Hard News by Russell Brown

Well Geeky

It looks like Telecom has finally improved the contention rate at the troubled Mt Eden exchange - and apparently there's more bandwidth to come. My man Zach Bagnall is reporting a clear, if marginal, improvement.

He says: "At peak, it looks like 300-500kbit instead of the 200-400 that was the norm previously. Still a long way off the 2000kbit we're obstensibly paying for, but it's something."

Small mercies. Time also to pick up an issue I raised earlier this month: how come getting a DSL connection on via your third-party ISP takes two weeks - when the same task takes two days if your ISP is Xtra? I mentioned my friend's issues, and a number of readers got in touch to report very similar experiences.

Jonathan had this to say:

Trying to transfer our design business DSL connection (from a 3rd party ISP) to a new physical location is a nightmare. You have to have a physical phone line connected and running at the new location 3-10 business days before you move to allow your ISP enough time to sort things out with Telecom. Telecom's nearest appointment to install that new line was a couple of weeks away (or 2 business days before we opened shiny new doors).

Of course Telecom can install the line AND JetStream and have that all live the next day.

So from not being quite as organised weeks out, as I should have, we're forced to go with Telecom to have a chance of being live on time - which was also the best solution helpful guy at at the ISP could suggest also.

Shouldn't name the ISP - sales guy might not be popular for suggesting the competition. I feel sorry for them - even though they once disconnected our broadband midweek without warning, just so we'd call and they could ask us to change to a new plan!

Tony Sutorious also wrote:

OK, I've got a good one!

My ADSL is with Orcon, Recently I moved offices (about 200m, same phone exchange). Orcon Provisioning SWEAR that Telecom will not accept bookings for ADSL moves until AFTER the phone move order is COMPLETED ... in other words, your long wait for connection (three weeks or so) starts AFTER you've moved in - no matter how much in advance you let them know.

Unless of course your ISP is ... you guessed it ... Xtra.

These people are outrageous bloody shysters, and will most assuredly be first against the wall when the revolution comes.

Ben Lewis Evans had another angle:

The difference in speed of getting a connection through Xtra and another ISP is not all. A friend of mine was trying to get a connection with Orcon for over a month in Hamilton only to be informed that the exchange was full and telecom was not taking any new connections at this time. So he went to Xtra and was connected within days ...

So what the hell, exactly, is going on here? A helpful Telecom staffer with some insight on the provisioning process, was frankly puzzled by these reports. It shouldn't happen, he said. But he made further enquiries and got back to me:

Ah, yeah, I get it now, and you're right, it's the result of Telecom having an unfair competitive advantage, though it's not one that anyone's deliberately planned, just a quirk in the system that they can't be bothered changing.

Short and sweet, only one order that ties up a linecard can be run on a line at any given time. It's not possible to run additional orders until the current order has closed and posted - this is meant to prevent "accidents" like two new connections being run on the same line. Every ISP and wholesale line rental company uses the same system with the same database, but we can see little or no info on each other's customers within that.

The livening of a line might take a few minutes if the line is already intact to a customer's premises, or might take longer if a tech is required to attend the exchange and/or property. Same with ADSL, if the jumpering for the ADSL is present it can be livened remotely, if not it needs a tech to attend the exchange to install.

However, the order to connect a line takes a bit longer than this to fully process, because it needs to go through several different departments to get signed off, and that process can take anything up to a week or two.

When someone has a new connection or a move of address through us, and they want ADSL as well, it's all done on the same order. If they're getting their line through us and their ADSL through someone else, the new connection needs to close and post before the ADSL order can start, meaning you might have to wait a week, then lodge it, and the scheduler might have no slots for techs free for another week. If they do everything through Telecom, they'd get put into the scheduler much sooner, so get an earlier ADSL connection (a few days after the line is livened.)

In theory, I'd guess if a customer got their line rental and ADSL both through another provider, they could get around this because it would all be done on the same order. And if a customer had wholesale line rental but ADSL with Xtra (it happens, believe it or not) they'd have exactly the same problems with the delay.

The funny thing is I don't think that any form of LLU will change this, since the underlying system we all use (ICMS) would stay the same regardless. If anything, it's an argument for bundling all services together when you get your line connected - because the hassles that come from having to deal with different telcos looking after the same line outweigh the benefit of choosing different deals to meet your needs.

Hmmm … doesn't "it has to go through several different departments to get signed off" sound a bit glide time to you? Perhaps a little wholesale-retail separation would improve efficiencies.

With my darling swanning around Europe seeing the Flaming Lips and everything, my routines have changed a little in the past week. I'm doing laundry ("Dad, I've got no clean underpants" "But I washed loads of underpants" "They're not my underpants …") and I have also, to some extent been logging out. Didn't buy a Sunday paper, didn't hardly watch broadcast TV, apart from sport, and instead enjoyed a bunch of TV off my hard drive.

Finally got around to watching the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary Iraq's Missing Billions. I knew most of the information in it in one form or another, but to see it presented like this, with the help of an Iraqi doctor brave enough to stand up and talk about it … I defy anyone to watch it and not feel anger, or at least despair. It is not going too far to say that, through a combination of incompetence, arrogance and simple greed, Iraq was looted; the precious foreign reserves that were supposed to rebuild the country cashed up, shipped to Iraq as ton upon ton of $50 notes, and spent on … well, it's not entirely clear. Unsurprisingly, ultimate blame rests with Rumsfeld, who tore up the State Department's post-conflict plan and put the Pentagon in charge of reconstruction.

There's a torrent here, and streaming, direct download and a torrent for a 28MB RealPlayer version here.

I also watched Pirates of Silicon Valley again. For those, who don't know, it's a made-for-TV movie on the parallel rise of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. I'm not sure how it would strike someone new to the topic, but I found it an enjoyable (and apparently largely true-to-life) cultural classic. (Torrents here.)

I was at Macworld Expo in New York in 1999, when Noah Wyle, who plays Jobs in the movie, came on pretending to be Steve. I think anyone more that 20 rows back was fooled. That was the year Steve unveiled the iBook and ("one more thing") AirPort WiFi. The story, of course, has moved on a little since then, with the most recent twist being Apple's Boot Camp software that allows Windows XP to run on new Intel-based Macs. Retailers have started selling Macs with XP pre-installed. Now someone's worked out a way of getting Linux on there too.

The problem for Mac users, of course, is that they're suddenly, if itinerantly, in the Windows world; where their systems have to be armed to fend off every damned thing and may still behave in the most capricious of ways. Our kids' computer is an Acer Pentium 4 with a gig of memory and (since I shelled out for comprehensive service and an upgrade) a fresh installation of XP SP2 on a 160GB hard drive. So the kids decide they want to repurpose their monthly online gaming budget in favour of The Matrix Online. We pay $US20 for a Direct2Drive download of the game client installer - and the damn thing bluescreens four times in the course of a 2GB download. Then we got random shutdowns in the middle of gameplay. It seems to have stabilised now, but the whole thing is a complete mystery to me.

I'll tell you one thing Apple has got right in OS X - installations. Downloads almost all come as .dmg disk images that the system mounts automatically (why does Windows handle disk images so badly?) and they either require a simple drag-and-drop to the Applications folder, or use the excellent and stable installer built into MacOS X. I actually can't remember the last time an installation failed. And, of course, they don't patch the goddamn system.

Rant over. For now.

Intriguing week on the Public Address Virtual Super 14 leader board - and a very low-scoring one. My 18 points was better than some of the high-fliers managed. That, of course, is because the Hurricanes stumbled against an under-strength Brumbies, and the Crusaders were very lucky indeed to escape with a draw against the Western Force, who had what looked like a good try ruled out in the dying seconds.

What I found almost as astonishing as the result was John Mitchell's half-time interview; because (a) he actually made himself available, and (b) he doesn't appear to be a space alien any more. He was straightforward and intelligible and he used words like "bloody" and "mate". None of the psychobabble that he used to spout as All Black coach.

Can we take it from that that he's dispensed with his "life coach"?