Better organisational decision making

It bothers me that last night, the Hackerspace.sg plenum exhibited various qualities about meetings I just hated. Not to single out Hackerspace.sg, I've been in other societies and worked in other companies where the "group" decision making is just as dysfunctional in my opinion.

  • Meetings are synchronous
  • Decisions are made by the people who show up
  • If person can't attend the meeting, the person can't contribute to discussion or vote
  • Exercising Robert's rules can be slow
  • Discussing any point synchronously is slow
  • Making a speech or ensuring all the points are clearly recorded is near impossible
  • Longer the meeting goes or the more issues addressed, the harder it becomes to garner focus and make good decisions
  • Lots of time wasting, no set limit to arguments
  • Things can go in circles, especially if someone did not listen carefully

Solutions

The leader

Ideally there is some designated leader just listening and calling the shots. That's honestly my preference. See BDFL

My technological ideas for group decision making

  • Force discussions to happen on a mailing list, identified by URL
  • Summarise salient points of discussion on mailing list, by highlighting text at URL
  • Have an online voting system where absentee votes can be cast

As for synchronous meetings, they probably still need to happen. Email debates are rarely effective, especially if any participant has poor email etiquette or employs intentionally or not, some disruptive tactic.

For meetings, a very orderly, time limited "English parliamentary" style debate could be organised for big issues. At least two people, on each side of clearly defined topic with 3-5 minute speaking slots, which is broad casted or at least recorded.

Again, an online voting system would be used, but the voting window is short, i.e 10 minutes after the synchronous debate.

What are synchronous meetings good for?

Matters of discipline or some other urgency or crises is probably a good fit.

I doubt even summarising is a good use of everyone's time at a meeting. Summarising points is best done asynchronously, independently of bias and can be very tedious.

Nominal issues must be addressed and recorded by email, identified by URL.

A meeting must address some communication break down, which is fairly common by email or other recorded mediums like IRC.

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Complaining about advertisements on BBC News

So I complained online a couple of weeks ago about the crashing flash and advertisements while trying to watch BBC News videos in Singapore.

I didn't seem to get a copy of my original complaint, but I did make a video above.

Making a complaint on BBC news Website is a bit too hard IMHO. Had to go through a myriad of hoop jumping forms.

I got a reply on March 7th:

Dear Mr Hendry

Reference CAS-2586580-DKLK6N

Thanks for contacting us about video advertising before a video clip.

We are currently seeking to improve our delivery system to limit users’ exposure to repetitive advertising. We are also examining technical means of ensuring short clips are preceded by short adverts or no advertising at all.

I appreciate your concern and can assure you that the issue is being addressed.

I very much hope you will continue to enjoy using our website.

Thanks once again for takign the time to

Kind Regards

Marie-Therese Gibson

BBC Audience Services

www.bbc.co.uk/faqs/

NB This is sent from an outgoing account only which is not monitored. You cannot reply to this email address but if necessary please contact us via our webform quoting any case number we provided.

After replying to bbc_faq_website@bbc.co.uk, asking for my original complaint, I got a Undelivered Mail Returned to Sender.

I have no idea how to find the webform again. Sigh

Update: After about 15 actions I've found a Web form I can enter the above CAS number. :(

Could be a LOT better BBC. :/

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Private medical insurance in Singapore

I've enjoyed free of cost medical care most of my life. Since I'm pretty active, I now worry about paying for medical services out of pocket. In Singapore seeing a doctor ranges from 50-150SGD (150SGD is a super duper specialist). Advanced imaging for diagnosis start at 1000SGD and of course hospital treatment is very expensive. So I'm keen to cover myself for emergencies.

Since I have a dependent pass in Singapore, I'm looking into the options. Normally expatriates enjoy free medical care via their workplace, though since I'm an Entrepreneur. Different story of pain.

http://www.expatinsurance.com.sg/ seem to be the experts and conveniently located in 20 Upper Circular Road where MOM is, the Singapore government department that issue passes.

Travel insurance plans aside, the two options they proposed were:

  • AXA Elite for 1342SGD annual premium
  • MSIG Platinum for 1080SGD annual premium

I prefer MSIG so far, since it's cheaper, though the basic outpatient service all have a 100SGD excess (deductible claim) for a course of treatment. Tbh seeing an expensive doctor in Singapore privately costs no more than 100SGD.

A big annoying down side for both options is that they require Claims filing by Post. A paper nightmare procedure if you want to claim back any money.

I have been quickly look for more options. A Wikipedia list of Singaporean insurers unfortunately lumps most consumer insurance under "General Insurers". After looking through several only a fraction offer personal medical insurance.

I learnt about the International Medical Centre via some AXA travel related literature. Their cashless system like IIRC the South African system MediCare card sounded VERY ATTRACTIVE because it is super convenient. On their http://www.imc-healthcare.com/insurance page they indicate other insurers as:

I will try make enquiries with them and their awful websites, if they offer online claims.

I'm a bit confused by the utility of IMC since Singaporean hospitals and polyclinics are upto a Western standard. IMC seem to target just expats which sounds worryingly inefficient.

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Thinkpad X240

So I must have been using the Thinkpad X series for about 10 years.

X40, X60, X201, X220 & I don't know what next. Help.

Of course I blame the IBM handover to Lenovo in 2005 as a mark of decline.

I guess they are more "affordable" now then ever, though the deal breaker for me on the new X240 is:

The new non-hardware mouse keys feel terrible. I've always disabled the Trackpad, preferring instead the nipple, and now the buttons are part of the Trackpad. They feel awkward and furthermore it causes frustrating mis-clicks.

The once famed keyboard has changed to a cheap chiclet style keyboard.

Astonishingly Lenovo changed the power connector AGAIN:

Old spare Thinkpad chargers can be thrown away... I wish it was magnetic and hence an improvement.

What next for running Archlinux?

Options are pretty thin:

I heard good things about the Samsung Series 9, but then Samsung annoyingly changed the name to ATIV Book 9 Plus and added a touch screen. Really unsure. No track point.

Macbook Air, then I'll have to juggle keeping a version of MacOSX running to do firmware updates. Way too painful and I don't want to be another Apple user.

Update: http://www.reddit.com/r/thinkpad provides a valuable place to vent my frustrations on Lenovo. I need a new Archlinux laptop!

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What makes a successful entrepreneur

I'm actually sick of the word "entrepreneur" and I prefer something like businessman.

The media's conconction of dotCom "entrepreneur" is basically someone founding / running an IT startup.

I guess raising money from investors is a legitamite revenue stream, though I dislike it. Most entrepreneurs waste my time and everyone elses with their bankrupt ideas and even worse IT skills.

A real entrepeneur in my opinion has worked out how to generate money from the product or service. Almost from day 1. Earning money. With a long term outlook.

Something that most startups utterly fail to do.

It's not sexy sending invoices. Checking your bank statement on bank's shitty timeout-ing Web application. Manually marking off invoices as paid since there is no way of automating this.

But this is where you need to be in order to have a real business and real credibility in my book.

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Superfast Cornwall

Pre-2013, at http://www.prazefarm.co.uk/ we had a "20CN" ADSL connection.

The very best broadband speed we could achieve was 6.26Mb/s down and 0.36Mb/s up. It's useless for uploads.

If you ignore the BT line rental tax of ~150GBP a year, we were paying about 20GBP a month for Internet via our esteemed ISP A&A.

After Superfast Cornwall

ERDF Broadband infrastructure in Cornwall

After a long nervous wait, we finally got FTTC about a mile away from our property. Much closer than the previous Cardinham exchange.

The cost of the upgrade was 100GBP with a 12 month minimum contract and we received two new modems. My heart sank when we got the first new readings of our Superfast line. About 10Mb/sec down and 0.5Mb/s up. Useless for uploads. I thought this must be a horrible error, since these new FTTC readings are a fraction of the predicted "upto" 24.1 Mb/s down and 5.6Mb/s up speeds.

Our internet speed just about doubled, however so did our costs. Ignoring the BT line rental tax of ~150GBP:

  • Home::1 Internet Access is now 25GBP
  • Home::1 Add-On: FTTC line, for having Superfast Internet costs 10GBP extra a month

Putting our Internet cost at 35GBP a month. This is about twice the cost of ADSL when you factor in the 100GBP installation cost.

Looking around, the monopoly BT offers BT infinity for 15GBP a month, but:

  • I do not want to support the BT monopoly
  • BT are probably getting a special price from BT Openreach
  • BT product is subsidised by the fact that they usually manage to sell you loads of other crap too
  • Dynamic IP / no IPv6, so BT's product is useless if you want to have a home cloud server

To add to my woes our new FTTC connection seems unstable at times. We've called out BT several times via AAISP who just run a line check and leave. They make no effort to deal with the instability or slow speeds. One engineer speculated that the copper wires running from the cabinet are probably in bad shape, however BT will not work on them.

Conclusion

I've spoken to directly with http://www.cornwalldevelopmentcompany.co.uk/ and they say "Having looked at your location this is the sort of speed that I would expect over that distance of copper." I can't help but think this technology is inappropriate for rural settings since you can't expect people to live close to a cabinet! If you are lucky enough to live very close to a cabinet, you are probably laughing, otherwise this technology is not fit for purpose.

I intend on complaining and participating in broadband studies until something is earnestly done about broadband in Britain. There are still many villages without mobile service, let alone broadband. Considering the costs to consumers, together with 100s of millions of European funding support to aid the BT monopoly, it's a scandal and I'm not the only one to think so.

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Raspbmc versus OpenELEC

Since I bought a Raspberry PI from http://12geeks.com/ in Singapore, I was impressed when Michael Cheng showed me at http://hackerspace.sg/ you can play back videos with it.

Yes! A way to easily watch my downloads on a big screen, which was basically impossible to do on an Apple TV.

First I tried Raspbmc when Michael was using. IIUC it's a port of XMBC 12.2 "Frodo" to the PI. I quickly found a few issues:

  • UI is a bit crap. Why are pictures, movies and TV shows seperated? The mind boggles.
  • IOS7 doesn't work
  • No bug tracker, only the dreaded Web forum
  • Fails to pick up .srt subtitle, e.g. foo_eng.srt isn't found from foo_.mp4
  • When I try playback videos on my Samsung UE46C6530 TV, the TV loses signal, later solved by a re-install
  • Zeroconf fails to show Web sites, have to add them manually

Later I found http://openelec.tv/ prompted by a tweet.

Open Embedded Linux Entertainment Center (OpenELEC) at least has a decent github powered issue tracker. Nonetheless both raspbmc and OpenELEC rely on XBMC. Nonetheless OpenELEC's support / IRC channel seems much healthier than the Raspbmc project.

  • Annoyingly the Web interface isn't enabled by default, so I had to plug in a USB mouse instead of controlling it from my iPhone
  • HDMI CEC works with my Samsung UE46C6530 TV nicely. Not sure why Raspbmc fell short here.
  • Plugging in a USB stick in the top port causes the PI to reboot, same as Raspbmc
  • Zeroconf does not work like Raspbmc, Web sites aren't shown but can by manually added in the horrible UI

    OpenELEC:~ # avahi-browse -at | grep http

    • eth0 IPv4 XBMC (OpenELEC) http.tcp local
    • eth0 IPv4 x220 http.tcp local
  • Doesn't automatically mount ExFAT formatted USB sticks. I found a fix in a pull but I have no idea when it will be deployed or how to use this particular revision

  • For subtitles, I've discovered the amazing XBMC subtitles that goes off and downloads the subtitles
  • Zeroconf fails to show Websites

Anyway, both projects stem from XBMC which has a ton of usability issues, however I really like their potential. I wish Chromecast was better supported, but after looking at it briefly, you get the same functionality by just pointing XBMC to the content as suggested in this JSONRPC post.

I can't help but think though, if it was easier to connect my laptop or desktop to my big screen TV, it would probably be a better solution overall. Basically I like to flick through my photo collection at lightning speed. You need SSD, fast CPU, a suckless image viewer and the latest codec support like that for WebP. Nonethless I still think the PI presents a pretty good low cost dedicated media solution. It's better than the Apple TV, if you can live without Airplay Mirroring (which is so damn nice tbh).

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Automated payments in Singapore

In Singapore payment processes are still stuck in 90s. You need to raise an invoice. The payer typically writes a cheque. Cheque is typically sent by post which takes two working days. And then it's cashed.

For personal accounts there is a recurring payments feature generally available with online banking.

However if you have a business account, recurring payments are generally not available with online banking. YMMV

Giro 10SGD setup

You have to go to your banking branch and take out either a:

  1. Standing order
  2. Giro

The standing order is for a fixed amount, and it costs 10SGD to setup. This makes it unpopular.

The Giro can take a month to setup and you get charged 10SGD for any amendments.

Giro grants the payee the right to debit the payer's account and is typically used for things like utility bills which, because they have an unpredictable component, can't be settled with a fixed monthly payment set up by the payer.

GIRO payments are instigated by the payer which needs to be a GIRO billing organisation, not the payee, in order to "pull" money out of the payer's account.

Posted
Gmail to Fastmail

Gmail to Fastmail

So I'm attempting to migrate my emails from Gmail to https://www.fastmail.fm.

Why? I don't like the privacy implications with Gmail and especially the new Gmail Compose UI.

Need some support

So I signed up for a Fastmail trial and the thing that bothers me is that you apparently don't get support unless you pay. But I don't want to pay until I know I can successfully "on board" to Fastmail.

PLEASE NOTE that we can *not* provide technical support to guest and
member-level accounts; if you require technical support (other than
billing/pre-sales support) with one of these accounts please click
Options and then Upgrade Account to upgrade to Full, Enhanced or
Premier level.

Tbh fastmail support have come through for me, despite not paying them yet!

Annoyances

The first annoyance I ran into is the ridiculous default fastmail footer, which I promptly removed. To those who have the same footer as defined your From: address, you're are creating noise.

A more serious issue is the Migrate IMAP UI wasn't friendly. Initially I wrongly used imap.google.com instead of imap.gmail.com and this message confused me:

Could not connect to remote IMAP server SSL imap.google.com: Invalid
argument at /home/mod_perl/hm/ME/ImapMigrate.pm line 269.

The Gmail server seemed to refuse access to the account because it came from a New York IP. This was eventually resolved, but it took some time. It's a bit unnerving that Fastmail is hosted in the US, though I wrote to privacy@fastmail.fm asking about it and they say although the NSA can physically seize their hardware, they would have to go through Australian law to access your account through Fastmail.

After "Migrate IMAP"

So this is a "one-time only action" and it doesn't do anything clever like keeping your emails in sync with Gmail. So if I don't switch my forwards, my emails will get more out of sync as everyday passes.

While the "Migrate IMAP" is happening, it looks rather strange, emails are constantly being injected into the DOM. However once this "one time" process finishes, I can't find my Gmail labels/folders of my mail!

Hello Spam

Despite using Fastmail's Global Bayes database, I am getting a lot of spam. Annoyingly sometimes from the SAME X-Mail-from: address. Fastmail argue after time your personal database will become trained.

It's a shame that somehow when you move away from Gmail you can't bring along your own "Bayes database".

Update: After using Fastmail for more than a month now, I can honestly say it's improved a lot, but not quite as perfect as Gmail... yet.

Goodbye filters, hello Rules

Gmail's filters work really well. I love the fact you can test and then apply them on email after the fact.

My experience with Fastmail's Rules has not been good! :( Gmail's UX is better.

No automatic addressbook migration :/

I expected Fastmail to migrate the addressbook. But it doesn't. And it doesn't seem to be able to gleam email addresses from my Gmail migrated mails. So at first I wondered how best to move my addressbook from Gmail to Fastmail

I've exported my contacts from https://www.fastmail.fm/contacts/ using vCard standard and imported them into https://www.fastmail.fm/contacts/. I have something like 6k+ contacts thanks to Gmail's automagic adding of contacts.

A lot of the contacts could be pruned, but there is no sane UI to do that.

Support replies not by email

If you get a reply from support, you will be shocked to see DO NOT REPLY TO THIS EMAIL. REPLIES WILL NOT BE MONITORED. in their email body. You need to click the link to use another form to reply. Face palm

The password field on support tickets is also quite jarring to me. I should be logged in already!?

Furthermore tickets are archived after 30 DAYS. Sorry for all the broken links. :(

Shift+PGDN does not work

Have to use shift+alt+down instead.

Mail iOS app push does not work

Btw their mobile Web client is pretty damn good!

From Fastmail's support:

Push on iOS is currently only possible using ActiveSync, a proprietary protocol from Microsoft that you have to pay licensing fees to use. We don't currently support ActiveSync and have no immediate plans to do so.

This is all really annoying, because there is a way for IMAP to support push, but Apple don't want to support it. Additionally Apple apparently have their own proprietary IMAP extension to do IMAP push (http://www.dovecot.org/list/dovecot/2012-August/067682.html), but it's not officially documented so attempting to use it might just end up in our servers being blocked.

So at the moment, I'm afraid a 3rd party service is required to do true email push:

http://blog.fastmail.fm/2009/07/20/nuevasync-com-imap-push-email-phones/

Having said all that, we're looking at another option, which is to create our own FastMail app which could support our own push protocol. Hopefully we'll have something by the end of the year.

Fastmail Notes are not compatible with notes from IOS

The "Notes" on the iPhone is a different thing and is not related to our notes in the webinterface. At the moment, we don't support the "Notes" sync feature on the iPhone. Its also not something we plan to support in the near future.

Things that Fastmail has that Gmail seemingly doesn't

  • I find the keyboard shortcuts much more usable on Fastmail
  • You can easily find the oldest emails, so I can see the first email between my wife and I from Aug 5 2005 in Melbourne!
  • The Fastmail.fm blog is a very good read
  • Their servers are in the US, but they are looking into ways of offering their service from non-US servers
  • Fastmail listens to you. However their support mechanism could be better and they also could be better with twitter support too.
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flashplugin 11.2 Linux disaster

The Adobe Flash plugin for Linux 11.2.202.297 is completely unstable. :(

Flash crashes in Firefox

Flash crashes in Chromium

The workaround I use is to use Google's "Pepper Flash":

google-chrome-dev /opt/google/chrome/PepperFlash/libpepflashplayer.so

Which only works in the Google branded Chromium "google-chrome" product. It isn't free software. This is a complete disaster, since Flash used to work fine in Linux. Now Flash 11.2 series crashes without fail and has become unusable.

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Thank you for commenting !