My window to the world


Windows Phone updates, again

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 14-Feb-2013 20:26

The Windows Phone folks at Microsoft managed to raise my expectations and failed completely to deliver.

I tried for one last time updating two Windows Phone 7 devices I have here (mine and wife's) to the latest 7.8 release and again Zune says both are up to date and no updates are available. This is when Windows Phone 7.8 has been available for almost four weeks here in New Zealand.

Seeing that Microsoft persisted with the crappy experience in the Windows Phone ecosystem - taking this same "managed release" idea to Windows Phone 8, I just removed Zune from my laptop and won't bother updating the old handsets. And when they die we will just replace them with something that, you know. works.

If only they actually treated Windows Phone updates as serious business and delivered these instead of playing around.

As for my Nokia Lumia 920 (the one I use as my day phone), I will continue to use it. If anything happens then this too will be replaced with something else that just works. It might even have something happening by "accident" to this handset if I just get worked up enough.



Geekzone over the years: the tech behind the scenes

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 9-Feb-2013 16:49

As part of keeping up with times, this last weekend I finished moving the Hyper-V VMs behind Geekzone to Windows Server 2012. Someone in our forums was curious on how we could have Geekzone running on a single VM instance with no load balancers and so, so he asked me to post what's behind our website, how it changed over the years and what do we do to keep performance up.

We currently serve around 230,000 pages a day (user requests and AJAX request for some pages) plus other resources such as images, scripts and CSS files.

When I started Geekzone it was a domain in a shared host service called Ocoloco, provided by a small Masterton-based company called SiliconBlue. In 2003 Auckland-based ISP ICONZ bought Ocoloco and with that they became our hosting providers. Back then we had a single domain running on IIS, Classic ASP and a Microsoft Access database. We were serving 10,000 pages a month after a few months and that was BIG.

Our first project was to move from Microsoft Access to Microsoft SQL, still in the shared environment. We know Microsoft Access doesn't scale well, but back then we never thought we'd be serving more than 10,000 pages a month.

This worked out well until we got big enough that we had to sometimes call our provider and ask them to restart their SQL server two or three times a day, due to the server crashing under our load. ICONZ suggested we should really get our own server (back then virtual environments weren't a big thing).

We bought our first server from ICONZ, an Acer server with 3GB RAM. We installed Windows Server 2003 and Microsoft SQL. An entire server just for us! It worked fine for a few years until we got to the point where our requirements were really pushing the limits of that 32 bit hardware.

HP came into play and we were supplied with a HP Proliant DL360 server (like the one in the picture above) with 10GB RAM. Loaded with Windows Server 2008 and Hyper-V we had enough to run a VM for Geekzone (IIS/SQL database), a test VM and a monitoring VM.

That's when I started getting serious about performance. While many companies solve their performance problems by installing more hardware we tried to use more of the resources we had available. The monitoring VM runs SQL Sentry and SQL Monitor for database monitoring, cache plan testing and other management tasks. I spent a lot of time optimizing indexes, working the database model and so on.

At this time I also decided to move from a single IIS worker model to a multiple workers (IIS web garden). To get to this point I had to write our session management routines using the SQL database to allow for persistence between the odd server restart (we do restart servers after applying the monthly patches released by Microsoft every second Tuesday of the month) and to allow session to persist between IIS workers. I also worked with Redjungle's Phil to have separated email notification delivery from the web application, as well creating a metaweblog API for our blogging platform and a couple of .Net MVC web sites (Geekzone Mobile and Geekzone Jobs).

Another advantage of this approach is the ability to scale out - and it does work well as I found out when migrating our applications from the old Windows Server 2008 VM to the new Windows Server 2012 VM. I was able to move web applications one at a time and sessions worked across different hosts, sharing the database across a Hyper-V private network.

Around the time we started playing with performance I got to meet the folks at Aptimize, now Riverbed Aptimizer. Aptimize was a Wellington-based company until Riverbed acquired them in 2011. The software works automatically, examining all pages served from our servers and applying rules that determine how to optimize web pages for best client performance. This includes image sprite creation, script and CSS minification, URL rewrite for CDN resources, lazy loading images, loading async scripts and so on. We start using Aptimizer and it improved page speed almost instantly so we had time to put a lot of effort into the database side of things, to get everything a step further.

Around 2009 we decided to move our server from ICONZ, mainly due to colocation and traffic costs. We know 60% of our traffic is New Zealand-based, and of those 75% is from Auckland alone, so when the time came for us to move hosting companies we examined a few companies around Auckland and decided to go with Datacom. They were really good at putting together a package for our small one man operation. And so one day we unplugged the server at ICONZ, loaded it into Nate's car and drove across Auckland to its new home. The Datacom datacenter is so huge that I am pretty sure i might not ever see the server again.

The Datacom move was really good, with improved bandwidth giving our users even faster access to our website. But we know a lot of people access Geekzone from outside New Zealand so we started using a CDN to distribute the heavy resources around the world. Initially with MaxCDN (their prices are really good) and lately with Cloudflare. There are two reasons we moved to Cloudflare: they have a POP in Sydney, which is pretty close to New Zealand, so we could move to them with low impact to our users and their Pro plans support SSL for the CDN - which was a problem for us before (we used to have different CDN rewrites for SSL and non-SSL pages, now we have only one).

We do not use Cloudflare for page optimization because that would add unnecessary round trips for the majority of ours users. But using Aptimizer together with Cloudflare for CDN we can get our resources closer to users, manage the cache expire in their browsers and in the ISP's proxies making all faster than ever.

Since then we increased memory on the server to 24GB to allow for better memory management as well. And while our Windows Server 2008 was working perfectly well, I decided to move to Windows Server 2012 for a few reasons but mainly because of a faster OS startup, OS support for NIC teaming, and Hyper-V Dynamic Memory. And also because this is Geekzone so why not then?

So that's it. A bit of geek history and things I've done the last few years. More to come (and if you need more information or some help with your current setup, contact me and we can have a chat).



Testing image blogging from Windows Phone 8 with Diarist

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 17-Jan-2013 10:41

Diarist is a Windows Phone app developed by fellow Geekzone user Kev Daly. It has some cool features including Share option in photos so we can upload and blog an image and it works with Metaweblog API.

Testing it on Windows Phone 8, you can ignore this post.






Reminder: NZNOG 2013 is upon us

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 10-Jan-2013 09:00

If you are subscribed to the NZNOG list you might have seen this announcement. Otherwise if you are in any way working in the network operations landscape in New Zealand, read on...

The NZNOG 2013 programme is now available online. Confirmed speakers are:

  • Scott Bartlett (Orcon) - UFB one year in
  • Andrew McDonald (Vodafone) - RBI Wholesale 12 months.
  • Colin Dyer (GeoNet) and Ewen McNeill (Naos, Consultant) - Geonet: 1pps to 10,000 hits/second.
  • Beatty Lane-Davis - SDN: accelerating the pace of evolution in packet and transport networks
  • Sam Russell (REANNZ) - Thimble: OpenFlow-enabled device
  • David Brownlie (REANNZ) - perfSONAR for measuring performance, and troubleshooting.
  • Donald Love - UFB realities
  • Philip Smith (APNIC) - IPv4 / IPv6 route table analysis for NZ
  • Phil Regnauld (NSRC) - DNSSEC
  • George Michaelson (APNIC) - Last words on IPv6
  • Stu Fleming (WIC) - On being a WISP
  • Plus updates from NZRS, APNIC, CityLink, IPv6 Task Force, WAND and InternetNZ.

The NZNOG 2013 is happening in Wellington. Workshops 21st - 23rd January, Tutorials 23rd January, Conference presentations 24th - 25th January. There are two side events happening as well (a drinks evening and an official dinner).

Check the programme for more information and registration.



Are mobile phones sold in New Zealand locked?

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 9-Jan-2013 13:28

Just to make it clear: mobile phones sold in New Zealand through mobile operator stores are not locked, except the ones sold by Skinny.

If you buy a mobile with support for at least three 3G bands (850/900/2100 MHz WCDMA) then you should be covered to use those in all mobile operators around the country. That's because Telecom New Zealand runs a 850 MHz WCDMA network, while Vodafone and 2degrees Mobile have the use of the 900/2100 MHz WCDMA bands.

Make sure you look at the WCDMA (3G) specs. If you buy a mobile with 850 MHz 2G it will not work on Telecom as Telecom runs a 100% 3G network.

Do not rely on Phone Arena to check if the phone is suitable, as most of the times the bands listed do not take in consideration different models sold in different markets.

Stay away from any mobile phone seller advertising phones with "Works on 2degrees only". In special if you see this on Trade Me close the page and walk away. They are most likely reported stolen or lost and blocked from working on Telecom and Vodafone (hence the "works on 2degrees only" in the ads).

If you have a locked Skinny mobile you can get a free unlock code after nine months or pay $30 to get the code. Check the Skinny page about phone locking.



More Windows Phone account troubles

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 22-Dec-2012 13:36

What's with Microsoft and badly designed/implemented account management systems?

First I couldn't add a credit card to pay for things (take my money already!), and now I can't remove an old Windows Phone device from my account.

Then as I try updating the phone number on my new device, I get another error:

They sure have some problems implementing basic stuff there.

UPDATE: And it seems if you go device.live.com and from there to the Windows Phone list the "Remove" link doesn't work. If you go through the windowsphone.com website through the device list and select "Account Settings" then you can remove the device and update the number. Why two different ways of getting to the same place, and only one works?

Also, having said that. Posted a comment to @WinPhoneSupport on Twitter and receive a reply in less than five minutes with a good suggestion (unrelated by good troubleshooting start). Plus karma points for them.



Wireless charging Windows Phone

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 17-Dec-2012 17:07

And it is here:

Wireless charging. If you have a Nokia Lumia 920 then you just need to plug the charger to the wall and as soon as you drop the phone on the plate it will charge.

The Nokia Lumia 920 has everything needed for wireless charging out of the box. If you have a Nokia Lumia 820 then you need to replace the original cover with a special one that enables wireless charging.

Very cool, having the charging plate on your desk, just lie the phone on top of it and charge away. As you can see in the photo it even works with the Otterbox Commuter case.



Microsoft should update Windows Phone update

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 17-Dec-2012 12:39

I previously commented on how I thought Microsoft should split Windows Phone 8 updates in different types and deliver those without interference from the operators and OEMs. It seems this is something is being done - if we actually have had updates yet.

We now see that some OEMs have been receiving Windows Phone 8 updates before others, and some countries come first. This means we will again get into that old game of waiting, waiting, waiting for updates.

Here is how I would like to see it working: use the Windows Update infrastructure for deployment. It's tested and supports heavy loads. Every second Tuesday of the month (Wednesday 7am New Zealand time) Windows Updates are available to everyone, around the world, at the same time. You can manually start an update at that time, or let your PC do the automatic update which will happen sometime during the next couple of days.

I would also like to see this certainty in Windows Phone. Something like "every last Friday of the month there's an update available". And that would be available to everyone, exactly like the Windows Update for desktop is available. This could be for example small fixes, like the SMS timezone bugs affecting New Zealanders who see SMS with +13 hours difference - almost like they're applying the timezone shift twice. This should be a simple fix, so why do we have to wait months to see it here?

Yes, I understand some updates require the mobile operator blessing, but those should not block updates that fix things in the OS and don't touch anything related to the mobile network. These should have a separate schedule.

This is another thing Microsoft could do to differentiate itself from competitors in the smartphone market.



Game Masters at Te Papa Museum of New Zealand

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 15-Dec-2012 09:41

I visited the Game Masters exhibition at Te Papa with some journalists yesterday, before its opening from today 15th December.

We were given an hour tour highlighting the different aspects of gaming development, moving from entertainment to art form, social and family integrator. Lots of hands on stuff around the floor - from old early 1980s arcades to the latest Kinect games using a huge projection screen. You will also see artwork used to develop characters and backdrops for famous games, plus a handy store on the way with lots of memorabilia.

Here are some photos so you can have an idea of what's available around.























Windows Server 2012 Standard lands, work begins

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 14-Dec-2012 22:39

The boxes are here:

Now I can start the "official" work on planning our Geekzone migration. Exciting.



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.

If you'd like to help me keep Geekzone going, please use this Geekzone Amazon affiliate link when placing any orders on Amazon.

A couple of blog posts you should read:

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