A long, slow death…

April 15th, 2016

..and a very welcome one.

The Telegraph is reporting that Phorm, everyone’s favourite privacy-invading, ad-serving shitfest has finally died. If you don’t remember it, there’s some old posts here:

Phorm Dumped

Moron Phorm

A Phorm of Intrusion

Sadly, some of the links don’t work anymore, as it seems even if I now post infrequently, I am at least here for the log run, unlike some other blogs…

Hell, their comms team seemed nice, back in 2008. Now where did I put the words tiniest violin?

Self Serving

March 23rd, 2016

Is it a necessity that if you design a self-service till for a shop, that you must fuck up the UI so badly that it’s totally unusable?

I’m a techy. I love shopping online, I hate supermarket queues, and I’m not yet old enough to look forward to a chat with the cashier, so you’d think I’d love them.

I probably would, were they not so shit.

First, they’re all touch-screen. Industrial touch screens are shit. Laggy, no haptic feedback, imprecise- so unlike the touch-screen on your phone or tablet. Add to this that they’re usually a lousy bit of software- slow and laggy- and then a bit of ambiguous wording, and the fact that you want the till to verify all the items (and the correct items) are being scanned and bagged, and you have a big, big, fail.

I’ve used 2 recently. 1 in a WH Smith at the QE hospital, and one in a convenience (oh the irony) store in Birmingham’s New St. The WH Smith one, to be fair, asks sensible questions (did you use a bag (or not need to), did you take one of our bags), but it’s still laggy, but by the second time you use it you learn the shitness of the UI and compensate.

The one on New St today was awful, however: the touchscreen worse than normal, it was slow, and it starts with the question “Own Bag?”. This is ambiguous. What it wants you to do here is say yes if you have a bag you want to put on the scale it uses to sense what is being scanned, and no if you don’t, and that scale is directly behind the handy-looking platform you assume is to put a bag on.

Having crossed that bridge with the help of the bloke that could have just taken the 70p for the bottled water I bought, I then encountered the coin mechanism; a mini conveyor belt that takes several seconds to swallow a pound coin (and yes, the WH Smith one does this better, but not well), and longer again to deliver my change. A bloke at a till would do it in a quarter of the time.

Am I alone in this? I happily use pay-at-pump fuel pumps, ticket machines in car parks or rail stations, and vending machines. There’s just something awful about supermarket self-service tills that makes me want to avoid them.

Someone must have costed this out, and decided that the combination of having a member of staff to help people work the tills, and the losses from intentional or deliberate mis-scans is cheaper than staffing tills, presumably, but at least could they be made to work?

Taphouse 3: The Sow and Pigs

March 19th, 2016

PubBlog Link
Whatpub Link
Pub Website

Taphouse 3. Still on target! The taphouse for Two Crafty Brewers.

Had mixed feelings, but ended up liking this a lot. More details in the PubBlog post.

The Sow and Pigs

The Sow and Pigs

Ambience 8
Beer choice/quality 8.5
Architecture 8
Cobs/Pies/Snacks 6.375
Toilets 6.75

Which means an overall score of 7.525

Off The Rails

March 16th, 2016

More bike fiddling. In a draft post I never published back in January, I noted the front gear mechanism was getting stiff, despite recent cable changes, and it got to the point that lubricating it would ease the problem for a short time, but it always returned. Time for a new mechanism.

Things got complicated. Top swing, conventional swing, different diameter clamps, no clamps, and a range of speeds it’s intended to be used with- not just the 3 chainwheels, but for 7,8,9 or 10 rear sprockets- and the elusive combination of not too cheap, not too expensive, 8 sprockets, 3 chainwheels (biggest 48 tooth), Shimano SIS and top swing (to clear a water-bottle cage bolt) seemed impossible, but after advice from BrownhillsBob and someone else I now owe another pint to, and a bit of web searching, it seemed that the FD-M770, though technically for 9 speed, should be fine, contradicting one shop, and so it proved to be (though I should have known that- the general font of all knowledge bike wise on the web says so): the cage is a little narrower, but the 8-speed chain clears it if set up correctly (which I managed second time, the first test ride had it shifting OK, but rattling slightly in high gears), and gear changes are now fast and easy. The build is better too, so I’m hoping this will stand up to the towpath a bit better- as can be seen, without full mudgards it is right in the line of all the mud.

Walsall Beer Festival

March 10th, 2016

It’s beer festival time!

Walsall beer festival starts today at 5pm, running until Saturday. Details on Walsall CAMRA’s website (including a beer list, also reproduced here, thanks to Mikee from Walsall CAMRA). I’m hoping a good selection will be left by Saturday.

Read the rest of this entry »

Bristol City

March 7th, 2016

We went away for a few days, and my better half suggested Bristol. We’d never been, so it seemed like a good idea; pubs, restaurants, thibngs to see, and not too far to go. Given that parking was going to be expensive, and driving has certainly lost its allure these days, we chose to go by train. A lift to Walsall from a friend one Saturday morning saw us experience the joy of Walsall station, a structure seemingly designed to suck the joy of life from you (and no BOAK building as a comforting sight any more), but it is at least functional, and with a simple layout; something you can’t level at the glitter-rolled turd that is New Street and Grand Central now.

[note: at this point I split off my whining about New St to a separate post]

Anyway, enough whining. On to our train, and the bliss of first class (and without costing the earth, thanks to pre-booking), and around 90 mins later we’re at Temple Meads: a very different matter: Victorian, magnificent, easy to navigate, and within a few minutes, we’re in a cab. Our appartment wasn’t ready, so there’s only one place to go:

The Bag of Nails. Beer, cats, pie, music.

The Bag of Nails. Beer, cats, pie, music.

The Bag of Nails. A few pints in the company of kitties, and a half-mile walk across town past the stunning cathedral to the apartment, before heading out.

Bristol’s a nice city: architecture, pubs, restaurants, and things to see and do, and not remotely up itself, which suits me. We took an open-top bus tour (always a good way to orientate yourself), looked around the amazing ss Great Britain in its dehumidified dry dock, walked over the Clifton suspension bridge and wandered around Clifton, and looked around the Aquarium and cathedral after we’d tired ourselves out walking back and didn’t want to walk too far. Obviously, between those activities, we visited a few pubs too. There’s the usual suspects in chain pubs, chain restaurants, and chain stores, but look about and there’s independent places everywhere.

Coming back was a pain-free experience too: a bus to Temple Meads, train to New St (ugh), and on to Walsall, and a bus saw us home in great time (TM to home in under 3 hours), stress-free.

Grand

March 7th, 2016

Our trip to Bristol saw us head through Birmingham New St.

BrownhillsBob has been fairly vocal about it before now, as he’s a frequent user. I use it very rarely (if I visit Birmingham I usually travel by bus), so I was reserving judgement until I’d had a decent look at the finished item.

It was better before.

Before, New Street was, it has to be said, dark, dismal, and tatty. Now, it’s shiny in places (even if the shiny surfaces are badly fitted), but there’s lots of unfinished and tatty edges: doors with knocked, damaged or poorly applied paint, boards cable-tied to stair-rails. The whole place is a freezing cold (at least, it is in February) shrine to consumerism: modern cafes and “restaurants” intended to appear small, independent and funky, while actually being part of a huge chain, and having 1990-era exposed duct and cable-tray decor.

I remember the last time this was called good design.

I remember the last time this was called good design. It was the nineties.

The internal paving looks like it belongs outdoors, the “lounges” are quite possibly the least lounge-like thing ever described thus, and you have to pass out through a ticket barrier in order to buy or collect another ticket (like we were, as we had prebooked tickets from here to Temple Meads, but bought local tickets on the day). Some platforms have escalators, and some seem not to, so it’s wait in a lift or walk down stairs with luggage. The layout isn’t cohesive, and the signage is poor, so really, the huge amount of money and time seems to have created a shopping centre that still has echoes of the old one, and a station that’s harder to use, colder, and doesn’t look that much better.

Taphouse 2: Hail to the Ale

February 13th, 2016

PubBlog Link
Whatpub Link
Pub Website

Hail to the Ale!

Hail to the Ale!

The second taphouse, keeping us on target!

A bit more involved logistically, but not too hard. A meet in the very crowded Posada in Wolverhampton (it being match day with Wolves at home), then a walk outside to the 6 bus stop, a ride through Whitmore Reans, and a short walk down to the pub at Claregate.

It’s Wolverhampton’s first (and currently only) micropub, just one room, just one toilet, no draught lager.

It’s rather lovely. It’s owned an operated by Morton Brewery, located in Andy’s part of the world, but there’s a good selection of other beers, and it’s got a pleasant, community feel to it.

Ambience 8.25
Beer choice/quality 7.75
Architecture 5.75
Cobs/Pies/Snacks 10
Toilets 8.25

Which means an overall score of 8.

Not so Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol

February 5th, 2016

Warning: Longish, network nerd content. Look away now if not interested.

DHCP. Wonderful thing, it is. You connect a device to a network, it automagically configures itself and starts working. We all use it (nearly) every time we turn on our laptop, tablet, smartphone, PC, or indeed Internet-connected fridge (FFS).

One company I do work for has started using Avaya IP phones- 1600-series ones, with an Avaya IP PBX, which will gradually replace a network of several over 10 year old Nortel PBXs. To make things easier, the phones will be configured with DHCP, a fairly well documented process.

The central site, with a larger network, has seperate VLANs for voice and data, with one DHCP server on the data VLAN. This is not a problem: the Cisco switches are configured with their interfaces having these two lines in:

switchport access vlan 20
switchport voice vlan 30

Which means untagged traffic will use vlan 20, and voice traffic needs be tagged with vlan 30. The DHCP to do this is easyish too;
in the normal DHCP scope that relates to the data vlan, we add an option 242, with the value

L2Q=1,L2QVLAN=30,VLANTEST=0

The phone will boot into the untagged data vlan 20, and read this option in the DHCP offer it receives. It will then know that it needs to tag it’s traffic with vlan 30, and request an address tagged with that. The router for the voice VLAN then has a

ip-helper [address of DHCP server]

statement to forward on the request. In the voice VLAN, we add option 242 again:

MCIPADD=[a.b.c.d],MCPORT=1719,HTTPSRVR=[a.b.c.d],VLANTEST=0

This actually tells the phone how to find the PBX.

This was all well and good, and indeed working well. Get a brand new phone out, plug it into a configured port, and away it goes.

But…

Smaller offices don’t have the seperate Voice VLAN; it just gets mixed in with the data traffic, and they need some of the new phones. No problem. In fact, this should be easy; we can dispense with all that tedious VLAN nonsense, so we can miss out the Cisco config above, miss out the second DHCP scope, and miss out the first instance of option 242, just adding an option 242 to the local DHCP like this:

MCIPADD=[a.b.c.d],MCPORT=1719,HTTPSRVR=[a.b.c.d]

Yes, it’s not the recommended config, but it is documented around the web, and the previous Nortel IP phones managed.

So, a colleague tries it, taking a working phone to a remote site where I’ve configured the server in just that way. The phone fails to boot. Static addressing fails too, with a odd “failed router” message. Trying to emulate the multiple VLAN setup fails too, and breaking out Wireshark (always the last resort, but the most wonderful tool for free) showed no DHCP requests reaching the server, and testing the server with a laptop works just fine.

Much head-scratching and a full day of testing and debate the next day reproduces the fault at the main site, and a bit more googling reveals that what the PBX engineer told us about not being able to reset the phones unless they register with a PBX is just wrong, though there’s many different suggestions of how to do it, depending on firmware. A reset to factory produces a phone requesting configuration in either the single-VLAN or dual-VLAN operation and booting correctly.

The problem here is that the phone here is very much misunderstanding the Dynamic part. It should, as all the devices I mentioned at the start do, check in with the DHCP server at each boot, and thereby cope with moving site or a network change. It doesn’t. It caches configuration data, trying to use it even when the network around it has changed substantially.

To me, this is just broken behaviour, and here’s the point of the post: if your Avaya 1608/1616 IP phone doesn’t seem to be taking any notice of your DHCP server, then the answer is here: from the linked blog:

Plug phone in.

When "* to program" shows press *.

When "enter PROCPSWD" shows enter C R A F T # on the keypad.

Press # to all the values shown and when "Enter command" shows (will be the last option) press the mute key and enter the following: C R A F T C L E A R #

"Clear all values?" will show. Press # and # again to confirm.

Taphouse 1: The Fountain, Walsall

January 31st, 2016

PubBlog Link
WhatPub Link
100Pubs Link

Given that The Fountain is an easy one to get to, and well loved by everyone on the 100 pubs tour, it was a ideal start for our taphouse adventure. It is, of course, currently the only pub owned by the Backyard Brewhouse, and serves their excellent beer, as well as a few guests.

The Fountain, taphouse 1 of n

The Fountain, taphouse 1 of n

It scored as Follows:

Ambience 8
Beer choice/quality 8.8
Architecture 6.8
Cobs/Pies/Snacks 9.6
Toilets 9

Which means an overall score of 8.44.


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