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Archive for May, 2011

The Future’s Bright, the Future’s THREE

As regular readers will know I’ve been struggling with Orange incompetence for years now, if it’s not been poor customer service, it’s been lack of signal (there is no Orange signal in my village, hasn’t been for the last decade and now I understand they have no plans to do anything about this – despite claiming they put applications in on more than one occasion for masts – I just don’t buy this).

Anyway having discovered that someone has already successfully won a legal case to get out of their contract because of lack of signal, I convinced Orange to let me go without a penalty.

Armed with that freedom I headed off to the THREE store. Why THREE? Well, I already use (and recommend) their MIFI units and perhaps contrary to what you might think, they have quite an impressive coverage in the UK, at least everywhere I’ve tried up to now. They are also FAR more realistic with data, offering up to 15GIG a month data on their MIFI units. Better, on their iPhone deals, the offer a flat-rate package at £35 a month that gives “all-you-can-eat” data.

Now, we’ve all heard that from the other operators who until recently claimed “unlimited” broadband then when you read the fine print it’s a con – they have “fair use” policies which means the claim of unlimited is really a downright lie.

So I checked – according to THREE, “all you can eat” means unlimited data with no fair use policy.  Further, unlike Orange who charge an extra TEN POUNDS a month to share phone data with a laptop, sharing with the laptop is INCLUDED in the deal.

For reasons well beyond me the fellow at the THREE store thought this did not include iPads which would not work – but I remember standing outside the store thinking “But if you share over WIFI how on earth would it distinguish an iPad from a laptop?” and sure enough I was right, the iPhone will take in 3G, spit out WIFI and share it with any device that works on WIFI AND yes it will handle VPNs for those who need to log into work.

So, armed with my new phone and new company I headed off from Hexham for a trip to Blackpool, Internet radio (the American BIG CHEESE radio station) running on the phone…  and in a trip taking over 2 hours, I lost no more than a couple of minutes of radio time. Bye Bye BBC!

Harold Camping–Totally Fruit and Nut

If someone makes a racial statement that could upset as few as one person – they get into trouble – and rightly so (though right now that often usually only applies to the good guys) – but if someone predicts the end of the world, gets  that message onto national media in the sure knowledge that thousands of mis-informed people will believe the message and worry about it– nothing happens. 89-year-old Harold Camping did just that and predictably he was wrong – even more predictably he’s disappeared.

With any luck his god has struck him down – more likely he’s worried that some of his former supporters are going to strike him down.  Perhaps some authorities somewhere might like to charge him with incitement to riot?

The only thing he has achieved, sadly is to further challenge young people to ignore the older generation! As for Keith Bauer who travelled thousands of miles to California because “I was hoping for it because I think heaven would be a lot better than this earth” – should this guy be watched as a potential terrorist if he has so little regard for his own life?

How many times are the claims of those who believe in imaginary deities going to be given this kind of credibility before the world wakes up.  All of these people would be far better employed working for our common future instead of sitting there waiting for the end that is highly unlikely to come. Far more likely we kill ourselves in civil breakdowns when we run out of fuel if we don’t get our act together.

Brain Control? Science Fiction?


This is so impressive. We might not have colonies on the moon but the 21st century isn’t doing so bad up to now… if only we could manage climate control as well…

Controlling Brains!

Testing Broadband Speed and More!

It’s not uncommon for people to read the headline figure on their broadband connection “8 meg” and think they have a good deal then wonder why SKYPE gives them problems!  Here’s a simple guide to getting wise (important: see 2021 updates at the end).

Many standard Internet connections in the UK use what is called ADSL – all you need to know is that this means you don’t get the same speed in both directions.  When you’re told you have an “8 meg” connection that usually means the maximum DOWNLOAD (data coming to you). The reality is usually less than that and depends on CONTENTION (how many other people are sharing your connection at any moment in time) and UPLOAD (data going FROM you).

Also important is the PING time – i.e. if you send a bit of data out – how long before it actually gets to the other end.

Fortunately there are some free tools to help you get to the bottom of this without being a rocket scientist. These sites are easy to use and more or less self-explanatory. When I get a minute I’ll go into more detail but for now, consider this.. you have your sparkly new 8 MEG connection and Skype doesn’t seem to work well. In reality it’s your upload speed that is important together with any delays… you SEND video/audio to the other guy and he SENDS video/audio to you – the download speed doesn’t really come into it as long as it is faster than the upload speed.  Of course all of this assumes your kids are not downloading war and peace…

Have a play with these tools – out of interest the results you see are my own rural broadband results.

Testing Upload and DOWNLOAD speeds

Two excellent sites are….






Testing PING and JITTER

Try this out – it’s pretty self-explanatory.



Update November 2021

Note that the above blog entry was written in 2011 before I created my now very popular tech blog – anything of a technical/gadget nature you’ll now find several year’s worth of work in there.

Clearly the comments above about ADSL and speeds are now utterly out of date. In the UK I’d say most people have fibre, Spacex Starlink revolutionary low-altitude satellite network is starting to make headway (though the price is still extremely high) and as I’m now predominently Spain-based, we have high speed fibre in all except very rural areas where for example I’m still on 30Mbps download speed provided by a local dish from town into the outlying areas. However much of the information above is still valid – speedtest.net still works… and see below…

I was just sent this “PixelPrivacy” link to loads of info on testing broadband – you may find it very useful.

UFOs… Load of old ROT?

I’ve been thinking about aliens and UFOs recently – mainly because every time I go channel-hopping on Sky there’s some conspiracy program or other trying to prove the government is covering things up.

I’m afraid after many years of thinking about this subject, I’ve come to the conclusion that UFOs fit into the same categories as gods – i.e. wishful thinking, nothing more.


Well, that’s not to say I don’t think there ARE UFOs – a long way away minding their own business. I just don’t think there are any here – and I think SETI are wasting their time looking for radio broadcasts from space.

Part of the problem is our inability sometimes to see out of the box.. take UFO sightings for example. It’s absolutely DEAD CERT that UFOs do not come from any planet in our solar system – if that doesn’t make sense to you I’m not going to explain other than to say – go and watch Discovery channel – we’d know if there were any massive factories on these planets creating UFOs. So where does that leave us? Well, other solar systems of course.

There are so many star systems out there with planets that there are BOUND to be advanced civilisations out there and they’d need to be a pretty advanced civilisation to send out a UFO into our star system. Why? Because unless their main goal in life was wasting time, they’d have had to figure out how to go faster than light by some way – and our science says that’s pretty much a non-starter.

That’s not to say that faster-than-light travel is impossible – it’s just to say that if it is both possible and practical we won’t be doing it in the near future – and that’s the point… they would have indeed to be so far ahead of us that we could not possibly hold anything other than novelty value for them. This is real life, not Stargate (much as I like Stargate).  Indeed that’s the central plank of my argument – anyone SO advanced would be very unlikely to accidentally leave the lights on so we could spot them at night.

But more’s the point, we’ve been serious about technology for less than my lifetime – lets face it back in the 50’s we had, what BAKELIGHT and VALVES and most devices were that simple that it was actually possible for one very bright person to know pretty much how everything works. Those days have long gone. In 60 years we’ve transformed this planet and our technologies beyond recognition and we’ve only just STARTED…  We USED to send out Megawatts of easily digested signals which would go off to other worlds in time but today we send highly encrypted digital signals – mostly by methods that don’t involve powerful wide-angled radio waves. In time everything will be a mix of optical and short range radio – so we won’t be sending ANYTHING significant out to space and what we do send out will be so well compressed and encrypted – that it will look just like – well, noise. Background noise in fact.

Any aliens likely to be within range will:

a. likely have no use for us other than as zoo specimens

b. be transmitting data so complex we could never hope to read it – just as someone from the 50s could never hope to do anything useful with a DVD.

c. Be watching us from a safe distance just the military can watch us from satellites so far away you can’t tell them from stars – only much much further away and with much better resolution. they are likely now to be watching us as we decimated each other in WWII. There is no way they can see or hear what we’re doing now because the information won’t have reached them yet. They will know that anything they learn will be so old as to be useless.

And if they do need to pop down to pick up samples – they’re CERTAINLY not going to leave the lights on so we can see them coming!

I trust that knocks aliens on the head!

Peter Scargill

The end of the Weekend

Bit of an update really rather than something new… the weather this weekend kept up – i.e. it was sunny – but hardly record-breaking – a tad cool out of the sun in fact, so I did my bit and went to B&Q for some stones for the garden but actually having had success with my new solar flood circuit – see a couple of blog entries back – the circuit works a treat and I’m now running 3 AA rechargeable cells and a PAIR of sets of 3 series white LEDs in parallel – up to now the combination is giving very reasonable pathway lighting – but bear in mind the sun’s done well for the last couple of weeks – the solar cell had no problem charging the batteries – funny really, my wife Maureen normally heads off to better weather in the States and she ‘s been away 2 weeks – it’s rained most of it over there and been QUITE the opposite here for a change. Even Galera hasn’t had the sun we’ve had.

Apart from that I’ve spent the rest of my day, well, in a complete fantasy world. Check out Cities XL 2010 the last post in here – I’ve started to get to grips with it now and this is so near science fiction – but it works. The program is basically Sim City on steroids, the difference being you can actually go in there and be part of your city, none of which would be THAT impressive if it were not for the sheer scale of the areas you can work in  – tonight I’d just finished putting together a major freeway leading through a sub-urban area into a massive sprawling city and armed with a glass or two of wine I drove through the city in more or less real time – to say we’re looking at AT LEAST 20 to get from one end to the other (if you don’t cheat) kind of puts this in perspective – all the way there are people going about their business – kids playing in front of houses, cars going from home to work and vice-versa… it really does put some kind of perspective on modern PC power – there was a time when the PC could just about manage the angles of a PONG ball going back and forth.

And with that I’ll leave you with some screen shots. A picture paints a thousand words – or whatever – these are crude screenshots  and bear no resemblance to the fluid, real time video quality graphics in the actual game… and remember this isn’t a prefab – I put this lot together in blocks… I need to write to the developers – I want customisable street signs! These are late-evening shots.

Entrance to the ciry

the city entrance

hi-rise buildings

Down at the beach

Traffic jams