Monday, December 10, 2007

A New World

Back in May 2007, I finally made to switch to a Mac. I had decided a few months earlier that I must absolutely make the Macbook my laptop of choice. I had an iPod Nano at the time already so I knew of all the hype Apple's GUIs were getting. They had also made the switch to Intel processors so even if I didn't like Mac OSX, I could install windows on it - no big deal.

Little did I know, I had officially joined a cult. I mean this in a good way. The saying is true: Once you go Mac, you'll never go back! I thought that it would take some time for me to "learn" how to do everything I wanted to do on a Mac. Things that I was accustomed to doing in windows would no longer apply, so I should start investing the time to understand OSX. The truth is that everything that's different in OSX compared to windows is different in a good way. Here is a short list:

1) Installing programs:
Windows: run .exe, select continue to nag screen, choose install settings, choose path to install to, watch it slowly unpack files, watch it apply registry settings, force you to restart.

Mac OSX: mount .dmg, drag application icon to applications folder, watch it copy in less than 5 seconds, done.

2) Uninstalling programs:
Windows: start, control panel, add remove programs, look for program, select it, click remove. It will then ask you if you want to remove or repair it, you select remove, it will tell you that some .dll files are shared between applications and that removing it would adversely affect the behavior of other programs, are you sure you want to remove it? Obviously you want to say no, so why did it bother asking in the first place?? (continue multiple .dll questions), finally, force you to restart. Registry keys for that application may still reside in memory, gumming up your machine, so after a while, you must download a 3rd party registry cleaner.

Mac OSX: Open Finder (equivalent to Windows Explorer), click Applications (the same place you go to launch programs), instead of double clicking it to run it, just drag it to the trash. Done. No registry to worry about.

3) Unmounting USB drives:
Windows: Double click the tiny little icon that might be hidden in the bottom right corner of the taskbar, select the drive to unmount, click remove/unmount, it will then ask you which 'drive' you wish to remove/unmount, finally, unmount. A message menu will pop-up, telling you that it's unmounted. You must click okay on the pop-up, and then close on the "remove devices" window. Remove USB drive.

Mac OSX: Open Finder. Point mouse to eject button, located beside USB drive icon. Click eject. Remove USB drive.

As you can see, there isn't much "learning" required to use a Mac. If you want to do something in OSX, you just do it. Things are a lot more intuitive and elegant on a Mac. If you're a perfectionist or a neat-freak, make the switch today, you won't regret. Instead, you'll be asking yourself why you never made the switch earlier and realize that you spent much of your computing days frustrated using windows. Even Bill Gates says Macs are cool. Yes, I know that these are from many decades ago, but it's still interesting to see Bill gates praising the Mac and Steve Jobs bashing Microsoft.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The History of My ISPs: Part 2

After confirming that Bell doesn't have policies that would kick you off if you "downloaded too much while using unlimited Internet", I signed up, for a 1 year contract. There was a promotion at the time were the first 3 months were only $25. When I was still with Rogers, the download speed was 1.5 mbps. It was fast, but not super fast. Once the equipment for Sympatico came in the mail, I did a speed test and realized it was 3mbps!! Wait there's more!! When I still had Rogers, I would share the Internet to my brother's computer using Windows Internet Connection Sharing since I had 2 NICs, which means for my brother to have Internet, my computer would have to be turned on (well, it 'is' on all the time) but if I had to restart my computer, my brother would lose connection - what a hassle. With Sympatico, I had a hub, and you could make multiple PPPoE logins! That means my brother wouldn't have to depend on my computer anymore, something that would not have been possible with the cable modem. Could I have asked for more? I was really happy. The ping times were low and reaching the max speed was quick. The only issues I had with DSL at the beginning were that installing filters for a first time user like me was a bit of a hassle and once you do install filters on all lines, you could still hear a quiet buzz and/or ring of the DSL modem while you're talking on the phone. Luckily, I found out that you could just simply add more filters on the line to completely filter out the noise. On a side note, I read that a DSL modem (of which you're not supposed to filter) could still operate with a filter on it's line, but the connection speed would be dumbed down. Whenever I'd have a tech question, I'd simply call 310-SURF and wouldn't have to wait in a queue. Someone (knowledgeable) would just answer and not have the long, formal and unnecessary greeting and goodbyes, just straight to the point. I stuck with Sympatico for a long time, I never really had issues with the service for years. Then came the time for me to leave home for a 16 month internship.. I changed the service to Sympatico lite for 12 months since I know that my brother wouldn't need to speed or exceed the 2GB cap. Now it's time for me to come back home, and Sympatico is not the same Sympatico that I knew many years ago when I signed up.. All the tech support is outsourced. This is partly to blame on the fact that Rogers has stolen much of Bell's customers and is dominating the ISP, wireless (cell phone) and television spaces, and is now making it's move onto the home phone space. On top of the outsourcing, Bell has made many deals with Microsoft - , the Xbox 360 Christmas bundle, and the thing that really pissed me off was the push on selling MSN Premium to a tech-savvy person like me. I called tech support just so I could have the password for my online Sympatico account (where I could see billing and usage stats) reset. I'm sure it doesn't take long to reset the password, but the tech support rep (who was in India) was asking me about the snow in Canada, while the "system was loading", and then went on to sell me MSN Premium.
Sir, we have something called MSN Premium, it contains a virus scanner, anti-spyware software, junkmail filter software, and pop up blocker! Would you like to sign up for this service for a low monthly price of $6.95?
No thanks. I think I can manage without those things.
Sir, I highly suggest you sign up for this service, it is really good! All that software for just a low montly included on top of your Sympatico bill.
Um.. no, I really don't need it.
..Sir.. I think you should sign up for this deal. It is very useful! I use it myself and I know it is really good to have this. Antivirus, antispyware, junkmail filter and a popup ad blocker!
NO, I absolutely DO NOT need it...!!!!!!
That got me a little worked up. When they finally reset my password, it was all the mumbo jumbo - "Thank you for using Sympatico". The next few times I called back to possibly renew and upgrade my service back to Sympatico High Speed, there were disagreements as to what my contract end dates were and the possible pricing. Different reps gave me different attitudes and different deals and different dates. I asked for a supervisor or manager and was put on hold indefinitely..... great service! (/sarcasm). Since Sympatico wasn't giving me good service and not giving me a good price on 5mbps internet, I decided that I'd just sign up to Teksavvy. I heard really great things about them on DSLreports/BroadbandReports. On top of that, there was the Nortel discount that I could apply since I still work for Nortel. 5mbps broadband Internet for less than $30 after taxes? How could I say no? So far the service is great. Calling them for anything is simply calling them, and talking to someone. The rep handles tech support 'and' sales/billing questions. When you call them, they pick up, you tell them their problem and they fix it. Unlike Rogers and Bell where you'd call a number, go through and automated phone service, get in queue, get told how how long you'll have to wait, have them read you a script like "did u try unplugging it and plugging it back in?", etc etc, and then having them tell you that they'll open a ticket for you. Hopefully I'll stick with Teksavvy and I won't have to switch again in the future, but I think it's only a matter of time before WiMAX becomes affordable and attractive enough for everyone to switch/upgrade, but that'll be after I get a WiMAX enabled laptop.

The History of My ISPs: Part 1

This is the 2nd time I had to leave a broadband Internet Service Provider. At first I had Shaw/Rogers cable, back in the mid 90s. They were nice enough to do all the installation: Drill holes at the side of my house and string the coaxial cable from my basement, out the side of my house, and then in to the side of my house into my room. This got me cable TV into my room which was an awesome bonus. This was way back when broadband cable internet was first introduced and there was no such thing as a speed or bandwidth cap, because the adoption rate was still slow and they figured that no user could possibly hog all the bandwidth just by browsing. Most people still lived with dial-up instead of paying $20 more for broadband. There were no (manually imposed) limits, other than the limits of the technology. I remember watching a download of Netscape, about 40mb. I went as high as 1000 kBytes/sec, which, at that time, could have been the limit of the entire neighborhood "server". I started logging into BBSes less often.. I was really happy with the service, up until I started getting really horrible ping times, which affected my ARC games. There was not enough bandwidth to go around for everyone in the neigborhood, even with an imposed 1.5mbps speed cap for all users. Everytime I'd call Rogers, a TSR would just be reading a script to me. "Did you plug in the power?" "Is the cable connected?" "Is the modem connected to your PC?" "Can you power cycle the modem?" "Still not working? I'll have to open a ticket for you..".. I noticed that I'd get different answers and different viewpoints from reps every time I called, and that's when I noticed the big flaw that all big corporations face - with more people in the company, the percentage of tech-savvy representatives drops. Those who absolutely knew the technology inside out and knew the truth of what exactly the problem is.. If I was lucky when I called, I'd get to talk to these guys, who diagnosed everything, on my side and on their side, and knew that something had to be done - Rogers had to upgrade their hardware to eliminate the strain. If I was unlucky, I'd get one who say the problem was that the game servers I'm playing on were giving me the bad ping times and that Rogers does not provide support for games so they wouldn't be able to help me with my problem at all. After several weeks of my bickering, they upgraded their hardware and had reps check the connection in my house. Finally, they did something right. My internet was fast again and the ping times were less than 100 - good enough to play ARC properly!! It wasn't over though - a few months passed, and got an e-mail telling me that I was flagged as one who is "downloading too much" and that I'd better stop download or they'll cut my service. Absurd! I'm paying for unlimited internet usage. What kind of a corporation sells an unlimited internet services, yet limits their users to how much they can use? I called them and asked. They explain that unlimited is defined as "unlimited to the point where you don't disrupt the browsing experience of others". That's bull, and Roger's problem, not mine. Apparently I was not the only one and there was some media coverage over the issue. Ted Rogers marked us as "some kind of terrorist, thief or at the very least a 'system abuser' and 'bandwidth hog' who is threatening the peaceful internet usage of all Canadians." I did limit my downloading a bit, but not enough for them to be happy. They cut my service and I was really pissed. I decided that Rogers was not the type of corporation that deserves my money, so I switched to Bell Sympatico.

The History of My ISPs: Part 0

Before there was the Internet, there were BBSes. Those were really fun and exciting times. Everything was text based - the navigation, the text messaging and even the login and logout screens were coloured ASCII pictures of dragons, skulls, flames, etc. You could still download files of course, text documents, pictures, midi songs, and downloading an mp3 song was as big and massive tasks as it is downloading a high def rip of a movie today. Once you start downloading, you couldn't do anything else, except wait and watch the lights on your (external) modem flash. You would pray that the download would stay at the max possible speed all the way through (14 400 bps) so that the download would in fact finish in 15 minutes and no longer. When the Internet finally started becoming more mainstream, my official first dial-up ISP was outer-net. It's really good to see that they're still in business. I still recognize their logo as well. Most of the time, you would still get more optimal speeds from BBSes than from the Internet - navigating and loading times were a lot more favourable on BBSes since everything was text based. After outer-net, I moved onto FREE AOL accounts. There was a hack that allowed those 30 day AOL accounts to last forever... Hm..... ya, those were really exciting times. Then came cable broadband Internet..

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


I finally got this G1 thing everyone's been telling me about.. .. ...... What can I do with it again? Oh right.. drive.... Hm.. I'm been biking so long, I don't mind not being able to drive. Everyone has told me that doing the G1 test is real easy and it's all common sense. I actually got 2 wrong on the "Signs" section, but got perfect on the "Road Rules" section (trust me, they were tricky.. or I really am an idiot when it comes to signs).. Horray, now I can spend a few hundred dollars on lessons, a few hundred dollars on insurance and a few deca-thousands on a car.... < / sarcasm >

Although I'm not as hardcore as those with slick bike tires and 2 pound bikes (they always fly past me, especially uphill), I was perfectly fine riding my bike everywhere. Everyone tells me that driving and having a car is so convenient, but once you lose it, you feel extremely uncomfortable, especially when you have to wait for a bus, and share space on the bus with other people. I really don't feel that way.... (yet?) This is just the way things are when you don't have a car, and I've really gotten used to this lifestyle which lacks luxury. I just need my mountain bike with rough tires, especially in the winter. I suppose, with a licence, I won't be needing my bike as much as I did before.

Hm.. what else did I do this weekend? Oh I.... figured out why my 2nd XBOX (TSOP modded) wasn't loading Evo-X, and finally got everything to install properly. New version of XBMC?? Damn, this means I have to install it on my 1st XBOX... Okay let's do it..! So I did, *BUT*.. I made the mistake of installing it as a dashboard rather than an Application. This totally screwed up the soft-mod and.... I had lost control, the 007 save and ftp access to re-soft mod it properly. I was getting a bit worried. I just bricked my own XBOX. This will mean I'll have to pay someone to rebuild the hard drive for me since I don't have an EEPROM backup. I can't afford to spend another $20.. Maybe I can just try it myself? I knew I should have just mod chipped it.. I wouldn't be in this situation if I did.. This is worse than my landlord's XBOX, of which his son bricked cause he can't read yet.. Oh the dangers of soft-modding..... Oh, but the benefits!!!!! Softmodding is FREEE. It doesn't cost anything (you only need to buy/borrow the tools to do it once, and you can soft-mod an infinite number of XBOXES), and you don't even need to open the XBOX. Anyways, I knew of a tutorial that shows you how to revive an XBOX hard drive (without an EEPROM backup), when everything has gone wrong. It's like the absolute last resort to restoring an XBOX hard drive. There are many out there, but this one is the shortest/sweetest/simplest. I can use this to restore both my own XBOX and my landlord's. I think I'll learn a lot from it 'if' I succeed.

Basically, The XBOX hard drive is locked when the system's not on, and unlocked when you turn the system on. Soooo, to restore the hard drive, you have to turn on the XBOX to unlock the HD and then hotswap it to your PC while both the PC and XBOX are still booting up at the same time. That way, it will be like turning on your PC, and have an unlocked regular PC hard drive plugged in. Once your PC boots up and recognizes there there is in fact a hard drive plugged in and it can read and write to it (if it's unlocked), you overwrite all the files on it at the moment with fresh Microsoft dashboard files. It'll be like taking out of it's box for the first time. I made a big mess out of my roomate's toolbox, looking for torx screw drivers, I had to break the warranty seal on 2 XBOXES (the warranty is long expired anyways), I opened up my own PC and mangled it it's insides so that the IDE cables would reach (not to mention the risk of frying my own PC), but in the end, it worked!!!!. I had to try literally 50 times before succeeding though. I was soooo close to giving up, so close. Nothing was working and I just felt like giving up. Most of the time, my timing was just off. You have to swap the cable at the exact right now, you have to make sure you turn on your PC and XBOX at the right times too. It's a scary process, but in the end, I saved 2 XBOXES from being used as paper weights or door stoppers.

It's funny how I know how to rebuild an XBOX hard drive but don't know how to drive yet..

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

100mbps Internet?


According to CBC news, we Canadians will soon have access to 100 mbps internet... And I thought 5 mbps back at home in Toronto was fast.. Well that's only because I'm being deprived in Ottawa right now. First, we had Rogers cable..... which was advertised at up to 6mbps, but I never bothered testing the connection to see what we could REALLY get because Rogers blocks bit torrent traffic and on top of that, the ping times were so horrible, calling home and my gf with Skype was so difficult. Then we decided to switch to DSL. YES!!! Great speeds, low ping times.. but then.. we the connection kept going out and I couldn't figure out why.. did I miss a filter in the house? It turns out that we were too far from the DSLAM so Primus had to throttle us down to 1 mbps downstream in order to have a stable connection that won't keep disconnecting when I download or upload too fast...... great... Oh well, I'll just have to be more patient. I've already set my router to prioritize things like Skype, youtube, Xbox Live and web browsing to the high priority so it's only my bulk downloads that suffer.

Well, whenever faster internet is available, I'll be willing to pay as long as it's not ridiculously priced and there are no caps. What's the point of getting faster internet if they encourage you to hit a brick wall?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

WRT54G + dd-wrt

(note: This is not mine. It's from frappr maps)

I've been looking to upgrade my router back in Toronto. The one I had would constantly drop wifi and still work as a wired router (D-Link 514) and also thinking about getting a router for the place I live right now since my landlord is super paranoid about buying wireless routers. He's gone through 4 of them - all of which he had to return to Future Shop.. (I'm partly to blame since I consume so much bandwidth through P2P traffic, which causes many routers on the market to just reset) So I started to do some research. This may be old news.. (really old news) but...... since I'm currently doing an internship in the telecom industry (hope to do so once I graduate) which is focusing on wireless technology now, I think it's important to spread the word.

So Linksys has this wireless router. The model number is WRT54G. A few years ago, in 2003, it was discovered that the firmware of the WRT54G was actually based on Linux. Because of this, Linksys was obligated to follow through with the GNU General Public License. They were sued by Columbia Law School Professor Eben Moglen, who's apparently someone who really hates proprietary software and believes that information should absolutely free and that free information leads to a better society. Linksys didn't put up a fight and released their source to the public. This let hackers and hackers alike modify the source and release their own firmwares. There's so many of them: dd-wrt, OpenWRT, batbox, HyperWRT Thibor, just to name a few of them.

And now? Guess what, society 'is' better.. Well, at least the population of tech-savvy geeks who absolutely need a really reliable router for all their net needs. It "turns a $60 router into a $600 router" simply because of the open platform. With a 3rd party firmware, it became infinitely more reliable than any other consumer router on the market at the time. Everyone who knows linux knows that you will rarely ever have to reset it. You can do things like QoS (Quality of Service) to prioritize packets for things like online gaming, VOIP, web surfing, streaming video, while having all your bandwidth consumed by P2P traffic =D. Some may argue that today's routers are just as reliable as the WRT54G running on 3rd party firmware, but there aren't many of them.. Most of them don't even support QoS yet and they can't do neat things like let you build a Wireless Distribution System, running your own wifi hotspot, or how about just having a fancy GUI? There's much much more... it's runs Linux!! There's even hard(ware) mods that have installed SD cards into the router. The more space Linux has, the merrier!

So what have I done with my WRT54G? First off, web browsing get premium priority... while my torrents can wait... and throttle down a bit when there's http traffic.. but throttle up again when there's no web browsing traffic! VOIP! Skype to Skype and Skypeout calls get premium priority as well, no more studdering from all the P2P traffic my PC's doing... so no need to manually throttle down my torrents when I'm making a call. In fact, no throttling down at all since Skype doesn't need much bandwidth, just some good timing. Hm.. what else.. WDS, yes, I've got 2~ WRT54Gs! Since I've got an Xbox360 downstairs and I don't want to spend $130 + tax on the wireless adapter, I can just simply build a WDS with the 2 routers - have the 1st router as the main router, it connects to the DSL modem and PCs, while the 2nd router can act as a wireless repeater to boost signal strength throughout the house and allows me to connect to Xbox Live via an ethernet cable. If you don't get it, the point of this is to have a wireless router act like a regular wireless router except it doesn't have to connect to the DSL modem via an ethernet cable. All that's hooked up to the 2nd router now is just the power adapter and an ethernet cable that connects to the Xbox 360. You can even roam without having to lose your live connection as you roam from one router to the other..! As a bonus, dd-wrt supports DNS service. I've got the address so now I don't have to worry about my dynamic ip address ever again.

Neat stuff. 802.11n is just around the corner, but do we 'really' need such high speeds? Eventually, yes, but at the moment? I dont' think so.. Broadband speeds for the masses in Canada haven't even gone over 10mps when we've got 802.11g routers which are 54mbps.

Hopefully my WRT54Gs won't be obsolete until many many years from now.