Living without internet at home

When your fuse box looks like the one on this photo and when your bedroom wall looks like this then you can be sure of one thing: You don’t have power.

What’s more interesting though is that for one time in my whole life, Cablecom did something right: Three months ago, I had them move my cable internet access from my old address to the new one by November, 15th

The problem is that you have to do this three months in advance and back then, I wasn’t sure how long the renovation of my bathroom was going to take. So I guessed.

Of course that guess turned out to be wrong: The bathroom, while making splendid progress, is still two weeks off from being completed.

But there was no way to explain that to Cablecom.

They successfully switched over my internet connection from my current flat to the new one where I don’t have my stuff, some essential parts of my furniture (like my bed), and even worse: No power, no water, no toilet (that is currently lying on the balcony waiting for the bathroom to be completed before they can replug it).

So for now, Internet is something I can only have at work.

The irony is that usually, Cablecom screws everything up you may want from them. Their internet access is flawless and always working, but whenever you have any administrative request, you can be sure that they screw up.

To underline this, I have two nice conversations with them:

Me: Why do I not get any bills from you? As much as I like not paying for your service, I’d hate you turning it off because I’m not paying for it. Please start sending me bills!

Them: What’s your customer ID?

Me: No Idea. But my name is Philip Hofstetter and I live at …

Them: Let me check…

Them: Are you sure that you are our customer? I can’t find you here…

Me: Totally sure. Yes.

Them: That just can’t be.

Me: And yet it is: As a matter of fact, I’m currently using the phone you have sent to me calling over your connection you provide me with and I’d really like to pay for.

Them: Sure?

That episode ended with me getting one hell of an envelope containing about 20 bills. I’m sure that had I not called, I would have been able to surf and phone for free, but I didn’t want to take the risk of ending up with no internet and no way of getting it back. Besides, not paying for a service used is unfair for both the provider and the other people who are forced to pay.

The other episode was shorter and happened to Ebi, a friend of mine:

Ebi: Hello, I have a question: What is my customer ID? My Name is xxx and I live in xxx

Them: No problem. Can I first have your customer ID though?

Other episodes turn around redundant modems being delivered, about accounts where multiple bills are sent for the same service, about not being able to fix an obvious defect at the in-house repeater or, a CHF 100’000+ water damage caused by them not sealing a pipe properly (their insurance payed for that of course).

Still: Their internet service is kick-ass! No downtime. Maximum speeds. No forced disconnection. No forced reverse proxy or other crap.

That’s why I prefer them to any ADSL provider out there.

It’s just ironic that a company this prone to screwing up administrative tasks actually does the right thing that one time where some delay would not have mattered – or would even have been preferred.

Well… at least I have one more reason to be looking forward to december now.

ripping DVDs

I have plenty of DVDs in my possession: Some movies of dubious quality which I bought when I was still going to school (like “Deep Rising” – eeew) and many, many episodes of various series (Columbo, the complete Babylon 5 series, A-Team and other pearls).

As you may know, I’m soon to move into a new flat which I thought would be a nice opportunity to reorganize my library.

shion has around 1.5TB of storage space and I can easily upgrade her capacity (shion is the only computer I own I’m using a female pronoun for – the machine is something really special to me – like the warships of old times) by plugging in yet another USB hub and USB hard drives.

It makes totally sense to use that unlimited amount of storage capacity to store all my movies – not only the ones I’ve downloaded (like video game speed runs). Spoiled by the ease of use of ripping CDs, I thought, that this would be just another little thing to do before moving.

You know: Enter the DVD, use the ripper, use the encoder, done.

Unfortunately, this is proving to be harder than it looked like in the first place:

  • Under Mac OS X, you can try to use the Unix tools with fink or some home-grown native tools. Whatever you do, you either get outdated software (fink) or not really working freeware tools documented in outdated tutorials. Nah.
  • Under Windows, there are two kinds of utilities: On one hand, you have the single-click ones (like AutoGK) which really do what I initially wanted. Unfortunately, they are limited in their use: They provide only a limited amount of output formats (like no x264) and they hard-code the subtitles into the movie stream. But they are easy to use. On the other hand, you have the hardcore tools like Gordian Knot or MeGUI or even StaxRip. These tools are frontends for other tools that work like Unix tools: Each does one thing, but tries to excel at that one thing.

    This could be a good thing, but unfortunately, it fails at things like awful documentation, hard-coded paths to files everywhere and outdated tools.

    I could not get any of the tools listed above to actually create a x264 AVI or MKV-File without either throwing a completely unusable error message (“Unknown exception ocurred”) or just not working at all or missing things like subtitles.

  • Linux has dvd::rip which is a really nice solution, but unfortunately, no solution for me as I don’t have the right platform to run it on: My MCE machine is – well – running Windows MCE, my laptop is running Ubuntu (no luck with the debian packages and no ubuntu-packages). shion is running Gentoo, but she’s headless, so I have to use a remote X-connection which is awfully slow and non-scriptable.

The solution I want works on the Linux (or MacOS X) console, is scriptable and – well – works.

I guess I’m going the hard-core way and use transcode which is what dvd::rip is using – provided I find good documentation (I’m more than willing to read and learn – if the documentation is current enough and actually documents the software that I’m running and not the software at the state of two years ago).

I’ll keep you posted on how I’m progressing.

My new Flat – Location

As I’ve told before, I’m moving into my very own flat quite soonish.

I can’t show pictures of the interior just yet as the current owners have not moved out yet. What I can show you though is a picture of the surroundings:

The picture was ripped off the GIS Browser Zürich provides for us. I could have used (which had AJAX before google maps and also has a prettier zoom than its hyped counterpart, btw) and I could even have created a link, but that would kind of give away my address (and the images of the GIS browser have a much higher resolution).

But now to the flat itself:

The green stuff to the north of the building is forest. And there’s a nice creek flowing through it (in a more or less straight east -> west line). The forest also is quite big: It takes you about 2 hours to walk from the entrance on the west to the exit on the east.

Additionally, my parents live in the vicinity the forests top end, so it’ll be a very nice walk for me when I visit them and decide to go by foot or bike.

Forest, no streets… way off the city life?

Not at all: The place is located near Zürich and I reach my work place by train (Forchbahn even) in only just 9 minutes – or 20 if I decide to walk through the forest.

So I’m getting the best out of two worlds: Nature literarily just outside my front door (I’ll be getting myself a cat next year) and still closer to my work space than before. And about the same distance away from the central parts of Zürich as I’m right now.

Granted: Walking home right now is more or less walking in-plane when it will be uphill later on, but it will be in the middle of the forrest, aside a creek as oppsed to a walk through the city.

But that’s not all just yet.

It’s very nearby the place where I’ve grown up.

Despite moving away from there back in 1993, I never bonded as much to any other place. That old place still feels like home to me and I’m getting warm feelings whenever I’m passing by.

Now I’m moving to a place where I was playing when I was a kid – granted, we weren’t there every free minute as it was a bit off, but we visited that forest here and then – we even once played quite close to where the house is.

And only three years ago, I used dry-ice to make bottles of PET explode – right in the same forest – also quite near the place where I’ll be living.

All these features make this flat the truly amazing thing it is. Granted: Room for a nice home cinema, a large bathtub, a Squeezebox in every room, heck, 140m2 of room – all that is nice. But what really makes the flat special is its location.

November 1st, I’ll officially be its owner and then I’ll be able to post some pictures from the inside.