Archive for category General Interest

A tale of two engineers.

Ten days ago a customer who is about to move offices in London phoned to say he’s signed up all the paperwork for the new office and can we get a line in asap so he has phones and broadband from the first of next month.

I’m already aware the building has lots of spare capacity from BT so I submit an order. Annoyingly, it goes wrong, screw-up in BT’s database, but we submit for manual tweakage and in due course an engineer is appointed to visit site and put in a new line.
I inform the client as he’ll have to be there from 8am to let the BT guy in and show him where it’s going, etc.

The BT engineer duly arrives, introduces himself as Fred and says he’s worked on the same exchange for 20 years and he knows every cable and connection intimately. Indeed, he knows, which is handy as we didn’t, that the DP he would need to connect the new line from is actually in the gents’ toilet of the cafe in the adjacent building!  Off he beetles, sets up what he  needs to at the exchange, the street cabinet, the DP in the gents, and tests the new line socket in the comms room and it’s good as gold. He departs leaving our customer with his mobile number “lest there’s any problem”. Probably felt very safe doing so as he’d done a tip top job and there would be no problems.

The next day, an engineer arrives to install a new line at another customer site 30 miles to the west. It isn’t Fred. It’s Joe. I wish it had been Fred.  Joe is seen driving his van past the office at 17:55 whilst on the phone to the customer saying “there’s no lights on, looks like you’ve all gone home…” but they got him back. He arrived at 17:58,a member of staff having stayed late to admit him as we had a firm appt for that afternoon. He was told by same where the new socket was to go. He declined. Said he wasn’t there to install new sockets. Said he’d re-connected one of the existing disused sockets. Tested it to show it was working. Despite the fact these sockets are in a quite unsuitable location for the required service, said he wasn’t doing a new socket (he would have HAD to had there BEEN no spare sockets). He then plugged all the customer’s existing broadband and phone equipment into the new socket (thus ensuring that the customer’s broadband didn’t work the next morning!) and left.

Fred gets our man of the month award.

Joe gets a raspberry. And as the customer doesn’t actually have the service he wanted and has paid for, we will be on the blower to BT and Joe will presumably be hearing from his boss.

And if Fred’s reading this – thanks mate – a job well done, not really harder to do properly than to skimp, just a positive and friendly attitude and pride in the work. We won’t mention it to your boss coz knowing BT, he’d probably tell you off for giving a customer your mobile number instead of saying “well done, that’s how to make the customer happy”!

Track this!

A friend of mine chose to register a company called “Railtrack Limited”, at a time when the company that runs the uk national rail infrastructure changed its name from “Railtrack PLC” to “Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd”.


Since then he has received many letters from people assuming he is actually that larger company. Many of these letters from legal firms seeking to sue said larger company for one reason or another, having failed to do their research correctly.

Many of these letters and the answers penned to them have been visible (with the names of unfortunate bystanders removed) on CIX for some time. Now, John has published a selection as a Kindle book.

It’s one of those books you probably don’t want to read cover to cover but it’s well worth having it on your Kindle, phone or tablet to dip into whilst you’re waiting for a bus…


Checking your BT line

We often need to ask people to check if a fault on their phone line, affecting either broadband or voice calls, is with the line itself or their internal extension wiring.

The distinction is important because BT own the wiring between your master socket and the exchange, and will turn out, test, and repair it free of any charge. BUT the wiring from the master socket, where the line first enters your house or office, to any extension sockets or other connected equipment, AND the equipment itself, be it phones, modems, fax machines, Sky tv box, etc. is yours. If BT turn out to look at a fault and they find the fault is with your device or with your cable (a) they will send you a bill and (b) they won’t fix it!

The test is simple enough and will take only a couple of minutes. All you need is a screwdriver.

You need to find the “master” socket. It may be your only socket. If you have more than one, look for the bigger one with a split across the faceplate.

When you unscrew the two screws, the bottom half of the faceplate comes easily away but careful, there may be wires connected to the back of it, which you should take care not to tug loose!  The picture here (borrowed from Wikipedia1) shows the faceplate removed with the cables to the back still attached. You can safely leave the faceplate dangling on the cable. Your internal extension wiring is now disconnected from the BT line. You can also see the “hidden” test socket bottom right, now revealed.

If you are testing a broadband problem, plug your microfilter into the test socket.

If you are testing a voice call problem, plug a known working phone in to the test socket.

If the problem continues, then it’s a problem with the BT line and we can safely call them out without fear of unexpected charges! But if the problem goes away, then the problem is with the extension wiring you just disconnected, or one of the devices connected to it. Call us, we’ll talk you through further tests to narrow down the culprit.

To reconnect your extension wiring, just offer the faceplate back to the remainder of the socket, slide it carefully in, making sure the cable isn’t trapped, and then put the two screws back.

1 – the photo in this post was borrowed from Wikipedia, where the copyright owner has stated that that is permissable – for the original photo including licence and a link to the photographer, please follow this link.


Apple data use – October 2012

GOK whats’ going on. LOTS of users this month are edging over their normal quota and it looks like Apple that’s doing it. I’m hearing people with 3G data feeds to their Apple devices are getting pocket-raped too.

We have one customer who just topped 100GB of peaktime use!!!

If you have an ipad, iphone, imac or whatever, and if your data use is charged per byte or you have a limited quota you can’t exceed, or it costs you to exeed, please check your account and make sure you’re not getting a runaway problem…


Say no to 0300?

I’ve just noticed from our main website logs that quite a few people are searching on google for “Say no to 0300” and “Say no to 0330”.

This is crazy. There’s good solid reasons for trying not to use 0871 numbers, and even 0845 numbers, which, whilst notionally “the same price as a local call” are generally more expensive than an actual local call as competition has driven call prices down since “the price of a local call” was defined in advertising law.  Moreover, 08xx calls, even 0800 calls, are generally NOT counted against your “bundled minutes”, so end up with you paying for the call on top of whatever your monthly bulk-buy brings you.

But 0300 and 0333 numbers were invented to SOLVE this problem. An 03xx number is charged by your landline or mobile billing company at the SAME RATE as an 01xx or 02xx “geographic” number, and it WILL be taken as minutes from your pre-paid bundle, or if you have an “unlimited weekend calls” type deal, 0300 numbers are covered.

In short, 03 numbers have NO disadvantage for the caller. Looking for an 01 or 02 number to use instead is just wasting your time. Which is why there’s no site equivalent to the very useful


More information on 03xx numbers can be found here  –

Putting a face on Faceless

Royal Mail have lost a parcel. Well, at least, I posted it on Thursday last, first class, tracked. It has not arrived. If I put the tracking ID in their website, it says “It was posted on Thursday at (correct post office name), and is passing through our delivery system.”

I ponder WHY it’s still passing through their system, and if they had considered syrup of figs. I note a “Contact Us” button next to the answer. I click it.

I’m encouraged to “Ask Sarah” and there’s a picture of Sarah, pretty looking girl so surely she’ll be helpful and friendly. It says a new window will pop up. By now, frankly, whilst I’m not expecting someone called Sarah per se, I am expecting a popup “chat” window as is becoming increasingly popular for support.

Oh sad. What I get is, a new tab opened with the answer to a brief Knowedgebase/FAQ search which has (fairly cleverly) deduced I’m trying to find a parcel, and it helpfully gives me the URL of the tracking page I just came from.

Any attempt to re-phrase my question or, as I now know it to be, my search terms, to get it to tell me how I can find out WHY the parcel is not there yet and WHEN it might arrive, get the same response.

Olympic Medals – by Population

Several times over the last couple of weeks I heard people on TV and off saying “ah, but China has billions of people to choose a team from” and other similar comments. Also on one occasion the closing comment from Lineker at the end of the transmission was that we were way ahead on medals based on population.

Well, I thought I’d actually work it out. Bottom line is, Lineker was wrong.  On that evening, as they had been for a couple of days already, New Zealand were WAY in front on gold medals per capita. GB were in front of China and USA but several others intervened.  Then James Kirani won the 400m and that shot Grenada to a huge lead, given there are only  105 thousand folk living there. The single medal for The Bahamas soon put them second, and Jamaica, despite having nearly 3 million folk, leapt ahead with all the sprint medals, pushing New Zealand down into 4th.

Team GB ended up in 11th spot, with South Korea 19th, North Korea 27th, one spot in front of USA at 28th. China languish at 48th. Here’s the top of the table.


If you take the American approach of counting all medals not just gold ones for the ranking… Grenada still WAY out in front at 952 medals per 100 million population, followed by Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, New Zealand 4th again, Team GB now 23rd, USA 49th, and China 74th.


Here’s the full table.

Source data:

I used Wikipedia for the population figures  – here.  Apologies if I’ve made any transcription errors, and if you think the population data is incorrect for any country, you are welcome to submit updated data to Wikipedia of course!! No, it won’t automatically be reflected in this table.

A little shade

Here’s visual evidence of the effect of a small amount of shade on a PV array. This is why your installers won’t recommend putting panels where there’s a chimney or a tree. In our case, ONLY for half an hour or so in the morning at this time of year, next door’s roof shades a corner of our array.  As you can see from the picture, we have 14 panels, and the shadow is covering a total area of about 1.3 panels.  Now have a look at the graph below, which is the inverter out put for the SAME day as I took the photograph. The peak output during that day (27th March 2012 – sunny all day, not a cloud, no haze) was 2.56Kw. I took the photograph just after 9am, and as you can see, at that time, the output was barely 250-300W. You can see the vertical leap from there to around 2.2kW when the shadow finally moved off the corner of the panels.  So even though the shadow was covering only about 10% of the total area of the array, the power output was cut by about 80%.

If I blow up the neighbour’s house (I’ll wait until he’s out of course!) then the extra power I’ll get off the roof on a day like this is indicated by the “missing” area on that graph – if you imagine a smooth curve from the zero line at around 7am when the sun first hits it joining up with the curve going on from the top of the vertical leap, the curved triangle you get is the amount of power the roof’s shadow cost.

So if you have a chimney, tree, or similar, whose shadow will move across the panels during the course of the day, don’t put panels there…


Sync that Android

Having an HTC Android phone has lots of good points. But one of the things which constantly has me tearing at what remains of my hair is trying to sync the data with my PC.

I even switched from my old mail system to using MS Outlook to avoid any possible issues of compatibility with “less popular” software.

The problem, as I’m sure more than a few of you know, is that you plug the phone in, you select “Sync” on the phone, and then, after a delay, it says “can’t find HTC Sync on your PC. Would you like to install it?” And, of course you know HTC Sync is not only installed but is running.

Thing is, it *isn’t* running, not any more. It might’ve been last time you synced half an hour ago or last week, but not any more.

Well I think I’ve found a trick to make it work, without having to totally reboot the machine. Especially these days, with XP or Windows 7, unlike the bad old days, you don’t HAVE to reboot windows every day, and, in fact, I get cross if something makes me reboot it more often than once every couple of months.

Here’s the trick. Please let me know if it works for you, or if you find a quicker way.

  • Unplug the phone from the PC
  • Close the HTC Sync app
  • Using Task Manager, kill the process called CapabilityManager.exe
  • Similarly kill the process called ClientInitiatedStarter.exe
  • Finally, kill the process called FsynSrvStarter.exe
  • Now close task manager.
  • Re-start HTC Sync from the Start menu (or your desktop icon) in the normal way.
  • Connect the phone, and tell it to sync.
  • Cheer. For it will work. I hope…

I shall experiment further and find out if the trick can be accomplished by killing just one of these modules, coz I assume it’s a bug in one of them that causes the problem.

It’s a pity HTC wont’ admit to the existance of the problem and fix it. (Well, I say they won’t, I can’t find any reference to it on their website, FAQ list, etc.)


Is it really that long?

It seems like only a few months ago since I signed up to use an online service, but it was years before “the internet” as we know it today. CIX predates the lot! In fact, the first widely accessible “public” internet access available to UK consumers, a dial-up service offered by Demon Systems, was conceived and planned in part in discussion groups on CIX, and was set in motion only after a working number of potential customers had been recruited mostly amongst the CIX userbase.

This week, CIX has a new owner! I’m not going into details cos Wendy Grossman has already waxed lyrical – follow this link to her article.

If you want to ask me why I’ve stayed so long and why I still think it represents one of the best resources on the modern internet despite being a little antiquated (though I daresay this will now change) ask me here..