And I’m Back

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!

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

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.

 

My PC and Internet Problems

When I’ve posted tech issues here, some folks have been very helpful in giving me some good tips to resolve them. So I’m trying again. I’ve previously written about how insane my home internet set-up is. Some nights things are worse than others and tonight is one of those nights.

Very often, that little symbol in the task bar that shows the state of my internet connectivity has a little yellow warning sign that means “none.” What’s weird about this is that I can get to the TP-Link TL-MR3420 router through my browser. And when checking on the status, it says it’s connected to the Internet. I go downstairs and outside and all the lights that should be on and green are on and green. And the light is a steady blue on the USB 4G modem.

Bringing up a command window and trying ipconfig /release and /renew and all that has no effect. Sometimes I need to reboot the router and things are okay. Other times, even after rebooting the router, things are still not okay but they get fixed by rebooting my PC.

I’m thinking that there must be some alternate settings for the router, or some other commands I could enter into a command window, or some utility program I could get that would give me more control here and save me from time wasted on rebooting my PC and 5 devices every time I run into a problem? Any suggestions? (I’ve got Auslogics Boost Speed program and it looks at my registry and at my internet settings but it’s not coming up with anything.)

Also tonight my Internet is insanely slow. Speedtest is showing a download speed of 0.47 Mbps, whereas often I’ll get speeds of 15 Mbps or greater.  Testing against a Hong Kong server, ping is reasonable at 71 ms but I’d get better download speeds with two Dixie cups and a thread. My upload speed is actually faster than my download speed!

Sometimes I assume it’s because Smartone is throttling me because I’ve hit my 5 gig limit, but it’s after midnight, almost everyone in my village except me is asleep (and my dipshit can’t-sing-to-save-her-life upstairs neighbor, who always belts out a couple of songs after midnight before going to bed), things should be quicker than this, shouldn’t they? Sometimes this is solved by yet another PC reboot, tonight so far not.

Or is the answer that I need to replace my TP-Link router with something else? A lot of dealers I talk to like to disparage TP-Link, saying it’s China-made and that Taiwan-made stuff like D-Link would be better. I don’t want to go out and spend a thousand bucks on a new router based on speculation or the word of dealers who may simply be looking to make a sale.

Oh, and on a slightly related subject, has anyone ever bought a USB 3.0 hub that works? I’ve tried a couple of ’em and they always seem to die after a short period, even when I buy a “name” one like Lacie.

 

More on Spotify

Sometimes being a blogger doesn’t suck. The folks at Spotify‘s PR agency noted my previous post on their opening in Hong Kong and invited me for lunch with Sriram Krishnan, Spotify’s Head of New Markets Asia Pacific, the man behind Spotify’s recent launch in Hong Kong as well as Singapore and Malaysia. I should also mention that in addition to lunch, I was given three months of Spotify’s premium service for free, so take the rest of what I’m writing with as many grains of salt as you’d like.

First let me mention that my comment about the Chinese-only landing page for Hong Kong was noted and Sriram told me that the engineering team will be changing the landing page soon to make language selection easier.

We talked about the Hong Kong launch and I was surprised to find out that clearing the rights for the music here was not a major issue, that most copyright holders “want their music to be available everywhere.” It’s not universally true so there are going to be some things available in the US or UK that are not available here. On the other hand, I’m told they’ve got the bases covered for Hong Kong stars for the local market.

While he wouldn’t reveal any numbers, he did say that they’re signing up new users in Hong Kong much faster than they’d anticipated. I asked about conversion rates – from free users to paying ones. Globally Spotify has 24 million users and 6 million of them are paying subscribers.

So far there is nothing I’ve searched for that I haven’t found there, and if you know me, you know I search for some fairly left field stuff. Bonzo Dog Band? Yep – every album is there. Van Der Graaf Generator? All.

I told him that I thought I’d have two main ways to use the service. The first would be that when I’m away from home and reading something and some group or song comes to mind and I think, “Oh, I’d like to hear that song but it’s not on my iPhone,” I could then dial it up on Spotify and hear it almost instantly.

A variation on that – I open up the April 27th issue of NME. On page 2 there’s an ad for a group called New Killer Shoes which proclaims them to be “the hottest new rock band of 2013.” Flip over to Spotify and it has two singles by them and a second later they’re playing.

The second use for me would be when I’m too tired or distracted to select something to listen to, I could bring up one of their “radio stations,” mostly sorted by genres, and just go with that. I tried the Blues station and the first thing that came up was some classic Muddy Waters. Check. Then I went to Reggae and no surprise that the first thing I heard was Bob Marley, but there was plenty of other classic reggae tracks from other artists to follow.

Sriram told me that once I install the desktop version of Spotify, I could stream every song in my iTunes library (and I’ve got 92,209 at the moment). Then he started describing some of the other features to me, especially the social ones.

Here’s an example. One album I’ve been listening to recently is the Cosimo Matassa Story. Cosimo Matassa owned the studio in New Orleans where everyone recorded and was the engineer for classic tracks by Fats Domino, Lloyd Price, T-Bone Walker, Little Richard, Bobby Charles – the list goes on. I looked on Spotify and found a Cosimo Matassa playlist. Instantly it was streaming to my PC at work. And with another couple of clicks I was able to share the playlist on Twitter and Facebook.

So you can create your own playlists and then share them. You can follow specific artists. You can also follow other people or just follow playlists – which can be either created and maintained by a single person or can be collaborative. In other words, I could create a “60s psychedelic” playlist and open it up and other people can add tracks to it.  This last bit leaves me a bit dubious – the Internet is a playground after all.

And aside from the streaming radio, when you select an artist, you will also receive recommendations for “related artists.” Are the recommendations any good? I don’t know yet. I brought up current fave Laura Mvula and there are 20 related artists listed, 18 of which are new to me.

I’m intrigued by the fact that I can share a playlist right here on the blog and that you can play it, for free, right here from my blog. However, I’ve tried using their Embed page and right now either I’m doing something wrong or it’s not as simple within WordPress as they make it sound.

(I tried just pasting the embed code here but all I got when publishing the post was the embed code, no player. Finally I downloaded a 3rd party plugin and jumped through a few more flaming hoops to get this to work.)

So here’s a song for you, a very random choice on my part:

[spotifyplaybutton play=”spotify:track:4W8IEREeLldaSQyGXcZQ2I” view=”coverart” size=”500″ sizetype=”width” theme=”white”]

(The player will not show up in RSS feeds, you’ll have to visit my site to get it.) Note that when you click on the play button, I believe you will be prompted to sign up for Spotify and download the player. But if I can get this working easily, it will be a nice way to legally share music with you. Meanwhile, for Spotify it’s a cheap way to acquire more users.  

Negatives? Well, in my case, iTunes runs so slowly on my desktop PC (likely due to the size of my library) that it’s annoying. Spotify by default integrates with your iTunes library (and also Windows Media Library) and it then inherited iTunes’ sluggish speed. So I “disengaged” it from my iTunes library, which sped it up a lot – but the trade-off is that I won’t be able to stream songs from my home library when I’m away from home.

Positives? Many. Finally a legal streaming music service in Hong Kong with a vast library that offers a large number of features, many of which are available in the free model. And the price for the premium model is right, too – HK$48 per month (US$6.50) is less than the cost of a single CD for unlimited music.  Yes, right now I’ve got the service for free. But I’m pretty sure that when my three months is up, I’m going to continue using it.

Does Killing Google Reader Help Censorship?

Mashable suggests that it does.  Apparently while many governments around the world block a wide variety of web sites, many of those governments are not blocking RSS feeds or Reader, allowing people access to information that they might not otherwise get.  Mashable says Reader is particularly popular in Iran as well as China and Kazakhstan.

The folks at Change.Org hosting the Save Google Reader petition note that approximately 2/3rds of the signatures (129,000 right now) come from outside the U.S.

“Looks like there’s a dark side to the Google Reader story,” writes Charlotte Hill, a spokesperson for Change.org. “People living under repressive regimes use the service to access information untouched by government censors.

“If Google Reader goes, they say, so will uncensored news and views from around the world.”

Yeah, okay, there are other ways to get around government censorship, such as VPN, but clearly Reader is playing an important role for many people for many reasons.  I’m still hoping that Google could change their mind on this one.

Google Reader R.I.P.

I was shocked last week when I read that Google is planning on shutting down Reader, their free RSS aggregator, in just a few months. They claimed that usage on it was declining and that they wanted to focus their resources on other products.

I’ve used Reader from almost the day it came out.  I have hundreds of feeds coming in to it – news, business-related, hobby-related, and just plain bullshit time wasters.  I like the interface. It has always worked well for me.  Some of the web sites I follow can have 100 or even 200 new posts per day and Reader allowed me to cycle through them in minutes, finding just the ones I wanted.

Here’s a petition at Change.Org to save Google Reader.  There are 128,000 signatures so far. Will that be enough to get Google to change their minds?  I don’t know.

I’m looking at alternatives.  Lots of tech columnists are listing their choices: Washington Post, Slash Gear, USA Today, Forbes, Gizmodo, LifeHacker and many more.

The problem is that since Reader was so dominant, other feed aggregators were bending over backwards to do something different (as well they should).  So I’m looking for something that replicates Reader as much as possible and that’s a hard thing to find.

One possibility might be something called The Old Reader, which was started by Google Reader “exiles” after Google made some previous changes they didn’t like.  Feedly has some possibilities and they’re going out of their way to “welcome” converts from Reader.  I found another one that looks quite good and … oops, I lost the link – oh, it’s NewsBlur. free for up to 64 feeds, unlimited for just a buck a month.

At least, Google is making it relatively painless to export your data – not just your feeds and how they’re organized, also whatever you’ve starred or shared.  Small consolation, but some consolation at least.

And a reminder that nothing is forever.

I’m Now on SmarTone and ….

Having resigned myself to the likely fact that PCCW won’t run a wire to my house for longer than I care to think about, I went and got myself a mobile data account with SmarTone.

First things first, I went to the Wanchai Computer Centre to see if I could buy a 4G USB modem at a cheaper price than SmarTone’s.  Turns out the WCC was $100 more expensive.  What I did see there, that I hadn’t seen previously, was a 4G Router – you put the SIM card directly into the router, as opposed to the router I bought, that has a USB port that allows one to run it off a USB modem.

At any rate, over to SmarTone to get set up.  Their signal seems to be much stronger where I live.

You have to admire companies that use technology well.  Go to a 3 shop and you’ll see a bunch of people sitting behind desks typing customer info into computers.  Go to a SmarTone shop and the staff are standing at podiums.  As for info on a product and they whip out an iPad and show you all the details.  Sign up with them and they don’t have to type in all your data – the guy used his iPhone camera to scan my ID card and address proof and then OCR software grabbed the details and populated the form appropriately.

And no paper.  I signed the contract with my finger on the iPad.  No paper receipt. As soon as I signed and clicked okay, the receipt was emailed to me. Sweet.

So once at home, I got everything set up and saw via SpeedTest that I was getting download speeds of up to 20 Mbps.  This is huge for me, because in 5 years in Sai Kung I had an 8 Mbps line (which is all PCCW can give me in Lam Tsuen, too) and of course never got that kind of speed in real usage.  Mobile data wasn’t an option at either of the places I lived in Sai Kung because I could barely get a 2G signal let alone 3G or 4G.

Well, it’s not all smiles.  Because it took me less than 24 hours to hit the 5 gig mark and get an SMS telling me that for the rest of the month – 25 more days – my “priority to access the network” would be lowered but that they guaranteed that my speed would not go below 128 Kbps.  128k?  Be still my bleeding heart.

At the moment (12:18 AM) Speedtest is reporting download speed is roughly 6.5 Mbps, down 50% or more from the speed I was getting earlier today.  To be fair, earlier today, my village was probably 2/3rds empty with people at work and now could be prime internet time here, with people doing all sorts of stuff before hitting the sack.  And, if I’m in the mood to be fair (actually no I’m not) then I could say that 6.5 Mbps is still double what I was getting with PCCW.

In my opinion, “unlimited data” needs to be “unlimited data without any fine print or asterisks.”  The only people who benefit from the so-called Fair Usage Data Policy are the mobile companies; certainly not the public.

And if their networks are creaking at the seams because they couldn’t build fast enough to handle all the demand for streaming High Definition multimedia, is that my fault?

I’d also suggest that they need to adjust the numbers for subscribers who either cannot get a fixed line from PCCW or choose not to do so and are using wireless as their sole means of Internet access.  I know, it’s probably a small percentage of users (but probably growing) but that should make it all the easier to provide for them/us/me.  And honestly, if it’s a choice between HK$220 a month throttled at 5 gig or pay some higher amount, let’s say an additional 50%, for really unlimited data, I’d pay the extra amount.

 

Comparing Mobile Data Plans

Since it seems pretty certain that I’m not going to be getting a phone line or wired internet for months, if not years, I’ve decided to upgrade to a 4G wireless modem.

What I know is that I can’t get a 4G signal at home from either PCCW or 3.  I know for certain that I can get one from SmarTone and not entirely certain about One2Free.

So if I look to compare the service between SmarTone and One2Free, the differences are so huge that I wonder if I’m looking at something wrong.

For starters, if you’re on a contract and you want unlimited data every month via 4G, it costs $208 per month from SmarTone and $387 per month from One2Free.

As if that’s not different enough, a 4G USB modem costs $1,388 from SmarTone while one from One2Free (I’m guessing the same one) costs somewhere around $2,000.

Why such a tremendous disparity in prices?  I have no idea.

Of course the notion of “unlimited” data is peculiarly defined here.

One2Free says:

The fair usage level of the Mobile Data service is 5GB per month.  After you have reached a monthly usage of 5GB, a fair usage policy will be applied. You can continue to use the service, however, your access to the network will have speeds restricted in order to provide a quality service to other users

SmarTone says:

When customer has reached the monthly data usage of 5GB, the Fair Usage Policy will be applied. Customer can still continue to use the Service. However, they will be given lower priority to access the network resources, where the Customer’s experience may be affected when the network traffic is busy.

Well, they all say the same thing, with just slightly different language.

I suppose 5 gig a month is fine for someone who is just looking at Facebook on their mobile phone on the way to work every day.

But for those of us who live in areas not serviced by PCCW and can only get Internet via wireless, 5 gig is ludicrous.

Example #1:  Apple released a new upgrade for their mobile operating system.  2 iPhones, 2 iPads, all different generations and models, so each required a separate download.  Each download was 1 gig.  (Each download took up to 90 minutes.)  So that’s 4 gig of my 5 gig monthly allotment gone in half a day.

Example #2: I subscribe to Wired and Esquire magazines through the iTunes store.  Because they both come with a lot of multimedia content, each issue “weighs” around 500 meg.  So each month that’s a gig.  Then purchase or rent some TV shows and movies from iTunes or stream some TV and how long does it take to use up a few gig, especially if you’re going after HD content?

In other words, there’s nothing fucking fair about the so-called Fair Usage Policy.  The only one it might conceivably be fair to is the mobile operator, not the consumer.

But of course the government won’t do anything about that because all of the mobile companies in Hong Kong are owned by the real estate companies that really own Hong Kong.  And the last thing the government wants to do is piss off Li Ka-Shing.

So because we have a “free market economy” (which of course isn’t free, it’s carefully controlled by a small consortium and their government puppets), you can’t force the fixed line provider to wire every house and you can’t force the competition to step in and offer a choice to the millions who live in the New Territories.

So when a free market economy results in no choice at all, how free is it?

 

Chinese Newspaper Takes The Onion Seriously

This is one of those times when fact is funnier than fiction.

Two weeks ago satirical news web site The Onion named North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un as their sexiest man alive for 2012.

With his devastatingly handsome, round face, his boyish charm, and his strong, sturdy frame, this Pyongyang-bred heartthrob is every woman’s dream come true. Blessed with an air of power that masks an unmistakable cute, cuddly side, Kim made this newspaper’s editorial board swoon with his impeccable fashion sense, chic short hairstyle, and, of course, that famous smile.

Here’s the picture that they ran with the piece:

The article also lists the previous winners of this award:

  • 2011: Bashar al-Assad
  • 2010: Bernie Madoff
  • 2009: Charles and David Koch (co-winners)
  • 2008: Ted Kaczynski
  • 2007: T. Herman Zweibel

Funny stuff on its own but it gets better because the English edition of China’s People’s Daily Online thought this was for real and ran the story yesterday.  The news item headline is “Edited and translated by Zhang Qian, People’s Daily Online” – but after the first sentence, the rest of the piece is simply the rest of the article from The Onion (although they neglect to list the previous winners).

Except … the PDO’s article comes with no less than FIFTY FIVE PICTURES of the dashing Kim … riding a horse, surrounded by school kids, holding a bouquet of flowers, surrounded by female army officers, waving a lot.

After a crappy couple of days, this cheers me up so much.

 

The Latest Facebook Hoax Everyone Is Falling For

I’m seeing this posted on peoples’ timelines, often from people whom I would have thought knew better.  Here’s one variation:

In response to the new Facebook guidelines I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, writings, illustrations, paintings, photos, and videos, etc. (as a result of the Berner Convention). My written consent is required at all times for commercial use of the above.

I notify Facebook that it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, disseminate, or take any other action against me on the basis of this profile and/or its contents. The aforementioned prohibited actions also apply to employees, students, agents and/or any staff under Facebook’s direction or control. The content of this profile is private and confidential information. The violation of my privacy is punished by law (UCC 1 1-308-308 1-103 and the Rome Statute).

Facebook is now an open capital entity. All members are recommended to publish a notice like this, or if you prefer, you may copy and paste this version. If you do not publish a statement at least once, you will be tacitly allowing the use of elements such as your photos as well as the information contained in your profile status updates.

It’s just utter nonsense.

First of all, when you sign up for an account with Facebook, you have agreed to their terms of service.  This is what is called a Contract.  One side cannot unilaterally change the terms of signed contract.  That’s a little something called The Rule of Law.

Second of all, the terms of service of Facebook indicate that you remain the copyright holder of anything you post but that you are granting Facebook a right to use your posts.  You cannot revoke this right.  But you can adjust your privacy settings and account settings to limit or prevent your stuff from being accessed by others.

Finally, yeah, so they’re now a public company.  So what?  True, they’ve got stockholders to answer to and profit/growth targets to reach.  But they’ve always used your likes and posts in their advertising.

If you don’t like it, don’t get an account or delete your account.

If you don’t believe me, check this post on Snopes or this one from GigaOm or this one from Slate.

Snopes:

Facebook users cannot retroactively negate any of the privacy or copyright terms they agreed to when they signed up for their Facebook accounts nor can they unilaterally alter or contradict any new privacy or copyright terms instituted by Facebook simply by posting a contrary legal notice on their Facebook walls.

Slate:

… just to be clear, referencing a bunch of legal hokum on your Facebook profile will have absolutely no effect on what Facebook can and cannot do with your information.

There is a bigger question at play here.  More than a billion people are on Facebook.  And somehow, what might be a significant percentage of those people who use Facebook so distrust it that they are willing to believe whatever anti-Facebook hoo-hah comes their way.  It’s a question for others to resolve.

Facebook, like anything else, is a tool.  Don’t use it, or use it with caution and learn the facts.  Simple as that.