Older blog entries for dwmw2 (starting at number 207)

I'm accustomed to technical support being fairly incompetent and clueless, but Acer seem to have taken it to a new level. They have taken to telling direct lies and seem to be attempting to defraud their customers.

I don't think I'll ever be buying Acer hardware again.

I bought an Acer laptop a couple of months ago, through Misco. I phoned Misco and tried to get them to ship it to me without the preinstalled Windows Vista operating system. They said that it was not possible.

At that point I should have taken my business elsewhere, but this was quite a good deal — ISTR it was a return, or something like that, so it was quite cheap. So I ordered the laptop anyway, and then when it arrived I declined to accept the End User Licensing Agreement, installed Linux on it and contacted Acer for my refund as indicated.

Acer's first response was that they would be able to refund the £20.30 that Windows Vista was worth, but that they "will require a £51.99 payment to have the machine brought in to the repair centre so we may remove this for you. This will cover the courier and engineer's labour fee."

This seems to be an obvious scam to prevent customers from obtaining the refund to which they are entitled, and I didn't accept it. I wrote a letter to their head office, returning the Windows serial number sticker and giving photographic evidence that Linux had been installed on the system, wiping the old operating system. And demanding my refund within one month or court proceedings would be issued.

Acer responded to this, retracting the demand for a £51.99 payment but still claiming that the laptop had to be shipped back to them at my expense. They said that they needed to "action the following:

  1. Validate that the Operating System has been removed from the Hard Disk.
  2. Remove the Microsoft COA (Certificate Of Authenticity) label
  3. Verify your proof of purchase to ascertain that you are in the specified timeframe to refund this product.
  4. To verify if any back up recovery disks have been made and if so, recovered from you.
  5. A signed form from you, which may be given to Microsoft and which agrees to hold Acer harmelss from any claims by third parties in the event that you have produced any false information on the request."

I pointed out that it was not necessary for them to have the system shipped back to them to achieve their requirements. I offered them remote access to the system in order to verify that there was no trace of Windows left on the hard drive, and asked for a copy of the form they mentioned. I also gave them a copy of my proof of purchase, reminded them that I'd already sent back the sticker, and stated that I had made no backup copies.

At this point, they went silent and stopped responding to my email — even when I reminded them that the deadline was approaching and I was about to file the court claim for my refund. They did eventually start responding again after about two months, when I informed them that I had finally got round to filing the court case.

This did seem to get their attention, but they still claimed that they needed the system to be shipped back to them. When I spoke to an engineer on the telephone, he claimed that it wasn't sufficient merely to check that the hard drive had been wiped, and compare the serial number reported by its firmware with the one in their records. He said they had to actually take the laptop apart and read the serial number from the label on the hard drive, because I might have put a different hard drive into the laptop and flashed its firmware so that it pretended to have the same serial number as the original.

I pointed out that this was somewhat far-fetched, and if I was so inclined it would be much easier for me to just copy Windows off the original hard drive, send it back to them for validation, then put it back again afterwards. He agreed, but said that their agreement with Microsoft was that they must verify that the OS had been removed from the original hard drive — what happened after that wasn't their problem.

At this point, with the court proceedings already filed, they agreed to pay for the courier (and the court costs). Since it would only take a few days, I conceded. Before shipping it off to them, however, I took a screwdriver and carefully aligned all the screws so that I could tell if it had been opened.

Imagine my surprise when it came back and they hadn't opened the case! Despite all their protestation that they needed physical access, and that they had to open the case and physically read the serial numbers from the hard drive, when they finally got the opportunity to do so they didn't bother.

All they did was check the partitioning and serial number through software — which they could have done months ago, remotely.

As far as I can tell, it's just a huge scam to prevent customers from claiming the refund for the unlawfully-bundled software, by making it cost more to do so than they get in the refund. I certainly would have given up a long time ago if it wasn't for the principle of the thing.

Now it seems entirely clear that Acer are simply attempting to defraud their customers, though, I shall be reporting it to Trading Standards to see what they have to say about the matter.

Software makes me sad sometimes.

Every time the iwlagn driver crashes and has to be reloaded (and it does that distressingly often, since it doesn't seem to reset the device and recover when its closed-source firmware crashes), NetworkManager kills the connection and restarts completely. Not unreasonably, I suppose.

But then, all NFS mounts get automatically unmounted, which is a complete pain in the arse.

And my VPN connection is reset, and because Cisco are stupid I don't get the same VPN IP address next time I connect, even if it is still available. (I think I ought to be able to work around this from the client side, if I don't mind storing the authentication cookie on the client machine.).

Although having said that, the main reason I'd want my IP address to remain the same is so that my connection to the mail server can persist and I don't have to wait through Evolution's painfully slow startup.

Unfortunately, Evolution also responds to the network offline/online events by reporting -EAGAIN errors all the time when it auto-saves emails that you're composing, and stops being able to display mail folders — the index just comes up empty. So it needs to be killed and restarted too. (This has been in bugzilla since November last year).

Software makes me sad sometimes.

Q: My application has a command-line option to use an SSL client certificate. What is the OpenSSL function to load and use the certificate from a file?

A: Well, we make this lots of fun for you — it would be boring if there was just one function which you could pass the filename to. You have to write 230 lines of code like this instead.... First you have to check for yourself what type of file it is — is it a PKCS#12 file, is it a PEM file with a key in it, or is it a TPM key 'blob'?

No, there's no function which determines that for you — you have to do it yourself. And depending on the answer, you have to do three entirely different things to load the key.

To make things even more fun, those three file types have wildly different ways to handle their passphrase/PIN:

  • For a PEM file, you can't tell OpenSSL the passphrase in advance — if the user gave it on the command line, you have to manually override the user interface function that OpenSSL will call, and make your replacement function return the pre-set passphrase. Or if you do ask the user, you've got no way to easily tell whether the user got the passphrase wrong; if they get it wrong (and type 4 or more characters) then the 'load key' function will fail and you have to compare against a special error code, which may differ from version to version of OpenSSL because it has internal function names. Just for variety, if the user enters a wrong passphrase with fewer than 4 characters, they'll get no feedback and will just be asked again immediately.

  • For a PKCS#12 file, it's the other way round — you have to give the passphrase in advance, so you have to ask the user for it yourself. Even if the file isn't actually encrypted — because you don't know that yet.

  • For a TPM key it's a bit saner — you can either set the PIN in advance or otherwise OpenSSL will ask the user for it if necessary. But you do have to jump through various other hoops to use the TPM 'engine', instead of just pointing OpenSSL at the file and having everything handled for you.

Excuse me while I bash my head against a brick wall for a while...

And no, the answer is not "don't use OpenSSL then".

At least, not until one of the potential replacements actually starts to catch up with the features I need — support for using a TPM for certificates, and DTLS support.

WTF? Case-sensitive, but not case-preserving...

Why are people so bloody clueless about email? I received this in snail mail from my bank today:

Account Number xxxxxxxx Sort Code xx-xx-xx
Your statement
Your statement for the above account, is ready to view by logging in to online banking at www.natwest.com.

Unfortunately, we have been unable to deliver this alert to you by email. This may be because the email address we hold for you (DAVID@WOODHOU.SE) is incorrect.

That has to be almost the most clueless bug report I've ever seen. It should have included at least some of:

  • Precise date and time of the latest delivery attempt
  • Sender's email address
  • Sending server IP address
  • Which MX host was being delivered to
  • The rejection message from the MX host

If I hadn't been running my own mail server, I'd have had no way to work out what happened — no ISP is going to go trawling through their logs looking for a needle in a haystack based on virtually nothing.

Since I do run my own, I was able to log into all the MX hosts for that domain, look through the historical mail logs on each of them and I happened to find their failed message among all the lots of other people trying to fake mail from NatWest:

2009-04-21 00:38:20 +0000 1Lw40C-0002sE-3D H=mailhost7a.rbs.com [] F=<OnlineBanking@Information.natwest.com> rejected after DATA: Your message lacks a Date: header, which RFC5322 says it MUST have.

Upon calling them to tell them of their problem, I was asked "who says our mails lack a Date: header?" and "who says that they should?".

After dealing with that, I left the first-line support person with three items to pass on to Nat West's technical team:

  1. The lack of Date: header on their outbound mail
  2. The uselessness of the letter they send when they can't deliver email
  3. The fact that they are converting email addresses to upper case, when localparts may well be case-sensitive
I wonder what the odds are of any of them actually getting fixed?

Maybe I should have added "you're sending outbound mail without GPG-signing it" as a fourth item? :)

26 Mar 2009 (updated 26 Mar 2009 at 08:55 UTC) »

Today is the third birthday of GNOME bug #336076, which I filed to report a particularly idiotic regression in Evolution's IMAP code. (Update: It looks like I also posted about it on Advogato, too.)

Instead of just issuing a simple STATUS command to check the status of each folder for new mail, Evolution started to actually open the folder, fetch the headers for all new mail in it, re-fetch the flags for all mail in it.... and it does this for every folder that it's checking (which, with bug #336074 still unfixed, is all folders — not just the active folders. So in my case it was continuously re-fetching the flags for years of archived mail in folders which are marked on the server as being inactive.)

This meant that it took Evolution two HOURS to start up that first time, when connected across the Internet. Even when I ran it on a local machine which was connected to the server by Gigabit Ethernet, it still took 23 minutes to start up; downloading half a gigabyte of mail before it was usable.

I don't know what's scarier — the fact that this utterly moronic regression got into the code base in the first place (what in fuck's name were they thinking?), or the fact that GNOME 2.26 went out last week with it still not fixed, three years later.

I've actually moved my older archived mail folders off to a separate server to work around bug #336074, and I've stopped checking for new mail in folders other than the INBOX to work around bug #336076, which is a PITA but is the only way to keep Evolution even vaguely usable — and it's still extremely bad over a slow connection, such as GPRS (or connecting home from China).

It's not just at startup, either. It goes off into the weeds frequently, doing this stuff in the "background" while I'm waiting for it to fetch the mail I just clicked on. Sometimes, I end up using pine to read my email while I'm waiting for Evolution to do whatever weird crack-inspired stuff it's doing with the IMAP server and start responding again.

I think it's about time that the choice of default mail client for GNOME was re-evaluated. Evolution seems to be mostly stagnant, and the changes that are being made seem to be entirely dubious. Version 2.24 was a significant regression in many ways. Evolution is definitely letting the side down.

This kind of post inevitably leads to people mailing suggestions for an alternative MUA. Changing MUAs is a painful process, but I think after the 2.24 release I've reached the point where I'm going to have to give up on Evolution. Things I really need from the MUA are:

  • Graphical folder 'tree' showing the number of new mails in each folder (currently broken/disabled in Evolution as described above).
  • Ability to reach mail server over ssh: ssh $MAILSERVER exec imapd
  • No mangling of outgoing or incoming patches
As far as I'm aware, the latter two requirements rule out Thunderbird. I think I'm going to try Sylpheed. Last time I did that, it would SEGV at startup, which quickly put me off — but I'm sure that's fixed now, and I've heard good things about it. Next alternative if I can't get on with that is probably kmail.

Whatever I use, it would also be nice if it handled the calendar stuff that the Outlook/Exchange weenies use — preferably with the calendar on the Exchange server, but just using its own calendar (as I do in Evolution) would be fine.

(Of course, Evolution being the steaming pile of crap that it is, it fucks up the calendaring too. It has its own idea of what the timezone is, perhaps because it thinks it might be in a different timezone to the rest of the system? So for someone who travels a lot and uses the calendar infrequently, it's fairly much guaranteed that a meeting will be displayed in some arbitrary, wrong, timezone. And just for fun, it stupidly displays the meeting times without any hint about the time zone. )

I finally got round to writing up some documentation on the greylisting setup that I use, and that we've been shipping in an exim-greylist package in Fedora for some time.

This setup avoids some of the common mistakes that greylisting implementations make, and tries hard to avoid delaying mail except where it's actually likely to be a benefit to you. Mostly, that means:

  • Remember which hosts actually do retry, and never delay mail from those hosts in future.
  • Only delay mails which actually look suspicious in some way; don't just delay everything blindly.
  • Avoid greylisting for hosts on the DNS Whitelist database.
It's amazing how many greylisting implementations miss all three of these fairly obvious points. I often see my outgoing mails being delayed due to greylisting, by hosts which I deliver mail to all the time. That's just stupid. They know it's going to be retried, so all they achieve is a delay on mail that they're going to accept later anyway.

I also see a lot of greylisting which happens at RCPT time, without even looking at the mail. I appreciate that some people claim that they don't want to use the extra bandwidth to actually look at the mail, or the extra CPU time. I think that's a very poor decision, if it means you're delaying mail that has absolutely nothing wrong with it. Bandwidth and CPU time on a mail host really shouldn't be an issue these days. Some people even do it at RCPT time when the sender is empty (a bounce), which means that sender verification also fails (temporarily) and they end up delaying their own outgoing mail.

Using dnswl.org is something I added quite recently, and also makes a lot of sense — if the host is registered as a known mail server, it's almost certain to retry the mail and therefore you gain nothing by greylisting except for a delay.

This greylisting is done purely in Exim's ACL configuration, which is quite versatile enough to handle it — there's no need to call out to external software at all. For storage, it uses an sqlite database, again using Exim's built-in capabilities rather than calling out to an external database server. (Thanks to Jeff Garzik for that bit; I used to use simple text files with a fairly evil hack to append to them, but he converted it to sqlite for me after I added sqlite support to Exim.)

It shouldn't shock me, I know, but...

Date: Tue, 13 Jan 2009 08:24:17 +0000
To: David Woodhouse <dwmw2@infradead.org>
Subject: Re: UK - United Kingdom (KMM81905425V35010L0KM)
From: Yahoo! UK & Ireland Login Support <uk-account@cc.yahoo-inc.com>
X-Bad-Reply: 'Re:' in Subject but no References or In-Reply-To headers

Hello David,

Thanks for writing to Yahoo! UKIE Customer Care.

In order for us to proceed, please reply to this email and provide us
with your desired new alternate email address. Please note that this
cannot be a Yahoo! Mail address.

We will then be able to update your account information.

We look forward to your reply.



Customer Care - Yahoo! UK & Ireland

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE: This email and any attachment is confidential
and may be legally privileged. It is intended for the named recipient

Original Message Follows:

On Sun, 2009-01-11 at 23:35 +0000, Yahoo! UK & Ireland Login Support wrote:
> Currently, we are unclear on exactly what it is you want done to your
> account. Please reply to this message with a more detailed explanation
> of what you need done.

Have you managed to find a competent adult to help you read my message
of January 8th?

Perhaps you could just refer them to
http://advogato.org/person/dwmw2/diary/197.html which has all the
required information.

To ensure that I'm talking to a real person rather than an automated
script, please include, but _paraphrase_, the following text in your
    "I understand that Yahoo's automatic reminder emails are broken,
     and we need to get our own technical people to fix the system."



Today 14:11:31

Cleared CLEARED 00 - GPMS case has been cleared
Today 14:09:03

BT 15 - Previous notes confirm the fault is due to overhead cable damage. So please book appointment via usual interaction with BTW for the further investigation in the customer premises

OK, we believe it's overhead cable damage. So... why are you clearing the fault? Just another fraudulent attempt to stop the timer from counting up and avoid having to pay the correct amount of compensation, presumably?

And why in hell do you want us to book an appointment so you can investigate in my premises? There are no BT overhead cables running through my house, I assure you!

I've seen the cable which is probably at fault. It's here. A fracture in the cable could probably explain the crackling I hear when I make an analogue call, and the other strange effects like the fact that the DSL often drops as soon as I pick up the handset.

What confuses me, though, is that BT closed this section of road a month ago, in order to put new copper in to provide a second line to my house — a second line which I've been waiting for since October. But they didn't notice and fix this problem, and they're still claiming that there are NO SPARE PAIRS in this section of the route! How in hell does that work? What were they doing when they closed the road, in that case?

Fucking Useless Telco.

My DSL line has been unusably slow and unreliable since around mid-November, and BT's responses in the fault ticket are, as usual, varying between the stonkingly incompetent, the dishonest, and the outright fraudulent.

They claim to have sent an 'external engineer' on January 3rd, who claims to have tested the line and reported it OK... despite the fact that we were in France skiing on the 3rd, and the line was connected at a speed below the Fault Threshold Rate all of that day, until the evening.

They seem to be referring to this alleged visit as "Chargeable" despite the fact that we clearly did not ask for their "Special Faults Investigation" service, so it would be a violation of the Unsolicited Goods and Services Act 1971. And despite the fact that the charge is for "repair activity beyond the NTE", and they would have to have broken into my house to do any of that in my absence.

They keep clearing the ticket with idiotic claims such as "EU Equipment/settings/drivers believed incorrect" despite the fact that they've been here (on a previous occasion when I was actually present) and checked it all.

They seem to have learned another trick recently, to fraudulently avoid the 'Service Level Guarantee' clock counting up and having to pay compensation for the extended failure. They've taken to reassigning the ticket back to us, telling us to wait for the BRAS profile to change. But the BRAS profile is just a reflection of the state of the line, limiting IP traffic so that we don't saturate the ATM link. So effectively they were saying "we won't bother with this until the problem magically fixes itself... and we're not letting the fault timer count up while we wait, either".

They also tried arbitrary delays — clearing the ticket with "GPMS notes state that the line is not stable so case needs to be slept for 8 hours. So setting a sleeper for remaining time.". As if another 8 hours is going to make a difference when the line has been buggered since mid-November.

They closed the previous ticket outright, even though the line was still dropping, so this particular ticket has only been open since December 30th — but BT's blatant fraud means that they've only just admitted to exceeding the 40-hour Service Level Guarantee, almost two weeks later.

As usual, it's quite scary reading the fault ticket. The responses from the BT side seem completely nonsensical at times, as if they haven't even bothered looking at the fault history. They've even cleared the ticket reporting that the line is in sync, while it's clearly connected at a rate below the fault threshold. They repeat themselves and almost never seem to respond directly and coherently to anything — neither the direct questions and statements in the ticket, nor the facts of the case. It's difficult to understand how anyone could be so massively incompetent.

I sincerely believe that British Telecom is too incompetent and dishonest to be permitted to hold the monopoly position it does. A huge number of people have no choice but to deal with them, and the watchdog is notoriously toothless.

I fantasise that the government will realise this and issue a compulsory purchase order to re-nationalise the infrastructure which connects British homes, then allow the existing British Telecom to go bankrupt. They seem to be completely beyond help.

I don't know what would happen to the infrastructure after this — I normally wake up at this point. But whether it remains nationalised or whether it's sold to someone else, it couldn't possibly be as bad as British Telecom.

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