Wednesday, 27 February 2013

How to write the date

Thank you Randall - I have been saying this for ages


[xkcd/1179]

It is worth elaborating on this for the hard of thinking...
  1. We write numbers with the most signifcant parts on the left, even in languages that write right-to-left (I think), so, for example, the number 123 has the hundreds left (100) then the tens (20) and then the units (3). So writing dates in the same order makes sense with year, then month, then date. One could, perhaps, argue that people say "27th February, 2013" and so you should write it that way around, but people are inconsistent, e.g. "February 27th, 2013", and so on. Also, people say "Half past 2" but we know to write times logically as HH:MM:SS.
  2. There are lots of good reasons to write dates and times with leading zeros as it makes them the same size and line up and so on, so using 02 for Feburary not 2. 2013-2-27 would be messy. It also breaks the following point...
  3. Using dates in this format you can sort dates alphabetically and get date order. Putting time HH:MM:SS on the right means you can sort date/times.
  4. This is the format used by SQL
  5. Y2K has taught us to put a year in full is way better
  6. Putting a year in full means you know which of the three fields is the year and so immediately know this is not either the "UK" format (DD/MM/YY) or the "US" format (MM/DD/YY) and so avoid any confusion - it has to be ISO format as nobody does YYYY-DD-MM (not even in one of Randall's examples).
I remember starting to write dates in this format when I was at uni, as it was an "international standard". I confused people by writing dates like that on cheques. But that was a few years before 1988, which probably means my memory is faulty.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Adverts

Arrrg! Adverts just wind me up.

I really try and avoid adverts - watching on-demand, or recorded - skipping adverts - but they are getting so annoying when I do catch them, in the background while I am working or playing WoW.

"Lots of insurance companies talk of multi-car discount but why only for the second car?" Well FFS, because it is a discount for multiple cars - if you only have one car it is just a discount not a "multi-car discount". Nothing wrong with a discount, but that is why!

"You can't climb Mount Everest alone, you can't even play hide and seek alone, so why try and play the lottery alone?" Well FFS, because you can play that on your own. Why is that even a vaguely sensible line of logic for an advert?

Why are there people who fall for stuff that is not just wrong but so wrong it grates to hear it.

Wake up Sheeple!


[xkcd/1013]

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Disappointed with FaceBook

It is one of those weeks isn't it :-)

We have been trying some promotion on FaceBook, with an AAISP page, and some promoted posts. It is not that expensive, and we are trying to build up a bit of a community, etc. I think it is all working well, but FaceBook do have some odd ideas on some of their rules.

I did a post about trailing our new Office::1 service, and included the diagram:-


Unfortunately they rejected this as it "contains more than 20% text". I even resubmitted with a comment explaining that it is under 20% text. Still rejected. Arrrrg!

Oddly, and getting more "likes" a post showing the same image re-arranged like this was not rejected.

I have sent in a complaint and we'll see what they say.

Update: In spite of sending facebook the above re-arranged version as well they have come back with a stock reply saying my original image breaches the 20% rule. Are they stupid or what

Update: Even though they say that the rule is that the image must not be more than 20% text, the actual rule is that no more than 5 grid squares of 5x5 grid on the image must have any text in them. That is not the same as "less than 20% text" by a long way.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Disappointed with BT?

Well, not really that disappointed, but somewhat unhappy that even BT continue to disregard packet loss and round trip latency as a valid measure of the quality of their services. Overall we are quite happy with BT taking issues seriously.

They do talk of speed during peak hour, and similar metrics, but miss the point that packet loss and latency are much easier to measure and quantify and less subjective. If there is congestion or a fault, then they show in packet loss and latency.

We monitor every line every second for loss and latency and we can see when there are issues very easily. Some parts of BT, notably some of the people in BT Operate, and some more clued up support people, do understand the issue, and will take our monitoring seriously. We have used our monitoring to help BT identify major issues in their network, and even software bugs in supplier equipment. We have shown the merits of loss and latency measures time and time again over many years. I even get calls from BT asking for my help some times!

Loss and latency are well understood as key metrics for any Internet link, and are part of the contracts for some transit providers. Sadly, the product specification still does not cover these key metrics. It is ironic that, for a tenth of the price BT charge to connect me to a few hundred exchanges around the UK, I can get international transit to connect to thousands of endpoints around the globe with a contractual guarantee on loss and latency!

So, when we have one customer who mysteriously gets latency over night on an otherwise unused FTTC line, we expected a bit more from BT in terms of trying to fix the problem. This could be a simple fault or configuration issue in the network or cabinet DSLAM. Finding the cause will help ensure future faults are detected and fixed promptly helping all BT customers.

Sadly we are getting to the stage of BT basically saying they do not guarantee packet loss of latency (which, indeed, they don't), so tough! But if that means a service can be "broken" in this way, we have a service that is no good for either businesses or non-businesses as this sort of peak latency can break VoIP and gamers alike.

To me, it is a clear symptom of a fault and we are trying to help BT find and fix it.

Anyway, I think we'll look to put in a second FTTC for this customer. It may show the same issue or not. It will allow us to run completely independent tests, with only our equipment connected, on one or other line as needed to pin this down. Ultimately, if the new line works and the existing one does not, then we "fix" it by ceasing the old line. Not ideal, as we would rather the underlying cause is found.

This happens to some extent pretty much every night :-



Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Disappointed with Fluidata (Be/O2)

Many years ago we used to only use BT as back-haul for broadband. Following major issues with BT and 21CN deployment we signed up with Fluidata for Be/O2 back-haul as well. BT have improved a lot since then, not least in part because of the work we have put in to find and report core network issues (congestion, crashing BRASs and some other really obscure issues).

The main reason for a second back-haul is to offer choice to our customers, and specifically to allow multiple line installations to have an extra level of redundancy. The theory is that, regardless of how bad either carrier is, they will not have the same issues at the same time.

I'm sorry to report that we are now starting to see congestion issues in Be/O2. This has been going on for a while, and so far we have muddled through. The main issue here is that O2 are upgrading their network, which is good, but they are behind the usage, so there are cases of severe congestion happening and it being months before any planned upgrades. We have changed customers back to BT, or waited for the upgrades, but it is starting to be a real problem in some areas now.

I have put off blogging on this to be fair to them and give them a chance to address these issues, but we are not really making any progress on this. So, I'm just reporting how it is so that other ISPs know.

I'm pleased to say that we have really got on top of this sort of issue on the BT side - they are proactive in network upgrades now, and are responding reasonably quickly when there are exceptions. They are considering congestion issues (loss and latency) to be a fault, although it can take some persuading.

Fluidata are not, and are in fact pointing out that their "unlimited" Business grade wholesale services are not in fact unlimited. They are blaming unspecified other "super users" for causing congestion ahead of planned upgrades. Apparently we would have to justify excessive usage (excessive, on an "unlimited" service) if our users were the cause of the problem, rather the victim as in this case. That is somewhat of a concern.

It is a shame. I really thought we were doing a lot better with them and that they would take such issues seriously as a fault rather than washing their hands of them. We had lots of discussions on this early on as we had concerns that the pricing model was not one that scaled well. Whilst we all hate BTs expensive back-haul charging, the fact it is based on usage does present a business model that can scale (we'd just like that charge to be lower in BT's case). It seems that perhaps we were right to have been concerned.

The good news is we hope to have another back-haul carrier on line very soon - they do have a usage based model and are priced so closely to BT back-haul that we will be selling on the same terms as we sell BT 21CN services. We don't have any lines live yet, so cannot yet report on how well they work or how they handle faults or consider congestion issues. We'll be able to report on that after a few months I expect. This will give customers even more choice. We'll make more formal announcements on the A&A pages when we can start taking orders, but it will not be long now.

In the mean time, apparently, according to Fluidata, this is not a proper fault and can wait until April to be fixed (or sooner if they get these other super users to stop using as much). Not impressed.


Update: Slightly concerned at comments that I have got the wrong end of the stick. The above line is either considered faulty and so needs fixing promptly, or it is not considered a fault meaning I haven't got the wrong end of the stick. It should not matter if the person we by a service from buys services from someone else or not - all that matters if that the service works properly and is fixed promptly if it is not working. We don't really ask for much!

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Fax is dead, and so is the internet?

We are seeing an interesting trend lately - companies finally ceasing their fax line. We see almost no faxes ourselves, but it is interesting that fax machines and lines are actually being removed finally. It was a lot slower than the demise of telex, probably because it is a lot cheaper to keep a fax machine going.

There is, however, a problem, and this is why we are seeing this. People (typically accounts departments) finally decide to cease a fax line without realising that this is the line on which the broadband is supplied. In many offices the fax line is one of the few analogue lines they have suitable for broadband as they have ISDN phone systems still. (The move from ISDN to SIP is happening slowly).

The first anyone hears about it is when the internet stops working. The end user then has to (a) get the BT line reinstated (usually reasonably quick), but then has to (b) wait for the broadband cease to close (c) order new broadband, and maybe (d) pay for an expedite on the new broadband order. Not nice, expensive, and lack of internet for a day or even a week in some cases.

So please - think of the broadband before ceasing that old fax line.

We can do broadband only phone lines to support the broadband (including taking over your old fax line) for as little as £10/month, and then there is one bill and one point of contact for faults...

I think we'll stop publishing a fax number now as well. The one thing people fax is a "tag change form" for domains, and that can just as easily be scanned or photographed on a camera phone and emailed.

Double your speed

Had a fun conversation with someone yesterday - was very much a passing comment at the end of a meeting, along the lines of "shame you can't do anything to make my home internet faster".

Alex and I immediately said "we can double the speed", and he was really sort of sceptical - heard this sort of thing before - and explained that "no, he is on a farm in the middle of nowhere, so nobody can get anything faster".

Turns out that he is in an area which only has BT 20CN lines, and they something like 5km line length.

We explained that whatever speed he can get now we can double it - it is really really simple - we just put in two lines and not one. We explained it means a second phone line, and there may be issues with lack line plant, and so on, but that a second line is usually no problem.

Turns out he has a second phone line for business use anyway, so making it two internet services is really simple, and, of course, means we can just double his speed.

It seems strange that more people do not realise this. We are not the only people that will bond multiple broadband lines. It is not rocket science. But people are just resigned to having a slow service and expect that is the end of the matter.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Not issuing VAT invoices

There is a legal requirement (VAT Act) to issue a VAT invoice to a VAT registered customer. Simple.

Now, a lot of people issue VAT invoices as standard to all customers. There are a couple of simple requirements you have to follow to be a valid VAT invoice, but they are generally simple enough. Whether you issue them or not, you have to charge for and account for VAT. Ironically one company we have issue with (to the extent that it was an issue in a VAT inspection) is BT as they send invoices in RTF not PDF and it prints without their letterhead so does not have BT's VAT number, arg.

The discussion came up in irc today because, apparently, EE, are changing from sending people VAT invoices to sending statements and you can say you want a VAT invoice instead.

I have seen this with other telcos, and even on supermarkets and shops. Some shops print a receipt that has all of the details to be a formal VAT invoice with the line at the end "THIS IS NOT A VAT RECEIPT" (which strangely enough can get cut off!). This is extra work (extra ink and paper in that case) and means anyone needing a VAT invoice (to reclaim VAT) has to ask to get VAT invoices. In supermarkets like Tesco you have to go to the customer service desk to get one.

What I do not understand is WHY?

Why is it somehow some advantage for a company not to issue VAT invoices/receipts as standard? It is not a procedural thing as some actually include all the details and add the extra line to make it not a VAT invoice. It makes extra work, not less. So why do they do it. What trick am I missing.

There are a few occasions that it makes sense. At A&A we have a home tariff and one of the terms is that it is for non VAT registered customers. This is a simple way to differentiate most business users and easy to enforce by simply not issuing a VAT invoice. But that is a deliberate tariff choice and not something we do generally and clearly not why EE, or Orange, or Tesco, or many many other suppliers don't simply issue a VAT invoice?

There must be a reason...

Do BT confirm 7 hour fix is a scam?

The actual conversation was:-

Adrian Kennard (12:00:40):
OK, can you confirm - even though this is 7 hour fix, BT plc have no controls in place to ensure you meet that 7 hour fix - is that the case?

Kumar Gundecha Sheetal (12:01:24):
Yes that in case when we are depended on OR for appointment


This seems to me to be a clear statement that BT do not have the necessary controls in place to actually meet the 7 hour fix targets they SELL to us. To me that appears to be a simple matter of criminal fraud to sell such a service.

We'll be taking this up with our account manager.

Update: After several staff (including myself) spending hours on echat and 4 attempts to book appointments, and involving senior people in BT, we finally get an engineer with minutes to spare. He has now left site with the line not working at all (rather than just ill) and hence has missed the 7 hour fix. What a surprise. This was a BT confirmed line fault so should have been "fire and forget" for us, not something using many man hours.

Update: Some people asked why I consider it fraud. If I offered to fix all faults within 5 minutes for only an extra £100 a month - would that be fraud, as I know I will almost never meet that target, even if I have a £5 SLG for not meeting it. Clearly selling a guarantee you quite simply have no intention (or means) to meet has to be fraud - it is a lie to extract money from us.

Update: They finally fixed it, late. But the notes suggest there are serious issues. Someone from BT said that as the engineer was working no it that they would "sleep" the fault until 8am tomorrow!

Update: More fraud? BT diagnosed this as faulty in the first place (i.e. not "right" when they tested) and have confirmed an "E-side change" to fix, but have had the cheek to clear this as a "Right When Tested" clear code meaning they will charge us for the engineer visit. That is a total lie and clear to me that it is a deliberate lie to get money from us, i.e. criminal fraud. How much of this do we have to take before just reporting to the police?

Update: I sent the fault back saying they need to correct the clear code, and they said to book an engineer. Seems excessive just to fix a clear code, but as they asked I have booked one. What a waste of (their) money?!

Update: BT actually stated in an email "please cancel the appointment as we never requested this action" which is clearly a lie as BT send a message "Please book an appointment with your End User."

Thursday, 7 February 2013

"In stock" my arse!

4gon.co.uk still list the ruckus 7811 as in stock :-

They also offer 1-2 day delivery :-


Yet when you order they say :-

Many thanks for your order, please be aware that we have to order this
product directly in from Ruckus, there is a 4-6 week lead time on this.

So that sounds a lot like they were outright lying to me to get my business. Sounds a lot like an offence under the Fraud Act 2006 to me.

Then they ask :-
Please advise how you wish to proceed?

So I have suggested that maybe they can ship the one they have In stock on their 1-2 day delivery...

We'll see what happens.

Update: (12th) They finally changed their web site.



Snom m9 IPv6

The SNOM m9 VoIP phone just works using IPv6 with a FireBrick FB2500 VoIP call server.

I was expecting to have to tweak something or diagnose something one way or another, but no - we plugged it in - set the identity (server, username, password), and it works - incoming and outgoing calls - using IPv6.

We'll do a few more tests, but so far I have to say well done to SNOM!

The FireBrick handled the call and bridged the media between IPv6 and IPv4 with no problems.

We just need a simple cheap desk phone that does IPv6 now, please, snom...

broadbandchoices.co.uk

They claim in TV adverts to compare all of the best broadband choices in your area, but do not include AAISP or most other small ISPs in their comparison.

Their web site states "We are totally impartial" on the main page, and they are OFCOM approved as a comparison site. OFCOMs rules confirm that excluding some providers is likely to mislead.

We asked broadbandchoices.co.uk if they can list us and they say it would be logistically impossible to do so - yet somehow other comparison sites manage it - suggesting that it is logistically possible. I did suggest that maybe they could contact thinkbroadband of ispreview if they need advice on logistics ad both sites manage to list us!

So, they do not compare all of the best choices, they are not totally impartial, and they claim things are impossible when they are not. I wonder what else they tell people is also incorrect?

ASA said that the site had "natural search engine results" or some such and they could not help. They had to be convinced that my complaint was about the TV advert not the web site.

However, finally, today, I have a reply from ASA and they are taking on the case. It seems their next step is to contact Clearcast and the advertiser on this. Will be interesting to see what they say.

Odd, though, no reply from OFCOM on this, or indeed on other issues we have raised (such as the TPS). I wonder who one complains to about OFCOM not responding. I suppose we should keep a record of this so that we have an example to refer to of what is an acceptable level of response if ever we have another ADR where the main reason to pay compensation is slow responses to queries. If OFCOM can ignore queries or take weeks to reply, clearly that is acceptable. :-)

Ideal outcome from this: That we are listed on their site, even if only our consumer Home::1 package.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Have you tried rebooting it?

Why do we live in a world where rebooting is a normal thing. It is sad, and I have to say it is largely down to the ease of making faulty software (for which I can be blamed in some cases)...

Today, I was being a dumb consumer, trying to get my TV working. How hard can it be?

The TV was silent with a blue screen, not good. The sky box was being unresponsive. Hmm.

Power cycled the sky box, which is usually all you need. Still blue screen. At one point I got some sound and a blue screen.

OK, give in, turn off the whole lot for 30 seconds... Power on. The sky box is feeding an image over HDMI on the boot up "Sky+HD, please wait". So that works...

Yay, after much waiting (why do things take any time to boot?) we get an image. The sky demo channel, but not sound. Try another channel, no joy.

The Bose sound system is off. OK, well, I did power cycle everything. But I can't turn it on (power button or remote). Check leads, plugs, etc. No joy, WTF?

OK, so I switch to TV speakers - still no sound. WTF?

OK, so, lets try one thing at a time. Tell TV to go on to iPlayer. Arrg! Loud... Turn down TV speakers, still loud. Hang on? The Bose is on, and working and on high volume. Turn that down, switch TV speakers off.

Back to sky and still no sound. Arrrg.

OK, change channel on Sky and magically we get sound.

All is working again.

But WTF! Why is this not easy? Why does it not just work FFS...

I diagnose equipment and networks and hardware and software as my day job. But I have no idea from this which of three boxes was ill, or why, or what it was actually doing. What hope do ordinary consumers have in the face of this?

Clean desk policy?


Finally moving in to new offices - after several minor delays.
(Does this desk make me look fat?)


Hopefully we have everyone in by the end of the day. Well done to everyone chipping in, and moving desks and phones and computers and everything else.

Update: It would be cruel not to include this one too. And I did a lot of supervising with a camera in my hand. Impressed with all the work done by everyone.


Saturday, 2 February 2013

The next IPv6 CPE challenge

For some years I have been almost campaigning to get some IPv6 capable, cheap, and usable broadband routers.

Finally their time has come - many manufacturers have finally seen the writing on the wall, and made sensibly priced consumer ADSL and PPPoE (for FTTC) CPE that does IPv6. We see Technicolor and Zoom as the leaders, with Zyxel following, but they are not alone. We currently ship the Technicolor kit at A&A. IPv6 is standard for all new customers, even home users.

Well done.

The next challenge and campaign is simple, good, cheap IPv6 VoIP phones.

This is much the same as we were a couple of years ago with DSL routers. There are some, yes. There are special IPv6 versions of code for some phones. Snom is our VoIP phone of choice, but their IPv6 code simply did not work and they told us they were doing no more work on it. WTF?

We have been able to test IPv6 SIP. We coded this in to the FB2500 and FB2700, and were able to test on one make of phone, with test s/w, which mostly worked. It actually had an odd delay answering the initial ring, but otherwise is fine. It needs finishing.

We have the challenge of finishing the second phase of VoIP code in FireBrick. The next phase is the large scale VoIP server based on the FB6000, as opposed to the very capable PABX functions in the FB2500 and FB2700. This will allow A&A to change over to a new call server. Even so, IPv6 is built in from the start, as you would expect.

But until we find sensible, cheap, usable IPv6 phones, we are a tad stuck.

So - lets see it... We'll do our bit - we'll test and develop the call server with back to back IPv4 to/from IPv6 RDP gateway routing. As an ISP we'll work on suitable firewall settings for IPv6 VoIP via the IPv6 CPE like the Technicolor.

With the right CPE (phones) we can make a VoIP phone a common and standard offering with broadband, finally killing the old fashioned copper pair based analogue voice for home users.

Update: We're going to test the SNOM m9, but that is not quite the low end basic phone I am after really.

Update: The snom m9, err, just works, with a FireBrick as VoIP gateway. Yay!