Wednesday, December 27, 2017

VAST Networks

I am incredibly proud of the work my company, VAST Networks, has done. As the CTO, I am responsible for

  1. Continuously rearchitecting the network to deliver robust and varied services
  2. Deploying new hotspots
  3. Exploring and finding more efficient, cheaper and/or more scalable ways of deploying new hotspots
  4. Supporting and maintaining the hotspot locations
  5. Developing and keeping current products and overall network health


Our work over 2.5 years has resulted in us winning the Best Wi-Fi Service Provider in the World 2017, and Most Affordable Service Provider in the World 2017 as recognised by Wi-Fi Now. We were also shortlisted for Best Wireless Infrastructure in the World by the WBA, which we lost to Cisco. Not bad company to keep if you’re going to lose.


However, what I am most amazed by is the lack of interest in our local market in our products and/or services, when we seem to be smashing the lights in almost every metric that counts;

  • Page impressions
  • Unique visitors
  • Concurrent visitors
  • Session lengths / durations and repeat custom
  • Network throughput
  • Captive portal load times
  • Redundancy and resiliency of the network
  • Different on-boarding methods


Why is it that South African media and mobile companies haven’t woken up and exploited the network that is already there ? I am also convinced that local media/press only advertise companies or recognise innovation in success from people who advertise with them. Pathetic behaviour and so much for the “impartial tech press”.

Apple iPhone X - revolutionary ?

I don’t think Apple makes a great phone. I don’t think Apple makes a great smartphone. Apple does make a reasonable phone, and a reasonably good smartphone. The combination is good enough for most people, and easy enough that they’re willing to live within the constraints in order to get something that “mostly works”.

Today, Android users fall into three categories;
  1. They can’t afford an iPhone
  2. They have a philosophical hatred of Apple, a philosophical love of absolute customisability, have some specific technical requirement that dictates Android or some gradient in between
  3. They simply don’t know or care enough to make a decision of one platform over another

And for the most part, app developers have worked out that 1 and 2 exist, and so have solved the problem by building for 3. There isn’t an app that I use more than once a month that doesn’t exist in some shape or form on both platforms, with equal utility. I do occasionally (and hate the experience almost immediately) fire up Windows phone to see what that is doing, and on that platform you realise how close Android and iOS are in reality in terms of usable applications.

The iPhone X is a rather revolutionary take (as far as Apple goes) on design and UI; none of the reasons people don’t like Apple are eradicated. Those users who had decided / chosen Android actively over Apple won’t buy an X. But those users who simply don’t care, and can afford it, might and probably will. Is it revolutionary ? For Apple, yes. For the industry, not really.

Its physically well sized, sitting comfortably between what we today consider compact and large. This is the "large phone" from 5 years ago. The FaceID system actually works very well, and you get used to the gesture-based system replacing the missing home button.

I am really enjoying mine.

Apple AirPods - amazing!

I didn’t want to like the Apple AirPods. I thought they looked stupid, and overpriced.

But I succumbed, and bought a pair last week. Man, the pairing is magical, and the simplicity of switching from two buds, to a single bud, back to two buds, is amazing.

There are some snags; it doesn’t as magically pair to my MacBook Pro, but between iOS devices its absolutely seamless. Very neat!

On to sound quality; I’m afraid its not all roses in this department. Muddy, too much mid-bass, not enough treble. Audiophile ? Nope. You can see someone in the Beats department was doing QA.

But still a good investment; they’re pretty, pair easily, don't sound bad and are compact.


Update: about a month later, still LOVING them and they’re in use daily. Sublime!

Update2: the pairing with computers is crummy / inelegant, and the pairing with iPad’s also leaves much to be desired. But streets ahead what else is out there.

Update3: My wife thinks they look crap, but agrees that paying double for the B&O’s is extravagant.

Google Pixel XL2 - evolutionary

I really liked the very natural shift from the Nexus line to the Google Pixel range. I really liked the Google Pixel XL, and thought it would be a hard act to follow up.

But Google had to as the annual relentless march of the device treadmill continues, and the Google Pixel XL2, despite the almost non-existent lack of changes in the physical appearance, have managed to do something that feels evolutionary and natural as a successor. The screen seems more natural to the eye, although that seems to have been rather controversial.

Its faster, the screen is better, the battery life seems longer, and there are just overall some nice software changes. The always-on nature of the screen is pretty awesome. The squeeze-to-summon Google Assistant is gimmicky, good for a single-show party trick. I admittedly haven’t used the camera much, being one of the highlights of the phone. Overall, a good device. Good enough to change from a Pixel XL ? Nope.

2017 Tech updates

Its been a while since I posted updates. I'm going to post in short form what changed / what I played with as an update.
  • I was debating changing my MacBook 12" for a 13" Pro with Touch bar. I did. It was not transformative. The Touch Bar, while cool, is a gimmick. You don't actually use it that much. About the only thing that is useful is the TouchID fingerprint scanner, which I do use often. The is useful. Other than that, the notebook resolved my main gripes with the 12", namely speed/grunt, and ports. The new Pro has plenty of both.

  • I upgraded my Bose QC3's to QC35's. If the QC3's were good, the QC35's are simply sublime. And I don't experience the bass issues that seem to be widely discussed. Good battery life, extremely comfortable; my absolute go-to on flights and when I want uninterrupted listening. I did contemplate the Sony equivalents, but the Bose just seemed to have better build quality and class sound. Boo to the disparagers!
  • I ended up buying a single discreet Bluetooth headset, for ad-hoc listening. The Rowkin Mini Plus headphone is absolutely discreet, well built and a good purchase for the price. Solves a gap for that "something to do while my kids/wife are busy and I have 5 minutes to kill"
  • A massive win in terms of WiFi gear that I've been playing with is GL-Inet. Its like a Swiss-army knife of AP's. It can be a bridge, repeater, router, AP, OpenVPN client-termination device, can use a phone as a modem and solves the hotel "captive portal" / multiple device problem. A definite winner!
I’ve played with a lot of gear, devices and software. Nothing so impressive as to merit a review.