Switching to Internode

Well after a few month’s deliberation, I decided to switch to Internode as my ISP last Tuesday. While I wasn’t unhappy with iinet as a service provider, it really came down to a value-for-money decision. Having 4 teenagers in the house, meant that we seemed to be every month hitting 10+10GB quota I had with iinet. And while some of them could make use of the off-peak download time by scheduling downloads, it really isn’t all that convenient. And all to often it seemed that at least once a month someone would get the time wrong to start or finish downloads so we would have inadvertant creepage into the peak quota. However for the same $70 is was spending at iinet, I could get 40GB monthly quota, with no time restrictions – so hopefully there will be no more draconian filtering by yours truly to keep us under quota.

Internode (like iinet) are very Linux friendly (in that they can provide support for Linux users if required) but more importantly they both provide good unmetered repositories/mirrors of open-source software. Internode seems to have the edge though, especially now they are a Sourceforge mirror. They also have some nice unmetered media with quite a few radio streams. Another clincher for the recent decision was that Internode now provide ABC’s iView unmetered, which all made good use of on iinet. According to my kids the gaming servers are well supported and have low “ping” times, so all should be good on that front. Actually one nice thing the Internode does is publish a very clear list of IP address ranges that are unmetered. I might try to combine this info with the netflow info I have been grabbing from my router to more accurately feedback to my family on their metered/unmetered usage profiles.

We also have made use of iinet’s bundled phone PSTN and VoIP services. However this actually proves to more costly than what it should be. With iinet to get my $70 ADSL plan I needed to bundle the phone service at around $33 (though I got free VoIP access). But with Internode, I can get the $70 ADSL (with 2x quota) and I can buy my phone service from Telstra (I’ll choose the $19 budget plan), and then I can buy a $10 VoIP service which comes with $20 phone credits. All up, I expect to save maybe $20 a month and get double the data quota. Internode by all accounts have a good service reputation, so I really have no qualms in switching.

So I am still happy to recommend iinet for their level of customer service, however despite a few calls to them indicating I was about to leave, and giving them an opportunity to keep me, they really couldn’t match Internode’s pricing.

Hopefully all goes well.

Testing 1..2..3

Me thinks ebay had a little slip-up tonight (wondering why I was getting a “no route to host” from my squid proxy server while checking out some cameras) :-

marty@glenstorm:~$ dig catalog.ebay.com.au

; <> DiG 9.4.2-P1 <> catalog.ebay.com.au
;; global options:  printcmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 24374
;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 3, AUTHORITY: 0, ADDITIONAL: 0

;catalog.ebay.com.au.           IN      A

catalog.ebay.com.au.    422     IN      CNAME   catalog-test.intl.ebay.com.
catalog-test.intl.ebay.com. 1022 IN     A
catalog-test.intl.ebay.com. 1022 IN     A

;; Query time: 23 msec
;; WHEN: Thu Nov 13 23:45:03 2008
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 109

http://proxy.olympics.org:8080 – why not IOC?

Okay, so the Great Internet Wall of China is in place, and is now of special attention during the Olympic Games. We even have heard that the IOC is sorry about the whole thing and that there is nothing they can do provide the unfettered net access that we were lead to believe was going to exist during the Games.. Well there is very simple technical solution, though I dare say that it would probably be diplomatically untenable.

All that needs to happen is for the International Olympic Committee to setup a web proxy for all the Chinese resident media, or any one else in China during the Games. A farm of squid proxy servers nicely load-balanced would perform admirably. They could allow full access to purportedly banned sites such as the BBC and Amnesty International. The proxy listening on TCP port 8080 should do it – then media or even Chinese citizens could set up their web browser proxy setting to point to say http://proxy.olympics.org:8080. The servers could be anywhere in the world, and operated by anyone, as long the IOC delegates them their domain name.

Surely China would not dare to filter traffic to olympics.org would they? C’mon IOC, if you say you can’t force China to open it’s Internet access, why not dare them to filter traffic sent via your domain?

Having a play with the HP mini-note

You might have read here my post on the rumours of the HP 2133 Mini-note. About a month ago I managed to coerce one of the first 5 in Australia from the hands of the HP sales team here in Sydney. Because I didn’t want to annoy them and destroy the supplied Vista installation, I was limited to how much testing I could do with Linux on this. We did setup an 2GB SD card with Ubuntu that worked quite well. Certainly the Ubuntu desktop was a lot smoother in terms of performance than Vista. I also had a go with the SuSE image that comes with the Mini-note, though didn’t want to let it install to the hard disk. Again it ran quite well.

As far as a mobile device you can actually use it is way up there. The keyboard is really as big and useful as they claim, certainly better than some of the competition. Having a full aluminium shell makes it feel very solid, and should standup to everyday knocks and just shoving it into a bag – its main target market is college and school students, so it needs to hand. The screen is very clear – but of course being only 9″ diagonal wide-screen, I’m not sure I could use it as my main screen every day – the VGA port would definitely be made use of.

I took it along to the monthly SLUG meeting and follow-on dinner to give it an informal spruik. It provoked quite an interest and envy – I expect it might make a few people’s wish list. Unfortunately I had to give this one back. I think it is quite likely this form-factor is on the rise, particular as performance actually becomes useful, and battery life allows one to work on the road (though at the moment a spare battery is a necessity to cover a full working day). There is only so much you can do with a PDA or a Smartphone – a ultra-mobile mini-notebook with good networkability and running a nicely integrated version of Linux may well “make it”.

The photo below show it running Ubuntu next to my regular laptop (with a 15.1″ 4:3 screen).

HP 2133 next to nc6320

We don’t need no stinkin’ URI schemes

Ok, so I, for a while like Jeremy have lamented the disappearance of the URI scheme (the "http://” bit ) in URLs when seen in advertising and the like. Maybe it’s because my day job is basically a network (and security) consultant. Making communication happen through network protocols is my bread and butter. A full URL spec like http://www.abc.net.au/news is unambiguous in intent. It describes to a suitable application which host to connect to, on what port, and what protocol it should talk with. It also indicates the particular datum of interest.

But there are two aspects to review in Jeremy’s argument. Firstly, how do humans recognise that abc.net.au/triplej is a contraction of a URL? Secondly, is there really a technical need to specify the protocol?
As far as “knowing” that a string of text is a shorthand URL, we can look for the following telltales :-
1. There might still be almost deprecated URI scheme (http://) as internet jargon that they learned circa 1994 (for the average Joe Blow at least).
2. We know that www means World Wide Web.
3. Words punctuated only by “.” and “/” is normally an internet thing.
4. The letters in URLs are most always in lowercase.
5. They are familiar with the common TLDs – “.com“, “.org“, “.au” and so on – another dead giveaway.

So what happens when URIs become non-obvious because some of the this distinguishing marks are missing. (I am not a linguist or semanticist so I may well have this wrong)

Jeremy has already seen the demise of point 1. The same goes for point 2. When I was a lad, domains always had separate host records, so company.com.au would always have a host www.company.com.au to provide it’s web prescence. Mail to joe@company.com.au almost invariable was steered by the MX record for the domain to mail.company.com.au, the mail host. Not so today. Maybe it was the fact that doubleyoodoubleyoodoubleyoo is hard to say (which is why some trendy geeks say stuff like dubdubdub or wahwahwah. Point 3 is interesting, again back in the 60s you always wrote abbreviations with fullstops/periods in between the capitalised letters. Like A.B.C. or C.S.I.R.O or the Man from U.N.C.L.E You just don’t do that now. So now basically those “.”s have been repurposed as domain name delimiters – and I reckon that this is actually the strongest clue we have now. With point 4, domain names are can just as easily be uppercase (DNS is case insensitive) but the file part of the URL often is not. Because UNIX systems were ruling the roost when web servers first were deployed, and we tended to write all file names in lowercase, this idiom seemed to stick. Finally for point 5, it ain’t so easy nowadays. Jeremy’s domain name is under the “.name” TLD, but what about .museum – does anyone even know that http://australian.museum is a valid domain name?

But anyway I guess us humans cope, and if the publicity gurus do misjudge when they prepare their ad copy, then they don’t get hits on their website. So I guess the URLs that aren’t real obvious get removed from the internet gene pool through natural selection.

On the second aspect, around the idea that there are protocols on the ‘net other than HTTP, does it really matter? Firstly HTTP is almost always the starting point in any case. If you do need jump from HTTP to something more private like HTTPS then the browser will do that for you. If you need to stream multimedia then the .m3u file you hit will redirect you to something more appropriate. And semantically the combination of your client application and server might be able to determine what you intended anyway. For instance if you type arnoldschicken.com.au into your phone, I reckon it should just give you the option to dial their nearest store. Or type arnoldschicken.com.au into your GPS navigator then it should by default set the nearest store as your destination. The semantic bit could either be derived from the user-agent, or possibly the device could add context either through a URL (say arnoldschicken.com.au/locations might return a list of parseable locations for the GPS or arnoldschicken.com.au/phonenumbers could return a list of numbers (that could be connected via SIP). Alternatively standard SOAP calls might be invoked to give similar information. Certainly more work can and should be done in this space. So I guess defaulting to HTTP may well make sense for when people initiate the connection – if needed the application then switches to the more appropriate protocol or scheme when it needs to.

So in conclusion, while “http://” might be dead, humans are pretty smart in recognising truncated URLs, and machines will get better (if not already) help us make better use of these. (And just for a final point – how many of just bang a few letters into the Google search bar and get what we want to find pretty quickly in any case!)