Are banks getting worse?

So, I need to get a DD clawed back. Should be simple.

Email addresses for bank manager don't work.

None of the email addresses for any contacts at bank work!

In fact they seem or re-write to barclays.org and then fail as unknown user!

On-line banking has a contact-us form, but that replies with an email saying the service is temporarily unavailable.

So, go in to local branch with a company letterheaded letter containing all the details, signed by me and even with an embossed company seal. The guy on the desk wasn't having any of it because I don't have a PIN for my card (it's chip & signature).

Eventually he gets someone more senior, who does not seem to understand the concept of clawing back a DD. She is like "well, if it went out yesterday it has already happened so nothing we can do".

Eventually after explaining the DD guarantee, she takes it away saying they will sort it.

I can only conclude she found someone with a clue as the money is in the account an hour later.

Why do they make it so hard to contact them?!?!?


Not why we send freepost envelopes

So someone decides to send a couple of charity collection bags in one of our freepost envelopes.


From now on they will all carry a barcode that allows us to work out who we sent it to.


NDA, or Non Disclosure Agreements are useful in business. If you don't know, they are basically an agreement saying to can't leak confidential information that is shared with you for some specific project or purpose. They are usually mutual (two way). Basically, if you leak info then you can be sued for damages.

They are really useful to allow negotiations in private for something before it is published or launched.

Now, our favorite telco have NDAs as you would expect, but then they have a tendency to mark everything as confidential which means we can't tell anyone! This even applies when they tell us stuff specifically so that we can keep our customers informed. So we have a crazy situation that there may be some major planned works early 2010, but we cannot tell our customers about it or any details.

But, on a lighter note, for other stargate fans out there. Don't you just love the way they get civilians to sign an NDA. They make a big thing about it on many occasions. WTF???

What is the point of doing that?

(a) They are the government and so can almost certainly legally do far worse that sue you for breach of an NDA, and probably have specific laws covering military secrets (like we do in the UK) so the NDA is just silly.

(b) They have a stargate, tracking systems and beaming technology, so they can vanish you very effectively if you upset them and no way for any normal criminal investigation to trace it! They don't even have to kill you as such. You can't run and you can't hide. Surely that is a hugely more effective threat than any NDA.

(c) The only way to use an NDA is to sue for breach of the NDA, and I assume much the same in the US. Doing that means you have to confirm that what was disclosed was in fact confidential information, and hence true. You can never use an NDA without validating the disclosure. Yet what would be disclosed is so fantastic that it would be dismissed as crazy take anyway. So what is the point!

By the way, I an not under any NDA regarding any stargate! But I would say that wouldn't I :-)

Happy New Year


Can't move

Turns out my bike lock is actually quite good, except for the bit where it has broken and won't open...

My first pair of bolt cutters now have nice round notches in them and the lock has a slightly shiny surface where the bolt cutters were used.

Next suggestion is an angle grinder...



Christmas Wrapping

Not what you would expect.

Shrink wrapping!

The damn dog™ decides it likes chewing through cables. The lights are mains (not extra low voltage). They were not on [shame?].

Well, all repaired for the big day. Had to get heat shrink, hot air gun, soldering iron, wire strippers, solder... MacGyver could not have done better!

And thanks to JamesK for helping...

Consumer electronics

Well, nice to see something smart enough to have an Ethernet socket, and actually use it to update it's own software over the internet via it...

Sony BDP-S360 blu-ray player.

Now I'll see if it is any good!

And it did not even get upset at the lack of a 192.168 IP address, though it did show IPs as 3 digits with leading zeros on each part which is a tad weird. Not IPv6 though :-)


Way to spell

So you make a desk calendar/planner/pad thing and put a huge typo on 1st Jan top page!
Thanks for the pressy by the way...


Lots of snow

Well, lots of snow here.

All turning a bit to mush, but looks like its going to start getting cold now...

Oh what fun.

It gets better...

Bracknell is a stand-still and staff have given up and gone back to the office!


Way to design a heating system

When it gets really cold the condense pipe freezes and the boiler stops working.
What idiot designed a system that causes the heating to shut down when it actually gets cold.

I am heading outside with a hot kettle to try and melt the frozen condense pipe.


That may have cleared it. But need to find the bit of lagging that has come off.

My son just asked why it needs to go outside. Excellent question. I looked. Running the pipe through wall to utility room and in to the drain there would have been a way simpler route and involved a hole in an interior rather than exterior wall. Damn plumber.


WTF are they up to now?

I am not happy...

Our favorite telco have has serious latency and congestion on around 2,000 lines all week. They have not been clear on what they are doing about it or what the problem is.

At one point they said it would be 3 weeks because a freeze on planned work over Christmas. Well, we get a tiny amount of compensation for faults going over 40 hours to fix, but when you talk of that many lines for that length of time you are talking tens of thousands of pounds. So we really should just report the faults. I have the scripts ready to roll sending in all the fault reports and rejecting them when they send back until they are fixed. What is interesting is that they see that many fault reports as costing them hundreds of thousands in terms of the effort of handling faults.

But, in the interests of working in partnership with our suppliers we have held off reporting that many faults. We want to work together and sort problems.

I really do not like fielding complaints from customers about the crap service, and spending all day on the phone to the supplier who are giving us the run around, and neither does Shaun.

Also interesting was comments on what the issue was, and comments about talking to shareholders for some reason. That seems strange (I am a shareholder!).

We think, and this is guesswork, that they have planned capacity for the WBMC shared link service that we buy (the equivalent of the old Central product) and they have hit limits on some links. That they have to buy* more capacity and they don't want to. But that they are scared to say that's the service, tough as it would be an admission that 21st Century Network is actually not as good as the old products (which did not have this problem) and also that it is not as good as competing back-haul providers. We have a choice!

The latest is, having agreed they would fix things tonight, they then send a notice saying they anticipate the issue will be fixed 13th Jan. WTF!!! back on to account manager in the evening at home.

We have many customers moving lines to another back-haul provider. In fact, the new ordering page on our web site makes that totally automated. The other supplier are actually expecting to match config so it will be possible with no change of any router settings soon.

So, if you are pissed off - we offer a choice. If you want to know more - ask sales.

Still, I reckon we are the most tenatious ISP in dealings with this supplier and pushing them to provide a proper service.

* We are talking of a company that has corporate schizophrenia and buys from itself which is not something that actually costs its shareholders!

Update: Get this - the incident desk do not have access to update the incident details on an report to fix the date of the 13th Jan!


Nothing broke

A day when nothing major broke. Nice.

Our favourite telco doing emergency planned engineering to fix some latency on over a 1,000 lines tonight (we hope). They originally insisted it would be 3 weeks to fix but when we suggested we'd report over 1,000 faults they seemed to change their mind...

I would get an early night, but I keep checking that nothing is broken yet!

You can't win.



OK, can I just stop being an ISP now and go and do something more fun like gardening :-)

Power outage with unexpected side effects and a mobile that won't plan ball when you need it; Unintentional DoS from supplier and LNS partial outage so fall-back did not work; Loads of BRAS blips and issues with our favorite telco; and then, just to add to the fun, a switch going gaga on us affecting email. Sadly the ports did not drop, but the switch was holding on to some packets for 7 seconds. This has not been a fun few days...

At least I am pretty sure I have found the LNS issue and have a working fix.

Power and switch issues in Maidenhead will take more planning and working with the data centre to sort...

Well, all good experience for doing things right in the future!


Free popcorn at Odeon?

Ok, so me and two kids go to cinema. I get a coffee from the machine and all three of us queue up at the food counter.

The kids order their large popcorn and drinks and then I wave the coffee at the guy and say there is a coffee as well...

So the kids are faffing about - G trying to work out how to carry popcorn and drink with crutches...

I say there's a coffee as well and wave the coffee at the guy again...

Now the kids have got sorted and are moving away and the guy says hang on you have to pay for that!

OK, I am getting a tad miffed at being ignored here, and also the suggestion that the kids would walk off without paying, so I say, in a louder voice, but not really shouting, for the third time there is a coffee as well, please. Yes, I even said "please".

And he says I don't want to serve you now. I think he said I was rude.

WTF! So we have drinks we have started drinking and popcorn we have started eating and he does not want to serve us... So do you want paying for this then? and again he says I don't want to serve you!. OK, so we'll accept your gift of these goods for free, thank you and we walk in to the cinema screen and watch the film.

Crazy people.

Two hours later, on leaving a manager stops me and says I believe there was an altercation over paying for a coffee earlier... So you have changed your mind and want paying now?... Yes, £2.25... OK, here you go, and we left.

I wonder why they did not want paying the £22 for the popcorn and drinks.

Well, I paid the agreed price, so not theft.

Just damn rude ignoring me like that. And, as usual, a total rip off for the food/drink in a cinema. And the popcorn is crap in the Odeon now - it used to be nice when it was UCI when they made it there in a machine but now it just comes in big bags and always tastes stale. The only good point is the coffee from the machine.

Wow! latency

I was asked to look at an article on improving interactive game play on World of Warcraft.

On reading it - it immediately set of bullshit alarms. It has a number of claims that seem confused and in some cases plain wrong. But some packet dumping shows some grain of truth in the claims.

The main claim is that TCP will send a packet and wait for an ACK before sending the next packet and that Windows delays sending the ACK so causing the next packet to be delayed and things to be slow. This is not in general how TCP works. TCP uses a sliding window. It can send many packets before expecting an ACK. Sending an ACK less often is fine and covers all the packets so far. Delaying ACKs is normally very sensible.

Their claimed fix is a setting change on Windows to send ACKs with no delay (or less delay).

They claim that the time taken to send the ACK is how latency is measured by WoW. They don't back up this claim any my guess is it will be an application level keep alive (or ping) type message that is used to measure the latency. I can however see a mechanism for ACK delay to cause such a measure to be increased (see below).

They claim that this is nothing to do with the Nagle algorithm as that is turned of by Blizzard. I think they are saying it is turned off at the Windows end in the WoW client. This may or may not be true.

They claim that sending ACKs immediately is not sending more data. They say Windows sends 2 ACKs per two segments, and with their fix you send one ACK per one segment, so just as many. This is plain wrong - an ACK will (in one ACK) acknowledge all data up to that point, so one ACK acknowledges two or more segments in that scenario. So what they propose definitely sends more ACKs.

So lets get to the bit where their claims make sense... I did some packet dumps of WoW traffic on Windows (before and after applying the fix) and also on linux (wine). What I saw was :-

1. When sending a constant high volume stream of data the server will send multiple (full size) packets without waiting for an ACK. The ACKs are sent every few packets received and the data flows smoothly as TCP intended.

2. When in normal game plan after loading characters from a new location, etc, the data is different. The server has a steady stream of small blocks of data of the order of 40 bytes. I saw that Windows was delaying ACKs around 200ms, and is seems that the server does run the Nagle algorithm.

3. Linux was working on maybe 1ms ACK delay :-)

This is where it gets interesting. The Nagle algorithm means you do not send more data until you get an ACK from the previous data (sort of what they claimed), but only applies if what you have to send is less than one whole packet. This is, again, sensible networking practice.

However, if you combine this with a steady stream of tiny blocks of data and a 200ms delayed ACK, what you get is a packet sent, a delay of 200ms, an ACK, then a packet sent (multiple small blocks in one packet), and a delay of 200ms, an ACK, and so on.

I.e. the small blocks of data get bunched up in 200ms parcels, each of which may have dozens of small blocks of data.

Importantly, if one of those small blocks of data is a ping type request, it could be delayed up to 200ms before the client sees it. When the client has data to send in won't delay so the ping reply would be instant but the overall round trip time from the application level could be delayed up to 200ms. Similarly events in the game could be delayed up to 200ms.

So it is not that your request to hit something is delayed, it would not be, but the appearance of the thing you want to hit in the first place may be delayed by 200ms, which is not good.

Whilst I hear gamers argue over 1ms (which is silly), 200ms is long enough to make a difference!

So, what if you lower ACK delay? The answer is each small packet will get an ACK. This could mean sending dozens more ACKs (yes, increasing traffic sent). But it means massively reduced interactive delay. The ADSL line delay will mean some messages clumped together still because of the Nagle algorithm but there is nothing you can do about that unless Blizzard turn it off. They may have good reasons not to, as it would greatly increase traffic due to packet headers. Bear in mind, at 40 bytes of data at least half the packet is headers!

Will this improve game play? Maybe. The delay before was a jitter. It was not a fixed 200ms but random between 0ms and 200ms. Interacting would cause ACKs to be sent as part of normal packets being sent from the client. It is quite possible that in a battle there is enough traffic both ways not to make any real difference to the interactive latency. It is hard to say, and not easy to analyse without a dump of the application layer at Blizzard to compare. Basically it may help!

One thing it does do is make the reported latency a lot lower and that probably has a big placebo effect on gamers :-)


A moment's peace?

OK, I am still coding the new ordering system back-end this weekend, but I am determined to have a break at some point and try and play some WoW!

The winetricks shell script sorted the strange errors from WoW on my linux box, and it works nicely now (once again).

The fridge is stocked with cider.

I even have new reading glasses so I can sit right in front of the 30" screen...


Tescos being arses again

So my son is refused alcohol again at tescos, even though he ID'd he (he's 19).

This time they refused to sell rather than stole it off him after the sale, but it was close, they pressed a button to cancel the authorisation of the sale on their self service tills just before he put the money in. Yes, they have already authorised it...

However, it will happen again and chances are they will try and steal it off him after the sale again.

He is planned to wear a t-shirt with his name on it when he goes shopping at tescos in future. That way the surveillance video clearly identifies him and is subject to the Data Protection Act and he can request a copy!

90% population getting 2M by 2017

WTF is that about. It has to be the biggest cop-out ever and a reason to scrap the 50p tax if ever I heard one.

I am sure more than 90% can get some sort of broadband now.
Simply putting in more lines to anyone that wants 2M will get them 2M.

Job done.

Yes, it would cost a bit more, but most things would and cost was not part of their target.

In fact, I will try and get some stats. If we can do 500K to 90% pop now, I will announce that AAISP has reached the governments target for 2017 already.


Broadband tax

Why? How? WTF???

I can't see how to define a phone line if I tried.
I dread to think.

PSTN, OK, 1 line, 50p.
ISDN2 on copper. Is that one line (BT say "one line") or two channels to £1, or 10 numbers (say) so £5, or what?
ISDN30 on 3 copper pairs. Is that 1 line, 8 channels, 3 pairs, 1000 numbers or what?
ISDN30 on fibre. That is not anything taxable I hope, but not down to end user to say fibre or copper to BT when installed.
SDSL on a copper pair - does that count?
EFM on 4 pairs - is that 0, 50p or £2?

And then you have a few specifics.

1. A&A provide my phone service using a TA on ethernet in my loft on a fibre. The TA is A&As so I get "analogue phone service" from A&A who are a telco. The analogue line is maybe 10cm long and in my loft, but do I pay 50p tax on that? Logically it is no different to a normal BT line!

2. A&A provide phone lines for broadband to end users. But they are not used for calls. They cannot call numbers in the national dialling plan, so not PATS or POTS. Will they be taxable I wonder?

3. We provide a neighbouring office with phones, 6 phones via a cat5 which is 4 copper pairs but 10/100 so using only 2 pairs and I think 10 numbers. How many 50p's is that?

They will get the definition sooooo wrong it will be a joke.

And openreach will charge us the 50p I bet and we will cite the law and say NO and withold the 50p. I can see the arguments now.

They only have 2 things to do

Well 3...

- space
- power
- aircon

And they fucked up the power.

Long day. What can I say.

Anyway, some dual phase rack power feeds, local UPSs and dual fed boxes to come... What fun.


Is fucking useless when you actually need it.
Has taken me an hour to make one status post on our web site.


Well, blizzard's latest patch breaks WoW on wine 1.0 and wine 1.1.32
Trying wine 1.1.34 now.



date command madness

OK, is it me or am I being thick.

Linux date command takes a -d argument which is very useful as it allows a description of the time you want.

e.g. date -d "5 minutes" done at 08:23:37 today gives Sun Dec 6 08:28:38 GMT 2009
Its really useful. You can even do things like date -d "next tuesday" which says Tue Dec 8 00:00:00 GMT 2009. I use it all the time.


date -d "07:48 -1 minute" gives Sun Dec 6 07:50:00 GMT 2009
date -d "07:48 -2 minute" gives Sun Dec 6 07:51:00 GMT 2009
date -d "07:48 -3 minute" gives Sun Dec 6 07:52:00 GMT 2009
date -d "07:48 -4 minute" gives Sun Dec 6 07:53:00 GMT 2009


date -d "07:48 +1 minute" gives Sun Dec 6 07:48:00 GMT 2009
date -d "07:48 +2 minute" gives Sun Dec 6 07:47:00 GMT 2009
date -d "07:48 +3 minute" gives Sun Dec 6 07:46:00 GMT 2009
date -d "07:48 +4 minute" gives Sun Dec 6 07:45:00 GMT 2009

Is it just me or is that kind of backwards...


Flashing lights

This is something that has bugged me forever and what gets me is that lots of people have no clue WTF I am talking about.

Some lights flash at high frequencies. I find many of them distracting and annoying. This is especially the case in a car at night. The worst are the yellow lights on traffic cones at road works. I don't mean the blinking a couple of times a second type flashing, I mean that the yellow light is actually strobed, probably at around 1KHz... But the new solar powered cats-eyes are strobed too, and many newer cars have pulsed red LED tail lights.

When not moving and looking fixed at one of these lights they look like they are on solidly (if they are much more than around 50Hz). But you don't look in one fixed place. When moving my vision from one object to another, or when in a car and the lights are moving, they leave dotted patterns on my peripheral vision and that drives me mad. They cry our for attention. I find myself looking to the flashing light. Its distracting and annoying and possibly dangerous.

Some lights are not as much of an issue, and in fact I think it is the on/off ratio that is what causes the annoyance. Normal yellow sodium street lights as you get on motorways are probably on for 90% of the time or more and around 100Hz I would guess. They do leave a dotted line on my vision when looking from one place to another, but it is almost solid and the edges are not as sharp. The traffic cone lights however are proper strobed, maybe 1% on and 99% off or something. Even though they may be up near 1KHz, they are probably the most annoying.

Now, there are clearly very different ways people see things. I have tried at great length to explain this to friends and family when in a car with them, and they just can't see it. They swear blind that the lights are on solidly. I have so far only found one person that can see the issue (and they find it annoying too).

Do tell me I am not totally mad!


Fun what you can do with a bit of welsh slate and a laser!


na na na na na na na na na na²

Just when you thought you had heard it all.

Our favorite telco now have a department for ISPs to advise of major incidents in their network. It has taken around 9 years of nagging to get them to realise that they need such a department; that ISPs can sometimes spot major issues; and that they don't always spot them themselves.

That department has a phone number and email address.

However, if you email them details of an issue they will deliberately ignore the email as a matter of policy.

You have to call them to tell them you are sending an email!

So even if they have information detailing a major network incident, and even if it is from a known ISP with complete details of the issues, they will pretend they cannot see it and pretend all is well with the network. They won't even just go and look and see if maybe it is broken where we say it is.

How's that for a communications company?



OK, the TV programme on BBC moaning about people leaving things on standby!

They are highlighting things like laptops hibernating. My laptop serious uses fuck all when on standby.

Also, they completely forgot that half the year (and certainly this time of year) every Watt of electricity is actually running 100% efficient heater which heats the house and so saves the heating system doing so. Yes, gas vs electric as efficient heating is a possible issue, but it means the whole issue of power supposedly wasted is missing quite a lot of the point.



Damn blogspot - wrong blog!

Sky still have not sorted my cards - total arseholes - what can I say.

Update: Finally, after 3 days, it is working. Took probably 2 to 3 hours of phone calls in total.


Of course I no longer want Sky HD ?!

So, have a Sky+HD box, a few years old, and finally on the blink a bit. Want a replacement. How hard can it be?

1. They insist on an engineer visit to install the new one?!?!??! WTF

This is replacing a box like for like. It is really easy! Anyone able to unscrew an F'ing connector can do it!

But no, must be engineer. Apparently to "activate the manufacturers warranty". Why? I am more than happy with statutory rights under sale of goods act and distance selling directive, I don't need the manufacturers warranty. But no, they insist. So more expense.

2. Apparently, if you replace a Sky+HD box with a Sky+HD box then Sky automatically de-activate the subscription to HD services (don't get me started on how much of a rip off that is).

But why do they do that? It makes no sense. I have not asked to stop having HD. I have a HD TV. I have a Sky+HD box before and am replacing it with a Sky+HD box. How hard can it be to realise that maybe I don't want to make any change to my subscription?

And when trying to get this sorted they go on about how it will cost me £10/month extra to activate it. It took ages to get out of the woman that they had de-activated it as a matter of course and so actually it will cost the same as before and not £10/month more at all!

Why are they such numpties?

16:39 Arrrg! Worse. They seem unable to re-enable the HD and Sky+ because they are cancelling it on the old box. What the box has to do with the subscription I don't know! Right now I have a Sky+HD box that is neither Sky+ or HD. Grrr.
16:49 I think the hold music is killing brain cells.
16:55 I am not sure I can take it any more... arrg
17:00 OK they cannot put Sky+ and HD back on the viewing card, so they are going to move another viewing card to work with this box. WTF are they playing at. How broken is their system?
17:10 so now we don't have any Sky until they activate the new card!
19:30 and still not working. I am seething.
21:30 So much for may take 4 hours. Plonkers.

Ha! When I edit this blogspot gives me an advert for Sky !?!??!

Being a meany

OK, I am being mean to South West Trains today. I know. It is wrong....

I got 1st class to Twickenham the other day for the Rugby. 1st is a rip off, and actually I keep forgetting you can upgrade to 1st class for £5 on SWT at the weekends and they never remind me at the ticket office either. Ever since I got quite a big broadband deal from someone I bumped in to in 1st class I tend to get 1st class train tickets. You never know.

Anyway, train packed and so was 1st class and guard announced that 1st class had been declassified and all seats were standard class. Explains why 1st class was packed. Annoying, as the whole reason for getting 1st was because the train would be packed and I was prepared to pay extra not to be crammed in. The one time you actually want exclusivity that they decide to let everyone in 1st class!

So I write explaining as per terms that I am entitled to a refund in price difference as no 1st class available.

I eventually get a reply providing vouchers for the difference as a good will gesture!!!

Here is the mean bit. I have written back explaining that a good will gesture is nice, and thank you, but that does not discharge contractual obligations and I await my refund as per the contract terms in addition to any good will gestures.

Maybe it was the 14 hour fasting for a blood test this morning that has put me in a mean mood.


TOTSCO changing the rules again

One of the big issues I had in initial coding was the use of correlationID on messages. The test cases showed it being used the same on a se...