Sunday, 28 September 2014

Taps

It used to be simple when we had a hot tap and a cold tap!

Nowadays there are mixer taps, and so you have to know which way is hot and which is cold. So they use red for hot and blue for cold. Some of my taps at home have no markings do you just have to guess.

The classic version is more like this :-


Now, to my mind, turning the tap so that the red dot is aligned with the water spout should be hot, and with the blue dot aligned with the water spout it should be cold. So this would be hot :-


I am wrong, of course, and what it means is turn tap towards the blue dot for cold (anti clockwise) and towards the red dot (clockwise) for hot. What is confusing is the dots are being moved so you are not really turning the tap towards the dot, you are turning the dots too. If the dots were on some part that did not move, that would work. If the dots were arrows, or even triangles indicating an arrow head, I would cope much better. But I am learning that this seems to be the convention... If only Steve Jobs had designed taps!

But when it comes to something like this, I hope you agree it is different :-


My shower at home is very similar to this with temperatures marked and a button next to 38 degrees which you have to press to get hotter. It has a mark on the base and you turn the knob to align the required temperature with the mark.

The one pictured, I assumed, was the same, but instead of specific temperatures above and below the 40 degrees marked, there are red and blue marks which I assumed meant hotter and colder.

So I assumed that if you you turn so the blue markings are aligned to the notch on the back, that should be colder. Similarly if you put the red markings next to the notch on the back, it would be hotter. This is obvious, surely.

But no! This is like the tap, though in reverse, in that turning anti clockwise gets hotter not colder. Even though the notch matters in that you align the "40" with it to get 40 degrees, the red and blue are not indicating where on the dial is hotter or colder, but a direction to turn the dial.

And just in case you think it was plumbed backwards, no, the button stops you turning it as shown above. I.e. you have to press in order to align the blue marks with the notch to get hot water.

They fix this with a sign saying "Please check the water temperature", which is clearly an admission of a non intuitive interface to a shower...

(this was the shower in the cabin on the cruise).

Cruise

As I have posted a few times on the technicalities of Internet access from a ship, I thought it would be worth posting about the actual cruise holiday itself, if you have never been on a cruise this should give you some idea what to expect, although different cruise lines do work some things a little differently.

In our case, it was myself, my wife, and my sister-in-law for a one week cruise of the East Caribbean on Norwegian Cruise Lines flagship The Getaway.

Cost

You can look up the actual cost on the cruise line web sites. Overall I was actually surprised how reasonable the cruise itself was. In general it is less than a hotel room. Of course that depends on the hotel, and the cruise has a similar range of cabins available. The problem is that the cruise (in this case) was from Miami and that meant getting to the ship and getting home again afterwards. The flights were half the overall cost. In our case we upgraded to premium economy which added a lot to the cost.

Travel

Whilst a cruise itself is travel, that aspect is more of a floating hotel. The travel aspect, as well as taking up half the cost, is a significant amount of the overall time and is all hassle.

Part of the issue with time and hassle is that NCL arrange Virgin flights. In hindsight we should have sorted flights separately, and it looks like BA do Miami earlier in the day. In the case of Virgin, we had to fly out on the Friday and stay over night in Miami. That added a day. Miami is hot, humid and damp as you may expect, and the hotel was a very mediocre Sofitel. It was a tiring day, made massively worse by a fire alarm and evacuation at 4am. It was a false alarm, but even after being let back in the alarm kept sounding due to a fault so no chance of getting back to sleep. We then had a coach to the port at lunch time.

Coming back, after the cruise, the later flight times of Virgin meant another very tedious day. We did a sightseeing tour of the city which we were able to book on the ship, but even so we spent 8 hours in Miami International Airport, which is not a very nice airport, before another 9 hour flight home. This was made worse by the fact Virgin check in staff lied to me, offering an exit row seat for extra leg room which turned out to be a bulkhead seat with bugger all leg room. Not impressed.

The last night was slight extra hassle as luggage is put outside the cabin at night, so you end up packing most stuff but with tooth brush and stuff you need for morning in hand luggage that you then have to mess about transferring to main luggage before getting the plane. In my case I only had my camera bag, and it also meant carrying my pillow as I was not packing that the night before!

Obviously you try and put the hassle, discomfort, and cost of nearly three days messing about out of your mind.

My sister-in-law living it up
The cabin

It really is a floating hotel with about 3000 guests on board. Very impressive. On arrival at the dock people take your luggage away, and you queue up. In our case we were escorted to front of the queue and then to our cabin. The cabins are all called "staterooms". This was because we had booked an expensive two room cabin so my sister-in-law had her own room. The luggage then turns up a bit later outside your door.

The cabin itself was very good. It was about twice as wide as most, with a main living room and big TV with balcony. It had the small bedroom and en suite shower and toilet, and separately a large bedroom with proper bathroom with both bath and shower. We had a butler! We took breakfast in the room which was no extra cost. We had access to the Haven area which is a separate bar, restaurant, pool area, and sun deck. Oddly the sun deck appeared to be all gay couples (not an issue, just surprising). I gather there are sometimes group bookings arranged for various groups of people, but no idea if this was such or just a coincidence.

Things were not without issue - the TV stopped working twice, and the door to the main bedroom broke. They had three of them, with ladders and dismantling the wall and stuff for two hours to fix the door, then had to come back next day as still not right. Even so, they were quick to sort any issues.

Food

The cost included the main restaurants, which in our case included The Haven Restaurant, but there we several others on the ship including a very large buffet style.

There are also a number of specially restaurants that had a cover charge ranging from $15 upwards, but then everything on the menu was included for that. I was surprised that they did not have a Chinese or Indian though.

However, alcoholic drinks were not included. If you brought alcohol on, it was taken away until the end of the trip. On top of that, the drinks all had an auto gratuity. I did not argue the toss on that, but it was tempting as the ticket is meant to include gratuities. They even have space to add an extra gratuity! I had the chance to try a number of interesting cocktails.

Specialty restaurants needed to be booked in advance, and by the end of the trip they were fully booked, so plan ahead.

Paying for things

A key card is issued when you board, and you take it everywhere. You can pay for drinks and buy things using it. You do not need cash - everything is on the key card. You have to sign for everything, which is good. In my case the three cards were all billed to me, but it looks like they could have done it individually. At the end of the trip we had racked up over $1000 which they charge to a credit card. They really make it easy to buy extras, including a blue diamond gold ring! The TV (or iPhone app) shows the statement as you go, which handy. FYI, the app is why iMessage works, as, Apple being a closed environment, the only way for the app to do incoming calls and texts is via office Apple push notifications, and that is all tied in with iMessage, LOL.

You obviously need the card to open your cabin, but also when leaving and boarding the ship at the stops.

Even so, it would be perfectly possible to have a trip with no extra costs, and still eat well.

Medical

I started with a cold. I went down to medical area and asked about decongestants. Yes, they could sort me out, but I would have to see and doctor and that was $105 and medication was charged extra on top. So I checked out the gift shop which had a very small selection of medications. I put up with it, having brought paracetamol with me.

However, cruise ships are a tad paranoid over hygiene! It makes sense, cramming so many people in to a small space. Dispensers for alcohol hand rub are everywhere, along with people to encourage you strongly to use it. On getting back to the ship they spray your hands as you arrive. As I say, good idea, but feels over the top even for someone that tries to keep clean hands and consider hygiene anyway.

Photos

There are ship's photographers everywhere. They had the camera wired up to a small tablet and they would key your cabin number on them. I hear on some ships they use face recognition instead. Anyway, you can review the pics on various displays and the photo shop, and buy them if you want. Yet another way to pull you in to spending more. We did not do that, and took our own pics :-)

Entertainment

There were loads of shows and events. We saw a performance on Legally Blond, as well as a Comedy Club, and a magic show. All quite good.

The shows need to be booked in advance, even though most are no extra cost. Indeed, if you don't attend they can charge.

There was even an art gallery and auctions, which they seemed to keep inviting us along to with small presentations with sparkling wine, probably because we had a posh cabin. We even had VIP cocktails with the captain and crew (and the rest of Haven).

The ice bar was disappointing because it was so small. You would expect some ice sculptures maybe, but just a chair to sit on. It ended up being too cold even with the coat they provide. Yes, I know, I am not one to complain of the cold!

Activities

There are a lot of activities including water slides and rock climbing. To be honest we did not go in for them. We did go out on to the Sponge Bob deck to see what it was like. It was was packed and looked very Bultins. Mostly the girls sun bathed on the Gay Deck where they met some interesting people. I mostly watched TV, went to the bar, or tried to get the Internet working on the sat phone.

Islands

Of course, part of the point is to visit some islands. This trip of a week involved three stops. You dock in the morning, and there is a time you have to be back in the afternoon. They have loads of activities and tours you can book while on the ship.

We went for a wander and some shopping on St Maarten. We did an island tour on St Thomas. We went to a market and a few shops on Nassau.

However, in all of these places, and indeed on the ship, and pretty much everywhere around the Caribbean, you get jewellery shops. Loads of places selling diamonds, and some selling emeralds and so on. You end up under a lot of pressure to buy your wife something shiny.

Was it fun?

It was an experience. It was a bit more that just staying in a nice hotel for a week. The islands, and the fact that there are loads of things on the ship (and a big choice of food) was better than just staying in a hotel. Overall it made a nice break, and the girls liked it a lot. The traveling to and from the ship really does dilute it though. If I lived near a port it would be a no brainier to take a cruise. But yes, it was fun.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Still at sea

So, a few days at sea. We are now at the second port of call, St Thomas. Yesterday was St Maarten. Fun little islands. Loads of pictures today from a sight seeing tour. I'll upload pics when I get back for obvious reasons.

There have been a few discoveries re the Internet though.

First, the Iridium Go! - which works well for tracking my location with 5 minute GPS updates. I'll collate the data on to a nice map for the whole trip once I get back, but it is cool that it works. This is simply on the cabin balcony 24/7.

However, I did take it up on to the sun deck on Monday. We are in an exclusive little area (expensive tickets) and so not at all crowded. Very different to the Sponge Bob deck (where the muggles all go) which is packed. I put the Iridium Go! on top of something high up - where it could see almost totally uninterrupted horizon to horizon view of the sky - so perfect for satellite use.

It worked very well - it tracked satellites and stayed in a data call (albeit at 2400bps) for ages. It did fail at one point, and refused to reconnect for several minutes, but mostly it was just working. It made ssh/irc very usable. I was very impressed with compressed ssh actually - the screen refresh when switching tabs on irssi was instant, suggesting it was compressed to one packet (using 576 MTU). It is all plain text, so plausible, but it made irssi very usable. The problem was, even in the shade, that it was hot and windy up on deck, so I eventually gave up. Sadly on the balcony, with only a half view of sky, it will drop data calls every few minutes. It drops NAT sessions (which is a really pain) so means a new connect which takes ssh around a minute. Hence not really very usable from the cabin, which is a real shame.

However, the ship's Internet has some interesting quirks. On this ship it is only done using per-minute packages, not per MB. I was able to buy 250 mins for $100. You connect and disconnect as you wish. They use minute based start and stop times so you can end up paying for up to an extra minute each time you connect, which is a bugger. Interestingly, when in port, they clearly use a local land link as latency drops to something sensible. At sea it seems to be Inmarsat, so good speeds but high latency.

They also hijack logout.com and mycounter.com, which I assume they do not own, as well as IP address 1.1.1.1 which is also not theirs. Obviously no IPv6! If only I owned logout.com I could kick up a stink :-)

However, I have left the most useful quirk to the end. This has to be deliberate, but does not seem to be documented. If I connect to the ship's Internet, and then disconnect, it seems that the Apple push notification systems stay connected and not charged. This means notifies for apps like Facebook messenger, and twitter pop up (even though twitter does not connect). I even get incoming FaceTime calls and can make them but not actually connect the call sadly. Usefully iMessage continues to work, both ways.

I checked, and it is not simply a matter of open TCP sessions staying up (shame). It is not even a matter of port 5223 staying up (as I tried that, mapping for ssh). Hence, I can only assume it is intentional. But the result is I have working text iMessage at no extra cost 24/7, which is cool. Note that images in iMessage appear to be done by reference to something via another port, and so that does not connect, so only text works, but still...

I am still battling with the mobile carrier to get our SIP2SIM service working on these islands, USA, and ship's GSM network. I am able to connect and get inbound texts (no idea on calls as thankfully nobody has tried calling me yet), but I cannot make calls, send texts or connect on data. I know the costs are scary, so would be doing only to test (as some customers would really like this to work). But hopefully my testing and reporting back will get it solved. It looks like a soft problem (tariffing config) so should be solvable while I am here.

Apart from that - the holiday is going OK - I will have to blog on what a cruise is like, having never done one before - it is quite an experience, though I understand cruise ships do vary from ship to ship. We do seem to be following the Disney ship though :-)

Sunday, 21 September 2014

At sea

This is my first cruise, and so far so good...

I'll post more on the holiday later, but for now - what about Internet.

There are several options. One, I brought with me, is an Iridium Go! which provides 2400bps connectivity. There is a package that allows unlimited data and free texts. This basically works, but trying to use it from the balcony it does occasionally drop the data call. The only real use you can make of the data is something like ssh/irc, which works quite well, or batch email using their app.

However, the Iridium Go! does have a couple of other features. One is calls (which are expensive) but the other is texts. These work like normal texts and have been a good way for someone to contact me. I can see on its screen that a text is waiting and pick up on my iPhone. Pretty much all other ways to access the internet involve me logging in to check, so random delays . This is more active.

The other key thing, and perhaps the main usage for the Iridium Go!, is that it is texting a GPS location ever 5 minutes. This is quite cool as friends and relatives are seeing where we have got to.

However, there are other methods of access. The phone can roam on to a ships mobile signal - but my SIM will not work (yet). I know that if I did use that it would be expensive, even for incoming texts. We are trying to get the SIM sorted as these should work in the US (it didn't) and on the ship. This is probably the most expensive option, but is by the MB for data.

Finally, the ship has wifi based Internet. Annoyingly it is charged by the minute. It it was by the MB, I could leave my laptop on irc all day and use bugger all. By the minute it is $0.75/min, or if buying 100 minutes $0.55/min. It is based on Inmarsat, we think, so horrid latencies but reasonable speed. I was able to check email, and make this post. What was quite impressive was a working FaceTime call - and being charged by the minute for FaceTime is probably not such a bad deal!

Next thing will try is the Iridum on the top desk rather than a balcony - see if it can properly stay in a data call.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Thank you British Gas

Why would anyone change energy provider when what you buy is the same?

The only reason is the tariff and billing. It seems to be that most of the different tariffs expect you to gamble in some way - commit to X years at a fixed price and hope prices don't fall, for example. Some work on budgets that are DD regular amounts and can get out of step with reality. All I want is to pay for what I use at a fair price, no messing about.

Well British Gas keep messing about. They have chased (and probably filed bad credit reports) bills that they had never sent, and done that several times.

Their latest - a bill on my door step today, 17th September 2014, that clearly states "Your payment is due by 27th August".

WTF? Unless they mean 27th August 2015, I am seriously unimpressed. What is the point of sending a bill over a month after the bill date (13th Aug) that is already overdue when it arrives.

This sort of crap really does make me think about switching supplier.

SatPhone (Callmonitor Ltd)

I now have a working Iridium SIM from SatPhone (Callmonitor Ltd).

What a difference!

We ordered via on-line chat, with an emailed confirmation I had to complete (took a few seconds). The SIM was activated for us, and was biked over. They sent confirmation of order. They sent confirmation of SIM and number and so on. They use a courier with real-time tracking of the bike. They even had my POD in my email from the courier before I had walked back in to my desk with the SIM. The SIM just works.

They have the same package for a similar price, but apparently they send a proper VAT invoice in GBP and then DD the amount they invoice. What a novel idea!

Overall I have to say very slick indeed. Well done.


Ashbury Sat Com

I have to say that I am very very unimpressed with this bunch. I'll keep it to the facts though.

Their web site lists the Iridium Go! and the Iridum postpay packages. They have a package that was listed as £99/month, 3 month min term. This includes unlimited data (at 2400bps) and SMS at $0.00 (free).

I got the phone and the SIM, and all fine. I have spent weeks on this testing, and even set up a google maps based tracker for SMS based location updates. I have created a custom connect script on the mac to allow me to use it to ssh. It works. I was, today, going to take myself to the middle of a field with the laptop and a satphone to test.

I am finally all ready to spend a week on a boat. I fly out in 48 hours. Ready to go...

But I had a minor query on the invoices and the fact that the amounts in pounds on the invoices did not agree with the amounts charged to my card (by quite a lot). They invoice in dollars but (as they must) show GBP NET and VAT amount. It turns out this is just an estimate and out of date, and then will not agree with the card charge as they charge the card in dollars! What is worse is that they tried to "fix" this by loading a different exchange rate and re-sending already issued VAT invoices with different GBP NET and VAT amounts! So what did they put on their VAT return? Even so, the amount does not match the card charge at all (not by a few pence but by 7%).

It was actually rather odd when I ordered as the order was in GBP, the order confirmation in EUR and the invoice in USD! The ordering was not good anyway as they did not ship the day I ordered, but next day; and then the SIM was not active but no clue that I would have to ask for it to be activated; and then it took all day to activate... So overall, not good, in my opinion.

So, I tried to get them to sort this and they threw their toys out of the pram - credited the service charge (around £150 for 1.5 months) and cancelled the service with no notice. This is a service that has a three month minimum term and for which we have not been in any breach of contract. They have no basis for doing that!

Copies of the duplicate but different invoices have now been posted to HMRC suggesting a VAT inspection may be in order. Hopefully that will buck up their ideas and do business properly after that.

Why do people get in to business if they cannot handle something as simple as VAT invoicing?!

Thankfully, it turns out that one of our customers sells Iridium SIMs, and a new one will be here today. Phew.

Whisky tasting notes

Much like wine tasting, whisky tasting seems to have a colourful language all of its own. For example "A gentle and soft aroma to start, almost shy, but it heightened our expectations of what was to come. Making baked apples with brown sugar, cinnamon, chopped pecans, currants, raisins and sultanas as well as anise-flavoured cookies, a smell of pine needles and wood sap from a fresh cut fir tree – happy childhood memories of the night before Christmas. It is a waxy, oily, honey mouth coating texture with flavours of sandalwood, resin and exotic spices. With water there is a hint of wood smoke followed by candied orange and lemon peel, dried fruits and cardamom. Now on the taste a pleasant light woodiness combined with fragrant spices and fresh mint - this makes a great Advent dram." which is 35.101.

I doubt I could ever be so colourful, but I thought I would try and give a report on this particular bottle.

It was actually got for me by JJ for my birthday, but as our paths did not pass until this month I did not know.

Many got me whisky for my birthday, hearing that I drink whisky now, and some got expensive bottles. Sadly whisky is not all the same, and I like some whisky. For reference the SMWS ones described as sweet and spicy are usually what I like, and definitely not anything peaty.

When I saw this, I though "not another whisky", but the description was intriguing . Ages in sherry casks, but oddly no indication of the number of years aged. That is not mandatory but very rare for any whisky not to say the age. Even so, when I looked at the bottle itself the colour was not a good sign - that usually means it is peaty, but the description did not say so. It seems the sherry may have coloured it, which is fine.

Anyway, I finally tried it. So here are my tasting notes:-

"Imagine gargling TCP antiseptic liquid, and perhaps drinking neat marmite from a squirty bottle. That would give you some idea of the impact of the initial sip. It only took a couple of sips to realise that I was not, in fact, over the tummy bug with which I had been suffering last week. Persevering the taste seems not to be an acquired one. If you allow some time for your taste buds to recover, you may detect a hint of liquorice and a cane sugar taste (not golden syrup, more like black treacle). A second glass is not recommended."

I did try JJ, honest, and thanks for the thought :-)

And yes, my desk is level - that picture suggests this drink even defies gravity.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

In the line of fire


When working on FireBrick code, one of the final sanity checks after lots of bench testing and verification is to test the code on our own routers that are in front of the office and my home. Then we can release alpha code for people to test in the wild. This is a long way from beta code and finally the regular factory releases.

The office is a pretty demanding customer in that they provide, shall we say, "instant customer feedback" in the event that the code is not stable. Putting the code in the line of fire like this works well. It is very motivating for a s/w developer who is sat in the same room! But if we were not prepared to use this code ourselves, how could we expect customers to?

Whilst an office full of people that rely on the Internet for everything they do can be demanding, there is little that is as demanding than one of your kids playing LoL, especially if they are playing a league game!

I think every router manufacturer should try this challenge - can you s/w upgrade the single router/firewall in front of a LoL gamer in mid game without getting shouted at? That is the challenge!

Now, we know we have done well with the shutdown and startup sequence and the reboot logic that does not even re-set the Ethernet PHYs. We manage to go from shutdown to routing packets in a few hundred milliseconds. Combined with a few specific firewall and routing rules, I think I have got pretty close to the "Not screaming at me" threshold now. In testing he did notice a reboot, but only just, and not every time.

Related to this, we have many core routers in our network serving us, and ultimately serving customers. Can we re-load these with no impact on customers, and importantly - do we pass the scream test? Well, we have been working on the BGP and VRRP shutdown sequences lately. The concept is simple - using pairs or routers it should be possible to take one out cleanly for a re-load without dropping a single IP packet.

Before shutdown we announce lower priority BGP routes. We used to withdraw routes but that created gaps until adjacent routers propagate that and then get fed an alternative. This way they always have a route one way or the other. We do controlled VRRP handover. We then restart in a fraction of a second once that is all sorted and done cleanly. I think we have that sussed now.

It is amazing what you can do under pressure some times.

Barclays, you arseholes!

So, apart from everything else they have done (including wiping the iPhone app settings for online banking), they have now screwed me over for several grand.

OK, I'll get it back, the people in question are nice guys, but this is so retarted that I don't know quite what to say.

I paid the air-con people via on-line banking using a pin-sentry and debit card, all good stuff. I went through the steps, clicked OK, etc, and realised that the balance had not changed. Odd.

So I checked, and no pending transfers. I assumed I must have missed an error.

So I tried again and it warned that there is already a payment for the same details. So I cancelled.

I have waited all day, and checked with the recipient, and no money arrived, so I paid yet again. This time I spotted the message on the final screen.

"The payment has been delayed because of manual checking"

OK, maybe, just maybe, that is not totally daft, but really, I used a pin sentry and everything. Why faff about. But assuming that is OK, where is the payment. And why has the manual checking not finished yet and the payment gone already?

It is not listed on my account. It is not in the pending/recent payments. It is invisible. If I could see it as a "pending checking" payment I would not have done a second one!!!

Now, I assume, both payments will go through and I will have to ask nicely for one to be sent back.

Why the hell can you not get a bank that just damn works!

Update: Arrrrg!They have blocked on-line banking now. They called from a withheld number to ask person details. Now calling back and has taken 4 minutes to get as far as being in a damn queue.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Making a start

Well, making a start on the garage. New dis board, and air-con installed.

We still need to clear the place properly and get it back to a bare shell, then we need a window bricked up and the floor leveled. Sounds like it may be end of the year before the builders can come in, which is disappointing.

I am starting to formulate some ideas for layout though, and looks like I should be able to do a small sink area for kettle and toaster as well.

I also think a sofa-bed now that James has moved back in and the guest room is his.

So, making a start :-)

Friday, 12 September 2014

Think of the children

"Following a statement in the Home Secretary Theresa May’s Defence and Security Lecture in June, stating that the National Crime Agency (NCA) had to drop 13 threat-to-life cases due to missing communications data in which a child was assessed to be at risk of imminent harm"

There will always be some cases, and some of these sound like they were police not even using the powers they have properly.

But do I have to ask: How many cases of threat-to-life were dropped (or not even known about) because there are not covert police surveillance cameras in every child's bedroom and bathroom?

I mean, surely, the only way to guarantee that kids are 100% safe is to have someone monitoring them all day and anything less than that is negligence, bad parenting, and a failing of the [nanny] state?

Or maybe we can try and strike a sensible balance - how about that?

So yes, please think of the children and what sort of society we are bringing them in to!

I was watching kids TV as my grandson was round at the weekend, and there was some show on channel 5, lazytown or something. The story line included surveillance cameras with recording that these kids then used to track down a plot to harm the mayor and discredit someone else. It seems we are teaching kids that it is fine to have the authorities watch our every more and that everything we do is recorded. Is that a new political type of kids TV?

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Out of action

Gastroenteritis, diarrhea, fever, shivers, cold sweats. stomach cramps, headache, for 3rd day now.

I am only really feeling up to posting a blog post now. I did not even check emails on Monday.

And paracetamol every 4 hours finally started keeping the fever in check, except I can't take more that 8 in 24 hours, arrrrg! Ibuprofen was not doing anything for the fever. I ended up having cool baths to get my temperature down. Thankfully the Imodium was working for about 8 hours at a time.

So, sorry if anyone has been trying to get in touch with me this week. I'm off work tomorrow anyway but should be able to catch up a bit if I am feeling better. Right now I am dosed up enough to just be a bit light headed and uncomfortable, which is about the best I have felt all week.

It seems to be going round, but has hit me rather hard.

At least it did not happen whilst on holiday.

Update: Thursday, and some real signs of recovery - light headed and a headache but no fever all night. This has been a hell of a long week.

OK, fever lasted 3 days, diarrhea lasted 6 days, slight headache and occasional cold sweat lasted all 7 days. I think I am over it, and am going to work Monday.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

I need a keyboard that lights up!

Shuttered 3D glasses cut light by a bit more than 50%. The monitor adjusts, but this means I can see little else in the room.

The main light in the room would be a good idea but it does have some flicker, which is normally OK (unusual for me) but clashes badly with the 3D shutter glasses, so I have to play in the dark(ish).

So I cannot see the keyboard, and whilst a lot of game play works fine with a 16 key grid on the razer mouse, when I need to press a key - even just to see a map, I struggle. Hitting the wrong key can be a problem in game!

Using nice FILCO keyboard now, but need one that lights up with solid LED not strobed. That may be a challenge. I used to use the proper IBM model M keyboards that unicomp still make, but have been convinced to try these FILCO ones. They are OK and I am used to them now, though I miss my model M a bit. The model M did not light up either.

Or, I suppose, I wait until I sort the new den and have a nice big TV with passive 3D so I can use with the lights on!

Saturday, 6 September 2014

The Telegraph are now spamming me illegally!

What is worse than getting on someone's mailing list is getting on a mailing list that thinks you are a business/commercial subscriber and not an individual subscriber. They seem to be impossible to get off the master list (the one the scum selling the lists has) and they consider that they do not have to follow any of the rules for individual subscribers as they think (mistakenly) that it is a commercial address.

We still have the stupid situation that the ICO will do nothing about complaints of spam or junk calls.

We still have the stupid situation that you can sue for damages but courts seem to consider that there are no real damages for "a spam email". And the same spammer does not send enough to start to be worth any damages (and if they did, they argue that you should have used their unsubscribe link).

Now, I will be going on a cruise late this month, first one I have been on. I have checked, and if I roam my mobile to the ships mobile service the data will be costing me over £10/MB. These spams are often HTML and link in images and so on.

Whilst I will have a 2400bps "all you can eat" sat phone link with text only email options on its own mailbox, I may occasionally check emails on my normal mailbox. If I get one of these spams I will be able to work out the amount of traffic it took and that will be a few pounds at least. So that should give me an actual, tangible, amount of damages for which to sue. Of course, I have to check that the rules apply if I check my email from outside the country.

It really should not be this hard. If the legislation only had a £50 minimum or something then everyone could sue the sender every time every spam from a UK company arrived, and the whole scummy industry would fall on its knees in no time. I really think it is time something was done about this. Maybe suing a newspaper is a way to tackle it - so I think The Telepgraph will get a formal notice before action in writing on Monday.

They have a defence that they have "taken such care as in all the circumstances was reasonably required to comply with the relevant requirement". My argument to that is that there is no way to know that an email address is an individual subscriber or not, and so no steps, short of never sending unsolicited email, could be taken - so their only choice to comply is never send unsolicited email. It would be interesting to actually have that point with a judge, even if I lose it.

They were kind enough to provide the appropriate address :-

This email is from Telegraph Media Group Limited - 111 Buckingham Palace Road, London. SW1W 0DT registered in England under No 451593

Friday, 5 September 2014

Getting old

One on the many things they don't really teach you in school is what it means to be "getting old". Shit that happens as you get older.

I don't just mean just the biology - which is an important aspect and they could (should) teach you. What with each and every cell losing some of its DNA as it replicates (yes, I mistyped that as DNS the first time) you find more and more of the basic functions of your body get a bit less reliable. Hence being on insulin and now, as of today, being on ACE inhibitors for slightly high blood pressure (lets hope it helps with headaches). Homeostasis - ha!

But there is a lot more to it - and I wonder if schools should try and teach people "life cycle" somehow. Sadly (being an old fogey now) I suspect that these young 'uns will not listen.

We get older and slower and less reliable and a cellular level and the macro implications of that. But it is not all bad...

We get wiser and smarter in some ways (until the dementia kicks in). We have "seen it and done that" so many times we know what you have to expect. Little things like "read the small print", and "always assume someone has an angle and is not so much out to get you but they will screw you anyway". I record all my calls, not because I ever have to refer to them but because people know I record them so they don't bullshit me. Or I just use the threat of "I'll check the call recording" and they back down. I am sourly tempted to record all face to face conversations next! You get sick of bullshit as you get older.

We also go through financial changes - for many it is finally paying off the mortgage (which would be nice, but, heck, I am married, so not happened yet). For many in my line of work it is working your way up a payroll ladder and ending up reasonably well off. In some ways it is like playing World of Warcraft (yes, seriously). At the start you collect copper and silver coins and aspire to a gold coin, but almost all you want to buy is also cheap. When you get to higher levels you are mining some serious fake minerals (no, not "unobtainium" but close) and collecting loads of gold, but what you want to spend costs lots of gold. I seriously remember the times (in real life) that were bad, when every penny mattered, and when "being my round" at the pub with mates mattered. Now I will often be the one buying lunch and have (on several occasions) not even looked at the bill before paying it. What they don't tell you is the hassle does not stop - being a tad better off comes with the annoying demands of relatives and unexpected expenses that are now thousands or tens of thousands not just tens of pounds like they used to be. I am sure that kings and queens have hassles I could not imagine, but I bet they have hassle none the less.

Of course not everyone does the same, but however well off you are it is not likely it is "more than you need" and it is always going to be hassle. They don't teach you that at school either. The striving for better is never ending, it really is.

So, as I say, today is a new tablet every day. More to the daily regime. These ACE inhibitors are meant to be good for me anyway as they protect my kidneys as well as lower my blood pressure. All I hope right now is that they help with headaches.

Because that is another thing you don't realise. When you are young nothing hurts unless you do something daft like graze your knee. When older more and more "normal" stuff is uncomfortable or hurts, so you avoid doing it. My feet hurt, FFS, and it not like the doctors actually know why - even diabetic peripheral neuropathy does not quite fit as my blood sugar levels are good and my feet are not actually numb. I wear sandals because that is less uncomfortable. Life sucks.

And that is it - like sucks - and then you die. But at my age I am starting to get more and more "fuck you". I have friends that have died from cancer and they get very much "fuck you" very very quickly when the clock is ticking. For most of us it is a more gradual realisation. So yes, the bat cave, den, whatever it is, is happening and it is going to be my "space" and hang the expense. You can't take it with you, as they say.

So yes, I have opened the whisky I got the other day. It is £10 a shot, which is silly. It is aged 39 years. It was distilled on my 10th birthday and I find it amazing that someone made that whisky and probably knew they would never see it bottled, let alone drunk. Well done to them, and thank you - it is a nice one. Here's a glass to you, whoever you are - cheers!

Update: No nasty side effects to ACE inhibitors yet, but only on 2mg. We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Bad account management

I can't say who the customer is, which is a shame as I am sure people would appreciate the irony (and before anyone tells me off, I use "irony" in the wrong way, ironically, as a funny co-incidence).

But we have a customer that thinks that we should call them if we have not had payment within 7 working days in order to check that they got the invoice. Not doing so is "bad account management". This is on an account on 30 days terms.

Well, I am sorry, but we have thousands of accounts on 30 day terms, paid on time, but not within 7 workings days. No way am I hiring a team of people to call and check the invoice arrived for every one of them every month.

This is especially daft when we have read receipts for the invoices in question, so we know they were received and read on the mail client. No need to call!

Anyway, long story short, they were most unhappy and complaining of bad account management (i.e. us not calling) because they had some statutory late payment penalties.

Turns out that we were wrong! They had not paid late. This is pretty rare for us, but we worked out how it happened. They had simply not paid several earlier invoices and we allocated payments in order of due date. The solution, apart from an apology, and a credit of the wrong charges, was to manually allocate the payments to invoices as they had requested. This meant crediting £120 in statutory late payment charges.

Of course, I am sorry when this happens, even if caused by the actions of the customer (paying later invoices and not earlier ones). We don't do this to wind people up and we are very keen to do things right (in the services and in the invoicing). We hate making any mistakes.

Now, having done that, we know exactly which earlier invoices were not paid, and the statutory late payment penalties now due add up to £190, not £120. So it is just as well they pointed out our error so we could correct it, as otherwise we would have under charged what was due

Some times I love it when an accounts department in a big bureaucratic organisation gets stroppy, especially when they end up owing more as a result.

Anyway, at least this means we can concentrate on providing quality service and not wasting time on silly accounting issues.

Some will think I am harsh, but if you knew who this was if would be funny. Needless to say, we have also asked if they need to review the credit terms to fit the way they work, and to set up a consolidated bill each month instead of ad-hoc bills as new services are installed and so on - we are actually trying to be helpful under all of this, really.

P.S. Customers will normally get the first penalties credited anyway and we work with them to solve whatever caused any misunderstanding or late payment in the first place and make sure it does not happen again. The objective it to ensure people pay on time, not to make money from penalties.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

XML done badly?

We are getting quite a lot of experience with XML these days, having had to use it to interact with BT and other suppliers, even HMRC, and having used it internally for many things, we kind of think we know what we are doing.

One of the big things with any XML based system is choosing the style of operation. There are a wide range of different approaches to how one structures data in XML. It really is giving people enough rope to hang themselves.

XML has two basic concepts - the object and the attribute. An attribute is something which can appear in any order within an object and has a unique tag so can appear once (or not at all) and has a simple string value. An object can appear in another object, and can even interleave with text (though apart from HTML, nobody does that really). Typically an object can have a list of objects contained within it, and the order can matter and specific named objects can appear more than once. These objects can have attributes and can have a text content (or other objects as content).

Now, this does lend it self to some types of data structures. For example, if you have a row in an SQL table the columns will have unique names and the fields will be strings, so making an object with attributes matching the column names makes a lot of sense.

Some times you want to pass stuff in a generic way and even have data types defined instead of inferred from the string itself, and for that an object is not a bad idea as it can have attributes to say the data type and other meta data, with the text content being the value.

But some times people go really mental, using objects and text content to do things that are far more logically attributes (as they appear at most once, and order does not matter). A simple example is the XML used to tell the Iridium Go! to do something, sent as an HTTP POST with a SOAPAction and classic SOAP envelope XML.

So, first issue :-

         <userCredentials>
            <userName>guest</userName>
            <password>guest</password>
         </userCredentials>


Given that the userName and password can logically only appear once in that, and the order they are used really has no meaning, why the hell not :-

<userCredentials userName="guest" password="guest"/>

That would be way simpler. Or, perhaps, if all performTask requests must have credentials, then make them attributes of that top level object.

Then we have a requestList that contains <taskID>2</taskID>. So again, why not taskID="2" ?

Then we go for some generic parameters, and now it gets really verbose :-

               <options>
                   <name>Enable DNS forwarding</name>
                   <value>true</value>
                   <dataType>boolean</dataType>
               </options>


I mean, what can I say, why the hell not just enable-dns="true" somewhere? Or perhaps <option name="Enable DNS forwarding" type="boolean">true</option>

However, this is where things get annoying - I personally prefer a less verbose style, but whatever style you pick, you could at least be consistent. Why the hell have things like that incredibly verbose "option" above, but have things like a taskID that is "2". What does "2" mean?

I assumed it was some sort of sequence of some such, so I tried 1. Guess what, it seems task "1" is "Set SOS state and start sending GPS updates", where as task "2" is "Start an Internet connection" (which is what I wanted). Why the hell go for incredibly terse and meaningless task digits rather than something like <taskID>Start Internet Connection</taskID>

Anyway, needless to say I now have a simple script to start and stop the Internet connection from my laptop, including defining which ports are open.

Interestingly TCP copes, even ssh, though at this speed telnet is possibly a tad better.

What was a surprise is the mosh did not cope. It tried, and got started even, but it started re-sending some UDP packets. These just clogged up the tx queue by the look of it, and meant even more latency, and that meant it did even more re-sends, and so on. It got to the stage that it would send several UDP packets from a port in a short period, apparently give up and try another source port, all before getting a reply back to the first port (which it was now ignoring). Seems mosh can't quit cope with the nearly 2 seconds round trip time and incredibly slow transmission rate. Pitty.

However, a simple ssh or telnet was just about usable for irc.

Anyone wanting this script for their Iridium Go!, let me know.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Back to the future, I mean past.

I remember the days of Prestel, 1200/75 and a 40/25 text screen. I was 919995141 by the way.

I have been playing with this Iridium Go! thing, and have managed to work out how to get the damn thing to work for a straight IP connection!

It is marketed as having mail, web, text, calls, and even "social media integration", but the feeling in the office was that it would only be those specific things that worked at all. However, Iridum more generally, as opposed to Iridium Go! is marketed as allowing data calls that pass IP. I am pleased to the the Go! is indeed as flexible.

I am testing using a £99/month package that has unlimited data and texts, which makes it ideal for texting, and even spending ages using telnet on a cruise if I get bored.

Basically, the apps that one uses with iPhone and iPad all send some nice SOAP/XML to establish the "Internet call" and send details of firewall settings and stuff to work. They then talk to proxies on 192.168... addresses to get mail and access web. With these selective firewall settings which were not visible (without doing packet dumps) I was, of course, unable to make any sort of connection to the outside world.

However, it seems if one selects "Internet call" on the on-screen menu it makes a connection that works according to the configurable firewall settings. I managed to use telnet to get to irssi to access irc, and post on irc. It has some lag, obviously, but works. It is a tad like those old Prestel days though being 2400bps.

Next trick is playing with mosh to get a more interactive feel. I also need to make something to send the "internet call" settings rather than having to press the button.

So this means I can use their tools for the likes of calls, texts, and email. I can use the laptop for things like irssi/irc, and I can open ports for things like rsync if I need.

Starting to be impressed now.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Saving the planet?

Interesting article on the BBC "High-powered hairdryers under threat as EU considers ban" today.

The couple of points I take issue with are :-

(a) Restricting kettles. Obviously, it makes no sense whatsoever to restrict the power rating of a kettle. The energy to boil an amount of water is going to be the same regardless. The article does not say the "restriction" would be on power ratings, but that does seem to be the implication. Thankfully the referenced report is slightly saner and talking of (wasted) thermal mass of heating element and heat lost externally whilst in use, and so on. Better designed kettles I have no problem with.

(b) The comments from hair dressers - I tend to agree that, like kettles, if you have lower power dryers then they will be used for longer, and not really help. But also, what seems odd is that I would expect professional hairdressers to have no problem buying "commercial" hair dryers which I would hope are not subject to the same restrictions.

We had this when replacing our tumble dryer recently. It was a powerful one, but the manufacturer don't do them any more (not in EU anyway) because of these silly rules. Again, if less power then longer to dry stuff, so why? In fact, many things are not run on the highest temperature anyway - the higher power is probably because it is bigger, and hence means fewer loads. Ultimately it takes an amount of energy to dry clothes, so reducing power does not help. What you need is greater efficiency in getting that energy to the clothes.

Anyway, the answer was simple, I just purchased a "commercial" tumble dryer. This allowed me to choose from a range of way more powerful devices, actually expanding my choice rather than reducing it (having not considered a commercial appliance before).

I am sure the same will apply to kettles, hair dryers and everything else they are restricting.