Nov 8, 2012 - VOIP solution round THREE

For 19 months I'd been pretty happy with Callcentric for our home VOIP, but that all changed last month. For two weeks, Callcentric was under a DDOS attack resulting in flaky service. Then superstorm Sandy hit the East coast. Amazingly, Callcentric has no redundancy or disaster preparedness in their system - everything is served out of a single datacenter in NYC with no backup in VOIP infrastructure. During Sandy, they didn't even bother to point their DNS to a temporary location so people could at least get a webpage with status. They just went off the wire - completely.

To add insult to that injury, Callcentric made no attempt to proactively notify customers about the DDOS events - they only way I found out about it was because I found our phone wasn't working, so logged into my dashboard to see what was up, and only then got presented with a message. Not an acceptable amount of communication.

I can accept one of these failures, but all these together is a show-stopper for me. Not having reliable (or any) phone service for 3-4 weeks is just not a workable solution, nor is lack of notifying customers. I say this not only as a customer, but as a developer of SAAS apps - I know that building a system capable of absorbing these types of failures is possible, if not simple, and really a requirement in today's wired world.

So a couple of weeks ago I signed up with Flowroute and switched the ATA over. So far, so good! Flowroute is not only cheaper than Callcentric, but DIDs (inbound phone numbers) are allocated instantly on demand, rather than having to wait a couple of days for an assignment. As an added bonus, Flowroute supports CNAM - which means you can add your name in outbound ANI (CallerID).

So far, the Flowroute experience has been excellent. I actually looked at them early last year before choosing Callcentric, but was put off by the $35 minimum payment. I was afraid that if I didn't like it, or wasn't happy, that it would be a hassle to get a refund. So far, I don't anticipate getting a refund, as the service has been great. $35 goes a long way for BYOD VOIP. Our DID is $1.39, as is E911 service. And per-minute rates are about a penny (half of Callcentric).

All the features I need are there - so feature parity, lower prices, and hopefully better service makes this a win.

Configuring the Linksys PAP2TNA ATA was no problem even though Flowroute doesn't document a specific configuration for this device. They support the G729a codec. Call forwarding from Google Voice seems slightly faster than with Callcentric.

Having a dual port ATA is handy when switching service, as the new service can be configured with no disruption to the old.

We'll see if in a few months, or a year, there's a round FOUR to this post. I don't really know if Flowroute can provide an effective level of redundancy - only time will tell, as anyone who's been through a disaster can tell you, disaster preparedness drills never cover everything.

You can read part one of this saga here and part two is here.
And another update here on using an Obihai OBi100 after my Linksys died.

Oct 13, 2012 - Why you shouldn't buy a Kindle or Nook eReader

I'm really surprised that Amazon and Barnes and Noble continue to push out eReader devices, and even more surprised that people are still buying them. Two or three years ago, it made a lot of sense, but it's 2012 now and if you want a new eReader, simply go buy one of these for $199:

I say this as the owner of two Nook products - an original first generation e-ink based reader, and a Nook Tablet.

The reality is that a real Android tablet, like the Google Nexus 7 can do everything that the Kindle and Nook can - you can read all existing books from either device by installing the Kindle or Nook apps. And unlike the limited eReader tablets, a real Android tablet is... well... a real Android tablet so you have access to all the apps in Google Play, and full hardware features - such as a GPS and Bluetooth. For just an incremental additional cost you get a full blown tablet-based computing platform.

The Kindle and Nook are very limited, as they only allow you to install applications from their very, very limited app stores. There are ways of hacking these devices to install regular Android apps (I did this on my Nook Tablet), but it's still a hack - and many applications are still not supported on the hardware - such as anything requiring a GPS.

There's only one reason I can think of to buy a Kindle or Nook - if you really want an e-ink display for better viewing in direct sunlight, in which case it might make sense to buy one of the e-ink based models, but note that due to technical limitations of e-ink displays, these units don't have anywhere near the capabilities of models with LCD or OLED displays.

And finally, yes - Apple is coming out with 7" tablet of their own, but it will come as no surprise that I wouldn't recommend it. It just doesn't make sense to pay twice as much for Apple's proprietary hardware and locked down ecosystem. It makes me laugh everytime someone tries to plug an Apple product into anything else, with all the ridiculous dongles required to convert from industry standard connectors to Apple's proprietary ones. Enough said about that - do yourself a favor and buy an Android based product. You'll thank me later!

Sep 23, 2012 - Converting Raymarine FSH files to GPX

I've always been a bit annoyed by not being able to convert data from my Raymarine C-Series chartplotter into an open and accessible format, such as GPX. Although there are some tools available that support the FSH files written by these chartplotters, they are either not-free or very limited - such as not supporting all data (such as tracks), or by only running on Windows.

I want to be able to back up the data (waypoints, routes, and tracks) on my chartplotter and load it into OpenCPN, so I started to write a python script to do so, available on github. In it's current form it's very rough but exports waypoints and routes to GPX which I can then import into OpenCPN.

The script doesn't yet support tracks, nor is it very resilient or stable in decoding values, but it's a start. Since no other freely available, cross-platform solution exists for converting FSH files, this is a free, open-source project licensed under the GPL.

Long term, once the FSH format is fully decoded, the plan is to turn this into a GPS Babel module. Until then, give this Python script a try.

Jul 6, 2012 - It's not clear that we really need patents in most industries

The title for this post is a quote from a well reading interview with Richard Posner, the judge who presided over the Apple vs Motorola suit, and ultimately threw out the lawsuit:
It won't be a surprise to anyone reading this that I agree with Mr. Posner. The current US patent system is broken, especially when it comes to software and our modern selection of computers, tablets, phones, and other software-driven devices.

It's time for companies to win because it's what people want and are buying, not because of lawsuits. Competition is good for the industry, and the differences between competitors are pretty small these days. We are past the point of "invention" - at this point it's all refinement and innovation, and let's let that battle happen in the marketplace, not the court room.

Apr 20, 2012 - Think Costa Concordia was an isolated event?

Mad about Costa Concordia? You should be! But read this if you think it's an isolated incident that these cruise ships care one bit about people's lives:
I think the answer is pretty clear: everyone should boycott the entire cruise ship industry. This is really sad, but it's been proven recently that these cruise ship companies are not honorable and do not deserve to be in business as they are not honoring international law.