Saturday, 8 December 2018

An android wifi wierdness ...

I came across a really weird problem the other day.

My Alcatel pixi tablet that I bought in 2015 for note taking no longer sees our home network,

Other android devices  (mostly Samsung, but including the no name android tv decoder) see it just fine.

Over the past few months I've done two things

1) swapped the home router but kept the name and password the same
2) locked the 2.4GHz network to channel 13 to solve a problem with our Fetch box

otherwise nothing.

So I turned the router on and off. Still no connection.

I then reset the tablet back to the factory defaults. Still no joy. Strangely it doesn't even see the wireless repeater we have in the lounge room suggesting that it's some really odd driver problem.

It will however see the Huawei portable internet router, and works just fine.

Interesting J's old  (like 2012) Lenovo Ideapad doesn't see the home network either pointing to it being some wierd driver problem that affects some older versions of Android - maybe they just can't see channel 13...

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Travelling with the new 4G router

Well, we're back from a 10 day road trip to Bendigo, Halls Gap, Port Fairy, and Leongatha.

Apart from Hall's Gap, where our accommodation came with an individual Optus wireless NBN connection we've been dependent on our new Huawei unit for internet.

Now I didn't carry out any scientific tests but our usage involved a MacBook Air and a Samsung tablet simultaneously surfing the web, reading email, twitter stuff and some other stuff like Pinterest.

Unusually we didn't bother uploading any pictures this time so I can't comment on speed for that, but in practice performance was not markedly different from that over the complimentary wireless NBN connection in Halls Gap, or indeed markedly different from our 50GB FTTC connection at home.

Now if we'd streamed video or done something else bandwidth intensive it might have been a different story, but for general on the road use it was absolutely fine.

Occasionally if a web page was slow to load it would throw you into the unit's management page, but that was usually the downstream sites performance not the link itself - that was fast enough for most purposes.

And that's it - most purposes. Once the link is fast enough it's the performance of the downstream servers and your local host that governs your experience, not the link.

For example, I had to download a 30MB pdf document over the NBN service we had access to in Halls Gap. Prior to that I'd have called the service adaquate - which it was until I tried downloading and it was like going back to the early days of ADSL - and remember I was downloading. Uploading would have been worse.

I didn't have occasion to try a similar upload or download over the 4G link, but I suspect that performance might not have been stellar.

Battery performance was good - it lasted something similar to the advertised 11h. On standby the unit needed a kick to wake it up, but again that's perfectly understandable.

So, in conclusion, we have a good well performing unit that's fit for purpose ...

Saturday, 20 October 2018

The new 4G router

Well the new modem duly arrived - a Huawei device rebadged by Telstra, unlike my previous unlocked MF910V which was a rebadged ZTE unit.

Physically it's about the same size, but a bit heavier and bulkier, possibly due to a heavier battery being used to give it a longer life.

Fitting the SIM was a bit of a pain - it uses a mini sim and it needs to be slotted into a pretty stiff clip and locked into place, but then that's something you only have to do once.

One nice feature is that it can double as a pager and receive SMS messages - Telstra use this to send you messages about your data running low, or about planned service outages, but there's no reason why you can't use it as a pager substitute.

With my standard connectivity test - look at a UK university's home page - in this case the University of Huddersfield - performance was obviously slower than over our NBN connection but felt comaparable to the performance of our previous ADSL link.

The charger is a standard USB charger but one with the USB slot on the top, not the side meaning it doesn't take up two sockets space on a standard powerboard, which is a nice ergonomic touch.

All that remains to do now is to field test it - something that will have to wait a week or to. In the meantime there's the question as to what to do with my old unlocked device - whether to keep it as a spare or in case of overseas travel, or attempt to sell it ...

Thursday, 18 October 2018

4G routers and family data pools

A year ago I wrote about how we'd been able to get a cheap 4G data connection for our portable router by using Telstra's family data pool feature. Basically we have a 4G router for when we go travelling to let us use our laptops and tablets while we're away to avoid dealing with shitty hotel wifi, or indeed holiday cottages with no internet at all. By using the data pooling feature we could buy a minimal amount of data for the router's contract and use the excess unused data from our phone contracts instead.

Well, the bad news is that Big T doesn't do family data pool contracts any more, and as our initial special offer 12 month contracts were about to expire we had to change contracts - or else carry on as we were but pay silly money (the first one's free but come back to me...).

So we changed.

This of course left our 4G router on a minimal 1GB contract, so that needed a new contract as well.

Naively, I imagined we could just upgrade to a new bring your own device plan, but no you can't do that unless you're a business (or more accurately have a business registration number).

Now, I used to have one of these, as it was the only way I could get paid for some external work that I did, but I closed it down as there's an administrative overhead in keeping it live - basically you have to keep records, file business activity statements and do a business tax return.

None of it is really difficult, you can do most of it yourself, but it's a hassle. So, while I thought about reregistering for thirty seconds, I decided no.

So the bottom line is that Telstra no longer sell ordinary people sim only data plans. Optus and Vodafone still do but there's the problem of their poorer coverage outside of Metro areas. There's also the question of how much data you need.

We basically use it for email, twitter, and web. We don't stream video while we're away, but we do sometimes backup camera SD cards, so waving your hands you could say we use an average of a little under 1GB a day, and our average trip inside Australia is around 10days, or more accurately we have a maximum of 10 days usage - decent free wifi is becoming more common, even in bush cottages.

So basically 10GB a month should do us. Optus and Vodafone charge $30 a month for a 12 month sim only 10GB plan.

Insanely, Telstra charge $29 a  month for a 24 month 10GB plan that includes a new 4G router - basically just a newer version of our existing unit - battery backup is a little better, it's got a nicer control and display panel, but it's essentially the same device.

It's almost as if they have a pile in a warehouse they're trying to get rid of.

So we're getting a new portable 4G router ...

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

ipods in 2018

A long time ago - 2007 - to be exact - I bought myself a 4GB ipod from the Apple store in Cupertino.

And it was a truly excellent device, and one that I used mainly for listening to podcasts.

Light, portable, would fit in a shirt or jacket pocket.

But it was not to last - around about 2012 the rotary switch thingie on the front died, and I stupidly didn't do anything about getting it fixed, and instead variously tried a cheap no name MP3 players, which worked fine for one off recordings of webinars and lectures, but they were all universally a pain to use for podcasts as they had no itunes or other podcast app integration. I also tried  an old tablet with gpodder (too unreliable, too bulky), using my phone (wrong religion, I've always preferred Samsung to Apple), and in the end I decided life was too short, and anyway Apple no longer made ipods (not strictly true - the ipod touch is still hanging on in there and Apple will sell you a nice reconditioned one for a price) -  and yes I could have got myself a cheap refurbished ipad, but I've already got way too many computers.

In the end, I found myself downloading podcasts to a USB stick and playing them back via the soundsystem in the loungeroom.

That wasn't exactly optimal and I still needed something that I could listen to podcasts on over lunch at the project. (Or potting on seedlings.)

So I bought myself a reconditioned ipod off of ebay. That was about eighteen months ago. I never got round to setting up itunes on windows properly, clearing out junk from god knows how long ago, etc, etc., so it languished in a drawer for that long.

Finally however, I've dug it out and configured everything the way I want. And it was worth it.

It may no longer be supported in hardware terms, but the itunes ecology still supports it, it syncs and deletes files sensibly, and basically does everything I want, not too mention the excellent sound quality ...

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Orage and google calendar

A long time ago, eleven and a bit years ago, I wrote a fairly noddy script to import a google calendar file into orage.

It wasn't syncing, but wrapped up in a cron job it could mean that you got your calendar updated once a day, a week, or whatever.

The script was an adaption of one I wrote to see when content on a remote website changed - basically it grabbed a copy of the webpage once a week, diff'd it against the previous week's, and if it was a different size emailed me.

Anyway, for a long time the orage/google calendar script worked for some people. I know this as people would sometimes email me requesting enhancements or fixes.

Well, no more. Andi Harlan posted a comment to let me know of a better, more sophisticated solution.

Which is kind of cool ...

Plastic decay and the documentation project

I recently tweeted a couple of links, one from the Telegraph, the other from the New York Times about the problems of the long term conservation of plastic objects.

Basically plastic decays.

Plastics manufacturers try to choose formulations that will last for a reasonable time, but eventually plastic goes hard, cracks, breaks, or worse, turns into vinegary goo.

It's a problem manufacturers have been aware of for a long time, but understandably they have expectations as to the reasonable life of the product - it's no use designing a container that will last a hundred years when the contents will last five at most.

Plastic items, especially containers, were designed in the expectation that they would be thrown away once the contents were used up.

And it's not a new problem. Once, many years ago while out walking on the Lizard in Cornwall I happened across a steel board in a wire cage with a whole lot of different types of network cable attached - my guess is that some cabling company was carrying out a long term test on the resilience of various sorts of cable for outside use.

And plastic decay just happens - for example my old Subaru has a cracked aerial mount due to exposure to sun as well as sun damaged paint.

So, given all this, it would be natural to expect that some of the artifacts in Dow's would show signs of decay.

Well, so far none of the plastic items do. Obviously they've been handled gently, but none of them show signs of decay or leakage - unlike some of the flexible metal tubes from the same time, the mid fifties to the mid sixties.

I attribute this to most of the plastic items documented so far being stored in semi darkness and in reasonably dry and cool conditions, and not subject to much more than the normal diurnal changes.

However I'm still working on the dispensary at the back of the shop.

We've got a number of as yet undocumented items in the front of the shop, including some fairly funky 1950's plastic sunglasses. I've had a cursory look and they look ok, but they probably need a more detailed examination ...