richardbloomfield.ie

Weblog and online journal of Richard Bloomfield

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UPC Horizon Wi-Free

Over the last few weeks UPC has rolled out a service in Ireland called Horizon Wi-Free.

The service allows UPC broadband customers who are visiting the homes of other UPC customers with a Horizon box to get free WiFi. You don’t need to ask your friends and family to share their WiFi password with you, because the Horizon box uses two different WiFi hotspots – one secured one for the home-owner’s use, and a public open one for visitors.

And once you set up your smartphone or tablet to connect to Horizon Wi-Free for the first time, it should automatically re-connect whenever you encounter another Wi-Free hotspot.

Some things to bear in mind if you were wanting to use Horizon Wi-Free in someone else’s home are:

  • You will need an active broadband subscription with UPC
  • You can connect up to 3 devices to Wi-Free at any one time (a limitation if you have multiple devices and a large family sharing the subscription)
  • You can expect restricted broadband speeds – a maximum of 2.5 megabit download and 0.5 megabit upload

That being said, I find it very useful to have WiFi available on my smartphone whenever I visit nearby family – especially as my family don’t tend to know their own WiFi password.

To set up Horizon Wi-Free on your UPC broadband subscription, you need to log in to “My UPC”, look down the list of “My Products” on the page and click on “Horizon Wi-Free”.  On the next page you’ll see a link to set or change your Wi-Free password. This will need to be a separate password to that used for your My UPC login.

Once you have set up the Wi-Free password, you’re free to ‘roam’ on other people’s WiFi.  You’ll need your UPC account username (as used for My UPC) and your newly created Wi-Free password to connect – but once your device is set up, you won’t need to keep re-entering it.

Here’s some instructions on setting up your smartphone or tablet.

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Email Response Times

I was just emailing the Revenue this afternoon, and got one of those automated delivery receipt emails back from them.

After thanking me for my email and telling me that it will be processed as quickly as possible, their message then has the following line:

In line with our Customer Service Standards we endeavour to respond to 100% of emails within 30 working days.

What really? 30 days? Is that your target? Surely for a customer service team, they should have an SLA target response time measured in hours rather than days!

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Cloning Remote Control Fobs

In my apartment block there’s an underground car park that’s accessed using a remote-control key fob. We have one allocated car parking spot down there, and as such the management company for the block only issued us with one key fob.

My wife uses the key fob for her car, but I also have a requirement to get in and out of the car park, because that’s where I lock up my bikes.

When we moved in around 18 months ago I approached the management company of the apartments to try and get a second remote control. And despite me explaining the situation, they refused to issue another one to me – even though I offered to pay the €70 they said it would cost.

After some discussion they reluctantly agreed to give me a key to the pedestrian gate, which I’ve been using ever since – but the inconvenience is annoying.

But then I was on the internet one day and found that you can buy cloning remote control fobs that can copy existing fobs, they’re less than a ten quid to buy, and they work perfectly!

Remote Control Cloning Key Fob

Remote Control Cloning Key Fob

I got myself one last week from an ebay seller, but they’re also available on Amazon and other places. The initial programming can be a little tricky to be begin with, but after that it works like a dream.

Obviously in order to clone a key fob you need an existing working fob for the gate/door:

  • To start the programming, press and hold the top two buttons (A and B) together for between 5-10 seconds, until the light blinks rapidly, and then release. This action puts the fob into learning mode, and also wipes any codes already stored on the fob, so if you want to program a new button you have to start again and program them all.
  • Touch the two key fobs together, and press and hold the button you want to program (say the A button) at the same time as the corresponding button on the original fob that you want to clone from. You may need to move the fobs around at different angles to pick up the signal in the cloning fob (end to side seems to work), and when you do the light will flash rapidly to say it’s finished learning. Then simply repeat the process for any other buttons you want to clone.

If you get into trouble, take a quick search on YouTube for key fob cloning tutorials.  When I first got my fob I thought it wasn’t working, but that’s because I wasn’t programming it correctly.

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Improvements to the UPC Horizon Set Top Box

Horizon is UPC’s premium TV offering, and has several advantages over other TV/DVR systems, such as:

  • Ability to record up to 4 TV shows at the same time and watch a 5th, which avoids recording conflicts
  • HD channels as standard, rather than as a paid-for extra
  • Integrated broadband modem and WiFi router in the set top box, so you only need one box for TV, Broadband and Phone (although of course, as they’re in one box, you have to have everything in one location)
  • Ability to stream live TV via WiFi onto iOS devices and PC/laptops in the home (although no support for Android yet)

However the new Horizon system is now without its problems.  I was involved in the public trail back in the spring of 2013, and fed back all of these findings to UPC – but as of today, none of them have been resolved:

  • The TV Guide is very slow to navigate. There is no way to go straight to a particular, so if you want to find something to record in a week’s time, you need to scroll through an entire week’s worth of shows to find the one you want.
  • The Recorded Shows navigation is slow and involves a lot of key presses.  Deleting individual shows is very slow, and you often end up pressing the remote several times, thinking that the button press has not registered. Also if you want to delete a whole series, you are forced to delete each show in the series individually, which takes ages. There’s also a very dangerous “delete all” option that could accidentally be selected – and it will delete everything off your box!
  • The Now and Next on-screen option is very poor. You can see what’s on now, or what’s on next, but not at the same time!  It’s so bad it’s not even worth bothering with.
  • There are numerous sound problems. If the picture freezes for any reason (a regular occurrence particularly with recorded shows), or you press pause while playing on-demand content, then the sound drops out completely. The only way to get it back is to fast forward or rewind a couple of times.
  • Recorded shows are inaccessible to watch. Sometimes the recording corrupts, and the series/episode numbers show as ‘-1′. When this happens you can’t access the show to watch it.
  • WiFi reach is quite poor. It’s certainly not as good at the old UPC modem I had. There are also problems where the wifi will sometimes stop working altogether (about once a month), which requires a box reboot to clear.  Some devices also have problems connecting.  It’s such a problem in my house that I’m planning to switch back to a separate wifi router.
  • The horizon.tv website is useless. You’re meant to be able to stream all the channels from it (if you’re on UPC internet) but only some of the channels are available. The TV guide doesn’t work properly either – particularly the remote record function.

I’m very surprised, and disappointed, that none of these issues have been resolved in the past six months, and the UPC continue to strongly push the Horizon service knowing that it has problems.

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12th Day of Christmas

The Christmas decorations are meant to come down on Twelfth Night, which is on the evening of the 5th January. But when was the Twelfth DAY of Christmas?

From doing numerous searches in Google and on Wikipedia, there seems to be disagreement about when the 12 days of Christmas start and end.

My understanding was always that Christmas Day was the first day of the Christmas season in the church calendar and, by counting forward, the 12th day of Christmas would fall on 5th January. The twelfth night would be on the evening following the 12th day – on 5th January.

However, some other sources suggest that the First Day of Christmas isn’t Christmas Day itself – they say the First Day is on Boxing Day (or St Stephen’s Day) on 26th December – and thus the 12th Day of Christmas is actually the 6th January (the feast of the Epiphany). However those sources (including the Oxford English Dictionary) place the Twelfth Night as the evening before the Twelfth Day – on the 5th January.

But how can you have the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany overlapping like that? Surely that can’t happen. The seasons of Lent and Easter don’t overlap. The seasons of Advent and Christmas don’t overlap. So how can the 6th January be the last day of Christmas and the first day of Epiphany?

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Passengers on flights from the UK still have to go through Passport Control in Dublin Airport

Yesterday afternoon I arrived home on a flight from Edinburgh, and had to queue for 25 minutes at Passport Control in Dublin Airport. When I fly the other way, into the UK from Ireland, there’s no passport checks when I arrive. So why am I forced to go through Passport Control in Dublin?

Ireland and the UK have what is called a “common travel area” that is meant to allow people to travel freely between the two countries without having to show their passport – and includes everyone travelling between Ireland and Britain, and Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Unfortunately in 1997 the Irish government changed the law so that the rule about not requiring passengers to present a passport only applies to Irish and British citizens. People from other countries (including other EU nationals) are required to present their passport when arriving in Ireland.

And because a flight or ferry from the UK will probably include people who are not Irish or British, then everyone has to be checked when they arrive.

And although all passengers have to go through Passport Control, if you are Irish or British you don’t actually need to show your passport. Your only requirement is to satisfy the Immigration Officers (who are members of the Garda Síochána) that you have travelled from within the common travel area (your boarding card should suffice) and that are an Irish or British citizen.

Of course, the easiest way to prove you a Irish or British citizen is to show your passport! But according to the citizen’s information you just need to show any form of photographic ID to prove who you are, such as a driver’s licence, bus pass, or work ID. However none of these other forms of photographic ID show your nationality, so I don’t know how that’s supposed to work.

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Ordering the Google Nexus 5 in Ireland

Update 19/03/2014: The Nexus 5 and 7 are now available to purchase SIM-free direct from the Google Play Store in Ireland. The Nexus 5 is also available as part of a contract from Three Ireland and Meteor.
Google Nexus 5

Google Nexus 5

I’ve written about how I’ve ordered the Nexus 4 in the past, and a few minutes after the Nexus 5 was released to the public today I had already ordered one for myself, and I thought I’d share how I did it:

  1. To access the Google Play store to order the phone you need to appear as if you’re in the UK. For this you need to use a VPN or Proxy service. I use VPNUK to access the play store, and they have a 7-day free trial if you want to give them a go – but any similar service will do – lots of other people seem to use “Tunnel Bear”.  If you already have an active Google account, you may need to use the privacy/incognito mode of your browser, as sometimes the Google browser cookies will continue to identify you as being in Ireland even when you use the VPN.
  2. Have a UK delivery address ready to use.  I use Parcel Motel for this, and you can use their Northern Ireland address for delivery – more info on using Parcel Motel.
  3. You need to have a credit/debit card that is registered to a valid UK address, but it doesn’t have to be the same address as you’re using for delivery. I’ve heard of people that re-register their Irish credit card with a UK address, use PayPal, or use a UK prepaid credit card, but I can’t comment on whether any of those work.

The Nexus 5 is available in both Black and White, and is priced at £299 for the 16GB model and £339 model – and both come pre-loaded with the latest version 4.4 (KitKat) of Android.

My Google Nexus 5 - just arrived today!

My Google Nexus 5 – just arrived today!

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