Saturday, 30 December 2017

Pondering the new year

My new year's resolution is the same as last years, 5120 x 2880, that is the easy bit... Though, as my son points out, possibly more colours. I'll have to compare the exact spec on the iMac Pro.

I already posted quite a bit on what A&A are doing, quite soon, with new links to BT and new TT back haul, tariff tweaks, and so on. All good news for A&A customers.

We also have a lot of new FireBrick FB2900s on a shelf waiting for metalwork, so watch this space on that one. They are nice and will get nicer with s/w upgrades coming this year. Actually, FireBrick is one big thing in 2018 as we are also starting on the new 10G+ FB9000, but that will take some time.

So, enough technology, what else is happening?

I'm getting older. Sounds like some (more) of the kids may be moving to Wales. I understand why, the cost of living is way lower than around here, but it is a shame that we won't see them as often.

My son, James has his new car, and is loving it. It will take him a long time to pay that off.

My gradual slip in to retirement is not entirely working - I keep finding myself invaluable, but that is happening less and less, so I would hope to have yet more time for fun projects next year. In 2017 I did a whole alarm system project, for example. I expect there will be fun things to do in 2018 as well.

Considering the whole idea of retirement - I have to wonder what it means. I cannot see me ever not being involved in day to day working of A&A, but I am trying to make some of the minor annoyances something I can delegate more and more. But what would I do - there is only so much Netflix one can watch, so I get bored and do things (like redesign a whole alarm system for the fun of it). Hopefully some of these things also make money.

Of course, whatever I do, I must ensure the company maintains the values that have made it what it is, but it will actually allow me more time pursuing some of the political aspects (like speaking to parliament) which are increasingly important. Sadly "we live in interesting times". Lots of legal changes in 2018 already known, and even more if/when Brexit happens.

I can also be impatient. Right now we have a three day weekend, but it is delaying me getting some new tools and parts to mess with an alarm system. I have a blog post and exciting video (!) on bootlace crimp ferrules all of which I can do nothing with for a few days. Of course now I am pondering if that should have ended "with all of which I can do nothing for a few days". It is obviously something about my character, if "the thing" I happen to be working on right now is "stalled", by a weekend or some such, that really starts to wind me up, no matter how trivial it is. I literally lose sleep imagining the next step in whatever I am doing, and when that is three days, it is rather annoying. Most people like bank holidays and weekends, but they can be a real "wind up" for me, honest.

Anyway, a new year, and things move forward.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year 2018...

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Pre-order

A pet hate of mine is the use of "pre-order".

It's an "order" - ordering someone to send some goods. Yes, if they are not available yet they will ship at some time in the future, but it is still an "order". It is not something you do "before" (i.e. "pre") ordering, i.e. that later you then "order" it. It is the whole and complete "order" right there and then.

The latest site to annoy me on this is Satechi.


So...

  • They say "pre-order", annoying.
  • They say "Ships in 1-2 days" - WTF, wow, I am ordering just in time. Cool
  • They then say "Available on January 5th 2018"
Two of those statements appear to contradict. How can it ship in 1-2 days if it is not available for another 9 days!

Seriously, I got as far as "Ships in 1-2 days" and ordered, expecting in, you guessed it, "1-2 days".

Actually, I am not sure it had the "Available on January 5th 2018" when I ordered on 15th Dec. I am not even convinced it said "pre-order" as that would have rung alarm bells for me. Annoyingly they even offered a choice of shipping with how long they take, and I paid for the fastest one, believing the timescales quoted. Indeed, now, they have the product title as "Aluminum Type-C Clamp Hub Pro(Available on January 5th 2018)" but my order confirmation only has "Aluminum Type-C Clamp Hub Pro", so I am guessing they realised the error of their ways and made changes.

Also a tad annoying that they charged the card instantly, knowing they would not be shipping for weeks. No, not just an authorisation, it is completed card payment now.

Anyway, it will go nicely with the new toy that Santa UPS man in hired van finally delivered this morning.


Monday, 25 December 2017

Merry Christmas

Today has been nice. It is perhaps one of the first Christmas's where we have had fewer people than usual. We are at a stage now where a lot of the kids have their own families and some have even moved to Wales and more are expected to this year. So we had only 7 for Christmas dinner, which is definitely low for us. In the past it has been way more, and even local ice hockey players at the table!

So it is strange in some ways, and a quieter Christmas. Needless to say we had several people visit anyway. I suspect next year will be similar, we will see.

Even so, this is the sort of visitors we had :-) Seriously, I googled, No results found for "chocolate orange gun" - this must be a world first!


And lots of presents from the kids, and some friends, thank you all. Lewis had a lovely time here in the Bracknell, and I know Bobby had a great time in Wales. Sandra got loads of Harry Potter stuff which was nice.

I now have a Phaser to go with my Communicator. Impressive. Lewis likes it too :-)


It is actually a TV remote which I have yet to program successfully. As a Phaser it is pretty impressive as it managed to give me an instant migraine. Nearly the only downer on the day for an hour or so. Well, hard to be sure it was the phaser, but not had one for many months until today.

I got many other things too, thanks all.

I also got an electrical muscle stimulation foot device to try to improve circulation, and to help with diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Sounds good, and listed as suitable for diabetics. Thanks to my lovely wife. Looking on the internet it sounds like this may be beneficial and not bullshit. I will see. What is good is you can feel what it is doing, and it is plausible that it could help, so I really hope so.

My real present to myself is actually a work thing, an new Mac for my work from my home office, but sadly the Santra tracker has stopped for now in Germany :-)


Obviously not Santa, and actually UPS. The irony is that if it were not a bank holiday for Christmas I would have got it today, but instead I have to wait for Wednesday. I'll no doubt do a post on that when I have had a chance to play with it.

However, I do have to say how impressed I am with my wife, as always. She puts a lot in the Christmas, even if not so many for Christmas dinner this year. She spends weeks, or months, planning.

She did a lovely dinner, and lovely trifle and desserts.

She really takes everything very seriously and thinks of everyone else, especially at Christmas.

I may have many technical skills, but she excels at what is needed for food and hospitality and presents at Christmas.

Obviously she deserves to wear the tiara all the time :-)

It is a shame when people mess up plans a bit, but she copes.

Of all the daft things to do on Christmas day -  I actually ordered a load of bootlace crimp ferrules and a crimp tool to come this week. I plan to try them out on an alarm system. I hear good things, and I'll post more on that, i.e. whether more or less hassle than not using them. Given how frustrating I found wires and screw terminals last time (even good ones) are, I am thinking these will be good.

I also watched Dr Who, and opened presents in Ironforge, just for fun. I have a quiet week to follow.

Oh, I also dropped the sofa bed on my finger. That is not looking good, and I expect that will be painful for many days. My own bloody fault. Why the electrocution device has such a short lead is beyond me.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Sunday Trading Laws

Really, in my view, these need scrapping.

Regardless of religious aspects, it makes a lot of sense for people to have a regular break from work, such as weekends, etc. It makes sense to have employment laws that means not forcing people to work non stop in terms of times of day or days in a row. I understand that commercial interests could win out and start employing people silly hours if allowed, and sadly people that want the money would do that. What is sad is that a self employed person does that anyway in many cases even now. So these laws do not work anyway!

What I don't get is the special Sunday trading laws. Disallowing large stores from opening more than just 6 continuous hours on a Sunday, e.g. 10am to 4pm.

Why large shops only?

I assume this was done so as to not penalise the small shops, but that actually makes no sense from an employment law point of view. A lot of small shops have very few employees, maybe even only one, and so they end up working all hours - the classic "open all hours" TV show is an example. Surely they are exactly the sort of case for not being able to force people to work all hours or all days?

Big shops are in a much better position to have people on shifts and rotas so that everyone gets a couple of days off every week, but overall someone is covering all the time and maybe even people are paid extra for weekend working if they want it.

So it makes no sense to have different rules for large or small shops from an employee exploitation point of view, and obviously makes absolutely no sense from any sort of religious point of view.

Why Sunday?

I assumed it was religious, but we know more than half the UK is not religious at all, and the other half (ish) is a mix of religions. Not doing work on a Sunday applies to some specific religions only, and even then some of those see the "sabbath" as Friday just before sunset to Saturday around sunset (when you can see three stars in the sky) and not in fact "Sunday" at all. Bear in mind the days of the weeks are all named after much older gods than these religions. There is no real reason to work with one specific religion here. Indeed, other laws would prohibit doings do if this was not actually a law!

So why not allow each shop, and perhaps for each employee, the observance of their individual religion and the periods they consider they should not work? Or better still not have this crap at all!

It does not work well!

Today I expected (and was not disappointed) Tesco to be packed. We had something to do first then go to Tesco, but the laser engraver was not configured as I expected (my fault) so we went to Tesco early, just before 9am, on the off chance that Christmas Eve was "different".

They officially open 10am to 4pm, the maximum 6 hours allowed. But they open doors 30 minutes before and the Costa in store is allowed to sell coffee at that time, so people "browse" before they can buy. We drink coffee before we buy. Simples.

This time, Christmas Eve, they opened 9am, but did not tell the Costa staff. We got a trolley of shopping, and waited for 9:25 when they served us coffee, then the scan&shop opened so we scanned the shopping, and at 10am we went through till, and by 10:03 we were leaving a car park that was totally full! It is amazing how much extra traffic there is for a shop that is closed for a single day!

Staff were there well before 9am, working, and will be there well after 4pm I am sure.

The staff are doing as much work as if they started at 9am, surely? The first hour is probably hectic with all the people with full trollies queued at the till waiting for Sunday Trading to allow them to start. All Sunday trading laws does it make them work harder!

So who does this Sunday trading law actually help - not staff - not shoppers - so who?

I wonder

Clearly, browsing is allowed. Indeed, some time ago the scan&shop things did not start until 10am, but I bet they got loads of complaints as people filling baskets without them got to do so, but not those using the self scan stuff. They changed, and they are now available early, just the check out is not open until 10am.

What next? Getting a quote for your basket. That is not "trading" so that should be allowed.

What about providing card details in advance, ready for when the sale can complete? Surely that has to be allowed?

What of the shop doing an authorisation check on the card - not actually concluding the sale, just checking you have enough money for when they do open? That can't be "trading" surely?

What of lending you the basket of shopping for approval. Not sold you you yet - that will happen at 10am. Surely lending stuff is not trading?

At what point does it become the case you can shop as normal, pre 10am, but at 10am you get emailed a confirmation of your sale that happened at 10am using the card you provided and authorised in advance when you left the store at 9:10am.

At that point, can we please scrap these crazy laws.

But do keep some protection for employees anyway...

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Meaning of Christmas

With no religious spin at all, for a change...

What does Christmas mean?

Well, I have long thought it means a period, before Christmas, during which one is not allowed to buy something you want, or need, for yourself, just in case Santa (aka someone you know) has bought it for you for Christmas. To get it yourself, especially if you don't say anything, will make things awkward for everyone on Christmas day. If you say something, it makes it awkward for them when you do, before Christmas day - they have to try and return it and try and find something else at short notice.

It is a time of depriving oneself of things you want or need. I think "lent" is like that, if I recall. Seems a very odd tradition.

Obviously a fixed date for giving random and secret presents has to create that effect - how could it not? That has to be the objective here, surely? Was there some other meaning?

What is worse is that it impacts children too. I heard my wife refusing to get things for my grandson when walking round shops with him. These are things that any other time of year we would buy for him as a present, but getting close to Christmas we refuse to, and say "wait and see what Santa brings". It must be very confusing for him, and he may start to resent the whole idea of Christmas. I would. This may be a good thing - he is smart.

So Christmas is a period, possibly several months long, when you DON'T get presents that you may otherwise have got, so as to ensure they are bunched up in to one day.

Of course, if you don't get what you want, you have forgone getting them yourself for months and now have to get them yourself anyway, but at least we have the January sales for that.

I wish you all an uneventful Change Freeze, a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year
Bah Humbug :-)

Friday, 22 December 2017

The smug is strong with this one

So, finally, after much banking mishaps, my son has his car, and he looks suitable smug...


Just to be clear, that is not his plate, as that would be way more expensive than the car, but that is the car he has, at last.

Of course, we have a chat group for the kids, and my youngest puts her foot in it (possibly deliberately) :-


So now we are thinking they need a model with cream driver's seat and brown passenger's seat!

Needless to say he is excited over his new expensive toy.

A keyboard feeling the cold?

I have had a rather bizarre issue over the last few weeks.

In my home office I have air conditioning. Sadly the window for the "auto" mode is too wide for my liking so I set to cooling in summer and heating in winter. Annoyingly, as I have blogged before, some times it is heating in morning and cooling in evening, which is not ideal.

Over the last few weeks, some days, it has been warm in here. It is just me, a Mac, and a linux box heating the place, but even so it has got to evening and started to be 22C or 23C so I have set to cooling.

If I set to cool last thing in evening then in the morning it has been cold. Though today, it was 19.5C with no heating all night which is crazy. But last week it was down to 13C.

I noticed an odd effect. My keyboard!


It would not work in the morning, and over a period of a couple of weeks I confirmed it was actually temperature related!

Below around 17C the space bar would not work. Get down to 13C and you are losing a few more like the 8 and 5 keys.

I don't know what to say?! It makes no sense. I literally had to wait for the room to warm up before it started working?!

Even with that craziness, we are at the winter solstice just a few hours ago (about 25 I think) and I am switching my air conditioning to cool. WTF?

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Lines or markers

One of the changes I made as part of making the FireBrick use SVG graphs was that the speed traces changed from "+" points on each 100 second sample to a line graph. SVG make this way easier and it was sort of what I always wanted, but PNG pixel based would have been messy.

Old PNG style :-

New SVG style :-


I like the line graphs. I feel they show more, and work well. Importantly, if there is a short period of no traffic or even high traffic, that transition is not clear on the old graphs.

However, there are cases where it looks more "cluttered" and can mask some of the data usually at the bottom of the graph showing latency.

Oddly, quite a few people do not like it, and I had a long conversation with one person that felt it was "wrong" to draw lines. He felt we added data points that did not exist. But a speed graph on a car would have lines even though sampled for periods to make speed from pulses. Eventually he could not explain why lines were wrong. I don't think they are "wrong", just a different way to show the speed and how it changes over time.

Now, I agree, aesthetically they are different, and they have pros and cons.

So latest code aims at a compromise, the "+" marks and thinner lines :-


I am not sure of that. It works OK. So maybe just the "+" marks on SVG?

So, yes, very much like the old PNGs at that point, and all the issues it has.

My conclusion, we need options! The latest code makes SVG which has all points so can work with markers on the line or not, and so we end up with SVG that can be controlled by CSS after the fact. This means we can have user settings on our control pages for A&A, and we have settings for default CSS controls on the FireBrick code. This should allow users (and staff) a choice. Because of change freeze this won't apply until new year, then we will look in to what options we offer. FireBrick users that have access to alpha builds can play now.

I never knew it could be so controversial!

P.S. Plan is now to make code use lines only but CSS controllable so A&A control pages could have options in the new year.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Working with Starling Bank?

As some of you know, I have embraced Monzo, and was a beta tester (my son an alpha tester). It has been an interesting ride. They work, they are good, all my kids have Monzo, and relatives are signing up. Yay!

I am only looking to others because we need a business account that is more forward looking than Barclays, and Monzo are not offering business accounts. So Starling Bank are in there saying they plan to do business accounts.

So my next step is trying to work with Starling Bank. Let's get the business side up and running with APIs we can link in to the accounts.

I have to say, some aspects of Starling are bloody good. I was impressed how easy it was to create an account, literally :-

  • Download app
  • Follow step by step instructions (small video, and picture of ID)
  • Instantly get sort code and account number and working Apple Pay - wow!
  • A day later an overdraft offered
  • A day later than that and a physical card

This is good. To be honest, I do not know if Monzo are as slick - they may be. As a longer standing Monzo customer I cannot tell. Only difference at this point is Apple Pay which works on Starling and not on Monzo (yet).

It is the way forward, and the way banking is going. I am impressed.

I was less impressed as perhaps an unusual customer wanting to move more than £10k around in order to buy a car. That was messy, but I hope they sort it. I'll bear with them for now on that. It was less hassle than Barclays, to be fair. They do need to cater for people that have that sort of money occasionally though, surely?

The next step is the business side, as we want something very simple. We know it is possible - a web hook for incoming faster payments. That is all. I can do it on Monzo now with sender sort code and account number but not as a business account. On Starling that data is lacking, so close, but not quite. For business this is useful, even essential, and something we lack from Barclays right now.

So, let's see how Starling Bank cope shall we... I'll invest some time on working with them.

P.S. ref code FFWZETD2 gets me "hearts" apparently, whoop!

Rose tinted glasses

I am actually getting a tad annoyed with my reading glasses (well, computer use glasses).

I made the mistake of clicking on the Blue Reflect coating offered by Glasses Direct.

And I have been putting up with this for weeks, and I think I need to re-order without it.

The effect looks really subtle in that picture, but it is far from subtle to me when using a computer, and starting to bug me a lot.

I know white balance is a thing, and we all adjust to colour offsets well, but I find this annoying. Maybe I am funny and can see the colour offset somehow. To be honest that would not surprise me - the whole blue / black / yellow / gold dress thing did confuse me as it seemed crystal clear what colour it was. I can see strobing lights as well. So I know I am a tad special in that respect (and many others, as I am sure my friends will tell me).

It was sold as "digital protection", but does say it filters blue light. I am not sure why that is a good thing though.

So maybe I need some cheaper glasses.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Buying a car...

It is a while since I last bought a car - it was for my wife, and was a simple matter of using a debit card in the car dealership. Those were the days when Barclays were not quite such a total pain in the arse. Personally, I have a bicycle, but even that is hardly used these days - being a hermit is cheaper.

This time it is for my son. I am in a better position to secure finance, and so have done that and now need to pay for the car he wants so he can go collect it. Yes, OK, I am a sucker for lending my kids money and I really really should not do it, you can say "I told you so" in due course, or maybe not. I gave the kids some money for Christmas though, so gave him the deposit :-)

I naturally expect Barclays to be a problem, so I checked with Starling Bank and they said no issue with paying on the card - they don't have limits. Cool. I may as well try them out as my latest bank account.

I tried to put the money on the card using faster payments, and had the fiasco with Barclays as per previous blog.

Now, a lot of people don't quite know how these systems work. The main two systems you encounter in personal banking are Faster Payments and BACS.

Faster Payments

This is a system to send money between banks that is near instant and irrevocable as cleared funds. This is important as it provides certainty. If you pay someone using faster payments, they have the money, for sure. You cannot claw it back once you walk away. The system itself has a limit of £250,000 now, but banks have individual limitations. More...

To buy a car, using a card is simple, but could possibly be clawed back if there is a claim of fraud. Faster payments are irrevocable which makes them ideal for this.

This is possibly why the car dealer said they won't take a card, which is a pain.

BACS

The older system is 2 day BACS. This is, however, still used a lot. A lot of companies use it (we do) and it is used for Direct Debits. It has limits around the £20,000,000 mark.

It used to be that when you sent money, it would vanish on Monday and arrive on Wednesday. In fact, what happens, is there is a 2 day process (which, once upon a time, actually used magnetic tapes and mainframes to sort the data, hence "sort-code"). The money actually leaves and arrives on the same banking day, i.e. Wednesday if requested Monday. Banks took it on Monday to ensure it was still there on Wednesday, and to keep some interest, etc.

A company with access to BACS can submit a BACS file. We (A&A) can do this, and use it for Direct Debit collections and payments we make. The nice thing is that in the one file we can Direct Debit from bank A to our account, and also Direct Credit from our account to bank B and it all happen on the same day with no messing about. BACS really "just works".

There is another system which is not so useful now called CHAPS, which takes a couple of hours typically. It used to be one of the only ways to move large amounts same day, apart from cash! Actually, given the amount, cash would have been amusing, but I bet they don't take that either!

So what did I do?

I used BACS to DD my Barclays account and credit the Sterling card. Two days notice, but works with no questions and no hassle and no blocking of on-line banking. Very cool.

This is using A&A to do it, but it does not cost A&A, and I'd be happy to do the same for any staff. It is just a means to remove the hassle, but at the penalty of two days notice, and it is not like there is not a proper audit trail.

How do I pay the car dealer?

The problem is that the money is now in Starling, and the car dealer won't actually take a card (arg!). So I need to fast payment from Starling.

Now, this is where Starling are showing they are a lot less hassle than Barclays, but not totally without hassle.

Issue 1: There is a £10,000 limit on outgoing fast payments, and the car is more than that (it is more than Barclays limit too).

Solved, they were happy to explain on the in-app chat that they do larger amounts, just not from the app payment page, I have to go through the details in the chat. Only extra information needed is "reason for payment" - well, actually the clue is the name of the payee XXX Motors Ltd, it's for a "car" - well, that or "a new hat".

Issue 2: Having chatted at length yesterday, we now have the exact amount, and I said what I wanted to do. They were happy to do it, but new catch that was not mentioned before - they will only do larger fast payments 9am to 4pm. I wish they would have told me!

However, looks like it all happening, and my son can get his car this week, at last. Apparently this means I have a chauffeur for the next decade or so as well :-) As I said, it is a good job I was not sat in a car dealer waiting for the money to transfer!

So, yes, minor annoyance Starling, but way better than Barclays so far, well done.

I'll update if more problems :-)

Update: Seems more like "slower payments" at the moment...
Update: 11:17 they eventually call to verify more details!
Update: 12:03 they move money to a different account ready to send
Update: 12:15 finally sent

At the end of the day...

All I want is a bank that does what I ask them to. I understand that they need to validate that I am me in a way they are happy with (after all, if they are fooled, it is they that have been defrauded), and then just do what I ask without any messing about. Simples.

P.S. To reiterate a tip here - always send a small amount to the payee you have set up and confirm it arrives. We did this. That helps ensure no mistakes.

P.P.S. Someone tweeted that Faster Payments are not quite 100% guaranteed as they are a "Net Settlement" between banks at the end of the day, and only CHAPS is 100% guaranteed. He felt that the faster payment could be reversed if not settled. This basically would only happen if a bank went bust. That said, I am not convinced - I would see that as the banks owing each other money and not settling and not a per account thing as it is a "net" settlement. I mean, which faster payments would be "reversed" in such a case even? I don't know legally what would happen in such a case, and not even sure anyone knows, but the statement on the faster payments web site is that they cannot be reversed, which would be a good argument if your bank did reverse it, I am sure. It is interesting. It is also worth pointing out that even is someone sends you money by CHAPS, if your bank then goes bust (the level of "unlikely" he was discussing) then your CHAPS payment may be worthless even if not technically "reversed". Having money in a bank at all is that level of risk regardless of payment method. Faster payments cannot be reversed on a whim, and barring something of the level of a bank going bust, they are secure, as I understand it.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Health

My son has this idea!

The ideas is that packaging for products should not just have the usual standardised set of nutritional contents, but a QR code* including them directly in an off-line machine readable format.

The concept is that third party apps or standard health apps in a phone can work with these for dieting and general health data. I am sure Slimming World, or Fat Fighters, would love this to include in their apps, for example.

The basic idea is a standard for the product name, the package size (g), the serving size (g), and nutritional information (per 100g) to be included in a simple format that can be easily scanned directly, probably a VCARD style to keep it compact.

Quote from my son... "Getting what you want from subway on MyFitnessPal is a fucking nightmare"... "because cheese"... So Subway receipts that know what you asked for could include the QR code!

But obviously the QR code could ideally include a set of standard allergens as well, or should I say ALLERGENS to fit with current labelling style. Even so, the app could know which you have an issue with and flag it up in nice red flashing text and a klaxon sound when scanned.

Now, if this was a QR code with a link that served a MIME type then it would make sense as a RFC under IETF, but it probably is far better for this to work off-line as well, and actually contain the data. To me that sounds like a European Standards thing or an International Standards thing.

I think we'd be happy to work on the formal definition, after all the list of allergens and standard nutritional information categories already exist - they just need encoding in some simple and well defined format.

The question is, how do we do this? What agency do we poke and how do we progress it?

* I say QR code, i.e. IEC18004 as that seems to have won the battle of 2D codes over IEC16022, which is a shame, but that is not really important here. Let's go for a QR code.

Update:

Someone suggested we propose a specification, so here is a start (here).


Sunday, 17 December 2017

New RFC? IBAN URI

I am wondering if there is already an RFC for this, and if not if one is needed.

The idea is a URI / URL that identifies a bank account, and maybe a bit more relating to a specific payment...

What I would suggest is something like

 iban:GB89SRLG60837172100359

Which would identify a bank account. Useful to share as a bank reference to set up new payee, etc.

I suspect it needs some extra, including a payment reference and amount, eg.

 iban:GB89SRLG60837172100359/GBP1.00?Some+Dosh

I am sure an RFC can be made for this. With the number of payment apps and new style bank accounts, this would be a useful feature for on-line banking payments. Avoiding retyping of bank details is important and useful.

I'd hope that on a phone it would say "Pay this from Monzo / Starling / Barclays / Lloyds" as a choice for the banking apps I have.

Is that a good idea?

Update:

It almost certainly needs, in addition to the IBAN itself, a number of optional tagged fields such as payee name, reference, amount, or some such.

Payment it should be pay:

P.S. Someone suggested EPC069-12 which is interesting, but to be honest a simple URL coded in a QR code sounds way more sensible.

Update:

If someone has experience making RFCs, let me know. I made a start (here).

Saturday, 16 December 2017

New year, new pipes (not made of wet string, honest)

The team at A&A have been very busy, and we have new pipes coming on line early January.

The new BT links allow us a lot more capacity, and this means I am happier doing the terabyte package on BT circuits now. This should be live on the order form before Christmas if testing goes to plan, otherwise it will be early January.

However, we have already set up quota balancing on lines on the same site to now work across quota bands. The idea is that terabyte levels are just another quota, and available on BT and TT back-haul.

We also have a completely new back-haul platform within Talk Talk and will be moving customers over early January as well. This will address the evening congestion some customers have seen on TT lines.

The exact dates depend on testing, but we have some lines live on both new systems already to see how it goes over Christmas.

Next year, we are looking at changes to Office::1 as well.

Right now we have a change freeze in effect until the new year, so I'd like to wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of our customers, and my blog readers, and everyone.

Friday, 15 December 2017

The new levelling up

I have played games.

I have played computer games when they started to be a thing even. I played games on a TRS-80 that I jumbied to the back of my bicycle along with a b/w TV to cycle to school when in the 6th form. Fuck, that makes me old.

The new game is that of social media and social status that comes from it.

There has to be a Black Mirror episode for this, and I think one or two of them do get very close.

Today, I am Mr "ADSL over wet string", and that is crazy as it was not even me. One of my enterprising staff did the test and took the photos. But seriously, when you get a decorator in to repaint the ceiling after a water leak and the first thing he says is a comment about broadband over wet string - you have gone viral?!

So where am I?

Well, twitter is like 2.5k followers, and blog is several hundred thousand hits a month (one month over a million, yay!).

But seriously, I am no @stephenfry am I! He has 13 million followers. How awesome would that be?

So it seems things are like many games. There are levels and you level up over time. This is a lot like many things in life, even money.

So what can this level get me?

That is the trick - how far in to the game are you and what does it do for you?

Well, I can say I am starting to be in the "taken seriously" level, which is good.

When my daughter was turned down to work at Tesco as she was pregnant - that got Tesco to act very quickly. She worked there for some time, and it worked well.

There have been many other tweets that have been taken seriously. This is good.

Wet String!

Well, that has been fun. I have had hundreds of thousands of hits, and it is really strange to google for ADSL over wet string as something like the first ten pages are all articles about us and the news outlets covering it!

Everyone we know is mentioning it! My next door neighbour, the decorator, even a call to someone in BT over BGP config on a new link ended with "impressed you guys did the ADSL over wet string". It is almost getting to "celebrity annoying".

But this is not making me a lot more followers on either blog or twitter, so will (one would hope) be a bit short lived. It does wonders for brand awareness though.

Next level

But I do wonder the next level on social media. What happens when I have 10,000 or 100,000 followers on twitter? It that a thing I have to ever worry about?

Some of these things change you - change what you feel happy saying!

Here's looking to the next level up!

P.S. What level is it when your bank say they are fans of your blog!

I really am starting to lose my rag with @Barclays

I still do personal and business banking with Barclays, but have several other accounts now "just in case".

Tip: I recommend people have spare accounts and cards, and companies like Monzo and Starling are excellent ways to do this. Put £100 or so in there for safe keeping just in case your own bank screws up.

This may be seen as slightly 1st world problems, but it is just getting so frustrating.

Last week I decided to give all the kids some money for Christmas. Generous dad that I am. They all have shiny new Monzo current accounts so I could simply do a fast payment from my Barclays on-line banking to them.

I take security seriously, and one thing I did was make absolutely sure I had the correct account details. Copy and paste is your friend here. The Monzo app can share bank details over iMessage at the click of a button and no re-typing. I can copy/paste that to set up new payees. I sent £1 to each and confirmed it arrived, and at the right child. I say child, the youngest is 22 this year!

Tip: Send a test payment to new accounts / payees to ensure no typing errors.

Four payments worked, the fifth is blocked! I get a text saying they will send me a text ?!? Then a text saying reply (to a 5 digit code). Sadly, I know my comms are special, but I cannot text a 5 digit code. I was hoping they would call - they have done in the past - with an automation that asks a couple of silly questions using DTMF replies. I could have coped with that. But nothing.

At this point I have 4 kids saying "thanks dad" on the group chat and one saying "WTF? Why not me?". Explaining the bank issue still makes them wonder, I think. So not happy. So I called Barclays.

It took over 70 minutes to sort, and only because I ended up saying "look, either you believe I am me and so approve this, or you don't and I go find a real bank from tomorrow!". So sorted, money transferred, yay! I made him stay on call until I confirmed it had arrived.

Next day, call from anonymous number saying they need to talk to me about the transaction. Well, I spent 70 minutes on the phone to Barclays fraud already, and I told them so. I was not doing it again. So they blocked my on-line banking. WTF? By the way, if you call from an anonymous number, I reserve the right to SHOUT AT YOU! Take note, Barclays. I may even swear.

Thankfully we have quite a good business banking team, and as this meant I could not get to business accounts either, so they sorted it. Very annoying.

So we come to yesterday...

I am planning to make a moderately expensive purchase, on a card. I won't go in to details, but suffice to say I am really confident Barclays would block it. That, in itself, is a sad state of affairs. So a new plan...

I have a Starling Bank account now. They confirm they have no limit on card spending and it would be fine. So I try to transfer the money to Starling. I had previously set up the beneficiary and sent a test payment and checked it was all correct. Same copy/paste trick. The payment comes up saying:-


OK, pain in the arse. Does not say contact fraud team. Does not say much, but does say scheduled for 14th, so good. Just delayed. No text. No call. No message. Nothing.

This morning nothing. No record of the transaction. Not showing as rejected on the tracker. Nothing. So I move the money out of that account and send a message on on-line banking explaining what I had done and asking for an explanation. No reply yet.

Pissed off.

Barclays: You need to show "pending" or "delayed" transactions and a status. It is totally broken for them to not show anywhere on your system! If there was fraud, the real account holder could not see there were pending fraudulent payments and query them. It could also easily lead to people duplicating payments (I have done that in the past when I did not see the "delayed" message). Really, fix this now.

Anyway, what next, well suddenly on-line banking is not working. WTF?

Again, I contacted the business team. I was not amused. The account manager put me on a conference call with the on-line team. They faffed about a lot - even though she validated that she identified me (and that was a lot of faff, for good security reasons) they then wanted to further identify me with pin sentry crap, which I did. The account manager was not amused with that - she had done her job and they messed about for no reason.

They ask about the transaction and if it was genuine? I explain it was, and how annoyed I am that it did not happen. And that they can cancel it now, as I'll transfer by other means (BACS direct submission, takes 2 days but just works). So good, all identified and confirmed.

She says I now have to speak to their fraud team to re-enable on-line banking. WTF?

I just confirmed NO FRAUD, it was not FRAUD. IT WAS ME! So WTF would I have to speak to a fraud team? No, they were not budging. The account manager is still on the call!

At this point I lose my rag (how unlike me?), rattle off how many hundreds of thousands are sat in the business account and say I want that in cash at the branch tomorrow morning. i.e. I have had it with Barclays. I have paid my mortgage off now, and can easily break all ties with Barclays at the drop of a hat if I have to, both myself and the business. The "account switching" stuff means that even those few people paying us (A&A) by BACS will not be inconvenienced if we start banking elsewhere as the payments get redirected.

Surprisingly (ha!) the account manager steps in rather sharpish at that point and suggests that I can hang up and she will sort it all. Well done to her, 10 minutes later, she has.

Who are they protecting?

As you may know I get very frustrated by this crap, and I had this on the call I had with the fraud dept, that they say they are protecting me! They even had the cheek to say "you had a lot of fraud last year". No, Barclays had one big fraud last year accepting a card holder not present, no address check, old, replaced, card number in a foreign auction house without questions, and gave me hassle over it. I had no fraud!

Also, from news stories, if I did have fraud - if someone convinced me to send money to a bogus account, the bank would not protect me. They would say they did what I asked, and tough.

If any of this actually protected me and not the bank I would be a lot happier about it. It does not.

Who are Monzo and Starling?

Monzo and Starling are some new banks. Both are now proper banks, and very similar way of working. Both embrace mobile banking apps as the primary way to interact with customers. Both tie to a card (MasterCard debit) as well. Both allow instant blocking of the card, and use on-line chat from the app to resolve issues. Both seem to work.

Monzo have aimed mainly at consumers, and have only just sorted their full banking licence. Starling seem a tad ahead of the game and have some things Monzo do not. Both have APIs and web hooks. Monzo web hooks seem better so far, as Starling not sending payer account details.

We are looking at a business account with Starling as soon as they start doing them - the payment services API looks good, and do have the data we need. It will allow some new A&A services I am sure.

In some ways I found Starling a tad more slick, but then I started with Monzo when it was just out of alpha, and experimental and not even a full bank yet. So maybe unfair to Monzo. I actually liked the anonymous card from Monzo - they should allow a card with any name on it, or none.

With Starling I got the app from the apple app store, and went through the steps. All very simple and easy. Like Monzo a photo of ID and short video recording. They were slightly slicker in some of that than Monzo, but very close.

Unlike Monzo, at that point, I had an account number and a simple click through to add to Apple Pay. Within minutes of downloading the app I had a working Apple Pay on my phone and even an overdraft limit (which I have no plans to use). That was impressive!

The card arrived today, a couple of days after applying, and even that was slick...


Pull the tab and you get the card...


Very nice. I may have to look in to how they do that for A&A router cards :-)

I have not had a simpler bank account opening since I was a student in a university branch, and in those days the slick thing was handing you a temporary cheque book (un-named) on your new account, on the spot.

I have given the Barclays team the challenge of providing a decent API for inbound fast payments. We'll see. If they do, maybe I stay using them.

Right now, it is really close, and one more stupidity from Barclays and we leave them...

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Please upgrade me to ADSL over wet string

Unsurprisingly, we had a request, which I am sure was tongue in cheek, to upgrade a customer line to wet string as it seems faster than his quite long ADSL line.

Don't say we don't have a sense of humour at A&A, and no, I did not write this myself :-

Thanks for your interest in our latest technology, ADSL over wet string (fibre broadband)!

Sadly ADSL over wet string is not a product we can commercially offer at this moment in time - partly because it's not a product Openreach sell (or list as selling) to their wholesalers, and partly because, well, it's something we did for giggles as I'm sure you know :)

Looking at the loop loss on your circuit, it's currently running at about 48dB. In our tests with wet string, we attained 56dB on a line length of just 2 meters, which is about the range where the DSL signals starts to fade out.

My very scientific estimate of loop loss using wet string gives about -∞dB loop loss on your estimated line length of 3197 meters, which suggests that providing a wet string service to you is impossible given the losses, you would just not get sync.

Our tests took several attempts to raise sync on a wet string circuit, these timed between 5 and 60 minutes depending on local weather conditions ie. whether the air conditioning was turned on in the office.

I must warn you additionally, that the upkeep of these wet string connections is very hard; in our tests, we had to continually re-wet the string approximately every 30 minutes to avoid a complete loss of sync, and this process was always disruptive to the signals.

Perhaps if there's an exchange within 2 meters of your demarcation point, and if it's ever commercially offered as a product by the wholesale providers we buy from, it might work, but at this stage, wet string is sadly not a viable product for all involved. I suspect it may be expensive too - as there will need to be an engineer trained in keeping the string damp should the British weather deviate from it's usual damp and rainy grimness present unless it's made a self-service option, but that sounds annoying to be honest.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

It's official, ADSL works over wet string

Broadband services are a wonderful innovation of our time, using multiple frequency bands (hence the name) to carry signals over wires (usually copper, sometimes aluminium). One of the key aspects of the technology is its ability to adapt to the length and characteristics of the line on which it is deployed.

We have seen faults on broadband circuits that manifest as the system adapting to much lower speeds, this is a key factor as a service can work, but unusually slowly, over very bad lines.

It has always been said that ADSL will work over a bit of wet string.

Well one of our techies (www.aa.net.uk) took it upon himself to try it today at the office, and well done.

He got some proper string, and made it wet...


It turns out he needed salty water to get anywhere.

A 2m length...


And the result - it works!!! Not even that slow (3½Mb/s down) though slow uplink. Don't dare touch the string though...


So, there you go, ADSL over 2m of literal "wet string". Well done all for testing this. It shows the importance of handling faults that seem to just be "low speed".

As a bonus, fit tin cans to both ends and you get voice as well as broadband on the same wet string!

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Canaries

Some more thoughts on warrant canaries... Thanks for the various comments.

We are the good guys, honest

First off, I want to be clear. The attitude I have, and therefore the company (A&A) has, to blanket surveillance is that it is wrong. It should not be allowed. We need to take all possible and practical steps against it. Targeted surveillance against know suspects with proper controls is another matter.

I hope that is clear, and the fact I have gone to the bother of speaking directly to parliamentary committees on this helps explain some of my resolve in this.

Am I a martyr ?

No, sorry. I will not go to jail over this. I have a family to support, and I have a lot of staff that have families to support. So there are limits.

But I am not beyond considering every possible loophole and edge case we, or my lawyers, can come up with to help defend these principles.

What can A&A do?

We can explain our principles, and we can try and help people understand how to circumvent all sorts of monitoring and snooping as much as possible to ensure people get respect for their basic human rights related to privacy.

We can, of course, try and appeal or defend any such orders if we get them, and we will.

What about the canary? Does it help?

The way the law is worded now, there are various parts with various gagging orders. Some parts are a tad tame, civil enforcement. No, I am not a martyr, but would I go for challenging it in civil courts, maybe. Hard to say, and at the end of the day that would not really help. This is the real point here, but we cannot risk criminal laws even for the "tame" parts of the IPA by invoking the Official Secrets Act. So even that may be a problem.

You cannot trust what anyone says with the law as it is. It is not really acceptable for a democratic society, in my view. It is not a matter that law "compels you to lie", but that by not lying you may be breaking the law. If you see what I mean. No, don't lie as that is fraud, and no, don't not lie as that is breaking a gagging order, catch 22. Pick your crime?!

What is important is that everyone assumes there is snooping and monitoring. I am sure that getting BT Wholesale or TalkTalk Business to deep packet inspect our PPP traffic is against the law, sorry. The Home Office do not agree. In a civilised society this would have a chance to be decided by a court, but in a world with secret orders and gagging requirements, it will never get tested.

So if you do trust us (and why not) you may already be snooped on in the back-haul network, so take measures to protect yourself.

If you take such measures, you don't need to trust us, and so we don't need to be on the spot with a canary!

What about the canary going forward?

I am formulating a plan here...

First off, I put anything canary related in one place, make one page with a clear signed and dated statement and link to that. It states what we do not have (any order under IPA) and is dated and signed, and ideally states when or if we plan to update the statement.

That fits well with what we have now, and puts in one place. It removes the "ask me on irc or in person" and so on.

Cunning plan?

My lawyer pondered this and may be regretting it now - but if the warrant canary covers many things nobody knows the discontinuation of the canary is because of reason X and as such that cannot be seen as disclosing reason X.

So a canary could say, for example :-
  1. I have a beard
  2. My dog, Lilly, is still alive
  3. We have never had an intercept capability order at A&A under IPA
  4. We have never had a data retention order at A&A under IPA
And when we stop making such statements, all you know is one of those things is no longer true.

By stopping, we are not breaching a gagging order, obviously, especially if I happen to have shaved.

Sadly, any "cunning plan" like this is almost certainly a bad idea, sorry.

Simpler plan?

A simpler plan is just set a date, e.g 2020, from which we no longer make any statement about IPA orders.

Frozen!

No, not the film, my feet, and other parts of me.

I am glad to be back home in the warm as I have spent all day from early hours at the office with no power (and hence no heat). The alarm system can only run on batteries for so long...

In spite of the cold, it was fascinating watching the guys from SSEN diagnose and work on the fault outside the A&A offices today. The power went off, well, mostly, last night. Actually all three phases (we only use one) went to around 40V, so some things still managed to blink the odd light.

They dug a hole by the road last night, and confirmed the power was fine there...


So this morning they dug a hole in our car park...


They took out one of the water mains...


Which caused a lot of delay as they had to stop the water and empty the hole full of water before exposing some of the electricity...

They also found our fibre connection, but managed to do so without breaking it, phew... (the grey pipe)



The dismantling of the cable was interesting, and they were slightly shocked to find the aluminium sheath was live :-) The rubber gloves came out quite quickly.


They checked the cable and found it was faulty, meaning the fault is between the two holes. However, this means they can isolate it and connect us to a big generator truck...


So now we have power, and they even fixed the water...


Yes, Sandra got them all coffee.

So we can look forward to them finding the fault next week, and then jointing us back on to mains power at some point, which I am guessing is going to take an hour or so. Time to order a UPS.

Obviously we set up calls to go to mobiles so staff could handle customer enquiries for normal hours of operation today.

Friday, 8 December 2017

More fun with SVG

I am working on some of our back end systems that create artwork.

They currently create it using postscript, which I really like as a language, and have used for years (decades) but it lacks any unicode support sadly.

This means some names that don't use latin1 alphabet don't work.

The fix, change back end to use SVG, and convert to postscript for printing using inkscape command line...

To my surprise it is working well, so I am playing with the router cards...

First up, the old system, if you add emojis to the SSID...


As you see, postscript does not do well.

So making in SVG...


Very nice, but we do have to actually print on a card, so what does inkscape do when we use it to make postscript and then image for the card printer?


Well, I have to say that is pretty good!

Needs work for all of the other fields on the card which I have blanked out in these examples, but at the end of the day, this is the way to handle unusual characters.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Dismantling a canary?

Andrews & Arnold Ltd has a warrant canary, and for good ethical reasons.

We have stated, clearly, that we do not have any so called "black boxes" (of any colour), nor any orders for "data retention", nor "intercept capability".

This is still true, and I will be happy to state that in person to anyone that asks me, or even on irc, at least for now...


However, there is a problem...

The main possible problem is that we may, one day, receive an order to install something or do something, along with a gagging order so we could not tell someone. For example, see s95(2) Investigatory Powers Act 2016. This means we could not remove the canary at that point as we would be in breach of the gagging order, even if we did not reveal specifically what sort of notice we had. However, if we did have a notice, we couldn't state that we didn't have such things without some sort of fraud or misrepresentation. It seems like a good idea in principle, but basically means one day we may have the choice of breaking the law or breaking the law, and the end result is unlikely to help out customers whatever we decide.

The good news is that this is still very unlikely. The Home Office have said they do not want to go after people with fewer than 10,000 users and we think that is still true for us. I am happy to say we believe we have under 10,000 users as a simple matter of fact for as long as it is true.

I am also very happy to state, as it does not have the same issue, that A&A will always aim to challenge and appeal any unreasonable order to install surveillance or snooping or even logging.

So what can we do to help our customers?

Well, the first thing we can say is not to trust anyone not to have snooping! That includes us! We still aim to challenge any general monitoring or snooping as it is against human rights to do blanket surveillance. If we get an order we expect to challenge it, and maybe, if I can, find ways to announce it (unlikely). But we have to follow the law, though I am not above finding loopholes in that if I can.

We all have a basic human right (by more than one human rights declaration) to respect for our privacy and correspondence. What that means exactly is complicated, and open to interpretation, and has caveats, but at A&A we do take it seriously, and will continue to work with other groups, and even on our own, to challenge anyone or any government aiming to curb such rights.

I, myself, spoke to a parliamentary select committee over the issues in the Investigatory Powers Bill. This gives some clue as to how far we are prepared to go to respect these rights as a company!


We take this seriously, but ultimately we are one small step in the chain of "Internet connectivity" that our customers enjoy. You may be able to trust us, but you cannot trust peering, transit, the far end ISP, well, anyone!

You should be able to trust BT or TT back-haul that we use, as the Act makes it clear they (e.g. BT) cannot snoop on us (A&A). However, it seems the Home Office feel they can just ask BT to do such snooping (as far as I am aware) and we cannot have confidence that BT would challenge such an order, and we know that such an order would be secret and gagged so we (and you) would not know if it happened. Yes, some sort of encrypted PPP is not out of the question, but that still leaves everyone else involved in your Internet connection to be snooped on!

As it is we have some limited logging which we explain, and some CDRs, and they are already available if we get legal requests. We obviously aim to document these and minimise these. For the most part customers can use us for connectivity without such logs at all (e.g. run your own email systems).

So what can customers do?

There are many things, and we have a lot of details on our web site. We'll try to add more and more over time. You can run your own DNS, your own email, tor browsers, VPNs, use end to end encrypted apps, and email, and so on. There are many ways to preserve your human right to respect for your privacy and correspondence. Use them. Ask for help from us on how to use them!

So how do I dismantle a canary?

With a scalpel? This simple answer is a plan to announce we will be removing it in, say, 2020. Far enough ahead to not be the result of any sort of order now, and so clearly our choice and not an indication that the canary has died of noxious gasses.

Does that make sense?

Obviously, doing anything with a canary can lead to be people thinking it has been killed to signify a notice of some sort, despite what I say here. There is nothing we can do about this: basically, that is the canary doing its job! However, we do not feel that the risks of having a canary make it worth having, which is why we are looking at options here.

We have not announced that yet, but I wonder what people think?
  • Is this a sane way to dismantle a canary?
  • Will it work or cause even more concern?
  • Should we be dismantling the canary?
P.S. I nicked a picture (well linked to) for this blog as I felt making my own images (as I usually try to) of a canary and a scalpel would be very very politically incorrect and also somewhat messy...I

Update 1:

Thanks for the various comments explaining how a canary usually works - a signed dated statement. We could change to that format, obviously, but it does not change the underlying issue. Indeed, I may change the website to push all such statements in one place and in that format anyway.

I am pleased that you appreciate the canary being in place, thank you.

However, it would still put us in the position (if we did get such notices) of either breaking the gagging order by not updating it, or making a fraudulent statement by updating it. It also does not change the fact that it is not "useful" to customers for us to have the canary, for that reason, and because we are only one link in the chain so you have to assume there is intercept and snooping anyway. The most "useful" thing we can do is advise on our policy and attitude and the work we are doing to stop such laws in the first place, so you have some idea who you are dealing with as an ISP.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Paperless

Oddly the prescriptions I collect all appear to be "paper". They even make me sign the back of the paper to say why I don't pay. They are far from "paperless", just the paper is printed at the pharmacy not the doctor's surgery. Also, I find a certain irony in that the icon/symbol for the "paperless" aspect is an "envelope", now seen much as an icon for (paperless) "email" but in fact a symbol of a paper envelope to contain a paper letter.


IPv6 World Leader 2017

I was at the IPv6 UK Council annual meeting yesterday, and (A&A) received an award from the IPv6 forum. The Jim Bound award. Thank you.


It was an interesting day, and quite long, but at the end of the day lots of people bought me pints of cider in the Paternoster pub, thank you.

IPv6 is not new, and it was interesting to hear how different companies have deployed IPv6 and are deploying it. The talk from Facebook was really interesting - IPv6 everywhere internally with just edge devices talking legacy IPv4 for those who are not up to date. They also report that IPv6 access has better performance.

One key point is that IPv4 is somewhat decaying, with more and more problems, especially with things like Carrier Grade NAT. IPv6 rescues you from that and keeps the Internet working.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Friends do not let friends share passwords!

I recently blogged on the hassle of moving from one iPhone to another, and quite rightly people commented on the fact that it should not actually be that easy to do for good security reasons. My blog was very much done as a "typical end user" type rant.

At the end of the day, these devices are becoming critical personal devices that are our companions and providing security in a way we have to trust. The security they offer is way more than we ever had before. It is tricky when the device we trust is written by some company in a foreign land, and we don't have all of the details of how it works. We have to sort of trust them to keep security principles. I think, in most cases, they do, and a lot better than the alternatives. Even then we have to be cautious.

My old iPhone held a number of security details locked by fingerprint or long PIN, and the new phone does the same but using "face recognition". Both are a massive convenience. Convenience is good for security as that is what people will "do".

Now the end result is some things, on my phone, can get access based on that authentication, and in theory I could be forced to smile for the camera now, or previously submit a finger even if unconscious. It would allow some access to some things.

Even then, the company systems use a lot of two factor stuff, so the "authenticator" on my phone only works with a username (easy to guess) and a password (harder) and the authenticator. So we have quite a few barriers in place. This is actually better than the online banking on my phone, which trusts the phone for many things - but even that wants extra steps to send money to random new people.

Obviously I would never share any of my passwords with anyone, unlike MPs.

I appreciate the comments on that blog post though - they are correct in that the security is important. But a key aspect of security is making it usable for the masses. It has to be "convenient" to be used at all.

This is where the MP tweets come in - we see over the last few days that many MPs are fucking idiots, allowing access to anyone on their staff (including interns and temps) to their computers which may hold personal information. They may even be criminal in their actions.

To say it is related to porn use is distracting and why the hell can they not use incognito mode?

This is where systems need to make it easy to actually be secure. Things like fingerprints and face recognition go a long way. They allow me to be secure, and then only select the specific cases of say "inbox sharing" for email to specific staff to check and filter my email, etc, not general access to my computer. TBH I do not share my inbox - one day I may have a PA to handle it. If I was an MP, some trusted permanent staff may be there to filter email and post.

So in the case of changing iPhone, what do I want? Well, a simple, safe, SECURE, way to transfer all of that personal information for everything from email to banking (and an authenticator app), via local encrypted means, as part of the new phone set up. No iCloud or even iTunes backup. That would have saved me a lot of hassle. They manage to transfer the apple ID login details in some way that involves pointing the camera of one phone to the screen of the other, so why not all of this sensitive stuff?

But, just in case anyone has any doubts, all my staff and all my family know that passwords are never shared.

Friends do not let friends share passwords!

MPs take note.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Today's recipe: Crisps from Makro

No recipe today, my wife is madly baking Christmas cakes all day, and I cannot get near the kitchen.

What I have is a stock of various crisps we got from Makro.

Makro and Costco are odd places, and we have both in Reading, so quite close to us. Usually worth going to both.

They each have very different things. Costco have loads of stuff, but lack some basic things like a good selections of crisps or alcohol. They have some, but nothing like what Makro have. Makro also seem to have way more of the catering style supplies, like if you actually want to ever buy Schwartz Bacon Flavour Bits, or 1.5l bottles of Southern Comfort, they are in Makro.

On the other hand, if you want a stupidly big Nerf gun, or any sort of decent TV, go to Costco. Just oddly different places.

Note, there are Marmite crisps in there. In fact that selection includes Marmite crisps, Frazzles, Wheat Crunchies, Worcester[not shire] sauce french fries, and Salt'n'vinegar chipsticks. That will keep me going for a while, I am sure.

As for 1.5l bottles of Southern Comfort, I have found a design flaw in my shelving which means it does not quite fit on the shelf, and will not even fit on an optic. Oh well.

Fire place

We live in a house built in the '80s (1987 apparently).

It has gas central heating, and a fireplace (with, obviously, a chimney).

This seems odd, as why would you need both, but really, do they build any houses with a fireplace any more. Why did they do so even in the '80s?

Over the years there have been changes. We have had the boiler replaced, and the hot water system (mains pressure hot water is great), and we have installed air-con units in many rooms now. In my "man cave" which is formerly the garage, the only heating is the air-con, which is very efficient and effective.

However, a few rooms in the house are still only heated by the gas central heating, such as hallway, landing, utility room, dining room, living room, kitchen, and one bedroom. They all have radiators that are still used.

This year, for the first time in like a decade, we are actually considering lighting the fire. Some years ago we had the chimney checked out and cleaned out, so should be OK, well, we'll see.

This is purely for decorative reasons as a Christmassy sort of thing. I can imagine the "fond memory" of a "real log fire" is a long way from the reality, somehow.

I am, of course, wary that this will be a problem. We do have a good fire guard, and have had for all these years, mainly to try and stop the cat climbing the chimney to chase the sound of birds sitting at the top. Does not work. I also have a fire extinguisher on standby...

But then it occurred to me, the thermostat (which I replaced with a digital one some time ago) is positioned in the living room, where the fireplace is located. This seems to be a design flaw.

Once the living room is nice and toasty from a real log fire, the central heating is going to shutdown, making several rooms in the house damn cold.

Thankfully not my "man cave" nor my bedroom as I have air-con, but still, rather a daft design.

P.S. It is December, in what the news says is a really cold winter, and I have just had to switch my air-con to cool in the man-cave as it up to 23C in here (no, we have not lit a fire). What the hell?