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* Posts by John Geddes

22 posts • joined 8 Jan 2008

UK.gov finally admits it will MISS superfast broadband target

John Geddes

Re: Does the UK really need superfast broadband?

One obvious example of why we need better-than-ADSL: Videoconferencing (at any reasonable quality) needs better than the 1Mbps upstream offered by the best ADSL.

But the big cost if we don't roll out fibre to rural areas is to the demographic makeup of our rural communities. Communities work when there is a good cross-age mix, supporting rural schools, shops and other services. But how long until the younger potential movers-in to rural communities decide that having experienced the joys of Infinity or Cable, they don't want to go back to the frustrations of ADSL - and choose to live in leafy FTTC-served suburbs instead? And then our rural communities become less self-supporting (too many older people needing lifts to hospital, too few younger people to offer the lifts) and those who remain become more and more expensive to support.

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John Geddes

Really bad news for most rural users?

The "new" money and the extended deadline seems set to delay the point when BT voluntarily bring FTTC to rural areas.

There I was hoping that once BT had hoovered up the local share of the £530m (in this part of the world, it looks as if most of this will go on 2Mbps to those currently without it), they might conclude that there was no more subsidy to come, and would then "discover" that they could actually make a commercial return from taking fibre to cabinets in the centre of wealthier villages. On the old timetable, that might have happened in 2014.

Now, it looks as if BT would do better to try and hold the "any rural fibre will need subsidy" line until they've exhausted all the new funds in 2017. Brilliant !

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Broadband ESSENTIAL to life, titsup ISPs must cough up - court

John Geddes

When will Ofcom accept Broadband as Essential?

The problem in many parts of the UK is that we have a monopoly provider of telecoms circuits, and their licence was written in the early 1980's before home data was on the horizon for anything beyond hobbyist use (and then only by dialup modem).

While Government and commerce are increasingly migrating their services onto an Internet-only basis (most job applications, university applications, many travel reservations and confirmations just for starters) - so the regulator Ofcom still treats the provision of a data service to homes as an optional extra, which can be repaired as slowly as it suits BT to do so. Our village lost electricity due to a substation failure and a team worked 24/7 to restore service. A few weeks later, an exchange fault took a dozen or so Broadband users out of service: repair action couldn't be countenanced until their homes had been visited by office-hours-only engineers, with appointments at least a week away.

Ofcom's explanation of why this is OK: "... despite its popularity, broadband is not regarded as an essential service, i.e. there is no risk to safety of life and consumers living conditions are not affected detrimentally by them losing their broadband service."

Is anyone game to help me come up with a "No 10" petition that government shouldn't extend use of the internet as a means of interaction with citizens until it has modified the BT licence to make Broadband an Essential service that is to be repaired as quickly as electricity supplies?

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Bomb sniffing “electric nose” turns cancer detector

John Geddes
Unhappy

"accurate in 88% of cases"

Come on Register: your readers expect something rather above the level of a Daily Mail article. What percentage of false-positives, and what percentage of false-negatives?

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Watchdog relieves iPhone 5 scammers of £10k

John Geddes

Refund just the COMPLAINANTS?

Phonepay plus have always struck me as caring much more about the industry than the consumer.

In this case, it appears they are only requiring reimbursement to those who actually complained. Why on earth are they not requiring the company to refund everyone who was charged for their service - automatically. Scamming large numbers of people for relatively small amounts works because people are too busy to bother complaining about small sums lost. And yet Phonepay Plus compound this effect by only requiring refunds to those who a) realise that they have lost money to the scam, b) realise that complaining might get them their money back, c) value their time at a low enough rate to bother to chase the possibility of getting a few pounds back, d) work out how to complain, e) follow through and actually complete the documentation required.

Even then, as others note, the penalty needs to be a mutiple of the money scammed: £10k seems about as severe as slapping someone with a wet lettuce-leaf.

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Compulsory coding in schools: The new Nerd Tourism

John Geddes

Isn't it about letting kids make things happen?

Don't teach coding because it is a Good Thing.

Give kids from about 7 or 8 the chance to work simple chips, sensors, lights, speakers and solenoids - and let them make machines that do things.

At that age, few have the skills to create mechanical machines, drawings or creative writing that will genuinely impress peers and adults - but with some imagination and a bit of patience, they can develop a bit of kit that is reasonably impressive.

All will learn about logic and problem-solving, which are real skills that would be good to see more widely in the population. And some will find a joy in making physical things that might just help reduce the UK's century-old prejudice against working to design or make useful objects.

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Online ad body: Let's slather 'opt out' icons everywhere

John Geddes
Unhappy

Hypocrisy here?

I have a nagging doubt about the universal display of the icon. Is the IAB really concerned to help consumers as they profess, or could the "show the icon every time" move actually be less nobly intentioned?

Could it, for example, be an attempt to get the icon to become so universal that users blank it out - trying to make it so much "part of the scenery" that consumers stop noticing it?

John Geddes

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Inside the BBC's R&D Labs

John Geddes

My late father worked at Kingswood Warren from its opening until 1967, and as a child I remember it as a wonderous place - a spooky anechoic chamber and a mindblowing first encounter with stereo.

One of the inventions at Kingswood was TARIF - kit to rebalance the colours in old movies where deterioration of the dyes had distorted the colour balance. The story was that its working moniker was originally TARRIF - "Tony and Ron's Remedy For Inferior Film", and that it was only when it won a Royal Television Society award that a more respectable name had to be developed. Dropping one "R" it became TARIF - "Television Apparatus for the Rectification of Indifferent Film".

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HP chief bows to Jobsian cult

John Geddes

Has Apotheker's speech been translated from another language?

"There’s a clear secular movement in the consumer PC space" - I really don't understand what that means.

Has it been (badly) translated from another language, am I just too ignorant to be worth HP communicating with, or does it make Leo Apotheker a bit of a pseud?

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Ofcom moves: Rural broadband price war on the cards?

John Geddes
Unhappy

Forget the price cut ...

... more important to the stuck-with-Openreach user would be a tightening of BT's licence to require some genuine urgency in fixing Broadband problems when the occur.

I've seen several neighbours without Broadband for over a week following a recent problem. Despite their being with different ISPs, served by different cables from the exchange, Openreach insisted on making an appointment to visit each home during the working day (typically a week later) - in order to establish that this customer too had an identical exchange problem that they could then fix in minutes.

When BT was privatised, there was no Internet, and it seems that the Licence has not been updated to reflect the Internet's transition from geeky-hobby to mainstream communication medium, and increasingly to the only way of interacting with organisations.

Where an electricity outage sees cables dug up 24/7 if necessary, BT shows no comparable urgency in fixing Broadband problems.You can't blame them for this - their shareholders wouldn't be amused to find them voluntarily incurring the extra cost of urgent response to captive customers. And the less the worry of a prolonged Broadband outage, the harder it will be for other parts of BT to use that fear to sell other services.

But while one can understand BT's profit-maximising interests, we can't leave the rural population with a poor service just because it doesn't suit the monopoly provider. We desperately need Ofcom to add the urgent fixing of Broadband problems to BT's licence conditions - and to factor the additional costs into their determination of acceptable price levels.

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Google pulls trigger on 'Instant' search engine

John Geddes

Brilliant move by Google

Alongside the "we just want to help people get results quicker" angle, there is a subtler motivation for Google.

I am pretty sure that more people enter search terms from the General to the Specific than vice versa: people enter "Kitchen Worktops in Coventry" more than they enter "Coventry Kitchen Worktops".

By serving results before the customer has finished typing, Google are encouraging more people to act on a broad search term rather than a specific one.

That hands a gift to national/international operators whose sites make onto the front page of broad-term results an organic basis. So far, that’s not worth anything to Google. But everyone else will find themselves competing for Sponsored Links using the same few broad search terms, which will result in the auction price zooming up. That does make a difference to Google.

It will make life more expensive for mid-scale operators, who will end up spending more on Google if they want to keep their traffic flowing. But it might have even bigger impact on smaller players.

A small hotel in Coventry might have featured well on “Hotel in Coventry” – or might have been able to afford to buy a Sponsored Link for “Hotel in Coventry”. But with Google Instant, they will see a proportion of those searchers being tempted away by the listings that appear as soon as they have typed “Hotel”.

That small hotel will not have a hope of a front-page organic listing for “Hotel”. Nor will they have a hope of affording to bid for a Sponsored Link for “Hotel” (their click-through rate would be so much lower than a chain that their bid would have to be astronomical).

So, forget the disintermediation that we were told would be the result of the web. Google Instant is just one small step along the road which is forcing that small hotel to pay to appear on an aggregator site which can compete on a national/international scale.

(I don't live in Coventry, or run a hotel, by the way).

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Student loan system failure could happen again

John Geddes
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SLC incompetence

One small insight suggests that SLC are a hopeless shower.

A reasonable proportion of students end up accepted by their second-choice university. How does SLC handle this change?

SLC get the applicant's First-choice and Second-choice offer details from UCAS - so students should be able to tell them "I am going to my Second choice university" by a few clicks on their online system.

Not so - SLC's online system requires the student to download a (badly designed) "Change of Circumstances" form - 8 pages long, requiring lots of information that the student has already provided to SLC. The student then visits their Post Office to send it off (the form is too fat to go as a standard letter). And then they wait two to four weeks for it to be processed manually.

Sheer Genius.

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Morgan Computers: Your memories

John Geddes

My first (10Mb) Hard Disk ...

... for my IBM PC in about 1988: a bargain at £100 from Morgan.

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Student loans company says 'we're not overloaded'

John Geddes
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Unclear forms and dumb systems - predictable results

From my son's experience, it is no surprise they are in trouble.

Forms are badly drafted (we had to phone twice to ask what they meant).

And one of the most obvious of situations cannot be handled online. Thousands of students will end up on their second-choice course. How is this handled? The student is required to print off and fill out an EIGHT-PAGE form and send it by post, to be processed manually (target "two to four weeks").

Yet SLC already have the data - it is on the UCAS record from which they pick up the first-choice course. It would be trivially simple for them to offer an online solution for this.

SLC are delivering incompetence of the first order.

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HP strikes back on charges for 'free' Windows 7 upgrade

John Geddes
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Greedy or incompetent?

£27 "shipping and handling" is sheer incompetence if it is the true cost to HP, and dishonest greed if it isn't.

I had spotted the "shipping cost" caveat when considering purchase of an HP laptop, but had been unable to find any detail of how much it would be.

I don't have a problem with companies dressing up their charges in any way they like, as long as they are open and honest about the amount. If the HP website had said "You can have the upgrade at a charge of £27" then that is fine. But to mention a cost but not to say how much it will be - that is only OK if the customer can trust that the company is honest and competent. Clearly such trust in HP would be misplaced.

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Aussie censors implement six degrees of separation policy

John Geddes

What constitutes a link?

Banning links seems futile - even if you had sympathy with the need to censor. In order to point users to a page that upset the censors, surely one could simply create a link that creates a Google (or other) search that would be fairly sure to present the relevant page in top position. Or is Australia planning to ban their citizens from suggesting search phrases that might lead to information that they consider inappropriate?

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Data centers embrace The Great Outdoors

John Geddes

Harris here we come?

One of the impediments to generating electricity from the copious wind power in the Outer Hebrides is the cost and ugliness of great thick copper cables to bring the electricity to the cities where the it will be used.

So why not move power-hungry Data Centres to the Outer Hebrides to exploit both the locally-generated electricity and the superior natural cooling from the colder/windier climate there?

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Ofcom tightens complaints procedure

John Geddes

Ofcom need to get serious about systematic abuses

Ofcom are limp and cowardly and need serious beefing up if they are to be a match for the aggressive telecom operators.

From online posts, I am not the only one to find that one major mobile retailer is very slow in issuing PAC transfer codes - 10 working days (even when chased up) against the Ofcom standard of 2 working days. When pushed to explain the delay, the operator explained that they "only collect mail from the PO Box twice a week".

How do they get away with it? By being regulated by lets-not-rock-the-boat Ofcom.

Ofcom's reaction to my experience "we will remind them of their obligations". Wow, bet that will scare them into behaving properly (at the expense of the extra profit to be made by delaying transfers out). Were Ofcom interested in the (properly notified) recording I had of the conversation? No. Did they check performance by making test transactions themselves. "Not sure" was the best I could get.

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Ofcom swoops on caller ID-faking firm with... request for information

John Geddes

What about indirect Telecom operators?

If Ofcom doesn't get excited for any broader reason, they ought to be very troubled by the impact on indirect telecoms operators - the ones where a BT customer dials a prefix before the call (or opts for CPS - Carrier Pre-Selection) and then pays the rival operator rather than BT.

As I understand it, these operators use CLI to identify which account to debit for the cost of each call - which becomes useless if CLI spoofing becomes widespread.

OK, at the current 50p per minute to Spookcall, CLI impersonation would only be cost-effective for calls to a few high-cost destinations, but it doesn't take a genius to see that if Spookcall get away with it, there will be others piling in at much lower charges.

Ofcom seem very good at turning a blind eye to abuses that aren't specifically covered by their terms of reference, but surely they have a pretty specific need to make sure that rival telecom operators can continue in business?

John Geddes

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MPs urge action as spooky caller ID-faking services hit UK

John Geddes
Unhappy

Incompetent leglislation - again.

"It should be up to the person you're calling to make sure you're who you say you are." says the guy setting this up.

Sure - we can work like that. Like we could allow people to counterfeit our currency and say that it is up to the person receiving the cash to check.

We don't allow that with money because the cost of such an approach is severe and obvious. Imagine the queues in shops and ticket offices if it was considered fair game to try and pass off dud currency and every front-line employee had to check every note and coin.

One of the roles of government is surely to prevent cases like this, where a tiny minority stand to make money at enormously greater cost to everyone else.

So, attempting to pass dud currency is an offence -and that is enough of a disincentive to reduce the risk to the point where the populace can swap money with each other quickly and simply.

How depressing to find that those framing rules for telecoms haven't been bright enough either to anticipate CLI-spoofing, or to have a catch-all provision that allows them to close down this sort of operation overnight.

Remember rogue diallers? Oftel (as they were then) couldn't see that coming either.

And the rest of us are going to work to an advanced age to help provide these comfortable fools with a gilt-edged pension.

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Blair's transport minister working for traffic-data firm

John Geddes
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16,000 coaches?

If National Express had 16,000 coaches, they would be able to transport 0.8 million people at once. I think not.

A quick search shows an NE press release which says that in 2001 they signed up 530 of their coaches, which will supposedly deliver the same amount of data as from 16,000 cars.

Not quite the same thing.

And although Eddie Stobart lorries seem to be everywhere, I suspect that there are far fewer than 22,000 of those

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