Dealing with Optus, Part 2

Just to finish the story I started in the last post, here’s what transpired (just in case you’re interested). The good news is that Optus finally found the reason for this blog being blocked on their network and have restored things to normal. You should now be able to access this site, even on the Optus network, but the nonsense I had to wade through to get things resolved was quite ridiculous.

After that last blog post describing the problem with my site being blocked by Optus for reasons unexplained, I posted it out on Twitter and Facebook. It’s amazing how quickly that gets a response. To their credit, I heard back from Optus’s Social Media Team very quickly offering to help resolve the issue. I’m not sure why tech support problems can’t just be resolved by calling Tech Support, and why it takes a very public skewering on social media to get any action these days, but apparently that the way it works now.

After a series of very promising back and forth tweets, I eventually got a call from a member of Optus’s Social Media Team, and her response was basically that this was not an Optus issue and there was nothing they could do about it, and that I needed to refer things back to my web host, GoDaddy.

Despite the fact that they admitted that Optus was blocking my blog on their network – in fact they were blocking an entire IP range, which just happened to include my blog – she insisted it was not something Optus could do anything about. She told me that I had to ask my webhost to deal with it, and get them to fix the “malicious behaviour” on their servers, even though she could not tell me what kind of malicious behaviour was causing the problem. She seemed unwilling to entertain the logic of my argument, that if Optus was the one blocking the site – and she admitted it was – and if Optus was the only ISP that was causing this problem, then asking my web host to fix a problem that was invisible to them was not likely to be very successful. We went around and around in circles, arguing about this for about 25 minutes with me trying to explain that this was a problem that only Optus could fix, and her insisting that this was a problem that Optus could not fix. She stayed on the script, robotically insisting that Optus could not manually remove the block and I needed to call my web host and get them to deal with it.

Eventually, I gave up trying to reason with her, since she had obviously made her mind up that Optus could do nothing to fix the problem, so I went home and called GoDaddy. They guy I spoke to there, Mark, was very helpful and spent over an hour on the phone with me troubleshooting, trying different things, searching the Optus website for a form that would let GoDaddy get in touch with Optus to talk about the problem, but eventually he came to the same conclusion that I was trying to tell the woman from Optus – GoDaddy cannot fix a problem they cannot see, and that they have no control over.

I got a followup tweet the next day from the Social Media Team at Optus, which led to another phone call from them. This time it was someone who actually sounded like they understood networks, and they simply told me to email a copy of the traceroute and a quick explanation of the problem to and they would try to deal with it, no promises.

Less than an hour later I got an email which said, in part…

“I have removed the IP address block that was on our systems. Please try again. Many apologies for the inconvenience this has caused and lack of coherent information on our side.”

I tried again and all was back to normal.

Suggesting that Optus provided a “lack of coherent information” is somewhat of an understatement. All up, I probably spent 5 hours on the phone to both Optus and GoDaddy trying to get this issue resolved. From Optus I was told several stories about why the problem existed, many of them contradictory. I had both a tech support supervisor and the social media team person tell me flat out that there was nothing that Optus could manually fix, or that they had any control over. I was told to speak with my web host and get them to sort it out. I was given this advice repeatedly, and even though I argued fairly strongly that I didn’t think this was very good advice, they were insistent that there was nothing else they could do on their end. Despite supplying them with all the information on my very first support call, including traceroutes and network information, they still insisted that it was out of their control.

And then one guy from Optus fixes it. Just like that.

It’s ridiculous that I had to make phone call after phone call to get this resolved. It’s crazy that an actual tech support line achieves almost nothing, even when you escalate the issue to a supervisor, and that you need to go all social media on them just to get attention. It’s ludicrous that someone from that team will then argue in circles with you, insisting that Optus can’t fix a problem they are so obviously in control of, and that it seemed like there was little will to explore any possibility of fixing it.  And it’s damn annoying that getting it resolved was as simple as sending an email with traceroute details, but it took many days and many phone calls to even be told that this option existing.

Glad to back online, glad to have avoided bring the telecommunications Ombudsman in on it, glad to finally find a competent person who resolved the issue…. but so totally over Optus as an ISP.

Less than Optimal

If you’ve tried to access this blog lately from the Optus network, I’m going to make an educated guess and say that you haven’t been able to.

I have an Optus Cable Internet service at home and about two weeks ago I started to be unable to access my blog. At first I put it down to a temporary network glitch and didn’t worry about it. But the problem presisted and I started be become a bit stumped as to what was happening. Every other website on the Net loaded ok, but my own blog was inaccessible. I could get to it from work, and from my phone over Telstra 4G and pretty much anywhere except from home on my Optus service.

Then last week I got an email from a reader who said that she also couldn’t access the blog and, surprise surprise, she is also on the Optus network. Nor could a friend of hers, who is, you guessed it, also on the Optus network. So I put a note out on Twitter to ask who could access the blog and which ISP they were using. 100% of Optus users could not access it. Everyone else could.

I don’t think you need to be a network engineer to figure out where to problem lies here.

So I called Optus Tech Support and spend several frustrating hours over several frustrating calls, during which I was asked to reset my cable modem (clearly not the problem) and numerous other diagnostics that were also clearly not the problem. The Traceroute told the story, terminating in a black hole of Optus servers.

Optus eventually told me that their system had flagged my blog as having “malicious content”, but were unable to tell me exactly what that meant or identify the algorithms that might be flagging it. Nor could they suggest how to fix it, other than just wait until something might change.

On my second call to Tech Support I escalated it to a supervisor who was rudely insistent that the problem was not with Optus, and denied that Optus was blocking anything, which completely contradicted the information I was given on the previous call. I think that’s a technique used to just get the customer off the line, called Making Shit Up.

The battle continues. It’s no wonder so many people dislike Optus.

Pay It Forward

tl;dr… just click here and do the right thing.

I’ve done it. You’ve probably done it too.  You’re making some kind of digital product and you needed a digital asset of some sort to use with it. Maybe you were putting together a short video and needed some music for the soundtrack, or maybe you were working on some kind of poster and needed an image to include on it. Fortunately, we live in a world where we have access to amazing digital tools that make it easy to create, as long as you have some raw materials to work with.

While it’s technically quite simple to just find what you want online and use it, there are some ethical (and legal) questions about just taking anything you find on the web and using it as your raw material. Unless you have permission to use those resources you really shouldn’t use them. It’s effectively stealing.

Thankfully, that’s where Creative Commons comes in. Creative Commons provides a legal and ethical solution to this problem by allowing creators to licence their work using a simple and flexible set of permissions so that when others want to use or remix their work, those permissions and conditions are clearly stated up front. It’s a very good system, and the best attempt at copyright reform that we’ve seen succeed so far. I’m a huge fan of Creative Commons, and could not have produced most of the stuff I make without it. It’s also one of the reasons I publish most of what I make with a Creative Commons licence as well, so others can take, use and remix. It’s just good karma.

So, have YOU ever used Creative Commons material? Have you ever gone to Flickr or Jamendo or Wikimedia Commons or CC Mixter or Soundcloud or YouTube, or any of the many other sites that allow creators to provide their content freely for you to use?

I’ll bet you have. So here’s your chance to show your appreciation for what Creative Commons provides for you. The Creative Commons people are raising funds to produce an ebook about open business models. I want to encourage you to head over there right now and back them. For 10 bucks you’ll get a copy of the ebook when it’s released. And of course it’s on Kickstarter so more money gets you more stuff if you want to back them for more.

The book will no doubt be a really interesting read, so please make sure you get a copy. But seriously, even if you don’t need the book, consider it an opportunity to make a donation to Creative Commons as a way of saying thanks for what they’ve done for all of us over the last few years. They are helping keep our culture free and open and shareable.

Update: I just checked and they have just hit their 50k funding goal! That’s awesome news, but is no reason to stop backing them. Go show them that you appreciate what they’ve created for us all.

Header image by Kristina Alexanderson

Why Is This Even A Debate?

On TV tonight I saw an ad from some group that calls themselves the “Marriage Alliance“. I looked at their website which seems to be a thinly veiled attempt to be open minded when really all they want to do is oppose same sex marriage and maintain the unfair status quo…

Their site poses a number of open questions about marriage, and while they purport to being just trying to encourage a healthy discussion about the value of marriage in general, it’s pretty obvious what their agenda is. They are clearly in opposition to same sex marriage.

So, since they asked, here are my answers to the questions on their website…

Should children have the right to know their biological history?

Yes. As an adopted child myself, I should have the right to know my history if I choose to. Some choose to and some do not. But what’s your point?  So what if a child of a same sex couple knows their biological history and where they came from?  You think that will be a problem? You think a child will not be able to deal with that information? I believe you’re 100% wrong about that. Children don’t need to be protected from the truth, they need to be protected against those that think they cannot handle the truth.

Do we know the impacts of raising our children in a changed society?

No. And neither do you. But this proposed change to same sex marriage laws are about respecting people’s rights to acknowledge who they are as people and to give them the same rights that the rest of society already enjoys. If that means that society needs to change a few things to accommodate that shift then so be it. It’s not the first thing that has ever caused a “changed society” and it won’t be the last. The fact that you are so concerned about a “changed society” shows your true colours… you just don’t want anything to change from the way it is now. Sorry, but I have bad news for you…

Are you happy to have your family redefined as a social unit?

Yes. Perfectly happy. And by the way, I’m not gay myself just in case you were wondering. I have two children that were raised to be tolerant, open minded and respectful of others. My children understand that people are all different. They also understand that society changes. And they can cope with that. I’m a man married to a woman and I’m happy to be who I am. But I have many friends who are same-sex attracted and I want them to be happy with who they are, and to have the same rights that I have. I cannot think of a single good reason why they should not have the same rights as me, and that includes marriage if they so wish.

Are we asking the right questions about the proposals to redefine marriage?

I’m not sure what question you’re asking, since you haven’t really asked any good ones so far… but here’s what I think is the right question. Is it fair to deny same sex couples the right to be married? I happen to believe that to deny that right to anyone just because it doesn’t fit your own world view is unfair and unjust. If two people feel strongly enough about each other that they want to be married, who are you to deny that right? What higher authority granted you the right to be so bold as to suggest that you know best about who can and cannot be married?

I’ve Seen The Future

I just had a couple of thoughts on Chromebooks that I wanted to share. There has been a growing interest in Chromebooks over the past year or so. I ran a Chromebook session at the IT Managers Conference in Canberra earlier this year and there was quite a bit of interest there, and I hear of a growing number of schools here in Sydney that are starting to look at Chromebooks as a possible option for student devices.

At PLC Sydney we started with a small set of 10 Chromebooks about 2 years ago, and have been steadily adding more, mainly in our junior school. They have been a major success with students and teachers alike. Easy to deploy and manage. Robust and reliable. Simple to use, and they do most everything we need.

You might notice I didn’t tout price as the advantage… while Chromebooks are quite inexpensive (around $300 each) I think it would be a major mistake to view them as nothing more than “a cheap alternative” to a “proper computer”. Being inexpensive is a nice benefit, but it’s just that; a benefit, not a feature.

The real features of Chromebooks are all the other reasons I mentioned above. We are choosing to use Chromebooks, not in spite of the fact that they don’t have a full blown conventional operating system, but BECAUSE they don’t. The speed, security and simplicity of ChromeOS is the real attraction, not just the cheap price.

After dabbling with cheap Chromebooks over the past 2 years, I bought myself a Chromebook Pixel 2 when I was in the US a few weeks ago. The Pixel is often criticised as being far too expensive for a computer perceived as being “just a browser”. At $999 USD for the cheaper model (the one I got) it works out at over $1300 AUD, which many might say is stupid expensive for what it is.

That said, even after just a week of use I have to say the Pixel is the best computer I have ever owned. It has the best screen, the best build quality, is fast, responsive, and delightful to use. I love it, and although it seemed expensive at first, and a bit of a luxury purchase, I now think it was actually very reasonable for what it can do and how it does it. I can see it redefining the way I use a computer.

Which got me thinking about the place of Chromebooks in schools over the next few years. I think the Pixel is a glimpse into the future of computing. I predict that over the next few years, as the hardware on Chromebooks grows exponentially better and the cost of producing a quality Chromebook drops exponentially lower, and the capability of what you can do in a browser grows exponentially more amazing, that this will be the future of modern computing. The Pixel is a little glimpse into that future right now.

2 years ago, based on the Chromebooks I was seeing at the time, I would not have said this. The idea of working in nothing but a browser, and all the limitations that implied at the time, was simply not good enough to be my primary machine. Now, when you look at browser based applications like Wevideo, Soundtrap, LucidPress, Polarr, etc, as well as the increasingly powerful core applications in Google Apps for Education, and you see just how incredibly capable these apps are running in nothing but a browser… well, it’s kind of mind blowing.

Right now, the difference in “going Chromebook”, compared to what was possible even 6 to 12 months ago, is astounding. And I have no doubt that the difference between the Chromebook experience now and what it will be in 1, 2 or 5 years from now will be even moreso. Right now, ChromeOS on cheap commodity hardware is adequate. But the Pixel has shown me that running ChromeOS on great hardware can be simply amazing.

I feel like I’ve seen the future.

Getting out of Password Hell

A while ago I realised that my online life was in password hell. I was using literally hundreds of sites and services that required passwords, but they were held together with a confusing mess of old passwords that I’d mostly forgotten, numerous passwords which were being used on more than one site,  passwords that didn’t meet the usual complexity rules usually required across the Internet, and so on. I often found myself having to do a password reset just to access a site, and of course that new password became yet another one I had to remember. Or forget.

I felt things were a little bit out of hand so I finally took a few steps to clean up my digital life.

First, using the same password for everything is an exceptionally stupid idea. Instead, I came up with my own system that helped me create hard-to-guess, but easy-to-remember passwords that I could apply to any site.  Having a clear system for this meant that when I signed up for some new online service I could quickly come up with a password that was memorable while also being unique to that site. It really helps to have a system. I made sure that my system always met the minimum complexity rules usually found online… that is, they contained uppercase, lowercase, numbers and symbols and were at least 8 characters long. If you do nothing else, come up with a system for your passwords! It’s so frustrating when you attempt to log in to a site that you’ve been to previously and can’t remember your password. So come up with a system for yourself, and please don’t just use the same password everywhere!

Secondly, I turned on multistep or 2-Factor authentication  for passwords on every site that offered this option (and there are a lot of them now). This is probably the single biggest thing you can do to improve the security of your online life. If you go online and don’t use 2 factor authentication, you’re not really serious about your online security. It’s that simple. I find it both amusing and frustrating when I hear people questioning the security of online services, and then find out they don’t use 2-Factor passwords. If you don’t use 2-Factor on every site that enables it,  please, don’t ever complain about the dangers of online security.  It just makes you sound silly. It’s not hard to set up, and if you use something like Google Authenticator to manage your second factors, it’s very simple to use.  The minor inconvenience of having to enter the second factor is far outweighed by the added security. Trust me on this. Turn it on. Now.

Finally, I set up a password manager. I chose LastPass,  but there are others. It took a while to get my head around how LastPass works but once I did, it made life so much easier. If you want to try LastPass for yourself you can get it on this link.

If you are in password hell like I was,  take some of these positive steps to sort it out.

Just Maui’d

I know I haven’t written much here on the blog lately. I’ve been a little consumed with some other things, like getting married to my sweetheart LInda 🙂

On May 20, Linda and I stood on beautiful Makena Beach in Maui and tied the knot in front of a few close friends. It was a lovely ceremony full of symbolism, fun and joy. Here’s a few photos (you can click them for a closeup)

Special thanks to Jennifer from Marbelle Photography for these wonderful photos (all of them!), to Derek Sebastian for the fabulous ukulele music, Joe Miles for his touching ceremony, and to Lori Lawrence from Tropical Maui Weddings for helping us pull it all together from afar.

We have a bit more celebrating to do yet, with a post-wedding party back in Sydney on June 20 and then another in Toronto on June 27.