There’s a hole in my door, dear Renault – part 2

So I arranged to take my car in Saturday to have the bit-of-plastic-on-the-driver’s-door fitted. I turn up, chap at the desk expected me and was very helpful.

Him> Ahh yes, part’s right here, shouldn’t take a mo to fit, I’ll just get some tools.

Me> Super thanks.

<fx>fiddling with the door happens</fx>

Him> Just going to make a phonecall, this isn’t looking how I expected

Me> It doesn’t look like a door with a well understood piece of plastic missing, I didn’t say.

Me> Uhh, sure.

<fx>phone call happens</fx>

Him> Sorry, but it looks like I can’t fit this part.

Me> You can’t fit this part.

Him> No, I think the inside door panel needs to be removed.

Me> The inside door panel needs to be removed, you think.

Him> Yes, and I’m not qualified.

Me> You’re not qualified. Super. Thanks.

I still have a hole in my door.

Meanwhile, 75cm toward the rear of my car….

You may recall that Renault Romford mistakenly did work I didn’t ask them to do, then insisted I pay for said work or I couldn’t have my car back.  I decided to take them up on their offer to simply undo the work and put back the faulty door mechanism and then give me a full refund.

Me> I’ve decided to take you up on your offer to simply undo the work and put back the faulty door mechanism and then give me a full refund.

Renault Romford> We can’t, we’ve thrown the old parts away.

Me> You’ve thrown the old parts away. Can I have a refund?

Renault Romford> I’ll need to call customer services for you….

I’ve had no call from Renault UK Customer services today, I left messages, Yvonne’s been a bit busy.

Still, nice to know I’m dealing with a reputable professional company, and not some east-end railway-arch crook.

There’s a hole in my door, dear Renault

My nearly-four-years-old Renault Clio was due a bit of tender loving care.  The rear door lock had stopped being able to lock the doors, a small piece of plastic fell off the front driver’s side door and, the one that tipped it,  the driver side wing mirror was shattered; someone hit it in a car park – thanks!

I booked my car in to Renault Romford, dropped it in before work, and waited for a call back letting me know what everything was going to cost.  The call arrived and the suggested shopping list was a little longer than I expected.

  • Rear engine mount starting to split – £103.00
  • Front disks and pads should be replaced – £245.60
  • Coolant and brake fluid drain and refill – £49.99
  • Air conditioning service – £79.99
  • Replacing the bit of plastic that fell off – £7.76
  • Replacing the mirror – £27.87
  • Replacing the rear door handle – £365.68 – wait, what?

I totally accept that most of the stuff in that list falls under the categories of “normal wear and tear” and “you broke it”, but things like a door handle should reasonably last the lifetime of the car.  It’s not like it’s even the most commonly used door.  Had this been the driver’s door, I might have grumbled a bit but understood.

I asked Renault Romford to replace the glass, replace the bit of plastic and service the aircon, explaining that I would sort out the brakes etc next month and would call Renault UK Customer services to talk to them about the rear door handle.

Renault UK customers service have still not contacted me, despite Tweets, emails and a telephone message asking them to do so.

I got a call yesterday saying my car was ready to be picked up, and that I owed them some £450.00.  I was confused.  They’d changed the rear door lock, despite me very explicitly saying that I was going to talk to Renault customer services about it.  Opinions were exchanged, we agreed this was most likely a misunderstanding.

I went to pick up my car this morning.  The car would not be released to me unless I paid in full.  In other words, I have paid hundreds of pounds for parts and work I didn’t ask to be done.

Insult to injury?  Hell, yes.  The didn’t replace the tiny piece of plastic that fell off the front door, one of the three things I did very specifically ask them to fix.

THERE’S A HOLE IN MY DOOR, DEAR RENAULT.   And I’m hundreds of pounds out of pocket.

Running an oncall rota

Being part of an oncall rota is pretty much a certainty if you work in the systems or operations team at any IT orientated company. Stuff needs to be working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and therefore you need someone available to apply duct tape and staples when things go wrong out of normal working hours. It continually amazes me, therefore, that so many companies get the management and organisation of their rota badly wrong, sometimes to the point of it being a significant factor in staff moving on.

As someone who’s participated in oncall rotas at all levels, here’s how I think one should be organised:

  • Sysadmins should only participate in the rota after they have completed their probationary period. Think of the goal of the probation period as being getting someone up to speed so they can participate.
  • Each oncall shift should last one week, and rotate at 2.00pm on Tuesday. If you run a late shift, i.e. 11.00am to 8.00pm, make the person on that shift also be oncall. Get all the unsociable hours out of the way in one lump.
  • The bare minimum gap between oncall shifts should be 5 weeks. If your rota is shorter than this, then you don’t have enough qualified staff to cope with holidays, illness, paternity/maternity leave etc anyway.
  • The oncall shift should be mapped at least 3 months into the future. Staff should be free to swap oncall weeks providing that no-one is ever oncall two weeks in a row, and that all swaps are cleared with their line manager.
  • Issue the oncaller with a good quality mobile phone and 3G capable laptop. The phone should not be a smartphone, the aim should be for maximum battery life and talk time. The laptop should be more like a netbook than a desktop replacement, should come with a spare battery, and should dual boot to Windows and a useful Linux desktop distro. These days I’d shell out for a nice big SSD to stick in it too. Make sure there are no restrictions on international calling and no data caps for the phone and 3G card.
  • Don’t give the direct number of the oncall phone. Instead, use an answering service as filter.  During office hours, the answering service should redirect enquiries to the regular helpdesk/support number.  Out of hours, the answering service should accept calls, take details and then pass these on to the oncall number. Additionally this service should text and email call details so there’s a record.
  • Pay a fixed daily amount for being oncall. Pay 1.5 times this amount for being oncall on weekend days. Pay 2 times this amount for being oncall on a public holiday. Where someone is oncall on a public holiday, add one day to their holiday allowance.
  • Pay a per-incident fee when oncall is used. Each oncall use should be tracked in your ticketing system. Make using oncall a business cost, thus giving the business a reason to make sure oncall is not used trivially, and a reason to make sure problems are fixed permanently and not just temporarily alleviated.
  • When the oncall person has dealt with out of hours issues, don’t expect them in at the regular time the next day.  Expect them to use their judgement to make sure they are suitably rested.   You do not want an overly tired oncaller dealing with problems on production systems.
  • The person oncall should never be taking on “out of hours” work. Want a database dumped and reloaded? Want a disk unmounted and fscked overnight when a server’s not busy? All those things can be done, but not by the oncall person. That person is there to respond to problems, not to perform routine or planned maintenance.
  • Make it very clear that abuse of oncall is unacceptable. Oncall is there to fix customer or service affecting problems, not to help someone with Excel.
  • Have a clear demarcation between production and testing/development/QA systems. The latter group are not oncall’s responsibility to fix.
  • If you have offices around the world, have a “follow the sun” oncall system, get your offices to cover each other.
  • Have realistic expectations of oncall response times. If you need to guarantee that problems are attended to within 20-30 minutes then you should be running an overnight shift, not oncall.
  • Expect a daily report summarising the previous 24 hour oncall period, even if that report is “Nothing to report”. The weekend period could be lumped together on the Monday.
  • Have a weekly oncall handover meeting between the outgoing and incoming oncall staff.
  • During the day, have a junior or trainee sysadmin be oncall. It’s good practice for them.

Doing all of the above shows that you take oncall seriously, and you appreciate the impact being oncall has on someone’s life. Your oncall staff are the people who salvage the business’s reputation when the midden hits the windmill at some unworldly hour of the night. Keeping them happy and making them feel valued and respected can only be to the business’s benefit.

Game review: Sniper: Ghost Warrior

Sniper: Ghost Warrior is a standard first-person shooter based on the Chrome 4 engine.  The marketing suggests this game is aimed at those who prefer stealth and strategy over outright shoot’em’up action.   After a brief, optional, training run you are dropped into the action, sniper rifle in hand.

Visually I find the game very odd.  Environments are very rich indeed and this game features some of the best foliage I have seen in a PC game. Certainly better than Just Cause 2, somewhat better than Crysis, and yet, at the same time, you look at scenery such as buildings and vehicles and are disappointed.  There’s none of the beautiful detail that JC2 set the standard for.

As you start the game, it’s all pretty obvious, move from point A to point B, perhaps shooting some baddies on the way.  You quickly realise just how tightly scripted the game is, and how shallow some of the segments are, and you very quickly feel hemmed in by the tiny (I’ve been playing JC2) sections of world you can explore.

It’s when you start to move around that the worst part of the game makes itself obvious.  You are a sniper, wearing a ghillie suit and moving slowly and quietly around in dense jungle foliage.   Bullets will start pocking around you, you won’t have a clue where from bar a very vague red arrow in the middle of your screen.  What’s happened is that you’ve tripped over some enemy AI who’s managed to pick you out from a distance of about 150 meters.

You won’t be able to see him, but he’ll cheerfully keep shooting at you, not often hitting, until you stand up so your head is out of the undergrowth and eventually work out where he is.  By this time you’ll have moved enough that more eagle-eyed AI join in.  You die, you get to do it again.  It’s very very dull.

At this point you’ll realise that the sniping system is confusing and not very good.  Other than the target’s movement there are no real visual clues as to why the bullet mark is where it is.   It feels a bit random and sterile.

You’re not always just sniping, there are some sections of standard let-rip-on-full-auto.  You’re a fully trained, fit, agile sniper clearing out an oil rig.  Yet you somehow cannot make it over a knee-high rail to go down some stairs.  Eventually you’ll realise there’s a small panel you have to shoot to make a section of the rail disappear.  You’ll check your calendar to make sure it’s not 5 years ago.

The bullet camera is a straight ripoff, accidental or intentional, I don’t know,  of that given to us by Sniper Elite back in 2005.  Given the choice between the two games, I’d suggest picking up Sniper Elite and playing that instead.

If you’re really intent on buying this game, I’d just wait a bit.  It’ll be reduced in price quickly enough as it really is fairly poor.

Hardware review: Tomtom GO 750 LIVE

After some four years, and one warranty-voiding battery change, my trusty Tomtom GO 720 finally died.  As it chose to do so on a morning that I needed to drive around central London, and not having a clue about navigating roads around central London, I decided to buy myself the latest model.

The Tomtom LIVE series comes in three flavours, the 550, 750 and 950.  The only difference between them being the maps that are supplied out of the box and the size of internal memory, 1, 2 and 4G respectively.  I do sometimes drive over on the continent so I chose the 750 which comes with maps for UK and western Europe.  Opening the box in the car park and starting to use it, the annoyances appear quickly:

  • The power/data connector is no longer USB at the Tomtom end (though a USB2-connecting lead is provided).
  • The mount has changed rendering my current in-car mounting point useless.

Digging in to the box a bit more reveals the rather nice new windscreen-sucking mounting device.  You press the back of the mount against the inside of the windscreen and turn a plastic collar, no more ring-prints where you’ve used a bit of spit or water to make the horrid old sucker mounts grip properly. Physically, the 750 is a tiny bit flatter and a tiny bit wider than the 720, quickly leading to the next annoyance:  I can’t use my current protective case.  Gone is the rubberised finish on the rear of the case, the 750 uses the same gunmetal grey plastic all the way round making it feel a bit less solid than the 720.

The 750 starts up noticeably faster than the 720 does and, if you’re near a set of speakers, you’ll hear a bit of interference (just like with a mobile phone) as the unit starts to get data coming in. This is of course the “LIVE” service replacing all the old style add-ins.

I find the unit to be sometimes unresponsive to screen presses, this seems to be mostly when the unit is just firing up.  You’ll tap the screen and nothing happens, so you tap it again and a few seconds later both taps happen.  This usually means you’ve now mistyped a postcode or city name.  Once you get past these initial annoyances is when the 750 and the LIVE services start to shine.

I asked it to take from my current location (near Lakeside shopping centre) to Wells Street, just off Oxford Street.  Calculating the route was somewhat slower than I’d usually expect, but then I understood why.   One of the live services provides traffic information and the route plotted was calculated to be the fastest routing around such incidents where a more optimal route could be found.  A thermometer-like bar on the right hand side of the display shows the number and type of delay on the chosen route, your distance until the next delay, and the total time the delays incur.

Setting off following the suggested route took me along the A13 into central London.  At one point I was prompted that a faster route had been found saving 7 minutes and would I like to divert onto it, I answered yes and flicking through the options at the next convenient red light, I configured it to always divert onto a faster route where one was found.

The display manages to cram a lot of information into a small space without losing clarity. Mounted just below the rear view mirror, I rarely had to spend more than a half-second glancing at the screen to understand what the next maneuver was going to be.  There’s more granular detail provided and also a useful button to flip between a 3D and 2D view; You used to have to dig around in the option menu to do this on the 720. As with the 720 the spoken directions are clear, concise and timely though I found the mispronunciations of place and street names too distracting to leave on.

I found one nice feature by accident: the 750 understands average speed cameras.  One of my very regular journeys is from RM3 to E17 which takes me anticlockwise round the M25 from J28 to J27.  Currently this is nearly entirely all roadworks due to the widening scheme, all covered under average speed cameras.  The Tomtom 750 bleeped at me when I strayed over the speed limit while within this zone. Neat.  What what have been neater is if it told me what my average speed was since entering the zone.

After a week or so of use, overall I’m very happy with the 750.  The LIVE subscription is not inexpensive but I can see the time saved will make this worthwhile assuming quality of data is maintained.  I’m surprised a “keep your maps up to date” offer wasn’t included as part of the bundle as this would have been as easy sell to me.  I think this is a wonderful little device and I’m confident some of the quirks will be addressed in future software and firmware versions.  If you drive often to places you’re not intimate with, this is worth the expense.

Recent Debian update breaks Squirrelmail / Avelsieve

I’ve not yet tracked down exactly when and where this crept in, but recently when logging in to my web mail, I’ve been seeing an error message like this:

Could not log on to timsieved daemon on your IMAP server localhost:4190.

I was puzzled because I’d not knowingly changed any configuration for either Dovecot or Squirrelmail and Dovecot’s sieved was still listening right where I expected it to be on port 2000.  After a little digging I found in /usr/share/squirrelmail/plugins/avelsieve/config/config.php this section:

/* ======================================================================== */
/* =================== ManageSieve Backend Options ======================== */
/* ======================================================================== */
/* Port where timsieved listens on the Cyrus IMAP server. Default is 2000. */

/** DEBIAN CHANGE: Despite upstream's intention Debian changed this default
*  distribution wide to 4190 which is thus default here.
global $sieveport;
$sieveport = 4190;

Well duh, thanks.  Setting this value back to 2000 fixes the problem.  Though perhaps, at some point, Debian will ship a default Dovecot configuration with the sieved on port 4190.

Game review: Prince of Persia: The forgotten sands


Won’t be buying that one, then.

Dear Ubisoft,

I didn’t buy Assassin’s Creed 2 because of the insane DRM. I didn’t buy Splinter Cell: Conviction because of the insane DRM, and now I’m not going to buy the new Prince of Persia because of the insane DRM.

I speak as someone who has bought a fair chunk of your software. Did you wonder why you’re losing sales yet?

Update: An open letter to Ubisoft

I signed up to the Ubisoft forums in order to publicise my open letter to Ubisoft criticising their current approach to combating piracy. i.e. making single player games require an Internet connection in order to work. I went to see if I had any replies to my post and:

-- Account Suspended: Your account has been suspended for the  following reason:
Posting indirect linking to piratebay is against  the terms of use and the violation is a banable offence.

Their site, their rules of course.  However I find it comical that they’ve further alienated a paying customer.  I think I’ll assist Ubisoft in supressing such unwanted comment by simply never purchasing any of their future titles.

An open letter to Ubisoft

Dear Ubisoft,

I was just in my local branch of Tesco and was delighted to see that Splinter Cell: Conviction had been released.  I can tell you, I have been a long-time fan of the Splinter Cell series and was looking forward to adding this title to my collection of Ubisoft games.

Alas my fears that you would have not learned from your previous failings with regards to what is reasonable copy protection for your software were entirely well founded.

Look at the stack of games in the picture above.  As I tend to buy games I want as soon as they come out, I usually pay a premium price. That stack of games represents something like £200 of hard-earned money that I was delighted to part with. I buy software, I don’t pirate it, I am not the person who you should be alienating with copy protection crap.

Some forms of copy protection are merely inconvenient, like requiring the CD or DVD to be physically in the drive.  I don’t want to load content off a slow CD or DVD.  I want to read it off the 10,000 rpm Raptor disk I have for exactly the purpose of making games load quickly.  I don’t want to have to keep a stack of game boxes lying around in case I need the activation key you so very expensively printed on each one.

For Assassin’s Creed 2 you decided that a standalone game would require an Internet connection to work.  I wrote at the time that I couldn’t countenance such stupidity and that I would, for the first time ever, not buy a Splinter Cell game if it was similarly protected.  It is, so I didn’t.

Let’s spell this out Ubisoft,  I didn’t buy Assassin’s Creed 2. I didn’t buy Splinter Cell: Conviction.  You have stopped someone giving you money because you have this insane idea that one day you’re going to create some kind of copy protection that actually works (despite decades of evidence entirely to the contrary) and paying customers won’t mind the inconvenience of the ever-more-desperate ideas you come up with. Your system here has already failed, look here.

People who want to buy your games will do so anyway.  People who want to pirate your games will do so anyway, and are waaaay smarter than you.  I am reminded of this comparison from the world of movies.

So, tell me, Ubisoft, which game of yours would you like me not to buy next?