A new dimension through blogging?

Someone asked today whether blogging has opened up a dimension which I wouldn’t have found otherwise.

Moored outside the NIA in Birmingham before moving to 14 day moorings
Moored outside the NIA in Birmingham earlier this month before moving to 14 day moorings

Here is the perfect example.  I am sitting in the south in glorious sunshine.  Zulu is sitting in Birmingham (I hope!!) and this weekend I hope to be able to continue our journey through to Hatton on the Grand Union.  Until now I was oblivious to the difference in weather between here and there.

How topical to discover that the most recent two bloggers to update their blogs, at the time of writing, are both relevant to my journey.

First of all Gypsy Rover who have moored  a couple of spaces behind Zulu.  Their post at 9:01am this morning confirms that it snowed quite heavily in Birmingham last night, so I must make sure the path is clear before setting off to the Grand Union tomorrow morning.

Secondly Matilda Rose who moored near me in Birmingham a couple of weekends ago. Today at 8:23am they have posted a description of their journey from Birmingham to Hatton via the Lapworth flight on the Stratford Canal.  Wow – I hadn’t known for sure that this route was open, after having seen the extent of maintenance works a couple of weeks ago when I called in by car.  Now I will almost certainly head that way instead of going down Farmers Bridge and joining the Grand Union in Birmingham.

Also a double mention to John on Epiphany who has published the most comprehensive list of moorings and facilities on the BCN.  Thanks for this after my annoyance last week that BW publishes a load of out of date information on Waterscape.com which doesn’t even include the 14 day moorings on which we are moored right now, despite them having been there, almost outside their West Midlands Office, for at least the last 5 years.  I believe John has also recently taken responsibility for the new NABO website which was launched last night.  I took an interest in this from a technical point of view last year, as this site has long been barred from access to T-Mobile mobile broadband users.  T-Mobile interfere with web pages by keeping  a snapshot copy on their own proxy server, as well as delivering low resolution images in place of those supplied on the original website.  It would not surprise me if they also block access to some sites, though they deny this and why this would have been the case with NABO I have no idea.  Whatever the reason, T-Mobile blamed the hosting company, and the hosting company blamed T-Mobile.  Neither could be swayed to sort it out.  I was able to establish it was the whole web server and not just this website, but the obvious answer was to move to a new hosting company, which NABO have now done.  Therefore all those on T-Mobile who couldn’t access this website in the past – you will have no problems now.

Finally it seems appropriate to also mention that the IWA have also just updated their website – very professional and well laid out it looks too.

It often seems to me that the more corporate the website the flashier it will look, but the content will be duller, more likely to be out of date and even downright incorrect (as per my complaint about Waterscape.com’s listing of moorings on the BCN which bears no resemblance to reality).  There seem to be more and more good canal blogs, and almost every single one has something positive to contribute to other boaters – it is obvious how frequently they get updated, unlike most corporate sites, and so I know I can rely on Epiphany’s mooring list more than any produced by BW at present because the people behind it have an interest in making it right. Personal blogs are a tough act for Waterscape, IWA and organisations like NABO to follow although to me the clue to success is staring us in the face.  Write it like it is, put quality of content before quality of presentation, review what you have written and update it when its wrong, and do it often and when appropriate.  Or in one word – “blog”.

Tyrley to Brewood

Wednesday 30th December

A gloomy Tyrley Cutting, Shropshire Union CanalIt’s been a long cold wet winter day today and I didn’t see the Shroppie at its best, with endless muddy towpaths and biting cold easterly wind across the exposed embankments which forced us to crab along mile after mile at 45 degrees to the bank, just to keep moving forwards.

Therefore this is a short post to say we arrived at Brewood, which like most of the area has no 3G signal at all.  Three has no service, O2 is down to about the lowest possible signal and T-Mobile is just giving me a 1 bar GPRS signal.  I couldn’t live here, although Brewood is a very attractive town spoilt tonight by a loud drunken argument outside the Swan, which wasn’t exactly a welcoming site!

A quick hi to Sue on No Problem; passed you at Wheaton Aston but I think you are still away for the hols, and hi to Chertsey which we passed in the twilight at Stretton, so sorry Sarah I didn’t stop as I don’t think a visit in the icy dark would have done justice!

21 miles and 1 lock, 2 cold feet and 1 red nose.

No internet on the Shroppie

Lack of posting this week has been due to total lack of any form of internet.
Middlewich Branch to Waverton over four days: 20 miles 14 locks (including a little to-ing and fro-ing).

It didn't rain all day!
It didn't rain all day!

I have an iPhone, T-Mobile 3G and Three 3G.  Moored at Beeston for a couple of days I could get no signal whatsoever from the 3G services and the iPhone was showing “No Service” most of the time unless I stood on the bank where the phone was just about usable in short bursts, but no usable data connection at all.

Zulu is still heading for Chester – we should get there today, but spent a very nice few days on the Middlewich Branch and Shroppie near Beeston.  The weekend rush died down on Tuesday and the canal is once again very quiet, but I expect there to be a surge of hire boats heading back to base tonight.  The weather has been just awful for July – even when the sun comes out it still manages to rain every hour or so, guaranteeing a good soaking every time I manage to get dry.  Filled up with diesel at Venetian Marine (63p) and had a very nice lunch at the marina cafe.  Mum and Dad visited for a couple of days, staying near Beeston, but we sadly had to cancel the planned boat ride due to the most horrendous weather on Wednesday.  It would have been no fun for any of us, so instead I took them by road to the Anderton Lift.  They said they enjoyed it anyway!  The down side of not doing a boat trip on Zulu was that she had ended up pointing in the wrong direction, so I had to take her on quite a diversion to turn back towards Chester.  For the record you can turn a 50ft boat between Tilstone Lock and Bunbury!

Wifi in Finland and Estonia

Helsinki trams - wifi enabled
Helsinki trams - wifi enabled

Changing the subject from life on board slightly, this week I have been on holiday.  Not quite as exciting as our last trip to Moldova and Ukraine, but still off the beaten tourist track.  We flew last week to Riga, capital of Latvia, travelled overland to Tallin in Estonia and flew back yesterday from Helsinki, Finland.

When WiFi was in its infancy in 1994, Estonia was reported by the BBC as being the most advanced nation in the provision of wireless hotspots for everyone. WiFi.ee still maintains a huge wireless network for public access, and absolutely everywhere we travelled almost every bar, restaurant and even shops also provided completely free wifi access to the public. 

WiFi.ee currenly runs 1164 hotspots covering 45,000 square kilometers and almost all of them are free.   Using my iPhone I was able to connect within a few yards of first trying without any problems at all.

So it was actually even more refreshing to discover that, after taking the ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki (free WiFi on board of course) , virtually the whole city is WiFi enabled.  Hotels try to make their money by charging but over most of the city is a combination of official free WiFi hotspots, an even bigger network of shops and bars providing access and best of all, the number 4 tram from the ferry port to the city centre also provides free WiFi.  Other tram and bus routes may also be covered, under a trial scheme. 

How cool to be able to log on for an email check on the way to town on the tram, but it doesn’t stop there.  Trams are fitted with GPS devices which as well as updating the “next tram” signs at the tram stops, even show their location on Google Maps.

Three 3G – update

My new Three balance - enough to buy a Broadband Light Package at last
My new Three balance - enough to buy a Broadband Light Package at last

Yesterday I made public my dissatisfaction with Three for taking my 10 pounds but charging me £1 per megabyte before I could convert it into a month’s Mobile Broadband.

So it is only fair to tell you about their follow-up to a complaint I sent by email.

Last night – within 24 hours of my complaint, I had a voicemail asking me to call them regarding my email complaint, and shortly afterwards the phone rang again; Three customer service, very concerned that I was not satisfied and within a couple of minutes my £10 credit was reinstated with an explanation of how to use this to purchase the broadband add-on.  I can’t complain about this standard of service – and I have heard plenty of negatives about it, so congratulations Three, I am much happier now.

The remaining problem is that  their advice was to ensure that only internet explorer is active and that no other application is using the internet while purchasing future credits.  But all computers will attempt to make dozens of internet connections invisibly – ranging from checking email, updating windows, updating anti-virus, updating all manner of other programs, checking the time, Skype and so on – even viruses themselves!  It isn’t realistic to expect the home user to know how to disable all of this traffic – perhaps those who can “ban all internet traffic” with a firewall program will be best equipped to do this, but then access to the Three website would be blocked. 

I will therefore ensure in the future that I have a printed Three top-up voucher from a shop before attemting to use the online top-up service again.  This allows you to browse free of charge (as long as your three account has no credit at all) to the Three website and input the voucher code while at the same time converting it to Broadband.  Upon pressing the submit button the service will be activated.

One remaining question then.  How many people purchase a ten pound voucher and use it up with their first 10 megabytes?  I know someone who did this thrice before asking me why their 3G didn’t work apart from the first 2 minutes.  Another question then.  How much do Three make from this unnecessarily confusing system?  If you have fallen victim to this, then you may like to know that you can call Three customer service on a normal mobile number 07782 333333 and avoid the 12 pence per minute !! fee for dialing their 500 number.   (If you want to speak to someone on this number instead of listen to menu options, press 0 # in quick succession.)  Lets see if they are nice to you as they were to me last night.

Three 3G? Don’t do what I did!

Three 3G only £1,024 per Gigabyte
Three 3G only £1,024 per Gigabyte

No T-Mobile coverage today so I decided to activate my Three 3G PAYG service. Plugged it in, connected it up and as expected no websites are available except the Three website itself, where you can pay your ten pounds and get a months worth of internet access, or so I thought.

I hadn’t registered a card with Three, but no worries – it said the first time you do so a ten pound charge would be applied to the account which could then be converted into a 1 month mobile broadband service, and so I paid up.

The thank you screen included a link to click to convert the purchase into broadband but when I did so the internet services all sprung into life before I was able to convert my purchase into broadband, and I was being charged an unbelievable £1 per MEGABYTE – thats £1,024 per Gigabyte.  This is totally unfair and totally out of order Three.

So after 30 seconds of retrying I was clearly on the verge of spending all my credit. It had cost me something betweem 94p and £1.46 (their website contradicted iteslf) to discover I no longer had enough credit to convert my £10 to broadband, and so the only option was to pull the 3G connection before it spent all my money.  I couldn’t go back to pay more as they need 7 days to re-use the newly registered card.

Normally I praise Three for their network coverage and 3G speed especially where other providers fail.  But this time I am absolutely disgusted with forcing me to waste ten quid – so please be warned – don’t try this at home!  And to rub salt into the wound, T-Mobile works perfectly here in Northwich after all.

Just like T-Mobile but better

Well I have had a lovely day yesterday playing with my new iPhone and felt the urge to review all my old tech stuff, so taking a look at my T-Mobile mobile broadband invoice at £44 flat rate for unlimited throughput, (which actually means 10Gb per month according to the small print), and comparing it to their current pricing of £30 per month I decided to shop around for a better broadband package.

There are some great deals on the market, but there’s always some small print.  Amidst terrifying tales of paying £6 per megabyte for data access out of contract, which would value my 10Gb package at something in the region of £6,144 per month at this rate, there are also plenty of complaints on the internet that even with a contract there can be a nasty surprise if you over run the bundled bandwidth, for instance Three charge 10p per megabyte which equals £102.40 per gigabyte.  Few suppliers actually offer high volume contracts – it boiled down to T-Mobile unlimited again at £30.00 per month, Three at £30.00 for 15Gb or O2 with 10Gb for £35.00.  Three I already have as a backup and it is quite slow in places.  T-Mobile and O2 both offer free wifi access in the UK too, so I decided to renew the contract with T-Mobile where there is no risk of a huge additional bill at the end of the month.

They offered a fiver discount to keep the old modem, but studying the small print showed that their current model was in theory much faster.  It arrived this morning, only 15 hours after ordering it, worked perfectly for an hour and then blue screened my brand new computer when I removed it for the first time.  Not a good start.  But the saving grace is that the speeds I am getting today are spectacular.  I can upload at am amazing1,600 kbps and download about 450 which is not so good but still quite fast.

Naturally for lite users there are some much cheaper packages around – theres nothing wrong with a tenner a month for a 1Gb pay as you go package from Three but like I said the other day, I can use this up in a few hours.  Where?  Well for a start I back up all my files and photos online at iDrive, and thats a huge overhead.  Software upgrades and connections to remote desktops account for other big chunks and the occasional massive email attachment or two every day can also play havoc.  World of Warcraft takes the biscuit though. They have released a patch this week which is stretching the limits – why?  Its not just that it is 1.8 Gigabytes, but while downloading it also uploads to other computers without telling you.  Potentially I could use all 10Gb by leaving this on all night – but what about those who only have a 1Gb package in the first place, or pay up to 200 pounds extra.

This really does need to be sorted out – it is absolutely unfair that people end up bankrupt after some software they never heard of supplied gigabytes of uploads while they were asleep.

Now back to T-Mobile, if only the software was better (although its actually the modem drives which are causing it) – my network icon has been removed and is greyed out when I try to restore it – then this would be one excellent upgrade while saving £14.00 per month into the bargain.

Two of everything now that I have Three

I have to be online daily, as whilst I lead a nomadic life, it can only be paid for by occasional bursts of activity on various computer systems which are usually too far away to visit.  The internet bridges the gap – I can usually put things right wherever I am, as long as the laptop and internet connection are both functioning.

Last week the laptop woke me up at 3am with a scream – yes the laptop, and not me.  It was definitely not well, and in the morning it refused to go beyond a repeat of this awful noise.  Realising this was serious, and not having time to work out if it was repairable, I duly headed to PCWorld and came home with a lovely new one.

Fortunately, when the dust had settled, I realised that the screaming noise was most likely due to a keyboard error, and found if booted to DOS, the W, S and X keys still worked confirming that the rest of the keys didn’t.  Unable to spell anything using these keys alone, I ordered a new keyboard from ebay which has sorted out the problem and now I have a spare laptop to take travelling!   Cost of repair £15.00.

Anyway T-Mobile, my normal means of connecting to the internet,  turns out to be pathetically slow here in Middlewich – one thing I forgot to check before taking the mooring here.  So today I checked who did provide 3G service to Middlewich and was pleased to find that Three do and so for emergency use only, I am now the proud owner of two mobile broadband systems, as well of course as two laptops and err… two boats including two of almost everything else needed to equip a boat.

Three 3G works too (thank goodness), and very fast it is.  But as a trial I have taken out the PAYG option which gives only 1Gb or 30 days for a tenner.  I have used 20% of this today alone without really doing anything.  As I said – its for emergency use only – but how can they possibly pretend that this bandwidth is suitable for a month’s worth of browsing and email!