You know when you’ve been Blimped

What’s that noise in the sky? Is it a flying lawnmower?Goodyear Blimp

What about that funny cigar shape? A UFO?

If you’re in London right now, it’s more likely to be the European Goodyear Blimp – “Spirit of Safety I” – operating a major flying campaign in the London area.

With the massive summer of events and sports in London, it’s hardly surprising. As well as advertising tyres, the Blimp also carries TV equipment to help cover major sporting events from the air. The blimp will be with us all summer long.

It’s a daily sight in my neighbourhood at the moment, as I’m just on the edge of London City Airport’s airspace, which the Blimp has to skirt around on it’s way from it’s London moorings at Damyns Hall airstrip in the Dagenham Marshes, to Central London.

Indeed, some people think the blimp is following them around, as it buzzes the skies of London.

“The Goodyear Blimp followed me home…”

“Goodyear blimp over Leigh-on-sea. Does anyone else find airships a bit weird?”

“Why does the Goodyear blimp keep hovering round where I can see it. It freaks me out a bit.”

the Goodyear blimp just went over my house. idk why but it terrifies me & i get really nervous whenever i see it.”

I sympathise with these last two. I used to be terrified of the damn thing too, and while that has long since passed, I still find it fascinatingly eerie.

When I was little, the Goodyear blimp used to use the airport near the house where I grew up as it’s local mooring. I must have been about 5, enjoying a summer Sunday in the back garden, when the blimp appeared. Back in the 1970’s the European blimp, “Europa”, was silver and way noisier than today’s Spirit of Safety with it’s little engines.Why was it hovering over my parents’ garden? Spoiling my afternoon!

Well, I ran in the house like a crazy person. And locked myself in the bathroom. Probably because it was the only room in the house with a lock on the door (so it couldn’t “get in” – we’ll ignore the fact it would have to get in the house and up the stairs for now), and the frosted glass meant it couldn’t “see me”.

So, I understand your apprehension when it feels like the blimp is stalking you

How do you feel when you see the blimp overhead?

M&S Salted Caramel Ice Cream

I know salted caramel has been quite the in thing for some time, but finally, M&S have now caught on, and now do a pretty decent salted caramel ice cream.

It’s good, yes. But it, like others, is still nowhere near as good as the salted caramel made by Bi-rite creamery in San Francisco’s Mission District.

But, 11000 miles a long round trip (and a lot of jet lag) for some ice cream. Even ice cream that good. So M&S will just have to do when I want a treat… 🙂

Chicken Phal – in a supermarket near you…

Getting your large supermarket shop delivered is a double-edged sword.

You don’t have to go to the supermarket, which is a plus point. I also think it means I save money, even after including the delivery charge, as I’m not having to pay for petrol and I don’t make impulse buys.

But, you do miss gems such as this…

Sainsbury’s did some relaunching of their curry ready meal range since I last actually browsed around one of their shops. They haven’t significantly changed things – the quality is still the same, they make one of the best supermarket curry ranges, I think.

They have repackaged things and added a few new dishes… including a Chicken Phal!

For the uninitiated, a phal is a notch up from a vindaloo on the strength-o-meter, a scorching hot curry allegedly invented by British curry chefs to satisfy the macho desires of pissed up lads who enjoy eating their curry while bathed in sweat, crying.

For those of you who don’t believe me, here it is…

This probably has to go down as the hottest supermarket ready meal available. I wonder how it’s selling?

Once an iPhone user, always an iPhone user?

I happened to come across an interesting graph while looking at the stats which photo-sharing site Flickr collect from the EXIF data that sometimes arrives with the uploaded images.

One of the things contained in the EXIF data is what sort of device produced the image, who made it, what model, etc. Flickr analyses this in the “Camera Finder“.

Here’s the graph of the most popular cameraphones used on images posted to Flickr over the past 12 months.

Graph of most popular mobile phone cameras that upload images to flickr

One thing this seems to confirm is that iPhone users seem to be a faithful bunch.

The other thing it confirms is the theory that many iPhone users don’t upgrade their handset with every generation, but are likely to “skip” a generation – borne out by the step decline in iPhone 3G images matched by a step growth in images posted from the 4S, while the iPhone 4 only sees a small dip coinciding with the release of the 4S.

The 3GS has a steadily dwindling userbase, and it will be interesting to see if and how these jump ship. I still have a 3GS. In the main I’m happy with it and what it does, and there’s nothing which tells me I need to upgrade to a 4S. I guess that places me into the “long tail” of 3GS users.

It’s also interesting to note the Apple domination of the top 5. I wonder if that graph will look the same by this time next year?

IBM Bans Siri – Over an age old concern…

IBM has banned it’s staff from using Siri – Big Blue has allowed it’s staff to BYOD and use their iPhone 4S on the company’s networks, but banned the use of Siri over fears that the sound bites uploaded for processing by Siri could contain IBM proprietary information, which could be stored indefinitely, and analysed by Apple.

This isn’t a new concern for corporates. It came to the forefront when employees commonly used services like MSN Messenger to keep in touch with their colleagues, and of course all but the paranoid thought nothing of discussing company business over IM, in unencyrpted packets, routed over the commodity Internet, to some server farm their employer didn’t have any control over. Who knows if and how long a messaging service could retain transcripts of chat sessions? Or if the packets were “sniffed” in transit and the transcript rebuilt?

Companies then got wise and started to provide internal IM systems which they had control over, and having their IT departments block external chat platforms (let’s assume we’re talking about vanilla users who don’t know how to punch their way through these things for now). This also obviously helped for things like regulatory compliance.

Most recently, this has moved into the social networking arena, with things such as Twitter and Facebook – people have lost their jobs over committing corporate faux-pas on a publically viewable service. This has opened the doors to platforms such as Yammer, a SAAS-based corporate social networking platform, who seek to give the company back some control. All the things your employees know and love about social networking, but just for your company and it’s staff, with you in control of the data and the rules. Your regulatory compliance people can sleep easier at night.

So, while there’s no current evidence to support the notion that Apple are using Siri to spy on Big Blue, it’s fair to say that IBM aren’t bellyaching: I think it’s a legitimate data privacy concern, and it’s one that you should share.

When you post something on Twitter, or Facebook, or write a blog, you know that you’re putting it out into some sort of public (or shared) domain. You expect other people to see it, and you expect it to be stored (though maybe you’re not clear on just how long it’s being stored!).

I think people’s mindset is different when talking to Siri. They have the concept, in their head, they are talking to their phone, and overlook the fact that what they’ve just said has been uploaded to a server farm, possibly in a location outside of their home jurisdiction, to be processed. Do those of you who use Siri even think about that is what happens? Or that what they have just said has been placed into storage, potentially forever?

So many of the geeks I know are horders by nature, so it’s a force of habit for them to turn on lots of logging and want to keep everything forever (or at least until the storage runs out or they can’t afford anymore), “just in case they need it”, and I suspect the backend of Siri is written no differently, because that’s how programmers are.

Given a company the size of Apple, I don’t think there’s any concerns about the storage running out, and the Siri licence agreement doesn’t say for how long you’re consenting to Apple storing the soundbites collected by Siri. With a large enough sample size, statistical analysis also makes it easier to find needles in such haystacks, and we’re getting increasingly good at it.

Could market intelligence generated from analysis of Siri requests even be revenue stream for Apple in due course?

My opinion is that it is a legitimate privacy concern…

A table for 25? Not currying any favour with me…

Many of you will know that I’m involved in organising the UKNOF meetings.

Some of you will know that I don’t understand this obsession that many UKNOF attendees have with going en-masse for a curry (usually with someone’s employer picking up the tab) the evening beforehand.

What is the attraction, apart from maybe not having to pay for it yourself, of sitting at a big long table, when all it achieves is you having to yell at the person next to you in order to have a conversation while receiving iffy service of usually disappointing (sometimes downright poor) food?

It’s no good for mixing and networking, one of the attractions of going for dinner with industry colleagues, as you can only bellow your conversation at your immediate neighbours, either because everyone else is pissed and shouting, or just to make yourself heard over the loud sitar music.

Sitting in tables of 6-8 would help a lot with conversation, and probably improve service as well!

It’s also not a good dining experience. The most recent curry being a particular lowlight, when a) I hardly ate any of what I ordered because it was so unpleasant (and it wasn’t as though I’d ordered a phall!), and b) I was later unwell in the middle of the night. I should have seen the warning signs when they handed us each a sticky, laminated menu card, I guess.

While I don’t think of myself as entirely Grumpy Old Man as yet, I still don’t really see the attraction…

I also can’t talk about drunken behaviour in curry houses without a link to Rowan Atkinson’s Indian Restaurant sketch… It is a tricky bit of floor. Deceptively flat…

What might OpenFlow actually open up?

A few weeks ago, I attended the PacketPushers webinar on OpenFlow – a networking technology that, while not seeing widespread adoption as yet, is still creating a buzz on the networking scene.

It certainly busted a lot of myths and misconceptions folks in the audience may have had about OpenFlow, but the big questions it left me with are what OpenFlow stands to open up, and what effect it might have on many well established vendors who currently depend on selling “complete” pieces of networking hardware and software – the classic router, switch or firewall as we know it.

If I think back to my annoyances back in the early 2000’s it was of the amount of feature bloat creeping into network devices, while we still tended to have a lot of monolithic operating systems in use, so a bug in a feature that wasn’t even in use could crash the device, because the code would be running, even if it wasn’t in use. I was annoyed because there was nothing I could do other than apply kludgy workarounds, and nag the vendors to ship patched code. I couldn’t decide to rip that bit of code out and replace it with some fixed code myself. When the vendors finally shipped fixed code, it was a reboot to install it. I didn’t much like being so dependant on a vendor, as not working for an MCI or UUnet (remember, we’re talking early 1999-2001 here, they are the big guys), at times my voice in the “fix this bug” queue would be a little mouse squeak to their lion’s roar, in spite of heading up a high-profile Internet Exchange.

Eventually, we got proper multi-threaded and modular OS in networking hardware, but I remember asking for “fast, mostly stupid” network hardware a lot back then. No “boiling the sea”, an oft-heard cliché these days.

The other thing I often wished I could do was have hardware vendor A’s forwarding hardware because it rocked, but use vendor B’s routing engine, as vendor A’s was unstable or feature incomplete, or vendor B’s just had a better config language or features I wanted/needed.

So, in theory, OpenFlow could stand to enable network builders to do the sorts of things I describe above – allowing “mix-and-match” of “stuff that does what I want”.

This could stand to threaten the established “classic” vendors who have built their business around hardware/software pairings. So, how do they approach this? Fingers-in-ears “la, la, la, we can’t hear you”? Or embrace it?

You should, in theory, and with the right interface/shim/API/magic in your OpenFlow controller, be able to plug in whatever bits you like to run the control protocols and be the “brains” of your OpenFlow network.

So, using the “I like Vendor A’s hardware, but Vendor B’s foo implementation” example, a lot of people like the feature support and predictability of the routing code from folks such as Cisco and Juniper, but find they have different hardware needs (or a smaller budget), and choose a Brocade box.

Given that so much merchant silicon is going into network gear these days, the software is now the main ingredient in the “secret sauce”, the sort approach that folks such as Arista are taking.

In the case of a Cisco, their “secret sauce” is their industry standard routing engine. Are they enlightened enough to develop a version of their routing engine which can run in an OpenFlow controller environment? I’m not talking about opening the code up, but as a “black box” with appropriate magic wrapped around it to make it work with other folks’ controllers and silicon.

Could unpackaging these crown jewels be key to long term survival?

How I (most likely) saved 10kWh a day at home

FaucetI noticed that my electricity account (paid by a monthly direct debit) was starting to accumulate credit over the course of the year, so I was rather happy when I got news that my monthly payment is to go down by just over £20 a month from April.

Of course, the monthly systems are prone to “swings and roundabouts”, where if your monthly payment is too high you end up with an account massively in credit and your electricity company sat on a load of your money, or the opposite, you’re paying too little each month and end up owing.

So, I did wonder if it had been reduced too much and I’d end up in arrears after a few months…

However, on closer investigation, my home is using less electricity each month compared to the same quarter last year, even accounting for our recent very cold winter. The bill has a graph comparing our average daily energy usage from the current statement against the same period the previous year.

It was around 10kWh a day less this year compared to last!

I wondered how we’d achieved this.

We hadn’t really changed any major appliances, we hadn’t cooked less, been away for weeks, or anything that would produce such a signficant change.

Then it dawned on me that our old immersion heater in the hot water tank (sadly, no gas at home, just electric) failed early last year, and was replaced with a new one. One of the reasons the old one failed was because it had become coated in limescale – London’s water is famously hard and nasty to anything with a heating element. Eventually, the build up causes the element to overheat, and eventually it can split (blowing the fuse, or popping the breaker).

The previously installed heater gave us very hot water. Steaming hot, and needing to be diluted with lots of cold water to be useable. You could hear the sound of boiling coming from the tank when the element was active, and the system was prone to airlocks – partly because of the water being overheated, and partly due to an error in the positioning of the expansion pipe when the property was built.

So, when the heater was replaced, I decided to turn down the thermostat from it’s default setting. Believe it or not, they are usuallyglued to around 65-75 C, with a little blob of silicon sealant. So, I popped the silicon blob off, and turned the stat down to about 55-60 C.

We still get hot enough water, and the only time it’s an issue is having a bath instead of a shower (the shower has it’s own water heater). A bath tends to run all the hot water off, or needs use of the “top-up” heater.

That’s all I can put such a significant and sustained change down to, but it’s looks to save about £20 a month. Talk about money down the drain!

Oh, and the system airlocks less frequently.

Flowery marketing adjectives gone wrong

If you live in the UK, you’ll know the purple phenomena which is Premier Inn, advertised by that jolly Lenny Henry. (He’s a very tall chap. I wonder if they have a special bed for him when he stays?)

They actually do well at providing a reasonably good and consistent hotel product, something which the UK has long been lacking. Remember we’re talking about the country where you could end up in an antique hotel complete with rattly plumbing, school-canteen food, and that epitome of UK hotel kitsch, the Corby Trouser Press.

However, the warm, fuzzy, “I know what I’m getting”, brand consistency which comes with Premier Inn, also comes at a cost: There’s a marketing department back at Premier Inn Central in Dunstable, which feels the need to use lots of adjectives. Fairly standard marketing practice, but it’s almost like it’s there for the sake of it, and often downright odd.

My current cringe-worthy favourite is from their “grab and go” breakfast, or whatever it is they call it. It stood out as being odd when I first saw the flowery prose, talking about grabbing:

“A Costa Coffee and a baked croissant“…

The first thought that came into my mind was “Baked as opposed to what?”

Poached? Steamed? Deep-fat fried? The mind boggles.

Some copywriter in the marketing department just had to put in an adjective.

Yes, it made me pay attention to their “baked croissant”, so maybe it worked, but it’s just bloody weird when you read it.