NCF DSL Review

[May 2014 – I can no longer recommend NCF as an ISP, please see the comments on the post for a link to an updated article]

The National Captial Freenet (NCF) is the 3rd ISP I’ve had high speed service from.  Originally not having cable, I chose the Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) solution and went with Bell who provided my phone service.  I might still be with them had it not been for Magma changing the rules on their dial up email account causing my address to expire, so switching to Magma (which was bought by Primus) for highspeed allowed me to keep my email address active.  I don’t have much good to say about Primus.

With Bell, I was stuck on the 1Meg Nortel modem for a long time.  My neighbourhood had been upgraded to use the newer higher speeds, but due to my ignorance (and Bell’s lack of information) I kept paying the same premium cost and getting low speed.  Until I found out things had been better for many of my friends on DSL and called Bell to upgrade.  It was a free upgrade, but annoying that it took me calling to get it to happen – I also had some interruption in service in the switch-over.

Calling Bell customer service was always frustrating, you had to run through the standard script – only to get yourself passed along to the next level where you might get someone more informed.  I had an intermittent problem on the line and it was impossible to get help from them.

When I moved to Magma, the switch was smooth on their end.  Bell continued to charge me for my DSL line for a couple of extra months, even though I wasn’t using their services.  A huge thumbs down on Bell’s billing department.

Magma was a great company, and using their technical support I was able to get my intermittent line issues sorted out and fixed.  Sadly, now owned by Primus there is in my experience terrible customer support.  As a Magma customer I was grandfathered over to Primus, but apparently didn’t have full rights as a Primus customers (my customer ID wasn’t even a real Primus one).  After a 20+ minute wait on hold just to talk to someone, I ended up in a frustrating conversation which took at least another 20 minutes to determine they couldn’t give me the service I wanted (DSL + static IP) at a competitive price.

Ages ago, my Dad had pointed me at NCF offering high speed at a very reasonable rate.  I probably should have made the switch a long time ago, but I convinced myself into thinking that maintaining my email identity @magma was worth the extra cost.  Ken had also had some success with Magma as an ISP, but I suspect my recent success moving away from them will help convince him to make the leap too.

Signing up with NCF is done online, similar to many ISPs today.  They do support switching from another ISP and their website recommends a week or two of overlap to avoid losing service.  I cut things a bit fine, but the switch-over looks like it has gone ok (knock on wood).  There was a small mess up with the start of service date, to which I got a fairly detailed email reply promptly – included in that note was the line “any further questions, just give us a call” followed by the office number.  On a whim, I dialed it up to check on one more detail – and was astounded to hit “0” and almost immediately talk to someone.  Better still, they knew what they were doing – and could answer my question right then and there.

As I already own a DSL modem and line filters etc.  The only thing I needed from them was service.  I was able to switch over before my Primus account had expired, and today marks the official start of my NCF service.  When I initially switched (June 25th) I did some speedtests to see how things were.  On Primus/Magma my speeds were consistently 2500kb/s down and 650kb/s up.  On the 26th, switching to my new DSL login on NCF – I wasn’t surprised to see the same numbers.  Today I checked my speed again.  WOW!  4400kb/s down and 650kb/s up.  Maybe its a fluke, but I’m hoping it isn’t.

Summary – NCF offers DSL service for $29.95 a month, no contract.  There is no speed cap, so up to 5 Mb/s down, 800 Kb/s up (max).  They offer static IPs for additional cost.  It is run by people who know what they are doing.  This not-for-profit organization deserves your business.

Butterflies And Zebras – Live

I’ve just returned from tonights show.  Its the first time I’ve seen them live since Ken has joined on drums.  Steve and Norm had a great sound, but now with drumming mixed in its really amazing.  If you want to get a sense for what the trio sounds like check out India Minor available from Ken’s site.  There is also plenty more linked from their old(?) homepage but it seems to be mostly older material without drumming included.  The new seems to have a mix of stuff.

They’ll be playing live again on  Thursday June 19th at the Avant-Garde Bar, 135 1/2 Besserer St.  Tonights cover was $5 and the volume, while loud – wasn’t such that I needed to break out the earplugs.  Very enjoyable.

There are several descriptions of what the sound of B&Z is classified as, but the set of labels that fits best for me is Experimental / Ambient / Psychedelic.  With two guitarists and a strong Hendrix influence you can guess where things are headed, however the recently added drumming adds a new dimension to the sound.  It was clear in the live performance that the trio were working well together, exploring the sound scape they were creating.  It seemed like each of them were striving for perfection in the details of their play while seeking musical synergy with the others.  For me personally, I enjoy the depth of the music they are creating and the sense of freedom they invoke in the listener.  Thanks guys – nice stuff.

Skullcandy Ink’d Headphones Review

My iPod stock headphones (the newer sleek version) sound pretty good. However, on a recent airplane trip it was obvious that I needed a better solution that cranking my iPod to max volume to hear the movie I was watching.

Most of the time I tend to listen to music at very reasonable volume levels, loud enough to block the background hum in the office – but not so loud I won’t hear the phone or someone talking to me. Once you’ve sunk enough cash into really nice sound equipment (home theater), you start to think seriously about protecting your ability to enjoy it over the long term.  Thus, earplugs are my friend at rock concerts, club events (the few I still go to) and hockey games.  In my youth I did enough damage to my hearing that I’d rather avoid losing it entirely later on in life.

Initially I was looking for active noise cancelling headsets, but their relative cost and the mixed results people have had resulted in my looking at some of the in ear canal headphones that provided passive noise reduction (they are effectively ear plugs with speakers).  Several of my friends have the Bose system and swear by it, so I suspect if you can talk yourself into the cost and the ‘big can’ style is ok then it is a good solution.

After digging around the web, I came across the Skullcandy Ink’d ear buds.  These seem to fit my requirements of in ear headphones, with some amount of noise blocking – but the real thing that sealed the deal was the cost: $13 (The Source was having a 1/2 price scale).  It turns out BestBuy also carries these and they are often on sale for $15.

One negative is that the earphones are not marked left and right.  I read somewhere, and it seems to be true from my listening, that if you look at where the earphone wires join up, there is a small plastic block with skullcandy written on it.  The words on the plastic block are on the front, so if you follow the wires up – you can figure out left and right.  Some users have sorted out left and right, then marked one with a dab of nail polish – I may do the same at one point, but these will mostly get used on airplanes where fidelity is already somewhat compromised.

Compared the to stock earphones, I noticed immediately that I could hear a background hiss when I plugged them into my iPod.  Checking with some other headphones I have, I believe that this background hiss is actually being masked by the stock headphones.  This is actually annoying enough that I would not want to use these at the office or any relatively quiet listening environment.

On the positive side, these are great on an airplane.  They work almost as well as earplugs, but let me listen to music at a much more reasonable volume level (still louder than I would in a quiet environment).  You know you’re still on a plane, but even with the music off – they provide a reasonable amount of sound reduction.  The bass is actually pretty good as well – much better than the stock ear buds.

Some reviews of the Ink’d complained about fit, and squeeky noises from the plastic inserts.  I haven’t really experienced any problems with them at all.  However, at one point I may try the hack of using a leather punch to modify a foam earplug to fit these as a potential upgrade.

Overall, I’d have to consider myself very pleased with the purchase.  For a very modest price, I got myself what I consider a great set of headphones for airplane travel.