December 2007 Archives

First Digit Flip


Pops recently celebrated a milestone. The surprise party went over very well and and it was fun for all who attended. How could this have been achieved without the Internet? Shifting gears..
I have been planning a major overhaul of this space. Modern CSS facelift and for better navigation and improved readability. If I can steal a couple of hours for self, I may actually get this done during the holidays. More on this the next few days.

links for 2007-12-17

What will become of the OLPC Project?

Nicholas Negroponte is an engaging figure. I still recall reading his foreword in the text "Unleashing The Killer App Digital Strategies for Market Dominance"
This particular passage in the foreword caught my attention, "Sometimes, looking straight ahead - even with the most dedicated attention and seasoned experience -- just misses both the big picture and the new ideas, because they often come at you from those outlying areas affectionately called "left field."

Given Negroponte's business savvy, I'm somewhat surprised that he appears to have been naive in the face of hostile competition in the form of the Intel and ASUS sub-level notebook computers.
At first glance it appears that it did not occur to him that these companies would seek to compete against a very small, privately funded non-profit project.

Let me preface my critique with the following: I am a staunch advocate of the OLPC. I believe that Negroponte provided the XO as means of leveling the playing field for developing nations. It was obvious that he did not believe that anyone really cared about the providing computing power for needy countries and the millions of children in those areas. Methinks that he could have garnered even more support by providing a comparable effort stateside, as we have children at risk in urban centers across this country. More on this later.

As stated earlier, there were some fatal flaws in the OLPC strategy, was under estimation of greed and perhaps an understanding of how difficult it is to truly achieve economies of scale in manufacturing a product. Let us discuss greed for a moment. Intel was very bitter that Negroponte opted to use AMD CPU. Perhaps even larger was it obvious omission of that Redmond OS. We know the WinTel model is predominant in the industry, but has little uptake in the sub-$400 notebook/laptop market.

It would appear that Intel secretly or maybe not so-secretly wanted to crush the OLPC campaign because they dared not to use their hardware or even consult their engineering team prior to building out the XO prototypes. Negroponte thought wrongly that Intel would not use its experienced manufacturing might to undercut the OLPC pricing structure. To make matters worse, I would also venture to guess that Intel, ASUS, and OLPC are sharing suppliers because the laptop computing space is a highly marginalized business. Not exactly dog food, but you get the idea.

Go Tech

This alumni newsletter crossed my desk last week. Despite the fact that I have challenged the leadership of my alma-mater (and will continue to do so), I am quite proud that I attended BTHS.

The entire ranking metrics rationale, along with the listing of the top 100 schools, can be found here

Where does your school rank?
BTHS US News Report

links for 2007-12-10

Hardware gone bad

I spent a couple of days rebuilding my firewall. Normally, the evolution would have been complete in just a couple of hours, but you must realize that I have been running my < href="">Smoothie since 2000. Hence, the case and power supply were both an outdated AT form factor. The obvious challenge would be to find a replacement power supply. No such luck. In this area, there simply aren't that many privately owned computer parts supply stores. In NY and NJ area they are quite plentiful. So, I actually went to Worst Buy and grabbed a Linksys router. Took it home and then decided to set it up. Low and behold it, you put it on the network and it is not recognized due to 192.168.1.x octet, whereis my LAN is on the 192.168.0.x subnet.

I decided that it was too much trouble to configure the silly router, I returned it. I simply bought an ATX case and power supply. Smoothie is up and I hope to run it for another 7 yrs. Though Linksys routers run embedded Linux kernel, I still prefer the smoothie, as it is very configurable. Besides, you can always re-deploy a case and power supply for another server. You cannot very easily re-purpose a Linksys router without a some hacking.

It is worth noting that when you decide to run Linux on any piece of hardware, it is likely that the software will outlast your hardware. In the M$, cycleplan the contrary is true. You will likely be forced to run out and purchase new hardware on a three year cycle. One last nicety that Linux affords you. I have found that it is quite easy to swap out hardware between machines, without reloading drivers or any other weird catastrophic failures. For instance, if you discover a failed motherboard on another machine, you simply remove the hard drive and install it into another box. No need to worry about installing drivers or looking for silly software license keys.

This is feat is virtually impossible on a windows box, as drivers and all sorts of user space applications write directly to the registry. Which basically prevents flexibility and portability in a pinch.

Trixbox 2.2 - Revisited

Figured it was time provide an update on my Asterisk excursion. As mentioned previously, I decided to build my own PBX, so that I could gain more control over conference calls and standard voicemail box. Previously, I paid $15 US per month to lease a voicemail box with a toll-free number. The voicmail was necessary to manage call volume for Real Estate. Now Asterisk has provided a very powerful means of not only maintaining a voicemail, but IVR, and a large number of other telephony niceties.

Sure you could accomplish some of these tasks by paying Vonage, Comcast or some other ITSP, but then you would lose customization options. Moreover, Vonage is in serious trouble. I elected to use Broadvoice as my ITSP, as they have BYOD option that suits Asterisk users quite well. Their are other options too. As the telephony space becomes more mature, their will likely be a plethora of alternatives.

Trixbox is a fairly nascent telephony/CRM distribution developed by Digium (chief supporter of the Asterisk Project). I still have much to learn and luckily there is a plethora of information available through several wikis and IRC. A good book to grab is the O'Reilly Asterisk - Future of Telephony. Great reference text to supplement what you will find online. I will likely dedicate a substantial portion of a forthcoming netcast to my Trixbox excursion. I was somewhat surprised that their were not many people in the tribox channel.

As mentioned in a previous post, Trixbox provides a number of different tools to help build a formidable PBX. I have spent most of my time with the freepbx module.

In telephony speak, I have two SIP trunks which are dedicated to both of my SIP softphones (Ekiga).
Both trunks have dial plans for both incoming and outgoing calls. Eventually, I'll add another trunk for my wireless IP phone. If I had landline phone, I would have to add a Zaptel trunk as well. Actually, there is no limit to the number of trunks that you can create. For instance, if you were making international calls, you could configure a outbound dial plan for those country codes too.

Word of caution, since we live in a NAT'd world you will need to punch holes in your firewall. You must do this because most firewalls do not pass SIP or STUN packets natively, typically opening port 5060 will solve that problem. I have read that some people have placed their Asterisk boxes in DMZ portion of their network. Unless you know how to disable all non-essential services, you could be creating unwanted problems. Probably safer to stay behind the firewall. You'll also need to allow RTP traffic on ports 1000 - 2000, especially if you wish to be able to connect to your trixbox while you're on road. In my case, I plan to use a wireless IP phone to connect to the box and place calls to whomever. The wireless IP phone basically hunts for open WiFi networks and grabs an IP address to negotiate a connect. Pretty slick.. I will also get around to registering with FWD, as I think it would be great to make calls directly to other PBX machines without using a third party (PSTN)to bridge the calls.

What I like most about Asterisk Project , is that it demystifies telephony and removes that black box from the technology. Heh, is that the not the intent of FLOSS anyway? As I discover more useful features and gain more knowledge, I will report my findings.

Now I have only three more projects remaining. Finish my thesis, configure/install MythTV, and install Debian on NSLU2.. More fun ahead.

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This page is an archive of entries from December 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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