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.

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.

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!

IP (v4) addresses have run out

In the 90s, phone numbers were going to run out if we didn’t take the plunge and switch from nine digit 0x-xxx-xxxx numbers to ten digit 0x-xxxx-xxxx numbers. The telecommunications industry (led by… was it Austel?) got everybody switched over okay.

(In the US, they decided not to expand the number of digits for local numbers, instead using multiple area codes per city. New York City for instance has five different area codes. Which I assume means you’d increasingly have to dial (xxx) xxx-xxxx to make a local call. Confusing.)

Now IP addresses are in short supply.

The Number Resource Organization (NRO) announced today that the free pool of available IPv4 addresses is now fully depleted. On Monday, January 31, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) allocated two blocks of IPv4 address space to APNIC, the Regional Internet Registry (RIR) for the Asia Pacific region, which triggered a global policy to allocate the remaining IANA pool equally between the five RIRs. Today IANA allocated those blocks. This means that there are no longer any IPv4 addresses available for allocation from the IANA to the five RIRs.

Free Pool of IPv4 Address Space Depleted

It’s happened because of a huge expansion in IP addresses allocated to everything from home computers to laptops to portable devices to fridges. Technologies such as NAT help share the addresses around (for instance all the computers in your house sharing a single IP address visible to the world, allocated to your router/modem), and will be important at least until the switch is made to the new standard.

The problem is it’s not so easy to get everyone to switch from the old standard, IPv4 (eg 123.456.789.012), to the new one, IPv6, which has a lot more capacity.

Newer computer operating systems cope fine with the new standard. If I “ping localhost” (eg ping my own computer) it doesn’t tell me it’s looking at the old familiar IPv4 address of 127.0.0.1, but instead calls it [::1].

Pinging IPv6 vs IPv4

Pinging it by name (Tintin) gives me the full IPv6 address. But pinging anything out there on the internet gives me the old IPv4 address. [See picture]

Part of the problem is, as Wikipedia notes:

Because the headers of IPv4 packets and IPv6 packets are significantly different, the two protocols are not interoperable.

I assume that means that for a switchover, every device, including all the routers and modems and equipment at ISPs and elsewhere on the network, needs to make the transition across to the new standard.

It’s likely to be invisible to consumers, who will continue to use domain names (eg example.com) rather than IP addresses, but it could get messy for geeks having to implement the changes.

Perhaps, unlike phone numbers, it takes the old addresses running out to force the switch to happen.

Update: Computerworld has an article comparing where different Australian carriers are up to in adopting IPv6.

Retired

The other day I retired one of my oldest web pages, an FAQ on Melbourne public transport.

It started life (I think around 1993, before the Web was around) as a Usenet FAQ for the misc.transport.urban-transit group.

In 1994 it was posted (with an incomplete attempt to convert it to HTML) on Railpage — where unfortunately it is still online, as I haven’t been able to find someone who can remove it.

When I wrote it, there was little information available online about public transport. But from about the late-90s, official sources of information on public transport became more prevalent online (and in the last few years, more accurate and useful), so now keeping a separate FAQ is largely pointless, and potentially confusing, so I’ve taken it offline, though it lives-on in the Internet Archive.

The page had a slightly awkward format (designed by someone on the Usenet group) to allow better comparisons between cities, but (like this old video) some of the detail means it is something of a time capsule.

Fare procedures: Tram: pay conductor (or show valid ticket). On Z class trams, when paying, place your money in the tray in front of the conductor. On driver only trams, pay the driver. Exact change is not required, although large notes may not be accepted. Keep your ticket as proof of payment until you alight.

Here, just for laughs, is the old FAQ’s rail map (remember, it was originally posted on Usenet, which takes plain text only).

MELBOURNE METROPOLITAN TRAIN SYSTEM
-----------------------------------
                                                 ZONE 2      .
                                  *Epping                    .
                    ZONE 2        |            *Hurstbridge  .     ZONE 3
        Broad- *             .....|.......    /               .
        meadows|    *Upfield.     |  ________*Eltham           .
               | ...|......       | /      .                   .
ZONE 2        .|.   |     ZONE 1  |/        ..                 .   *Lilydale
             .  \   |             *Clifton    ..               .  /
  St Albans* .   \  | Nth         |Hill         ..Box Hill     . /
           .\     \ | Melb        |               ..    *_______*Ringwood
         .   \__*__\_\_*___*_*_   |       Camberwell.  /       . \
      Footscray/         | 3 4 |  |           *_______/        .  \
        .     |         2*    5*  |Richmond  /   \   .  ZONE 2  .  \
        ______*Newport    \_*__|_/__*______*/     |  .          .   *Belgrave
       /.     |             1        \Burnley\    *Alamein     .
      /  .    *  ~~~~~~~~            |\       \    ..         .
     *    . Williamstown~~   ZONE 1  | \       \______*Glen Waverley
Werribee      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~        |  \       .           .
          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~     |   *Caulfield       ..
       ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~   |   |\   .         ..
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~..|...|.\.. ZONE 2 ..
  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Sandringham*   |  \    .....       ZONE 3
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~    |  .\...
CITY LOOP~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~...|..  *Dandenong
1 Flinders St~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ |     \
2 Spencer St~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Frankston*      \
3 Flagstaff~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ |       *Pakenham
4 Museum~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~    |
5 Parliament~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Stony Point*

     \___ Rail lines
     __*_ Major stations
     .... Fare zone boundaries; overlaps generally apply over 2-3 stations
     ~~~~ Port Phillip Bay

The A to Z of online stores

Pondering the fact that I’d browsed both dstore.com.au and estore.com.au, I was curious as to what others exist…

astore.com.au — watches and jewellery

bstore.com.au — Birkenstock shoes

cstore.com.au — forwards to Codagenic, selling an ecommerce platform

dstore.com.au — all sorts of stuff; been around for years

estore.com.au — geeky stuff; a division of City Software

fstore.com.au — toys and gifts

gstore.com.au — green products

hstore.com.au — hobbies

istore.com.au — registered, but not in use

jstore.com.au — not in use

kstore.com.au — registered, but not in use; apparently under construction

lstore.com.au — not in use

mstore.com.au — registered, but not in use

nstore.com.au — registered, but not in use

ostore.com.au — not in use

pstore.com.au — registered, but not in use

qstore.com.au — not in use

rstore.com.au — dent removal from cars

sstore.com.au — not in use

tstore.com.au — not in use

ustore.com.au — not in use

vstore.com.au — registered, but not in use

wstore.com.au — web hosting

xstore.com.au — adult products

ystore.com.au — forwards to melbourneit.com.au domain name sales; not clear if it’s owned by someone else but unused

zstore.com.au — party entertainment

Ancient political history

Trivia for you: Back in prehistoric times, when most of you had never heard of the Internet and barely anybody used the Web, and way before Twitter and Facebook, I blogged the 1996 Federal election campaign.

Great Debate

Several times a week I’d add something new, including a spoof leader debate transcript, a Hippy Party manifesto, Ron And Jeff on voting, and advice on what to tell How To Vote hander-outers when you don’t want one.

It went almost-unnoticed because so few people were online at the time, but it did get a write-up in The West Australian (sorry it’s fuzzy; I’ll try to find a better scan):

West Australian article

The timewaster

The curse of the Internet and the short attention span — there’s too much stuff to look at.

So I check my email.

Then I have a look in Google Reader.

What’s Twitter doing? Okay.

Facebook? My turn in Scrabble yet?

Might check a couple of the news sites and see what’s happening.

And the Whirlpool forum?

OK, all under control. But hey, I wonder if there’s any new email?

Rinse and repeat. How do I break this cycle?

I once had an idea for it: a combined mega-reader/aggregator that would grab data from all those sources and more, configured by the user. It would rank everything according to a priority — again, configured by the user — perhaps the emails from your boss and/or spouse at the top, the dull email newsletter which you should read but don’t want to at the bottom, and news bulletins somewhere in the middle.

So you could see everything in one hit, all prioritised.

I even came up with a name and a domain name for it: View My World.

And I did some rough designs on it, but never got to the coding stage.

I still think it’s a good idea, and anybody who’s got the time and inclination to work on it should give me a shout, maybe we can come up with a collaboration.

Meanwhile, amusingly, ViewMyWorld.com is now registered by Microsoft, and appears to be a recruitment web site.

(Anybody who wants to develop the Screaming Room idea should also give me a scream shout. I already have a prospective subscriber in Derrimut.)