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Royal Mail’s rip-off customs charges

Last month I ordered a few t-shirts from Threadless, a store which gets normal people to design t-shirts and pays them if they appear on the store. Some of the designs are excellent so I decided to order four. I had them delievered to the UK (Threadless are an American company), knowing full well that I would most probably have to pay import duty. Considering the whole order was around $38 I expected maybe £5 on import duty.

Fast forward a month and I get a slip through my door from Royal Mail saying that I have to go to the local Post Office to pick up a package and pay almost £13 for it. That stunned me a little but what was I going to do, leave my purchase until it got returned to the US?

A Royal rip-off

A Royal rip-off

So I went and I paid. What really pissed me off was that out of the £13 or so quid, £8 was a Royal Mail “handling charge“. What the hell is the postage charge for then? The duty was as I had expected, around the £5 mark (below actually) but this handling charge simply takes the biscuit.

Not only did it take Royal Mail a month to deliver the item (Threadless posted it two days after my order) but according to this most of the delay was when it arrived on the UK side (big surprise). I understand that there were strikes due to lazy postmen/postwomen asking to safeguard their basic jobs (why not deal with it like everyone else and try and get qualified or be pushed out?) but the charge was wholly disgraceful. Lets hope the strikes helped the other courier firms gain more of a foothold in the industry. More competition is needed because Royal Mail is simply a disgrace to the nation.

Expansys’ poor (non-existant) packaging

Expansys, a large mobile phone seller is a company that I’ve recommended to many – though most baulk at the thought of dropping 200 quid or more on a unsubsidised phone. In the past I’ve heard back from those I recommended Expansys to with nothing but compliments so when it came to me ordering a phone (for my father) I went over there straight away.

After my father made his decision (which took longer than one would think) the Nokia 6110i was ordered and delivery was very prompt, within one working day. No complaints so far. Until my father opened the CityLink pack which held the phone. This is what he was greeted with.

In the flesh it’s much worse, with the box torn and essentially falling apart. I have no doubt that when it left Expansys the box was in perfect condition, but why on Earth would you ship it in what is a plastic bag with no cushioning/padding? Even a couple of layers of bubble wrap would have been fine.

My father was extremely angry and phoned Expansys within five minutes of taking delivery and the RMA procedure has been started. Lets hope it goes smoothly (you’ll certainly hear about it if it doesn’t).

All in all I’m very disappointed with Expansys because spending an extra Pound on some bubble wrap would save all this hassle.

Off season prices

As I look to book my hotel for the 2010 CES show in Las Vegas, it striked me that it’s a relatively affordable place to stay – if you go on off season when there are no massive conventions/conferences. Where else would you get 5* luxury for around £100/night? The rest of the place may not be so cheap but hotel rooms aren’t too bad if you want to go.

However as is common hotels ramp up prices when you really need to be there (i.e. not just for a jolly). So gone are the £100 luxury and incomes £100 for garbage, dirty rooms. Much as I would love to blame the hotelliers in Vegas it’s even more common here in Europe, especially in Germany where once I paid around £300/night for a room during CeBit which, according to the little slip you find on the back of hotel room doors or wardrobes was supposed to rent for £65/night. Disgusting. There should really be laws against this, especially by local authorities who get a boost to their economy from the extra numbers who fly from all corners of the globe to be in their town.

As for Vegas, sadly the luxury of the Wynn experienced in August will be a distant memory with the nightmares of Circus Circus more likely.

Low profile ATI 4350 video card

Recently I’ve been looking into reducing the size of my home theatre PC (HTPC) underneath the telly. The problem is I used a standard case which although is very nice (a somewhat limited edition Coolermaster ATCS all aluminium jobby from 2002) it was still pretty “thick” when on its side.

So I looked around for a proper HTPC case (basically the old “desktop/professional” cases from back in the 90s). I came across a nice Lian Li which too was all aluminium. The best thing about this case, aside from being only 93mm high is that it could accommodate a standard ATX power supply (although only a mATX motherboard). That’s fine my motherboard is mATX and most HTPC orientated motherboards are these days. The problem came with the fact that instead of using riser cards to mount the PCI and PCI Express cards horizontally, it kept them vertical but required them to be “low profile“.

Currently I use a passively cooled ATI 4350 (made by Asus) which has HDMI out (along with the standard outputs). It’s absolutely perfect. I don’t decode Blu-Ray but it can also handle that, should it be required. The whole thing worked like a treat, no problems with audio through HDMI at all. So I just wanted a low profile version of that card which was passively cooled. A quick look around and I found that XFX made a passive 4350 whch was low profile and came with the low profile bracket (normal sized bracket is also included).

The perfect HTPC card

The perfect HTPC card

If you use the full height bracket then you can use the D-Sub output but for me this was just what I needed and all for £29.

These days however most motherboards have excellent onboard graphics for this kind of stuff and if I was to build a whole new system I certainly would stick with onboard (HDMI out is quite common too) but for those with slightly older systems or machines which don’t have mATX motherboards and want a card for HTPCs, the XFX HD 4350 is perfect.

How I transferred away from Jumpdomain

Note: I posted this on 22 June but due to my server having some serious issues posts between May and July were wiped. Thankfully I managed to find a google cache of it. Since this may be of help to people stranded with Jumpdomain’s rubbish service I decided to repost. Below is my original post, unchanged.

— Original post —

Chances are you found this post through some search engine and you already have domains with Jumpdomain and are worried about not being able to get away from this useless company. Well, all is not lost and this is how I managed to get away from Jumpdomain. The first thing you should know (if you don’t already) is that DON’T use Jumpdomain. There are other registrars at similar prices who actually provide customer service. I repeat (in bold but this really should be shouted) DON’T USE JUMPDOMAIN. First here’s some background – scroll down if you just want to find out how I left them.

Background/history

I originally found out about Jumpdomain through a Web hosts’ forum (I won’t advertise them as they too are rubbish). Anyhow I registered around 30 domains with Jumpdomain from 1999-2000 and some weren’t important and I let expire. After 2001 I found another registrar (an actual registrar not a reseller like Jumpdomain) called Joker and since then I have been using them. I transferred most of my domains over but I still had three (all important ones) at Jumpdomain. In the last decade (less actually) ICANN started a policy of registrars having to issue EPP/Auth codes before the domain can be transferred away. That’s fine but your code must be given by your current registrar. This is where Jumpdomain comes to the rescue (or rather to kick you over the cliff).

The problem is Jumpdomain is a one man operation which used to be run by Scott A. Ison. I say used because one day (sometime after 2005 as I did get a tiny bit of support from him in mid 2005) he decided it would be better to leave it to the professionals and thought it would be okay to leave hundreds (maybe thousands?) of people in the lurch by not caring to do any work for his fees. Of course he is a lawyer so this would come second nature to him. I should just say I have nothing against one man operations, many sole traders do a good honest days work and provide excellent service/products, however it is people like Mr Ison who give everyone a bad name.

So when you ask for an EPP code he doesn’t reply. I’ve read stories (easily found through Google) of people having their domains expire because of this moron. Thankfully I had months left before mine expired but nevertheless I wanted out from this “operation”. So when I requested for my EPP/auth code, I of course got nothing back from him. ICANN rules say that the registrar must give the code within four days of initial request. There is no real support email address just a ticket system which he ignores. Apparently there is a telephone number but that isn’t answered. However you could try this law offices, here’s the website. Just take it as a given that you won’t hear from Scott in those four days (or four decades). So this is what I did to get away from this guy.

The getaway

I’m assuming you’ve tried to contact Scott but got no where. So here’s what I did. Jumpdomain are a reseller for eNom and eNom are surprisingly helpful.

1) Go to eNom Central and create an account – it will ask you for your credit card details but these are optional, leave them blank (unless you want to use eNom as your registrar but be warned they are expensive)

2) Use this form to contact eNom – they will probably ask you for your eNom Central login or include it in your initial correspondance saying you want it transferred to this account (which is what they will offer to do) – it’s free.

3) eNom are very good in giving out the EPP codes – it’s one click on their control panel and then you get an email within a few minutes. I then used this to transfer all my domains to Joker (ironic really as Jumpdomain are the jokers in this tale of woe).

If you really want to give Mr Ison a piece of your mind then here are his contact details from his website (I doubt you will get to speak to him though):

1200 NW Jefferson Court
Blue Springs , MO 64015
Phone: (816) 295-0444
Fax: (816) 295-0445
E-Mail: info@kclawyer.com

The most important thing is to get hold of eNom as quickly as possible. They aren’t too bad in my (limited) experience and certainly better than Jumpdomain/Scott Ison. I hope you have luck in moving your domains over.

To summarise, don’t use Jumpdomain. Don’t register with them and certainly don’t even think about hosting with them. I also believe eNom should automatically take all the domains he resold under their control – if you contact them, mention this point as why should this greedy lawyer get money for doing nothing and putting your brand/domain/whatever at risk because he wants to earn money while sleeping.

Anyhow I’m happy my domains are with a company who have been excellent for the past seven years and if you want me to recommend you a registrar, Joker.com is the one I use.

Great engineering

It’s always interesting to see how companies meet their challenges. Of course most don’t give their trade secrets away but “cloud” storage provider, Backblaze have a requirement for petabytes of storage on the cheap and they wrote how they did it. The cool thing is they used mostly off the shelf stuff – only the case is custom designed and it came out cheaper than everyone else. Of course we won’t know the failure rate of these boxes but I’m sure it can’t be too much worse than what other big providers such as Google or Amazon have.

New file server

In the quest to keep up with my file serving needs here at Crapple HQ I’ve very recently looked to upgrade our current storage solution. The problem isn’t performance, in fact quite the contrary. It’s the requirement of space, especially to hold high quality (and more increasingly high definition) video. Also because I’m paranoid, mirroring of this data. In the past what we had is two servers which mirrored each other and were located in different parts of the HQ (offsite backup is something I’m considering for particularly sensitive stuff).

Anyhow before it would be a big server doing all the main file serving duties (documents, music, books) and my Qnap linux box serving video files from a 3x 1Tb RAID 5 array and doing backup duties for the other stuff. I figured that videos can be re-acquired and mirroring such amounts of data would just be too expensive, so a RAID 5 would suffice (RAID 6 would be better but I only had three slots free on the Qnap 409.

Now what I’ve done is move the video duties from the Qnap to the main server, but not before I upgraded the disk subsystem on that machine. Gone are the 10,000 RPM drives in favour of four 2.5″ SAS drives (connected to a Dell Perc 6 controller). The OS sits on an old 10,000 RPM WD Raptor 36Gb drive (I know, it’s not a very good drive but it’s fast and reliable). I’ve also put two 750Gb WD 7200 RPM drives in there for a network “public” share (patches/configuration stuff). Currently it’s in RAID 0 as part of the migration but that will be changed to RAID 1. The video array has now been expanded.

Previously the three 1Tb drives were as follows: 2x Western Digital Green Power units and 1x Samsung F1. I’ve had terrible reliability problems with the F1, two out of three failed. Granted it’s not a big sample size but I don’t want to take my chances. So to compliment the two WD drives I bought three more of the newer WD Green Power units with 32MB cache and 333Gb platters. In the end it tops out at around 3.8Tb after journaling and redunancy – over double what I had before. The best thing is that I managed to source an ICY DOCK 5 port hot swap bay which makes the thing easy as pie to maintain.

So all in all, Jimbob, has the following disk subsystem.

2x 146Gb 10,000 RPM SAS (RAID 0) for Photos
2x 73Gb 10,000 RPM SAS (RAID 0) for Documents and music
2x 750Gb 7,200 RPM SATA (RAID 0) for public network files
5x 1Tb 5,400 RPM SATA (RAID 5) for videos
1x 36Gb 10,000 RPM SATA for OS

The photos and documents shares are in RAID 0 because every 10 minutes they get backed up remotely to a RAID 5 array (in the Qnap). We just don’t change files too much for this to be a problem. The Qnap will have 3x WD 500Gb RE2 7,200 RPM SATA disks giving around 1Tb of storage.

Overall I’m quite happy with everything so far, lets hope the WD Green Power drives work well as the power savings are something that I am looking forward to embracing (being green ‘n all).

The birth of a new Cheetah

Or rather fresh out of hospital. Last week I sent my broken Seagate Cheetah 10.7 drive back to Seagate and mentioned how surprised I was to get an email back within a few hours of it being delivered to their UK offices saying my replacement drive has been shipped.

Today that drive arrived by DHL. Seagate’s policy is not to replace broken drives with brand new ones (that would be too nice) but instead replace them with ones they have repaired. I don’t mind too much as these units will be used in a RAID 5 array or on a workstation where no important data resides. Nevertheless the turnaround was quick and I’m a happy chappie.

Yesterday I took delivery of three Fujitsu 10,000 RPM drives from the MAP series (Fujitsu used to use the MA<letter> terminology, so the last 10,000 RPM SCSI drives from them were the MAW units). These drives are brand new but they were made about five years ago, and judging by the noise they make (compared to the MAW drives in my workstation) they don’t use fluid dynamic bearings inside. Nevertheless for a server (which is what I am going to use these on), the MAP drives are perfect – 280GB of RAID 5 goodness!

Also a final note, Intel’s X25 SSD units are coming down and are currently at the £300 inc VAT for the X25-M 80GB model. Once these units go below £200 there will be very few reasons not to use these drives in your workstation alongside a traditional hard drive for all your dodgy stuff.

Seagate return policies

Recently I was going through a load of my old hard drives and came across a fairly new Seagate Cheetah 10,000 RPM SCSI disk drive. The unit was a 10.7 so it’s not terribly old and certainly within the five year warranty. Upon plugging it into one of the (older) Adaptec 29160 adaptors I had lying around, it simply wouldn’t be recognised. I checked the cable but other drives came up just fine. I then checked if it had a termination jumper somewhere that was closed but nope. It looks like this would be the first Seagate SCSI drive to ever fail on me (I pretty much only use Seagate Cheetahs, although I have some Fujitsu drives which are quite quiet and have been reliable for the past two years).

I typically wouldn’t bother with hard drive replacements because they are refurbished units and the whole procedure takes too long and costs too much. However I must commend Seagate, their automated system is very good. Login through their website, book the drive (you only need to have your serial and part numbers) and send it off.

I sent it off yesterday with Royal Mail Special Delivery and got a reply this afternoon saying my replacement drive has been shipped. Good stuff. I wasn’t in such a hurry as this drive wasn’t part of an array but it’s nice to see fast service.

This could be because it’s one of their premium SCSI units as opposed to their PATA/SATA drives, but nevertheless it’s good to see the World’s largest HDD maker perform when things don’t go so well.

Tight fit!

Yesterday I wrote about a chipset heatsink I bought for an upcoming 975X motherboard. Well that motherboard arrived today (38 quid off eBay, such a bargain) so I got on with installing the heatsink.

Thermalright provide enough bits and pieces, including three mounts for those that use studs to hold down the cooling device and one for those that have hooks/clips on their motherboard. I had the latter. The cable ties are to hold a fan in place (not exactly the most elegant solution but I have no doubt it will work).

The whole thing was easy enough but if your motherboard uses clips rather than studs to hold down the chipset cooler then the HR-05 heatsink will probably cause problems with your CPU cooler (as you can see in the third picture). Add a fan to this cooler (why would you?) and then you have further issues. As to why they had to set the clasp do that the cooler will be at this odd angle is beyond me.

For me it wasn’t a problem because I’m going to use watercooling but if you are considering purchasing the HR-05 then I would suggest two things:-

  1. Try to use this only when you have studs to hold down the heatsink
  2. Make sure your CPU heatsink fits with this thing on – if you have one which uses a 120mm fan on the same plane as the motherboard, it most probably won’t.

Chipset heatsink

I recently purchased an used motherboard off eBay which came with a fan to cool the chipset. This is quite frankly rubbish as it will eventually fan and before it does so, it will make a load of noise and shift a lot of dust. So I purchased this rather nifty heatsink for the 975 chipset. It’s made by Thermalright and is aluminium. I

Check out the fins!

Check out the fins!

Hopefully installation should be easy enough – though I fear for one of my passively cooled video cards which has a massive heatsink on the back. More pictures will follow upon installation!

New power supply unit

I recently built a machine to replace my current workstation with components I had lying around. The only thing I needed to purchase was a new motherboard as the two units I had in the lab were less than reliable. The machine itself isn’t cutting edge but it is fast enough, being comprised of the following items:

Intel QX6700 quad core processor (underclocked to 2.0GHz)
4GB PC6400 Corsair DDR2 RAM
1 15,000 RPM Maxtor Atlas 15KIII 36GB hard drive (for operating system and applications)
1 10,000 RPM Seagate Cheetah 10.7 36GB hard drive (for swap)
256MB MSI Geforce 8600 GT passively cooled

The whole thing is watercooled using an old but trusty Zalman Reserator cooling system. The power supply I had knocking about was an 850W Hiper Power unit which looks stunning and kept the machine stable. However it had two fans and produced quite a noise so I decided to replace it. My first choice for PSUs is Seasonic however the store down the road didn’t have them so I went for this Corsair TX650 (650W) unit which is actually made by Seasonic. It’s had good reviews and is quiet so I’m going to nip home and install it. I can’t wait 🙂

The silent workhorse

The silent workhorse

Why?

It really pisses me off when people think it is a good idea to put their certifications in the signature of their email. Why? Are you that desperate to show you know something that you need to put a few letters on the bottom of your email in order to make you look like a prat?

What’s worse is the addition of “Honours” – all bloody degrees these days are Honours degrees. The chances are if you need to tell someone your qualifications you aren’t going to do it in the signature of your email. Stop being pretentious and thinking that because you have a degree you are somewhat better than the person receiving the email.

Securely deleting hard drive data

As part of clearing out my lab, I had a large amount of hard disk drives which are now too old ( >5 years) to be used in any production server. Although these drives work and have been through a tough life (being on 24/7 in a server environment) they really did well. I must commend Western Digital and certainly will continue to use their units in the future.

However I wanted to donate these drives but before I did that data had to be wiped off them, properly. Hitting delete after selecting a file or folder in Windows Explorer or OSX’s Finder doesn’t really delete files – it merely allows them to be overwritten at a future date. Initially I thought about going the more interesting route. That is to say use brute force but these drives are very well made. After five minutes of constant beating with a hammer this was the result.

Hard drive meets hammer

Hard drive meets hammer

This was a 120GB hard drive with two platters, the second platter is still very recoverable (granted you’ll have to go to a data recovery specialist) but it’s certainly do-able.

A much better way is to use one of these two programmes. Eraser is a very easy to use Windows program that will erase files, folders or a whole partition. Depending on your level of paranoia it can do 1-33 passes. The US Department of Defence standard is 7 passes. Nevertheless expect this to take a VERY long time. Another program which is actually a Linux LiveCD is DBAN. Both are excellent at what they do. I had a Windows machine ready to go so I used Eraser but both work well.

At this time I’m still on my first hard drive, about 30% done after around five hours of erasing. I’ve got 10 or so hard drives to go but at least I can give them away knowing that nothing will be salvaged in the future.

iMac screen found!

You may remember (although I’m sure you have more important things to do) that I ended up with an Apple iMac which had its screen hit with a hammer. Utilising the external display output I managed to get OS X setup dilly dandy and everything was fine. Except one of the fans would shoot to full speed and stay that way.

After asking a “Genius” why this was happening, he said that it was because one of the fan sensors was not connected. True enough there is a fan sensor built into the screen, which I threw away. The nub of the matter? If I wanted the fans to be quieter I would need to fit a screen.

So hunting around eBay I finally found a seller who has a fair few of these screens in stock (with different batch numbers too). The only problem is that this seller is in Washington State. So I’ve purchased the screen and had it sent to my potte in Boston who hopefully will Fedex it here onto London sometime in the next month. I can’t wait – finally a working iMac!