International Networking–Philippines

Recently I’ve had to pleasure to travel internationally and connect to the Internet from the Philippines.

Initially I expected to have, at most, dial-up networking to a local service provider using a pay-as-you go type of plan. That is what my wife (who is from the Philippines) had before and I didn’t expect any changes.

However I was pleasantly surprised to find that her parents (or actually her family there) had a DSL connection.  It only had not been paid up-to-date.

Next was a wireless router to provide wireless connection.  I had earlier sent them a Netgear wireless router I no longer used (having moved to wireless-N) – however I forgot to include the power-adaptor (Doh!).  So when I went I took along the power-adaptor as well as a separate netgear wireless access point and it’s power adaptor – which was fortunate.

When I connected the wireless router I had sent earlier with the power adaptor I sent with me to what I thought (or ass-u-me-d) was a power converter to 110 it initially worked – until the power adaptor burned out.  The ‘power converter’ didn’t really convert to 120V but kept it at 220V – which promptly burned out the adaptor.

Luckily I had also brought the extra access point and it’s power adaptor (which was compatible with the router I had sent earlier.  I also had a power converter to convert 240V to the 120V which the adaptor expects.

Note that some power adaptors can handle 220V just fine.  The adaptor for my laptop for example handles 220V ok as does the battery recharge adaptors for both my wife’s digital camera and my own D7000 Nokia.  The power adaptor for my son’s leapster however is limited to 120V as is the power adaptor for their DL – and I had to keep an eye that my 5-year-old didn’t try running his leapster off the adaptor directly into household current.

However you may need to have a physical adaptor.  My notebook’s Power adaptor has the typical three-prong-plug we’ve come to expect in the USA.  The power outlets in the home we were staying in in the Philpppines contains the Philippine two-prog outlets (of equal size).  Even without the third prong for ground it would not fit because one of the flat prongs is larger than the other.  An inexpensive adaptor for the physical characteristics of the outlet (if not the voltage) did the trick.

OK so now I had the router running.  But the Internet connection was not working because the bill to the service provider had not been paid. So off my mother-in-law went to pay it off and get it reconnected.  That took two days.  Two days without network!  EEEEKKKK!

Finally getting the DSL working I then went in and configured the router to work with the DSL modem.  Once that was done voila – broadband access. 

Then it came out that the notebook my sister-in-law had left for dead (there) was working after all.  I had looked at it earlier (at home) and the power would not come on – or rather it would come on and then off. I figured it was the power supply or regulator on the laptop.  However it now appeared to work – but nobody had the login password.  So I ran the recovery utility to restore it to a pristine state (I had earlier already copied personal files she had on it to DVD’s using a separate computer.).  And now my nephew had a laptop he could use.  The webcam didn’t work and it wouldn’t properly come out of sleep (don’t know why) but it was functional….

… until about 2 days after it was imaged when it suddenly woudn’t allow any internet access. I finally figured out that the Norton protection trialware had disabled internet connectivity until it ws configured (I hate when that happens).  I knew that if I kept Norton on there it would do the same again in 15 days (but demand payment to a subscription this time) so I removed it and installed Microsoft Security Essentials.  Note that I don’t have anything against Norton – it’s just that I knew my in-laws wouldn’t have the 3,500 Philippine pesos to spare to pay for the subscription – so it’s freebe time.

So now we have broadband DSL in my in-laws house which I can access from the nearby house I am staying in.  It wasn’t as fast as what I was accustomed to but it was sufficient for my needs and a lot more than I expected.

The Dell Inspiron Duo

My Dell Inspiron Duo arrived a couple of months ago.

At first I liked it.  The flip multi-touch screen was handy and responsive.  The Dell Stage software sucked rocks but I expected that from the reviews.

I purchased a license for FrontFace by Mirabyte to replace the slow and unresponsive Dell Stage software which came with the notebook.  FrontFace sortof replaces the windows desktop with one of it’s own designed for tablets – with the large icons and selectables.  You can run all your windows applications in frontface.

It was when I tried to use the bluetooth that I starting having problems.  At first bluetooth wouldn’t work at all – or hap-hazardly.  Since the notebook only had a few ports (a single USB port, no RJ-45, etc…) having bluetooth was important.  However I was able to locate and download an updatted driver which finally got the bluetooth working consistantly.

The next problem was the wireless ethernet.  The Duo boasted Wireless-N which means speeds up to at least (in my opinion) 150Mb/s.  Actual speed was a mere 65Mb – which was very slow when I was hooking up to Wireless N which was, in turn, connected to a gigabit network.

To solve the problem I attempted all the ‘solutions’ in the book.  Checked for interference, distance (5 feet!), settings, etc…  A separate notebook, also with Wireless N, sitting right next to the DUO achieved 150Mb/s easily.

Please note that this has few external ports.  A single USB and that’s about it.  I didn’t want to have to use that single USB for a separate ethernet port (wireless or wired) or go through the bother of a HUB (which would need to be plugged in if I wanted powered devices).  And the low 65Mb bandwidth simply wasn’t satisfactory.

Could not get any assistance from Dell. The service tag (Dell-ish for ‘Serial Number’) seemed to be funky – I could not even enter a ticket on it. 

Phone support is useless to me.  Show someone a screen or error message over the phone.  Try pushing a configuration file through the phone’s pickup.

So third problem – no support.

As a result I returned the Duo back to Costco.  They were quite easy to work with and gave me my refund in cash (since Costco brick-and-motar stores don’t accept Mastercard they could not refund it that way).

After that I started looking for a new tablet again.

Just ordered a Dell Inspiron Duo Convertible

 

I’ve been thinking about ordering a new laptop / tablet for awhile now.  I wanted something to keep me ‘organized’.  I had the following qualifications:

  • Portable – small and light
  • Convertible into a tablet or a netbook  So I can enter information (like a posting) and / or use it as a reader in tablet mode.
  • Multitouch – for use when in tablet mode.  Plus I think ‘multi-touch’ and surface is going to be the future.
  • Wireless N Wifi – Fast wireless networking (why else would I have Wireless N in my house?)
  • Bluetooth – for communicating with devices, headsets, etc…
  • Reasonably priced

I’ve been using a older convertible netbook – a Toshiba Portege M200.  at 15” its not a bad laptop and tablet it required the use of a stylish while in tablet mode and I was always afraid of loosing the small, light, $30 pen.  Plus it did not have the ‘flick’ and ‘drag’ which is becoming so common.  Not to mention the fact that one of the USB ports physically ‘broke’ leaving me with a single USB port – usually used for the mouse because typing with the touchpad would find the cursor literally bouncing over the screen as my hands get to close to the touchpad and ‘tap’ it.  Reading a reference book in tablet mode was somewhat awkward. The unit is heavy and to scroll up and down you need to use the stylish.  Once I thought I had dropped the stylish on the bus never to be seen again.

Before the Toshiba I had (and still have) a Fujitsu tablet – even older.  But that had not keyboard which proved frustrating. I am hoping that a tablet I can ‘type’ on via touch with a keyboard would solve that problem.  I wonder of I can get OSX to run on it….

What did I get?  A Dell Inspiron Duo Convertible Tablet. 


Dell Inspiron Mini Duo
Key Features
  • Picture perfect. Experience superb visuals on the 10.1-inch HD multitouch display.
  • Converts to your needs. The unique flip-hinge design enables seamless transition between touch and type modes.
  • Your life at your fingertips. The intuitive touch screen and duo Stage software provide quick and easy access to your music, movies and photos.
  • Support for Adobe Flash. View your multimedia the way it was designed to be seen with the fully Flash-capable Inspiron duo.
  • See me, hear me. Stay connected to friends and family with the 1.3 MP Webcam5 and microphone.
Specifications
  • 10.1-inch high-definition display with 1366 x 768-pixel resolution for native HD 720p display and featuring a 16:9 aspect ratio that brings all your entertainment to life in stunning bright colors.
  • 1.5 GHz Intel Atom dual-core N550 processor (1 MB L2 cache, 667 MHz FSB) combines performance and energy efficiency to provide new levels of support for applications like games, as well as Adobe Flash technology for improved access to multimedia sites such as YouTube and Hulu.
  • 320 GB SATA hard drive (5400 RPM)
  • 2 GB installed DDR3 RAM (800 MHz)
  • Integrated Intel NM10 Express graphics with Microsoft DirectX 9.0 support.
  • Wireless-N Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n) for ultra-fast connectivity to home and business networks (plus backwards compatibility with older wireless routers).
  • Bluetooth connectivityenables you to communicate and synchronize wirelessly with Bluetooth-enabled peripherals such as printers and cell phones.
  • Comfortable keyboard that’s 92 percent the size of a standard laptop keyboard with curved keys for a comfortable fit. Also includes a new palm rest that helps resist fingerprints.
  • Stereo speaker with 2 watts of power
  • 1.3-megapixel webcam with digital array microphone

    Dell Inspiron Mini DuoDell Inspiron Mini Duo

    …with just a flip of the screen.

  • Windows 7 Home Premium makes it easy to create a home network and share all of your favorite photos, videos, and music. And you can watch shows for free when and where you want with Internet TV on Windows Media Center. Get the best entertainment experience with Windows 7 Home Premium.

Its portable but not too small.  Convertible from tablet to netbook.  Has a responsive multi-touch. 

Also I have a USB based Card reader and an USB based DVD drive already (which show how much loosing the second USB port on the toshiba really hurt.)

I had thought about an Android-based tablet.  But the ones I’ve seen were too limited in capacity – yes I think that 32Gb is just too small and had a only-touch interface.  I am confortable typing on a keyboard – I still might make the transisition to a ‘screen keyboard’ but not yet.

And it has Windows 7 Home Premium so will fit nicely with my home group at home.  Windows 7 is also supposed to be very ‘multi-touch’ friendly enabling all the ‘swipe’ and ‘flicks’ you could want.

Some may say “well it doesn’t have a lot of punch” to which I say it doesn’t have to have – If I want a lot of punch I have some pretty good ‘punchers’ at home.  In other words: Its not a desktop!  Its not a Laptop! It’s a netbook / tablet!

You wouldn’t want to play any high-graphics games on the little screen anyway.  Or do much hardcode development.

Wired had a scathing review of it – which mostly consisted of ‘It isn’t an Ipad!’.

So I ordered it at Costco for $499 (plus tax).  Costco also has an excellent 90 day return guarantee.

Will follow up this posting after it arrives.  With any luck posting from the Duo.

Gigabit Networking – At home

I recently upgraded my home wired ethernet network to a Gigabit network.    The reason was that I recently purchased a Wireless-N switch/access point and I thought – well 150 or 300Mb wireless speed is nice – but useless if it’s on a 100Mb ‘fast’ network.

So I get together a bunch of Gb switches.  Some netgear switches and a big Dell Managed switch to be the central HUB (Bought it on Ebay).   I setup the managed switch and use it to replace my old 100Mb main house switch and replace some of the remote switches with Netgear Gb switches.

Well first off not all the Gb switches would communicate with the main switch at Gb speed.  the standard cat5 cable between them was to long.   Now the CAT5 cable being used for these long runs was some I purchased at Costco for about $50 for 500’ and I’ll crimp on the end pieces myself using a crimper.   I hop back on Ebay and purchase a couple of 50’ length of CAT5e cable (enhanced) cable for these long runs.

Disaster!  OMG! No Internet!

Then came the snow when I found myself on a bus for 7 hours trying to get home (a trip which normally takes 1/2 hour). When I got home the home network was down – the central switch I bought on ebay had failed.  So I found myself scampering around to replace at least some of it.   I ended up moving my Asus switch/router (and the cable modem it was attached to) and using it to replace main switch to get at least some of the runs going.    The one to my office was critical (I was going to work at home the next day) and a couple others for the wife and TV.  As it was the ASUS router was also a Gb switch.  All this was sitting on a chair next to my little ‘cable closet’ behind the wall.

A couple of weeks go by and I start the project to replace the cables with the cat5E.  Remove a couple of ceiling panels running down the duct work in the basement and ran 2 nice red cat5e cables alongside the ductwork (perfect for a cable run) and at the end – one cable went up, through a hole in the ceiling under a built-in cabinet we were building for the new TV (if we ever finished it) – the other went down and out through an outlet.  I had thought about having a cat5 connector outlet at the wall but then decided to simply run the cable out the outlet to hang loose. I also connected a coax cable running to the Satellite dish to the outlet as well. 

When I was finished this outlet had a phone connection, 2 coax connections (Satellite and Cable) and a red CAT5e  cable coming out of it.  The cat5 cable is then connected to a gigabit switch (which uses it at gigabit speed now – whoo-hoo!), a blu-ray player, a computer (media), a Playstation (2), and a Voip phone device (which in turn is connected to a cordless phone base station).

Later I replaced added another gigabit switch to help replace the main ‘house’ switch.  My wife looked at the cable mess in my little ‘cable closet’ (an area behind the wall behind the furnace) and built in a couple of shelves in a little nook to hold (read: hide) all the equipment (switches, wireless, power strip, etc…) and we organized the cables.