Internet Ubuntu

Scheduling automatic updates to save money

I had an unlimited download account with my previous Internet Service Provider and I never worried about what time of day I would download a CD-ROM ISO or system update. However, since changing to PlusNet I am now on a 60GB per month download limit as unlimited accounts are now a thing of the past. Now 60GB may seem a generous allowance, but in reality upload traffic also has to come of the allowance. With everyone in my household being a heavy internet user, 60GB a month is often not enough.

Fortunately for PlusNet customers, any internet use after midnight and before 8am does not come out of their monthly allowance. So to take advantage of this overnight benefit I have been adjusting the times that our computers perform their automated updates.

For all of our Microsoft Windows machines this is easily done in Windows update. Just set the time that updates should commence. In my case, I have set our fastest Windows PC to update at 7:05am, and all the others at 7:10am. My Son’s PC is woken up at 7:00am by it’s system BIOS and the updates it pulls down are cached on my Squid Proxy Server. The other Windows PCs collect their updates when they are switched on and most of the files are served from the proxy cache.

For all my Ubuntu hosts I have disabled the built-in automatic update feature and I use a CRON job that I can control instead. To do this, open a terminal session and run the CRONtab editor with the following command:-

sudo crontab -e

When the editor launches, paste the following line into the file and save your work. That’s it.

5 0 * * * (/usr/bin/aptitude -y update && /usr/bin/aptitude -y safe-upgrade) 2>&1 >> /var/log/automatic-update.log

Cron will perform a safe upgrade at 5 minutes past midnight. As I am using a Squid proxy to cache Ubuntu updates, I set my other machines to start their update 5 minutes later by changing the ‘5’ for ’10’ in the crontab line.

For a more detailed explanation of how this crontab command is constructed visit Kevin van Zonneveld’s blog

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Choosing a rural broadband provider

I have recently moved home and I decided that after nearly eight years with PIPEX it was time to look around and see if it was possible to find a better rural broadband provider.

PIPEX provided the service that I needed for many years. But after multiple takeovers, the service and the customer support deteriorated. The low point was in the summer of 2009 when my broadband connection went up from 1.5Mbps to 3.5Mbps for six weeks. To some, this would be fantastic news, and it was to me too for a while. I told my neighbour about the great broadband service I was getting from PIPEX. He was still on 1.5Mbs so he complained to his provider (the one with the local DSLAM). Within a week of his complaint my broadband speed went down to 1Mbps and was up and down like a yo-yo thereafter. I was still paying nearly £30 a month for my unlimited use contract so I complained to PIPEX. They dropped my monthly bill to less than £10 a month but my broadband performance didn’t improve and actually got as low as just 512Kbps in 2010.

I realised that since I first signed with PIPEX there have been many BT exchanges in the UK equipped with competitor’s broadband equipment. My rural exchange was not one of these and my broadband was resold to PIPEX through BT Wholesale. PIPEX (now Opal) just didn’t have the clout in my region to demand better service from BT Wholesale so they just took my money and blamed my problems on being rural. No one could explain why I enjoyed six weeks of uninterrupted broadband at 3.5Mbps in the same house with the same equipment so I knew I was being screwed.

I did some research online and found that PlusNet had a pretty good reputation amongst rural customers. They also have some good online tools for taking a peek at the faults logged on their network including BT Wholesale’s provision. I looked at taking broadband from Sky, BT and a few others, but because I live in a rural location, my connection for the time being would be provided by BT either directly or via wholesale and none of the TV advertised deals apply. I also wouldn’t get the same level of techie fault reporting tools offered by PlusNet. It was clear to me that PlusNet where worth taking the chance on so I signed up for PlusNet voice and broadband for a year and so far I am very happy with the change.

The only hiccup I have had with PlusNet is that they assume that all new customers already have uninterrupted internet access or mobile phone access. I had neither at my new home and still don’t have any mobile phone reception. All of PlusNet’s communication with new customers waiting for connection is via email and SMS text message. Fortunately, my wife’s corporate Blackberry could receive email here so the important messages concerning installation and activation went to her email account instead. PlusNet will not send a letter to you even if you request it so they are by no means perfect, but the best I could hope for.

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