Thursday, 31 December 2009

Are banks getting worse?

So, I need to get a DD clawed back. Should be simple.

Email addresses for bank manager don't work.

None of the email addresses for any contacts at bank work!

In fact they seem or re-write to and then fail as unknown user!

On-line banking has a contact-us form, but that replies with an email saying the service is temporarily unavailable.

So, go in to local branch with a company letterheaded letter containing all the details, signed by me and even with an embossed company seal. The guy on the desk wasn't having any of it because I don't have a PIN for my card (it's chip & signature).

Eventually he gets someone more senior, who does not seem to understand the concept of clawing back a DD. She is like "well, if it went out yesterday it has already happened so nothing we can do".

Eventually after explaining the DD guarantee, she takes it away saying they will sort it.

I can only conclude she found someone with a clue as the money is in the account an hour later.

Why do they make it so hard to contact them?!?!?

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Not why we send freepost envelopes

So someone decides to send a couple of charity collection bags in one of our freepost envelopes.


From now on they will all carry a barcode that allows us to work out who we sent it to.


NDA, or Non Disclosure Agreements are useful in business. If you don't know, they are basically an agreement saying to can't leak confidential information that is shared with you for some specific project or purpose. They are usually mutual (two way). Basically, if you leak info then you can be sued for damages.

They are really useful to allow negotiations in private for something before it is published or launched.

Now, our favorite telco have NDAs as you would expect, but then they have a tendency to mark everything as confidential which means we can't tell anyone! This even applies when they tell us stuff specifically so that we can keep our customers informed. So we have a crazy situation that there may be some major planned works early 2010, but we cannot tell our customers about it or any details.

But, on a lighter note, for other stargate fans out there. Don't you just love the way they get civilians to sign an NDA. They make a big thing about it on many occasions. WTF???

What is the point of doing that?

(a) They are the government and so can almost certainly legally do far worse that sue you for breach of an NDA, and probably have specific laws covering military secrets (like we do in the UK) so the NDA is just silly.

(b) They have a stargate, tracking systems and beaming technology, so they can vanish you very effectively if you upset them and no way for any normal criminal investigation to trace it! They don't even have to kill you as such. You can't run and you can't hide. Surely that is a hugely more effective threat than any NDA.

(c) The only way to use an NDA is to sue for breach of the NDA, and I assume much the same in the US. Doing that means you have to confirm that what was disclosed was in fact confidential information, and hence true. You can never use an NDA without validating the disclosure. Yet what would be disclosed is so fantastic that it would be dismissed as crazy take anyway. So what is the point!

By the way, I an not under any NDA regarding any stargate! But I would say that wouldn't I :-)

Happy New Year

Monday, 28 December 2009

Can't move

Turns out my bike lock is actually quite good, except for the bit where it has broken and won't open...

My first pair of bolt cutters now have nice round notches in them and the lock has a slightly shiny surface where the bolt cutters were used.

Next suggestion is an angle grinder...

Saturday, 26 December 2009


Seems we have a low flying bread vendor in Ironforge today!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Wrapping

Not what you would expect.

Shrink wrapping!

The damn dog™ decides it likes chewing through cables. The lights are mains (not extra low voltage). They were not on [shame?].

Well, all repaired for the big day. Had to get heat shrink, hot air gun, soldering iron, wire strippers, solder... MacGyver could not have done better!

And thanks to JamesK for helping...

Consumer electronics

Well, nice to see something smart enough to have an Ethernet socket, and actually use it to update it's own software over the internet via it...

Sony BDP-S360 blu-ray player.

Now I'll see if it is any good!

And it did not even get upset at the lack of a 192.168 IP address, though it did show IPs as 3 digits with leading zeros on each part which is a tad weird. Not IPv6 though :-)

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Way to spell

So you make a desk calendar/planner/pad thing and put a huge typo on 1st Jan top page!
Thanks for the pressy by the way...

Monday, 21 December 2009

Lots of snow

Well, lots of snow here.

All turning a bit to mush, but looks like its going to start getting cold now...

Oh what fun.

It gets better...

Bracknell is a stand-still and staff have given up and gone back to the office!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Way to design a heating system

When it gets really cold the condense pipe freezes and the boiler stops working.
What idiot designed a system that causes the heating to shut down when it actually gets cold.

I am heading outside with a hot kettle to try and melt the frozen condense pipe.


That may have cleared it. But need to find the bit of lagging that has come off.

My son just asked why it needs to go outside. Excellent question. I looked. Running the pipe through wall to utility room and in to the drain there would have been a way simpler route and involved a hole in an interior rather than exterior wall. Damn plumber.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

WTF are they up to now?

I am not happy...

Our favorite telco have has serious latency and congestion on around 2,000 lines all week. They have not been clear on what they are doing about it or what the problem is.

At one point they said it would be 3 weeks because a freeze on planned work over Christmas. Well, we get a tiny amount of compensation for faults going over 40 hours to fix, but when you talk of that many lines for that length of time you are talking tens of thousands of pounds. So we really should just report the faults. I have the scripts ready to roll sending in all the fault reports and rejecting them when they send back until they are fixed. What is interesting is that they see that many fault reports as costing them hundreds of thousands in terms of the effort of handling faults.

But, in the interests of working in partnership with our suppliers we have held off reporting that many faults. We want to work together and sort problems.

I really do not like fielding complaints from customers about the crap service, and spending all day on the phone to the supplier who are giving us the run around, and neither does Shaun.

Also interesting was comments on what the issue was, and comments about talking to shareholders for some reason. That seems strange (I am a shareholder!).

We think, and this is guesswork, that they have planned capacity for the WBMC shared link service that we buy (the equivalent of the old Central product) and they have hit limits on some links. That they have to buy* more capacity and they don't want to. But that they are scared to say that's the service, tough as it would be an admission that 21st Century Network is actually not as good as the old products (which did not have this problem) and also that it is not as good as competing back-haul providers. We have a choice!

The latest is, having agreed they would fix things tonight, they then send a notice saying they anticipate the issue will be fixed 13th Jan. WTF!!! back on to account manager in the evening at home.

We have many customers moving lines to another back-haul provider. In fact, the new ordering page on our web site makes that totally automated. The other supplier are actually expecting to match config so it will be possible with no change of any router settings soon.

So, if you are pissed off - we offer a choice. If you want to know more - ask sales.

Still, I reckon we are the most tenatious ISP in dealings with this supplier and pushing them to provide a proper service.

* We are talking of a company that has corporate schizophrenia and buys from itself which is not something that actually costs its shareholders!

Update: Get this - the incident desk do not have access to update the incident details on an report to fix the date of the 13th Jan!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Nothing broke

A day when nothing major broke. Nice.

Our favourite telco doing emergency planned engineering to fix some latency on over a 1,000 lines tonight (we hope). They originally insisted it would be 3 weeks to fix but when we suggested we'd report over 1,000 faults they seemed to change their mind...

I would get an early night, but I keep checking that nothing is broken yet!

You can't win.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


OK, can I just stop being an ISP now and go and do something more fun like gardening :-)

Power outage with unexpected side effects and a mobile that won't plan ball when you need it; Unintentional DoS from supplier and LNS partial outage so fall-back did not work; Loads of BRAS blips and issues with our favorite telco; and then, just to add to the fun, a switch going gaga on us affecting email. Sadly the ports did not drop, but the switch was holding on to some packets for 7 seconds. This has not been a fun few days...

At least I am pretty sure I have found the LNS issue and have a working fix.

Power and switch issues in Maidenhead will take more planning and working with the data centre to sort...

Well, all good experience for doing things right in the future!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Free popcorn at Odeon?

Ok, so me and two kids go to cinema. I get a coffee from the machine and all three of us queue up at the food counter.

The kids order their large popcorn and drinks and then I wave the coffee at the guy and say there is a coffee as well...

So the kids are faffing about - G trying to work out how to carry popcorn and drink with crutches...

I say there's a coffee as well and wave the coffee at the guy again...

Now the kids have got sorted and are moving away and the guy says hang on you have to pay for that!

OK, I am getting a tad miffed at being ignored here, and also the suggestion that the kids would walk off without paying, so I say, in a louder voice, but not really shouting, for the third time there is a coffee as well, please. Yes, I even said "please".

And he says I don't want to serve you now. I think he said I was rude.

WTF! So we have drinks we have started drinking and popcorn we have started eating and he does not want to serve us... So do you want paying for this then? and again he says I don't want to serve you!. OK, so we'll accept your gift of these goods for free, thank you and we walk in to the cinema screen and watch the film.

Crazy people.

Two hours later, on leaving a manager stops me and says I believe there was an altercation over paying for a coffee earlier... So you have changed your mind and want paying now?... Yes, £2.25... OK, here you go, and we left.

I wonder why they did not want paying the £22 for the popcorn and drinks.

Well, I paid the agreed price, so not theft.

Just damn rude ignoring me like that. And, as usual, a total rip off for the food/drink in a cinema. And the popcorn is crap in the Odeon now - it used to be nice when it was UCI when they made it there in a machine but now it just comes in big bags and always tastes stale. The only good point is the coffee from the machine.

Wow! latency

I was asked to look at an article on improving interactive game play on World of Warcraft.

On reading it - it immediately set of bullshit alarms. It has a number of claims that seem confused and in some cases plain wrong. But some packet dumping shows some grain of truth in the claims.

The main claim is that TCP will send a packet and wait for an ACK before sending the next packet and that Windows delays sending the ACK so causing the next packet to be delayed and things to be slow. This is not in general how TCP works. TCP uses a sliding window. It can send many packets before expecting an ACK. Sending an ACK less often is fine and covers all the packets so far. Delaying ACKs is normally very sensible.

Their claimed fix is a setting change on Windows to send ACKs with no delay (or less delay).

They claim that the time taken to send the ACK is how latency is measured by WoW. They don't back up this claim any my guess is it will be an application level keep alive (or ping) type message that is used to measure the latency. I can however see a mechanism for ACK delay to cause such a measure to be increased (see below).

They claim that this is nothing to do with the Nagle algorithm as that is turned of by Blizzard. I think they are saying it is turned off at the Windows end in the WoW client. This may or may not be true.

They claim that sending ACKs immediately is not sending more data. They say Windows sends 2 ACKs per two segments, and with their fix you send one ACK per one segment, so just as many. This is plain wrong - an ACK will (in one ACK) acknowledge all data up to that point, so one ACK acknowledges two or more segments in that scenario. So what they propose definitely sends more ACKs.

So lets get to the bit where their claims make sense... I did some packet dumps of WoW traffic on Windows (before and after applying the fix) and also on linux (wine). What I saw was :-

1. When sending a constant high volume stream of data the server will send multiple (full size) packets without waiting for an ACK. The ACKs are sent every few packets received and the data flows smoothly as TCP intended.

2. When in normal game plan after loading characters from a new location, etc, the data is different. The server has a steady stream of small blocks of data of the order of 40 bytes. I saw that Windows was delaying ACKs around 200ms, and is seems that the server does run the Nagle algorithm.

3. Linux was working on maybe 1ms ACK delay :-)

This is where it gets interesting. The Nagle algorithm means you do not send more data until you get an ACK from the previous data (sort of what they claimed), but only applies if what you have to send is less than one whole packet. This is, again, sensible networking practice.

However, if you combine this with a steady stream of tiny blocks of data and a 200ms delayed ACK, what you get is a packet sent, a delay of 200ms, an ACK, then a packet sent (multiple small blocks in one packet), and a delay of 200ms, an ACK, and so on.

I.e. the small blocks of data get bunched up in 200ms parcels, each of which may have dozens of small blocks of data.

Importantly, if one of those small blocks of data is a ping type request, it could be delayed up to 200ms before the client sees it. When the client has data to send in won't delay so the ping reply would be instant but the overall round trip time from the application level could be delayed up to 200ms. Similarly events in the game could be delayed up to 200ms.

So it is not that your request to hit something is delayed, it would not be, but the appearance of the thing you want to hit in the first place may be delayed by 200ms, which is not good.

Whilst I hear gamers argue over 1ms (which is silly), 200ms is long enough to make a difference!

So, what if you lower ACK delay? The answer is each small packet will get an ACK. This could mean sending dozens more ACKs (yes, increasing traffic sent). But it means massively reduced interactive delay. The ADSL line delay will mean some messages clumped together still because of the Nagle algorithm but there is nothing you can do about that unless Blizzard turn it off. They may have good reasons not to, as it would greatly increase traffic due to packet headers. Bear in mind, at 40 bytes of data at least half the packet is headers!

Will this improve game play? Maybe. The delay before was a jitter. It was not a fixed 200ms but random between 0ms and 200ms. Interacting would cause ACKs to be sent as part of normal packets being sent from the client. It is quite possible that in a battle there is enough traffic both ways not to make any real difference to the interactive latency. It is hard to say, and not easy to analyse without a dump of the application layer at Blizzard to compare. Basically it may help!

One thing it does do is make the reported latency a lot lower and that probably has a big placebo effect on gamers :-)

Saturday, 12 December 2009

A moment's peace?

OK, I am still coding the new ordering system back-end this weekend, but I am determined to have a break at some point and try and play some WoW!

The winetricks shell script sorted the strange errors from WoW on my linux box, and it works nicely now (once again).

The fridge is stocked with cider.

I even have new reading glasses so I can sit right in front of the 30" screen...

Friday, 11 December 2009

Tescos being arses again

So my son is refused alcohol again at tescos, even though he ID'd he (he's 19).

This time they refused to sell rather than stole it off him after the sale, but it was close, they pressed a button to cancel the authorisation of the sale on their self service tills just before he put the money in. Yes, they have already authorised it...

However, it will happen again and chances are they will try and steal it off him after the sale again.

He is planned to wear a t-shirt with his name on it when he goes shopping at tescos in future. That way the surveillance video clearly identifies him and is subject to the Data Protection Act and he can request a copy!

90% population getting 2M by 2017

WTF is that about. It has to be the biggest cop-out ever and a reason to scrap the 50p tax if ever I heard one.

I am sure more than 90% can get some sort of broadband now.
Simply putting in more lines to anyone that wants 2M will get them 2M.

Job done.

Yes, it would cost a bit more, but most things would and cost was not part of their target.

In fact, I will try and get some stats. If we can do 500K to 90% pop now, I will announce that AAISP has reached the governments target for 2017 already.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Broadband tax

Why? How? WTF???

I can't see how to define a phone line if I tried.
I dread to think.

PSTN, OK, 1 line, 50p.
ISDN2 on copper. Is that one line (BT say "one line") or two channels to £1, or 10 numbers (say) so £5, or what?
ISDN30 on 3 copper pairs. Is that 1 line, 8 channels, 3 pairs, 1000 numbers or what?
ISDN30 on fibre. That is not anything taxable I hope, but not down to end user to say fibre or copper to BT when installed.
SDSL on a copper pair - does that count?
EFM on 4 pairs - is that 0, 50p or £2?

And then you have a few specifics.

1. A&A provide my phone service using a TA on ethernet in my loft on a fibre. The TA is A&As so I get "analogue phone service" from A&A who are a telco. The analogue line is maybe 10cm long and in my loft, but do I pay 50p tax on that? Logically it is no different to a normal BT line!

2. A&A provide phone lines for broadband to end users. But they are not used for calls. They cannot call numbers in the national dialling plan, so not PATS or POTS. Will they be taxable I wonder?

3. We provide a neighbouring office with phones, 6 phones via a cat5 which is 4 copper pairs but 10/100 so using only 2 pairs and I think 10 numbers. How many 50p's is that?

They will get the definition sooooo wrong it will be a joke.

And openreach will charge us the 50p I bet and we will cite the law and say NO and withold the 50p. I can see the arguments now.

They only have 2 things to do

Well 3...

- space
- power
- aircon

And they fucked up the power.

Long day. What can I say.

Anyway, some dual phase rack power feeds, local UPSs and dual fed boxes to come... What fun.


Is fucking useless when you actually need it.
Has taken me an hour to make one status post on our web site.


Well, blizzard's latest patch breaks WoW on wine 1.0 and wine 1.1.32
Trying wine 1.1.34 now.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

On the radio

Why I did not blog at the time. I was on radio1, 2 hours and 1 minute in.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

date command madness

OK, is it me or am I being thick.

Linux date command takes a -d argument which is very useful as it allows a description of the time you want.

e.g. date -d "5 minutes" done at 08:23:37 today gives Sun Dec 6 08:28:38 GMT 2009
Its really useful. You can even do things like date -d "next tuesday" which says Tue Dec 8 00:00:00 GMT 2009. I use it all the time.


date -d "07:48 -1 minute" gives Sun Dec 6 07:50:00 GMT 2009
date -d "07:48 -2 minute" gives Sun Dec 6 07:51:00 GMT 2009
date -d "07:48 -3 minute" gives Sun Dec 6 07:52:00 GMT 2009
date -d "07:48 -4 minute" gives Sun Dec 6 07:53:00 GMT 2009


date -d "07:48 +1 minute" gives Sun Dec 6 07:48:00 GMT 2009
date -d "07:48 +2 minute" gives Sun Dec 6 07:47:00 GMT 2009
date -d "07:48 +3 minute" gives Sun Dec 6 07:46:00 GMT 2009
date -d "07:48 +4 minute" gives Sun Dec 6 07:45:00 GMT 2009

Is it just me or is that kind of backwards...

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Flashing lights

This is something that has bugged me forever and what gets me is that lots of people have no clue WTF I am talking about.

Some lights flash at high frequencies. I find many of them distracting and annoying. This is especially the case in a car at night. The worst are the yellow lights on traffic cones at road works. I don't mean the blinking a couple of times a second type flashing, I mean that the yellow light is actually strobed, probably at around 1KHz... But the new solar powered cats-eyes are strobed too, and many newer cars have pulsed red LED tail lights.

When not moving and looking fixed at one of these lights they look like they are on solidly (if they are much more than around 50Hz). But you don't look in one fixed place. When moving my vision from one object to another, or when in a car and the lights are moving, they leave dotted patterns on my peripheral vision and that drives me mad. They cry our for attention. I find myself looking to the flashing light. Its distracting and annoying and possibly dangerous.

Some lights are not as much of an issue, and in fact I think it is the on/off ratio that is what causes the annoyance. Normal yellow sodium street lights as you get on motorways are probably on for 90% of the time or more and around 100Hz I would guess. They do leave a dotted line on my vision when looking from one place to another, but it is almost solid and the edges are not as sharp. The traffic cone lights however are proper strobed, maybe 1% on and 99% off or something. Even though they may be up near 1KHz, they are probably the most annoying.

Now, there are clearly very different ways people see things. I have tried at great length to explain this to friends and family when in a car with them, and they just can't see it. They swear blind that the lights are on solidly. I have so far only found one person that can see the issue (and they find it annoying too).

Do tell me I am not totally mad!


Fun what you can do with a bit of welsh slate and a laser!

Friday, 4 December 2009

na na na na na na na na na na²

Just when you thought you had heard it all.

Our favorite telco now have a department for ISPs to advise of major incidents in their network. It has taken around 9 years of nagging to get them to realise that they need such a department; that ISPs can sometimes spot major issues; and that they don't always spot them themselves.

That department has a phone number and email address.

However, if you email them details of an issue they will deliberately ignore the email as a matter of policy.

You have to call them to tell them you are sending an email!

So even if they have information detailing a major network incident, and even if it is from a known ISP with complete details of the issues, they will pretend they cannot see it and pretend all is well with the network. They won't even just go and look and see if maybe it is broken where we say it is.

How's that for a communications company?

Thursday, 3 December 2009


OK, the TV programme on BBC moaning about people leaving things on standby!

They are highlighting things like laptops hibernating. My laptop serious uses fuck all when on standby.

Also, they completely forgot that half the year (and certainly this time of year) every Watt of electricity is actually running 100% efficient heater which heats the house and so saves the heating system doing so. Yes, gas vs electric as efficient heating is a possible issue, but it means the whole issue of power supposedly wasted is missing quite a lot of the point.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009


Damn blogspot - wrong blog!

Sky still have not sorted my cards - total arseholes - what can I say.

Update: Finally, after 3 days, it is working. Took probably 2 to 3 hours of phone calls in total.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Of course I no longer want Sky HD ?!

So, have a Sky+HD box, a few years old, and finally on the blink a bit. Want a replacement. How hard can it be?

1. They insist on an engineer visit to install the new one?!?!??! WTF

This is replacing a box like for like. It is really easy! Anyone able to unscrew an F'ing connector can do it!

But no, must be engineer. Apparently to "activate the manufacturers warranty". Why? I am more than happy with statutory rights under sale of goods act and distance selling directive, I don't need the manufacturers warranty. But no, they insist. So more expense.

2. Apparently, if you replace a Sky+HD box with a Sky+HD box then Sky automatically de-activate the subscription to HD services (don't get me started on how much of a rip off that is).

But why do they do that? It makes no sense. I have not asked to stop having HD. I have a HD TV. I have a Sky+HD box before and am replacing it with a Sky+HD box. How hard can it be to realise that maybe I don't want to make any change to my subscription?

And when trying to get this sorted they go on about how it will cost me £10/month extra to activate it. It took ages to get out of the woman that they had de-activated it as a matter of course and so actually it will cost the same as before and not £10/month more at all!

Why are they such numpties?

16:39 Arrrg! Worse. They seem unable to re-enable the HD and Sky+ because they are cancelling it on the old box. What the box has to do with the subscription I don't know! Right now I have a Sky+HD box that is neither Sky+ or HD. Grrr.
16:49 I think the hold music is killing brain cells.
16:55 I am not sure I can take it any more... arrg
17:00 OK they cannot put Sky+ and HD back on the viewing card, so they are going to move another viewing card to work with this box. WTF are they playing at. How broken is their system?
17:10 so now we don't have any Sky until they activate the new card!
19:30 and still not working. I am seething.
21:30 So much for may take 4 hours. Plonkers.

Ha! When I edit this blogspot gives me an advert for Sky !?!??!

Being a meany

OK, I am being mean to South West Trains today. I know. It is wrong....

I got 1st class to Twickenham the other day for the Rugby. 1st is a rip off, and actually I keep forgetting you can upgrade to 1st class for £5 on SWT at the weekends and they never remind me at the ticket office either. Ever since I got quite a big broadband deal from someone I bumped in to in 1st class I tend to get 1st class train tickets. You never know.

Anyway, train packed and so was 1st class and guard announced that 1st class had been declassified and all seats were standard class. Explains why 1st class was packed. Annoying, as the whole reason for getting 1st was because the train would be packed and I was prepared to pay extra not to be crammed in. The one time you actually want exclusivity that they decide to let everyone in 1st class!

So I write explaining as per terms that I am entitled to a refund in price difference as no 1st class available.

I eventually get a reply providing vouchers for the difference as a good will gesture!!!

Here is the mean bit. I have written back explaining that a good will gesture is nice, and thank you, but that does not discharge contractual obligations and I await my refund as per the contract terms in addition to any good will gestures.

Maybe it was the 14 hour fasting for a blood test this morning that has put me in a mean mood.


Thursday, 26 November 2009

Are the lights on?

OK, I don't know what to say... Its all about the customer that I sacked.
After my last email, after a few days, I got a polite reply confirming she was using the migration code to go to another ISP and did not want the domain. Good. She clearly calmed down a lot. My email must have done the trick!

Then it starts getting silly....

1. I replied with "Thank you". She quoted my reply including the "Thank you" saying she had just got her email back with nothing else and so did not understand! Some people have no clue how to use email it seems.

2. Today she went off line and assumed *I* had disconnected her early, so called up very cross, and spoke to a couple of staff here being quite angry on the phone. Insisting we had cut her off. It was not until someone from the power company knocked on the door to apologise for cutting off her power that she realised the power was off and just maybe that is why she was off line.

Granted she called back to apologise, which is good.

But I feel a whole lot better for sacking that customer now.

You can't make this stuff up you know!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Do people still use photocopiers?

So, we get an emailed "form" to fill in.

At the top of the document is says (Please photocopy for additional delegates)

But but but - am I not allowed you just print more than one copy?
And why not just make it a web form in the first place. Print, sign and fax, how '80's.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

"Special" Engineers

They are at it again! Just occasionally our favorite telco try and charge us for "special" engineers. Our main gripe now is the time it takes to get past their hard sell and get them to fix a fault.

They try and push their "special" engineers almost to the point of refusing to fix a fault, and it often takes half an hour arguing to get past that. Even so, occasionally, they charge.

What is even sillier now is they just can't cope if we dispute the charges they do make!

We dispute on the basis we did not order the "special" engineers. Simple. And the contract lets us withhold the money, which we do. But they have a whole department for disputing the clear code for the visit - i.e. whether it is £0 or £144 for the engineer visit depending on what he found. We're not disputing the clear code at all, we're disputing that we ordered the service. So it is a waste of time talking to that department.

But they can't cope with the money staying unpaid. They keep insisting that we have to talk to this other department. They fail to understand that in fact they just have to show somehow that we ordered the service or remove it from the bill. We have said we're happy for the amount to stay in dispute until erased under the Limitations Act in 6 years.

What is more fun is that if ever it gets to court or arbitration we are in the rare situation of being able to prove a negative. Well, not quite, but demonstrate one anyway. We put notes on faults saying we are not ordering their "special" engineering service. We say so on the [recorded] calls to them. We even have an automated system that responds when their system thanks us for booking a "special" engineer saying they are mistaken and not to go ahead with any chargeable service. We we can demonstrate that before, during and after the supposed booking we made it clear we were not ordering the service!

No idea how it will end this time but we are sticking to our guns, and trying to get ISPA involved now as well.

We have said that we'll faff about with their clear code dispute team if they like. It won't change the dispute anyway. And that we'll only charge £144 per item for up to 2 hours work which we are sure they will consider a fair rate for our time.

What is a concern is that for new services (FTTC) they are trying to charge for reporting faults that they clear as "right when tested", even if they did not test at the delivery point, or did not test for long enough to see the fault, or tested and showed the sync below threshold. We think they will try and make this apply to normal broadband in the future! In fact they charge for both reporting and for clearing such faults - scary...

What can I say?

Friday, 20 November 2009

Do they not teach maths in school any more?

So they say they are removing the VAT and then say they are reducing prices by 15%

Surely they mean 13%

And then you have the whole argument that the reduced price still contains VAT so it is not actually removing the VAT anyway!

Oh, and whats the betting that come January, with VAT changing from 15% to 17.5% shops start adding 2.5% to the VAT inc price?

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Being rude to a customer?

Well, this is one of those occasions when readers may agree or disagree with me and I have no idea. Comments welcome either way! It will be interesting to see what people think.

We have a customer who asked for a simple change of some details on her account. She provided very few details, not enough for our normal accounts staff to identify her, and certainly not enough to authenticate that she is really the customer. We asked for the account number as confirmation and she started getting cross saying we were being unnecessarily bureaucratic and that she did not have it. As it happens she then sent a separate email on a different ticket with a copy invoice but that was not being handled the the same person and so she was asked again for the account number. At no point did she actually simply state "my account number is A1234A" (for example) but eventually we got the details and made the changes for her.

Annoying, a bit of a communications breakdown, but at least it was all sorted, or so I thought.

She is now ranting about reporting us to a regulator, and eventually got past "the regulator we report to", OFCOM, and "the organisation that we report to that represents OFCOM", to the fact that there is an ombudsman she can take disputes to. Her gripe is that we (myself and accounts staff) were rude to her!

Well, I am not a person to ask about rude. I find it hard to tell when something is rude or not and am well known for sarcasm and tactlessness. I am, I think, blunt to put it tactfully! This is why it is best if complaints don't get as far as me :-) It has on previous occasions got positive responses from customers and defused complaints quite well. Not this time!

Well, what do you do? I have spoken to the staff and they seem to agree that in their personal opinion she is a pain in the arse and has a screw loose. She takes up a lot of time apparently. Well - they are entitled to their opinion aren't they and I'm not naming her! So I am sure our loyal customers would rather we did not waste resources on stupid complaints and queries that just go on and on, so I've decided to give her 30 days notice, as we can. Its a shame if a business relationship breaks down and I would rather not, but that's life.

Even so, she is still adamant about reporting us to OTELO for being rude. WTF?

To quote from my last email to her...
There is no point in taking a complaint like this to some "higher authority". This is not school. This is real life.

In real life people can be rude to other people and that is tough! Its a shame, but that is life. Sorry if this is a hard lesson for you.

What outcome do you think you could get by taking this matter to the ombudsman? Do you think we will be "dragged before the headmaster and told off". It does not work like that. We have a contract with you and we have adhered to that and so have you. That is all you can expect in life.

I believe your accusations are unfounded anyway, but that is beside the point. If we have been rude - so what? You were very rude to my staff in your emails for no good reason, so I suggest you take a life lesson here and drop it!
Anyway, I have provided her with a migration code, which technically we don't have to do if there is a pending cease on the line. I've also asked OTELO to confirm they don't consider complaints of being "rude". Basically such a complaint cannot realistically go anywhere. What could OTELO do. Rude is not technically wrong is it, in any legal sense? The most that she could ask for is an apology and as OTELO costs us either way why would I give one?

Did I do bad?

BTW I think this is the first customer I have actually sacked in over 12 years of trading!

One hour optical lab, my arse

The only reason to go to all the way to Reading to Vision Express the one hour optical lab is because of the one hour optical lab.

Last time I got glasses I went in, got an eye test, went shopping for an hour, got glasses and went home, job done.

Apparently now they don't stock any of the photochromic lenses! WTF?!?

So two weeks for new glasses. Total waste of time going to Reading. I could have gone to one of the opticians in Bracknell.

Oh, and to top it off, they say why not get some Zeiss lenses as they are custom made and so much more precise and much better. But hang on! their promise is to Make your glasses to the highest quality within one hour in our optical laboratory... The custom made lenses could only be much better if the once made in their lab were not of the highest quality.. Sounds like total crap to me one way or another.

Anyway, next time, local optician in Bracknell. Way to keep customers Vision Express...

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Duplex mismatch

So bloody annoying and I have tried an SOR in to our favourite telco and they just ignore us.

Why oh why do they insist on setting Ethernet ports to fixed full duplex. not even auto negotiate announcing only full duplex - but fixed full duplex.

Every bloody time we are involved in any way with an install people get this wrong. People are used to networking just working, but if you connect to any of this telco's circuits that is Ethernet (under 1Gb) you must have a managed switch port of some sort that you can manually set to the right speed and full duplex.

There are many bits of kit that will not allow you to set that or don't work. The best bet is a managed switch, and they tend to be a few hundred quid.

It is just so damn stupid of the telco.

FYI gigabit is only sane because the standard prohibits them fucking this up.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Ignorance is bliss...

Well, I was bored yesterday (not sure how I found the time to be bored) and watched a few episodes of Bones on Sky.

Now, I'm not an anthropologist or biologist or chemist, so generally the episodes are entertaining. But the last one was a murder case that was all about someone hand carrying a briefcase in to the US which ultimately had a USB stick in it. It was meant to be mere diamonds and the whole crux of the episode was that information is valuable. They even had someone using steganography (they even said the word).

The problem is, of course, I have some vague idea of information technology.

The whole point of steganography is that you cannot tell the hidden data is there and certainly can't just spot "this image file is way bigger than it should be" and press a few buttons to find some hidden data on the screen.

Of course there were days when information was hand carried in a brief case (though not on a USB stick), mainly by the likes of banks. This was for encryption or security codes before the use of public key encryption. There are also ways that memory cards can be used to covertly get information in/out of a building past security (I saw an impressive memory card inside a pound coin that you would not see on x-ray even, apparently).

But of course, these days, if you wanted to convey some information, you can do so by many means using simple public key encryption and the internet. No way someone would hand carry a USB stuck in a metal brief case handcuffed to your arm.

I suspect if I was an anthropologist or biologist or chemist I would probably cringe at every episode though....


Hmm. It seems we now have a dog...
I'm not really a dog person.

It goes by the name of Lilly and is shaped to fit in a hot-dog bun...

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Low def

Is it me, or do other people find it annoying/stupid that the advert on the start of HD movies on Sky, e.g. for some HD TV or other, than sponsors the HD programmes is in low def and looks pixely...


Stupidity tax?

I have probably had a rant on this before but every time it happens it winds me up.

We expect people to put the right reference on BACS payments to us. Its not unusual. Its why BACS has an 18 character reference in the first place - for the benefit of the beneficiary. If you pay water, gas, electric, telephone, rates, council tax, VAT, corporation tax, PAYE contributions to HMRC, heck - almost anything, you have to put the right reference. We're not unusual.

Occasionally a new customer will put something daft, we'll eventually work out who it is (sometimes by waiting for them to complain that we are chasing a bill that has been paid) and explain that they have to put the right reference. That usually sorts it. Policy is to actually send at least two real letters by post explaining this... Only if they persist do we charge an admin fee of £5+VAT for manually handling the payment (cheap price for my time I think).

When we charge £5 admin fee for this we try to include it on the normal invoice, but this does not always work as planned especially on quarterly bnilled customers, so sometimes our system raises an invoice for just £5+VAT which states "Admin fee (reduced): manual processing of incorrect BACS/CHAPS/FP payment. PUT THE CORRECT REFERENCE ON YOUR PAYMENTS IN FUTURE TO AVOID THIS CHARGE. See for more details."

What really takes the biscuit is when someone pays this £5.75 invoice, by BACS, without the right reference on the BACS payment, so that I have to manually allocate the payment!

Are they totally mad?

I used to have a special letter I sent in such cases, but basically if people have ignored the letters already they ignore that letter too, so there is pretty much no point in doing anything other than just charging £5.75 again for handling the £5.75 payment they just made.

Ho hum...

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Toilet Engaged

WTF is it with South West Trains and toilets?

I often have cause to return to sunny Bracknell from London late at night, and usually this means much to drink so the toilet on the train is kind of essential. The journey is an hour long.

But they often have all 4 toilets on the train marked "Toilet Engaged" and the door shut. This seems a tad unlikely.

Its a lie. Push hard on the door and find nobody in there!

So, I have to wonder. Do SWT have something to gain (or costs to save) by this lie? If they do that is criminal fraud under the Fraud act. If they do not then clearly they are not acting in the best interests of the shareholders meaning they may be comitting a criminal offence under the Companies Act (I think). I wonder which it is.

Anyway, FYI, the doors are easy enough to just push open if you try.

No response from ISP!

This is taking the piss now.

They have not only gone out of their way to ignore notes and responses on a fault, but after all the effort we have gone to in order to respond to a fault they have the cheek to come back with:-

"Fault has been awaiting CP`s response for 14 days. Fault will be auto-closed if no response is received within next 24 hours."

FFS, our response has been, several times "you can close the fault now".

What can I say to that?
"I don't believe it" does not really cover it, no matter how much I try to sound like Victor Meldrew.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

A game played by men with strange shaped balls

Well, I have never been to a football or rugby match before, but was invited to the rugby at Twickenham today. It seems we came second...

I have to say it was all very civilised. Beer/cider in the stadium even, and nothing even sounding vaguely rowdy on the way back to the station. I was amazed how many people set up stalls, mostly selling food, in their front gardens between the stadium and the station.

Overall an interesting day out, albeit rather cold (well, it is November I suppose).

Pictures on as usual, only about 400 of them.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Novatech come good

As reported novatech had a dodgy display card and we left with machines that were not the spec we expected.

They only just got our letter (bloody postal strike) but were very apologetic and are couriering some RAM to make it up to spec...

Well done. That is what we would have done, and I am glad there are other companies that do the right thing too.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Arrg punycode

Why are they doing IDN this way.

EVERY app that wants to do domains has to understand it.

WTF are they not just making hostnames and domain names that are utf-8 just valid.

I just checked, and the version of bind we run as authorative server just works using UTF-8 hostnames in its config. It just works FFS, and that is the most popular authorative server and the most popular resolver FFS.

Looks like, for some things, the resolvers allow UTF-8 and for others not. But that has to be a lot easier to fix than every app getting punycode FFS. There are like two or three caching resolvers ISPs use.

The DNS protocol has always been 8 bit clean and it seems that many commands and apps just pass the hostname through the resolver library to the resolver as is so would need no changes at all.

That would have been way less work than changing every browser, every email client, ping, dig, nslookup, whois, telnet, ssh, and so on to understand punycode.

Of course, now the browsers have changed, we can't do this at DNS as the request no longer gets to DNS!!


I may make our auth servers put the utf-8 coding of punycode hosts in to the zone file anyway so things like ping and telnet will just work. That would be cool. I'll experiment.

Monday, 2 November 2009

na na na na na na na na na na

You know, fingers in ears, making a noise so you can't hear.

Its funny when a person does that, but when a large corporation does it, its just sad, and when its a major communications company!!!

We can add notes to update a fault report, sensible. We can close faults if they need closing, sensible. But look, new technology so new fault systems, so design it differently.

Key new features:-

1. Reporter cannot close the fault until it is cleared back to them for retest.
2. Reporter can however add notes, so notes like "problem sorted you can close it now".

Next step: tell staff that it is official policy to ignore the notes put on by ISP, but don't tell the ISPs this!!!

Next step: make the system itself ignore the notes (and make the system tell the ISP this).

OK, so we email in the notes that are rejected, typically things like "looks OK now, thanks, you can close it"...

Oh, and just for fun, make it so the system will keep faults for days, weeks, even months, without sending back for retest ever. This stops any new faults being reported so saves a lot of hassle for telco!

Obviously that is bad for service level guarantee, so make the clock stop at 39 hours and 36 minutes on a 40 hour target as well. Then no payout (even if only about £1.50) as not over 40 hours.

Next step: stop taking any notice of the ISP emailing in notes now. Ignore emails and then ask the ISP to stop sending then.


What next.

Well, our plan is to FAX the update in a letter automatically to their registered office addressed to the company secretary. See if they start ignoring at that level..

What comes after that I wonder? Recorded delivery letters to the managing director's home address?

Maybe just send the boys round would be the answer but we don't do business like that, honest.


Friday, 30 October 2009

When is 40 hours not 40 hours

When it is 39 hours 36 minutes.

More importantly when it is our favourite telco measuring how long they have had a fault report and working to a 40 hour target or else pay use £1.50 compensation!!

It has happened far too often now to be a coincidence. Faults clearly with them for many days have the clock magically stop at 39 hours something.

Raising the issue has simply got no response from them.

Its got to be a con I my opinion.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Why 3 strikes

The idea the government has on some blocking of internet access and 3 strikes rule is silly.

1. If a criminal offence has been committed, prosecute the offender, lock them up or fine them. One strike. Done.
2. If a civil wrong has been committed, sue the offender, get damages for the offence. One strike. Done.

Basically, the only way any "3 strikes" rule makes any sense is if the law is made so that the first two strikes have no penalty other than counting towards the 3 strikes. To be valid, in my opinion, they would have to be proper legal action for each of those two strikes else they are merely unfounded accusations. An unfounded accusation cannot count as a strike. So "3 strikes" would mean it is harder for the music industry to take action as they have to take action 3 times (per offender). Do the music industry want that?

It also means that suddenly everyone who is downloading music that they should not be, is safe. Until they have had the first 2 strikes they know there is nothing that can be done to them. Its an open market for copyright violation! All the people that were concerned they could be sued or prosecuted no longer need to worry until the second strike, at which point they move their downloads to some other identity (neighbours wifi, etc).

It just makes no sense!


Post, from Berlin, addressed to me at an old address containing a blank folded sheet of paper in which was a franked UK 3½p and ½p stamp.


Y2.038K bug maybe?

OK, for some reason our NFS server was 10 seconds fast and this upsets Make as files seem to have future dates.

The date command on linux really does have a crap syntax doesn't it.
I set the time back 10 seconds to correct, and it all went pear shaped.

Rebooting the NFS server did not help. The client says permission denied and the server says unsupported file system or fsid= required. WTF

Turns out this is all due to my setting the clock 41 years fast...

Really helpful messages!!!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Power warning!

We have been getting alerts from nagios for one of our power switches.

This was a concern as we have very limited power in some racks.

Turns out the alert is the power switch reporting too low!!!

Its because we are using FB6000's now and they do not add up to the minimum nagios seems to handle which is 0.2A... LOL...

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Lots of monkeys with typewriters

Well, we know the old saying about lots of monkeys and typewriters and somehow one coming up with the complete works of Shakespear...

It seams like that with broadband fault reports.

Just occasionally we have cause to report a lot of identical faults, and last night was one such case. What is tellinge is these are all identical fault reports but get a huge range of different responses!

A handful identified that the fault was a major outage and even listed the reference for incident report, but many of these sent back to us for "retest" even though the incident is not closed. A small number did not.

Most came up with various excuses. Various "no fault found". Suggestions of checking drivers on the PC. Suggestions of a special engineer being sent to the end user. And so on.

Not one that was sent back for retest suggested that they had in fact fixed the fault!

To be honest, if you just said "here are a set of responses and repair actions, pick one at random" you would have a better fault system than they have now. By keeping sending teh fault back you eventually hit the correct repair action at random.

Some responses just made crap up. They said the end user was maximising their uplink... WTF! They were not. In fact, in there cases, we have reported the issue on lines that were off line, so a line off-line for the last 10 days was allegedly "maximimising their uplink".... As if that was an explanation even if true!

I have had to explain that LYING to us for the purpose of reducing the chance of paying out on the service level guarantee is actually CRIMINAL FRAUD and they could be reported to the police... Saying stuff they know is untrue so they can clear a fault back to us is CRIMINAL FRAUD. I am so sick of it now. By the way, SLG is around £1.50 on a line taking over 40 hours to fix in this case, so not a lot ut still, its fraud to lie to avoid paying it.

if only they could just do things right, and fix faults, and not make up crap...

We'll see. I have offered consultancy!

Monday, 26 October 2009

WoW, that's loud

OK, impressed. Got Bose Companion 5 speakers for the PC. Expensive. Small. Damn good.

And all I use them for is playing WoW (very occasionally)!

Tip for linux users, add options snd-usb-audio index=0 to modprobe.conf to make the bose USB speakers card 0 else most thngs (including WoW under wine) do not play!

Time's change

I have a nice Casio MTG 930DU radio controlled solar powered watch!

But it thinks "LON" (London) time zone is still UTC+1. Stupid thing.

It even gets a bit in the signal from the radio transmission formerly known as Rugby so that it knows it is back to UTC. Lets hope it works it out next week.

Mind you - I did get wondering. There are things the current young generation just don't know any more that were normal when I were a lad (see, I am turning in to an old fogy).

I wonder how long before kids of today just do not even realise the clocks change at all as every clock and device they have just handles it. It must be getting like that. I don't have to "change clocks" any more (apart from my buggy watch). I can see it being the case that one day I have to explain to some 20 year old that the clock do change and that is why once a year he gets up feeling more tired than usual on a Sunday... After all how many would understand the concept of "winding" a watch or clock?

It'll happen!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Industry Standard

I like to do things right...

We make hardware routers under the guise of FireBrick.

We do this to make stuff that actually works and is actually right. It is sensible. Its does what it says on the tin and it just works.

FireBrick is A&A and WF. WF are good guys with hardware. Heck, they are really good. These guys had to do some new stuff for the new high end FireBricks which was first time they did (I think I have this right) :-
  • Over gigahertz signals on the board
  • DDR2 RAM and all its complications
  • PCI express
  • 8 layer boards
  • BGA components
And guess what, the issue 1 boards work. They got this all right first time. FFS that is hard. Anyone with any clue on PCB layout and hardware design knows that is hard.

Now we do the software, from operating system and drivers all the way up.

So we work in an industry where major telcos set the industry standard. They have shit breaking all the time. They have things not following the standards. They have crashes every other day. The whole concept of industry standard is going down hill.

So at FireBrick we have to aim way higher than industry standard now. We want stuff that is perfect. That's the new target. Hard to hit, but that's what I am aiming at. Sod industry standard - the bar is too low now.

Oh, OK, so I am drunk posting this. So what. Stuff has to damn well work.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

May contain nuts

Either people with allergies are stupid, or (more likely) people that make product labels are nuts!

"Ellert Roasted Peanut Puffs, flavoured with 33% real roasted peanuts". Pictures of peanuts on the front. The word Peanut in lettering 30mm high on the front...

Indredients include Peanut Kernels (33%).

So they also put:-

Contains peanuts

and just in case you were not sure...

Made in a factory that processes Peanuts.


Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Food labels

Well, people put these traffic light things on food labels to make it easy for people that cannot think to see if something is good or bad for them!

But the labels are "per portion", so of course producers just make smaller recommended portions if their produce looks bad.

A 150g pack of crisps is labeled for 1/6th of a pack portions.
But its not like it is practical to re-seal it... I'll end up eating it all.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Kids and tech support

They are worse than customer!!!

So, my daughter has a sky box in her room... Just occasionally she'll moan about us watching something else and I say "use your own sky box"...

Last time (weeks ago) I get "It does not work - nothing comes on the screen". So I go up, plug it in (!) and up comes the "welcome to sky". Working. I said so. End of story. Or so I thought.

Today I get "There is no viewing card". WTF???? I go up, open the flap, viewing card present and correct. I nearly left it that, but I thought I would double check, and find the card is not authorised. Sounds like she has in fact left it unplugged for weeks so I am not surprised. Grrr

If they tell me what is wrong they would get it fixed. Why tell me other things that are not wrong. Why pretend there is no viewing card FFS.

Maybe I should have them call sky themselves next time. That would be funny.Ttry telling Sky there is no viewing card and see what support you get :-)

Arrrg! Orange

OK, so if you don't pay your bill the block calls, fair enough.

To be fair the bill was not paid. It did not arrive and we did not notice, so when the next bill arrives saying we did not pay last month, I pay the total immediately. Cleared funds in their account. Sorted, or so I thought.

Yet 4 days later and they are blocking the phone from making calls.

How hard is it to process payments. We (A&A) do them the day they arrive, and it annoys me that we don't process them until late at night. We'd like to see payments as they come in. They must get the BACS files, so why delay a few days before processing them? It makes no sense.

What really pisses me off even more than their inept payment processing is we spent about ten minutes going through menus to talk to someone to find why they had not sorted this and processed the payment only to finally get to the point of being transferred to a customer service operator and it says "sorry, calls from this phone are barred" and hangs up. WTF!!!!

Well, we'll ditch them next month I expect...

Oh, and we had asked them several times, including a written letter to put that phone on the same account as the others so we don't have this hassle, and they ignore us - so it's all their fault anyway... Grrr.

Why do people find it hard to send bills?!?!

OK, I know some of the complications, having written a billing system myself, but some people just strive to be inept and not get paid.

We have people that insist on putting bills on some sort of portal and emailing us saying it is there - but it isn't (major telco).

We have people that insist on sending a pro-forma invoice. That I do not get. It makes no sense to me. I suspect they are trying to do a VAT fiddle, i.e. not pay VAT on services until someone pays them - but the VAT rules are clear that if the good/service has been provided then there is a tax point and VAT due with only a very limited window to move it to a later invoice date. So I don't understand that. Basically, we don't pay proformas for services we have already had.

The best one is an accountants bill. They should know better as well. They send a "request for payment" which is not even a proforma invoice. The terms are "payment within 30 days of invoice", but it states "an invoice will be raised when payment is made".... So payment is never late as an invoice is never raised. We have this discussion every year when they say we are late paying and we explain that it is not 30 days from invoice yet so can't be late. They eventually raise and invoice and get paid within 30 days. Why do they do this? Arrrg!

Of course some people just don't send invoices at all but get paid via a factoring company that assumes they have and then chases us. That is always fun.

Then of course there are data centre invoices. Always a challenge. One data centre send a separate invoice for each rack or couple of racks (so lots of invoices), but are totally unable to say which rack each invoice is for (!?!??!). Then they invoice for more racks than you actually have, every month. You can see why we don't pay them by DD :-)

The irony is that we are very careful to pay everyone on time and if only they would actually send a proper invoice on time then we'd pay them. Indeed, most suppliers we pay with order as we don't really like credit.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

What, no Dilbert?

Has the world ended?

Dilbert web site just says "coming soon".

Friday, 16 October 2009

Tescos stealing from a customer

My son, aged 18, went to tescos. He bought some alcohol - fair enough. After the sale was completed, paid for and he had a receipt, whilst leaving the shop they took the bottle off him.

This is simply theft. It was his property at that point.

Their argument was that he was that his younger sister was about so they decided he was buying it for a minor. He wasn't, obviously. They can, if they wish, refuse to serve anyone for any reason. However, in this case they did serve him and the sale was completed.

So what they did was theft - pure and simple.

My son did not quite have the nerve to call 999 at the time, and they did give him his money back. Had it been me, I would have simply called the police. I think next time he may do so.

I think I may write to tescos and demand an explanation.

Thursday, 15 October 2009


Ok, I an not some eco nut as you know...

Just saw an advert where the whole point is some shoes use recycled rubber in their soles. And this is meant to be good?

Surely you want new rubber, because that means paying people to plant rubber trees. Is not planting more trees good.


Low definition TV

OK, sky please please change the way you do HD channels..

We have HD TVs and HD Sky boxes, several of them in fact. And my eyesight, although clearly not what it was, can see the difference for HD. It looks so much better and there are a lot of HD channels now.

What seems to be the general trend is an HD version of a standard channel that shows the same programs but in HD (where available). Whilst I appreciate not all channels are like that (notably BBC), most are.

So why do I even need Sky-1 (low definition) in the channel list. Surely 106 should just get me Sky-1 and as I have an HD box then it should be Sky-1 (HD)...

Even if this was some option I had to select or something. Even if this only worked for channels that are the same programmes in HD.

Time and time again I come in to the front room and find something on in low def where there is an HD version. My wife, who (sadly) can't tell the difference gets annoyed that I keep changing the channel to HD. I get annoyed that they keep recording programmes in low def.

Of course, by the time Sky realise, my eyesight will not be good enough to tell the difference :-)

Why no rants?

OK, people must read this 'cos they are asking why no rants for a while?

Simple answer - I feel like total crap. I have flu or something, bunged up and headache, etc.

Half the office have had something and been off a bit. I have been in most of this week, but I've spent most of today in bed. OK, yes in bed and on irc at times, but asleep half the time.

What we need is decent anti-virus systems for people!

Saturday, 10 October 2009

You gotta love camera phones

Just bought a motherboard/package which claimed to have 3x 3GB DDR3 1600MHz RAM.
I did not immediately spot that 3GB sticks do not exist, doh, but equally it could be 3 channels of 3GB I am sure (2GB+1GB stick in each channel).

Yes, well, it turns out to be be 3x 2GB RAM, so 6GB not 9GB, making it not such a good deal.

Went back to shop, and took a nice picture of the display card and then queried it. Obviously card removed very quickly and shop not prepared to fix.

OK, its a crap picture, but it was easy to take discretely, well, a lot more discrete than my 1D :-)

Sounds like letter to head office advising of a breach of contract. We'll see if we get 3x1GB RAM sticks...

Daft thing is I can honestly say I did not realise it was a mistake until we were driving away, so I was not trying to rip them off and exploit a mistake.

Grrr, adverts

OK, some adverts wind me up...

Our favorite telco advertising "unbeatable wireless" compared to other broadband providers. I note they have changed from being twice as good presumably because someone else also does 802.11n.

For a start it is a mix up of different things. What has wireless range in your home got to do with a broadband provider. It is down to the specific wireless kit you buy. You can buy wireless kit and use it with (or without) any broadband providers. So why mix up the two separate issues FFS.

Then you have the fact that it is "unbeatable" because wireless systems work to specific standards and licencing which means that any system using the current best available standard will be basically the same (in terms of range). The key difference I find between wifi access points is how broken they are in other ways, like crashing. To be honest the best we have found are the airport express APs.

So, I am tempted to make a package that is a broadband line with broadband ethernet router and switch and two airport express APs and some cat5.

Having two APs in the package means it beats their wireless offering (in terms of range, which is what they are comparing). It only takes one broadband provider offering one such packet to defeat their claim on national TV adverts.... Hmmm

Friday, 9 October 2009

Banning anti-virus code?

OK, not saying who, but we are looking at a contract for IP transit which says, amongst other things that we cannot transmit any virus or other computer software designed to impede the operation of ... any computer software or hardware...

Is it me, or does that mean we cannot send/receive anti-virus software as anti-virus software is specifically designed to impede the operation of other software (the virus)!

It also means we can't transfer code for our firewall products as firewalls specifically stop communications and so impede all sorts of software.

They also ban anything that is otherwise objectionable which is rather extreme. I can see this blog being banned on that basis :-)

All good fun.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Teenager's take on IPv6

My son cannot really get to grips with the fact technology does not just work and gets rather annoyed when it does not.

I think he fails to realise that people will always get stuff that is just as crap as people will put up with. If everyone refused to buy things that were not perfect, easy to use, obvious, and just worked then manufacturers (well, apart from apple) would have to do a lot more work (and take longer) to make the products just right. It is because people put up with stuff that nearly works that things are not better.

The best bit is his take on IPv6. He reckons IPv4 should just be turned off one day in 2011. A bit like "TV switchover to digital". And how to make sure everyone knows? Well that is easy, a big flashing banner on the book of face...

Oh I remember when I was a teenage (just). Oh how much simpler things seemed to be then...

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Call themselves a communications company

What sort of total bloody idiots actively ignore communications?

Our favourite telco have changed their systems now so that when we update a fault they say Please note only the parameters "CP contact & access details, hazard notes, and appointment info" will be actioned.

I.e. they are now ignoring the note deliberately.

This applied even when the note we are adding is "The fault appears to be fixed so you can close it now".

Sounds like time to make our system automatically email our account team every update.

If google can do it so can I

Well, except I have used an IEC16022 (datamatrix) barcode from my web site

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

How not to make a web site

Barclays on-line banking allows me to update home/work email and phone details.

Seeing as they said no email logged, I clicked on the update, filled them in and got :-

"30505 - Sorry - we have not been able to carry out your request. Please try again later."

Really helpful.

I tried a few times and got the same.

Then I spotted in the update page :-

"NOTE: Where updates are required to both the Work and Home details, these will have to be completed separately. For example, the work details should be updated and then saved by selecting the green 'Save' button before returning back to this screen to complete the Home details or vice versa."

  • Why have that restriction?
  • If you have that restriction why create a totally nonsense cryptic error when someone does not notice and tries to add an email address to both home and work at the same time?
  • If you have the restriction how hard is it to grey out the home details as soon as I edit work details or have them as separate update screens?

Monday, 5 October 2009

Sky eco hype?

OK, having crashed my sky box I restarted it and get a nice red and greed sky logo with an iguana on it saying... "We all can do our bit to be greener. By switching your sky box to standby, together we can save enough energy to light all the homes in Birmingham for a whole year..."


Whatever saving is made is on-going. If everyone switching sky boxes to standby saves enough energy to light all the homes in Birmingham then surely it does so forever, well, as long as people are still switching to standby. Where does the "for a whole year" come in?

Did I miss something or does eco hype not have to make any sense whatsoever?

Making your own rules

Well, almost as good as moving the goal posts - I thought I'd give people an insight in to the fault handling of our favourite telco.

Believe it or not they do give us a very tiny amount of compensation if they don't fix a fault in 40 hours. It is often not even money back for the time the fault lasted so not worth much, but we make a point of getting them to pay anyway.

However, the 40 hours is the time it is with them. And they run the clock! i.e. the time while they send back for re-test, even when they know it does not pass their own tests, does not count.

So, for example, we have a case were we reported a fault. It was definitely a fault there end as it affected a number of lines, and they were all fixed at once. We added a note that the fault had finally been fixed about 2 days later, so well over the 40 hours.

Some 46 days after reporting they finally close the fault. That is no comment, no update, no feedback for 46 days!

OK, so we did not chase anyway as it was actually fixed, but still, 46 days! What kind of a system allows a fault to just stay open for 46 days.

Anyway, they finally cleared it - claiming we cancelled the fault (not true) and saying the total clock time was 39 hours 36 minutes.


The annoying thing is they don't even care. We won't get a sensible explanation or anything.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

New tariffs

OK, this is on my personal blog as you can post comments and ask questions. But basically AAISP are looking at new tariffs.

However, we have a slight difficulty because we have so many choices. I am not sure of the best way to offer simple clear and understandable tariffs which are fair.

Basically, we have three types of line:-
1. 20CN, and these are gradually being moved to 21CN over several years
2. 21CN
3. BE

The lines have different base costs, with 21CN being lowest, 20CN costing maybe 30% more, and BE costing a lot more (about 4 times a 21CN line).

The lines have different usage costs now, and this will be even more the case from January. BE lines are the lowest. From Jan 21CN lines will be around 6 times as much as BE line and 20Cn lines around 15 times as much as BE line.

So we need to dream up tariffs and options that fit and handle people with multiple different types of lines, but are understandable.

For a start, I am thinking we separate line cost and usage. This also helps with min terms on BE lines (6 months) as that could be line cost only with usage stopping when the line is stopped.

However, usage is complicated. Current ideas include :-

1. Charging as now, based on GB, based on time of day, and preset usage levels and excess charging, but different rates for different types of line.
2. Having usage levels, e.g. 1Mb/s committed with bursting but with automatic limiting after an hour or two to ensure usage never averages more than committed rate and so no risk of excess usage charged
3. 95th percentile billing with a base commit level and higher rate over charges.

All are possible, but we don't know what people want to do.

It is also not clear how best to handle bonded lines with say 21CN and BE where the usage is different but we in effect have to commit to 21CN side for the total to allow for BE breaking.

So, I am open to suggestions on this.

Timescales are that we would probably launch BE lines on some sort of new tariffing system in October, but the 20CN/21CN lines on a new tariffing January.


Thursday, 1 October 2009

Back to reality

Well, expensive holiday, but that was the idea. Never again will I say "don't worry about the price" in a hotel buffet. Mind you "Of course you can have a pampering day in the health club at the hotel" was a maybe a bit rash of me. The main thing is we all enjoyed ourselves. F1 was fun. The whole holiday was fun.

We even had a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar at Raffles. And I now have a new suit that fits perfectly. Well, you have to if you go to Singapore don't you.

Of course, the second we are back in the UK we have things go wrong. Two hour wait for the pre-booked taxi (well, for the replacement from the AWOL pre-booked taxi). So we waited in Starbucks. At least in Singapore you can understand what they say in Starbucks, and can understand the taxi drivers. Not sure that was true this morning on either count.

Now back down to Earth, and even though I have booked Thu/Fri as holiday I think I will be busy. Something screwed up usage stats from the bills, so I have to fix that rather urgently. I am sure it is something simple, but re-constructing correct data is always fun(?).

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

We're too efficient?

When we report a fault on a broadband line to our suppliers, wherever possible, we try and identify a clear quantifiable test criteria which we can test.

This means that when our favourite telco send it back "for retest" we can carry out the retest automatically, confirm if fixed or not, and reject the clear back to them if the retest fails. We make a point of clearly stating the test we carried out, when we carried it out and what the outcome was whenever clearing the reject.

Obviously we also monitor manually and escalate and so on as necessary, but our systems can handle the basics 24 hours a day.

The numpties only have the cheek to complain via the account team that we have some automation clearing rejects and they do not like it!!!

Rather than address the real issue - that they send back faults without actually fixing them, sometimes hundreds of times, they are actually complaining that we are efficient in performing the retest THEY ASKED US TO CARRY OUT...

Talk about losing the plot.

They clearly run the fault desk as a game - getting points for rejecting faults quickly, etc, rather than actually trying to resolve issues. And our efficiency upsets their high score.

Needless to say I have sent in an official complaint at the number of times they reject faults without fixing them, and have a list of example faults and number of rejects which was, err, copy/paste from their complaint to us!!!

It is a waste of time I am sure. But who knows.

Airport WiFi!

OK, so airport lounge has free wifi, as it should.

Only trick is that they seem to be lacking a DHCP server at the moment!

A quick tcpdump shows a lot of NETBIOS packets from 169.254.x.x and lots of unanswered bootp requests. Ho hum. A lot of puzzled faces curing at their laptops too.

Thankfully it was pretty obvious what network was in use (192.168.0/224) and gateway (, and the hotel's DNS servers still in my config worked as well. So I have wifi!

How hard can it be to get things like this right FFS.

Card fraud protection is not protecting ME

As expected, one of my cards has got blocked this holiday by a bank's fraud protection.

OK, I can understand why they do it. But I wish they would be honest about it. I spoke to my bank manager and he said they can turn this off but then I would not have any fraud protection on my card.

What they seem to forget is that is someone pretends to be me and convinces them to part with money it is the bank that have been defrauded and not me. Any inconvenience I suffer is a side effect of that and down to the bank's gullibility. Nobody fooled me or lied to me - someone fooled the bank. I was not involved.

What winds me up even more is that when it is me that is defrauded, e.g. when some company failed to put through a refund, the bank were not interested in helping at all.

They are protecting themselves at significant inconvenience to me.

Now, if they did send transactions and authorisations as they happen then I could tell them if their was any fraudulent activity when it happens. They could even have a query mechanism by some means to double check any they thought were suspect. A little bit of sensible use of technology would avoid all of this inconvenience.

What I really want from a bank!

I heard an advert on the way to the airport coming here along the lines of Wouldn't it be nice if your bank did other stuff like roadside assistance or insurance, etc... which kind of winds me up.

What I really want from a bank is to manage money. To actually send me details of transactions and authorisations by some means (such as XML SOAP) as they happen. To send full transactions details for BACS and fast payments with the sort-code and account number and payment reference. To allow me to simply submit digitally signed payment and transfer requests (XML SOAP again would be fine).

Why can't any banks just get this right. A queued transaction posting system would be a lot easier on their computer systems and firewalls than their existing on-line banking systems.

How hard can it be?

I have tried asking banks and got nowhere. Maybe we should set up as a bank (not one that lends money).

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Back to work soon :-(

Well, it has been a fun holiday, but I head back tomorrow. We're off to Raffles tonight as everyone says you can't go to Singapore without seeing Raffles!

F1 was fun... Got a few pictures.

Much work to do when I am back...

I wonder how our favourite telco have been getting on. I get the impression that they are trying to sort the major issues with the new network, albeit slowly. Not quite so many major screw ups the last week.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Lions and Tigers and Bears

OK, if you are ever in Singapore I do not recommend the famed Night Safari...

It is probably not too bad as something to do at the end of a day at the Singapore Zoo.

Basically it is a tram ride around the catchment area in the dark (well, duh!) and yes you do see many varieties of animals (including lions, tigers, and bears). But the overall effect is not unlike a ghost ride with dimly lit alcoves left and right with stationary animals just about visible and an inane commentary from someone that sounds like they do voice over for the discovery channel, badly.

It is not really anything like a safari and not a patch on Longleat.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Moving goal posts

One of the fun things about a rate adaptive ADSL service is that, unlike fixed speed services (500K, 1M, 2M) an adaptive service can, err, adapt!

This means that when there is a fault, instead of just breaking, a line can often adapt to a lower speed. Sometimes much lower.

Of course there are also cases where speeds change anyway due to changes in line characteristics. This can be short term and long term variations. Other lines in the same bundle using ADSL, etc. So some variation is part of what is normal for an adaptive service.

So, if you are sensible, you work out what a new line can do, a maximum stable rate (MSR), and then you set a fault threshold (FTR) below which a sync rate is considered to be a fault based on a straight margin below the MSR.

This gives a nice clear defined rule on the allowable variation of a line sync rate and divides normal from faulty nicely with no argument. A line has been drawn and everyone knows where it is.

Of course, if you are a major telco, you may find this rather inconvenient, and think that maybe it would be a lot easier to just move the goal posts rather than fix the fault. Doing that manually was bad enough, but wouldn't it be even easier to move it automatically when a fault is reported.

Then, of course, you make sure that the agents on the fault desk think that is normal and have never seen the contract or handbook which clearly explains the FTR is set for the life of the service and that sync below the FTR shall be investigated. No, far better to have long arguments with ISPs until the give up.

Of course, for added fun, make it so that if you report a below threshold fault you send engineers that do not understand and just check there is sync (at any rate) and report as right when tested so you can charge £160 for a special engineer (even if a special engineer was not ordered). Just to rub salt in the wound you can have the engineer report what sync speed he got, being below the threshold, and still say right when tested.


Friday, 25 September 2009


Is there ever a hotel that actually just works. We've had the internet in the room broken several times, no milk for coffee, flat batteries in TV remote, etc, etc...

The one thing that does work is we get free cocktails 6pm to 8pm in the club. Of course you get free cocktails but they will charge us extra if we drink the bottle of Evian in the room! And then, most of the trip, we'll be at the F1 at that time of night. Oh well.

Had a fun evening last night - one of the locals that a friend of ours knows took us to little India, saw a temple, and all sorts and had a really nice meal...

Should be an interesting few days...

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Pissed off

Just as I am about to fly out, and I see a certain major telco has just changed their billing without any warning at all. They used to bill the previous month and suddenly they catch up to billing current month so on a bill costing many tens of thousand a month I get a bill a few minutes ago that is two months in one. Bastards is all I can think. They could have at least warned me. It is not funny. Good way to start a holiday... Humph.

Monday, 21 September 2009


One of these days I'll have to do a proper course on marketing. It always confuses me.

Lately we have been very publicly berating one of our main suppliers. It is largely in an effort to get them to improve services as normal channels are not getting things fixed (and there is a lot to fix). We won't put up with a crappy service from anyone, even if that means changing suppliers after many years. But we do try and get things fixed...

What gets me, is all this doom and gloom explaining how this BRAS is broken today or that exchange is still congested, etc, seems to be getting us way more customers.

I'm not complaining. I always thought being frank and honest was good for business, but it still surprises me sometimes.

One of the best bit of marketing we came up with is offering to fix faults people have been stuck with on other ISPs. I don't think we have had to pay out on that once and the comments on thinkbroadband are great. I think Shaun is becoming a legend...

I'll get the hang of marketing one day.

Sunday, 20 September 2009


Yah, level 72.

I used to get the top-up cards for WoW as I do not play it very often. That way I would only pay when I play, well, for 60 days anyway. When I finally get it on a debit card so they charge automatically I just have no time to play at all - maybe a few minutes at a weekend!

Anyway, I am officially on holiday and actually managed to play for maybe an hour and finally leveled. It will take me years to get a character to level 80!

Thunderhorn, alliance, gnome mage, AAISP guild, RevK.

Saturday, 19 September 2009


I give up, is it just me or what.

I know how a thermostat works, it is simple. You don't have to know the inner workings. The logic is simple. Set the temperature you want. For heating systems it turns the heating on when below and off when above. The heating is only ever on or off. There is no extra on mode that heats up quicker.

So why is it that certain people (who shall rename nameless) cannot get this concept in to their head. Quote from one daughter "It was hot so I turned the thermostat down"...

But but but, it was like 29°C and the thermostat was set for 20°C so heating was off. Not surprising as it is the middle of summer and so had been off for months, and she turns it to 5°C... Like that is a sensible temperature. She expected to set it to something higher, like 30°C when it gets cold, and so on?!?

It seems that many people use a thermostat like an on/off switch. Set low to turn on, and set high to turn off (for heating systems). They just do not understand.

Its like a certain other person that insists on pre-heating a gas oven by setting to gas mark 9, and then later setting the right temperature. I think she thinks it gets hotter quicker if you set to a higher level.

And what drives me even madder is that you cannot explain it. Well, you can, but it does not actually help. They still do it...

Am I alone in finding this very annoying?