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 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.

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.

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?

Feb 132018

So, over the last few years we’ve seen a big shift in the way websites operate.

Once upon a time, JavaScript was a nice-to-have, and you as a web developer better be prepared for it to not be functional; the DOM was non-existent, and we were ooohing and ahhing over the de facto standard in Internet multimedia; MacroMedia Flash.  The engine we now call WebKit was still a primitive and quite basic renderer called KHTML in a little-known browser called Konqueror.  Mozilla didn’t exist as an open-source project yet; it was Netscape and Microsoft duelling it out together.

Back then, XMLHTTPRequest was so new, it wasn’t a standard yet; Microsoft had implemented the idea as an ActiveX control in IE5, no one else had it yet.  So if you wanted to update a page, you had to re-load the whole lot and render it server-side.  We had just shaken off our FONT tags for CSS (thank god!), but if you wanted to make an image change as the mouse cursor hovered over it, you still needed those onmouseover/onmouseout event handlers to swap the image.  Ohh, and scalable graphics?  Forget it.  Render as a GIF or JPEG and hope you picked the resolution right.

And bear in mind, the expectation was that, a user running an 800×600 pixel screen resolution, and connected via a 28.8kbps dial-up modem, should be able to load your page up within about 30 seconds, and navigate without needing to resort to horizontal scroll bars.  That meant images had to be compressed to be no bigger than 30kB.

That was 17 years ago.  Man I feel old!

This gets me thinking… today, the expectation is that your Internet connection is at least 256kbps.  Why then do websites take so long to load?

It seems our modern web designers have forgotten the art of how to pack down a website to minimise the amount of data needed to be transmitted so that the page is functional.  In this modern age of “pretty” web design, we’ve forgotten how to make a page practical.

Today, if you want to show an icon on a page, and have it fill the entire browser window, you can fire up Inkscape or Adobe Illustrator, let the creative juices flow and voilá, out pops a scalable vector graphic, which can be dropped straight into your HTML.  Turn on gzip compression on the web server, and that graphic will be on that 28.8kbps user’s screen in under 3 seconds, and can still be as big as they want.

If you want to make a page interactive, there’s no need to reload the entire page; XMLHTTPRequest is now a W3C standard, and implemented in all the major browsers.  Websockets means an end to any kind of polling; you can get updates as they happen.

It seems silly, but in spite of all the advancements, website page loads are not getting faster, they’re getting slower.  The “everybody has broadband” and “everybody has full-HD screens” argument is being used as an excuse for bloat and sloppy design practices.

More than once I’ve had to point someone to the horizontal scroll bar because the web designer failed to test their website at the rather common 1366×768 screen resolution of a typical laptop.  If I had a dollar for every time that’s happened in the last 12 months, I’d be able to buy the offending companies out and sack the web designers responsible!

One of the most annoying, from a security perspective, is the proliferation of “content distribution networks”.  It seems they’ve realised these big bulky blobs of JavaScript take a long time to load even on fast links.  So, what do the bright sparks do?  “I know… instead of loading it from one server, I’ll put it on 10 and increase my upload capacity 10-fold!”  Yes, they might have 1Gbps on each host.  1Gbps × 10 = 10Gbps, so the page will load at 10Gbps, right?

Cue sad tuba sound effect.

At my workplace, we have a 20Mbps Ethernet (not ADSL[2], fibre or cable; Ethernet) link to the Internet.  On that link, I’ve been watching the web get slower and slower… and I do not think our ISP is completely to blame, as I see the same issue at home too.  One where we feel the pain a lot, is Atlassian’s system, particularly Jira and Confluence.  To give you how bad they drink the CDN cool-aid, check out the number of sites I have to whitelist in order to get the page functional:

Atlassian’s JIRA… failing in spite of a crapton of scripts being loaded.

That’s 17 different hosts my web browser must make contact with, and download content from, before the page will function.  17 separate HTTP connections, which must fight with all other IP traffic on that 20Mbps Ethernet link for bandwidth.  20Mbps is the maximum that any one connection will do, and I can guarantee it will not reach even half that!

Interestingly, despite allowing all those scripts to load, they still failed to come up with the goods after a pregnant pause.  So the extra trashing of the link was for naught.  Then there’s the security implications.

At least 3 of those, are pages that Atlassian do not control.  If someone compromised ravenjs.com for example; they could inject any JavaScript they want on the JIRA site, and take control of a user’s account.  Atlassian are relying on these third partys’ promises and security practices, to ensure their site stays secure, and stays in their (third party’s) control.  Suppose someone forgets to renew the domain subscription, the result could be highly embarrassing!

So, I’m left wondering what they teach these days.  For a multitude of reasons, sites should be blazingly quick to load, partly because modern techniques ought to permit vastly improved efficiency of content representation and delivery; and that network link speeds are steadily improving.  However it seems the reverse is true… why are we failing so badly?

Jan 132018

Part of my day job involves being the technical contact for their website, which means we get lots of offers from people offering to put us on the “first page of Google”.

Hmm, last time I checked, the first page of Google was, strangely, Google.  Somehow, I don’t think they outsource their SEO strategy to get there… they wrote the bloody code!

These emails go straight to Spamcop generally… and they send nastygrams to the people hosting the email servers they used.  In some cases, I’ve taken the extraordinary step of blocking frequently abused hosts.

# Block Centrilogic and SmartMailer because they don't act on spam reports.
-A INPUT -s -p tcp --dport 25 -j REJECT --reject-with icmp-host-prohibited
-A INPUT -s -p tcp --dport 25 -j REJECT --reject-with icmp-host-prohibited
# Block OVH because they don't act on spam reports.
# List taken from https://mxtoolbox.com/SuperTool.aspx?action=asn%3aAS16276&run=toolpage
-A INPUT -s -p tcp --dport 25 -j REJECT --reject-with icmp-host-prohibited
-A INPUT -s -p tcp --dport 25 -j REJECT --reject-with icmp-host-prohibited
-A INPUT -s -p tcp --dport 25 -j REJECT --reject-with icmp-host-prohibited
-A INPUT -s -p tcp --dport 25 -j REJECT --reject-with icmp-host-prohibited
-A INPUT -s -p tcp --dport 25 -j REJECT --reject-with icmp-host-prohibited
-A INPUT -s -p tcp --dport 25 -j REJECT --reject-with icmp-host-prohibited
-A INPUT -s -p tcp --dport 25 -j REJECT --reject-with icmp-host-prohibited
-A INPUT -s -p tcp --dport 25 -j REJECT --reject-with icmp-host-prohibited
-A INPUT -s -p tcp --dport 25 -j REJECT --reject-with icmp-host-prohibited
-A INPUT -s -p tcp --dport 25 -j REJECT --reject-with icmp-host-prohibited
-A INPUT -s -p tcp --dport 25 -j REJECT --reject-with icmp-host-prohibited
-A INPUT -s -p tcp --dport 25 -j REJECT --reject-with icmp-host-prohibited
-A INPUT -s -p tcp --dport 25 -j REJECT --reject-with icmp-host-prohibited
-A INPUT -s -p tcp --dport 25 -j REJECT --reject-with icmp-host-prohibited

That is not an exhaustive list.  Sorry to people who use OVH for hosting and were trying to contact VRT/CETA legitimately, but OVH have shown themselves to be grossly incompetent with regard to management of network abuse.  Centrilogic/SmartMailer are more recent additions.

Of course, they keep trying, and thankfully, it takes longer for them to write the email than it does for me to deal with it. This doesn’t stop them claiming little gems like this:

Note: We are not spammers and are against spamming of any kind. If you are not interested then you can reply with a simple “NO”.

Errm, hate to disagree (actually no, in this case, I love disagreement)… but a few points:

  1. Your sending me an unsolicited content…
  2. … without my consent… (no listing in domain registration or scraping from a website is not consent)
  3. … that is advertising a paid-for service or otherwise something you’re hoping to make money from…
  4. … by electronic messaging.

That by definition is an Unsolicited Commercial Email… aka SPAM.  If you claim to be an Australian business, you better have a look at this.  If your ISP is complaining that you are abusing their services by sending spam, then perhaps you need to realise the people you are contacting are not interested!  You have your NO.

Sep 102017

… Come now, Microsoft… are you telling me your operating system just makes up its own error codes?  How can the error code be “unknown”?  The computer is doing what you told it to do!

Moreover, why can’t you fix your broken links?  Clearly the error I’m getting is not any of the ones you’ve listed, so why even offer them as suggestions?

Aug 132016

Sometimes I wonder.  Take this evening for example.

I recently purchased some microcontrollers to evaluate for a project, some Atmel ATTiny85s, because they have a rather nice PLL function which means they can do VHF-speed PWM, and some NXP LPC810s, because they happen to be the only DIP-package ARM chip on the market I know of.

The project I’m looking at is a re-work of my bicycle horn… the ATMega32U4 works well, but the LeoStick boards are expensive compared to a bare DIP MCU, and the wiring inside the original prototype is a mess.  I also never got USB working on them, so there’s no point in a USB-capable MCU.

I initially got ATMega1284s owing to the flash storage, but these being 40-pin DIPs, they’re bigger than anticipated, and the fact they’ve got dual USARTs, lots of GPIOs and plenty of storage space, I figured I’d put them aside for another project.

What to use?  Well I have some AT89C2051s from way back (but no programmer for them), some ATTiny24As which I bought for my solar cluster project, an ATMega8L from another project, a LeoStick (Arduino Leonardo clone).  The LeoStick I’m in the process of turning into a debugWire debugger so that I can figure out what the ADCs are doing in my cluster’s power controller (ATTiny24A).

I started building a programmer for the ‘2051s using my ATMega8L last weekend.  The MAX232 IC I grabbed for serial I/O was giving me jibberish, and today I confirmed it was misbehaving.  The board in general is misbehaving in that after flashing the MCU, it seems to stay in reset, so I’ve got more work to do.  If I got that going, I was thinking I could have PCM recordings in an I²C EEPROM and use port 1 on the ‘2051 with an R2R ladder DAC to play sound.  (These chips do not feature PWM.)

Thinking this morning, I thought the LPC810 might be worth a shot.  It only has 4kB of flash, half that of the ATTiny85, and doesn’t have as impressive PWM capabilities, but is good enough.  I really need about 16kB to store the waveforms in flash.  I do have some I²C EEPROMs, mostly <2kB ones that are sourced off old motherboards, but also a handful of 32kB ones that I had just bought especially for this… but then left behind on my desk at work.

I considered audio compression, and experimenting with ADPCM-style techniques, came to the conclusion that I didn’t like the reduced audio quality.  It really sounded harsh.  (Okay, I realise 4-bits per sample is never going to win over the audiophiles!)

Maybe instead of PCM, I could do a crude polyphonic synthesizer?  My horn effect is in fact synthesized using a Python script: the same can be done in C, and the chip probably has the CPU grunt to do it.  It’d save the flash space as I’d be basically doing “poor man’s MIDI” on the thing.  Similar has been done before on lesser hardware.

I did some rough design of data structures.  I figured out a data structure that would allow me to store the state of a “voice” in 8 bytes, and could describe note and timing events in 8-byte blocks.  So in a 2kB EEPROM, I’d store 256 notes, and could easily accommodate 8 or 16 voices in RAM, provided the CPU could keep up at 30MHz.

So, I pull a chip out, slap it in my breadboard, and start hooking it up to power, and to my shiny new USB-TTL serial cable.  Fire up lpc21isp and, nothing, no response from the chip.  Huh?  Check wiring, probe around, still nothing.  Tried different baud rates, etc.  No dice.

This stubborn chip was not going to talk to lpc21isp.  Okay, let’s see if it’ll do SWD.  I dig out my STLink/V2 and hook that up.

OpenOCD reports no response from the device.

Great, maybe a dud chip.  After a good hour or so of fruitless poking and prodding, I pull it out of the breadboard and go to get another from the tube it came from when I notice “Atmel” written on the tube.

I look closer at the chip: it was an ATTiny85!  Different pin-out, different ISP procedure, and even if the .hex file had uploaded, it almost certainly would not have executed.

Swap the chip for an actual LPC810, and OpenOCD reports:

Open On-Chip Debugger 0.10.0-dev-00120-g7a8915f (2015-11-25-18:49)
Licensed under GNU GPL v2
For bug reports, read
Info : auto-selecting first available session transport "hla_swd". To override use 'transport select '.
Info : The selected transport took over low-level target control. The results might differ compared to plain JTAG/SWD
adapter speed: 10 kHz
adapter_nsrst_delay: 200
Info : Unable to match requested speed 10 kHz, using 5 kHz
Info : Unable to match requested speed 10 kHz, using 5 kHz
Info : clock speed 5 kHz
Info : STLINK v2 JTAG v23 API v2 SWIM v4 VID 0x0483 PID 0x3748
Info : using stlink api v2
Info : Target voltage: 2.979527
Warn : UNEXPECTED idcode: 0x0bc11477
Error: expected 1 of 1: 0x0bb11477
in procedure 'init'
in procedure 'ocd_bouncer'

I haven’t figured out the cause of this yet, whether the ST programmer doesn’t like talking to a competitor’s part. It’d be nice to get SWD going since single-stepping code and peering into memory really spoils a developer like myself. I try lpc21isp again.

Success!  I see a LED blinking, consistent with the demo .hex file I loaded.  Of course now the next step is to try building my own, but at least I can load code onto the device now.

Apr 272016

It seems good old “common courtesy” is absent without leave, as is “common sense”. Some would say it’s been absent for most of my lifetime, but to me it seems particularly so of late.

In particular, where it comes to the safety of one’s self, and to others, people don’t seem to actually think or care about what they are doing, and how that might affect others. To say it annoys me is putting it mildly.

In February, I lost a close work colleague in a bicycle accident. I won’t mention his name, as I do not have his family’s permission to do so.

I remember arriving at my workplace early on Friday the 12th before 6AM, having my shower, and about 6:15 wandering upstairs to begin my work day. Reaching my desk, I recall looking down at an open TS-7670 industrial computer and saying out aloud, “It’s just you and me, no distractions, we’re going to get U-Boot working”, before sitting down and beginning my battle with the machine.

So much for the “no distractions” however. At 6:34AM, the office phone rings. I’m the only one there and so I answer. It was a social worker looking for “next of kin” details for a colleague of mine. Seems they found our office details via a Cab Charge card they happened to find in his wallet.

Well, first thing I do is start scrabbling for the office directory to get his home number so I can pass the bad news onto his wife only to find: he’s only listed his mobile number. Great. After getting in contact with our HR person, we later discover there isn’t any contact details in the employee records either. He was around before such paperwork existed in our company.

Common sense would have dictated that one carry an “in case of emergency” number on a card in one’s wallet! At the very least let your boss know!

We find out later that morning that the crash happened on a particularly sharp bend of the Go Between Bridge, where the offramp sweeps left to join the Bicentennial bikeway. It’s a rather sharp bend that narrows suddenly, with handlebar-height handrails running along its length and “Bicycle Only” signs clearly signposted at each end.

Common sense and common courtesy would suggest you slow down on that bridge as a cyclist. Common sense and common courtesy would suggest you use the other side as a pedestrian. Common sense would question the utility of hand rails on a cycle path.

In the meantime our colleague is still fighting for his life, and we’re all holding out hope for him as he’s one of our key members. As for me, I had a network to migrate that weekend. Two of us worked the Saturday and Sunday.

Sunday evening, emotions hit me like a freight train as I realised I was in denial, and realised the true horror of the situation.

We later find out on the Tuesday, our colleague is in a very bad way with worst-case scenario brain damage as a result of the crash. From shining light to vegetable, he’d never work for us again.

Wednesday I took a walk down to the crash site to try and understand what happened. I took a number of photographs, and managed to speak to a gentleman who saw our colleague being scraped off the pavement. Even today, some months later, the marks on the railings (possibly from handlebar grips) and a large blood smear on the path itself, can still be seen.

It was apparent that our colleague had hit this railing at some significant speed. He wasn’t obese, but he certainly wasn’t small, and a fully grown adult does not ricochet off a metal railing and slide face-first for over a metre without some serious kinetic energy involved.

Common sense seems to suggest the average cyclist goes much faster than the 20km/hr collision the typical bicycle helmet is designed for under AS/NZS 2063:2008.

I took the Thursday and Friday off as time-in-lieu for the previous weekend, as I was an emotional wreck. The following Tuesday I resumed cycling to work, and that morning I tried an experiment to reproduce the crash conditions. The bicycle I ride wasn’t that much different to his, both bikes having 29″ wheels.

From what I could gather that morning, it seemed he veered right just prior to the bend then lost control, listing to the right at what I estimated to be about a 30° angle. What caused that? We don’t know. It’s consistent with him dodging someone or something on the path — but this is pure speculation on my part.

Mechanical failure? The police apparently have ruled that out. There’s not much in the way of CCTV cameras in the area, plenty on the pedestrian side, not so much on the cycle side of the bridge.

Common sense would suggest relying on a cyclist to remember what happened to them in a crash is not a good plan.

In any case, common sense did not win out that day. Our colleague passed away from his injuries a little over a fortnight after his crash, aged 46. He is sadly missed.

I’ve since made a point of taking my breakfast down to that point where the bridge joins the cycleway. It’s the point where my colleague had his last conscious thoughts.

Over the course of the last few months, I’ve noticed a number of things.

Most cyclists sensibly slow down on that bend, but a few race past at ludicrous speed. One morning, I nearly thought they’d be an encore performance as two construction workers on City Cycle bikes, sans helmets, came careening around the corner, one almost losing it.

Then I see the pedestrians. There’s a well lit, covered walkway, on the opposite side of the bridge for pedestrian use. It has bench seats, drinking fountains, good lighting, everything you’d want as a pedestrian. Yet, some feel it is not worth the personal exertion to take the 100m extra distance to make use of it.

Instead, they show a lack of courtesy by using the bicycle path. Walking on a bicycle path isn’t just dangerous to the pedestrian like stepping out onto a road, it’s dangerous for the cyclist too!

If a car hits a pedestrian or cyclist, the damage to the occupants of the car is going to be minimal to nonexistent, compared to what happens to the cyclist or pedestrian. If a cyclist or motorcyclist hits a pedestrian however, they surround the frame, thus hit the ground first. Possibly at significant speed.

Yet, pedestrians think it is acceptable to play Russian roulette with their own lives and the lives of every cycle user by continuing to walk where it is not safe for them to go. They’d never do it on a motorway, but somehow a bicycle path is considered fair game.

Most pedestrians are understanding, I’ve politely asked a number to not walk on the bikeway, and most oblige after I point out how they get to the pedestrian walkway.

Common sense would suggest some signage on where the pedestrian can walk would be prudent.

However, I have had at least two that ignored me, one this morning telling me to “mind my own shit”. Yes mate, I am minding “my own shit” as you put it: I’m trying to stop the hypothetical me from possibly crashing into the hypothetical you!

It’s this sort of reaction that seems symbolic of the whole “lack of common courtesy” that abounds these days.

It’s the same attitude that seems to hint to people that it’s okay to park a car so that it blocks the footpath: newsflash, it’s not! I know of one friend of mine who frequently runs into this problem. He’s in a wheelchair — a vehicle not known for its off-road capabilities or ability to squeeze past the narrow gap left by a car.

It seems the drivers think it’s acceptable to force footpath users of all types, including the elderly, the young and the disabled, to “step out” onto the road to avoid the car that they so arrogantly parked there. It makes me wonder how many people subsequently become disabled as a result of a collision caused by them having to step around such obstacles. Would the owner of the parked car be liable?

I don’t know, I’m no lawyer, but I should think they should carry some responsibility!

In Queensland, pedestrians have right-of-way on the footpath. That includes cyclists: cyclists of all ages are allowed there subject to council laws and signage — but once again, they need to give way. In other words, don’t charge down the path like a lunatic, and don’t block it!

No doubt, the people who I’m trying to convince are too arrogant to care about the above, and what their actions might have on others. Still, I needed to get the above off my chest!

Nothing will bring my colleague back, a fact that truly pains me, and I’ve learned some valuable lessons about the sort of encouragement I give people. I regret not telling him to slow down, 5 minutes longer wouldn’t have killed him, and I certainly did not want a race! Was he trying to race me so he could keep an eye on me? I’ll never know.

He was a bright person though, it is proof though that even the intelligent among us are prone to possibly doing stupid things. With thrills come spills, and one might question whether one’s commute to work is the appropriate venue for such thrills, or whether those can wait for another time.

I for one have learned that it does not pay to be the hare, thus I intend to just enjoy the ride for what it is. No need to rush, common sense tells me it just isn’t worth it!