Monday, December 19, 2005

To Canberra I go

Once again I find myself waiting to leave for Brisbane airport to leave to some far away land, well, kinda far away, further than I normally go anyway. This time we're going to Canberra, where our esteemed federal government resides. I'm going to have to restrain myself from doing something silly like throwing a urine filled water bomb at the prime minister - he's on holidays now so I guess the chance won't arise anyway.

I will be installing stuff at two locations - Quality Inn Dickson and Quality Inn Woden. So if you find yourself in dire need of in-room Internet access while staying in Canberra, then those are the two places to try. Both sites are Ethernet type installations, fairly simple and straight forward as long as the cabling is done correctly and the distances between the MDF and rooms isn't huge.

The lead up to this trip was just as disorganised and stressful as the Cairns trip. No one thinks ahead very far and given that they don't think of anyone else either. I just configured the two Cisco SOHO97 DSL routers and two Colubris MSC3200 this morning when the Telstra DSL activation info came in - the day before the installation will take place... I've already put in place procedures that will prevent such issues in future - basically making sure the sales people hand off all technical tasks to the technical people, one would think that was expected, but obviously not.

Don't know what airline I'm flying with, I'm hoping Virgin given the last Jetstar flight from Cairns. Although I did appreciate that Jetstar provide you with fragile (aka, don't play tarmac footy with this one) tags for your laptop bag etc when booking it on as baggage - although Virgin could be treating all baggage as fragile...

I'm currently reading a book about the Australian SAS - The Amazing SAS: The inside story of Australia's Special Forces. It provides good insight to what our leet lads get up to and how they operate. Although the book could do without the stupid Liberal/Howard government propaganda bullshit - personally I don't see any need for it given the subject, what ever happened to the abstraction between the government and the military? Anyway, I won't be too critical until I've read a few other books about the subject, however I have read a few books about the British SAS and there wasn't any mention about their government apart from what was necessary to explain the finer points.

Monday, December 12, 2005

In cairns

So here I am sitting in my motel room at the Best Western Cairns. It's a nice motel, I recommend it - room rates start at $89.00 per night.

As you know we arrived here yesterday afternoon at 3:45pm - the plane was 15min early. I like bigger planes, the VirginBlue Boeing 737-400 was far more comfortable to fly in compared to the Metro I flew to Coffs Harbour in. Having hot air hostesses to perv on is definitely a big plus in my book anyway.

After checking in at the Motel we passed the rest of the afternoon sticking Ethernet cables in these holder thingies - merely a better way of presenting them to guests. Once we were done with that we drove over to the CBD and had a walk about the place. They must have known I was coming that night so they put on a big Christmas show with song and dance and hot chicks wearing translucent tight white pants with g-strings. I couldn't remember what they were singing, carols I think.

Neil suggested an Italian place to have dinner, and while we were looking at the menu a nice chap having dinner with his wife said they had great food and that they were regulars. I discovered that they were the owner of the Paronella Park tourist attraction located just south of Innisfail. I had been there about three times, and was amazed that I was dining with the owners many years later. They provided me with a free group pass for when I head up there on holiday over new years - I'm chuffed.

Anyway, the Italian restaurant is called LA Fettuccina and I highly recommend it to anyone who happens to find themselves in Cairns hungry. Excellent food, great service and don't forget to have the Gelati with a port - best dining experience to date I reckon.

LA Fettuccina Italian Restuarant:
1 Shields St
QLD, 4870
Ph: (07) 4031 5959

Today was fairly smooth, all the equipment got installed as expected. Although the maintenance guy didn't stay around long enough for me to brief him on what was required - I mentioned to him what was needed to be done but I guess he felt he didn't need to be shown. As it turns out I'll have to make another short trip up here again in the very near future to complete these two jobs - so I can finalize any loose ends then. Hopefully no one will steal the adaptors between now and when they're fixed to the walls.

I spend dinner with Neil and a Mr R Spencer, who is one of the seven Cairns Magistrates. He had some good stories to tell, although be it that they were a bit sickening - I admire the resilience of our public legal system and the shit they must have to put up with on a daily basis. We had dinner at a Turkish place just across the road from La Fettuccina. It was okay, although I had higher expectations from lastnights experience.

Tomorrow the sparky we're working with is going to pick me up at 8am (*groan*) and drag me out to Trinity bay where we'll install Sea Change Beach Front Apartments. Should turn out pretty much the same - however there are no adaptors to install into each room, just a cable and holder.

Wednesday we'll be doing a few sales/site surveys in the morning and then flying out that afternoon. More about that later I hope.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Coffs harbor in Two Days

The last two days were spent in Coffs harbor. It was actually my third journey into New South Wales this lifetime, although the first two trips were to Armidale to visit family.

The trip started with Neil calling me the morning we were due to go to the Air Port saying that I was the one driving, not him as was originally planned. I don't know why I let other people plan my engagements. So eventually we make it to the Brisbane Airport where I managed to make it to the coffee shop at the Gate 1,2,3 departure lounge before the lack of caffeine claimed my life. I must say the two young ladies running the show were both attractive - and effective barristas. I can make this safe judgment because the plane was 30min late because of 'technical issues' - I took advantage of the coffee facilities.

Once the airline was prepared to test out their newly repaired plane on me, they herded us onto a bus to drive the 100m out to where the Fairchild 'drain pipe' Metro 3/23 awaited. At that point it was starting to rain - it made take off a bit more interesting as a cross-wind had kicked up a bit and caused the small aircraft to float around a bit just after the wheels left the ground. Apart from that the flight was okay. I will have to say that the Etymotic ER-6i Canalphones worked flawlessly at blocking out most of the noise generated by those 700kW Garret Turboprops.

Once we arrived at the Coffs harbor Airport we hired a small Toyota Corolla hatch and buzzed over to the 'Jetty' for a quick peak at the ocean. I must say I was taken back by the beauty of the 'cove' like shoreline of the far eastern coasts of Australia; I think I rather them than beaches. We then proceeded down the coast to the Opal Cove Resort for one reason or another, we really didn't need to go there then - another reason why I like to make my own arrangements. After doing nothing of much use there we went off to what would become my home for the night - the Zebra Motel.

The Zebra Motel is a Best Western property consisting of two 2-story buildings in a L shaped configuration that host 46 rooms. The two buildings wrap around a central reception/restaurant building, with car parks separating each. Yes you guessed it, its like every other Motel on the planet. The theme of this particular motel was that it had a African style - like the restaurant was called 'Zulu's' and there are was African paraphernalia littered around the place. We were there to sell a VDSL (Very-High-Bit-Rate Digital Subscriber Line) HSIA (High Speed Internet Access) solution to them. Oddly enough, they seemed quite interested and we might hear back from them in 5 - 6mths time. They had only acquired the place two weeks earlier. The bed was comfortable.

Neil got to stay at the Opal Cove resort, it only costs $10 more than the motel and honestly the rooms were pretty much identical. However the resort had all the resort type things like grossly overpriced food and drinks, stupid games and a view that you would kill small, cute kittens for. The cove was a wonderful setting between two enormous bordering rocky cliffs and a perfect beach with a small estuary placed perfectly near one of the rocky cliffs on the northern side. The resort consisted of 135 rooms with 6 conference rooms, a wedding/function room, huge multi-level reception that included the restaurant/bar and games areas. All with ocean views (bar the conference rooms). They too were interested in our VDSL solution and wants everything done by Christmas - no chance of that happening as far as I'm technically concerned but hey, who am I to dispute that...

I liked Coffs harbor for its beauty, both the seaside and hinterland. Its still a small town, surrounded by little seaside villages and in-land hamlets. I could probably spend a few days there checking things out in more detail and possibly hunt down some decent size block of land to plunder when money permits later on. You are bound to drive though it if you're migrating up or down the far eastern coast, I recommend you stop for a bit.

The flight back was better than the first, however due to 'weight restrictions' our luggage was left behind for the next flight to pick up. I received that via freight at lunchtime today. Lucky I kept my car keys on my person and didn't do the usual thing of throwing them into my bags.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

New webapps

It seems that there's a big push in the Web Application sector at present. AJAX (Asychronous Javascript and XML) is the new tech in town and everyone is quickly rushing their applications based upon the technology out their door. I don't mind a bit since its all based on open standards and thus there are Open Source applications available for me to play with.

Two such applications that I'm playing with at the moment are Zimbra and SugarCRM.

Zimbra is pushing e-mail and collaboration software to new heights. They're taking what Google started with their Gmail and Blogger and merging it with current collaboration tools and methods to come up with a modern, scalable and cross-platform suite that promises to change the way we communicate in the work place.

I have installed and set up the latest version (Beta 2) as my mail host for So far its going quite smoothly, however there are issues getting it to work normally through a firewall with 1-to-1 NAT, it's pretty insistent upon its IP addressing and DNS. I read through the Zimbra forums and it would appear that the main issue would be with the way it uses IPTables to redirect ports - it might be getting confused and could be double NATing in a way.

The next release won't depend on the firewall, instead it will startup with root permissions and then suid to a user - similar to many other network applications. The reason for doing this is because only the root user is allowed to open ports below 1024. Another positive reason for not using IPTables is because only Linux has it, FreeBSD and others don't have it, or normally don't use it.

Update: I have since upgraded to the 'M2' release of Beta 2 and the issues I was having with the remote access have all been resolved. M2 has added a few more nice tweaks to the web user interface and various other additions listed on the Zimbra forums in the announcement.

Zimbra Web Client Interface

CRM (Customer/Client Relations Manager) software has been around for quite sometime now. CRM software is usually designed for use by sales people and perhaps marketing as well - probably because traditionally they're the ones who are continuously facing the client. However many other features have crept into the standard recipe for a good CRM package, including interfaces for support/technical staff and project management. This is expected since things have shifted from a sell and forget attitude to developing a continuing relationship one.

This brings me to SugarCRM, a suite of modules that make up a complete CRM package. I'm using the free to download and use Open Source version - the main differences between the free to use one and the pay to use is support and a few other little things that make its integration with other existing systems easier. I'm not a sales person but I did do a bit of marketing and project management study while at Uni and Tafe - so from what I can gather from the suite is that its pretty comprehensive and sticks to the simple bare bones approach to getting the job done. If you want more detailed/complex structuring of information then it wouldn't be too difficult to modify it - just need to find a PHP developer (most decent Web Developers should know it).

SugarCRM Interface

Monday, November 07, 2005

Adding Wifi to the WRAP

I've been running WRAP style routers with the Mikrotik RouterOS software for a while now and I have always been interested to see how the built in wireless functionality worked. Up until now we have been using separate Cisco AP352 access points connected via ethernet.

When it came time to order another set of WRAP bits from Yawarra I got a Senao NL-2511MP PLUS miniPCI wireless card. These tiny adaptors pump out 200mW of power, makes it easier to deploy a wireless access point as you run the antenna cable longer or use a smaller (cheaper) antenna. The Cisco's we use are 100mW for comparison. I also got the correct tail from them as I couldn't be bothered working out how to make my own, but now that I've seen one, it doesn't seem that difficult - might need a special crimping tool for the I-PEX connector though.

Now the case that houses the WRAP board doesn't have any holes for the RP-SMA bulkhead connector. Easily fixed with my trusty cordless drill and a few bits - use a small bit to drill a pilot hole, the right sized bit for the actual hole and then a huge bit to tidy the edges of the newly drilled hole (removes dags and unsharpened the edges). Then simply secure the connector using its nut and washer - I stuck the washer on the inside.

Mind you that I did all the drilling with the board removed and replaced the board before mounting the tail.

Once that was all in place I flashed a CF card with RouterOS 2.8.28 and went through the usual install process. Once I had applied the Marinanet configuration I bridged the hotspot ethernet and wireless interfaces and modified the configuration to suit. The wireless interface is set to AP Bridge mode and I left the rest at their defaults for the purpose of testing.

So far it all seems to be working fine. I did a bit of signal strength testing using various antennas and it would appear that I need to go a bit further than 5m to test it properly :P. The management interface for the wireless is quite good, has everything a purebred AP would have.

Some piccies as expected:

Thursday, October 06, 2005

First SMC TigerAccess Equipment Installation

Almost completed the installation the SMC VDSL equipment at the Peninsular Resort at Mooloolaba (Queensland, Australia). As mentioned before we mounted the equipment and had everything ready to go for the phone guys. Well they should finish the line terminations to the Splitters today and everything will be all go for the core equipment.

Now I have to go through a few installations of the CPE (Client premises Equipment) with Peninsular's maintenance guy to make sure he knows what to do.

All the equipment including cabinet, Access Controller and DSL Router came to around $12,000. Labour is at about $2000 not including room installations. Compared to the cost of the PBX system which was over $50,000, our system is pretty cheap, particularly when looking at the revenue generated from it compared to the phone system.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Janice of Wyoming

Had to go down to South Port and conduct a site inspection at a 87 appartment building (Ocean Sands). Thought I'd take advantage of one of the views and got this pic of the $25m yacht 'Janice of Wyoming':

It's the one just to the left of center, with the huge mast behind some trees. Gives you a good idea on just how big that 130m long lump of aluminium is. More information can be found in this Sea-Spray article (PDF).

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A day spent in Redcliffe

Woke up around 2am this morning to work out why the Colubris device wasn't letting me NAT to the internal devices. Mainly because I wanted quick responses from the US based support folk. Turns out that something is suss about the link I had the equipment running on, even tho it was a definite unrestricted outside network. All worked fine at the client site...

Day started with me getting a couple of coffee's from macca's and arriving at work at around 7:45am. Willow turned up at 8 as arranged and after a bit of me catching up with the usual 'first thing' tasks we loaded up her nifty Astra and were on our way at 8:30. Traffic wasn't bad, trip took around 45min.

Unloaded the gear and got straight into hacking up their cabinet to squeeze in 30 odd 3m leads to patch all the units to the two Linkys SRW224 switches, don't know what I would have done without help from Willow (she's doing work experience with me on her RDO's from the TAFE). Once that was complete I then proceeded to destroy their phone system and render their phones useless for a period of a couple of hours. Turned out that their main extension is somehow hooked into the DSL line, beats me how DSL and a PBX system can be combined. I then worked out how their intraoffice cabling worked and got the Cisco DSL router hooked up.

Sorted out some configuration errors with the SAB Server and everything was go.

We had lunch at the Coffee Club on Redcliffe Pde.

Willow and I then ran around like idiots testing for a connection from each unit and marking which point has the data on it. Manage to locate 5/6 units that didn't have any connection - left that for the cable monkey to deal with.

There's still a few little things that need to be tidied up but its all there and working for anyone who wants to walk in on Friday and use it. So if anyone is seeking a place to stay in Redcliffe, call into the La Vida on Anzac - 41 Anzac Ave, Redcliffe. QLD.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Electricity is a good thing

A site went down today because Energex was doing PLANNED work on the buildings. Pity the client didn't forewarn us of this pre-arranged power outage. So a mad rush later and the site is back up using the handy generator we keep handy for such occasions.

On a funnier note, Don had to borrow the GPA to quickly go see a prospective buyer of some bits on his old Range Rover. Can't wait to hear his comments. It takes people some time to get used to the right understear and left overstear, sticky rear brakes and dodgy electrics -- odometer doesn't work, fuel gauge works sometimes and the indicators can short out sometimes.

Now to start playing with the VDSL equipment...

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Day of productivity

Optus woes cured (as expected - a MTU issue), La Vida equipment and configuration is all set to go for Tuesday (bar a PoE adaptor for the Linksys AP) and we successfully hooked up a new client to our Metroplex wifi network. Now I can concentrate on vehicle shopping and catching up on documentation.

Some pictures of the La Vida equipment on the bench:

The SMC Tiger VDSL switch and splitter for the Peninsular installation:

Optus upgrade woes

Yesterday morning Optus completed a scheduled upgrade of a core router in Brisbane. This is where our Sunshine Coast Frame Relay link terminates. Essentially a MPLS service. The upgrade entailed replacing the router with a larger chassis for scalability and hence the layer 1 and 2 configs would have changed as a result -- the probable cause of our issues.

After this upgrade we discovered that any sort of traffic that utilised larger packet sizes stopped working. This included traffic too and fro our database services and the Brisbane based webservices and any kind of secure connection such as online banking and eBay (noo!).

We circumvented the database woes by rerouting outgoing packets from the database server via our Telstra Frame link, creating a circular route. This is because the connection between the two would be established but the reply traffic was too large and the connection would time out. So now replies go out via Telstra and it all works fine -- this saves us having to change source addressing etc.

We're now waiting on the Optus network monkies to do their thing. As much as we love Optus, it just proves that you can't sit with any single provider and having a backup link with another is very worth while.

Now I have to start planning for the new installation at Brisbane today and try and resolve configuration issues with Colubris CN3200 that's going into La Vida on Tuesday.

The Dockside Marinanet upgrade went fine yesterday. We now have our own DSL with static IPs and the MT Router is happily running with its new config and software.

Looked at a few cars last night. There's a Nissan Navara Dualcab 2.4l ute for $14,000, only has 76,000 on the clock too. Real men drive utes.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Home once again

Probably the most eventful of my trips down the coast. Before leaving Mackay I went to the Mackay Marina as scheduled to meet the antenna guy to adjust the antenna. Since the meeting time was at 10am I had a half hour to kill as I had arrived at 9:30am, so I ordered myself breakfast and a coffee from the restaurant next door to the Marina office. It took a bit longer than I had expected to cook so I had to leave to assist the antenna guy. I told a nearby waitress that I would be back in about 10min. 10min later I arrive to see the owner eating my breakfast with a confused look on his face as he looked at me. Apparently the waitress didn't tell him that I would be back soon and so he ate my breakfast... 15min later I had my breakfast and another coffee for a discounted rate :)

Having had such a great start I managed to get to Rockhampton by around 2:30pm where a Magpie took it upon itself to fly into my front bumper. Poor little bugger, wasn't a whole lot I could do about that one - it was near the correctional center just north of the city. Must have been eating the stuff they give the crims.

After passing through Rocky I was starting to get jack of this driving stuff. There's only so much driving one can do in a week and I was up to my four thousandth kilometer. I then relised that I needed to swing past Gladstone to do the upgrade there *grumble*.

Arrived at Gympie at approximately 8:30pm and boosted my reserves at my arnty's place before heading off on the final stint to Nambour. So from 11am to 11pm on the road with a few breaks in between, screw that for a trip.

Hopefully I won't need to go back up for a while although it looks like I'll be doing it again in two months time anyway...

Monday, September 05, 2005

Magnetic Island installation

Its been ages since I last went to the island and it felt odd hopping off the ferry at Nelly Bay instead of Picnic bay. Fairly uneventful trip over, ocean was flat as a tack. It appears that tourism on the island has increased a great deal so instead of the occasional tourist and majority of locals there are probably a greater number of tourist now.

Turned out to be a fairly straight forward Marinanet installation. However there were a few issues with the internet side of things that were out of my control.

There was a pre-existing wifi link at the location and we agreed to share the internet supply that was fed by wireless. They supply internet to the backpackers lodge.

So having a wifi link already in place meant that a mast and equipment cabinet was there for me to use. I simply made up the antenna cable and plonked the antenna on the tip of the mast and then shoved the active equipment into the cabinet. Kept everything fairly neat and ended up with a cable run of no more than 2.5m -- double sided tape is quickly becoming my favorite 3M product. The mast needs better staying though, the addition of the waveguide created a greater sail and added top weight; they will organise that at a later date (hopefully before the cyclone season...).

Possible problems that could arise later are the more obvious issues involving the upstream provider -- the current connection is a Westnet business ADSL type which will soon be changing to a wireless link from the mainland with a fibre service behind it. Apart from that there are environmental issues that may need to be addressed. Such issues include the lack of ventilation of the equipment enclosure -- the WRAP became quite warm to the touch after no more than an hours use. This will either require a larger cabinet with vents or some kind of heat shield to insulate the cabinet from direct sun.

The usual pictures:

Saturday, August 27, 2005

PC Engines WRAP

Recently a little device had come into my possession that goes by the name of 'WRAP'. I know of smaller x86 compatible devices, however there are not many that can brag about having 3 independantly operated ethernet interfaces and a mini-PCI slot while still consuming less than 5watts.

These appliances, have been available in one shape or form overseas for quite sometime, perhaps a few years. The reason I did not purchase the units earlier is because of the complexities of dealing with an overseas distributor; you can kiss the warranty good bye and you are forever playing the exchange rate game.

The purpose I have implemented the WRAP for is to power Marinanet hotspots. I run a software product called RouterOS that is produced by Latvian company Mikrotik. Until now I have been using normal PCs crammed onto shelves, cabinets and ceiling spaces with varying levels of success. With the WRAP I can safely mount the little appliance on the wall out of the way and not worry about moving parts and environmental extremes.

So far I have successfully installed these units at two Marinanet sites: South Port Yacht Club and Hamilton Island Marina. At South Port the unit lives on a wall in the administation/reception office which makes for a nice airconditioned environment, but space constraints were well addressed due to wall mounting. The Hamilton Island install will be an interesting one during the summer as the unit lives inside a tin shed with limited insulation. So far it has been operating quite well but I have no sensors for temperature at the site. The next site will be on Magnetic Island, North Queensland. This will definately test the temperature tolerance as >40°C during the summer is normal.

CPU: 266 MHz AMD Geode SC1100 CPU (fast 486 core)
Memory: 128Mb SDRAM
Storage: 64Mb Compact Flash
Interfaces: 3
National DP83816 Ethernet,1 miniPCI, 1 Serial Port (console)
BIOS: PC Engines tinyBIOS
Operating System: Mikrotik RouterOS 2.8.28

PC Engines Creators of the appliance
Yawarra The Australian distibutor
Mikrotik Producers of the RouterOS operating system
Marinanet The company that installs and runs the hotspots using the aforementioned combination of device and software