Using Yahoo for email? Please stop..

.. because I cannot email you at the moment. (You don't need to have a @yahoo email address to be shackled to this bunch of incompetents either: if you're a customer of Sky or BT broadband, your @sky.com etc email address is handled by Yahoo too.)

Until last week, I could. But I have just changed the server that handles my email and Yahoo is blocking the new one.

The actual message Yahoo give when I try is:

421 4.7.1 [TS03] All messages from (your server) will be permanently deferred; Retrying will NOT succeed. See http://postmaster.yahoo.com/421-ts03.html

That URL doesn't go to the right place (you can get an idea of the quality of Yahoo already, can't you?) It should be help.yahoo.com/kb/mail/SLN3436.html, which says:

This message indicates Yahoo is seeing a high volume of emails from your IP address, which is a characteristic of unsolicited, bulk emailing. .. we do not disclose further information about our filtering practices.

One of the joys of running your own mail server is that is that you can see for certain how many a "high volume" is. In this case, it's four. In a week. Instead of being unsolicited, all were replies to emails sent from Yahoo. And it's blocked them all.

Another page reckons that a 421 error means..

Resources temporarily unavailable. Please try again later: This means that the Yahoo Mail servers are temporarily too busy. Your server should try to resend the message after a few minutes.

.. which it does, and the server should. Except that they've just told you in the actual error message not to.

Elsewhere on the mess that's Yahoo's 'help' area is the advice to "secure your mail servers". Not that Yahoo would recognise a secure email server if they fell over one: hacked Yahoo accounts are the single biggest source of the spam that gets through the filters here (the victims are people I know, so their mail is treated differently to that from addresses I've never heard of).

The only things that changed between the old server and the new were (technical stuff coming up!) the IP address and the domain name of the server. Both before and afterwards, the IP address was not in any blacklist, the domain name of the server matched what you get if you look up its IP address (a simple test that most spambots fail), and the SPF ('sender permitted from') records for the domains of the email said 'yep, this IP address sends our email'. Since noticing this problem, I have even implemented Yahoo's half-baked DKIM system (another way of saying, 'yes, this server sends our mail') to no avail.

Yahoo, of course, don't make it easy to report a problem, but the page to complain about them blocking email you send is (currently) here. I've done that, even though it's aimed at people sending "bulk" email. Not a peep back and my mail is still blocked.

You're generously allowed to resubmit it after 48 hours, which I did after setting up DKIM and verifying that it works (via the useful check-auth at verifier.port25.com facility). Still nothing from Yahoo and my mail is still blocked.

So, at the moment I have no way of knowing when they will let me email you, even in reply to an email you send me.

You could complain to them about it – and please do, if you can find out how – but the basic cure is to use someone else for your email. Gmail is not perfect, but it is so much better than Yahoo.

Because who else are they blocking – including, as here, blocking replies to your emails – without either asking or telling you?

The most important story in the world?

Yesterday, the front page story in the Nottingham Post was basically 'Local-ish* team Nottingham Forest to play mid-season second-tier football league match'.

Something about a boring double killing was buried away on page seven: a couple admitted that they'd unlawfully buried one set of parents in their garden, but denied murdering them. As they'd been shot to death, it's going to be an interesting defence in the trial.

But the game was against Derby County…

… and Forest lost 0-5, ha.

Today's lead story on the Post's website is that Forest beat Derby 3-0…

in a match between former players.

* Forest don't even play in Nottingham, but in neighbouring West Bridgford.

Logitech M570 Trackball buttons in Linux

I find it difficult to find a mouse I actually like. Most are too small, and moving one around a lot can be a literal pain.

So when a friend mentioned that she used a Logitech M570 trackball, I had a look. Hmmmm. I'd used a trackball before (another friend's Logitech USB Marble Mouse) and found it interesting, so when I found someone selling a s/h M570 inexpensively (not everyone likes trackballs, fortunately), I bought it.

Iff you are right-handed as I am, it's very nice and fits my (right) hand perfectly. This, and the wireless connection via Logitech's tiny 'Unifying' USB receiver, makes it much better than the corded Marble Mouse which is ambidextrous but at the cost of having an odd arrangement for your fingers.

It also 'just works' almost perfectly in Linux.

The 'almost' bits are that there's no supplied utility to control the pairing between the USB receiver and the trackball – as supplied, they work together fine, but if you want to pair another Logitech device with it, you need to boot into Windows or OS X to do so…

… until someone wrote Solaar.

There's also no supplied utility to alter what the buttons do. As supplied, the two small buttons by the 'left mouse button' move forward or backwards in a browser. Hmm, given how easy it is to move the mouse pointer and do that via the browser's buttons, that's not terribly useful. It's also not what I want to do most of the time: I want to page up or down something much more. But how?

Here's how on a Debian-based system like Linux Mint or Ubuntu:

cd ~
sudo apt-get install xbindkeys xautomation

Create a file ~/.xbindkeysrc and put

"xte 'key Page_Up'"
b:9

"xte 'key Page_Down'"
b:8

(when 'button 9' is pressed, run the xte program to emulate a 'PgUp' keystroke, and similarly when 'button 8' is pressed, emulate a 'PgDn' keystroke) in it with your favourite text editor. Run

xbindkeys

.. and it should now work. If you've messed up and want to try again, use

killall -HUP xbindkeys

to stop xbindkeys, edit the .xbindkeysrc, and restart it. Repeat until happy 🙂

Don't forget to add xbindkeys to the programs that start up on every time you log in…

Royal Mail: "We don't want your money, use another carrier"

Although I hate to admit it, I have too many board games. So some are for sale on BGG or Amazon.

Someone's just bought one, and when I packed it up, I weighed it and discovered it was less than a kilo. That makes Royal Mail an economic option (above that, MyHermes is better). But would it be too big to qualify as a 'small parcel'? (If it's not, again, it's off to MyHermes, because even medium parcels are twice the price under a kilo.)

So I look at the Royal Mail website which says a small parcel is…

Size (up to) Length: 45cm, Width: 35cm, Depth: 8cm

Argh. Without measuring it, I am not sure how deep it is, but it's definitely more than 8cm. Oh wait, there are some exceptions!

Parcels that measure up to and including:
Length: 16cm and Width: 16cm and Depth: 16cm
Roll or cylinder shaped parcels that measure up to and including:
Length: 45cm and Diameter: 8cm

So a 16cm cube would be fine, or a… hang on, those cylinders easily fit in the main size! Anyway, the parcel is longer and wider than 16cm.

OK, off to the MyHermes website where I pay for the postage and get it ready to walk to a drop-off point. I do have to go via the local Sub-Post Office first, to get a stamp and proof of posting for a letter. While I am paying, I see an A3 poster about small parcels getting bigger. The details are in really small print, but the lovely staff give me a leaflet…

… and the new alternative size limit is 35cm x 25cm x 16cm – which is larger than the parcel I have in my hands! Had I not just paid MyHermes £3.90, I could and would have paid £2.60 to send it second class. The extra £1.30 has got me a good tracking system and a £50 compensation limit rather than the relatively reduced £20 with Royal Mail, but the leaflet is dated October 2013.

They've had three months to update their website with this. Does the Royal Mail really not want my money?

The ASA rules against BT Infinity availbility ads

The ruling against the availability checker on bt.com is here.

I didn't think to complain to them. I went to Ofcom because it is clearly anticompetitive.

The house is at the very edge of an inner London exchange's area, even though another exchange is closer: the boundary between the two areas is the end of the road. (Looking at a map on openreach.co.uk, it turns out that three exchanges are closer!) Consequently, broadband speed is not what we would like.

In 2001, we got HomeChoice when it launched in London and, at that time, they contracted with BT to ensure the speed was sufficient for video over broadband. This meant that when there was a problem a few years later, we had about four person-days work from BT engineers, including testing every possible bit of copper between us and the exchange, ensuring that the connection was as good as it possibly could be: barely enough.

HomeChoice was taken over by Tiscali which sold out to CarphoneWarehouse's TalkTalk brand.

In summer 2011, we went 'Oh, we stopped using the video over broadband ages ago, let's see if we can get a better speed and lower price just for broadband (and possibly voice)'. (Whichever cable company it was back in the 1980s never bothered to do the road – they did the main road about 100m away – and the chances of anyone doing it now are, sadly, nil.)

Obviously TalkTalk started talking lower prices if we signed a new deal for 18 months, but the broadband speed wouldn't – couldn't – be better and, looking at their site, BT were saying we'd be able to get BT Infinity in September. Obviously (again) that would be the better option, so we said no to a new cheaper deal with TalkTalk and waited for the promised BT Infinity.

And, it will come as no surprise to anyone, waited and waited.

Every three months, as it gets to within a week or so of the current deadline, it jumps back another three months. The latest time was just after Christmas, when it skipped from 31st December 2012 to 31st March 2013. Anyone from BT want to make a bet about it actually happening then?

It cannot be accidental or some openreach contractor not working fast enough – this has been delayed 18 months and counting. (It might even have been promising June 2011 when this started.) We could have signed up to a cheaper deal with TalkTalk and been free of the tie-in by now.

It's disgraceful, and somewhere in BT, there's a memo saying that one way to get more customers to avoid tying themselves to other companies for ages is to dangle the chance to get BT Infinity soon in front of them, never mind that there is zero chance of it happening…

Dear Jeff Bezos

I like Amazon a lot, even though it is not perfect.* Most of the time, my orders go through with no problem. It's when there is one that there are things you need to fix. Here's an example.

On the 13th November, I bought an Android tablet from a Marketplace seller and waited eagerly for it. And waited. And waited. Every time the post arrived, I ran to the door like a puppy, in case they were about to ring the doorbell to hand me the package containing it.

On the 22nd, I sent the seller an email:

Hi – just checking: has this been sent? I haven't had a dispatch notification email from Amazon. Thanks, Ian

I got a reply, although not the one I was hoping for, the same day:

hello, it was not been sent because i already sold it. This is the first time i sell on amazon and im not understanding how does it works. Did you pay for tablet?

Refraining from using the word 'muppet', I responded later that evening:

Hi, Yes, I have paid for it. You need to log into your seller account and issue a refund. I do understand about selling something elsewhere, but when it's sold, it would be a good idea to let Amazon know (via 'manage inventory' in your seller account) that you do not have it any more. Ian

So, a seller who says that they haven't sent the item and will never send it because they've somehow sold it to someone else. What could stop me getting a prompt refund?

The seller for one:

This amazon website is very confusing i dont even know where i can find my items for sell.

So on the 23rd November I emailed them instructions on how to refund an order:

Hi, 1. Go to 'Hello (name) – Your Account' on the top right of Amazon (for me, it's just under the 'Black Friday Deals Week' ad.

2. On the right hand side of the screen will either be somewhere to sign in or 'You are signed in as:'. Underneath that is 'Your Other Accounts', including 'Your Seller Account'. Click that. It will take you to sellercentral.amazon.co.uk

3. Sign in.

4. Left hand column: 'Your Orders' – click on 'View Your Orders'.

5. The order should be visible – if it's not, change how far back to look.

6. Click 'Refund order' for it and follow the process there. Thanks…

Nothing.

So because you have to wait three working days for people to answer email, the next week, I rang Customer Services. They tell me that Amazon policies mean that, despite having an unambiguous acknowledgement from the seller that the item has not and will not be sent, I can't claim for it yet – but they will email them. Which they do:

Hello, We've been contacted by one of our mutual customers regarding an order placed with you. Below is the information provided by the customer: Order number: 202-0789003-xxxxxxx Item: 'xxxx' Reason for contact: Where's My Stuff? Details: Customer haven't received the item yet he's been charged for it, customer wants a refund please contact the customer if necessarry [e-mail address removed] To respond to this customer, please reply to this e-mail or visit your seller account at the following link: sellercentral.amazon.co.uk/gp/communication-manager/inbox.html We hope you're able to work this out with this customer. Sincerely, Customer Service Department Amazon.co.uk

.. and tell me to wait another three working days before bothering them again.

Nothing further happens – except possibly Amazon putting most of my money into the seller's bank account, because now it is definitely past the time that happens – so today I ring Amazon again…

.. and am told that I cannot claim a refund for the item that everyone knows has not and will not be sent until three days after the delivery window expires. That's the 10th December, four weeks after Amazon had over a hundred pounds of my money, and about two weeks after the seller had it, despite.. well, you know by now.**

This policy is a licence for fraud. Open a seller account, list some expensive high demand items on the Marketplace at a significantly lower price than anyone else and watch the orders flood in. You don't send them, because you don't have them. In about two weeks, Amazon will put the money into the bank account you have specified, minus their commission. (If you've been smart enough to sign up as a business seller, that won't be much.) Remove the money as soon as it arrives and laugh all the way to another bank. It will be another two weeks before the scammed customers will be able to make A-z claims, but a) it's likely that some never will, b) they've lost the use of that money for at least a month, and c) by the time Amazon come to get it back from the seller's account, it will have long gone. Everyone except the scammer loses.

I think I am dealing with someone who is ignorant rather than criminal this time, but oh look, I was caught by a scammer five years ago. At the time, Wii Fit boards were in very high demand, including from me. I noticed that someone was selling an "unwanted" one on Amazon at about £20 less than retail (nearly all other sellers were selling significantly above retail – as I say, it was in very high demand), and ordered it. As is my practice, I then looked at the listing again. Hang on, they're still listed as selling them. A few trial 'add to basket's later, and it was clear that they were claiming to have over a dozen "unwanted" Wii Fits. That simply was not credible, and within an hour of my order, I had emailed Amazon Customer Services, alerting them to the scam.

The reply I got back said, in effect, 'Thanks for the email, come back to us when the delivery window expires', i.e. in a month's time. The seller's Amazon store is, of course, long gone but from the feedback left, it was clear that there were hundreds of victims who had 'bought' a variety of items. The losses to Amazon must have run into tens of thousands of pounds – did Amazon ever get the money back from the scammer?

Despite alerting them to the scam early on, in time to save Amazon and many other people a pile of money, this apparently counts as my second A-z claim.***

Amazon do not make a big fuss about this, but every Amazon customer has a lifetime limit of just five claims. I understand about the need to protect Amazon and sellers against people who make fraudulent claims that items haven't arrived, but demonstrably none of mine are about that. The message is that once you've been scammed / mislead / unlucky five times over your lifetime, Amazon don't want you.

I'd love a tablet before Christmas. At the moment, there are not one, not two, but three 'just launched' sellers offering notably cheap Nexus 7 ones.**** I'd like one***** but a) you have my money for at least another week and b) I am not taking the chance that this will be my fourth A-z claim. When it gets to five, I'm stopping using Amazon – the risks will be too high.

In sorrow,

Ian

* It'd be good if they paid UK taxes on UK profits, for example.

** The only reason allowed for claiming before then is 'Order contained incorrect /defective /damaged items'. If I claim for the wrong reason, my entire claim may be disallowed. You'd be stupid to risk it.

*** The first was for a DVD where the page on amazon.co.uk said it was a 'region two PAL format' disc, but the page on amazon.com for exactly the same item number said that it was 'region one NTSC format'. As the seller was based in the US, they sent the latter even though I'd ordered the former. It wasn't their fault Amazon's UK listing was wrong and it certainly wasn't my fault for buying from a seller with a lot of excellent feedback.

**** Since starting to write this paragraph, one of them has been sold – I hope for the buyer's sake that they are lucky.

***** Sorry, but allow the Google Play store on the Kindle Fire HD and I'll consider paying for one.

Death of the Diinosaur

I highly recommend using an online backup service. If you're not familiar with the concept, the idea is that you upload stuff you don't want to lose to a server somewhere belonging to someone who, you trust, has a decent data integrity setup somewhere secure. Ideally, stuff is uploaded automatically, typically by a program that notices which files are new or have changed, and ideally by one which only uploads the difference.

The first one I used was Carbonite, which at the time was good for Windows users but…

a) Insisted you can only backup stuff on NTFS and FAT partitions*

b) .. on internal drives only**

c) Turns out to slow down uploads if you're backing up a lot of data

d) Failed to tell me that they had a very good offer on renewing!

So that got ditched. I was also using Windows less and less. The replacement was Diino which…

a) Used a Java program to do the backup/restores, so worked on Linux

b) Let you pay £40 or €50 or $50 a year – having a credit card that does 0% on foreign currency transactions, obviously I went for the dollars

c) Didn't care about where the data was or the file system it was on: if you could see it, you could back it up.

d) Had helpful support.

And it's been lovely for the past few years…

… until this month, when its investors decided that they wanted to stop funding it. It's currently due to close at the end of the month, which means that even if they get other money and continue, I still have to find somewhere else in case they don't (while the really important stuff is backed up elsewhere, the important stuff needs to be backed up prior to the 31st somewhere that will be around next month).

Finding a replacement has been interesting. I think my wish list is reasonable:

* Needs to work for Linux systems and file systems.

* I'd prefer certainty over annual cost to Amazon's 'so much per Gb, so much per etc' model.

* It needs to be reasonably priced for about 1Tb of data.

* It'd be lovely if it worked with rsync or csync.

* It needs to be around this time next year, and the year after that etc.

The first one cuts down the list somewhat. The second one does too – Amazon are likely to be around for a while 🙂 and do offer, via 'Glacial' a cheaper than their 'S3' service… up until you actually want the data back, in which case it gets very expensive (it's clearly for companies that have to archive stuff they're never going to want to see again).

I'm not sure how much I've used on Diino – the software doesn't make it easy to find out – but before I started doing the 'back up everything run' after getting home from BiCon (it was half way through when I got the 'we're closing' email!) it must have been over 500Gb.

The fourth turns out to be surprisingly expensive: somewhere between $1k and $2k for 1Tb, which is really strange – what's the issue with allowing someone to run a standard and efficient program to upload their data?!?

So after looking at onlinebackupdeals.com with fingers crossed as to the fifth requirement, the shortlist is (drum roll):

altdrive.com

crashplan.com

keepit.com

Anyone using any of them? Anyone tried and rejected any of them?

* Although they won't use either themselves: FAT for obvious reasons, and NTFS because it's crap at having lots of files. (Microsoft told them that when they asked why it kept falling over!)

** If you pay them more, you can now do one – and only one – external drive. If it's not connected by a network cable. USB would be ok, but ESATA or Firewire may not be, dunno.

Probably a good thing that I didn't get to hear about this in time

It turns out that last month, Kraftwerk* played all of their albums*** over eight nights at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It accompanied an exhibition of their art, probably much of it from a series of 3D works seen in Germany last year****, which closed a couple of days ago.

So not least as they've not done this before*****, these were mega hot tickets, particularly as each night was limited to 450 people. What did MoMa do? Limit people to two shows, maximum. Early booking facilities for members also went.

It's not often I agree with Adolf Hitler 🙂 but see YouTube.

* Or what's left of them, i.e. Ralf plus three interchangeable serfs**.

** This is a bit rude about Fritz Hilpert in particular, but come on, Kraftwerk is the classic Ralf, Florian, Karl and Wolfgang line-up. Especially as comparing outputs since he left, it looks like Karl Bartos was the most talented. What we have now is like Paul McCartney claiming it's The Beatles playing one of his concerts and, unlike Ralf, he's got the excuse that half the real band is dead.

*** Or the ones they're prepared to acknowledge anyway, i.e. not Kraftwerk, Kraftwerk 2, or Ralf und Florian.. and what's Organisation?

**** But not by me, unless the issue of Wallpaper magazine which had a section on it counts.

***** As far as I know, there's at least one song from the albums that they've never done live.

O2 and the Pontius Pilate impersonation

A while ago – at some point, I will find the post I made about it – I bought an O2 Joggler. The original idea was to put a better version of Linux on it and use it as a very inexpensive tablet computer for the kitchen.

Sadly, I was out-voted on this and it's stayed running the original OS. One reason was the Pure Digital internet radio application on it – particularly useful in Newark before a spot was found where a 'real' digital radio would work in the kitchen.

But, from the O2 'support' FAQ that a recent message on the Joggler's messenger application points you to:

What's happening to the O2 Joggler?

We are updating the Joggler between 30th April and 4th May .. we'll be removing the O2 apps.

We are doing this so that we can focus on bring new, more innovative services to market.

What happens to apps currently on the Joggler device?

You'll still have loads of apps available after the update, however all O2 provided apps including Calendar, Messaging, Sky, Traffic Master & Pure Radio will be removed. In most cases, you should be able to find alternatives to most of the O2 services once your device is updated.

The primary feature they marketed when the Joggler was launched was the shared calendar. (The Joggler was supposed to be 'your new fridge door', the place for notes to each other and a way to plan stuff together.) But…

What's happening to the O2 Family Calendar App?

It will be removed when the device is updated. ..

We'll give you plenty of time to start using a new service, but we won't be able to offer you your O2 Family Calendar data back.

'Plenty of time' = about a month, by the way.

What if I have a problem with my Joggler?

After your device has been updated, O2 will no longer be offering full technical support. However, you can consult the FAQs if you have questions and we will also do our best to help out.

So they're doing a compulsory and destructive 'upgrade' on kit they've sold and they're not going to support it afterwards… Is it just me, or does that stink?

Update: Oh, the original marketing is still on the O2 site! What were the reasons to buy it?

  • Listen to your favourite radio station. Powered by Pure, the internet radio includes around 100 stations – GOING
  • Add events and appointments to your interactive calendar. The O2 Joggler will then text reminders to everyone on O2 – GOING
  • Send text messages to and from your O2 Joggler* – that's 50 free texts a month GOING
  • Watch videos, listen to music, and look at photos** – it'll still able to do that
  • Keep up-to-date with news and sports headlines – the services used for this are GOING
  • Get weather reports and traffic updates – the services used for this are GOING

Now, you can argue – as O2 do – that at least some of those will be replaced by alternative services. But not the top three reasons for buying the thing.

To see what I've been seeing, squeeze your monitor until the pixels are about half the width…

Running Linux Mint (based on Ubuntu, based on Debian GNU/Linux) means this system doesn't come with Arial 'built-in'. Hooray. Except that for a while, some web pages in Opera in particular have displayed oddly here: some of the sans-serif fonts have been very thin and narrow.

I did wonder if this was the result of having Helvetica Narrow somewhere on my system and, yes, it looks like that's what happened. Although it wasn't in the directories mentioned in /etc/fonts/font.conf as the places to look – the three main ones are /usr/share/fonts, /usr/local/share/fonts and ~/.fonts – it looks like having run FontMatrix at one point in the past created ~/.Fontmatrix which had links to Helvetica Narrow amongst some others.

Deleting that directory, running sudo fc-cache -f -v, restarting Opera and all's well. I don't know what was getting its fonts from there, but at some point I will see what the CSS for the affected sites was asking for. It probably wasn't Helvetica Narrow…