Sunday, April 25, 2010

Speeding up Virgin Media Broadband

Having had Virgin Broadband for a few days I have noticed that although the download speeds are close to 10MBit there is often a delay in accessing web pages. I have traced this to the resolvers being slow to respond. These are the DNS servers used to resolve web addresses to IP addresses.

Fortunately there was a simple fix to this which has seriously speeded up my experience of using the service. I switched to using Google's public responders.

See here for instructions for Windows, Mac and Linux:

NB: This will not increase your download speeds but it will make web pages load faster.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

How to activate Virgin Media Broadband using Ubuntu Linux

Virgin Broadband used to provide their service preconfigured as an ethernet connection on their modems. This was linked to the MAC address of the computer connecting to it and it was quite easy to set up. Apparently due to unauthorised modems being used they now they require an activation process to be completed through a web site when the computer is connected to the modem. Until this is completed it is not possible to use the Internet at all. The problem is that the web pages do not permit anything other than Mac OSX or Windows to connect. All other operating systems just give a message that its "not supported".

I had a look around for a solution to this and found a few articles. Some required installation of Opera or Konqueror which is impossible without an internet connection so I went looking for a way to do it with what was already installed on my Ubuntu laptop.

The first thing we need to do is persuade the web browser to announce itself as Windows thereby fooling Virgin Media's web server into running the process. This is done by changing the browser identification string.

  • Launch Firefox.
  • In the address bar type about:config and press return.
  • Under filters type general.useragent.extra.firefox
  • Click on it and change Firefox to Mozilla/4.0 (compatible: MSIE 7.0; Windows NT 6.0)
  • Restart firefox.

Go to any web page and you will get the activate virgin broadband message, click on it and follow the process through.

Some reports say that one of the next buttons will fail to work. This did not happen to me but if it does, look at the page source and look for the URL in the next() Javascript function. Then copy and paste this into the browser address bar to get to the next step.

You will be prompted to download and install some additional software. Just let it download as it will not install on Ubuntu or harm your computer. Keep clicking through the screens as prompted. The process should complete and give you access to the Internet.

Additional Issues
Virgin Media intercept DNS requests and try to correct typing errors in web addresses. This is potentially dangerous as it could take you to one site when you have requested another. To stop this go here: and untick the box.

Setting up the D Link Wireless Router
Follow the instructions in the instruction book for doing a manual set up (without the supplied CD). Follow the wizard for setting up the wireless network. Then follow the one for setting up the internet connection. It uses a "clone MAC address" function to spoof the same MAC address as the computer that was used to set up the connection. I could not get DHCP to connect and I discovered that this was caused by the clone MAC address tool detecting the wrong device.

To correct this open a terminal window type ifconfig and write down the hardware address (MAC address) for "eth0" which is the ethernet adaptor. Then log back into the router and add this as the MAC address manually in the manual configuration part of the Internet set up in the router admin interface. The router should reboot and start working. Because it now has the MAC address in it you can plug computers into the router without them having to be registered with Virgin Media.

Speeding up the loading of web pages
I found that pages were taking rather too long to load. Click here for another article which addresses this problem.

Other Virgin Media Issues
Sadly I moved out of a cable area this year and had to change ISP. I tried to switch to Virgin media's national ADSL service, but it did not go smoothly. You can read the ongoing saga here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Are the training courses provided by the Institute of Fundraising worth going to?

Hardly a week goes by without me getting a physical mailing or an email alert about fundraising from my professional body the Institute of Fundraising. I have been a member of the Institute since the early 1990's and until recently there was very little training in Scotland other than the very worthwhile Scottish conference which is like a training and networking boot camp combined with a last night party/booze up.

The courses run in London do seem quite appealing and I have this nagging feeling that I should try and go to some of them, but to be honest my charity has precious little money for those sort of trips. I could get the money to go, but I would feel guilty, especially as I need my budget for other fundraising purposes like leaflets, mailings and posters which have a direct impact on the bottom line.

One of my ambivalences about the Institute of Fundraising courses is that they seem to enthusiastically present fundraising ideas which have worked very well for large charities. In my experience these don't often work as well for smaller or regional organisations. Take social media as an example. My charity has benefited greatly from its involvement in Twitter and Facebook. Facebook especially because we have overseas supporters who are able to interact with us through our Facebook page. But, we only get people joining our Facebook page who we already have contact with through our web site or as members or donors.

Many of the subjects I see being promoted as training courses are in this vein and not likely to make much of an impact on fundraising in smaller organisations. Small charities just don't have the brand appeal to attract casual support. Even if a larger organisation did very well from something this is no guarantee it will work for you, and it might mislead you into investing in something which is doomed to failure, making it more difficult for you to be innovative in the future.

Thats my opinion for what its worth. Please leave a comment with your own views.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Setting up Huwei 3G Vodafone Dongle on Ubuntu 9.10

I decided it would be worth getting a 3G broadband dongle for my Ubuntu laptop so I had a look through all of the ones available. The main problem with them seems to be that the bandwidth credit runs out after one month even if it has not all been used. This makes some appear to be cheaper than others, but if you are a light user then in the long run these cheaper tariffs could be very expensive.

Having reviewed them all I decided on a Vodafone UK K3565 Prepay USB Mobile Broadband Dongle from for £29.99 which included1Gb of data (worth £15 on its own). This is Vodafone's branded version of the Huawei E160X 3G USB modem.

It can be topped up at £15 for 1GB. This should work out very cheaply for me as I am only an occasional user. I used to have a Vodafone dongle on contract through my business for £20 per month, but was only using about 250MB per month. I don't think my laptop usage has changed that dramatically so its likely to cost me about £4 per month, plus there is no monthly fee so if I don't use it, its no loss.

However, and its a big however, Vodafone are changing their PAYG broadband tariff. Some of the newer coloured dongles are selling for £25 with £10 top ups BUT the top ups expire after one month. This could be a lot more expensive so beware. Read the small print before ordering.

When the dongle arrived I opened the box I found there was a USB extension cable in with it. I have been using one with 3G dongles for a few years and Vodafone used to not supply one. The advantage is that you can fix the modem in a position where there is a better signal. I used to use blu-tac to fix it to the inside of the window on railway carriages. It seriously improves the signal strength and the quality of the connection (although if its a high speed train you may lose signal as the 3G service is affected by even slight doppler shift and I think above 100 mph this starts to affect the connection).

This is a tale of two halfs. The first half is installing the modem in Ubunti and getting it connected which was incredibly easy. The second part was setting up the billing and topping up facility with Vodafone which was a bit tricky (more on this later).

Setting up In Ubuntu
Here is what I did to install it:
  1. Decide which USB socket you are going to use it in and plug the modem/dongle in.
  2. Right click on the network manager applet in the top bar (right hand side - the one that shows signal strength if you are connected with wi-fi).
  3. Select "Edit Connections".
  4. Choose "Mobile Broadband" from the list and click "add".
  5. Select "Vodafone (Pre-Pay)" from the list.
  6. Follow the instructions.
  7. If asked for a password and username the username does not appear to be important. I used "Vodafone" and put the password as "web".
Ignore all the online articles you see which suggest changing the APN. The correct one is "pp.internet" and Ubuntu should have set this correctly. Some earlier versions of the Ubuntu mobile broadband set up wizard had this set incorrectly, but this has been fixed through normal Ubuntu updates.

To start the modem and connect, left click on the network applet in the top bar and select "Vodafone (PAYG)" under "Mobile Broadband". It should connect (subject to signal). Sometimes I find it takes a while to connect to the Vodafone resolvers if the signal is poor. Give it a minute and it will come right.

Setting up for top ups at Vodafone
You need to set it up at so you can top up with bandwidth on line. They have facilities for setting up direct debit, storing a card number or using a card for a one off payment. I think its possible to top up using a voucher bought from a shop, but without using the windows software from Vodafone I can't see any way of actually registering the top up.
  • To do this you will need the telephone number of the sim card in the modem/dongle. To do this I put it in a Vodafone mobile phone and dialed *#100# and the number was displayed on the phone's screen.
  • Go to and find the page for "Register PAYG".
  • Go through the registration process and a text will be sent to your phone with the security code.
  • Enter this into the Vodafone registration page and follow the on screen instructions to set up your account.
This is where it went wrong for me. The text with the code never arrived. I tried a few times and got nowhere. A search on the Vodafone site suggested that this only works using the inbuilt text software in the dongle (which is Windows only of course). I had no choice but to install the dongle on my dektop PC to get the registration code. The code had expired so I requested a new one and it arrived in the text inbox in the Vodafone Connect software (Windows). This may just have been my bad luck as other pepole say they have had the text on the phone the sim card was installed in, or maybe Vodafone are tightening up on unsupported use?

Having installed it, it works very well on my Ubuntu laptop and I can log into the Vodafone web site for top ups. It does not take long to set up and I hope this article helps someone else if they hit the same problems.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Light and Life

In another of my expeditions into the wilder reaches of Christianity I came across a Scottish organisation called Light and Life who you can find on the internet here:

This organisation attends community events and run fairs which are similar to psychic fairs but based on apparently Christian principals. Their web site describes one of their forthcoming events:

This will be a great stress-busting evening with FREE: live music, dream interpretation, spiritual readings, head, shoulder & hand massage; prophetic art and healing prayer. We will also have stalls selling jewellery, arts, crafts & other similar merchandise.

It really does sound like a psychic or new age fair. Its hard to see what any of this has to do with Christianity. The image above is a screen capture from their web site and yes, it actually does say "massage extra". Presumably they have led much more sheltered lives than I have or they might have chosen better phrasing.

Who is behind it?
Light and Life has quite a few volunteers and an advisory board which has members from Healing Rooms, CLAN, Pray for Scotland and YWAM. After a bit of further digging around I found that they share a number of people in common with Glasgow Prophetic Centre which runs prophetic mentoring schools and is itself is closely associated with Sharon Stone and Glasgow Elim (a church which promoted the Lakeland Revival and which is closely associated with the Toronto Blessing).

Their intention is to expand Light and Life to every town in Scotland, so its coming to a town near you soon, presumably.