day 1

I took leave (literally) to attend Echelon 2011, allegedly Asia’s best startup launchpad event. Having contributed to its Twitter stream throughout the day some of my thoughts needed a break and a little sorting, so here you go:
Registration did not work. A huge queue formed in front of too little registration counters with the badges not ready for fast retrieval. This wasn't a good first impression since it delayed proceedings by an hour+ (which made me miss some of the pitches). Worse even since Flickevents, one of the startups (located conveniently in the NUS Incubator), offers registration services and its founder Yan Phun clearly knows what she is talking about. So next year please use her!
The exhibition space wasn't very organised, mainly consisting of bar tables and banners, which I found quite refreshing (and economically). Looking for a specific company made you scout around between all of them, which is the purpose of a startup conference after all. Having Nespresso pitch their corporate solution in the middleof all that ensure a high quality supply of free caffeine. All in all it was good to see a lot of energy, confidence (partly bordering at naivety or arrogance) and we-can-do-that spirit.
Compared to the product manager driven corporate culture with its "Which customers demanded this feature" or "How much more will we sell if we fix this" or "Please provide a 5 year revenue projection for this feature" or "We have existing code we cherish more than innovation" the spirit was rather refreshing.
The opening session aptly titled "Uncommon Sense" was delivered by the hilarious and down to earth Derek Sivers. The best quote: "I made 23 million and then gave it all away". His session was followed by a series of panels, which were - well panels. At least they didn't read from a teleprompter. What made them slightly interesting was the use of Pigeonhole. Pigeonhole = (IdeaJam meets twitter). Users with the right access code can post live questions and/or vote on questions asked. A summary screen shows the top 12 questions which then were projected behind the panel. A neat way to both ask questions and let the panel know what you think about them.
Before the main attraction, the 11 elevator pitches (5 minutes each with 10min Q&A), Jason Wishnow of TED fame walked us through "what makes TED - TED" and how they got there. TED is 100x times more entertaining than TV.
The elevator pitches I saw were quite surprising. Surprising since none of them went down well. While ideas and potential were often visible, they were not prepared very well (I might be a little hypercritical here)
  1. Tribute Balloon is a social site for mourners (I can hear them howling reading this summary). Might actually work, but lies dangerously close to a possible Facebook feature trajectory. The presenters didn't have their numbers ready
  2. WorkCrowd is social software for enterprises in the cloud. It is actually the closest competitor I have seen so far to IBM Connections. They took their visual clue from Facebook and their business model from Yammer, allowing them a stealth adoption I discussed here before. Interestingly they see Facebook and LinkedIn as their competitors, not IBM and Socialtext. While I think they have a market, their pitch was hopeless. Social Sandy could have answered any of the panels question without blinking, while they didn't get their point across at all
  3. SixReps is social software for fitness fans. The founder lives in Indonesia's fitness community and realised that ganging up to achieve a fitness goal improves your odds tremendously. Knowing his target audience and monetisation options (e.g. take a cut from the gym membership) this will fly. The pitch didn't make that really clear (personally I'll stick with Dr. John Beradi - who also advocates community!)
  4. JellyBus allows you to assemble and edit picture collages on mobile devices with the capability to edit and adjust them. The makers designed it as an excellent fit for their home Korean market. The presenter struggled with English and I'm sure the same pitch in Korean would have just rocked. Will be interesting to see if Korean taste works in other markets too
  5. Fetch Fans On first sight the most professional pitch, but the presenter blew it in the Q&A. It is good to have an answer to every question, but it is outright rude to cut the asker off halfway into the question. She clearly suffered from overconfidence. Rounding up Facebook fans might work, but left me with the stale taste of them seeing Facebook users as digital cattle
  6. Bouncity allows to fuse virtual and real world with activities: Go places, do challenges, get rewards. Clean concept might work as digtial form of a paper chase. They didn't prepare their numbers well for Q&A, so left me wanting for a peek into their viability
  7. Moglue allows to create interactive eBooks easily. Again struggling with English the Korean presenter actually had a success story to share. I liked that a lot. It allows to go beyond what Calibre can do without the heavy price tag of a custom development. The presenter wasn't really clear about the target audience
  8. Second CRM: A little startup with big plans. They want to serve CRM to a market other vendors like SugarCRM and SalesForce consider too far or too small. I like the idea, but it needs to be more than CRM. (I ran a business in their target size long enough, so I can judge that): something that takes care of all business stuff: customers, partners, suppliers and back office including workload/workflow. Unfortunately the presenter wasn't ready to limit his pitch to 300 sec. So a lot of his ideas stayed untold
  9. Price Area: an Indonesian price comparison engine. When pressed for answers about global competition the presenter hid his real answer emphasising his local data knowledge and nimbleness, while the real answer seemed to me: Our end game is to be bought by one
Unfortunately due to the late start and a promise I made to Anthony and Ernest, I missed LocoBuzz and PlayMoolah, something to catch up tomorrow.
In summary: one trend seems to be creating social applications for specific target audiences. This can work when one knows the audiences well. The other trend: investors need to rethink their approach to Startups. The Startups need more than money: access to market insights, catalysts for focus, enablement for execution excellence and competitive intelligence. So an angel approach might be most appropriate.
Of course no event is fun without a little networking (mental note to self: bring more business cards) and I had some good conversations including catching up with Jonathan and relaxing on colourful doob bean bags. Stay tuned for day 2.


Debug your Internet

Working Internet connections are invisible. The fun starts when things are broken or somewhat broken. Then we wonder: is DHCP and NAT working, does the DNS do what it should, are all service ports open etc. Berkeley University's ICSI provides the Netalyzr tool to have a closer look at your connection. So make yourself familiar and run Netalyzr. The test results for my Starhub MaxOnline Express (16 GB in my dreams) were quite revealing:
Netanalyzer results for MaxOnline Express
So Starhub is meddling with the DNS, doesn't get Proxy right, filters content (mandated by the government for a handful internet sites), provides a slow DNS and needs a lesson on caching and buffering. I wonder how Singtel would fare.


Being in denial about a product problem doesn't fix it - OCZ are you listening?

As IT professionals we are always on the search for speed. Three experts whom I respect deeply were praising the advantages of SSD drives: John David Head, Scott Hanselman and Joel Spolsky. Since Scott mentioned the good experience with OCZ drives and his Lenovo laptop and Anandtech was in favour of them too, I got myself a SSD drive from OCZ Technologies. As it turns out it has a problem with Lenovo laptops and the harddisk password. It had been reported in their forum (which I failed to check beforehand - my bad). So I opened a trouble ticket. Teething problems between hardware components are not exactly new. Here is how the saga unfolded so far. The OCZ ticketing system doesn't allow the customer to see the history, only add new comments, so my replies might not been fully accurate until #5, when I started to keep copies:
  1. Me: Open a ticket in the online help system and ask for a fix for the error happing when you activate the harddisk password on a Lenovo Laptop that has been fitted with an OCZ SSD drive.
    OCZ replies:
    Your Trouble Ticket has been submitted with the following information:
    Trouble Ticket ID: [ID]
    User: Stephan Wissel
    Date and Time Submitted: 05-10-2010 @ 01:23:17AM
    Trouble Type: Flash Drives
    Trouble Priority: Technical Support
    Short Description: Vertex 128GB - [SERIAL]
    Please save this email for your records
    Please DO NOT REPLY to this email notification.
    Please click on the following link below to correspond:
    Thank you.
  2. Me: Doing nothing
    OCZ replies:
    Trouble Ticket ID: [ID]
    Description: Vertex 128GB - [SERIAL]
    Please be advised that the status on your trouble ticket 
    has been changed from Submitted to In Progress
    with the following comment:
    Comment: there is no known issue. the problem might be the password set up 
    Status changed by: Super Administrator

    Translated: Support doesn't read their own forum. Tell me: customer p*** off
  3. Me: I write them and highligh the reported problem in the forum.
    OCZ replies:
    Comment By: Bryan Kiefer
    Comment: i have spoken with my engineers and they too have said that
    the password feature is a problem with lenovo.
    i can replace the drive for you but that doesn't gaurantee the replacement
    won't have the same problem with the password 

    Translation: Not our problem, customer go away
  4. Me: Remind them that the problem only occurs with OCZ SSD drives, not with magnetic drives or SSD drives from their competition.
    OCZ replies:
    Comment By: Bryan Kiefer
    Comment: sorry we will not be able to resolve the password
    management issue that is something to do with lenovo
    Translation: Stop bothering us. It is your fault, go away! (and suddenly the unknown problem is known!)
  5. Me (now being very unhappy and recording my answers verbatim):
    Hi Bryan,
    thx for your reply. I take it that you are kidding me. A mayor SDD player and a mayor laptop player are for sure talking to each other? It hurts repudiation on both sides if such issues don't get resolved. I'll try to find out who you can talk to in Lenovo (IBM has good ties into it still) to sort this out. It is not a "problem with Lenovo's password management". It is a "problem OCZ SSD drives have with Lenovo's password management, that doesn't exist with SSD drives from other vendors". Since your disk have been praised I'd like to keep it, so I'll push to sort that out. So no more "it's Lenovo's problem, go away" but "ok, how can we sort that out" please. I'll blog nicely about it once sorted.

    OCZ replies:
    Comment By: Bryan Kiefer
    Comment: well i can't speak for other manufacturers but if yuor having an issue with
    function from a different company's product that is something i can't fix
    Translation: go away, go away, go away!
  6. Me: Dear Brian,
    thank you for your reply. I think we are getting nowhere with this support case and I hereby request that you escalate this case to your supervisor. It will be off your desk then. I have very little tolerance for bad support and this is what I'm getting right now from OCZ. I have a perfectly working Lenovo Laptop, I add *YOUR* (you as in OCZ) product and it does not work. I use a different product and it works. But you try to tell me that the problem is not related to your product. This is not acceptable. I know that hiccups in hardware configurations are nothing new and top vendors working together can usually sort this out. But you are flatly refusing to help me. It is in OCZ's self interest to ensure that their products work with the leading business laptop manufacturer's laptops. For the record, you will be able to read the story unfolding here:

    Just submitted, so no reply yet.
I'm not sure what Bryan is smoking (the typos are his). Guess I'll escalate that a bit. Stay tuned.


Android taking over?

Three years ago Volker published a market share analysis of the smart phone market originally found at Gigaom. The world looked good for Symbian:

Fast forward to now. The US market looks very different now:

as reported by Android Central
. The international figures cite 46% Apple, 25% Android and 21% Symbian (I wonder how the figures would look like for the world excluding the US). For example in India the distribution is 93% Symbian and 4% Apple. You can download the whole report (the usual caveats for statistics apply). Windows mobile seems all but to disappear. I wonder what will happen to all the mobile processing devices (like Symbol) that formed the backbone of corporate mobility strategies. Also you need to be clear: a RIM user is much less likely to use her device to surf (due to the comparable pathetic browser) to ad-infested web sites, so both RIM and Nokia might be under represented. At least Nokia tries to

fight back
. We live in interesting times.


Google and IBM team up for the "Internet of Things"

Armonk (NY) / Mountain View (CA) IBM and Google today issued a joint statement to make the Internet of things a reality (The Internet of things, in short, is the capturing of real world physical data to be processed - mostly including location data - for analysis and augmented reality). Effective today they form the Internet of Things Alliance (ITA). A Google spokes woman summed it up: "We will merge Google's network infrastructure with IBM's Smarter Planet know how to make the Internet of things become reality".
If you ever wondered why Google was buying up dark fibre you now have the answer. According to sources they are in the final round of negotiations to take over the site from its current owner Mr. Lasky for an undisclosed sum. Lasky will serve on the board of the alliance as its first chairman.


My last Blackberry

I consider myself an early mobile adopter. I had Casio PDA, Sharp PDA (the first to sync with the PC), a Psyon, the original Palm, a Nokia communicator. Finannyl I ended with a Blackberry 8707. It did eMail very well, the big keys matched my big hands and live was good. Of course even I fall victim to perceived obsolence. The 8707 showed its age. All the new applications like Quickr, Facebook, Tripit etc. wouldn't run and first and foremost: no wifi and no option to keep the phone running while roaming but switch the data off. So I decided to treat myself to a shiny new Bold2 9700 (mostly since Android hasn't been cleared by IBM security yet, at least not here).

It had all I wished for: applications, camera, memory, wifi, roaming. Others praised it as their parachute. Seems mine has a few burn holes and it will be my last Blackberry unless things improve dramatically very soon.
  1. BES jail: I paid for the unit. I foot the monthly bill (and to connect to a Enterprise Server Singapore's mobile provider require the premium plan). Nevertheless I'm not in charge. The configuration settings are hidden in what Blackberry calls "Service books" which only can be issued by the BES admininstrator. Lets say he is trying very hard.
  2. Browser confusion: there is the Blackberry browser, the hotspot browser and the Gee browser (the later courtesy of Starhub). Depending on connectivity one or the other works or doesn't work. And they suck all together. The 8707 at least didn't try and resulted in ugly but readable pages. The new browsers try hard and render unreadable small pages. There are only 3 zoom levels and the browser forgets them graciously between pages
  3. Network reliability: I don't want to care if I'm in a hotspot or mobile ot inside my firewall. Once I teach a device how things are it should work behind the scenes. The 9700 doesn't. Messages are not sent without explanation. It only tries for a few seconds - sometimes, sometimes it sends and receives within the blink of an eye. Services are not network flexible. Some work on mobile but not wifi (e.g. the Blackberry marketplace), some on wifi but not mobile, some only if only one is on. Behaving like this I don't consider it a trusted device anymore.
  4. Keyboard: The 8707 is superior to the 9700, so I expect a further detoriation
  5. Buggy software:Incoming and outgoing calls are associated with random numbers. E.g. notification I get from TripIt (a UK SMS) is linked to my aunties German handphone number. I called a cab, the log later says: "Call to cab" but listing my wife's number as destination
  6. Desktop software: I use Linux as my day to day OS. For a lot of functions I need a BB desktop client. It is mainly Windows, so I need to keep either a VM with working USB or a separate machine around
  7. Not my problem: The phone company tells me it is a BES issue, the BES admin blames the phone company, nobody I can visit and sort things out and the hardware guys (maybe my unit is faulty?) don't understand a thing about networks.
I don't know if I just experience the perfect storm of mishapt, but I'm not surprised that 33% of the Blackberry users want to switch to Android and 40% to an iPhone


Netgear support hell reloaded - Part 3 - Salvation

Netgear's local support was incredible helpful (Thx Andrew Tan). It turned out the motherboard is fried and one of the disk behaves "interesting". The WD green drives look good on paper, but not so much online. Anyway Andrew was so kind to loan me a spare Netgear unit, so I could resync the faulty drive


New addition to my "RoadWarrior Toolbox" - GR1102

I'm using a 3G modem for a while now. Works well as long as I'm in Singapore, once leaving it becomes an extortionist tool (30$ per MB is 10x more expensive than SMS and that's a rip off already). So typically I borrow the local modem from my colleagues in the country I visit, leaving me with guilt of depriving them from salvation in boring meetings. Not any more. I just added a Sapido GR1102 mobile hotspot to my toolbox. It's a bit bulky compared to dedicated devices like the Huawei E5 and even doesn't have 3G connectivity. However it has 2 USB ports where you can plug-in your off-the-mill 3G modem and either storage or a web cam. For a frequent country hopper like me that's the ideal solution. No fiddeling with data sim cards and provider settings, just grab a colleague's stick and share the SSID of the device with her. When in range of a network it also works as a router or access point. In the router function it can connect to a WIFI network and serve as hotspot. A nice feature when connecting a zoo of devices to the hotel network. The device is powered either by AC, a DC adapter or a standard USB cable. I haven't tested the WebCam yet.
Sapido GR1102
The Huawei E5 in comparison:
Huawei E5


Netgear support hell reloaded - Part 2

The faulty -or not- drive is a WD10EADS and WD10EACS is on the supported list. However Erik tells me today:
a) It must be the drive (I bet it is not)
b) Unfortunately if a drive is not on our hardware compatibility list we cannot support it. Drive manufacturers have been no to make updates to their drives that make then incompatible with our devices. What the exact issue with these drives are we cannot say.

Basically: Customer go away!


Netgear support hell reloaded

I had trouble with my ReadyNAS NV+ before. Now it seems like a deja vu. In October the SMART error count of disk 3 went up and the automated messages suggested that the drive might fail any time soon. So I replaced disk3. The ReadyNAS resynced the drive and live seems good. Before I left for winter holiday I shut down all systems. After my return and rebooting my infrastructure everything seemed normal. Only after a few days I got the message that disk 3 had failed and needed replacement. I shut down the unit and checked if any of the connectors had a problem. Then I tried to reboot. The ReadyNAS wouldn't come up claiming disks being defective (on that little LCD in the front panel). Since I had to travel I shut down the unit and left it. So after my return I tried again. Now the ReadyNAS booted and claimed it would resync drive 3 and it might take a while. So I left it. In the morning the unit claims that disk 4 was dead now. So I opened a ticket with Netgear. Having had bad experience with their phone support before I opted for online submission. Now we are playing ping-pong and I get one message after the other that won't bring me closer to resolving my issues. There are a number of things that irk me:
  1. I had 5 replies from TechSupport so far. 6 replies from 5 different people (and I start to suspect, that the name is system generated): Erik, Kelvin, Nick, Thomas and Orson
  2. Support claimed that the WD10EADS in my system isn't on their compatibility list However there is the WD10EACS, which is just an earlier model.
  3. Thomas mentioned to get a data recovery working he needs to escalate the case, but when I asked for that I got another round of check this check that.
  4. Every reply starts with "Thank you for choosing Netgear". That's not necessary after the first round
  5. The statement We will do our best to help resolve your case in the least possible time. is lacking the <irony> tags
Netgear is moving dangerously close to my No-Fly-Zone (I wonder if DLink does NAS with RAID).


Leadership, DaoDeChing and Technology

Currently I'm participating in IBM leadership training. Naturally leadership is a hotly discussed topic during the training (which is an interesting mix of online and physical meeting). I'm a big fan of the DaoDeChing and its advice on leadership (verse 17 and verse 66):

The best rulers are scarcely known by their subjects;
The next best are loved and praised;
The next are feared;
The next despised:
They have no faith in their people,
And their people become unfaithful to them.

When the best rulers achieve their purpose
Their subjects claim the achievement as their own.

For IT people there is a translation into our reality (part of The Unix Power Classics):

The greatest project leaders hardly make their presence known.
Next best are those who are loved and honoured.
Next come those who are feared.
Next the PHBs*, who are despised.
The demand to be trusted is not enough; indeed, it finds no trust.

The true leader shuts up and shows us the code.

Then when the tasks are accomplished,
  and the project is complete,
  all the contributors say,
  "We did it ourselves."

Subscribe to updates to the UPC (Unix Power Classics)
* = Pointy Haired Boss


Netgear Support Hell - Part 3 - Salvation

You might have followed part 1 and part 2. The story continues. Netgear's support process is broken and needs fixing. Luckily there are real people behind that process that are passionate about their products and customer happiness. Netgear confirmed, that my unit doesn't have 5 years of warranty and that the online warranty registration has a bug and that they started a review to fix the date. So at least they want to clean-up. Behind the scenes Chirpafrom the ReadyNAS support forum and Andrew Tan from Netgear Singapore worked on the case and I'll get my unit fixed for free. The spare part should arrive next week (while I'm doing XPages in Seoul) and I will be a happy camper.
@Jonathan: The ReadyNAS Pro is in high demand and on backlog. Andrew mentioned PK Computer at Funan will be happily sell you a unit, you just might need to wait a few days before it arrives.


Netgear Support Hell - Part 2

Matthew 6:3 states "do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing " and Netgear's support seems to have incorporated that. They only confuse "But when you give to the needy" with "But when you organise your customer care". While Chirpa from the ReadyNAS forum tries to help and confirms 5 years of warranty, other parts of Netgear think differently. I got a reply from Netgear this evening (to be fair: they sent it before lunch, but I was in the air then) stating that all information given by helpdesk is wrong: the companies stated as distributors are no longer distributing Netgear and the warranty supposedly is expired already (interesting fact: 5 years ago there was no ReadyNAS NV+). The online registration website of Netgear clearly states 17 Dec 2012 as expiration date of the unit
Netgear confirms 5 years of support
(And they can't type my name. How hard is copy and paste?). So we struggle on a little bit. Stay tuned.
Update: Salvation


Netgear Support Hell

I used to be a happy Netgear ReadyNAS NV+ user for almost 2 years. Until yesterday. After a routine shutdown the unit wouldn't power on anymore. Just a short blink of the LED and end of story. I removed the disks and verified that it is the unit, not one of the disks. So far so good, s**t happens, that's what warranties (the ReadyNAS comes with 5 years of it) and support lines are for.
So I called the 24x7 hotline proudly promoted on the Netgear Singapore website. Since I called after hours (I have a dayjob after all) I was transferred to the international support centre. To make it clear: everybody was polite and followed their scripts - but utterly useless. So no one at the front line to blame, rather the guys who designed that support system. Netgear's support centre is located in India (surprise, surprise) and lot of the people I spoke to had a clear Indian accent. I'm fine with that, a lot of my friends are Indian and typically fine folk. Someone with no exposure to Asia might struggle a bit.
The first person just functioned as a kind of dispatcher, giving me a case id and connecting me to a support engineer. The engineer concluded that a unit not powering up is a level 3 issue, gave me a new case id and connected me to a level 3 engineer. Than engineer concluded what I told the first guy: "The unit needs servicing". But he neither could issue a RMA number nor tell me where to bring the unit. He connected me to the department in charge, at least he thought. I ended up disconnected. So I called again. Stated my case ID, went to the second level engineer who then directly connected me to someone else. Every time I get connected I had to not only wait considerable time but also restate my case ID to every person I talked to. Now they told me I have to call the Singapore hotline to get an RMA for Singapore. I didn't pay attention that moment, but it turned out that it was the number I called in the first place. So I went through another round. When I ended in the same department again the person told me, that her supervisor could help but currently was in a meeting and would call me back. Which (s)he didn't. So this morning I called again. I asked the first guy why he not just could press the button and issue me a RMA and tell me where to bring the unit. He told me that they had different departments and his wouldn't handle ReadyNAS and that he would loose his job when breaking the rules and that he wouldn't do that. So I went through phone hell again. They tried to deflect me again to the Singapore support number (the one I was calling). After insisting that that is not a solution, they gave me the Netgear Singapore office number (for your reference: +65 62336810). It is Saturday, so what happened: A tape announcement tells me that the office operates Monday to Friday during office hours and anyway for technical support I should call the 24x7 hotline (from Singapore 800 6011 369)... exactly that number that was so useless in the previous calls.
In conclusion: Netgear's claim of 24x7 support is a laughing joke. I spend 2 hours on the phone, spoke to 15 different people, ended on a dead line 4 times and still have a broken unserviced unit. I feel like Buchbinder Wanninger (German original). This is a classic case of "Support process, broken as designed".
Update: To add insult to injury... I sent a link to this blog entry that bounced back with a 550 content rejected.
Update2: (23Aug2009) With a copy of the entire blog post the message to netgear went through. Chirpa from the Netgear support forum tries to be really helpful. My wife briefly spoke to the guys from the shop where I bought it, they claim that their waranty for Netgear is 12 month (which is BS of course) and I got an online update from Netgear providing me the contact details of Singapore's Netgear distributors handling RMA for them. Shot an eMail off to them, wait what's happening on Monday.
Update 3: Salvation


Reinstalling Windows stuff

From time to time it is healthy to reinstall Windows XP. At IBM I have the luxury to use the cloning center or the cloning CD. Boot it, log in and off you go. It installs Windows including the standard IBM applications like VPN, Lotus Notes and some standard internal stuff (It used to install MS Office, but no longer in the 2008 built). So far so good. But we all know that there is an army of little helpers and tweaks that make it your copy of Windows.
To ease my pain installing all of them I keep a directory reinstall on an external medium (DVD, Memory Stick, Harddisk, NAS, make your pick) where I keep all the install files and extra stuff. To automate the process I use two cmd files:
All regular installers sit in the root of the install directory. There are a few mandatory sub directories. I have phase2 for installers that depend on software I install in the first round. Techsmith is the directory for the Techsmith SnagIt (highly recommended) tool and AuxiliaryFiles keeps miscelanous stuff. When a new version of an application comes out or I install a new tool, I just add the installer to this directory and in the next full makeover I won't forget it. Let's have a look at the cmd files.


Data Center with Divine Blessings

It is never a bad idea to make sure data is save. So I added an X-Raid system protected by an UPS to my home data center. Just to make sure the protection is universal I added an extra layer of guards to the setup.
4 Buddhas guarding data storage


Give One Get One.

I firmly believe that education is key to progress: Understanding yourself, understanding each other and understanding the world around you. The more you can replace superstition with knowledge, blind attempts with skills or xenophobia with appreciation the more you can reduce suffering on this planet. You know the saying: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for life".
Being a geek I was intrigued when Prof Negroponte announced his One Laptop Per Child project. Appealing to geeks on the planet the project opened for a short period of time the possibility to own one of these machines. This opportunity is entitled Give One Get One. At USD 399.- plus shipping you will get one laptop and one laptop will be given to a child in a developing nation.
The only catch: you need a US shipping address. But working for IBM that wasn't a real problem. So I ordered one today. The drawback: I have to wait until I'm in the US next time. Until then others can play with the box.


Laptops for USD 10.00

Travelling from Pune back to Mumbai I took the train. Train rides are much more social that taking a rental car or a plane. Sooner or later you talk to your fellow travellers. One of them pointed out a story in " The Times of India". According to this article the Indian IT establishments plans to develop mobile computers, that can cost as little as ten US Dollars. Seems like Negroponte's project is triggering quite some innovation. Once that becomes reality prices for access and textbooks need to come down too. Luckily there are a few initiatives addressing this both commercially and in the public domain.




[ via Stefan Rubner ]


20" iMac or 32" LCD TV and Mac Mini

The good old orange iMac died today and Ernest & Anthony are very sad. At the same time the old TV is due for replacement (21" CRTs are sooo last century). I now need to solve the riddle: Do I get a 20" iMac or do I get a 32" LCD TV and a Mac mini. Properly equipped both alternatives will set us back about 4k (SGD). While 32" sounds tempting the TV screen resolution is a paltry 1288 x 800 (or similar), so the 20" iMac has a clear advantage. Another point: we never owned a Playstation, XBox or Nintendo, so no signal-in jack would be required.
On the other hand, there is this, which makes me urgently want to own a PS3. (The combat section)
Anybody to share how a 20" iMac serves as a TV replacement?


Comments disabled until Blogsphere update

I'm suffering heavy comment spam attacks currently. So I had to disable comments until this is resolved. As stated before: May there grow pimples on the lower back of the spammers, so they can't sit.

Update: Comments are back. Lets see how long the new counter measure will withstand the attacks.

Update2: One of the defensive measures is to check for the HTTP referer. So if your referer is supressed (some Norton Firewall Editions do that by default) you can't post your comments here. Blame the spammers for that.


If you are short of Web 2.0 vocabulary...

... there is hope: head over to the Web 2.0 Bullshit Generator
via vowe


Boxing gloves are the new black

This just came in:

(Picture reproduced without permission)


When a mouse goes bad

I had for about 5 years now an IntelliMouse Explorer. It served me well and its size nicely fitted into my pawns. A few days ago it started to act strangely. As if the ball was full of dirt (it is an optical mouse). Also -- now I know it is related -- for a couple of days I had the issue, that Explorer would freeze. The mouse would move but nothing would be clickable. However running application would be selectable with Alt+Tab or even applications on a hotkey would launch, except task manager. The system also would not react to external drive mapping or a shutdown request.
This morning the mouse died. No mousepointer movement, finito, basta. So I replaced it with a spare (a compact optical mouse, much to small for my hands) and wonder oh wonder no more hell freezes over Explorer freezes. Mental note: even an optical mouse does age.  


Owning ideas


An old German folk song goes "Die Gedanken sind frei" (Thoughts are free). Not any more. With the introduction of "Intellectual property" the concept of owning immaterial things is hammered into our minds. Closer scrutiny reveals, that the various rights lumped together as IP didn't have that in mind. Copyrights, trademarks and patents are very different rights protecting very different things. Property rights were created for the fact, that if I own a thing, you can't own it. But if I tell you an idea I still have it and now it can travel. Ideas are not a scare resource, they get richer when they travel. However the term "Intellectual Property" creates the impression that it is a scare resource.  
Doc Searls reminds us to watch the language: " While the one side talks about licenses with verbs like copy, distribute, play, share and perform, the other side talks about rights with verbs like own, protect, safeguard, protect, secure, authorize, buy, sell, infringe, pirate, infringe, and steal."
This is a substantial difference. The very nature of ideas is, that they cannot be owned because they are not physical. And spreading an idea from the originator doesn't make it dissappear there. So the mental model of "intelectual property" is flawed in its very nature. We rather should stick to discriminating trademarks from patents from copyrights and have a deep thought how far we want to push idea protection. The very fabric of learning and cultural exchange is based on the fact, that ideas are shared, explored, altered and shared again. When you look into the history of languages, there were attempts of special interest groups (priests, sects or ruling class) to restrict the usage of language. All this attempts failed in the long run. Either the restriction didn't work or the language faded away.
An article in "The Guardian" sums it up nicely:
"This is madness. Ideas aren't things. They're much more valuable than that. Intellectual property - treating some ideas as if they were in some circumstances things that can be owned and traded - is itself no more than an idea that can be copied, modified and improved. It is this process of freely copying them and changing them that has given us the world of material abundance in which we live. If our ideas of intellectual property are wrong, we must change them, improve them and return them to their original purpose. When intellectual property rules diminish the supply of new ideas, they steal from all of us."  


Want to infect your PC with a root kit? - Buy a SonyBMG CD

There is a very interesting story at sysinternals about the hunting down of a root kit infection on a PC. A root kit basically is a piece of software, that hides itself from normal view on the PC and intercepts the functionality. Root kits are usually found in criminal context (hackers, maleware, Trojan horses) and are typically installed without the PC's owners consent. In this case consent wasn't given either but the culprit was a copy protected CD from Sony BMG. I'm sure the late founder of Bertelsman (BMG stands for Bertelsman Media Group) rotates in his grave for behaviour so much below his standards. Seems like Greed 2.0 in full swing.
One comment suggest, the only way to fight this is with you purse strings. So it looks like Sony and its subsidiaries lost me as a customer. So no Sony TV, no Sony HiFi, no SonyEricsson phone, no Sony BMG CD/DVD and less Sony entertainment -- including the Aibo.  

The Sony Digital Restriction Management stint has stirred quite some response online. Some of the voices:

and much more:

I'm curious how they will spin it. What really surprises me: Sony is known to be obsessed with quality control in whatever they make, how could this slip their attention (or didn't it?). In case you want to complain to Sony, why not use their online form?


Lesson from the SPAM front: When you report SPAM, it will be filtered by the SPAM filter!


Got a SPAM message from a Hotmail account with the usual "lost-fortune" story. This time the claimed source was closer to home: "The Malaysian Central Bank". Knowing there is no such thing (it's the "National Bank"), I forwarded the message to
I got the usual automated reply:

"This is an auto-generated response designed to let you know that our system received your support inquiry and a Support Representative will review your question and respond to you soon. Please note that you will not receive a reply if you respond directly to this message.
Thank you for contacting MSN Hotmail Support.
Remember that MSN Hotmail also has comprehensive online help available--just click "Help" in the upper right corner."

to be immediately followed by the rejection of my message:

Delivery Failure Report  
Your document:   Spam in name of the Malaysian central bank  
was not delivered to:  
because:   550 5.7.1 <Your e-mail was rejected by an anti-spam content filter on gateway ( for rejection may be: obscene language, graphics, or spam-like characteristics. Removing these may let the e-mail through the filter.>

Hurray! Reporting SPAM doesn't work for Hotmail anymore. This will look good on Hotmail's SPAM statistics: SPAM has gone away in Hotmail since none gets reported from outside anymore.


When 50 MB are not 50 MB

I'm a big fan of the Inside Security Rescue CD. The CD squeezes a Linux (Debian based) with a working GUI, diagnostics and repair tools (anti virus, partition and hard disk check) on 50 MB of space. It even contains support to write CDs or DVDs. Why is 50 MB to magic? 50 MB is the storage capacity of a name card size CD-ROM. I always carry one (or a few) with me. The NTFS support is read only but seems to be more tolerant than Microsoft's own NTFS implementation. A number of times where 2000 or XP refused to recognize a NTFS partition anymore the Rescue CD could still read most of it.
The CDs are very popular. Whenever I show what you can do with it to clients or colleagues, I own one less (glad to be of service).
So I ran out of my mini CD and went to restock. This time I got Melody NameCard CD-R. The CD writer refused to write the image. I use Roxio, that doesn't tell how much short of storage you are (only that). Only the windows CD writer (which can't write ISO images) told me: 48 MB to write 47 MB free. So I had a second look:  On the package: 50 MB/5min, actual space inside: 47 MB. Am I out of luck or short changed by the manufacturer? Or is 6% less space (on all 10 of the package) within tolerance?
Update:  I got a nice reply from the manufacturer. They apologized for my inconvenience and explained: The guaranteed storage is 5 minutes of music. One minute is about 9.5 MB, so 5x9.5 = 47.5 MB. Production tolerance can lead to CDs with more capacity. The 50MB are the same marketing blah as your 200GB harddisk. However there is a 6 minute CD available, also labelled 50 MB which has enough storage.


Always online?

Always online? Just discussed with a potential client a mobile data capturing application. The initial idea was just to have a small screen web application. Soon we found out that near the data entry points network coverage is rather patchy. So an offline solution is needed.
I'm considering using either XML/Rest or JMS. The XML approach is tried and tested (think kXML, kSoap) and would resemble a 'classical' sync/replication process. The JMS approach would be more a constant flow of change signals where the JMS would take care of connectivity (or the lack thereof). Joram has kJMS, so that seems like a fit. The big question: how to pipe back changes from the server if there are but no local updates?


Blog on the run

I managed to get mo:blog working with BlogSphere. Since I commute to work, I expect my blogging frequency to notch up a bit. Here in Singapore cars are prohibitive expensive (a typical family van without gimmics can easily set you back USD 50-70k until it's standing in your parking lot) and public transport is cheap (1h on the train is less than USD 2), so commuting is the logical choice. One hour in the train anyway would take you one round around the country/island.
Stay tuned for more MRT* blogging.

*MRT = Massive Rapid Transit = the name of our national train network.


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