Warehouse Stationery - where a bargain isn't a bargain

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 26-Mar-2008 21:49


Spotted at Warehouse Stationery on Monday.







A big pat on the back for Vodafone

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 24-Mar-2008 17:52

Those people who have followed my rambling over the years will know I both love and hate Vodafone. I'm passionate about mobile technology and love the Vodafone brand but there are aspects of their company and products that really get to me!

One thing that has annoyed me over the years has been some very significant coverage deadspots that they have had in the Wellington area. These aren't just areas where calls occasioanally drop, in some cases they are entire suburbs with virtually non existing Vodafone coverage.

One area that has been very bad has been the Eastern Bays from Point Howard right around to Eastbourne. Apart from a 900Mhz cellsite at Eastbourne all the bays along the way have relied on coverage from the other side of Wellington Harbour which has meant that mobile in car coverage has been terrible and inbuilding coverage in some of the most expensive homes in the region has been virtually non existant. Coverage has also typically been 900Mhz as the 2100Mhz 3G signal hasn't carried well across the water.

Over the past few weeks Vodafone have finally done something about this. As well as the Eastbourne site having been given new 3G radio gear 4 new 3G sites have been installed along Marine Drive. These are the now common cylindrical 3G sites and all 4 are mounted on light standards.

Sites are located at Lowry Bay (near the boat ramps), York Bay, and two sites to cover the corner of the road in Sunshine Bay and Days Bay. These sites are now all active and deliver continuous in car coverage along Marine Drive and great indoor coverage in most areas with Days Bay in particular now having great coverage when in the past inbuilding coverage was virtually non existant.

There have been a large number of 3G sites rolled out in Wellington over the past few months and it's now obvious that Vodafone see their WCDMA network as a replacement for GSM. If you don't have a 3G handset then you won't be able to take advantage of this enhanced coverage.

Good work Vodafone!




Upgraded Eastbourne site showing 900MHz and 2100MHz panel in the middle. These 900MHz panels are the originals that have been on this site since it was installed. Vodafone have replaced a lot of these panels, it's good to see that they've left a few remaining for old times sake! :-)



Lowry Bay 3G Site



Mahina Bay Site


Sunshine Bay site - this and the Days Bay site are on the same corner.


Days Bay site - this and the Sunshine Bay site are on the same corner.



BP wishes Kiwi's a Happy Easter and raises Diesel by 5c per litre

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 19-Mar-2008 17:35

The lovely folks over at BP have done it again - they've lead the way today by raising Diesel by 5c per litre which now makes them 6c per litre more than every other player in the fuel industry (since they were 1c more up until today).

I just don't know why people continue to support a company who pride themselves in leading the way in petrol price increases having now lead every fuel increase in NZ for the past 17 months.

Avoid getting ripped off this Easter. Don't visit BP.

UPDATE: 20th March

BP have now been forced to drop their diesel back to 133.9 after the market didn't move with them and they were left hung out to dry. This is still a 1c premium over all the other major retailers who are still selling diesel at 132.9





Emirates running old banner ads

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 1-Mar-2008 09:29

Vistiting the NZ Herald site today it's hard to miss the banner ads currently running for Emirates promoting special airfares to oz. It's just a shame the deal finished on the 31st January!







Oops.. I wonder who's responsible for this?



A beginners guide to DIY structured cabling in a new house - Part II

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 28-Feb-2008 22:07

This is part II of my guide to planning and installing a structured cabling system in your home. I had a lot of interest in my first post and will answer a few questions that people have asked me. There has also been a great deal of interest and discussions on Geekzone lately relating to home cabling so hopefully these posts will help a few people when it comes to planning a system for a new house or renovating your existing property.

   

Why use cat5e rather than cat6 cable?

 

Cat5e cable is Gigabit certified and the cable lengths that will be in an average house will deliver Gigabit Ethernet. Cat6 does of course have higher bandwidth capabilities and if price isn't an issue then there is no harm in running Cat6 cable. For an average household however many people do consider it overkill and you do have to be aware that you have to be a lot more careful with the cable when running it near power or other cables as any advantages will be cancelled out if the cable is installed poorly and you'll end up with cable that doesn't deliver any performance gains over Cat5e.

 

What sort of coax should I use?

 

The minimum you should be using is RG6 duo shield. This is the minimum spec for any satellite installs and offers a good price/performance ratio. There is plenty of cheap Chinese made RG6 around these days that many people believe is poor quality however I've never used it so can't comment. If you're in doubt look for something that has Sky TV or Sky Certified printed on it or stick with a good brand such as Belden. You should be able to pick good cable up for around 75c + GST per metre if you ask around at wholesalers such as Mastertrade or Corys and there is a booming market for cable on Trademe. Typically RG6 coax is sold in 100m or 152m rolls which is potentially a more than you will require for an average household so it’s really a matter of shopping around for the best deal to suit your requirements.

 

If you live in the Wellington, Christchurch or Kapiti area and will be using Cable TV or Cable Modem services from TelstraClear then you need to install quad shield RG6 as this will allow you to run their services over your structured cabling if it has been installed to an acceptable standard. TCL will not hook their service up to duo shield cable under any circumstances due to possible RF ingress. Quad shield does have the disadvantage of costing quite a bit more than duo and if you're not in an area with TCL services there aren't any real gains from using it unless you are running cable over very long distances or live in area that suffers from a lot of RF interference.

 

Also avoid using cheap screw on RG6 connectors as these are terrible. You should only use RG6 crimp, radial or compression connectors which will cost around $1 - $2.00 each depending on where you get them from. Avoid DSE at all costs as you’ll pay upwards of $6 for a RG6 compression connector! To fit these connectors you will need a suitable tool which will set you back anywhere from $20 - $60 depending on where you purchase it from (there are a few popping up on Trademe)

  

My electrician thinks its overkill!

 

What I have talked about in Part I of this article isn’t overkill – it is what Telecom have been recommending as the minimum specifications for all new residential dwellings in New Zealand for quite a few years now. Their guidelines recommend that all cabling should be a minimum of Cat5e wired to all bedrooms and living areas in a star configuration back to a central point and that RG6 be installed for TV/Pay TV services.

There seem to be plenty of electricians out there who are completely oblivious to these guidelines and still continuing to connect phone jack points in a daisy chain configuration and believe this is perfectly acceptable. The reality is that it's not and they should be moving with the times. If you’ve got an electrician who insists that this is “how things should be done” and that your suggestions for a structured cabling system is overkill I’d recommend finding one who isn’t stuck in the dark ages!

Before proceeding with any cabling there is some essential reading to be done on the Telepermit website. PTC's 103 and 106 both provide a wealth of information and the guidelines that you should be working to when planning and installing either a basic home phone system or a structured cabling system in a residential dwelling.

  

What about all of the off the shelf structured cabling systems on the market?

 

There are also plenty of off the shelf structured cabling systems available from electrical wholesalers with models from Sigtec PDL and Hills being the most commonly available in New Zealand. Many of these units are being heavily promoted at present and most architects and electricians will be aware of them. If you are looking at one of these you do really need to be aware of the capabilities and limitations of these units.

 

Cat5e cable is capable of more than just voice or data. You can now buy baluns that allow carrying component or HDMI video signals over twisted pair cabling and as people move towards large flatscreen TV's they want a quality picture on the screen. Over the years many people have distributed Sky TV around their house by looping the RF output into a splitter and running that to their bedroom over coax. Most of these commercial structured cabling units (such as the Sigtec, Hills and PDL etc) all use a modulated composite output from your DVD player or Sky box or set top box to deliver TV content to all rooms running over coax. This method is however unable to deliver a quality picture from your DVD when you're running into a large widescreen TV and is incapable of delivering HD content around the house.

The claims that these systems make of being “able to watch Sky TV from every room in the house” are true but their systems aren’t going to deliver you a quality picture.

 

These days if you're really wanting to distribute a quality picture around your house you need to look at component or HDMI  - HDMI will be the only way of sending HD video around the house if as expected the the ICT flag is enabled on HD broadcasts by Freeview and Sky TV in New Zealand. Enabling the ICT flag means component video is output at a standard definition 576i and not in 720p high definition output.

To distribute component or HDMI video around the house you require baluns that will allow the transmission of component and HDMI video over regular Cat5e or Cat6 cable. Two baluns are required for a single cable run – one plugged into the output of the device (such as a Sky decoder) and one plugged into the RJ45 socket at the other end with a cable running to the TV. Due to the high bandwidth requirements of HDMI you need to use dual Cat5e runs to do this however component video can be sent over a single cable. HDMI and component amplifier/splitters are also available that can drive multiple displays from a single output so it’s possible to distribute a component or HDMI output to multiple TV’s in your house. Remember that HDMI also includes both HD video and 7.1 audio in a single cable so you can deliver extremely high quality audio and video over dual Cat5e cables.

 

All of these units are based on modular units for both video and twisted pair cabling and do allow flexibility however the it's hard to recommend buying any of the commercial off the shelf home cabling kits in their typical configuration. I’m sure I’ll get somebody who’s a fan of these units knocking me for the comment but the harsh reality is the usefulness of their video distribution capabilities is now becoming very limited for the reasons described above, and not enough emphasis is being put on the importance of twisted pair cabling.
 
Many of their units still only include 8 way patch panels which are nowhere near enough ports, even for a small house. Twisted pair cabling has become a solution for phone, data and video distribution and you have to remember that cable you are running in a house now is about future proofing your house, not just meeting today’s requirements.
 
The wall mount cabinets that all of these companies make however are nice and make an ideal wall cabinet for mounting your own hardware and I would recommend buying one of these cabinets and buying a 16 or 24 port patch panel to fit inside it, along with one of their telephone distribution modules which are compact and can be jumpered directly across to your patch panel using a Krone 110 to RJ45 cable. I have chosen to go down the path of installing a regular 19" patch panel mounted to the wall which also allows for installing a 19" switch below it which is an identical setup to my own house.

One great thing that most of these companies also sell are IR modules for sending IR signals from your remote control to other devices around the house, this allows you to control your DVD player or set top box. These also run over Cat5e cable so just remember - you can never have too much cable in your house!

 

What about VoIP?

 

VoIP isn’t just a buzzword, it’s the future of telephony. A lot of people still don’t realize that within a few short years that Telecom’s planned NGN network is going to fully replace their existing PSTN network and existing phone exchanges and that every phonecall will be using VoIP technology.

 

If you’re a TelstraClear InHouse customer in Wellington, Christchurch or Kapiti you’ve always been able to use their cable modem service for internet and not require a standard phoneline.
 
If you’re a Telecom customer it’s always been a requirement to have a phoneline to be able to have an ADSL broadband connection. This means you have to pay approximately $45 per month for something you may not use. Naked ADSL is now available and means you can sign up for ADSL broadband and not require a Telecom phoneline – you can use a VoIP provider for all your telephone calls.
 
There are two ways to move to a VoIP connection – buy new VoIP phones to replace your existing phones (around $150 minimum per phone) or buy a router or ATA (analogue telephone adapter) that allows you to keep all of your existing phones. True VoIP phones such as the Linksys SPA922 or SPA942 are simply hooked up to your home network and connect to your VoIP provider over the internet whereas an ATA such as a Linksys PAP2T or SPA2102 connects to the VoIP provider over the internet and converts the call and allows you to plug a standard phone into the unit. If you’re using an ATA or router and a structured cabling system you can install this unit in your cabling cabinet and simply patch the outputs into your patch panel.
 
The only downside with VoIP connections is that if your power goes out you also lose your broadband and phone connection so it’s not a bad idea to allow space near your cabinet to install a small UPS which can run your router and ATA will insure you’re still able to make phonecalls during a power cut.

  

Hopefully this has given people a few ideas when it comes to cabling their house. I do want to emphasise however that I don’t do cabling as a day job and I’m sure there may be plenty of other tips that people have (and probably a few people who disagree with me!). If you've got any questions about wiring your own house feel free to post in the Geekzone Forums as there are plenty of people on the sight with a lot of knowledge that will be happy to help you or offer advice.

 

Check back for Part III when I show you how to finish the wiring in the house.

  



Why Fairfax can't be trusted to supply accurate news.

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 26-Feb-2008 18:50

Yet again Fairfax have shown how poor their journalists/editorial staff/sub editors/online editors are by yet again creating misleading headlines.

Today Stuff features with a story entitled "111 failure: Police weren't sent to knife-point robbery"

Maybe somebody would like to tell me where the 111 service actually failed? The 111 service worked perfectly, the 111 call was answered by Telecom and then transferred through to the Northcom which is a joint Police/NZFS Communications Centre in Auckland.

These communications centres are not the 111 service.

No failure occured with the 111 service and in this situation the 111 service performed exactly as it's supposed to.

The headline should have read "Police Communications Centre Failure - Police weren't sent to knife-point robbery"

How many times do the media need to have this explained to them before they're capable of grasping such a simple concept? It's an error that they've made numerous times in the past and still continue to make.



Yet again.. BP rips off kiwi motorists

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 21-Feb-2008 08:43

In keeping with their market strategy of ensuring that kiwi motorists pay as much as possible for their fuel BP lead the market by raising petrol prices 4c per litre yesterday afternoon. This was a decision made without hours of the price of oil breaking through the US$100 mark for a barrel of crude. As of this morning no other fuel company has raised their price or made any announcement in regards to price movements.

BP have been the price leaders for some time now, every petrol price increase in the NZ marketplace over the past 15 months has been lead by them and they have not been the first to drop fuel on a single occasion. BP do not deserve the support of Kiwi motorists and I encourage people to look elsewhere for their fuel requirements. If you're in Auckland I recommend visiting Gull, a privately owned company who have had the way on many occasions. If you're elsewhere in the country then you're stuck with the other major chains but it's worth remembering that Shell have lead the way with price reductions over the past few years.




Joikuspot - turn your Nokia S60 device into a WiFi Access Point

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 6-Feb-2008 15:22



While surfing the interw3b this morning I came across this very cool new Symbian S60 application. Once installed it allows your phone to act as a WiFi hotspot sharing it's GPRS/3G data connection via WiFi.

Now you might think this is nothing special but if you have an iPod Touch, PDA or laptop that has WiFi built it it allows you to connect to the internet when you're not within range of a WiFi network. WiFi is also significantly faster than Bluetooth for data transfers so if you're somebody who connects their laptop to their phone via Bluetooth there could be significant speed increases moving to WiFi.

This software is only very new and currently lacks any security which means your WiFi connection is wide open for anybody to leach but certainly shows a lot of potential!


www.joikuspot.com



A beginners guide to DIY structured cabling in a new house - Part I

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 4-Feb-2008 20:57

There has been quite a bit of discussion on Geekzone lately discussing structured cabling for voice, data & TV. There is a great thread here that talks about home wiring with GZ's resident expert cyril7 providing some great advice on the topic. As my family are currently building a new house (that is for sale if you're after a place in Lower Hutt!) I thought I'd give a quick DIY guide for anybody who's looking at options for a new house or renovating an existing one. 

Now I must confess that I am no expert when it comes to wiring and I don't do this for a day job! I'm sure there are probably a few others out there who can probably give me a few tips or advice and correct me on some things! :-)

So why install a structured cabling system? My answer? Why would you not install a structuctured cabling system! Telecom have recommended now for several years that all new houses be wired with a minimum of cat5e cable in a star configuration back to central point to replace the conventional method of running phone cabling in series between jackpoints. There are still a surprising number of "experts" in the trade who are still stuck in the dark ages and continue to stick to this but the reality is no new home should be wired like this any longer.
 
With multiple phones, multiple internet connected PC's and cable or satellite TV now the norm in many homes a structured cabling system is a logical approach and also doesn't need to cost the earth - for an average new house the cost of an entire fitout consisting of cable (cat 5e and RG6), patch panel, and all sockets shouldn't cost you more than $500. Right now wireless is still nowhere near as fast as Ethernet for computer networking and cat5e cable can also carry a myriad of signals ranging from phone, ethernet right through to component video and HDMI with appropiate baluns. With the VoIP era also about to approach you've got to be crazy to not be prepared while you have the opportunity!

This is a 3 bedroom house with open plan kitchen and lounge with a semi detached dining room which could easily be used as a study or kids play area or converted into a bedroom. My plan has been to use 12 cat5e jackpoints around the house and F connectors for RG6 for TV in all rooms. This is all run back to a 16 way patch panel in a hallway cupboard. The lounge has 3 RG6 sockets allowing for a terrestrial aerial, satellite dish and a return feed so the output from your STB can be viewed on any other TV in the house.

Master bedroom: TV + dual RJ45 + single RJ45 next to bed for a phone
Bedroom 1: TV + dual RJ45
Bedroom 2: TV + dual RJ45
Dining/Study: TV + dual RJ45
Kitchen: Single RJ45 for phone
Lounge: TV + dual RJ45

The choice of a 16 way patch panel allows 12 sockets wired back to jackpoints with the last 4 jumpered back to the incoming phoneline so they can be patched as required. The incoming phoneline is terminated in a standard jackpoint on the wall (which also serves as a test point as required by Telepermit regs) and this is then connected to port 16 on the patch panel and jumpered across to 15,14 and 13.

This house will have TelstraClear cable service provided to it so there is no provision for a central ADSL line splitter however this could obviously easily be retrofitted if needed. If you're like most of the country and rely on ADSL for your broadband this is something you will want to factor in as it's so much simpler and tidier than requiring filters on every jackpoint that will have a phone on it.

This layout is probably about the bare minimum you would want to install in a house, it's certainly much cheaper to run extra cable when a house is being built than later on wish that you had done it so! 

Choose a logical place to wire all your cable back to. A garage makes a great place but a hallway cupboard is really your only choice if you don't have an internal access garage. Remember to also install a power point nearby as you'll need this for your modem/switch and things such as a VoIP ATA. A wall mounted rack cabinet makes things look nice and tidy if you have space and remember that you may want to have your network running off a small UPS since they are so cheap these days so factor options such as this in when you're working out the dimensions.


So on with the pictures. First up is a quick view of the inside of the house with most of the electrical wiring now done.







Use 25mm drill bits for all wiring holes. Be wary of any structural walls if you're drilling multiple holes in the same beams - ask a builder for advice if you're unsure. Also remember that flush boxes need to be flush - if they stick out you'll have trouble attaching the jib to the wall. Also try and avoid running cable near power, if at all possible try and stay a minimum of 200mm away with the main cable runs. Running plugs on the opposite side of a stud is an easy way to keep cables seperate at the jackpoints. If you do need to cross power cables (and there are times where this can't easily be avoided) ensure the cables cross at right angles and do not run parallel to each other.






Use electrical tape to bundle cat5e cable together. While solid cable is fairly robust it is not invincible. Do not staple this cable or run it at extreme angles. Cable ties stapled to beams are a good way of attaching cable but again do not tighten these up fully as it could easily damage the cable.




Cable all running back to the hallway cupboard. RG6 coax and alarm cable is still to be run back to this same wall.







Well that's about it for part 1 - I'll update this as the work proceeds.



Unlimited Potential New Year Party

By Steve Biddle, in , posted: 22-Jan-2008 09:44

If you're in Wellington on the 30th January how about popping along to the Unlimited Potential event that is on? You'll get the chance to hear Mauricio along with several other bloggers talk about their predictions for 2008!

To finish the night off there is always fre beer and pizza. What more can you ask for? :-)

http://www.up.org.nz/predictions-2008/



sbiddle's profile

Steve Biddle
Wellington
New Zealand


I'm an engineer who loves building solutions to solve problems.


I also love sharing my views and analysis of the tech world on this blog, along with the odd story about aviation and the travel industry.

My interests and skillset include:

*VoIP (Voice over IP). I work with various brands of hardware and PBX's on a daily basis
  -Asterisk (incl PiaF, FreePBX, Elastix)
  -Polycom
  -Cisco
  -Linksys
  -Patton
  -Zyxel
  -Snom
  -Sangoma
  -Audiocodes

*Telecommunications/Broadband
  -xDSL deployments
  -WiMAX
  -GSM/WCDMA
  -WiFi

*Structured cabling
  -Home/office cabling
  -Phone & Data

*Computer networking
  -Mikrotik hardware
  -WAN/LAN solutions

*Wireless solutions
  -Motel/Hotel hotspot deployments
  -Outdoor wireless deployments, both small and large scale
  -Temporary wireless deployments
   
*CCTV solutions
  -Analogue and IP

I'm an #avgeek who loves to travel the world (preferably in seat 1A) and stay in nice hotels.


+My views do no represent my employer. I'm sure they'll be happy to give their own if you ask them.


You can contact me here or by email at stevenbiddle@gmail.com

twitter.com/stevebiddle