Monday, 26 December 2011

The telco that stole Christmas

Our favourite telco have very much stolen Christmas this year, not just for me, but for an elderly couple in Malvern with no Internet or VoIP phone over Christmas.

The executive summary is as follows... Our favourite telco messed up and broke the configuration on a line, and it stopped working on Friday night before Christmas. The MD of ISP (me) spent all day Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day, chasing the telco to get it fixed - dispelling and disputing every excuse and escalating all the way to Director level within the telco. This meant pretty much every half an hour checking the status, updating the customer, chasing the telco on email, echat or call, and in-between reading terms and conditions to quote at them. I did have time to open a few presents with my family in the gaps.

But lines break, and take time to fix, surely. This is not a special case is it?

Well yes, but... For a start the fault was caused by them, not some tree falling on a line, but the config on their kit. Then they take ages to make any progress, but do find the cause (well done Archana). This is to no avail as they then say that people who can fix it only work normal working days. But hang on - they agreed to fix faults within 40 clock hours - this is not even trying to fix within that time, and offering something you won't even try to achieve is unethical, dishonest, or even fraudulent... Naughty telco.

Late Christmas Eve I get someone to change their mind and pass to a 24/7 team that should be able to help. Told I have to wait until morning. Hmmm

At 5am Christmas morning I find they have chosen to order a tie pair modification (TPM). This is wrong! The customer equipment, modem, line, MSAN and even BRAS are all working - just that the session is being killed by them after a second with message "Subscriber provisioning failed". It is not a faulty port. What really winds me up is that I took the time to make very very clear to the person on the phone on Christmas Eve that two of their tests were misleading. The RADIUS test incorrectly assumes all short sessions are a "reject" by the ISP and in fact we are accepting the session, and also their TAM system that tries a login will say PPP failed which is to be expected as the link is closed within a second and does not mean the port is faulty. Even so, at 5am they decide (as TAM test PPP is failing) that it is a port fault and needs a TPM - arrrrrrrrrrrg!

To add to the fun, the first thing a TPM does is shut down the existing port (it is a process to move the service to a new port). This is mad when a line is partly working as it takes it out of service for up to 3 working days. In this case it means that at 6am the line stops trying to connect every 4 seconds and is no longer working. Our favourite telco tries to justify the TPM on the basis that the port is not working - but the TPM was 5am and the port stopped working at 6am. Time travel has been discovered it seems.

What is then strange, after a lot of shouting and even involving some direct telco staff member contacts at home at 07:22 on Christmas day morning (you are a star, Ian) and a duty manager who was working (well done John), we get the Director's Service Office involved. They work out the quickest thing now is to try and get a tie pair mod finished quickly. They are pulling strings, trying to get engineers on call and all sorts. Seems it is hard to get an engineer out on what is by then Boxing Day.

I am glad they are trying at last, but wait, this makes no sense, surely the have engineers anyway. After all they sell an "enhanced" level of support which means they work 7 days a week (even Christmas). So where are those engineers. And hang on... They have a service that means you can (for a fee) have an engineer working on this, aiming for a 7 hour fix. This means getting engineers to fix things at short notice is a standard service they offer (for a fee), so why is it a problem when they look to be in breach of contract for them to invoke those normal processes? No answer yet on that one!

Of course, one small gem in this is that at one point they said they cannot do anything Sunday as they do not have people working Bank holidays. They do have people working Bank holidays for the enhanced care. Just to add to the fun we pointed out that 25th Dec is not a Bank Holiday this year, 26th and 27th are. No reply on that one for some reason. It raises the point though - their definition of working hours (where it matters) is Monday to Saturday excluding bank holidays - so if the 25th Dec is Friday or Saturday that means the Saturday (not a bank holiday) is normal working hours. A fun one in future years I think.

The big thing here, and one of the main reasons I personally as MD of an ISP have been so tenacious about this, is that they are not even trying. To be quite honest I think I would have been just as tenacious whether it was my parents' line or not! Over and over again they will ignore the promise they made to fix a fault in 40 hours. They spend a huge amount of effort making up excuses rather than actually fixing the fault. It is especially wrong when the fault is theirs in the first place and is a "soft" fault (i.e. fixed by someone at a computer terminal).

The upshot is a lot of reading of terms and conditions which makes matters worse for them. They say they will fix within 40 hours. They say that if a visit to site is needed they will respond within working hours. The two statements are not incompatible in any way. We are quite happy for a fix in 40 hours but no "response" until working hours. The delay in "response" does not remove or change the obligation to fix in 40 hours, and the only way to achieve that is to have people working bank holidays. If they don't then they are not doing or even trying to do what they agreed to do (fix in 40 hours) and that is serious - not just breach of contract but if the initial offer was made knowing they would not try, then you have possible fraud issues. We will pin down what working hours are even when 25th Dec is a weekend and we will pin down what their contractual obligations are even if I have to pay a legal advisor. Plan is to put the exact outcome on a detailed web page so our customers know where they stand.

Whilst I am happy to say that I will always fight this cause, I am dismayed that it is a fight at all - it should not be - they should be prepared to do what they agreed (they make these terms and conditions) and work with us to make that as efficient as possible. We want that. We want lines fixed, not a huge machine in place to make excuses. They even have a process for being rude, called "hard turn back" where they will point blank refuse to help you - surely someone must have realised they were turning to the dark side when they invented that process!

Maybe worth saying what should have happened in this case, in my opinion... Their systems agreed there was a fault at the start. So someone should have looked at it, and perhaps even felt out of their depth. It is an odd one. They should have passed to someone that could understand it, and they should have passed to a team that can fix it. This could well have taken several hours, but the next morning we should have had a clear diagnosis and fix in place and been back on line. There should have been updates at each stage, even if hours apart. That is the ideal world. No need for me to bounce it back at every stage. No need to pass to departments that don't do 40 hour fixes. No need to try and make a Sunday into a Bank Holiday or invent any more excuses, and certainly no need to involve the Director's office. If they had done that then a handful of people would be involved for a matter of minutes each. Instead I dread to think how many people have spent how many hours on this. I alone have spend most of three days on this, days I should have been with my family, or at least in Azeroth...

As it stands they are really not working together on this, and are making it a battle. When they have an ISP like us that stands up for what is right and want to actually fix faults they will always have a battle unless they change that attitude. We can be a valuable asset or a major foe, and it is their choice. But maybe their heart is two sizes too small... Bah Humbug...

Happy ending? To be added (see below). As of time of posting the line is still not working - in fact after eventually getting a TPM and chasing why it did not work for some hours we have got back to the state the line was in at the start, on Friday night - connecting and being closed by their end with "Subscriber provisioning failed". I wonder what next.

Update: 18:32:47 boxing day - on-line. Finally. Simply needed a "rebuild" of radius and mux config - something they could have done Friday night.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

BT invent time travel

In chasing BT since Friday on a fault I have had a couple of absolute gems I thought I would share...

Backwards time travel

They are saying they have to do a TPM (tie pair modification) because the port is down, but the logs confirm the TPM was ordered at 05:07am but the port did not stop working until 06:04am. So they must have invented time travel to use the port being down as the reason for the TPM being ordered.

Forwards time travel

They have decided that clocks stop for UK holidays. This is one we are going to have to research in the T&Cs somewhat. They say that the "40 clock hours" excludes UK public holidays. That seems crazy to me, but it might in fact be what the contract says. I'll report back on that. They have, of course, slightly shot themselves in the foot on this as today (25th) is not a UK public holiday (it is a religious festival, the public holidays are Monday and Tuesday), so that is not an excuse even if the T&Cs do exclude them.

Lets see how this one pans out. I have a more comprehensive and scathing blog post to follow on this when I get the wording right.

Friday, 23 December 2011

What happened to Christmas this year?

OK, apparently it is not just me.

For a start, how is this evening not Christmas Eve? It feels like it. It seems somehow a 24 hour lul in the middle between now and proper Christmas. We finished work - we had pizza at lunch time - we put presents under the tree - we got pissed - we played with light sabres in 3D... It must be Christmas Eve.

Even so, Christmas seems to be broken this year some how - not the usual enthusiasm or anything. I have got a few key pressies for a few people, but it sort feels not very Christmassy at all.

Just not quite there. I am sure a lack of snow is not helping, but that is not unusual - snow next month I expect...

Well, I guess Merry New Year and a Happy Chistmassy thing to all of you...

Thursday, 22 December 2011

3D computer games

I have already mentioned a bit about 3D TV, and especially Sky 3D which sort of cheats by sending a normal HD picture which happens to be two side by side squashed images. The TV separates them, stretches them and presents one to each eye. It is a cunning way to use older technology to send something new. The storage, transmission, Sky box, recordings and everything sees it as just a normal HD image until your TV does the magic. In my case the TV is a large Sony which alternates the left/right image and uses active shutter glasses controlled by infra-red to block one eye at a time. Some TVs are now working in different ways and ultimately I hope they will use the cheap passive glasses like at the cinema (I think LG have one that does now).

My 3D TV has down sides - the glasses are expensive, big and uncomfortable and the batteries go flat. There is ghosting of one image on to the other. You also lose resolution by the side-by-side transmission used by Sky. That said, you can, with enough glasses, have the whole family sit and watch a 3D film and enjoy i. It works!

3D computer games are a tad different. I have a nice nvidia card with DVI and HDMI outputs (even comes with an HDMI cable). I have an Acer 24" monitor with 3D glasses. The monitor takes HDMI, DVI or VGA and actually comes with all of the cables (impressed!). The glasses are nicer, lighter, and recharge from a USB lead which you can have plugged in whilst using them. The monitor switches at 120Hz and has no bleed through between eyes at all. The glasses presumably have longer blackout periods including both eyes during the switch between images making everything else in the room rather dark - this is probably only possibly because you sit so much closer to a computer monitor, but the end result is excellent.

It is worth understanding a bit about how these games work though. Once upon a time a computer game designer worried about the pixels they produced on the screen. These days the graphics cards do all the work and the game is in fact creating animated 3 dimensional objects from triangles in space. Games like Wow are a lot more about story and artwork than graphics. Some games have a lot of back end physics engines, such as car games, but in WoW characters can just walk through each other. The graphics card does the projection in to a 2D image, and even does lighting, shadows, smoke, dust, flame, and all sorts of effects to make the image look real.

What this means is that to make a game 3D you just need the graphics drivers to plot from a slightly different viewpoint that the game says, one to the left and one to the right, and present the two views, one to each eye. The card sends full resolution 3D to the monitor, either via HDMI or DVI. The HMDI has some restrictions on frame rate and/or resolution which means it may even work with my Sony TV (to be tested later). But the Acer using DVI will do 1920x1080 60Hz and display in 3D.

Update: Tested with Sony 3D TV. Works for setup and tests, but seems to need a £25 download from nvidia to actually use it - what a con!

The game does not even know you have 3D.

In fact the game does not really care what frame rate, resolution, or capability your graphics card has. It is a smart way to do things and allows people to have cheap cards that provide a lower quality or expensive cards and large monitors for higher quality yet the underlying game stays the same. 3D just adds to this like any other clever thing the card with do. The Nvidia card has a control panel which even allows per game settings that override the defaults (such as turning on anti-aliasing - useful).

Whilst this is a really good idea - that any game using the graphics card for 3D rendering can be played in proper 3D using the glasses, there is a down side. It means the game designers do not think about 3D, or don't have to. But should this matter? Surely they are just making a 3D scene which must work else it won't look right with one eye (the normal 2D projection). Not quite.

I have played Star Wars - The Old Republic and World of Warcraft. SWTOR was clearly not designed for 3D and EA have not bothered to sit one of their designers in front a 3D screen with it. A simple and inexpensive move which would result in a handful of minor tweaks at almost no cost, but sadly not. WoW on the other hand clearly have.

So what are the issues?

The first issue is where you put the view point. When rendering in 2D it does not matter how far back you are or how close you are - that just changes sizes of things and some of the viewing angles. However, SWTOR places a lot of things in front of the monitor (close to you) - so much so that the default settings are unusable. Setting minimum depth on the nvidia controls you can finally play it, but your avatar and anything else close is in front of the monitor. That alone is not a big issue - it works, if a tad odd. Things at the edge of the screen are a tad odd if too close, but workable.

As you may expect, all of the the on-screen controls appear flat at the monitor - as a sort of heads up display - like a sheet of glass in front of you and you are looking at the scene through it with text and graphics on it. In WoW the scene is all behind the monitor so the on-screen graphics are fine as they are in front of everything. In SWTOR the on-screen graphics are visible in front of things but behind them in perspective so it breaks the 3D effect. Even the mouse pointer in front of your avatar is horrid, and I kept moving it out of the way during many of the graphics sequences as it appears in a sort of double vision effect and is just wrong. In WoW using the mouse to click on things in the distance takes getting used to as the mouse pointer is on the screen, but that is usable, and does not look wrong.

Update: top tip for WoW - turn off hardware mouse cursor. WoW will then place the pointer in 3D space and move depth depending on what is there. This allows you to more naturally point at things in the distance. Very cool.

SWTOR has a few other quirks - like the name banner over a character. It is in the 3D space, but is quite a way behind the player. It is like they wanted it a bit smaller and instead of making the font smaller they put them in the distance a bit. That is fine in 2D, but in 3D it makes it hard to work out who has what label!

So, last night, I sat next to my son playing SWTOR. It was funny as he has no idea how to play and I was telling him what to do an what keys did what even though I have never played (yes, it is just WoW with light sabres). I just got so used to the 3D, and it was excellent. Looking to one side and seeing his screen was just weird as it was, well, flat! It looked boring and strange compared to my 3D screen.

Overall - well impressed!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Quote of the day...

I almost feel like A&A have been 'technology magicians' in what has been done. 

I like that - we should use it in marketing :-)

Turning to the dark side

So, becoming a Sith is turning to the dark side - possibly. Having got my son Star Wars The Old Republic for his birthday he wants someone to play with (me!).

Unfortunately it is not working well with wine yet, so it seems. And not available for Mac. So that leaves wind owes as the only option.

So now I have a windoze machine - that really is turning to the dark side. I think it will be temporary until wine works well enough with SWTOR. But still, I have no idea how to use one of these things. It looks like I can turn it on and click on the WoW or SWTOR icon, and not have to touch anything else. I hear they get lots of viruses - though I have had my annual flu jab - I am not sure I want to get infected with microsfot.

Of course, if I have to get one, I may as well get the nvidia card that does 3D and an Acer monitor and glasses. It looks awesome for WoW in 3D - impressive.

Still a shame the game makers don't do a side-by-side output mode for a normal 3D TV, as that would allow playing on the 55" TV rather than this measly 24" screen. It seems, however, that the 3D is all in the graphics drivers and the game may not even be aware of it. After all, games are just feeding 3D textured triangles to the video card these days, so it can all be done behind the scenes, it seems. It helps if the game designers near it in mind in the design, though.

I'll try SWTOR on 3D as soon as my copy arrives - hopefully today.

Of course, we already have issues. The is operating system and WoW and SWTOR only, so we figured a small(ish) 60GB SSD would be fine. Nope! 60GB all used up. So getting a bigger drive this morning. Anyway, this is my Feast of Winter Veil present to me - thank you Grandfather Winter.

Monday, 19 December 2011

RIPE still squirming over PI

Well, we keep replying and getting no closer really.

They keep saying what current RIPE policy is, and that according to current RIPE policy the current policy applies to old assignments as well.

However they continue to refuse to explain any legal mechanism by which our customer is subject to RIPE policies in the first place (current or old).

Even if the customer agreed to RIPE policy back in 2003 it is not clear that the policy they agreed at the time bound them to newer policies. i.e. that the 2003 policy allowed for unilateral changes to policy later.

I suspect that at the end of the day it will just be simple blackmail - my customer having to sign under the duress of a threat to disconnect their Internet.

We'll keep trying to get a straight answer out of them. They could at least have the courtesy to admit that it is just blackmail and not pretend that their policies apply by magic.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

I am not cool enough!

So, my 16 year old has a birthday party, and is using the conference room in the office for it. She also has the company bouncy castle but it started hailing (no, not raining, hailing FFS, so I imagine that is off)...

That means I am not cool enough to be invited, but the orc is! For The Horde!

Happy Birthday G

P.S. ChoccyWoccyDooDah did OK but not quite what we asked for. Shame about the giraffe.

Friday, 16 December 2011

How to complain!

If you want to complain the first thing you need to do is stop, think, take a deep breath, calm down and think "what do I want to achieve by this complaint". This is especially true for any sort of formal complaint.

We all feel a gut reaction to complain when something is wrong. Some times a complaint serves just to make us feel better, or maybe it goes as far as an apology. Some times it is just to register as a number - i.e. you don't expect your complaint to cause any effect but if you are one of a million people complaining maybe it will change things.

Sometimes there really is no point - like someone that wanted to complain to OFCOM because (apparently) one of my staff was rude to her - that really is getting silly.

The best sort of complaint is one where you actually have a clear objective. Where you clearly spell out what was done wrong, why it was wrong, and what needs to now be done to satisfy your complaint. If you can make that clear in a formal complaint you stand a chance of getting what you want, or at least an apology. You stand a good chance of getting a reply at least as you are being rational (rare these days I know).

But we (personally) just had an odd complaint from my daughter's school that she had been off sick for a whole week.

So I have to wonder - what do they actually aim to achieve by making a complaint to us? What action are they expecting us to take differently in future (the future being two more terms ever in school). i.e. what was the actual point of the complaint letter?

After all, she had flu shots as she does every year. In this case the school sent her home ill, and she ended up having to go to hospital (the school know this) and have antibiotics. She was instructed by a doctor to stay at home for a few days until she stopped coughing... You do not get much more clear cut proper ill than that!

So, clearly their complaint cannot be to stop her taking more time off school - we could not do that - after all they sent her home from school in the first place. So maybe they are concerned that she got ill in the first place and how we could reduce that?

If that is the case the only practical steps I can think off that would help reduce the time she is ill is to take her out of school. Clearly being with so many people all day massively increases the chance of infection.

I wonder if that is what they intend by the complaint? I will have to ask them...

I bet, however, it is someone that thinks they are in a position of power and feels good asserting their authority by sending pointless annoying stroppy letters to parents.

But my rant here is a sort of complaint... All I get from this is that I feel a bit better having posted my rant. I doubt the school will see it... To be honest, from a psychological point of view this works well. I expect half of the benefit of facebook and twitter is allowing people to vent. If I don't post something I get cross, with annoyance bottled up. By posting a rant I feel I have filed away that annoyance nicely on a web page where it can disappear in to obscurity without stressing me out.

Isn't psychology magic some times?!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Really strange key on my keyboard?

A double colon key!

OK this time it is in fact a very strange keyboard.

We think everyone assumed that the IPv6 Buddy was either a joke or a scam. The web site looks like a joke (and is not even on an IPv6 address).

On top of which it appears to be a UK company selling to the US (and UK) in dollars only using paypal, which also seemed iffy.

Whilst the guy that runs it clearly has no idea about raising invoices properly, and no idea on correct product labeling requirements, it seems the keyboards do in fact exist. I have one. It does what it says on the tin!

It is a USB keypad specifically designed to make entry of IPv6 addresses, with CIDR, easy. It has a full hex keyboard, dot, colon, double colon, slash, backspace, tab and enter keys.

Testing the operation it seems the colon and double colon are handled specially in that they send a left shift and colon/semi-colon key press and release sequence on key press (twice for double colon). The other keys work as on a normal keyboard (separate press and release as you work the key) and so auto-repeat as expected.

We may even put them on the A&A site :-)

Say what you mean!

There have been a number of interesting articles about the sign outside Aldwych tube station, e.g. amateur photographer article. The sign reads "Due to their combination of high quality sensor and high resolution, digital SLR cameras are unfortunately not permitted inside the station." which is a strange thing to say.

As many people have commented and tweeted, it is idiotic. It also inconsistent with other statements made that said the ban was professional camera equipment, tripods, and for safety reasons. What is even more daft is that they were allowing high resolution non-DSLR camers and SLR film cameras.

From a safety or slowing-down-the-tour viewpoint a modern DSLR will be able to take pictures much more quickly than most compacts or phone cameras, and cause much less disruption.

What gets me is that this is a typical trend for anyone doing any sort of administration and trying to get people to do what they want (or not do it). Rather than say "we do not want you taking good pictures that would undermine our sales of photographs" which is (what many people guess) the reason for it all - they make up some plausible excuse such as safety or slowing down the tour, etc.

The big problems with such made up excuses, rather than saying what you mean, is that the silly excuse can usually be challenged as stupid or bypassed (e.g. using a film SLRs), defeating the whole object. Indeed, there are a whole type of person (like me) that would go out of our way to technically comply with the silly excuse whilst deliberately defeating the presumed actual intention (by taking a film SLR, or a compact camera on a tripod, etc.).

One problem is that the real reason is usually one that people do not want to own up to. It is possibly not justifiable or objective. People like to invent an excuse that is somehow objective and has some justification instead.

I recall one occasion when I worked for STL and they said that they wanted clean/tidy desks. I am not sure why, or how they would justify it. I expect it was just to look tidy, but that was never clear as the excuse was for security reasons. Of course, as a made-up excuse it was hard for them to elaborate. They did not want to provide locked cabinets for everything (that would cost money). They said that they did not want anyone to be able to casually see anything confidential. They had said that security personnel could confiscate anything confidential that was left visible on desks, so clearly security staff were not the concern. The result was not tidier desks but a standard front page on all printouts saying "non confidential cover page" and the document name. This addressed the stated concern perfectly as nobody would casually see anything but non-confidential cover pages, and the desks could stay as a "I am in the middle of working on something and do not want to waste 10 minutes in the morning getting it all back where I want it", AKA untidy, state.

I suppose it is that people like a sense of self importance in jobs like this. They should take up herding cats rather than try and direct pedants with made up excuses.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Unhooking BRAS

That got you :-)

Looks like our favourite telco are no longer running the silly BRAS rate system on 21CN lines. Not seen a briefing yet, but it was mentioned in an ISP forum some time ago.

Previously the BRAS rate was set by some config which was based on a back end system that sent updates based on changes to sync rate. The system could take hours to apply changes, and the rates were from a set of fixed values (in some cases in 1M steps). This meant people had delays getting updates after a sync change and meant losing up to 1Mb/s because of the steps. There were also issues where the databases did not agree or the updates did not happen.

What seems to be happening now is that the BRAS rate is set based on the sync rate on every connection. We have updated our systems to match this.

So, they have finally unhooked the BRAS on 21CN.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Sick day

So, had some sort of cold or something for a few weeks - general feeling grotty effect and I get the feeling I am not alone. Loads of people off work (and off school) with something similar, but I seem to have it pretty mild. Heck, I felt so rough last night I hardly drank anything!

What the hell I figure I can take a day off work as not feeling all the ticket. The boss won't mind - wait, that's me - ooops.

Never works does it? I have done coding, sorting billing issues, looking at packet dumps, answering questions from accountant, sorting loads of email, facetime to a customer (well, mate) for an hour, as much work as a normal day. And now I have a list of things still to do this evening, as usual.

The only good point really was I managed to not get up until 09:30. Win!

There are times when I remember being employed fondly. Not often, but this may be one of those occasions...

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

PI space scam?

I am sure I have raised this before but we have recently had cause to discuss this with RIPE NCC, and their answers are rather telling.

Basically PI space is IP address space (in this case IPv4) which has been assigned by RIPE to end organisations or individuals for their use. It is normally assigned in order to let people multi-home their network, but the rules allow for it to be used in contexts that are not even connected to the Internet as such.

Traditionally this has been assigned to end users without imposing any contract terms on those end users, and understandably, especially with IPv4 running out, RIPE decided that there should be a clear contract in place for the PI assignments - either directly with RIPE or with an LIR that have a contract with RIPE.

So far, so good.

The bit i think that is wrong in my view is that they are trying to retrospectively apply this requirement to existing assignees. This is where you get a bit of a catch 22...

Because there is no existing contract, you have no legal basis to force the existing assignees to do anything (such as enter a new contract). It is because of this lack of control that RIPE want to have contracts in place. But if they had the control needed to force such contracts they would have a contract in place already.

I think that is the problem, and what is rather telling is that in discussions with RIPE NCC regarding one of our customers long established PI assignment, RIPE NCC have not been able to answer simple questions such as "what legal basis is there compelling our customer to enter in to a new contract". They just keep spouting that it is RIPE policy (now). They can't even tell me what RIPE policy "at the time the assignment was made" would allow the new policy to be imposed on existing assignees. They are just waffling and waffling. I half expected them to come up with some clear legal basis, but they have not. If there is one, someone tell me (and tell RIPE NCC as they seem not to know).

So, if there is no legal basis for compelling the end user to sign a new contract, what is there? You are left with the simple fact that RIPE could simply remove the route record from their database. That would mean the assignment could not be used on the Internet. So RIPE can cut off the Internet for this customer.

Sorry, but that sounds like a typical scam or protection racket to me. RIPE provide lots of records which are key to the operation of the Internet and in many cases do not charge for them. They do charge for membership (ISPs typically). Many people and organisations provide key parts of the Internet infrastructure with not contract in place with the people that use those services. It is not like we contract with someone to provide root name servers, for example.

So surely, threatening to delete the route record is much the same as blackmail? After all, the assignment has no expiry date - it is an assignment and has been made - that is now a simple historical fact, and is recorded in the database as a record of fact. Is that not the case?

Maybe that is, in this context, completely legal, and blackmail is indeed the legal basis by which RIPE can force existing assignees to enter a new contract. Though it sounds like entering in to a contract under duress to me (i.e. not enforceable).

From the customers point of view, they dealt with us, and we arranged for them to be assigned PI space, job done, contract with us over, all obligations completed... Then some third party (RIPE NCC) is asking them for ongoing money for something they already own and to enter in to a new contract.

This also raises other interesting issues as to why a Dutch company is controlling a key part of a UK business and can just dictate terms and force them to do things? Scarily, I start to see where the ITU are coming from on this now - and that is a tad worrying.

It does make you wonder how much of the Internet has no clear contractual conditions or enforcement. I mean, what is to stop RIPE saying PI shall be £1M/year suddenly? Or what is to stop Whoever runs the root servers deciding they want contracts with all ISPs and charging lots of money? Can't happen? I would have thought it can't happen until this whole PI charging thing came up, and now I wonder...

Monday, 5 December 2011

Major outage, I tell you! MAJOR!

We have a text reporting for major outages. We have lots of monitoring but there is nothing like customers telling you something subtle has broken even when it is 2am. So we have a texting system for major service outages. They text real people, including me!

So you are sat at home, Monday evening, thinking "My broadband has been out since Friday lunchtime, and I don't have a dial tone. This must be a major outage that affects lots of people and somehow my ISP does not know even though it has been over 3 days and I have not mentioned it - I know, I'll text their MSO number to let them know. Who knows, I may even get someone to pause Top Gear to go look in to it."


Please! MSO texts are for major outages.

A phone line fault, or a physical fault on a broadband line, needs an engineer and they will not rush out at 8pm in the evening - they need booking, which can be done just as efficiently at 9am as now, so no need to hassle someone now! This is why we don't do 24 hour support because faults like this are not fixed any more quickly if we did... You can text (not as an MSO) or email and we will get in touch to arrange an engineer.

Now, back to Top Gear.

/me refrains from waiting until 2am to ring end user to arrange the engineer visit - after all, a major outage justifies working at such hours doesn't it?

OK, OK, lets be a bit fairer shall I - and be a tad constructive. It is fair to say that most people with one broadband line cannot tell when it just stops working if it is just them or a major outage, and so do not know if they should alert us or not. That is true, so a few tips :-
  • Most major outages, whether in our network, or far more common somewhere within the carrier network, we know about, and things are being done to fix them. It is worth waiting a few minutes before panicing.
  • If you can get to the internet (e.g. mobile) check the status pages. If nothing on there then go on to the irc channel (via the support pages). If there is a major outage it will be clear on the irc channel and people will say if they have texted already - staff may even be on-line answering questions.
  • If you have multiple lines and they go off together you have a clue something more major may have happened, this is especially true if you have many different sites (as some of our dealers and IT consultant customers have).
  • If you are more technical and can see there are, for example, some routing issues on the internet or something in our network, then that is the ideal time to send an MSO text as it may not have been picked up by our automation. Please do check status pages and irc first still.
  • If the problem has been going on days - it is not an MSO - it is a normal fault report so email or text normally, or call support during the day
  • If the phone line is not working then it is not at all likely to be a major outage (and if it was, it would be a local cabling or exchange issue handled by BT and not us). So just email or text normally, or call support during the day.
Remember, an MSO hassles staff, day or night, and if it is abused it will be removed. It is there to help us and you when there is a major problem. We cannot answer all MSO texts when there is a major outage but will update status pages and irc.

Sorry if I sound a bit harsh on this particular one. I am just gobsmacked that anyone can think a three day old non-dial-tone issue can be an MSO!

Road Kill

After my post I am pleasantly surprised to find that 5 deaths a day on UK roads is news!

Well done BBC - with an interactive map of road deaths...

"Britain has one of the best records in the world for road casualties. However, hundreds still die on the roads every year. In 2010, the police recorded 1,850 deaths, 22,660 people seriously injured and 184,138 who received light injuries."

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Broadband 101

When you are trying to figure out why your Internet does not work you have to understand the basic steps that are involved when it does work and so work out where the problem lies. Of course, in most case, this is the job of the person on tech support asking the right questions to work out what is happening, but it is worth understanding a few of the basics.

1. The actual wires involved: there is normally a copper pair which is carrying phone and broadband. If that is physically screwed up in some way (which could be intermittent interference, broken contacts, poor quality) then that will cause problems. The most severe types - like a simple disconnection - affect the phone line as well, and you have no dial tone - those problems are easy to identify. However various types of interference (which can be audible noise on the phone line, or not) and quality issues can cause problems.

These problems with the wires result in sync problem. Sync (or synchronisation) is the general phrase we use for the operation of the modem (MODulator/DEModulator) which translates data (1's and 0's) in to tones (radio frequencies) on the wire and back again. If the line is broken in some way the modem may not get sync at all (normally shown by a light on the box). It could get sync, but at a very low speed. It could be that it only works when interleaving is enabled and a slow speed. It could be that there is sync, but lots of errors on the line (which the modem can detect).

All of these symptoms relate to the actual wire. They could be anywhere from, and including, the modem (usually inside a router) at the premises, all the way to the modem at the other end (exchange or cabinet). To fix the problem you usually want to start by trying a new modem, and new cables to the telephone socket. Always remember that a power supply fault can cause a modem to be faulty as well so remember to change that. You should try to eliminate the wiring in the premises by trying from the master socket. This usually has a removable front plate which disconnects all extension wiring and has another socket behind.

If none of that works, it could be the wires, in which case an engineer is needed. It could even be the equipment at the other end - but an engineer can confirm that and arrange a lift and shift (moving to other equipment at the exchange end).

It is a very important step to work out if the problem lies with the computer, the wires (modem issue), the back-haul, or the ISP (or even somewhere in the Internet), as this affects who can fix the problem, and how. Getting this initial diagnostic wrong wastes a lot of time and effort for everyone, which is why it is one of the key parts of the training for our technical support staff.

2. If the modem is OK, and in sync, and not showing errors or slow speed or disconnections, then the problem must lie somewhere else. In these cases there is no point in sending an engineer, the problem lies with the data being sent on the wire, not the wire itself (or the modems).

These cases can usually be diagnosed in various ways - a common type of problem is simply getting a username or password wrong (an authentication problem). Tests on the broadband service and at the ISP can usually tell if this is the case. The router will normally say if there appears to be an authentication issue (e.g. on a web interface). These can however be everything from a simple typo by the end user to problems in the back-haul system and finally problems at the ISP. A good test here is to try a test login, such as a test user or speed test user which does not involve the ISP. If that does not work then there are issues in the back-haul system and possible the BRAS (Broadband Remote Access Server) configuration. In some cases the ISP can do the same test from the exchange using test systems - where that shows problems the ISP knows it is the back-haul.

If authentication works, then that means there is a working connection from the router all the way to the ISP. Well, normally that is what it means. There is a special case of a default accept which is quite easy to detect. This is where the authentication has been faked because the ISP cannot be contacted. But generally, if you can authenticate then you are connected to the ISP and you and the ISP can see that.

3. If you connect to the ISP then the back-haul provider is not normally involved in sorting issues. Occasionally there can be issues like mis-configured BRAS causing slow speeds, or some packet loss or latency in the back-haul network. These are usually things the ISP can measure and detect though.

4. Of course the problem may be in the Internet, with the server you are trying to reach. Testing other routes (e.g. other web sites) helps identify if you have a working Internet connection generally.

But, of all of these tests, checking if the problem lies with the wires or backup-haul or ISP is a crucial first step.

So, why the Broadband 101? Well, because our favorite telco are, once again, insisting that they send an engineer to check the sync on an FTTC line that is not working. Yet the line has sync, and we even see two way traffic to the BRAS. The issue is BRAS config (not authenticating and passing to us as the ISP). It is a simple problem with config and a rebuild of the config on the BRAS (which takes a few seconds) would fix it. Sadly their staff have no clue and insist over and over again on sending more and more engineers, all of which confirm there is sync and go away without fixing the issue. Maybe this blog could be a useful reference for them in future...

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Free IPv6 wifi for people stuck in M3 traffic jam?

Seems traffic on M3 is not going anywhere, but 10/10 for trying, James...

Not 100% sure that is the best SSID under the circumstances. Apparently changed to AAISP Free Jam Wifi now, which is slightly better taste.

P.S. looks quite a serious accident though, air ambulance!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011


We are using xkcd/936 passwords for things like default wifi passwords on routers.

Yes, I can say that! The worst case scenario where you know how we make passwords and you even know the word list, still provides good security. If you don't agree, read more on the xkcd forum. If you don't know the word list it is even better security, and plenty good enough for a wifi password.

Even though we did take out the more obvious four letter words, the system seems to have a surprising knack of creating interesting passwords. The latest was a router for an office which happens to be full of women, and fortunately the dealer spotted the slight problem before it was installed. The password included the words captiveclitoris. It was felt this may possibly cause offence!

In our defence, it is just a couple of standard word lists and a true random number generator, and customers can set their own passwords, or ask the system to make a new random one.

Even so, that word has now been removed from the list. Sorry about that.

P.S. turns out the other password for the same customer was saucyhen. You can't make this stuff up you know.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Net Neutrality - what is it?

This is a hot topic for all sorts of reasons both in the UK and in the US, and OFCOM recently made some comments on it as well. I'd like to try and explain it simply enough that even Pauline does not have to stop reading after the first paragraph...

Basically, ISPs sell people Internet access. Simples.

The problem is that the term "Internet access" is a bit vague - what does it mean? An ISP cannot, for example, guarantee connectivity or even speed to any specific endpoint on The Internet. That is because to get there means going through other ISPs. If you want to get to your favourite web site and the site is down, or just slow, then that is not the ISPs fault. There are a lot of ways bit of the Internet may not be working in various ways for all sorts of reasons and that is not something the ISP can control.

So what do ISPs provide, or perhaps more to the point, what do customers of ISPs expect.

Well the main thing is for everything to be treated fairly, whatever that means. It is not too hard to pin down examples where that is not the case. If, as an ISP, I was to do a deal with ITV and clamp down BBC iPlayer so it is unusable, that would be bad and unfair. That sort of extreme is what this is about.

So what about Sky Anytime+ which can only be accessed if you have a Sky broadband line? Does that mean BT, for example, is not providing access to the whole Internet as its customers cannot access that IP based service?

The problem is that ISPs do have various types of "traffic management" for all sorts of reasons. The main one is that people can hog all the bandwidth. This is like having a hose-pipe ban - you want to stop the handful of people using all the water on an "unlimited" (i.e. un-metered) tariff. Is that against net neutrality - some say yes. But if ISPs cannot clamp torrents then they give everyone a bad service, or they have to charge more or charge for usage (like we do). Some people want a simple cheap fixed cost service and don't want to pay for usage. For them, a service that does clamp heavy users it excellent.

One thing I think is very important and that OFCOM did pick up on is transparency. ISPs should tell customers up front what they do. If you are buying a cheap fixed price Internet service you actually want an ISP that filters all the high traffic torrents that screw up your Internet - well most people do - the few wanting to run torrents don't want that. Either way, and ISP that tells you up front what they do is ideal as both types of customer as they know where they stand.

Another thing OFCOM did say is that anyone blocking or restricting access to legal content should not be allowed to say they are selling Internet access. That is a principle I do agree with. However, it has some interesting implications.

Firstly it is a nightmare to define is anything is treated in some preferential way, or conversely in a way that is not, and hence "restricted" in some way. Our mail servers are on our network and so will have better connectivity than competing mail servers. Is that wrong? It would be mad if we had to host our servers on a separate network to comply with net neutrality rules.

Similarly we have peering with people like BBC. Is that preferential treatment? Technically, for some levels of load on our network and some types of measurement it is. Should we not be allowed to peer with anyone? That again would be silly.

These are edge cases, and a tad technical, but trying to work any rules on net neutrality have to allow for these but somehow outlaw the more overt commercial preferences that could come about and be considered bad somehow.

There are then a few fun side effects of the idea of not blocking or restricting legal content - like BT's newzbin block. That site has legal content and services even if only the image of their own logo and their front page. That legal content being blocked (even if it is because of a court order) means BT could not sell Internet access under the OFCOM proposals. Ooops!

Of course you could talk about all content that an ISP is not legally required to block. That would get BT out of problems, except for the fact the the IWF list (child abuse) is not something ISPs are legally required to block and you can be sure at least some content on the block list is not illegal to access even if just a css style sheet on a site. Again, the devil will be in the detail.

So all the net neutrality is at serious odds with court ordered and voluntary blocking of some Internet services. That is not a huge surprise to be honest.

Then you have the real fun - any ISP not providing IPv6 would be blocking access to some legal content like and so not allowed to sell as Internet access. We like that one :-)

FTTC 12 month min term?

FTTC (Fibre the the cabinet) is something we can provide. We buy the links from our favorite telco, or rather the wholesale part of their split personality disorder.

One of our ongoing gripes is the 12 month minimum term. Obviously they can do what they like, but they have none the less tried to justify it on the basis that they have to pay their other half for a 12 month minimum term. Still, we are arguing and pushing, it is clearly not good to encourage take up if you are forced to some onerous term.

However, there is one anomaly that does not stack up here. If we migrate an FTTC away to another ISP who also deals with the same wholesaler, then they don't have to touch the link to the premises - so no new install and no new 12 month term for them to pay their other half, and no penalty to pay either. They are not ceasing the link at all, just reconfiguring their bit slightly.

Yet they still hold us to the 12 months term in that case - in effect asking us to pay the remainder of the 12 months and requiring the new ISP to pay for the same period of time for the same bit of wire. It is bad enough the new ISP is held to a new 12 month term as well, but making two ISPs pay for the same thing is iffy.

After some comments recently where they used the word "ethical", I have now emailed back asking if they really consider it ethical to expect two people to pay for the same thing... No reply on that one yet :-)

Maybe by making lots of people pay for the same thing at the same time they can try and increase their profits towards infinity?

Things you don't do

Plug in an Ethernet cable under your desk, and ignore all the cries of "WTF just happened to the Internet" as you walk out of the office to get your lunch.

Chasing a gigabit network loop took a while, and caused certain amounts of havoc.

So, take note, don't do that [I am looking at you JamesK]...

20CN not fit for purpose?

Interesting discussions with our favorite telco this week. As I am sure people know - we are somewhat tenacious in getting issues fixed, and we have a customer (in a small village) that is having problems with congestion most evenings.

Now, we do a lot of testing and we confirmed that he gets packet loss and latency on the link from us to him when this happens. Clearly showing the problem is within the wholesale/DSL network. Testing from our router means we can be sure it is not "the Internet" being slow, which is, of course the first thing our suppliers suggested!

So we chase our suppliers and they say the VP (yes, an ATM VP for 20CN) is not congested. They claim it is below 25% of its capacity.

We got the figures from them eventually. It seems they are happy for a single 10Mb/s link to be used by 400 customers even though those customers can get 7.15M each on their links.

Now, there are contention levels - you don't just add up all the links, but this level of contention and such a small aggregate link makes no sense to us. If two of the 7.15M customers try to access the internet at the same time they get badly congestion. If one of the 400 customers torrents they would hog all of their 7.15M leaving under 3M for the remaining 399 customers.

We are, of course, trying to get them to fix this. They can simply increase the capacity on the VP. They are pretty much refusing to, saying their planning rules allow 400 customers on it. In practice we are seeing congestion with only 100 customers on the link, and are not at all surprised.

Very frustrating.

IPv6 for consumers on DSL at last (Technicolor)

We have been working with suppliers of consumer routers. We have been happy to work with any, but only only these so far have been interested.

Did not work properly with IPv6 and were not interested in fixing bugs (too busy). We did a trial and found problems. They were initially keen to supply to us, at sensible prices, but now say that we have to order thousands and it is not clear that they have fixed the issues yet either.

High end router with wifi but expensive, IPv6 works. We have been shipping these at some expense since before World IPv6 Day. I think it was Billion who said they would not have IPv6 in the cheaper models, which made no sense. Well done for being the first supplier we found that worked.

They are aiming at making a high end router first, but really are getting nowhere from what we can tell. They had meetings with us but seem to be ignoring us now.

They have an IPv6 router but it will not work on PPPoA, which makes no sense. The PPPoA or PPPoE aspect of the DSL link is irrelevant to the IPv6. Useless on most DSL lines that are PPPoA normally. They seemed confused that we would want IPv6 on PPPoA and wanted to know the business case?!?! We are confused as to why you wouldn't. They do talk to us, and they are looking in to it, but still moderately expensive. Hopefully they will have an offering soon though - well done for trying.

Technicolor: (TG582n)
Well, what can I say? They sent an engineer to our offices, by which I mean someone that can read packet dumps on the router correctly and understand them! We spent a day with him checking out their test code and making some tweaks our end as well and we got it working. They have one of our lines in their offices and have been testing. They have been working with us and proving new code as we find issues. We have customers testing these routers and are now shipping the IPv6 software. The routers are small, they have wifi, and cheap enough to be our standard "free with the service" router.

So, Technicolor it is - our new standard IPv6 router and it even has WiFi.

Now, I would stress, we have been working with Technicolor largely because of who we are and the fact we (as FireBrick) make the LNS end as well. This meant that we were working on the DHCPv6 and RA packets necessary at a low level to make this work. At present they do not have a release for general purchase, but we expect that is only a few weeks away, so please (other ISPs) don't give them too much hassle just yet :-)

Given that RIPE expect to run out or IPv4s next year UK ISPs need to get their act together and start making IPv6 standard. A sensibly priced consumer DSL router with IPv6 as standard will help a lot. Well done Technicolor.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Fun weekend, in Leeds!

So, totally non techie blog post again - we went up to Leeds this weekend. Normally I am going there on business, but not this weekend.

I have to say that this does all endorse my preference for (expensive) rail travel - even just being a passenger in a car it is just as long and tedious as a train, perhaps more so. At least on a train I can use a laptop, or go to sleep, as I feel. Talk to people more easily. Etc... Sandra drove there yesterday and back today, and well done to her for such a long drive in shitty motorway traffic and fog! I was driven slightly round the bend by the flashing catseyes on the M40 at one point - who thinks they are a good idea - it is mental.

The plan was to go up to Leeds, visit the Royal Armories, see The Tudors costume exhibit, and the rest of the armoury, and (unknown to Sandra) buy her a suit of armour. She has wanted one (to go in the hall in the house) for many years...

Well, it started reasonably well, until we looked up the hotel to check directions. Seems travelrepublic has somehow booked us in to Bradford, not Leeds. Victoria swears she did not make a mistake. Arrrg, that put everyone in a bad mood for a start. So, Hilton Bradford! If it was Leeds we had it planned, either TGI Friday's or (as I wanted) Shebab in Leeds (next to the Hilton) which do a really nice Balti Murgh.

Thankfully I found a nice place called Nawaab that happens to also do a nice chicken murgh, and the meal was really nice and liked by all, phew.

Also, it turns out, we arrived in Bradford as they started their "Fire & Ice" turning on of the Christmas lights thing, which was entertaining and took our mind off the fact we were in the wrong place!

Breakfast in the Bradford Hilton was a disaster - should've gone to premier inn! They start with no pot of tea, soft boiled eggs as requested but no egg cups, no butter, a toaster than was very biased to one side (when we eventually got rock hard frozen butter), a cup of tea that was nearly poored as coffee and then never turned up, generally ignored by the staff, and £10 a head to add insult to injury. I tried to register a complaint on the Hilton web site only to find it refused to accept any of my (perfectly valid) email addresses and so I posted on twitter which got their attention. We got refunded for the breakfast at least. Seriously though, the premier inn in Leeds has much better and more reliable breakfast... They also have much less noise that the centre of Bradford so you can actually sleep all night!

The Royal Armoury in Leeds was quite fun - and Sandra loved the suits of armour (yes!) and, well, pretty much all of it. We have to say The Tudors costume exhibit was disappointingly small to say the least with something like 6 costumes, and that was it. Anyway, Sandra picked a suit of armour to buy and it arrives in a couple of weeks - cool (see pic).

Added to the fun was a comic convention of some sort, so outside were storm troopers and spiderman and all sorts.

Drive back in fog, traffic, and darkness, was not fun, but we are all safely home now. So, a fun weekend in Leeds!

Friday, 18 November 2011

DenverCoder9 where are you?

So true, as ever...

It is funny how there are messages to denvercoder9 (nobel prizewinner and creator of the ubiquitous "scroll lock" key) already on google when you search. Comments about how he vanished in mysterious circumstances or left a cryptic note.

The best one I saw was a comment saying how depressing it is to find only one post that was in fact posted by yourself many years ago with no answer.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Traffic Lights and cyclists

I have seen much ranting about cyclists ignoring traffic lights before now, but I am really fed up with the traffic lights near me.

Once again they totally ignore a cyclist and remain RED constantly. After 5 minutes I dismounted and crossed the junction as a pedestrian.

How the hell can anyone expect cyclists to follow the law if they make traffic lights that cannot "see" them.

I assume it is the council that run them - I will have to write another letter about how Bracknell Forest Borough Council are clearly prejudice against cyclists.


FoI sent

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Monthly insurance payments

Another rant - why is paying insurance monthly "credit" (even if "0% APR")?

Surely insurance covers specified risks for specific time periods, so if you pay a year's insurance up front you are giving them credit - you paid for something and they have yet to actually provide it.

So why is paying monthly, i.e. 1/12th or a year's premium at the start of each month, treated as credit? Surely you are still paying for each month's insurance in advance of getting the insurance for that month. i.e giving them time to provide the service not them giving you time to pay for something.

Very odd.

IPv6 on a cable modem?

This is becoming a bit of a common theme now - fixed Jacqueline's Internet a few weeks ago, then fixed Pauline's Internet the other day (pic) and James's girlfriend's Internet yesterday on a cable modem!

So now, even on a cable modem, they have proper IPv4 and IPv6. Yes, as you may guess, it is our IPv4/6 via an L2TP tunnel and a FireBrick. I don't think any UK cable companies are doing IPv6 yet (tell me if I am wrong).

Obviously for a home installation a FireBrick is a tad overkill - I know that. We have plenty of geeky customers that love them even for home use, but they are typically used in small or even large businesses. They have a whole load of features, and one of the newest is operating as an L2TP client allowing a tunnel to be made to an L2TP server.

The L2TP server side (LNS) is in the "big brother" FB6202 model that we use as an ISP to handle broadband lines for customers, but the smaller versions do have support for L2TP as well, even if only for a few hundred connections. The latest addition means the FireBrick can connect in to our LNS just the same as a broadband line, but do it over another Internet connection (in this case a Virgin cable modem). It even works if the connection has NAT (NAT is evil).

Given that it took me about a day to get L2TP coded, I am quite pleased at how well it works (well, the L2TP was all in there, it basically needed the configuration to be a client). Of course, the best way to find any bits missing from the design (OK, "bugs" if you will) is to try it in anger, and that is what these crazy home installs are all about, even if it does mean putting up with James's driving to Richmond and back (it is OK, I have some motilium tablets for next time).

So, they ask me to fix their Internet and I make then a guinea pig, seems fair :-)

The advantage is that I get to try things that are a bit different - to try real life situations, like a cable modem!

We found the cable modem was a put fussy on the DHCP side, which was not a huge surprise, but not a problem. We then found there were several bits I needed to tweak on the L2TP side. Mostly it is changes to make things simpler and the configuration easier. So, all morning coding little bits of fine tuning and working well.

I wonder who's will be next. I am off to see my parents in a few weeks - perhaps they need a FireBrick install at home too :-)

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Do you know this man? (please share/retweet/etc)

On 25th October, at a booked social event at The George Pub, Queen St, LONDON.

There were reserved tables but the pub was open. The food was nice (thanks to the sponsor). It was, almost, a really good evening.

At around 9:30pm that man walked in, cased the joint, picked up a bag and walked out. The bag had several thousand pounds worth of camera equipment, but as I know myself it is a terrible experience having anything stolen. Tom lost his wallet and car keys as well. It is a nightmare.

Being geeks we had a lot of shiny there, including new iPad2's and iPhone4S on the table. Tom and I often have our cameras. My camera was in the middle of the table! I think if someone had reached over and taken my camera people would have noticed. I would hope so. Tom had sensibly put his bag with other bags by the table in the middle of the group. Nothing to give any clue it was in any way valuable. The pub was open to the public and this git just sat down amongst us, picked up the bag, and walked out. It looks like he sat right next to me, and I did not notice. I really am sorry Tom.

The police could not give a shit, and were in fact much more concerned over Data Protection issues with getting the video! Apart from the fact the DPA has specific exclusions for detection of crime, they say this video is not clear enough to identify this man - in which case it is NOT PERSONAL DATA and NOT SUBJECT TO THE DATA PROTECTION ACT. So please, retweet, share, whatever - lets see if the public can find this creep if the police cannot be bothered.

Video, stills, and contact details here.
[As Tom points out, available via IPv6 as well, of course]

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Consumer IPv6 router - at last!

We may have it at last - I am not saying who just yet as it is all beta/test software and field trials, but we should have something real soon now.

It looks like working with a manufacturer closely, even providing one of our broadband lines in their R&D offices, may have paid off.

We are testing and giving feedback, but looking very encouraging. Testing so far is that IPv6 "just works", and even though it has wifi and a 4 port switch and both DSL and PPPoE WAN, it is sanely priced to be our new "free with service" router.

We'll put details for field trials on the web site soon.

P.S. and perfect timing as comcast starts IPv6 in the US 
Thanks BBC

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

© CreativeRight

There is a huge problem looming and it is going to come to a head soon - maybe not this year, maybe not next, but soon.

[Pauline, it is a long one, you can give up now if you like]

The model of copyright (a right to control copies) is broken. It was devised in a world where copying was harder and more costly and even before exact copies could be made of things. Controlling copies was an important way to maintain a business model for a range of creative industries. It worked at the time, but over the years has seen issues with copying sheet music, cassette audio tapes, VHS video tapes and finally digital media.

The concept has come to an end - perfect copies are now made behind the scenes without you realizing it - they are so simple and cheap and insignificant that controlling the making of copies is like trying to regulate against picking your nose.

Strangely, in a way, the existing industry (especially music) is trying to fight to maintain this broken model by extending laws in to other industries. Making life difficult for ISPs. Causing all sorts of side effects which are even leading to censorship and encroaching on free speech. It is simply not going to work if we keep going along these lines.

Add to that the fact that people copying music (against copyright) are the ones that pay most for music too on the whole - and trying criminalize them even more just seems a crazy move by the music industry.

So, what else is there?

I think we need to abandon the idea of controlling the actual copying itself, especially when we are talking about any digital media. Copying is so simple and cheap that it should not be restricted. Now that does not mean you can do what you like with a copy, but the copying itself is not the "right" you are trying to control.

Creative people are a value to a society and some encouragement of them in legislation is sensible. If we had no controls then anyone that makes anything can expect companies to be selling copies of it and giving them nothing for it, not even credit for creating it. That is clearly not right.

So what do we need?

I suggest that there should be some rights for anyone that creates something - a creative work - to expect to be correctly credited/attributed as the creator. The kudos of credit for you work drives a lot of creative people even if they get no money - as can be seen by the huge open source software community. What is nice is that this is easy for people making copies to do - they simply don't remove the "credits" from the copy. Indeed, complying is easier than not complying - which makes for laws that you really don't have to enforce in the first place...

I think ensuring credit for work also helps create a culture of understanding that someone spent time and effort making something and that morally they deserve recognition and even some payment for what they did.

I also think that any commercial exploitation of someone's creative work should not be allowed without the creator getting a fair share of the profits. As legislation this is much easier to enforce as commercial exploitation tends to be much more visible and have a money trail to follow.

I am sure new models providing creativerights can be conceived that do not revolve around copying as such and still allow an industry to thrive.

Hopefully someone will have the sense to make a new set of laws on this before we start hitting brick walls and serious conflicts. If you drive things underground you get prohibition and the mafia - lets try and do this right somehow shall we?

The plot was not that bad was it? (CAD)

WTF is firefox blocking

WARNING: This web page at has been reported as an attack page and has been blocked based on your security preferences.

All that is wrong with the site at the moment is a distinct lack of plot for the last two weeks. That does not really make it an "attack site" surely?

Or did I miss something...

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Where do you eat when in Harlow?

I have said where not to eat in Harlow already, and even though they apologised and sent a £40 voucher, we decided to try somewhere else...

So this time, again visiting siter-in-law (hi Pauline) we went a bit out of town...

The Nag's Head in Much Hadham.

What can I say? Quaint old pub. Proper pub food. Nice Sunday lunches. Really nice dessert. Even the garlic bread I had as a starter was nicely done. Polite and friendly staff, reasonably quick service. Very popular (book in advance).

Knee jerk reaction government

I see on the news that the government are reviewing motorway/road policies after the crash on the M5. Seems fair enough doesn't it after something major. I think something like 7 people died... Surely that is a lot?

But hang on, 5 people die and over 60 are seriously injured on UK roads EVERY SINGLE DAY...

Why is it special when it happens in one place in one incident. Surely, if this level of death and injury is cause for government review it should be happening every day? Incidents like this are rare, thankfully. Statistically, they are not significant, just part of a bigger picture that is itself a tad disturbing. Death and injury on the roads is the price we pay for the convenience of having roads and cars and so on. It is probably a fair price overall, sadly.

I feel sorry for the people injured and killed on the M5 this weekend, obviously, but why do all of the others killed every single day appear not to matter?

Or are we governed based entirely on what makes news headlines?

Saturday, 5 November 2011

You can't be doing this sober

Well, I was upgrading the LNSs and switching everyone over and then doing the core BGP routers which is a tad more seamless...

All went very very well indeed. Just as planned. All the tweaks and work arounds for yet another round of screwed up L2TP and RADIUS attributes from a carrier (not BT this time) all in place having spent most of the day (very sober) on them...

Then someone on irc says "you can't be doing this sober".

Well, this is the thing. Obviously a core network upgrade needs careful planning and deployed by competent (sober) staff...

And yes, there are indeed sober and competent staff on hand should anything go wrong :-)

That is all I will say on the matter... (xkcd can say far more)

Friday, 4 November 2011

Secret to accessing newzbin2 from BT lines

I can reveal the secret high-tech method for accessing newzbin2 and by-passing the recent block on the site on BT residential lines.

Its top secret and highly technical, so don't tell anyone...

Instead of typing you type

Yes, that is typing an extra s in the right place.

Obviously having such a difficult technical step that you have take will guarantee that this court ordered block is effective in stopping people access the site. After all, nobody would think of trying it would they. The courts and BPI are so smart - well done.

Of course, the fact that this has happened at all is exactly what we all predicted would happen when IWF filtering was being touted - get a foot in the door to start censorship of the Internet and it will feature creep and be used for other things. The court only ordered BT to block the site because BT had Cleanfeed in place (for IWF blocking) and so it was easy and cheap for BT to comply using Cleanfeed. Thankfully for BT they comply if they use Cleanfeed even if it is a total waste of time, as it clearly is.

The problem is that Cleanfeed and the IWF blocking was only ever intended to stop inadvertent access to some web sites - it was never intended or designed to stop someone that wanted to get to a site from accessing it or stopping a site circumventing access in simple ways like this. Blocking is never going to work unless you outlaw all Internet access, and then you will just drive it underground.

Of course, with no blocking any "black boxes" in the network could have snooped on what people were doing on newzbin, and  collected evidence (assuming something criminal was happening). Now people are using https to encrypt the traffic you cannot prove any more than some access to that IP. You cannot tell what access or any other details. If newzbin have some other site hosted on the same IP, which would be a smart move, then nobody could prove which site you were accessing even!

Yes, take civil action for civil wrongs, and criminal action against criminals - but trying to take the easy way out and censor the Internet simply won't work and it is a waste of time trying.

When will they learn?

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Inbox stress

I know some people have in-boxes with thousands of emails, so much so that at A&A we even have an inbox archive feature that files them away by month.

I do not - my inbox is a TODO list (ok, saying TODO not "to do" is down to so much use of vim and it highlighting of "TODO" as a keyword, sorry).

My level of stress is directly correlated to the number of items in my inbox. They are the urgent and occasionally important items in my life.

For those that have never been on a time management course (thanks, STC), "urgent" and "important" are two independent attributes. You can have unimportant urgent tasks and important but non urgent tasks. The later tend to change over time and become urgent eventually.

My inbox is is urgent and important, and if still there it is "big".

If not important then the email can be deleted if busy, that is really what non-important means (you can live without doing it). Usually I reply to such emails "too busy" or some such and delete it.

Non urgent, well, they are not nice. I tend to make some diary entry for them and delete the email.

But some things are both important and urgent.

But consider a third metric, not really on the course I did, "big"!

The amount of work involved in handling the issue. If very small, then FFS "just do it" now and get it out of the way regardless of important or urgent. Much of my inbox is a reply - a viewpoint, an opinion, or better still a delegation... It is done and dusted in seconds. I don't even have to consider important or urgent!

But when I have a big task, that is urgent, and important, that hangs around in my inbox, taunting me... It adds to my stress. I can't "just do it" as it will take hours of concentration, but I cannot just "schedule" it as it needs to be done soon, now even.

So, right now, I am happy. Yes there are many things to do, but none are urgent, important and big so none are occupying my inbox.

My inbox is empty and I am at peace with the world....

[not for long]

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Yet another hotlinking analogy

There is often debate on hotlinking - i.e. non obvious linking from one web page to someone else's for an image or style sheet or some such. The phrase is often used in the context of this being done without the linked site giving permission.

There was a recent discussion on twitter after someone found "The Brandon Bible Forum" had a big splash graphic saying that the css was used from someone else's site without permission. Basically, the original site had changed the CSS that was linked so as to have this extra graphic. Ironic that it is a Bible forum.

As usual the discussion started off calling it stealing (which it is not) and then stealing a little bit of bandwidth and then a matter of ethics or morals.

So, as always, the only way to try and explain this is by some non Internet analogy. The problem with any analogy is it will not be perfect, and you can pick an analogy to suit your view point. So here goes with the latest contrived non-Internet analogy for hot-linking...

Imagine there is a free soup kitchen for homeless people, and round the corner in the same building a cafe. For some historical reason there is actually a door between the two (makes no sense, but makes part of the analogy closer to the Internet equivalent). The cafe offer various things including a "Free soup". You go in and ask for the free soup. The cafe set the table with various extra items but not the soup - they leave a space for that and ask you to pop through this door and ask for a bowl of soup, which you do. You are not going round the front entrance so do not actually realise you are going to the soup kitchen and assume it is part of the cafe (hence the contrived door). Yes, if you look carefully you can see what is happening, but you don't, most customers don't. Similarly the soup kitchen don't really notice where you come from or that you don't look homeless, they just blindly serve soup to anyone that asks for it.

It is, of course, contrived, but works fairly well as an analogy. Clearly what the cafe are doing is not really morally or ethically right, unless the soup kitchen have given permission. The cafe customers don't realise what is going on, and even if they do, they don't know if there is permission or not. They get their soup nicely presented on a cafe table.

But this is clearly not theft - the customer asks for the soup and is given it. No money is asked for. It is free soup on request. It is not what the soup kitchen expected and may not be part of their capacity planning initially, but it is not theft. The cafe are not charging for the soup someone else provided. I cannot see that it is actually illegal, just clearly morally wrong if done without permission but not actually illegal?

However, bear in mind there is a slight error in the analogy. In practice the customer goes to the soup kitchen and says "the cafe sent me, can I have a free soup" but the staff pretty much ignore what people say and hand over soup anyway.

Now in that case it is not as clear cut on the moral/ethics is it. After all the soup kitchen are not being misled at all - they are willingly giving people, that are clearly not their intended audience, free soup, even when told this is the case. It is their choice to ignore what people say and they could start listening. Indeed the cafe are not actually saying the soup is theirs, and people can look around and see it is not - it just gives that impression when presented as part of the cafe table with everything else around it from the cafe.

Now, the soup kitchen could shut down, close the door, stop serving to cafe customers, etc. That would make the cafe look bad just the same as a hotlinked image not loading. The cafe take that risk.

Of course the soup kitchen could serve soup that has "property of soup kitchen" on the bottom of the bowl so that the customers are made very aware of what is going on, and may think less of the cafe. A risk the cafe take, and much like the bible forum and the css splash image.

The soup kitchen could serve special soup to cafe customers with a large beetle in the bottom of it. The bible forum were lucky not to have a goatse on their web page.

So, quite a good analogy all round...

Oh, and as for the argument that it is (mis)using bandwidth (it is not stealing!). That would mean the end user is (mis)using bandwidth from the originator. In practice that only makes sense if the original web site did not want to serve the page. If they do, as clearly they are, even when told who sent you, then the bandwidth is transferred with their permission so not mis use - indeed the chargeable bandwidth will be the served page they choose to send. So if they did not serve the page the bandwidth is very small (the request and answer "no", aka 404) and is the same as anyone else asking for any other page they do not want to serve. It is the inconvenience of a public front door people can knock on, and no different to having a link (href) to someone's page (e.g. saying "go to the soup kitchen down the road") yet people usually (not always) feel having a link is not morally wrong, interestingly enough.

At the end of the day this is not really an issue that needs legal or moral judgement. We don't have to decide if it is right or wrong. If someone hotlinks to your site they are putting you in control of that. You can remove the file, change it, or selectively serve it. You have a really good remedy for their actions and you can use that remedy based on your own set of morals and ethics without having to agree with anyone else's. This is one of those rare cases where there need be no agreement on the matter, which is just as well as people seem to disagree a lot.

I do, however, dislike the misuse of the work "stealing" and "theft" (as well as "piracy"). "Piracy" is not a phrase used much in its proper meaning these days, so is ripe for distortion by new usage. But "theft" and "stealing" are very well understood and long standing terms in regular usage. Copying is not theft or piracy - it is something else - still wrong, but it is not stealing. The reason people call it theft is to try any make it sound a lot more severe than it is, even biblical in the level of wrong doing, when in fact it is usually simply a civil wrong much like someone walking across your garden is trespass. It is wrong, and if more than the odd person does it then it is a problem, but it is not theft.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Stranger key on my keyboard!

Well, after ordering a new keyboard a while ago and having one of those strange double glazing keys on it, next time I ordered a keyboard I picked "linux" from the options.

I was expecting that maybe I would get a penguin or "super" or some such on the key in question.

Imagine my surprise when the keyboard arrived with the same strange key as before, but with caps lock and left control reversed, as well as escape and tilda reversed.

What is especially strange is the reversals are not just printing, but electrically as well. I thought (perhaps wrongly) that the key codes used on keyboards normally mapped their actual position not their function. That is why you have to tell the computer the keyboard layout you have. So swapping the actual key codes as well as the graphics was rather odd, IMHO.

ESC swapped with ~ I can just about cope with, but as the key tops swap nicely, I just needed a bit of xmodmap to swap them back...

xmodmap -e 'keycode 9=grave'
xmodmap -e 'keycode 49=Escape'

I agree CAPS LOCK is the most useless key ever, but I cannot see the point of moving it to the left CTRL key position, and I just cannot get used to that. So I want to swap back functionally even if the key tops will not interchange.

Well, using xmodmap as above is fine for these keys as well, except the CAPS LOCK and CONTROL aspects stay where it is! I eventually found that apart from renaming the keys I have to change attributes attached to the keys. First remove them :-
xmodmap -e 'remove Lock = Caps_Lock'
xmodmap -e 'remove Control = Control_L'

Then do the remapping...

xmodmap -e 'keycode 37=Caps_Lock'
xmodmap -e 'keycode 66=Control_L'

Then add the attributes back again...

xmodmap -e 'add Lock = Caps_Lock'
xmodmap -e 'add Control = Control_L'

But still - how do I get rid of this strange key that is not a penguin for some reason!

BT listening to us?!

Again actually calling them BT. I know, scary stuff :-)

So what have BT done right?

BT have a DLM (Dynamic Line Management) which tries to fine tune the settings on each broadband line to ensure it remains working at a good speed on a long term basis. The settings can be adjusted in many ways, and they are a trade off. Some settings can make a line more reliable against certain interference but also make the latency higher. Some settings can make the line faster but less reliable. There are a lot of settings.

Now, the DLM, taking care of all of these settings automatically, sounds like a good idea. Unfortunately it has its limits. In some cases the DLM makes matters a lot worse than simply picking some settings and leaving them. It is also impossible to properly tell the DLM what the customer wants - some people want the highest speed, but they know that the line will go off line at high speed every night and don't care as they are asleep! Some people must have a line that is reliable and really do not mind if it is set to only 500K if it works all the time. These are extremes, but especially with reliability the DLM itself causes resyncs and changes in the name of keeping the service reliable! In some cases the line characteristics mean the DLM cycles through different settings over a period of several weeks - thinking it can do better and then finding it cannot over and over again.

BT introduced some changes a while ago that allow the DLM to be slowed down - told not to make changes as often, or even told not to make any more changes. The issue there is that you get stuck with whatever settings you now have.

Now, on BE lines we have no DLM at all. We have direct control of the settings and we let customers tinker as needed. Our customers, or our support staff, can sort lines out if they are a problem and leave the settings where they work well.

So BT have finally listened to us and soon (December I think) we will have the controls to actually make changes to the settings and turn off the DLM on lines. We aim to expose the settings on the control pages so that customers can also make changes.

In most cases the DLM will do fine, and this won't affect most people - but those with iffy lines or special requirements will find this invaluable as a way to get their line working the way they want it.

So, well done BT for listening - I know it has taken a long time but looks like we may finally have something we have been asking for.

Now, can we have cheaper bandwidth please :-)

Friday, 28 October 2011

New blogger not working from ipad

Thank [deity of choice] that I have found the old posting form at last.

The new blog posting form simply does not work from my iPad. Every time, small or large post, it just comes up with a cryptic error.

Hundreds of email addresses in To: line

Yes, it seems out favourite telco have no clue how to send emails. This one person sends emails with hundreds of email addresses in the To: line!!!

I have to scroll down quite a lot to get to the message itself, which is invariably something misusing GMT.

Wanted! Serious amounts of clue.

New serious limitation on all BT broadband lines!

Well, yes, I am saying BT here, because it has been confirmed very very clearly by BT that you should not have more than one PC on a single line. The exact quote is :-

"Openreach engineer has confirmed the same we cannot add multiple PC's to one single circuit as it causes instability."

Initially this appeared as just an engineer note relating to a long 20CN line. We naturally assumed it was just a silly comment, but a team leader confirmed it, initially relating to all 20CN lines, and then apparently checked with Openreach to confirm it and it seems to be any single circuit. It seems it is clear official BT policy that having more than one PC on a single circuit causes instability.

Obviously, from a technical point of view, we cannot see how this could "cause instability" - that simply makes no sense. Well, the whole statement makes no sense. We thought we bought a service that transfers packets (PPP frames) and not something that had strange restrictions on number of PCs. What this means is that if you do have more than one PC connected and an unstable line BT will refuse to fix the fault.

I suspect none of BTs other wholesale or retail customers are aware of this limitation. I would say we'd like a response from BT on this, but given we have asked several times for them to confirm they really mean this, and received the above quote, I am not sure what else these is to say.

I suppose it does mean there is no need for NAT anymore (yay!).

Odd that 10 years ago when BT launched their original broadband services (500K, 1M and 2M) with BT provided routers we were able to order routers with blocks of IPs configured to allow multiple PCs. Strange that BT have introduced this new restriction now.