Archivo de la categoría: English

The privacy INVADING Giants

Many years ago some website developers began with the disturbing modality of requiring too much personal information from the user to deliver content. Usually, when I encountered such sites I simply skipped them and went elsewhere for the information. You have no control over what they do with your information. Add to that the risk for you if their sites get hacked and this information ends up in the hands of people with bad intentions.

Then came Google with their Android operating System. Android is based on the Linux operating system which never required any information from the user other than a username and a password. Google’s Android however, is hungry about personal information, if you don’t tie an email with your whole profile and a personal phone number you can’t do anything.

With Android on your phone, and therefore a GMail account tied to it, most users are at the mercy of the giant that collects a lot of private information to resell and invade your privacy. Not to mention that unless you take actions to configure it tightly, it will track all your searches and wherever you go on the Internet. Even with the GMail account privacy settings to the maximum and location services disabled, a Google account will always be tracking you whether you want it or not. How do you think Google Maps can make such accurate real-time traffic maps?

And then came Microsoft with the same disturbing trend. Unless you are skilled in technology (and most people are not!) you will be forced to create your PERSONAL computer’s login tied to a Microsoft account. This Microsoft account, just like Google’s, is hungry about personal information that they use for their own enrichment.

In using Windows 10 for example, how many times have you been confronted with a suggestive pop up that unless you configure an online Microsoft account they won’t be able to provide you a valuable and almost life-giving service? To me it really looks as if they put a gun to the head of the end user and tell them “if you don’t give me your personal information I will shoot you” or in softer terms to deceive the end user “We will not not able to provide you with X or Y service or feature”. That means they collect all sort of information. If you share your computer and it is configured with an online account, whatever they do on the Internet will be associated to your account. Would you want that? When installing Windows 10 you will encounter that “mild threat” situation often. If you are not technically inclined you certainly fall in the trap and will be at their mercy.

Most disturbing is the amount of software applications being developed with the same modus  operandi. Your information is stored in their servers on their cloud at the mercy of every hacker in the world. With local account you are responsible for the safekeeping of your data.

When you come to think of it, you have to agree to give out all your present and future information for free, but are they giving you the operating system for free? No! you have to pay dearly for it.

We advise that you, as an end-user, retake ownership of your information and revise all the privacy-related settings of your operating system (mobile and desktop) and disable anything that gives them any of your data. Android is not free, it is paid as part of your mobile phone and the same goes for Windows. If you are in doubt about a feature that requires this privacy invasion, then we advise disabling it.

Me & Linux

Many years ago seduced by the Dark Forces I was (Yoda mode off). From 1991 to 2001 I was a hard core Linux fanatic, I could not use a Windows (or Mac) without feeling an acid feeling in my fingers. I loathed all that was not Linux. This is how it all began for me.

The Equipment

I bought my first desktop PC around 1991, it was a Highscreen full tower with something like 128MB (Megabytes!) of RAM and an Intel i386SX, it was rather powerful for the time and also the most I could afford being single and working at Philips Components Applications Laboratory (PCALE) in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. From the city, company and colleagues I have great memories. That computer sported a rudimentary Microsoft Windows 3.1 operating system. It had a mouse (wow!), a double speed CD writer (wow!) and a tape backup (what?). And to top it up, I had a Tornado 14.4K modem (I regret throwing it away years ago) which I used to the first ISP, I was one of the first 300 members (Internet Access Eindhoven).

And I saw there was light…

Quite frankly I was not impressed about Windows 3.1 even with its rudimentary graphical interface. At Philips I started hearing about the Linux operating system and read more about it on my first explorations of Internet with Usenet newsgroups and the Mosaic web browser. Who was this guy Linux Torvalds? well, I read more about the whole thing and what it did and how it was NOT Windows and I was hooked.

I think that by then I was already using Sun workstations at work with the SunOS (another UNIX variant). Before long, I had bought already a set of UNIX books, kind of a bible. I must have lost them in one of my several transatlantic relocations.

My First Linux Installation

I attended a Computer Fair at the Tongelreep in the (very) early 90’s and I came out of it with a copy of the Yggdrassil Linux Bible. It was an early Linux kernel (0.98 or so) and the first Linux distribution to sport a Live CD. I ran home, repartioned my hard drive and installed Yggdrasil Linux alongside Windows 3.1 using LILO for dual booting.

As romantic as it sounded, it was never easy despite the live CD. After the installation you had a somewhat working Linux system but many of the Linux subsystems were broken. But there was an active group where a list of manual fixes was being published. Using the VIM console editor I reconfigured ALL Linux/Unix subsystems in my installation. After that I had automated jobs, developed open software and along the years had to reconfigure my UUCP (Unix to Unix Copy) and Sendmail configurations so that my Linux PC acted as a server where I held and received all my emails as a UUCP node of my provider IAEHV.

It Shall not be defeated!

Those who worked with Windows 3.1 knew how easy it was to get a system crash, deadlocks, etc. I guess the best test that convinced me Linux was the best OS on earth was when I installed and configured an electronic List Server (Majordomo) on my i386SX Highscreen PC with so little memory.

I ran several lists because I used to develop several successful open software packages including the most successful MSN Messenger clone for Linux, the precursor of today’s automatic package updates, Chklogs management, etc.

One of those days I made a new release, and connected my PC to the Internet via the 14.4K connection and suddenly myriads of requests to my Mail List Server came once the UUCP connection was established. It was like a big punch to such a small system! It crawled without getting to its knees, it became so slow I could not do much with it on the console until after the List Server requests were all handled. But what impressed me was that despite the huge load, Linux and my PC did not fail, no need to reboot, no screen of death, it kept on working!

And others came…

I upgraded to a few other Yggdrasil releases although they all seemed to come quite broken. However, the positive side was that by fixing all those broken configurations I learned a lot about using Linux.

At some point I said goodbye to Yggdrassil Linux and came to install several other variants on my PC (and subsequent PCs) such as Eridani Linux, Debian, Redhat and when things started getting commercial I switched to Fedora (community version of Redhat). And at last I ended up with Ubuntu.

Linux is not Unix?

While that seems to be a common assertion, it has a lot in common with Unix. In fact, that is why it started as far as I know, sort of a UNIX for the elite masses.

At some point in I worked with several real UNIX operating system variants with various employers. I came to use SunOS, HP Unix, DECT (?), etc. I guess I was the happiest when at work I had a Unix workstation (or two!) in my desk.

I never sit idling, not at work and not at home. When I worked at Compuware, if there was nothing else to do I helped lightening a colleague’s load by writing shell scripts to automate his work. At that time I also did unofficial work by porting -as much as I could- the Uniface software to run on Linux. I figured, if it ran on UNIX, why not on Linux. But all Unix variants differ in so many things. It was not easy but it sort of worked, but it was not stable. They never supported Linux.

Seduced by .NET

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. – Yoda

As you earlier read, I by the dark forces infected was (Yoda mode off). I found myself jobless and amids economic depression in the both countries I was. It was not easy finding a job with Linux/Unix skills. And that is how I decided to embrace the dark side, I embraced Microsoft Windows and principally .NET development and I was hooked.

Linux and UNIX became secondary to me. As much as I loved them, I loved .NET development and with that powerful IDE there was nothing in Linux that could offer something close to that.

In the years to come I would still play every now and then with Linux. Mainly, I installed them on VMWare virtual machines. Unfortunately, as years passed the powerful and versatile Gnome system with several great window managers to choose from, became replaced by the absolutely ugly KDE desktop. That together with Linux graphical interfaces trying to emulate Microsoft Windows more and more simply allienated me. Linux was not what it used to be.

Even today I noticed how the user interface of Linux has improved and yet become so uninteresting. Nothing like the feeling of being “root”, of really having to know what you needed to do. Now it is all hidden in apps and windows that compared to the old days of Linux, makes me feel as if my right arm had been amputated.

I write this article now from my latest Ubuntu 18.04 installation after many years. I upgraded my laptop to Windows 10 -mainly for fear of losing access to security fixes- and have had it dual booting with Ubuntu Linux for sometime now.

But, in the end, the more I use Ubuntu Linux, I notice how Linux stability appears to have degraded. While it is nice, it does not feel as powerful as the old Linux, I feel truly limited (unlike how it felt back in the beginnings) with it. In my opinion, trying to make Linux like Windows was the worst decision the Linux community made.

And now on to configure my .NET development environment on my newly installed Windows 10. Dual boot it shall remain though.

The Pillars of Navigating with your Phone

Mobile phones have become powerful devices over the years. There was a time when a mobile phone with GPS (Global Positioning System) was considered a high end phone but nowadays it is nearly the norm for most smartphones.

Here we will discuss the basics of using your trusted mobile phone for navigation, the rest you can find out by experimenting and experiencing it yourself.

There are people that have not unleashed the navigation capabilities of their mobile phones, but most city dwellers have come to rely on navigation applications such as Waze and lately Google Maps to navigate through the maze of streets in their cities. Obviously, to properly use those apps you will need an active network connection (mobile data service) which is not free or even included in most plans, at least not prepaid plans. If you have a mobile data plan then good for you! you typically need at least 1GB data allowance per month to moderately use your phone for navigation.

Some apps allow you to have offline maps that you can use for navigating even when you do not have a data connection but you will be limited to navigating through the bounds of that map. Keep in mind that keeping offline maps is going to consume some of your precious internal memory!

Our civil world divides the globe in four cardinal positions:

  • North or South for latitude, a number between -90 to +90
  • East or West for longitude, a number between -180 to +180

There are several ways to specify your location using these coordinates but they usually look like N 35° 57′ 48″  (latitude) W 79° 12′ 58″ (longitude). Military people use a different coordinate system which is basically another way for the same thing.

These coordinates can not only be used for navigating from A to B; there are worldwide games that make use of those coordinates to find “treasures” planted by other users, that is known as Geocaching and it is a very interesting way of putting that GPS to good use in addition to travelling on foot or on your vehicle.

What makes it possible?

There is something in most smartphones called the GPS which is basically a device embedded in your phone that makes use of as many GPS satellites to determine your position on earth. When buying your next smartphone make sure to check its specifications well if you wish to use it for navigation. While most will do it well enough, you can save yourself some surprises or frustrations by checking them against what we are going to describe below.

GPS Satellites

There are 27 GPS satellites orbiting our planet of which 24 are actively used and 3 for backup.

In theory your GPS only needs three (3) GPS satellites to be able to determine your position by a process called triangulation. This is very important because the more satellites your GPS can find in any given moment, the greater the resolution of your position. Typically only specialized apps give you the resolution information, it is not the same that your position be given with 100 meter accuracy than 3 meter accuracy. The lower the number (meters) the better.

The problem is that all of this depends on the “visibility” of these satellites. Your device’s reception of their signal can be affected by many things such as weather, trees, buildings, etc. Being outdoors is typically better but no guarantee.

You do not need mobile data to use the GPS device on your mobile phone because it senses those satellites orbiting out there in the skies. The GPS network of satellites circling the earth was originally deployed by US military instances but over the years as the system became available for civil use (with greater resolution that earlier), and now there are some civil GPS satellites out there.

Also, most mobile phones use a neat feature called geo-tagging which is basically attaching your GPS data (latitude and longitude). When enabled, when you take a picture with your smartphone, the coordinates or geographic location (latitude and longitude) get recorded on the picture as metadata which makes it great for later seeing on a map where a picture was taken. The problem is that if the GPS signal is weak, then this information is not available and thus not geo-tagged in a photo at least on a mobile phone. As an experiment we have taken pictures with GPS enabled while crossing the Atlantic ocean on a ship and no information was recorded. So your luck might vary.

GPS / GLONASS

If you have checked some mobile phone specifications and compared them you will quickly notice that while some say just “GPS” others say “GPS/GLONASS” and in this case the 2nd option is better!

GLONASS is basically another network of GPS satellites which has been deployed by the Russians offering comparative functionality.

So, what does it means having GLONASS support on your smartphone? It means that should the regular GPS coverage fail, you still have a whole network of GLONASS satellites available to you to determine your position on earth.

GPS / BDS

GPS (U.S.A.) and GLONASS (Russia) not enough? well there are already some smartphones with BDS support in their GPS circuitry.

But what is BDS? BDS or BeiDou (also known as Compass) is a Chinese initiative that started back in  2015 to build a global network of thirty five (35) global positioning satellites.

Well this is not common but we decided to mention it here for completeness and to avoid any confusing looks when finding “BDS” listed in the GPS section of the specs.

A-GPS

This is a method called Assisted GPS which is basically aiding your GPS device to get a quicker first indication (Time to First Fix) when it is difficult to get strong signals from the GPS satellites.

So what assists your GPS? Mobile communication towers, yes, you read right! Your Time to First Fix can be made quicker if you help your smartphone get the GPS information from the mobile towers of your carrier. Basically it uses the same method called triangulation so it will need data from three communication towers.

However, that you can establish a voice connection to the local carrier does not mean that you can get Assisted GPS, why? because in order to get the GPS satellite position from those communication towers you will need an active data connection. That is the reason why you can usually get a better GPS resolution when activating a data connection (cell data or WiFi).

If your mobile phone specification says it also has A-GPS then even better! the more the merrier!

Azimuth | Direction

It is great that you can locate your exact position on earth. In fact it can be fun to mention what your coordinates are. This is particularly useful if you are hiking!

But it is not only about determining your current place on earth. Usually you are also going somewhere and that means a direction.

For this the compass comes to our help and as most of you know the compass rose you usually see on maps not only marks the four cardinal points (North, South, East and West) but is also divided in 360 degrees. It means a great deal because it can be the difference between getting nearer to your destination than walking away from your destination! An error can get you lost.

So if you are moving it is useful to know in which direction you are moving which means your azimuth, for example you are walking heading 35° (thirty five degrees).

But some of you that have used Google Maps on your smartphone or some other specialized app for geocaching may have become very frustrated when noticing that when you made a turn the map did not!

While the GPS information can also give you an azimuth when moving, once you are not moving it has no way of telling you in which direction you are pointing your compass. Turn your body in a circle and it will not know whether you are seeing north, east or whatever!

Well, not all smartphones are made the same! believe it or not, even if your smartphone has GPS functionality it may not have a dedicated sensor called magnetometer or compass (seen in your mobile phone specifications). With this sensor in your smartphone you can use cool apps called Compass apps.

The magnetometer (compass) is not actually a magnet inside your phone; it is actually an solid state device called Hall Effect Switch that measures magnetic forces. It is used by your smartphone to measure the earth’s magnetic field and once calibrated be able to tell your azimuth pretty accurately even if you are not displacing yourself from A to B. For example, load a compass app and while standing in one place just turn your body around and you will see how it goes through the whole 0-360° range.

This little sensor makes it possible for your map to quickly rotate as you do when navigating because it can measure the earth’s magnetic field and therefore know where the North is. A word of caution though! since it is a magnetic sensor, it can be affected by magnetic fields (interference) created by electronic devices such as computers, monitors, etc.

So next time you go to buy a smartphone, make sure it also has a magnetometer in addition to a good GPS, preferably the whole thing (GPS, GLONASS, A-GPS).

What’s In The Box?

Sadly these days of information overload the sellers do not put sufficient information for a power user so you will probably have to get the smartphone full model number (factory model number, not its name) to find out which features it actually has (more on that in another post).

Unfortunately even the smartphone box usually contains just basic information that is not sufficient for an informed user, specially power users!

But if you have access to a fully working demonstration version of the Android phone you can use a neat trick to see if the phone has a magnetometer or other sensors.

  1. Open the Dial application of your phone
  2. Dial the following sequence:   *#0*#

This brings up a service menu unless it has been blocked by the manufacturer or the carrier (if you bought it from a carrier shop instead of an independent shop). One of those menu items is called “Sensors” and when you select it will give you real time information about what your smartphone sensors are measuring. In particular you would want to see there is a “Magnetic Sensor” listed and showing you information. Give it a try!

Ready to give Smartphone specs a look? then follow this link on GSM Arena to compare two smartphones, one with magnetometer and the other without.

Mobile phone frequencies in Panama

Nowadays it is virtually impossible to not have at least a simple mobile phone and we are not going to spend time trying to show you the benefits of such decision.

However, buying a mobile phone (and specially a smartphone) is not something to be taken lightly. Mobile telephony has progressed a lot over the years as you can see by the technology tags such as 2G (2nd generation), 3G and 4G. If you are a traveller the support for these bands can make the difference between having a paper weight (a mobile phone that you cannot use to communicate) or a functional phone.

In particular we are going to discuss it in terms of the band coverage in the Republic of Panama. So whether you are coming to Panama for a tourism, business travel or moving to Panama for some time, you would definitely want to know whether your current (smart)phone -or the one you want to buy- will work in Panama. The same applies if you live in Panama but want to buy a (smart)phone abroad for use in Panama and possibly elsewhere.

In general you should always be very careful when buying. For example, some years ago a relative bought a quad-band 3G unlocked cellphone in The Netherlands. It had the bands used in Panama and yet he ended up with a paperweight. According to the seller (a private company) as well as the provider the phone was unlocked -despite showing the carrier logo upon startup-. So, you can never be too careful!

Major Players in Panama

As of the time of writing mobile communications in Panama is carried by “only” four (4) mobile networks and there are no minor telecomunications companies whose brand makes use of other network’s infrasture.

Of these the first two have the biggest market share in Panama. We are not biased towards any of them so you are free to choose your local carrier.

2G Coverage in Panama

Second Generation wireless phone technology was launched following the GSM standard (Global System for Mobile communications) back in 1999 (Finland).

               2G Frequencies or Bands
Movistar        850 MHz & 1900 MHz
+Movil          850 MHz
Claro           1900 MHz
Digicel         1800 MHz & 1900 MHz

3G Coverage in Panama

The 3rd generation mobile telephony was commercially launched back in 2001 (Japan). There are several technology standards that make up what has been grouped as 3rd generation, some of these are:

  • UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service)
  • CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access)
               3G Frequencies or Bands
Movistar        850 MHz & 1900 MHz
+Movil          850 MHz
Claro           1900 MHz & 850 MHz
Digicel         1900 MHz

4G / LTE Coverage in Panama

The 4th generation wireless mobile communications was originally launched in Norway back in 2009. LTE (Long Term Evolution) is currently offers the fastest commercial speed in Panama and is available with all  local carriers. LTE has been available since March 2015 in Panama.

LTE bands are given a number that identifies their operational frequencies. The LTE technology comes in two spectrums: FDD (Frequency Division Duplex) and TDD (Time Division). The TDD uses the same frequency band for the uplink and downlink (unpaired) and consist of LTE bands between 31 and 41. On the other hand the LTE bands of the paired spectrum are between 1 and 22. FDD or paired spectrum means that each band has two different frequencies, one for the uplink and another for the downlink.

               4G Frequencies or Bands
Movistar        700 MHz (Band 28)
+Movil          700 MHz (Band 28)
Claro           700 MHz (Band 28)
Digicel         1900 MHz (Band 2)

Blocked or Unblocked?

While unlocked phones had been available for years in Panama all mobile phones sold by Panamanian mobile carriers were network locked, meaning you could not use them on another network.

In other countries these phones could be unblocked by the mobile carriers once the contractual term was fullfilled. However, in Panama -usually lacking good regulations protecting the customers- mobile carriers almost invariably refused to unlock a cellphone after the contractual term was fulfilled.

For some time now however, some mobile carriers in Panama have been selling their branded mobile phones (startup screen with their logo) in unlocked form. Meaning that even though the phone displays their logo upon startup and comes with some preinstalled (non-removable) apps, you were still able to use them on another network without problems

Good news are that as of April 1st, 2017 all mobile carriers in Panama are prohibited from selling or distributing blocked (network locked) cellphones.

Numeric Portability in Panama

Back in 2011 Panama became the first country in Central America to implement Numeric Portability. At first it meant that all owners of a SIM card (used in cellphones to give you access to your wireless telephony number) were charged a nominal fee of about $0.23 cents per month (prepaid and postpaid) even if you did not actually use the network. The proceeds were charged by the ASEP (Autoridad Nacional de los Servicios Publico).

Nowadays however, there are no monthly charges with regards to number portability nor users get charged anything for actually exercising their right to move over to another local carrier maintaining their current mobile number.

Is It Friendly?

Your mileage will vary with the various carriers in Panama and in major cities you should not have coverage problems. In rural areas connectivity can vary dramatically, sometimes voice is okay but the data speed drops considerably. For that reason Dual Sim cellphones are becoming popular for those users who might want to have SIM cards from two different carriers to have a fallback in their area.

Unfortunately there are not many laws protecting the privacy of the user in Panama, in fact we think there are none at all. For example, with some carriers you may easily solve your problems via Twitter, WhatsApp or some other channel whereas for another carrier you cannot solve the simplest of problems without being asked up front for your name, phone email and national ID before doing anything at all. The problem there being that your data is not protected and soon you will find yourself being called by name by businesses or donation seeking organisms without your approval!

Additionally keep in mind that things work quite differently here in Panama. While in Europe your privacy and choices are more or less protected, here they are not. It is very common for local carriers to bombard your SMS (Short Message Service) inbox with “promotional” messages which can be very annoying; and making them stop is quite an ordeal!

When receiving such “promotional” messages make sure to click on the refusal button because in some circumstances users have been automatically subscribed when making the message disappear with the back button (or some other function of your mobile phone OS) instead of explicitly refusing the offer.

When acquiring a local SIM (Panama) also make sure that your “new” number is not tied to any Premium SMS service. When we acquired our new packaged SIM card  some years ago the prepaid balance magically got lower without even using it! After quite some calls it turned out that our “new” number was still tied to Premium SMS services that the former user had not deactivated. In principle the carrier should automatically clear everything prior to reassigning the phone number to a new user but this is the third world, sadly…

Conclusion

If you want to use your (smart)phone in Panama make sure your phone supports at least the 850 MHz GSM and UMTS bands and if your (smart)phone is LTE-capable, it should be able to use the most common LTE band being used in Panama which is band 28 (700 MHz).