Musings on a chip shop menu

Berwick Street hosts a very very nice fish & chip shop.  When I was there last week, I noticed some discrepancies in food item pricing on the menu.

Lines items one and two:

  • Chips, 1 egg – £3.20
  • Chips, 2 eggs – £3.80

So from this we can deduce that an egg costs 60 pence and that the base cost of chips is £2.60. Next:

  • Chips, 1 egg, 1 sausage – £4.30
  • Chips, 2 eggs, 1 sausage – £4.90
  • Chips, 2 eggs, 2 sausages – £5.70

The first item tells us that a sausage costs £1.10. This is confirmed by adding 60 pence to get the £4.90 for the extra egg, but suddenly we’re getting a discount on the second sausage, costing just another 80 pence.

  • Chips, 1 sausage – £3.70
  • Chips, 2 sausages – £5.30

This starts well, our baseline of £2.60 for the chips and £1.10 for the sausage gives us the £3.70 we’re expecting.  But hold on a minute, the second sausage here is costing a whopping £1.60, twice the previous price for sausages!

  • Chips, 1 saveloy – £3.70
  • Chips, 2 saveloys – £5.30

Our first saveloy is costing the same as a regular sausage, and the second saveloy is twice as expensive as the first. In any case, surely the saveloy is a superior sausage and should cost more?

I don’t know why we second-sausage lovers are being charged such an exorbitant premium, can the injustices of this world never end?

Email: Managing users’ expectations

That email has established itself as a universal communication medium is a credit to all those who contributed to the standards that define its implementation.

Truly, only “www.” is a more familiar as an Internet medium for information exchange and, even then, HTTP is routinely dumbed down to “it’s on my Facebook” and other similar paradigms.   This is not a criticism, it’s a tribute to the Internet’s ongoing integration into our everyday lives.

People seem desperately confused about email.  It’s an aged beast and it suffers from having been reinvented and redefined over a long period of time to meet the demands of a succession of users with different expectation levels.

Stepping back a bit, SMTP  as a protocol was originally designed to be incredibly tolerant of all kinds of problems.  It had to be.  Shonky links, low bandwidth and infrequent network connectivity meant we needed a protocol that could deal with the idea that messages could be significantly delayed.  SMTP has a built in a mechanism for notifying when things aren’t going well, and makes a really good effort to tell a sender that things didn’t work out and the message didn’t make it. Then things changed.

Sending files over the Internet is sometimes hard.  I know!  Let’s extend email so it can transfer files.

Not everyone can type in 7 bit ASCII. I know! Let’s extend email so all character sets can be represented.

Sending messages in plain text isn’t always desirable. I know!  Let’s extend email so it can handle PGP/GPG mail.

Attachments are okay, but what if there were some way my image could appear in my email body. I know! Let’s extend the message format so it can do that.

Text is boring. I know! Let’s extend email so I can send HTML content.


You get the idea.   Email has evolved far beyond the original specification and still fails to meet users’ expectations.  And it should not, because they confuse email with instant messaging and with a reliable file transport mechanism.  If your users want messages to be delivered instantly, use an instant messaging system, not email.  If you want files transferred, use some kind of file transfer protocol.   Anyone training users to expect anything other than “it’ll almost certainly get there, probably today” out of email is creating a rod with which to beat themselves when deadlines tighten.  The right tool for the right job.






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.

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?

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?

Please stop over-engineering your antispam system

I’m obviously entirely partisan here, having a significant interest in an antispam and antivirus email filtering service called antibodyMX.  That aside, can I please ask you mail administrators to stop making make filtering decisions based on really, really, shonky premises?  Thanks.

Today I responded to a posting on a mailing list for the MTA that antibodyMX is based on.  The point of the the post isn’t really relevant here, save that the sender was seriously suggesting that the list adopt a standards-breaking policy, but I responded citing a technical issue and was surprised when my email to the original poster was rejected.

The reason it was rejected was that the original poster had decided that the presence of the word “adsl” in the DNS-resolved name of the connecting host was an indication of a spam-sending host.  This is an interesting idea, and for the non-technical reader, it’s best summarised as being bollocks.

The reasoning behind this idea isn’t, well, unreasonable.  Most Internet users these days are on some kind of ADSL connection and most use the cheapest ISP they can find. Most forward/reverse DNS entries for IPs in these ranges look like “”. Many of these users have simply no idea about sensible security so thousands of these home PCs are spam zombies. Is it so bad to assume that mail traffic from such ranges is bound to be spam?

Back to my rejected email.  The regular expression rule the mail system owner had decided to use was badly flawed. It decided that my mail server called “” looked so much like the word “adsl” that rejecting mail from it (hey! all the right letters are there!) was the sensible thing to do.  Subsquent emails went along the lines of “so what if I do <this>?”  “No, that’s broken, too”  “And how about _this_?” “Sorry”.

This worries me for lots of reasons.  Firstly, a lot of perfectly legitimate email comes out of ADSL ranges.  Small companies use these all the time.  Secondly if you must enforce this sort of thing, (your server, your rules after all), at least bother to test your filtering is doing what you expect.   Test the damn thing and don’t make other email administrators have to deal with the fallout from your local policy.

Game review: Assassin’s Creed 2

Following my original review of the first Assassin’s Creed game, I was dearly looking forward to reviewing the new episode in the series. Alas Ubisoft have taken the skull-smackingly stupid decision of making a single-player game need access to the Internet to work.

Don’t buy this game, you will be funding idiocy if you do.

What next, Ubisoft, will you be making me not buy the upcoming Splinter Cell, too?

Some Vista and hardware hatesta

As I mostly use my home PC for playing games, I tend to try and keep it
reasonably up to date in terms of both hardware and software. Earlier this
year my graphics card’s memory went a bit funny meaning I had to buy a new one,
then my gaming mouse started having tracking problems, so I replaced that and,
last week, the primary hard disk on my system decided to lunch itself. At the
time I was unable to determine if this was hardware or just the filesystem
getting spaghettified. Given the number of times Vista had crashed due to the
graphics card problem I would not have been surprised either way.

I decided to buy a new disk in the form of a 300G Western Digital VelociRaptor,
which merited a Vista reinstall. This then freed up two 500G disks for me to
test and perhaps reuse. I decided to RAID1 the two disks so I could have a
little bit of protection against disk failure. Obviously all my important data
is backed up properly anyway.

Windows Vista Ultimate 64 edition, Microsoft’s flagship desktop OS has no
support for software RAID1.

I’ll say that again, just in case you skipped over the sentence: Windows Vista
Ultimate 64 edition, Microsoft’s flagship desktop OS has no support for
software RAID1.

I can RAID0 the two disks, I can create a spanned volume across the two disks,
but no RAID1. After a couple of hours of Googling in sheer disbelief, it turns
out to be true. Instead I’ve had to, for now, hook up my two disks to the
motherboard’s RAID BIOS thingy.

I paid nearly £200 for an OS that won’t do RAID1.