2022-08-31

Is GDPR even more flawed than I thought?

NHS Digital have refused to update my personal information, even though I have a right to rectification under GDPR.

As I have previously posted, I think GDPR has a flaw, in that it seems an organisation can say they will not "accept" you as a customer/client/whatever if they don't like some aspect of your personal information (in this case, the length of my email address). This seems broken, given that once they have accepted you, then you have a right to have personal data corrected. I have asked my MP if they can try and poke someone to fix this flaw in GDPR. My personal information is what it is, including the many bits I get to choose (like name, religion, email address, etc).

But it sounds like it is even more flawed than I thought! It seems that an organisation can simply refuse to update the personal information, instead just terminating access.

Apparently I am welcome to re-register with NHS Digital, providing I comply with their rules on my personal information.

Now, this is, in my case "just" my email address, but it sounds like the same logic could apply to someone's choice of name, or religion, or gender and job title combination, well, anything. Just make up arbitrary rules and refuse anyone that does not fit, cancelling their service if they ask for it to be corrected.

It makes a total mockery of the "right to rectification" even being in GDPR.

How can I have a "right" which can be so simply side-stepped. Does this create a situation where people will be afraid to ask for data to be corrected for fear they lose some service?

I wonder what taking them to court would actually cost?

(The ICO seem complicit, refusing to even understand that NHS Digital has a wrong email address for me)

2022-08-28

Saving energy...

There are a lot of "tips" for saving money on energy now.

A lot are downright insulting... Some are stupid - there is a lot of myth on "standby power" of modern devices which is just wrong, or at best, out of date.

To be honest, my main tip is simple - understanding what you use. If you can understand what costs the money you can decide if and what to reduce. People have a really poor perception on what costs and what does not, and people will spent a lot of wasted effort saving 10p when some other measure could save £10.

To get it right you have to get a grasp on what costs and how much.

And, much as I hate to say it, a smart meter with an in home display, is a start. They are pushed on us all for misleading reasons. They don't, on their own, in any way, "save money", and they contain a contactor, or "cut off", that can be remotely triggered, which is kept surprisingly quiet. But if you have one, and set up with a display, you can see how much you are using "right now" on gas, and electricity.

If you don't have one, you can ask for one. If you don't have a in-home display, ask for one. Ask your energy supplier.

The other thing is reading the ratings on things and doing the maths. Now, I know some people seem to struggle with this. A calculator may be your friend if you are not sure, but it helps to get your head around some of the things. I appreciate this is a massively "dumbing down" blog post, and not like me, but I can only hope it helps.

For most people the gas side is simple enough, a cooker, and gas central heating, maybe. The smart meter can show how much you are using. See what you use cooking a meal, for example. That is usually not too hard. You can use the meter to see how much, for example, lowering the thermostat 1C can make. But remember the weather varies day to day too. And also, the smart meters are not as quickly updated for gas, it seems.

But for electricity, people have so many more devices all contributing their little bit to the costs, some a lot and some a little. They all add up. An electric oven is a lot. Electric heating is a lot. Anything that "pumps", even water pump for my heating, uses noticeable electricity. And of course, things like a tumble drier, washing machine, hot tub, or an electrically heated floor, or an electric car, are seriously a lot. Heating and pumping are the big power users.

Time and power

Cheap power monitor
The two things that matter here is how much power something uses (measured in Watts, or W for short), and for how long it uses the power. Electricity "units" are a kWh, that is 1,000 Watts for one hour, and each unit costs, from October, something like 57p.

  • Use something for longer, and it costs more.
  • Use something more powerful, and it costs more.
  • Use lots and lots of small power things all the time, that adds up.
So, don't be put off by the smart meter showing usage in "red" or some such because it is a lot right now (like a kettle). What matters is the power and the time. There are things that are not that bad because they are short. There are things that are not bad because they are very low power, even if on all the time.

A kettle, for example, may say it is rated at 3kW, meaning 3000W (which is a lot), but you use it for maybe 3 minutes. That means 0.15kWh (3/60 times 3), so 8½p worth. Boiling less water reduces the time, and is a simple saving you can make. It is only pence, but it is a saving.

I have talked of kW and W, and you need to understand the scale. "k" here means "kilo" which is 1,000. But you may see things using mW, where "m" means "milli" or 1/1000th. Read the label carefully. The units are kWh, meaning 1,000 Watts for one whole hour. This is the same as 2,000 Watts for ½ hour, or 500W for 2 hours.

One small tip, with lighting, they often have "equivalent power", e.g. something may claim to be equivalent 100W. Once upon a time (and I am old enough to remember) we had actual 100W incandescent light bulbs. A 100W bulb, on all the time, would cost £1.37 a day, crazy. These days such bulbs may actually use only 10W and be LED based, so 1/10 of the cost. Some are way less. Even so, keeping lights off when not needed can add up - a few pence here and there.

That said, some lighting is more expensive than you realise - maybe lots of "halogen" downlighter fitted some years ago. The key here is - use the in home display - try one thing at a time - find what power it is using.

Also, the "energy efficiency rating" you see on things, like "A rated", are not really helpful. They are more "how good is this thing compared to industry standard". Some things have higher standards than others. The real thing to look at is the power usage and time used. Yes, if you can replace something with a new thing that is more efficient, great, but what matters is how much less power the new thing uses, not what letter it has.

Of course some things are a tad deceptive, a washing machine is moving and heating and pumping (all of which are bad), but for various periods and not all of the time. So checking its "power rating" is not that helpful as that is the most it can use at any one moment. A trick there is run it and see how much the in home display on the smart meter says you have used while running it (allowing of how much is used for the same time without doing so).

But if you see how much, for example, a tumble drier uses, and have the option to line dry things instead, you can see what you save.

If you are really not sure, you can literally turn everything off, and run one thing, to see what the display says it has used, or what rate it uses, for just that one thing.

But some things are low enough not to worry about. For example, a TV on standby is likely to be around 1½W. That is not kW, but W, so if a TV is on 24 hours that is 24 x 1½ which is 36Wh, which is 0.036kWh, which at 0.036 units, and at 57p per unit is 2p, for a whole day on standby. I mean, yes, it is a saving to unplug it, but just boiling half as much water in the kettle saves more.

  • So try and do the maths to work out what costs what. Decide then what you can reduce.
  • Use the smart meter display, try turning things off / on and seeing how it changes.

Of course there are longer term, and more expensive, measures we can all take, like improving insulation, and upgrading heating systems, adding energy monitoring stuff, solar panels, and batteries and so on, but to be honest, if you can afford that you probably are not the target of this blog post.

Energy is heat

Bearing in mind, any power saving in lights, TV on standby, broadband router, or anything else, using electricity, in the house, ultimately means more power used to heat your house. All of the used, or wasted, power in the house is 100% efficient heating of your house. That is where the energy goes. That does not help in summer, but it does in winter. If using gas to heat your house, less of a problem, as it is so much cheaper than electricity to heat. But if using electricity to heat your house - any saving on lights, TV, even kettle, are ultimately increases in power used to "heat". All your used electrical power ends up as heat. This means all those apparent small savings for an electrically heated house are a total waste of time - the real saving is putting up with a few degrees colder, sorry.

Similarly for gas - e.g. we have gas central heating, and a gas oven and hob in the main kitchen/living room. When we use gas to cook, in the winter, the gas used to cook will heat the room and so save on gas used to, err, heat the room. Of course, the cooking needs venting somewhere too, so again, not so simple.

Whenever we think of energy used or wasted, and saving it, think about where that energy goes.

(OK, a few exceptions, my tumble drier pumps warm air out of a vent and the washing machine flushes hot water down the drain, and it is a matter of where in the house the heat is, but in most cases the electrical appliances in your house end up heating your house 100% efficiently)

No help

Let's be clear, all of these tips, even mine, will be fuck all help to a lot of people where the cost increase just to stay alive is way more than they can afford. Sorry. All I can say is please make sure you vote when you can - to make the country better somehow.

2022-08-26

W3W business plan

Latest spam (always spam isn't it? It was spam that started the investigation in to w3w.me.ss for example).

"I am getting in touch to see if you have thought about accepting a what3words address from customers to help couriers find an exact location for delivery."

I seriously do not understand the business plan here!

This is targeting businesses that themselves use couriers. Not targeting couriers.

So...

There are so many examples of close clashes

Couriers already have a long standing and well tested system for delivering to an "addresses". Royal Mail have a whole system of "postcodes" dating back to the '60s. These days there are "delivery points" with a DPS (Delivery Point Suffix) even. Couriers pay Royal Mail for access to the PAF (Postal Address File) which has all the data you could need, including, if you want, a grid references for the delivery point which can be down to 0.1m x 0.1m accuracy (AFAIK). It works, and they already pay for this.

This means that even selling W3W to couriers makes no real sense. They have a system. W3W cannot replace that system, and is not better. One key point is PAF updates. If an address changes, or even if a delivery point (e.g. the post room door in a large company) moves or was wrong, they can update that with no change to the "Address" used. This is spectacularly not the case with W3W.

I mean, if a courier takes W3W, is it:-

  • The same as PAF, so why?
  • Different, PAF is wrong, the W3W is actual delivery point - so update PAF?
  • Different, some outbuilding, so when courier does not deliver to "northwest corner of garden" they are berated for wrong delivery?
  • Way off, so where do they send the driver?

But this email is to a company that "uses couriers". So what the hell would they be "selling" to such a company? Whatever it is it only works if the courier we use "accepts" W3W as part of the delivery address somehow (I think they have convinced one courier to do that).

We use couriers, including Royal Mail. Now imagine if W3W convinced a courier we use to take a W3W address.

What is W3W *selling* us? The ability to "accept W3W address from customers". Well, I hate to say it but that ability comes with <input name=w3waddress placeholder="W3W address"> in a form, and we then feed in to the API or label to the courier. We don't need to *pay* W3W for that in any way, do we?

I mean they have a database right and copyright on the wordlist, and patent (questionable) on the algorithm, but they have no rights over individual W3W addresses, e.g. no copyright, just like Royal Mail have no right to individual "postal addresses", only their "database". We could "accept W3W address" from customers, and feed to "couriers" at zero cost. Indeed, if we had a courier which accepted W3W they would probably provide us with an address API which would check the real address and W3W address makes sense and reject, again at no cost to us.

So WTAF are they spamming companies?

Basically this is crazy... But...

  1. Please, if you get this, troll them and ask how it is better than PAF?
  2. Please, if you get this, and their plan really is to just use you (for free) to promote W3W as you "accept W3W addresses", ask how much they pay you per click on your web site and ordering for doing so.

2022-08-24

Grid reference

The UK, like many countries, have a simple system based on UTM for "grid reference" to say where you are. In the UK this is two letters to say the main map square and then digits. How many digits depends on how exact you want it. All digits (two letters and ten digits, so no worse than a phone number) gets you to the metre, ish.

Wikipedia covers this well (here).

One of the issues is correctly conveying the letters and numbers over an audio link. If you have any form of data, SMS, etc, you can convey an exact latitude and longitude, and that should always be preferred, but conveyed over a call, or radio, map references are all about people reading and typing the sequence of letters and numbers.

For example: SO 29902 14197

The sequence is no harder to convey than a phone number, which works well, but would help if there was a way of checking what you heard was right. There are alternative ways to convey location, but not with a proper check character, surprisingly.

So what would be really cool is if Ordnance Survey, or some international body, defined a check character for such things. Then apps, and the like could add that.

Make it SO 29902 14197 Q or some such where Q is the check. This could be a simple mod 23 of a sum/multiplier of the letters/numbers, or some such. But the idea is you can quote a location with a check. As a letter on the end (avoid O and I and Z to avoid confusion with digits) you have an optional, and obvious, check.

Please can they define this - it is simple, and no cost to do so, but means we could have apps and devices quoting grid references with an integrity check.


OK, I am going to go ahead and define a standard - it would be nice if Ordnance Survey approved it.

  • Each character (ignoring spaces) is assigned a value. For the letters is is 0 to 24 for the position in the 25 letters that are valid (all normal letters except I). Each digit has the value of the digit 0-9.
  • The value of each character is multiplied by the position (ignoring spaces), starting with the first character (letter) being 1, then 2, etc.
  • The result is added and then modulo 23 (a prime).
  • The check character is the position 0-22 in all letters (except I, O, and Z).

2022-08-21

Battery, part 1

This post is literally just a teaser.

The solar install was to include a battery, but it has taken months to arrive. Finally it is fixed to the wall - that is it for part 1, bolted to the wall.

It is Tesla Powerwall with 13½kWh usable storage, with 5kW charge/discharge rate.

Later this week Some time next week, it will be wired up, including a "gateway" to allow me to run off grid during power cuts.

Should be fun, watch this space.

But yes, planning to explain what it is, how much, what it does, how the wiring works, how it works with the solar panels, the app, the API, the tariff I end up, etc...

2022-08-17

Open the pod bay doors, HAL

I am pleased to say I finally have the locks sorted at home.

The underlying system is in use at the office and a number of other places, including a hackspace (whose feedback has been great), but as anyone that does software knows it really helps to actually be a user as well. I had the previous system at my previous house in Bracknell. But now in Wales, I wanted the new system as well. I like the system I have made, and using means I can more easily spot the improvements that are needed.

Several small tweaks over the last couple of months as installed. The locksmith has managed a reasonable job of this and coped with my wiring in the door quite well. The controller boards have got smaller and better over time.

It is a very different set up for domestic than for office, and that has been a challenge. The Abloy EL560 work well for this. We don't want "break glass" boxes and exit buttons, so needed some creative solutions to make it "wife approved" and secure at the same time.

My daughter, who is visiting this week, is the first person to have her door access card set up using multiple separate AIDs to allow use at the house here and the office in Bracknell, along with my grandson. The 8k DESFire cards allow this to work well with separate AIDs for each site to work independently.

Of course, said grandson, being far too inquisitive, especially near a hot soldering iron, is why my office door at home is currently default locked. Strangely enough this has led to an improvement today on reporting unauthorised access attempts. It reports all sorts of failures, bad fobs, even access outside time period, but straight up valid card that is "these are not the doors to which you have access, [waves hand]" was not flagged as obviously, and is now. Obviously he did not get access, but now, if he tries again, I get emails, and the teletype will go mental, and so on. LOL.

I should be doing another office soon as well, as a prototype. I really hope to be selling these soon - once component shortages are over (ha!). We'll put the modules on Amazon I expect.

2022-08-16

WIFi is not Internet!

xkcd.com/2659
I know most of you will know this, but I hope it is helpful.

Typical home internet

A typical home internet will involve some connection, usually over wires or fibreglass, maybe even radio / mobile / satellite, and maybe even some combination of these with fallback.

But ultimately it will end up on a box, a "router".

For most people that router will have WiFi. It will have a label or card or some such with the name of the WiFi and password, e.g. vodagin5A4C and password kjhasd87af, which you will have dutifully typed in to your iPhone and iPad, and so on, to make it all work.

For most people that WiFi connection is "the Internet".

If you change "Internet provider", the new provider sends a new box which you plug in and you have new WiFi details to use.

So for most people WiFi is "Internet"...

WiFi and Internet are separate things

In practice the WiFi and Internet connection are separate things. It is just that your provider has created a nice simple package that provides the whole solution. Which is nice.

The Internet connection is the wires/fibre/etc that connect to your router. The router will probably have an "Ethernet socket" on it, or several of them. The WiFi part is the radio link from that router to your devices. These are actually separate things.

Using wires

The first thing to learn is that you don't have to use WiFi at all. Yes, your average phone or iPad will use WiFi, but if you have a laptop or desktop computer, especially if it is in a fixed location like a desk, you don't actually have to use WiFi. The Ethernet port on your router can be connected using a cable to your computer. You can even install cables permanently in your home to connect places like a desk to where your router is located. Some people install Ethernet wall sockets and have a place where they all go to which allows them to be connected as needed to equipment like a router.

You can also use switches, small devices that have multiple Ethernet ports, to make this simpler - e.g. one wire to your desk, and a switch allowing several things on your desk to connect using Ethernet cables. In some cases you can get a switch which provides power via the Ethernet cables - this can be useful for things like an Internet connected telephone, or cameras, etc. This also works for most TVs and set top boxes.

The "speed" you experience when accessing the Internet will basically be the lower of the speed of your Internet connection and the speed of your WiFi. If you have a large house or thick walls you may find the limiting factor is the WiFi. It can also be a bit unreliable. Using cables will be much more reliable and faster meaning the limiting factor is the Internet connection. So if using a computer at a desk, e.g. working from home, using wires is by far the better option. It does not stop you also using WiFi for things, at the same time.

This wiring is not specific to your Internet connection, if you change ISP, you simply connect the wiring you have installed to the new router they provide. The wiring is infrastructure in your home, just like electrical wiring or plumbing.

Better WiFi

The next thing to realise is that you don't have to use the WiFi your ISP included in the router. You may be able to get a router without WiFI (perhaps even cheaper), or have it turned off. Some routers even have a button or switch to turn the WiFi off, or perhaps a setting you can change. You can leave it on, but better to turn off if not using it.

You may still want to use WiFi, obviously. WiFi uses an "access point" (AP). This is the radio part that you phone, etc, connects to. The router from your ISP has an AP built in to provide WiFi.

The clever bit is that you can have your own separate AP. You can even have more than one AP for the same WiFi network. If you have a large house you may want an AP each end of the house, or each floor. If you have thick walls (as I do) you may even want external (weatherproofed) APs to allow WiFi outside.

There is a lot of choice in terms of the WiFi APs you get. Ideally you use Ethernet cables to connect to these APs to your network (and to the router for your Internet connection). You can use a power over Ethernet switch with many APs meaning so that you only need an Ethernet cable and don't have to also run power to the APs. It is also possible to get APs that are designed to "mesh" - connecting from one AP to the next using radio - these need power but don't need the Ethernet cable. This is not as good as using cables to all APs, but sometimes is the best you can do.

At the end of the day it is all down to budget, there are APs that are hundreds of pounds, and there are cheaper ones. Ideally you want APs that are designed to work together so they "hand over" your connection as you move around the house making it seamless. You don't "see" lots of different "WiFi" - you see one WiFi that works everywhere in the house.

Much like running your own wiring and switches, these APs are yours to set up for the best working in your home. They are infrastructure in your home. If you change ISP you simply connect to the new ISPs router.

Signal strength

Of course, having sorted your (multiple) access points, you now see your nice strong WiFi signal strength. But remember, WiFi is not Internet!

If you have a "really good WiFi signal", that just means you are well connected to your AP. It does not have any bearing on speed or quality of your "Internet connection". A comment by @markusl@fosstodon.org: "This does seem to be a real cause of confusion. It took me a long time to explain to Mrs Wife why having a strong WiFi signal at both ends of a video call doesn't guarantee good call quality".

I name this WiFi ...

xkcd.com/2199
One of the nice things about using your own APs is you get to name your WiFi. To be fair, you can usually do that with an ISP provided router, but so many people don't do this. You can give the WiFI any name you like (even with emojis), and your choice of password.

There are loads of more complex options, multiple networks with different firewalling and security, and so on, with different named WiFi (all on the same APs), and so on. But that is not necessary for most people.

So it is worth thinking about things separately. Sorting our your home network - quite separately from deciding on a suitable Internet access provider.  Some people even change ISP to get "better WiFi", which, as you can see, is not necessary - pick an ISP because of the Internet connection, and make sure your home infrastructure does what you need.

Lies, and politicians

I am perhaps old enough to remember when, in general politicians did not outright lie. OK, bear with me, usually they have speeches and stat...