Monthly Archives: September 2011

Christmas trains: co-incidence or conspiracy?

Having booked myself the obvious three days off work in December to join up the bank holiday weekends for Christmas and New Year, I thought I might as well book the train tickets back home too.

Logged on to RSH (one of the few operators still willing to post you the tickets for free) and bashed in my dates and times. The cheapest single from Oxford to Macclesfield on 23 December after 1700 (with Railcard)? £39. No sign of an advance single.

Hmm. Maybe RSH being weird. Try East Coast? Nope, same prices, same problem. Same deal with trying the morning of the 24th.

The National Rail Enquiries journey planner’s calendar doesn’t go up to the 23rd of December, and if you enter that date manually, it says you can only book twelve weeks in advance.

So, do we think RSH and East Coast would have told me that? Or taken my money? Being a regular reader of Private Eye’s Signal Failures, the whole thing smells like shameless profiteering to me, but I’m not about to risk £20 finding out. I’ll report back in two weeks.

Sipgate and the Zoom 5801 ATA

Following on from my initial foray into SIP a couple of weeks back, I ordered a Zoom 5801 ATA from Expansys, so I could hook my good old-fashioned cordless phone up to Sipgate.

I wasn’t impressed by the six working days it took to turn up, but it was free delivery.

In terms of hooking it up, the man-traps to avoid are:

  • Your Sipgate password for registering a device is NOT the same one you use to log in to their website
  • You don’t need STUN enabled or configured
  • I’ve got various SIP ports forwarded from my router to the ATA’s IP address, though I’m uncertain if they’re absolutely necessary (Google for the ranges to use).

My router is Virgin Media’s latest Superhub.

    Having configured it all, incoming calls work perfectly, and my twelve quid cordless phone from Argos manages to display the caller ID, which beats both Virgin Media and BT’s landlines hands down. Outgoing calls work too, and don’t forget that Sipgate don’t charge for 0800 numbers (unlike your mobile provider).

    Lastly, since you’ve got Nagios running on the PC behind your sofa anyway (right?), let’s set up a simple check to scrape the web interface and verify that the ATA is correctly registered with Sipgate:

    define command{
     command_name    check_zoom_ata
     command_line    $USER1$/check_http -a administrator:yourpassword -I $HOSTADDRESS$ -r "Ready to make calls"
     }

    Now define a service using this command, and associate the service with one or more hosts/hostgroups in the usual way.

    The joys of shared houses…

    Being an organised sort of person (and a sucker who can’t say no), I tend to do a lot of the admin and paperwork for the house I share with a few friends. One of the things I do is draw up the chores rota. I’ve typically done it like this*:

    Week      10/09 17/09 24/09 ...
    Bathroom  Tom   David Harry ...
    Kitchen   Dick  Tom   David ...
    Bins      Harry Dick  Tom   ...
    Hoovering David Harry Dick  ...

    Careful and studious readers will have no difficulty in spotting the pattern.

    Inevitably, though, instead of being grateful for the minutes I slaved over my desk putting this together, t’housemates complained. Specifically, Tom complained that ‘I always do something the week after Dick’s supposed to have done it, and he makes a mess of everything’.

    Given the choice between speaking to Dick to correct the problem, or writing some code, I wrote some code which starts with the above layout, then shuffles the columns until the following constraints are satisfied:

    • A given person never does the same thing two weeks running
    • For any given pair of people (p1, p2), this pair never appears twice in a given row

    Careful and studious readers (with Maths or CS degrees) will have no difficulty working out the number of weeks of chores rota I’ve limited myself to doing at a time, becuse the constraints become impossible for a greater number.

    * No, my housemates aren’t really called Tom, Dick and Harry. After five years at an all-boys school, there’s no way I’d live in an all-male household.

    A landline number without a landline: Sipgate Just Works™

    Paying BT or Virgin Media £10-£15 per month for a landline telephone seems like a waste of money when I have a mobile phone contract which gives me 300 free minutes per month. But it still costs more for other people to call me on t’mobile, and not everyone has a contract phone (do they, Mum?). So I’ve been looking around for VOIP providers who could give me a geographic UK phone number which I could take calls on via my home internet connection.

    There are quite a few providers who’ll do this for £3-£4 per month, but sipgate are doing their best to disprove the theory that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, offering UK numbers for free (at least for the moment).

    Within a couple of minutes of signing up, I was the proud owner of a ‘real’ 01865 Oxford phone number and some SIP credentials for registering a device to make/receive calls via it (obviously outbound calls cost real money, it’s just that there’s no line rental or monthly charge to have the number which people can call at their usual geographic rate).

    I managed to set up Linphone as follows:

    Under Linphone > Preferences > Manage SIP Accounts, hit ‘Add’ under ‘Proxy Accounts’, set “SIP Identity” to sip:1234@sipgate.co.uk, “SIP proxy address” to sip:sipgate.co.uk. OK out and you should get a prompt for your sipgate password; put it in and the status bar should read ‘Registration on sip:sipgate.co.uk successful’.

    I’m pleased to report that incoming calls come with the caller ID information – the incoming caller will be “01234 567 890” <sip:01234567890@sipgate.co.uk>. As far as I can tell, it only supports one incoming call at once, but for £0/month, that’s not too shabby 🙂

    Next on my list is to buy an ATA and hook up my real cordless phone to sipgate. Watch this space!