Category Archives: General

Stuff that doesn’t fit into existing categories

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.

Weird bug

Weirdest bug I’ve seen in a long long time. If I delete the star out of the following text:

Ubuntu is coming out with a Long Term Support version (3 years) real soon now. It’s got a few cycles to go before it’s released in April. I want it now, so I downloaded Lucid Lynx* alpha 3, and found some weirdness – which you’d expect in an alpha release.

WordPress says it doesn’t know what or who I’m talking about. “Post? What post?”

One character. Two days to make that reproducible.

Weird.

Launchpad.net: FAIL

Ubuntu is coming out with a Long Term Support version (3 years) real soon now. It’s got a few cycles to go before it’s released in April. I want it now, so
I downloaded Lucid Lynx* alpha 3, and found some weirdness – which you’d expect in an alpha release.

Launchpad.net is meant to be some kind of bug reporting thing for Ubuntu. It does everything it can to stop you reporting bugs. Everything. First of all, it takes a bazillion years to figure out what product you’re trying to report a bug for. Then once you’ve finally found it, there’s a link on the RHS for reporting the bug, which proceeds to tell you to stop bothering them with all these bug reports, try this method, try some other method, why don’t you do this instead. Oh, and by the way, if you hand craft a URL a little like this we’ll let you into the magical inner sanctum of people who care enough to have read all the way through vast swathes of text trying to figure out how a bug report can actually be filed.

Once you’ve made the magical incantations, the tool tries to distract you with other bugs that sound just like the one you’re filing, except for other products. If you’re clever enough to create a bug title that fools it, finally it lets you enter the details. Then, in a fit of pique, it says after you submit the bug:

Sorry, something just went wrong in Launchpad.

We’ve recorded what happened, and we’ll fix it as soon as possible.
Apologies for the inconvenience.

Trying again in a couple of minutes might work.

(Error ID: OOPS-1535F528)

Gagh! I’ll just hit the ‘back’ button and ZOMG! Fscking Ajax ate my bug report! How the freak am I meant to re-submit that, you *#$%&@$*%@#*!

They can go get stuffed. Worst. Bug reporting. Ever.

Microsoft Laser Mouse 7000 Recharging Problems

I love Microsoft hardware, regardless of what you think of their operating systems it’s hard to argue they make good mice and keyboards. I bought a new mouse yesterday – a Microsoft Laser Mouse 7000 and left it to charge up overnight but this morning I found it hadn’t. The charge light was flashing red, instead of pulsing green (recharging) or solid green (recharged).

A search shows that this model has problems with its supplied battery. I tried the quick fix for the Microsoft laser mouse not recharging, putting a folded piece of paper on top of the battery to make it press on the battery detector, but this didn’t work for me. A new battery, somewhat thicker than the one supplied by Microsoft gave an initial green glow before it too started flashing red.

If you want to know what battery works with the mouse try an Energiser Rechargeable 900mAh. It has a slightly longer positive terminal and slightly larger girth. The mouse is now recharging fine.

Interogating an IRC bot

(15:39:10) josh_geek: G’day bot. Can I poke you with ! commands here?
(15:39:17) josh_geek: !greet
(15:39:18) Helpmebot: Hello, , welcome to #wikipedia-en-help, the help channel for the English Wikipedia! Just ask your question and we’ll be right with you. 🙂
(15:39:46) josh_geek: Yes I can. I insist you list all commands. Immediately.
(15:39:50) josh_geek: !help
(15:39:54) josh_geek: !helpme
(15:39:55) Helpmebot: There are no users requesting help at this time.
(15:40:21) josh_geek: Hmmmm, no instruction manual, eh? Don’t worry, I can beat it out of you if necessary.
(15:40:47) josh_geek: Who is your commanding officer! When does the invasion begin!?!
(15:41:04) josh_geek: !
(15:41:05) Helpmebot: ***ERROR*** in ReceivedMessage: startIndex + length > this.length Parameter name: length
(15:41:16) josh_geek: !?
(15:41:22) josh_geek: !
(15:41:22) Helpmebot: ***ERROR*** in ReceivedMessage: startIndex + length > this.length Parameter name: length
(15:41:32) josh_geek: !commands
(15:41:33) Helpmebot: http://helpmebot.org.uk/v6/?action=commands
(15:42:23) josh_geek: !age josh_geek
(15:42:24) Helpmebot: There is no such user ‘josh_geek’.
(15:42:39) josh_geek: !age Josh_Geek
(15:42:40) Helpmebot: The age of Josh_Geek is 4 years, 282 days, 22 hours, 58 minutes, and 3 seconds.
(15:43:02) ***josh_geek thinks that isn’t all that old
(15:43:42) josh_geek: !mesagecount
(15:43:48) josh_geek: !
(15:43:48) Helpmebot: ***ERROR*** in ReceivedMessage: startIndex + length > this.length Parameter name: length
(15:44:02) josh_geek: !uptime
(15:44:03) Helpmebot: Bot has been up since Thursday Thursday, 26 November 2009 06:20:39
(15:44:19) josh_geek: You’re running on Windows then.
(15:45:02) josh_geek: !faq
(15:46:04) josh_geek: rd
(15:46:08) josh_geek: !rd
(15:46:08) Helpmebot: Hi! Your question appears to be more suited to our reference desk ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Reference_desk ). You may wish to ask your question there instead.
(15:46:31) josh_geek: !AynRand
(15:46:32) Helpmebot: The eminent 20th-century Russian-American philosopher?
(15:57:54) josh_geek: !version
(15:57:54) Helpmebot: ***ERROR*** in ReceivedMessage: An exception was thrown by the type initializer for SharpSvn.Implementation.SvnHandleBase
(15:58:06) josh_geek: Ew. Don’t get it on you.

Which goes to show a few things. Blowing up bots isn’t too hard; discovering their operational parameters can be fairly easy if the bot is well designed; and AynRand is an eminent 20th-century Russian-American philosopher.

Wikipedia makes extensive use of bots, and they need it with the volumes of traffic they deal with and the drudgery of the tasks that need undertaking. This particular bot is a helper in IRC, providing various services that you’d need a web-browser open simultaneously to get. I’m currently scratching together the specs for a few bots to add to the automation, but mine will run against the encyclopedia from ToolServer; not an IRC bot like this (I think it lives on ToolServer itself).

Ikea font outrage

There’s outrage in web land, as Ikea are switching the font used in their catalogues and other publicity to Verdana.

(Original source, translated from Swedish to English.)

Odd choice. Verdana was specifically designed for on-screen use — something which I suspect will become less relevant over time as displays improve in resolution and quality. And while I can understand the logic of wanting something that can be used in all languages, surely they could have found something else that would fit rhe bill and looked better on paper?

While I don’t hate Verdana as much as those who are running the petition against it, I don’t particularly like it. It’s unpleasingly wide for me.

(What fonts are installed on computers on the web? Here’s a list.)

Twitter.com’s “remember me” is broken

Dear Twitter.com,

How about a “Remember Me” option that actually bloody works?

OK, so I can understand what’s happening: it looks like if you try to logon from a different PC/phone/whatever it figures the IP address has changed and wants you log on again. But WHY? If other high-profile online services like Gmail can keep you logged in from multiple places, why not Twitter?

Or at the very least, if the web interface is going to insist on making me log back on constantly, at least give me direct access to the smegging fields I need to do it, rather than giving me the new user page, and making me find and click on a Sign In link that’s a quarter the size of the Sign Up Now button.

Twitter's logon is broken

So, Twitter people, I love using Twitter, but please fix this.

Recent finds

Ever wonder how they fitted an entire computer language into just a few kilobytes, back in the 80s? Documented disassembly of BBC Basic 4.

How to highlight author comments in WordPress … but it relies on the author being user ID 1, so it won’t work here, where we have several people posting. Could easily be customised to look for other user IDs though.

Some developers are throwing in the towel and running Vista as Admin.

The excellent Secret Life of Machines not only has a web site, but is available freely (and legally) via BitTorrent. And the theme tune is available on iTunes.

Ultimate No-Shows?

It’s been just over a year since Microsoft released Windows Vista to the public (30th January 2007) and Microsoft seem to have ignored the “optional features” that would be available to only Ultimate Edition owners.

To date three extras (Texas Hold’em Poker, Windows DreamScene and BitLocker/EFS, hardly inspiring or everyday wonderful extras) and a number of language packs have been released. The last extra, Windows DreamScene, being made available on the 14th March 2007, since then na-da, stuff all, absolutely nothing. Even the Windows Vista Ultimate site is lacking in any form of communications (news or blog posts) about the future of Ultimate Extras.

Long Zheng (a wonderfully witty Melbournian) posted on the 9th January 2008 a fabulous tongue-in-cheek post on this very subject but still Microsoft and the Windows Vista team remain quiet on the future of Ultimate Extras.  A few commenters to his blog posted their own suggestions as to what Microsoft could provide as Ultimate Extas (these are some of the ones I’d have liked to have seen):

  • HD-DVD playback software that supports the 360’s HD-DVD player (waste of time now?)
  • Advanced/More features for Windows Movie Maker
  • Multiple Desktops (Workspaces)
  • Sidebar/WPF version of MSN Messenger
  • TweakUI for Windows Vista
  • Sidebar integration of MediaPlayer (so it shows cover-art and other details in the sidebar)

Will we ever get anything more from Ultimate Extras, we can all believe that there will be but honestly I think (apologises to Monty Python) :

“The Ultimate Extras are no more! They has ceased to be! They’ve expired and gone to meet their developer! Bereft of development, Ultimate Extras rest in peace! “