Just How Fast Is Broadband? Over To Winston, The Pigeon September 13th, 2009
I read something very topical this morning for a number of reasons.
Firstly, I have for a number of years now been very dismayed at the quality of broadband this country (on average) has to offer. According to official reports, the average actual speed available to UK users is 3Mbps, not exactly staggering when you consider comparisons to the rest of Europe where according to official figures, the nearest lowest average speed is 4.6Mbps, now I know that doesn’t seem a huge step but remember we are talking average speeds and actually, 1.6Mbps DOES make a significant difference to heavy users. Now take a look at the claimed average speeds available according to the ISPs, here in the UK they will have you believe that on average we can get 10Mbps, sounds much better even if a little unrealistic but again, taking a look further afield into Europe and you’ll see they can achieve according to ISP reports speeds of up to 44Mbps on average. OK, I understand that the limitations are massively influenced by existing technology and the huge financial and logistical implication of upgrading an old network under live conditions, but surely we can do better than 3Mbps..?
The second reason this post is topical has nothing to do with broadband. Growing up, my dad using to keep and race pigeons, he still does actually so it’s something which whilst being a little strange to a lot of people, always catches my eye when I read something about it in the press. Kind of takes me back to my childhood days.
So on to the story which caught my eye.
Going back to my original point about broadband, it promised to unite the world with alleged super-fast data speeds allowing us to conduct business globally in real time. But in South Africa, a recent experiment has proven that the internet is no faster than a pigeon! A Durban IT company decided to run a race between an 11 month old racing pigeon carrying a 4GB memory stick and the time it took to transfer a 4GB file using ADSL connections from the country’s biggest ISP, Telkom. This I thought would make interesting reading.
Winston, the pigeon, took two hours to carry the data 60 miles – in the same time; the ADSL had sent only 4% of the data! Amazing.
Telkom said that it was not responsible for the company’s slow internet speeds (funny, I remember BT telling me the same thing not so long ago blaming BT Open Reach; hang on, aren’t they all the same at the end of the day?). The idea behind the race came from a member of staff at the Durban Company, Unlimited IT, after staff there complained about the speed of their ADSL connection. Flippantly, they joked that it would be faster to send the data by carrier pigeon. “We renown ourselves on being innovative, so we decided to test that statement” said Unlimited’s Kevin Rolfe. Winston took off from Unlimited IT’s call centre in the town of Howick to deliver the memory stick to the firm’s office in Durban. According to Winston’s website (http://www.pigeonrace2009.co.za) there were strict rules in place to ensure he had no unfair advantage. They included ‘no cats allowed’ and ‘birdseed must not have any performance-enhancing seeds within’. The firm said Winston took one hour and eight minutes to fly between the offices, and the data took another hour to upload onto their system. Mr Rolf said the ADSL transmission of the same data size was about 4% complete in the same time.
Back to the UK and back to reality.
I guess I should count myself lucky. The telephone exchange that I am connected to is a rural one; it does not offer any LLU services and probably pre-dates the Arc. I live around 4km away from the exchange according to the route my copper takes so when I recently moved and placed an order for broadband I was slightly perturbed that I would not have an reliable connection, perhaps only 1-2Mbps if I was lucky. Certainly according to BT Wholesales ADSL checker I was told to expect a service of 2Mbps. However, I’m sat here today typing this on a nice stable connection in the region of 4.5Mbps, not exactly the 10Mbps average that BT claim but not too bad all things considered. I’ve been spoilt in reality over the years working in the IT sector and having had leased lines and more recently ADSL2+ Burst lines giving me speeds in excess of 20Mbps reliably, but it seems that as times have moved on, the technology is lagging far behind.
I know there are lots of plans in the pipeline to revolutionise the infrastructure here in the UK, to actually deliver the kind of speeds we have been promised over the last few years but call me a cynic, it wouldn’t be the first time plans have not come to fruition. I prefer hard action to plans, I would like to see things changing, I would like to see us taking a step forward and leading the ‘Broadband Revolution’.
Come on Britain. Come on BT. Give us something special; give us something to stand out from the rest of the EU, from the rest of the World. I’d like to think I will be reading an article on how we lead the world technologically in the not too distant future and not an article on how Downing Street has taken to keeping pigeons…
Evony September 12th, 2009
Over the past week I have been playing an online game called Evony, the format of the game is familiar to anyone who has ever played Empire Earth, Civilisation or Age of Empires. I guess it’s kind of like riding a bike, once you learn you’ll never forget!
Evony has a couple of aces up it’s sleeve however and rewrites the way strategy games are played ‘en mass’. Firstly, it’s free (and we all like free things) so has widespread appeal to anyone with an internet connection who wants to have a go and secondly, the game runs in real time 24/7
Of course, this does also have a downside, one that I have yet to experience myself (although am sure I will before too long…). As the game is running in real time whether you are logged in or not, you run the risk of some American deciding to invade you overnight and overthrowing your city. The downfalls of international time zones I guess but after the amount of work I have put into building my cities over the last week, I know I’ll be gutted when I wake up one morning and find the inevitable has happened, still it’s all in the spirit of the game I guess. When I have a little more battle experience (my first few attempts failed miserably) I’ll return the favour and attack them when they are safely tucked up in their beds. I’m nice like that ;- )
The format of the game is a familiar one, you build your cities and go on to conquer others, building your empire and battling it out against other like minded folk to try and get to the #1 spot in the land. You must balance the need for gathering resources such as lumber, iron, stone and of course food with the need to develop your cities by building housing, military buildings, scientific buildings and city defences. If that wasn’t enough to keep you busy, you also have to train an army not only to defend your cities but to go out and scout the land, looking for other cities to conquer or flat lands to build new cities. It’s addictive stuff. It sounds very complicated but their is a very good guide called the ‘quest’ which will help you start things off and give you rewards for completing basic tasks, almost like the cheats in other games…
For the first seven days you have what’s known as ‘beginners protection’, this means that you are not open to attack from others and you can spend your time getting to know the game and its features without having to worry about your city being wiped out, it also gives you time to expand and build a second city, maybe even a third. My beginners protection is about to expire now and I think I am ready, I have a couple of cities, one heavily fortified the other not so. I have an army, not perhaps the biggest in the world but they are determined and will fight to the last!
I’m looking forward to the next few days, being able to appreciate the game fully by having the additional strategic task of fore planning for an attack, but at the same time know I’m going to be hit hard by some super power in the middle of the night and probably wish I’d never started playing the game in the first place. Time will tell.
So if you are at a lose end, head over to http://www.evony.com and have a go yourself, for anyone whose interested, I’m on server 46 in Franconia (it’ll make sense during signup) and vice-host an alliance called ‘2WO’, come join up!
The beauty of modern browswers is that you can have Evony running in a tab all day whilst you get on with your normal work, checking back every hour or so to click a few buttons and start your next building project or recruiting some more warriors. You can even change the titlebar of the tab so that your boss will never know if he looks over your shoulder…
Windows 7 Tweaks September 7th, 2009
So Windows 7 has been around in various beta and RC candidates for a while now and Microsoft have finally announced the official public launch date will be October 22nd so it won’t be too long before it’s available to the masses (yeap, that’s you lot).
So is it worth it?
Microsoft were given a lot of criticism after the launch of Vista and rightly so. Vista ran far slower than Windows XP on comparable hardware, not exactly the massive step forward that it was intended to be. In fact, it was a bit of an embarrassment. As such, one of the main goals of the development team for Windows 7 was to ensure that it ran significantly better than Vista overall, they simply could not be faced with the same situation again. Well, I have been running Windows 7 on my main development laptop now for some time and I am pleased to report that I am thus far, impressed with the work that they have done. Would I recommend it? You know for consumers, I think I would. Of course the same question is not so easily answered in the corporate sector owing to various other factors, but I’m sure that over time, IT managers will be less apprehensive with a migration to Windows 7 than they were with Vista. There will always be the argument for other vendors such as Apple or the various Linux distros but that’s not what I am discussing here.
There are however as with any OS, some tweaks which you can apply to Windows 7 to improve speed and general responsiveness, here are some which I recommend you do to squeeze even more performance out of an already, pretty robust platform.
MSConfig has been around in one form or another for some time now, since the days of Windows 3.1 in fact (ah, those were the days!), it’s still alive and well and working behind the scenes in Windows 7. MSConfig was initially envisaged as a tool for system administrators to help diagnose problems with the boot process, however, it can also be used as a tool for optimising the systems performance. To launch MSConfig, open the run prompt (either through the start menu itself or Ctrl+R) and type msconfig followed by enter. When the System Configuration dialog box opens go straight to the Startup tab, the tab which shows you which programs are set to run when the system boots, it also allows you to disable any unwanted startup items. Obviously each installation will be different based on hardware and what software has been installed so use caution when deselecting items! Unfortunately there is no ‘right for all’ answer, get in touch if you’d like some advice.
- THE AERO INTERFACE
The performance impact of the Aero interface has been debated since the time that Windows Vista was first released. I have seen some benchmark tests that indicate that there is no noticeable performance impact associated with enabling the Aero interface. At the same time though, there are people who swear that their PCs run more efficiently without it. In either case, there is no denying that Aero does consume a significant amount of system resources and we can probably do without it.
In the current beta of Windows 7, Setup is designed to compute the system index, unlike in Vista where this was done at a later stage by the user. Assuming that the machine has a sufficient system index score and compatible graphics hardware, Aero is automatically enabled. On the other hand, Aero is not automatically enabled (although the Aero Shake and Aero Peek features are enabled) if you are running Windows 7 within a virtual machine.
Windows 7 is designed so that it will not compute the system index if it is running within a virtual machine, and unless a system index is calculated, the aero glass is not enabled.
- Internet Explorer Add-Ons
By itself, Internet Explorer is a fairly efficient application. However, add-ons can really decrease the browser’s performance. Windows 7 actually allows you to see which add-ons are taking the longest to load. From there, you can make a decision as to whether or not you want to disable the add-on in the name of faster load times.
You can check the performance of each add-on by opening Internet Explorer, and selecting the Manage Add-Ons command from the Tools menu. When the list of add-ons appears, scroll all the way to the right, and you will see a column that tells you how long each add-on takes to load.
My new home on t’interweb September 5th, 2009
Over time, I aim to post some interesting articles and some ‘how to’ guides relating to various IT problems which hopefully may be of use to some of you. You’ll also find some bits and bobs about motorbikes, a hobby of mine and of course some personal rants; well it wouldn’t be a blog otherwise now would it?
Feel free to bookmark this page (Ctrl-D) and check back often, and by all means, if you find anything useful or have any thoughts about any of the posts, leave a comment so I know you’ve stopped by.
First Post; Over.