Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Man cave: Day 21

Well, what can I say - doors and windows and air-con...

Installing the frame and door took most of the day, but the decorator stayed late and managed to stain the door, the frame, the bar and the shelves. The air-con was installed, and in a slightly more sensible place.

So at least another day of carpenters, maybe two with the boxing in of the meters, but apart from that it is all decorator...

One snag is stopping the door catching the wind and swinging open against the brickwork, so I am looking at a concealed door closer for that.

It does mean I have sort of moved in - computer on a bit of card on the work bench which still needs oiling - but the end if really in sight now.






Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Man cave: Day 20

Some real progress today!

We have the shelves over the bar and the book shelves done now. They needed taking out plasterboard and fitting wood to the breeze block with glue in the 6 inch screws then the floating shelves fitted to the wood. We have a bit of work tomorrow to put plasterboard over the gaps and the final last book shelf at near floor level that boxes in the gas pipe. Tomorrow will also be skirting board and stuff.

We have windows! Yes, having not done so for some decades, I finally had windows installed!

But other fun things, we have air-con going back in tomorrow rather than Friday, TV and TV table and coffee table coming Monday, and even the sofa has moved forward and comes in a couple of weeks. The really good news is that the external door also goes in tomorrow.

Getting excited now...




Monday, 28 September 2015

Man cave: Day 19

Progress, albeit a bit slow. No outside window or door yet, but I am assured I will have a window tomorrow. The door should be "some time this week". But we do have the bar. Sadly I had to go to work for a meeting, and leave them to it for first time in a month, and what happens? Mase cuts the wrong hole for the sink, so it is drop in rather than under the work top. Close enough, but frustrating.

The challenge is the floating shelves on a breeze block wall. We knew it would he a challenge but they have tried several things including 6 inch screws (i.e. to other side of breeze block), and still there is enough leverage on the shelf to pull them out. Tomorrow they will be getting more creative with batons on the wall and resin with the screws.

Callum has said I will have shelves tomorrow one way or another, definitely! That will leave small items like skirting board and stuff, as well as boxing in meters, and, of course, the door and window. But still seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

I am pretty happy with the bar - it is not long, but laying it out on the floor it was clear that it was going to take too much space with a sofa in the room, but it is a bar, and has a fridge, and a sink, and will have optics.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Man cave: Day 18

Today we had Mase (carpenter) and he managed to finish the shelf and work bench, including cable holes, as well as make the "step" I have put at the back on the floor for PCs to stand on.

We also managed to convince Steve (decorator) to stay late and stain the bench, shelf, and step, as the stain is meant to wait 72 hours before oiling, and so sensible to do before the weekend.

Still at least a day of carpenters, maybe two, and lots of decorating next week including filling holes, oiling benches and shelves, and painting.

Still hopeful for a window on Monday, and a door before end of next week. My personal deadline for this is next Friday, when the air-con is re-installed, and by which time all woodwork will be done and hopefully most of the decorating is finished. We will see.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Man cave: Day 17

Today we had carpenters (Mase and Callum) working on the bench and shelves and so on.

I designed this all with a 3D model and had taped it all out on the bare walls before painting, so had a very clear idea where everything was going.

One wall is work bench, 4.75m long, 616mm deep, 40mm thick, solid oak. We got some serious worktop brackets that are meant to hold 400kg per pair.

Above the bench is a floating shelf 4.75m long, 308mm deep, 40mm thick, solid oak. This was more of a challenge. There are some nice floating shelf brackets which are designed to fit within the shelf and be invisible, the fixing is two screws (left and right) of a rod that goes in to the shelf. It is hard to see how there is any leverage to hold a shelf at all like that. The spec is about 25kg which is not a lot. However, because the back of the fixing is less than the thickness of plaster board we were able to fit these vertically, fixed direct to the stud work, which actually provides some leverage to hold a shelf and will make it massively stronger. We then used 9 of these to hold up the shelf. The end result is a shelf that I can hang from! The decorator needs to fill in a few bits of plasterboard.

It was quite fun with the laser level - using a washer to adjust the level, it was possible to get shelf very level indeed. I was quite surprised - you can see from this shot that the laser is visible on the front edge of the shelf and the back on the wall, so the shelf is level to the thickness of the laser!


Even so, with a heavy box the front edge does drop a millimetre or two, which is not surprising.

So, I want to get the decorator working on staining and oiling the worktop as soon as possible, as the process takes several days - so the sooner we start the sooner I can actually start using it.

Tomorrow should make progress on the bar and sink, and maybe some of the other shelves. Hopefully by Monday we can have the fiddly bits of skirting board and door stop and so on sorted. Still need lots of decorating work and external window and door. But next week should be a lot less happening until air-con installed on the Friday. I can really see the end of the tunnel now.

I did have some fun yesterday though - I have been watching a lot of NCIS, and so I cut some letters to go on the wall :-)


Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Credit agreement for insurance

This bugs me.

I have insurance for home contents, and it is a one year policy, but I pay monthly by instalments. This means I have to have a credit agreement and interest.

But insurance is inherently a service provided on an ongoing basis. The fact that I am insured tomorrow is of no use to me today. It only matters once tomorrow has come and gone, and if, by then, the insurance has not been cancelled for some reason.

So if I am getting the "product" of insurance on an ongoing basis, month by month, day by day, hour by hour, yet I am paying each month in advance, why do I need "credit"? It simply makes no sense to me.

Some might say that I receive a whole years insurance in advance, and I have that now, and it is mine, so paying for it at the start makes sense (and hence spreading payments is credit). However, and do correct me if I am wrong, if I stop paying half way through the year, will they not cancel the policy? If there is any way they can cancel the policy part way through the year for any reason, then clearly that policy and year's worth of insurance was not mine in the first place, and it really is being "provided" on an ongoing basis.

It seems wrong, and I can only assume it is some historical quirk that it is allowed to work like this.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Man cave: Day 16

Carpenters were in today - with the internal door, the loft hatch, and delivery of work benches. We have the unit for the sink ready to be installed. I properly installed the PIRs on the walls (damn fiddly things). We ordered the heavy duty work bench brackets, and the fixings for floating shelves. And, we have the most high tech (alarmed) temporary door you have ever seen :-)

Day 17 may be Thursday as nothing is happening tomorrow. I may have to actually go in to work!

The good news is that they reckon the work benches and shelves should be sorted by the end of the week, which means the decorator can start staining and oiling stuff.

The window is due Monday, and the external door should be soon after. There is some chance this will all be done by end of month, or at least by end of next week. I do hope so.

Of course, the sofa is not expected until November, but I am sure we will be able to cope.

Oh, and my door handles finally came in - tudor style door handles on (what will be) stained and varnished oak doors with electronic locks - obviously :-)


Monday, 21 September 2015

Man cave: Day 15

Ceiling painted, that is all...

Though I did some work over the weekend - getting some 1K resistors from Maplin's so I could wire up the tamper circuits and lock bolt sensors in to the Galaxy alarm panel. I also installed the PIRs (they have built in resistors). I also wired up the second (external) door lock ready for when the door is installed, and set up in "fail secure" mode (power fail leaves locked). Makes it more complicated for the emergency break glass to work - feeding directly from battery to bypass relay board and door control and anything else that could have gone wrong. The other (internal) door is "fail safe" just in case.

This is also the first time we have used these locks (Abloy Trimec ES8000 V-lock) as the main lock on a door. At the office we only use them as the night deadlock. They are good - unlock is a snap action and so instant, but locking takes a second or two (motor engages to push bolt down in to position). So I have had to get some simple roller/ball catches as well so the door will catch closed and stay put while the lock engages.

Anyway, tomorrow gets busy, finishing internal door, installing loft hatch, and a delivery of solid wood benches to be made in to the shelves, work bench, and bar. Personally I'd like to see the room finished by the end of the month but that may be optimistic.


Saturday, 19 September 2015

Internet and law

Times are changing, and the governments of the world are trying very hard to keep up. There are consultations on this at an EU level, and the UK is considering the "snooper's charter". Legislation is being considered that would impact everyone.

This blog post is my thoughts on the matter, and I hope a good start to some debate. As an ISP, I am, of course, somewhat biased - but I am also an Internet user, and a parent, and someone that has had computers nicked and needed police to trace an IP address.

Summary

  • Physical infrastructure (ducts, mast owners) should be provided and managed independently to competing CPs (Communications Providers)
    • CPs paying a fair price for access (e.g. non-profit running it) and no "fibre tax"
  • CPs should have no responsibility for the content of communications ("mere conduit")
    • This ensures CPs can continue to innovate and develop services
  • CPs should not be expected to block traffic
    • This avoids unnecessary technical and commercial impact on CPs
    • Encryption and Tor and VPNs and proxies make such measures pointless
  • CPs should not be expected to look in to the content of communications
    • This avoids unnecessary technical and commercial impact on CPs
    • Encryption means that CPs cannot do so anyway
  • CPs are expected to assist authorities with criminal investigations
    • This must be specific and targeted investigation with formal process and oversight
    • CPs should not be expected to collect data or monitor users generally
    • CPs should be paid for costs involved in assisting authorities
    • Basic processes such as finding billing address from IP should be more streamlined!
    • There should be transparency - advising subjects of requests once no longer suspect
  • Encryption should be encouraged not restricted or banned
    • Criminals are attaching the virtual world of the Internet and encryption is the protection for privacy and security that is now essential to combat such crime

Layers

One of the first issues which needs considering carefully in any legislation is the way that the government think of "the Internet". Having had an interesting dinner with several MPs (thanks to ISPA) it is clear that MPs see "the Internet industry" as very much one "thing", lumping in everyone from a company putting fibre in the ground to FaceBook as the same "industry".

In actual fact, just like the protocols used in the Internet, there are layers. It is important for legislators to understand this, as the rules have to be different for different layers. If you think about this, it does make sense, and I have included "a company putting fibre in the ground" in the above list deliberately as an example because that is pretty obvious. Putting glass in the ground, and even renting that glass out to companies, is clearly at much the same level as an electrician wiring up a house. They are clearly not responsible for what flashing lights are sent down that glass, and would not have any way to take any responsibility for that. I think even MPs can understand that.

At the other extreme, companies like FaceBook provide a service which "just happens to make use of the Internet as a means of communication". In theory one could operate such a service over the post (did any of you have a pen pal)? The fact that the Internet is use is, of course, important, but the service itself is very much more than simply flashing lights down a bit of glass. FaceBook have contracts with customers (albeit ones where there is no payment in most cases); they manage personal information; they operate in multiple countries and across borders; they have policies on content and police those policies. There are already a whole raft of rules and regulations in many countries that cover a lot of what they do.

Glass

I picked fibre as an example of the lowest level, but there is an even lower level that could be worthy of legislation. It is not legislation concerning snooping, or security, but more one of providing access to the Internet. Governments recognise (thankfully) that the Internet is an invaluable resource within a community, and ensuring good access for all citizens has benefits to the community and the economy as a whole, so should be encouraged.

It seems to me fairly obvious that there needs to be a lowest level of access by way of "ducts" and radio mast sites that take physical space and can be included in designs for new housing developments. These are things that probably do not benefit from competition in their provision at that level - having multiple providers running cables and ducts in the same street is how it was done in the past but it may make sense if ducts and basic roadwork type stuff is handled by someone like the council, or a non-profit responsible for providing access to physical infrastructure to competing telcos.

Internet Protocol

The level above copper and glass is the actual data being sent over those. There are actually two layers here really - the means to send data over the raw infrastructure, and the operation of a network of such infrastructure to provide something like a packet routing system such as Internet Protocol. At present we see companies like BT and TalkTalk operating national infrastructure networks, using Openreach copper pairs, and providing access to end users and connecting that to internet providers.

At the lowest level, the internet provider (ISP) routes packets - simple as that. There are extra services that are essential, like DNS, and then more optional services like email, web sites, and so on.

When it comes to the low level communications itself, such as routing IP packets or telephone calls, I think it is very important to separate the communications system itself from what is being communicated.

We already have this concept in EU, and also in US. In EU it is called "mere conduit", and it means that CPs don't have liability for what is being communicated.

This is not a very new principle - even the postal service has some long standing legal protections in place. The most obvious being that the post office are not responsible for the content of letters, and are not considered to be assisting or aiding and abetting any criminal activity carried out by post, nor even profiting from crime; and, the security and integrity of the post is important and "interfering with the mail" is considered a serious matter. Communications itself needs to be reliable and independent of what is communicated. These protections allow CPs to provide the services cost effectively.

I feel quite strongly that Internet service needs to have these protections, and that even "mere conduit" is not quite far enough. We have to consider slightly more, and this is something the EU is considering now - "Net neutrality" is the term being used. It is important that CPs are not locking horns with "content providers" over access and priority of traffic. This has happened in the US and could lead to some complicated issues which would impact customers. Essentially, it is important that  CPs route traffic fairly, and when there is congestion packets are dropped purely on technical and practical basis and not for political or commercial reasons.

I also consider it important that CPs are not expected to look in to packets for any reason. This is much like "interfering with the post" but it is also down to a simple practical fact of life now - that encryption exists. Whatever the reason a government may want for CPs to look in to the packets is basically going to be thwarted by normal, day to day use, of encryption. It is common now for encryption to be used for web site access, messaging systems, and pretty much anything using the Internet. Even if encryption was somehow banned or crippled, the fact that it exists means that criminals or suspects could use it and be breaking just one more law. There are also many ways to use encryption which would either not be illegal, or not be detectable or provable.

Blocking web sites

Even though there is "mere conduit" there is one catch in the copyright legislation that allows a court to grant an injunction against a communications provide where they are aware of copyright infringement. This has been used to block access to some specific web sites like The Pirate Bay.

Unfortunately this is pretty much totally ineffective. The Pirate Bay have loads of mirrors and proxies and they move all the time. This means ISPs are spending time and effort messing about playing whack-a-mole. Of course VPNs, proxies, Tor and the like means that even if the ISP was actually blocking the site in question reliably, their customers can still easily access it.

After a spate of blocks, The Pirate Bay reported that they had massive increases in traffic - it was publicity! This means that he blocks are not just ineffective, they are counter productive. One court in the EU even reversed an injunction because it was ineffective.

Given that this has been tried and failed, it seems sensible to remove this anomaly from the copyright legislation - to stop ISPs having to waste time on this crap.

Of course, in principle, ISPs could provide blocking services to customers. It is rather concerning that the UK government seem to have pressured many ISPs in to providing some blocking by default for porn sites. We already see over blocking, which could create liability for ISPs and may even be a breach of the Computer Misuse Act. We also see that people now sell USB sticks with pre-installed Tor browsers so that kids can bypass blocks!

Back on the whole net neutrality front, it makes sense that ISPs simply do the job or routing packets, not blocking or prioritising things, just providing the raw communications means. ISPs have enough work doing that without getting bogged down with politics.

Of course, there are things people do using a communications system that are illegal, and they should be held to account for that.

Helping the authorities

Obviously I am keen on legislators not interfering with CPs and I think it is critical to ensuring CPs can provide the innovation, development and investment in providing access to everyone in the best way.

However, CPs are a key factor in helping the authorities investigate crimes. One of the most obvious things that anyone investigating a crime will need is the ability to track where an IP address is being used.

Unfortunately the very nature of Internet Protocol makes that impossible to do reliably. I recall an old cop show on TV and they were thwarted tracking a call to a payphone which had the handset taped to the handset of the adjacent payphone. Whilst that is a tad silly for phones it is actually incredible simple for IP networks, and even normal. IP can be, and is, tunnelled over IP or relayed at higher levels as a proxy. There are systems like Tor that specifically relay connections randomly around the Internet with no record of the real endpoints.

Even so, there is a starting point for authorities if they can quickly locate the installation address (if there is one) for an IP address for a connection. CPs can be an assistance to authorities in this in many cases. However, even with something so seeming simple as this, there is a catch. Carrier Grade NAT and transparent or explicit proxies mean that the IP address seen at the other end on the Internet is of the CGNAT or proxy system and not the end user. It is not necessarily practical for an ISP to have logs of every single connection made via such a system, and even where there are logs you may need millisecond accurate timestamps to track to one installation address. Even when you have an installation address you do not know what user at that address (if the user is there even) applies.

So, yes, CPs need to help the authorities, but there is only so much they can do. We have RIPA with covers this already. What we do not need is forcing CPs to start logging everything that they don't log anyway. This has a technical and commercial cost that CPs do not want, but also a security issue. You potentially start having logs of everyone's "activity" using the Internet - including all of the people that are not criminals and suspects. This is not just an invasion of privacy (which should be protected) but also a target for crime and hacking. Information has value.

One of the other concerns I have is the transparency of these processes. RIPA allows all sorts of "authorities" to request all sorts of information. What seems obvious to me is that this needs oversight, and controls. One simple step is that the subject of any such requests should be notified of the request. This is a problem if they are a suspect in a crime, so some requests have to be kept secret., but even then, once no longer a suspect the subject could then be notified.

Encryption

This is perhaps the elephant in the room. Encryption is not a new concept, but the changes in computer technology over the years have moved the goal posts somewhat. What has changed is that computing power in our hands (quite literally in most cases - mobile phones) is now at a level where encrypted communications can be used completely routinely. It used to be used only in specific cases like on-line banking, but is now used for simple web site access (even the conservative party web site). Once again, this is seen as a threat by the spooks that want to be able to covertly monitor suspects communications.

It is important to realise that there is always "plain text" at each end of the communications, and various ways one can access that if you can compromise one end (either social engineering, infiltrating a criminal organisation, or technical means like key loggers on computers). It is also the case that encryption normally means some degree of verifiable trust and use of keys - and people can be sloppy over encryption keys no matter how good their computers are. So encryption does make some things harder but it does not stop the authorities investigating crimes and suspects.

It is also important to understand that encryption exists. It is not a secret. Most encryption software is free, and so there is no "software company" to go after with legislation. This means that making it illegal (or illegal to use "strong" encryption) does not make it go away. Criminals can use encryption and will just be breaking one more law. It is also possible to use encryption in ways that cannot be proved (designed to provide "deniability") and the software to do that is also free and freely available and not secret.

It is also important to understand that encryption is not "hard". Yes, computers are good at this, and use a lot of processing to do the encryption we use every day, but there are systems you can use to unbreakably encrypt messages that nobody can decode without the right key and yet use pen and paper and dice and nothing more (see my video here). So unless you also ban something as basic as "adding up" you still allow "strong encryption".

Encryption is however important. It is seen by anyone with any technical clue as complete irony for governments to make statements like "In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which […] we cannot read?" yet at the same time as saying encryption is "important to the economy". There is simply no way to make a system which allows only the authorities to read a message, and ensures only criminal's and suspect's messages can be read by the authorities.

Criminals are moving on, even "terrorists". I don't like the use of terrorists and pedophiles in the media and by MPs to justify any legislation like this as they represent a tiny fraction of crime and harm done to the public. I find it ironic that the whole idea of terrorism is to create "terror" and then we make that "terror" ourselves in the way to portray and report terrorists. If we reported every car accident with the same publicity as any terrorist attack then nobody would dare drive again. But yes, if someone is hell bent on causing big scary havoc, they do need a bomb, they can hack in to critical infrastructure or even domestic infrastructure. Things like taking down the power grid are big and scary, but even things like hacking the logistics systems for all of the major super markets could suddenly mean nobody has any food for a few days - now that is a terrorist attack. There are also issues on smaller scales, like hacking in to cars (already been done) - imagine just disabling a small percentage of all of the cars on the M25 all at once so they stop and cannot be moved. All of this is without hacking banks and simply stealing money. These systems are protected by strong encryption, and any steps to weaken that or add back doors for the authorities will make the crimes easier.

So, in short, encryption needs to be encouraged, not banned or crippled.

Debate

Please do comment and discuss. I may have missed something.

Friday, 18 September 2015

We disputed BT charging us £39,744.00 to fix three FTTC lines

As I blogged previously, for three engineer visits to fix faults in broadband (FTTC) services BT had charged us a total of £39,744.00, when in fact no charges should have applied.

Naturally we disputed the charge (and withheld payment).

We finally have the response from BT, and admittedly this is just the first response, but this is it...

The response is that there was an error and BT should not have charged us, so a total of £397.44 has been graciously "waived" and will be credited.

Yes, BT are crediting £397.44 after over charging us £39,744.00

We'll try for a second dispute on this one I think - well done BT - up to the usual standard of dispute resolution there I see. We have had numerous cases where BT have agreed a dispute, and credited a different amount to that originally charged and disputes, but never before this magnitude of discrepancy. We have also had cases where BT have agreed a dispute but never actually credit us.

Man cave: Day 14

Electrical work done. I have lights. I even have a loft light. Electrical work by LA Electrical, and Lee seems to do a good job.

Some more paint on the walls now, but more to be done next week. Ceiling was not dry enough for paint today.

Apart from the outside door and window when they arrive, it is all internal, worktops, shelves, decorating now.

I do have one door, the internal door, with the lock all connected and tested. It needs some final fixing to do on Monday, but apart from that Monday is decorator. The rest of the week is decorator and carpenter. Loft hatch is here and will be installed once ceiling is painted.

Oh, and Sandra got me a sign :-)


Thursday, 17 September 2015

Man cave: Day 13

Holy bat cave, Robin, we have a floor!

In contrast to yesterday, today has gone rather well, cramming in the plasterer to do the ceiling immediately followed by the flooring man to do the floor. So ceiling and floor in one day. They were briefly tripping over each other in the middle :-)

The floor looks good - engineered wood, pre-stained and oiled.

And, I think tomorrow is going to be loads of stuff, with loft hatch and ladder, internal door, floor box, lights, maybe even some paint, and possibly a start on the work bench...

This really is starting to look the business now.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Man cave: Day 12

Frustrating day...

The electrical work went to plan, but the plastering did not!

Several small issues: the roll of "NASA stuff" (the tin foil and bubble wrap stuff) is 15m² and the room is 25m² so someone should have worked out he would need two rolls, then when he went to get another they were out of stock now, so had to go somewhere else; nobody seems to have stock of a loft hatch and ladder; almost exactly enough plasterboard was ordered (again, this is something one can work out in advance!), but several bits were damaged and unusable, so more delay; the screw driver gun failing, and the second one (more delay to get it) was jamming.

However, at the end of the day, we have plaster board. The plan for the morning is skim of plaster and fitting the floor as well as fitting the loft hatch. This means some more painting on Friday and the internal door being fitted and maybe even starting on the work tops - yay! The lights can be fitted Friday (again) and part-P testing done (yes, USB charger sockets are a pain). We'll see how it goes.


Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Man cave: Day 11

Callum awaiting a delivery
Today was not as expected - the decorator put a base coat of paint on the walls, and they started work on the internal doors, and then a debate started!

The debate was over the ceiling. Paul, the builder, had originally talked of putting a skim of plaster on it, but then decided it would be OK. However, when fitting the lights today it became very obvious how uneven it was, and how thin and badly fitted the plaster board really was. The decorator felt that it would need a skim of plasterboard, but it was apparent that there were no "noggins" and it was really thin plasterboard that was just nailed up and coming off the nails in places, so no way it would hold up.

Finally, my wife explained that she had said all along that the ceiling needed re-doing, and that was the decision. So, lights down, AP down, smoke alarm down, ceiling down - messy.

Obviously, had this been the plan, then this would have been one of the very first things that was done. It would also have made all the cabling in the loft a heck of a lot easier.


I found a few things that fell out of the loft, including a portable VHS recorder/player!


Now, the new ceiling gets interesting. Building regs come in to play again and a shitload of insulation is needed, well, maybe. They confirmed with the building inspector how to do this, and are putting Celotex and then some "NASA stuff" which looks like a mix of tin foil and bubble wrap, and an air gap. Sounds complicated, but they were quick to get the Cellotex up and the rest will happen in the morning followed by a skim of plaster.


However, before that was done, Lee, the electrician was able to clip cables up neatly and once again measure where the lights were going (having fitted them once already today). We also managed to terminate all of the cat6 (he terminated, I tested) and get the mains sockets all live. The lights were live too, this morning! He also found a fault in my lighting wiring upstairs, and a few other bits. Lee seems like a good electrician and does really neat work even in the loft where nobody would see it. I have some of the neatest structured cabling I have seen!

Lee, the electrician

Indeed, there was only the one deliberate mistake, which the cable tester spotted, and on port 13 no less :-)


However, with all of this work on the ceiling, I had a cunning plan, and twisted Paul's arm to mess with the fibres. He was somewhat worried about it, bit we pulled it off. We managed to remove the whole rack back that was bolted to the wall, with the fibre tube and patch lead in situ, and push it up through the rafters now that the ceiling was removed, twist it around, and fix it in to the roof space, freeing up a big chunk of wall! Well done Paul!


So, tomorrow we may get back to where we were today - finish ceiling and skim, do internal door, a few minor bits for the electrician, then the next day we can start on the internal stuff (worktops, shelves, etc). A setback, but the end result will be good.

Monday, 14 September 2015

CCTV

We have CCTV at the house, we have had for some time.

The main motivation was some years ago when someone came up our dead-end road all the way to the top of the hill where we are, in a van, in the middle of the night, and nicked five bicycles off the drive. I was pissed with that. Ever since, I have taken security and visible deterrent somewhat seriously, even more so since the office was robbed last year. There have been other incidents in the road since, and police have had several occasions to ask us to see my CCTV.

We have a sign about CCTV and very visible cameras. It has always been "personal use" and so should be exempt from any DPA issues, but a ruling has changed that (the judge decided it matters if the CCTV shows the road outside of your property regardless of "usage" of the CCTV images being personal use - a daft ruling IMHO). So now we need DPA registration for CCTV at the house even! However, I suspect I'll just make the company data controller and sort it all under that as we pay for DPA registration anyway. May as well follow the rules even is stupid.

Anyway, more on the technical side of things, as times have changed over the years.

First I had a single camera, a Mobotix camera which was IP, PoE, two cameras (one day, one night) and could record to an NFS mount. This has some issues including the fact that day/night was a time schedule and not light levels, but also that it was not geared up for linux usage. I could see images but not video. It did have a built in SIP speaker phone which was fun. It looked the part (which is key for deterrent). They have better models now, it seems.

Moving on, a year ago, when I started the man-cave project, we had just put cameras in the office after the robbery. These were the cheap 4 camera "HD" security things you can buy for a few hundred quid. Cheap and cheerful, simple to install, and work. Downside is they are crappy PAL analogue cameras so low resolution (in spite of the "HD" label), but the recording and playback sort of work, they have working night vision, and a simple iPhone app allows me to see the video on the cameras 4 at a time easily. I got some for home, but they spent most of the year being squirrel cams in the loft! Having finally started work on the garage I installed them, and found that three had gone rather purple. The office cameras are not fairing much better, so in hindsight a pretty crappy investment and in need of replacing at home and office.

Times have moved on, and some very promising cameras are made by ubiquiti. The prices are very good. The cameras work with (free) recording system rather than as standalone systems. I will try these and post more later as they seem like a good option. Notably they do both 720p and 1080p cameras.

However, what I have at the house is not those, but four vivotek cameras based on a recommendation. These are good, sturdy, external cameras with self contained web servers, including https and IPv6. There are many apps that can show the cameras on a phone, which is good (though the free ones just froze on me). The fittings and housing are good solid metal and look very sturdy - I like the fact you can install with wires behind them and no visible wiring.


But I need a DVR for them. There are some free ones, and I will be trying them, but what I got was a vivotek DVR as that seemed an obvious simple choice. This is where it all falls down rather. The DVR does not work at all with a Mac using safari or firefox - it is useless! You cannot even work most of the settings. The recording only works via http and not https from the cameras - fine in my case as on same network. It does have an 8 port PoE switch to power the cameras directly, which is one redeeming feature. It also has no fans.

There is an iPhone app to work with it, but it is really crap. I am also wary that I had to set up an "account" to use it. The video playback is "possible" but hard work. I cannot even find a rewind option, you have to play one camera at a time from a date/time, and that is it. Not totally unusable, but if free s/w is better then that makes it a stupid choice. Watch this space.

All that said, the video quality of the actual cameras is good, and the night vision is excellent. It is 1280x800 so "HD".


They are obviously there to be a deterrent and to provide evidence if there is an "incident", so need to be good, and look good. I think they will do for that, but I do have to look at upgrading the office. These vivotek cameras are twice the price of the ubiquiti cameras of similar resolution, so we will see how that goes when we get one to try.

Man cave: Day 10

Not as much today as I hoped, but progress none the less.

The old side window is bricked up, at last; the new external door and window have temporary wood frames in now the brickwork is dry so they can board up outside properly while waiting for window and doors; the power and network sockets are fitted but not live yet; the door entry readers are fitted and the exit button boxes are ready for me to wire up; the old internal door is removed ready for a new one; the plumber fixed a leak.

Turns out that the plasterer did not quite do what was expected Friday (Paul, the builder was not here Friday), so he did the walls (good) but did the internal doorway (bad, as door is being changed) and did not do the surround for the external door or window as asked, so a slight pain.

I like the sockets I picked, flat "black nickel" LAP from Screwfix. The cat6 sockets actually work nicely without trapping the tag in the socket. The power sockets come with a USB charger option. I think they look nice.


Tomorrow promises to be busy - finish the cat6 cabling to the patch panel; make power and lighting live; install the lights; paint the walls; finish a few other electrical bits; fit the internal door; fit the motorised lock to the internal door and complete the alarm wiring for that; fit PIRs.

I have also picked the flooring - engineered wood in a dark oak. I have also picked the wall colour - Egyptian cotton.

Over the weekend I planned out the work tops and shelves and so on using tape (looked like some strange CSI crime scene), and even made a new 3D model. I ordered a sink that fits in a 300mm wide module so I have space for a fridge. I worked out the bar has to be a bit of a token gesture as much further in to the room and you could not walk around a sofa. The sofa is from sofaworks and is a nice sofa bed in charcoal black and won't arrive until November!


I expect that end of this week we will start to get days of no activity waiting for things like a door, or a window, or for wood stain to soak in, etc. I have to get a few furniture items (TV stand, coffee table, book shelf) and we still have to plan boxing in the meters and power and so on.

The alarm stuff is fun - I am doing it all myself anyway, it is not hard, and I have the manual for the alarm panel. Just like the office with door entry readers and motorised locks on the doors. I may look in to better readers some time if they will work with this panel and upgrade house and office. That will be a separate project. For now, I have it texting me when alarms set/unset anyway.

What was bloody strange was that in my testing I found that the bell box / siren did not work at the house. We have text alerts and video cameras (I did promise a separate post on those), so the actual bell is less important, but how does it not work. I checked, and the internal battery was flat and rather oddly no connectivity from panel to bell. The muppets that installed the system (the people with the proper training rather than me doing it) looped the tamper at the panel, so no alarm at whatever point the cable failed/broke or was cut. I do not suspect foul play but how the hell does that happen? Anyway, new alarm bell box / siren.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Man cave: Day 9

Bricking it now, and getting plastered...

Well, I have a brick wall, and I have plaster.

The joiner was here today to check measurements for the door frame. The window is ordered.

Next week we can get paint on the wall, and see if I can get air-con reconnected. I need to talk to a man about the floor. And we can get started on the internal stuff, work bench, bar, sockets on the walls. All good fun.

Getting excited now :-)


Thursday, 10 September 2015

Man cave: Day 8

Who says I never use windows?

Well, technically, the windows are not in yet, but they have managed to sort the first course of bricks and so have worked out the exact placement and size of windows and door frame, so all ordered.

The building inspector was a bit of a pain - as the builder said, it was clear that the garage was built on the same foundations as the house, and not some later extension. Also, the wall was not supporting anything (there is a big lintel over where the door was). Even so the building inspector insisted they dig down along side the foundations to confirm how deep they were. They are, of course, fine, and the builder has been able to start.

Rumour has it that the wall will be done tomorrow, and also the plastering starts tomorrow - and ideally finishes so it can dry over the weekend. We have all of the dry lining done ready, now that the window and door opening are decided.

I have ordered some nice door handles today. I have also ordered a sofa bed (which takes 8 weeks!).

Barclays another hour wasted

As I reported the fiasco of getting a debit card after the last expired, being lied to, and wasting 2 hours in the Ascot branch. Sadly the story had not finished.

I got the PIN by post, as expected, so rushed back to Ascot branch to collect the card that was waiting for me...
  1. First off, the card was locked in a secure room needing two people to access, and it took ages before they could sort access and get the card. Annoying.
  2. As expected they wanted me to use the PIN Sentry. I had the PIN notice letter, un-revealed.
  3. I revealed the PIN, checked it was for the right card, and tried it.
  4. Oddly, in the same envelope that my daughter had handed me at the office (letter had been opened as I had asked them to check it was the PIN), was a print out of the Apple Watch in rose gold. Very subtle Victoria :-) The banker found that amusing...
  5. However, when I tried the PIN it failed.
  6. I tried again, it failed.
  7. So final try, I handed PIN and card to banker (I know I can change PIN later).
  8. They tried. It failed.
  9. Now to start a long and tedious process...
  10. Banker checks on the system and card is "flagged" by fraud debt - this is a card printed two days before, and never used. No explanation as to how there could be an issue.
  11. So, long call to fraud dept, and a shit load of annoying security questions.
  12. They un-flag the card. But they fail to understand that the card being flagged is not a reason for the PIN sentry to not work. The card does not know it is flagged, does it!
  13. We had to go outside to cash machine to unlock the PIN on the card, which worked, yay!
  14. Back to PIN Sentry - does not work.
  15. Does not work
  16. Does not work, PIN blocked.
  17. Try in the "account manager" kiosk, that is fine.
  18. Un-lock in cash machine again, fine.
  19. So finally they give up and let me have the card anyway - finally - now I can buy some postage and stock for the office.
It took an hour!!!

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Man cave: Day 7

I have a floor!

They have done the insulation and boarding, and some of the last bits of dry lining done. The floor box fitted.

I have picked doors, which will take a couple of weeks to sort (pain in the arse). Well, I say "I picked doors" - what actually happened is Sandra and I went to a joinery, and Sandra showed me which doors I don't like and which I like. As it happens, I do like the one selected :-)

And the bricks arrived. But seriously, who delivers a pallet of bricks without a crane or fork lift of some sort? They re-stacked a pallet of bricks by hand on to the drive!

So I think next step is the builder talking to the building inspector and getting started on the brickwork tomorrow. Once they start that they can finalise the window and door location to fit in with brick sizes and finish the last bit of internal dry lining ready for plastering. I hope they plaster this week, so we have the weekend to dry.

The floor has celotex as does one of the walls where the gap is smaller, but the back and front wall is "fluffy" (fibre glass evil stuff) and the last wall is internal. This means I stand a chance of mobile phone signals getting in!

Yes, this stuff is why modern houses have crap wifi :-


Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Man cave: Day 6

My guess is we are about half way now. But it is impressive.

It has been slow going doing the floor today - it is the hassle of the fact that garage floors are simply not level.

They are not meant to be, they slope to the door, and ideally slope away from the house. This one has the added benefit of a slight bulge in the middle!

So they have to plane and cut timer at the high points, and pack it at the rest to create a level framework. Then they screw it down in to the concrete and use filler on top of the membrane.

So tomorrow they finish the floor, with insulation and boarding, and the last bits of dry lining, and should have bricks to start on the wall. The plumber should finally come tomorrow as well. And I am going to see some doors at a joiner company.

There is a lot more to do just to finish the structure, before we start on work bench, and so on.

Barclays/Woolwich pain in the arse

I still have a mortgage, which is, in some ways, silly, at my age and income. But it is not silly when you realise the rate I pay (0.84%). It was fluke that I re-mortgaged at just the right moment when banks were offering some really nice packages. It is also an offset mortgage, which is great and allows me to draw up to the original mortgage amount with no notice, just using the on-line banking, but also to have balances in offset accounts which reduce the interest paid. Very very flexible, an excellent deal. I think I have one of the best mortgage packages you can get!

Well, except for two key stitch ups. I have a friend who has had these happen to him as well, and caused him a lot of hassle, but now it has happened to me I feel I can sensibly blog about it. It is one to watch if you have a Barclays/Woolwich offset mortgage.

Vanishing reserve

The reserve limit is the amount you can draw if you need. It is the difference from current mortgage balance to the original loan amount, and operates just like an overdraft limit on an account. The actual limit obviously goes up each time you make a payment as the capital in the main mortgage account goes down.

However, it seems, they can review the reserve limit and cap it at a level around what you are using. This means if you are being sensible, and not using it, they can remove the offset totally. In my case, I am using it (I did mention 0.84% did I?), but even so, some £50k of available reserve just vanished one month!

They claim I had a letter in April "proposing" to reduce it, and giving me a choice. But as I had not replied they went ahead and did it.

The new limit was not only a lot lower, but also not increasing as I paid off the main mortgage capital!

Paying too much

The other issue is that the monthly payment does not go down when interest goes down. This fooled me as the mortgage term is show on-line based on rate you are paying, even if you are using the offset. This meant my mortgage did not have long to go, and I was starting to think that clearing the offset will be needed soon.

It turns out that I am paying nearly 3 times what I need to pay to pay off in the original term! Now, in principle there is no issue with paying off the mortgage sooner, except for another big gotcha - if you pay off the main mortgage capital early, then at that point you have to clear the reserve - even if the original term has 6 more years to run at that point! You cannot clear the mortgage capital and then go on to clear the mortgage reserve within the original term, no, you have to pay off in one go.

Mental process for reinstating offset

The good news is that I had spotted this soon enough, and got the banker in Ascot to call them. She had a nightmare with the "talk to a machine" system and was saying very clearly "Mortgage offset"... "No"... "Mortgage offset", and so on, and trying new phrases, and gave up. She got her note book with many hand written notes and numbers and called a magic number to get hold of an actual person. I am so glad I did not try calling myself!

So they explain that as I had not seen the letter they can re-instate the offset. Good. But they have to do an "affordability check". Now, bear in mind I am not talking of changing my monthly payments, so why? Also, I am not that badly off, and clearly the rate I am paying each month is not an issue, but I had to go through "How much do you pay in council tax each month" and all that crap. Ironically, he was happy for me to blatantly make up shit as I did not know that one, but the banker was helpful and checked my DDs for me and confirmed the actual figure further on in the call. I passed!

They put back the offset to what it was two months ago (no, not the same level it would have been now, so around £5k lower). Close enough :-)

As a separate step they put back the system so that it goes up as I make payments. Why is that a separate thing?

Now, I hope I don't need it, but right now I think I will grab the whole lot and put in a separate account (on the offset package, so no difference in interest paid) so that they do not grab it back like this again. I would recommend* anyone with such a mortgage do the same. Indeed, having a chunk of money in an account probably helps with your credit rating with the bank!

Now, extra stupid - he then said what the payment I would have to make if I was to draw down the whole mortgage reserve today and aim to repay by end of term, and guess what - it is LOWER than I now pay by £700/month. So why the fuck did I have to do the affordability thing!

Mortgage term

Well, that made no sense - how could it be lower, and hang on - "original term"? I realised that the original term was a lot longer than shown on-line as the term. Why? Well, they base the term on the payments I am making, and they had not gone down with interest rates. Actually I have a lot longer on my term than I realised.

Apparently I can pay around a third of what I am paying, and have the mortgage back on its original term, allowing me some time to clear the offset I am using. All I had to do was ask!

My tips (*definitely not formal financial advice in any way, just common sense)
  1. Use your reserve, even if simply putting in a separate account on the offset. That stops them hijacking it.
  2. Read any letters you get, but don't count on getting them. Note that they have on-line record of letters now, but not 100% of letters - this is not recorded on the on-line banking apparently!
  3. Check the term shown matches the term you agreed, and if not, get them to lower payments. Remember, you can pay more, and you can simply put money in an offset account so that when you have enough you simply clear the mortgage in one go early, so the same as paying more like you are now, but with much more flexibility if you need it.
Once you know how this crap works, these really are a good system for a mortgage - I don't know if they do the same now (and I bet you cannot get that rate, sorry) but they are very flexible.

Barclays pain in the arse

I don't like being bare face lied to, or wasting two hours sat in a branch in Ascot. So here is the rant...


The problem was simple: Debit card expired end of August, and no replacement arrived.
  • 1st Sep, having got no new card, I go on-line and try to get replacement card, but system says I cannot get a replacement as I have not "registered an address for this account". I mean WTF? The address has not changed, what is this registering of an address. Only fix was to make a call!
  • I called, with DMTF crap and security questions, and was told that a replacement card had been sent and returned "gone away". Hmmm, well, post does sometime go to Enterprise Centre not Enterprise Court, so not impossible.
  • So I need to re-instate the address, which involves a shit load more "security questions" to sort out and takes ages.
  • Then I find that now the address is sorted the team that can sort a new card is not open yet.
  • Another call later, and team that sends the card is there and more security questions and hassle, but they say a card is sent, clearly confirm the address is definitely right, and assure me it will be with me in 2-3 working days.
  • We are now a week later and no card, so I call, again. They confirm a card was sent on the 1st, but they cannot track it any more than that so should have arrived - grrr.
  • They tell me that I can go in to Ascot and get a replacement printed there and then in 20 minutes.
  • I go to Ascot - and they check, and no card has been issued. I clearly have been lied to, twice, telling a card has been sent. Not amused.
  • Now they think I have to "apply" for a new card now, and that can only be posted out, not printed in branch. So another lie in sending me to Ascot, it seems.
  • However, and this is why the whole lot took 2 hours, the person in Ascot was trying very hard to be helpful and managed to get the relevant team on the phone. They managed to "issue" a new card on the system, which involved a lot more security questions, bearing in mind I was there in the branch with my passport and driving licence already!
  • Once issued, they could print the card - yay, so they do that.
  • Then, they want me to enter the PIN. Well, this is a chip'n'signature card (or at least it was, I hope the new one is) so whilst it may have a PIN, I don't know it, have never known it and did not need it. Means she cannot give me the card.
  • But wait - you can get your PIN on the on-line banking, so I go on there, and she agrees the on-line banking web site is a pain. We find the bit to get the PIN, and it says that we cannot see the PIN as a new card has just been issued - arg!
  • So I cannot have the card - the one I can see in front of me! They are sending a PIN, by post, but I will have to go back to the branch with the PIN (and it has to be me!) to get the card. It should only be a couple of minutes this time, apart from the hassle of going to Ascot in the first place.
  • Also as the card has been printed, if by some fluke a card arrives in the post then it will not be valid, because the latest card is physically in Ascot.
Why the hell could they not actually have just issued a new card and sent it in 2-3 working days as they said in the first place? Why the hassle? Why the lies? Why wasting 2 hours of my day?

Monday, 7 September 2015

Man cave: Day 5

I can has walls! Well, I have insulation on all walls and plasterboard on two (with sockets cut out). Should have the last of plaster board in morning and then the work on the floor - which needs insulating and levelling.

Cameras are up, external security lights are up, new lighting wiring all done, and I have the new fused spurs for the battery boxes for the alarm system and doors. I have a new small 19" rank in the loft with new power sockets, so I can make that all a lot tidier.

It definitely does not look like a garage now, and should look way more impressive by end of tomorrow. Plumber coming in tomorrow to sort where the sink is going. Bricks expected Wednesday so we can start getting an actual wall at the front.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Man cave: Day 4

Just the electrician today - finalising all of the sockets -  networking, power, lighting, coax, speaker cable, alarm cable, all in place ready for insulation and plasterboard on Monday.

No sign of building inspector today, and bricks not expected until Tuesday at earliest, but I expect that Monday will really start to feel like a proper room at last.

I have also decided to scrap the cheap PAL CCTV system. It was cheap, under £300 for a DVR and 4 cameras, with auto day/night. They are a cheap and cheerful indoor system that is easy to install and available all over the place. What I have gone for is a vivotek IP camera which does 1280x800, and is a proper outdoor IP camera with PoE for a bit over £200 each. It seems pretty good, but I have yet to install them properly. The camera, case, and mounting are all very sturdy and look very good. I'll post more on that over the weekend when I set some up. If they work well here, we may upgrade the main office too.

Today's picture is where I plan to put a TV, so 4 cat6 network points, 8 power sockets, speaker cables and 4 satellite coax cables.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Man cave: Day 3

Really starting to take shape now. The wiring is in and the network cabling for the most part. The main bench will have 36 power and 16 cat6 network sockets. There are then various other power and network points around the room, including some in the middle of the floor.

The old garage door is finally removed, and cut up. They finished digging out the concrete for foundations for the new wall where the garage door was located. That was somewhat noisy, and took most of the day. Just waiting for building inspector in the morning to check that.

They have found matching bricks, so they will arrive next week. In the mean time they can continue with the interior, insulation, plaster board, etc. I can see the room really starting to come together.

The only undecided issue right now is "sound system". Whilst this is mainly an office, there will be a TV and sofa in here (much like we have in the meeting room at work), but I had not really considered a sound system as such. My son is quite keen on one, so we need to decide on something sensible without falling in to any audiophile bullshit.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Man cave: Day 2

The air-con man came and pumped down the unit, and removed it, so the builder could finish the stud work. He was tied up some of today but managed to start knocking out the concrete for the foundations for the new wall.

I managed to sort the battery boxes for the alarm system, and finish the wiring for the CCTV. That said, I plan to replace with proper IP cameras. These cheapy PAL things are not very good. I ran external cat5 for that anyway. The wasps are all dead though, so easier to sort things now.

Met the sparky today, Lee, who seems to know his stuff. So electrics starting tomorrow. Well, electrics, cat6 cables, speaker wires, alarm wires, coax for sky, lots...

Seems the bricks we have are not made anymore, but should see the best match tomorrow as well.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Man cave: Day 1

It begins!

The stud work is going up on the walls, after some discussion with the building control person. Turns out that, whilst we do not need planning permission, we do have to pay nearly £500 to do a building regulations notice! Anyway, all sorted.

The cables for security cameras could not all be run before they started as there appears to be a wasp nest - so an exterminator will be along later today.

Last bit of stud work has to wait for tomorrow when air-conditioning man comes to pump down and remove the internal unit. This means no air-con for rest of month until they can next come in to re-fit it, so expect it it be a hot September!

I also have all of the bits for the alarm and security system today (thanks for dropping it off Mike).

The BT fibre is now fixed to the wall again, and we have marked and photographed where it is so nobody puts a screw through it later :-)

Tomorrow it should get more interesting - some electrical work, some insulation, foundation for the new wall where the garage door was...