Why I'm tweeting my speed test results every day – @virginmedia

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I’ve had slow speeds for well over a year now.  I’ve reported them to Virginmedia but unfortunately they are unable to help.  The reason being that there isn’t an actual fault with my hardware or my connection.

The reason I’ve been getting slow speeds is what Virginmedia call a utilisation fault.  A utilisation fault isn’t caused by faulty hardware or equipment, it is caused by signing up more customers than your network can support. Unfortunately this type of fault isn’t very easy to fix and requires investment in network infrastructure and bandwidth.

Virgin have assigned a fault reference to this problem (F002970318), presumably because they can give it to people like me who phone up wondering why they get nowhere near their promised speed.  I’ve been given a total of five dates for this to be fixed and it keeps getting pushed back, the date given now is mid-November, but I have no faith in Virginmedia to fix this problem.

What frustrates me even more are sales calls from Virgin offering me packages including 100Mb broadband.  If they can’t deliver 50Mb, there is little chance of delivering 100Mb or greater.  While this problem goes on Virgin media continue to sign up new customers who are oblivious to the fact that they will not get their promised line speed.

I’m told that Virgin can offer up to £7.50 a month rolling credit to those affected, which is little consolation to those getting speeds of 5Mb at peak times (or worse).  If you are in the Nottingham area then you will have to forget about connecting to the city of speed and accept that your connection will be subject to slow speeds until Virgin complete the investment that is long overdue.  You might also want to phone up customer service and ask for a discount, and share your connection speeds with others so that Virgin stop signing up customers with the promise of a service that they can’t deliver.

Feel free to get in touch if you are experiencing similar problems with your connection…

Six weeks with the Nexus 6

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Having spent over a year with a Nexus 5 I was itching for a new phone, something bigger (as the five inches of the Nexus 5 didn’t feel over-large) and had considered an iPhone 6+, a Samsung Note and a Nexus 6.  A month of dithering was cut short by the announcement that Google had dropped the price of the Nexus 6 to just over £300 so I bit the bullet and ordered.  This turned out to be a good move as the Nexus 6 has since returned to £479 on the Google store.

The first thing that struck me as I held it and tried to power it up was the sheer size of the beast.  It was remarkable difficult to hold in one hand and using it one handed seemed virtually impossible.  I’ve always been a user of phone cases to help with grip (and the protection makes a good backup to my accidental damage insurance) and I ordered a couple from Amazon.

Fortunately a case solved the slippery case problem and the phone felt safe and secure in my hand although it is now larger and slightly harder to slip into my pocket (I’m far too old for skinny jeans which would not accommodate the frame of the Nexus 6).

The screen in gorgeous and I soon got used to the size and quality of the display.  An extra row and column of icons on the homescreen have yet to be filled but the space is welcome when reading text in emails or social media.

Battery life is much improved over the Nexus 5 and I find I rarely have to charge the phone, even with bluetooth media playing and moderate use.  My Nexus 5 was usually dead by 3pm so having a USB charger in my office became a necessity.

Software on the phone is virtually the same as both are Google Nexus phones with stock Android and none of the nasty skins that plague the phones from other manufacturers.

Notifications are an area where the Nexus has lost some functionality with the removal of the Notification LED below the screen.  Together with the Lightflow app I could pick up my phone and know what notifications had come through without having to wake the phone (for example red light for GMail, green light for work emails).  This functionality has gone from the Nexus 6 but instead the screen does periodically wake and give a black & white display showing the lockscreen notifications.  Not quite as good but useful anyway.

Six weeks on and one handed use is still not easy but with practice and the excellent Google keyboard it is possible to send simple texts and status messages.  I don’t have the largest of hands but users with smaller hands will struggle with one-handed use.

Camera is excellent but the app is slow to load and slower still to focus.  I’m still hoping that software updates will improve this but unless you need to quickly capture a fleeting moment it is possible to live with this delay.  An example of the camera quality is shown below

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Another feature I find myself using is the always listening “OK Google” detection, although it took a couple of factory resets to get in working initially.  It isn’t a must-have feature or deal-breaker but again it’s useful to have there when you need it.

Six weeks in I love my Nexus 6 although I came very close to returning it initially as the size took some getting used to.  Of course now using the phone is second nature and I wouldn’t go back to my Nexus 5 (which feels like a toy phone in comparison)

Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or want to share your experience of using the Nexus.

Are you aware how much Google knows about you?

I like to think I’m quite technology minded.  I know that Google scans my inbox for spam/security and for advertising purposes.  I’ve opted to let Google keep a record of my internet searches in their web search history (note to the paranoid – they have this information anyway and could hand it over to the security services if required).  I know that Google Now looks for ways it can help me based on my web surfing – for example surf for a place on my computer and my phone offers me directions and journey times without being asked.

I’ve opted to give up a certain amount of privacy in order to get maximum benefit from the other services Google offer – I’m fine with that.  You can see what information Google holds about you by looking in your Google account under the account history tab.  You can see the sort of information they keep below:

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You can glean some interesting facts from these options, for example I search Google more on a Sunday…

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I was a little surprised by how much information they hold about my location.  I check into public facing services like Facebook but hadn’t given a thought to the fact that my phone checks my location several times a day and that Google actively stores your location on their servers.  Have a look and see where you have been over the last thirty days – it certainly opened my eyes.  This is where Google has tracked me over the last month.

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I won’t be changing the way I use Google or starting to wear a tinfoil hat but I do think that as a user you should be aware what information Google holds about you.

 

Disclaimer – I’m sure the same is true of Bing and other internet services to a certain extent, but as I don’t use them as much as Google, they won’t hold as much information on me.

Two months of avoiding the large supermarkets (listen up @tesco and @sainsburys )

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Until a few years ago I used to love shopping for groceries.  Now it is a chore that I put off as long as possible (usually when the cupboards are looking bare).  What started to push me away from the large supermarkets was shopping in smaller discount outlets (for example large chain pound stores and discount chains like Home Bargains).  These shops carry many products that are consistently half the price of the major supermarkets (not to mention the odd end-of-line bargain). Surely if these chains, with their smaller buying power and smaller distribution networks can sell at these prices, the supermarkets can too.

Two months ago I decided to see what the options were to doing the main shop in the supermarkets.  I’ve always bought everything in one place and realised recently that I’ve been paying a premium for that convenience.  I have still popped into the supermarkets for the odd basket of shopping, or for things that I can’t get elsewhere but I’m pleased to report that there are alternatives for those with the time and inclination to use them.

Aldi etc

We’ve had an Aldi in my town for ages and I’ve always avoided it.  The narrow isles and constant congestion put me off.  I’m not that impressed with some of their copy-cat products (some of the products have packaging and names that are as close as legally possible to their named-brand equivalents) but I’ve found their fresh produce and meat is of equal (if not better) quality to that of the supermarkets next door.  Of course you can’t get the same range of groceries in Aldi, and they sell very few named brands, but that’s the price you pay for the significant savings on offer!  The bonus is that I park over the road in Tesco while I shop in Aldi!

Farm Foods etc

A relatively small freezer chain, and I could lump Iceland and other small freezer chains in this category.  Again the choice is limited and the selection of fresh produce is extremely basic.  They do have a good selection of fresh produce (for example meats, bacon and cheese) and where they excel is with selling brand names cheaper than the large supermarkets.  Again parking is limited but thanks to Tesco who have a large free car park opposite that isn’t a problem…

Home Bargains etc

As I mentioned at the start of my post, these companies are the ones that soured my relationship with the supermarkets.  Whilst they carry a lot of end-of-line products that you can’t depend on seeing, they carry a lot of regular items at significant cost savings over the supermarkets.  Some of these have their own car parks, but most don’t and this is one of the prices you pay for their lower prices.

Local shops

We have a Co-op Food store less than five minutes walk from the house, and other local shops within a short walk.  I’ve tended to use these shops for top-up and items that I’ve run out of, as they carry only a limited range of essential items.  I’ve also learnt that a quick visit to the supermarket for a bottle of milk can cost ten times the amount as I put in special offer items that are placed to tempt me.  Using my local store puts a stop to this 🙂

Conclusions

So after two months have I saved any money?  My accounting software suggests I have but that doesn’t include the shops that aren’t primarily grocery based.  I’ve certainly had more food for my money and the cupboards have never been so full.  A supermarket fan might point out that I haven’t been earning loyalty points in these other stores, and that it has cost me extra time and petrol money in travelling between them.

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So what now?  Having shopped in Aldi I can see why they have been expanding their sales while the larger supermarket chains lose out.  I’ll keep shopping around – if nothing else I can be smug about not giving my money to the large faceless chains, and if more people join me they will be forced to look again at their charging policies.

Where do you do your shopping?  Have you come to the same (or different) conclusions as me?

Online bingo from PaddyPower (@paddypowerbingo) – don't waste your time.

Those people that know me well know I have a fondness for playing bingo on my iPad.  I play a number of different bingo games on my tablet but always for ‘tokens’ that have no real value.

While using Facebook I came upon an ad for Paddypower bingo offering me a £30 credit if I deposited £5.  There is a slight catch – the £5 has to be spent within 48 hours and the free credit is only valid for a week.  I might not have signed up if I had read these terms and conditions before I joined but I rushed right in eager to play.

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The first thing that struck me was that the bingo is nothing like proper bingo.  It is more like playing bingo on a fruit machine since it is a totally passive experience.  You can play up to 60 cards at one in some games and there is no way anyone but an octopus with superpowers could play 60 cards at once!

Some of the games are over in seconds, others last a little longer as you see who won the first line, two lines and then a full house.  The software automatically moves those cards needing fewest numbers to the top of the screen and all the player does is sit and watch (regardless on whether you play on a flash-enabled browser or on your tablet).

The images show the game in simplified mode (just the numbers you need) and normal mode (proper bingo cards).

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Because they realise the novelty of watching bingo cards dancing and changing position on the screen can only hold your attention for so long, Paddypower employ a number of chat hosts who post motivational messages in the chat room.  I assume these people are employed on the basis of their personalities since their literacy and grammar skills appear not to have been tested during the interview process…

To make matters even worse I only received £20 bonus credit, not £30 as promised because I clicked through an affiliate link.  Paddypower told me to chase them – even though I have no contact details and the link takes you straight to the PaddyPower signup page.

Would I recommend this to any of my bingo loving friends? Not a chance.  If you like sitting in front of the screen chatting about the moderators shopping and watching your bingo cards shuffle themselves (with a marginally small chance of winning anything) then this might be for you.  I did manage to win just over £1 with my £25 of gambling credit, but unfortunately the minimum withdrawal is £10 so unless you win £10 you have no choice but to gamble your winnings away.

I’ll stick to Bingo bash on the iPad/Facebook for my bingo kicks – at least I enjoy playing it!

Normally I love getting free gifts but I'm not so sure about these…

I paid another visit to Derby Royal Hospital and I couldn’t complete this post without commenting on the fantastic service I received.

I left with a selection of ‘freebies’ – samples of various catheters for use away from home. Normally I love coming home with a goodie bag but today I’m not so sure… 🙂

When admin tasks and paperwork let us down…

I recently spent a while in hospital as followers of my blogs will know.  Last week I spent a day at the Urology day care at Derby hospital, and again I received the highest quality of care from a fantastic team.

Unfortunately I came today to contact my GP to see if they had managed to prescribe my single use catheters (they really are as unpleasant as you imagine them to be!) – the staff at the surgery didn’t know what to prescribe because no notes had come through from the hospital.  On contacting the hospital I’m told that there is an eight week backlog in case notes being sent to GPs. 

I’m not sure how this could have come about, but I know from personal experience that turning around problems at work take time – but I would have thought the hospital would have some measures in place to make sure patients could receive the aftercare they deserve.

Fortunately my story has a happy ending.  The very nice lady at Wilkinson Healthcare (a private sector healthcare supplies company) were able to speak to my GP and get my equipment ordered (otherwise I might have ended up in A&E over the weekend).  Perhaps there are some occasions when some profit based motivation is necessary!

The moral of the story – leave no stone unturned as help sometimes comes from the most surprising of places!


(Image © Tom Ventura @ Wikimedia)

Putting things into perspective – the day my world changed

I’ve never been one to share my personal problems. Many of my twitter followers are unaware that I was signed off work for the first half-term of this year with chronic sciatica and back pain. I managed to keep involved with work despite being signed off sick, and I kept on top of my inbox and tasks I could remotely complete from home. I found it hard being at home when I didn’t feel ill, and I was able to control the pain by being horizontal or walking.

 Normal disc

 Bulging disc

 

By the time my MRI results had come through I was feeling much better and I was diagnosed with a bulging disc in my spine at L5/S1. I was offered surgery but declined it because much of the pain had gone away. The disc was pliable and had recently moved, and I was given permission to return to work. I returned to work for three weeks, and although I wasn’t to sit for extended periods of time I soon settled back into my role. I believed I was getting better.

On Friday 8th March 2013 something changed. I got up as normal and had a shower, but as I got my breakfast ready a pain started to develop in the back of my legs. I’d experienced this before and thought that a dog walk might be my best course of action as gentle exercise had worked in the past. I started walking but the pain was so bad that at several stages of our walk I had to stop and get on my hands and knees to relieve the pain. As the pain intensified I realised that I wouldn’t be able to go to work that day and phoned in. The pain got worse over the day and even codeine failed to touch it. I spent the day on my hands and knees which was the position in which I experienced the least pain. A telephone appointment to the doctor proved fruitless as I was prescribed more of the same pain killers (the same ones that weren’t working). Evening came and I tried to sleep next to the bed curled over a bean bag, which wasn’t very comfortable. The pain didn’t subside but I was aware of the lack of sensation spreading from my legs to my feet and groin. At that point I knew to call for help and an ambulance was dispatched to take me to hospital.

I was taken to A&E at Derby hospital where I greedily gulped at the gas and air, and was given IV paracetamol for my pain (which is extremely effective). The doctors reviewed my last MRI on the computer and decided I needed another so after a wait for a few hours I was admitted to a ward. I had an MRI scan (my second of the year) and was dispatched back to wait on my ward for the results (still nill by mouth just in case). The results came back within the hour and I was to be prepared for theatre as soon as possible. My disc had moved and was pressing hard on my nerves causing cauda equine syndrome (CES), this is a rare condition and affects around 100 people annually in the UK. Speed is of the essence in treating CES to avoid permanent nerve damage. Blood was taken, consent forms signed and the anaesthetist put me out for a few hours. I woke up in recovery and spent the evening dozing in and out of consciousness. The next day I started to realise the gravity of my condition. My legs were tested and I had very little sensation in the backs of my legs and the soles of my feet (which makes walking a wobbly affair!) and my groin/saddle area were completely numb.

I spent several days more in hospital while I was tested, prodded, fed microwave food and observed. My pulse/blood pressure and temperature were checked every four hours and my fluid intake & output monitored carefully as well as any output from my bowels. I can’t fault the service I received at Derby hospital – the work ethic and compassion of the staff on my ward was humbling. Eventually I was discharged home with a number of follow-up appointments, after a total of 6 days in hospital.

So where am I now? The doctors won’t class any of my nerve damage as permanent until at least 12 months which means I could have a long recovery ahead. No one can say if my condition will improve, or by how much if it does. I have no feeling in my buttocks/saddle which has implications for toileting. I have no feeling in my groin (which means I have to use a catheter since I can’t make myself urinate) and the backs of my legs and bottom of my feet are still numb (cue comedy Charlie Chaplin walking). I hope that I will make at least a partial recovery but I am powerless to do anything but wait and see. I’ve still got a lot to be thankful for since I am still mobile (comedy walking is still better than no walking) and I’m not in pain at the moment.

What I’ve learned

  • Out of hours service from my doctor is even worse than the daytime service they provide
  • Derby nurses work long hours and do a fantastic job.
  • My school has continued to run without me, and the world hasn’t stopped turning while I’ve been ill
  • That sometimes we need to stop and rest to allow our bodies to heal
  • Not to give up hope – I’m hoping that I don’t return to work with a disability but if I do I’m in the right kind of school.

 

This post was originally made on Fiendishlyclever.com – I have cross-posted here so I can add follow up comments and posts since my other blog has a teaching focus.