Category Archives: AU

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.

MySchool: so wrong

Background: The Australian federal government has finally pushed out a web site publishing performance metrics for all schools throughout Australia. There has been much brouhaha regarding this. For some reason, the go-live wasn’t a quiet one, but a very loud, flick-on-the-switch big-bang go live.

Naturally, the website asploded.

Any website that’s going to be hit by 1% of the Australian population the moment it goes live is going to blow up unless there are some cluey, experienced people behind it. Clever, inexperienced people, or experienced idiots with a large budget might stand a chance if things got progressively worse over time, but turn it on and hammer it on day one? does not have cluey, experienced people behind it. There are various signs.

For a start, what is it with the TLD? seems fine, but what’s wrong with a redirect from given they were the folks running around promoting it? It’s not like myschool is an education institution.

Then you get there. Guess what? It won’t work without JavaScript. At all. Because typing in a string and hitting enter demands the availability of JavaScript. Using <form> is so 2000s. Get with the new decade! It’s so vital to the site that users must not be allowed in if they don’t have JavaScript. Screw the blind! They’ve only got one school to go to anyway.

And the site is slow, amazing slow. But I guess if you’ve got to download all that JavaScript to enter that string, of course it’s going to be slow. Switching to a different set of data? Couldn’t download that and just do a hide/show, no you’ve got to do some kinda AJAX-y postback crap for a massive round-trip delay; if you were dealing with rapidly changing data, that might almost make sense; every year this website will get data updates, so no: this makes no sense. I clicked on it, and a long time later, something happened to the web page. In the meantime, I went off to get a drink. Alternatively, you could just show a table for each year, and skip the damn JavaScript altogether. Why there’s even a backend is beyond me, this whole thing could be served perfectly well – and mind-numbingly quickly – from static pages.

And for the purpose it’s intended for: parents picking a school for their kids. Can you compare schools? No. Open them up in different browser tabs, if you have a tabbed browser (remember: the blind can go take a flying leap). Good thing the site is chocked full of JavaScript. And the JavaScript is used for handy things like map-based locating of schools, and – oh, hang on, no it’s not. There’s no Google-maps mash-up. Good thing the site is chocked full of JavaScript.

Clearly, the entire site has been an exercise in some programmer somewhere bolstering their resume rather than giving the client something appropriate. Either that, or a manager was in charge of the feature spec, and demanded all the latest buzzwords that they had heard but didn’t understand. I’m betting it took more than a year to build. Feel free to speculate.

I’m also willing to bet the price on this site was more than the $50,000 it should have cost (one person, three months). I’m imagining about two or three orders of magnitude more. I’m figuring the servers required for this aren’t running in some guy’s bedroom, even though that would be about all that’s required for such a simple dataset that’s presented in such a straightforward way.

Must try harder.

Car buying websites think they’re classified ads

I’m in the process of buying another car, and it seems that the major car buying websites are stuck in the classified ads mentality; you drill down by make, model, year, limit for a range of odometer readings (you get to set a minimum! Great! Who would ever set a minimum?) and a price range (you get to set a minimum! Great! Who would ever set a minimum?), then look at what you get. Now that we’re in the 20th century, you can even sort the results by ascending price! Wow, what did we ever do without computers?

But I while don’t know what model I want to buy, I do know I want curtain airbags. Can I search for that? No. Do they have the data on that, for each and every vehicle listed? Yes. They have pre-populated the check-boxes for each feature for every model of car ever sold. That would be a handy database to search, especially in nifty combinations like curtain airbags in five door vehicles getting better than 8l/100km, order by turning circle then price.

Clearly, the presumption here is that you have the slightest idea what you want, and that you care terribly about brands, but not at all about features. For me, in my situation, this is arse backwards. However, in my researching, I discovered that the Peugeot 307 was rated 158th of 159 cars for reliability. Could I exclude that please? No? Oh.

You can do a “keyword search”, which is just a text search of the description attached to the ad – whatever the advertiser types in. Typing in curtain gets a bunch of ads with curtain airbags, which thoughtful advertisers have included in their descriptive text – repeating all the text of the various feature check-boxes – but you also get to see a bunch of Kombi vans (they have actual curtains).

And the useful values, like ANCAP ratings, RACV (or whatever) crash worthiness ratings, RACV reliably ratings, choice vehicle reliability scores, are they in the databases? Can you search them?

Must try harder.

On another note, Toyota Australia’s website is a laugh riot. When you pull up their vehicle comparison tool, they include a bunch of very amusing “features”, such as “Steering wheel” and “door handles”. I wonder if they carry any cars without door handles?

ABC iView unmetered

It’s old news, but Aussies who have wondered why most ISPs continue to have ABC’s iView counted as part of your monthly downloads might like to read this explanation from Internode. In brief:

…the ABC moved to using Akamai for bulk content distribution, which includes the new iView service, and the use of Akamai happens to make unmetering in the conventional manner basically impossible. This wasn’t intentional on anyones’ part – its just that the ABC moved to using Akamai without appreciating the side effect that would have.

Apparently only iiNet has the equipment required to accurately unmeter iView traffic, which is why they’re the only ones offering it.

Update: Thanks to commenter MGM who pointed out this info is out of date. In fact the ABC has a list of ISPs now offering iView unmetered.

Summer 2009/2010 starts

I have a algorithm for detecting summer. Seven consecutive days in a row with a temperature of or above 20 degrees Celsius. I give you Summer, from the Bureau’s seven day forecast for Melbourne:
Forecast for Monday Max 20
Forecast for Tuesday Min 8 Max 24
Forecast for Wednesday Min 10 Max 25
Forecast for Thursday Min 12 Max 28
Forecast for Friday Min 16 Max 29
Forecast for Saturday Min 18 Max 28
Forecast for Sunday Min 16 Max 26
I should also point out that I consider there to be two seasons in Melbourne: Nice-but-hot (summer-ish) and a-bit-iffy (winter-ish).

Bye bye Teletext

In Australia the 7 Network’s Austext teletext service is to shut down at the end of September, with only Supertext subtitles/Closed captioning continuing to be transmitted. (I wonder if they’ll move them from the current page 801 to the default 100, to make them easier to use?)

Over in the UK, ITV’s Teletext service is to shut down in January 2010.

The BBC’s Ceefax will last until analogue TV is switched off in 2012.

Hardly surprising really. I’m sure demand for text-based news and other information has plummetted since the widespread adoption of the Web. In fact I’m surprised teletext has lasted this long — I struggle to think of anybody I know who uses it.

IT upgrades

Ho boy.

The Bushfires Royal Commission has been told staff answering calls at the Bushfire Information Line on Black Saturday were unable to see crucial information about the fires because of an IT upgrade.

More than 12,000 Victorians called the Victorian Bushfire Information Line or on Black Saturday.

Calls that were not answered went to Centrelink.

But the commission was told staff there were unable to see the Department of Sustainability fire database because an IT upgrade had accidentally blocked that access.

ABC News Online

So on the hottest forecast day ever, and which everyone from the Premier down had warned would be the worst fire danger day ever, Centrelink staff, who are the designated backup responders for the bushfire information line, were blocked from getting the information they needed from the DSE web site?

Apart from the timing issues of IT upgrades to systems that are important to the fire-fighting effort, it appears to underscore the severe dangers of restricting network access unnecessarily.

e-Security week

Apparently it’s e-Security week in Australia. Who knew?

This post from Graham Cluley of Sophos (who does a very entertaining and informative blog on computer security) includes this short video on how to choose a good password which is easy to remember, but hard for hackers to guess.

Simple tips for better web password security from Sophos Labs on Vimeo.

Not sure I agree with his conclusion, but it’s certainly worth some thought.