linux.conf.au 2009
Marching south together...

December 26, 2012

The Dictator

We had Christmas indoors (Merry Christmas) as pretty much everything is closed in London for a bank holiday. As part of the festivities, we watched: The Dictator.

If you’re a fan of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan or anything from Sacha Baron Cohen you’ve got to watch this show. We caught it on pay-per-view, since as a Royal Ambassador we get one free movie per stay. And what better place to watch it than at the newly opened InterContinental London Westminster.

So back to The Dictator. It is a funny show, will take about 80 minutes of your time, and its well worth watching. Some may describe the jokes as crude, but those one-liners are truly memorable. I’m going to endeavor to watch the unrated version as I’m told its about 15 minutes longer with a lot more scenes of comedy!

Related posts:

  1. Movies, January 2012
  2. movies, march 2007
  3. AirPlay and the AppleTV

December 18, 2012

Regional Delegates' Programme Announced!

Good news from Linux Australia for regional delegates!
Linux Australia is restarting the Regional Delegates Program from previous years. These grants aim to reduce the financial barriers to attending linux.conf.au 2013, by subsidising the registration and travel costs of contributors to the FOSS community who are students, on a low income, and others who would otherwise have difficulty affording the cost of attending the conference. How do I apply? Our priority will be to maximise the number of attendees we can assist. Consideration will be given to grant requests from outside Australia and New Zealand; however, due to the larger costs, we would have to balance each such application against the number of local delegates we could otherwise support. Delegates who need to be accompanied by a guardian or caregiver (e.g, minors or persons with special needs) should include these details in their grant request. Minors should include contact details for their parent or guardian and have them sign the application. Your application should:
  • Provide background information about your contribution to or involvement with the open source community
  • Explain what you hope to learn from the conference.
  • Show financial circumstances which would otherwise prevent you from attending the conference.
  • Provide details of what assistance you would require in order to attend. This doesn't need to be a detailed list - "Flights to/from $HOMETOWN + accommodation" would be sufficient.
  • Be in OpenDocument format, plain text, HTML or PDF.
Applicants will be selected on the following criteria:
  • Participation in FOSS projects – art, hardware, software, documentation
  • Reason for attending linux.conf.au
  • Area of study
  • Voluntary or paid work in IT
  • Future plans/projects in mind
  • Membership of FOSS related groups eg. a LUG, Linux Australia, LinuxChix, a Hackerspace, Wikipedia, OWOOT etc.
Email your application to RDP@lca2013.linux.org.au. Cheers, RDP team

December 17, 2012

BBM now does voice calls – will people care?

I’m the only one amongst my close friends & colleagues that still use a BlackBerry. I use it primarily for email. During its heyday, it was dead popular for BBM (BlackBerry Messenger), but group messaging apps like Whatsapp came along to disrupt it.

I see that BlackBerry is now finally offering free calls over WiFi for BBM users. Its unlikely to work on my aging Bold 9700, but I’m holding out for a BB10 device.

Is this a first? No, not really.

In the USA, T-Mobile offered this feature since probably 2007 – see more about UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access). I used to be dead jealous of friends with these kinds of BlackBerries as they could be in Iceland and still call the USA for free over wifi basically.

Now it comes to everyone on the BlackBerry.

However, is this still important? We’ve had several generations of FaceTime that transmits both voice & video over WiFi. The latest iOS 6 even allows this to happen over the 3G/LTE networks, so Apple has just said it is OK to make use of all that bandwidth even when you’re on a mobile connection.

Is BlackBerry being disruptive with this feature? Far from it. I think many have ditched the platform. I am willing to give BB10 a go, but I have no idea if I’ll stick with it for much longer.

And the connection between FaceTime and BBM? Most BlackBerry users carry an iPhone. Don’t forget to read Mark Suster’s good post on this.

Related posts:

  1. FaceTime long overdue to be an open standard
  2. Finding people from cell phone base stations
  3. Messenger apps revisited

December 16, 2012

A new phone, new for 9 months?

Apple is right. What sucks is that they make you wait one whole quarter before you get the new iPhone. So you really only have it as a “new phone” for 3 quarters. A mere 9 months.

Official Apple Store Malaysia - Buy the new iPad and MacBook Pro with Retina display, iPhone, iPod, and More - Apple Store (Malaysia)

I remember similar priced smartphones, like the Nokia Communicator, be the device to have for up to 36 months. When was the last time your iPhone device lasted for 36 months? Software wise, it usually does well though (kudos Apple, you didn’t screw up like the iPad). When was the last time you used a similar priced Android phone for 36 months?

Related posts:

  1. HTC, Android, Facebook
  2. The Android User Experience
  3. Messenger apps revisited

December 14, 2012

Inventor of the Web to Keynote Linux Conference

Australia's premier open source conference, linux.conf.au, are very proud to announce the fourth and final keynote speaker for 2013. Sir Tim Berners-Lee is best known for inventing the World Wide Web in the late 1980s, and is now the Director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which oversees web development around the world. Sir Tim Berners-Lee is appearing at linux.conf.au as part of his visit to Australia in January 2013, with support from a consortia of sponsors. The full details of the tour and sponsors are available at http://tbldownunder.org/

Sir Tim Berners-Lee was knighted in 2004 for his work on HTTP and the World Wide Web, and was elected as a foreign associate of the United States Academy of Sciences in 2009. He is also the 3Com Founders Professor of Engineering at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence (CSAIL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This is Sir Tim Berners-Lee's first visit to Australia in over a decade, and his linux.conf.au keynote speech is set to be the only technical talk during his Down Under tour. This talk is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Aussie geeks to see and hear the inventor of the web.

The keynote from Sir Tim Berners-Lee rounds out a full conference schedule, with other keynotes being given by fellow internet pioneer Radia Perlman, Chumby co-inventor Andrew 'bunnie' Huang, and Debian guru Bdale Garbee.

linux.conf.au attendees will have the opportunity to see Sir Tim Berners-Lee keynote on Thursday 31 January. There are still some conference tickets available from the conference website at http://linux.conf.au, but for those not attending the conference, keynote-only tickets and one day Open Government event tickets (including the keynote) are available for purchase from http://lca2013.eventbrite.com.au/

For more information on this jam-packed schedule, visit http://linux.conf.au/programme/schedule

About linux.conf.au

linux.conf.au showcases the best of open source and community-driven software and hardware, and it’s coming to the Australian National University from 28 January to 2 February, 2013. The conference provides a great opportunity for open source developers, users, hackers, and makers to share their ideas and further improve their projects.

Contact

Michael Still (Conference Director) +61 2 6140 4546 media@lca2013.linux.org.au

December 11, 2012

Childcare at LCA

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far … hold on. Let’s start that again. A long, long time ago, when the LCA 2013 team were first talking about putting a bid together (ah! We were so young and innocent then!), one of the big things we wanted to make sure we got right was making the conference accessible for parents and their children. We understand that not all parents have a partner who can (or want to!) take the kids on the partners’ programme, that sometimes both parents are interested in the conference, and that childcare for a week in January can often be difficult, expensive, or just impossible. Many of our core organisers have children, and it’s a problem we’ve all had to deal with in different ways at some stage.

With all that in mind, we’ve decided to continue what LCA Ballarat started, and provide a childcare room not too far away from the main conference venue where you can chill out with the kids, put them down for a nap, feed them, or give them a little time to play (and you a little time to sit down!). We’re taking it one step further, though, by also providing qualified and certified childcare workers to be in the room as well. Of course, you’re welcome to stay with your children for as long as you want to, but when you want to head out to that talk, you can do so safe in the knowledge that your children are in good hands.

We intend to stock the room with a whole bunch of fun things, including toys, video games, and DVDs. We also hope to be able to offer some bedding for naps (for the little people!), and some supervised outdoor play time.

For more information, and to get specific details about the childcare arrangement for the conference, you need to be on the parents mailing list. This is also the place where parents can discuss their arrangements, and make sure that the conference is going to be just as much of a party for their children as it is for the big people. Sign up here: http://lists.lca2013.linux.org.au/mailman/listinfo/parents_lists.lca2013.linux.org.au

Read this post on our blog

Wednesday Night BOFs

So it turns out there are a whole heap of things that need to be organised for an LCA. But, just like in the rest of life, sometimes the best parts are the impromptu ones. You’ll have heard people refer to the ‘hallway track’ at conferences, and we here at LCA HQ want to make sure there are plenty of opportunities for you to meet up with your friends in the hallway in between talks. But what happens when you really want to meet up with other people who are interested in the same things you are, and five minutes between talks just isn’t enough? Well, you have a BOF of course!

Birds of a Feather sessions are a regular feature at LCA, and this year we decided to change things up a little so that there is more time for more BOF goodness. Normally, the Wednesday night of an LCA is given over to the Professional Delegates’ Networking Sessions (PDNS). We decided to reshuffle the PDNS to a breakfast, so we can give over Wednesday night to BOFs instead (we heard you liked BOFs, so we added more BOF to your BOF!).

Basically, the plan is thus: Wednesday afternoon, once you’ve gotten your fill of the day’s sessions, you have a choice. You can head on back to your accommodation, go out for dinner with friends, or just chill out for a while (let’s face it, by Wednesday afternoon we’re all feeling pretty exhausted!). Or you can grab your fellow birds, check their feathers, and head off to a meeting room in the conference venue to kick on.

So, if you want to organise a BOF, we suggest you head over to the wiki page, and start organising! If you just want to join the BOF party, then keep an eye on that page, and keep Wednesday night free.

Read this post on our blog

Bus Information

One of the things that is really important to us here at LCA HQ is being as environmentally responsible as we possibly can. Which turns out to be not actually all that easy when you need to get seven or eight hundred people from all over the place into the city for the event.

So one of the first things we thought we wanted to do when we put together our bid was to try and make travelling to the conference as green as possible. We’ve managed to pull together a few different things that we hope you can work into your travel plans, and do a little bit to help our planet:

If you’re travelling from Sydney consider taking a Murray’s coach to Canberra. The coach only takes three hours, and the carbon impact of a coach ride is around 36 kg of carbon versus 190 kg for a flight. Even better, the coach is only $15 each way! Bargain! We’re also going to run a free shuttle from the Jolimont Centre where the buses come in to the conference venue and accommodation. The shuttles will run from 10am to 6pm on the Sunday before the conference, and 9am to noon on the Monday. To get you back after LCA ends, shuttles will run from noon to 9pm on the Friday at the end of the conference, and from 10am to 6pm on the Saturday.

If you are flying to Canberra then we have a free shuttle service to and from the airport, so you don’t need to take a taxi. The shuttle is the same one which stops at Jolimont for the bus people, so it also runs from 10am to 6pm on the Sunday before the conference, and 9am to noon on the Monday. To get you back after LCA ends, the shuttles will run from noon to 9pm on the Friday at the end of the conference, and from 10am to 6pm on the Saturday.

The ANU campus is big and we understand that for some people a ten minute walk to the keynote in the morning is a bit of a challenge. We of course want to encourage you to walk, but for those who would prefer to take a bus, we are running limited shuttles from the ANU accommodation to the keynotes each morning. We will also provide limited shuttle service back to the accommodation at the end of each conference day.

We are providing buses for all the off-campus social events as well. Details will be provided as we get a bit closer.

Don’t forget that we are also stealing 2012’s excellent idea and selling trees as a carbon offset option during registration. It doesn’t cost much, but it makes a big difference.

We’re all ears if you have other ideas about how to make the conference as environmentally friendly as possible. Send them to contact@lca2013.linux.org.au!

Read this post on our blog

December 10, 2012

Mourning the Squeezebox

Logitech has discontinued their Squeezebox line of wireless music players.

Background: the Squeezebox was a device originally by Slim Devices, later acquired by Logitech. The Squeezebox (SB) originally supported playing music which was streamed over your home over a custom protocol, it involved running a server process written in Perl on the machine which contained the music. For several years, there has also been a My Squeezebox service which streams music over the Internet. The server/My Squeezebox can in turn stream podcasts, radio stations and so on.

We bought our first Squeezebox in, I think, 2008, which drives some Yamaha reference monitors I’ve had since 2001 (and then spent 7 years searching for a half decent networked music playing solution in order to use them more than occasionally) and added a Squeezebox Boom, which is about the size of a classic micro hi-fi system and has built-in speakers, a year later. We’ve been using them ever since. Both were already discontinued models in favour of the SB Touch and SB Radio, but were receiving firmware updates and support. All support for the entire ecosystem is now being ended by Logitech, in favour of the Ultimate Ears (UE) brand, which so far contains one wireless music player, the UE Smart Radio.

Possible replacements:

The Logitech UE system. Pros: I believe it’s similar hardware, and the SBs have worked well for us. Cons: the UE line only contains one wireless player right now, the UE Smart Radio, and it does not support use of your own speakers. UE devices do not understand the SB protocol, so unless we junked our SB devices we’d need to run two server processes and would lose things like syncing all our players to play the same thing at the same time. Linux is no longer officially supported for running the server software. In addition, I haven’t got confirmation of this, but it seems it is impossible to use the UE Smart Radio without signing up for an online service, which raises the spectre of not being able to play my music when the ‘net is down, or possibly at some point in the future having the UE suddenly stop working forever, when that service is in turn discontinued.

The Sonos. Pros: I don’t follow the wireless music market closely, but I understand this is the brand that’s associated with quality music engineering. Technically, it can stream music from a SAMBA share as well as from the Internet. Cons: it too has made its deals with the we’re-watching-you devils: It will only play RadioTime’s approved podcasts, obviously there’s a workaround involving downloading to the SAMBA share we would use, but that’s still annoying. We again lose the house-wide syncing if we keep our (not cheap, and still functional) SB devices in the house. The podcast thing suggests that the Sonos may also be vulnerable to “do the players still work if Sonos goes away?” concern, but again, I don’t know.

The Roku Soundbridge. Pros: I believe it understands the SB protocol, which means it would be the best fit for our existing music network. Cons: there only seems to be one model in its lineup too, a speakerless one. I’m not intending to buy separate speakers for every room we want music in. Otherwise this is probably the most seamless replacement for an SB.

Bluetooth speakers. Or I guess a receiver, in the case of my reference monitor. Pros: a bigger market to buy from, way less vendor-dependent (even if documented) custom streaming protocols to deal with. Cons: Bluetooth support, or alleged support, in car stereos has not endeared this solution to me, to me Bluetooth means “does not work-tooth”. I have no idea how to achieve the multiple rooms with the same music effect either. And it then leaves the problem of queueing up the music on the headless server. I spent several years seeing how bad all MPD clients could be, I’m not keen to go back to that. In addition, we have enough trouble getting 802.11 signals to span our house, never mind Bluetooth.

I think at this stage, given that luckily the SBs are not going to stop working unless the hardware fails or the software stops running on later versions of Linux (both are possible, of course), that what we’ll probably do is try and snag a SB Radio or two before they get too hard to get hold of, stick with them and our existing devices until the bitter end, and then hope that Bluetooth or some later protocol and its Linux support are up to what we want to do. Since we aren’t likely to subscribe to streaming services in the very near future, this is viable.

If Logitech eventually puts out firmware support for the UE protocol onto older SB hardware, as Gadget Guy suggests they will (but there’s no sign of it on the Logitech forums), it will be more tempting to move to UE than otherwise, at least if the server is known to work on Linux. Otherwise, an additional strike against Logitech products is that they’ve substantially damaged my faith in their longevity. Quoth Matthew Moskovciak on CNET It may be wise to see how Logitech handles its Squeezebox customers before committing to the new UE ecosystem. There’s probably 12 to 24 months of endgame in that.

Update: Sue Chastain has more info, including an apparent confirmation that the UE Smart Radio will indeed not work in the absence of an Internet connection, even when playing locally stored music.

December 03, 2012

Comments are back

Just half a year in, and comments are back. Received too much feedback on various channels that comments are required. Still haven’t found a way to “sync” comments across all social networks, killer solution still pending :-)

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December 02, 2012

Oracle’s advertising needs to be more truthful

I’ve always wondered how Oracle was getting away with its rather mocking advertising. Usually seen on the front-page of the WSJ on a daily basis. Apparently, they’re not.

An Oracle Ad Mocking SAP

Taken January 14 2008, on the front page of the WSJ

Related posts:

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The Paradise on a retail sales experience

I just saw a preview on BBC for The Paradise. It is a costume drama about an upmarket department store. What impressed me was how Denise Lovett (played by Joanna Vanderham) made a sale of a tea dress (see a video of what’s behind the character of Denise). She had great tenacity and drive in what she did.

It goes something like this: Denise is the new salesgirl at The Paradise. A snooty rich woman comes in and the sales lady tries to tell her to buy an off-the-shelf dress. Miss snooty is taken aback that a woman of her stature would buy something off-the-shelf. The sales lady commands the girl (Denise) to show how the dress will look on an actual live model. Denise takes too long and realises that she can’t fit into it as its two sizes smaller. Then she speaks up and makes her forthcoming pitch. About how the dress will look well on Miss snooty. How that is all that matters. How its been curated/hand-picked by the store owner. How its the talk of the town in Paris today. How it will be the talk of the town in London next month. How it can be sent to her home to try herself. And she tops it off with a guarantee – if you don’t like it, the sales lady will relieve her of her position. Miss snooty agreed.

It reminded me of what’s wrong with retail experiences today. It showed me how it would be nice to fix it. Most retail experiences today are no different to buying online.

In the old days (at least on this set), to sell a dress there were 3 people. Two sales assistants, one “girl”, who would live model clothes for you. Contrast this to today where sales assistants usually do not even bother to talk to you. When was the last time a sales assistant knew a lot about the product and sold you on it based on her knowledge?

I can’t find The Paradise on BBC’s iPlayer, so I’ll try to go old school and look for some DVDs. Season 1 is 8 episodes, and I reckon you can mine a lot of interesting sales advice from it. Its renewed for Season 2 as well from what I gather.

Related posts:

  1. The Apple Store Malaysia Phone Experience
  2. Sales per pax
  3. Server buying experience

December 01, 2012

Tablet strategy thoughts

In my continuing quest to see how my tablet strategy is going to be going forward, I walked into an Apple reseller yesterday, in Singapore. I typed on the retina iPad, and realised that I was using only about four-fingers. This tells you that even before in landscape mode, I was never typing like I do with a keyboard. Or maybe I never really type that way, who knows? :)

I then tried typing on the iPad Mini. I found that I could reliably, in landscape mode add text, without much ado. It goes back to dimensions. The iPad Mini isn’t really a 7″ tablet, its almost an 8″ tablet.

Typing is not a good idea on the Nexus 7. I’ve tried to do so in Evernote today, and the keyboard takes up about half the screen. Its error prone, and I end up always going back to portrait mode for typing.

Asking the retail assistant if they had the iPad Mini in stock, they said they did. But it was only the 64GB version. This is how I bought my first iPad on the day/second day after it was released in the USA – it was the only available sized model. Never again will I make such a decision. 16GB or 32GB is all I’m after at best (probably the former).

All in, I decided to go home, and give the Nexus 7 a fighting chance. I’m going to load up all the software I use regularly or find equivalents. This means paying for an equivalent of Instapaper. This means finding an alternative to GoodReader whom have no plans to make an Android version. But what about those travel apps that I use infrequently, but are invaluable when I visit a place? 

Its these “what if” applications that make iOS popular. Most people are happy with a small number of apps, but there are scenarios where you need more.

Related posts:

  1. Typing on tablets – 7″ vs 10″
  2. my pre-upgrade iOS6 thoughts
  3. Why the mini iPad?

Upgrade path for tablets like a computer?

Tablets are great for consuming & creating content (with the right size). Have we thought how long we are to use a tablet for?

I would like to consider cost vs. long-term computing utility, with OS upgrades. Warranties are also thrown into the mix, alongside TCO.

With phones, this is a tad easier. Many people have 2-year contracts, so they use their phone for 24-months. The upgrade cycle from what I’ve read/anecdotally is usually around 18-months on average (sorry, no references). Phones are subsidized (heavily in countries like the USA where they are locked; not so much in Malaysia where consumers are conned). Any additional time over 24-months is probably borrowed time (in the USA, Apple sells warranties for 2 years on their iPhones; in Malaysia there is no such thing as AppleCare+).

With laptops & desktops, warranties usually last 3 years (with the extended warranty option). This is a sensible amount of time to use a computer (36 months). Of course people extend the use of this and there is always a second-hand market, so the useful life of laptops & desktops can be extended quite a bit. My MacBook Pro which I use daily is already 42 months old (yes, I know it is out of warranty and time for an upgrade). The operating system can generally be upgraded from version to version without much issues (this is true for OSX, Windows, Linux).

What about tablets? If you buy a cheap device like a Nexus 7, it comes standard with Android 4.0. I guess the latest update is Android 4.2, but how long do you expect there to be upgrades?

In contrast, what about if you buy the cheapest iPad? Cheap for tablets usually relates to size, and the smallest iPad is 16GB in size. How long do you expect to get upgrades?

What happens if you buy the largest-sized tablet? Do you feel further entitled to get upgrades for longer? The increments roughly are about USD$100 per size upgrade (16->32->64GB).

For the cheapest iPad (16GB iPad4), you can already purchase a netbook/cheap desktop. You will get OS upgrades for a long time using a PC, but on a tablet, you may at most, get 2 years. 

Companies are now rolling out tablets in droves. Where are the TCO studies for this? I’m not saying Apple’s 2 years are bad. There are many Android-powered devices that have gotten less than that in terms of OS-upgrades.

How is group IT managing this new cost? What happens to older tablets?

Related posts:

  1. my pre-upgrade iOS6 thoughts
  2. Typing on tablets – 7″ vs 10″
  3. Why the mini iPad?

Digital loyalty in the age of Passbook

I’ve been watching the digital loyalty space quite closely (see: THE CHOP SPACE (DIGITAL LOYALTY CARDS) IN MALAYSIA). I love being loyal to a business that rewards me. This forms the basis of how I choose what airline (alliance) to fly, or what hotel (chains) to stay at. I’m fortunate enough to be able to use multiple alliances and chains as I spend hundreds of days on the road every year, and live in a location where my business prospects are limited.

Why are digital loyalty cards great? I’ll let you in on a secret: I hate fat wallets. I’m sure you do too. My wallet is a Mighty Wallet, given to me as a gift at Christmas 2011 from Sara. It holds my essentials: credit cards, ATM cards, ID, drivers license, and cash. It expands to hold receipts and contracts when I decide to process them. Its unlike any leather wallet I’ve ever used as it doesn’t crack, expand out-of-shape or require care. My only complaint is that it is a little faded; I guess it just brings out its character.

Where did all my physical loyalty cards go? My old business card carrying case. In there is my Founder’s Card. My hotel loyalty cards from Hyatt, Starwood, and InterContinental. My Regus card. Two travel insurance cards. My Haagen-Dazs ice cream discount card. My Coffee Bean & Starbucks stored value cards. And many, many more. You get the drift I’m sure. Where does my business card carrying case go? Into my backpack.

In Malaysia, when I last counted, there were four playing in the digital loyalty space. There are many more that have launched since that post, and it has only been about two months since then.

What has this caused? Fragmentation. There is no one digital wallet for my needs. Instead of filling up my business card wallet, I’m filling up my phone with loyalty card applications (which you can now group thanks to folders). They all essentially do the same thing: scan some QR code. These wonderful applications have taken the physical cruft problem into the digital world. To some extent, it is worse because everytime they push an update, I have to download megabytes worth of application to my phone. Some turn on default sharing to Facebook which annoy me to no end (but apparently, merchants love it).

Google may have a solution to this. They call it Wallet. But its far from ready to take over my physical wallet & NFC has been around since 2006 in many a trial. A more elegant solution to me that I’ve seen work and have many people embracing it (including Starwood, Hyatt, Valet, etc.) is Passbook. You can use the Pass Kit APIs in your application. Passbook is more than just loyalty cards: boarding passes, tickets, etc. can be stored there. And it is location aware.

The best part about Passbook? You can use the PKPass files, and it works on Android phones with an application like PassWallet. How far Apple allows this is a good question, but we’ll leave that thought to another day.

Last week, Nazrul pointed me to an article: How to get your business on Apple’s Passbook.

I then heard Joe Beninato of Tello on This Week in Startups #298 and it hit me. Not only do you keep loyalty cards (via Tello’s PassTools – events, boarding passes, coupons, store cards, etc.), you can also provide feedback. User generated content (UGC) with a reward so to speak. So thats Yelp + digital loyalty. Malaysia isn’t a market where customer service is winning – many people expect more, and it is generally crap. Guess the private feedback option makes sense ;) The analytics feature is pretty standard for digital loyalty platforms – if you don’t have one now, you’re as good as dead.

Can Tello work in Malaysia? Possibly the Klang Valley/Penang (just like all these digital loyalty card services). You really need higher end phones for this sort of thing to work. Singapore is decidedly the land of iOS, so it might do a lot better there. It isn’t clear if there will be Android support or not. Android is growing in leaps & bounds, so I’m inclined to think this platform is rather important.

Why is UGC important? This digital loyalty business hits on two fronts: you have to grow the business by getting merchants as well as users. It really is a chicken & egg situation, because users do not come if there are no merchants, and merchants do not embrace if there are no users. UGC not only encourages others to visit the place (see how Yelp, Qype, Tripadvisor work), the feedback mechanism allows owners to write back. Overall, value provided for both the business owner & the user.

That said, not a single Malaysian company that I know of has started using Passbook, with the exception of Malaysian Airlines (their services might not be up to par, but their technology is usually ahead). I’m in Singapore as I write this and I’ve not seen a Singaporean establishment use Passbook either. There has been mention that Jurong Point, a mall, has started using it, and the claim is that they’re the first in Singapore to do so. I’ve never been to Jurong Point, and I don’t expect many people that don’t live there visit it either, but it could be a great case study. I expect great movements in this space come 2013 (after all, iOS6 is just a few months old now, it will get more mainstream next year; also the iPhone 5 is not even sold officially in Malaysia yet).

Related posts:

  1. The chop space (digital loyalty cards) in Malaysia
  2. iOS Cards
  3. Digital Media Consumers

November 30, 2012

Debian Guru to Keynote Linux Conference

linux.conf.au, Australia’s premier open source conference, have announced their third keynote speaker for 2013. Bdale Garbee is best known for his pioneering work with Debian, and for open source community-building efforts with the Linux Foundation, Freedombox, and Software in the Public Interest (SPI). He is a regular presence at linux.conf.au, wowing many recent conference-goers with his rocketry exploits and other hobby activities turned into open source projects.

Bdale made his first contribution to free software in 1979, and has extensive experience in hardware design, Unix internals and embedded systems. He recently retired from long service as HP's Chief Technologist for Open Source and Linux, and now serves as President of Software in the Public Interest, and on the boards of directors of the Linux Foundation and the Freedombox Foundation. In 2008, Bdale became the first individual recipient of a Lutece d'Or award from the Federation Nationale de l'Industrie du Logiciel Libre in France.

The keynote speech, titled "The Future of the Linux Desktop", is inspired by Bdale's observation that free software has been less successful in the traditional desktop and notebook markets than in many other contexts. After a long period of optimism, it is becoming less and less clear when "the year of the Linux desktop" might happen, if ever! Bdale will discuss how and why he thinks we ended up in this situation, and offer thoughts on how the Linux desktop software community might refocus on building a compelling Linux desktop environment.

For more information on the talks scheduled to be presented at linux.conf.au this year, visit https://linux.conf.au/programme/schedule.

About linux.conf.au

linux.conf.au showcases the best of open source and community-driven software and hardware, and it’s coming to the Australian National University from 28 January to 2 February, 2013. The conference provides a great opportunity for open source developers, users, hackers, and makers to share their ideas and further improve their projects.

Contact

Michael Still (Conference Director) +61 2 6140 4546 media@lca2013.linux.org.au

November 29, 2012

FaceTime long overdue to be an open standard

When FaceTime was announced, it was said to be built on open standards and it would be open allowing others to build on top of it. This was in September 2010. 

It has been over two years, and there is no such thing as an open standards compliant FaceTime. Today you still need to use an iPod Touch, iPad, or iPhone to make use of FaceTime.

When I unboxed my Nexus 7 tablet, the first question Sara asked me was if we could now FaceTime using that tablet. You see, we’ve gotten quite used to using FaceTime to keep in touch with each other as we are frequently thousands of miles apart, as I travel a lot.

Lately, Apple has even enabled FaceTime over 3G if you have an iPhone 4S or greater. I’m sure they fear that if it were an open standard, it would probably work on my iPhone 4 as well, thru third party software.

Most importantly as to why I’d like to see FaceTime to be an open standard? Ubiquity. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could use an Android tablet to talk to an iPad?

There was a 3G video standard quite some time back. I think Nokia might have pioneered it. Video calling over 3G was made popular on the Three network in Australia for example. This was in the early days of 3G usage (most phones still did GPRS, then EDGE, back then). I recall being able to make 10 minute calls over Three for free. It meant many people carried one regular phone, and one Three phone. Most importantly, this was based on open standards: an LG phone, spoke perfectly to an Ericsson one, which in turn spoke perfectly to a Nokia one.

I recall Apple denouncing video calling over the 3G network when FaceTime was launched. You needed bandwidth they said, so the experience was best delivered over WiFi. With the advent of LTE, they now believe you can do it over the wireless networks (in iOS6). But you’re locked in with whom you can speak to – other Apple users.

So, the late Steve Jobs vaguely promised that FaceTime would be open. Will the current Tim Cook make this happen?

Related posts:

  1. Notes from the Open Mobile Exchange
  2. What a standard means (and why you should sign the NO OOXML petition)
  3. Unexcited by Apple Music event announcements

Interviews from the field

Oracle, a sponsor of OLPC Australia, have posted some video interviews of a child and a teacher involved in the One Education programme.

November 28, 2012

Typing on tablets – 7″ vs 10″

I wrote this post entirely using my Nexus 7 (a 7″ tablet). I found that I couldn’t type well using it. I had to use it in portrait mode, and use my thumbs to type, which meant that it was utterly slow to generate a post.

On my 10″ iPad, I can comfortably type using the virtual/on-screen keyboard in landscape mode. In portrait mode it is nigh impossible.

In either situation, I’m naturally faster using a regular keyboard, and I do have an Apple Wireless Bluetooth keyboard for this purpose.

I’m now toying with the idea of getting a new iPad (retina display, 4th gen) or an iPad Mini. I’m enjoying consuming content on my Nexus 7. I wonder if I can justify creating more content on the iPad retina? Or do I just satisfy myself with a low-res iPad Mini, which will get updated to a retina display in a year or so?

Others have written about the typing situation: typing on iPad mini, John Gruber hunts & pecks.

Related posts:

  1. Why the mini iPad?
  2. The iPad as a camera
  3. The iPad: Early-experience notes

Golden Ticket Winner Announced for LCA

Open source conference, linux.conf.au, is being held in Canberra at the Australian National University in January 2013, and the organisers have just announced the winner of a free 'Golden Ticket'. The Golden Ticket draw offered a free professional level registration to one submitter who did not have a presentation selected for the conference programme. The intention was that adding a prize to papers submissions would encourage people who would otherwise not submit to "give it a go".

linux.conf.au is pleased to announce that the winner of the Golden Ticket draw is Gavin Jackson. Gavin is a Canberra resident who has attended several linux.conf.au conferences previously at his own expense. He says he is "absolutely thrilled and grateful to be attending the event as a delegate and [I am] looking forward to networking with other members of the LCA community and sharing war stories, tips and beers."

Apart from the obvious cost savings of using Linux and open source software, Gavin says he appreciates how responsive and helpful the open source community is, and how much technical knowledge exists locally in the Australia and New Zealand region, which is clearly demonstrated at linux.conf.au

At the time of this announcement, the 2013 conference has already sold well over half the ticket allocation. With two of the four keynote speakers still to be announced, tickets are selling fast and are likely to be sold out before the doors open on 28 January.

For more information about the conference, check out the website http://linux.conf.au.

About linux.conf.au

linux.conf.au showcases the best of open source and community-driven software and hardware, and it’s coming to the Australian National University from 28 January to 2 February, 2013. The conference provides a great opportunity for open source developers, users, hackers, and makers to share their ideas and further improve their projects.

Contact

Michael Still (Conference Director) +61 2 6140 4546 media@lca2013.linux.org.au

November 26, 2012

Trip report: Tech Planet 2012

I’ve had many dealings with SK Planet, in South Korea, so when they asked me to speak at their inaugural Tech Planet, I jumped at the opportunity. I was already pre-given a topic titled “NewSQL”, so I talked about the evolution of SQL -> Big Data -> NoSQL -> NewSQL, all thanks to papers written by Google research, and then focused on how MySQL & MariaDB is gaining many new interfaces: mariasql, HandlerSocket, dynamic columns, memcached InnoDB plugin, node.js with NDBCLUSTER, CassandraSE, LevelDB, Galera Cluster and more. This is a topic I will talk more about later.

Tech planet 2012The event was great. It started with a speaker’s dinner in where the CTO of SK Planet & multiple VP’s dined with the speakers. We had a private room at the InterContinental COEX, and started with smoked salmon, Russian crab meat & cream cheese. This was followed on quickly by crab meat soup. The main course was beef tenderloin, mero fish & steamed black rice, asparagus and black garlic. We ended with a cranberry tian with raspberry sauce. This was filled with lots of Equus red wine. 

Tech planet 2012The next day, we had the day of the event itself and it was huge. There were probably over 800 attendees, and SkySQL had a booth maintained by the Korean partners: OSS Korea, PrixMedia, and Oh New Innovation. This was followed by lunch with the CEO of SK Planet with great conversation & food. Started with tuna & avocado, to clear the palate, some lemon sorbet, and a great main consisting of beef tenderloin & king prawn with red wine sauce. We had much to chat about, and as lunch came to a close, it was time for me to give my talk.

It was well attended, there were some good questions, and there are naturally some good action items. I’m glad that the whole ecosystem provided me multiple opportunities to talk about amazing work being done. The press covered the Tech Planet event. I managed to snag an interview as well. More photos of the event at my techplanet2012 tag on Flickr.

All in, an exciting space to be in now. Thank you so much for SK Planet for the invite, and I look forward to being around in 2013.

Related posts:

  1. Sun Tech Days Hyderabad
  2. Planet MySQL on Twitter
  3. Some Planet MySQL changes over time

Inventing the world

I caught Made in China on Sundance over the weekend. It was all about the pursuit of an inventor and the trials & tribulations he faced thrown into a new land. It even won several awards. Good film, recommended watch.

It reminded me of my childhood. My job description for the future? I always said I would be a scientist. I always liked building things, from the time I was a kid. When people got toys when they were three years old, I got extension wires. I got my first computer when I was five years old (a family unit no less). This was in 1989. I built computers, soldered circuit boards, basically made things – invention was fun, as were trips to the then Radio Shack in Bangsar, and Pasar Road when I grew a little older.

Building things seems to be coming back with the Maker movement. Many people are inventing the web as we can see. Many people are also copying such inventions. This happens in software as much as it does in the physical world.

Somewhere along the way, I think I’ve lost my way towards invention. Deals. Financing. Chasing the next big thing. News rot. Running the rat race. I think many people are in the same predicament.

For me, it is a great time to reflect. I’ve had a bumper year, I’m spending some time off, and I want to get back into creation. Invention. Some call this maker time/shifting to maker mode.

Sometimes it pays to step back, look at things from a macro perspective, plot, then execute.

Related posts:

  1. Conferences selling out forget about the rest of the world
  2. Politics in the open source world
  3. What do American digital content sellers have against the rest of the world?

November 23, 2012

MicroPeak

MicroPeak — tiny peak-recording altimeter now available

MicroPeak is a miniature peak-recording altimeter. About the same size and weight as a US dime (with battery), MicroPeak offers fabulous accuracy (20cm or 8in at sea level) and wide range (up to 31km or 101k’).

  • Uses the Measurement Specialties MS5607 barometric sensor.

  • Includes built-in battery holder for easily replaceable CR1025 lithium battery

  • Compact design is only 18mm x 14mm or 0.7” x 0.56”. Weighs 1.9g including the battery.

  • Low power design lasts for over 40 hours in flight.

  • Auto-poweroff on landing.

  • Learn more at the Altus Metrum web site

  • Buy these at the gag.com web store for Altus Metrum products

The size of the board was predicated with the premise that we needed a battery included to avoid having wiring running between the altimeter and the board, we found some small lithium coin-cell battery holders for the CR1025 battery. These battery holders are rated to hold the battery secure up to 150gs.

We’d already started playing with the Measurement Specialties MS5607 pressure sensor which offers amazing accuracy while using very little power. Taking full-precision measurements every 96ms consumes about .2mA on average. Once on the ground, we stop taking measurements entirely, dropping the power use to around 1µA. It’s also pretty small, measuring only 5mm x 3mm.

For a CPU, this little project didn’t need much. The 8-bit ATtiny85 comes in a 20qwfn package which is only 4mm x 4mm. When run at full speed (8MHz), it consumes a couple of mA of power. Reduce the clock to a pokey 250kHz and the CPU has enough CPU power to track altitude while consuming less than .2mA on average.

To avoid losing the battery, we wanted to avoid having it removed while the board wasn’t in use. So, we added a little power switch to the board. The one we found is good to at least 50g.

Finally, we wanted to find a nice bright LED to show the state of the device and to blink out the final altitude. The OSRAM LO T67K are bright-orange surface-mount LEDs that run happily on 2mA.

We used OSHPark.com to create prototype circuit boards for this project. Because of the small size of the board, each prototype run cost only $2 for three boards. It takes a couple of weeks to get boards, but it’s really hard to beat the price.

All of the schematic and circuit board artwork are published under the TAPR Open Hardware License and are available via git.

All of the source code is published under the GPLv2 and is included in the main AltOS source repository.

November 22, 2012

Internet Pioneer to Keynote Linux Conference

Australia’s premier open source conference, linux.conf.au, has announced its second keynote speaker for 2013. Radia Perlman is famous for her work on the Ethernet spanning tree protocol (STP), the ISIS routing protocol, TRILL (the recent standard that improves upon STP), and other technologies that are fundamental building blocks of the Internet as we know it. She has also made many contributions to network security, including assured deletion of data, the protocol for authentication and key establishment in IPSec,  trust models for PKI, and network infrastructure that is robust against malicious trusted components.

Radia is currently a Fellow at Intel Labs, specialising in network and security protocols. She is the author of the textbook "Interconnections: Bridges, Routers, Switches, and Internetworking Protocols", and coauthor of "Network Security". She has a PhD from MIT in computer science, holds over 100 issued patents, and has received various industry awards including lifetime achievement awards from ACM’s SIGCOMM and Usenix, and an honorary doctorate from KTH.

The keynote, titled "Reasoning about Networks", intends to show that a lot of what everyone thinks they know about network protocols is actually false. Radia will demonstrate that the field is shrouded in hype and rivalry between competing teams. It is difficult to know what, if anything, is true, since any of the designs can be changed to incorporate ideas from other designs. The talk will cover topics such how to get to the heart of what might be intrinsic differences, separate out orthogonal issues rather than focusing on complete specifications, and comparing technologies without emotion. Radia will also discuss some recent technologies, and help you to separate the hype from the facts.

For more information on the talks scheduled to be presented at linux.conf.au this year, visit http://linux.conf.au/programme/schedule.

About linux.conf.au

linux.conf.au showcases the best of open source and community-driven software and hardware, and it’s coming to the Australian National University from 28 January to 2 February, 2013. The conference provides a great opportunity for open source developers, users, hackers, and makers to share their ideas and further improve their projects.

Contact

Michael Still (Conference Director) +61 2 6140 4546 media@lca2013.linux.org.au

November 20, 2012

Percona Live Santa Clara 2013 tutorial schedule out

I didn’t participate in 2012, but in 2013, I’m back on the conference committee for Percona Live Santa Clara. We have an awesome Program Chair in Shlomi Noach, and after much deliberation & commentary, we have a tutorials schedule out now. Expect that the rest of the conference content to be awesome too. Remember, April 22-25 2013 are the magical dates, so register now!

Related posts:

  1. MariaDB at Percona Live Santa Clara
  2. More MariaDB after Percona Live Santa Clara
  3. Percona Live London 2011



MySQL-related events & the ecosystem

I had an interesting conversation with Sheeri (who I’ve known for many years, so consider this friendly banter) on Twitter about my recent blog post titled: once again, a split in events.

Disclaimer/Bias Warning: For those that don’t know me, I write this as a perspective of a community member. I was the first ever Community Engineer at MySQL, followed by being a Community Relations Manager right up till I left Sun Microsystems. I now work on MariaDB which is a branch of MySQL, so naturally we are in competition for user base. But I’m writing this as a community member at large who cares about MySQL & the ecosystem.

First of, this is a focus on the user ecosystem. I think the MySQL developer ecosystem has never been healthier than it is today – so many branches, forks, features, development trees, etc. Developer ecosystems are for another post, this is all about user ecosystems.

On events during similar timeframes

Sheeri started with calling BS on my post. Great way to start a conversation. I for one didn’t say that Oracle split the community or that Percona did so. I’m not in the job of pointing fingers. I’m just looking at past evidence: London 2012 (Percona, UKOUG), September/October 2012 (MySQL Connect San Francisco, Percona NYC), April 2011 (MySQL Conference Santa Clara, IOUG Collaborate Florida). There may be more events but I can only think of these.

I’ve heard that the April timeframe is bad for Oracle to send engineers to conferences because they have a busy release month. Yet Collaborate in Florida was ok?

Yes, MySQL may be the most popular opensource database today. This is great for the ecosystem that I am in. We can & should have many events, so I totally agree with Sheeri. But do they have to be at the same time? Do they have to ensure that attendees have to choose one or the other?

On spreading MySQL

I am happy that free events now happen in places that previously had no events, like Nairobi & Kenya. MySQL presence was almost unheard of in South America (many users, but we never made it out there to meet with the grassroots), but I’ve seen great amounts of activity there. I’ve even written about this before: a tale of two conferences. London in 2011 was awesome for MySQL all spread by a week – Oracle and Percona had 2 events and there were 2 different audiences from what I could tell.

I was at MySQL Connect this year as well as Percona Live NYC. The amount of intersection in attendees was sparse. In fact, Oracle managed to gather an interesting new crowd for Connect, so all kudos to them!

My wish as a community member (on events)

I wish to see Oracle MySQL employees show up at all events. This includes Percona Live events. I mean a talk from someone developing InnoDB, for example, would be great. It seems that the official line though is: “Oracle is not willing to help other companies’ marketing“. Fair enough. Percona Live is a great marketing event for Percona.

In the same vein I wish to see non-Oracle employees, even those from competitors, show up at Oracle MySQL events. MySQL Connect had 2 talks from Percona. That’s a good start.

I also wish that I get the best MySQL & ecosystem related content at one event. Many people can only make one event (especially when they happen during the same time at different locations). As a busy DBA, I want “the one event to learn it all”. That’s what the MySQL Conferences in Santa Clara used to do. This was a home for people to meetup once a year. This is no longer the case, it would seem.

Keeping MySQL relevant

Another wish that is unrelated to events: I wish MySQL was still spreading.

I speak to many MySQL users. From humble developers to large enterprises.

Oracle’s enemy isn’t MariaDB or Percona Server or the ecosystem at large. MySQL’s enemy is the growing use of other databases. NoSQL solutions are a popular choice; when people realize they want something relational, they don’t think about MySQL as a migration path. Pretty much every migration story I’ve seen suggests it is a migration to PostgreSQL.

Many years ago, you deployed on MySQL first. Today, is it still the first choice for the developer? Is it the second choice?

What about enterprises migrating from the Oracle database? They are well aware whom the new owners of MySQL are.

I saw this published on Josh Berkus’ blog: MySQL-to-PostgreSQL migration data from the451.com. It is worth a read.

I have had many conversations with experienced MySQL DBAs who I would consider rockstar DBAs in the Valley who are now beefing up their MongoDB knowledge. Some job offers are now asking for more than just MySQL knowledge. The naive way to look at it is if you’re getting 2-3 job offers for MySQL work per week. That is today. What about next year? I would like to put on a long term view here.

One more thing

I am truly independent in this. I want to see MySQL succeed. I need it to succeed as I am an ecosystem participant (via MariaDB).

I have heard many people call Oracle ACE/Directors Oracle apologists. I know pretty much all the Oracle ACEs as friends and respect their opinions, so in no way am I going to refer to them as apologists or shills. 

Celebrate the Oracle ACE/Director like you would the old/defunct MySQL Guilds.

Let’s work together to make the MySQL user ecosystem healthy!

Thanks to Sheeri Cabral, Giuseppe Maxia, Henrik Ingo & Ronald Bradford for pre-reading this.

Related posts:

  1. Once again, a split in events
  2. MySQL across two coasts
  3. A Tale of Two Conferences



November 19, 2012

My Kickstarter experience

In may 2012, I went on a little shopping spree on kickstarter. The intention wasn’t to invest in a project but back it. Its clear many people get confused with the concept. Backing a project isn’t like going to a store to buy or pre-order a product either.

Backing a project is rooting for its success. With money, one can only presume that projects execute and whatever was promised gets delivered. It seems however that my kickstarter hit rate is so far a mere 50%.

I backed a project that successfully delivered the goods in September 2012. I was rather thrilled because it clearly made someone’s dreams come true. Another project that I had backed should have delivered on the goals by the end of July.

Sadly, its November and many of the backers haven’t heard back from the project owner. Many comments from concerned backers are posted in the comments section.

Me? I backed what I consider a small amount. In funding, sometimes things fall thru, and in backing projects, sometimes things don’t work out even when the funding goal is reached. Money alone doesn’t make a product!

Is this however a problem? Will someone that has been burnt by a negative backing consider using the Kickstarter platform again? Will it ruin crowdfunding for them?

I don’t have the answers. I will continue perusing the site, backing interesting projects, ensuring people’s dreams can be achieved. Let’s see if my success rate improves over time.

Related posts:

  1. pitchIN, the Kickstarter for Malaysia
  2. Does open source need to be “organic”?
  3. Is open source the bubble 2.0 waiting to happen?



Once again, a split in events

Percona Live London 2012 happens December 3-4 2012. Naturally Oracle has decided to back UKOUG in Birmingham with interesting talks as well, happening December 3-5 2012. This is akin to the recent San Francisco/New York split for MySQL Connect & Percona Live NYC 2012.

Lucky for us, Birmingham’s “MySQL day” seems to be December 5 2012, and by estimates, it takes about 1.5 hours for one to attend both events and see 3 days of MySQL related content.

That aside, I’m hoping this doesn’t happen in 2013. Splitting the community is never a good idea.

Related posts:

  1. MySQL-related events & the ecosystem
  2. More MariaDB after Percona Live Santa Clara
  3. MySQL across two coasts



November 18, 2012

Handset for my mobile phone

I was recently in Japan and picked up in-store a Native Union Authentic Retro POP Phone Handset for Mobile Devices and Tablets. It is a nifty little device that is great when you have to make long calls (think group meetings, conference calls, etc.). It also means I don’t keep my phone to my ear. The audio quality is pretty good as well, and you can hang up on the call from the phone.

It isn’t something I’m carrying when I travel, but it is a welcome addition to the office. Best thing about it? It uses a regular headphone jack, so no worries about it working on my Android, iPhone, or BlackBerry.

Now, would I get away with driving in a car with this? :-)

Related posts:

  1. On the mobile data business, and iPhones
  2. Finding people from cell phone base stations
  3. The Android User Experience



November 17, 2012

thoughts on e-mail backlog

I had the pleasure to chat with my former CEO, Marten Mickos, at LinuxCon Barcelona on his birthday. Marten is prolific on Twitter (@martenmickos). I’ve always encouraged him to blog, so I’m glad that he now has two blogs: CEO blog at Eucalyptus, as well as another on Wired’s Innovation Insights.

We spoke about many things, but one of them was email. Marten always replies to emails very quickly and it has always impressed me. He told me he felt bad that now he might take up to a week to reply to an email. He jokingly blamed it on age catching up.

It got me thinking about my email backlog. Across all accounts, I am embarrassed to say I have 3,821 messages that I have to process. I’m sure quite a number of those will require replying (even at 10%, that is quite a number).

There is no better time than now to take over my INBOX. I have the next couple of weeks to be home and a little more relaxed, so I’m going to tackle this email backlog. Once I’ve paid off this debt, I plan to answer emails fashionably quick. I mean if Marten, CEO of Eucalyptus, board member at several firms, can do it, so can I.

Thanks Marten for continuing to inspire me to be better.

For additional inspiration, I plan to listen to Believe in Something Bigger Than Yourself. I’m sure it is one of Marten’s better inspirational talks!

Related posts:

  1. The 1Malaysia E-mail Project
  2. The 1Malaysia E-mail Project Revisited
  3. Support Management Escalation



Which one are you: Confident? Arrogant? Smug?

Confidence is the honest belief that you’re highly capable of helping others. Arrogance is the honest belief you have nothing more to learn yourself. It’s a fine line, but walk right up to it. (Smugness is arrogance without the talent—these are the people “coaching” others who have never done what they’re coaching.)

Quote from Alan Weiss. Totally read the book: Million Dollar Consulting.

Related posts:

  1. Alan Knott Craig, Mxit & African mobile tech
  2. On fuel subsidies, and earning/spending power
  3. Books: The No Asshole Rule, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man



November 16, 2012

Chumby Co-Inventor to Keynote Linux Conference

linux.conf.au, Australia’s premier open source conference, have announced the first of four keynote speakers for 2013. Andrew "bunnie" Huang is best known as the lead hardware developer of "Chumby", a device designed from the ground up as an open source gadget, complete with open source hardware, and whose designers encourage hackers to get into the device and make it their own. He is also the author of "Hacking the Xbox", a book about reverse engineering consumer products and the social and practical issues around doing so.

bunnie is currently a Research Affiliate of the MIT Media Lab, technical advisor for several hardware startups and MAKE magazine, and shares his experiences manufacturing hardware in China through his blog. He takes what he calls a "push-and-pull" approach to open hardware. He contributes original open designs, as well as liberating closed designs. He recently released an open implementation of a man-in-the-middle attack on high-bandwidth digital content protection (HDCP), a method of copy protection used by many media outlets, which enables overlays on encrypted video without circumventing copyright controls.

The keynote, titled "Linux in the Flesh: Adventures Embedding Linux in Hardware", embraces the idea that Linux is not just for desktops and servers, but exists, in one form or another, in millions of smartphones, routers, set top boxes, and other hardware appliances that we encounter in everyday life. bunnie will share some his experiences with embedding Linux in various hardware clients, the interplay between hardware and software architecture, system planning for embedded applications, and the challenges of hardware manufacturing and building a business selling physical goods.

For more information on the talks scheduled to be presented at linux.conf.au this year, visit http://linux.conf.au/programme/schedule. .

About linux.conf.au

linux.conf.au showcases the best of open source and community-driven software and hardware, and it’s coming to the Australian National University from 28 January to 2 February, 2013. The conference provides a great opportunity for open source developers, users, hackers, and makers to share their ideas and further improve their projects.

November 15, 2012

Group buying sites & their false advertising

I just read that Coupang, in South Korea, has been fined for using false information by the Korean Fair Trade Commission to sell beef.

What’s amazing is that there was 117 million won (~USD$108,000) worth of beef sold at a 50% discount. The fine for false advertising, which is common in group buying sites as they beef up copywriting, was 8 million won (~USD7360).

Guess they’re big, but everyone’s got to play by fair rules. I wonder how many other trade commissions look into whacky copywriting in other countries.

Related posts:

  1. Thoughts on group buying sites
  2. Advice from David Ogilvy about group buying
  3. ChurpChurp alcohol advertising on Twitter



November 12, 2012

On Employment

Okay, so it turns out an interesting, demanding, and rewarding job isn’t as compatible as I’d naively hoped with all the cool things I’d like to be doing as hobbies (like, you know, blogging more than once a year, or anything substantial at all…) Thinking it’s time to see if there’s any truth in the whole fitness fanatic thing of regular exercise helping…

Walktime Blog #27: Electronics design as an online team sport

Electronics design has traditionally been a solo activity. Some high-end packages have a degree of collaboration using shared libraries and synchronisation tools, but Upverter is the first project I've seen that allows real-time online collaboration. Multiple engineers can be working in the same project simultaneously, and the project updates live so all participants can see changes as they happen. Now with Upverter's latest release they've extended their initial schematic tool to include PCB layout, which may just tip it over the edge to being a major contender as design tool of choice for many engineers.

Check out Upverter at www.upverter.com. I'd love to know what you think.

View or comment directly on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPsViT0IT2c

November 10, 2012

SuperHouse Ep 4: Making home automation gear run quietly

I put up SuperHouse episode 4 a while ago, and forgot to blog about it! Slack.

Anyway, it's up now so please check it out!

http://www.superhouse.tv/episode/4-making-home-automation-gear-quieter

I have another 2 episodes partly filmed, and work done for a couple more after that so hopefully they'll begin coming through more regularly.

Walktime Blog #26: The Big Red Button

When IVT started using Scrum as a development methodology I wanted to put the power to approve or reject software releases into the hands of the product manager. Combining an Arduino-compatible board from Freetronics, a WiFi shield, the JIRA issue tracker, the Git source code management system, a custom web service, and some flashing lights, this is the result.

View or comment directly on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jieg_Aalp8s

November 05, 2012

Now Wikivoyaging!

It’s amazing how many people I meet who got en-wikied by Wikitravel, the freely licenced worldwide travel guide founded by Evan Prodromou and Michele Ann Jenkins. I was always a bit sad that it wasn’t a Wikimedia project (once I knew there were Wikimedia projects aside from Wikipedia). I was a heavy editor in 2004 and 2005 and became an administrator in 2006, and still (well, as of yesterday) held that role on the website although I haven’t been very active since 2007.

For entirely separate reasons, I ended up keynoting Wikimania this year, which was great and terrible timing as far as wikis for travel went. Great, because it was at Wikimania that part of the discussion about founding a Wikimedia Foundation travel wiki was going on (Internet Brands owns the Wikitravel trademark and domain name), and I was told about it by one of the people active in it. Terrible, because I was so exhausted and overwhelmed after AdaCamp and my keynote that I didn’t do nearly enough at Wikimania. (The evening of the keynote, I went to my hotel at 4pm and ordered room service dinner. Thank you, room service crème brûlée, for getting me through that night.) I did meet someone who was among those spearheading the proposal to have a WMF travel wiki, but I didn’t attend the travel wiki meetups, nor log in anywhere to express an opinion among the various proposals.

It seems that what was eventually decided was to immediately import content originally written for Wikitravel into an English language version of Wikivoyage, which had already assembled a German and Italian community to create a non-commerical wiki travel guide some years back. The edit history of Wikitravel as of early August has been imported (since August, Internet Brands turned off the API access to Wikitravel changes), with further edits being made by Wikivoyagers including many former Wikitravel (and current, perhaps?) editors. Wikivoyage is in turn being imported into WMF technical infrastructure very very soon (possibly Monday US time), but I finally happened to want to do some editing last night, so I jumped the gun and joined the live version of English Wikivoyage! If you remember me from Wikitravel, say hi.

It’s already possible to use Wikimedia Commons images on Wikivoyage, for which I’m very grateful. I’ve put all the research I’ve done for my upcoming trip to SEE A TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE into the Solar eclipses travel article, a perfect use-case for Commons images, which has hundreds of shots of eclipses. I’ll see if I can find a good replacement for the very mediocre image from my 2006 trip to Cairns still used on that article.

November 04, 2012

An overheard conversation on jobs

I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation today. It was in an airport bus, wheeling us to our plane. The dramatis personae involve folk that are from America.

Lady: “Where do you work?”

Man: Almost apologetically states, “I work at Oracle, that big database company. Well, until I find something else to do.”

A whiff of silence in the air.

Man: “I used to work for a small company but Oracle acquired it about a year ago”

Another man: ” When does your lock up period expire? Can’t imagine you’d enjoy working there.”

Man: “Soon, real soon.” Giggles

Lady: “Well in this economy, you don’t want to be out of a job. I guess no one leaves a company before having yet another job in the line.”

Everyone nods in agreement.

What can we learn from this?

  1. People apologise when they work at a big company? 
  2. The economy is terrible that it might be an employer’s market, and there is no longer ease of employee mobility

However, this would be in contrast to the hiring battle that is being faced in Silicon Valley. The FT is the latest to talk about this.

Related posts:

  1. Open source kills jobs?
  2. Keeping up with the conversation
  3. Fedora Jobs list and test notes



October 30, 2012

Simple NFS bugs, not so simple to fix

Could someone explain to me why the simple and obvious patch in kernel bugzilla 12557 to resolve an invalid filehandle being found by stat() when a file has been recently updated on an NFS server, causes more problems than it solves and thus will not be ever applied to a mainline kernel? "CLOSED DOCUMENTED" seems to be documented by saying "NFS is unreliable. Live with it". Yes, but couldn't it be *more* reliable?

October 29, 2012

Sysadmin Miniconf proposals close in 2 days for linux.conf.au 2013

Once again I’m helping to organise the Sysadmin Miniconf at Linux.conf.au . This time we’ll be in Canberra in the last week of January  2013.

This is a big reminder that proposals for presentations at the Miniconf close at the End of October. If you have a proposal you need to submit it now.

Even if you’ve not 100% finalised your idea let us know now and we can work with you. If we don’t know about it then it is very hard for us to accept it.

We have several proposals that have already been accepted but are very keen to get more.

 

October 24, 2012

Support the Ada Initiative

That time of year (a tradition has not yet been established) has come around again: the Ada Initiative is fundraising!

The what? The Ada Initiative is the charity that Valerie Aurora and I started in early 2011, supporting women in open technology and culture. Val and I have been working independently and together on supporting women in open source since circa 1999 (starting, in my case, when someone said something derogatory about my computing skills, in a university context*) and we were both at a transition point in our careers last year and decided to try and go pro. Everyone in open source is growing up and getting paid, the activists too!

Since then we’ve done a bunch of things:

  1. run two AdaCamps: cross-project summits for and about women in open tech and culture (to give an idea, at AdaCamp DC we had women who do GNOME programming, women who help run fandom organisations, and women from Wikipedia among many others)
  2. continued to work with conferences and communities to develop and promote the conference anti-harassment policies we developed in late 2010. Most recently a version was adopted by Google and linked from the Google IO 2012 homepage.
  3. developed our allies training workshop: we’re planning to develop a curriculum to train other people to run it
  4. worked with several companies and conferences to respond to sexist incidents or patterns in their community

I also appeared at Wikimania this year, to give a keynote on diversity ideals and strategies.

As for reasons to donate: let me share with you the argument that got me involved. They still motivate my work for the Ada Initiative. (I’ve been paid a salary for over a year now, but I donated my time through to July 2011.)

The basic reason is this: open technology and culture is changing the world. But all world-changing movements have problems with replicating the same old problems inside their communities: that the more boxes you check of Western, white, educated, male etc, the more you will find the community suited to putting you in leadership positions and the more you will benefit from it and change it to benefit you. Some areas of open technology and culture — famously, open source software development, but also, for example, Wikipedia editing — are notorious for low participation by women. For me the argument amounted to “I want to play too” but there are knock-on effects too: see Valerie’s Why We Need More Women In Open Source: The Founder Gap when it comes to employment.

At present this is do or die time: we have project experience and fundraising experience now. Our donation drive has 7 more days to run: if there’s not enough support out there for us to keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll need to re-think the idea that this is activism that it is possible to pay for.

I’d very much appreciate it if people who have benefited from open source, open knowledge, Creative Commons work and so on, especially people who have built a career from it or from having access to the community consider donating: it’s not a level playing field and it damn well should be!

* I don’t think it was the time that my tutor announced “oh hey, here’s our token woman” on the first day of semester, actually, but for the record: don’t do that.

Donation progress bar: donate now

Support the Ada Initiative‘s work for women in open technology and culture!

SHOW CONTRIBUTORS

Yesterday we (Gerry, Lars, Serg) had a mini-MySQL’er reunion courtesy of us all speaking at HighLoad++. Much thanks to the organizers for bringing us out here so that we could all catch up :)

We had a chat about how SHOW CONTRIBUTORS got into the code of MySQL as we were giving ideas to HighLoad++ organizers to raise money for charity. I distinctively remember it had something to do with a charity auction at one of the older MySQL User Conferences in Santa Clara. This was when we had quiz shows! And it was at the UC in 2006 for a charity auction where all proceeds got donated to the EFF

I see than Ronald has it in a presentation, and Sheeri was just saving to get married but still shelled out. Someone who’s a little quieter in the MySQL community, Frank, has a distinctive writeup, who reminded me that I too talked about this back then.

A lot has changed since 2006. SHOW CONTRIBUTORS is now deprecated, just like SHOW AUTHORS. As of 5.6.8, it is removed.

It will not affect how the database performs, but it certainly affects the “community feel” around MySQL, further cementing the idea that this is now a product at a very large company.

Related posts:

  1. It’s nearly Mother’s Day, what a gift…
  2. Lightning talks with Community Contributors
  3. MySQL, with SHOW PROFILE and updated INFORMATION_SCHEMA, built from the Community tree



October 23, 2012

Why do Mac & Linux users pay more for things?

I just purchased The Humble eBook Bundle. I primarily use a Mac OSX based laptop (my MacBook Pro), and secondarily use Linux in various flavours (a Lenovo ThinkPad runs Ubuntu, various boxes run a combination of that and Fedora & CentOS, and virtual machines are growing).

It seems not only with regards to Orbitz showing better, more expensive, hotels to Mac users, even when it comes to the Humble Bundle, Mac and Linux users pay more. Are we just conditioned to pay more than Microsoft Windows users?

I’m glad to support DRM-free e-books & great content. Who knows, I might discover something new.

Related posts:

  1. O’Reilly to offer DRM-free ebooks…
  2. Main stream Ubuntu – bug reporting users that aren’t packagers
  3. Dell collaborates with Microsoft/Novell – 2007 is definitely the year of desktop Linux



October 22, 2012

MOL at the center of online & offline payments

There’s a chance that Malaysian payments will get shook up. From an online perspective, you’ve got the former nbepay becoming MOLPay. From an offline perspective, you’ve got a joint venture between softspace and MOL to form MOLCube (e27 cover it too). The center of all of this is MOL.

For me, I’ve been waiting for a softspace device for quite a few months. I was excited since April 2012. I was told a device would be coming my way from 18 June 2012, and never heard back; the presumption is that people are using this device according to their website. But it is not available for the “general population”.

I have never met Ganesh Kumar Bangah, the man behind MOL, but being a young CEO, I figure he’s got the chops & energy to pave the way. Besides, he’s backed by Berjaya tycoon Vincent Tan.

Ugliness begone, let there be better online & offline payments and this will pave the way for e-commerce as well as physical versions of e-commerce (pop-up stores, bazaars, heck, imagine your pasar malam vendor going online).

A lot of this will involve lobbying Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM). I don’t believe any payment gateway intentionally wants to provide terrible user experience, I believe its usually to feed regulatory requirements.

Looking forward to payments in 2013. It can only be better than today.

Related posts:

  1. The state of e-commerce payments in Malaysia: still terrible
  2. Offline GMail via Google Gears
  3. Square-like payment devices in Asia



October 20, 2012

Didn’t take long for iOS6-only apps

It didn’t take long for my prediction on 24 September to come true on 11 October. My suspiscion was also correct, it would be led by Marco Arment, but it had nothing to do with Instapaper, it was the launch of a new product titled The Magazine.

The reason to make it iOS 6 only?

It uses some iOS 6-only features and fonts, and it’s architected for iOS 6’s gesture handling. Setting this high baseline also greatly simplifies testing, maintenance, and future updates.

Wow. Fonts & gestures. Amazing.

Greed or tradeoff from Apple? 

Related posts:

  1. Apps are the new channels
  2. my pre-upgrade iOS6 thoughts
  3. Messenger apps revisited



The state of e-commerce payments in Malaysia: still terrible

Today I tried to checkout RM450 using iPay88. They only accept Visa or MasterCard credit cards, so I pulled my wallet out.

I thought I would use the Citibank card today. I got sent to an error page. So I clicked the back button to head back and thankfully this worked.

Error Finding Page

I dug further and found a Direct Access card. I have to choose an issuing bank and now had to think a little harder to figure out that this card belongs to CIMB. I was sent a code via USSD verification which was valid for a mere 3 minutes. I had to run to my phone which was charging upstairs and run back down to make the transaction.

Later I see an SMS from Citibank giving me my OneTime PIN that is valid for 4 minutes. I never even got the chance to use it.

Now, lets say I was the average consumer.

  1. What would I have done with the error page?
  2. How would I have reacted to seeing one design then seeing the iPay88 page? Seems close to an attack. Stripe doesn’t have this problem.
  3. How quickly would I have retried the same credit card before I gave up on the online purchase?

Anecdotal evidence from several online stores that I’ve been involved in suggests Malaysians are a patient bunch. They try up to three times for a credit card transaction before abandoning the cart. Some will email because its clear they really want the item. Most truly just give up.

E-commerce is slated to be big. But fixing payments should be crucial.

Related posts:

  1. 7-Eleven helps e-commerce in Taiwan
  2. Malaysia slugs credit card users who don’t pay up
  3. Is Lenovo Malaysia interested in selling their stuff?



How to insult this blog

Asking to buy advertising with a pitch such as:

Therefore I’m interested in buying advertisement space (my budget is unlimited).

Or worse, the following:

I would like to get an article on your blog about [REDACTED]. For this we would like to offer you 200 RM.

We are a [REDACTED] company and growing fast in all South East Asian markets. Once we get started we see the opportunity of building a long term relationship that would benefit both you and me.

We are currently handling a very handpicked selection of top blogs in Malaysia so the sooner you can get back to me the more I would be likely able to spend. Would be great if you can also send me your telephone number or skype account so we can have a quick chat on the details.

Do expect to get rather curt responses which tell you not to insult me.

Related posts:

  1. Quick notes: Monty Program Group Blog; Rename Maria
  2. Changes in the blog
  3. EducationaLinux and an interesting MSDN blog



October 19, 2012

YEOLSIMHI haeyo

NYT: The Thirst for Learning

YEOLSIMHI haeyo, Koreans say. Work hard. The phrase is spoken endlessly and serves both as a rallying call and a reminder that no one likes whiners. And no matter how hard a student is working, he or she can always work harder — or so goes the theory.

While I’m not a huge fan of the idea that a prep school starts at 7.40am and goes on right until 10.20pm, it is amazing to see the progress that South Korea has had in the past few decades. They’ve grown their GDP per capita almost three times over Malaysia’s, and it was only in the 80′s that they were still looking up towards Malaysia as a success story.

Remember to always take yourself and whomever is teaching you/speaking to you seriously. 

Just this week, I received feedback at a meeting and changed some slides for the next day’s presentation. The audience was impressed that I didn’t just say I’d take the feedback, but I acted on it by doing the necessary research in a limited timeframe. 

Remember to care. And be great.

Related posts:

  1. OLPC, by Jim Gettys
  2. Localisation and its merits
  3. Open Source Economy Conference 2008



On being vulnerable

FT: Time to open up at the office.

Vulnerability means opening yourself to hurt. And as hurt is something that hurts, opening yourself to it is something best avoided.

To risk getting hurt is brave. To act invulnerable is not.

The single most important difference between people who can connect and those who can’t is their willingness to be vulnerable.

Leaves me a lot to think about. I generally believe in having tall walls. Time to follow the work of Brené Brown clearly. 

Videos: The Power of Vulnerability, Listening to Shame.

No related posts.



Jurisdiction, Internet law & alvivi

Rais Yatim is at it again:

Speaking to reporters yesterday on the sidelines of an event, Dr Rais said, “We have legal redress under Section 233 and 263 of the Communications and Multimedia Act. But we would rather not use that first until and unless we get the results of what the Singaporean authorities are pursuing first.”

legal redress. i’m beginning to wonder, where does Malaysian jurisdiction fall when it comes to the Internet?

the alvivi blog was hosted on tumblr. last I checked, tumblr was not a malaysian company & has no presence in malaysia (this is quite unlike blogspot & google). tumblr is unlikely in singapore too. do malaysian or singaporean internet laws apply? can the communications & multimedia act 1998 be used just because these two are malaysian?!?

so what is alvin tan & vivian lee guilty of? recording videos of their sexual escapades. what’s wrong with that? content is king, and if they’re producing useful content, so be it. no one forces you to watch, or read, or be nosey, so you really can switch channels.

singapore isn’t jumping on this yet. they’re letting the university (nus) deal with the matter first. how is this the problem of the university? maybe its because at least one of them has a scholarship. universities shouldn’t dictate what students choose to do with their lives.

i’m not alone in thinking this is their business. after all with the billions of pages on the internet, there really isn’t much reason for people to cry afoul.

alvin is an entrepreneur at heart. i’m glad they’ve posted a response (seems vivian doesn’t do much talking).

they are after all collecting email addresses to build a mailing list. i’m old enough to remember jennicam. lifecasting is not a new idea either (iJustine, justin.tv, etc.). imagine jennicam meets kink? there’s great production value here (of course, i have to admit i’ve not seen the content as the blog has been taken offline; but to get such traction, clearly it must be good to a selection of people). alvivi can clearly become a brand. 

obscenity laws? random acts? lets not curtail on the right to freedom of expression. remember, if you don’t like it, don’t view it.

Related posts:

  1. Keeping the (content on the) Internet relevant
  2. Piracy due to lack of legal options
  3. Blogger registration, revisited



October 18, 2012

Why the mini iPad?

Edwin Yapp thinks about why Apple would introduce a mini iPad. The thinking for me is simple:

  1. I almost exclusively use my Nexus 7 tablet now for everything. This includes surfing the Internet, reading books on the Kindle app, and more.
  2. The only thing it isn’t so good for at the moment is watching movies which I do on the plane (which I tend to be on a lot). And consuming video podcasts is definitely an issue since there is no iTunes syncing.
  3. The storage size isn’t so hot either – at 16GB I cannot load it up with a lot of movies like I can on my 64GB iPad.
  4. It is cheap. Replacing a USD$250+ device is much easier after 2 years than replacing a USD$700+ device when the software on it becomes obsolete.

Resolution size probably plays a huge role. I lug a 15″ MacBook Pro around now, because I’ve always been using 15″ laptops since the days of the PowerBook. Its simply because of the resolution: 1440×900. Today I’m thinking about a 13″ MacBook Air because its lighter and it also supports the 1440×900 resolution. Going from 15″ -> 13″ is a smaller screen size with the same screen real estate. 

I expect that with all these HD/retina displays, you can just fit more onto a smaller screen size.

Many have assumed that iOS developers only focus on developing for 2 sizes which is untrue. 480×320, 960×640, and now 1136×640 just for the iPhones/iPod Touches. Then there’s the iPad’s at 1024×768 & 2048×1536. Why not get a third? :-)

A 7″ iPad that syncs with iTunes, has more space than 16GB (maybe 32GB is the middle ground that I should probably grab), with a good resolution – its something I could definitely consider. Have to figure out how to watch movies on a smaller screen though…

Related posts:

  1. The iPad: Early-experience notes
  2. The iPad as a camera
  3. Dell Mini Inspiron? New Asus EeePC’s? Its the keyboard, silly



October 17, 2012

October 16, 2012

Ada Lovelace Day: Marita Cheng, Robogals founder

Today, October 16, is Ada Lovelace Day: write or record a story about a woman in science, technology, mathematics or engineering (STEM) whose achievements you admire.

This is a slightly updated version of a profile that has appeared on Geek Feminism and Hoyden About Town.

Marita Cheng was named as the Young Australian of the Year winner at the beginning of the year. She’s been involved in volunteering since she was a high school student, and in 2008, early in her undergraduate studies (mechatronic engineering and computer science at the University of Melbourne) she founded Robogals, which is an engineering and computing outreach group, in which women university students run robotics workshops for high school age girls.

Marita, while still in the final year of her undergraduate degree, is also an entrepreneur and has been previously awarded for her work as founder of Robogals, including winning the Anita Borg Change Agent award in 2011. In 2012 she travelled to several countries with the aid of the Nancy Fairfax Churchill Fellowship to study “strategies used to most effectively engage female schoolgirls in science, engineering and technology.”

While I have heard of Robogals, I hadn’t heard of Marita specifically before she became Young Australian of the Year. One of the fascinating things about starting the Ada Initiative is slowly discovering all the other amazing women who work in technology career outreach and related endeavours. But it’s a little embarrassing, judging from her bio, to have not heard Marita Cheng’s name before the beginning of the year!

Further reading:

Ada Lovelace Day: Else Shepherd, leading Australian electrical engineer

Today, October 16, is Ada Lovelace Day: write or record a story about a woman in science, technology, mathematics or engineering (STEM) whose achievements you admire.

Else Shepherd is an Australian electrical engineer specialising in communications equipment. She has co-founded multiple Australian engineering companies, including Mosaic Information Technology, a custom modems company, and Microwave & Materials Designs, developing microwave filters for mobile phones. She was appointed as the chairman of Powerlink, the state government-owned corporation maintaining Queensland’s high voltage electricity grid, in 1994, and has been a board member of the National Electricity Market Management Company (now known as the Australian Energy Market Operator).

Shepherd won Engineers Australia’s Peter Nicol Russell Memorial Medal in 2007, their most prestigious award, recognising an engineer with over 20 years of substantial contributions to professional engineering in Australia. As best I can tell, she is the only woman Peter Nicol Russell medallist. She is also a Member of the Order of Australia since 2003, and was the University of Queensland Alumnus of the Year in 2009. She is also a pianist and choral director.

Shepherd has talked about her experience as a woman in electrical engineering with University of Queensland publications. She and one other woman graduated in 1965, the university’s first women graduates in electrical engineering. She was unable to attend Institution of Engineers meetings in the 1960s, because they were held at the local Men’s Club. She continues to promote workplace flexibility, having used part-time work during parts of her career to care for her two children.

Further reading:

October 15, 2012

Alan Knott Craig, Mxit & African mobile tech

I know nothing about the African continent, having never stepped foot into it before (something I’m sure I will remedy within the next decade). I read a piece in the FT Weekend about Alan Knott Craig, Jr. (@alanknottcraig), an entrepreneur in South Africa that runs Mxit. Mxit is impressive: 750 million messages a day served, plus allowing 581 million mobile users in Africa to make electronic payments.

You have got to love Mxit’s mantra: help more Africans make more money.

This is a social entrepreneur at his best. I’ve already picked up his book titled: Mobinomics: Mxit and Africa’s Mobile Revolution, which I presume will be an interesting read.

He is also a workaholic with suggestions on how to improve his work-life balance with 3 simple rules:

  1. no working after 6pm
  2. no working on Sundays; and
  3. no travelling for more than seven consecutive nights

I just subscribed to his blog and followed him on Twitter and am totally eager to learn more about this amazing continent.

Related posts:

  1. My first Mobile Monday
  2. Notes from the Open Mobile Exchange
  3. MNP here; mobile content thoughts



October 13, 2012

Sunday spam: porridge and honey

What is cultural appropriation?

The problem isn’t that cultures intermingle, it’s the terms on which they do so and the part that plays in the power relations between cultures. The problem isn’t “taking” or “borrowing”, the problem is racism, imperialism, white supremacy, and colonialism. The problem is how elements of culture get taken up in disempowering, unequal ways that deny oppressed people autonomy and dignity. Cultural appropriation only occurs in the context of the domination of one society over another, otherwise known as imperialism. Cultural appropriation is an act of domination, which is distinct from ‘borrowing’, syncretism, hybrid cultures, the cultures of assimilated/integrated populations, and the reappropriation of dominant cultures by oppressed peoples.

Aircraft Carriers in Space

An article about naval metaphors in fictional space warfare. Sometimes I suspect that I like science fiction meta way more than I like science fiction.

“I’m not like the other girls.”

A quote I saw making the Tumblr rounds, which said, “I’m not like other girls!” It went on to avow wearing Converse instead of heels, preferring computer games to shopping, so on and so forth. When I saw it, about 41,000 girls had said they weren’t like “the others.”

Is Australia in Danger of Becoming Greece? Austerity and Blackmail Down Under

It is not enough to respond to this ongoing rhetoric about Australia’s supposed calamitous future by pointing out, as Ms Gillard correctly did, that these comparisons are ridiculous given the state of European periphery countries. Yet the ideological blackmail is strangely telling, precisely because the financial sector in the form of the troika (the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank) has held Greece’s politicians hostage, forcing a slashing of the government in exchange for “bail-out” loans.

The Start-to-Hate Review System

The concept is simple: Rate media based on how long it takes to encounter something bigoted. The longer it takes, the better the media.

An Investigation Into Xinjiang’s Growing Swarm of Great Gerbils

I am subscribed to two “long form” websites: the picks of Long Reads, which focuses on newer pieces, and the editor’s picks of Longform, which tend to skew a little older. Hence, this, from McSweeny’s in January 2005. I always like a piece that clearly ended up not being about what the original pitch was about. In this case, the writer wanted (or supposedly wanted, I guess) to investigate a gerbil plague, and ended up writing an article about gerbil social structures, text messaging on Chinese phone networks, and, several times, the Black Death. Which is how I ended up reading Wikipedia articles about pandemics the same night I was getting sick with the first illness I’ve had since I got out of hospital.

Mariana Trench Explosion

I think of Randall Munroe as a science writer who happens to be funded by merchandise sales from a comic. I don’t regularly look at the comic any more but I follow his blag and his What If? Answering your hypothetical questions with physics, every Tuesday writing more closely. This What If? is one of my favourites to date, although it’s hard to beat the first one. However, this one features an excursion into unpublished work by Freeman Dyson. SO HARD TO CHOOSE.

Do bicycle helmets reduce head injuries?

It’s impossible to follow Liam Hogan on Twitter without becoming interested in urban transport issues. At the moment the big conversation is helmet laws in Australia, which are arguably interfering with take-up of bike share schemes (if you’re going to have to get hold of a helmet, you don’t just jump on the bike, hence, scheme falls apart), although see Why is Brisbane CityCycle an unmitigated flop? for several other reasons that scheme may be failing.

Anyway, this one: A new study reports the rate of hospitalisations for cycling-related head injuries in NSW has fallen markedly and consistently since 1990. The authors say it’s due to helmets and infrastructure.

The drugs don’t work: a modern medical scandal and Ben Goldacre: ‘It’s appalling … like phone hacking or MPs’ expenses’

Reboxetine is a drug I have prescribed. Other drugs had done nothing for my patient, so we wanted to try something new. I’d read the trial data before I wrote the prescription, and found only well-designed, fair tests, with overwhelmingly positive results. Reboxetine was better than a placebo, and as good as any other antidepressant in head-to-head comparisons… In October 2010, a group of researchers was finally able to bring together all the data that had ever been collected on reboxetine, both from trials that were published and from those that had never appeared in academic papers. When all this trial data was put together, it produced a shocking picture. Seven trials had been conducted comparing reboxetine against a placebo. Only one, conducted in 254 patients, had a neat, positive result, and that one was published in an academic journal, for doctors and researchers to read. But six more trials were conducted, in almost 10 times as many patients. All of them showed that reboxetine was no better than a dummy sugar pill. None of these trials was published. I had no idea they existed.

Given that I favourited two separate articles about this, I’m going to buy the book. Now you know.

Going blind? DRM will dim your world

[I]t turned out I needed Adobe Digital Editions to ‘manage my content’… It tried, of course, to force me to give Adobe my email and other details for the ‘Adobe ID’ that it assured me I needed to get full functionality. I demurred… and was confronted by a user interface that was tiny white text on a black background. Unreadable. Options to change this? If they exist, I couldn’t find them.

Getting this far had taken me half an hour fighting my way through a nest of misery and frustration with broken eyes and a sinking heart. Along the way, I’d been bombarded by marketing messages telling me to “enjoy the experience” and “enjoy your book”.

Reader, I wept. Marketing departments, here’s a top tip: if your customer is reduced to actual, hot, stinging tears, you may wish to fine-tune your messaging.

5 Plans to Head Off the Apophis Killer Asteroid

Friday the 13th of April 2029 could be a very unlucky day for planet Earth. At 4:36 am Greenwich Mean Time, a 25-million-ton, 820-ft.-wide asteroid called 99942 Apophis will slice across the orbit of the moon and barrel toward Earth at more than 28,000 mph. The huge pockmarked rock, two-thirds the size of Devils Tower in Wyoming, will pack the energy of 65,000 Hiroshima bombs–enough to wipe out a small country or kick up an 800-ft. tsunami.

On this day, however, Apophis is not expected to live up to its namesake, the ancient Egyptian god of darkness and destruction. Scientists are 99.7 percent certain it will pass at a distance of 18,800 to 20,800 miles… Scientists calculate that if Apophis passes at a distance of exactly 18,893 miles, it will go through a “gravitational keyhole.” This small region in space–only about a half mile wide, or twice the diameter of the asteroid itself–is where Earth’s gravity would perturb Apophis in just the wrong way, causing it to enter an orbit seven-sixths as long as Earth’s. In other words, the planet will be squarely in the crosshairs for a potentially catastrophic asteroid impact precisely seven years later, on April 13, 2036.

It turns out that with current technology we might be able to move the asteroid prior to the (potential) 2029 entry into the gravitational keyhole, but if it did so we would be unlikely to perturb the orbit sufficiently after that point to avoid a civilisation-ended impact. So it’s the question of how many resources to spend on a low-probability but enormously catastrophic event.

October 10, 2012

October 09, 2012

The chop space (digital loyalty cards) in Malaysia

I love competition and free markets. I read about Pirq coming to Malaysia via the webcampkl group. An interesting thread is brewing.

In Malaysia, I see three players (not including Foursquare for merchants which some establishments use to give mayor discounts, every 5th check-in, etc.): 

  1. ChopChop is the pioneer in this space (bootstrapped around December 2011 by 3 passionate young entrepreneurs whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting more than once). 
  2. Shortly thereafter Voucheres came along and they picked up a nifty RM700,000 from MyEG & MDEC (newsclip, crunchbase). They’re a startup with 4 founders (January 2012), claiming 10 employees, and they seem to be relaunching 10 months into it. 
  3. And the latest to the block? ChopInk (July 2012). Four young founders who were AllStars graduates (RM18,000 + mentorship for some 6-7% equity), which I’m told reliably is a pivot from a different unworkable idea. ChopInk has goals of a 1,000 merchants by year end and is supported by Cradle and possibly had some investment from Telekom Malaysia.

And today, you’ve got the fourth player: Pirq. Pirq’s take is different: you receive an immediate discount of 20-50% instantly. You don’t collect chops for later redemption. Pirq is a US-based company flush with cash – currently USD$3.2 million has been raised (yes, thats USD not Ringgit). Their first expansion country: Malaysia, then Singapore. Pirq is like collecting chops meets Groupon (20-50% discounts on a bill last I checked at most restaurants is unsustainable). 

The grapevine tells me that Pirq has four sales people on-board. From an execution perspective, I love how they focus on areas. My biggest problem with these digital loyalty card applications is that I generally never visit any of their merchants! From a tech perspective, Pirq needs work.

I see Pirq as competition with group buying sites, which is definitely seeing fatigue (in Singapore they’re dwindling; in Malaysia?). The verdict is still out there how digital loyalty is going to be managed between ChopChop, ChopInk, Voucheres. Maybe well-funded Singaporean Perx might arrive eventually.

As a consumer, while I may not have to collect loyalty cards in my wallet any longer, I’m going to be collecting smartphone apps. Good thing you have folders on iOS :)

Who’s going to win? The people that make the better product & with better execution. Not just for the consumer (location based alerts, geo-fencing, etc) but for the merchants as well (smart ad posting, etc.). 

In another post, we’ll talk about money. Foreign money is rolling into companies coming into Malaysia (Rocket Internet, now Pirq), mainly because the USD or Euro goes further in Ringgit Malaysia land. Most of the discussion at webcampkl is focused on this.

Me? I’m naturally rooting for the bootstrapped entrepreneurs – that’s ChopChop.

Related posts:

  1. Tax incentives for angel investors in Malaysia
  2. Silly Malaysia – race cards pulled out, what happens when oil ringgit runs out?
  3. zalora malaysia: some quick thoughts



October 06, 2012

Terry Mulder, minister for transport or just stationary cars?

This wasn't published in The Age presumably not because it wasn't brilliant, but because I was 26 words over the 200 word limit:





Why does State Transport Minister Terry Mulder think that building an East-West freeway link will help solve problems similar to today's -- the likes of which happens roughly once every 13 years? To be most useful (but still with only a return on investment of 0.7), there can't be any off-ramps into the city, otherwise the congestion will just be transferred to city roads instead of Hoddle Street. It's pure an East-West link. Today, the blockages at the tunnel were stopping people getting into the city. How does as East West link solve problems like today's (or indeed any other problem that can't be solved by improving railway freight links instead)?



Meanwhile, we've got a train system that actually suffered a decline in patronage this year because the train timetable change last year made it so unattractive to catch a train anywhere, because formerly simple trips now involve poorly timed unnecessary changes of train and platform. I recently found it quicker to walk home 2 stations from the closest premium station because Metro Trains were so disorganised and seemed to have misplaced their connecting train (station staff certainly had no idea what was going on).



Made me glad to be on my bike next to the freeway today as I rode past all the stationary traffic. The only reliable way to get to and from work.

October 05, 2012

fd-passing

FD passing for DRI.Next

Using the DMA-BUF interfaces to pass DRI objects between the client and server, as discussed in my previous blog posting on DRI-Next, requires that we successfully pass file descriptors over the X protocol socket.

Rumor has it that this has been tried and found to be difficult, and so I decided to do a bit of experimentation to see how this could be made to work within the existing X implementation.

(All of the examples shown here are licensed under the GPL, version 2 and are available from git://keithp.com/git/fdpassing)

Basics of FD passing

The kernel internals that support FD passing are actually quite simple — POSIX already require that two processes be able to share the same underlying reference to a file because of the semantics of the fork(2) call. Adding some ability to share arbitrary file descriptors between two processes then is far more about how you ask the kernel than the actual file descriptor sharing operation.

In Linux, file descriptors can be passed through local network sockets. The sender constructs a mystic-looking sendmsg(2) call, placing the file descriptor in the control field of that operation. The kernel pulls the file descriptor out of the control field, allocates a file descriptor in the target process which references the same file object and then sticks the file descriptor in a queue for the receiving process to fetch.

The receiver then constructs a matching call to recvmsg that provides a place for the kernel to stick the new file descriptor.

A helper API for testing

I first write a stand-alone program that created a socketpair, forked and then passed an fd from the parent to the child. Once that was working, I decided that some short helper functions would make further testing a whole lot easier.

Here’s a function that writes some data and an optional file descriptor:

ssize_t
sock_fd_write(int sock, void *buf, ssize_t buflen, int fd)
{
    ssize_t     size;
    struct msghdr   msg;
    struct iovec    iov;
    union {
        struct cmsghdr  cmsghdr;
        char        control[CMSG_SPACE(sizeof (int))];
    } cmsgu;
    struct cmsghdr  *cmsg;

    iov.iov_base = buf;
    iov.iov_len = buflen;

    msg.msg_name = NULL;
    msg.msg_namelen = 0;
    msg.msg_iov = &iov;
    msg.msg_iovlen = 1;

    if (fd != -1) {
        msg.msg_control = cmsgu.control;
        msg.msg_controllen = sizeof(cmsgu.control);

        cmsg = CMSG_FIRSTHDR(&msg);
        cmsg->cmsg_len = CMSG_LEN(sizeof (int));
        cmsg->cmsg_level = SOL_SOCKET;
        cmsg->cmsg_type = SCM_RIGHTS;

        printf ("passing fd %d\n", fd);
        *((int *) CMSG_DATA(cmsg)) = fd;
    } else {
        msg.msg_control = NULL;
        msg.msg_controllen = 0;
        printf ("not passing fd\n");
    }

    size = sendmsg(sock, &msg, 0);

    if (size < 0)
        perror ("sendmsg");
    return size;
}

And here’s the matching receiver function:

ssize_t
sock_fd_read(int sock, void *buf, ssize_t bufsize, int *fd)
{
    ssize_t     size;

    if (fd) {
        struct msghdr   msg;
        struct iovec    iov;
        union {
            struct cmsghdr  cmsghdr;
            char        control[CMSG_SPACE(sizeof (int))];
        } cmsgu;
        struct cmsghdr  *cmsg;

        iov.iov_base = buf;
        iov.iov_len = bufsize;

        msg.msg_name = NULL;
        msg.msg_namelen = 0;
        msg.msg_iov = &iov;
        msg.msg_iovlen = 1;
        msg.msg_control = cmsgu.control;
        msg.msg_controllen = sizeof(cmsgu.control);
        size = recvmsg (sock, &msg, 0);
        if (size < 0) {
            perror ("recvmsg");
            exit(1);
        }
        cmsg = CMSG_FIRSTHDR(&msg);
        if (cmsg && cmsg->cmsg_len == CMSG_LEN(sizeof(int))) {
            if (cmsg->cmsg_level != SOL_SOCKET) {
                fprintf (stderr, "invalid cmsg_level %d\n",
                     cmsg->cmsg_level);
                exit(1);
            }
            if (cmsg->cmsg_type != SCM_RIGHTS) {
                fprintf (stderr, "invalid cmsg_type %d\n",
                     cmsg->cmsg_type);
                exit(1);
            }

            *fd = *((int *) CMSG_DATA(cmsg));
            printf ("received fd %d\n", *fd);
        } else
            *fd = -1;
    } else {
        size = read (sock, buf, bufsize);
        if (size < 0) {
            perror("read");
            exit(1);
        }
    }
    return size;
}

With these two functions, I rewrote the simple example as follows:

void
child(int sock)
{
    int fd;
    char    buf[16];
    ssize_t size;

    sleep(1);
    for (;;) {
        size = sock_fd_read(sock, buf, sizeof(buf), &fd);
        if (size <= 0)
            break;
        printf ("read %d\n", size);
        if (fd != -1) {
            write(fd, "hello, world\n", 13);
            close(fd);
        }
    }
}

void
parent(int sock)
{
    ssize_t size;
    int i;
    int fd;

    fd = 1;
    size = sock_fd_write(sock, "1", 1, 1);
    printf ("wrote %d\n", size);
}

int
main(int argc, char **argv)
{
    int sv[2];
    int pid;

    if (socketpair(AF_LOCAL, SOCK_STREAM, 0, sv) < 0) {
        perror("socketpair");
        exit(1);
    }
    switch ((pid = fork())) {
    case 0:
        close(sv[0]);
        child(sv[1]);
        break;
    case -1:
        perror("fork");
        exit(1);
    default:
        close(sv[1]);
        parent(sv[0]);
        break;
    }
    return 0;
}

Experimenting with multiple writes

I wanted to know what would happen if multiple writes were made, some with file descriptors and some without. So I changed the simple example parent function to look like:

void
parent(int sock)
{
    ssize_t size;
    int i;
    int fd;

    fd = 1;
    size = sock_fd_write(sock, "1", 1, -1);
    printf ("wrote %d without fd\n", size);
    size = sock_fd_write(sock, "1", 1, 1);
    printf ("wrote %d with fd\n", size);
    size = sock_fd_write(sock, "1", 1, -1);
    printf ("wrote %d without fd\n", size);
}

When run, this demonstrates that the reader gets two bytes in the first read along with a file descriptor followed by one byte in a second read, without a file descriptor. This demonstrates that a file descriptor message forms a barrier within the socket; multiple messages will be merged together, but not past a message containing a file descriptor.

Reading without accepting a file descriptor

What happens when the reader isn’t expecting a file descriptor? Does it just get lost? Does the reader not get the message until it asks for the file descriptor? What about the boundary issue described above?

Here’s my test case:

void
child(int sock)
{
    int fd;
    char    buf[16];
    ssize_t size;

    sleep(1);
    size = sock_fd_read(sock, buf, sizeof(buf), NULL);
    if (size <= 0)
        return;
    printf ("read %d\n", size);
    size = sock_fd_read(sock, buf, sizeof(buf), &fd);
    if (size <= 0)
        return;
    printf ("read %d\n", size);
    if (fd != -1) {
        write(fd, "hello, world\n", 13);
        close(fd);
    }
}

void
parent(int sock)
{
    ssize_t size;
    int i;
    int fd;

    fd = 1;
    size = sock_fd_write(sock, "1", 1, 1);
    printf ("wrote %d without fd\n", size);
    size = sock_fd_write(sock, "1", 1, 2);
    printf ("wrote %d with fd\n", size);
}

This shows that the first passed file descriptor is picked up by the first sockfdread call, but the file descriptor is closed. The second file descriptor passed is picked up by the second sockfdread call.

Zero-length writes

Can a file descriptor be passed without sending any data?

void
parent(int sock)
{
    ssize_t size;
    int i;
    int fd;

    fd = 1;
    size = sock_fd_write(sock, "1", 1, -1);
    printf ("wrote %d without fd\n", size);
    size = sock_fd_write(sock, NULL, 0, 1);
    printf ("wrote %d with fd\n", size);
    size = sock_fd_write(sock, "1", 1, -1);
    printf ("wrote %d without fd\n", size);
}

And the answer is clearly “no” — the file descriptor is not passed when no data are included in the write.

A summary of results

  1. read and recvmsg don’t merge data across a file descriptor message boundary.

  2. failing to accept an fd in the receiver results in the fd being closed by the kernel.

  3. a file descriptor must be accompanied by some data.

Make X pass file descriptors

I’d like to get X to pass a file descriptor without completely rewriting the internals of both the library and the X server. Ideally, without making any changes to the existing code paths for regular request processing at all.

On the sending side, this seems pretty straightforward — we just need to get the X connection file descriptor and call sendmsg directly, passing the desired file descriptor along. In XCB, this could be done by using the xcbtakesocket interface to temporarily hijack the protocol as Xlib does.

It’s the receiving side where things are messier. Because a bare read will discard any delivered file descriptor, we must make sure to use recvmsg whenever we want to actually capture the file descriptor.

Kludge X server fd receiving

Because a passed fd creates a barrier in the bytestream, when the X server reads requests from a client, the read will stop sending data after the message with the file descriptor is consumed.

Of course, this process consumes the passed file descriptor, and if that call isn’t made with recvmsg set up to receive it, the fd will be lost.

As a simple kludge, if we pass a meaningless fd with the X request and then the ‘real’ fd with a following XNoOperation request, the existing request reading code will get the request, discard the meaningless fd and then stop reading at that point due to the barrier. Once into the request processing code, recvmsg can be called to get the real file descriptor and the associated XNoOperation request.

I wrote a test for this that demonstrates how this works:

static void
child(int sock)
{
    uint8_t xreq[1024];
    uint8_t xnop[4];
    uint8_t req;
    int i, reqlen;
    ssize_t size, fdsize;
    int fd = -1, *fdp;
    int j;

    sleep (1);
    for (j = 0;; j++) {
        size = sock_fd_read(sock, xreq, sizeof (xreq), NULL);
        printf ("got %d\n", size);
        if (size == 0)
            break;
        i = 0;
        while (i < size) {
            req = xreq[i];
            reqlen = xreq[i+1];
            i += reqlen;
            switch (req) {
            case 0:
                break;
            case 1:
                if (i != size) {
                    fprintf (stderr, "Got fd req, but not at end of input %d < %d\n",
                         i, size);
                }
                fdsize = sock_fd_read(sock, xnop, sizeof (xnop), &fd);
                if (fd == -1) {
                    fprintf (stderr, "no fd received\n");
                } else {
                    FILE    *f = fdopen (fd, "w");
                    fprintf(f, "hello %d\n", j);
                    fflush(f);
                    fclose(f);
                    close(fd);
                    fd = -1;
                }
                break;
            case 2:
                fprintf (stderr, "Unexpected FD passing req\n");
                break;
            }
        }
    }
}

int
tmp_file(int j) {
    char    name[64];

    sprintf (name, "tmp-file-%d", j);
    return creat(name, 0666);
}

static void
parent(int sock)
{
    uint8_t xreq[32];
    uint8_t xnop[4];
    int i, j;
    int fd;

    for (j = 0; j < 4; j++) {
        /* Write a bunch of regular requests */
        for (i = 0; i < 8; i++) {
            xreq[0] = 0;
            xreq[1] = sizeof (xreq);
            sock_fd_write(sock, xreq, sizeof (xreq), -1);
        }

        /* Write our 'pass an fd' request with a 'useless' FD to block the receiver */
        xreq[0] = 1;
        xreq[1] = sizeof(xreq);
        sock_fd_write(sock, xreq, sizeof (xreq), 1);

        /* Pass an fd */
        xnop[0] = 2;
        xnop[1] = sizeof (xnop);
        fd = tmp_file(j);
        sock_fd_write(sock, xnop, sizeof (xnop), fd);
        close(fd);
    }
}

Fixing XCB to receive file descriptors

Multiple threads may be trying to get replies and events back from the X server at the same time, which means the kludge of having the real fd follow the message will likely lead to the wrong thread getting the file descriptor.

Instead, I suspect the best plan will be to fix XCB to internally capture passed file descriptors and save them with the associated reply. Because the file descriptor message will form a barrier in the read stream, xcb can associate any received file descriptor with the last reply in the read data. The X server would then send the reply with an explicit sendmsg call to pass both reply and file descriptor together.

Next steps

The next thing to do is code up a simple fd passing extension and try to get it working, passing descriptors back and forth to the X server. Once that works, design of the rest of the DRM-Next extension should be pretty straightforward.

October 04, 2012

The link between Yahoo!, Microsoft, Facebook, Nokia

Written 23 July 2012, but for some reason it never got posted. Better late than never I guess.

I tweeted (17 July 2012, 4:40am UTC+8): 

There’s an interesting link between Yahoo!, Microsoft, Bing, Facebook and Nokia. The bigger picture is competition against Google, Apple

This was literally moments after the news broke that Marissa Mayer resigned from Google to become the CEO of Yahoo!. I thought I’d expand on this link that I see.

Search is today not something that Yahoo! cares about. Its served by Bing from Microsoft. Bing is also the default on Windows Phone, the operating system that Nokia has taken a bet on (when in the USA, I use a Lumia Windows Phone and cannot complain). Search on Facebook is also powered by Bing thanks to a deal that Microsoft has with Facebook. Bing is a strong contender to Google’s search, and this space is clearly still getting investment (see how DuckDuckGo recently got VC funding too).

Yahoo! has mail that is very popular (it might still be the most popular out there). Microsoft has Hotmail. Facebook has “Facebook messages”. Nokia canned Ovi mail services. Yahoo!, Microsoft Messenger and Facebook Messenger also has instant messenger (IM) capabilities. Imagine a day when they all interconnect? It would be a straight fight against Google Chat.

Picasa is Google’s photo sharing site. Today the stream might be Google+. Yahoo! still has Flickr which is the Picasa equivalent, and for streaming? Imagine if there was a quick link to Facebook. Nokia can build in sharing to Flickr and Facebook quickly from their phones (they already have been doing this from time-to-time between phone releases including their MeeGo stint).

Videos seem to be missing from this big picture. Google has YouTube, and the rest of them have nothing with the exception of Facebook.

Maps? Nokia has got great mapping technology loaded on the Windows phone. It can supply this quite easily to everyone.

I haven’t once mentioned Apple yet. They use other search engines (and maybe the longer term strategy is something like what the Dolphin browser does: use Siri to search multiple search engines and aggregate the results so the user has no idea what search engine is being used). They have their own messenger service in iMessages. They have their own photo & video storage site – the iCloud. For maps, they are using OpenStreetMaps after having ditched Google Maps. I see Apple building their own ecosystem and going it alone.

What about developer appeal? I see many a developer hacking on a Mac OS X laptop or a Linux laptop. With the Apple ecosystem, it is obvious to develop on OSX. With the Google Android ecosystem and the rest of their toolkit, its clear you can be OS-agnostic (they support Mac, Linux, Windows). With the Microsoft/Nokia ecosystem? It seems like you need a Windows box, and that automatically turns me away quite quickly (though upcoming HTML5/CSS/JavaScript will allow more development on this platform, in an OS-agnostic sense). Facebook is OS-agnostic too.

It is an exciting time ahead. All of this is great for consumers! Ecosystems are a building and it is awesome to see alliances being built

Related posts:

  1. HTC, Android, Facebook
  2. Microsoft blackouts… Software Freedom
  3. A letter to the del.icio.us folk at Yahoo!



October 02, 2012

LCA2013 Earlybird Registrations Open

Let the Celebrations Begin!

linux.conf.au, one of the largest open source conferences in the southern hemisphere, has now opened registrations. For a strictly limited time, discounted 'early bird' tickets are available through the conference website at http://linux.conf.au.

The 2013 conference builds on a long tradition of sharing technical know-how between seasoned open source gurus and newcomers to the community. Since its inception in 1999, the conference has moved around Australia and New Zealand, most recently to Ballarat, Victoria, and Brisbane, Queensland. This year, the conference is in Canberra in celebration of our national capital’s centenary year. The conference was last hosted in Canberra in 2005, and it has grown significantly since then, bringing some unique challenges to the organising team.

In true open source style, the conference is run entirely by volunteers, who are often drawn from a local Linux user group. This year is no exception, with the core organising team all being long standing members of the Canberra Linux Users Group (CLUG), which hosts meetings at the Australian National University (ANU) once a month. CLUG and the ANU have been major supporters of linux.conf.au for many years running, and are proud to be involved again this year.

Many of the original 2005 organisers have returned for the 2013 effort, including Michael Still, who has stepped into the shoes of Conference Director (and is affectionately referred to as “The Grand Catamaran” for reasons known only to the core organising team). Michael says that, while the role of Conference Director is time consuming and sometimes stressful, it also can also be very rewarding: "the opportunity to work with so many talented people, to rub shoulders with the open source elite, and of course to develop skills in new areas, is very valuable and also a whole lot of fun".

The current organising committee has been working together since mid-2011 in order to bring the 2013 conference together. There's a lot to do, with the conference running over six days, offering over 100 presentations (including four keynotes and twelve miniconferences), four formal social events, delegate accommodation, hundreds of giveaways, and moving over 500 potential delegates into and around the city. The group is as diverse as the tasks they need to complete, though, with highly experienced developers, systems administrators, engineers, and technical communicators amongst the team.

Perhaps the most important part of any conference is the speaker lineup. linux.conf.au has broken with tradition and announced their conference programme much earlier than usual. Featured on the programme this year are open source luminaries such as Jonathan Oxer, Noirin Plunkett, and local developer Andrew Tridgell. The conference organisers, together with the papers committee, have gone to great effort to ensure that the programme is stocked with deep technical content. The focus this year is on what's coming on the technical horizon, from the latest developments in the the Linux kernel, to working with remote clusters and cloud technology. Still to be announced, however, are the four keynote speakers. Traditionally, conference keynotes are big names in the open source space, with previous years boasting such respected speakers as Jacob Applebaum and Vint Cerf.

The social events are also an important part of the linux.conf.au experience for delegates, with the main conference dinner, called the 'penguin dinner', the highlight of the week. This year, delegates are being treated to a relaxed evening on Mount Stromlo, where they will be able to delight in some of the best views the city has to offer, and enjoy a relaxed 'backyard barbecue'-style dinner. The team are also promising some other events for the evening, just in case the view isn't quite exciting enough for you. The other highly anticipated event is the Professional Delegates' Networking Session (PDNS), which for the first time is being held as a breakfast, located in the breathtaking Gandel Hall at the National Gallery of Australia.

As an open source event, the conference is largely reliant on their sponsors. linux.conf.au is overseen and managed by Linux Australia, who use the conference as their primary incubator for open source development throughout Australia and New Zealand. This year, linux.conf.au is also supported by IBM, HP, Anchor Systems, Defence Signals Directorate, and Linux Magazine. Without the generous help of these partner organisations, there would be no linux.conf.au.

Canberra is expected to be in full party mode during 2013, with the ACT Government spending over $30 million to ensure that the city celebrates its 100th birthday in serious style, and linux.conf.au 2013 will be no exception. Head on over to http://linux.conf.au now and grab your discounted early bird ticket quickly while they last. Then go and put your party shoes in your suitcase, because you're going to need them.

About linux.conf.au

linux.conf.au showcases the best of open source and community-driven software and hardware, and it’s coming to the Australian National University from 28 January to 2 February, 2013. The conference provides a great opportunity for open source developers, users, hackers, and makers to share their ideas and further improve their projects. More information and tickets are available from http://linux.conf.au.

September 28, 2012

DRI-Next

Thoughts about DRI.Next

On the way to the X Developer’s Conference in Nuremberg, Eric and I chatted about how the DRI2 extension wasn’t really doing what we wanted. We came up with some fairly rough ideas and even held an informal “presentation” about it.

We didn’t have slides that day, having come up with the content for the presentation in the hours just before the conference started. This article is my attempt to capture both that discussion and further conversations held over roast pork dinners that week.

A brief overview of DRI2

Here’s a list of the three things that DRI2 currently offers.

Application authentication.

The current kernel DRM authentication mechanism restricts access to the GPU to applications connected to the DRM master. DRI2 implements this by having the application request the DRM cookie from the X server which can then be passed to the kernel to gain access to the device.

This is fairly important because once given access to the GPU, an application can access any flink’d global buffers in the system. Given that the application sends screen data to the X server using flink’d buffers, that means all screen data is visible to any GPU-accessing application. This bypasses any GPU hardware access controls.

Allocating buffers.

DRI2 defines a set of ‘attachment points’ for buffers which can be associated with an X drawable. An application needing a specific set of buffers for a particular rendering operation makes a request of the X server which allocates the buffers and passes back their flink names.

The server automatically allocates new buffers when window sizes change, sending an event to the application so that it knows to request the new buffers at some point in the future.

Presenting data to the user.

The original DRI2 protocol defined only the DRI2CopyRegion request which copied data between the allocated buffers. SwapBuffers was implemented by simply copy data from the back buffer to the front buffer. This didn’t provide any explicit control over frame synchronization, so a new request, DRI2SwapBuffers, was added to expose controls for that. This new request only deals with the front and back buffers, and either copies from back to front or exchanges those two buffers.

Along with DRI2SwapBuffers, there are new requests that wait for various frame counters and expose those to GL applications through the OMLsynccontrol extension

What’s wrong with DRI2?

DRI2 fixed a lot of the problems present with the original DRI extension, and made reliable 3D graphics on the Linux desktop possible. However, in the four years since it was designed, we’ve learned a lot, and the graphics environment has become more complex. Here’s a short list of some DRI2 issues that we’d like to see fixed.

  • InvalidateBuffers events. When the X window size changes, the buffers created by the X server for rendering must change size to match. The problem is that the client is presumably drawing to the old buffers when the new ones are allocated. Delivering an event to the client is supposed to make it possible for the client to keep up, but the reality is that the event is delivered at some random time to some random thread within the application. This leads to general confusion within the application, and often results in a damaged frame on the screen. Fortunately, applications tend to draw their contents often, so the damaged frame only appears briefly.

  • No information about new back buffer contents. When a buffer swap happens and the client learns about the new back buffer, the back buffer contents are always undefined. For most applications, this isn’t a big deal as they’re going to draw the whole window. However, compositing managers really want to reduce rendering by only repainting small damaged areas of the window. Knowing what previous frame contents are present in the back buffer allows the compositing manager to repaint just the affected area.

  • Un-purgable stale buffers. Between the X server finishing with a buffer and the client picking it up for a future frame, we don’t need to save the buffer contents and should mark the buffer as purgable. With the current DRI2 protocols, this can’t be done, which leaves all of those buffers hanging around in memory.

  • Driver-specific buffers. The DRI2 buffer handles are device specific, and so we can’t use buffers from other devices on the screen. External video encoders/cameras/encoders can’t be used with the DRI2 extension.

  • GEM flink has lots of issues. The flink names are global, allowing anyone with access to the device to access the flink data contents. There is also no reference to the underlying object, so the X server and client must carefully hold references to GEM objects during various operations.

Proposed changes for DRI.Next

Given the three basic DRI2 operations (authentication, allocation, presentation), how can those be improved?

Eliminate DRI/DRM magic-cookie based authentication

Kristian Høgsberg, Martin Peres, Timothée Ravier & Daniel Vetter gave a talk on DRM2 authentication at XDC this year that outlined the problems with the current DRM access control model and proposed some fairly simple solutions, including using separate device nodes—one for access to the GPU execution environment and a separate, more tightly controlled one, for access to the display engine.

Combining that with the elimination of flink for communicating data between applications and there isn’t a need for the current magic-cookie based authentication mechanism; simple file permissions should suffice to control access to the GPU.

Of course, this ignores the whole memory protection issue when running on a GPU that doesn’t provide access control, but we already have that problem today, and this doesn’t change that, other than to eliminate the global uncontrolled flink namespace.

Allocate all buffers in the application

DRI2 does buffer allocation in the X server. This ensures that that multiple (presumably cooperating) applications drawing to the same window will see the same buffers, as is required by the GLX extension. We suspected that this wasn’t all that necessary, and it turns out to have been broken several years ago. This is the traditional way in X to phase out undesirable code, and provides an excellent opportunity to revisit the original design.

Doing buffer allocations within the client has several benefits:

  • No longer need DRI2 additions to manage new GL buffers. Adding HiZ to the intel driver required new DRI2 code in the X server, even though X wasn’t doing anything with those buffers at all.

  • Eliminate some X round trips currently required for GL buffer allocation.

  • Knowing what’s in each buffer. Because the client allocates each buffer, it can track the contents of them.

  • Size tracking is trivial. The application sends the GL the of the viewport, and the union of all viewports should be the same as the size of the window (or there will be undefined contents on the screen). The driver can use the viewport information to size the buffers and ensure that every frame on the screen is complete.

Present buffers through DMA-buf

The new DMA-buf infrastructure provides a cross-driver/cross-process mechanism for sharing blobs of data. DMA-buf provides a way to take a chunk of memory used by one driver and pass it to another. It also allows applications to create file descriptors that reference these objects.

For our purposes, it’s the file descriptor which is immediately useful. This provides a reliable and secure way to pass a reference from an underlying graphics buffer from the client to the X server by sending the file descriptor over the local X socket.

An additional benefit is that we get automatic integration of data from other devices in the system, like video decoders or non-primary GPUs. The ‘Prime’ support added in DRI version 2.8 hacks around this by sticking a driver identifier in the driverType value.

Once the buffer is available to the X server, we can create a request much like the current DRI2SwapBuffers request, except instead of implicitly naming the back and front buffers, we can pass an arbitrary buffer and have those contents copied or swapped to the drawable.

We also need a way to copy a region into the drawable. I don’t know if that needs the same level of swap control, but it seems like it would be nice. Perhaps the new SwapBuffers request could take a region and offset as well, copying data when swapping isn’t possible.

Managing buffer allocations

One trivial way to use this new buffer allocation mechanism would be to have applications allocate a buffer, pass it to the X server and then simply drop their reference to it. The X server would keep a reference until the buffer was no longer in use, at which point the buffer memory would be reclaimed.

However, this would eliminate a key optimization in current drivers— the ability to re-use buffers instead of freeing and allocating new ones. Re-using buffers takes advantage of the work necessary to setup the buffer, including constructing page tables, allocating GPU memory space and flushing caches.

Notifying the application of idle buffers

Once the X server is finished using a buffer, it needs to notify the application so that the buffer can be re-used. We could send these notifications in X events, but that ends up in the twisty mess of X client event handling which has already caused so much pain with Invalidate events. The obvious alternative is to send them back in a reply. That nicely controls where the data are delivered, but causes the application to block waiting for the X server to send the reply.

Fortunately, applications already want to block when swapping buffers so that they get throttled to the swap buffers rate. That is currently done by having them wait for the DRI2SwapBuffers reply. This provides a nice place to stick the idle buffer data. We can simply list buffers which have become idle since the last SwapBuffers reply was delivered.

Releasing buffer memory

Applications which update only infrequently end up with a back buffer allocated after their last frame which can’t be freed by the system. The fix for this is to mark the buffer purgable, but that can only be done after all users of the buffer are finished with it.

With this new buffer management model, the application effectively passes ownership of its buffers to the X server, and the X server knows when all use of the buffer are finished. It could mark buffers as purgable at that point. When the buffer was sent back in the SwapBuffers reply, the application would be able to ask the kernel to mark it un-purgable again.

A new extension? Or just a new DRI2 version?

If we eliminate the authentication model and replace the buffer allocation and presentation interfaces, what of the existing DRI2 protocol remains useful? The only remaining bits are the other synchronization requests: DRI2GetMSC, DRI2WaitMSC, DRI2WaitSBC and DRI2SwapInterval.

Given this, does it make more sense to leave DRI2 as it is and plan on deprecating, and eventually eliminating, it?

Doing so would place a support burden on existing applications, as they’d need to have code to use the right extension for the common requests. They’ll already need to support two separate buffer management versions though, so perhaps this burden isn’t that onerous?

Tax incentives for angel investors in Malaysia

Today there were some incentives for angel investors announced in Malaysia as part of Budget 2013.

Who qualifies as an angel investor? Your annual income must exceed RM180,000 per annum and you must be a tax resident to qualify for the deduction.

What do you get? Total investment as an angel will be allowed as a deduction against all income.

When is this valid? From Jan 1 2013 to Dec 31 2017, and you need to apply via the Ministry of Finance.

Some details: as an angel, you must hold at least 30% of the shares in the company you’re investing in for 2 years, and you must pay up for the shares in cash. The company needs to have at least 51% Malaysian ownership.

What do I think?

Quite simply, the qualification income is something I see some people complain about, but this is similar to what America calls an accredited investor. I have no issue with the RM180,000/annum income. Feel free to hit up all those people you know with Visa Infinite, World MasterCard, Premier banking, etc. ;-)

Application via the Ministry of Finance (MoF) seems a little dodgy. The potential of red tape here is high. This is definitely a turn-off.

Does this benefit startups? Angel investors shouldn’t be making a 30% investment in a company. It is ridiculous. Consider giving away 20% of the company in an angel round, sure, but with just one angel walking away with 30% of the shares for 2 years?!?

Angels in Malaysia typically make RM20-50k investments (for up to 20% on the high side from what I’ve gathered). Very rarely do they hit the RM100k mark. Most accelerators are taking up an average of 6-8% for about RM15-18k investment already for 3 founders.

Startup founders are also not going to want to give away 30% of the company for a small sum of money. Many believe they are worth more. I guess you have to thank the media hype cycle for this.

Alas, it is a good start for Malaysia to be looking out for such things. Possibility to help boost the startup ecosystem.

Update: I thought about this a little more and realised that I applied a very myopic view to this piece. Reason is simple: I focus on tech startups & the angels that go with them. In this day and age, software (be it mobile or web-based) doesn’t take much in terms of cash to prove yourself. In other industries like manufacturing, biotechnology, film making, etc. you might look at much higher investments for 30% or more, but it isn’t something I know much about.

Related posts:

  1. A few thoughts on the startup ecosystem in Malaysia
  2. On the term “go global”
  3. The chop space (digital loyalty cards) in Malaysia



September 26, 2012

Offensive Facebook status update on Islam lands Malaysian man in hot soup

In today’s online beat, you’ll see reports of a 25 year old man who’s been picked up by the police for questioning on a Facebook post of his. The Star covers it. As does The Malaysian Insider.

Some facts that we know from the above two reports:

  1. Man made the posting in July 2012.
  2. Yesterday (Tuesday, 25 September) at 10pm, some 20 people visited his house and damaged it.
  3. 11.03pm on 25 September a police report was made.
  4. On Wednesday 26 September (today) at 11am the student had been picked up & a laptop confiscated.
  5. He was arrested under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act and Section 298A of the Penal Code for causing disharmony, disunity, enmity, hatred or ill-will on grounds of religion.
  6. Man claims he had been hacked and his laptop had been stolen before.

How do we go from a Facebook posting to people finding his house? I decided to do a little sleuthing while sitting in the airport lounge.

The first post mentioning his name (Gopinath Jayaratnam) that Twitter search can find was made at 4.58pm on 25 September 2012. Its clear from his Facebook profile he lives in Klang. The first post providing information about where he lives came from Ariff Amran at 7.44pm on 25 September 2012. It also includes his identity card (IC) number. It didn’t take long before the masses were united under a hashtag: the KL traffic update hashtags #kltu & #klrb. First posting that was retweeted came at 9.35pm (this includes an image of the original Facebook posting which has since been removed – now all that exists is an apologetic message), followed by 9.57pm with his IC & home address.

At 10.09am today (26 September), a user has uploaded a photo of Gopinath’s damaged house. Its clear it was taken the night before. Another gem is at 8.58am today morning, they decided to talk about his car as well.

I find all these acts unwarranted and unjustified.

I don’t know what will happen in this scenario as its too early to tell. I am not going to comment on the law with the exception that I was under the impression that the Sedition Act was to be repealed. A lawyer in KL, Foong Cheng Leong was quick to jump on the fact that even though Gopinath claims he had been hacked, the new evidence act amendments, section 114A applies.

The Twitter stream has nothing but nasty comments towards Gopinath. There are Facebook posts that have 20,000 likes talking about him. At 25, I’m sure he has a bright future ahead of him. After all, I can think of many politicians that violate Section 298A of the Penal Code.

My advice to users of the web: be careful of your passwords. Be careful about being broken into. Be careful about having your personal devices stolen. Also be wary about your personal information that you have available on the Web. And never assume that Facebook status update is private.

Related posts:

  1. Malaysian censorship doesn’t cross borders but what if you’re a Malaysian startup?
  2. Pompous Malaysian Minister discourages immersion in Western-created sites such as Facebook, Twitter
  3. Air your thoughts via Facebook



Google eventually blocks video in Malaysia

Protests in KL today - not deemed illegal?On the 15th I wondered what would Google do? On the 17th, it was clear that Google buckled and blocked the video to Malaysians. To be fair, it did the same in Singapore and many other nations. That did not stop angry protestors to hang out in front of the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur on the 21st.

But on the Internet, one cannot stop the free flow of information.

This is something Malaysian censors have to come to grips with. After all, even the chief censor in Myanmar has decided to call it a day.

That’s why the offending clip is still online as reported on the 18th. People, citizens of the world, have made copies of the offending video (it is a no brainer to download the video from YouTube) and have re-uploaded it. So now it becomes a cat & mouse game to find the video for the Malaysian authorities and report it to Google. I have no doubt that at least 3.8 people in some government department is working on this task.

Only way for the Malaysian government to ensure that Malaysians never see this content? Block YouTube. I’m sure that would be hugely unpopular. Besides, isn’t there Vimeo and plenty of other services?

Malaysian Government: 0 Internet: 1

Related posts:

  1. Malaysian politicans need to focus on the economy, not power plays
  2. Digital Media Consumers
  3. Google Maps Malaysia launched



September 24, 2012

my pre-upgrade iOS6 thoughts

My Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus streams are just filled with people complaining about iOS 6. The luddite that I am, I haven’t upgraded my phone nor my tablet. One thing I’ve learned about relying on my devices? Never ever do an upgrade until the kinks get fixed.

Most common complaint? Maps. Google Maps is gone and now there is a new, inaccurate maps app. A blog tracking it has been setup too. I presume that this is better in the long run — you’ll get better crowd sourced maps. Question is, will it go back directly to the source? I have no idea.

The YouTube app is now missing. This is easily fixed by downloading it.

What annoys me about iOS 6? The fact that it won’t run on my first generation iPad. I bought mine the first week of April in 2010 (2 years 5 months). This is just a little over two years old. The iPhone 3GS has been around since mid June 2009 (3 years 3 months and continuing). It receives the iOS 6 upgrade.

This isn’t a problem yet but when I can’t get apps on my iPad, I will start to get thoroughly annoyed. I know uber-iOS developers like Marco might drop newer Instapaper support in future releases, which will annoy me.

I after all have a 64GB iPad which I use to consume content mostly: read the NYTimes, Instapaper, Kindle, browse the web in Safari, watch videos in VLC, watch video podcasts. That’s pretty much all I really care about. There are games like Scrabble which I play with my family, and Plants vs Zombies which I finished a long time ago, but this isn’t its core usage. Oh, and the iPad “just works fine”.

I’ll eventually update my iPhone 4 (because I don’t plan to buy the amazing iPhone 5). I know a friend mentioned that there was no Siri on the iPhone 4. I don’t think Siri is a killer feature unless you’re living in the USA (with all its tie-ins to data sources).

Changing connectors? Application inconsistencies? In retaliation, I did pick up a Google Nexus 7 (its half the price of me upgrading to the new iPad 3 64GB size; and is cheaper than the 16GB iPad3 by RM500). Its 16GB size is too small for me to load up with movies, it comes with no casing, and the 7″ screen size might be too small to watch TV on, but we’ll see.

Related posts:

  1. Upgrade to Snow Leopard
  2. Upgrade to Lion
  3. The iPad: Early-experience notes



Gary Vaynerchuk: an entrepreneur’s life video

Watch An Entrepreneur’s Life: Gary Vaynerchuk. It is a little less than 8 minutes long, but it is awesome. Some quick points:

  • Live life in lifetime value. There’s a great anecdote on looking to hang on to good customers rather than having to find new customers. He cares about who wins the war not the battle (similar saying: it is a marathon, not a sprint).
  • Storytelling in business is underrated. Care about the way things get presented. Storytelling is important. Understand what the consumer wants, then backtrack. Tell a story and get them  there. This is the difference between marketing & sales. Steve Jobs was a good story teller.
  • Content is king. However, content is also a commodity.
  • During his Wine Library TV days, it is not just the 40 minutes a day he spent in front of the camera. It’s the 15 hours a week spent replying to every email, tweet, forum message. I guess this is the important thing about building community.
  • What drives Gary? The climb to the top of his goal (owning the NY Jets). The journey.

Related posts:

  1. Video cameras and Linux Redux – Canon MV920
  2. Video cameras and Linux
  3. Multiple parties video-conferencing with Skype and Global IP Video



September 21, 2012

Faith in Bernama the national news agency wanes

I just read that Bernama has admitted to doctoring a photo with the Prime Minister. Of course they are crying sabotage and denying any previous edits. Stop and read that, its well worth it.

I’m not surprised. Neither should you be. Anything that comes from Bernama tends to be pro-government. I gave up trust in them since 2006, when I had a little issue with them stealing my photo without attribution which I’ll talk about in a bit.

Bernama is an independent body placed under the Ministry of Information, Culture & Communication, started by an act of parliament. Wikipedia’s Bernama entry isn’t half bad, and if you’re inclined, you can read the Bernama Act 1967. Its quite clear that beyond subscription income, they’re probably funded by the ministry (this isn’t a fact but a presumption – I have no time to dig this up).

So from a Nineteen Eighty-Four perspective, these folk are akin to the Ministry of Truth

What’s my beef with Bernama? They have no issue with using what’s not theirs, i.e. they don’t believe in proper attribution. They do not respect the Creative Commons licenses either. They didn’t in 2006, and they probably don’t in 2012.

Imagine my shock when a photo of mine was attributed to be a Bernamapic in an article? Besides a tighter crop, the news agency didn’t respect the attribution, non-commercial aspect of the CC license. Bernama charges up to RM500/month to access its newswire for blogs, and this cost is bound to go up for other print publications. Can’t afford a photographer?

Speaking to them, they claimed that they would investigate but naturally, nothing came of it. I had thought of taking legal action but decided against it as my life wasn’t in Malaysia.

Alas, I have never had much faith in them, and neither should you.

X-Mozilla-Status: 0001

X-Mozilla-Status2: 00800000

Message-ID: <4545AC7E.704@aeon.com.my>

Date: Mon, 30 Oct 2006 18:40:46 +1100

From: Colin Charles <colin@aeon.com.my>

User-Agent: Thunderbird 1.5.0.7 (Macintosh/20060909)

MIME-Version: 1.0

To:  ungkubesar@bernama.com

Subject: Using pictures without attribution

Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1; format=flowed

Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit

 

Hello,

 

We spoke on the phone recently

 

Here are the photos (sources): http://bytebot.net/tmp/Take1FiestaMalaysia/

 

It was used in the star: 

http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2006/10/30/nation/15861794&sec=nation

 

And in the NST in a article titled “A taste of Malaysia in Melbourne”

 

Now, I don’t mind you using the photos, but you have to accept copyright 

and attribute it to where you got it from. Saying it came from Colin 

Charles, will be a start. (i.e. I’m not even asking for payment)

 

This is a sample of more pictures to come, from the event at: 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/byte/281750614/

(there’ll be a fiestamalaysia group on Flickr, if you’ve noticed from 

the above picture)

 

kind regards

– 

Colin Charles, http://www.bytebot.net/

Lenify! http://lenify.wordpress.com/

Related posts:

  1. Fedora News Updates #10
  2. Fedora News Updates #7
  3. Fedora News Updates #8



September 20, 2012

Conference Programme Announced

This year linux.conf.au, Australia’s premier open source conference, has broken with tradition and released their draft programme (http://linux.conf.au/programme/schedule) and partner’s programme (http://linux.conf.au/programme/partners) schedules before registrations open on 1 October.

The conference will feature six streams of talks across five days. The first two days will be for miniconferences, with the rest of the conference dedicated to eighty-four talks and six tutorials, on topics ranging from software engineering to systems administration. This year, there is a heavy focus on deep technical content, including many talks on the Linux kernel, and various hardware platforms. The conference also boasts four keynotes from pivotal industry figures, which will be announced in the next few months.

The partner’s programme has become a traditional element of linux.conf.au, but this is the first year to announce a draft schedule before tickets for the programme go on sale. The partner’s programme consists of a family friendly tour of tourist attractions around Canberra.

Conference Director Michael Still said “releasing the schedule for the conference is a significant milestone and I’m very pleased that we hit it ahead of our internal timeline. We are also proud to have a series of simply fantastic presenters this year, and expect to be presenting a solid conference that offers great value for money.”

Early bird registrations for the conference open on 1 October, and discounted tickets will be available until sold out. The number of early bird tickets is strictly limited, and they usually sell out very quickly. Delegates will need to get in quickly after 1 October to make sure they get the best deal.

About linux.conf.au

linux.conf.au showcases the best of open source and community-driven software and hardware, and it’s coming to the Australian National University from 28 January to 2 February, 2013. The conference provides a great opportunity for open source developers, users, hackers, and makers to share their ideas and further improve their projects. Early bird registrations open 1 October, see http://linux.conf.au for all the info.

September 16, 2012

From consumption to creation

Via Mozilla Webmaker:

“Mozillians are people who make things. Moving people from consumption to creation is Mozilla’s goal.” - Mitchell Baker, Mozilla Chair and Chief Lizard Wrangler

This is a brilliant goal. To build a generation of webmakers. Getting people to create more than just consume.

It is widely stated that 1% create, 10% curate, the rest consume (quote from Fred Wilson). Imagine if the tables were turned.

Related posts:

  1. Piracy due to lack of legal options
  2. Does open source need to be “organic”?
  3. Gen Kanai from Mozilla speaks about localisation in Firefox and more



Malaysian censorship doesn’t cross borders but what if you’re a Malaysian startup?

The White House did ask YouTube to check if there was a violation of terms of service for the recent video that’s causing the Muslim world to go up in storm. It seems like there isn’t, and the video continues to stay up. Good on Google, good on YouTube, and here’s a win to freedom of expression & speech.

Today I see Dr. Rais Yatim, Information Communication & Culture Minster of Malaysia ask for YouTube to remove the movie. Its just smart that he realizes that YouTube isn’t controlled & created in Malaysia so its not “without our technical capability” to remove it.

There are some problems with this line of thought.

  1. If you are a company in Malaysia, hosting user generated content, you may be subject to censorship. Will it make a difference if you’re an MSC status company as there is a bill of guarantees? Or does it not matter?
  2. Rais continues on that Malaysia is an Islamic nation. It is a secular nation with Islam as the religion of the federation. It is a great pity he chooses to skew facts on what is supposed to be Malaysia Day today.
  3. Censorship without due course. Malaysia has many obscure laws that are passed as acts of parliament while the current ruling regime has been in power since independence. They have been so used to just sending notices for removals that they’ve forgotten that they need to consult the law. And chances are there are many laws that affect freedoms of speech & expression, even though they may be constitutionally protected. Companies incorporating in Malaysia need to take this into consideration.

Its good that Google isn’t simply buckling under pressure (another):

Google Malaysia communications and public affairs head Zeffri Yusof said they received the official request from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) and that both parties were discussing the next course of action.

“Google adheres to the laws of the land in every country it has a domain in. So, (we) will act based on official complaints from the regulatory bodies,” he said.

Zeffri added, however, that the regulatory body had to cite the relevant laws or bylaws which were breached when making its complaint.

Now the onus is on the MCMC to show what laws the video contravenes so that YouTube can block it for all those coming from .my domainspace. 

What does this do to already poor investor sentiment? What does this mean for startups? What happens when some zealot finds a subversive message in Gangnam Style that may cause all the follow-ups to be deemed anti-religion?

YouTube has a message questioning if you should really be looking at the video. Adults should well, learn to behave like adults.

Muhammad Movie Trailer - YouTube

People to follow: Zeffri Yusof on Twitter is @zeffri. There’s also @GoogleMsia. Google+ account for +Google Malaysia.

Related posts:

  1. Job: Java developers for a startup
  2. Bloggers face draconian anti-terrorism laws in Malaysia
  3. Marina crying foul over censorship?



Sunday Spam: toast and vegemite

This week, I feel the need to emphasise that linking does not imply uncritical endorsement!

Philip Roth and Wikipedia

There’s only one problem with this: Roth’s open letter is at best the (justifiably) aggrieved and confused ramblings of a man ignorantly discussing what he does not understand or remember, and at worst a deliberately malicious act inspired by nothing more than a misguided desire to flip us the Vs and maybe get paid by the New Yorker on the way.

In Response to Amanda Palmer

Is it noble to volunteer for a cash-rich for-profit enterprise? And what about when taking the gig means that you’re taking food from the mouths of people whose day job it is to play these kinds of high-pressure, high-profile concerts and ensure that the audience won’t be let down?

Is it noble to devalue the role of musicians by suggesting that their years of training and their tens of thousands of hours of practice is worth little more than a beer and a high-five?

Headspace withdraws support for RU OK? Day

In a statement released this afternoon, the organisation said it was uncomfortable about the support RU OK? Day was receiving from Gloria Jean’s because of the coffee chain’s $30,000 donation to the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL).

Girls gone Wilder

Rose Wilder Lane’s life story is arguably way more interesting than that of her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Owen Jones: William Hague is wrong… we must own up to our brutal colonial past

As India became increasingly crucial to British prosperity, millions of Indians died completely unnecessary deaths. Over a decade ago, Mike Davis wrote a seminal book entitled Late Victorian Holocausts: the title is far from hyperbole. As a result of laissez-faire economic policies ruthlessly enforced by Britain, between 12 and 29 million Indians died of starvation needlessly. Millions of tons of wheat were exported to Britain even as famine raged. When relief camps were set up, the inhabitants were barely fed and nearly all died.

Philosophy gender war erupts after call for larger role for women

It began with a private email last month from one established male philosopher to four others: Proceed with a Berlin-based conference that features 14 male speakers and no women, the writer said, and I will essentially launch a campaign to take you down professionally.

How Google Builds Its Maps—and What It Means for the Future of Everything

Or as my friend and sci-fi novelist Robin Sloan put it to me, “I maintain that this is Google’s core asset. In 50 years, Google will be the self-driving car company (powered by this deep map of the world) and, oh, P.S. they still have a search engine somewhere.”

Legal myths about the Assange extradition

Whenever the Julian Assange extradition comes up in the news, many of his supporters make various confident assertions about legal aspects of the case.

Some Assange supporters will maintain these contentions regardless of the law and the evidence – they are like “zombie facts” which stagger on even when shot down; but for anyone genuinely interested in getting at the truth, this quick post sets out five common misconceptions and some links to the relevant commentary and material.

The Joke’s on You

[Jon] Stewart and [Stephen] Colbert, in particular, have assumed the role of secular saints whose nightly shtick restores sanity to a world gone mad.

But their sanctification is not evidence of a world gone mad so much as an audience gone to lard morally, ignorant of the comic impulse’s more radical virtues. Over the past decade, political humor has proliferated not as a daring form of social commentary, but a reliable profit source. Our high-tech jesters serve as smirking adjuncts to the dysfunctional institutions of modern media and politics, from which all their routines derive. Their net effect is almost entirely therapeutic: they congratulate viewers for their fine habits of thought and feeling while remaining careful never to question the corrupt precepts of the status quo too vigorously.

Pawns in the War on Drugs

Informants are the foot soldiers in the government’s war on drugs. By some estimates, up to eighty per cent of all drug cases in America involve them, often in active roles like Hoffman’s. For police departments facing budget woes, untrained C.I.s provide an inexpensive way to outsource the work of undercover officers. “The system makes it cheap and easy to use informants, as opposed to other, less risky but more cumbersome approaches,” says Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a leading expert on informants. “There are fewer procedures in place and fewer institutional checks on their use.” Often, deploying informants involves no paperwork and no institutional oversight, let alone lawyers, judges, or public scrutiny; their use is necessarily shrouded in secrecy.

September 15, 2012

The iPhone 5

I have been asked numerous times in the last few days: what do you think of the new iPhone 5? Will you recommend me to buy it?

Go, whet your appetite at the official iPhone page. It has a great design (thinner, lighter), it’s the same width but taller (4 inches now), comes with an awesome camera, has better battery life & comes with LTE connectivity. The feature list is impressive as are the tech specs.

Am I going to buy it? No, I’m happy with last year’s model. (ok, a little older – I’m using an iPhone 4 personally). It is a pity that I can no longer link to the site made by gina trapani & anil dash.

If you need to buy a new phone, my suggestion is of course to get the best & latest model, and that is the iPhone 5. If however your older iPhone 4S or 4 is working, I think my arguments work on why you don’t quite need to migrate yet. Put it plain & simple: the iPhone 4 I carry in my pocket “just works”. I have a mophie juice pack to extend its battery life. I have invested in the dock ecosystem tremendously (chargers for an office, two homes, as well as the travel kit; devices like a Withings BP-800 Blood Pressure Monitor, a whole lot more like music docks & those pesky things called in-car audio systems).

I wrote about the dock ecosystem a while back and Apple has decided to upgrade this, i.e. now with a Lighting connector. One has to buy a Lightning to 30-pin adapter. I understand that it was probably impossible to get the design to become much thinner, but we’re in a dilemma situation now especially when many people have i-devices, including an iPad. Gone is the ease of use of just having similar chargers. This transition period is going to be tough. Also, some countries get the adapter included for free, while others are forced to pay USD$30 for it.

Apple has decided to use a nano SIM (i.e. something smaller than a micro-SIM). People are still getting used to micro-SIM’s, and my travel kit even has a SIM cutter, because when you travel its pretty hard to find prepaid services that offer micro-SIM cards. Its impossible to cut a micro-SIM to a nano-SIM, so telcos have to support it by default. Apple doesn’t care so much about this because in their launch market (the USA), they have AT&T giving you international data roaming plans that don’t cost an arm & a leg. I have to pay anywhere between USD$12-19 to have data roaming per day.

No one knows if one of the major complaints about the iPhone is fixed – the dodgy home button. I know many iPhone users whom have owned a second phone turn on the accessibility functionality just so that they don’t have to press the home button. This is a workaround and does not work as expected. It is a disappointment for such a costly device that such things do not stand the test of time.

A lot of people sell the idea that its great to watch videos & movies on your iPhone. I’m sure many people do that, but I don’t. I watch movies on my iPad quite happily when mobile. Or on my huge LCD television when I’m home :-)

It comes with LTE. I’m sure LTE is meant to be awesome (in fact, I’ve use it regularly in South Korea, and it is fast, real fast), but my home carriers don’t support it yet. And it likely that by the time there is widespread support throughout the whole of Malaysia (heck, its still difficult to get reliable 3G access in the whole country if you step out of the Klang Valley) there will be a next generation iPhone, which is something I might pick up.

The camera on my iPhone 4 is sufficient. The camera on the 4S is awesome. And I bet the camera on the 5 will do wonders with easy panaromas, quicker photo capture, etc. It probably means I will find less need to carry a point & shoot, but this alone is not a good reason to upgrade.

I doubt that there will be much software that doesn’t run on the iPhone 4. iOS 6 will run on the iPhone 4. Apple continues to sell the iPhone 4, so it will be supported

So, am I compelled to upgrade? No. But if anything happened to my dear iPhone 4, I might consider the iPhone 5. Or with my investment in the dock connector ecosystem, I might just get an iPhone 4S :-) Happy not to be giving into the consumption economy!

Related posts:

  1. iPhone dock connector
  2. iOS Cards
  3. Getting the iPhone 3G in Malaysia



LCA2013 Programming Miniconfs Announced

linux.conf.au, Australia’s premier open source conference, have announced the final miniconferences for 2013, all of which address open source programming. Miniconfs are day-long sessions on a specific topic. As the name suggests, they are expected to be run as a miniature conference, with a formal schedule published ahead of time listing speakers and sessions for the day.

Underpinning all open source development is one single thing: programming. Open source programming tools are fast becoming the language of choice for many developers. According to one study*, Python is consistently listed within the top ten languages by popularity.

Open Programming: This miniconference provides an opportunity for application developers to share their techniques and practices for development with free and open source tools. It provides an opportunity to discuss programming techniques, best practices, and developer values across all open source programming languages.

Developer Automation and Continuous Integration: The Developer Automation miniconference discusses the current state of the art of open source developer tooling and testing automation. It will cover tools like Jenkins or Buildbot, build event triggers like Zuul or Tarmac, and code review systems like Gerrit or Launchpad.

Browser: The humble web browser is a key component of the modern internet. The browser miniconference is focused on the capabilities of browsers, and how to provide web developers with new and open technologies to deliver web users an experience like never before.

About linux.conf.au

linux.conf.au showcases the best of open source and community-driven software and hardware, and it’s coming to the Australian National University from 28 January to 2 February, 2013. The conference provides a great opportunity for open source developers, users, hackers, and makers to share their ideas and further improve their projects. Early bird registrations open 1 October, see http://linux.conf.au for all the info.

* http://www.langpop.com/

September 13, 2012

Altos1.1

AltOS 1.1 — Bug fixes and some nice new features

Bdale and I are pleased to announce the release of AltOS version 1.1.

AltOS is the core of the software for all of the Altus Metrum products. It consists of cc1111-based micro-controller firmware and Java-based ground station software.

We’ve spent the last flying season chatting with people flying TeleMetrum and TeleMini boards and they came up with some great ideas to add to the system.

AltOS Firmware — Features and fixes

There are bug fixes in both ground station and flight software, so you should plan on re-flashing both units at some point. However, there aren’t any incompatible changes, so you don’t have to do it all at once.

New features:

  • Apogee-lockout timer. For situations where the normal apogee determination algorithm could be fooled, we’ve added a timeout value to prevent premature firing of the apogee charge. Normal flights won’t need this, but a couple of users asked for this feature.

  • RSSI value for Monitor Idle mode. The TeleDongle firmware has been updated to report signal strength information for data received from the altimeter. This allows the user to see how well the radio is working without having to switch to flight mode.

  • Force the radio to 434.550MHz. This is useful with TeleMini devices where the only way to talk to the device is through the radio. If you don’t know the frequency, it’s really hard to make that work.

Bug fixes:

  • Stale telemetry data reported when switching frequencies. TeleDongle would accidentally re-transmit old telemetry packets when the radio frequency was changed. This would be harmless except that when scanning to find the frequency used by an altimeter, you’d appear to get packets at every frequency.

AltosUI — Easier to use

AltosUI has also seen quite a bit of work for the 1.1 release. There aren’t any huge new features, but some activities are restructured to make them easier to navigate. And, of course, we’ve fixed a bunch of bugs.

New features:

  • Configure Ground Station activity. This provides a way to set the default radio frequency for each TeleDongle. This replicates the frequency menu present in the Monitor Flight activity, but doesn’t also bring up that giant window.

  • Support the apogee lockout timer. This just adds another entry in the dialog for configuring the altimeter to configure the new timer. By default, the timer is disabled, allowing the apogee detection code in the flight computer to operate normally.

  • Add imperial units option. When enabled, this uses imperial units (feet and miles) for all values on the screen and in the voice announcements.

User interface changes:

  • Make the look-n-feel configurable. Java offers many different user interface styles on each platform. This exposes the available set and lets the user pick one. By default, we continue to use the native platform appearance.

  • Add an ‘Age’ element to the Monitor Flight UI. This shows how long it has been since the last valid telemetry packet was received, making it easy to tell when communications are lost.

  • Change flight data downloading. Instead of selecting which to download and which to delete at the same time, the interface now has separate steps for downloading and then deleting files. This makes it easier to verify that the files were downloaded before deleting flights from the on-board memory.

  • Re-compute boost and landing times. Given the whole flight history, it’s easy to find the time when the rocket started and stopped flying. Having these get recomputed means the boost time, acceleration values and main descent rates are computed more accurately.

Bug fixes:

  • Wait for 10 valid GPS messages before marking GPS as ready. Before this fix, GPS was marked as ready when 10 valid packets were received from the flight computer after the first valid GPS data arrived. This waits for 10 valid GPS packets instead.

  • Fix Google Earth file export. The format requirements for Google Earth files became more strict in recent releases; this patch changes how the files are formatted to make them work again.

  • Make AltosUI run on Mac OS X “Lion”. Apple changed the default heap size for Java applications with this release, dramatically reducing the memory available to applications. This would cause map tiles to fail to load and other random problems.

  • Improve COM port handling on Windows. This eliminates the need to wait 5 seconds between closing and re-opening devices, and also eliminates other spurious errors when opening devices.

September 09, 2012

Papers, Papers, Papers!

It’s been a couple of weeks since we closed the for Call for Presentations, and the papers committee has been working really hard to review all of your submissions. We had well over 300 proposals to read, and even with a team of twenty people to review them all, there were some days where it just didn’t feel as though we would be able to make it. In the end, we did it, though. It took us four weeks, and we made over 3000 reviews all up. That’s a lot of reviews!

It turns out that that wasn’t even the hard part though. The hard part was where members of the papers committee came from all around Australia and New Zealand to do the final cut, and create a program. It was a long weekend, and everyone needed a beer or three once we were done, just to get over the shock of it all. But the good news is that we’ve come up with something that we think is really awesome. Like, REALLY awesome. LCA in Canberra next year is going to be AMAZING.
Members of the papers committee during the final review session

So now we’re busy contacting everyone who has been accepted to make sure that they can actually come and give their talk. This is happening in stages and it might take us a little while. So if you haven’t heard from us yet, DON’T PANIC. We’ll get through the list soon, and everyone will know if they’ve been accepted or not before too long. This is partly because we want to make sure our system doesn’t break down from overload, and partly so that our speaker liaisons don’t break down from overload and set the system on fire. Or something.

But, once all that has happened, and assuming nothing gets set on fire, we open early bird regos on 1 October and the real fun starts. So make sure you know where your party shoes are, you’re gonna need them real soon now ...

Read this post on our blog

September 07, 2012

7 Sep 2012

Found myself shouting at the radio again today. These fucking retards with their petition to have opt-out filtering on Internet connections... obviously have no bloody clue what they're talking about. Everyone with a clue knows that the filtering doesn't work. You might as well legislate for the sun to shine in the middle of the night, or that π = 3.

Anyone with half a clue can always get around the filters; it only really prevents you from stumbling over such stuff by accident. Which wasn't very likely in the first place. And to my knowledge there has never been a filtering system that hasn't suffered "feature creep" and been used to block access to things other than what it was originally purported to block. Like the one which blocked the whole of Wikipedia a year or two ago.

If you support this petition, that doesn't mean you're a bad person. Just stupidly naïve and clueless. It cannot work, and you make bad things happen by trying to persuade politicians to impose it. Please stop.

Quotable on 10Gen+MongoDB

Via Pandodaily (an article you definitely should read):

The company has big plans. 10Gen’s vision is to build a software platform company akin to Redhat or Oracle, Schireson says. “That’s the type of company we want to build,” he says. “Those companies don’t get acquired.” — 10gen President, Max Schireson

I’m glad that this is the vision. This is something I’m very positive about. I hope that this vision is realized for Max & the rest of 10gen. This is a company that has raised five rounds of venture funding ($73 million), currently valued at over $550 million.

No related posts.



September 06, 2012

HTML5 support in Browse

One of the most exciting improvements in OLPC OS 12.1.0 is a revamped Browse activity:

Browse, Wikipedia and Help have been moved from Mozilla to WebKit internally, as the Mozilla engine can no longer be embedded into other applications (like Browse) and Mozilla has stated officially that it is unsupported. WebKit has proven to be a far superior alternative and this represents a valuable step forward for Sugar’s future. As a user, you will notice faster activity startup time and a smoother browsing experience. Also, form elements on webpages are now themed according to the system theme, so you’ll see Sugar’s UI design blending more into the web forms that you access.

In short, the Web will be a nicer place on XOs. These improvements (and more!) will be making their way onto One Education XOs (such as those in Australia) in 2013.

Here are the results from the HTML5 Test using Browse 140 on OLPC OS 12.1.0 on an XO-1.75. The final score (345 and 15 bonus points) compares favourably against other Web browsers. Firefox 14 running on my Fedora 17 desktop scores 345 and 9 bonus points.

Update: Rafael Ortiz writes, “For the record previous non-webkit versions of browse only got 187 points on html5test, my beta chrome has 400 points, so it’s a great advance!

The HTML5 test - How well does your browser support HTML5 (01) The HTML5 test - How well does your browser support HTML5 (02) The HTML5 test - How well does your browser support HTML5 (03) The HTML5 test - How well does your browser support HTML5 (04) The HTML5 test - How well does your browser support HTML5 (05) The HTML5 test - How well does your browser support HTML5 (06) The HTML5 test - How well does your browser support HTML5 (07) The HTML5 test - How well does your browser support HTML5 (08) The HTML5 test - How well does your browser support HTML5 (09) The HTML5 test - How well does your browser support HTML5 (10)

September 05, 2012

My take on Rocket Internet

Drip, dropI’ve wanted to write about Rocket Internet ever since reading an article that appeared in SGEntrepreneurs, written by my friend Bernard Leong, titled Are the Samwer Brothers, a.k.a Rocket Internet really that bad for Southeast Asia? That article appeared towards the end of March 2012, and anyone that knows me closely knows that I’ve been having an epic year traveling for business (more on that later). What prompted me to write this today? Reading Bernard’s next article in the series titled Is there any method in Rocket Internet’s madness? That and I’m taking a much needed break, sitting in a venue older than the nation Malaysia itself, overlooking the place where Malaysia fought for independence from the British, and sipping a cold Hoegaarden from the tap.

If you haven’t read those links, consider it a pre-requisite. Go on, I’ll wait.

In the US-based media, Rocket Internet are looked at as copycats. Should we shun copycats that don’t improve on things? No. Very little uniqueness comes out of things, and its rare that true innovation happens. The iPhone, the iPad, the Macbook Air. Those are true innovations that every other manufacturer out there is trying to copy. Its very much similar in the software world where things get rehashed. Timing & execution play an important role to success, naturally.

Free market economics are also interesting. You can launch products that are clones of Pinterest, but if Pinterest is where it’s at, that’s where people are going to be. I remember in the early days of Twitter, there was many a clone, even one in Malaysia called Pacmee, funded by an investor friend of mine. They put 18-months of good work into it, added the local spin to it, and bam, Twitter won anyway. Welcome to free market economics.

Caught in the tracksThis is similar to AirBnB clones like Wimdu (Rocket Internet). You might add your local spin to things, like my friend recently launched in Japan, homerent.jp, but in 18-24 months you’ll see if a local spin makes a business. I’m rooting for my friend, especially since the Japanese market is very closed, so here’s a cheers to them. Plus they have a great story to boot. (A friend is an investor at iBilik focused on the south-east asian market – I too wish them all the success).

At the end of the day, free market economics picks which service wins. What you do to make yourself a winner is down to creative smarts, growth hacking, and most importantly gaining user traction.

South-east Asia is unlike any other. We call ourselves ASEAN, but we have no single currency, we all speak different languages, we have no Schengen agreement and even though there may be free-trade-agreements in place, we all come with our own obscure laws. We don’t even have a beer you’ll call an Asian beer :-) As Bernard pointed out, we seem very much like Europe.

What is Rocket Internet getting right? Execution – at a great speed. Scale. With failing fast built-in.

The Next Web carried an article on this topic too. I quote:

These people don’t complain about payment gateway issues for their e-commerce sites, they just find ways to make it work. They won’t wait, and that’s a winning attitude.

I know the pain of dealing with Malaysian payment gateways. I guess I should say we should be thankful that we even have payment gateways. Most people don’t even bother dealing with these gateways and end up doing dodgy hacks like saying they’ll accept transfers from cash deposit machines, direct bank transfers, or worse, cash on delivery. This is not e-commerce. This may be commerce facilitated by electronic means, but it is in no way seamless or meets my standards of being called e-commerce.

That aside, I applaud the Samwer brothers doing this. Sure it isn’t very friendly to the smaller entrepreneur. Now you just have to learn to be more cunning. Execute better. Overall, I feel small entrepreneurs will do even better with this market as there’s lots of benefit to Rocket Internet spending the money to educate people about e-commerce (just see my thoughts on zalora & zalora II).

The one’s complaining were the ones already used to building copycats with a lot less money & execution flair. 

That’s not to say this model hasn’t got its issues. As Bernard points out, they’ve had executives come & go, lots of complaining employees, and they’ve even shut down services. I’ve been told by many that they’re also cheap. And customer service is generally terrible (this is anecdotal, like how an iPod hasn’t arrived in 73 days – I have never purchased anything from a Rocket Internet company). I’ve heard that seller relations aren’t all that awesome either.

IMG 0198Everything has hiccups. Its how quickly you learn from them and execute better. It’s not easy to build a Zappos culture overnight, and frankly speaking, South-East Asian customer service is in the doldrums overall. Many businesses can take to learning from how 5-star hotels run their operations in Asia (see service at InterContinental Bangkok, InterContinental Singapore, Grand Hyatt Singapore, Hyatt Regency Kuantan Resort and the like). The culture of Delivering Happiness is generally non-existent.

Bernard suggests this too:

The inconvenient truth is that the Samwer Brothers are excellent in cloning the operations and the IT platforms behind, but they are not good at cloning companies where the real strength is in the services part of the company.

Are operations cloned rather well? The IT platforms from my knowledge are all built within the market. This is why some markets have to deal with Google Spreadsheets and some markets have real built-in systems. 

Will there be a successful exit for one of these clones? Who’s to say. Anything is possible. It seems that JP Morgan has bet on Rocket Internet, but that’s not an underwriter that has much clout in general today. See where Facebook is.

Fire @ CrownIf you’re a South East Asian entrepreneur, don’t look at Rocket Internet companies as competition. They’re cloners. If you’re planning on building something remotely original, or a mashup, good on you. Execute smarter. If you’re planning on doing a clone, make sure you excel in the local touch. There’s no shortage of advice and if money is tight, remember to do things in a lean fashion. Your buddies at Rocket Internet are well funded (yes, the Euro is declining, but its still better than any single south east asian currency out there), but have a different passion & goal in their execution. Passion will show in good customer service.

If you are Rocket Internet, good luck with the cloning. I’m never a fan of unoriginal copies, but you’ve brought clear execution to what was already happening in the space anyways. This is why I respect you. I wish you the best of luck, and congratulations with getting investment dollars. It means you’re here to stay. Continue ensuring that people are comfortable with e-commerce transactions. Lobby to improve it with governments. But please don’t turn people off with terrible customer service. Asian customers can take a lot of crap, just don’t go overboard.

If you’re a US-based company reeling as to what Rocket Internet is doing in South East Asia, remember that you caused this to happen. You chose not to expand here and now you’re paying the price. Plain and simple. I’ve had my fair share of conversations with US-based companies that seem to think Asia is the last place to expand to. That’s a mistaken notion people.

All in, there’s plenty that’s happening in the US that is still not available in South East Asia. Plenty more to clone. Much more to disrupt.

Related posts:

  1. 7-Eleven helps e-commerce in Taiwan
  2. zalora malaysia II
  3. Hyatt Internet woes… and how to fix it



Testing the WordPress Facebook plugin

This is me testing the WordPress Facebook plugin. It was generally missed when I could sync posts to facebook notes, but I guess this is the first step for that to happen again. Great use of a lunch hour as I wolf down some grandma-made malaysian-style chee cheong fun.

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7-Eleven helps e-commerce in Taiwan

I was recently in Taiwan for my very first trip to the country. Staying at the grand hyatt taipei meant I got to see the taipei 101 all the time. Boy is it tall, and boy was it amazing to see the building that displaced the Kuala Lumpur Twin Towers for being the tallest building in the world.

I had the pleasure of hanging out with a chap from Zalora Taiwan, who told me how e-commerce works there and how 7-Eleven stores help push e-commerce forward. The wikipedia entry tells all (I highlight the e-commerce relevant): Takkyubin, direct marketing shopping service, pre-ordered purchases. 80% of urban household shoppers visit a 7-Eleven each week.

It seems that in Taiwan, you can make your purchase orders and have them sent to the nearest 7-Eleven that is convenient for you. This is a boon for Zalora and all forms of e-commerce. All this thanks to the magic of Takkyubin. You can also handle “cash on delivery” operations at the 7-Eleven (so, you make a payment in the morning before leaving to work, when the Takkyubin delivery comes, the local 7-Eleven gives them money, and when you come back from work, you collect your item at the 7-Eleven store – isn’t this genius?).

The amount of 7-Eleven stores and the convenience of receiving or paying for your product within a 24-hour timeframe is awesome. You don’t even need a credit card.

Contrast this to Malaysia: cash-on-delivery is almost unheard of when it comes to “true e-commerce”, you need to have a credit card or process a bank transfer, you must be home from 9am-6pm, i.e. when the delivery company sends you items. If you live alone, e-commerce is tough if you have a job — unless you ship stuff to your office.

I see that in Malaysia, there exists TA-Q-BIN. Zalora Malaysia ships with GDEX (much like Pos Malaysia in terms of operation hours), but also with TA-Q-BIN. The rates aren’t friendly to e-commerce, but they do have the cash-on-delivery option, something that has been sorely lacking in the Malaysian market. However no 24-hour pickup schedule, because they lack much physical presence.

Imagine a partnership here between Berjaya (owners of 7-Eleven) with Pos Malaysia (saner rates)? This alone could boost e-commerce in the country, especially if Pos Malaysia’s Poslaju folk start taking cash (yes, I know, its trusting the postman to carry money… have a little faith will ya?).

Related posts:

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  2. zalora malaysia II
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September 04, 2012

Invisible software

The recent decision by the government to flip-flop on the wording of changes to the Patents Bill has pushed the concept of “embedded” software back into the limelight. The whole concept that there is an obvious or well defined line between “software” and “embedded software” is nonsense, but we seem to be persisting with this idea.

If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll have noticed I am spending a bit of time writing code for a few projects that could be called “embedded”. Actually, I don’t personally see them that way at all, they are just code running on general purpose CPUs with some restricted hardware configuration. To me, they are no different in concept to a PC or any other general purpose CPU.

That is, after all, the definition of software: instructions executed by a general purpose machine. Hardware is not a set of discrete abstracted instructions with a concept of execution. The line is very sharp between those two realms.

The arguments seem to boil down to an idea that if the software is invisible enough (to whom is not defined) then it is “embedded”. For example, recently I spent some time with a large aircraft manufacturer discussing some aspects of their aircraft systems. One component was described as an “embedded” security appliance. It actually turned out to be a Linux machine – a general purpose, commonly used OS – on merely a slightly restricted and custom board.

Does a general purpose OS, running on special hardware, but otherwise no different to any other implementation of that OS, constitute ”embedded” in any meaningful way?

Invisible to some is not enough to consider it to be some special class of software, because it’s still software. Another example is the fact that microcontrollers (general purpose CPUs in a very compact form) have reached a price point and size where they are suitable replacements for traditional logic designs. So, every headphone cable shipped with an iPhone or an iPod contains a CPU: it’s in the case with the control buttons in the cord. It’s “invisible”, so therefore it’s now a special class of software, even though it is just software?

Software should not be patentable. Period. How invisible it is, or whatever organisation structure is around how it’s written is irrelevant. Software is not different merely because it’s hidden from view.

Where this becomes complicated is inventions which depend on general purpose CPUs and code. The line should be explicitly stated in the bill: an invention may depend on such a thing but patent protection does not apply to any software involved in the invention, regardless of the form that takes.

Anything else is open to be gamed by industry to create effective patent controls on software, and “embedded” is fluid enough that you can regard all software as embedded in some way.

LCA2013 Sysadmin and Arduino Miniconfs Announced

linux.conf.au, Australia’s premier open source conference, have announced the third set of miniconferences for 2013, addressing open source system administration, and open hardware. Miniconfs are day-long sessions on a specific topic. As the name suggests, they are expected to be run as a miniature conference, with a formal schedule published ahead of time listing speakers and sessions for the day.

Computing systems everywhere are installed, maintained, and updated by a veritable army of systems administrators. Often overlooked by the more visible professions within the IT industry, systems administrators are nevertheless crucial to successful operations across the world.

Systems Administration: This miniconference covers tips, tricks, tools, and best practices to manage both big and small real-world Linux environments. Talks at this conference will be directly useful to professional Linux systems administrators.

Advances in Linux Security: Security is increasingly important in the mobile and embedded markets. This miniconference will focus on new developments and the systems that rely on them, with discussions on Android, Chromium, and Tizen. There will also be updates on existing security modules and distributions.

The conference organisers are also pleased to announce the return of a very popular open hardware miniconference:

Arduino: Interest in open hardware is high among linux.conf.au delegates but there is also a barrier to entry with the perceived difficulty and dangers of dealing with hot soldering irons, unknown components and unfamiliar jargon. This miniconference will combine hardware, firmware and the physical world in a specially designed project that the attendees build themselves. In the afternoon, presentations will cover the spectrum of open-hardware activity.

About linux.conf.au

linux.conf.au showcases the best of open source and community-driven software and hardware, and it’s coming to the Australian National University from 28 January to 2 February, 2013. The conference provides a great opportunity for open source developers, users, hackers, and makers to share their ideas and further improve their projects. Early bird registrations open 1 October, see linux.conf.au for all the info.

September 03, 2012

Cycling

I'm too cheap to afford a power metre, but finally got some useful power estimates by tackling some 15% segments in today's ride (the steeper the hill, the less air resistance and rolling friction will matter. The extreme being a vertical slope, where the power output is going entirely into elevation gain (and rope friction)). If I am not mistaken, and if my bike really is 8kg and I'm still 64kg like I was last time I measured myself 5 years ago, and if I've got the mathematics right, and if I was a spherical-frictionless-air-resistance-less-cow, then the formula to feed into /usr/bin/units is:



You have: metres*9.8metres/second**2 * (weight you+weight bike)kg / ( minutes + seconds)

You want: watts



In the case of one 84m elevation gain segment I climbed today in 3 minutes 3 seconds according to Strava (don't know that I believe a 1-minute climb of 45 metres though - is the mapping correct?), I was putting out a minimum of 323 watts (plus the amount needed to overcome a reduced amount of friction).



Yes, I know Strava gives you power estimates too, but they seem crap and distorted by periods of not-climbing (the 1:20 is hardly constant).



Meanwhile, I'm amused by this climb I used to do a lot before I got a smartphone or GPS (unfortunately, I only remember ballpark times too - maybe 7 minutes). Kinda rare for roads to tell contours just where to go that the sun doesn't shine: http://app.strava.com/segments/857163

August 31, 2012

MySQL across two coasts

The end of September/beginning of October is a most exciting time if you dig MySQL & its diaspora. September 29-30 is MySQL Connect (register – early bird ends September 7) in San Francisco and October 1-2 is Percona Live NYC (register - early bird ends September 1) in New York City. I’m just attending MySQL Connect (thanks Dave for the ticket) and I’m speaking in New York so will take the redeye on Sunday. Four packed days of MySQL/MariaDB/Percona/tools/etc. across two coasts. Who can pass this up?

Who else is going to two of these events? Oh, MariaDB is also proud to be a sponsor of Percona Live NYC.

Related posts:

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  2. More MariaDB after Percona Live Santa Clara
  3. Opportunities to talk MariaDB/MySQL in Manila, Philippines



August 30, 2012

XO-1 Training Pack

Our One Education programme is growing like crazy, and many existing deployments are showing interest. We wanted to give them a choice of using their own XOs to participate in the teacher training, rather than requiring them to purchase new hardware. Many have developer-locked XO-1s, necessitating a different approach than our official One Education OS.

The solution is our XO-1 Training Pack. This is a reconfiguration of OLPC OS 10.1.3 to be largely consistent with our 10.1.3-au release. It has been packaged for easy installation.

Note that this is not a formal One Education OS release, and hence is not officially supported by OLPC Australia.

If you’d like to take part in the One Education programme, or have questions, use the contact form on the front page.

Update: We have a list of improvements in 10.1.3-au builds over the OLPC OS 10.1.3 release. Note that some features are not available in the XO-1 Training Pack owing to the lesser storage space available on XO-1 hardware. The release notes have been updated with more detail.

Update: More information on our One News site.

August 29, 2012

zalora malaysia II

Untitledcontinuing my awe with the great go-to-market execution of zalora malaysia, i happened to visit a starbucks over the weekend (my first in quite some time; i prefer drinking my rm2-5 coffee at the club). i also purchased my first frappuccino, normally preferring to go for a long black or a caramel macchiatto. why?

you can thank zalora & lazada. i saw an awesome banner offering a rm30 and rm50 discount.

one thing is clear though is that i could have probably done without the frappuccino. the starbucks staff weren’t proactive in giving me the voucher, and when prompted they just told me to take it. anyone could grab it basically…

that said, this is smart. in addition to whatever zalora is doing, they’re also going after the starbucks/yuppie/coffee drinking crowd. whom are mostly surfing the internet (no shortage of laptops at this particular starbucks). target market? check.

see the design for the coupons: zalora and lazada.

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August 28, 2012

LCA2013 Open Community Miniconfs Announced

linux.conf.au, Australia’s premier open source conference, have announced the second set of miniconferences for 2013, all of which look at the open source community. Miniconfs are day-long sessions on a specific topic. As the name suggests, they are expected to be run as a miniature conference, with a formal schedule published ahead of time listing speakers and sessions for the day.

Community is one of the most important and noticeable aspects of open source development. Without the open source community, there is no open source. At linux.conf.au, the community miniconfs are aimed at bringing like-minded people together to discuss the things they’re passionate about.

Open Government: This miniconference explores how open standards, open data and open source can be used to achieve more transparent and engaging government, and how open technologies more broadly help achieve a more efficient, effective and citizen-centric approach to service and information delivery.

Multimedia and Music: The digital convergence of media has seen increasing use of computer-based platforms for the consumption of all forms of media. The Multimedia and Music miniconference will discuss all aspects of production and playback of music, audio, and video on open source platforms.

Haecksen: This miniconference is designed to encompass the wide range of activities that women are involved in throughout open source, and has historically attracted women involved in areas as diverse as software development, hardware hacking, and smart crafting, along with a wide array of other disciplines within free and open source software.

Linux Distributions: The wide range of open source distributions can lead to a minefield of contributors agreements, licensing, tools, communications, governance, version control systems, bug reporting, funding, and marketing. This miniconference is intended to help forge a path through the confusion and share best practices from existing lead distributions.

About linux.conf.au

linux.conf.au showcases the best of open source and community-driven software and hardware, and it’s coming to the Australian National University from 28 January to 2 February, 2013. The conference provides a great opportunity for open source developers, users, hackers, and makers to share their ideas and further improve their projects. Early bird registrations open 1 October, see linux.conf.au for all the info.

August 26, 2012

Gyms and personal training

So I have a dilemma with exercise that I suspect a lot of people share: I’d ultimately like to have access to the facilities that many gyms offer, both the weights and the exercise classes, but the whole surrounding consumer setup is completely offputting to me.

First of course is the price structure, where they take money whether or not I use the gym. Smooth, gyms, smooth. (Yes, I am aware that they make more money — I assume far more, given how bad it is for customer perceptions of their industry — that way. But I am not interested in gyms’ profitability, in capitalism I highly value my right to be an utterly selfish consumer in that respect.) So, yeah. Is my (realistically) once-a-week-with-occasional-skips use of a gym worth $30 a week to me? No.

Assuming I got past that, here’s what needs to happen, for example, for me to join Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre’s gym, which is most likely because I’d like access to their pool rather than paying for a gym and a pool. First, I need to go there with my husband, because it would be a joint membership. OK, there go about ninety-five percent of my trips there. Secondly, my husband must either not be in a hurry to get back to work, or we must not have our bored toddler fussing at us. So, that’s the remaining five percent of trips. Then, once I did sign up, there’s compulsory personal training sessions focusing on my fitness goals. I can’t think of anything I find less inspiring, than to discuss my fitness goal “I enjoy moving my body sometimes” with people who are trained to equate fitness goals with either “I want to achieve top percentile cardiovascular or strength performance” or “I want to lose a fair chunk of weight”. I rather suspect this mismatch is deliberate too, because there’s no better customer than one who has been persuaded that they really need to keep this gym membership… for the far-away day that the sense of being too inferior a body to use the gym goes away.

Sunday spam: French toast with bacon

The Myth of Looming Female Dominance

[One] should always be wary of raw numbers in the news. In fact, when you look at the trend as published by the Census Bureau, you see that the proportion of married couple families in which the father meets the stay-at-home criteria has doubled: from 0.4% in 2000 to 0.8% today. The larger estimate which includes fathers working part-time comes out to 2.8% of married couple families with children under 15. The father who used the phrase “the new normal” in [the NYT story] was presumably not speaking statistically.

Miley Cyrus haircut shocker: Short hair isn’t a cry for help

So just to remind you: A young woman changing her look in a way that doesn’t scream, “Please, world, love me because I am a Victoria’s Secret model,” right now, in the year of our Lord 2012, freaks people out. It actually makes them wonder if she’s lost her mind.

Scientists Claim To ‘Block’ Heroin, Morphine Addiction: One Skeptic’s Reaction

THe “one skeptic’s reaction” is actually along the lines of “this is very interesting research, that appears to have not much application to blocking existing addiction, but might to making opiates more effective for pain while being less addictive.”

Tribalism and locavorism

Why does the idea of “food miles” bug (some) freemarketeers while (some) environmentalists resist evidence that it’s not environmental friendly? This appears to be against both their stated ideological positions.

Why Aren’t Female Ski Jumpers Allowed in the Olympics?

Dating to the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) says the women’s exclusion isn’t discrimination. President Jacques Rogge has insisted that the decision “was made strictly on a technical basis, and absolutely not on gender grounds.” But female would-be Olympic competitors say they don’t understand what that “technical basis” is. Their abilities? They point to American Lindsey Van, who holds the world record for the single longest jump by anyone, male or female.

The foibles of flexibility

Since the average age of those studying for a PhD is 37 most of you will have some kind of family commitment, and yes – pets count. I find it mystifying that so many of the ‘how to get a PhD’ books offer precious little advice on how to cope.

Am I Black Enough For You?

I watched this case unfold with particular interest. Why? Because I am married to an Aboriginal man and I have an Aboriginal daughter (they are of the Ngarigo people and the Gunditjmara people). And my daughter has fair skin, dark blond/light brown hair and very blue eyes. She is one of these “white Aboriginals” that Andrew Bolt decries.

We’re not here for your inspiration

And there’s another one of a little boy running on those same model legs with the caption, “Your excuse is invalid”. Yes, you can take a moment here to ponder the use of the word “invalid” in a disability context. Ahem.

Then there’s the one with the little girl with no hands drawing a picture holding the pencil in her mouth with the caption, “Before you quit. Try.”

I’d go on, but I might expunge the contents of my stomach.

Let me be clear about the intent of this inspiration porn; it’s there so that non-disabled people can put their worries into perspective. So they can go, “Oh well if that kid who doesn’t have any legs can smile while he’s having an awesome time, I should never, EVER feel bad about my life”. It’s there so that non-disabled people can look at us and think “well, it could be worse… I could be that person”.

August 22, 2012

Chiz. Horman Textile

The first of my wife's textiles are available and our online shop is now open. chiz-horman.com

August 20, 2012

LCA2013 Cloud Computing Miniconfs Announced

linux.conf.au, Australia's premier open source conference, have announced the first three miniconferences for 2013, all of which address different angles of cloud computing. Miniconfs are day-long sessions on a specific topic. As the name suggests, they are expected to be run as a miniature conference, with a formal schedule published ahead of time listing speakers and sessions for the day.

Open source is at the core of cloud computing across the world. In 2011, the Cloud Computing Outlook survey* reported that a whopping 97% of respondents used some form of open source technology in their cloud implementations.

Cloud Infrastructure, Distributed Storage and High Availability: This miniconference discusses how to build reliable infrastructure, from bare metal deployment of cloud compute and storage systems, to applications built on top of IaaS offerings. This is a core business to operations engineers across the world, and an important aspect of cloud computing.

OpenStack: The OpenStack project was started by NASA and Rackspace, and is now supported by a large number of companies including Red Hat, Canonical, Suse, Hewlett Packard, AT&T, Cisco, Dell, and Yahoo! The OpenStack miniconference will cover recent developments in the project, and provides a chance to explore deployment strategies.

MobileFOSS: Mobile computing has come a long way in the past couple of years. Thanks largely to open source, mobile smartphones and tablet computers are well within the reach of ordinary consumers. This miniconference discusses the mobile landscape, and how the open source community can grow with it.

About linux.conf.au

linux.conf.au showcases the best of open source and community-driven software and hardware, and it's coming to the Australian National University from 28 January to 2 February, 2013. The conference provides a great opportunity for open source developers, users, hackers, and makers to share their ideas and further improve their projects. Early bird registrations open 1 October, see http://linux.conf.au for all the info.

* The 2011 Cloud Computing Outlook Survey was conducted by BitNami, Cloud.com and Zenoss, and can be read here: http://www.cloudstack.org/cloud-computing-docs/cloud-computing-survey.pdf

August 19, 2012

Sunday Spam: bagels, lox and smoked salmon

In belated honour of my breakfast in New York, Sunday July 8.

Baby Loss and the Pain Olympics

Warning for baby loss discussion.

I really have to question why seeing someone else processing their emotions is her pet peeve.

Do I believe a miscarriage and neonatal death is the same thing — of course not. If they were the same thing, they would share the same term. But just because I see them as apples and oranges doesn’t mean that I don’t also see them as fruit. They are both loss.

The deadly scandal in the building trade

Readers would not guess from the “national conversation” that the construction industry is sitting on a story as grave in its implications as the phone-hacking affair – graver I will argue. You are unlikely to have heard mention of it for a simple and disreputable reason: the victims are working-class men rather than celebrities… The construction companies could not be clearer that men who try to enforce minimum safety standards are their enemies. The files included formal letters notifying a company that a worker was the official safety rep on a site as evidence against him.

On Technical Entitlement

By most measures, I should have technical entitlement in spades… [and yet] I am very intimidated by the technically entitled.

You know the type. The one who was soldering when she was 6. The one who raises his hand to answer every question–and occasionally try to correct the professor. The one who scoffs at anyone who had a score below the median on that data structures exam (“idiots!”). The one who introduces himself by sharing his StackOverflow score.

Puzzling outcomes in A/B testing

A fun upcoming KDD 2012 paper out of Microsoft, “Trustworthy Online Controlled Experiments: Five Puzzling Outcomes Explained” (PDF), has a lot of great insights into A/B testing and real issues you hit with A/B testing. It’s a light and easy read, definitely worthwhile.

Selected excerpts:

We present … puzzling outcomes of controlled experiments that we analyzed deeply to understand and explain … [requiring] months to properly analyze and get to the often surprising root cause … It [was] not uncommon to see experiments that impact annual revenue by millions of dollars … Reversing a single incorrect decision based on the results of an experiment can fund a whole team of analysts.

When Bing had a bug in an experiment, which resulted in very poor results being shown to users, two key organizational metrics improved significantly: distinct queries per user went up over 10%, and revenue per user went up over 30%! …. Degrading algorithmic results shown on a search engine result page gives users an obviously worse search experience but causes users to click more on ads, whose relative relevance increases, which increases short-term revenue … [This shows] it’s critical to understand that long-term goals do not always align with short-term metrics.

Angels & Demons

One of the various Longform collections, and like many of them, a crime piece:

On June 4, 1989, the bodies of Jo, Michelle and Christe were found floating in Tampa Bay. This is the story of the murders, their aftermath, and the handful of people who kept faith amid the unthinkable.

On Leaving Academia

As almost everybody knows at this point, I have resigned my position at the University of New Mexico. Effective this July, I am working for Google, in their Cambridge (MA) offices.

Countless people, from my friends to my (former) dean have asked “Why? Why give up an excellent [some say 'cushy'] tenured faculty position for the grind of corporate life?”

Honestly, the reasons are myriad and complex, and some of them are purely personal. But I wanted to lay out some of them that speak to larger trends at UNM, in New Mexico, in academia, and in the US in general. I haven’t made this move lightly, and I think it’s an important cautionary note to make: the factors that have made academia less appealing to me recently will also impact other professors.

Ethics, Culture, & Policy: Commercial surrogacy in India: A $2 billion industry

Since its legalization in 2002, commercial surrogacy in India has grown into a multimillion-dollar industry, drawing couples from around the world. IVF procedures in the unregulated Indian clinics generally cost a fraction of what they would in Europe or the U.S., with surrogacy as little as one-tenth the price. Mainstream press reports in English-language publications occasionally devote a line or two to the ethical implications of using poor women as surrogates, but with few exceptions, these women’s voices have not been heard.

Sociologist Amrita Pande of the University of Cape Town set out to speak directly with the “workers” to see how they are affected by such “work.”

August 16, 2012

zalora malaysia: some quick thoughts

I’m not your typical shopper, but I’ve worked with a tonne of e-commerce in my days. From shopping carts to getting the word out, I’ve probably got to start listing more down here. 

One of the first shopping malls in Malaysia to me was jipaban. The terms (for sellers) weren’t awesome (have a bunch of stuff scribbled in my notebook that never materialized into a post), and I have no idea how they’re doing in Malaysia today. Strength? Blog advertising network link. Shortly thereafter, I saw postme, run by pos malaysia. I saw ads in the edge and even regular newspapers like the star. Clearly more promise but again, no idea how they’re doing today.

Then came zalora. Its hard to avoid them. Ads on the radio. Loyalty with bcard (seen at borders, starbucks, etc.). Today in email, hsbc cardholders get 15% off on zalora. Almost every other google ad that I see happens to be from zalora.

They’re going strong with mass media. And that’s brilliant because in Malaysia, online shopping/e-commerce have many impediments and zalora is out there spending money to make it better and convince people that buying online makes more sense. Malaysia totally needs this sort of forward thinking. Going beyond just the blogs that are part of blog advertising networks. 

Whether zalora succeeds or not in the long term, the money spent on a&p, getting the word out and persuading more people to become online shoppers is highly welcome. It will certainly help lots of independent retailers do well too.

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August 13, 2012

Malaysia’s Evidence Act – #STOP114A

I’m not a huge fan of many oppressive Malaysian laws, but I believe we need to fight the good fight and never let our freedoms on the Internet expire. The government works for us, not the other way around. An expiring regime tries many tricks, but its clear that there are rifts within the regime.

If you need more information as to why the amendments to the Evidence Act are bad, the Center for Independent Journalism in Malaysia has a pretty good resource: http://stop114a.wordpress.com/. Read more about it. I’m particularly pleased there is an infographic so for people that are lazy to read, the infographic tells all.

There’s a huge chunk of resources, and you can even put on a twibbon on Facebook & Twitter. I’ve done so on twitter at least.

I don’t plan on being silenced or blacked out per se, but its important people know about this movement.

stop114a-infographic1

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August 11, 2012

All work and no play makes @jonoxer a medical experiment

Recently I’ve pretty much disappeared from every field of endeavour I’m involved in. This post is to give (too much) detail for anyone who wonders what’s been going on with me recently. If you’re not interested in my personal tale of woe, move on! Life is too short. The TL;DR version is that I got a runny nose and felt bad.

For much of this year I’ve been suffering from headaches and a general feeling of pressure in my head. I wasn’t even aware how frequently I'd started taking painkillers until my buddy Marc Alexander pointed out that barely a week would go by that I wouldn’t say something about needing Solprin at some random time. The problem snuck up on me until I was taking painkillers every few days without realising how many I was going through.

A few weeks ago the head pain ramped up a notch and became quite severe, so I took a few intermittent days off work, trying to give myself a chance to recover from whatever was ailing me. It stayed about the same until until Tuesday week ago it got bad enough that I had to leave the office and go see my GP: I was down to a very low level of functionality, so it was time to do something about it.

The doc diagnosed it as sinusitis, so basically just an infection of the sinuses. He prescribed strong painkillers, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatories, and I went home to rest and recover. That night the pain was incredible: I slept a total of maybe 45 minutes, in between periods of holding my head and moaning. Not good.

The next day I was a mess, so the doc made a housecall and ramped it up a notch: prescribed steroids as a general anti-inflammatory, doubled the antibiotic dose, and added a couple of other medications that might help.

The doc was definitely doing the right thing and we were on track with treating it, but we didn’t realise just how bad an infection we were dealing with. The next few days were hell: the slightest pressure change was like being hit in the head with a bat, and I had to sit upright for 5 days straight with almost no sleep. I didn’t get more than 2 hours sleep in any 24 hour period that entire week, mostly less.

So by Saturday morning it was obvious we weren’t making much progress and the situation wasn’t sustainable. I’d been in so much pain (and sleep deprived) for so long that I wasn’t particularly rational anymore. Ann drove me to the Knox Private Hospital ER to see what else could be done.

The physician sent me off for a CT scan, which produced a spectacular result. His comment was “In 30 years I’ve never seen anything like that before”.

Well, at least I knew the problem was real! That was a relief, of sorts.

Yes, the problem is sinusitis, my GP was right. The interesting bit is how it’s manifested itself.

Sinusitis is a general term for inflammations of the paranasal sinuses, but it covers a variety of sub-classifications. For example, it can be classified by location: there are four major sections of the sinus that can be affected, and they’re mirror images on the two sides of your head. The CT scan showed I’m suffering from not just one type, but all four types by location at the same time. But here’s the kicker: it’s only on the left side of my head!

The CT images are amazing. It’s like a composite image from a medical textbook that you would expect to find with a caption something like:

“The left half of the scan shows every possible inflammation type simultaneously (maxillary, frontal, ethmoid, and sphenoid) with 100% occlusion on each. The right half of the scan shows a perfectly healthy result for comparison.”

Sinusitis can also be sub-classified in other ways, such as by origin of inflammation (viral versus bacterial), and other characteristics. Basically, you name it, I’ve got it. But only on one side! Send my right half to work, the left can stay home and recover.

Back to the story. Once the doctor saw the scan I was immediately admitted to hospital, and next thing I knew I had an IV inserted and was being internally washed with a variety of antibiotics. The next 5 days was basically more of the same: trials of different painkillers to find something that would suppress the pain, different antibiotics, etc. Sleep didn’t improve, though, and I think the most sleep I ever had in any 24 hours while in hospital was about 3 hours, not much better than when I was at home.

By last Thursday I was at the end of a 9 day stint starting at home and ending in hospital where I averaged maybe 2 hours sleep per night, and I was mentally turning to mush. The hospital environment was driving me insane, the painkillers that were tried weren’t doing the job, and what I desperately needed more than anything was to get a chance to sleep. The most effective painkillers that were used could only be administered every 6 hours and had an effective duration of about 3 to 4 hours, so each time they were administered I had a short window in which I desperately wanted to get just a few hours sleep. But of course that’s exactly when it would be time to load up the IV with a new antibiotic, then when that was done it had to be flushed, then after being so pumped full of fluid I’d have to go to the toilet which was quite a complicated exercise with the IV, then they’d do obs, by which time the painkillers were wearing off and they’d “leave me in peace to sleep”. Great. So then the last couple of hours of the 6 hour cycle would be spent moaning and sweating again in pain, until the cycle started again.

It wasn’t helped by the constant background hospital noise: dinner carts, rolling beds, loud TVs, shouted conversations, vacuum cleaners. Imagine having the worst headache you could possibly imagine, like being punched in the head continuously, while lying on an uncomfortable plastic bed near the steps of Flinders Street station in rush hour with all the noise around you, and try to sleep. Good luck.

Thankyou so very much, hospital schedule. You suck.

Despite this the antibiotics seemed to be making good progress with the infection so the problem now was really my increasing sleep deprivation, which I’m pretty sure was a major cause of the continuing pain. I’d got to a point where I just couldn’t handle it mentally anymore. By last Wednesday night the only thing keeping me from screaming “SHUT THE HELL UP!” in frustration was that I repeated to myself as a mantra “I’m going to leave tomorrow. I’m going to leave tomorrow. I’m going to leave tomorrow.”

I had no intention of spending another night in that place. I’d rather suffer the pain at home, where at least I’d have a comfortable environment and could be proactive about when things happened instead of being a battery hen in a cage.

So on Thursday morning when the doctor did his rounds I asked him what it would take for me to go home that day. He didn’t like the idea at all, and took a bit of convincing, but in the end we agreed on a compromise: I’d remain as an in-patient at the hospital, but under the “Hospital in the Home” scheme (http://health.vic.gov.au/hith/) where I’d still be under their care but outside their facility. Instead of being in bed 13A in Miller ward, I’d be in bed 1 in Oxer ward. I’d need to continue IV antibiotics, but that could be handled by home visits by a nurse.

Yes, that means any medical staff who need to visit me have to drive all the way to my place to do it. And yes, it costs a bomb, but you’d be surprised: the daily cost of maintaining a fully equipped hospital bed is so high that even when you take into account the home-visit fees, it’s still only about 1/3rd the cost of staying in hospital! It’s awesome. I’m getting special personal free-range hen home service, for far less than the cost of staying in the battery hen cages.

Since getting home my situation has improved significantly. Within the first day I went from the prescribed painkillers being inadequate, to only needing half the prescribed dosage. I had more sleep in the first night than I had in the previous week combined, while taking less painkillers.

Physically I’m still exhausted: a trip to the kitchen and back leaves me feeling like I’ve been on a big run and need a good rest. My body is still fighting a battle, and I’m having daily visits by a nurse to administer IV antibiotics. I’m told the pain could continue for another week, and it may be many weeks before the root cause of the problem is actually dealt with decisively. It’s not likely that I’ll be seen at work in the next week, but after that we’ll just have to see.

But, as this over-long post hopefully attests, my mental acuity is beginning to return to normal. As long as I limit myself to short doses and rest well there’s a lot I can do with just a laptop, a comfortable chair, and some wireless internets.

Finally, a huge thankyou to Ann and the kids! I’d have been stuffed without them looking after me so patiently.