Saturday, 2 January 2016

EE screwed up our phone numbers

Well I haven't posted for ages since nothing really to write about but now it's time for a bit of a rant so what better way to vent spleen.

First some background, we have 3 phones:
  • One for my partner, K
  • One for my son
  • One for me
All of these phones are on EE.  K has had her contract for many years (originally as orange then EE).  She has had the same number for all of that time.

I transferred my number to EE and started a 12month contract (SIM only).  At the same time I got a contract for my son for his new phone, also SIM only.  Both of these ended up (when the SIMs were activated) coming out of a single bank account.  I wanted my son's phone to be charged to a separate account.

So, I used the online chat with EE to ask for my son's contract to be billed to the correct, separate, bank account.  They moved both across!  There is no obvious way to fix this situation with the online account management options and since EE themselves didn't seem to be able to get this right we came up with our own solution.

Our plan was to move my billing over to K as her phone was already being billed to the correct account (a joint one in fact).  This seemed perfectly possible as I currently had two phones (my son's and mine) on one EE 'account'.

So K phoned up on 30th December to get things moved over.  We explained what we needed and we both had to provide security details.

This is where things got awkward and a little upsetting.  The idea of a female gay couple didn't seem to register.  Even worse, the EE customer services person kept asking if I was female because she said I sounded like a man.  She mentioned this several times and even asked if this had happened to me before, I said it had but that I was definitely female, or at least I was the "last time I checked".  I asked if she needed to ask any more questions for me to get through the security check and she said no but I still sounded like a man.

I do have a deeper voice.  Some women do.  Some men have higher voices.  While this can be confusing on a phone (which does have limited frequency response so isn't a perfect audio signal at the best of times) the point is not to make a big deal out of it. 

Anyway, K proceeded with sorting things out and we were told it would be completed soon.

After 3hrs, my phone suddenly lost coverage.

K got texts saying "welcome to EE".

When we checked the number on K's phone it was mine!  My phone had no number.

When we checked online to see the status of our accounts - mine had one device, my son's, and K had one, her phone but with my number.

Given that this was NOT what we had asked for AND that it would, in fact, be a breach of contract (my SIM only deal was for 12months, only 3 had elapsed) we were shocked it had even happened without any notice whatsoever.  I certainly haven't had any emails saying "your contract was terminated early".

K phoned up immediately and explained the situation and we were told that it would take 72hrs to resolve!

So, it's possible to break things in 3hrs but fixing takes longer?

So the situation we found ourselves in was as follows

  • I had no number.  No calls, texts, or 3G/4G data on the move
  • K had my number 
  • Since her friends/family had her original number they can't contact her
  • I can't contact anyone* 
(* Since we have iPhones some contact was still possible through iMessage - thanks Apple!)

So, from a 'safety' usefulness point of view, K was still technically able to call if she needed assistance but I can't.  Obviously this is one of the reasons people have mobile phones - if you are late, breakdown, or need to contact people.

All in all not ideal.

Fast forward 48hrs and K phoned up to check progress as we'd heard nothing.  She was told that it would be 72hrs to fix.  When she said "we were told that 48hrs ago" EE responded "24hrs from now".

Given this is a rant you can guess things aren't fixed yet.

K just phoned again and apparently it's 72 "working hours".  This is a little confusing, what is counted as "working" time.  Does that mean any week day?  OR does it mean actual 9-5 hours.  So, 8 of those per day so 9 week days? 

To be clear, K did check when we were given the initial estimate of 72hrs and the second one of 24 that these were just elapsed time.  They said they were.

So, we were given incorrect information when we phoned on the first two occasions.  We were misled and given false hope that things would be fixed.

We have no been told that the issues will be completely resolved by midnight on Wednesday.  So we will have been without our correct phone service for over a week.  K is still being charged for her phone.  I'm not sure if I am for mine as no contract/device appears to exist.

Apparently K's number as gone into a 'hibernation' pool for 6months.  This is where all numbers go once they are discarded.  Presumably this is to allow time for any calls to old numbers to be 'bounced' and then for them to be recycled.  Retrieving a number from this pool is apparently the time-consuming part.

K asked if I could just be given a temporary number and/or if she could and my number restored.  Apparently that is not possible.

The best the manager on the other end of the line could offer is to pay £10 onto our bill to cover a PAYG SIM that we could go and pick up from the EE shop!

This is all very confusing; normally activating a phone is done within a matter of hours, maximum 24hrs for even transferring an existing number between networks.  Why couldn't EE just make up for their mistake and assign K or I a temporary number?  Surely that is what happens to SIMs all the time and it's automated/quick.  No, apparently they couldn't do that.

At this point, to add insult to injury the manager on the phone was referring to K's partner as 'male' again.  K had already explained to the first call handler that we had an upsetting experience on the previous call.  You'd think a manager could get this right.  K corrected him.

Now, I appreciate that mobile phone call centres are probably manic places, and we certainly don't hold the individuals we have talked to responsible for the mistakes.  Things do go wrong, mistakes do happen and those at fault need to put them right (or more often than not, someone else in another department needs to sort out the mess).

EE has failed to do this in a timely fashion.  They have misled us about the timescale to resolve the issue, they have failed to adequately make-up or apologise for their error.  They have also compounded matters by having issues with the way they deal with their customers regarding gender and sexuality to the point that their call handlers make comments that are upsetting and show a distinct lack of education and awareness.

In short, this is absolutely terrible customer service.  We will be making a formal complaint in writing to EE.  I would not in any way recommend their service given this utter mess (in part caused by their woeful online account management).

K's contract comes to an end in March, mine around September.  We'll both we seriously considering other options.  I'd already looked at Three and found the features of their plans (unlimited data, minutes, texts, inclusive roaming etc) to be far better than EE.  Coverage isn't as good but we might just be able to live with that.

Okay, it's maybe no big deal for EE to lose a few contracts.  In fact, we pretty much feel that this comes across in their customer service.

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Pope missed the point

The Pope, the leader of a Church with over 1Billion followers, is reported to have said that there are limits to freedom of expression.  He states that

"You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others. There is a limit."

On an individual level I agree with this up to a point, it would certainly be unfair to deliberately insult someone's faith in an aggressive manner.  And certainly penalising someone for what they believe or inciting others towards vicious attacks (verbal or otherwise) based on those beliefs is frankly not sporting.

There are plenty of things that we believe (e.g. I believe I'm not bad at dancing ... I secretly suspect this is not the case) that others may find silly.  Common decency demands that we play nice otherwise things descend into a free-for-all where everyone is exposed as silly and upset at others for pointing that out.

However, to quote Brian Cox (scientist and ex Pop Star):

"The problem with today’s world is that everyone believes they have the right to express their opinion AND have others listen to it. The correct statement of individual rights is that everyone has the right to an opinion, but crucially, that opinion can be roundly ignored and even made fun of, particularly if it is demonstrably nonsense!"

I agree completely with that quote but given what I said above it's probably sensible to temper things with something like the golden rule.

However, what the Pope got wrong is in the underlying assumption that faiths as a whole are in some way beyond criticism and ridicule.  I personally prefer to use the word 'faith' for an individual's belief and 'religion' for the collection of ideas, rules, and dogma.  I don't believe the Pope was making that distinction.

While individuals may have 'silly' beliefs, what religions hold true can be, as we've seen, downright dangerous.  And this is where Brain Cox view is particularly pertinent.  While most of us will keep our beliefs to ourselves, the point at which those beliefs break the golden rule is where the line is drawn.

The Pope's example of this scenario is (from the BBC article) the following:

"  'If my good friend Doctor Gasparri [who organises the Pope's trips] speaks badly of my mother, he can expect to get punched,' he said, throwing a pretend punch at the doctor, who was standing beside him. " 


Definitely not.

You're advocating violence against someone for the words they use.  It's a VERY short step from there to saying that insulting a religious figure should result in the kind of extreme violence seen recently.

First of all the scenarios are entirely different.  As far as I am aware the Pope's mother has led a blameless life and would not be deserving of any criticism.  So the correct response to anyone saying anything bad about her is to ignore or even ridicule them for the unsupportable comments.

You don't go and beat them up.

Someone verbally attacking the Pope for his views (which is essentially what I am doing) should NOT be physically attacked.  I'm attempting to give a reasoned argument.  I believe I am supporting this with logical points.  Feel free to point out any errors.

Someone verbally attacking, and even attacking the Catholic church and religion, based on taking apart aspects of dogma which are logically ridiculous should be completely free to do so.  There are many people who would see that as provocative and insulting.  That is their opinion and they are welcome to defend their views verbally also.

Ultimately any consensus should be reached on valid, logical, and supportable (with evidence) arguments.  No violence is required for any of that.

And in none of this does any one person or groups beliefs get special treatment.  You cannot derive a superior or protected position in an argument just because *you* believe that should be the case.

So the correct response to someone criticising your religion is to ignore them, possibly even ridicule them in a clever and humourous way.  That generally wins more arguments than beating someone up.  Generally people like clever comebacks and will side with someone being attacked and defending themselves with style.

Resorting to any kind of violence (are you listening to this your Pope-ness) generally loses the argument quite rapidly.  For example, I read that Charlie Hebdo had a circulation of only 60,000 before the attacks and was viewed by many as racists and marginal.  They supposedly printed 6,000,000 copies of the latest run and sold out at that.

This is probably not a victory for reason however you look at it, just an escalation of one group metaphorically punching another for saying something bad about their equally metaphorical Mother.

Given the Pope's stupid comments above it's clear that being the leader of over a billion followers does not in any way make you wise.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

List of torrent sites ...

... courtesy of the UK Courts!

If you search on Google for anything like "torrents" and happen to click on one of the links that are blocked the above is what you'll get.  I presume this page will increase as more sites are blocked by UK Court Orders.

The ISP I am currently using is BT, I believe that they, and other major players in the market, e.g. Virgin, TalkTalk, Sky, are all following the blocking list above.

I guess there may be similar blocking in place in the US.

However, I'm pretty sure the blocking list isn't in place in *every* country - many are against censorship of any kind.  So, assuming you can find a proxy in a more 'liberal' country then you can happily use the above list as a nice starting point to find those torrents.

I think this raises two important points:

1) Did someone *really* think this through?  Irrespective of the arguments for/against this kind of blocking, was it wise to publicise the list?  Or is this actually a requirement for this kind of blocking?  I hope it's the latter since there absolutely SHOULD be transparency in such matters.  In fact, if this is the route we're going down then it should be impossible to block a site without such a block being made public - it would allow accidental blacklisting to be avoided/contested.

2) There was an article this morning on the BBC about GMail being blocked in China.  This is not entirely the same argument since pirated copies of films, music, and games are, at least in the UK, currently illegal, GMail, social media sites, and other communications are not.  However, it's also been argued that alot of the torrent sites are simply search engines, they themselves do not host any content.  Google will return torrent results, though these are starting to be removed from search results.  Do we really want tampering with search results?  Are alternatives available without such tampering, e.g. DuckDuckGo which supposedly doesn't filter.

Personally I'm not a fan of censorship and I don't like the idea of the blacklist/blocking approach because I think it has many technical and philosophical weaknesses.  I know there is definitely content out there that is illegal and unpleasant but I suspect the people accessing that are already using methods to circumvent the above blocking.  So censorship like the above list really comes down to big media companies throwing lots of money around.

So, as I've always said, why can't they throw that money at making decent online distribution services that are easy to use, fair, and provide greater benefit and features to the customers.  This happened with music on the whole - iTunes, Amazon, et al distribute music without DRM restrictions in place and seem to make plenty money doing so.  It's now more attractive to use those services for music (albeit for some hard-to-find or ridiculously over-priced items) rather than resort to torrents.

Do the same for video - stick that back catalog of old movies (80s, 90s, etc) and charge $1 a download rather than trying to sell old DVDs which cost money to ship, store, shift.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Satellite Broadband

I am incredibly lucky to live in a nice rural area, while it's lacking sometimes in some amenities it is, frankly, absolutely beautiful! Oh, and certainly much cheaper than trying to live in a city (which is another one of the reasons we ended up here).

Anyway, despite the estate being relatively new it appears that our internet connection is delivered via a damp piece of string and the maximum that ADSL 2 can give us is about 4.5Mb/sec. BT have started offering FTTC but even that only gets to 13Mb/sec according to the availability checker.

So we've had to go with keeping the rubbishy ADSL line for now (which is also on our landline) and getting Satellite Broadband as both a backup and for speed when needed - both of these really are to support my working/contracting from home where it's vital that I can connect to the office over VPN


Actually arrived within a couple of days of the order! Big box with modem and TRIA and even bigger box with a white/cream Tooway satellite dish assembly.  This is a BIG dish and rather heavy too.  You could probably set it all up yourself but it's a fair weight to take up a height to fasten onto your wall so best to pay for someone to do that!


Getting a professional fitting service meant that we had everything installed about a week after the order and it took about 2hrs to complete including running the cable to the sitting room and gettting it through the wall - same kind of procedure to having Sky TV installed.


The really important thing about the modem is that it is pretty basic.  No configurable DHCP, no wireless, and no easy configuration to allow it to have a static IP address or play nice with the rest of your setup in anyway whatsoever.  I can understand that the main 'cleverness' is in the satellite gadgetry but really the companies that make these things need some serious UX help

To insulate my carefully setup network from the modem I bought a TP-Link TL-R460 which is a neat little router that has a WAN port that can talk to modems over ethernet (it gets an IP address for this network via DHCP - yes, the SurfBeam2 Satellite Modem does have DHCP but it's not configurable) and then has a LAN network that 'looks' more like a normal router.


Primarily I'm using ADSL for now with the Satellite as backup.  Eventually I'm going to use some sort of crude load-balancing or sharing of usage of the two links.  The ADSL though slow is still quite responsive.  The satellite has ping times around 700ms - 2000ms depending on site (I think the satellite ping time is around 600ms).  That said it does still seem reasonably responsive.

I found the performance of the link to be extremely slow during the first week.  The bandwidth was slower than the ADSL connection.  After about a week of light usage/testing the performance started to get close to the promised 20Mb/sec download and 2Mb/sec upload.  I need to carry out more tests though.


Definitely I need to make more use of the satellite to get a feel for performance and usefulness but for now it seems like it would be perfectly usable in an emergency and could also be handy for off-peak downloads/uploads.  Despite the dish looking a bit of an eyesore it's at least hidden at the side of the house and isn't in the way.

I would also have to admit to a tiny glow of geekiness in that I'm using the internet over a satellite link!  It's pretty cool that traffic can be sent direct from a dish on the house, up to a satellite, bounced back down to earth and then on to it's destination.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

And now for something completely different ...

Thankfully I have many cultured and amazing friends on FaceBook, Twitter, etc such that things like the video below I get to see/hear/experience when I would likely not be priviledged enough to have my relatively tiny mind expanded if left to it's own devices.

I have no idea how to categorise this music nor the vocabulary to describe or critique it.  All I can say is the video was fabulously enjoyable to watch and I look forward to learning more.

John Dowland | Now, O Now | Lute Song by Les Canards Chantants

Please, please, please, give this a watch and like/share/retweet

Sunday, 1 June 2014

I should be shunned

I haven't written much for a while and I've certainly not written anything serious.  I thought I'd got most things out of my system and there was nothing of any great consequence left to report.  These things are often phases I guess and you just need something to be able to get things off your mind and written down.

The problem is that being a parent and transexual is apparently so unspeakably wrong and hurtful that I can be considered sub-human and therefore ignored and treated like a worthless person because of this most heinous crime.

Okay, this is not entirely what has happened, rather it's how I feel I am being treated.  What has happened, which I was convinced wouldn't (I'm different, my ex is a nice person, it can't happen to me, I'm a nice person, why would such horrible thing befall me, etc, pick your delusion), is that I have reached the point where my son is not wanting to see me nor even send me an e-mail, txt, or even answer my phone calls.

This hurts. 

I've had to deal with a general background level of dislike, blame, suspicion, distrust, disconnection, secrecy, blame (again), and a general up-hill struggle to have my feelings, rights, and thoughts even accepted as worth considering (it's all my choice and therefore my fault after-all folks, what was I thinking to expect it to be otherwise).  So, because of this, I've developed a reasonably thick skin or probably just naive optimism or out and and out denial.  Also, in complete fairness, I have been lucky and preoccupied with many other things in life being hard work but good and having battles to fight but with the odd victory.  In short, I've just dealt with things the best I could and tried to keep on trucking (metaphorically rather than literally, my in charge of a truck would be a dangerous prospect).

There are two things that are frustrating and extremely hurtful about the recent turn of events.  The first is that I tried, maybe not in all the right ways, but at least put the effort into looking after my son (and my ex) as best I could.  I tried to be fair in the divorce and not just let the solicitor grab everything they legally could (trust me, divorce is a horrible, almost blood-thirsty thing).  I've tried to be a 'good' person throughout and no matter what contribution I've made it's either something like "the least you could do" or "not enough".  No gratitude, just an expectation that I should do that.

The second issue is that any problem is my fault.  Everything is down to what I have done.  There isn't the slightest thought that maybe my behaviour isn't the complete picture, there might actually be other peoples opinions and actions that have led to some of the problems.

Children hear and pick-up on lots of things, how others talk (or fail to) about someone is something they are going to feel.  Given that I have been shouted at and told-off in front of my son it's quite possible my name is mud in the family generally.  The fact that all contact has been severed and that I'm treated 'differently' is probably enough of a negative things that it's had an impact.

Related to this is the fact that there is the constant message that it's understandable for my son to be upset at me and that it's okay to be sad and want me to be the way I was before and to exhibit all sorts of emotions and have these be a reason not to see me, to phone, or to talk about things.  That's acceptable, I'm in the wrong, I've done a terrible and hurtful thing.

My ex once commented that it would have been better if I'd had an affair.  Really I think she is right, that would have been more socially acceptable in hers and her families eyes.  In fact it often seems that lots of 'bad' things would have been better than this.  Seriously, how fucked up is that?  When someone dealing with a diagnosed mental illness, to wit, Gender Identity Disorder, and having (there is no choice, everyone please understand this concept if you don't, this isn't a lifestyle option) is "wrong" and cheating is actually better than that.

Technically adultery is a sin yet it's more socially acceptable these days than someone having treatment for a condition that can be (and thankfully wasn't in my case) life-threatening due to sufferers often having to deal with depression and suicidal tendencies also.  Maybe if I had more extreme symptoms it would have been acceptable then?

However, I'm getting off the point.

I have reached the stage where I feel there is a very real possibility that my son will not want to see me and either the visits/calls will reduce to such an infrequent rate or will stop all together.  I never thought I'd get to this, I didn't believe it could happen.

For anyone else out there going through a similar journey, trust me, you could reach this point too.

So, what is the solution.  Well, in the short term there probably isn't one.  I'm wrong remember, I'm the "bad" one here all of this is my fault.  Why should anyone do anything to help me, I brought this all on myself.  Starting from this point of view nothing is ever going to change.  So until my ex and family and all the people on the "other" "side" make a conscious effort to try and learn any understand what I went through and why and drop their bigotry and ignorance then nothing will change for me.

The overall solution is education and awareness; someone once said trans is the next gay - there has been a long hard fight for equal rights for gay individuals and couples.  It seems lots of progress has been made in this country and some others.  There are still things to fight for but there is at least some important equality in law and at the very least a much greater awareness.  Famous people are coming out as gay, it's becoming more acceptable and hopefully better understood.

This progress has also had a positive knock-on affect on trans people too and there is more awareness out there.  Speaking from a personal point of view my life would be better if awareness, understanding, and acceptance developed in very specific areas/people and that's going to be the same for anyone whose family, friends, and children are faced with this.

I did a little bit of research (should probably do more) and found the following resources that hopefully may be of some help:

GIRES - Gender Identity Research Education Society

Kid's Of Trans - seems America-centric on the whole but still useful information and explanations

A gay or trans person is still a person, they still have feelings and emotions just like everyone else and their dealing with their sexuality or gender identity doesn't suddenly render them unworthy of consideration, compassion or just being treated like a fellow human being.

A gay or trans parent is still your parent who loves you and hopes with all their heart that you still love them.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Altera Quartus II and EDS on 64bit CentOS ... Eclipse won't start!

In a HHGTTG way* I will point out now to avoid any undue stress that Eclipse is now working fine (well seems to be as far as I have had time to test at the moment) so thankfully I can get on with learning about FPGAs, NIOS II and other geeky things :)

However, I thought I'd record my trials in getting this working so that anyone else that hits the same problem can fix it - or possibly suggest what I did wrong in setting everything up in the first place.

Anyway, we're having a look at FPGAs at work at the moment and they've purchased a little DE0 Nano board (available from Farnell in the UK prices £66.06 - need to save up as I want to buy my own to use at home now!).  I downloaded the Quartus II 13.1 Web edition from Altera which includes all the design tools and EDS (Embedded Development Suite) for these experimenter boards.

The software claims to support 64bit RedHat Enterprise Linux 6 (I went for the CentOS equivalent) and setup a VM.  Download (or a 7.5Gb ISO - eeek) and installation all seemed to go well and I followed the instructions in the readme to install a couple of 32bit libraries.

To cut a long story short; I was in a rush and just expected everything to work.  And in fact Quartus II did seem to startup fine.  Eclipse however, didn't start at all.  And more annoyingly, it just failed silently without any clue as to why.  I ran the eclipse-nios launcher as well as the eclipse executable directly.  No errors they both just start, appears to do some thinking and then quit :(  Weird.

After some investigation (ran strace and had a look at what it was doing) it became clear that I was missing a load of 32bit libraries!  Installed these and voila, Eclipse all working now :) 

While 'researching' for this blog post I came across the actual installation/licensing instructions/release notes which contain the following

"The following RPM packages are required to install and run the Altera Complete Design Suite (ACDS)
on systems running Red Hat Linux Enterprise 6:
• 32-bit libraries: compat-libstdc++-33.i686, expat.i686, fontconfig.i686, freetype.i686, glibc.i686,
gtk2.i686, libcanberra-gtk2.i686, gtk2-engines-2.18.4-5.el6.centos.i686, libpng.i686, libICE.i686,
libSM.i686, libuuid.i686, ncurses-devel.i686, ncurses-libs.i686, PackageKit-gtk-module.i686, tcldevel.
i686, tcl.i686, and zlib.i686
• XWindow libraries: libX11.i686, libXau.i686, libXdmcp.i686, libXext.i686, libXft-devel.i686, libXft.i686,
libXrender.i686, libXt.i686, and libXtst.i686
• GIMP toolkit: GTK+2
• For more information about RPM packages, visit the Red Hat website"

So, ultimately RTFM! 

I think I've got alot of RTFM to do with all this stuff now so will post when I've managed to understand some of it and maybe got something running!

* - I just re-listened to the audio book of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and it makes reference to stress being such a serious problem in the Galaxy that to avoid further increasing this the following points would be made clear about no-one getting hurt apart from a bruised upper arm.