Friday, 6 March 2015

Pay by Phone - Convenient? Not even close.

There is only one thing that is supposedly convenient about paying by phone - if you don't have change for a parking machine, it isn't a problem! Well it is and Pay by Phone UK's system is extremely poor. Honestly, it would have been quicker for me to get change from a shop.

Over 6 minutes it took me to park my car! 6 minutes! Granted, I could have downloaded an app but since I rarely park in council car parks (I don't own a car), this seems way too presumptive for a one-off kind of situation.

So what takes 6 minutes? The information they need is 1) The car reg, 2) The duration of the stay, 3) The code for the car park and 4) Payment information.

The call went something like this:


  • Welcome to blah blah blah
  • A load of uninteresting messages about apps and web sites which were of no interest
  • Please enter the car park code [enters code]
  • Are you parking registration X? [No]
  • Are you parking registration Y? [No]
  • Please enter your PIN or the last 4 digits of your card to change the registration number [Tries card numbers even though I know the card number has changed since I last used it] [Tries likely PIN number and it seems to work but who knows]
  • (Goes through to operator - broken phone line sounds like they are on a mobile somewhere but likely just in India)
  • Hello sir can I take your new registration etc. (All takes about a minute because of the phone line)
  • Shall I delete the other registration numbers? [Yes, and this one is a hire car so no point saving that either]
  • Thankyou, I'll now return you to the automated system
  • Please enter the car park code (Hang on, didn't I already do this?) [enters code]
  • Are you parking registration Z? [Yes]
  • Please enter the duration of your stay [2]
  • This will cost you 2.40 + 20p service charge (A bloody service charge! They should be paying me)
  • To pay with card 1234, please press 1 or to pay with another, press 2 [2]
  • Enter your card number [enters card number]
  • Enter expiry month [enters month]
  • Enter expiry year [enters year]
  • You have chosen car park xyz, do you want to change it (What the hell?) [NO]
  • You are parking reg Z, do you want to [NO I bloody don't]
  • You are paying 2.40, to confirm please enter the last 3 digits on the card or hang up to cancel (Seriously, I'm thinking of giving up going to the pub and just leaving now) [Enters 3 digits]
  • Your car is parked, goodbye.
So the process is mostly horrific. It has been built on a whole pile of assumptions, mostly that you don't change car very often and your payment method is unlikely to change, both of which are not useful for anyone like me who hires cars or anyone who has access to about 20 vehicles and doesn't want to page through 2 hours of asking which reg, rather than letting the user enter it using their key pad. They are assuming that you will automatically want to download an app and they take through a part of the journey that you will need to repeat if you come a cropper at any point. All of these are very poor and the people who designed this should be ashamed of themselves wasting our time. Rather than feeling excited about the convenience of this system it has left me with a single goal.

I will never, ever go to one of their car parks without change again!

Just to cap it off, I decided to click their feedback form on their website to complain and rather than a standard email form, you get a survey with a whole raft of questions, many of which are not relevant but which do not have an N/A option. Shame on them for not allowing people to feedback easily!

SSL sites stop working on Apache after upgrade from Ubuntu 12.04 to 14.04

Well this was messy! I ran do-release-upgrade on a server running 12.04 and after it finished and rebooted, the ssl sites wouldn't work. I got err_ssl_protocol_error in Chrome when trying to access the sites.

Since Apache is really popular, there are LOADS of articles about how to set up SSL and what can go wrong etc. and since I didn't really know what had happened, I tried/checked various things.


  1. Was apache running on port 443?
  2. Could I access the site with open ssl to check the cert? No, the suggested command line errored!
  3. Was the config OK? I thought it was because i ran config test and it succeeded.
  4. Did port 80/http work? When I copied in the config from default-ssl.conf into 000-default.conf, firstly I got some config errors (needed to have all +/- and not just some) and port 80/http worked fine.
  5. Were all my conf files named *.conf? (it used to take everything from mods and conf-enabled but now only those with *.conf). Mine were already called *.conf
  6. Did the ssl conf file match the version that dpkg kindly dumped in the directory during the upgrade? Yep, pretty much except for changes I had made for my server.
  7. Could I use wget locally to see anything useful? I got a 404 when using http and port 443 and an ssl error when using https and 443 so no clue there.
  8. Was there some weird protocol issue going on? Well apparently larger TLS 1.2 headers can cause problems on some proxies and possibly my site was now insisting on something too new/too old. I modified default-ssl.conf to set SSLProtocol to All -SSLv2 -SSLv3 and tried again - no dice but at least the site was stronger!
I was pulling what little is left of my hair out until I found another post with another simpler answer:

sudo a2ensite default-ssl

It worked! Simple as that. Why wasn't this already set from before the upgrade? No idea but it is also why its config was incorrect but not showing up as an error when starting apache. I should have looked into sites-enabled but I didn't think to since the original files are in sites-available.

Aaarrgghhh but on the other hand - phew!