Tag Archives Technology

Out with the old…

Out with the old...

Out with the old…, originally uploaded by malyousif.

After maybe a couple of years with the MacMini, I thought it was about time to retire the old thing and replace it with a fresh 2.66 iMac 20″.

The experience so far is standard (boring?) painless Mac. I plugged the Firewire cable into the old MiniMac, restarted while holding T and it was instantly recognised by the new iMac which is currently transferring all that could be transferred across to the new machine.

Me happy!

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Shopping!

Shopping!

Shopping!, originally uploaded by malyousif.

I decided to get another computer, because (get this!) I wanted to give my daughter my older MacBook. So what to do other than going to the Apple store in The Fashion Mall next to our hotel and getting:

1. Apple MacBook 2.4GHz, 2GB, 250GB, 13″
2. 1TB Time Capsule
3. 500GB Time Capsule
4. Apple TV
5. Firewire cable
6. Replacement battery for the old laptop.

I came back to the room, hooked the new laptop up to power and within 2 minutes connected the two laptops together with the firewire cable and clicked the “continue” button to copy the data from the old to the new and off I went to a meeting.

I came back later in the day and everything was copied, down to the cookies of the browser. I shut down the other computer, restarted the new one and logged in and just started working, with all the applications and their settings loaded, there wasn’t a single moment that was wasted!

I’m looking forward to connecting the Time Capsules; one for the office (the 1TB) and the other for home where movies and music and other good stuff will be on it ready to be shared to the Apple TV to enjoy the digital media on our TV.

This is a leap year day to remember!

Me happy!

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Internet down. Again.

“We are working as fast as we can.”

Said the Egyptian official off the coast of whose country the severed cable lies. A single cable which has disrupted Internet services across the majority of Middle East and India, bringing some businesses down to their knees. It’s not going to be fixed any time soon, either. It might take up to two weeks to restore data and voice services, predicted some reports.

Severed undersea optical cable

The question is how was this allowed to happen? Not that the cable was severed, this is just an accident which is recurring with much familiarity. The real question is, how is much of the fastest growing economies in the world dependent on a single undersea cable? Didn’t anyone think of a redundancy plan which covers just such an eventuality? One which would withstand such a technical disruption with complete transparency to the customers?

Obviously not. They’re too busy thinking of those grandiose and totally useless schemes of new cities built on man-made dredged islands whose owners are those select few institutional investors who lather at the thought of those billions in profit extracted from the vastly cash rich Sovereign Wealth Funds. A laughable spectacle really, because it’s nothing more than taking money from one pocket and depositing it in the other. But it’s a good scheme. The numbers are pretty. Just like Enron’s.

Regardless. We have a problem, which – in the presence of those funds as well as their generator’s continuous appreciation in world’s markets – could be easily fixed. Our own parliament could contribute too by just once thinking long term and chucking those 40 million [translate] into a fund to create a redundant alternative. An alternative whose profits could easily cover the requirements of those in our community which escalating commodity prices have hurt.

But I won’t be holding my breath to see either solution being adopted.

Short term solutions to long term problems managed by fools does not progress make.

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Googlisation

Is this a word yet?

If not, it should be!

Judging by the number of hits on Google (of course) it is fast becoming one that dictionary editors must consider adding with its variations very soon.

What brought this thought about was a heart-warming story in Al-Wasat’s letters page [translate] where a young man was bringing to the editor’s attention that he (the editor of the paper, Al-Jamri) should not go far to prove the value of Google – as he referred to [translate] in one of his articles – but look much closer to home!

The young man – Hassan Fadhul – tells us his story with a very rare illness he has been suffering from Hypoparathyroidism and no doctor in Bahrain nor France had found a cure or even medication for. They basically told him that he’s got to just live with it. The young man googled it and found that others shared his predicament. Through his search he also identified and registered with an American society concerned with similarly afflicted persons. It was through them he was put in contact with a pioneering treatment and got to personally know a few of his fellow patients.

Googlisation

I wish Hassan Fadhul all the luck and much success in his life. I hope that now that he has the condition under control, thanks to Google, that he carries on life as normal and that ultimately a cure is found for his condition.

This brings me to a thought I have come to fully accept and encourage: one of the most important talents one can nurture now is to hone the skill of searching on the Internet; Google and other search engines in particular, and then add the skill of filtration in how to accept or reject the information gathered.

This googling (note the small letters) will become one of the most important skills one can get, and I would not be too surprised for an enterprising university offering courses on how to get better at it. I would not be further surprised if that pioneering university is located at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA either!

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The iPhone on Bahrain’s networks.. WORKS!

It took some thinkingMachines to crack the iPhone in Bahrain!
click image for the full set

We have pretty bright sparks who successfully cracked the iPhone to work on Bahrain’s networks, both of them! As you can plainly see, though MTC did not change their identity yet, they’re still on their old brand… maybe they should utilise the services of the thinkingMachines to crack that nut too! 😉

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Bloody condensation

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I drove to the Tree of Life this afternoon in order to get good sunset shots with the Old Lady in them.

Almost at the site, I parked the car by the side of the road and got out in order to take the wide shot of the locale and other general shots to sweeten the edit. So I took out and set up the newly delivered tripod then enthusiastically (and gingerly) took the new superduper camcorder out of its also just delivered hard case, put it on the tripod and switched it on. After the customary greeting (it just reminds you that it is, in fact, a Sony and that you are indeed in a camera mode – proving that technology does talk condescendingly to mere mortals) a couple of beeps and an unusual message started flashing on the screen with a couple of weird icons to accompany it:

C:21:00
Moisture condensation.
Eject the cassette

Lovely. I’ve just driven in rush hour and got here in more than an hour and I get this. Yes it was hot. Yes the camcorder was in an air-conditioned office and yes it is a bit humid today, but you would think that it would be resilient enough for these “normal” operating circumstances in Bahrain!

Ah well. Checked the manual and all it said is eject the cassette and leave the compartment empty and the camera turned on for an hour before use. Huh? Okay, if that’s what Mr. Manual says then that’s what’s got to be done. I pressed the Eject button and the bloody compartment only rose half way and it was solidly stuck! What the hell. I tried to console and cajole it a bit for it to release the tape but no joy. Back to the manual and it said that if the mechanism does suffer from condensation then the tape might get stuck and it will take about 10 seconds for it to eject it completely. Okay, wait for a little longer, but not joy.

So I left it as it is in the case and continued my drive to enjoy the view of the Old Lady for a while. It was pristine and quiet, only a couple of cars which drove off as I approached, so it was quite peaceful too. The heat and humidity were bearable, it is the end of August in Bahrain after all.

In a while I looked at the camcorder but was surprised that the bloody thing was still flashing at me. I relented, I thought there is no way that that would go away yet. It seems like a real infestation of water in there that it might have just as well been at the bottom of a swimming pool.

I drove back to the office and Googled the error which resulted in various references, none as novel as this:

solved the problem very easy in 5 seconds…
by remove all batteries (inclusive the very small one (maybe behind the screen shing).. then hit it very hard..
now the memory can’t hold that there is an error and with the hitting things get better
[…] I have in fact seen with my very eyes, repair people (independent not at Sony) take a camera in, wait until the customer was out the door, take the main battery off, whack the camera VERY HARD and turn it back on. This has worked so many times I am embarrassed to mention it. They then put the camera on the shelf for a couple of days and call the customer back and charge them for a complete (and expensive) cleaning. The camera was usually fixed before they got to the car.

WHAT? NO BLOODY WAY!

But it was yes bloody way throughout the comments after that one with none showing any dissent on that point of view! I couldn’t believe it, I thought that this must be a major leg pulling exercise.

I searched some more (while the camera was still comatose with its compartment door open and the cassette still jammed) but couldn’t find any further references. It’s been more than 2 hours now and this bloody thing is still dead.

Exasperated, I judiciously (I’m an electronics engineer and been around cameras for a while, so please don’t try anything of the following things I’ve done unless you want to irreparably damage your camera and invalidate its warranty – you have been warned!) applied pressure on the compartment down and fortunately the camera restored the compartment where it should be and I could hear the head engaging again. But unfortunately the condensation message was still lit. I tried ejecting again but the compartment once again got stuck. I repeated the process quite gently and tried ejecting yet again, fortunately I was second time lucky. The tape came out. Phew!

But the condensation message was still lit!

I removed the battery and re-inserted it in again only to be rewarded with the same error continuing to be displayed.

To hell with it (please don’t try this!) I turned the bitch upside down and wacked it (gently and judiciously!) put the battery back in and viola! It worked!

An afternoon was wasted, but I learnt a couple of things:

    1. Don’t keep tapes in the camcorder; only insert them when you need to and remove them when the shoot is over.
    2. Don’t store your cameras in a cold (or hot) location, certainly not in direct air-conditioner stream of cold air. If you do, you will most definitely invite condensation into your camera and will lose its use in no time. At best you will waste half a day waiting for it to re-acclimatise with the surrounding environment. They are not as good as we are in adapting to situations and they are expensive beasts (not just physically but in lost time and expenses).

I’m quite happy that it’s fixed and can look forward to going out and shooting… but bad luck hasn’t finished yet, my daughter just called to say that our whole neighbourhood has been blacked out! No power!

Wonderful!

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New Toys!

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Have a look at these beauties guys:

New toys, the Sony HDV Camcorder HVR-Z1E and the HDV player/recorder HVR-M25E

These, my friends, are the Sony HVR-Z1E HDV Camcorder with the accompanying HVR-25E HDV player/recorder. I’ve had to wait for about a month to receive them. They finally arrived this afternoon. There are still a few accessories still to arrive later this week.

I suppose I should now pull the finger our and make some movies!

If you know anyone who wants to do a corporate or industrial video, give them my details please. I’ll buy you a cup of your favourite brew if you do with my thanks.

Me sooo happy! 😎

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The family’s back

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and how would I know this other than seeing them once in a while?

Batelco confirmed it in a lovely SMS to me at lunch!

Batelco SMS informing me that I shall return to the dark ages for two weeks until they reestablish my connection speed

Thus, our household is banished – thanks to Arif and Batelco – to the dark ages for another two weeks until the new billing cycle commences.

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It’s coming…

Bahraini smart identity card

Regardless of anyone’s apprehensions regarding the Smart Card, the PR machine in its regard has been accelerated of late to shove it down our throats with various PR pieces and laws as well as whole governmental divisions being enacted.

How is all of this going to affect us in Bahrain is anyone’s guess. My private guess is that it is going to be detrimental to our freedom – at best. Not because the card itself is a bad idea, not at all, things are moving in that direction the world over anyway. It’s failure in Bahrain is the almost complete absence of its supporters simply because of the people who have been assigned to oversee it, and the clandestine organisation that is pushing it.

No project can succeed if it lacks the basic necessity of trust. This one, for all the potential good that it can otherwise bring, is destined to doom. Bahrainis simply lack the necessary trust to make it successful. Oh they will go and get that card issued, to be sure, because as we have seen with the CPR card that preceded it, no earthly transaction could be completed in this country without it.

What’s left to do but tell those who care to simply “brace brace brace” as this thing will come crashing down, or at least will never reach its full potential.

Unless of course full transparency is adopted and those who have hijacked this project for nefarious deeds are removed.

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Lightspeed’s response and other points

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I’ve had a good long chat with Shaikh Abdulla Al-Khalifa, the MD of Lightspeed this afternoon where he crossed some tees and dotted a few eyes. As one might expect, he was not forthcoming as far as the money aspects of the issues (overhead per customer, investment levels, margins, forecast number of customers) but he was adamant that with the backing of big operators like France Telecom, which majority owns Jordan Telecom which in turn majority owns Lightspeed, they will have the financial wherewithall to pull this and future packages and services (triple-play).

Therefore, he said, whenever there is a reason to buy more bandwidth there will be no hesitation in doing so, and in fact they have already planned for that eventuality. It is interesting that he also stressed that they will buy from BIX and “from any other infrastructural provider who comes into Bahrain” – which is something I know that is being worked on, but that’s another topic.

As for the resilience and reliability issues, he was comfortable enough with the signed SLAs with both Batelco and BIX. I am not; however, as I could not find any audit requirement by independent watchdogs to ensure that Batelco and any other operator actually abiding by published and contractually agreed contention ratios. From my own bitter experience I can tell you that I feel that the contention ratio in my area could not possibly be what is promised; it possibly is much higher owing to how slow the connection gets in both the office and at home.

When I pushed for me to see their audited financials, he was a bit bashful and said that in reality they have only been in operation for about a year and although they do have audited reports, their costs and overheads where all lodged with the TRA. I could not find annuals on their website, which is another criticism I had put to him as I believed that their website is at best very amateurish. He agreed and promised that another nicer version is being worked on which should be launched by year’s end, maybe sooner.

There is no reason for me to believe that they are playing games; it is not in their best interest to be sure and what they are doing is slowly chipping away at the monolith. Their ability to be the first in the market to offer this service from the 1st of August, while others can only apply for the service on that date was due to Lightspeed being the selected beta tester for the service – according to Shaikh Abdulla. In fact, he said, they have been testing the service on a limited basis for quite a while, but the TRA and Batelco’s requirement for “belt and braces” by double testing everything before launching the product delayed them from coming to market even sooner.

As to the financial stability and some operators still owing money to BIX/Batelco he doesn’t see an issue in this at all and I partly agree; BIX provides a 45 day credit facility to its customers while Batelco’s terms are generally 30 days, so that actually and practically lumps all operators in the same basket as far as owing moneys to vendors. I agree that it is good business practice to utilise the full credit period given – why would you give your money away before you really have to while you can invest it however briefly in other pursuits?

Shaikh Abdulla also feels that the Batelco-mandated requirement of minimum registrants per month and a really stringent forecasting procedure could easily be reached and surpassed. He did not offer any specific numbers of customers already signed up to their service so far, nor was he forthcoming in disclosing their submitted forecasts. I somewhat hesitate to share his enthusiasm; however, but am more than happy to wish Lightspeed the best of luck in this regard.

The clauses I am talking about – by the way – are clearly stated in the TRA produced “Bitstream Service” description document of which I quote a few of relevant sections which you too might find interesting:

3. SERVICE TERMS

  • 3.1 Provision of the Bitstream shall be conditional on the Access Seeker agreeing to submit the following minimum aggregate number of Bitstream Requests for all Batelco Exchanges per month for each year of the provision of any Bitstream Service by Batelco to the Access Seeker:
  • (a) 192 per month in the first year;
  • (b) 128 per month in the second year; and
  • (c) 96 per month in the third year.
  • 3.2 Batelco will implement Bitstream Requests from the Access Seeker and requests for configuration and provision of connections from other Licensed Operators and from itself with respect to any Batelco Exchange in batches of 32, representing the number of ports on a DSLAM or MSAN equipment card in the Batelco Exchange.
  • and

    7. FORECASTING

    • 7.1 At the beginning of each calendar month, the Access Seeker must supply a forecast of the expected requests for the Bitstream Service in each month of the six month period following the date of the forecast, in the form required by Batelco from time to time.
    • 7.2 Subject to Batelco complying with paragraph 7.3 below, for each forecast made under this Service Description, the aggregate number of requests for Bitstream Services identified in a calendar month of the forecast plus the two following calendar months are a commitment to order those Bitstream Services. If the Access Seeker has not placed those number of requests by the end of the calendar month the Access Seeker shall pay an amount equal to three times the relevant monthly port charge for each request for Bitstream Services not ordered.
    • 7.3 Batelco will use all reasonable endeavours to adhere to the rollout plan for BEs at Annex 5 and will give the Access Seeker reasonable notice of any changes to that Annex, such
      notice period to be at least the same as any notice period by which any Batelco retail operation is notified of changes by any Batelco wholesale operation.

    I really have a problem with the above paragraph being titled “Forecasting” because normal forecasting or pipelining I am familiar with in my business is an exercise for a us – the customer – to provide the vendor with a non-binding best guestimate of foreseeable purchases so that the vendor could statistically prepare their production lines to fulfill the needs. Needless to say, vendors have developed quite sophisticated methods to forecast demand based on feedback they receive from their customers.

    With the above requirements it is hardly a forecast but a commitment to buy services and you would get penalised for it if you don’t order whatever you have forecast for the current month and the 2 months which follow, essentially you are giving them a quarterly prepaid cheque and if you don’t deliver, boy your ass is grass, to the tune of a penalty which is three times the port rental charge! I will leave you to do the math if a customer does not fulfil their numbers. Man do I salivate at the prospect of having salesmen whom I can treat like this, slavery would be a blessing for them I can tell you!

    As to the very important contention ratios which Batelco must abide by (by the description does not provide practical manners in which it could police this very important aspect of the operation)

    [TABLE=19]

    Of course the costs of providing these services which the operators will have to pay Batelco (note that these are not all the charges obviously, there are several more which are quite steep that the operators have to pay for the privilege of offering these services in lieu of Batelco, if you are really interested I can give them to you, suffice it to state that the pleasure of establishing a bitstream relationship will set you back BD50,701 – don’t you ever forget the BD1 in that figure! – but fortunately that’s a one time charge. You do pay a monthly relationship maintenance fee of BD1,067 for the honour, however, not forgetting the other infrastructural charges you will have already borne by investing in equipment not provided by Batelco nor BIX.)

    [TABLE=20]

    I would like to draw your attention to the 256kbps package which is arguably the one that most of the 50-60k ADSL subscribers in Bahrain have opted for. Note that Batelco sells this service at BD10 retail, but offers it at higher than that for wholesale! I hope I understood the figures wrong and wish to be corrected, but that in itself is unsavoury isn’t it? Apart from it being completely anti-competitive.

    All in all, there is much more to this issue than meets the eye. I fully realise that getting anything out of Batelco is akin to wrenching a steak from the mouth of a hungry lion, but it has to be done, and if this is exercised by (now) smaller operators in the market, then so be it and I wish them all much luck. Anything that could takes a chunk of Batelco is good for this country. Generally.

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