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Friday, 23 June 2017

Doublethink

I had thought that it was mostly the Church of England that was schisming over gayness. It turns out that Jews are too.

It all comes from Leviticus 18 and 20. "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them."

Obviously, as this is from a Holy Book, it has to be interpreted. My interpretation is, "If two men have sex, they must be killed". Other people interpret this differently, as anything from "Not a problem" to "Gay sex forbidden, but no death penalty". I notice that hardly anyone (Daesh excepted) still holds to the death penalty part.

And the problem is, if you think that your Holy Book is the infallible word of God, then the words in it are important, and it's important to use the correct interpretation. Except that the Holy Book doesn't tell you the correct interpretation. So you have to argue about it. And there is, actually, no basis for argument except what you feel is right and proper, and if you're able to know what you think is right and proper, what's the Holy Book doing for you? Don't look at me for answers, I'm an atheist.

There isn't only one Jewish community, of course, just as there isn't just one kind of Christian. There's Ashkenazis (like me, origin in Russia/Poland) and there's Sephardis (like my sister's husband, origins Iraq/India/Spain). The main difference, as far as I can tell, is the cuisine. And I prefer Ashkenazi cuisine (as cooked by my wife's brother's wife), but my sister is also skilled in the Sephardi cuisine, and the Seder meal at her place is always a treat. Ladysolly, of course, can cook anything.

Perhaps a bigger divide is on frumness, how pious you are. There's the Liberal and Reform jews, who (I think) don't eat bacon but are otherwise indistinguishable from the Goyim. There's the Conservative synagogue, which my mother would have attended if she had ever attended synagogue, and where I was Barmitzvahed at an age before I felt confident enough to "just say no", and there's the Charedis.

The Charedis are the ones who "dress like jews". Go to Stamford Hill and you'll see them all over. Or Golders Green. Long black coats, white shirts, funny hats ... why do so many religious mark themselves out with funny hats? It isn't compulsory to dress like that, but it is traditional, and tradition is really important to those guys.

So.

Rabbi Dweck, the senior rabbi of the UK Sephardi Charedis, gave a lecture on male homosexuality last April, and the resulting controversy has been raging ever since.

I'm not even going to try to summarise his position - if you're interested, Google is your friend. But it's very clear that there's at least two sides being taken, and the similarity to the C of E schism is striking.

So let me put in my own view here. The problem is, there is now a *lot* of people who understand perfectly well that gay sex is nobody's business except for the people doing it. And a lot of people who think, well, as long as no third party is getting hurt, why should we care what consenting adults do together?

Well, that's not the problem. The problem, is, of course, the Holy Book, which spells out unambiguously that this is an *abomination*, and in case that isn't crystal clear, it explains "they shall surely be put to death". Leviticus is, of course, the Old Testament, one of the five books of Moses and so revered by the Jews. And the Christians have a very ambivalent attitude towards the Old Testament; sometimes saying that it's part of God's infallible word, and sometimes saying that it's been replaced by the New Testament (they use the word "fulfilled" but they actually mean "replaced"). But, as in all things holy, you pick and choose the bits you like, and although some Christians go with the abomination bit, others prefer to ignore it. Just like they ignore the stuff about shellfish. Go figure.

So how do you reconcile what you brain is telling you, with what your Holy Book is telling you? You can't. So you're stuck with believing two mutually contradictory things, and that's called Cognitive Dissonance although personally I prefer the term  "Doublethink". And doublethink must be painful.

Thank god, I'm an atheist, so I don't have to struggle with this. My only problem is to find a sufficiently large bag of popcorn as I watch the fatuous frenzied fight.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Fox hunting gone

After I voted in the recent election, I stopped outside the polling station to deliver a diatribe to a man wearing a blue rosette, on the subject of "Your revisiting of the fox hunting laws is one of the main reasons I didn't vote Tory this time. It was a stupid hostage to fortune and will probably cost you the election."

He would have passed the comment along to the Conservative Party HQ, and as a result, the possible re-legalisation of this barbaric practice whereby the unspeakable pursue the uneatable and kill it, will not happen.

It's nice when my views affect government policy.

The end of austerity?

 The end of austerity?

Except that, as I've pointed out quite a few times, austerity never happened. What I do find hard to understand is how people got fooled into thinking that it did.

I can understand why the Tories pretended it was happening, they being the Party of Fiscal Responsibility, and I can understand why Labour pretended it was happening, the Tories being the Party of All Nastiness.

The only way that the general public could have fallen for this scam, is if people don't actually look at figures.

Is that possible?



Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Hot hot hot

It was 32 degrees today. If you're American, it was 90.

Tomorrow, it's forecast to be 34. It reminds me of 1976.

In 1976, we had a long, hot summer, and a drought, and a hosepipe ban. My allotment was like a desert even with heavy use of my watering can. At work, we used to go into the computer room just to cool down.

I planted several times as many lettuces as I thought we wanted, on the expectation that they'd nearly all die, but then the government appointed Denis Howell as Minister for Drought, and that worked, because we got lots of rain. My lettuces flourished, and I had so many that I brought a couple of dozen into work, and we went down to the Royal Park and had a lettuce tasting party, wiith wine.

If it gets too bad tomorrow, I'm going to hole up in my data center and turn the air conditioning up to "Arctic".

I don't know the word for that

My vocabulary is pretty good, I think (although I recently learned "metonymy" and I'm keen to find a place to use it). But I was stumped today.

I went to visit the doctor, we're still working on clearing up the last vestiges of my Dreaded Lurgi. I have a bit of a wheeze, sometimes and a bit of a cough, and slight phlegm. The doctor calls it "asthma".

So the doctor asked me to describe how it felt, and I explained about the intermittent wheeze, and that I'm coughing a bit more than I'd expect to, and then I tried to describe the other symptom, and I had a problem.

The word is "chaiseriche". That's a word I learned from my mother, and I'm guessing that it's yiddish but I don't actually know that. It's the word I've always used to describe this feeling, and ladysolly doesn't know what it means (and nor did the doctor, of course). But I can't think of an English word to describe the tickly-hoarse-coughy sensation that is encapsulated in "chaiseriche".

Monday, 19 June 2017

Thoughts and prayers

At last, I've learned of a disaster in which the "thoughts and prayers" response is appropriate.

From: William Snyder <wlscello@aol.com>
Reply-To: wlscello@yandex.com



Hello
I really hope you get this fast. I could not inform anyone about our trip, because it was
impromptu. We had to be in Philippines for a Tour..the program was successful, but our journey
has turned sour. We misplaced our wallets and cell phones on our way back to the hotel after we
went for sight seeing. The wallet contains all the valuables we have. Now, our luggage is in
custody of the hotel management pending when we make payment.
I am sorry if i am inconveniencing you, but I have only very few people to turn to now. I will
be very grateful if I can get a short term loan of ($1,950) from you. This will enable me sort
our hotel bills and get my sorry self back home. I will really appreciate whatever you can
afford at this moment. I promise to refund it in full as soon as I return. Please let me know if
you can be of any assistance.
Thanks
Will Snyder



Oh no! That's terrible. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Pills

I glanced at my spam folder just now, and I noticed something. Nearly every spam is for medication!

What happened to the offers of large amounts of money? What happened to the offers of employment (money mules). What happened to the things that I'm supposed to click on that installs ransomware?





Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Blind spot

In the letters column of the Times today (the Times is the only newspaper that I can still bear to read) Professor David Frost (former principal, Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge) says that evolution is bunk.

Well.

I don't know much about Professor David Frost, except from his former post, he's obviously a religionist, clearly a Christian and I suspect that "Orthodox" is what the rest of us would call "Greek Orthodox" or "Russian Orthodox". If so, this goes back to the schism of 1054, which was caused by issues such as whether leavened or unleavened bread should be used in the Eucharist. Personally, I prefer matzo, which is unleavened, but that's just a matter of taste. Anyhow, I don't think he's a biologist.

In his letter he cites Fred Hoyle as his authority. Fred was a great astronomer, and was very well known in that field. It was Fred who came up with the name "Big Bang" for the cosmological theory that we all use now, as a derogatory term. His own idea was "continuous creation", the Steady State theory. That seemed plausible until 1964, when the cosmic microwave radiation was discovered and measured. A more enduring contribution was for the theory of nucleosynthesis in stars, showing how elements heavier than helium, all the way up to iron, could be made in stars. A brilliant man, but, again, not a biologist.

Frost doesn't give his preferred theory of the origin of species, but I would guess that he's a creationist. God did it.

I'm not going to give all the evidence for evolution, there's plenty of good books. What I'd like to focus on, is how a (probably) very intelligent man, clever enough to become a professor, can be so wrong.

It's a blind spot. I've noticed that a lot of people have a blind spot, an area of thought that is totally dark to them, which they cannot see even when it is pointed out to them. If you roam around Facebook for a few days, you'll find many other instances of a blind spot by many other people. Not only can they not see into that blind spot, they cannot even perceive that they have a blind spot.

And that leads me to a scary thought.

What's my blind spot?



Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Phone call

A nice lady with an Indian accent called me from 0039 028 718 9629 and said "Could you answer three questions? It will only take a minute." So I said "Yes, three questions."

The first question was "Is your name ..." So I confirmed that this was, indeed, myname, and said "That's one question." "No," she said, "that doesn't count as a question."

Then she said "Your phone number, is it ...." And I confirmed that this was, indeed, my phone number, and then said "That's two questions." "No," she said, "We don't start counting until I ask you your age, don't you understand that?" "No," I said, "And that's your three questions, goodbye" and I hung up.

Then she called back. "You're stupid," she began, so I hung up again.

Then she called back again, and got as far as "You're ..." and I hung up again. Why is she wasting her time, I'm obviously not a good prospect for whatever she's selling? So then I dialled 1471 to get her number, and then I made a complaint to the ICO.


Monday, 12 June 2017

Whence?



If you lived in the EU, would you want to go work in the UK now? Not knowing what your future status might be?

Our future in the UK has been buggered up by, mostly, two people. Cameron, in order to fend off a split in the Conservative party, agreed to an unnecessary referendum, without specifying a minimum vote and without spelling out just what Brexit meant. He was followed by May, who called an unnecessary election and fought a lacklustre campaign to wind up without a clear majority. May also doesn't say what she's aiming for in Brexit, other than "Brexit means Brexit". And just to put jam on it, she's inviting the DUP (anti-abortion, anti-gay and anti-evolution) into the dinner party, thereby putting at risk the Northern Ireland peace process, because Westminster should not be taking sides in the negotiations between the two sides in Northern Ireland.

Other villains - Ed Milliband for A) displacing his brother David and B) introducing the change in Labour party rules that has solidified the Labour lurch to the far left.

Nigel Farage, the ex-stockbroker who poses outside pubs with a fag and a pint pretending to be a man-of-the-people, and who led the pressure for Brexit.

Boris Johnson, who led the lying in the pro-Brexit campaign.

Sigh.

Ladysolly today suggested that it might be time to start to think about lifeboats.

We're both not much under seventy, so we won't be looking for jobs. We both speak a little French, a bit less German and (in my case) tiny Latin. So we really want to live in an English-speaking country. So let's look at the possibilities.

The USA, obviously, is ruled out, and not just because of Trump. It's also the gun laws (which cause the massive gun casualties even though Americans can't understand what could possibly be leading to all these people getting shot), the lack of universal healthcare and the general plonkwittery of the Republican party who seem to be a bit like the DUP only with less Orange (namely, Trump). The other lot aren't much better).

Canada looks nice, but it's a long way away, and winter lasts 11 months.

South Africa? Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Australia and New Zealand look good, but they are *very* far away from here.

I suggested Scotland, but independence looks unlikely after the latest election, even if another (unlikely) referendum were called. In which case, Scotland shares the fate of the rest of the UK post-Brexit.

Brexit. The most unnecessary stupidity we've done since Suez, and it's still going to happen. Maybe hard, maybe soft, whatever either of those mean, and if you think that the other 27 EU members are going to let us have our cake and eat it, then you're a raving optimist. The terms and conditions for Brexit will be dictated by Brussels. May (who has demonstrated her weakness and wobbliness) will swallow whatever they spurt out and tell voters that she's successfully negotiated a brilliant deal.

Ladysolly suggested Ireland.

They speak English, the climate is the same as here (perhaps a bit more rain), they're in the EU, they have an NHS (the Health Service Executive). It's a democracy with proportional representation (hurrah). I don't like the religious leaning, but they recently approved gay marriage, so things are looking better now.

I think I'll start drinking Guinness.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Sonnet

A sonnet is a kind of verse declaimed
Of fourteen lines, each iambs five is heard
The line is therefore pentameter named
An iamb being short then long part-word

The rhyme scheme has great specificity
If violated, sonnet would offend
Shakesperian is ababcd
cdefefgg - the end

The third quatrain might introduce a change
Another notion, or a change of pace
Perhaps another concept we arrange
The sonnet shows the world a diff'rent face

But at the end, a summary collects
Our thoughts, our hopes - the sonnet now reflects

Friday, 9 June 2017

The British political system, parts 1 to 4

The British political system, part 1, the constitution.
   
The British political system, part 2, the parties.
   
The British political system, part 3, the situation now.

The British political system, part 4, the issues.

The British political system, part 4, the issues

What are the factors that British people consider when casting their vote? I'll try to list the main ones, although I suspect that the largest factor is "The party I always vote for".

The biggest issues are probably the economy, and the NHS.

High up on the list, is the NHS, our National Health Service. This was set up in 1948, funded out of taxation, and pretty much free at the point of service. There are a few things that you make a small payment for, such a prescriptions at £8.60 per item. I get mine free, as I'm over 60.

But the staff are underpaid (the nurses pay rises were capped at 1% for the last several years), the service is (I'm told) underfunded and the NHS (I'm told) is on the verge of breakdown.

My personal experience of the NHS doesn't bear this out; my recent episode of The Dreaded Lurgi (see this blog, from early May 2017) was promptly treated by my local GP and when I was suspected of a DVT (deep vein thrombosis) was promptly and carefully treated in my local hospital (I didn't have  DVT, it was probably just a muscle strain). But a sample of one isn't significant. And funding for the NHS is a major political issue.

One problem here, is that there is no upper limit to the demand for healthcare, and without any price deterrent, the only way to limit demand is via rationing, which is the reason for "waiting lists". Also, the UK population is aging, as a result of ... better healthcare. We love our NHS, and feel sad that our American friends have nothing like that.

On the Economy. The cuts (according to Labour). Or the austerity (according to the Tories).  Both are fake. What has actually happened, is that the growth in government spending has not been as great as some people would like. Austerity means "difficult economic conditions created by government measures to reduce public expenditure." and cuts mean "reductions".

Immigration is an issue, and may be one of the reasons we voted for Brexit. But Germans, French and Poles coming to this country have a lot in common with the British culture, whereas immigrants from non-EU countries such as Pakistan are a lot more different.

Another important issue, is policing. In the last several years, police numbers have dropped by 20,000, a fall of 14%. In the last few months, we've seen three terrorist incidents, and this has made people wonder if reducing police numbers was a good idea.

Another issue is education. There's the pay of teachers, there's classroom sizes and the question of university fees and student loans.

Social services is somewhat linked to the NHS issue, because if someone can't be moved to a care home, they might continue to occupy a hospital bed.

Transport - we're planning a hugely expensive new high speed rail line, while customers of existing services feel short-changed.

Tax - how much should we pay, and where should the burden lie? Are some big international companies getting away with paying less tax than we would like? Could the rich pay more to support those less well off? And we should close tax loopholes (except that every government tries to do that, and manages to leave a great many, and open new ones. Tax is *complicated*. And we shouldn't blame the companies that operate withn the rules, if the rules aren't what they should be, only the politicians are to blame.

On the environment - until recently, the government was pushing diesel as being less polluting than petrol; now they've reversed course. A year ago, I switched from petrol to diesel. Thanks, UKGOV. And does the move from coal to wood chips really represent an improvement? There's just as much carbon dioxide emitted. Wind power is very strong here, but you can't actually rely on the wind to blow, and we don't have much electricity storage.

Brexit. The referendum said "Do Brexit", but apart from that, it didn't say anything. Should we leave the EU but remain part of the single market with free movement of people? Or not? We talk about "hard" and "soft" Brexit, without actually knowing exactly what these mean, and Theresa May's "Brexit means Brexit" doesn't really help at all.
We have no idea what's happening, and no-one is going to tell us until it's all decided. And even then there will be lots of porkies about what's agreed.


Defence. Our army, navy and air force are shrinking; perhaps we're not expecting to go to war any time soon, so maybe that's not such a bad idea. We still have our nuclear deterrent, although Corbyn has said that he wouldn't be the first to use it (quite right too). But when asked whether he'd use it as a retaliation, he's ducked and dodged the questions. Which, in my opinion, is OK, because as long as you leave the possibility open, it's still a deterrent. It's a tactic I've used myself; not actually saying that I'd do something, but also not ruling it out.

And here are some non-issues, that maybe you thought were issues.

Terrorism. Is actually very minor in the UK, expecially when compared to how bad it was during the 1970s, which is within living memory.

Roads. Yes, there could be fewer potholes, but they're in pretty good condition.

Burkas. Some people want them banned, the great majority think that people should wear whatever they want, except in particular circumstances (for example, you can't go into a petrol station wearing a full face helmet).

Unemployment. Doesn't seem to be an issue.

Clean air, water. Hardly any complaints here.

Foreign policy. We get a bit annoyed when a foreign leader tweets insults to the Mayor of London right after a terrorist attack, but that's mostly your problem, not ours. We live on an island, and know it. The main foreign policy is to do with Brexit, and no-one knows what our policy is. Probably including our politicians.

No go areas. I've heard that some people think that there are lawless areas in the UK. Some people will always think what they want to think, in defiance of reality. There aren't any no go areas.

Guns. We don't have them, and don't want them, because we can see what happens when guns are freely available, the USA provides an excellent Dreadful Example. Even our police are not routinely armed. We do have some armed police, we call them "firearms officers" and they have particular training.

Religion. Any politician who tries to play the god card causes prolonged and high-volume hilarity. We don't do god here. Less than 2% of the population are churchgoers (and falling). We celebrate Christmas with trees, shopping and overeating, and we celebrate Easter with chocolate and bunnies. I find it hard to understand the situation (and hypocrisy) about religion in the US.

Climate change. We've heard of it, and we're doing our bit, but in the UK what we have mostly is weather, and lots of it. And if you don't like the weather, just wait an hour.

Racism. Yes, there's still a bit, but hardly any. The leader of the BNP Nick Griffin went on radio "Question Time", a serious political talk show, in 2009. There was much discussion about whether such an extremist should be given a platform, but he was. And he made such a complete arse of himself that his party suffered an abrupt decline and he was chucked out as leader. The Labour party has stuck its head up in the racism area, mostly via antisemitism, but it's not a common problem.

Misogyny. Theresa May is the second female PM, the SNP has a female leader, women are pretty much accepted as people here.  Although many women say ther's still a way to go.

Abortion. Not an issue.

Freedom. Not an issue. We're free, have been since time immemorial (Magna Carta was in 1215) and find it amusing that Americans think that they invented liberty at a time when they had slavery (which we abolished in 1833).



The British political system, part 3, the situation now.

Theresa May called an election for June 8. She was hoping to get a much improved majority, which would have made it possible for her to give two fingers to those splinters of the Tory party that didn't like her policies. Instead, she got 12 fewer seats, which means that the Tories don't have an absolute majority any more. I would guess that the bigwigs of the party are hopping mad, partly because of this outcome, and partly because her election campaign was weak. Right now, she's still the Tory leader, and can form a government, but I wouldn't be too surprised if she gets ditched by the Tory party, and replaced by ...

Probably Boris, he's at 6/4 odds, way ahead of the field. Other runners and riders are David Davis (in charge of Brexit), Amber Rudd (Home secretary) and Ruth Davidson (leader of the Scottish Tories, who have done rather well against the incumbent SNP).

The main beneficiary of the election has been the Labour party, with a gain of 29 seats. And the biggest gain is in the position of Jeremy Corbyn, which has gone from "nice but unelectable old leftie" to "potential future prime minister". Where Theresa had a lacklustre campaign, Jeremy played a blinder, stomping up and down the country, having well-attended rallies and scoring points off the Tories all over the place. And when his shadow Home Secretary came over as incompetent, a couple of days before the election she was replaced as suffering from a "long term serious illness".

But what will this do to Brexit, we're all wondering. We've already "triggered article 50", which means we've given to two year's notice of departure, and now we have to negotiate our future relationship with the 27 members of the EU. And they have all the cards.

Theresa May had hoped that a big swing to the Tories would strengthen her hand (although I don't think it would have), but now the swing against her has, if anything, weakened her position.

The pound fell a couple of cents against the dollar, which isn't a lot, but shows that the markets aren't keen on the uncertainty that May has caused.

May has gone to the Queen to kiss hands (I don't know if she does that literally), which means that she's asked the Queen if she has permission to form a government (the Queen has only one possible reply). And if she can put together a majority (which she can, just via the votes of the DUP) she can write the Queen's Speech. This is an outline of the propose legislation for the coming session of parliament; written by the PM and read out by the Queen.

Looking forward, I expect a change in the Tory leadership (probably Boris) and as soon as he thinks that he stands a good chance to winning, another election, possibly even this year.

We live in interesting times.

The British political system, part 2, the parties

The first thing to say, is that none of the British political parties resemble any of the US political parties. Comparisons don't work.

Also, a General Election in the UK is completely different from the two-year circus that they have in the US. The PM says "OK, we're having an election", and the election happens within a few weeks of that. Also, there are very tight limits on how much can be spent. For example, a candidate can spend £8700 plus 9p per elector, so that would come to £15000 or so. And if you breach this, it's a criminal offence, and MPs do actually get prosecuted. The Tories were fined £70,000 for transgressions, in 2017.

As of today, the largest political party is the Conservative (actually the Conservative and Unionist Party) and often called the Tories and sometimes called the "Nasty party". The leadership of that party is decided by sitting MPs of the party, and when David Cameron resigned in June 2015 as a result of the Brexit farrago, there was a game of "ten green bottles" between June and September, with candidates committing seppuku one at a time until only Theresa May was left; she is currently the leader.

The Tories are a right-center party, low-tax, low-spend. They like to talk about "austerity", which doesn't mean what you think it means. It doesn't mean reductions in spending, it means growth in spending that is less than some people would like.

There's actually two parties welded together (or perhaps even more), of which one is more right than the other. Because of the first-past-the-post electoral system, it would be suicide to split; they'd go from the current 318 seats to considerably less than 100 between them. So they have to find ways to rub along somehow - the Brexit referendum was one result of that, and in the recent general election, Theresa May promised a repeat of the vote on fox hunting (which is currently banned), which in animal-loving Britain is a bit like promising to have a vote on dog fighting. But if a significant segment of the party demanded it, she had to put in this vote-losing policy.

Theresa May's slogan for this election was "Strong and stable", but she actually looked "Weak and wobbly", because A) after saying several times that an early (pre-2020) election would be bad for the country, she U-turned and called the election of 2017, and B) she set a new record for U-turns by reversing a manifesto policy within two days of publishing it - it is usual that a manifesto policy is U-turned only *after* the election.

Why did she call the election? Well, the polls showed the Tories bigly in the lead, with a 20% lead over Labour, and one can't help but suspect that this was a factor. In the event, she did a very poor campaign,  Corbyn played a blinder, and the Tories lost 12 seats. Don't be surprised if the Tories ditch May, and the favourite for the job is Boris Johnson.

Boris Johnson, usually called just "Boris", there being not many Borises around, was previously Mayor of London and is another Tory in the mould of Cameron, but talks rather well, scattering Latin and Greek and other classical references in his speeches. On the other hand, he acts a bit like a clown. Which, of course, goes down well or badly, depending on whether you like clownish politicians.

The second largest party (as of today) is the Labour party, which is left-of-centre. This also has two wings, the left (sometimes called Blairite after Tony Blair) and the very left, personified by the current leader of the party, Jeremy Corbyn and his fan club, called Momentum. Their policies are tax-and-spend. Soak the rich and an end to austerity (which was fake, see above). They also refer to austerity as "the cuts", meaning that the increases in spending aren't as great as they'd like them to be. They also don't seem to be able to shake off the taint of racism. Their slogan was "For the many, not the few", but some people said that it's more like "For the many, not the jew".

So the previous Labour leader was Ed Milliband, who became leader in 2010 after Gordon Brown got slung out, by beating his brother David (who many people thought should have been leader. Ed then A) lost the 2015 election, which led to his departure, but not before he permanently changed the character of the Labour party by changing the rules.

Previously, Labour MPs elected their leader. But Ed changed the rules, and now the Labour leader is elected by *all* members of the Labour Party. And you can join (if you're more than 14 years old) for £4/month, or £2 if you're 20-26, retired, unwaged or a union member etc).  A lot of peo-ple signed up so they could vote for the Labour leader and as a result, the Labour party lurched bigly to the left, and elected Jeremy Corbyn, previously an obscure old leftie.

The third largest party is the SNP (Scottish National Party). They are a one-issue party. We had a referendum in 2014 (called the once-in-a-generation referendum) for Scottish independence, and the Scots rejected that idea. The SNP want another referendum, on the principle that "we'll keep having referenda until you get it right" but the 2017 election showed that the Scots don't want to vote on this again, on the flimsy ground that we did this already, and stop nagging.

The SNP is also very left; perhaps about as left as the Labour party is now. In the 2015 election, they got 56 seats in the HoC, which was very nearly a clean sweep of all Scottish constituencies, but in 2017, they lost 21 of those, and look a lot weaker than they did.

The fourth party is the Lib-dems (Liberal Democrats) which were formed as a union of the Liberal party (which 100 years ago was one of the two main parties) and the Social Democrats (which formed as a splinter party from the Labour Party in 1981, and has served as an awful example of what happens when you split one of the big two parties.

They are anti-Brexit (even after the referendum), which doesn't seem to have done them any good in the 2017 election.

The DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) is a kind of Northern Ireland Tory party. They would tend to vote with the Tories. Their main importance is in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

And there's a bunch of other parties.

Sinn Fein. The Irish republican party. Seven seats, but they are pledged to abstain from voting in the HoC.

Plaid Cymru is the Welsh Party. Four seats.

The Green party is what you're expect. They have one seat.

And a few of the parties with no seats:

UKIP (UK Independence Party) was a one-issue party, campaigning for Brexit, which means that they are now a zero-issue party, a "party without a cause". They have zero seats.

The British National Party (BNP) - extreme right, racist and not nice. They got no seats, and only 0.1% of the electorate voted for them.

The Worker's Revolutionary Party - extreme left. They got 771 votes out of the whole country's electorate of 47 million.

The Monster Raving Loony Party. They got almost as many votes as the BNP. The MRLP is a vernerable and respected British Institution, and they're in it for the fun. Their slogan is "Vote for insanity".



The British political system, part 1, the constitution

Some people think we don't have a constitution. But we do. What we don't have is a single document entitled "The Constitution". The British Constitution is contained in a series of documents, which, taken together, are our constitution. Some people in the US think they have a single document entitled "The Constitution", but they too have a series of documents which, taken together, comprise "The Constitution"

The best known of our documents, is Magna Carta, the Great Charter, of 1215. Actually, that was annulled in 1216, but was subsequently changed and re-issued, changed again and re-issued, and it doesn't say what many people think it says. Nevertheless, it's an important early document.

Another important document is the Bill of Rights, 1689, limiting the power of the monarch and setting out the rights of parliament.

At the head of the British political system is the monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. She is also the head of the Church of England. She has no power whatsoever. She launches ships, opens supermarkets and parliament, and is an immense tourist attraction.

The real sovereign power in the UK is the House of Commons, also known as the Mother of Parliaments, because so many other countries have copied our system. There are 650 seats (that number can change with changes in electoral boundaries), each elected by a constituency using a first-past-the-post system. That system favours the two large parties, punishes any small parties and is a huge deterrent to either of the two big parties to split. There is also the House of Lords (also known as the Upper House), which is unelected (currently 800 members). Lords (and Ladies) are "appointed" and not elected. There is constant agitation for this to change to an elected Upper House, but there's no sign of this happening soon. The HoL has 92 hereditary peers (this is a fossil of the 1066 Norman Conquest), and 26 Lords Spiritual. The Lords Spiritual are archbishops and bishops of the Church of England, and is the only impact of religion on British politics, because whenever any politician expresses religious faith, they are subjected to prolonged and derisive laughter, unlike the situation in the US, where loudly and repeatedly expressed religious belief appears to be a necessity.

A few definitions - there is a kingdom called England, a kingdom called Scotland (but the UK monarch combines those roles), a principality called Wales (the monarch's eldest son is the Prince of Wales, and there's Northern Ireland, also called "the six counties" or "Ulster". The UK is all of the above. "Great Britain" is England, Wales and Scotland, but sometimes people use it to mean the UK. The term "Britain" is very poorly defined, it could mean just the largest island, or the whole political entity. We have a thing called "devolution" which means that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have their own parliaments, with various amounts of power. The Scottish parliament (also called "Holyrood" after the location where it sits) has a lot of power; they have, for example, enacted that university education should be free. The Northern Ireland parliament (also called "Stormont" after the location where it sits) has some power too. The Welsh Parliament (actually called the National Assembly for Wales) has very little power.

When the UK joined the EU, we agreed that our HoC would pass any regulations that the EU passed. Actually, we joined the EEC (European Economic Community, we had a referendum in 1975), which was very different. First of all there were only nine members, and secondly is was more about free trade. The EU (European Union) has 28 members, and is committed to "ever closer union", meaning we're trying to become a kind of "United States of Europe".

But there's always been people in the UK who weren't too keen on the EU (known as Eurosceptics) of which Nigel Farage (who loves to pose outside a pub holding a pint and a fag pretending to be a man-of-the-people although he's actually a millionaire ex-stockbroker) was the loudest mouth. And in 2015, the current Prime Minister (PM) David Cameron, in order to fend off UKIP (the UK Independence Party, a one-issue party headed by Farage whose only objective was to leave the EU) and to avoid a split in his own party (there being many eurosceptics and many europhiles in the party), promised to hold a referendum on leaving the EU (British exit, or Brexit) on an assumption that he made that Brexit would be rejected. In June 2015 the referendum happened amid a welter of misinformation emitted by both Leave and Remain, and to everyone's surprise, we voted Brext, 52% against 48%, and since Cameron had neglected to set any threshold for the referendum, we were committed to leave. Cameron resigned, there wa a brisk and brutal fight amongst the grandees of the party, and Theresa May (formerly Home Secretary) emerged as the only candidate after all the others "voluntarily" dropped out.

Brexit is the worst idea we've had since 1169, when we invaded Ireland.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

We voted

I had thought of writing NONE on my ballot paper. These do actually get counted, but I don't think we're taken seriously.

The Tories were excluded for a number of reasons. Theresa May kicked off by saying she'd revisit the fox hunting ban, which is about as bad as promising a vote on dog fighting. Then the manifesto came out, which was vague and wordy, without specifics, not many numbers. Followed, almost immediately, by a U-turn, which made her look weak and wobbly. And she's not telling us her objectives in Brexit, except that "Brexit means Brexit" which is what is known as a tautology.

Labour didn't look good, because of their racism. And the garden tax. And a Home Secretary who seemed to think that all numbers were equally valid, then we were told she's seriously ill long-term, yet is planning to return to the fray. And a Chancellor who is too keen to spend Other People's Money.

And UKIP is a one-issue party with racist leanings, where their issue has been pretty much settled.

Then ladysolly pointed out that Peter Jones (whose namesake was the Guide) was on the list as Libdem candidate. And we saw him handing out leaflets at our local tube station, and he was the only candidate we'd actually seen in this election. Plus, he gave us some help several years ago, as a councillor.

There's nothing we actually dislike about the Libdems, other than Clegg's disastrous coalition with the Tories that led to his reversal on university fees. And they are, at least, in favour of the EU.

And that's the way we voted.

Intern the watchlist?

There's 23,000 people on the list of "people of interest". And I've seen calls to "intern them all", in the same way that we interned German citizens in WWII. But there's a few problems with that idea.

The biggest problem is this. How do you get onto that list? One good way is if you say something very inflammatory, and get reported on the hotline. But another good way is if you regularly park outside your neighbour's house, and they get very angry about that, and you get reported on the hotline. In other words, being reported on the hotline gets you put on a list, whether you deserve it or not.

So, first of all, we have Magna Carta. Clause 39,  "No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land."

This is an important principle of British justice, and the core of our Constitution (yes, Britain does have a Constitution, it's just that there isn't one single document called "The Constitution"). And without this important safeguard, the state could, without recourse to a court of law, imprison anyone, indefinitely.

You might think "Well, this doesn't apply to me; I'm not a terrorist, or a muslim, or wear a beard". But it does; each time you offend your neighbour (and I've done that in the past), they would have the option of getting you exiled to a prison island by calling the Hotline.

Why was it different in WWII? Well, first of all, it didn't work via denunciation, it was based on someone being a citizen of an enemy country. And secondly, we weren't facing the occasional stabbing, we were facing the Blitz (40,000 killed) and invasion by the Nazi army. And even then, when the Americans interned all the Japanese Americans in WWII, this is now considered to be a very shameful episode (and was considered shameful even at the time, by many).

We did use internment against the IRA. But  the threat posed by the IRA was a hundred times as great as that from today's Islamists. Look at the figures.

So ... no. I don't want 23,000 people interned on some prison island just because there might be a few on that list who will take a knife and start stabbing.

And consider this. In 2016, in the UK, there were 32 thousand knife crimes recorded. In London alone, in 2016, 61 people were murdered with knives. And this isn't Islamist Jihad, this is just the background level of knife homicide here. And by the way, gang activity was less than 5% of this.

Yes, of course we need to continue to fight against terror. But while we do that, we should not be terrified into doing something stupid.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Yet more stupid

A few days ago, my usenet feed stopped working. Today, I noticed, and started to do something about it.

First, I tested the computer that's supposed to collect the usenet feed. To test it, I used pine (alpine), which is not only a great text-only mail reader, it's also a usenet reader. And sure enough, I couldn't log in to my usenet feed.

So I tried another computer. Same problem. And then another ... and it worked! I tried several more, and wound up with two that didn't work, and six that worked.

So I contacted the usenet feed supplier. They responded quickly by giving me a new username and password. That didn't help at all.

I thought a bit, and decided to use telnet. telnet can do anything that other protocols can do. Instead of telnet usenet.com, I typed telnet usenet.com 119, which tells telnet to connect to port 119, the usenet (nntp) port. It asked for a username and password. The exchange looks like this, when it works:


telnet reader.usenet.com 119
Trying 1.2.3.4...
Connected to reader.usenet.com.
Escape character is '^]'.
200 Welcome to Usenet
AUTHINFO USER username
381 Need more.
AUTHINFO PASS password
281 Authentication accepted.

 
And when it doesn't work:

telnet reader.usenet.com 119
Trying 2.3.4.5...
Connected to reader.usenet.com.
Escape character is '^]'.
200 Welcome (servername)
AUTHINFO USER username
381 PASS required
AUTHINFO PASS password
502 Authentication Failed


And at that point, I noticed that the computers that worked, used 1.2.3.4 and the ones that didn't work, used 2.3.4.5. And I thought, why is that? And I had a look at the hosts file, and sure enough, I'd put in an entry that forced reader.usenet.com to resolve to 2.3.4.5 on the ones that didn't work, and I'm guessing that the feed had stopped using that server. 

So I changed the hosts file, and everything works now!






More stupid

I tell you, the amount of stupid in this world is beyond measure.

I got an email, from hello@your-worldpay.com. I do have an account with Worldpay, and when I want to sign in, I go to https://login.worldpay.com. And I give my username and password.


The email asks me to go to www.your-worldpay.com, and gives a link to there. And your-worldpay.com is NOT worldpay.com. So who does it belong to? I did a whois, and found out.

Registrant Name: Adam Oldfield
Registrant Organization: Force24 Ltd
Registrant Street: Indigo Blu, Office 2,
Registrant Street: 14 Crown Point Road
Registrant City: Leeds
Registrant State/Province: West yorkshire
Registrant Postal Code: LS10 1EL
Registrant Country: UK
Registrant Phone: +44.8452725990

Is this Worldpay? I don't know, but I have no reason to think that it is.

The email tells me that my invoice is ready, and it give my correct Merchant number.

So I called them (at the number I got from the real Worldpay web site), and told them about this. They assured me that it isn't a scam email, it really did come from them, although I don't know how they could verify that.

If it's a scam despite what they are saying, then this isn't their fault. But if it isn't a scam (which is what they said) and it really did come from Worldpay, then they have just increased the amount of stupid.

We try to educate users, we try to explain to them why it's a bad idea to click on a link that you don't recognise. And organisations like Worldpay sabotage this attempt at education by offering people a link to click on which is not one that they would expect.


I've made a formal complaint to them, at enquiries@worldpay.com.

Search engine registration

I get at least one of these each day. The idea is that I pay them money, and they make sure that my web site is "registered" with the search engines. They don't say which ones, "registered" is meaningless and they won't actually do anything.

It's a very old scam, I've been seeing this for 20 years now. But the fact that I'm still seeing it, means that it must work on at least some people.

The truth is, you don't have to "register" with search engines. They find you and list you.

Search Engine Optimisation, however, really is a thing, although I suspect that most of the people spamming me to offer it, don't really know much and will be poor value for money. If you want to make your web site more noticeable to search engines, there are some things that you can do - Google and you'll find a bunch of sites giving good advice. And then you can do it yourself, very easily.


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Faith schools

Suppose someone asked you to come up with a way to perpetuate divisions in our society, a way to ensure that people aren't encouraged to to mingle with people who are different and a way to ensure that people continue to misunderstand and dislike other people with different ideas and religions.

Obviously you would start off by aiming at the children. Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man. So - faith schools. Put the children of Protestant parents (wrongly known as Protestant children, because I don't see how a five year old can be *any* religion) into Protestant schools, and likewise for Catholics. That worked *so well* in Northern Ireland!

The school I went to, The Grocers Company School, aka Hackney Downs, was roughly half Jewish, half Christian (or so someone once told me, I don't actually know if that was true). We were vaguely aware that some of us had parents with a different faith, but it really didn't matter to us, and often you neither knew nor cared. My best chum went on to become a Christian minister.

Now imagine a single-faith school. There's no impediment to major propaganda in favour of one faith and against all others. But worse, there's no impediment to teaching the children to hate people subscribing to other faiths. Children are little sponges, soaking up everything they hear, and they hear a lot more than you might think. They also pick up the subtexts, and hear the dog whistles.

In the UK today, we have groups of people who see themselves as very different from other groups, and want to perpetuate that difference. The route to division is to encourage segregation, the route to assimilation is to let the children mingle.

And that's why I'm so opposed to faith schools. If we want Muslim children to grow up knowing and respecting Jewish people (and vice versa), if we want Chistian children to grow up understanding an befriending Sikh children (and vice versa), then we have to give them the opportunity to mingle, and the children will do the rest, because they can *see* that their little friend Topba is a good friend and nice to know, and they won't *care* what her religion is.

Meanwhile, people are talking about whether grammar schools are a good idea or not, (I think they're good) while taking no notice of the major threat from faith schools.

Currently, faith schools aren't allowed to select more than 50% of children from their favourite religion.

Theresa May wants to change that, to allow faith schools to become more monofaith.

What a stupid idea.

Terror?

The word at the root of "terrorist" is "terror". I'm not terrified. I'm not even slightly scared. I don't really know how other people feel, but I don't think they are either. One of the enduring images of the recent London attack, was a man moving briskly down the street away from a threat, carefully carrying his pint of beer.

So why am I not terrified? And why isn't anyone else?

Because it's small.

Let's start with the latest attack. A man attacked a policeman with a hammer, in Paris. A hammer? Hasn't he heard of knives? Ladysolly has some pretty sharp knives in her kitchen, they aren't exactly hard to find. And he got shot in the chest for his efforts.

Then there's London Bridge. Seven dead, 60 injured. Weapons used - a hired van and knives. The police were called, and within 8 minutes, all three were dead in a hail of 50 bullets.

Manchester; a bomb, killing 22 and injuring many more. It isn't actually easy to get the resources to make a bomb, and it isn't easy to make one without killing yourself at the preparation stage.

Westminster bridge; again, a vehicle and a knife. Five killed (plus the attacker), 50 injured.

All this might be worrying, but now let's look at another statistic - people killed in accidents on our roads. The figure was 1732 in 2015, and it's been steady at that level for a few years. That's 33 per week.

You are *massively* more likely to be killed in a road accident, than by a terrorist, especially when the best they can come up with is cars, vans, knives and hammers. And yet we get into our car and drive to work, or for fun, without a moment's thought about the possibility of becoming one of those 1732.

Even water is more dangerous! In 2016, 300 people drowned, and 77 of those weren't even intending to get into the water, they were out walking or running. But that isn't going to deter me from walking or cycling. And by the way, 113 people were killed on bicycles in 2014.

Let's look at an extreme situation - the Blitz, in 1940/41. 40,000 civilians were killed, and even that didn't change our minds about the war against the Nazis, it just made us more determined.

More recently - I worked in London at the time of the IRA bombing campaign. 600 civilians were killed by the IRA, and the main difference it made was that rubbish bins were swapped from made of metal to polythene bags.

I was also commuting to London at the time of the Kings Cross fire - 31 killed, and that had a couple of long term effects - smoking was banned on the underground, which I was very happy about, being a non-smoker.

Another big thing when I was commuting - the Moorgate tube crash. As far as we could see, the driver of the train, drove headlong into a dead end, killing 43 people. At the time, Moorgate was the station I was commuting to! That could have been me. Again, the main long term effect was a new safety system that wouild stop the train in such a situation even if the driver didn't.

Shit happens. Sometimes big shit happens. The terrorists are shit, but they're not  medium shit, they are not even small shit. They are just arseholes.



Sunday, 28 May 2017

British Airways down

British Airways is down. All flights from anywhere to anywhere cancelled. And this is the start of the Whitsun bank holiday weekend, one of the worst possible times.

British Airways are blaming this on a "power supply outage". This is such complete balderdash that I can't help feeling that this is the first thing that popped into management's collective head.

So what really went wrong? Well, apart from the "power supply outage", there's also a few people speculating that it's a hacker/virus/worm/cyber-attack. I doubt it. Here's what I think.

BA outsourced their IT to Tata Consultants. Possibly the bean-counters didn't realise that some elements of a business are so important, they have to be done in-house, even when that costs more. I wonder if, right now, they still think that was a good idea?

I can't see "power supply outage", because A) you have UPSes (which last from 10 to 30 minutes), B) you have diesel generators, which give you an additional 24 hours coverage (and then you'll need to buy more diesel). and if IT is *so* important to your business that losing your IT service costs you bigly (for example, banks and airlines), then you have C) another data center, and a business continuity plan.

So if it really was a "power supply outage", then someone senior needs to be fired, because they didn't have A, B and C.

I don't think it was really a power supply issue.

But I have no idea what it was. Except that some pretty senior heads should roll.

Friday, 26 May 2017

The Sky has fallen

I phoned up Sky today; the number to call is 0333 202 2135 . We have two Sky boxes, and we take everything except sport. We were paying £74/month.

I spoke to a speech recognition system, which asked me what I wanted. After several tries, to explain "price cut" "better deal" I had a slight inspiration; I said "CANCEL" nice and loud. That was understood, and very soon I was put through to an actual human. And I told him who I am, and explained to him that the problem is, we're paying too much.

He immediately saw the problem, and offered me a deal with the same access (Variety, Cinema and HD) for £51.20 instead of the £74 that I'm currently paying. So, a 30% fall in Sky price, just for making a phone call. Not bad.

This price will last until November 2018, and I'm guessing that at that point, they'll raise the price to some extortionate level until I call them again, and this time I took the direct number, which is 0330 041 3018.

This is actually a fairly common situation in the electronics world. You sign up for something which is a good deal at the time, but gradually prices fall, except you're still paying the same old price. The answer is to call your vendor and ask for a lower price, and you'll usually get it without hassle. And if you don't, you go to another vendor - which is what I did when I moved from Daisy to TalkTalk, and when I got my electric bill down by 20% by changing vendor.

So here's the lesson. Don't assume you're getting a good price for your services; phone them up and haggle. Or at least ask for their best deal.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Encryption and terrorism

Two things happened recently. One was the awful bomb in Manchester, the other was a minor inconvenience to me to make changes to my secure server to maintain my PCIDSS compliance (see previous blog).

The UK government has said that it's going to force all communications companies to allow encrypted data to be decrypted. This is not a good idea; let me explain why.

In our 65 million UK population, there are only a few would-be terrorists. The job of our security service, is to look for a needle in a haystack. There's two important rules in doing this. 1) Don't add a ton of hay to the haystack and 2) don't burn down the haystack.

The bomber, Salman Abedi, was known to the security services. He's been reported to the police several times for things he's said, but presumably they get tons of such reports, most of which they don't take much action on. Now add to those tons of reports, megatons of decrypted phone messages, facebook posts and tweets, and you can see what I mean about adding to the haystack.

But there's also the other side.

If you want to make it possible to decrypt people's encrypted messages, then you won't be able to use existing encryption systems, which are designed to be as difficult as possible to break, and which don't have third-party backdoors. You won't be able to use RSA for key exchange, or you won't be able to use DES, AES or any of the known-strong crypto systems. You'll have to design a new system. I'll give it a name. Let's call it Weakkey for key exchange; if you compromise the key exchange, then you can continue to use strong crypto.

So when you do the key exchange that starts off a crypto session, Weakkey will send a copy of the crypto keys to a third party for escrow (let's call this escrow agency UKGOV, for example). And then the end-to-end encryption will be done using existing strong crypto, and government will be happy, because they'll be able to keep a copy of the encrypted messages, and they'll have a copy of the keys so they can, if they want, decrypt it.

Which, of course, they will, because what's the point of having such a system unless you use it? If using Weakkey prevents even one bombing, that will be great.

So people like you and me will be able to use encrypted communications, but we'll know that UK Gov will be able to read our mail, and maybe we won't like that. Don't worry! I have a solution. The HTTPS protocol uses the strongest encryption available, because it's transmitting credit card data over the internet. So all I have to do, is use my browser to send an https-encoded message to you.

Oh.

OK, then we'll have to include the encryption used by HTTPS in the Weakkey scheme. Now the evil bombers have no place to hide, yet internet commerce can still take place because it doen't matter if UK Gov can see your card data, they being so honest.

Until it leaks.

Because governments are as waterproof as a sieve. Remember Wannacry? That happened because the US government CIA developed a back door, and kept it secret ... until it leaked. More recently - the name of the Manchester bomber was leaked by the US, followed by crime scene pictures that should not just yet have been published.

Because here's a list if UK government data leaks.

And what will happen when Weakkey leaks?

My monthly PCIDSS compliance test will fail, because the crypto systems have been found to be insecure. And so will everyone else's. And companies all over the UK, will have to make emergency repairs to their secure servers, preventing the use of Weakkey and returning to ... to what? Anything that isn't Weakkey is (in the UK) illegal. So all ecommerce in the UK will come to a sudden halt. You won't be able to use Paypal, Amazon, internet banking. You won't be able to use your credit card online, except to non-UK companies, and you'll only be able to use it outside the UK if you're willing to use illegal (non-Weakkey) systems.

And that's what I mean by "burn down the haystack".

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

More fun with PCIDSS

It's time to do my quarterly PCI DSS check. And it came back FAIL! Rats. I'm going to have to do something.

The problem is, people keep finding vulnerabilities in encryption systems. Already the venerable SSL2 and SSL3 is a no-no. Now TLS 1.0 is anathema, and we can only use TLS 1.1 and 1.2. Well, it's easy for me to tell my Secure Server not to accept the abhorrent ones. So, if you're using Apache:

 SSLProtocol all -SSLv2 -SSLv3  -TLSv1


More recently (at the end of 2016) a new thing called Sweet32 (vulnerabilities all have cute names now, like CRIME, FUBAR and POODLE) has been discovered, which makes any use of DES unacceptable. DES (data encryption standard) used to be the gold standard for crypto; triple-DES triply so. But now it's an abomination unto the industry. So, if you're using Apache:

SSLCipherSuite ECDH+AESGCM:DH+AESGCM:ECDH+AES256:DH+AES256:ECDH+AES128:DH+AES:RSA+AESGCM:RSA+AES:!aNULL:!MD5:!DSS

And let's hope that all the browsers out there know these more recent ciphers, because if they don't, they won't be able to use my Secure Server.

I did a test with the Qualsys tester, and I got an A rating. Same as Amazon and Google, so I'm happy.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Flash upgrade

I wanted to read a particular article in the Independent (which turned out to be nonsense), so I went to their site. It needs Flash. My Flash was 25.0.0.148, and that's been found to be insecure, so Firefox advises me not to use it. Sigh. So I went to the Adobe site and upgraded my Flash to 25.0.0.173.

Sigh.

Why are people still using Flash?

Weight report

17 stone, 3 pounds.

Excellent!

Friday, 19 May 2017

Treadmill

My right calf has been giving me grief for nearly a week now; my left isn't too great either. I've been hobbling about the house, and going down stairs makes me long for a stairlift. But today I had an idea. Maybe I can make it worse!

We have a treadmill; it's mostly used by ladysolly. But I thought, if I set it to not-very-fast and not-very-uphill, maybe a bit of gentle exercise will improve things. Or maybe not.

So I set it to 2.3 mph, which is really slow, except that's my natural walking pace. I say "walkng", a better word would be "ambling". And 2% incline, so it's not entirely flat. I did ten minutes of that, and it didn't cripple me, so maybe this will help.


Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Moped gangs

I'm seeing report after report about "moped gangs". And I'm annoyed.

50 years ago, I used to have a moped, a Mobylette, HUL 294. You can tell how much I loved it from the fact that I still remember the registration number.

It had pedals, a 50cc engine, top speed 30 mph and did about 200 miles per gallon. And the key feature of a moped, is the pedals. A moped has a MOtor and PEDals, hence the name "moped".

To run it, I'd get onto the saddle, and start to pedal. This would turn the engine over, the engine would start, the automatic clutch would engage, and away I'd go. I paid £17 for her, secondhand, from a place that sold mopeds and light motorbikes, and learned to ride on the way home. I had a learner's licence, and the insurance was a very tiny amount. I wore a crash helmet even though that wasn't compulsory at the time, and leather gloves, because if you came off a moped, your hands would suffer.

When I went up to Cambridge, I bought and rode a bicycle, but there's a nasty hill between Fitzwilliam and the town center, and I wanted my moped. But you were not allowed a motor vehicle, because if gownies had had cars, the traffic in Cambridge would have been dreadful. But there was an exception - if you were the president of a sporting club, you were allowed a car.

So I set up the Fitzwilliam Bridge Club, and as I was the only member, I was also the president. I successfully persuaded the Motor Proctor that I qualified under the exception, so I was allowed to ride my moped around Cambridge.

So let me explain why I'm annoyed. These so-called "moped gangs" aren't riding mopeds. They are riding motor bikes and motor scooters. They aren't riding moped, because they don't have pedals. They are "motorbike gangs".

Today, I ride an electric bicycle, and that has taken me full circle, because an electric bike is just like a moped, but not so fast and with less range.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Lurgi, part 9

Two weeks after showing my Dreaded Lurgi to the doctor ... I'm feeling somewhat better now.

She gave me a week of antibiotics (on general principles) and an inhaler (for the bronchitis) and told me to lay off the Warfarin (which would help avoid future nosebleeds). The flood of nosebleed that I had on 1 May didn't recur - I think that was the low point, because it just wouldn't stop and I was awake all night. At the end of the week of antibiotics, I went to see her again. I blew into a tube (to measure lung function) and the result was pitiful, I scored around 500, which is *way* less than my usual score. So this time she gave me a week of steroids, aimed at clearing up the rest of the bronchitis.

After completing the week of steroids, I went back for another consultation. My lung function was *way* up to about 680, and I was no longer wheezing. But I told her that I have a great tenderness in my right calf. Apart from that, all is good.

And I don't think the Liqufruta helped me at all, I won't be getting that in future.

She squeezed the calf a bit, and fussed a bit, and worried a bit, because I have Leiden Factors 5 and 2, which means that I'm *very* good at clotting, which is good news if you get gored by a squirrel at the age of 21, but at my age and sedentary life, means I'm more likely to get a DVT or worse, which is why I'm on Warfarin. So is that a DVT? She didn't know, so she packed me off to Wycombe General for tests.

I drove there, and they took a fingerful of blood out of my arm and tested it. This told them that my INR (blood thinnness) is about 1, which is normal, and ideally I should be about 3, which is thin. While they analysed the test, I went home, then returned and they gave me a jab in the belly of something (Heperin, I think) that should thin out my blood really fast. And I'm back on Warfarin now.

They also wanted to give me an ultrasound scan to check for clots in my leg, but they couldn't give me an appointment that day, so I had to go back there. And that brings us up to today.

So I went to Wycombe General, found the ultrasound area (it's near to X-ray) and a nice nurse smeared jelly on my leg then inspected it with the ultrasound probe. After a careful check, she told me that I was ALL CLEAR, which is what I expected, but is nevertheless cheering. Also, I'm not pregnant. Then I had to wait to see a doctor.

So I sat in the Small Injuries unit for about two hours (I had a couple of books, and I can't really complain because everyone else who was there was more important than me, at that point, since we already knew I was ALL CLEAR. Eventually they called my name, and I went to see the doctor, who introduced me to a colleague of his who was also present and joked that I was getting two doctors! "Three, actually," I explained. So he told me what the nurse had already told me, that I don't have a DVT, so I got back into the car and went home.

I'm very impressed with the Small Injuries Unit at Wycombe, because A) they're open 24 hours, 365 days, whereas the one at Mount Vernon is 9am to 8pm. Also, they have a very good parking system, although you do have to pay, typically £2.50.

I'm generally a fan of Small Injuries Units. I don't use them often, but in the last few years, I've used them for a splinter under a fingernail that I just couldn't deal with, for a dog bite, and for a scalp wound that looked a lot worse than it was. In all cases, I've been seen very quickly, and mended nicely.

So what's wrong with my calf? I might have pulled a muscle. Anyway, I'm hobbling a bit, but I expect it to fix itself, because things usually do.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Cyberattack on our NHS!!!

Actually, it wasn't an attack, and it wasn't directed at the NHS.

It was ransomware, and each affected computer demands $300 (in bitcoin, to make it difficult to trace) to restore the data. $300 isn't much, but if the NHS has 1.2 million staff, I'd guess maybe half a million computers? Plus, can you trust the criminals who control this operation, to actually give you the decryption key after you paid? And what happens to data that has been encrypted by two different computers?

I have great sympathy for the NHS IT staff who now have to clear up this mess.

The NHS wasn't actually attacked. If you look at where affected computers are located, they mostly aren't in the UK. Cold comfort for a doctor cut off from her patients' data. But what can be done?

Three things. But first, let's have a look at how this thing "Wannacry" got in, and got widespread.

It spreads in two ways. the first is via an attachment in an incoming email, the second is via Windows file sharing (using port 443). So, don't click on attachments in incoming emails! Simple. But that doesn't work, and I'll explain why not.

Drive down any motorway, and look at the distances between cars. They are *far* too close. If the car in front has to brake hard, the car behind will slam into their rear. People have no real concern about personal safety, so why should they have any concern about computer safety? I am *strongly* opposed to any computer security scheme that includes user education, because I'm strongly of the belief that you cannot educate users in computer safety. If you can't educate them in personal safety, why would you think something as abstract as computer safety would matter?

The answer is to make it actually impossible to click on attachments in incoming emails, and the way you do that is to A) remove the attachements and B) don't implement the ability to click on things, in an email client.

So Herr Badhomme emails something including an attachment which, if clicked on, installs the ransomware. And in the email, he gives a compelling reason (compelling to maybe 1% of readers) why they absolutely must look at this. BUT! The email client drops the attached file, and doesn't give a link to click on. Problem solved.

Yes, this makes email a bit less useful. But it also makes it a lot more safe. You have to choose - do you want to keep on updating an antivirus product that misses 90% of incoming malware, or do you want an email system that isn't going to blow up in your face?

The second way that Wannacry spread, was via Windows file sharing. I use that (otherwise known as SMB, or Samba) even though I use Windows hardly at all, because it's a convenient way to share files across a network. But I just checked my firewall, and it explicitly disallows outside computers from file sharing on my inside network. So, check your firewall, and make sure that port 443 isn't open from the outside world. If you really do need to allow outside access via port 443, then you should restrict the IP addresses that are allowed access.

Next - I visited my GP recently, and she measured my lung function, then went to look up the recorded number to see what that translated to. And she couldn't. She evidently needs, and has, web access to the outside world, but recently her IT people changed her Internet Explorer to Chrome (good idea) but didn't port across her bookmarks (stupid).

I didn't notice anthing blocking javascript, and I didn't notice an ad blocker. NHS computers should have both. And should be moved off Internet Explorer (I use Firefox, Chrome is also good). I use Noscript to block javascript (except where I decide to allow it, which isn't often) and I use uBlock Origin to block ads.

The reason for blocking javascript, is that if you allow it, then you're allowing any web site that you visit, to run any software it wants on your computer. Not a good idea. And the reason for blocking advertisements, is malvertising - adverts that are specifically crafted to take control of your computer. And because advertising is done via middlement, even the most reputable web site can find itself displaying malvertising. And that's exactly what happened to TheRegister.com in 2004.

So will the NHS make the necessary changes? Maybe there's someone there who reads this blog. We can only hope.

Friday, 12 May 2017

More computer maintenance

I rebatteried the other UPS with three year old batteries. That went well, but when I restarted the attached servers:

One had a CMOS battery failure, and I had to replace the battery. This, of course, only manifests when you power the server off and on again.

Another had two drive failures. These are two 3TB Seagate drives, which are possibly the worst drives Seagate ever made. I replaced them with two 4TB drives, which I've found to be much more reliable.

The power distribution switch, that allows me to power on and off up to eight devices remotely, wouldn't switch on. I soon traced that to a blown fuse on the power plug. It was a 5 amp fuse, which is silly; it needed a 13 amp. That was quickly fixed.

So now everything is working fine, and the UPS will be good for another three years.


Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Computer maintenance

Two of my UPSes were last re-batteried three years ago, so I decided to update one of them, UPS number 4. Because lead-acid batteries only last 3 or 4 years, in my experience.

I downed the servers attached to it, and put them on a different UPS. I got a set of batteries for £60 (I usually pay over £100 including shipping) and after a few days, they arrived.

I opened up the UPS, there's about a dozen screws, and if it's opened up, I can check that the fan is still working. Fans, being mechanical, have a tendency to fail after several years. Also, if it's open, it's easier to get the batteries out. I removed all eight batteries, and replaced them with the new ones. When I put a voltmeter on the old batteries, they were fine, showing 12 or 13 volts. I screwed the case back together, and replaced the UPS. I'm not sure what to do with those working batteries.

And that, you might think, would be that.

But one of the servers that I had downed, I noticed that when I gave it power again, the PSU fan wasn't spinning. So I took it down again, opened up the PSU and replaced the fan. The old fan was totally gummed up. These 80mm fans only cost £1 or so, so it would be silly to replace the whole PSU.

Then I noticed that another server wasn't responding, and when I power cycled it, it stayed down. I put it on my workbench and opened it up. I took out the PSU, and tested it - dead. So I replaced the PSU, and now that server is working fine.

It's always the case - when you start to mess with servers, some of them fail when you restart them. You have to be ready for this, and I have lots of spare PSUs and 80mm fans.

I'm a glutton for punishment. I've just ordered another set of batteries for the other UPS with three year old batteries.


Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Powering portable gadgets

The batteries in our phones, GPSes and other electronics, are never enough. And rechargables don't last for ever; the typical life of a rechargable is a few years. After that, there's a noticable loss of chargability; your gadget runs for only a few hours instead of several. And it goes downhill from there.

So I splashed out on an unbranded "Super power pack" from Ebay. It claimed some huge number of amp-hours, which I didn't take seriously. After some months of working, it failed. So, of course, I dismantled it.

It wasn't designed for taking apart, I had to slightly crack the shell. Inside, I found four unbranded 18650 batteries in parallel, and a small electronics circuit. I tested the batteries, and one of them had totally failed, and that meant that the whole thing didn't work. So I snipped out the failed battery, so now it has 3/4 of its intended capacity, but at least it works.

And I got to thinking. What if I used replacable batteries, and a good reliable brand, and made my own? It's really only the batteries that have to be good quality, the rest doesn't matter much.

Ebay is my friend.

I started off with one of these. It's a "5V 2A USB Mobile Phone Power Bank Charger Module PCB Board For 18650 Battery" and it cost me 99p, which seems to be the lowest cost thing you can get on Ebay.

Next, something to hold the 18650 battery. I bought this which gave me five holders for £1.07 (I might use the other four in some other project).

Then, a battery. I wanted good, strong reliable ones. I did some googling and came up with these, "LG Genuine Lion Batteries HG2 18650 3000MAh 20/30A IMR Rechargeable Batteries", four for about £5 each.

The cheapest 18650 battery I could find on Ebay was £1.59, and it claimed to be 9900 mAh which is probably about five times as much as it really is. Would you buy a battery from such a vendor?

I already had a charger, but you can get cheap ones for £0.99

My next purchase was optional, but I've found it extremely useful; it's a thing that displays the voltage and current draw from a USB port, "USB Charger Doctor Current Voltage Charging Detector Battery Voltmeter Ammeter", £1.75. You can get a slightly different one for £0.99 that uses the same display for voltage and current, showing them alternately. I prefer the double display for the extra £0.76.

Now, on with the soldering iron! I soldered the + and - lead of the battery holder, to the B+ and B-  points on the PCB, and put a battery into the battery holder. I put the PCB, battery holder and battery into an unused Raspberry Pi case (any box or tin would do) and there was enough room in there for a spare 18650 battery.

Then I tested it. I connected the USB volt/ammeter, and my GPS, then pressed the little button on the PCB. A white LED started to flash, and the voltmeter showed 5.1 volts, 0.8 amps. And the charging display on my GPS showed that it was charging. Result!

The capacity of this is, for each 18650 battery, 3000 mah at 3.7v, which is 11 watt-hours. But since I'm outputting 5 volts, and allowing for a bit of conversion loss, that's going to be 2000 milliamp-hours.

So I had a look around Ebay, and you can get a 10,000 mAh pack for £7.59, which looks very nice, but there's always two questions - what quality batteries does it use (probably not the best) and can you replace the batteries after a few years (almost certainly no).

My device cost £7 for 2000 mAh ... but I carry a spare battery for it, which gives me 4000 mAh. I could carry more spare batteries if I wanted (and I always have a few extras in the car, because my head torch runs off the same batteries). And when the batteries get old, I can easily replace them.

Plus I have the satisfaction of making it myself.


Monday, 8 May 2017

Funding our NHS

I went back to the doctor today, for a follow-up visit on my Dreaded Lurgi. I'm feeling a lot better now, but I'm still coughing. She did a lung function test (I blew into a tube) which came out as 400, which is well below par (I'm usually well above par). So I'm still fighting off the bronchitis. She gave me more pills - steroids, which will help clear things up. She laughed when I said "What about Vick" and told me to carry on with my prescribed inhaler. I also showed her my toenails - the fungus is retreating.

Cost to me - zero, of course.

But what about the NHS crisis that I keep hearing about? Well, I think I've tracked it down, and the answer will really shock you (as the clickbait goes).

The NHS budget is currently £118 billion. £56 billion is what the NHS is expecting to pay out on claims for compensation and lawyers fees.

So half of the money we were hoping to spend on health, isn't going on health. And maybe that's a problem.

Yes, I can see that suing for negligence has to be a possibility (although how many people have sued HMRC for negligence?). But it seems to me to be completely disproportionate that half the money that should be spent on health, is going somewhere else.

How to fix this? I don't know, but the first step has to be to realise that this is happening, and I, for one, did not.


Saturday, 6 May 2017

Lurgi, part 8

That second dose of chicken soup seems to have helped a lot. I got a very good night's sleep last night, and I feel a lot better today. I'm still a bit coughy, and coughing still hurts (I think it's a pulled muscle, rather than a broken rib). And I had another nose bleed today, but that only lasted a couple of minutes.

The Liqufruta that I ordered, arrived today. It is *completely* different from the Liqufruta of 50 years ago. It's a syrup (very heavy on sugar) instead of a thin garlicy liquid, the bottles are *much* smaller, and it's a lot more expensive. Indeed, the only commonalities are the brand name, and the garlic. Still - I paid for it, so I'm taking it.


Friday, 5 May 2017

Some people don't do numbers

A few days ago, Diane Abbott was being interviewed, in her capacity as shadow Home Secretary, about police numbers. She said they plan to add 10,000 cops. She was asked the obvious question, what will this cost? She said £300,000. This works out at £30 each. The interviewer challenged her on this, and she ummed and erred a bit, and came up with £80 million. That's works out at £8000 each, which still sounds a bit low to me. And the interviewer pointed that out.

So Abbott said that in year one, they'll recruit 250,000 policemen. Huh? Where did that come from? Challenged on that, she came up with "2,000 and perhaps 250". And she's clearly lifted off into total improvisation now.

At that point, I think someone must have given her a piece of paper, because she reeled off a series of very precise and more realistic numbers. "In year five, the cost will be £298 million."

Which sounds like her original 300 thousand, except she should have said 300 million. Now that's an easy stumble to make, and she might have said "Oops, did I say 300 thousand, I meant 300 million" But she didn't. What she did, was invent a whole slew of imaginary numbers.

So today, she was interviewed again, about the depth of the anti-labour landslide in the local elections. “At the time of us doing this interview, I think net losses are about 50,” she said. The interviewer said that it was actually 125. And Abbott replied “Well the last time I looked we had net losses of 100 but obviously this is a moving picture.”

Hey, Diane! If the last time you looked it was 100, why did you say 50? This isn't a "maths fail", it's a complete disregard for that fact that some numbers are a lot bigger than others.

Two things follow. First, Diane Abbott is *hopeless* with anything to do with numbers. She seems to think that all numbers have an equal status. Second, anyone interviewing her over the next few weeks, is going to get her onto numbers as quickly as they can.

And I shudder to picture someone who is this cavalier about numbers, in any position of authority higher than school crossing patrol officer.







Lurgi part 7

The Dreaded Lurgi has come up with an additional way to torture me. It's like the ten plagues, starting with pestilence, continuing with blood and all of this despite the sacrifice of a chicken the day before yesterday.

The new thing, feels like a cracked rib. I don't know if you can crack a rib by coughing too hard, but if you can, then I have. This makes breathing a bit iffy, and coughing very painful. And standing up, and sitting down, drinking, walking about. Anything, really, except for sitting perfectly still and trying not to cough.

This too shall pass.

Ladysolly will sacrifice another chicken today, together with several leeks. Leeks are not part of traditional Ashkenazi chinken soup, but they have been in our household (did you know that every jewish household has different traditions?) ever since I grew them on my allotment.


Thursday, 4 May 2017

After the chicken soup

The chicken soup was *so* good. Chickeny, with lumps of chicken swimming in it, and with plenty of vermicelli, although I'm not a pasta identification expert. I had two bowls, and expcet to make a miraculous recovery real soon now.

And she said she'll do more on Friday! My bowl runneth over.

The Dreaded Lurgi is still here. And it's found a new way to torture me - cramp in the right calf. I woke last night for one of many toilet runs (my bladder isn't adapted for the amount of liquid I'm swallowing) and as I swung out of bed, it got me.

The cure for cramp is to stand still on that leg, which is all very well, except that I'd woken up for a specific and urgent reason.

I got there just in time.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Chicken soup

As I mentioned in the previous post, I asked ladysolly as to the possibility of chicken soup, that universal panacea, also effective against the Dreaded Lurgi. I had in mind maybe a can of Campbell's Cream of Chicken Soup, or if I was less lucky, maybe a packet of instant Knorr.

No, no. Not at all.

She went out looking for a boiling hen, and apologised that all she could find was an ordinary hen. She sourced lockshen, and she's doing the mysterious magic that results in the combination of nectar and ambrosia (and I'm not talking about creamed rice) that is sometimes referred to as jewish penicillin.

It's at times like this that I know I was *so* lucky she married me.

Lurgi, part 6

At least I got some sleep last night, and didn't have to cope with buckets of blood gushing from my nose. But I was up every hour or so, because the size of my bladder isn't commensurate with the amount of water I'm drinking right now.

But the Dreaded Lurgi is still here, and it's expanded its remit to include a headache.

Google to the rescue.

I found that there's a homeopathic remedy for the Dreaded Lurgi called Mezereum. So I've started using that. I get it for free, out of the kitchen tap, and I'm sinking several pints of it each day, which is why I'm having to get out of bed every hour or so.

The other possible answer would be prayer. The problem then becomes which god to pray to. Google answered that conundrum; there is a god called Lurgi.

But the go-to cure for the Dreaded Lurgi is a Sousaphone sourced from Messrs Goosey and Bawkes; I have this on the authority of Hercules Grytpype-Thynne.

Maybe I'll just continue with the antibiotics. And I've sent ladysolly out to get more chicken soup.

Abbott's interview

Here's what I think happened.

1. She made a mistake. £300 thousand for 10 thousand cops is obviously nonsense.

 
2. The mistake was pointed out to her. She realised that this meant £30 per cop, and that she'd got it badly wrong.

 
3. At that point, she should have said "Oops, I means £300 million, silly me. But instead, she paniced.

 
4. In her panic, her mind went blank, as it does. She couldn't hink what to say. She was pressed for an answer, so she made one up, £80 million. Which was also bad, at £8000 per cop.

 
5. Everything went downhill from there on.

 
6. Eventually, she got to £300 million, which looks sensible, at £30,000 per cop.

But she's been pilloried for what I think was a simple mistake followed by her panic responses.

I feel sorry for her, which is a new thing for me with respect to Abbott. But the real problem wasn't the original mistake, it was the subsequent panic.

On Brexit

What we have to do is pretend that we hold all the cards, pretend that EU needs us more than we need them, portray any resistance to our demands as "punishing us" and blacken the name of any company who does the sensible thing and relocates to France or Germany. Then after the "negotiations" have "broken down", flounce out of the EU with a "hard Brexit", pretend that this is what we wanted all along, and pretend that the reason why the economy is suffering is that we are being "punished".

Then we can try to re-establish trade relations with Germany and act all surprised when they tell us that EU rules say they can't do that, we have to negotiate with the EU. And establish trade relations with New Zealand, and act all surprised when they remind us about the way we kicked them in the teeth 50 years ago, establish trade relations with the US and discover the precise meaning of "America First".

And our politicians will blame whichever EU official is villain-of-the-month for abiding by the rules of the EU, and the Brexit voters will blame the Remoaners for sabotaging the negotiations and the Remoaners will blame the Brexiteers for being such stupid buggers last June.

Meanwhile, our manufacturing industry will continue to decline, our farming industry will whine for subsidies to replace the EU ones, and our services industry?

There's two kinds of services. One kind is like haircuts. You can't import or export them, they have to be supplied at the point of demand. The other kind is like financial services. They dont have any capital equipment (apart from a bunch of cheap computers) but what they do need, is access to international financial markets, and regulatory permission to do business. Those, of course, will migrate to Germany, because without EU agreements, they won't be able to do business in the EU. At all.

Immigration will *not* get down to under 100,000/year, because it didn't pre-Brexit when Mrs May was Home Office, and we had total control over non-EU immigration, which was 257,000/year. So why would she be able to reduce that after Brexit? Maybe she could stop another of our service industries, the provision of education to foreigners who pay good money to come to university here. That would cut UK GDP, but it would reduce the immigration figures, temporarily.

Still, a country that is happy to cut off its own nose, would surely not balk at cutting off a few toes.

tl:dr - I'm not an optimist on this.

I know. Let's leave the British Commonwealth. That'll show them.