Sunday, April 18, 2010

And away we go!

I like the FTP Steps Tournaments. I like to play Super Turbos, which are incredibly high variance. But the steps tournaments generally pay something to at least 2/3 of the field. So I bought into a total of 8 of the Step 2 tournaments ($8.30 + $0.40) over the course of today, and turned one of those buy-ins into a Step 6 ticket, which I've used to buy in to the FTOPS main event

Another one currently is a Step 5 ticket ($216).

Anyway, generally, the top two finishers advance to the next step, 3rd and 4th place tread water, 5th and 6th move down one level, and depending on the step 7th or 8th either get a boobie prize, or go down two levels or something like that. At the bottom 2 levels, the payouts start at 6th, but higher up, all you have to do is not come in dead last.

There is a 7th step. It is a $2100 buy-in tournament. 7-9 get nothing, 4-6 move down a notch, 2-3 tread water and 1st place gets a $18,000 WSOP tournament buy-in package.

UPDATE! I finished in 223rd place out of 4534, for a payout of $1500.

Playing around with microcell data

I have an AT&T Quicksilver card and the cheap, limited data plan for it. I don't use it much, but since it is a 3G device, I thought I'd play with it and the microcell, just to see how it compares to the iPhone data throughput.

To recap, the microcell, unlike the Verizon one, supports both data and voice. If you do a speed test with an iPhone (via the app) through the microcell (this is with the microcell hooked up to 6 MB / 768 kB DSL), you wind up getting about 2 MB down and 50 kbps up. With WiFi, it's 4.5 MB down and 610 kb up.

Data only devices, like the Quicksilver USB "card" still have phone numbers, despite the fact that they can't place or receive actual phone calls. They can send and receive SMS messages, in theory, but unless you buy an SMS messaging plan, it would be expensive, and if you're using the thing, you're on the Internet anyway. It's this phone number that you register with the microcell so that it can connect.

Sure enough, registering the device with the microcell and powercycling it (that is, removing and reinserting it into my laptop) worked. When I hooked up using the GlobeTrotter connect software, the network had changed from "AT&T" to "AT&T MicroCell".

Of course, the unlimited calling plan I have on the microcell does nothing for data. This is something I think AT&T really ought to address - if I'm using a microcell, why shouldn't I get unlimited data for free? This is why I don't normally have the card registered with the microcell - it doesn't do me any good, and frankly, I'd expect to do better just using my own wifi anyway.

And the speed tests seem to back that up. Running the speedtest on my laptop with wifi, I get 5.1 MB down and 610 kb up. This alone suggests that the phone is actually doing pretty well with its own use of wifi. The laptop has a bit of an edge over the phone given that it's got 802.11n and the phone only has g.

Well, the laptop going through the microcell has almost exactly the same results as the iPhone - 2.1 MB down and 60 kbps up.

I'm not sure why data uploads through the microcell are so heavily capped, compared to the native bandwidth available through the DSL connection.

There is a trade-off at work here - albeit only for the iPhone. If you use WiFi, it's a little faster, but if you use 3G, you get a publicly routable address - even with the microcell. For the data card, since the data counter still runs, there's much less incentive to use the Quicksilver through the microcell, however.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

3G Microcell launches in bay area proper

And, sure enough, if you put a Bay Area zip code in, the list of AT&T stores carrying the microcell is now at least twice as long as it was before, and includes stores in Fremont, Santa Clara, San Francisco... basically all over the bay area.

It's now somewhat annoying that if you put in 95050, you get listings in Hanford, Sacramento and the like when there are a half a dozen stores within a 20 mile radius. Never mind that, as has always been the case, it's incredible that one of the primary audiences for the Microcell are iPhone owners... and the whole page is one gigantic Flash app, which is useless on the phone.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

3G Microcell + PoE

I've blogged before about my attempts to get a PoE solution set up for the Microcell. The idea is that all of the network infrastructure in the garage is on a UPS, so it would be good to have the Microcell get its power that way as well. I tried making my own PoE breakout cable. It gave the appearance of working, but when the Microcell got to the point where it normally would start working, it just never came up all the way. There was no error indication on the front panel, it just wouldn't work. My guess is that somehow the transmitter caused enough voltage drop to screw it up. But I wasn't actually using the OEM power supply.

Well, long story short, I bought a passive PoE injector/splitter block off eBay, and it arrived today. Unlike my solution, it had the correct connector on it to use the OEM power supply out in the garage. I'm not sure if that made the difference, or maybe their wiring is somehow better, but it works perfectly. You can buy them here.

I didn't have much hope for the passive solution, so while I was at it, I bought a used DLink DWL-P200 PoE injector/splitter kit. Unlike the passive solution, this one is 802.3af compliant, which may give it more margin against voltage drop (since 802.3af uses a 48 volt supply voltage instead of just passing along the OEM supply's 12 volts).

UPDATE The DLink DWL-P200 arrived today, and it too works perfectly with the Microcell. My guess is that the DLink is the better solution, since it uses a higher voltage down the Ethernet wiring, with signaling between the two ends to enable the supply voltage, which offers some protection to all the devices involved. It also means that the supply voltage going to the device is better regulated than when the power supply was on the other end of 50 feet of twisted pair. The downside, of course, is that the DLink DWL-P200 is much more expensive than the passive solution. Though I was able to get a used set on eBay for cheap. Oh, and it turns out the DWL-P200 is not 802.3af compliant, since it actually pre-dates the 802.3af spec. Still, the higher voltage feeding into a low voltage regulator is likely to work better over long lines.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Microcell is back

4 months later, and the 3G Microcell is back.

Nothing really changed between then and now, except that now the activation web site flow doesn't reject our home address.

As I noted yesterday, punching in a Bay Area zip code gives you a list of AT&T stores in the Central Valley from Sacramento to Fresno. The rep in the store in Tracy said that they'd be available in the Bay Area for real on Sunday.

One thing I've discovered is that my "There, I fixed it" PoE cabling doesn't work. The device never starts working properly. I want to get it working with remote power supplied from the UPS in the garage, if possible, so that we won't lose our coverage during power outages. Now it looks like a real PoE solution will be required. The good news is that I got a really good deal on a used D-Link DWL P200 on eBay this morning. More on that once it arrives.

In the meantime, we're trying the great experiment once again - seeing if the combination of unlimited cell phone calls while at home, plus the Cell2Tel and our cordless phones >= Vonage. Fingers crossed.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Microcells come closer

The microcells are now available for purchase in the Central Valley. Tracy appears to be the closest store.

Gentlemen, start your engines!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Concrete anchors - lessons learned

Scarlet bought us a 10' x 10' gazebo for the patio. It replaced our patio umbrella, and is nicer in that it's bigger, anchored down (and so, permanent), and has mosquito netting that can be zipped shut, if desired.

As for that "permanent" part of the equation, the disclaimers on the packaging actually don't imply that at all. They warn against leaving it up during extreme weather, and it comes with 6" long spikes that are intended to be driven into the ground. Well, we want to set ours up on our concrete patio, so we decided to permanently affix it with concrete anchors.

So, I've learned a thing or two having done it now.

The basic procedure is that you use a hammer drill to drill a hole in the concrete, then you hammer the bolt in and then put whatever it is you're attaching over the bolt and then tighten the nut hard so that you pull the expansion wedge through the sleeve to lock the bolt in permanently. If you ever change your mind, your only option is to cut the bolt off flush with the surface of the concrete.

So the first bit of advice I've learned is that before you start bashing away at the head of the bolt with a hammer, thread a couple of the nuts on and lock them together. This will protect the threads from the hammer and insure that you'll have no trouble threading the nuts on later. This is particularly important if you need to bash on the side of the bolts to 'adjust' them a little to line up with whatever you're trying to attach. I wound up having to cut the top 1/8 of an inch off one of the bolts with a hacksaw to get past the bit I damaged a little too much. And some of the other bolts were a little hard to thread.

Another bit of advice was that if you happen to drive one a little bit too far, don't worry too much - they are designed to pull back out a little bit as you're tightening them. Just thread the washer and nut on without the thing you're attaching and tighten. You'll get maybe 3/16 or 1/4 inch that way, which hopefully will be enough to let you thread the nut on properly with the attached object back in place.

Lastly, if you're using these things with a tensioned load, you'll want to periodically check to make sure they're still tight, since a varying tension load (like the wind acting on our gazebo) may make them pull out slightly as they wedge themselves in harder. I'll be visiting them periodically to make sure they're tight for the first few months at least.