Author Archives: niq

Tech-savvy

Had a power cut this evening, about 11:40 pm.

I was sitting at the ‘puter trying to fill some ghastly form – now abandoned for the day. Plunged into darkness, I (by lucky chance) had the mobile phone on the desk and knew approximately where it was, so I reached out carefully and found it. Used its torch to navigate to the bed, where I lay down and fired up a browser and went to check whether the issue was known. Not finding my location on the map or live feed of outages, I went to report it.

But as soon as I entered my postcode, it replied that the outage was already known. Someone got there first! Interesting: whoever it was presumably had to go through the same preliminaries as me – find a light source, find a phone or other means of reporting at a time when any mains-powered router is out of action. And to have been quicker than me, they can’t have spent time figuring out where to go and what to do, which implies they already knew at least enough to find it without hesitation.

What are the chances of that, bearing in mind this is West Devon, not Shoreditch?

Stuttley Watch

I think perhaps we need a watch on our devious prime minister.  His sycophantic party, rid of its moderates in the Stalinist purge last autumn, looks unlikely to hold him to account.

Today’s big announcement: sale of new fossil-fuel-powered cars to be banned from 2035.  Great (if it happens).  Just a shame no such thing happened much earlier in my life.  It’s a good signal to be sending to the world – insofar as anyone believes him.  Not that many will: if actions speak louder than words, his unexplained sacking of Claire O’Neill from the Glasgow summit, coming hard on the heels of the Flybe bailout, drives a Chelsea Tractor through his credibility on the environment.

On the other hand, the man who brought Boris Bikes to London seems likely to be someone genuinely keen to breathe cleaner air.  I expect he’ll be well-pleased if we hit the target.  It’s just not credible that that’s the primary motive for making the announcement today.

Car industry reacts with alarm (well they would, wouldn’t they)?  My first thought: this pre-empts more announcements of them reducing capacity here, and the unspoken brexit-bonus headlines: people who voted to lose their jobs, lose their jobs.  Now there’s a new scapegoat.  But that’s not really plausible: much more likely he wants the industry to stay.  His announcement, and the industry reaction, are preparing for some big bungs of taxpayer money to bribe them to stay here and invest in re-tooling to produce electric cars.

I wonder if this could be Good News for my very small shareholding in one of the companies providing charging points for electric cars?  I see them in quite a few places now (for example, Lidl’s car park), but the bottleneck isn’t them, it’s the electricity generation and distribution capacity.

RIP the Thatcher Legacy

Once upon a time, I wrote a few thoughts on Mrs Thatcher’s death.  Today it’s time to bid farewell to her legacy.  Stuttley has declared its destruction now to be not merely his agenda, but  a fundamental priority.

Of course, that’s not how he puts it.  He says we shall not be bound by EU rules.  Which sounds on the face of it entirely reasonable.  I’m inclined to believe he (mostly) means it when he assures the world he doesn’t intend a race to the bottom: insofar as he wants that, EU membership has not really held him back.  After all, we have exemptions from EU directives and programmes we haven’t signed up to.

The issue with those EU rules is that they are exactly what makes the Single Market, Mrs Thatcher’s greatest project and most important legacy.  For it was she more than anyone who persuaded governments and people around Europe to create a Single Market, and indeed it was she – or rather her civil servants – who wrote many (maybe even most) of the rules we’re now rejecting.

With Blair/Brown having abandoned monetarism and let credit rip, and recent governments looking back to 1970s socialism such as bailouts for lame ducks from banks to Flybe, her domestic legacy was already largely gone.  Now it’s her greatest achievement, red-tape-free trade throughout the world’s greatest market.  Ironic indeed that remaining beneficiaries will be countries she worked so hard to persuade!

If you’d told me in the 1980s that Attlee’s achievements would outlive Thatcher’s, I suspect I’d have been quite seriously incredulous.  How things change!

p.s. Does anyone else see Stuttley’s “Canada-style agreement” as laying the ground for blaming the EU?  He’ll very publicly make demands that are not a problem for Canada but utterly incompatible with the Good Friday Agreement, then loudly condemn the EU for refusing them.

Putting on a show

As we approach the end of the era of relative independence from our Orange Overlord, it was inevitable we’d see some kind of show-fight, to deflect attention and send out a message that we were “sovereign”.  The necrofeliac will want a bigger cat than a regular moggie this time.

A few days ago, the news was from Davos: Chancellor Javid will go ahead with his digital services tax against US objections, and face a token trade war.  In the context of the French having backed off from superficially-similar proposals, that was somewhat impressive, though not really sexy.  The US reaction – proposing tariffs on car imports (what car imports?) – looks far too muted for this to be the Big One.

And indeed, it was just the prelude.  Today we have an announcement, and news stories that are making mountains out of molehills, both in what’s been announced[1] here and in the reactions to it.  Our telecoms networks are allowed to buy equipment from Huawei.  A lot of staged anger; likely also a few complete idiots whose anger is real.  I don’t suppose this’ll be the last disagreement, but the effort that’s gone in to it suggests it could be The Big One.

And journalists playing right into their hands.  On the BBC radio news this evening, an interview with a congressman Jim Banks, who is introducing a bill to ban intelligence sharing with countries who use Huawei (um, close Menwith Hill?  Yeah, right).  In that interview, but not noticed by the interviewer, Banks referred to Huawei kit on “intelligence networks”, which is a totally different scenario to Vodafone or EE upgrading their networks, and won’t affect intelligence sharing with the UK nor (as far as I know) anywhere.  Conclusion: Banks – a Congressman – is playing his part in a show-fight for Stuttley[2]’s benefit.

Banks let slip another nugget when he told us US provider Qualcomm is close to being able to deliver 5G kit, seemingly supporting the hypothesis that the Huawei fuss was all protectionism – delay 5G while US tech plays catchup.  But it seemed quite a contrived suggestion, not least because he could have mentioned western companies Nokia and Ericsson that already compete with Huawei in the market.  So perhaps that was also a decoy from the alternative hypothesis in the linked article?

My best guess now is this story will go on, and our telcos will find ways to work within the rules with limited disruption.  I hope so: there’s a lot waiting on 5G, and though most of it will turn out to be toys and dross, that’s a phase we’ll need to go through on the way to a more usefully-connected world.

And in a couple of years, maybe we’ll see some high-media-profile security incident attributed to Huawei kit.

In other news today, Cisco (the longstanding #1 US networking giant) published an advisory: their webex conferencing system has been wide open to an unauthorised participant.  A truly severe security risk if you thought your meeting was private!

[1] A very limited announcement: a much more limited go-ahead than given by the May government, let alone the widespread use of Huawei kit in 4G networks before it all got politicised.

[2] As in one B Stuttley Johnson, for anyone who doesn’t get the reference.

The EDF Saga

As I wrote in my last post, EDF has been particularly problematic.  Communication channels exist but don’t work properly: chat failed when I lost the connection, and email seems to reach people who can’t or won’t read it.  Neither does their payment appear to work, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

My previous experience as an EDF customer (2005-2013) was problem-free: I paid by direct debit, and the (informational) quarterly bills were admirably well-presented.  I don’t recollect ever having to contact them: I guess I must have done when I moved in and out, but it must have been too simple to be memorable.

This time I moved in without knowing the incumbent supplier of my house.  I looked it up on the Western Power Distribution website and found it’s EDF.  So I went to their website and looked for how to contact them.  I found an online chat facility.  My chat request was answered reasonably quickly.  In a fairly long session I confirmed that EDF was my supplier, and gave my name, the date of my move, and my initial readings.  I lost the session when my internet connection dropped, so I just had to hope they’d act on the information I’d given.

They didn’t.  Next contact with them was a bill, addressed not to me but to the owner or occupier, with (tiny) errors in the moving in date and wholly unrealistic “estimated” meter readings.  The bill is also hopelessly confusing: a period of less than two months is split into no fewer than five different periods, for no reason I can discern.

Evidently my chat had failed to communicate.  I looked at their website for other means to communicate, but found none except chat or phone – which is of course altogether worse.  So I tried chat again, but instead of going through all the details and risking a repeat of last time, I asked for an email address.  My chat assistant told me there isn’t a general one, but gave me his own @edf address.  So I wrote to him with my details, which I assumed should be sufficient to get me “on the system”.  That included up-to-date meter readings as well as the initial ones.

Next I heard, another bill, again addressed to “owner or occupier”.  Email hadn’t worked either.  I looked once again for methods of communication, and failing again to find anything like an email address or contact form, I turned to Complaints.  Aha, there’s an email address.  I email them complaining of the difficulty of contacting them, and append my previous email with my details and meter readings.

This one they half-read.  A reply apologised, and said they’d get me on the system:

I am sorry for the inconvenience caused. We have updated the records and created an account on your name with effect from 23 August . Also registered your detail online so you will soon receive an email with “Add password” option. You can access the online account following the instruction on the email in detail. We will also send you a welcome pack soon.

The promised email never arrived.  But another bill followed, this time with my name and moving in date.  And another, for the period from my vendor’s last reading to my moving in date: I guess the date I should have given was the date I bought the house (which fell between the two), but let’s not complicate things further until I’m on the bloomin’ system!

With a bill in my own name, I guess I could now have set up an account online.  But I was still waiting for their promised email about it, and I was p***ed off that they had ignored my meter readings and sent ludicrous “estimates” again.  So I fired off another email asking after the followup and readings.

Thank you for your reply.

I have yet to receive the promised email with the “Add password” option.   When can I expect it?

I now have a bill in my name, but it is still “estimated”.  Given that you can accept my name from the email I sent, why are you ignoring the readings (included once more in the quoted correspondence below)?

The reply to this one is surreal:

I would have been happy to help you with the query. But I would request you to please provide us the query so that we can help you with the information.

My followup repeated the questions as numbered points – and again included all previous correspondence, but got no reply whatsoever.  A few days later I got automated email and a letter both telling me payment was overdue.  I again fired off email, getting yet more exasperated:

> On 28 Nov 2019, at 10:01, EDF Energy wrote:
>
> Your bill is now overdue, please pay today.

I know I have a bill.

I have tried to contact you multiple times over the past three months.   I have sent you readings, which you have ignored several times.

In your email reply dated November 7th, you promised a followup email  which would get me set up online. I have yet to receive that followup.

When I chased that followup on November 19th and again on the 20th, I got no reply beyond the automated “We aim to respond to your email  within the next 24 hours.”

To be fair, that one did get a meaningful reply.  But I’ve had enough: I need to switch supplier.  In retrospect I should have accepted SSE’s offer to supply my new address when I terminated supply at my old address.

But I suspect I won’t be able to switch while I have an outstanding bill, even if I’m still battling to get a correct bill (which of course I’d be happy to pay).  I go to try and sign up online, and find they can identify me from my email address alone.  Evidently something has got through from all that correspondence, but most readers of this blog won’t need me to point out the security whopper!  I read the meters again and entered updated readings, but there’s no facility to enter or correct any historic detail.  Nor can I request they issue a corrected bill: I’ll just have to wait and see what happens there.

After another day mulling it over, I decide just to pay their “estimate”.  I log in again, select “make a payment” from the menu, and accept the amount of their bill.  I then enter my card details, only to find the next problem: it takes me to a “verified by visa” screen which spins for a moment, then tells me it’s timed out.  So that’s Schrödinger’s payment: I’ve no idea whether it’s succeeded until I see it (or not) on my card statement.  Or until EDF thank or chase me, but I’m not holding my breath for any sense from them!

Grrr.

Today I visited uswitch and fed a bunch of their numbers into a spreadsheet.  Looks as if Eon offer the best deal at my address, due to a much lower standing charge than anyone else.  Let’s hope I can switch and they prove less of a nightmare!

The Admin of Moving House

Is it just me, or is it becoming ever harder to communicate with officialdom?  That is, both officialdom as in government services, and private-sector service providers such as utilities?

My house move has thrown up several examples, ranging from the painless to the deeply frustrating (though none so Kafkaesque as Virgin Media).  Time to record a few cases.

Good: National Government.  The process to get on the electoral register was updated between the 2005 and 2010 elections, and now works well.  Registering at my new address was quick and painless – though probably (still) wide open to fraud.

Painful: Local Government.  Signing off from Plymouth was painless, but West Devon has got much worse since I was previously here.  Specifically, their website is now dysfunctional and won’t work without severely compromising one’s own security.  I can sign up, but attempting to log in just dumps me at a third-party site that appears to be an identity service provider – but I have no way of verifying that, nor anything I can do even if I do decide to trust them!

So when they demand Council Tax, I can’t log in to set up payment.  And there’s no contact information for council tax: their “contact us” offers a bunch of specific services, but no catch-all to contact them on a matter not listed, like how to pay them!  It took two visits to their office in person and a letter written to them on paper to sort that.

Still worse was recycling.  My request for the relevant recycling bins was submitted several times online and once in person at their offices, but fell into a black hole.  Eventually (on a friend’s suggestion) I wrote to my elected councilors, who told the council jobsworths to do their job, whereupon the boxes were finally – three months from my first request – forthcoming.

Amongst utilities, Southwest Water was relatively painless.  My first attempt failed on some website idiocy, but that was when my ‘net connection was down to 2G so it was a cup-of-coffee delay as it insisted on my changing “7” to “07” (or something) in a Date field.  Returning a second time when it was back up to 4G, it still exhibited idiocy, but at least worked to the point of letting me notify them of my move and submit meter readings.  Best of all, no need to change my existing direct debit just because it’s a different address.

At my previous address I had gas and electricity from SSE.  Notifying them of my move was painless, and in retrospect I should have accepted their (automatic) offer to supply the new address.  But I assumed I could sort that later.

Looking at the Western Power Distribution website, I found the incumbent supplier for my house is EDF.  I was a happy customer of EDF from 2005 to 2013 (i.e. my entire time at the address I lived longer than anywhere else), and expected no problem.  But it turned out to be another epic story, and one that merits a separate post that’ll make better reading than this TLDR.  Suffice it for to say that today I’ve decided to give up the struggle and pay an incorrect bill, just to draw a line under it and move on with another provider.

One more minor epic was my internet connection.  On finding that my 4G connection only half-works from here, I signed up for FTTC with Andrews and Arnold, with a view to a longer-term project of bringing some stuff in-house from the Cloud.  Due to various issues, some of them genuinely outside the control of either A&A or Openreach, it was three visits over more than a month, and something of a battle, from when I should have had my connection to when it actually went live.  Disappointed with the poor communication from A&A over much of that time.

Finally a good news story.  Having blown my money on a house, I no longer have £20k cash to keep in a Santander 123 account.  At £5/month charge, it could even end up costing me money with smaller balances!  After a bit of online research, I opened a new account with Starling Bank, and after verifying that it worked I instructed them to transfer my Santander account.  That ran genuinely smoothly, with not just my money but also payees and references moved automatically.  Even Santander were polite about it, with no annoying “Customer Retention” crap when they wrote to confirm the closure.

Profit from abuse

It occurs to me that my last blog entry re: singing the Creation tomorrow is the third time I’ve complained here of “new translations” of great German works (the previous times being the St John’s Passion and St Matthew’s Passion).

Perhaps I should also offer some brief explanation of what is wrong with them – apart from the obvious spuriousness of the reasons offered for having “new” translations.

  1. These are not new translations.  They are very minor tweaks of the well-known translations choirs have long been performing.  They are at the level of the variations one routinely dreams up at idle moments in rehearsal.
  2. They are less singable than the original translations.  The worst (by far) here was the St Johns Passion, but all of them have made things worse.

OK, let’s find some examples from the Creation while I still have the score.  Just to show it’s not all bad, let’s start at the beginning with one tweak that is actually a trivial improvement on the original.  The very first chorus entry

and the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters

becomes

and the spirit of God moved on the face of the waters

A trivial change, to a line that comes directly from the King James Bible as well as being a literal translation from the German.  Removing one syllable brings it into line with the German, and the calm and tranquillity of Haydn’s music immediately before God’s most famous utterance, יְהִי אוֹר.

Sadly that’s the exception.  Let’s turn now to the example our conductor gave in motivating the “new” translation to the choir.  The original source for this is Psalm 19:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

The German line is pretty faithful to that:

Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes,
und seine Hände Werk zeigt an das Firmament.

The familiar translation takes a little licence to fit the words to the notes – this kind of creativity is of course at the heart of translating lyrics to music:

The Heavens are telling the glory of God,
the wonder of his work displays the firmament.

The “new” translation here takes exactly the same licence, but rearranges the words:

The Heavens are telling the glory of God,
the firmament displays the wonder of his work.

The justification is that it makes the grammar more everyday, less archaic.  As against that, the old translation aligns the prominent words “work” and “firmament” directly with the German, thereby better fitting Haydn’s music.  In this instance the differences are so minor I find it hard to say either version is better or worse than the other.  What really stretches credulity is to claim it as a different translation – a new piece of work[1].

Where it really makes things worse is where some gratuitous change makes it altogether less singable.  The most egregious examples of this are in the St Johns Passion, but the Creation has a few cases in point.  As I write I’m struggling to bring them to mind, but one minor instance I can recollect:

and to th’ethereal vaults resound

becomes

on high th’ethereal vault resounds

Neither of these is remotely similar to the german:

und laut ertönt aus ihren Kehlen

(literally “and loudly rings out from their throats” – which would even fit the music!)[2]

But this change introduces ugliness and difficulty.  Any phrase ending in “s” can tend to be a hazard for choirs, as the “s” sound can be untidy – it only takes one singer to do a Corporal Jones and it sounds a complete mess.  To end a fast phrase in “ds” – still worse “nds” – is positively ugly and rather difficult even in the most accurate and disciplined performance.

This is not the worst example: there are one or two so bad we are reverting to the “old” words.  It’s just one that came to mind as I write.

As I said the first time I encountered one of these “new” translations (the St Johns Passion):  I can only conclude that the sole reason for the “new” translation is to assert copyright on a score that would otherwise soon be out of it.

I wonder what would happen if anyone were to challenge this copyright in court?  I hope it gets struck down for the gross abuse that it is!

[1] To be honest, neither translation is a satisfactory fit to the music here.  There’s a longer note in the middle to which both the syllable dis[plays] (original translation) or the (new translation) are very poor fits.  Beckmesser rules!  A potential solution to this is to make every occurrence a dotted rhythm, extending the preceding word – this works best with the old translation where it’s “work” being extended.  But that impoverishes the music  – Haydn gives us instances of both variants for a bit of variety.

[2] OK, in context it makes a little more sense: it’s praise of God that rings out or resounds.  There’s nothing in the German that could translate to vaults, singular or plural, ethereal or otherwise.

A new-created world

Our next concert it Haydn’s Creation, this Sunday (December 1st) at the Guildhall, Plymouth.  A work so well-known it should need no introduction.  Should be a decent concert for those in the area.

After the two great Bach Passions, this is a third piece we’re singing in a new translation.  Again, there’s no new value, but this time there’s another rationale: supposedly the German text isn’t authoritative either.  The original text should be the Bible (Genesis) – which gives more-or-less unlimited scope to pick-a-translation – and Paradise Lost.

My view: while it’s true that the German text leaves something to be desired, this translation isn’t it any more than the well-known translation – which is more singable.  But there’s very little change: this is again a long way from new.

Necrofelia

I was motivated to write this when I saw a reference to our prime minister’s onanism in an online forum.  He threw the press that word, and successfully distracted them – and it seems others – from discussing real issues.  In other words, a classic dead cat.

It is now well-known that Boris is the master of the dead cat.  He’s not the first, but we didn’t use the phrase when (for example) Blair used them, and in some ways he’s taken it to a new level.  We need a word for it.

We have a kind-of precedent in his predecessor Cameron’s necroporcophilia.  And now the onanism reference tells us Boris doesn’t merely like a dead cat, but takes gratification in it.  So we should speak of him as our necrofeliphiliac prime minister.  But that word seems ugly and confusing.  I propose contracting it to necrofeliac, or the root necrofelia.

Can I claim the coinage?  I guess a quick google will tell me if someone’s already coined it.  Dammit, either way the fact I’m talking about it tells us it’s homological.

Home Ownership

Having bought my house, I’m now enjoying its delights, but I’m also faced with all its problems.  I have a number of projects, some of them within my capabilities, others requiring professional help.  For example,

  • Get properly connected to the ‘net.
  • Build a bike shed in the underground parking area.
  • Install a big fitted wardrobe in the main bedroom.
  • Install wall lights for reading in bed in both bedrooms, and on the beam over the sit-down desk in the office.
  • Install ‘plantation shutters’ in the kitchen (which otherwise has no privacy from passers-by).
  • Replace the door to the balcony, and add fanlight windows suitable for winter ventilation.
  • Replace knackered old boiler.  A water (river) source heat pump would be good, if I could find anyone to install one.  Failing that, a regular combi boiler.

But right now, I’m dealing with a bigger, more urgent and unanticipated problem than any of those.  The bathrooms.

The two small bathrooms are back-to-back between the bedrooms and over the kitchen.  They are separated by a stud wall.  One has a shower, the other a bath; each has a basin and loo.  Great, I mostly take showers, but it’s nice also to have a bath available.

But the bathrooms have two problems.  The shower sometimes leaks into the kitchen below.  And the bathtub is only 150cm long, which is inadequate to take a bath in comfort.  150cm is the full width of the bathroom, and rearranging it wouldn’t be easy.

Until I can get the plumbing fixed around that shower, that’s a daily uncomfortable bath.  Actually it’s less uncomfy with practice: one learns what position works, but it’s certainly no pleasure.

OK, I need the shower repaired: that’s a plumber’s bill.  But can I, at the same time, do something about that bath?  The shower room is the same width as the bathroom, and a shower cubicle doesn’t need 150cm!  There’s room to steal 20cm from a corner of the shower room to make an alcove for the foot end of a new 170cm bath.  If this is to be my home for a fair few years, I bloomin’ well want to enjoy my home comforts!  Extending that thought, let’s have a little extra indulgence while we’re at it: a whirlpool bath!

So I started looking for a plumber to give me a quote.  Easier said than done: the usual story was “no time to take that on until sometime next year”.  Ouch.  Should I drop the ambitious plan and just get someone to fix that shower, so I can make the revamping of the bathrooms a non-urgent longer-term project like redesigning the kitchen?  Grumble.

Finally I found a plumber who could do it on a reasonable timescale (for an arm and a leg, of course).  He’s just done his first day of the job, in which he ripped out the old shower and put up struts for the new/moved stud wall.  The new shower will be a 120cm cubicle, and will stretch wall-to-wall.  That is to say, new wall accommodating bigger bath, to far wall.   TomorrowToday I think he’ll be putting in the wall to make the new shower cubicle.  I’m hazy on the sequencing of events, but the idea is to do as much as possible in the shower room while I still have the bath, so I’m not stuck with neither bath nor shower.

If all goes well, I’ll have him back to replace the boiler soon, and to do the plumbing when I redesign the kitchen sometime later when all the urgent things are done.  But until the job is finished, I’m a bundle of nerves about how my bathrooms will end up.  Ouch!

The other frustrating problem is my ‘net connection.  The 4G connection that did the job from my old place works for the laptop provided I keep the device on the window sill looking out (though even there it intermittently degrades to 2G), but it no longer works for the desktop – which is where I have all my main work stuff, like the toolchains and admin stuff for developing and testing software, and mentoring projects incubating at Apache.

I’m doing what I had in mind for when I bought a house, which is to go upmarket in my choice of ISP, with a view to the possibility of acquiring a couple of raspberry pis and bringing my server out of the cloud and in-house.  But I’ve hit a snag there: whereas in theory I have FTTC broadband, in practice something needs fixing between the house and the cabinet.  It’s now more than two weeks since I was supposed to be up-and-running, and the latest date to be suggested for the fix is November 11th.  Ouch!