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BT UK: You Must Work From Home, But We Won’t Provide a Connection Suitable for Work

Biden the Pain Harold: They say I must work from my desk in the kitchen, but it's not even a desk

Recently I said I would write about the latest formal letter from BT (got it hours ago by post). It raises many questions about right to Internet access and forced home working. The correction in the letter, which I requested, is in page two. It made incorrect assertion about what I had said. So they have removed that bit and resent the (new) letter. I’d like to draw attention to a statement made in page 1. As many people worldwide are aware, Britain takes lock-downs very seriously. All the stores are shut (except for food and few other things) and people are forced to work from home. For those of us who work in “IT” (a bit of a buzzword) that means that there are technical demands, which cannot always be met/satisfied when connections are slowed down or crippled [1, 2, 3].

Here’s the latest letter:

bt-full

Compare to the previous version of page 2 (I never said that my connection speed was zero, that’s just false):

BT correction

For the time being, seeing that I have IPFS issues further upstream in the network (that software does not scale too well and it is fast-growing, apparently), I am laying aside my grievances with BT. They’re refunded the costs wrongly incurred and may soon issue the compensation promised. I remain largely dissatisfied on many levels, but I’ve come to accept that once in a few years there will be a major ordeal if not catastrophe with the ISP. It’s inevitable. Nothing is perfect. I’d like to get back to writing about things, rather than this networking/Internet ‘activism’, which is somewhat outside my scope of expertise (I’ve worked on networking/routing/engineering before, but it’s not my strongest domain).

Making the Web (and the Internet) work better in a decentralised fashion is a big if not truly massive challenge, which goes beyond the limitations of ISPs. Unlike Bitcoin, it’s not an energy hog and probably not a traffic hog. In a sense, we try to make datacentres obsolete; that would be greatly beneficial to the environment.

COVID May Have Caused (or Helped) the UK Home Office and Manchester Town Hall to Violate Basic Laws or Fundamental Human Rights

The Manchester experience, going ‘online’ for ‘apps’ (so-called ‘self-service’) because who need services anyway?

Manchester Town Hall
With “mom” at Manchester Town Hall

FIRST time? My bad. Second? Your fault. Unlike the old saying, “fool me once, shame on you…” (twice… me)

What’s all this commotion about? Is it about privacy? Accessibility? Adherence to law? Or all the above?

Right about now many rules and laws are flouted and violated. In the name of “emergency”… a public health crisis. Perfect justification?

Courts have apparently decided that the equivalent of a telephone call is “trial”; governments are waging an accelerated war on cash, as well. I often wonder if here in Britain we changed the coins (rendering old ones worthless and obsolete) to artificially reduce the money supply; it would be helpful to know how many “old coins” there are compared to “new ones”. The thinking is, maybe they try to impose financial surveillance by “going digital” with scarcity of physical money added to the mix… or removed from circulation.

What’s wrong with digital payments? Apparently a lot of people don’t know or never really thought about it, even in this age of so-called ‘surveillance capitalism’ and mass surveillance without warrant, let alone suspicion or probable cause.

Many who reject digital payments (or “smart” or “touchless” or whatever buzzwords they make up next year) are being framed/painted and sometimes ridiculed as Luddites. That’s kind of funny considering the fact that it’s usually the most technical people who reject technology in payments (so-called ‘novelty’ like “swiping cards” that are little but a piece of plastic with a primitive, cheap chip glued to them). All that insecure chipping and pinning is hardly novel; it’s decades-old ‘technology’ (same for so-called ‘smart’ meters and ‘self-service’ checkout; it could be done decades ago, including the touchscreens, in effect an erosion of customer services or outsourcing of the work to customers).

In reality, it’s the ‘non-techs’ who swallow it all, thinking they’ll seem “techy” for swiping and paying $2,000 for a so-called ‘phone’, compensating for their lack of understanding of where all that data goes and how it’s (mis)used.

The deterioration of our lives is now driven by technology; we were promised technology would make things easier (like doing our laundry, shortening the working days/hours etc.) but in practice people work harder and for longer hours than ever before. People are even being contacted by their bosses well outside working hours. Is this progress?

This brings me to the latest rant. On December 10th 2020 my wife and I went to Manchester Town Hall (temporarily housed partially in Heron House across the road, below GCHQ, as he main building undergoes renovation/overhaul). We went to their office, as explained in the official site, at the specified time with all the documents and a laptop (as required for communication and exchange of details), only to be told the service is not available due to COVID but can instead be done at the Post Office.

Alright then…

So we went to the Post Office, only to be told they don’t do any of that and at least two people had been similarly misdirected earlier in the same day!

What on Earth is going on? ‘Ping-pong’ with people?

So we went back to Town Hall, only to face a different person, who barely even apologised for the misdirection and used “COVID” as a catch-all excuse, instead suggesting contacting the Home Office or urging us to use some Android “app” (which is out of the question).

What if we were disabled or blind? What about options that are paper-based?

This is a terrible regression which actually predates (in part) the pandemic. An “app-only” government would be a travesty for many reasons; like rendering you a non-citizen for refusing to carry around a so-called ‘phone’ that tracks your movement more closely than RFID.

Is COVID a valid excuse here? Hardly. Because apparently, according to information we received from a representative at the Town Hall, this has gone on since March and there’s no projected date or resumption. According to our solicitor, the whole “app” thing was already pushed well before March. They literally want people to take selfies of themselves and then send that to the Home Office, then send sensitive documents over ‘phones’ with back doors.

This isn’t the future; this is not “innovation” but degradation of services spun as “smart” and convenient.

Nothing is as convenient as an informed person interacting with you, dealing with the papers for you, checking the authenticity and ensuring everything is done properly right there on the spot.

I am not a lawyer, I don’t know the pertinent laws and sections, but I know enough to say that the government cannot demand people do those sorts of things with “apps” or digital devices. There must be a fallback. Leaving people ‘hanging’ for almost a year citing “health and safety” cannot be excused because of the COVID-19 pandemic; for several months during summer people could go to pubs and restaurants, so surely Town Hall could facilitate face-to-face (with masks on) meetings.

I will carry on chasing Town Hall next year and will report again.

I Never Had a Machine With More Than 2GB of RAM. But Phoronix Portrays GNU/Linux as Sucking on Memory Management.

The main problem is bloated software, not Linux

LAST night I saw a somewhat ‘trollish’ bunch of reports. I saw Slashdot [1], linking to Phoronix [2] with a grammatical mistake in the headline (“Yes, Linux Does Bad In Low RAM / Memory Pressure Situations On The Desktop”).

Let me first clarify that I’m no kernel guru. Far from it. I’m a programmer, but not an OS programmer or kernel developer.

“Is this accurate?”

That’s what I asked people who may know better. They know kernel developers (and development) better than me.

“Is it true or is Phoronix taking the piss?”

I saw comments on it (almost 100 in Phoronix and 400 in Slashdot), but they’re short and vague. How is Linux doing compared to other OSes?

“ZSWAP makes a huge difference (RAM compression),” one person told me. “GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="zswap.enabled=1 zswap.compressor=lz4 zswap.zpool=z3fold"

“Windows 10 & MacOS & Ubuntu have RAM compression on by default,” he added.

“I’m not sure exactly what they have,” he continued, “but I remember reading about it before. RAM compression isn’t new at all. But it is relatively new (few years) to be on by default.”

Linux kernel space is typically ahead of the curve (compared to the competition); Con Kolivas comes to mind when it comes to claims that it’s optimised for servers but not for desktops (the scheduler, not RAM/swap management).

To check compression status on one’s system:

grep -R . /sys/module/zswap/parameters;sudo dmesg|grep zswap; sudo grep -R . /sys/kernel/debug/zswap;f;sudo sh -c 'cd /sys/kernel/debug/zswap;perl -E "say $(cat stored_pages) * 4096 / $(cat pool_total_size)"' # to check if loaded ; used ; ZswapCompressionRatio

How can one argue that GNU/Linux does worse than counterparts? Slashdot promoted this story with about 400 comments and Phoronix even has a grammatical mistake in its headline (Slashdot corrected it, Michael of Phoronix has not.) It’s an eyesore in a sense; both the message and the English. The headline also states that as fact even though it’s to be attributed to just one developer, Artem S Tashkinov. To an outsider (to kernel development) it may smack of clickbait. It’s stigmatising “Linux” as not successful on “desktop” because of “technical” “issues” (not OEM bribes, ISVs etc.), but if it’s based on purely factual bits, then let it be, I’m fine with it.

My gut feeling was, there’s likely more to the story; can Apple and Microsoft handle compression of RAM for instance? If so, how well? I don’t know people running Apple-branded systems and PCs with Windows on just 2 gigabytes of RAM (which is the most I ever had on any of my systems; same with my wife, who is a GNU/Linux user).

Another person, who is proficient at kernel matters, told me: “I have caused Linux to stall in swap hell many times and there are long list of particular causes of it. facebook made oomd to attempt to deal with it in userspace.”

The first person weighed in again: “they should compare to other distros, and to MacOS/Windows. But the complaint is valid, IMO: that Linux (defaults) *should* be ‘smarter’ when OOM; check what is your vm.vfs_cache_pressure. $ cat /proc/sys/vm/vfs_cache_pressure [...] I have mine set to 50, because this article makes sense to. (but I’m not sure what default is nowadays?)”

A third person wrote: “my Orange Pi with 2 GB of RAM running everything mainline is my main desktop, which runs generally fine with a swapfile of also 2 GB…”

That was in the #techrights IRC channel this morning.

The person added, “the bigger question for me is why applications these days are so heavy and slow…”

That last point is what I too have raised many times before. GNU/Linux is handling reasonably well a complete system with 2GB of RAM (or less). Super-bloated applications is where things start getting trickier.

Related/contextual items from the news:

  1. Linux Performs Poorly In Low RAM / Memory Pressure Situations On The Desktop

    It’s been a gripe for many running Linux on low RAM systems especially is that when the Linux desktop is under memory pressure the performance can be quite brutal with the system barely being responsive. The discussion over that behavior has been reignited this week.

  2. Yes, Linux Does Bad In Low RAM / Memory Pressure Situations On The Desktop

    It’s been a gripe for many running Linux on low RAM systems especially is that when the Linux desktop is under memory pressure the performance can be quite brutal with the system barely being responsive. The discussion over that behavior has been reignited this week.

    Developer Artem S Tashkinov took to the kernel mailing list over the weekend to express his frustration with the kernel’s inability to handle low memory pressure in a graceful manner. If booting a system with just 4GB of RAM available, disabling SWAP to accelerate the impact/behavior, and launching a web browser and opening new web pages / tabs can in a matter of minutes bring the system down to its knees.

Manchester City Football Club Treats Supporters as Marketing Material

LARGE football clubs such as Manchester City (MCFC) are owned by billionaires to whom human rights may not mean very much. Manchester City is a great club that we support, but it is digitally a disgrace, Adobe Flash and Microsoft aside (their Windows-powered site has always been terrible, slow, and inaccessible to many). But today I found out that it is actually a lot worse. The awfulness goes well beyond the site itself.

They are spying on people, selling their data, spamming them without prior approval, then making the “unsubscribe” form intentionally broken. I tried it in 3 mainstream Web browsers, on 3 different PCs, and the buttons are not clickable. It’s usually not a coincidence; slimy companies like these do not want people to opt out and definitely not delete their accounts with associated data.

Manchester City has a really large turnover; there’s no excuse for this sellout to a malicious ‘industry’.

If So-called ‘Ownership Rights’ of Money Are Deprived, Mainstream Media Should Speak About It

LAST year I wrote a rant about how I could not withdraw/retrieve my own money from the bank. It was new to me that banks can simply deny withdrawal of one’s deposited money. I actually had to spend many hours and make many visits to the bank to eventually get my own money. A lot of that was to do with limited supply. There was also a surveillance element to it (the bank looking for ‘proof’ of how I would use the withdrawn money as if it’s any of their business).

These things seem to be getting worse over time.

I had a chat with a friend of mine today. He noticed something which, as far as I’m aware, nobody in the media is writing about.

Britain recently changed its coinage and banknotes. It changed these very fast. I was surprised if not shocked. Within just a couple of months they claimed that the old physical currency would no longer be accepted, except perhaps in unusual circumstances. Machines stopped accepting the old coins. What does that mean for Brits living abroad or people keeping their own money (physically)? Not on some computer in some bank or a virtual/digital account…

Either way, the push towards full surveillance of financial transactions is in full swing. And it’s getting harder to ‘opt out’ so to speak…

“I’m not sure if it is significant,” my friend told me, but there is a major cash shortage in Sweden since they replaced all the coins and bills last year.” There is this report about it (automated translation from Swedish).

“This second link shows that there are more than 3 orders of magnitude fewer medium-sized bills in circulation,” my friend continued.

So they may be making wrong assumptions about demand for cash, or rather making a self-fulfilling prophecy about it.

“It looks like they have aimed at forcing the cashless issue through deliberate hardship,” my friend bemoaned/ranted over this. “And, yes, there are obvious privacy implications among many other problems.”

“Has someone out there written an article about this in English,” I asked him. “If not, maybe we should.”

And hence the point of this post. I read a lot of articles every day, almost all day long. Rarely if ever is the subject of payment privacy brought up. The only site that habitually covers it belongs to Rick Falkvinge or his business (VPN). He is Swedish and he is familiar with this subject.

“Rick Falkvinge has mentioned it in passing during his many posts about Bitcoin,” my friend told me. “His main site is not really available and has only a placeholder left, it appears.”

My friend wants to read the site, but JavaScript has rendered Falkvinge’s obsolete. I told Falkvinge about it quite a few times in the past; he said he would look into it, but he never tackled the issue. But I digress…

“There were some articles about an old lady who tried to cash in her savings but was denied by the banks,” my friend recalls, “losing her life savings as a result. She died a short time after that, family claim that the economic blow hastened her death. As it costs a lot of money to keep anything in the bank and more to get anything back out of the bank the economically wise thing to do in Sweden for about two decades has been to keep it in the mattress.”

I did read several articles about that debacle (at the time). It showed that the old practice of keeping one’s own money is becoming too risky. There is a hidden cost (inflation/interest rates) and a high risk (not just of someone breaking into one’s house to steal the cash). See what Modi did some months ago in India. It was incredible. I was shocked that many Indians fell for the propaganda (as if only criminals keep a lot of cash) and tolerated what Modi had done. This reminded me of that time Cyprus denied bank withdrawals and simply grabbed a large portion of people’s personal savings, demonstrating in that particular case the very high risk of keeping money in the bank, not outside it (see what people in Argentina do nowadays). That goes back to the point made at the start — my point about things getting worse over time. Money was always a man-made concept if not an illusion, but over time we see more visible indicators of this. Some cash machines too have been letting me down lately. Years ago I surveyed shops around here to see which ones make it possible to purchase a mobile phone with cash and also top it up with cash (to maintain anonymity).

With few exceptions (sites like Zero Hedge), the subject is grossly unexplored and corporate press rarely touches it.

“I digress,” my friend told me, as “the short answer is that I have not run across any such articles. Do you think that Rick Falkvinge would have interest in collaborating on such an article? It’s kind of his area subject-wise.”

My friend too recalled what happened in India: “India has been having problems like that too and might be included. And don’t forget what China is doing in that area either. Of course, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, and the others all want to be the sole gateway for payments. Failing that, they want a large piece of the pie.

“One of the official lines that gets repeated every time though is that it will inhibit tax dodging (small fish only, somehow they are not concerned by large fish) and illegal transactions. It occurred to me a few minutes ago that Sweden has a growing yet already massive black market economy in and adjacent to their 61 no-go zones. So maybe this is a low-key attempt to get society back.”

Withdrawing Large Sums of Your Own Money? Not a Chance

Run on the banks (in the UK) cannot happen and “war on crime” is a convenient excuse for it

Fiscal issues in the UK are a hot topic. The Pound/Sterling has been in a freefall since the Brexit vote (see this chart) and Brexit politicians — people like David Davis and Theresa May — can probably make a lot of money trading/swapping currencies while they make our policy. It’s like they have insider information because it’s them who call the shots and can rock the Pound with just a stroke of a pen or some words uttered to the media.

Falling Pound/Sterling is no laughing matter. Depending on what currency one compares it to, the currency here lost nearly 20% of its value in just a few months. Can one take one’s money out of the bank while it still (potentially) has a higher value? Not quite. It is almost as though you need to ask for permission to get your own money.

Remember what happened in Cyprus a few years ago. It’s a European (ish) country whose economy was collapsing. It used daily limits to impose — in a rather Draconian fashion — sanctions on people whose savings would soon be confiscated by their government. It looked like a movie plot or fiction, but even in a sane world with no hyperinflation such a thing can already happen.

Both Halifax and Nationwide, banks with which I have active accounts, impose limits which they do not state upfront, except perhaps in the fine prints somewhere. Natwest never really had such limits, at least not in theory. I closed my main/current account there and stopped paying anything into it.

Natwest’s practices are not the important topic here. But its services can be appalling sometimes. If a person tells you that withdrawing the money should be possible the following day and you even bring all the documents he or she asked for (after consulting higher up workers), then you might expect a withdrawal to be possible. But no. They put barriers and additional requirements just to put some more barbwire around the money — the same money you deposited there.

Treating everything as suspicious by default (or until proven otherwise) is unwise. It makes services rather appalling when the customer is assumed to be dishonest or dodgy. It’s almost as if war on drugs or whatever now justifies limiting people and their access to their own cash. In hypothetical case of financial emergencies, these pretexts can suddenly be exploited for other reasons like preventing a run on the bank.

Did I manage to get money out? Yes, but barely. At numerous points I was driven close to the point of surrender, but I kept insisting and escalating through three layers of management in two different banks. The process which all in all took about three hours (minimum) involved all sorts of forms which include the equivalent of financial surveillance or essentially the tracking of all payments, including cash payments. It is not hard to foresee a future which is not just optionally cashless but one in which this becomes obligatory. Nowadays when you purchase not only a flight ticket but also a rail (train) ticket they ask questions like purpose of travel as if that matters at all.

To specify some of the finer details: 3 trips to Natwest were required in addition to one online. Nationwide was two trips and two instances of online access. Halifax was a short trip and politely arguing with management took over an hour, putting aside queuing and long periods of waiting time for those who were with me (family). This whole ordeal reinforced my claim that Natwest has become a terrible bank that makes false promises and does not provide a service if there is nothing for it to gain from it. I actually left this bank after many bitter experiences (when I joined 16 years ago it was actually okay, as noted several times in the past in this blog) and having to ever visit the bank again for any purpose would give cause for hesitation. One can simply not take their word.

The bottom line ought not be Natwest but the systemic problem and the danger which is banks not having much cash at the back and not dispensing it upon demand from the clients either. Advance notice does not quite cut it as there is a lot of laborious paperwork and the equivalent of interviews (lots of questions) as if one applies for a mortgage when simply asking to withdraw the amount of thousands of pounds.

It is not impossible or implausible that years or decades down the line these mechanisms will get misused to separate people from their money at times of economic panic.

Wilko (UK Retailer): The Customer Services Fiasco Continues

Avoid Wilko

Nearly a fortnight ago Wilko’s ATM stole my money and many hours of work later (and some major inconveniences other than loss of time and money) the issue remains uncorrected. A week ago I wrote about my second visit to the store. The manager gave me a call but was unable to offer a satisfactory solution, still just offering a bunch of forms for me to fill in or me visiting my own bank rather than the ATM suppliers fixing their own error (which they can see). I asked to escalate this, having spoken to their customer services people, but they were delaying if not stonewalling until I repeated myself several times. Here are the chat logs:


Dr. Roy Schestowitz

The mistake was made not by your bank but a faulty machine of yours, I shall protest against your very poor handling of this situation

Jun 3


Dr. Roy Schestowitz

I have begun writing articles about my experiences with your company. This is the first: Wilko (UK) Uses Faulty ATMs that Crash, Will ‘Steal’ Money and Then Wilko Will Lie and Divert, Not Even Naming the ATM Supplier http://schestowitz.com/Weblog/archives/2016/06/03/wilko-atm-faulty/ …

Jun 3


Dr. Roy Schestowitz

I’ll have to contact he authorities and ask them to revoke the rights of #dcpayments #infocash to have ATMs out there. Unfit for purpose.

Jun 7


Dr. Roy Schestowitz

In the mean time, please provide me with contact details (email or phone) for Nick’s bosses. I would like to make a formal complaint.

Jun 7


Dr. Roy Schestowitz

please provide me with contact details (email or phone) for Nick’s bosses. I would like to make a formal complaint.

Jun 8


Dr. Roy Schestowitz

please provide me with contact details (email or phone) for Nick’s bosses. I would like to make a formal complaint.

Jun 8


Wilko

Hi, please can you confirm what this is regarding to see can ensure this is dealt with correctly. Alternatively, please contact our customer care department on 08000 329 329 and they will assist you further :)

Jun 8


Dr. Roy Schestowitz

This is regarding DCPayments (Infocash) and the way management at the Wilko store in Manchester dealt with their machine’s fault. I need contact details (E-mail/Tel) for central management, not local branch (I don’t trust the Arndale staff anymore, having spent an hour speaking to them in person on a couple of visits and still not getting the issue properly tackled to its full depth). I wish to escalate this to central management. Please provide me with the E-mail address. Kind regards, Roy.

Jun 8


Wilko

We would like to pass your contact number to the regional manager for the store so that they may contact you further.
Please can you provide a contact number so that we may pass this on for you? thanks, [redacted name].

Jun 9


Dr. Roy Schestowitz

[redacted number]


Wilko

We have passed your contact details to the regional manager and they will contact you further to discuss this. Thanks, [redacted].

Jun 10


That was more than a day ago (Friday) and I still haven’t received a phonecall. They never give me numbers, they just take my own number and then rarely call. So we shall see…

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