Mega Random: Merry Christmas, Site Updates, Transport Updates etc.

Gee, it’s been ages since my last random post. Since then, countless security vulnerabilities, mobile OS updates, world news events, scientific discoveries, scandals and wild weather events have happened – so many that it seems pointless to try and even catch up on them anymore.

This has not been without reason, however. Now that we’re coming towards the end of the year, and things are slowly winding down to a close, things are getting a little quieter, so I can actually reflect on what has been a big year.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Being Christmas eve, I felt it was appropriate to open by first wishing all my readers a Merry Christmas (or Happy Holidays) and a Happy New Year. May all of them find the information they are looking for, to solve the numerous problems we all have and further broaden their minds with the appropriate use of internet resources.

Site Updates

Since the site launched on shared hosting back on 25th January 2013, it hasn’t even been two years. In this short time, we celebrated the milestone of the half-a-millionth view.

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From the WordPress Jetpack Stats, this seems to have happened on 1st December 2014, at about 4:59pm (UTC+10, due to timezone settings) assuming a linear visitorship rate.

Another milestone that was achieved was the breaking through of the Alexa 500,000 rank wall. For a site that does not take out paid advertising, does not engage in aggressive link swapping or concerted SEO practices, and instead tries to get organic views through legitimate quality and unique content – it’s a very good result. In fact, if the trend continues, in time, we may get past the 400,000 rank level too …

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Of course, that’s all “guesstimates” on Alexa’s behalf, but considering I started below 3.8 million, it’s heartening to see the continued visitorship, despite the irregularity of my posting schedule and random topic focus.

Since my move to GoDaddy, long periods of downtime are a thing of the past with virtually nil severe outages (>1 minute). Most outages are caused by over-enthusiastic visitors who have opened up many many tabs, hitting GoDaddy’s hosting resource limits. Interestingly, right after my departure from Ziphosting, their DNS and MySQL servers had a severe 24+ hour meltdown on the 19th November. I’m glad I’m not there anymore.

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That being said, things are not as swell as they might seem. As the site’s popularity begins to grow, so does the security issues. Having not been a security expert myself, it was discovered that there was a close shave in security in-between WordPress updates, but the site’s integrity was ultimately unaffected because the attack had failed. Needless to say, I have learnt some lessons and have actively put them into use to try and keep this site alive as much as possible – for myself and for my readers.

Furthermore, strange behaviour was detected on the site subscription web form, which has been removed to avoid people being “spammed” with subscriptions they didn’t sign up for.

Additionally, there have also been over 500 different IP addresses continually trying to bruteforce a login into the site, many of which launch over 40,000 attempts in a day, resulting in a hacker to legitimate visitor ratio of upwards of 40:1. Unfortunately, this means that resources are unnecessarily being wasted, and this is despite having CloudFlare medium security turned on. This seems to be a potential for site unavailability during heavy periods, and there’s little to nothing I can do with the distributed nature of such attacks. It’s not a profitable site as such, and proper protection is not within budgetary reach. Sometimes I just have to sigh at the relatively low-brow attack targets – I mean, this is a personal blog after all …

The issues don’t stop there – with several of my personal accounts suffering some form of brute-force login attempts causing lockouts, and also impersonation accounts set-up with my name and e-mail on services I don’t use. To say I’m somewhat frustrated is putting this mildly. But regardless, life still goes on.

The poll has been removed for efficiency reasons (as many people didn’t vote on it anyway). Changes have also been made to related posts – now relying on Jetpack for the capabilities, as another efficiency measure to try and reduce the loading on the server.

Time is still always at a premium – I’ve always wanted to better organize the site and have a portfolio of my appearances online and in-person, but I still haven’t gotten around to it. Maybe one day.

Some quiet updates did happen:

Mail Server Issue

Since the migration to GoDaddy, everything (for the most part) went decently smooth. Unfortunately, as I had intended to continue mail routing through Ziphosting, I didn’t make any changes there. When they misunderstood my termination instructions and closed my account early, I had to scramble to change my mail servers and DNS records.

Having decided to do a slash on my zone file, as many of them were Ziphosting specific records, I slimmed it down to a bare minimum and sent it up. For almost a month, I didn’t notice anything, since most of the mails I cared about still seemed to come through.

I was alerted by one very valuable reader that he had issues contacting me via my e-mail address. After a short 5 minute investigation, I figured out the cause – I had carelessly removed a CNAME record which was the target for the MX record. How stupid of me.

Now that it’s been fixed, all the e-mail should once again reach me (as evidenced by the increased rate of reception of spam). Apologies to everyone who might have e-mailed me and had a bounce – mea culpa.

Impending Hiatus

I think this news might be something readers have been expecting. Unfortunately, it’s true – as of next year, posts will be even more sporadic due to increasing pressure from my PhD program and funding sources to complete by mid-end next year. This means there will be much less time than I would like to do the things I like, and to keep the blog updated.

In the interim, that might result in many “shorter” basic posts, posted at irregular intervals, and posts made elsewhere – e.g. my personal blog at Element14 for example. Also, the topic focus of the postings may evolve depending on what I’m focusing on …

But maybe, just maybe, I’ll put up a few more posts on Boxing Day, before I fly out …

Conferences and the Ankle

If you remember last year, I had cyst formations in my right ankle that spontaneously appeared and caused me a three month delay of my PhD and problems with mobility. Unfortunately, this year, something very similar has happened to my left ankle, and that has severely limited my mobility and my motivation.

As of this moment, a full picture as to why this is happening isn’t known, but multiple ultrasounds and two courses of steroid injection have been had, along with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug which caused persistent headache when on it, depressive mood and migraines while getting off.

Unfortunately, that’s taken a toll on my work and also on my blog – so if you were wondering why it’s been quiet recently – this is one of the reasons.

Another reason was my preparation for presentations at two conferences.

The first was supposed to be a presentation entitled A New Frontier: Photovoltaics and Light-Emitting Diode Technology for Water Disinfection in Remote and Developing Areas at the 2014 Asia-Pacific Solar Research Conference on Wednesday 10th December 2015 at 2:20-2:40pm at UNSW Colombo Theatre A. Unfortunately, as my ankle had flared up at that time, with no way to actually make it to my presentation due to the pain and lack of mobility, I had to defer the presentation to one of my supervisors. I am very grateful for his effort in presenting my research and making it a success, but I’d be lying if I didn’t feel somewhat bummed as to have missed out on the opportunity I worked so hard for.

The second conference is currently upcoming – the Elsevier 3rd Water Research Conference 2015 in Shenzhen, China from 11th to 14th January. I’m scheduled to present my presentation titled Toward a better understanding of solar disinfection using action spectra and solar modelling on Monday 12th January 2015, at 5:10-5:30pm in Feng Huang Hall at Kylin Villa.

As all the air tickets have been paid, I’m sure as hell not to let this chance slip away. As a result, even at my young age, I’ll have the experience of traveling as a mobility-assisted passenger, requiring wheelchair assistance and the help of everyone – family, relatives and corporate staff.

For the past three weeks, my left ankle has been pretty much on a mind of its own, with most days having so much pain that no pressure can be applied to it, and sleep is disrupted. To get around, it’s the indignity of “crawling” like a child and hopping around on the one good leg. Getting out of the house is solely by wheelchair, with help from my Mum who already finds it difficult to be mobile by herself.

Never have I felt this helpless in my life – to the point that I can’t do basic things without assistance. It’s so depressing. As someone who’s an engineer, I’ve persisted to try and do as much as I can by myself, but I know now just how much I can’t do anything on my own like this. As a result, it feels rather sad that I’ve ended up bothering all of my relatives in Hong Kong as well, for this opportunity.

Worse still is that my mood is really inconsistent – with many days spent in bed unproductive because the pain is too distracting, the constant questions of “how’s your ankle?” quickly get on one’s nerves, especially as there’s nothing I can do to make it any better any sooner.

Phishing E-mails and Junk Filter

There seems to be a never-ending number of phishing e-mail attempts. Lately, I’ve had a few of them actively escape the Junk mail filter on Yahoo, and other mail services. I have actively reported them as junk – which is what you should do if you receive such mail, but it seems to have revealed something about user habits.

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When users are actively shielded against frequent phishing attempts, it undoubtedly means that the users are left unprepared for when they receive one of these e-mails. They probably haven’t seen enough scam e-mail (especially those who don’t check their Junk) and thus fall victim to this (along with cryptolocker scams, etc).

I question whether having a separate Junk box is the best way – maybe letting junk and phishing e-mails come up highlighted in the main inbox might help condition users into spotting scams when they see it.

CloudFlare “Eats Crow”

CloudFlare is a pretty major CDN, so I got a surprise when CloudFlare’s own CDN features started interfering with their own website. Looks like they had some difficulties.

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Transport Updates

Sydney Trains continues their update of facilities. Slowly, across the network, more LED replacements have been spotted – with Lidcombe, Strathfield, Ashfield and Burwood seeing a new type of fixture. One is a rounded type like in the photo, whereas another one seems to use the original rear base, and screws together rather than using clips.

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Town Hall seems to be a little exception, with a hodgepodge mix of different LED tubes and the regular fluoros. Maybe they’re preparing for a full retrofit soon.

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That being said, the platforms look much nicer with full re-tiling and new signage in the “coffee shop” style.

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That’s in comparison with Wynyard which still has the old tiles (and a leaky feeder base station it seems).

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20141123_08211420141218_145226Old station signage is being replaced – CityRail signs of various vintages are now becoming “long, orange with white text”.

In this case, Auburn’s signage resembled that of Sefton prior to the replacement

Signage at Central is also being plastered up, including messages in the stairwells.

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New buildings are also sprouting around the network – mainly single story buildings which house network operations staff. This one’s at Central.

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And here’s another one at Granville.

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20141218_075454Speaking of Granville – one of their station signs which was blue, with CityRail logo and station name text has been replaced with a lollypop style sign – the official sort of signage that goes along with the “unification” of the transport modes into the Opal system. The loss of the station name does seem a little inconvenient – I don’t think people need a lollipop with a big orange T on it to tell it’s a train station.

I also managed to roam around the station and noticed the LED tubes are no longer on permanent power-on duty – so I got an image of the emitters on the Vibe units they’re using:

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20141029_072205Granville’s new “box” near the bus interchange has now been installed and locked up. I don’t see any passenger information displays, so I’m going to have to guess this one is for surveillance gear – they seem to be using wireless surveillance cameras across the interchange, mounted on poles.

The box is supplied by Marciano Industries which seems to have some experience in supplying to the rail and telecommunications industry.

In the meantime, at Newtown where the whole station has had a revamp, the end of platform gate deserves a bit of a laugh.

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Like that’s going to really keep anyone off the tracks. Look at the wide gaps either side! Marrickville seems to be getting a new over-bridge, and station layout change to accommodate more passengers.

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The advertising trial on trains seems to be going well too – with more ads, and a new “more rectangular” ad unit style which better fits in with traditional print media ads. Still all on Tangaras for the time being.

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20141218_145512In the meantime, Auburn’s exterior lighting was getting retrofitted with LEDs – a pretty tough job given the high ceilings and very special circular luminaires in use.

Strathfield’s on-platform “huts” have had their fibreglassy-opaque crazed windows replaced with clear perspex, but they seem to have already been scratched. What a shame, as it looks a lot better than before!

 

 

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Meanwhile, senior’s Opal cards are getting pushed in a series of new advertisements – some of which aren’t strictly factually correct …

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For one, pensioners should be able to spend less than $2.50 by buying single and return pensioner concession tickets rather than the $2.50 pensioner excursion ticket – some pensioners know this and actively do it where their trip totals for the day fall below $2.50, thus this isn’t exactly an incentive. The uptake seems to be decent in the area despite the technical difficulty of getting the elderly to fill in online-applications.

That being said, I’ve seen Opal readers in a bus take about 3 minutes to get operational from a cold start, sitting on a blue screen with Starting Application … in the bottom left corner. This can sometimes frustrate bus drivers – as they have to hold up the queue waiting for the readers to get serviceable!

Of course, there’s more – for one I met a C-set train with the old Push to open button on the door painted over rather than plated over.

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20141128_092627 20141123_143504Also, rather unusually, I also met a container of RailCorp branded dishwashing detergent outside of RailCorp which seemed rather unusual.

It also seems the Transport shop is starting to get more aggressive, diversifying their product lines to cover souvenirs and other not-strictly-transport-related products. An interesting strategy.

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20141123_153732 20141123_094057On the way home, I saw this Warratah with a squeaky clean, shiny pantograph which was worth a shot. Also, grabbed a snap of the Regents Park DTRS site as well as I passed by while on the way home from an Engineer’s BBQ meet-up at Gough Whitlam Park.

 

 

 

Other Transportation Observations

20141113_17572520141113_180101Lately around my area, strange thin poles have been attached to existing poles at around two-intersection intervals. After closer examination, they appeared to be related to traffic flow survey, using video cameras for data collection.

Another form of traffic collection was spotted – a more traditional “Metrocount” Vehicle Classifier system which relies on “cables” mounted to the road surface itself.

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20141124_135358While walking around in the city last month, I noticed the installation of count-down pedestrian timers. I’ve not seen this around Sydney, and their benefits are highly disputed with no changes in accident rate (as apparently, drivers were also looking at the count downs to anticipate when to move off).

 

 

 

 

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An interesting use for a semi-transparent bus advertising overlay was spotted in the rear windows of a Transdev bus to provide a “crude” route map. How cool!

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Stuff that Doesn’t Fit Anywhere Else!

I passed by this traffic light controller at Chester Hill that looked immaculate, so I took a snap of it. I swear it used to say Philips MK IV or something like that, but now the controller cabinets have a Tyco Eclipse plate on the outside.

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20141205_090343Telstra seems to be pushing their “high speed” Wi-Fi network out to more places. Some phone booths have been getting pink-top attachments, and transport interchanges such as Parramatta have had the Wi-Fi pop up with 30 minute free sessions, once per day.

While passing Kingsford on a bus, I saw a case of where new development has happened, leaving “something” in the shadows. Spot the photovoltaic powered device, with a panel that’s pretty much getting shaded by the building all day. I wonder when they’ll notice this …

 

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In the meantime, one of my old netbooks has set a record for Windows 7 uptime in this house at 310 days (it does mostly single task experiments with limited restricted network interaction) – it’s almost been a year, and people say Windows is unreliable!

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Mobile OS Updates

More OSes, more updates. My 3rd generation iPad made it to 8.1.2 without any hitches, without many noticeable changes which is good. My Asus/Google Nexus 7 (2012) tablet was much less happy with an upgrade to Lollipop 5.0.0. It was slower than molasses, and was completely unusable even with the new fancy animations turned off. Since then, an update to 5.0.2 has been released, and that improves the situation a little, but the lag is still present in some applications (especially Chrome) and makes it a difficult tablet to use. I think I might have to revert my OS because of that.

Regardless, the changes in 5.0.0 are actually quite nice. Little refinements, especially in language choice where English (Australia) is an option, through to NFC settings transfer, selective app restores from your Google accounts, estimated time to charge, discharge graphs relative to day-time rather than time since unplugged. I do like those changes. But alas, they also introduced much harsher “shadow” hints when scrolling to the edge limits, which looks unnatural. The animations are also somewhat overdone, and are the first thing I like to turn off. A change to the two-windowshade concept on the tablet into just one seems to be a logical step backwards, after having gotten used to the old layout.

I suppose if you have the latest hardware, and can afford the cycles, it’s not a bad option at all, but I have a feeling that the 2012 users are probably best served by some flavour of 4.x.x rather than 5.x.x. It does feel odd to think that a quad core ARM Tegra 3 can become so “outmoded” so quickly … maybe there’s room for optimization, not that anyone is really doing that when there’s money to be made from new hardware.

Conclusion

It’s been a long random post, waiting for the right time. Being a long time in-between, too much has happened to properly cover, but at least I can get some of my observations documented and out there – in case anyone ever wants to look back on it in the future. Unfortunately, time is always short when it comes to posting, and it seems that life isn’t always as smooth as one would desire. With any luck, the latest hurdles will also pass.

About lui_gough

I'm a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!
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One Response to Mega Random: Merry Christmas, Site Updates, Transport Updates etc.

  1. George says:

    Your ankle situation does sound really terrible. Hope you get better soon! 🙂

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