Computing General

Random things I discovered today…

Odd sort of day really… anyway, some things I discovered / got annoyed by / had a giggle at:

Random observation: When Windows 10 slowly boots, if you have enabled the ‘locate your cursor by pressing Ctrl’ function (I *so* prefer the Mac way that expands the cursor when you shake the mouse!) and use it before the cursor has even appeared it draws it’s circle around the position the cursor will appear at once it has finished messing about and booted sufficiently to work. You know, in 10 minutes time. So, Windows tells the future.

Random thought: how many person-hours per day are wasted in total globally waiting for Windows to boot?

Radom annoyance: my imap-ssl daemon stopped for no reason and will not now restart. It whinges about not being able to find a valid cypher. I had updated the LetsEncrypt certificate but I can’t remember if the imap failed immediately after rebooting or not. Anyway, fiddling with various obvious config settings just made it crash so it’s been deleted…

..which leads me to…

Random successful modification: given the demise of the imap daemon I revisited why I even have a mailbox on my Linux server. All I need is a mail hole and postfix does that. A quick edit and rebuild of Postfix’s virtual table and I can redirect any wanted email off to Google, solving the issue and reducing my mail accounts by a third. Neat. After a week or so of checking what email gets dropped on the box I suspect all will be spam and can divert to /dev/null…or spamcop if I can be bothered. One less thing to remember to do when the SSL, sorry TLS certificate gets renewed.


network monitoring tools

Recently we’ve been having network speed issues which have caused problems with video conferencing. Given our home network is based on cat-5 cabling and Netgear switches which have SNMP I downloaded a network monitor. This was duly told where the switches were and it produced some useful graphs which actually showed the problem was one Windows machine which was hammering the broadband with Onedrive updates.

However, I wanted to add a third switch to the monitoring. This newer model had a more secure SNMP setup which, after a bit of head scratching was added to the software setup. But it never actually worked. No clues as to why, it appeared ok but then kept stalling. Un/reinstalling the software actually made it worse! No help, no useful examples, no community support. But apparently I can buy a book.

So that software has been purged with extreme prejudice.

I tried another and this one insists on installing mysql and creating a default user with a random password. That password, unseen by me (why?) did not meet mysql’s security requirement and the installation crashed. Useful!

All I want is to get port usage data via SNMP and that cannot be hard. I am going to try one more package but after that I’ll write my own darn code.

I know these packages are free and I should not complain. But my time is also valuable so please package writers don’t write stuff that only you can use with no useful documentation. If you have to, then keep it to yourself rather than throw up websites telling the world how good it is but with no actual, proper examples of how to configure it.


iCloud photos blues

Having a MacBook and iPhone I use iCloud to store photos and synchronise them between the two devices. In general this all works well but sometimes it can be very infuriating, in particular it sometimes gets fed up and decides not to synchronise photos. In such times one really misses a large button marked ‘force synchronisation’ or similar but unprintable phrases.

Looking around the web throws up such comments like the photos app will not pull new photos down from iCloud until it has finished uploading. Ok I can see the logic there and presumably there is some form of contention checking, for example if a photo was edited on both devices simultaneously.

But when it fails to update it is really frustrating!

I had this recently where I had taken a lot of photos of documents on the iPhone and later adjusted these on the Mac to put them the right way up. After that, no sync. Nothing. Several days later and no amount of fiddling or swearing made any difference. So I wondered if it was simply never finishing uploading the changes. Tethering the Mac to the phone so it uses 4G made no difference.

What appears to solve it was I selected all the changed photos on the Mac and reverted them to the originals, all of which were taken on the phone. My assumption here was that the originals are on the phone and had synchronised to iCloud and later arrived on the Mac but the changes made had clogged the thing up.

Low and behold about 10 minutes later and all new iPhone photos have arrived on the Mac and everything is in sync again. While this is not really a solution it does mean I need to be careful bulk-modifying photos. Rather annoying really but hey.



So we’re out of the EU as of 23:00 on 31st December, 2020. Two things come to mind.

The first order of business for me seems to be to go over PayPal’s 58 page User Agreement which is valid from today (1/1/21). 58 pages. It begins by indicating it is an agreement between me and them, they being PayPal (Europe). No surprises there then. It goes on to mention the Temporary Permissions Regime which I had never heard of. This says it “allows EEA-based firms that were passporting into the UK at the end of the transition period (31 December 2020) to continue operating in the UK within the scope of their previous passport permission for a limited period after the end of the transition period.” (1)

So, I have a 58 page document to read (and I always read T&Cs and such as should everyone) but I am a tad wary of this ‘temporary’ agreement which perhaps means there will be further updates from PayPal in due course. For all those who were celebrating our ‘escape’ it is, of course just the beginning.

Nothing wrong here of course and I use PayPal all the time. It is obvious they, and all manner of other companies need to produce new terms for this new age and this blog is not a political platform (I do all my political whining elsewhere!)

On to the second thing. I received an email this morning telling me that my .eu domain, which I abandoned a long time ago when Brexit got going, has been suspended. I am just letting it expire so no worries here. But it does rather tickle me that the people have a correspondence email for their domain which has a .ie address. So, they have moved their correspondence address to Eire, which is, of course still in the EU, in order to keep their .eu domain.



To be or not to beta…

The BBC reported today ( ) 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 – 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 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.


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!


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.