Wifi in my car: proof of concept

Some drivers love fancy chrome wheel rims, some add a huge wing spoiler on their car, or fuzzy dice hanging from their rear-view mirror. Me, when I bought my new car, I decided that I wanted a Wifi network in my car. So that any passenger with a laptop/iPod could read his email. And I imagined driving to distant holiday locations while my passenger where watching movies streamed from a NAS disk built into the car.

This weekend I finished episode one: Internet in the car. I used the following components:

The important details here are:

  • The Huawei stick is compatible with the TP-Link router.
  • The Huawei stick can be configured with ‘Save my PIN’, so that when it starts up, it connects to the 3G network without any manual intervention.
  • The TP-Link router runs on 12V DC (which is what a car has)

For the rest, the exercise was quite straight-forward: I configured the Huawei stick on my laptop with the right PIN code, popped it in myTP-Link router, configured the right 3G settings for Telenet (see here). Then I took an old 12V power transformer, chopped off the connector and linked it up to an old car cigarette lighter type of plug (sometimes it’s good to have an archive of obsolete cables and power supplies). I then hid the router under the base plate of my trunk, where there is also the battery (the BMW X1 stores the battery in the back, where you would normally have the spare tyre). I switch on the car and 20 seconds later, I have a Wifi network “OnTheRoadAgain” that is connected to the Internet. Proof of concept is OK!

The next step now is to add a (Synology) NAS, which also runs on 12V, and hook up my iPad to the car Wifi to view my collection of backed-up DVDs from that disk. And maybe run some extra programs (e.g. MRTG for monitoring) on that NAS. To be continued!

Idea: Emoticon for innuendo: &-)

Do you often find yourself in a situation where you are using some kind of word play in a written (chat or text message) conversation, but feel that you need to make this second level of comprehension clear? This is why emoticons exist: pictorial representations of a facial expression using punctuation marks and letters, written to express a person’s mood. Emoticons were already used in the 18th century and adopted with mucho gusto in electronic communication since 1982. These days, if you don’t know that a “:-)” means that the writer is happy, you’re missing a lot of the meaning of SMS or emails.

It doesn’t stop there, there is also the :-p tongue-sticking-out, the %-) I’m-so-drunk and even *<|:-) Santa Claus. But there is one often-used ironical level that I find is not well covered by the ;-) I’m-only-joking emoticon, and that is the dangerous stylistical weapon called innuendoan indirect remark about somebody or something, usually suggesting something bad, mean or rude. We need an emoticon that says if-you-know-what-I-mean-wink-wink-nudge-nudge in 3 characters. I hereby propose the …

&-)   = if-you-know-what-I-mean

Continue reading Idea: Emoticon for innuendo: &-)

Repairing Amazon S3 downloads for IE

I use Amazon S3 for cloud storage of big digital-cinema files (up to 3GB) for distribution. It works fine most of the time, but I kept getting the odd complaint: “I can’t download on my PC, I get an error”. Everytime I asked what browser they were using, it was Internet Explorer. I am a Google Chrome man, and I almost never do anything with IE, but still, customer is king, let’s see what could be wrong. So I tested it myself with IE and yes, most files can be downloaded, but some couldn’t. Sometimes one would get an empty page, sometimes the following: “XML 5619: Incorrect document syntax

So I fire up  Fiddler2 – an invaluable tool to see what’s going on under the hood of the communication between your web browser and the web server. I look at the client and server HTTP headers and see something interesting:

1) Download via Chrome

CLIENT:

User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.0) AppleWebKit/534.30 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/12.0.742.122 Safari/534.30
Accept: text/html,application/xhtml+xml,application/xml;q=0.9,*/*;q=0.8
Accept-Encoding: gzip,deflate,sdch

SERVER:

Content-Type: binary/octet-stream
Content-Length: 26176425
Server: AmazonS3

2) Download via IE for a file that can be downloaded:

CLIENT:

User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; MSIE 9.0; Windows NT 6.0; Trident/5.0)
Accept-Encoding: gzip, deflate

SERVER:

Content-Type: binary/octet-stream
Content-Length: 26176425
Server: AmazonS3

3) Download via IE for a file that can NOT be downloaded:

CLIENT:

User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; MSIE 9.0; Windows NT 6.0; Trident/5.0)
Accept-Encoding: gzip, deflate

SERVER:

Content-Type: application/x-zip-compressed
Content-Length: 687411306
Server: AmazonS3

It was a consistent pattern: every time the Content-Type of a file was x-zip-compressed, I couldn’t download . It might have something to do with MS KB 841120: the server that recompresses .zip files with gzip, and the browser mis-interpreting.

Anyway, I used CloudBerry S3 Explorer to go and explicitly change  every file’s HTTP headers and now I can download all files with IE. If I ever forget about this IE quirk, now I’ve written down the solution!

DROA: now with a Belgian lawyer

It seems my contacts with the people from Domain Registry of America (DROA) have gone one legal step up. Last week I have received an official letter from a Brussels law office, representing the Domain Registry of America – DROA (Buffalo, NY, USA), Domain Registry of Canada – DROC (Markham, Ontario, Canada), Domain Renewal Group (London UK) and Mr Alan Benlolo. Apparently my claims about the “domain renewal scam”, as most legit domain registrars and thousands of fooled users call it, are “completely unfunded” and constitute “defamation and libel” (Article 443 – translated from Dutch by me).

Furthermore they claim that

  • I supposedly have published the home address of Mr Benlolo on my blog. I have checked and in none of my blog posts about the DROA (DROA scam, Govern yourselves accordingly and DROA: the saga continues) have I published any address belonging to a person: all addresses are PO Boxes – so not physical addresses – belonging to companies, not persons. These addresses I have found either on the letters what were sent by the DROA or on their web site.
    The letter I received actually shows Mr Benlolo’s address, and I can confirm it is nowhere on my blog. Other unhappy customers might have done that on other blogs/forums, but not me.
  • I am supposed to remove the three blog posts mentioned above ASAP. I have reread all three and in each I just cite known convictions of persons and companies involved, as well as reactions from institutions like the  FTC and Better Business Bureaus who all disapprove of the type of business that the DROA is active in.
  • Interestingly I’m also supposed to remove a fourth blog post “Amy Cross is spamming Technorati” which I did not know was related. Maybe it’s just because there’s a link to the DROA article.

I have gotten seven days to comply, and that period has just expired. I have tried to contact the lawyers but no one has bothered to call me back. I don’t agree with their claims, and I still stand by the blog posts I have written.

DROA: the saga continues

This post is about my dealing with the company DROA / Domain Registry of America.
I first wrote about them in Dec 2004: “Domain Registry of America scam“: they had sent me letters to urgently advise me to renew my domain names. When I researched a bit who they were, it became clear it was an shady initiative of some Canadian ‘businessmen’. They write scary letters in the hope that a non-tech-savvy person in the accounting department gets scared and quickly pays, thus transferring their domain management to DROA, who charge more than the average.

Then in March 2007, they contacted me to demand the removal of the blog posts, if not they would sue me for an Ontario court. “Govern yourself accordingly” showed that I was not impressed with that threat.

Now the saga continues: I have been contacted by a Gilbert Duchanan in an effort to make me remove my blog posts. It started on last Aug 19, with a short email. “I represent a company that is currently in talks to acquire the company Domain Registry of America. Upon searching on Google we discovered links to negative articles on your blog regarding the company. What would it take to have you remove the article(s) found at (…) Gilbert“. Just a first name, not a “Legal representative”, “Customer relations” or anything. That’s kind of weird for a legal person.

I replied: “Dear Mr Duchanan, I find it hard to believe that a company with honest and bona-fide practices would be interested in taking over the heritage of the DRoA. So unless you could convince me of the opposite, I will just assume that the scam will continue, and I will not take away the articles. Please be aware that this conversation could end up on my blog too.    Peter” Who knows, it might develop into a good story. I of course expected to have legal threats at some point.
Continue reading DROA: the saga continues

Fax 2.0: because fax won’t die in the internet age

In one corner of my apartment: my fixed telephone line. In another my printer/scanner/fax device. Challenge: run a wire from one to the other, every time you rearrange the furniture.

Recently I investigated web fax services like eFax, WebFax, RingCentral but for a low volume user like me they’re too expensive. You pay a lot of money for having a dedicated phone number for you, regardless of the number of faxes you send/receive. But I already have a dedicated telephone number, only it is completely disconnected from my ‘normal’ workflow: email, web, news reader. I would like to receive my faxes in my Gmail, because I never delete mails. With 7GB+ email storage, I don’t need to.

So what I would like to have, and what I don’t think exists yet: a Fax 2.0 device at home, let’s call it the FaxaPorta. It needs power and a phone connection, and … that’s all. So let’s make it look like this (not uninfluenced by the Apple Airport Express):

Faxaporta mockup

Here’s how it works:

  • You plug the Faxaporta in a power outlet and connect to the phone plug.
  • The device has built-in wifi and will connect to the internet in that way.
  • You associate the device with your account on the Faxaporta website.
  • Now you can configure how it is supposed to work:
    • Incoming fax: send it to an email address as a PDF file, print it (you can connect a printer to the USB port)
    • Incoming voice call: take a voice mail and send it to an email address as a MP3 file, forward the call via Skype
    • Outgoing fax: behave like a network printer, or you upload a PDF file to the Faxaporta web site (it is then downloaded by your own Faxaporta device and sent over your own phone line).
  • But because your fax is now part of your web-connected world you can do cool stuff like:
  • When you get a fax/voice call, the Caller ID (phone number of the sender) is being matched with your Google contacts to add name, company and email of the sender.
  • The faxes your receive pass through Faxaportas service and are OCR’ed so that you can copy/paste the text on it (cf. the ScanR service).
  • The voicemails are run through a speech recognition service so that you get a text transcript together with the MP3 file. (Google Voice has this)
  • The whole configuring of the fax/voice service is no longer done on a silly small screen on the fax machine with 15 cryptic buttons, but online, from anywhere you want. New response message? Upload the MP3 file! New front sheet for outgoing faxes? Create it in a WYSIWYG editor!
  • You have an RSS feed for your incoming fax messages, one for your incoming voicemails.
  • You could even make a ‘better’ (more expensive) service for companies:
    • try to route a fax to the right person (depending on who sent it, on names that were OCR’ed in the document)
    • set up a Interactive Voice Response system through the browser (“For Sales, press 1”).
    • create a searchable fax archive
    • How about a fax ‘out-of-office’ service?

    Does the Faxaporta exist already?

    Facebook tricked me into my own spam FAIL

    facebook spam

    So I decided to let Facebook check my Gmail contact list to see if I had missed some contacts (people using aliases, etc …). After carefully selecting a couple of FB friends to invite (a buddy from the army, …), I clicked ‘Select’ and then ‘OK’ on the next screen that I supposed was a ‘Confirm’ window. I didn’t even read what was written on it. Some minutes later I saw emails starting to come in on different email aliases I had created in all my years of Internet activity. Apparently I allowed Facebook to send email messages to all Gmail contacts with email addresses that were not yet ‘known’ in Facebook. I have about 1500 addresses in my Gmail, let’s say some 500 already have a FB profile: so I just allowed Facebook to send out 1000 ‘unsollicited commercial emails’ or *spam* on my behalf. There is no way for me to know how many emails went out, nor to whom. I feel strongly embarrased, since I have been a strong opponent of spam for years, and since I have no idea who I have bothered with this bulk mail.

    A company like Facebook probably has a whole team concentrated on user experience and workflow streamlining, so I can only assume that this strategy is by design. They probably have to keep the monthly exponential growth numbers so they use every opportunity to collect new email addresses. This is plain wrong. The default should be ‘opt in‘, not ‘opt out‘ (that is, select those you want to invite instead of unselect those you don’t wanto to invite).

    So dear Christopher Cox and/or Chamath Palihapitiya at Facebook, while you will probably say that ‘but it is clearly written on the page that they’re about to send an invitation to (in my case, 1000??) contacts‘, you know that you are wrong on this one. You’re spamming. Big time, like real jerks. Since you’re probably not going to do anything about it, Google: any ideas?

    http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/gmail/thread?tid=46004a5733eee4f0&hl=en

    http://blogs.zdnet.com/social/?p=266

    http://www.smartmobs.com/2007/09/02/facebook-friending-spam/

    Logitech online store: haunted

    Shaky Logitech I have wanted to buy a keyboard with Bulgarian layout for a while, and as you can imagine, you don’t find these in the local FNAC or Vandenborre. So when I saw that the Logitech site allowed purchasing online, of such exotic items like a Bulgarian keyboard, I quickly ordered one. However, the experience has been unsatisfactory:

    • First try: I order the keyboard, do the checkout procedure, pay with credit-card and get an immediate reaction: purchase OK, shipment will follow soon. Wow, that’s slick. Several days later, UPS passes by my front door while I’m not there, they say, the package is signed off by a certain “Korenberg” and I get an email: delivery OK. Slight alarm bell: I know no “Korenberg” living at my appartment. When I get home this is confirmed: no one in the building knows anyone by that name. Keyboard is in the twilight zone. I file complaint with Logitech, they propose refund, I accept, I’m still waiting for confirmation. But, I still need a BG keyboard.
    • Second try: I order another keyboard and try to pay with my credit card. Twice I give my credit card details, press “Process” and get redirected to the same check-out page, without any notion of whether or not my order is accepted. I check the “order history”, see that my recent purchase is not there and decide to give up on credit cards.
    • I select “bank payment” and finish checkout. They tell me what bank account I should pay on (one of Bibit), and with which message. I do the payment, see that the number message is not a structured number (“gestructureerde mededeling”) and put it in the normal message box. Since then, nothing. Has Bibit recognized the money as the payment for Logitech? No idea. Has Logitech started fulfillment? I guess not.
    • I visit the Logitech web site again, checking out the Squeezebox, and decide to test the checkout system again. I put a Squeezebox in my shopping cart. When I go to the customer care, I fly from shop.logitech.com (where I am logged in) to logitech-nl-emea.custhelp.com (which looks the same, but where another login is necessary, because both accounts aren’t linked, apparently). There I get into an eternal redirection loop, with an infinite number of “&cl=BE,nl” adding themselves to the URL.
    • I try to break out of that loop by going back to the shopping cart page. For some reason my shopping cart now contains 2 Squeezeboxes instead of one. That’s it , I’ve had it.

    Bottom line: this online shop of theirs is as trustworthy as Lindsay Lohan saying she’s gonna stop drinking. I buy online a lot from shops like Amazon and Pixmania, so I think I’m qualified to say that their shopping application stinks. I’m gonna wait until next week for reply on the second purchase, if there’s none, I’m cancelling that order, and I’m never shopping with Logitech again.

    What American accent do you have?

    What American accent do you have? (Best version so far)
    Midland
    (“Midland” is not necessarily the same thing as “Midwest”)
    The default, lowest-common-denominator American accent that newscasters try to imitate. Since it’s a neutral accent, just because you have a Midland accent doesn’t mean you’re from the Midland.
    Personality Test Results
    Click Here to Take This Quiz
    Brought to you by YouThink.com quizzes and personality tests.