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How to stop neighbours stealing your internet bandwidth

Story location: Home / computing /
25/Feb/2006

When we first set up our wireless network, everything seemed to be ok. It was when everything seemed to slow down that we started to look into wireless security.

1. MAC Address filtering

This was the first thing we tried - by giving the router a list of the MAC addresses of our computers, it was supposed to allow them to connect but refuse connection for all other machines. Unfortunately, due to a bug in the router itself, it kept disconnecting us, forcing us to reset the router each time (this only affected the router when it was set to use 802.11g. It worked ok with 'b' only).

To find the MAC address of your computer on Windows XP, open a command window and type: ipconfig /all The MAC address is listed as 'Physical Address'.

2. Broadcast SSID

With this enabled, the router is telling the entire world (well, the bits that are within range) that there is a wireless access point available, and come over and steal our bandwidth. With this disabled, a computer needs to know the name of the network before it can connect to it.

The first thing to do is to change the name of the network. The default name in the router might be the model number or router type, which would be easy to guess and not at all secure. After that, disable the 'Broadcast SSID' (or ESSID) option. The chances are that your computer will now have been disconnected (unless you're being sensible and making these changes while physically connected using a good old fashioned network cable).

The next step is to let Windows know the name of the wireless network so it can connect. If the wireless card's own software is managing the connection, there should be an option somewhere to specify the network's name. Otherwise, you'll need to open the Wireless Network Connection icon, click on Properties and then select the Wireless Networks tab. From there you can add a new network and provide the SSID.

3. Encryption

This is the most secure method - it will stop people connecting to your network and will also prevent anyone from evesdropping on your data.
Again, this is a two stage process: Setting encryption on the router and then on each computer which needs to connect. The exact method will vary from one router to another but one of the standard methods is WEP or Wired Equivalent Privacy. On the router, select WEP 128 bit. You'll then need to provide the 128 bit key - either by typing in a series of hexadecimal numbers or by providing a word of phrase and having the key generated for you. Whichever method you use, you'll need to make a note of the key before clicking 'OK'.

In Windows XP, the encryption settings are in the same dialog box where the SSID was specified above. Network Authentication needs to be 'Open' and Data Encryption needs to be 'WEP'. Then type the encryption key in the boxes and click OK. With any luck, you'll have a nice secure wireless network.



Wireless Network Clash

Story location: Home / computing /
25/Feb/2006

For the last week or so, my wireless broadband has been really slow. At first I suspected the broadband itself but the downstairs computer was fine, then I suspected the wireless router but the other upstairs computer was fine as well. It looked like it was just my PC which was having problems. The connection was very slow and would occasionally stall causing any downloads or web pages to time out.

I tried a few things to attempt to fix it:
Reset the router and set it to use a different broadcast channel and transmission rate.
Reinstalled the wireless card drivers on my computer.
Removed the wireless card from my PC and installed it in a different PCI slot.

None of these made any difference. It wasn't til I removed my bluetooth dongle that the network speed got back to it's normal rate. It's very strange if the bluetooth has only just started to interfere because it's been connected to my PC for several months with no apparent problems until recently.



Reel Big Fish

Story location: Home / Blog / music /
23/Feb/2006

We've seen them live before (at the Leeds Festival 2 years ago) and they're good live so we went to see them again, this time at the University of Warwick Students' Union.

The first support act were called Fandangle and were quite good - they were in the same ska style as the main act. (We bought one of their CD singles for £1 and listened to later on - they were actually better live than on the record!).
The second act were called Zebrahead and they were more of a standard rock band. Their music was a bit too similar to a lot of other bands, although they did have some good songs.

Reel Big Fish themselves were good. I recognised a few songs from the last time I saw them. While we were at the merchendise table at the start of the night, alongside the usual t-shirts they also had ties. I decided to buy one to wear for work.



Hot N Spicy Taco

Story location: Home / Blog / work /
16/Feb/2006

We bought a box of these sometime in December but forgot about them until recently when I found a bag full of assorted sweets, cakes and biscuits when I was tidying up the back room.
spicy taco
We tried one last night and were surprised by how hot and spicy they actually were - we didn't realise they actually had chilli extract in them.

The sweets went out of date yesterday but as they are individually wrapped they should still be ok. I took some to work to share amongst my colleagues. The responses ranged from 'not bad' to 'Jesus Christ!' with the sweet being hastily spat into a nearby bin!



Standing out in the cold

Story location: Home / Blog / work /
16/Feb/2006

I had only just got to work, I had only just made a cup of tea, I had only just put my cheese sandwich in the toaster when the fire alarm went off. I popped the sandwich out of the toaster and trudged down the stairs to join everyone in a 20-odd minute stand outside in the cold.

We were finally allowed back in when it was discovered that there was no fire - it was caused by someone burning toast in one of the kitchens on the first floor.



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Valentines Day

Story location: Home / Blog /
14/Feb/2006

Last year, Emma and I decided not to spend too much on Valentines Day gifts. We would get a card, a single gift, and have ourselves a decent meal. The food part was a home made salmon and prawn pie.
I bought Emma some chocolates. She bought me some 'day of the week' socks. Not just normal monday to friday socks, but these had saturday and sunday as well. They were from Marks and Spencers. You do expect a bit more from them.



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Salmon and Prawn Pie

Story location: Home / food_and_drink /
14/Feb/2006

Makes two individual pies.

For the filling:
Finely dice two small onions and a clove of garlic and gently fry in a little olive oil. When the onions are soft, add a knob of butter. When that has melted add two tablespoons of plain flour and mix well to form a paste. Add some light chicken stock and stir to form a thick sauce. For extra flavour add a dash of thai fish sauce and a tablespoon each of chopped parsley and chopped capers.
Into two pie dishes add a layer of the sauce and then add layers of prawns, flaked salmon, adding a sprinking of peas as well.

For the pastry:
We used some ready rolled puff pastry to cover the pie dishes, and brushed the top with milk.

To cook - around 20 minutes in the oven at gas mark 6.



Survivors Part 2

Story location: Home / Blog / books /
13/Feb/2006

I finished reading the book on the train home tonight. If treated simply as a novel describing the end of the world, the traditional fight of good vs. evil and the only group of Christians in the world who realise what's going in, then it is a reasonable fantasy. Ignoring any religious issues at the moment, there are a few odd ideas in the book such as the passage which described addresses being collected so emails could be sent out to attract visitors to the organisations website. Obviously they meant it in good spirit, but spamming for Jesus would not make them very popular. There was another section towards the end of the book where thousands of voices were singing in different languages but the sounds combined to form the Hallelujah Chorus from The Messiah. If that was tried in a film it would be such a terrible cliche.

Most of the problems stem from the authors notes at the end of each chapter. Oh the whole, these are interesting and draw attention to parallels between the story and the Bible, but again there are a few issues.
In the notes at the end of chapter 4, the 'Big Pot' is used as another name for the Big Dipper constellation, in order to draw another parallel with the Bible. I've never heard this seriously used as a name for the constellation and this sounded so tenuous when I read it.
At the end of chapter 23, the author says:

There is something about the return of Jesus that sounds unbelievable to the modern, cynical mind. And yet it is no more unbelievable than any of the other myths and legends (including evolution) that mankind has come up with to explain our existence.

Now personally, I think the idea that the flora and fauna of our planet has been slowly changing over millions of years to be a more rational explanation than the belief that God created everything in only a few days. For a start it is based on many years of studying the real world, rather than simply believing something which was written in a book a few thousand years ago and for which there is no proof whatsoever.
This absolute belief in every word of the bible is possibly the book's greatest weakness. It crop up again in the notes after chapter 23 where he claims:

Everything else about the Bible indicates that it is an historically accurate book

For most of the Bible, there is no historical corroborating evidence. Especially the story of the creation, where there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever.



Escaped Chinchilla

Story location: Home / Blog /
13/Feb/2006

We were in the local branch of Pets at Home looking for a new cage for one of our hamsters, when I saw a shape dart across the floor - something grey and kitten sized. I walked to the end of the corridor and saw a member of staff stalking an escaped chinchilla. It was too fast for him and kept scurrying away. It had quite a funny running/bouncing action. When we left the shop it was hiding under some shelves.



Cadbury World

Story location: Home / Blog / birmingham /
11/Feb/2006

This was a trip organised by the University of Warwick Biology Society and the Cheese and Chocolate Society - I went because they needed a minibus driver and nobody in the Biology Society was old enough or had held a driving licence for long enough. I took the University minibus test last month so I was able to drive for the trip. The best thing about that was that as driver, I got into Cadbury World for free.

The first thing we noticed on leaving the minibus was the sweet smell of chocolate filling the air. Our first free bars of chocolate were given to us at the very start of the tour, just before we went through the jungle based exhibition about how the Spanish first encountered cocoa.
Other parts of the tour (in no particular order) included the history of Cadburys and the Bournville site, a viewing of the factory where we could see bars of chocolate being wrapped. It was after this section (and the viewing of a 3D film about the robots who do the packing) that we got out next free chocolate. We also got to see the set used for the 'Sponsored by Cadburys' opnening sequence used for Coronation Street.

Part way through the tour there was a tasting room. On our way in we were handed small pots of melted chocolate to taste. We also saw chocolate being set into shell shaped moulds and lumps of fudge being dipped into liquid chocolate - these were then made available for tasting. We came out of this room into the next area but couldn't see any other members of our party, so we ducked back under the barrier and went back into the tasting room - this was only to try to find the other. We had no intention of eating more chocolate. Honest.

Possibly the strangest part of the tour was the car ride through the Cocoa Bean Village. This was bizarre, with the beans in various settings from quaint village life through to skiing. A lot of the scenery was animated with flowers swaying from side to side.

The tour ended up in the Factory Shop, where anyone who hadn't become fed up with chocolate could buy more.



Survivors

Story location: Home / Blog / books /
08/Feb/2006

I was walking back to the office after wandering around the shops at lunchtime. On New Street, at the bottom of the ramp which leads up to the Palisades shopping centre, there was a bloke handing out books. Ever curious, I decided to see what it was about. The book was called Survivors, written by a pseudonymous Zion Ben Jonah. It seemed to be some kind of post-apocalyptic tale designed as a warning about moral corruption in modern society. I tried to hand the book back saying that I wasn't interested, but he refused to take it back and said that he only wanted 'a few pennies' in return. I rummaged around in my pocket and pulled out a few coins to give to him - I had less than £1 on me after buying food so he only got a few coins, which strangely were all 20p pieces.

I started reading the book on the train home. It's a novel where the end of the world seems to follow the events described in the bible, which starts with the nuclear destruction of America. The book also takes issue with the moral corruption of modern America and how organised religion has diverged so far from the original teachings of Christ - both fair points as well.

There are one or two issues I have with the book (apart from it's obvious preachy nature) but I'll wait until I've finished reading it before saying more. You can read a review of the book here.



Quiet Zone?

Story location: Home / Blog /
07/Feb/2006

The Virgin Trains usually have a couple or carriages designated Quiet Zones, where they ask the passengers to refrain from any music or mobile phones which may disturb others. Most people tend to respect this and you only get the occasional phone ringing. Today was the exception, with a baby crying almost all the way from Birmingham to Coventry. People really shouldn't take babies into the quiet carriages unless they can actually keep quiet. They aren't called 'Quiet commuter and crying baby' zones, and for a very good reason.



Nokia 6630 vanishing memory

Story location: Home / computing /
05/Feb/2006

Our phones were reporting hardly any free memory despite the amount of used memory being a fraction of the 10Mb on the main phone itself. Deleting text messages didn't help - deleting a couple of messages actually made the free memory go down, leaving Emma's phone having no free memory at all. Copying the messages over to the memory card failed - possibly due to the lack of memory.

We used the Nokia Communicator software to back up the phone data, then reset the phone completely. This freed up all the memory but restoring the backup just got things back to where they were before. There was actually a tiny amount of free memory which allowed us to move the messages over to the memory card, deleting them from the phone memory. This did the trick, giving around 8Mb of free memory, despite the File Manager only claiming the messages took up less than 2Mb.

The free memory decreasing when we deleted texts is still a mystery but at least we now know why the phone was full. Each text message must take up more memory than is reported. The phone treats it's internal memory as a disk drive and if each message is stored as a seperate file then this will explain it. Files always take up a minimum size, often around 2-4Kb, so a message which is only a few characters long will still take up a few K.



Birmingham by Bus

Story location: Home / Blog / birmingham /
04/Feb/2006

We decided to go shopping in Birmingham by bus instead of train. We both have travel passes which allow us to travel anywhere in the West Midlands by bus so it wouldn't cost us anything to go. Unfortunately the bus takes around 3 times longer than the train. Not worth it just to save a few quid (so we took the train back home again).

We had a walk round the market, getting some fruit and veg and some less healthy chocolate-coated strawberries. We went to Selfridges to get some of their so-called mini onion bhajis, which are fairly huge but terrific value at only 50p each and taste great. Lunch was at McDonalds - only because we had a b.o.g.o.f voucher for a value meal, otherwise I try to avoid the place.



Coventry weather station

Story location: Home / links /
02/Feb/2006

I found this site a few days ago - it's a weather station run by a school in Coventry. As well as showing the current conditions it also has some statistics and historical weather info:
Bablake Weather Station

Looking at the statistics page I was surprised to see that there were 23 days last year when it snowed - I didn't think it had snowed that often, but it might count some hail (or snail) in with that.