Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Grrr (Apple user gripe)

Dear Apple users, please stop doing this!

You set up your own Wifi networks (at work!) with 80MHz wide channels and force our teaching spaces wireless off the first four available channels. So if any students or staff bring Nexus devices along then they won't be able to connect.

You also add to the interference on 2.4Ghz too, that is already congested and short of channel space.

I don't care how great you think your iTunes library is, this is a place of work and you are interfering with the network.


Friday, 10 October 2014

New Hangouts Chrome app available

Just downloaded the new Hangouts for Chrome (available at this link). I'm impressed, although people say it's like Facebook Messenger (I don't know, I don't have a Facebook account).

We use Hangouts for department communications (and a few off the record comments) mainly when we can't get a phone signal, such as at the student village. We use Google Apps for Education so we all have an account automatically.

The new look is shown in the video below:

What a week - No internet, no phones

It's Friday, thankfully.

What a week it's been. The 'fun' started on Tuesday when, not just us, but all higher education establishments in Yorkshire and Humberside, lost network connectivity to the outside world. So all those services that were moved to be hosted off site for resilience (email, documents, calendar, VLE, library catalogue) were inaccessible.

There was speculation that the problem may have been due to a digger going through some fibre cables in Leeds (see picture).

Source: Twitter

Today we have come in to find our phone connectivity is down as our suppliers have suffered a 'major power outage'. All internal and external calls, as well as faxes, are currently not possible.

Again we are completely in the hands of a suppliers to restore services.

So from a comms point of view, we have had a fairly quiet week, resorting to Facebook and Twitter for updates via 3G. It certainly shows how much we use and rely these links.

In other news: We passed our record of 15k concurrent users on wireless (set during exams last year) this week. We will need to start using NAT as we only have 16-17,000 IP addresses we can allocate to wireless.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Windows 95 on Samsung Gear

I am going to try to get back into blogging what we are up to with work and networking and wireless and so forth, but it has been incredibly busy.

For now enjoy this video of Windows 95 running on a smartwatch:

Check out this guys full android wear playlist here. So far, in addition to Windows 95, he has tried Minecraft and Doom

Monday, 22 September 2014

Arrivals weekend

This weekend we had our annual intake of new students. As usual we spent the weekend providing support to the new newbies to enable them to get on the network, use wireless and sort out their passwords. We also spent the weekend catching up with those last minute jobs that need doing before term starts.

A wet first day

The first day was a wet one, in more ways than one. The rain was making an appearance as the first group of new students started to arrive and then we had a flood in one of our student accommodation buildings.

Wet cables

The water had made it's way into the plant room and all our kit had to be shut off in this area. Also, rather annoyingly, whoever installed the CCTV kit moved one of our IEC leads into a power strip at the bottom of the cab that they had installed (ours are halfway up to avoid such incidents) and this was submerged in water before it was all pumped away. As a lot of the ethernet cables come from the bottom of the cab, rather than the top, most of these will need to be replaced too.

As well as the student faults I had a post-installation wireless survey of the new Journalism and Economics building to carry out, that I managed early Saturday before many students had arrived. Also there were approximately 28 access points to set up in languages and another 77 to configure in Computer Science, Research and Information Studies.

I didn't get that many set up however as I was still looking at faulty wireless access points at around 5-6pm on Sunday.

One wouldn't download the image and another didn't want to boot until it had a console cable plugged in (?)

We also had to do a bodge job (yuck! - on orders from above) as a resident was asking for compensation due to a job to install properly being held up with Estates.

Couldn't connect to wireless from their room with antenna in or on the cab, no sockets or cables to use and couldn't do any drilling so a temporary fix...tape, lots and lots of tape

Needless to say it was a busy old weekend (which the tax man will appreciate).

Just want to make it through registration this week with enough time to sort out the teaching spaces and then pack all the registration kit away on Saturday for another year.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Intro To Spectrum Analysers

I've not had time to get to grips with or go through the training on how to use it but, after taking the Spectrum XT home the other day, I certainly found it useful and our team boss asked me to write a little about it.

At home my WiFi kept dropping out. It worked fine on 5GHz but unfortunately Playstations, Chromecasts and my tablet are all only capable of using the 2.4GHz frequency. I had the Wifi Anayzer app (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.farproc.wifi.analyzer&hl=en_GB) on my phone and according to that I had a few neighbours on channel 11 and a handful on 6 (with a few in between), so channel 1 for my network seemed perfect. My signal strength seemed strong but first my tablet and then after a while my TV kept disconnecting and struggling to maintain a connection.

We recently purchased the Spectrum XT (http://www.flukenetworks.com/enterprise-network/wireless-network/airmagnet-spectrum-xt) to help with such mysteries and I borrowed it see what it could find.

I found 2 access points on channel 11 and half a dozen on 6 that the adapter could see. It also straight away solved my channel 1 problem.

As you can see in the first picture the duty cycle on channel 1 (as well as 2 and 3) is 100% and is due to a wireless security camera someone nearby has installed that is transmitting all the time. A waste of time using any of these channels then as my access point will stop beaconing and my devices attempting to associate with a duty cycle that high.

Just as I was about to put the laptop away (and move my wireless to channel 6, the least congested) my neighbour must have turned their microwave on, as you can see from the spectrogram in the second picture it caused a fair bit of noise around channel 7 and the ones around it. No wonder all my neighbours are using channel 11.The duty cycle is not high though because the microwave is not close (if it was mine it could be around 50-60%) and they do not continually transmit. If I turned mine on and tried to use the same channel it would probably halve my throughput but would/should still work.

So they mystery of the dropping out connection is solved and, in this case, the best thing is to have multiple access points on the same channel.

Roll on the time when we have 5GHz in every device!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Friday afternoons

There seems to be a rule with a number of users that states 'when you need something doing by the end of the week, don't tell IT until Friday afternoon'. This rule was certainly in full force this last Friday.

We received an email around 2.15pm asking for a large number of sockets to be made live for staff to move in that afternoon.

Apart from the fact that there was only 2 hours of the working day left and we had plenty of other jobs we were currently on with (including clearing), and that we ask for 5 days notice of moves, there were a number of other reasons IT should have been involved earlier:
  • The sockets were cabled back to an area where we have no services
  • Providing services would require a data switch to be purchased and installed (approx cost £2000)
  • We would need access to be provided from an outside estates department
  • We would require a fibre connection from the hub room to said area
  • We would need to borrow fibre from the people who manage this buildings IT as, as mentioned, we don't have any services here
  • The hub switch has no fibre capacity left
  • Providing services would require a new stack on the hub (approx cost £3000)
If we had been involved before the event we could have, either, instructed the contractors to cable back to an area where we did have services and capacity, or purchased and set up the required kit ahead of time so that everything would be ready to go in time for the move.

As it stands they will have to live without any form of connectivity until the above issues are addressed.

People! Please talk to your IT team. Don't just do stuff off your own back.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Next version of android improves WiFi connectivity information

A great new feature of android 'L' looks to be the ability to see the link speed and frequency at which you are connected to wireless. I have seen the HTC One M8 has the ability to choose which frequency you connect using, but from a troubleshooting point of view having this information built into android is a big plus.

Picture from androidpolice.com

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Temporary Wireless Installation

We were asked, rather last minute, if we could provide wireless coverage for a manufacturing conference. One of the stipulations was that they didn't want to spend any money(!). What we expected to be a job that took a few hours though naturally ran into nearly a full week.

Day 1

We found where they were erecting the venue, worryingly, on a patch of wasteland. Not only was half the marquee not yet erected, there was also no power.

The nearest building was all brick walls and fire exits. No windows or doors that we could use to run services our of temporarily. We found access to the roof, but then had the problem of no data connections nearby.

We thought about using a point-to-point solution but there was nowhere flat or secure at the 'tent' where we could put the remote end.

We eventually found a plant room with data we could use, but this was well over the 90 meters cable length we specify, and probably another 90 meters to the cab. We therefore decided to put some active kit in the plant room and another switch, this time PoE, at the conference end. 

Back at the office (as the generator was not yet on site) we put ends on the cable at around 190 meters and tested it running four wireless access points. Not ideal, but all worked, even if only at 100Mb rather than 1Gb.

Day 2

Department meeting in the morning so only a bit of time in the afternoon to get set up. Spent the afternoon running cables around to the positions we would like the access points.

The generator was not working so couldn't test everything on site.

Day 3

Hooray! The generator is working. We finished running the cables out, as we now have beams where we would like all the access points, and tie-wrapped the access points to the beams.

We deployed four Cisco 1142 access points (2 per tent) and checked for full coverage. We have two SSID's, one for staff and one for guests. As we used a little less than the 190 meters we tested in the office we actually got a gigabit connection.

We did carry out some proper tests, but I also took the quick screenshot on my phone below.

Day 4

An early start to run the cable out and find some tubing and boards so nobody tripped over it (we didn't have a pickaxe to dig a trench and the ground was too hard for the hammer).

Thankfully no problems with any of the kit, and soon after we were set up we saw upwards of 80 users connecting.

At this point we left them to it to get back to the day to day jobs. Informing the staff on site about passwords and locations. 

Day 5

Clean up and pack away.

I wonder if people realise how much work goes into these things?

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Wireless & lamp posts

We have been looking at alternative solutions to digging up the roads to install fibre in order to get services to properties belonging to the University that may not have had connectivity before. In particular there are a number of University-owned houses that would like access to the eduroam wireless service.

It is particularly difficult (and expensive) for us to dig up nearby roads as we are situated next to a number of hospitals and, therefore, important emergency routes.

One solution we went to have a look at yesterday was an outdoor wireless mesh network that made use of the power available from existing street lights.

As you can see it was a rather grey day, but atop the lamp post is a point to point wireless link back to campus and using PoE off that is a Motorola outdoor access point with one 802.11a radio antenna connected to a mesh of other AP's as well as an 802.11b/g/n radio antenna providing wireless access to the houses nearby.

The basic idea is:

If the council aren't amenable to having us install on street lights (as an alternative to digging up the road) we already have a CCTV pole there that we could make use of and install the mesh AP's on the chimneys instead. All we would have to do is get power up to the chimney stacks.

There is a huge cost saving not having to install fibre, data cabinets, cabling and building level switches and access points in every, or almost all, of the 46 properties.

It is a solution we haven't really thought much about before, although we have used a few point to point links previously and still having one in use. The numbers of access points in the mesh would depend on the results of the pre-installation survey and, at least if we do install them on chimneys, we have more locations to choose from.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

iOS 8 - android? is that you?

It was Apple's WWDC yesterday, and instead of watching it I decided to do something else and check the announcements on Twitter. What seemed to me to be coming out of the presentations was a list of features previously available on android.

So what were the new features of iOS 8?

  • Third party keyboards - Swype et al have been on android for years
  • Predictive keyboard - So it will now be like most android keyboards
  • Widgets - Was there ever a version of android that didn't have widgets?
  • Actionable notifications - android 4.3
  • Cloud drive - Google Drive...but Google gives you 15GB for free, not 5GB
  • Family sharing - android tablets have multi-user support and music can be shared for limited listens
  • Share and copy between apps (such as a web link to an email) - On android since the beginning
  • Choose which apps to use following certain functions (for example using Google Maps instead of Apple Maps when tapping on an address) - android did it?
  • Health apps and integration with fitness tracking devices - Hello Samsung Galaxy & Gear Fit
  • Homekit (integration with smart home products) - Like Nest, that Google has been selling
  • Photos with auto- backup - Identical to Google+ photos, apart from Google gives you unlimited storage
  • iMessage improvements - Basically it is now includes Snapchat/WhatsApp functionality
  • You can now launch Siri by saying "Hey Siri" - "OK Google"
  • Siri can listen to TV and movies and integrate with Shazam - So Google Now then?
  • Watch videos of apps before you download them - Already available on the Google Play store
I don't intend to start arguments, it just looked to me that the major features the Apple fan-boys on Twitter were going mad for were imitations of what Google have already been doing...despite some cheap shots at android during the day.

Apple will do things in their own way and ideas will be built upon and developed by both companies.

I suppose imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Antivirus: The balance between privacy and security

I read an article the other day which showed antivirus software in a whole new light. At Makeuseof they had picked up on a report by AV-comparatives that analysed what data was being transmitted by a host of antivrus products.

I have been using a wide variety of security products over the years and this year I was so impressed with the latest free version of Avast I very nearly purchased the paid for version. I am now having second thoughts though as I have read the report linked above that, worryingly, found a number of popular products send the following information and files to the company (either encrypted or unencrypted, it is not clear):

  • The computer name
  • The Windows username
  • The local IP address
  • Information about third party applications
  • Information about running processes
  • Operating System event logs
  • A list of all visited URL's
  • The name and path of files
  • Documents that may be classified as suspicious

I don't understand why, if the product sends a unique identifier for the user and machine on which it is installed, things like Windows username and computer name are required.

I have highlighted documents in the list as this is potentially the one most troublesome. It is entirely possible your sensitive documents could end up stored somewhere in EU/Russia/Korea/USA just because your antivirus product classified it a certain way.

There is a longer list of what information is sent, but some of this information, such as version numbers and operating systems, is obviously essential for updates and so forth.

I urge you to check out the report, and also the MakeUseOf article, which both have good summaries of the findings. I mentioned Avast, which is by no means the worst, and another of my favourite free tools, Avira, seems to come out of it fairly well. I have just checked out the Avira privacy policy and it states "Avira sends suspicious programs only (executable files) to our secure German data centers. Avira does not send any personal data. Files such as pdf, doc, xls as well other personal data, like pictures and videos are not being automatically sent.".

AhnLab and Emisoft are two paid for products that won't send URL's or documents over the internet.

Making the choice between which product to use/buy should not have to be a choice that involves how much privacy you are willing to give-up, but rather how good it is at keeping you secure. At the moment though it seems to be both.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Coffee shop or WiFi shop?

I nipped into the Student Union coffee shop on my way back from a job and was a little shocked by the numbers of laptops I could see. I did a quick head count while I was waiting and found most people were using the area to work or study, rather than to buy food or drink. A few people were doing both, but the majority seemed to just be there to use the WiFi, and it probably helps that it is a nicer space (comfy sofas, light and airy, music) than a number of other study areas.

*63 clients seen on the controllers (probably including a number of phones in pockets and passers by).

While most were using laptops there were a few others just making notes on paper. There were only two or three tables in the whole space where people weren't working in some visible capacity.

This sort of information is good to know, as it impacts on how you design the space from a networking point of view. We may need to treat this area more like a teaching space, where we want to ensure a high density of clients can get connected and achieve a usable speed.

Friday, 23 May 2014

WLC 7.6 and MFP anomalies

Since we have set up a wireless controller with WLC 7.6 we are seeing large numbers of alarms starting with: "MFP Anomaly Detected - x 'CCMP Not Encrypted' violation(s) have originated from the client with MAC..."

MFP, as I understand it is Management Frame Protection and is used to help prevent denial of service and man in the middle attacks. While I am fairly sure nobody is trying to attack our test environment, I am pretty concerned that this has coincided with a group of Apple device users reporting they have trouble connecting, or lose connection and have to reauthenticate.

We have set MFP from optional to disabled on the controller that is reporting all the problems but the alarms still persist, as does the problems with Macs and iPhones. The client MAC addresses on the alarms all display Apple or unknown as the vendor type. I can't see any obvious other problems and all other devices seem to be working well.

I'd love to stop people using Apple kit, but I don't think that is going to work somehow.

If/when I find a solution I will update below. It may have to involve a call to Cisco before too long.

Update 27/05/14

I am still seeing the errors after the MFP changes, but I am also seeing Apple OSX Mavericks clients being unable to connect without displaying an error.

Update 30/05/14

A few days off and still scratching my head. Not just Apple devices now but reports from a variety of devices and OS's. 3 People complained in one room and when investigated had a SNR of 40dBm and signal strength in the -50dBm's, they had an AP in their room, which typically works fine when we are stood in the room.

Of course, we were told by management that packet capturing tools were too advanced and we didn't need that level of expertise. Now, though, at this stage what are we supposed to do without them?

Update 09/07/14

This morning we upgraded our controllers to The MFP anomaly alarms are still appearing on Prime, but leaving MFP and QoS disabled and reapplying the config to our backup controller seems to have halted the client connectivity issues that have been reported. So far the affected users say the wireless has been much better.

Going to keep the support call open with our supplier as Prime is currently showing 225 critical alarms.

Devices in numbers [Our network]

65% of the devices on our network are now tablets or phones

Cisco 3700 access point power levels

If you've been familiar with Cisco wireless controllers over the years you will know that when setting the transmit power level of the access points you get an option of 1-7, rather than anything meaningful, like dBm or mW.

We have just installed WLC 7.6 and some 3702 access points in our building to test for a wider deployment, and despite the data sheet (pictured below) listing these as the power levels power available on 2.4GHz, the options you get are only 1-5:

I was not sure where on this scale 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 sat, and whether 5 was as low as 7 was on the older access points, or whether we now can only turn the radios down to 8 dBm. I connected a console cable to one of the AP's and did a sh run int dot11radio0’ command after changing to each power level (1-5) on the controller.

Under 'power local', the following numbers were displayed:

Power level 1 = There was no entry for power local
Power level 2 = Power local 13
Power level 3 = Power local 10
Power level 4 = Power local 7
Power level 5 = Power local 4

To my mind it made sense for these to be in dB, as the numbers go up and down by 3 with each power level (which would double or halve the power). However these don't tally with the table above, unless one is rounding up and one is rounding down, and you can only go as high as 40 mW.

On the older AP's, in this case a 3502, the power local output appeared to match exactly with what we believed them to be:

So I was left scratching my head and decided to have a look what I could find from the controller side.

I telnetted into the controller on software version 7.6 and found there are two options a lot simpler than the method I used above to find the power levels. 

First there is the 'show advanced 802.11b txpower' command, which outputs as below:

This shows you all the channel and power settings currently used by your access points with all the options at then end in brackets. The 'b' can be substituted for 'a' to view the 5Ghz.

The other command I tried was a 'show ap config 802.11b [ap name]'. This will probably be of more use when you have many more AP's and varying models on a controller than I did during our test. You can then see all the power levels supported by that access point, as in this screenshot:

...and the 5GHz (UNII-1, again substituting 802.11b for 802.11a):

While I understand Cisco kit is shipped and used all over the world, meaning a 1-5 or 1-7 scale would be easier to display than all the allowed levels in each domain, the documentation needs to be clearer and more complete. It also needs to be clear for people on the helpdesk and the people carrying out installations, who may not have access to the controllers. To a lot of people the Cisco AP's all look the same (a square white box) and those not so au fait with wireless assume they all act the same and behave in the same way. It would be great if Cisco could provide a chart for each regulatory domain for each access point/radio. Surely that wouldn't be too difficult?

Since my investigations detailed above, I have found that Will Jones started making a chart similar to what we need on his blog at http://www.wjcomms.co.uk/2013/11/27/cisco-ap-power-to-dbm-tables/. It's a good idea.

What this seems to suggest to us is that the 3702 will have less transmit power on the 2.4GHz interface than our other AP's, so when replacements, upgrades and swap-outs are required, people need to know what they are installing and that it will do the same job with regards to coverage.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

A Rogue By Any Other Name

Currently on my Cisco Prime it is reporting 1674 rogue access points and, having just run a report on rogue AP's in the last day, it comes to exactly 2500.

While our campus is spread over a large area of the city and many of these will belong to neighbours, an increasing number are coming from inside our walls and mainly due to Apple machines.

What is worse, when I go out to have a look at them, they are often on some ridiculous channel selection. Meaning they manage to interfere with, not one, but two normally perfectly usable 2.4GHz channels.

Our top current offender has been reported with an RSSI of -31dBm! Tom...s iMac, whoever you may be. At least it is on channel 1. Our third, sixth, thirteenth and fourteenth (as well as many more further down the list of) rogues with the highest RSSI are all on channel 4. You can see in the image below how channel 4 overlaps with the channel 1 and channel 6 frequencies:

Looking through the report we have:
  • 6 networks detectable under -40dBm
  • 47 networks detectable under -50dBm
  • 400 networks detectable under -70dBm
  • 1190 networks detectable at -83dBm where the 802.11 preamble can be decoded.
  • 644 rogue networks on channel 1
  • 124 on channels 2-5
  • 682 on channel 6
  • 122 on channels 7-10
  • 579 on channel 11
  • 3 on channel 12
  • 18 on channel 13
  • 303 on 5GHz channels with most on 36, but spread fairly evenly across the UNII-1 and UNII-2 range from 36 to 100.
To sum this up, it is obvious we need more 5GHz clients.

P.S. The best rogue SSID names in no particular order:
  • TheCakeIsALie
  • (.)(.) BOOBIES
  • 3 Guys 1 Router
  • F**kYouFlat19
  • Surveillance #11
  • Obi-WLAN Kenobi
  • I HAVE A HTC ONE    (They are obviously very proud)
  • Pretty Fly For A WiFi
  • Wu Tang WLAN

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Lazy journalism

I suppose it was inevitable that it would happen, but if I'm honest I expected the source to be The Daily Mail or The Mirror, not The Daily Telegraph.

On the front page of the paper yesterday I noticed an article about the tragic killing of Ann Maguire which tried to draw a link between the incident and the fact the suspect played a video game called Dark Souls 2.

Well, as of a month ago, Dark Souls 2 had sold over 400,000 copies in America and the previous total racked up over 2 million. So if the game is to blame why haven't there been 400,000 incidents like this? Maybe because there is NO LINK BETWEEN VIDEO GAMES AND MURDER. I play 'violent' games if you count GTA, which is most tabloid newspapers go to when blaming games for the breakdown of society, and I have never hurt anyone, and never plan to. GTA5 alone has sold over 32 million copies and I have every confidence that the majority of those 32 million are decent people.

Games seem to be the 'whipping boy' of the media, the way film used to be, but in my opinion this is lazy journalism. I'm sure there was much more salient reasons for the tragic events and the fact that people get paid for printing the same old rubbish is ridiculous.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Campus switch count

As part of some information gathering (probably to be used as a stick for one person to beat another person with during a meeting) my colleague has had to find out how many active switches we have around campus as well as the number of outlets in the data cabinets.

I knew it was a lot, but I was quite surprised to find we have 1,859 switches in use and 45,644 data outlets.

If you are great at mental arithmetic you will be able to tell that is a little over 24 sockets per switch. Hopefully those switch numbers will come down as we replace Cisco 2950-24's with 2960-48 and 3750-48's. We will also not be patching sockets that have not been used for some time in the hope of saving some switch and power costs and reducing CO2.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

BT woes

After being back with BT for a month it is reminding me exactly why I left them the first time.

With my PlusNet broadband costs rising, a promise of half price fibre broadband for 6 months, an 802.11ac wireless router and BT Sport for free I was seduced into returning to BT. What a mistake.

It all started off so well too. To begin with my wireless speeds were fantastic. Then BT decided to sign me up to BTFon, despite the fact that I had opted out. Since then it keeps dropping out as, I guess, other people are using my WiFi. Helpfully BT don't let you change the FON channel settings so there is always a collision domain. I tried to login to the FON website to [re-]opt-out but my BT login wouldn't work.

I called BT and after half an hour waiting on hold I explained my problem to Souveek, who couldn't help but was 'sure' the next person was in the right department to aid me. Alehya couldn't help either so passed me on to Sujithra. I guess you see where this is going? Yep, Sujithra couldn't help either and passed me on to Avinash who told me to login to the website! After explaining for the fourth time that I couldn't I was given another number to ring. That's an hour of my life I'm not getting back.

"You're really close to your broadband usage allowance"

Late last night I got an email saying I was near my usage limit (18GB of 20GB). Okay I thought, I've got 2GB to last me a week and a half, but to be safe I will use 3G anyway.

Well BT's email was as helpful as a concrete parachute as I discovered when I logged in that the limit had already been exceeded, despite the fact that I had not used the internet that day.

BT Sport

When I originally wrote this post this morning I forgot to include the farce that is trying to watch BT Sport. It seems that, looking at Twitter at the time, quite a few people experienced a loss of the stream of the FA Cup semi-final the other week, me included.

Just a snapshot of the dozens of complaints

The BTcare response was that it was all Microsoft's fault (a Silverlight issue) and using a different browser and clearing the cache would solve it... which it didn't.

Thanks BT... for reminding me how bad you are at customer service and why I will be leaving (again) as soon as my contract is over.

Update 10:40am
Social media seems to be a great way to get in touch with companies now. I didn't even @ them in my tweet (as I couldn't be asked with the back and forth at a 140 character limit) and got a reply. Shame it was to tell me to send an email, which I had already done on 29th March, and got a reply back with a link to a video on BT's website about improving wireless. It's not their fault that they don't know I deploy wireless for a living, but the request was to be able to login to the website!

I bit the bullet and called the technical support again. Another mistake. I was on the phone for a little over 31 minutes while I was talked through setting up another email address (this is exactly what I did with the other tech guys last time), only to prove that it still doesn't work. Exasperated, and only getting the same instructions over the phone, I gave up and said I would try it when I get home.

Update - 1 week later
I have been sent an email with details of how to reset my account. Done so a opted-out again of FON. Again said the request will be processed in the next 24 hours.

Update - 10 days later
Still not gotten rid of FON, despite opting out a few more times. Each time "the request will be processed in the next 24 hours."

Update - 12 days later
Success. I saw my router reboot and once it had I got my WiFi analyser switched on and it was gone. FINALLY!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Chrome Remote Desktop android app

The android app for Chrome Remote Desktop has been made available. I downloaded it this morning and took it for a quick spin. (Link here).

The app is available on android 4.0 and up. 

If you start the app with registering a computer via the Chrome browser app you will see no computers in your list. There is a handy getting started guide in the mobile app and the Chrome app is found using this link.

A Chrome Remote Desktop icon will appear under your Chrome browser apps and selecting this will ask you whether you want to allow remote access and to set up a PIN. This is very similar to Teamviewer, which was a remote app I tried previously.

If you have multiple monitors set up the app handily lets you scroll across both screens rather than just choosing one. The only problem I see is that anybody at your desk while you are remotely connecting can see what you are doing and take control of your PC (as it is unlocked).

You can access the Ctrl-Alt-Del options by pressing the menu button or softkey on your mobile device. You can also disconnect the same way (just remember to lock or or log off your remote machine first!).

So far the app seems slick, fast and a very good alternative to similar apps on the market.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Wireless - Quick update (part 3)

We have lots of wireless work going on here as part of a project to cover the whole campus. The first two parts of the post can be found here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).

A few decisions have been made and, despite a number of meetings on the subject, many still unfortunately haven't. The stalling is mostly to do with ways to do high-density and high-usage. I have been pushing to use directional antennas and 'massaging' the data rates (and getting rid of 802.11b), but for whatever reason the 'higher-ups' are still holding off.

What has been pushed forward is that we have ordered two more WiSM2 controllers, on which we are going to install software version 7.6 MR2 and provide service to 3702 access points, that have now started to arrive. We have another 2000 access point licences too. However, having different controller software versions running is going to have to have some thinking about, so that users are not roaming across controllers and experiencing problems as a result.

We are planning to go ahead and look at dual-band antenna solutions for the 3702e to be deployed in high-density, high-use areas such lecture theatres, conference rooms and seminar rooms.

We have 7 more buildings fully covered and we have deployed around 70 access points with another 94 waiting for contractors to install.

We have been doing some RRM (radio resource management) testing. Some decisions looked strange that were made by Cisco RRM, but we don't really have the tools, such as a spectrum analyzer, to challenge it. So we've been stuck with testing throughput/loss/retries, changing it to what we think the channel and power selections should be and comparing the results.

We have found a few rogue networks on our surveys and also an area of campus where they will be using multiple AR drones (up to 8 at a time), which are controlled over the 2.4GHz frequency. Getting very tempted to almost 'force' 5GHz.

We spoke to our suppliers last Thursday who recommended we install two cables to each AP, a cat5e and a cat6, for wave 2 of 802.11ac. Needless to say, that didn't go down well with management.  The meeting was called to discuss some new buildings that are being built and how we will cover them with wireless. The suppliers though came up with the same argument as those of us doing the surveys 'in house'; you can't say where the wireless should be without testing and you can't test before the building has been built. However, the builders want the locations marked on the plans BEFORE the building starts going up. So it is a bit of a vicious circle... that usually ends up as a lot of guess work and crossing of fingers.

I think it was hoped that they would be able to use their experience to provide a better 'educated guess'. They were understandably reluctant to say they could make recommendations that would work, but I think they are going to make some suggestions once they've got the latest building diagrams.

...and in other wireless news:

Quantenna Communications have announced the first 10G Wi-Fi using 8x8 MIMO.

iPlayer for android update

I noticed an update for the BBC iPlayer android app this morning and noticed something quite significant in the 'what's new' section.

You can now download videos to watch later or offline. This is a fantastic update, especially with holidays coming up.

I'm not sure if it will keep the shows for 7 days or the full 30 (like the new iPlayer online http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer), but will give it a try.

The downside is this is only for android devices from 4.0 and up. That means it won't be available for the, roughly, 15-20% of devices on older android OS.

The app can be downloaded from Google Play here.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Google Opinion Rewards

Google have now released their opinion survey app to the UK. The idea is you answer a few questions every now and again (Google states: "We'll then send you surveys around once a week, although it may be more or less frequent"), and in return you can earn credit for the Play Store to spend on movies, books, games and music.

Once you start the app you are requested to provide a few general details to ensure the surveys are suited to you and to perform a short test survey.

I'll see if I get approved and then how I get on. You can find the app by following this link.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Why I feel it is time to remake the original Star Wars trilogy

I know, sacrilege right? But just hear me out.

A New Hope is now 37 years old. 37! That's older than I am and, although admittedly they have been 'tweaked' over the years, you've got to admit that they now look their age. The original trilogy was released well before the demographic the films are aimed at were born and if they are expected to use the prequels as their introduction to Star Wars, then NO, that is just wrong. My kid tried to watch The Phantom Menace and couldn't sit through it (it was 'boring' and there was 'no Darth Vader'). To be honest Episode I is enough to put many people off watching a Star Wars film ever again.

There is a danger of a generation growing up only interested in the Lego movie versions of the Star Wars stories. I admit, they are amusing, but they are what? 20 minutes, half an hour long? It's like jumping in at a final chapter and spending half your time wondering who the people are and what the relationships are between them, even if you find it well written and amusing.

Look at the recent reboot of Star Trek and remake of True Grit. It can be done (in the right hands).

Imagine the scenes that could be improved from the original. Fight scenes that are not just lightsabers being swung well away from the actors, and the force can be used effectively by Jedi and Sith as they do in The Force Unleashed (which is set before A New Hope). Then think of all the problems with the plot that could be fixed:
  • Stormtroopers don't ignore a door when it is locked.
  • The Empire doesn't ignore an escape pod when there are no life signs.
  • Luke is 'hidden' from Anakin but keeps the same last name...on Anakin's home planet...with Anakin's family.
  • Remove the 'incest'.
  • Fix the fact that nobody recognises the two robots who played the biggest part in the prequels, R2D2 and C-3PO (especially Obi-Wan, who interacted with them constantly).
  • Leia says she remembers her real mother.
  • Obi-Wan says that Yoda trained him.
  • Obi-Wan says Anakin wanted Luke to have his lightsaber. His whole story doesn't make any sense after the prequels.
  • Luke is trained to be a Jedi in the same time it takes the Falcon to get to Cloud City (Bespin). In the prequels we see even 'young Anakin' is considered too old to start training.
  • The abilities and technologies they have in the prequels is greater than what they have in IV-VI (and Clone Wars, Force Unleashed etc for that matter too).
  • Stormtroopers should be identical if they are clones.
  • When Anakin became a ghost, he turned into Hayden Christensen.
  • Han Solo’s states that the Millennium Falcon “...made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs” is just one line that doesn't make any sense and can be changed.
  • The Death Star had to wait to get around a planet to...blow up a planet.
  • Ewoks win.
...to name but a few.

I still prefer the original trilogy to the prequels (that in places were just awful) but with the various inaccuracies and nonsensical plot contrivances that have been highlighted over the years by numerous satire comedies (see Family Guy for example), I get annoyed at the story in places.

I think it's time for a reboot. A better story, better costumes, better acting and action.

Who knows, they might even make it so Han shot first?

Why I'm Blocking All Ads

I am a big believer in the web being free, but one of the main ways in which content on the web stays free is by the use of advertising. It is an obvious conclusion that ad-blockers are hurting a lot of content providers, people who rely on adverts on their websites as their source of income. As such I have used ad-blocking tools sparingly or not at all. This is even though my brain has been trained not to click on ads and unknown links over the years. Some adverts pay on per view, rather than per click, and these have hopefully been helping to fund the good quality content I have enjoyed over the years.

Unfortunately the spreading of malware has become more advanced and this post on the Bromium Labs blog has now convinced me it is time to 'block all'.

I normally try to block or not have Java installed wherever possible (unfortunately some almost essential tools require it) but this malware described in the blog was spread through adverts, allowed by Google, on Youtube. If a site as big as Youtube lets these through then this is extremely worrying.

I have now installed AdBlock Plus and removed the 'Allow some non-intrusive advertising' option. Until I feel that enough is being done to prevent the spread of malware through these means, then this will stay the case.

*You may notice I don't serve ads on my blog. Not only because I probably wouldn't make any money, but because I write this blog because it is something I enjoy. As you can see from the quality over the years, I am no professional and, if someone is, then I agree they deserve to get paid for it. Not everyone will want to, or could afford to, give their time and expertise away for free.

So what is the answer? Paywalls? Who knows where we will go from here?

Monday, 17 March 2014

Ballad of a WiFi Hero

This made me chuckle on a Monday morning.

"In Which I Fix My Girlfriend's Grandparents' WiFi and Am Hailed as a Conquering Hero," by Mike Lacher. Rejoice!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Google Storage Price Reductions

Google have reduced their prices significantly on added storage options. They have marketed it, and it has been reported, as price reductions for Google Drive. As far as I can tell though, the storage space is spread across Gmail, Drive and Google+ Photos just like before.

Currently I am on a legacy storage plan which I started before Picassa was replaced with Google+ photos. At the time I was approaching the 1GB or 2GB limit for photos and you could get an extra 10GB for $5 a year (now increased to 20GB).

The pay yearly plans were replaced with monthly ones which to me seemed expensive and became increasingly unnecessary when Google kept adding on free storage up to 15GB and (combined with my 62GB on Dropbox and 25GB on Skydrive, now called Onedrive, I had more than enough space).

However, yesterday's announcement makes it very tempting to switch from my legacy plan with monthly costs starting at around £1.20 for 100GB and a whole 1TB for the bargain price of around £6.20 per month.

An alternative to the cloud service offerings is of course to provide your own. This can be done via a NAS drive such as the My Cloud from WD, or using software such as OwnCloud (a helpful how-to on Lifehacker here). People have been able to use network storage devices for years but now, for the home user, they are easier than ever to set up and usually come with a host of mobile applications to access your files and media.

For most people though the big three mentioned above will meet their needs, and the price changes are a big positive.

Google's new prices are shown below.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Recommended Site: bidvoy

I thought I'd share a site I came across recently. Bidvoy searches auctions to show you the average price a product has been going for as well as the trend, so you can see if prices are going up or down, and shortly ending auctions.

If your search has been involved in enough auctions (unlike the Cisco AP above, but like the Nexus 5 below) then the site also tells you the best time to buy and the best time to sell.

What really drew me to the site was how good it looked and functioned on mobile. I think I will be checking this when using ebay in the future.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Google Docs Add-ons

Logging into Google Drive today I found a new menu icon labelled 'Add-ons'.

This could really improve the functionality of docs as this video shows:

Personally I'm really impressed by some of the add-ons capabilities and I'm sure more will become available as it grows the way of the Chrome Web Store. Currently I counted 35 add-ons available and it is tempting me away from my current favourite document app, Evernote.

Wireless Controllers - A quick update (part 2)

This is my second quick blog update about what we are up to from a wireless perspective. You can read some of my previous posts on the subject here and here.

Controllers and Access Points

I can now report we are on a 'safe' controller version after upgrading to The plan is to go to 7.6 as soon as possible (i.e. when we are given sufficient confidence from our suppliers that it won't break).

We have also surveyed fifteen buildings recently in which we are going to deploy a total of 124 access points. At present we can't tell when the upgrade to 7.6 will be, so the 3600 and 3700 access points are on hold. As the infrastructure is going in continuously, we are currently installing the 3502i and the 1262e.

I am going to spend a weekend upgrading switches from the Cisco 2950 to the 48-port PoE+ 2960x to enable wireless in some of our biomedical science areas.

The 3700 and Power over Ethernet

Speaking of PoE on switches, it is worth noting something interesting/troubling in the datasheet for the 3700 access point. This is the one we were most inclined to go for, as it provides 802.11ac without an additional module. However, it does state that if you have regular PoE (802.3af) rather than PoE+ (802.3at) as your source of power then your 4x4 MIMO reduces to 3x3, or 2x2 if using a security/3G or other module.

We won't be able to upgrade all our switches to PoE+. For starters many of the switches that have recently gone in have only had 802.3af and the cost of replacing them all would be in the millions.

Clients per AP

Another interesting note I found in a Cisco document today came from here. I was looking at the differences in Cisco ClientLink versions, to help guide a decision on what access point we should be buying and deploying, when I noticed a rather significant change in the number of supported clients per radio.

Whereas our current deployment of 1142s, 1262s and 3502s are listed as supporting 15 clients per radio, the next releases of access points are described as supporting 128 clients per radio. This is a massive increase (850-ish%, if my maths is correct) and makes a big difference/throws a 'spanner in the works' to current plans for high-density areas such as lecture theatres if this figure is correct. Instead of deploying between 3 and 8 access points in a lecture theatre, this could mean only 1 or 2.

We have planned to have a meeting with some proper wireless experts before thinking about this too much or rethinking any plans.

...and finally

In case you missed it, or don't follow me on Twitter, I sent a link out to a rather interesting blog post: http://jeff-with-a-g.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/5ghz-wifi-on-your-mac-got-you-down.html
...another reason why, the more I do wireless networking, the more I hate Apple devices.

Oh, and we have been doing a bit of VoWiFi testing, mainly using Zopier on android (as iPhones kept dropping the WiFi).