Posts Tagged ‘XML’

Companies House Electronic Filing Problems Part 1 – Introduction

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010
This entry is part of a series, Companies House Problems»

I’ve been doing a fair amount of work over the years for a limited company formation agent and unfortunately, this has meant dealing with Companies House.  I’ve not really had much other work where I’ve had to interact with government systems, but I think that, to put it politely, working with Companies House on a technical level has its own unique challenges.

Before I go into too much detail, why am I posting this?  I guess mostly it is because this is my blog and it seems like a good place to vent frustration, but there is also an element that I hope it may help some other people, whether working on similar systems that integrate with Companies House, other government agencies or just other systems that might have similar issues.

If you don’t feel that it is useful then by all means, please feel free to ignore this series of posts – no one is forcing you to read it!

As a bit of background, Companies House is the government agency responsible for forming and maintaining the records for companies, including (and mostly) limited companies in various different forms.  My client is a company formation agent, which means that they deal with forming companies, providing suitable documents for the constitution of the company called memorandum and articles or M&As for short (there are standard ones, but they have all sorts of legal problems) and providing advice about forming companies.  They also have a list of “off the shelf”/”pre-made” company names – companies that they have already set up and are ready for someone to buy and trade with immediately.

As well as all this, they provide a number of other services, mostly targeted towards accountants.  I’m not really going to go into much detail about these, because they don’t involve working with Companies House and that is the topic of this series of posts.

From a technical point of view, it all started quite a number of years back (I forget when exactly), when Companies House started accepting incorporations electronically.  This was done via a rather bizarre system of us sending and receiving emails with numbered tags in to pass the data back and forwards.  This was subject to all sorts of problems and was not very human readable (when the problems happened to try to debug them), so Companies House eventually decided to replace their quirky tag-by-email system with a more modern system of POSTing XML data to a gateway using HTTPS.  They even elected to use the government standard GovTalk encapsulating envelope system to standardise the communications.

Anyway, that’s the brief background – I’ll post some more detail in future posts.

Entries in this series:
  1. Companies House Electronic Filing Problems Part 1 - Introduction
  2. Companies House Electronic Filing Problems - recent annoyances
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Electricity Monitoring Part 1

Thursday, April 15th, 2010
This entry is part of a series, Electricity Monitoring»

This is a rather different topic to my usual posts.   A few weeks ago, I invested in an electricity monitor.  In case you haven’t come across them, they are little devices which monitor your electricity usage and display useful information, such as your current and historical usage.  Because I am a programmer, I did a bit of research to find one that I could access the data on and ended up with a Current Cost ENVI-CC128, although I did also need to get the USB Data Cable to connect it to my PC.

I was quite impressed with how easy it is to connect the transmitter (it just hooks around a specific cable going into the electicity meter (you can get extra transmitters – it can take up to three if you’ve got a 3 phase supply or multiple meters)).  The USB cable has practically no documentation though, other than a little information on Current Cost’s website and a total lack of understanding what I was asking for from their technical support people, which is a little odd, considering that they don’t actually supply any software with it themselves – you have to find it yourself or write some.

I worked out fairly quickly (with a little help from Googling other people’s experiences with the CC128) that the USB connection works as a simulated serial port which spews XML out when it receives a reading from the transmitter (usually every 6 seconds).  It also spews out totals every hour, but I haven’t bothered with those yet as I have a machine running the whole time, so I am currently just logging the readings to an SQL Server database as they happen.

I’ve also written a nice little program using ComponentOne’s charting component (C1Chart) so that I can specify a date/time range and get a graph of usage, either by individual reading or grouped by minute, hour, day, month or year (eventually!).  This has provided me with all sorts of interesting information, and given me a good picture of our electricity usage.

Entries in this series:
  1. Electricity Monitoring Part 1
  2. Electricity Monitoring Part 2
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