Jul 232018

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of development work on Tridium Niagara kit.  The Tridium platform is fundamentally built on Sun^WOracle’s Java environment, and is very popular in the building management industry.  There’s an estimate of over 600000 JACE devices (building management controllers) deployed worldwide, so I can fully understand why my workplace is chasing them.

That means coming to grips with their environment, and getting it to talk to ours.  Officially, VRT is a Debian/Ubuntu shop.  They used to dabble with Red Hat years ago, back when VRT and Red Hat were next-door neighbours (in Gardner Close, Milton) but VRT switched to Ubuntu around 2008 after a brief flirt with Gentoo.  Thus, must of our tooling assumes a Debian-based system.

Docker CE on Debian and Ubuntu is a snap.  However, Tridium it would seem, are Red Hat fans, and only support their development environment on Microsoft Windows (yes shudder) or Red Hat Enterprise Linux.  Thus, we have a RHEL 7.3 VM we pass around when we’re doing VM development.  I figured since we’re trying to link Niagara to WideSky, it would be nice to be able to deploy WideSky on RHEL.

WideSky uses Docker as the basis for its deployment, so this sounded simple enough.  Install Docker and docker-compose, throw a bog-standard deployment in there, docker-compose up -d, off we go.

Not so fast.

While there’s Docker EE for RHEL, budget is tight and we really don’t need the support as this isn’t a “production” instance as such.  If the VM gets sick we just roll it back to a known good version and continue from there.  It doesn’t make sense to spend money on purchasing Docker EE.  There’s a CentOS version of Docker CE, and even unofficial instructions on how to shoehorn this into RHEL.  I dutifully followed these, but then hit a road-block with container-selinux: the repository no longer has that version.

Rather than looking for what version they have now, or play Russian Roulette hunting for a random RPM from some mirror site (been there, done that many moons ago before I knew better)… a better plan was to grab the sources and sic rpmbuild onto them so we get a RHEL-native binary.

Building container-selinux on RHEL

  1. Begin by installing dependencies:
    # yum install -y selinux-policy selinux-policy-devel rpm-build rpm-devel git
  2. Download the sources for the RPM:
    $ git clone https://git.centos.org/r/rpms/container-selinux.git
    $ git checkout c7-alt
    $ cd SPECS
  3. Have a look at the .spec file to see where it expects to source the sources from, up the top of the file I downloaded, I saw:
    %global git0 https://github.com/projectatomic/%{name}
    %global commit0 dfb449b771ca4977bb7d5fb6cd7be3cfc14d6fca
  4. Fetch the sources, then check out that commit:
    $ git clone https://github.com/projectatomic/container-selinux
    $ git checkout dfb449b771ca4977bb7d5fb6cd7be3cfc14d6fca
  5. Rename the check-out directory as container-selinux-${GIT_COMMIT_ID}
    $ cd ..
    $ mv container-selinux container-selinux-dfb449b771ca4977bb7d5fb6cd7be3cfc14d6fca
  6. Package it up into a tarball, excluding the .git directory and plop that file in ~/rpmbuild/SOURCES
    $ tar --exclude container-selinux-dfb449b771ca4977bb7d5fb6cd7be3cfc14d6fca/.git \
    -czvf ~/rpmbuild/sources/container-selinux-dfb449b.tar.gz \
  7. Build!
    $ rpmbuild -ba container-selinux.spec

All going to plan, you should have a shiny new RPM file in ~/rpmbuild/RPMS.  Install that, then you can proceed with installing the CentOS version of Docker CE.  If you’re doing this for a production environment, and absolutely must use Docker CE, then I’d advise that perhaps taking the source RPMs for Docker CE and building those on RHEL would be advisable over using raw CentOS binaries, but each to your own.

# docker info
Containers: 0
 Running: 0
 Paused: 0
 Stopped: 0
Images: 0
Server Version: 18.06.0-ce
Storage Driver: overlay2
 Backing Filesystem: xfs
 Supports d_type: true
 Native Overlay Diff: true
Logging Driver: json-file
Cgroup Driver: cgroupfs
 Volume: local
 Network: bridge host macvlan null overlay
 Log: awslogs fluentd gcplogs gelf journald json-file logentries splunk syslog
Swarm: inactive
Runtimes: runc
Default Runtime: runc
Init Binary: docker-init
containerd version: d64c661f1d51c48782c9cec8fda7604785f93587
runc version: 69663f0bd4b60df09991c08812a60108003fa340
init version: fec3683
Security Options:
  Profile: default
Kernel Version: 3.10.0-693.11.1.el7.x86_64
Operating System: Red Hat Enterprise Linux
OSType: linux
Architecture: x86_64
CPUs: 4
Total Memory: 3.702GiB
Name: localhost.localdomain
Docker Root Dir: /var/lib/docker
Debug Mode (client): false
Debug Mode (server): false
Registry: https://index.docker.io/v1/
Experimental: false
Insecure Registries:
Live Restore Enabled: false
Jul 222018

So, on the bike, I use a portable GPS to keep track of my speed and to track the mileage done on the bike so I know when to next put it in for service. Originally I just relied on the trip counter in the GPS, but then found that this could develop quite an error if left to tick over for a few months.

Thus, I wrote a simple CGI application in Perl and SQLite3 that would track the odometer readings. Plain, simple, and it’s worked quite well, but remembering to punch in the current odometer reading is a chore, and my stats are only as granular as I submit: if I want to see what distance I did on a particular day, I either have to have had the foresight to store readings at the start and end of that day, or I’m stuffed.

I also keep the GPX tracklogs. While the Garmin 650 is not great at handling lots of tracklogs (and for some moronic reason, they name the files “Day DD-MMM-YY HH.MM.SS.gpx”, not something sensible like “YYYY-MM-DDTHH-MM-SS.gpx”), it’s good enough that I can periodically siphon off the track logs for storage on my laptop. I then have a record of where I’ve been.

Theoretically, this also has the distance travelled, I could make a service that just consumes the GPX files, and tallies up the distances that way. Maybe even visualise heat-map style, where I go most. (No prizes for guessing “work” … but where else?)

The existing system uses SQLite, and specifically, its views, as poor man’s stored procedures. It’s hacky, inefficient, and sooner or later I’ll have performance problems. PostGIS is an extension onto PostgreSQL which supports a large number of spatial operations, including finding the length of a series of points, which is exactly the problem I’m trying to solve right now. The catch is, how do you import the data?

Enter GDAL

GDAL is a library of geographic functions for answering these kinds of questions. It ships with a utility ogr2ogr, which can take geographic information in a variety of formats, and convert to a variety of output formats. Crucially, this tool supports consuming GPX files and writing to a PostGIS database.

Loading one file, is easy enough:

$ ogr2ogr -oo GPX_ELE_AS_25D=YES \
  -dim 3 \
  -gt 65536 \
  -lco GEOM_TYPE=geography \
  -preserve_fid \
  -f PostgreSQL \
  "PG:dbname=yourdb" yourfile.gpx \
  tracks track_points

The arguments here were found by trial-and-error.  Specifically, -oo GPX_ELE_AS_25D=YES and -dim 3 tell ogr2ogr to preserve the elevation in the point information (as well as keeping a copy of it in the ele column). -lco GEOM_TYPE=geography tells ogr2ogr to use the geography data type in PostGIS.

Look in the database, and you’ll see two tables, tracks and track_points. Sadly, you don’t get to choose the names of these (not easily anyway, there is -nln, but it then will create one table with the given name, put the tracks in it, then blow it away and replace it with a table of the same name containing points), and there’s no foreign keys between the two.

The fun starts when you try to import a second GPX file. Run that command again, and because of -preserve_fid, you’ll get a primary key clash. Take that away, and the track_fid column in track_points becomes meaningless.

If you drop -preserve_fid, then track_fid gets set to 0 for all points.  Useless.

Importing many GPX files

Out of the box, this just wasn’t going to fly, so we needed to do things a little different.  Firstly, I duplicated the schema that GDAL creates, creating my own tables which will ultimately store the data.  I then used a wrapper shell script that calls psql before and after ogr2ogr so I can re-map the primary keys to maintain relationships.

Schema SQL

CREATE SEQUENCE public.gpx_points_ogc_fid_seq
    START 1
    MAXVALUE 2147483647
    CACHE 1;

CREATE SEQUENCE public.gpx_tracks_ogc_fid_seq
    START 1
    MAXVALUE 2147483647
    CACHE 1;

CREATE TABLE public.gpx_tracks
    ogc_fid integer NOT NULL,
    name character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    cmt character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    "desc" character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    src character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    link1_href character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    link1_text character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    link1_type character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    link2_href character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    link2_text character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    link2_type character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    "number" integer,
    type character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    gpxx_trackextension character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    the_geog geography(MultiLineStringZ,4326),
    CONSTRAINT gpx_tracks_pkey PRIMARY KEY (ogc_fid)
TABLESPACE pg_default;

CREATE TABLE public.gpx_points
    ogc_fid integer NOT NULL,
    track_fid integer,
    track_seg_id integer,
    track_seg_point_id integer,
    ele double precision,
    "time" timestamp with time zone,
    magvar double precision,
    geoidheight double precision,
    name character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    cmt character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    "desc" character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    src character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    link1_href character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    link1_text character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    link1_type character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    link2_href character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    link2_text character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    link2_type character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    sym character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    type character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    fix character varying COLLATE pg_catalog."default",
    sat integer,
    hdop double precision,
    vdop double precision,
    pdop double precision,
    ageofdgpsdata double precision,
    dgpsid integer,
    the_geog geography(PointZ,4326),
    CONSTRAINT gpx_points_pkey PRIMARY KEY (ogc_fid),
    CONSTRAINT gpx_points_track_fid_fkey FOREIGN KEY (track_fid)
        REFERENCES public.gpx_tracks (ogc_fid) MATCH SIMPLE
TABLESPACE pg_default;

The wrapper script

 1 #!/bin/sh
 3 DB=tracklog
 5 for f in "$@"; do
 6         psql tracklog <<EOF
 8 DROP TABLE IF EXISTS track_points;
 9 EOF
10         ogr2ogr -oo GPX_ELE_AS_25D=YES \
11                 -dim 3 \
12                 -gt 65536 \
13                 -lco SPATIAL_INDEX=FALSE \
14                 -lco GEOM_TYPE=geography \
15                 -overwrite \
16                 -preserve_fid \
17                 -f PostgreSQL \
18                 "PG:dbname=${DB}" "$f" \
19                 tracks track_points
21         # Re-map FIDs then insert into real tables.
22         psql tracklog <<EOF
23         CREATE TEMPORARY TABLE track_fids AS
24         SELECT  ogc_fid AS orig_fid,
25                 nextval('gpx_tracks_ogc_fid_seq') AS ogc_fid
26         FROM    tracks;
28         CREATE TEMPORARY TABLE point_fids AS
29         SELECT  ogc_fid AS orig_fid,
30                 nextval('gpx_points_ogc_fid_seq') AS ogc_fid
31         FROM    track_points;
33         INSERT INTO gpx_tracks
34         SELECT  track_fids.ogc_fid AS ogc_fid,
35                 tracks.name as name,
36                 tracks.cmt as cmt,
37                 tracks."desc" as "desc",
38                 tracks.src as src,
39                 tracks.link1_href as link1_href,
40                 tracks.link1_text as link1_text,
41                 tracks.link1_type as link1_type,
42                 tracks.link2_href as link2_href,
43                 tracks.link2_text as link2_text,
44                 tracks.link2_type as link2_type,
45                 tracks."number" as "number",
46                 tracks.type as type,
47                 tracks.gpxx_trackextension as gpxx_trackextension,
48                 tracks.the_geog as the_geog
49         FROM    track_fids, tracks
50         WHERE   track_fids.orig_fid=tracks.ogc_fid;
52         INSERT INTO gpx_points
53         SELECT  point_fids.ogc_fid AS ogc_fid,
54                 track_fids.ogc_fid AS track_fid,
55                 track_points.track_seg_id AS track_seg_id,
56                 track_points.track_seg_point_id AS track_seg_point_id,
57                 track_points.ele AS ele,
58                 track_points."time" AS "time",
59                 track_points.magvar AS magvar,
60                 track_points.geoidheight AS geoidheight,
61                 track_points.name AS name,
62                 track_points.cmt AS cmt,
63                 track_points."desc" AS "desc",
64                 track_points.src AS src,
65                 track_points.link1_href AS link1_href,
66                 track_points.link1_text AS link1_text,
67                 track_points.link1_type AS link1_type,
68                 track_points.link2_href AS link2_href,
69                 track_points.link2_text AS link2_text,
70                 track_points.link2_type AS link2_type,
71                 track_points.sym AS sym,
72                 track_points.type AS type,
73                 track_points.fix AS fix,
74                 track_points.sat AS sat,
75                 track_points.hdop AS hdop,
76                 track_points.vdop AS vdop,
77                 track_points.pdop AS pdop,
78                 track_points.ageofdgpsdata AS ageofdgpsdata,
79                 track_points.dgpsid AS dgpsid,
80                 track_points.the_geog AS the_geog
81         FROM    track_points, track_fids, point_fids
82         WHERE   point_fids.orig_fid=track_points.ogc_fid
83         AND     track_fids.orig_fid=track_points.track_fid;
85         DROP TABLE tracks;
86         DROP TABLE track_points;
87         DROP TABLE track_fids;
88         DROP TABLE point_fids;
89 EOF
90 done

Getting the length of a track

Having imported all the data, we can do something like this:

SELECT ogc_fid, name,
  ST_Length(the_geog, false)/1000 as dist_in_km
FROM gpx_tracks order by ogc_fid desc limit 10;

and get this:

1754 Day 20-JUL-18 18:09:02′ 9.83689686312541′
1753 Day 15-JUL-18 09:36:16′ 5.75919119415676′
1752 Day 14-JUL-18 17:12:24′ 0.071734341651265′
1751 Day 14-JUL-18 17:12:23′ 0.0729574875289383′
1750 Day 13-JUL-18 08:13:32′ 9.88420745610283′
1749 Day 06-JUL-18 09:00:32′ 9.81221316219109′
1748 Day 30-JUN-18 01:11:26′ 9.77607205972035′
1747 Day 23-JUN-18 05:02:04′ 19.6368592034475′
1746 Day 22-JUN-18 18:03:37′ 9.91964760346248′
1745 Day 12-JUN-18 21:22:26′ 0.0884092391531763′

Visualisation with QGIS

Turns out, this is straightforward…

  1. In your workspace, there’s a tree with the different layer types you can add, including PostGIS… right-click on this and select New Connection… fill in the details for your PostgreSQL database.
  2. Below that is XYZ Tiles…, right click again, select New Connection for OpenStreetMap, and use the URL https://a.tile.openstreetmap.org/{z}/{x}/{y}.png (also, see their policy).
  3. Drag the OpenStreetMap connection to your layers
  4. Expand the PostGIS connection you just made, and look for the gpx_tracks table, drag this on top of your OpenStreetMap layer.

Below is everywhere I’ve been with the GPS tracklog running.  Much of what you see is the big loop a few of us did in 2012, including my trip to Ballarat for the 2012 LCA.

If I zoom in on Brisbane, unsurprisingly, some areas show up very clearly as being common haunts for me:

A bit of SQL voodoo, and I come up with this:

In orange is the territory covered on the Boulder (minus what was covered before I got the GPS), in blue the territory covered on the Talon 29 ER 0, and in red, on my current commuter (Toughroad SLR2).

Jul 162018

So, the local media here (can’t comment for other parts of the world) have been quite busy reporting on the fate of The Wild Boars soccer team and their coach, stuck in a flooded cave in Thailand.  With the great work of many, the group is now free of the cave, and getting the medical attention they need.

Pats on the back all around.  It could have very well been a dozen funerals that needed to be organised instead of servings of various meals.

Overshadowing this somewhat, has been the somewhat childish spat between Vern Unsworth and Elon Musk over the miniature submarine that was proposed as a vehicle for transporting the children through the cave system.

Now, I’ll admit right up front, what I know is what I’ve heard from the media here.  In amongst the reports, it was commented that the gaps though which people had to squeeze through, were as small as 38cm in places.

That does not leave you much room.  That’s bloody confined in the extreme.  A submarine that could fit a child and squeeze thorough such a gap?  It’d be positively claustrophobic!

Now, Mr Unsworth did label this as a PR stunt.  Maybe it was … maybe the design was just naïve.  I think the goal was a noble one, and Elon Musk’s team did a great job in giving it a go, even if they did overlook a few critical details.

However, I think I’ll take Mr Unsworth’s advice over Mr Musk’s regarding whether the device was practical, as he was actually there.  If the device got stuck, the results could have been fatal.  The team was already in a dangerous situation and had lost one member of their team already, they really weren’t in a position to experiment.  I think responding with “stick it where it hurts” is being overly harsh, but otherwise I think the criticism was entirely valid.

You do not, however, call someone a “pedo”, without very good grounds for doing so.  That is slanderous.  And what exactly is “sus” about living in Thailand?  Tesla’s been suffering some quite bad press lately, I really do not think this juvenile behaviour helps anyone.

One is free to believe that ego is not a dirty word, but that does not mean one’s humility should be locked under the stairs!

Update 2018-07-17: Hmm, I was saying…? Tesla sheds almost $US2b after Elon Musk’s ‘pedo’ attack on British diver.

Jun 282018

So this evening, I got a bit of marketing from Telstra. This was to an email address I had used to register the SIM card that I’m trying out in the Kite. I naturally followed the same approach I have with other such suppliers as an anti-phishing tactic.

The email is not unsolicited, but it is a commercial email nonetheless. I figured I’d just quietly opt-out, no need to make a fuss. The email itself was legitimate, so no concern about boobytrapped unsubscribe links. Naturally, I copied the address from their email and paste it into the form on their webpage. I get told this:

Errm, excuse me? That is the email address that I wish to unsubscribe, and if it were invalid, I would not be trying to unsubscribe because I would not have gotten the email in the first place!

Okay, so I’ll need to go through a human to get this resolved, what joy. Navigate the labyrinth that is the Telstra support site (they really don’t want you to be able to make complaints), and I get to a complaints form. First thing I note, they forgot to close an <a> tag (end of line 154)…

<p>If you require immediate assistance with a complaint, <b>Consumer customers</b> can call us anytime on 132200 and say "complaint".<br><br>
If you are a <b>Business customer</b> and require immediate assistance with a complaint, you can call us anytime on 132000 and say "complaint".</p>
<b>Enterprise and Government customers:</b> please go to your specialised contact page <a href="https://www.telstra.com.au/business-enterprise/contact-us/make-a-complaint" target="_self">here</a>.
<p>Further information on how we handle complaints can be found in our <a href="https://www.telstra.com.au/content/dam/tcom/personal/help/pdf/telstra-complaint-handling-process.pdf">complaints handling process document (PDF).</p></pre>
<div id="surveyMainDiv" class="main-background">
<div class="place-holder-div" id="surveyMainDivBannerDiv"></div>
<div id="surveyContentDiv" class="content-background">

As a result, Firefox thinks everything to the end of the form, is part of the link! They also close a tag that isn’t open: <pre>.

UPDATE 2018-07-07: This has now been fixed.

Right, so there’s two things. I persevere with the form, resorting to keyboard shortcuts since clicking on any form element brings up that PDF.

Happy that I’ve covered what I wanted to say, I hit the submit. Only to find out the same person who designed the last form, must have designed this one too.

Great, so that’s now three things to complain about.

What really saddens me with Telstra is that today their management tell us they “aspire to be a technology company”. The fact that years ago, Telecom Australia was very much a respected member of the ITU meant it pretty much was a technology company… and the fact they can’t get something as basic as email address validation or a simple web form right, really does show how far they have fallen.

I fully expect this will go back-and-forth while they ask for my browser details (irrelevant, this is broken HTML at their end), my OS (again irrelevant), and then the claim that: “Ohh, we don’t support that!” Which will hold about as much water as a tissue paper G-string.

So, an update. I had a reply back, basically they stated a few things:

  1. they claim to not have seen any marketing emails for the past two months sent to me. (how hard did they look?)
  2. they claim to have taken my name off the list (we’ll see)

They make no comment about fixing the forms. The complaints form now has its closing </a> tag back, so clicking on form elements no longer causes it to pop up with a PDF download. Great, 1 problem of 3 fixed.

I finally had a moment to reply, and did so. In their email, they give an address to send the reply to (because we’re to cool to set the Reply-To header or use the correct From address):

I got back an immediate response:

Delivery has failed to these recipients or distribution lists:

The recipient’s e-mail address was not found in the recipient’s e-mail system. Microsoft Exchange will not try to redeliver this message for you. Please check the e-mail address and try resending this message, or provide the following diagnostic text to your system administrator.

Sent by Microsoft Exchange Server 2007

Diagnostic information for administrators:

Generating server: srv.dir.telstra.com

#550 5.1.1 RESOLVER.ADR.RecipNotFound; not found ##

Original message headers:

Received: from ipani.tcif.telstra.com.au ( by
 ties-smtp.in.telstra.com.au ( with Microsoft SMTP Server id
 8.3.485.1; Sat, 7 Jul 2018 17:58:02 +1000
Received: from ipocni.tcif.telstra.com.au ([])  by
 ipbani.tcif.telstra.com.au with ESMTP; 07 Jul 2018 17:58:02 +1000
X-IronPort-Anti-Spam-Filtered: true
X-IronPort-Anti-Spam-Result: =?us-ascii?q?A0GkBACJcUBb/+KwZZaFN5wRlRWBaTKBT?=
X-IPAS-Result: =?us-ascii?q?A0GkBACJcUBb/+KwZZaFN5wRlRWBaTKBTYYSBgMCAgKGSwt?=
X-IronPort-AV: E=Sophos;i="5.51,320,1526306400"; 
X-Amp-Result: UNKNOWN
X-Amp-Original-Verdict: FILE UNKNOWN
X-Amp-File-Uploaded: False
X-SBRS: None
Received: from eth2015.qld.adsl.internode.on.net (HELO
 mail.longlandclan.id.au) ([])  by ipxcno.tcif.telstra.com.au
 with ESMTP; 07 Jul 2018 17:57:59 +1000
Received: from [IPv6:2001:44b8:21ac:7053:a64e:31ff:fe53:99cc] (unknown
 [IPv6:2001:44b8:21ac:7053:a64e:31ff:fe53:99cc])	by mail.longlandclan.id.au
 (Postfix) with ESMTPSA id C159B51F720	for
 <ComplaintResolutionCentre@team.telstra.com>; Sat,  7 Jul 2018 17:57:56 +1000
Subject: [SR 1-1580842703975] Re: Follow Up-Your complaint with Telstra
References: <1e3d0bcc-a187-42cb-ac52-1e1ef0f4673b@wsmsg3704.srv.dir.telstra.com>
To: <ComplaintResolutionCentre@team.telstra.com>
From: Stuart Longland <me@mydomain.org>
Openpgp: id=77102FB21549FFDE5E13B83A0C7F53F4F359B8EF;
Message-ID: <b5da1c9c-bc3d-8b2f-0f56-55361dc16503@longlandclan.id.au>
Date: Sat, 7 Jul 2018 17:57:51 +1000
User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64; rv:52.0) Gecko/20100101
MIME-Version: 1.0
In-Reply-To: <1e3d0bcc-a187-42cb-ac52-1e1ef0f4673b@wsmsg3704.srv.dir.telstra.com>
Content-Type: multipart/mixed;
Content-Language: en-GB
Return-Path: me@mydomain.org
Reporting-MTA: dns;srv.dir.telstra.com
Received-From-MTA: dns;ipani.tcif.telstra.com.au
Arrival-Date: Sat, 7 Jul 2018 07:58:02 +0000

Final-Recipient: rfc822;ComplaintResolutionCentre@team.telstra.com
Action: failed
Status: 5.1.1
Diagnostic-Code: smtp;550 5.1.1 RESOLVER.ADR.RecipNotFound; not found

Oops… so there’s another complaint:

I note there’s another address (with an ‘s’ on the end) in the footer of the email, and so I have sent them the following:

It's taken a little while to get back to you on this as I've been flat
out, but here goes.

On 07/07/18 17:20, Telstra_Notifications wrote:
> Your complaint with Telstra
> Reference no: SR x-xxxxxxxxxxxxx
> Dear Mr Longland,
> Thank you for getting in touch with us on 28 June 2018 about a
> complaint relating to your Telstra account number xxxx xxxxx xxxx.
> I’m sorry that you’ve experienced an issue with your service, but
> I'm pleased to offer you the following resolution.

To be clear, the issue is not with the mobile service itself, that's
been fine for the purpose I've used it. The issue is in the marketing
that came with it, that was unwanted.

> You were concerned that:
> * You’d like to be removed from Telstra’s marketing list

Yes, this is correct. It might be polite to ask people when they sign
up whether they want to be on this marketing list or not.

In my case, the service is temporary: I have the loan of a prototype
mobile phone: iSquare Mobility Kite v1.

http://www.kiteboard.io/ is the device being trialled.

The manufacturer has loaned it so that I can trial the device on the
Australian mobile networks, and see how it performs in weak-signal
conditions. I have loan of it possibly for another month or so at most.

(So far, it performs *MUCH* better than the ZTE T83 I use, and holds its
own against the ZTE T84 which uses the same chipset as the Kite.)

I'd have used my own SIM card, but my card is too big to fit in this
phone (mine is a miniature SIM, this phone requires a micro-SIM), and
given its temporary custody, it made no sense to get my existing Telstra
service moved to a new SIM.

Thus for this purpose, I just activated a pre-paid service to be able to
try the device out. I also have a service activated with Optus as it's
a dual-SIM device.

Once iSquare Mobility ask for the return of the device, naturally I'll
have little use for the two pre-paid SIM cards that are presently in it,
and won't have any interest of any offers from Telstra (or Optus).

I have an old 3G phone I can possibly use up the remaining credit of the
Telstra SIM in, otherwise I'll just use my current phone service which
I've had since 2001.

> * Telstra should fix broken complaints form
> I've confirmed that:
> * We have checked your account and found no marketing emails sent to
> you for the past two months

Allow me to present exhibit A; sent Thu, 28 Jun 2018 00:39:53 -0700.
This is attached.

I'm a little surprised your list management software had trouble finding
it, unless of course, you didn't read the complaint message carefully to
see the address my account was *actually* registered under.

I see you don't mention the issues with the form. One issue makes the
form damn-near unusable for anyone due to malformed HTML causing the
entire form to act as a hyperlink to the complaints information PDF.

The other, prevented me from self-unsubscribing and was the reason for
the complaint in the first place.

Don't worry, the world already knows:
Telstra: another mob that didn’t get the RFC5233 memo
I see the missed tag on the complaint form has now been corrected. The original issue that started this, so far has not been corrected. I've attached screenshots for your reference. > We know you've been put out by this matter so we'd like to fix things > by: > > * Confirming the medium of marketing (SMS, Email, phone call, MMS, > face to face marketing, etc) and date you received it This is email marketing. There have not been any other forms of marketing. > * Removing your name and details from Telstra’s marketing list. > Please be advised that this is only applicable for Telstra marketing > calls. Yep, I understand this. This is a silent number, and a temporary one at that. By Christmas time, this service will be no-more, as it will be surplus to requirements. > If you’d like to talk more about this or accept this offer, please > contact me on 1800 241 787* PIN 5172 or email > ComplaintResolutionCentre@team.telstra.com quoting your Telstra > reference SR x-xxxxxxxxxxxxx number. I'm available Tuesday-Saturday, > 9am-5pm (AEST). For reference, ComplaintResolutionCentre@team.telstra.com bounces. I've attached the bounce message I received, and have also submitted it as SR x-xxxxxxxxxxxxx just in case this email doesn't get through. So that's now 4 issues in total, with 1 resolved so far. If you could fix up the broken email validation on the opt-out form and complaints form, and fix the broken email address in your reply messages then that will resolve the remaining issues. Thanks in advance. Regards, -- Stuart Longland (aka Redhatter, VK4MSL) I haven't lost my mind... ...it's backed up on a tape somewhere.
Jun 142018

So, last Sunday we did a trip up the Brisbane Valley to do a rekkie for the Yarraman to Wulkuraka bike ride that Brisbane WICEN will be assisting in at the end of next month.

The area is known to be quite patchy where phone reception is concerned, with Linville shown to be highly unreliable… Telstra recommends external antennas are required to get any sort of service.  So it seemed a good place to take the Kite and try it out in a weak signal area.

3G coverage in Linville, with external antenna.

4G coverage in Linville, with external antenna.

4GX coverage in Linville, with external antenna.

Sadly, I didn’t get as much time as I would have liked to perform these tests, and it would have been great to compare against a few others… but I was able to take some screenshots on the way up of the three phones, all on the same network (Telstra), using their internal antennas (and the small whip in the case of the Kite).  However, we got there in the afternoon, and there were clouds gathering, so we had to get to Moore.

In any case, Telstra seems to have pulled their socks up since those maps were updated… as I found I was getting reasonable coverage on the T83.  The Kite was in the car at the time, I didn’t want it getting damaged if I came off the bike or if the heavens opened up.

I did manage to take some screenshots on the three phones on the way up.

This is not that scientific, and a bit crude since I couldn’t take the screenshots at exactly the same moment.  Plus, we were travelling at 100km/hr for much of the run.  There was one point where we stopped for breakfast at Fernvale, I can’t recall exactly what time that was or whether I got a screenshot from all three phones at that time.

The T84 is the only phone out of the three that can do the 4GX 700MHz band.

Time ZTE T83 ZTE T84 iSquare Mobility Kite v1 Notes
2018-06-10T06:08:16 t83 at 2018-06-10T06:08:16 Leaving Brisbane
2018-06-10T06:09:24 kite at 2018-06-10T06:09:24
2018-06-10T06:09:33 t83 at 2018-06-10T06:09:33
2018-06-10T06:26:17 t83 at 2018-06-10T06:26:17
2018-06-10T06:26:25 kite at 2018-06-10T06:26:25
2018-06-10T07:30:27 t84 at 2018-06-10T07:30:27 A rare moment where the T84 beats the others.  My guess is this is a 4GX (700MHz) cell.
2018-06-10T07:30:34 kite at 2018-06-10T07:30:34
2018-06-10T07:30:39 t83 at 2018-06-10T07:30:39
2018-06-10T07:41:48 kite at 2018-06-10T07:41:48
2018-06-10T07:41:54 t84 at 2018-06-10T07:41:54 HSPA coverage… one of the few times we see the T84 drop back to 3G.
2018-06-10T07:42:01 t83 at 2018-06-10T07:42:01
2018-06-10T07:51:34 t83 at 2018-06-10T07:51:34 Patchy coverage at times en route to Moore.
2018-06-10T07:51:45 kite at 2018-06-10T07:51:45
2018-06-10T08:24:57 kite at 2018-06-10T08:24:57 For grins, trying out Optus coverage on the Kite at Moore.  There’s a tower at Benarkin, not sure if there’s one closer to Moore.
2018-06-10T08:25:39 kite at 2018-06-10T08:25:39
2018-06-10T08:54:28 t84 at 2018-06-10T08:54:28
2018-06-10T08:54:35 kite at 2018-06-10T08:54:35 En route to Benarkin, we lose contact with Telstra on all three devices.
2018-06-10T08:54:39 t83 at 2018-06-10T08:54:39
2018-06-10T09:35:14 kite at 2018-06-10T09:35:14 In Benarkin.
2018-06-10T09:35:22 t83 at 2018-06-10T09:35:22
2018-06-10T10:25:27 kite at 2018-06-10T10:25:27
2018-06-10T10:25:48 t83 at 2018-06-10T10:25:48

So what does the above show?  Well, for starters, it is apparent that the T83 gets left in the dust by both devices.  This is interesting as my T83 definitely was the more reliable on our last trip into the Snowy Mountains, regularly getting a signal in places where the T84 failed.

Two spots I’d love to take the Kite would be Dumboy Creek (4km outside Delungra on the Gwydir Highway) and Sawpit Creek (just outside Jindabyne), but both are a bit far for a day trip!  It’s unlikely I’ll be venturing that far south again this year.

On this trip up the Brisbane Valley though, I observed that when the signal got weak, the Kite was more willing to drop back to 3G, whereas the two ZTE phones hung onto that little scrap of 4G.  Yes, 4G might give clearer call quality and faster speeds in ideal conditions, but these conditions are not ideal, we’re in fringe coverage.

The 4G standards use much more dense forms of modulation (QPSK, 16-QAM or 64-QAM) than 3G (QPSK only) trading off spectral efficiency for signal-to-noise performance, thus lean more heavily on forward error correction to achieve communications in adverse conditions.  When a symbol is corrupted, more data is lost with these standards.  3G might be slower, but sometimes slow and steady wins the race, fast and flaky is a recipe of frustration.

A more scientific experiment, where we are stationary, and can let each device “settle” before taking a reading, would be worthwhile.  Without a doubt, the Kite runs rings around the T83.  The T84 is less clear: the T84 and the Kite both run the same chipset; the Qualcomm MSM8916.  The T83 runs the older MSM8930.

By rights, the T84 and Kite should perform nearly identical, with the Kite having the advantage of a high-gain whip antenna instead of a more conventional patch panel antenna.  The only edge the T84 has, is the 700MHz band, which isn’t that heavily deployed here in Australia right now.

The T83 and T84 can take an external antenna, but the socket is designed for cradle use and isn’t as rugged or durable as the SMA connector used on the Kite.  It’s soldered to the PCB, and when a cable is plugged in, it disconnects the internal antenna.

Thus damage to this connector can render these phones useless.  The SMA connector on the Kite however is a pigtail to an IPX socket inside … a readily available off-the-shelf (mail-order) part.  People may not like the whip sticking out though.

The Kite does ship with a patch antenna, which is about 75% efficient; so maybe 0dBi at best, however I think making the case another 10mm longer and incorporating the whip into the top of the phone so the antenna can tuck away when not needed, is a better plan.  It would not be hard to make the case accommodate it so it’s invisible and can fold out, or be replaced with a coax connection to an external antenna.

If there’s time, I’ll try to get some more conclusive tests done, but there’s no guarantees on that.

Jun 062018

Recently, a stoush erupted between NBN chief executive Bill Morrow and the gaming community over whether “gamers” were “causing” the congestion issues experienced on fixed-wireless broadband links.

The ABC published this chart, comparing the average transfer rate, of various games, to the average transfer rate seen watching various movies.  It’s an interesting chart, but I think it completely misses the point.

One thing that raw download speeds miss, is latency.

Multimedia is hard real-time, however unless you’re doing a two-way video or voice call, a few seconds of latency is not going to bother you. Your playback device can buffer several seconds worth of movie to feed to your video and sound devices and keep their buffers fed. No problem.

If those buffers aren’t kept topped up, you get break-up in your audio and the video “freezes” momentarily, loosing the illusion of animation. So long as the data is received over the Internet link, passed to the decoder to be converted to raw video frames and audio samples, and stuffed into the relevant buffers in time, it all runs smoothly. Pre-recorded material makes this dead easy (by comparison). Uni-directional live streams are a bit more tricky, but again you can put up with quite a bit of latency.

Radio stations often have about 300-500ms of latency … just listen to the echo effect when a caller rings up with a radio on in the background, if it were truly live, it would howl like a PA microphone!

It’s two-way traffic that’s the challenge.

Imagine if, when typing an email… it was 5 seconds before the letters you just typed showed up. Or if you moved the mouse, it took 3 seconds before it registered that you had moved. If someone were just observing the screen (unaware of when the keystrokes/mouse clicks had been entered), they’d think the user was drunk!

And yes, I have personally experienced such links… type something, then go wait 30 seconds before hitting the ENTER key, or if you spot a mistake, count up the number of backspaces or cursor movements you need to type, then wait for the cursor to reach that spot before you make your correction. It’s frustrating!

Now consider online gaming, where reaction time requirements are akin to driving a race car. One false move, and suddenly your opposition has shot you, or they’ve successfully dodged your virtual bullet.

Carrier pigeons carrying MicroSD cards (which reach 128GB capacity these days) could actually outperform NBN in many places for raw data throughput. However, if the results from the Bergen Linux User’s Group experiments are anything to go by, you can expect a latency measured in hours. (Their ping log shows the round-trip-time to be about 53 minutes in the best case.)

The movie stream will be sending many large packets at a mostly regular rate. The video game will be sending lots of tiny packets that Must Be Delivered Right Now!

I think it naïve to directly compare the two in the manner these graphs simply due to the nature of the types of traffic involved. Video/VoIP calling would be a better metric, since a 100ms delay in a telephone conversation will have both parties verbally tripping over each other.

Tele-medicine is touted as one of the up-and-comming technologies, but for a surgeon to remotely operate on a patient, they need that robotic arm to respond right now, not in 30 seconds time.  It may not be a lot of data to say “rotate 2°”, or “move forward 500µm”, but it needs to get there quickly, and the feedback from said movement arrive back quickly if the patient is going to live.

The sooner we stop ignoring this elephant in the room, the better off we’ll all be.

Jun 042018

So, recently there was a task at my work to review enabling gzip compression on our nginx HTTP servers to compress the traffic.

Now, in principle it seemed like a good idea, but having been exposed to the security world a little bit, I was familiar with some of the issues with this, notably, CRIME, BEAST and BREACH.  Of these, only BREACH is unmitigated at the browser end.

The suggested mitigations, in order of effectiveness are:

  1. Disabling HTTP compression
  2. Separating secrets from user input
  3. Randomizing secrets per request
  4. Masking secrets (effectively randomizing by XORing with a random secret per request)
  5. Protecting vulnerable pages with CSRF
  6. Length hiding (by adding random number of bytes to the responses)
  7. Rate-limiting the requests

Now, we’ve effectively being doing (1) by default… but (2), (3) and (4) make me wonder how protocols like OAuth2 are supposed to work.  That got me thinking about a little toy I was given for attending the 2011 linux.conf.au… it’s a YubiKey, one of the early model ones.  The way it operates is that Yubico’s servers, and your key, share a secret AES key (I think it’s AES-128), some static data, and a counter.  Each time you generate a one-time pad with the key, it increments its counter, encrypts the value with the static data, then encodes the output as a hexdump using a keyboard-agnostic encoding scheme to be “typed” into the computer.

Yubico receive this token, decrypt it, then compare the counter value.  If it checks out, and is greater than the existing counter value at their end, they accept it, and store that new counter value.

The same made me wonder if that could work for requests from a browser… that is, you agree on a shared secret over HTTPS, or using Diffie Hellman.  You synchronise counters (either using your new shared secret, or over HTTPS at the same time as you make the shared key), then from there on, each request to your API made by the browser, is then accompanied by a one-time pad, generated by encrypting the counter value and the static data and sending that in the HTTP headers.

There are a few libraries that do AES in the browser, such as JSAES (GPLv3) and aes-js (MIT).

This is going to be expensive to do, so a compromise might be to use this every N requests, where N is small enough that BREACH doesn’t have a sufficient number of requests from which it can derive a secret.  By the time it figures out that secret, the token is expired.  Or they could be bulk-generated at the browser end in the background so there’s a ready supply.

I haven’t gone through the full in’s and out’s of this, and I’m no security expert, but that’s just some initial thinking.

May 312018

So, recently I bit the bullet and decided to sign up for an account with AliExpress.

So far, what I’ve bought from there has been clothing (unbranded stuff, not counterfeit) … while there’s some very cheap electronics there, I’m leery about the quality of some of it, preferring instead to spend a little more to buy through a more reliable supplier.

Basically, it’s a supplier of last resort, if I can’t buy something anywhere else, I’ll look here.

So far the experience has been okay.  The sellers so far have been genuine, while the slow boat from China takes a while, it’s not that big a deal.

That said, it would appear the people who actually develop its back-end are a little clueless where it comes to matters on the Internet.

Naïve email address validation rules

Yes, they’re far from the first culprits, but it would seem perfectly compliant email addresses, such as foo+bar@gmail.com, are rejected as “invalid”.

News to you AliExpress, and to anyone else, You Can Put Plus Signs In Your Email Address!

Lots of SMTP servers and webmail providers support it, to quote Wikipedia:

Addresses of this form, using various separators between the base name and the tag, are supported by several email services, including Runbox (plus), Gmail (plus),[11] Yahoo! Mail Plus (hyphen),[12] Apple’s iCloud (plus), Outlook.com (plus),[13] ProtonMail (plus),[14] FastMail (plus and Subdomain Addressing),[15] MMDF (equals), Qmail and Courier Mail Server (hyphen).[16][17] Postfix allows configuring an arbitrary separator from the legal character set.[18]

You’ll note the ones that use other characters (e.g. MMDF, Yahoo, Qmail and Courier) are in the minority.  Postfix will let you pick nearly anything (within reason), all the others use the plus symbol.

Doing this means instead of using my regular email address, I can use user+secret@example.com — if I see a spoof email pretending to be from you sent to user@example.com, I know it is fake.  On the other hand, if I see someone else use user+secret@example.com, I know they got that email address from you.

Email validation is actually a lot more complex than most people realise… it’s gotten simpler with the advent of SMTP, but years ago …server1!server2!server3!me was legitimate in the days of UUCP.  During the transition, server1!server2!server3!user@somesmtpserver.example.com was not unheard of either.  Or maybe user%innnerhost@outerhost.net?  Again, within standards.

Protocol-relative URIs don’t work outside web browsers

This, I’ve reported to them before, but basically the crux of the issue is their message notification emails.  The following is a screenshot of an actual email received from AliExpress.

Now, it would not matter what the email client was.  In this case, it’s Thunderbird, but the same problem would exist for Eudora, Outlook, Windows Mail, Apple Mail, The Bat!, Pegasus Mail … or any other email client you care to name.  If it runs outside the browser, that URI is invalid.  Protocol-relative means you use the same protocol as the page the hyperlink exists on.

In this case, the “protocol” used to retrieve that “page” was imap; imap://msg.aliexpress.com is wrong.  So is pop3://msg.aliexpress.com.  The only place I see this working, is on webmail sites.

Clearly, someone needs a clue-by-four to realise that not everybody uses a web browser to browse email.

Weak password requirements

When I signed up, boy where they fussy about the password.  My standard passwords are gibberish with punctuation… something AliExpress did not like.  They do not allow anything except digits and letters, and you must choose between 6 and 20 characters.  Not even XKCD standards work here!

Again, they aren’t the only ones… Suncorp are another mob that come to mind (in fact, they’re even more “strict”, they only allow 8… this is for their Internet banking… in 2018).  Thankfully the one bank account I have Internet banking on, is a no-fee account that has bugger all cash in it… the one with my savings in it is a passbook account, and completely separate.  (To their credit though, they do allow + in an email address.  They at least got that right.)

I can understand the field having some limit… you don’t want to receive two blu-ray discs worth of “password” every time a user authenticates themselves… but geez… would it kill you to allow 50 characters?  Does your salted hashing algorithm (you are using salted hashes aren’t you?) really care what characters you use?  Should you be using it if it does?  Once hashed, the output is going to be a fixed width, ideal for a database, and Bobby Tables is going to be hard pushed to pick a password that will hash to “‘; drop table users; –“.

By requiting these silly rules, they’ve actually forced me to use a weaker password.  The passwords I would have used on each site, had I been given the opportunity to pick my own, would have featured a much richer choice of characters, and thus been harder to break.  Instead, you’ve hobbled your own security.  Go team!

Reporting website issues is more difficult than it needs to be

Reporting a website issue is neigh on impossible.  Hence the reason for this post.  Plenty is there if I want to pick a fight with a seller (I don’t), or if I think there’s an intellectual property issue (this isn’t).  I eventually did find a form, and maybe they’ll do something about it, but I’m not holding my breath.

Forget to whitelist a script, and you get sworn at, in Mandarin

This is a matter of “unhappy code paths” not receiving the attention that they need.  In fact, there are a few places where they haven’t really debugged their l10n support properly and so the untranslated Alibaba pops up.

Yeah, the way China is going with global domination, we might some day find ourselves having to brush up on our Mandarin, and maybe Cantonese too… but that day is not today.

Anyway, I think that more or less settles it for now.  I’ll probably find more to groan about, but I do need to get some sleep tonight and go to work tomorrow.

May 192018

Recently, a new project sprang up on the Hackaday.io site; it was for the KiteBoard, an open-source cellular development platform.  In a nutshell, this is a single-board-computer that embeds a full mobile system-on-chip and runs the Android operating system.  The project is seeking crowd funding for the second version of this platform.

With it, you can build smartphones (of course), tablets, tele-presence robots, or really, any project which can benefit from a beefy CPU with a built-in cellular modem.  It comes as a kit, which you then assemble yourself.  The level of difficulty in assembly is no greater than that of assembling a desktop PC: the circuit boards are pre-populated, you just need to connect them together.  In this version, some soldering of pushbuttons and wires is needed: all through-hole components.  No reflow ovens or solder paste is necessary here, an 8-year-old could do it.

The break-out board for the CPU card features in addition to connections for all the usual cellular phone signals (e.g. earpiece, microphone, button inputs) a GPIO header that follows the de-facto standard “Raspberry Pi” interface, allowing many Raspberry Pi “hats” to plug directly into this board.

That lends itself greatly to expandability.  Want a eInk or OLED notification display on the back?  A scrolling LED display?  A piano?  A games console?  Knock yourself out!  You, are the designer, you decide.  There are lots of options.

I for one, would consider an amateur radio transceiver, an external antenna socket and a beefier battery.  Presently, I get around with the ZTE T83 (“Telstra Dave”), which works okay, but as it runs an old version of Android (4.1), running newer applications on it is a problem.  I believe it could run something newer, but ZTE believe that their job was finished in 2013 when the first one rolled off the production line.

The box did not include a copy of the kernel sources or any link to where that could be obtained.  (GNU GPL v2 section 2b?  What’s that?)

The successor, the T84 is a little better, in fact it has pretty much the same hardware that’s in Kite, but it struggles in rural areas.  On a recent trip into the Snowy Mountains, my phone would be working fine, when my father’s T84 would report “no service available”.  Clearly, someone at Telstra/ZTE screwed up the firmware on it, and so it fails to switch networks correctly.  Without the sources, we are unable to fix that.  Even something as simple as replacing a battery is neigh on impossible, they’re built like bombs: not designed to be taken apart.

I have no desire to spend money on a company that puts out poorly supported rubbish running pirated operating system kernels.  The story is similar elsewhere, and most devices while better in specs and operating system, lack the external antenna connection that I desire in a phone.

Kite represents a breath of fresh air in that regard.  It is to smart phones, what the Raspberry Pi is to single board computers in general.  It’s not only designed to be taken apart, it’s shipped to you as parts.  Apparently with Kite v2, there’ll be schematics available, so you’ll be able to look-up the datasheets of respective components and be able to make informed decisions about part substitutions.  All antenna connections are socketed, so you can substitute at will.

While the OS isn’t going to be as open as one might like (mobile chipset manufacturers like their black boxes), it’s a BIG step in the right direction.  There’s more scope for supporting this platform long-term, than contemporary ones.

As far as actually using Kite, Shree Kumar was generous enough to organise the loan of a Kite for me to test with the Australian networks.  The phone takes up to two micro-SIMs (about 15mm×12mm); one on the daughter card (this is SIM 1) and one on the CPU card (SIM 2).

For the sake of testing, I figured I’d try it out with the two major networks, Telstra and Optus.  As it happens, my Telstra SIM is too big (they call it a “full-size” SIM now; I remember full-size SIMs being credit-card sized), so rather than chopping up my existing SIM or getting it transferred, I bought and activated a prepaid service.  I also bought a SIM for Optus.  I bought $10 credit for each.

As it happens, the Optus one came with data, the Telstra did not.  No big deal in this case.  The phone does have a limitation in that it will talk to one 3G/4G network and one GSM (2G) network at a time.  Given both networks I chose have abandoned 2G, that pretty much means the dual-SIM functionality on this model is severely hobbled.  That said, either SIM can operate in 3G mode, and so it’s simple enough to switch one SIM into 2G mode then activate the other in 3G/4G mode.  So far, the Kite has spent most of its time on Optus.

Evidently Vodaphone still have a 2G network… at least the Kite does see one 2G cell operated by them.  Long term, this is a problem that all dual-SIM phone chipset makers will have to deal with, a future Kite may well be able to do 3G simultaneously on both SIMs, but for me, this is not a show-stopper.

I’ve put together this review of the Kite.  It’s rare for me to be in front of a camera instead of behind it, and yes, the editing is very rough.  If there is time (there won’t be this weekend) I hope to take the phone out to a rural area and try it out with the more distant networks, but so far it seems happy enough to switch to 3G when I get home, and use 4G when I’m at work, so this I see as a promising sign.

The KickStarter is lagging behind quite a way in the funding goal, but alternate options are being considered for getting this project off-the-ground.  Here’s hoping that the project does get up, and that we get to see Kite v2 being developed and made for real, as I think the mobile phone industry really does need a viable open competitor.

Mar 192018

So, on Friday, I had a job to update some documentation.  Specifically, I had to update the code examples on a Confluence document.

No problem… or so I thought.  The issue I faced was that it seems the Confluence application is getting too clever for its own good.  Honestly, I’d be happier with a plain textarea which took some Wiki syntax such as Markdown… or heck… plain HTML!  I use WordPress on this blog here, and while the editor here isn’t bad, I’m thankful that going to the source editor is just a click away, as there’s some things the WYSIWYG editor can’t do well (inline code), or even at all (tables).

The editor in Confluence is much less polished.  Navigating with the arrow keys is an unpredictable experience, sometimes it moves by single lines, sometimes it jumps a page.  Sometimes, starting several lines deep in a code block, a single up-arrow will move you to the line above, sometimes it moves you to some line in a paragraph above the code block.  It’s an exercise in frustration.

Fine, I thought, I’ll just copy and paste the code into qvim.  Highlight… copy… paste… ohh brilliant, it’s now all stuffed onto one line!  Thankfully what I was editing, was JSON, so it’s real easy to re-format that, vim makes it real easy to pipe the buffer contents through an arbitrary external program such as python -m json.tool.  This lacked the flexibility to auto-format the JSON the way the code examples were formatted though, so I made a work-alike that made use of Python’s OrderedDict to sort the keys a bit more logically, and told json.dump to indent the code with 2-space indentation (this is how the existing examples were formatted).

Having done this, I thought I’d make mention to Atlassian about the issues with their editor.  I hit the Feedback link up the top of the page.  I pointed out the issues I was having.  In closing I also pointed out how sluggish their system was.  The desktop PC at work is a 8-core AMD Ryzen 7 1700 with 16GB of DDR4.  Not a slow machine.  Maybe it’s rose-coloured glasses, but I recall having a smoother editing experience with Microsoft Word for Windows 6.0 on my 33MHz 486/DX, which sported a whopping 8MB RAM.  Hot stuff back in 1994.  My present desktop does fine with LibreOffice, and this WordPress blog works fine in it, so I know it’s not my browser or hardware.  Yet Confluence struggles, on a PC that has 8 times the CPU cores, each running at nearly 10 times the clock speed, and with 2048 times the amount of RAM to boot.

I composed my feedback and sent it Friday afternoon.  I left the browser window open while I submitted the feedback, and went home.  This morning, I get in, enter my password to unlock the workstation, and see this:

Atlassian feedback … *still* sending after a whole week-end!

Yep, about 2kB of plain text has taken more than 50 hours to make its way from my desktop to their back-end servers.  Did a feral cat interrupt their RFC-1149 based Internet link?