Here's a tip I discovered kind of by accident in one of those "I wonder if" moments.
It came about after discovering a Fiddler tip that lets you trace localhost http traffic. The solution is simple: you simply add a trailing space, so that you surf to http://localhost./
At first I'd assumed that this was some odd quirk in the way browsers handled host names. Turns out it's actually working the way it should. Technically speaking all FQDNs should have a trailing space, in order to make them absolute. More here.
It's not just localhost. By way of an example the following two links both work
But, what's the tip?
My tip is that you can use the above "hack" to login to (most) websites using two different identities at the same time.
Oftentimes you want to test websites as two different users (even if one of them is "anonymous") and find yourself logging in and out as each user constantly.
Well, using the same browser, you can login as "User 1" at the site with no trailing dot and then as "User 2" in the site with the dot!!
Since discovering this a couple of hours ago it's already saved me an inordinate amount of time.
I know you can always do this by using different browsers (User 1 in Chrome, User 2 in IE) but it's normally the case that using the non-system-default browser ain't so straightforward.
The quest for an always-on internet connection is almost at an end!
As if to assure me it was worth it, within 24 hours of Virgin Media connecting my secondary (failover) broadband connection the "primary" BT line went down. Again. For the third time in as many months. This time, however, I was prepared and had a backup connection and could carry on working.
The BT engineer that came this time was very helpful. Bordering on apologetic for the fact I'd had so many visits of late. So much so he gave me his phone number in case it happens again and he'll try to personally fix it.
Apparently, the reason for my repeated issue is a dodgy chip on the card in the cabinet. He asked to be allowed to move my to another card but "they" said no. He logged the card as faulty, but said it would "be months" before anything is done.
For now though both are online and it was a massive relief to see both WANs go green on my router, as below:
With load-balancing enabled between the two WANs I'm getting the following speeds according to Broadbandspeedchecker.co.uk
Not that I'm overly-bothered about the actual speeds I get. In fact I don't care at all about the speed. All I care about is reliability of the connection. Which is what I feel I now have. Whether the Virgin connection is any more reliable than BT's remains to be seen. The reliability, I'm hoping, will stem from the fact it's unlikely (touch wood) that both will develop problems at the same time.
How It All Looks
For the curious, this is how it all looks:
What you can see above (front door on the left and cellar on the right):
1. The BT line which comes across the street, down the house, through the front door's frame and then down in to the cellar.
2. The Virgin Media cable comes out the ground, through this brown box, through the wall and across the cellar.
3. The BT line comes in to this master socket and then an RJ11 cable connects it straight to the router (6).
4. This is the coaxial cable from the Virgin Media (2) and connects to the back of Virgin's "Superhub" (5) which is their supplied router. It's connected to the WAN2 port on the router (6) using the green patch cable.
5. Virgin Media's router which is operating in "modem only" mode.
6. The Draytek Vigor 2850 router. Notice it's the non-wifi version. The red patch cable you can see goes off to the loft, where the WAP lives. I find the WAP provides much better whole-house coverage when it's above the rooms (no brick walls to go through).
That's all there is to the kit needed.
Notice the lack of a BT OpenReach modem. Not using BT's kit means I'm breaking their T&Cs and am unsupported. The BT modem is in a cupboard. Primarily because it's the property of BT, but also because if I have to call out a BT engineer I need to plug it back in before they get here and pretend it was always there. BT (apparently) charge ~£180 for a callout where it turns out to be a problem with your own kit. Before you log a call be sure to plug BT's modem back in and check that that too can't connect. Don't mention the non-use of a BT modem when you call your broadband provider!
As far as configuring the Draytek router goes this is something of a pain. Once you have it working make sure you use the router's Configuration Backup function to store the config somewhere safe. Then leave the router be.
Getting it working took me way longer than I'd hoped. I'm not going to talk about you do it in detail. All I will say is that if you can't get it to work following the online guides, then call Draytek's "internet connectivity helpline" which is how I finally managed to get it working.
Again, I can't emphasize this enough. If you find yourself struggling to get both WANs connected (like I did) then call Draytek's helpline. Don't waste time in the forums like I did. Where all the talk seems to be the order in which each piece of kit needs rebooting. Draytek's admin interfaces suck, but luckily, their helpline doesn't.
As somebody pointed out the last time I discussed this the problem is knowing when one of the WANs has failed. If you only find this out when the other goes down then you have neither. To get round this you can use the router's email notification agent to tell you when either WAN fails. I've not been able to get this to work yet (the admin interface really does suck) but will continue to try and post back here when I do.
Worth The Cost?
The Draytek kit isn't the average bit of consumer equipment, costing ~£180 for the 2850. So, already this is an expensive exercise. On top of that Virgin Media has a setup fee of £49 (followed by a six month offer of £16 per month for for six months) and then £27 thereafter for their "up to" 60MB connection.
The existing BT-based connection I had is with Zen.co.uk who I pay £46 a month for an 80/20 "Fibre Pro" connection on a 20:1 contention ratio.
So, per month, I'm now paying about £75 a month. Although, technically, it's the company paying and so the VAT comes off those prices (20%) and I pay no income tax on it, which means the cost to me personally is about £40 a month.
For a home user this is probably all a bit OTT. However, for somebody who works at home and can't, in effect, work at all without an internet connection then this setup is a must-have. The actual cost is negligible when compared to the cost of being without the internet.
Some of you may think I'm crazy spending more than twice the amount I could get a single connection for. Personally I think it's money well spent.
Two weeks ago today I mentioned that I'd ordered a Virgin Media cable internet connection as a redundant 2nd connection in case my first goes down.
Today the engineer is due to come and connect me up. Yep, a two week wait to get connected. Luckily I'm already on the internet, otherwise there's not a chance I'd ever wait that long.
Anyway, I booked a date and the AM time slot for the visit and went about "waiting". Then, yesterday I got the message below:
Which sent my overly-paranoid and analytical mind in to overdrive.
These kind of text-based (non verbal) systems concern me. Note that I got no reply to my confirmation reply to say "Thanks for confirming". I now have no idea whether the engineer is coming or not. The time slot was 8am-1pm and it's now gone 10am...
Did I get my confirmation reply wrong maybe? Should the postcode have been all uppercase? With no space? Maybe the "+" sign is needed? Maybe "confirm" should also be in upper-case!?
I have no idea whether it's a) a person at the other end reading it or b) a PC with a badly written and intolerant string parsing function.
It reminded of something I said on Twitter a while back:
Dear Virgin Media, if you want to confirm that I still want the timeslot I've been waiting two weeks for, CALL ME.
If I had been waiting patiently for 2 weeks for a connection and then took a day off work to wait in, only to find that nobody came because, oooh, I dunno, your SMS didn't arrive, or my reply didn't, or I lost/damaged my phone, or changed my number, or I had my phone turned off, or my kids were messing with my phone and marked the SMS as read, or any other scenario that really could happen, I'm going to be pissed off.
It's the kind of conversation I get in to with my customers when "brain storming" ideas revolving around communication with their customers. Even the best ideas come with a myriad of "But, What Happens If..."
See Exhibit A below:
As mentioned previously it's nothing to do with the language used. It's all down to the hardware.
Always remember to @Round the result of any mathematics, like so:
Yesterday morning I woke to find I had no internet connection! I'll spare you the details of what happened next, but, in short it took 28 hours for it to come back; 24 waiting for an engineer to visit and then 4 for him to fix it. Those 28 hours gave me time to think about how I could prevent it happening again.
I don't want to come across like I'm caught up in my own self-importance, but it's important I have a reliable and "constant" connection. Outages of >24 hours just aren't acceptable -- either for me or my customers, who pay me to support their systems. Without a connection to the internet I'd struggle to offer support. Not to mention I'd be unable to work and earn money (to a degree).
As a temporary measure I got by using 3G. Both on my phone and with the data SIM in my newly-acquired Tablet. This was good enough for emailing and general browsing but not for use in my day-to-day work.
On Twitter I did my usual moaning and in reply @mattwhite mentioned he'd got both a BT ADSL line as well as Virgin's cable broadband service, because he too just has to have a connection.
The cost of having a redundant broadband connection is insignificant when compared to the cost of having no connection at all. Not just in terms of lost earnings but also the cost of a damaged reputation ("That Rockall Design company can't even stay connected to the internet!").
While I was waiting for the BT engineer to "fix the fibre" I went ahead and ordered a new connection to Virgin Media's cable-based internet service.
Over the last few months I've been block-paving all around the house. We've had 3 or 4 lorries back down the road and offload tonnes of hardcore using a crane which came within inches of the overhead copper BT phoneline, while I stood looking on nervously.
As Virgin's cable is buried underground, right up to the house, it can't be brought down by acts of God/stupidity like the BT line could.
It always scares me to think how fragile my connection to the net is. The other week I walked past our nearest "exchange" box (those green boxes you see around on street corners) and the door to it was flapping open exposing all the cables within. All it would take is a mindless act of vandalism to take the whole neighbourhood down.
My router allows for two WAN connections and offers automatic failover (I think). In theory it will failover to this new backup connection without me needing to do anything.
Is there still a single point of failure? Is there anything that could bring both connections down at once? As I understand it each line will leave the house and go to separate boxes (owned and managed in turn by the two separate companies).