Monday, 24 February 2014

stats aren't facts

So, with today's banter with Neil McRae on twitter I did finally get :-

"stats aren't facts though - I wish they where sometimes! :)"

Now I wonder. If they are not facts, what the hell are they?

Of course stats are facts. We have facts like "At time X we sent 100 LCP echos and received 97 replies". That is a stat, and a fact. An absolute irrefutable fact. These "stats" are the raw data from the tests done. The facts we start with to try and make sense of the stats.

Forecasts are not facts. Some of the interpretation from stats are not facts.

But really, Neil, stats are facts, hard solid facts, and if you don't know that then, well, we have a problem

I am also accused of bullying BT on the whole congestion issue. Fair point, but if Neil would like to tell me the correct (and effective) way to get BT to take such issues seriously, I'll be more than happy to do that instead.

Update: Neil has hidden and/or deleted his tweets. Ones where he said BT customer services would agree with anything to keep me happy, where he said it was appropriate to call me stupid, where he says stats aren't facts. Oh well.

BT 21CN not fit for purpose?

Update: The BT Wholesale Incident Helpdesk manager has stated:
Please rest assured that BT Wholesale are fully committed to ensuring that all capacity issues are addressed.

I posted about this some years ago when BT had recently started their 21CN network. They had congestion in parts of their network and were refusing to believe it, let alone fix it.

Eventually, after the press got hold of my blog post, BT took action, and our monitoring graphs were used internally within BT where BT Operate staff were able to track down a series of errors and mis-configurations that were causing the congestion.

Following that (as we understand it) BT set up a new department to pro-actively manage the various links and perform necessary upgrades. Occasionally there are still issues, usually a mis-configuration or a fault and hence something BT do not pick up themselves. These usually get fixed once we report them.

Unfortunately there must have been a change of staff or attitudes in BT and once again we see core links within BTs networks showing congestion which BT are basically refusing to address.

Importantly these congestion issues are present even when paying extra for "business grade" premium services (elevated weighting) on the broadband tails.

We recently had a statement from BT that "3% packet loss is not considered a fault", which is outrageous. Despite being published on ispreview they have not refuted that statement. This was an idle line 3% loss all the time (which we believe we have tracked down to a fault on a core link within BT), but the suggestion that 3% idle line loss is not a fault is totally crazy.

Now it seems that serious back-haul congestion is also acceptable to BT. They insist on SFI engineers (who cannot test packet loss anyway) sent during the day (when the packet loss is not present).

The good news is that we don't see this on TalkTalk back-haul, and we, like you, have a choice. If we have to move all customers on a congested area to Talk Talk back-haul to fix this, we will. I am sure other ISPs can do the same.

What is even odder is the comment from a senior member of BT plc staff, Neil McRae, that it was "rubbish" and  "there are no BT exchanges at all that have any congestion". I pointed out that we have clear evidence of exchanges where all 21CN show packet loss, i.e. "Every line we have on Hampton exchange shows signs of congestion". At the suggestion it was the SVLAN not the exchange I said "If you say it not the exchange it is the SVLAN, then that is the same thing - if the pipe to the exchange is getting full, then that is congestion at the exchange". I was told "no" and "but if you want to be stupid then I won't argue with you". These are the comments from someone that describes himself as Chief Network Architect at BT.

We know there are exchanges showing serious signs of congestion, such as Coventry, Hainault, Southwark, Canonbury, Loughton, where 21CN lines are showing loss in the evenings.

We have, of course, confirmed that this is real and general problem by checking with other ISPs, who are also chasing BT

Update: For one area BT have stated: "The issue that is currently causing packet loss and slow speeds to end users is with the backhaul links being over utilised. In relation to over utilisation, we are talking about ports or lag groups trying to send more than 100% of their capacity. When the buffer on these ports or lags fills up, it will cause packets to be dropped." confirming BT have congestion in their core network.

The question from me:
This is a really simple question for BT plc: Are BT going to formally commit to addressing congestion faults, or do we (and other ISPs) need to start moving people to an uncongested network like TalkTalk wholesale instead?
Example of a line on Canonbury exchange over the last week

Thursday, 20 February 2014

IPv6 works!

So, on our A&A irc channel comes a new customer asking for help.

The locals soon chip in, and with a few checks from me to confirm he is in fact on line we get to working out the problem.

He can get to google, and youtube, and and all sorts. He can get to irc, obviously. But lots of stuff is not working. Thanks to everyone that helps.

We quickly work out he is only on IPv6. It is impressive how much he can get to!

It is also impressive that he is not only able to get help on irc, on IPv6 only, but access an IPv6 pastebin type site to post output from windows ipconfig /all command.

The result is simple, he has a static IPv4 config, and not DHCP from the router we supplied. A simple tweak to his config.

But it just shows how much IPv6 "just works" and how useful it can be to have more than one IP protocol available. Well done FH

19:48  * TonyHoyle is slightly amazed at remotely diagnosing someone's Internet conection, over the Internet

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Achievement unlocked: Level 50

Me, at LINX this week
It has happened, the first half century. Looking forward to the next :-)

To be honest the "getting old" starts when you are around 40. I was wearing glasses before that, but the main things that happen to you start to kick in at around 40. They are all small things, little steps, death by a thousand cuts...

Now, at 50, I learn to expect things to continue to fail. I have the diabetes which is well controlled, and the acid reflux for which I take omeprazole. Next will be blood pressure tablets by the look of it, we'll see. You have the odd aches and pains such that you forget they were never normal in the past. I cycle again - I had stopped and then got fat and diabetic, so started again. Now I don't drive as I know it would be a slippery slope to being lazy again.

But we live on, and hope for the best.

There is a party, on Saturday, at which many family and friends will be present. It should be fun though, if I don't drink much. I have had to pay for most of it, as is always the way, but Sandra is putting in a lot of effort for costumes (fancy dress). Pictures will follow. Sorry to those that could not come or I managed to forget to invite. We have some nice whisky to put behind the bar (£50 corkage!). Update: The party was awesome.

So far I have a handful of cards and one present (an original GPO linesman kitbag, cool), but I expect that to change on Saturday.

But tonight, an M&S macaroni cheese, a couple of drinks, and maybe a toasted crumpet, and then bed. Properly turning in to an old fogey. What can I say?

Oh! and the beard. It is because I am going as Henry VIII to the party. I really doubt I'll be allowed to keep it :-( Thanks Tref for the picture.

Can Europe go its own way on data privacy?

The BBC have an interesting article that suggests that the German Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to make a "cordoned-off portion of the internet".
In her weekly podcast to the German nation, Ms Merkel floated the plan to ensure European data stays on European networks. 

She suggested this required beefing up Europe's data networks and implementing policies and technologies to limit how much data crosses the Atlantic.

Her proposals have been prompted by revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden about the extent of US spying.
The BBC did ask me for comments, thanks, but it is hard to try and explain the level of bat-shit insanity going on here in just a few quotes.

How the Internet already works

Let's start with a few simple lessons on the basics - how the Internet works.

For a start you have ISPs (Internet Service Providers). These can be large or small, and can even be part of international companies. They are usually nationally based, certainly in the UK. These are the people that connect the individual homes and businesses to the Internet.

Smaller ISPs will often make use of national carriers to connect from homes and offices to their network. Larger ISPs will have their own national networks.

Either way, these ISPs interconnect in various ways - often at peering points (like LINX and LONAP in London).

There are then transit providers - these are like the ISPs for ISPs. They operate global networks and interconnect lots of ISPs all over the world. They do not usually deal directly with individuals or businesses, but will do for large companies. They interconnect with each other and connect to their customers (usually ISPs).

This means that each ISP will have connections not only to other ISPs but to one or more transit providers.

For a packet to go from one house to another, even next door, it will usually travel some way. If the houses are on different ISPs it will have to go as far an interconnect between the ISPs. Even on the same ISP the packet will typically travel to a major node in their network and back. It is not uncommon for traffic in the UK to go via London, for example. This is largely down to the way the back-haul carriers like BT and TalkTalk offer services to ISPs via hub connections.

If the ISPs in question do not interconnect directly, then the traffic will go to a transit provider and then to the other ISP. If they do not have at transit provider in common then it will go via more than one. It is technically possible for the transit providers to only interconnect in a different country - but this would be unusual these days and normally only if there is a fault.

In practice, traffic from one place in a country to another in the same country would not leave that country. Traffic from one country in Europe going to another in Europe is unlikely to leave Europe.

This is largely for commercial and technical reason, but it cannot be guaranteed. There is a chance that some will go via the US, and this is more likely if there is a fault of some sort. It is certainly not normal and means that a cordoned off EU Internet is really not necessary - the US do not see the traffic normally. It also means that if we stopped traffic accidentally going via the US we would break the very back-up routing that makes the Internet work when there are faults.

People dealing with US companies and webs sites in the US

Of course this idea also makes no sense as people will routinely deal with companies in the US and access US web sites and services. Unless the Chancellor is suggesting actually unplugging the EU from the US and banning people from dealing with US web sites, then her proposals do nothing to help against the risk of snooping by the NSA in such cases.

Bear in mind that we regularly deal with US owned companies even when they have equipment in the EU. If any of these are in bed with the NSA the fact that they are within the EU Internet does not stop them sending data to the NSA.

We can't sensibly ban people from dealing with US companies.

Is there a real solution?

The question really is about what we can do to remove the threat of snooping by the NSA. Locking ourselves in a closed room is not the answer, so what is?

The answer is something we already know well - encryption. Most of us are familiar with the idea of a secure web site for when we access our bank, for example. This encrypts the data. There are ways to encrypt email in the same way, and these could be encouraged and supported by governments.

It may mean a few technical improvements to help people with key management and the like, but with some education and support a government could encourage much greater use of encryption for web pages, email and general Internet access.

When you use encryption you make it so that only you, and the other end, can see what you are doing. This raises some issues in itself.

Do you trust the far end?

A big issue here is how do you trust the far end. What if they are a US owned company or in the US anyway - they could be passing data to the far end anyway. Establishing trust is one of the biggest challenges with encryption systems. Just look at the list of Certificate Authorities in your browser. You have seriously trusted your browser supplier to give you a sensible list and you are trusting all of those companies you have never heard of in that CA list to authenticate people with which you deal via secure web sites. Scary!

There is always meta data!

Another big issue is that even when encrypted there is meta data - the information saying who you communicated with, and even subject lines in some cases. That data is an invaluable source of privacy invasion when collected on everyone. A lot of people use email provided by US companies, and use cloud services and all of these could be subject to snooping.

This comes down to trust again, and you would need better EU based and national services that people can use with the trust that they need.

The FaceBook problem

There is also the fact that people are often giving out lots of personal data freely. Creating more social networking sites is not easy - and nobody would join an EU version of FaceBook instead of the real thing where all of their mates are. This is a case where people freely agree to terms and conditions allowing their personal data to be used. As long as this happens, we will have to accept that a lot of privacy is lost and even that, for a lot of people, there is no longer any absolute concept of privacy as something they need in their lives.

The Chancellor needs to think carefully what is her objective, then consider whether that is a sensible and achievable objective before suggesting solutions.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Porn filters - no it is not a law!

We hear people saying "They all filter now don't they, it's the law isn't it?" when it comes to porn and other filters.

It seems to me that there is a lot of confusion over this, and I am sure this is exactly what the likes of Baroness Howe would want - people assuming that a filtered Internet is normal or even a legal requirement. It is not!

I was, however, rather encouraged having done a talk at both LONAP and LINX, the two main London based Internet Exchanges to find that almost nobody does any filtering. Whilst A&A may well push the whole unfiltered angle, it seems that most small ISPs simply are not filtering. The notable exceptions being some ISP selling specifically to schools, and, of course, the big ISPs like BT, etc.

The main points in my talk cover the principles of why we don't filter:
  1. There is an important principle, which has some protection in law even ("mere conduit") that the how you communicate is separate from the what you communicate. Providers of communications, whether post, telephone or Internet should not have to consider the ethical, legal, moral, or political aspects of what is communicated. They should be able to concentrate on the how aspects and make the communications work. If we had to concern ourselves with what is communicated we would not have the Internet at all.
  2. The whole censorship is bad and this is the thin end of the wedge and slippery slope arguments.
  3. The pointlessness of this all - nobody will be stopped from communicating if they want to. There are people selling USB sticks with TOR browsers and Flash allowing unfiltered browsing with one click.
The presentation went down well at both events.

But even with most Internet access having filtering now, simply because most lines are with the biggest providers, people still seem to misunderstand. It is not obvious to people that these filters are optional - you do not have to have them. Of course, those that understand that they are optional do not want to be put on the ISPs perv list by asking.

Of course, even now, there is mission creep on this - and already calls to include "extremist" web sites on the filters, and include non-optional filtering of "illegal content". We said this would happen and we are sliding down that slippery slope already it seems.

So, lets be clear:

There is no legal requirement for an ISP to filter anything!

The closest we get to that is the ability for a court to make an order against an individual ISP to filter access to a specific site relating to copyright infringement. Even that is on shaky ground after a court ruling elsewhere in the EU removing such blocks after conceding that they do not work.

An ISP does not have to filter illegal or immoral content, or monitor for such content, or report such usage to anyone. ISPs are protected from liability for the content that is passed. Obviously customers should not do anything illegal, but ISPs do not have to police that, and (in my view) should not.

So it is good news that there are a lot of small ISPs for consumers and businesses that are not filtering the Internet. I am all in favour of choice. Of course, I don't mind if ISPs do offer additional services and filtering, as a choice the customer picks. What concerns me is the way people now assume filtering is normal.

Thanks to LINX and LONAP for letting me talk on this, and ask members about what they do.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Greater Manchester Police discrediting the Irish?

If this picture is to be believed then it would seem that Greater Manchester Police (famous for thinking 3D printer parts were a gun) are now attempting to discredit the homes and businesses of people in Northern Ireland. In particular those with telephone numbers in Banbridge, Rostrevor, Kircubbin, Newcastle, and Downpatrick.

Update: This is more serious than I thought. GMP posted this hoax on their facebook page on 22nd Jan and had not edited or removed the post in spite of many others pointing out the errors until I tweeted. Deleted 14th Feb.

Update: Questions have been raised as to whether that facebook page is real. It is linked to from a web page, so it is real.

The police know that OFCOM allocate all new area codes and could simply have asked them to confirm this story if they were unsure. I am very disappointed, even cross, that they should spread this hoax. It is even worse that this does not just cover fake (i.e. unallocated) area codes but also real phone numbers of real homes and businesses that might want people to call them.

What also disappoints me is that I have friends and relatives that have posted this on facebook as if it was real. I don't expect them to know the UK National Dialling Plan but the idea that any call could cost £1500/minute should have rung alarm bells. It is not as if they do not have something they could ask!

The letter claims that there is a scam where people are asked to call back to numbers starting 0809, 0876 or 0284 and that these new area codes cost £1500/minute to call.

Let's try a few facts here to help people.

The UK does now have something of a plan for numbering. Yes, it was confusing in the past, but it is a lot more logical now.

No calls cost £1500/minute. That is crazy. Some premium rate numbers can cost over £1/minute, and some premium rate texts with multiple texts sent back at cost can even come to amounts like £5 (typically for charity donations). No calls cost £1500/minute.

0809 and 0876 have not been allocated. There are no numbers starting with these area codes (they are not actually "area codes" as they have no area they cover). If ever they were allocated then 0809 would be a freephone number (i.e. free from a landline) to fit in with the existing scheme.

0284 is not an area code. 028 is Northern Ireland, and 02840 to 02844 are areas Banbridge, Rostrevor, Kircubbin, Newcastle, and Downpatrick in Northern Ireland.

Calls to 028 numbers are normal geographic call rate. i.e. The same as calling any number starting 01, 02 or 03. They are included in normal calling packages the same as other geographic numbers. They are not expensive to call.

I have a number that starts 0284, try it, it is not expensive. 028 4015 1515.

Update: Reading the GMP facebook post it is worse that I thought - they go on to suggest that when your phone company charges you they could then wash their hands of this and leave you arguing with a foreign telco!. That is not how it works in the UK (and surprised if that was even the case in the US) - you have a contract with your telco and and billing would be a matter of dispute between you and your telco. This is just more fear, uncertainly and doubt being spread by GMP causing unnecessary concern and distress and damaging their own credibility. We trust these people to enforce the law in Manchester do we?

Where does this crap come from?

According to snopes this all stems from scams in the US many years ago. In the US they have numbering that is 3 digit area code and 7 digit number. The problem is that there are a handful of country codes that are within the US prefix and so in the US they look like normal US numbers. This is much like the fact that in the UK there are normal looking 07 mobile numbers that are actually for Manx which is not even in the UK, and hence a bit more expensive to call.

So, county codes +1809 (Dominion Republic), +1876 (Jamaica) and +1284 (Biritish Virgin Isles), look to Americans like normal US phone numbers in area codes 809, 876 and 284. They cost more to call, and it seems that at some point there were some scams where this extra call cost was paid out somewhere along the way just like a premium rate number. Because of this the warnings were spread in the US.

This is somewhat out of date anyway in that the scams are less common in this form (now they are often other countries and more often compromised SIP switches than social engineering a call back). The costs have also gone down. E.g. We (A&A) charge 3½p/min (9p/min for calls to mobiles in that country) for Dominion Republic, 6¼p/min (14½p/min for mobiles) for Jamaica, and 9¾p/min (16¼p/min for mobiles) for British Virgin Isles. Compared to calls to normal US numbers where we charge 2p/min that is expensive, but a far cry from £1500/minute as claimed!

Why anyone would translate this outdated US scam warning to UK numbering is beyond me. In the UK such numbers would not look like normal UK numbers but would obviously be international (e.g. 001809...) and presumed to be expensive. The scam would not work like this in the UK even if the scam was still happening.

I am shocked that GMP are spreading this hoax, and even more shocked that weeks after they were corrected they have not retracted it or apologised. That is just appalling.

Update: I have emailed the IPCC about GMP to see if they take it seriously.
Update: 14th Feb, after tweeting GMP they finally removed the post on 14th Feb.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Seeing sounds?

OK, just to check here, this is normal, right.

If I am lying in bed, in the dark, eyes closed, and there is a sudden sound, I see it - it is normally a pattern of black and white that flashes in my vision with the sound. Different pattern for different sounds. Always been like that. I am not sure how much that happens when eyes open and looking at stuff. It is hard to tell, but in the dark it is much more noticeable.

Wikipeda says Synesthesia

Saturday, 8 February 2014

What is Packet Loss?

The Internet uses a system of packets to send information. This means that whatever you are doing, whether accessing FaceBook, making a Skype call, playing an on-line game, downloading a file or reading an email, the information is broken down in to packets. These are not always the same size, and are typically up to around 1500 bytes (or characters) of data at a time.

Each of these packets carries some addressing information, and some data. The fact that packets are used means it is possible to have lots of things happening at once, with bits of one thing in one packet followed by bits of something else in another packet and so on, mixing up multiple things on one Internet connection. This is how it is possible for lots of people to use an Internet connection at once. The addressing data in the packet makes sure the right things go to the right place and are put back together at the far end.

This is all very different to old fashioned phone calls which work on circuits. They work by creating a means to send data (e.g. voice) continuously at a specific speed between two points, reserving the capacity for that link for the duration of the call. You either manage to establish the call (the circuit), or not, at the start. Once you have it, you have the circuit in place until you finish. It is a very different way of working to packets.

One of the problems you get is where a link of some sort gets full.

With a circuit based system like phone calls a full link (i.e. one already carrying as many calls as it can) will mean you get an equipment engaged tone. The call fails to start.

However, with a packet based system, when a link gets full you start with a queue of packets waiting to go down the link (adding delay) and ultimately you drop packets. That means the packets are thrown away. This can, and does, happen at any bottleneck anywhere in the Internet. The most likely being where the Internet connects to your Internet connection and create a bottleneck.

So packet loss is normal. It is what happens when a link is full.

The result of this packet loss depends on the protocol. The overall effect on any sort of data transfer, such as downloading a file, or sending an email, is that the transfer happens at a slower speed. The end points send packets of data at a slower speed so that they don't get dropped packets. Importantly, with a lot of protocols, the missed packets are re-sent which means the data does not have gaps in it.

Some protocols do not allow resending or slowing down, these include things like VoIP calls, like Skype, where you can't slow down a phone call. What happens in such cases is you get gaps in the call - break-up, pops, etc.

Some systems are clever and decide which packets to drop when a link is full, giving protocols like VoIP a chance to get through and dropping packets for protocols that can back-off if needed. We do this in A&A, for example.

However, there is another scenario where you can get packet loss, and this is where there is a fault. In the case of a fault you will find some packets are dropped at random. What usually happens is some of the data in the packet is corrupted (changed) by random noise or errors from the fault, and this means that the packet no longer checks out when it gets to the other end. Packets have built in checks to confirm nothing was changed, and if that check fails the packet is dropped.

The effect of fault based packet loss depends on the protocol.

For protocols like VoIP, the dropped packet simply means break up in the call. Even low level of packet loss can mean annoying pops and gaps in the call.

For protocols that can back off and slow down, well, that is what they do. They cannot tell that the packet loss is the result of a fault and not of a full link, so they slow down. But even when the slow down, they still get packet loss as it is random. So they slow down even more. They don't understand the problem, and just assume that a link must be getting full no matter how slow they go.

Imagine if driving a car with no speedo but you get a light saying "driving too fast". That is fine, when you see the light, you slow down, and you stop seeing the light. That means you drive at the right speed. But if the light is faulty and keeps saying "driving too fast" at random, you will slow down, and still see the light, so slow down more, and before you know it you are crawling along at walking speed.

This means that even low levels of random packet loss can massively slow down a data transfers.

Packet loss when a link is otherwise idle is a fault.

The problem is that when you measure packet loss you do not always know if the link is full or not. Your tests of packet loss, usually a protocol called ping, could be losing packets because a link is full sending an email, or it could be losing packets because of a fault.

The key is to measure packet loss when a link is otherwise empty of traffic, so that the only reason to drop packets is because of a fault.

The other problem with measuring loss is how you measure it. The normal measure is percentage loss. If you send 100 packets, how many arrive and how many are lost. This is fine, but random corruption causing loss will have a much higher chance of causing a packet to be lost if the packet is bigger. So you have to look at packet loss and packet size. From this you can work out a rate of corruptions on a link and predict the loss for other packet sizes.

The best measure of loss as a simple percentage is the loss when sending full size packets (1500 bytes) which is what the data transfer protocols (like TCP) use. Even a 1% or 2% of loss of such packets can cause TCP to slow down massively. It does not work like taking away a couple of percent of speed - the data transfers keep slowing down as they keep thinking the line must be full.

2% loss is not like 98% working speed!

A simpler, and less intrusive measure of loss, is a simple short LCP echo. LCP echoes are a normal part of most Internet links, and A&A do them every second and record the loss for every line. This is only a few bytes, and so packet loss that is a fraction of a percentage could mean several percent at full packet sizes. This is why it is so important to take even very low levels of LCP echo loss seriously.

This is why packet loss needs to be a clear metric of quality and faults and why companies like BT need documented packet loss measures that are considered a fault. For some inexplicable reason such a simple metric is not part of any service level guarantee, and not considered a "fault" by BT!

Oddly, buying transit, which means sending and receiving packets from thousands of places all around the world (not just exchanges in the UK) and even laying cables under the ocean, one can get a service level guarantee of ZERO packet loss ever. This shows how seriously transit providers take such things. They even guarantee latency (the time taken to transfer packets). Even more oddly, such services are typically around a 50th of the cost of BTs connectivity to exchanges around the UK where no service level guarantee exists for packet loss. It is a strange world we live in some times isn't it?

Friday, 7 February 2014

BT official: 3% packet loss is not a fault!

Yes, you heard right. BT plc have confirmed, and I quote: "3% packet loss is not considered as a fault" [Krishanu Sanyal, Broadband Customer Service Team Manager - BT Wholesale].

Please do bear in mind we are talking about a random 3% packet loss on an otherwise idle line, not loss due to full queues on a router.

This is BTs flagship super fast broadband product, FTTC (known as Infinity by BT Retail).

3% packet loss is sufficient to severely break TCP connections, making them unusably slow, as well as impact many other protocols such as VoIP.

Do not be fooled, we are not talking about a line working at 97% of its speed, this is packet loss. Whilst IP does not guarantee no loss, any loss on an idle line is an indication of some sort of fault. The occasional packet once in a while is not usually an issue, but levels like 3% are serious.

In the case of this specific customer, the LCP loss is averaging under 1% but clearly visible on our monitoring. Testing 1k pings shows an ongoing loss between 2% and 4% causing significant problems for the customer. BT have now sent four engineers, after suggesting that a lift and shift (move to a new port on DSLAM) will solve the issue, and each time the engineer has refused to do the lift and shift but also refused to actually fix the fault by any other means and just left.

So, that's the story - BT's FTTC super fast broadband would appear to be officially crap!

As a BT Group plc shareholder, I am very disappointed.

Update: fifth engineer, actually did a port change (lift and shift) and problem is same, so we are now trying to get BT to look at the fibre backhaul, etc. But with BT insisting that 3% loss is not a fault, it is an uphill struggle to get this fixed! I may have to take more drastic action.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014


So, I am once again making the mistake of watching an advert on TV. Why do I do it.

I wonder on the meaning of the word "exclusive".

To me, if someone advertises something as "exclusive" it means that others are excluded from that. So when Thomas Cook advertise resorts with "exclusive" features, even "free wifi... exclusive", it seems to me to be stating that no other resort has "free wifi".

If that is not what they mean, then what exactly does "exclusive" mean in this context?

Maybe I am missing the point.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Is the Scottish Goverment committing terrorism?

This article in ispreview says that "The Scottish Government’s “Cyber Integrator” (cybercrime tzar), Keith McDevitt" is asking people to close their open wifi at home.

He is saying that "There is a danger that a team of officers will come in your door and seize not only your family’s computers, phones and tablets, but also your TV if it is connected to the internet. Often the investigation can take several weeks and even if nothing is found and the person involved is cleared, there will be a suspicion that lingers on."

This is serious.

The home owner is innocent in such cases.

Offering an open wifi may not be wise for many reasons, but it is not illegal, and some even considering it to be very social and helpful.

This is a threat of nasty things happening to you, seizing your computers and your TV for weeks, and significant inconvenience if you don't change your legal behaviour. It even goes on to suggest "suspicion lingers on", which does not sound right or legal?

This is a threat designed to create fear and even terror.

Assuming the report is right, and Keith McDevitt speaks for them, then this appears to be The Scottish Government threatening terror to change people's legal behaviour.

That is terrorism, plain and simple.

Is that legal? If so, why?

What is happening to this country?

Actually, I think I can answer that - if we are now officially expected to be scared of groundless police intimidation, we are living in a police state.

ISP review do make an important point as well. If you "close" your WiFi, a criminal can still use it (hacking WiFi is not rocket science), and then you have very little defence against groundless accusations by the police. At least with an open WiFi you add huge amounts of "reasonable doubt". But really, we should not be under such threats in the first place.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

LED there be light!

We are changing the lighting in our main office to new LED lighting panels.

Before - all but one are fluorescent
After - all LED
To be fair, the original reason for even considering this was the geekiness of it. Kev is fitting out a workshop and, as he does, he researched lighting options and came up with LED lights and told me.

Now, I think they look cool, futuristic, and so on, but even I am not going to splash out over £1000 on new lighting without it being sensible, so I started looking in to the costs and savings.

In the main office we had 12 lights, each of which is four 36W fluorescent tubes. These each take up two 600x600mm ceiling tile spaces. What we are installing is 45W LED panels, each of which each takes only one 600x600mm ceiling tile space.

The first step was working out how many new lights we need. Can I swap one for one? So we installed one light initially to assess the results. We are quite pleased - the new lights appear, subjectively, at least as bright as the old lights, and maybe even brighter. They are also white rather than yellow.

So, 12 new panels, and power supplies. We also got some in-line connectors to make the installation simpler. The panels and power supplies work out around £105+VAT each.

Is it worth it?

Working out the payback on this is not as simple as it sounds.

There is simple power consumption, 45W vs 4x36W. This shows the new panels are around 1/3 of the power of the old. Assuming 12 hours a day, 5 days a week, 12 panels, you get around 1684kWh/year for LED and 5491kwH/year for fluorescent. A saving of 3700kwH at 15.8p is £584 a year saving. The cost of 12 panels being £1260, so payback in two years.

But then there are a number of other factors. Simple regular changing of old fluorescent tubes, and starters, and such, have costs for the parts and the staff time fitting them.

Of course, it is never as simple as it sounds. For some of the year we are heating the office, so reducing the power coming in to lights means a corresponding increase in power for heating. In fact, we use modern air-con for heating which means more that 100% efficiency from electrical power at the office converted in to heat. The waste from lights is merely 100% efficient. So we save some money by heating using air-con rather than heating using waste from lighting.

For a lot of the year, with an office full of people and computers, the air-con is cooling the office. Removing a heat source means correspondingly less cooling, and so less power used by the air-con.

This means we can multiply the power saving by some amount - the exact amount is not that easy to work out, but it could easily be another 50%.

Of course, the original calculations are based on the stated power ratings. The LED panels are 45W at DC and the mains power supply unit will have some efficiency less than 100%. On the other side, the fluorescent tubes will have reduced efficiency as they age, and additional components meaning it will use more than the rating on the actual tubes. It will be interesting to do an actual power test on these, which I may do later this week.

The people selling the LED panels do try to show some of the savings, but also seem to factor in to their examples an HMRC low energy scheme. Reading the scheme, it says it will save money. Yet it appears to simply be a 100% write down of capital on such lighting in first year. Personally I would think repairs and renewals for replacing light fittings would be first year write down anyway, but I leave such things to the accountants. The scheme, if it has any effect at all, appears to simply change which year tax is paid and not how much is paid meaning no actual savings at all. Maybe I have missed something.

That said, it is likely that overall the savings will result in a payback in 1 to 2 years, plus the lights look way cooler which is what really matters :-)

Fitting the new lights

This means removing the existing fluorescent fittings and replacing with the new LED fitting.

Removing the old fittings is a faff. For a start, you want to remove the tubes. This is a fiddle at the best of times, but if you don't do this first then you risk breaking them when removing the fitting, and having to clear up glass, and powder, and avoid breathing any mercury vapour. So don't do that.

Then you have to remove the actual fitting, push up, move to one side and drop down. Of course the wiring in the fitting will not allow you to lower the fitting far. So you have to take the front off it so you can get to the connectors (screw terminals). The front is attached by an earth lead, so that is a pain too. With two people, one holding the fitting and on on the ladder, you can manage. Of course the screw terminals are seized up, and you end up cutting the wires :-)

Finally, we chose some simple in-line wiring connectors. Fitting one of them to the wiring in the ceiling space was easy. You can fit the plug to the power supply safely on the ground level.

Of course, you will need a suspended ceiling T bar to change the double slot to two single slots. These are a bit of a fiddle, but not too hard.

The new panel goes in just like a normal ceiling tile. Push up at an angle and drop in place. It is a tad thicker and heavier but easy to lift with one hand if needed. It just slots in. You connect the power supply up, and pop a new ceiling tile in the other space.

Just properly dispose of the old fittings and tubes, and job done.

I got it down to under 10 minutes per light.

Emergency lighting

We also had a few separate emergency lights by the exits, as you do. The new lightings can have a simple in-line emergency lighting kit and battery. This meant we could replace the emergency lighting without having separate lights. The new LED panels by the door work as the main lights and the emergency lighting now. The emergency lighting comes on when the power is off, and is dimmed to about 30% to allow the battery to last longer.

LED lights at home?

Well, I was so impressed, I decided to do my study at home. The issue with that is I do not have a suspended ceiling. This meant I needed to find a way to fit these panels on a normal ceiling.

The answer, of course, a 3D printed bracket (see thingiverse for the ones I made). These fit to the ceiling, and allow the panel to be suspended from them whilst leaving room between the panel and the ceiling for the power supply and in-line connector.

Of course, in my study, I am more than happy with the lights. Nice and bright.

My son had to follow suit, and got new lights because (conveniently) a light fitting had just broken in his flat. So, in his games room (living room) he needed a new fitting.

Apparently, according to Julia, it is way too bright! You can't win, can you?

The good news is that a slightly more expensive power supply works with mains dimmers to allow the light to be dimmed. So, we have one on order. That should keep her happy.

Up side?

The cost saving is obviously an up side, and if you like, the green impact that has. They also don't appear to flicker, of if they do it is far less obvious. The colour of the light is much better (though you can choose, e.g. daylight white, etc). If you want more light in a room, they are a good way to do it without more cost.

The actual panels we got are IP66 rated! That means dust proof and high pressure water jet proof. One short of actually immersion in water (so don't light your swimming pool with them), but obviously not an issue in a bathroom!

Down side?

I think we have only seen one possible down side so far - we changed the lights in the toilets. There was not the obvious cost saving, but the lights in there were an 80W big spotlight in the middle of the room and always seemed very dim, annoyingly so. Apparently these bulbs need replacing quite often and are not cheap, so probably a cost saving just in replacement bulbs and time. The room is now very light, brilliant even. It does, however, show how well a job the cleaners do, and that is not so impressive. In the long run, this is not a down side at all, just more work for someone to keep the room clean!


Well worth it I think. Not that expensive. They look good, and ultimately save money. Very impressed.

I think, a couple of years ago, LED lighting was not there. Now, all of a sudden, it is. It has overtaken the fluorescent lighting and an obvious choice now.

We purchased from a company called TLC Direct. They are quick and efficient.