2023-03-23

So.Energy & Ombudsman

It has been hard work, but I finally have a sensible final bill from So.Energy. It was only Electricity that was the issue.

The problem was simple - they did not have correct closing readings. I could not give them correct closing readings as their web form for them wanted import AND export and they had failed to make the meter show me me export dispite asking for many months. However, going to Octopus I got clean opening smart meter readings for both. I also have a new local meter display that logs to MQTT which is nice.

So they estimated my export very low, and they had a correct import reading from smart meter. All they had to do was correct the low export estimate.

So.Energy ignored every attempt to tell them the correct readings! All they had to do was update them. Simple as that!

Then they issued a new closing bill with totally new import reading that was completely made up, and wanted a lot more money from me! To me this only makes sense as fraud. They even lied to the Ombudsman saying the new closing read came from Octopus (well, "old supplier"?). Octopus even sent screen shots of what they reported to So.Energy.

It had to go to the Ombudsman. The process was not that painful, and all on-line and forms and online messages and so on. But was tedious.

  1. I make a detailed complaint and upload evidence (bills basically, and copy of email referring me).
  2. I then add a message saying how it is odd the complaint is logged as "has smart meter: no", and "referral evidence: not included" when I said it was smart meter and had in fact already uploaded the screen shot of the referral and marked it as such.
  3. Time passes and state is "additional checks", but they don't say what they are. Lots of time.
  4. Lots of time passes, then the ombudsman ask me to confirm some details, even though exactly as stated in the complaint?
  5. So.Energy are told of the complaint, and quickly reply with their proposed remedy - see below
  6. Finally, after a month, ombudsman tell so.energy to fix the final readings and give me £40 and an apology.
  7. So.energy quickly say they have implemented the decision, they have not as they have not done the export reading correction.
  8. Ombudsman say so.energy are trying to dispute export with Octopus and want me to raise with Octopus - why? Octopus have a correct smart meter reading so nothing to dispute! 
  9. Over 28 days later (yes, they had to reply in 28 days), after chasing, So.energy implement the decision and apologise.
  10. I pay the final bill (I don't wait 5 minutes, let alone 28 days). Settled.

The initial response to complaint from So.energy is weird. This is clear cut, simple, wrong import and export readings, and I provided clear evidence (opening bills from Octopus) of that. You would expect the proposed remedy to be to simply fix that, job done.

But no, they say "The reads we have received is[sic] from the customers old[sic] suppliers. The customers account has now be revised and final bill sent to customer". They fixed the import but did not fix the export, and what is with "old suppliers" - this is about "new suppliers", and the reading was not in fact from the new (or old) supplier anyway. It was just fraudulent, in my view.

I have to wonder how the hell most people cope with this crap. I bet most people just pay up. If this is systematic it is a lot of money - who knows?

But final result - actually sorted - after a lot of time spent on this.

During the whole time So.Energy harassed me by email for payment even though they knew the case was with the Ombudsman. They also seemingly cannot actually read emails - claiming simple plain text emails are "blank".

Complaint started 29th Dec, resolved 23rd March.

2023-03-09

PECR

I am, once again, getting more spam. Someone must have put my email on some mailing list. This is a pain in the arse, takes up my time, and so effectively has a cost to me.

There are two rules covering this, one (as it is my name in the email address) is GDPR, and one is The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 which covers spam, basically.

GDPR is a problem as it has all sorts of exceptions and is rather subtle in how it works, and can be argued in various ways, notably that handling my "personal information" is in "legitimate interests", and the like.

But The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 are pretty simple in most ways, they ban unsolicited marketing calls, fax, and emails. Simples.

They have two big issues though.

Damages

The PECR allows me to claim damages as a civil case (sue them), but I have no way to show "damages". The regulations would massively benefit from a nominal sum that I can claim without proving tangible damages, e.g. £40 like the late payment of commercial debts regulations. Yes, if I can show more, then great, but a nominal base value would be idea. Cases would not have to go to court, I can claim the amount and nobody sending spam would be daft enough not to cough up, well, not a second time anyway once it has gone to court. Sadly without this the case can be (and was on one occasion) thrown out as no way to show actual tangible costs/damages from receiving spam.

Of course the ICO should act on such things, but they too are inept. A nominal cost allowed in civil cases would be way more effective, and something the government should consider when making the post brexit version of this law.

Individual subscriber

The other problem is that spamming "commercial" email addresses is allowed!

Why the fuck is that the case? At the end of the day a real person is on the end of these emails, even if they work in an office, and they are a nuisance to all. Arguably a business has more tangible losses as they pay someone for their time handling such spam. But that is the way it is.

The problem is how you define "individual" or "corporate", and that has always been an issue. I am pretty sure the ICO used to be a bit bad at this, but it seems the latest guidance from them is actually in line with the regulations, to my shock.

Specifically they say

"The marketing rules in PECR refer to “subscribers”. For example, this means the customer named on the bill for a telephone line or internet connection. There are two type of subscribers in PECR - corporate and individual."

This is in line with the regulations. The distinction between individual and corporate subscriber is a matter of the contract for the internet connection for the delivery of the email.

Usually, for an employee, in an office, the contract is between the company and their ISP. So a corporate subscriber, and not covered by PECR for spam.

But it gets interesting when people are working from home. Which contract applies. Which internet connection applies? Those home workers may be contracting for their internet connection as individuals, and then receiving that (corporate) email over that connection. Does that make them "individual subscribers".

At what point is the email "delivered" to them, or to "the email address"? and is it over their personal internet access, even if read from their office mail server. What if they read the email at the office, and later read it again at home or on their mobile? Was it delivered to an individual subscriber or a corporate subscriber or both?

My solution

For me I have made its easier. I contract with A&A for the A&A domain, email services, and my home internet access, as an individual. Indeed, I am even billed personally (albeit a nominal amount) for "Internet connection used for delivery of email to all @aa.net.uk addresses". I pay personally for all of the A&A email services, and for the domain, and whatever internet connection is used to deliver that email. So in my case all email to any A&A "business" email address is clearly delivered under a contract with an "individual subscriber", and so is subject to PECR.

The argument from some muppet insisting that as an employee I am not an individual subscriber seems to have gone quiet when I explained that. We will see.

At the end of the day any business, no matter how big, could have one of its directors contracted and invoiced personally for all business email at £1/month, making all that email subject to PECR if they want, and allowing them to sue, personally, for every spam the company gets.

Moral?

The moral of the story is don't send unsolicited marketing emails. At all. Ever. Simple as that!

Ask your MP?

Bed sensor

Some time ago I got a Withings sleep sensor. Not cheap. I am not really sure it helps me understand my sleep well. It does a lot - tracks sleep, types of sleep, snoring, sleep apnea, heart rate. Clever bugger.

However, it does not allow you to use it without consenting to your data being used for other things, which, seems to me, to be a clear breach of GDPR. Obviously I reported it, and ICO were obviously inept, though they got as far as referring to EU, and then Brexit happened, so no idea where the case is now. I think it has fallen down the cracks and Withings just ignore GDPR, it seems.

Apart from some interest in what it says about my sleeping, my main use for this is reporting to my home automation when I go to bed and when I get up. I then link this to various things from simple lights, to air-con, directing the vents for lossnay (fresh air), illumination settings on environmental sensors, and so on. I rather like that lying down turns off the lights, and that getting up in the night turns on one light on a mirror in the en-suite bathroom. If I get up in the morning for 5 minutes it turns on the rest of the lights, and my office air-con, and so on. The possibilities are endless and there are people that are way more in to this than I am.

The problem is that the way this works is convoluted!

  • Sensor detects in/out of bed.
  • Sends to Withings which is in France I think
  • That is linked IFTTT - no idea where that is
  • IFTTT does a get on my server in my loft
  • My server pokes MQTT for various things to happen

It can take a few seconds to a few minutes, or not at all if any servers or internet access is not working.

The solution

Recently I realised that a simple bed sensor mat is something one can buy cheaply. I mean I realise now that obviously such things must exist, but it had not occurred to me before.

I got one of them - a larger one for a bed (amazon, or cheaper direct). They also sell smaller ones. They could be used on a bed, a wheel chair, even under a door mat. They are sold for healthcare to track someone getting out of bed, or falling out of wheelchair, etc.

I was surprised to find it copes with my thick memory foam mattress, and slats. The Withings one has a pump to pump it up with air to adjust for weight of things like a mattress, but it is doing more than just detecting I am on the bed (e.g. heart rate, etc).

Withings (top, grey) and new sensor (bottom, white)

The trick is what they connect to - alarm devices are sold to work with them. I decided to give it a try, and found it was actually easy to make this work with my home automation. The trick was to use a Shelly Plus i4 DC (here). The reason for the DC model is that I don't want mains under my bed really, and the switch inputs on most Shelly are mains. They do an isolator which has digital and analogue inputs which would allow a Shelly Plus 1 to be used, but the DC i4 is easier. The other feature is it can work from 5V to 24V, and so can be powered from a USB socket. I got a USB lead (amazon).

Too many USB devices already!

The wiring was simple - the sensor appears to be a simple passive sensor. The 4 wires are actually two wires connected and two wires connected, so only effectively two wires, between which is open circuit when no pressure. When pressure applied they go to around 2kΩ, but I suspect it changes with the level of pressure. Thankfully it is low enough to trigger the input on the Shelly Plus i4 DC.

The sensor operates like a switch input, and so can be linked in to any home automation that can work with a Shelly. There is HomeKit stuff for that, but I re-flash with tasmota personally. Obviously this could work up to 4 such sensors, ideal for his/her side of bed, or floor mats as well, etc.

The nice thing is that it is instant in reacting, though obviously I can add a delay if I want. The important thing is it is not a random 10 seconds or several minutes delay as before.

2023-03-05

Sci-fi and time dilation

Someone will tell me I have this wrong I am sure. But I'll try explain the weird dream I had the other day.

Firstly, time dilation is a thing, the fact that some things (gravity, for example) can mean that in one place time may go at a different rate to somewhere else.

One of the thoughts that then occurred to me is that time dilation must change over a distance, creating a gradient - a rate of change of time over distance. One that would be a great one for xkcd What If? is what sort of time dilation gradient could a person tolerate?

My thought was how the human body could possibly cope with passing through some level of time dilation - what gradient would make sense before blood pressure either way is fatal, etc.

Now, lots of sci-fi has time dilation, for various reasons. Sometimes (like a Star Trek TNG episode) there were these bubbles of different rates of time. Sometimes (like a Star Trek Voyager) there were people walking in one time frame around a room of others apparently "frozen" (but just really slow). In StarGate Atlantis they had a portal that transitioned through a time dilation (but supposedly protected you from the transition effects). The idea of "stopping time" for everyone in an area apart from the protagonist, or just for one person, is very common in sci-fi. The SG-1 I am watching now has time dilation in the SGC over a distance of a few floors of the facility.

The huge issue that occurred to me first was energy - sonic boom type stuff but with heat and light. If an environment has normal time, and is, for example, in daylight, but some person is (near) frozen,  the amount of light and heat hitting them, from their point of view, would have enough energy to vaporise them very quickly. Time dilation enough to be noticeable would quickly cause severe suntans from the normal light fittings.

But what really struck me, in this dream, was frequency. Surely if someone is in a time frame that is, say, 40% slower than those around them, they would see things in a very odd way. All red would have turned to blue one way, or blue turned red the other way. If someone is half or twice as fast as their surroundings then they will not be able to see or be seen as light will be shifted out of the visible both ways. Indeed, at any notably larger differences you are either microwaving or x-raying someone just by carrying a torch.

Actually the x-ray one is amusing, as normal light could enter the dilation area, pass through as x-rays, a person, and come out converted back to normal light the other side, so you would see people as skeletons illuminated from behind if they were in a time dilation bubble of some sort. The microwave version is probably less of an amusing sight.

Did I get that right?

2023-03-01

The end is nigh (for phone lines, anyway)

This is both simple and complicated...

The simple bit is that old fashioned phone lines, as have been around, providing telephone service, for well over a century, in the UK, are coming to an end. Well, at least the main provider of such, BT, is stopping them.

That is the simple bit, and it really is simple. Even now, in a lot of areas, you cannot now buy a "normal" landline telephone service from BT, or any of the companies that use BT for such services. You can't take over an existing line, or move it to a new provider. This is spreading across the country area by area. The next step, in a couple of years, is that the existing lines stop working.

What's the plan?

When I explain this, I am asked "What's the plan then?", and "What are they [BT] going to do?".

In principle this is an odd question, BT are stopping phone lines. Why do they need a plan? Why do they need to "do anything"? Why do people think BT will do anything? All that is happening is that a company is stopping selling a particular service. Simple as that.

I think people see phone lines as some sort of right, or public service, but it is not. It is just a service that some companies sell. It is also a service which is purchased less and less. So many people use mobile phones these days, and so many people use other means to have a telephone service, which I come on to later. It makes commercial sense for BT to stop selling this service, simple as that. Other providers will follow suit, though a lot of other providers use BT lines so are stopping anyway.

Just to be clear, bits of copper wire in the ground will be around a while longer, but used for broadband, and not have a telephone service. Though this is gradually being changed to glass fibre.

In practice though...

Of course, in practice, BT, and other providers of such services, are not daft. They have a range of other products that will provide "telephone service" by other means, and will be keen to sell them to you.

This is, of course, confusing to a lot of people. No service will be exactly the same, but some will be very close. One of the issues is the fact that telephone exchanges used to have power backup for several hours, and they powered the telephone handset - so phone lines used to work for a while in a power cut. Also, if the power cut was local, at your house but not at the exchange, they worked as long as you like with a power cut. Almost every other service does not have that exact feature. Even if you have batteries yourself, your internet access may not have, or may only work for a short period (batteries in street cabinets, etc). So no service will be quite identical, but in subtle ways people don't always consider (e.g. power fail and calling 999).

There is also the issue that people will ask why they have to buy some new service? Well, they don't, obviously, but the existing service they buy is stopping, so it is up to them what they choose to do.

999

Emergency services are a concern for people - as I mention, batteries may not last very long even if you have them. There was a reported case where someone could not call 999 on their VoIP service as they had no power during a fire. This is sad. But remember 999 on landlines is not a 100% reliable service, that would be impossible. It is very reliable, and the power from the exchange helps, but even that is only for a few hours at most. 999 has always been a service that telephone providers have to provide to the extent technically possible, and they do a good job. But there are always edge cases (a fire could have damaged the phone line and it would not be a news story, it is only a story because it is "change").

One small issues is VoIP is an "over the top" service. It uses an Internet service to work. ISPs have never had to try and provide a service with the same level of reliability for 999 use, nor when no power, and so on, and as they are not providing 999 it is unlikely that will change (if it does, it will be a lot of cost). That said, an over the top service can be made more reliable - you can have have multiple providers and even satellite links. The snag is most people would not want to pay the extra cost for that increased reliability.

Of course, in a lot of cases, a mobile service is also available. Though people forget that these too need power at the cell site, and those sites do not necessarily have battery backup, or backup for very long.

At the end of the day, try to have a battery backup on your shiny new VoIP service if you can, and a mobile if you can, but as I say 999 has never been guaranteed 100% reliable. So think of your options.

What really are the options?

I am not going to go in to a sales pitch here. Obviously we (A&A) sell some of this. But there are a lot of options.

Firstly - do you even need something like a landline telephone service? A lot of people use mobiles, and only even have a landline for broadband. The line for broadband is fine and will continue to exist, just with no telephone service, though obviously you ideally want to be on fibre now, if you can.

Secondly, what does a landline telephone service mean to you exactly?

A telephone number

A key part of the old landline telephone service is the telephone number itself. A lot of people have had a telephone number for a very long time, and people still know it and call it. So receiving calls on a conventional geographic telephone number is important.

  • One option is have a company take over the phone number and simply send it to your mobile. There may be some call charges for that.
  • One option is a ceased number message telling people your mobile number - possibly forever, or just for a while until you stop the number altogether.
  • And finally, there is also the case of having a telephone service on your number using Voice over IP

For businesses that publish a local phone number, keeping it working one way or another is important.

Voice over IP

The basic option for keeping a service on a phone number is Voice over IP (VoIP), which is a telephone service over the internet. You need a reliable internet service, and possibly even a service that somehow manages to make VoIP work well even when your kids are downloading the latest game update at the same time. Different services (for internet) have different features to help with this. Some providers may provide special broadband routers that have built in telephone VoIP services, maybe even working with an old school telephone if you want (bear in mind that it needs power).

For a business, VoIP can offer some fun options with better telephone systems, call queuing, messages, multiple calls at once, diverts, time profiles, all sorts. Just a matter of what kit or service you buy.

Service provider

One choice for VoIP is the service provider. It may be the same as your ISP, or may be totally separate. Just like with a landline or mobile, look at the costs, the terms, the bundles, call costs, and so on. Some may bundle equipment as well. Some may have a minimum term. Some may bundle calls and some may not. Some may even provide call recording. In practice, just like "porting" numbers between mobile providers, you can usually simply port your number between providers if you need.

Equipment

Another issue is equipment. This can be totally separate to the service provider in most cases, but not all. Some service providers provide an internet and telephone service and equipment all in one bundle. In practice it is probably better to have a service provider that provides the telephone service using SIP, which is a standard for VoIP. This then lets you choose different compatible equipment as you wish.

It is however worth ensuring it works well with your ISP - things like NAT (Network Address Translation) and CGNAT (Carrier Grade NAT) can cause issues with VoIP. IPv6 solves a lot of these but then has firewall considerations. There are also issues with full links - as I mention, someone doing a big download may cause calls to break up - as the Internet tends to expect services to adapt to links being full, and voice calls can't do that. So, it is worth considering an ISP that knows how to handle VoIP properly and consider the router you are using on your Internet access carefully.

What do I have?

I have been using VoIP for a couple of decades now - initially internally from a phone system on an ISDN line and then moving the numbers to a VoIP service and ditching landlines around 18 years ago.

On my desk I have a desk phone, like an old push button landline phone. It gets used more than my mobile (I know, I'm old). It has a headset which I like when talking and typing at the same time, and a speaker phone I use some times. It is connected by one cable, a Power over Ethernet lead, to my network switch, and works using SIP. I use a FireBrick as a SIP phone system in the house allowing me to transfer calls, and ring multiple phones at once, and so on (rings my mobile as well).

Setting the temperature

My air-con can have a temperature set and aim for it. It has a wide range of ± a few degrees which I don't like. It is not setting tempe...