Category Archives: Internet

PCCW Netvigator – You Make It So Easy to Hate You (and VPN Notes)

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PCCW’s Netvigator Internet service enjoys a virtual monopoly for fixed line Internet services in the small villages located all around the New Territories.  And faithful (?) readers of this blog may recall that when I moved from Sai Kung to Lam Tsuen last year, it took PCCW more than a year to figure out how to get a line to my house – despite the fact that I’m in a ten year old house in a large village located right off a main road. I spent much of that year sending complaint letters to PCCW, the telecommunications authority, and members of Legco, not that it did me much good. But now it seems that PCCW is seeking their revenge.

I’ve been paying $190 per month for Netvigator’s Internet service. This gets me an ancient ADSL line advertised as being 8 Mbps, but in practice has never been more than 5 Mbps – and generally quite slower than that. I was told this was a special promotional price because I’m also a NOW-TV subscriber. And then, my contract expired. Even though I still subscribe to NOW-TV, I was told that the monthly cost of my Netvigator service would increase to $298 per month, a more than 50% increase. This is especially frustrating after hearing from a friend in Kowloon who pays $236 per month for a 500 Mbps line from Netvigator.

Me:

I have always paid $190 per month for my Netvigator service.  My contract is finished and I am told it will now cost $298 per month for a new contract. I don’t understand the reason for this price increase. Certainly the level of service has not increased. I am not going to get a 50% faster line, so I don’t understand why I would be charged 50% more.  Can you please explain this?

Them:

Please kindly be informed that our service plan price has been adjusted
as we need to constantly invest to improve our service, in order for us
to maintain a high quality of service. Our company started sending a
notice to customers by post one month before the price adjustment. We
deeply apologize for the inconvenience and confusion that we have
brought to you.

Improved service? I’d gladly pay more for a faster line, but they are only offering me the same service I’ve always had.

Me:

I still do not understand from your answer why I am being asked to pay 50% more for the same service.

Them:

With regards to your email, we are really sorry to learn of your
disappointment over the service fee adjustment. However, we regret that
because there has been a substantial increase in our costs, price
adjustments for some of our services have become necessary.

As soon as I received your email, kindly be informed that I have
immediately passed your contact number to our sales hotline department
for their follow up action and please be patience that our colleague
will get contact you and introduce you the promotional offers on your
interest.

Substantial increase?  Please be patience? If I’m Patience, will you be Felicity?

Me:

No one has called me yet.  

A friend of mine told me that he is a Netvigator customer and pays $236 per month for 500 Mbps.  Please explain to me again why you want to charge me $298 per month for a connection that is 98% slower than that.

After a few days, I received a phone call telling me that if I want to renew the contract, it will cost $298 per month. I said that was too expensive. The guy said, “Okay, bye, see you.” That was a great promotional offer, wasn’t it?

Them:

In regard to your concern, as to cope with constantly changing market
circumstances, we do provide different promotional offers in different
market segments from time to time.

Referring to the record, our sales colleague has contacted and provided
an available offer for your consideration.

Constantly changing market circumstances? Why do they keep throwing these empty marketing phrases at me?

Me:

Your sales colleague called and did not provide me with any promotional offer, just the same $298 price previously quoted to me. Which I have refused. It is too expensive.

Them:

Referred to your message, please note that I have checked with our sales
department and kindly be informed that they will arrange to contact you
again in order to introduce you more offer plans for your interest.

A few days later, another “sales colleague” called and again offered me the monthly rate of $298. When I again said it was too expensive, I was offered a “special promotional rate” of $268. Still too much.

Then it got a little bit weird. The PCCW drone suggested that I could continue to use the service on a monthly basis without a contract. I kept asking how much that would cost me every month and I couldn’t get a clear or simple answer to what I thought was a clear and simple question.  She seemed to suggest that without a contract the service would continue to cost me $190 per month. I’m sure this is not right.

So I’m waiting for my next bill to see how much it is before I decide on my next step.

Side note #1 – You only need service of 3 Mbps or greater in order to efficiently stream Internet video services such as Netflix. These companies have spent buckets of money in optimizing their services so that they’ll work for people with relatively low bandwidth. And even with my relatively slow line and routing through a US VPN service, I’m able to watch Netflix and Hulu smoothly for the most part.

However, 4K streaming is coming soon. That will required a sustained bandwidth of at least 15 Mbps. On this Akamai chart of which countries are ready for this kind of service, Hong Kong places third globally, because 26% of the population does get this kind of speed. (No surprise, South Korea is #1.)

I think this is good news. If PCCW wants to sell this service, they’re going to have to do more network upgrades. Though I’m sure such an upgrade for my village would be years away.

Side note #2 – So why continue my Netvigator service if my 4G service from SmarTone is working decently? I’m not sure this is entirely logical, but on my last visit to the US I bought a Roku streaming stick (it’s half the price of a Roku box). I want to watch Netflix and some of the other channels they stream on my TV, not on my computer monitor. There is no way to configure the Roku for a VPN or a proxy; it has to be done at the router level. But I don’t want to route all of my Internet stuff through a US-based VPN.  So to me, it seems to make sense to have one relatively low-cost Internet account and router dedicated for this. $190 a month is probably already crazy but I was prepared to go with that. At $268 or $298 a month, I need to decide if it’s really worth it.

The alternative, I guess, will be for me to give up the Netvigator account, get a small network switch, and still have a separate router with the VPN configured in it and use that for the streaming. I’ll save a bit of money, but I’ll be sharing that Internet connection with two other people in the house and not yet sure how consistent my speeds will be. I will test this out within the next few days.

Side note #3 – In terms of VPN providers, Unblock-Us requires you to log into your account via a browser every day. That’s because their service gets tied to your IP address but your IP address is dynamically allocated by your ISP, so it changes. Logging in via the browser authenticates this change.

VyprVPN looks very attractive (their US$9 a month service includes “Dump Truck,” their Dropbox-like service, with 25 gig of online storage) but they require that your router be flashed with dd-wrt. The process is not trivial  and for whatever reason, when I tried to do this with my router, I did not succeed and had to restore my router back to factory defaults (a very good example of a time when having multiple routers came in extremely handy).

If you’ve subscribed to a VPN in order to get around geo-checking, which one are you using?

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How I Do Passwords

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The Heartbleed mess is a reminder that not only do you need strong passwords, you also need to use different passwords for each web site you log into.  These days we know that passwords should not be words found in the dictionary and should be a mixture of capital and small letters, numbers and non-alpha-numeric characters. The problem is remembering them.

Most experts recommend using a Password Manager such as LastPass, which not only stores your passwords and auto-fills login pages on web sites, it will also generate unique passwords for every site you visit. I don’t use the latter feature. I probably should, but being old school about the whole thing, I’m concerned with how I will remember passwords if I’m using a computer that’s not mine (at an Internet cafe or whatever) – not that this happens very often any more – and have to sit down and recall that my password for some email service is A45ghf76#2!

So I came up with my own scheme and so far I believe it works pretty well. (Feel free to point out any flaws I may have overlooked.)

I’ve chosen a word. In this case the word is something that meant something to me a long time ago and something that no one who knows me today knows – the name I used as a DJ on college radio more than 40 years ago. Then I replace all the vowels with numbers. Then, to make it unique for each site, I append a two letter abbreviation of the site.  (I also have several variations on this that I won’t go into.)

Some web sites rate the strength of your password when you are signing up and this one always gets rated as strong. It may not be the best method, but it works and I can remember my password for pretty much every site without having to look it up somewhere.

I’m not saying my way is the best way.  The point is – this is 2014, the Internet is a playground and you need separate, different, strong passwords for every web site you log into.  Protect yourself. Live long and prosper. Be careful, it’s a jungle out there. And so on …

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Heartbleed – Take It Seriously

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Folks, most of you know my day job is in IT, and in part I’m managing hosted environments for well over a million users worldwide. So a big part of my day today has been spent learning about Heartbleed. If you use the Internet, you need to learn about it too.

The Heartbleed Bug is a serious vulnerability in the popular OpenSSL cryptographic software library. This weakness allows stealing the information protected, under normal conditions, by the SSL/TLS encryption used to secure the Internet. SSL/TLS provides communication security and privacy over the Internet for applications such as web, email, instant messaging (IM) and some virtual private networks (VPNs).

The Heartbleed bug allows anyone on the Internet to read the memory of the systems protected by the vulnerable versions of the OpenSSL software. This compromises the secret keys used to identify the service providers and to encrypt the traffic, the names and passwords of the users and the actual content. This allows attackers to eavesdrop on communications, steal data directly from the services and users and to impersonate services and users.

In other words – your email, your online chats, your Facebook, your credit card numbers, your Bitcoin stash … your everything.

From security expert Bruce Schneier - “Catastrophic” is the right word. On the scale of 1 to 10, this is an 11.

So, what should you do? The Atlantic has a good summary.

  1. Change the passwords for the handful of sites that really matter to you. I’ll explain how you can do this in a total of ten minutes or less. Thisprobably isn’t necessary, but just in case…

  2. Do not ever use the same password at two sites that matter to you. Ever. Heartbleed or not, this lowers the security level of any site with that password to the level of the sleaziest and least-secure site where you’ve ever used it.

  3. Use a password manager, which can generate an unlimited set of unique, “difficult” passwords and remember them for you.

  4. Use “two-step” sign-in processes wherever they’re available, starting with Gmail.

  5. Read what happened in our family three years ago, when one of our Gmail accounts was taken over by someone in Africa, if you would like a real-world demonstration of why you should take these warnings seriously. It’s from an article called “Hacked.”

 

 

 

 

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A Handy Torrent Trick

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Maybe all of you reading this already knew this one. I certainly didn’t – until this week.

Usually I don’t do any torrent stuff until after I get home from work in the evening, which can be as late as 9 PM. But what happens if there’s something to download that I’d like to have available as soon as I get home? I found the answer (sorry, can’t provide a link/credit as I don’t recall where).

Many torrent clients can be set to watch a specific directory and automatically start downloading any torrent that shows up in that directory. So set it to watch your Dropbox (or Google Drive or Sugarsync or whatever you have) folder. The next step is to set the torrent client to start downloading immediately – mine (I use µTorrent) would always pop up a little confirmation window, so it took me a few seconds to find the setting for that and disable it.

So now … let’s say I’m in the office and it’s lunch time so I’m on a break and I’m doing a bit of browsing on my own behalf and I come upon an interesting torrent. Rather than save it for later, I immediately save the torrent to my Dropbox folder. (And yes, this does mean that you need to leave your computer running when you go out, and your torrent program as well.)

And when I get home, voila!, it’s done and it’s there and it’s ready for me whenever I’m ready for it. Really I should have thought of this on my own. Facepalm.

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Why Does Google Translate Do Such a Piss Poor Job On Chinese?

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It’s kind of a running joke now. My friends post stuff on Facebook in Chinese and they ask me to run it through Google Translate and post the result. Usually you can get the gist of it but sometimes it’s just completely awful.

I’m going to try a little test here. I’m going to take the title of this post and run it through Google to translate into Chinese, which gives me:

為什麼谷歌翻譯做這樣的小便不暢招聘在中國?

Someone else will have to tell me if that’s close or not. Then I’ll take the above and translate it back to English, which gives me:

Why Google translate to do so piss poor recruitment in China?

Cute, huh? Actually not too bad, aside from Google at some point not getting the word “job” right.

Anyway, I was looking up a Tai Po restaurant on Open Rice. There are no English reviews so I used inline translation in Chrome. Not only next to useless, but also quite funny. Here’s the restaurant listing (for those who want to see the original Chinese) and here is the first translated review:

Today, ate dinner at half past six, from Tai Po Centre has been OK, OK over Beppu, Mummy, then not tried to accompany drainage try it! Actually, I do not tease for Beppu Nuisance-what a good impression, but called Mommy , you will fight about … two individuals called Left 4 kind of wild, wild drinking 2 cups all child (drinks buy one get one) Dstring butter into the dry sample had had fried bad bad like that, would eat into the Well of seeking fresh baa taste, but eat off the entrance are OK, Well tough all child Nuisance slag. , I called kimchi Pork Ramen , in fact rang at home and cook a pig kimchi ramen plus D are all Ciwu Duo flavor, left more than a few lines Pork roast Hello. Mommy to theGillette pork chop noodles , soup too light, but Gillette few good fried pork chop, crunchy outer layer, which has gravy, Wucuo! Grilled saury OK friends, blazing power, Nuisance Zheng taste Qualified! lychee soda syrup just add soda water, add canned litchi grain, Nuisance special, but not even drink. as just filling the belly of a meal is also possible, the quality of the chain is so!

Tough all child Nusiance slag?

Here’s the last one – the translated title is “New feces pit.” Probably they didn’t care for the place.

Why I waited for something to eat first resistance Link? All because of technical problems. Store clerk tied to novices friends, watching the door of the woman Essentials too softly, Feizi number and㩒too fast, one that should never see someone flying next Fei, turn left both my enemy lines beside Temple gel, ring Listen to live drainage Essentials door quickly after I had left Zhang Zhong Road Essentials multi-speed three (if three are tied Nuisance should), I ask the canal line to the microphone to be buried row over the matter, had left佢words Yanyan After three straight Essentials to row through the first four, just being driven off GOD Essentials think fast drying back to rest it!
Window into the sit position, I like GOD goldfish goldfish bowl into the surface like that, all the way to wait for the food to come forward all the way to serve both beer patrons live, Zhong finished k take both Pakistani and alighting passengers are 8 hanging look scare you, really big pressure, Eating Well comfortably.
Asking him to add water Essentials left three people were added to Zhongwei, the Department of Enterprise GOD waiters obviously buried side Chit Quite busy tight. We should note that the drainage will ask you to Di Qi Ye Li did not, if the sun drains tied together Will not you add water to drink to serve both! Talk back Yeshi, called the left rectangular pizza, a fruit shop sill GOD pizza bread bag taste, smell only if you agree authentic pizza, above Nuisance-what sauce, dry fight fight both. Ajisen Ramen with the same level, pig soup sweet Nuisance-what a surprise, all drains to GOD Ramen Nuisance Xun both, drying my rock, my hate GOD Xun taste. But I Wu Shi spicy, so fewer alternative styles.

“Zhong finished k take both Pakistani and alighting passengers are 8 hanging look scare you”??????

Then, for fun, I took a look at the reviews of King’s Belly, the one western style bar in town with fish & chips and Guinness on tap (and the $138 burger). Here’s some translated review excerpts:

Have you heard of Westerners have salted it?

Well I guess I eat the sun / Yan day eating fried wild and Flow A No heat, so they are all fresh penne cautious.

Colleague sitting opposite me take the mouth, you Do not know baa?

It opened my death experience another food.

Fresh Pasta personal preferences eight mature, more and more tough pharyngeal taste.

Actually, without the translate plugin for Chrome, I wouldn’t be able to navigate essential (to me, anyway) HK websites like DCFever, Car8 or Mac.HK.  For short bits of text, it’s okay enough to navigate around. 

But seriously, shouldn’t Google be doing a better job of it at this point?

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There Will Always Be An England

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Here’s the headline:

Premier Inn guest hurled racist abuse with fire extinguisher hose up his bottom

(found via BoingBoing)

The full story gets even better worse somethinger

A hotel guest emerged naked from a storage cupboard of a Premier Inn with a fire extinguisher hose up his bottom, a court was told.

Joseph Small, 20, stripped off and grabbed the appliance on the fourth floor corridor of the budget hotel.

He then put the hose between his buttocks and began touching himself, Westminster magistrates’ court heard.

Small also urinated on the carpet before a hotel worker wrapped him in a towel and escorted him down to reception.

He then hurled abuse at the Bangladeshi member of staff, telling him: ‘This country has been taken over by al-Qaeda – go back to Pakistan.’

In the lobby, Small again urinated in front of tourists, shouting: ‘I come from Sheffield in England.’

He caused £450 damage, the court was told.

Small admitted criminal damage, racially aggravated harassment and outraging public decency at the Leicester Square, central London hotel on October 31.

Prosecutor Izolda Switala-Gribbin said: ‘A member of staff by the name of Hassan could see a naked man in the corridor on CCTV. He went with a towel and then escorted him down to reception.

‘Hassan then watched CCTV showing the defendant coming out of a storage cupboard, naked and urinating on the lift door. The defendant could also be seen on CCTV placing a fire extinguisher hose and masturbating at the same time. Hassan called the police.’

Small racially abused the two police officers who arrived.

The court was told Small had travelled from Sheffield to make a deal on a used car.

Sentencing was adjourned until December 3 for reports.

 

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The Internet Sucks in Hong Kong Villages

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I’ve been living in small villages for 5-1/2 years now. For five of those years I could get a bullshit PCCW dsl line that was advertised at 8 megabits per second but in reality topped out at 5 for a higher price than people on HK island pay for a 1 gigabit per second line. Now I live in a place where PCCW can’t even figure out how to get a wire to.

Anyway, one of my readers sent me this link to this ATV World Inside Story episode that does a very good job of covering the issue. Only PCCW wires the villages, they have no competition, so they offer shitty service at a high price.  The report mentions that HK Broadband is willing to wire some of the villages but is having a difficult time getting government permits to tear up the roads to lay cables. I’m sure the government has no interest in helping the son of the richest man in Hong Kong maintain his monopoly on this service. (cough, cough)

As the story says, many people resort to using mobile internet – it doesn’t mention 3G and 4G USB modems as an alternative to tethering with a mobile phone, and also doesn’t mention how horrible the mobile coverage can be in many villages, though there is a demonstration of why the signal is often erratic. But when it works – about 75% of the time – I’m getting speeds with my 4G USB modem from SmarTone that are about twice as fast as I’d get with a landline from PCCW. (It seems that out here in the boonies SmarTone and China Mobile have the best coverage.)

The problem isn’t only villages – older buildings in Kowloon and on Hong Kong island also apparently aren’t wired with fiber optic. The story shows one business in a tenement where internet speeds are so slow that employees have to wait till they go home to upload or download business related files.

The story also makes a point that there are issues even with new buildings. Most of the telecom companies in Hong Kong are owned or partially owned by the real estate developers. So when they put up a new building, they make it easy for their own company to get in and throw up roadblocks for the competition. And this is legal.

They also state that the Office of the Telecommunications Authority says that HKT (owned by PCCW) is “obliged to provide basic services to everyone.” But apparently that obligation isn’t enforced. I live in a house that’s at least 3 years old that receives no basic services.

I have this crazy idea – the government should wire all the villages with fiber. The government should then offer equal access to all the telecom companies to this network and charge them access and usage fees. With every telecom having access to this network, there would be real competition, leading to lower prices and better service.

Is this idea really so insane? It must be. So far I’ve written to two Legco members and not received any response.

 

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Google Reader R.I.P.

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Monday, July 1st is the day that Google Reader shuts down for good.  You’ve got one day left to export all your data out of it. Click on over to Lifehacker for a post that links to directions on how to do the export if you can’t work it out as well as a rundown of which RSS readers they recommend once Reader is gone.

Feedly seems to be the reader that most people are migrating to. It has a lot of features, runs on a lot of devices, and has an API that allows other developers to create apps on top of it.

Note that if you go there at the moment (5:25 PM, Sunday, HK time), you might be greeted with this:

Fullscreen capture 6302013 52655 PM

 

Yikes.

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And I’m Back

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Well, came home tonight and plugged the USB stick into one of my MacBooks and download speed was back up to 12+ Mbps. I did nothing. So I can only assume that there was some issue on Smartone’s side.

On the other hand … trying to check the signal strength when using the TP-Link router tells me nothing. It always reads “signal strength 0%”. With the USB stick plugged into the laptop and using the SmarTone/Huawei connection software, it does show those little bars to indicate signal strength. I get 2 bars, out of 5. And then plugging in my external antenna did nothing. The plug on the antenna wire feels kind of loose so perhaps I need to tighten that up or replace it.

And I presume the dropped connection thing will continue.

But at least right now connection speed has returned to normal. I hope I don’t jinx it by posting this!

Thanks to everyone for their suggestions. Two days at sub-dial-up speeds was pure hell!

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My Shitty Internet – I Don’t Know What To Try Next

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To recap, while my internet has been problematic the past few months, last night the bottom dropped out and it’s been insanely slow since then.  I’ve tried all the suggestions that people left as comments to the previous post and nothing had any positive impact.

Here’s what happened tonight.

Came home from work and sat outside with my laptop, where the signal is best. I took the 4G USB modem and plugged it directly into the laptop. Since the service provider for that and for one of my mobile phones (yes, I know) is SmarTone, I ran Speedtest simultaneously on the laptop and phone, with the phone on the table right next to the USB stick.

On the phone I was getting speeds of 8 Mbps. On the MacBook, Speedtest wouldn’t even load. The stats in the modem’s own utility were showing me having a connection speed of around 20 Kbps.

So I grabbed the laptop and USB and headed to the SmarTone shop in town. And there, in their shop in Tai Po, same laptop, same USB stick, Speedtest was showing download speeds of 40 Mbps.

Back home again, things remain agonizingly slow. I’ve unplugged and replugged everything. I restored my router to factory defaults and set it up again. When I try to run Speedtest, I get a reasonable ping time (72 ms just now) but when it comes time to test download speed, it hangs at “connecting.” This is happening on both my PC and my MacBook.

The really odd thing is that my personal Gmail is so slow it’s unusable while my work Gmail seems to be operating almost normally.

I can’t blame this on my PC, because I get the same results on my MacBook. I can’t blame this on my router because I get the same results with the USB stick plugged directly into my laptop.  I would suggest that maybe the nearest cell tower went on the fritz except I got good results on my mobile phone.

What next? Aside from just giving up on the internet and becoming Amish?

P.S. Coming home tonight from work, the bus’s air con shut down 10 minutes into the ride. At least I had a seat. But by the time it reached Tai Po everyone on the bus had melted together into one massive puddle.

 

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