Google Pixel & Pixel XL: impressions

It’s a little late in the release cycle, with the Pixel 2 and Pixel XL 2 having been released, but there’s a number of points I’ve been contemplating on this premium-priced phone for some time that I’ve wanted to Blog about.  Here goes…

Phone Retailer: Avoiding the Bloat-ware

I purchased my Pixel (in Australia) direct from Google about 12 months ago (as at December 2017). One of my primary reasons for purchasing a phone direct from the vendor is to explicitly avoid 3rd party (Tel co) pre-installed, forced additional ‘value’ software.

Telephone companies (collectively, Wireless Providers, Tel Co, Phone company, Mobile Company, Cell Provider or whatever your term is) seem to take vanilla smart phone firmware, and force-install their own additional software that they see as adding essential functionality. They also mark such software on Android as being not uninstallable, leaving the consumer with space consumed on their device for software they potentially don’t want, or may want to free up later.

Telcos have a history of producing some fairly horrible 3rd Party software. Somehow they get the combination of inefficient software that drains battery life, causes system reboots, consumes inordinate amount of phone storage capacity for no obvious reason, and often has horrible security throughout, none of which is in the consumer’s interest.

Given this software is not uninstallable, the consumer has two options over the life of the phone: either put up with the issues, or apply security updates for this bloat ware — if they are made available — which inevitable consumes more device storage space (apparently never less), and spin the wheel on changes around battery life, stability and security.

You’ll note I say ‘consumer‘ in the above, because if the Telcos treated the people paying them as customers, then perhaps they’d pay a bit more attention to customer experience and customer satisfaction, rather than forcing their own poorly implemented branded bloat ware on these devices. Even a boot logo — I’d rather have the default boot logo rather than have to fetch the animated loop for a Tel co to be displayed to me when I turn my phone on.

I had this with the original Google Nexus phone perhaps a decade ago, but phones I have used since then have suffered this bloat infestation. My wife has a Samsung Galaxy S4, with a combination of additional Optus and Samsung software crowding out the fixed-storage-space in the S4.

The Pixel

While Nexus returned with the 5P, it was the time that the Pixel launched that my S3 was on its last legs; and with an option of going direct to Google, I ordered one; a reasonably easy ordering process, good tracking for delivery.

The install looked great: just hook up a USB cable to the older Android phone, and everything should transfer — except it didn’t work at all. The S3 (from Optus) was capped at Android 4.4, the Pixel shipped with Android 7, an the delta was too long a divide for a promised smooth transfer.

Oh well, looks likes this may be useful in future for easing the upgrade/transition/replacement path I thought.

Pixel Sound Issues

Then the speaker started to play up.

Over the course of three months, the sound quality from the speakers (ie, when playing music, YouTube content, and phone Speakerphone mode) degraded (and eventually stopped, later). When the phone ‘rang’, it would be highly distorted audio. Speakerphone was not possible – you couldn’t make out the words the caller was saying.

This is when I first contacted Google support.

Google Support

Conveniently, Google support was contacted through a menu on the phone; either text chat, or a ring-back system that must have registered me into a queue, and called me when an agent was available. Neat.

After performing a few checks (ie, volume turned up), I was asked to firmware reset the phone. With MFA enabled on my phone for a few accounts (>30), I didn’t want to loose those seeds; but would like to transfer them to a new handset, especially if the promised transfer experience was going to avoid me having to recover MFA set up. After explaining this, the call ended, but no replacement was forthcoming.

Fast forward until October, and the audio on speaker phone was completely dead, and I’d even tried the new Oreo release and any other software solution. So now another call with Google support; this time they confirmed on the phone they would send a replacement.

Replacement procedure

What they didn’t say was that they would send a time sensitive email to my Gmail address (not my primary address) that Gmail would automatically filter into a folder called “updates” (ie, not my default view of my Gmail inbox) that required me to a lick a link to order a replacement model within 5 days.

So a week after the call, wondering where the process was up to, I discovered email (having not been told to click a link in an email); but the link had expired, so another call to get a fresh time based link generated.

Confusingly, while I was trying to replace a Pixel, support sent me a link that would only order a Pixel XL. I wasn’t looking to change form factor (the Pixel fits nicely in my pocket). Another call – to sort this out, turned up that there were no Pixel replacements for RMA, and I would have to move to a larger handset.

The RMA procedure also required me to order a new one, a daunting process of having a UAD$1400 hold on my credit card, especially late in the pay cycle when there wasn’t $1400 clear on my card to hold. A few days later, another support call, a fresh link to click and start the “order” (RMA) again.

Transferring Pixels

Finally, it arrived. I connected the magic USB cable to initiate the transfer… hoping to keep copy media on the device, and the precious MFA seeds.

But it failed to start. Pixel 8.1 → Pixel XL 8.0 wouldn’t connect over the USB cable, but after trying various options, and proceeding to join a common WiFi network, it did promise to copy over WiFi.

Sadly, account logins only for Gmail. No media, no seeds. Not even the set of applications installed on the old phone.

So the promise of a seamless upgrade over a back-to-back connection between handsets seems unfulfilled.

Symantec Touchdown

For my various work email addresses, I purchased and have been using Symantec Touchdown for about 6 years. Its a reasonable exchange client, and consisted of the Touchdown application, and the Touchdown License application (ie, two installations).

Now as stars align, Symatec have End-of-Lifed Touchdown. They did this by pulling the license installation from the Play store. So I am transferring my applications, and can no longer install the license I purchased from Symantec.

Pixel & Pixel XL USB-C PD (Power Delivery) charging

One of the nice points about the Pixel was that it charges quick., using a new USB connector. This rectangular connector is effectively symmetrical; it can be plugged in either way, and starts a very rapid charging process (like a percent per 30 seconds or so).

However, it appears to wear loose pretty quickly. Even on the Pixel XL (now two months old) the USB-C PD connector actually needs to be held in place to acquire a rapid charge. Numerous times I have connected it, seen the rapid charge begin, but returned to find that it had dislodged and not been charging at all!

So now I have to regularly check on a charging phone to ensure I don’t need to grab-and-go and find its flat.

Pixel & Pixel XL Performance

So some positives: the snapdragon processor seems pretty speedy; applications respond well.

The Chrome browser is regularly updated, and Security updates come through each month without delay (didn’t get that with a Telco branded firmware).

The camera takes nice photos and videos, including some reasonable slow motion (either 120 or 240 fps) and nice panorama and photo-sphere pics (stitched on camera). The integration of into the phone to backup (and offload) media from the device works well.

The placement of the fingerprint sensor works well on the rear; with the same hand I am holing the phone I can unlock it. And unlike FaceID, it doesn’t stink: I can register multiple fingers (ie, one from left hand, and one from right – H/A for my hands).

Wish List


  1. make transferring phones also install the applications from the older phone into the new, and set them up with the same settings
  2. transfer media from old to new over the back-to-back USB-C link
  3. improve the support experience for RMA; perhaps extend the link validity a little longer (2 weeks?), tell customers to look for the email that customers have to order the device
  4. have the USB-C click and lock into place, or something else to help it not spring back and loose connection


  1. can I get my licence key or a refund?

Tel cos in general:

  1. stop forcing your software onto customers phones; make your ‘essential’ services available as web apps without requiring client side bloat, make them uninstallable, and ensure that Androind updates flow to customers as soon as possible (have you pushed WPA Krack updates yet?).

Web Security 2017

Stronger encryption requirements for PCI compliance is having a good effect on purging the scourge of the web: legacy browsers, and as they disappear comes even more capability client side for security.

I started web development around late 1994. Some of my earliest paid web work is still online (dated June 1995). Clearly, that was a simpler time for content! I went on to be ‘Webmaster’ (yes, for those joining us in the last decade, that was a job title once) for UWA, and then for Hartley Poynton/ at time when security became important as commerce boomed online.

At the dawn of the web era, the consideration of backwards compatibility with older web clients (browsers) was deemed to be important; content had to degrade nicely, even without any CSS being applied. As the years stretched out, the legacy became longer and longer. Until now.

In mid-2018, the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS) 3.2 comes into effect, requiring card holder environments to use (at minimum) TLS 1.2 for the encrypted transfer of data. Of course, that’s also the maximum version typically available today (TLS 1.3 is in draft 21 at this point in time of writing). This effort by the PCI is forcing people to adopt new browsers that can do the TLS 1.2 protocol (and the encryption ciphers that permits), typically by running modern/recent Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Edge browsers. And for the majority of people, Chrome is their choice, and the majority of those are all auto-updating on every release.

Many are pushing to be compliant with the 2018 PCI DSS 3.2 as early as possible; your logging of negotiated protocols and ciphers will show if your client base is ready as well. I’ve already worked with one government agency to demonstrate they were ready, and have already helped disable TLS 1.0 and 1.1 on their public facing web sites (and previously SSL v3). We’ve removed RC4 ciphers, 3DES ciphers, and enabled ephemeral key ciphers to provide forward secrecy.

Web developers (writing Javascript and using various frameworks) can rejoice — the age of having to support legacy MS IE 6/7/8/9/10 is pretty much over. None of those browsers support TLS 1.2 out of the box (IE 10 can turn this on, but for some reason, it is off by default). This makes Javascript code smaller as it doesn’t have to have conditional code to work with the quirks of those older clients.

But as we find ourselves with modern clients, we can now ask those clients to be complicit in our attempts to secure the content we serve. They understand modern security constructs such as Content Security Policies and other HTTP security-related headers.

There’s two tools I am currently using to help in this battle to improve web security. One is, the work of Ivan Ristić (and now owned/sponsored by Qualys). This tool gives a good view of the encryption in flight (protocols, ciphers), chain of trust (certificate), and a new addition of checking DNS records for CAA records (which I and others piled on a feature request for AWS Route53 to support). The second tool is Scott Helm’s, which looks at the HTTP headers that web content uses to ask browsers to enforce security on the client side.

There’s a really important reason why these tools are good; they are maintained. As new recommendations on ciphers, protocols, signature algorithms or other actions become recommended, they’re updated on these tools. And these tools are produced by very small, but agile teams — like one person teams, without the bureaucracy (and lag) associated with large enterprise tools. But these shouldn’t be used blindly. These services make suggestions, and you should research them yourselves. For some, not all the recommendations may meet your personal risk profile. Personally, I’m uncomfortable with Public-Key-Pins, so that can wait for a while — indeed, Chrome has now signalled they will drop this.

So while PCI is hitting merchants with their DSS-compliance stick (and making it plainly obvious what they have to do), we’re getting a side-effect of having a concrete reason for drawing a line under where our backward compatibility must stretch back to, and the ability to have the web client assist in ensure security of content.

Inspecting the AWS RDS CA Certificates

Trying to fetch all the RDS CA certificates as a bundle, and inspect them:

# vim: tabstop=8 expandtab shiftwidth=4 softtabstop=4
import urllib.request
import re
from OpenSSL import crypto
from datetime import datetime

def get_certs():
    url = (""
    with urllib.request.urlopen(url=url) as f:
        pem_certs = []
        current_cert = ''
        for line in'utf-8').splitlines():
            current_cert = current_cert + line + "\n"
            if re.match("^-----END CERTIFICATE-----", line):
                current_cert = ""
        return pem_certs

def validate_certs(certs):
    ca = None
    for cert_pem in certs:
        cert = crypto.load_certificate(crypto.FILETYPE_PEM, cert_pem)
        if cert.get_issuer().CN == cert.get_subject().CN:
            ca = cert
    for cert_pem in certs:
        cert = crypto.load_certificate(crypto.FILETYPE_PEM, cert_pem)
        start_time = datetime.strptime(
            cert.get_notBefore().decode('utf-8')[0:14], "%Y%m%d%H%M%S")
        end_time = datetime.strptime(
            cert.get_notAfter().decode('utf-8')[0:14], "%Y%m%d%H%M%S")
        print("%s: %s (#%s) exp %s" %
              (cert.get_issuer().CN, cert.get_subject().CN,
               cert.get_serial_number(), end_time))
        if end_time <
            print("EXPIRED: %s on %s" % (cert.get_subject().CN,
        if start_time >
            print("NOT YET ACTIVE: %s on %s" % (cert.get_subject().CN,

pem_certs = get_certs()


Today this gives me::

Amazon RDS Root CA: Amazon RDS Root CA (#66) exp 2020-03-05 09:11:31
Amazon RDS Root CA: Amazon RDS ap-northeast-1 CA (#68) exp 2020-03-05 22:03:06
Amazon RDS Root CA: Amazon RDS ap-southeast-1 CA (#69) exp 2020-03-05 22:03:19
Amazon RDS Root CA: Amazon RDS ap-southeast-2 CA (#70) exp 2020-03-05 22:03:24
Amazon RDS Root CA: Amazon RDS eu-central-1 CA (#71) exp 2020-03-05 22:03:31
Amazon RDS Root CA: Amazon RDS eu-west-1 CA (#72) exp 2020-03-05 22:03:35
Amazon RDS Root CA: Amazon RDS sa-east-1 CA (#73) exp 2020-03-05 22:03:40
Amazon RDS Root CA: Amazon RDS us-east-1 CA (#67) exp 2020-03-05 21:54:04
Amazon RDS Root CA: Amazon RDS us-west-1 CA (#74) exp 2020-03-05 22:03:45
Amazon RDS Root CA: Amazon RDS us-west-2 CA (#75) exp 2020-03-05 22:03:50
Amazon RDS Root CA: Amazon RDS ap-northeast-2 CA (#76) exp 2020-03-05 00:05:46
Amazon RDS Root CA: Amazon RDS ap-south-1 CA (#77) exp 2020-03-05 21:29:22
Amazon RDS Root CA: Amazon RDS us-east-2 CA (#78) exp 2020-03-05 19:58:45
Amazon RDS Root CA: Amazon RDS ca-central-1 CA (#79) exp 2020-03-05 00:10:11
Amazon RDS Root CA: Amazon RDS eu-west-2 CA (#80) exp 2020-03-05 17:44:42

S3 MFA Delete

The Simple Storage Service (S3, or S3) has made long term durable storage simple for the masses. The democratisation of object storage with well documented, stable APIs has been incorporated into many products. The API is part of the product.

But despite the word Simple, there are more and more advanced features: storage tiers, security policies, life-cycle policies, logging, versioning, requestor-pays, and more recently, Inventory generation and more.

S3 features prominently in long-term retention of important data due to its high durability. But today I’m diving into the another benefit: MFA Delete.

Simple CRUD

Create, Read, Update, Delete: the basics of a REST interface for sending and manipulated a data store. In AWS, IAM policy (or Bucket Policy) can permit or limit the actions that a user can perform.  If you delete an Object, then it’s gone. If you overwrite an object (using the same Prefix or name), then the original is lost, as you would expect.

We can limit a calls to s3:DeleteObject, either with a explicit DENY, or carefully only permitting the fine grained controls we intend (s3:PutObject, s3:GetObject) for the role., groups or users we confer privileges to. However, we still run the change of an unintended overwrite.

Furthermore, there may be privileged users or roles that have elevated access, so while your general work-flow is protected by policy from accidental deletion, you’re not protected from accidents from other source (eg, humans with admin privs).

S3 Versioning

To help with this, S3 Versioning permits you to retain multiple revisions of the same object. When listing the bucket naturally, you see the current revision in the list. But a few API calls and you can drill into the previous revisions of the same object, helping you recover from object overwrites.

When a file is deleted from a Versioned S3 Bucket, its really just updated with a new version as a designated Delete Marker. This Marker prevents the object being included in a natural bucket listing. Without further action, the previous versions are still present, and you’re still paying for their storage.

Lifecycle Policies

I always recommend agreeing a life cycle retention policy for S3 buckets – possibly by agreed prefix – upon creation of the Bucket. It makes the creator of the data set really consider how permanent their data must be.

Lifecycle policies can change data storage tiers, but my favourite is the expiry of “previous revisions” after a customer-defined number of days. This gives me a kind of “S3 Undelete” window, and its saved my bacon on several occasions; the accidental Admin delete can easily be undone within the number of days you have specified.

But I want to go further, I want to have some buckets that I know are my “keep forever” bucket, and I want to make any kind of delete of even previous revisions difficult: enter MFA Delete.

Enabling MFA Delete

MFA delete works on Versioned S3 Buckets, and protects all revisions (including delete markers) from being deleted with a corresponding special delete command that includes a valid MFA token from an authorised user.

In my experimentation, I had an existing bucket that I had Versioning enabled. To enable this feature I had to turn to the API – this isn’t available in the AWS Console at this time. I also had to us an IAM User with MFA or the master Root identity – federated users or Ec2 Instances in IAM Roles cannot do this, as they have no MFA associated with them directly.

In this example, I created a profile for the AWS CLI called MasterUser, and had root IAM keys created (which I immediately rescinded). I had a bucket called MyVersionBucket, that I had set up just as I liked it. I also grabbed the ARN of my Virtual MFA I had for the Root user in this account (the ARN is listed as a SERIAL number in the console).

To enable MFA Delete:

aws s3api put-bucket-versioning –profile MasterUser –bucket MyVersionBucket –versioning-configuration MFADelete=Enabled,Status=Enabled –mfa ‘arn:…. 012345

Note: the MFA is referenced with quotes around it, as the single argument contains a space between the serial (ARN in this case) and the current value on the MFA).

To then see the configuration:

aws s3api get-bucket-versioning –profile MasterUser –bucket MyVersionBucket

With this in place it was time to test it out.

(Not really) Deleting from an MFA-Delete protected Bucket

The first thing I did was upload a file (same as normal), and then delete it. Using the “current view” of the bucket, the file vanished. In the new AWS console I could see the deleted item listed, and drilling into it, I could see the revisions there as with a regular Versioning bucket.

The next thing I tried was to “undelete” an object, an option that has just appeared in the revised S3 console, however this silently failed.

I then looked at the revisions of my sample file, and could see the delete marker sitting there. I attempted to delete the Delete Marker, but without an MFA I was blocked. This seemed to make sense: previously “undeleting” an object from S3 meant removing the delete marker, and clearly that’s just a version that I cannot really delete.

I looked at the other revisions of my sample file, and I was likewise blocked from deleting them.

Next looked at adding a Lifecycle policy to the bucket, and discovered that no Lifecycle policies can be added to an MFA protected bucket. So three’s no opportunity to move to the Infrequent Access tier of storage after a period automatically.

To truly empty the bucket, I deleted the a version of the file:

aws s3api delete-object –bucket MyVersionBucket –key sample.png –version-id Foo1234 –mfa ‘arn:… 123456

The VersionID was displayed to me in the list versions’ output.

Of course, I could potentially have suspended MFA delete, tidied up, and then re-enabled it.

At the end of my experiment, with MFA Delete Enabled, I could dimply delete the empty bucket as normal – there were no further challenges.

When to use MFA Delete

As MFA-Delete is a bucket-wide policy, you need to ensure that all objects that will be in this bucket are right to be considered permanent. You’ll want to limit who has access to put-version policy (perhaps your PowerUsers should have an explicit deny on this API call). If you have temporary or staging data in the bucket, or data that you want a lifecycle policy to automaticlaly clean up, then MFA Delete is not for you.

AWS Certifications in Perth

AWS Certified Developer (Associate), Sysops (Associate), Solution Architect (Associate), DevOpsEngineer (Professional), Solution Architect (Professional)Today I went and sat yet another of the AWS Certifications; I’ve been doing a bit of a Pokemon approach and collecting them all.

AWS’s certifications fall in what are essentially three classes: Associate, Professional, and Speciality (still in beta at this point in time).

Each of the certifications requires sitting a proctored exam at a certified exam venue. Subjects are not permitted any personal equipment, watches, wallets, or anything else that could be used to collude or circumvent the test integrity. The testing is done on a locked-down PC, and are generally multi-choice of:

  • Choose the best answer (think: radio box)
  • Choose N answers that apply (think: tick the check boxes)

The Associate certifications are effectively entry-level: the number of questions is around 55, and the permitted time is around an hour and a half.

Meanwhile the Professional and Speciality certifications are around 100+ questions, and three hours assessment time.

The calibre of the questions have made these certifications some of the most valuable, and thus desired certifications in IT. I’ve been lucky to spend several years working on some large projects to hone these skills, and am pleased to hold all five of the AWS certifications.

Certification Venues in Perth

Over the last few months, two more venues have appeared as options for sitting these certifications, and I have now used all three to compare them. For several years, AICT (next to Myer in the Murray Street Mall) has been the only option, but now Saxons Training Facilities at 140 St Georges Tce, and now ATI-Mirage at the redeveloped Cloisters have become available.

AICT is probably the most dilapidated venue. They have set aside a small room at the very rear of their location just by their lab technicians hub and on-premise data centre, with small screens on the testing PCs, no windows in the room, and at times, a lack of adequate cooling assisted by a pedestal fan. They can test about 5 people at a time here.

Saxons became available in January: their rooms were considerably larger, well lit, and had large windows for daylight. The facilities were much cleaner and newer. A very large break-out kitchen/coffee area was there, but I had no time to use it. The room would have held about 18 people, but I was the only one the morning I sat this certification.

And today, ATI-Mirage – I was their first Kryterion exam to go through since ATI-Mirage started offering them. Their testing facility was reasonably well resourced, no windows but well lit, with enough room for around 12 people or so to sit exams. This is shared with their Pearson-VUE testing, and this morning, was full.

If I had to order the facilities, I’d probably chose Saxons first, followed closely by the very friendly people at ATI-Mirage, and AICT last. But then again, my office in the Perth CBD is opposite Saxons, so its a short walk to hop over the road!