Weeknote 22/2021: By the sea

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Last week, I was on a family holiday – and the sun shone too. And, for the record, it’s still a holiday even if you don’t go abroad. It’s only a staycation if you stay in your own home.


Sadly, I’ve been strugging with mobile connectivity recently. I finally got around to putting a 5G SIM in my phone. Since then the 3/4G signal has been awful and I haven’t even seen 5G. giffgaff’s Twitter support were worse than useless, eventually demanding a list of personal information in a direct message including things they should know (like the identifier of the SIM they had sent me, which Android refused to show me). In the end, I gave up as I needed a SIM removal tool… I’ll try again this week, now I’m back home.

Meanwhile, in parts of Dorset, I even got a French mobile signal (when I couldn’t get an English one…)

Family History

One evening, whilst discussing family history, I found that my wife’s Great Great Grandfather was quite possibly murdered in the 1890s! The Coroner’s report suggests the body was found buried in a sitting position – so that sounds like foul play. It’s unclear whether there was a severed hand found nearby with some money but the newspaper says “hat” so that may be translation!

This week in pictures

Want to update your iPhone voicemail settings? Looks like a jailbreak is needed

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Last night, I wrote a post about shopping for second-hand smartphones. Of course, that’s only one half of the deal – the other essential element is a subscription to a mobile network. I’ve been SIM-only for a while now (add up the cost of a contract, take off the cost of the “subsidised” handset, and see how expensive it really is) and, for the last year or so, I’ve been using Giffgaff.

Giffgaff is a no-frills MVNO, owned by and operating on O2’s network. Sometimes though, I have to remind myself that you get what you pay for – for example, tethering still doesn’t work properly on an iPhone and there is no visual voicemail service. Whilst tethering is potentially an issue, visual voicemail is not a problem – my Lumia and my iPhone both tell me when I have new messages and I dial 443 (GIF) to get to my voice mailbox. Annoyingly though, iOS includes an icon in the phone app labelled Voicemail – and that’s still set to O2’s 901 number instead of Giffgaff’s 443.

It used to be possible to change this by dialling 500586*443# but Apple killed this feature in iOS4. It seems that now, the only way is to use a third party voicemail app (like Hullomail), or to jailbreak the phone and start messing around with plist files…

…guess what I’m looking into doing now…

How sending email to SMS led me to a world of event-driven programming

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A couple of nights ago, I was messing around with SMS alerting after checking out some websites to let me know the best times to see the Northern Lights in southern Britain. Lancaster University’s AuroraWatch UK site, has an alerting system including advice on sending emails to a phone via SMS.  The exact steps are carrier-specific, however O2, who operate the network I use (Giffgaff), works with MMail (send a text consisting of the word on to 212 and a confirmation from 21203 will tell you your email address, which should be +447xxxxxxxxx@mmail.co.uk – turn it off again with an off text to 212).  Even so, it is a risky service to leave active as each text message sent or received costs the recipient (it’s supposed to be 10p, but for me it seemed to be £0.20), so it’s possible for a spammer to run up a hefty phone bill for you… on that basis, MMail doesn’t sound so attractive.

There are a variety of SMS services available from SMS2Email but a little bit more digging around (on the Giffgaff forums), turned up reference to If This Then That (Ifttt) – a website that someone had mentioned to me recently but which I hadn’t looked at yet.

My verdict? Wow! Event-driven programming is cool.

Register at the site and build tasks that match the “if this, then that” construct, based on:

  • Triggers – the this part.
  • Actions – the that part.
  • Channels – the “things” that triggers and actions take input from or output to .

Tasks poll for input every 15 minutes but they can be turned on/off and you can also create recipes for sharing tasks, so for example, I’ve created a task/recipe that polls the AuroraWatch UK Twitter RSS and sends an SMS message when there is a red alert (i.e. a chance of spotting the Northern Lights anywhere in the UK). I’m sure there are loads more things that can be done with Ifttt as there stacks of channels to build from – in fact, wading through the recipes that people have shared brings up some pretty cool ideas.

Ifttt is definitely worthy of further investigation…

Giffgaff gotcha

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A few months ago, I wrote about Giffgaff – and I’m still very happy with paying less for a mobile service on the O2 network than I would from O2 (and earning credit for referrals, answering questions, etc. in the process).  Unfortunately I fell foul of a little complexity in the service this week and I think it’s worth mentioning.

Giffgaff account detailsAfter getting cut off a call mid flow, I logged into the Giffgaff website, under My giffgaff, looked for the My account panel, and saw that my credit had reduced from around £5 to just 16p.  The reason was that my “Goodybag” (a bundle of calls, text and data) had expired and that the “Auto Top-up” only applies to my “credit” balance (a separate pay as you go balance for chargable services that are not included in the Goodybag, like 0845 numbers).

It is possible to buy your next Goodybag to pick up where an expired one has left off (as you can see, I’ve done this now) – but that’s not the same as Auto Top-up.  (Quite why my Auto Top-up didn’t trigger is anyone’s guess but I’m kind of happy it didn’t as I would have carried on chatting and surfing, thinking I was using my included minutes/megabytes, but actually spending money…)

Get a free giffgaff SimAs I recommended Giffgaff to readers of this blog (indeed, I still do recommend them), I thought I should highlight this potential source of confusion, in case anyone else trips up like I did!

[Update 18 June 2012: Giffgaff have announced that they will launch recurring Goodybag topups on 20 June 2012)

Giffgaff – why did no-one tell me about this before?

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Get a free giffgaff SIMOver the Christmas holidays, I completed my new year rationalisation of mobile contracts by switching my mobile phone from O2 (£16.50 for 200 minutes and a 500MB data bolt on, monthly rolling contract) to Giffgaff (£10 for 250 minutes and “unlimited” data). Having done so, I really don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner (apart from the fact I didn’t know about it!) – especially as Giffgaff not only runs on O2’s network but is actually owned by Telefonica/O2! Indeed, O2’s own careers website describes Giffgaff like this:

“Giff-what? Yes, we know it’s a funny name. Giffgaff is a brand new mobile network that doesn’t play by mainstream rules.

Instead, the company’s customers help run the company in return for cash rewards. Hence the term ‘giffgaff’, which means ‘mutual giving’, as any ancient Scot will tell you.

Customers can earn rewards for helping other customers with queries, designing marketing materials or by recruiting new members.

The business runs a tight ship – it has no call centres, high street shops and doesn’t splash out on expensive, glossy ad campaigns.

The result of this is that giffgaff keeps its costs low and and is able to pass the savings on to all its customers.

Although giffgaff is owned by O2 it is run as a separate company by a small group of passionate, full-time employees based in Beaconsfield just 8 miles north of Slough.”

This sounded good – and with a referral code that earned both me and the referrer a £5 credit I signed up. If you’re interested in signing up then we can both earn a fiver too!

So, what’s the catch? Surely there has to be one? The only difference that I can see is the support framework if things don’t work as they should. There is community support and you can “ask an agent” from the Giffgaff website but there is no call centre (which, depending on your view of call centres, may be A Good Thing).

Once I received my SIM, I activated it, including adding a £10 Goodybag to my account and then started to plan for transferring my number. I’ve had the same mobile number for a long time (10 years or more) and I didn’t want to lose it but there was clear guidance on the Giffgaff website setting out  the steps I needed to take to transfer my number and setting my expectations for the day of transfer (although I did panic a bit when the number still  hadn’t ported at the end of business hours – it finally became live in the early evening). I also needed to cut down the Giffgaff SIM to fit my phone (most phones use the standard SIM but my Nokia Lumia 800 uses a micro SIM) – there’s a template for this but I bought a SIM cutter for a few pounds on the Internet.

With my voice services transferred I needed to set up the APN for mobile data access on my smartphone, set up mobile messaging, and set up voicemail. All of this was covered in a handy Giffgaffer’s guide to Windows Phone 7(.5) – I’ve sure there are similar guides for iOS, Android, etc. too.

All in all, I’m really pleased with my switch to Giffgaff. If you’re not happy messing around with SIMs and entering a few settings in your phone, it may not be for you, but for anyone who is out of contract with their current mobile provider, is happy supporting their own technology, and who can get an O2 signal (the O2 status checker provides coverage details for a given postcode) then Giffgaff might be worth a try.