Early Gripes with Sky Broadband

I’ve recently joined Sky Broadband from PlusNet – hey, a year’s free broadband and a £100 pre-paid Mastercard on top of over £77 TopCashBack is hard to turn down!  However, I have already come across two major annoyances – one which I’ve carried over from my days at PlusNet and one which is new.

Screenshot from Sky Hub's Dynamic DNS screen showing a list with a single entry.
What passes for “choice” when you’re a Sky customer

Let’s start with the new one. It turns out, the Sky router (sorry, “Sky Hub”) only lets you ‘choose’ from a list of one Dynamic DNS providers. Since I’m not interested in paying $40 a year for something that I know I can get for free this is not an acceptable solution for me.

So instead I came across this old post on AskUbuntu which pointed me towards a program called ddclient.  This perl-based program will run on my Linux server and update the No-IP service from there, bypassing the router instead.  Not ideal as far as I’m concerned, but workable.

The second issue is one that was also a problem at PlusNet in that, for whatever reason, ISPs these days seem reluctant to let you bypass their DNS servers (cutting their load and doing part of their job for them!) and so remove any option related to this from their routers.  I managed to get round this at one point with Plus Net by telnetting into the router itself and updating the settings manually (not for the feint-hearted!) but this Sky Hub is a different router make so I will need to do a bit more digging on that one.  A task for another day methinks.

Needless to say, Sky and I aren’t off to the best of starts.

Local Home Network DNS – how hard can it be?

So I wanted to do something I thought would be fairly straightforward.  I have a home network with a PlusNet-provided Technicolor Gateway router and behind that I currently have my (Windows 7) laptop and my HP Proliant Microserver running Lubuntu.

In addition to a media server I want to use my Lubuntu box as a development environment for multiple websites, but I want to be able to access each website from the laptop.

Running multiple sites is easy enough with Apache’s Virtual Hosts feature, and I can configure the /etc/hosts file on my server to let me access them locally.  However I want to be able to do the actual work /testing on my laptop (for starters) and have an easy to remember name for each of the virtual hosts.

So here’s what (I think) I need to do:

  1. Install Apache (and PHP/MySQL) and configure the virtual hosts – check.
  2. Set up a DNS server on my server
  3. Configure the laptop to query that server for DNS (preferably through the router config so it applies to the whole network…) let’s come to that later.

Piece of cake, right?  Read on for completion of step 2.

Continue reading “Local Home Network DNS – how hard can it be?”

Tesco Broadband – For Masochists Only (aka my schizophrenic router)

So, I moved to a new flat in November and obviously one of the first things I did was order a new broadband connection.  Tesco Broadband were the cheapest I could find for an uncapped package (although it was a close call with plus net) so I figured I’d give them a try.  Mistake number one.

After indicating I’d need a new line installed (not possible under my tenancy agreement, and not necessary given that the previous tennant’s Sky phone line had been deactivated just weeks before) but said this is just standard, that the BT Openreach engineer would call out and just flick a switch.  To be fair this is exactly what happened, but why not say so up front?  And why does it take 6 long weeks (not Tesco’s fault I realise, but still frustrating as hell).

Speedtest.net results: Download 2.5Mb/s, Upload 0.85Mb/s
Absolutely ridiculous broadband speeds for central London in 2013.

Anyway, after promising speeds “between 8 and 12 Mbps” they flick the switch and I discover to my disappointment I’m getting a lowly 2.5 Mbps – I’m in central London here, not the Outer Hebrides!!  No worries, they say it sometimes takes a week or so after connection for the line to automatically adjust to get the best speed.

Sure enough, a week (or two) later… nothing.  Still the miserably slow speeds I’ve been getting.  And some serious swearing.

Eventually I send them a tweet deriding my miserable speed and after a bit of to and fro they “open a fault with BT”.  Hmm… I am sceptical that this will achieve anything but go along with it.  Weeks pass.  Nothing.  I send a tweet asking for an update.  Another week passes.  Another tweet.  Another week.  Nothing.

So tonight, I’m getting my home network sorted out with my shiny new powerline ethernet (or “homeplug”)  adaptors so I can shift my Microserver out to the spare room.  Only when I try to connect my second router up and log into the Tesco Broadband router to get some configuration details I realise that I no longer have a Tesco Broadband router.  Oh no, my router now thinks it’s a BT Home Hub.  Not only this, but somehow the password has changed so I can’t login – but what I can see is that there are a handful of devices showing up as connected that I don’t recognise, including an Apple TV, an iMac, an iPad and an Asus router.  Now I don’t own any of these devices and my router has WPA2 encryption on… doesn’t it?  I checked and the wireless key is still active, so how did these devices connect?

BT Homehub web admin home screen, showing strange devices connected to my network
When I tried to connect to my Tesco (Technicolor) router, I realised that it now seemed to think it was a BT Homehub.

I wonder if BT and/or Tesco have done something as part of this fault resolution process without telling me, like forced some new firmware or something down the line.  I’ve no idea and I ended up on hold for about 40 minutes trying to talk to someone in Tesco’s technical support.  I was just about to give up getting someone before 10pm when a friendly sounding voice came from the phone, just as I’d left the room for a minute to plug something back in in the living room.

Thankfully he didn’t hang up when it took me a second or two to come back and even more, he sounded like he actually knew what he was talking about rather than just reading off a script.  When I mentioned my firmware theory he at first seemed sceptical but having exhausted the other options (basically that I’d connected to someone else’s WiFi or a different router) he said he’d have to pass it on to Level 2 support, but gave me the username and password I needed to use my other (non-compromised) router until they came back to me and told me what the hell was going on.

So now we play the waiting game.

That Google Car in Belfast

The Google Streetview Car (Streetcar?) spotted in Belfast (Queen’s Road, Titanic Quarter) yesterday morning whilst I sat in my car pondering on the future.  A bloke on my Twitter watch list described seeing a similar car in Sheffield just an hour or so previously, or I wouldn’t have even realised it was the Google car (assuming he’s correct of course).

OK, the video’s not up to much, but I had been trying

to take a photo instead!

Things that Piss Me Off 4: Shitty Broadband Comparison Sites

I’ve come across this before and complained (to no avail, but the vent was worth it) but today I discovered that Ofcom has an accreditation scheme for broadband sites. This sounded promising so I checked out the two sites that I was advised had received said accreditation: SimplifyDigital.co.uk and BroadbandChoices.co.uk.

Long-time readers (pretending there are any) will know that misleading advertising broadband is a major pet peeve of mine. Not misselling speeds, because there’s no reliable way an ISP can accurately predict what speed your line will take (if you don’t already have broadband).  This mis-selling is much worse; I’m talking about the companies who lie in their headline speeds by advertising broadband “from £4.99 a monthfor the first three months, £14.99 thereafter, 12 month contract applies, not inclusive of compulsory phone-line rental.

Of course companies will continue to advertise lies like this as long as they get away with it, even the once-honest Plus net (who I do otherwise like) have now jumped on the bandwagon claiming they need to compete with scum like Tiscali and BT. Until someone takes them up on it they’ll continue lying and cheating customers with scant regard for concepts like honesty and integrity, but surely we can expect more of the broadband comparison sites who are, after all, fighting for a fair deal for the consumer, right?

Wrong. It seems the comparison sites get all caught up in the headline figures and thus actively encourage the misleading advertising that broadband companies seem so keen on.

Continue reading “Things that Piss Me Off 4: Shitty Broadband Comparison Sites”

ICANN Set Stage for Domain Free-For-All

Yesterday’s decision by ICANN to allow any Tom, Dick or Harry to create their own top-level domain is a bit worrying.  With TLDs like .TV, .biz and .info struggling to make much of an impact (except maybe doubling the amount of spam flying around the internet), who really thinks that allowing people to make up their own?

As appealing as it might be to shift this site from SteveFerson.com to Steve.Ferson, it hardly seems worth the confusion of creating an infinite number of domains for the same company. At present you can usually find a site by typing companyname.com or companyname.co.uk into your address bar. Under these plans, even Googling for a company name could theoretically bring up hundreds of results all pretending to be the ‘real’ site.

That said, it was worth it for this headline from ZD Net.

Good news for existing proposals like .nyc for New York City and .xxx for adult sites. Depending on the costs of setting it up, I could also see a new TLD appearing for Northern Ireland (.nir ?) and am sure some enterprising spirit will attempt to register .blog.  Feel free to leave your suggestion for a new TLD below.

Firefox 3 – Initial Impressions

I haven’t come across anything truly groundbreaking in Firefox 3, possibly because I’ve become accustomed to much of the feature set through the Betas and RCs, but there are one or two improvements that are quite useful (as well as a couple of regressions unfortunately).

Wee Niggles

First the bad. When you view Page Info from the context menu it doesn’t give a link to the CSS file in the Media tab any more. I was sure it was there in 2 and a quick google confirmed this. This really sucks – I can’t see why they’ve taken it out.

Secondly, when I was looking through the options to try and return the aforementioned CSS links, I discovered Firefox had decided it was going to automatically download any future updates when they were discovered (I promptly switched the option to “Ask me…”). Bad Firefox.

Magic Address Bar

The good is good though. It doesn’t seem like it at first, but to my mind the biggest improvement of all is the address bar. Sure they’ve added a “Most Visited” folder to your bookmarks toolbar which (shockingly, given the title) contains a list of the sites you visit most frequently, but the address bar has some great, if not immediately obvious, usability improvements.

Continue reading “Firefox 3 – Initial Impressions”

FireFox 3 Released Today

Looks like the excitement is a little bit premature. Not just yet, but at 6pm BST the newest version of Mozilla’s FireFox web browser will be released. Mozilla want Firefox 3 to break the record for the most downloads in 24 hours, which begs the question as to why they pissed off Australasia and half of Asia by promoting Download Day as today, 17th June, when they’re not making the new version available until 10am Pacific Time which means the aforementioned regions will not see the download released until it is 18th June there.

That’s without even considering yours truly and millions of other Europeans who will be finished their days work.

Good work Mozilla.

WordPress / Fantastico Server Move

I recently moved this site to a new host because of ongoing problems with my previous hosts. Thanks to some intermittent database errors I’d decided it would be prudent to do my first backup in some time at the start of last week. By the end of that week they’d deleted my account, so I suppose I should be grateful their database server was so f**ked. Nevertheless, the move caused a few issues when my new hosts told me the complete backup I uploaded to them was corrupt. I can only assume (because some backups were corrupt and others weren’t) that it was due either to encrypting the archives using AES in Winzip or decrypting them in 7zip.

Anyway, that meant manually creating the accounts, setting up the mail accounts and subdomains in them, extracting the root folders (public_html, mail etc) individually and manually importing the SQL backup.

Everything was relatively painless (if dull) however Fantastico wouldn’t recognise my WordPress installations (I had two). To persuade Fantastico that there really were a couple of WordPress blogs I had to do two things:

  1. Extract the \.fantasticodata\WordPress files from the zip (in this case it was called nerd.steveferson.com| ) and upload it to the same location in the FTP server. Of course that bar | made Windows barf, so you’d need to rename it (e.g. using an underscore instead) and replace the bar after uploading it via the FTP client (FileZilla didn’t seem to have a problem doing this).
  2. I think this is might be because the blog’s in the root of a subdomain, but I also had to upload a file called installed_in_root.php from \.fantasticodata to that location on the server.

Once I did this, Fantastico picked up the blog and allowed me to upgrade WordPress to 2.5.1 – no hassle.