Oliver Twist on bandwidth…

The obvious quote is “Please, sir, I want some more.” However perhaps more apposite is another from the same book: “Some people are nobody’s enemies but their own.” A year ago, we moved from Santa Clara to our new apartment in downtown San Jose. We’d been using an old DOCSIS 2.0 cable modem together with an Apple Airport Extreme for Internet service, and for various reasons it hadn’t been very satisfactory. When we arrived in San Jose, I decided to replace them with an all-in-one solution: a DOCSIS 3.0 modem with built-in Wi-Fi router from Netgear.
For the last 12 months we’ve put up with the consequences of this misguided attempt at simplification:

  • My company VPN keeps dropping the connection, requiring a tedious security scan while it re-establishes the session.
  • Video and audio through WebEx (our standard collaboration tool) is so unpredictable that I usually arrange for a call-back to my cellphone.
  • While watching a movie on Netflix we can expect at least a dozen shifts between different video quality levels as the streaming codecs try to compensate for bandwidth and jitter.
  • Elder Scrolls Online is… challenging.
  • Speed tests routinely showed less than 15Mb down, which is a lot less than we’re paying for. (I’d love a good long-term jitter measurement tool…)

A couple of days ago I (again!) started poking around the net looking for solutions. This time, I discovered that a number of other Netgear users had experienced similar problems, particularly with VPN access. Moreover the consensus was now pretty overwhelming: all-in-one solutions are just too inflexible. So today I replaced the C3700 with a $99 Arris SB6141 – a simple, no-frills DOCSIS 3.0 modem; no Wi-Fi, no GbE switch. (OK, it does have efficient channel bonding (8 downstream, 4 upstream), but hopefully that will be completely transparent.) After calling Comcast to provision the new modem, I dusted off the old Airport Extreme and plugged it in. And then I ran a speed test.
66Mb down, 12Mb up.
Not South Korean speeds, or Google Fiber, but a lot better than I’d been used to. And this setup should be able to handle the 150Mb upgrade that Comcast is trying to tempt me with. In the meantime, it’s going to take a few days of testing – particularly streaming video during peak hours – to see if this kind of performance is sustainable. Fingers crossed…


All the planes I've flown on

This post was prompted by two things today. First, Tom Gill remarked on how important it was to pick the right kind of aircraft for the season (e.g. avoiding range-limited types when there are lots of delays, headwinds, etc.) and tagged me in his post. And second, I realized that my second flight today (IAH-SFO) was on a type of aircraft that I’d never flown before. And got got me thinking: what have I actually flown on?
My first flights, back in 1961, were on Aer Lingus Vickers Viscounts. Today these would be categorized as regional turboprops, along with Saab 340s and so forth. I’m not interested in those. But apart from those, what does the list look like?
Airbus A300: Yes, Air France and Eastern
Airbus A310: NO
Airbus A318: NO
Airbus A319: Yes, mostly United
Airbus A320: Yes, many airlines around the world
Airbus A321: Yes, US Airways and various European carriers
Airbus A330: Yes, various inc. Aer Lingus
Airbus A340: Yes, including Olympic and Jet (but never on the A340-500/A340-600)
Airbus A350: NO (not surprising, given how new it is)
Airbus A380: NO (but I really want to)
Avro RJ: Yes
Boeing 707: NO
Boeing 727: Yes, various, inc. Lufthansa, United
Boeing 737: Yes, all models except the 737-600 (Boeing’s equivalent to the unloved A318)
Boeing 747: Yes, 747-100, 747-200, 747-400. Never on the 747-300 or 747-800
Boeing 757: Yes, both 757-200 (more than I can count) and 757-300 (United, ex-Continental)
Boeing 767: Yes: 767-200, 767-300, and (finally) 767-400
Boeing 777: Yes: 777-200 with United, BA, and many others; 777-300 with Singapore.
Boeing 787: Yes, 787-800 (China Southern); not yet on the 787-900
Canadair CRJ: Yes, all models
Embraer RJs: Yes, most variants
McDonnell Douglas DC8: Yes, various, mostly United.
McDonnell Douglas DC9/MD8x/MD9x: Yes, various, mostly American, Eastern, Northwest, Delta
McDonnell Douglas DC10: Yes, United
McDonnell Douglas MD11: Yes, American
Vickers VC10: Yes, British Airways

Cloud computing

My OpenStack podcast

I recently took part in the OpenStack Podcast hosted by my friends from Metacloud (now part of Cisco). The video and transcript are available here.


When something entirely familiar changes unexpectedly

What happened to my credit card?
I’ve been using credit (and debit) cards for around 40 years. In that time, the card has barely changed: 85.60 × 53.98 mm laminated plastic, rounded corners, with the number embossed across the middle, my name and the expiration date embossed below it, and a signature panel on the back. A few decorations have appeared – a chip on the front, a hologram, a security code on the back, even my own photo. But the basic card has remained the same. And many other cards that I own follow the same form factor, for obvious reasons.
I just got a new card (a Chase Mileage Plus Explorer), and it’s different. Radically different. It’s half the thickness, for a start. On the front my name is printed (not embossed) in slightly raised letters. On the back, my name, the card number, and the expiration date are printed below the signature stripe, using the same slightly raised style. There’s a hologram, but no chip. (Boo!)
I’m sure this is going to be more convenient in everyday use. The merchant can read the card number, my name, and the signature without turning the card over. It’s thinner: if all my cards were this thick, I could use a much slimmer wallet. (As it is, I’m worried about this one falling out of the slow.) On the other hand, I can’t see how this would work with an old-style carbon-copy credit card machine. If not, will some merchants refuse it? (I’m not the first to worry about this, see here and here, including the comments.) Does this card conform to the ISO/IEC 7810 ID-1 standard? It certainly looks thinner than 0.76 mm.
Above all, I’m surprised that something so simple struck me as such a big deal. Probably time to re-read Don Norman’s “The Psychology of Everyday Things”.


Switching ecosystems (again).

Yesterday I bought myself a Google Nexus 5 phone to replace my iPhone 5C. Although I’m a rock solid Mac user – I couldn’t imagine trying to live with either Windows or Linux on my desktop – I find myself drifting away from the iOS world. In the last year, for example, I’ve used my Kindle Fire tablet far more often than my iPad. But the main thing provoking the switch is that I really want to increase my use of my Google Glass. Restrictions in iOS (especially the inability of user apps to route IP traffic between BlueTooth, WiFi and LTE), coupled with the flakiness of the iOS Mobile Hotspot feature, mean that Glass simply works better with an Android phone. (And before you say, “but of course”, the changes that have affected interoperability have all come from Apple.)
Now I’ve tried this Android switch once before, and it was not a pleasant experience.In August 2011, I acquired an AT&T Samsung Infuse. It was big, fast and gorgeous, as I wrote here. But my infatuation soon wore off. The problems were many: overheating, bloatware, lockups, buggy software, the failure of AT&T and Samsung to keep the software up to date, and a handful of incredibly annoying “features” with no workaround. (Posting a notification when the phone was fully charged – often in the middle of the night – was the most asinine.)
So that experiment lasted less than 6 months, and then I returned to the walled garden. So this time I’m trying to be smarter about it. By choosing Google’s own Nexus, I can be (pretty) sure that I’ll always have up-to-date software. And I know where they live….


This blog has been very, very quiet for the last year

2013 was an eventful year in many respects. There were professional moves – first to Vyatta, and then to Cisco – and a number of changes affecting family and friends. I remained interested in the topics that I’ve written about over the years – technology, politics, philosophy, atheism, books, music, and so forth – but none of this touched
The main reason, I think, is that my work-related stuff all wound up on my tech blog, speakingofclouds, which had a modestly successful year. Reviews of books and other media were posted to And I shared most of my ephemeral content – news and opinion – over at Facebook.
With all that said, I’m not going to close this blog, even though pundits are once again declaring that “the blog is dead”. I want a place where I can do a little long-form writing on non-technical topics, and this is the best I can think of.

Cloud computing


I’ve been at the OpenStack Summit in Portland, OR this week. I’ve posted a couple of blog pieces on the topic of interoperability and governance over at my other blog.


Laptop chosen – thanks for all the advice

I wound up getting an Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13-inch, 2.6GHz Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD. Half a dozen of my colleagues had chosen the 13″ rMBP with various sizes of SSD, and it feels like the perfect compromise between power and weight. Normally I’d have bought an extra power supply, but since I have several perfectly serviceable spares, I saved a little money by picking up a MagSafe to MagSafe 2 Converter.
My first tasks when I got home were to upgrade to OS X 10.8.3 (it shipped with 10.8.2) and install Microsoft Office. In the past, this was an expensive and niggling procedure, picking just the right version to get the features I wanted. But Office 365 has made all that a thing of the past. $99 a year lets me install pretty much everything I need on up to five of my machines – Windows or Mac. I added Microsoft Lync and a Citrix Web Client, turned on FileVault, and I’m good to go.


My next laptop: a tough choice

I few weeks ago I started work at Vyatta, which had been recently acquired by Brocade. On my first day, I was handed a Brocade corporate laptop. It’s a Dell: 13″ screen, 4GB, 128GB SSD, Windows 7. As corporate laptops go, it’s perfectly nice, but I’ve been a Mac user for many years now, and Windows Just. Feels. Wrong. The first time I tried to send a reply to a meeting invitation in Outlook and found that I couldn’t navigate back to look at another email message, I realized that (a) Outlook still had many of the bugs we first encountered 15 years ago, and (b) I was damned if I was going to use that crap to run my work.
As I wandered around Vyatta and Brocade, I noticed many MacBooks in use. Apparently many others felt the same way that I did. As an experiment, I configured my personal MacBook Air as a work machine – (guest) wireless network, Exchange, Lync for IM, Office, etc. – and apart from a few corporate functions it all seemed to work just fine. However, as a matter of policy I don’t want to mix work and personal stuff – certificates, passwords, email, browser settings – on one machine. So I’m planning to go out and get myself a MacBook for dedicated work use, and I would like some help in making the choice. (And yes, I’ll keep the Dell laptop, chained to my desk, for those occasions when I need to log in to Oracle or other corporate systems.)
Weight is important. Today I love my 11-inch MacBook Air: it’s as light as a feather. On the other hand, putting together a complicated PowerPoint or Keynote presentation is challenging on such a small screen. And power is also important: I want enough RAM and CPU to run DevStack or CloudStack under VirtualBox. And of course I don’t want to spend too much…
So the choices seem to be:

  • MacBook Air: 13-inch screen, 2.0GHz Dual Core i7, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 2.96 lbs. – $1,599
  • MacBook Pro: 13-inch Retina screen, 2.9GHz Dual Core i7, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, 3.57 lbs. – $1,699
  • MacBook Pro: 15-inch Retina screen, 2.4GHz Quad Core i7, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 4.46 lbs. – $2,199

There are pros and cons for each. Reviews are all over the map. Thoughts?


Too many little plastic boxes connected to my TV

I’m pretty much out of ports on my TV. I’ve got a Motorola set-top box/DVR from ComcastXfinity (a crappy early model with hardly any disk space), a PlayStation 3, an Apple TV, and a Roku 2XS. I need the ATV for AirPlay from my iPad or MacBook Air, plus YouTube; I need the Roku because I watch a lot of Amazon streaming video. I can get Netflix and Hulu on any of the devices. For recent pay-per-view movies, I prefer Amazon to the alternatives (Comcast or Apple), simply because of price and variety. I’d love to dump one of these devices, which would have to be the Roku, but that would mean using the PS3 for Amazon Video, and the PS3 UI is utter crap.
So I’m stuck with this device setup. Unfortunately the Roku 2XS has been a disaster. I bought it 18 months ago to replace an original Roku which had fried, and it’s always been glitchy. It becomes catatonic about once a week, requiring a power cycle to fix it. But this evening the power cycle failed to produce the normal startup screen of bouncing purple letters. I unplugged and replugged it a couple of times, then tried a factory reset by sticking a paperclip in the “reset” hole for the officially-recommended 15 seconds (and then some). Nothing.
In frustration I grabbed my MBA and started to browse reviews on, looking for alternatives to the Roku. About 15 minutes later, the Roku 2XS suddenly came to life, and displayed a white (not purple) logo. I re-paired the remote, configured the Roku and all of my services (really strong passwords are great until you have to enter them repeatedly using an on-screen keyboard!), and I was back in business.
That weird 15 minute delay suggests to me that the Roku 2XS has some kind of hardware problem, probably heat-sensitive. Since it only has a 90-day warranty (what kind of nonsense is that?), I’m going to have to replace it. I wish I could find another device which would do the job, but I guess I’ll be going for a Roku 3. Hopefully we’ll be getting an official YouTube app for it soon.