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Archive for February, 2013

Back in the land of Snow and Rain

Sagra in winterWell, that was an interesting week -  starting in Alicante we headed off to our place in Galera for the week, meeting new neighbours and enjoying spending time with friends over there. 

I would not call it a holiday in the sun as the weather was changeable but there’s no comparing it to the miserable cold back here in the Northeast of England.

Huescar marketWe got off to a flying start by leaving the keys back in the UK, so we started our holidays with a locksmith and a new set of keys. Our local mountain was covered in snow for most of the week (though by the end of the week it had almost all gone) and the weather went from sunny to overcast.. but that’s about it.

We managed a trip to Baza just for supplies and also the Huescar Thursday market (and a trip to the supermarket for my Russian salad) but nothing special – just a relaxing break away from the cold. The company we use for broadband – Habland – were kind enough to ramp up the speed for the week for a small sum – I leave it on standby speed when we’re not there so that I can check up on the cameras and also leave running a WIFI service called "wifi for you" available for those folk in the area around our place, who don’t have any broadband.

Stray cats in the mountainsThroughout the week we had a new dog pestering us for a home – just as well we didn’t take him on as his owner turned up at the end to take him away!

The cats however were there in droves as usual, getting more friendly by the day (though FAR from domesticated). On our departure they got our leftovers so by now there will be a very happy group of them.

AlicanteWe departed by way of the journey back to Alicante but leaving WAY before time to give us a few hours to enjoy the beach there which at this time of the year is very pleasant during the day. We stopped off and had pizza for lunch before having a nice walk along the beach.

AlicanteOur flight to the UK got is in late Saturday night and we arrived back in Wark at around 2am or so – to miserable, freezing conditions, so very, very different to what we left behind in Spain. Still, not too long to go before we’re back for the summertime – 40c – BRING IT ON!!!!

Our friends have planted some trees near our place over in Galera and I’ll be bringing a fresh set of solar lights to make the place look welcoming.

Click on any image to see a larger version.

Galera - our patch

Satellite Broadband

I was recently asked to trial satellite broadband by a service provider.

In some ways I’m the ideal target for this because despite living in a rural area, I have broadband already – two broadband setups in fact, one is a fully-fledged version, unlimited use but limited in speed to around 6 Mbps download and around 500Kbps upload due to simple BT line limits – that’s pretty much the best we can get out here. I’m also IT-literate so I know what to look for.

Here’s a photo of SpeedTest.net results for my normal main landline broadband.

Landline tests with SPEEDTEST.NET

Not stunning – but that’s rural for you! So that’s my primary landline broadband. The second is from Orange and we only keep it because it is cheap (£5 a month) – it has download limits and so is only really useful as a backup. I use a Draytek 2380 series modem that makes that switchover happen automatically.

Yesterday, the satellite installers arrived at 2pm to fit the equipment – we discussed the best place to put it (flat roof – avoiding trees) and where to put the cable. As it happens I have a hole in my office outside wall for existing cabling so it was a case of maybe 40ft of coax cable from the dish to the receiver box, tidy the cable away – plug in mains power (separate and somewhat larger than normal adaptor) to the receiver and… that was pretty much it. They installed the dish on the roof, wired it up, rang their office for activation and were on their way by 2:40pm (i.e. 40 minutes from start to finish) which is not bad! The installation looked simple enough for anyone to do – the PC showed the signal level and as they adjusted the levels, the signal went up until the point where a large tick appeared on-screen indicating data was flowing both ways (no telephone line involved here)

The TOOWAY dish

The dish is about twice the size of a SKY TV dish and they mounted it on the flat end of the sloping roof part of the house – it’s not really in view unless you’re a helicopter or deliberately looking up.

So now, back in my office is a black Tooway modem about the size of a normal modem – it has nothing more than power, input (from the dish) and both RJ45 and USB connectors – one of each. I guess for many people there would then be a requirement for a wireless router – as it stands this particular box feeds one computer only, hardwired. They could have supplied a standard wireless router but I didn’t need it as I already have routers and switches (a fairly complex setup) and I didn’t really want any more hardware lying around.

As it happens, the main ADSL router I use is one of the better Drayteks and has a SECOND input from any internal network source. I simply disconnected the ORANGE (RJ45) input and connected the output from the new Tooway box. As the address allocation is dynamic I didn’t have to change anything else other than telling my router to prioritise satellite only for now – for testing. In short, it worked “out of the box”.

Initial tests simply confirmed what I knew already, the PING is awful – due to the physical distance the system has to travel. One of the installers said it might be over a second but in fact it’s around 750ms (i.e. 0.75 of a second) quite consistently. One could assume that this might be an issue when using conferencing as that’s a measurable delay.. but the speed overall is an improvement on my landline broadband – tests to date are showing up to 9Mbps download (with peaks far higher than that) and around 3Mbps upload – the latter being a great improvement on my main broadband. Multiple tests show a fair bit of variation from test to test.

So how does this work in practice?

Satellite tests with SPEEDTEST.NET

As you can see  apart from PING (signal goes from here to satellite – then back down to earth, then up to the satellite then back to me) the performance compares well with plain-vanilla broadband.

The first thing that came to mind was “will this affect Skype calls?” – it would appear not, because soon after installation, I made 2 Skype video calls that were perfectly good – indeed the increased upload speed will be like a breath of fresh air for Skype (think about it – you UPLOAD your sound and video to the other guy so that’s usually a bottleneck). A third Skype call was audio only to a telephone and I thought I detected a slight delay (which makes you more likely to interrupt the other person) – but nothing I could really complain about.

How about the BBC i-Player in HD?  No problem…  watching the data go through the router it peaks at over 9Mbps – and the iPlayer works a treat. YouTube in HD? No problem. The iPlayer requires 3.5Mbps for HD – here’s the test run…

BBC iPlayer tests

Downloading? A 100Meg file just took around a minute which actually beats the download speed quoted by SpeedTest.

Thinking about it, the most likely area for problems is modern high-speed network games, if someone is firing a gun at you, not finding out for nearly a second is likely to be an issue!! My grandson spent the afternoon on another machine playing World of Warcraft and never even noticed the switchover!

VPNs? Some folk use VPNs to access work data or perhaps to watch TV in foreign country… I’ve tested several and they all work well. Again I would expect this to compound delays but up to now that’s not really been noticeable.

Remote cameras?  Noticeably slower to administer, no doubt due to the simple coding inside them and the likelihood of very small packages going back and forth. I’d say interacting with them is 3-4 times slower than normal broadband. Speed of actually capturing frames seems unaffected.

Facebook, again probably because of large numbers of small packages of data going back and forth, runs more slowly than usual and seems the most affected up to now, but it’s still quite useable.

For me, at this point, the satellite installation generally works fine other than the slight delays. I would not wish to give up the landline but if I had no alternatives I’d be happy and the HD streaming ability is handy. I’ll put more information in here as I gain experience – I don’t know yet if I have a fixed IP address or not on this new service – I’m assuming I do (that might be important for, for example accessing information remotely). If the price is right this could be a good product.

A Very Busy Week

Vince CableI’ve had an extremely full (and generally exciting) week which has only just finished last night – starting on Tuesday with a series of meetings in London. On Tuesday night I was part of the black-tie FSB annual Chairman’s Dinner -  a grand affair with guests including Vince Cable and George Osborne. Some of the titles were a tad over-powering, spending the early evening talking about gadgets with Carole Van Eyll – First Secretary – Political and Economical Affairs – Embassy of Belgium – how’s that for a mouthful.

George OsborneBecause the FSB was organising this, I had my own table which include amongst others – Robery Oulds of the Bruges Group (who I already knew from previous dinners) and Helen Woolley who is Director General of the Country Land and Business association – a cracking evening which ended up seeing me walking back to the hotel to clear my head!

Meeting placeWednesday after getting up at 6:30am to go into the London office to edit Vince Cable’s video I was buried away in meetings all day and then first thing on Thursday morning I headed off to Gibraltar as guest of ESBA – the European Small Business Association. The FSB is a member of and key player in ESBA.

Ski lift in GibraltarI’d never been to Gibraltar before and the schedule was packed but thanks to some extremely good weather and very early starts, that didn’t stop me bagging a boatload of photos of the place – which if you’ve never been before, as I hadn’t, is amazing not least because of it’s history.

The main board meeting was held, wait for it at a stunning meeting room at the very top of the Gibraltar Rock – I have to say, THE most excellent location you could imagine for such a meeting. We arrived by ski-lift but our Chairman and I chose (possible unwisely) the hard way back down – which took us half way around the country (it’s not a very big country) taking in some stunning views along the way but not before stopping to take pictures of the many resident Macaques. At the top of the rock we were warned to hide any plastic bags as they would surely be stolen by the monkeys (£500 fine for feeding them). In one of my many photos, a baby macaque is seen with his mum, cuddling someone’s shoe!

Resident BirdsResident monkeysYesterday, I sat through an excellent presentation on how the organisation uses Microsoft SharePoint as an Intranet – which was one of the main reasons I went in the first place and by lunchtime found myself with some free time, so once again a couple of us took off to check the place out.

I took every opportunity possible to take photos of the trip and most of them are available here. Next time you’re pondering on where to go for a few days holiday, if you’ve not been there already I would strongly recommend a trip to Gibraltar. We spent much of our time in meetings so I’m planning a trip back in the summer with Maureen when we’re at our place in Spain.