The TechEd 2013 bag review

, posted: 5-Sep-2013 13:13

Here we are then, a late look at this year's bag for Microsoft New Zealand's TechEd conference which kicks off next week. Without further ado, this is what it looks like:


TechEd delegates will advertise the conference itself (naturally) but also Microsoft Surface and the bag original equipment manufacturer, Targus. It's not clear which variant of Surface Microsoft is referring to, but let's ignore that for now. Having learnt from past bags, Microsoft made sure the logos are indelible, sewed onto the bag as they are.

Other than that, the bag's made of the dark grey Komputabaghide man-made material which should last a few years. Pockets? Yes, there are pockets a-plenty. Including some for pens, which is mystifyingly anachronistic as nobody under the age of 45 engages in the arcane art of handwriting any more.

Also strange: the smartphone pocket looks too small to house a Microsoft Lumia 1020 RT Home Edition device.

As per the last few year's bag-only corporate policy, there was nothing in the bag at all. Not even those chewy silica gel cushions.

The bald as Ballmer thing about this year's bag is that it's small. Let me demonstrate with a Dell desktop replacement notebook:


Well, that didn't work, did it? No matter which angle I inserted the Dell notebook, it wouldn't fit in. In fact, this year's bag is not good for anything else than tablets.

See for yourself:


A retina iPad fits perfectly into the bag. In fact, you could squeeze in a bunch more tablets. I didn't have a Surface of any kind to test with, but should fit in too.

What this signifies is a new company-wide direction for Microsoft, namely an acceptance that the PC is Dead. The bag is adapted to the Post-PC, cloud computing era with its small size. This could actually be the last-ever TechEd bag if Microsoft manages to ship the new, wearable Windows Goggles (note: not Googles) and Fob 8.2 Professional products that I am not allowed to talk about because… well, you don't really need a bag for those.

I am wondering if the bag might not upset HP which has made available an unprecedented amount of delegate deals this year for TechEd. Buy some desktops and laptops by all means, the discounts are fairly good I think. Stuff them into the bag though to take home? Forget it. Won't fit.

Things are very different these days.

Update Rating. Gotta have that. Thanks for reminding me, @dubdotdash.

Rating: 3.5/5 - would've been 4.5/5 with a working USB adapter, and not just a symbol (thanks, Daniel Ballinger, for spotting that).

Pros: It's small

Cons: It's small.

Other related posts:
The TechEd 2013 bag review
Timelapse clip of Brisbane superstorm
IITP Newsline: Software patents special issue

The problem with VDSL2, part 2

, posted: 27-Aug-2013 14:28

Turns out that it is too early to write off VDSL2 as a less than robust technology, one that's hyper sensitive to cross-talk and interference.

As readers of my blog might recall, my VDSL2 connection dropped more than twenty megabit/s in speed despite the line itself being in good condition.

Chorus ran a bunch of tests on the line and said the large speed drop was due to other DSL deployments in the same feeder cable that increased the noise or cross-talk, interfering with my connection.

This turns out not to be the case. My ISP, Snap Internet, persuaded Chorus to apply the correct settings for my connection and I now have 67 megabits per second down and 10Mbps up again (I could have ~30Mbps if Chorus removed Telecom's old and pointless rate-limit).

DSL spectrum chart

The connection's back to the 17a profile with more spectrum than 8b. Interestingly enough, the modem now registers substantially fewer errors despite an increased amount of spectrum used.

As for the data connection, it's totally stable. Obligatory Speedtest result:

Much better.

Chorus really needs to fix these sudden speed drops, as I'm not the only one seeing them. They are most likely caused by the Alcatel-Lucent Dynamic Line Management (DLM) feature that Chorus uses and which either does not work properly, or isn't set up right - I can't tell from my end of the connection.

Full marks to Snap for pursuing this and having the technical expertise to set it right.

Update Daniel Cull asked which configuration setting needs to be err, set, and it's  Spectrum Profile Name: EUBAV-VDSL2-4

This is what the AVM Fritz!Box 7390 reports about the DSL connection on Profile 17a:

DSL information on 17a

Update II Back to profile 8b. Alcatel-Lucent and Chorus are working on it, so fingers crossed, not for too long.

While they're at it, Chorus should remove the old Telecom-imposed 70Mbps down/10Mbps up rate limit, as per how ADSL2+ is configured - as fast as your line can go. Having 10Mbps up is great, 30Mbps or faster would be even better.

Other related posts:
The problem with VDSL2, part 2
The problem with VDSL2
The mysterious Dynamic Line Management on VDSL2

The problem with VDSL2

, posted: 26-Aug-2013 14:09

Update The below isn't correct, and my connection is now back to 67Mbps down. See the new blog post.

In May I blogged about my VDSL2 connection dropping down in speed, or rather switching profiles from 17a to 8b, for no apparent reason.

At the time, it looked like Alcatel-Lucent's Dynamic Line Management or DLM which Chorus uses on VDSL2 to monitor and adjust line conditions was behind the profile switch which shaved off well over twenty megabit/s download speed (uploads remained the same at 10Mbps).

Chorus kindly had a look at the line with an analyser and also sent out a Visionstream techie to physically check it for faults (thanks everyone, appreciate it).

Nothing's amiss with the line however, which shows good electrical characteristics.

Instead, the profile and speed drop is due to further DSL connections on the same cable as my one, resulting in poorer noise margin. This is the chart Chorus provided that shows how the noise margin on my connection has changed over time:

DSL noise margin

Not quite sure how to read it, to be honest, as it appears to show the noise margin on the downstream frequencies has improved while the upstream has deteriorated but anyway.

Apparently my line operates at 63-67Mbps at the cabinet. Signal loss between the cabinet and my place means roughly 22Mbps less download speed according to Chorus.

VDSL2 uses plenty more spectrum an ADSL2+, in higher frequencies which in turn are more sensitive to cross-talk or noise. In other words, as long as there are only a few DSL connections on the same cable sheath as your one, it works great. Add more DSL connections, and VDSL2, while still substantially faster than ADSL2+, will shift down to more sedate speeds.

This is a shame, and from this you can infer that VDSL2 isn't ever going to be an alternative to fibre-optic as I've heard some people claim. It's too sensitive to interference, and losing a third of speed at random will annoy customers especially since there's no way to restore it.

Vectoring, a form of noise cancelling, could in theory sort out the crosstalk problem. It's unlikely to be deployed here though as vectoring requires all VDSL2 lines in a cable from the cabinet to be controlled by the same system which means the technology  can't be used on unbundled copper lines (not very easily at least). Plus, it's an extra cost for the provider and Chorus, which is already spending heaps on UFB fibre.

So yeah: fibre would be nice.

Other related posts:
The problem with VDSL2, part 2
The problem with VDSL2
The mysterious Dynamic Line Management on VDSL2

Video: Kim Dotcom and Mathias Ortman at the IITP Mega breakfast

, posted: 28-Jun-2013 17:13

As the Institute says, Mega is the largest tech startup this year in New Zealand and Dotcom and his associates, Mathias Ortmann, Finn Batato and Bram van der Kolk are worth paying attention to.

Video is just over one hour long.

Other related posts:
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Two-factor authentication broken
The problem with naming and shaming

The mysterious Dynamic Line Management on VDSL2

, posted: 30-May-2013 18:08

After a long run on Profile 17a, my VDSL2 connection was dropped down a few weeks ago to Profile 8b by the Dynamic Line Management that Chorus uses. What this means is that the connection, which on 17a would sync at 65Mbps or so down, now syncs at 42Mbps on 8b which uses less spectrum.

Why this happened isn't clear though - you don't get any warning of the profile downgrade, and the connection is terminated and then restarted by the DLM. In my case it happened twice and took about twenty minutes. Prior to the profile downgrade, the connection had been rock-solid with no outages for months.

However, DLM had dropped down the connection before, after power outages in area causing the modem to reboot even though the monitoring system isn't meant to be that aggressive apparently - at the time, Chorus switched off the DLM on my line, but somehow it got turned back on again.

According to the documentation, DLM is a module that is part of Alcatel-Lucent's 5530 NA-C network analyser. It's automated and monitors the phone line to apparently maximise the data rate while "respecting quality and stability needs of a group lines, called a service class."

DLM can clearly shift user connections to lower VDSL2 profiles and also enable interleaving on the line (ugh). I'm not sure it works as intended though and my ISP, Snap says the same. They have customers asking why when their connection appears to be stable it all of a sudden shifts into a much lower gear, causing helpdesk loading.

The problem from a user point of view is that the shift to a lower VDSL2 profile results in a drastic drop in performance, which isn't what anyone would like to see happening. Adding interleaving to the line bumps up the latency too, which also means lowered performance. This is not how you expect the service to behave.

Now, although DLM is meant to be able to adjust the line speed upwards when it figures the connection is stable again, that doesn't seem to happen. According to the documentation, the two bandplan profiles used by Chorus, 8b and 17a, have sixteen service templates or profile hierarchies that guide the transition - presumably between lower and higher speeds - so it is a bit odd that the only thing DLM appears able to do is to drop your connection downwards by a huge jump, and not move it upwards.

I'd be interested to hear more about this. My VDSL2 connection has gone from "awesome" to "pretty good" which is a shame, and there doesn't appear to be any reason why. Does DLM work, or does it need more work - or be turned off completely?

Yeah, I know the answer is a fibre-optic connection. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the UFB will come to my part of Auckland this decade so am interested in getting the best possible performance out of Ye Olde Copper line.

Before anyone suggests otherwise, yes the line is in very good nick, with a new one expertly installed to the house by a Chorus/Visionstream technician.

Other related posts:
The problem with VDSL2, part 2
The problem with VDSL2
The mysterious Dynamic Line Management on VDSL2

Two-factor authentication broken

, posted: 23-May-2013 17:52

As Twitter attempts to make it service more secure and possibly facing legal action by Kim Dotcom for patent infringement some security experts say 2FA is basically b0rk3d already.

There's more about it in the story linked to above, but I'm wondering where to next if 2FA now can't be trusted?

And here's Mr Dotcom himself, not talking about his 2FA patent.

Kim Dotcom at Mega Party 1

Kim Dotcom taking the stage at the launch of Mega. Photo: Juha Saarinen

Other related posts:
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The problem with naming and shaming

, posted: 13-Apr-2013 11:59

This Tumblr, Dom's laptop is in Iran, did something everyone does at some stage: it named and shamed those who seemed guilty of something.

Long story short: Dom's laptop was stolen and ended up in Iran. Through remote access software, Dom tracked the laptop over the Internet and activated the camera on it. He took pictures of the people he thought had nicked his laptop, and published them.

Except, the people in the pictures weren't the ones who had stolen his laptop.

In Dom's words:

Further news

The innocent new owners of my laptop have been in touch and are mortified about the story and are keen to return the laptop.

Given the huge error of judgement on my part in sharing the story and failing to respect their privacy I have asked them to keep it by means of an apology.

Hope I'm not doing a Dom by posting this reminder (to me as well) that things aren't always what they seem at first glance.

Other related posts:
Video: Kim Dotcom and Mathias Ortman at the IITP Mega breakfast
Two-factor authentication broken
The problem with naming and shaming

Speaking of prank calls

, posted: 9-Dec-2012 12:37

Victor Lewis-Smith applies for a presenter's job at the BBC.

Other related posts:
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What PR people really think of journalists
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Timelapse clip of Brisbane superstorm

, posted: 30-Nov-2012 12:18

Apparently, there were over 25,000 lightning strikes in just one day.

By Noelia Ramon.

Other related posts:
The TechEd 2013 bag review
Timelapse clip of Brisbane superstorm
IITP Newsline: Software patents special issue

Fighting with Windows 8

, posted: 25-Nov-2012 11:43

Getting used to Windows 8 means learning new ways of doing familiar things. This is fine, provided there's a benefit to be had but unfortunately, Microsoft has made some mystifying choices in Windows 8 that add complexity and effort to completing tasks, instead of the opposite.

For instance, I like the ability to use keyboard shortcuts and the ability to start typing a program or file name in Windows 8 to locate it instead of playing the find-the-tile horizontal scroll-o-rama game.

The search function in Windows 8 is fast and comprehensive, but defaults to looking in the Apps section. If you look for Windows tools like Device Manager or Windows Update, the search function should have enough smarts to show them in the left-hand side pane, instead of saying "No apps match your search".

Search has in fact found Device Manager but as it's in Settings it won't show up to the left unless you select that area instead of Apps. I have no idea why this is considered the right way to display search results in Windows 8.

Strangely enough, if you search for Control Panel, it shows up all right, but not the applets in it.

While in Control Panel let's say you want to add an Admin user like you would in Windows 7.

That's not how it's done Windows 8: you have to use the Metro-style PC Settings to add users instead.

OK, so you add the user and then discover there's no way to promote the account to Administrator. This is done in the stripped-down Control Panel applet mentioned above which also has other user management functions. I imagine the change is done to discourage the creation of Admin users, for security reasons. Nevertheless, could user management not be done in one single place?

Oh, and futzing around with settings reveals that Windows 8 only seems half-aware of hardware keyboards. You notice this as you get password and other input fields that bring up the large on-screen keyboard even though the hardware one is active at the moment.

Next, I wanted to play the horrendously addictive Wordament game, available from the App store for free. Don't install it, as you won't be able to stop playing it.

Even though I was logged in with my Microsoft account which is tied in with my Xbox one, Wordament said it had to log into the Xbox service. Fine, do that. Except it timed out after a minute or so with a "we're not sure what went wrong" error message and I was told to sign on via the website.

Right, click and the Win8 style version of Internet Explorer starts up and you go to

Wait. "The site uses add-ons that require Internet Explorer on the desktop."

Screenshot Win8

At this stage, any normal person would get a bit hot under the collar and mutter some nasty words in Redmond's general direction. Not me though. I fired up Internet Explorer on the desktop and logged in to and finally, I could play Wordament. Having to jump through multiple hoops just to play a game didn't try my patience at all.

The reason this is happening is due to Microsoft being on a mission to make the web a plug-in free zone. Not all parts of the company read the memo though. Microsoft's Office 365 site pops up the same message.

Now, this isn't Microsoft's fault (I think) but Google Chrome on Windows 8 touch-enabled PC doesn't work very well. The device I'm using has a hi-res, 1,920 by 1,080 pixel 11.6" screen so in Desktop mode, things are really small and hard to hit with big fingers. Using the default 125 per cent scaling helps but some things need to be even bigger to work for touch. Unfortunately, scaling to 150 per cent puts screen elements out of whack - and Windows 8 warns you this will happen.

Not being able to scale screen element on hi-res displays isn't as bad as it seems because in IE10 I can pinch-zoom to make things bigger and smaller.

Chrome however doesn't understand that gesture in Desktop or Windows 8 modes yet. Voice chats and hangouts don't seem to work either but Google says it's working on those issues. Muh.

One thing I miss while in Desktop mode is the ability to start typing to search the computer, as you can while in Windows 8/Metro mode. I'd happily trade the Win8 swipe from top of the screen to the bottom method of closing programs, which works badly on big, vertical touch displays, to be able to search by typing in Desktop mode.

Other related posts:
Fighting with Windows 8
The Windows Phone 7.5 bouncing tiles bug
Windows Live Essentials betas seem good, but oh so flaky


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