Archive for the 'technology' Category

Thinking about things differently

July 15th, 2010 | Category: internet,joomla,technology

The other day I was looking at something and came across “Hotaru CMS” which on it’s about page describes the system as a “plugin powered content management system” or “Wordpress without blogging”. The system describes that it is a platform to build upon, that “Hotaru plugins provide such key components as user systems and post publishing” and how it has a few different extension types: main themes, admin themes, plugins and language packs. But it got me thinking – wait, this is just Joomla!?
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My loathe affair with Optus

February 01st, 2010 | Category: review,technology

So in Australia we have two main telephony providers: Telstra (formerly a state owned monopoly, now privatised) and Optus (owned by Singtel which is itself owned by the Singaporean Government). They provide the most comprehensive coverage for mobile telephony and outside of most major centres are the only reasonably options for 3G coverage (or any coverage at all). Vodafone exists and has half decent coverage but don’t expect any more than 2G beyond the major centres – if you’re lucky enough to get coverage at all. “3” also exists as a 3G only network however it really doesn’t have much coverage beyond the capital cities.

A long time ago I was a reasonably happy Telstra customer. I think I’ve mentioned this before. But then I got sick of the lack of features that they offered me (or the features they didn’t offer me) since I was a pre-paid mobile phone customer. The feature that really hurt was the lack of international roaming. I tried hard but they wouldn’t offer it so I went off to look at my options: Optus and Vodafone. Optus had the slightly better international roaming coverage due to their Singtel links and covered more countries that I cared about than Vodafone. Vodafone’s coverage leaves a lot to be desired where I live so that helped me go to Optus.

When I left Telstra they had this interesting way of handling credit. If you bought a three month duration of credit, you got three months added. If in a month you added another three month amount you got another three months added – so at that point you had five months left. Optus didn’t have it this way and in Optus land you choose between having reasonable deals or having reasonably long lasting credit. The default option was a TurboCap which was limited to a month expiry (and in most cases a month renewal but there are two week options) and the alternate option was a two month expiry with much less options. I went for that as I didn’t much use my phone so the TurboCap didn’t interest me.

My girlfriend all of a sudden got me an iPhone and on a new prepaid item so that meant a new phone number. This new one was on Optus’ TurboCap because it was the only prepaid option that provided data with it. But here is the trick that isn’t documented in their terms and conditions however there is actually an absolute limit. Yes, there is a point where Optus won’t accept your money any further. There are all sorts of limits on their extra cap features (MyTime money, MyBonus) which I understand however the MyCredit has a limit of $300. That means that once you hit this limit YOU CAN’T RECHARGE AND LOSE ALL OF YOUR MONEY. I can’t emphasise this enough. Optus have an arbitrary limit not described in their terms and conditions. I walked into an Optus store and the girl told me what was wrong and said it was in the terms and conditions. She pulled out a brochure and went looking through it but couldn’t find it. I ended up ringing Optus to complain about it and they offerred to kindly resolve the situation by removing $30 off my account so that I could recharge and not lose all of my credit. Thanks Optus. But whilst I was on the phone, the bloke dropped another pearl of wisdom. If you don’t recharge more than $40 on the TurboCap your data credit doesn’t roll over. Since I recharge from my NAB ATM I only have the option of $30, $50 and I think $100 I have as my recharge options. So I have to get $50 every recharge to retain my data. I tried a $30 recharge and with the previous $50 recharge (less lets say $10), it took me a week of normal data usage and almost no phone calls to burn through all the credit. So to retain my data credit I need to get $50 each month (there is no cheaper option with data on it). Since I don’t use the phone much it means that in 5 months I’ll be at the point where I’ll be unable to recharge properly again. At this point I guess I can let my data credit expire and use my data to burn through everything. But I’d rather not.

So the next Optus product I bought was a wireless broadband package. Optus again had the better deal and half decent coverage where I want to use it so they won. Plus they threw in a small booster antenna that I don’t think makes a difference but anyway. They also had a money back deal where if it wasn’t working with coverage then I could return it. Telstra didn’t seem to have that and to be honest that’s what sold me to Optus (yes they can do good things when they try). I got it home, it worked and continues to work reasonably well. But here’s the rub: periodically it decides that I don’t have credit. It’ll drop out a few times or just stop and redirect my browsing to a no credit page. This has happened a few times even though I’ve had credit and it annoys me. If it drops out then that is fine, wireless does that. But to drop out repeatedly, direct me to a “zero credit” screen and then drop out a few more times before working is just down right annoying. Plus I’m sure they debit me 10MB of credit each time it drops out and I reconnect (around 60MB, or 1% of $100 worth of credit). So after a few times I’m seeing a few percent uselessly disappear from my account. So today I actually ran out of credit. Helpfully it sent me an SMS (that I can’t read since I’m online) when I had 20MB left which was approximately 10 minutes before it cut me off completely. Useful. Of course Optus will tell me that I need to use their crappy application or something to view stuff however the supplied device barely installed on Snow Leopard, it required me to extract the package archive to get to a sub installer for the driver to get things to work and then manual device configuration. Thank the internet for instructions because Optus’ own instructions didn’t work. I also tried registering for the Optus Zoo and it just claimed that the mobile number was invalid so I can’t use that to check my balances online either. Thanks Optus.

Some of the reason I prefer prepaid is that I only pay for what I use not a fixed amount and then get charge an exorbitant amount if I all of a sudden go over. Prepaid works for me this way. I have a VISA debit card for similar reasons – I prefer to spend what I have rather than getting a “loan” where possible which is what a credit card or a post-paid mobile phone is. I prefer that control of my own and I get repeatedly shafted by either Telstra or Optus for wanting this control. Other issues are also there such as arbitrary limits not defined in terms and conditions annoy me especially when you get hit by them out of nowhere. All in all it almost makes me feel like making that faustian deal and going with Telstra. At least then I’d get faster internet and better signal coverage. Might even be cheaper.

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“Write a blog post about your upgrade”

August 08th, 2009 | Category: retrospective,technology,web

So today I upgraded WordPress to its latest security release. I would have liked to use the automatic tool but somehow it forces me to use FTP for some reason unknown to me. So I did it the hard way and unlike Joomla! it asks you to delete files, copy things, make sure you don’t accidentally delete something and check that you included everything right. I always find it annoying how WordPress works however that’s the price that I pay for trying out something interesting. In other news my iBook G4 is in piece on my kitchen table whilst I try to work out how to fix it again.

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Browser Story

June 20th, 2009 | Category: internet,technology,web

I was sitting in Joomla! Bug Squad today chatting about browsers. Firefox 3.5 is almost ready (I’m typing on a release candidate with it, I’ve been using it since beta, I used 3.0 when it was still ‘Minefield’) and Safari 4 has been recently released (another one that I used throughout beta). Each offer improvements in speed over their predecessor which got me thinking about the progression of different browsers.

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Prepaid Mobile Phones in Australia

June 18th, 2009 | Category: australia,technology

It strikes me as annoying that some how prepaid phone users get treated as second class citizens. They historically don’t have access to half of the features that are offered to those on plans just because you own your phone outright. In addition Australia has locking of phone devices to networks as well and then have the hide to charge you $30 whilst someone presses a few buttons for a minute and hands you your phone back. This situation has thankfully steadily improved over the years and with the introduction of Vodafone in Australia it seems things are slowly getting better but not quite there. Read more

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Slashdot fun

February 17th, 2009 | Category: technology,web

I’ve been noticing a bit today that Slashdot appears to be going down reporting 500 Internal Server Errors. I noticed it first last night and a few times throughout today and then again just now. Not sure what is going on but they were having issues earlier self DOS’ing themselves, so perhaps something similar is occurring. Most times it comes back after a refresh or two which is good but still worrying that its happening a few times too regularly, I hope they get it fixed 🙂

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A virtual thought for the day

October 15th, 2007 | Category: linux,opensource,technology,virtualization

Last Friday I spent half an hour inside one of our smaller server rooms to fix our development VMWare ESX box. Its called development because its a Dell box and it takes a good five minutes for it to get past the BIOS and SCSI controller load screens. That was the first and last Dell server I think we bought. However what had happened is that the powered had failed the day before and even though we managed to take the machine down, I think the UPS serving that server room had failed after the backup generator also failed which meant that the machine didn’t go down cleanly. However when it came back up it ended up failing and unable to find a root partition. I’ve broken enough Linux boxes to recognize the error and realize the solution is really simple, just fix up the fstab which is all I did and magically the box started working properly. But this lead me to an interesting thought.

Consider an all Microsoft shop who had never considered Linux before but wanted to virtualise their products. The best product to do this from what I can tell is the VMWare ESX platform which is really a small Linux hypervisor and then their own management tools underneath. The aim is that the end user never has to see the Linux back end they only see the graphical tools for Windows like Virtual Control Centre or the web based interfaces.  This leads me to the funny thought that a pure MS shop that had perhaps sworn off Linux might be deploying ESX because it is the best option out there (MS hasn’t brought out their solution yet, thats waiting on their Longhorn Server product), an entire Microsoft world virtualized under Linux.

It makes you wonder where the world is heading.

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A look at Google Apps for Your Domain

October 08th, 2007 | Category: google,integration,technology

With Toowoomba in the middle of an amalgamation with 7 different local government authorities who share our boundaries (or in the case of some not even that!) life is looking mighty interesting on various fronts. One of these fronts involve the IT issue of merging multiple disparate systems into one single system.Like any medium sized organisation (Toowoomba City Council currently employs around 900 people) we have a few systems in place to handle things. We’re using Pathway for our LIS data (who lives where and if they have a dog or not style stuff), JD Edwards for financials and assets (e.g. controlling pay roll), ESRI’s suite of GIS products (e.g. ArcMap and ArcSDE; working out where things are in the City) and Hummingbird’s Document Management solution to maintain our corporate documents. The challenge is to take these products and try and merge the information stored in seven different organisations who in some places won’t share any applications and integrate it into one.To make matters worse the organisations are spread in some cases hours away from where we are. So the problem I’m looking at is how do we integrate email, contacts and documents for all of these people together. They’re not going to have any of our standard software beyond Office which is a problem as we use Notes and like to think that one day we’ll move to open source.So Google Apps becomes an option for this transitional period while we try to work out what we’re going to deploy and how we’re going to deploy it. It works within a web browser and an internet connection, its relatively lightweight compared to other distributed solutions (large file transfers weak network connections, Citrix deployments) and offers a far more responsive nature than either of these because technically they are native to the desktop application (e.g. the web browser).Setting it up is an interesting situation as part of it requires ‘verification’.  There are a few options to get verified:

  1. Put a HTML file on some web space (this didn’t work for me)
  2. Set up a new DNS pointer for Google to find (this also didn’t work)
  3. Just set up the DNS the way it needs to be (e.g. pointing things to

 The last one ended up being the solution for me even though it isn’t obvious when you first start off that things will work this way. Thankfully you can get things up and running without having to verify that you own the domain, just end up setting up your DNS to point to the right place solves things anyway. So what does Google give you?

  • Mail – Their Google Mail product available on your domain, the main reason a lot of people will be deploying this solution.
  • Calendar – Their calendar solution is integrated into the mail address book. Interestingly enough they don’t have the address book feature as another application which for building corporate address books might be handy, or linking into a website.
  • Pages – Google Pages is perhaps one of the lesser known products in Google’s application stable, is a product similar to the old Homesite and Geocities products of old (before they sold out and had lots of ads, then people realised that doing everything manually most of the time was too much effort and they just wanted a template and WordPress did all they needed, or Joomla! did what they wanted better). I’ve used it since the early beta and this, like its brothers is stand alone as well.
  • Docs and Spreadsheets – Again, the boon here is the integration with Mail’s address book application which means that you have the ability to share documents (and document control) with different people within your organisation. As an administrator you can also restrict documents to within the domain or allow users to share it externally, so this doesn’t make it less secure than other solutions for document sharing (still doesn’t stop users exporting it to another format and emailing it manually anyway).
  • Chat – The final major application is Google’s XMPP powered IM solution, which again integrates into Mail’s address book to provide contact list management integrated with your contact list. This is available via the web browser standalone interfaces, your start page, within the Mail application or using a dedicted IM client such as Adium on the Mac, Google’s Talk application on Windows or the Gajim Jabber client or Pidgin on Linux. These chats can also be logged and are available in the Mail application as well.
  • Start – Like the customised Google home page (iGoogle), this is provided as an option for your domain as well. Again it integrates with the rest of the products like Mail, Calendar, Talk and Docs to allow for a very functional first page to go to (more functional than most options I’ve seen around the place). Its heavy integration in a small way puts it at the functionality level of something like Microsoft’s Sharepoint style solution, however the Google solution is not customisable (unlike Sharepoint) however out of the box it enables users to see more information about their data (such as the Docs integration)

This was just a review of the standard edition, the premier edition (at $50/user/year) offers a few more interesting features such as optional ads, policy and message recovery, resource scheduling, single sign on and other user services (including a 10 GB mail box). As an option to a Microsoft powered world, some of the tools are better integrated and easier to use (collaboration and versioning is awesome in Google’s Docs product) however the simple problem is that when the network link goes down, so does your entire office productivity.Something to dwell on.

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Playing with GeoServer, Google Earth and ArcSDE

October 07th, 2007 | Category: gis,google,opensource,technology

The other day I sat down for half a day and did some research into GeoServer ( and connecting it to our Corporate GIS data store, which is an ArcSDE system. It took a surprisingly small amount of work to get GeoServer up and running and to get it to produce some simple basic results out of the ArcSDE system.The goal of the exercise was to see if I could get access to the mapping information in a system that wasn’t from ESRI, the makers of ArcSDE and ArcMap. The aim isn’t to replace these products for those who use them already or for those who might use them in the future but to provide a smaller end application of the GIS data that is presently stored in Council’s system. For this I picked Google Earth, Google’s 3D ATLAS application.The first set of sample data that I decided to use with the system was a set called ‘Queensland Towns’ which gave me a general view of the state in a large scale so that I could roughly validate that I hadn’t made too bad a mistake. Thankfully the towns came up roughly where they were supposed to be, though I had to check with the GIS department when Google’s data didn’t quite line up with the points – it turns out that their information is wrong! From here I moved onto something more fine grained: our roads data. For each of the roads in the city we have data for stuff like where they start and finish, the particular speed limit along those roads and what sort of road they are (e.g. is it a major road or just a small suburban road). This put a bit of load on my machine as it generated the points for the data, the record set is far more complex (roads are split up into different segments to allow for multiple speed limits for a single road). However even though it took a while (and it was best to be zoomed in as close as possible to the features to minimize the amount that had to be retreived) the road data lined up with Google’s ortho almost perfectly. The interface to retrieve the information about the points of the feature weren’t the friendliest but I’m sure with a bit of work something like that could be fixed up to make it more useful. On the whole setting everything up and getting some results took a few hours of work (took longer to find the ArcSDE SDK and get it installed properly than anything else)  and we’ve got an accessible open result for transferring information.


64-bit Hell and Eclipse

October 06th, 2007 | Category: 64bit,development,linux,mac,macosx,opensource,technology,windows

For many years now I’ve had an AMD box that was capable of running 64-bit. I wouldn’t say I’m an early adopter, it just happened to be capable of 64-bit and it didn’t bother me if it was a feature or not. At the time I tried out the 64-bit builds of Linux and Windows, found Windows woefully equipped to handle 64-bit and Linux a bit better (having all of the source code to recompile and fix things on a new word size does help things).

Fast forward to today and I have (again) a AMD AthlonX2 64-bit box now on my desk and I’m running SLED10 64-bit. To be honest I’m doing better than Helpdesk who has a similar test box and have been trying to get 64-bit Windows XP up and running on the machine. They’re still hunting for drivers for the thing and keep complaining they have to go halfway across the internet to get things. For myself I’ve only downloaded one driver for the ATI graphics card on it, more to get dual head mode working on the graphics card. So I’m up and running and I’m not really noticing any issues with applications. Everything I’ve thrown at this box has been handled perfectly, until I decided to upgrade Eclipse. Eclipse is a strange beast and the build I have is a 32-bit build. It worked fine by default, however the Java version that I have on my desktop is rather ancient (1.4.2, thank you SuSE). This meant that some things didn’t want to work properly. I tried to upgrade to the IBM provided 1.5 release which wanted to be 64-bit. Which is fine, until you realize that the Eclipse build has a 32-bit SWT support layer. Try again! So I ended up downloading the 32bit Linux Java off the Sun website and installing it. That got me up and running with 1.6 and Eclipse started and almost got me to where I wanted to be. Then Eclipse hanged itself. Eclipse does this from time to time, so I just let it sit there and do what ever it
does and it came good. I have a feeling its trying to go to the internet or some other network resource which is taking its sweet time to respond, or for the internet, being blocked by a firewall somewhere.So this brings to light an issue with any system that indulges in dynamic linking. One of the issues here was Eclipse’s SWT library being 32-bit (there are 64-bit builds so that is fixable though I know not how) and at one point using a 64-bit build of Java. Funnily enough this isn’t as big an issue on my platform of choice, Mac OS X. As I pointed out in a Slashdot comment Apple has done a great job of shifting architectures for their operating system and let alone the 32-bit/64-bit transition. They’ve had to move from their original Motorolla m68k powered machines to PowerPC based machines and now from PowerPC on to Intel, and they’ve used emulation both times swapping from the m68k to PPC and then from PPC to Intel to make the transition lighter, and utilizing “Universal Binaries” similar to the “fat binaries” they used previously to get things up and running. The only other element of note is providing the “Classic” interface to ease the transition from the nanokernel that powered Mac OS 9 and earlier to OS X’s new XNU microkernel. The system is in effect emulating a Classic machine, though it isn’t complete. Though of most note Apple announced the toolchain to make the PPC to Intel switch all possible ahead of time and integrated it directly into their primary developer tool, XCode.Perhaps this is why Apple’s transitions are so much smoother than that of either Microsoft or Linux.

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