Sunday, 29 May 2016

Droney McDroneface

This is the start of a series of posts on drones.

Some may recall I got a Parrot AR ages ago, It was not easy to fly, rather flimsy, not good video, and not good in the slightest gust of wind, so hardly played with at all. If anyone wants to buy it - just ask.

However, at the weekend, I made the mistake of going in to the Apple shop while my wife and daughter were in Primark (it seemed the better option). I only wanted a lightning cable. Well, I left with a DJI Phantom 4.

I have to say the difference from the Parrot AR drone is unbelievable!

It is much more stable, much better picture, much easier to fly (has proper dual stick controller connected to phone/iPad, not using the iPad itself), way better in wind. It really does what it says on the tin!

The problem with drones are the rules! The Civil Aviation Authority and the Air Navigation Order. They are a bit complex, but basically there are restrictions flying near people and property. So short of finding some field somewhere you don't get to do much legally with the drone.

Well, I may have done a quick test flight (after getting hobbyist insurance on-line). Just up around down, from my property. Of course, instantly, my nosey neighbour came round (before I had even landed), asking what the rules are for drones now, and so on. I am not 100% sure if that is allowed. There is a "test flight" exception in the rules, and one related to property you have control over, but it may be stretching a point. I convinced him it was fine :-)

Sorry CAA, please don't prosecute me - I'm going to do it right now...

What that means is taking an approved course, with theory and practical tests, and then applying for a permission for aerial work from the CAA (for 12 months). Once I have that, subject to the rules on safety, and proper operating procedures, and so on, I will be allowed (from CAA point of view) to fly near buildings, and do things like aerial surveys of people's houses and stuff. I'll need insurance as well. I'll be able to do the flights commercially too. I'll need to consider any DPA issues and registration. Whilst I think it is obviously hassle, as it is a 4 day course, I am thinking I'll go for it. It will be a new skill ("certified drone pilot" sounds good). A&A already sells photographic services, why not start selling aerial photographic services, at least locally. With any luck I can pay for the drone and course with some work. I may even have two pilots on staff...

There will be a lot more on the process of getting training and permission in future posts. It will be a few months as I need to go do some proper practicing (in a field) first, and book the course, and do a practical test, and then apply for the CAA PFAW. I'll post more on this as I go.

In the mean time, just a few points on the drone itself. We did go find a deserted car-park with no people around, and permission to be there, and had a bit of a play well away from any nosey neighbour.

I have to say, one of the most impressive features is the tracking mode - I can point at someone on the screen on the iPad and tell it to track them, and it does - hovering, flying, and directing the camera. It has built-in collision detection and avoidance, and just flies itself. It also has GPS, and in the beginner mode was even smart enough not to follow someone anywhere near the road (restricted area!). Very smart.

The "home" mode is good too - using GPS, it shoots up like 30m, flies over everything and lands back at the start. And it can do that on loss of signal automatically.

The 4K video camera is excellent quality too.

So, assuming I maintain the motivation on this, more posts to follow and a new A&A service in the making...

Friday, 27 May 2016

Photographing children

Interesting article here on police intimidation in the UK.

Basically a reporter taking a couple of pictures for a story, having identified himself as a reporter, from a public street, where a school was evacuated because of a bomb scare.

The police intimidated him in to deleting the pictures!

The odd thing is some of the reaction on twitter. Some people seem to think that taking pictures of children is illegal. The police officers suggested the pictures may be for "personal use" and that somehow that made their request for the images to be deleted valid.

Now, let's put this in context. I do not think that even pedophiles find images of normal fully clothed children arousing. If they did, then they just need to get a copy of the Mothercare catalogue to be happy. And bear in mind that people see children in public places all the time. If someone finding a fully clothed child arousing was somehow a "harm" to that child, you could not take children out in public at all, just in case. Do consider, just going shopping with them, many CCTV cameras are taking a picture of your kids 25 times a second.

But just think about it - I bet every parent of every kid there has pictures of those children for "personal reasons" and did not for one second think that in some way wrong or illegal. I have loads of pictures of my kids and grandchildren, even with no clothes on! Bear in mind the vast majority of child sex abuse is by family members, so that is not an irrelevant comparison by any means.

This is nothing to do with pedophiles whatsoever. This is a lot to do with police state intimidation of the press!

I am shocked that any reporter caved in to this - but I can appreciate the police can be intimidating. That is the problem, after all. Personally, I hope I would have had the nerve to ask:-

"Either my taking these pictures is a crime, in which case you are asking me to destroy evidence of a crime, or it is not, in which case I can go about my business without intimidation from you. Which is it?"

Maybe I would not have the nerve. At best I would turn off, and hence lock, the phone and offer it to them to either use as evidence to charge me or to return later with an apology - and then leave the scene.

The fun part is that the technology is already changing, and I am surprised any reporter with any clue is not already set up to auto-upload all photos to his editor in real time as a matter of course. That solves the issue with a "sorry mate, already in the cloud, nothing I can do".

One thing someone asked if whether the "press" are special, and for the most part they are not. The freedom of the press is a basic principle of any free and democratic society, but everyone is allowed to take pictures in public, pretty much. The press do, however, have some exceptions in the Data Protection Act to cover public interest where personal information is involved, so the fact kids may be identifiable from such pictures would not be an issue when published.

So the problem goes away with technology, thankfully. But this does not address the total paranoia of people that think anyone with a camera is up to no good. We all have eyes, and can see what we can see in public - using a camera is not a big step from that and is legal and normal and sensible. I hope that the fact that almost all of us now carry several cameras all the time is going to change that paranoia.

P.S. As a courtesy I did check my daughter was happy for these pictures of my grandson to be published. The original taking of these pictures was not seen as any issue by me or her though.

When is a KCI3 not a KCI3

Sorry this is technical, but it is just so BT that it is scary.

This is one of the final niggles with the renumber+export process, one we can work around somehow and is mostly just an annoyance.

When the renumber order completes, we want to send another order to BT to set incoming barring on the newly assigned number. This is a number that will not be used and already has outgoing barring or direct connect on it. This is a final tidy of the line to be a "naked DSL" line.

So, the renumber order completes, and BT send us what they call an KCI3, which is to tell us the order is completed. There are a lot of clues in the XML including:-
  • LineStatus: Completed
  • CompletedDate: 2016-05-27T11:43:00
  • Message: Order Completed
KCI stands for "Keep Customer Informed", by the way. We feel very well "informed" with this message that maybe, just maybe, the order is now "Completed". Wouldn't you?

But it turns out that no, the order is not in fact complete. When we send the next order we are told "A pre-existing open order has been found on this line"!

Apparently there is still a "robotic process" which can take 24 hours, and we will get a KCI3 when it finishes. To my surprise we do, indeed, get one!

Same clues in the message:-
  • LineStatus: Completed
  • CompletedDate: 2016-05-13T11:38:14
  • Message: Order Completed
The eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed a new "CompletedDate", one that is 14 days ago?!?!

The new "CompletedDate" looked familiar. We checked our original order, and we sent:-
  • RequiredByDate: 2016-05-13T11:38:14Z
This is actually when we created the order, as we want it ASAP, and BT adjust to the minimum lead time (10 working days). But wow! what a co-incidence! Except it is stranger still as the really eagle eyed will spot that 2016-05-13T11:38:14Z is not 2016-05-13T11:38:14. At this time of year they are an hour different. 11:38:14Z is in fact 12:38:14.

So it is almost like they plonked the UTC time of the CRD in to the CompletedDate as local (summer) time, in this robotic process, for an order that actually completed 14 days later.

I'd love to see that really special programming BT, and the comments that go with it. I wonder if, as a BT shareholder, I have any right to ask to take a look? I doubt it. Perhaps I should go to one of the shareholder meetings one day.

I'd also love to have a definitive way to tell the real KCI3 from the fake KCI3 so I can know when it is safe to send my next order.

The good news is that our "take over line and port number" system is apparently working right up to this point, and this is a minor last tidy up order which we can probably find a way around or do manually until BT fix it.

P.S. BT presumably use one of these big commercial XML B2B systems to do all of this. In A&A we use an XML library I knocked up. However, for us to do what BT are doing here would be really hard - we don't process date/times as text, they go in to a time_t right away, so we'd actually have to mess about taking 3600 off the date/time when in the summer to fill in the XML like this, it would be hard work.

Fun with numbers

As I have posted, we are working on stuff with BT renumbering and number export (which is going quite well now actually), but in part of the process I got to understand the BT systems a bit better.

For amusement I checked, and the quite distinctive telephone number that we first had when we moved to Bracknell was in the free number pool. We have not had that number for over 20 years now. So, as part of my testing I had a play, renumbered on to a line, and exported to VoIP. It worked!

I think it is quite cool getting a really old phone number back. I found I could get my wife's old house number from when she was a kid, but she was not at all interested. Maybe it is just me. It is not really a "service" we can offer though, sorry.

Anyway, first and only call so far on that number:-

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

M&S, could have been good, failed badly.

Tried ordering a shirt, that is all!

Welcome to M&S Live Chat. An adviser will be with you shortly.

I can't order. Watch
Thanks for your patience - an adviser will be with you soon.
Thanks for your patience - an adviser will be with you soon.
Thanks for your patience - an adviser will be with you soon.
Thanks for your patience - an adviser will be with you soon.
Magdalena has joined the session

Hi, this is Magdalena, welcome to M&S Live Chat. How may I help you today?

I can't order. Watch

Sorry to hear that.

Please can you confirm whether you are able to login to your M& account?

Have you watched that video?

It shows the whole problem

Unfortunately, I am unable to view the given video.

Well, I have gone to the bother of recording the exact problem, the fact the login button does nothing, the fact that trying to register again says my login failed, the fact you lost my order totally, all to make it easy, and have now published to a few thousands twitter and Facebook followers, and you cannot even watch it. That sucks

I'll just put on my blog, that has been known to get over a million hits a month. Maybe someone at M&S will be able to watch the video then.

Don't they let you have access to the internet?!?!?

If I give you a youtube link, does that help - uploading there now

I have raised an alert to the relevant department. Who will contact you within 24 to 48 hours. 

Ha, OK...

You can surely provide that. I will send it to the relevant department.

One moment


Youtube stuck at 95% processing, will have it in a moment

No problem.

And my blog

Thanks for providing that.

I'll look forward to their response...

Definitely our team will contact you within the given time frame.
Chat session ended

P.S. Apparently, for security reasons, their customer service team cannot view the video. I have been buying M&S shirts for decades, and I thought I would try one of their made-to-measure ones. Sounds like I'll find somewhere else to get shirts now.

ADR and broadband switching

Thank to ISP review for drawing my attention to Call for Evidence on Improving the Consumer Landscape and Quicker Switching issued by BIS.

As anyone that follows my blog knows I have some "views" on ADR! I feel like a dark part of my life has come back to haunt me just typing those three letters. I may go and lie down for a bit...

However, apart from a lot of scathing suggestions, I have made one concrete proposal that there should be some sort of on-line service to allow complaints to be registered to an ISP/telco. This would then automate the escalation to ADR, and allow the ombudsman access to the debate and evidence. It would avoid any confusion over whether something is a "formal complaint", the date of complaint, the content of the complaint, and if it has already been resolved or not.

Evidence re ADR (PDF).

The other point of interest is consumer switching. What is crazy is that OFCOM just finished a process of consultation and change to move broadband switching from 5 working days to 10 working days lead time, and gaining provider led. BIS want 7 working days!

Again, I have come up with a concrete proposal - one that avoids the need for a trade off between a long lead time to avoid slamming, and a short lead time for convenience. Simply add a positive confirmation message via losing provider (just as there is a reject via losing provider now) allowing order to move back to earlier completion date (even next day). This solves a lot of problems in one go, even the issue of fixing mistakes.

Evidence re Switching (PDF).

Let's see what they say.

P.S. If you want to submit evidence, the first email address in the BIS document does not work.

20CN reprieve?

After my last post, the good news is there appears to be a rebate for some of the 20CN bandwidth on 20CN only exchanges. This is BT's wonderfully simple pricing at work! We are reviewing what this works out at exactly, but it looks like it gets a lot closer to breaking even than we expected, for now.

This gives 20CN a bit of a reprieve, at least for a few months.

However, the underlying problem remains that the 20CN is a reducing number of lines and has its own separate back-haul billing. So the end game is the same. Even if you got to as low as £50/Mb/s/month then that last one 8Mb/s 20CN line would cost us over £400/month, and as we reduce to fewer and fewer active 20CN lines, the costs get closer and closer to that level.

So, at some point, probably this year, we have to come up with a solution for how we handle the last 20CN lines. Right now, we'll leave pricing unchanged.