Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Vodafone NZ will now not lock phones

So to follow-up from my previous post about Vodafone now selling locked phones in New Zealand, it seems that the Government’s Commerce Commission (regulatory watchdog) has applied some pressure. “For now” Vodafone will not be proceeding with locking handsets.

Coverage here from Stuff:

Vodafone has backed off a controversial decision to lock its mobile handsets under pressure from the Commerce Commission.

Telecommunications commissioner Ross Patterson told The Independent Financial Review he had expressed concern about Vodafone’s “intentions”. The mobile firm had said it would charge $50 to unlock new handsets from April if people wanted to shift to another mobile provider in New Zealand or use a provider other than Vodafone for overseas roaming.

[From Vodafone relents on mobile lock]

Geekzone again has comment from Paul Brislen from Vodafone:

Here's the link to our letter to the Commerce Commission BEWARE: it's a PDF.

Clearly this is a win for customer feedback. Our customers told us they didn't like the move so we've changed what we're doing.

Any handsets that are locked will be unlocked for free. Just follow the instructions on the box.

The linked PDF says that Vodafone is changing its policy “as a result of the responses it has received from its customers”. It also states that Vodafone had already imported and started selling locked handsets to customers. They will continue to sell those handsets already in their “supply chain”. Any customers who wish to unlock those phones, will be “able to call a freephone number and do so free of charge.” However Vodafone, apparently “reserves the right to review in the future its decision on whether to lock handsets” and also raises the future possibility of “charging differentially for locked and unlocked handsets”.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Comments on the Twitter Outage discussions

So, given the popularity of Twitter there is a lot of commentary going around the blogosphere and tech news communities, due to the last couple of days' outages. The article at Tech Crunch is typical of some of the attempts to characterise the issues. Their article really annoys me.

The source that I spoke to also commented on how ill-prepared the Twitter team were and are for their current and future challenges. The small team contains a handful of engineers, with only a person or two committed to infrastructure and architecture. He goes on to point out that at Digg the team for network and systems alone is bigger than the total engineering team at Twitter, and that at Digg they are lead by well-known “A-list rockstars”.

[From Twitter At Scale: Will It Work?]

This type of journalism really irks me. It's very difficult for anyone to form a reasonable opinion with this type of reporting as it's completely based on hearsay, with no way of validating the comments. Critically, the "expert source" is not named, or quoted in any way that gives the reader any hope of validating the opinion. If a "source" is not prepared to be named and stand up as an "expert" allowing the rest of us to judge their credentials - really we have no option but to disregard the information entirely. The quality of the opinion or accuracy of assessment here simply cannot be determined.

To discuss the ideas from the unamed source; it's really easy to think that all of a company's problems can be solved by "Big Engineering". Often that simply adds complexity to the situation. It seems that Twitter already have a project to improve their site in progres. Trying to add to a development team halfway through what is obviously a project already in train, just does not work. Twitter themselves are quoting a process already in train:

Essentially what has been happening is that we've been trying to make changes in order to improve the long-term reliability of the service. Those changes have introduced instability in the short-term, however. We need to be able to make these kinds of changes and do so without affecting the service. That's our goal and what we're working toward.

[From May 20: Twitter Downtime]

Often as not, a really focussed but small team can do wonders. Just because an application is managing a large scale problem, doesn't imply that the team has to be big.

Tech Crunch goes on to talk about Ruby on Rails.

The problems at Twitter are often attributed to their use of RubyOnRails, a web development framework. Twitter is almost certainly the largest site running on Rails, so fans of the framework and its developers have been quick to deflect the criticism and point it back at the engineers at Twitter. Utilizing a framework that has never conquered large-scale territory must certainly add to the risk and work required to find a solution. As an out-of-the box framework, Rails certainly doesn’t lend itself to large-scale application development, but was a big part of the reason why Twitter could experiment and release early.

Rails has enabled Twitter to prototype quickly, to quickly launch and then to easily iterate with new features. But the old adage of “Good, Fast, Cheap - pick two” certainly applies; and Rails would do itself no harm by conceding that it isn’t a platform that can compete with Java or C when it comes to intensive tasks. Twitter is at a cross-roads as an application and Rails has served its purpose very well to date, but you are unlikely to see a computational cluster built with Ruby at Apache any time soon.

[From Twitter At Scale: Will It Work?]

This comment is simply misleading. Apache is a web server. It is often used in conjunction with the other systems that run sites of this nature. I'm sure that somewhere in the Twitter setup Apache is being run also. The Apache Web site is the place from where you get the software. Whether we'd be likely to see a computational cluster at anytime soon has no bearing whatsoever, as to whether Twitter is engineered well.

In conclusion, I have no idea whether the issues at Twitter are a result of questionable engineering decisions or not. The issue is however, that the FUD from sites like Tech Crunch (who I would expect to have at least made an effort to do some good research on this), doesn't tell me anything more about the situation.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Monteverdi for working


When I'm working, I often like to have some music playing. Nothing too over the top. Most often on a pair of headphones (Sennheiser P100 foldables that go with me wherever the laptop is) so as not to disturb others around me. What I've found, is that for the sake of concentrating on what I'm doing, it helps not to have too much of a strong lyrical or story telling set of music around - particularly if I'm programming, working or concentrating hard on a particular activity.

For quite a while the favourite "working music" has been some type of Baroque music - most often played on original instruments. For quite a while it would inevitably be Bach - most likely one of the Cantatas. Recently it's been Monteverdi. Often the Vespers (Vespro della Beata Vergine - see Monteverdi Vespers for more info), but sometimes other religious motets or one of his Masses.

Although it would seem that my selection seems to be religious in nature, however I don't think that that fact is particularly important. I think it more tends to reflect the composers' of that time and their common interests, in producing a music that was meant for the soul in some way. Most notable, in particular with the early baroque is a different sense of time - a feeling that perhaps has been lost since.

All I know is that at the moment, there is nothing much better for soothing the soul and allowing concentration on intense programming work, than "Ave Maris Stella" from the Vespers.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Lovely day at Governers Bay

Had a nice day with the family today. Went to Governers Bay, at the end of Lyttleton Harbour. Lovely day with gorgeous scenery.

Lyttleton Harbour from Governers Bay

Governers Bay Jetty

Charles Stross - On writing long series' of novels

If you're into Science Fiction novels and you've been asleep for the last few years, you may not have heard of Charles Stross (in which case you really should not get out so much and spend some good quality stay-at-home time reading).

Seriously, if you haven't come across Charles Stross he's one of the most interesting and captivating authors of the last 10 years in the SciFi genre. He has a wonderful collection of books, particularly including a sequence of novels called "The Merchant Princes" series. Therefore when he starts writing (on his blog) about the process of dealing with long large works made from smaller pieces, it's very interesting to hear. It's also worth having a look at the rest of his Blog/Diary online as there are lots of different gems there.


One thing's sure: our willingness to absorb fiction is geared to our attention span. A book in a series might structurally serve as a mere chapter, but it has to deliver as significant a cognitive reward to the readers as any other 300 page book; otherwise they'll feel cheated, after putting 5 hours of their life into reading the thing, and they won't pick up the next volume.

[From Charlie's Diary: Bang, Bucks, and Delivery in Recompense]


Friday, May 09, 2008

Vodafone NZ locking handsets now

The following was posted the other day, so I'm a little late in seeing this - but I still had to comment.

It's amazing how, when push comes to shove (i.e. Vodafone finally gets a GSM network competitor) that the old solutions come out to play. Surely there's someone there with some creativity who can think a little outside the square.

Hi all,

Vodafone’s mobiles are sold exclusively for use on Vodafone New Zealand’s network.

From 1 May we are locking new handsets to our network. All new handsets sold will include information about handset locking and how to unlock handsets.

Locked handsets can be unlocked for a fee of $50.

This is being done to protect the customers’ experience of the Vodafone brand. Vodafone brands its mobiles with both the Vodafone and Vodafone Live! look and feel. If a customers takes a Vodafone mobile to another network, the customer won’t be able to access the Vodafone experience and services.



Paul Brislen
External Communications Manager

[From Vodafone NZ locking handsets]

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Mac OS X 10.5.3 - not yet

It seems that the latest Leopard patch is still being tested. I'm waiting for this one with real interest - hoping it fixes a few of my niggling left-over issues from Leopard.

Ars Technica as always has the good info:

Apple continues seeding test builds of Mac OS X 10.5.3

Vodafone to offer apple iPhone in ten markets - Vodafone NZ

This looks interesting. I'm hoping that the pricing is reasonable and affordable:

Vodafone today announced it has signed an agreement with Apple to sell the iPhone in ten of its markets around the globe. Later this year, Vodafone customers in Australia, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Greece, Italy, India, Portugal, New Zealand, South Africa and Turkey will be able to purchase the iPhone for use on the Vodafone network.

Vodafone to offer apple iPhone in ten markets - Vodafone NZ 3.0 Beta Released

It seems that OpenOffice3 Beta is released with the native Mac Aqua interface. Let’s hope that it turns out all okay. I’ve not been at all impressed with OpenOffice for a while. I actually think it got worse there for a while - particularly on the Mac where everything ended up horrendously slow.

Anyway, have a look at Ars Technica for an in depth look:

First look: 3.0 beta a big step forward