Sunday, 29 May 2016

The only jew in the college

When I was at university, I probably wasn't the only jew there, but I didn't actually know any others. That's partly because one doesn't go around asking people, partly because I don't think there was a Jewish Society (if there was, I didn't notice it) and partly because, well, I didn't really care, because even then I was an atheist.

But people knew that I was jewish. Maybe it was my appearance, maybe it was my name - I never asked how they knew. Well, at least some people knew.

Actually, there was one HUGE advantage in being jewish at Cambridge in those days. There were a couple of dozen colleges; three women-only and the rest men-only. As a result, the ratio of boys to girls was about 20 to 1. You can see the problem. But I was jewish, and I was a member of Habonim, a jewish youth group, and there was a small but active Habonim in Cambridge. Five girls and two boys. And the other boy already had a girlfriend. Which meant that I was the only eligible NJB (nice jewish boy). You can see the benefit!

At first, I was occasionally "discovered" by evangelicals, who were under the impression that all they had to do was bring me the "good news" and I'd instantly accept their particular brand of Christianity. They were always quite surprised to discover that  the potential convert that they thought was jewish, was actually an atheist. And furthermore, I'd already heard their news, and wasn't really interested.

But eventually, one of my good friends and frequent game-playing chum, persuaded me to go to "chapel" (I think he called it). After all, he argued, if I've never experienced it, how do I know ... well, that's a pretty poor argument, I've never locked myself in a dark room for 12 hours, but I know without trying it that I'll be bored stiff and hate it. But I thought, well, it'll be a new experience. So I went along with him.

This turned out to be a smallish room with rows of chairs, and a guy standing up in front in fancy dress. And he said stuff which I don't remember, and we all sang a song, except me, because I didn't know the words, and then they came round with the biscuits, and my friend explained to me that this was the body of Christ, and I said, what, you mean it represents the body of Christ? And he said, no no, it transubstantiates into the actual body, and I said, what, human flesh, and he giggled and promised to explain later, and they were all eating their biscuits, so I decided to eat mine, because even though they thought they were committing cannibalism, I knew that I wasn't.

It was all as daft as I thought it would be, although I have to say I've been to jewish services and they're just as daft, except Passover, where you get a rattling good meal out of it (at least, you do if you go to the seder at my sister or my sister-in-law) together with several good arguments.

So then it was all over, and my friend pulled me over to introduce me to the vicar (it might have been a priest or a minister, I don't remember), "This is my friend Alan, he's a, um, er, he's, um um, he's of the hebrew persuasion."

So I said, nice and embarrassingly loudly "No I'm not, I'm a jew".

I never got invited back.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Rio and Zika

Daughter.2 was going to travel to Brazil, but because of the outbreak of Zika virus (120,000 cases), she decided to go to Japan instead. Sensible. Although it's a rather obvious decision to make, especially as mosquitos regard daughter.2 as an all-you-can-eat buffet.

So, later this year, in the middle of an epidemic of a disease that has horrific birth-defect effects, we're going to ship half a million people into the epicenter, and then spread those people all over the world.

Wait, what? Are you insane? What is the massively important reason for gathering 500,000 people into a place to expose them to Zika, and then let them go back home to spread it world wide?

You already guessed. Sport. People running, jumping and throwing things.

Admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of running, jumping and throwing things (not even a small fan), but surely even the people who think that it's really important to run, jump and throw things, could find a place to do it that isn't in the middle of a horrible disease outbreak?

Obviously I don't care how many of those 500,000 people contract Zika and have children with brain damage (well I do, actually) but more importantly, some of them will be travelling from here, returning to here, and bringing the disease back with them.

And it looks like no-one can stop this from happening.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Lightly beat

In Pakistan, the Council of Islamic Ideology are proposing that a husband should be allowed to lightly beat his wife.

And I suppose I ought to issue a proclamation on this. Because I have been vouchsafed a revelation (have you noticed how revelations are often vouchsafed?) on this subject. Because the proposal is incomplete. Plus, it includes a split infinitive. Although I'd guess that this is only in the English translation from the original, which probably wasn't in English.

What if the marriage is between two men? Should one of them be allowed to lightly beat the other, and if so, which? Or are both of them allowed to lightly beat each other? And what if the marriage is between two women? Are both of them allowed to be lightly beaten, and if so, by who?

Are single men allowed to lightly beat themselves?

If a woman is unmarried, who takes on the responsibility for lightly beating her?

And what about polygamous marriages? Is the husband allowed to lightly beat all his wives? Can he delegate the lightly beating to one of the more senior wives?

It needs considerable clarification, which we can only hope will be forthcoming.

Until that happens, I'll defer the lightly beating of ladysolly. And after the clarification too, because I can imagine her reaction go being lightly beaten. No, actually I can't, it would probably be something beyond my imagination.

Kentish capers

I went over the Queen Elizabeth bridge, always a treat, on my way to Sittingbourne. And since they abolished the toll booths, it's quicker to get across. I just topped up my "Dart Charge" account, which was at £4.99. I don't understand how it could have become an odd number. Oh well. Computers, eh?

I planned to do the series TT1, with the possibility of doing TT2 at the same time. In the event, it took me until 4pm to do TT1, so I only was able to do a few extras before it was time to depart.

This was a magnificent machine that I saw along the way - one of the caches was just a few yards from where it was working.

What it does, is pick up a felled tree, grip it with toothed rollers, roll the tree along, thus stripping off the side branches, then a chainsaw comes down and cuts through the tree, and the log falls into the trailer. It was very addictive to watch!

The other notable thing, was, I heard a cuckoo, or even cuckoos. I tried to record them on my phone, but it isn't sensitive enough to pick up the sound.

Last year, I didn't hear a cuckoo, and when I  looked into this, it seems there's been a catastrophic decline in cuckoo numbers.

34 caches found, several DNFs.

My monitor died

My monitor died.

It hiccuped a couple of times first; cutting out then coming back, and I kind of hoped that it would fix itself. But they never do.

And it cut out. Leaving just a clicking noise, which ladysolly woke me up at ungodly o'clock to listen to and diagnose as "monitor not working".

So I went on to Ebay. This is a 2560 by 1440 27 inch monitor, 16 million colours, because I like having lots of screen, and they aren't that expensive these days, about £160.

The first monitor I bought cost slightly more than that and was 14 inches, 320 by 200 pixels, four colours.

So it looks like I need to shell out another £160, but there's a couple of problems. 1) it comes from Korea, so that will take a week or two and 2) I need to use another monitor while that ships to me, which will be a hassle.

So then I had a thought. Could it be the power supply? The power supply has a little light, and that wasn't lighting. I put a voltmeter on the output and it was showing 8 volts, and it should have been 12. Aha!

So I dug out a general purpose power supply, dialled it to 12 volts, and plugged that in. The monitor came alive, but it flickered and hummed. That's because my general purpose power suppies aren't smoothed.

Down to the workshop.

I took the old power supply, and cut off the output lead, because the old power supply isn't going to be useful in future, and the output lead has the right plug for the monitor. It wan't long enough, but yesterday, while I was out caching, I found a two-core mains lead with a broken plug, and did a bit of rubbish clearance. I got that out, cut off the plug, trimmed the ends, and soldered it to the output lead from the old power supply, so now it's long enough. All I need now is 12 volts.

My first thought was to use a 12 volt PSU that came with something else. My second thought was, wait, the standard PC power supply has a 12 volt line. So I added a female Molex to the far end of the cable I'd made up. So that when I connected it to a standard PC power supply, I got 12 volts to plug into the monitor.

I took it upstairs to my office, and realised that I wouldn't need to use another power supply, because I have a standard PC power supply for powering the various Raspberry Pis. So I plugged it into that, plugged the other end into the monitor, and everying is working fine!

Now if only Daisy Communications can fix the fault that's developed in my internet connection, which started 15 hours ago and which is still faulty ...

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The Columbus myth

There's a commonly held belief that Columbus thought the world was round when everyone else thought it was flat, and it was brave but sensible of him to sail West to reach the Spice Islands, which were in East Asia.

But untrue.

Everyone knew that the world was round, except people who really didn't care (which is most landlubbers). When you see a ship at sea coming towards you, you see the mast and sails before you see the hull. If you hold a straight-edge against the sea horizon, you can actually see the curvature. If you see the shadow of the earth on the moon during a lunar eclipse, you can see it's curved.

The ancient Greeks knew that the world was round. 2200 years ago, Eratosthenes not only knew that, he actually measured the circumference. He got between 44,100 and 46,100 kilometers. Archimedes estimated 48,300 km. The actual value is 40,000 km.

So what happened?

Columbus got it wrong. He got confused between Roman miles and Arabic miles, and thought that the circumference was 30,000 km. If Columbus had been right, then you could load up a ship with tons of food and water, and sail west, and you'll get to the Indies before you run out.

So Columbus thought that the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan was 3,700 km. Actually, it's 20,000 km. He set off on September 6. On October 10, his crew nearly mutinied. This was not, as the myth goes, because they thought they were about to sail off the edge of the world. It was because they'd almost reached the point of no return. If they turned back now, they'd get back to the Canaries, and not starve at sea. Columbus persuaded them to go on two more days; they sighted land the next day. It was not, of course, the East Indies or Japan.

If it hadn't been for the previously unknown existence of the West Indies (so called because Columbus thought he'd reached what we now call the East Indies), he, and all his crew, would have died of thirst or starvation.

Computer says no

I went to pick up my usual prescription; I do this every three months. I get three bottles of eye drops, three 1-month packets of statin, and a whole bunch of warfarin (2 packs of 5 mg, 3 packs of 3mg and 8 packs of 1mg, because my dose is 7mg).

Today, I went to pick up my usual prescription. The three bottle of eye drops were fine, but there was only one pack each of statin and the different Warfarins. That's enough Warfarin for two weeks. And I can't reorder for a month.

I notice that the user interface on the web site where I re-order has changed. That means they changed the system. And it looks to me like they didn't migrate the data correctly.

I pointed this out to the pharmacist. Computer says no. I pointed this out to the doctor's receptionist. Computer says no. Everyone is sympathetic, and agrees that it must be wrong, but no-one can do anything about it.

So I'm going to have to waste my doctor's time so that he can correct the problem by re-inputting into the system, the details of my prescription.

Hurrah - I'm in the majority.

Atheists are now hugely in the majority.  48.5% of Brits identify as having no religion (43.8% Christian). That's up from 25% in 2011. Hurrah! And by the way, I don't actually believe those statistics; change doesn't happen that fast. My guess is that these two figures were arrived at using different methodologies and definitions. Still, it's looking good!

Now we need to deconvert the others? No, we don't. All we need to do is wait until they do it for themselves.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Return to Braunston

Back to Braunston today, to do the caches that I didn't get to last Thursday. I went out to Ashby St Ledgers and did the Gunpowder Plot series there, then back to the Grand Union canal for a few more, then along a disused railway to get back to Braunston.

32 caches done today, and a couple of DNFs.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Jolly Roger and Lenny

Jolly Roger and Lenny are bots. But not just any bots - they're bots aimed at telemarketers. They give just enough encouragement to the telemarketer for them to persist for anything up to half an hour.

You know the kind? "You had an accident in the last three years which was not your fault". Or "You're owed compensation for PPI." Or even "This is Microsoft technical department, we've detected a virus on your computer"

They ignore "Do not call" lists. If you report them to the Information Commissioner's office, nothing happens. And the calls keep coming in. If you ask them to stop, maybe they will, but the next caller still calls. The problem is, it's so cheap for them to do this; the answer is to make it more expensive, by adding to their costs. And their main cost is the cost of the time they spend in calling.

So I got to thinking, wouldn't it be rather fun if I had a bot like this? I'll call it "Rupert". But how to do it? The implementation of Lenny needs you to have a PBX, and you use Jolly Roger by redirecting your call. But the thing is, I'd like to make something like this, and base it on a Raspberry Pi, so I had a think - what do I need?

Suppose I Blu-tack a microphone and speaker to my phone handset. That eliminates all the problems of interfacing with the phone system, which isn't something I know anything about. It means that I can't auto-answer the phone, but that's not an issue. And when the call is over, I can hang up.

The Pi has sound output, but not input. But I can get a USB dongle that gives me that interface. That means I can get input and output to the Pi.

The way Lenny works, is it has a series of pre-recorded responses, which it plays in order. For this to work well, you need three kinds of responses. The first kind is "Yes", which you say in various ways. The second kind is a request to repeat, "Could you say that again, please?" also said in various ways. And the third kind is a lengthy response, with some detail and some encouragement. Jolly Roger is similar.

I think I'll do my own series of responses.

Lenny plays a response, waits for a reply, waits for silence, then plays the next response.
I can use sox to detect that there's some sound, and to detect silence. And I can keep a file of the whole conversation, for posting on this blog.

I'll use an ordinary Raspberry Pi, but if it works, then it occurs to me that other people might like one. It will probably work on a Pi Zero. In that case, the cost of the whole thing will be £4 for the Pi, £1 for the USB thing, £2 for the mike and speaker, £1.70 for the power supply, £2 for the 8gb SD card = £11.

In operation, I'll answer the phone as normal, but as soon as I realise it's a telemarketer, I'll start up Rupert, and let Rupert take care of the telemarketer.

So I've ordered the USB thing (which lets me attach a speaker and a mike to the USB port). I've already got everything else I need to set this up.

"Hello, it's Rupert ..."

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Vodafone and two factor authentication

Vodafone has two factor authentication for logging in to "My Account". I have to supply a username and a password. Then they text a six digit code to my phone, which I type in, and that's the second factor. How could this go wrong?

It starts off with A) we have four phone numbers with them; my phone, ladysolly's phone, ladysolly's iPad and ladysolly's iPad mini. B) the account is in her name, she set it up. C) I do all the tech stuff, including printing out our monthly bill for our records.

So yesterday, I got the email telling me my monthly bill is ready. I went to their web site, gave it my username and password as usual. But usually, it offers me four phone numbers to text the six digit code; this time, it only had one, and it wasn't mine. It was ladysolly's.

So I phoned Vodafone, and explained the problem. "I'll have to put you through a security check first," said John. That fell at the first hurdle. "What is the name of the account owner?" I gave ladysolly's name. "I need to speak to her."

I told him that I was her, but he didn't believe me, which is, of course, transphobia, and probably illegal. But he wouldn't budge. I took my phone to her to do the necessary, but she was asleep, and I'm not going to wake her up for something so silly, and I told John that.

So, impasse.

Then he suggested that I give him our Vodafone PIN, and I did, and he was happy with that.

He looked at our account, and decided to give me a new username and password, which after a couple of attempts, worked. Then I was able to log on, and as the second factor authentication, it offered me a choice of five phone numbers. Five? One of the numbers offered, isn't one of ours. I know this, because I just checked our bill.

I'll call them and see what they have to say.

... later ...

This time, they believed me when I said I was ladysolly. He sounded a bit surprised, but he didn't actually call me a liar! So I answered all the "security" questions correctly, which turned out to by ladysolly's date of birth, and our address, neither of which are a big secret. Then I gave him our pin code, which he said was wrong.  It turns out that when they changed my login, that invalidated the pin code. So we set up a new pin code.

He also set up a new login for me. I tried it, it didn't work.

After the fifth email with yet another login, he told me that "online access was being updated" and that's why I couldn't log in. I flatly don't believe this, but I didn't tell hom that. He suggested that I restart my browser; I offered to use Chrome instead, but he said that wouldn't work, because Chrome doesn't allow flash. He was wrong. Chrome does allow flash, and I was able to log in. And when I logged in, it offered me the phone number for the two factor authentication, and we were back to it offering only one phone number, which wasn't mine, it was ladysolly's.

At that point, I think he gave up, said he'd escalate the problem, and that I should expect it to take five days. And I bet my PIN code is wrong again.

Fortunately, I don't actually need to log in to My Vodafone right now.

One word, rhymes with "anchors".

Friday, 20 May 2016


I just had my hearing tested, and it's pretty much normal, a slight reduction at about 1000 hz, nothing to worry about. That's nice to hear.

We also talked a bit about the future of hearing aids. I'll probably get one in a few years. So why do I need a hearing aid?

I don't.

I don't need a bicycle either, but I can cover a lot more ground than if I walk. A hearing aid isn't just for the hard of hearing. Here's what I want.

Something that tucks behind the ear (I'm not a fan of things that go in your ear). Each one would have two microphones. The output of the four mics would be digitised, and then fed into a digital signal processor, which is actually just a computer. The signal processing would aim to reduce background noise, and (in my case ) give a small boost to sound at 1000 hz. It would also be able to take input from a separate microphone, which I would carry in my pocket and put next to a sound source (such as a TV, or the person I'm chatting to). Links would be via bluetooth, and battery life would be 12 hours. Control of it would be via a smartphone.

Look at this. $400, but not available in the UK yet.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Heels and hijabs

I'm a male. So I don't understand women. I know a few, but I always feel that I only know them very superficially.

For example, high heels.

I can't imagine what it must be like to wear high heels all day long - or even for a short time. I couldn't walk in heels, I'd barely be able to totter. And now there's a controversy about some women being forced to wear high heels for their jobs, which is obviously wrong, but I'd like to look at this more - many women wear high heels voluntarily. And I know they don't like it, or at least, I hear them complaining about how their feet, calves and legs hurt. But ... if a woman wants to wear something really stupid, that's her choice.

I'm reminded of hijabs and burkas. Some women wear them voluntarily, and vociferously defend their right to, and explain how they feel better dressed thusly.

Like I said, I don't understand women, and just as I don't understand the desire to wear an instrument of torture on your foot, I don't understand the wish to allow the outside world to see no more than a pair of eyes.

But it does seem to me as if there's an element of symmetry here.

The Grand Union Canal, north of Daventry

Another long bike ride today, along the canal and over the top of the Braunston tunnel, also visiting a couple of local villages.

The highlight of the day was "Hacker's Challenge". It gave me an MD5, and I had to find out the coords that digested to that md5. The whole point of an md5 digest is that you can't do that, of course.

So I wrote a program that tried a million combinations of northing and westing, until it found the correct md5. And then I found the cache.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

GM or not GM

There's a bunch of people, which seem to me to be mostly Americans (but also the EU), who are vocally opposed to GM (Genetically Modified) crops. Their opposition tends to take the form of a campaign that GM foods should be labelled as such, and who could possibly object to that? It means that people can choose for themselves.

The trouble with labelling, is A) it adds to the cost of products; each time you try to track products, there's a cost. B) why don't we label apples with their sugar content? So that consumers can choose? C) Why don't we label meat with fat content?  So that consumers can choose? And so on.

The same people are often scathing to climate change deniers, and to people who refuse to vaccinate their children. Because "the science is clear". The climate is changing, and we caused it. Vaccination makes children safer, and non-vaxxing is daft.

So now the science on GM crops is clear. There's no risk. And there's huge benefits.

The science is clear. So will the anti-GM people drop their campaign?

Fat chance.

Hard drive reliability

Some hard drives are more reliable than others.

I've had good experiences with most drives, but some stand out as poor. The Seagate 160gd, the Western Digital 200gb. And most recently, the Seagate 3tb.

I'v just read an article that confirms that last drive as poor.

After buying just a few of them, they went onto my Blacklist, and it's nice to see that I was right.

Bluepoint desperate for business

I was doing my occasional rummage around looking at prices of drives.  By the way, there's 8tb drives offered by Maplin for £189.99 and Aria for £187.14, and that looks like the best buy right now.

One of the sites I checked was Bluepoint (£242.22 for the 8tb drive). And then I got a phone call. It was from Bluepoint!

What a coincidence, was my first thought, and then critical thinking kicked in. It wasn't a coincidence. To see Bluepoint's prices, you have to log in, so they saw me log in and what I was looking at.

I used to buy all my drives from Bluepoint, until about a dozen years ago, they delivered a batch that had obviously been dropped (you could see the damage on the drives). I tried to send them back as dead-on-arrival, but they wouldn't take it. Fortunately, Seagate honoured their guarantee, so I wasn't out of pocket, but the experience was one I didn't want to repeat. I totally stopped buying from Bluepoint.

And I haven't bought from then since, except perhaps the occasional bits and bobs.

But they have my details on record, of course, and hence the phone call.

Bluepoint is one of those companies who carefully choose staff with the most incomprehensible voices to make their outbound sales calls. I've never understood why some companies do this - perhaps they put their most recent hires onto it? Anyway, the guy had so much trouble pronouncing words, I had to get him to repeat his stuff several times. It turned out that he had settled on the idea that I was interested in 2tb drives, which I am very slightly, but principally I want the best "bang for the buck", the best price per terabyte, which is 8tb.

So I explained to him that it was 8tb I was interested in, and he offered to send me an email. "No," I said, "where on your web site?" So after a few seconds, he said they don't have any 8tb, which isn't what his web site says, but I'm not in the game of helping Bluepoint fix their data problem, so I politely said goodbye.

If this happens again, I'll stop visiting their web site.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Hacker fail

Someone uploaded this to my accessible-to-everyone ftp

Another failed hack.

Monday, 16 May 2016

A bike ride round Colne Brook

I went out caching today; the weather was great.

I had intended to do a series along the Grand Union Canal Slough arm, but when I tried to do the first one, the cache page said that I'd need a canoe. My bike doesn't float. So I scrubbed that series, and headed south.

I saw this coal post as I went round.

By the end of the day, I did 41 caches, but I had several DNFs.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

The H word

I'm no believer in the tabooness of particular words. This is partly because the list of taboo words varies from culture to culture, and partly because I've never been able to obtain a definitive list of taboo words.

But every politician, especially ex-mayors of London, ought to know better. There are some words, not profane nor obscene nor vulgar, such that if you use them everyone ignores what you were actually trying to say, and focusses totally on that one word amid loud imprecations from the offencivariat.

Bigears at it again

The Man Who Would Be King is still drivelling on about homeopathy.

It's a good idea to reduce feeding farm animals with antibiotics, because mass use of antibiotics causes the bacteria to evolve resistance. There will come a time when currently used antibiotics will be less and less useful.

But homeopathy?

Look, Charlie. If you want to give your cows plain water instead of antibiotics, I'm fine with that. The placebo effect isn't going to work on cows anyway, because you won't be convincing the cows they're getting medicine. And since homeopathic "medicines" are just plain water, I'd advise you to actually use plain water. For a start, it's cheaper.

But what I really really want you to do, is A) stop writing to government functionaries with your idiotic ideas, because they might actually take some notice and waste £4 million of NHS money  on plain water, and B), and more importantly, stop embarrassing me.

Because if you were just plain old Charlie McCharlieface, no-one would notice or care about your stupid ideas, but because you're next in line for the throne (and we're all hoping that the Queen lives as long as necessary to exclude you from the succession) your daft utterances get spread all over the internet and you make us British look as daft as an American that thinks the world is 6000 years old.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Friday 13th

Another unlucky day.

One of my servers  was acting a bit strange - lots of zombies, which means processes that don't die even though they've been killed. If you want to know more about zombies, google "zombie unix". I don't know of any good way of getting rid of zombies (although if you do nothing, they fade out eventually), even shooting them in the head with kill -9 doesn't work. The only way I know is to reboot the computer. So that's what I did.

Well, actually, you can kill a zombie by killing its parent (which seems drastic and unfair), but when the problem is not just a couple of zombies but a fully-fledged Zombie Apocalypse, that's a feeble response. Reboot.

Power off, power on ... and nothing happened. So I got a hands-and-eyes, and she pressed the on-button (which shouldn't be necessary, because I have the servers all set to not need that). And still nothing happened. So I got her to put on a keyboard and monitor, and the server was asking for someone to "press F1 to continue". That means that the little lithium battery has run out of power and the server has forgotten its configuration, which is why it didn't power up.

So she pressed F1, and the boot process went as normal, but I still couldn't ping the server. And when she tried to log in, the server died. So this server has some major hardware problem that I'm not going to be able to fix remotely, it will have to wait until I visit the colocation, which tends to be once per year.

We tried it a couple more times, but it was clear that this server was now pushing up daisies, so I thanked her, and powered that server off.

Of course, I can't leave it like that, this is a customer-facing server. So I powered up the backup server, which was last updated about a month ago, and I refreshed the data on it from the daily backup, which means I might have lost a few hour's worth of stuff, but them's the breaks. And I used my firewall to redirect accesses from the old server to the new one. I love my firewall.

I also had to do a certain amount of tidying up, because the configuration files weren't totally up to date, but that wasn't too bad. And then I checked that everything was working (which led to a few more tweaks), and then it was OK, and it was half past midnight, and I'm still trying to catch up on sleep from the Night of the Great Toothache.

Only one customer noticed that there was a problem, and that was because he went to the server after I'd brought it up but while I was still updating it, so I explained to him about that server being a month out of date but not to worry because I was restoring a backup from yesterday right now, and he was happy.

So now, with the lessons learned, I'm bringing two more backup servers completely up to date, because I always like to have at least two backups.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Rattle rattle

Three Warfarin to thin the blood, because they tested my blood and I'm particularly good at clotting, which is pro-survival when you're under 40 and could get slashed by a tiger, but not so good when you're getting on a bit. One Statin, because everyone seems to take Statins, and my doctor prescribed it because I have fat blood. One antibiotic, to settle down the tooth infection, because the redo of the root canal could take several days before it happens. And two paracetamol, to dull the pain, because last night I got no sleep, and I don't want that again.

Rattle rattle.

Not a good day

I was going to go out caching today, but I had no sleep last night because of a bad tooth. Today, I phoned up the dentist, and got an appointment immediately. So I trundled down there, she had a look, and it's a previous root canal filling, that needs something done.

My choices were, A) an extraction (I'd rather hang on to my teeth please) or B) a visit to the endodontist, which will have to be a private appointment, and will cost maybe £1000. So I got a prescription for an antibiotic, to clear up the infection. I did tell her I was on Warfarin, but she prescribed an antibiotic that I thought might not be good with Warfarin. She looked it up in her big book of drugs, and sure enough, metronidazole affects Warfarin. I'm a bit surprised that she didn't already know this; a lot of people visiting the dentist must be on Warfarin, and metronidazole is the usual prescription. Last time I had it, I bled more than I'd expect, so it must increase the effect of Warfarin.

So she gave me erythromycin, which also interacts with warfarin, but I suppose less so.
And she referred me to the endodontist. And as a bonus, just before I left, she noticed that another tooth looked like it had an infection. So, something to look forward to.

The second thing that happened today, was just before I left for the dentist - we had a total power cut. However, all my computers are on UPSes, and when the power came back after 15 minutes out, everyting was fine, except one UPS cut out, but that's behind an unimportant computer, and I'll replace it.

The third thing, was that ladysolly visited the doctor because her knee had swollen a bit. It was diagnosed as housemaid's knee, which you'll remember was the only malady that Jerome K Jerome didn't suffer from. The main treatment is, stop kneeling.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Do you take cash?

Wendy's is a huge fast food chain. 300 of their shops have been hit by the presence of malicious software on their point-of-sales systems.

I have a credit card, but here's the list of where I use it.

1) Paypal and Amazon.
2) When buying petrol, because the purchase tends to be largish.
3) HMRC, for online payment of taxes such as VAT. Actually, I trust the HMRC systems sufficiently that I even use a debit card.

And that's just about it. For everything else, I use cash.

With a debit card, if you're defrauded, you probably lose out. With a credit card, you'll probably get a refund, but only after toing and froing somewhat. But with cash, my liability is limited. I could lose my wallet (hasn't happened in 50 years) or I could get mugged (hasn't happened), but in either case, I lose about £100. Limited liability. And I do not have to worry about the reliability of the people I'm paying - will the waiter make a note of my card number? Will there be a printed record that they subsequently put in a skip? Has the point of sale device been skimmed?

Not my problem, because I'm paying cash.

Malvertising again

Perez Hilton website users got hit my malvertising twice last week.

I use uBlock Origin and Noscript. So am I bovvered? Yes. Because not everyone blocks ads. Yet.

But who is at fault here? Not Perez Hilton (whatever that is, and I don't plan to go there to find out). I lay the blame on the advertising middlemen. They accept ads from advertisers, and farm them out to web sites. That way the web site makes some money, and the advertiser gets some exposure.

But the middlemen should do more. They should check that the ads don't include malware, and if that means that they have to strip out all javascript from the adverts, then that's what they should do.

A chunk of the internet relies on advertising revenue. It's been said that ad blocking costs ad publishers $22 billion. Well, chaps, it's going to get a lot worse unless you take action.
And why should you take action?

Because users hear about ransomware, and they hear that it can be installed via malvertising, and they don't want to have to pay hundreds of dollars to ransom their data. And you've probably already lost the 200 million users that are blocking ads, but you'll lose a lot more unless you clean up your act.

And there's no sign that they even know that's possible.

NC School System to Allow Pepper Spray to 'Protect' From Trans Students

In order to understand this article, I need to explain that "NC" is "North Carolina", which is a place in the United States, a place where some schools allow students to carry concealed guns on campus, which means that pepper spray is actually a de-escalation.

When I was at university, we carried pencils and notebooks.

I took my bike for a haircut

The new 48 volt bike got an outing today - I took it to get a haircut.

I get a haircut once per year, it's the Annual Summer Shearing. The barber always seems surprised to see me.

The bike went well, which is more than I can say for the barber. The one I planned to go to in Old Amersham was closed until Friday, so I biked up to Top Amersham and went to Jasmine's, she always does a good job. When Jasmine's done, my head's half a pound lighter. She also trimmed by eyebrows, which were getting a bit Dennis Healey.

Bad news about one of the batteries, though. They're 8s, so I use them in pairs, which gives me a starting voltage of 67 volts, nice and nippy. I have four of them, each 4 amp-hours. One of them has partly failed, so instead of 8AH at 48 volts, I now have 4AH. Still, it's good that it happened today, rather then in the middle of a long geocaching circuit.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Mouse mats

A long long time ago, I bought three mouse mats. I'm still using them. They are the Fellowes 91741 Mouse Pad

The front of the mouse mat has a gel pad for resting your wrist on; that helps to prevent RSI. The back of the pad is a good sized surface - my Microsoft optical mice work very well on it.

They are, of course, more expensive that the freebie rubbish that many people give away as promotion items. I looked around, the best price I found was £13, but if you don't have a decent mouse pad, and do a lot of mousing, I'd recommend one of these.

But the surface on which the mouse glides gets dirty. Today, I took action.

I took all three of them down to our laundry room, and scrubbed the surface with a nylon scrubber and detergent. Rinse, dry and now they're as clean as the day I buoght them, and probably good for another 20 years.

Monday, 9 May 2016

The subscription service fraud

Thanks to Ian Murray for this information.

To understand this fraud you need to have a little patience. The criminal fraternity certainly had the patience to set it up.

Essentially this fraud exploits the open barn door of VISA (and MasterCard).

Let us give a non-fraudulent example first.

1) You have moved your electricity supplier and are setting up a new monthly debit. This time you reach into your pocket for your DEBIT card and type in the correct information. Hey presto ... at the end of the month .. the lights don't go off and you feel smug because your new supplier is cheaper.

2) A few weeks later your partner sees your tatty old trousers covered in gardening muck on the bedroom and decides they wont survive another tumble in the washing machine. Into the family dustbin they go ... with annoyingly your debit card in the back pocket.

3) You come home and have the predictable row about your missing much loved trousers. The row goes nuclear when you discover your debit card was also put into the rubbish with the trousers. Never mind. Your recover your cool, get onto the bank, cancel the old card and await its delivery.

4) It is the end of the month. The new card is due and the lights in your domicile have not gone out. You don't give it a second thought - perhaps you should have.

So what happened ? Well your electricity was on a SUBSCRIPTION service tied to your VISA DEBIT card. When the electricity company tried to put through your monthly bill it was initially rejected. The electricity company then requested from VISA - not your bank - the replacement card details. VISA thoughtfully passed over the details, which they had retrieved from your bank, and your lights stayed on. Good result.

So how does the fraud work?

The first thing to say is that the fraudster is not interested in any subscription service they create on your behalf. The creation of that subscription may be fraudulent but that is not the purpose of the fraud. Are they really interested in viewing another set of writhing bodies on a porn set or reading the Economist on-line. No they are not.

The fraudster has your card details, could be from a dodgy Internet purchase or a restaurant you have visited. It doesn't matter how. The first thing the fraudster does is sign up for a subscription service: preferably one which gives the subscriber a 'free' first month or so. Ideal. So far so good.

Then the fraudster starts trying to spend your card - not on subscription services but that nice Harley or perhaps a new hi-fi from Bose. Perhaps one or two purchases will get away safely to the fraudster before you suspect and the card is blocked. Job done.


The fraudster waits for the subscription service request to be declined because the card is
blocked. Quite reasonably the subscription service asks VISA for the new numbers associated with the account and VISA obliges. Now the fraudster has your new card details and can do this all over again. In fact so good is this service to the fraudster that VISA NEVER tells your bank that it offered up your debit card details.

You complain to the bank that your new card is being fraudulently used to buy a nice tank of petrol in southern Spain. Sadly if you were unfortunately to be in southern Spain, your bank will simply not believe you - and no one knows how you were scammed.


This open barn door has been known about by the banks for the last 20 years. They have
absolutely zero defence against it. There is a pretence that the fraud alert systems will spot some of these dodgy subscription services and the follow on payments. To some extent they are correct and when my cards were attacked like this no money got through the net. But the barn door is still wide open and NO ONE IS DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT!

Footnote: typically the fraudster will generate middling size purchases under £200 because they rely on the punter not spotting their activities on their bank's statements. Remember this is not a credit card fraud but a debit card fraud. The VISA contract with subscription services is different for credit cards which are treated by VISA as charge cards against (let's say Barclaycard), not against your bank account. You often check your credit card bill: how much do you check that bank statement?

The dangerous equation

You'll have heard by now about a flight being delayed for two hours because a passenger became suspicious of an equation being worked on by a bearded Italian economist. How stupid!

But who, exactly, is being stupid?

First, the BBC, because the graphic they show is of Maxwell's equations. Any student of maths or physics will recognise it. No economist would be working on that. If I saw someone working on those equations and they claimed to be an economist, I would call the Science Police immediately. But joking aside, it demonstrates a regrettable tendency among the uneducated clowns at the BBC to assume that all equations are the same, and are equally incomprehensible.

In the USA, they have a campaign, "If you see something, say something" and I should put a superscript of TM there, because, yes, they've trademarked that. Suspicious activity includes, for example, "unusual items or situations". I'd say that an airplane passenger working on partial differential equations is pretty unusual. So the lady who reported it was only doing what the US Government recommended.

I have, of course, encountered this several times when out caching. People approach me while I'm groping under a post box, or rummaging in a hedge; the usual questions are "Are you OK?" or "Can I help you?" to which I smile brightly and reply "I'm fine thanks", which answers what they asked, but not their real question which was actually "What naughtiness are you up to?" And with that reply, they nearly always are happy and go away, and I hope that any terrorist reading this blog doesn't learn how easy it is to deflect suspicion with that phrase.

On one especially precious occasion, I was on my knees grubbing at the base of a hedge near a churchyard, and a voice behind me said "What are you looking for?" So I explained "I'm looking for God", and that was before I got up and noticed the clerical collar. He didn't ask any more, which is unfortunate, because I had with me a pamphlet from the Jehovah's Witnesses that I would have offered him.

But sometimes, this doesn't allay their suspicion, and they continue the interrogation with "What are you doing?" Depending on whether they're being nice about it or not, and on how contrary I feel, I'll answer with either "I'm on a sort of treasure hunt", or "I'm counting the slugs." The treasure hunt answer sometimes elicits, "Oh, is that geocaching?" and we have a bit of a conversation about that. The slugs answer usually baffles them by being so unexpected, and they can't think of any further questions, although a couple of times, I've been handed "Oh, really?" and then I show them my official "British Slug Survey" card. And away they go, thinking "Another looney" or whatever it is they think.

But there's always the occasional stalwart, not deflected by the slug story, who accuses me of "suspicious behaviour". And then the fun really starts.

One man caught me coming out from behind the trees near a bridleway, and after the preliminaries, demanded to know what I had in my pockets. I resisted the temptation to do a Gollum impression, and showed him my car keys. "What else?" he asked. "None of your business," I replied.  And I walked away.

A woman caught me coming out from behind some trees, and didn't believe my slug story. I explained that her non-belief was actually her problem, not mine. She said that her son was a policeman. "Good for him," I said, "we need a good police force"

One man demanded to know my name and address. I told him I'd give him mine, if he gave me his. He wasn't too keen on the exchange, and we parted anonymously.

My favourite was at night, I'd been in a small patch of woods, I found the cache, signed it, and came out of the woods onto the green, where I was approached by two gentlemen, who demanded to know what I was up to.

"I was walking in the woods". "Why were you flashing your torch?" "So that I could see where I was going, I don't like falling over" And it went on like this for a little while, then one of them pulled out his phone. "I'm calling the police," he said. I kept a straight face. "I'll do a deal with you," I offered. "You call the police, and I'll wait here until they come, but you have to wait along with me so that you can explain to them why you called them. And if they don't turn up within one hour from now, I'm leaving anyway, and you can stay and talk to them by yourselves." He put his phone away. I wandered slowly away.

By the way, if it's an actual policeman asking me (as distinct from someone wearing a police-like jacket) then I tell them I'm geocaching. I feel they're entitled to ask, and entitled to a straight answer.

So here's the problem. What is it that they suspect?

Do they think I'm plotting to steal a tree? Am I planning to dig a bear trap? Is there the possibility of some nefarious sexual activity? The trouble is, they don't actually have any clear idea of what it is they suspect, it's just that I'm doing something that isn't like the things that they do.

And that's what the Italian economist was doing - something that isn't like what the lady next to him does.

And I blame governments for this, and other authorities. Here's what the University of Birmingham says.

We can all do our bit by remaining vigilant and reporting anything suspicious. Be alert to anything that seems odd, out of place, unusual, out of the ordinary or makes you feel concerned. You should never worry that it might turn out to be nothing.

Kent police

We want you to report any unusual or suspicious behaviour no matter how trivial it may seem. If it looks out of the ordinary, we want to know about it.

UK Government 

 We are asking the public to look out for and report any suspicious activity. Suspicious activity is anything that seems out of place, unusual or just doesn’t seem to fit in with day-to-day life.

I can only hope and pray that the people everywhere have the common sense to ignore this. Because finding a terrorist is like looking for a needle in a haystack, and there's two rules for that situation. 1) Don't start off by making the haystack ten times bigger, and 2) Don't think that burning down the haystack is a good plan.

Another scam

"Have you had an accident within the last three years?"

Well, of course I have. And so it begins.

After I made it clear that my accident was while I was walking and didn't involve a car at all, I made my usual offer to send a photograph, because that can get me their email address, which leads to their domain name, and the domain name search gives me more information, and so on. But they didn't want a photo.

This scam was different. Apparently, some foreigners had an accident and they've made a claim, but no-one knows who else was in the car, and the idea is that I pretend to be in that car, and injured, and I'll get £3000 to £4000.

I've not encountered that one before - it's fraud of the simplest kind. So I went along with it, because I'd quite like to know which firm of solicitors is behind this. They already have my phone number, but when they asked for my address, I gave them the address of another scammer, and I made up a name and date of birth for them.

And now, according to Ali (that's the name he gave), I just need to wait for the phone call from the solicitor. My guess is that this won't happen, but if it does, something large and heavy (in the shape of the Solicitor's Regulation Authority, will descend on them.

As you might remember, I've had success on this in the past.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Testing the new bike

I took it out for a run today, first giving it 50 volts, then giving it 66 volts. At 50 volts, it was OK, nothing to get excited about. But a 66 volts!

I ran it from 16s of Lipo batteries, which gives a possible maximum voltage of 67.2 volts. On the flat, it was very nice, but it really shone going up the steep hill at the bottom of my road. At 50 volts, I had to pedal a bit to help it get up, but at 66 volts, it winched me up without any help. The downside is that this eats up more power, but since the bike carries the weight of the batteries, that's cool.

Speaking of cool, the motor got a bit warm. So I added a thermometer with the sensor next to the motor - I'll be able to keep an eye on the temperature on long rides. I also removed the left pedal and gave it some oil, so now it turns freely. Experience tells me that this will only be a temporary solution, and I'll have to replace it.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Did my vote make a difference?

I regret to report that the answer is "no."

This isn't the first time. In 2001, Irish voters rejected the Treaty of Nice. Evidently, they got it wrong, so the government held another referendum in 2002, and this time the referendum approved the treaty. If I'd been voting in that, I'd have felt "You'll keep voting until you get it right".

In 2105, UKIP got 12.6% of the votes, 0.2% share of the seats.

And now again. So much for democracy. If they ask us to vote, isn't there a kind of implied committment to abide by the result of that vote?

But the ship will not be called Boaty McBoatface.

Building the new bike

Why a new bike? Because I can. OK, I admit  it, I have a bike habit. OK?

So the motor arrived from Xiogda. It's a dual speed motor, the same as the one I
got from Panda, but this one is rated at 48 volts, plus I told them I wanted the
winding to be for maximum torque, not for speed. That's because I'm mostly
bumping along rough ground, and half of that is uphill.

A couple of days before it arrived, I realised that I needed spokes, so I
ordered those from Tiller Cycles, and they arrived the day after the
motor. I already had a rim, because last time I did this, I bought a pair
of rims. So yesterday, I started the build.

The first, and most difficult job, was to lace the hub motor and rim together
using my new spokes. That went well, except that I lost a nipple inside the hub.
I couldn't get it out, so it's going to stay in there for ever. I tightened up
the spokes with my spoke key, and found that I'd build it so well, I didn't
need to true or balance it, it was already fine. So I put on rim tape to protect
the inner tube from the spoke holes, then one side of a Kevlar Schwalbe
Blackjack tire, then one of my special thick thorn-resistant inner tubes, then I
fed a Dr Sludge gel insert between the inner tube and the tire (more thorn
protection), then pushed on the other side of the tire, using tire levers for
the last few inches, my thumbs being not quite up to the job. I inflated the
inner tube, and it was good.

When I tried to put the wheel on the bike, the motor was fouling the front
forks. I had this problem last time I did this on the other Haro bike, so I
knew what to do. I got the jack out of the Volvo and used it on the forks. They
were 10.1 inches apart with I started, 11.25 when I'd finished. The forks
are steel, I wouldn't want to try this with aluminium.

I used a couple of washers to maintain the separation, and when I put the
wheel nuts on and tightened them, it looked fine.

Next, I sorted out the handlebars. I needed to add the gear-change switch
for the motor (high gear, low gear and autochange). I mostly ride in low
gear, because I'm running at low speed over rough tracks, but when I get onto
tarmac for a bit of a ride, I switch to auto. When the high gear kicks in, it's
like someone just switched on the afterburner!

I also installed a thumb throttle, the control panel (which shows my speed, and
the battery voltage, and a few other useful things). And I added an extension
bar, which gives me a bar a few inches above the handlebar - that's where I
mount my Fujitsu Loox, which I use for navigating.

The controller terminated the power leads in a tiny plug; I stripped those off
and replaced them with an EC5, which is my standard plug and socket for bike
power. The power lead from the controller is too short, so I also made an
extension for it; EC5 to EC5. I put a segment of inner tube over all these
connections, to help keep water out.

I tidied up the cables using a curly-wurly outer and a few cable ties. Then I tested it - I connected up a 50 volt battery, and tried to switch on the power using the bike's ON button ... nothing happened. Panic! What's wrong? So I put a voltmeter on the battery, and it showed zero. So I fiddled with the leads a bit until it showed 50 volts, then connected it back to the bike, powered on, and it came on! I lifted up the front wheel and gave it a bit of throttle, and the motor powered the wheel. Great!

The front brakes were rather worn, so I replaced the brake shoes. The kick stand was one of the cheap rear kickstands that so many bikes come with, so I replaced that with a decent on in the middle of the bike. The pedals were a bit wobbly, so I replaced those.
Then I put the back end on a support, and adjusted the gear cable until I could get all seven of the gears - I want the lowest gear for climbing steep tracks, and the highest gear for zooming along tarmac.

The bike is now ready. I'm planning to give it a test tomorrow, first with three 4s batteries in series (which gives 50 volts) and then with four, which should give me 62 volts, and which I'm hoping gives me very good hill-climbing. I want it to feel like I'm being winched up the hill!

Thursday, 5 May 2016

A web site failure

I tried to buy a bike part from

I found what I wanted, at a cost of £12.34, put it in my  "basket", went to the checkout. And it wanted to bill me for £24.68. And no, I didn't have two of the item.

I tried it again - same result.

So I bought the thing from another vendor. But then I thought, maybe they don't know about this problem, so I emailed them at

I just got a reply. The reply is a blank email.

They give a freephone number on the site. Freephone:0800 That isn't going to work!

They also give a snail mail address, but I'm not so sympathetic and expectant  of action that I'm about to write them a letter.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Voting in the local elections

I don't usually vote in the local elections - I don't know much about the candidates, or about local politics. But ...

The main effect of the local government elections is to decide who runs the local council. But there's a side effect - it sends a message to the political parties.

Right now, there's a message I'd like to send to Jeremy Corbyn, and I suspect that a strongly worded email, or another blog post, isn't going to be taken notice of. The message that I want to send, is that racism is not acceptable to me.

For many years, the extreme right has been the home of racism. You'll have heard of parties with "British", English" and "National" in their names, usually a clear giveaway of their racist beliefs.

But now the extreme left (and today's labour party is very left) has picked up the banner of anti-semitism, sometimes thinly disguised as anti-zionism. Clearly, they've been waving this banner for a while now, but recently the banner has become so overt, that many people are calling on them to purge the racist members of their party. If you're racist, homophobic or antisemitic, you should not be allowed to claim that you have the backing of the labour party.

Go join Nick Griffin's mob.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Return to Amesbury

I finished the AWD circuit, had lunch, relocated and then did another couple of dozen caches in and around Amesbury.

This isn't Stonehenge.

50 caches done today, and one DNF.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Two more suspensions from the Labour party.

According to Guido Fawkes.

Nottingham's Labour councillor Ilyas Aziz, arguing that jews should "relocate" to America "now". Suspended.

Labour councillor in Blackburn (and former mayor) Salim Mulla: it is “bloody obvious” who is behind ISIS: “Those who are not sure. ISRAEL.” and “Zionist Jews are a disgrace to humanity”. Suspended.

And some great comments from readers of Guido Fawkes web site:

"How many Labour anti-Semites does it take to change a lightbulb?" .... "There are no anti-Semites in the Labour Party, so we will just have to remain here in darkness..."

It's come to something when a councillor can't go around being a disgusting hate-filled racist bigot without being smeared as a disgusting hate-filled racist bigot...

at this rate by tomorrow labour might be suspending their bigots BEFORE Guido can post anything.

More suspensions? I'd guess yes. It looks as if some people thought they could say whatever they liked on Facebook and Twitter and no-one would notice. But in the last few days, people have been taking notice. Social media have always been like this. It feels to you like your remarks are being shared by your circle of close friends - actually, they're being published on the internet and available to several billion people. And I'd guess that what is happening, is people with racist local councillors have been checking through their public statements and sending word to Guido.

And what about Ken?

The Ken Livingstone saga is still in place. He hasn't been expelled from the Labour Party, just suspended. Well, that's as it should be - before being expelled, there should be due process, a fair hearing at which he can defend his position and statements. But that's going to be rather difficult for Corbyn. Because Ken said "When Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews." And he's not apologised, or taken it back, and it looks very like he isn't going to.

Now let's leave aside the quibble that Israel didn't exist in 1932, Ken must have meant "Palestine".  What he was referring to was the "Haavara agreement"  (actually 1933, but again let's not quibble) which allowed jews emigrating Germany to take some of their assets with them to Palestine.

So you could, if you crossed your eyes and defocussed your brain, read that as supporting Zionism, and Ken, I guess, is going to give that as his defence.

And that's going to put Corbyn into a slightly difficult position. Ken will claim "I was telling the truth" and has the Haavara agreement to cite, but by the time the Trial of Ken Livingstone takes place, heaven knows how many more suspensions will have taken place, increasing the pressure on Corbyn to clean his Augean stables. And if Ken is expelled, does anyone think that this will stop him talking to the media? Or stop the media from pursuing a great click-bait story?

The local elections take place on Thursday, and until then, it's in the Labour Party's interest to keep the lid on any controversy about their party. Although that isn't working.

After May 5th, the gloves are off.

 ... update ...

Three in one day.

Burnley Labour councillor Shah Hussain has been suspended.