Saturday, 19 August 2017

A report from the front lines at A&A

I don't really have anything to rant about this week, sorry...

A lot is happening at A&A, and that is really quite exciting.


It is probably work starting by saying more on the issues we had with our Cisco switches some weeks ago. We do not use much Cisco kit, and indeed, until a couple of years ago I was quite proud to say we had no Cisco kit at all - our routers and LNSs are all FireBrick. However, whilst FireBrick are working on 10Gb/s routers, we don't have any FireBrick switches. So we did get Cisco switches, which do a tiny bit of BGP to carriers. Apart from those blips, these have worked well. We employed Cisco trained staff to set them up in the first place and have other staff that had gone on Cisco courses, and we have engaged another expert Cisco engineer on some occasions, including in the post mortem of these issues. It still looks a lot like one main issue, that happened twice, and a different issue that happened when we rebooted one of the switches the second time. We can be sure the issue is somehow in the Cisco switches. It also seems unlikely that it could be spanning tree or anything else like that - we had all BGP sessions to carriers stop, and each of these is a simple direct BGP to a directly connected endpoint on a specific port on the switch in question. Failure of BGP in that case should not be possible, even if every other port was shut down, even if all inter switch links had failed, BGP on the directly connected port should stay working. The fact this happened on all of these links covering four separate switches suggests something "upset" all of the switches by some means, and we have failed to actually get to the bottom of it conclusively. We have, however, set up a lot more logging, and made a number of "defensive" config changes which could cater for possible causes, albeit clutching at straws. It does mean that if it happens again we will be in a far better position to diagnose properly and involve Cisco TAC, as we will have the logs needed. I appreciate this does not sound good, and to be frank, it is not. However, they are being very stable now, and we do have all the redundant links back in operation, and all seems well! I hope customers can appreciate that we take this seriously. I hope we can put this behind us now, and the capacity of these switches allow for a lot more expansion of our network without adding any more complexity to their configuration.

LNS blips

We had careless, and e.gormless, have some issues in the last couple of weeks and need a reboot. This is a small portion of customers, but a pain none the less. It turns out the cause is the same for both, and we actually have found the bug (this is why I have Internet access when on a cruise ship). It is an issue on the FireBrick LNS code for a really specific edge case (aren't they all) which was causing a memory leak. We have a fix, obviously, but we have managed to deploy a work around for the specific one customer line that was triggering this. This means the next LNS rolling update will include the fix.

Talk Talk packet loss

Another issue we have had, and looks behind us, is the low levels of loss on the Talk Talk back-haul. Again, I think this is all sorted, and comes down to Talk Talk involving Juniper JTAC and making some significant changes to the way their network works just before it connects to us (and a lot of other ISPs). It is not just us that can have unexpected issues like this with industry standard routers and switches.

Moving forward...

But there are more things happening, and I thought I would touch on them. For obvious reason you have to take this all with a pinch of salt, things are not set in stone yet.

The new FireBrick...

Again, I cannot say a lot - we are launching a successor to the FB2700. The real news will come soon, when we have final application software running and can fully benchmark it. It should be a lot faster, as the FB2500 did 100Mb/s max and the FB2700 did 350Mb/s max. I am hoping for nearer 1Gb/s throughput. We are, however, pretty sure it will not do full table BGP. At this stage we are sorting EMC testing and final artwork and many other things - stuff can go wrong and delay for weeks or months.

When launched, which could be within a couple of months, it will have this extra performance, but we hope soon after to have additional software features if possible. I am hoping for much faster crypto (IPsec) to be honest, but again, until we finally get to benchmark it, we cannot tell. We just know that the underlying specs of the chipsets, even with the same s/w, should be a lot faster than the FB2700.

One the the reasons I am a tad vague is the throughput of things like this can massively depend on some of the low level features of the chipset. It is not enough to just say that CPU is faster and the RAM is faster - a lot of time is taken by cache management. Sadly the exact way the cache works in practice is not something one can fully glean from a data sheet as well as you would expect. We have been caught out in the past with an Intel based chipset for the prototypes of the current FB6000 where some simple operations that should ideally be one clock cycle literally took many hundreds of clock cycles and were needed on every interrupt, none of which was in the data sheet. We had to change the chipset for the current FB6000 series. I am optimistic for the successor to the FB2700, and expect things to come out well as the new chipsets "seem" to be really good. If they are as good as we hope, we will have a really really nice FireBrick. Worst case, we will have something better and faster than the FB2700. I also hope, cheaper, but that too is yet to be finalised.

There are, however, a couple of things I can confirm. For a change, one thing we have announced as "coming soon" before, is reality, and that is 19" rack mounting!

We have ears to allow one or two of the new FireBricks in a 19" rack mount fitting, or one in a wall mount fitting.

The other more subtle feature is a completely new power supply system. This means that, in addition to mains (110V/220V) we have DC supply options - two versions, one for automotive (12V and 24V), and one for telecoms racks (-48V). The DC options are actually a lot more complex than you would imagine as automotive has to handle some nasty spikes in some edge cases. I made the decision to have DC as an option, even if we expect relatively few customers needing them. It should also be a lot cooler!

As you will see from the picture, the final part is the SFP slot, which will allow fibre, copper, and maybe even VDSL based SFP modules to be used. Note VDSL SFP is outside SFP spec on power, so we are not sure yet, but it looks encouraging so far.

More capacity in A&A core

We have a lot of capacity now, and are not the bottleneck (which is always our aim), but we are working on yet more capacity. We have massive headroom on the Talk Talk backhaul, and we are adding more headroom to the BT back-haul. We are also updating the links we have on some peering to allow for more capacity to the likes of Netflix. A lot more 10Gb/s links are involved. This is all well ahead of usage, by some large margin. We are taking the "not the bottleneck" aim very seriously and making sure we are well ahead of the game in terms of increasing internet usage.

I know we are not the cheapest ISP, even if reasonably competitive in many cases, but making sure we are not the bottleneck so that you get the speed your line can handle is quite an undertaking. Quality matters.

Better tariffs

This is where things really are up in the air - they depend not only on things like increased capacity (as above) but also on complex negotiations with multiple carriers, increased capacity on peering and transit, and then a lot of work on our internal systems and ordering processes.

What am I hoping? Well, no commitments yet, but I am hoping for more download allowance on the Home/SoHo non terabyte tariffs, i.e. increased allowance at same price. I am also hoping to extend the terabyte packages to allow for more lines to have this, and upgrades to these packages to be easier. I am really hoping for better minimum terms, but that really is tricky as we can so easily be stung by carriers.

One thing I am really keen on is making the tariffs simpler and easier to understand, something we always strive for. I also want to make them more available to all, not just those where we can get Talk Talk back-haul. Sadly old 20CN lines will always be the legacy and exception, sorry, but these are gradually getting upgraded.

As always, new tariffs are available to existing customers when they come out. Some will be automatic (e.g. if we can increase usage allowances) and some you can order a regrade to a new tariff when you want. If you join A&A today, then you will benefit from new tariffs I hope to have in a couple of months time.

As a slight insight, trying to get better back-haul rates out of one carrier led to our lawyer calling the contract they sent "opaque as a brick", which says a lot for how hard some of this can be. He could not even advise if we should sign it or not and he is a really good lawyer.

Please do not hassle staff!

Some of my staff will be annoyed that I have posted this all as they will be fielding questions! Seriously, they do not know more than I have posted here. I do not know more than I have posted here yet. Please, just wait and see.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Epic Adventure

As I say, I have just returned from a 7 day family cruise holiday on the Norwegian Epic - it was awesome!

OK, sarcasm over, it had challenges as I posted, but it is worth trying to put all of the niggles behind you and have fun. Sadly, for me, the biggest downer of the whole cruise was that my wife was ill, and no amount of insurance claim for her ticket really changes that. So let's move on and look at what was good.

Cruises are strange things...

One of the biggest plus points of a cruise is the reliability of the "floating hotel" you get. It is the consistency that comes with you as you go from country to country. Whatever conditions you find, you can always go back to the room and have the butler get you a pepperoni pizza, and sleep in a reasonably comfortable bed.

If I was trying to visit Italy, France, and Spain in a week by any other means I would have to keep packing and unpacking, would have a range of hotels and quality of hotels, and it would be a lot of hard work. A cruise solves that. For that alone I recommend them as a concept (even if not recommending NCL's craziness).

This trip we had some bad weather, not that bad, but enough to make sleeping harder. It was only a couple of nights. Usually it is plain sailing.


We booked in to the Haven, which is the top two decks on the Norwegian Epic. As Sandra was not with us I agreed to swap rooms with Mikey and Victoria, so they had the two bedroom cabin with Mikey's mum and I was on my own. It was almost certainly the right thing to do, but meant I could not set up a laptop, as no table, or living room even. Eventually I ended up with a chair in the bathroom by the bath and the laptop on a make-up table - but I looked good :-)


One of the nice things in Haven (more so on my last cruise) is the Butler. He would do things when you asked, like getting Pizza, or breakfast, or even just clearing the table. OK I only asked him to clear the table on the last day as an excuse to get him to the room and give him a $100 tip.


Cruises have some sea days (not docking at a port) but we only had one at the start. The rest we docked at a port. Mostly this is dock in morning and leave in evening, but some are funny, like Palma, which docked in afternoon. You can go ashore, look around, and come back, as you need. Unlike airports, the process is pretty informal getting off and on the ship.


What was really fun, and made my day massively, was when we docked in Rome. We decided not to bother with an excursion (we have all done Rome before).

I left the Haven area as some guests were being shown around, as Rome is a port for starting a 7 day cruise in its own right. They were having trouble getting in ti the Haven area. I moaned that the mag card readers on the door were crap, and walked on to the deck 18 "Posh club", noting oddly some laughter behind me. I thought little more of it.

Then, we went down to eat in the Haven restaurant, and had a table, and again some laughter. Massive double take - my mate Mike, and wife and two kids, were sat there on the next table. They were the ones I had just walked passed!

It was great to meet them all again. Mike had this booked months ago, kept it quiet, and even turned off iPhone location sharing just in case. They had been in Rome a couple of days before. That really made my day. Thank you all for sharing our holiday. They now have two more days and disembark in Rome.


Obviously, in any port, there will be a range of excursions. All bookable with your concierge, or via the app on the phone. These are a tad tricky - they are often more expensive and less flexible than doing it yourself, but they are simple.

We did a tour of Herculaneum. It was hot. The tour guide thought he was funny and laboured every point way too long. He could have reduced each five minute ramble to 30 seconds, and the whole tour be less than an hour rather than two. I gave up and went off taking video rather than melt any longer. However it was really interesting. I have made a video of my walking around and used his first talk (before we even got in to the ruins) as the sound track...

Sadly I left my phone on the bus. That was fun. We called it, and managed to get the driver to bring back to the port. After a lot of calls and messing around we met him and I got the phone back (gave him a 20 tip) and managed to re-board with 8 minutes to spare!!! Close call.

On ship

The ship also has a lot on it - not just a pool and slides and climbing wall and so on, but also bars, and restaurants, and shops. It is big. The Haven has exclusive areas, a separate pool and hot tubs. Not as good as your own private hot tub, and actually, this time, I did not even get my swimming shorts out of my case. Of course there are sun decks, and Haven on the Epic has a private sun deck, no children, and a bar... The "posh club".


There are a lot of restaurants, and the food is mostly good. There are some extremes though! The Haven restaurant was pretentious as hell, so much so I found nothing on the menu I would eat - that is until I found they had a children's menu :-) The other extreme is the Garden Cafe which is, well, amazing. It is crazy, with thousands of people milling around. It is a buffet, and they have all sorts, pizza, chips, indian, chinese, the lots, all just buffet style. We did have a snack there a couple of times, and one time Mike's family had dinner there at peak time, and said it was a total zoo! Don't get me wrong, it is totally "down to earth" food and not at all pretentious, the opposite. So mostly food I like, but if you can go to the specialty restaurants I would rather...

The steaks in Cagney's were really good - we went there (all 8 of us) for Mikey's birthday. The Italian place was really good too.

Oddly the chinese style restaurant, which was really quite good, was one of the complementary ones, though we (in Haven) had priority seating.


It was strange - we had lots of bars and could drink as much as we liked of normal alcoholic drinks, all included in the price, but I probably drank a fraction of what I do at home! I drank some cocktails, which were fun.

Gift shopping

There are, of course, lots of shops. Oddly, if you want diamonds, or watches, you are sorted. Loads of them!

The shops were slightly odd - they insist, even at sea, on charging 21% Spanish VAT, but they also show prices without VAT and have a "no refunds" policy, neither of which fit with being subject to EU law. The prices are also a joke, they start at 40% off the marked price when not having a 50% off sale the next day. However, you can get some nice gifts, which I did.


Well, like any casino, a way to lose money, and all that matters is how quickly you lose it. I lost $100 very quickly on four spins of roulette. Mike lost $100 with him, Mikey and Victoria, playing blackjack, but took nearly an hour to do it. Well done Victoria splitting two 3's, getting 7's on each, and then getting aces on each... But end of day the money went. Was entertainment, so worth every penny.


I took a lot of the time to read more of my Programming in Ada 2012 book. I will do an Ada blog some time when I have finished. I managed about a ¼ of the 1000 pages. Maybe I was strange, being in the bar, in the posh club, in the shade (obviously) in a shirt, reading an Ada book and drinking a cocktail. But that is me...

Epic fail? Thomas Cook and Norwegian Cruise Lines

I have just returned from a 7 day cruise of the Mediterranean on the Norwegian Epic. It was meant to be a family holiday this time, but my wife was ill at the last minute (she is getting better and I have to thank my daughter Louise for looking after her this week). We have insurance for her, but she insisted I went anyway, and so it was myself, daughter, her partner and his mum in two cabins.

I'll do a more positive post on the holiday itself separately I expect. Herculaneum was interesting (and hot). This blog is about the problems, and gotchas for anyone planning such a cruise.

Short story?

Simply put the holiday is sold as "all inclusive" so that you have "simplicity and relaxation", the idea that an all inclusive holiday means you don't have to worry, or even budget for "tips", it is all included. In practice everything you do needs checking to see if included or not, all the time, and there are a maze of complicated and confusing exceptions and rules and mistakes making the cruise a serious of annoyances and arguments from start to finish. Nothing is "simple" or "relaxing" about the rules and exceptions you encounter all day and every day.

Premium All Inclusive

The headline is simple. Always included are alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, bottled water, unrivald [sic] dining, entertainment, service charges, gratuities and more... Sounds perfect.

What's more, Premium All Inclusive is now included in your cruise fare, so not some optional extra. That is even better.

Unfortunately the truth is far from that - apart from the restrictions in the various packages (which I cover below) there is one huge gotcha right at the start. It is subtle, and I would not have noticed it. We booked through Thomas Cook, and asked for the best package, and they said nothing about this difference...

I have put them side by side from next years cruises on the NCL site...

One is "7-Day Western Mediterranean from Barcelona" and one is "7-Day Western Mediterranean from Barcelona - Fly & Cruise". You would expect the difference is "Fly", i.e. the latter is more expensive and includes flight and transfer, simple. This is presumably what Thomas Cook thought.

The prices are different, yes... Starting from £809 for the cruise, and starting from £1,176 for the fly+cruise. That is £367 per person for flight and transfer which is a lot.

But spot the other difference, the cruise has "specials" including "Premium All Inclusive". Yes, that thing that is "included in your cruise fair" seems not to be included in your cruise fair on the more expensive fly+cruise package. What the hell?

I really think Thomas Cook should have advised us properly - clearly if we want the best package, then this is not it. Indeed, it would be a better package, and cheaper, if Thomas Cook had also booked us flights and taxi transfer. That would also have been much more flexible, allowing a better seat on the plane, and a taxi that met us. As it was - departing we had to wait nearly an hour in a hot and humid airport for our transfer bus, and returning the transfer bus meant leaving at 6am and waiting nearly 5 hours in the airport. Yes, last week there was some strike, but not this week, and if we had a taxi we could have changed it and not had to be up at 5am (4am UK time) on our last day!

Even so, it does not excuse the fact that NCL state clearly that Premium All Inclusive is included in the price of the cruise. I really think we need to get Trading Standards to look at the whole thing.

Our first real clue to this was when we got the confirmation. Oddly, we did have several of the parts of the Premium All Inclusive, but not quite all. Spotting what is missing is hard as you don't know what is itemised normally. However, we did spot that in my cabin, only two people had the "Ultimate Dining Package" and "Ultimate Beverage Package". Why is that even an option? Why would one person not have things (especially if they are "included in the cruise fare")? Thomas Cook said NCL had made a mistake and NCL said Thomas Cook had booked it wrong, and we told them to just sort it, so the new confirmation showed the extra package for Mikey's mum. Yay!


The "Premium All Inclusive" is pretty clear in its headline, "always included: bottled water". However, that is not the case. It seems that the "Premium All Inclusive" includes a bottle of water per person per day in the cabin...

Now, we know this because my mate Mike was sneaky and booked his family holiday as the 7-Day Western Mediterranean from Rome, and surprised me by being on the next table in the restaurant when we were docked at Rome! He had kept it quiet for months. It was a great surprise and we then joined him and his family for various meals and activities until we left today. Nice to see Mike and his family again and a nice surprise.

Mike had two adults and two children in the 2 bedroom cabin, but he had 28 bottles of water in the cabin at the start. The difference is he booked flights separately (and more cheaply) so just got the cruise not the "fly+cruise".

However, even he found that bottled water is not in fact "always included", in spite of that very clear headline on the web page. They even try and trick you when you go for a meal as they start by saying "Would you like still or sparkling water?" - both choices are an extra charge, you need to ask for the tap water (which, in ship, is good quality water). Other than the water in the room, all bottled water is charged - very misleading!

It does seem a very strange restriction as you can drink as much alcohol as you like, but not bottled water. Why do that if not just to annoy people?


This brings me to the next restrictions which are even more confusing. Some coffee is included, it seems, not sure if included anyway or included in the "Ultimate Beverage Package", but not charged. E.g. my pot of coffee with my breakfast.

But Mike's son got a coffee from one of the various outlets on the ship, and was charged! This is because "Specialty coffee" is not included! Except, apparently, it is, when having a meal in the restaurant!

It gets worse, Mike's cards all have "UBP" (Ultimate Beverage Package) and "+C+J". He asked what he "C" and "J" are and was told "Coffee" and "Juice". OK, so why charge for coffee? Well no, even the "Coffee" add on to "UBP" does not include specialty coffee?!?

We are left wondering how many types of coffee there are and what coffee exists that is not in "UBP" but is in "C"?

The problem is, if you go to pretty much anywhere on the ship that serves coffee and ask for a coffee, what you get is apparently a "specialty coffee" which costs extra.

There is one extra coffee type - the room has a coffee machine with pods of coffee, which I know are expensive normally. Mike did not use it for fear it would be another charge and another argument. From what I can tell that is included!

Oh, and "J" for "Juice" does not cover freshly squeezed juice. But juice out of the plastic bottle is included in the "UBP", so again, what juice exists that is not in "UBP" but needs "J" add on?


The "Ultimate Beverage Package" covers alcoholic drinks, and these are "always included" according to the headline on "Premium All Inclusive". Well, sort of..

The main rule is drinks up to £15 per drink. It seems an odd rule - if I want a shot of a 12 year aged whisky I would pay the extra $1.75 as it over $15. But I could drink Southern Comfort all night for no charge. I suppose it does discourage people ordering bottles of wine and bottles of whisky so maybe not that daft. Most drinks and cocktails are below the $15 so not really an issue, but odd.

If that was the only rule, it would make sense, but as I say, the bottled water, and the coffee (unless with a meal) is excluded, and so is freshly squeezed orange juice, but also, it seems, cans of soft drinks like pepsi and red bull are excluded too. We started to wonder if they make it up as they go along! More confusing was when the cans were allowed as the mixer tap was playing up!

OK, so we have some clue on this, what of the mini bar? We established that the self service coffee in the room is included, and the mini bar has small alcoholic drinks under $15 which would be included if we went to the bar and got them, so that is included, right? Wrong! The mini bar is charged. Yes, you can go to the bar and get a drink for free (included) but not to the mini bar!

OK, what of sending the butler to get drinks. He can take the room card and get them and bring to room. Well, no, apparently that is not allowed either. The butler is not charged for (as part of Haven) but the drink is!

This led to some concern when the the Haven lounge, playing cards, nowhere near the bar... One of the bar staff found us and asked if we wanted a drink. They took the card to the bar, got drinks, and brought it all back. Apparently that is included. But the butler doing the same (and from some rooms that is a shorter walk), it not included?!?!

To top it off, Mikey's mum got stung for drinks because her room card does not say "UBP" on it. Now, we got Thomas Cook and NCL to add that for her, so it should be on the card, but the bar staff were adamant, and charged her! It was the last night and I was sick of this. We had not had issues with meals and no "UDP" on her card, oddly.


The other thing that is part of the "Premium All Inclusive" is the meals. [Update: Reading the terms the specialty restaurants is part of Haven, not the Premium All Inclusive] Well, the whole ship has a lot of restaurants, and many are just included for all guests. Haven has one just for Haven guests and that is included. But there are "specialty restaurants" that charge extra. We had "3UDP" on the card, which is three meals in speciality restaurants.

Why three? There are a lot of restaurants, and if they were simply all included we may try a different one each day, and quite possibly would only use three in specialty restaurants. But by limiting it, we had to plan things and think of things. It was Mikey's birthday and we decided to go to one of the specialty restaurants for that. This meant that 8 people were now planning dinners to ensure they had one of the three inclusive meals left for that day. You had to think about stuff and plan instead of relaxing.

The other quirk was when Mike joined the ship. He did have the "Premium All Inclusive", clearly (he has the water!). Now, he was wary from the start (after being on the last cruise with NCL), so asked the concierge to explain it all. The concierge explained the drinks (though not all of the restrictions by far) and the meals and that it was three specialty meals, but that did not include the kids. He said it is only two per cabin. Well, oddly enough, that is what we had - why is that even an option NCL?

Mike was not amused, and the kids heard this, so when the kids were not there he ended up spending a long time arguing it with the concierge - how stupid is it that they don't get to go eat a meal with the kids, or more to the point that the kids now felt they did not want to eat in those restaurants as it meant running up a bill for dad! The concierge basically said he could not fix that, he did comp a show (remember, "Premium All Inclusive" always includes "Entertainment", but shows somehow cost extra!).

However, he then realised that the kids did have "3UDP" on their cards, so the concierge had basically lied when he said it was only two per room. OK, maybe not intentionally lied, but it shows that even the person working on the ship helping guests does not have a clue how the crazy system works on NCL ships!

Update: It occurred to me, the "Premium All Inclusive" is "Always included: Unrivald [sic] Dining". From what I can gather this does not include the specialty restaurants, they was because of Haven. But surely the "standard restaurants" are at lease "rivalled" by the "specialty restaurants"? Otherwise, how are they "specialty" or worth more money. That means the claim of unrivalled dining is not true.

Leaving the ship

When you get to the end of the cruise you leave the ship in the morning. People are put in different colour bands, and have luggage tags. The Haven have "gold" tags for priority.

What priority means is the luggage is all lined up in an area of the dock before you get off, and you can quickly find your own. At Barcelona, anything but priority meant the luggage carousel like an airport, and lot of waiting even when you are the first "colour".

There is another option! We found this on last cruise, but it apparently is on all of them: "Easy walk off". You just take your luggage with you and leave. You have flexibility of when to leave and you don't have to go hunting for your luggage. Even better, you don't have to pack everything but one set of clothes, toothbrush, tooth paste, shampoo, medications, phone charger, in the bag the night before and then carry all of that with you when leaving. I packed my marmite so did not have any on my breakfast, idiot!

In this case, as we had the transfer to airport, we were told we had to be on the "red" tags, which are 6am. The Butler confirmed that the gold tags could not be used as they were 6:30am and the bus would have left. He did not even mention "easy walk off".

In the morning, what actually happened, is before 6am was "easy walk off" only, i.e. no luggage was in the dock yet. We could have done that had we known! At 6am they called "Priority" (the gold tags) first. The priority luggage was all there on the dock and easy to find - we'd have seen our bags clearly as we came down the escalator if we had used the gold tags. Eventually at 6:05am they called "red", which we found was on the "blue" carousel (well planned there) and we had to wait ages for it. As I said, the transfer being so early meant nearly 5 hours waiting in the airport after a stupidly early start. Had we booked a taxi and our own flights it would have been cheaper and simpler by far.

Basically, never book a fly+cruise with NCL - it costs more - is more hassle - and has fewer inclusive benefits.


[update, added this section] One other thing worth mentioning - they charged 21% VAT even when at sea, which is odd, but did not seem subject to other EU laws such as the price tags showing VAT inclusive, and sale prices actually having been sold at full price at some point, or even that you cannot have an "all sales final, no refunds" policy.

But even the discounting was devious and meant to catch you out. They started with 40% off the ticket price, so I suggested it was still a bit much, and she said, OK I'll give you another 10%. But I saw what she did with the calculator - took of 40% then too off 10%, so total discount was 46% not the implied 50%. That would fool a lot of people too, and the fact she then added the VAT before showing the total makes it less obvious that it is not 50% of the ticket price now. She actually went one step further to convert to £ from $ to make it even less obvious what she had done.

Bending rules?

One of the reasons it was extra confusing for Mike and I is that we did the Norwegian Jade, and there the rules did not seem to matter. This was because we were in the 3 bedroom garden villa - one of three premium suites on the ship - the previous week our suite had Priscilla Presley, apparently! Not only did the butler get drinks (apparently he knew which bar staff were happy to accept him as just getting them as us), we even had one case when in the Haven lounge where I sent him for a bottle of Southern Comfort and he managed that with no charge! The fact that sometimes the rules do not matter makes it even harder to know what rules there are and when you will be ripped off!


Quick one on internet. The web site is clearer that it is 250 minutes you get now, it used to use words like "unlimited". So, well done NCL on that. On the ship it said if you have 250 minutes you can upgrade to all week (rather than 2% of the week) for only $85. I tried. I was charged the full $205. It turns out that even though the 250 minutes is per cabin, they put it against my wife's name, and when she did not show they cancelled it (no refunds). It took three days and a lot of nagging to get that fixed. It is also filtered like hell, and simply ssh did not work, even on alternative ports. L2TP worked though, and allowed me to have a working Internet connection and even IPv6 whilst at sea. It was 750ms base latency (satellite), dropping to 250ms in some ports (tunnel via US on land connection). Mostly very usable, but occasional peak load and 30s latency some of the time.

Update: I forgot to mention another scam - if you have the NCL concierge app, it shows you have a "message". To read it you can pay $9.99 for intra ship messaging - it allows you to message others in your party - presumably each person pays. I assume it is a "welcome" message. What makes this a con is that iMessage (text, not media) works when on ship anyway (presumably as the NCL app needs apple push messages) so if you have iPhones you do not need the intra ship messaging service anyway!

Not about the money

It is worth making a simple summary of the actual issues here.

Booking an expensive "Premium All Inclusive" holiday, especially with kids like Mike did, should be hassle free, indeed "simple and relaxing". They can go get drinks, and food, and do what they like, you all can, with no having to think about money or hassle or rules.

By having all these incomprehensible exceptions and rules, and even daft things like the meal thing being only three meals, you have to plan, ask every time what is included, and look out for catches constantly.

The stupid thing is the cruise is $10,000s, and I spent $1,000s in the gift shop, and even $100 for a tip for the butler (all gratuities are included!). The actual cost of the extra meals, or bottled water, is tiny in comparison and there is no way that it is any issue for either group to pay it. But you feel cheated if that happens. You feel cheated if you are charged for extras on an all inclusive package, you feel cheated when mistakes are made, so you feel you have to check what is included and complain when they get it wrong. (In case you had not guessed, money on ship is in dollars)

That is what can easily ruin a cruise, and stop the repeat business they should be wanting.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Public Interest

At present the Data Protection Act contains an exception for journalistic / public interest processing and disclosures of personal information - this is why the press can name people in stories, especially public figures.

I don't know if the new GDPR (General Data protection Regulation) stuff has the same exception - if not then the newspapers are going to be very strange, with no pictures of anyone, and even saying "The Home Secretary" will be identifying an individual, so not allowed. The exception must exist, surely?

Now, I wonder if it is public interest to state the full name of the person that works for British Telecommunications plc that has stated that BT is not a communications provider? I mean it seems such a stupid lie that he deserves "naming and shaming" surely?


I was not trying to make this yet another unhinged rant, honest, it was a genuine DPA/GDPR issue. Can I name the person?

Now, I was thinking, I could give his first name, which is Andrew, as we know many Andrews, even in BT, and so could not, as data controller, identify the person from his first name alone.

However, it got me thinking, The rule is, as far as I know, that anything which allows the data controller to identify the person, including access to other data the data controller has, or could get access to from third parties even, counts as personally identifiable data - even if the rest of the world could not use that data to identify the person.

So if I said "customer number 1209", to me, that is an identifiable individual, so that data, just "customer number 1209" is personally identifiable data, and I could not post it, even if nobody reading this knows who that is? Is that the case, really? Thankfully customer 1209 has agreed to that much data about him (or her) being posted in this blog post.

However, this BT person - I (as the data controller) can identify him from the "story". Just saying "The BT person that said BT is not a communications provider" is enough for the data controller to identify that person.

Basically, I cannot post *ANYTHING* about the story in any way without releasing personal identifying information - i.e. information the data controller can use to identify that person (given other data the controller has, or has access to).

Surely that makes no sense? Or is giving his identifiable information in public interest? If not, I cannot post the store at all. If so, then giving his full name is no more help to the data controller in identifying the person than the content of the story is.

So what is the question? Is the question "Is revealing personal identifiable data in public interest? yes/no". Or is the question "Is revealing this persons full name in public interest? yes/no?"

As I say, not an unhinged rant, a real question...

Dear OFCOM, can we play this game too?

I have recently been copied in to a couple of issues that some of my customers have had with BT plc. When I say BT plc, I mean the legal entity that is company 1800000, called British Telecommunications plc.

BT plc practice a form of corporate schizophrenia where they pretend to be more than one legal entity. Worrying this madness has spread to other organisations, notably the Ombudsman service that provide ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) for BT plc.

One complaint was against the BT Retail department of BT plc where an order caused another line to be broken, and the matter went to ADR. They case concluded with confirming "BT Retail sent the details correctly to Openreach", and basically that Openreach screwed up meaning case closed as ADR does not cover Openreach!

The other case is where The Ombudsman Service would not even take a case where Openreach were blocking a number port but would not tell anyone why, i.e. what "mismatch" existed, and BT Retail said there was no mismatch. They said they do not cover Openreach.

In one case, even though admitting that he (i.e. Openreach) is company 1800000, he kept insisting that Openreach was not a communications provider (a clear lie) and to contact his communications provider (which is company 1800000 and hence who my customer was talking to!).

This is, of course, nonsense. Openreach is BT plc; The contract these customers have is with BT plc;  The failure is by BT plc; The dispute is with BT plc; The ADR scheme covers BT plc. This needs sorting.

So the question to OFCOM really is whether this sort of stupidity pretend different companies is actually allowed. Can a company pretend that its different departments are different and hence pass the buck, blame another department, and get out of any liability even under ADR by doing so - a sort of internal force majeure. Is that actually valid?

If it is, then BT sort of get away with this crap, shame, but it also presumably means that A&A can tell CISAS that only our "sales department" are covered by ADR as only they sell to the public, and all other departments are not covered by ADR. This could greatly mitigate risk of any future ADR cases and allow us (unethically?) to "pass the buck" internally between departments with no liability.

If it is not, then can OFCOM please ensure that ADR schemes know that they represent a "legal entity" as a whole and not just parts of it, and that BT plc cannot blame itself for its own failings and get away with it!

Do courts agree with this lunacy?

In the mean time I have suggested, not as formal legal advice, just friendly advice, to both customers that they simply go for a county court claim against British Telecommunications plc, company 1800000. If someone from "BT Retail" turns up and says he cannot speak for "Openreach", then great, they can ask the judge for summary judgement as the defendant has not turned up. If someone from "Openreach" turns up and insists there is no contract the judge can be shown the contract with company 1800000, and again make a summary judgement as the defendant is claiming not to be the party to the contract! If both "BT Retail" and "Openreach" turn up, then one of them gets to take the blame for the error and again the judge makes a judgement against British Telecommunications plc company 1800000. I really doubt a judge would accept corporate schizophrenia as a defence or find it at all amusing.

Why do Openreach lie?

This is the statement from someone in Openreach today, and it is, in my humble opinion, a lie:

As I have said in my previous emails, Openreach is not a communications provider. We only maintain and install the network.

Why do I think it is a lie? Well, let's look at what a "communications provider" is exactly...

Communications Act 2003 section 405: “communications provider” means a person who (within the meaning of section 32(4)) provides an electronic communications network or an electronic communications service;

So let's look at 32(4): In this Act references to the provision of an electronic communications network include references to its establishment, maintenance or operation;

To me that is crystal clear that someone that simply maintains and installs [establishes] the network is categorically a "communications provider" by legal definition. Did I get that wrong?

What puzzles me is why they tell these lies - what have they got to gain by it? And if they do have something too gain by it, does that make the lie actually criminal fraud?

P.S. This is after he confirmed (eventually) that "Openreach" is UK company 1800000, so he is basically saying that British Telecommunications plc, company 1800000, is not a communications provider!

EU mobile roaming after brexit

I saw an article yesterday, well, someone read it to my whilst I was reading my Ada book, on EU mobile roaming.

The theory is that the "free" roaming in EU will continue after brexit because the Great Repeal Bill will maintain all the existing EU laws as UK laws when we leave, including the requirement to do the roaming at no extra cost.

First off, it may be that the deals the mobile operates have will indeed continue, and maybe we will retain the "free" roaming in some form.

However, a UK law cannot really enforce that. Right now the operators in UK and mainland Europe are all subject to the EU law saying they have to allow the roaming like this. When we leave the EU, those mainland Europe operators will NO LONGER be subject to that requirement when it comes to UK mobile operators roaming to EU as UK will not be in EU. So those operators can go back to charging UK operators a small fortune for roaming calls, texts, and data.

If the UK tells UK operators they have to allow roaming at same price as UK and the foreign operators charge a lot for roaming, what will happen? Someone loses out, or roaming becomes no longer an option. More likely is the operators which you can use when roaming get to be few and far between.

I also suspect that EU law retained in UK law will not necessarily force UK operators to allow EU phone users to roam to UK. After all, they are foreigners, and all that... So even the logic of reciprocal arrangements does not necessarily hold true.

Somehow the person writing the article thought UK law could bind all of these EU phone companies to play nice after we have left the EU - do people not think these things through?