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Unwelcome disruption

In the first hours of the new week - it's 0700 and I have been at the computer since 0545 - it's as well to check whether all the assets required are in place for a successful week.

The Ofcom broadband checker is a good place to start (https://checker.ofcom.org.uk/broadband-test - seems to be blocked on some internal networks such as that in Parliament). Today shows my non-fibred rural connection ticking along at 8.5 megabits per second. That's pretty much good enough for our online activity. But the data delay (us techies might prefer the term latency) is 41.1 milliseconds. That's less encouraging. It essentially means that you have to wait until the data starts flowing. In my Edinburgh accommodation, it's about 11 milliseconds.

But as ever the upload speed is a mere 0.5 megabits per second. The Ofcom checker puts an "Amber" against using such a speed for video calling. They say that means "This service should work but you may experience problems".

The technology used to connect the last 5% or so houses and offices to the internet without any fibre to speed it up is ADSL. That's "Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line". The key problem for video conference users is that first word, "Asymmetric". It simply means that, by design, the download speed is much higher than the speed from the internet user to others. Why?

One reason is that in the age before video conferencing the amount of data sent from home to others was (broadly speaking) limited by how fast people could type. Guinness world records state:

"The highest recorded speeds attained with a ten-word penalty per error on a manual machine in five minutes is 176 wpm net by Carole Forristall Waldschlager Bechen (USA) at Dixon, Illinois, USA on 2 Apr 1959."


That's much less than 200 bits per second. You would need to attach 2,500 Carole Bechens to my, pretty slow, upload connection to use all the upload capacity.

Making the upload much slower than download was not a new idea. The first public data network in the UK was Prestel which launched in 1979. I became a subscriber in about 1982. It supported 1,200 bits per second download and 75 up (that's not a mistype - seventy-five!).

There is another reason for our link which arrives over a copper wire at the exchange being asymmetric.

Electrical signals become fainter the further they travel down the wire. The first transatlantic telegraph cable that sent its first message in 1858 illustrated the problem. The second message sent over it, the first was a test message, was from Queen Victoria to the US President. The quality of the signal was so poor that it took sixteen hours to send and confirm her 98-word message. A new cable in 1866 was much better.

When using ADSL, the signal from home to local telephone exchange is on a copper cable bundled with others as they arrive there. It has become faint with distance and then is subject to electromagnetic interference from other cables. That's the technical contribution as to why upload speeds are slower by design. When fibre cables are used to deliver data to the exchange, that problem doesn't exist. There's no "cross-talk".

After some 500 words of, hopefully of some interest to the general reader, techie talk, let's turn our attention to what I will be using my "broadband" for this week. If you crave more, I suggest reading https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asymmetric_digital_subscriber_line.

Now, a bit of a hiatus in my writing today has just occurred. An email has arrived out of the blue adumbrating a COVID-19 Committee meeting on Wednesday morning. My uncertainty about whether there was one this week had led to my checking with other party colleagues over the weekend. None of us had it in our diaries. Now, sorry to go on about this, but as I now have to plan travel, it will have to be 5.5 hours on trains each way, I had to stop writing and look at diary adjustments. Grrrr.

Now, where were we? Ah yes, my week ahead. A lady cat has sensed my grumps and has just joined me to calm me down. It's working...

So it's three Committee meetings this week. And one ad hoc. With a sprinkling of video conferences with others. End the week with an online session with my pals.

Last week I submitted a Question for the First Minister, the number always significantly exceeds the slots available, and I was not chosen. This week I don't have such an obvious question that the Presiding Officer might choose. And only one hour left to identify one.

This afternoon will be the reading for tomorrow's Environment Committee. Just a review of my weekend read of the paperwork.

I need to fit in the reading for the Rural Committee before Tuesday evening. The main item is on the "Impact of COVID-19 on agriculture, fisheries, aquaculture and food and drink sectors" and the papers are around 200 pages. Now I think I know why it has to be the train for travel. I cannot give up reading time for driving.

I should by now be out for my usual walk. So far, I have covered a distance that would nearly have taken me to Peterborough. The rowing machine beckons.

Over the weekend, I started to develop a personal interest that's been in the back of mind for a while. Basically to make some short youTubes. In particular, to illustrate the many good walks I have found in my peregrinations. It will mean covering old ground; I have kind of run out of new ground, but with fresh eyes.

My first attempt is now up there (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJ6oj5GwMCY). It's ok, but there's clear room for improvement. And I don't just mean, "get a haircut".

If you are walking, you need to carry a microphone. I used a mobile phone to record but didn't get the sound aligned perfectly with the picture. Close but.

I got my camera to take a picture every 1.8 seconds during the approximately one-mile walk. But didn't adjust the settings to make sure that the brightness level was consistent throughout—room for a fair bit of improvement.

And finally, I hadn't got the vertical to horizontal ratio during the video, the same as the photographs.

But I did find some decent free to use sound.

My ADSL broadband meant that uploading less than 2.5 minutes of video took over two hours to upload to youTube.

But a good start.

Now back to my preparation for a busier week than I imagined when I sat down to write.

Three weeks in a row when I will be attending two meetings concurrently.

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