Zen and the art of the Internet


It was back in 2002 when I first got ADSL. Back then it was all the rage to have an Alcatel USB ADSL modem that ran under Windows. And it ran at 512k/sec and we were happy with that, coming from a time when dialup Internet was normal. Although I also used to use GSM 9600BPS dialup at one point too…

Then I got an upgrade to a 2Mbit line when stuff just naturally improved with the technology. There was then the improvement of ADSL2+ which gave me about 8Meg. Then I moved house and got 10Meg, apart from the incident where my phoneline fell off the house.

And now, thanks to Fibre To The Cabinet, VDSL and a suspiciously cheap looking OpenReach branded router downstairs I get the rather silly figures you see above. Oh hello future me, what are we on now? Gigabit? Through our mobile phones?

I know there’s faster, but that involves either having cable Internet and no static IP, or living in a place where you can have fibre to your house. I don’t, the fibre stops at the green cabinet at the end of the street. I can see it from my front door and don’t think my line is the limiting factor in my speed any more.

It’s unlimited too, just like I used to have with Be Internet.

I’m Be-ing invaded from the Sky

Oh bugger.

Hello james,

As you may well know, we’ve now bought O2 and BE home broadband and home phone businesses, and we’re really excited to welcome you to Sky.

We’ll be bringing your services over to Sky’s network starting later this year. Until then, you’ll continue to get exactly the same home broadband and phone service (if you have it with O2 or BE) as you do now. Right now, you don’t need to do a thing.

If you have any questions, you can find more information and details on how to contact Sky here

We’ll shortly be sending you a welcome pack in the post, which will explain what’s happening in more detail. But for now we just wanted to say hello.

Kind Regards,
Sky Home Communications Team

[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]we’re really excited to welcome you to Sky[/pullquote] I’ve known about this for a few months now and have done a bit of research. My choices seem limited to either giving some major TV & Telecoms company my money in exchange for “Unlimited” Internet but congested, proxied connections that don’t let me have a static IP address, or a small independent company who imposes bandwidth limits on me, but otherwise leaves me a lone.

Surely there’s a way to buy “real” Internet from someone without having to pay hundreds of pounds per month doing so? We don’t have fibre in our street, but I bet in 10 years time when we do I’ll be able to buy wholesale fibre off some reseller. I mean, 10 years ago I had a 2Mbit ADSL connection that had severe problems at 5pm and other people used to handle my mail and web services. Now I have a 12Mbit ADSL connection and receive incoming HTTP and SMTP.

Time becomes a loop

I just noticed my blog/website has been running for just over 10 years which is a reasonable achievement. During that time I’ve written about various things and it’s kind of fun to go back and read through the entries.

This month, ten years ago I’d been playing around with my Palm IIIx and had managed to connect it to the Internet. A task that I do several times daily with my iPad and iPhone – technologies that were unheard of at the time. If you flick through older entries there’s a recurring theme of me owning some sort of portable device that connects to the Internet. I’ve had a Palm IIIx, a Nokia N800, Nokia N810 and then a selection of Apple devices. Gradually over the years I’ve seen Wifi going from a nerd’s toy to something as common as a lightswitch.

Broadband’s been fun to watch develop too, I first got a “Wires only” ADSL account (this simply meant you bought the service with no hardware, so had to buy an ADSL router yourself – this was when ADSL was originally delivered into your Windows PC via the “Squashed Frog” USB modem) and was utterly gobsmacked at being able to download a gigabyte of data in a few days. Then I was totally surprised when I had the speed bumped up to 2 meg.

Now I can easily download data at a rate faster than the home network my first ADSL router used to be connected to! How technology marches on. Hello future me! How do we connect to the Internet now?

I’ve also been to lots of places over the years, and had a few interesting little adventures along the way. I’ve also discovered whole new realms of boredom!

Anyway, it’s gone midnight and I need to get up tomorrow so I can visit Ikea and buy a new desk, go to the rubbish dump and also wait for a Tesco delivery. Yes, I’ve gone from jumping into water and climbing up rocks to shopping for desks and buying food. If I have time left I might continue my coding adventures in C++ and OpenGL on my iPad – some things never change 😉

I just did a whois on my domain. I registered the domain on the 31st May 2000, and it seems we filled in the form incorrectly since the address is no longer valid, and the registrant was never at that address. Oh well, I doubt anyone cares. I’ve had my shell provider for the past 10 years too, and in that time can’t recall any noticeable downtime.

Communication Failure

There I was, happily Consuming some Internet and doing my part to fill popular social networking sites with noise when … things started to go a bit funny. First browsing stopped working, then Skype went offline followed by Google Talk finally noticing my Internet was offline. After some investigation I noticed my ADSL router no longer had an IP address but was syched with the line.

So I switched it off, waited a bit, switched it back on… Lights flashed, lights went green… then orange. Orange is a bad colour, it means “something is broken”. Thinking that maybe my ISP had finally got around to enabling my static IP address I configured that. Lights went green, but no data flowed. Having run out of options I dug out the router provided by my ISP (it was in the loft in a box, it’s not very good) and that also failed to work. Just to check things over I plugged in the ADSL router I used to use before I moved house – this one hadn’t been reconfigured or messed with since I unplugged it in my old house. That didn’t work either, it also didn’t sync at a speed faster than 7Mb so that went away again.

There then followed a series of support ticket requests with my ISP, with my problem being escalated to higher and higher levels of support technician. I even requested a line test from BT after my ADSL router decided to tell me “No ATM activity detected on line”. To further confuse matters, my ISP rang me on my landline and I couldn’t hear them, but they use some nasty VOIP rubbish for their calls, so I figured that was broken and hung up. Then I picked up the phone again and … it was dead. Uh oh. But my ADSL was still synched OK. Err…

Another support ticket from my ISP solved everything. They gave me the details for my static IP address again and also told me my phone handset is probably faulty as they could hear me fine. I phoned myself using my mobile phone and sure enough, my cordless phones are broken. Nothing to do with my Internet being down, but irritating all the same. Now got a corded phone plugged in and a renewed desire to work out where these phone extension wires run so I can use them.

The source of all this weird confusion and problems? My static IP address details were wrong… or perhaps not wrong, but different. I think the house move process went a bit wonky and I got a new static IP address assigned to me. Or they couldn’t figure out why nothing was working and gave me a new one, the support technician did say he couldn’t ping me either at one point. They even had the phone exchange configuration reset and tested to make sure that was correct, so at least I now know I have a properly working line with no errors.

Tomorrow I might give this post a try to see if I can convince my Zyxel router to do more than 7 meg.

Port Forwarding and NAT Loopback on a Zyxel ADSL Router

If you’re trying to answer the question “How do I connect to hosts inside my network using my Internet connection’s IP address, and not the local IP address” or maybe “How do I test my port forwarding works from within my network” then you need to enable NAT Loopback on your router or firewall. To see why, keep reading. Otherwise go and Google.

Users of Zyxel routers (P-660HW-T1 v2 etc), you need to connect to the CLI and type in a command. Irritatingly the command is not saved when the power goes out so you will need to re-enter it every time the router is power cycled. Also, with Zyxel routers it will be necessary to enable a LAN / LAN Router firewall rule to explicity forward ‘any’ connection to the local IP address of the Zyxel router. Without doing this all admin (web and Telnet CLI) control of the router is lost.

Telnet into your router and issue the command ip nat loopback on. Here’s an example.

james@smeg:~$ telnet
Connected to
Escape character is ‘^]’.

Copyright (c) 1994 – 2007 ZyXEL Communications Corp.
P-660HW-T> ip nat loopback on
P-660HW-T> exit
Connection closed by foreign host.

Why? Keep reading…

With an ADSL or other NAT based router/firewall it is possible to use port forwarding and other firewall rules to get from the Internet (WAN) to the local network (LAN). Once configured, hosts on the Internet are able to reach your internal machines by visiting your Internet IP address.

Imagine you have an Internet connection that goes through a firewall. Behind the firewall is a laptop, desktop and a server. On the server is webserver software and the popular Subversion repository software.

Using port forwarding it is possible to allow people on the Internet to access both the web and SVN server, but prevent them from accessing the laptop or the desktop computers. Internally the desktop, laptop and server can all communicate with each other, the firewall having no control over this.

So a user on the desktop PC can browse the webserver by simply connecting to its internal IP address – So can the laptop. The Internet users could connect to this using the port forwarding set up and use the router’s Internet address – http://photos.piku.org.uk. Note how there are two addresses for everything now – the actual internal IP address and the external Internet address provided by port forwarding.

Having two addresses is no problem for most things. It can just become a little confusing or impractical. Imagine the laptop user wants to check out sourcecode from a Subversion repository. They install the excellent TortoiseSVN and, while connected to the internal network, check out source from ‘’. Suppose now they want to go outside the network and continue with access to the repository. Port forwarding allows them access, but due to the way SVN works they will now need to check out a second copy of the source.

And now things are confusing. It seems impractical and overly complex to need two copies of something just because the address of the computer has changed. This is where NAT Loopback comes in. It allows the laptop user to enter the Internet address of the SVN server into their client and use that from both within the local network and out on the Internet.

Faster ADSL, I think

Results of a Speedtest.net test.
Results of a Speedtest.net test.

I’ve just replaced the faceplate on my BT Master phone socket (NTE5) with an ADSL Nation XTE-2005 Filtered Master Faceplate which I think has just given me a small speed boost on my Internet connection. I was getting about 5Mb/0.5Mb (down/up) before with my ADSL filter connected directly to the BT Master socket’s test socket, and now I get 6Mb/0.8Mb. I’ll do another test later on but it’s certainly not made it worse, and has reduced the amount of wire around my phone socket.

Oh, and to attach extension sockets to the punchdown terminals on the back, use an old credit card 🙂

Phoneline working again

I found a message on my mobile from a BT engineer saying my line was repaired and working. My Internet is back to its normal speed and the line quality seems to be normal again. I’ll see if callers complain about noise on the line when someone gets round to ringing me.

After checking the line was working I noticed I had a voicemail from Tuesday. It was from a local dentist wanting to know if I wanted to be a patient with them. Kind of handy since back on Tuesday I only noticed my line was faulty because I wanted to ring a dentist and join them. They’re NHS too so I think that means its cheaper.

So two things have been sorted in one, and I now have an appointment on the 22nd of October where they will no doubt prod my teeth with their metal spikes and decide half my fillings need replacing. Then again I do need a filling repairing so maybe that’ll distract them and I’ll get away with a filling I need and a scale and polish.

Hello? Hello! operator!

I don’t understand this one. My phoneline is dead, it “doesn’t work” in that if I pick up a handset and listen, there’s no dialtone. All I can hear is whatever the speaker picks up, which seems to indicate there’s current running down the line – although it’s not enough to power a normal plug in phone, that just sits there dead.

And yet, here I am, on the Internet through the same phone line. Admittedly I am connected at 2Mb/sec, and the line is mostly full of CRC errors, but it’s working and that makes me really confused. If I pick up my phone there’s a burst of static that dies away and then the line is quiet.

I now know there are no public payphones to the right of my house for at least a mile, the nearest one being to the left, about half a mile away. I knwo this because I set off on a walk to find one to ring BT to report the fault on my line (ring an 0800 number from a mobile? I think not). The phone I eventually found had a large sticker on it saying it was due for removal because not enough people use it.

That’s just great that is. OK so they get vandalised, tramps sleep in them/use them as toilets and they now cost 40p for a call, but when your own phoneline is broken, they’re a really handy way of calling BT for free. Dialling 0800 numbers from a mobile is not free, which is stupid.

The BT fault checker found a fault with my line and after a lot of checking, some more checking and a little bit of looking at the state of my line, told me it’d be fixed by Thursday. Isn’t that wonderful! I hope there’s something expensive wrong that keeps people busy for hours tonight, and that in fixing it they make my ADSL run faster afterwards.