Channelling messages from beyond…

OK, so who owns a BT Home Hub?  I’m sure many tens of you do, as that’s the default solution from BT for home internet connections. And I’m sure its a great product.  However, they seem to cause me nothing but trouble – you see, I don’t use BT as an ISP as they’re comparatively expensive, low on functionality, and reports indicate that its quite slow and unreliable too.   So, I’ve got my own Wifi routers (Linksys WRT54gl’s) in the house which run a custom firmware and allow me to set them up just so.  Three of them ensure that I have total wifi coverage at Very Good or above throughout the house.  Or that’s the theory.

For those that don’t know, here’s a brief technical overview of how wifi works…   Wifi is generally split into 4 types – A, B, G and N, with A & N running at 5 Ghz, and B, G (and N) running at 2.1 Ghz.  5 Ghz offers around 19 channels in Europe with 20 Mhz separation, which is fine.  However,  2.1 Ghz only offers 13 channels spaced 5 Mhz apart, but the wifi protocol requires 25mhz of separation.  This means that in reality, there are only three or four channels that can be used without clashing with other networks.  And that’s assuming that you’ve no other devices on the 2.1Ghz band such as Bluetooth, baby monitors,  TV senders,  wireless video game controllers – even microwaves and fluorescent lights can generate radio noise on this band.

A few minutes spent planning the network can reduce the impact that this has, even for a single access point.  The diagram shows the spectrum coverage of the given wifi channels, and you can use this to work out what the optimal settings for your network is.

File:2.4 GHz Wi-Fi channels (802.11b,g WLAN).png

So what you need to do is find out what channels your neighbours network is on (many wifi drivers and access points will show you).  If for example they’re on channel 11,  you could use 7 downwards.  Where it becomes more complicated is when you have neighbours both sides with wifi – you’ve got to slot in with them and hope that there are free channels available.

But back to my original point – flippin BT HomeHubs!  Most of my neighbours seem to be using them, which is fine, BUT the HomeHubs don’t seem to be able to pick a channel and stick with it – except when manually configured to do so! Every few weeks I find my wireless has gone to hell, and I look, and one of the hubs has changed its channel to the opposite end of the spectrum which means recalibrating my setup to get the best I can with the least overlap.  What’s most annoying is that they seem pretty useless at seeing what’s available and will often arbitrarily pick channel 6 or 7 no matter what is around them!  Which makes it pretty difficult to configure the network without any overlap.  My only hope is 802.11n (N networks) will go someway to improve this, but I don’t currently have any experience on its impact, other than it is supposed to be better in noisy environments.  But for now, I’ll stick with wired ethernet where I require guaranteed service such as to my media server, as its the only way of ensuring a consistent an reliable connection. 

And if you find your wireless experience is awful, check your channel assignment – the chances are you and your neighbours are all shouting at the same time and drowning each other out!

Phish and Chips?

Do you use Windows Live/MSN/Hotmail/Windows Passport?  What about Google, AOL and Yahoo services?  If so, you may be well changing your password.  A large list of user accounts are believed to have been ‘phished’ from Internet users across the globe, originally thought to be centered on the Windows Live services, but now appears to be spread across many of the top companies.

Now, Phishing is quite a common occurrence related to IT security, but it certainly serves as a reminder that you should follow a few simple rules on the Internet and in Email.

  • Always use different, complex passwords on each service you register for.
  • Change those passwords on a regular basis
  • Never respond to requests for information, either via email or pop-up messages.  If you receive an email from a company that you do business with, go to their website directly – NEVER EVER EVER click on a link provided by email.
  • Engage brain before operating hand or mouth – Stop, take a deep breath and think about what you’re being asked for.  Don’t give it out and if you feel like you have to, why not give false information instead?
  • Check your statements/accounts regularly for any irregularities, and if you spot anything, contact the company IMMEDIATLY.
  • Many companies have a contact us area which you can report phishy emails to.  They will be able to investigate on your behalf and notify the relevant authorities.  Again,  visit their website by entering the address manually in the browser rather than clicking a link.

If you have difficulty remembering your passwords or building complex passwords to use,  why not investigate the KeePass utility.   This is a secure password vault in which you can store a database of usernames, sites and passwords in a safe, encrypted manor. I’ve started using it on my home computer and also on my mobile phone whilst at work (with synchronised databases) and allows me to keep a record of all of the websites Ive registered for and the secure password associated with it.  That way, all I have to do is remember one secure password to unlock the vault rather than 50-100 or use the same password across multiple services.  You should just remember to back it up regularly to ensure that you don’t loose all your passwords in one fell swoop!

The BBC have an article on the attack HERE.

Creating a Monopoly…

This may have passed you by, but Monopoly have launched a new free online game called Monopoly City Streets.   This game uses Google Maps and Open Street Map to allow you to buy “real” life streets and build properties on them (all be it virtually). 

You start off with 3 million monopoly dollars,  buy up streets then can build a variety of properties on those streets.  The bigger the property, the more expensive it is to build, but the more rent you get back from it.  Additionally, you get random chance cards, some good (such as allowing you to to build protective ‘stadiums’ or ‘parks’) and bad (such as getting fined for not getting planning permission). You can also interfere with other peoples games, such as building a hazard (which cancels any rent on that road) or demolishing one of their buildings.  If you fancy it, you can make offers on other peoples streets and properties.

Its a great game which suffered from oversubscription to start with causing the servers to overload, but this has now been sorted after a reset and is ticking along nicely.  Its great fun playing an MMORPG based around Monopoly and Id recommend anyone to try it.

Its accessible at but it may not be accessible from your work computer – try it at home!

Ay? DSL?

As well as my new phone, I’ve got round to sorting my broadband provider.  Regular readers will remember my quest to find a new ADSL service after hitting problems with my current supplier, Demon.  Well, its taken a while but I’ve finally got my MAC code and I’m transitioning to my new service provider AAISP hopefully sometime on Monday.

I’ve chosen AAISP for several reasons:-

1) Their service is aimed at a corporate or ‘professional’ users – their website isn’t that pretty, but it has lots of technical information for those that are interested.

2) Whilst not an ‘unlimited’ service, they offer good Fair usage polices with the option to buy more if you exceed the limits.  They operate a ‘daytime (9am-6pm)’ and ‘evening (6pm-midnight)’ tariff structure with transfers outside these times FREE!.  I’ve gone for 4GB day/100GB evening rate because I generally use the Internet during the evening, but I do have stuff synchronising during the day too.  I’ll have to see how it goes because you can adjust it monthly up or down depending on requirements.  And having unlimited out of hours downloads is great because I can just schedule them to start & stop during this time.

3) When you sign up, you can request as many external IP addresses as you like (within reason).  So I’ve got 5 routable static IP addresses available to use, plus they support IPv6 natively and they’ve assigned me a 48 bit IPv6 subnet – I could have 2^64 devices on my network without running out of capacity.  So if everyone in the world decides to come round my house and each has a smartphone and a laptop,  there’s still plenty to go around.

4) Bull plop isn’t bundled as a free extra.  You only have to look at their support section to see this – They’ll admit when they make a mistake, but they’ll also say when the problem lies ‘upstream’ with a provider, e.g. BT.  Plus, this is the first bit in their terms and conditions:-

It is up to you to pick the right service for you, and some services have usage limits. The internet is big and complicated and we do not control it. The internet has many good and useful things in it, but it also has bad things, so do not blame us for anything you find. It is up to you to protect your network. You must take responsibility for what you do with the service, and for anyone you let use the service. The internet has rules, so play fair. Things can break! If they do, we will try and fix things as quickly as we can. It can take days to fix some problems. We allocate you internet addresses, but they do not belong to you, and we can change them if we need to.


So, fingers x’d, things will go across smoothly on Monday.  I will be spending the weekend reconfiguring my router for the new service.  Ohh, and people who live in the Midlands and have broadband, I’ve some news for you on some major BT changes coming very soon – watch this space!

In Search of a Provider (ISP).

OK, so I’m basically fed up with my current Internet Service Provider (  There’s nothing specifically wrong with their service, in fact, Id still recommend them to anyone who asked – stable, reliable and reasonably quick, but they’re no longer fulfilling my requirements.

Currently I pay £22 per month for an ‘upto 8mb’ service, which gives me about 3.5mb download, 448k upload, a static IP address and no traffic shaping or restrictions.  Or at least, it used to.  But over the last couple of months, I’ve been embracing lots more video over the web services as well as doing a few linux installs across the net.  This has meant that I have exceeded Demon’s Fair Usage Policy of 60GB in 30days, and therefore, they’ve started restricting my service to 128k download (256k upload) between 9am and 11pm every day.  Now, 60gb may seem like a lot of traffic, and upto 12 months ago, I would agree.  However, in these days of high definition video over the internet. combined with sites with ever more graphics, video, sound and interactivity, its very easy to burn through your allowance.  For example, if you watch a HD programme from the BBC iPlayer, these can be upto 2GB for an hour’s show – 30 of these and that’s your lot.  With the amount of Internet services I use,  the allowance disappears like sand through a colander.   I do have to question why they chose 128k as a limit – this is a pitiful amount and makes everything painful – even loading a webpage takes a number of seconds, so I’ve had to fall back to my 3G 3 dongle for general browsing activities.   I don’t know why they can’t set it to 512k to limit usage, but keep usage times reasonable, but then I guess that’s not much of an incentive is it? 

Anyway,  I’ve been scouting around for a true ‘unlimited’ package, rather than an unlimited but.. provider and my choices are few and far between.  My 3 key requirements are:-

  • True, unlimited internet usage.
  • Static IP address
  • <=£25 per month.

I require a decent internet service, and don’t mind paying for it, but I don’t believe its worth more than £25 for a standard ADSL service.

So having a look around, what I want can’t be achieved.   I had narrowed it down to o2 who seem to get excellent reviews, are reasonably priced, and .  However,  you have to be one of their enabled exchanges.  And as seems to be the way these days,  I’m not.  I live in a major conurbation and am connected to THIS exchange, but the only 3rd party provider is TalkTalk.  And they don’t do unlimited utilisation.  It seems that BT must charge so much for traffic, or perhaps its the pipes in the background, that the only economical way for an ISP to offer unlimited traffic is to offer local loop unbundling (LLU) service.  Now I wouldn’t mind this lack of LLU, if it weren’t for the fact that EVERY exchange in a circle around me has a variety of providers available,  and is scheduled to be an early fibre to the cabinet exchange, whereas I’m still stuck in the early 21st century stuck on plain old ADSL, and as a techy, this just isn’t good enough!! Grr.   I’m just hoping that LTE wireless becomes quickly popular (4G mobile technology offering very high speed data).

So, if anyone knows of a decent, quality ISP that matches my requirements above, and will work on a standard BT Wholesale service, let me know, because I’m seriously struggling.