Farewell Wireless Broadband

I’m not normally an early adopter. Many years ago, I decided that it was important for consumer electronics to just work so that I could actually use them instead of spending eons fighting with some glossy new technology just to be the first to see it in action. Wireless broadband does fit into the “glossy new technology” category but it was a really good fit for me.

  • I want ADSL-like speed for my internet access
  • I don’t need sub-100ms ping times
  • I don’t have a land-line (I have a great mobile phone plan)
  • I can’t get Cable Internet in my apartment block
  • I don’t agree with leeching bandwidth from my neighbours’ open wireless points

Wireless broadband?

Yeah, it’s not common but it’s not a new concept either. If you worked in San Francisco around 1999 there was a system called Ricochet that would give you wireless internet connectivity while you drove in the Valley (or more accurately while you were gridlocked on the freeways in the Valley). Sydney’s setup is quite comprehensive so you can get wireless network connectivity in most suburbs in the metropolitan area. You access the wireless networks using proprietary hardware (a standalone modem or a PCMCIA card) at speeds up to 1024/256kbps. Unfortunately the either the technology or the implementation were lacking which meant that it wasn’t a good fit for me, so I wrote a poem about my experiences.

An Ode to Wireless Broadband

bullitt:~ edwin$ ping www.unwired.com.au
PING www.unwired.com.au (220.101.191.10): 56 data bytes
64 bytes from 220.101.191.10: icmp_seq=0 ttl=59 time=210.72 ms
64 bytes from 220.101.191.10: icmp_seq=1 ttl=59 time=301.443 ms
64 bytes from 220.101.191.10: icmp_seq=4 ttl=59 time=159.269 ms
64 bytes from 220.101.191.10: icmp_seq=5 ttl=59 time=561.475 ms
64 bytes from 220.101.191.10: icmp_seq=7 ttl=59 time=219.599 ms
64 bytes from 220.101.191.10: icmp_seq=8 ttl=59 time=491.45 ms
64 bytes from 220.101.191.10: icmp_seq=9 ttl=59 time=113.836 ms
^C
--- www.unwired.com.au ping statistics ---
10 packets transmitted, 7 packets received, 30% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max = 113.836/293.970/561.475 ms

A post-mortem

To their credit, the providers state that this is not the sort of technology for gamers who need ultra-low ping times. That didn’t worry me because I’m not a gamer but I do want reasonable page loading times, reasonable download speeds, the ability to streaming audio or video and reasonable quality on Skype or VOIP. Over the 6 months that I had my 512/128kbps connection, I was very attentive to these areas. Here are my observations.

Page loading times

Yuk. Terrible. Yuk. If you look at the ping times above you’ll understand when I say that it would often take 5 seconds to load the Google search page. Interestingly enough, larger pages weren’t that much slower although they still took forever to put the first bit of information up on the screen. The page loading times deteriorated over the course of my 6 month contract which is consistent with increasing (over?)load at the base-stations. Forum comments on Whirlpool, Australia’s broadband review site, showed my experiences were consistent with others on the same service. However, while the loading times were very irritating, it’s not the end of the world. I’m not a huge web user, I can be patient and the \$35/month I was saving over the cost of an ADSL connection was worth it.

Reasonable download speeds

The download speeds were pretty close to the maximum throughput of my connection on the rare occasions that I downloaded a demo of some software or the most recent Battlestar Galactica episode off BitTorrent (yes, I buy the DVDs. no, I’m not a pirate) . I found this to be particularly interesting because it suggests that the page loading problem doesn’t lie with over-allocated bandwidth at the provider’s end.

Streaming Audio and Video

This was the wireless broadband deal-breaker. The ability to stream a radio station or a music sample from the iTunes store is important to me. It’s also nice to be able to check out a movie trailer or watch an segment from ABC’s Foreign Correspondent. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get more than a few seconds of content before it would re-buffer. It wasn’t the site and it’s not my local setup (as ADSL has confirmed). I never did any analysis on the number of packets that the applications thought they were loosing but I bet that packet loss was the problem.

Skype and VOIP

I wish I’d characterised Skype behaviour a little better but I didn’t. I guess you can blame the broken mic on my PowerBook. The time that I did have a conversation, a call using SkypeOut to Canada early in my 6 month contract, had acceptable connection quality but a sample size of one ain’t much good. I do have doubts about whether Skype or VOIP would be acceptable with the latency and packet loss but can only speculate.

Setup notes

Using the built-in diagnostic software, I found that my base station was either 1.3km or 4.7km distant (it changed between the two). Most of the time it was connected to a base station at Silverwater. My signal strength was -83db +/- 3. I wish I’d noted the quality. I spent the best part of an hour positioning the modem in the apartment, watching the graph of the signal strength was fascinating, especially when twisting the modem by 15 degrees would give a few extra db of signal strength.

Conclusion

The packet loss and latency killed this technology for me. Your mileage will vary, for better or for worse, by your location. I would have been interested to know whether the base station was overloaded or whether the technology just isn’t great. Either way, I’m now zooming along with ADSL. Sure I’m paying an extra \$35/month because I need a land-line but it’s worth it because it just works.

Now…does anyone want to buy a used Unwired modem?

The Muhammed cartoons - what’s really going on?

The extreme reaction

Each day last week I’ve heard something about these cartoons. One day the Arab world is boycotting Danish products, the next day Europeans are being warned that they are not safe in the West Bank and ambassadors have even been withdrawn. Then a bunch of Norwegian peacekeepers were bailed up in their compound in Afghanistan. I’m sure many of us are throwing up our hands and saying “There go the Muslims again” but there’s something deeper happening here. We’ve all seen behaviour that, from our cultural background, seems irrational but to those from a different background it is perfectly natural. This is what we have here. Now, not every Muslim has reacted violently. There haven’t been mass protests in my largely Muslim suburb but that doesn’t mean the Muslims around me aren’t true believers. I expect many are angry, shocked and disappointed but have not taken to the streets to express their feelings. The protests, however, have been consistent, strong and well supported from the Muslim community right across world, so obviously something has touched a nerve.

Free speech and post-modernism

It’s common in the post-modern, western world for people to openly challenge what is sacred, what is assumed and to speak on topics that are taboo. This is less common, generally speaking, in the Muslim world. I am used to seeing biased views, factually incorrect statements or satires on my faith and so I challenge them where I can, using my same right to express an opinion, but at the end of the day I know that people will always challenge what others believe. I am used to it but I doubt they are. To someone in a country without the right to free speech it would be even less common. It is countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Afghanistan where free speech is not in the common psyche that have reacted strongest. One can look at the response of the Turkish community in Germany, the Lebanese community in Australia and the Muslim community in the U.K. and see that those in countries with free speech have reacted in a different manner.

Effective (and ineffective) Cross Cultural Communication

Globalisation is a reality. My car is assembled in Thailand, my computer is designed in the USA and assembled in India. My shirt is made in China. The global neighbourhood is becoming smaller. If you want to communicate with someone in England you do so in the English language so that they have the best chance of understanding you. If Fijian tribal tradition requires you to wear a green hat when speaking in public, you wear a green hat so that you maximise your chance of being heard. Now, if the Muslim community wishes to communicate effectively with Denmark, the E.U. and the west on this issue they should do so in a way that maximises their chance to be heard. I doubt most people have a problem, conceptually, with people reacting or being angry with someone offends them. I doubt most people would have a problem with a street protest. People do, however, have a problem when people are threatened and people are killed. I, for one, find it utterly bizarre that people are resorting to acts of violence to protest against images of a bomb-carrying prophet. It hardly endears me to their cause.

The focus of the protest

Blasphemy! Blasphemy!”. If the Islamic community wishes to actually make progress in matter of these cartoons rather than simply let off steam, they should change the focus of their protests. This “blasphemy” is a natural by-product of free-speech just like parliamentary elections are a by-product of democracy. If you wanted to purge your country of elections, start talking about why democracy is bad. If you’re unhappy with the “blasphemy”, start talking about whether free-speech is appropriate in it’s current form. For every person shouting “Blasphemy!” there is one shouting “This is free-speech - if you don’t like it, don’t read it”. Shouting at one another generally achieves very little. If you want to be heard and make your point, focus on the root issue rather than it’s by-product.

Can something constructive come from this?

There is great potential for a constructive, inter-cultural dialogue to come out of the publishing of these cartoons and the response to them. There is also the potential for this to be just another case that increases the divide between the Western and Islamic world. I do hope that the constructive contributions from the rest of the world are heard over the violent, sensational protests that the media loves to focus upon. I also hope people present clear and concise points of view that make everyone stop and think, even if we then return to where we were. At least there will be a greater level of understanding and appreciation of the other… or are we just more interested in shouting at each other and making ourselves feel better?

Four Things

The content and spread of this fun “Four Things” post is most interesting. I first saw it at Eric Meyer’s site but it’s right throughout the web development community. Has anyone studied the phylogeny of these contagious little chronicles?

Four Things

Four jobs I’ve had:

  1. Software sales at The Games Wizards
  2. Computer Science tutor at the University of Sydney
  3. Software Developer with Entigen.com
  4. Unix System Administrator with CommSecure

Four movies I can watch over and over:

  1. Thirteen Days
  2. The Castle
  3. Apollo 13
  4. Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Four places I’ve lived:

  1. Sydney
  2. Croydon (London)
  3. Rabat, Morocco
  4. West Sussex, UK

Four TV shows I love:

  1. The West Wing
  2. Battlestar Galactica (the new series)
  3. Foreign Correspondent (ABC Australia)
  4. Anything where I can watch the NFL

Four places I’ve vacationed:

  1. Almaty, Kazakhstan
  2. Beijing
  3. Mauritania
  4. Death Valley, California

Four of my favourite dishes:

  1. Beef Vindaloo
  2. Plov
  3. Eggs Benedict with Ham
  4. A good macchiato

Four sites I visit daily:

  1. Slashdot
  2. Sydney Morning Herald
  3. Dilbert
  4. Rockclimbing.com photos

Four places I would rather be right now:

  1. In a window seat on a Singapore Airlines or Emirates flight
  2. Skiing in Switzerland
  3. Trekking in the Himalayas (in Nepal)
  4. Rock climbing at Moonarie in South Australia

Four bloggers I am tagging:

  1. I’m not.

Kosciuszko - A walk in the park

Mt. Kosciuszko is Australia’s highest mountain. If you are planning the trip, I suggest you leave behind your supplemental oxygen, your ice axe and your duck-down suit. Your best friend would be a good old can of Aerogard. The flies are really bad.

Between Christmas and New Year’s, a friend and I drove from Sydney, past Canberra and up into the Snowy Mountains. After a good night’s sleep we continued past the ski fields and drove as far as we could until the road stopped at Charlotte’s Pass. 2 hours and a 9km walk later we stood heroically, windswept and a little sunburnt, a full 2229m (7313ft) above sea level surveying all the land and people of Australia beneath us… at least until the next person stood next to the summit marker! Taking a different route back lead us past beautiful alpine scenery, a glacial lake and some wildflowers that grow in one place worldwide — along the track we walked. The 13km return leg was tiring but ever so beautiful. Take a day out if you’re in the area in summer.

Now, would it surprise you that I took photos? Honestly, I’m really thrilled with the way these came out. I’m especially fond of the jpg panoramas (and the zoomable QuickTime QTVR versions aren’t bad either!). All the photos and jpg panoramas are in my Kosciuszko album.

Oh, OK. Here’s a taste…

View from the Charlotte's pass viewing platform

Patience, grasshopper

One step at a time.

I’m always fighting the desire to have everything perfect before even starting but here I just want enough infrastructure to publish, be happy enough with the look and have a starting point for improvements.

Here’s the basic to-do list:

  1. Actually get a basic WordPress and gallery2 install [cha-ching]
  2. Move the content across from my old zeta site (http://www.zeta.org.au/~ed), particularly image galleries and QuickTime QTVR panoramas [cha-ching]
  3. Sort out and upload the rest of the image galleries [done]
  4. Upload the first cut at my WordPress template [done]
  5. Tie in the WordPress and gallery templates via the WordPress gallery2 plugin [done]
  6. Write! [ Now I’m here ]

I’ve already got several image galleries in place. You can see them by following the Photos link at the top right of this page.

Cheers,

Edwin.

Site by Edwin Steele | Uncopyright. No rights reserved | Why give it away?