Archive for January 21, 2010

Assorted News 27 – Good News Week? :)

Assorted News 27 – Good News Week? 🙂

In this edition:

Good News Week
Surprise wireless internet price reductions at Telstra.
Nokia gives many people free phone GPS maps

Assorted News:
ExeSMS broken – how to fix.
Back on deck: Most happy, some not.
Pricing Revisited.
IE (Internet Explorer) in the news…

General Ramblings:
Affectionately Mauled
Embroidery – a new skill for CCC?
Portable Landline & cheap diversions.
Turning Right.

FMyLife and Uh Oh moments.

Surprise Wireless Price Drops at Telstra / BigPond:

As many of you know, I sell wireless broadband with Exetel; and where there’s good coverage it’s a well priced product. However, there are several cases where Telstra has a good signal and Optus (which Exetel uses) does not; meaning I have not been able to help those people get better-priced Internet Access.

Telstra / BigPond is often an option in these places due to their superior coverage; but up until now the prices have been so ridiculously high that they were simply not competitive. In addition, their horrendous excess usage charges could scare even the most savvy user. (One last week got a bill for over $2,000; but was subsequently able to get it reduced significantly.)

Last week, Telstra announced the complete removal of excess usage fees on their wireless broadband for home users, and some significant reductions in mobile internet usage costs for business users.

Of course, like any telephony and internet product these days you have to read the fine print; but as an example of what you could do if you’re out in the sticks with a mobile that gets at least one bar of coverage in the window and have an ABN:
You could get 1GB of Internet for $19 a month using your mobile as the modem.
You could get 3GB of Internet for $29 a month using your mobile as the modem.

Similar pricing is available for residential users as well, with the advantage of no excess usage fees but the possible need to buy a modem.

That’s cheaper and usually faster than satellite. For those of you with suitable NextG phones, you can sit the phone in the window (if necessary for coverage) and your computer will talk wirelessly via bluetooth to it to get you online. Alternatively, for those of you with ‘country phones’ you have the advantage that while connected to your computer, the phone also recharges, but last I looked they won’t do internet via Bluetooth.

So there you go. It’s nice to see that for home users, Telstra has dropped the unconscionable excess usage fees; and for business users it’s great to see some realistic pricing; albeit tied to contracts.

For BigPond Residential’s pricing:

For NextG Business pricing:

Note: I’m not affiliated with Telstra or BigPond in any way, so while I can help you get these services up and running; it will be at the normal consulting rate 🙂 (I can’t be a rep for them as they require exclusivity.)

Unfortunately all my efforts to get Exetel to offer alternatives to their admittedly small excess usage fees on their wireless broadband product have so far failed – apparently on technical grounds, but at least they’re still cheaper and have no contract: See – use code N040 if you want me as your agent for support / installation.

Nokia gives many people Free GPS!

Now here was a pleasant surprise that came in yesterday… Nokia offering free Maps for most of their current and recent phones – even going back as far as the old Nokia E51 that many of you still have. For more information go to

If you don’t see your phone listed, click here – – for the full list.

This will allow you to do one or two things. Firstly, it means you have a relatively up to date street directory always in your phone. (And not just for Australia either… although you might need a new larger memory card if you want to store the US maps!) Secondly, it means that you can use your phone as a GPS provided it has a GPS receiver built in. For phones that don’t, you can buy a bluetooth GPS receiver that will work with your phone, such as – which is available from AMAC Digital Products in Armidale.

Note that I believe, by law, if you’re going to use this in your car you need to have a means of securing your phone to the dashboard / windscreen.

Why is Nokia doing this? Probably to compete with Google after they announced the same thing for their latest phones recently. No more buying those ridiculously expensive map upgrades for your Garmin / NavMan / TomTom. (Side note – I used to recommend TomTom for cheap updates, but that has since passed.)

ExeSMS Broken: How to fix.

If you use the PC based SMS program “ExeSMS” with Exetel, you might have found in the last couple of days that it stopped working. The problem is that whoever wrote the program has disappeared – or at least part of his website has – and the update checker crashes the program. If you want it to work again straight away, try the steps at

Back on Deck 🙂

Well there have been winners and losers this last two weeks since I returned to work. Due to the higher than normal number of calls, I’ve had to prioritise who gets attended to based on the type of problems they were experiencing, and location. The order of priority has been:

No Internet / Phones –> Business computers down –> No Phones –> Virus –> Storm Damage –> New Internet Connections –> New Computer setups –> TV Tuning / Set Top Box tuning –> Websites –> Dialup Internet support –> Fax Machines –> Problem Customers.

This unfortunately has meant that people in the last five categories have sometimes gone with unanswered calls as there hasn’t been enough hours in the day to cover them all. The sheer number of calls has also meant that a few accidentally fell through the cracks – typically where two people had the same type of problem and I lost track of them while on the road; or simply because I’ve stuffed up while shuffling calendar events in Outlook / Symbian. I think I caught up with most of those on Friday 🙂

Calls come in via email, the landline, the mobile and SMS so co-ordinating them all can be tricky as I’m yet to find a way to unify them. This past week I’ve been trialling spending an hour each morning working out what needed doing that day and the next, and answering email queries; so most callouts have been from 11am onwards, with the latest one being 8:45pm last week. (A TV tuning job that had been waiting a few days.) I can see why some people have secretaries, but it’d be hard to do that in my case since only I can really guess how long each job’s going to take.

Pricing Revisited

Well it happened again. One customer this week was adamant that I don’t charge enough, and then a couple of days later another cringed at the already slightly discounted $90 bill for a new laptop setup. Admittedly one customer lives in a house in town, while the other had a rambling farming property 🙂

I am toying with the idea of redesigning my invoices to have five totals ranging from $45 per hour (my low income / not for profit rate) up to $85 (which is what some Tamworth IT consultant quoted me) and giving the payee the choice to pick what they felt comfortable with. Not sure how that would go really… Interested in your thoughts on that one…

I guess it’s the fun of being in a relatively small town – I have developed the skills of a system engineer / programmer and yet I still look after those who have simple needs too as we’re all human 🙂 .. and I like the variety!

IE (Internet Explorer) in the news…

I’ve converted most of you over to using Firefox since it’s faster and safer than Internet Explorer; and can be set to block all ads as well as display your Internet Usage meter. (A handy side effect of this is that it tends to block fake ads that trick people in to thinking they have a virus and need to buy whatever fake cleaning program they’re selling.)

However, many people still prefer Internet Explorer out of habit or for other reasons I haven’t quite worked out. I guess that’s good for me in a way as it keeps me employed killing bugs, but it’s not good for your online banking, etc. The most recent case in the news was where the holes in Internet Explorer were used to attack Google. A side effect of all this was that Google is considering shutting down operations in China; and also the German government recommend people stop using it… – although now that Microsoft has fixed the problem that may no longer apply.

Google’s Chrome and Safari are other alternative web browsers you can try as well, if for some reason you don’t like Firefox 🙂

Affectionately Mauled.

Here’s an amusing tail, err tale, for you. One of my customers has a number of animals on their property; and a number of computers too. One of their animals is a very tall dog – a bit like the one pictured at but with a lighter coloured face

While I was sitting down working on their computers, it decided to come and have a chat, meaning I was now head-hight with it. I knew it was a friendly dog because whenever I visit it always bounces around excitedly – and slightly alarmingly as it just wants to play, but it’s a bit like a short-necked giraffe bouncing around the yard with long straight but slightly splayed legs.

Anyway, it turned out that it’s favourite position was to sit there with gently holding the side of my chin in the side of it’s mouth while I worked away transferring files between computers – a relatively surreal experience! Eventually the owners realised it was inside and sent it back out again, leaving two of their tiny dogs to run around and occasionally jump on me instead. I get on well with most animals, so it doesn’t worry me; provided they stay off the keyboard. (I did leave the customer to clear off the 1cm wide ball of slobber the big dog flicked onto their monitor however!)

Embroidery – a new skill for CCC?

When my other half asked for car seat covers with frogs on for Christmas, I thought it was going to be easy enough – just go to SuperCheap Auto and buy a set. Problem is, no one makes them in Australia. There are now websites selling them. Nothing on eBay. So I asked the various Armidale embroidery companies if they could put one on for me, and the answer was a unanimous no from all of them – too hard; our machines can’t use the material because it’s too thick, etc.

One agreed to putting a pattern onto some material for me to sew on later, but the quote for that came back at – if I read it right – $170 to convert my drawing to a mostly two colour computerised pattern, and $75 each copy.

I decided to ask around locally as I have two customers I know of with domestic-grade computerised embroiding sewing machines as I’ve repaired and installed the software for them before now. One thought she could do it, but didn’t know how to get the drawing into the machine. So, for a couple of days there you might have seen me parked in the Bluebird under a tree in Guyra while I taught myself how to ‘digitise’ images.

Final product in hand on a quaint floppy disk – as these sewing machines are now getting on a bit! – and 12,000 stitches / 45 minutes later each, the car seat covers were done 🙂 They weren’t perfect, possibly due to an error on my part in telling the software how to handle stitches leading to different image segments; and probably due to the ‘stretchy’ nature of the material; but they were sure good enough; and a damn site cheaper than what the others wanted to charge. They also had to be slightly smaller than planned since the material was not flat – these were pre-made covers. You can see the images here:

Original image:
Final product:

(The flash made the reflective purple look white.)

Portable Landline / Cheap Diversions.

The Billion 7404VGPX is an expensive little bugger at $175, but combined with a wireless broadband service with strong coverage, it affords a portable VoIP landline. I’m still testing it with some customers to see if it’s reliable enough to be considered a landline replacement service, with reasonable results so far. Unfortunately local Guyra / Armidale numbers are not available for use with this device as a phone number for people to call you on, but the 10 cent per call untimed rates make up for that a bit. (The phone numbers are all Sydney / Canberra / Adelaide numbers.) Optus has a similar product but charges traditional line rental and call rates.

Another box I am experimenting with – the $80 Cormain GW211 – allows you to connect it to your existing (Telstra) landline, and forward your calls via VoIP to any other number you choose. For example, if you have a mobile phone for your business; when you divert calls from your landline to it with Telstra you pay hefty call costs. With this unit, the diverted call costs whatever a VoIP call to that destination would be – so typically 15 cents a minute for mobiles or 10 cents untimed for landlines.

You could use this:
– to transfer business / home calls to your mobile cheaply
– to transfer your business / home line to another phone line cheaply (like when on holiday, etc.)
– to transfer your phone calls overseas for 3c a minute depending on destination.

The three downsides:
– there is an added delay of about .1 to .2 seconds.
– Incoming CallerID is not passed to the phone.
– There might be an issue with volume being a bit quiet.

I might trial this some more – the loss of CallerID is a slight problem for me.

Turning Right.

Some of you have spotted the ghost of the Kingswood doing the rounds in Guyra. Most of the problems are fixed, but the mechanics are struggling with its tendency to turn right when you put the brakes on. It’s often done this when first taken out in the morning, but gets over it by the time it gets to the railway line. Perhaps it’s some latent damage from when it had no membrane on the master cylinder reservoir 15 years ago and was thus sucking dust into the fluid, making it muddy orange instead of green. I fixed that long ago. The Nissan is going well, with it’s only party trick at the moment being occasional idling at a very low 500rpm and the odd stall at the lights, etc. I really need to get the dash apart one day and resolder all those bad connections so the rev computer behaves 🙂

Entertaining Sites

Think your life’s bad? You could try

It’s a listing of things that have gone wrong for people – so if you get depressed easily it might not suit you; but if you find the perverse comedy in the situations instead you might enjoy it. Some of them might be a bit rude / off-colour. For example:

“Today, I texted my college boyfriend to tell him how terrible I felt about cheating. He replied saying he was so relieved because he had been cheating on me with a girl in his dorm. I was talking about my math exam. FML”

Uh Oh Moments

A great post on Whirlpool about all the things that people have done wrong at work. This could keep you reading for hours…

Some are a bit techy, but others – such as setting KFC cookers on fire, plugging in the wrong cable, crashing forklifts, cutting open softdrink cases by mistake, changing in an elevator, spilling hundreds of litres of ice cream, etc we can all understand 🙂

Well, that’s it for another Newsletter! I better get back to work now. I hope 2010’s going well for you all. So far, so good 🙂

As a PS, the electric bike is still going well, no breakdowns at all yet and still getting over 17km to a charge on the Black Mountain roads. The electric mower likewise is still doing a great job. A customer gave me an old FlyMo they didn’t want – and it lasted 5 minutes before it ceased to work. They are worlds apart in performance.

Cheers, Mike

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