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Small annoyances with community-based, Twitter-based support

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 1-Jan-2014 21:23

Free support for products with a huge user based can’t scale well. Large companies (including Microsoft and Google) realise this and most of the times reply with “post in our forums”, where a large group of users try to help other users and eventually someone from the company will try answering some questions.

Years ago I was a paying Google Apps customer and despite having a PIN to access support via email the reply was “please post in our forums”. I cancelled the service and moved to Office 365 (back then Microsoft BPOS) and never looked back. Microsoft’s paid support is excellent. Office 365 is very good and the Microsoft Premier engineers are very good. Microsoft folks on IIS.Net are excellent (and I had one of the IIS people  in Seattle actually help fixing a problem related to Dynamic IP Restrictions by remote accessing one of our servers).

But talk consumer products and things go down… Posts in support forums such as Google and Microsoft’s own forums are mostly answered by other users with the occasional official word coming in. Some of the answers are pretty good but most threads seem to go unanswered or replies are just more people reporting similar problems.

Then there’s Twitter. Large companies are monitoring Twitter for keywords but the fact 140 medium is limiting to describe problems, some people monitoring don’t seem to understand a question and what you see a lot is either links to completely unrelated answers or… “post in our forums’.

For example in the discussion below I replied to @MicrosoftAsia’s tweet about Skydrive by pointing out “Yes, I’m using it” and “I just can’t upload fast enough” as in if I could go faster I’d have even more stuff in there. Basically I said it’s working great, if i could I’d put more stuff in there.

What follows is someone from support contacting me asking if I have a problem. I say “thanks, but no it’s not a problem”. Even though there’s no problem they take the opportunity to remind me to post anything in the forums… I then take the opportunity to remind then that yes I do post in the forums, but never get answers (including a link to a topic about a windows 8 Mail app problem going on for months now without any solution). Their reply points to a “solution” that is not related to the same problem, not even the same product.

I think they must have a security policy of not opening links people send to them. Fair enough. But it also makes for frustrating “conversations”. I know it’s a small thing but trying to understand the question before replying with something completely unrelated is the least I would expect.



Storing files in the cloud, border searches and Windows Skydrive

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 1-Jan-2014 13:42

Just something that popped here and got me thinking… From TechDirt “Court Says Border Searches Of Your Computer Are Okay Because You Shouldn't Keep Important Info On Your Computer”:

“He goes on to suggest that since traveling internationally involves going into other countries, these same people would probably have even less privacy over their data, since other countries may be even more willing to search their computers. He even cites the situation of David Miranda having his electronics searched in the UK.

Surely, Pascal Abidor cannot be so naive to expect that when he crosses the Syrian or Lebanese border that the contents of his computer will be immune from searches and seizures at the whim of those who work for Bassar al-Assad or Hassan Nasrallah. Indeed, the New York Times recently reported on the saga of David Michael Miranda who was detained for nine hours by British authorities "while on a stop in London's Heathrow airport during a trip from Germany to Brazil."

While the judge's point is correct that other countries are unlikely to protect the privacy of travelers (sic) as well, and that means that any information on a laptop may be inherently unsafe, it seems like a bit of a weak copout to argue that since other countries have no respect for your electronic privacy, that the US shouldn't either.

He goes even further, arguing that because there's a "special need" at the border to stop bad people, that it's perfectly fine to ignore things like probable cause or reasonable suspicion -- again quoting Michael Chertoff to suggest that border laptop searches have stopped "bad people" from entering the US.”

Sure, one could think that storing data online (“cloud services” such as Microsoft Skydrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, Box and many others) then local search of an electronic device would have a much lesser impact in privacy.

But what about when the cloud service is tightly integrated into the OS, such as Microsoft Windows 8.1 and Skydrive? If you use an online account to login into Windows 8.1 then it automatically link into Skydrive and make access to it transparent (files are still stored locally only if you set those to be available offline though). Disconnecting the account is not easily done in this OS. The option would be to have a separate password or PIN to access the Skydrive app or to start downloads if the file is only available online.

Border offices wanting access to the laptop would ask for the password to the device, which could be freely given while still maintaining the files safely away. The argument here would be that border officials are inspecting the physical device crossing the border, which would be unrelated to the cloud service itself.

What do you think?



Alan Turing receives royal pardon

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 24-Dec-2013 15:58

From The Guardian: Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing receives royal pardon:

Alan Turing, the second world war codebreaker who took his own life after undergoing chemical castration following a conviction for homosexual activity, has been granted a posthumous royal pardon 59 years after his death.

The brilliant mathematician, who played a major role in breaking the Enigma code – which arguably shortened the war by at least two years – has been granted a pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy by the Queen, following a request from the justice secretary, Chris Grayling.

Turing was considered to be the father of modern computer science and was most famous for his work in helping to create the "bombe" that cracked messages enciphered with the German Enigma machines. He was convicted of gross indecency in 1952 after admitting a sexual relationship with a man.

About time I say. I believe he was one of the most important men in WWII and obviously the man who created the modern computer science.



Speedtest results, Vodafone cable, late 2013

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 8-Dec-2013 15:55

Today I decided to download a movie from Amazon Instant Video, and it came down quite fast. so I decided to go on a round of speedtests*. I am on a Vodafone cable plan (HFC network, 130 Mbps down/10 Mbps up).

Something must have changed because… just look at these numbers:

To Sydney:

To Los Angeles:

To Amsterdam:

And this is to Auckland:

Pretty impressive and well done Vodafone. Now we just need some larger caps at so we can use more of those speeds.

* Yes, I know speedtests aren’t conclusive. External networks have bottlenecks, servers may not have large enough capacity, etc. But it’s a reference as good as any and for what’s worth some of that do reflect in how fast your browsing, streaming and downloading work.



More passwords stolen. Rinse, repeat

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 5-Dec-2013 15:35

A server was found with two million passwords to social network sites, web-based email and other services, including Facebook (318,000), Yahoo! (60,000), Google (54,000), Twitter (21,000) and LinkedIn (8,000).

Passwords seem to come computers in the Netherlands, Thailand, Germany, Singapore and Indonesia.

Those passwords were collected by a network of zombies (botnet) infected with a keylogger, a small program that records whatever a user types into a computer.

This is just another batch of passwords in the public hands. During the last year we’ve seen account information (including encrypted passwords) leaked from Adobe (152 million!), Gawker (532,000), Yahoo! (453,000) and Sony (37,000).

Even if the service you use encrypt passwords there still ways of finding what these are (including statistical analysis and plain brute force). Just look at this blog post “Adobe credentials and the serious insecurity of password hints” to see how easy it can be for someone to find passwords when millions of records are available.

You should change passwords every few weeks or months, and to be on the safe side you should always use different password in each service. Also if your service offers a second form of authentication (a security token, code via SMS or email), then use it.

Troy Hunt has just created a new site called ‘;—have I been pwned? where you can enter your email address to check if it shows up in any of these “treasure chests”.



Windows 8 Mail app not hyperlinking emails

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 27-Nov-2013 13:15

I have been having a bad time getting the Windows 8 Mail app to hyperlink URLs in some text emails I receive. I have heard the “it’s a known issue” since the Windows 8 launch. Since most of these email come from Geekzone I’ve also heard the “you should send HTML emails” suggestion too. But I’m not alone, with other people reporting similar issues (1, 2 and 3) with most of the MVP and Microsoft support engineers responding with a “cannot reproduce” (where is the “known issue” then”"?)

For me this happens with Geekzone notifications emails, which are plain text only. Imagine my surprise when someone said “it works fine for me…”

I started digging a bit and found this other person was using an Outlook.com account. So for testing I changed my Geekzone account email to my Hotmail address. The change confirmation email arrived on my Windows 8.1 Mail app with correct hyperlink and all emails from Geekzone showed up with correct hyperlink inside the Windows 8 Mail app.

I then changed the email address in my Geekzone account back to my Office 365-hosted domain. And windows 8 Mail app went back to not showing hyperlinks.

Note Windows Phone Mail app hyperlinks these same emails just fine in both cases.

It seems there’s something strange happening between the Windows 8 Mail app and Office 365.



One of the seven HP Microservers arrived, are you in to win?

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 15-Nov-2013 18:55

Just received the prizes for our HP Microserver Gen8 giveaway (including the HP PS1810-8G switch and Windows Server Essentials 2012) and will forward to the winner early next week. Remember there is still time to enter the other competitions listed in this topic here

To our winner Noviota, congratulations!



Google Chrome cache performance

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 9-Nov-2013 10:40

This is a very interesting read about Google Chromium cache performance.

For example: "How long do you think it takes for an average Windows Chrome user to fill up the browser cache? Well, for those users who filled up their cache , 25% of them fill it up in 4 hours. 50% of them fill it up within 20 hours. 75% of them fill it up within 48 hours. Now, that's just wall clock time...but how many hours of "active" browsing does it take to fill the cache? 25% in 1 hour, 50% in 4 hours, and 75% in 10 hours. Wow. That seems really quick to me. Remember though, every resource goes into the cache, in order to support back-forward navigation."

Now this part is frightening: "So, a quickly filled up cache is a one reason why servers perceive a lower than expected cache hit rate. While chatting with Ricardo, he drew my attention to a few other anomalies in our metrics. First, a surprisingly high number of users like to clear their cache. Around 7% of users will clear their cache (via chrome://settings) at least once per week. Furthermore, 19% of users will experience fatal cache corruption at least once per week, thus requiring nuking the whole cache. Wow, the cache gets wiped, either explicitly by the user, or due to corruption, for a large chunk of our user base. We definitely need to investigate what's up with all this cache corruption."

I just looked back at the annual State of Browsers on Geekzone March 2013 and comparing to current stats I found that Google Chrome just went up to 44%, Firefox went down to 22% and Internet Explorer went down to 18%, in only seven months. That’s a huge shift towards Google Chrome.

How do you folks think this impact in someone using Chrome in terms of perceived performance? Have you ever noticed any performance change over the course of weeks when using Chrome? And with Internet Explorer 11 for Windows 7 available now (which includes performance improvements, compatibility, SPDY support and more) how is this going to affect things?



HP Microserver competition coming soon

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 8-Oct-2013 18:39

Some more information about the HP Microserver Gen8 competition I hinted in my previous blog post: I will soon post a review on Geekzone and we will have one of those to giveaway to our readers.

More importantly, as in previous HP competitions we have MORE THAN one blog giving those away over three weeks - and you will be able to enter in any or all of them for more chances. From the week of 27th October we will start the competition on Geekzone, with other blogs following (two or three per week). Keep an eye on this topic because I will update the schedule later.

In the mean time, here are the participating blogs/forums so you can bookmark them:



Vodafone increases prices on cable plans, adds new tier

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 4-Oct-2013 19:04

Vodafone has increased prices in its cable plans, going up an unbelievable $43.06 (44.88%) in the 150GB plan (130/10 Mbps speeds). They also added a $149 version of the plan with 250GB allowance:

And this is a “naked” service. No phone, no IPTV, or anything else. Compare this $139 for 150GB package to what I’m currently paying for the same service:

 

Why is this hard to swallow? Because Vodafone owns the cable network. It’s an asset, and it’s been deployed since the late 90s. It’s not like they have to pay UFB to a provider such as Chorus. This makes it more bizarre that they push these prices up.

This comes just after the company announced their new “Ultra Fast Broadband TV service”, a bundle of Internet, IPTV and VoIP. Notice though that UFB includes a $30 discount if you have a mobile with the company.

Disappointing that Vodafone has pushed the cable prices up for the 150GB tier, just months after bringing it down from the old TelstraClear prices. Also disappointing that the service has been lately plagued with slowdowns and outages and it took the company two weeks to get things fixed. Also disappointing that Vodafone seems to have a continuous problem with the way their traffic goes to Australia (Australia is becoming a very important CDN and content hub, so we should really push our ISPs to have great connectivity to our neighbours).

As for the new prices, compared to the Orcon $99 unlimited plan, those prices are too damn high.



freitasm's profile

Mauricio Freitas
Wellington
New Zealand


I live in New Zealand and my interests include mobile devices, good books, movies and food of course! 

I work for Intergen and I'm also the Geekzone admin. On Geekzone we publish news, reviews and articles on technology topics. The site also has some busy forums.

Subscribe now to my blog RSS feed or the Geekzone RSS feed.

If you want to contact me, please use this page or email me freitasm@geekzone.co.nz. Note this email is not for technical support. I don't give technical support. You can use our Geekzone Forums for community discussions on technical issues.

Here's is my full disclosure post.

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