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

correcthorsebatterystaple

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 www.loopsofzen.co.uk 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.


Comtrend:
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.


Billion:
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.

Zyxel:
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.


Zoom:
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... http://xkcd.com/979/

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.
THAT HAS HAPPENED TO ME!

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.

Grrr.

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 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-15691319

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 http://www.cad-comic.com/

WARNING: This web page at www.cad-comic.com 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.
http://www.nags-head.info/

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 http://newzbin.com/ you type https://newzbin.com/

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.