Sunday, May 24, 2015

Geotagging III

This is a two part blog post. Be sure to read both parts.

Part I

Well, not exactly geotagging. Finally I found a camera that does a satisfactory job of geotagging on its own.

But I'm still into logging my location, particularly on trips. For example on a recent trip to Italy I created several maps (here's one).

From my previous research into geotagging I had concluded:
...if you have an Android phone? Don't even bother.
But I've changed phones since then so I thought I'd give Android another chance.

You'll remember that Google "spring cleaned" Google Latitude. But you can still get location history from your Android phone. From a geotagging/geotracking perspective that's what you want.

So I did an bake-off.

I compared Google Now location history to GPSLogger for Android (on my 2013 Moto X) to GPSLogger for Blackberry (on a BlackBerry Bold).

This GIF compares the tracks from all 3 tools.

There are a couple of conclusions. First Google Now's location history is pretty good. However it seems to have it's own mind about when to take a GPS fix. It increases its frequency when it determines that you're moving and slows down when you stop. But the result is that if when you start moving shortly after a fix it may be 5 minutes or more before it takes another fix. I believe that that results in the odd "jumps" in the Google Now location history

On GPSLogger for Android I have the fix frequency set to one minute. This results in less of those odd "jumps" but they're still there.

I have no explanation as to why both Google Now and GPSLogger for Android indicate that I traveled to the I-55/I-69 junction near the bottom left of the map. One can only surmise that the GPS processor in the Moto X is not very good. But I don't think that this is particular to the Moto X. My previous efforts with GPS logging on Android were on Samsung Galaxys and they had the same results.

Once again GPSLogger for BlackBerry blew away the other alternatives. As I said in my Geotagging II post:
a BlackBerry is a first class method to geotag your photos.
For full disclosure I had GPSLogger for BlackBerry set to take a fix every 30 seconds. This is a remnant from my geotagging efforts. I believe for simply recording a track of travels that every 60 seconds is more than sufficient. Obviously this will reduce the battery impact on the BlackBerry.

Part II

This has continued to bother me. Today when I was driving (actually stopped at a light) I looked at the screen for GPSLogger.

It's getting my location from cell towers. Why? GPS Test was getting 21 satellites!

Why wasn't GPSLogger using them?

I had Android's Settings / Location / Mode set to "High accuracy." (screen capture taken later)

But wait. Read the description for "High accuracy." It says "Use GPS, Wi-Fi, and mobile networks to determine location." "(M)obile networks" means "cell towers" to GPSLogger.

So it looks like "High accuracy" isn't really high accuracy. KitKat seems to be preferring the lower battery impact of cell towers over GPS accuracy.

When I set Android's "Location mode" to "Device only" (GPS) look at the result from Google Now.

Notice the "jump" that I highlighted at 9:03AM. And there are a couple of similar ones to the left (earlier). The track tightens up after 9:03AM. I turned on "Device only" at 9:06AM. Those "jumps" are apparently the result of using cell towers with improper location signatures.

Could that really be it? So I Googled for a while and found this.
if i use 'device GPS only' it works fine. widgets and weather data are correct within a few feet. in High Accuracy mode it tends to put me in the wrong place. often another state or country, or it shows my current location as the location of a cell tower (and GNow tells me i'm like 20 mins from home when i'm already there). in this mode, it seems to never use GPS radio at all, relying entirely on wifi and cell towers. this wasn't always part of the location settings, it just showed up with the update.

So I went to the GPSLogger web site and found this feature.
Selectively choose network, gps and passive location providers
Then back to GPSLogger and Performance / Location Providers.

So I unchecked "Network" and "Passive."

Now look at the result.

I realize that this is a pretty coarse view so here's a zoom in at one location.

Pretty good.

This seems to have significantly improved Android's GPS tracking. It certainly will have an impact on battery life though. Time will tell.

My thinking is to leave Android's "Location mode" to "High accuracy." Generally that works good enough for Google Now's Location History. And I'm going to set GPSLogger Performance / Location Providers to "GPS." That way I'll get more precise logging (and more battery impact) when I want it.

Thanks to for their online animated GIF tool.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

RAID Problems

RAID is good. Right? Keep on reading.

First read this article in The Register.

tl;dr - "Rebuild times are so long that the chances of an unrecoverable read error (URE) occurring are dangerously high."

Here's the long version.

RAID 5 uses a parity set to recover from a failed drive. The problem is that spinning disks are getting larger. This increases the chance of an unrecoverable read error occurring during the rebuild of a failed drive from the parity set. Your data is gone at that point.

The math behind this is really complicated but here's the punch line:
Consumer magnetic disk error rate is ... an error every 12.5TB.
Now let's look at that for today's big drives.
Putting this into rather brutal context, consider the data sheet for the 8TB Archive Drive from Seagate. This has an error rate of 10^14 bits. That is one URE every 12.5TB. That means Seagate will not guarantee that you can fully read the entire drive twice before encountering a URE.

How big are the drives in your RAID? Mine are 2TB consumer class.

What's a person to do?

Buy more expensive drives.
Enterprise magnetic disk error rate is ... an error every 125TB.
That reduces the failure rate by an order of magnitude.

The elapsed time of the rebuild is still problematic. Realizing that a Drobo (1st generation) is not an enterprise class RAID system my experience is that the Drobo rebuild time is in excess of 24 hours per TB.

Or buy SSDs.
Enterprise SSD error rates are ... an error every 12.5PB.
That gets you another order of magnitude. But those are expensive.

There are alternative RAID modes that give more protection and better recovery time as well.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Big Blue Clouds

I've recently added Ben Kepes to my reading list. The Forbes web site is awfully heavy with clutter but I let Adblock Plus do its thing.

A recent article was about IBM (hence "Big Blue" in the title) and their cloud activities.

Ben drug out all the old stories, e.g. Watson winning Jeopardy and "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM" but went on to relate a conversation that he had with Robert LeBlanc, SVP of IBM’s Cloud business.

LeBlanc's comments are full of platitudes - "No enterprise is going to lift trillions of dollars of existing assets into the cloud." and "New development will happen in the cloud, but existing assets will stay put."

Then LeBlanc got into classic IBM speak. Kepes asked him if IBM "would begin to zero rate international traffic." LeBlanc's response was that "high availability is important."


Kepes did call out IBM on their continual claims to be the biggest cloud vendor. "I've not seen any independent commentator who gives their claims any real credence."

Sunday, May 03, 2015

An Order of Magnitude Improvement in Compute Density

Remember 2 1/2 years ago I posted on the emergence of ARM servers. It's taken a while but they're being adopted by mainstream enterprises.

During Applied Micro's 4Q conference call CEO and president Paramesh Gop said:
PayPal achieved "... an order of magnitude improvement in compute density"
That's the kind of leap you have to have to displace x86. This reminds me of the transition from mainframes to x86. But remember that RISC systems made a brief appearance during that time. ARM may not be the next big thing.

It's going to be interesting over the next couple of years.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Walled Gardens

At lunch with a friend recently we were discussing messaging directions. While his perspective was for a Fortune 100 corporation and mine is for our much smaller consulting organization, we were running into the same issues.

The players in the messaging sector are creating walled gardens to tie you into their ecosystem. I'm sure that they would argue that it is to "improve the customer experience" and it may very well do that for the in-house customers but isolates them from the rest of the world.

Here are a couple of examples that I've run into recently in my space:

Facebook ends support for AIM chat integration 
On April 15th 2015, Facebook is making an update to their API (application program interface) that affects how AIM and other applications connect to Facebook. 
As part of the API update, Facebook will remove support for third party clients like AIM to integrate with their chat feature. You will continue to receive Facebook notifications in your AIM Updates feed and everything else you’ve come to know and love about AIM will stay the same.
Google Talk was a player for a while.
Google moves away from the XMPP open-messaging standard 
Google has since admitted that it is indeed shrinking its support for Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP). 
XMPP was meant to enable users from one Internet communication network to be able to talk to a friend or co-worker on another such network. So, for example, an AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) user could talk to his co-worker on Google Talk and vice-versa. 
May 28, 2013 
I used to use but they withdrew into their own walled garden.
Popular messaging app to end support for third-party IM networks starting Mar. 3
In emails sent out to users on Friday, imo announced that it will be discontinuing support for all third-party instant messaging networks to focus on a build-out of its own platform. 
February 28, 2014
What do I use now? Ironically I use the web interface of It still supports Google Talk. And it'll send SMS.

I'm a little embarrassed.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Vestalink Confusion

I've posted before about my use of Vestalink. It always worked well for me. When Google and Obihai reached an agreement I moved back to pure Google Voice but left Vestalink in place for E911.

Initially the package from Vestalink was $39.99 for 2000 incoming/outcoming minutes/month. When it came up for renewal it was $79.99 for the same package. That made me step back and think about it.

Coincidentally as the renewal approached I had posted about Your Father's Phone Service triggered by the senior citizens on their home page. Within a month I got this comment:
Ryan Tilton said...
Hi Ben:
We are actually doing landing page testing. Since fatherly individuals might be looking for a land-line replacement we were thinking this picture might lead to good conversions. We still do not have enough data to see if this is a good picture or not. But it is good to hear your feedback on it. It would be great if you could start a discussion on the validity of the official obihai support. I think there is some interesting things going on a Google right now with Nova (the new cell phone service). I believe that the "official" support Obihai is claiming is just to sell more units before Google voice is finally merged into hangouts later this year. VoIP is not free like email. Google is taking huge losses to support this network, they have to monetize it eventually. I think Nova is the ultimate result. Great blog by the way!
Ryan Tilton is the owner of Vestalink. He encouraged me to "start a discussion on the validity of the official obihai support" and suggested that the "'official' support Obihai is claiming is just to sell more units before Google voice is finally merged into hangouts later this year."

I did whine at him about increasing his rates.
..even the 500 minute plan is almost twice what I paid initially. Have your costs actually INCREASED this dramatically? Doesn't feel right.
He replied:
We want to significantly improve the software so we are raising prices to hire some programmers for system updates and better overall user experience.
And he lowered my rate for one year to the original $39.99. I still let the package expire.

Then recently I get an e-mail:
Vestalink Now Works With Google Voice
Uh, notice the picture! And it's still on the Vestalink homepage.

Then another e-mail:
Vestalink launches GVsip - GVsip allows you to use your Google Voice account with any VoIP device.
I'm getting dizzy.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Google's Toe

How did Google stump their toe so badly?

Read the fine print in this Google Apps Status Dashboard. is displaying an invalid certificate.

tl;dr Google let their smtp certificate expire on a holiday weekend.

Perhaps Google could put a reminder on their calendar to help them not to overlook this again. Better yet, put it on an Outlook calendar.

There's a good recap of it here.