Screenshot 2019-10-22 at 13.28.17

There has been a lot of heated discussion this year about the new National Broadband Plan in Ireland. This umpteenth iteration of an attempt to bring broadband to the Irish masses is set to cost in excess of 3 billion euro. However I am not here to discuss this monstrosity of a plan. No, I want to share an insight of the realities of currently getting broadband in Ireland and the issues and obstacles encountered. Issues and obstacles which will not be removed by the new plan either.

Let me give you a bit of background; I live in a rural village of which there are many in Ireland. It has approx 1200 inhabitants, a busy Main Street, shops and other businesses. About 1.5 years ago I moved to a different house in the town. In the previous house I had DSL standard broadband. It was supplied by Eir over a copper line but they marketed it as “Fiber Broadband”. My new home is, in a straight line, less than a mile away. For reference the telephone exchange lies halfway between these two locations. In made the in hindsight stupid assumption that getting a broadband service in my new home would be no problem. WRONG!

I asked Eir to move the service to my new address (something which involves the baffling requirement of setting up a new account) and an engineer duly arrived. After some looking around the engineer notified me that he could not connect me as I did not have an active phoneline and that I had to contact Eir requesting that a new phoneline was installed. I contacted Eir and came up against the first hurdle: the house on which I live is part of a development of former holiday homes which used to belong to a hotel next door. The hotel burnt down many years ago and has never been rebuilt. It turns out that the phone lines going into all of the houses run to the hotel and into the hotel’s telephone exchange. Which was burnt to a crisp. So there was no connection to the main telephone network. So I suggested that Eir connect the existing cabling to their main network. But that was a too straightforward idea; issues of site access, costs etc came into play at this stage. In short a mountain of bureaucracy was thrown up. As I am not easily deterred I started looking at suggesting different options. Did I mention that for my job I design and build communications networks in disaster areas? No? Well that experience helped…
We looked at digging trenches for underground ducting (out), repurposing some of the existing ducting (also out). Eventually the decision was made to put up a number of old school telegraph poles at the back of the houses, run fiber on these poles and via a pole on a neighbouring property connect all this to the main telephone network. Added benefit was that we would be the first houses in the town connected with *real* fiber.

Once everyone had decided that this was the best, and quite frankly only, option the process was put in to motion. There were several stages of the plan:

  • Design the site plan.
  • Place the telegraph poles.
  • Put fiber on the telegraph poles.
  • Mount distribution units on the poles.
  • Blow fiber in the underground ducting from the houses to the exchange.
  • Connect all the bits together (fiber on the poles to the underground fiber, underground fiber to the equipment in the exchange and distribution units to the individual homes).

One would expect somehow that all if not most of this work would be done by the same crew. WRONG!

The work is managed by Open Eir who contract all the actual work out to KN Networks. KN in turn uses a different crew for each part of the process. Not only that but the coordination and communication between these crews and between KN and Open Eir is atrocious. To give you a timeline: I started trying to get broadband in May 2018. The first telegraph poles were put into place on June 20th 2019. They took 2 days to install.
Fiber was put on the poles on July 8th 2019. The distribution units were put in place 2 weeks later. On 13/8 an installer arrived at my house supposedly to instal my internet service. However it expired that his work-order stated “an installation over copper”.
I helpfully told him that it should be fiber as there is no copper line in place at all. I even pointed to the fiber cable on the pole beside my house and yes he confirmed that he could see it too. But no, his work order said “copper” so he could not proceed and left. I duly called my contact in Open Eir who told me that yes all the pieces were in place but no, they had not been connected yet. “When will that happen?” I asked. “I don’t know” was the less than helpful answer.

We are now near the end of October and the last update I was given was that all the pieces are connected bar the last connection at the exchange. I was told this several weeks ago. “Any idea of that will be done?” I asked. “I have someone calling out to do that this afternoon” was the reply.
Now, nearly 18 months since I started this process I still have no connection. Not only do I not have broadband, the other 21 houses in the development don’t have any either.

“But the National Broadband Plan will solve all!” that I hear you say. Really? Really? When it takes this, long, such a huge amount of work and cost to (not even) connect a few houses less than 500 yards from the nearest telephone exchange? I see the NBP resulting mostly in burning through that 3 billion euro of tax payers money…..

I came across a good read on why you should use the  DuckDuckGo search engine over Google.
While the article obviously slanted in favour of DuckDuckGo it was worth reading as it went in to detail on how Google tracks you online behaviour. This is been more valid when you realise that your Android phone is owned by Google and that recent revelations have shown that apps included in the factory install of your smartphone will still track you even when you think you have opted out. Read more here..

Aside from all those privacy concerns it’s also worth knowing that different search engines use different algorithms and that search results can and are heavily manipulated. Especially Google is very heavy-handed in this.

So as a quick ‘n dirty test I did a quick ego-search on my name using Google, DuckDuckGo and Bing. The below screen grabs show the first page of search results and the differences are obvious.

Tip-of-the-day: Use DuckDuckGo as not only are the results more reflective of the actual content of the WWW but they also do not track you.

 

Syrian conflict for dummies.

Posted: September 30, 2016 in news
Tags: , , , , , , ,
Image courtesy of The Atlantic.

Image courtesy of The Atlantic.

With the recent images of the bombings of Aleppo plastered all over our screens people tend to (understandably) get very emotional about the whole thing and with emotion comes loss of focus.
I’ve been following to an extent what is going on and what is happening so here’s a “Syrian conflict for dummies” and my insight on how a sustainable solution could be reached:
There are broadly two sides in the conflict: there’s the Syrian government (led by Assad) and then there are the rebels.
Both sides are Muslim but the government side is Shiite while the rebel forces are largely Sunni. Shiite’s are a minority group within the islam world (<10%) and tend to be more “modern” in Western eyes while Sunni’s are more traditionalist islamic. This is partly due to the former believing that religious leadership is hereditary while the latter strictly observes the ancient scriptures.
The difference shows in it’s most practical sense by the fact that the rebel forces are riddled with AQ & ISIS forces.
There are of course the Kurds but these want independence rather than regime change in Syria so I am just (while I think that they’re a great ally of the West) going to leave them aside for the moment.
So the rest of the world is faced with a choice between two sides: The more modern/western government or the traditionalist/hardcore islamic rebels riddled with terrorist groups.
And here comes the twist; the USA (and Europe to some extent) has decided to support the rebels. Yes that’s right, the group containing strong elements of the organisations responsible for the many, many terror attacks across the globe in the recent decades.
Russia on the other hand has put their might behind the government forces.
Why? I’m sure that it’s not because of love for Assad but rather because Russia is seeing the bigger picture and taking a long-term view. If the rebels are allowed to win this war than Syria will turn into a failed state occupied by a number of radical islamist groups who will not only continue to fight each other but who will continue to plan and execute attacks on the rest of the world. It would be as big or even bigger mess than Libya is now.
If the rebels are defeated however then we are left with a more moderate state with not only an ideology more favourable to the western world but a state and a government which owes a huge debt to whichever countries helped it to defeat the rebels. At that time the opportunity to either replace Assad or to force him to stop committing atrocities against his own people presents itself. It’s good old-fashioned nation-building.
So as a conclusion ask yourself this; what do you want the future Syria to be like? Another radical islamist breeding ground or a country with a government which is not only respectful of its own citizens but also a country which is sympathetic to western democratic values and beliefs?

It will be one year tomorrow since Typhoon Yolanda struck the Philippines. Obviously there will be lots of retrospectives published online and in the printed press. Most of these will outline the great work that has been done and is still ongoing. While I fully support those types of articles I’ve decided to do something different. I’m going to summarise the obstacles that we’ve encountered when responding with Disaster Tech Lab. You can read all the good stuff about our work following typhoon Yolanda here. However by summarising the obstacles we encountered, the mistakes we made i hope to make even a tiny small contribution on how disaster response and humanitarian aid could be improved.

By no means is this a study on the subject, these are simply my observations from the left-field of disaster response. Disaster Tech Lab is only a small organisation and we sometimes have an unconventional approach. We also have a task focussed rather than a process focussed approach and this occasionally conflicts with organisations who prefer to do more planning and discussion. I have also broken this into bulletpoints rather than elaborate analysis. It’s supposed to serve as a catalyst for discussion rather than a guideline.

  • Tunnel vision: While Tacloban was probably to most severely hit area by Yolanda it received too much focus by the media and the major aid organisations. Hence it became a black hole for resources. While Yolanda made its East to West path across the Philippines it also hit areas such a East Samar, North Cebu, Panay and Culion & Busuanga islands. I am fully aware that even for the large NGO’s resources are limited and it’s impossible but even considering that Tacloban received an unequal share of the aid.The cynic in me says that’s partially due to the overwhelming media focus on the area. Most of the initial aid provided to the outlying areas was provided by smaller, grassroots type organisations like ours, individuals and/or faith based organisations.
  • Logistics: We experienced several issues here. We had no pre-established logistical planning for a response to the Philippines and due to the urgency logistical arrangements had to be made up on the fly. With a damaged infra-structure and a huge influx of responders, equipment and supplies that is a recipe for disaster. A large batch of our equipment went “missing” and some is still stuck in customs (yes after 8 months and reams & reams of forms completed and submitted by us). When we switched to having volunteers bring equipment with them on their flight in as excess baggage we sometimes ran into other issues. This led to such things as panicky incoming phonecalls at 4 am from a Korean airport when one of our volunteers wasn’t allowed to check in the Goal Zero batteries he was carrying and was also not allowed to bring them as carry-on. While large NGO’s have the budget to pay for commercial airfreight or get space on other airlifts for an organisation like us, who do not have the funding for this, it remains a challenge. We have since worked to bring logistical expertise in-house and are developing logistical plans for the most likely destinations across the globe.
  • Biggest kid on the block: After so many years and so many disasters during which small grassroots type organisations and the “informal organisations” have made valuable contributions to the relief effort it still seems to be largely impossible for the larger NGO’s to recognise the increasing value these organisations bring as part of the overall relief effort. Most large NGO’s either are unaware of anything that’s not happening on their doorstep or within their direct network or they’re just flat-out not interested in working with such smaller organisations. This brings the added complication that some of the larger donors of relief supplies and equipment donate to these larger organisations expecting that their donation, to an extent, is shared amongst the the responding organisations. Instead these donations hardly ever make it past the few organisations at the top of the pyramid. Direct, validated requests by smaller organisations to larger ones for support are ignored or flat out refused. This in spite of clear evidence and report after report on the value that these smaller organisations bring to the overall relief effort. I am not going to name names but those at both sides of this divide know what I am talking about. A better cooperation and a recognition of the value of each others work and the different parts of the disaster response puzzle that each of us brings will only make future responses better.
  • Prevention is better than a cure: While we had seen this before, even during response in the USA, the disadvantaged areas are always the slowest to recover after a major disaster. While this is self-explanatory as it is you can’t repair what isn’t there in the first place. If an community doesn’t have any dependable means of communication you can’t rebuild one. If there’s no hospital to start with, and hence no trained medical personnel, then providing medical aid becomes a larger undertaking. As we worked in areas that can be described as disadvantaged we gave this challenge some deeper thought and quickly came to the conclusion that rebuilding better rather than just rebuilding after a disaster is an important step. This not only means that infra-structure and services need to be rebuilt better and more resilient but you need to teach people how to become more resilient themselves. This is not solely a question of improving skills but also a matter of mindset. As governments are struggling to respond to disasters in an efficient manner people will have to learn that recovery and rebuild efforts will require a lot of their own hands-on input. An interesting observation is that we noticed an increased dependency and expectation in the more westernised, touristy areas of the Philippines while the more remote (but significantly poorer) areas showed much more resilience and willingness to improve their own lot.
  • Trust no-one: Well actually, trust everyone but carry a big stick. During our disaster relief work following Yolanda we again learned that when you are doing relief work in far away beautiful destinations you will sometimes attract people who volunteer driven by the main desire to get an all expenses paid holiday. We encountered this again and as a result of this we have tightened up our volunteer screening procedures even more! There is no room for profiteering in this work and we have a 100% no tolerance policy on this. It is *not* representative of 99.9% of the volunteers working in this field and we won’t let that 0.1% mess things up. However as a non-profit you should never drop your guard; just because someone volunteers doesn’t make them a saint. Screen the person, screen their motivation, screen their references and use your intuition.

Vegetarianism is anti-ecological.

Posted: September 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

vegetarians-meme

Following is a verbatim copy of a article put on Facebook by Bart Hall some time ago. Bart is someone who makes a living growing things in a way that gets dirt under ones fingernails. He uses an organic, natural and no-nonsense approach to farming and I found the article refreshing and insightful enough to share here.

 

Vegetarianism is anti-ecological, and cruel to animals besides. I’m fed up with self-righteous vegetarians claiming both moral superiority and ecological sensitivity for their proclivities. How they eat is their choice, but they become extremely tiresome when they attempt to promote it to others based on clear falsehoods. I’m not talking here about humane treatment issues — I’m appalled by the way many animals are raised, and it generates a very poor product in any case. We need, however, to look at agronomic reality.

Taking cattle as an example (or bison, or sheep, or any other ruminant) it is essential to understand that they are solar-powered grass combines, converting captured solar energy into a very nutritious (and *tasty*) product, rich in high-quality protein. The forages they eat (grass and legumes such as clover) are generally *perennial* crops, protecting the land, building the soil, and storing immense amounts of carbon in their roots.

By comparison, soyabeans and other sources of vegetable protein require annual working of the soil, leaving much of it open to erosion and what we soil scientists call “mineralisation” of soil organic matter (=carbon). A large percentage, perhaps even a plurality, of atmospheric CO2 increases in the last 150 years is the direct result of working the world’s soils to grow maize (corn) and soyabeans instead of leaving it in grass to feed cattle.

Humans will always need cereals and tubers for carbohydrates, but most of our protein should come from animals because (properly raised) they build the soil instead of destroying it.

Vegetarians have no idea how many sentient beings are destroyed in the production of grain and soyabeans, to say nothing of its storage. Based on normal pest-management criteria (and I’ve inspected *thousands* of grain storage facilities in many different countries) it is safe to say that one or two sentient beings (primarily rodents) perish to protect the storage of each kilogram of plant protein. Not only are we talking poison, but “live traps” which when opened will often contain one large mouse and at least a dozen tails.

With grass-fed beef the worst case is that one sentient being (the bovine) dies for every 50 kilograms of protein. Are cattle inherently better and more noble than rats and mice?

Furthermore, in many forage production situations I can increase yields by 50% merely through the addition of a few grams per acre of molybdenum. For geeky purists out there that’s because moly mediates the nitrogenase enzyme pathways responsible for capturing nitrogen from the atmosphere, which nitrogen thereafter increases yields, often substantially. So add some moly to your forage system and beef can beat vegetable protein by up to 100 to 1 in terms of sentient animal deaths per kilo of protein.

Dairy, because the animals are not slaughtered is vastly better yet, but many vegetarians will consume dairy, so I have left it out. By extension, then, veganism is even worse than vegetarianism.

If you wish to protect the planet and minimise the deaths of sentient beings, eat meat and dairy. I’ll be right there with you in terms of struggling to make sure it’s raised properly. How it’s done these days is widely awful, but that’s not the critters’ fault, and vegetarianism is no answer.

 

Buying local makes sense, and it also does not. I grew up in an “eat local” world, not based on philosophy, it’s just the way it was. Except for grain products nearly everything my family ate in the 1950s came from within 100 miles — milk, eggs, meat, veggies, fruit, and seafood. Mind you, I grew up on the coast, with one side of the family in the shellfish business and the other in produce, but it was not at all unusual for the era. We called it all “native” food, as in native peaches, native turkey, native eggs and so on. We ate with the seasons, and we ate rather well. The first time I ever tasted salmon was at age 24 in the Yukon.

That said, southern New England was a remarkably good place for eating local. The Southeast, not at all, as witnessed by the phenomenal percentage of southern men deemed 4F (unfit for any service) in World War II on account of profound malnutrition.

Local eating can be fun, and for things like produce and dairy actually makes a lot of sense. For starches (rice, wheat, etc) not at all outside of certain favoured areas. Whether it’s environmentally beneficial, I think that’s an open question because water transport uses so much less energy than land options. For example, it takes less energy to move rice to San Francisco in a ship, from *Thailand* than to truck it from the Central Valley. Trains are better than trucks, and big trucks are better than small trucks.

A “local food system” depends upon an awful lot of quite inefficient transportation. And let’s not forget that nearly 40% of the energy consumed in the entire food system is used for *cooking*.

As an agronomist I’d also add that growing food outside its primary area of adaptation tends to require a lot more energy, effort, and chemical usage than when it’s in its “sweet spot”. I can grow a lot of excellent sweet potatoes here with no inputs, but attempting that north of Toronto would not work so well.

Local eating wisely interpreted and applied makes a lot of sense and will probably be rather more delicious. As a religion it tends to lead to clusters of stupid decisions for both production and consumption.

 

Except for people with specific gluten problems (celiac, non-tropical sprue, etc) the whole anti-gluten, andti-wheat thing is generally silly, especially when framed as “healthier”. There are two very simple low-hanging fruit for healthier eating. #1: Eat more *vegetables*. Here in the States 80% of the population consumes one or fewer “servings” of vegetables and/or fruit, defined as 100 grams, and that includes potatoes! #2: More or less eliminate high-fructose corn syrup from the diet. The average American consumes about 155 lb of sugar annually, over half of which is HFCS. Simple, but for most people, unfortunately not at all *easy*. Just don’t ask ME to pay for the medical consequences of someone else’s terrible eating habits.

nsl_drones_wifi

In the last week there was a bit of buzz about a project by Yan Wan from the University of Texas who, at the Smart America Expo, showed a WiFi enabled drone that *ding* could provide WiFi with a range of up to 5 miles! This was presented as a great step forward in disaster communications. The various articles made it seem like one of these devices would cover a 5 mile area with WiFi.

See for yourself by the viewing the video here.

Having worked in the fields of wifi and disaster response I decided to have a bit of a closer look. Was this really such a step forward and whatsmore, how was this achieved…

Firstly let’s have a look at the hardware, what components were used to build this. The aerial platform is a DJI F650 platform. It’s a nice of the shelf platform. The payload is a Ubiquiti Nanostation. Then there is some sort of servo which rotates the Nanostation. Wether or not the rotation is automatic and slaved to the location of the station the devices connects to or not isn’t clear.

1534319_10151898004118059_1087129530_n

The Nanostation is a widely used WiFi AP/CPE operating in the 5GHz band. I’ve used them on different occasions and we recently deployed some when working in the Philippines with Disaster Tech Lab. They’re a functional, cheap and cheerful type of device which theoretically can provide up to 150 Mbps on a point-to-point link of up to 15 km.

So in short this project has taken two of the shelf products and bolted them together.

Now for the technical bit; The Nanostation is designed to be one end of a point-to-point link and as with all point-to-point links range/distance is achieved by narrowing the antenna beam. While an omni-directional antenna will cover a 360 degree radius it’s range is limited. A directional antenna, like the one inside the Nanostation, takes the same transmission power (TX) but squeezes it into a narrow bundle. That way the range is much further but the signal radius is much smaller. Any device outside the range of the bundle will not be able to connect. Compare it to standing in a huge dark room and switching on a lightbulb versus a flashlight and you’ll get the picture. In addition the touted range of 5 miles is really not such a big deal. Most of the off the shelf WiFi point-to-point devices have a much longer range. I can recall building a link over 40 kilometers back in 2004 (I think) using homemade gear.

So going back to the implication of this aerial platform; we have a radio device with a narrow beam mounted onto what by definition is an unstable platform. Just ask anyone who has ever build a point-to-point link using masts with a lot of wind-sway how this can kill your connectivity.

Then there is the issue of backhaul; connecting two WiFi devices is great and all but it means very little without a source of internet backhaul. As this is an airborne device using a cable is a big no-no. So a form of wireless backhaul is called for. 3G/4G/LTE? All possible but it will add to the size and weight of the payload as well as require more battery power. In addition, if 3G/4G/LTE is available would that not negate the need for an airborne wifi device?  So satellite maybe? That would mean an ever bigger payload and battery drain. The last option is to consider using lots of these devices and building a WiFi mesh with one or more fixed end-points with internet connectivity. Now this would theoretically be a possibility but there are several factors to consider. using directional antennas on airborne/unstable platforms might cause dropped links. Then there is ones of the bigger drawbacks inherent to WiFi mesh networks; a drop in throughput with every hop (unless you use dual radio devices but that won’t really work here). Lastly there is the logistics and costs of building, deploying and operating a large number of these type of devices.

So considering all the above I can only conclude that it’s a case of much ado about nothing. It might look cool and get much ooh’s and aah’s from the hackathon crowd but there’s really no benefit in this product at all. The cost of the combined package comes to around $1300 (off-hand) with $1000 of that being the aerial platform. Compare that to about $150 for a length of scaffolding pipe, a roof mount kit and some clamps. The latter would also create a link with much more stability.

Ubiquiti-Nanostation-M5-Instalado1

 

If you are looking at a workable application for aerial platform mounted WiFi then look at a combination of a 3G/4G/LTE backhaul device and a WiFi router with an omni directional antenna. That way you can create small bubbles of WiFi that can be flown into hard to reach areas and which are not dependent on a directional link for connectivity.

Even better rather than a means of connectivity provisioning use aerial platforms as sensor networks able to detect wifi or cellular signals transmitted by client devices (smartphones etc) pinpointing people in need.

bugoutbag

I’ve committed to give a talk later this year on “The perfect Bugout bag”. It’s topic that I’ve discussed with regularity over the years and one that also caused a lot of controversy and heated debate on the numerous prepper, survivalist and related fora. During my deployments abroad with Disaster Tech Lab I always carry a small bag/pack with my basic essentials. A bag that would enable to me to “survive” for a few days if all my other bags were stolen or lost. So I do have a some practical experience in this area.

Traditionally discussions of what a bugout bag should contain include most, if not all, of the following:

  • Food
  • Water, water bottle & water purification
  • Knife
  • Multitool
  • Basic First Aid kit
  • Map & compass
  • Emergency Shelter
  • Matches, flint & tinder
  • Weapon (handgun or rifle)
  • Flashlight
  • Survival blanket, small sleeping bag
  • Paracord
  • Collapsible stove
  • Clothing
  • Wet-wipes
  • Insect repellent
  • Wind-up radio
  • GPS
  • Fishing kit & snares
  • Cash or gold coins

In my opinion the above list is based on an outdated principle. It assumes that any bugout situation will see one ending up in a remote wilderness situation. This is no longer true and a lot of bugout type scenarios will now take place in an urban environment. With increased instability in certain parts of the world you could find yourself having to bail out of a hotel, taxi, public transport or other urban location and having to depend on whatever is in your bugout bag for the next few days. In such an environment you will not be placing snares or fish for food, you won’t have to build a basha for shelter, or need to carry spare clothes.

You will require a whole lot of different items. Ones that provide you with access to digital communications (phone or internet), digital copies of important documents, a method to power your electronic devices. Even a way to smarten up your appearance quickly.

What you don’t want to carry is a big knife or even machete. Even a stove and cooking equipment is excess weight. Water is also less of an issue.

Basically you will need a Bigout Bag 2.0

I will be working on compiling a summary of my personal recommendations of tried and tested items that I carry in my bugout bag but as I am also very interested in finding out what other people carry. And please note, “bugout bag” is only a generic term. You might call it your grab-bag or your EDC but it basically boils down to the same.

So please, after reading it take the time to leave a comment with your opinion or experience in the area of bugout bags.

Following storm Darwin earlier this year and the widespread disruption caused by storm damage and flooding I carried out an on-line survey on how information on storm and flood-damage was being disseminated to the Irish public. Having worked with Disaster Tech Lab in disaster zones all over the globe for the last 4+ years I’ve learned that the gathering but even more the curation and dissemination of relevant data is crucial during extreme weather events. It serves dual purposes; first it allows for a better tailored response effort but secondly it also increases awareness amongst the general public allowing them to avoid dangerous areas and/or to evacuate if necessary. The survey was basic and had the single purpose to ascertian if people had received information about damage caused by storm Darwin and through what medium they had received this information.

Following is a summary of the results:

  • Respondents were 61.11% male & 38.89% female
  • The majority were in the 35-44 age bracket
  • Most respondents lived in Dublin, Cork & Galway (in that order) with the rest spread over the country.
  • 77.78% had flood damage in their immediate area.
  • 11.11% experienced flood damage in their immediate area.
  • 88.89% travelled inside of Ireland shortly after storm Darwin.
  • 77.78% encountered flood and/or storm damage during their travels
  • But only 55.56 % was aware of this damage
  • The most interesting part was that 83.33% received this information through Social Media while only 5.56% received the information through the local authorities.

darwin info

The Irish local & national authorities are dropping the ball in a major way here and appear to be woefully unprepared. The only publicly available resource is the floodmaps.ie website run by the Office of Public Works. The most recent data there dates to 2011 and was gathered through a retrospective study. There is no obvious way to report damage in real-time.  With the current drive for Open Data and Big Data you would expect that this would be available. There are a number of easily implementable, Open Source platforms to create an online map with a real-time reporting mechanism without having to re-invent the wheel.

Flood-Clonakilty

Building such a service would allow people to report any flooding or storm damage that they encounter via a variety of means. Email, sms or via the website itself. You could even build an app. Reports can include a location (automatically mapped), description and images or video. Once curated (again in realtime) this information will than be displayed on an online map. The data can serve dual purposes. It will alert response services to issues which require intervention or remidiaton but it will also inform the general public as to where a rood is flooded, a tree is blocking the road etc. This allows them to plan travel accordingly and avoid problem areas. The end result is more fluent traffic flows and the avoidance of traffic jams at problem spots.

StormLahinchClareJan2014SeanCurtin_large

While members of government discuss the issue of climate change and coastal flooding they fail to implement adequate response mechanisms. Ones which have become standard in countries like the USA which has been dealing with extreme weather events a lot longer. During a FEMA conference in Washington DC last year I commented that Ireland (and Europe) will soon see a drastic increase in extreme weather such as floods and storms. The recent flooding in Ireland and the current unprecedented flooding in the Balkans which has claimed over 40 lives are only the start of this. We need to prepare ourselves and an increased public awareness is the first step. Increased awareness will lead to increased preparedness and resilience. Recent studies in the field of disaster response has shown that the top-down approach taken in the past only solves short term problems and doesn’t improve matters in the long run. A shift from disaster response to disaster preparedness is needed and this can only be achieved by an increased public awareness and involvement. Empowering people by giving them a means to report problems and needs in real time and acting on this information is a first step in this.

 

wfd-logo2-400x398

Time for a long overdue blogpost.

On January 3rd an email from Tom Hollingsworth landed in my inbox. Now I had never spoken or even emailed with Tom but he’s one of the people behind the “Wireless Field Day” (and a whole lot of other Field Day’s). Tom wanted to know if I was interested in talking about my work with Disaster Tech Lab at the upcoming Wireless Field Day 6 at the end of the month?

DID I HELL!

I had been following the Wireless Field Day events for some time as it was a sort of holy grail for wireless geeks like myself. To get the chance to speak at the event would be magnificent.

Roll forward 3 weeks and I’m actually in San Jose. I arrived late so missed the first evening socializing with my fellow geeks ( This might have been a good thing…). Day one started with everyone jumping into a stretch limo which brought us to Airtight Networks offices. Airtight had a number of interesting presentations lined up for us with introductions into their cloud based services, social wifi and analytics. It followed on with a WIPS demo by Rick Farina. Rick is my kinda guy with lots of experience in security, hacking and related fields. It was entertaining to watch him to bring up the WiFi Pineaple device. Anyway, it was enjoyable and gave some good insights into where Airtight Networks is going.

wifi pineapple

Next we hopped in the limo which brought us to the Aruba Networks offices. This was a bit of a big deal for me as Aruba has been a great supporter of Disaster Tech Lab from right back when we started in 2010. Yet this was my first visit to their offices. I wasn’t disappointed as the offices are pretty cool especially the showroom with all numerous devices on display. Being real geeks we even spotted some sort of prototype USB dongles connected to some of the AP’s. I suspect that these were for use with the Meridian software of which we got a nice real life demo using the Aruba Campus App. After a quick welcome by Ozer and Sean it was time for Manju Mahishi to show us about Aruba’s plans with the Meridian software. In short it offers a platform for user and asset tracking allowing such things as public venues to get greater insight into user movement patterns and such. The presentation led to a lively discussion on topics such as privacy as well as technical.

Next was my own presentation on Disaster Tech Lab’s work. Rather that tell you about it I suggest that you watch the video.

Day 2 started bright and early with a presentation by Germán Capdehourat from Plan Ceibal. Plan Ceibal is a state sponsored project in Uruguay which has as goal to bring internet access to all schools. They obviously use a lot of wifi technology but also branch out into user devices and educational content. Projects like these have great value and contribute immensely to children’s education. Germán was followed by Kevin Koster from Cloudpath. Cloudpath does some really advanced stuff with large scale device onboarding and authentication. It’s not really my area of interest but for anyone managing large networks with hundreds or thousands of users their products are well worth looking at. You can watch the full video here.

NOT_kevin-costner

Cloudpath was followed by Xirrus. This was going to be an interesting presentation as Xirrus’s presentation at the previous WFD had been very marketing & PR heavy and had been torn to shreds by the attendees. Dirk Gates, founder of Xirrus started of with a good presentation into the company, their history and the future. Next was the absolute highlight of #WFD6 in my opinion. Xirrus had brought in their head of antenna design Avi Hartenstein. Avi, besides really knowing his shit, looks and sounds like a cool extra from a Bond movie. His presentation with into the antenna design into minute details and for someone like me who loves RF it was simply a pleasure to watch.

To end the day we travelled to Extreme Networks office which were by far the flashiest ones with loads of artwork, purple colors and even rotating server racks with flashing lights. Their presentations there gave a lot of insight into Extreme’s large stadium deployments. It’s interesting to see how a lot of the problems encountered in such environments can be resolved through smart RF use. Real life examples illustrated how antenna placement, antenna radiation power, spatial isolation and low TX power are the main contributors to solving a lot of problems.

smartest guy

I do realise that this is a way too short blogpost to encompass all the awesomeness that was Wireless Field Day 6. I got to spend a couple of days in the company of people whose knowledge and expertise for exceeds mine but who were also hugely entertaining to hang out with. On top of that we were given an royal welcome by the various companies supporting this event and they each went all out to share their technology and visions of the wireless future with us. Lastly I want to give serious kudos to Steven, Tom and everyone else at GestaltIT for organising not only this fantastic event but all the other Field Days they organise. Seriously guys (and galls) it’s impressive.

I also suggest that you go and watch *all* the videos here.

 

nexus-7-battery-saving-main

As a dedicated supporter of Android based portable devices this is a difficult post for me to type.

I made my first, reluctant foray into the world of the tablet user at the end of 2011 when HP decided to mark down their Touchpad device to a spectacularly low $99. While it ran the slightly left-of-field WebOS the device could be flashed to run a customised Android ROM. As the devices sold out quickly across the world I had to resort to locating one in the US and having it shipped over.

Anyway, I liked the tablet format very much but wanted something slightly smaller than the A4 sized Touchpad but larger than the Android phone I was using at the time, a HTC Hero. Enter the Google Nexus 7.  I bought one of these 7 inch tablets in September 2012 and loved it straight away. It ran Android 4.1, completely integrated with all the Google services I used and most importantly it fitted into the inside pocket of my jacket! No more clunky devices the size and weight of a cut down laptop to lug around. I literally brought it everywhere and used it for everything from work to reading books (yes, it completely converted me to the use of e-books). When my tablet was stolen in New York during my work as part of the hurricane Sandy response I went out straight away and bought a new one. Actually as the Staples outlet I went to had a special offer I bought two! One for me and one as a Christmas present for my wife.

The device was used daily and about 6 months after purchase it started to develop a niggling issue with charging. The micro-USB cable had to be fiddled around a good bit for the device to actually charge and the slightest movement of the cable would stop the charging process. I put it down to a faulty/worn cable-plug and bought a replacement cable. Actually I went to half a dozen cables in about as many weeks. Still the problem persisted. Not only that but my wife’s tablet was starting to have the same issues. Logic made me conclude that the connector/socket on the tablet might have become worn or damaged. We limped on applying tricks such as using a heavy book to keep the connector plugged into the tablet, using something to push the connector upwards etc. These were only temporary solutions as the problem steadily worsened. In early November last year my tablet would just not charge anymore, at all. It was by all means dead. My wife’s tablet was slowly limping in the same direction.

By this point I finally resorted to Google-ing the issue and lo and behold I was not alone! There were hundreds if not thousands of messages on forums and newsgroups of people having the same problem (Google-ing “nexus 7 charging problem” results in 1,600,000 results!) All with Nexus devices that eventually would no longer charge using a cable. Two solutions were mentioned, using wireless charging our using the Asus Nexus Dock (Asus is the manufacturer of the Nexus 7).

nexus charging problem

Armed with this knowledge I contacted Google to see what they were doing to deal with this problem. It was clearly a manufacturing or design issue to logic dictated that they should rectify it. The disappointing reply I received was that I should contact the vendor where I purchased the devices. As this was a Staples outlet in New York City and I live at the other side of the Atlantic I contacted Staples via their Twitter account. All they could tell me was to contact the store itself which could only be done via phone (why email wasn’t possible is beyond me). The store told me that I should return the tablet to them so they could establish what the issue was. However I was notified at that stage that the 1 year warranty had expired and that any repairs would be chargeable. To me. So I would have to ship the device to New York, pay for having a design fault repaired and then pay to have them shipped back to me? No thanks.

So, I went ahead and ordered the Asus dock. From the US as it wasn’t for sale in Europe yet. The dock arrived several weeks later and I could finally charge my tablet and, you know, actually use it.

However shortly afterwards I noticed that the tablet would charge really slowly (when in the dock). I would have it docked overnight and the charging level would only increase by 10% or so. But then sometimes it would charge fully. On top of that it would discharge really rapidly especially when the charge went below 35%. It would sometime go from 35% to empty in minutes.

I resorted to Google-ing the problem again (how ironic) only to discover that this again was a common problem. Apparently devices that were upgraded to the latest version of Android (KitKat 4.4). This happened early in 2014 which coincided with the time our tablets were starting to have these problems.  So not only was the charging port faulty due to a design process now the OS was causing charging problems!

By this point we had 4 Nexus 7 devices in the family as my 2 youngest kids had used their Christmas money to each buy a Nexus 7. I had let them as I had assumed that any problems would have been resolved by now and newer devices would not have ny more charging problems. That was before the upgrade to KitKat 4.4!

I again reached out to Google at this point. Again with a disappointing response. This time they didn’t refer me to the place where the devices were purchased but told me to contact Asus (the device manufacturer) instead. This in spite of the fact that these are Google branded devices. Asus of course flat-out refused to do anything as the devices were out of warranty and the issue was OS related which was not their responsibility.

At this point I have had it and in spite of championing Google Nexus devices in the past I am now at a stage where I probably will never ever purchase any of their devices again. Not because the purchased devices were faulty but because of the unacceptable way they shirk of any responsibility and just pass the buck to a third-party. In fact I am eying up the Apple iPad mini Retina at the moment. Those who know my aversion to iOS will realise what a big shift this is.