Oct 22, 2017

Dancers are the athletes of God - Albert Einstein

Vodafone Mobile Broadband via USB Modem Stick

Background
In an ideal world your mobile phone would act as a broadband modem for your PC. And as part of your package you would get a lot of internet use built in regardless of if you used the net on your phone or were doing things on your portable PC. This is possible but things conspire against it. You need the mobile to have Bluetooth to link to the portable – which rules out the iPhone for example. You also need a provider that doesn’t differentiate between phone and modem use – you have to dig around a lot to see what is possible but some only seem to do deals giving cheap prices for phone surfing.

And then there is what happens when you go abroad when you get stuffed at £6+ for a MB of data to a phone and your bill can rocket into hundreds. A trip to Majorca with my iPhone and T-Mobile sunsequently calculated I owed them £700+ and this when I have Web and Walk access that allows me ‘free’ net use in the UK. The bill was reduced to less than £100, for which I am grateful, but it also underlines that the price in the first place is based on silly money rather than actual real costs to provide the service. In Majorca, and anytime I am on the road, I really want good comms at a cheap price.

If you use a mobile as a modem then you also have battery life problems potentially. Putting it all into one I decided that I would shell out £15 a month on one of the USB modem packages that most mobile providers are doing now. And for a 2 year deal Vodafone currently chuck in their highest speed USB Modem – the E172. The call it a USB Modem Stick and it can do speeds up to 7.2Mbps (twice ‘normal’ speed). They are rolling out the higher speed across the country but all you need to know is that it’s fast enough already really. For the £15 you get 3GB of monthly use and £15/GB if you go over – not the end of the world but not something you want to do. More details here:
www.vodafone.co.uk/mobilebroadband

The reason I went with Vodafone is that they are always said to have the fullest network in the UK and sometime I go up to the Outer Hebrides where mobile connections can be very hard to find at times. But the clincher was that in Europe and (currently) USA, Australia and a few other destinations, you get mobile for £10/day – up to 50MB anway. That’s not a lot of data but it is enough. I’m not aware of any other provider offering such a deal. So my 2 weeks in Majorca would have cost £140 rather then £750 (and for much, much, more data too).

Vodafone USB modem in use.
It’s nominally easy to use – plug in and it bursts into life running Vodafone Mobile Light which is held on the modem itself. There are some gotchas

1) It doesn’t seem to like being plugged into some USB hubs and either doesn’t work or locks up. I can only currently get it to work by plugging into the one USB(1) connection I have.

2) Using the Light software all the images presented on web pages are sent in a highly compressed form and look terrible. If you need to show clients pages, it is not good. It’s a shame you can’t configure the standard software another way.

3) To get decent pictures you have to download the full version of Vodafone Mobile onto your computer. You then plug in the Modem – it fires up the Light version and then you run the full version which after a while, displaces the Light. But I’ve occasionally had problems when it does not and there seems to be a tussle wbtween the two for conrol of teh hardware. It’s not as slick as it should be really.

Checking How much Data you are using
Given the costs of going over I want a rock solid way of measuring how much I am using. The Vodafone Mobile software tracks this but how well I don’t know. However while its nice to have a good local way of monitoring use the thing that ultimately matters is Vodafones servers and how much they think I have used. So it makes sense to register with the website and get access to definitive information on use. Sadly this is not at all slick.

Registering with Vodafone and checking data use
Registration problems.
As part of registration Vodafone send a message to the mobile you are using and you type that message immediately into a box to complete registration. But I don’t have a mobile so can’t do this!

I rang up support and got a nice lady who took a long time to realise she didn’t have a clue and I got put through to somebody technical who was very on the ball. And it turns out to be a problem they know about but don’t have a decent solution for. The proposal was that you plug the data Sim into a mobile phone in order to see the registration message they send. I pointed out to the man that most phones were locked to the mobile comms supplier and I was not with Vodafone… But there was no other advice and definite ‘not possible’ when I asked if teh account could be manualy setup by them. 4 phones later I found one I could use and manged to register. How rubbish is that I ask you.

Seeing Data Use
What you want is something like this:

Account Plan:     3000MB/Month
Used to Date (*): 40.6Mb
Estimated Use for month: 2345MB
(*)up to midnight last night.

You obviously want to know where you are, what your allowance is and if you carry on as you are what you are likely  to use in the month.

What you get is tens and hundreds of line entries of what data connections were made. This is nice info but what you need is a total of all these entries and you don’t get it. You can though download all the data in a form to run through Excel but even that is a pain because each data item comes tagged ‘109.085 KB’, so you have to get rid of all the ‘ KB”s from the column before you can sum it up to get the big number. I assume Vodafone make this difficult so you are more likely to go over limit and incur extra costs.

I guess what I will do is compare what the Modem tells me on use and what Vodafone servers say and hopefully after finding full agreement will just use the Modem numbers.

Asus EEE 900 Linux and Vodafone USB Modem Stick
I have one of these and I plugged the Vodafone modem in and it worked. I have no idea if optimal drivers are being used but it seems to be as fast as on Windows and I think its brilliant of Asus to arrange this – deeply impressed that I don’t have to do anything. That said Vodafone also have a Research group site and one of the things they seem to have is software for a variety of devices in the pipeline (and it was another reason I plumped for Vodafone in the first place):
http://www.betavine.net/

Current Conclusion
It works fine – but as with much technology it’s not actually as slick to setup, end to end, as I had hoped.

Upgrading Original iPhone to Version 2 Software – not yet I think

Well I held off a while but last night decided to upgrade my original 8GB iPhone to version 2. My phone is actually jail-broken and used on T-Mobile in the UK. No objection to O2 at all but I have a contract that is still running and which I can’t get out of.

The website I used to unlock the iPhone is: www.iphoneunlockuk.com

I suspect they just package up a solution developed by others, but money changes hands and support telephone lines are there if needed. I’ve never had to use these so how good they might be I don’t know. The website is a bit confused having grown in a topsy turvy way, but the instructions for the upgrade to 2 looked full enough and initial teething problems (with the instructions) were sorted. Some banners on the site might lead you to believe it is a one click process – this is most certainly not the case. However above all that I didn’t do what I should have done – a good net search for problems around upgrading original iPhones. Had I done this I don’t think I would have done the upgrade yet. The upgrade itself seemed to go fine however but here are the issues I have encountered and where I am now in having a great working iPhone or not…

iPhone 2.0 – Calendar Syncing problems with Outlook 2003/2007
First thing I do with any upgrade like this is give syncing of appointments a good shake – if it doesn’t work and you don’t have access to a solid diary you really are left looking like a banana head.

By problems I mean that if I create an entry on the iPhone it did not seem to sync across to the PC (Windows XP, Outlook 2003) and visa versa. Also using the Calender on the iPhone it suddenly started talking about 2 Calendars and Itunes 7.7 had created a new Calendar in Outlook called ‘Home’. A couple of entries were in it, picked from the one calendar I have always run. Where on earth all this has come from I don’t know! There must be some logic to it but goodness knows what it is. Search net and this discussion on the Apple site helped solve the issue: discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?threadID=1595598&tstart=0

Essentially it seems to come down to recurring entries not being handled properly and you need to delete them all, Sync, and then recreate them. In the thread is a way you can use export and import to help the process. I also deleted the newly created home Calender on Outlook (Go > Folder List > right click on ‘Home’ Calendar and delete ). I then checked it all, creating and modifying appointments on both sides of the sync. Getting rid of the Home stuff also means I’m back to just one Calender in both places and which everything goes in – easiest.

So I seem to be sorted but no marks to Apple for the pain and poor approach to a central need that should be rock solid.

iPhone 2.0 – Can’t locate me in Google Maps
If you go into Maps and touch the little icon at the bottom left of the screen it is supposed to bring up a map of where you are. On first generation iPhones, like mine, it does this using knowledge of where mobile phone masts and public wifi connections are. This always used to work for me with 1.1.4 software. It now doesn’t and just seems to go off into infinity thinking about where it is. More on this problem here: discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?threadID=1596432&tstart=15

UK phones seems to be particularly afflicted, whether on O2 or not, but its seems to be early days still in seeing just how big a problem this is across the population.

It’s a big issue in Version 2 because some of the applications (like Camera) are GeoTag capable and it would be nice to use the facility (even if less than 100% accurate on original iPhones because of the approximate way they establish where you are).

iPhone – General Sluggish Feel
As I move around from application to application it seems to me that each application thinks a bit longer before putting up its initial screen. And sometimes it seems to think about whether to accept the menu selection you are trying to make. It’s not cripplingly bad, but does not inspire so much confidence.

iPhone 2.0 – So whats better?
I’ve not used the iPhone store to see what applications I can download – I’ve spent too much time picking up pieces from the upgrade… Hopefully it will please me at some point.

No Copy and Paste still – which seems perverse. And no ability to read email in Landscape mode, which I’ve always wanted. In fact why isn’t the ability to work in Portrait or Landscape just generic across all applications?

All up at the moment I’ve very much underwhelmed by the upgrade and if I had my hours again I wouldn’t bother. On the other hand upgrading when Apple bring out 2.01 or 2.1 software should be easier from here and could be more difficult from where I was. All up though I get the feeling of a rushed release by Apple.

Showing the Date in the Windows System Tray

Somehow I keep wanting to know the date when I’m on the computer (running Windows XP) and its annoying to hover over the time in the system tray to get it – sometimes the hover doesn’t work even, adding more annoyance. Of course when I want to know the time I look at my watch so it would have been nice if Microsoft had made this bit of XP configurable. Alas not.

You can make the Taskbar deeper and then the date gets displayed along with the time. But you seem to be wasting valuable screen real estate then. Of course you can auto hide it (so no screen real-estate loss) but I’ve never got on well with that way of working.  So I did a search that came up with a little app called ‘DateInTray‘. I then did a search on that and Lifehacker to see if it had been recommended by them. That does two things – adds some degree of confidence to a selection and also in the discussion on Lifehacker other similar apps are thrown up that may be better.

DateInTray looked good, so I downloaded it. Well it does what it says – puts the date in the tray  but it doesn’t put it next to the existing Windows time display over on the right. At start-up it could appear anywhere and while its distinctive I really don’t want to hunt for it amidst 10-20 other little icons. So I went back to Lifehacker and LClock seemed to get good comments for its configurability.

LClock works well and replaces the existing Windows time display and with a bit of ticking of boxes duly puts up date along with the time – just what I need. Here is what it looks like on my machine – the time is 7:38 on the 8th day of the month:

LClock - showing Time and Date

Get LClock here:
www.neowin.net/forum/index.php?showtopic=157465

The page on Lifehacker about DateInTray, LClock and other apps:
lifehacker.com/software/downloads/download-of-the-day-dateintray-189578.php

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