Saturday, December 27, 2008

Text Messaging Is Cheap?

Not sure if its the job of newspapers to spread or create conspiracy theories, but this article in the New York Times (which I love and read often) by Randall Stross is just half-baked. But it sells newspapers, so let's do it!

Mr. Stross figures out, with the help of experts, that the basic cost of text messaging alone is pretty low. A text message or SMS rides on the control channels that are used for communications between the cellphone and the base station and then go over wires from the base station to the core of the network. So we learn that, once the basic investment in the network is done... its all cream, he implies. Mr. Stross quotes another professor saying that the cost of transmitting 100 million messages is not much more than those for a million. 

Yeah, the basics about text messages are right. But are you going to build a network costing billions to send text messages? Ofcourse not, so to run a wireless network there are costs for voice minutes from initial spectrum cost of billions, tens of thousands of cell sites, cell site maintenance, equipment purchases, and many more. And now they are building faster data networks which also costs billions, and while these are growing fast - they don't make enough money. Recall the whining about the iPhone, in 2007, only having an EDGE (2.75G) connection. "Where's my 3G?" the press cried. And the $20 or $30, now, for the iPhone data connection is not enough to fund a nationwide network covering over 200 cities that, at inception, only has less than 10 million (data) customers. If we use his logic then software should only cost 50 cents - the cost of burning a CD with the software. 

Its strange to see an article by a business school professor/teacher in the country's most prominent newspaper to not even mention the entire economic picture of running a company. Text messaging is a cash cow, one that helps funds other parts of the business. If you really want to do cost accounting, then let's put the partial cost of towers, spectrum, SMS servers, employee costs, billing systems and lots of other things also on its account. Obviously, the operators are making good money on it, but they may be losing money in other parts of the business. But why should they open it up to scrutiny? Also if casual or non-plan texting (sounds like sex!) is a very low percentage of the revenue and number of total messages sent - then what's so wrong with charging higher for it?

I am not advocating that the senator or FCC or the responsible regulatory body or a journalist  should not query or check this; they should certainly probe it - but don't make it another conspiracy theory or another way we are cheated!

It really makes me believe that even the best guys want to use controversy and half-baked ideas to sell their product. This is similar to the way newspapers and magazines use/report numbers to make them sound more interesting but miss the point.

Disclosure: I have never worked for a mobile operator/carrier. I have worked as an engineer for an equipment manufacturer and understand some aspects of a cellphone networks' working and cost structure.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Better mousetraps, I mean Ethernet switches

Sometimes a better mousetrap is just super useful!

Our technical sales guys do a lot of traveling with demo kits and (obviously) want the lightest, most compact gear possible (ofcourse that doesn't reduce the stares at the airport security line).

One of the things he found is a USB powered 5-port Ethernet switch. Just connect a small cable to the switch and hook the other end to the USB port of a computer, and voila!

I have been using it for a few days and love the little black box. Its 2 in x 3 in x 1/2 in and can fit in my pocket!

Plain old benefits:
- saves an extra power jack on the strip
- no need to go down under the desk to find a power jack (at work)
- quick ability to switch connections between various machines (very essential for testbeds and demo kits)
- small and light enough to carry a few in my backpack or demo kit.

The one I've got is from Bytec BT-555. I haven't seen it at a Fry's or Best Buy, only online.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

iPhone 2.0 Software - Push

Everybody knows that iPhone 2.0 software supports Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync. But the devil details are as follows (based on my experience):
  • Exchange email & calendaring works beautifully - just like the preview videos Apple showed and like BlackBerry and ActiveSync users have been enjoying for a while. And setup is a breeze using the iPhone Configuration Utility. It does feel a bit strange to email the config file instead of just dowloading it to an attached iPhone. But it'll work well for enterprise users - "one profile to rule them all".
  • Cisco VPN setup with Group authentication is a bit awkward.
  • If you get a lot of emails, like 1 every 5 minutes, because someone put you on a jillion lists then enabling 'Push' will drain your iPhone's battery enough to require daily charging even with minimum use. Plus your phone vibrates every 5 seconds and makes you look like a twitching retard. Use Fetch with settings of 15 min, 30 min or 1 hour - depending on how desperate you are.
  • Someone tells me that there are specific push-related rules, i.e. set a rule to determine which email messages get pushed. But apparently it is only available, for setting, through Outlook. I use a Mac and checked Outlook Web Access using IE on Windows XP under Fusion, but could not find it. Need more research!

  • Below are relevant documents & links on the subject.
  1. Apple's docs on implemented/omitted features:
  2. MSFT blog comparing the implementations:
  3. Exchange ActiveSync FAQ:

Sunday, July 13, 2008

iPhone 2.0

So it seems that lots of existing iPhone (1.x) owners had serious problems in either downloading the new 2.0 OS or installing it ("got bricked") or activating their phone after installation. My experience was different. It did take iTunes a while before it was ready to update the iPhone OS. Around 5pm it allowed me to download and in 15 minutes the new OS was installed, 5 more minutes to restore settings from backup.

First review:
Very good set of usability improvements. Location-finding (even without A-GPS) seems to work a whole lot better (better than 1.1.3 atleast). But the App.Store is amazing. Find an app, select it for download, enter your iTunes Store password and in minutes it flies! Ofcourse this works best in WiFi covered areas. Have to see how long it takes to download a few megs over EDGE.

The range of app's seems pretty impressive for day one. It's hard to believe what will come in the next few months and years. All the promises and potential from the iPhone SDK preview are going to be true. This is the mobile platform of choice. The best developers are or will be flocking to produce iPhone apps.

Multi-Touch is Key
One thing is clear - the bold and courageous choice Apple made in using a touchscreen and forgoing any keys (except 'home', volume, vibrate & 'sleep') is paying off bigtime. Applications are free to define user interaction in a very very customized way. No crazy remapping or multipurposing (using alt/shift...) of the numeric keypad or other buttons; no need to cramp 3 letters of the tinniest font on/around each key. The slight loss of speed is replaced by the elegance of a well-defined, aesthetic and colored interface. App. developers have better freedom than PC's to create a new way for user interaction. Make no mistake, the new way is and will be more impactful to the consumer adoption than anything else.

iPhone meet IT
The addition of MS Exchange support, Cisco VPN and iPhone Configuration Utility to iPhone is as big as the switch to Intel for Mac's. These new features are basic product features to compete against Blackberry and Windows Mobile in the corporate market. The rest will be in continuous courting of corporate IT. Ofcourse employees bugging IT and the attraction of CXO's to the iPhone will push IT to start supporting the iPhone.

PC vs. Mac all over again?
The iPhone and its OS togather unquestionably form the best mobile platform today. Windows Mobile came out years before iPhone OS (unlike Mac OS vs. Windows), but has yet to mature in terms of user experience. WM has all/most of the needed functionality, but is defiicient in other areas. It took Windows almost 10-15 years to mature into a stable and, relatively speaking, usable form (with 2000 and XP). But the story of licensing OS' is worth considering. Will Apple license iPhone OS? No it won't! Not with the success of the Mac, iPhone and iTunes. They are more confident than ever of their beliefs, innovation and capabilities.

More on the following in later posts.

Real Challenger #1: Nokia/Symbian
Nokia/Symbian clearly see the challenge and their recent changes are interesting to say the least.

Real Challenger #2: Google Android

Wake up time: Microsoft Windows Mobile

No Hope #1: Pure Open Source/Linux-styled mobile OS's

No Hope #2: Blackberry OS/devices

Friday, July 4, 2008

Forgot Master Password on Mac

If you forget the Master Password on your Mac, you are in trouble! But if you have set the Master Password but not turned on FileVault then you are in luck.

Here's how to fix the problem:

Just delete the file /Library/Keychains/FileVaultMaster.keychain
This will reset the master password. Or you could go into terminal and type
"sudo rm /Library/keychains/filevaultmaster.keychain"
and your problem is solved.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Printing on Leopard over a Windows Network

Anybody at a small company with a Mac has faced this nightmare: all the printers are on a domain controlled Windows Server and its incredibly impossible to print on them!

Seems like 'Kerberos Printing from OS X to Windows Active Directory Printer Share' is the solution.

Use CUPS to add a printer and select 

2. Add Printer -> Enter Name / Location / Description
3. Select Device as "Windows Printer via SAMBA with kerberos support" 
4. Enter "ksmb://username:passwd@printserver/PrinterName"
5. Finish it up!

Oh, by the way entering your password like that will place it in direct text form in /etc/cups/printers.conf. Normally printers.conf has user read-write permissions only. So you should be safe from other users on the machine or on the network. But if you let someone use your login for a few minutes (while you are away) - then you are in TROUBLE! They can read your login password in plain text in less than 3 seconds. So be careful!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Great Leopard Spots

Features in Leopard (Apple Mac OS X 10.5.x) that absolutely I love

Yes, a lot of these are part of the 300 that really make Leopard a great OS. I no particular order of priority.
  • Searching in Activity Monitor for a particular process by its first letter
Yes, its finally here! Just hit the first key of the process' name and you'll find it. This is more easier if you sort by process name.
  • Active repartitioning in Disk Utility
  • Time Machine
  • CoverFlow
  • Spaces
  • AirPort connection info (press Alt/Option when clicking on AirPort icon on menu bar)
  • BootCamp is official!

Stuff still not there!
  • Good multi-display support

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Recently I acquired a new MacBook Pro (2.4GHz, 2GB RAM, 200 GB HDD, 256 MB Nvidia 8600M GT). And switching from my MacBook (Tiger) to the new machine could not have been easier. Leopard's Migration Assistant asked me to run the MacBook in Firewire mode, hook up a firewire cable between the two and 'boom', in 30 minutes all my data and settings were moved over - INCLUDING APPLICATIONS like Thunderbird, Firefox and others. I clicked on Thunderbird, entered my password and had my corporate email going without ANY EFFORT!

Only glitch was the need to reinstall our Cisco VPN client because it seemed to be binded to the old machine's network adapters (or something like that!).

You can call that a serious saving of time and heartburn! Less than 1 hour to switch to a new machine - from start to finish. The migration of applications was much faster than having to install them one by one and configuring them to my settings. Kudos to the Migration Assistant team of Leopard.

And the best part will be the ability to use Time Machine to backup my data everyday - automatically. I and others in the company who travel a bit have seen laptops suffer catastrophic failures at the worst time. Recently we spent a few thousand dollars to retrieve data from a failed hard disk.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Four Horsemen (Versions) of Apocalypse (Vista)

Okay, the title is a little dramatic. But you have to imagine the pain that product managers at 1000's of small & medium companies are going through: testing your product on four versions of 'one' operating system - and that is before the service pack. Home Basic, Home Premium, Business and Ultimate!

Sure its one OS, but they do have different capabilities (especially for graphics) and you can't leave this to chance. Plus the drivers issue that's been plaguing lots of users creates an additional complexity - "hmm, our product works on our machines, but will it work on the users machine?" . Users, both consumers & business/enterprise customers, are likely to buy systems with any of these four. That means IT and testing have to have provide access to all four of them (with or without SP?) to all/most of the developers. And testing teams need full & dedicated access too. Fortunately VM's have made this task a lot easier.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Mobile Internet with your Cable bill?

So the big news/rumor of the day is the possible investment by cable co's (Time Warner & Comcast) in the Sprint + Clearwire WiMAX venture. The said deadline is the CTIA show in Vegas from Apr 1-3.

So what could this mean for consumers?
People who signup for an Internet service from cable companies get the option of a mobile service also that allows them to use their laptops and WiMAX mobiles anywhere. The home network is connected via the standard cable modem for really high-speed service (~ 5 Mbps), with the lowest latency and no battery life concerns. Mobile/portable devices access the WiMAX network (~ 1 to 2 Mbps) seamlessly, at home and outside. WiMAX femtocells could also be a future offering to quickly improve coverage by using a provisioned part of the cable network bandwidth.

What packages+pricing could be offered?
Cable Internet: $45
Mobile Internet: $25
Mobile VoIP: $15 all you can eat
Total: $75 to $85

Mobile VoIP is the operator's own VoIP service for those who want better quality/SLA than Skype which is likely to go under Best Effort (BE) traffic on a WiMAX traffic versus operator VoIP on ertPS (enhanced real-time Polling Service).

What would be interesting to see is how they would 'throttle' or 'shape' the traffic based on demand and match it with WiMAX QoS classes. Cable companies have been aggressively trying to limit bandwidth hogs and they definitely want to do this on an 'open-garden' wireless network. On an open device it will be impractical to forcefully tag each user installed application with a specific QoS class. Carrier apps like VoIP and carrier offered services will have pre-assigned classes. Will this be necessarily at higher classes than user/3rd party apps and how will it interplay with net-neutrality 'rules'?

Option 1: All applications go through a BREW/Nokia/Apple iPhone style signing & certification requirement. All signed applications are allocated a specific QoS class that cannot be changed by users. Unsigned applications are always forced to be Best Effort by the device.

Option 2: Free for all. Let applications and users decide.

Obviously, this is all water under the bridge (eh?), Sprint has probably decided on their model already. I notice inklings of extending/replicating the Sprint Dev./Partnership program (for EVDO & Nextel LBS) for WiMAX. Sprint execs have already talked about 'open' access, but no SLA guarantees at this point.

But the most important thing will be to keep the plans simple and make great devices available. I can't imagine having to deal with the day+night/weekend minutes plan in the data world.

WiMAX does offer some interesting options for dynamic network management & business models:
- allocate more 'streams/sessions' for VoIP at peak times (8 to 10 am, 4 to 7 pm)
- in emergencies, first responders can have higher priority access and normal users get best effort web & text service that does not tax the air interface
- allow signed app. service providers to bid for better QoS or atleast pay more for better QoS
- ESPN and pay for a signed app. that delivers better quality (even Skype could), while YouTube is okay with best effort

Ofcourse this kind of dynamic network management would require lots of additional standards or one carrier on a large enough network (Sprint + Clearwire with a nationwide footprint).

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Accessing Exchange Email via Thunderbird on Mac

Opening attachments on my MacBook (Tiger) was a huge pain after switching to an Exchange email server. Double-clicking an attachment would launch the concerned application but would not download the entire file from the email server - while Outlook Web Access worked perfectly. The attachment files in the temporary folder would always be 24 KB. Finally a solution somebody suggested in a forum: there is an error in reporting attachment sizes, so make Thunderbird download the message 'entirely' instead of 'chunks'. It works! Back to some real work.

From Mozillazine:
"Thunderbird may truncate the attachments. Exchange and Gmail are know to cause this problem.

Go to the Config Editor, and enter chunks in the filter box. Toggle mail.server.default.fetch_by_chunks to false. That will make Thunderbird ignore the incorrect information."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Best PC Utility - PC Wizard

This is one of my favorite Windows PC utilities. It's called PC Wizard. It provides very detailed and accurate information on your computer. I have used it often on Dell's and Apple computers (when running on the Windows-side using BootCamp or even under a VM like Parallels). The details it provides are amazing: CPU and hard disk temperature gauges, current processor speed, memory/RAM details... stuff that most operating systems don't provide. A nice to have feature would be the ability to log time-indexed information like processor speed, temperature and so forth. That way you can see how intensively is the machine being used.

Saturday, January 5, 2008


Books I am reading (to be continuously updated)
  • Charlie Wilson's War by George Crille
  • Legacy of Ashes, the History of CIA by Tim Weiner
  • Inside the Tornado by Geoffrey Moore

TV advertising

Some thoughts on advertisements on television.

Good Ones (i.e. enjoyable for the viewer, hold their attention and get the message across)
  • Vytorin ( - Jan 5, 2008
Vytorin is a heart-condition pill. Unlike competitors who scare the hell out of you by showing clogged arteries and falling down people these guys show nice food and match it in with people dressed 'like' the food. There's too much pharmaceutical advertising on TV, especially during the evening news hour, to pay attention to anything. If TV is to be my doctor atleast make it informative and not over the top emotional. I am here to enjoy the entertainment and relax, not be reminded of all the personal problems. So anything that is pleasant enough and not loud enough to distract me from getting the real message of the ad is a plus. If I am to watch a 3 hour football game on TV I need to keep my senses in check with all the gazillion ads who drive people to hit the Tivo fast forward button.

-> I wish TV makers provided a voice command for mute (so I can yell 'mute' when the ads start) or atleast provide a really large mute button in the most obvious place on the remote (reachable by the thumb). I'll take the visuals, but no audio. That way I can watch a 3 hour game and not wind up as a hyper and tired zombie.

Bad Ones

Thursday, January 3, 2008

MacWorld 2008 Wishlist

Here's my personal wishlist on the computer side. Some of this has already been speculated in the press by analysts and reporters. But here's the wishlist of features that I, as a user, want.

1. Longer battery life
My MacBook has a decent battery life (~ 2.5-3 hours), but not enough to last a cross-country 4-5 hour plane trip. And lugging a large extra battery defeats the purpose of buying a 13" small laptop.

Now if this comes through a NAND-flash based 'permanent' storage or new battery technologies, I don't really care. If NAND-flash also decreases weight, even better! Tiger does start up fairly fast (from cold start or sleep) so I have no complaints/needs on that side.

2. Blu-Ray DVD support for Media Center for Music & Movies:
I plan to use my new Mac (iMac/mini/MacBook whatever it is) as a true media center connected to the LCD HDTV. FrontRow is outright excellent in playing movies, videos and music (and also for pictures) with its simple 6-button remote. In comparison the 50 button DVD remote gives me fits whether its dark or not. Blu-Ray support is key to ensuring the future of this vision.

3. Better multi-monitor support (I don't know the answer but there has to be a way)

At work I have a 20" LCD connected to my MacBook to increase the screen real estate available. Usually my office email or a browser window is always open there. Or sometimes a second spreadsheet or document that I am referring to while writing/editing the main one. This is incredibly useful not having to repeatedly alternate between windows - yes a real productivity booster.

Mac OS X loves Fitt's law, and I love the ability to just blindly hit/push the mouse to the top of the screen and always find the menu. (Also useful are the 4 hot corners, for setting up screensavers, all windows...). But this means that OS X sticks the menu's either to the main display or to the secondary display. Either way the applications in the 'other' window have no menu's. So if you have Excel in the 'secondary' window you have to go to the main window to click on a toolbar or menu item!

I have not seen a good solution to this problem. I am surprised that other users have not complained or solved this problem, given the large number of graphics experts who use Mac's and typically use multiple displays for their work. Also a lot of people at home are starting to use multiple displays, so pretty soon (I hope) the ratio of multi-display users tilts over 20% to get some attention.

May be a solution is to allow users to duplicate the menu & toolbar on every display on which the application has a window. Just one checkbox in the preferences window. Not sure if this is something the OS alone can do, or it requires all applications to support. If its the later, "Dear Mac Business Unit Product Manager at Microsoft, ...."

4. Hardware upgrade for the Mac mini

5. Lower prices for the wireless keyboard and mouse.

Yes, the other speculated things would be nice too...
  • Rental of movies will truly make the media center vision for Mac's a practically reality. Even though I have a Netflix-enabled computer connected to the LCD HDTV (via VGA/RGB)... you still have to browse via a web interface on the computer to select your movie and without any remote control. And ofcourse Netflix online movies do not work on Mac's (until the Silverlight version comes out - if it does).

VPN setup for Mac OS X Tiger (10.4.x)

I connect to a Microsoft Windows Server 2000 VPN and these instructions (PPTP) work.
  1. UCLA:
  2. UMass:
  • The UCLA site has instructions for both Tiger and Leopard (10.5.x).
  • Leopard VPN setup has an additional option that allows you to decide whether Internet traffic (non-VPN, like Google or Yahoo) will go through the VPN (i.e. tunneled through your organization's network) or through your local Internet connection (typically your ISP). But on a colleague's MacBook with Leopard upgrade this feature did not work. Even when the bypass option was enabled the default route was still through the VPN. Seems like a bug.
  • Most companies typically do not allow such a bypass while connected over the VPN for security reasons. The IT admins fear of a security risk: you are browsing on some Internet site that runs a malicious program on your computer while it is also connected to the company's network, exposing it to danger. They control this by installing the VPN client themselves and lockdown the options. This can be done easily on domain controlled Windows. Not sure if this restriction can be done easily on Mac's.
  • The UMass site has instructions on how to setup Tiger for doing the bypass. Ofcourse you have to follow these instructions everytime you connect via VPN. You can write a little script to automate this, assuming your default route at every location you connect from (home, coffee shop, friend's home...) are fixed. But this is a very useful feature when you are at home checking baseball scores while downloading company email. You may not want the traffic to the baseball site to go through the company's Internet connection. Hence the bypass!