Saturday, August 25, 2012

Binary Destiny?

As a computer scientist I've often been superstitiously pleased that most of the places I've lived in had numbers that involved powers of 2. The first house that Heather and I purchased together was 32, matching the number of my parents house that I lived in from grade 4 onward. Our recent house in Barrie was 16, another good omen. Only our house in Newmarket of many years didn't quite fit the pattern being 108. Although the 1 and 0 are somewhat binary and the 8 is a good number. Perhaps this non-power of 2 home explains why Samantha eschewed a potential career in C.S. for one of Anthropology. Our new home being 284 is not a power of 2 but has auspiciously pleasing power of 2 digits. And this morning I'm thinking I recall our birth home in west Toronto as being a 22 with a certain double binary emphasis. May the power of 2 be with you. ;^)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Coming soon: Review of Garmin eTrex 30

So I recently purchased a Garmin eTrex 30 GPS for tracking all the hiking trails near where I live. I've been using it now for a few weeks and will be able to give you a beginners view of the pros and cons of using this portable GPS unit. There's certainly more cons than pros, so watch for my review in an upcoming blog entry.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Another Bell Turbo Hub performance update...

Well, today I found out for sure that there is no real correlation between signal strength and download speeds. A few days ago I noticed that my signal strength light had turned blue (which is good) and the router status page showed something like -81 dbm which is the strongest signal I've ever had. Upon running some speed tests I found that there wasn't any significant difference or improvement. Bandwidth was variable as usual and averaging around 1-2 Mbps down and 1 up.

Now, today for the first time ever I noticed my signal strength light had turned yellow (never seen it yellow before) and the status page showed -101 dbm. A quick speed test resulted in the fastest download speed I've ever had: 3.67 down and 0.89 up (usually my upload speeds are actually faster than my download speeds). So clearly the performance is actually limited by the systems they have in place at the cell towers and/or the local cell traffic load. I now see that my signal strength light is back to its usual green status with a strength of -89 dbm, which is about what I usually see.

I think the best way to monitor your performance is to simply use tracert and watch the packet transmission times. When things are really good all the times I see are below 100ms. When things are really bad you see some complete timeouts "*" and/or times up aroung 3000 to 5000 ms (3-5 seconds) which is horrendous. The problem is that seeing the numbers doesn't really help you since you have absolutely no control to change or improve them. The only control you have is to call Bell and complain when you're getting really bad performance.

I have to say that my average performance has improved over the past couple of months, so consistent calls to Bell regarding the problems does seem to help. They never call us back to tell us that they did anything so we can only guess and assume that they're trying to make it better. It's still hit or miss though when it comes to watching videos, listening to online radio or using voice apps like Skype. This can be frustrating.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Picasa now officially sucks big time.

Several years ago I started using Picasa to publish my photo albums to the web and to share them with friends and family. I found it to be an easy to use application for creating albums and a nice user interface for viewing photo albums on the net. Now that Google has basically raped this great photo sharing mechanism and shoved it up the Google Plus asshole I find that the photo viewing online is now mostly unusable and the tight connection to Google+ is totally offensive and counter to the original intention of the site.

I'm now officially searching for a new photo sharing site that doesn't have some corporate ulterior motives to serve their own frigging world domination objective. God it's so f'ing irritating that these companies continually just try to increase their network dominance. It's like we're all caught in this frigging testosterone driven dominance game.

Google is the new Microsoft. The corporation that we all hate because of their focus on world domination. Time to find some new alternatives.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Update on Bell Turbo Hub performance issues

Well, believe it or not it seems that Bell actually does at least try to solve network performance problems. Sometime after I started calling them on a regular basis I seemed to notice some improvements in the network performance. The really long (3 to 10 seconds) delays in connectivity seem to happen much less often, however transfer speeds were continuing to show very inconsistent results which were sometimes simply pathetic (0.1 Mbps). My guess is they either added some hardware to the local tower or tweaked the settings on their systems to provide better response times. One of their techies at one point told me that they can also tweak the antennae arrays on the tower to adjust the signal strength in different directions.

Anyway, at some point they said that the network people have done their testing and the signal strength in my area was ok. So then they started blaming the problem on my hub. They wanted me to take the hub into a Bell store for testing or to take it to a different location to test. Well, I told them that the results are so inconsistent and the conditions here would be nothing like the conditions elsewhere (e.g. internal vs external antennae) that such a test would be useless. Not to mention the fact that I don't have time to do this testing on their behalf. I also pointed out that they are the ones claiming that the problem was with my hub (I still think the hub has nothing to do with these problems) and so they agreed to send me a new router to replace my existing one.

Well, after switching to the new hub a few days ago I still can't really notice much difference. However, I was able to Skype into a conference call that lasted over an hour with only a few drop-outs of more than a few seconds. This is a big improvement from when I started and Skype was completely unusable. My guess is that this was due to tweaking done to their network hardware.

So if you're having problems with your Bell connectivity call them and get them to open a support ticket. Each time you call back give them the ticket number and tell them you want to know what progress has been made. Be polite but persistent. Remind them that you're paying for what they advertise.

If I continue to get less than 1 Mbps download speeds then I will continue to complain that I'm paying for high speed but I'm not getting it. Right now it's hit or miss and things like watching YouTube videos can still be a very frustrating experience.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Technical Note: How to find out what directory a drive letter is mapped to on Windows.

It took me a while to dig up this information so I wanted to create this note to help others find it. Apparently directories are mapped to drive letters on Windows using the "subst" command. So if you want to find out what directory a mapped drive letter is pointing at, open a DOS "cmd" window and type "subst".

Of course this is not the same as viewing network mapped drives. Oh no, let's not try to confusing people by using the same command for two completely different things (read sarcasm here). To view network mappings type the command "net use".

It seems totally bizarre that you can't get the mapping information for a directory mapping from the mapped drive properties dialog. Network drive mappings show up right in the top level windows explorer view of your computer. Ah well, such is the love/hate relationship with Windows.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bell NetGear MBR1210 Turbo Hub - There's no Turbo here.

Well, the external antenae is up on the roof and it's pointed directly at the cell tower which is about 4 kilometers away. The hub signal strength light is green but the performance sucks!!! I've run many speed tests over the past week and it's clear that the actuall speed you get at any given second is basically random. The fastest I've seen is about 2.5 Mbps, but that is extremely rare. Even when you do get a burst of fast speed it typically only lasts a few seconds and then it just stops. There will be delays and stops and starts as it sputters along. Most of the time the speeds are in the range of 0.1 to 1.0 Mbps. This combined with the sputtering starting and stopping mean that our connection is absolutely useless for any kind of streaming audio or video. We can forget about using Skype or watchin YouTube videos. It's just an exercise in frustration.

The fact that we can get reasonably good speed on occasion tells me that signal strength is likely not the problem. I would guess that this kind of performance would be caused by some type of traffic management or signal multiplexing problems. I know basically nothing about 3G technology so I can't really make much of a guess about this. Perhaps someone that knows more about this can comment on likely causes of this type of traffic problem.

So complaints to Bell have resulted in a "escalation" to their "network team" which may just be their way of putting us on indefinite hold. Speaking to one of the phone support agents I learned that there are quite a few people in our area (even closer to the tower than I am) complaining about performance problems. I will continue to nag them to provide the performance that they advertise and that we are all paying for. If anyone has suggestions on how to get Bell to respond to these problems please let me know.

I will continue to report on this issue as it develops. Cheers.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

New Location - Rural Ontario

Well, the blog has been renamed now that we've moved to a rural location near Penetanguishene, Ontario. We now live in Tiny Township quite close to the northern tip of the Midland/Penetang peninsula. Being outside of town we no longer have the luxury of a high speed cable connection to the Internet and must now rely on a 3G cell wireless network connection. This will be the topic of a separate posting. So goodbye to city life and welcome to the country. Looking forward to a slightly slower pace of life (but hopefully not too slow ;^). Cheers.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Speak up Breslin

Ok, it's time to either start blogging again or give up on it altogether. So I thought I'd post a couple of reminders to myself of things I hope to blog about in the near future...
  • Recently got a Bell Turbo hub to use at our new home in rural Ontario. Learning about this great but also not-so-great technology.
  • Rant about adobe install this and adobe install that almost every other day!! Irritating. (or did I do that already?)
  • The blog is now hooked to Google+ in some way - let's see how that works out. Haven't used G+ much yet. I guess there will never be a hook to Facebook eh? Ha ha.
  • Smart phones and tablets - everywhere!! I still don't have one. There's too much hype and the big ISP's are gouging the hell out of everyone. They must be laughing all the way to the bank. Should I jump on the band wagon?
  • Will have to think of more topics to add to this list.