Archive for June, 2010

Five Problems with Cell Phone Networks

Five Problems with Cell Phone NetworksMany people do not have any appreciation for just how complex the telephone network is and how easily congestion can delay or prevent calls going through the network. There are many locations within the network that can act as choke points and the engineers at these communications companies are always monitoring and improving this network. However it does take time to update these networks and frankly if a given area does not have enough potential to drive revenue, the carriers will not invest a lot of money into these poor service areas.

There are 5 main areas that these choke points can be lumped into. We will discuss them in a moment, however when you add data calls, the amount of traffic increases exponentially and places additional strain on the network. In fact data is growing at a higher rate than voice traffic. This is becoming a challenge to many cell phone companies since they need to spend millions of dollars to fix some of these data choke points to deal with the exponential growth in traffic.

The 5 areas are: A) Airwaves B) Buildings C) Switching Gear D) Land Lines E) Application Servers. A data bit travels from your cell phone via airwaves, through building walls to cell towers, then via land lines to switching , more land lines to applications servers which will process the data bits and deliver back to you the information you requested. There are ample opportunities for the data bits to be slowed or delayed while each device deals with the traffic that is being sent to it. As traffic increases this only gets worse unless additional capacity is added.

Cell Phone Networks Problems

Airwaves

Congested airwaves are less problematic than other choke points, but they still slow service.

Take the fastest 3G network today, which can support a download speed of 21 mega bits per second. Someone using a laptop wireless card that also supports 21mbps can surf the web at full speed.

But if two laptop users try to download at 21mbps from the same cell tower, the highest speed each consumer will see is cut in half. If a third user tries to download at the highest speed, divide the peak speed by three, and so on.

Fortunately not every laptop needs or can deal with 21 mbps, but you get the point when you have a congested site that has thousands of cell phones, or wireless cards competing for limited resources the response time can become delayed.

Buildings

City skyscrapers block wireless signals, and office workers using cell phones at their desks clog networks originally designed for people on the go.

These same buildings can attenuate a signal so much that a cell phone can work perfectly fine outside and not at all inside. Weaker signals slow the transmission of data  and use your batteries power much faster.

Switching Gear

Applications like Yahoo Messenger that constantly send and receive signals on the network play havoc with switches, which were built for sustained calls. A two-minute IM chat can require as many signals as it takes for 10 voice calls. A single computer with an air card can be running 4 or 5 applications at the same time, generating data traffic from each of the applications aimed at different servers in the network.

Signaling traffic is growing 50% faster than data as more apps are constantly “on,” according to Signals Research Group. That’s in part why iPhones generate more traffic than 30 basic cellphones.

Landlines

Data bits flow from cell towers through fiber and copper lines to a switching station and then from the switching station again via land lines to application servers via even more switching stations. Data and calls are then sent to their final destinations over even more landlines and servers.

The scheme, designed pre-smartphone, can push only 75% of a tower’s maximum capacity to the next switch or endpoint. With wireless data expected to more than double annually from 2008 to 2013 as video and apps grow more popular, landlines are a growing problem.

Application Servers

Many of the tens of thousands of applications for smartphones connect to the public Internet through their own servers. So don’t always blame the wireless carriers for bad service. Slow loading corporate e-mail or sports scores can be the fault of an app maker’s own bandwidth constraint.

Whether it is ITunes, CNN or any other site that is receiving lots of traffic from all over the world, the application servers must receive the data, process it, determine what information is being asked for, find it, queue it for transmission and then send it back to the original requester.  And this is the simple straight forward version.

Applications servers can be their own choke point if many users are making the same request at the same time. This occurs routinely when something is advertised on a web site or on TV and thousands of people make the same request at the same time for information about the same subject.

Summary

With all of these possible choke points in the network it is amazing that the communications system works as well as it does. Rest assured that data engineers are monitoring and making adjustments routinely every day to improve the network and adding capacity to deal with an ever increasing traffic demand as more and more smart phones are added by customers across the country.


Fixing Garage Door Openers

Maintenance of garage door openers and fixing Garage Door Openers are not a big issue for most people. These units are installed by a professional usually and once installed, there is not much that needs to be done with Fixing Garage Door Openersthem. Most will last from 5 to 20 years, some even longer without ever being touched, while others will need some sort of repair or adjustment from time to time.

Maintenance of Automatic Garage Door Openers

As we said there is not much to do, however when you are doing your quarterly check of your garage door ( see previous post) , it is a good idea to check a few things with respect to the automatic garage door opener as well. A simple check can add years to the system if bolts that are loose are tightened and the chain is working properly.

  • check the batteries in the remotes that you use and replace them if required.
  • check the safety stop of the garage door and adjust if needed. The safety stop  makes sure that your door will stop and re-open if it finds that there is something blocking the closing of the door. It is very important to make sure this is working, especially if there are small children around.
  • check that the door fully closes and  fully opens, adjust if required.
  • check the chain, and lubricate if needed. There are other types of mechanisms that are used besides chains. Check in your manual to confirm what kind of lubrication should be used and how often.

Check Your Garage Door Opener First

Automatic garage door openers have become quite inexpensive and as a result you probably will not be able to find anyone who will be wiling to take them apart to repair them.  Even if you can, by the time you pay to have it repaired, you will be pretty close to the cost of a new one.

There are a few basic things you should do to confirm your door opener is really not working before you decide to replace it.

  • check that the batteries for your controllers are working
  • try opening the door with other door openers, including the manual button that most people will have in their homes.
  • check that the power is on and that a circuit breaker has not tripped for some reason, preventing power getting to the garage door opener.
  • disengage the chain from the garage door and try operating the garage door opener. If it works there may be a problem with your door.

Once you have tried all of these steps, you may want to call a repairmen, however there is a big trade off here in terms of what the cost will be to replace the door opener vs repairing it. Most people will opt for replacement since they have become so inexpensive.

Repair or Replace

Of course there are always fancy multi featured door openers that can cost a great deal of money, however the inexpensive ones will cost somewhere between $100 to $200. You can barely get repairmen to show up for $100 these days and before you know it the cost of checking and repairing the system costs more than a new one.  In addition there is no guarantee that he will be able to fix it.

Our conclusion is that if you cannot fix it yourself, then you might as well put a new one in.

There is really not much to a garage door opener. Essentially there are 4 parts. The electric motor, the gear box which connects to the chain. There is a printed circuit board which controls the motor. There is another printed circuit board which receives the transmissions from the remotes. Most units will have these functions combined on one printed circuit board.

Can You Do the Repairs Yourself

If you are not handy at all then you probably will not want to attempt these suggestions in this next section. First of all disconnect the power to prevent any possibility of electrical shock. Secondly, remove the cover on the housing of the door opener. You should be able to observe the 4 components we discussed earlier.

At this point most people will only be able to observe whether there are any loose or frayed wires. They should check that the printed circuit board is properly seated in place. If you cannot see anything obvious, then you are looking at buying a new system. Repair any wires that are frayed or disconnected and then retry opening your door.

Anyone with PCB expertise will probably enjoy the challenge of testing the board. However this is way beyond what most consumers are willing to consider and are able to do.

Replacing a Garage Door Opener

There are many styles and types available. We suggest that you replace like for like if possible to make the entire job easier. There will be less adjustment of existing supports etc. You might even be able to use the same chain if it is still in good shape.

Hire a handyman if you are not comfortable with doing the installation of the automatic garage door opener yourself. This will cost you an additional fee.

Good luck with maintaining your door and saving money. Comments are welcome.


Wireless Revolution

Wireless RevolutionThere is a wireless revolution happening and many people are not even aware that it is happening. Some people are being left behind since they are not adapting the technology at all. Other groups are early adapters and still they find that technology is moving much too fast even for them, bit they are having a ball trying to keep up. It is just creeping up on us and becoming part of our lives without us even realizing it.

Sure we have all seen the growth of cell phones and smart phones. This is really just the tip of the ice berg. Routinely we browse our email, keep up with social networking sites and surf our favorite web sites all with the help of our smart phones such as the iPhone, the iPod Touch, now the iPad, Rim’s BlackBerry products, Palm and Android.  Google is just getting into the act with their Android software which will appear in over half the mobile devices while Apple will probably have the other half.

You can rest assured that these titans of the mobile world and the computer software world will deliver more and more functionality. I consider myself reasonably tech savvy, however I was blown away after walking into an Apple store and purchasing an iPod Touch recently. For many people, they will say what is the big deal. For me and I suspect thousands of others it is a big deal.

Wireless Revolution –  Sales

I had the help of a nice young man who patiently explained the benefits of the iPod Touch and even demonstrated an app or two on his own iPod Touch that he carried in his pocket. This guy really had deep pockets with lots of room in them.

Once I decided to buy an iPod, he needed to check on inventory. Out comes  what looks like an iPhone and he quickly checks on inventory before heading back into the storage area of the store. Another device scans the bar code and recorded the information against a bill of sale which he downloaded to his wireless device and then displayed the price to me including tax.

Once I agreed, he ask for my credit card which he scanned into his wireless device ( smaller than the ones you see at the airport car rental checkin area) . After verification and confirmation he advised me that the sale had been completed and walked off to get a hard copy of the receipt which I had asked for. Apparently most people are satisfied with an electronic copy being sent to them via email.

Activating My iPod

This was the really easy part. With WI-FI throughout the store, the iPod quickly sync’d and we customized the iPod with my information and with the apps that I needed to get started. I have since added others over the past month.

Now this is just purchasing a simple iPod which really demonstrated how a well thought out sales process can integrate wireless capabilities to really simplify the transaction. Not once did the sales person need to go to the cash desk or punch in the information. It was all done from the store location were we met and the back office applications also probably rewarded him with whatever sales points he gets and updated the stores books re inventory, sales for the day, net profit and so on.

Wireless Revolution – New Integration Evolution

Now as Apple and Google pursue more features, more applications and functionality, rest assured that what I just discussed will find it’s way into many more applications and businesses.

Can you imagine walking into a store and waving your wireless device beside an item to find out the price, indicating you are willing to purchase the item and then checking out the item yourself. As you leave the store a scanner confirms that the item you purchased has indeed been paid for, updates the inventory etc.

This is just the beginning of the wireless revolution with much more to come. Actually North America is behind the rest of the world in adoption rates with countries like Japan leading the surge to a wireless revolution were you pay for everything using your smart device!!

Get ready , here it comes!

Comments are welcome.


Home Monitoring While on Vacation

Home Monitoring While on VacationThere are a number of basic things you can do and should do prior to going on vacation. This will help to ensure that your home is well looked after and no damage occurs to your home while you are away. Home monitoring while on vacation can save you money. So how does this fall under the general mandate of saving money? Well if you are going to be away, you will want to make sure that your home is looked after with the least cost. You also want to make sure so that your home insurance does not become null and void.

There is much more to it that just having your neighbor look in on your home once and a while. We will discuss a few of the requirements. Also how you can make sure that your cost is minimized, while keeping your home covered and safe.

Why Home Monitoring While on Vacation is Important

Insurance Requirements for Vacant Homes

Many people do not realize it , but their insurance companies have a number of requirements about how homes should be looked after while you are away from home. Most companies require that the water be turned off to avoid any possibility of damage from running water if water pipes are broken somehow and start leaking.

This is particularly important in cold climates were the water could freeze in the water pipes could freeze if the heat is shut off for some reason.

Most home insurance companies will specify time frames for homes to be checked to confirm that security has not been compromised, that the heat is still on and that the water pipes have not frozen. Some will request that they are checked every 48 hours if the water is left on, while others are ok with an entire week if the water is turned off.

Check with your home insurance companies requirements and get it in writing so that you fully understand what is required if you are going to be away from home for an extended period of time.

Make Your Home Look Lived In

The old cliché is that a house that is vacant is an invitation for someone to break in, or something like that. The whole point of this is to re-enforce that you need to make your home looked lived in. Keep the grass cut the weeds pulled, the leaved picked up etc. If you live in a cold climate and plan to be away during the winter, have someone keep the snow cleared, the walk shoveled and advertisements picked up.

Place timers in rooms that you typically occupy and have the lights come on at regular times. Have someone check the timers regularly in case the power has gone off to make sure that they turn on the lights at regular hours. Even having a neighbor place garbage our on garbage day is a good idea.

Who Should You Ask to Check On Your Home

This is a really tough question to answer, since it really depends on your situation. If you have good friends, neighbors or family that you can depend on. Have them check on your home on a schedule and keep a record. Then you probably want to go that direction.

If you plan to be away for many months, having friends etc check on your home can get to be a bit onerous. They may not want to make that commitment. Perhaps they will also want to go away as well during that time frame.

Another approach is to hire a company to check on your home on an agreed to schedule. They should keep a record and notify you if there are any problems. If you do go this route, there are a number of safeguards that you want to consider here as well. Make sure you have a contract. Make sure that it is clearly spelled out what this company is supposed to do for you. Check security, check the heating system, water plants, take in the mail, maintain landscaping. Also arrange for snow removal, check the lights, respond to alarm system alerts etc.

Summary

A quick summary of what you need to consider when leaving your home for an extended period of time:

  • Check with your home insurance company regarding requirements
  • Turn the water off before you leave
  • Ask your home sitter to run the water every two weeks to fill toilets and water traps
  • Establish a schedule for checks in accordance with insurance requirements
  • Ask home sitter to maintain a written record of checks
  • Make your house looked lived in e.g. snow clearing, lawn maintenance, lights
  • Have a contract with a professional home sitter
  • Make it clear exactly what you need to be done and make it part of your contract.
  • Stay in touch with your home sitter and ask the neighbors to also keep an eye on things.

Enjoy your vacation and save money. Avoid having any damage or break-ins while you are away on your extended vacation.


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