More fixing - more waiting

More fixing - more waiting

Our Saeco Talea Giro Plus automatic coffee machine bit the dust a year or so ago, at Christmas, while we had guests - so it hasn't been popular.  I'd replaced the power board as it kept blowing fuses, but that again did so - so it was stuck in a corner in pieces as I contemplated my options.  The other night I got to work and managed to get the beasty working again.  Primarily it just didn't like the over voltage situation here that we finally got sorted out when it was causing random shutdowns on our solar inverter.

Parts for a power tool battery charger arrived, only to find that I'd ordered the wrong case style, in both cases.  Firstly I ended up with a 3225 (1210) style SMD resistor instead of a 3216 (1206), and they were tightly squeezed so the extra few millimetres meant that they'd be on top of each other.  In a similar vein I ordered a MOSFET with a TO-263 case (D2PAK) instead of a TO-252 (DPAK) case.  I could probably have gotten away with that one as the better heat transfer would have worked in my favour, except that it would cover the screw hole for the associated heat sink - meaning I'd need to do board mods to get it to fit - which I wasn't really up to and the bloke I was fixing it for is overseas at the moment, so time isn't an issue.

I've also got parts on order for an inverter that we use in the car to power my laptop.  It has been sitting in a box for almost a decade and died when I tried to use it to power a fluorescent light fitting - even though it was well within the wattage, I'm guessing the startup current and power factor was enough to kill it.  It didn't blow the fuse, but it does seem to have taken out the primary MOSFETs. Everything else looks OK, so hopefully it will be a simple job once the parts are here.

Getting back into Electronic Repair

Getting back into Electronic Repair

For many years (decades even) I've been building my own electronic gadgets and fixing the occasional electronic device.  Just recently a power supply for our main computer gave up the ghost, and that was one thing I'd never even tried fixing before.  Partly this is due to the inherent danger of a switch-mode power supply, where there are quite a few components at lethal voltages - and that is the section that quite often breaks. Partly it is because I haven't really looked into the design of such devices.  With the colder months there is less time for doing work outside, so I thought it would be good to upgrade my skills and to invest in some tools and equipment that would make the job safer and easier. I've had a decent DSO (Digital Storage Oscilloscope) for a while, so the only major piece of equipment I needed was an isolation transformer.  I've also got on order a nifty little component tester that should make checking those problematic electrolytics a lot easier.

So, over the weekend I cleaned up my desk and moved stuff around to try and get an ergonomic workspace that meant I wasn't dragging cables across the desk during soldering or desoldering or other testing.  I'm reasonably pleased with the result.

 So far I've manged to fix my Samsung S7 Edge that I ran over with a tractor, and a solar fence energizer that had stopped working.  There are a number of items (including the power supply) waiting for parts, and a seemingly endless list of devices that need poking at.  I guess my winter nights are sorted for the foreseeable future.

The Digital Divide Grows Thanks to NBN Myopia

With the rollout of the NBN Satellite service underway it is perhaps unsurprising that the cracks in the system are starting to show, at least to  those of us who have not been blindsided by the spin provided by governments of both persuasions.

The satellite service is already not living up to its promise, with plenty of chat on social media about the slowness and the flakiness of the service.  This was all easy to predict as I've previously discussed, but what is of more concern is the use of "price signals" to manage the abysmal planning failures.

Currently if you want more than 75GB in a month, then you have to look at options other than satellite.  Sure, you can get generous "off peak" allowances, but since when is the 6 hours between 1am and 7am a viable time for utilising that extra data?  Are kids expected to do their homework in that timeslot?  Are businesses expected to do their admin, that is increasingly internet-based, during that time?  So, for around $115 or so you can get 50 usable GB (i.e. in a time that you are likely to be able to utilise it) on a satellite plan. Heaps, right?  Not according to ABS.  In December 2015, roughly 13 million subscribers downloaded over 1.7 exabytes, or an average of around 140GB per subscriber per month.

Looking at those figures will also reveal that data downloads have been doubling on a per-subscriber basis every 18 months or so.  This is as a result of the increase in rich media, social media, collaboration tools and simply the fact that as more people are on the internet, they are engaging more with others. Business is carried out over the internet more. Shopping over the internet is on an upward spiral. Interacting with government is increasingly via the internet. Schooling is making increasing use of internet. Even the "self-serve" support which used to be text-based tutorials is moving more and more towards video.  All of these factors mean that the 75GB limit is a joke, and forcing people to pay more for it is criminal.

Speaking of criminal, what about the alternatives?  Mobile broadband?  Remember the 1000GB per month I mentioned?  If you want to get that on any mobile broadband plan you are looking at close to $10,000 per month rather than the $50 or so you'd be asked for on a real service.  Yet many of us outside the major population centres have no choice but mobile broadband.  The satellite isn't going to get to many areas until 2020, and even when it does we already have evidence it won't cut it.

City users are getting the benefits of the doubling of data, with their per-GB pricing dropping drastically to mere cents.  Compare that with the over $3 per GB on the higher satellite plans or the $10 per GB on a mobile broadband plans and you can see that the digital divide is still with us, and widening.  The NBN, and certainly the government inteference, have exacerbated this situation by having this bizzare idea that people in regional, rural and remote Australia somehow are not going to use the internet as much as their city cousins.  With the competition in the agricultural sector there has seen a massive increase in the use of technology to reduce costs and improve efficiency.  Yet without decent internet this technology is never going to reach its true potential.

Clever country? Fat chance.


Jedda's "Golden Glow" dims

Jedda aka Golden Glow

Jedda, my 9 year old Australian Terrier, today lost her "Golden Glow".   That was her kennel name when we got her.  Born on ANZAC day, she was as tough as they come, but it appears that liver cancer is tougher. 

Jedda was vivacious, anarchic, over-the-top with a lust for life that sometimes left you speechless - or at least hoarse from yelling at her.  She loved nothing more than a long walk, however there was never a walk long enough or with enough new friends, both human and canine, to meet, nor was the car ride short enough to get there.  Until proven otherwise, Jedda approached every new person or dog as a potential friend, with her tail wagging and her eyes bright. If proven otherwise, she was a terrier through and through and would take on any dog, no matter how big.

She was a challenge at times, headstrong and feisty.  We all have bites from trying to do something to her that she didn't like, such as cutting her nails.  When meal times came around, or the lead was produced for a walk, she would bounce up and down until the plate was in front of her or the lead on her collar.  You always knew she was around at dinner time. At least until last week.

The only saving grace was that the progression was quick, and we got a few hours to spend with her at the vet's before she was taken from us, both literally and metaphorically.

Digital Divide Part Two

In my last post on the NBN I got a few things wrong.  The $41 billion pricetag is not just for the satellite service. The satellite component is priced at $2 billion (or $3.5 billion if you include fixed wireless, or anything up to around $5 billion if you actually want all households to be serviced, according to this report - page 13, available on the NBN Co website).  Does this change the base argument? Not really.  If you look into that report a bit further you find some interesting gems, but first, let's look at some NBN marketing.  In this piece we are told just how wonderful the NBN is, but there are a few asterisks in that text that then point to this:

*Your experience including the speeds actually achieved over the nbn™ network depends on the technology over which services are delivered to your premises and some factors outside our control like your equipment quality, software, broadband plans and how your service provider designs its network.

 So back to the report.  It states that even at 65% take up of the satellite service, the "mean busy hour throughput" will be 150kbps - or just about 3 times dialup speed.  Hang on, isn't it supposed to be 25Mbps down, 5Mbps up?  Well, here is where the marketing and the technical realities diverge.  Unlike FTTP where you have a high-bandwidth connection that comes directly to the house, with satellite you have a limited number of transponders, each of which supplies a beam that covers a fixed geographical area.  Each transponder is limited in its bandwidth, and that bandwidth is shared amongst the 500 to 15,000 premises covered by that beam.  So if we actually use the service, the speed we get is determined by where we live and hence how many other premises are covered by the same beam.   The more successful the marketing, the less useable is the outcome.

The interim satellite service (ISS) quickly became over subscribed as mentioned in the previous post, and the above report suggests that this is likely with the new service.  Indeed one of the options it recommends is a third satellite coupled with expansion of the fixed wireless network.  I live in central Victoria, and if you take a look at Exhibit 14-2 on page 87 of the report you will see that most of Victoria at just 65% uptake is likely to be oversubscribed.

One other fact coming from this report is that the service is not built to be future proof, and the timelines for getting people connected are starting to become very concerning.  It is unlikely that the satellite/fixed wireless rollout will be completed before 2021, and even then the rate of growth of the customer base is likely to outstrip the supply by between 10 and 30% depending on the speed options being supplied (Exhibit 15-1 page 98). The satellites themselves have a design life of 15 years, so we need to revisit this before then at any rate. Yet the obvious choice of upgrading exchanges to support ADSL as an interim is simply not even considered.

Time for a bit of a reality check.  Every town that has a school in it has an ADSL enabled exchange.  Yet you cannot get ADSL in many of those towns.  In the town just 10 minutes from here they have ADSL at the school, but no other premises has been able to get this with the excuse that there is no ADSL capacity at the exchange.  Seriously?  ADSL units come in various configurations, but usually start at 12 ports and go up from there.  That means that there should be at least 11 other premises capable of being connected to ADSL, yet none can be.

Let's go back a step, in the Statement of Expectations signed by the Malcolm Turnbull - Minister for Communications and Mathias Cormann - Minister for Finance, the expectation is set that:

The Australian Government is committed to ... ensuring all Australians have access to very fast broadband as soon as possible, at affordable prices, and at least cost to taxpayers

There is also a recommendation in the report that NBN set expectations correctly.  So why are we still getting the lie that we will have 25/5 Mbps speeds which will, in the main, be unattainable and that the NBN will be the same for all when quite clearly it cannot be?  Why are obvious solutions that at least give "metro equivalent" capacity not being used? When will the digital divide really be a thing of the past?