Broadband speeds – slow progress?

Internet speeds can be quickly determined at this site, the results for my line are:

Line speed

Having just moved house (May 2012) I find i have gone from a Virginmedia connection (formerly NTL fibre optics) to a BT landline (through Sky) and what a difference I notice in download and especially upload speeds!  This subject seems to have disappeared out of the news, but there is still a major issue to be addressed by the government, if they are to make good use of modern internet capabilities within the economy.

The reason for this blog is that I am disappointed with the speed I get from out BT landline, but also because I think this is a typical example of a missed opportunity – a new housing estate with poor internet speeds.  I cannot understand why there is no fibre optic capability on this new estate, nor any sign that there may ever be such a fast connection.  It seems to me this is one place the government could provide regulation (just as they have regulated the energy use of new buildings) by insisting that a new housing estate should be provided with fibre optics and a choice of supplier who can use this facility!

speed4As you can see from the data at the top of this blog, I am only getting 5Mb/s download speed (against a maximum offered speed of 8 Mb/s; although the advertisements suggest upto 14 Mb/s) and an upload speed of only 0.68 Mb/s!  This illustrates the other area that needs government regulation – advertised speeds are theoretical maximums, not actual situations.  This is very misleading and should not be allowed – it is the use of the phrase “upto” with the offered speeds that is particularly misleading.  Although, I could choose another supplier (other than Sky) this is unlikely to help me as they all have to use the BT landline.  I have asked Virginmedia if they plan to lay fibre optics in the area, but they may not be able to gain access to do so!  BT would make no comment about upgrading our area to fibre optics.

So, I imagine that nothing will change in this area, the government simply make noises when they have to, but implement no policy changes.  The suppliers are only competing on price (except for Virginmedia) and there is no coherent policy to introduce fibre optics in areas that could be upgraded without too much disruption – very disappointing!

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Playing music from my laptop – a Bluetooth solution

I readily admit that the technology I am about to describe is nothing new, or anything complicated, but I just wanted to explain how easy this was to set up and how it solved my problem for playing music.

So first, what was the problem?  Well, I digitized all my vinyl and CDs some time ago and I have all of the music on my laptop.  I have set up the music system in the new house with the amplifier attached to a DVD player, which will play CDs, the TV via the Sky box and a record deck (more about that later), but I do not play CDs very often and what I really wanted to do was play music off my laptop through the HiFi amplifier.  Of course, I could buy a new computer dedicated to this job (an a small format system such at the Apple mini would be ideal, but that seemed a waste of money when I already have a laptop with the music on it!  I did originally connect the laptop directly to the amplifier through a docking station, which was OK, but meant when music was playing I couldn’t work on the laptop – too inconvenient for me – so I needed a way to connect to the amplifier remotely.  A quick search of eBay and Amazon led me to a Bluetooth solution available from Logitech.

This small device has both phone and mini-jack connectors and a simple Bluetooth connection system.  It comes supplied with a small power supply and was very easy to set up.  Connecting to the laptop was simply a matter of setting the laptop off to search for a new Bluetooth device, pressing the button on the Logitech Audio link and waiting for them to pair.  Once paired I was able to connect the device to the spare Aux input of my amplifier and listen to music from the laptop on the HiFi speakers while working on the laptop (such as now while I write this Blog).  Pairing each time I bring the laptop to the lounge is easy; although, sometimes needs two goes!  In addition, I have paired it with my phone and I can listen to music from that!  It should also work with iPad and iPhone etc.  One advantage is that I no longer needed the choke filter I had been forced to use when connecting though the docking station and the sound quality is very good while I am in the same room – it falls off as I leave the lounge with the source.  The Bluetooth receiver sits nicely on top of the HiFi amplifier and is very unobtrusive.

So, all-in-all a very good buy, which solved my simple audio problem!

Update – January 2016:

The passage of time always leads to greater demands on equipment and I have recently realised that I would like to routinely play music from more than one source (phone, PC or tablet) through my HiFi system.  This has led me to an “upgrade” of the Logitech Bluetooth Audio Receiver Adapter to the latest version, which pairs with two devices and remembers them.  This makes life a lot easier as I can now play music from my phone or my PC depending which I have with me.  The new version of the adapter is much smaller than the original and could be easily hidden away if you don’t want it on show, but you do need access to the tip button for pairing with new devices.  The charger was also much smaller, but I actually just plugged it onto the lead from the old charger (mercifully the same type of plug is used) and also just plugged in the same audio jack to the HiFi.  All is working well and the sound level is slightly better from this adapter (or at least it appears to be so to me), however, I did find I had to reboot the tablet to get it to connect to the Bluetooth, but after that no problems.

So far so good, I will come back with more information shortly.

Loss of Windows Update facility

I had an interesting problem on my Toshiba Portege from mid December 2011 – I lost the ability to get Windows Update to install recent updates.  Running the Windows Update program resulted in an error code – 80246008.  I followed the link to the Microsoft help on this error and it indicated that I needed to activate a service called  Background Intelligent Transfer Service (BITS).

As recommended I ran Administrative Tools > Services, but BITS was not even listed, so I could not start the service as recommended by Microsoft.  I started to search the Microsoft Blogs for more information and eventually came across help in a Forum referring to  Background Intelligent Transfer Service .  However, the solutions pasted there by Microsoft either did nothing (System Restore) or didn’t work (System File Checker), but I did notice a simple posting that recommend running a program from The Command Window:

sc create BITS binpath= “c:\windows\system32\svchost.exe -k netsvcs” start= delayed-auto

I tried this, it ran OK and when I restarted the computer, lo and behold I had BITS and Windows Update worked!

So, I thoroughly recommend this fix!

But, I have to ask, why did BITS disappear in the first place?

Keeping your laptop cool

Recently I had a problem with an overheating laptop, which kept closing down when it got too hot.  So to solve this problem I purchased a Belkin Laptop Cooler:

Belkin cooler

This useful piece of technology, which just plugs into the USB port of the laptop, solved the problem immediately and I bought this version because of a need to use it on a flat surface – a desktop or a table – and the sloped surface works well for that.  However, there is also a drawback with this design and that reflects the shape, there is a tendency for the laptop to slip downwards despite the grips on the upper and lower surfaces.  The laptops I use are lightweight 12” Toshiba Portege and the lack of weight increases the tendency to slip!  The other drawback with this design is that it cannot be used on your lap, the shape totally precludes this!

Antec coolerTo overcome this problem and to enable me to use the laptop on my lap (impossible before the cooler and with the Belkin design) I was fortunate to obtain an Antec Laptop Cooler.  This is a flat version of the Belkin, but has additional features that I think are very useful:

  1. The USB plug has a “pass-through”, which allows the port to still be used for a memory stick etc.
  2. There are two fans, which seem to be very quiet (so far – after 5 months).
  3. The fans have two speeds, which can be controlled by a switch at the side.
  4. A light indicates the cooler is powered and running (mind you it is a bit bright blue!).

The Antec Cooler is very quiet; although the Belkin is fairly quiet, but noticeable in a silent room, even when on full power it runs smoothly and quietly.  Recently the Belkin has developed a “knock” in the fan at start-up, which may indicate a developing problem, but this goes when it is restarted.  The Antec works very well on the knee and on the arm of our settee, which makes it very useful, while the Belkin needs a flat surface under it.

Overall, I think the Antec is the better buy, but the Belkin is both cheaper and useful on a desk.

Which laptop?

The last few laptops I have owned have been Toshiba Portege models, which are marketed as lightweight laptops with both connectivity and storage.

The first was one of the M-series, but, while it was light, it still weighed well over 2Kg and with the power supply it was quite a bundle to carry around on my aging shoulders!    I was buying these laptops for use at work, so I needed something well-built and reasonably robust – the portege is both; although the very thin lid of the R-series is very flexible and could be damaged with too much man-handling.

However, my current Portege is a R600 and I love this laptop, primarily because of the lightness (which still surprises people even after 4 years), but also because it has everything I need.  Perhaps the most impressive feature is the DVD/CD player (see below), which is really thin but also easy to use.  In addition, there are two USB ports, an internet connection and a VGA output.  There is also a SATA output, which I have never used so no comment, microphone in and speaker/headphone output.  The volume control is very useful as it can sometimes be tricky to adjust speaker volume quickly using software (especially in an exam when invigilating!).  Also the on-off switch for wireless connection is useful.  I used this laptop both when travelling – for presentations at conferences – and when teaching – running both movies and PowerPoint presentations – and I have had no problems with it.  It is also small enough to just about fit on those ridiculous shelves on airline seats!

I also use the laptop to score cricket games I attend and the beauty for that job is the battery life, which, without WiFi switched on, is about 6 hours and with a slower speed on the processor can be stretched to 8 hours.  I never push this at a game, so I bought a spare battery and I swap batteries at the breaks in the game, but four hours is easy to get.

So, what are the down points?  Well, it does get quite hot and it is not advisable to use it on a lap without a cooling stand.  It is not the fastest processor and the laptop does struggle when many applications are open, which is something I inflict on all my laptops!  Perhaps the biggest drawback is that you pay for this light build and these machines are not cheap.  But, I still find it very usable and would not be without it – oh, and I rarely am.  The R600 is able to run DVDs without any problem (this was not the case with the earlier M-series model), but I recommend upping the available RAM using the memory card accessory if you are a heavy user.

This is not a replacement for a desktop, but it is a very easy to transport laptop, which makes travelling a pleasure.  I have “played with” the new model – the Portege Z830 – and I think that is also a beautiful lightweight laptop, which I really recommend to anyone; although the solid-state storage is limited, so make sure you pick the right portege model for what you need.