Archive for category Technology Related

SiriusXM’s Tragic Flaw

Once every three months (sometimes even more often than that) I get an email and also a letter from SiriusXM saying “We Want You Back”. First off, lets establish why they “want people back”…Most new cars now-a-days, come with a free trial of SiriusXM. This makes their user base seem larger than it actually is – they claim to have 32 million subscribers – but how many of those are actually paying subscribers versus those that they get from a great deal, being included in all new vehicles. When that trial ends, you have a few options:

  • Buy SiriusXM month-to-month
  • Buy a lifetime subscription for somewhere around $400 – NOTE: The subscription is for the vehicle, not for the person purchasing it

In my opinion, Sirius has a few flaws with their service that will ultimately be the demise of them.

First, lets head over to http://www.siriusxm.com/ and find out what their service is all about. On their “Corporate Info” page it states “SiriusXM creates and offers commercial-free music; premier sports and live events; news and comedy; exclusive talk and entertainment; and a wide variety of Latin commercial-free music, sports, and talk programming.” Commercial free…well, not really. Their channels have as much “non music play” as a standard Radio station, negating the cost for “Commercial Free” there. Secondly, Sirius is satellite based when it comes to how they deliver their service. Often times, for no reason, Satellite coverage is spotty at best and as such, no satellite coverage, no Sirius.

Now that we’ve analyzed two of the major concerns, lets go a little deeper. Sirius offers a $19.99/month package which comes with 150+ channels and also streaming, awesome. Now lets look at Spotify. Spotify Premium is $14.99 for me and up to 5 people that live at my address. That means we can all use “no commercial” radio all at the same time, wherever we’re at, and even take it offline – should we not have an internet connection or spotty connectivity – ANYWHERE. Most cars that have Sirius have a USB or Auxiliary port which will allow me to connect my mobile device and play the same music anywhere I go. I can make any “channel” I want with any kind of music I want, any time I want and listen practically anywhere I want. I can’t do that with Sirius and I actually pay more, and it’s only available for me to use, not me and up to five other people in my household.

So, noting the above, with Sirius, from what I can see, you pay more than most other music services out on the market today and don’t really get the value for the dollar, not to mention you’re limited by the satellite signal and you can’t take it offline, nor can you use it with family. Don’t get me wrong, sure Sirius has a large channel line up and can provide things that Spotify or Pandora might not be able to, but lets look at TV today. You can have 400 channels, but if there’s nothing on it you like, which let’s face it, that’s most of the time, you’ll pay for a cheaper service that lets you get on demand what it is you want, when you want it, how you want it.

I hope Sirius changes their model soon or reevalutes their pricing and packaging, or I believe they are in for Sirius trouble in the future.

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Installing MRTG and RRD in Azure on Windows Server 2012R2

It’s been a while since I wrote anything down, albeit I’ve been keeping very busy. This week though, I’ve been digging through lots of articles and such and it triggered a thought in my mind…If I document what I do publically, I can always go back and look at it (I refer to my booting an OS from a USB article all too often) and also I can share my experiences with the broader world!

Today’s post as the title alludes to takes us down the MRTG route in the Azure world. First off, MRTG is a great program that was written many years back by a guy named Tobi Oetiker. The latest release is 2.17.4 which was released in January 2012, yet it’s still a great tool. The simple idea behind it – you run a script every 5 minutes that takes two input variables and then it graphs them. The most common use for this is routers – in and out packets – hence the name MRTG (Multi-Router Traffic Grapher). However, you can do just about anything you want with MRTG. One of the things I do with it is simply plot the same number twice in some instances which gives a great effect to the number I’m displaying (say the number of active helpdesk calls).

At any rate, with the ability to go Hybrid Cloud, the premise of this article is to explain how to get it working in Azure on Windows 2012R2 (sure you can do the same on-prem too)…If you’ve got an MSDN account, you’ve got monthly credit to use too, that’s what I do with mine 🙂  So, let’s get going:

1. Create a new VM in azure (New -> Compute -> Virtual Machine -> Quick Create)

Windows Server 2012R2 Datacenter – Basic A0 is what I went for

create-vm

2. After the VM Builds, log in and patch it

3. Turn off IE Enhanced Security (for the time being) – Server Manger -> Local Server -> IE Enhanced Security

4. Download the latest version of ActivePerl

5. Run the ActiveState installer and install to c:\perl64 (the default directory)

6. Download the latest MRTG Windows .zip file

7. Unzip the package to c:\

8. Rename mrtg-2.17.4 it to mrtg

c mrtg

9. Download the latest WebPI

10. Run the Web Platform Installer and choose to install PHP 5.6.0 (Note this will install 19 “components”)

11. Download the x86 version of the Visual C++ Redistributable 2012 (even if you have an x64 install use the x86 version of the C++ package because PHP will run x86) Install PHP 5.6.0 (optional)

12. Install the Visual C++ Redist

13. Download the PECL library for RRD (ensure it’s 5.6 Non Thread Safe (NTS) x86)

14. Copy the following .dll files in to to c:\program files(x86)\php\v5.6\ cairo, expat, fontconfig, gobject-2, pango-1, pangocairo-1, pangoft2-1, pangowin32-1, pixman-1, rrdlib

standard dlls

15. Copy php_rrd.dll in to c:\program files(x86)\php\v5.6\ext\

16. Open c:\program files(x86)\php\v5.6\php.ini and add the following to the very bottom of the file “extension=php_rrd.dll”

php rrd dll

17. Open notepad and create a file that has “<?php phpinfo();?>” in it (sans the “‘s)

phpinfo

18. Save this file to c:\inetpub\wwwroot as “about.php” (make sure you put “‘s around the file name so notepad saves the .php extension)

 save as

19. Open IE and navigate to http://localhost/about.php to see it’s installed correctly

php about screen

20. Scroll further down to also see that the RRD library is enabled

rrd lib enabled

21. Open a command prompt

22. Change the directory to c:\mrtg\bin

23. run “perl mrtg”

perl mrtg

If MRTG is installed correctly, you’ll see the program disclaimer.

Voila!

The next article will talk about what you can do with MRTG and PHP together. Hope you enjoyed!

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Creating Mobile Websites

First off, apologies as it’s been quite a while since I’ve made a posting. I’m gonna try and change that 🙂 I’ve really got no excuse. So, to try and get back in the groove, I’ve just created a new website project that uses varying parts of PHP to do a number of things – mostly to keep me informed of the ever changing Washington State weather. It has a configuration file that has a listing of all of the passes in Washington State and then from the pass names, it has a few arrays that specify cameras, etc and them embeds them in to a mobile based website:

http://wsdot.227volts.com/

Check it out. It defaults to Snoqualmie Pass because that’s the one I travel over most. However, you’ll notice at the top left, the three horizontal bars. If you click on the three bars, by default it will show you the cameras associated with that pass. The cool feature however is if you click on the pass name at the very top of that menu system, it will take you to the “main menu” and list all of the passes. Simply click on your pass of choice and presto, you now are whisked away to that pass and all of the associated cameras. It also uses the WSDOT RSS feed to grab the weather quickly so you’re always up to date. No need for an app, no need to have to pinch and zoom on WSDOT’s site, you’re all set!

If you like it or have feedback or comments, please let me know!! Send me an email – my address is simply justin@227volts.com!

Enjoy!

Using algorithms to evaluate status

Today I had an interesting one happen. Starbucks has a reward program wherein if you use their card 15 times you go to a “Gold Level”. Once at that gold level, it keeps rotating every 15 times. You can check the status by simply logging in to their website and go to your “My Rewards” page or your account. Interestingly enough, today when I logged in, I got a page that said “Gold Level” however to spread the word about the program, they provide you with a social media plugin (FB & Twitter) at the bottom. Somehow though, because I was at the reset point (0/15) the reward plugin wanted me to tweet I was at a Welcome level:

image

Hmm, looks like there might be some work needed on that algorithm Starbucks Winking smile

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Send me email at my web address–what?

So, I take the bus to and from work every day as I’m still a bit European in my ways. The bus company – I won’t mention any names – recently announced some new routes and as such they’ve posted announcements about the upcoming changes. Have a look at this one, which I found funny (at 6 a.m.!):

proposed route 234

The best part, which like I said, made me laugh at 6:00 a.m. was Jack’s email address in the last paragraph. If you’ve got problems you’re supposed to send him email at jack.whisner@kingcounty.gov/metro which makes me wonder Jack, do you want me to email you or go to the website cause that surely isn’t an SMTP compliant address.

DOH!

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Is United Ready for Continental?

Over the past ten years travel has been a necessity in the business I’m in. I’ve had to travel all around the world for various clients, projects, meetings, etc. As such, I’ve been a Delta Platinum/Diamond member for multiple years, Virgin Atlantic Silver/Gold member, Scandinavian EuroBonus Gold member and most recently United Premier Executive (I’m only a few miles away from 1K status).

In the recent months of travelling on United, Jeff Smisek, CEO of United prefaces each safety video with the fact that as of October 1, 2010, Continental is now United and United is Continental. This is also the focus of many of the articles in Hemisphere and it got me thinking, is United really ready for Continental or are they going about this without planning? Here’s my thoughts:

Painting Planes

In both the October 2010 Hemisphere’s as well as now in the November article, it’s pointed out that the first thing we’ll see as frequent flyers is the new livery. Big Deal. Here’s a suggestion, why don’t you take the money it takes to paint the plane and invest it in something worthwhile, rather than making sure the new United font is on the outside and the globe is on the tail. What do I mean? Well, a while back United was a pioneer in on-board wireless connectivity. They boast about being the business man’s airline, yet when I get on board, I don’t have wireless capabilities. Almost every other airline does. Take the money you’re using to paint the planes and put it to something more useful.

Take care of your Frequent Flyers

Currently in the Miles Plus Frequent Flyer scheme, there are five tiers (four if you count the default one) – Premier, Premier Executive, 1K and Global Services. The last tier is a coveted one for buying loads of full fare tickets but the others are attainable by flying more often. However, while there are some “perks” with each tier, in my years of travelling, the perks with United are minimalistic when it comes to flying and it seems as if they don’t care too much. Here’s an example. I was on an international flight the other day and asked if business had checked in full. The gate agent said no. I asked as a Premier Executive if there was anything I could do to get an upgrade and their response – no. Again, this is something small, but other airlines give vouchers as that level and also should Business Class not check in full, be kind to those that travel often and give them a complimentary upgrade – after all, the food is already on the plane and the person is going to be on the plane as well.

Continuity

October was a busy month and I got to go both east and west – essentially crossing both oceans. What I noticed amazed me. There is no continuity between overseas flights on United. What do I mean? Well on a flight from Seattle to Tokyo – an international flight – alcohol is free. Yet, take a flight from Chicago to Amsterdam (same distance), again another international flight, but this time you’ll get charged $6.00 for alcohol. Another small thing, but the mapping program onboard…go east you get one version, go west you get another one. Further, go west and it will end up in English as well as the destination language. Go east and it will only be in English (however I must say the east bound version seems newer, more clean and the better of the two versions).

Channel 9

United was really on to something good when they introduced Channel 9 on to their planes. I remember about 4 years ago finding this channel and thinking, wow, for the avid flyer, this is pretty cool. For those of you unfamiliar with Channel 9 it’s “straight from the cockpit” wherein you hear the communications of the pilot with ATC. However, the problem with channel 9 is it’s like a crap shoot. One plane will offer it, one won’t and there isn’t any reason why. Sometimes pilot’s tell you they’re going to do it, other’s just ignore it and there’s no method to the madness. Why not write in to the policy of the flight attendant or even the pilot in his/her intro message to tell you about channel 9, as you were really on a winner on this one, but now it’s hit or miss…

Conclusion

There are more than the above I’ve noticed however they are some of the main ones. Another one that makes me laugh is that United don’t seem to provide luggage tags for Frequent Flyers (it promotes your airline after all guys), yet every other airline does. It gets so bad that a group of people over at FlyerTalk have devised their own. Again, is it important to update the livery rather than simply print luggage tags for those who fly often with you?

In short, I think United really has some housekeeping they need to look at/address first before they think that taking on Continental is the best thing to do. After all, what are you going to do when merging Continental traveller’s in to your system? The elite get free standby and we don’t on United and their top tier is 75,000 miles not 1K.

Seems United is trying to run before it can walk…Just like any IT project – planning is critical here and I’ll be interested to see what comes off the back of this grandiose plan/scheme that Mr Smisek says “good things are going to come from”…

Adding the cool factor to Microsoft

With the upcoming release of Kinect for the Xbox (everyone should have gotten a system update within the past few days), Microsoft has added one other “cool” factor to the marketing push for Kinect. The executive team at Microsoft, who are prominently displayed on the Press Pass site:

http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/exec/a-d.aspx

have all been turned in to avatars, with the exception of Sinofsky.

execs

I don’t see Apple doing this any time soon, nor does Nintendo have Wii characters for their executive board Smile

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Why Yahoo! never made it too far

Disclaimer: I am not a programmer. I did a bit of programming in college and I “dabble” occasionally. I by no means consider myself hard core but the following might assume I think I am.

We all know the hype of IE9 right? It’s the latest and greatest out of the halls of Redmond. They’re suggesting for all of us to upgrade and try it out and see for ourselves it’s the best thing since sliced bread. OK, I took the plunge, I upgraded just like many others will – in order to try it out as well as try to be ahead of the IT curve, in such a case I get asked any questions.

Today, I took my browser to Yahoo! Answers because Bing told me it would have the answer to the question I was looking for. I got there and Yahoo! told me IE9 wasn’t a new enough browser and I should upgrade:

yahoo-answers-upgrade-ie

What’s even more comedical is when I click on the Upgrade Now link, in lieu of taking me anywhere it takes me to a page that says:

yahoo faux paux 2

Yep, that’s right. IE8 isn’t available for my system. So, three learning experiences we need to teach Yahoo! in order to get them up to speed:

1. When testing for browser compatibility your programmers might want to use $browser >= $version and not just hard code specific versions

2. P.S. I’m running Windows 7 which runs IE 8 fine although you don’t seem to think so

3. IE8 is not ONLY available for XP, Vista and Server 2008. It comes bundled with Windows 7 which makes it available for that OS too (see number 2 above).

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Bytes by TechNet

If you missed TechEd North America this year, they launched a new initiative called Bytes by TechNet. I was lucky enough to get interviewed by Keith Combs from TechNet…Check out the interview here:

Alternatively find the entire interview on TechNet here

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The mobile (cell) business is hotting up

For those of you eagerly awaiting the Windows Phone 7 Series, the other mobile industry news must be quite interesting as well. What is it I’m taking about or referring to? Well, let’s take a look at two big stories around the mobile industry over the past 24/48 hours:

Android sales overtake the fruit machine. Yep you read it right, the good ‘ole iPhone just isn’t as good as it once was. Proof that you can’t rest on your laurels. – http://gigaom.com/2010/08/02/android-sales-overtake-iphone-in-the-u-s/

– BlackBerry traffic to be outlawed in Saudi. Hmm, that’s an interesting one. Does that mean that all data type traffic will be outlawed or is this a target at RIM only? Read more here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-10860491

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