Bye bye home phone, hello VOIP

I finally got around to replacing my home fixed line phone with VOIP. I took the easy route of sticking with my ISP, Netspace/iiNet.

Previously each month I’d been paying $59.95 for ADSL2+ broadband, plus for the home phone $22.95 rental, plus $6 for caller ID, plus $2.93 for an unlisted number.

Local calls were costing me 30 cents, but because I only make at most perhaps about a dozen a month, a grand total for net+phone of around $95 per month. With all the phone costs included, each call was costing me about $3. (Some of them can be quite lengthy, which is why I decided not to abandon any form of home phone completely.)

Switching to the equivalent Naked (eg without a home phone) ADSL plan, with VOIP (which doesn’t count towards the plan quota, and includes free local and national calls) is costing me $59.95 per month. On top of that I’ve decided to rent (rather than buy) a BoB2 combined VOIP-capable modem and VOIP phone for an extra $9.95 (on a two year contract — I’ve checked; we won’t get the NBN in that time).

So I’m at $69.90 per month with most calls included — saving about $25 per month.

The changeover

One thing that scared me about doing the change were the warnings that it would take 10-20 days, and that I would be without Internet during this time. As an extremely wired, internet-addicted person (and indeed family), this terrified me, and I ended up timing it for the January school holidays when the kids were away. (I figured I could find ways around it on my own, like using my mobile, though I’d need to take it easy to avoid high fees.)

This turned out to be a furphy. The text might imply you’ll be without Internet for the full switch period, but in fact once I’d signed-up, an email I received said that in fact it would be out for only up to one day.

If I’d known that I would have done it a lot sooner. In fact any outage was barely noticeable — it probably happened in the middle of the day when we were all out.

I think they’ve severely undersold how easy it is to switch.

The catches of VOIP

There are catches of course.

The BoB2 wasn’t quite plug-in and go, as advertised… it seemed to have picked-up the wrong logon info from somewhere; possibly an issue with migrating off an existing account. Easily solved.

I had ummed and ahhed over keeping my old phone number or switching to a new one. In the end I placed the order requesting to keep the old one, but when it was provisioned, they’d actually allocated a new one. I don’t mind — I almost chose it that way — so I won’t bother to get it changed back, though there’s a few people I’ll need to notify.

By ordering VOIP you have to waive your rights under the telephone service Customer Service Guarantee. Basically that means if it doesn’t work, you don’t have much recourse. That’s OK for us — we barely use the home phone anyway; the mobile is much more important, so this is really just a backup (and cheaper option for local calls).

Some complain about VOIP call quality — in the calls I’ve made so far, it’s been okay for me. I haven’t yet tried it with a lot of network traffic going on. Theoretically QOS should ensure it’s okay, but it’ll be interesting to see how well that works in practice.

They note that calls to 13 numbers don’t necessarily go to a local branch of the company you’re ringing, unlike those made from conventional fixed lines.

They also warn about not keeping it as the only phone in the house, in the event of emergencies. Fair enough, we have mobiles for that. And you can’t dial 190X premium numbers at all. (No loss!)

Finally, although you get free national calls to fixed lines, it’s worth being aware that this excludes 1300 and 13 numbers, which are listed at 30 cents each, untimed. What I’ve also found is that some other types of calls cost — I used the 1194 Time service a couple of times to check voice quality without ringing a human. Turns out these cost 35 cents a pop, despite not being listed on the call rates list. Odd.

Overall

So far I’m happy, and saving a big heapa money. I wish I’d switched ages ago.

Quick random thoughts

The Herald Sun paywall launched in March, and offered free 2-month passes. Any word on what’s happened now those have run out?

Strange dream: Woke up with the most enormous sideburns. Struggled to get them removed before having to go to work.

Another dream: Was invited to a very elaborate dinner party at Alan Kohler’s place, which in the dream was in Carnegie around the corner from where I used to live.

Another dream: Woke up to find the kids had re-arranged their bedroom. TARDIS-like, they’d managed to fit furniture into the room that in real life wouldn’t fit in there.

QR-codes in emails now? Really? What use would this be apart from on printouts? And shouldn’t we be discouraging printouts?

I felt like I was being a bandwagon jumper for buying a Beastie Boys the week after Adam Yauch passed-away. I even looked around and found something else I wanted to buy, to try and diffuse the judgement of the JB Hifi checkout person. Oh dear. In retrospect it’s a little like slipping a dirty magazine in between a bunch of nerd mags at the newsagent.

Perhaps the preface for everything on Twitter (indeed everything online) should be: “You may choose to disagree, but my hypothesis is this:”

My federal MP’s Twitter feed: relentlessly negative

Because I’m interested in politics, I make it my practice to follow various politicians on Twitter, whether I agree with them or not, including all the local ones I can find.

Andrew Robb on Twitter

My local federal MP Andrew Robb would have to have the single most relentlessly negative Twitter feed of any of them.

Here’s all his Tweets for the past week (excluding retweets and also those addressed to other people, therefore not showing up in most users’ timelines).

  • I see Wayne Swan has a juvenile petition out on cruel cuts, I presume he’s referring to his cruel cuts to community grants. #hypocrite.
  • Swan and Wong need to stop the spin and explain Labor’s $120 BILLION BLACK HOLE.
  • Labor has reached the dangerous stage, saying and promising anything to save political skin. #Labor’s$120billionblackhole.
  • Chickens come home to roost – Labor’s $120 billion budget black hole revealed in Fin Review.
  • Financial Review reveals Labor’s $120 billion black hole.
  • Is there a policy Labor has implemented without botching it?? Think pink batts, NBN, mining tax, carbon tax, live cattle, border protection.
  • Let’s judge Labor’s record debt by Australian standards, rather than against the basket cases of the world. It leaves us vulnerable.
  • If Labor is returning to surplus why in budget did they raise the Commonwealth debt ceiling to an unprecedented $250 BILLION??
  • Why did Labor tell us net debt would peak at $94.4 billion two years ago, but now it’s $145 billion? Only $50 BILLION out!
  • $4.1 billion unfunded dental promise, part of Labor’s $100 BILLION BLACK HOLE of unfunded or hidden budget liabilities.
  • Labor promises $4.1 billion for dental scheme but can’t say how it will be funded. That means higher taxes or more record debt.
  • Labor has reached the dangerous stage. $100 billion worth of commitments either hidden or unfunded. #Laborblackhole
  • Penny Wong’s credibility through the ‘floor’, see what she said before & after Labor’s carbon tax floor price backdown.
  • Labor told us the carbon tax floor price was needed for certainty, now they tell us the opposite. They are a shambles.
  • Labor’s carbon tax chaos recipe for budget black hole but Combet says trust our modelling!!!
  • At last election Penny Wong said net debt would peak at $94.4 billion; now that figure is $145 billion. A $50 BILLION blow-out in 2 years!
  • Penny Wong fails to lock in prosperity as under Labor Australia has become a less attractive place to do business. [link]
  • Penny Wong in denial. BHP has warned for months investment climate is being crippled by carbon & mining taxes & other sovereign risk issues.

It’s all attacking Labor. EVERY. SINGLE. TWEET.

Not a single comment about what he would do in government.

Not even a single comment on what he thinks Labor should do.

Even Tony Abbott, derided by Labor as “Doctor No”, often tweets about the people he meets and the events he attends.

As the next generation of voters increasingly get their information from social media rather than mainstream media, it’s going to become important for politicians to represent themselves better through avenues like Twitter. With a growing and changing population, even Goldstein won’t be blue-ribbon Liberal forever.

C’mon Andrew, surely you can do better than this. Just for a moment, stop telling us why you think the other guys are idiots, and instead tell us why we should vote for you.

Why are Twitter messages 140 characters?

Did I post this already? I don’t think I did. Hopefully not.

Why are Twitter messages 140 characters?

Because they were designed to fit into the 160 characters of a text message, with some characters filled up with header information and so on.

So why are text messages 160 characters?

Because they fit into 140 bytes, or 160 7-bit characters.

That, in turn, was so the messages could fit into unused space within the signalling formats used by phone networks.

This week’s funniest spam email, and why a strong email password is good

I don’t normally see much spam thanks to the spam filters, but I did see this funny one a few days ago:

IMF APPROVED PAYMENT LETTER.

GOOD DAY TO YOU,

It is a great pleasure to contact you this day as i have just been appointed the new Chief of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and on assumption in office i have seen your untreated transaction with my else while predecessor Dr Dominique Strauss Khan, i
have seen the records of all your payment made in the past to (IMF) and also have a complete files of yours here with me.

This mail is to inform you that i am here to release without any delay your outstanding contract payment of $10.7 usd as reflected here in my record to you within 24hrs from when you respond to this mail.

As i wish to inform you that there will be no fee needed for this transfer. but be informed that the only thing needed is the Affidavit of claim (AOC)of which you have to respond back to my e-mail and i will direct you to the right office for you to get the Affidavit of claim (AOC) so i advise you to get back to me as soon as you get this mail so that i can know what actually went wrong and why you weren’t paid along with others.

Re-confirm to me the followings information to enable the urgent processing of your payment.

1.Name
2.Phone,fax and cell number
3.Delivery Address.
4.Age,profession and sex.
5.Copy of ID.

Endeavor to call me as soon as you get this mail on my official number below in this mail.

Treat as top urgent.

Regards,

Dr.Mrs Christine Lagarde
Chief of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)
DIRECT E-MAIL: of-fice-m-ail01@msn.com

“Top urgent”! I didn’t realise the head of the IMF sent these emails out personally, and from an MSN account, but there you go.

Presumably this was sent from the IMF’s Nigerian branch office.

I can’t help thinking they meant to say $10.7 million usd — a mere $10.70 doesn’t seem like it’s going to convince many people to send in all their details.

On a more serious note, a friend of mine got his web email account hacked this week. Not only did his contacts receive an email allegedly from him, claiming he was on vacation (a term he and most Australians would never use) in Spain, had lost his wallet and his phone, only had email access, and was in desperate need of money — and could I please send funds via Western Union?

They also changed his Reply-To address slightly, so any replies were likely to go to the scammers (unless you noticed the change, which was quite subtle).

I rang him up, and he was quite definitely in Richmond, not Spain. He’s now changed his email password and Reply-To address.

It underscores the value of strong passwords, and also (if you are using a webmail provider that offers it, such as GMail) two-factor authentication — in GMail’s case, it means they confirm your logon once a month (or when you use a different computer) by sending you a text message. This means a hacker not only needs your password, they also need your mobile phone to get into your email, which makes things much safer. Here’s how to switch it on in GMail.

A photo of mine reused by the Myki Customer Experience Panel (but I don’t mind)

Yesterday I was taking a look at the Myki Customer Experience Panel web site — that’s the set up where they ask a cross-section of Myki users about the system; get them to answer questions about what they’ve seen and how things are working for them. While some may moan about the extra cost, it’s tiny compared to the total budget for the system, and it’s the very type of consultation we need more of, I think.

Anyway, I was clicking around and looked at the Polls page:
Myki user panel pic

…and I thought hello, that photo of all the Metcards looks familiar.

Ah. Yes indeed. Very familiar:
Metcards

It’s my hand, my photo, snapped in 2010, and originally used in this blog post comparing different fare options for regular PT users.

It’s not the first time one of my pics has shown up elsewhere. In 2009 one of mine showed up in a London Daily News story about UK trains. In 2008 two of my photos got morphed together on Channel 9 news.

I don’t actually mind my photos being re-published. I deliberately put a Creative Commons licence on most of what I upload to Flickr. I’m more than happy happy if someone re-using a photo of a PT problem that I’ve snapped helps get a stronger message across.

But I do actually specify my photos as “Attribution, Noncommercial, Share Alike”…

I haven’t found it yet, but perhaps the Myki Customer Experience Panel’s fine print somewhere hidden away on the site includes the attribution credit?

Update Friday: Here’s another case, from Green Left Weekly:

Green Left Weekly used one of my photos without attributionMyki and Metcard readers, W-class tram

I be influential in piracy, me hearties (according to Klout)

Some interesting stuff on social media in the Financial Review the other week:

This month, Cathay Pacific partnered with Klout to offer to anyone with a score over 40 free entry to the airline’s business class and first class lounge at San Francisco International Airport, the key hub for those working in Silicon Valley.

Neat, but it appears you had to show your Klout score on an iPhone app. Difficult if you don’t have an iPhone, though I expect the vast majority in Silicon Valley do.

The managing director of recruiter Kelly Services Australia, Karen Colfer, is not on Klout, but says everyone should have a LinkedIn profile.

“If you are not on LinkedIn, you are not serious about your job,” she says.

With a 23-year career in recruitment, Colfer says background checking is becoming increasingly thorough and information is easier to get. Google, LinkedIn and blogs are all fair game, she says.

How much Klout do you have online?

I’m not a big Klout user, though I admit to being curious, so I did take a look. Mine is 51% (to be precise, 50.97) — a bare pass, I guess.

I’m faintly amused that Klout believes I am influential in piracy. Arrrrrr, me hearties.

Klout thinks I'm influential in Piracy?!

Piracy eh? Well… it’s true that one of my eyes doesn’t work.

Also in the Fin, in a separate article on Twitter:

Public Transport Users Association president Daniel Bowen tweets a lot and follows a mix of people from diverse areas. “Depending on who you follow, it’s obviously highly customisable to what your different interests are,” he says, before warning. “It is addictive … I have to curb my usage, otherwise I wouldn’t get anything done.”

Not too tweet to be scrutinised

Too true.

Now get back to work.

Oh no! Home Interwebs is down

Disaster! No internet at home.

Yesterday iiNet/Netspace had major outage in Victoria. It was eventually fixed, but even after a modem reboot we couldn’t get back online.

Then I noticed the home phone (yes, I still have one of those) was getting no dial tone. My assumption initially was that this was just an unhappy coincidence; I’m unclear as to how a widespread ISP outage would somehow affect a home phone line.

So I rang Telstra, whose call centre person (offshore, I’m assuming, given how scrupulously polite she was) ran through some basic checks before declaring a tech will need to look at the lines on the street.

That will apparently take until Wednesday or Thursday. Sigh.

Netspace support was closed last night by the time I got around to looking at things, but I’ll try and reach them this morning to see if anything can be done from their end.

Until then, apart from limited mobile use, I guess we’re cutoff from the outside world.

Update lunchtime: Got hold of iiNet support; they can’t see a problem that would affect the phone line, but asked me to check the sync light on the modem. Since I’m not at home, they suggested they could ring me back tonight (at 8:39pm to be precise) to go through it with me. Cool.

Update 6pm: Text message from Telstra a couple of hours ago to say all is resolved, and it appears to be so. Woo hoo!