Thursday, November 16, 2006

More anti-corporation ranting. Bring down the machine!

I've just spent the last few hours on and off the phone to Telstra Bigpond, another company I'd recommend never doing business with if it's at all possible.

Bigpond usually supplies its customers with Alcatel "SpeedTouch" ADSL modems. I've no idea why they do this, as the SpeedTouch series are anything but speedy; they're crappy even for ADSL modems (ie. not ADSL2 or 2+). Alcatel also managed to write their web management system software (where you log into the modem over Ethernet via or similar) so inefficient that you frequently have to wait more than a few seconds for it to load over a 100 Mbps connection.

However, recently, a SpeedTouch modem died inexplicably; no matter what was done, we couldn't get the red light to go green (which meant it wouldn't even allocate addresses via DHCP, let alone connect to the Internet). Bigpond's advice was to re-sign with them on another 6-month contract. However, after I left (this occurred at a place of work), they called back saying they offer no such contract, and instead advised us to "just go out and buy a new ADSL modem".

Which we did. However, the modem recommended to us was an ADSL2/2+ modem. It wasn't able to connect to Bigpond despite the fact that the hardware's meant to be backwards-compatible. Bigpond is the only ISP in Australia, to my knowledge, using PPPoA instead of PPPoE. I have no idea what the advantages of PPPoA are, but it sure is a hassle when configuring modems.

Anyway, so we returned the Belkin one, and went out and got a new modem supporting PPPoE. Unfortunately, connection failed yet again, despite the fact that we had all the settings correctly set. The reason? The password given to us earlier that day was incorrect. (We had to get the password reset, as we weren't sure that we had the correct one.) This, of course, was discovered after I suggested it multiple times. The 'technician' on the phone at Bigpond seemed convinced that we needed to get a wireless router so that we could plug the modem in right at the wall socket. Apparently, ADSL has "no chance of working if the telephone cable is longer than 3 metres". I appreciate that this is a potential problem, but the service was working fine for over 2 years before the SpeedTouch modem died.

I won't even mention the other peculiarities of the Bigpond system, like the fact that you need to be an "authorized representative" on the account in order to do anything with their tech support team. I've been listed down as an authorized representative on this particular account probably five or six times, but each time, they say they have no record of me and require to speak to the account holder. I suppose that's fine. But the real pain is that they won't even check the password for me unless I'm the account holder. ("Hi, I suspect that I have an incorrect password and I have no internet access, could you please check to see whether this is the correct password for me?") The only possible reason I can imagine for doing this is that they want to prevent someone from "brute-forcing" a password by repeatedly asking the technician to check it. Surely if you wanted to do so, you'd check it by using your own internet account (since you're trying to steal someone's details), and logging into the "toolbox"?

Also, usernames have random suffices depending on the type of account you have. Dial-up accounts are (I think). "Broadband" accounts are, or sometimes, But.. "Broadband BYO modem" accounts are username@bigpond. (But when you sign into their online toolbox, you have to use Can't they just stick with 'username', like every other ISP? This also presents a problem: "So, if this originally was a Broadband package, but now I'm using my own non-Telstra modem, do I use @bigpond or" "I don't know." (Turns out I have to use @bigpond, even though we didn't change our account details after the SpeedTouch broke.)

Argh. If you need an ISP in Australia (particularly in Western Australia), my recommendation is that you go with iiNet. My experience with them has been great, and they have the widest ADSL2+ coverage available. I've also heard even better things about Internode, although they don't have nearly as much ADSL2+ coverage, so I'm stuck with iiNet until Internode expands their coverage.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Ubuntu Linux v6.10: Edgy Eft - first impressions

I've been using Ubuntu Linux for a little over a week now, and here are my first impressions.

First of all, although I haven't had a chance to use KDE yet (it comes with a separate version of Ubuntu called Kubuntu), I'm really liking GNOME. It's similar enough to Windows to make it easy to use, but it has heaps of features that are the sort of thing that you always wanted in Windows but never had. Things like being able to drag and drop icons anywhere instead of just in the "Quick Launch" section.

I've also come to enjoy having access to a decent text-based shell. apt-get and the Synaptic Package Manager are an interesting way of dealing with software; it seems to work well with the software that is available for Ubuntu but I can't imagine it'd work that well on a system like Windows with so much software available for it. It's also nice to have a shell that's so much more versatile than what Microsoft offers (which doesn't even really have a name). Pretty much any task that you would want to automate can be automated in Linux via bash scripting.

However, I think it's somewhat short-sighted of the developers to cripple access to "non-free" software, or software that isn't correctly licensed to be distributed in the Ubuntu package. You have to go out of your way to enable access to the repositories that store any non-GPL code (at least I think that's what you have to do, you definitely have to specifically enable a repository to access proprietary code like nVidia's drivers, or Opera). There is a lot of software that should be included with the OS but can't for legal reasons (or maybe philosophical ones); my opinion is that a program like Automatix should come pre-installed, inform the user of the difference between the different repositories and get them to pick the ones they want, then offer to install some important software that isn't pre-installed. For example, graphics drivers for nVidia/ATI cards, VLC (the "Totem Movie Player" that comes pre-installed is useless, as it relies on the GStreamer framework to play media, and out-of-the-box can pretty much only play Ogg-based formats), and maybe even Opera.

One thing that does suck a bit about X-based Linuxes is the amount of time you spend editing xorg.conf. To be honest, I shouldn't even have to touch this file. In order to change to 1440x900 screen resolution (for a commonly-available 19" widescreen monitor), I had to edit xorg.conf. This required me using the terminal (as superuser!) to backup the configuration file and then edit it manually, which I think is too much to ask of your average user considering that screwing up this configuration file drops you back to a terminal. If you don't know bash and you don't have an alternate PC to troubleshoot from, you're SOL and need to reformat.

I'm also struggling to edit xorg.conf at the moment in order to fully set up my Logitech G7 (I'm following this tutorial on the Ubuntu forums). It's a great mouse, by the way.. the only wireless mouse I'd ever consider, since you don't have to continually replace batteries, nor do you have to leave it to charge overnight (leaving you without a mouse until it recharges if you ever do run out of batteries). It comes with two 'hot-swappable' Li-ion batteries that can be swapped within a matter of seconds when you do run out of power. Unfortunately, this happens pretty frequently - the battery life is only 5 hours or so - but I suppose that's what you get considering the size of the battery and the fact that it's a high-res laser mouse. There's a battery indicator on the side of the mouse, but it would be nice to set up some sort of battery monitor within Linux. The crappy Windows software has such a feature, but it's a bit of a RAM hog considering the tiny amount of work it has to do. The Windows software is also required to use the side-scroll, which is what I'm trying to set up at the moment. I've run into a dead end though, with X claiming it can't find the "evdev" protocol or something. The mouse did work just fine as a regular three-button mouse with scroll straight out of the box, though.

Opera (my preferred browser) just isn't the same on Linux. Things like middle-click act differently, and to be honest, I like using it better in Windows. It looks a lot better, too. Opera doesn't integrate so well with GNOME.

I haven't yet attempted to share or print over the network. We'll see how it goes. Something that did disappoint me was how difficult it is to print to PDF. I would have thought Ubuntu would have a menu option integrated into the default print dialog.

One strong advantage of Ubuntu is that you can just put in the LiveCD and boot off it (not unusual for a Linux distro). However, you can actually install the full OS onto your hard disk using the LiveCD. It even includes a great GUI partition editor, so that you can dual-boot Windows, and preinstalls GRUB for you. The only complaint I had with the install was that it installed GRUB onto my IDE hard disk, which I don't boot from. This was because the default option was to "Install GRUB onto (hd0)". I could have changed the option, but at the time I didn't know what hd0 even was, let alone know enough to manually type in sda instead (this is my SATA boot disk, but there was no drop-down menu).

I'm also considering removing AdSense from this blog. Really, it's not like it brings in any sort of significant income (I'm yet to receive my first cheque; I think you need to make $100 first) and I'm not sure whether the potential of maybe some day getting a $100 cheque from Google is worth the ugly ads. This blog is more-or-less a place for me to rant, anyway.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

New Blogger themes, DreamHost

So for some reason I was inspired to get back into this whole 'blogging' thing. I don't think it will last long though.

In any case, Blogger seems to have added some new themes. This one's quite nice. They also added support for AdSense since I last checked, as well as allowing you to change the colours in your theme more easily.

The best thing about this theme is that it takes up more than half the screen at a widescreen resolution!

Anyway, since I haven't got anything else to write about at the moment.. I thought I'd just put out yet another recommendation for DreamHost. They're definitely one of the best shared hosting providers out there, IMO. I've been with them for my personal site (, which doesn't really have anything on it - it's more of a file storage thing) for just under a year now - I signed up when they had the Crazy Domain Insane package going for $10 for one year with a special coupon. That's a ridiculously good deal but even without their coupons their hosting packages are still good value for money.

I'd renew for a year, but I managed to get a Code Monster account through work that I don't have to pay for. (I signed us up with DreamHost to transfer out of NetRegistry - an Australian ISP that I'd advise against doing business with after the trouble we've had with them.) DH allow you to host unlimited domains on their system (obviously you still have to pay domain registration) but because Code Monster gives you some ridiculous amount of bandwidth and disk - 4TB/400GB IIRC (details here), I'm just paying the $10 per year for registration and pointing it onto my work account for hosting.

DreamHost are also cool with reselling, so I'm considering reselling the work account to some other businesses for a reasonable fee (since the services provided by DH are way better than what's expected from an Australian ISP, and cheaper too). Of course, I'll be splitting the money with my boss, who actually pays for the DH account ;-)

The only problem with DH is that phone support is a pain in the ass for someone outside the US. However, their email support is excellent (they usually get back to you within hours) so that makes up for it IMO (since that way you get everything on record).

edit: Still having some problems with Blogger's 'compose' (ie. rich text editor) in Firefox under Ubuntu Linux. It didn't put in any <p>s for me, so I had to add them manually..