Archive for December, 2017

In Depth: NEMS

Posted in Products with tags on December 30, 2017 by itnerd

One of the things that I have to do is troubleshoot network issues. In the past, I’ve used a virtual machine running Wireshark, or more recently I’ve been using this on may MacBook Pro. Both are useful for situations where a network issue was pretty clear and easily found. But the problem with both these solutions is that if I am hunting for something that isn’t easily found, or I have to catch it in the act so to speak, they’re impractical. I would have to set either of these on something that the customer owns. The same is true if I want to set it up for constant monitoring of a network to make sure that it is running as it should.

Enter NEMS which is short for Nagios Enterprise Monitoring Server. It is a pre-configured and ready-to-deploy Nagios Core image designed to run on the Raspberry Pi 3 micro computer which can be found on Amazon for just over $50 CDN. Making it a cheap and easy way to set up network monitoring for networks big and small.

NEMS watches hosts and services that you specify and alerts you when things go wrong on your network. For example, I was having problems on my home network accessing my mail server. Since the traffic to and from my mail server is encrypted, I used NEMS to isolate that traffic on my network and I was able to see that the traffic was being altered by by the router that I was using at the time which my mail server was rejecting because it had been altered. That allowed me to take action and replace the router. In short, NEMS gave me a very easy and quick way to figure out an issue that would have puzzled me for days. But besides trying to figure out odd issues on your network, you can be alerted if your server’s hard drive is getting full, if your web site goes down, or if your server room is getting warm. That way you can take action before things get critical.

The project is run by Robbie Ferguson, President Category5 TV Network. I spoke to him recently and he’s a big believer in trying to push down this sort of technology which used to be available only to big companies down to anyone who needs it. He’s thought this through from a setup and deployment standpoint, so if you have a basic understanding of how networks work, and you have an adventurous streak, you don’t need someone like me to deploy NEMS. Or if you’re someone like me who troubleshoots networks among other things, I can deploy this solution and give my clients enterprise grade network monitoring for next to nothing.

If you’re responsible for a network, or you have a a strange network issue, I’d suggest grabbing a Raspberry Pi and a copy of NEMS. From my experience, you’ll understand what is going on when it comes to what’s on your network, which will allow you to better manage and troubleshoot it.

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2017: Year In Review

Posted in Commentary on December 30, 2017 by itnerd

At this time of year I like to look back over the past 365 days and pick out the stories that really got my attention. Now if you have something that you think that should be on this list, leave a comment with your thoughts. Now on to the top stories of the year:

The Pwnage In 2017 Was Epic: While Equifax was the posterchild for pwnage, there seemed to be an epic spree of pwnage this year with companies getting pwned right left and center via hacks, ransomware and malware. Clearly, 2017 was the year of pwnage which makes this the number one story of the year by a country mile. Seeing as every time a company get pwned, you and I get affected by it, we can only pray that 2018 doesn’t serve up even more pwnage.

Apple Can No Longer Say “It Just Works”: Apple had some high profile #fails this year starting with the epic security issue where anyone could get root access to a Mac with ease (though that was fixed within a day), followed by vulnerabilities in HomeKit, not to mention numerous other high profile and embarrassing bugs in a variety of Apple products that seems to highlight that their QA process is in free fall. Oh yeah, Apple was caught slowing down iPhones with aging batteries which they tried to explain away, but got targeted with nine (and counting) lawsuits, before offering up an apology and cheap battery replacements. But not before being trolled by their competition. Let’s face it. Apple has seriously lost their way as I guess they spent way too much time building Apple Park and not enough time building quality products. It will be interesting to see if 2018 turns this around for the better, or we witness Apple continue the decline that it started last year.

Rogers Serves Up An Apple Watch Fail: You’d think that when the Apple Watch Series 3 W/LTE popped up, Canada’s largest Telco would be all over it. Nope. It turns out that Rogers don’t support the eSIM technology that this iteration of the Apple Watch uses. At least not yet as they promise support for it sometime in 2018. Too bad Telus and Bell had support for eSIM in 2017. As a result, Rogers spent the last quarter of the year trying to spin the lack of support for eSIM in some way that would keep their customers from bolting to Bell and Telus. In the process they gave me lots to write about as frustrated Rogers customers kept serving up examples of how badly Canada’s largest telco was dealing with this. By the time they come up with eSIM support for the Apple Watch in 2018, their customers may not care as they’ll be using their Apple Watches on another telco.

Rogers Serves Up An Epic Service Fail: In the midst of the Apple Watch Fail, Rogers had a multi-day outage that left any user who swapped Rogers hardware offline for days at a time before service was fully restored to users with vague promises of compensation to boot. What didn’t help is the fact that during this multi-day outage, Rogers managed to make an already bad situation worse by making promises that they couldn’t keep, and sometimes going silent when customers were asking for help. Clearly this was not Rogers finest hour. Hopefully Rogers CEO Joe Natale who has a reputation for being laser focused on customer service can improve this so that none of this happens again in 2018. If I were them I’d start with their gigabit Internet offering which has been problematic from the start.

Bell Makes The News For Questionable Sales And Customer Service Practices: Late this year a story broke that Bell was using extremely high pressure sales tactics on every call. And this was coming from current and former Bell call center employees. Of course Bell denied this, but the scale of customers who were reporting the same thing made it clear that Bell has a serious problem. One that I don’t think is going to get solved anytime soon as the first step to fixing a problem is admitting that you have one. Which Bell hasn’t done. But they are free to surprise me in 2018 by putting an end to this behavior and offering up better customer service than they have to date. If they did that, I may be convinced to switch from Rogers.

Hyundai Canada Finally Delivers Android Auto And Apple CarPlay: Over the last two years I’ve been reporting on the frustration of Hyundai Canada owners not being able to retrofit their vehicles with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay which is something that other car companies have offered for at least a couple of years now. That changed late this year as Hyundai Canada found a way to deliver these updates to their owners, which I can say made a lot of owners of Hyundai vehicles going back a couple of years very happy.

Canadians Rush To Score Cheap Cell Phone Plans: As if to underscore the fact that Canadians get hosed when it comes to cellular phone service, late in the year Canadians rushed to score $60/10GB data plans from pretty much every Canadian carrier. All the mayhem was precipitated by a price war breaking out between them. Is this a turning point that will lead to cheaper cell phone plans for Canadians? The jury is still out on that. But maybe 2018 will offer up some clues on that front.

The IT Nerd Investigates Two Tech Support Scams: When a pair of my clients got hit by tech support scams based out of India, I took it upon myself to investigate both. I took the time to illustrate who they are, what they do, and what you can do to protect yourself. And during the process of investigating the second one, I got a threat to take down my story “or else.” That didn’t go over well with me as I do not respond to threats. The fact is that the people who run the scams are total and complete scum, and anytime I come across one, I will expose it so that it makes it harder for them scam people of their hard earned dollars.

Linksys Serves Up Bad Firmware To Its User Base Causing Frustration In the Process: Linksys late in the year pushed out a firmware update for their WRT32X and WRT3200ACM routers which are their flagship routers. The firmware in question caused issues and resulted in frustration for many who use that router. I was affected by this when they pushed this out. And I had issues when I tried to get help, though I was eventually able to roll back to a firmware that worked. Though that didn’t work for everyone. In the meantime both Netgear and ASUS were serving up routers to me in the hopes that I would review them and give them some positive PR in order to steal some marketshare from Linksys. Which according to them, they did. What made the situation worse is that affected users felt that Linksys wasn’t hearing them. So I offered some free advice to Linksys as one of the things that I do is help companies to build high performing technical support and customer service contact centers. But even though they took my advice and even started to swap routers for affected users, it may be too late for them to recover from this as there is still no fix for this issue as I type this. Thus 2018 may prove to be a make or break year for Linksys.

Kaspersky And The US Go Toe To Toe: Kaspersky AV because of the fact that it is a Russian company with alleged ties to Russian spooks ended up on the wrong end of the stick this year when it came to its dealings in the US. It didn’t help that they were kind of implicated in the leaking of sensitive NSA data along the way. And Though they were banned by the US and the company sued the US as a result, this story is far from over. We’ll see where this goes next in 2018.

Uber Had A Really Bad Year: In no particular order, they got caught by Apple doing things they should not have, they got caught covering up the fact that they got pwned, and oh yeah, they dumped their CEO and lost some key battles on a few fronts this year. Not a good year if you’re Uber at all.

Stuff I Didn’t Get Time To Cover: Bitcoin, Facebook, Russia and “fake news”, Net Neutrality, Tesla Model 3, Augmented Reality, Smart Speakers. I’m sure there’s more, but those are the big items that I simply didn’t have time for this year.

The IT Nerd Goes To India…. Twice: There were two business trips to India (one of them with a brief detour into Germany for 27 hours) with more business trips planned for 2018.

The IT Nerd Takes A Road Trip To Newfoundland: My wife and I took a two week road trip to Newfoundland and back this year. Take it from me, if you want to see Canada, doing a road trip is the way to do it as this is a beautiful place.

Reviews, Reviews, And More Reviews: This year was a busy one for me as I did 53 product reviews this year. On top of all that, I did the fourth annual IT Nerd Awards. Without giving too much away, you can expect to see much more of that in 2018.

And now, here’s my top ten posts in terms of page views from this year:

  1. Rogers Rolling Out New Modem/Routers For Ignite Internet…. Why You Should Care
  2. How To Fix “Windows can not connect to the printer 0x00000057.”
  3. A Plot Twist On The Rogers/Apple Watch Series 3 Story [UPDATED]
  4. Rogers Ignite Gigabit Internet: Not Living Up To The Hype [UPDATED x5]
  5. Review: GTA Car Kits Pure Bluetooth Car Kit
  6. Review: Rogers NextBox 3.0
  7. Review: Asus Transformer Pad TF103C (Model K010)
  8. Another Plot Twist On The Rogers/Apple Watch Series 3 Story
  9. Why Is Rogers Not Going To Sell The Series 3 Apple Watch?
  10. Review: Kristall Liquid Screen Protector

As if to highlight the fact that Rogers did not have a good year, Three stories on the Rogers/Apple Watch debacle show up in the top ten. That’s not good if you’re Rogers. I also note two stories on my problematic experience with Rogers Gigabit Internet pop up as well. Which confirms that I was not the only person to have problems with Rogers fastest Internet offering. That’s not good for them as well. Clearly, Rogers has some serious work to do in 2018 to turn this around as from a PR perspective, this is pretty bad.

And the top ten countries that visit my blog are:

  1. Canada
  2. United States
  3. United Kingdom
  4. Australia
  5. India
  6. Germany
  7. Indonesia
  8. Netherlands
  9. Singapore
  10. Ireland

In all, people from 192 countries visit this blog. What’s really interesting is that I’ve received page views from Syria for the first time. Honestly, I am not sure what to make of that seeing that they have an ongoing civil war and they’ve been hit with economic sanctions. But it shows that my blog has a global reach with almost 2 million page views this year which is 25% higher than last year.

Here’s to 2018 as for better or worse, the tech world is really going to be very interesting. And I will be here to comment on it.

 

Some Samsung Galaxy Note 8 & Galaxy S8 Plus Reportedly Shutting Down & Not Powering Up Again

Posted in Commentary with tags on December 30, 2017 by itnerd

It seems that Samsung might have phone issues again. The good news is that they’re not blowing up. The bad news is tha Galaxy Note 8 and Galaxy S8 Plus units in the hands of customers are  reportedly refusing to charge, leaving them with dead devices.

Here’s a YouTube video that someone posted of this phenomena:

This is being reported by AndroidAuthority who says the issue occurs after the phone falls to 0% battery and switches off, following which the device becomes completely unresponsive. It’s not clear how widespread the problem is. But Samsung is swapping affected phones. Thus if this happens to you, your best course of action is to reach out to Samsung for a replacement.

20,000,000+ phones sold, $2.8 billion at stake for consumers: Flipsy

Posted in Commentary with tags on December 29, 2017 by itnerd

More than 20 million Americans recently received new phones, and since the average used smartphone is worth $140, that means their used phones are collectively worth $2.8 billion. Flipsy.com‘s mission is to help people get the most money for their used devices.

Flipsy.com’s suite of free tools makes it easy to instantly find:

  • The highest-paying cash offers from online phone buyback stores (more than Gazelle and Usell)
  • Local stores that buy used phones
  • Blue book values for any phone
  • Historical phone value trends
  • Which companies offer price locks and for what duration (lock in prices now, sell later)

For example, for a 32GB iPhone 7 Plus on the Verizon network, Flipsy.com can show you:

  • The highest-paying online buyback offer is $357 cash
  • The device is worth $456 on the private market
  • The locations and contact information for local stores that will buy it

In addition to getting cash for used phones, selling to online buyback companies is a great way to recycle responsibly.

The IT Nerd Award For The Best SUV Of 2017 Goes To: 2017 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD

Posted in Products with tags on December 29, 2017 by itnerd

IMG_0225

Mazda has seriously raised the bar when it comes to the compact SUV segment when they rolled out the 2017 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD. It handled great, which was a given seeing as we’re talking about Mazda. It sips gas, which is again a given seeing as this is a Mazda. But they seriously amped up the style both internally and externally. In terms of the former, it has an outstanding interior. In fact, it’s so good that luxury car brands may want to take a look at it as the could likely take some lessons from Mazda as it is simply that good. The compact SUV segment is highly competitive. But Mazda has managed to have a product that is not only good enough to make them king of the hill at the moment, but one that is an IT Nerd Award winner as well for 2017.

An Update To My Slow Speed Issue With Rogers Gigabit Internet….. We’re Looking At Bell

Posted in Commentary with tags , on December 29, 2017 by itnerd

When I last spoke about the fact that my Rogers gigabit Internet connection has been half that speed for the last week and a half, and it appeared that this issue was bigger than just me, I was trying to work up the courage to phone Rogers. The reason being that phoning them tends to be very frustrating. Thus it requires courage to pick up the phone and call them.

I’m not there yet.

But my wife and I did start looking at the competition. Namely Bell. Now if we were going to switch telcos, we’d switch everything. TV, home phone, Internet. So we started to look at Bell Bundles for all of those services. This is what we saw:

bell

Hmmmm…. No bundles with gigabit Internet. No problem, they have a build your own bundle tab. So we walked through it and configured a Bell Bundle that matched what we’re getting from Rogers. Here’s the price:

Bell 2.JPG

Now we were paying about that with Rogers until the last time we had a problem with our gigabit Internet service where Rogers cut the price down to $155 a month to retain us as customers. Thus this price wasn’t a shock to us.

Another option is to just get Internet from Bell and keep or TV and home phone service with Rogers. At least for now. Here’s what they’re serving up for gigabit Internet service:

bell 4

Well, $99 a month is not a bad price. So you’re likely wondering why we didn’t pull the trigger. Two things. The first being this:

bell 3.JPG

 

Bell discounts their services for a period of time to get you in the door. Then the price goes up. We’re not fans of that. A company should just give you their best price all the time without playing games like this. The second reason why we didn’t pull the trigger is that Bell was caught using extremely high pressure sales tactics on every call. And this was coming from current and former Bell call center employees. Of course Bell denied this, but the scale of customers who were reporting the same thing made it clear that Bell has a serious problem. And we’ve experienced a version of this before we dumped Bell several years back. This is giving us a reason to question if we should go back to them.

So the bottom line is that we’re continuing to look at options while working up the courage to call Rogers and see if they can fix this issue, which we wonder if they can seeing as this is the third time we’ve had speed issues with them.

One last thing. If reps from Rogers and Bell are reading this, you’re free to reach out and convince us why you’re the choice to go with as we’re open to hear what you have to say. If you can show that you can provide consistent speed and great customer service, we’ll sign on instantly. Because all we want are services that deliver what is promised at a reasonable price with great customer serivce. No more, no less.

UPDATE: Just after 5PM today, I got a call from The Office Of The President at Rogers. Clearly my posts got their attention. I had a quick but productive conversation with them and they noted that a couple of my downstream channels were out of spec. Whether this could be responsible for what I am seeing, he wasn’t sure. In any case, a tech was going to come out on Tuesday afternoon. But what he said about my channels being out of spec sparked my interest. So I put my IT Nerd hat on and logged into my modem. This is what I saw:

Screen Shot 2017-12-29 at 6.00.15 PM

Generally speaking the signal strength for down stream channels should be between – 10 dBmV to + 10 dBmV. Ideally at 0dBmV. What I notice is that the signal strength for channels 29 and 30 (look under the Channel ID column) are just outside the upper limit of that spec. In terms of the signal noise ratio, it should be in the 36~40 dB range. I notice that a lot of my channels are just outside the upper limit of that spec. But neither of those should cause the sort of issues that I am seeing. The reason why I am pointing this out is that in previous go rounds with this issue, I could find clear and convincing evidence that something was up with Roger’s network. I’m not seeing that here. This merits further investigation as there’s something weird going on here and I am not 100% sure that this is a Rogers issue. Thus my weekend is going to be spent really digging into this to fully understand what is going on here.

UPDATE #2: Last night I spent a couple of hours digging into this and I couldn’t come up with a reason why this was happening. But I could see that there was a problem. That was highly frustrating. Thus I decided to park my troubleshooting and pick it up the next day.

Today at 7AM I did another speed test and to my surprise my speeds are back to normal. With normal being something north of 930 Mbps downstream at the Rogers modem. I thought that was weird because things just don’t fix themselves. So I logged into the Rogers modem to see what was going on. This is what I saw:

Screen Shot 2017-12-30 at 10.56.32 AM.png

If you look at my signal strength, every channel except channel 30 is within spec. That was different than the picture of this same screen that I took yesterday. That was weird. It was about that time that I heard the sound of a truck backing up. I took the liberty of going out to the balcony to take a look outside and I saw two moving trucks. That made me wonder if the cause of the issue was one of the people who was moving out today. You see Rogers Internet is a closed loop system. What that means is if someone has a bad piece of equipment like a cable splitter on their connection, it could affect other people. Thus using that logic, it is plausible that one of the people who moved out today had something bad on their cable connection and I was collateral damage in terms of whatever havoc it was creating. And the second they disconnected the problematic piece of equipment, things returned to normal. Either that or something else that’s customer facing changed inside the Rogers infrastructure that I am connected to that accounts for this. Another data point is that it is unlikely that Rogers had the time or the ability to send someone out to the condo development overnight to look at any of their equipment on the property. Especially on a long weekend.

I’ve reported all of this to the person at the Office Of The President that I was talking to and suggested that instead of sending a tech out to visit me, that tech might want to poke around the equipment outside to see if something is up. In the meantime, I will continue to monitor this to see if this is just a fluke or if all is good going forward.

HTC & Motorola To Planet Earth: We Don’t Slow Old Phones Like Apple Does

Posted in Commentary with tags on December 28, 2017 by itnerd

You can fully expect more statements like the ones that HTC and Motorola put out today to throw some shade on the Apple iPhone battery fiasco. From The Verge:

In emails to The Verge, both companies said they do not employ similar practices with their smartphones. An HTC spokesperson said that designing phones to slow down their processor as their battery ages “is not something we do.” A Motorola spokesperson said, “We do not throttle CPU performance based on older batteries.” The Verge also reached out to Google, Samsung, LG, and Sony for comment on whether their phone processors are throttled in response to aging batteries. A Sony spokesperson said a response would be delayed by the holidays, and a Samsung spokesperson said the company was looking into it. The responses begin to clarify whether or not throttling processor speeds is typical behavior in smartphones — as of last week, we knew that Apple was doing it, but not whether it was common practice among competitors. HTC and Motorola’s responses start to suggest that it’s not.

This is problematic for Apple. If other companies were doing this, then they have plausible deniability. This is a tactic that they used before when they said that antenna problems were common in the smartphone industry during the “antennagate” fiasco which bears some similarities to what I am now calling “batterygate.” But since they’re starting come out of the woodwork to say they are not, Apple is all alone on this. Thus their messaging and resolution has to be way better than it is right now.