Change DNS Servers on the Telkom 921VNX PACE Router

The VDSL router that Telkom ships comes with a web-based admin panel, which for some reason will not let you configure the DNS servers that your LAN devices use. PuTTY to the rescue!

Use PuTTY (or whatever else) to SSH into your router – usually 10.0.0.2.

Username: admin
Password: nology*/

You’ll get a very minimal CLI. To update the config related to your LAN, do:

cd LANDevice
cd 1
cd HostConfig
ls

This will bring up a bunch of settings related to your LAN. One thing you’re looking for is the Min and Max address config items – this should define the IP range your devices are on:

LANDevice_1_HostConfig_MinAddress = [10.0.0.3]
LANDevice_1_HostConfig_MaxAddress = [10.0.0.254]

If your computer is not within that range, you may want to check LANDevice subdirectories 2 and on. If it matches though, you’ll see an entry you can’t edit via the web interface:

LANDevice_1_HostConfig_DNSServers = []

To set, for instance, Google Public DNS, you’d do:

set DNSServers 8.8.8.8,8.8.4.4
fcommit

That will result in your router cycling something, and your connection will go down for a bit. When it comes back up, the router will use those DNS servers to handle queries coming from the LAN. If that doesn’t work, try rebooting the router (just ‘reboot’ from the CLI).

Load test on a Mecer 650VA UPS

So it’s loadshedding season, and I’ve decided to learn a bit more about the UPS game. That’s the dream, isn’t it? Being able to work (or play, or watch) through the loadshedding, completely uninterrupted?

To that end, I decided to start small, and get an idea of what UPSes are capable of. I bought the smallest one I could from newly-launched Powerfully.co.za – a Mecer 650VA Offline UPS. The experience there was stellar: I placed the order, paid online, and received it (in Gardens, Cape Town) the very next day. It even had some charge in it, and I got to annoy the office with the every-10-second beep it makes when there’s no AC power. Note: The Mecer UPSes use kettle plugs, and the one I got did not ship with a plug I could stick into a wall. Not an issue for most computer users (everyone has a kettle plug lying around these days), but if you have none, you may one to order one along with the UPS.

I got an Offline UPS, and if you’re browsing around, you’ll note there are Offline (or Line Interactive) and Online UPSes. The difference (other than cost) is the changeover time. Offline UPSes use a mechanical switch to flip you over to UPS power in the event of an outage, incurring a delay anywhere from 5-25ms. That’s fine for most consumer electronics, but if you have something that absolutely cannot go down, an Online UPS is a better bet – it doesn’t do any switchover, so there’s no delay.

My setup is pretty basic. I know that, with a 12V 7Ah battery, there’s no way to feed my beast of a desktop PC (650w power supply!) for any appreciable length of time, so instead, this is my setup:

  • Mecer 650VA UPS connected to the wall
  • Power strip plugged into the back (it has a regular 3-pin socket)

The router uses minimal power, in the 1.2A range – and the Chromecast uses about the same. The TV is a different story. At peak consumption it can draw up to 100W, but I managed to cut that in half using the energy-saving mode (Medium) on the TV. You can go to Maximum, but then it drops the screen brightness by about 80%.

With this setup, my WiFi is guaranteed – the Telkom line does not go down when there’s loadshedding, and all my gadgets connect over WiFi, so at least I have uninterrupted internet. The TV was just to give it a proper stress test. That test was monitored with the supplied software – I installed it on a Windows laptop and plugged the USB cable into the UPS to get some information from it. It’s pretty, simplistic, but ultimately not very useful:

ups display

The UPS comes with a very annoying audible alarm, which sounds every 10 seconds when the Eskom AC power is down. Thankfully, you can disable that (in the Real Time section), and that’s about all the software is good for. The battery indicator is notoriously unreliable, as I’ll get to in a minute.

I set up a stress test by leaving the UPS plugged in and charging for 24 hours. Then I cast a Youtube HD clip to my TV (StarCraft 2 finals – constant audio and visual output), ensuring that all 3 devices were active. Then I flipped the switch on the wall, and it went into battery mode with an audible click. None of my devices noticed the drop – WiFi stayed up, TV stayed on, Chromecast kept streaming.

These were the readings over the duration of the test:

  • Start: 100% capacity
  • 2 minutes: 68% capacity
  • 3 minutes: 72% capacity ( go figure )
  • 30 minutes: 48% capacity
  • 38 minutes: 15% capacity
  • 41 minutes: 2% capacity, battery died

The reporting was wildly inconsistent. The battery “drained” 30% in 2 minutes, then took 30 minutes to drain another 30%, and then finished off the rest in about 10 minutes. The only reliable indicator was the lights – the red light comes on, and the yellow light flashes frantically when the battery is about 2 minutes away from death.

This does mean, though, that a R670 UPS was able to keep a 42″ LED TV operational, streaming HD content, for a full 40 minutes. Which is not bad for a device meant mainly to give you enough time to safely power down your computer.

In reality, all it’s going to power is my router, TV in standby mode (0.3W draw – neglegible) and an idle Chromecast. It should be able to do that for far more than 40 minutes, which will be my next test.

We need better technocrat managers, Harvard

Harvard Business Review recently published an opinion piece about digital transformation, arguing that organizations need better managers, not more technocrats, in the drive to realize this future.

And that’s a view I disagree with, the reason having to do with their credentials. I wouldn’t accept financial advice from Colgate, or agribusiness advice from Ford, and I equally wouldn’t accept digital transformation advice from Harvard, as they are currently not producing the agents of that transformation.

LinkedIn updated their rankings recently, and Harvard placed 7th in the list of universities that produce digital entrepreneur alumni – the sort of people that go on to work at disruptive startups and drive real change.  Stanford, MIT and Berkeley all placed higher.

If Harvard were a thought leader in the area of creating digital transformation, then their alumni should reflect that to some extent. I’d sooner accept digital transformation advice from a pair of Stanford dropouts (say, Sergey Brin and Larry Page?).

What it boils down to is that technology is not a fad, or a gadget. It’s not something you can take a 3-month elective course in and then fully understand. To understand technology, you need to grow up with technology, and produce things with technology. When you understand, at a fundamental level, what technology can and cannot do, and what it can be made to accomplish, you know exactly what to expect from your team, and your organization.

And those are at such odds these days, it’s actually funny. Everyone makes the “developer vs manager” jokes, where the managers don’t understand what the developers do, and the developers get frustrated with arbitrary deadlines and technically impossible requests. This is beautifully captured in The Expert:

That sort of conversation happens thousands of times a day, all over the world. And everyone in that conversation is computer literate – you have to be, in the modern economy. Being computer literate, however, is no substitute for a deep understanding of technology as a whole – for that, you need to treat technology with a lot more respect.

And that sort of respect takes some time to build. I think it’s fair to say that everyone who ever created anything of substance in technology, has at some point stood in awe of what it is capable of, while simultaneously recognizing its shortfalls. And it’s with that understanding that you can build companies that drive the real digital transformations.

Look at all the major tech companies today, the ones that are driving digital transformation in the real world, all over the world. Microsoft was founded by 2 hardcore developers (Bill Gates, Paul Allen). Google, by a pair of Stanford dropouts (Larry Page, Sergey Brin), their ambition rooted in technology’s transformative power. Apple, by two technologists who understood what technology could do (Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak). Twitter, by Jack Dorsey, a man that wrote open-source taxi dispatch software in his youth.

They do not need digital transformation – they’re creating digital transformation for the rest of us – and they’re doing it so effectively because they have technocrat managers at the helm. Business, people and finance skills can be taught, but true technology skills are earned, through years of hard labor at the keyboard, finding the limits of your skills and the equipment you’re using, and then pushing past them, every day.

That takes passion and ambition, and if there’s one thing you cannot accuse middle-managers in massive conglomerates of, it’s passion and ambition. The sort of people that (want to) spend all of their time managing the lives of others, never creating anything of their own, will have a hard time grasping what it truly means to understand technology.

That’s why I don’t think better managers will work. You can take all of them, train them all you like, send them on certification after certification, have them learn all the buzzwords and the industry trends, but it’s very unlikely that you’ll ever ignite the sort of spark it takes to create true digital transformation.

For that, you need a digital native.

The road to VDSL

As it turns out, Telkom’s made the process relatively effortless, and I’m quite happy with the service. Surprised, even.

  • 6 October AM: Called to place the order to upgrade to a 20mbps line. Within 10 minutes, the order was confirmed.
  • 7 October PM: Upgrade completed in the evening, within 36 hours of the order being placed.
  • 8 October AM: Logged a fault in the morning, since my router wasn’t connecting. Was informed that I needed a VDSL router (doh). Rationalize it when I learn that Netgear has actually discontinued my model, and it’s about time I upgraded.
  • 8 October PM: Get a call from a Telkom technician, telling me he can’t see an issue with my line. I laugh at myself for not reading the manual and the case is closed. Go out to buy a VDSL router, only to find after I get home that the plug is defective. Curse aloud in several chatrooms that at least one thing had to go wrong.
  • 9 October AM: Plug swapped out in-store in less than 5 minutes, and now I’m connected:
Whooosh!

Whooosh!

All in all, quite painless. I get to go through all of this again when FTTH is finally rolled out in my area, and I’m planning on spending a lot more money on my internet access, so I may as well get used to these new prices now :)

London – April 2014

My trip to London, in photos. Not pictured: Freezing cold wind, tons of advertisements everywhere, an efficient metro rail system, and the general sense that everything’s just put together properly.

Confidence shedding

I don’t get involved in politics, as a general rule. It’s messy, it’s scary, and (to quote my 11th grade English teacher), creates more heat than light. A pertinent maxim, given the current load shedding. For the first time since 2008 (that’s 6 years), Eskom is cutting power again.

Now, I get it – shit happens. Every organization, every level, every scale, shit happens. It doesn’t particularly bother me that we’re enduring a rotating blackout. What bothers me are the statements from the politicians in charge of ensuring these crises don’t happen:

“We expect the rains will subside and as the rain subsides obviously we’ll be back to normal. That’s the timeline we’re more or less expecting to have a return to normality,” Molewa said.

It’s absurd that our national energy supply could be affected by the weather. I mean, other countries endure tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, nuclear meltdowns, and actual acts of terrorism, and they manage to keep the lights on. So that worries me, but not as much as this:

“It is a question of utilisation, that’s why cabinet… said we are making a call to all South Africans to ensure we use energy efficiently.” #

Or, put another way: There’s plenty of power available, if you use less of it. Given that electricity is an artificial resource, and that you can produce more of it given the correct facilities and resources, the question is: where are those facilities?

In fact, where is the sense of urgency to say “well, crap, we have to fix this”? Saying that there’s plenty of energy and we should simply use less, is horrifically short-sighted. In what market (hell, in what universe), does it become the consumer’s fault that demand exceeds supply?

Jackie Chan is not amused.

Jackie Chan is not amused.

By that logic, they need never expand our national capacity again. Every time there’s another shortfall, they just trot out the “efficiency” rhetoric, somehow making it everyone else’s fault for using too much electricity – electricity that we’re paying a ridiculous amount for in the first place, because the vendor has failed to create adequate capacity.

What a circus.