Sunday, 4 December 2016

Shopping around.

I was tasked to purchase a Christmas present for grandson.1, a "Toys 'R US Fast Lane Radio Control FLX Nano Drone". I don't think he reads my blog yet, so it's safe to reveal this. So I went to the Toys 'R US web site, £29.99, plus £2.95 delivery.

Then I went to Ebay. Same thing, £19.99, plus £2.95 delivery.

And the funny thing is, that's also from Toys 'R US!

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Brexit means ...

David Davis is the "Brexit secretary". He's said that we might be willing to pay the EU to get access to the single market. I'm guessing £350 million per week?

Boris Johnson, our Foreign Minister, has said that he supports freedom of movement (although he said that it isn't government policy).

So all we need now is harmonisation of regulations (already in place) and free movement of capital. And then we can leave the EU while keeping all the advantages of membership.

Truly, Brexit means ... um?

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Lunch at Reubens

Every two years, the class of 1959, Grocers Company School, get together for a reunion. This reunion celebrated 50 years since we all left school. Of the original 105 children, 20 elderly men came to the lunch.

I had chopped liver, salt beef with latkes followed by lockshen pudding and coffee, with a bottle of wine to help it along. The talk was a mixture of catch-up on "what I did after school", "where is he now" and current events; it was an excellent lunch, and we're all grateful to the organisers.

I discovered something that I'm amazed I didn't know. I had thought that I was the only person in my year to go to Cambridge - I was wrong. Laurence Moody (a second cousin of Ron Moody) did English at Jesus. But A) at school we mathematicians, who regarded ourselves as la creme de la creme, didn't mix with the arts types, B) he was at a different college and C) there was no Jewish Society, although I'm not sure I'd have joined if there had been.

A great day out!

Saturday, 26 November 2016

The nativity play

I don't think I've ever been to a Nativity before, although ladysolly thinks I must have. I have a poor memory, so maybe she's right, I don't remember.

I was invited to grandson.1's Nativity play. Naturally, I went.

We got up at 7am to get to London in time for the start. And because there's a major traffic obstruction at the junction leading to the nearest tube station, we had to go to Gerrards Cross train station to get into London, then a Taxi to St Michaels church. We arrived in good time, and joined the line of parents outside the church. For some reason (no room in the church?), they didn't allow us inside, so we all froze in the cold and blustery weather.

Ladysolly trotted off in search of coffee; I found a niche against a wall and tried not to think about my feet turning to ice. We'd arrived *far* too early.

Ladysolly came back with two large cups of hot coffee, which helped a little, then daughter.1 turned up, then daughter.2. Grandson.1 was inside the church, getting ready - he had a speaking part.

Ladysolly and I were huddling together for warmth, which helped a bit, and then they opened the church doors and we all went in; it was nicely warm inside. And impressive.

It's a huge building, with stained glass windows ...

and an organ ...

The audience was pretty big. I suppose they had a good idea of how many would attend, and the place was filled.

The play started. The heroes of the story were Sam and his friend Mouse. A dozen children filed down the aisle to the front and gave us the first song. They were dressed as Wild West cowboys, which slightly surprised me as I thought I knew the story, and cowboys aren't in it.  Because I don't think Wild West cowboys existed 2000 years ago, but hey, what do I know about this - other elements of the story are more improbable. So the cowboys sang a hoedown, and then Sam and Mouse explained that Sam's job is to keep the stable clean - he works hard and isn't appreciated.

The play progressed - short lengths of dialogue were interspersed by teams of kids, class by class, trotting down the aisle to deliver their song. Some of them were dressed as sheep, some as horses or camels,  there was an excellent team of angels and the story unfolded. Mary (well played by a little girl who I'm sure was jewish) and Joseph (who from his name Kei Endo would probably be japanese, so possibly Shinto) arrived at the inn and were told by the innkeeper (played by Vikramaditya and I'd guess Hindu?) that they were full, but they could have the stable. Sam's stable.

So they bedded down there, and I think I might have missed an important part, but suddenly there was also a baby (whereas in my experience it takes the best part of a day for a baby to appear), and Mary was uncomfortable because the hay was prickly so they went outside and saw a star, and that's when the three wise men (actually two wise men and a wise woman) appeared, with grandson.1 as one of them, carrying a huge gold brick.

The gifts were gifted (and a song sung) and Mouse had the idea of replacing the prickly hay with softer hay, so the family would be more comfortable. Hence the title of the play.

I suspect that the author of the play might have confused hay with straw. Straw can be prickly, but hay is dried grass.  But never mind.

The play concuded with the song "Christmas is for you", which I agree with, then the headmaster thanked the staff, the parents, the musicians and everyone else who helped for all their hard work. Then the vicar thanked god, who hadn't actually done anything, but I suppose that's the vicar's job.

After the play, we all went to the Science Museum, where I renewed my friendship with the Newcomen steam engine, Puffing Billy and the Rocket.

Thursday, 24 November 2016


So here's the question. Should you tell your children that Santa Claus bring presents if they're good?

A recent article in the Lancet discussed this, without, of course, coming to any conclusion.

I think it's easy. Yes, you should tell your children that Santa Claus bring presents if they're good, because when they find out that you're lying, it teaches them the valuable lesson that not everything that other people say is true, even people in authority. And in particular, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and claims about invisible, immortal, all-knowing and all-powerful entities should be treated with a considerable pinch of salt.

This Christmas, give your children the gift of scepticism.

Another tech support scam

This one was slightly different.

The call was, of course, from David at "Windows Technical Department", a company that has often called me in the past. And it was about malware on my computer, of course.

I decided to play "upstairs, downstairs". This is the game whereby my phone is downstairs, but the computer is upstairs. No, I don't have a mobile phone. No, it isn't a laptop. Yes, I can bring it downstairs.

So David waited patiently for five minutes, then I spoke to him again to tell him the good news. I've brought the monitor down, now I need to get the big box. He hung on for another five minutes while I got the big box, then I asked him how to plug it all in. He explained that to me, and another five minutes passed while I did that, and I got back to him and he asked me to switch it on.

"I don't have a power point here. I'll have to get an extension."

Another five minutes passed while I did that, then I plugged it in. "Are you connected to the internet?" he asked. "No, the internet connection is upstairs." "Do you have Wifi?" "What's that?" "Can you connect to the internet now?" "Yes," I said, "hang on, I'll do that."

Ten minutes went by, with me giving him an occasional piece of encouragement, as I humped the computer, monitor and keyboard upstairs again. Then I proudly told him "OK, it's connected to the internet now." "What do you see." "Hang on, I'll go and have a look."

I think at this point he realised that we were back with the original "upstairs, downstairs" problem. He changed tack.

"What do you use the computer for?" "Oh, stuff," I said, vaguely. "Email?" "Yes" "Online shopping, Amazon, Ebay?" "Yes" "Online banking?" "No, that's too complicated for me."

He consulted with someone in his office. "We need to upload security to your system, we can do that via your IP address. It will cost you £2 for five years, and that will cover your computer even if you buy a new one." "Well, that sounds very reasonable, let's do it." "You'll pay with credit card." "I don't have a credit card." "Debit card?" "I don't have one of those either, can I pay you by cheque?" "The amount is too small for a cheque." "Can I pay you cash, then?" I'm kind of hoping he'll give me his address, but it didn't work. He's hoping I'll give him a credit card number to steal from, but that didn't work.

He hung up. I managed to waste an hour of his time, so that's a dozen other people he didn't try to scam. Caller ID said "01467646309" but that was fake, of course. However, if you google that number, he's obviously been a busy little bee.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The night I met Tetris

It was 1991. I was working in the virus lab on a bunch of stuff sent in by various people.

Each candidate file got copied to my "infectable" computer, an old IBM PC clone without a hard drive. Then I ran the COM or EXE file. Then I ran my "goat" files, several tiny programs that only existed to get infected. Once one of more of them were infected,  A) I knew that it was indeed a virus, and B) I had the virus isolated in that infected file.

By a year or so later, I automated that process, using Novell Netware 2 to store the candidate files and feed them one at a time, as if from a hopper, onto the infectable computer, run the file, run the goats, filter off any that changed, re-image the infectable computer and on to the next candidate. It made things a lot faster and more efficient.

But in 1991, I hadn't automated things. So I ran the candidate file. And that was the first time I encountered Tetris.

Three hours later, I was still playing the game.