* Posts by Max Pritchard

27 posts • joined 10 Jun 2009

Belt and braces stop the network falling down

Max Pritchard

It's not all about redundancy

As the first poster mentioned, complexity is the enemy of fault diagnosis and resolution as well as security.

If you double, or triple everything, you may be spending disproportionately to the problem (a single fibre has around 99.9% uptime, but to add a second diverse link will add £14,000pa to the bill - is a risk of 0.1% downtime worth £14k+?).

If you have multiple ISPs or core networks, circuits, routers, firewalls, load balancers and servers, tracking down a complex fault and solving it takes longer (particularly if there are multiple suppliers blaming each other). There is a middle-ground between protecting yourself from common device and circuit failure in a proportionate manner, and making a system so complex that if it fails in a non-standard way, tracking and resolving it becomes next to impossible - and the chances of avoiding introducing a security risk are slim.

As you scale, you must simplify.

Acoustic trauma: How wind farms make you sick

Max Pritchard

Emperor's new clothes

"The attempts to deny the evidence cannot be seen as honest scientific disagreement, and represent either gross incompetence or intentional bias,"

I've seen this before somewhere... oh yes.

If you can't see the emperor's new clothes, you are "unfit for your position, stupid, or incompetent."

I put it to you, sir, that you are not wearing a stitch. However I will fight for your right to walk around nekkid if you wish. Watson, my pipe.

Higgs Boson hiding place narrows

Max Pritchard

Previous results have concluded:

that 80% of owners said their cat preferred it. From that I would infer that 80% of the cat ate the Wiskas. Elementary...

Mystery of David Attenborough's garden skull cracked

Max Pritchard

Which reminds me...


"Isn't that a bit of a girl's name."

"It's short for... erm... Bob."

Connectivity: the weakest link in cloud computing?

Max Pritchard

DSL may not be the connection you're looking for

ADSL service over copper are not very reliable for a whole raft of reasons - underlying dial-up technology, copper wiring issues, interference and poor fault resolution times. A reasonable estimate of ADSL annual availability is around 99% - 3-4 day's outage a year. Single sites might go 15 months without an outage, but large estate of sites will experience faults with 1/15 of their sites each month.

Because of the dial-up nature of ADSL, most (80%) faults are cleared by rebooting the router - hence why ISPs tend to lead with that, rather than trying to wake up an engineer and get them to test the line or look at an exchange. Not every customer has tried it, even those that say they have.

Complex intermittent faults are always harder to diagnose and fix - and the customer's investment in their connection is often proportionate to the amount of support resource aimed to resolve the problem. Buy into an enhanced or superior care package and you can access engineers during the night and expect more attention, with quicker fix times and better compensation for failure to hit service restoration.

DSL is still relatively rubbish though.

Chosing a different connectivity mechanism can make things more reliable. EFM is based on multiple copper pairs - meaning a single faulty pair can degrade, rather than disconnect, the service. Business-grade EFM services can be had for a couple of grand a year.

If we assume that an ADSL line is 99% available, and an EFM line 99.7% available - and we combine that with an understanding of the cost of an outage (usually proportionate to revenue associated with the site and the IT assets involved), then we can generate an idea of the value of site that might justify chosing a more reliable connection.

We can do the same for a fibre-based Ethernet (~99.9% available, ~£8,000 a year rental for 10Mbps).

Many businesses have experienced the application creep where the Internet used to be limited to email and browsing, which is not often critical to the business. Increasingly Internet-facing business apps have appeared and been adopted without revisiting the connection and how valuable it is to the business.

I'll be interested to see the overall reliability characteristics of FTTC, because for me, this is more important to SMEs than capacity/throughput. Cabinets with single power feeds, lack of engineers trained in VDSL equipment, but less copper in the mix...

Sandi Toksvig puts the 'n' into cuts - on the Beeb

Max Pritchard

My sons were listening...

... and it went completely over their heads because of the way it was phrased. It didn't even prompt the usual flurry of questions about something they don't understand.

Spotify's music manager makeover - does it work?

Max Pritchard

Have they always done this?

No. The advent of 10 hours a month and a maximum of five plays per track is new. Presumably to encourage take up of their £5 per month unlimited subscription service and £10 per month premium service. No big surprise perhaps.

Fukushima scaremongers becoming increasingly desperate

Max Pritchard

Ulterior motives

Since when is Greenpeace's attitude towards Nuclear Power an 'ulterior motive'?

I went onto their web-site to look at these fantastic Armageddonist Factoids and, frankly, I was underwhelmed by understated, evidence-based press releases.

Bring me hyperbole or bring me cake!

Ken's magnificent seven diagram

Max Pritchard


Prior to MIME and ubiquotious email attachments, all my network diagrams (often for improved e-mail gateways and Internet access) for customers were drawn by hand in pen and faxed to them.

You learn many lessons about planning a diagram before starting, the need for white space, the benefit of rulers/straight lines and clarity of fonts through this process. If it hadn't run out of paper, the receiving fax quality could be highly variable and it paid to avoid the risk of lines being too thin, words being too small or icons being too crowded.

The advent of Visio was quite a revelation, but I still find myself using techniques I honed with pen and paper. I've just got to get my head around having colours to work with.

Provincial outrage over BT's broadband upgrade race

Max Pritchard

Increase in ARPU

The established thinking suggests that upgrading the densest exchanges makes the most sense. As you say - more people, lower cost per user (although cost is not fixed - you need more scalable kit and greater backhaul capacity for larger exchanges).

However a more sophisticated analysis might consider the increase in ARPU as well as the number of people that will benefit. If city-folk already enjoy high-speed Internet access (ADSL2+, cable, LLU services) and the majority will not see a huge benefit in further increases (FTTC, FTTH) - the majority are unlikely to pay significantly more for additional Mbps downstream. If you already have broadband that gives you 15Mbps, how many users will pay more for 30Mbps? How many new applications will it give you access to? The demand for greater than 8Mbps is limited to power users until applications appear that use the capacity.

In rural areas though, the differential between the current (512kbps perhaps) and possible capacity will make take up of applications and services that require higher capacity more likely as more Mbps downstream is made available. I will watch videos online, perhaps even subscribe to a video-over-IP service if I can achieve 8Mbps downstream. I won't spend that money if I can't.

If I would pay £40 per month to an ISP more than I do now after an exchange upgrade - then I am worth eight times more as a customer than someone who may pay £5 per month more after an exchange upgrade.

At some point people will no longer know what to do with the additional capacity and so offering them more will make no difference to the revenue generated by the service providers. Perhaps that's when the rural market will start to look attractive to investors.

US military builds laser backpack for 3D indoor mapping

Max Pritchard

Google RoomView

How long before someone from Google, wearing one of these, turns up to map my house? Maybe then I can use it to look for my keys - or my cordless phone - or the remote.

People have no bloody idea about saving energy

Max Pritchard


... surely you can both change the setting on the washing machine and avoid using a tumble dryer? Doesn't that imply that washing and drying are two separate processes and shouldn't be compared when considering whether line drying is a worthwhile activity? Surely a more appropriate comparison is the energy used by a tumble dryer, and the energy used in line drying?

Robot Sergey Brin stuns crowd

Max Pritchard


"I was disappointed to discover that the Virtual Wonka was encased in little more than a cheap TV stand with a monitor and a webcam attached."

A bit like Evil Edna then?

California's 'Zero Energy House' is actually massive fossil hog

Max Pritchard

Bad targets => bad behaviour

The house could have used GSHP or air-sourced heat pumps as you suggest. However they rely on electricity. If they are basing their claim to fame on zero net electricity usage, conveniently ignoring natural gas in their calculations - then it 'makes sense' to use gas to heat the house and for DHW. One or two simple omissions from the calculations and plenty of public ignorance and lack of curiosity makes sure they receive their award and the press attention.

Eco-renovations of old housing stock that are useful tend to be extremely unsexy - lots of insulation, draught-proofing, replacement glass/windows where necessary, sensible point-deployment of little bits of technology (like TRVs and energy monitors) that can regulate energy use somewhat and a whole heap of turning stuff off when it's not being used. That kind of project does not compete with new build eco-houses or apparently magical "zenergy" houses for column inches.

GSHP: The green tech even carbon sceptics will like

Max Pritchard

I have a GSHP...

... and it works really nicely. We had three 35m channels dug ~1.5m deep, a few metres apart and buried the coils in the back garden. These connect via a manifold to the heat pump itself in the utility room. That, in turn, is connected to the hot water system, and the underfloor heating system. We get all our space and water heating requirements fulfilled (5 bed semi) for around £100pcm - which compares well to the amount we were paying for LPG.

We could only do it because we already had the workmen in renovating the house, the back boiler had packed up and there's no gas in the village. It made sense to rip the old system out and get this installed.

Finding people who know how to size and plan for this kind of system is tricky, but I recommend the technology highly. It is an expensive retrofit and, as mentioned previously, there are many cheaper ways of saving money and making life more comfortable with insulation, draught-proofing, quality glazing, and attention to appliances.

Collisions at LHC! Tevatron record to be broken soon?

Max Pritchard

It's not the knob that's important

It's the dial with a needle that slowly increases through a yellow triangle into a red triangle marked "danger" with a corresponding noise that increases in pitch - and steam beginning to vent - the obligatory Cameron-esque yellow flashing lights, sirens and polite and calm female voice murmering "... you have three minutes to reach minimum safe distance...". We need more emphasis on introducing drama into our control interfaces.

Or perhaps that would mean changing the light bulb.

Sun's Facebook-slapping hits wrong target

Max Pritchard

@ David Webb

One definition of "crock" is an earthenware pot or jar. Often used as a container of metaphorical filth. Another definition is "soot, or smut". Which gives rise to the amusing idea of a crock of crock. He he.

Yes - I'm getting it.

NASA moon-bomb probe strikes rich seam of fruitcake

Max Pritchard

Space 1999

This is exactly like the plot of Space 1999.

Except it will be ten year's later...

And it won't be a nuclear blast that will knock the moon out of orbit, but an experimental NASA-sponsored mass driver being used to search for water...

And there is no space station on the moon...

Or Flares...

And the moon will not be knocked out of its orbit.

Other than that... this is /exactly/ like the plot of Space 1999.

"I know, I know - back to the seventies I go."

Disgruntled parrot lays into copper

Max Pritchard

This is the kind of scenario...

... tazers were invented for.


No? Just me then.

Faux Facebook 'friend' takes US woman for $4,000

Max Pritchard

This is probably why,,,

... people arrested by the police are still offered a phone call* to let someone know, rather than half an hour on facebook.

* I don't know if this happens - but I've seen it on TV so it must be true.

Electropulse weapon fear spreads to UK politicos

Max Pritchard


The pseudoscience behind E-Bombs is great reading. Google for "Flux Compression Generator". "One point twenny one jiggawatts!"

NotW bosses fight back over hacking claims

Max Pritchard

To AC@14:58 take heart...

Integrity, Decency and Honesty are simply not as newsworthy. It can seem like everyone in positions of influence is bent - just as it can seem that the Internet is full of people who like Star Trek. You find what you look for. I would advocate not getting involved with mass media and leaving them to annoy the politicians and vice versa. I'm sure they're all having fun.

I believe that the majority of people try their best to do good. But how many MPs who do not claim any expenses hit the headlines and for how long? How many excellent and moral, inquisitive journalists are lauded for their work and methodology?

Cats mix baby 'cry' with purr to score dinner

Max Pritchard
IT Angle

Just noticed...

There seems to be a lot in common between this kind of research and many observational stand-up comedy routines. It strikes a chord and is appealing because someone else has noticed these things too and we no longer feel alone. But I guess not everyone is laughing at the entry fee.

Where's the "Science?" icon when you need it?

ISPs vs BBC iPlayer: Missing the point?

Max Pritchard
Paris Hilton

Basic economics

I will be the first to admit that my grasp of basic economics is weak. But does anyone else think there is something flawed in the idea that if demand is strong and growing at the current prices, that a wholesale supplier should be thinking of decreasing prices? Surely if demand is high, then a wholesaler's price will be high to maximise their revenue.

Aggressive competition in residential broadband market (where some of the products are 'free') has kept the price to the consumer low, then margins for the ISP will get squeezed and this might result in complaints that they are charged too much for the underlying service. But basic economics would teach us (and I've just read a short article on it so I should know!) that this is perfectly normal and is no reason for BT Wholesale to decrease prices.

To my mind BT Wholesale will only decrease their prices if forced to by competition (reduction in demand for their service) or regulation (in the absense of competition).

Or is it me? My brain hurts now. Need tea.

Paris. Because she probably understands this better than I do.

Broadband tax of £6 per year to fund rural fibre rollout

Max Pritchard


You can't get better download capacity than a truck full of DVDs *8). The latency sucks though, my ping's through the floor.

Max Pritchard


I am "happy" to report that there is a number of financially disadvantaged people in the village I live in. We're a few miles from the M40, so not geographically rural, but we get a maximum of 500kbps downstream on ADSL and the exchange is not unbundled and regardless of what Virgin Media's marketing team think - we're not in their cable area. Only Vodaphone gives us any mobile signal - and that's poor (one bar) - so mobile broadband is out. Digital TV is not great either - it keeps dropping out.

The village is developing "social housing" and there are several sites in the village being considered by the parish council. You need a car to get anywhere which is expensive enough as it is (road charging would damage the ability for people to live here). The nearest farm shop is a mile and a half away and the nearest town is a few miles beyond that.

I think that believing that people living in the country are generally more affluent is a little naive. I also think that believing research that says that people believe that Internet access is as important as electricity is also naive.

I can see how it could help some of my older neighbours for online shopping with delivery - that's vital for them now we don't have local post offices or amenities. Also local government changes mean access to their web sites for support services is critical. As applications continue to appear online, then the digital divide will continue to get wider.

Many of the people living here, particularly the poorer ones, have been in the village for generations and are now tied to the area by bonds of caring for elderly relatives, or because they cannot afford to move. They live in ex-council houses now run by a Housing Association. Perhaps not the image of the affluent country-set imagined by some urbanites.

Because my local exchange will probably never be unbundled, I already pay £180 per year more than people in cities with access to "free" "up to 24Mbps" broadband - just to get 500kbps.

My lifestyle allows me to get by with that capacity and I can afford it. I'm not that bothered about IPTV and I don't stream content or use P2P applications. Lucky me.

To those people in the city complaining about subsidising connectivity improvements in rural areas, the money that I pay today is not being invested in new services for rural locations - it is going to subsidise the excellent service enjoyed by people in the cities. Thanks for your support.

I am happy to pay a bit more for my copper service to make sure that my poorer neighbours can get access to a reasonable suite of communication services. I think it will help prevent rural communities being increasingly seen as the sole preserve of the wealthy who are able to afford to drive and fend for themselves.

People without broadband in 'I don't want broadband' shock

Max Pritchard

What about...

... those people who are currently on the Internet, but think it's a bit rubbish really and are planning to bail out in the next 6 months and go back to reading books and chatting to their neighbours unless the quality improves.

And what about those who ought to be taken offline regardless of what /they/ want. Politicians? People conducting surveys "to improve their site"? Major record labels? Can we come to some kind of democratic consensus?

I think the survey could have gone off in several interesting directions. A shameful missed opportunity. Probably.


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