ISDN, the end of an era

Both Swisscom and Deutsche Telekom have announced the end of ISDN support. In Switzerland, Swisscom plans to migrate all existing ISDN customers to all-over-IP by the end of 2017.

This really means the end of an era for me. In the 80s, I remember ISDN being installed in the bank where I worked, my first real job.

When I moved to Munich in 1992, my first telephone line was ISDN. At the time, it was the latest and greatest. With ISDN one had a 64kb dial-up line without blocking the telephone, even 128kb with channel bundling. In comparison to the prevalent 33.6K and later 56K (V92) analogue modems, even the basic 64kb offered by ISDN appeared to be light years ahead.

In 1997 I moved to London and obviously asked British Telecom to have an ISDN line installed. At first this was met with “what?”, then I figured out it was referred to as “BT Highway” and we were off. Later on in Zürich, Switzerland in 2001, ISDN was obviously my first choice again. At the time, ADSL was only just slowly beginning, and due to a poor connection to the local exchange, ADSL was initially not an option for me. Later on when ADSL technology improved, the internet connection moved to ADSL, but telephony remained on ISDN.

In 2004 when I founded my own company, obviously our telephone system was ISDN. We ordered a new line, Swisscom came and installed four. Both our private line and the business lines were easily plugged into the same 4-port ISDN card in the Asterisk server.

So ISDN has provided my telephone and internet services for the last 20 years. Deeply integrated into my private and business life, but usually hiding unseen in the back. Of course nne should not get so attached to an otherwise invisible technology, but I can’t help thinking it’s the end of an era.

Well, we still have two years, perhaps even more. Sofar Swisscom has not announced any actual migration plans, but I won’t wait and see. If we’re moving to VoIP, there are many options to be explored.

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This is a very simple blog entry. If you are a real person with a genuine comment, please do not post it here.
Since I started this site, I have been receiving a steadily increasing amount of WordPress spam. Please continue, it is very useful.

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Moving to MythTV

I’ve long meant to take a closer look at MythTV, but I’ve never really had the time nor the hardware, so it’s been just another project waiting in the pipeline. Besides, we’ve had a Nokia PVR for over ten years, so I’ve never had a real need either.

Nokia Mediamaster 9902S

However, in late October 2012, our ancient Nokia Mediamaster 9902S finally decided to pack it in. It had been acting up in the afternoon, refusing to accept a programmed recording, but when we got back from having dinner at a friend’s place, it plainly refused to do anything at all. We’ve had the Nokia Mediamaster since 2001, so eleven years and a few months. For consumer electronics, that’s probably longer than expected, so I can’t complain. To be honest though, it has at times been a love and hate relationship with the Nokia, but when it gave up last night and replacing the harddisk this morning did not provide any improvement, well, it was the end of an era.

Hauppauge WinTV Nova-S Plus

Anyway, enough about the Nokia, let me get back to the main topic. Earlier this year, probably around April, I did some experiments with MythTV as I had acquired a number of Hauppauge DVB-S receiver cards. Due to priorities, I didn’t get very far, but it did more or less work.

With the Nokia now dead and the family without television, I quickly hauled a couple of PCs into the livingroom and got a MythTV backend+frontend setup running. Sunday evening we watched television on a laptop, fed by the MythTV backend! This was very encouraging, so over the next three weeks I continued to improve on the setup:

IBM Thinkcentre 8212

The MythTV frontend ended up on a suitably quiet IBM Thinkcentre 8212, a small form factor desktop PC. (I had picked up some of these for another project a while back). With a 2.5″ harddisk from a laptop, it makes virtually no sound at all. The MythTV backend box is another IBM Thinkcentre, but full size. It’s really a bit bulky, but it has the needed PCI slots for the DVB-S receiver cards. In my earlier experiment I had equipped it with an elderly 300Gb Maxtor drive, but it was really a bit too noisy, so I replaced it with a 3Tb SATA Western Digital harddisk, that ought to be sufficient for a while 🙂

Our ageing Bang&Olufsen TV set, a ten year old Beovision 1, also finally got replaced – it only had S-video, SCART and coaxial inputs, none of which I could connect to the VGA output on the Thinkcentre. I had also long wanted to get a bigger TV, flat- and wide-screen etc., so this was the right opportunity. I ordered a new Toshiba 40″ with LED backlighting and a wall-mount.

Our existing satellite dish is unfortunately mounted on a Nokia Satscan motor, which is not DiSEqC compatible. I will eventually have to replace it I think, but as it is currently pointed at Astra 2 at 28.2°E, reception of english language TV (BBC, ITV, etc) is safe. To experiment with reception of German and Swiss TV, I was lucky to acquire a second satellite dish quite cheaply. After digging up otherwise long forgotten trigonometry, I got the second dish pointed at Astra 1 at 19.2°E and tuned into lots of German TV (ARD, ZDF, Pro7 etc). What is missing now is some Swiss TV. SFDRS broadcasts via Hotbird at 13°E, and I think I can get hold of that by using a dual-headed LNB.

Of course, in between fiddling with the hardware and looking after my day job, I also spent quite some time getting myself familiar with MythTV – the programme guide, recording, pausing, organising channel groups, making sure my DVB adapters always got the same numbering and so on. It’s not all very intuitive, so it will take some getting used to.

This weekend, now a full three weeks since the death of the Nokia, I re-arranged the aerial coax feeds and moved the MythTV backend into the back of the garage. It all went very smooth, no hiccups at all, so as of last night, we’re now enjoying evening entertainment courtesy of MythTV.

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New air-conditioning plant

Our Herrliberg datacentre is usually kept at a cool 20°C (currently klop°C). We could keep it higher to try to reduce energy costs, but due to the excellent insulation there is actually very little gained by raising the temperature threshold to e.g. 24 or 26. However, since April or May, the air conditioning has been straining to maintain the 20°C.
To be honest, I had noticed the average temperature creeping up towards 22°C, but as it wasn’t exactly critical, I pushed it back and more or less forgot about it. Until last week when I began running down my checklist for going away on vacation.

I had a thorough look at the airconditiong plant, and suddenly noticed that the R410A coolant was in fact slowly leaking! This is nowhere as bad for the environment as the old R12 (freon) coolant, but it’s very bad for the airconditioning efficiency. I called up the service company, who sent a maintenance guy the next day.

Quite clearly the outdoor plant was leaking coolant, but where? It wasn’t at any of the typical places – joints, connections etc. After some searching, it turned out to be the copper piping in the radiator. Unfortunately this meant there was no repairing it, it had to be replaced. I wasn’t exactly overjoyed – the plant is only just 3 years old, and of course the warranty expired only last year.

Regardless, this morning two guys from Baumgartner-Kälte showed up to replace the compressor-unit – they started at 8:20 and finished at 9:40, not bad at all.

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FOSS Project Management

Within the openSUSE Community, the topic of resource planning and project management appeared and was discussed in mid-to-late June 2012. Due to factors largely outside the community’s control (hardware issues, the poor state of Factory), the planned release-date of openSUSE 12.2 simply could not be met.
As part of the discussion surrounding that, the possibility of a change of development strategy was brought up, see Stephan Kulow: Calling for a new openSUSE development model.
In the ensuing debate it was suggested that we apply traditional resource planning and regular project management. Almost immediately, this was met with sarcasm and ridicule, suggesting this was simply a ludicrous idea and quite impossible in a FOSS environment.

I disagree, I believe it is entirely possible to apply (at least some of) traditional project management to a FOSS project, in particular a Linux distribution such as e.g. openSUSE.

The three key factors

Traditional Project Management is largely about juggling three key factors:

  • resources
  • deliverables
  • deadlines

Experienced project managers will want add another 20 factors, but let’s ignore those for now.

The simplified view

In typical project management, two of the three key factors above are given, and it is the project manager’s first job to come up with the third factor:

  1. the resources and the deliverables are given, work out the deadlines.
  2. the deadline and deliverables are given, work out the resources.
  3. the resources and the deadlines are given, work out the deliverables.

Throughout the project’s lifetime, deliverables might change, deadlines might slip, and resources might come and go, so it is the PMs job to readjust factors and make predictions about deadline slippage, decisions about scope-limitation, applications for more resources etc.


  • if the resources change (somebody leaves the project), but the deadline has to be met, the deliverables have to change.
  • if the deliverables are changed upward, but the resources remain fixed, the deadlines have to change.
  • if the deadline is moved forward, but the resources remain fixed, the deliverables have to change.

And so on and so forth.
As mentioned above, many other factors could come into play – company politics, priorities, money etc.

FOSS Project Management is somewhat different to the above – primarily because the resources are not only not fixed, they are largely unknown and largely voluntary. Secondly because the PM is also (well, at least partially) charged with keeping the volunteer resources (i.e. the community) happy and motivated.

PM Model #1: let the deliverables be the constant factor and vary the deadlines according to the progress made.
PM Model #2: let the deadlines be the constant factor, and let the deliverables vary according to the progress done.

So far, openSUSE has been working with model #2 – a fixed release schedule and varying the deliverables according to that. For openSUSE 12.2, it became clear that the deliverables could simply not be ready on time, regardless of how much they were reduced. Essentially we are now looking at model #1.

Model #1 requires us to measure progress. I suggest that this might be possible by having many and simple (i.e. easy to measure) milestones.

openSUSE current milestones

We have long had the typical set of software project milestones – alpha release, beta release, release candidate 1, maybe a release candidate 2, then Gold Master. Because of openSUSE working according to model #2, those names were actually largely irrelevant. They indicated only deadlines, not deliverables. Due to the varying resources, it was impossible to tell exactly what state the distribution would be in at a given time, so there was no real meaning to the term “alpha release”. It was simply a snapshot on a given date.

If we are to change to model #1, we need to define the deliverables, thereby hopefully adding real meaning to e.g. “alpha release” and “beta release”. To be able to measure progress and state of the deliverables, these would be made up of a set of fine-grained, easy-to-gauge milestones. When for instance 80% of a set of milestones have been met, the deliverable would be 80% complete. The time it took to get thus far could be used to extrapolate the time it would take to complete the remaining 20%. Of course, this is guesstimating at best, but I think it would give us significantly improved control and much better visibility.

There are a few more topics that I ought to discuss here:

  • defining deliverables
  • defining milestones
  • measuring progress

However, I’ll leave those empty for now. I really just wanted to argue that it is entirely possible to apply traditional project management in a FOSS environment/project.

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Five years of running Asterisk and VoIP

In my business, we receive faxes via Asterisk and Hylafax, which send them to a dedicated email-address. We don’t really receive many faxes, certainly no more than one or two per week. Today I was just checking to see if the email folder needed to be tidied up, and happened to notice that the first fax received was dated 27/3/2007. That is almost exactly 5 years ago which is as long as the telephone system has been running Asterisk.
Actually a bit more than 5 years – I remember setting up the Asterisk box over Christmas 2006. My business was beginning to gain some momentum, we had just hired the first salesman, and it was critical that I got his home-office hooked up with a VoIP telephone.

Anyway, 5 years of running VoIP with Asterisk!

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FTTH – we’re online!

Slightly late update, but as of last Friday 23/3/2012, we have fibre-optic internet access! My provider called up in the morning to say “never mind about the VLAN, we’re skipping that, just use plain DHCP to get an address.”. Sure, no problem. When the electrician was done installing the fibre-to-copper converter, I hooked up my laptop et voila!
I’ve arranged with the provider that I have two-three weeks to test/verify everything, after which I’ll be switching the company network over from ADSL to fibre. To start with, I’ve only ordered a 50/10Mbit connection, but when compared to the current ADSL connection, that is almost 10 times more downstream and more importantly, almost 20 times more upstream bandwidth.

The fibre-to-copper converter/switch and the two optical terminator boxes.

I’m slightly worried about the fibre-to-copper converter or switch. It has 8 ethernet ports and 1 fibre port, and looks a lot like a Zyxel box. It has a distinct consumer look&feel, which makes me a little uneasy. I’ll have to check the manufacturer, I really hope it’s not a Zyxel box.

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FTTH – our fibre box is here!

We’re still missing the final step, but as of this morning, the 2nd last step was accomplished, the neat little white plactic box was installed, see picture. Apparently we have a total of twelve fibres – four for building 1, four for building 2 and four for somethingelse.

The optical terminator box

Later today, the electrician will be installing two little boxes (one for each building) which, as far as I have understood, will terminate the fibre in regular little RJ45 sockets for plain ethernet. I guess there has to be a fibre optic converter somewhere, not sure who gets to install that.

In Herrliberg back in June 2010, it was decided by popular vote to install a fibre-optic network for all households, price approx SFr4.5million. In September 2010 I was told that our house is in phase II, expected fibre-optic connection towards the end of 2011.

The fibre is coming

The work is progressing according to schedule, so by 2014, every household in Herrliberg will have the option of having fibre installed, with transmission speeds measured in Gigabit/s. The providers currently only offer up to 100Mbit/s, I guess we’ll just have to make do.

The amazing thing is – back in 1986, i.e. more than 25 years ago when I was studying electronic engineering at Ingeniørhøjskolen Århus Teknikum, one of first projects we did was a study of the plans for Denmarks “hybridnet”. This was about the implementation of a fibre-optic infrastructure for distribution of various signals, first and foremost TV. “Hybridnettet” was dismantled/abandoned less than 10 years later.

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LEGO Technic U400

I celebrated my birthday only two weeks ago, and was fortunate to receive the LEGO Technic U400 as a present from my wife. Well, “fortunate” might not be entirely appropriate here.
Some months ago, I noticed an ad on TV, showing the LEGO Unimog along with a url: I don’t think it caught my eye right away, but after a couple of repeats, there was something highly alluring about this “LEGO for Men” concept, so I took a closer look.
Well, I’ve always been a big LEGO fan as well as a fan of potent all-terrain vehicles (don’t ask me why), and the Mercedes Unimog is surely the best representative of both. According to the website, The LEGO Technic U400 was created as a cooperation between LEGO and Mercedes-Benz, cele­brating the 60th birthday of the Mercedes Unimog.
As wives are often at a loss when it comes to chosing a birthday present for hubby, this was a welcome opportunity. I carefully prepared my seven year old son, and voila!
In the late 1970s, I was unfortunately too old to really appreciate LEGOs introduction of the Technic range, but today, it is pure, unadulterated joy building one of these sets – especially when you get to share the experience with your son who is just right age! Last year I received the LEGO Ferrari, which took myself and my son about two weeks to build. The Mercedes Unimog U400 (2048 pieces) took us about the same, and we both had a really good time!
A closing remark – you have to love the LEGO sense of understatement. Along with the varied stickers that inevitably accompany a LEGO Technic set, there were two unobtrusive stickers saying just “LEGO System A/S”. These went on the Unimog frame on the bottom, only visible when you turn it over. As if it wasn’t perfectly obvious! Thank you LEGO!

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Time to replace the Beocom 6000 phones

I’ve been a staunch and loyal B&O customer for almost twenty years. Generally I still am, but I have to admit that my ten year old Beocom 6000s have outlived their usefulness. I have three handsets, two in grey and one in yellow. I have replaced their accumulators once, probably way overdue and entirely expected, but in the last 12 months, they have then also been letting me down one by one, and beginning of 2011 I was left with just one working handset.

I think ten years is an entirely reasonable life expectancy for a Beocom 6000 handset, so I basically wrote off the old handsets, and more or less expected to buy a couple of new ones. Of course I was also looking forward to functionality upgraded/adapted to 2011.

Well, this was not to be. Disappointingly, the Beocom 6000 handset of 2011 is the pretty much the same as that of 2001. For me, that is just not satisfactory. First and foremost, I now want VoIP, secondly I want good integration/cooperation with other systems, e.g. my local Asterisk telephone exchange. Alas, the Beocom base station is essentially a blackbox, so I started looking for VoIP capable DECT phones.

Enough for now – suffice to say we’re now using three handsets and a base station of the Siemens Gigaset range, and have sold off the Beocom bits on ricardo. It was a sad moment when I said goodbye to the B&O handsets, but the Gigasets just offer so much more.

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