Cellular woes

The mobile provider we use is having issues right now with no data or voice services across the UK and including issues for those abroad using UK based accounts. It might be wider still. Of course there is no news from the provider and their website is apparently down for maintenance.

It happens. No doubt there will be some explanation in due course.

Twitter is alight – always a good source of gossip and alerts. But alerts on Twitter that fire off to a hashtag generate other issues. People use those hashtags to peddle their own, unrelated crud. And then there are confusing messages such as ‘Latest Trending in UK : “Three network down”. Find it on Amazon! ‘. But in general here is where Twitter comes into its own if you can cut through the dross.

Of course, there are numerous Tweets about the poor service with people saying they will leave and how bad it all is. There was one good Tweet from someone who said it’s the first outage they have seen in years and to wait it out. And that’s all you can do. Cellular networks are complex animals, and remember if something has a 99% uptime it can be down for more than three whole days a year, and all at the same time! Things go wrong.

Of course, I can still talk to the world via my amateur radio kit, running off batteries if needed, 24/7 with no other technology involved… just saying. Ok, joking apart it is worrying that we are increasingly pushing emergency communications onto cellular providers who are private entities responsible to their shareholders and not to us with what I am guessing are multiple single points of failure able to take down the whole country in one go.

Exit Sky box stage left…

I finally cancelled Sky recently after fretting over it for far too long – no fault of Sky, we just don’t watch that much Sky content now. Anyway, this rendered the Sky+HD box useless as it will no longer record, or indeed play already recorded content, even non-Sky stuff. No biggie, and the box was free after all. So I got a Freeview Play recorder.

I decided to tidy the cabling up ready for the new box and that’s where the day suddenly got longer…

First off, the amount of dust! I dare say that there is no dust left anywhere on Earth other than behind our TV. Clearly it all came here and settled. I guess I should have been prepared as one of the hamsters once ran under the TV unit and emerged a completely different colour… poor thing, it took me ages to clean her up. Ok, vacuum at the ready, dust gone.

The wires. For some reason unknown to me (even though I did it) I used the two longest Ethernet cables I had to connect the TV and the DVD, and both were intertwined with everything. Ok, so let’s get rid of those for starters. Then there is a gigabit Ethernet switch sat in the dust because there were not enough outlets – fitted 4 and needed 5. As the Sky box is gone I no longer needed the two CT125 satellite cables and outlet (well, more hole really as the outlet would not fit so the cables just carry on out the hole) which I replaced with a dual Cat5 socket. Why were there ever two different colour standards for Cat5 cabling and why did I never write down the one I used? Ok, pull a faceplate off and check… right, ‘A’, write it down. Ok later. Ok I took a photo at least.

Terminating these new cables in the wiring closet was an act of contortionism. I have a 19” rack bolted to the back wall and a 48-way Cat5 unit installed on a hinge so it can swing out to access the wires. This is great provided nothing is plugged in with cables going to stuff located on top of the rack. Which is what I have of course… so hinging the thing out means also carefully moving the two Ethernet switches on top of the rack as well, and balancing them carefully. Good grief, who designed this set-up… oh, me. Anyway, I got the cables in and yes I did remember to write down what goes where. So, let’s test them. Grabbed the tester from the workshop only to find out the 12V battery is dead and I don’t have a spare. Ugh. Ok, I used the TV to test each socket and both are fine. See how things snowball?

By-bye Ethernet switch and associated wall-wart. Remind me to figure out why I have a 24 port Ethernet switch and an 8 port PoE switch almost full when there are only 15 or so active devices in the house…

Dust – check. Wiring – check. Ethernet cables, shortened and sorted. Ok, the Freeview Play recorder is in place and it was pretty easy to set up.

I wonder if anyone will notice me replacing the now-redundant Sky dish with my 1.2m one with a dual band patch and aiming it at Qo-100…

New broadband

Just switched broadband providers to a deal half the price for 12 months. Funny how you never re-check stuff though. I had carefully put two outgoing rules in the previous hub for my VoIP phone. While adding these into the new hub I realised that there is already a rule allowing any device any outgoing connections so that was rather a waste of time! Oh well…

Robotic answerphone

I don’t know what reminded me of this funny little event of the early 1990’s but hey.

Our exchange had a callback function which rings your extension when the one you are dialling becomes free. I had an answering machine connected to my phone, one of those old ones with two cassettes in. Anyway, I rang my boss but his phone was engaged so I hit the callback button and hung up. Some time later (he must have been on a very long call!) I had to go out and then went to lunch directly afterwards. When I returned there was a rather confused sounding message from my boss on the answerphone. What had happened is that his call had eventually ended and when he put his phone down the exchange then rang my phone to indicate the callback was available. My answerphone picked the rings up assuming it was an incoming call which resulted in the exchange then ringing my bosses phone while the answerphone was giving out my “I’m away…” message. He picked up to hear the end of my outgoing message, and my answerphone then recorded his confused mumblings to his PA, something along the lines of “…I don’t know, it seems to be an answerphone…”!

PPI adverts

I wonder what will replace all those TV and Facebook adverts about reclaiming PPI once the deadline has passed…

China

I find myself in China again. And it is as fascinating a place as last time. Different city, same sized hotel, huge rooms and facilities that put most affordable hotels in the UK to shame. By comparison, the hotel in Hong Kong presented us with a squished cockroach that came flying out on the air conditioner. Hmmm.

Those of you who read my 2017 Ph.D. thesis (I know there are three of you, otherwise don’t bother, it’s not particularly interesting!) will realise that I have an interest in China from an Internet perspective. However, being in China again after some 6 years a lot has changed. All of Google is now blocked, which means I need to use Bing to search (other search engines are available!) and it works well enough but does not appear to have the number of results that I know Google has for certain keywords. WhatsApp is blocked, but as I’ve not been using it for very long I don’t know if this is a recent change. Facebook… well, all I use it for is checking what my Facebook friends are writing and issuing the occasional and probably somewhat daft missive. eBay works fine but my newsreader will not connect to its server – no surprises there. The BBC is still blocked. All the railway and radio forums I use all work fine. Dilbert works, which surprises me a little, and xkcd too but for some reason it loads very slowly.

The one big change I see, however, is in payments. Hardly anyone that we’ve been associating with here uses cash.  Vending machines in the attractions we visited do not accept cash or cards. Everyone pays using WeChat or Alipay to make payments by essentially scanning a QR code and its all over in a flash. I won’t go into details here, there’s plenty of info on the web. You can still use cash in some places but we found we needed to ask first just in case as our mobiles will not work in China – or rather will but would cost the earth.

Fingerprints are now scanned on entry via customs and were also taken when we applied for our visas. I can imagine some people complaining about this but this is the norm in China. Personally I have no issue and we really cannot demand that countries accept our way of doing things just because we want to travel. The last time we were here bags were X-ray scanned at every subway station – people just got on with it and it never seemed to cause any delays. We’re being taken by car everywhere we go this time so no public transport…

And there are a lot of electric cars and electric scooters now. Cars with green number plates are electric. Traffic laws here appear to be something to be ignored, or treated as a minor inconvenience, but everyone just gets on with it. Scooters go every which way, same as Montreal then…

Actually a note on the visa process. It took us a long time to fill the form in online (you fill in the form and print it and make an appointment with the visa centre) mostly because we didn’t understand some of the questions. Fear not. The staff at the visa centre in Manchester are extremely helpful and will correct mistakes provided you follow all the procedures. These include bringing a photocopy of your passport data page and previous visa and other such things, all clearly stated. When we were there some people had ignored these. There is a photocopier there though. I had misread the bit about needing a passport photo as well as submitting the online one. But guess what, the visa centre has a photobooth so no biggie, and at £ 6 it is no more expensive than any others we saw about the place. Anyway, the visas all went to plan and there were no issues at customs which was actually surprisingly quick. I’ll go as far as saying a whole lot easier than getting into the USA! YMMV – do your homework first.

‘New’ or not so new PCs

There seems to be a lot of adverts these days on a certain website for new PCs at good prices. But when you look more closely, it turns out that the only bits that are new are the case and the PSU and everything else is refurbished.

Isn’t that like buying a car and being told yes the car is new, but the engine, transmission, brakes, steering, and everything inside is from various scrap cars – we’ve just dusted them a bit?

Maybe its just me… but to me new is new, not new-ish, or part new, or old with a new box. And I’m not sure how you refurbish a CPU or memory module – what, they take the lid off and change the oil and maybe change a couple of the gears that make the accumulator go round? Put more decimal points in the floating point unit? Hmmm…