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Archive for the ‘General’ Category

To potential PlusNet customers

Last update 11/04/2017

Early in 2016, having used PlusNet for normal broadband and seeing their offer of fibre broadband in Bellingham, Northumberland, we signed up for the 80 Mb fibre service.

The PlusNet modem was supplied and initially we managed to get up to 78Mb downloads and 19Mb uploads – not quiet the headline figure – but very close.

Soon after however, we started to experience drop-outs. The modem would disconnect and reconnect a minute or so later. This would happen every day either once or several times – perhaps with gaps of 2-3 days without issue.

Try as we might I could get no resolution out of PlusNet. We were soon heading for Spain for several months – and I needed this to work in order to access code and stream media from the UK to Spain and so did not have time to start all over again with someone else. So, I bought a TPLink modem which was certified to work with PlusNet.

In April, we set off for Spain and the dropouts continued, whereby the router would lose the signal and now with the new TP-Link, occasionally not recover. My friend Aidan went over to the house and put in a 24-hour timer as belt and braces – resetting the router every 24 hours. Not ideal but it worked, at least ensuring the unit was operating almost all the time. That worked fine until July by which time the signal had reduced to 5 meg download, 1 meg upload. Bear in mind when reading below this had all worked since April – we’d used the high speed transfer throughout the time we’d been in Spain – something I seem to singularly failed to get through to the PlusNet “advisor”. He said that the slowdown was due to rebooting the router and that is probably correct but begs the question – why did it manage high speed from April until June.

I noted the router said that the potential was 80 meg upload and 25 download but also showed considerable errors on download. The BT exchange would no doubt be aware of this and will have likely limited the signal accordingly.

I contacted PlusNet support for help – I spoke to Matt…

09/07/2016 at 9:26am:

Matt: Good morning, I’m Matt D. How can I help?

Pete: Hi matt – I need help/ If you check our account – you will see we have had dropout issues with the high speed broadband and have implemented a nightly reset of the router. We are in Spain, not at our home in Northumberland where the router sits – but can remote in. We noticed slow access to the UK and yesterday I did a speed test. We should get 80 meg download, 25 meg upload. We are getting 5 meg download, 1 meg upload. Today the results are identical – yet we are being charged for high speed.

There are a large number of errors showing in the router logs so I suspect an exchange issue.

Matt: Speed tests cant be accurately run remotely like that and a nightly reset will reduce the speed the exchange is sending down your line so it would be a good idea to stop that

Pete: Firstly I cannot stop that – I needed to ensure router stays up. Secondly this has worked at high speed since April (we’ve been in Spain since April). I’m using VNC to look at PC at home – trust me – something is limiting the bandwidth to 5Meg and one meg upload… I can see the PC screen at home.

I don’t know when this started -but 1 meg upload would make it impossible to view a movie here in Spain and we watched one only last week so this change has happened only in the last week or so?? or less – I don’t know.

Matt: Resetting the router will reduce the speed profile Peter, your are damaging your own connection by doing that.

Pete: But we have no alternative. If you look at our records no matter how much info I sent you, we could not keep the router running reliably – and BT could find nothing. In April to ensure reliable internet we implemented a nightly timer on the router. It has worked since April. Why now…

The router incidentally was a brand new TPLink with specific settings for PlusNet.

The router is reporting correct speed potential. but the actual data rate appears limited to 5 meg.

Matt: While ever you are turning that off we wouldn’t be able to look into any speed issue Peter and we cant support any issues you are having whilst trying to stream from your home computer whilst you are in a different country.

Pete: It is surely none of your business what I am using the broadband for – I could be streaming from Bellingham to London – that is NOT the issue – I am screen-remoting into the machine in the UK and in a browser THERE – speedtest.net is showing 5 meg download, 1 meg upload.

The overhead for the screen share is minimal and would have no effect on the reading.

From April until only a matter of days ago this was NOT happening.

Matt: Well unfortunate we cant do through any diagnostics with you whilst you are not at the premises Peter so if you get back to us when you are at the premises we can take it form there with you

Pete: I am not back there until October.. this is unacceptable – I have just explained that the high speed internet has been operating since April without any serious issues – and all of a sudden has dropped dramatically – this has nothing to to with Spain – there must be an issue with the line or exchange.

Matt D: NO fault can be raised without going through internal premises checks from Peter

Pete: I can tell you what is happening – what difference does it make if I am physically there. I can even produce records of any outages .

I have a Raspberry Pi keeping track of outages – I know for example that twice in the last 48 hours we’ve lost Internet connectivity.

Matt: Ok Peter we will do the checks now then

Can you remove the cover of your master socket and connect into the test socket please

Pete: Was that an attempt at sarcasm? I did just say I am in Spain!!! I can give you any information – but cannot physically change sockets. The only person who could do that is also here with me.

Matt: And we cannot raise any fault without first ruling out internal issues at the premises Peter

Is there anything else I can help you with today Peter?

Pete: I can tell you that the incoming line goes to a brand new box, fitted by BT just before we left – only ONE phone is attached and the lead to the router (and no-where else) is a mere foot or so long. There is very little chance of an issue there.

Matt: Those aren’t checks Peter

Pete: I am lost for words at this lack of help. It looks like I have to pay for high speed broadband while not getting it until October. I have no option but to go to the regulator for help. Thanks for nothing Matt.

<At this point I was furious – the guy should have been sacked for (on-record) insulting a customer like that>

As it happened Aidan managed to help by turning off the timer – leaving only a test I’d put in which would reset the router if it failed to re-connect after failure.  I then left this until October when we returned to the UK. From there on we continued to have maybe 2 or 3 breaks a day, sometimes more  -sometimes none – all recoverable but of course playing havoc with our home control systems. In each case, the modem reported that it had disconnected – clarifying that there was no INTERNAL fault – otherwise my PCs etc. would not be able to get the page from the modem, a point I utterly failed to get across as they kept asking me irrelevant questions about WIFI (the unit handling errors is hardwired Ethernet to the modem via the same switch as PCs in the house.

Monday 17/10/2016 – back in the UK I wrote to Kathryn Cashmore – complaints advisor at PlusNet providing full details of failures and a background update to the problems we’d been having for most of the year. Tony Thompson – another Complaints Advisor came back to me. An appointment was made with BT for 24th October.

The next day a message came back “INTERNAL: MS. Connection reported as DCN, but also sync rate is poor. Estimates and sync rate provided above. Please check on engineer notes and do the needful to ensure all matters resolved. Thanks.”

24/10/2016 – I reported back to PlusNet to say the engineer had been – BT systems were down for most of that day so the engineer had immense difficulty getting anywhere but line testing he could see nothing wrong – I pointed out to him (again) that, as the fault was intermittent, I was not surprised.

25/10/2016 – Complaints Adviser wrote: ” It does appear that the line speed has dropped slightly, but even it were working at 71 Mbps this would still be a little below what we would expect. We are also still seeing some drops in connection as below: ” – I’d been using the TPLINK modem, certified to work with PlusNet –  they were not happy about this and insisted I try another modem.

I pointed out that as the problem had started when using their own modem – it was a bit daft to go back to that. Ultimately however with no other options in sight, they sent a replacement PlusNet router – same model. This was all in place near the start of November – and  made absolutely no difference AT ALL to reliability. It seemed clear that nothing of this had anything to do with modems – not three of them showing the same issue, surely?

I sent email whenever  faults occurred – always backed up with stats (though by now reduced in detail to simple off-on times as the PlusNet Router was little more than a toy with no proper debugging)…

Throughout all of this – I had feedback which showed that almost all of my logged disconnects were indeed disconnects – agreeing with PlusNet figures.

Tony Thompson suggested I try a ping service – but then a later email (20th December) confirmed that their modem does not accept ping requests!!! Great. (think about that).

On more than one occasion, the complaints advisor was somewhat dismissive of 1 minute breaks – seemingly unaware of the modern world of home control and Amazon Alexa  – short breaks often play havoc with this kind of kit.

02/03/2017 I was told that an engineer would NOT be able to resolve lots of short breaks and the best they could do was slow down the connection by increasing the signal to noise ratio.  They did not mention this would HALF my speed and yet have no discernible effect on these drop-outs. I was told that they had placed an order for a “super stable” connection.

06/03/2017 – the ONLY difference this new setup made – was to HALF my broadband speed!!! The errors continued.

09/03/2017 Tony Thompson wrote to say they WOULD send an engineer – but amazingly retorted that if it turned out there was no fault I would be charged £65 – can you imagine – after ALL this time having the NERVE to say that. I reminded him that the engineer had ALREADY replaced the box to no avail and that I HAD to had to have this fixed before going away in April.

14/03/2017  I wrote to Andy Baker the MD and explained the situation.  He responded immediately.

16/03/2017 Several emails later – the BT engineer arrived and hooked up his test kit. Lo and BEHOLD, something resembling the fault disconnection appeared in front of his eyes – nothing in the house – nothing on my kit – a disconnection caused by external sources it would seem.

He left after a nice chat, convinced I might need to be connected to another fibre line. HOWEVER, after he had discussed this with other guys at BT, he popped into my office to say it was the type of connection that PlusNet had fitted that was causing the problem. The engineer claimed that it was because they’d put me on a “stable connection” that I was getting issues and that I needed to be on a “best speed interleaved” connection.  I reported this to PlusNet. Tony from PlusNet wrote back appearing to question this… “Interleaving isn’t on fibre, but you essentially need reversing to the previous standard line”.

Now – bear in mind that this is the SAME standard line that has been giving me trouble all this time and that these guys essentially work for the same company…

26/03/2017 – it was getting dangerously close to our trip to Spain and too late to change providers – not that there are any choices. For those who don’t know, PlusNet is owned by BT.

Meanwhile out of the blue, TalkTalk approached me, confident they would do a better job – until they checked the postcode – sorry – can’t help – so in fact what we have here is a monopoly – just as it ever was. Meanwhile the broadband continued to fail, time and time again – all reported to PlusNet.

Tony wrote back the same day… to say they’ve reached the limit of what they can do – “An engineer cannot be expected to find something which rarely happens I’m afraid, we have to deadlock this issue”.

Funny as that’s not the attitude I got from the BT engineer who finally spotted the event.

“In the coming week – a letter will arrive as to how to take this to the next level of complaints…”

He may as well have said “we are washing our hands of this”. The problem with THIS is…. there likely WAS no next level – I could scrap the contract at any moment as they’ve failed consistently to provide something that was fit for purpose – but PlusNet, being part of BT are one of very few providers who claim they can supply the area – TalkTalk have already said they cannot provide fibre here. This last part of the problem is something we’ve all allowed to happen by continually allowing BT having a near-monopoly outside of more fertile areas provided by, say, Virgin.

27/03/2017 – a total of 3 faults the day before – 11am, 6pm and 6:30pm – and now – the first loss of connectivity of the day at 11am.

29/03/2017 – For no apparent reason, the PlusNet modem gave up the ghost – some time in the morning, all DNS was lost – the modem connected – but the DNS lookup was invalid. Nothing  worked.

I could get a PC to work by manually adding 8.8.8.8 to the DNS for the connection – but that of course would not be practical for the various devices around the house.

I had no-where to go. I had a sneaking suspicion that this last problem had nothing to do with the long-term problem – but that didn’t help.

A couple of days ago a new guy had appeared on the block – LUKE – who probably went out on a limb by suggesting he’d seen this problem with another customer. He inspired a little confidence – so after making copious notes of my settings, I rebooted the modem back to factory settings and re-entered my information. Lo and behold the DNS information (Name Servers – the boxes that let you type “www.bbc.co.uk” instead of a bunch of numbers) came back up. But the dropouts remained as before.

Let’s stop a moment. Because the PlusNet router is something of a toy aimed at end users, considered too dumb to want to alter settings, it is impossible to change the DNS settings on the PlusNet router – so touch luck if you want to use a service like UnblockUs – tough – you can’t.  But that leads us to only one conclusion, DESPITE stopping users from altering those settings – THEY CAN BE CORRUPTED to a level where only a factory reset can fix them. And if the PlusNet router has THAT problem… what else does it have wrong?

So, back to square one and time was running out with only days left before our departure to Spain. Luke had already agreed to try another, unrelated modem given the horrendous issues we’d suffered and within a day I was in receipt of a BILLION modem. No toy, this 3-antenna monster has everything I’d wanted when first buying the TP-LINK (except that the TP-Link unit turned out to be a disappointment in more ways than one). Could this be any better?  Despite having never HEARD of the company before, I was encouraged by reviews which included PlusNet customers saying “no more  dropouts”.   Think about that.

I hooked up the Billion – put in all my information – and now, if things worked out ok I could also hook up a VPN – something I’d wanted for so long. Of course all of this would be of no avail of the faults continued.

12/04/2017 – For the first time in over a year, NO reported dropouts – either at the PlusNet end OR my own Google ping testing (automated running under Node-Red on a very reliable Raspberry Pi). 15 days of continuous operation.

We depart tomorrow for Spain and I’m reasonably confident the issue is resolved. I cannot explain the TP-Link failure or the BT-engineer spotting a disconnection – and I certainly don’t want to think of the conflicting comments from two people working from the same company OR the comment that BT do not even consider a couple of drops in a day as a fault (I and others violently disagree with the latter)..

I can only assume that EITHER the interface that the new modem is presenting to the world has made the problem go away or that by hanging onto the connection when a momentary issue occurs, it is effectively masking it – there is no way to tell other than doing second-by-second testing as against my Google test which checks Google every minute and reports an error if it misses the signal several times in a row. I CAN say that we’ve seen NO issues with streaming TV, I’ve not lost a SKYPE connection since 28th March (that was ANOTHER pressing reason to get this fixed – dropped conference calls)… either way, the single act of fitting a “proper” modem APPEARS to have solved this long-term miserable problem.

Time will tell.

Newcastle Maker Faire

Maker Faire Newcastle 2017What a great day. Newcastle has an annual Maker Faire and it is on this weekend – and what a faire it is.

I headed off first thing to get some parking and was pleased to find that Newcastle College had some cheap parking – £4 for the day. I arrived 45 minutes to early, thankfully the security guard was a chatty type who wanted to know what all the fuss was about so we filled in time while waiting for my friend Aidan to turn up.

We got talking about cars as that was his thing and so by the time Aidan turned up in his Tesla, the guy was itching to see it and up to his armpits in questions.

Self-balancing one wheel vehicleThe faire started at 10am and we arrived shortly thereafter – it was CHOCKER full of people.

I’m so pleased this has turned out to be a success over the years – there was a time when “makers” – were treated a little dismissively by the public but today everyone wants to come and see what they are up to.

The first thing we came across was a self-balancing one-wheel vehicle and we had a great time talking to the designer – this is not a production job or commercial in any way, he built it because he wanted to – and it works extremely well. Yes, the pad on the front is for “emergencies”.

Rather than design in a modern way, the panelling was very retro – something my friend Melanie-Jane would love to have seen.

As we walked around we were amazed by the variety of stuff people do – from machines that do knitting, to robot hands,to retro gaming machines. A friend of ours Tony was responsible for a mini-version of the PAC-MAN arcade machine, though it had a flat top and I did remind him that the miserable pub people had this changed to round quickly as people were putting their pints on top of the machine. Well, if you’re going to spend all night playing you need somewhere to put your beer!!

Aidan Ruff making a flying thingNext off we came across an interesting idea – a bunch of clear tubes maybe 12” diameter and 6ft or more high – with air blowing up them. The public was provided with cups. paper plates, glue and sticky tape and invited to design the gadget likely to Flying thingreach the top of the tube without falling to bits or coming back down. Aidan could not resist the challenge and so while I manned the phone he proceeded to build a very high-tech device – which actually went in – out the top and continued on for some time – no doubt setting a world record – but then – that’s what I’d expect.

If have to say, if you saw the contraption he built, there was no way this was going to fly – but it did! Flimsy as it was the device went into the tube and headed straight up at tremendous speed and cleared the top of the tube by a long way. I’ll bet the kids who were competing flying thing in actionwere hopping mad. Afraid you can’t beat a gadget man who is also an experienced, qualified pilot…

Big round of applause and we were off to get some coffee before the next challenge..

Next stop, tPDP 8here were LOTS of tables with things that people had made – LOTS of them – some trivial – a few flashing lights – but not this – a genuine mini-version of the old classic, the PDP-8 computer – all done with wood, loving care and a Raspberry Pi.   I’ve been planning to build an IMSAI for some time but this was just wonderful.

There can be no doubt that modern computers are fantastic – and the computers from mid-last century were toys in comparison – but the Open Source Robot Handsdifference is – you could SEE and understand what they were doing – it’s almost worth having one of these just as a piece of furniture – in some ways it reminds me of the bank of flashing lights on “Voyage to the tmpD569bottom of the Sea” or “The Time Tunnel” and similar. But this is a real, working machine. If you can click the image and scale it up – you’ll see it was made with love.

Open source robot hands, open source 3D printers – what a combination. We met up with an old pal of ours Dave Alan – a fellow who I met at the start of the microcomputer revolution – he has speech running on a 6800 processor WAY before the big boys thought of doing it (funny enough I had the same on a PIC and have an award on the wall to prove it – then along came PC speed and that was the end of that).

We saw and had explained a new 3D Printer – no more than £350 inc. VAT which used a new recycled plastic which does not bend and warp Dinosaurlike older materials – and I have to say, some of the parts they built with this were almost production quality – a non-technical person would not know the difference between that and a milled plastic part – VERY impressive – and not even a special heated cover over the thing!!!

Want one (but then I want a router and a laser cutter and….)

tmp73BAmong other delights there was a genuine dinosaur wandering around with his (her?) handler. Very impressive. Oh and you see those drawers on the right – wow – I SO miss the old radio rallies and computer shows where people brought their old junk 0 but better, suppliers brought tons of surplus stuff and sold dead cheap.  And so it was that the bearded fellow on the right – SO missed this – he decided to resurrect the idea – he had many dozens of £1 trays (3 for £2) and the prices were REAL bargains – anyway I think he’s called ABX http://stores.ebay.co.uk/abx-labs

Robot

And that was about it – we talked to loads of people including friend Tony at the Newcastle Maker group – I hope to get to go see them in the autumn when we come back to the UK.  A GREAT day out for all the family, good prices on food – which makes a change as sometimes these things are a rip…

If you you are in the area next year, same time I strongly recommend a visit but of course such events are on all the time, all over the western world really.

If nothing else you can guarantee that if you put a bunch of techies together – they’ll be dying to tell you how they made their stuff – and that is what makes these events so special. Well done to everyone involved in organising this.

The Edinburgh Weekend

This weekend we went up to Edinburgh with our friends Karen and Dave.  Friday afternoon we drove up to Edinburgh and stopped in a little apartment in the city centre.

Of course, being Edinburgh, it poured rain most of the time..

Edinburgh

We spent the evening wandering around town after the obligatory trip to (House of Fraser) Jenners and ended up in a very nice Indian Restaurant just behind Princes Street.

One of many overcrowded pubs

On Saturday we headed off to the HMS. Here are some pics of the trip.  Memories of a bygone age.

Very old equipment

Very old equipment

Very old equipment

A touch of luxury

 

A touch of luxury

Sunday we headed off home and Karen and Jeff got on a plane home. Sad to see them go but no doubt we’ll see them in Spain soon.

Life in Northumberland

home made humidifierNo exciting photos right now, mainly because we’ve not seen sunshine in the Northeast of England for a while now, just the usual suicide-inducing damp, cold weather.

Having said that, we’ve not had snow or anything – there is no chance of it being a white Christmas for example.  I’ve been buried away in my workshop now for some time, taking advantage of the bad weather to get stuck into some new learning.

On the right you’ll see my new toy – a home-made-from-scratch ultra-sound humidifier. The idea came to me one morning as she was griping about the room being dry. Inside the £2.99 B&M glass-with-wooden-stopper case is a £4.99 high intensity ultrasonic steamer from China, which when fed 24v (supply came with the unit) generates one hell of a lot of cold steam due to silent ultrasound vibration. Then follows an aluminium tube from B&Q, a 25mm processor fan (£1 from China) and a little convertor to take 24v down to around 3v (£ from China). The 5v fan forces air into the container and hence lots of very fine steam out. I dropped the voltage (to the fan) to reduce noise to virtually zero. Right now it is running flawlessly and I’m waiting to see how long it takes and how much water it takes to make an effective change to the room humidity – which, run by radiators and fire – tends to get a little dry at times.

The whole thing is on a Sonoff controller hooked back to my house system which knows how dry or otherwise the room is and controls accordingly. At least that’s the plan. How well it will survive cats sniffing, running dry and other daily challenges remains to be seen. Also needs a protective shield to stop the fan getting damp and make it look more presentable.  It did occur to me that a somewhat more powerful version of this would be ideal for the pergola in the height of Spanish summer. We have misters but they provide rather large water droplets whereas this is REALLY fine stuff. Could be nice for compensating for the blisteringly dry heat in August.

Other than that, Maureen is doing her usual Christmas stuff, I’m focussed on my blog which is just about to tip 6,000 signed up visitors and needs lots of attention. Some day if the sun ever gets out we’ll get around to some outdoor activities.