Wednesday, 18 October 2017


I've been reading a book about the Wars of the Roses, which happened in the UK about 600 years ago, and it's made me think a bit about marriage. And what is a proper age for getting married. For me, it was "almost 25". But back in the 15th century, it was different.

Marriage wasn't just for sex. It was also a contract, with dowry, titles and property involved. And it happened much earlier. MUCH earlier. Girls were being married off at the age of 12. Was this pedophilia? We would say it was, but they obviously didn't think so.

And it could be even earlier. In reading about the Wars of the Roses, I discovered that one of the significant players, Margaret Beaufort, (age 7, although some sources put this even earlier) was married to John de la Pole (age 7) in 1450 by the arrangement of John's father. I think this was a marriage in name only, and it was conditional on consummation, which obviously wouldn't happen for several years. So, in effect, it was a contractual promise. And, in this case, the marriage was annulled three years later. Her second marriage was at age 12.  She was widowed soon after, and at age 13 she was 7 months pregnant. And that's pretty shocking to modern ears.

 And we don't do that now, of course. Do we? Apparently, we do. A woman from Florida has claimed she was forced to marry her rapist at age 11. How was this possible, in an enlightened age and an enlightened country? Well, it turns out in 27 states of the US, there is no minimum age for marriage. In 38 states, more than 167,000 children — almost all of them girls, some as young 12 — were married during a ten year period,

And that brings me to Aisha. I've been trundling around some of the religion discussion groups on Facebook, where I've learned quite a lot of interesting stuff, which I might cover in a subsequent blog, but a topic that comes up over and over again, is Mohammed's marriage to Aisha, when she was six or seven, and it was consummated when she was nine or ten. And people discussing Islam use this to call Mohammed a pedophile.

I'm not sure that this is entirely fair. Remember Margaret Beaufort?  This was, I think, acceptable at the time, so it's a bit unfair to apply modern standards of morality to 600 years ago, or 1400 years ago. Also, other sources give her age at marriage as 10, and consummation at 15. And yes, this is still pedophilia by modern standards (except in 27 US states), but I don't think it was considered abnormal back then.

What was acceptable several hundred years ago, is not acceptable today. And it isn't good enough to cite the fact that such practices existed then - so did slavery. Nor is it good enough to pretend that because Muhammed did something 1400 years ago, that the same thing is acceptable now, on the assumed grounds that he was a "perfect man". 

So do I support Islam? No, because I'm an atheist, I don't believe in any gods. But I also believe in fair play.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

You've been hacked!

Well, that wasn't quite what it said. And it wasn't me, it was ladysolly.

The email came from, where she has an account, and it was telling her that someone had attempted to log in using her email address, so they've changed her password to a temporary password and offer her a link so that she can sign in and change it to a new password.

That's their first mistake; ladysolly is clued up enough to know that she shouldn't click on a link in an email. My email system tells me where an email goes to, as well as where it claims to go to. If that's different, then it's probably a scam. Her email system (iPad) doesn't do that.

So we went to, not using their link, and tried to log on. Sure enough, her password didn't work, so the original email was telling the truth (but that doesn't mean it actually came from amazon, of course).

So we changed her password (it checked that she was who she said she was by sending her an email to the email address they have for her) and everything is OK now. But ladysolly was worried - could they have gotten her credit card number?

I don't think so - from the amazon email, it was a password-guessing attempt, which failed.

Later, I checked out the email, and the links really did go to, so the whole thing was probably bona fide.

I told her that this could well happen again; her email address is publicly known (most email addresses are) and the hackers could try again. Her email address is only one of many on their long list, and that list circulates amongst the criminal fraternity. Tough luck to anyone whose password is "password" or "123456".

Monday, 9 October 2017

Repeal and replace the second amendment

A 64 year old retired accountant was legally able to purchase dozens of guns, including semi-automatic weapons. And he was also able to purchase legally, "bump stocks", which gives a semi-automatic firearm the capability to fire about as rapidly as a fully automatic machine gun. And in Las Vegas, he was able to shoot 600 people in ten minutes, of which 58 died.

How was this possible? Is this a good idea?

What is to be done?

Is this actually a problem?

The first question to ask, is whether this is indeed a problem. Intuitively it seems like it might be, but it's best to examine actual statistics to find out.

There are homicides, suicides and accidents.

It could be argued that suicides by firearm should not count, because if someone hasn't got a gun, they could use a knife, or a throw themselves off a bridge, or take an overdose.  The counter-argument to that is that failed suicides often don't try again, which means that they tried to take their own life at a low point, and without the failure, they'd be dead from the experience of that low point. But it's arguable, so I'm going to leave suicide out of the statistics.

So excluding suicide, there were 13,286 people killed with firearms in the USA in 2015. US population was 322 million, so that's 41 per million per year. And 63 suicides, and 2 accidents.

The UK is a somewhat similar country; we speak the same language, like the same music, eat similar food. In the UK, the number is 0.6 homicides per million per year, 1.5 suicides and zero accidents. In France, 2.1 homicides, 21 suicides. In Germany, 0.7 homicides, 8.4 suicides. In Australia 1.6 homicides, 7.4 suicides.

So that's a big difference. And that means that yes, it's a problem in the USA.

What are the benefits?

So Americans are paying a big price; 13,000 homicides per year. What benefits are they getting for that price? I've asked pro-gun Americans about this, and I'll list the answers I've heard.

1. Self defence. This makes a lot of sense; if a burglar is likely to be armed, it makes sense that a homeowner should be armed.

2. Hunting. If you want to shoot moose, or squirrels, you'll need a rifle.

3. Protection against despotic government. This can also be expressed as "we need guns to ensure our freedom". This is fed by the founding narrative of the USA. The narrative goes like this (I've heard this so many times, and I won't argue it here, because what is important is what people believe, not what actually happened). England oppressed the colonists with taxation, which was an imposition on their liberty, but because the colonists were armed, they were able to fight back against the Greatest Power in the World, and defeat their oppressors, and so the Right to Bear Arms is important. The problem with this as follows.

The US military is the strongest in the world; there's no threat to invade the USA. If you think there's a threat from a possible despotic US governemt, and want to reserve the right to rebel against this dictatorship, then you'll have two problems. The first problem is that round one of this fight will be Rebels against Patriots, because not all Americans will be convinced that a rebellion is the right thing to do, so the Rebels, armed with pistols, rifles and semi-automatic rifles (some with bump stocks) will be up against a similarly armed bunch of Patriots. There's no saying how this might end, it depends on how many Rebels there are, and how many Patriots.

But round two, if the Rebels do overcome the Patriots, will be the Rebels armed with pistols, rifles and semi-automatic rifles (some with bump stocks) against the US Army, Navy Air Force and Marines, armed with fully automatic guns, mortars, tanks, APCs, artillery, attack helicopters, warplanes and napalm. The Rebels will be *slaughtered*. And they surely know that. So there won't be a rebellion.

4. The "good man with a gun" notion. This idea is that mass shootings wouldn't happen if everyone were armed, because the good people with guns would kill the murderer very quickly. The counter-argument to this, is to think about what would actually happen.

Imagine a rock concert at which one of the attendance requirements of the 20,000 attendees is that you carry a loaded gun. And imagine that a 64 year old retired accountant, makes himself a shooting nook 1200 feet away, and opens up on the people at the concert. After a few seconds, people realise they're being shot at, and pull out their guns, and look around to see who they need to shoot. And what they see is 20,000 people with guns at the ready, pointing in every which direction.

The venue would very rapidly become an abattoir. The firing would be intense, for several minutes, until everyone had run out of ammunition. And the few people who were left standing would stlll not really know what just happened and why.

5. If guns were illegal then only criminals will have guns. I won't argue this one (it could be argued) because I'm not proposing to make guns illegal.

Are the benefits 1 and 2 worth the price? I can't really say - that's for Americans to say. But here's an interesting fact - in the light of the Las Vegas shooting, the NRA (National Rifle Association, who are usually very much opposed to gun regulation) proposed that the sale of "bump stocks" be regulated. A Gallup Poll revealed that 55% of Americans think that gun laws should be made more strict. Another interesting fact - 58% of Americans don't have a gun in their home.

The Second Amendment

And then there's the Second Amendment. "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." 

I don't know what that means. Americans argue interminably over what it means. Does that mean that there should be a well regulated militia  bearing arms? Surely the US military fulfils that role. Or does it mean "Anyone in the USA can keep and carry guns"? Different Supreme Court judges have different opinions on this, so I'm not even going to try.

So here's my proposal. And it's dramatic. Repeal the second amendment, and replace it with a "Right to bear arms" that is what Americans today actually want, not what Americans wanted 250 years ago, when "arms" meant "muskets".

My specific suggestions for the 28th amendment 

 - People can keep handguns at home, for self defence. But not when walking around the street, because there's too much scope for things going badly wrong. People can keep rifles at home if they sometimes go hunting (most people don't).

 - Guns have to be handled properly, just like cars. So people have to pass a "driving test" for the kind of weapon they want to use - handgun, rifle, shotgun, whichever. I've noticed that lots of people have accidents with their gun, the gun goes off and they shoot themselves. Either the safety catches aren't safe enough, or people should be trained to use them.

 - Guns should be registered and licensed, like cars. This would be opposed by "the government is going to take your guns" people, but these guns wouldn't make a rebellion possible anyway.

- Hunting rifles should not be semi-automatic. It's *far* too easy to convert them to fully automatic and shoot 600 people in 10 minutes.

- Insurance. You can accidentslly do a lot of damage to a third party with a gun, just as you can with a car. So there must be third party liability insurance. Like with cars.

 - Storage. Guns must be securely stored, in such a way that a child cannot get at it.

Why not just ban guns? We did in England, Australia, tons of other countries?

Because it won't be accepted. Americans are very keen to be able to have a gun. I don't think a proposition to ban all guns, would get many votes. And it's better to have some regulations, than nothing.

These are the broad outines of the proposal; I've never used a gun, I'm ignorant of gun culture, and I'm open to suggestions about how this can be improved. But I'm not American, so you'd be talking to the wrong person.

How to get there from here
Repeal and replace the second amendment.

To amend the constitution, isn't easy, and that's on purpose. But it is possible; there are 27 amendments. To make an amendment, you have to either get a 2/3 majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives, or ... well, it gets a bit more complicated. But once the amendment has been proposed, it then has a period of time in which to get 38 states to agree to it. The 27th amendment took 200 years to get in place; the 26th a couple of months.

It won't be easy. And it will only be possible it a very large chunk of Americans want it. So the first stage will be to discover if it's wanted.

I'd suggest that an American (I won't do it, you don't want foreigners interfering with your politics) set up an organisation, the National Repeal and Replace Associatoon (NRRA) to initially get people to sign up to the idea. Then, if a few million people do seem interested, enrol them in the NRRA. If 30 million Americans enrol, at $35 per year membership. then thats $1 billion to spend on newsletters, recuitment and whatever it is that you in America do to get politicians to vote the way you want but isn't bribery.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Flu shot

I just got my flu shot; ladysolly did too. She mingles with a lot more people, via her bridge activities, than I do

I did this for several reasons.

1) The Lurgi I got last May wasn't flu, but it was bad enough, and I suspect flu might be worse.
2) It's recommended for people as ancient as me
3) Also for people with Asthma
4) And bronchitis

But the most convincing reason, is provided by the "anti vaxxers", the people who are so opposed to vaccination that they won't get jabbed, or let their kids get protected. And I sneer at such people, and would argue with one if they ever showed their face to me. And then I thought, I should use all those arguments on myself.

I got vaccinated, not only for myself, but also for all those people who won't, or can't.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

More malware

Fresh off my inbox.

Flagged by five out of 59 products, a 90% failure rate. And detected by none of the major products.


Date: Wed, 4 Oct 2017 06:58:35
From: William Green <>

Subject: Facebook, Sorry for the delay reviewing your application. We appreciate your patience.

We would like to thank you again for your interest in the CR [Customer Relations] role at Facebook, and for your patience as the process has continued over the course of the summer. We appreciate especially the time and attention that you invested in presenting your candidacy. The search committee has spent the last several months deeply engaged in a thorough review of all applicant materials and has been very impressed by the quality, depth and breadth of the pool. After much discussion, a small group of individuals has recently been selected to continue in the interview process. Unfortunately, we will not be moving forward with your candidacy at this time.

Thank you again and we wish you the best of luck in your job search.

Needless to say, I didn't apply for a job at Facebook. And the email didn't come from Facebook. So what's the reason for this email? There's nothing enclosed to click on, there's no action I'm being asked to take.

But when I look at the html version, I see that it accesses a web site, and the log of that web site would reveal that I've read the email. Except that I don't use html email, so they won't get that log.

The purpose of the email, is to determine that it's an email address that get read.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Favourite book

We were talking this afternoon, and I got asked "What is your favourite book?"

And while I was running through many thousands of possibilities, the supplementary question was "And what would you take to a desert island?"

I found the second question easier - I chose "The Feyman Lectures", a three volume set that would keep me busy for years improving my understanding of physics.

I found "favourite book" a lot harder to name, but eventually I went for "Lord of the Rings". I've read it twice, which is something I almost never do.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Busy busy busy

The Raspberry Pi that I use to host kept crashing, about once per day. So I swapped it out for another Pi, loaded up the new SD card ... and the new one crashed once per day.

So I've replaced it with a proper 1U server, running a Celeron 2.2 and 2gb of memory, using Fedora 26 32 bit version. There was a lot to shift over, and because I was changing from Debian linux to Fedora, all the configuration files were in different places, and were subtly different, but after a few hours work, I think that's done.

Next, I wanted to change the 32 gb HP XW6600, because it's too noisy for an office. So I bought another 8gb HP XW6600 (£55 on Ebay). When I opened it up, I noticed that the 8gb consisted of two 4gb memory strips. So I had a look in my spare memory box, and found four more 4gb strips that looked like they might fit, even though they were server memory and this isn't a server. I tried them, and they worked, so now it has 24gb memory, and a single CPU (with four cores). And it is blessedly silent!

So I installed Fedora 26 workstation 64-bit on it. But I had to install an earlier version because 26 wouldn't install, it's a problem I find happens a lot. And then I upgraded it to 26. Then I installed all the bits and bobs, including the "Basic PAYE Tools" that I use to pay tax (the documentation says this only works on 32 bit systems, and I can tell you it works fine on this 64 bit box) and the ASDM that gives me a lovely user-friendly way to change the configuration of my firewall. Those two were the trickiest to install, because everything else I use is standard Fedora software, so goes on with the magic word "dnf".

And then the computer couldn't talk to the monitor. So I removed Gnome (the user interface) and reinstalled it, and now it works fine.

And then I couldn't work out how to connect up my speakers to the sound socket, but I discovered that the HP6600 has a quite adequate pair of speakers inside the box, which is unusual, I've never seen that before.

And of course I need a printer. The Samsung USB printer went on just fine, and the Dell network printer the same, but then I tried to install my HP Laserjet 6P, a 20 year old behemoth that still works fine. That needed a parallel port, and when I'd installed it on the 32gb box, that had worked. But even with a parallel port added to the 24gb box, I just couldn't persuade it to play. Eventually, I thought "Sod this" and moved the printer to be near the other Unix machine up here (which only has 2gb,  I use it almost entirely to run a bunch of terminals). That machine has a parallel port, and after I'd plugged the printer in, the Unix box recognised it immediately, and I could print. Result!

But I want to print from my new 24gb machine, because that's going to be where I do most stuff. And that means printing across the network. So I installed Samba on the 2gb box, Samba is the smb-based sharing system (it's the one used by Windows), used smbpasswd -a username password to tell it a login, then on the 24gb workstation I used system-config-printer to connect to it. And now I can print!

So, missions accomplished:

Replaced the crashing Raspberry Pi used to host the stuff with a 1U box that hasn't crashed so far.
Replaced the noisy 32gb HP workstation with a nearly-silent 24 gb HP workstation
Got all my software working on that
Got my HP laserjet working with it.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Credit card change

There's been lots of headlines about data losses; Equifax, Deloitte and there seems to be a new one every week.

But I've recently noticed something odd.

In the last few days, the number of cards being declined when I try to bill them, has fallen sharply, down to maybe half of what it was before.

I can't imagine what could have caused this, and maybe it just a temporary statistical blip.

We'll see.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Using an HP Laserjet 6P on and HP xw6600 running Linux Fedora 26

The first problem is that the Laserjet 6P only has a parallel port, because it was made before USB was a thing, and the xw6600 has no parallel port. I tried using a USB to parallel converter, but I couldn't make that work. So I went on Ebay, and bought a PCI parallel port, cost £2.

I put that into the PCI slot on the computer, and restarted it. Then I clicked on "printers" in the settings tool, and it came up, but didn't show the HP printer.


Google to the rescue.

First, I used lspci -v to find out a plethors of information about all the PCI devices. From this, I narrowed down to:

01:09.0 Parallel controller: Device 1c00:2170 (rev 0f) (prog-if 01 [BiDir])
    Subsystem: Device 1c00:2170
    Physical Slot: 6
    Flags: medium devsel, IRQ 5
    I/O ports at 2000 [size=8]
    I/O ports at 2008 [size=8]

Using that information, I crafted the following:

cd /usr/lib/modules/4.12.13-300.fc26.x86_64/kernel/drivers/parport
rmmod parport_pc
insmod parport_pc.ko.xz io=0x2000,0x2008 irq=5

And that did the trick. The HP Laserjet showed up in the list, it told linux what breed of printer it was, linux found the relevant driver and installed it, and now I can use my 20 year old Laserjet!

Monday, 25 September 2017

Two spiders, a ladybird and a spider box

There was a huge spider, three inches across, in my shower cubicle. That's not a good place for a spider, because it could get washed down the drain, and I feel sure that it wouldn't like that. And a ladybird on the floor. So I got the spider box.

First I captured the ladybird, and threw it out of the window; I wanted to give it a head start over the spider.

Then the spider, and while I was capturing the spider, I noticed another, tiny spider, which was optimistically spinnng a web in a corner of the shower cubicle. So I deported the large spider, then the small one. They'll both do better outside than in.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Computer reshuffle

At last, Talia is retired. She did good work for about 20 years, but it's time she was put out to pasture.

Originally, I got her because she was small, and I was trying to cram as many computers as possible into my rack at Energis. She's 2U is height, but half the size of an ordinary rack-mounted computer. She runs a Pentium at 933 mHz, with 512mb of memory, and 20 years ago, that was pretty good.

But her power supply died, and I couldn't get a replacement for any sensible price, because the power supply is a special small one. And I've had to replace her internal fans. So for the last few years, she's been a secondary terminal server, running several terminal windows on Fedora 9 (we're currently on 26, so that tells you how old she is). Because I can't get a power supply inside, I have it hanging off the outside, which is rather ugly. And the power supply also powers four Raspberry Pis, using "Power over Ethernet". I send 12 volts to the Pis, and step that down at the Pi end to the required 5 volts. And she's a bit noisy; the replacement is very quiet.

I've replaced Talia with Talid. Talid has 2gb of memory and a Pentium two-core running at 2.7 ghz. Also Talid is a 64 bit machine, so I've installed Fedora 26 workstation, 64 bit version. I've also brought a spare monitor into play, because I just couldn't get it to work with my usual 1920 by 1200 monitor, it went up to 1024 by 768 (which is pathetic) and wouldn't do any better. So I've got a 1280 by 1024 monitor, which is nice.

To make room for that, I moved the pi that gives me a constant display of network statistics in a graphical form, and its monitor.

I am now surrounded by monitors and computers!

Compulsory pledge

There's always some controversy in the USA over their "Pledge of allegiance". This is a kind of ceremony, in which you put your  right hand on your chest (roughly where your heart probably is) and chant "I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Obviously, atheists object to the "under God" part, but there's a deeper problem.

Although, in theory, students at school are not compelled to take part, you can imagine what happenes when one child won't go along with it.

But here's the problem. If it's compulsory, or effectively compulsory, then it's meaningless.Everyone chanting the pledge, is doing so because they have to, not necessarily because they want to.

In the UK, of course, we have nothing like that. We don't wave our flag all the time, were not forever singing the dirge that is our national anthem. We just quietly get on with our lives. We know that Britain is best, so we don't have to keep boring on about it.

A song of patriotic predjudice - Flanders and Swann

The spider and the fly

There's a 12 inch diameter spider web on the outside of my window, Just now, a fly blundered into it, making the whole thing shake, and breaking some of the strands.

The spider ran down to greet it, but the fly got free and flew off.

It must be tough being a small spider.

Thursday, 21 September 2017


Yesterday, I got so fed up with the huge noise that the 32gb HP6600 was making, I tried to make it quieter. I changed something in the Bios data that I thought might help, but it didn't. I Googled, to no avail. I tried replacing one of the fans - that made it worse.

Eventually, I gave up and ordered another of the 8gb boxes for £60, like the one I already bought, which is almost silent.

That seems to have done the trick. The new machine hasn't arrived yet, and probably won't until next week, but somehow the 32gb box got wind of its impending replacement, and has gone silent, or nearly so.

So did I waste £60? I don't think so, it's a terrific bargain (there's still a lot more available from that vendor at that price, if you need a new computer) and I'll use it to replace another machine that I use as a terminal workstation. So it'll replace a machine running a Pentium 1 at 833 MHz, and 1/2 gb of memory, running Fedora 9 32 bit, with a machine running a Xeon 2.4 ghx and 8gb running Fedora 26 64 bit, and it'll run more quietly than the existing box.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

HP 6600

My new (well, second hand, it only cost £60) arrived. It's an HP 6600, with 8gb memory and a xeon processor. I got it because I want to upgrade my "workstation computer", the one that I use every day for everyday stuff.

I want to upgrade it because it's running Fedora 19, 32 bit version, and the world has moved heavily towards 64 bit software, to the extent that 32 bit upgrades are getting less available.

I have another HP 6600, 32gb memory, twin Xeon processors, that I'm using as my geocaching data processor, but I don't need that much power there. So the new box will take it's place, and I'll install Fedora 26, 64 bit version on the old box.

But first, backup! I backed up the GSAK database, and then the old computer. Then I took out the drives, and put them into the new computer. And it worked! I needed to give it the Windows product key, but then it was fine.

Now to repurpose the 32gb computer. I installed Fedora version 26, 64 bit, server edition. But that was just the start. I had to install X-Windows, then Gnome, then a zillion fonts and apps. And some Gnome extensions, and my hosts file to block adverts. But after several hours work, I now have the 32gb computer doing everything I need.

A couple of outstanding problems - my beloved HP Laserjet uses a parallel port, and this computer doesn't have one. So I went to Ebay, and bought a USB-to-parallel converter for a couple of pounds. Meanwhile, I'm using a Samsung GL-1915 printer. Fedora 26 didn't have a driver for it, but I went to Google and found on, and it prints fine, so even if the usb-to-parallel gizmo doesn't work, I can still print.

The computer that I was using as a workstation, which I was going to use as an emergency backup, seems to have stopped working. I'll investigate that.

A big problem, the 32gb computer has very noisy fans. I didn't expect that, it was very quiet when I was using it before.

Monday, 18 September 2017

ccleaner trojan

I have to admit, I do use Windows! I use it for GSAK, the geocaching database, which it so totally useful, I couldn't do without it. And it needs Windows. But that's all I use Windows for.

Except, in using GSAK, I need to tell it about my two accounts, so it can access data from them. And I have to give it the authority to do that. But in order to do that, I have to scrub off the login data from the previous one I gave permission for; doesn't really expect me to have two accounts, I suppose.

To scrub off the previous data, I use CCleaner, and I have done for several years. And each time I use it, it offers to update itself, and I say "No thanks".

But if you're a user of Avast antivirus, and got your CCleaner from them, you may have a problem. Avast have accidentally been distributing a trojanised version of their software.


13 out of 58

A dozen copies of this appeared in my mailbox.

Date: Mon, 18 Sep 2017 09:34:09
From: Phyllis Luty <>


Could you please let me know the status of the attached invoice? I
appreciate your help!

Best regards,

Phyllis Luty

It was sent to me four hours ago, and there's been a steady tricle of the same thing ever since. So I scanned it.

As usual, most products failed to flag it. Nine products weren't able to scan any file compressed with 7z compression. Notice how the products that succeeded are different for each malware I show to Virustotal.

If you're relying on an antivirus scanner to protect you, then you're using a chocolate teapot.

Friday, 15 September 2017

What causes floods?

Water. You probably already knew that. But where does all that water come from?

I'm not going to discuss Tsunamis here, except to mention that it's an undersea earthquake, and if you're ever on the beach and the tide suddenly goes out, and out, and out, then the thing to do is run as fast as you can for higher ground, because that's the only way to be saved. In the2004 tsunami, 280,000 people were killed.

No, I'm talking about a more frequent event; floods caused by storms and hurricanes (a hurricane is a storm, only much stronger).

The storm is carrying lots of moisture, which it picked up from the evaporating sea (see my article on hurricanes). When the storm is over land, it is no longer getting the warm air from the ocean, so it cools down, and cooler air can't carry as much water vapour as warm air, so the water vapour condenses to water, and falls as rain. Lots of rain. Harvey dumped 52 inches of rain on Houston. Lots of people are shorter than that.

But that isn't all. There's also a storm surge; the storm winds push offshore ware onshore ... and then you get high tide.

Add all this together, and you get a flood, because all that water is trying to get away from where it is, down to the sea, but if you're on level ground, the water doesn't know where to go and just hangs about.

But that isn't all. Rain is clean, but when it piles up four feet above the ground, it gets all kinds of muck swirling around in it, including sewage. Don't drink it! And if there's a toxic chemical dump nearby, it'll pick that up too. What kind of city has a toxic chemical dump near a residential area? Cities that don't have restrictions on what you can build and where. Like Houston.

Eventually, the flood subsides, and people can get down off their roofs (don't go up into an attic, unless you can break through into the roof, because otherwise, you'll be stuck) and start the clean-up. Which will be massive, because water damages pretty much everything.

What causes storms and hurricanes?

And this is the one that a lot of people don't understand, and which is most often ascribed to a supernatural entity smiting the wicked, where "wicked" is defined by the various speakers as "people I disapprove of".
But again, it's a natural phenomenon. Here's how it works.

You have an ocean, and you have the sun. And this mostly happens near the equator, where you get lots of sun. The sun warms the water. And the sun evaporates the water. So you get warm, moist air near the surface of the ocean. But hot air (and warm air) rises, because it's lighter than cold air.Up it goes!

And the rising warm, moist air is replaced by cooler air coming in from the sides. But that gets heated up and moistened, so it also rises, and in comes more cooler air.

As the cooler air comes in, it's pushed by the Coriolis Effect. That makes the incoming air swirl, in the classic pattern you see with hurricanes as seen from above.So they swirl clockwise in the Southern hemisphere, and anticlockwise in the Northern.

So you get this huge, swirling cloud, and the winds can be pretty strong; a "category 5" hurricane has winds blowing at 156 mph. Irma, which hit Florida recently, was category 5.

A typhoon is just another word for a hurricane. A tropical storm is also the same thing, but less fierce.

So the hurricane swirls and the swirl drifts relative to the earth's surface. It's very difficult to predict which way it's going to go, it's so very very complex. People make guesses (actually, it's a bit more than a guess) but you shouldn't treat those forecasts as totally accurate.

The only way to deal with a hurricane is to get as far away from it as you can, and don't leave it till the last minute, because that's what everyone else is doing, and you'll get caught in an almighty traffic jam. A second thing you can do, is build your buildings with hurricanes in mind, if you live in a place that gets hurricanes. The third thing you can do, is what I do. I live in a place that doesn't get hurricanes, except that we did get the Great Storm of 1987 with wind speeds up to 100 mph, knocking down 15 million trees! And it knocked down a brick wall in my garden; we heard a great "THUMP" but stayed indoors; later when it was all over, we saw the broken wall.

When a hurricane drifts over land, it's cut off from the source of its food, the warm ocean. So as it goes over land, it loses intensity, which is nice. But if it then goes over water again, it can pick up strength. Irma did that. It birthed just of the coast of Africa, travelled across the Atlantic gaining strength as it went, hit the Caribbean, hit the Bahamas (and weakened to a Category 4), but then strengthened back to Cat 5. Cuba weakened it again, but it was still intense when it hit Florida.

Irma killed 82 people, and did more than $60 billion in damage. Awesome.

What causes forest fires?

That's pretty simple. If you have forests, you have trees, and trees are wood. You also have undergrowth, which can be flammable. After a long hot summer or other dry period, it's like a bonfire waiting to be lit. Some arseholes start fires, either deliberately (major arseholes) or accidentally (minor arseholes). But even without arseholes, lightning can start a fire.

If you're anywhere near a forest fire, get away as fast as you can. Because they can spread really fast.

To put out a forest fire, you need a bit of advance preparation. If you look around forests in England, you'll see wide lanes where the trees are all cut down, these are called firebreaks. The idea is to make it a lot more difficult for the fire to spread, it will find it hard to cross a wide lane where there's no flammable material.

And then, mostly, you dump water on the fire, or something else that smothers it. But you do it mostly from an airplane, so you don't get burned.

What causes earthquakes?

There are some people, especially victims of one or another religion, think that earthquakes are sent by their god to punish humanity for ... and then they give their favourite sin. But the cause is fairly simple.

Look at an orange. It's pretty much a sphere, with an outer rind, and all the nice juicy stuff inside.

The earth isn't so simple. There is all the juicy stuff inside (molten rock, you see it squirting out with volcanoes) and big plates of solid stuff float on top of that. But those solid plates rub against each other.

Take two slabs of wood, and push then hard together. Now, while pushing them together, try to move one of them against the other. Nothing will happen as you start to try to move them, then suddenly you'll get one sliding over the other.

Or. Sit down, and rest your foot on the floor. push your foot forward. Nothing will happen at first, but then after you've increased the pressure, your foot will suddenly move forward, then stop. And you can repeat this a few times.

It's the same with earthquakes. The plates are compressed together but are also trying to move relative to each other. Nothing happens for a while, and then suddenly, there's movement. That shakes everything nearby. That's an earthquake.

In England, we don't get earthquakes. Actually, that's not exactly true, I know of two that I actually felt. For the first one, I was on the phone to someone, and I felt a kind of little bump. I told the other guy on the phone, and after a couple of minutes, he said, "Oh! I just felt it too!". That's because the waves carrying the energy of the earthquake, travel at about 6 km/second. The other one, I just felt a slight "bmp" (not even a "bump") and I read in the newspaper that there had been an earthquake, and somewhat to the north of me, a few slates had fallen off roofs.

They get earthquakes in Japan, California and other places near to places where there are two plates moving. So they have building regulations to make their buildings earthquake-resistant. If you live somewhere that has earthquakes, you can find out of your building is earthquake-resistant.

What causes eclipses?

There are two main kinds of eclipse; solar and lunar.

Solar eclipses are when the moon gets between the earth and the sun. You can easily imagine the shadow of the moon obscuring the sun, just as the shadow of a cloud might on most days in England. As the earth rotates, the shadow moves across the earth (just as the shadow of a cloud moves when the cloud is blown along). In the middle of that shadow, the moon totally obscures the sun, that's called a total eclipse. If you move away from that place of total eclipse, you'll get to places where the moon only partially obscures the sun. That's a partial eclipse.

DO NOT look at the sun. Ever. It will damage your vision, permanently. I'd even be wary of looking at the sun using dark goggles - you'd better the absolutely certain that the goggles are dark enough. A better way is to use a pinhole solar camera and look at the image that you get.

Donald Trump looked directly at the sun during the 2017 eclipse. 'Nuff said.

Contrary to what the Times newspaper says, the shadow of the moon does not cross the sun. That's muddled thinking of a severity that makes me scratch my head.

A lunar eclipse happens when the shadow of the earth falls on to the moon. They are quite common; you get a lunar eclipse two to four times per year. It isn't as spectacular as a solar eclipse, but whereas with a solar eclipse, only the people who are in the path of the moon's shadow can see it, with a lunar eclipse, everyone on the night side of the earth can see it.

It is quite safe to look at the moon, any time you want.

Because the orbits of the earth and moon are entirely predictable, dates and times of eclipses are too.

What causes the seasons?

Spring, summer, autumn, winter. What causes the seasons?

First, why do I need to explain this? Because it has come to my attention, that there are some people who don't understand the causes of the seasons.

The earth rotates on its axis, while it orbits in a near-circle around the sun. The rotation of the earth is the cause of there being night and day; the side facing away from the sun has night.

But the axis of rotation isn't upright with respect to the plane of the orbit. It's tilted, by about 23 degrees (the tilt wobbles; if you spin a top, you'll see the same thing, only the top wobbles faster). The period of the wobble is 41,000 years. Huh!

Some people have no idea what causes the seasons, and put it down to "it just happens", or "god did it", depending on their preferences. Some people think that the earth's orbit is elliptical (which it is, but only slightly so) and the difference between winter and summer is caused by the earth being closer to the sun, or further. A moment's thought dismisses that idea because if it were true, Australia and England would have summer at the same time, not six months apart.

No. The cause is the tilt of the axis.

Consider December and the North Pole. The sun never rises, and so cannot heat the Arctic. So it's colder. Now consider June - the sun never sets, so it's not so cold (still pretty cold, though).

But now move a bit south. To the UK, for example. In Winter, there are only eight hours of daylight, whereas in summer, there are sixteen hours of daylight! So it's not surprising that it's warmer in June than in December.

Also, in winter, the sun doesn't get so high in the sky (because of the axial tilt), so what sunlight does fall on the ground, is spread out more than it is in the summer.

And that's why summer is hotter than winter, and why summer is six months different in Australia.

0 out of 60

Subject: USAA Online New PDF Message.

Dear USAA Customer,

Check Attachment For Review.

Thank You,

Yes, it is indeed  PDF file. But it was spammed out, there's no reason given, I don't know who sent it and there's no way I'm going to load it. But I did show it to VirusTotal.

Virus total showed it to 60 products. All 60 said it was clean. Let's see ...

Thursday, 14 September 2017

12 out of 59

And just to show that for another piece of malware arriving by email, the failure rate is 80%, with different products failing:

9 out of 58

As happens on nearly every day, a fresh crop of malware arrived in my inbox. Nothing really special about this one - it's an XLS file, first seen by Virustotal two hours ago, not seen yet by most antivirus companies, and certainly they haven't had time to put out an update. Three copies of it have arrived, and I showed it to Virustotal.

As usual, about 85% of products failed to flag it. You can see from the screen capture which ones did, but don't take that as meaning that those are exceptionally good; the next time I do this, some different products will flag, the rest will pass as clean.

What this means is - all that stands between you and malware invading your computer, is your own scepticism about incoming email. If you're running an antivirus, that might make you feel better, but praying is almost as effective. And I don't know the name of the God of computers. The mighty Turing, perhaps?

If you're responsible for a bunch of users, this is why you're getting hit by malware. Users don't care about security, never have, never will.  And I can prove that to you. Go round the M25 for a while, and notice all the people using their mobile phones, some talking and some texting. Look at all the people who are driving so close to the car in front that if the car in front does an emergency stop, or gets a puncture, they won't stand a chance of avoiding a collision. If people are that careless about their personal safety, despite many attempts at education, why would they care about computer security?

So they won't be sceptical enough. And they know they're protected by whatever wonderful product you installed, and they'll click on things that ought not to be clicked on, and next thing you know, you have a mess.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017


When I sneeze, I usually sneeze twice. I don't know why, and I don't know if this is true for other people.

Is this a record?

$12,000,000,000.00 USD Payment notification from Royal Bank Of Canada (RBC).

Dear Beneficiary

The Board of Trustees and Management of (RBC) Royal Bank Of Canada wish to
officially inform you today that your outstanding Coca-Cola Company Winning
fund valued at the total sum of US$12,000,000,000.00 (Twelve Billion United
States Dollars) which was deposited with our bank here in Canada to your name
many years ago has been legally approved and Authorized by the European Union
committee on Foreign Payment Resolution, following with the payment release
letter we received from the Canadian Finance Ministry and Canadian Ambassador
to U.S, for onward transfer, therefore, an instruction to credit your fund

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Inappropriate video

If I want a manual, I want it as text, or possibly html. That way, I can go straight to the part I want to look up, expecially if there's an index.

I don't want a video. I don't want to sit through an hour of tedious explanation of things I already knew. I don't want to fast-forward and try to find the information that I need.

Video does have a place, of course. When I was dismantling my bike motor, it was very good to have a video, because that told me whether the thread on the motor was left hand or right hand, a detail that the text didn't mention.

But the worst videos that I'm seeing now, are videos that are actually just a still picture, shown to you for 10 or 30 seconds. Why?

Why I use text-only email

Text is simple. Text is clean. You can't embed a trojan in text, the way you can in HTML.

I used to use Pine; that is no longer available, so I use Alpine which is indistinguishable from Pine. It's text-only. You can "click on a link", but to do that you have to tab down to the link, it isn't a mouse thing. And it tells you where the link is going, in square brackets after the link, which can be quite different from where it says it's going.

And for the same reason, you can't click on an attachment. Which is good.

Unfortunately, the whole world seems to assume that everyone uses html-based email. And I even get emails that say "If your email reader doesn't do HTML, then click here". Which, of course, I can't.

If you're using linux, I can recommend Alpine. It's free, it's easy to get and easy to use. If you're using Windows, you're probably stuffed.

The dark side of the moon

The moon has a dark side, and a light side. As it rotates (it does rotate relative to the sun, that's why the moon has phases) the dark side moves around the moon, just as the dark side of the earth moves around, being opposite to the side that faces the sun.

I don't think you need to be a rocket scientist to know that.

The moon rotates in the same period as it rotates around the earth. So we always see one side, we never see the other side (at least, not from standing on the earth). The other side is usually called "the far side". Or you might call it "the back side of the moon".

Again, it's pretty simple. Unless you're a journalist who writes for The Times.

"Space tourists could one day sleep in hotels in the midst of a “village” on the dark side of the Moon"

Uh, no. You mean on the far side of the moon. Good grief, even the Daily Mail gets this right! Building a village on the dark side of the moon, would be as impossible as building a village on the night side of the Earth.

Maybe The Times should hire an astrologer to help them get their facts right? Because even an astrologer would get that right, and I doubt if the journalists at the Times would be able to tell an astrologer from an astronomer.

And I expect astrologers are cheaper.

Thursday, 7 September 2017


We visited today. He's very small! And, it seems, sleeps 23 hours out of 24.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017


Oh dear.

Jacob Rees-Mogg was starting to look interesting. Tall and thin, reminiscent of Eden or Macmillan, and a candidate for replacing the Blessed May without being Boris or Gove.

But he's a Catholic.

I have no problem with people's religion, he can be a Catholic if he wants to, and good luck to him. But I don't want a Prime Minister who believes that abortion is a sin in all circumstances, how believes that being gay is a sin,  and "I’m a Catholic and I take the teaching of the Catholic Church seriously.". Well, I don't. And I don't want a Prime Minister who wants to impose their barbaric beliefs on me.

Even a vicar's daughter looks better.

Goodbye Firefox, hello Chrome

I've been a staunch Firefox user, running on my Fedora Linux computer. But I can't take it any more.

It happened with the last upgrade to version 55. Suddenly, radio buttons and check boxes don't work. That is, they do work, but I can't tell which radio button has been pressed, because Firefox shows them as all on, or all off, no matter what I do. Ditto check boxes.

Also, it crashes occasionally.

This is serious. There's so many things I use that need radio buttons. The user interface for all my in-house systems, is the browser (because why write a user interface when it's already been done?).

After a couple of weeks of this, I'm done. So I've exported all my bookmarks etc to Chrome, and now I'm a Chrome user, with "script defender" instead of Noscript, and Adblock Plus to fend off advertising.

Yes, I know the arguments about how can web sites get funded if I block advertising. But the fact of malvertising, because ad networks won't or can't keep malicious software off their advertisement networks, means that I have to block all adverts.

So it's goodbye Firefox, hello Chrome.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Englehart arrives!

We've been calling him Englehart pre-arrival, but yesterday he arrived. Ladysolly went to see him today, still in hospital, but he and daughter.1 will be out tomorrow, all being well, and we'll be visiting them the day after tomorrow alongside daughter.2. Englehart now has a name; daughter.1.son.2 (as distinct from daughter.1.son.1). He was eight pounds on arrival which is pretty big, but he arrived without much fuss or difficulty, and very quickly.


Another trip to a dentist

My usual dentist decided that I had a bit of a problem with a tooth that was too difficult for her. It was a previous root canal filling, but there was some infection at the bottom of the tooth, and since it had already had one root canal filling, an NHS dentist wouldn't do another. The NHS solution, if solution is needed, would be extraction. Ugh. So she referred me to a dentist who specialises in root canal work.

I went there today. He was very nice, and sat me down in the chair and had a really good grope around inside my mouth, including with something rather sharp. And some colour pictures, and an x-ray. And then we discussed what to do.

That tooth has been like that for five years now - we have an x-ray from 2012. And it hasn't got any worse. Plus, right now, it's not giving me any pain.

There's a pimple near the tooth, which is good, because that's providing a conduit for the infection to drain, so I'm unlikely to get the appalling pain of a tooth abscess.

It could be operated on, by opening up the gum and poking around inside, cleaning it out, and hoping that it doesn't reinfect. But that might not make any long-run difference.
It's a tooth that doesn't have a partner opposing it, so it isn't doing very much anyway.

So I applied the principle of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" and we decided to leave it be.

I can always change my mind if it becomes a problem one day.

The cost of that was £190, which demonstrates the difference between an NHS dentist and non-NHS. And the £190 was just for an examination and consultancy - if I'd opted for treatment, it would have been a lot more!


Stop worrying about being stuck in a bathtub during an emergency

Monday, 4 September 2017

Flash upgrade

Yet again. Flash isn't good enough, so I have to upgrade to


Naming conventions

I've been calling my grandson, grandson.1. But now there's another, so I've been thinking about nomenclature.

Perhaps grandson.1 should be called daughter.1.son.1, and the new arrival should be daughter.1.son.2?

Naming conventions are important.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

1 in 500

Hurricane Harvey is a 1 in 500 year flood, according to some sources. Well, that's comforting - it means it most likely won't happen again for 500 years. Harvey dumped 40 inches of rain on Texas and has caused (so far) 51 confirmed deaths. Economic loss estimates range from $10 billion to $160 billion.

Do you remember Tropical Storm Allison, in 2001? That was a 1 in 500 year flood.
40 inches of rain, 55 dead,  $9 billion damage

Hurricane Ike; 2008, 195 killed, 145 mph winds, $37.6 billion damage.

Hurricane Rita, 2005. 16 inches rain, 180 mph winds. 97-125 killed, $12 billion damage.

I don't think you need to be a statistician to deduce that four such deadly storms in 16 years means that we should be talking about a once in four year event, not once in 500.

Because if it only happens once in 500 years, there's not a good reason to take significant action.  But if huge storms like this happen every four years, maybe it's worth spending a bit to put up defences. 

Because climate change couldn't possibly be part of the problem, whereby warmer ocean water increases the amount of moisture that a storm can carry, and Americans believe that climate change is a Chinese hoax.

Fortunately, none of this affects us here in England.

Friday, 1 September 2017


Woody Allen is one of my favourite stand-up comedians. These days, he's better known for his movies, but here's my favourite - the moose story.

Monday, 28 August 2017


Back in 1983, I had a Sinclair Spectrum, and so did a friend of mine, Mike. We played various games, investigated the internals a bit, and often lunched togather.

One day, after lunch, Mike asked me to come up to his office. He showed me the office computer, an IBM PC, and it was running Lotus 123, which was by far the best speadsheet at the time. And he showed me what he'd done on this. There were inputs, formulae and outputs, and he showed me how changing the input data, led to the outputs changing. His fingers flew over the keyboard, and I quickly lost track of what he was doing, but one thing was clear to me - this was actually a program.

My friend Mike, who was totally a non-programmer, had written a program, and he was obviously very proud and pleased with what he'd done. On the basis of this, I thought that a *lot* of people would want Lotus 123, and the IBM PC to run it on. And on that basis, I acquired one for myself, brought it home, and started writing software on it - that was how S & S Enterprises (later renamed S & S International, the Dr Solomon's Software) got started. Our first product was a £ sign for the spreadsheet - yes, the UK version of Lotus 123 could not do a pound sign. We sold it mail order for £10, and the business took off like a rocket.

But, back to spreadsheets. What we have now, is millions and millions of people writing programs. They call them "spreadsheets", of course, but they are actually programs, and the usual rules about programming and programs apply. Which, of course, most of these people are unaware of.

Accountants, lawyers, doctors and architects, all happily writing programs. It makes my toes curl.

Because 88% of these speadsheets have errors.

I have no idea what to do about this. If you google, you'll find articles like "17 Common Spreadsheet Mistakes" and "Stupid errors in spreadsheets could lead to Britain's next corporate disaster". Google will turn up some guidance, such as "10 Common Spreadsheet Mistakes You're Probably Making" (which makes me want to grab the guy who wrote that headline and explain that you Do Not Capitalise Every Word in a sentence) and "12 COMMON SPREADSHEET ERRORS".

But none of that really helps, because people who aren't programmers, haven't yet discovered one of programming's important lessons - everyone makes mistakes. And the more unreadable your code is, the more likely you are to get things wrong (spreadsheets are about as unreadable as you can get, with variable names like ad43 and z28 iinstead of $vatrate and $discount). The people creating these spreadsheets are blissfully unaware of the possibility of error ("it must be right, I did it myself"), or how to go seek for errors. They've not heard of edge conditions, or intermediate results. They won't hand-calculate a few outputs, or try unusual inputs.

And that's before we start thinking about macros, which are written in a language called "Visual Basic for Applications".

How many people setting up VBA macros (they call them macros, they're actually programs, but Microsoft doesn't want to frighten people) have had any VBA training?


I had a dream

It doesn't have to make sense - it's a dream.

When I start my car, I have to press the brake pedal and push the start button. But this time, when I pressed the brake pedal, it went down freely, no resistance. So I had no brakes!

I knew that this was because I'd was without brake fluid. Fortunately, I carry some in my boot, so I poured the contents of the bottle into the brake fluid container, but there wasn't enough. I needed more. So I got my bike out of the back of the car, and pedalled to the nearest garage, where I bought a bottle of brake fluid. I biked back to the car, and used that to fill up the brake fluid reservoir.

And then I woke up.

Actually, I don't carry a bottle of brake fluid, but I do carry a spare can of diesel, a jump-starter battery and an good kit of tools.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Too many customers

Yet another company has too many customers.

Every three months, I have to get an outside computer to scan my network for security issues, in order to be compliant with the PCIDSS, which you have to be in order to accept and process credit cards. So on August 18, I put in the request for a scan.

I happen to know how this works - they run a program like Nessus which checks for known issues. It takes a few minutes to run, and it's entirely automated.

As of August 24, my request is still in the queue, waiting patiently for its turn. So I contacted Saferpayments using the online chat. The person chatting with me told me that I'd get an email when it's finished. I already knew that. I asked what the problem is; apparently this is caused by there being a "heavier than expected workflow", meaning "we have too many customers".

So I called Worldpay to complain. After navigating through an annoying menu system, and listening to "your call is important to us" for several minutes, I got through to a human. He listened to what I had to say, and told me that I needed to talk to Saferpayments, and he's transfer me. "Before you do, what's their number?" I've been here before. The call transfer resulted in several minutes of complete silence, so I hung up and dialled the number he gave me, which was Saferpayments. So there was another annoying menu system, and more hold (in which I was told repeatedly that the queue was 3 minutes and 42 seconds long, which didn't fool me at all because I know that there is no way they can know how long the ongoing calls are going to take, and then suddenly I went from 3 minutes 42 seconds, to talking to a human, hurrah. Who listened to my story, and told me that I was talking to the wrong people, and I needed to talk to someone at Worldpay, and he gave me the number that I had called in the first place.

So I explained this to him, and that I was unwilling to be tossed back and forth between them like a tennis ball, and what I want is for Saferpayments and Worldpay to get their heads together, fight it out over who I ought to be talking to, and then call me back with that information. He agreed.

You'll have guessed by now, and if you've had any experience of these jobsworths, that no such phone call came back to me.

So I called back the next day, to Worldpay. I fumed my way through the menus and hold music, and spoke to a different person - you never get to talk to the same person twice. This time there was a new treat in store for me; after several minutes carefully explainng the problem the line went dead. So I called back again, getting yet another person, and now I had two complaints. The dead line, and the sluggish scanning system.

More menus. More hold music. The security questions yet again. And then I explained that I wasn't asking for any information, because I knew he didn't have any for me. Or any action, because I knew there was nothing he could do. My objective now was to explain to Worldpay that I entirely understood and sympathised with their problem of having two many customers, and I have two proposals that might help.

The first would be to reduce their customer load by one. I explained that if I had a customer who asked me for some important (important to them, because I knew that my servers were secure, it was Worldpay who required the scan) service, and after six days I hadn't even started  to provide it, then I too would be facing life with one fewer customer.

The other suggestion I had, was equally simple. These scans are done by a computer, and are entirely automated. My ingenious proposal to Worldpay, was that they should purchase a secnd computer, thus, for an outlay of a mere couple of thousand pounds, doubling their capacity to do scans, and creating the capacity to be able to handle the number of custmers that they had. I didn't bother to explain that they could even enlarge on this idea by purchasing a third computer, because obviously the notion of a second computer hadn't occurred to them, and would take considerable time to get budget approval and work its way through the manifold committees that comprise Worldpay.

"Actually, it's Saferpayments that do the scanning," he said. "Yes," I said, "now that you've pointed this out I can see that my proposal was naive and stupid. Hmm. If only there were some way to modify my idea so that it could indeed prevent the embarassment of having to admit that you have too many customers."

My complaint is now lodged with Worldpay, and I can expect that some time within the next several weeks, I'll get an email which will consist of several paragraphs that, in summary, will boil down to the words "go away".

I am honoured

I am one of the Select Few who have been chosen, on account of my tremendous geocachingness, to place a "Virtual Reward" cache. This is a cache without a container to find; you go to the relevant location, and to prove you've been there, you have to answer a question (and it needs to be something you can't answer from the internet).

Virtuals have been haram since 2005 (although existing ones were allowed to persist). But Groundspeak has revived the idea, except that the hoi polloi can't place them. Only one of the Chosen People can place such a cache, and only one per person. I'm one of the Few.

The irony. I don't actually like virtuals, I like finding an actual container.

So it had better be a good one.

So where will I put my "Virtual Reward" cache? I don't know yet. But I'm thinking that maybe I'll do a multi; you'll have to visit various locations to gather information and only when you put all that together will you find out the final location (there's a few in London like that). Or I'll do an Earthcache (which is a virtual, except that it has to be geothingish) that, when found, tells you where the "Virtual Reward" is. Or  I'll do a puzzle, and solving it will give you the coords and the other information that youll need to find the Virtual.

I don't think anyone has done a really complicated virtual before - if they have, I don't know about it. So, with any luck, this will be unique, and talking about it in this blog won't give away the secret, because only a handful of people read this blog, and they're all sworn to secrecy.

The final location will have to be somewhere amazing. The North Pole? The peak of Everest? Tranquility Base?

Readers of this blog are invitied to make suggestions.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Daedelus demise

The best page in every issue of New Scientist, was the page written by Daedelus, describing the latest invention or product from Dreadco. The nuclear-powered pogo stick and the black-hole garbage disposal appliance were his invention, and who can forget his proposal to measure the speed, spin and direction of a human soul, both before birth and after death. And, of course, the unridable bicycle.

David Jones, gone but not forgotten.

Friday, 18 August 2017

How to repeal and replace Obamacare

 Repeal and replace Obamacare.

This is the Holy Grail that Trump promised (and he said he had a cunning plan during the electoral process). The cunning plan turned out to be "dump the problem on Congress". And it all went downhill from there. They called it the "American Care Act". The Democrats voted solidly against it, so it only took a few Republicans to think it didn't go far enough, or it went too far, and the plan ended up in the "too difficult" drawer.

But it can be done.

First, a few prelimiaries. 

Medicare is a healthcare program, paid for out of taxes, that covers people who are 65 or more, certain younger people with disabilities, and people with End-Stage Renal Disease, which sounds pretty dreadful and I hope I never find out what it is. Medicare comes in four parts; A is hospital coverage, B is ... well, read it here. Part A costs you $451 per month = $5412/year. To get part B (which also gets youC and D), you pay $105 per month = $1260 per year. So the whole package is $6672/year.

But there there's "deductibles"  (you pay extra if you actually go to hospital), and there's coinsurance (co-pay). Yes, it gets complicated.

55 million people are on Medicare. The Medicare budget in 2017 is $709 billion

Medicaid is for anyone who is low-paid, if you feel low-paid, then google for details, maybe you qualify. 74 million people are on Medicaid; Obamacare expanded Medicaid as of 2014. Oh, and 9 million are on both Medicare and Medicaid. The Medicaid budget in 2017 is $553 billion.

And then there's Obamacare, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also called the Affordable Care Act or ACA. After you've read that explanation, maybe you can explain it to me, because it's much too complicated for my tiny brain, which probably means that it's *far* too complicated for politicians, who often struggle to comprehend how arithmetic works. Obama said it would cost $94 billion per year, this is disputed. And I can't work out who pays what. No wonder there's controversy. The CBO, which is supposed to be non-partisan, say $134 billion per year. I'll take that figure.

And finally, if you're a Veteran, you can go to The Veterans Health Administration (VHA).  The Veterans (VHA) budget is $68 billion

So I added all these up. It comes to $1464 billion, which works out at $4531 per head, since there are 323.1 million Americans (I'm ignoring the detail that some Americans are older than others).

So that's what the government pays - that means that this much comes out of taxation. In addition, there's all the co-pays and deductibles, and additional insurance paymens made by people in these plans, and I haven't even tried to estimate how much that adds to the total, because it's just too complicated. And to that, you should add the money spent by Americans on the various privately-run insurance schemes. Aetna, for example has a revenue of $63 billion, Anthem takes in $85 billion and Met Life gets $70 billion. And that's just three companies of many. I could have included those in my total, but I didn't.  I don't need to dip into the healthcare insurance company revenues to make the case I'm making.

How good is American healthcare?

How do you measure how good a healthcare system is? I don't care how many CAT scanners you have, or how much profit is made by the healthcare companies. What matters to me, and what should matter to you, is the outcome. Are you healthier? But it's difficult to measure "healthiness". Do you live longer? Ah, now that we can measure. So I will.

It's always tricky to compare countries, but there's a few things that are comparable. The first of these is the mortality rate for under-fives. In the USA, that's 6500 per million, in the UK it's 4200. Please try to imagine a pile of 2300 dead toddlers.

And there's also infant mortality; deaths per million live births. USA is 5800, UK is 4300. So now imagine a heap of 1500 dead babies.

My older daughter is about to have a baby. It's all very exciting, and eagerly anticipated, but a couple of weeks ago we had a family discussion about "what if". Because giving birth is not without risk. In the USA, there's 21 mothers dying of pregnancy or complications, per 100,000. In the UK, that's 12 per 100,000. So that's 75% more in the USA - I'm glad that my daughter is in the UK!

And life expectancy in the USA is 78.8 years. In the UK that's 81.1, that's 2.3 extra years. Nice!

And on average, 643,000 Americans declare bankrupcy per year owing to medical bills. You break a leg - you lose everyting you own. And each of those 643,000 has a family.

I've compared with the UK, but if you follow the links, you'll see just how poor US health outcomes are compared with a great many countries. Look at the rankings, and ask yourself, why isn't American healthcare the best in the world? Because it really ought to be. Because the USA is a highly educated, prosperous and technologically advanced society, that spends a lot more per head on health care than any other country.

Compare that with the UK.

So that's public healthcare in the USA. And I'd like to compare that with public healthcare in the place I know best, the UK.

 The NHS budget is £124 billion, which is $161 billion, and works out at $2453 per head.
For that cost, UK citizens get healthcare, period. And pretty much everything is free (meaning, paid for out of taxation). A medication prescription costs $11, and if you're getting a lot of pills, you can pay $38 to cover all the charges for three months. But there's a lot of people get presciptions for free; I do, because I'm over 65 (also cancer patients, pregnant women, and so on). You also pay extra for dental work; $27 for routine stuff, $73 if you need a filling or root canal. Hospitals are free - I've never paid for any hospital visit. And there's a thing called the "Small injuries unit" which I've been to for a nasty scalp cut and before that for a splinter under my fingernail that I just couldn't get out. A nice nurse cleaned up the scalp cut and then glued it (apparently they prefer to use glue for small stuff). Another nice nurse got the splinter out while I shut my eyes and tried not to scream.  In my experience, you turn up and they just deal with it, 24/7. I get free spectacles and have for the last 60 years, although I can pay extra to get designer frames. And when my free biennial vision test discovered excessive pressure in my left eyeball, diagnosis and treatment has been free (a drop in my eye each morning seems to have fixed it).

Oh, and doctor's appointments are free. And I don't see how anyone in the UK could be bankrupted by medical bills.

And I don't think that the UK is exceptionally good. Yes, the NHS is good, but I've heard very good reports of the French system, and Germany was the first country to move to universal healthcare, in 1883.

The American Health Service 

So right now, Americans are paying twice as much as people in other countries, for an inferior health outcome.

So let's imagine a service which I'm going to call the American Health Service, AHS. It's free at point of need (with maybe a few exceptions, as above) and it's paid for out of taxation. If it costs the same as in the UK (I'll discuss this later) then that would be $2453/head, $793 billion per year. Which is a saving of $671 billion per year, and if you put that back into the pockets of the taxpayer, that's $2078 per person, which would be $8312 for a family of four. Tax cuts!

So all Americans would get healthcare to a high standard, wouldn't have to raid their income for health insurance, no co-pay, no deductibles, no cap on spending (sorry, you're only covered up to $1m, your insurance ran out, please die quietly now). And no "pre-existing condition". The way it works is, if you're sick, then you get treated.

Sounds good. Sounds very good. In fact, it sounds too good to be true! So where's the catch? How can you get univeral healthcare at cost of about half of what you're already paying?

There's two reasons why universal single-payer healthcare is so much cheaper.

The first is the cost of medication. 

A recent Trump tweet said “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President's Manufacturing Council,he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” When Trump thinks that drug prices are too high, then maybe they are. Also, drug prices for the same drug in Canada are much lower. But why should Frazier lower drug prices? If there are people willing to pay his high prices, he'd be a fool to lower them.

The reason is monopoly and monopsony. If a company has a monopoly on something important, you can be sure that the price of that thing will be somewhat higher than a situation where there are several companies competing for your business. And, of course, that works the other way round - if there is only one buyer of a product then that buyer has tremendous leverage; that's called a monopsony. So the American Health Service (which doesn't exist, but ought to) would A) be buying in bulk, and that's always cheaper, and B) would be the only buyer, so you sell your Epipen to us, or you you don't make many sales. And here's the price we think we should be paying ... see above.

The second reason is insurance companies

In an UK NHS hospital there is no team of administrators working out the costs of treating each patient and filling in the necessary forms to claim on the insurance (and the insurance companies are not eager to pay unless it can be shown that the claim is valid). That team of administrators is matched by equivalent teams in each of the insurance companies, checking those forms. The entire cost of the processing of insurance claims is avoided, as is the profits made by those companies. You see, they aren't non-profits working out of the benevolence of their hearts.

The pharmaceutical companies are, of course, aware of this threat and they will fight tooth and nail to avoid having to face a monopsony. No tactic will be too underhand, no "sponsored research" stone will be left unturned. But, you might ask, why doesn't Medicare use its buying power to negotiate better prices? Because your congress won't let them. The Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA) included a ban on price negotiation. The pharma companies spend more than $100m on lobbying, seeking to persuade lawmakers by hook or by crook to maintain their high (or as Trump puts it, "RIPOFF") prices. That $100 million is a wise investment of a small fraction of the $374 billion that Americans spend on medication per year.

And what of the insurance companies? They will see most of the reason for their existence wiped away. In the UK, there are a few medical insurance companies, but nothing like the American behemoths. And they too will fight like cornered leviathans to maintain their lucrative business. Currently, they're spending over $10m per year.

 So that's why it's possible to have a single-payer, universal healthcare system at around half of what the government is currently paying.

BUT ...

"But this is socialism", I've heard people say. Yes, it is. And? It's a service for the whole population, paid for out of taxation. Just like the fire service, the police service, the public school service and the military. I don't hear cries from the anti-socialists "stop taxing us to pay for the military, we'll defend ourselves".

"But it's unfair, I'll be paying for a service used by other people". That's right. The rich will help the poor, the healthy will help the sick. If you're a Christian, then you'll probably approve of this because that's what Jesus wanted. If you're an Atheist, you'll definitely approve of this, because it's the Right Thing To Do.

"But taxes" you might say, if you're Republican. Or also if you're Democrat - no-one actually likes being taxed. Um, no. Because the AHS would cost half of what's currently being spent out of taxes, that leave room for a tax cut once the system is in place. TAX CUT!

"But it's untried, untested, how can we know if it would work?" Look at the 58 countries that already have a universal healthcare system. And these aren't just Western countries like the UK, France, Germany and Italy. They include Burkina Faso, Ghana, Bhutan and Sri Lanka  (and I bet many Americans won't be able to find any of those on a map).

The taxation will fall more percentage-wise on the rich; the sick will consume more of the healthcare that the healthy. And that's a good thing.

So I do support the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, but only if it's replaced by something like the American Health Service that this essay proposes.

And there's even something for you, Mr Trump. You can call it "Trumpcare", because as long as Americans get the healthcare that they need, I don't care what you call it.

The Thunderer fails.

Shortly after I praised the Thunderer for understanding the difference between a moped and a scooter, I came across a shuddersome blunder in their third leader.

The leader is all about the importance of STEM subjects, and the fact that the number of pupils taking maths is up (but English is down). And then it does on to explain how important maths is.

Calculus is essential to chart a rocket's trajectory, or the path taken by the shadow of the moon across the face of the sun in an eclipse.

I won't comment on the fact that you don't need calculus to chart a rocket's trajectory. But the Times writer thinks that the moon's shadow moves across the face of the sun?

Yes - we certainly do need people to be more educated in maths. Starting with journalists who are so ignorant that they don't realise that the shadow of the moon moves across the face of the earth.


Thursday, 17 August 2017

Well done the Thunderer

I blogged recently about the mischaracterisation of criminal riding small motorised scooters as "moped gangs". Because the aren't moped gangs, they're scooter gangs.

Today I was delighted to note that The Times has taken notice of my correction, with a piece of news about "Robbers on scooters". The Evening Standard has also used the correct term.

But the battle isn't won yet. The Daily Mail, the Express, The Sun, the Independent, the Metro and Sky are all still incorrectly describing the vehicles as mopeds.

A moped is a vehicle with pedals and a motor, hence the term moped. It is capable of being propelled by the pedals, by the motor, or both.

You can see this on video.

Why is this important?

If you're looking for witnesses to a crime, and the criminal ran off wearing a grey jacket, then if you report this as a blue jacket, important witnesses might not come forward because they didn't see anyone with a blue jacket.

Never knowingly undersold

John Lewis have this well-known boast, "Never knowingly undersold".

But that doesn't mean what you think it does.

I always thought that it meant "If we know that someone else is selling the same thing cheaper, we'll match that price".

But it's a bit different from the policy I thought.

It turns out that if you tell them about another retailer (they exclude online and mail-order) that's selling the item cheaper, they don't drop their selling price. They only drop their selling price to you, and give you a reference code so that you can claim that lower price. Which means that for all their other sales of that item, they are indeed, knowingly undersold.

I know about this because ladysolly is buying a washing machine, found it a lot cheaper else where, told John Lewis, and they offered her a price match. A John Lewis employee told me about the price match being valid and gave me the reference number. And I wondered why we would need a reference number, so I asked her, and she told me that they wouldn't be dropping their price to other people, just to us.

It may be that some people think that if you buy from John Lewis, there's no point in checking any other prices, because "Never knowingly undersold". But in reality, you do need to shop around, because their claim should actually be "We'll price match, but only for you after you tell us where you can get it cheaper".

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The statues are moving

All over the USA, town councils have noted the uproar in Charlottesville, and have decided "not here, please". So in order to avoid the disorder, they've been quietly taking down statues of civil was leaders, and moving them to museums and cemetaries, which is a more appropriate place for them. And I can certainly understand their wish not to be sullied by a sudden crowd of Nazis to lead to more ructions.

To be fair, many of them aren't Nazis. To be pedantic, none of them are, because a Nazi is a member of the National Socialist German Workers' Party, which no longer exists. But in common parlance, someone who adorns himself with swastika tattoos and waves swastika flags, is usually called a Nazi.

Many of the protesters weren't Nazis. Many of them were Ku Klux Klan, and they, I'm guessing, would be upset at being called Nazis. And many of them were neither of the above, but if you march arm in arm with Nazis, don't be surprised if you get called a Nazi.

So, ironically, the Nazi's attempt to protest the removal of one statue, has resulted in the removal of many.

Yes, we have to stand up to Nazis. My father was at the Battle of Cable Street, and I would hope that I'd have been there too, except I wasn't born until several years later. They shall not pass.

 And another result is a sight we can all enjoy, the weeping Cantwell, a notorious and deeply unpleasant Nazi.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Worldpay - goodbye.

I just got a letter (on paper) from Worldpay, telling me that they're about to merge with Vantiv Inc, a US company.


Worldpay is one of the companies (originally RBS, then after the takeover it was Natwest, then the payment processing division was spun off into a separate company called Worldpay which I access via Bucksnet who changed their name to BNS Payments) that I use for credit card processing.

This chain of companies happens to me a lot. I've been running this for 20 years now, throughout the internet boom. My DSL and megastream provider was originally Nildram, Nildram sold the DSL business to one company and the megastream business to another, and I went through several changes of ownership, leading to all sorts of problems later. I got the same when I colocated with Energis, who became Cable and Wireless, who then decided to bill indirectly via some third party Civitas, and the ensuing confusion led to me dumping a perfectly good colocation for a company called Saxon (who then changed to Safehosts) ... you see how this goes.

Each time there's a change like this, I get grief. I have to change this, or that, or the other.

My experience is that this change will lead to all sorts of hassles for me, including (but not limited to) huge volumes of paperwork required from me to assure them that I'm not a naughty person (it being well known that naughty people never lie about this), and annual reassurance that I haven't become naughty since the last time I told them (I get this from my bank in New York). Worse, I'm expecting a change in the way they want me to ship data to them. Perhaps a change in the file format, perhaps in the address I ship the file to, perhaps in the crypto system I have to use. Or perhaps all three.

So I phoned them, and told them loudly and clearly, that if they do wind up making changes in any or all of these formats, then they lose a customer, and I continue my business with one fewer payment processor.

I'm fed up with the way that I get forced to do significant amounts of programming in order to ease the life of people supplying me with services. I've lost count of the number of times I've had to change the way I do billings.

Plus their telephone menu system is very annoying. When you try to choose an option, it's not good enough to tap the number you choose, it doesn't recognise your choice unless you press and hold for a couple of seconds. And when it's offering you a series of six options, it won't let you interrupt with your choice, it insists on droning on through the full message before you can choose. And when it asks for ID, it asks for the 8 digit customer number, and I had to look that up because I had the six digit account number ready to give, and by the time I'd looked it up, it decided that I needed to go round their menu system again. And then the second time around, I took too long to enter the 8 digits, and it sent me round *again*. I've told them about this too, but I doubt if they care.

And although I tried to talk to the man who had sent me the letter, there is apparently no chance of that.

So I suspect that Vantic Inc aren't going to get quite as many customers as they thought.