Saturday, November 18, 2017

The New DNS Kid in Town

Eagles: New Kid in Town

Marcus has spend much of his life with my own  9.x.x.x IP address.  To those in the know you can immediately recognise my employer.  And today whilst IBM may be in all sorts of trouble (beyond the scope of this posting) they as owners of the 9 domain may have a winning new service.

It's the public DNS server

I'm currently testing it, with an almost tear in my eye (because I am always favourably nostalgic towards IBM)

Apart from testing it yourself I point you to the following articles which go into considerable detail

Friday, November 17, 2017

Amazon Dot or Google Home

Subtitle: Which one do you use daily?

I feel we are at a tipping point with home based Personal Digital Assistants.  This is a short set of words from those that have to convince those that have not.

Practically speaking at home, and not using your Smartphone there are 2 digital assistants that you can choose

Both devices come in different shapes, speaker sizes but fundamentally

- They include a microphone and speaker
- Some electronics that wakes up when you say a keyword like Alexa or OK Google
- They connect to Amazon or Googles rather large Cloud based datacentre
- Where programs bzillions of lines long analyse the statements you make and responds intelligently  to them.
- They need a USB connection for Power
- And a wireless connection to your Internet Router
- They are pretty easy on resource usage, so even if you have a Stone Age slow Internet connection, the device will function.

What has Changed
- The entry level devices recently fell below 50 GBP.  In other words less than the cost of a mid priced meal for two with drinks.   
- They are actually able to understand what you are saying  (Voice recognition now actually works)
- They connect to a backend via the Internet that is actually able to come up with some good time saving answers, i.e. the processing is done remotely on huge powerful computers, not on your own tiny modest hardware.
- In other words it's no longer a curiosity,  a techy only product, it is now usable enough for people who know practically nothing  [about computers and / or the Internet]

Why be Interested?
(And why now)

Since price is no longer a practical barrier, and the devices do work; there are few barriers from giving it a try.

These devices can answer real questions and so for households with young enquiring minds they begin to approach an oracle, which unlike your parents, is always polite, never gets tired or loses their temper and talks back facts not fictions, or opinions.

I've seen real examples of households where one or more parents lay down the Internet Law like

- Internet is a privilege not a right
- We will control it, not you
- We don't trust the Internet & we won't give our Children Smartphones or Amazon / Google devices

These kind of attitudes make me sad, it will disable your offspring in the modern world that they will enter as adults in just a decade or less.  And it certainly does not help your integration into the world of 2017 either.

Advanced Features
Home automation and control via Amazon or Google products is still basically a nightmare.  I'd settle for the moment for your home assistant to be able to at a minimum:

- Answer basic questions  
- Play the news
- Play music  (I use Spotify)
- Play BBC Radio 4 
- Simple organisation like Calendar and todo/Shopping Lists, reminders
- Make free voice calls to other Amazon users

My choice

Marcus' choice be the Amazon and not the Google product, particularly if you also sign up for Amazon Prime  (available in most civilised countries, notably except Switzerland). 

NB: Of course if you are a techy you will already have both products and today this would still mean spending less than 70 GBP.  I know, crackers right!

Echo Dot has a basic speaker and microphone so it does not need an additional bluetooth speaker, but of course can use one

In the UK  Echo Dot will literally cost you 35 GBP.  From here  

There are other ways to get Alexa services if you are more technically literate, but then you'd already know that.  I'm addressing the population who have no idea about Digital Home Assistants.

Come on.  For 35 GBP, get a grip. Buy one now.  

And in the UK if you mail order this item then under UK law the seller must accept a return within 14 days of purchase.  For other sales in a shop e.g Argos their returns policy is here

In other words, if you absolutely hate it then you can return it.  So again, what is stopping you?

Dave Lee: Google Home vs Echo Dot 

The Official Echo Channel

Thursday, November 16, 2017


The Script: Changes

British people of a certain age, and that includes Marcus are scrutinising the events of Rhodesia, or should I call it Zimbabwe as it seems we might finally seen the last of the dictator 

Robert Mugabe    OUT !

The above link details a long Wikipedia article, but my summary would be, that Mugabe took over Rhodesia in 1980 and whilst he was initially thought to be a principled and democratic leader, events have shown otherwise.

Most commentators would agree that the disappearance of his enemies, his rigged elections, his intolerance of homosexuals, his policies on forcible land sequestration mean that any supporter who once thought his principled teacher, educated in England (and elsewhere) that would lead his country to greatness have faltered.

Does this justify his forcible removal from power, which as I write seem to have been completed?


BBC Summary

With direct relations in Zimbabwe Marcus can say that my view (shared by many is):   Sooner or later Mugabe will die and then perhaps the country can begin the climb back towards its former greatness, second only to South Africa in terms of Economic importance in the region.

Except that, most pundits have been thinking this for over a decade now, and at 93 he is still alive, and President. Hmm.

It seems that Mugabe's thinly veiled plan to install his wife Grace as his successor having fired the Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa has finally pushed others into decisive action.

After Robert?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Wonderful Asus RT-AC750 Wireless Router Review

Subtitle:  What can I buy for 30 GBP !!

Showing My Age
It's a sad and sombre aside but Marcus is the last of a generation who grew up with barely functioning and expensive Computer systems.

I make the point that the first floppy diskette  (not hard disk) I bought, a Wangco Model 82 Drive stored 80KB   (not MB or GB) of data and cost me about 400GBP, in real money at the time of purchase.

And so when I bought a fully functioning computer operating as a Wireless Router, operating at least one hundred times faster than the computer I literally soldered together (with my Wangco drive) in the 1970's my first thought was

That only cost me 30 GBP!

Use with a 4G USB Modem

The purchase of this router and the Huawei E3372 modem reviewed here  was to combine the two to make a working 4G router which via a Gigabit Ethernet Switch port on this ASUS router can feed a dedicated Firewall or Enterprise functioned Networking device.

And YES, this combination does work for a very economical 60GBP  (30GBP for this router and another 30 GBP for the Huawei E3372 and inclusive 4G SIM and 30GB of data allowance).  I know, completely and utterly bonkers.

Here are the documented settings that make it possible.   
- First of course test the Huawei E3372 dongle in your local PC 
- The Dongle will show up at a fixed address of
- Setup the Asus RT-AC750 as a wireless router i.e. with 2.4 and 5GHz networking and connect to it
- Now plug the Huawei dongle into your Asus RT-AC750 USB port

The normal setup is to have the 4G connection take over when your wired Internet connection delivered over the WAN Ethernet fails.

But in our testing 4G will be the only connection, so Dual WAN is off and in fact the WAN is switched off  (left unconnected)

These are the settings necessary for it to work in the Polish PLAY network.

But there is More

I will outline the further functionality you are getting for just 30 GB Pounds!

Two operation modes and you set this first as it affects all the other menus on the Router.

Advertising from the back of the box

Toplevel screen showing the USB 4G connection and graphical loading of the device, with the menu possibilities on the left

Setup a Guest network for visitors or neighbours

This can act as a VPN server

USB port may be used for multiple things. Obviously given the small CPU of the device don't expect performance miracles from any media server.

Access to information from the outside world.

Wan Port Trigger and Virtual Server.  These may not work from a 4G connection because your Internet facing address is [typically] behind a NAT at your telecoms company.  You are warned.  (This prevents you from hosting a Webserver using a 4G connection, and recall that I'm purely testing a 4G USB connection here.  You would not have these issues if you connect to a wired DSL connection )

Lots of logging, only one panel shown here

Ways to access your router from the Internet

IP6 Support

NAT passthrough

This is just a short summary of some of the features.  There are many more!  Please consult the User Manual for more information.

SummaryI used this ASUS Router and the Huawei Dongle
in an extended series of tests.  The pair performed flawlessly.  The Asus Router provides great 2.4 and 5GHz wireless including upto 433 Mbps bandwidth, and crucially is able to support the Huawei E3372 Dongle for 4G networking.

I highly recommend this combination for a home wireless connection on a budget.

ASUS official

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

HP NX8220 Laptop Recycling


Subtitle: We cannot rebuild him [easily]

After a longterm loan of some several years, Marcus' HP NX 8220 laptop has been returned to me!  I had left it with a Microsoft Vista 32bit installation.

I can do better than that I thought! .....

And so it was off to install my most favourite Linux Distribution: Linux Mint  [18.2 32bit version]

I always try to use the Lili USB Creator when install Linux as this avoids burning a DVD or CD media.

A lot of time was wasted trying to get USB keys to install.  Turns out the secret sauce is to Enable USB legacy support.   You are welcome.

Nice Hardware
Underneath are slots with simple screws so that you can change the Hard Disk drive or Memory.  Also notice the slot at the top for the docking station.

In the Multibay you can put a DVD writer or a Hard Disk in a Caddy or even a blank.  The latter is useful to keep the laptop weight to a minimum since using a DVD or CD these days , is well never.

Mint Installed But
Mint 18.2 Installation for 32bits is flawless and popular applications like VLC media player install without error

 But Skype is for 64 bits only and I am 32 bits

And Logitech it seems has never even heard of Linux!

What Does work Then
The installation of Linux 18.2 32bit mode results in a laptop that is a glorified Web Browser using Firefox  

+ Media player and audio via VLC working
+ Ethernet and Wireless working
+ Full resolution screen support working
+ VGA 2nd screen output NOT working
- lack of many 32bit Linux apps :-(
+ Wine works, so individual Windows Apps can be run, and were tested OK
- Suspend resume NOT working and crashes laptop
+ Hotplus of multibay does work
+ Dropbox installed  OK  (surprising!)
+ Chromium browser installed

In Summary

If you have 200 GBP to spare then don't try and renovate an old laptop for occasional use.  Buy a Chuwi or other low cost new product.  This will be considerably less hassle.

If however you still want to recycle then for a 32 bit computer today in 2017 a version of Microsoft Windows is likely to be more compatible than any version of Linux.

By compatible I mean the 32bit driver support of typical peripherals will be better, and programs like Skype are available on the Windows platform in 32 bit mode (more so than for 64 bit Linux)

Linux has the advantage of being free to download and Install but in 2017 on a few 32 bit distributions remain and application and driver and forum support is lesser.  Linux has embraced 64bit technology ahead of Windows and OSX and it shows.

Ironically to me, in 2017, on a 32bit Computer, Windows [not Linux] wins.

HP 8220 drivers

Monday, November 13, 2017

Looking For The Perfect Smartphone

Afrika Bambaataa:Looking For The Perfect ..

Synopsis:  If all the fanboys and fangirls who read this article took my advice we would never get all these technical issues resolved.  Luckily, they are immune to such advice and guidance and are probably queueing outside an Apple Store or Google Play drop point right now ...

So Many Problems!
I do feel very sorry for those innocent and primarily rich people who have stumped up their 1000 US Dollars (or Pounde / Euros) on two of the markets leading 2017 Smartphones.  Namely the Apple iPhone X or the Google Pixel 2 XL.

Whilst many of the issues are people scaremongering their way towards perhaps 15 seconds of Youtube fame, some real issues do remain.   Some examples

The iBug

Pixel2XL:  On the Edge

FaceID and Siblings

Google Pixel XL: Screen Burn in and Washed Out Colour display

iPhone Battery, BurnIn and the Weather

FaceID and the Law

iPhoneX: Can you Crackle with Me?

iPhoneX: Beautiful Mess

iPhoneX in the Cold

On The Positive
This is the ultra high technology that your money is buying.  Quite impressive, and, are you sitting down ... Apple actually made a pretty serviceable phone.

Google Pixel 2 XL: Reassembly

iPhone X Teardown

I recommend
If you need a new phone tomorrow I still find the humble Google Nexus 5X hard to beat.  Especially as I can source you one for only 230GBP, new, unlocked and 32GB.  Here is my own

Oh, and you can even upgrade to Android 8.1 should you be really keen.   When things settle down you can resell this classic and probably lose next to nothing.

Learning Points

2017 State of the Art Smartphones are complicated beasties.  We are beginning to see the inability of vendors to ship error free products at the ultra high end regardless of price.

And so, the old Information Technology, SysAdmin,  Systems Integrator maxim/ philosophy again becomes relevant.

Bide you time until all the bugs have been sorted out by those obsessive /must have it now end users/,  after which time supply may be more generous and prices might even have dropped.   

So: Buy later, not at product launch.  Simples.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sunday Musing: A Docking Future

Marcus and Agata do contemplate a more mobile future, and this article is actually a quick update on 

Docking Stations!

Our use case would be moving to a location, and at that location expecting to plug a portable workstation or laptop into a variety of peripherals concurrently.  This must include at least 2 screen, a Hard Wired Ethernet, and some USB peripherals.

Another common use case is a worker bee moving between a home office and a work location.  You can stage a capable dock and multiple peripherals at each location and have a single hassle free USB 3.1 type C interface be the bridge between your portable powerhouse and all peripherals

Dell Dock D6000

Normally Marcus would never recommend any device without personally testing it.  But on paper the above D6000 dock seems to be the most capable I have found.

If you are an Apple user you might also consider this OWC Dock instead

(Note that USB 3.1 Type 1 is basically 5Gbit/sec aka USB 3.0)

30mm x 78mm x 168mm size
1 x Gigabit Ethernet
1 x USB Type C
1 x display / video - HDMI
2 x display / video - DisplayPort
1 x USB host
3 x SuperSpeed USB 3.0
1 x SuperSpeed USB 3.0 with PowerShare
1 x USB Type C with PowerShare

1 x headphones / speakers
Includes a 130W Power Adapter

We found the cheapest offer in Switzerland to be at Digitec here  for about 190 CHF

The PDF manual is here

This dock is on Marcus' , dear Dell, please offer this at bargain cost for Black Friday 2017 list.   Let us see if they can deliver!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Our Christmas Starts Right Now

Marcus is quite serious when I say that pictured above is our ultra minimalist Christmas Tree.  I'd like to point out that the Orchid is being cocooned in a hand knitted pot warmer courtesy of Agata and decorated in the seasonal fashion.

In our humble opinions who needs more?

Our Seasonal Celebration

Clean Bandit: I Miss You

The key elements that form the basis of our Christmas, well secular celebration, now several weeks in,  are:

Visiting Friends and Family
This involves much travelling and spending the time to say that special hello especially to Friends. 

And also:: Freedom to indulge in:

Some Swimming

Fellow athletes will realise the significance of this second photograph :-)

Much  Running

Daily exercise has not been so enjoyable in a long time

Not Really Shopping

We love to enquire and check but based on need purchases are kept to an absolute minimum.  I will say that Decathlon continues to be the #1 Bricks and Mortar sports venue in the whole of Europe.  Try them out!

Some Car Spotting

Always a pleasure and you know we recently attended the Motorshow which had much vintage content

Going to the Pictures
I may look like a hardened criminal but I'm innocent ...

Marcus and Agata contemplate what to see and when

(with the help of Mark and Simon )

Much Listening
As an audiophile this is a daily activity, but right now, away from it all, there is time to really listen, during daylight hours at least, not just skip listen to the books.

Quality Project Time
Every night, and I mean  regularly until about 03.00,  Marcus has been hard at work.  Actually writing, actually designing, actually debugging. Actually testing, actually re-testing. Actually learningActually listening.

Not delegating, not making excuses, not telling somebody else to do something  (because I can't do it myself).   Just working.

Catching up on matters I have been unable to progress in the UK principally due to poor Internet connectivity.  Right now Agata and Marcus are using 5 separate Internet connections.  Yep, count them!

Back to Friends

John Lewis 2014

You can choose your friends, but you must nurture your relationships with them.  It needs to be a 2 way conversation (or not at all), so there has never been a more appropriate time of the year to get back in touch with that special friend

Friday, November 10, 2017

Why Black Friday Matters

M&S Christmas 2017

Subtitle:  Sales, Marketing and Christmas

There is an unexpected hit in town.  It is the Paddington Christmas commercial from the once successful and still famous British retailer Marks and Spencer.

Whilst I like to browse the best that Youtube has to offer these marketing pitches I find attractive only the surface

- They appeal to a fast diminishing minority, because Christmas in 2017 is not the cozy, home with family and presents that it used to be.

- As a strong aside whilst people from all religions and none have traditionally celebrated at least the present buying part of Christmas, this changes fast today.

- Enter Black Friday, initially an American invention, this year on 24th November 2017.

Black Friday was initially conceived to kickstart the Christmas retail season, one in which some market segments do over 50% yearly turnover

- Ironically as America claims to be a Christian Nation,  Black Friday shopping is IMHO a key driver that decimates Christmas. Why?  Because if you bought all your seasonal presents at the end of November your ability or desire to go Christmas shopping tends to zero.

And to remind all, Christmas shopping and presents, not the Religious stuff is what people are interested in these days.

Some Classy Christmas Marketing

John Lewis 2014

Sainsbury 2015

John Lewis 2016

John Lewis 2017

The homely, sentimental, almost tearful Christmas marketing, to me it is wonderful to view.  I admire the precision, the Professionalism of the video, but it paints a picture of domesticity far away from most of us.

Times: they are a Changing

Amazon 2017 Christmas

The Achilles heel of Bricks and Mortar stores is that today you the consumer has; and expects to have; more choice than can be stocked at your favourite store.   It is basically simple logic: Visiting a store ultmately leads to disappointment.   

What is not possible in your High Street store, or even out of town store, is possible via a collection of multiple very large, mostly automated warehouses full of consumer goods.

What Makes It Possible?

But M&S, John Lewis and others proclaim:  We have survived decades, and we aim to continue.

Tough luck IMHO.

The following components have come together to transform and forever change the way that we shop

- Websites Selling Goods
A Sophisticated simple interface allowing customers to find and then purchase what they want.  Amazon is the benchmark example, and choice and price are their hallmarks.
- 72 hour or less Logistics
Getting product to the customer often in as little as 24 hours, and at pre-arranged times so that the delivery will succeed first time
- Try and Return
No quibble return policy, which although open to abuse means the good customer can return items for valid reasons.

Back to Black Friday (Nov 24 2017)

In the UK Black Friday deals will appear from major vendors.  So to take best advantage

- Take some time to plan

- Compare the worst case scenario, where: you do no planning, and buy at Christmas, gifts for your family and friends, last minute, and thus expensively, choosing presents they don't want, value or need.

- Make a list of potential purchases that you might otherwise have made for Christmas, and the online retailers who are going to offer di$counts

- I already have Wiggle and Amazon on my must check UK retailers list

- When you have bought your seasonal swag remember not to additionally go and also buy for Christmas.  One set of presents should be enough, right?

And Finally
Not just on Black Friday, not just at Christmas, an important life rule:

Please don't buy absolute Crap

UK Links
Argos Black Friday
Tesco Black Friday  (from Nov 20)
Three Mobile  (register Nov 13)
Wiggle Black Friday  (started)

See Also

Thursday, November 09, 2017

An introduction to MikroTik

MikroTik short for Mikrotikis I now know to be a Latvian manufacturer of Computer Networking equipment.  Today I just want to advertise Mikrotik, because my first and direct experience is that their products are bloody amazing.

If you are reading this
Congratulations!  You probably got here as a result of a Google search, or even a subscription to this blog say via an RSS reader.  In 2017 as opposed to 1987 things may be dramatically more complicated in Information Technology but at least there is the Internet to assist you instead of that one rather difficult to get hold of know it all friend.

Still, back then and today, a common point is that you can't know it all yourself.  Sooner or later you have to ask others in person, or today search online and join special interest groups. My RSS feed to  led me to MikroTik and for that I am very grateful

The Audience
As a Sytems professional I can confess that

I really hate Networking

It is the part of Computing that brings me down and most often fools me.  So if you are like me then why MikroTik?

- MikroTik products are unbelievably cheap.  I mean they can be orders of magnitude  (say 1/4) the cost of some other networking kit
- In the UK I bought my device from Euro DK who advertise on
- This is the main website
- Here is the Wiki
-  MicroTik RB750GR3 hEX Router
- They specialise in Ethernet Routers, Switches and Wireless Systems

- They also sell the bare boards inside their products
- Also they sell SFP and other accessories needed for their products
- I bought a 5 Port Ethernet Router / Switch with SFP capability for < 80 GBP including postage.  Absolutely astonishing
- With a nobrainer setup you can configure this as a Switch in just minutes and a Basic router will take a bit longer
- All the ports are configurable, so any port could be the WAN port, the others LAN ports (for a router), or in fact Multiple WAN ports and correspondingly less LAN ports
- PDF catalog
- For under 200GBP an 8 Ethernet Port Router Switch with 2 10Gb SFP+ ports also CRS210-8G-2S+IN
- There is good forum support and several tutorials on Youtube

But wait, there is more

You can either buy their hardware product, or if you have a PC with the right Networking cards then load their Router OS onto it instead, or run it from a Virtual Machine.  So the software products obviously cost money and are downloaded

I suspect that better performance can be obtained by PC Router OS implemenations as their Hardware Routers use very modest CPU's

And Router OS
Their hardware runs a version of Linux called Router OS.  Using a Windows only program called WinBox you can use a GUI to configure the router, or open up a terminal window inside WinBox and use their command line instead

add action=mark-connection chain=prerouting 
connection-mark=no-mark dst-address-type=!local 
in-interface="00 Bridge" 
new-connection-mark=WAN2_conn passthrough=yes 

add action=masquerade chain=srcnat 
comment="defconf: masquerade" 
out-interface="03 WAN3"

add action=masquerade 
chain=srcnat comment="defconf: masquerade" 
out-interface="08 LTE1"

My Summary Position

To me the Mikrotik is a family of configurable routers and Switches in the right way

- In the ideal world, given enough time, and expertise  (count me out), you can use ipchains etc and other techniques to configure a raw Linux system for your Networking needs

- The MikroTik way instead provides an environment based on Linux

- It has a GUI that you can access via the Windows Winbox program to perform basic setup

- And a command line if you want to be really clever and go hardcore

I plan for further more informational posts when I am better informed.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

BBC R4: Costing the Earth

Costing the Earth: In America  (27 minutes)


Offering Clean Coal as one solution to the Climate Change.  ...

Maybe Mr Trump should ask his Science advisors what they think ...

This administration seems to be fact adverse at multiple levels ...

They are proud of not knowing anything ...


You owe it to yourselves to listen to this good backgrounder because the yearly conference:

The UN Climate Change Conference - November 2017 will take place 6-17 November in Bonn

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