Monthly Archives: July 2020

Tech support call

Earlier today, I fielded a tech support call from a relative. They’d been forced to sign up to one of my least favourite things, a “customer portal” which is clearly a better and more secure way of fetching documents than having them e-mailed.

“I signed up but now it won’t accept my e-mail address and password!”

Watching them via TeamViewer, it became apparent that the relative was doing that classic “civilian” thing of Googling for “CompanyName login” rather than remembering or using a bookmark for the portal’s login page.

And what was the top hit on Google for this particular company’s name with “login” after it?

The WordPress login page for the back end of their website. Branded similarly, it looked close enough to the actual portal login page to confuse.

Car insurance

Occasionally, when having a few pints with my team after work, we talk about all the things we’ll build when we’ve made our fortune and are just doing software development for fun. A decent network file system, a good e-mail client (yes, I have read the book about the years spent developing Chandler), holiday and HR tracking that doesn’t totally suck, …

I think it’s time to start dreaming about branching out and reforming other industries, though. Last week, I got an e-mail saying my car insurance was due to renew. It quoted me fifty quid more than last time, which seemed like a suitable slap in the face for another accident-free year.

So I spent twenty minutes of my life typing details into the two big price comparison websites, plus the one big independent insurer who won’t participate in them, and eventually found it cheaper somewhere else. So I purchased it.

I then phoned my existing insurer to cancel (because their website is completely broken and won’t let me log in) and got offered a matching price.

Gaaaaaaaaaaaah.

I told them as politely as I could manage to jog on. Having wasted all that time shopping around, I’m stuffed if I’m going to play their game.

We desperately need an insurer with the balls to offer people their best price in the automated renewal. Yes, I don’t doubt that there is a nice profit to be made from the nine out of ten people who lack the time or energy to argue with an automatic renewal for a slightly higher price, but surely there’s an alternative profit to be pursued from customer loyalty?

I’ll let you know when I raise some venture capital and found the above.

SFP for the Mikrotik

My Mikrotik router continues to Just Work. Unfortunately, it has five ethernet ports and I have six things I want to connect to it. So to get that one extra port, I’ve had an old 24-port switch (which I had lying around) sitting in the cupboard, sucking up power and generating heat for the sake of tying three ports together.

No longer!

SFP module providing a sixth ethernet port

As you can see in the picture, I’ve taken advantage of the Mikrotik’s SFP slot to insert a module which provides one more copper ethernet port. SFP is more normally used to provide fibre interfaces, but you can use it for normal gigabit ethernet too.

I first tried this some years ago, procuring the cheapest copper ethernet SFP module I could find (I think it was made by Cisco). Unfortunately this particular standard isn’t very, and it didn’t work. So I eventually gave in and bought one made by Mikrotik themselves. This plugged straight in and provides 1Gbps to my NAS. So the 24 port switch is finally retired and things are a bit less toasty in the cupboard.

Advanced Installer

If you need to produce a Windows installer for your software, my advice would be to forget the ancient NSIS, bypass the disappointment of WiX (yes, it’s free, but it requires a lot more work for the same results in my opinion), prise open your corporate wallet and spring for Advanced Installer.

The pricing is somewhat robust, especially if you want the editions which will do things like IIS setup, but the reason they can charge that much is that it Just Works. Typically, an installer is something you’ll spend a couple of weeks setting up and integrating with your continuous integration, and then you won’t touch it from one year to the next after that.

This being the case, having a comprehensive UI for modifying it is much much better than faffing about writing “code” or XML which you’ve forgotten all the details for by the time you next touch it. To be clear, though, Advanced Installer does produce plain-text files which you can check in to version control and then feed to its command-line mode to build yourself an MSI or an EXE.