Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Thank you British Gas

Why would anyone change energy provider when what you buy is the same?

The only reason is the tariff and billing. It seems to be that most of the different tariffs expect you to gamble in some way - commit to X years at a fixed price and hope prices don't fall, for example. Some work on budgets that are DD regular amounts and can get out of step with reality. All I want is to pay for what I use at a fair price, no messing about.

Well British Gas keep messing about. They have chased (and probably filed bad credit reports) bills that they had never sent, and done that several times.

Their latest - a bill on my door step today, 17th September 2014, that clearly states "Your payment is due by 27th August".

WTF? Unless they mean 27th August 2015, I am seriously unimpressed. What is the point of sending a bill over a month after the bill date (13th Aug) that is already overdue when it arrives.

This sort of crap really does make me think about switching supplier.

SatPhone (Callmonitor Ltd)

I now have a working Iridium SIM from SatPhone (Callmonitor Ltd).

What a difference!

We ordered via on-line chat, with an emailed confirmation I had to complete (took a few seconds). The SIM was activated for us, and was biked over. They sent confirmation of order. They sent confirmation of SIM and number and so on. They use a courier with real-time tracking of the bike. They even had my POD in my email from the courier before I had walked back in to my desk with the SIM. The SIM just works.

They have the same package for a similar price, but apparently they send a proper VAT invoice in GBP and then DD the amount they invoice. What a novel idea!

Overall I have to say very slick indeed. Well done.

Ashbury Sat Com

I have to say that I am very very unimpressed with this bunch. I'll keep it to the facts though.

Their web site lists the Iridium Go! and the Iridum postpay packages. They have a package that was listed as £99/month, 3 month min term. This includes unlimited data (at 2400bps) and SMS at $0.00 (free).

I got the phone and the SIM, and all fine. I have spent weeks on this testing, and even set up a google maps based tracker for SMS based location updates. I have created a custom connect script on the mac to allow me to use it to ssh. It works. I was, today, going to take myself to the middle of a field with the laptop and a satphone to test.

I am finally all ready to spend a week on a boat. I fly out in 48 hours. Ready to go...

But I had a minor query on the invoices and the fact that the amounts in pounds on the invoices did not agree with the amounts charged to my card (by quite a lot). They invoice in dollars but (as they must) show GBP NET and VAT amount. It turns out this is just an estimate and out of date, and then will not agree with the card charge as they charge the card in dollars! What is worse is that they tried to "fix" this by loading a different exchange rate and re-sending already issued VAT invoices with different GBP NET and VAT amounts! So what did they put on their VAT return? Even so, the amount does not match the card charge at all (not by a few pence but by 7%).

It was actually rather odd when I ordered as the order was in GBP, the order confirmation in EUR and the invoice in USD! The ordering was not good anyway as they did not ship the day I ordered, but next day; and then the SIM was not active but no clue that I would have to ask for it to be activated; and then it took all day to activate... So overall, not good, in my opinion.

So, I tried to get them to sort this and they threw their toys out of the pram - credited the service charge (around £150 for 1.5 months) and cancelled the service with no notice. This is a service that has a three month minimum term and for which we have not been in any breach of contract. They have no basis for doing that!

Copies of the duplicate but different invoices have now been posted to HMRC suggesting a VAT inspection may be in order. Hopefully that will buck up their ideas and do business properly after that.

Why do people get in to business if they cannot handle something as simple as VAT invoicing?!

Thankfully, it turns out that one of our customers sells Iridium SIMs, and a new one will be here today. Phew.

Whisky tasting notes

Much like wine tasting, whisky tasting seems to have a colourful language all of its own. For example "A gentle and soft aroma to start, almost shy, but it heightened our expectations of what was to come. Making baked apples with brown sugar, cinnamon, chopped pecans, currants, raisins and sultanas as well as anise-flavoured cookies, a smell of pine needles and wood sap from a fresh cut fir tree – happy childhood memories of the night before Christmas. It is a waxy, oily, honey mouth coating texture with flavours of sandalwood, resin and exotic spices. With water there is a hint of wood smoke followed by candied orange and lemon peel, dried fruits and cardamom. Now on the taste a pleasant light woodiness combined with fragrant spices and fresh mint - this makes a great Advent dram." which is 35.101.

I doubt I could ever be so colourful, but I thought I would try and give a report on this particular bottle.

It was actually got for me by JJ for my birthday, but as our paths did not pass until this month I did not know.

Many got me whisky for my birthday, hearing that I drink whisky now, and some got expensive bottles. Sadly whisky is not all the same, and I like some whisky. For reference the SMWS ones described as sweet and spicy are usually what I like, and definitely not anything peaty.

When I saw this, I though "not another whisky", but the description was intriguing . Ages in sherry casks, but oddly no indication of the number of years aged. That is not mandatory but very rare for any whisky not to say the age. Even so, when I looked at the bottle itself the colour was not a good sign - that usually means it is peaty, but the description did not say so. It seems the sherry may have coloured it, which is fine.

Anyway, I finally tried it. So here are my tasting notes:-

"Imagine gargling TCP antiseptic liquid, and perhaps drinking neat marmite from a squirty bottle. That would give you some idea of the impact of the initial sip. It only took a couple of sips to realise that I was not, in fact, over the tummy bug with which I had been suffering last week. Persevering the taste seems not to be an acquired one. If you allow some time for your taste buds to recover, you may detect a hint of liquorice and a cane sugar taste (not golden syrup, more like black treacle). A second glass is not recommended."

I did try JJ, honest, and thanks for the thought :-)

And yes, my desk is level - that picture suggests this drink even defies gravity.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

In the line of fire

When working on FireBrick code, one of the final sanity checks after lots of bench testing and verification is to test the code on our own routers that are in front of the office and my home. Then we can release alpha code for people to test in the wild. This is a long way from beta code and finally the regular factory releases.

The office is a pretty demanding customer in that they provide, shall we say, "instant customer feedback" in the event that the code is not stable. Putting the code in the line of fire like this works well. It is very motivating for a s/w developer who is sat in the same room! But if we were not prepared to use this code ourselves, how could we expect customers to?

Whilst an office full of people that rely on the Internet for everything they do can be demanding, there is little that is as demanding than one of your kids playing LoL, especially if they are playing a league game!

I think every router manufacturer should try this challenge - can you s/w upgrade the single router/firewall in front of a LoL gamer in mid game without getting shouted at? That is the challenge!

Now, we know we have done well with the shutdown and startup sequence and the reboot logic that does not even re-set the Ethernet PHYs. We manage to go from shutdown to routing packets in a few hundred milliseconds. Combined with a few specific firewall and routing rules, I think I have got pretty close to the "Not screaming at me" threshold now. In testing he did notice a reboot, but only just, and not every time.

Related to this, we have many core routers in our network serving us, and ultimately serving customers. Can we re-load these with no impact on customers, and importantly - do we pass the scream test? Well, we have been working on the BGP and VRRP shutdown sequences lately. The concept is simple - using pairs or routers it should be possible to take one out cleanly for a re-load without dropping a single IP packet.

Before shutdown we announce lower priority BGP routes. We used to withdraw routes but that created gaps until adjacent routers propagate that and then get fed an alternative. This way they always have a route one way or the other. We do controlled VRRP handover. We then restart in a fraction of a second once that is all sorted and done cleanly. I think we have that sussed now.

It is amazing what you can do under pressure some times.

Barclays, you arseholes!

So, apart from everything else they have done (including wiping the iPhone app settings for online banking), they have now screwed me over for several grand.

OK, I'll get it back, the people in question are nice guys, but this is so retarted that I don't know quite what to say.

I paid the air-con people via on-line banking using a pin-sentry and debit card, all good stuff. I went through the steps, clicked OK, etc, and realised that the balance had not changed. Odd.

So I checked, and no pending transfers. I assumed I must have missed an error.

So I tried again and it warned that there is already a payment for the same details. So I cancelled.

I have waited all day, and checked with the recipient, and no money arrived, so I paid yet again. This time I spotted the message on the final screen.

"The payment has been delayed because of manual checking"

OK, maybe, just maybe, that is not totally daft, but really, I used a pin sentry and everything. Why faff about. But assuming that is OK, where is the payment. And why has the manual checking not finished yet and the payment gone already?

It is not listed on my account. It is not in the pending/recent payments. It is invisible. If I could see it as a "pending checking" payment I would not have done a second one!!!

Now, I assume, both payments will go through and I will have to ask nicely for one to be sent back.

Why the hell can you not get a bank that just damn works!

Update: Arrrrg!They have blocked on-line banking now. They called from a withheld number to ask person details. Now calling back and has taken 4 minutes to get as far as being in a damn queue.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Making a start

Well, making a start on the garage. New dis board, and air-con installed.

We still need to clear the place properly and get it back to a bare shell, then we need a window bricked up and the floor leveled. Sounds like it may be end of the year before the builders can come in, which is disappointing.

I am starting to formulate some ideas for layout though, and looks like I should be able to do a small sink area for kettle and toaster as well.

I also think a sofa-bed now that James has moved back in and the guest room is his.

So, making a start :-)