Departures & Telecom Issues

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Jinhee and Megan left today to return home and re-engage with their normal lives.  My activity on Home Free is becoming my new normal and I am here alone and preparing the boat for more adventures.

I have a lot of email to catch up on, the boat needs to be cleaned and ‘organized’ for my single handing and more simplified living (read: pasta every night and cereal every morning; restated: I can’t cook worth beans).

But the real topic of the day is fixing my telecom issues!   For weeks now I have been buying data and it has been getting soaked up like water on a sponge and I have been wracking my brain trying to figure things out.   Today I finally put together the final piece to the puzzle I believe.  [Warning: The rest of this post is totally boring and technical, so just scroll down to the last paragraph unless you are keen on knowing how modern tech is consuming data to enrich telecom companies and data consolidators . . . now I am really off topic]

This is going to be a bit technical, but I want to post it for posterity (and so that Jinhee and any future visitors can understand how to update their settings to avoid the black void of a data-less world aboard Home Free).  It may also help others (people search the internet for these answers all the time)!

First of all the key reasons that the data has been soaked up are directly related to changes in our (user) behaviour, and technology.   First let me review the approaches tried:

  • Since we like data we have tried ‘serving’ the data in three ways:
    • Using data on our cell phones and hot spotting
    • Using a MiFi device
    • Using a dual-WAN router

Data on our individual cell phones is great, particularly when out and about.  I use data to find my way around on the bike and to keep up on the financial press when away from a dedicated connection.   This is a key connection for most of us.  The problem is that hotspotting requires a lot of human intervention.   The hotspot feature (an iPhone feature, probably on Android as well) uses a lot of battery, leaves you on the hook for data consumption by those connected to your phone and often requires you to open the hotspot app to get it to work.   On the other side of that coin, others have to ask you to provide the hotspot and they have to select the correct wifi network, etc.   Overall a bit of a pain if you are doing it a lot, but probably appropriate once in a while.

When I arrived in Greece and understood their telecom structure, I tried to circumvent the negatives of hotspotting by getting a MiFi device.  Essentially it is a mini router with a data chip in it.  The little router can support 5-10 devices (depending on service provider), can cover a limited area (about half the boat) and has many of the management and security features of a router.   We picked one of these up in Corfu and it worked pretty well.   Until we arrived in Italy, and then we needed to buy another one!   They are not expensive devices, but they are not cheap either.   It is easier, but not easy, to see your usage, and manage the users, access, and more.   The system still uses cellular data however and that is expensive.  No matter what we do on a boat, we will be using cellular data so that is kind of a moot point, but I make it none-the-less as it is not cheap to access the internet.  I began entertaining the third (below) option when data started disappearing.   I thought maybe the MiFi router wasn’t secure, or there was a problem with the telecom, the device or . . . who knows.   Well the final option there is that there is an issue with the data consumers (machines and people), but I will get to that in a minute.

To help resolve the issue, I finally purchased a dual-WAN router.  Originally I brought a Linksys E2500 router with me.  The guy at Best Buy said that I could bridge to the MiFi device.   For posterity, he didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, you can’t do it and well, I will stop before I malign someone who I will never see again.  I am sure he is a nice guy and doing his very best to please geeks like me.  In any case I finally started with some better research and ended up with D-Link DWR-953 Multi-WAN router.  Now the key thing is that if you have a wired connection that isn’t reliable you can put a 4G data chip in and it will transfer your internet connection to cellular if your wired connection goes down (you can also run both simultaneously for faster speeds, but lets not go there).  In my case, I don’t have a wired connection, so I can just set the router to 4G and it will keep everyone that is communicating with the router connected to the internet.  Pretty cool right!   Yeah, but …

The key thing is technology today is pretty smart and it makes a few assumptions.   Like your phone can be told to not download data intensive things unless it is connected to WiFi.  That prevents it from updating Apps or streaming music or any other app requirement.   There are also other things like ‘system services’ which include iCloud, hotspotting and other data hogs that can’t be controlled so easily.  Windows 10 computers (and possibly earlier, I didn’t go backwards), also have some interesting data hogging features and I now have a more substantial knowledge of those features after just a $150 or so dollars worth of data going missing.

Before getting to what we need to do to avoid consuming all of the data possible (Vodafone won’t even let me buy anymore today, they say I have reached my purchase limit for the day!), let’s talk about changes in behaviour!

The biggest change in behaviour relates to us behaving like it’s a vacation despite the fact that it is really a lifestyle change.

Let’s start with the basics:

  1. We are taking a whole lot of pictures!
  2. We have a wide variety of devices aboard (a built in windows PC and it is ancient, a newer mini-PC, an iPhone/Android phone for everyone who comes aboard really, an iPad, Jinhee’s work computer (Windows 10), a Samsung Television, an HP printer, a Google Chromecast, wifi enabled cameras and potentially other devices from time to time).  They can change frequently with guests, but generally the two categories will be iCloud devices and Windows OS devices.
  3. We want to move things about just like at home and that is probably wrong headed.
  4. Streaming video and audio is now common behaviour and sometimes the services don’t act as expected.

So we have some ingrained behaviour, some new technology and very expensive data all conspiring to use all the data available.  What I discovered though is that it is the invisible stuff that is stealing all the data:

  1. Turn off iCloud on every device.  On your personal computers (Windows) consider deleting it entirely.   Everywhere else, turn it off.   We were moving around ~1000 pictures at 3-5MB each, all moving from device to device to make sure they were all updated.
  2. For Windows 10, there is now a background process that handles installing content and continuously downloading updates (Service Host: Delivery Optimization) to the OS, applications and who knows what else.   The key word in that sentence is ‘continuously’   It eats data because it assumes it is essentially free and can, in the aggregate, make your computer safer, smarter and more reliable.   Turn it OFF!!!  Go to ‘Settings’, choose Update & Security, select Windows Update and Advanced options.    Now turn off automatic updates   (may be ‘Pause Updates’), then select choose how updates are delivered and turn off  ‘Updates from more than one place’.   The next one is even MORE IMPORTANT.  Now, go to Network & Internet, select Wi-Fi (on the left) and then click on the Wifi Router (HomeFree on the boat).   Turn on ‘set as metered connection’.  Now Windows won’t use THIS ONE connection to try and download updates.   If you have multiple connections/SSIDs, set them as metered connections as well to avoid this heavy usage.
  3. Turn off streaming for NetFlix, Spotify and any other services.   When you connect to the internet via a router, it thinks it is on ‘normal’ wifi and most of us have ‘unlimited’ wifi or pretty close at home.   It isn’t unlimited or cheap when being transmitted over cellular networks!
  4. Be careful about transmitting lots of pictures, emails with large attachments and more.

This post is getting long in the tooth and very technical, but to add in a bit of spice, there are also potential savings from your TV (ours is brand new and has streaming services built in for Plex, Netflix, Spotify, YouTube and much more).  We also use Google ChromeCast, and by default it will pull in data from the internet.  You can control most of this.

The next biggest hog turns out to be Netflix.  I am not absolutely certain yet, but it appears that even if you have downloaded shows on your phone, tablet, etc. Netflix and Chromecast both stream FROM the internet to a television.   (Not so if you watch on your phone, but who wants to do that when you have a TV in the room?).

Sorry this wasn’t a post about fun stuff I was doing in Athens, but now I will get back to cleaning, eating and sleeping!

7 thoughts on “Departures & Telecom Issues

  1. Simon Pendlebury March 28, 2018 — 10:10 pm

    Cast from your phone to the TV. Use WiFi hotspots onshore for your downloads and updates. Use secondary storage ie extra SIMs and external HDD. Upload when you are using someone else’s WiFi.
    I’d like to see a photo of you on the bike with some sort of paddlewheel attachment so you can ride on the water.

    1. Hey simon, I would have never thought of all those ideas. Hmmm. Thanks. Wi-Fi here is substantially inferior to that in NA. Speeds of 1.5MBs to homes are considered normal. Wi-Fi at restaurants often requires 20-30 minutes to download 500mb of content. It’s cheaper to pay for cellular data and get on with my day. The contrast is that I don’t download as much. (And I have a disk with media I bring from Toronto to plug directly into the tv)

      When I get this ship to the Caribbean (with much smaller islands) I may get one of these babies. But I do have a Tacx trainer on board now, so maybe not. I hope all is well on the west coast. I hope to bring the boat up the west coast in 2020 or perhaps 2021.

      1. You just need to drink your coffee slower while you are connected.

        What’s the plan for the rest of the year and will you stay on the boat through the winter?

      2. I sent a reply to your personal email. If you do t get it than my info is way out of date. My email hasn’t changed though so send me a message and I’ll update your contact info.

  2. Hi Don,
    Technical, yes, but good for people like me, who don’t have a clue, so thanks.
    Angela loves me reading your posts to her, but I’ll give this one a miss! I think she is missing ‘Minky’.
    Keep ’em coming.

  3. Don I am still reading your posts with interest. No I’m not technical nor can I cook very well.Jim

    1. Hi uncle Jim. Happy new year to you and the family. Thanks for reading. This is going to be a grand adventure. I hope I can keep your interest.

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