Tipping: Why it should (or shouldn’t) exist.

The concept of tipping has always been a sore spot with me. It is not because I am cheap (anyone who knows me will attest to that) nor is it because I feel that tipping serves no purpose. It is because of the way the system works and the how it is designed to have the consumer shoulder the entire responsibility. I strongly feel that required tipping as a whole should be abolished in favor of actual, livable wages and that the practice of tipping should be followed as it was originally intended, to reward service above and beyond the norm. Many people would disagree with that statement including restaurant owners and those who’s jobs rely on tips because restaurant owners save on labor costs and your average, tip-based worker will usually pull in a larger salary than someone doing the same job not having tips factored in to their salary.

So then, what exactly is the issue? Anyone who eats out at all or lives in a metropolitan area is familiar with the modern practice of tipping. Tipping is, by definition, a gratuity given to someone for a service, usually in the form of money although it can be presented as other things such as gifts or information. Although not strictly reserved for the food service industry, the idea of tipping is most often associated with wait staff in restaurants and people who serve others as part of their day-to-day job. Unfortunately, modern society has made tipping a requirement which was never the original idea behind it. Once upon a time, a tip was given to someone as a reward for going above and beyond in their duties and used as an encouragement for someone to provide a higher level of service, thereby increasing the size of their tip. To put it simply, a tip is supposed to be an extra incentive given willingly to the server to reflect the level of satisfaction with the service provided to the tipper, not to save an employer money. This is not a hard concept to grasp!

Let’s look at a couple of examples that expose the problem with the modern tipping system we have today. We’ll use restaurant service and waiters in our examples as this is one of the more common forms of tipping.

Consider the following scenario:

Mr. Smith goes in to a nice, family-style restaurant with his wife and two kids. They are immediately seated by the host and greeted by a waiter who brings them menus and proceeds to take their drink order. Three minutes later the waiter comes back with the drinks, takes the food order and goes back to the kitchen to put the order in. Ten minutes later, the waiter brings out the food and serves the Smiths their food, which is exactly as ordered. Every five to seven minutes the waiter checks on the family to make sure their drinks are full and that they have everything they need. When the they are done eating the waiter removes the empty dishes, offers dessert and checks on the well-being of the guests. Finally, the waiter brings the check to Mr. Smith who reviews the cost and hands it back to the waiter who takes the payment, processes it and drops off the final receipt while thanking the Smiths for coming in. Mr. Smith adds a 20% tip to the bill and the Smiths get up and leave, happy and content with the meal and service provided.

Most people would say this was the perfect dining experience and I would tend to agree. The Smiths received great service, good food and a pleasant personal wait experience. The tip was well-deserved.

Now, consider the next scenario:

Mr. Jones and his family go into a family-style restaurant. Although the place looks to be fairly empty, the host is away from the the seating station so the Jones family waits to be seated. After ten minutes the host shows up and seats the Jones family and walks away. A few minutes later the waiter shows up but forgets to bring the menus. The waiter goes ahead and takes the Jones’ drink order, promising to return with the menus. Ten minutes later, neither the menus nor the drinks have arrived and Mr. Jones asks another passing waiter to check on the status. The other waiter grabs menus, hands them to the Jones’ and offers to check on the drinks. Several minutes later the original waiter shows up with the drinks, which are somewhat watered down by now, and hurriedly takes the food order. Twenty-five minutes later the waiter comes to the table for the first time since taking the order and apologizes saying the kitchen is backed up but the food should be out shortly and refills the empty glasses. Ten minutes later the food arrives. Two of the dishes are wrong and one is warm instead of hot. Mr. Jones asks the waiter to return the food and correct it. Fifteen minutes later the food comes back corrected but still not hot. It has been over an hour since the Jones’ arrived so they  decide to just eat the food. The waiter doesn’t stop back by to refill the drinks until the Jones’ have almost completed the meal. The waiter drops off the ticket which Mr. Jones reviews and then pays the bill, leaving a 15% tip. The family leaves the restaurant unhappy and dissatisfied, vowing never to come back.

This dining experience is obviously in stark contrast to the first. The service was poor, the waiter was unhelpful and the food was subpar. Should that waiter have been tipped? Emotions say no but necessity says yes.

So, the question is, why tip at all in the second scenario? The answer is simple. The waiter is dependent on tips to make up his/her salary. Unlike most blue-collar workers, wait staff get paid a base salary far below minimum wage standards and are expected to make up the rest in tips. This, unfortunately, puts the burden on you and me as the consumers to pick up the slack in their abysmal pay and every time you stiff someone by withholding their tip, whether deserved or not, you are inhibiting their ability to provide for themselves and their families. I have heard the argument that if the service is poor and the tip is withheld then that is the waiter’s fault, they should have done a better job and, although that may be fine in theory, in real life it doesn’t fit because it is one sided and unbalanced. What if the poor service of the wait staff is caused by something outside of their control, something unknown to you, the diner? Should they still be penalized for it? What if they do a great job but the kitchen screws up? Some people would still penalize the waiter by withholding the tip. Look at other work scenarios. If you go through a fast-food drive through and get crappy service you can’t “withhold” part of the cashier’s salary the way you can with a waiter. If you go to a department store and get horrible service you can’t deduct part of the sales associate’s pay for their performance. Sure, you can complain and maybe get free coupons or whatever else compensation the company wants to give you to win you back but assuming the worker isn’t fired over the incident (and they seldom are) they still get paid the same despite their poor performance.

A bigger problem to all of this is that big corporation has deemed it necessary for the consumer to foot the bill for as much as can be gotten for any service or product. We’ve all heard the phrase “nothing in life is free” but in this day and age that saying has evolved to “everything in life is worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it” and we, as the consumer, have swallowed this philosophy hook, line and sinker. Look at the airline industry. Airplane seats are smaller and packed closer together, ticket prices are higher, checked bags are no longer free and everything is extra. Do we complain? Sure. Do we stop flying in favor of other means of transportation? No. We, as the consumer, continue to pay inflated prices for declining service. To move closer to the original example, food costs are higher, quality and quantity are lower and we’re still expected to pick up the extra and pay for poor service. And we do.

I think the worst part of the tipping system is the process itself. Even though tips are supposed to be based on the worker’s performance (or lack thereof) we don’t do it that way. Tips are calculated based on the size of the bill, which is just plain stupid. If 10 people go to restaurant A and spend $100 and tip 20% the waiter makes $20. If those same people go to restaurant B down the street and spend $300 that waiter makes $60 for doing the same amount of work as the first just because the food is pricer. Even if waiter B does a shoddier job than waiter A who maybe had to deal with fussier guests and more drama waiter B still makes more per hour.

So, is there a solution to tipping that would benefit the company owner, worker and customer equally? No, because somebody has to foot the bill for the service and it will always be the consumer. If tipping were eliminated and workers given fair and competitive wages then the prices of the products and services would go up to cover the increased cost. On top of that, those in favor of tipping would revolt because it is human nature not to want to be thought of as “cheap” and so we tend to tip, not based on performance as it should be, but based on what we have been told by society is the right amount so that, to continue our restaurant analogy, a person working for tips in a high-end restaurant will always make more per hour and a person in a low-end restaurant will make less per hour than someone who is fairly compensated but not tipped.


Let’s say the standard tip is 20% and a fair, non-tipped wage for a wait job in a particular city is $12/hour. I go to a high-end restaurant and spend one hour at that restaurant being served after which time I get the bill which is $100 before taxes. If I tip the standard my total spend would be $120 + tax. Let’s say that the waiter is compensated by the restaurant $3/hour plus 100% of the tips. Assuming I’m the only person that was waited on during this hour, when all is said and done, the waiter made $23/hour just by serving me. Not bad at all! Of course, the chances that I’m the only one  being waited on are slim so if we add two, three or even four more tables to this equation the waiter would make much more than $23/hour. As a guest of that restaurant, not only have I paid a higher price for the food than I would have at a low-end restaurant (granted, the quality of the food may have been better but often times it is not) in all reality I’ve paid for the privilege of eating at that restaurant by subsidizing the wait staff’s salary. Now, take this exact same scenario and apply it to a lower-priced restaurant where my bill is $40 instead of $100. That waiter, for the same amount of work, would make only $11/hour. Why then, does the price of the food dictate the size of the tip rather than the performance of the people serving the food?

I do think that there is a fair solution to the problem but one which will never be realized due to the nature of the service industry. I believe that the company employing the service workers should be held accountable for the base tip that makes up an employee’s salary and let me, the customer, decide how much above that the service was worth. How would this work? By subtracting it from the overall, pre-tax bill. So, if my meal costs $100 and the standard tip is 20% let the restaurant subtract $20 from the price of my meal and pay their employee that $20. If I feel I received exceptional service I would happily add another 10% to 20% to the ticket as having been earned. If not, then at least the employer and not I would be paying for subpar service. If that’s too hard to swallow, let the company split the difference. They pay 10% of the obligatory tip and I pay 10%. If I feel the server has earned it, I can add another 5% to my tip. Either way, it should be my choice, not theirs.

To sum it all up, I believe in tipping and I believe in good service. I also believe that the two should go hand-in-hand. The idea of using gratuity to compensate for an employer’s refusal to pay proper wages is wrong. Companies should be held accountable by the public to pay their employees marketable wages and leave the amount of gratuity to the consumer’s conscience, where it belongs.

Non-affiliation scanning of analog and P25 digital trunked radio systems using commercial radios

What is non-affiliation scanning?

Non-affiliation scanning refers to using a commercial, two-way radio to listen to trunked public safety and business systems without actually connecting to those systems. Normally, when you attempt to use a commercial radio on most systems, those radios will connect or “affiliate” with that system in order to be able to transmit and receive audio. By law, if you want to connect to those systems, you need to be authorized to be on them. Of course, most system admins won’t let just anyone with a radio on their systems, even if you just want to listen, which is why most hobbyists use receive-only radios, or scanners, to listen to these systems. Scanners are readily available, relatively cheap (compared to a commercial radio) and never require you to be authenticated on the system you want to monitor. So why would you choose to use a two-way radio instead of a scanner? There are a few reasons people prefer to use a commercial radio, such as better audio and better reception, but the biggest reason is because of the difficulty created by simulcast systems. Listening to these systems using the scanners available today is problematic for some and downright impossible for others.

What is a simulcast system?

A simulcast system is one where a single transmission is broadcasted from multiple towers in different locations at the same time. The advantage of this type of system is that a subscriber on a particular network is able to travel from one area (tower A) to another area (tower D) without losing contact with the system. This also means that a radio may be within range of more than one tower at any given time causing it to receive more than one signal simultaneously, but since it is usually closer to one tower than another it may receive these signals at slightly different intervals. This is called Simulcast Distortion. For most commercial radios this is not a problem as the hardware and software were designed to handle simulcast systems. Scanners, however, are a different story.

Scanning a simulcast system.

Of all the scanners available today none are able to deal with the problem of simulcast distortion. When a scanner receives a transmission multiple times at different intervals, no matter how small the difference, they have difficulty putting the original transmission back together which usually results in dropped calls, garbled audio or no reception at all. For whatever reason, the scanner manufacturers have not seen fit to correct the problem, either in software or hardware, leaving the average listener frustrated when it comes to monitoring simulcast systems. This has forced scanner users to began looking for alternative solutions with the most popular being to use a “real” radio as a scanner.

Should I use a commercial radio as a scanner?

Since commercial radios work well on simulcast systems many people have started to use them in place of scanners. Although this may sound like a good solution to the problem there are a few disadvantages to using commercial radios along with the risk of accidentally transmitting on a system that you’re not authorized to be on in the first place. Does this mean it shouldn’t be done? Not at all. It just means that the listener should weigh the advantages and disadvantages before deciding to use a transmitting device as a scanner. As for the risk, when configured properly, there’s no chance of transmitting a signal when scanning.

Is it legal to use a transmitting radio as a scanner?

The short answer is, absolutely! In the US, it is not against the law for an average citizen to own a commercial radio (assuming it is not stolen or restricted to a specific type of entity) nor is it illegal to intercept and listen to a radio signal that is being broadcasted in the clear. Any radio that is not restricted to government use or specific groups can be used to receive a transmission. Even if that transmission is encrypted, as long as the receiver doesn’t try to hack or decrypt that signal it can be monitored. Of course, there’s really no reason to monitor encrypted signals as they would would like noise but it is legal to do so.

What are the disadvantages of using a commercial radio as a scanner?

Cost: The biggest disadvantage is usually the cost. The price range for a commercial radio is usually in the $1,000’s. Keep in mind, when we refer to a commercial radio we’re not talking about the family and small-business radios such as those that operate on the FRS and GMRS frequencies. Those can be had for less than $100 but are not capable of being used to scan trunked systems. A typical trunking radio (new) with the features required to be able to monitor a simulcast system can run anywhere from $2000 to $6000 per unit. Once you have the radios you then have to acquire the software needed to program them which can add another $300-$600 to the cost. Most non-professional users prefer to hit the used market for this equipment. Trunking radios from sites like eBay can be found for as little as $300.

Complexity: Another disadvantage is the learning curve required to configure the radio. Commercial radios are not programmed the same way scanners are. They require a lot more planning and understanding of how certain aspects of each system works that you want to use. That’s not to say it can’t be done, and once you’ve configured one radio it’s fairly easy to clone the settings to another. It just means that you have to pay careful attention to the details or yo may end up in a lot of hot water.

Access: To configure a trunked system into a radio (in most cases) you need a system key for that system. There are two types of keys, software keys and Advanced System Keys, or ASK. A software system key is a tiny file (typically a few bytes) that, when loaded in to the programming software, unlocks the fields needed to program a particular system in to the radio. Without this key you cannot configure the system. An ASK key requires a hardware device to load the key and can only be done by the system administrator.

Functionality: Most commercial radios were not designed to be scanners and don’t do it as well as a real scanner. For one, the frequency range is hardware limited compared to a full-blown scanner and most radios only operate in a subset of the VHF, UHF, 700/800 MHz or 900MHz spectrums and not all at the same time. The ones that do support multiple ranges are ridiculously expensive. Also, because they are radios first and scanners second, they usually have limits on how many entries you can have in a scan list, some as few as 10 entries. This makes it harder to listen to what you want.

I need a software system key for xxx system. Where can I get it?

You can’t. It’s impossible. They don’t exist to the public. It’s illegal.

If you ask someone in a public forum or site where/how you can get a system key for a trunked radio system you can expect answers like those above. It has been mentioned that system keys are the intellectual property of the system manufacturer and only the system administrator is allowed to possess them and this may be true. This is one of those gray areas where no real precedence has been set. I personally don’t know the legality of having one in your possession. That said, it is very possible to obtain or create a system key. There have been a lot of posts in various radio forums on that topic. Remember, Google is your friend.

Is there any way to scan a trunked system without a system key?

Yes. Use a scanner!

Seriously, there are a couple of devices that you can use as a scanner without having to find a system key. Some Relm/BK radios will allow you to program a trunked system in receive-only mode without a system key. This is probably the safest way to scan a trunked system with a commercial radio. The second device is a P25 voice pager made by Unication. A P25 pager is not capable of transmitting and is not plagued by the simulcast distortion issue. They’re more expensive than your average digital scanner but cheaper than a commercial radio. One of the biggest disadvantages to the Unication pagers is that they can only scan one trunked system at a time whereas a commercial radio can have multiple systems within a singe scan list.


Wi-Fi Controllers – The Right Solution

There are many things to take in to consideration when designing an on premise wireless infrastructure, whether it be a new installation or a technology refresh. Of course, a refresh is usually easier since the infrastructure is already in place but if the initial install was implemented incorrectly it can be more work and more costly to rip it all out and start over as opposed to a new build-out. In either case, proper planning is key to a successful implementation and the management of the wireless infrastructure is one of the most important tasks to consider.

There are three options when it comes to wireless management. They are on-premise, cloud-managed and cloud-controlled. On the surface it may seem as if these are just three different ways to accomplish the same task but don’t be fooled. Although there may be advantages to each method I can assure you that not all wireless solutions are created equal.

Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages to each:


This model consists of a physical or virtual appliance which contains the device configuration for the access points as well as the overall network configuration. The APs are just a connection point for the users and act as a single cluster of antennas. Wireless traffic is usually tunneled back to the controller before being dumped onto the wired network and the controller makes the L3-L4 decisions when it comes to traffic management. The biggest advantage of an on-premise controller is that the Wi-Fi infrastructure is not dependent on any outside connectivity. Although there may be centralized management tools available, on-premise controllers operate independently of the cloud. Users are able to connect and changes can be made even if there is no Internet connection available. There are no annual license fees to consider, although the cost of annual maintenance contracts can and often do counter-act the savings from license fees. Although not required, maintenance contracts allow for software updates which contain new features and bug fixes so it is usually a good idea to keep your maintenance active but even if you choose not to purchase or renew your maintenance you don’t lose the functionality that you already have.

The disadvantages of an on-premise controller are cost and maintenance. The initial startup cost is usually higher than the other two options since, in addition to AP hardware costs, you have the cost of the controller itself. You must also license the controller for each AP that you want to add to the mix but since these licenses are perpetual it’s a one-time cost. Still, this can make the on-premise controller option unattractive for low-budget consumers.

Vendors: Aruba, Cisco, Ruckus


The cloud-managed model has one advantage over both the on-premise and the cloud-controlled models which is that each AP can work independently of any other device while still able to be centrally managed. In this model, each AP is autonomous and contains its own device and network configuration but is not configured directly. Instead, the administrator connects to a cloud controller and modifies the configuration for each individual AP or AP group which is then pushed to or pulled by the AP itself. It is the AP that controls the traffic rather than the controller. Any AP failure will not affect the other APs on the network. On top of that, there is no controller to purchase which translates to an initial cost savings and updates are done in the cloud which eases the burden of maintenance.

There are two disadvantages that make this model less attractive than the on-premise one, namely licensing and renewals. Each access point must be licensed in the cloud and must be renewed annually to maintain control of that AP. This can be costly for an organization with a large number of APs. Also, if the license is allowed to expire, the administrator may lose the ability to make changes to the configuration. That said, the AP will usually continue to function with the current configuration that is on it at the time that the license expired so connectivity is not interrupted.

Vendors: Aerohive, Ubiquiti


This model is like the on-premise model in that each AP is configured and managed by the cloud controller and it is the controller, not the AP, which controls the traffic and access policies. It has the advantage of lower maintenance since the administrator doesn’t have to worry about updates because the vendor maintains the controller.

This model is by far the worst of the lot and, in my humble opinion, should be avoided at all costs. Like the cloud-managed solution it requires annual licensing and renewals. However, unlike the cloud-managed and on-premise solutions, Internet connectivity is an absolute must because if the AP loses connectivity to the cloud controller then traffic will stop. This also means that if the license is not renewed for any reason the APs cease to function and become paper-weights. Imagine a college classroom full of students taking a server-based exam and suddenly the entire room loses connectivity because of an Internet outage or the administrator forgot to renew the licenses. To me, the risk of such a setup outweighs any benefits.

Vendors: Meraki

HP Cloud Services AP. Just another paperweight…or is it?

hp-365-access-pointConvert an HP Cloud Services AP to an Aruba Instant AP 

In 2014 Hewlett-Packard (HP) acquired Aruba Networks and decided to create a cloud-only spin-off of the virtual controller called “HP Cloud Network Manager” while keeping the original Aruba product line intact. HP Cloud Network Manager was created with the idea that the access points would require no on-premise controller whatsoever, either physical or virtual but it never really took off. During the brief period in which HP had this service available they took a select few of the Aruba IAP models, re-branded them as HP access points and loaded the cloud firmware on to these devices. In July of 216 HP discontinued their cloud service altogether, leaving a slew of HP branded access points with useless firmware on them and no way to manage them. For a while HP had a trade-in program where licensed users could replace their HP branded cloud services access points for Aruba branded IAPs but that program has long since been abolished.

The good news is that there is a way to convert these bricks into something useful, that is to say a fully functional Aruba IAP. Anyone who has an active Aruba contract and access to the IAP firmware can easily perform the conversion. All that is required is a TFTP server and a console cable.

Note: Do this at your own risk! I don’t know if this works on all HP-branded access points. I have done this a few times using HP 365 models purchased on eBay. I have not tried this on other HP models. The 365 and 355 have a standard RJ45 console port whereas the 350 has a funky 4-pin console connection. I assume this would work on that model if one had the right console cable.

The HP/Aruba model match-up is as follows:

  • HP 365 – Aruba IAP-225
  • HP 355 – Aruba IAP-115
  • HP 350 – Aruba IAP-103

The steps to perform the conversion is as follows:

  • Download and install a TFTP server
  • Download the IAP firmware from HP (Aruba) that matches the model of the access point you have. The models that I am aware of are the HP 365 (IAP-225), the HP 355 (IAP-115) and the HP 350 (IAP-103)
  • Copy the firmware to your TFTP root folder
  • Boot the AP with the console cable connected. When you see “Hit Enter to stop autoboot:” press the enter key before the countdown elapses. If you miss it just reboot the AP.
  • When you see the “apboot>” prompt type “osinfo” and it should show both partitions as containing the HP Cloud OS
  • Next type “setenv serverip server_ip” where server_ip is the IP address of your TFTP server
  • Type “upgrade os 0 image_name” where image_name is the entire name of the IAP firmware file. This upgrades the primary partition which normally boots the AP
  • When the upload is done type “osinfo” and you should see that partition 0 now contains the Aruba Instant OS rather than the HP OS
  • Type “upgrade os 1 image_name” where image_name is the entire name of the IAP firmware file. This upgrades the recovery partition in the event that you do a paper-clip reset on the AP. If you skip this step and do a factory reset you will boot back to the HP Cloud firmware
  • When the second upload is done type “osinfo” and you should see that both partitions now contain the Aruba Instant OS

That’s it. Now when you boot the AP it will come up with Aruba’s Instant software and you can follow the same steps you would for any Aruba Instant AP and either configure it as an IAP or convert it to a Campus/Remote AP just as you normally would.