Category Archives: Life

WordPress back up!

Exactly two years ago, a lightning strike destroyed my ADSL Converter. I had to emergency switch to my FritzBox and it has remained like that ever since. I decided to clean up the rack and re-cable it. I removed everything, and well, suddenly the little one was there and everything lay just there for ages.

I think about a year ago, I modified my Cisco SG300-28P with more silent Noctua fans, and while that was successful, it really is something I’m not going to do ever again. Besides, turns out it’s mostly the house ventilation that makes the most noise.

Recently I did a minimum of re-cabling, and cleaned the rack up and now I could get back to running my servers again. I’m not there yet, but I used my Shuttle NC02U to get at least my WordPress site up and running with the data I exported from the Dell R210 II. Eventually, everything will be moved back to a virtual machine on the Dell, but for now this will do.

I fought some Latin1 to UTF8 conversion issues with that WordPress export, and decided to delete a few older articles that I didn’t think were worth keeping. I do find that I have a tendency to make articles way too long. I should impose a word limit on myself.

Is it worth running a WordPress in a Facebook and Twitter dominated world? Yes, I think so. It’s probably not for everyone, but at least it gives me back some control over my data.

Language tests at the INAP

Exam

Hand completing a multiple choice exam.

Today, I had to go to the INAP to certify my language skills in the three mandatory languages, being French, Luxembourgish and German.  While I’m not all that happy to have to prove this (given I passed a language test, but not this one, when I tried becoming a teacher, and can prove it), let’s just play by the rules.
I wasn’t all that worried when I went there, since orally I’m quite capable of bullshitting myself through anything.  I’m pretty sure I bullshitted fine for that part of the test: “Oral expression”.  Basically, talk a bit about a given topic.

I wasn’t really prepared for the second part of the test, and it feels as if I thoroughly failed it.  That part was called “Oral comprehension”.  The test basically amounted to this:  get a bunch of multiple choice questions, of the type where more than one answer may be chosen.  Then you have to listen to a recording about a certain topic, you check when you think is correct, and that was is.  (On some recording you could listen a second time, but that’s semantics).  Sounds simple, right?
Well, not to me.  The questions felt as if they were designed to confuse you.  I’ll give an example from the German test, being the chosen lowest tier for me.  (If you need to know, I chose French: hardest, Luxembourgish: intermediate, German: simple).  The first question already put me in “fuck, what the hell do they want me to reply mode?”, and I kept in that mode pretty much all the way.  Basically, it was a recording of a lady buying prescription medicine for high blood pressure.

Q: The lady was in a ?
[ ] Shop
[ ] Pharmacy
[ ] Football stadium

Points: 1

So, you see, it can give you one point, so perhaps it means only one answer is correct.  I know she’s in a pharmacy, so I checked that… However, a pharmacy is also a shop, so I checked that too.  It’s only logical.

However, is that what they wanted to see? I have no idea.  Why wife disagrees: I should only have checked “Pharmacy”, because “I think too far”.  Fine, but in my eyes that would be incorrect.

Second question:

Q: The lady bought non-prescription drugs?
[ ] False
[ ] True
[ ] This was not addressed in the recording

Points: 1

Since she bought explicitly prescription drugs, the logical answer was “False”, but then eventual drugs she could also have bought were not addressed in the recording.  Technically, she could also have bought non-prescription drugs while buying prescription drugs, right?  That it wasn’t addressed in the recording, does not mean it didn’t happen, right?  Even if it didn’t happen, it wasn’t addressed specifically in the recording, So it might be “false” + not addressed”.  I chose “False” in this case, but frankly, I could make an argument for it not being addressed in the recording, because no word was said about non-prescription drugs.

These kind of convulsing questions, continued and believe me, it only became worse in the higher difficulty levels.  To the point, whether I think these questions were not conceived correctly.  The French one was especially hard: for most questions, I had no idea what was expected of me, because that was what I was thinking “what do they expect from me?”, not “what does the recording say?”.  Bad situation to be in, I know.

It’s not that I didn’t understand what the audio snippets were about, it just is that the questions seemed to make an extra point of wanting to screw you over.
I know the goal is to check “comprehension”, so perhaps linguists can make an argument for this approach to be correct.  The computer scientist in me just screams “too vague”, “not well-defined”, “specification is missing”, of course, people in languages don’t think in such ways, I fear.

I, for one, would not be surprised I completely blew that part of the test.

The end of an era

DNX to CNL

The end of an era


Today, I officially handed in my notice at DNX Network sàrl. My notice period extends until 29th of February 2016, which makes my time at DNX Network my longest held job in my career, with a full seven years. The decision to take the other job offer wasn’t easy, because I like my job, the atmosphere at the office was generally great, and I have great colleagues. It’s mainly because of them that I hesitated and had a though few nights. As I have said in other departures: I don’t work for companies, I work with people. So, yes, I worked with great people like Jeroen (the worst company website in history) and Pieter, both extraordinary system and network engineers which I couldn’t match ever, if I wanted to. I feel bad leaving them with an added workload and on-call duty.

Now, if you’re happy at your job, you don’t look actively for a job, right? Well, kinda, but kinda not. I have checked my archives, and it turns out that in the last year I sent out exactly three applications and have responded to no head-hunter inquiries. I’d say, that’s not exactly the behaviour of someone itching to leave.
Interestingly, the first two of those three where shortly after performance reviews that basically said: “You’re doing your job fine, but, nah, no extra money”. That would be five years in a row, it kinda gets old. Oh, I’m not the only one, from what I heard: it’s the same for everyone at the peon level.

The three applications have something in common, namely the institution I sent them to: The Luxembourgian State. I hear you say: the state? Job security, good pensions, but bad pay! Well, not really. If you’re a Luxembourgian national, that’s basically where you want to end up, because they do pay well.

Now state jobs are hard to get by. There basically are two types: the type where you do a state exam, pass that and then you’re are on the track to become a sworn-in state servant. Alas, for me, that way is next to unachievable, because it involves written tests in several languages. One is German, and I’m totally self-taught. I couldn’t write a sentence without a spell checker and then it will be full of grammar mistakes.
The other way is the “state employee”. For all intents and purposes, this is used to fill positions where they can’t find anyone who has passed above mentioned exam. Basically, anyone can apply if you fit certain criteria that make you fit for the position. The downside is, that it’s often used to “internalize” external consultants, making the job postings a formality. You’ll get called for an interview, but you won’t get the job regardless. At least, that’s what the rumors say…

Apparently, the rumors aren’t entirely true, because I applied to an A2 career for an IT guy at the Centre National de Littérature. The A2 “only” requires a bachelors degree. A1 requires a masters degree. I went for an interview the 17th of November, I had a job offer on the table the 2nd December.

So, I’m leaving the glamorous world of porn, for the quite less glamorous world of digital archiving. Literature, no less. I’m not all that certain what exactly my role will be, but I know it won’t be much system and network engineering any more. It’s back to programming and from what I understood, mainly database design. Fine, I can do that. Open source seems to be desired, but I doubt I’ll be able to use Linux on the desktop. I’ll be quite dependent on the CTIE, from what I understood.

If all goes well, I’ll be getting pretty much a 20% pay increase. I might not, because it depends on the state acknowledging my 15+ years of work experience. It’s obviously a gamble. There is something else that that’s talking for this job. It’s in Mersch and not in Luxembourg city. Mersch happens to be about 10km from where I live… Not walking distance, but I doubt the engine of the TT will become warm.

I do realize that working for a porn company probably fit my personality better, but is there any nerd out there that could say no to books?

Upgrade to Windows 10 or not?

Pit Wenkin asked me regarding my thoughts about upgrading to Windows 10 or not.  It ended up being a rather large post, so I decided to write it down as a blog post:

What do I recommend?  You’re asking this a Linux user.

For starters:
– If you are a Windows 8 user, do upgrade… Now… It is better than Windows 8.
– If you are a Windows 7 user, you are between a rock and a hard place.  Windows 10 is not better than 7, at least not in my eyes.  Windows 7 is end of life in January 2020 (Source: microsoft.com), which means security patches should come in until then.  However, your “Free” upgrade is only valid one year.  You have to upgrade NOW, or you are losing money.
– The reviews of 10 are generally positive, but… the arguments are always the same: it’s a Windows 8 underpinning (which, allegedly has a bit more “under the hood improvements”) with a more 7 like interface.  It’s still the ugly flat interface, though.  It always stops with “Hey, it’s free, you should take it”.  I personally find that one of the worst arguments for an upgrade.

Knowing this, you have to balance out the following:

  1. Will Microsoft keep their promise regarding EOL status of 7?  If we can see back in history, we know they won’t.  Both NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 didn’t get important security updates before their EOL because “it was too much work for the short time”.  The answer Microsoft could give is: Hey, Win10 is free, upgrade to that.  It would be a arsehole move, I admit, but look deep into your heart:  How much do you actually trust Microsoft?
  2. How long are you going to keep your device?  If you’ve got a machine and think you’re going to replace it anyway before 01/2020, you have no reason to upgrade (ignoring point 1).  Just keep on shrugging happily with Windows 7, and your new machine will be 10 anyway (or a Mac, please buy a Mac or ask me to install Linux!)
  3. Given point 2.  Keep in mind that machines have longer lifespans these days.  Even if you get a new machine every three years or so, it’s most likely going to have a life after your usage.  Which means, it’ll better have Windows 10.  It increases it’s “value” in the sense that it will get continued patches once it’s in someone else’s hands.  Now, you might not care and that’s fine.  I am just pointing it out.
  4. How much time do you have spare?  It’s quite simple.  If you do the upgrade now, and the immediately roll back (Yes! You can do that!), your machine is registered as being upgraded.  The main issue here is that we do not know how much the hash Microsoft has about your machine, will change on diverse hardware upgrades?  Does a disk change modify the hash?  Does a RAM upgrade do?  We only know for certain a motherboard swap does.

This brings us to my plan for my family & friends machines, and the one I did on my Ultrabook1.  I will take their machines, one by one, and upgrade it to 10, then revert back to 7.  That way, in 2020, they can go to 10 (because they have to), and keep on using 7 meanwhile.  Should anyone care to go to 10 voluntary, they will be able without paying.  At least, that’s the theory.  This will waste a lot of my time and a shitload of bandwidth, but it’s the best balance I found between point 1-4.
I am going to test what happens if I do a disk swap, instead of a dd clone (that takes so long).  If I can get a machine to upgrade with HDD A, and then use another HDD B to do an install from scratch and it activates fine, I don’t need to do the upgrade on the actual installation (aka, the one people use) and it’s only downtime for the users.

1 My Ultrabook came with Windows 8.  It never actually booted into 8, because I dumped Linux on it.  From day one.  Now, since I do care about the people “after me”, I did the following:  I made a dd clone of the disk, then I installed Windows 8, then I upgraded to Windows 10, then I restored the dd clone of the disk.  It took over three days (in the sense, I did one operation every evening and let it work overnight).  This is the roadplan, I have for Windows 7 machines.  Secure the upgrade, continue using the old and trusted.

Windows 10 upgrades – I’m becoming highly sceptical

If you’ve been following my progress on Facebook, I am getting very sceptical regarding the Windows 10 upgrade process.  The word in the street is that, if you have a legit installation, and do the upgrade from your Windows 7 installation, your key -printed on the famous sticker- is going to be “upgraded” to a 10 key.  (Ignoring Windows 8 for now, as the keys are in firmware)

Now, fate happened to give me a defective computer just before Windows 10 got released.  My sisters computers hard drive died and it required a full reinstall.  My sister has a System Builder version of Windows 7 Pro.  It is 100% legit, has never been installed on any other hardware and has basically only been installed once, a few years ago, when she bought the hardware.  Ideal situation.
Since I finished the 7 install, but didn’t have the time to go on with the installation, I decided to let it upgrade and, as such, make sure her key is both valid for 7 and 10.  Regardless of what you think about 10, we all know that a fresh start (complete reinstall) is always preferable.  So, I decided to download Windows 10 USB stick creation tool, and create a bootable Windows 10 USB installer. (On her computer, from the upgraded 10 version, no less!)  The word on the street is that, after a successful 10 upgrade, you could install from scratch.

So, I launch the installer and it asks me the key…  The key that -according to the word on the street- should have been upgraded during the, ehm, upgrade.  Not so… It didn’t take it.  I find this highly worrying.  If these key are not updated, future reinstalls will not work and sooner or later the “Install 7/8, the upgrade” will become paying.
I now tried “Skip” and reinstall it from scratch any way.  Perhaps network connectivity is missing or so, and that’s why it doesn’t work.  If not, I foresee huge problems in the future when re-installations of 10 are needed on initially upgraded machines.

If the “install first, then enter key and activate” scenario fails, I give up on Windows 10 for my family and they’ll have to live with 7.  Which, to be entirely honest, is still superior.

Update 2015-08-1@23:31CEST

It makes sense now.  What really happens is that you seem to get a new key.  It is not even a special key, everyone gets the same one.  What really seems to happen is that a hardware hash is sent to Microsoft to identify the machine associated with the OEM key (I have no retail keys to test).
So, every time the installer asked for a key, I skipped it, ending up on a desktop which was… activated!  So, yes, you can reinstall your machine freshly after you did an upgrade, it just is really, really, really dumb about it.  The user (me in occurrence) is left with the idea he has a bad key, but the importance of the key is gone.  At least not the key you have that you used for the upgrade.
Now, keep in mind this has a bitter after-taste.  Re-using OEM licenses, as was totally legal in the EU, suddenly became much harder, if not impossible  Also, if you decide to stay with 7, and upgrade your hardware in the next few years, and in 2020, you say… “Hey, I had this 10 license, I can do that upgrade for free, still”, your hash might have changed and you’ll be out of luck too.  Pray for static hardware if that’s the path you choose to go.

A little declaration of love

My beautiful wife, Nathalie

My beautiful wife, Nathalie

I know I’m not as attentive as I should be.

I know that, I often say the wrong things at the wrong moment, for the wrong reasons.

I know that, at a certain point in our lives, I failed to be there for you when you needed me most.

I know, it hasn’t always been easy, but we still seemed to find a way.

I know I make jokes about the woes of the married man, and play the repressed husband all the time.  It’s supposed to be a running joke, but you always take it so  seriously.

I also know, that despite the fact that we couldn’t be more different in pretty much every aspect, I wouldn’t want to miss you in my life.  So, just in case you forgot it: I love you.  Perhaps even more today, than ten years ago, when I became your husband at the Mairie in Mamer.

Happy tenth anniversary, my beautiful wife, Nathalie!

Five years…

A filled Bofferding glass

A filled Bofferding glass by Thomas Heijting
Creative commons license, found on WikiMedia

I’m a bit late, but it’s still the 1st of March 2015 somewhere on this world at the time of this writing, so I’ll count it as “posted on the right day”. It’s a day I remember every year. Five years ago, I had my last hangover. I can of course never guarantee that there won’t ever be one again, but for now, I haven’t had a drink in 1826 days. If you write that number down, you realize that’s not that much.

It’s also nothing much to be proud of, because frankly, I’d trade in a heartbeat with all of you people, who can have two drinks and say “it’s enough for tonight” and manage to stick to it. I also don’t really think congratulations are in order, as one misstep, and I’m back there on the floor stark-drunk as I was the 28th February 2010. It’s not a nice thought, but I have to keep it in mind every day. Not that there is much craving, that has gone long ago.

What also is not the right thing to say is “I couldn’t do that”. It’s fake admiration. Either you can, but don’t want to (and thus you’re lying), or you cannot for real and then you are like me. Either way, it’s one of the things I don’t want to hear.

So, all of you who can drink, raise a glass on me and get a buzz. It’s all I ask.

What I think of Luxleaks

A picture of some Euro banknotes and various Euro coins.

A picture of some Euro banknotes and various Euro coins. by Avij
Creative commons license, found on Wikipedia

TL;DR: We had it coming.

Long version: Originally I wasn’t going to say much about it, but I keep getting tagged on social media regarding this. I can understand: How many Luxembourgers do you actually know except me? Unless you live here, probably not all that many. Believe me, if something happens in the Luxleaks affair, I’ll know: Our local press won’t shut up about it. So, this post presents my opinions and thoughts about the whole thing.

General observations:

  1. Nothing of this actually surprised any citizen of my country. Well, “nothing” isn’t entirely true, but I’ll get back to that. It is fact that Luxembourg has been providing means to multinationals and big and small corporations alike to alleviate their tax levels. That this was done using “mailbox companies” was also known.
  2. Officially, “mail box companies” are sternly frowned upon. The idea was that, attracting companies to Luxembourg, would create employment. Yes, a local a secretary and local manager is two jobs more than the zero jobs that mailbox company would provide. Apparently, this was only an official stance, and did not match the reality.
  3. The existence of the so called “tax rulings” was known, even though I doubt by the general public. I most certainly never heard of it in that form, but the accountants I talked to, said they knew. Anecdote, of course.

Taxes for citizens and small businesses:

  1. Let me make this clear: we citizens of Luxembourg do pay income taxes and a plethora of other taxes. Yes, is true that we have a rather low income tax compared to other countries. As someone who is rather well-off, I (actually we: income of spouses are cumulated) end up in the second-highest tax level. There is very little I can do about that, except a few minor incentives to save for retirement or a home. The latter being totally ridiculous, as the amounts required to buy any property are so high that those saving incentives are pretty much a drop on a hot plaque.
  2. Small businesses have a bit more leeway as businesses do have more options to do tax write-offs. Nevertheless, the small business like the one of my father in law, have to pay the official taxes. There is no special ruling for them. The bakery at the corner, the plumber, the florist, they all pay the 29% corporate tax.

With this out of the way, let me state this: I was convinced that having multinationals here in Luxembourg was a good thing. I naively assumed they would indeed create employment, and while Luxembourg isn’t cheap, the lesser tax rate -I repeat: 29%-, would be enough incentive to bring business here. I thought: this is good for the country, corporations help fund the rather nice living standard we have.

However, that is not what is happening. What is happening, is that multinationals don’t pay fair taxes. As a matter of fact, some multinational companies pay less tax than me and my spouse. Other multinationals pay taxes with which you can barely buy a mid-class family car.  That is what surprised me.  That is not good for my country. We stand here as the crooks that allowed a crime, with barely any rewards. Barely any employment creation, no significant taxes paid to our countries coffers and a huge scratch in our international image. With the best of will, I cannot see how any government official would call this “positive” for our country.

In all honesty, I can not fathom why nobody is on the streets and asking for the heads of the officials that let this go through.  I can’t understand why mobs aren’t storming the headquarters of big consulting companies and lynching the suits responsible for this.
Well, yes, I can: I wouldn’t do much in the first place.

As for Antoine Deltour, the person who is accused of leaking the documents.  I personally think we can thank him.  Thank him for making public with what abject methods consulting companies work, thank him for showing the lack of transparency the Luxembourgian tax system has and thank him for trying to make this world a bit more fair.
He’ll probably be the scapegoat for the whole thing.  He’ll pay a much larger price than the thinks, literally becoming unemployable.

We all are the losers in this game, except the big multinationals, consulting companies and their respective shareholders.

Of course, it’s all legal and our elected government allowed it. We dealt with the devil and lost. We had it coming.

Don’t blame them

On a Noose

On a Noose by Alex Proimos. Creative commons license, found on Flickr

The recent passing of Robin_Williams spurred all kinds of discussions regarding depression and suicide.  First of all, I am not an expert.  I’m no psychiatrist, or even someone who has a good “feel” on people.  I’m your run of the mill antisocial nerd.

I am not going to talk authoritatively on depression or suicide.  I can’t.  What I am going to talk about is what happens when you botch it up and fail at suicide.  Yes, people botch up suicides all the time.  There are basically three outcomes to suicide attempts:

  • Success!  That sounds harsh doesn’t it?  It leaves behind questions, and grieving relatives and friends.  The event is declared a tragedy, and a few discussion about depression and suicide pop up with those that are left behind.  For the person who commits suicide, the pain is over, at least if you take the rationalist approach.
  • Failed, but no lasting health damage.  This is your typical sleeping-pills overdose subject.  They get found in time, stomach is pumped empty, put under observation for days and then a few weeks or months psychiatry and meds.  While their problem has not been solved, and the psychological torment does go on, they can basically hide it.  Unless you know them well or you witnessed the event, nobody will ever know it happened.  The talking behind their backs is probably the worst part.
  • Failed, causing major bodily injury.  Choose the “major trauma” way out?  Hung yourself and broke your neck, and they could save you?  Stuck a knife in your heart to get over with it?  Jumped from a building after all that’s foolproof?
    Yeah, they’re alive.  They will, however, pay their whole remaining life with pain, surgery, and questions from anyone who notices the damage about “what happened”, which is basically “everyone” if the damage is big enough.  Sure, you can lie and tell it’s a car accident that caused it, or something like that.  Any deeper investigation will easily show that it’s a lie.  However, when people do find out what happened, the most common reaction to the pain and suffering is “it’s your own damned fault”.

It’s the last category I want to plead for.  People with such a botched suicide attempt get no understanding whatsoever from society.  It’s always “How could you be so stupid?” or “The pain is your own fault”.  Even people whom you trust, and eventually tell, can totally change their behaviour towards you.
I’m sure many people reading this will shake their head in disbelief and think “But, but, it is their own damned fault!”.  I’m sure, I would have thought the same when I was younger.  It isn’t.  People who do try to commit suicide had no choice: Their brain told them it was the only solution, that there was no other way.  It’s like when you’re so thirsty that, even if you know you shouldn’t drink salt water, you’re still going to do it.  Perhaps not the best comparison, but I can’t really describe it any better because I haven’t been there.

So, please, if you find out about someone who tried to kill themselves, don’t judge them.  You don’t have to pity them, but please, stop blaming them for what they tried.  Putting the blame on them is definitely not helping and they are not to blame in the first place.
How to act then?  Really, the “lie” of the “car accident” isn’t that bad.  Treat it as an accident, as something they could not influence.  That will make it easier for you and them.  At least, for me, that worked.

iMess with your messages

iMessage chatI want to start off with the Hanlon’s razor:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

I’m going to talk about iMessage and about what I perceive as technologists making myopic decisions about how something should work. If you’re reading this you are most likely in IT, and perhaps even a programmer: we are trained to look for edge cases, trying to imagine the worst case and still having the damned thing work. Also, if you are in IT, you are aware about the hub-hub going around that Android switchers are penalised for the switch as text messages sent from iPhone users never arrive. I am, by now, convinced it is totally caused by the developers of iMessage living in a tech ivory tower. However, this is not what I’m going to talk about: I’m going to talk about iPhone users being unable to communicate in certain edge cases.

Some background:
An iPhone can send SMS, the “speech bubbles” in such a conversation are green. The way they are sent are through your cellular network: it works even if you have no data connection at all, not even GPRS. SMS is part of the GSM specification and is considered “best effort”. Despite that, it is incredibly reliable.
Contrast to iMessage, the blue “speech bubbles”, where a data connection is needed to send and receive messages. It doesn’t matter how you connect to the Internet, GRPS, 3G, Wifi Avian Carriers, as long as there is Internet. At first, you do think this is a rather reasonable condition, after all iPhone users are tech-savvy always-connected people who can’t live without their precious Internet. Right? Right?
How do I compose that sarcasm sign again?

The trouble is that iMessage, presents itself as a SMS (“Text Message”) replacement, without a way to revert back. Now first, I’ll tell you why it works so well in most settings. We, even the non-tech users, are pretty much connected 24/7 to the Internet in our daily lives. At home you have your wireless setup, at your workplace probably too, the Wireless of your preferred junk-food and junk-beverage places are configured and working. Even if that’s not the case, at least where I live, iPhones are sold with a reasonable data plan. You simply don’t care, anywhere in the country you are connected, which makes the difference between iMessage and SMS totally oblivious to the end-user and this is the typical “It just works” mentality that Apple is famous for. For iPhone users iMessage and SMS are the same thing.

First, to iMessages defence, I don’t know how it gets activated. Perhaps I did that myself, perhaps I clicked away an annoying dialog and accepted it one day. I don’t remember. Fact is, my wife, my mother in law and myself all use iMessage and I sure as hell didn’t “install” or “configure” it in the traditional sense. It was there, one day, and it worked. It might be my fault it has been activated.

So, here is how I found that iMessage has an unfixable problem, at least one I can’t fix, or I haven’t found the appropriate fix. The story involves three iPhone users, two of which are non-tech and yours truly.

My wife has been in Switzerland for surgery the last four weeks, and I made sure she could go on the hospitals wireless (Those Swiss sure know how to do wireless: the whole campus is flawlessly covered!). I even made sure she has my Ultrabook so she could waste all her time, trying to ignore pain. Well, that was of no use, as it seems that she basically uses her phone exclusively and she seems to use text messages all the time. I’m not big brother, but I know that at least her mother and me are those whom she communicates most with using SMS, of course, in reality that’s iMessage.

This works as, I’m always online and my mother in law has the “fuck-yeah-all-the-data-you-want” plan. Messages always arrive, life is sweet, the Internet is a blessing. Last weekend (I visit her every weekend), my wife tells me that her Mom can send her “texts”, but the texts she makes to her Mom never arrive.
This makes me look into the issue, and I realise: Mother in law is not in Luxembourg. She’s on vacation somewhere in Austria. That means roaming, and the default setting on iPhones is to disallow data roaming, which is a good thing. This means that my mother in law, does not have Internet connectivity. Knowing her, she will be unable to connect to public wireless hotspots.

To mother in law, everything looks normal. She is doing the same as always: sending “SMS” to her daugher and they arrive. The phone probably has the “Send as SMS” option activated, which falls back to SMS when no Internet connectivity is present. That is good. On my wifes side, however, her iPhone decides: “This is an iPhone, it can receive iMessage, so let’s send iMessage”. This is, I stress, not configurable. Not per number, not any where. So, my wifes messages to her mother disappear somewhere in a message queue somewhere on an Apple server to be delivered to her mother when her mother gets on the Internet, which will be in a week or two. Brilliant, just brilliant!

I have tried everything, deleting all Mother/Daughter threads on my wifes iPhone, deleting her moms contact entry in order to make it forget that it’s an iPhone and tell it that it’s a “mobile”. Nothing helped. There was no way to convince her iPhone to send SMS instead of iMessage to my mother in law. None.
I gave up in frustration and explained it to my wife, who was very patient and understanding, that we would have to disable iMessage and revert to SMS pure. It would be more expensive, as she is roaming too, but it at least she would be able to communicate with her mother and the problem would be gone. I did so, and indeed it worked.

Now think about this twice: at that point I did a major thinking error. Let me explain. That night I go to the hotel and about around midnight I get a text message from my wife whether I’m still awake. I was and I replied. To my surprise, I didn’t get a reply to my text. My logic error manifested itself, but I didn’t realise it yet. I only understood the next day: We shifted the problem. My phone was now insisting on sending iMessages to my wifes iPhone, but I totally disabled iMessage on her phone. Yup, my messages were now the ones being held somewhere on an Apple server. Of course, I could disable iMessage on my phone, but I have people at work using iPhones who write me iMessages, which I then would then not be able to get. I can’t do that, it is my work phone after all.

So, in the end, I had to put my wife before a choice: Be able to communicate instantly with me or with her mother. She chose me, which is flattering of course. I reactivated iMessage on her phone, which then caused a re-authentication and an SMS to a UK phone number, which will cost us money. Okay, not much, but I know it will.

This all boils down to the developers of iMessage being totally confident that people will have Internet connectivity on their iPhones at all times and not providing a fall-back method. This is provably not the case, especially to people who go to foreign countries. Apple employees do seem to know about this, after all the default setting for roaming is reasonable.
What should happen is that after a timeout period, the iMessage should be sent per SMS. This can be done, by relaying the “not able to send” information back to the phone and perhaps even asking for permission (or just do the damned thing transparently, you’re Apple for crying out loud). This would also fix the issue that Android switchers have. Alternatively, they could use a SMS gateway of their own. This does shift the cost to Apple, so it is understandable that they don’t want this.
Sure, it would delay the message a bit, but that seems totally acceptable. Delayed transmission is preferable over undelivery.
Also, let the user choose per contact whether to send SMS or iMessage. The information is there in the “contact” entry. If the number is specified as “mobile”, send SMS, if it is specified as “iPhone” it is send as iMessage and then use the fall-back mechanism to avoid situations like the one I described. At least, with such a system, I could have fixed it.

Now, I may have overseen something, or have misunderstood an option or setting somewhere. I am confident enough to tell you: If I did something wrong, this rant is totally irrelevant. If it is, I sincerely apologise to the iMessage developers. If not: please, get your act together, you are developing for non-tech users. Keep that in mind.