Gerrard – Best Ever?

Please don’t get me started on whether a player (of any club) is the best player ever to grace the the shirt of (insert your team here…)

For me, it’s impossible to draw comparisons. And that’s in any sport. Jack Nicklaus vs Tiger Woods in golf for example. The game has evolved. Looking at LFC specifically, I’ve seen some magnificent players throughout my years watching games at Anfield. But each “best” player, was the best of that period, playing other teams from that period. I doubt that some of the legends of the 70/80’s would be able to keep up with the fitness levels and pace of the game today. The reverse is true, I couldn’t imagine some of the players today being able to play on the rain sodden mud pitches with the old laced footballs of yesteryear. It was a different game then. You need to compare like with like.

I look at it differently, if you were to grade all the players of any team on the standards at the time on a scale of one to five, on the basis that only the real legends made it to category one, then Gerrard most certainly fits into that category along with many other Liverpool greats. But that doesn’t make him *the* greatest.

In my view, he’s timed his LFC retirement well, it’s far better to go out as close to the top as possible. Arguably, that could have been at the end of last season, but at least this way he can soak up the atmosphere of his remaining games and let the crowd show their appreciation of his efforts over the years.

I’m sure we’ll see him back at some point at Liverpool, but I suspect now he realises he’s not quite the player he needs to be to maintain the exceptionally high standards required to compete at the top level of the Premiership. He’s still got plenty left in the tank to make a huge impression at another (none English) club before he finally hangs his boots up.

Thanks for all the memories Stevie, there have been some very good ones, and I suspect there may be some more to come 🙂

 

Back on air…

A few months back we had a change around of rooms. The result was that my office / shack moved to an upstairs bedroom. No problem with that in itself. What was an issue, was that all the aerials for my amateur radio activities remained routed to the old shack.

Finally, after a delay that’s been too long, and entirely my fault, I’ve managed to rectify the problem. For a short term fix until I know what plans I have for which bands I want to concentrate on, I’ve simply installed a couple of coax patch cables from the old shack to the new one. It does mean I have to manually decide which aerials to patch through, but at least I’m now back on air.

I suspect it’s likely I may appear in some of the “Tuesday” VHF contests from time to time, and also endeavour to see what I can do on 5MHz.

At least it’s a start!

M.

More on FTTC in Churchtown Southport

Is it really that long since I posted something? Abject failure on my part! 4 out of 10, could do better is something I recall from my junior school report days. Seems things haven’t changed. Maybe a New Year Resolution? No, sod that.

Just a quick update on the posts from earlier this year about “Something is coming”.

In short, at least for me, it’s still coming, and as ever, it’s delayed again. As far as I can tell only one of the highlighted cabinets is now offering fibre broadband. P12 (Roe Lane). While two other cabinets have been installed, according to the BT availability checker, even after three months they’re still not accepting orders.

What I have found, is a site that (finally) appears to show the plans for fibre across Merseyside. Ok, I acknowledge Merseyside doesn’t actually exist, and I abhor its very name, but if you are looking for details on what’s available, or what’s planned in any area from Liverpool up to and including Southport, the Merseyside Connected website is a very good place to start. Consult out their Postcode Checker. Sadly, my postcode was “Planned” for 2014. Given the activity around the cabinet in May, I kind of assumed that target was very achievable. In fact more than likely would be easily beaten. Wrong.

Some weeks ago, the planned date changed to “First half 2015”. Being the eternal pessimist, and given their (BT OpenReach) track record, that’s late June 2015. Another 6 month delay. Over the last couple of weeks, it’s now stating “End of March 2015”. So who knows? I think I’m destined for several more months at snails pace. Time will tell.

What I find strange is that I pay top dollar for a “premium service” from one of the better suppliers. With line rental, and 10MB/s download I shell out nearly £75 a month. Sure, it just works, I’ve absolutely no issue with Zen, in comparison to other so called “service” providers they are a class apart. But when FTTC becomes available it’s likely my bill will reduce by around 25 to 30 quid a month. So cheaper for a faster service. How the hell does that work?

Anyhow, for now, signing off.

Yours truly in the slow lane….

Something is coming….

As most of you are probably all too painfully aware, I was more than a little miffed when BT decided to pass us by a couple of years back in the roll out of Fibre to the Cabinet (FTCC). I even wrote about it here.

Since then, despite letters to the council, BT themselves, and numerous phone calls to anyone I thought may be able to help, the situation has remained the same. Watching others hurtle past in the fast lane with all their flashy sports cars, while I dawdled along in the slow lane in the equivalent of a Morris Minor. And before you start, I happen to quite like Morris Minors. There was no sign of any positive news, other than the government statement that it had asked BT to improve their efforts to bring the nation up to speed, and that it should all more or less happen by the end of 2015. That was until now.

A few days ago, a trusted colleague, who is aware of my plight, called me while I was abroad with work. He told me he’d seen a couple of BT OpenReach vans down his road, and more importantly, they had a large roll of fibre with them. Being of inquisitive nature, he asked what they were up to, and in short, got told there was a “push” on to get the remainder of the area cabled up for fibre. Needless to say, at this point I got rather excited. I asked if he could enquire about my now famous cabinet 39, and if that was on the list, but their job sheet for the day didn’t have it on. Either way, it was a very positive sign. A couple of days later, another sighting at a different location, but still in the (local) area.

The cabinets in our area that thus far have not been enabled, don’t have (not surprisingly) the extra fibre cabinet located next to or close to the existing one. My thoughts were that if the fibre was being laid to the existing cabinets and “capped off”, and there genuinely was a push on to get FTTC deployed in full, I should soon start to see the fitters deploying the new cabinets sooner rather than later.

Fast forward, to my run this morning. What do I see as I turn the corner and run past “PCP 39”?

PCP39

Joy! A few meters from the existing cabinet, markings as to where a new cabinet is to be installed. As to when? I’ve no idea, but it’s clear to me something is now very much happening. Flushed with this news, I decided to have a look around at some of the other cabinets in the area in need of fibre.

People of Roe Lane / Hesketh Drive (P12), you’re in luck.

P12

And for those in Bankfield Lane (P4) you too.

P4

Not forgetting the souls of Ferryside Lane and surrounding areas (P36)

P40

And the happy people of Moss Lane (P37)

P37

I’m afraid I didn’t have time to travel up to Banks and near the Riverside, so if your line hangs off P34, P38 or P43, I can’t tell you the latest.

But the bad news, P33 (Elswick Rd) and P40 (Merepark Drive) don’t (as yet) show any signs of progress.

M.

 

 

 

A few thoughts on the UK’s mobile operators

Some weeks ago, a report was published that at the time, attracted quite a lot of attention. It was headlined the “UK’s most comprehensive tests of mobile networks”, so given my interests, I decided to give it a good read through.

The BBC reported it here, while the original direct from RootMetrics can be seen here.

I’ve always (probably incorrectly), thought I have a fairly decent knowledge of the pros and cons of the mobile networks, so was interested to see how my view compared to this survey. Sure, everyone has their view, but for me the decision as to which operator you choose has to be a balance of cost versus performance, and that the definition of “performance” for one user can be different to another.

In years gone by, the big two, O2 (Cellnet as was) and Vodafone always had the better coverage, they had more frequencies to go at, more masts and had been building their networks for many years before the other operators even got started. Then along came Orange and OneToOne (soon to be T-Mobile) who built networks from scratch primarily on 1800MHz. Finally, “3” launched after all the operators had paid an absolute fortune for their 3G licences.

Once all the operators were in place, I’d still argue, that the best choice was still likely to be O2 or Vodafone, since at the time they continued to have the better coverage. And by that I mean in remote or rural areas, you’d probably be able to pick up a signal from the big two, whereas there was little chance from one of the “new” players.

Now, that’s all changed. What I’ve experienced is that Vodafone (as the report finds), has indeed the worst performance of the UK networks, and by some distance. For example, where I live, a mast has been promised for the last three years, but still nothing. In my house I can’t even get a 2G signal, let alone 3G or god forbid 4G/LTE. Driving around it’s a similar story. Sure, in the big cities they just about put up a fight, but outside of that you’ll find many areas where if you’re wanting to use your phone for data, the best you’ll get is a 2G signal.

My wife, and the rest of the family are on O2. While this is a little better, at least in and around where I live, it’s still not great. Coverage can be patchy, but at least they’ve more masts than Vodafone so you at least get a chance of a connection. So, I’d agree with the survey, the worst two are indeed now the old big two providers.

What has surprised me is how well the networks of the other operators have improved. Sure, there’s been a lot of network sharing to the point you may not even know who’s bit of the network you’re actually on (Three share their 3G network with what was T-Mobile), and T-Mobile were taken over my Orange to form “EE” who are all talking about how to share each other’s networks, but the net result is that if you’re with EE, Orange, T-Mobile or Three, there’s a pretty good chance you’re likely to be better off.

So, let’s lump Orange and T-Mobile together into EE (which is what they are now), how do you decide between them and Three? Tough one. But I think the survey has it right. For out and out coverage, EE is the answer. Simply because at least for now, Three only have a 3G network (with 4G rolling out), but no 2G network. They used to have a fall back roaming arrangement initially with O2, then with Orange, but that no longer exists. The result, is that if you were out in the sticks somewhere, due to 2100MHz not handling distance well, you could end up out of coverage.

If you’re basing your choice on data speed, then it’s still EE, simply because they have more 4G today than anyone else. If you’re looking for the quality and speed of the network, then, in my view it’s Three. While a lot of it is only 3G, it’s damned good 3G with consistently high throughput.

So, in summary, there’s nothing I disagree with in the survey. I think it’s an excellent piece of work that reflects the current situation. Operators continue to change, so what’s right today, could be totally different within a few months. But if I were signing up for a new contract today, it’d be a tough choice between Three and EE. I like the unlimited data tariffs of Three, their network quality I believe is better than EE’s but EE do have better coverage. Your choice 🙂

M.

Liverpool FC’s Renaissance

Over recent years, other than several significant Cup wins, Liverpool’s record in the Premiership, or the old League Division One as I still like to call it, hasn’t been great. Specifically, they’ve not won it since the 89/90 season.

I am lucky enough to have experienced the “glory years” as some call it, where winning the league, was almost taken as a given, and if we didn’t win, second was more or less a safe bet. Since then of course, things have been a little different.

While there have been several false dawns, the current squad, under Brendan Rodgers, and more specifically the way he has the team playing, is certainly bringing back memories of how the Liverpool teams of old used to approach games. And I’m rather liking it.

A top four finish this year was my hope. Beyond that, maybe in a couple of years or so, with a handful of games to go, if there was technically a chance we could be in the mix for the title, I’d take that as a huge leap forward. Well it appears we are already there. If Utd beat City this week, and Liverpool win all their remaining games, we’ll be Champions. Do I think it’ll happen? Almost certainly not, but to get this close, and to see the way we’re playing, gives me great confidence for the years ahead.

I’ll subscribe to Rodger’s “only focussing on the next game” approach, but I’m sure there are many supporters who are already daring to dream?

Happy days….

M.

 

Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC)

So, while I’m on my hobby horse, one other thing to mention. The deployment of “Super Fast Broadband”.

There’s a government target of 90% of all UK households to have Super Fast Broadband by the end of 2015. Super Fast means in excess of 24Mbps. Well at least there was. According to this piece by PCPro magazine, that’s increased to 95% by 2017 and is now 99% by 2018. Although they’ve now allowed that to be achieved by wireless too.

Trawl the internet and you’ll find countless stories detailing how we’re falling behind on these targets, here are just some:-

There are plenty more too if you want to take a look, but I think the last article by Rory Cellan-Jones sums things up rather nicely.

So where’s it going wrong? Well take my local exchange for example. Churchtown in Southport. If you go onto any ISP’s site and do an availability check to see if Fibre to the Cabinet is available (read Super Fast Broadband) from this exchange, you’ll get a resounding yes. In fact check it from the horse’s mouth, BT Openreach. This link downloads the latest list of exchanges that are “accepting orders”, you’ll find Churchtown on there. However using information provided by the excellent site at Code Lock, you’ll see that the exchange appears to have 43 cabinets feeding into it. Of those 43, 12 have not been provisioned for FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet). If you look at the details of these 12, there are two common themes that crop up. One, is that they all “serve” a far lower number of postcodes than those that have been enabled, and two, that even where the number of postcodes served is relatively high, local knowledge tells me (looking at the “coverage” maps of each cabinet), that the populus in those postcodes won’t be very high.

What does this mean? I can only assume, that in an effort to get to the target levels BT Openreach are prioritising solely based on how quickly they can ramp up availability. I guess a sort of 80/20 rule. By “hitting” 80% of the cabinets (with the most subscribers) off an exchange you get the biggest coverage. I suppose if I was incented to reach coverage targets, I may be inclined to do exactly the same?

All this means is that the teams that were deployed here a couple of years ago to provision those high utilisation cabinets, are, at some point, all going to have to come back to eventually finish the rest. Surely that can’t be cost effective? If you’re here doing some, why not do them all?

So what about my plight? Well if I look at the cabinets still to be provisioned, and you assume the priority is based on how many post codes are served by a cabinet, of the 12 remaining, I’m in flat last position. Only five post codes served from my cabinet (P39). So by the news clips above I can (presumably) safely assume that it’ll be 2018 before I finally have the option to order Super Fast Broadband. Six years after my exchange was enabled for it. No doubt by which time, technology will have moved on to the point where today’s “Super Fast Broadband” will already be a couple of generations behind whatever will be the new standard then.

There’s now a site where you can register your Super Fast Broadband “Not Spot”. It’s run by INCA. Click here to register yours if you find yourself in a similar position as me!

Looks like I’m confined to a life in the slow lane. Bah.

M.

UK ISP’s – What’s going on?

I’m afraid this post may appear as a bit of a rant. I won’t disagree I’m annoyed with what’s gone on with my internet, the way it was sold and, at least initially, the way the whole “complaint” was handled, but now that my parting with TalkTalk Business is arranged, it’s led me to think more deeply about how broadband is sold and operated in the UK.

For now, let’s keep Fibre to the Cabinet out of the equation, it’s a different animal, and at least for me, subject of another rant, I still can’t get it since BT Openreach have decided that by some criteria my cabinet in not to be upgraded. At least for now.

So, my requirement? From the outset, I’m happy to pay a premium for a better service. And by better, I mean one that has at least some guarenteed levels of service during the evening and weekends when the whole world is streaming, torrenting, gaming etc. In the past, this has always meant signing up for a “business” service. And that usually meant being physically connected to different hardware in the exchange. Hardware that was 20:1 contended as opposed to 50:1 contended. The result was that yes, in the evening, the service certainly did degrade, but it was still usable.

Every ISP I’ve been with (bar Sky since they don’t do it), I’ve always paid top dollar for a better service. I was with Plusnet for ages, but after many years, I had a problem that meant I was left disconnected for serveral hours at a time. Even they acknowledged the only way to get that fixed was to shift provider and get onto a different dslam. That worked, I switched to Sky, my connection remained solid, but because Sky are Sky, they don’t support a static IP address, plus, even though it was sold as ADSL2+, my upload never got above 500kbps. Previously with Plusnet I’d been getting 1Mbps. So Sky got binned, and I moved to BE broadband. Again the best service they had. I’ve nothing but good things to say about BE. I don’t ever recall having an issue. A very reliable service, 10Mbps / 1Mbps, good enough in the evening, and static IP address too. Life was good. Until Sky took them over and made it clear they’d close them down and move everyone to Sky.

No way I was going to back to Sky, so I had to move elsewhere. In the end, I plumped for BT Business broadband. I guess it was sort of ok, but nowhere near as good as BE. My speed gradually fell to around 6Mbps / 600kbps, and at times the service in the evening was poor.Their hardware, the BT home hub was possibly the worst piece of kit I’ve ever had the misfortune to work with. Totally unconfigurable, dumbed down. Its DNS cache server which you got no choice but to use, frequently fell over rendering my entire network unusable. So, hardware was replaced with Netgear, and things improved, but still issues in the evening. Plus, BTwere not cheap. At all. I felt I wasn’t getting value for money.

At this point, I turned to TalkTalk business. The switch was painless, the price, £25 a month for both broadband and phone seemed particularly attractive. And during the day, I couldn’t fault their service at all. However, in the evenings, it’s a completly different story. In short, it’s unusable. I had three conversations with their tech support, and all told me the same thing. Something I found particulary disturbing. And that is that as a “Business” customer, you only get prioritised during business hours. Out of business hours, you’re in the pool with everyone else. To me, that’s not Business Broadband. If I’m paying for business, I expect it 24/7. I’m sensible enough to know that during the evening, things will slow down, but the service should be still usable. I don’t expect to get my service de-prioritised at 5pm.

At that point, I knew my relationship with TalkTalk would be short lived. Less than two weeks to be honest. After having raised a formal complaint, I got agreement on a termination fee that wasn’t the full value of the twelve month contract. I’ve already signed up with Zen Business Office, here’s hoping it’s a good as the reviews at Think BroadBand. I hope it’s going to deliver what I expect. Sure, it’s expensive, but I don’t care if it works.

But I then thought a little deeper. And it now appears that “things” are managed differently. Apparently contention ratios are a thing of the past. Even BT state that everyone is in the same pool. BT explain it here. So how do you “buy” yourself a better service? Lord knows. If Zen doesn’t work out, I’m really getting to the point of thinking, if the service you get delivered is so buttock clenchingly piss poor, regardless of what you pay, you may as well pay as little as possible?

We’ll see.

M.

Africa

Well I’m back after a couple of weeks in Africa. Kenya and South Africa to be precise. First time in Kenya, and what a great place. Since I was (obviously) there with work, there was very little time to get around, but did manage to explore around the hotel in Nairobi. The Westlands Shopping Mall was only a short walk away, although since the sad events of last September, it’s closed now. The temperature and climate, at least for me, were near enough perfect. Not too hot, and thoroughly bearable. As for food, there’s a strong Indian connection which suited my tastes perfectly 🙂

The hotel was damned expensive, but food and drink not too bad. If there’s a next time, I may see if it’s possible to squeeze in some of the regular tourist things that go with Kenya, although at the moment, the next visit is more likely to be Nigeria.

M.

Quarter 4 2013 running summary…

Rather than spamming my twitter feed with constant updates on where, when and how long I’m out running, I’m going to try and provide a monthly and quaterly update on how many miles I’ve covered.

Since I started my running back mid 2011, I’ve now covered in excess of 2,500 miles. As some of you may know, my job can take me abroad quite a lot, so I’ve been lucky enough to be able to run in some pretty cool places. When that’s not possbile (or safe), a gym treadmill has to suffice.

So, the results are in, for October, November and December 2013 I clocked up 282 miles, which averages out at 94 miles a month, a little under my target of 100. Must do better in 2014! That said, in order to preserve the old knees, I’ve also started swimming a fair bit. Each day is likely to be a swim or a run, with probably one day a week off. Current “normal” run is 7 miles and usual swim is 1 mile.

Here’s to an active 2014!

M.