Is Optus making iTunes Music Store usage unmetered?

I’m going out on a limb. I think Optus is going to be giving more than just iPhone users unmetered access to Apple’s Internet properties.

Yesterday I downloaded Season 2 of the best TV ever.

Best TV Ever, Season 2

Thankfully HBO have been gradually adding seasons of The Wire to the US iTunes Music Store, and I’ve been buying them and making my way through them.

I was a bit concerned with how big a season is. 7.5GB is a good chunk of my 30GB quota. Not too big a deal but last month iTMS Daily Shows & Colbert Reports, work VPN and random tinkering put me over the 20GB mark.

I checked the Optus web-based usage meter how much of my quota I had used in the first 5 days of July: About 2.5GB.

I set off and downloaded four episodes. About 2.5GB of files. When they had finished downloading I waited a couple of hours and went back to check the Optus usage meter. It had registered 259MB of activity. Maybe it was being particularly slow to update. Anyway, I downloaded the remaining 5GB, watched two episodes and went back to check my usage: 3.8GB.

Curious.

Because I needed to put one of my Office 2007 Home licenses on the kids’ PC, I downloaded it (298MB) and checked usage again: 4.1GB and holding steady.

7.5GB of “The Wire” from iTunes cost me about 1.3GB in usage quota. 298MB of installer from Microsoft (via Digital River) cost me about 298MB of quota.

Cue Twilight Zone theme.

I’ve hunted through my contract and I can’t see anywhere where it says Apple is some Internet usage metering haven. My only explanation is that Optus can’t, or won’t, just give iPhone users free access to Apple Internet resources and they’re engineering their network to treat everyone like an iPhone user.

I can’t think of any explanation for why Optus is charging me somewhere between full rate and zero in quota. Is there something I’m missing? Secret Optus brownie points for not using BitTorrent? Most people who complain about the Optus usage meter say it over-counts their traffic.

Random Apple Store anecdote

I walked into an Apple Store to buy an AV cable for my iPod. The place was rocking. It was packed with people at 4 on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

I found a cheap Belkin AV cable and approached the counter at the back of the store. I wrangled approximately the right cash out of my wallet and was suddenly approached by two sales staff with concern in their faces.

“Err, our systems are down. We can’t take your cash.”

“Oh?” I said.

“If you have a credit card we can help you, but our cash drawer is out of action until the network comes up.”

The whole transaction from then on consisted of scanning the bar code with a PalmPilot-sized wireless POS terminal, swiping my credit card (again with the hand-held POS terminal), and typing in the unique portion of my Gmail address (for my receipt).”

Pesky cash.

Tipping software developers after a free ride

I subscribe to the view that if you use a piece of free demo software a lot, and there is a means to donate or pay for the software, then once in a while you should take the plunge and pay. For a (usually) small amount of money you can reward your favourite developers, feel good inside and occasionally get access to useful new features only available in the paid-up versions.

EverNote

EverNote is software I install on my regularly used Windows machines. EverNote provides me with an always-on alternative to notepad.exe that understands text formatting and graphics, and keeps track of where things were pasted from. The downside is that it doesn’t have an official online sharing site (apparently there is one in beta) to compete with Google Notepad’s webby ubiquity. A synced EverNote database on a USB drive — or (previous to owning the sync feature) remembering to use Google Notepad to save data I need to access from somewhere unpredictable yet Internet-enabled — serves much the same purpose for me. Unlike Google Notepad, EverNote works offline. I don’t have a pen device, but EverNote seems to be the darling of tablet PC enthusiasts for its ability to capture and manage pen-entered text and graphics.

EverNote stores notes in a searchable, indexed, tagged and otherwise categorized virtual endless tape. I’ve never seen it crash, and never seen it complained about by Windows at shutdown. It’s fast and easy to get used to.

The price was US$49.95 to upgrade to EverNote Plus, which I did out of loyalty to a couple of years good service and access to the the sync feature.

Tomato firmware

Tomato is an alternative firmware for Linksys WRT54G Linux-era routers. It’s reliable, fast, simple and sexy.

I had stuck with Sveasoft firmware for 2 years waiting for specific features to turn up. I gave up too long after its history of never achieving promised functionality or feature release schedules should have sent warning signs that even a $20 subscription was too much. I dabbled with a few alternative firmware releases before settling on Tomato and making a donation.

What’s Telstra on about?

A while back I was bemused and intrigued when I received a flyer for www.nowwearetalking.com.au included with my cheap-ass Telstra mobile phone bill. The flyer made much of its status as a grass-roots movement, intended to beat up the Federal Government so they de-claw the ACCC somewhat. Once the ACCC is out of the picture Telstra would finally be free to gernerously wash all of Australia’s telecommunications problems away with their big AU$4 billion bucket of broadband infrastructure money.

If I may paraphrase Telstra — “Shame if anything were to happen to that money. Someone might get bored and accidentally go and invest it in some non-monopoly assets. Then where would your broadband future be?”

Quite apart from its arrival in the same package as my Telstra bill, the tenor of the message was a bit of a giveaway. But beyond a stark claim of being a grassroots movement, Telstra’s backing is not hidden at all. The About Page features a surprisingly lucid Phil Burgess — someone I’ve noted before for his inability to work on radio — talking about the genesis of the site from a new “grassroots” shareholder friend he made in a restaurant:

The conversation closed with my new shareholder friend saying, “We need more information that we can use. The stuff we get from Telstra is all about numbers and finances. The stuff in the newspapers is about politics. We need information that helps us know what is possible and what we are missing and how life could be better if we all had broadband and the new services you talk about – and if we could find a way to fix the systems we have now, because some don’t work the way they should. So keep it going.”

Well done friend of Phil! You can see how this got him thinking. This completely not paraphrased account points to a desperate need for new “stuff.” The “stuff” Phil’s friend was asking for was apparently the Astroturf Phil’s recounting of his grassroots encounter is printed on. Get on the phone to the office “Quick, register keepitgoing.com.au … oh, that’s taken? How about nowwearetalking.com.au? Ok? Good!” Sure, keepitgoing.com.au isn’t taken. This is my apocryphally salient story. Go knock yourselves out domain squatters!

Alan Kohler has an excellent article in today’s SMH about Telstra’s recent very expensive campaign to convince the government to let it sidestep regulations and roll out a Fiber to the Node (FTTN) broadband network before Optus and co. get the regulatory go-ahead to roll out a Fiber to the Home (FTTH) network.

Kohler laments that something that I considered an essential precondition to Telstra’s privatization — retention of public ownership of Telstra’s “natural monopoly” assets. He also explains Telstra’s preference for FTTN and not the more capable FTTH.

In the world of fibre to which we are now moving, the copper wires and the exchanges that operate them are obsolete, valuable scrap metal. FTTN preserves the need for copper over the last mile to the house for a bit longer, which is presumably one reason Telstra is sticking with nodes and heaping scorn on FTTH.

But its network of ducts is a true monopoly asset: no one can viably duplicate them and the alternatives – overhead poles or sewers – are not suitable.

Telstra ducts were “declared” long ago, which means Telstra cannot withhold access to them and the price of access is regulated.

It would have been far better if that part of Telstra had not been privatised, or at least sold separately as an infrastructure fund, but too late for that.

Kohler then makes the point that the Government is playing catch-up to Labor’s announced broadband policy/immunization against Coalition raids on the Future Fund, and is vulnerable to Telstra’s waving around of $4 billion that they could drop on an almost modern FTTN broadband roll-out if only the government would let them bypass the ACCC and sure up their monopoly infrastructure.

It’s a bold play by Telstra. I think they are counting on a naive public with weak opinions to pressure the Coalition Government into waving this deal past the ACCC. That would work both ways. The public might not feel strongly either way on regulation, but the large number of Telstra shareholders might appreciate having their company’s share price given a boost. I can only hope that Helen Coonan and John Howard have the patience to develop at a policy that won’t restore Telstra to a position of competition-stifling monopoly as an election fix.

Why good error messages matter: iTunes and iPod update

*** Update: I was wrong in my problem isolation. The problem is actually to do with an intermittent error reported on the iPod’s disk, and the steps taken below to resolve the issue worked because of luck, and not because of setting files to be writeable. The iTunes message appears to have been partially accurate. See also this post for further adventures in problem isolation. ***

The message that I find in the System log in Windows XP’s Event Viewer (repeated every minute for minutes or hours at a time) is this:

Source: Disk
Severity: Warning
Error ID: 51

An error was detected on device Device-Harddisk1-D during a paging operation.

For more information, see Help and Support Center at http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/events.asp.

Harddisk0 is usually the C drive, and the iPod is Harddisk1.

I’m trying an iPod restore. I’ll update when I get near my wall power unit so I can complete the iPod restore process.

*** Update: Restoring the iPod has resulted in an empty-looking iPod, and a complete inability to copy music to it due to the “Attempting to copy to the disk [iPod name] failed. The disk could not be read from or written to.” error dialog. I guess I’ll be phoning Apple tomorrow. ***

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Midnight is not the right time to upgrade your router firmware

Just saying.

I had spent the evening researching the process of upgrading my Linksys WRT54G v2 to Sveasoft Talisman Firmware 1.2 RC 1. 1.2 RC1 solves a problem I would like solved — Sipura DHCP compatibility. 1.2 also adds a feature I want to play with — Multiple Wireless SSIDs and authentication from one box.

About 15 minutes before I thought I should really be sleeping I decided to execute the upgrade plan. Bad, bad, bad Chris.

  1. Locate the image file with known-good current router firmware.
  2. Check registered MAC address against router. Download 1.2RC1. Genuflect to warnings about using snapshot firmware.
  3. Back up the router settings.
  4. Do a long reset (hold down the reset button for 15 seconds) to reset configuration to defaults.
  5. Log into the web interface with default login/password credentials.
  6. Upgrade firmware to 1.2 RC1.
  7. Attempt to login…

Hmm. The default username and password no longer work.

I give up and sleep. Fitfully.

I was assisted in waking up at 5am by my baby daughter, so I thought I’d try some new things to resurrect the router before work.

I hunted around with Google Desktop Search (I had no Internet connectivity at this time) to see if I could find anything that could help. Thankfully I quickly found something I’d overlooked during my research.

For future reference, since about Sveasoft Talisman 1.1 the default username and password have changed to admin and admin, from [blank] and admin.

I foresee an evening of restoring my previous configuration settings followed by an early night and the peaceful sleep of someone who has configured two SSIDs on one router.

Yeah right.

Running Asterisk

I am in the process of installing and experimenting with the configuration of the Asterisk “free” software PBX. I’m playing around with it to evaluate whether I would recommend it as a suitable PBX for my parents-in-law’s very small business. Over the next couple of weeks you will probably see the links on the right expand as I write more about how it meets my requirements and what I find in the process of tweaking and testing. It’s a little light on content at the moment, but will add more narrative and references for anyone else who wants to sample Asterisk’s flavour of VoIP. There are plenty of references around, but learning how to navigate them is part of the fun.

Right now I have a softphone and an analog phone set up that can both place calls to the PSTN. I have an IVR that allows callers to choose whether they want to ring the analog phone, or leave a message for one of the occupants of our house (not including the bird or the cat). Voice messages are copied to the email address of the recipient.

How far am I going to go?

My plan is to have fun, and write a report on the results of requirements for my parents-in-law to make a business decision. The ability to control voice mail is pretty compelling, so I might adopt it as a home PBX once I’m done. If I can work out how to program Asterisk to tie a copy of voice messages onto the leg of our bird, then I may be able to contribute RFC-1149 compliant addition to the project.

Quality of self-service

My home Internet access is via Optus Cable. For a long time, Optus Cable has been a speed champion in Australian ISPs with downlink speeds that sometimes approach 6.5Mb/s. The only problem with the service is the anaemic 128kb/s uplink speed. This poor uplink speed is significant if you’re running certain types of forbidden “server,” multiple VoIP lines, or if you spend hours uploading your family photographs to Flickr.

This week, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Optus were increasing the uplink speed to 256kb/s. I browsed the Whirlpool forums to discover what people were using to test their speed, and whether the change had been rolled out. I tested my speed after resetting my cable modem and found that my uplink speed was still a very constant 128kb/s.

I browsed further and found that some Optus Cable customers were complaining that some areas had not been upgraded to the new speed, but this was often disputed. There was even a post from someone in the same area and same “exchange” as me who had recorded the new uplink speed.

I went to bed cursing Optus for singling me out for a lower quality of service. I slept fitfully.

Quality of service…. Quality of service… wooooOOooooo…

I awoke an hour later, realising what the problem was.

My Linksys WRT54G has been flashed with Sveasoft firmware. One of the reasons I did this was for the ability to prioritize certain types of application traffic. In the router configuration web pages this is called Quality of Service or QoS. Part of the process of configuring QoS is setting the uplink speed limit, so that the QoS feature knows when to start dropping low priority packets in favour of higher priority traffic. I changed this setting from 128kb/s to 256kb/s and sighed loudly.

I tested that uplink speed was increased, slapped myself in the head, and went back to sleep.

Waiting for Google Analytics-ot

Google rolled out their Analytics project two days ago. I think I jumped on the bandwagon about an hour after the initial press releases.

My verdict? So far, as many sites have noted, it isn’t working yet.

This failure is remarkable for Google. My impression is that they generally have smooth launches.

Google Analytics 20061116

I’ve done what I can to try and isolate any potential problems. I’ve double-checked that I’ve installed the Javascript according to Google’s directions.

There’s nothing left for me to do but contine “waiting for data” while Google plays whack-a-mole with teething problems.

Surprising perhaps, but Brainsnorkel does not have an urgent need for web traffic analysis. Customers who used to pay money to Urchin for this service are probably not feeling so magnanimous.

** Update: The message is still showing as “waiting” but you can click on and view reports now. Yay! **

** Update2: The message is still showing as “waiting” and there are stats available, but the most recent data is 24-48 hours old. **

Monopsony

I learned a new word today, thanks to Kareem Mayam.

For a long time Apple sites ave been rumbling with rumours of the next big thing for iPod: Video. Reading this, I would yawn, and try to understand why Apple would do such a thing. Surely the primary use case for the iPod is listening to music. The display limitations and likely use of the iPod and the push to video reminds me of 3G vendors competing with each other to haemorrhaging the least money on their video-enabled infrastructure. Even the “photo” part of iPod photo, seemed just a review-checkbox-stuffing distraction.

But I was forgetting iTunes (easy to do when you don’t have access to an iTunes store), and Apple’s ability to do deals. In particular, deals with Pixar’s old pals Disney. Suddenly it makes a lot more sense to me.

Disney is a conservative company, so getting them to sell their shows on iTMS is a coup for Jobs. But it’s also an experiment for Disney, which is why there are only five TV shows available. When this takes off–and it will, because Jobs convinced Disney to make the hot Lost and Desperate Housewives available, and because customers want to consume media when and where they want–the TV studios are going to jump on board the iTunes Music Media Store faster than you can say Eva Longoria.

And when that happens, Apple will own digital music distribution (they currently own 84% of the legal downloads market) and they’ll own digital video distribution, because once TV happens, movies won’t be far behind.

Then, Apple will move into the living room. Apple won’t buy TiVo, because it’s inconsistent with their “secret until launch” strategy and “not built here” mindset. Instead, they will build a better PVR with a slicker interface than TiVo. And they’ll have existing win-win-win (the third win is for customers) relationships with TV and movie companies, so they’ll launch their PVR with a video on demand service that has an iTMS-esque purchasing experience that millions are comfortable with.

I’d draw an iTunes-Napster and iTunes-TiVo analogy, but it wouldn’t be a fair and balanced comparison.