The Need for Speed

I have had broadband or ADSL1 for a while now. Where I live we only have access to ADSL1, ADSL2 is not available as yet. I have had a 1500/256 connection for most of that time. Earlier this year Telstra “took the breaks off” the fastest attainable speed that you could get. We also saw a drop in price for this fastest speed. In order to get the “unthrottled” service you had to upgrade your connection and pay a few extra dollars.

I have been pretty busy and I only got around to looking at my connection last Friday. Now the plan I was on, the 1500/256 plan dropped in price but I have been paying the higher price as I did not change anything. I found that I was basically paying for the unthrottled service. So I thought what the heck, I am paying it I may as well change to that speed and I got a 100% increase in available bandwidth.

Changing my plan means that I now have a 8000/384 connection. But this is variable, meaning that the minimum I will get it 1500/256. All week end I have been testing my connection on Speedtest.net checking if it switches over. Today I had some luck. I tested my closest Speedtest server which is Brisbane. I got the following result (note that the miles are wrong in this test):

What I noticed was that the ping has not changed much with the faster connection, not sure why. But as you can see the download speed has definitely had some improvement. The fastest I could get before was about 1300 download. So pretty good. I also tested Europe and the UK in addition to America, the following is the best result from the US:

The big surprise was the speed that I got here in Australia as the best result came from a connection from here in Cairns to Melbourne. What you might not understand is despite our connectivity here in Cairns we are actually quite isolated from the rest of the country. Our pipe from Cairns to Brisbane, which is the most direct is a long one and can be problematic at times. That Cairns – Brisbane connection is the bottleneck as all North connections run through it. But here is the result that I achieved to Melbourne:

I thought that was great. I am pretty happy with these results and time will tell if it is worth it. While I was happy with the download speed that I was getting on my old plan, it was not mega fast but I did not have to wait for much and I had the bandwidth that allowed me to do other things while I downloaded stuff. Now I have bandwidth to burn and the limit that allows me to test out great new services like Joost.

The upload speed was the thing that I was more interested in increasing. I upload the podcast each week and lots of files to our hosts and others this will help speed up that process a bit. But not as much as I was hoping. Then again it is very close to the stipulated 384k that is advertised so I should not complain. In fact it is very good really, as you may or may not know you never get what is advertised. Most people I talk to have no idea what speed they are on!

As I said previously this service is a variable one so I am going to do a few tests at different times and see what times of day are better than others.

These tests were performed with my internet service provider Internode using Speedtest.net. I have found Internode to be excellent and provide a great service at a reasonable cost. ISP choices are a personal choice and you have to be happy but you could do worse than Internode. A list of available plans is available from their website.

These speeds may seem poor if you live in Europe or the US and they are in comparison. Fact is; that for me this is as good as it gets where I live and is faster than most of the population here in Australia that have broadband access. Fast connection speeds in Australia are hard to come by and when you do they are very expensive, for me this is a good middle ground.

SPEEDTEST.NET is a great way to check out how well your ISP performs. It uses a graphical interface with some funky dials and gives very usable results as can be seen here. That is all well and good in isolation, but they also give you the functionality of being able to compare your results to others in your country and the world. These images are via the supplied links that they offer to embed your results into web pages.

Speedtest.net Screenshot

Another Telstra Rip-Off

So Telstra (the major Telco here in Australia) get all fired up about their new service. It is called the “Next G Network”. Basically offering WiFi where-ever you go.

The only upshot as far as I can tell with this is that you can take your Internet connection with you. That is they supply you with a “mobile card” that you install your Laptop and you can be connected while you travel, as opposed to find some unsecured WiFi network somewhere. If you mainly or only use the Internet at home then this is a rip off of staggering proportions.

So there is on offer two plans and yes they are locked for 12 months. The first plan called “G Fast” offers 256 kbps and 128 kbps upload. There is a 200MB option or one GIG, and that is per month… The cost… $49.95AU and $79.95AU respectively. First up the speed is poor even for WiFi and second you would not want it to be going any quicker as you are charged 30 cents per MB once you go over your quota! So that too slow for you and a bit restrictive? Well we are geeks and we need speed right?

Well maybe the “Super G Fast” is for you. There is only one speed here and that is 550 kbps to 1.5 mbps download (average) with an upload speed “bursting to 384 kbps. This plan is offered in two options; by the hour or by the volume. 10 hours or 20 at a cost of $29.95AU and $49.95AU respectively. The volumes offered are 400MB, 1GIG and 3GIG. Costing, $79.95AU, 109.95AU and 199.95AU respectively… Oh and I forgot that there is a one off fee of $299AU for the wireless card.Is it just me or does this seem like there is something wrong?

Pays to read the fine print where some of this information was taken:

1. The G Fast plans will have a download speed up to 256kbps and an upload speed of up to 128kbps. These speeds are a theoretical maximum. Actual speeds will be slower. The Super G Fast plans will have an average download speed of 550kbps to 1.5Mbps and an upload speed bursting to 384kbps. Speeds may vary due to congestion, distance from the cell, local conditions, hardware, software and other factors.
2. Usage means monthly combined upload and download data transfer. 1 Gigabyte = 1000 Megabytes.

[Added Emphasis]

This country is going bloody mad. Anyone that thinks this is any type of good deal could be in for a shock. Especially when you consider that Google is delivering free wireless access to the whole town of Mountain View where they are based and they want to do it elsewhere! Not to mention the fact that this type of thing has been available in the US for about the last 6 years.

Sure I don’t have the ability to have access no matter where I am. But if I wanted WiFi at home, the addition of a Wireless modem would be all it would take and that would be for less than 200 bucks! So taking the mobility part of the equation out. I have a connection here at home that is 1.5 mbps download and 256 kpbs up. No that isn’t break neck speed but it is the fastest available here in Cairns, Australia at the time of writing this. I pay a quarter of the cost above and I have 10 GIG to play with!

I am no maths genius and I may be wrong here but this whole thing seems very, very steep. The sad thing is that this will be the only high speed Internet option available to some isolated communities here in Australia. What choice does that leave them? I certainly hope we are rescued from these crazy times by someone, some company or at least the Australian public waking up to themselves and realizing that there are other options other than Telstra. Force the competition and start giving yourselves the choice at competitive prices and stop complaining.

No thanks Telstra I will have my restricted mobility.

What Bit Rate for Podcasts?

I really, honestly do not know the answer to this question. What is the best bit rate to encode a podcast at? Also does that answer depend upon the fact that you are a listener or a podcaster or hosting service?

I do the post production work for the Global Geek Podcast. Before moving to TPN I always encoded the podcast at 44khz and 96kbps. That works out at about 35 – 40MB per show (depending on length between 40 minutes to an hour). We have what I think is great audio quality, but am I spoiling ourselves and our listeners and potentially excluding others?

We have never had a complaint about the file size of the show. No-one has ever said it was too big. People have commented on the quality and said it is great and we have worked hard to get it that way. But I now question if that is over kill. So I tried to figure out what bit rate is the most common. I did a very small survey of the podcasts I have on the computer. I only have nine on it at the moment – most of them are on the MP3 Player (where they should be).

Anyway I got the following breakdown:

Total of 9 Podcasts:

  • 2 encoded at 96kbps
  • 4 encoded at 64kbps
  • 3 encoded at 48kbps

A conclusive survey that does not make. But maybe I am aiming too high. What quality do listeners expect of a podcast? Do they want a small file and lower quality so that they get the content without the bandwidth. Or do they want great quality and a larger file size? With the size of MP3 players now the storage is not an issue I don’t think. But I know in Australia the cost of bandwidth might be. The cost of faster connections is expensive and so many users are on a maximum of 256/64 or 512/128. So does a larger file size deter them from listening to our show? Could we have a bigger audience if we made it smaller and if that is the case what size is acceptable?

With the uptake of broadband technology there is a step towards encoding at a larger bit rate but what should it be? Perhaps 64kbps is a good place. I listen to quite a few podcasts that are recorded at 64kbps and they sound good. A one hour podcast encoded at 64kbps is about 28MB (voice only). Is this a big difference to 96kbps? Well it is between 10 and 15 MB. Will that mean the difference between more listeners and a balance between keeping your existing ones because of what they expect? Will you loose listeners by lowering the bit rate dramatically and will it matter because of the number you pick up. To me it does anyway, I care that we keep the listeners we have.

The other big consideration here is the hosting cost. I know that I had to go to the plan one up from the basic plan in order to have the podcast encoded at such a high bit rate. So that privilege cost me $10US/month instead of $5US/month. That was a cost that I thought was worth it. Also what if your podcast is being hosted by a network, what file size is reasonable for them to host? Is it acceptable that you have a higher bit rate than the other shows that are hosted there and is it necessary? Personally, I would like to find a happy medium between file size, bit rate and quality. I want the best quality at a reasonable file size. I don’t want my hosting provider to get pissed off that the show is too large. In addition to that fact; the network wants as many people to listen to as many shows as possible. If it is possible that people are “turned off” by a large file size, then that is not for the benefit of the network and I would not do it. In that instance the file size should be smaller at the sacrifice of quality for the benefit of the network and I need to accept that.

As a listener I do not care what size a file is. I have a fast Internet connection and it really does not bother me. I like high quality podcasts but I listen to some that are not of a high quality as far as bit rate because the content is good. So is good quality a cover for shit content? If it is; it is not sustainable long term. So as a listener of podcasts I don’t search for podcasts based on audio quality or file size, and maybe I have just answered my question in part.

Having made these points I will say that some basic editing will improve quality out of sight. I have turned off podcasts because they have not bothered to do this basic editing. They were unlistenable and total shit and they should have thought the same! I wonder if some podcasters even listen to it after they have recorded it. So what do I mean by “basic editing?”

Basic editing in my opinion is:

  • Setting levels before you start, especially if you are recording Skype using a software application. This means setting your levels with enough “headroom” to get loud during a podcast so that you don’t “clip” the recording. And not so soft that you have to amplify it dramatically to get something to work with.
  • Don’t edit the podcast as an MP3, MP3 is a “lossy” format and gets worse and worse in quality every time you re-encode it or open it and save it.
  • Run a compressor on the audio to “smooth” the audio. That is take out the high’s and bring up the lows.
  • Run the compressor a few more times.
  • Normalise” the audio, basically set the zero level. Makes the podcast the same volume and means that the listener isn’t constantly turning their volume up and down.
  • You may need to “amplify” the whole audio after using the compressor and normalising the audio. You don’t want the listener running out of volume because it is too soft!
  • Any added or imported audio needs the above steps.

Believe it or not the above takes the least amount of time in my editing but makes the biggest difference. I do go a step further and edit the actual audio and take out the umms and errs and we always stuff things up and say well we will edit that out. The time is also in the transitions and the mixing of the imported audio, making it all work together (the best that I can). So maybe you can see why as a podcaster I want it to sound as good as I can, I put a lot of effort into both the pre and post production. But is that at the neglect of other issues? Is this basic and advanced editing enough to make it a “quality” podcast?

Please leave a comment and tell me what you think. Tell me if you are a listener or a podcaster. Podcasters, tell me what you encode your podcast at and why. Listeners please answer my questions for me. As I said at the start of this post I really do not know what the right answer is, that’s why I have posed lots of questions. It would be great to get some answers, although I am not sure there is one.

Internode ISP To Boost Bandwidth in Australia

As you may or may not know my Internet Service Provider is Internode. This is an Adelaide run; slick internet provider that comes highly recommended for you Australian readers. I have always received great service with a no-fuss attitude. In addition to that they offer a reliable service at an affordable cost.

So without starting to sound like an advertisement or something, I found some real news on the RSS about Internode. Australian IT reports that they are wanting to be the first Australian ISP to offer “super-fast” internet connections of over 1Mps. They are currently waiting for approval by the relevant authorities. Once this is done they are planning for immediate deployment of the service.

The service is being touted as ideal for people that want to host web services, video conferencing and downloading large files. While this is all great and dandy, I bet the rest of the world is laughing their arses off! Internet services are so far behind in Australia it really is not funny. This is evidenced by the fact that I regularly talk to my overseas contacts that have much faster connections than the “super-fast” 2Mps! Indeed Knightwise who is from Belgium has a 4Mps connection for less than I am paying for 1.5Mps!

This is not to shun the forward thinking of Internode. The fact that they are pushing for faster connections is great but we are really behind the times on a global level and scale.

The tele-communications industry in Australia remains a political and red-tape filled cess pit that, from what I can see, shows no sign of changing any time soon. This is severely compromising our stake in this rapidly changing and transforming landscape that is the internet. Perhaps the global push for connectivity will boot our industry into a more competitive stance and one that enables the community to take advantage of all that the internet is offering, rather than a restrictive, legalistic, overpriced and unfair monopoly (Despite the denials) that restricts access and that is based on cost alone.

This is highly evident by the fact that at the moment I pay $49.95 AU a month for a 1500/256 connection. If I was with the biggest, most dominant and anti-competitive company in Australia and yet the most popular, Telstra; I would be paying $125 AU. When you ask them why; you get the usual red-tape rhetoric. I just do not understand how a company that charges more than double can stay in business. Other than the fact that they prey on peoples’ comfort in familiarity.

Congratulations to Internode for playing the ball. Wake up you Telstra morons we are being left behind and yes you are a problem.

Eight Bucks Worth of Advice

Not very happy today. I went to the doctor and it turns out I have infected sinuses. In addition to that I went to the music shop to try to return an audio cord that was faulty. In addition to that I thought I had found a solution to record Skype which worked yesterday and does not work today! In addition to that I had a weird thing on my back biopsied cause the doctor was concerned it might be something "nasty". In addition to that my Line Out on the computer is stuffed.

So I feel like crap. The doctor put me onto some antibiotics to clear up the infected sinuses. Still copious volumes of what can only be described as primordial ooze continues to inhabit my sinuses which refuses to budge. This in turn is causing a headache from hell that is immune to paracetamol. I sincerely hope that it improves by tomorrow. The results on the suspicious thing is pending pathology.

So today I went looking for some digital speakers (I have SPDIF on the sound card as well) and I check the shop that I got my audio gear from. They like every other shop in Cairns does not have Digital Speakers. The guy in the shop did suggest a couple of things I could do to fix the plug in the computer. But while I was there I tried to return a cable.

When I bought my mixer, a Behringer UB 1002FX, I also bought a stereo to RCA cable. When I got it home I noticed that where the two cables can be pulled apart to reach connections the insulation had split. So I took it back to the place that I got it from and showed him what had happened. When I got this cable there were none on the shelf but the guy that served me managed to find a used one out the back that he gave me a 10% discount on. So today this other guy in the shop says:

"… ahhh well we probably sold you that cable with a discount to boot"

So I guess that means that because I got it at a discount it is okay that it is faulty, which is pretty much what I said to him. He then said that even though the wires were showing the cable would work fine. So I guess that means that it is okay that it is faulty because it still works… So then I said that I thought he should take it back and give me a refund due to the fact that the product was not right and that it was not acceptable. I also said that I was actually charged about full price for it. To that he dropped the clanger:

"Well I reckon that you have had about eight bucks of advice this afternoon"

I just walked out. What a wanker. This is no way at all to treat a customer, at least one that you want to come back. I was so shocked at this reply. I will never return to that shop. I am not going to spend any more time blogging about a looser.

So the other thing that I have been doing is trying to find a better way of recording Skype. So I had this brainwave yesterday. I will have to do this in point form:

  1. Connect the speaker out on the computer to the mixer CD/TAPE in.
  2. Connect the headphones to the PHONES socket (so I can hear everything)
  3. Press the CD/TAPE TO MIX button

Without pressing the CD/TAPE TO MIX button I can hear the other person and myself by turning up the volume on the mixer for the phones. But I have to press the "TO MIX" button to record both people in the conversation.

This indeed works, by recording the audio in Audacity. Well it worked yesterday. Today for no apparent reason the other person can hear themselves like you can when you select the stereo mix button. This makes no sense at all. As far as the computer is concerned all the audio is coming from the mixer to the line in as one signal. But for some reason I am getting a stereo mix as the result. Yesterday on the other hand it worked, perfectly. I have no idea why it worked yesterday and not today.

Back to Hot Recorder. And my infected sinuses and a buggered socket on the computer and a computer that acts as it computers do. Without logic that is, so condition normal.