Monthly Archives: April 2010

Picking an ADSL2 provider

With the need for more than the current quota 500Mb of traffic allowed at home (256Kbps shaped to 56Kbps), it was time to switch plans… and given that change was in the air, no holds would be barred. The current spend is about $75/month including Internet, two mobiles, fixed line rental and phone calls. Mobile calls are carried on the Optus network; coverage and performance is satisfactory.

ADSL2 connections are cheaper than ADSL1 because of the Telstra monopoly. The current provider offers ADSL2, but they don’t have their own DSLAMs in my local exchange, so they resell Telstra product. Because of the need to maintain profit margins and Telstra’s pricing regime, the base-level product is $70/month. That doesn’t leave much room for calls or mobiles.

www.adsl2exchanges.com.au shows both the locations and coverage of exchanges around Australia, and importantly also lists (as does whirlpool.net, based on your phone number) what companies have DSLAMs installed. The Google maps mash-up showing the boundaries and location of the exchange allows you to estimate the distance to the exchange, which impacts the achievable line speed. Given we’re planning on moving sometime in the future, this information will also be used in selecting a new home – and because we vaguely know where that is, it would be desirable to have a provider that has DSLAMs in both our current and out future exchanges.

For me, that means Telstra, iiNet and TPG. Telstra is immediately excluded as being a bad idea. There are a bunch of iiNet resellers, and iiNet themselves, but the best deals seem to be from Netspace (I understand that they’ve been bought out by iiNet, so I expect plans bought from them will be grandfathered, but after that all bets are off).

Netspace’s most attractive plan is their ADSL2+ Super 20 Anytime plan, which bundles ADSL2 ($30) with a PSTN line ($30) and gives 20Gb of qutoa (plus another 20Gb off-peak, but when the hell is anyone awake between 2am and 8am?). Just as we were signing up, we noticed that the phone line isn’t $30 a month – it’s $40 and includes $10 of calls. If we made $10 of calls, that would be fine. But we don’t. So it’s not. Besides which, it pushes the plan to $70, leaving $5/month to run two mobiles. Next…

For less quota (15Gb) and more money ($40 instead of $30) Netspace has ADSL2+ Super 15 Anytime, their naked product. This would require VoIP, but given we’ve got $25 to play with, that’s do-able. The only problem is, at the end of the contract, what will the prices be? iiNet, Netspace’s future owner, doesn’t have the super-attractive plans; their cheapest naked plan is $50 and is 5Gb (even less for even more). On the upside, Netspace is does Single Service Transfer, which means about 10mins of Internet outage when the swap-over occurs (iiNet is not, so swapping away at the end of contract will be painful and expensive). Shaping is to dial-up speeds (56Kbps).

No one resells TPG ports. TPG’s cheapest naked plan is $50 for 20Gb (+20Gb), but interestingly they have a $51 plan that includes a phone line! Well, $61 because of the included $10 of calls. Apparently it’s a POTS line, but it does sound like a VoIP thing they’re pretending is a PSTN line. Oh, and the call prices are at full retail (25c local calls, timed national, 40c/minute mobiles), not crazy-go-nuts VoIP prices (~10c calls to landlines, ~25c/minute mobile calls). But they do number porting and give you 130Gb of quota, shaped down to 1Mbps when (!) you exceed it. That’s a bit of a step up from 500Mb and 256Kbps shaped to 56Kbps. But, if you wanted to use crazy-go-nuts VoIP prices, you’d just set yourself up with a VoIP provider. So let’s pretend this really is a PSTN line. It’s $9 less the then Netspace includes-phone-line offer, and you get 130Gb instead of 20 (which I can’t imagine using, so no advantage there).

So, the choice comes down to TPG’s Super Fast Standard /130GB ($61) vs Netspace’s naked ADSL2+ Super 15 Anytime ($40 + VoIP provision). $21/month is a lot of money to buy VoIP with, so I think, perhaps, there’s a winner. We can get a ported number and all the calls we’d make for about $10 from a bunch of VoIP providers.

As for the mobiles, TPG has a $1/month mobile plan with really good per-minute rates – and, importantly, no included calls. They provide bonus data to TPG customers on this mobile plans, but given I don’t use data on my mobile plan – meh, not a compelling reason to sign up with TPG. Each phone has a $20 sign-up fee. I’d expect our phone call costs to be… $5 or maybe $10 a month on this plan.

So, if we go with Netspace for the naked DSL and TPG for the mobiles, our monthly spend will be about $60.

Real Estate Websites Suck: Part 4

I’ve decided that I’m only going to look for properties with 4 (or more) bedrooms. I enter this as a search criteria, and the website says quite clearly “Results for properties for rent with 4+ bedrooms in {suburb}”.

So why do I get presented with 3 bedroom properties?

Facepalm. Five years, and these web sites still suck balls. Not only do searches not work, it appears that the site pegs my CPU at 100% when the rendered page is just sitting there. Some of their lovely JavaScript goodness I suppose.

If you ask nicely I might dig up and dust off my rant from five years ago…

Windows Media Center Edition 2005 doesn’t need wmlauch.exe

For those of you installing Windows Media Center Edition 2005 off MSDN disk 2429.4 (November 2005) and freaked out by it asking for a Windows XP Service Pack 2 (Windows XP SP2) disk, don’t worry: Just select the “skip this file and continue anyway” option because the install doesn’t need wmlauch.ex_ or wmlauch.exe – and I’m lead to believe that Windows XP SP3 will add it, or if not, Automatic Updates will. Just relax, and go with the flow.

I think that’s enough keywords, searching ought to find this now. Oh, hang on: Windows MCE 2005.

BTW, your XP Professional disk with integrated SP2 doesn’t hold the requested file, so don’t bother looking.

Coles runs on Windows

The other day a McAfee stuff-up led to thousands of Windows XP machines getting a virus data file which deleted SVCHOST.EXE, a vital part of the operating system.

As Ed Bott remarked: I’m not sure any virus writer has ever developed a piece of malware that shut down as many machines as quickly as McAfee did today.

In Australia, one high-profile company hit was Coles, with around 10% of registers knocked out of action causing a number of their supermarkets to have to stop trading while they fixed it.

Yes, Coles runs on Windows.

About 12 years ago Coles ran a project (which I worked on for a short time) to move off NCR cash registers in favour of Windows-based POS systems (then on NT4) developed in-house for the company, with the initial rollout being in Coles. The plan was to subsequently roll it out across other then-subsidiaries such as Target, K-Mart, Myer and so on.

They did a fair bit of interesting workflow analysis, for instance coming up with the Windows Start Menu-style interaction for the cashier to select which fruit/veg they were putting on the scales. It was all designed to cut training requirements and transaction times, and improve backoffice operations, as well as freeing them from dependence on NCR, which at the time had told them support was ending for the registers they’d been using.

Obviously Thursday’s problems showed a down side of the plan!

Perhaps the lesson here is that if your Windows PCs are secure (you wouldn’t imagine they’d allow people to slip in a disc or USB stick and run any old program on them) and fundamental to your company operation, you shouldn’t allow any automated updates onto them (not McAfee, Microsoft, nor anything else) without verifying that it works okay first.

Windows 7 temporary user profiles

Windows 7 has impressed me, with one exception: it periodically logs in using a “temporary user profile”. This seems to happen only after a previous user has logged off.

Various people around the Interwebs have had the same problem. The only firm answer I’ve seen so far is that it appears to relate to Google’s automatic updates services for Chrome (and possibly other software).

So if it’s happening to you, get into the list of Services, and disable anything to do with Google updates. Seems to work for me — though at one point I thought I had it licked, with the Google Update Service disabled, but it started happening again. I took another look and from nowhere, the Google Software Updater had arrived on the scene, and had to be disabled separately.

(I wanted to post a picture of the error message, but that, like everything else to do with the temporary profile, has now disappeared into the ether.)

Magnet protocol using Transmission

Note to the Internet:

The Transmission bittorrent client supports the magnet bittorrent protocol, but only after Transmission has run once. On it’s initial run it registers itself as the provider of the magnet: protocol. If you haven’t started Transmission (at least, a version after 1.80) and restarted (say) FireFox, the magnet: protocol won’t seem to work.

You need to use the age-old solution of closing everything and starting it back up again.

This is not documented anywhere, but if you search hard enough through the closed bug reports for Transmission you might figure it out eventually.

Five years on: VoIP? No. Well, maybe. But not really.

Five years ago we looked at dumping the POTS and going VoIP to save big dollars. It cost more to use VoIP.

So, recent events have suggested that moving to ADSL2+ is now a good idea. Now that the local loop is unbundled, true competition has smashed into the marketplace, and VoIP has finally gone mainstream. ADSL2+ prices are cheaper than ADSL. There’s dozens and dozens of VoIP providers, you can even port your existing POTS number to a VoIP number (for certain providers, from certain telecoms companies).

Interestingly, there’s a $10 difference between going with Naked ADSL2+ and ADSL2+ bundled with a home phone; typically you also lose some data allowance, for example going from 20Gig to 15Gig, and that 15Gig will have a further (quite small – I’ve seen an estimate of 30Meg/hr) amount consumed by ‘phone calls. So, you get less, and the question is, can you pull in VoIP functionality for less than the $10 price difference?

Well, maybe. If you insist on porting your existing phone number to the VoIP provider, there are charges (say $3/month), plus an upfront charge ($55). You’ll also need to acquire a convertery-thing to turn your Ethernet cable into a POTS connection for your existing phone handsets, or buy a network-connected VoIP phone, or whatever – some kind of connectivity to your network and thus the ISP and thus through to your VoIP provider is required. If you want a VoIP account with a Direct Inward Dialing (DID) number (you might know that as a phone number) they start at $5/month. So, of your $10 price difference, you’ve just chewed up $8. You get to amortize the connectivity hardware and charges over the $2 savings you’re making; if you’ve got the hardware lying around, the $55 port charge is will be clawed back in just 28 months. Did I mention you’re running with a smaller data allowance? And there’s also the cost of keeping the convertery-thing powered up each month. And the fact that if you lose you broadband connection, you lose your phone (POTS have very high availability rates; broadband not so much).

Now, admittedly, VoIP calls are hella cheap compared to POTS calls. If we made many, that might be a factor. But we don’t, so it’s not. Our phone line’s more for people to call us. If we wanted to place calls cheaply, VoIP accounts without DIDs start at $0; we’re looking at replacing the home phone, and the numbers still don’t stack up, even after all this deregulation and vastly increased competition. Which makes no sense.

Or maybe it does. If the costs are approximately at parity for VoIP and POTS, surely that’s showing that the prices are competitive?

Here’s another scenario. You go with POTS and ADSL2+, plus VoIP with a freshly allocated local number which you use for all outgoing calls. You still need the bridge, and now you need a second phone. You retire your POTS number (advise everyone you know of that you’ve changed numbers – doctor, dentist, home insurer, car insurer, friends, family, work’s HR department, your bank, etc etc – shouldn’t take more than a day or two), but keep it alive for, say, six months (this assumes your ISP loves the idea of you starting out with a POTS line and then dropping it after the six months; I haven’t checked, but I can guess what their reaction will be). You’re paying $15/month over naked prices (ignore bandwidth differences), but your call costs are lower. At the end of the six months you’re saving $5 a month, so another 12 months to break even, and then you can start amortizing the convertery-thingy at $5/month – about two years for every $100 it costs. And once that’s amortized, and you’ve recovered the price of the extra electricity you’ve been using, you’re making pure profit.

I can’t wait.

When the phone line is $5, or $8 for your existing number, rather than $30, that’s when it’ll make sense. But it’s almost at that price now, when you get down to brass tacks, it’s $10 plus they throw in a little extra bandwidth. So we’ve got a competitive situation (at least on the connectivity costs), and VoIP, as a result, sucks balls. Interestingly, bundled plans aren’t sold as “naked plus $10, and we’ll throw in some extra bandwidth!”.

Let’s say you were forced to change phone numbers anyway (perhaps an interstate move), so now it makes sense to go without the POTS number at all. You’ve still got to amortize the convertery-thingy at $5/month, but on the upside you’re saving money on your calls – if you make any.

Final analysis: if you’re forced to change you telephone number anyway, you might as well go Naked ADSL2+ and VoIP. Otherwise, not worth the bother.

HTML5test.com

Less crazy than the Acid Tests is www.html5test.com

Here’s what I get from a few random browsers I have lying around the place:

Firefox 3.5.9 scores 100 out of 160.

Chrome 4.1 scores 118 out of 160.

IE6? 11 out of 160.

IE8? Surprisingly, only 19 out of 160.

The browser on my Nokia N95 phone doesn’t load the page properly; it just says “Working…” and 0 out of 4 (eg it stalls on the first round of tests).

Interestingly, I also tried IE6 with the Google Chrome Frame in it; it scored 137 out of 160, better than Chrome itself. Weird.

Obviously all the browser authors have a way to go to support this if it’s going to be the bold new standard on the web.

(Found via Andrew)

Splitters!

TV splitterI want to share a TV signal between the VCR and the shiny new media PC.

So I went along to Dick Smith and bought a coax splitter thingy, pictured.

But why on earth does it have a male connection on the input, and a female connection on the output? I know cables vary, but surely it should assume the opposite?

It looks like the other one they stock is the same.

As it is, to make this work I’m going to need to use gender bender adapter thingies on all three connections. That’s just silly.

(Or have I somehow got myself some kind of unique antenna cable setup?)