So long Fedora… Hello Mandriva PowerPack

For the past 3 years I’ve been a devoted CentOS/Fedora fan. I mean, while CentOS gave me a highly robust and stable server platform, Fedora enriched my desktop and allowed me to work seemlessly and easily. While others kept snering at me: “Fedora? Fedora? I use Ubuntu, I’m hard core Debian”, I kept to myself and kept on working with my Fedora desktop.

Before I move on, I’ll have to comment with the following: Over the years I’ve become somewhat agnostic to my choice of desktop. Where I seemed to use Fedora, Ubunto, XP or Vista, it all seemed to do the same job for me – just allow me to run Eclipse properly, provide me with a 90% stable environment and allow my office productivity to increase – and I was fairly content. My uncle, who lives in the US, is a hard core, highly devoted Mac fan. He’s been a Mac fan since the early 1990’s, and always tried migrating me to Mac, however, I kept to my PC and RedHat Desktop. Now, as time progressed, Linux Desktop evolved – actually, it is so evolved today, that I get the same buzz working on KDE or GNOME that I get working on MacOSX – so now, from my point of view, the desktop environment is completely agnostic.

Now, back in 2000 I was a devoted Mandrake Linux fan – I was so devoted that I got the company I was working for to represent them in Israel (the year was 2000 may I remind you). Now, 8 years later, some one picked up the tab of representing Mandriva Linux in Israel (formerly Mandriva) and he asked me to evaluate the new Mandriva Power Pack edition and the Mandriva 8GB Flash Edition.

The installation

The new Mandriva installer is so simple, that even my 9 year old nease will be able to install it. Bearing in mind that I was installing on a fresh computer, the installation was streight forward. I’ve installed the Power Pack 2008 distro on a spiffy new Pentium 4 Core Duo 2 machine, running at 2.0GHz with 4GB RAM and 2 hard drives of 160GB – NICE!

One thing I always remembered about Mandriva installations was that the package selector was very simplistic, and the 2008 version is no different – it’s a good thing to know that Mandriva doesn’t go about changing things that work – like Fedora or Ubuntu. The installation process itself is clean and runs smoothly, even on a highly advanced board with a funky NVidia display adapter. Actually, after the installation completed, I was greeted with an Nvidia logo upon rebooting, indicating me that I need to configure my screen settings for my card – that’s much better than running into a text screen that doesn’t really help the novice.

URPMI – The ever annoying package manager

Ok, apt-get and yum are MUCH (and I do mean MUCH) more advanced than urpmi. However, using the easyurpmi web tool enables you to add web based urpmi repositories, making your entire urpmi experience less painful. As I was using yum and Fedora/CentOS over the past 3-4 years, it took me a while to re-acustom back to the urpmi methodology of thinking – however, one thing to say about urpmi – it’s fast, way faster than yum.

Mandriva Configuration Tool

The Mandriva configuration tool is a delight to use, easy, straight forward, gives you all the options that you may need – all in all, a very pleasent experience. The nice thing about it, is that even if you managed to screw up something in one graphical environment, you can always invokes another one, launch it, verify/fix your faulty installation (although, it’s very hard to mis-install anything on Mandriva), and you’re back on your way.

I’ll be adding more information about my findings in the future…

Hijacked by RTFM to la-la land

I keep a vigilant eye on Google Alerts. To be more exact, I’ve got a few alerts defined, in accordance to subjects that interest me. Two of these subjects are Asterisk and FreeSwitch. Recently, the following had been posted on a personal blog:

Our PBX/IVR web-based generator Telfa has been moved from Asterisk to Freeswitch. Why?

Asterisk just seems to come from a different world than what I am used to. Inflexible and problematic. Very long configuration files with ancient syntax. Now I’m far from pretending I’ve used Asterisk enough to understand it pros and cons well, but I have a decent software development experience and I can tell when something “smells.” I didn’t want to build our system (that I want to be flexible and scale well) on some old technology that is only living from its past.

And (most importantly) there are many people experienced with both Asterisk and Freeswitch favoring the latter: Anders Brownworth, Jonathan Palley (creator of Telegraph, a Rails plug-in that lets you talk to Freeswitch), or of course the creator of Freeswitch (and former Asterisk developer!) Anthony Minessale himself.

[Extract from: http://onruby.flempo.com/2008/10/28/chose-freeswitch-over-asterisk/#comment-58]

Reading the above simply flames me UP – WHAT A LOAD OF BULL!

The writer admits that: “Now I’m far from pretending I’ve used Asterisk enough to understand it pros and cons well, but I have a decent software development experience and I can tell when something “smells.”” – If he’s such a worthy developer, the above simply proves that he’s simply an RTFM!

Asterisk provides a multitude of methodologies for configuration management, dialplan logic programming, programmatic API structures – basically, all the tools you need to go about and create your application. While I admit that FreeSwitch is slightly better at the “Core Switching” environment, implementing a near true Soft Switching architecture – Asterisk is a totally different thing.

A while back I decided to develop a couple of my better systems on FreeSwitch, as a test of my abilities. To see if I can be as proficient with FreeSwitch as I am with Asterisk. I re-developed the applications on FreeSwitch from scratch, however, FreeSwitch’s somewhat annoying XML configuration structures made it a hell for me to develop something that I would ask my customers to put their money on.

I started working with Asterisk in 2002, and starting 2003 I tried to have people in Israel start using Asterisk. I can honestly say that the first ever true adaptation of Asterisk in Israel came about only late 2005, and even that wasn’t for mission critical applications. Asterisk had achieved a point in which it is now considered a valid replacement for classic IN and NGN applications and engines, such as SigValue. I suspect that FreeSwitch will become a more dominant contender in that part within a period of 18 to 24 months, as its developer community will grow – time will tell.

In my large installations, I like using Asterisk as my IVR/Application engine envrionment and using FreeSwitch as my routing and LCR environment, simply because it’s capable of handling slightly more SIP-to-SIP connections than Asterisk – but that is the only reason, all the rest is Asterisk.

Both projects are wonderful tools, each one with its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Learn how to balance the use of the two, utilize the best of both world – and stop being a bloody purist, that’s exactly what leads to poor technologies such as Microsoft and poor life practices, like wars and terror.

Do No Evil!

When Google started off, one of their core mottos was: “Do no evil!”. Of course back then, in the year 1998, their main concern of evil doing was Microsoft and proprietary software. Google has been known to support and promote various open source project, over the course of time, but the “Do no evil!” methodology had mostly stuck to most of the things Google is doing. 

It is my belief that while Google, and its likes, are surely practicing its “Do no evil!” motto, I’m not entirely sure about its users and customers. We are all aware of various SEO schemes, capable of bypassing the various mechanisms Google had put in place, fooling the Page Rank mechanism to do something else. What I’m worried about is Google’s latest news about “Context Based Video Search”. 

While the evolution of “Context Based Video Search” is still brewing slowly, its immediate outcomes can easily be exploited for doing wrong, sometimes, the results may be down right criminal (if not even capable of inducing terror). 

In order to explain, I will introduce a doom’s day scenario, one that is so out there, one that you would end up reading saying: “Impossible!”, but yet, somewhere in the back of your mind – you would know – someone will do eventually. 

Our scenario starts with the US Presidential elections of 2008, Barack Obama is leading in the polls, while John McCane is slowly lingering back. People from all over the US are tuned in to the race, TV, papers, online – the information is all around us, just waiting to be read, watched, listened – you name it, it’s there. A short visit to http://video.google.com/ will yield multiple results when seeking video footage of your favorite candidate. 

Let us imagine that “Context Based Video Search”, for now “CBVS”, is capable of searching a video and “knowing” that Barack Obama or another Democratic figure appears in the video, and would immediately associate that video with the search for the term “Barack Obama” or the term “Democratic Presidential Rally” – or any other combination related to the elections. John McCane’s advisors team are willing to do almost anything to get him elected, but of course, they will not resort to unlawful acts. However, John McCanes supporters and voters are totally a different story.

Let us imagine that now a supporter/voter would upload a video to the Google videos website, in which there is a video promoting Barack Obama. However, while the foreground video shows images of Barack Obama, an underlined subliminal context exists in the video, quietly promoting John McCane. While the actual success ratio of planting subliminal messages in such a video are questionable, this type of subliminal message may actually be targeting the “floating votes”, slowly bringing them to the Republican party, while at the same process, basically disrupting the democratic process. 

In the above scenario, the video was induced by a follower or a non-profit oriented individual – which means that the above scenario is highly un-likely. However, as we all know that Coca-Cola and other companies had planted subliminal messages in movie theaters during the 50’s, imagine what would happen if a company producing Web Videos would start selling: “Subliminal Video Ad Space” – the sheer magnitude of the Internet and the viral expansion of such services are surely to affect us on a global scale. Imagine getting that funny video in the email, watching it and then running to the nearest Fry’s to purchase a new iPod and you have no idea why you did that… – Time will tell, who will win? the quest for the quick buck, or the desire to “Do No Evil!”.

Is the below truly a glitch, or are we back in the 50’s?

Or how about the following example, which I just found on YouTube:

The following website videos a panel of 5 different approaches to Context Based Video Search. While each company went a different way, it is clear that they are all trying to reach a similar goal – understand what people are looking to look at and provide it to them. Each one of these mechanisms is most probably prune to the same logic attacks as the one I’ve described above and are sure candidates for exploitation by the companies that are closed to evil than others.

Thinking of using DELL with Asterisk – DON’T!

So, you want to replace your office PBX system with an Asterisk server – CONGRATULATIONS!

Now, before you go about downloading AsteriskNOW, installing your newly purchased Digium hardware and going about starting your work – take a moment to consider the hardware you’re about to use. Over the course of the past 5 years, I’ve conducted hundreds of Asterisk installations, utilizing various brands. 

No matter what brand I used, be it generic Intel’s, HP or IBM, I always got similar results. There was only one brand that always stood out with non-similar results. And it’s not only that the results were not similar to the other brands, I’ve had different results when using 2 machines of the same model – even when sourcing the two units at the same time. The vendor is DELL, I guess that DELL believes in the model that says: “No two computer are made alike” – and indeed, no DELL computer is ever similar to another DELL computer. Two people can purchase the same server from DELL, and each server will be completely different from the other – how can you manage an infrastructure when the hardware vendor keeps changing the spec and implementation? 

Just to give a small example, the same customer that I was talking about before had to have the entire motherboard and raiser board changed, 2 times, before Asterisk started running smoothly on the DELL 2950 server that they had purchased. Motherboard, we’re talking about motherboard, raiser boards, power supplies, the only thing that remained from the Original server was just the chassis and the CD-ROM – how funky is that. 

So, if you really like brands and you want to use Asterisk, make sure you’re using an IBM or an HP, at least these companies don’t cut corners like DELL – and makes each server unique, by saving a couple of bucks here and there. No wonder Fonality/TrixBox teams up with DELL, DELL wants to say: “We’re compatible with Asterisk!”, so they teamed up with the crew that closed a configuration that works on some measly server, and now, they are pushing this garbage to people over the Internet – Way To Go DELL!

Israel now officially speaks Arabic

Apparently, according to the BBC, the most spoken language in Israel is most probably Arabic. Well, at least judging from their website. I was browsing the web for some information about the “Doctor Who” TV series (if you have no idea what I’m talking about – shame on you!). As it is a BBC series, I pointed my browser to the BBC website, to be greeted with the following:

While I’m not offended at all (really I’m not), I do pitty the people at the BBC that can’t seem to get their GeoIP working properly, and mistake Israel for another Middle Eastern country. It is true that there are many Arabic speaking residents and citizens in Israel, but still, the major language here is Hebrew.

Clicking the banner actually brought me to an HP page, fully in English, fully targeted to this region.

In the words of a great man: “Not bad – but not perfect”.