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Why I Keep Banging On About Google - An UpdateWhy I Keep Banging On About Google - An Update Today is the 90th day since one of my sites was penalised by Google. Wanna know what that looks like? Take a look at this! One of the more frustrating things about this situation - and don't...

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Free Speech is Dead (or it will be when I've bombed it)Free Speech is Dead (or it will be when I've bombed... Before I start - I want to admit I have a hard time putting my exact feelings on this subject into writing. Not because I'm not feeling 'free' enough to do so, but because I'm a computer networks graduate...

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A closer look at the BT FTTC hardware

Posted by Pat | Posted in Observations / Life | Posted on 07-10-2010

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Updated several times but most recently, 25th November 2011

It’s worth noting there is a lot of very useful info about this modem here where someone has unlocked it so you can obtain line stats and do more complex analysis of connection quality.

Original post in October 2010:

Ok so I couldn’t help but look at this Openreach Modem I got today and wonder what my line stats actually are. That is, what speed the modem is syncing with the cabinet in the street, the noise margins and so on. The problem is, this is not an ‘integrated’ thing like my old belkin modem/router – so there’s no stats available through the normal web interface you use to administrate the router.

The modem is a rebadged Huawei Echolife HG612. It uses PPPoE to connect directly to a compatible router (in this case, the supplied Home Hub). I’m instantly reminded of the first time I got broadband at home (9 years, 3 months, 1 week and 2 days ago to be precise!) in that BT supply you something you can’t do anything with. But it’s sat there staring at me.

The only clues as to the capabilities of the HG612 are on the box it came in.

So, as you can see, it says things like “Advanced Management by HTTP, TR-069” and “Support Router Mode and Built-In Firewall”. I’ve also read on Huawei’s website that it has WiFi in it! Oh poor hardware, sitting there all redundant and just being slave to a Home Hub!

There was no manual inside the box – whether there ever was, and the engineer’s instructed to remove it, I don’t know. Either way it is preconfigured to work, and the engineer did nothing to it (other than hook it into the Home Hub) to get the connection going.

When the engineer was here I asked him what the LAN2 port at the back does. He didn’t know. LAN1 connects to my Home Hub. LAN2 had this sticker over it.

So naturally it was time to see how locked down this thing is.

I hooked up LAN2 (it is enabled, regardless of sticker!) to a spare laptop, and having read that other Huawei devices use 192.168.1.1 as the default IP address, set the laptop to an address in that subnet.

Lo and behold an arp-a command shows a mac address and IP of 192.168.1.1 talking to the laptop.

Though this is where it all gets rather dull. It didn’t respond to PINGs. It doesn’t have a web interface on port 80.

In fact the only thing I found was that, bizzarely, port 21 (FTP) was open, even though attempting to perform an FTP connection did not work – so there’s no actual FTP server running behind that. I tried telnetting to port 21, it opened, but no prompt. So I’m not sure what kind of service is receiving that connection inside the device.

I scanned the most common ports with a throwaway piece of freeware, so perhaps this wasn’t the most accurate test. Suffice to say, the ports you would like and expect to be open would be 23 (Telnet) and 80 or 8080 (Web) at the least. No such luck.

So I guess it remains to be seen if someone clever has a way of doing things to this device.

Note to BT – I’m not hacking! I just want to see my line stats!

I should add, there’s a site on BT which shows you your IP profile (http://speedtester.bt.com) – mine came back with pretty much the same speeds as I was receiving at speedtest.net – though my upload profile is 10Mbps and I’m only achieving 8.

I will be patient, and no I won’t do any further probing as I’m sure that would breach some TOS or other. Very happy with Infinity as it is for now!

Update 2nd November 2011

Well it appears after a year or so of working well, the speed dramatically dropped and BT are saying the modem needs replacing. It does run VERY hot it seems – not sure how that would slow it down rather than kill it completely but either way an Openreach engineer is set to swap it out.

My question, now the user manual appears to be online (thanks Graham) is whether anyone has managed to access its pages as per the instructions? Mine still appears to be ‘locked down’ – but I wonder if there’s some newer revisions or firmware out there.

As suspected, it runs on 192.168.1.1 – username and password are both ‘admin’, according to the manual. Let us know how you get on!

Update 8th November, 2011

After two attempts, turning up at my house without telling me they were going to (I was out), BT have finally told me of an appointment, tomorrow – where apparently they will replace the modem. I’m guessing they’ve got a track record of this being the problem to be so sure that nothing else copper/cabinet wise is causing my speed issues.

Will see if this fixes things.

Update 10th November, 2011

The engineer turned up on time and on the right day which was great. His name was John and he was a very nice man indeed! He plugged in his newfangled BT testing widget and these were the results:

So – theoretically my line is capable of 80mbps down and 30mbps up. Nice! The throttly profile set unfortunately was limiting that, more than it should because of the faulty modem. Seems to me if the engineer had just asked the bloke nicely to reset my profile to the max, I could have had double speed! Either way the new modem was installed, the profile reset and I’m back on proper full speed ahead (40mbps down, 10mbps up).

The engineer explained that they have had a lot of overheating modems – especially those in the first version (which mine was). You can tell because there’s no big red sticker with the version number underneath the modem. I think my new one has ‘3B’ written on it and seems to run cooler than the previous one.

I haven’t been home long enough to see if I can access the modem’s internal pages on this new one – I’ll get round to it at some point!

Roll on next year when we’re supposed to get double the speed!

Update, 23rd November 2011

Amazing – the second, older modem is now malfunctining within 2 weeks of my other one being replaced. It’s constantly dropping sync and very slow when it resyncs. Now the fun of getting an engineer here – bizzarely one turned up this morning before I knew about the issue but I told him it was fixed (from two weeks ago) – are BT now deploying pre-emptive engineers?! I need him back now with a replacement modem, if only we could have a direct line to Openreach so I don’t have to bugger about waiting for an appointment. I’m off on holiday next week so I doubt it’ll be fixed in time 🙁

Update, 25th November 2011

Well they got here before holiday and now I have a REV 2B and a REV 3B modem as opposed to two REV nothings! The only problem now is that the profile for the line the dodgy modem was on is now throttled so I’ll have to wait apparently 2 weeks or so for it to sort itself out. The engineer wouldn’t do an ‘SNR reset’ as he called it because it was on a different line to the job he came to (I swapped the modems around to keep a solid connection on my primary one), bit of a pain.

Hopefully all sorted now then. Anyone else had problems with slowdowns and overheating modems? I’ve since stood them on their side away from each other and they run infinitely cooler.

BT are Forgiven

Posted by Pat | Posted in Observations / Life | Posted on 07-10-2010

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A few days ago I had a nice cathartic massive rant about BTs inability to turn up to a set appointment. I had hoped by the end of Monday I’d be zipping along on the super duper information highway at the sort of speeds I remember getting in a Las Vegas hotel room about 3 years ago (sorry but the UK really is a bit backward considering how small an island we are).

Either way after a reassurance of a new appointment today, the engineer did indeed turn up on time (9.59am believe it or not, 1 minute left of the alloted time) and was in and out like a flash. No moan about the master socket – he replaced it, but kept it in the truncking in my office which is great. He had a reassuring geeky ponytail and I could talk nerdy with him. I made him a coffee. Everything worked first time, all is configured and this is how it looks!


So it’s now 11.22am. So I’ve had superfast fibre broadband for less than an hour. The engineer tells me my cabinet is about 100m away, and that I’m the 2nd out of 500 potential fibre connections coming from it. So, clearly, I expect things to slow down at some point.

For now, I’m happy, and all is forgiven, BT.

Google Instant – Banned Keywords Perhaps Not All They Seem?

Posted by Pat | Posted in 'Work' | Posted on 06-10-2010

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It’s been a little while since Google unveiled its ‘Instant’ search to much fanfare.

If you’ve not experienced it, it may be because it has not yet fully rolled out to people who are not signed in to Google.

Instant Basics

Basically, when you type a search term into the Google search box, Google looks at its ‘Top suggestion’ for the letters/words you type, as you type them, and shows you the results for that query. So you can type simply ‘w’ and it decides you’d like to see the weather – presumably because the most popular thing people search for that starts with ‘w’ is the weather. All the localisation still applies, which makes that particular example quite cool, giving me the weather in Sheffield instantly. However, if I type ‘wa’, I get Walmart, ‘wo’ the World Cup, ‘wh’ the White Pages, and suchlike. It figures out what you are looking for, before you’ve finished typing.

My banned keyword

When it launched, the first thing I did was search for one of my more interesting keyword terms, ‘webcams’.

You get as far as ‘webc’ and Instant is showing ‘Webcrawler’ as the result – type the next letter ‘a’ and you’re faced with a blank screen.

Now, ‘webcams’ can clearly mean different things – i.e. your intention might be “I want to buy a webcam” so you type it in, to see what there is on the market. But it might be you want to watch some webcams, and as we’re all probably aware, along with the nice views of Loch Ness and Big Ben are hundreds of sites hosting ‘Adult chat’ type services. It must be this variation which is why the keyword is seemingly banned.

The Google team explained on launch day that the censorship is to protect children from accidentally being faced with a raft of ‘dodgy’ suggested results. But in this case, the banning of a fairly innocuous term like ‘webcams’ (or ‘webcam’) seems illogical. In fact, even more so, when Instant works with the term ‘Web Cam’.

The concept of a ‘Blacklist’

2600.com have published a ‘blacklist’ containing all the words so far they have found which results in the ‘Instant White Screen’ – you’ll find my contribution under ‘webcam’! Studying that and looking at the issue got me thinking.

Clearly Instant is very much tied in with Search Suggestions, that is, those five suggestions you get as you type which have been a feature of Google Search for quite some time now.

Is the Censorship ‘Blacklist’ led?

Concentrating on a ‘blacklist’ of words is perhaps not the best approach to understanding Google’s censorship. It is clear to me (although I am theorising, it seems correct) that Google may also run a check on the potential suggestions rather than or as well as the words you are typing. Therefore if a good proportion of the searching public are looking for something naughty when their search term contains the word ‘webcams’, that would have naturally shown up as one of the suggestions, and hence the banning of the original term, to protect innocent eyes.

This leads me to think that certain words may come ‘in and out’ of censorship as search trends alter, i.e. if Google does this sort of ‘Suggestion Check’ dynamically all the time, rather than launching Instant with a static lexicon of semantically linked terms.

It’s worth saying that the term ‘webcams’ seemingly halted the Suggestions feature before Instant was launched too, so the ‘blacklist’ is nothing new in itself.

I’m in two minds where I stand on this censorship. For me, it may mean that when people search for ‘webcams’ (as many do), they at least won’t be distracted by long tail additions that Google might suggest (and therefore potentially diminish traffic arriving at one of my sites), but on the other hand, a user who is used to Instant presenting results without the need for the ‘enter’ key may in time stop using Enter altogether and simply believe they have searched incorrectly and go back to try a different tack. It’ll be interesting to see, but for now because you still have to be signed in for the most part to see Instant, I have yet to see a discernable difference in traffic levels as a result of this.

Real effects on my traffic

The above graphs are taken from two different sites, filtering down to just the word ‘Webcams’. All I see is the usual fluctuations so far, but then the traffic levels aren’t massive for this word on its own as you can see.

It will be interesting to see what effect Instant has on this traffic when it rolls out to ‘signed out’ users in the coming weeks (as implied by Google on launch day). In the meantime, has anyone else seen a nasty trough for a single banned keyword since Instant launched?

BT Infinity – It Felt Like It Yesterday

Posted by Pat | Posted in Observations / Life | Posted on 05-10-2010

1

Why did I go and do that?

One reason that I have evolved into a grumpy old bastard is because of the incompetence of large corporations. I ask the rhetorical question above because time and time again it taps me on the head like Chinese water torture usually towards the end of an ordeal. The same thought usually reminds me of that feeling I had before I commited myself; the “Don’t rock the boat, Patrick, you know it’ll end in disaster” feeling, shortly before clicking ‘Submit Order’.

Well no surprises how it’s going after I placed an order for BT Infinity on 22nd September, then.

The product is relatively new to the UK. It uses Fibre-To-The-Cabinet technology so that the amount of copper you actually use for your broadband connection is as minimal as it can be without running fibre optics directly to your house. In a nutshell, my potential download/upload speeds here were to increase to possibly 40Mbps and 10Mbps respectively. For someone who works online, uploads quite a bit, receives 400+ emails a day and so on, the speed is important to me.

Because it’s so new and so that any possible line noise is dealt with, it requires an engineer to visit your house, upgrade your master socket and give you a VDSL modem. You get the ‘Home Hub’ router in the post, seperately.

All was fine – I had received the Home Hub, supplied my MAC code from Sky (when they eventually gave me it) and had my install date for October 4th, between 8am-1pm.

I wanted to make sure I was completely awake and ready, so was up at 7. I know that’s no hardship for most – but I really don’t usually bother to rise before 9.30 if I really don’t have to! There are some possible phone ‘wiring’ issues here I need the engineer to deal with – and want to make sure they are softened up accordingly with a cup of tea/biscuits in case any of it is out of their remit!

So then the day just turned into one long wait.

I posted on Twitter about it at Midday – they still had an hour left, I was just getting frustrated. Quite sadly I couldn’t concentrate on doing any amount of work, thinking that firstly the bloke is going to turn up and secondly my broadband was likely to go off at any minute anyway.

1pm came. More Twitter frustrations.

At 2pm I decided to call BT. I called the number I’d been given on ordering – 0800 731 0286. After a short wait, they said the order looked ok and he’s probably just delayed, but gave me a customer services number – 0800 111 4567 – to call, just in case, later on.

Well I managed until about 3.30pm.

The customer services number is seemingly an Indian call centre. The first man who I eventually spoke to (after around 20 minutes of being on hold) said he had to put me on hold while he spoke to the Infinity team. After around 10 minutes of listening to classical music, I heard a ring tone, the bloke sounded exactly the same but said “Hello, how can I help?”. It wasn’t the same bloke. God knows what happened. I explained the situation with the new guy and he went off also to speak to Infinity, putting me on hold.

Well, lo and behold, 10 minutes later – “Hello, how can I help?”. I was in a ‘Being on hold Groundhog Day’. I explained that to the man – unfortunately he didn’t get the reference, so reverted back to explaining my Infinity problem and asked nicely if he could do something whereby I don’t end up having to explain everything again and thereby go slowly mental?

This time the same man came back after 10 or so minutes, saying the line was really busy but he was sure that the engineer would turn up very very soon.

So I left it at that.

Knowing the appointment was supposed to be ‘between 2-3 hours’, I couldn’t contain myself much longer at 4.30pm, thinking there’s no way he’s going to turn up now and work until 7pm!

I went to phone them again, this time for a definitive answer.

Just before I picked up the phone, I looked online at my BT.com order – it said ‘Completed’ and that ‘Your appointment is no longer required, as our engineer can connect your line without requiring access to your premises’. That is just obviously plain WRONG. He had to bring me a VDSL modem for one thing, let alone deal with the master socket stuff he’s not even aware of yet(!).

 

Armed with this new information, I called again. This time, the system offered to call me back because the wait times were so long. I declined as I would rather wait, and it’s an 0800 number so wasn’t costing me anything. Maybe the wastage in people staying on the line might encourage BT to employ some more staff, I thought, while I waited another 30 minutes.

I got through to a nice Indian lady and put on hold to speak to the Infinity team. After another 20 minutes, it started ringing again and eventually rang out, leaving me with that film-like-moment of a ‘number unobtainable’ tone where you look at the receiver in disgust, knowing there’s no coming back from that noise; put the phone down Patrick, you’re going to have to do it all again.

Kept my composure. I’m learning slowly about doing this lately.

So, I phoned again. This time the wait was about 40 minutes, but they actually got me through to the Infinity team who appeared to be in this country. She had a look and put me on hold… and came back (amazingly) saying there had been a ‘glitch’ and the order had never actually gone through. She added it wasn’t the first time this had happened. I was then put on hold again while she wrote an email (not sure why, I don’t mind hearing people type emails) and said I should hear back about an appointment pretty quickly – and the appointment should be in the next 48 hours.

Well it’s almost 24 hours since the final phone call, and no sign of an appointment.

A small ray of potential light is the @BTCare Twitter account, who I bothered all afternoon while stuck on hold, only to brush them off several times when the phone was answered. They are looking into it, so I will report back on what they say.

I feel like I lost a whole day of my life over that. Having Twitter was fun, but I was posting a little too often and feel bad about it, which is why I have offloaded it here.

The Terms and Conditions of the Infinity product state I can cancel the order right up to the moment it is activated. Given it’s 18 months and I have since read about it not being ‘Unlimited’, and I may very well get throttling put on my line, I’m in two minds whether to just cancel this outright, right this second. I think it depends on what @BTCare tell me later on.

So there you have it, if you actually bothered reading this, congratulations – it was just as boring experiencing it, and it’s not even over yet. Think of it as an episode of Neighbours or something.

So, I started a little Blog…

Posted by Pat | Posted in 'Work' | Posted on 04-10-2010

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Fuck me I’ve gone and done it.

Sorry about the swearing but I nearly started this Blog with the words “Hello World!” out of choice and realised how completely shit that would make me sound.

This, unbelievably, is a Blog that I done all by myself. In fact, that’s an utter utter lie, as it took me less than 20 minutes to buy webhosting, switch the DNS for the domain and install/configure WordPress.  God how the web has changed, and WOW how easy it is for anyone to do this. Why don’t they? I guess a lot do, actually and I’m a bit ignorant.

I last wrote in a personal blog in 2007, and previous to that had been writing on and off for nearly 10 years. It was on the LiveJournal platform and was merely a way for me to exhume the day’s events for my friends to consume.

What with Facebook and Twitter and my general gaining a social life, I felt no need to carry that on. But then something odd happened. Well, today happened. I bombarded Twitter with tweets about a subject which I think will be my 2nd post, just to get the ball rolling, a day waiting at home for BT to come and install me a broadband connection. They didn’t show up.

I’ve got really into Twitter lately and it has become apparent that even with my best efforts, I struggle to make my tweets sound the way I want them to. It’s a realisation that I clearly feel the need to share stuff with the world but can’t bear chopping away all the expressive words, all the time. So here’s the happy place where I may occasionally offload some crud that’s been festering in my head.

It’s a struggle to use Twitter for ‘Work’ also. Partly, this is because I’m not an outspoken type in my industry – I like to think I’m “Behind the Scenes” observing and taking notes – but also because I don’t like the supposed authority I might look like I have, especially not without a Blog to back it up! Again, this Blog came about because for the last week I’ve been gagging to share an observation about the new Google Instant and literally had nowhere I felt comfortable offloading my thoughts if I’m not in control of the content. Ha ha.

Putting aside my narcissism and megalomania, I’m not looking to drive traffic, or indeed make money out of this. For now anyway. This is just a place I can be less salesman and more Blogger, which is refreshing.

If you’re somewhat of a nosey bastard, take a look at my about page for some more info about me.