All posts by Matthew

UK Rural Broadband 2, The Update

Sorry About Last Time

I can only apologise for how annoyed and snarky I was when writing the first appraisal of UK Rural Broadband back in 2012. 4 years later, a LOT has changed.

Virgin 200/12

I’m now on a 200/12 Virgin product:

Speedtest showing 210/12 connection speeds.
Speedtest showing 210/12 connection speeds.

 Plusnet 40/10 FTTC

And my parents are now on a 40/10 product from Plusnet. My parents now have more upload than me:

For a 40/10 connection from Plusnet, it's really not bad.
For a 40/10 connection from Plusnet, it’s really not bad.

While it’s clear to see that they’re not really getting that 40 Mbps, they’re certainly not hard done by in high speed internet stakes and the fact they got the 20Mbps up for free is just fantastic. What’s really interesting is that with the heavy government investment, they’re not being charged more than city folk. I think they actually managed to make a small saving going from what was upgraded to an 7.2 Mbps / 0.8 Mbps line to switching to the effectively 40/20 package.

Next thing you know Dick Cheney will be ice skating with Hitler.

Attitudes

I promise to change my attitude, to not be a whiney, complaining IT guy and to really see the good and the opportunity in what I have right now. We live in exciting times.

IPv6

BTW, why the hell are Virgin dragging out IPv6 deployment so badly? Sky and BT are leading the charge by majority deployment by the end of 2016! Come on Virgin! This is terrible! Something ought to be done :P

 

MBR to GPT Conversion, Success

Intro

Having recently upgraded from a 1.5Tb to a 3Tb disk due to disk failure (detected by SMART, no need to even go to backups). I find myself with Windows not wanting to boot from my 3Tb disk unless it’s GPT. I have a UEFI compliant BIOS, but how do keep my existing system with all the things I’ve got set up and installed?

Rough Outline

After trying all sorts of workarounds, they all failed. I could go into all the things that went wrong, but there’s not much point.

Install Windows by booting the Windows Setup in UEFI mode. You will know if you successfully did this as your new and empty target drive (3Tb or greater) will be assigned 3 partitions, not 2 on setup.

When you’ve got a new install of Windows, boot to a linux live media of your choice (I used Ubuntu 12.04 on USB) and use fsarchiver (a filesystem archiver utility compatible with NTFS) to dump the source filesystem to a file (find space somewhere). Then restore the file system to the main system drive on your new Windows Install (not the EFI partition or the MS Recovery).

I have tested this as working. I placed my old system onto a GPT disk and it booted without trouble first time. The UEFI boot process simply hands over to my Windows 7 install without issue.

Tried and tested. I may expand on this later.

UK Rural Broadband

A Sad Pathetic Excuse – A Technical Observation

People tend to think that rural broadband is let down by last mile infrastructure. That it’s not economic to invest in fibre to the cabinet or that phone lines are too long. So when you living in a rural location but you’re close the exchange things should work well right? Wrong.

My parents have an 8Mbps broadband package with Plusnet. Staying with my folks for the weekend I decided to transfer some files across from other locations.

The exchange is less than a quarter mile away as the cables go. The modem has full sync at 8Mbps. The file transfer speeds? Even from hosted servers it’s only bursting on the download for a few seconds before lapsing back down to a more steady 2Mbps (tested over FTP and separately over OpenVPN with identical results).

FTP download from a server in a data centre, note performance fluctuating over 2Mbps after initial burst.
ADSL Modem Syncs at Full Rates allowed by BT ADSL 1

Faking speedtest.net

Surely speedtest.net would see this too? No, it doesn’t. Speedtest.net comes through at 6.77Mbps. My conclusion? BT optimise speed test to give high readings not representative of other network traffic.

Recorded speedtest.net results, note very poor upload.

This isn’t about the last mile communication being a problem, it’s the backhaul from the local exchange and BT’s piece of crap network.

BT, you are a sad, pathetic excuse for a communications company.

I thought it was Plusnet, not BT

Well Plusnet are owned by BT and like every other company in a rural “Market 1″ (OFCOM classification) area, all that’s available are BT wholesale services for connectivity.

Ahhh… the illusion of competition.

Value for Money?

My parents pay more than I do for my 50/5 cable broadband product that I have tested getting pretty much full rates in download and upload for all sorts of different types of traffic to and from high bandwidth servers.

1.4 MB/s equals 11.2 Mbps (MegaBytes to Megabits). This is how fast the same server used for my own FTP speed test above went on a cable connection.

Virgin Superhub Wireless Fix

I’ve used science to figure out what was crashing my standard Virgin Media wireless superhub. :) Now you can benefit too!

It Fails When…

When the Superhub (Hardware V2.0, Software V5.5.2R30) receives data at 300Mbps on 5Ghz it can fall over badly. Transmit seems fine, but receive consistently makes mine fail. This probably applies to 2.4Ghz as well, but I haven’t tested it and couldn’t reliably test it either as there are several 2.4Ghz networks in range that would make the results fuzzy.

Solution, Fixing the Virgin Superhub Wireless Problem

The solution is simple, restrict the speed in the Wireless configuration to 145 Mbps and no higher. You can still use Wireless N, but keep it to 145 Mbps which has a 20 Mhz channel. This made my wireless stable. I tried file transfers in each direction and got 10.5 – 11 MB/s (as opposed to 14 MB/s and CRASH on 300 Mbps).

It seems that the problem only appears when you heavily load the wireless bandwidth, but now I don’t have to worry about my wireless going down. Yay!

Wait, 145 Mbps Gives 11 MB/s Performance?

If you’re technical you might have noticed this. 11MB/s is equal to 88 Mbps. 11 Megabytes/s is 88 Megabits per second. This is actually very good for wireless, which can often delivery less.

Equipment & Environment used for Testing

Just a normal Dell PC upgraded to an Intel WiFi Link 5300 AGN card with 450 Mbps compatibility (high end in  other words).

The environment is a suburban flat with the Virgin Superhub in the room next door, approx 10m away through one wall.

Android Ice Cream Sandwich Review

So today I had a play with a Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

Ice Cream Sandwich

Better styling, better organised and with new features, ICS (Ice Cream Sandwich) promised a lot. For me having used the iPhone 4S, what I wanted to see from ICS was that 60 frames per second fluidity. I wanted the animation to be as fluid as water being poured gently out of a cup. While it is definitely a huge improvement over what’s gone before it’s not that silky smooth motion that makes you smile.

The browser is absolutely superb. Again, while not silky smooth, it’s still smooth (without silky), very good and pretty fluid for moving around and for pinch to zoom. What has always given Android a huge boost browser wise is the ability to reflow the text to fit screen width with a quick double tap and it’s here too. Having played with all platforms I would say that an Android device with a large screen (this was 4.65″) easily gives the best browsing experience on a mobile phone. Options to view the desktop version of a site (if you’re routed to a mobile version) and to save offline pages just go even further to make this browsing experience superb.

The keyboard is superb and definitely an improvement over the gingerbread one, though I can’t help but think the larger screen width was giving that edge in keyboard usability.

The voice recognition for my fairly middle of the road English accent was OK. Don’t try using it seriously and it’s vaguely impressive. Try to use it to send a message when you need to and you might find yourself very frustrated. The instant recognition that is supposed to work from streaming the recorded sound to Google’s servers which then send back streaming words was very laggy at times. Lovely idea, doesn’t work as a practical day to day tool.

Video Recording with Gingerbread on my Nexus One with stock android had the most appalling sound quality. I was quite astonished and disappointed that Google hadn’t remedied this with Gingerbread, but thankfully I can confirm that 1080p video n the Galaxy Nexus with stock ICS had very good quality audio.

In conclusion ICS is a breath of fresh air with it’s core functionality refined and improved, it’s a very welcome upgrade. I’d of liked to have seen iPhone style animation fluidity, but we can’t have everything I suppose.

Galaxy Nexus (The Hardware)

After seeing this in person and talking to the store staff I can say that this definitely doesn’t have a Micro SD card slot. I bought a 32Gb Micro SD card for my Nexus One so I can listen to my music in my car (via my bluetooth headunit). It’s a big backwards step not to have Micro SD support.

A 5 Megapixel Camera is not bad, but it seems a bit regressive from the Galaxy S2’s 8 Megapixel camera, but I was assured that you could take 1080p Video with it.

So with the negatives covered the phone itself was a very interesting design. As much screen as your hand can comfortably manage. This is a comfortable phone for people with normal sized hands, but had they made it just a little bigger it wouldn’t have been. For someone like myself who loves to use the browser and sat nav and things that need a screen, this is just perfect. As always the Super AMOLED tech is just stunning. It’s colour gamut is so good that some people have stated that it makes some colours look too bold, I would say that this is like saying that your car goes too fast, or that your boss pays you too much money. If it’s a problem turn the brightness down. Displays this good really need a better colour system than 8bits per channel and conventional image rendering.

Part of me did wish the phone was shaped a little more stylishly, it’s not that it’s uggly, far from it, I just feel it lacks that appearance that makes a phone really genuinely pretty, like the V3 Razor had and the iPhone 4S holds today.

On-screen buttons works for me, it’s a great idea.

Conclusion

I’m erring away from upgrading to this phone, but I’m looking forward to ICS. For me the lack of a Micro SD card slot and the lower camera cause me to not have quite enough motivation to upgrade for now, especially since now the Galaxy Nexus is out, the latest ICS handsets will be on their way. For those who need a new phone right now though I’d strongly recommend it.

HP Touchpad, Pros & Cons

I took the plunge and bought a Touchpad after playing with a friend’s a weekend or two back. After learning that Android was being ported to it and that it could run Ubuntu, I thought it would be daft not to buy the tablet on eBay for £205.

I thought I’d share with you what’s good and what’s bad.

Pros

  • 4:3 Screen Aspect Ratio. Apple got this right, I don’t like 16:9 tablet’s it’s a silly screen ratio for that size of screen.
  • Beautiful, bright & colourful IPS screen. All but the black level of this screen appear the same as the iPad & iPad 2. I’m very impressed. The black level is still very good. The screen outperforms most android tablets I’ve seen in all areas. The best Android tablet screens are about equal with it.
  • WebOS is a slicker, smoother and more refined alternative to Android.
  • Really good email app included.
  • Excellent account integration for gmail and the like.
  • US Kindle App (UK users can find ways of install Kindle app if technically adept)
  • Angry Birds available and works beautifully, very smooth (sorry).
  • 8.5 hour battery life reported with auto dimmed screen (similar to iPad).
  • Relatively easy to tinker with and very hard to “brick”.
  • Android port on way, the legendary Cyanogenmod team have indicated an intent to even enable the latest Android: “Ice Cream Sandwhich” on the Touchpad.
  • Reports of being able to run Ubuntu on it.
  • Has been available at fire sale prices with people still rushing to buy them on eBay at twice the price (and still worth it IMHO).
  • An impressive audio system (with beats audio) for such a small device with tiny speakers.
  • Flash capable. Works with iPlayer and Youtube in the browser.

Cons

  • WebOS’s future is uncertain.
  • The Browser, while capable on most sites is not up to date apparently based on a 2009 version of webkit.
    • Web fonts don’t work (websites look uglier)
    • CSS Shadow’s don’t work (websites look uglier)
    • Some website popups fail (websites don’t work)
  • Not a big app platform, with very little developer interest after HP’s shenanigans.
  • Distinctly heavier than an iPad2 when held for a while with one hand.

Conclusion

For £205 it was well worth the money. I know I wont find a tablet this good for a price this low when they’re all sold out. You can get cheap android tablets, but they’re cheap tat in comparison to the Touchpad.

Android 2.3.6, Bluetooth Improvement

I’ve got a Nexus One phone. Today I got an Over The Air update to 2.3.6. I didn’t apply right away but Googled it a bit first.

Android to Pioneer Headunit Bluetooth Problems

I have a Pioneer Bluetooth headunit with headset and streaming stereo audio (A2DP). It’s always been a royal pain with the Nexus One as I’ve had to manually connect every time I start the car. This is Pioneer’s fault really as the Pioneer requires the phone to be visible to work automatically. Early Pioneer’s like mine seem to have botched the spec or something.

Android 2.3.6 Always Discoverable, No Timeout, Bluetooth Automatic Again!

Gingerbread 2.3.6 on the Nexus One allows you to go visible all the time on Bluetooth. This makes my Bluetooth in car automatic. I can’t express just how nice this is to have.

WiFi Tethering on Nexus One 2.3.6 OK!

Reports of WiFi tethering breaking on the Nexus S made me check my WiFi tethering. It works fine, no problems with 2.3.6 on the Nexus One, but your AP name and password will be reset. After reconfiguring it back to my settings I had my laptop connected to the Internet via my Nexus One without trouble.

Windows Live Mail 2011, Disabling automatic hyphen to dash

What possesses some software developers is beyond me. There are few things that make me more annoyed than me setting something how I want it and software then messing it up for me automatically.

So I swore at Windows Live Mail 2011 a lot. Then I found the fix. Get your registry editors out ladies and gentlemen, the key is here:

HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows Live Mail\Compose\Preferences\PostEditor\Autoreplace

Bitcoinpool.com Bad?

I’ve just made the move from bitcoinpool.com to BTC Guild.

Why?

My brand new mining machine (which I am now in doubt over whether will pay for itself), has been generating near a Gigahash/sec for a few days. I have simply not seen this on the bitcoinpool’s status, I’ve checked a few times when the machine has been running for hours on end.

Within 30 minutes of being connected to BTC Guild I have an accurate and nice reading of 1.1GH/s

Bitcoinpool.com also haven’t paid me for the shares I did. I don’t know why and they don’t make it clear either. This does not make me happy. My rate also seemed to be way off anything calculated here: http://bitminer.info/. Perhaps that site is over optimistic, but I was starting to wonder.

Anyway, the two things together made me leave, I will see how it goes over at BTC Guild. The hash rate being what it I’d expect it to be is encouraging already.

Update 27/09/2011

I did get the Bitcoins in the end from bitcoinpool.com. It’s just that things were poorly explained and moved very slowly. I’m much happier at BTC Guild, where I still work in the pool. It’s clear and it works well.

Best Bitcoin Exchanges

What makes a good Bitcoin Exchange?

I can think of 4 things that make a bitcoin exchange a good one:

  1. Price
  2. Volume
  3. Functionality
  4. Customer Service

Price

I’ve only seen one company doing a free exchange service that I’m interested in and that is britcoin.co.uk otherwise known as Intersango (who also have Euro and USD exchanges). After using it, nothing irks me more than to see an exchange operating wanting to take a cut out of my transactions. When you get used to trading for free, you don’t want it any other way after that. Why have someone helping themselves to your profits when you don’t have to?

Volume

This is important as larger volumes mean you can make more money on speculative trading. Though it’s not required (I’ve still speculated on Intersango USD and made a nice profit from it). I’d recommend a two pronged attack here. Go for the biggest exchange in your native currency, but don’t make them abuse you like eBay (you want 10% of my sales?). Invest some of your money in other exchanges you like the look of too. If we all did that we’d all have more choice.

Functionality

Any exchange that tells me I have to ‘establish trust’ with some random stranger and directly do deals has got to be kidding me. You could run an account honestly for some time before making a steal with rather a large amount of someone else’s money. So it’s going to happen, these systems are naive.

Thankfully there are exchanges that you can deal with in escrow, as in they manage the transactions so you only have to deal with and trust them. Britcoin, Intersango & MtGox are all good ones here.

Customer Service

Ok, so being in the UK most of my trading is through britcoin.co.uk. I did however make a big mistake while being pissed off that my Barclay’s bank account kept throwing me out every 2 minutes claiming I’d been inactive for 10! So anyway, I sent the money with the wrong reference and realised my mistake a week later when the funds hadn’t turned up. I thought I’d lost the money but an email late Friday and it was sorted out by Sunday. Now that’s impressive customer service.

Conclusion

I tend to have shrunk my exchange usage to MtGox and Intersango exchanges. It really comes back to fees at the end of it all. When I’m on Intersango exchanges I make more money, when I’m on the MtGox exchange I know I can make big buys and sells and I know that there is a faster moving market. Always someone ready to buy and sell.

The best outcome for the end user is for the Intersango approach to be adopted by more exchanges and people to put their money where there mouth is. Ultimately if people are happy to pay transaction fees then they’ll have to, because the providers will learn it from their success and from their failure.

Research and vote for what you like with your feet.