Hampshire Linux User Group meeting

The Hampshire Linux User Group held their monthly meeting at IBM Hursley today. I’ve been meaning to go along to one of their meetings for over a year now, and never quite been able to make it as their meetings have either clashed with other commitments, or more recently not been high enough up my list of priorities. However, since the meeting was being held at my own company offices, and I was feeling pretty good this morning, I decided to just turn up and see what they got up to.

It turned out to be quite an interesting crowd of people, with the meeting structured fairly loosely around a series of presentations with some free time to mix with the other attendees. This gives people the opportunity to help each other out with problems they are experiencing. In my case, I’ve a couple of unfixed Linux problems that I’ve been working on for a while, so it seemed like a good opportunity to share them and see if anyone might be able to shed some light on them and help me to get them resolved. A couple of the presentations were quite interesting too, especially the one about packaging applications, given by Anton Piatek.

As it turned out, I got a solid hint about one of the problems I’ve been playing with, related to the hot-plugging of monitors that don’t properly report their characteristics and capabilities to the operating system. That usually prevents the OS from using the full resolution of the monitor (or projector), and I needed to find a way to override the reported capabilities with the actual ones, using the xrandr extensions to the X windows system. The hint sounds very promising, I just need to do some more work on this to see if I can now finally solve the problem or not.

My second problem relates to a 3G mobile broadband adaptor that I’ve been playing with. This is a USB device about the size of a USB pen-drive, that contains a 3G modem capable of providing a 3.6Mbps connection over the mobile telephone networks. These are great devices for allowing portable broadband internet connectivity for occasional use, albeit at quite a high cost.

In my case, I got an adaptor via a special offer arranged through http://www.broadbandshop.co.uk, paying nothing but £5 for the postage and packing. That offer consisted of a ZTE MF627 modem, which is locked to a “3” pay as you go (PAYG) SIM. This was quite a good deal on its own, but unfortunately I have no “3” coverage near either my home or my normal work locations, which limits its usefulness somewhat. In addition, the PAYG offering from “3” is not terribly good for occasional users; you have to buy credit at £10/GB, which expires after 30 days. So keeping credit on the SIM requires a constantly recurring £10 a month investment. Not ideal at all; probably better to just invest in a pay monthly contract instead.

It transpires however, that it is possible to unlock this adaptor so that it can work with a SIM from any network operator. And it turns out that I have good coverage from Vodafone at most of the places I spend time, and that they offer a better PAYG offering for occasional users; £15/GB, which does not expire. Ever. Much better. Of course, one has to get hold of a Vodafone PAYG SIM, but I was able to pick one of those up from a colleague at work for nothing (thanks Dave!)

It’s then a not-so-simple matter of making the adaptor work with my operating system of choice, Ubuntu linux. And this is where I’ve been struggling. Despite the clear instructions provided on the updates that are needed, the combination of my unlocked 3G adaptor and Vodafone PAYG SIM were resolutely refusing to work.

In the end a colleague who had the same device working with a Vodafone contract SIM spent some time with me swapping SIMs and adaptors, and testing various combinations of each others setups on each others laptops. The end conclusion was inescapable. My adaptor is definitely now unlocked, and “SIM-free”. And it works perfectly with my colleagues SIM on my laptop. My SIM does not however, work in his adaptor or mine, on my machine or his. In short, there is a problem with my Vodafone PAYG SIM (Sorry Dave!).

Initially I wondered if there was a SIM-lock set, but by placing the SIM in an ordinary (but network unlocked) mobile phone I can see that there is no SIM-lock set. In addition, I can query the credit on the SIM by entering the network code *#1345#, which tells me both that the SIM still has its initial £15 credit installed, and that (presumably) the SIM is still valid on Vodafones systems. So it should be good to go. But it isn’t. So I guess I need to contact Vodafone on Monday to see if they can help me. In the meantime I got the phone number associated with the SIM by entering the network code *#100#. That will hopefully make the conversation with Vodafone a bit simpler.

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