Bell and Telus launch HSPA+ network

The big news in Canadian wireless service (besides the CRTC’s absolutely shameful decision to deny Globalive/WIND an operating license) is the launch of Bell and Telus’ joint HSPA+ network. The network uses the 850/1900 MHz bands and operates with MNC/MCC 302-880, so you can search for coverage with your existing “3G” device to see if it connects properly.

There are quite a number of questions surrounding the launch – mostly because the Canadian wireless industry highly encourages contracts, people are wondering if it’s the right time to move to a new provider, change their plan to the new network, or see if they can upgrade their device. Here’s the information that’s been distilled from HowardForums and other quasi-official sources. If you have updates with verifiable information, please comment and I’ll update the post accordingly.

Will Bell or Telus let me move my voice/data plan to the new HSPA+ network?

  • Bell: There’s been at least one confirmed report of a customer able to move the $30 unlimited data plan to HSPA+ on Bell. Another user reported success changing $30 unlimited Windows Mobile data to $30 unlimited BlackBerry data. However, all customers who’ve successfully done this have also performed a hardware upgrade (HUG) or contract renewal at the same time. Tethering is not included on the $30 unlimited plan for both CDMA and HSPA devices. There are no details on voice plan migrations, but all the information so far indicates that voice plans should also migrate over.
  • Telus: The situation is far less forgiving for existing CDMA customers. There is no equivalent to the popular “$15/unlimited data” package on the new HSPA+ network, so users enjoying this option should definitely wait on what future plans are available. Users mention that their voice plans have been carried over successfully, but all have individually purchased non-Telus devices. They then buy a SIM card for $9.99, and activate through the e.Care system – not necessarily involving a customer service representative. The scenario generally seems to be that you’ll have to choose an in-market data plan to move to the new network.

What about my hardware upgrade (HUG) availability or credit?

Both Bell and Telus forums report that hardware upgrade credits can be applied to HSPA+ devices, although they may be significantly less than what customers are expecting – many Bell clients are only reporting a $150 discount from a device’s full price, which isn’t a deal at all.

If you plan to hardware upgrade to a HSPA+ device and are not in the last 2-3 months of your contract, I would highly recommend that you wait until the Christmas season, when the early adopters are out of the system and customer service will have more ability to offer discounts. Keep in mind that if you have less than a month left, especially on Telus, you may want to try your luck with Loyalty and Retentions to maintain your credits.

Does my Bell/Telus HSPA+ phone come unlocked?

No. All phones are sold locked to their own individual carrier. I’m still waiting on reports as to how Bell and Telus differentiate their SIM cards, since the mobile network code and mobile carrier codes are the same across both providers. You can determine the locking status on a BlackBerry by accessing the Options/Advanced Options/SIM Card screen, then typing MEPD.

Bell will apparently unlock their own phones for $75, but there are many third-party companies that will provide this service for significantly less.

Should I move to Bell/Telus if I have my own hardware?

Both Bell and Telus will require that you sign a 36-month contract to take advantage of their advertised, in-market plans – so consider that you may want to take a new device at a subsidy and try selling either it or your old device.

Keep in mind that even if you have your own phone that takes a SIM card, it needs to be compatible with the new network’s UMTS 850/1900 bands. This means that devices like the BlackBerry 8830, Storm 9500 and 9530, Palm Pre, and original iPhone won’t work as expected.

  • Bell: For customers bringing their own BlackBerry Bold, it may be possible to save 20% on the appropriate rate plan. This is completely unconfirmed, but would essentially mean you’d pay $36 instead of $45 per month as a base. Consider, though, that Bell still charges a $6.95/month System Access Fee.

Can I activate a prepaid phone on HSPA?

  • Bell: Not yet. Reports indicate that they’re considering offering this option in a few weeks.
  • Telus: Yes, but only for voice and SMS. Data access isn’t currently enabled.

Asus P5QL-EM and Windows 7 graphics corruption/failed installation

Just a heads up to anyone with the Asus P5QL-EM – installing Windows 7 RTM without an addon graphics card (so essentially using the onboard graphics) will fail miserably. On the first boot, the display is corrupted (at least over DVI) and while booting in safe mode avoids this problem, the installer won’t continue properly. Another possible symptom is the Windows flag freezing during its ‘throb’ animation on boot. I didn’t see anything about this elsewhere online, but the issue may apply to other boards with the Intel G43 chipset.

I worked around this by installing an nVidia GeForce 8800GTS card I had lying around, and applying the 0601 revision of the BIOS: P5QL-EM-ASUS-0601. The board shipped with revision 0503, so I’d suggest that all system builders and integrators check their own boards before bumping to Windows 7.

University of Waterloo Bookstore violates Visa merchant guidelines

Those of you who know me or read this site will understand that I have very strong feelings about how financial and credit card transactions are supposed to work. Today I attempted to purchase a textbook for SCI 205, Physics of High Fidelity Sound Reproduction. Apparently the original book used for the course is out of print – as a result, the Graphics department will gladly print you a final-sale photocopy of the relevant sections for $60. While ordinarily I’d moan and complain about the price, I needed the material to complete some assignments and didn’t really have time to whine here first.

How this process is supposed to work is: you get a form printed at the information desk with a barcode and several other pieces of information – name, student ID, phone and email. You then take this form to the cashier, who will charge you the full price and place an order with Graphics for a reprint of the content. They call or email you in the next two or three business days when the material is ready, and you can pick it up with your receipt.

The main problem in my situation occurred when I gave my Visa card to the cashier. Without even looking at the signature, she requested a piece of ID to complete it. I declined – saying that it shouldn’t be necessary to run my card. “We need it,” she said. “To verify your identity.”

“Well, your merchant agreement says that I shouldn’t need to show ID. I’m not trying to be difficult, I’d just rather not show you anything.”

“We can’t put this through then. You can speak to my manager if you’d like.”

Apparently speaking to the manager involved talking to the head cashier, who without even hearing the details of the transaction, said that they wouldn’t accept my card without ID. I mentioned that I’d be calling merchant services later and paid for the material by debit – without giving any identification. (Never mind the fact that my student ID number, UW account and name on the textbook order form match my credit card. That would be too obvious.)

My conversation with TD Visa’s customer care line was much more productive. The customer service representative had to look up the details of the policy, and suggested that UW may be in the right – that they might want to check ID for all forms of payment. When informed that my debit transaction went through without hassle, though, he said that they’d be initiating an investigation with Retail Services and offered to increase my credit limit. He also agreed that it was not acceptable to have this policy to prevent people from using their parents’ cards.

Sure, I could have easily shown the cashier some identification. Admittedly, that would have been the simplest way to deal with the situation. I just don’t believe in giving my driver’s license number, home address and other personal information to merely anyone who asks for it, and it shouldn’t have been necessary. I’d actually prefer if they’d have called Visa and validate my identity – as a client with a spotless payment history and several other services with TD, the answer would have been “yes, take this card.”

I shouldn’t have to keep the VISA merchant guidelines around in my bag at all times, but with this incident I’m slightly disappointed that UW isn’t following their end of the bargain.

Vegas: Where to get free WiFi on the strip

This is the second part of my Vegas post series. View part one here. I figured I’d actually post this with some useful information instead of letting it languish in the queue.

After arriving in the afternoon on February 12th, we proceeded to check into the Mirage hotel. The Mirage is closer to the north end of the Las Vegas Strip, and is one of the MGM Mirage properties.

Front view of Mirage

Mirage Hotel

Its strip-facing attraction is an hourly volcano eruption – essentially dozens of natural gas jets that spout fire from a pond, combined with a jungle beat. There’s also a rock structure that has several giant eruptions and ends the sequence with a huge fireball; you can definitely feel the heat from the sidewalk.

Volcano at the Mirage

At the lobby, a large aquarium sits behind the check-in desk to the right of the entrance. There’s also a atrium or conservatory that serves as the main path to the casino, theatres and restaurants. Here’s where you start to realize that the floor layout is designed to expose visitors to as many slot machines as possible. The carpet specifically winds past several restaurants and the “Revolution” lounge – a promotional tie-in with the Cirque du Soleil / Beatles “LOVE” musical currently playing.

Perhaps the most telling of all the places to spend one’s money is located right behind the elevators. The main hotel gift shop is actually called “Impulse”. Shameless, really. If you’re looking for souvenirs, shot glasses and keychains all start at around $6. I opted to spend my money elsewhere.

The rooms at the Mirage are excellent. It’s certainly the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in, and this particular room was a base model. It came with a 42″ LCD TV, accompanied by a breakout box for composite, VGA (D-sub), and HDMI connectors – so I suggest you bring appropriate cabling if you plan to watch a movie. Internet is wired or wireless, and costs $14.99 for a 24-hour period. Since this is a pretty steep charge, I have a recommendation if you want to do some brief surfing or emailing:

  • Head next door (south) to the Forum Shops at Caesar’s.
  • Go to the second floor using the escalator. Exit before the third floor. Complete an entire lap of the floor to get to the “wing” of the mall.
  • At the first statues (commonly referred to as the moving/animatronic statues), connect to the “SIMON” access point. I can assure you that the BlackBerry browser is sufficient to connect as well. Confirm that you accept the terms of use and you’ve got Internets.

Site migration once again

Moving this blog and all other related services to a new server. Hope to see everyone sooner than later.

Projects I’ve got going on for the month of May include

  • a new position at work
  • additional patches for XenonMKV, with a new version scheduled for the end of the month
  • catching up on other web development tasks

DreamSpark for UW students – no ISIC needed now!

With the University of Waterloo’s migration to WatIAM (a new integrated authentication system), it’s now possible to verify student status for Microsoft’s DreamSpark program without getting an ISIC from Travel Cuts. The MSDNAA site for UWaterloo only offers a few limited applications so DreamSpark is a very appealing resource.

Here’s the drill, up until now: since Canada is apparently a third-rate country even after two speeches from Bill Gates, proof of student status had to be obtained using an International Student Identity Card. Allegedly the only place to get these is at Travel Cuts, an agency in the University Plaza. To get this card, you need a passport photo ($10) and proof of student status.

What’s particularly irking about the cartel that is the travel agency business is the demand for either a transcript from QUEST or tuition statement – just showing a student card won’t do it. As someone who is reasonably concerned about privacy, I’m not a fan of a travel agency knowing my courses and grades. And I especially don’t want someone in that business knowing how much I pay for tuition; it’s a data mining adventure and a half.

This magic is now apparently made possible through Shibboleth – a single sign-on package that allows a remote server to verify credentials. Just sign in to DreamSpark with a Windows Live ID account, hit Verify, and pick University of Waterloo as the related school.

Goodies from this program that you might be interested in include full ISO’s and legitimate product keys for:

  • Visual Studio 2005 and 2008 Professional
  • Windows Server 2003 and 2008 Standard (the 2008 keys work on a 64-bit version as well; the ISO is only 32-bit, but if you’re ready to install Server 2008 I’m sure you can find an x64 ISO somewhere online.)
  • XNA Game Studio 3.0 – with 12-month subscription to the Creator’s Club (equivalent value $99US)
  • SQL Server 2008
  • Expression Studio 2

Go and enjoy!

Flying to Vegas, or “incompetence all around”

Since I never get to do anything fun anymore, I jumped at the opportunity to head to Las Vegas for a few days. After all, things in Vegas promised to be great – even if it meant staying in close proximity with my parents with whom I now have a strict once-per-week visitation schedule. But a free vacation’s a free vacation, and I’ve missed trips to both Newfoundland and California due to obnoxious exam schedules.

I’d now like to impart the events of Thursday, February the 12th, based on what I can only assume is sheer incompetence on a grand scale. I think the day involved some of the least helpful individuals since talking to anyone from Guidance in high school.

First, we booked our flight out with Sunwing Airlines, based on them having the cheapest direct flight to Sin City. The name is not necessarily an effort in branding magic and implying quality, but their site claimed they flew 737-800 aircraft – and who am I to argue with a well-understood plane number like that?

Check-in at YYZ (at FIVE OH CHRIST ON A CRACKER AM) was uneventful. The line moved reasonably quickly, and clearing US Customs was actually the easiest part of the process. The only stumbling block in the terminal was when the check-in agent insisted that I needed a separate customs form since my address is no longer the same as my parents’. (Strike one: you only need one form per family, and strike two: the guy with the shaved head at US customs didn’t give two figs – we were all travelling together.)

This is where the incompetence begins.

So we’re sitting in a 737 on the tarmac, waiting for takeoff instructions. We don’t actually begin taxiing out to the runway until about 7:15am, and then had to wait in a line of other planes. Captain Pikey (who spoke as quickly and as incomprehensibly as Brad Pitt in Snatch) indicated that since it was raining, they only had one runway open for departures. Our plane ended up in line position two before the runway, which I will depict with something other than text:

Takeoff Attempt 1 with Windsock

Note the windsock and obvious wetness. We then turned the corner and were about to circle into position.

Lineup, attempt 1

There are several planes waiting behind us. The time is now 7:45AM, a good three-quarters of an hour before our scheduled departure. For a special bonus, here’s a picture of me looking like I do at that godawful time.

Jake, awake in the plane at early o'clock.

We get up to the point where our plane should have turned, and Captain Pikey ignores the runway and barrels on straight ahead. A few minutes later he announces that someone from air traffic control noticed that our plane’s maintenance hatch was open, and that a mechanic would have to close it before we could depart. He assured the passengers that once this seemingly trivial operation occurred, we could immediately resume takeoff.

Time continues to pass. It is now 8:39AM Eastern, a good hour and a half beyond our departure time. Pikey returns with unfortunate news: since we’ve been pissing all of this time away on the tarmac, the plane has blown through its reserve fuel supply. We have to return to the gate to top up before departing. He also fails to mention that we will wait in line again for this privilege.

Did I mention there was no fuel truck at the gate, or that the attendant took his sweet time filling up the tank and getting the hell out of the way? It ended up being about 9:45 AM before the plane’s wheels actually left asphalt.

Other atrocities committed during our 4.5 hour flight included:

  • Complimentary breakfast, consisting of either scrambled eggs or french toast. Being aware of how easy it is to screw up eggs in an aviation scenario, my parents and I opted for the french toast. Said toast was two pieces of rubbery bread, adorned with plastic cherries avec mysterious red corn-syrup (like you might see on a cheap cherry cheesecake.) Vile all around.
  • Complimentary breakfast also included weak orange juice, some reasonable organic yogurt, and a pre-buttered mini-croissant.
  • Complimentary breakfast did not include coffee (only tea), even though we were promised said beverage at the beginning of the flight. Why is this, you ask? The flight attendant claimed that someone on the plane was allergic to coffee. I would legitimately like to hear a reason why all passengers must be quarantined from drinking coffee, considering half the plane brought Tim Hortons on. Hell, I only had a sandwich from there this morning and my hands still smell like coffee. And who the hell is allergic to coffee?
  • The woman behind me kept nudging my seat intermittently. Look, I know it’s cramped and if you have to stretch do so, but you looked like you were forty. I’d understand kicking the back of my seat if you were six, even though I wouldn’t be any more tolerant.

Several hours later, though, we were rewarded with the landing view of Las Vegas Boulevard.

Landing, picture 1.Landing, picture 2.

More to follow, pending interest.

A few years late, but Half-Life 2 makes me ill.

I’ve just purchased the Orange Box from Steam, given that it’s now priced down to a quite reasonable $29.99. Unfortunately I recall the last time I borrowed a Steam account to play the game and suffered incredible motion sickness after about an hour of playtime.

The problem isn’t the refresh rate – it’s the field of view, which is 75 degrees. This is much narrower than the 90 degrees typical to most first person shooters, and the problem is exacerbated on a large monitor with a decent video card.

For my own reference, here’s how to fix this problem:

  • Click Options / Keyboard / Advanced and check the “Enable developer console (~) key” box.
  • Return to the game.
  • Call up the console by pressing the tilde (~) key and type the following commands:
    sv_cheats 1
    default_fov 90
    fov 90

(Updated Feb. 3/09 to include default_fov command.)

BlackBerry Media Sync for Mac now available

If you haven’t caught the news from one of your usual sources, BlackBerry Media Sync for Mac is now available in a preview version. (It works just fine for me, though – OS X 10.5.6, Bold, 8GB microSD card and a ridiculously sized iTunes library of 25,682 songs.)

One option I’d suggest avoiding (depending on library/media card size) is the “Automatically fill free space” checkbox. Due to the way that the onboard media player parses files, a lot of single unrelated tracks can cause a lengthy initial parse time on the device. This wait may have improved since this build was released, but I’d suggest creating a Smart Playlist or two before using this utility.

I honestly didn’t expect to see this program released until the new year, but it’s awesome that it’s now available to the general public. Hope it works for you!