Reconfiguring a Plusnet ADSL router (Sagemcom 2704n)

I’ve been trying to improve my Skype call quality at home and the guys I work with who know about this sort of stuff have suggested that my cheap ISP-supplied router may be part of the problem. Put simply, the Technicolor TG582n that Plusnet shipped me last year is fine for a bit of web surfing, it even streams video from iPlayer, etc. OK, but it’s not up to the task for P2P or real time media.

I was playing around with some of the settings and found that the router wasn’t behaving reliably (when I applied changes, and they weren’t applying) so I called PlusNet, who gave me two options: factory reset and a new router. I went for both.

The factory reset got me back up and running until the new router arrived. Plusnet’s current “Hub Zero” router is a Sagemcom 2704n and, whilst I’ve yet to see if my Skype for Business call quality improves, everything else about it seems to be a retrograde step:

The hardware design is flawed – when fixed to the wall, the router’s Ethernet ports are inaccessible (there isn’t enough room for them to turn through 90 degrees!) and, despite having a Gigabit Ethernet switch the ports are only 10/100 (yes, the ADSL connection is much slower than that but the cheap Ethernet ports reduce the speed of the local network).

Then, there’s the firmware that Plusnet have applied to the router which takes dumbing down to a new level. At least with the TG582n I could make a telnet connection for advanced configuration; Plusnet have blocked telnet, SSH and SNMP so there’s no way to manage the device. They’ve also removed the ability for ICMP to be enabled so my broadband ping trace flat-lined when I plugged in the new router:

PlusNet router blocks ICMP
No ICMP, no ping test

Worst of all, the Plusnet firmware hides the ability to change the IP address of the router, or to turn off DHCP. Given that I have a business account and that the paperwork with the router says “Welcome to Plusnet Business”, I’d have thought that almost any business with more than a handful of users would have its own DHCP server and may want to control the IP range in use (as I do – my Raspberry Pi does runs the infrastructure here). Luckily, after some hunting around I found a forum post with the details I needed:

Log into it using with the admin name and password.
Select >Advanced Setup >LAN
First select the ‘Disable DHCP Server’ radio button, then at the top, change the IP address


now click Apply/Save at the bottom. The 2704n will now update and the page will start to refresh but won’t complete as you now have to change the address in your browser URL bar to http://[yourchosenIP]/expert_user.html

In all likelihood, I’ll be buying a new router. Something decent for ADSL2+ that will also work if I do upgrade to FTTC later. In the meantime, at least I’ve managed to get over the biggest hump with reconfiguring the Sagemcom 2704n.

Recording a video of a PowerPoint presentation

One of the challenges I have with an Office 365 implementation that I’m working on is that the customer is unwilling or unable (for various technical and commercial reasons) to configure all of the network ports that are required to make use of Skype for Business. That means that they are unable to attend meetings that I host – they can dial in and hear the audio but they can’t access presentation content.

That’s a bit of a challenge for me, as I need to deliver some training to technical support staff across the globe and in various timezones. So, with Skype for Business out of the question… I started to think about alternatives – like recording a video of a PowerPoint presentation.

I realised it’s possible to record a narrative within PowerPoint and then save the presentation as a video or as a self-running presentation. That’s not as interactive as a Skype session could be but it’s also available for playback later (although this would also be the case with a recording of the Skype for Business session).

The process was not without its issues though. On the positive side, I could break my recording and re-record each slide (for example if I fluffed my words). That also helped when the kids came home and the inevitable family interruptions occurred. Unfortunately, PowerPoint kept on cutting out the first few seconds on some slides, so I started waiting a few seconds before speaking (I can trim it later) and it even recorded silence sometimes, necessitating a PC reboot to make it work again.  The whole process was not exactly fast – around 4 hours to record a one-hour presentation… and that doesn’t include the media encoding.

As I write this, I’m saving the file to MP4, hopefully ready for distribution… now, if only they hadn’t asked me to turn off Office 365 Video I’d have a means to share the content…

Clutter and Junk Email in Exchange Online

One of my Office 365 customers has been asking about Clutter and Junk Email – with concerns that Clutter doesn’t move all the mail they think it should and also that more email is being trapped as junk than they expect (or experienced with on-premises Exchange.  I thought it might be useful to cover a few bits and pieces on the topic…


Looking first at Clutter, it’s a new capability introduced in Exchange Online a year ago which uses the Office Graph to move lower priority messages out of your way and into a new Clutter folder, with the intention that users can focus on the most important messages in their Inbox.  In essence, not everything received from third parties trying to sell things is junk – you may have newsletters and other updates that are not essential but that you don’t need to read right away. And, as your reading habits change, Clutter learns and adapts.

It’s a nice idea, but sometimes Clutter needs a little helping hand. You can switch Clutter on/off, or help it to learn your preferences by following Microsoft’s advice to use Clutter to sort low priority messages in Outlook on the web. Office 2016 users can also train Clutter in Outlook (the capability is not there in Outlook 2013).

In addition, messages sent from yourself, or from your management chain or direct reports (if you’re an Office 365 Business user) will never be identified as Clutter. It’s also possible for administrators to use a transport rule to ensure that certain messages are not treated as Clutter.

If you want to know more, Tony Redmond (@12knocksinna) has an FAQ with answers to common Clutter questions that I recommend reading.

Junk Email

Junk Email filtering has been around for a lot longer than Clutter and Office 365 uses intelligence built up over time to ?determine which messages are “spam” or junk email. Many messages are trapped before they even get to your Inbox. Sometimes, it’s not clear whether a message is Junk or not and something you intended to receive may be moved to your Junk Email folder in error. In my customer’s case, after a mailbox had been transferred from the on-premises Exchange to Exchange Online, we effectively have a new mailbox in a new Exchange organisation and it needed to re-learn some of the personal preferences around Junk email.

It’s unlikely that internal email will be classified as Junk; however you can edit this following the advice in Microsoft knowledge base article 2545137. It’s also possible to use a transport rule to set the spam confidence level (SCL) to -1 (i.e. definitely not spam) based on given criteria.  In addition, allow and block lists can be created within the spam filter in the Exchange Admin Center.

There’s more information on safe and blocked senders and the various mechanisms that are used in the Microsoft TechNet safe sender and blocked senders FAQ as well as consumer advice on using Junk Email Filters to control which messages you see.

The whole process

The whole filtering/organising process works like this:

  1. Messages identified as possible junk email are automatically moved to the Junk Email folder, and any potentially dangerous content, for example links or attached programs, are disabled.
  2. Next, any Inbox rules are processed.
  3. If you use Sweep in Outlook on the web, it will then organize your Inbox.
  4. Finally, Clutter will analyse the remaining messages and filters those that match a pattern for being ignored or not responded to, based on past behaviour.

Finding the PDF for my Office 365 invoice

Yesterday, I completed the accounts for the now-defunct company I used to run for my writing and consultancy, outside my main job. I closed that down several months ago (I haven’t written a paid article for a few years now and running my own consultancy clashes with the day job) but the tax return deadline looms…

…which means I need to gather receipts, including the PDFs for my Office 365 subscriptions.

Every time I do this, I have to search to find where the link is… so I thought I’d blog it and maybe next time the results will be on my own site (although by then the new Office 365 admin center  will be in place).

The billing overview doesn’t have the link to view the PDF – for that you have to view the order details – and it doesn’t currently work in Chrome – I had to fall back to Internet Exploder this time (although at least the website recognises this and it warned me).

Office 365 Billing - Order Details

No more FeedBlitz for updates

I’ve offered email subscriptions on this blog for years now, initially using FeedBlitz, then FeedBurner and also via  Ironicially, given that FeedBurner is now owned by Google, it’s FeedBlitz that I’m least happy with – primarily because of the poor quality adverts that it wraps around my content.

For this reason, I’m going to be switching off the FeedBlitz feed over the next few days.  I’ll contact every existing subscriber on the FeedBlitz feed, before switching them over to the WordPress-powered subscription, but thought it appropriate to  post an update on the site as well.

It’s great to know that people still read the content I create – you can always subscribe to the RSS feed or for email updates via or using the Subscriptions section on the right hand side of the blog homepage.

Thanks for your continued support.

Banish passwords and unlock your PC with Windows Hello

Passwords are so old-fashioned. And insecure. Often, after a high profile website hack we’re asked to change our passwords because most people use the same password for multiple services. So, what’s the answer? Well, not using the same password for multiple sites might be one solution but that leads to problems with remembering passwords (which is why I use a password manager). Others think the solution lies in biometrics (and I’d certainly consider that as a second factor).

Windows 10 has an interesting new feature called Windows Hello. Rather than relying on a password, or a PIN (which is ultimately the same thing, once it’s been hashed…), Hello uses facial recognition to determine whether you can have access to a PC or not – and I’ve been testing it for a few weeks now.

Actually, we have two PCs in our house that can use Windows Hello: my wife’s Lenovo E550 (using the fingerprint reader or optional 3D camera); and the Lenovo B50 All-in-one PC I have on loan also includes the 3D camera that is required for facial recognition (iris readers will soon be available too). And in case you’re reading this and getting worried about a copy of your face being shared around the Internet, Hello’s facial recognition uses infra-red technology with the camera to capture data points (a kind of graph of your face) rather than a picture itself and the data never leaves the PC (where it is stored in encrypted form – you can read more in Microsoft’s Windows Hello privacy FAQ).  In essence, you have possession of a device; you unlock it with your face (or other biometrics); and then Windows Hello authenticates on your behalf but your biometric information is never transferred.

I was a bit confused at first to find that Hello was not available on the B50, until I discovered that the OOTB drivers were not up to the task – once I’d installed the Intel RealSense Depth Camera Manager (DCM) drivers, Windows was happy to learn how my face looks and Windows Hello jumped into life.

“So, what’s it actually like to use?”, you might ask.

Setup is just a case of following a wizard to let Windows recognise your face and after that it’s really, really straightforward.

Windows Hello setup - welcome! Windows Hello setup - make sure it's you Windows Hello setup - say cheese! Windows Hello setup - all set! Windows 10 sign-in options, including Windows Hello

Just make sure you look directly at the PC (no slurping a cuppa whilst waiting for it to recognise you).

Sometimes the camera takes a while to wake up when the PC resumes from standby (a driver issue, I expect – they seem to be under constant iteration) but in general it seems pretty reliable. It seems to cope well with varying lighting conditions too – whether I have a full ceiling light on, daylight from the window, or a little desk lamp; and I’ve moved offices since I originally set it up – that doesn’t seem to make a difference either. And there’s no problem with variations in the amount of facial hair I’m wearing on any given day. Apparently, even identical twins don’t fool it

Logging on to my PC with little more than a wiggle of a mouse (to wake it up) and a stare is great… it’s a shame I’ll have to give the PC back soon.

Further reading

Apple finally recognises European consumer laws

Back in 2012, I wrote about my poor experiences with Apple and consumer law. I wasn’t alone either – the comments on that post showed that others had similar issues, including taking Apple to the small claims court…

…for that reason, I was surprised last Friday to hear a “Genius” in my local Apple Store telling someone they had two years cover for their device under EU consumer law. That was particularly interesting as I’d just been quoted £94 for a new 1TB hard disk in my own Mac which was 367 days old at the time! (I had corrected the Genius by saying a) that my call was logged with Apple Support whilst the device was less than a year old and b) that’s about twice what a 1TB 2.5″ SATA HDD should cost at current market prices). In my case, it was a genuine mistake, but I did ask about the “2 years European Consumer Law” cover that had been quoted to the other customer.

Well, it seems that a while ago (possibly around 2013, based on copyright notice for the leaflet I was given), Apple finally recognised that their warranty cover didn’t comply with European consumer legislation.  Apple’s UK Statutory Warranty page details what’s available under the Apple On-Year Limited Warranty, under European Consumer Law, and with an AppleCare Protection Plan. Significantly:

“Under consumer laws in the UK, consumers are entitled to a free of charge repair or replacement, discount or refund by the seller, of defective goods or goods which do not conform with the contract of sale. For goods purchased in England or Wales, these rights expire six years from delivery of the goods and for goods purchased in Scotland, these rights expire five years from delivery of the goods.”

It may be late, but it’s good to see Apple finally recognises European consumer laws.

The impact of Microsoft’s changes to OneDrive storage quotas on Office 365 plans

Earlier this week, Microsoft announced some changes to its consumer cloud storage product, OneDrive (with more details in this FAQ).

Whilst the changes to OneDrive storage quotas are disappointing for some users, that’s life – you don’t get much that’s genuinely free and Microsoft clearly wasn’t making money on OneDrive.

What I find more disappointing is that Microsoft has created a real mess, after so much positive publicity in the new cloud-first, mobile-first Microsoft that Satya Nadella is leading. And it’s not about the products – the marketing guys are to blame here. First of all, there was nothing on the Office blogs about this – the announcement is on a separate OneDrive blog. Then that announcement refers to “Office 365 consumer subscribers”. So, as one person commented on the Office 365 Yammer network:

“Oh Microsoft what were you thinking with your poorly articulated and conceived change to OneDrive? . What a mess! Now people are emailing me and asking when they will lose space on their OneDrive and I have to explain ‘not that OneDrive this OneDrive’ and ‘not that Office 365 this Office 365′”

As well as two OneDrive products (OneDrive and OneDrive for Business, although sometimes with a unified client) and two Skype products (Skype and Skype for Business, again becoming more integrated but not quite there) we now seem to have the marketing teams talking about two sets of Office 365 subscription plans (Office 365 consumer and Office 365 business).

Anyway… setting aside some dubious product naming decisions, a retrenchment from “unlimited” storage (we all know what unlimited means to marketing departments… and surely it can be managed with an acceptable use policy if it’s being used to extremes) and some mightily annoyed end users who are about to see a drop in their OneDrive storage, what does this actually mean for Office 365 customers? I heard one MVP announce that Microsoft was reducing the amount of storage in Office 365 – and, unless we’re talking about an Office 365 Home, Personal, or University subscriber, that’s simply not the case.

Well, if you have an Office 365 consumer subscription, you still get 1TB of storage (per user – so with my family of 4 users on Office 365 Home, that’s potentially 4TB of storage) and, if you have an Office 365 business subscription, then the unlimited storage was never rolled out (at least not on any tenant I’ve seen) – although at the time of writing it is still on the Office 365 Roadmap as “in development” (I do expect that to change, although I haven’t seen any announcements from Microsoft).

In essence, it seems “unlimited” is a terabyte. Which may not be what the Oxford English Dictionary defines as the meaning of unlimited but is still a huge uplift on any file shares I’ve ever seen provisioned to end users!

fscked-up Mac: creating a backup in OS X single user mode

11 months and 3 weeks after I bought it, my Mac Mini started playing up… I suppose I should be grateful that it’s just before the Apple warranty ends, not just after (although I did buy from Solutions Inc., who offer a 2 year warranty as standard… although they’ve told me it could take a month for repairs, so to try Apple first!).

First up, I noticed issues when copying files to a folder. It said the files already existed but they weren’t in the directory listing.  Then, I noticed that the Mac was switched off when it shouldn’t be. I powered it back on, only to find it got part way through booting (black screen with an Apple logo) and powered itself down. A corrupted file system and potentially flaky hard disk was my first thought… swiftly followed by “when was my last backup?”.

I started to work through Lex Freidman (@lexfri)’s Macworld tutorial on when good Macs go bad: steps to take when your Mac won’t start up, only to find that my Bluetooth keyboard wasn’t much help for Command-key combinations at bootup time (thankfully I had an Apple USB keyboard in the loft). Using Disk Utility to verify the disk confirmed some file system errors but a repair failed to fix them… so on to booting into single user mode and fsck -fy.

My problems only started after I upgraded OS X (the article is written for Mountain Lion) – I’m running Yosemite/10.10.5 (by the way, sw_vers -productVersion helped with that) – and I have a feeling all Disk Utility had been running under the covers was fsck but, regardless, it couldn’t fix my file system either…

** /dev/rdisk0s2
** Root file system
Executing fsck_hfs (version hfs-285).
** Checking Journaled HFS Plus volume.
The volume name is Macintosh HD
** Checking extents overflow file.
** Checking catalog file.
Incorrect block count for file coreduetd.db-wal
(It should be 698 instead of 587)
Missing thread record (id = 2396638)
Invalid extent entry
(4, 16638)
Missing thread record (id = 2539257)
Invalid extent entry
(4, 22174)
Invalid extent entry
(4, 22174)
Invalid extent entry
(4, 22174)
Invalid extent entry
(4, 22174)
Incorrect block count for file 2015-05-29 18.44.00.jpg
(It should be 1939 instead of 134219675)
Invalid extent entry
(4, 22174)
Invalid extent entry
(4, 22174)
Invalid extent entry
(4, 22174)
Invalid extent entry
(4, 22174)
Invalid extent entry
(4, 22174)
Incorrect block count for file 2015-05-29 19.04.41.jpg
(It should be 2448 instead of 526736)
Invalid extent entry
(4, 53125)
Invalid extent entry
(4, 53125)
Missing thread record (id = 136756985)
Incorrect number of thread records
(4, 21015)
** Checking multi-linked files.
** Checking catalog hierarchy.
Missing thread record (id = 2539257)
Missing thread record (id = 2585438)
Invalid volume file count
(It should be 1144777 instead of 1144780)
** Checking extended attributes file.
Incorrect number of extended attributes
(It should be 875596 instead of 875596)
Incorrect number of Access Control Lists
(It should be 1619 instead of 1620)
Overlapped extent allocation (id = 1479061, /private/var/db/CoreDuet/coreduetd.db-wal)
** Checking volume bitmap.
Volume bitmap needs minor repair for under-allocation
** Checking volume information.
Invalid volume free block count
(It should be 43923570 instead of 47674177)
Volume header needs minor repair
(2, 0)
** Repairing volume.
GetCatalogRecord: No matching catalog record found
FixBadExtent: Could not get catalog record for fileID 2924329
** The volume Macintosh HD could not be repaired.

So, onto that backup…

This is where Nestor Urquiza’s post (Mac OSX not booting? Make a backup from single user mode first) helped enormously. I decided not to touch my normal backups for this job and bought a new disk instead (a 1TB Seagate Backup Plus Slim was £50 in Currys – only a fraction more expensive than in the usual online locations) but the drive is pre-formatted using NTFS so I shrunk the volume in Windows Disk Management, then created a new simple volume in the free space with a single partition. This was formatted as exFAT (as ExFAT and NTFS were the only available options) and I ejected the disk from my PC and plugged it into the Mac (still in single-user mode), which responded with:

USBMSC Identifier (non-unique): 0x00000000 0xbc2 0xab24 0x100, 3

ls -l /dev/disk* told me that this was disk1

brw-r—– 1 root operator 1, 0 Oct 30 18:02 /dev/disk0
brw-r—– 1 root operator 1, 3 Oct 30 18:02 /dev/disk0s1
brw-r—– 1 root operator 1, 2 Oct 30 18:02 /dev/disk0s2
brw-r—– 1 root operator 1, 1 Oct 30 18:02 /dev/disk0s3
brw-r—– 1 root operator 1, 4 Oct 30 22:31 /dev/disk1
brw-r—– 1 root operator 1, 5 Oct 30 22:31 /dev/disk1s1
brw-r—– 1 root operator 1, 6 Oct 30 22:31 /dev/disk1s2

fstyp /dev/disk1d1 confirmed the NTFS partition:


whilst fstyp /dev/disk1d2 returned:


That’s the ticket! A couple more commands and I had a read/write file system and a directory to mount the external disk in

mount -uw /
mkdir /extdrive

but then it all ground to a halt:

mount -t msdos /dev/disk1s2 /extdrive

mount_msdos: Unsupported sector size (0)

I had a suspicion that ExFAT was the issue here so, as Windows 2000 and later will only format FAT32 up to 32GB (although the file system supports larger volumes), I used a third party utility (the GUI version of FAT32Format created by Ridgecrop Consultants and as described by Matthew Nawrocki). Once the drive was reformatted as FAT32 instead of ExFAT, it mounted without any issues on the Mac.

I wrote a couple of test files… then started the bulk copies…

cp -r /Users/mark/Downloads /extdrive/
cp -r /Users/mark/Desktop /extdrive/

Finally, when all files were copied, I unmounted the USB drive (and checked I could read the files on another PC):

umount /extdrive

At the time of writing, I still need to get my Mac fixed. I guess I’ll be making an appointment to see a “genius” at my local Apple Store but at least I have a backup if the disk is swapped out or wiped. Actually, I got nervous about using FAT32 for my Mac backups, so I’m currently re-running the process with an HFS-formatted disk (using my old MacBook to create the volume)… and using a slightly-amended cp command for a verbose output and to preserve the file metadata:

cp -pRv /Users/mark/Pictures/2015 /extdrive/

I suspect there may be more blog posts to follow as this story develops…

Up to 22% discount on Office 365 Home subscriptions

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Office 365 Home, which allows me to get the latest version of Microsoft Office on up to 5 PCs/Macs, 5 tablets and 5 phones.  Originally, I took out a one month free trial, after which it becomes a monthly subscription at £7.99.

If you pay annually, you can get 2 months free. Add that to the one month free trial and by my calculations that’s a 22% discount on Office 365 in year 1 and 16% in subsequent years.

Beware though, if you make a payment too early in your trial period, the free trial ends immediately.

I also found that, when I went to renew, the price was in US Dollars (although that might actually have been cheaper, before credit card charges, etc.). I contacted Microsoft support, who were happy to make the required changes on my account from monthly to annual renewal.