My window to the world

Google crawling Geekzone HTTPS

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 22-May-2017 16:00

Last week (May 2017) I made the changes to start serving Geekzone over HTTPS (and this blog too). This included removing extra lines of code that dealt with HTTP to HTTPS redirection for some pages (the ones that were always served as HTTPS before the switchover) as well as setting HST header and other changes on the server side.

Immediately after the changes I used Google Webmaster and Bing Webmaster tools to let search engine crawlers know about this change. Pretty happy on how things are going:

Googlebot crawling the new HTTPS domain:

Googlebot crawl

Search results showing the old HTTP URLs:

http search

Search results now showing the new HTTPS URLs (the line before the big uptick is the content pages already served over HTTPS, before the whole site changed):

https search

Geekzone gone full HTTPS

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 19-May-2017 10:38

Last night I switched Geekzone ( to full HTTPS support. And slowly traffic over SSL is going up (comparing last six hours overnight vs last month).

Up until now we only used SSL for login, registration, private messages and profile pages plus assets (images, CSS and scripts).

Now everything is covered.

I started using SSL many years ago and wanted to have the site fully served over HTTPS for quite a while. Started by enforcing HTTPS on some content-sensitive pages and moving assets to HTTPS domains, including redirects to ensure clients used the correct schema. Last week I deployed an update for Geekzone mobile to make sure it worked on HTTPS and yesterday I did the same on the full desktop version of the site.

Also included in this change is the addition of a "Secure" flag to cookies used on these domains. This ensures cookies only move between the client browser and server when there's a secure connection. If anyone requests instead of the server will instruct the browser to redirect to the correct location while the browser knows not to disclose the cookies until the secure connection is established. This is essential to avoid session hijacking (unless of course we talk MITM attacks, of course).

Why have all this trouble for a forum? Because we have lots of industry (telcos mainly but other companies around too) people using the site. Account numbers, PIN and passwords are sometimes sent via our private message system (which has been served using the HTTPS schema for quite a while) so it makes sense to extend this to the whole site.

In addition to this, for the last few months I have been using ThisData to collect, analyse and understand user behaviour around the site, in real-time, to quickly determine if an account could've been compromised. Up until now we were using it in "read mode" and tracking notifications. Last week I changed the webhook/API to actually start closing sessions and blocking IP addresses if a user confirms a breach occurred.

ThisData receives millions of transactions reports (login, logout, forum post, message sent, message read, password change, new registration, avatar change, invalid password, etc) from us every month and uses machine learning to observe and assign a "risk" to each transaction. Based on this risk result our forum software can take different actions to protect our users - like the ones I described in the previous paragraph.

I have also added a Geekzone ruleset to the HTTPS Everywhere project. This ensures that browsers using the HTTPS Everywhere add-ons will know to use the HTTPS schema instead of HTTP even if the source explicitly refer to the HTTP version (including references to any Geekzone resource served in non-Geekzone pages). This is important because Cloudflare also uses the same ruleset when doing the automatic HTTPS upgrade for some of their millions of clients around the Internet.

We also use other platforms to prevent spammers and scammers joining the site. One or another can sometimes get past all this protection but our moderator team is pretty quick to act and our community is really good at reporting suspicious behaviour.

There are lots more to be done, for sure. But it feels good when all this falls into place.

Update 20 May: Added HSTS headers now, site listing update on HTTPSWatch NZ.

Microsoft Ignite New Zealand, Microsoft Surface Studio

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 30-Oct-2016 17:25

Earlier this week I had the chance to attend this year's Microsoft Ignite New Zealand. This was the ninth year I attended the event, previously known as Microsoft TechEd.

Many, many things changed over the years and while Microsoft Ignite is still a technology event at heart, things changed, just the same as Microsoft did over the years.

If you were one of the couple of thousands of attendees you had the chance to learn not only from technical sessions but also from personal development sessions, ones created to let people progress in their careers not only by their geeky prowess but by being better at how these are used in the context of relating to yourself, other people in your job and your life.

If you attended the keynote session you'd have heard from local Microsoft people and international guests who showed how to use technology to "empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more."

The message was powerful and easy to understand: technology for technology sake was hot. Today's technology is used to make lives better. From using Internet of Things and Big Data to make better, intelligent wheelchairs to solving global water challenges with cloud technology.

I had the chance to talk to Microsoft experts from different areas, from Donna Sarkar (MIcrosoft Windows 10 and Windows Insider) to Donovan Brown (on how Microsoft is making DevOps an integral part of its stack) and all of these had the passion make this mission come to life.

During the same week Microsoft announced its new Surface device. A long term project, which goes back to the first Surface concept (remember the Surface table?) this all-in-one computer integrates design and functionality, plus extra accessories that can help developers create new interfaces and experiences, making it a dream - one that will be here in early 2017.

Watch the video below and tell me it's not a work of art?

If the headlines indicate the quality of news in New Zealand…

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 11-Apr-2016 20:39

When you see these headlines on Stuff you know they’ve reached peak low-quality (peak/low?). It almost looks like their daily meetings go like “Hey we don’t have stories for today, is that ok if I post a video plucked from YouTube with a ‘[something] goes viral’ in the headline?”

  • The true story behind the love video that went viral
  • Dancing cop video goes viral
  • Video of selfie-obsessed girl goes viral
  • Highway wee video goes viral
  • Video of Thai leader 'petting' reporter goes viral
  • Patrick Gower's 'thug life' goes viral
  • Samsung's 'see through' truck goes viral
  • One-guitar quintet goes viral
  • Taupo policeman's dance duel goes viral
  • Woman's 'leggings ain't pants' video goes viral
  • Madcap machine work goes viral
  • Hip-hop artist's video goes viral
  • Teen's virtual duet with Jessie J goes viral
  • Boy's cardboard arcade goes viral
  • Amazing Games defensive display goes viral
  • Gone viral: Bouquet toss fail
  • Fear of flying? Don't watch this video
  • Dog bites shark and goes viral
  • Saudi 'no woman, no drive' parody goes viral
  • Work-from-home mum's take on YouTube viral
  • Pregnancy prank goes viral
  • New Hampshire rap goes viral
  • Maloney's son's grand final trip goes viral
  • Helmet-cam cycle incident goes viral
  • Flashmob dance proposal goes viral
  • 'Life-affirming' electric wheelchair invented in Otaki goes viral
  • Gay teen's abuse video goes viral

Yes, these are real headlines. From a major newspaper.

Geekzone data analytics with Power BI

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 3-Apr-2016 12:49

In the past I have looked at Geekzone data to find trends, influentials and other information. This data was used to support decisions such as “should we create a new forum for this subject” or “should we close this sub-forum?” and so on. We also used it for marketing, answering questions such as “Where are the discussions around [insert subject here] and who are the participants”.

Lately I have been using a lot of Microsoft Power BI at Intergen. It is a great tool to create dashboards that tell a story, or for people to find and work on trends that data reveal. So I decided to use Power BI on Geekzone as well and make some of this information public.

Basically I created a Geekzone Power BI dashboard which visitors can use to check some of the data we have – answering questions such as “What sub-forums have the most discussions?” or “How many participants reply on an average discussion in the [insert sub-forum here]”. It is even fun to see how big jumps caused sub-forum to come up – for example looking at when Freeview was launched in New Zealand or the months when a new iPhone or Samsung device came out  you can clear see a trend growing on each related sub-forum.

Around 2013 we created a +1 feature on Geekzone. This allows people to support a reply by giving an “approval” without having to post “I like this”. The user who posted the replies can see who voted for his post. But when you look at the data you start seeing different things. For example you can see who gets more votes in different sub-forums and where their interests lie.

Every year, around March, I post a Geekzone State of the Browser based on Google Analytics data. Last night I decide to add this data to Power BI. This means that instead of having an annual report based on the last 30 days of data anyone can have a look at reports updated to the previous day, with data covering any period from a month to all the data we ever had – just clicking on filters. This data covers the entire period we have Google Analytics on Geekzone – since December 2005.

You can clearly see when smartphones as we know now came to the market – the small presence of this technology appearing for the first time in 2010. You can also see the decline of Internet Explorer and the rise of Google Chrome.

I have been fine tuning these charts as we go – and there’s more to come.

Data is updated twice daily so you know it is always the freshest dataset around. Go have a play: Geekzone Power BI dashboard.

State of browsers Geekzone March 2016

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 2-Apr-2016 21:09

It is time for the annual report on browser usage around Geekzone. At the bottom of this post you will find links to previous years so you can compare these numbers with previous years.

These charts are based on Google Analytics data collected during the 31 day period ending 31th March 2016. I realise part of our audience is more technically inclined, so our numbers are different from those presented by other more mainstream websites (such as Trade Me and news sites) but we have a huge number of non-tech visitors landing in our pages from search results seeking solutions for their problems.

This data is for desktop visitors only.

Overall Google Chrome continues to grow, going from 53% one year ago to 57% now. Both Internet Explorer and Firefox had a small decline in numbers, with the difference mainly going to the new Microsoft Edge browser.

New Zealand numbers are again very close to the worldwide numbers:

Here is the split for New Zealand users between business and after hours. This year Safari is taking the lead over Internet Explorer usage at home, with the difference again going to the new Microsoft Edge browser:

Internet Explorer 8 and Internet Explorer 9 are now on the way out and at last Internet Explorer 6 disappears from our stats:

In terms of operating systems it pretty much remains unchanged from last year.

And at last Windows Vista disappears from the Microsoft Windows chart:

Previous posts for comparison:

2Cheap Cars discussion

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 12-Mar-2016 09:42

I have posted a longer version of our 2Cheap Cars problems and troubles saga on Geekzone – we have a sub-forum for cars, bikes and other vehicles there.

Enough to say we aren’t happy with 2Cheap Cars.

Now with more fibre

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 31-Jan-2016 10:34

My previous entries in this blog have been about how bad Vodafone's HFC (commonly know as "cable") have turned and how slow things are moving towards a resolution. This is something that started happening since the company introduced "unlimited" plans back in late 2014. Customers have had almost constant periods where Internet speeds were anywhere from 10% to 50% of the offered plans - on a service that was known for reliably and consistently deliver 100% all the time.

This is not solved yet as we still see reports of work in progress, new node replacements and customers still seeing the dip in speeds in the evenings.

I joined cable when it was still called Chello, provided by Saturn (before being TelstraSaturn, TelstraClear and then finally, Vodafone). Below is the welcome pack given to customers joining the cable TV and broadband services:

When we bought a house one of the main points in the checklist was the possibility to connect to the cable network. This was when broadband wasn't a thing, when people in ADSL areas couldn't get more than 10Mbps, etc. It was a good run, more than 16 years but enough is enough.

I have been waiting patiently for fibre to arrive in our area. I said many times in the Geekzone discussion on this topic that if fibre was available here before Vodafone fixed their HFC woes, then I'd saw. When Chorus started work in our area I was worried about install costs, time, etc.

Well, last week we got a card in the mailbox. Fibre is here, and available now. So I had to go ahead and swap. 2degrees broadband got our business. Install was initially set to a couple of weeks later but I got a call from our new provider saying Chorus had a team working weekends and if I minded them doing the job this Saturday. By all means, go ahead!

The install was easy. We are lucky that we didn't need consent from neighbours and lucky our connection was an aerial drop instead of an underground cable. The two technicians had the whole thing installed and tested in about 90 minutes. I swapped our router to the ONT, reconfigured to PPoE using the 2degrees credentials and instant results.

Now we are another household part of the "Number of fibre-connected kiwis" statistics. And one less Vodafone HFC customer.

PS. By the way, I found the Saturn Welcome Pack emptying a cabinet drawer while waiting for the Chorus technicians to finish their install. What an interesting twist.

Unlimited is not unlimited: Vodafone cable going gigabit

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 10-Nov-2015 14:58

Microsoft has backed out of “unlimited” storage for OneDrive. American ISPs are more and more placing limits on plans available to consumers. Locally we had the debacle of Vodafone cable hitting extremely poor performance – most notably since the “unlimited” plan was released to their customers earlier this year (see my previous post “How bad is Vodafone cable at the moment?”)

It’s a surprise to me then that our media is making it known that Vodafone is planning to invest $22 million in bringing up to gigabit speeds for their cable network without asking the obvious question: if their network can’t cope with customers consuming 100 Mbps now, how can we be sure the 1Gbps service will be “usable”?

There is a reason why Wired published an article today saying "there's no such thing as unlimited data".

Things to think about (and I am not sure it’s in that $22 million plan): capacity planning, actual bandwidth availability, resource management, setting high expectations.

Yes, I’m a pessimist. Or a realist.

UPDATE: Vodafone cable is failing tonight, no DNS resolution and proxy problems.

How bad is Vodafone cable at the moment?

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 22-Sep-2015 19:39

For the last few months (at least since a discussion on Geekzone was created around April 2015, but a couple of months before that) Vodafone customers on cable (the old TelstraClear network) have been trying really hard to keep calm.

At some point, after a few complaints Vodafone decided to put some work into the network and sent out a letter to customers promising things would be better by end of September.

Once the fastest thing around, with speeds of up to 130 Mbps before fibre was even a dream around the country, the Vodafone cable network (in Wellington, Kapiti and Christchurch) started showing signs of ageing. Things started going downhill with the launch of unlimited plans around end of 2014. People moved to unlimited plans with 100 and 130 Mbps options and soon things were really bad, from 7pm through midnight.

And that was even before Netflix opened its doors in New Zealand and the other ISPs started seeing similar performance problems. But it seems most ISPs were not affected or recovered quickly.

Here is one of my speedtest results:

This is on a 130 Mbps connection, over a wired connection, with a gigabit capable router, to Vodafone's own servers. This service would usually show 130 Mbps at any time of the day but now most of the time someone is at home (in the evenings), when we really want to use the service… it's unusable.

This is the performance for New Zealand ISPs according to the Truenet report August 2015. See the red line? That's the drop in speed for Vodafone cable, averaged during the month:

And the advertised speed vs actual:

The letter sent to customers back in May say work is being done and completion is expected by September. I understand this work involves changes in the core network infrastructure, changes to hardware in nodes, enable more channels, software updates.

Vodafone staff are doing a great job of updating the Geekzone discussion as works progresses, as well as keeping an update of work being done in their own Vodafone community site. I really hope this is not going to disappoint us. Fibre is just in front of our driveway now:

freitasm's profile

Mauricio Freitas
New Zealand

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

I'm the Geekzone admin. On Geekzone we publish news, reviews and articles on technology topics. The site also has some busy forums. Also worth visiting is TravelTalk NZ, a community for travelers!

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 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.

A couple of blog posts you should read:

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Geekzone gone full HTTPS...
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If the headlines indicate the ...
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Now with more fibre...
Unlimited is not unlimited: Vo...
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