Friday, 21 November 2014

Worst kind of spam?

OK, technically, I am on the Blizzard mailing list, so not spam as such, but an advert.

An advert for something I am already paying for and they know it.

An advert for something that doesn't fucking work yet.

Really Blizzard, why rub salt in to the wound? Why?

P.S. the most obvious problem is the garrison instance. As I understand it that is a single player instance, it is your garrison/fort/town. So why the hell is that not run on the client and not an instance server which clearly cannot cope?!

Thursday, 20 November 2014

To BT or not to BT?

We have backhaul via BT (BT plc) and via TT (TalkTalk) now at A&A, and have had for some time.

We have told them both that in the long term we want a pretty even mix of providers between them, and in general we have most customers that can get either TT or BT backhaul. At present it is way more BT than TT.

But what is the difference and why would we, or one of our customers, choose one or the other?

Firstly it is worth explaining that the copper pair, in either case, is BT plc t/a Openreach copper. So either way we have to get a "supplier" to work with BT to install the service, and maintain the service, and fix faults. Some times dealing with the devil you know (i.e. BT) can be easier. For us that is a huge part of the game here - but it is only the few lines with faults that we are looking at day in and day out - for most customers lines work and it is not issue who is fixing lines. If all else fails we can move a line between carriers to get the line fixed.

The technical difference is kit in the exchange and back-haul through the country to interconnect with us. That is where BT and TT are different, but less so than they used to be. They both offer backhaul on a 95th percentile basis now and in spite of surprisingly complex pricing systems by one of them (guess?) they are very similar in price for back-haul. This is why we price both the same to customers. It is, none the less, expensive, and over an order of magnitude more than transit costs for data. Overall the back-haul works, but we have to be on our toes to identify faults and congestion and get them both to sort issues. Both TT and BT can have back-haul issues, and we are good at getting both sorted.

In general, for Home::1 and Office::1 we make a choice of carrier, but you can ask us to change it. For Office::1 we try and make it one of each for redundancy in the back-haul network. For units based the customer chooses.

So what is the difference if not cost?

For a start we can only (currently) do normal FTTC via BT. That will change some time soon, and that is a bit of a game changer as it will allow choice of BT or TT for both ADSL and FTTC services. For FTTC, not only is the copper BT plc, but the DSLAM (the VDSL modem in a cabinet) is also BT plc, so the services really are very much the same in almost all technical aspects.

But for ADSL, there are differences. For a start TT don't have 20CN (ADSL1 only) kit. So where we can do both, if the BT side is 20CN, it is a no-brainer to change to TT. We do this and email customers about the upgrade routinely, just as we do for 20CN to 21CN upgrades using BT kit when they upgrade an exchange. The 21CN (ADSL2+) modems are better and faster, simple as that.

So what else is there on ADSL?

BT have similar kit to TT, but TT allow us to control the profiles directly, and we pass that on to customers. This means you get to choose the margins and settings for the line, and stick with them. For stability, and your choice of "speed vs reliability" you have total control. That is a big plus for TT. On the BT side they have Dynamic Line Management which is impossible to disable in most cases. That will try and get the best from the line, but can make matters worse. This extra control on TT is clearly an advantage for our customers.

Are things changing?

There are several changes in the pipeline, and none look too good for BT...
  • At some point we will get normal FTTC broadband from Talk Talk, and I expect the pricing to be competitive and compatible with BT. This means we can offer an identical service technically from two carriers. This is excellent for dual line services like Office::1 where one can be BT and one can be TT.
  • At some point TT may offer some DLM (Dynamic Line Management) options, which would be an option and not mandatory like BT. If this happens then this can be a sensible default for lines to get more from the line, but with a manual override for the lines that do not work well with DLM. Best of both worlds, and a reason to use TT not BT.
  • At present BT can do a low 3dB margin which TT cannot do on ADSL lines. For a few very clean and stable lines this can mean more speed on BT. We hope TT will offer this soon. That will make the ADSL offerings much more comparible.
  • We may be able to do the "line" via TT instead of BT for the "phone" side when using TT ADSL or FTTC, which has no calls, and that may allow a lower cost for the supporting copper pair.
  • Playing the game! A big thing for us is playing BT and TT off against each other. This means that, to get the best deal, and ultimately the best service and prices we can offer, we may want to move lines between BT and TT one way or the other. Having FTTC on TT will help a lot, as well as 3dB margins on ADSL. Having equivalent services on both makes that easier.
Both back-haul providers have no filtering in place and provide clean 1500 MTU PPP to us.

So we may ask people if they are happy for us to move their line (at no cost to them) between back-haul providers. The impact is a minute or so downtime while re-jumpered. We need to work out the plan - have an opt-out for people, and even, in some cases, a permanent "opt-out" for us tinkering like this. We are happy to respect that some people make a choice and want to stick with it for whatever reasons. Having the flexibility to move most lines ultimately helps all of our customers, but transparency on how we do this, why we do this, and so on is crucial.

We plan to have some BT/TT options on the control pages soon, and notice of changes and opt-out links. If this goes to plan we can get better deals from both carriers, and eventually do more per unit and more base usage on packages for the same money.

Who do you work for?

Given the apparent cluelessness of call centre workers, I did wonder if there are lots of people who have no clue who they work for.

For a start, it seems clear that many people have no clue at all about the basic concept of "legal entity".

There are several legally recognised types of entity, or thing in the UK. Basically, this is an entity that can own property, make contracts, have a bank account, etc. That obviously includes "people", but there are many other types of entity. A Limited Company (which is a legal person distinct from the people that work for it or that own it); A person (sole trader) or group of people (partnership); A government department; A charity or a friendly society. One issue is that, whoever it is, they could be using a trading name that is different, though in most cases the original entity has to be named on letterheads and adverts and stuff. It is well worth reading up on the basics, and understanding who you do work for, and who you sell to, and who you make contacts with.

But then I got thinking, especially with people with such little clue themselves, what would it take to make a fake company or better still a fake government department? What about a fake secret government department? A small office, perhaps in London, and some suitable letterheads and stuff. You could have someone in charge, with a title like commander that takes you through, and makes you sign, The Official Secrets Act, and so on. It could even be pushed as a rather underfunded secret government department, so a lack of budget.

You'd end up with gullible people doing work for you - things that might normally be quite illegal - thinking that it was all legit, and taking care to keep quiet about it all. Done right, you may be able to work the whole operation from afar, just in case it all unravels.

I mean, if you got a proper M.I.B. or Torchwood type job, how would you check it was legit?

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

National Advice Clinic?

Anyone know who these bozos are?

Their staff have no clue.

AKA The Industrial Hearing Clinic, but claiming not to be Industrial Hearing Clinic Ltd!

Why the hell do people work in call centres without a clue who they actually work for. Don't they teach this stuff at school. I guess not. I get the impression that they genuinely have no clue rather than being deliberately evasive, though apparently asking who they are makes me an arse!

020 3519 0692

Going nuts

For a couple of weeks now I have been woken in the night by some sort of tapping and scratching noises.

It is only for a few seconds at a time and sounded like it was from above me.

I wondered if somehow it was the cat & dog downstairs chasing each other around maybe and I was just not managing to work out where the sound was from.

I wondered if it was birds stomping around on the roof - but at 3am?!?

At one point I was starting to wonder if I was hearing things - as it always seemed to be a matter of waking up having just heard the sound, but then not hearing anything when properly awake - so did I dream it?

I think my family thought I was going nuts! Nobody else had heard this, but it was driving me round the bend. They had looked in the loft and there was no sign of any droppings or anything. We wondered if we had rats, or squirrels, or some sort of birds, or who knows what... We had no idea how something was getting in to the loft or why.

I was now waking up when I heard the noises and was definitely hearing them when awake. They definitely were from above the room somewhere. But still very brief, and still nobody else had heard them.

At this point I was getting up and going in to the loft in the middle of the night, even standing there for 10 minutes listening carefully, but nothing!

Well, I have a cheap 4 camera CCTV system that is going up around the garage and the house later (as part of my "man cave" project). It has night vision cameras. I unboxed it all, and set up at various vantage points in the loft. I can view on the iPhone and it records.

It was starting to get a bit like an episode of Most Haunted, or something.

This morning at 02:47 I was awoken by the noise, grabbed the phone, and saw something moving. Finally proof that I was not going nuts.

A little playback and still frame capture, and I found the culprit. A squirrel.

All we have to do now is work out how to discourage him...

Friday, 14 November 2014

Fibre data SIMs?

Once again the ASA have ruled that BT can sell its FTTC service as "Fibre optic". See ispreview article.

The basic argument is that it makes no difference to the end user, and is fibre optic most of the way to the end user.

They are, as ever, missing the point, so here are a few reminders for the ASA and those continuing to fight the ruling.
  • It is a simple matter of fact - we don't allow green toilet paper to be sold as pink toilet paper even though "it makes no difference". We don't allow battery hen's eggs to be sold as "free range". The adverts should not tell lies even if the end user could not tell them apart.
  • It is anti competitive as there are companies selling "fibre optic" Internet access and they find it harder to differentiate when BT adverts (and virgin adverts) are misleading the public like this.
  • There are lots of intangible differences which the "basic service" does not cover. Fibre is more able to be upgraded later; it is immune to RF interference; It is immune to nearby lightning strikes; it is immune to the typical contact corrosion from which copper can suffer. It is likely to be way more reliable.
  • Even "FTTC" is potentially misleading as some "FTTC cabinets" are microwave back-haul in rural areas. This is a great idea, and for normal working is equivalent to FTTC, but it is not "fibre optic" even by ASA rules!
  • It is not the same from the end user viewpoint. BT do have some "equivalent" 80/20 FTTC and FTTP services (i.e. 80Mb/s down and 20Mb/s up), but there is a huge practical difference. For FTTC that is "might be 80Mb/s down, depending on the line length, could be much lower, even as low as 5Mb/s", and also "the speed you get may get lower over time and could drop 25% without being considered a fault by BT". Yet for FTTP it is "80Mb/s down, 20Mb/s up and won't change". That is a difference an end user can see, and one they may seriously consider when choosing a product.
However, in light of the ASA ruling, which basically means that as long as "most of the way" it is fibre, we should, perhaps, sell "Fibre data SIMs". After all most of the Internet connect is fibre and the last bit is radio. [we do let you print any image you like on them :-)]

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Transfer aborted: Instance not found

I appreciate it is not easy, I really do. It is not easy having so many users, and not easy launching any sort of software or service.

But Blizzard are not new to this - they have launched upgrades many times, and WoW has been going 10 years. They should know how to make it work properly.

They have run public beta servers. They have multiple realms/servers so that the whole system should scale well. Not so many users on each server at once, etc.

The vast majority of the "work" is in the client - the server has to manage the NPCs and interactions, and quests and stuff, but the client does all the fancy graphics.

They collect a lot of money from subscriptions and so really should be able to cope, in my humble opinion.

To explain the picture here to those that don't play, or have not tried the expansion yet. This location is my garrison. It is a new feature where each player has their own "home town" almost, with a separate garrison hearthstone. The garrison is an "instance" that is for that player. Instances are not new - they are used for dungeons where a group of players play together and independently from other players to complete a quest.

Here, lots of people have come to their garrison - it is key to progression of many of the quests and some of the new features with garrison "followers". Everyone expects to find a very quite place with a few NPCs and some buildings they have constructed, and the next "quest giver" that will move them on to the next stage.

However, the system is broken, and not for the first time today (we are talking working hours in UK and much of EU, so should not be busy, yet!). Yes, I was off because of air-con install, so have been playing! So what has happened is that everyone is in one generic prototype garrison which does not have what they need, just lots of people.

It has also gone buggy where people cannot even dismount, or mount, or even logout properly.

The chaos is kind of special, as there are constantly new people arriving, wondering why the place is full. Most assume the quest giver is there but surrounded by so many people that they cannot see it, and hence are calling people idiots and asking people to dismount so that they are not in the way.

Earlier today this happened, and the effect was that after some waiting, suddenly, I moved to my own garrison and for me everyone vanished. This time, it is basically broken, so more and more people arrive, unable to progress a chain of quests and kind of stuck waiting, and yelling at each other!

This is what we pay for :-)

P.S. Game just exited as I type.
P.P.S I guess they rebooted it - did not help - everyone re-appearing one by one in same state!

Update: It worked, I was able to progress at the garrison, only to hit this saying the same!!

19:00 And still a picture of chaos, with basic game play screwed as well in some places