Saturday, 25 October 2014

When adverts change

I try not to watch adverts, but it happens, as you know, and they always annoy the hell out of me.

I have just watched Dave Gorman "Modern Life Is Goodish" - and it is excellent. I love that he does not just take issue with the crap we all face but does practical things to test it like changing a Finish powerball to a smartie or making a fabric conditioner Jesus (Noel Edmunds). He did a lovely one on some adverts with survey results, and saying stuff with as low as "20 of 99 women agree" in them. As he says, how is that even allowed?!

I tend to notice what they don't say in adverts, and I am pleased to say that my kids are just as cynical. The exact wording used is important.

But one thing that does hit me with adverts is when they tweak the wording. This means I have seen the advert more than once, and the fact that there is a new version is noticeable to me. I hope I am not alone in that.

Now, some times it is just a matter of making it shorter. This is normal as first run is normally the full version, and as people know the advert it is run in a shorter form. The kitkat advert used the phrase "share an ill designed driveway" (I think) and now says "share a driveway" for the two halves of the kitkat! This is simply making it shorter.

But some times they change wording in subtle ways that makes me notice even more. Now, I have to say, if they were clever, they would do that deliberately, as otherwise I would not notice the advert.

One hit me today - BT now advertise "Our most reliable wireless signal". This is different to the wording they used before where they claimed that no-one gives a more reliable wireless signal.

This is that bit more honest - others are better. A&A are better. It is a subtle change and I doubt it is because of my blog, but it is a good change.

Now, if that was the original advert it would trip my "what are they not saying?" alarms as they say "their" most reliable, not "the" most reliable.

Tell me I am not alone in having such changes leap out at me.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Set the code free!

Some times it is so hard not to just go and update everything to the latest release.

We have spent weeks getting the code ready to release, with the completely new TCP stack from scratch finally being deployed, and lots of testing, and finally have a factory release candidate.

TCP is only needed for some of the internal features, like web interface and BGP and so on, but there is no reason not to make it a good quality stack with proper fast recovery and window scaling and syn cookies and everything else you expect. We have literally speed tested BGP full table transfers between boxes and seen it as low as 6 seconds for over 500k IPv4 routes (though it is currently around twice that when it actually bothers to have an Rx window that is not infinite). We have gradually added the new TCP features and tested, and even had some TCP session leaks we had to plug. The original TCP stack was my code when we first started and has lasted very well for many years, but Cliff has re-done it from scratch and massively improved it.

Obviously, I am 100% confident in the new code. I would have to be as otherwise it would not be a release candidate. I am confident enough to deploy on the A&A network.

But I have to face the reality that there may be something that breaks, and we have to test, test, test, and test again.

So, once again, it is a beta release loaded only on to some of the routers, and over night we will load on to just one of the LNSs, so everything has a hot standby just in case and everything is easy to roll back. If there are problems we can sort them quickly.

I know the past says "all code has bugs", but the future always looks so bug free. Often the code released is indeed, for all practical purposes, bug free. We try to do that every time, and manage it a lot. But it is still frustrating having to give it time to go wrong, just in case.

I feel like I can't do anything else - it is like waiting for a baby to be born - you just have to wait until it is finally due.

We were, none the less, tested on one of the recent alpha releases that survived maybe an hour outside the lab before it was hit by bad checksum bogus SYN packets once in the wild and crashed. That was pulled very quickly. It is amazing how a box on the Internet has to face so much crap. At the end of the day there is only so much testing you can do in the lab, and you have to let your code go free and out in to the wild for fend for itself and just cross your fingers.

Beta should be made in to a new factory release next week. That is when we really release it in to the wild :-)

Thursday, 23 October 2014

No contract?

OK, so if they have no contracts, what are these "T&Cs" that apply?

They would have to apply as a non-contractual, and hence unenforceable, set or terms and conditions then... So the idea that they "apply" is something of a stretch...

Interesting, section 12 of these terms talks of "when this contract was entered in to". Odd if there is no contract.

I mean, if the terms cannot be enforced, as no contract, why even have terms?

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

ICO ignore 1,000 complaints of calls from 0843 numbers

Over the last 3 months I have raised over 1,000 complaints to the ICO regarding calls from 0843 numbers that present a recorded announcement.

Every single one if a breach of section 19 of The Privacy and Electronic Communications(EC Directive) Regulations 2003

Every single complaint has detailed the calling and called number as well as time of day and date, and included a call recording to prove the breach.

Every single complaint has formally requested that they exercise enforcement functions in relation to this breach as per section 32 of those regulations.

Every single complaint has has a response "We have received your email" which even says they aim to respond within 30 days.

They have said they are officially ignoring me, even though investigating these complaints and enforcing these rules are their job.

I have complained about their response and still they say they will ignore me.

They have said they have no power to investigate, until I point out the powers they have and then they go quiet.

Just one such call is a breach of the regulations and they have the power investigate and they can fine the callers. Just one call! But even 1,000 complaints are not enough for them to act.

This is a government body deliberately refusing to do its job.

What next?

Well, I have requested that my MP refer to the parliamentary ombudsman...

Aircon memes

"Don't use it in auto" is what the aircon installer says. In fact two of them have said that to me - one for office and one for home.

It seems to be a meme - a saying passed down from engineer to engineer, with no logic as to why.

I had it again today. The aircon was being maintained and the engineer (who I think I have upset now) said not to use in auto and I was rude enough to ask why?

He said it is not good for it to keep changing from cooling to heating. OK, that is probably a true statement, wasting time and energy and maybe even increasing wear, who knows, it is plausible. But we were looking at the panel which someone had set, rather oddly, to auto heat to 16°C and cool to 22°C. I asked how it would be switching between cooling and heating exactly? Surely, if it is warm outside (as today) it will cool to 22°C and stop, and then heat up from outside so cool again back to 22°C and stop. When would it switch to heating? Similarly when really cold outside (and 16°C is daft and needs changing) it will heat to 16°C and stop, cool down from outside, so heat to 16°C and stop. It would not keep changing between heating to cooling.

Well, he had no answer to that, but said that the issue now is that it "stops". He say it would cool to 22°C and "stop", where as in cooling mode rather than auto mode, it would cool to 22°C and then keep fans going circulating air rather than "stop".

Well, (a) why would that make a difference as it still does not keep changing between heating and cooling and would get to required temperature, (b) why would it behave differently in auto and cooling mode anyway, that makes no sense, and (c) look, the fan is running when in between temperatures not heating or cooling now, so that is clearly untrue!

He had no answer and resorts to "well, if it that is what you want then fine!" and refused to actually explain his advice. He reiterated that they tell people not to run in auto mode, as if the fact that they tell people is, in itself, reason to tell people. He simply had no reason and seemed quite upset that I wanted him to back up his advice.

This sort of thing really pisses me off. If there really is a valid reason, then tell me, or better still tell the manufacturer - why on earth would they provide the feature if it was not advised to use it? Or better still, if there is a reason not to use it, why don't they fix that?

What I suspect happened is that once upon a time some air con units were somehow a bit dumb and would overshoot cooling or heating enough to trip the aircon to go the other way and get in a cycle. That is clearly broken behaviour, but instead of complaining to the manufacturer, installers just advised not to use auto. These days there really is no excuse - it is all microcontroller based and a computer can be sensible enough to ignore any overshoot anyway, or better still, avoid an overshoot in the first place.

In fact, my aircon at home is excellent. It is set to auto. When it is hot outside, it gently blows some cold air briefly and stops, maintaining the temperature. It does not switch to heating mode. When cold outside it gently blows some hot air until temperature, and stops. I can set the hysteresis to a wider or narrower setting. It is not as flexible as the office one where you set two temperatures. But it works nicely and just works, maintaining a temperature.

Oddly, even one of my colleagues tried to defend the "don't use auto" argument (because he is an argumentative sod himself) saying some people do not want a fixed temperature. That argument is, of course, completely irrelevant. It is true, sometimes I may want it hotter or colder - so I set the temperature a degree or two higher or lower. I don't care how it gets to that temperature.

Oddly, our industry has the same problem. The meme I am thinking of is not setting auto-negotiation on 10/100 Ethernet ports. There really is no reason for this advice. auto-neg just works, and can be set to auto-neg specific settings only. It seems that maybe, once apon a time, some kit, in the early days of the feature, would get it wrong, hence the advice. Now it is just advice that is a "known thing" so gets repeated, and ironically causes no end of issues.

Won't someone think of the imaginary children!

A colleague posted a on facebook about a recent news article.

Middlesbrough man creates legal history after being convicted of possessing illegal images of cartoon children

This raised a lot of issues, some of which are very emotive and controversial. The post has so far reached 185 comment within a small group, some from outside the UK as well.

He was found in possession of Manga and Anime images/videos "They were classified as prohibited images as they depicted young girls, some in school uniforms, some exposing themselves or taking part in sexual activity."

We can only go on the news report, and we cannot comment on the pictures as we are not allowed to see them (though we may not want to).

To many that have commented, this conviction is a step too far towards thought crime. This man has apparently had a similar conviction many years ago, but has apparently not been accused of any actual child abuse and there is no suggestion that he has or will commit any sort of child abuse. He has some cartoons.

I'll try and condense some of the issues down to avoid making this post as long as the facebook thread...

We live in a society that accepts a clear difference between fiction/fantasy and reality. As a child I watched cowboy films where people were gunned down in the street and then went out and pretend shot my brother with cap guns, but it was play and fantasy and not reality. There will always be people that cannot tell the difference and who are a danger to society but that is no reason to ban fantasy and fiction. Every conceivable crime including torture and murder and far worst are portrayed in film and this is "normal". I was watching a film the other day. The plot involved a small anti-establishment group that recruited a young man, convincing him to leave his home to join a radical religious cult and ultimately take part in a terrorist attack on a military base killing thousands... The film was called Star Wars. Fantasy and reality are different!

We accept that people do not have a choice over their sexual attraction. It used to be that people sexually attracted to those of the same gender were considered mentally ill and criminals, but now society accepts that you cannot choose how you are. There will be people attracted to young girls. That does not make child abuse acceptable, obviously, but to say one group can choose who they are attracted to, and another group cannot is clearly nonsense. It is far better that such people role play with their consenting adult partner wearing a school uniform in the bedroom or look at Anime cartoons than actually go out and abuse children.

Doesn't this material give the impression that child abuse is acceptable? I really think this is stretching a point. The same could be said for almost all fiction, much of which portrays illegal activity in some way. It is even more so when we are talking about cartoons which are inherently fiction and fantasy and not even trying to portray reality.

How old is a cartoon character? The FaceBook thread discussed lots of crazy issues on this one, but issues a judge may be faced with! With a film or photograph it is a factual matter - how old was the subject when filmed. As I understand it the IWF have reports of some very young looking porn stars all the time and have to keep explaining that that particular person was of legal ages, no matter how they look. Anime is very stylised artwork, and it would be really hard to say the age of the characters. Someone pointed out that some story lines have 600 year old characters that can morph and change appearance, and look like a schoolgirl - so that is an image portraying a 600 year old schoolgirl - is that legal? How old is Peter Pan for example - never grows up, so clearly way older than 18. How old is Lisa Simpson - just by the number of years the series has been running, almost certainly legal age now but in a fantasy world where she continues to look and act like a young girl. Is there a market for someone taking these cartoons and adding story plot frames that place them as older characters that look unusually young and so making them legal in the UK? Putting a judge in the position of assessing the age of a cartoon character, even in a school uniform, is just nonsense.

What's wrong with this law anyway? Well, it does not bother me, obviously, as I am not so inclined and have not seen such images or have any interest in doing so. However, it is one step closer to thought crimes, where we criminalise fantasy, pre-crime, or thinking of a crime. It is one thing to tackle someone actually planning a crime, making a bomb, etc, but quite another to criminalise someone's fantasy. That is just one step too far. It also diverts resources away from actually fighting child abuse and other crimes.

But what might he do next? This is one of the things people have asked, suggesting this is the right action to take in case someone goes on to abuse children later. This is exactly the problem though - it is thought crimes. The fact that he had a previous conviction and did not go on to abuse children is even more support that this is nonsense. What might any of us do next? Someone equated to Guy Fawkes who was convicted but did not blow up parliament! That is a crazy analogy as there is a clear difference between actually taking steps towards a crime such as putting barrels of gun powder in a basement, and fantasy or mere thoughts. A film about Guy Fawkes, even one where he succeeds, is legal. We really cannot convict people for fantasies - that is going too far.

How did he get these images? Well, there are a few ISPs with no filtering, but it is likely this man is using a larger ISP with IWF filtering. The whole role of IWF filtering is to stop people accidentally accessing illegal material, just like this. It clearly did not meet that role, which is no real surprise. This material is, apparently, available on perfectly legal web sites (legal in the countries they are in). Comments from someone in Sweden are that the UK had gone one step closer to thought crimes than they have and he thinks they would be legal there (albeit tasteless).

Some lines should not be crossed. Much like freedom of speech, there are some lines which we need to draw and not cross. These lines can never be in the perfect place and there are always edge cases, but drawing a line is better than not. There will always be some really good reason to cross these lines, but once crossed then next excuse is that little bit easier, and before you know it we have censored media and illegal thoughts. I, and many others on the FaceBook thread, feel we have gone one step too far here by criminalising mere fictional cartoons.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Is there still a place for fax machines?

I sent a fax today - the first in many many years.

Long ago I used fax a lot. I had a modem and a computer and that allowed me to easily sent faxes to companies if I needed to, and as most companies had a fax machine, that is how I communicated, especially when I had a complaint. At the time, the idea of an individual having a fax seemed rare. I even had a system to do big sideways banners on fax rolls to get their attention if they ignored me. It was the twitter of the day :-)

But fax has died down, just as telex did. A handful of people still have fax machines and probably don't really know why they even keep them. We (A&A) stopped using fax or quoting fax numbers a long time ago when the last mult-function scanner/printer/fax we had broke. I expected never to use a fax again.

Well, as my blogs and tweets have suggested, I have been trying to get to see my GP for over a week. Nothing too serious but seems to be a reaction to medication, and getting worse. An ideal GP thing, as, a week or two ago I could have booked an appointment many days in advance when convenient. Not an emergency, etc. All very civilised.

Problem is that :-
  • Surgery number is always busy or a massive queue. I went to NHS drop-in centre and they said to see my GP but gave up after trying to get through themselves for 10 minutes so saw me grudgingly.
  • on-line system states that there are no appointments. So I assumed it was not even worth calling again. It did not say "call for appointments" or anything like that, which seems now to be the case, it simply said that there are none.
  • has a message to GP feature, but after 8 days my messages have not been read/replied.
  • The surgery has an email address, but after three days I have no reply.
Now, after a couple of weeks of this, and with the medication from the drop-in centre finally running out with no sign of fixing this problem, it has become an emergency appointment situation.

So, what did I do? I faxed the surgery. Within minutes I got a call from the manager there. A bit apologetic but ultimately helpful booking an appointment for today! Later I got a call from the receptionist also trying to sort me an appointment! As if by magic the fax just works. I will probably try that as my first course of action next time I need an appointment...

I had to actually visit one of the neighbouring companies who have a fax machine lurking in their back office!

So, yes, there is life in fax still :-)

P.S. I have written in asking why the on-line appointment booking lies, and why it does not work, why the message to GP thing does not work, and why it does not even list my appointments that I have made properly. Hopefully I'll get an answer and maybe they will fix it.

Update: Had a meeting - they have fixed several of the problems and told off staff that made mistakes. The only one they are stuck on is the wording of the appointments which should say none available to book on-line, and not just that none are available. So, progress. Even so - next time - I fax!

P.S. Not a reaction to medication but on some suitable meds now and all sorted.