Oct 22, 2017

Dancers are the athletes of God - Albert Einstein

Vodafone Mobile Broadband – Cost Problems Using Abroad – Be Very Careful. Also Poor Customer Care.

I’ve just been over to Turkey for 4 days and it was also the first time to try out my Vodafone Mobile Broadband modem abroad. The reason I went to Vodafone (who don’t supply my mobile phone – that’s T-Mobile) was because they do reasonably cheap use abroad – £9.99/day for up to 50Mb. That’s not all countries – the list is here: http://www.abroad.vodafone.co.uk/index.cfm?do=abroad.blackberry&me=a3&nu=1&le=3&business=true&sn=s7&wtcgn=(business)Using%20your%20data%20abroad&wtcgs=Costs

Before going I checked that Turkey was in the £10/day footprint and I also downloaded the latest version of Vodafone Mobile Connect which in the release notes mentioned having a Turkey specific update, though I can’t recall what now. Although I download the full version of connect sometimes the system just seems to use the Light version on the USB Modem – an E172. Before going I also did all the Windows updating – although I never have it setup to auto update, just warn me if there are updates, I don’t want to run any risk of Windows forgetting and downloading huge updates.

In Turkey the link seem to work intermittently – picking up different providers I think, but I didn’t take a note. I did though see if the software could bring up a list of providers that I might select from, but could find no option like that. But I don’t think I should need to do any of this – it really ought to just sort itself out and that’s what it did. I was able though look at the graph of Use on the Connect software and it was showing 25Mb for the month, which was after 2 days use – so nowhere near the 50 MB per day. And that’s intuitively correct – I just want to check emails and do some light surfing while away enjoying myself. Then the modem just stopped working. I had no idea why.

I got back to the UK yesterday and tried and use the modem today and still it was not working. So I try to login to my account on the Vodafone website using normal broadband – and the account seems to deactivated.

So I ring up and get put on hold while investigations are made. The lady comes back saying the bill was very high because I had been using the phone (its not a phone!) abroad and its £10/Mbyte. So I explain its not a phone and it only cost £10/day. And she says that Turkey isn’t in Europe and it doesn’t count. And i say I checked the website and it is in the plan. More consulting while I am on hold. And then she says I must have used more then 50 Mbytes and then it £5/Mybte. And i don’t believe this.

So I ask how much do I owe and she says she doesn’t know. Credit Control apparently  disabled the account and there is talk about £120, but no detail and the detail will not be known until the next bill. So Vodafone might be claiming I used more even

I’m now very nervous:

1) I’ve used the system as advertised and not excessively and yet I am being told I owe a lot of money.
2) Vodfone send no email or call or anything to warn me that the account was suspended – appalling.
2) Vodafone customer service don’t really seem to be at all familiar with price plans – I find myself talking to somebody who was clutching at straws to justify what had happened rather then realising the price plan I was on and really understanding what may have happened. Even with the detail numbers  known I worry about having a conversation with the ordinary customer care people who seem to front things.

I am now very, very nervous about using abroad – the only reason I’m with Vodafone. Luckily I am not going abroad for a while now. But this is not good.

I’d welcome other views and experiences and war stories about who one should ask to talk to if one finds oneself in this position. Also when will costs be known? What might have happened etc.

But for the moment I remain very apprehensive of Vodafone’s ability to deliver a solution (PC hardware/software and billing/roaming) that properly honours the sales proposition and just seamlessly works at the cost stated.

iPhone phone audio stops working when ear-phones ‘oddly’ unplugged…

I tried to answer somebody on the iPhone today and could not hear them and they could not hear me. If i pressed the Speaker button then I could. I tried dialling out to people and again the same thing – it was clearly no one off. Powered-right-off and on and still the same. Updated iTunes to 8.0.1.11 (desperate stuff I know!) and still the same.

Did Google search on ‘iPhone mike and speaker stopped working’ and got salvation on first link returned.

They say to plug earphones in and out a few times because the iPhone can get confused and think earphones are plugged in when they are not. I did this and all was sorted. The page I visited is here::
http://www.iphoneatlas.com/2007/08/30/no-iphone-audio-a-simple-fix/

It all fits because up until now i have never, ever, used the iPhone for music and yesterday I put some music on it (I had just got a Nano iPod up and going and so had the music fresh in iTunes). So I play music on my iPhone for the first time and lo, the phone has problems when I decide to do a crazy thing like unplug the headphones!  It may be Apple, it may just be the Jailbreak I suppose. But it’s not good or cool and another reminder that the iPhone might be wonderful in a number of respects but reliability and stability is not one of them.

If I continue to use the iPhone it will be without playing music on it for now. I’m sure there are ways of operating the player/headphone functionality that does not cause problems but finding and learning them I’m not interested in. And anyway we are told about the legendary usability of Apple and how it just works. Well what I’d like is the ability to unplug the headphones anywhere at anytime and still be able to hear callers and for callers to hear me. Not a lot to ask.

Finally note that mine is an original (non 3G) phone, jail broken to allow use on my providers network (T-Mobile) and updated to v2.1 software.

Not a Fan of Apple, iPhone or iphoneunlockuk.com

For background see my earlier post on upgrading my original iPhone to version 2 software:
www.brucemarriott.com/2008/07/27/upgrading-original-iphone-to-version-2-software-not-yet-i-think/

Since then I have become steadily more disenchanted by my iPhone and where Apple seem to have landed us…

  • the slowness of the device to switch applications
  • the browser crashes – just when you get to an interesting page the browser self extinquishes. Where were you? how did you get there. This is corrosive of using the device to browse for useful info
  • browser annoyances like inability to quickly get to the bottom of a page, waiting for rendering when trying to move swiftly through a document, double tapping to magnify an area but catching a link during the page load (when everything is rendered tiny and thus easily done) and it interpreting the first tap as an instruction to go get the other page – immensely annoying.
  • Apple coming out with bug fix releases but not saying what they fix. 2.01 and 2.02 don’t reliably seem to have done much.
  • Mapping locate me function still not working
  • All the general crap around running a jail broken iPhone – why can’t Apple just allow users to go with the network they want rather then trying to screw more money out of it all by limiting what can they do. It’s not an atractive business model.
  • Having to go into a Phone mode to call out – my Nokia home page just allows dialling really easily.

All up I continue to hold to the view that Apple have released the V2 update too soon and after insufficient testing.

The upside of the device remains the large screen and some aspects of the usability. But it’s not enough.

I have given up on the iPhone as a phone for now and put the Sim back in a reliable Nokia E61. It’s also smaller and lighter and has a longer battery life. It is 3G full bluetooth and the screen is good enough.

I have though just updated the iPhone to 2.02 – it still works on T-Mobile but the jail broken apps are gone, but I wasn’t really relaying on anything there so no problem and I can add that back latter should I need. The locate me now mapping is still not working in 2.02.

Finally about iphoneunlockuk.com…
About two weeks ago I added a comment to their blog as follow:
I’ve been living with an original iPhone (which runs on T-Mobile UK) upgraded for about a week now and on balance wish I had not upgraded to v2.0.

Apple don’t seem to have tested it as much as they should and GPS/locate me does not work and the machine can often hang for a few seconds after switching application. Safari (browser) also doesn’t seem as robust as it used to be and just self extinguishes on some sites. None of this renders the machine unusable but had I been aware of the problems I would have held off upgrading an otherwise reliable machine until Apple have got 2.01 or 2.1 out.

Comments don’t get added but wait in a moderation queue. Disappointingly by comment was moderated out. Many comments are of the ‘Thank you so much for such a brilliant service…’ variety though occasionally more interesting tit-bits emerge. I guess my ‘think twice about upgrading’ contribution was out of kilter with encouraging people to spend money at the site. I think this is a shame. If anybody has had a similar experience do say. New blog entries have now been created by iphoneunlockuk for 2.01 and 2.02 releases and when I have a bit of experience of 2.02 I will try adding another contribution to the site.

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.

Hard Disk Problems Part 2 and GMail annoyance

Part 1 of this.

I ended up with a 250Gb Western Digital Disk which is the largest IDE drive I could readily find – newer portable PCs all use SATA of course. I used Casper XP to take a whole dick copy of the original drive and all was great. In fact performance in Explorer when looking at long directories was notably much quicker and it was a reminder that unfragmented disks are nice to live with.

Sadly Yesterday my portable wouldn’t boot – The BIOS did its initial checks but when it went to the hard disk, it just hung waiting. Putting in a (Casper XP created) whole disk backup from 3 days back, worked fine. So I ordered a new disk – this time an Hitachi 160GB unit with 11ms access time rather than the 12.5ms of the Western Digital (which I confess I had not spotted in the wish to get the largest I could!). Not sure what I will do with the Western Digital yet- I might try using it again and just accept that it was solar flair activity or one-off act of God.

Getting everything going again, based on the 3 day old backup is not so bad, but could be easier. Critical website updates can be pulled back from Ballet.co and all my email goes through GMail so I can get the inbound stuff – which is important because of material coming in from authors and loads of pictures arriving too. The only problem with GMail is that I can’t figure out how to change an email to ‘un-picked up by an email client like Outlook’ when it has earlier been picked up. I’m talking about 100 emails or so and it would have been nice to do this and the next time Outlook collected email it scooped up these emails again. What I was left with was forwarding each one – which is annoying and slow – there seems to be no way of saying forward all these selected mails. So I forward each one which goes out and then comes back in to the same GMail account but with the bits set to be scooped up by Outlook. The final twist of course is that all this email comes flagged as sent by me rather than the original author. BUT nothing is lost in this setup and that is perhaps the main thing to note. Rejoice even!

The only thing I don’t have are emails sent out and I probably ought to do soemthing about that. Probably stick a blind copy (to ?????sent@ballet.co.uk) on to outgoing stuff  and run that into GMail and use a filter to Label and archive them?

Lets see how I get on with the Hitachi drive…

Hard Disk – Impending Doom

I had a couple of innocent notes in doing whole disk backup copies of my computers hard disk. I use Casper XP (which sometime I must write about because it’s rather good) and it was not able to copy all the info in some outlook archive files… which is a bit worrying. Casper Tech Support asked for some dumps and then said I needed to run chkdsk because it looked like my hard disk has a problem…

1) Open My Computer and select Lauren C drive (C:)
2) On the File menu, click Properties.
3) Click the Tools tab.
4) In the Error-checking box, click Check Now.
5) In Check disk options, check the Automatically fix file system errors and Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors check boxes.
6) Click Start.

It actually runs next time you boot and it takes a long time – 2 hours in my case. And in the doing it reported:
“Windows replaced bad clusters in files…” 5 times.

My immediate question was “Have I lost anything or not”. and of course it turns out the cluster data is in all probability lost so there is junk in the middle of the files now I guess. Doing some net research seems to show that drives are v intelligent these days and many will look to try and cover bad clusters themselves but if you actually get one escape into the big Windows world then it probably means the drive is on the way out and needs to be replaced. Hard drives are not a thing to economise on think. So its 1 AM and I’ve just placed an order for a new drive for 24 hour delivery. £80 damn-it but hopefully some peace of mind. And having ‘cleaned’ the drive with chkdisk I’m now doing a backup which will hopefully no throw up any warnings and act as cover if something horrendous happens before the new disk arrives.

The following forum thread has a great description of how hard drives work in this area – worth a read.
http://www.howtofixcomputers.com/bb/ftopic112203.html

Cheap 320GB 2.5 inch Toshiba USB Mini Hard Drive

I was just looking around for a cheap hard disk for backup. I have some 3.5inch USB drives, some with ESATA but they are such a pain to use because they all have external psu’s – getting them out of storage, set-up and then packing them away after, with all the cables, is all hassle. ESATA should be wonderful and fast but I’ve leaned that hot swapping Esata doesn’t work for me and I can’t be rebooting just to stick in a faster drive for 30 minutes.

On the other hand 2.5 inch drives are small and don’t need external power – worse case just access to 2 x USB ports. I have a small draw with 3 x 2.5in disks in and loads of other odds and ends. Handy, handy, handy and when you are in a rush just what you want. Just before I leave my PC to go out I always think that I should leave it doing a backup – but I’m running late of course and so to actually do it everything needs to be quick and simple. Plug drive in, click icon on desktop, return to find screen saying all is done = nirvanna and peace of mind.

Anyway I thought I’d treat myself to a new 2.5 inch drive to backup my new PC. Now that only has a 150GB drive in (thought it is a supremely fast Western Digital Raptor!) but I thought it would be be prudent and last longer to get something bigger.

I’ve been eying up the new 500GB 2.5 inch drives that have just been announced, but they are not really available yet and the all up cost of one is going to be well over £200 for some while I think. Rather too much of a premium over 3.5 inch drives.

PC Pro recently did a survey of external hard drives (3.5inch and 2.5inch) and concluded the 250GB Toshiba was a bargain at £94 incl VAT.

Well at Ebyer you can get that 250GB drive now for £74.99 incl free P&P.

However I was gobsmacked to find the 320GB drive for £94.99 including free P&P – thogh that was with an additional £5 off for some unstated reason. GB for GB that’s *not* a premium over the 250GB drive and that being the case it’s what I’ve gone with. Details here:
http://www.ebuyer.com/product/140656

Will write more when it arrives…

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