Updates!

For my regular readers, I apologise for not updating this blog for a while as I’ve been very busy.  During the past month, I’ve passed my probation in the new job I started back in August and what with just having gone through the recent Black Friday/Cyber Monday, the weeks leading up to it have been extraordinarily busy.

I’ve cancelled Virgin Media and gone back to Sky for TV, phone and broadband (well, the phone not so much – I’ll be using my EE mobile for the most part and just keep the Sky landline for incoming calls).  I can tell you right now, the difference between Sky and Virgin is like night and day.  Sky Q has improved considerably in the 8 months or so since I originally joined Virgin with their Tivo 6 box.  The Tivo has been a massive disappointment what with TV programmes regularly suffering from messed up imagery/artefacts and I’ve not been able to delete all programs I’ve recorded either – they just end up stuck.  The whole Sky Cinema SD/HD thing was just awful.  So Virgin Media has been given the heave-ho permanently this time.

I’m a tiny bit disappointed that Sky has done away with their Sky Fibre Broadband Pro package which offered a static IP.  As I also work from home on a semi-regular basis, having a static IP makes a big difference when configuring access control lists for various endpoints.  But the max package I’m on is nevertheless not shabby in the least, and the lease times on IPv4 seems long enough – plus IPv6 has been re-enabled (took around 12 days after activation), so I’m dual stack here.

Getting back to Sky Q – there’s a new remote!  Instead of giving everybody two remotes for the main Sky Q box, there is just one.  It doubles as a touch-sensitive remote as well as being a regular clicky one – controllable from within the Sky Q menu settings.  I really like this approach and big kudos to Sky for taking on board feedback from customers.  It’s a real pleasure to use now.  But the biggest thing for me is the voice control.  I ask Sky Q to change the channel (and it will automatically select the HD version of that channel if available) as well as fast forwarding and rewinding X seconds or minutes.   It matches up with the Apple 4K TV just nicely.  If only we had a unified remote that could control both!

Sky Q now offers favourite channels – something that was sadly lacking last time.  It still needs a bit of tweaking: ideally, there should be a favourites button on the remote to take you to the TV guide that compliments the (new) existing feature of allocating favourites to the remote buttons.

Sky Cinema is back in full HD, and still offers a not unreasonable number of ultra HD (4K) content.  Unlike the Tivo V6 which didn’t offer anything at all.  And the best part is that Sky Cinema is only £10 a month for the duration of my 18-month contract.  Let’s hope we can do a deal again when it comes to renewing it!

For me, while I have had a massive speed drop from 300Mbs to 76Mbs (on average around 65Mbs), this isn’t a big problem.  Rarely do I achieve speeds above 150Mbs anyway – mainly because many websites simply won’t go above 100Mb due to bandwidth throttling at the hosting company – take a look at a lot of hosting packages and you’ll see what I mean.  But I’d rather Sky’s speeds with their brilliant Sky Q Hub than Virgin Media’s Intel-powered latency inducing SuperHub 3.

(BTW, not being paid by Sky to say these things – just a very happy customer with one exception – I have continually received “please return our equipment” SMSes and emails over the past month with threats to charge me despite the equipment being sent back with evidence of posting.  I think this has finally been resolved by speaking to an operator who got me to upload a scan of the Post Office receipt to a special section of Sky’s website.  So hopefully that’s that.)

Oh, and I’ve also replaced my Oppo 203 UltraHD Blu-Ray player with an Xbox One X – currently the most powerful console yet, with its 6 Teraflops of processing power.  It also has an UltraHD Blu-Ray player in it, and is much, much smaller than the Oppo.  I’ve been very impressed with it, but not so much with Microsoft Store who mucked up the extended warranty necessitating in two phone calls and a bunch of emails.  I’m not entirely sure the issue has been fully resolved as my account has weird XML related code embedded in the page where the warranty info is.  Let’s say that if I were considering a Surface Pro 2 which can cost up to £3k, I’d be very wary of buying it directly from Microsoft.  If they can’t get it right with an Xbox…

So that’s it so far!

I’ve got a brand new combine harvester washer-dryer..

.. and I won’t give you the key unless you pay me £3 a wash.

Last weekend, the Indesit washer-dryer that has lived in this house for the past eight years or so, died doing what it loved – washing.  It was making some pretty odd noises during the drying process before attempting a new wash where it just sat there doing nothing.

So I bought a new one from ao.com.  It arrived Wednesday, but not without a few problems.  The first is that ao.com delivery folk are uninsured.  So if you’ve paid for installation/disposal, just be aware of this.  The water taps under the sink were pretty stiff and the delivery lads (as nice as they were) were just going to leave it as they didn’t want to damage the taps/pipes.  I said that if this wasn’t going to be installed, the whole lot can go back to ao.com.   They didn’t have any tools but managed to loosen the taps and get the old machine out and the new one in.  They did a quick test and left.

Look how far washing machine tech has come – yet there’s still no app for that..

.. but alas .. they left me without any water to the bathroom and the sink was leaking.  So I called my bank’s home emergency service and got a plumber out who identified that the incorrect tap had been fiddled with – which restored hot water and water to the bathroom.  The leak was actually caused by a rotten waste pipe.  That didn’t classify as an emergency, so I will have to pay for that – and the bloke that came on Wednesday came back out on Friday to fix everything.  Not sure of the total cost yet – still waiting for an invoice by email – but it had to be done and I don’t think it’ll cost that much.

The new washing machine is taking a bit of getting used to.  Dials have been replaced with buttons and a display.  But one thing is definitely noticeable – it’s very, very quiet in comparison to the almost neanderthal aged washer-dryer I previously had.  It also takes a bigger load too.  Yet the overall size makes it a little smaller than the previous machine.  I’m very happy with it so far – not bad for £379.

Will I use ao.com again?  I’d like to – but I’d really like to see the delivery folk fully insured and carry the right tools.  But I may stick with John Lewis who is usually my go-to place for electricals.

New Job!

After nearly nine years at Memset Ltd, I’m leaving to pursue application support and management for an e-commerce agency based in Wimbledon (hence the mysterious Wombles theme tune post).

The chariot that took me from Guildford to Dunsfold affectionately known as the “chuckle bus”,

I’ve generally loved my time at Memset, but I feel that I’ve spent far too long in the customer service role and want to get back to proper sysadminning – tinkering (within reasonable, established procedures) with stuff to get it working optimally and keeping it online.

What excites me about working for my new employers is that as they are a very well established company, they’ve chosen to offload management of the day to day stuff. Thus, G Suite for Business, managed hosting, etc.  which leaves somebody such as myself time to automate stuff and make sure everything works around the application that we supply and support.

While scripting has never been a particularly strong point of mine (never had the time or patience), I don’t shy away from it.  In the past I’ve written Perl, PHP and Bash scripts to do a variety of repetitive stuff.  How efficient those scripts are is anybody’s guess, but they did work!  One downside is that if I spent any great amount of time away from doing these things, I forget it.  So I’ve been fortunate to pick up some digital O’Reilly and other technical books on the cheap, so I have reference books to bone up on.  If this is one thing that I am looking forward to with this job is to get into scripting properly and take it to the next level.

So I think this is a good career move for me.  I think my time working in the web hosting industry has come to an end.

It’s the 20th Anniversary of Drake.org.uk!

Good grief, has it really been twenty years?

Back in 1996 I left UEA in Norwich early to pursue a career and ended up working for a company in Aylsham Road that specialised in building, selling, and repairing PCs. They took me on because I had experience with Linux as they wanted to set-up an ISP.  So I was charged with setting up the servers and infrastructure which would provide dial-up access to 400 customers and web hosting to a variety of local businesses and personal users.

On this day in 1997 I asked my boss if I could register my own domain for the purposes of testing stuff.  As we were members of Nominet, I used the automaton to generate the request and send it off as a PGP signed email. There were no fancy point and click web interfaces in those days!

In the twenty years since drake.org.uk’s registration, I’ve changed jobs many times.  Moved home multiples times.  Got married.  Got divorced.  And I’ve been travelling a lot too.  A quarter of my adult lifetime.  And my domain has been with me in one form or another during all that time.  I’ve ran multiple email services (settling on G Suite – but known as Google Apps for Your Domain back in 2006), multiple web servers (Zeus, Apache, IIS, and nginx to name a few), different web hosting providers.  But I’ve always been a blogger.

I’ve used the WayBack machine to go back through some of my old drake.org.uk web pages/blog posts.  Some of it WTF, some of it has me raging about this or that, and some of it deeply sad (when it came to IVF treatment).

Click on the images to enlarge.

I have had a love/hate (mainly hate) relationship with Windows Server ever since..
Here I was tinkering with FreeBSD and Linux. At the time I was running the Anglian Linux user Group web site/mailing lists too.
Moving houses .. and dedicated servers?
Unemployed just before getting married was awful – but thankfully it all turned out in the end. And this was the beginning of my journey into VFX..
I was still unemployed at the time, but I would find work (albeit I was taken advantage of) within a few weeks. Thankfully that job only lasted 5-6 weeks before I joined MPC.
Even when I was working in the VFX industry, I was thinking about web hosting..
Dealing with spammers was a bane both personally and professionally, and one of the reasons I switched to G Suite in 2006 rather than my own email services.

Sometime after that there are a number of posts about the ectopic pregnancy.  It was perhaps one of the most awful times in our lives and I’d really rather not post them here (although you can still read them on the WayBack machine).

It lead to a great deal of depression which I still struggle with today (though I don’t take medicine for it – I felt at the time that I don’t think the drugs that I was given did much anyway).  These days I deal with depression in a variety of ways – this blog (having an outlet to rant is great, though there are times I know I go overboard and have to tone things down a bit – thankfully my Dad reads everything and provides me feedback if I do!), the other is travelling – something I’m looking to do more of.  A bit difficult when one is single, but there are plenty of things I can still do.

It’s an ongoing struggle, but I seem to be winning for the most part.

Anyway, back to happier things.

When I went to the world premiere of Peter Jackson’s King Kong in New York. The ironic thing was that the associate producer of the film (who was there) came to work at MPC and it was only because I was wearing a souvenir t-shirt that I found this out.

 

When I went to Neil Gaiman’s private screening of a nearly compete version of Stardust. Not sure why I was having a rant at MPC, but it’d be a few months before I had quit and started working for Imagineer Systems.

 

That time when I went flying around filming interviews for a video for Imagineer Systems (and getting a valuable lesson on how to setting automatic gain control for microphones).

 

More filming for Imagineer. This time in New York.

So happy 20th birthday, Drake.org.uk.  Here’s to the next 20 years (good grief, I’ll be 60 by that time!).

Vitality Insurance’s Apple Watch Offer fails to reliably read Apple Health data

Update: Having submitted Apple Health data from the past few months (via a series of screenshots) direct to Vitality by email, they added it to my account and the system now appears to be working by itself. However, it’s too little/too late because I’m going to pay the balance off manually and move over to Samsung Gear S3 + the Galaxy S8+.

Technology.  It can be such a pain in the gluteus maximus at times. And no more so when as an insurance company, you’re trying to innovate within the health insurance market by offering customers a heavily discounted Apple Watch in exchange for the user getting fitter (which means they’re less liable to make a claim).

For that very reason I sold my old Apple Watch and traded it in for the Vitality Apple Watch – a 42mm series 2 Nike model for £99.  I figured that an incentive like this would help me walk (including fast walking) more if I didn’t have to pay any more than I already had.

In terms of the watches, there is very little difference between the regular Apple Watch and the Nike branded model other than the straps and watch face, which I love.

Along with the Withings smart scales, I’ve been recording my steps within Apple Health and it’s been working just fine.  But I’ll be darned if I can get the Vitality app on my iPhone 7 Plus to read data from Apple Health so that they can track my progress and decide – if at all – I need to pay any further for the watch.

Things have got to the point where BBC News has picked up on the problem. The app tells me that it’s connected with Apple Health, but no data is ever exchanged between both apps.   You’re supposed to collect 10 points for connecting Apple Heath and the Vitality app, but nope.  Absolutely nothing.  Nada.  Kaput.

Vitality released an app update yesterday, but that did nothing.  So we may be in for a long wait before things start working properly.  I’ve already been in touch with Vitality about this, so they are aware that I’m having problems – as to what they’ll do with the payments remains to be seen.

As a side note, why is the Vitality main web site hosted in South Africa?  Member details appear to be stored within a datacentre based in Slough, however.  Very odd.  But at least my health data remains in the UK.  Hopefully.  I doubt my health data on the Watch or iPhone is shared with Apple in the US.