Friday, 19 January 2018

VDSL SFP and FireBrick

The FireBrick has been around a while, and over the decades we have moved through many versions with a new FB2900 nearly released. We are playing with the prototypes now.

One thing we have never done is include a DSL modem in the FireBrick, and people do occasionally ask why.

I'll be quite frank and explain that FireBricks are designed to last a long time. We have people using FireBricks that are well over 10 years old now and going strong. Including a DSL modem would mean a much more aggressive design cycle as modems are improving all of the time and so are technologies. Basically, we would never keep up. So stick to what we are good at.

Of course, one of the other issues is that one of our main target customer groups is those using multiple lines for bonding, so how many modems do we include exactly?

But a two box solution is not nice, separate modem and FireBrick is not always ideal. Well, we may finally have a way to address this, at least for single line installations.

The new FB2900 has an SFP slot. For those that do not know, these allow a module to be inserted to provide the actual media interface for an Ethernet port. Typical examples are fiberoptic connections or a normal copper cat 5 connection.

What is interesting is that someone makes a SFP module that does VDSL and even ADSL. It looks like an Ethernet media device but actually synchronises and does ADSL or VDSL modem signalling.

The biggest issue is they are very poorly documented. However, for VDSL, we have found that they "just work" in every sense. You plug it in, and it appears as a 1Gb/s Ethernet port, but you then talk PPP VLAN 101 as you would to a separate bridging VDSL modem (unless it maps the VLAN for you, as many do). It talks to the BRAS and goes on line, even handling 1508 baby jumbo frames to allow 1500 MTU PPP.

The one downside is that it uses way more power than the SFP specification, but it seems the FB2900 power supply is up to the job. It may be the only time anything in an FB2900 gets remotely warm.

End result, a combined single box modem, router, and firewall box, and it's a FireBrick. So reboot time under a second, and PPP reconnect time under a second, IPv6 as standard, and much more - little things like that. Not your average router by far.

Some technical notes:

The VDSL works as a standard bridge, and so for typical UK VDSL broadband needs PPPoE over VLAN 101.

For ADSL there seems to be some mapping of VLANs to VCI/VPI but documentation is sketchy and we have yet to find the normal 0/38 mapping used in the UK.

VDSL SFP from Proscend.

P.S. Just noticed the MAC address. So Proscend have 000379 and FireBrick have 000397. That won't be confusing at all :-)

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Special paperwork!

DVLA specialise in this crap...

(FOI request

I redacted a few small parts, but this is the form you get for a new number plate.

So, a few points...
  • Stupid background, which makes it harder to read. Seriously, scanning and printing this level of crap is not hard, people can do that if they want, it is no deterrent to fraud now.
  • Printing stuff in some boxes twice in different fonts, sorry, is that hard? Is there really any point.
  • You can do it all on-line. I.e. if you have the information on the form, you can submit the assignment on line. If you don't then you cannot print a form that DVLA would accept when sent to them, no matter how fancy.
Seriously what is the point in this being so pointlessly "fancy". If anything it just makes it harder for people to read.

Why can they not go for plain, black on white, clear, easy to read, information for their customers.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Universal Paperclips

Having discussed the pokey thing for iPhone SIM trays some evil person pointed me to a link for Universal Paperclip...

It starts off very simply, you have some wire and you can click "Make paperclip" and it makes one, using some of the wire. I think one inch of wire is one gram is one paperclip.

But it soon gets interesting...
  • Computing resources to invent new things
  • Paperclip making machines
  • Improvements to machines
  • Investing money in stocks
  • Quantum computing addition (not 100% sure I got the hang of that one entirely)
  • Improving marketing
Before long you are making a lot of paperclips, and one of the key metrics is how much you sell them for. The game as a whole is a game of balancing various metrics (e.g. price of paperclip), buying resources (e.g. wire, machines to make paperclips), and step changes (upgrading technology). Getting the balance right - when to invest in machinery to increase speed of production, etc. is tricky.

The one criticism of this early stage is that the machines get exponentially more expensive, which makes no sense.

Then it really gets out of hand...
  • Ability to convert any matter in to wire
  • Drones to collect matter
This is more balancing of the various stages of production - you have to invest in drones to collect matter, and to convert to wire, and factories to make wire in to paperclips. You keep all in check - no point wasting resources making wire faster than you can use it, well, it accumulates as unused wire, so no harm, but better spending on using it faster instead.

Basically, you end up converting all matter on Earth in to paperclips.

Just when you think you are done, you can go for space travel - making probes and drones, and, well, it really gets out of hand and there is a fun surprise in the middle of that.

At this stage we lose some of the silly exponential costs, and this allows the true exponential growth. The balancing is more fun as you have limited options to control how the probes act, including how they replicate, and create drones and factories. That can be quite hard to manage, and there are extra stages to allow more controls as you go.

So this is where it gets properly exponential, and if you do it right you get to the point where you have more probes and drones than there are IPv6 addresses! Clearly at that point it should all fall apart :-)

The game does end in a very pleasing way, you assimilate all matter in the known universe, then you can dismantle the drones and probes and factories and computing resources, and finally end up with 100 inches of wire and a "Make paperclip" button just as you started - no other controls, and those 100 inches of wire make the last few paperclips to finally reach the end...

Games that have a hard end can be disappointing in many ways, but the way this was done was actually quite satisfying, making that last paperclip manually with a click of that button just as I made the very first paperclip. Well done adding that finishing touch...

It would be fun, two machines side by side, having a race with someone - but would take many hours.

Obviously, when you think about it, the paperclips are just a metaphor for replicator blocks, and these are the probes... Only in this case we, the replicators, win :-)

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

I did take a course in economics.

I did do economics at university - I failed, as it happens, but I also did Maths at O, and A level. I can do "adding up", honest.

Having borrowed one of these things to press reset buttons and remove SIM cards from iPhones, off my son, and then lost it, I thought I would get another. They are very useful and I am amazed that Victorinox don't have one as a standard tool on a pen knife.

So I googled, and Amazon offer them... And just to check I understand this, it is from 19p each but actually for one you pay 50p, for two you pay £11.37, and for three you pay £19.48

OK, I know I failed economics, but I think this one makes no sense to anyone.

So I did a bit more googling, and found someone selling for a more reasonable price, 3p.

Of course, buying something for 3p is a tad crazy, as postage will easily cover a lot more than that, so how does the price break down work on that I wonder...

Seriously, this is 2p at 50 units and 1p at 500 units. I only need one, maybe two so I have one too, but seriously?!

Given lowest postage option was like £4.35 I decided I may as well buy 500, I mean, really, I don't need 500 but, WTF.

It quoted £5 for 500, as you expect, at 1p each. But they it gets complicated.

The actual total for the 500 items was then shown as £7.38 so 1.46p each, hmmm, OK... But the invoice listed them as 2p each so £10 total in the itemisation.

In all, with postage and card surcharge (non EU), I have spent £12.14 which works out 2.42p each. I should have gone for 1000 clearly.

Next question is what I do with 500 pokey things!

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Emergency plumbing...

Well, this happened...

Acting quickly

Obviously that is somewhat distressing, and before anyone else says it, yes I did turn off the water before making a video or tweeting. The water tank is sealed not open so draining that did not work, but even so it took some time for the water to stop. I think we must have had quite a lot in the ceiling still to leak out. Now it is eventually down to a drip.

Even so, it was probably 30 minutes before it had reduced to a drip.

Insurance (Hiscox)

I was not sure what was covered but remembered something about "Household emergency cover" for exactly this - i.e. sourcing (and paying for) a plumber to turn up on a Sunday lunchtime!

I had a scan of the renewal on my machine so had a quick look and saw the paragraph about improving the Household emergency cover this year, so great, I called the number.

First issue was it was 10 minutes on hold before someone answered, which surprised me slightly, water kept pouring out.

Then, they said they could not see the cover, so I re-checked, and to my surprise the emergency cover was "not selected". I am not sure why I did not select it, but read on, I may have been right not to!

They said that was no problem, they could call someone out just the same, it just meant I had to pay for it. Of course the policy may cover some of the cost anyway and I could make a claim later. Paying is not the issue to be honest, the issue was a small lake and shower in my kitchen!

So this means I was getting the same treatment as the "emergency cover" just on a "customer pays" basis.

I got a call from some company they use who confirmed details and said they would check who they have on call and get in touch.

That was around mid day.

Nothing happened!

Seriously, nothing! No call, no plumber. So in hindsight I am glad I did not bother paying for this as an insurance. At least this way they don't get paid having done "nothing".

In hindsight I would have been better googling a local plumber. As it happens the plumber we usually use is happy to come 9am tomorrow so we'll put up with no water until then.

So, overall, not impressed.

Why nothing happened?

Listen to the call.... Maybe skip the music...

Update: Next day (Monday) having had no water over night...

Sadly the kitchen ceiling needs re-plastering and decorating now. The problem, seems when old shower was removed many years ago the plumber at the time just used a push fit stopper. It finally gave up. Real plumber this morning cost me £20 and took him like 5 minutes at most. I dread to think what the emergency call out would have cost.

Update: Hiscox are taking it on as a complaint even though no claim.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Innovation at its best

Some times my son does actually impress me that he will come up with an idea and then make it work. Sadly he has not managed the (horrible word) "monetising" of such ideas yet, but making them work he can do. These are skills many people lack...

The problem...

Electric cars parked at charging points block other people from charging if still there for longer than they need to be. This is handled in many ways including :-

  • The car management app on your phone telling you it is charged.
  • Some chargers actually having surcharges for over staying.
  • The fact that some chargers are literally at service stations next to Starbucks so you are right there to go get in your car and drive off when you need.
However there are cases where this is not so simple and over staying can happen. There are also cases where you are just charging because you can, and don't need to stay there if someone has a more urgent need. There are parking spaces in car parks where people work where you end up parking all day, but would be happy to move if someone else needs to charge. Park and charge spaces at shopping centres are also a fun thing, as you are paying for your stay in the car park anyway.

This is also a problem for people parking for deliveries and I am sure lots of other cases where someone is being a temporary inconvenience and contacting them would solve this.

The typical solution...

Leave a mobile number in the car window.

The problem with that...

You don't want to give the world your mobile number! Changing it if someone starts being a pain having got it is a nuisance. Handling a call from someone who may be cross or unreasonable is not good.

My son's bright idea...

A QR code in the window with "scan this to ask me to move" type message next to it.

You scan the code, and have the option to "ask me to move". Originally it asked to move on scan, but we figured people will scan random QR codes in passing, so a secondary big friendly button to ask someone to move would be a good idea.

The driver is then notified by some means such as pushover or tweet DM or some such, and can respond in a deliberately limited way. They can say they will be there in X minutes to move, or that they are going to be charging for X minutes, etc. This status is shown to the person that scanned the code.

They then have the option to say "never mind", to cancel the request. If a status like "charging until XX:XX" is recorded, anyone else scanning sees that rather than sending a notification to the driver.

Obviously it has to cope with saying "there was no reply" and so on. It also has to cope with a second person scanning the bar code, reporting the current status, etc. There are actually a lot of edge cases and possible abuse cases to consider.

Anti spam

The key thing is that this provides a specific set of options as a very limited means to communicate and does not allow general messaging or calls or "spam".

Indeed, a key point is bar codes can be revoked and new ones made as much as you like. Make several in advance and have printed in the glove compartment. If someone is a pain, just delete that barcode and use a new one next time.

It limits possible abuse by limiting the communication options.

Does this exist?

I'll update here with the URL when it is all working, he only had the idea today and mostly it is working already but probably tomorrow for being actually properly usable. The fact he has this mostly sorted in a day is actually good - he is not a programmer but is starting to get to grips with how to make a "system" work, and expectably thinking of the ways people can abuse, break, misuse, or simply get confused with such a system.

P.S. Chargebump

My understanding is that there is an app for this, chargebump. Unlike that this does not require either party to install an app, and it is not tied to the registration plate so mitigates abuse by allowing bar-codes to be deleted and replaced whenever you like.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Discount for cash! No!

OK I hate doing new blogs like this to make a point. However, I really want to make it simple.

Making cash and card the same does not mean card is cheaper, it can mean cash is more expensive!


A seller could charge a fee for payments by different methods. They had different costs for card (depending on card type) or cash (that has a cost in many cases) or bank payment by different means, and could choose to charge a fee depending on the cost to that seller handling that payment method.

That is fair!

It means the seller is covering the cost that depends on the buyers choice. Simple.

This did not help the seller, they simply allowed the buyer to choose a means that reduced costs by choice of payment method, and benefitted the buyer as a result.

Now (from 13th Jan)

The seller cannot charge a fee depending on payment method in most cases.

But the seller still has costs, and this change means the seller may have increased costs as people can choose to pay by more expensive means at no cost difference to them.

The seller still has to cover those costs somehow. Yes, they are "the cost of doing business", but they are now costs that cannot be added to the bill, so have to be in the overall costs somehow. They mean a change in price or a "service charge".

Everyone pays the same!

This is the key thing, and the whole point and spirit of the change of the legislation.

It does not matter if Just Eat charge a service charge or charge the restaurant - the latter means prices for everyone goes up to cover it, not just those using Just Eat. So worse in many ways.

The key change, and the whole point of the change, is that you can no longer have something cheaper by your choice of a cheaper payment method. That is the point.

I really do not understand why people do not immediately look at the converse. A discount for X is a surcharge for not-X. Remove a charge for Y and it is a charge for all not just for Y.

Not cheaper!

Nothing in the legislative changes expects or requires that costs to the consumer are cheaper in some way. Remember that! The whole point is to make it the same regardless of payment method, so those choosing to pay by a cheaper method do not get any discount. That is the point of the law.

The spirit of the law is the same charge for everyone, so Just Eat changing from a charge for "card payers" to a service charge for "all", that is the whole point and spirit of the change in the law.

Discount for cash? No!

Pay by cash, and get a discount, that is how it was, and that is what this legislative change outlaws. Why did you think it was otherwise? Why was this any surprise to anyone?