Friday, July 25, 2014

Honey I deleted the Website

It has been two months now, two months since I took an axe to our Website.

For almost 10 years Marcus and Agata maintained a website of Vintage Computer information from the 1980's, well that is how it started.

One day at work someone noticed that I had a repository of Computer information primarily on AIX, SAN, Storage and Backup/ Recovery on my USB key.

They asked me to share.

It had taken me over 5 years to get this information together but as a favour I placed this information on my employers corporate Microsoft Windows Server team shared drive.

Shortly thereafter other work colleges overseas wanted to access it via the Intranet web.  So I installed and configured a Microsoft IIS server to serve out all of these documents.

A few years later my contract at this company ended.  I diligently deleted all my files including this computer repository and left.  (Note the repository did not contain any information about my employer, just computer information that was freely available on the Internet, just not very well sorted, index, or to the point).

I got a call from technicians in my old company .... Where has our Computer Database of information gone?

So  I enlarged my home Webserver (then just serving out Vintage compurer documents from the 1980's) to include an extra 100GB of quality, sorted, technical information.

At my next customer  (an American computer company with turnover greater than 1B USD) I was surprised to find many references in their internal Problem Solving databases to our website.

I was surprised but happy that even this large Manufacturer of computers was using my website.

And then the Takedown
So all was going well until I was the subject of some harassment and take-down requests.

Companies would occasionally write to me (IBM would be the biggest example) and in some way ask me to remove documentation

  1. Sometimes politely
  2. Sometimes impolitely
  3. Sometimes threatening legal action
All for documents that were freely available elsewhere.

And so in 2014, I have given up.  It was a lot of work to keep a huge database of AIX, UNIX, SAN, Storage, Backup/ Recovery current with the latest documents

Not just downloading everything.   But the /good stuff/, documents useful to people.  And (just one example) since our website was up almost continuously it was much more available than say the IBM Redbooks site, or other parts of the IBM Web empire with which I'm familiar.

So for me,  a few threats made it clear that all the hundreds of hours of unpaid work, downloading, organising, converting (to searchable PDF), updating were not appreciated.  

Well then, yes: you scared me off.  Your bully tactics worked, I hope you feel proud of yourselves.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Low Expectations and Testing

What are the essentials of a Marcus and Agata's Purchasing mentality?  In four words

Low Expectations and Testing !

  • We do extensive Internet Research on the product
  • We research where we can buy it from a reputable supplier
  • We understand that discounts are rarely free and often hide something, for example: product obsolescence or poor design.

In particular:

  1. Never assume it is going to work, just because it is from manufacturer X
  2. Never assume the setup will be easy
  3. Never assume I can return the item

Of course in some countries there is another way:  Sue!

In this methodology your stupidity, ignorance, lack of gile is never questioned.  The culprit is the supplier for selling you something that is substandard.

Now of course /fitness for purpose/ is an important legal entity and products and services should be so, however in the Technology Space we would argue

  • Products claims are often exaggerated
  • Ease of use depends almost entirely on the user

Note: Disclaimer Culture
The rush to take legal action against suppliers based on bad faith, a certainty that's one own incompetence or laziness is not in question has led manufacturers to fight back with all encompassing disclaimers

(I was to textually include the terms here at this font pitch but they are literally hundreds of lines long, check the link)

Consideration CounterPoint
When I studied UK law at University you will be taught about the principle of Consideration.

For me [however] consideration should be morally adequate.  I know it is not legally so.  In other words, I would argue that if you pay almost nothing for a service or product you can only expect a similar value in return.

Trivial Example: I bought a race belt from China for less than 3GBP including postage!  It has performed well over 20 times already.  But should it fail within the next month I am not going to angrily write to the supplier for a refund.  Especially when the UK supplied, branded equivalent is over 20GBP  (almost 700% of the price)

Testing Now
When you buy something, test that it works!  The classic example is the computer backup product.  After years of backing up you find that after a computer crash the restore is inadequate or flawed. Did you actually ever test a restore?

In Summary
When you buy goods or service bear in mind how much you are paying for the item(s).  An almost zero cost gives you less right to complain and moan should the item have minor imperfections.

Items should however be fit for purpose and if there is a major disconnect between an product/ service claim and reality then of course make a stand.

But before you do, you did read the manual?,  did you ask a friend to also check it out?

And test: Don't assume a complex or even simple product or service actually works.  Test it out.  Test and Test and Test.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Withings Pulse Wrist Band

So finally it has arrived!   

The Withings Pulse is a fitness step and running tracker.  I reviewed it here  and since October 2013 it is my primary tools for measuring daily steps walked or run.

It is also pretty unique in that it contains a Heart Rate Monitor and Blood Oxygen analyser.

Shown here next to my Mio heart rate monitor

On the controlling smartphone app  (to which the pulse sends data via Bluetooth periodically) you can ask to have the time rotated by 90 degrees as shown here so that when you first press the button the time is displayed the right way around.

The unit simply slides into the strap and stays there by friction. Not a chance for it to fall out.

Overall then:  The band costs about 15GBP / 20 CHF so was relatively cheap.  After a week of usage I actually prefer wearing the Pulse on my waist using a clip, so I'll only use it on my wrist on lesser occasions.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Living in America

The above graphic is one of those annoying examples that we in Europe face on a steadily decreasing basis.  Some years back the newest items came to be sold in America and only America first.

Today, well it is just some of the time.

Likewise, years ago living in America was the dream of the many, today... not so many.  In Marcus and Agata's ticklist of pluses and minuses it looks a little like this:

Cars of all brands are cheaper in America.  Actually it is almost insufferable that quality European brands like Porsche and BMW sell the same product in America at sometimes a 30% or greater discount than the identical home product.  Quite shameful, but good if you live in the USA.

Housing Costs
Housing even in trendy areas is a fraction of the cost of Europe.  In fact if your needs are modest, say less than 3 bedrooms and 2 garage spaces; it is sometimes difficult to find a place small enough in a rural mid west USA location.

In 2014 the USA experienced a property bubble based on the cheap money supply provided by the US government.  Even allowing for this, property / housing is very cheap.

Opening Hours
America still leads the way in a 24x7 shopping culture paradyn.   You can step into stores like Wall-mart at virtually any time for those missing items, or for a complete family shop.   The UK is not far behind in terms of Supermarket opening hours but only America has stores of every description open at the customers and not retailers convenience.

Service Culture
At least on the Surface, a strong service culture is present throughout American retail; and in general for the whole country.  Retail service culture is engrained and whilst it is certainly on the wane in modern times it is streaks ahead of any other country in the world.  Period.

Conferences/Trade Shows
If you like Electronics/ Computer or Cars then recall that large shows like CES, Apple Developer Conference or numerous Product launches are made in the USA.

Even something simple like the Pebble Beach concours is in the US.

Positive People Vibe
Positivity grounds America, like the Service culture; it is one of the hallmark features that I love about the USA.  Of course, this very possibly comes from and is re-enforced by the idea that America is the worlds best superpower, country, economic power-house, as told to Americans by Americans.  In the future should America be demonstrably become number 2 (behind China) in many of the important business metrics that define a country it will be interesting to see if this Positivity holds up.  But for now, it is there.

Stuff here First
More American companies [than you think] have a myopic vision that product launch starts in America, and maybe sometime later we'll ship internationally.

So whilst I detest this attitude, it's pretty handy should you live in the US

About the Same
Consumer Electronics Cost


No Go Areas
Areas where you/family by virtue of your Ethnicity/ Culture/ Wealth can enter and have the expectation to be assaulted/ attacked/ murdered.  Of course these exist in many countries, but are regrettably more proportionately present in America than one might expect for a leading first world democracy.

A country where waste is everywhere and deemed socially acceptable by a large proportion of the population.

Currency Collapse
The dollar is the World's reserve currency.  Meaning many commodities (principally oil!)  are traded in USD.  This allows the US to be a borrower of last retort [did you see what I did there :-]

Still it won't last forever, meaning if you convert your equity into USD whilst moving/living there, when the big collapse happens, well you will suddenly be poor

So long as America holds its status at World Reserve currency, the whole world and absolutely including the American Public are steadily increasing their Debt to others in order to continue to live above their means.  This is not just regrettable, but morally indefensible, placing a greater and greater burden on American youth who will need to pick up the bill.

Hot Weather
Many states have either an uncomfortably constantly hot climate or climate extremes that are uncomfortable for European folk.

The desire to show one's wealth, or possessions is something practised throught America.  In England we have a word for this: Chav, and this is not a compliment

My July 4th post refers

Overall then, whilst in previous times we would have traded in our European citizenship for an American one,today  in 2014 we feel that just living in, our touring America for say one to two years [at our own cost] is all that we can summon enthusiasm for.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Synology DS411+II Network Attached Storage End of Term Report

At the Marcus and Agata household we are involved in some Digital Consolidation.

And so we have come to say goodbye (for Production use) to our 100% faithful

Synology DS411+II

Network Attached Storage

Note: Not all NAS Operating systems are created equal. IMHO there are only 2 high functional choices Synology or QNAP.   I don't care what fancy hardware other vendors have, their OS is abysmal!

Note2: In principle you could rig up an old Intel Server and install FreeNAS onto it or even Windows 2012 storage server.  BUT, you'd probably have a big, noisy and energy hungry solution, one that didn't power on and off automatically on a schedule and was generally high maintenance.

For these reasons I'd choose Synology any day...

4 disk bays, and an alerts screen on the right showing any out of line events etc.

Access to low level SMART information of course

Able to set HDD spin down as well as whole device power on and off, silent or with beep power schedule.

I upgraded the memory to 4GB.  (the maximum possible)

Always provided at least 50MB/sec transfer rate  (sometimes 80MB/sec +) for windows transfers

Raw disks are added into a resizable (upward only) Disk storage pool

This is what is actually puts onto the disk.  I presume the OS and other low level information onto first 2 small partitions.

What would a Nextgen Product Have?

  • SSD Caching (say a M.2/ NGFF long slot)
  • Large Memory Caching (say upto 16GB RAM memory)
  • At least 4, 1Gbit Ethernets
  • For a high end product 10Gb Ethernet (and not at ridiculous cost!)
  • Excellent Software

I'm still waiting for a worthy Synology nextgen (or even Qnap) product at not hysterical cost.  In particular Synology has a current habit of using slow=ish processors and small memory footprint, they don't have SSD caching on almost anything, and are pretty mean with 4 Ethernet units.  

10Gb Newby
(Multi part and the best practical article for home 10Gb I have seen so far)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday Sermon: Human Nature

(Human Nature tribute - John Meyer)

Although the world of July 2014 seems to be torn apart with religious conflict and hostility I do have to hope that the positive aspects of human nature will in my own lifetime win through.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Start Fitness - Sock Report

Both Agata and Marcus really enjoy are running.  However we realise that we need to constantly care for the health and well-being of our legs and in particular feet.

Aside from the right shoes for the right surface, terrain, distance and climate we would also recommend that you look carefully at what socks you are wearing.

The Parameters that we care about

  • Cushioning.  Should it be a thick or thin sock.  Cushoned in certain places only such as heal and toe?
  • Ventilation:  Mesh parts to improve ventilation, but then at these areas less or no cushoning
  • Durability: The sock should last at least a couple of months of use.  Let's say at least 500Km of running.
  • Specificity:  Special socks for Cycling as Opposed to running.  For Marcus, more padding for trail socks at toes is helpful on descents, as is a sock which slips less
  • Length: Low cut sock exposing ankles, slightly longer just to cover, or longer still to make for complete skin coverage when teamed with long trousers

These are just some of the factors we consider.  After much research we would recommend the vendors:

a_n_manufacturer original e.g. Nike, Asics etc.

Here are some of Marcus's top choices

London running sock.

Best overall running sock.  Marcus choice for Marathons and general training.

Fell and Trail Sock

Thin sock overall but padding at the ends.  Excellent ventilation.  Marcus choice for Ultra Marathon.

Oregon Trail
Quite a padded sock.  Good for plodding trail training runs

Cycling Tour Sock:
The defacto sock for cycling

Decathlon Kanergy
A must for post race wear.  No matter how sore by feet, ankles or calves are after a race, with these on, I can walk normally and smile as if to say /yes, that was easy/.

The most important rule we live by is to make sure the socks are in good condition and to change them when you notice the slightest bit of detoriation.

These More Mile socks shown above are only about 4GBP  (6CHF, 7USD) per pair.  This is a fraction of the price of a branded /Acics or Nike sock/.

Really recommended!

Friday, July 18, 2014

The 10 Megabit Network cometh

If I tell you that Gigabytes of Data leaves our Apartment weekly, but that internally tens or occaisionally even a hundred times more data normally flows around you will understand why it is important that all our computer, phones, or even weight scales are 

Network connected.

For reasons of performance  (but also security) we recommend   Wired Networks

And so here is a tale of the long overdue Ethernet NETWORK connection to almost the slowest computer in the house .... our IBM PC!

Back in time, let's say in the 1990's when Microsoft DOS ruled the home computer landscape, Ethernet Networking was usually tied to an Operating System.

At first this was usually Novell but with the advent of Microsoft Windows 3.11 (for Workgroups) and then later Windows 95, Microsoft began to play with gusto.

Problem Outlined
My IBM is too slow to run Microsoft Windows, and not having a 386 processor  (only an Intel 80286) it really needs to stick to a DOS based operating System.

Additional reasons are that my forensic software  (one example Image Disk by Dave Dunfield) needs DOS.

So I need to implement a TCP/IP stack under plan jane DOS

The False Start
For years I had diligently saved my best ISA format Ethernet card a 3COM 3C515 card (and discarded my other older cards)

So, imagine how surprised I was to find that it's one of the few cards that is not compatible with regular DOS!  Fine if you might be running Windows 3.1, but not for Mr DOS.

A lot of research later, followed by an eBay purchase and a wait of some weeks for the card to arrive from America ...

3Com EtherLink III 3C509TP 

This has become my saviour.  Here are the simple get it working instructions

a) Insert into old fashioned IBM PC (circa 1985, a very good year)

b) Use the stand alone  (i.e. not stack) but single 3c509 packet driver from Crynwr

Packet driver for a 3c509, version 11.0
Portions Copyright 1992, Crynwr Software
Packet driver skeleton copyright 1988-93, Crynwr Software.
This program is freely copyable; source must be available; NO WARRANTY.
See the file COPYING.DOC for details; send FAX to +1-315-268-9201 for a copy.

usage: 3c509 [options] <packet_int_no> [id_port]|[io_port]|[board_num]
   -i -- Force driver to report itself as IEEE 802.3 instead of Ethernet II.
   -d -- Delayed initialization.  Used for diskless booting
   -n -- NetWare conversion.  Converts 802.3 packets into 8137 packets
   -w -- Windows hack, obsoleted by winpkt
   -p -- Promiscuous mode disable
   -u -- Uninstall

c) Use Mike Brutman's excellent TCP stack for DOS.  

My implementation is as follows


# mTCP FTPSrv user/password sample file
# User file format
# user password sandboxdir uploaddir permissions
# Commands with permissions: dele, mkd, rmd, rnfr, stor, appe, stou
# "all" is an alias for everything
# DOS paths are in /drive_X/path form where X is the drive letter.
# For example, e:/ftpdata is written as /drive_e/ftpdata .
# For sandboxdir, enter [none] or a full path name (drive letter included)
# For uploaddir, enter [any] or a full path name (relative if using sandbox,
#   or absolute if not using the sandbox).
mb        mypas     [none]  [any]             all
# ftp       [email]   /drive_e/ftpdata  /testdir/incoming stor stou
# anonymous [email]   /drive_e/ftpdata  /testdir/incoming stor stou
# The next line defines a readonly user - notice there are not
# permissions defined.  Don't worry about the [any] in the
# uploaddir field - it is just taking up space.
# readonly  [email]   /drive_e/ftpdata  [any]

MTU 1500
FTPSRV_PASSWORD_FILE c:\dos\mtcp\ftppass.txt

FTPSRV_LOG_FILE c:\dos\mtcp\ftplog.txt

path c:\dos622;c:\dos\useful
set comspec=c:\
set mtcpcfg=c:\dos\mtcp\tcp.cfg
c:\dos\mtcp\3c509 0x60

d) Now let's Run the server and retrieve a few files onto my Windows 2012 server.

I use the excellent Filezilla client FTP program

Everything works

How is this Useful?
For vintage computer work  (that is work with machines on the 1970 to 1980x) era that are not DOS based but perhaps running their own /proprietory/ Operating System the IBM PC is the Swiss Army Knife of computers

Programs like Dave Dunfield's IMD  (Image Disk Program) or a myriad of other Disk Analysis and recording tools can run on such a computer.

But once on this machine how to get the data into an Internet Connected Server?   Well instead of sneaker-net transferring the data 1.2Mb 5.25 inch diskette at a time I can now simply FTP it from this PC acting as a server and directly upload it to our Vintage website.   Saves a lot of time and effort!

So my deepest thanks to Dave Dunfield and Mike Brutman for all their work, making it oh so easy for me.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Running Pouch Review

A most economical running bag

Subtitle: Fanny Bag, Money Belt, Water Resistant Pouch for Running

This is a review of the /no brand/  Waist Mounted Running Pouch for Runners.

Why do I need one?
During a running race a race belt is normally used to hold your race number or Dossard.  However in recent years it tends to do more.   It can also have loops on the belt to hold nutritional or hydration gels, and some belts include a small pocket for small items such as keys or even a pocket large enough to hold a credit card wallet or a Smartphone.

What is a Running Expo
When you attend a running race you will often find an exposition of Running equipment and gizmos in a tent or area near the race.   They often sell these belts.

In fact here we picked up some alternative belts  (as shown in the above video).

We had a Zipvit Race Belt, which is an elasticated belt with some loops to hold Gels.    Then we also found the SPI Belt which has a small zippable elasticated water/ sweat resistant pouch

Why we'd recommend our ebay bag find because:

  • The cost was only 3GBP including postage.  Amazing.
  • Large zippable pocket that can accomodate my Nexus 5 smartphone and wallet and a house key.
  • Pocket is slightly waterproofed inside  (not quite as good as SPI) but pretty good and we would always recommend wrapping water sensitive items in a minimalist plastic bag anyway.
  • Nice thick belt - helps keep my tummy in!
  • -ve: No loops to hold gels or to attach Dossard so not the best for races, better for everyday /run to the office/ use.

eBay: Running Bag
SPI Running Belt at Wiggle

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Innovation Intrigue Interesting

TBWA Advertising McDonalds

In sophisticated Europe as many [North] Americans sometimes prefer to describe it, we sometimes elect a diet of Intriguing advertising.

And so it is that certainly in France and Switzerland we have seen hoardings displaying one of these 6 icons:

Actually there are 6 different advertisements each showing a McDonalds product and to the bottom right a small McDonalds logo.

What does it all mean?

  • It's sort of Advertising by Intrigue
  • You have to have a basic idea of McDonalds merchandise to associate the icons with product.

    In other words it makes existing [McDonalds] consumers feel smart
  • It is different, so if you don't /get it/ you'll probably ask somebody >>viral marketing.
  • Clearly if all fast-food companies utilised similar techniques, chaos would result, but McDonalds is first and hence different, and market differentiation in the fast food market is very good.
  • Here in Europe we can be double Smug ... far too sophisticated fayre for the United States of America, we like++

Whatever next, Americans asking what the acronym TBWA stands for ?

Adweek on TBWA Paris
McDonalds Advertising but not in the USA

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Stretching is Important

I've never been a great pre or post exercise stretcher but quited marked pains in my feet at the plantar fasia have let me to revise my opinions.

To those in similar foot pain:

Monday, July 14, 2014

31Km training run Prangins

Pre run report

Yesterday we got a last opportunity to test our kit and gear on our 31Km Ultra Marathon training run around the Swiss town of Prangins.

Prangins is close to Nyon and has a large Castle / Museum which we just ran by.  

We stopped off at the castle to admire the view.  There is a nice restaurant which we might come back to one day.

 Lots of Motorcycles around here!

I'm not sure of the History but Prangins is littered with the  Swiss equivalent of the Maginot line style concrete anti tank blockades, presumably from the Second World War??

 I am a sucker for any Town that keeps Bees!   

Remote mountain villages are very posh and have a train service to Nyon making them commuter belt friendly to Geneva.

Post Training Report

Prangins Switzerland
Salomon S-LAB Sense 3 SG

Temperature was 23-24 degrees C
Marcus and Agata ran 31Km
Marcus drank 500ml of High Five energy juice, 1 Powerbar and 6 tiny Glucose tablets

Stepcount for the day is looking good.

Marcus still has some intense chest pains from his Cycling Accident,  I don't want to dwell on this, just to say that I am coping.

Meanwhile, those Salomon S-LAB sense shoes have eaten my feet and given Marcus some blisters.  Agata also has a sympathy blister in a similar place.


So overall we are well prepared for our forthcoming 100Km Ultra Marathon.  What could possibly go wrong!