Friday, 30 March 2012

Up the Great North Road

First a ring of 25 caches, the Catworth Circular. I'd planned to go round by bike, but the cache page said that would be a bad idea, so I went on foot. Actually, I'd have done a lot better on the bike; the going was excellent and there were no stiles until the last few caches, which I'd have done by taking a longer way round by road.

Then on to Alconbury, where I did a dozen caches some of which were quite difficult, and I got 2 DNFs, followed by a multi where I was unable to get two of the values needed, but was lucky enough to find the cache.

After that, it was all drive-bys. 52 caches done today. My bursitis is still troubling me.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Don't Panic! Don't Panic!

What an idiot. Francis Maude, the Cabinet Secretary, tells us to keep a jerry can of petrol in the garage.

A) A jerry can is 20 litres, over four gallons. It's against the law to store more than 10 litres of petrol in two five-litre plastic containers in the home.

B) Most houses don't actually have a garage.

C) What's the best way to cause a panic? Run round shouting "Don't panic!"

That's our government.

Well, I'll just wheel this wheelie bin down to my local petrol station ...

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Cissbury and Worthing

Out to Cissbury and Worthing yesterday with SimplyPaul. First we cycled round the Cissbury Ring. Along the way, I saw a familiar sight.

Last time I was here, I sat on where you now see my helmet, and waited as a huge stream of muggles walked past. It's the final location of a multi, so Paul was able to sign the log before we pressed on.

After we completed this circuit, we went up to where the hill fort used to be, to collect a cache up there.

Here's the trig point at the top, and if you look into the distance, you can see the Seven Sisters; those are the white cliffs you can see.

Then on to do a ring around Clapham Wood. As we went round, I saw a flock of sheep on a field that was bare earth. I wondered what they were doing there.

A bit further round that circuit, I saw the bluebells just starting to flower.

Then we went to an area nearby. Worthing Borough Council are very positive about their negatives.

Then in to Worthing town for some food; we found a really excellent chippie at N50 49.173 W 0 24.690, worth a return visit.

At a church, I found this notice.

The problem I'm currently having with my hip is an inflammation of the Bursa maybe I need Ali's Healing Hands?

And a car parked near one of our last caches.


A very good day out.

Kelloggs again

I thought I'd done with Kelloggs. But I got another email from them. So I phoned them up again.

This time I got to talk to Mr Mandy, and he was apologetic. Apparently, the latest spam had been caused by my complaint about being spammed and requesting no more spam. You what?

He said that it was an accident. The latest spam was a follow up to see if I was happy about the way my complaint had been handled. So I told him that, although I wasn't going to reply to it, he could fill in the form himself, indicating a lack of happiness on my part.

I also suggested to him that best practice is to maintain a "do not email" list, so that whenever they, or an agent of theirs, or an affiliate, sends out email broadcast, they check their list of addresses against this list. He said that it was a good idea, and that he would start one, and I'd be the first email address on it.

And First Car Leasing. I had quite a long debate with Sarah Dillon on whether it was permissible to send out spam. Her first line of defence is "It's not spam, we're a respectable company". So I explained to her about the PEC (2003) Regulation, and that they were contravening it. Her opinion was that the regulation had been removed, and that they were OK to send out ... I forget the word she used, she doesn't like the word "spam". So I begged to differ, it's illegal to send out spam. She corrected me, it isn't illegal, it's contravening the regulation, and anyway it was legal to send out spam to businesses. I could complain to the Commissar, and on three complaints, he takes action. "Consider this to be the first complaint," I said.

"And that email address," I said, "isn't a business address, it's my private address."

She wasn't sure about that. I have to admit, I don't know how some third party can tell whether an email address is business or personal. Surely I'm the only one who can say.

She also seemed to think that all I had to do was click on the link provided and that would get me taken off their list. So I explained that no-one in their right minds, would click on a link from a spammer. "But we're a legitimate company," she said. "They all say that," she said. "You can look us up on Company's House," she said. "But I don't know that the email in front of me, actually came from that company in Company's House".  "That's the only way you can get taken off the lst," she said. "No," I replied quietly, "I know another way."

So she said she'd get me taken off the list.

She also said she'd get their director, Adrian Seddon, to call me back, so we could discuss this - apparently, he's the one who knows about this stuff.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

The Church of England has revealed plans to use Twitter as a tool to help select Dr Rowan Williams' successor as the next Archbishop of Canterbury. Good for them.

I'd like to propose Rabbi Julia Neuburger, also known as Baroness Neuburger. There's a number of good reasons why she'd be a good choice.

1. She's already in the House of Lords, so it would economise on salaries (and expenses).
2. It would be a big ecumenical step forward.
3. It would help gender equality in the upper levels of the Church; currently, there's only one senior female church leader, the Head of the Church of England.
4. It would increase diversity in the church hierarchy; currently there are very few jews at a senior level. Apart from the one right at the top, of course.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Chain letter

How can people be so gullible?

I just got sent a chain letter, by a cousin of mine. "Very bad news from the Jewish community in France - PLEASE read and SEND..." It cites several alleged antisemitic attacks, and calls for a boycott of all French goods and services. And "send this along to your family, your friends, and your co-workers".

So, naturally, I checked it out using google. It turned out to be a ten year old chain letter, and the alleged antisemitic attacks happened ten or more years ago.  I specifically checked out whether "on the statue of Alfred Dreyfus, in Paris, the words 'Dirty Jew' were painted". That was reported in the congressional Record, V. 148, Pt. 9, June 27, 2002 to July 15, 2002.

Ten years ago. Not news. Old information. So, what we can actually know, is that in 2002, there was a guy in Paris who was antisemitic. I don't think I want to boycott the 66 million inhabitants of France because of this.

One of the people in the chain of forwarders actually said "i hasten to say i haven't researched any of these incidents".

Well, it's like this. If you're going to aim to tell the world about something important and awful, it absolutely is an obligation on you to check it out first. If you can't do that immediately, then don't take action until you can. It took me five seconds with google to find that this was an old chain letter, and that it wasn't even accurate ten years ago.

The murder of four jews by a gunman in France recently was indeed awful. And so was the murder of three non-jews by the same man a few days ago.

And oddly, the chain letter didn't even mention these incidents, which are, at least, news.

And I'm left wonndering, what is the purpose of this chain letter? Clearly, it's to sow discord between jews and French people. So all the people who do as the chain letter requests, are acting so as to *cause* a problem that, currently, doesn't really exist. I mean, what do you think would happen if the objective of the chain letter is achieved, if all jews boycotted all French goods and services? How do you think that the French would feel about that?  Lenin had a phrase for this - "useful idiots".

So, what should you do if you receive a chain letter? Any chain letter?

The simplest thing to do is delete it. There's not much point in even reading it - every single chain letter I've ever received, that I've checked out, has been totally wrong.

If you do read it, and you decide that the issue raised is so important that it's worth telling people about, then spend five minutes checking it out. If it's important enough to tell the world about, then it's important enough to spend a few minutes checking. If you don't know how to use google to check out a chain letter, then get someone else to do it for you.

Here's a web page that debunks this chain email. That web page was dated six years ago!

A lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on. 

Don't help the lies.

A minimum price for alcohol

Well, it looks like the government is going to set a minimum price for alcohol. That isn't going to affect me; I have the occasional pint in a pub, and that's sold way above any minimum that they're likely to set.

But will it work in general?

The doctors are really keen on this idea. But they're medical experts, and I think this is really more of an exercise in economics. I believe it when I'm told that getting frequently pie-eyed is bad for me. Actually, I didn't need to be told, I already knew, it's one of the obvious things I don't need to be told, along with sticking my hand in a fire. But will minimum pricing for alcohol lead to less drinking? The problem is, it's really really cheap and easy to make alcohol. And legal.

I checked the Tesco web site; Fosters or Carlsberg is £1.5 per litre, 85p per pint (I pay over £3 for a pint in the pub, and I'm guessing that clubs are even more). So I can see why someone wanted to get drunk would want to tank up on supermarket beer before going to the pub or club. If they made the minimum price, say, £2 per pint that might make a difference. Obviously, I haven't tried to adjust for beer strength, but I can see how this works.

Or can I?

I used to brew my own beer; dark stout, strong brown, lighter mild and a ginger beer that was barely alcoholic. It's *really* easy to brew beer; all you need is a five gallon tub, and a can or malt, which I used to buy in Boots, but now there's lots of specialised homebrew vendors. It's safe (unlike distilling, which can be really dangerous), it's legal (except you can't sell it) and most of all, it's cheap. The can of malt costs about £10 and makes 40 pints. If you want it a bit stronger, you can add ordinary white sugar to the brew (but for taste, you should add malt instead). You bottle it a week or so later, and can drink it immediately, although it's better if you let it age for a week. And it tastes great. I used to go down to my allotment with a couple of bottled quarts, leave the bottles in cold water in the shade, and spend a happy afternoon digging and drinking.

Cost - 25p per pint.

So, if you believe that economic forces affect drinking habits, and I'm sure that's right to some extent, then you have to believe that putting up the price of supermarket beer will make people look more favourably on home brewing. While the difference in cost is 25p compared with 85p, maybe going to the trouble of home brewing is only for a few people. Put that difference up to 25p compared to £2, and a lot more people will brew their own.

And if it's so much cheaper, maybe they'll drink even more.

Thursday, 22 March 2012


An email from love2reward. It was strangely tentative. It didn't say what they actually did, it didn't offer me specific products or services, it just wanted to know if I was happy to hear from them.

Which, of course, I wasn't.

There was no link to click on if I did want to receive their spam, only an unsubscribe lnik. Which means that, all the people who don't click on their unsubscribe link (which would, I'd guess, be 99.9% of people getting the email)  will be assumed by love2reward to welcome their spam.

So I looked them up with Google, and got their number 0845 313 0357. I spoke to Wendy there, who passed me on to their director of finance, Brian Hailwood. When I explained the issue to him, he said that he'd get Samantha Lomax to talk to me.

Very soon after that, Samantha called. She's their Director of Compliance, and it's always good to talk to a Director of Compliance, because their entire role is to ensure that their company Complies. Complies with what? Well, I'd guess that to start with, all relevant legislation. And possibly all relevant Codes of Conduct, Codes of Ethics, and Codes of Behaviour. Samantha assured me that they didn't buy in databases, but they did run several web sites, and perhaps I'd signed up at one of those? No, I hadn't. So she said she'd contact their IT department, and they'd be able to say exactly where I'd signed up. I told her that I'd find that extremely interesting, and she trotted off to talk to IT.

A very short while later, she came back to me. Yes, they did, in fact, buy in databases. Well, I wasn't surprised, I'd already told her that that was what must have happened. But, she said, only Business-to-Business databases. So I pointed out that my email address wasn't B2B. She said that the vendor, had assured them, and guaranteed, that all the addresses were B2B. She had heard of the PEC (2003) regulation, indeed she knew what PEC stood for. Well done Samantha. If you need to get your name off the list of love2reward, Samantha is clearly the person to talk to, on 0151 653 1711.

Also, she pointed out that the emails they'd sent, weren't selling anything, they were an invitation to see if I was happy to hear from them. I didn't point out that this was, indeed, marketing, but I asked, well, what will happen next? In particular, what will happen with the VAST majority that she's emailed, who don't reply. And I explained to her why most people won't click on an email from a spammer, or indeed from any complete stranger. She saw my point - I think that people who didn't reply were going to hear more from them. And, I asked, this guarantee, will you be making a claim against it? She thought they might, and would read their contract. And she said that she'd contact about all this.

She said she'd bring this up at the next Board meeting. Good idea, I thought. And she assured me that my email address was now off their list.

So then I called, on 0844 357 0647, and spoke to Caroline. I spelled out the email address to her, and she said she'd get it removed. I asked her where they'd got it from, and her view was that they'd got it from "the internet". So I pointed out that "the internet" is pretty big, could she be more specific? She's looking into it. I also asked her to email all the people she's sold the email address to, to tell them not to use it, and she said she would; I was a bit surprised that she agreed so readily to that. And then I asked her about the guarantee. Apparently, the guarantee is that no more than 15% of the email addresses sold are incorrect.


Given that it's an offence to email people without their prior signing up, and without a prior business relationship, it seems to me that anyone buying a B2B database with a guarantee like that, is pretty sure to wind up breaking the law.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The apprentice is back!

This is the only TV reality that I watch - actually, it's pretty much the only TV that I watch, and so does ladysolly.

The appeal is the contrast between the monster egos of the contestants and their actual capabilities, although Lord Alan Sugar (I was hoping he'd been promoted to King for this series, or at least Prince) gives them a run for their money. We do love the faces that Nick makes.

But you can't really blame the contestants for their egos - I feel sure that the company making the programs A) selects the biggest plonkers they can find, and B) eggs them on to humungous overclaiming of capabilities.

For me, the star of the series is this.

This is where the losers go for tea and recriminations. The bike leaning on it is mine - I made a pilgrimage to it once, but sadly, it was closed.

Todays loser (because this show is all about losers, there being one each week) managed to talk herself into the loser's slot, simply by being unable to understand when to close her mouth. A lesson for us all.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Two charity phone calls

If you give money to a charity, do it anonymously. If you give your details, they'll call you for more donations in future, and who can say they're wrong to do that?

I got two today. The first one was for daughter.2, and they asked for her by name. A charity called Orbis. I spoke to them, and they said she'd supported them in the past, and they were calling to thank her, which wasn't the whole truth, they also wanted a further donation. So I asked if they could take us off the list of people they phone. But no - they can't. Apparently, only daughter.2 can ask them to do this.

"Oh," I said, "that's a problem. because she doesn't live here. So I guess you'll be phoning here, fruitlessly, for ever?" At which point, they discovered that actually they could take her off their list without her talking to them. How handy! Actually, she's never lived here - we moved here after she left home. So how did they get this number?

That was at 7:30 pm. So, about half an hour later (they time this for when you're eating your dinner, of course) I got another phone call, this time it was the Red Cross. And they wanted to talk to ladysolly. We went through the same process - they can't take her off their list unless she tells them to.

At that point, I'm ashamed to say I told a porkie. With a bit of a sob in my throat, I told them that she doesn't live here any more, implying that they'd just brought up a very sad memory, which I'd rather not be reminded of, sob, sob. But then I had another great idea. "Would you like her new number," I asked. "Yes please," they said. So I gave them the phone number of a serial spammer that I've been trying to deal with.

Update from Barclaycard

I got another call from them today. We started off with the security question, and I gave the caller my age next birthday. Then I told him it was my turn to ask the security question. So first of all, I asked his name, which he gave me, and then I asked his mother's maiden name. And he wouldn't give it! Good for you, I thought, you've understood how stupid this idea is.

He was calling to give me the good news that they've determined that they hadn't sent the spam (which I already knew) and this it had been sent by Freedom Marketing (which I already knew, that was actually explained in the spam). So then we got to the meat of the matter. I want them to put my email address on a Blacklist, which they then use to make sure that I don't get spammed in future, either by them, or by one of their affiliates. I explained to him that this was Best Practice. But apparently, they don't have anything like this. And he got very focussed on the fact that it hadn't been them that sent the email. Yes, I know that, but it was sent by one of your affiliates, and you could stop this happening in future. So he suggested that I contact Freedom Marketing, which I did two months ago when the spam actually happened (yes, it's taken them two months to respond to my complaint, which isn't exactly a good advertisement for Barclays customer service). So I explained that, yes, I've done that, but they have hundreds of other affiliates, and they could send their blacklist to all of them ... but they don't have a Blacklist.

So I asked for him to formally put this as a suggestion up through his chain of command, and he's going to do that. He also said that they'd be writing a letter to me to acknowledge this suggestion.

Quite a few of the people I've spoken to are either already using this system, or else immediately saw what a good idea it would be, as it would reduce their exposure to offences against the PEC Regulation (2003). So, I'll encourage Barclays to adopt it too. I feel sure that all they need, is some more encouragement from me.

I wish my hip bursitis was better so I could go out caching.

Security check

Got me!

I was on Facebook, minding my own business (which I guess is not what you're supposed to do on Facebook), when suddenly there popped up a pop-up asking me to type in a security code. So, without thinking about it, I did. I typed in the collection of numbers and letters that were in difficult-to-read fonts on the screen.

Aaarghhh! That's *exactly* what I tell people *not* to do. Why not, and what should I have done instead?

Why not - because I wasn't expecting it, and I don't see any reason why Facebook would do this. All they were doing, was verifying that I was logged on, and that I was human, not a bot. And I don't really see a reason to do that. Do it at the point when I log on, yes, but why in the middle of me doing something? So, was it Facebook? Or was it one of the many things that Facebook runs and presents you with, like invitations to water someone else's farm, which I suppress as soon as I work out how to. Except maybe not all of them are benevolent (which I guess Farmville is, except I can't help feeling that someone, somewhere must be making money out of it, not that I begrudge them that, but I do like to know in advance how someone else benefits from me, it just makes me feel more comfortable); maybe without realising it, Facebook has allowed one or more malevolent thing to masquerade as harmless fun? Who knows. I don't.

I'm hoping that this was just Facebook being silly. Probably is. But I shouldn't have just done what the computer requested, that's what gets so many people into trouble.

What should I have done instead? I should have aborted my Facebook session, by clicking on the x in the top right hand corner that closes the browser. And then logged on again.

And, while I'm on the subject, I was talking to one of the spammers that I phone up, asking to be taken off her spam list, and she wanted to know why I didn't just click on the "unsubscribe" link. So I explained to her. It's well known, or at least well known to me, that you should *never* click on a link in an email from someone you don't know. Because who knows what it might lead to? It's possible, with some browsers, to install malware on your computer if you just visit a page. Not only possible, it happened to me once (it was an excellent news site called "The Register", which I visit every day) and it happened because one of the adverts that they showed, had something that did exactly that. I then spent half an hour trying to get rid of the thing that had installed itself, before deciding to wipe the cojmputer and reinstall Windows ... and then I decided, no, forget Windows, I'm going Linux from now on (which I've never regretted).

And even when the link says that it leads to some totally harmless site, like, that's just where it's telling you it leads to - it might actually be going somewhere else entirely; you'd have to look at the source to find out, and if you don't know what that means or how to do it, then don't click.

So anyway. You should *never* click on a link in an email from someone you don't know.

Actually, it's worse than that. I get about half a dozen spams per day, which are *apparently* from people I do know. Their email account has been compromised, and is now being used to send spam. So the advice is actually stronger than the above.

You should *never* click on a link in an email from someone you don't know, or from someone you do know, because it might not be them sending the email.

So - I explained all this to the spammer (by the way, they don't like being called spammers, they *really* don't like it, it's as if it's a term of abuse, rather than a technical term describing what she's been doing). And she responded with "No, it's OK, it's a link that unsubscribes you".

I didn't want to explain to her that I'd trust a scumbag spammer (and "scumbag" *is* an insult) about as far as I can spit a fridge, because that would have been impolite, so I tried to explain it to her again, and again she tried to reassure me. So I fell back on "We're not allowed to ...." and she finally accepted that. "More than my job's worth," I continued, enthusiastically, gilding the lily, and "Them's the rules, I can't help it," which we've all heard many a time.

By the way - this was Groupon, who have just been jumped on by the Office of Fair Trading after the Advertising Standards Authority investigated and upheld complaints against Groupon’s ads on 13 different occasions.

And by the way, you should also be a bit wary about clicking on links in blogs.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Two kinds of people

Of course, humanity can be apportioned out in many different ways - male/female, old/young, hairy/bald and so on. Recently, I've discovered a new way.

When I tell someone one of my email addresses, it's about 20 letters, so I spell it out, there being no chance that they could guess the spelling. But I don't spell it out one letter at a time, that would be slow, tedious and, I think, insulting. So I give it to them in groups of four letters. Some people can't handle that, get muddled, confused, or get it wrong. So I drop down to give it to then in groups of two letters.

So that's the way that people divide - those that can handle four letters at a time, and those that can't.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Dude, where's my backup?

I am, as you might expect, stringent about backups. Really. But today, I discovered that my main server hasn't had as many backups as I thought for quite a while.

Here's how it happened.

I have the main server called xanth, and then there's a copy of that called xanti, which I can switch to quickly if xanth goes down. And another copy of that called xantj. And (don't ask) another one called query, which is a copy of xanti. And, by the way, xanth uses mirrored drives, although I put very little faith in mirroring; a screw-up on one side is instantly mirrored into a screw-up on the other.

And then there's the backup server, called foggy, which has three areas called back1, back2 and back3.

There's a daily backup to xanti, xantj, query and one of the backup areas; on the 1st of the month till the 10th, that goes to back1. On the 11th till the 20th, it goes to back2, and on the 21st to the 31st it goes to back3. The reason for this elaborate dance is, if an important subdirectory gets accidentally wiped, then the next day, it's also wiped on the backup! But I'll still have it on one of the others (back1, back2 and back3).

So, how did this all go wrong?

Well, the first thing I did, was disable the back1-back2-back3 dance, temporarily, for a good reason that I no longer remember ... and I forgot to re-enable it.

Query let me down because there was some problem with the data volume, and linux decided to make it read-only ... which means no backups to it.

And then xanti crashed. I couldn't persuade the ethernet to work, I have no idea why, but I think it's a hardware problem. So I swapped out the motherboard. The new motherboard was different to the old one, so the ethernet driver now didn't work. And I don't know what happened to Kudzu (the thing that lets you probe your hardware and auto-install the drivers, I expect it has a new name now, and I couldn't see what it was. So I decided to reinstall linux (while keeping the data, of course). So I did that, updating linux fedora 9 to linux fedora 9; predictably, it decided that it didn't need to do anything. So I upgraded it to linux fedora 10, and it did lots. And when I came to fsck the raid with all the data, there were a zillion errors, some of which boiled down to "the drive is a different size". So I though, fsck this, and I reinitialised the drive and reloaded it from xanth. Which went well.

And it's just as well it did, because for a while there, my main server, xanth, had only one backup, xantj, and I feel a bit nervous in that situation. Although not as nervous as I would feel if I had no backup at all.

So, to summarise, instead of a main server and six backups, I had a main server and one backup. You can see why I've been almost kicking myself. It's what we call "a fault in the liveware".

And you can also see why I have so many backups.

Kodajo phone humber

Whhen I want to complain about a spam sent to me, I want to phone. I could email, but that gives the spammer a valid email address to spam in future. Did you think that spammers are too ethical to do that? Also, it's very easy for them to ignore my email, but not so easy to ignore a phone call.

Sometimes, it's no easy to find a phone number for them, but that means a bit of a challenge, and everyone enjoys a challenge. That was the case for Kodajo (07939 529675). There was no phone number on their web site, just a lot of different email addresses. And the whois database didn't have a phone number either.

My next attempt was Google, of course. That threw up a number of web sites offering financial information on the company for a small fee. And maybe one of those would have given a phone number ... or maybe not. Still, I got the name of the director, Mr Robert Brearley, and the addrress and post code that he worked out of. Also, by clicking on the director's name, I was able to discover other companies that he currently had, or were now defunct. No luck with phone numbers, though. But then I found a company called Avery West, similar address, also run by Mr Brearley, but this one was Mr Thomas Brearley, and surely, I thought, that can't just be a cocoincidence? Especially as yet another company gave Mrs Brearly as director, another similar address. So I phone Mr Brearley, and my hopes were fulfilled - he is connected with Kodajo, and he said he'd get them to call me back.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The perfect head torch

Another quest of mine, has been for the perfect head torch. The specification:

- a bright, focussed main beam, which can be dimmed for longer battery life;
- a lower light secondary beam
- runs off AA batteries (which are longer lasting than AAA), in a pod at the back (for balance)
- a good headstrap that holds it in place, which adjustable azimuth

What I've found, is the Magicshine MJ-CT806. The box claims 220 lumens, which I can believe, and it can also run at 75% and 50% of that. There's also lower power white LEDs at the front, and you can have 1, 2 or all 3 on.

But the really charming feature - you also have red LEDs on at the front, which is good for reading without destroying your night vision. And there's a red LED at the back, which can be steady or blinking. And that red LED at the back, is great for night biking. So, at night, I'll ride with the main beam on full, and the rear red LED on flashing.

The whole thing looks and feels good, and is going to be my primary head torch for biking and caching. You can get it for £15, which isn't bad, as it includes three rechargable AA batteries and a charger.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Ely at last

I spent three years in Cambridge without visiting Ely; I was there today, and the cathedral there is *huge* and very impressive. Out caching, of course; 23 on a circuit of byways, on the bike, then another series on the bike, then in to Ely for the cathedral, a total of 42 today. |And there was several very original caches amongst them.

My bursitis is still giving me some pain, but I soldiered on through it. I think the stretching exercises are helping a bit. But I'll be very glad when it clears up.

Monday, 12 March 2012

The perfect pannier

The perfect pannier, or bike bag, is probably a Platonic Ideal, up there with the perfect saddle (which is made with marshmallow, stuffed with cloud), or the perfect circle. Nevertheless, although we know that perfection is unattainable, yet we strive for it, as Shakespeare said, or if he didn't, he should have.

The perfect pannier has, on each side, one large compartment and one small; the large being suitable for a bike battery and a bottle of water or two, and the small being a good place to keep bike repair tools, spare inner tube and bike lock. It attaches to the backrack with Velcro, because that means that it's quick and easy to remove for when you need to heave the bike over a stile (and the additional six kilos of battery means that you can't lift it, let alone swing it up and over). It has a handle on top, so that after you've detached it from the backrack you can conveniently pick it up to carry over that stile. It has zippers to close the bags, because zippers tend to stay closed, unless you want to open them. And it has a small loop at the bag, suitable for attaching a red light, so that car drivers who run you down at night no longer can cry "Smidsy", or "Sorry mate I didn't see you!".

I had such a pannier, purchased at an economic cost (£9.95) from Tesco (every little helps), but a couple of years of use, and especially the last nine months of intensive use, has led to the Velcro tearing, the seams coming apart, and holes developing in the bottoms of the compartments that have required ever-increasing quantities of duct tape to keep the insides in and the outsides out. So, I've been looking to replace it.

I got a pannier from Ebay, for a mere £7.95. It only had two large compartments, no handle, nowhere to fix a light, and the compartments did up with straps that would gradually loosen as I rode along. It worked. Kind of. But was far from perfect.

I got a better one from Sports Direct for £19.95, reduced from some huge price. All Sports Direct prices are at least 50% lower than they used to be, and in some cases as much as 80% lower, although I have never to my recollection seen anything sold there for full price; I suspect there is one small branch in Uttar Pradesh that offers goods at full price, thus legalising the dramatic discounts we (almost) all see. Great for me, tough cheese for the inhabitants of Uttar Pradesh. But the Sports Direct pannier, although huge, multi-pocketed, and with handle, suffered from the disadvantage of being attached with straps, and so no quick-release, plus of being truly huge. Maybe very suitable for long distance biking on roads, with much cargo.

So recently, I tried Google Shopping, to see what they might have. I found there the ETC bag pannier double 600D black, sold by Amazon, for a measly £9.86. I looked at the pictures, I read the reviews, I salivated. This looked to be the answer to my prayers.  The description from Amazon is "Lightweight and easy". Well, at least I wouldn't be getting a bag that was both difficult to use and weighed a ton, although if there are any like that, they probably don't tell you so. I looked at other people's web sites selling the same thing; they were similarly parsimonious in their descriptions. There was a small and hard to see picture that told me nothing, so I had to rely on customer feedback. It had two pockets on each side, one large, one smaller. It had Velcro attachments, it had a handle, although I had to read the customers reviews quite assiduously to glean all this information, and if any of that is mistaken, I can't get stroppy woth Amazon "Not our fault guv, we didn't write that".

Still, £9.86 isn't a king's ransom, so I took the plunge. It arrived today, and it's a paragon of virtue, a prince among panniers. It's just like the one I got from Tesco ... hang on a minute ... it's *exactly* like the one I got from Tesco, except that it has an "ETC" logo on it.

It came in packaging that led me to, and sure enough, they offer ETC branded goods as part of their range. But when you click on ETC nothing happens, and, as far as I can tell, there's no way on their web site that you can find out what ETC goods the offer, or the prices, or anything. So I phoned them up, and it turned out that the phrase I'd seen "Todays cyclist consumer website" wasn't, as I'd thought, a mere boast about the web site I was looking at, but was a link to a whole different web site, which did give me more info about the panniers. But not much more. "EACH HAS A LARGE COMPARTMENT AND AN EXTERNAL POCKET" and the price is £19.99. And then the big surprise - I can't buy it from their web site. I have to find a dealer who stocks what I want, and order it from them. However, I spoke to the sales guy, and asked him for some details on the pannier. He told me, it's attached with straps, not Velcro, there's no handle, and nowhere to attach a rear light. But I've just bought one, and I  can assure you that he's wrong. Not to mention that I got it at half price from Amazon, and it arrived a couple of days after I ordered it.

I despair of the British sales expertise. When I go looking for something, the vendor makes it impossible for me to find what I want (although I would have thought that Moorelarge would be keen to sell me their product), whereas when I'm not looking for something, I get bombarded by spam email trying to sell me things that I'm not remotely interested in.

Case in point - I got a spam from Achica. They seem to sell, well, lots of stuff. Homeware, furniture, towels, goodness knows what. But nowhere on their web site is there a phone number! Who in their right mind, would buy goods from a company that didn't want to give you their phone number? A bit of googling revealed lots of dissatisfied customers who had, after placing their order, discovered that they couldn't find a phone number to chase up, and who found that emails they send are very easy to ignore. But I am not without a certain low cunning, and I used whois to discover the phone number of the registrant of the domain name, 0203 0088304, and I called that number. Sure enough, it was the Finance Director of Achica, and he's looking into the spam issue for me.

When I asked him about the lack of phone number on his web site, he explained that they didn't have enough staff to be able to answer phone calls. Well, I can understand that as a problem, but at the same time, if they're short of staff to man the phones, one might also wonder whether they'll have enough staff to be able to sort out the problems that every business has to sort out. There will be the same number of problems, after all, whether they are phoned in or emailed in. He said they're working on it.

It's like when you phone up someone to buy something and you get "Due to the unprecedentedly large number of calls, we're putting you in an indefinitely long hold queue during which we'll be charging you 10p per minute for the privilege of listening to Verdi" and I know, straight away, that their problem is that they have too many customers, and I immediately decide not to make their problem worse, so I hang up and buy from someone else.

And I also got a phone call today from Barclaycard, about Freedom. But first, the caller said, "Although it's me that called you, I need to ask security questions". "Me first," I said, and asked he for her mother's maiden name. To my utter astonishment, she gave it! I mean, how could that possibly be a security question, when I have no idea what the correct answer ought to be? So then, just to see how far this could be taken, I asked her birth date - common sense asserted itself and she refused to give it. Good for her! So then she asked me for the name of my wife, which I gave her, and we got down to the real purpose of the call.

On January 17 (about 55 days ago) I'd complained about a spam email. They've lost all the details of the complaint, they've lost the copy of the spam that I'd sent them, but they did know that there had been a complaint, and that they were supposed to deal with it within 40 days, which by my reckoning was two weeks ago, but maybe they have some strange Barclaycard way of counting days, although I'd guess that when it comes to charging interest on loans they use the "one day per day" method. Still, they were keen not to just sweep this under the carpet, so I sent her another copy of the spam, which didn't get to her, having been blocked, I'd guess, by her spam filter, and I followed it up with a copy of the email as a Word document, because spam filters don't seem to be worried about that. Please don't tel the spammers this.

She was delighted that I was able to re-send this ancient spam, and promised that she'd get to work on it right away. I'm holding my breath in anticipation.

Dear user,

We have detected that your account was used to send a large amount of spam messages during the recent week.
Most likely your computer had been infected by a recent virus and now contains a trojaned proxy server.

We recommend that you follow instruction in order to keep your computer safe.

Sincerely yours, support team.

Er ... the support team is actually ME

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Shedfield shenanigans

Out with ladysolly today, so I chose a ring of caches that wouldn't just be "a pile of sticks". We went round the Shedfield Tour.

Ladysolly got us sandwiches from Tesco, and we sat in a layby near the first cache of the series and ate them. While we ate, we watched a cacher looking for the cache there; he hunted high and low, and I'm pretty sure he didn't find it. Unfortunately, he gave up just a few minutes before we finished lunch, and by the time we had our boots on, he'd driven off.

A quick check round the area failed to reveal the cache, but a more careful inspection soon revealed something that shouldn't have been there, and there was the cache; thanks to Micro Detector Mark One.

Then we set off on the other 14 caches. The second in the series was another toughie, and we spent 20 minutes before I spotted it in exactly the sort of place we'd been expecting. And then onwards. About half of them were easy enough, but about half of them were really difficult; we almost gave up on two of them, but persistence overcomes resistance, as Mr Lane used to tell me. So eventually, we scored 15 out of 15. Then we picked up a previously solved puzzle, or rather I did; ladysolly was too tired for further action and sat in the car playing with her bridge app. And then to another solved puzzle, for which I got the bike out, and biked to it and three others nearby.

A good day out, but ladysolly needs to get more rest, and so does my hip, it was painful all day; bad at first, but getting somewhat better later.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Seventy six caches

Down to Sussex today, to do a ring at Wiston. The first part was 55 caches, and I did it on the bike in 5 hours, which is pretty good. The second part, another 21 caches, I did on foot in two hours, also quite fast, especially considering my gammy thigh. And no DNFs.

I had a neoprene reinforcement round my left knee; I'd bruised it badly a few days ago while dismounting from the bike, and I wanted to protect it from further damage; that worked well.

I did the first 37 caches using battery number 5; I was amazed that it went on for so long, I normally expect to get 25-30 out of a good battery, and I'd thought that number 5 was one of the weaker ones. Maybe it's to do with the charger; I'll keep a record in future of which charger I use for each battery.

I found the above in Steyning. You can see what he's thinking - "Where's that elusive cache?"

Later on, I was crossing a field when I saw a sheep that thought it was a poodle.

By the time I got back to the car at the end of the day I was well crackered.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Hip trochartes bursitis

I've just come back from the physio; my GP referred me for the pain in my leg. The physio bent and twised my leg this way and that, and I called out when it hurt. After many oohs and ouches and the occasional "YOW", he diagnosed hip trochartes bursitis. There's a bag of fluid that eases the rubbing between parts of the body, these are called bursae, and they can get inflamed. The trochanteric bursa is located on the side of the hip. The cause was probably when I fell off my bike, several months ago; I've been hoping it would fix itself, but it hasn't.

The physio recommended ice-pack treatment a few times per day to help the inflammation, plus he gave me some stretching exercises. He said, and internet research concurs, that this will probably fix it. If it doesn't, he wants me to come back in a month's time for a cortisone treatment.

This is all great news - I was slightly worried that it might be arthritis, or rheumatism, or maybe even a joint injury. The likelihood that ice packs will fix the problem is great news. He also said that, given the level of exercise that I'm doing, there's no need to cut back on it. The internet concurs that "if it isn't making it hurt, it isn't making it worse", which is what I'd have expected.

I also had an eye test today, getting two things done on the same day. My vision has ... improved! I've gone from 1.25 diopters shortsighted to 1 diopter; at that rate, I'll have perfect vision in eight years time. The improvement does mean new glasses, though, and this time I'm changing from glass to plastic; the optician assured me that I wouldn't have the scratchy problems that have happened in the past, plus they're lighter, plus they're safer (won't shatter like glass could). So, same old frames (there was nothing wrong with them) and new varifocals.

The only bad news today was, I went to the bike shop to get a center stand for the bike. He had one, but it wouldn't fit because of the cable guide in the way, and he reckons that the same would be true for any center stand. Still, I can live with that.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Wantage ho!

Nine months ago, I went to Wantage and, amongst other adventures, got bittten by a dog. The dog walker had to be shown the blood before she'd believe it. I told the police, they visited her, and she denied the whole thing. No big surprise there.

So today I revisited the area; if the same dog had come within boot-range, I wouldn't have waited to be bitten again. But, I'm glad to say, no dogs appeared, apart from one very well-behaved one.

So I did a circuit that involved some very steep hills (up, of course), some tricky finds and a near-impossible stile to lift over. Also the back rack on my bike came loose; one of the screws has gone AWOL. And then I did another, ad hoc, route nearby, and then a bit north to do a couple more caches fairly close to each other. When I got to the first of these, the area looked familiar. But surely one bit of woodland looks much like another? Strangely, no. And I was right - I'd had a DNF here on June 21, the day of the dog bite. After being bitten, kneeling down to rummage was quite painful, so I gave up on this cache. This time around, I was keen to make up for my previous failure, so I stayed, and searched, for 30 minutes. And read some past logs. And one of those logs gave me an idea, which I followed up, and in a place I'm sure I'd checked a few times before (but not quite from that angle), there it was. Vici!

Then on to the second. The track leading to it had the sort of mud that jams into your wheels and stops the bike dead, but I found a parallel track that was nicely grassy. When I got there, it was also a previous DNF, and I looked in the same places I'd looked before, but after about ten minutes, I saw a familiar old friend, and signed the log.

Two DNFs wiped off the slate!

Friday, 2 March 2012

Biking round Hargrave

Today I went up the M1 to Hargrave, and spent several happy hours biking around that area for a 58 cache ring. Plus a few more after I'd done that, for a total of 65 caches. One good feature of this ring is that it was a figure-eight, which meant that after three hours I was back at the car, and could have lunch, coffee and replenish my bike batteries and recharge the GPS battery. On the second part of the ring, I saw this:

I thought of pointing it out to the dogwalker nearby, and her four dogs, three of which were off their leads, but then I thought, maybe she can't read, and it would embarrass her if I read it out to her. Plus, dogwalkers usually seem to think that any prohibitions don't apply to their particular furry friends.
Google said "We detected unusual activity on your account" so they wanted to verify me. To do that, I re-entered my login and password, and it wanted to send me a verification code on my mobile.

So far, sensible. Now comes the crazy part.

It wanted me to give it the mobile number to send the verification code to.

That's barmy. If I were a naughty person trying to gain access to the drsolly blog, and assuming that the username and password is already compromised (because if it isn't, then that's enough for verification) then a naughty person would give their own mobile number. Obviuosly. And so the verification isn't a verification at all. This is fake security.

Or else it's a sneaky way for Google to find out my mobile number.

Either way, it's bad. Very bad.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Ginger nut media

What a delightful name for a company! But they sent me a spam recently "Compare insurance for the chance of super bug free private rooms". Hmm - reading that makes me wonder what the offer is - am I paying to be entered into a lottery with a chance to win a super bug free private room? Is the room a definite, but the super bug free part is just if I get lucky? Whatever ...

So I did a whois on gingernutmedia, and found the name Phil Warnock, and his phone number, 07913 405997. So I called him. He wasn't here, so I left a message. he called me back, but I wasn't there, so he left a message. So I called him back, but he wasn't there so I left a message. And then he called me, and I was there, and we were able to talk.

By the way - email eliminates this "telephone tag", wouldn't it be great if email wasn't so clogged up with spam that telephoning can sometimes be the only way to get to communicate?

I explained to him about the spam, and he was already aware of the PEC 2003 Regulation, and mine wasn't the only call he'd had. Plus, he said, he'd had a threatening phone call about it - I advised him to tell the police if it was a criminal threat (although it it was a legal threeat, such as a threat to report him to the Communications Commission, that wouldn't be a police matter). So anyway, he asked me where I got his phone number, so I told him. I also emailed him later, to tell him that if the threat that he'd received was criminal, he might consider giving a PO Box number on the whois database instead of his actual address.

So then we got down to the issue of the spam I'd been sent (he was a little bit unhappy about me calling it a spam, but let's call a spade a spade, yes?). He removed my email address from his list, and then we got to the part where I ask where he got it from. He'd bought it in, he didn't really want to tell me who from, but when I guessed "Datalists Global" that seemed to ring a bell. I don't really understand why people are often reluctant to tell me who they bought their list from. Is there a contractual agreement not to reveal this? And if so, why?

He said my complaint wasn't the first he's had about email addresses from this list. And he'll take me off his list, and ask the people he got it from, what URL they think had the opt-in.

I asked him if he was a member of the Direct Marketing Association - he said he wasn't, their fees are more than he can afford, he's only been in this business since last August. But he's been in this field for eleven years, he said, working for other people. 

He seemed a very nice guy, trying to start up a business in a difficult business environment (there's a recession on) but very vulnerable to being sold duff information by unscrupulous list vendors, and probably paying over the odds for email broadcasting (he said that he doesn't do that himself personally). I always feel a bit sorry for non-technical people trying to make their way in a technical environment, so I wished him luck.

I also spoke to, the people he was spamming for, and Chloe there (029 2009 0270) has said that she'll put my email address on her Blacklist, so that if they work with other spammers in future, I wn't get spam rom them.

Leap year day bug

Microsoft has confirmed that a service outage that affected its cloud computing service Microsoft Azure, appears to be caused by a leap year bug.


Who could have possibly predicted that there would be an extra day this year? And in four years time.  And four years after that, and so on ... but not in 2100, or 2200, or any other year divisible by 100, unless it's divisible by 400? Although it's entirely possible that they might change the rules at any time.

Seriously, though. Anyone who relies on the cloud for storing important data, maybe hasn't thought about the risks. A cock-up by the person running that part of the cloud is only one of the risks. There's also the possibility of your internet connection going down for any of a dozen reasons. But I would say that the biggest risk is likely to be legal.

A lot of your data is confidential, either because you want it to be, or because there's a legal requirement that it be confidential. If you store it on someone else's server, then there's a whole lot more people who could access it without your permission. There's the people running that part of the cloud, for example, and there's third parties - hackers - because you have no control (and probably no knowledge) about how good their security is. And whether the people who work for the cloud company can be bribed, or fooled into giving access to your data to a third party.

And there's an even bigger threat. Suppose you're based in the UK, and you're complying fully with UK law, as obviously you must. But different countries have different laws. Some things that are entirely legal here, might be illegal in Iran, or Qatar, or the USA. And if your data is on a server that is physically located in another country, you could suddenly find that your server has been confiscated, or impounded, or whatever they do in foreign countries, using the legal means that are available over there. And you no longer have access to your data. And maybe some foreign government does have access.

So, if anything calls for a thorough risk assessment before jumping into it - storing important data on the cloud is a clear candidate.