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Author Archives: Alex Kidman

Wi-Fi 6 aims to make your Internet connection quicker

We’ve seen a steady increase in the capabilities of Wi-Fi over the past decade, along with a dizzying array of acronyms to go with it. If you’re au fait with the difference between, say, 802.11b and 802.11n, that’s fine — but very few folks actually are.

That’s also coincided with an immense growth in the number of devices the typical household has which rely on Wi-Fi connectivity. While the first big push for Wi-Fi came courtesy of Intel and was pitched towards the laptops of the day, these days we’re hooking up phones, tablets, games consoles, televisions and even light bulbs to our home Wi-Fi networks. That means we’re more reliant on it than ever before, but also fighting for limited resources when it comes to sharing around that precious signal. It’s a super-common complaint that your Wi-Fi in one room or another in the house is terrible, or that somebody’s hogging it all to stream video or play data-intensive games.

The latest standard in Wi-Fi aims to resolve many of these woes, including the confusion around standards naming. While it’s technically 802.11ax, what you’ll see it marketed as is the more easy to grasp “Wi-Fi 6”. Understanding that there was significant jargon confusion, the underlying standards group for Wi-Fi certification settled on Wi-Fi 6 on the not ridiculous basis that it’s the 6th generation of standards since the original 802.11.

It’s even backdating the principle, so that you may see some 802.11ac routers — that’s the standard that Wi-Fi 6 upgrades from — sold as “Wi-Fi 5” devices.

One of the key features that Wi-Fi 6 should bring is more speed, although how much will depend on a variety of factors. By specifications standards, Wi-Fi 6 should be around 30% faster than Wi-Fi 5, with a top end speed of some 10Gbps. That’s way faster than you can get any home internet connection in any case, although you won’t see Wi-Fi 6 routers with that kind of speed for some time.

Because it’s a wireless standard, you’ll also still have the issues of interference to contend with, although some of the specifications around Wi-Fi 6 should mitigate those in ways that earlier standards cannot. Without getting into the jargon weeds too heavily, Wi-Fi 6 is a highly efficient standard that should be able to fling data around at higher rates to more devices than existing routers.

There’s a couple of catches, however. For a start, you’re going to need a new router, and the first wave of Wi-Fi 6 routers will be high-end devices with price points to match. Most of us tend to stick with the router supplied by our ISP, and they’re almost always the cheapest possible option the ISP can get away with. Don’t expect a Wi-Fi 6 router from your ISP any time soon.

To make the absolute most of Wi-Fi 6 you’ll also need fully compatible devices for it to talk to. So far, that’s limited to a few Samsung phones, but that’s for full speed Wi-Fi 6. It’s still compatible with every other Wi-Fi device out there, but not at the full speed it’s capable of. At the least, Wi-Fi 6’s ability to serve more clients concurrently should assist with those older devices.

Finally, of course, while it’s highly efficient for pinging packets around your home network, you’re still going to be limited by the speed of the broadband connection coming into your home or premises. If you’re limited on a slow NBN connection, a faster router won’t change that, because it can’t do anything about the data pipe feeding into it at all.


Disney+ makes your streaming choices even more complicated

It doesn’t feel like all that long ago that my viewing choices for the evening comprised just two channels. I grew up in regional NSW, and I could pick from the local regional commercial channel, or the ABC. Programs were on, and then they weren’t.

If I missed a program, too bad. My best bet was to scour the TV guide in the paper and set the VHS recorder appropriately, with a little bit of “grace time” around the recording for if it was running late.

Those days are long gone. These days, when I sit down in front of a TV, computer, games console or even just a mobile phone, I’m bombarded with an array of on-demand choices, many of which are advertising-free and don’t care a jot about when I might want to watch something.

All I really need is a reasonably stable, and preferably quick — at least by the terrible standards of Australian broadband, anyway — Internet connection, and I can binge on anything from Netflix, Stan, ABC iView, 10 All Access, Foxtel Now, Kayo or any other service I might care to sign up for. And that’s not even counting the billions of minutes of content added to YouTube on a daily basis — although there the quality can vary astonishingly.

It’s been known for a while that Disney was gearing up to launch its own media streaming service, called Disney+ in the USA towards the end of the year. Right now, Disney has a content deal with Channel 9’s Stan service that sees much of its content on that streaming platform. Most folks — myself included — figured that Stan would keep those rights for a few years until Disney+ was ready to launch into Australia.

It turns out that the House of Mouse had different ideas. Disney+ will launch in Australia on 19 November 2019, and surprisingly for a company that loves money so much, it’s going in pretty cheap. A months’ access to Disney+ will cost $8.99. There’s also an annual subscription option at $89.99 per year, which bumps the monthly cost down to $7.49.

Those are the only two pricing tiers available, but that will score you content at up to 4K resolution, as long as your broadband’s up for it, with up to four simultaneous streams — again if you’ve got the bandwidth for it — and seven different profiles to cover most family needs.

Disney+ will offer up a range of classic Disney titles, plus a lot of content specifically created just for streaming, including a new Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, that will debut with the service when it launches. The trailer for that one is pretty sweet if you’re a Star Wars fan.

Now, Disney’s not exactly being altruistic here. It knows it’s got a big target to take down globally, with Netflix being more or less the “default” streaming service of choice for most consumers. Netflix’s pricing is a little higher, and it charges more if you want more simultaneous streams or 4K access.

Like Netflix, Disney’s offering up unique content to try to tempt folks into its service, but it does create something of a challenge for folks on a more constrained budget. The typical price for a streaming service (excluding Foxtel) is around $10 per month, but between Netflix, Disney+, Stan, Kayo, 10 All Access and plentiful niche services offering everything from Japanese animation to professional wrestling content, you could easily spend north of $100 a month if you wanted to watch “everything”.

Mind you, you don’t have to. Most of these services rely on the idea that you’ll sign up and stay signed up, but you’re not contractually obliged beyond your typical 30 days, so the really smart move is to line up your viewing with the programs you most want to see becoming available.

Keen on a new show landing on Netflix? Subscribe for a month, watch that and as much other Netflix content as you can manage, and then pause your subscription. Maybe flick over to Disney+ if it compels, or Kayo if you like your sports, or whatever.

If you carefully manage your subscriptions, you can still watch just about everything without paying for access to everything all at once. After all, while there’s many new streaming services, you’re only going to be looking at it through one set of eyes.


Microsoft’s latest Surface update causes its laptops to sink

Generally speaking, when there’s an important update for your notebook, it’s a decent idea to install it. It may not be an update that makes an immediate obvious new feature available. Instead it may work behind the scenes to add layers of security, fix bugs or improve general performance.

It’s why for the most part across both Windows and MacOS, you’re prompted to update when new upgrades are available. Both Apple and Microsoft are all too aware that functionally speaking, most of us don’t want to fuss with manually installing updates. Left to our own devices, we’re quite likely to skip out on an update. Typically you sit down at your computer to do something, and don’t want to wait while it downloads and updates itself.

Letting your PC handle those updates is a good middle ground. For many it can work very well, with scheduled updates running overnight while you sleep or at other convenient times.

Except of course when it doesn’t.

Alongside the Windows operating system, Microsoft also sells its own range of Surface-branded laptops and 2-in-1 devices.

A recent update for Surface devices, however, appears to have gone quite awry. Specifically, Microsoft recently put out a firmware update for Surface Pro 6 devices. That’s a hardware-level software upgrade designed to fix bugs and optimise performance, with the most recent update looking to improve Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity specifically.

At least in theory. What’s been widely reported is that the update is heavily throttling the main CPU performance.

In simple terms, it’s putting a serious brake on how fast the underlying processor can run, which means it can pull a top-end Surface Pro 6 to a near halt. The issue appears to be in the code that runs between the processor and external components.

It’s code that’s designed to pull the CPU speed down just a touch if other components are raising overall system temperature. That’s an ideal scenario, because it should optimise performance, but it appears in this case it’s kicking heavily into gear for no actual reason.

Microsoft, for its part, is reported as saying that it’s looking into the issue and that it’s working to quickly address the issue via an updated firmware patch.

Now, you might not have a Surface device to speak of, but it’s a good demonstration of how software updates are a tricky balancing act.

On the one hand, you shouldn’t ignore them. There’s important security updates in many at a minimum, alongside potential performance boosts that could give your PC a little extra grunt. Just like having decent Anti-Virus/Anti-Malware software, they’re a necessary part of keeping your PC in the best possible shape.

On the other hand, it’s not always wise to jump in straight away with every single update unless it’s specifically flagged as a critical update. Those address flaws that might affect you right away, and it doesn’t appear that this firmware update was of that type. Waiting for the dust to settle and the bugs to be ironed out can be a smart move too.

If you’re reading this on a Mac, by the way, the same advice is true too. We’re not that far away from when the next major upgrade of macOS, known as macOS Catalina, is going to be heavily pushed to your iMac, MacBook Pro or MacBook Air.

While Apple’s been beavering away at any bugs in that code, and you’ll no doubt be prompted to upgrade when it’s available, jumping in straight away may not be your best bet.


Samsung and Microsoft team up for the Galaxy Note10

Samsung has long pitched its “Note” line of larger smartphones as being perfect for folks with a productivity focus for their smartphone work. A few years ago, it introduced a specific desktop dock for its Note and Galaxy S class phones, the DeX dock.

Drop a qualifying Samsung phone into a DeX dock, and what you get isn’t the standard Android environment, but instead a phone that can connect to an external keyboard, mouse and monitor for an experience that’s closer to Windows than it is to just about anything else.

Samsung’s newest phone, the Samsung Galaxy Note10 is, of course DeX compatible, but Samsung had a little more than just simple desktop interfaces to boast about for its latest line of productivity mobile phones.

Samsung also pulled Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella up on stage to talk about Microsoft’s collaboration with Samsung for the Note10, and how it’ll work with Microsoft applications more closely than before.

Like Note devices before it, the Galaxy Note10 comes with its own stylus, which Samsung calls the “S-Pen”. This year’s model can work with gestures away from the phone itself, which could be used to (for example) run a powerpoint presentation sitting in an Office 365 account linked to the phone. It can take handwriting from the screen, convert it into text and drop it into a word document.

Where previous Notes needed a specific DeX dock, Samsung says that the Note10 will be able to connect up with just a USB C cable. Mind you, that’s the only cable you can connect to the Note10, as it’s Samsung’s first smartphone to lack a proper 3.5mm headphone jack.

Not that all this comes at a particularly low price point if you are productivity focused. The entry level Samsung Galaxy Note10 will cost $1,499, while the larger screened Note10+ will run you $1699, and the 5G-capable Note10+ will set you back a hefty $1,999. They’ll all be available in Australia from the 23rd of August.

Now, that’s a fair amount to pay for a phone, and it’s easily within the price point of many laptops. Samsung does make laptops, but it hasn’t sold them in Australia for some years now, citing the heavy competition in the local market and razor-thin profit margins as the reason why.

Samsung surprised many — myself included — when it unveiled a new laptop at its Note10 launch. The Galaxy Book S is a 13.3 inch laptop running Windows 10 Home on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx processor. It’s LTE capable and Samsung says it can run for up to 23 hours on a single charge. That’ll be down to the Qualcomm processor rather than one of Intel’s new Ice Lake CPUS; you’ll get more battery life but most likely a less nimble machine in processing terms as a result.

Surprisingly, it’s a laptop that Samsung says it will launch here in Australia, although it hasn’t committed to a timeframe or price point just yet. In the US, pricing will start at $US999, which should see it land here somewhere around $1500-$1600, depending on the exchange rate and applicable GST issues. Microsoft’s selling the Galaxy Book S in its US stores, so we’ll probably see it here in Microsoft’s online store as well.

Or in other words, it’s a choice. The Note10 is much smaller and more mobile, but doesn’t have that full keyboard all the time, and it’s in the premium price space for a smartphone. That’s true too of the Galaxy Book S, where it competes with the likes of Dell, HP, Apple and Acer for your computing dollar.


Intel unveils its faster Ice Lake processors

For most of us, buying a new laptop is a matter of expediency, not outright tech desire. We’ll make do for as long as possible on an older system until it simply isn’t economical — or sometimes feasible — to continue working with it or repairing it.

When that happens, market figures suggest that most consumers opt for PCs with one of Intel’s processors inside. All those many years of Intel Inside jingles are paying off, with Intel just recently announcing its 10th generation of Intel Core processors, known more informally as “Ice Lake”.

Outside of specialised PC dealers, you probably won’t see the words “Ice Lake” anywhere. You can actually work out the generation easily from the code attached to the processor description.

Intel still makes its processors as Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7, with that increasing number differentiating the overall performance of the CPU. You’ll pay less for a Core i3 than a Core i7, but it’s a slower processor as a result.

Each Core processor has a six character suffix as well, with the first two digits showing off the generation of the processor. So for 10th generation Ice Lake, it’ll be something like Core i3-1005G1, or Core i7-1068G7 to throw up a few examples. That “10” in the suffix shows they’re both Ice Lake generation processors, albeit models pitched at very different market segments.

Intel’s big pitch around Ice Lake, aside from the use of a 10nm build process, are improvements in the onboard graphics capabilities of their new systems. For years now, there’s been a balacing act between computers with their own standalone graphics cards — especially true for high-performance video editing or gaming rigs — and those that simply rely on onboard graphics capabilities, especially in notebooks.

If all you do on your PC is a little light web browsing and document creation, just about any computer will do, but if you do need that bit of additional power, Intel’s claim with its Ice Lake chips is that it’s pitching towards the output you used to see from traditional standalone graphics cards.

There should also be something of an improvement in battery life thanks to optimisations around the number of instructions the Ice Lake CPUs can perform per clock cycle. That’ll depend in large part on the precise configuration of each system using a mobile Ice Lake CPU, however, as well as of course the actual battery capacity. Intel’s launching 11 new Ice Lake processors this year, with models for both “desktop replacement” style performance PCs and lower-power CPUs for more ultrathin and portable laptop models.

Intel is going head to head with AMD in the processor space, as it has done for many years, with AMD’s own Ryzen processors now shipping in computers you can buy right now.

Confusion about processor generations aside, if you’re in the market for a new PC, it’s well worth your while making sure you’re getting value for money.

There’s nothing wrong with buying a system with an “old” generation processor in it — for the right price. That model on the shop floor that they’ve cut an “AMAZING” $100 off? Almost certainly old stock they’re keen to shift to make way for the new AMD Ryzen and Intel Ice Lake systems.

Equally, though, it’s not going to make a lot of sense to spend the same amount of money on an older system if there’s a newer, leaner PC available for that exact price.


Does Apple’s MacBook Pro still live up to its Pro billing?

Apple recently made some pretty large changes to its line of MacBook laptops. In recent years there’s been an array of choices, from the very small “MacBook” through the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro lines. Some of these had the newer butterfly keyboards and Apple’s own Touch Bar sensor, while others didn’t. If you didn’t check carefully when buying — especially from a third party retailer — you could easily end up with last year’s stock with a slower processor.

That’s changed with Apple cutting back to just two notebook lines. The MacBook Air is effectively the “entry” level MacBook now, although in typical Apple style it’s not exactly inexpensive. The cheapest MacBook Air will set you back $1,699.

Then there’s the MacBook Pro. Here, Apple has standardised with all models now featuring the newer flatter “butterfly” style keyboard, and the removal of the function keys in favour of the Touch Bar. I’ve been testing out the 13 inch MacBook Pro recently, more specifically the 256GB Core i5 model, which without any other modifications would cost you $2,299.

That’s not inexpensive for a laptop, to put it politely. Apple puts a premium on its entire product range in line with its position (justified or not) as an aspirational luxury brand.

Now, I’m not going to get into the whole Windows/Mac argument too much here, but pretty clearly if all you want is a laptop for basic tasks, this is total overkill. If all I’m doing is writing words, I could do that on a laptop that’d cost me under $500 pretty easily.

Still, I’ve mostly been impressed with the new MacBook Pro, even if Apple hasn’t really reinvented itself all that much here. It’s certainly a powerful machine, and I’ve been able to use it for on-the-go podcast and video editing without it struggling much at all. Comparing it against a 2016 MacBook Pro (albeit the larger 15″ model), the speed upgrade is quite noticeable. That 3 year gap is about the right time to start thinking around laptop upgrades for most brands, because any shorter timeframe than that and you won’t see enough difference.

Battery life is also quite good, especially for a smaller laptop like this. While out and about and using it heavily I’ve been able to get through a day’s work without too many issues at all. Power is via USB C, and any of the 4 USB C ports can be used to charge it up. In typical Apple style, it’s rather fussy about power delivery, so having an actual Apple charger on hand is definitely recommended.

There are some negatives, however. Apple swears that it’s improved the “butterfly” keyboard mechanism for durability in the newer models. I haven’t hit any issues so far, but I have seen it in other MacBook Pro laptops with the same keyboard design. I’m honestly not a huge fan of a keyboard with larger, flatter keys, because I prefer having some travel in each individual key. That’s clearly a personal preference issue, but I’d strongly suggest you have a test type on a new MacBook Air or MacBook Pro keyboard before buying, to make sure it works for you.

Likewise, I’m still waiting for Apple to show me some use for the Touch Bar that actually makes my life easier. The idea here is that it’s meant to contextually change depending on what you’re doing. Fine in theory, but I touch type, so I rarely want to actually look at the keyboard. Even when I do, the shifting size of icons means I’m often pausing to find and press the right control, or in some cases make many presses to do what I used to be able to do from muscle memory.

Maybe there’s a great use case for the Touch Bar, and obviously your taste may vary. I just haven’t seen it yet.

If you are considering a MacBook Pro, it’s also worth sorting out configuration before you buy. If you’re getting it from a third party retailer, you’ll be stuck with just a few configuration options, but it’s feasible to really upscale it if your budget can manage it. That’s an option you’d only get if you ordered through Apple, however.

While that can drive the price sky-high, the other catch with the MacBook Pro design — one it shares with quite a few Windows laptops in similar styles — is that’s it’s essentially impossible to upgrade storage, RAM or other components unless you do so at the time of purchase. Older MacBook generations at least let you pump up the RAM, but now that it’s fused in place, that’s no longer possible at all.


Tax time plus tech equals easier scams, so don’t get fooled

It’s tax time for many Australians, with some of us dreading debts while others plan for what they’ll do with a refund. Before you reach that stage, however, you’ve got to file your actual tax return, and this is where many of us can come unstuck.

I’m not speaking here of the complexity of tax law, but instead the rising tide of scams designed to fool you into handing over your personal details and funds.

Technology has absolutely changed the way we file our taxes in Australia, and in many ways for the better. You can always employ the services of a qualified accountant to jump through the many obscure parts of tax law, but you’re also able to do so from the comfort of your own home online.

That’s a far cry from the days of having to file within business hours and on printed forms that did little to ease your confusion.

However, it’s also made it easier for unscrupulous types to try to panic taxpayers into handing over their personal details or money.

The ATO notes that it’s seen a recent surge in scam attempts using the WhatsApp platform, with those who receive a message being threatened with huge fines or even arrest if they don’t pay up immediately.

Quick tip here: The ATO isn’t on WhatsApp. Not even a teensy tiny bit.

I’ve not seen that one myself, but over the years I’ve certainly seen my fair share of dodgy scam attempts, from bogus NBN installer emails to tax “refund” messages via SMS.

There are a couple of very nasty ways these scams can sting you. Getting you to pay a “fine” that doesn’t exist is the most obvious, but even your personal details have plenty of value to scammers. They can use that detail to try to crack other accounts you may have, potentially obtain fraudulent identification documents, or simply sell onto other criminal types for that purpose.

So what should you look out for if you’re concerned?

Threats: Dealing with the ATO isn’t usually high on anyone’s list of favourite pastimes, but it’s simply a government department doing its job. That job typically doesn’t involve immediate threats of arrest or direct fines in most cases. It’s a very simply psychological trick designed to get you to panic, not think about what you’re doing and inadvertently reveal your valuable personal information.

Not knowing your details: The ATO has you on file as a taxpayer. Yes, if you contact them yourself, they’ll ask for identity verification to ensure that they’re talking to the right taxpayer. But if they call, text or email you, they should know exactly who they’re talking to. Don’t be fooled into providing scans of valuable documents, or even personal details like dates of birth. If you’re concerned that contact could be genuine, take notes and contact the ATO directly via its website. Never use the phone number or website provided in a contact email or call — grab it yourself to ensure it’s genuine.

Dodgy payment methods: The ATO is part of the Federal Goverment, which means it prefers payment in actual cash. Yes, that can be via an Internet transfer in this day and age, but never in any kind of cryptocurrency, or for that matter iTunes Gift Cards or similar. What exactly is the ATO meant to do with all that iTunes credit anyway? The reason that crooks like those kinds of payments is that they’re either tough to trace or easily onsold for actual money. Either way, you’re out of pocket.


Your “waterproof” phone isn’t really waterproof.

The ACCC is engaging in court action against South Korean technology giant Samsung.

The ACCC alleges that Samsung has made false representation around its popular Galaxy smartphones. Specifically a feature of the higher end models, typically the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note phones that offer water resistance.

The ACCC’s claims that Samsung’s advertising shows Galaxy phones being used in or around swimming pools or in ocean environments.

All very suitable for the Australian marketplace, you might think. That’s exactly where we tend to like to spend our summer days, and even some of our winter ones too.

There’s one problem here. While Samsung, and many of its competitors in the premium smartphone space offer IP-rated water resistance as a phone feature, that’s not the same thing as “waterproof”. It’s not even close.

What an IP rating provides is a level of what’s called Ingress Protection, specifically against dust and water.

The first number in an IP rating relates to its ability to resist dust (or other fine particles) entering the delicate components within a phone. The second number relates to its ability to resist water entering the phone. Water is an issue not only for components but also the electrical flow through your phone’s circuitry.

Most of Samsung’s recent phones have been IP68 rated. That second number suggests that it should survive being immersed in water for up to 30 minutes at a depth of up to 1.5 metres.

Isn’t that basically saying it’s “waterproof”? Surely a quick swim or an underwater snap of your grandkids should fine, right?

It might sound like it, but there’s a big caveat here. IP testing is done in lab conditions to maintain consistency, but that means it’s using fresh lab water only.

Not salt water as you’d find in the sea, or for that matter chlorinated water as you’d find in many pools. The effect of those additional chemical elements can be extremely hazardous to your phone’s overall life expectancy, especially if they build up over time.

They can corrode away the precise seals that offer water resistance, or bridge gaps in electrical circuitry, causing phones to fail.

Most smartphones have water sensors in them so that even if you do take them in for a supposed warranty repair, it’ll quickly become evident that they’ve been effectively drowned.

It is important to note that the ACCC isn’t alleging that Samsung got its science wrong. Simply that the advertising around its phones suggested scenarios where the phone might have survived that weren’t in fact realistically feasible.

It’s also worth noting that plenty of other manufacturers offer “water resistance” as a headline feature but don’t back it up with warranty support. Apple’s premium iPhone lines have IP68 ratings, but there’s a specific line in Apple’s Australian warranties that states it won’t cover water ingress events if your iPhone stops working either.

What’s the practical takeaway here? If you have a phone with a level of water resistance, getting it wet in regular rain should be no hassle at all, and even a small dunk in other water may be survivable. But it’s hardly assured. I can’t say whether or not the ACCC will prevail against Samsung, which has said it’ll fight the court battle. But in the meantime, I’m generally keeping my phone dry anyway.


Being tracked online is annoying, but it’s not hard to limit

The modern Internet runs on advertising, whether it’s those annoying pop-up or obscuring ads that get in the way of the content you really want to read, or pre-roll ads on video streaming sites.

What’s less well understood by many everyday consumers is how all of these ads essentially play “together” to build a profile of your interests and then target you around ads you’re more likely to click on.

Spend a lot of time on, say a forum dedicated to bushwalking? You’re probably going to see a lot of ads for hiking boots, maybe tents or new UV-rated hats to keep sunburn at bay.

Go searching for a deal on a new mattress for your bed on Google? The odds are very good you’ll be hit with sponsored content inserts in your Facebook feed for the next month.

It’s a complex web of cookie tracking, “invisible” pixels that load when you look at a page and technologies that slowly build up a picture of your interests.

Advertisers — most notably Google — argue that it means you’re served ads that are much more likely to be of interest to you.

At the same time they can feel very invasive. That’s especially true given the use of machine learning to widen those profiles, which can sometimes verge on seeming like it’s spying on you.

To take the example above, if you spent a lot of time researching bushwalking but also spent time researching the movies of Humphrey Bogart, an AI-led search approach might assume you’re an older Internet user.

Alongside your hiking boot ads, you might get served a bunch of ads for arthritis cures. Why? Because those two seemingly unrelated details might match together well for an older bushwalker with sore joints.

There’s genuine concern here around general privacy, but there are steps you can take minimise the impact this kind of tracking has on you.

The folks behind the Firefox browser recently created a rather cheeky site at https://trackthis.link/ that mass spams your browser with 100 different sites to fool trackers into thinking your interests are wildly different than reality. You don’t have to be using Firefox to use the site, although it’s clearly also a way to promote an alternative browser option.

You click on a link, it opens the 100 tabs according to the profile you chose. It’s wise to make sure your Internet connection and computer are up for that kind of processing abuse first! From that, any tracker would add those “interests” to your profile, making it less useful in that tracked advertising sense.

It’s a stunt in many ways, and a brute force one at that. There are simpler ways to limit the quantity of tracking that happens online. Logging into a Google or Facebook account can be super-handy for automatically filling in passwords and remembering search history, but it’s also the prime way you’re tracked across multiple web sites — not just Google or Facebook.

There are web browser plugins such as Ghostery or AdBlock that can limit the number of ads you ultimately see, although I’d suggest exercising caution with those.

They can work, but plenty of sites with entirely decent content rely on those ads to keep the lights on. For sites that abuse ad content to a ridiculous extreme, go nuts, but don’t forget to allow ads — usually called “whitelisting” — on the sites you treasure. Visit them too often with no ad revenue, and they might not be there much longer.


As the NBN nears completion, it’s smart to plan ahead

We’re nearing the end of the build phase of the National Broadband Network, which is due to be “completed” by 2020.

I don’t want to touch on the politics of it to speak of. Many Australians are already on the NBN by now. If you’re not, you’re probably within the typical 18-month window for switchover from legacy broadband services to it. A smaller quantity will be waiting for the build to be completed.

That 18 month window is important. Optus has recently fallen afoul of the ACCC for pressuring customers to switch faster. Still, the 18 month period isn’t a free pass to ignore your switchover.

If you’re on a fixed line NBN connection, your internet and phone services will switch entirely to NBN alternatives. For those on fixed wireless or satellite you can retain a standard copper phone line for now alongside your NBN broadband connection.

Keen and geeky types (like myself) are likely to make the jump sooner rather than later, but what’s the “ideal” period in which to decide to switch over?

Unless you are that keen, it’s not going to be as soon as it’s available, but you shouldn’t leave it until the last minute either.

The last part of that 18 month cycle is a key “peak” period in any area for demand for an NBN installation. That means that wait times can be lengthy.

Leave it too late, you run the risk of losing telecommunication services entirely.

Then there’s the question of how much you want to spend. NBN Co, the company that is building the network is keen to get consumers to sign up to higher speed plans.

As long as your NBN technology supports it those are often a good match for families, or anyone who streams a lot of TV or needs the bandwidth.

Within the typical NBN 50 or NBN 100 speed brackets, you can expect to pay between $60-$100 per month for access. Those prices should get you unlimited data, and may score you a “free” phone line depending on your provider.

If your usage needs are more modest, you can consider the slower 25 or 12Mbps plans, although the former are rather thin on the ground right now.

Incentives from NBN Co mean that an NBN 25 plan costs an ISP about as much as an NBN 50 plan. As a result many have dropped them off the radar entirely.

NBN 12 plans are only suitable for folks who dip online intermittently for matters such as email or light web browsing.

Above all, what you should do when choosing an NBN plan is compare your options.

One of the key planks of building the NBN was to increase consumer choice. There’s no segment of the network where you don’t have a significant choice of providers.

Staying with your existing ISP is always an option, but when they’re all selling the same thing — access to the NBN — it really pays to properly compare. ACCC guidelines mean that most providers now detail their typical evening speeds as part of their plan advertising.

These are lower than the top speed of a plan, because they represent how well each ISP typically services plans at the busiest time of the day. They’re a great way to compare beyond the simple monthly plan cost, because they’ll give you a more solid idea of the speeds you can expect to see.

While the formal “build” part of the NBN process may be nearing completion, it’s a network that will need to be upgraded over time.

What that means is that it’s well worth revisiting your NBN plan every 12 months or so. That’s both to check if you’re on the right speed for your needs, as well ensuring that you’re not paying too much.


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