September 2010

Mobile computing and Networking & telecommunications and Social networking and Technology30 Sep 2010 at 11:04 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Stumbling upon a months old article by my friend George’s blog expressing his idea of local social networking, I started thinking about Bluetooth again – I’m glad that he made that resurface.

Social networking has been in the air for about as long as Bluetooth exists. The fact that it can be used for reaching out to local people has not escaped obnoxious marketers nor have the frustrated Saudi youth taken long to innovate their way to sex in the midst of the hypocritical Mutaween.

Barely slower than the horny Saudi, SmallPlanet CrowdSurfer attempted to use Bluetooth to discover the proximity of friends, but it apparently did not survive: nowadays none of the likes of Brightkite, Gowalla, Foursquare or Loopt takes advantage of this technology – they all rely on the user checking-in manually. I automated the process for Brightkite – but still it is less efficient than local discovery and Bluetooth is not hampered by an indoor location.

People like George and me think about that from time to time, and researchers put some thought into it too – so it is all the more surprising that there are no mass-scale deployments taking advantage of it. I found OlderSibling but I doubt that it has a large user base and its assumed spying-oriented use-cases are quite off-putting. Georges mentioned Bliptrack, a system for the passive measurement of traffic, but it is not a social networking application. I registered with Aki-Aki but then found that it is only available on Apple Iphone – which I don’t use. I attempted registration with MobyLuck but I’m still waiting for their confirmation SMS… Both MobyLuck and Aki-Aki do not seem very insistent on increasing their user population.

Nevertheless I quite like the idea of MobyLuck and Aki-Aki and I wonder why they have not managed to produce any significant buzz – don’t people want local social networking ?

With indoor navigation looking like the next big thing already rising well above the horizon, I’m pretty sure that there will be a renewed interest in using Blueetooth for social networking – but why did it take so long ?

Networking & telecommunications and Systems and Technology25 Sep 2010 at 10:50 by Jean-Marc Liotier

If you can read French and if you are interested in networking technologies, then you must read Stephane Bortzmeyer’s blog – interesting stuff in every single article. Needless to say I’m a fan.

Stéphane commented an article by Nokia people : « An Experimental Study of Home Gateway Characteristics » – it exposes the results of networking performance tests on 34 residential Internet access CPE. For a condensed and more clearly illustrated version, you’ll appreciate the slides of « An Experimental Study of Home Gateway Characteristics » presented at the IETF 78’th meeting.

The study shows bad performance and murky non-compliance issues on every device tested. The whole thing was not really surprising, but it still sounded rather depressing to me.

But my knowledge of those devices is mostly from the point of few of an user and from the point of view of an information systems project manager within various ISP. I don’t have the depth of knowledge required for a critical look at this Nokia study. So I turned to a friendly industry expert who shall remain anonymous – here is his opinion :

[The study] isn’t really scientific enough testing IMHO. Surely most routers aren’t high performance due to cost reasons and most DSL users (Telco environments don’t have more than 8 Mbit/s (24 Mbit/s is max).

[Nokia] should check with real highend/flagships routers such as Linksys E3000. Other issues are common NAT issues or related settings or use of the box DNS Proxy’s. Also no real testing method explained here so useless IMHO. Our test plan has more than 500 pages with full description and failure judgment… :)

So take « An Experimental Study of Home Gateway Characteristics » with a big grain of salt. Nevertheless, in spite of its faults I’m glad that such studies are conducted – anything that can prod the consumer market into raising its game is a good thing !

Experimental study on 34 residential CPE by Nokia: – Bad performance and murky non-compliance all ove

Experimental study on 34 residential CPE by Nokia: – Bad performance and murky non-compliance all over


Systems administration23 Sep 2010 at 11:27 by Jean-Marc Liotier

This just cost me twenty minutes of hair pulling and from the number of unanswered forum and mailing lists mentions of this “Lost connection to MySQL server during query” error in the context of remote access through an SSH tunnel, posting the solution seems useful.

Letting mysqld listen to the outside is a security risk – and an unnecessary one for the common LAMP setup on which the applications are executed on the same server as the database server. As a result, many Mysql servers are configured with the “skip-networking” option which prevents it from listening for TCP/IP connections at all. Local communication is still possible through the mysql.sock socket.

Nowadays, communicating through local sockets is rather rare – connecting locally is usually done through the TCP/IP stack which is less efficient but more flexible. So the naive user who expects TCP/IP everywhere sets up a tunnel to the Mysql server he usually accesses locally, he provides the right connection parameters to his Mysql client – and on his connection attempt he gets the “Lost connection to MySQL server during query” error.

So – when connecting through ssh tunnel to a mysql daemon, you need to make sure that the “skip-networking” option has been removed from /etc/my.cnf

When the “skip-networking” option is active, network parameters are redundant. But once you remove it, for security’s sake you must make sure that mysqld does not listen to the outside – so check /etc/my.cnf so that the “bind-adress” parameter is set as “bind-address =”.

Africa and Economy21 Sep 2010 at 18:48 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Misguided aid efforts are a favorite gripe of African entrepreneurs, and the ever virulent Magatte Wade never misses an opportunity to hit on self important aid advocates. She declares that “Africans are tired of the charity brand” and she leads by example.

Today, she noticed a recent Wall Street Journal reporting that Edun, the company started by Bono and his wife, is now producing most of its products in China. Edun’s mission is to “encourage trade with Africa” and “celebrate the possibilities and the people of the continent”. I’ll let you appreciate her take on this monumental feat of hypocrisy.

The contrast with a recent New York Times article about IBM betting on growth in 16 sub-Saharan Africa by entering a ten years agreement to supply hardware, software and services to Bharti Airtel. For IBM, Africa is a growth market, not an aid destination.

Now it remains to be seen whether IBM invests in Africa or merely enjoys the open market to sell goods and services produced elsewhere. My experience of European telecommunications consultancies in Africa is that this sort of deal does not involve actual local development beyond token liaison personnel. But countries such as Morocco now feature maturing markets that nurture local suppliers – so it could happen in sub-Saharan Africa too. There is a long way from call center sweat shops to a fully developed information technology industry, but anchor investors such as IBM may trigger the start down that path. We shall see…

Marketing and Mobile computing and Networking & telecommunications17 Sep 2010 at 12:07 by Jean-Marc Liotier

This morning a French banker provided me with an explanation for the efforts of the banks at selling MVNO contracts to their customers. This explanation does not dismiss the influence of the contemporary urge to use any customer-facing operation as an excuse for selling services entirely unrelated to the core product – but it makes a little more sense.

Banks see the mobile payment wave rising high on their horizon, and they want to be part of the surfing – in a bank-centric model of course. As near field communications are coming soon to a handset near you, getting ready is a rather good idea.

To carve their rôle into the mobile payments ecosystem, banks believe that building a customer base is a good way to make sure that they will have a critical mass of users to deploy their products to when the time comes for that. In the context of a maturing market with decreasing churn rates, this makes sense – especially as the banking and insurance industry enjoys much lower churn rates than mobiles operators, and the banker’s image could have a halo effect on the mobile products they distribute.

But on the other hand, considering the leonine conditions that French mobile license holders grant to the MVNO, this is a fragile position on which to take leverage.

By the way, if you feel like working for a hot mobile payments company, take a look at the openings at Zong and say hello to Stéphane from me !

Books and Games and Knowledge management02 Sep 2010 at 13:22 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I stumbled upon an article published last June by Knowledge@Wharton mentioning “The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion” by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, Lang Davison. Somehow I had missed this book that offers intriguing alternatives to organizations mired in their own structures. To learn about it you can read this critique by The Economist,  that happen to be titled “In Search of Serendipity” – on a side note, I’m happy that this word that I discovered in 1997 has been enjoying increasing popularity since the beginning of this millennium.

I can’t stand playing a MMORPG for even fifteen minutes (I prefer tactical, operational or strategical games – preferably with a pseudo-realistic environment), but I watched my people play and I agree about Hagel & al’s the mob collaborative dynamics that happen there :

Guild leaders in World of Warcraft “require a high degree of influence,” noted Hagel [..]. “You have to be able to influence and persuade people — not order them to do things. Ordering people in most of these guilds doesn’t get you far.”

In addition to the leadership qualities involved with becoming the head of a guild and assembling a problem-solving team from previously independent players, World of Warcraft enthusiasts, as noted by Hagel, conduct extensive after-action reviews of their performances as well as that of the leader. In addition, he said that game players typically customize their own dashboards to offer statistics and rate performance in areas they consider critical to their strategy.

This parallel between gaming and management is interesting – but Hagel & al. are not the first to notice it. In 2008, in “Collective solitude and social networks in World of Warcraft” my fellow ESSCA alumni and friend Nicolas Ducheneaut remarked :

We show that these social networks are often sparse and that most players spend time in the game experiencing a form of “collective solitude”: they play surrounded by, but not necessarily with, other players. We also show that the most successful player groups are analogous to the organic, team-based forms of organization that are prevalent in today’s workplace. Based on these findings, we discuss the relationship between online social networks and “real world” behavior in organizations in more depth.

“Prevalent in today’s workplace” ? From my big company point of view, I find that statement more than slightly optimistic – though not surprising considering how Nicolas enthusiastically embraces the future. But that is definitely the direction that we are going in. Expect even more of it as Generation Y enters the workforce. Until then, there is still a lot of evangelism to do…

Code and Mobile computing and Social networking and The Web01 Sep 2010 at 13:58 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Twenty two days ago, my periodically running script ceased to produce any check-ins on Brightkite. A quick look at the output showed that the format of the returned place object had changed. Had I used proper XML parsing, that would not have been a problem – but I’m using homely grep, sed and awk… Not robust code in any way, especially when dealing with XML. At least you get a nice illustration of why defensive programming with proper tools is good for you.

So here is a new update of – a script that checks-in your Google Latitude position to Brightkite using the Brightkite API and the Google Public Location Badge. Description of the whole contraption may be found in the initial announcement.

The changes are :

% diff
< id=`wget -qO- "$latitude%2C$longitude" | grep "<id>" | sed s/\ \ \<id\>// | sed s/\<\\\/id\>//`
< place=`wget -qO- "$latitude%2C$longitude" | grep "<name>" | sed s/\ \ \<name\>// | sed s/\<\\\/name\>//`
> id=`wget -qO- "$latitude%2C$longitude" | grep "<id>" | sed s/\ \ \<id\>// | sed s/\<\\\/id\>// | tail -n 1`
> place=`wget -qO- "$latitude%2C$longitude" | grep "<name>" | sed s/\ \ \<name\>// | sed s/\<\\\/name\>// | md5sum | awk '{print $1}'`

I know I should use a revision control system… Posting this diff that does not even fit this blog is yet another reminder that a revision control system is not just for “significant” projects – anything should use one and considering how lightweight Git is in comparison to Subversion, there really is no excuse anymore.

Back to the point… To get the place identifier, I now only take the last line of the field – which is all we need. I mdsum the place name – I only need to compare it to the place name at the time of the former invocation, so a mdsum does the job and keeps me from having to deal with accented characters and newlines… Did I mention how hackish this is ?

Anyway… It works for me™ – get the code !