To be or not to beta…

The BBC reported today ( https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-54172222 ) that the planned Brexit freight system due to go live by the 1st January 2021 will be a ‘beta’ version. But it’s ok because, as reported by the  BBC the government state that ‘beta’ “is a standard labelling practice for a digital service that is fully operational”.

This is news to me because outside the open source arena, where we always said that everything was ‘always beta’, production, or ‘live’ systems are those which have successfully passed through the various development stages, the last of which being ‘beta’. So, live != beta.

But let’s run with the statement that ‘beta’ is the label assigned to a fully operational digital service. Enter gov.uk – a fully operational digital service. It has a search, and the first hit on ‘beta’ release that when digital services are launched or redesigned in a beta phase “services are continually tested and improved”. It continues “The beta label is displayed on a new service to show it’s being tested – it may not work for everyone” and explains that “Successful beta services eventually become ‘live’ and replace any older services that perform the same task.”

So, by their own claim the Brexit mega car park for trucks scheme will not work for everyone due to it being beta and still under development, rather than it  being live. Will there be a huge ’beta’ sign? After all, you are using the digital services model here for things called beta being fully functional even though your own digital service does not make such a claim.

Parcel tracking

There were 9 parcels in total, all of which weighed under 1kg. 6 went via Hermes and were collected from us, and 3 went via Royal Mail after being dropped off at the post office. All had tracking and insurance.

The three Royal Mail parcels were for overseas buyers. Of these, one was sent to a parcel handling company in London which presumably forwards it on, one went to eBay’s Global Shipping Programme (GSP) distribution centre, and one is on the way to France direct.

Now, bear in mind here that Hermes started this year rather poorly for me, failing to collect one parcel resulting in me having to cancel an eBay sale and send a refund, and loosing a model railway engine on the way to me. Then there was the news item regarding Hermes selling ‘lost’ parcels at auction even though many had perfectly readable sender and recipient details and barcodes. But I have had parcels delivered via Hermes with no issue and they did collect all 6 on the allotted day. One must remember that things do go wrong sometimes.

So why Hermes? Well, basically convenience and price. Selling on low margins simply requires it. When I sell on eBay I include the postage (so basically postage is ‘free’) because (a) eBay charge you a percentage of the postage cost (why?!) and (b) I only sell when eBay has their £1 maximum charge offer.

And so why not Hermes for the others? Two reasons here. First, the insurance Hermes charge for high value items is a lot more than Royal Mail. Second, the France buyer did not want their parcel to go via the GSP. I have a lot of sympathy there because they (the GSP) claimed that two valves were dangerous goods and had been destroyed and then took ages to refund the buyer. I’ve heard from others of these same issues. At the time I had not dealt with Royal Mail’s pre-paid online services so I sent one parcel via the GSP because that way I did not need to work out the international shipping. Having now seen how easy it is I may use Royal Mail next time but the GSP is really easy as a seller.

So, high value items via Royal Mail and dropped off at the post office, others via Hermes and collected. I would rather they were all collected because of the convenience and there are other couriers I could have used but the prices were a lot more. Of course, I can always build the higher prices into sales in advance.

Now, the big question is how did the parcels do.

All the Hermes ones were to UK addresses, one of which was in Northern Ireland. All 6 parcels were collected at the same time and all arrived at their destinations ok. All 6 took two days from collection to being recorded in the Hermes network. Four parcels were delivered in 5 days overall.

The parcel for Northern Ireland first went to the national sorting centre and then back to our local hub, then onwards to delivery, taking 7 days in total. One other parcel apparently had it’s label re-printed with no explanation which delayed it a day, taking 6 days overall.

Given the current state of the world this is not at all bad.

And on Royal Mail, these were sent 3 days after the Hermes ones due to the need to take them to the post office. Two were delivered the next day, both to UK addresses. They were on a next-day service because it had sufficient insurance included. Royal Mail state that due to current issues they cannot guarantee next-day but in the event it was. The third was on the way to France. It looks like it spent a day between here and France and was delivered on the 25th so 6 days overall, not at all bad. The GSP tracking for that one indicates that it has successfully been delivered in Italy and I have no way to see what happened to the other unless the eBay buyer leaves feedback – GSP is more useful in this case as it does provide end to end tracking but of course that was not a part of the Royal Mail service which sought only to deliver it to the GSP centre in the UK.

For background reading as to why sending these parcels made me nervous see https://www.moneywise.co.uk/work/shopping/fight-your-rights-myhermes-lost-parcel-payouts and in particular the 7 pages of comments. The author of the above article is of the opinion that these courier companies should be held responsible for loss and we should not need to insure items against their incompetence. Also, see this:

I do insure parcels though.

Workshop ramblings

Been rearranging the workshop today because I ended up spreading stuff about rather illogically. I also wanted to add some boards to the roof joists to stop leaves blowing in – the eaves are open and the shed is not insulated. It’s surprising how difficult it is to manoeuvre and fit an 8’x4′ foot plywood sheet into an 8’2″ x 4’6″ space on your own! Anyway, the aim of todays mudding was to prepare for getting all the components and bits and bobs over to one side and to extend the ‘projects waiting to be started’ shelf which was full! All the woodwork is done now and just needs some shelves and boxing to sort out.

Oh yes and there is still the matter of running some SWA Cat6 cable out from the garage which involves lifting flags, digging a trench and other adventures.

This work is partly in preparation for Project QO100 as well as the model railway which will go where the components are now. Any heavy work is now all at one end and all electronics and servicing type stuff at the other, roughly 50/50. Pics will follow once I can actually see the benches and it doesn’t just look like everything has exploded.

eBay traders and import duty

There are now so many traders on eBay claiming to have stock in the UK but with business addresses in China, Hong Kong or other Far East Asia countries that it is increasingly hard to find truly local suppliers. While I have no issue with these extraterritorial traders there are issues regarding where their products actually ship from. Several eBay adverts I checked have delivery dates far in the future yet apparent UK shipping addresses. Others clearly do have stock in the UK. One Hong Kong advert I checked said ‘3 day free shipping’ but with a delivery date 3 weeks in the future even though the product is allegedly in Walsall.

Now, while one may be willing to wait weeks for a cheap item – and these are cheap and, from previous experience still good products – there is the potential here for a product purchased from an apparent UK source to gain import duty and VAT. That would be a shock and I wonder if one can refuse said items and expect a full refund including the postage cost? I am taking that up with eBay and PayPal for advice although it can be hard to find someone to actually answer such non-generic questions.

I have had a number of items from China and had no problem with any, although I suspect I was lucky to avoid import duties. That said, the products in question were so cheap that perhaps they are under the limit. I did receive one item apparently from the UK which took two weeks (not the two days advertised) and had my address stuck over another label indicating it had first come from China to a southern UK address.

On import duty, I also purchase an item from the US which was definitely under the limit and yet was charged import duty, VAT and an administration charge equal to the total value of the item. I never paid and it was eventually sent back to the US after which I received a refund less the postage cost – fair enough but import charges do appear to be a bit of a lottery, especially with them including the postage costs to determine the overall value.

Brexit can only make this worse…

Update: On asking eBay (actually a very helpful online chat) they seemed to side with my suggestion that if a parcel comes allegedly from a UK source but you need to pay import duty that I would refuse it and claim a full refund. eBay would also want this reporting to them in the resolution centre so they can investigate such practices. I have some external LED lights on order which apparently come from Walsall so I will wait and see. I have had similar before and there were no such issues so it may just be my natural paranoia setting in!

When a service goes wrong…

It seemed a simple task. Send two parcels via a shipping company. But it went wrong and got worse from there. The moral, for the company concerned is, or should be anyway if you sell a service make sure you can actually carry that service out. Otherwise people get cross.

Monday. Two parcels packed but too late to go to the post office. News is that we will be advised to stay home and only make trips that cannot be avoided. Thank goodness there is Hermes that can collect parcels from the house. Ordered collection for both, paid and printed the labels. Collection was due on Tuesday.

Tuesday. No collection. Ok. Try customer services and find a rather hopeless chatbot which ended up allegedly sending an email to customer services to be answered within 24 hours. Never mind though because if they miss a collection the automatically try the next day, up to three times.

Wednesday. As above, including a second email via the chatbot. No reply to the first and it’s been 24 hours.

Thursday. As above! So we phoned them to be told the item (books!) was not suitable for collection. This is interesting as, well, how did they know as they never came to the house? They employ psychics? They assured us the collection would be re-booked for the next day (i.e. Friday).

Friday. Yup, no collection. I even put them outside with a note on the door indicating this as we had to dash to the supermarket.

Friday night. Booked a collection with DHL but as it is Friday they won’t collect until Monday. But it is a next-day service so hopefully all will go to plan.

Now, this part is for the future… Saturday (still tomorrow as I write), phone company ‘H’ and strongly demand a full refund without having to wait and that refund to be paid to my card, not as a token or whatever, on pain of them being reported to my credit card company. Advise company ‘H’ that I will never use their services again as this is now the third time they messed me about and given I don’t send much this is a very high failure rate. I will edit this as past-tense once done!

Update: Tried to phone Hermes. Their automated system is awkward because it is voice activated with you saying yes or no. There must have been a noise the first time through as it thanked me and hung up. The second I got into a queue and hung up after the fifth run through the music. However, later I got a reply to my email (the one sent by the chatbot) to which I replied that I need them to cancel both parcels and refund the total amount.

Update (Monday): DHL collected the parcel so it is on the way and should arrive tomorrow. As to Hermes, well I now have an email that they have refunded one of the two parcels. I will copy my email back to them as it clearly mentions both parcels and gives the amount I expect to be refunded. Good grief.

Update (Tuesday): Delivery day, in theory. But the DHL tracker says the delivery has been delayed and to contact the sender. Um… I am the sender, how am I supposed to know that it’s been delayed given it was collected yesterday?

And finally… it arrived on Wednesday mid-morning. So, other than a one day delay (which is probably to be expected in the current lockdown) not too bad.

In other news… I am now waiting for a parcel to be delivered by Hermes. We’ll see… Ugh, 11 days since it was recorded as being received by Hermes, still waiting for it to arrive.

Surgical masks

I do laugh sometimes at eBay adverts. I found one today for surgical masks with a large ‘UK stock’ banner on the main photo. So I had a look in more detail…

And it’s clearly bogus.

The item location is given as China. The listing says that it is a free (postage) service from outside the UK. The seller name is given in English but the address is all given in Chinese. The email (hotmail) account does not match the stated English name in any way. And, of course, the stated address is indeed in China with a full Chinese company trading name to boot.

And the expected date of arrival of these UK stocked masks given today is the 29th January? “Estimated between Tue. 24 Mar. and Thu. 2 Apr.” Oh, right, UK then!

Stupid connectors

So, new TV, empty space in bedroom, TV point and Ethernet points nearby, all I had to do was finish the wiring (left unconnected as it was not needed 15 years ago!) and scan for channels. Simple.

OK. So I had a splitter and then found a smaller one so used that. Stuck it to the wall in the airing cupboard, wired in the CT125 coming down from the loft and two TV coax runs to the two bedrooms, and connected the other end of the CT125 to the aerial distribution amp in the wiring closet. Turned the TV on and it began scanning. And found very little. Hmmm. Well, it found the HD channels but would not receive them.

Out with the meter. Connectivity fine from the splitter to the TV, so blamed the splitter and wired in the larger one. Rescanned. Same thing. Got a barrel connector and bypassed the splitter. No difference. Went to the wiring closet and checked the connection there… which I had plugged into the DAB aerial feed input, rather than a TV output!

Put the smaller splitter back in and fitted the cables again and all is well.

Ugh.

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…