Friday, 26 May 2017

The internet of video

Call me old if you will, but I remember a time when the Internet did not even exist - when I was making protocols for file transfer over 300bps modems (for my B.Sc.) at around the same time as IP packets were being dreamt up. I had used computers for many years by them.

I have seen it change over time, and change in many ways.

At the start it was a bit like ham radio - sending packets to each other was what we did - using protocols like TCP on top of that, and I was lucky enough to find Demon for my first home Internet connection with a fixed IP and no filtering. I commend Demon as pioneers of their day.

Times have changed, and the invention of the world wide web, and http, was a major thing. I remember actually going on a course for UI design that mentioned hyperlinking, and a course on web page design (all manually created HTML).

The usage of the Internet really has come a long way and we are now in the video phase of that usage. At each stage the Internet has had its high users. It was text initially, and then images, audio files, and now video.

One of the things I have always said is that there probably are some limits on what consumer Internet will need to provide, and those limits stem from the bandwidth of the person - of the human being. How much data can we, as a person, absorb?

Obviously there are always exceptions, cases where data is transferred for processing by computer systems and not a person, but by far the highest usage of the Internet as a consumer service right now is the video streaming, and that is there to ultimately be fed to the eyes and ears of one or more people.

We have many senses, and even then we have to consider the "resolution" of those senses. The fact we have 4k video now, even at levels perhaps beyond the resolution of our eyes (because we can move our eyes around the screen) is quite amazing. We may go to higher resolutions even, and more 3D and so on. Vision is perhaps the highest bandwidth sense we have, with sound, and smell and touch all taking a back seat.

With consumer Internet connections starting to approach the level where each person in a household is able to receive the video streaming, and the content, at least as much as they as a person can absorb in real time for 24 hours a day - we may start to finally reach limits of consumer Internet connectivity.

Of course there is the uplink side, and that has yet to fully catch up. Internet has been asymmetrical for some time, but even now FTTC offers 20Mb/s uplink if you can get it. We have to consider people creating content, and that content being video. Ratios of content production to content consumption will always be skewed to the consumption so maybe what we have makes sense now.

Personally I am thinking I need to move more to video content - my blog moving to a vlog (or whatever it is called). I have a youtube channel (do subscribe). I will try to learn more about video and multiple cameras, and sound, and so on, and maybe get good at it...

Maybe that will be the new me - the video content generator?

It reminds me a lot of this comic (see image on the right). Well worth reading.

Oh Apple, thou art trying to vex me

With all the messing with my apple login to try and sort the apple-TV issue (no idea if fixed, not tried for two weeks), I ended up logging out and logging in on my Mac several times.

The first annoyance is that this left my Mac contacts book with about 7 copies of every contact. Very silly.

So, today, I deleted 6 out of 7 of each contact instance and tidied it up a lot.

What do you think happened?

Well, now I have one copy of each contact on my Mac and zero copies of them on my phone. Almost every contact has vanished from my phone.

Why Apple? Why?

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Stupidity tax?

This is largely a rant as I am the one that sorts the unreconcilable banking stuff on our system - mostly passing it on to the accounts department. But ultimately I am the only one with access to the actual bank - the company is small enough that it makes sense to work that way. So when things appear on the daily statement that cannot be automatically processed, I have to decide what to do.

Some days, rarely, there is nothing to check, but most days there is something, and it is almost always customers being a tad annoying.

We mostly collect payment by Direct Debit, which "just works" - however we allow payment by bank transfer at no extra cost (though some packages are DD only). Basically, some people do not trust Direct Debit, and I know why. We don't trust it - or to be more accurate we don't trust all of our suppliers to actually do Direct Debit in accordance with the rules. It is a sad state of affairs as the rules are actually very clear and simple, and allow claw-back if not followed. When we do Direct Debit we make damn sure we are following the rules. However, if someone wants to pay us by bank transfer they can. I really do understand. We have many people doing that correctly and on time.

The only stipulation we have is that they complete the correct beneficiary reference on the payment. Well, of course, they also have to do the right sort code and account number, but the reference is for our benefit. It is to allow us to assign the payment correctly.

I had one today and it wound me up - hence the post. The customer pays quarterly and uses normal 2 day BACS transfers, and normally pays on time.

They never send the right reference, in fact they send "0". We do not get sender sort code and account from our bank, so we have to make some guess and generally I have to make the assignment of their payment manually. We charge £5 for doing so - it is manual work we should not have to do.

So is it unfair that we insist on the correct reference on the payment?

I really do not think so - at the end of the day that is why the reference exists, and there are so many organisations you have to pay that also insist on the correct reference: Gas, Electric, Water, Telephone, Rates, VAT, PAYE, and many more. Companies have to have a way to send payments with the right beneficiary reference else they have some serious problems paying the most basic things like VAT and Rates. We are no different.

The one today was extra special. It was a company that usually pays on time but never uses the right reference. As such we charge £5, but to make it easy we include that as a line item in the next bill and not a separate invoice. If we made it a separate invoice you have an infinite loop of paying that without the correct reference and again being invoiced. We saw that happen once when we made it a separate invoice - very sad - we did not have the heart to keep it going and so changed the system.

But occasionally this organisation also pays late and so gets a late payment invoice (typically £40) and then a separate invoice when they pay, for the interest. In this case it was for 3p. This is all according to statute for late payment of commercial debts. If you don't like it, pay on time, duh!

What was especially sad is they sent a BACS payment for the 3p. BACS works for 1p to £10million. They did not send £40.03 to cover both invoices, but just 3p, leaving the £40 overdue. They will end up with a £5 charge on the next invoice for paying 3p without a reference - a £5 charge for my time and the accounts team's time handling the payment with not reference (bargain). They probably pay bank charges to send the 3p that is a lot more than 3p!

It is sad that large company bureaucracy can end up like this - just paying - not even complaining - paying for their own failings time and time again.

I think the £5 charge is fair. I dislike having to faff around every day (even when on the North Sea) to do bank reconciliation, and then paying accounts staff as well. It costs money and is avoidable - just use the right reference. It is even the same every time (the A...A account number) but we are flexible and can handle the I...A invoice number if preferred. This is not a way for us to make extra money at the expense of companies that are inept, honest.

Even so, this is verging on a stupidity tax, and so it is scary...

Tesco multibuy

A bit of a rant on bad user interface!

Please excuse VVS :-)

P.S. it is worth pointing out the other gripe which I have not videoed...

At the check-out, you scan the check-out barcode. From a user interface point of view I think that at that point it should transfer control to the check-out in all cases. It knows you are at the check-out, and which one. You should be done with the handset then.

There are two issues.

1. It asks a question on the handset at that point - regarding items that did not scan. Why? Why not ask that on the check-out as the first question. This annoying split of a question on handset then next question on check-out is not helpful.

2. If you are picked for a random check, you are told on the handset. The check-out transfer does not happen. At this point there is NO ALERT to staff of an issue - the status Red/Amber/Green on check-out is not set to alert staff. Nothing tells staff you are stuck and you have to find someone or wait indefinitely for someone. If the transfer was to checkout at that point, and then it says "random check" that would allow the check-out status to alert staff. The re-scan could use the handset or the check-out reader, does not really matter.

I just feel that this is not thought out well at all.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Norwegian Jade, Day 9

Day 9 is disembarkation.

Contrary to the fiasco of boarding, disembarkation is much smoother. We had breakfast in the room, and then (tracking my wife driving to come and get us) we then told the bulter (Putu) we were ready to leave. He had the lift on a key (as he says, otherwise, it is 15 minute wait!), and he helped with luggage escorting us past the queue to leave. We were then escorted by the concierge (Omar) out to the gangplank where we jumped the whole queue. We then moved quite quickly through the port and out to pick up area as my wife pulled up - perfect timing and no need for short stay car park!

I did do a bit more video of the suite, and have made a video tour...

P.S. The fluid tripod head is on order now :-)

Norwegian Jade, Day 8

The last day, a sea day.

We did not do a lot, but we did get a bridge tour, which is reserved for very few people in the top suites if you are very lucky. We met the 2nd officer, who was not Commander Data. She did however tell us how they steer the ship, and so on. Very interesting.

The captain's young daughter was also given an Ignis.

I did a lot of video editing, and we did try to get a video to you tube - sadly ship's internet was not only slow but also a tad flaky so we scrapped that idea on the basis that a hard drive in a car from the port this morning was higher bandwidth.

This is the time-lapse I did of us leaving Geiranger. 8300 separate stills done at around 1 second intervals thanks to a small shell script on my laptop and wifi to camera. Done with mirror lock up to avoid wear on the mechanism.

Final cut pro did a nice job of compiling in to a video. All I lack at this point is a nice background sound track.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Norwegian Jade, Day 7: Bergen

Bergen is a much larger city, second largest in Norway and once capital.

Yeh, I sound like a tour guide, which is all down to spending a while on one of the sight seeing busses around the town centre. Then we took the train to the top of one hill, some nice views.

We did play cards in the suite quite a lot. We do seem to finally be getting the hang of ship life. Nice dinner in the Italian restaurant (which captain was also in).

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Norwegian Jade, Day 6: Geiranger

Today was Geiranger, another village of a few hundred people at the end of a fjord.

This was a much more impressive fjord with sides so steep we had no ship's WiFi all day!

We took a sight seeing bus ride. One of the really impressive parts was the way the driver managed to get the bus round the corners! The road zig-zags up the mountain.

Leaving the fjord, we decided to try and create a proper time lapse. It has worked well and I'll add to this blog post when I am back. We set up a small shell script to take a picture every second, remembering to set the camera in mirror lock up to avoid wearing it out. It managed 8300 shots before the battery ran out, so over two hours. The end result, composed using final cut, is quite impressive.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Norwegian Jade, Day 5: Ålesund

Another day, another fjord. Ålesund was a larger town, damp, gloomy, but they had a Burger King!

Yes, I left the cruise ship with the meals and drink all included to pay for some chilli cheese bites from Burger King. Just don't tell the butler.

With very little to say about Ålesund it may be time for a different whinge...

I appreciate the space on board is very limited, but in this cabin all 4 of the toilets are tiny little cubicles. In the main bathroom of the master room it seems so pointless - they could have just put it in the bathroom. It has a glass door (!) so not for privacy reasons. Every time I go in there I end up knocking the phone that is one the wall on one side and calling room service or something. I am not that fat, honest, but there are people that are, and would find is seriously annoying, I am sure. An inconvenient convenience...

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Norwegian Jade, Day 4: Skjolden

Unfortunately, today, I did not feel too well. Obviously it could be related to staying up until 1am drinking southern comfort whilst chatting in the Haven lounge, but to be honest I don't think that was it. Just not quite right, and my blood sugar was also a bit off. I think the change of regular routine when it comes to eating and drinking is not ideal.

Today was Skjolden which is a tiny little place at the end of a very long fjord, something like 200km in from the sea! Over night we navigated the fjord, which we did not see. But when leaving you see how the ship has to navigate this long and windy passage between peaks either side. Definitely Slartibartfast's crinkly bits! I have done a nice video of some of it, which I am not going to try and upload on the ship's wifi. I am quite glad that I brought the tripod with me for that.

We had a nice long walk of a couple of miles around the bay, and I have lots of shots of the impressive scenery. It seems odd having several thousand people decsend on a village of some 200 people!

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Norwegian Jade, Day 3: Stavanger

Day 3 is Stavanger, and we went round the town and visited the petroleum museum, which was actually quite interesting.

We also tried the 4G router and setting up fallback L2TP via 4G and ship's wifi. The Ship's wifi has in fact been especially flakey today, starting with the AP even being unhappy (red/green lights and lots of flashing and no SSID). Seems mostly better now.

We met a couple that we chatted to yesterday and gave them a tour of the suite :-)

We did find Starbucks, Burger King, and McDonalds... And some shops that were closed...

Monday, 15 May 2017

Norwegian Jade, Day 2

We had a nice meal last night - a Brazilian style restaurant with a red/green card on the table for whether you want more meat or not, and they come around with different meat on skewers.

The bed was comfortable (I always bring my own pillow). The only problem was the vibration from the engines appears to resonate a bit up here on deck 14, and something in my room was making a knocking noise most of the night. Even so, I managed to get some sleep. Sitting here at the table in the suite is like sitting on a washing machine, but the rest of the ship is calm. Very odd.

Bulter arrived with breakfast this morning (I brought my own marmite, as usual).

Today we are at sea, so a chance to work out what trips we want to take over the week. We think tomorrow we'll just go in to Stavanger town.

A bit more about the Internet access. First off, the "unlimited" does seem to be (in terms of volume). It seems I have thunderbird on this laptop set (as default) to sync folders, and I have a folder with a load of call recordings filed for Lenny, which is huge, and well, you can imagine the rest. I have changed the settings this morning, but not before we had downloaded over 3GB over the satellite. They do not seem to have shut down or complained. Certainly was not my intention to do that, and not exactly fair on other passengers.

The package can be moved between devices, but one device at a time, so you can log in from iPhone and close the session to the laptop, for example. That makes it a lot more flexible.

The actual wifi connection has some interesting restrictions. So far I see they seem to restrict DNS records, so no AAAA records returned by the look of it (so I expect tunnel over DNS won't work). They block some sites, seemingly by IP, such as They appear to even block IPsec though once it connected but did not pass data, which was odd. What is good news is they don't block L2TP. So I have may Mac doing IPsec over IPv6 over L2TP over IPv4 over ship's wifi over satellite... It works :-)

We went to the captain's drinks reception today, and met him briefly. We also got the chance to talk to some of the other passengers. Having a nice suite means you tend not to go out in the ship as much. What was quite amusing was the fact that several people came up to us and had a nice long chat because they had seen us in the Slartibartfast shirts on the dock! People still don't what HHGTTG is but they were interested to ask - a real conversation starter, so well done to my wife for coming up with the idea. Interesting people telling stories of other cruises and ships.

As it happens I am now somewhat knackered. I did not get as much sleep as I would have liked last night, and at 21:35 here I am going to call it a night whilst Simon and Mike go to a show. Shame, looks a nice show, but no point if I am not feeling up to it. My twisted ankle is starting to feel slightly better today too.

Tomorrow should be a fun day in Stavanger.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Norwegian Jade, day 1

As you may have gathered, myself and two mates are on a cruise, and this is day 1.

The stateroom is amazing, and when I am not on slow satellite latency internet I'll upload some videos and pictures.

Getting on board was not quite as it should be. They can definitely improve.

We have tickets in the "Haven" section, which is the premium part of the ship (upper decks) and is meant to have a priority boarding. As you can imagine, a dock where several thousand people are boarding is busy and lots of slow moving queues. They have security checks like airports, and check-in.

So we started on the dock asking someone official looking if there was a separate queue for Haven/priority. They said they had no clue, but they checked with someone else and took us through another door to the head of the queue as it entered the building. This was a good start as the queue went on some way outside. However, there was a long queue in the building still.

We persisted in that queue, and were joined by three other people, also with Haven tickets. I hasten to add that there was no obvious signage for any priority boarding or Haven queues or anything. After some time in that queue, and the check-in desk breaking so we were stalled, one of the other group asked another official looking person. Again the person was not sure, but escorted us to the front of that queue so we were next through security, when it started working again.

Having gone through security there is a massive room full of queue for the check-in desks. We asked, and were told that there was not any priority boarding, so persisted in that a bit until we saw someone from this other group managing to be escorted to the other end of the room. So again we asked someone. This time we were taken to the front of that main check-in queue and checked in.

The check-in person was nice, and helpful, and again did not know of priority boarding at all, but checked us in and said "Oh, it says you are VIP". She asked someone else for help, and apparently we should have been at the other end anyway for a priority checking, a separate Haven lounge, and so on. She was told to escort us there to the concierge.

Finally, in the right place, the concierge was much more on the ball, and we have a separate waiting area and then went in to board the ship. But we spent maybe an hour in queues and asked about 5 people where we should go with nobody having any clue. I do not know if it is Southampton Docks at fault or Norwegian Cruise Line, but it was not really very good for what we paid. A simple sign to another entrance or a couple of signs inside, or just staff that had a clue would have helped. It was clear we were very much not alone in this situation, and it was rather embarrassing at each point having someone escort us past a chunk of the queue instead of to the right place to start with.

However, now on the ship, and if you can get one of these Haven staterooms, they are excellent. Apparently Priscilla Presley had this stateroom last week!

As for internet, yes, for $239 we can have one device WiFi/Internet for whole 8 days, which fits in well enough with the £200 refund from Thomas Cook. It even says "unlimited"! It is for one device, and only one device is connected to the wifi (all the rest are connected to it). Given this was sold as having "Free WiFi", I think that is only fair, to be honest. It works well enough at around 750ms. By the way, there is a now new alpha of FireBrick that is way better at doing DNS cache/relay when the latency is that high.

Also, as I found before on a cruise, if you have an iPhone then iMessage works when on ship's wifi even if you have not purchased any internet package. They try to sell you a $9.99 package to allow you to message and call between guests, which is a bit of a cheek when iMessage works anyway!

It is Simon's birthday today! There was meant to be a cake. No cake!

Anyway, off to a restaurant this evening.

I'd like to thank my lovely wife for packing my case, driving us all here, and making T-shirts for us especially. Not a single person we have met has heard of The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy, which is a shame... It is a good conversation starter.

P.S. I twisted my ankle getting in to the car and so I am still limping and on pain killers, not a good start...

Friday, 12 May 2017


There are those of us that will be happy to "do the right thing" and pay for what we want to download and watch. Trying to ensure the artists are paid. It is important.

I have spent thousands with Apple, even though they are screwed up so much to ask for my password every time I watch anything. I am preferring Netflix for that reason.

I have netflix, which works, but not anything I really want to watch. Some old Star Trek NG for now.

As a complete random thing I looked up "MULTI PASS" for some reason. It was a scene from The Fifth Element... And a very poplar thing with the holder in many cases on 3D printing sites and the actual "MULTI PASS" something people even sell.

Here is mine!

So I thought, what the hell, I'll watch The Fifth Element again, why not?

Not on apple or netflix. If it had popped up on Apple at £5.99, I would have clicked and watched, even with the annoying re-entry of my password.

The sad thing is that pirates can watch this - no hassle - no passwords - any time - no problem.

I am willing to pay and they don't let me.

What is wrong with this system?!

P.S. the holder is this on thingiverse, and the card is a template on A&A card printing.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

OFCOM consultation on ADR

ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) has been a pain in my side, even though we have only had one case. The injustice of that one case in so many ways really hit home for me, and made me re-think my views on justice and fairness.

OFCOM have done a periodic review, and we have replied (here).

Given the importance we place on providing the service we sell, being clear on what we sell, and importantly of the customer service we offer (just see ispreview reviews) it is annoying that we have to contend with ADR at all.

ADR is designed to be unfair, i.e. biased to one side (the consumer) from the start by ensuring fees are paid by ISP regardless of validity of the claim. But it is more so in that the ADR provider has power to decide their jurisdiction, and make up rules as they wish and impose payments. They even impose costs and payments when they agree the ISP is not in breach of contract (a "win" in any "real" court).

There is a lot to be said for ensuring customers have a means to tackle problems with their providers. Ironically, where we (or my family) have been on the other side, arguing with a telco, we have also found ADR lacking! It failed to provide a way to resolve a dispute even though charging the telco!

One of the biggest issues I see of late is that OFCOM propose to allow ADR cases where the customer is unhappy over compensation under new OFCOM proposed automatic compensation. The automatic compensation only applies in some specific cases (e.g. faults must be "total loss of service") which are sensible. But making it possible for someone to go to ADR because they feel they deserve compensation in other cases, or more than prescribed amounts, makes it a waste of time making those rules. ADR costing an ISP over £300 even if they win means customers can just demand amounts up to that and know many ISPs will cave rather than pay more to prove they are in the right. What is worse is that this is beyond what the law requires OFCOM to insist ISPs offer by way of ADR.

We'll see how OFCOM react. We believe ISPA have similar concerns.

OFCOM consultation on automatic compensation

OFCOM is considering a system of automatic compensation for telephone and broadband installation and faults delays.

Our response to their consultation (here) addresses the proposals.

The basic proposals cover the key things that engineers seem to mess up, i.e. where it is Openreach not doing things right somehow. But they do go a bit beyond that. The proposals are relatively simple in concept but there are a lot of issues as I have explained in other blog posts. It is not a totally daft idea, but it has to be changed to ensure compensation costs those that have the responsibility for the problem and the power to fix the problem. As it is now it can leave other parties (like A&A) liable to pay when we have no means to change things and are not at fault.

We've tried to cover the issues in some detail in the response.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Banning end-to-end encryption

This is more of a rant, sorry.

The Investigatory Powers Act has some wording in it which may, or may not, be an attempt to ban people providing end-to-end encryption services. The Register article assumes the worst, and others have said, sensibly, that maybe they are reading too much in to it.

We are talking about WhatsApp, signal, iMessage, and all sorts of commonly used and secure applications which many normal, non criminal, citizens choose as a platform with which to communicate.

The whole thing of encryption applied "by the telco or on their behalf" is the unclear area, and when the telco might be "WhatsApp" does that ban them from offering end-to-end encryption as part of the app?

It is unclear.

Now for the bit that pisses me off here, sorry.

The government created this wording in the bill that resulted in this Act. There were asked if they intended the wording to ban end-to-end encryption services. They basically refused to give a straight answer. Lord Strasburger tried to get an answer.

At the end of the day there is no reason for this ambiguous wording in the Act. If the government had made the intention clear - ban it or not ban it - then the wording could have been made clearer.

The result of this is ...
  • Parliament did not actually decide if to ban or not ban end-to-end encryption as they did not have the details of the government intention - they were left to guess from the wording, which seems to be deliberately unclear.
  • Now it is an Act, the government can interpret as they wanted to in the first place, or as future governments may choose to, which is possible even worse.
  • The Act allows for gagging orders so nobody will know what they have "interpreted" and it will be hard to challenge it (and the big telcos may not try).
This is not the way to run a county or make laws! The government should have been clear as to whether they wanted to ban end-to-end encryption apps/systems up front when the bill was debated in parliament.

If they do, then that could have been debated, and maybe even decided that it is a bad idea. It is a bad idea, TBH, as criminals can always do this anyway, so the only people you expose are normal non-criminal citizens.

If they do not, then that could have been made clear in the wording and not allowed creative interpretation by this government or future governments.

Why do we allow laws to be made in this way - the process was positively underhand!

I really hope the whole things gets reviewed or repealed soon.

P.S. Just to be clear - there are plenty of cases of laws trying to cover the possible future we cannot envisage - when this was made law applications like WhatsApp and signal and iMessage existed, so they could have addressed this clearly. Simply not being able to guess the future is more excusable.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Is end to end encryption banned?

The register has reported on the horrifying technical capabilities that the government is introducing now we have the Investigatory Powers Act (here).

One of the key points is: That includes encrypted content – which means that UK organizations will not be allowed to introduce true end-to-end encryption of their users' data but will be legally required to introduce a backdoor to their systems so the authorities can read any and all communications.

My first comment, as always, is that this targets non-criminals - the normal users of communications, and makes us all more vulnerable to criminals by introducing exploitable back doors. The criminals wishing to communicate can do so - encryption is not made illegal as such, just that encryption applied by, or on behalf of, the telco has to be breakable. It will not even be suspicious to use encryption as even MPs do this, and so do many web sites you visit - the telco will not be able to see the content of https sessions, for example.

So criminals are in the clear - just in case any criminals were worried about this...

However, it does not necessarily mean end to end encryption is banned. For a start, it is only going to be practically enforceable against UK companies. But even then, as long as the encryption is applied by (or on behalf) of someone that is not a communications provider, that should be fine. End to end encryption is applied by, on on behalf of, the end users, not the telco.

This may mean that is someone makes an end to end encrypted communications app, they may have to be a separate company that does the app itself, and manages keys, to the company that passes the data or manages end point addressing. I don't believe that just making a device or writing an app puts you under this crazy regime. I am sure someone will say if I have that wrong.

So it should mean FireBrick IPsec tunnels are fine.

The complication would come where we "manage" the FireBrick for a customers, and that may have to change at some point. However, we normally don't actually manage any IPsec for people, we advise on how to set up keys and configure things but don't have access to those keys ourselves as an ISP.

The fact that encryption will still be legal, and practical, and usable by criminals, just shows how bloody stupid this all is, and what a waste of public money it is (money we could be spending on the NHS).

Contention ratios

In light of the broadband speed post, I am (again) going to try and explain why "content ratio" is also a bad metric. Someone suggested it as a "quality" measure for an ISP, which seems sensible at first, but sadly not.

What is a contention ratio?

It is a measure of how much a link is shared (aka "contended"). The idea is you take the total demand on the link, and the link's capacity, and divide one by the other.

For example, if you have a 1Gb/s fibre going to a RAS which serves 100 separate 80Mb/s connections to customers: The demand possible is that all 100 of those customers may want 80Mb/s of traffic, so 8Gb/s total, but you only have a 1Gb/s connection which they are sharing, so 8:1 contention ratio.

The ratio is normally expressed as N:1, and a lower "N" is "good" because it means the link is not shared as much - simple... Basically, a link that is not shared so much is not as likely to slow down because of sharing of a link.

Sadly not so simple...

Contention ratio measured where exactly?

The first issue is you cannot really say the contention ratio "of the ISP" in a meaningful way. For a start, the end user is buying access to the internet, they do not really care if there is some arbitrary point that has been picked to quote contention - they want to know how likely it is that their communications slows down. But let's try an explain a little here using FTTC from AAISP.

For most end users the first contention is that there is likely to be more than one person in their house using the internet. That is contention. Their (share of) the link will slow down if the other people are also using it. However, we are trying to measure the ISP here, so one side of the ratio is normally the expected speed which is the sync speed of the modem the end user has. Sharing beyond that in to the home is not the ISPs problem. So that gives us one side of the ratio - add up the sync speed of all of the people sharing the "link" in question.

The first link is the customer modem linking to the modem in a cabinet - that is not shared at all - the phone line carrying your 80Mb/s (if you are close to cabinet) is not shared. So 1:1 contention, excellent - let's quote that shall we?

The next link is a fibre from the cabinet - that is shared with the hundreds of people on that cabinet - your neighbours. Openreach may publish metrics for that, I am not sure. We (AAISP) don't know what they are. A contention ratio measured there is not AAISP specific - but it is a perfectly valid concern that this could be the point your traffic slows down due to sharing. In practice Openreach operate VLANs and you can buy "lower contention" on a cabinet for more money.

The next link will be the cable link in the exchange. This is where a group of cabinets are linked to a switch and that links to a back-haul carrier in the exchange. We use TT and BTW. The sharing here is all of the people using that same back-haul carrier in that group of cabinets. I don't know if BTW or TT publish contention ratios, I doubt it. Again that is not an AAISP specific contention ratio, and will be different depending on which backhaul we have attached your service. Again, it is a perfectly valid concern that this could be the link that slows down traffic.

There is then an exchange backhaul where one or more cable links go to a metro node and other links before they reach a node that hands over to AAISP. This is, again, down to the back-haul carrier.

We then have links to carriers (BTW and TT). But these are multiple links and multiple sites, you will be sharing with all of the people on the link you happen to use, and that will change dynamically. So even if we worked out exactly what the total capacity of all of our customers is on each link, it changes if you (or they) reconnect. This is something we probably could work out if we tried.

We have links between switches, and we have links to LNSs, again, dynamic.

Then we have links to edge routers, and that will depend on where on the internet you (and other people) are trying to connect as to how much that is shared. These then connect to transit and peering, and again there is a contention.

Then out on the internet via transit, around the world there are shared links.

Ultimately you could say "what is the contention ratio" of a web site, e.g. That has a 1Gb/s port - so what is the total bandwidth of every internet connection in the world that may wish to access that site? Well the contention ratio there is millions to one.

Every single one of these shared points could be a cause of congestion, of slow down, so which contention ratio would you publish, and how would you handle that they can change dynamically. Even contention on your FTTC cabinet changes as other people take service in your neighbourhood.

There is no sensible way to come up with one meaningful point to publish as "the ISPs contention ratio". And even if you did, an ISP may have to publish several values for different services and back-haul carriers or even parts of the country. It would not be a simple number with which to compare two ISPs.

10:1 is not the same as 100:10 or 1000:100, really!

Even if you wanted to look at a specific link, and say what contention is that, it is not so simple. If you had 10 people with 10Mb/s links using one 10Mb/s shared link, then that is 10:1. But the chance of slowdown is high as you only get 10Mb/s if none of the other 9 people are using their service at all!

But what if you have 1000 people with 10Mb/s links sharing a 1Gb/s link, that is still 10:1. Now the chance of slow down is low, even if 99 other people are running their connection flat out at 10Mb/s you can still do the same. In practice, the larger the pipes, the more these things average out and you don't see congestion.

But both of these are 10:1 ratio, even though very different risk of slow down due to sharing. The ratio alone is not a good indicator of likely congestion - you need to know the size of the links as well.

Is the link congested?

The issue is actually congestion. Is a link slowing down because of sharing, basically is a link getting full.

The contention ratio does not actually tell you if you will get congestion. It depends on the usage of the shared link - how much do others sharing that link actually try to use - so an ISP that does a lot of "telemetry" type of customers (bus stop signage, etc) may have a massive contention ratio (if you worked out where to measure that) because their customers all send a few bytes a second, but they may see no congestion. An ISP that targets customers doing 24/7 UHD streaming would need more capacity per customer (a lower contention ratio), but even a low contention ratio may leave people buffering because of congestion.

The ratio is only meaningful if you know the usage level / demand as well. So basically, it is not meaningful.

Indeed, as one half of the equation is the expected speed, an ISP only selling 2Mb/s links would have a really good contention ratio because the backhaul links in the networks are all much larger now (to allow for all these 80Mb/s links). That would make such an ISP look good, when all it actually means is they sell slow services. Of course, if you have to advertise a contention ration, it makes sense to have an FTTC service capped at 2Mb/s, and quote that contention ratio as your headline package.

A better metric would be the average throughput per customer on a link. This is not a ratio, but Mb/s, and means the speed of the end links is not a factor any more on the assumption that people will use what they use (on average) regardless of their line speed. You still have the problem of which point in the network you are measuring though, and the problem of it mattering what actual usage/demand is.

What do AAISP do exactly?

At AAISP we aim not to be the bottleneck (i.e. not have the links we control getting full). All links are shared, so it is always possible, but we aim to invest as necessary to allow for changing trends in usage. We also challenge the back-haul carriers if we see congestion in their network (which means monitoring every line all the time). This does happen, and is normally either temporary (waiting for someone to upgrade a link) or a fault which we get fixed.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Apple TV

Where are we....?

I really have changed everything here. I changed apple ID email address, password, 2FA on/off, family sharing on/off, changed the physical Apple TV, change IP block it uses, and even confirmed the same happens on family sharing on a totally separate network and ISP.

This is down to my iTunes account some how.

I even got this today after buying something, and had to go in again to enter my password (again, as I had to enter to buy it).

Latest is they want an exact time (and time zone) of it happening, so did it on the call to them live, so they have details. We will see...

Apple and Unifi

Quick update...

I have seen this on the MacBook as well as the iPhone.

Still bugs me at home reading twitter in the bath. Switch changes not helped.

Symptoms are device thinks connected to (strong) wifi but unifi APs say not. Happens even with no DHCP involved. Happens between devices on same IP so not switch related!

I did the dump on all channels of the APs and showed the Apple device not trying to send anything.

Seems to be triggered by IPv6, and that means commonly FireBrick but not always by any means and a few people saying they have seen the same even not using Unifi!

So may be totally Apple borked.

Even more confusion when picking a broadband provider

It looks like the rules for the way broadband (internet access) is advertised will be changing, again!

It is confusing enough, and I'll try and explain a bit here, but I wondered what the root of the problem really is, and whether the proposed changes will do anything to fix it, or, as I suspect, just cause more confusion...

What is changing?

The rules are being consulted on via ASA and CAP (here). The main proposal is something along the lines of showing the median (a sort of average) speed that people can get for a package. There are a lot of complications about what this means exactly and that is part of the consultancy. There are some alternative ideas like ranges of speeds. This is mainly for one-to-many adverts rather than individual forecasts for a specific customer address.

The upshot will be that instead of seeing "up to 80Mb/s" or "up to 77Mb/s" you'll see more like "average 60Mb/s" or "average 50Mb/s" even though we are talking about exactly the same service as now. The numbers you see are likely to be much more "all over the place" and vary per ISP.

You have to wonder why though... What is the issue?

The main issue I see is that people feel that they should be able to make some sort of informed decision about the service they buy. They understand price, but most people understand very little of the nitty gritty detail of what makes one ISP better, or worse, or just different from another ISP. People want a metric of goodness by which they can pick an ISP, and speed is seen as that metric.

Is speed a good metric for deciding an ISP?

Well, maybe. The problem is speed is a very complex metric. I go in to more detail at the end. Even in its simplest terms where faster is better that only applies up to the speed you might need. If the most intensive thing you do is live stream at HD TV, you do not need more than 10Mb/s. If you watch UHD, you may need a bit more. If several people in a house all watch UHD at once, a lot more. But for most people, once you are getting to speeds like 20Mb/s, really, for most things, faster is not a lot of help. There are exceptions, of course. Some things need downloads of large files (updated to devices, games, etc) rather than just "live streaming" like TV and the speed relates to how long that takes. As I try to explain later, the ISPs "speed" may not actually help with that though.

But yes, speed matters when it is low - if we are talking say 5Mb/s, or 1Mb/s, then you are going to find you are limited in things you can do. At low speeds there is no "live streaming video" for you and downloads can really take a long time. The problem is that these are never the "headline" speeds. Even basic ADSL2+ available almost everywhere can achieve over 20Mb/s of data throughput on a short line. The issue is not all lines are short, and so you may get lower speed. But that is something you find out with an individual forecast for your address/line, and not based on a one-to-many advert.

This means, for most people, the headline speed is not actually that much help as all headline speeds are generally more than most people need, and they may as well decide on price in most cases.

Even so, people will want "the best" - I would buy 80Mb/s not 40Mb/s, even though I have very little use for it. In fact, in my case, upload speed may matter more - uploading photos and videos. Upload speed is often not mentioned even.

Are there better metrics?

Yes, not that people are likely to understand, and that is the problem... In practice, one of the key factors in deciding which ISP, is deciding which technology is deployed by that ISPs. For a lot of people the choice will be between the many ISPs that can provide internet access over their phone line. Then, there is the choice of that being via a link to the cabinet (closer, faster) or to the exchange (slower). Sometimes there is a choice of cable (coax) or radio, or even satellite technology. That choice of technology matters. One of the biggest factors in the speed of your connection is that link on the phone line, or "last mile", and that will normally be exactly the same regardless of ISP if using the same technology. So in that way, the old "up to 8Mb/s" for ADSL1, "up to 24Mb/s" for ADSL2+, and "up to 80Mb/s" for FTTC were perfect. Everyone said the same speeds so the decision was slow, medium, or fast technology - people were picking technology without realising it.

There are many other differences, and mostly these come down to an idea of "quality". How congested is the network the ISP buys in, or runs, for back-haul? How congested is the ISP? How good are the ISPs connections to other ISPs and transit providers? What transit providers do they use? Sadly these are not something that lend themselves to a simple comparable number that an end user can see as "this ISP is better quality than that ISP". Hence speed being the thing, the only thing, the customers typically look at (apart from price).

Why is speed a bad idea?

A key problem with "headline" speed is that people really do not understand "up to" in this context. If you buy a car that says it can do "up to 100mph", you understand that when in a queue of traffic ahead you cannot do that, but you expect that, in the right conditions, you could do 100mph. Broadband feels like that, some times you download something slowly. You may stream video at a few Mb/s. But you assume that when you want to download something big you will get the top "up to" speed quoted. That is wrong, the "up to" is that some people get that higher sync speed and some people get lower sync speed, and what you get is what you get (baring improvements to wiring and fixing faults). People really do not understand that, and politicians have actually said they thing it is outrageous that 90% of people cannot get the "up to" speed advertised (after rules changed to not actually be the top speed, but 90th percentile). Personally I think it is crazy that a single person could get more than the "up to" speed advertised. The whole meaning of "up to" is "not more than". It is like people horrified that 50% of schools have a below average (median) performance rating. 100% will be at or below the "top speed" you can get and that is not outrageous, it is what "up to" means!

So people feel aggrieved that they do not get "the speed that was advertised", and no amount of "up to" or "not more than" will help with that. The change to 90th percentile meant pissing of only 90% of such people. A change to "median" will mean only pissing off only 50% of such people. It does not address the underlying problems. It still means a lot of pissed off people and politicians.

What is likely to happen now?

If the rules change to median, or something similar (per ISP) we will see more and more variation in the numbers quoted. When it was maximum the technology could manage, the same figure applied to all ISPs. When it depends on the ISP deciding or measuring a percentile it will be different per ISP.

One ISP has already started refusing to install lines that are going to be too slow (maybe they offer a "different package" for such people, or maybe not). The result is their median and 90th percentile speeds are higher as a result, and people think they are better. In truth the actual sync speed someone will get is not better on such ISPs than anyone else using the same technology.

It would be easy for us to have a "high speed internet package" that is only available on FTTC lines where you can get at least 70Mb/s, offering a different "standard internet package" to anyone that cannot get 70Mb/s. I can then advertise this "high speed internet package" as "average 79.82Mb/s"* when everyone else selling FTTC is saying "average 50Mb/s" or something. Buying from us (if you can get at least 70Mb/s) would get the exact same sync speed as anyone else as the modem is in BT even - but my advert would look "better"... We actually try to be more honest, and hence will lose out to such people.

* I checked, average sync speed of all lines we have 70Mb/s is 79.827Mb/s!

What can I suggest?

Ideally we need some clear way for people to be able to make that technology choice when one exists. That would be a good start, and ironically the old up to speeds (max sync speed possible) would do that as everyone would say the same figure for the same technology. That may be all we need, or if something else to then separate ISPs: a quality indicator by some independent metric. We also need ISPs to be honest on policies like traffic shaping, and CGNAT and IPv6 and so on, for the tiny percentage of people that understand those issues.

Obviously the technology indicator would be better if not actually stating a speed. A bit like 2G and 3G and 4G mobile. People have no clue what those terms actually mean, they just know 3 is better than 2, and 4 is better than 3. Ironically if we used such terms (ADSL1, as 1G, ADSL2+ as 2G, VDSL as 3G), etc, it would help, but new technology sometimes slots in the middle and breaks simple ideas like that. If we had industry standard agreed terms for such, that might help.

It would also help if terms like "fibre" were not misused. Actual fibre has speed and reliability implications where even a small amount of coax or phone wire can have issues. It seems the ASA may be turning the corner on that one.

Why is "speed" complicated?

This is where I get in to a bit more detail and try and explain some of the issues with quoting speed. Some of these are touched on in the consultation, but most are totally ignored.

The end user will see a "speed issue" in two main ways. One is if they are doing something like streamed TV and they get "buffering", where it pauses to catch up, or worse it refuses to play "live" but has to download first. Some services like Sky TV are quite good as the default is to download, but even then, if you have a fast link it will let you start watching right away, and if not then you have to wait for some download. The other main way people see issues is when downloading a file of some sort - e.g. some device upgrade, or game upgrade or something you have bought and are downloading, like an app. Some game upgrades are gigabytes in size and can take hours.

The buffering issue is a simple binary one in most cases, if your service is fast enough you don't see it, else you do. It depends on content, and actually services like netflix are clever, they do lower quality if you don't have the speed. So the issue is seen as lower resolution rather than pauses and buffering.

But in all cases the reason something may be slower than you hoped comes down to a lot of different factors. Just some of which are :-

  • Your device or PC may be old and slow. That is actually becoming an issue as PCs from only a few years ago simply did not expect to transfer data at the speed of modern lines. It will not be long before people have gigabit fibre links to their home and still have 100Mb/s connected machines, or 50Mb/s wifi, and a machine that cannot even manage that speed. We can't all afford the latest and fastest machines.
  • Sharing at your home/office - where other people are using some of that capacity, even when you do not realises. This is especially confusing when devices download upgrades by themselves and you, alone in the house, find things going slow when in fact the ISP is delivering a good service to your home.
  • You are using wifi - this is a big issue, and confused by the fact that wifi standards exist that even go over 1Gb/s. The exact type of wifi in your access point(s) and devices will impact the speed, and internet connections can be faster than your wifi could do, even in ideal conditions (especially if old equipment). This is compounded be people having a single wifi access point under the stairs that is part of the free router they got. A house of any decent size, or if it happens to be Welsh or Cornish (OK, not that fair, but they do seem to have a lot of places with stone walls!) will need more access points for good wifi coverage.
  • The modem itself - newer modems are better and get better speeds, but this is less of an issue these days as the chipsets have come a long way.
  • Protocol overhead - a tricky one as the protocol overhead is part of what is sent on the wire, so why not included in the speed. But people expect something that matches what their screen shows in terms of bytes per second, so people expect the protocol overhead to be removed when quoting a speed. Usually it can be worked out as a fixed percentage.
  • The line (coax or telephone wire) will be one of the biggest bottlenecks. Even when a fixed speed link on fibre, it is likely to be the bottleneck compared to your PC and the internet. When not fibre, it is one of the most variable issues between customers and hence the main reason for "up to" speeds. Other than faults, or bad internal wiring which can be fixed, you are mostly stuck with what your modem can achieve using the specific technology. VDSL (to cabinet) is better than ADSL (to exchange) where you have a choice (not actually always the case on some long lines). Fibre is better still.
  • Once we get passed the modem links, we are in to things which are not customer specific, but can be regional, and can be ISP specific - like congestion to your cabinet. Now, BT (Openreach) are pretty good on this, and ISPs can pay for better services (lower contention). We generally do not see this being an issue, yet.
  • Congestion on back-hail network - linking all these people to the ISP. This may be part of the ISP network or totally separate as a wholesale access network. This can have issues. Again, using BT and TT backhaul, any congestion we see is almost always temporary (waiting to upgrade a link) or a fault (which we chase to get fixed). Even so, the back-haul do not actually sell an un-congested service to us.
  • Congestion in to ISP - this is perhaps more of an issue as typically the link from back-haul to ISP costs by the capacity of that link. This means ISPs may well dimension their links so that at peak times the link is full, and then take steps to make it a fair way to access the internet without some people hogging all of that capacity. This makes for complex shaping systems.
  • Shaping systems within ISP to manage capacity and keep costs down.
  • Capacity within the ISP themselves - not so hard to get right.
  • Links to other ISPs and transit - this is usually less of an issue as such links are much lower cost.
  • Now we get to things that are well outside the ISP control, such as congestion on peering and transit links. We have seen on peering links, but not generally on transit links. Of course it is ISPs choice which links they have and how big they are.
  • The next ISP - the ISP of the service you are actually trying to access - they have all the same congestion, capacity, and shaping issues.
  • The end servers themselves, policy based speed controls. We have seen this on downloads where clearly a service has capacity, two downloads at once are fine, but all downloads are limited to, say, 10Mb/s.
  • The end servers themselves just over capacity - can happen and things get really slow. This can be noticeable in some game upgrades. It depends how it is done. There are content delivery networks which are really good at getting this right.
  • And finally, faults. The way faults are detected and managed is crucial. Lines can be slow because of a fault that needs fixing.
So, when someone sees something being slow, the actual slowness could be any or all of the above. Some are end users fault, and can be fixed (use ethernet not wifi, fix internal wiring, etc). Some are the backhaul provider (contracted by the ISP), and some are directly the ISPs "fault", but then a whole load are not the ISPs fault. They are "the Internet" which is a shared service at heart.

So, naturally, if an ISP quoting speed in an advert is trying to allow for not just sync speed but also some aspect of "peak time slow down" where do they draw the line? As an ISP I would say it is speed in our own network, and for that we, as an ISP, we (AAISP) don't have a "peak time slowdown" at all.

You then have issues of what happens when an ISP has a speed tester and deliberately prioritises traffic linking to that speed test...

See, it is tricky!

P.S. My son's view on this...

Don't allow one-to-many adverts to state a speed at all. They have to sell on something else. It becomes the razer blade adverts, 5 blades better than 4, obviously.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Premium All(most) Inclusive

This is a rant that may get resolved, would be nice, but even if it is it still has left a slightly bitter taste.

As I said, we have booked a cruise. This is the best suite on the ship, and a "premium all inclusive" trip on the Norwegian Jade. What it includes is amazing! booze, one bottle of water each, all sorts.

It includes, it said, "free wifi". However the site is hard to navigate and harder still to get the list of benefits when booking as this suite is booked up on most cruises so it won't show it. There is a clue though, go to and put "free wifi" in the search (just click here). Yes, lots have "1. FREE Unlimited Open Bar 2. FREE Specialty Dining 3. FREE Shore Excursion Credits 4. FREE WiFi" and over 1200 pages say "Free wifi"...

When you actually book the stateroom, it says: "This stateroom also includes free open bar, speciality dining package, shore excursion credits, and free WiFi package for all 3+ day cruises."

Now, we found their internet packages page (here) which has several "minutes" based packages, but also some "ultimate cruise package" which are a per day rate for whole cruise from when you buy it. The page lacks a lot of details, and there are places they say "unlimited" not "ultimate" that we found. But they do packages which are basically WiFi, all day, every day, on the cruise. So naturally this is what we assumed we would get for "free wifi".

We actually booked at the travel agent and that was by phone and they confirmed "free wifi" with NCL.

It is worth pointing out, we are not going to spend a cruise sat on the internet! But all three of us are running companies, and the stress of not being connected when something does go (or might have gone) wrong would spoil the cruise for us. We all have some good staff in place to sort things but we are only here running companies because we keep our finger on the pulse, so to speak.

Turns out that the "premium all inclusive" is not quite as we expected! The internet access is one 250 minute credit. 250 minutes is about 2% of the cruise.

What is worse is that looking at the pricing, what they are throwing in (250 minutes) is something they charge around $100 less than what we expected (wifi all day every day), on a cruise costing over $20,000.

Now, it won't be a big issue, that extra $100 is peanuts in context, but it kind of spoils the whole "premium all inclusive" package to be stingy on that and makes us all think "what the hell else will they try to stitch us up on?". OK, not quite RyanAir levels of charge for use of life boats, but who knows what?...

It amazes me they have not just made it actually "free wifi" on their "premium all inclusive" packages. Hardly "all inclusive" if it covers 2% of the cruise, is it? Maybe they need a rethink.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

ColorFabb wood fill

I have raved a bit about ColorFabb plastics for 3D printing, and they have quite a range, but I have not said a lot about their wood-fill plastics.

These are PLA based and basically have sawdust in them. They do three different versions. A basic "wood fill" which is very much the colour of normal MDF and probably just pine; a bamboo fill; and a cork fill.

They are very similar, and print using same settings as PLA. They result is a nice matt finish rather than the more usual shiny finish of PLA. The bamboo and wood fill tend to be a bit "stringy" so leave material in prints that you may need to cut out. The cork fill much less so. The main difference otherwise is the colours, with cork being darkest and wood fill being lightest, and bamboo in the middle. The end result is very much like MDF for the wood fill, and perhaps more like cardboard for the bamboo fill. The cork is darker.

In terms of overhang, the bamboo is better than the cork.

The seem to be very stable with very little shrinkage as printing. They also leave your room smelling of sawdust! You can smell the different materials... Scratch and sniff 3D printing, anyone?

We have one customer specifically asking for wood fill prints as they provide a nice texture and are very stable and precise.

The image shown is of a twist box with one part in bamboo fill and one part in cork fill. It is rather nice.

If you have not tried these, they are materials with which it is well worth experimenting.