Getting Internet over FTTH (optics) isn't that easy, oh no, it is an adventure

Amazingly, Slovene national ISP Telekom (recently SIOL, my original ISP, was merged with Telekom) has really fulfilled the promise to bring fiber optics to my home. Actually, the infrastructure (cable) has been outside my doors for a month or so now. In the middle of the month I was wondering when I can get a connection already - FTTH 6Mb/6Mb would be of great benefit over ADSL2 2Mb/384Kb to me. So I called ISP's sales center. The operator said that they are sending letters (not e-mails) to subscribers and once I get the letter I can upgrade (I am already on their ADSL2). I got the letter in a couple of days and I phoned them again asking, hey connect me. The operator (new one) said - we have to check whether you can get optics at all. After telling him that I sure can, since cable is right outside the doors, he told me that they are not connecting customers yet and that I should call later next month (May). Oh well, but the story doesn't end here. Next day I was reading their forum and I saw a post from a guy saying that Telekom has already connected a bunch of customers in my city. I even found the news on the website that "first seven customers has been connected" and that they actually started fulfilling the promise. Go wonder. Of course I phoned the sales operator again (yet another one) who told me to apply for connection through their website and if anything goes wrong, I should call their support operator. So I went, filled a ton of data and clicked finish - just to get an exception of server error. This time I phones support and the guy I got told me that he can't help me as he can't even come close to this application of theirs and that I should call sales. See - I am already being pushed in recursion. OK, so I called sales and a new operator told me that they are experiencing problems with this application (which seems being used by them, too) and I should call them in an hour or so. Of course the application wasn't working for a couple of days and a bunch of different sales operators told me to call later because they have no idea what's wrong. Only after n-th call I got a sales operator that almost yelled at me: "What do you want? We are not selling optics yet, go away and return after we announce we are selling optics! And those seven guys who were connected were testers". Yet, they have an application in place that lets you apply for optics (but it throws a seemingly unrelated exception later on), they announced that they started connecting customers (note: there was no mentioning of test connections, no, it was explicitly stated that they were connecting subscribers), they have a price list in place and 80% of sales operators told me that I can apply, it is just the application that doesn't let me. And I can't even apply for optics right now.

The bottom line is no optics for now and I can't even apply for it. Perhaps in a month or less, who knows - apparently nobody. When it happens it happens. As for me, I have mixed feelings about optics: sure, the speed will be great, the stability should be better, the price should be lower but seeing how they are dealing with this makes me afraid of logical problems related. Needless to say, that my old ADSL2 modem needed a year of constant firmware upgrades to start working properly, at least more or less properly, IPTV has constant problems, IP phone quality is bad, etc. So I am bit in a dilemma whether to switch to optics right now, or wait for situation to stabilize (I guess the illogical part of me will prevail and I'll jump on optics bandwagon as soon it is available).

Should prime minister distinguish between web site, blog and forum?

In a recent publication of weekly Mladina I read an article that Slovene prime minister doesn't distinguish between web site, blog and forum (they quoted a question and his answer where it is more or less obvious). At the same time, the same prime minister is preaching that he and his government will lead Slovenia to be "one of the most successful countries of the world, on of the lighthouses of the 21st century". Leaving aside that this goal is totally ridiculous and one can't even laugh at it, one has to ask himself/herself: should a prime minister know the very very basics of the Internet? Even more so, if he is leading the country to be the most successful (whatever that means) on the earth. I think he should, we are in the 21st century after all.

WPF/E at work

I know I am bit late, but nevertheless, if you want to see a nice and cool example of WPF/E driven web pages then you must navigate to www.windowsvista.si. Even if the page(s) are in Slovene you should understand much of what you'll see.

NOTE: WPF/E February CTP is used. If you don't have it installed then click on the top icon on the front page to install it. After you have WPF/E on local machine you should click on one of the two bottom icons. Enjoy.

Is IP TV really a step forward?

Let me say that I've been an IP TV fan since its introduction a couple of years ago in my town. But now I have to say that I am really concerned with this stuff in general. Here is my negative side of experience:

  1. Problem with modem. When I got it the service was simple - more than hundred of channels and news from provider's web site. Yet the modem provider sold me had so huge problems - at the start it was freezing once per day. After hundred upgrades from provider (they can tamper with my modem/router and they do it even without telling the customers - one day you don't have a problem the next day you have a problem due to upgrade which you don't know it happen) it finally reached a state that one could call fairly stable. The modem in question is Sagem Fast 3344. My recommendation: stay away from this modem. Furthermore the rumor is that the modem we got was a part of shipment for Deutsche Telecom which rejected them as unusable and so they somehow got to my provider probably for free.
  2. You have to buy set top box (STB) and those aren't exactly cheap. My provider was giving (both modem and Amino 103 STB) for free if you sign a two year contract. This is worse that having them rented because you are on your own if it fails some day and you won't get it replaced with newer model.
  3. Amino 103 STB is the very low of the Amino offering - having only video output and stereo sound output. Since it is receiving a digital signal one would expect Dolby Digital 5.1 or something but, no. The device itself has one (1) red light which tells you whether it is connected to currency + it flashes when it is receiving remote control signals. That's it. No buttons. If your remote fails for some reason you can't turn it on, you can't change channels and you don't have a clue which channel it is streaming unless your TV is on. Why would you need to see the channel? Because there are radio stations on the list. And to listen (to switch) to the radio station you have to turn on the TV. Besides that Amino sometimes freezes or shows other weird behavior.
  4. MPEG Artifacts on the picture are often visible specially in fast moving scenes. And nobody know who the culprit is, well, nobody even cares that much besides the customer. I mean it could be a satellite receiving problem on the provider side, communication between provider and modem, modem problem, communication between modem and STB, STB problem. As one would expect there is no diagnostics whatsoever (exception is the modem which can tell you the line quality and the amount of packets dropped, etc.)
  5. Some channels work, some don't and some work sometimes. Do you get an explanation? No.
  6. Provider dependency - if your provider has problems or it decides to cut you out your are without TV for at least some time. If you have a problem you can call toll free support line, wait for 20 minutes to get a student that can't help you much anyway.
  7. A STB per TV you have to have a STB per television if you want to watch on more than one television set.
  8. No support for watching TV on computer. Currently you can watch using VLC application, yet it already happened that it stopped working for a day or two. So there is no guarantee that tomorrow you'll be able to see the picture on computer. Ah, and you need a second network card on the computer. The other option is to use a video input on your graphic card(wonderful one - convert from digital to analog to show on digital LCD) and of course, another STB to get the signal from.
  9. Recording. Oh, this is a big issue. Forget about recording your shows. So far there are two options. Either use your computer (see above) (you really want to leave your computer on and go through myriad of clicking and computer stuff just to record a show) or use set your STB to proper channel and use your classic VCR. The later is better but, but, you are running into problems if you want to record from more than one channel. Remember, lousy Amino can change channels only through remote control.
    My provider is preparing new service called personal recorder to record the shows. Sounds great, but: limits are 6 hours and each recording disappears into the void after 2 days. Great, if you are gone for more than two days forget it. Furthermore you have to set the recorder at least 15mins before the show. If you are watching a show and you want to record it to the end - forget it. Did I mention that service is not free? All in all the personal recorder is very much useless.
  10. Video on demand. This is another service that is being launched soon. Sounds great, but: you pay for movie and have 24hrs of time to watch it. Enough? Not for me. Imagine you start watching in the evening and suddenly you have to stop for whatever reason (kids, natural disaster, something else).  You can't watch it next day unless you get a day free and watch it in the morning. The picuture and sound quality is still a mystery. Furthermore movies aren't exactly cheap charged 2€ and the movie catalog is very thin full of all movies. I guess the quantity will improve slowly. Will I use VOD? Unless it changes - no, thanks.
  11. Games there are few games you can play. Simple classic games and the TV doesn't play when you are playing games. Who really needs these low level games in the era of hitech consoles is besides me.
  12. Picture in picture. Simply forget it.
  13. I certainly forgot some problems - I'll add it when they comes back to my memory...

I have started to think if IP TV is really an improvement over my old cable TV when you didn't need a STB - each TV has a tuner included and you can watch as many TVs your want each showing different channel for free. And you need to use a single remote control. And recording shows is so simple one could cry - fire up your VCR, make few clicks on remote and voila - any channel any time for as much time one wants. OK, you can't watch TV on your computer unless you use video/audio input on your graphic card but who watches TV on computer anyway? Since recording options on IP TV are none I would use computer as a (last resort) recorder, that's why I am concerned with watching IP TV on computer. Then cable TV service is much more reliable and picture has better quality (go figure). Perhaps the drawbacks are limit of the number of channels (around 40 vs unlimited on IP TV) and absence of electronic programming guide (EPG - at least I think there is still none on my cable TV - it is technically feasible though) but hey, I watch only max. 10 channels - others are junk.

Was I a naive when I switched to IP TV? Probably. I am aware of the potential of IP TV and was really hopping to see it in full glory. But it turned out that IP TV is two steps back in quality, ease of use, and much more expensive compared to cable TV. OK, there are some bright points (EPG, news) but then its other services are crap. Seems like IP TV is squeezed between a bad provider(s) and digital rights (who knows what's behind all of these problems) The near future is uncertain and doesn't look bright to me - even now, if you want VOD service you have to buy newer STB (not sure what happens if you want personal recorder). My provider SIOL, as all big companies, is completely ignoring customers, too. While they are making huge profits they aren't capable of delivering services that would actually work as one expects.

BTW as a test of IP TV ease of use, try teaching your mother to use it.

What do you think?

When Murphy kicks in on presentation

I had my worst presentation so far today. While Matjaž delivered his usual good talk I created a mess but it wasn't my fault. At least not a huge part of it. The plan was to show how a get-process cmdlet is quickly and easily built with Visual Studio 2005 and to show a simple SqlServerDBProvider in action.

To save time I fired up Visual Studio 2005 before presentation (it talks quite some seconds on my laptop), opened "Add Reference..." message box (it takes time to enumerate all assemblies if they aren't in cache), closed dialog and waited for my turn. After Matjaž introduced Power Shell I started creating get-proc cmdlet. I created a new class library process and renamed default Class1 class to GetProcCmdlet. So far so good. Next I typed : and a letter C (inheriting from Cmdlet class). Here the disaster struck. Visual Studio 2005 has frozen for some reason. To make it worse I was unable to kill it. To make it worse the second Visual Studio 2005 instance has frozen at same point, too. To make it worse I was unable to kill this instance, too. To make it worse I had to restart (hardware reset) Windows XP SP2. To make it worse it takes quite a lot time for Windows XP SP2 to boot up after so cruel restart. And when I finally managed to start up Visual Studio 2005 again I lost a couple of minutes in Add References... dialog. After this the demo went smoothly until the time for second demo came. Brutal restart affected the other demo somehow, too. And I lost again quite a lot time repairing and restarting second demo. At least Matjaž had some fun and an opportunity to poke jokes on developers.

Oh well, an experience to learn from.

I'll be co-presenting Windows Power Shell at SLOWUG

Tomorrow (Wednesday) I'll be co-presenting Windows Power Shell with Matjaž Ladava (MS dude) at Slovene Windows Users Group (SLOWUG). It will be quite a challenge talking about cmdlet development to a group of admins. I don't plan die-hard lessons, just a quick overview on how cmdlets and providers are built so they get an impression of what's behind all thos verb-nouns things and perhaps built easier ones on they own.

Is it now OK to do piracy in Slovenia?

On 20th of October 2006 the Slovene government imposed an act of self reproduction compensation reproduction for personal use. Actually I don't know the proper English term so I'll describe what it is about.

The government wants us to pay some sort of compensation (tax) for every amount of storage we buy to compensate the damage to the authors done by piracy. This tax is applicable for all sorts of media: CD, DVD, tapes(what's that?) and other. There is more, even devices are included: hard drives, CD/DVD drives, tape recorders, video recorders, photocopy machines, mobile phones(!!!) etc. The tax is valued as €0.033 (or $0.04) per gigabyte of storage (and by some other mean for devices that don't have storage).

I am sure that's beautiful for the authors (or for the greedy government?). However, what does it mean for an user

  1. that uses licensed software only: Great, I am just buying a new computer with 4x320Gb hard drives and a DVD drive. That roughly means 4*€320*0.033 + €0.8 =~ €43. I am using licensed software only and paying for a piracy compensation. Does this mean I can use pirated software now? I paid for its compensation afterall.
  2. that uses non-licensed software: User pays for piracy now - is the piracy legitimate now?

Every (stupid - isn't it a requirement for politicians?) politician here has full mouth of e-[everything]. According to them we are going to be the most advanced/developed e-country by 2023 or something, yet they can't care less in reality. I strongly doubt that they even understand what e- means - it sounds nice and attracts crowds though.

So, while they have full e-mouths they keep adding taxes to devices and storage media. Aren't they supposed to lower the tax pressure and as consequence the prices instead of adding taxes to legitimate users?

What is the next step? We could get a stupid politician damage compensation: we would pay a tax when we vote to compensate the citizens for the damage done by elected politicians.

Anyway, since I am an author of my applications I'll apply for compensation...

Windows Presentation Foundation PowerPoint slides available (Slovene)

Miha wearing medieval clothesYesterday I presented Windows Presentation Foundation. I was speaking in front of audience of about 150.  The whole event was using Columbus discovers America theme and we speakers were dressed accordingly - I suppose it was like a carnival.

If I take aside the funny outlook I have to say that it was a bit hot wearing additional medieval clothes. Anyway, the presentation was a bit overtime (ouch) because there are so many (good) things to say about Avalon WPF and there is never enough time just to explain the basics. I hope everybody had a good time.

Here is link to the slides (Slovene) and on the right is a photo taken with Qtek2020 PocketPC.

Are new passports safe?

There is an ongoing frenzy to implement new passports with biometric data and RFID capability. I won't even start discussing why this sucks big time. Recently there was a news in Slovenia that we are going manufacturing such passports, too. Hura for us. And involved ministers assured that such passwords can't be problematic even when dealing with hackers. Really? How can they be that sure?

http://www.itwire.com.au/content/view/5199/53/