Entries Tagged as 'Communications'

AT&T U-Verse – Internet

AT&T offers three separate services through their U-Verse branded advance communications offering.  This post will deal with high speed internet.

Essentially AT&T U-Verse internet is DSL broadband — though at much higher rates that you’re likely used to… the particulars of the speed offering depends on the package you pay for.

  • Max Turbo – Up to 24 Mbps downstream Starting at $65/month
  • Max Plus – Up to 18.0 Mbps downstream Starting at $55/month
  • Max – Up to 12.0 Mbps downstream Starting at $45/month
  • Elite – Up to 6.0 Mbps downstream Starting at $43/month
  • Pro – Up to 3.0 Mbps downstream Starting at $38/month

Upstream bandwidth increases with downstream, and is generally much more generous than AT&T’s older ADSL plans; though the pricing of the lower bandwidth U-Verse services aren’t as attractive as the older AT&T ADSL plans (particularly with the promotions you can probably still get for the older ADSL combined with voice or even “naked” DSL plans)..

Not shown on their ordering information is a 30 Mbps downstream plan to be offered later this Summer that will ahve a 5 Mbps upstream.

Remember from my earlier post — you must use the AT&T residential gateway.  The gateway is a descent piece of consumer technology, though I’m not sure it’s a very high performance internet router.

My tests of it show that it’s definitely capable of sustaining the advertised bandwidth of your connection (and you really get the bandwidth your order); however, my tests also show that the router isn’t capable of sustaining a large number of simultaneous connections without rather dramatic performance degradation.

Which mean in plan old English — if you’re going to do Peer-To-Peer file sharing, the AT&T residential gateway will not be your friend… you’re probably going to end up having to reset it every day or two to keep it running well (I’ve noted that simply shutting down the connections doesn’t seem to help — but that could be that other P2P nodes are continuing to bombard your IP address).

For most people P2P isn’t a requirement, and certainly most people won’t be doing P2P much — and if they do, they certainly understand how to discontinue P2P services and reset the connection (remember it affects voice and video when you reset) when they need high speed connectivity for something else.

My gut tells me that the equipment is operating as designed — and intended to enforce a “fair use” policy by penalizing individuals who try and do P2P (after all — unlimited really doesn’t mean as much as you want, it means as much as your provider is willing to let you have).

And my gut feeling about the router operating as designed is further re-enforced by the fact that a great deal of though has been put into the design of the software and interface for the router… it will do pretty much anything any use will need for it to do (don’t think along the lines of a Cisco router with IOS, think along the lines of a prosumer / SOHO router).

Overall, my feelings are that the AT&T U-Verse Internet is a good deal, that it performs well, and at the high speed levels (well, not at the highest — I think there you’re getting gouged) it’s a reasonably fair price, and a very solid technology.

U-Verse Internet is really all I wanted from AT&T; and it’s the one service I will keep.

Originally posted 2010-05-17 02:00:38.

CompactCMS Review

CompactCMS is an extremely light weight and fast Content Management Solution (CMS).  Actually it might be a bit of a stretch to call it a CMS, it’s more like a content management foundation.

CompactCMS is an open source software project and is totally free (nothing related to it has any costs or restrictions beyond the Creative Commons License).

No question it makes managing a small site very easy, and it has a huge selection of (free) CSS templates that offer a wide variety of layouts and appearances.

Why do I say it’s a foundation?

Simple, it provides the basic of editing pages and content, builds a sitemap — but it really doesn’t offer modules that provide enhanced capabilities.  Now in it’s defense, it does provide the ability to build pages that can call PHP directly, but it doesn’t provide any framework to use managed content within your PHP code (well — you can access the MySQL database directly, but there’s zero abstraction).

Several days ago I made a comment about most users only need a two page (mostly static) web site — and that’s true, and CompactCMS certainly provides that ability to users with very little understanding of web editing (it certainly provided more than that to users who have some understanding of web editing).

The main problem with CompactCMS for users who just don’t know anything at all about web technology is it requires a little understanding of how to setup a database, import a schema, and edit configuration files (by hand).  Yeah, that’s not really much to ask a techie for sure, but there’s lots of people who know where the power button is on their computer, but re-arrange the icons on the desktop and they’re lost…

I personally like CompactCMS — I’m not sure I have any real use for it, but it would be fine to use to setup simple web sites for clients that actually wanted to be able to make modest changes to the site themselves (remember, most low end web site offerings don’t include unlimited changes — and generally don’t include any changes).

http://compactcms.nl/

Originally posted 2010-04-07 02:00:28.

One of the upsides of the internet…

One of the things that the internet allows almost everyone is the ability to express their opinion in a venue that others can “hear”.

Just do an internet search on almost anything you can think of… you’ll find reviews, comments, rants, and sometimes raves!

While you rarely know anything about the individual who wrote the posting, from a well thought out post you can gather some important questions to get the answers to before making a decision, so as a tool for an informed consumer the internet can be invaluable not only in locating the “best” prices, but also in finding the “best” products and “best” vendors!

It only takes a little effort to learn a great deal about any good or service you’re considering — it’s totally up to you whether you make an informed decision or just wing it.

Originally posted 2008-12-30 12:00:06.

Apple – Double or Nothing?

Yesterday Apple announced another record quarter in sales.  In fact, iPhone sales doubled in Q4 2009 (a good holiday present for Apple).

Tomorrow Apples announces a new tablet computer (at least that’s the rumor of what they will announce).

Google has a lot of ground to catch up with Apple in the phone market, and it certainly doesn’t appear that Apple is going to just stand by and wait for them.

I guess the one thing that Apples numbers show is that there is money to be made in economic hard times if you’ve got something people want.

Originally posted 2010-01-26 01:00:44.

AT&T U-Verse – Voice

AT&T offers three separate services through their U-Verse branded advance communications offering.  This post will deal with voice.

U-Verse voice isn’t traditional wire line POTS service; rather it’s a feature rich digital communication service.

When you have AT&T U-Verse voice service installed, the pair from the Telco will be routed from your MPOE to the residential gateway and then back to your home wiring (though the MPOE).  This allows you to keep all your current phones working through their existing wiring plant.

My residential gateway labels the first “POTS” port as line one and two, and has a separate jack for an auxiliary voice connection (the online account management only has options for one or two lines — but since there is an option for zero lines, there may well be an option for a third or even fourth line that simply isn’t displayed).

Remember the gateway is connected to a UPS, so you will be able to maintain voice service for some period of time after the electricity goes out — this allows for E911 during power outages (and yes, AT&T provides E911 capabilities with their U-Verse service).

AT&T currently offers two different levels on their voice plan — “Unlimited” and”250″.

The unlimited plan currently costs $35.00 in my area for the primary line, $15 for a secondary line (not including local, state, federal taxes and fees or FCC line charges); and the 250 is $25.00 for the primary line, $15 for a secondary line.

Below is what AT&T says about the plans…

AT&T U-verse Voice Unlimited
Provides unlimited calling within the U.S. and to Canada, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Marianas for just $30 per month. A second line that shares minutes under the same plan can be added for another $15 per month.

AT&T U-verse Voice 250
For just $25 per month, provides 250 minutes of calling each month within the U.S. and to Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Marianas and only 5¢ per minute thereafter. A second line that shares minutes under the same plan can be added for another $15 per month.

Notice the discrepancy in the price for the “Unlimited” — like I have already said, AT&T does not engender trust.

I’m guessing that other than the number of minutes of usage you get, the plans are the same.

When you get AT&T U-Verse voice you can have your current number ported (which means you can keep your current number) or have a new number assigned.  AT&T of course will charge you extra for non-published or un-listed numbers, and they don’t seems to allow you to have the number listed under an alternate name (as Bell South did).

To me, charging for not doing something is a travesty — and simply a way to make more money; remember they make money on published/listed numbers by selling your address and telephone information to marketing firms (which I believe it should be illegal for anyone to sell any information about me without my express permission and paying me the amount I deem fair — which trust me, no company could afford).

You can manage many (if not all) of the features of U-Verse voice through the Internet, and many through your TV set-top box — I don’t really know how you’d manage your voice feature if you didn’t have one (or both) of the other services.

U-Verse voice include voice mail, call forwarding (no answer, busy, safe, all); call filtering (blocking, screening, exclusive call forwarding); call waiting, do not disturb, anonymous call blocking, locate me (or what some people call follow me ring); caller id blocking, international call blocking, directory assistance blocking… they don’t seem to specifically allow blocking of premium service and third party billing (900 numbers, xxx-976 numbers, collect calls, etc).

The service also offers logs of calls (placed, received, missed) and an address book (which you can use to place calls via the Internet or TV interfaces — I have no idea if you can do it directly from a telephone handset).

I’d say it’s a fairly sophisticated number of features — more than most people will ever need or use for sure.

The “feature” I use…

Well, I block ALL calls except calls from specified numbers.  You see, since I don’t intend to keep this number I know that the only ones that will call the number got it from AT&T (not from me) — and are entities I don’t want to talk to… so I forward Google Voice calls (which I also have tight controls on) to it for the moment.

Other than that — I’ve used it to place calls (which I could have done via my cell phone using Google Voice) and send a couple faxes (which aren’t important to me — generally a company that wants me to send a fax I just laugh at and tell them to move into the new millennium).

My feeling is that the price is too high for AT&T U-Verse Voice… it should be on the level of $20 per month for unlimited service, and certainly no more than $25 per month — for 250 minutes it should be on the level of $10 per month.  Obviously AT&T seems to feel that they’re offering some type of “premium” voice service, and seem to forget that for most people if they added even $25 per month to the cellular plan they’d be well over what some companies charge for unlimited and have the convenience of a phone they can take with them.

For me, it’s a service I won’t be keeping — I added it to the order to maximize the savings and minimize the installation fee… my calculation is that I’ll have to keep it a maximum of three months and it will end up being almost a wash.

Originally posted 2010-05-15 02:00:29.

Does your mail provider really want to eliminate SPAM?

I’ve been actively working to stop SPAM (that’s also known as UCE – Unsolicited Commercial Email) for a very long time, and it’s great to see how many of the “free” email providers talk about preventing SPAM and provide users with filters to prevent SPAM from reaching their inbox.

But, the bottom line is, that unless you actively report SPAMmers nothing will ever really change.

Some providers (very few) actually will generate automated SPAM reports for you [that’s great, more email providers should make it that easy]; however, most will do nothing more than use an email that you mark as SPAM to refine their filters [which might prevent you from seeing the SPAM, but it doesn’t stop the SPAMmer].

The really interesting thing is that many of the “free” email providers actually inhibit you from reporting SPAM by preventing you from accessing the “raw message” (you need all the headers and the body of the email to file an abuse report with most carriers).  What’s really funny is that some of the providers who are most vocal have actually changed their web-mail interfaces to prevent you from accessing the raw message [essentially insuring that you cannot take action against a SPAMmer].

Now if you can access you email via POP3 or IMAP4 or load it into an email client using a proprietary connector (well, at least the only ones I could test) you can access the raw message and file a report; but remember, many of the free email providers don’t give you that type of access to your email unless you pay them.

What a great message… it’s OK to SPAM free email subscribers because they can’t do anything about it!

I’m not going to provide an extensive list of those providers that do and do not actually enable you to report SPAM; I’ll just mention that Yahoo! (one of the largest free email providers, but waning) doesn’t allow free subscribers to access raw message (or if they do, I certainly couldn’t figure out how); and of course Google (GMail) and Microsoft (MSN/HotMail/Live/Bing) do allow access.

One other thing to keep in mind… there’s no such thing as free email — you’re paying for it some how some way.

Originally posted 2009-08-17 01:00:04.

Ubuntu – Desktop Search

Microsoft has really shown the power of desktop search in Vista and Windows 7; their newest Desktop Search Engine works, and works well… so in my quest to migrate over to Linux I wanted to have the ability to have both a server style as well as a desktop style search.

So the quest begun… and it was as short a quest as marching on the top of a butte.

I started by reviewing what I could find on the major contenders (just do an Internet search, and you’ll only find about half a dozen reasonable articles comparing the various desktop search solutions for Linux)… which were few enough it didn’t take very long (alphabetical):

My metrics to evaluate a desktop search solutions would focus on the following point:

  • ease of installation, configuration, maintenance
  • search speed
  • search accuracy
  • ease of access to search (applet, web, participation in Windows search)
  • resource utilization (cpu and memory on indexing and searching)

I immediately passed on Google Desktop Search; I have no desire for Google to have more access to information about me; and I’ve tried it before in virtual machines and didn’t think very much of it.

Begal

I first tried Beagle; it sounded like the most promising of all the search engines, and Novel was one of the developers behind it so I figured it would be a stable baseline.

It was easy to install and configure (the package manager did most of the work); and I could use the the search application or the web search, I had to enable it using beagle-config:

beagle-config Networking WebInterface true

And then I could just goto port 4000 (either locally or remotely).

I immediately did a test search; nothing came back.  Wow, how disappointing — several hundred documents in my home folder should have matched.  I waited and tried again — still nothing.

While I liked what I saw, a search engine that couldn’t return reasonable results to a simple query (at all) was just not going to work for me… and since Begal isn’t actively developed any longer, I’m not going to hold out for them to fix a “minor” issue like this.

Tracker

My next choice to experiment with was Tracker; you couldn’t ask for an easier desktop search to experiment with on Ubuntu — it seems to be the “default”.

One thing that’s important to mention — you’ll have to enable the indexer (per-user), it’s disabled by default.  Just use the configuration tool (you might need to install an additional package):

tracker-preferences

Same test, but instantly I got about a dozen documents returned, and additional documents started to appear every few seconds.  I could live with this; after all I figured it would take a little while to totally index my home directory (I had rsync’d a copy of all my documents, emails, pictures, etc from my Windows 2008 server to test with, so there was a great deal of information for the indexer to handle).

The big problem with Tracker was there was no web interface that I could find (yes, I’m sure I could write my own web interface; but then again, I could just write my own search engine).

Strigi

On to Strigi — straight forward to install, and easy to use… but it didn’t seem to give me the results I’d gotten quickly with Tracker (though better than Beagle), and it seemed to be limited to only ten results (WTF?).

I honestly didn’t even look for a web interface for Strigi — it was way too much a disappointment (in fact, I think I’d rather have put more time into Beagle to figure out why I wasn’t getting search results that work with Strigi).

Recoll

My last test was with Recoll; and while it looked promising from all that I read, but everyone seemed to indicate it was difficult to install and that you needed to build it from source.

Well, there’s an Ubuntu package for Recoll — so it’s just as easy to install; it just was a waste of effort to install.

I launched the recoll application, and typed a query in — no results came back, but numerous errors were printed in my terminal window.  I checked the preferences, and made a couple minor changes — ran the search query again — got a segmentation fault, and called it a done deal.

It looked to me from the size of the database files that Recoll had indexed quite a bit of my folder; why it wouldn’t give me any search results (and seg faulted) was beyond me — but it certainly was something I’d seen before with Linux based desktop search.

Conclusions

My biggest conclusion was that Desktop Search on Linux just isn’t really something that’s ready for prime time.  It’s a joke — a horrible joke.

Of the search engines I tried, only Tracker worked reasonably well, and it has no web interface, nor does it participate in a Windows search query (SMB2 feature which directs the server to perform the search when querying against a remote file share).

I’ve been vocal in my past that Linux fails as a Desktop because of the lack of a cohesive experience; but it appears that Desktop Search (or search in general) is a failing of Linux as both a Desktop and a Server — and clearly a reason why choosing Windows Server 2008 is the only reasonable choice for businesses.

The only upside to this evaluation was that it took less time to do than to read about or write up!

Originally posted 2010-07-06 02:00:58.

Swarms

No, not a swarm of bees, wasps, hornets, or yellow jackets — I’m talking about file sharing technology.

First, there’s absolutely nothing illegal or immoral about using file sharing technology for file sharing and distribution, just as there’s nothing illegal or immoral about using hyper-text (http) or file transfer (ftp) technology.  It all has to do with the content you’re trying to exchange, not the system you’re using to exchange it.

There are many legitamate uses for BitTorrent and other P2P technologies.  Here’s a perfect example.

A small company has a number of offices spread throughout the world, and no one location has an internet connection with significant bandwidth (let’s say for argument, they all had a high end class of DSL service, but none of them have fibre).  This company would like to distribute it’s trial software, but because of the economics can’t afford to pay for additional bandwidth or for a content delivery system — they could opt to “aggragate” the bandwidth of all of their offices by providing a torrent and running torrent servers at each location — that would allow the nodes with the most bandwidth available to satisfy requests, and any individuals who had downloaded the software and elected to continue seeding would be able to source it as well.  While no one individual might get the software as quickly (though that’s not necessarily true), many more people would be able to get the software sooner, and at no additional cost; thus the company could meet it’s budgetary constraints and might not have to consider increasing the amount they need to charge for the software to cover operating expenses.

Swarming technology is real, it’s practical, and it’s a solution for a number of problems.

Swarms are highly fault tolerant, they’re highly distributed, and they dynamically adjust to changing conditions…

While any technology can be abused and misused, there’s nothing inherently bad in any of the P2P technologies.  Just because bank robbers use pens to write hold up notes we didn’t outlaw the pen or pencil…

Originally posted 2009-01-12 12:00:19.

Anti-Malware Programs

First, malware is a reality and no operating system is immune to it.

Malware is most common on operating systems that are prevalent (no reason to target 1% of the installed base now is there); so an obscure operating system is far less likely to be the target of malware.

Malware is most common on popular operating systems that generally do not require elevation of privileges to install (OS-X, *nix, Vista, and Server 2008 all require that a user elevate their privileges before installing software, even if they have rights to administer the machine).

The reality is that even a seasoned computer professional can be “tricked” into installing malware; and the only safe computer is a computer that’s disconnected from the rest the world and doesn’t have any way to get new software onto it (that would probably be a fairly useless computer).

Beyond exercising common sense, just not installing software you don’t need or are unsure of (remember, you can install and test software in a virtual machine using UNDO disks before you commit it to a real machine), and using a hardware “firewall” (residential gateway devices should be fine as long as you change the default password, disable WAN administration, and use WPA or WPA2 on your wireless network) between you and your high-speed internet connection; using anti-malware software is your best line of defense.

There are a lot of choices out there, but one of the best you’ll find is Avast! — there’s a free edition for non-commercial use, and of course several commercial version for workstations and servers.

My experience is that on all but the slowest computers Avast! performs well, and catches more malware than most any of the big-name commercial solutions.

For slower computers that you need mal-ware protection for, consider AVG (they also have a free version for non-commercial use); I don’t find it quite as good as Avast! at stopping as wide a range of threats, but it’s much lower on resource demands (and that helps to keep your legacy machine usable).

Originally posted 2009-01-02 12:00:01.

The Anti-Green – Junk Mail

Why does the United States Postal Service encourage companies to send “Junk Mail” by substantially reducing the costs of distributing it?

It just doesn’t make sense.

Sure, I understand that it may actually cost the post office a little less to distribute junk mail than it does to distribute first class letters and such — but take a look at how little junk mail you even look at… and how much ends up in your recycle bin (and I’m not even going to bring up the large number of people who probably don’t recycle since they don’t have curb-side recycling programs).

America needs to take action to reduce it’s carbon footprint — and as I have pointed out for the last few days it would be extremely easy to make a fairly substantial improvement without sacrificing anything most consumers care about — and in fact, it would probably improve the quality of life for most Americans not having a mailbox full of junk mail they have to sort through so as not to miss something that might be important.

Sure, the post office would probably have to raise the cost of postage, and possibly reduce the service level (hey — I have no problem with mail not being delivered on Saturday — of maybe being delivered only on alternate days or only a few days per week).  The overall effect would be a decrease in the waste (of natural resources and energy).

Originally posted 2010-05-10 02:00:50.