Thursday, 31 July 2014

Late payment penalties, too late?

As some of you may know we charge late payment penalties on commercial debts. This is not uncommon (people like BT charge late payment penalties), and is even a legal requirement to be part of every commercial contact due to Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998.

If you are paying a commercial supplier late then they could charge you penalties - you are accumulating a liability!

We have a fully automated system to charge the penalties by issue of an invoice (no VAT). New customers we often credit the first charge and from then they pay on time. Ironically Direct Debit has cost us tens of thousands in collected late payment penalties each year as it means most people don't pay late now.

Now, for various historical reasons we have a couple of very long standing customers who were set up not to charge the penalties. Some of them have finally started to change their organisation and move some services away - shame. But I have picked up on one recently and realised they owe well over £3500 of penalties. So we invoiced them.

The only snag is the Limitation Act 1980 which means you can't take legal action (court) if the cause of action is more than 6 years old. In this instance some of the late payments are more than 6 years old. Some are only last month! It seems FedEx habitually pay late, what can I say.

Now, they have realised that the Limitations Act may be an issue. But I am not convinced.

In this case the action would be a county court claim for an unpaid invoice and the cause of action is that we raised an invoice, this month, so well within 6 years. Yes, the cause of the invoice was more than 6 years ago, but the limitations act does not limit such things, and the statute just makes the penalties part of the contract.

I don't know - may be interesting to find out and see what a judge says.

It also has odd issues if it is the case - the debt exists, in contract, we are just barred from using court to enforce it. If ever we owe them for something I see no reason we cannot offset against the debt we have, effectively using that as enforcement instead of court.

Either way, it is well worth making sure you don't leave you late payment charges too long, just in case.

P.S. An evil thought - they have a few services still. If they pay money the terms are clear it goes against oldest unpaid debt. Even if unenforceable via a court it is a debt, so the payments go against the late payment penalties, and leave the current invoices unpaid. Those recent bills can be enforced by court. Hmmm. Evil thought.

Bring back TheOatmeal.com


Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Villa Plus and Air Con

I posted how cross I was when we arrived in Cyprus after a very long day to find no air-con in the main villa living area.

Now, to be fair to Villa Plus, their web site says air-con in the bedrooms. In my defence, I did not book/choose the Villa, I just paid. My stipulations were air-con and Internet. Whilst the rest of them like to lie in the sun by the pool all day, they know I do not, and so I would spend all day inside working or reading a book and want air-con and Internet. Someone did not read the web site very well.

However, Villa Plus are not without some faults.

1. Air-Con in the Bedrooms - good. But it is on a timer switch that does up to 4 hours only. Now, the whole point of air-con in the bedroom is so you can sleep. I don't know about you, but I sleep more that 4 hours. Well, I would, if it did not get too hot and I have to get up after 4 hours and restart the air-con timer. Then it comes on at full blast and noisy and not "quiet" as I had set it, so I have to faff with the remote as well. It seems most of us in the Villa are having to do this, interrupting a good night's sleep. Not really up to the job Villa Plus, and not impressed.

2. The details describe that any other units in the villa are for heating in the winter only. Well, no, as we found out for the fee of €250, they can be enabled and do cool. They work well, as it happens. Why make up shit and say only for heating?

3. Having spoken to Villa Plus, and suggested that we would just go and get a portable unit and put in the study so I could work, they agreed that for €250 they would get the air con enabled. What is odd is that they said they would get an "emergency electrician" in, at a cost to them of €500, but as there was some confusion, only charge us €250. This was, however, a ruse. What actually happened is the owner came in and enabled the air-con units. He is not an electrical - it was a matter of the power switch having the wires disconnected, and he connected them live (well, until the loud pop and flash). Why lie about this? Saying that it is €250 for the two weeks to cover the extra electric is plausible and not unreasonable given the wording of the web site (well, actually, no idea of actual cost incurred, but OK in principle).

So, yes, they sorted air-con for a fee, but made up all sorts of bullshit around it for no good reason, and the bedroom air-con is not actually fit for purpose (i.e. of sleeping more than 4 hours).

So be wary when getting a villa.

Apart from that, in the early morning or late at night, the pool is great and the otter box iPhone case is great for dodgy pool selfies.

Monday, 28 July 2014

IPv6 in Cyprus

I plugged a FireBrick in to the Thomson DSL router in a villa in cyprus, and it got PPP and a prefix delegation for IPv6!

This means the Thomson had switched to bridged mode for PPPoE automatically, which is quite impressive.

It then killed the internet on the Thomson, and stopped working. It seems that it kept closing the connection once opened, and LCP term. However, a bit of experimentation found that this was because I was requesting IPv6 prefix delegations for three LANs. Drop to only one LAN and bingo, it connects and stays connected.

What is interesting is that they actually ask for IPv6CP first even - they are offering IPv6. I get a prefix of 2a00:1358:e0f8:af00::/64

I was about to be impressed, until I found that the IPv6 does not actually work. It looks like an announced prefix and looks like it may even get close coming from outside (right ball park response times on last hop), but not actually getting down the DSL line. So close!

Anyway, time to set up IPsec and some real IPs.

28 Jul 2014 09:36:08 pppoe ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff 0 CY PADI sent on WAN, MTU 1492
28 Jul 2014 09:36:08 SYS_IRQ 00:26:44:df:4e:be WAN 0 0 CY PADO accepted MTU 1492 BRAS1.LAT
28 Jul 2014 09:36:08 SYS_IRQ 00:26:44:df:4e:be WAN 0 0 CY PADO ignored BRAS3.LAT
28 Jul 2014 09:36:08 SYS_IRQ 00:26:44:df:4e:be WAN 0 0 CY PADO ignored BRAS2.LAT
28 Jul 2014 09:36:08 SYS_IRQ 00:26:44:df:4e:be WAN 0 0 CY PADS accepted MTU 1492 session 2
28 Jul 2014 09:36:08 SYS_IRQ 00:26:44:df:4e:be 0 CY Tx C021:LCP 01 00 000E ConfReq 05:MAGIC 06 8e:52:04:c8 01:MRU 04 1492
28 Jul 2014 09:36:08 SYS_IRQ 00:26:44:df:4e:be 0 CY Rx C021:LCP 01 01 0012 ConfReq 01:MRU 04 1492 03:AUTH 04 c0:23 05:MAGIC 06 1e:5c:27:7e
28 Jul 2014 09:36:08 SYS_IRQ 00:26:44:df:4e:be 0 CY Tx C021:LCP 02 01 0012 ConfAck 01:MRU 04 1492 03:AUTH 04 c0:23 05:MAGIC 06 1e:5c:27:7e
28 Jul 2014 09:36:08 SYS_IRQ 00:26:44:df:4e:be 0 CY Rx C021:LCP 02 00 000E ConfAck 05:MAGIC 06 8e:52:04:c8 01:MRU 04 1492
28 Jul 2014 09:36:08 SYS_IRQ 00:26:44:df:4e:be 0 CY Tx C023:PAP 01 00 000A 04 75:73:65:72 [user] 00 []
28 Jul 2014 09:36:09 SYS_IRQ 00:26:44:df:4e:be 0 CY Rx C023:PAP 02 00 0005 00 []
28 Jul 2014 09:36:09 SYS_IRQ 00:26:44:df:4e:be WAN 0 0 CY PAP pass []
28 Jul 2014 09:36:09 SYS_IRQ 00:26:44:df:4e:be 0 CY Tx 8021:IPCP 01 00 0016 ConfReq 03:IP 06 0.0.0.0 81:DNS1 06 0.0.0.0 83:DNS2 06 0.0.0.0
28 Jul 2014 09:36:09 SYS_IRQ 00:26:44:df:4e:be 0 CY Rx 8021:IPCP 01 01 000A ConfReq 03:IP 06 192.168.219.248
28 Jul 2014 09:36:09 SYS_IRQ 00:26:44:df:4e:be 0 CY Tx 8021:IPCP 02 01 000A ConfAck 03:IP 06 192.168.219.248
28 Jul 2014 09:36:09 SYS_IRQ 00:26:44:df:4e:be 0 CY Rx 8057:IPV6CP 01 01 000E ConfReq 01:I/F 0A 66:00:f1:ff:fe:cc:a3:00
28 Jul 2014 09:36:09 SYS_IRQ 00:26:44:df:4e:be 0 CY Tx 8057:IPV6CP 02 01 000E ConfAck 01:I/F 0A 66:00:f1:ff:fe:cc:a3:00
28 Jul 2014 09:36:09 SYS_IRQ 00:26:44:df:4e:be 0 CY Rx 8021:IPCP 03 00 0016 ConfNak 03:IP 06 93.109.42.104 81:DNS1 06 195.14.130.170 83:DNS2 06 195.14.130.220
28 Jul 2014 09:36:09 SYS_IRQ 00:26:44:df:4e:be 0 CY Tx 8021:IPCP 01 01 0016 ConfReq 03:IP 06 93.109.42.104 81:DNS1 06 195.14.130.170 83:DNS2 06 195.14.130.220
28 Jul 2014 09:36:09 SYS_IRQ 00:26:44:df:4e:be 0 CY Rx 8021:IPCP 02 01 0016 ConfAck 03:IP 06 93.109.42.104 81:DNS1 06 195.14.130.170 83:DNS2 06 195.14.130.220
28 Jul 2014 09:36:09 SYS_IRQ 00:26:44:df:4e:be 0 CY Tx 8057:IPV6CP 01 00 000E ConfReq 01:I/F 0A 02:03:97:ff:fe:2c:04:06
28 Jul 2014 09:36:09 SYS_IRQ 00:26:44:df:4e:be 0 CY Rx 8057:IPV6CP 02 00 000E ConfAck 01:I/F 0A 02:03:97:ff:fe:2c:04:06
28 Jul 2014 09:36:09 pppoe 00:26:44:df:4e:be 0 CY up 93.109.42.104-192.168.219.248
28 Jul 2014 09:36:11 dhcp6c-rx 00:26:44:df:4e:be 0 IA address 2a00:1358:e0f8:af00::

Sunday, 27 July 2014

When is an air conditioned villa not actually air conditioned?

When you book with Villa Plus.

We have just arrived at 1am, finally, and even at this time of night it is way too hot. The villa is big, and has a study even, so I can get some work done while the rest of the family go in the pool. That was the plan, I can stay in the air conditioned villa most of the time.

Turns out they don't actually have air-con the the main living area, or the study, or indeed any part of the villa except for some pathetic small units in the bedrooms.

What a waste of money. And I am stuck here for two weeks. Maybe I can bring a desk up to one of the bedrooms or something. This is ridiculous. I have been to many hot countries, and they manage to have proper air-con in the entire villa, whether it is Rhodes, or Barbados. That is the one redeeming feature of a hot country - they have air-con. But apparently not in Cyprus.

I am dreading two weeks here now. It is seriously tempting to fly home.

So much for Villa Plus, more like Villa Minus...

Oh, and the internet is jumping to 500ms latency when idle. That is going to be unusable as well.



Update: I have read the villa description, and it says Free Air Con. But it seems that the text does indeed say air conditioned bedrooms. So maybe I should be cross with the person that booked it. I asked for only two things when paying for nine people to go on holiday - air conditioning and internet. Next time I do the booking.

Update: The units in the main villa, which they say are heating only, are in fact air-con, and magically, for only €250 more, they can be turned on. We'll see later today, hopefully.

Update: And... we are starting to chill.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

SIP call flow diagrams

We have been working on ways to help us help customers debug SIP issues. SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) is what commonly is used for VoIP (Voice over IP). All of our VoIP services use SIP.

One of the challenges is training the staff to understand SIP properly. Following a SIP trace can be a tricky at the best of times. Some tools like wireshark do a good job as showing the call flow for a SIP call from a packet dump. But we needed something more generic that allowed us to look at SIP messages we capture for diagnostics and made it simple for staff to help a customer.

The real trick is presenting an overview of the whole call flow. We finally managed to get something pretty neat this week, thanks to some work by my son on the front end, which looks quite good. We have mouse-over to see each SIP message in full.

Here is a screen shot. You'll need to blow it up to see the detail.

Given that this was in fact just one junk call I got this morning, which I answered and told them to go away, it is quite impressive that it involves 8 separate (colour coded) call legs. It also involves 8 devices which we can see (plus many more before the call gets to us and more where it goes on to try calling my mobile). In this instance the call tried two SNOM phones and a SIP2SIM connection, and set up call recording in two separate places (one as part of the A&A service, and one on our call server in the office). Just getting the system to work out what packets are related to the overall call flow is a challenge in the first place!

I think this sort of thing will help staff understand SIP much more clearly and understand what is happening when customers have SIP related issues.


P.S. before you ask, no, this call flow trace is not available to customers - managing security on collecting and showing traces is proving to be a bit of a challenge as a call normally involves at least two separate parties and could involve many more. And no, we have not had a data retention notice so won't be storing these traces for any length of time - they are for diagnostics only

Explaining the diagram:-

The red on the left is the incoming call from an external call server for a call from the PSTN to B.voiceless. You can see the normal sequence of INVITE, 100 Trying, 180 Ringing, 200 OK, ACK to establish the call, and then BYE and 200 OK where the call was finally hung up.

The next part is b.voiceless passing that call to boxless. Here you see that it tries, and gets 401, so tries again with authentication details. The rest follows the same pattern with 180, 200, ACK, then BYE and 200.

From boxless it gets interesting. The yellow is a call to a SNOM at the office. It has INVITE, 100 Trying, 180 Ringing (repeatedly), but finally when answered on another phone is sent a CANCEL and gets 200 OK to that, so sends a 487 Request Terminated and gets an ACK to that.

The green call from boxless is just the same, but to a SNOM phone at home, except this goes 180 ringing and then 200 Ok, with ACK. That is where I answer the phone. Eventually there is a BYE and 200, showing I hung up the call from that phone. It is the 200 Ok on this call that prompts the CANCEL on the two other calls (yellow and blue).

The blue call from boxless is a call out to my mobile handled by A.voiceless that passes the call on to an external gateway (orange call). Both of these only get as far as 100 Trying, before there is a CANCEL because I have answered the call on another phone. This is because the mobile network takes time to start ringing, and I answered before the call got that far.

The light grey call from b.voiceless to noiseless is the call recording leg for the incoming call to the original number. Similarly, boxless also does recording and that causes the purple call to noiseless. Note, they were not the same noiseless - we have shown the calls based on known names where possible to simplify, but the call leg summary (not shown) and mouse-over text make it clear that we actually used two different recording servers in this case as noiseless is a pool of machines.

It is the BYE from my SNOM at home (the green call) that prompts the BYE back to b.voiceless and then on to the caller as well as the BYE to the call recording servers (noiseless).

Did you spot the error?

Friday, 25 July 2014

Makerbot Z18 major disappointment

The new Z18 arrived yesterday, an impressive looking bit of kit, even came on a pallet! It is big!

It looks well made. The packaging was good and it was easy to get going. We did a small test print, which seemed to work. All well so far.

We then installed the s/w on a Mac, and it could not see the printer on the network. Using a USB cable we could see it and upgrade the firmware. This then left us with the "Extrude not attached" constantly. After turning off and on, disconnecting and reconnecting the extruder, and so on, we eventually upgrade the firmware again (to same version) and finally it was working and extruder showed as attached.

At this point all looks quite good - the Mac can see the printer and send a print job over the network. The iPhone app can see the printer and the camera showing progress. All good.

So we printed something. It was thing 6274 Lego Brio cross piece. It said it would be 8 hours, which is a long job. Printing lego tends to be slow due to the design.

While it was printing I thought it would be a good idea to compare the old Replicator 2, so printed the same job, using the same Makerbot desktop s/w in the Mac, and the same "standard" settings 0.2mm with raft and 10% infill.

First big problem with Z18. The Replicator 2 finished in 6 hours 24, but the Z18 took 7 hours 56. That is massively slower for the same print resolution. I actually checked, and the head speed settings are the same.

That means the new 5th generation Makerbot printers are 25% slower than the previous generation!!

They don't tell you that on the web site!

But when we looked at the print, things were even worse. The Z18 has printed a total mess! This is using genuine Makerbot PLA.

Now, I'll check with the suppliers and Makerbot to see what they suggest, but at the moment, it is likely to be going back!

Printed on Z18
 
Printed on Replicator 2
Printed on Z18
Printed on Replicator 2
Update: Looks like changing the feed tube to go above the extruder guard rather than below may have helped a bit, but still not usable. This also means you can no longer put the lid on. Waiting on Makerbot response.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Virtual theft!

Should theft in a virtual world count the same as real theft?

There is an interesting article in The Guardian on this:

"If you've spent £500 building up your armed forces and someone takes them away online, I guess you can feel hard done-by and you want your £500 back," he told Buzzfeed. He also pointed out: "The perception from some people is that if you steal online it's less of a crime than if you steal physically."

But this massively misses the point, sorry.

Yes, hacking someone's account is bad, and we already have laws covering that. But the idea of virtual theft is nonsense.

For a start, the game providers can (and do) restore lost items. To them the items really are just a data record, no matter what people paid in real money for them, and it is a relatively simple matter for them to restore them to their owner. They can also arrange for them to be removed from their new owner if they want. They can suspend accounts involved in hacking. They have ultimate control of the virtual world. So there is no actual theft, and the cost of the items is irrelevant - the only cost is the inconvenience for the victim and the game operator but that cost is the same whether it is a £5 item that is restored or a £5000 item that is restored.

Obviously if the game operator will not restore items, the damage by the hacking is more severe, but as I say, we have laws to cover that already, and the financial loss, and time, and distress caused will obviously be a factor in such cases.

Of course there is another massive issue with making any law on virtual theft - it is totally valid in a virtual world to play a baddie, one who's role is to do bad things, and steel things in the game. If a law was made it could mean such legitimate in-game actions being criminalised!

P.S. The episode of Big Bang Theory portrayed this very badly - making out that the theft was almost real, when in fact Blizzard would have restored the lost items, and suspended the thief's account pretty quickly and painlessly. I know people who have been through this.

P.P.S. In a way, the difference between theft in the real world and in the virtual world is that in the latter you can have a chat to God and have him sort it out and put it right. That kind of makes it way less of a big deal.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

New spam calls

One claiming to be related to British Airways, from a suspiciously local number. (Bracknell 01344 403511).

Junk calls are getting worse.

Recording.

If you build it...

... they will come?

"Build it" is exactly what we will be able to do some time next week.

We have had one of these bad boys on order for months: The Makerbot Z18.

Sadly I'll be on holiday when it arrives, but it has a built in camera and is networked, so I may be able to get a minion to load some plastic and work it from a holiday villa. We'll see.

Its claim to fame is that it is big enough to print a full size wearable storm trooper helmet. This means a big build area.

Getting that to work means some clever stuff with heat - and the whole thing has a heated chamber. It is all to do with making sure the plastic does not shrink and warp as it cools after printing.

Apparently it will be arriving on a pallet. Once we have it, we'll be offering our 3D printing services on a new and bigger scale.

The last job was heads for some fun robots for Plymouth Uni.


See more at: http://aa.net.uk/printing-3d.html

Dear David Cameron...

Got to be worth a try :-)

Monday, 21 July 2014

Is that legal?

I was quite shocked when someone, the other day, said to me "is that legal?"

I was with some friends in a restaurant, and to be honest I forget who it was that asked now, as most of my friends are more tech-savvy than that. I said "The O2 data here is crap, I'll switch this to vodafone", and this caused some surprise and cries of "is that legal?"

This was one of those rare occasions where the automated switching did not cope as there was just enough O2 signal to hang on. If I had lost coverage all together the SIM would have switched profile to an EU identity and connected to the strongest operator (in that location it was Vodafone). But the O2 was hanging in there with really almost unusable data. Switching to Vodafone worked a treat.

When I left the restaurant and got a good O2 signal the SIM switched back.

The roaming profile costs more. We have the pricing sorted at last, and we should be shipping the SIMs tomorrow, finally. The O2 profile on O2 in the UK is still only 2p/min, 2p/text, 2p/MB, and we charge only £2/month (+VAT). The EU profile anywhere in Europe, including UK operators, is 10p/min, 5p/text, 10p/MB (+VAT). It is not as cheap, and applies both ways, and is on top of any on-going call charges for any SIP provider used, but it is pretty nice being connected wherever you are. To be honest, 10p/min is not that bad really when you consider what mobiles cost a few years ago. I only wish we could get the data rates down more - though we should be getting proper fixed IP and L2TP on that some time. Even what we have now for data is unfiltered.

But I was, none the less, shocked at someone thinking I was making some sort of illegal hack. The idea of changing to another mobile operator in the UK is so ingrained as being "impossible" that it caused that reaction. No wonder David Cameron was calling for intra-UK mobile roaming recently.

In fact, I am tempted to send him one of our SIMs to play with. Maybe he'll calm down, as actually forcing roaming is not necessarily a good idea (who would bother to invest in totally not-spots knowing all other operators benefit?).

So, yes, quite legal for my mobile, on a Bracknell phone number (which you can call and text), to be on any of the UK operators and working perfectly, and I can still see it on the busy-lamp light on my desk phone and seamlessly jump the call to and from that desk phone as I like as well as recording the call.

I watched some of the first couple of series of 24, and the excellent spoof set in the 90's! You would think that the prime minister would have some slightly better comms kit, just maybe.

The technology works well - and it is surprising so many companies (and even politicians) are so far behind the times.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Micro Direct data leak?

I get loads of spam, like most. A few slip through the filters.

I got one earlier today that was a tad odd - it looks like a genuine report of some sort of order, with someone else's details in it, but the link to "secure login to your paypal account" is clearly bogus. A link to crankbaits.biz that redirects to warezoff.ru and tries to get my details.

OK, spam, what the hell. I noted that it was to an email I only gave to microdirect, so maybe could have been guessed, but maybe a data leak.

Later today I get one saying that my credit card information has been changed and my address removed and QUOTES MY ACTUAL HOME ADDRESS to me in the email. Again a bogus link.

So, this means Micro Direct have leaked not only my email but my details. My address at least, and who knows what else? The latest spam just tries to get my "Verified by Visa" details, which makes me think they have my card details.

I should report to ICO, but they are proving to be such a bunch of muppets, I am unsure if it is worth it.

Software release cycle

Software can have bugs, and any ongoing development has to consider carefully how the updates and development is released.

At one end of the spectrum, and obviously "best practice", one has carefully written and reviewed specifications not only of the overall system but each change that is being considered. One has a team generating the necessary test specifications, and another team writing the test systems, and another team that do module testing and regression testing. You have the developers and then people that review the code changes. Then you have alpha release to internal users, and beta release to external testers and then finally a planned and announced release along with a detailed and tested roll-back plan.

At the other end of the spectrum you have code that is hacked around on a live system and not properly tested and constantly changing and broken.

Both extremes have serious problems.

Interestingly, we are suffering from some of the "best practice" approach with the new roaming SIMs as it is taking ages for the mobile operator to get the new tariffing system in place for this. In the past, even with a serious bug in BT's 20CN network, it has literally taken years to get the bug fixed. The mobile operator is actually very agile for a telephone company.

We are at neither extreme - but annoyingly, over the last couple weeks, a couple of issues have come up which makes us want to improve things. We tend to be agile which means that we have much more rapid processes for testing and deployment. It does not mean we have none, obviously, but it has the down side that occasionally the live systems can run in to problems. Part of being agile is that you also have to be very good at fire fighting to reverse or resolve such problems, and we are good at that. We have a very good team.

I have mentioned some of the processes we go through for things like FireBrick development in the past. We have pretty good procedures for our LNS updates which use FireBrick. The issues of late have specifically related to our VoIP platform (though there was also a database issue which affected VoIP).

We have a couple of legacy platforms that are being phased out, but our main VoIP system is a pair of call servers, and a pool of RADIUS servers to direct calls as well as logging CDRs for billing. We have a pool of call recording and voicemail servers as well. We also have a separate test VoIP server connected to separate RADIUS server and separate call recording server.

When we make changes, fixing bugs or adding features, we test these locally, then we test on our office server and the test VoIP server. We are able to direct SIMs to the test server as well as have customers log in to the test server if needed. Once we are happy with the changes we deploy them on the live servers. In some cases there have been important changes that need to rolled out to resolve customer issues - lately there is a customer using a specific make of call server which has a number of quirks. This has meant that we are updating the live servers every couple of days.

We're not entirely happy that this system provides enough of a buffer between the stable customer experience of the service, and the active changes we are making, so the plan is to set up two more call servers along with RADIUS and recording platforms.

We'll have our test server which is really only for our use and the one customer at a time with which we are working. We'll have the agile test servers on which we deploy new code regularly and on which we expect there to be a number of customers that need the latest features or just like to be leading edge. We'll then have the two existing servers that are stable. The idea is that we can have people on the test servers indefinitely if necessary even if it is months before we do a new stable release. These test servers should be at least as stable as the existing servers, but the stable servers used by most people will change very infrequently.

Because the call servers all work within a specific published range of IP addresses, this work is a bit tricky and tied in with the legacy servers being removed. However, we think it is an important step for ensuring we have a good quality of service for customers.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Air con at home?

I am getting quotes. I have decided my new "den" (AKA ex.garage) will have proper air-con. Not sure yet if ceiling mount like the office, or wall mount.

But what of the rest of the house?

Basically, during the winter, a heat pump is pretty efficient as a way of heating even compared to gas - right?

During the summer I am fed up with it being too damn hot. Yes, even in the UK.

Now, I have problems...

I can easily do a couple of the bedrooms, but need to find some really quiet internal units for that. Hopefully such things exist.

Getting the living room done will be harder. I could take the view of "sod that, I have my new 'Den' and don't care" but maybe I should try. I probably need to find a way not to have a visible internal unit. Ideally it needs to be something mostly external that appears as some innocuous "vents" on the wall high up internally, else it will not get approval. Basically Sandra puts "how it looks" way above "how comfortable it is" which is a challenge for some rooms.

It won't be cheap, I am sure, but I would assume this has to add value to the house. Overall I am not against spending some of my hard earned money on creating an asset. That said, there is a lot to be said for being "comfortable" regardless.

Getting some people in to quote real soon now.

Any constructive comments welcome.

Dirty tricks or caveat emptor?

Someone has a .co.uk domain that they have had for over a decade.

This entitles them to the corresponding .uk domain. However, they have not registered the .uk domain, and are in fact selling the .co.uk domain via a broker. Nobody else can get the .uk domain for 5 years!

Someone buys the .co.uk for several hundred quid, via the broker.

They pay the money.

The next day the seller:-
  1. Registers the corresponding .uk domain in their name as per their entitlement, and then,
  2. Transfers the .co.uk domain to the buyer. They keep the new .uk version.
They waited until they had made the sale and been paid before getting the .uk domain, lulling the buyer in to a false sense of value for the .co.uk domain along with its entitlement to the .uk domain at the time of the sale.

But the contract via the broken had no option for conditions such as "with the right of registrations to the .uk" or some such. Just standard terms.

Was that a dirty trick, a breach of an implied term, or was it valid?

Whatever, it is something for anyone to watch out for when buying a .co.uk domain. It is also a potential money spinner for anyone wanting to replace their .co.uk with a .uk domain.

DRIPA and AAISP

Just to be clear on our policy here - when DRIPA comes in to force, and if A&A become subject to a retention notice for all customers, we aim to work on all practical legal means to minimise the amount of data retained under that legislation - making full use of the bad wording in the Schedule in the 2009 regulations where possible. We also aim to clearly publish what is retained under such a notice and what steps we have taken to minimise such data. Such steps may mean separate companies running email or other services, or even hosting some servers outside the UK, if those are practical steps we can take.

Why? Because blanket mass surveillance is illegal under EU law as it is against our basic human right to privacy as decided by a court, that's why!

http://status.aa.net.uk/1984

Police state

It seems "big brother" may be inevitable. During the debate on the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers bill last night, Jack Straw stated:-

"They have to be able to access everybody’s data records in order to find those of one particular person, because the police, no more than the rest of us, are not given powers of clairvoyance with which to anticipate who is and who is not to be a suspect."

This clearly shows an attitude that everyone should be tracked and monitored and logged just in case they turn out to be a suspect later.

This is the very thing that the European Court found problematic when considering a basic right to privacy. We have a right to privacy.

This attitude has police state and big brother written all over it. When will it end? When will the people for which these MPs work (us!) tell them we would rather have privacy than a police state and suspicion of everyone?

Monday, 14 July 2014

Big Foot

Some TV shows annoy me, perhaps even more than the adverts. Sandra is watching something on Nat Geo Wild about big foot.

For a start it is one of those documentaries that you get on Nat Geo and Discovery that are clearly written for someone with the attention span of a goldfish with Alzheimer's, repeating the same things over and over again every two minutes.

But then it is also one of those documentaries that try to present some sort of science, or purport to do so at the very least.

They did a load of stuff on analysis of the classic big foot film footage by Patterson–Gimlin. All sorts of computer simulation and animation, motion capture of an actor trying to do the same gait, etc. All supposedly impressive stuff with no real conclusion.

But then they throw in something about hair samples. Apparently big foot hair samples have been collected but inconclusive in DNSA sampling. So they explain how they managed to get some more big foot hair samples with some sort of trap that is a barbed wire connected to some sort of gorilla pheromone and used to snag some hair. They get a hair sample, and it is not like human or primate DNSA or hair type but similar to both. And that was then end of that...

But wait, what? They placed a trap and got what they think is big foot hair?!?!!

So, (a), what happened to the dozens cameras that they must surely have placed around the trap at the time? Surely? They did not place it with no cameras? That would be madness.

But, (b) assuming some brain numbing insanity meant they did not place cameras, they have none the less discovered a way to attract a big foot. So what the hell, do it again, and this time place cameras. Do it 50 times and place cameras at every site. If this was really big foot they attracted then they would get so much media coverage from actually catching one, even if only on good quality film, let alone in real life, surely they have to make use of this trick for luring a big foot? But no, they gloss over the fact that the hairs must be big foot, but that is that...

I mean, the whole thing had bugger all credibility as a documentary in the first place, but it really does fall apart if you try watching it. It was a mistake to watch it, sorry.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

General Public

Not "a thing", really, James
I went to The Manor yesterday as they are doing a cider festival. They actually had a few nice ciders, but they asked if I wanted ice in a pint of Hecks, so not really a cider festival. We went there mid afternoon (myself, and my son James).

So, naturally, we discussed lots of technical stuff, tried getting SIMs to roam on my iPad which has no SIM application menu, and so on. We also had a long chat about my garage. James seems to have a strange idea that he will be able to make use of it as he is moving back in for a while?!

Ashley from the office joined us as later.

James decided that he would drink three different ciders at once, taking a sip from each in turn. Well, one was a fairly decent draft cider (I forget the exact name, but it was one that had been stored in a whiskey cask). One was a bottle of Kopparberg with summer fruits (much more the fizzy-pop of ciders), and one was a pint of strongbow and blackcurrant because the lunch menu comes with a free pint but only of a very limited selection even when they have a cider festival! He insisted drinking three drinks like this is "a thing" that people do. Thankfully Ashley was on my side.

Then, Jacqueline (my daughter) turned up with her mates. I'm not sure how to say this without sounding condescending, which is not my intention - but Jacqueline is not exactly technical, or that well off, and so her friends are very much what I would call "normal" people, general public... Most of my friends would be horrified to be called normal, so this makes an interesting change. Surprisingly some of them knew Ashley too.

However, I was quite surprised that they had android phones. I was actually impressed that we had an intelligent debate on the relative metrics of Android and Apple - not just in terms of price but considering the pros and cons of Apple's closed environment. It seems people really do have more clue what choices they are making than I expected. James was then somewhat impressed that at least one of them played League of Legends and had played World of Warcraft.

Of course, this would have been an excellent chance to see what the general public think of things like DRIP and snooping laws - unfortunately, after drinking cider for about 5 hours I found another proof of alcohol induced headache (which seems more migraine related than hangover) so went home. Shame.

Of course one thing they all had in common was that I was paying!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Data Retention


First off, yes, I know this is happening, and it is nice to get tweets, emails, calls, facebook messages, irc messages, and so on from all my friends and blog readers saying "did you know?".

The BBC are covering this as well http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-28237111

I am very much against blanket surveillance, and the previous Data Retention regulations did do that to some extent. They only applied in some cases (and A&A had never been asked to retain data), and the enforcement was odd too (civil action to force compliance?). The drafting was really bad and left, in my opinion, a lot of loopholes.

There are some key issues here though :-
  1. Blanket surveillance of the population is not acceptable - it is a breach of human rights, and the EU courts agree with that. That is why they struck down the previous regulations. How can the UK go against that? AFAIK even this new emergency legislations has to be in line with EU Human Rights rules, and it won't be if it imposes blanket surveillance in the same way as a regulation which has already been considered and lost. Why is the UK government even trying to go against Human Rights anyway?
  2. Rushing through any law shrouded in secrecy is bad - what the hell is going on?
  3. I hesitate to put down the threat of terrorists, but statistically they are a tiny threat compared to even car drivers. The amount of surveillance and laws and vast amounts of money spent reacting to terrorism is not really sensible. They try to cause terror, and that is what they are doing - if we allow ourselves to give up basic human rights in this fight, we have lost.
But I can't really say much more until the wording of the bill is seen, and the implications considered by someone with a sensible legal mind (e.g. Malcolm).

Update: This is the bill: Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-data-retention-and-investigatory-powers-bill

P.S. AAISP have no black boxes. AAISP have not been asked to retain data under the 2009 regulations.

From ORG: "What exactly is the point of human rights judgements if even the Liberal Democrats are prepared to ignore them? The CJEU have outlined very clearly what needs to happen before governments compel data to be retained. They say you cannot do it on a blanket basis, and someone independent, such as a regulator or a judge, must supervise police access. These fundamental points are missing from the emergency laws."

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Well done steak

I know many of my friends think it is some sort of crime to have a steak "well done", but that is how I like it. In many ways a "well done" steak is much more of a challenge for a chef than a rare or medium steak. It is a challenge to cook a steak so that it is not red, but also not too dry, chewy, or with burns. A well done steak cuts easily and is not hard or chewy but is not red. Hard work and takes time.

I tried getting well done steak in Paris and Bordeaux and totally failed. I gave up and took pot noodles or told them I was vegetarian.

Occasionally you find a restaurant that can do a well done steak. The Warren in Wokingham used to be good, but no longer, sorry. Those that like less well done steak have been unimpressed too.

I am however very pleased to say that CafĂ© Rouge in Wokingham do an excellent steak. Those that like rare or medium are happy too. I have now tried them maybe half a dozen times and they are constant and excellent.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

House project?

It has been a frustrating weekend...

I have watched TV (series 4 of House again, very sad ending to that series with Amber). I have watched the F1 which was one exciting lap out of 52 spread over 3 hours. I have answered a few questions from a friend and a customer on something technical. But I have done bugger all.

Actually, I find it odd how some things manage to create empathy and others do not. My well known lack of tact shows some lack of empathy, but actually, the last episode of series 4 of House did make me a bit teary. What the hell is getting in to me? It is not like I don't know they are actors FFS...

Anyway, I am sat here feeling that I have been massively unproductive.

I have a load of bits of code to do - but they are best done when my son is around tomorrow as I am working on a project that has a "back end" (me) and a "front end" in javascript (him) and it is best if we are actually working on it at the same time. We are taking a practical development approach of refining the design as we go to try and make sure we have developed a workable framework for the interface which can then extend to a range of products. We then document what worked as the protocol and build on that. We then need to make test systems. The current project is UK domain ordering, coming to an API near you very soon.

We already have an API called CHAOS for Andrews & Arnold stuff. Mostly, so far, it allows basic list of services and a some basic usage stats and CDRs to be extracted. It also allows a number of key field changes in the control database to allow management of various services. The framework for these is pretty sound now, but lacks any sort of "schema" system to define all of the fields. Adding that is the next step and then building in more services as well as back end "actions" required on some types of change and request. E.g. you cannot yet do a "ppp kill".

The ordering system for CHAOS is more complex. It does have a more generic schema type approach - for example, when ordering a domain there are a long list of attributes needed for the domain registration and the list is supplied in XML as part of the availability check. This has allowed James to make a generic javascript front end to ask the questions that are needed without having to hard code any of them.We have even built in generic error reporting. It also integrates with the accounts systems and can create the initial invoices with all necessary additional terms and caveats. Real soon now, we'll have XML based API to allow ordering UK domains with email and web space, and a nice javascript front end to use it. It also does JSON both ways to help javascript users.

I also have the "garage/den" project to get started, but with no skip or van I am unable to make a lot of progress. I hope I will next week. I did wonder about 3D modeling the room and work benches and so on - but I don't know the components I have to play with. I need to get the designed chap in and talk it through first. I know some basics - big work bench, more sockets than is sane, industrial air-con, book shelves, tools shelves, large storage pigeon hole type shelves, sky box and TV and sofa, even a bar area and optics :-)

Before we start, I have to pin down the "make good" of the garage which means some building regs stuff, may even mean relocating the boiler, new internal walls, insulation, floor, new front wall, door and windows, and who knows what.

I also want to sort security - the alarm system, door entry system and cameras.

But again, on all of these I am thwarted. No progress this weekend.

I even have a customer wanting some tweaks to FireBrick code, but having emailed me on Saturday he is now not replying. I think they are pretty minor, but I am hoping to make an awesome package for him as as result.

I also have work on the VoIP servers to improve response times, but whilst I would love to dive-in and do that (and normally I would have) I am feeling compelled to wait for my tech staff to be happy with the plan and how they will handle any fall-out before I dive in. Now that is very frustrating, but I know it is for the best and is in everyone's interests. I feel like House prohibited from diving-in to some treatment path before the lab results can be done - I know just how he feels. OK, well, I was watching House all weekend.

So, I feel frustrated by lack of progress this weekend.

Lets see how the week goes.

The end of the Internet as we know it

When I first got a web site, for the company, back in the 90's, they were all a bit new. You could not sensibly suggest someone "look at my web site" as they probably did not even have Internet access.

Over the decades that has changed. There have been minor technical issues about making sure a web site shows correctly in the latest browsers or old browsers, and so on. Some minor compatibility issues that did not usually stop people seeing the site, just meant it did not look as good.

Governments have realised how important "Internet access" is, and are working on making sure everyone has access one way or another.

So, "look at my web site" is pretty much a sensible thing to say to anyone now.

But now, for the first time, I feel we are going backwards.

I cannot expect "look at my web site" to work any more, not even to friends and family.

This is because they might have kids, or might not know how to tell their ISP that they don't have kids, and so my web site may be blocked in a blanket category of "blogs". It is not reasonable to expect people to have to go through the hassle (and perceived risk) of turning off child protection settings to read my blog and then turn them back on again afterwards. It is not like one laptop in a house can access my blog whilst others cannot.

This is not even one of those "misclassification" issues about which I may have some slim hope of complaining to all ISPs. They classify my blog as a blog, which it is. The issue is that blocking blogs is seen as even vaguely sensible in the interests of child protection and that it is seen as sensible for an entire household to suffer this block.

BLOCKING ADULTS (THE PARENTS) SEEING MY BLOG IS SUPPOSEDLY IN THE INTERESTS OF CHILD PROTECTION.

So, what's the answer? Do I have to start an arms race to bypass the blocking systems (changing IPs, URLs, serving different content to different requesters, etc).

I am moving the URL of my blog anyway, to see how that impacts filters. www.me.uk will redirect to www.revk.uk instead of revk.www.me.uk but I am setting a redirect on the old URL for direct links. It is a pain that bloodspot cannot cope with my blog actually being on www.me.uk!

Friday, 4 July 2014

The bluntest instrument!

To block "blogs" or not?

That is the question faced by parents with one of the more flexible blocking options they can choose with a supplier like Talk Talk retail. Many ISPs offer very crude on or off options but Talk Talk have quite a few choices.

Even so, the options they include have a range of categories, but one of them includes "blogs", yes or no?

How the hell can a parent decide if all blogs are to be allowed or not?

There are blogs by teenage kids talking about school dinners. There are blogs about guns and terrorism. There are blogs about sexuality, and teenage stress and support groups. There is everything in between.

Blocking social media is often an option, so lets stop kids being engaged with other kids while they grow up - that'll fix 'em, surely?

How the hell is a parent meant to decide how to use this huge blunt instrument to restrict what their kids see? And why? And this is one of the more flexible selections that ISPs offer (well done Talk Talk on that at least).

This is total nonsense. It is nanny state gone mad.

Even if this made some sense, the day they turn 18 they can see anything they want, and it will all be a surprise for their cotton wool wrapped minds. That can't possibly go wrong.

Thank deity/sanity that the law has not stopped ISPs offering parents an unfiltered Internet where they can choose to actually supervise and educate their own children properly.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Latest query to ICO

On 02/07/14 14:27, casework@ico.org.uk wrote:
Barry Wadeson - Case Officer
Telephone number: 01625 54XXXX
I have a question for you regarding these junk calls.

Would I be, in any way whatsoever, committing an offence if I was to divert each and every one of the junk calls I get to 01625 54XXXX?

If not, then I suggest that is the next course of action in trying to encourage you to actually take enforcement action.

If you are unable to identify any offence that I would be committing by doing so in the next 7 days, I'll start doing that.

The den

We have a garage!

When we first moved in we boarded it up and it was my study for a while, but became a more general work area, and now has all sorts of crap in it. It is the proverbial junk room. Embarrassing even. My study is now a small room by the hall with just enough room to swivel a chair.

My wife has spent a lot of effort on re-working the living room, the kitchen (which is very nice) and now working on the hall and some bedrooms. Each project takes time and money but ultimately adds value to the house. She is doing a really good job and making each project work well. The house is coming along nicely, step by step, as I can afford it.

But I am 50 now, and I am finally fed up with bullshit and want to do something I want for me for a change. I am fed up with being everyone else's solution to problems. If they messed up doing their car insurance and have a fine - it is my problem. If they did not realise that once they get a job they have to start paying council tax and get a summons, it is my problem. If they just spent too much and have none left over half way through the month, it is my problem. If they can't pay back what they borrowed from me, it is my problem. To be quite frank I am just fed up with it.

So, apart from taking a hard line and not lending anyone anything ever again (which does not mean I won't give gifts out of the goodness of my heart, when I choose, and when I can afford it), I am thinking I want to do something to the house that is for me!

So, the project is the garage and making a new den for me. I think I have convinced my wife to let me do it. It needs a proper wall and windows and door; a proper work bench for computers and stuff and a shitload of sockets, but what else. I was thinking sofa and big 3D TV and probably a decent commercial air-con unit.

So, seriously - what should I do to make the perfect den for me, that is my space?

We are not talking "money no object" obviously. But we are not too badly off, especially if I stop giving other people money now. I want somewhere I can do work and relax.

I welcome suggestions, and I'll try and blog some progress on the whole project.

Update: The project has approval from my wife - whoop!

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Right to freedom of expression? Not to TalkTalk customers it seems.

Do I have a right to freedom to express myself?

If so, what the hell gives TalkTalk retail the right to block access to my blog?

https://www.blocked.org.uk/results?url=http://www.me.uk/

I wonder if I should start some sort of defamation case against them...

And by far the daftest blocking is :-

https://www.blocked.org.uk/results?url=http://blocked.org.uk/

Update: My blog not showing as blocked now, but blocked.org.uk still is by BT and VM.

Update: for other fun, see https://www.blocked.org.uk/results?url=http://loopsofzen.uk/

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Are TT getting as bad as BT?

We have very good monitoring, and I have spotted 43 of our TalkTalk backhaul lines that look like this. Not good. Some serious latency with identical pattern on every line so clearly a common / backhaul issue.

Reported as an "incident" but apparently as there are no alarms or other wholesalers reporting issues they refuse to accept it.

They want me to report as individual faults, 43 of them.

They then want a CLIs (we provided all 43 already).

They want to know the exact issue and I had said already: "Latency started around 16:20, increased to around 30ms at 16:30, decreased a bit and then back to 30ms around 16:55, stayed reasonably steady until 17:15 then increased up to 100ms, dipped a bit around 17:35 and 17:46 then up to a solid 100ms at 18:00 and steady since, now at 104ms as has been for well over an hour."

The asked where the latency is to, and explained to "us", i.e. LCP echos LNS to end user router.

They asked for traceroutes to bbc and google, as if I was reporting an IP level fault! I told them not to be silly. I sent all the details yet again.

When I sent all that they have the cheek to ask "Pleae[sic] put this information in a straight forward email please. The way you have formatted this is confusing and doesn't help us!"

I am at a loss, I sent it all again. I don't know how to say it in a more straight forward way!

Are TalkTalk really getting as bad as BT?! I hope not.

Update: It looks like the normal email practice of selectively quoting their email with ">" prefix on the lines and inteleaving responses to each points is somehow confusing them. I have suggested maybe they learn how to use email.

Update: Someone with clue in TT has picked up on that (seeing my blog post) and is on the case. I expect he'll be able to track the issue down. Maybe I started with the wrong team here and I apologise if I used the wrong channels.

Update: "On call engineers are being scrambled now - we have an issue in the wider Oxford area and you should see an incident coming through shortly." so the right people sorting it now..

Update: All fixed by 23:25 - I have updated the image to show the start to end of the fault. Well done to Peter at TT for getting engineers on site to sort this.

Update: I think I have worked out how to do this next time - I'll compose the reply as normal - my email client using fixed space font and colours to mark the quoted text and my replies really clearly (as it does). Then I'll screen shot it, and put the image in a word document then send a blank email with that as an attachment. I suspect that will work for them.