The need for speed part 1: Internet uploads

Not to pre-empt anything, but this year I expect to have two film and television students in the house.

For this, I’m considering upgrading my Internet.

We’re currently on iiNet Naked ADSL2+ costing $69.99 per month (for 1000 Gb of data, of which, to my surprise, we’re using about a quarter). Actually I’m paying an additional $10 for VOIP, but I’m planning to ditch it because we rarely use it, and it seems quite unreliable — the handset frequently can’t get a signal. I don’t know precisely where the problem is, but given everyone in the house has a mobile phone, it seems an unnecessary cost.

Why upgrade the Internet? Well one of the things the boys have highlighted is the relatively slow upload speeds.

This is important for film students, because these days everything is digital, and moving big video files around quickly is important.

Computers at PAX 2014

Current speeds

Our download speeds are okay. Our upload speeds… aren’t.

Using the iiNet broadband test:

  • Latency 12ms
  • Jitter 3ms
  • Download 7.63 Mbps
  • Upload 0.68 Mbps

Using the Department of Communications My Broadband test:

  • Latency 15ms
  • Jitter 0ms
  • Download 7.54 Mbps
  • Upload 0.53 Mbps

This isn’t good. By my calculations it means that a 50 Mb file (which is not that big by modern video standards) would take 12 minutes, and that’s assuming no other bottlenecks.

A 500 Mb file would take over two hours.

Theoretical speeds

This explainer web page from Optus compares theoretical speeds, and notes that the limit of ADSL2+ upload is 820 Kbps (eg 0.82 Mbps).

The ADSL upload speed is so slow that when Isaac wants to send a big file to Dropbox (or whatever), it’s often quicker to go into campus (about an hour’s trip away) and do it there, then come home again. I suppose it gets him out of the house, but it’s not brilliant, is it.

It’s not just study. He’s starting to do post-production work as a part-time job. This is the kind of agile digital economy PM Turnbull often drones on about.

Cable internet is faster; around 3 times faster for uploads. DOCSIS theoretically allows faster upload, but queries from customers were answered in a vague way by Telstra. The speculation is the Telstra and Optus cable internet networks are set up for cable TV, which are pretty much all download.

If only we had some kind of universal super-fast internet service providing a future-proof fibre connection to everywhere. Some kind of Network of Broadband right across the Nation.

Well, I checked. NBN (especially proper NBN, fibre-to-the-premise/home, but even fibre-to-the-node) would be great, and would improve upload speeds by up to 50 times, but isn’t getting to my area anytime soon.

So what are the options?

Given their enlightened social media operative Dan, I’d be more than pleased to sign up for Optus Cable… if they serve my street. This is confusing as their web site variously says Yes or No depending on how I enter the address. I suppose I’m going to have to ring them up.

Also notable: complaints about speed from local Optus cable users.

Telstra cable does serve my street. Theoretically may get me about a threefold increase in upload speeds (around 2.4 Mbps), for $95/month for 500 Gb or $115/month for 1000 Gb — and appears to include a home phone service.

Importantly, with cable there are no guarantees about speed — it depends on network congestion.

I’m sure I’m not the only one in this position. Assuming I don’t want to pay a heap of money for a fibre connection myself, are there any other options?

Update 22/3/2016:

I finally made the switch, to Optus Cable. Comparing the My Broadband test old and new results:

Old: Latency 15ms / Jitter 0 ms / Download 7.54 Mbps / Upload 0.53 Mbps

New (at lunchtime): Latency 1 ms / Jitter 12 ms / Download 27.61 Mbps / Upload 1.96 Mbps.

New (at 6:15pm): Latency 78ms / Jitter 24 ms / Download 19.80 Mbps / Upload 1.29 Mbps. So download and upload speeds have both increased by about 3-4 times.

Daniel vs the ATM

My recollection is that Automatic Teller Machines used to be much simpler devices, and much faster. I’m sure back in the day I timed myself getting cash using the basic buttons and 1-2 line dot-matrix LED “display” they had back then and had it down to under 30 seconds.

These days ATMs are complex beasts with colour screens and animated ads, but the functionality to customers is almost the same as it was back then: put your card in, enter your PIN, do an enquiry (check your balance) or make a withdrawal, from account Savings, Cheque or Credit, enter the amount, then take your cash and card and let the next person have a go.

Each transaction takes waaaaaay longer than it used to. It’s not just the ads, the whole thing seems slower.

Bank of Melbourne ATM: frozen

So anyway, I sidled up to an ATM last night to get some cash. Slipped the card in, and as usual, the face of Jason the local bank manager popped up, with an invitation to contact him via the details on the receipt. (I never opt for receipts, and the ad is the same even when the ATM can’t print receipts, as it often can’t.)

Normally after a few seconds of Jason’s attentive stare, it then warns you to cover your hand as you enter the PIN… despite that Bank Of Melbourne ATMs all seem to have a built-in cover.

This time however, it got stuck on Jason. It had frozen up.

I gave it what seemed like a very generous period of time before I started punching buttons. Cancel, Clear, even that button to trigger the audio prompts through a headphone socket. No response.

Oh terrific.

After a minute or two, it was obviously not going to unfreeze, or give up the card. Jason’s invitation to ring him was still on the screen, but I obviously wouldn’t be getting the receipt with his phone number on it to actually do so… though it was around 6pm anyway; I doubt he’d still be at work.

So I found a (barely readable) enquiries phone number on the ATM and rang it. I thought at least if I can get the card cancelled before I walk away, nobody can use it if the ATM spits it out.

The bank’s hotline of course had an automatic menu wherein no option quite described the situation I was in. Was the card lost or stolen? Well, not really lost, since I knew it was in this ATM. Stolen? Again, only if you count the bank’s own automaton as having stolen it.

I chose the option that loosely approximated my situation, and after trying to tell the machine by way of the phone’s Hash button that I had no idea what my Access Number, Card Number or Access Password was, and some minutes on hold (everybody’s idea of fun), I then spoke to a guy who said he couldn’t help, and he transferred me.

All the while I was standing in front of the ATM blocking anybody else using it, hoping I didn’t look like a dunderhead who can’t use such a basic machine, or some kind of ATM-hog. Thankfully nobody else wanted it.

The lady I then got transferred to was able to help… at least, after making me answer some security questions (including my verbal password, though she never made clear if I had correctly guessed or not), she cancelled the card and ordered a replacement, and usefully also to connect one of my other cards with the bank to the account I had intended to access. I was able to withdraw cash from another ATM using the second card. Hey cool, maybe I don’t even need the replacement!

I also asked her if she wanted to know precisely which of her bank’s ATMs had gone kaputsky. No; she implied she knew already. Perhaps as its last gasp before freezing it sent a message back to base saying it had grabbed my card, and she was able to see that information.

Oddly, passing an hour or two later, the ATM appeared to be working again. Or perhaps it was a trap, lying in wait to lure another unsuspecting customer into giving up their card.

I’ll leave you with this snippet from Wikipedia:

Today the vast majority of ATMs worldwide use a Microsoft Windows operating system

Hmmm. That might explain a lot.

Known Myki bugs, and all the other things they should fix

In discussion the other week, the topic of what they should fix with Myki came up. You know, ignoring the imagined problems.

But first I want to mention the known bugs… that is, leaving aside “by-design” flaws and issues such as bus/tram incorrect zone detection hopefully likely to be resolved by the end of Myki’s headless mode.

Myki barriers, Flinders Street

Known bugs in Myki

Myki Pass Retail Console Bug. There’s a bug in the retail consoles which means that if your Myki card (which has a four year lifespan) expires in less than a year, you can’t buy a Pass of any duration. So you might have 300 days left until the card expires, but you can’t even buy a 7 day Pass.

This does not affect Myki vending machines; it’s unclear if it’s an issue with railway station booking office equipment.

Free weekend travel — not quite free. If you have a Zone 1 Pass, then travel in zone 2 on weekends and public holidays is free. That’s because to calculate your fare, it uses the Weekend Daily Cap (currently $3.50) but subtracts the two-hour fare of the Pass (also currently $3.50) making it zero extra cost.

But the bug is in the way this calculation is done at touch-on and touch-off. It turns out if the Myki Money balance is zero, it won’t allow you to touch-off in zone 2 (eg having touched-on and travelled from zone 1) — and presumably will also stop you touching-on in zone 2 as well.

Preventing you touching-on outside your Pass zone is perhaps understandable, but stopping you touching-off when the system knows a zero fare is chargeable is clearly a bug.

Fixed 1/1/2014 — touch-on (and presumably touch-off) is now possible with a zero balance.

Zone overlap travel followed by zone 1 travel. The scenario: Use Myki Money, and make a trip first in the zone 1/2 overlap (charged at the cheaper zone 2 fare, $2.42), then after the initial 2-hour fare has passed, make a trip in zone 1 ($3.50), then after another 2-hours has passed make a third trip in zone 1 ($3.50).

You should pay the Daily Zone 1 cap ($7.00), because all of your travel has been within zone 1. But you actually get charged a Zone 2 2-hour fare, plus the Daily Zone 1 cap (a total of $10.50). This bug was first found back in 2010. As far as I know it hasn’t yet been fully resolved, though I seem to recall they now do scans of the database to find and reimburse people who have made this combination of travel.

None of these three bugs are likely to affect the majority of people, but neither are they completely obscure.

Update 10/4/2013: Last week a bug with overlapping Passes emerged; sometimes a second Pass loaded onto a card may activate before the first Pass has expired. Details here.

Other things that have to be fixed

Here’s a list of other things they could/should fix — and I’d note many of them should not be not expensive or difficult (though given how the project has been run so far, who knows):

  • faster touch times — as discussed previously, Myki is noticeably slower than Perth and Brisbane’s systems. I’m guessing this wouldn’t be easy to fix, but would make a huge difference.
  • different sounds for touch-on vs touch-off so less people need to visually inspect the screens, speeding up queues — the current distinction (single/double beep) is pointless
  • fix the unwanted receipts issue — at least the modification they’re rolling out now removes many of the unwanted details on credit card receipts, but at present you’ll still get an EFTPOS receipt when you don’t want one
  • speed up online topup, particularly for fixed devices — eg be in a position to guarantee topup available at stations within 60 mins
  • short term tickets (printed like receipts, as is done in Brisbane and Perth), even if Daily is the only option. Price them as high as you like, but have them available.
  • …which includes fixing the pricing differential in regional cities — it’s as little as about 6% difference at present in some cases — no wonder the majority of people still buy individual tickets on regional buses
  • better contrast colours on vending machines by default, to help with sunlight
  • cut cost of 28+ day passes to make them more attractive (they’re way overpriced compared to most other cities around the world), so they’re a no-brainer for regular users, linked with…
  • educate/promote no need to touch-off on a Pass
  • consider scrapping 7-day pass and replace with 7-day cap, to simplify things for users — this was originally planned, but didn’t happen for some reason
  • proper refund system (not just card return) for Myki cards at the airports and cruise ship terminal — probably not needed if short term tickets provided
  • Myki vending machine: blurb about short term ticketsif short term tickets aren’t coming back, remove all mentions from system (eg vending machines, forms) — a vending machine rollout on now fixes this, but it’s taken 18 months to get it done, and some forms still mention them
  • have some usability specialists go through the whole system, especially the web site transaction list
  • upgrade Myki Check devices so they can collect online topups — this is a source of confusion currently
  • remove the multiple cards detected error if the second card isn’t a Myki — should be as simple as checking the card type flags and/or card number ranges. This would make it easier to use your Myki card from a wallet or handbag.
  • sort out a better process for expired cards, for instance so they can be exchanged over-the-counter at any staffed railway station — my first card was bought in April 2009, but expires today. I only got the email about replacement on Friday
  • have online top-ups which are not completed after 90 days go back to the originating bank account, not into “archive”, so they are more visible to people, and the perception is the money hasn’t been “stolen”
  • show expiry time for Myki Money fares
  • make the minimum balance for touch-on be zero (instead of above zero) if a valid fare product for the touch-on zone is on the card — currently for instance to use a $3.50 weekend fare you have to load a little more onto the card so the balance stays above zero. This is counter-intuitive.
  • automatic operator compensation to eligible customers

What else?

Finally, two things that should be dead easy and cheap but would help stem the tide of (sometimes unwarranted) negativity:

  • issue promotional Myki cards, eg AFL team colours, to help improve take-up and “win the hearts and minds” of grumpy users
  • publicise the actual good things about Myki, such as “change of mind” at railway stations, the fact that you can start a (metropolitan) trip with as little as 1 cent on your card (which may prevent missing a train when you need to top-up), and the now much easier access to cheap fares like the $3.50 Weekend Daily (which is also available on public holidays, a clear advantage over Metcard)

Happy birthday, Flinders Street Station

The current Flinders Street Station is 100 years old today.

Flinders Street Station

Flinders Street Station as seen from Fed Square

Flinders Street Station - to platform 9

Rush hour at Flinders Street

There’s a newish book on the history of Flinders Street Station called Beyond the Facade by Jenny Davies. Recently I was walking through the Degraves Street subway and noticed a display for the book. Then something in one of the windows caught my eye; amongst the cartoons, a familiar logo:

Flinders St station history display

Below this was a copy of the press release marking the PTUA’s 30th anniversary.

The display continues until Saturday.

Also something I recently noticed underneath the concourse: Maybe the book would explain it, but I haven’t yet worked out why these archways are shaped like this:

Architecture, Flinders Street

Perhaps the ramps from the concourse down to the platforms (now replaced with escalators and lifts) necessitated the lower height on one side. Any other guesses?

How fit are wii?

Daniel's Wii fitness ageI’m still really enjoying the Wii. The favourite game with the kids is tennis, playing on one side together, though we’re getting good at it and it’s been giving us some pretty tough opponents.

(I can only imagine that tennis purists are aghast at Wii Sports tennis; from the “best of 1/3/5 games” to the explicit explaining of what Deuce is to the always reading out the player’s team score first. Ditto the golf. Do golfers really say “Nice in!” to each other?!)

Baseball I’m not too bad at. I’ve finally figured out how to have a reasonable chance at hitting a home run. Bowling is improving. Golf is still my handicap; I can’t quite figure out how to put just enough power into my shots. I’ve only tried the boxing once, but will again.

The training gives you a mix of all this. But my real addiction is the fitness test.

I’ve been doing it almost every day since we got the Wii. Sometimes I’m absolutely appalling, and get a fitness age in the 50s and consequently feel like an old man. Last night I was 32. But to my surprise, most days it’s somewhere in the high 20s.

Who knows how accurate it is, but it’s nice to think that at least a machine thinks I’m in my twenties.