What can we use the telephone for?

15/05/2018

Nowadays, that phone you carry round in your pocket has many uses. Yes, there’s the phone call thing – though that’s a bit of a spin-off nowadays.  There’s text messages – the good old SMS – but that’s a comms thing too.  And Messenger, which is text messages and even voice calls, but all mixed up with social networking.

Which brings us to WhatsApp, and Signal… and then Facebook, and SnapChat, and Twitter… and Google+, and then email, and then your good old web browser… and there are the shopping apps, and the takeaway food apps, and the banking apps… and there’s the camera, and the maps, and the astronomy, and the python programming, and the translators, and the ebooks, and and and… please, leave your ideas of other telephone uses in the Comments, I swear each one will be examined and cherished.

But back when ol’ Mr Bell first came out with his amazing telephonic invention, he did’t really know what to do with it.  The first thing he noticed was when he got acid on his trousers and squealed like a little pig for help, his assistant Mr Watson heard him over the telephone and could come rushing to his aid.  But, after touring the country with his stage act, letting the audience hear, over his phone, the sound of Mr Watson playing the organ somewhere else, he was a bit stumped for practical applications.

One of his ideas was to use it as a cable radio service – every evening the family could gather round the phone and listen to live music, or a play, or a sermon, or a presidential address. We may laugh nowadays (even though we use or phones as radios, and tvs, and mp3 and video players) but in Budapest, Hungary, 1893 until after World War I, there was a service called Hirmondo which was essentially Bell’s idea.  It’s dead now, of course, but land-line phones in general are pretty dead now.  And our mobile phones are being used for a whole lot more than phone calls, as I started this post describing.  Who knows what we’ll be using phones for in another 50 years or so?  Tell you what: I bet actual phone calls will be at the bottom of the list!

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Sick of rip-off mobile phone deals? Of course you are! Read on…

24/09/2015

I have to use my laptop or smartphone a lot when I’m out and about.  I had an Orange (now EE) sim in my phone, and my allocated data ran out in no time.  For my laptop I had a 3 dongle, which wasn’t much better.  3GB per month allocation of data transfer: ok for the occasional thing, but if you need to use your laptop to its full potential and there isn’t a McDonald’s or KFC nearby whose wifi to steal, you’re going nowhere.

So I switched to giffgaff.  My phone was, surprisingly, unlocked, so I could use it with any network’s sim.  And what’s more, my phone (a Sony Xperia) has built-in function to use the phone as a mobile wifi hotspot.  No stupid cables, or dongles.  And the deals are great: I pay £18, which gives me 2000 mins (that’s right, 2 THOUSAND mins) of calls to other mobiles and landlines, and 0800 calls are free, as they should be!  Also UNLIMITED texts, FREE calls to other giffgaff phones, and 6 GB of data (which is a lot for a mobile service provider).  And if you don’t want to go through the hassle of changing your number, you can migrate your current number to giffgaff.

Tempted?  Give it a go.  Click here to get FREE GIFFGAFF SIM CARDS!!  And if you order your free GFiffgaff sim from that link, you will get £5 credit for FREE!!!

Giffgaff… give it a go.  You have nothing to lose but your chains!  You have a world to win!!  (cheers, Groucho)  😉

Giffgaff... so inexpensive, even diabolical infant geniuses use it!

Giffgaff… so inexpensive, even diabolical infant geniuses use it!

Oh, as I’m giving satuph away here, why don’t you treat yourself to a copy of the Codex Seraphinianus – the most brilliant book ever!!! [link] And the first reader to crack the code will get a “wonderful prize”!

See, reading I HATE HATE!!! is educational, fun, AND you get the chance to score yourse3lf kewl swag!!!


Net neutrality: a reasonable request or a pipe dream?

16/07/2014

One of the email lists I’ve signed up for is EFFector, the email “newsletter” from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). (If you want to subscribe to it, go to eff.org). The latest email (received today) concentrates on the issue of net neutrality, “the idea that Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data that travels over their networks equally … a principle that EFF strongly supports.”

EFF says:

Without [net neutrality], companies like Comcast and Verizon will be permitted to give preferential treatment to some websites over others. This would be a disaster for the open Internet. When new websites can’t get high-quality service, they’ll be less likely to reach users and less likely to succeed. The result: a less diverse Internet.

Just think about all the ways an open Internet has transformed the world. It’s changed the way we communicate, learn, share, and create. Citizens have used it to organize against government oppression. Innovative companies have helped us to map our communities and connect Internet users to family and friends across continents. Likewise, the Internet has revolutionized education: students can access knowledge previously tucked away in university libraries, now readily available online.

We want the Internet to live up to its promise, fostering innovation, creativity, and freedom. We don’t want regulations that will turn ISPs into gatekeepers, making special deals with a few companies and inhibiting new competition, innovation and expression.

Net neutrality is under threat. the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), the US body that deals with this kind of issue, is considering a plan that would allow some Internet providers to provide better access to some websites that pay a fee to reach users faster. This kind of “pay-to-play” Internet stifles innovation. New websites that can’t afford expensive fees for better service will face new barriers to success, leaving users with ever fewer options and a less diverse Internet.

The FCC has a disappointing history on online issues. In 2010, the FCC’s rules would have allowed ISPs free rein to discriminate as long as it was part of “reasonable efforts to… address copyright infringement.” This broad language could lead to more bogus copyright policing from the ISPs.

They do sometimes take action against ISPs who flout the FCC’s feeble rules. The EFF point out, for instance, that

– Comcast was caught interfering with their customers’ use of BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer file sharing
– A Canadian ISP slowed down all encrypted file transfers for five years
– The FCC fined Verizon for charging consumers for using their phone as a mobile hotspot

But this only happens when the EFF or similar organizations hassle the FCC to take action. And right now, there’s “fast lane” discrimination that allows wireless customers without data plans to access certain sites but not the whole Internet, something that the FCC doesn’t seem to have dealt with. This is discrimination that is inexplicable unless you accept the worrying conclusion that the FCC don’t work to control ISPs but is actually in the pocket of the ISPs. EFF tells us

The FCC also has a sad history of being captured by the very industries it’s supposed to regulate while ignoring grassroots public opinion. In the early 2000s, for example, the commission essentially ignored the comments of hundreds of thousands of Americans who opposed media consolidation.

Net neutrality is dying at the moment. ISPs often do not let their customers to access sites and services offered by other ISPs, a vile form of online censorship designed to fill the ISPs’ pockets.

The EFF can see a way out of this mess, as explained at The FCC and Net Neutrality: A Way Forward. Unfortunately the EFF is not the statuary body empowered to enforce net neutrality. That is (in the USA, which of course affects the entire internet) the FCC. And they won’t do their job. ISPs continue to throttle or completely block their customers from using sites offered by other ISPs. EFF tells us:

EFF has long been critical of the Federal Communications Commission’s efforts to regulate digital technologies and services. We’ve warned against FCC rules and strategies that threatened to (or actually did) give the agency too much power over innovation and user choice. And with good reason: the FCC has a sad history of being captured by the very industries it’s supposed to regulate. It also has a history of ignoring grassroots public opinion. In the early 2000s, for example, the commission essentially ignored the comments of hundreds of thousands of Americans who opposed media consolidation.

When it came to the open Internet, the FCC’s confused legal arguments regarding the scope and limit of their power made us fearful that the FCC would abuse its power. With respect to net neutrality, it started out by claiming a broad “ancillary” authority to regulate the Internet – a claim that, if accepted, could be a Trojan horse for ever-expanding regulatory overreach. If the agency couldn’t articulate a reasonable and clear legal authority for its actions, how could we trust it to recognize the limits of that authority?

The FCC has even proposed rules that would allow companies like Comcast and Verizon to charge websites and web applications a fee to reach users more reliably. So what can we do to stop internet apartheid? EFF has proposed a “constellation of solutions, such as:

Rules that block non-neutral behavior… drastically enhanced transparency rules and community based solutions that promote competition, like municipal and community deployment of fiber. Network neutrality rules also must extend to mobile data networks, which is currently not the case [which is a dire situation, considering how many people use the mobile internet with tablets, smartphones etc].

Without detailed transparency into how providers are managing their networks, users will be unable to determine why some webpages are slow to load, while new services that hope to reach those users will have a harder time figuring out if there is some artificial barrier in place.

We also need more competition. Right now most Internet users have only one or two options for high-speed Internet for their homes and businesses. 20 states currently have anti-competitive laws that restrict the ability for community groups and municipalities from building their own networks. Fortunately, the FCC has said it will challenge these laws. But we can also organize locally to encourage more high-speed Internet options in our cities, like by urging mayors to light up unused fiber or building community networks.
[…]
The good news is we are speaking up. The FCC has opened a “rulemaking” process, where the agency has asked the public to weigh-in on its proposed rules. We created a tool, DearFCC.org, to help everyone take part in this important debate.

If the FCC embraces rules that allow wealthy incumbent companies to reach users at faster speeds, the services we see in the future could be the same companies that are popular today. But we want to expect the unexpected. To get there, we have to make certain new businesses and services are able to meaningfully connect to users.

This rulemaking process is one of our best opportunities to be heard. Visit DearFCC.org and tell your story today. The FCC needs to hear us loud and clear: It’s our Internet, and we’re going to fight to protect it.

Congress is trying to rush to pass an amendment that will kill net neutrality. We who care about our internet need to contact them, via https://www.dearfcc.org/call. Oh, and give EFF some money. In this horrible world, money talks. Go to www.eff.org to learn more. Net neutrality must not be allowed to die!

NB: Even if you’re not a US citizen/resident, it’d be a good idea to complain to them. A deluge of complaints from all round the world might remind the FCC that the internet is an international network of networks, and actions taken by the FCC will impact net users everywhere. Go to www.eff.org to find out more! Cheers!

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T-Mobile make me sick

06/04/2010

I’ve got this deal with T-Mobile: I pay them £x and in return they give me “unlimited” mobile broadband on top of cellphone service.

Only it isn’t unlimited, is it? There’s a “fair use policy”, which isn’t very fair at all. If you look here, you’ll see what these unfair use policies entail: details vary a little from plan to plan, but the upshot is the user has a “maximum allowance” of data transfer – these allowances can be as small as 40MB per day! – and if you exceed this allowance (by using a mobile internet device for its proper purpose – ie accessing the internet) T-Mobile “restricts” your ability to use the web!

Here’s the message you receive if you attempt to access the internet once your allowance is used up:

Notice from T-Mobile

You’ve now exceeded your internet Fair Use Policy

At T-Mobile we want to give you our customers the best service possible.

Our Fair Use Policy (FUP) helps us do this and also means we don’t have to charge any run on rates. We will never ask you to pay more than you agreed, so you’ll always know how much you’re paying and never get an unexpected bill.

Each internet option comes with its own Fair Use Policy. We’ve already sent a text message letting you know you had reached 80% of your FUP, and now you’ve used over 100%.

You will continue to be able to use your internet for unlimited browsing. That means you’ll still be able to browse websites, login to Facebook, check your Hotmail or catch the news on the BBC.

For the time being, however, between 4pm and midnight you won’t be able to do other heavy usage activities such as watching videos or downloading applications. Before 4pm and after midnight your internet service will continue to run as normal.

Your Fair Use Policy duration depends on how you purchase your internet. When your Fair Use Policy begins again, either at the start of the next calendar month or your next purchase, it will be reset to 0 and your service will return to normal.

So “between 4pm and midnight you won’t be able to do other heavy usage activities such as watching videos or downloading applications”… or, indeed, downloading files from remote machines, or any email attachments that T-Mobile classify as “large”, nor can I upload “large” files… and this ridiculous state of affairs will continue until the end of the calendar month – unless, of course, I’d like to pay extra to get a larger “allowance” (though none have a particularly large allowance as far as I can see). And T-Mobile also bans the use of instant messaging over their network. No doubt because the availability of IM would eat away at their lucrative business of selling SMS to teenagers.

Because that’s what all this “fair use” crap is about, of course. The policies are full of bull like “We’ll monitor how much you send and receive each calendar month so that we can protect our network for all our customers”. But what it all means is that T-Mobile can try to guarantee all of their customers a little internet access at the expense of those who need to use the internet a lot.

I realize this is all standard operating policy now with internet service providers, so I shouldn’t complain about T-Mobile in particular. But I will complain about T-Mobile because they’re the bastards who are screwing with me right now! And I’ll also give Vodafone a special mention as I’ve suffered at their hands too. But they are all a bunch of wankers. Seems to me that there’s a cartel in operation, fixing prices amongst themselves so there’s nowhere for a cost-conscious customer to go. And of course, like the flock of stupid sheep we are, we hand over our hard-earned dosh to the robbers when we should be handing them their own heads.

But maybe they’re not all on the take – at least, perhaps some of the thieves are a little less dishonest. Next month I’m going to give 3 a try. They sell prearranged “data allowances” so I can pay, for instance, £15 and get a 3GB allowance. The prices are still outrageous, but maybe I’ll be able to use my mobile devices for their intended purpose – to use the internet while out and about!

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Mobile Broadband on Linux

11/10/2009

Note: There’s more info on this subject here. So take a look if this post doesn’t do it for you.

Be aware that all my experience of this subject is based on Ubuntu. If you use another Linux distro, YMMV. If you’re using Windows or OSX… you’ll probably be better off looking elsewhere.

Some time ago I bought a new phone – Sony Ericsson K800i. It’s a 3G phone, so I was pretty stoked: at last I’d be able to get a decent connection speed when linking my PC to the internet through this baby. And I was right: I get between 40 and 100 Kps (320-800 Kbps). Maybe those of you with wired broadband connections think this is dead slow. It probably is, to you. But to someone who’s previously had to depend on a sluggish GPRS connection, my new phone is like amphetamine on crack.

And it is so much easier to connect via this phone than it was through my previous handsets. All I need to do with my K800i is:

1. Press Menu > Settings > Connectivity > USB > USB Internet;

2. Select USB Internet On;

3. Connect phone to PC with USB datacable (the K800i also has bluetooth and infrared, but my computer is not equipped for such things);

4. Select Phone Mode;

and that’s it! The Ubuntu network manager detects the phone and automagically sets up the connection. Sweet or what! (Remember, this is with the Sony Ericsson K800i. Other phones will be different.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always like that. I don’t know if it’s just my phone or what, but connection is very unreliable. It cuts out erratically, and I haven’t found a fix yet. So on bad days I find I have to use wvdial to connect. I’ve described this in detail before – I’m not going to go into it again. Click here to go to the wvdial tutorial.

Thing is, mobile phone service providers have got something against their customers using their cellphones this way. It’s called “tethering”, and it is generally banned in the Terms and Conditions they make you agree to when you get your phone. And some providers actively block tethering. My provider obviously doesn’t block it. But that might change any day.

Why do they dislike tethering? Because they want you to buy a Mobile Broadband USB modem, and pay an inflated rate for mobile internet connection. Rip-off merchants!

Because I wanted another way to connect to the internet other than my phone, I bought one of these USB modems – a Vodafone K3565, aka the Huawei E160X. To connect via this device, Vodafone (UK) charge me £15 per GB of data transferred. This is shockingly expensive compared to what I pay for connection through my cellphone (£2.50 for 5 days’ “unlimited” browsing). But it is a better connection much of the time, when I get Vodafone’s HSDPA signal. Transfer speeds over HSDPA can get as highh as 160 Kps (1280 Kbps). But if I’m in an area with no HSDPA or 3G signal, I get snail’s rate GPRS. Which hurts when you’re paying the con men so much.

It’s also extremely easy to connect an Ubuntu PC to the internet via a Huawei dongle. Similar to the phone: plug it in, wait a short while, and the network manager detects the device and connects. The first time you connect the dongle to the computer, network manager throws up a mobile broadband wizard, which asks you a few questions about your service provider etc. And that’s it. Well, usually that’s it. Sometimes you have to manually edit the settings before it’ll work. But that will depend on whose service you’re using.

Also, I understand that although Huawei devices play nice with Ubuntu, some other manufacturers’ models don’t. If that’s the case for you, wvdial is probably the answer. Again, click here to find out how to use wvdial.

There’s another solution, if you’re having problems: an app called Vodafone Mobile Connect. Don’t let the word “Vodafone” in the name put you off – it actually works with devices on any provider’s networks. I used it for a while very successfully. I can’t give you any real advice about it, as it’s in constant “beta” development. But the only reason I stopped using it was the fact that Ubuntu’s network manager does the job just fine. It’s certainly worth checking out if you’re having problems. There are binaries available for many Linux distros.

Well, I think that’s about it. So, let me just wish you the best of luck in connecting to the internet with your device. And I’ll bid you farewell!

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