In Support of net nutrality

Internet
With today being the “Save the internet day” (again), The following is a letter I sent to my congressional delegation:

Dear Sir:
I am writing out of concern and support for the FCC’s Open Internet Rules, a.k.a. Net Neutrality. As a Senior Software developer at a large Agricultural Company, owner of my own small Web Development business and the president of the Central Iowa Linux User’s Group I feel that this is an area that I am well acquainted with and would be more than happy to speak further with you or your staff in detail about.
I don’t want ISPs to have the power to block websites, slow them down, give some sites advantage over others, or split the Internet into “fast lanes” for companies that pay and “slow lanes” for the rest.
The current Internet environment that we all have enjoyed has developed and thrived because those above ideas have been prevented due to FCC regulations as well as a spirit of sharing and equality on the Internet.
Censorship by ISPs is a serious and looming problem, however. Comcast has throttled Netflix, AT&T has blocked facetime, Time Warner Cable has throttled the game League of Legends, and Verizon admitted that it will create fast lanes for sites that pay (and slow lanes for everyone else) if the FCC lifts the rules. These practices hurt consumers and businesses large and small especially in Rural and small communities as they often have fewer ISP choices to begin with.
Courts have made it clear that if the FCC ends Title II classification, the FCC must let ISP’s offer “fast lane” access to websites for a fee and Charman Pai has made clear that he intends to do exactly this.
If some companies can pay to make their sites load faster, it will help stifle startups and smaller businesses that can’t pay. This will kill the open market that has enabled millions of small businesses all to just further enrich a few cable giants.
Internet providers will be able to impose a private tax on every sector of the American economy.
Furthermore, under Chairman Pai’s plan ISPs will be able to make it more difficult to access political speech that they don’t like. They’ll be able to charge fees for website delivery that will make it harder for blogs, non-profits, artists, and others who can’t pay up to have their voices heard.
I am sending versions of this letter to the FCC’s open proceeding, but I am concerned that Chairman Pai (a former Verizon lawyer) has already made his plans and will ignore the concerns of myself and millions of other Americans. Therefore I urge you and the rest of the Iowa Delegation to publically support net neutrality based on Title II and denounce Chairman Pai’s plans.
Respectfully yours,

Andrew Denner

Visiting Rome

 

As part of our ongoing travel log here is a brief overview of some of the cool things we saw in Rome as well as some of the things we learned along the way.

Getting to our Air B&B:
As you exit the airport going towards the train station, one of the stalls that you can visit in the station will be a van service that will take you to where you need to go. It is much easier than trying to solve the situation of how to navigate the train with your luggage. Even money your air b&b host will use what’s app (everyone does). If you use the sim card (see the previous post), have google FI, or some other international coverage you should be fine.

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After you get in, grab a slice of pizza and catch your breath. It was a long flight and you probably want to freshen up and perhaps catch a quick nap. If you planned ahead your Roma pass is probably ready to pick up. I would recommend taking at least one lap around town to see the sights on the hop on hop off bus. There is a nice audio tour (if your jack works) and the views are much better than the subway. After you have been around once, the subway will be faster and more direct. Trust google maps, it will tell you what routes to take, and when the next train/bus will be by. It may list multiple routes as possibilities, don’t worry just pick one.

Cool stuff you need to see:
The Vatican, they have a huge amount of history, you won’t see it all! On Wednesdays the pope has a talk (if he is in town) you can get tickets from the American Catholic Church (They don’t even care if you aren’t Catholic) They will ask for a small donation, don’t be a dick and give them something nice. It will be a big to do and it is worth it just to see the crazy crowd that the pope attracts, he is really a rock star. Be sure to get there early so that you can get a good seat. Also, enjoy watching the Swiss guard. They may wear funny costumes but they mean business.

St Peter's Square before the Pope's Speach

The Flavian Amphitheater (The Coliseum) and the forum:
This is a must see! Spring for the audio tour as there is a lot to learn here! As with the rest of the trip, be sure to lace up your walking shoes as there will be a lot of walking going on!

Flavian Amphitheatre Panarama
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Getting a drink:
Be sure to pack a water bottle as it will be hot dry and dusty work walking around town. The good news is that there are potable water drinking fountains all around town on the street. If the fountain is running and there is not a sign telling you not to drink, and it doesn’t look too decorative it is safe to drink, just as people have been doing for thousands of years. The city of Rome has some of the best drinking water in the world, it is safe, don’t worry. The good news is if you don’t want to go this route, bottles of water can be had for not too much money.

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The National Roman museum:
There are great statues on the first floor, but be sure not to miss the basement where a full history of Roman coins are on display in the numismatic exhibit from the dawn of time all the way to the euro. It is one of the first museum displays that I have ever seen built into a vault.

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Catching a train:
Bad news, your American credit card probably won’t work in the automated machines. We have chip and signature instead of chip and pin like the rest of the world. You will have to wait in line to talk to a person. Take a number and be prepared for a long wait! Be sure to do this at least a day before you are trying to go anywhere since this will take a while.

Visiting the beach:
There are beaches accessible from the subway/train, you will have to pay a small fee to get in but it is worth it, be sure to pack a towel though as they are quite expensive there. After you get off the train station just ask at the ticket counter for lido and they will point you in the right direction. People have been coming to the beach here since the days of Rome and for a good reason. This is a great way to relax and unwind after several days of running around the country.

 

The joys of a server upgrade. 

After many years (too many) of sitting on the same old VPS at Linnode, I decided that it was time for a spring cleaning. I found a nice cheap VPS that was advertised on facebook for ~$10 a month (I know) for a not too bad amount of disk CPU and memory. The only drawback that I have really seen is that it only offers ipv4 addresses (what?! this is 2017) and it’s IP address is in a seedy neighborhood as apparently in a previous life it was an open proxy.

Servers

Now I just need to go through the process of migrating my web pages, databases and other files over and turn off the old VPS.

Thankfully I use CloudFlare so the lack of ipv6 and the crappy IP history does not bother me that much. Watch for future writeups on the migration process.

Slack vs IRC (or how I learned to stop worrying and lock the slack)

Robot
For many years the local Linux User’s group has had an IRC channel on Freenode (#cialug) and it has always had about the same small number of lurkers who occasionally go active to make a comment, i.e. “Good Morning LUG!”.
A new attendee of the Lug suggested slack as a possible avenue for communication. Reluctantly we stood up a channel and got to work inviting people to join. I also launched a Slack/IRC bridge to help keep the lug wide discussions from being a permanent netsplit.
So far I have the following observations about the current situation.

  1. Slack has a nice user interface, (yes I know that IRC is a communication standard, not a UI)
  2. Slack keeps a history of what has been said, unlike IRC where if you were not in the channel it is lost (both good and bad)
  3. with the IRC Slack bot, it is impossible to tell all who may be in the channel on the other side of the bridge
  4. Slack is an invite only system. (I need to get around to automating this process.) This kinda goes counter to the free and open environment that we try to foster.

Time will tell if this slack thing is a good idea. Stay tuned for updates.

My experience with Fi Customer Support

support
As a cool way to save money a while back, I switched my cell service over to project Fi, google’s cell phone service. As with all things in google’s semi permanent beta testing my experience has been that it is not always quite as smooth sailing as one of the main stream cell phone providers. The main reason this has been is because Fi is made up of Us Cellular, Sprint and Tmobile. Through vudu magic, your phone decides which network it needs to be on for the best signal etc. and then it will flip between them.
A while back I noticed that when I was on the US Cellular towers and my Internet was turned off (to save data costs), text messages would not go through. They would fail with the message “Message not sent, Tap to try again.” I also noticed that people would complain that my phone calls were showing up as “Unknown Caller.” This meant that most people would dodge my calls as they thought that I was a telemarketer.
Finally on a slow Saturday night, I dialed 611 (your cell phone company’s number). It was impressive being directly connected to a support technician. With his soothing Australian accent, he walked me through some initial tests to see if it was an easy solution. Unfortunately it was not, and he informed me that he would have to kick it up to the next tier of support, what would be a good time for them to contact me? We agreed for a time on Sunday at noon (the next day) central time.
It was about 1 PM the next day when a supervisor called me back to ask if it was alright to email me some debugging instructions. They involved me taking bug report snapshots in each cellular environments, emailing them to support and sending suggestion reports from the fi app with the hashtag #fisupport. It was all a bit more then what I would expect from a non technical user, however those users probably don’t use fi!
The support email replied thanking me for my report and that they were forwarding it on to the engineers for debugging. Unfortunately it has now been a week of crickets, on Wednesday I called 611 again and asked for an update, unfortunately they had none to give, but that they would email me when it was resolved.
Other than this one minor hiccup, fi has been great and if you want to try it out here is a referral link to take $20 off your service after 30 days

2016 Christmas Letter

(PDF version)

December 16, 2016

Dear Friends and Family,

It is hard to believe that another year has passed. This year we are writing this letter from the sunny shores of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, where the sun is warm, the food is good and the drinks keep flowing. We also were exposed to a bit of culture shock with some of the wild driving and non-drinkable tap water. The trip has not all been sun and lounging on the beach though, we toured Santo Domingo, the capital. While there we saw the old colonial city, the first cathedral and the first paved road of the new world as well as the final resting place of Christopher Columbus. We also toured a small family farm and got to see how coffee, cocoa, and coconut oil is made as well as their house and the local school. We ended the tour at Macao Beach.

In other traveling this year we also took a weekend trip to Thunder Bay, Ontario. We enjoyed hiking in the Sleeping Giant Provincial Park as well as the Fort Williams historical fur trading post. As well as our other souvenirs, we also brought back a pound of canadian bacon.

Finally, we traveled with Andy’s family to the National Music Museum in Vermilion, SD where we saw an amazing variety of instruments from one of BB King’s Lucille to precursors to the tuba (the serpent). We even saw recorders created by a Denner.

For work, Jess has gotten around as she has had to travel back and forth between the Houston plant and also took a trip to audit a supplier in Mexico City. Andy also traveled to San Jose, CA for a Hadoop Conference.

Jess continues to be the Quality Manager at Caremoli and Andy is still a Senior Software Developer for Dupont Pioneer. Jess competed in the State Fair food competition again this year where she won 2 first place ribbons (pineapple upside down cake and gluten free cake), and 4 second places. This year her entries were somewhat decreased as she was a bridesmaid in Megan’s wedding (Andy’s sister) that was in the middle of prime baking time. Andy also entered the fun by getting a photo exhibited in the fair’s photo exhibition.

In other happenings, Andy was the speaker at his brother’s Eagle Scout ceremony. Jess continues to be our church council secretary and Andy continues to be the president of the local Linux User’s Group.

We hope everyone has had a great year this year and look forward to more adventures next year.

Merry Christmas,

Andy & Jess

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Cell phone coverage in Europe as a US Tourist

 

Woman with Mobile Phone; Night

Since both Jess and I had Straight Talk cell phone service (a low cost MVNO partnership between Telemovil and Walmart) data and talk coverage was not going to extend beyond the US border. In order to save the time and trouble of finding a sim card in country as well as having to figure out settings and language barrier issues we got two 3UK sim cards that were prepaid. They ended up costing us about $50 for a British cell phone number with unlimited calls in the UK (we didn’t use this part of the plan) as well as unlimited data. To make sure we would have enough cash on the phone to make emergency texts and calls I also made sure to load about 10 pounds on the phone as reserve. The sim cards arrived quickly (actually they were shipped from Australia) and it was only a minor hassle to install them in our iphones. Pro tip for later, pack a paperclip to open the sim card slot. Because of the unlimited data we were able to use google hangouts to make free US calls. (This was especially helpful calling American express’ concierge to help set up details) We also tried to use google voice to call European numbers for cheaper however the connection was terrible with high latency. (Apparently traveling through England to the us via data on 3g HSP+ data and then back to Europe via POTS was just too much.) Thankfully for most of the calls we needed we were able to use the Amex Concierge to call and set up our reservations.

The two big benefit to having data was the use of google maps to figure out public transit (it was great and rarely let us down). The other was being able to fall back to google translate when our language skills failed us.

Data speeds were generally great as most places were 3g HSP+ speeds of about 20mb/s while they weren’t quite LTE speeds they were more than enough for our purposes. It was also rather odd that most of the apartments that we were staying at via air b&b had cellular based Internet with the same 3g HSP+ data that our cell phones were using.

If/When we go back I will now take advantage of Google Project Fi that only charges $10/gb for data and now also uses 3UK and tmobile’s international roaming agreements.

“One percent” matters or my experience with Google Project Fi

SIM card rejected
Lately sprint has been trumpeting that they have a network that is within 1% of the “other” networks. This claim seems to surround measuring the network only where a majority of people live. The only issue with this is that people often travel outside of those cities. There is another world outside of those small paths around the interstate and urban centers.

Companies like sprint and tmobile save large amounts of money and trouble by not having quite as much coverage out in the sticks. TMobile is one of those companies that you want to root for because of some of their more rebellious and wild ideas, however they are problematic in Iowa due to their partnership with iWireless. Outside of cities the coverage quickly falls to 2G.

Does this mean that there is only a couple of choices like verizon? No, not quite… I have had good luck with Google’s MVNO answer to cell phone service, project Fi. It uses sprint, Tmobile and US Cellular and will pick the best coverage for your location. Is it perfect, No. It sometimes has issues sending text messages and some outbound calls show up as “Unknown”. I have also noticed that sometimes calling my grandparents that are on a ILEC phone line the calls will fail or just ring through to nothing. Calls to Fi support end with them blaming the ILEC (Butler Bremer telephone company). The biggest attraction is their low cost coverage. It is only $20 a month for talk and text and then $10 a gb for data. At the start of the month you set a slider for how much data you expect to use. If you go over, it is $10 a gb, If you go under your guess you get the remainder of the money back as a credit. The other nice benefit is that international travel is also covered by Fi.Text is free, talk depends on the country but is usually $.20 a min and data is still the $10/gb that it always is. Internationally it uses TMobile’s network as well as Three.

If fi is a little too experimental or you plan on using more data, there are other options. My wife (the data hog) has an Iphone that is connected to Straight Talk wireless a MVNO partnership between telemovil and Walmart. For $45 a month she gets unlimited talk/text and 5gb of data. Her phone is currently on the AT&T network.

Want to see what coverage looks like near you? Most providers have a map (That shows a rosy picture of their coverage) as well as third party maps.

Travel to Europe and a layover at YYZ (Toronto)

Waiting at yyz

I am finally getting around to posting some of the information and experiences that we had on our 5 year wedding anniversary trip to Italy and Spain.

On Day 0 We started off in Minneapolis MN due to a lack of affordable and reasonable flights from our local airport (Des Moines).  Thankfully our friends Andrew and Kelsey put us up for the night and kept an eye on our car for the couple of weeks we would be gone. After a uneventful trip through security at MSP we hopped a Air Canada flight to YYZ. As a surprise we had to fill out full immigration forms for entry to Canada and pass through customs just to stay in the international wing of the airport. Canadian customs were quick and efficient as there was not much to talk about for our 6 hour stay with our great neighbors to the north. We rapidly found out that the £20 of credit on the 3UK sim cards we had gotten for the trip were exhausted as Canada was not a part of their free coverage (oops). This was due to the rather crappy wifi coverage in the airport.

The six hours in the airport went quickly as we spent most of the time at the American Express Plaza Premier Lounge. They had nice comfy chairs, newspapers and magazines as well as an open bar and a good spread of food this included a really good Garlic and lentil soup and Teriyaki Chicken with Boiled Cabbage and rice. The only other complaint was that the lounge was a little warm and stuffy as it was an open air area above the rest of the international wing. While we were stuck at the airport we also took advantage of a little shopping including a Canadian moose with a I ❤ Canada shirt on.

We finally left YYZ at 20:00 and continued on our 8.5 hr flight to FCO (Rome).

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