Thursday, 30 October 2014

Freedom of expression

This is from a reply from my MP...

"A future Conservative Government would like to go further still, and the next Conservative manifesto is likely to contain a commitment to introduce Extremist Disruption Orders (EDO), which seek to restrict the harmful activities of extremist individuals who spread hate but do not break laws. This will be a civil order, imposed by a High Court upon application by the police." [my emphasis]

Note, "do not break laws". Even article 10 of the EHCR talks of restrictions prescribed by law.

I can't see that sort of thing being abused or suffering feature creep! Can you?

Oh, I hate mushrooms, and you should to - so I can expect this blog to be shut down as I "spread hate".

P.S. Bear in mind that "extremist" could well mean just people that don't believe the official line on something like 911. See reports of Cameron saying so.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Not a terrorist!

LAX flight delayed after WiFi hotspot name prompts concerns!

Someone saw a WiFI SSID of "Al-Quida Free Terror Nettwork" and reported it, the result was people kept on the plane for 3 hours.

There are so many issues with this, it is quite unbelievable. What amazes me is the reactions to the post with some people thinking it was right to report or take action. To add to the surprise my wife thinks it was right under the logic of "what if there had been a terrorist and they had ignored it?"

I am sorry, but no. This has gone way way too far. I have no idea why someone had that on their phone. Could have been done in jest long ago and still like that. Lots of people have silly SSIDs. For a while I had "Darth Vader's private AP" but that does not mean I am in fact Darth Vader of have access to a Death Star with which to blow up a plane. Nobody in their right mind would think so.

I do actually have a device with an SSID of ☢ (ionising radiation sign) and one of ☠ (toxin sign, skull and crossed bones), both of which are internationally recognised hazard symbols - will that get me strip searched next time I go near an airport? If not, why not?

It seems 100% clear to me that a terrorist would not have their phone / device labeled "Al-Quida Free Terror Nettwork", especially as that is not even how you spell Al-Qaeda. Indeed, I would think that a terrorist is far more likely to have a device named "iPhone4". Should we stop planes every time that device name is seen as more likely to be a terrorist than one labeled "Al-Quida Free Terror Nettwork"? After all, what if there really was a terrorist and we had not checked someone with a phone labeled "iPhone4"? The logic is not there!

Even if the phone belonged to a "terrorist" that had some how forgotten to change his SSID (yeh, let's assume the paranoia is valid for a just a second). What then? Airport security does not try to stop a terrorist getting in, it simply tries to stop a terrorist getting in with the necessary tools to do anything terroristy. And if those measures work, as they presumably want us to believe, how is it that one with a silly SSID poses any more threat than one with a normal SSID? How exactly?

Seriously, if there is something that actually suggests a terrorist, or criminal of some sort, then please do investigate. But for something which simply could not possibly indicate a terrorist, or indicate a threat in any way, why the hell inconvenience a plane full of people - really, what is the point?

The only purpose is to undermine any public confidence in the security and ridicule the authorities.

P.S. Changing phone to 💣 ("Bomb") or possibly just "U+1F4A3".

Saturday, 25 October 2014

When adverts change

I try not to watch adverts, but it happens, as you know, and they always annoy the hell out of me.

I have just watched Dave Gorman "Modern Life Is Goodish" - and it is excellent. I love that he does not just take issue with the crap we all face but does practical things to test it like changing a Finish powerball to a smartie or making a fabric conditioner Jesus (Noel Edmunds). He did a lovely one on some adverts with survey results, and saying stuff with as low as "20 of 99 women agree" in them. As he says, how is that even allowed?!

I tend to notice what they don't say in adverts, and I am pleased to say that my kids are just as cynical. The exact wording used is important.

But one thing that does hit me with adverts is when they tweak the wording. This means I have seen the advert more than once, and the fact that there is a new version is noticeable to me. I hope I am not alone in that.

Now, some times it is just a matter of making it shorter. This is normal as first run is normally the full version, and as people know the advert it is run in a shorter form. The kitkat* advert used the phrase "share an ill designed driveway" (I think) and now says "share a driveway" for the two halves of the kitkat*! This is simply making it shorter.

But some times they change wording in subtle ways that makes me notice even more. Now, I have to say, if they were clever, they would do that deliberately, as otherwise I would not notice the advert.

One hit me today - BT now advertise "Our most reliable wireless signal". This is different to the wording they used before where they claimed that no-one gives a more reliable wireless signal.

This is that bit more honest - others are better. A&A are better. It is a subtle change and I doubt it is because of my blog, but it is a good change.

Now, if that was the original advert it would trip my "what are they not saying?" alarms as they say "their" most reliable, not "the" most reliable.

Tell me I am not alone in having such changes leap out at me.

Update: *It is Twix not Kitkat, which shows how much adverts sink in - I did not even remember what was advertised. Thanks for pointing it out.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Set the code free!

Some times it is so hard not to just go and update everything to the latest release.

We have spent weeks getting the code ready to release, with the completely new TCP stack from scratch finally being deployed, and lots of testing, and finally have a factory release candidate.

TCP is only needed for some of the internal features, like web interface and BGP and so on, but there is no reason not to make it a good quality stack with proper fast recovery and window scaling and syn cookies and everything else you expect. We have literally speed tested BGP full table transfers between boxes and seen it as low as 6 seconds for over 500k IPv4 routes (though it is currently around twice that when it actually bothers to have an Rx window that is not infinite). We have gradually added the new TCP features and tested, and even had some TCP session leaks we had to plug. The original TCP stack was my code when we first started and has lasted very well for many years, but Cliff has re-done it from scratch and massively improved it.

Obviously, I am 100% confident in the new code. I would have to be as otherwise it would not be a release candidate. I am confident enough to deploy on the A&A network.

But I have to face the reality that there may be something that breaks, and we have to test, test, test, and test again.

So, once again, it is a beta release loaded only on to some of the routers, and over night we will load on to just one of the LNSs, so everything has a hot standby just in case and everything is easy to roll back. If there are problems we can sort them quickly.

I know the past says "all code has bugs", but the future always looks so bug free. Often the code released is indeed, for all practical purposes, bug free. We try to do that every time, and manage it a lot. But it is still frustrating having to give it time to go wrong, just in case.

I feel like I can't do anything else - it is like waiting for a baby to be born - you just have to wait until it is finally due.

We were, none the less, tested on one of the recent alpha releases that survived maybe an hour outside the lab before it was hit by bad checksum bogus SYN packets once in the wild and crashed. That was pulled very quickly. It is amazing how a box on the Internet has to face so much crap. At the end of the day there is only so much testing you can do in the lab, and you have to let your code go free and out in to the wild for fend for itself and just cross your fingers.

Beta should be made in to a new factory release next week. That is when we really release it in to the wild :-)

Thursday, 23 October 2014

No contract?


OK, so if they have no contracts, what are these "T&Cs" that apply?

They would have to apply as a non-contractual, and hence unenforceable, set or terms and conditions then... So the idea that they "apply" is something of a stretch...

Interesting, section 12 of these terms talks of "when this contract was entered in to". Odd if there is no contract.

I mean, if the terms cannot be enforced, as no contract, why even have terms?

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

ICO ignore 1,000 complaints of calls from 0843 numbers

Over the last 3 months I have raised over 1,000 complaints to the ICO regarding calls from 0843 numbers that present a recorded announcement.

Every single one if a breach of section 19 of The Privacy and Electronic Communications(EC Directive) Regulations 2003

Every single complaint has detailed the calling and called number as well as time of day and date, and included a call recording to prove the breach.

Every single complaint has formally requested that they exercise enforcement functions in relation to this breach as per section 32 of those regulations.

Every single complaint has has a response "We have received your email" which even says they aim to respond within 30 days.

They have said they are officially ignoring me, even though investigating these complaints and enforcing these rules are their job.

I have complained about their response and still they say they will ignore me.

They have said they have no power to investigate, until I point out the powers they have and then they go quiet.

Just one such call is a breach of the regulations and they have the power investigate and they can fine the callers. Just one call! But even 1,000 complaints are not enough for them to act.

This is a government body deliberately refusing to do its job.

What next?

Well, I have requested that my MP refer to the parliamentary ombudsman...

Aircon memes

"Don't use it in auto" is what the aircon installer says. In fact two of them have said that to me - one for office and one for home.

It seems to be a meme - a saying passed down from engineer to engineer, with no logic as to why.

I had it again today. The aircon was being maintained and the engineer (who I think I have upset now) said not to use in auto and I was rude enough to ask why?

He said it is not good for it to keep changing from cooling to heating. OK, that is probably a true statement, wasting time and energy and maybe even increasing wear, who knows, it is plausible. But we were looking at the panel which someone had set, rather oddly, to auto heat to 16°C and cool to 22°C. I asked how it would be switching between cooling and heating exactly? Surely, if it is warm outside (as today) it will cool to 22°C and stop, and then heat up from outside so cool again back to 22°C and stop. When would it switch to heating? Similarly when really cold outside (and 16°C is daft and needs changing) it will heat to 16°C and stop, cool down from outside, so heat to 16°C and stop. It would not keep changing between heating to cooling.

Well, he had no answer to that, but said that the issue now is that it "stops". He say it would cool to 22°C and "stop", where as in cooling mode rather than auto mode, it would cool to 22°C and then keep fans going circulating air rather than "stop".

Well, (a) why would that make a difference as it still does not keep changing between heating and cooling and would get to required temperature, (b) why would it behave differently in auto and cooling mode anyway, that makes no sense, and (c) look, the fan is running when in between temperatures not heating or cooling now, so that is clearly untrue!

He had no answer and resorts to "well, if it that is what you want then fine!" and refused to actually explain his advice. He reiterated that they tell people not to run in auto mode, as if the fact that they tell people is, in itself, reason to tell people. He simply had no reason and seemed quite upset that I wanted him to back up his advice.

This sort of thing really pisses me off. If there really is a valid reason, then tell me, or better still tell the manufacturer - why on earth would they provide the feature if it was not advised to use it? Or better still, if there is a reason not to use it, why don't they fix that?

What I suspect happened is that once upon a time some air con units were somehow a bit dumb and would overshoot cooling or heating enough to trip the aircon to go the other way and get in a cycle. That is clearly broken behaviour, but instead of complaining to the manufacturer, installers just advised not to use auto. These days there really is no excuse - it is all microcontroller based and a computer can be sensible enough to ignore any overshoot anyway, or better still, avoid an overshoot in the first place.

In fact, my aircon at home is excellent. It is set to auto. When it is hot outside, it gently blows some cold air briefly and stops, maintaining the temperature. It does not switch to heating mode. When cold outside it gently blows some hot air until temperature, and stops. I can set the hysteresis to a wider or narrower setting. It is not as flexible as the office one where you set two temperatures. But it works nicely and just works, maintaining a temperature.

Oddly, even one of my colleagues tried to defend the "don't use auto" argument (because he is an argumentative sod himself) saying some people do not want a fixed temperature. That argument is, of course, completely irrelevant. It is true, sometimes I may want it hotter or colder - so I set the temperature a degree or two higher or lower. I don't care how it gets to that temperature.

Oddly, our industry has the same problem. The meme I am thinking of is not setting auto-negotiation on 10/100 Ethernet ports. There really is no reason for this advice. auto-neg just works, and can be set to auto-neg specific settings only. It seems that maybe, once apon a time, some kit, in the early days of the feature, would get it wrong, hence the advice. Now it is just advice that is a "known thing" so gets repeated, and ironically causes no end of issues.

Won't someone think of the imaginary children!

A colleague posted a on facebook about a recent news article.

Middlesbrough man creates legal history after being convicted of possessing illegal images of cartoon children

This raised a lot of issues, some of which are very emotive and controversial. The post has so far reached 185 comment within a small group, some from outside the UK as well.

He was found in possession of Manga and Anime images/videos "They were classified as prohibited images as they depicted young girls, some in school uniforms, some exposing themselves or taking part in sexual activity."

We can only go on the news report, and we cannot comment on the pictures as we are not allowed to see them (though we may not want to).

To many that have commented, this conviction is a step too far towards thought crime. This man has apparently had a similar conviction many years ago, but has apparently not been accused of any actual child abuse and there is no suggestion that he has or will commit any sort of child abuse. He has some cartoons.

I'll try and condense some of the issues down to avoid making this post as long as the facebook thread...

We live in a society that accepts a clear difference between fiction/fantasy and reality. As a child I watched cowboy films where people were gunned down in the street and then went out and pretend shot my brother with cap guns, but it was play and fantasy and not reality. There will always be people that cannot tell the difference and who are a danger to society but that is no reason to ban fantasy and fiction. Every conceivable crime including torture and murder and far worst are portrayed in film and this is "normal". I was watching a film the other day. The plot involved a small anti-establishment group that recruited a young man, convincing him to leave his home to join a radical religious cult and ultimately take part in a terrorist attack on a military base killing thousands... The film was called Star Wars. Fantasy and reality are different!

We accept that people do not have a choice over their sexual attraction. It used to be that people sexually attracted to those of the same gender were considered mentally ill and criminals, but now society accepts that you cannot choose how you are. There will be people attracted to young girls. That does not make child abuse acceptable, obviously, but to say one group can choose who they are attracted to, and another group cannot is clearly nonsense. It is far better that such people role play with their consenting adult partner wearing a school uniform in the bedroom or look at Anime cartoons than actually go out and abuse children.

Doesn't this material give the impression that child abuse is acceptable? I really think this is stretching a point. The same could be said for almost all fiction, much of which portrays illegal activity in some way. It is even more so when we are talking about cartoons which are inherently fiction and fantasy and not even trying to portray reality.

How old is a cartoon character? The FaceBook thread discussed lots of crazy issues on this one, but issues a judge may be faced with! With a film or photograph it is a factual matter - how old was the subject when filmed. As I understand it the IWF have reports of some very young looking porn stars all the time and have to keep explaining that that particular person was of legal ages, no matter how they look. Anime is very stylised artwork, and it would be really hard to say the age of the characters. Someone pointed out that some story lines have 600 year old characters that can morph and change appearance, and look like a schoolgirl - so that is an image portraying a 600 year old schoolgirl - is that legal? How old is Peter Pan for example - never grows up, so clearly way older than 18. How old is Lisa Simpson - just by the number of years the series has been running, almost certainly legal age now but in a fantasy world where she continues to look and act like a young girl. Is there a market for someone taking these cartoons and adding story plot frames that place them as older characters that look unusually young and so making them legal in the UK? Putting a judge in the position of assessing the age of a cartoon character, even in a school uniform, is just nonsense.

What's wrong with this law anyway? Well, it does not bother me, obviously, as I am not so inclined and have not seen such images or have any interest in doing so. However, it is one step closer to thought crimes, where we criminalise fantasy, pre-crime, or thinking of a crime. It is one thing to tackle someone actually planning a crime, making a bomb, etc, but quite another to criminalise someone's fantasy. That is just one step too far. It also diverts resources away from actually fighting child abuse and other crimes.

But what might he do next? This is one of the things people have asked, suggesting this is the right action to take in case someone goes on to abuse children later. This is exactly the problem though - it is thought crimes. The fact that he had a previous conviction and did not go on to abuse children is even more support that this is nonsense. What might any of us do next? Someone equated to Guy Fawkes who was convicted but did not blow up parliament! That is a crazy analogy as there is a clear difference between actually taking steps towards a crime such as putting barrels of gun powder in a basement, and fantasy or mere thoughts. A film about Guy Fawkes, even one where he succeeds, is legal. We really cannot convict people for fantasies - that is going too far.

How did he get these images? Well, there are a few ISPs with no filtering, but it is likely this man is using a larger ISP with IWF filtering. The whole role of IWF filtering is to stop people accidentally accessing illegal material, just like this. It clearly did not meet that role, which is no real surprise. This material is, apparently, available on perfectly legal web sites (legal in the countries they are in). Comments from someone in Sweden are that the UK had gone one step closer to thought crimes than they have and he thinks they would be legal there (albeit tasteless).

Some lines should not be crossed. Much like freedom of speech, there are some lines which we need to draw and not cross. These lines can never be in the perfect place and there are always edge cases, but drawing a line is better than not. There will always be some really good reason to cross these lines, but once crossed then next excuse is that little bit easier, and before you know it we have censored media and illegal thoughts. I, and many others on the FaceBook thread, feel we have gone one step too far here by criminalising mere fictional cartoons.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Is there still a place for fax machines?

I sent a fax today - the first in many many years.

Long ago I used fax a lot. I had a modem and a computer and that allowed me to easily sent faxes to companies if I needed to, and as most companies had a fax machine, that is how I communicated, especially when I had a complaint. At the time, the idea of an individual having a fax seemed rare. I even had a system to do big sideways banners on fax rolls to get their attention if they ignored me. It was the twitter of the day :-)

But fax has died down, just as telex did. A handful of people still have fax machines and probably don't really know why they even keep them. We (A&A) stopped using fax or quoting fax numbers a long time ago when the last mult-function scanner/printer/fax we had broke. I expected never to use a fax again.

Well, as my blogs and tweets have suggested, I have been trying to get to see my GP for over a week. Nothing too serious but seems to be a reaction to medication, and getting worse. An ideal GP thing, as, a week or two ago I could have booked an appointment many days in advance when convenient. Not an emergency, etc. All very civilised.

Problem is that :-
  • Surgery number is always busy or a massive queue. I went to NHS drop-in centre and they said to see my GP but gave up after trying to get through themselves for 10 minutes so saw me grudgingly.
  • patient.co.uk on-line system states that there are no appointments. So I assumed it was not even worth calling again. It did not say "call for appointments" or anything like that, which seems now to be the case, it simply said that there are none.
  • patient.co.uk has a message to GP feature, but after 8 days my messages have not been read/replied.
  • The surgery has an email address, but after three days I have no reply.
Now, after a couple of weeks of this, and with the medication from the drop-in centre finally running out with no sign of fixing this problem, it has become an emergency appointment situation.

So, what did I do? I faxed the surgery. Within minutes I got a call from the manager there. A bit apologetic but ultimately helpful booking an appointment for today! Later I got a call from the receptionist also trying to sort me an appointment! As if by magic the fax just works. I will probably try that as my first course of action next time I need an appointment...

I had to actually visit one of the neighbouring companies who have a fax machine lurking in their back office!

So, yes, there is life in fax still :-)

P.S. I have written in asking why the on-line appointment booking lies, and why it does not work, why the message to GP thing does not work, and why it does not even list my appointments that I have made properly. Hopefully I'll get an answer and maybe they will fix it.

Update: Had a meeting - they have fixed several of the problems and told off staff that made mistakes. The only one they are stuck on is the wording of the appointments which should say none available to book on-line, and not just that none are available. So, progress. Even so - next time - I fax!

P.S. Not a reaction to medication but on some suitable meds now and all sorted.

More targeted adverts?

I commented on targeted adverts.

For days, FaceBook and the like have tried to sell me  LED bulbs, because I bought some recently.

Today the ads on FaceBook have now changed.

Should I be worried?

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Ivory

Watching antiques roadshow.

They have a spot on ivory. Antique ivory can be traded, new ivory cannot. Clearly killing elephants for ivory is bad and wrong and should be stopped. Even so, ivory from an elephant from 100 years ago is not something that affects elephants now. That elephant would have died by now.

The debate was on the idea that even old ivory feeds the ivory trade, and that old ivory should be destroyed to try and stop the trade.

Am I missing the point here?

If you destroy old, legal, ivory, you make it rarer. If I learn anything from watching the antiques roadshow, it is that rarer items are more valuable.

If old ivory is destroyed, it must make what is left more valuable and ultimately makes ivory (even new ivory) more valuable, not less. That has to promote trade in ivory, not reduce it!

What am I missing here?

What a strange phishing email


I understand the pretending to be from Lloyds and phishing but why pick ebilling@bt.com as the sender. How is that in any way associated with Lloyds.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

ACE inhibitors - magic cure or annoying itch?

I have been on 2mg/day Perindopril for a month for slightly high blood pressure. It is a very low dose.

What has changed?

1. I can now get drunk (if I want). For maybe a year now I have not been able to get drunk without fear of a debilitating headache all night. Since being on these, I can now, confidently, get drunk. Even (whilst a whisky shipment is delayed) drinking glayva and southern comfort again, as I used to. I try not to get drunk all the time, honest, but it is so much nicer knowing that I can if I want to. The headaches really were bad.

2. I have now got psoriasis, apparently as a drug reaction, which is not worth the hassle - so have to go get something else instead.

Why me!?

There are other medications that they can try, and we'll see how it goes. Shame.

Seppuku

Seppuku (切腹, "stomach-cutting", "abdomen-cutting") is a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment. [wikipedia]

I was recently referred to an interesting page on the idea of Corporate Seppuka: https://www.cryptostorm.org/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=2954

A number of companies, when faced with orders to become a real-time participant in ongoing, blanket, secret surveillance of their customers, have pledged to refuse, and if necessary wind up the company. Indeed, several recent cases have happened as listed on that site. I am impressed.

As people know, at A&A, we take this stuff seriously, but it is probably worth clarifying a little. If ever we got such an order I don't have the money to just wind up the company the day we get an order, and it would not be fair on customers that would need to find another service, or the staff that need jobs.

So what would happen?

Well, firstly, we have the canary of sorts. Anyone can ask me in irc if we have any "black boxes", and I will happily confirm that we do not. I hereby re-confirm that is still the case. We are assuming that the law cannot compel me to actually lie, especially where it is key to our business and so such a lie would itself be criminal fraud (lying for some gain).

This should mean that any such order is no longer "secret" at the very least. I am sure people would post quite quickly if I refused to answer.

It would probably be a good clue if we started trying to raise money for some unspecified legal challenge.

Of course, if an order is not actually secret, we'll tell people exactly what is happening and when, and what we are doing about it.

Would my staff know?

Of course, depending on the order, my staff may not know as I may not be allowed to tell them. However, they do audit the data centres, and have orders to remove anything not recorded correctly on the equipment database. It is therefore quite possible that some expensive black boxes would be connected, briefly, and then suddenly being very publicly sold on ebay by my staff. I would be powerless to stop them as I would be subject to a gagging order. Ooops.

But what then? Would we really install black boxes?

Not if we can help it. I am very keen that we would not. Any such order would take time. We'd start with challenging the order in the courts. There are many resources we can use and people that would help. This would delay matters at the very least. If what we are asked to do is breaching EHCR, as mass surveillance has been shown to be in the past, we should be able to delay matters a long time.

Whack-a-mole!

We'd also look at fragmenting the parts of the company - something we keep considering for all sorts of reasons. E.g. making a wholesale and retail part and so on. A bit like what BT do, but with actual separate companies. This would make an order on what then is only one of the companies harder to be effective. Indeed, the company with the order may suddenly not actually have any network equipment under its control. Obviously a judge may not be happy with what would effectively be delaying tactics, but as long as what we do at each stage is legal, we can do it. It would mean that the services the company offers would be a mix and match set of companies, contracts and network equipment. Any company ordered to monitor can be swapped out with another new company that has not had any such order, re-assigning contracts and selling equipment as necessary. It should be possible to make it a game of whack-a-mole.

What else?

There are then interesting possibilities with encryption. Sadly the technology is not quite as cheap and simple as we would like yet, well, not to scale up, but it is getting there. It ultimately becomes possible to offer a higher grade of service to customers where traffic is encrypted (in another country) and sent to kit at the customer site where it is decrypted. This could be done with us having no tracking to associate traffic with customers or for the company doing the encryption to know either. Indeed, we have already considered steps that do not involve expensive encryption but just involve several distinct companies in such a way that no one company knows enough to associate a specific customer with specific traffic and DPA prevents these companies telling each other the missing pieces. That would not stop a targeted investigation against an individual suspect, which is fair enough, but it stops mass surveillance and trawling data later.

Would we every wind up things?

We already work in the hardware development of the FireBrick, and sourcing or developing in-line encryption systems is a potentially sensible business proposition for us, and one we could expand. If we can no longer, in good conscience, sell broadband because of such orders, we have areas we can move the business in to, and wind down the compromised business (probably sell it off). Just that it could not happen over night. Not quite Seppuku, but a step in the right direction.

Of course, in the mean time, if any monitoring box did exist, it would be very easy for it to be DDOS'd, and for deliberate random traffic to be sent to it to create vast amounts of mis-direction data.

I hope that explains where we stand, and at least puts off any authority from trying anything with us. With any luck we stay small enough to be no concern.

Friday, 17 October 2014

I never did study history

How did I miss this from a few weeks ago?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/11129474/Extremists-to-have-Facebook-and-Twitter-vetted-by-anti-terror-police.html

Just read that and think about it...

"They will also be barred from speaking at public events if they represent a threat to “the functioning of democracy”, under the new Extremist Disruption Orders."

Barring someone speaking in public, no matter how extreme you think they are, can never be a threat to democracy? It is essential for democracy to exist that there is free speech; that all of the views, no matter how extreme, can be expressed. If those views are so compelling and popular that they actually sway the vote of democracy then it is democracy are work, not democracy under threat!

If the only views that can be expressed are those filtered by the existing establishment, then there simply cannot be democracy.

As I said, I did not study history, but 100 years on from events that started some pretty big wars, and ultimately led to the creation of things like the convention on human rights, we are seeing British politicians trying to abolish those basic rights and destroy free speech and democracy.

I have to say (while I still can) that I now think Theresa May is a threat to democracy!

I am not one to go for conspiracy theories, but we know, and can see, that the hype over terrorists is terrorism itself. It is scaremongering to change our views. Terrorism causes a fraction of the deaths and injuries of cars, but is used as a lever to make sweeping changes to fundamental rights. Put things in perspective. Terrorists are criminals and need appropriate action, but we do not need to abandon basic rights to free expression in the name of terrorists. If we do, they really have won.

I know people don't normally say who they vote for, but I will say that I have always voted Conservative before. This is largely because I have not really considered any of the parties to be that much worse than the rest. As the saying goes, no matter who you vote for, the government always get in. Conservatives have been quite good for small businesses in the past, and that is what I stuck with. But now, with statements like this, I really cannot, in good conscience, vote Conservative. I don't know who I will vote for, and I'll consider it. Please don't try and push me one way or the other.

Make up your own mind - do you really want to live in a police state where even the most basic of rights to express your views and opinions is restricted by the state?

Targeted adverts?

A few days ago I went to ledhut to buy some "bulbs".

So now, I am seeing adverts for ledhut everywhere, especially FaceBook. This speediest page has there adverts for ledhut on it. THREE!


I have to wonder what the hell is the point - I already know of ledhut, and I have actually purchased from them. I have purchased all that I need from them, and if I need more I know where to go. Wasting advertising space telling me something I know already seems a total waste of money!

What seems even more crazy is advertising the same things to me three times on the same page!

I suspect someone has sold them on the idea of targeting adverts.

No wonder people get annoyed by this :-)

MTTC

It is bad enough Virgin abusing the term "Fibre", and BT often talk of "fibre broadband" as well, but this latest abuse is just taking the piss.

http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2014/10/devon-uk-village-gets-80mbps-broadband-via-bts-4km-microwave-radio-link.html

http://www.thinkbroadband.com/news/6666-microwave-link-helps-northlew-in-devon-go-superfast.html

The good news is that this is providing a fast Internet service to a remote village. Believe it or not, I personally suggested this to BT a few year ago, and got very blank looks from them. There are places where a long fibre run is very costly but a microwave link is viable.

The quote from BT is: "This is just one example of many of an innovative approach to bringing fibre based broadband to remote communities - and that innovation will continue."

He is using "fibre" as if it means "fast". If he means "fast" why not just say "fast"?

I would hope the ASA don't allow them to market "fibre broadband" to these villages, or sell as FTTC!

Having said that, I suspect BT plc are selling services to us for addresses in these villages, as FTTC. I will have to check. We'll have to add a note on our web pages about this I expect and query it with BT.

I have no problem with the service - MTTC is going to be very good, just don't mis-describe it.

I'll post BT's reply.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Notice & Takedown

This is topical as there is yet another type of material to which it can apply (revenge porn), and so yet more that hosting companies have to consider. Thankfully A&A have not had any credible notices, but I do feel strongly about due legal process not being bypassed, so I have views on this.

What is Notice & Takedown

Basically, there are situations where something wrong or bad is hosted somewhere and available on the Internet. The most obvious case is something that violates copyright. In such a case someone has, without permission of copyright holder, copied something (e.g. music, video, etc) to a web server and others can access it on that web server. In some cases the access itself may not be a breach of copyright, but the copying to the server, and the "making available" would be. In some case cases this is just a civil matter. In some cases the content is criminally illegal to possess or publish even.

In such cases there are a number of steps the wronged person (e.g. copyright holder) can take.
  1. They could take the infringer to court (possibly after getting a court order to get their identify) and on winning the case the infringer has to remove the content. This is, of course, the proper course of action when someone does you wrong - you take action against the person that has done your wrong. It is time consuming and can be costly.
  2. They could get a court order against the hosting company ordering that they remove the content. This is a legal process with proper oversight of a judge, but is time consuming and costly. This is a notice & takedown but is just the hosting company acting on a court order. It is not ideal as the action is against someone that has done no wrong - the hosting company.
  3. They could get a court order against one or more ISPs that provide access to the content and have them block it. This only works for copyright as there is a specific clause in the copyright legislation. This is what was used controversially and somewhat ineffectively to block piratebay. It does not work well (at all?) and again is taking action against an innocent party.
  4. They can simply send notice to the hosting company telling them that there is infringing/illegal material on their site. This is where we are talking of notice & takedown procedures at their worst.
Is the hosting company liable?

This is where the fun starts. There is content, which is likely to be the case for this revenge porn, and other cases, where the hosting company is not at all liable for the content they did not put on a site up until they have actual knowledge of it.

So, in such cases, you just have to tell them that the content is there and illegal or infringing, and they really have very little choice but to take it down. If they don't and later it is shown to be illegal, they find themselves liable because it stayed there after they had knowledge that it was there.

This is especially tricky for a notice of a child abuse image, as viewing such is itself illegal - so if you get a notice of child abuse images you cannot even look at it to see if the notice is valid in your opinion - you have to believe the notice blindly and take it down.

So what's the problem?

This is where I have been trying to consolidate my views on the subject. The real problem I see here is the scope for abuse of this process.

Yes, I can see that if someone has done something wrong, whether posting copyright material, revenge porn, or child abuse images, it is sensible to have a way to expeditiously remove that content. I understand that.

But there will be cases where the accusations are false. This happens all of the time, either maliciously or mistakenly. In such cases there has been a penalty action (removal of content) with no fair or legal process to decide if there was cause for a penalty or what penalty applied. It is bypassing all legal process and going straight to sanctions, and does not even involve a court.

It also puts the hosting company on the spot. Should they look at the content (what if child abuse?) and decide, or should they blindly obey all notices? If they do look, are they qualified to decide? If they blindly follow all notices, does that put them in breach of contract with their customers? It could simply damage their reputation, which could be worse.

So, in my opinion, if someone (hosting company) has no choice but to act on a notice, then the accuser should have to face all consequences if the notice was not valid. They should have to pay damages and costs to hosting company and original poster of the content. By not valid, I mean that the accusation does not lead to proper legal action concluding it was valid within a sensible time frame.

Facing consequences for a false notice should be no deterrent to all valid accusations. But it does mean that they have to be prepared to follow through - taking civil action against the infringer or for criminal matters, proceeding with the prosecution. Anyone not prepared to follow through should not have this short cut to due legal process as a tool at their disposal. I suppose in cases where the infringer cannot be identified or action taken this would mean a court order, where the court assesses the case and orders the hosting company to keep it removed - but only where the infringer cannot be actioned directly.

That's my view - what do others think?

IPv6 working

Obviously, at our office, we have IPv6 as well as legacy IPv4.

We have been chasing a slight issue recently that caused IPv4 routing for our office to break. I am sure that will be something simple, but what is amusing is that it meant the office lost all IPv4 for a while.

It took some time for anyone here to notice - we all carried on working, the phones carried on, people accessing facebook carried on :-)

One of the key things that alerted us to the problem is that one of my colleagues disappeared off the office irc server. We initially assumed it was his end as he is not in the office.

Nope, it was that he was connected over IPv4 to the irc server and we lost IPv4 in the office.

So where is he?

He is at the first UK IPv6 Council event in London, where the venue has no IPv6, hence he is coming in on IPv4.

What can I say?

Nominet pushing .uk domains

I see Nominet are pushing .uk domains by emailing existing .co.uk domain holders that have the right to register their corresponding .uk domain.


VAT free!

I have purchased a few small LED lights recently, from two different sites. Interestingly, both are offering these "VAT free" for a limited time.

It does puzzle me - why this "VAT free" incentive on two apparently different web sites. I guess it could be some tax incentive, but if that is the case why do both sites insist that you enter a discount code to get the incentive. Surely it would simply be selling items with no VAT, simple?

One site said they would pay the VAT :-


When I ordered they showed a reasonably sensible looking order confirmation :-

The only problem I have with this is that it still shows an amount of VAT charged when they say "0% VAT on all orders" which is a very clear (and wrong) statement.

The second site (as these 1.5W bulbs are too dim, apparently) was slightly different. For a start they say "save 20%" :-


Well, taking VAT off is a saving of 16⅔% and not a saving of 20%. The actual discount is indeed only 16⅔% so they are lying. But when you get the order confirmation it gets even more messy :-

What the hell is this? £57.00 with discount of £11.40 does not make £47.50. Now, £9.50 is 16⅔% of the total, which is good, except for the fact they say that it is "VAT free" so there should be no VAT!

Both sites list the discounted prices on the site, and the second told me that they list VAT exclusive prices on the site (which is wrong for a consumer site). Listing a price and saying "save 20%" one would expect 20% off the listed price. In fact, at checkout, it is the higher price, and then you get 16⅔% off when entering the discount code. Second site has been reported to trading standards.

How do these people not have a massive VAT inspection?

Update: Second site have agreed to update their banner!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Robot butlers

I am pretty sure that people in the middle of last century assumed that we would all have robot butlers by now, obeying our orders, doing things for us, and leaving us with a life of leasure.

It is odd how things turn out.

Today the coffee machine demanded that I "Refill water tank". Having obeyed its orders, it demanded that I "Empty drip tray", so I did as I was told.

Machines tell us what to do all the time, and we just do it.

Makes you wonder who is the robot butler and who is in charge?

Friday, 10 October 2014

You canna change the laws of physics, captain!

Having blogged about the fact that the rules and laws which we follow every day are all man-made and enforced by man (so think outside the box occasionally) it is worth writing a little about laws that are a tad harder to ignore.

It is strange to me that any of this may need explaining, but I see people on the Internet, and there is every sort of person out there, and I realise that some are perhaps a tad confused still.

So this post is about other "laws", the "laws of physics", or perhaps the "laws of science"... But I am not going to get technical, don't worry.

The first thing to realise is that they are not "laws" in the same way as those set by the government. This is not a set of rules that stuff follows. Stuff does not fall to the ground because of a law of gravity (or intelligent falling). Stuff falls to the ground because that is what stuff does. It has been observed for hundreds of thousands of years by man (yes, man has been around a long time, honest). The youngest of children, before learning to talk, will observe gravity in action and expect that this is just "how it is" - they won't even question it.

So we talk of "laws of physics", but there are no "physics police" to enforce them. Things cannot ignore those laws. The "laws" are actually just the rules we have invented to describe what stuff does. It is what stuff does that comes first, and not the laws we have written. I think I am repeating myself, but it is an important point. For man-made laws, we make laws and people follow them. For science, we see what stuff does and we make "laws" to describe (and hence, hopefully, predict) what stuff will do. It is the other way around to man-made laws!

Another important thing is that these "laws of physics" can change (sorry Scotty). But again, realise, stuff does what stuff does - all that changes is our understanding. The rules of "what stuff does" do not change, only how we understand it. Though, to be honest, it is just an assumption that the rules for what stuff does is the same everywhere and forever - but that assumption seems, so far, to be correct, and reasonably intuitive.

There are some simple examples. As a kid you realise that stuff falls down, simple. But one day you get a helium balloon at a birthday party and that blows that theory out of the water - this is some stuff that goes up - WTF? So you have to re-think your theory. You may just change it to "most stuff falls down" as a kid. Now, what has actually happened is that we have worked out some quite sophisticated rules that explain what stuff like gravity does. We can use those rules to predict what would happen if we shot a rocket in to space or put a communications satellite in to orbit. Those rules, or laws, worked well enough to allow us to do those things, and the result was as we predicted. It is the ability to predict what will happen that is key to the usefulness of all laws of science.

Over time we tend to refine the laws we have created. It is not so much that "science got it wrong" - it tends to me more that there are some subtleties we did not understand before. Einstein messed up some of the previous laws that Newton had worked out. Newton was right for what he could observe, and made some rules that almost always explain and predicted stuff - but in some extreme cases those rules did not quite work. Einstein came up with some fine tuning that allowed us to understand a few more things, and that was important when GPS satellites were launched - they went fast enough around the planet that corrections are needed for relativity. That is perhaps a tad oversimplified, so sorry to the physicists that are cringing at my explanation.

The basic rules we have now are pretty good - indeed, for most practical purposes Isaac Newton had it sussed over 300 years ago. Even so, we try still to understand some of the deeper rules that explain the way things work at both a really detailed level (sub atomic) and the really big level (the creation and behaviour of the cosmos).

But science is always trying to test itself - and this is important. Whilst we think we have things like gravity well sussed, scientists are more than happy to consider new rules that may apply, and test them. If they prove correct, and change the previous rules, then those rules get changed. Science is not trying to write the laws the universe follows, it is trying to understand how the universe works and document it. The more a rule or law is seen to work and seen to predict how things work, the more credibility it gets. But it only takes one example to disprove a law of physics - just one. If someone finds a repeatable example (experiment) that was to disprove Einstein then that would disprove it. The fact that laws of physics have such high standards - never once disproved - is why they are such good laws, and why we believe they are correct (for now).

Now for the preachy bit: The other good thing about scientific laws is that they require no faith. The objective is simply to understand and document the thruth of the universe. The truth of these laws is evident and testable, and tested. Faith requires no testing, and even prohibits being tested in some cases. Science invites being tested, and even invites change if it is wrong.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Headaches

I have posted about headaches a couple of times, and things are making some progress.

1. Migraines.

As wikipedia explains, a migraine is usually a sequence of symptoms. In my case it starts with the aura, a visual effect. Initially a small blind spot in the centre of my vision, which I notice quickly if I am reading. This slowly grows in to a curve, where the edge is like looking through some sort of crystal. This gradually expands out to the edge of my vision and goes. This is the point that migraine sufferers usually get a severe headache, and I am lucky in that I only get a mild headache. However, I don't feel right for a while, but it is a tad hard to explain.

So far the only clue to triggers is ammonia - as I got a spate of them when using a cream for a cracked lip which contained a lot of ammonia. I also got one whilst on holiday after using an insect bit cream that stank of ammonia. I have had them without such a trigger though, so at this stage I am going to start a diary to try and find patterns. It does seem that they are less frequent now though. It also seems there are some treatments to help prevent migraines, although most seem to be targeted at treating the headache which I don't really get.

2. Headache after drinking.

OK, first off, lets just make this clear - I do not mean a normal hangover here. A hangover is usually the result of dehydration because alcohol causes your body to try and flush it out of the system by peeing! As anyone with any practice drinking a lot will know - having a large glass of water before bed will sort a hangover. I am really not one to get hangovers.

This was a headache, an hour or two after I stopped drinking. The headache was severe, waking me up, and meaning I could not get to sleep for the whole night - usually clearing up around 7am, but still leaving me feeling unwell all morning. It really is very bad spending all night sat on your bed holding your head unable to sleep. Paracetamol and Ibuprofen did nothing.

I worked out that I could drink a certain amount and be fine, but just slightly too much and I would get this headache. There seemed to be no middle ground. It is certainly one way to cut down on drinking. It made no difference if I had not had a drink for a week before, if I drunk just too much in one evening, I would get the headache. It did not matter what I drank, a few pints of cider, or shots of cask strength single malt - a certain amount of alcohol would trigger the headache.

Of course, one does not want to go to the doctor and say "I get a headache if I drink too much" as you just know what the answer will be.

Looking on the Internet, and skipping all of the hangover cures, it does seem I am not alone. However, I think I may have found the cause.

I get checked regularly, including my kidneys and liver, which are both fine. But my blood pressure is also checked, and they finally started me on a very low dose of ACE inhibitors to bring my blood pressure down a little.

Since then, no problem. I have "tested" this a few times now, and I can, if I want, drink way more with no problems. To be clear, I do probably drink too much at times, but not every night. Different people handle drink differently, and I am not trying to encourage people to drink a lot, honest. Drinking such that you feel ill is never a good idea!

If you have the same problem, it could be that what you actually have is a blood pressure issue - so it is worth getting checked out.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

ADR

As anyone that has been reading my blog for a while will know, the whole area of ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) is a tender subject. We (A&A) got hit with our one and only claim a few years back and it really upset me. Not the claim itself (customers being arses happens, sorry), it was the whole injustice of the whole process. The arbitrator (Otello at the time) agreed with me that there was no breach of contract, so we won the ADR, but we had to make a good will payment and write-off perfectly valid ongoing charges that were not (and could not have been based on the dates) part of the dispute. It was like a judge saying you win but you pay the loser, and made no sense. It hurt. It was very very demoralising and upsetting. The fact we paid for the ADR added insult to injury. The process was, and still is, incredibly bad and no way to "resolve disputes". Sorry, even now this stings.

However, recently, the opportunity came up for me to see ADR from the other side. Actually, a few opportunities.

1. Giffgaff refuse to offer anonymous call rejection as a service, even though it has been a legal requirement for over 10 years. Ombudsman (Otello) refuse to take the case. This is a dispute I have and they refuse to take the case - WTF!

2. Apple provide a telecommunications service (iMessage), but have no ADR. OFCOM simply cannot get their head around that as well as being an equipment manufacturer they also provide a telecommunications service to UK residents by direct contract with them and so are legally required to have an ADR. Sounds like we should use OFCOMs arguments back to them and make a VoIP carrier that does not have ADR.

3. Virgin line installed at my home (for reasons to do with stuff I am donating to ORG) but it makes me a residential customer of Virgin in my own personal capacity. Bingo, now I have a case for ADR.

But obviously I need an actual dispute. I did not have to invent one - there was a clear case to dispute. Indeed, I had three clear issues...

a) The install was not at the agreed time - I had to take an extra half day off work. They said sorry but offered no compensation. (note: A&A make a point of not guaranteeing install dates - Virgin did not).

b) Their customer service agent told blatant lies and refused to reply to my written complaint by letter. He insisted twisted pair is the same as coax. He insisted there was no ADR. He insisted that they did provide "fibre optic broadband".

c) They sell "fibre optic broadband" which is not. They even told me in writing that "we provide copper coax cable till the main box and from there we use the fibre optic cable to install the services at the customers property" which makes it clear that they should use fibre optic cable to the property (my house).

Now, I appreciate words and phases change their meaning over time. "broadband" has annoyingly changed from "using a wide band of RF spectrum" to "Internet Access". I don't think "Fibre optic" has changed from "uses actual glass fibre and light" to "very fast" yet, but I did quote from their web site where they define fibre optic: "It’s made from strands of glass as thin as hair, which carry information by light.". So there was no re-definition of the term here.

However, what they supply is copper coax.

So, I took them to ADR (after complaining several times and being told that there was no ADR). It was filling in a form on their web site and a few emails. Simple. Too simple, in fact. It has to encourage bogus complaints!

Now, Virgin had the chance to sort the dispute (and pay a lower fee, but still pay a fee, if I agreed it was resolved). Oddly they did not simply offer me cash of less than the full fee to close the matter. The problem is that they kept saying how they provide service - with fibre to a cabinet and coax from there, and does that explanation resolve the complaint? Well, no, it did not, as they still claim to be selling "fibre optic broadband", and their explanation is that they do not. It made no sense that they would think that would be a resolution. It was like they had some sort of mental block.

The whole issue with the delayed install had not been refuted by Virgin. It was part of my complaint. Virgin did not even mention it in their defence. But the final arbitration said I did not provide any evidence so they ignored it! Well "my word" is the evidence and them not refuting my word means that the arbitrator should have agreed with me. There was no coming back to me saying "do you have any evidence?" of which I have plenty by way of a letter from virgin and lots of time-stamped pictures. No, they just ignored it. They did not arbitrate a resolution to the dispute at all on that point!

The final ruling was that virgin had to apologise, which is good. Interestingly, the ruling states :-

"I am therefore satisfied that the company's documentation is consistent with a FTTP service as its letter is explicit in that fibre optic cables are run to a customer's property, and its description of the fibre product on its website is wholly inconsistent with the use of copper cabling from the nearest connection point (such as the company's cabinet)."

Now, lets just read that again, to be clear to the ASA, Virgin's marketing department, Trading Standards, and anyone else reading this - an independent qualified arbitrator, paid for by Virgin, has stated "[Virgin's] description of the fibre product on its website is wholly inconsistent with the use of copper cabling from the nearest connection point (such as the company's cabinet)." Just let that sink in for a moment here.

They were ordered to apologise, but specifically to me, not in general.

It is also interesting that Virgin claim that all its street cabinets are served by fibre, and I am pretty sure mine is not. See picture at the top. They also quoted an old OFCOM glossary that defined FTTC "fibre" as copper from nearest street cabinet, which does not look to be the case for me or anyone in my street.*

Virgin did, finally apologise, but only to me, see below.

Even so, I did not feel happy that ADR actually made any real effort to work with both sides to resolve the dispute properly. It was submit some stuff, and decide. No questions, no clarifications, just done and dusted for a £300+ fee (paid by Virgin). In contrast I have used the county court arbitration service which is a series of phone calls for up to an hour, and that was much more sensible and productive. So even using this as a user, and winning, I still feel ADR is bad, and should be scrapped.


I will, once again, reiterate that the Virgin service does indeed seem to be a pretty good cable Internet service. It does a good job at a fair price. Just a shame they feel they have to tell porkies to sell it.

* The kit shown in that picture can, apparently take a fibre - so I cannot say for sure that it is not a fibre node. However, other Virgin correspondence did say fibre to the "Main node", so I seriously doubt it.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Step back!

I do apologise if I am being slightly philosophical this evening. I don't know what came over me. And a few shots of whisky do not usually make me so.

I was considering the whole idea of "stepping back" and seeing the big picture. I realise that there are a lot of people that spend a lot of their lives not doing this.

I remember one of my early job interviews - it was actually for Nokia in a Bracknell office, and they had an HR person that was some psychology type person. Very very unnerving at the best of times, but she had an interview question that was clearly designed around the idea of stepping back and seeing the big picture. She asked "You own a business, a toy factory, and get a call saying it has burned down one morning - what do you do?". Now I initially was thinking small, and was "check people not hurt" and that sort of thing. This is a good start, obviously. But think bigger and it is "do I want to be in the toy manufacture business any more?" and using insurance to make a new factory if I do. It was a lot about stepping back and seeing big picture. I suspect it was a question to work out if I was management or a drone.

Now a lot of people do not question life! We learn rules as a child, and even though children ask "why?" a lot, we stop asking way too soon.

We live by the rules - we understand law and police. We follow rules. In some cases people follow religion. But step back and think and you realise that these are all rules made by other people. People with no more real "answers" than you have. People that like to make rules. Then other people follow those rules. These rules are often arbitrary - sometimes based on history and common sense or even science, but not always. Even when they are, they are not always current. I mean, "don't eat pork", was once a really good tried and tested rule that made a lot of sense and saved lives. It is not now. Bacon is good. The rule is out of date.

This is all good for society, obviously. Indeed, religion was crucial to keeping people in line. Now we have laws and government as well, or instead. But they are no more sensible in the way they make rules - it is still people - worse, it is committees of people, who make the rules.

But really - there are no rules. There is no punishment not made and enforced by other people. It makes sense to fit in with the rules, and we all know that, but we do need to understand that they are just a convention - just a useful framework. Sometimes good, and sometimes bad. Sometimes one can change that framework. Sometimes one can step outside it.

So do step back - do think - do realise that your life is not a needle on a record. You could do what you like! You don't have to have the job you have or live in the country you do! Your life is what you make it. Try and fit in as much as you want to, and understand the consequences of not fitting in - but it is your choice.

Above all, don't follow rules just because they are there. This is especially true if they are old rules (which is true for religious rules). Think for yourself, and question the status quo as much as you dare. Be the future. Be yourself.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

It is time Virgin apologised

Virgin still try and sell "fibre optic broadband" which is actually delivered via their cable network using copper coax connections to the house.

Technologically it is not a bad way to do things. Indeed, the recent BBC article said this was faster than "fibre" services. This is not because it is inherently faster as a technology than fibre, but because OFCOM were calling BTs FTTC service "fibre" when it is not (it uses copper pairs from the cabinet). BT do sell FTTP as well, which is fibre. For BTs services there is an extra cost for 80Mb/s compared to 40Mb/s and that will have skewed the stats simply because, for most people, it makes no real difference apart from bragging rights down the pub.

This article does muddy the water as a proper fibre optic connection is technology that is capable of massively greater speed and reliability than either FTTC or cable services. One wonders if we will start to see terms like "real fibre" much like we see "full HD".

Recently, Virgin tried to defend their claims of selling fibre optic broadband by referencing an old OFCOM glossary which defined cable, fibre, and ADSL services. Ignoring the "cable" definition they relied on the "fibre" definition as being fibre to the nearest cabinet to the home and then copper from there. They lost that argument as, in my case, the fibre does not go to the nearest cabinet (I have pictures of it), but some cabinet further away (no doubt near to my home, but not nearest). They have been ordered to apologise to me for mis-selling fibre optic broadband which is clearly not. They have missed the deadline and not apologised in spite of a ruling against them.

To be fair, I will again say that the technology they use is pretty good. I have never complained that it is not good or fast. My complaint is about the lies they tell when they claim it is "fibre optic cable" when clearly it is copper coax cable. There are differences in terms of how fast the technology could be upgraded in future and in terms of reliability, resistance to RF interference, and to weather. But at present their actual service is fine and comparable FTTC. The BBC article, for all its woolliness, does make it clear that these services are very similar.

However, as reported on that article, it seems that OFCOM agree: "In Ofcom's nomenclature "cable" means ISP Virgin Media and "fibre" refers to the other big domestic ISPs it samples when drawing up statistics."

Now, if even OFCOM define Virgin's service as "cable" and not "fibre", I think it is time Virgin apologised not just to me (as ordered by the arbitrator) but to everyone they have mis-sold "fibre optic broadband" to over the years. Market their service truthfully, as "cable" or just as a good fast Internet service - there is no need to lie about it.

[as ever, my personal opinions and not those of my employer]

Update: Virgin have expressed surprise that, as I run an ISP, I was not familiar with their broadband offer. Well, I think the real issue here is that Virgin's marketing department treat the attribute 'fibre optic' like saying 'really fast' and not as a description of the actual medium used, which it clearly is. As a result they have no trouble with the idea of selling 'fibre optic broadband' over coax cable and think that is valid description. All I did was take them at their word, as any customer should be able to.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

BGP

This is going to be a tad technical - it makes our heads spin and we have people with a lot of experience of BGP. We don't always follow convention in what we do anyway, but we try and ensure things work well.

BGP allows routes to be announced, and there are some basics to this.

For a start, you want the BGP to connect via the same physical media as the traffic to which the BGP announcements will relate - this is basic stuff - you don't want a working control link and a failed forwarding link. So most BGP is done on a LAN of /30 or /29 between routers. That is not too hard.

You also want two routers wherever you can, in-case one fails. The classic peering is two routers at each side links via a /29 LAN.

But there are a few things you want to try and handle - like route reflectors. We have a LAN in Telehouse North with a lot of edge BGP routers getting transit and a lot of edge LNSs getting routes to customers, and they all need to see each other. So we run a pair of reflectors to which they all peer at IBGP. This allows them all to see the real next hop for every route. So far so good.

We also link out via HEX and Maidenhead via multiple links and use IBGP and reflect routes out.

So, all works well, but this week as the final steps in a long term project, I have been working on "clean" BGP shutdown and restart. The simple goal is to try and allow a router reload with zero packet loss for customers.

Shutdown

The first step is shutdown, and my initial idea was simple. The router being reloaded should cleanly withdraw all announcements, and continue routing for a while before shutdown.

This is fine in principle. If the main and backup routers talk to the same peer router(s) then they will immediately see the backup route when the primary is withdrawn, so not drop a packet.

The issue was where the peer or transit had multiple separate routers talking to us - the withdraw creates a black hole until it is propagated to a common point where the backup route then comes back down and it gets a new route.

The solution to this black-hole is not to withdraw but announce as a way lower priority (prefix stuffed, MED worse, etc). This means at each stage all the peers routers have a route, but the lower route goes up to a common point, is replaced with the backup which comes back down. All the time packets flow.

So, the final solution is a configuration option on firebricks to allow each peer to be either (a) simply closed, (b) withdrawn and a configurable delay, or (c) announced low priority and a configurable delay, before closing a rebooting.

We think we have shutdown sussed...

Start up

The next issue is startup. We need to make sure nobody sends us traffic until we know how to route it. This is one of the fundamental rules of BGP really, but it has issues.

If we announce a locally connected subnet, to which we can route, but the secondary router such as a route reflector, announces routes that ultimately resolve to that subnet from the transit routers, then we create a black hole. Even though we have not sent transit routes, we become the target for transit traffic because we have announced the local subnet.

This was our latest startup black-hole in our testing yesterday.

Now, we have damn fast BGP. We can send a full table (500k routes) over BGP in around 4 seconds. The receiving side can process within 6 seconds, and have in the forwarding table within about 20. Obviously lots of transit and peers slows this a tad, but it is fast. The latest TCP work has ensured very fast and efficient BGP TCP handling.

But how do we solve this startup black-hole issue which could last 20 seconds? Well, the answer is VRRP.

VRRP

VRRP is great on a LAN, and the whole shutdown and startup for VRRP is well handled. We become low priority so backup before we even touch BGP shutdown. At startup we don't become high priority until the route forwarding is up to date, and even then we add an extra delay.

The trick is to announce our locally connected subnets using a next hop of the VRRP address and not our address!

This means, as we start, all of the routes from the backup, and even the routes we announce, are all sent to the backup which is master for VRRP and knows how to route. Only when fully up and routes installed do we become master and get the traffic.

The whole process is a complex sequence with interactions of BGP, core routing logic and VRRP, but it should work.

The trick is telling BGP to use its local VRRP address as itself as a next hop!

If you cannot reload a router with zero packet loss, you are not doing it right :-)

Update: We loaded four separate routers this morning (Saturday), each in a different part of the network. The shutdown and startup sequence looked perfect. However, running a ping through them we did see a dropped packet, and we should see none. So something was still routing at shutdown. It sounds like a config issue at this point, or possibly a cached route, and we're looking in to it. We do now have nearly perfect router reloads and hopefully we have this so that we don't drop a single packet very soon.

Slower broadband migrations and more slamming

The way broadband migrations work is changing next year.

The main changes are that they will be slower, and there is much more risk of migrations happening without agreement (slamming).

The existing way means getting a migration authorisation code (MAC) from the losing provider, and giving it to the gaining provider with your order. The gaining provider can validate the MAC, phone number and postcode and place an order in to a carrier to migrate the service over. It takes 5 working days (annoyingly), though with 20CN it seems to be instant now.

The new way is that the customer contacts the gaining provider to take over the line. The only information is telephone number and postcode, so easy for someone else to make the request, no real check that the line actually belongs to the person making the request. The gaining provider places an order with the carrier, and the losing provider gets a notification. The losing provider notifies their customer. The customer can cancel/reject the order. It then takes 10 days now, so slower.

Now, the old way does have rules - the main one is that the losing provider has to provide a MAC within 5 days and not withhold for commercial reasons. This is one of the common issues - ISPs taking too long. The other issue is the losing provider will also use this as a chance for retention which can be annoying.

The new system has rules too. When the losing provider gets notice, they have to advise their customer (by letter normally, but looks like we are OK with email). They are not meant to call and try retention. Of course, you can see that they will just happen to be sending a promotional email or posting or even call at the time... Of course they won't accidentally cancel the migration will they. Of course they will be 100% efficient sending the notice, sending to right place, and sending in time, to avoid slamming. Of course customers will not ignore the notice assuming it is junk, and suffer from slamming...

There are some other quirks which relate to monitoring how this all works and fixing issues if it goes wrong. All resellers have to have a reseller ID (RID) so it is possible to identify who placed orders. But this means defining a reseller. If you simply re-sell a broadband line, then fine. But what of someone selling, say, a point of sale system. They are not selling a phone line or broadband, they are buying these for their use to provide the point of sale system. So who is the customer for the broadband, and is there a reseller? Of course, from our point of view it is complex, as we don't know why our customer is ordering - we have no idea if they are a reseller of the broadband, an end user of it, a customer that is using it as some non re-sell service, or what. We don't know if we should ask for a RID with the order or not. The best we can do is have the option to enter a RID on the order form, but that will confuse people and get mistyped, and so on.

This does not come in until next year, but it has made us ponder some of the logic for migrates already. The process is basically the same for phone lines now, and we often see incorrect take-over requests coming in and contacting the end user to confirm they asked for it. We have issues where our customer may be an IT company (like the point of sale example), and the end user tries to take over a line. They are not the customer for the line, so that has to be rejected. It is hassle. But we have things like our Office::1 package - the phone lines for that are installed by us simply as bearers for the broadband lines which are part of a complete package which offers high availability internet and even includes a mobile dongle as backup. Who is the "customer" for the phone lines there? We don't itemise that on the invoice. Arguably we are the customer, as we buy them solely for the broadband service. Given that nobody else (as far as we know) offers the Office::1 package, do we have to even allow migration of the service? Migrating any part (phone or broadband or mobile) would break the service. What would happen if we ran an IT company that bought the components for Office::1 as the end customer, and used them to provide the Office::1 service to their customer? Who has a right to migrate that? I do get the feeling that OFCOM only thing of the simple cases.

How would I have done it? I suspect I would have made the MAC a fixed (rather than dynamic with 30 day expiry) key that has to be included on every bill. That is easy to police rather than waiting for people to try and get a MAC and finding an ISP is slow. Then we still use a MAC as we do now, and the migrate could be instant even. A new MAC on each change of provider. It avoids annoying retention calls as there is no notice that the MAC is requested/used. It avoids slamming as the bill holder is the only one with the MAC. It would mean almost no change to the existing system. I am pretty sure I suggested this when they consulted. Oh well.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

BT losing plot on FTTC

FTTC (Fibre to the cabinet) is based on a BT plc t/a Openreach product that is Ethernet from exchange to premises service that uses VDSL at the cabinet to an Ethernet port on a VDSL modem at the premises.

The nice thing about an Ethernet service is that faults are very clear cut - the Ethernet packets either flow or they do not. There are grey areas but they are the minority.

With this service the BT VDSL modem works to get sync on the line and present Ethernet packet to the end user's equipment (a router of some sort).

Now, this has a massive advantage over normal ADSL. The issues with any DSL service are the modems and the physical copper pair used. With FTTC the modem is BT's responsibility. If it is not working, they fix it. It adds to the install cost over normal ADSL, but is well worth it if you have a fault.

If there is a fault then BT have to fix it. Simples.

But they are making a change, a very very detrimental change, to the service they provide to us. Now, making this change as a new service they offer is one thing but changing the service we already have is a different matter. There is a clause covering changes to terms and it does not allow them to make unilateral changes which are detrimental to the service. So we are planning to formally reject the change to the T&Cs.

They are changing the service to wires only where they will not "support" the modem they provided.

This is a massive change. This puts us in the realms of SFI charges like ADSL lines, and having to provide modems to customers. This is a massive backwards step.

But it is not even a simple case of a new "wires only" service being the only one on offer. They will sell the "with modem" service until late next year but within a few months they stop "supporting" the supplied modem even on a service with a 12 month min term. How the heck can that work? If the service fails because of the modem then who fixes it?

If they sold the modem then Sale of Goods Act would expect it to work more than three months even.

And what of all of the existing services? A service that is delivered to the Ethernet socket on the modem? They plan to disown their own modem that is part of that service?

To be honest I don't care if they "support" the modem or not - if the service, being a service to the Ethernet port, is not working, then they have 40 clock hours to make it work. If they don't "support" the modem then they can find who does support it and get them to fix it - I don't care - I pay for a service to that Ethernet port and I expect it to continue to work as long as I have the service...

I have to say this is a fiasco.

I hereby formally reject the change to BT plc's T&Cs introducing this change to existing FTTC services as it is detrimental to the service provided and as such against the terms to apply this change.

What the hell are they thinking of?