Tuesday 30 December 2014

New rule!

They've changed the VAT rules. The change comes in on January 1, 2015. I found out about it today, so I have just two days to make the changes. As you can imagine, I'm more than somewhat annoyed.

Maybe the vatman sent me an email to tell me about it. I get so many emails purporting to be from HMRC, of which the majority are scam/spam/malware pretending to be from HMRC. And the ones that really are from HMRC are always so long and complicated ... and irrelevant.

So maybe they "told me". But I don't think they did. And our accountant didn't mention it, and our bookkeeper didn't know. So how did I find out?

The bridge web site that ladysolly uses is having to close membership in order to make the changes, they put up a notice, she told me, and I found out the details on the web.

Go read it. The big change is, if you're supplying "digital services" (and who isn't these days?) then when someone in the UK sells to someone in Germany, under the old rules, you paid VAT in the UK at the UK rate (20%). Under the new rules, you pay at the rate that applies in the customer's country. Yes. Vat is no longer 20%, it's 28 different rates, most of which are more than 20%. My first thought was, they've found a really good way to make life for a small business 28 times more difficult.

I don't want subsidies. I don't want business advice. I don't even want to avoid paying the tax that I should rightfully be paying. But I do wish that governments (including the EU) should BLOODY WELL STOP TRIPPING US OVER.

Them and the banks. Again, it's not that they're trying to be a nuisance, but the card companies are caught between the desire to make credit cards more secure (which makes them more difficult to use) and the desire to make them easy to use (which makes them less secure) and they keep making changes which reflect this tug-of-war.

On calmer consideration, I decided that maybe it wasn't that bad. I need to track, for 28 different countries, how much I've billed to each. I've always asked customers what country they're in (because non-EU countries don't pay VAT, so I needed to know if they were EU or not). So now I have to add to my software, something that tracks the billing in each of those 28 countries. It's not as hard as it sounds; each time I do a billing, I'll output a line to a file "mosslog.txt" with the date, exchange rate, and the billing amount for each country. Then, once per quarter, I can pull that into a spreadsheet, get 28 totals, and then I know how much I sold in each country. Plus, I'll do a paper copy each day, which will act as an audit trail.

So then, either I register for VAT in each EU country (you must be joking) or use the VAT Mini One Stop Shop (MOSS), which lets me use a single web site to tell it about all the 28 amounts. It sounds fairly simple to use (but until I've actually used it, I can't be sure).

You can register for VAT MOSS here.

If you're using a commercial package for your accounts, maybe you're already covered. But since most people are using some third party software for billing customers cards, and a different third party's software for their accounts and VAT, there's a fair chance that this new rule has fallen between A) the card billing software, which knows what country is being billed and B) the VAT software, which doesn't.

And you have until January 1, 2015, to get this sorted out.

 ... update ...

I've done the software, it wasn't too bad, because I'm already identifying the customer's country. As well as updating this new "mosslog.txt" file, I'm also outputting the 28 numbers onto the paper printout, so there's an audit trail that could be checked.

Then I tried to register for VAT MOSS. It's a great name, but the web site isn't so great. I logged in with my usual VAT id, and it took me to a place where I could sign up for MOSS, but when I tried to fill in the form, it wouldn't accept a starting date before 1/1/2015. Or after. So I called their support line.

As you can imagine, they have a huge number of callers right now, and as you can imagine, a large number of staff are on holiday. So after holding for a very long time, I eventually talked to a guy who told me that I'd gone to the wrong place (although it was the place that the web site led me to, and it did promise to register me for MOSS). He got me to take another route, and told me that they were getting a lot of people with this problem. So I thanked him, and started filling in that form.

And guess what? I got a lot further, but it *really* didn't like me giving the date of 1/1/2015. So I phoned again for technical support, and since it was 16:30, after waiting another long time, the lady at the help desk couldn't help because there was no-one technical there now. But she did take my phone number, and said I'd be called back within a week.

A week?

And I might not be here. She suggested I give a mobile number, but if I'm in the middle of some muddy field, I can't be talked through registering a MOSS form. And anyway, this is supposed to be starting on January 1 2015. I pointed that out, but she already knew that. And there's nothing she could do.

So far, it's taken me about as long to try to register for MOSS VAT as it has to write the software for it. And I might actually be registered because I made some uneducated guesses, but who knows?

Saturday 27 December 2014

4613 errors

My drive monitor just reported 4613 errors on one of my servers. Investigation revealed several problems.

1) The raid array had "dropped out", and couldn't be accessed. That was generating all the errors.

2) Another drive was away with the fairies, and I still don't know why.

and after I rebooted ...

3) A third drive was reporting that it was a zero gigabyte drive. This is a known problem with Seagate 1tb drives (and others).

I gave that third drive the usual treatment for this problem, but it didn't fix it, so that drive has joined my pile of drives for putting in geocaches, and has been replaced. The second drive decided to return to the land of the living, and the raid worked again after a reboot, and just needs a good fscking to get it back into action.

The drive that is now pushing up daisies, was one of my backups. I think I described my backup system in another blog post; this is the backup that is done on the 11th to the 20th of each month. So all I need to do, is redo that backup, and the server will be ready for full use again.

I survived Christmas

Day one, at the parent's of daughter.2's squeeze. They had some very nice nibbles to start with, including my favourite cashew nuts, followed by a main meal of turkey and stuffing. Not one, but two turkeys! And I got a leg, my favourite. I drive there, ladysolly drove back, so I was able to get a few drinks down me, including a very nice mulled wine - several glasses!

Day two at daughter.1. She also made ... guess what. And it was also good, but even better, it was acompanied by piping hot pigs in blankets, which I love. Also parsnips, brussels, stuffing, roast potatoes and peas. Yum!

I drove there, carefully avoiding all known shopping centers, which meant that the satnav couldn't be used, because Madge doeesn't know about avoiding the Boxing Day shopping frenzy. We went down the M40 then the A40, but then cleverly diverted at Hangar Lane around the North Circular. Not so cleverly, ladysolly bade me go South, then after I'd committed to that, she changed her mind. "North". Doing u-turn on the North Circular isn't recommended, but I soon found a place to change direction. Then, after we were heading the right way (clockwise), she told me to turn off to the right (which, of course, meant leaving the road on a leftward lane, but I can cope with that). What I couldn't cope with, is that she told me to turn just a few seconds after we passed the turn-off. So we went quite a long way further before I could get off. After that, I let Madge do the navigating, and she did it very well.

But we arrived in good time, and the pigs in blankets made up for everything.

Christmas is a time of giving, and I got given socks, gloves, a fake pine cone (that will feature in a forthcoming cache), a boot scraper which will see a lot of use in future, I don't know why we didn't think of getting one before. And a welding kit (160 amp transformer, helmet, gloves, breathing mask) because I have a fancy to learn how to weld, since I've found soldering to be so useful.

And a mountain of books.

I prefer the paper sort of book. It's partly because I like the feel of a book, and partly because it's easier to organise physical books than kindle-stuff. Also, I can give my second hand books to other people, which I don't think you can do with e-books.

But, of course, paper books require physical storage. Last time we moved, I was persuaded to give away my huge book collection to charity, but I've built up another huge collection since then. Many of them are on shelves, but there's also several piles. A pile is about 50 books on their sides, on top of each other, leaning against a wall and against other piles. The spines face out, so I can see what's where. It's all pretty stable, although not completely - I was woken in the middle of the night a few months ago by an almighty crash. My first thought was "House fallen down!", my second was "did I just fall out of bed?" but then I put on the light, and there were books all over the floor. A pile had toppled, and taken two other piles with it.

So anyway. "Books unread" are in a special place, on three shelves. And what's very nice now, is that I have more "books unread" than is room for on those three shelves.

Thursday 25 December 2014

It's Christmas!

I thought I'd better tell you, in case you hadn't noticed. Ladysolly and I will be spending Christmas sponging off our daughters.

Sunday 21 December 2014

Reigate ramble

I was out today with Ladysolly. We did a circuit of 17 caches "Outwood Bound" of which we found 16. another nine extras brought us up to 25 for the day.

The circuit was very muddy, with very soft ground, and lots of difficult stiles. I recommend NOT trying to take a bike round this!

For lunch, I had a M&S Christmas sandwich - that was also very good.

Friday 19 December 2014

Aynho adventure

I went out caching today - the weather was clear and bright. But there was still plenty of mud.

I did the COYQ series, where the caches are named after people I've never heard of., and the theme is something I know nothing about. Still, a cache is a cache!

I also tried to do Alpha Quest W, which is part of a very old series that I've done quite a few of. I had the Westing for the cache, but not the Northing, and the cache with the Northing info is currently unavailable. But I thought I might be able to find it with just the Westing. And I could get to it with just a small diversion from the circuit I was on.

I think I was in the right place - there was a really splendid view, which many of the logs had noted. And there was an arable field next to it. But although I spent half an hour there, I couldn't find it.

I finished the circuit at 3pm, got back to the car and had lunch, which was a Tesco Christmas Sandwich, and I can really recommend that. The also offer a really good deal on mince pies, and I was terribly tempted, but managed to resist - Christmas is going to add several pounds as it is.

By the time I got out again, it was getting dark. I tried to find another cache, and then another, but both defeated me, it was getting dark and it was really cold, so I decided to call it a day, go home and give the bike a bath.

Thursday 18 December 2014

My mug

SportsDirect do some great gear. I buy a lot of my clothes from them, because most of my clothes are for going out caching, and they don't need to be fashionable. Or good quality. Or even mediocre quality. Actually, their underpants are excellent, and they do trainers with velcro fasteners (and so easy to put on and off) that last for maybe a year, but as they cost £7.50, I'm happy.

In my last order, I also bought a mug. SportsDirect do these big, bold pint mugs (that's the proper 20 ounce pint, not the puny US 16 ounce pints) that are ideal for a nice mug of coffee. The last one I had got broken - ladysolly says the handle just came off in her hand.

The mug duly arrived ... broken. Or rather, so badly chipped around the rim as to be unusable. The reason for this was twofold. A) it hadn't been packed very well, just a little bit of bubblewrap. And B) it was delivered by Yodel.

I sincerely believe that Yodel is the worst delivery company in the UK, and they must be in the running for world leadership. They arrived while I was out, but ladysolly was in. She knew they had arrived, because she saw a torch being flashed around. They didn't ring the bell, nor did they plan to. I think they were just going to toss the parcel over the gates. But even without that toss, the mug was history.

So I told SportsDirect. Their rules seem to say that I have to return the entire order (12 pairs underpants, two pair shoes, one mug) for it to be replaced. But that's surely nonsense, I thought, and I explained about the badly chipped mug, and offered to email them a picture of it. Because do they really want a large parcel of perfectly good underpants back? And a chipped mug?

They didn't. They've emailed me to say that a replacement is on the way.

Three cheers for SportsDirect!!!

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Tottering round Totternhoe

Biking, actually. And after that, I did Dunstable. Then on to the BBH event, which was great fun, especially the Shaving of the Beard, and then I did a couple of FTFs with Jeff Bones.

40 caches done today, including one that ladysolly and I had DNFed a few months ago, which is always satisfying.

And I got very muddy, of course, and the bike will have to have a bath. But I got home quite late, so that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Monday 15 December 2014

Repeating keys

I use a lovely old IBM model M keyboard, made in 1984 and still going strong. I like it because the keys use "buckling spring" technology, which makes them very clicky and positive. Many people agree that these are the best keyboards ever made. I have five of them, so I don't expect to ever use an inferior keyboard. I also have an original IBM PC keyboard, plus an adapter so that I can use it on modern computers.

But there's always a shadow in heaven. Occasionally, one of the keys seems to stick, and I get a letter repeating indefinitely. This isn't the fault of the keyboard, I think, because the key isn't actually sticking. But my computer thinks it is. And I finally decided to do something about it.

To set keyboard delay, the linux command is

kbdrate -d 1000

That didn't seem to do anything. So I had a think, and I decided that it was X windows that needed fixing, and I did

xset r rate 1000 30

which tell is to wait 1000 milliseconds with a key held down before repeating, and then repeat at 30 characters per second.

And I think that's fixed it!

Saturday 13 December 2014

Wandering around Welwyn

Today, ladysolly and I went to Welwyn to do a series called "Ellie's Wanderings". It was a fine day, no wind, bright sunshine but pretty cold.

We arrived at 12:30 with the coffee and sandwiches we'd stopped off for - I had the M&S Chrismas sandwich, and I can greatly recommend it. We set off at 1:30.

For the first cache, I was about to cross the river when ladysolly suggested that it might be on this side, behind a tree she pointed to, and she was right.

For the second cache, we hunted for a long time, but eventually gave up. However, after we finished the circuit, we went back for another try, and this time ladysolly found it.

Most of the caches were interesting - no piles of sticks. And I hopped over a gate to the Roman Bath cache (they're open from January to November ... but not December. I really wanted this cache, though, because it's so close to the motorway. Caches close to the motorway annoy me as I speed along, knowing that there's no way I can stop to pick them up.

So we wound up with 11 caches done today, and a very nice day out.

Friday 12 December 2014

Henley Regatta

I only once attended the Henley Royal Regatta, and that was by accident. I was caching in that area, and if I'd known that the Regatta was happening that day, I'd have given it a wide berth, because it made parking impossible, and even moving around in the area was made difficult. And even in a field a coule of miles away, I could hear the booming noise pollution of what I guess was some sort of commentary.

A couple of years ago, I got a spam inviting me to attend. I was really surprised that an organisation as august as  HRR would stoop so low as to spam. Actually, it wasn't HRR, it was someone selling tickets to their event, on their behalf. I complained to HRR, and the took suitable action with the spammer.

Today, it happened again. Charming Events sent me this miscapitalised email:

Your VIP hospitality package will include: Admission to Temple Island Enclosure River cruise for one and a half hours
 with Pimms, Bucks Fizz and soft drinks served on board (optional) Morning coffee on arrival Champagne, Pimms and canape
    reception Four course luncheon Fine wines, port and brandy Traditional afternoon tea with strawberries and cream
   Complimentary bar throughout the day including Champagne Official programme (one per two guests) Floral decorations
    Colour television within the chalet Reserved car parking, just yards from your chalet Live 'official regatta race
           commentary' Riverside jazz band featuring morning and afternoon Specialist Hostesses in attendance.

The Specialist Hostesses sound good - I wonder what they specialise in? But even so, I'd pay good money to get out of having to attend. Fortunately, I can not-attend for free.

So I contacted HRR again, to tell them about this latest spam. Curiously, although HRR have a web site, they don't give a contact email address. So I emailed their Press office (for which I did find an email address) to tell them about this article.

 ... update ...

I spoke to HRR. Apparently, this is nothing to do with them. They don't own the whole river, and some people hold events on the same date as HRR. And the guy at HRR, seemed to think there wasn't much he could do. "They even claim to be linked to us", he said. And they do - the email is entitled "Henley Regatta - The best hospitality" and headed with "Henley Royal Regatta Temple Island Enclosure".

So I explained to him A) about spam, and that they should hit them with that, and B), more importantly, that this looks to me to be very like "Passing off", where one company tries to hijack another company's brand. The use of the phrases "Henley Regatta" and "Henley Royal Regatta" certainly made me think that they were associated.

So I wished him luck in pursuing this.

Facebook password change

I got this email:


Your Facebook password was been reset on Friday, December 12, 2014 at 03:36PM (UTC) due to suspicious activity of your account.

Operating system: Android
Browser: Google Chrome
IP address:
Estimated location: Bluff, UT, US

To restore the password complete this form please, your request will be
considered within 24 hours.

The Facebook Security Team
Facebook, Inc., Attention: Department 425, PO Box 10005, Palo Alto, CA 94303

It is, of course, a scam. The link they give to click on leads to, and I rather doubt that this is a URL used by the Facebook Security Team.

I think most email clients don't bother to tell you where a link goes. I use Pine, and it does.

This kind of scam is called "Phishing". I first encountered it on AOL some 20 years ago; people would send an IM that was trying to get your password by pretending to be coming from AOL.

It works, of course. Not on everyone, obviously, but it works on the gullible. It works on people with more faith than reason. It works on people who think that everything is what it says it is.

If more mail clients told you where a link is taking you *before* you click on it, phishing would be a lot less profitable. Am I wishing for the moon?

Repowering the robot arm

I wanted to put the pi that controls the robot arm, onto the relays I've set up. But the distance from the relays to the pi is more than allowed by the rules, more than five meters.

But what are rules for, if not to be broken? The problem I had before, was that the voltage drop between the relay and the Pi was too great, so the Pi wouldn't work. And the reason for that, is that USB wires are very fine, they aren't expecting to be used over more than five meters.

So I made my own. I'm using bell wire (a pair of single code copper wires, but a lot thicker than USB wire). I soldered the female to a strip of metal, soldered a few inches of multicore to the positive and to the negative connectors, and put a terminal block on the end of that. Then I did the same for the male, except without the strip of metal. Then I ran a long length of bell wire from one to the other, and I was ready.

I connected this up to the relays at one end, and to the Pi at the other, and it works fine. But the Pi also has a relay controller, and that won't work with the small amount of current it can get from the Pi, so I'll give it a power supply from the relay box. To do that, I've ordered a USB splitter cable, so I don't have to run a second wire from the power source.

Thursday 11 December 2014

Mud, mud, glorious mud ...

I went out today to the north-east, hoping to avoid rain. It rained as I drove up the M11, but I didn't get rained on while I was caching.

I did get mudded on, though.

The worst part was when I followed a track across a little bridge; it should then have taken me along the side of a field. The problem was, the farmer had recentlyscooped out his ditch, and the scooped-out mud was lying along where I would be going - thick, brown and gooey.

Cleverly, I decided not to cross the bridge, but to go along on the wrong side of the ditch, where it wasn't thick, brown and gooey. that worked well for about 100 meters, but then I couldn't go any further, and I had to cross the ditch. It would have been a difficult ditch to cross on foot - the ditch was deep, the sides were steep and the mud, although gooey, was also slippery. Getting across with a heavy electric bike was a nightmare. I pretty much had to throw it across, then scramble after it.

And the nightmare wasn't over - I was right about the terrible difficulty of making progress over that mud - I had to pretty much carry the bike, and that's about 80 pounds. Eventually, I got to a place where I could progress over grass ... except that the grass was soft and squidgy, and had been very badly torn about by horses hooves.

I covered about 9 miles today, and a couple of those were on foot, either carrying or dragging the bike. My elbow hurts (I think I strained it a week or so ago, but I thought it had mended) and my back hurts.

But ladysolly has promised me a hot dinner, so I'm still good.

And here's the hippopotamus song.

Disk drive diversions

The problem when you put 15 drives in one computer, is that it's 15 times as likely to develop a bad drive. But that takes up a lot less space and electricity than 15 computers, so that's why I do it. I have a drive monitor on each computer that reports back to my central monitor system when drives are looking bad.

Last night, my drive monitor reported that drive sde on Dovda wasn't quite right. I left it till the next day to look into it. The drive sde (on a raid array md0) had "dropped out". I don't really know what this means, it's an expression I use when a drive stops responding. The fix is to power-cycle the computer; this resets the drive and it's OK ... until it does it again at some time in the future.

So that's what I did for Dovda. And when I ran the SMART drive check, only 14 drives responded. "Oh rats," I thought, the power cycle didn't do the trick. But on more careful examination, it had. The drive that wasn't working was sdi. A couple more reboots didn't help, so I got Dovda onto the work bench, opened it up and booted with a monitor connected. The problem was immediately obvious; drive sdi was showing up with zero gigabytes. Not a big problem, I have two separate backups of this, but I'd rather not replace the drive unless I have to.

This is a known problem with Seagate drives, it's called the "Seagate 0 LBA" problem. I've had it a few times, it happens, I think, after you start up the drive 256 times. Or something like that, I never really tried to understand it, because it seems to only happen with 1tb Seagates, and I stopped buying those several years ago, the standard is 6tb now. Here's Seagate's explanation.

There's a fix for it. You have to connect to the serial port on the hard drive, from the serial port on a computer. I have a little PCB with the necessary wires to do this, and you run Minicom, 38400,N,8,1 and type in a series of commands. This resets something inside the firmware, and the drive then starts working again. So I did it, and it worked, except that when previously it knew that it had 89 bad sectors and had mapped them out, now it thought there were zero bad sectors, and that sounds like trouble for me in future. Oh well, it's "good enough", so I started the computer up again.

This time, it recognised all 15 drives, hurrah! But the raid array wouldn't start up, it was telling me that drive sde was unsuitable. Huh? It was perfectly suitable before. I tried re-creating the raid drive, but that didn't work either. So I had a bit of a think, and a bit of a google, and eventually realised that there was already a raid running that called itself md127 using that drive (and two others). So this is an example of a misleading error message. Where did md127 come from? Heaven knows.

This happens far too much for my liking. The software has realised that something is wrong, but has misdiagnosed the problem. It's difficult to write the logic for diagnosing errors, because it's very difficult to test. So I just changed all references to md0 in my startup for Dovda, to md127, and it worked ... nearly.

Now I'd finally got back to the original problem. The file system on the raid was in an inconsistent state, and it needed to be fscked. So I fscked it, and then everything was OK.

Wednesday 10 December 2014

The only atheist in the restaurant

I am, as you might have noticed, an atheist. I used to be agnostic, but then I realised that if I were agnostic about all the things that can't be proved false, then I'd still be harbouring doubts about the Zeus, Jupiter and the Tooth Fairy.

But when it comes to food, I'm definitely jewish; Ashkenazi jewish. Chopped liver. Chicken soup with lockshen. Roast chicken, salt beef, chrane, kneidlach, latkes ... I better stop now before I start drooling. Oh, and bacon sandwiches, of course.

So when ladysolly suggested we have dinner at Nandos, I had a counter-suggestion - Reubens. We had our "Class of 59" reunion there a couple of weeks ago, and I was keen to go back.

They were full, of course, and we hadn't booked. But there was space upstairs, in the self-service area, so we went there. And we got waiter service anyway!

I started off with lockshen soup with kneidlach. I didn't find out that the Italians had laid claim to noodles until I was past my teens, I always thought it was jewish food.

This is a hearty chicken soup, hot and filling, a meal in itself. Indeed ...

I was in California, where you'll find many weird people, and I was taken to a nice restaurant, and they had lockshen soup on the menu, and I ordered that for a starter. Then the waiter came back and asked about main courses. The soup had been so good, I ordered lockshen soup as my main course. He was a bit surprised, asked if I was sure, which I was.

When he came back for the desert, I could not resist the temptation. I ordered lockshen soup for desert. He looked at me, moggiedawed, as if to say "This isn't happening". But it was, I repeated my request, and got what I wanted. They're not really weird in California. They don't know from real weird.

So with the lockshen soup done, I moved on to the next course - chopped liver. Ladysolly can't stand chopped liver, I don't know why. She doesn't like the smell, I don't think she's ever got as far as the taste. Chopped liver has all the taste of liver (which ladysolly doesn't like either), plus more, because they add onion, and a little egg, and I don't know what else, am I a chef?

A good portion, with rye bread on the side. When we go to my sister or ladysolly's brother for Seder, I always overdose on the chopped liver. And ladysolly gets it sometimes in a shop she know in Ricky. But you can never have too much chopped liver. This chopped liver was light, moist and delicious. We got some as a takeaway afterwards, for lunch the next day.

Then on to the main course. Ladysolly had roast chicken, which you can get anywhere, plus a mediterranean salad, which you can get anywhere.

I had salt beef.

Salt beef sandwiches are ambrosia; you can get excellent ones at the Brass Rail at Selfridges. You used to be able to get them at Harrods, but Harrods closed their salt beef bar, which is why we don't go to Harrods any more. And Blooms, sadly, is no more. Occasionally, I come across a place that does salf beef sandwiches, and I make a note, and visit as soon as possible,

But I didn't have sandwiches, I just had a salt beef platter, because with that, you can easily justify ordering ...



The finest destiny for a potato is to be made into latkes, and these latkes were large, fluffy and crispy. And piping hot, which is good because it forces you to eat them slowly and carefully. These are so large, you only get one in a portion. So I ordered two.

With the salt beef and latkes, I had a little chrane, which is horseradish and beetroot, an unlikely pairing, you might have thought, but in practice it works very well.

And so to desert. Tempted as I was by the thought of another round of chicken soup, I went all conventional. The choice was between lockshen pudding ...

... which is a confection made of lockshen, sultanas, cinnamon and I don't know what else, am I a cook? Or else I could have strudel

I was torn between them, and was tempted by the compromise that would be "both", but not wanting ladysolly to think me greedy, I plumped for strudel. Which was gorgeous.

And then we walked to Marylebone station and got the train home.

Sunday 7 December 2014

My irony meter broke

Dennis Higgins, a Catholic priest, told the children of St Thomas More's school that Father Christmas isn't real.

This is so wrong, it isn't even wrong. And my irony meter just went "spong!".

He's telling a bunch of children too young to be able to apply critical thinking, that their invisible friend isn't real, but that his invisible friend is real. I'm tempted to visit his church and tell his parishoners that Higgins' invisible friend isn't real either. Tempted ... but I won't do it, because they probably won't believe me.

And the children of St Thomas More's school didn't believe Higgins.

This is a common meme.  You often get reports  in newspapers of christians saying that Father Christmas doesn't exist, although you rarely get newspaper reports of atheists saying that the christian god doesn't exist. I've tried, in my small way, to rectify this by posting on the Dennis Higgins support facebook page.

But I think that Father Christmas fills a valuable role. Apart form bringing the presents, that is. He's the first time that children meet the fact that their parents lie to them, firmly and consistently, about something of great importance. It teaches them to doubt the existence of invisible friends, just on the say-so of people in authority.

Saturday 6 December 2014

Not enough volts

I tried to connect the second Pi to my new Pi controller. But this one is several yards from the controller. So I used a length of USB cable to carry the power. I used two five meter lengths.

When I tried to run the Pi, I got some very variable results. Sometimes the ethernet worked, sometimes it didn't. Sometimes the keyboard worked, sometimes it didn't. I messed around with it for ages. I even reloaded the operating system. No joy. So I went to bed.

Sometimes, to solve a problem you have to stop working on it. It came to me, in the night, as it were, that the problems were all to do with the USB (on a Pi, the USB and the ethernet are intimately linked at the hardware level). So I thought, maybe the Pi has become faulty, maybe change the Pi for another one and see if that works? But then I had another thought.

The Pi wants five volts. It can cope with a bit less or a bit more, but if it's a lot less then it's not happy. I measured the voltage on the Pi, and it was 4.05 volts, and that definitely isn't enough.

So I messed around with the cable a bit, and instead of using two five meter lengths, I got it down to one. I measured the voltage again - 4.5 volts. And that seems to be enough.

So if your Pi is acting foolishly, measure the voltage at the TP1 and TP2 points.

Thursday 4 December 2014

A sea of mud

I went out caching today. I've done a lot of Izaak Walton's caches, he's the most prolific cache setter in the UK. Or rather he was - apparently, he's retired.

As a tribute to his efforts, MarcusMaximi has set up "The Izaak Wilson Memorial Series ... and Back!". This is a reference to the fact that all of Isaak's series were "Somewhere and back". The cache page says "A 6 mile walk over mud". He's not wrong about the mud, and although I brought home quite a lot of it, there's still plenty left.

The problem for me, is that it was the sort of mud that sticks to the bike tires, clogs up the wheel and stops it from rotating. Which means that travering that sea of mud is very tough work.

I found a nice patch of grass at the side of the road for parking (that's why I like having a 4WD, it means I can be fairly sure of being able to get off the grass afterwards). And I started to get the bike ready.

Just as I was doing that, Spindlewood turned up, a pair of cachers I've often seen in these parts. We talked a bit, and they pressed on, and I continued to prep the bike. By the time I was ready to roll, they were well out of sight.

I had two problems. I've recently fitted a new rear rack, and one of the bolts is too long, and it fouls the chain when I'm in top gear. So I spent the day avoiding top gear. I'll fix that, it's not a big prpoblem. The other problem I had, is that my PDA refused to work. However, I take two PDAs, in case of this sort of problem, so I just switched to the spare.

So off I went. The caches were going nicely, until I got to number five. The coords were well out, and I couldn't find the hint item; after a long search I gave up. But later on, I caught up with Spindlewood, and asked them about this cache,and they gave me details that meant I was able to find it later. Actually, all I'd needed to do was stand up and look around me - I'd gotten fixated on a hedge. So I made a radical revision to the route, so that I could pass that cache again and sign the log.

After finishing that series, I had lunch in the car, then set off on the bike to Great Gidding, sto do several more caches. I got back to the car at about 16:00, but I was so cold by then (and I was seeing some drizzle) that I decided to go home.

39 caches done today, no DNFs.

Wednesday 3 December 2014


I looked at one of the many marketing letters I get on its swift and painless journey to my waste paper bin, and I noticed that it had a PS.

PS is short for "post scriptum" (I have the Latin). It works like this. You write a long and interesting letter, sign it at the bottom, and then realise that there's something important you forgot to say. So you put "PS" and add this at the bottom, rather that rewrite the entire letter with the information included. Back in the days when letters were written by hand (with a fountain pen, remember those?) this made a lot of sense.

It makes no sense when you're using a computer.

It makes even less sense when we're talking about a carefully designed and thought out marketing letter. What, you realised at the last minute that you'd forgotten to say something?

So why a PS?

It's because the marleting people think you're more likely to read that.

I resent this - I'm being played for a punter. So - new rule - anything that has a PS at the bottom got straight into the waste paper bin. Or if it's an email (and yes, I've seen emails with a PS), into the bit bucket.

Sunday 30 November 2014

The pi monitor

Most of my Pies just keep on running. They'd been going for about two years nonstop before they suddenly all died. The fault was the power supply that fed them; the fan had died (fans are a weak point in any system - being mechanical, they wear out), the PSU had overheated and shut itself down.

But the two Pies that I use to tell me the outside temperature, give me a view outside, the time and the number of alerts on my server monitoring system - crash much more often. Not a big deal, it only affects me (and only slightly) and all I have to do is cycle the power so they're up and running again.

Wouldn't it be nice to automate this? I already have for the more important Pies, that carry email and DNS.

I did it slightly differently this time. I started with four female USB ports, and I soldered then to a strip of metal, so they were nice and stable. The outside connectors are the positive and negative, and that was all I was going to use. I soldered leads to the negative connectors, and put all the four leads into one terminal connector. On the positive side, I soldered a lead to each connector, and the other end of that went to a serial relay box. I've used these before for all sorts of purposes (the robot arm uses one, for example), and when I bought them, they were less than a third of the price they're shown at now. You can get something similar on Ebay for £10. A similar thing to run off USB ports is £19.

A long long time ago, to start up a PC you had to apply power, and then press a button at the front. These days, you can set u a PC so that no button press is needed. But I wanted to be able to power-cycle my PCs remotely before that was possible. I wired up that button-press so that it could be done by these relay boxes. Pretty cool! So I have a few of these left over from those days, and I would never throw away something as potentially useful as that.

I connected the four positive leads to the "common" connector of each relay, and I connected the four "normally closed" relay connectors to another terminal connector. The effect of this is that if I feed that terminal connector with five volts, then five volts will appear on all four USB connectors. But if I switch one of the relays, then the power for that connector is switched.

I got the five volts from a step-down (buck) converter, that costs £1 on Ebay, but I prefer to use the ones that display the voltage, costing £2.

The feed into the converter is the 12 volt line from an old PC power supply, and the same 12 volts is also used to power the relay box. So, using this, I can run up to four Raspberry Pies off the same power supply, and have remote power-on, power-off control.

So next, to automate this. The relay box is connected to the serial port of a computer, and on that computer, I run a program once per minute. that program pings the Pies, and if it doesn't get a good reply back, it then cycles the power to the Pi that isn't responding.

To cycle the power, I use a program called Minicom, which is great for this purpose. It's a terminal emulator. I set it to 9600 baud, 8N1 which is what the relay box uses, and I set up a file called "off01" which will control relay number 1. So, to switch it off, that's

send N1
! killall -9 minicom

And to get minicom to do the job, my perl program does this:

`minicom -o -t ansi -S /home/drsolly/engine/off01`;

"N1" means "switch relay 1 on" but because I have them wired as "normally on", it means "switch relay 1 off" And "F1" means switch it on. So when it can't contact that Pi, it powers off, waits five seconds, then powers on. Of course, if the Pi doesn't start up within 60 seconds, the next time the program runs it will do the same thing again ... and again ... and again ... but I know from experience that it takes less than 60 seconds to start up a Pi.

I have it running for one of the Pies; after that's been going for a while, I'll connect the other Pi to the same box, and I still have two spare slots.

The class of 59

In 1959, I started at Grocers; actually the Hackney Downs Schools, formerly the Grocer's Company School" but we all called it Grocers. So did 104 other kids my age.

Today, two dozen of us had our first reunion, at Reubens kosher restaurant at 79 Baker street. I had chicken soup with lockshen, salt beef and latkes followed by lockshen pudding. Yummy! When it comes to food, I'm not an atheist.

The main thing that happened, was for us to tell each other what happened after we left school. Some became doctors, some became dentists, some became teachers and some went into IT.And some went down less common paths.

Everyone looked older than when I'd last seen them, about 50 years ago.

Barry Brooks is an orthodox jew; fringes, hat - everything. He came all the way from Israel to this reunion. I would never have predicted that from what I knew at school. Most of us had acheived moderate success, although quite a few had been made redundant 10 or 15 years ago. One told me that he considered that his life had been wasted - he was a bright lad when I knew him, and we had a common interest in electronics. But he dropped out of university, and he considered that things hadn't gone well for him since then.

One had a heart problem, and had major surgery for that, but was looking good now (and he'd lost a couple of stone). Most of them was bald or baling, all of them were grey. I think I had the best head of hair, although that might be my vanity. We'd all put on a few stone - some more than others.

We all gave each other potted histories of the last 50 years. I was told by a few of them that I was famous, although one of them said he saw me on an Open University program - actually that was another person with the same name as me. Some told me that when they heard about the antivirus, they'd thought it was me, and I told them they were right.

It was a very good day out, and I hope we do this every year from now on. Many thanks to Gary Gray and the committee for organising it. And I can recommend Reubens.

Friday 28 November 2014

Bike maintenance

When I got back from my mud mining expedition yesterday, I pressure-washed the bike. Then I did some maintenance.

First, I changed the read pannier rack again. The one I'd put on to repkace the broken one, was another aluminium one, and it feels a bit flimsy. I put a lot more stress on these than the normal rider, because A) I put in several kilograms of battery and tools and B) I'm riding over rough, bumpy ground. So I spashed out £31 for a really good quality rack, made of Steel, by Avenir. It was easy to fit, and looks good. It doesn't have the spring-loaded clip, but I never use that anyway, it's just a nuisance in place.

I also oiled the pedals. They're folding pedals, and I fold the right one when I put the bike in the car. I fold the left one when I need to get through a very tight space. I found the the left on is seized, and in freeing it, I cracked the rubber part - and it's still seized. So I replaced them both with a new pair (about £7) and bought a couple of replacement pairs, for future use.

Halfway across a field yesterday, I spotted something red on the ground, so I slammed  on my brakes and had a look. It was a rear light for a bike, with the rubber band broken. I took it home, dried it out and it worked fine. So I'll fix the rubber and it can go into service. These things only cost about £1, so it isn't the money, it's the satisfaction of fixing something.

Another try at the tech support scam

She was from Microsoft, or so she said. The Windows Support Service. And my computer was reporting that there was something wrong.

"Oh dear," I said, "what should I do?"

"Is your computer switched on?" She asked. "No". "Switch it on then. " "It's upstairs."

And the game was on. We started off by playing "upstairs, downstairs." In this game, I'm pretending that my computer is upstairs, my phone is downstairs, and never the twain shall meet. Once she'd understood this, she asked her supervisor for advice -  he told her to continue. So she gave me a whole list of instructions, which would have downloaded and installed Teamviewer, got an id and password, and give them control of my computer. I said I'd do that.

I let her wait for five minutes, then got back to her. "What do I do after I press the Windows key?"

She must have realised that I wasn't capable of following a whole list of instructions, so she dropped into step-by-step mode, as per her script. And each step took me five minutes, what with running upstairs to the computer and then downstairs to the phone. Eventually, we had Teamviewer installed and run, Well, not really. I was making all this up. But I do know what a Teamviewer ID and password looks like, it's nine digits and four digits. I gave her a made-up id and password, and she handed me over to a techie, Sam McKenzie.

Sam must have tried those, and found they didn't work. So his next plan was to send a techie to visit me, for the really amazingly low price of £20. You can't even get a plumber's assistant's assistant to come out for less than £100, so what a bargain. And he asked for my credit card number. "I usually pay by cheque"

He ignored that, and said "Visa or Mastercard?" and after a few more interchanges like this, I said "Sam, you're not listening. I don't have a credit card. Can I pay by Postal order or cheque?"

So he asked my address. He already knew my post code, so I told him that he had that wrong, and gave him the details of a recent spammer. Then he told me the address of a nearby Western Union outlet, "Global Home Service". And that I should send £120 to "Lalit Sharma, India". The £120 was because it was cash, but the technician, when he visited me, would refund the extra £100. I thought that was a nice detail.

So I phoned the  nearby Western Union outlet, but no-one was there. And then I phoned Western Union and reported the fraud. They said they'd put a block on that name.

Job done.

 ... later ...

Sam called me back. I told him that the phone number he gave me for the Western Union outlet, no-one answered. He said, "You dn't need to phone them, just go there." I explained, "There's no point in going there if there's no-one there," Eventually, he saw my point, and gave me another address, a few doors down from the forst one, and the phone number 0800 833 833. I happen to know (see above) that this isn't " Best End Quality Ltd", it's Western Union. But I didn't tell him that ... yet. He said he'd call me back in five monutes.

... later ...

Oops! He forgot to block his phone number. It's 001 630 582 0473 - I googled it, and it's a known scammer.

He called me back. I told him that the first office weren't answering the phone, maybe they're closed? He asked me what time it is there. Oops! I told him, same time as it is where you are, you said you're in the UK. Actually, he hadn't, but I didn't think he'd be keeping careful track of what lies he's told. And then I told him that the second phone number was Western Union head office.

He reassured me that they'd be open, and I didn't need to phone. I said I'd go there. He'll call me back in 30 minutes.

Muddy in Finedon

Today I went to Finedon and got muddy. Very muddy. Most of the mud in Cambridgeshire accompanied me home.

I did the circuit "Fruit and nut series" and I was able to find all of them, plus some extras while I was out. But I very nearly got caught short, twice. Once was my PDA - I was down to 5% charge when I got back to the car (but I did have a spare with me). The other was battery. The series was 31 caches, about 10 miles, so I should be able to do that with two batteries. So I took three. And three was only just enough, because I did quite a lot of extra caches.

41 caches found, and a few DNFs. And some swans. They were sitting where I wanted to go, and totally ignored me dinging my bell.

So I, very slowly, walked the bike through them.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

I speak your wait

The new monitor arrived. Well, pre-owned. It has "Property of Halesowen College" on a sticker on the back. I'm pretty sure that's not true; I'm pretty sure I'm the legal owner. Maybe I should contact Halesowen College to see if they've had a theft recently? Surely not; I got it from a reputable vendor. It's 1280 by 1024, which is a modest resolution, and it's 17 inches diagonal. But for £25, it's very good.

I connected it up to the pi, and it all worked straight off displaying the framebuffer, which surprised me, because the resolution of the monitor I had there before was somewhat less. Something adjusted itself somehow. I'm not complaining. It's including my refreshing display of outside temperature, time and the number of alerts on my monitoring system. But I've added something new - Muriel. Muriel speaks when there's more than 100 alerts, and she sounds good. I'm using Google Translate's text-to-speech thing.

mpg123 -q "$alerts%20alerts"

There's a choice of accents; for US, use en_us. For British, use en_gb and for Australian, use en_au. I could also have French, German, Italian and I don't know how many others.

Unlike most speech synthesisers, Muriel doesn't sound like a robot. But her inflections aren't quite right. Never mind, it's a very good attempt, and I guess they'll improve it.

Dart charge 30 Nov

This cryptic message has been on display on the M25 for some days now. I've been ignoring it, as one does the "don't read distracting messages" message they (don't) put up. But I just googled it, and it turns out to be important.

Going over the QE2 bridge (always a pleasure) or through the Dartford Tunnel (I remember when the tunnel went both ways) used to cost £1.50, although it then went up to £2. Now it'll cost £2.50, but you can't pay at the barrier. They're abolishing the barrier. Instead, you have to prepay (or postpay) online.

Maybe this will save a minute or two as we cross. It should save TfL quite a lot in the cost of collecting the toll.

You can also sign up for a pre-paid account - if you do, then you can just forget the whole thing, it'll cost you £1.67 per crossing. That's what I've done, and I've registered three cars under one account.


Monday 24 November 2014

Three more disasters

I exaggerate. More minor niggles than disasters.

Today, I did two rings in Cambridgeshire. I like caching on the bike in Cambridgeshire; the farming is mostly arable, so there's no animals in the fields, which means .... NO STILES!!!

It was cold, though. I put on three sweaters and my furry gloves for the first time this year, so I wasn't cold. When I have lots of layers on, I stay warm, provided I don't get wet, either from rain or from falling in the water.

The first niggle happened before I set out. I noticed that my bike rack is broken. Aluminium isn't as good for this sort of thing as steel, because where steel would bend a bit, aluminium breaks. I don't carry a spare rack in the car, but looking at it and wiggling it a bit, I decided that it would probably last the day, and I was right.

The second niggle was with the bike's on-off button. That's clamped to the handlebars (it also controls what's shown on the display), And the clamp broke as I was switching it on. I'll repair that with duct tape.

The third problem happened as I was finishing the second loop. The touch screen of my Loox PDA stopped responding to touches. I didn't have my spare PDA with me (a mistake I'll try not to make in future) so I had to finish the day using my iPhone, which isn't nearly as good for this purpose.

However. I didn't fall off the bike, I didn't fall into any water and it didn't rain. So, a good day out, with 51 caches found and no DNFs.

While I was out, I saw this very splended display - look at the size of her onions!

Christmas comes earlier each year.

Don't you just hate it when they change the name of a road so for the rest of your life you can't remember the name?

Sunday 23 November 2014

Sharing a printer

I recently set up a Windows XP box, for a particular purpose, and I want to be able to print from it. I already have a Windows 7 box with a couple of printers connected via USB mostly used for playing Civilization (sic)). You'd think it would be easy to share a printer between Windows machines.

The problem is that one is Windows 7, the other is XP. 7 wants to use Homegroups, XP wants to use Workgroups. I think these are two different things, but I'm not a Windows expert.

So I spent about an hour messing with this, and still failed to get either one working. Then I had a flash of inspiration.

I also have a Linux box with a printer. It took me about a minute to get the XP box to recognise, and use, that printer.

New tire, new brakes

While getting the bike ready for tomorrow's outing, I noticed this:

You can see the two cracks in the tire; the one on the left is so bad you can see under the rubber. I thought, this isn't too bad, it'll hold. And then I thought, I don't want to be ten miles from the car when this goes toes-up, and although I carry a spare inner tube in my bike toolkit, I don't carry a spare tire (but I do have one in the car). I get these good quality Kevlar-reinforced tires for about £13, and I have a couple in stock, so I put one on.

Also, I've been finding that the back brake is a bit reluctant to stop me. Looking at it, I saw this:

You can see it's worn down nearly to the metal. I don't go very fast; 10 mph is about my speed, because I'm going over rough ground, but even so, it's not good if you can't stop. Although I do have front brakes also. But new brake pads set me back about £1, so I fitted replacements.

And now I'm ready for a day's biking around Steeple Morden.

Saturday 22 November 2014


Looking at pictures of Nigel, I find it hard to find him appealing.

Would you want a prime minister who made faces like that?

But then I thought of Ed.

And Dave.

But we shouldn't vote based on the appearance of the candidates. We should vote on the basis of their promises.

Thursday 20 November 2014

Three disappointments

Today, I went to Ware, to do the Ware Wander, a series of 48 caches, with another 20 along the route. I thought I'd need three battery packs, so I loaded up with four, using two saddlebags, which was just as well because I rode about 20 miles, and I did need all four. And a head torch, because I thought I'd be caching in the dark. And a spare PDA, and all the usual equipment.

I had planned to do this yesterday, but that plan got pre-empted by the cremation of my Aunt Betty, who was a significant aunt in my life. So I went out today instead.

Last night, I got an automated email; there was a new cache in the series, just published! So I stood a chance of getting "First to Find" on it. I'm not really big on FTF, but it's always nice to score one. And so I decided to take a different route, so I'd start the day as close as possible to the FTF.

The first disappointment was that although I got to it at 9:30, it had already been logged, so I got second to find, which isn't anything. Still, a cache is a cache.

The second disappointment came a couple of hours later, at about 12 pm. I take great precautions agains punctures; I use very thick inner tubes, which are therefore thorn-resistant. I use Kevlar tires, and I have a gel insert between the tire and the inner tube, so that any thorns that do penetrate the tire, don't get to the inner tube. With this system, I haven't had a puncture since I started using it. It means that my wheels are a lot heavier, but an electric bike is heavy anyway, because of the motor.

But this wasn't a puncture. The inner tube had worked its way around so that the valve, instead of sticking out at right angles to the rim, was at a sharp angle. And because of that, the rim cut into the valve, and suddenly I had no air in my back tire.

So I stopped, took off the saddle bags, turned the bike upside down, and got to work. I pulled the inner tube partly out, and soon saw the problem. I thought about repairing it with a patch, but I suspect that it wouldn't work, because patches work best when you have the pressure of the tube keeping it in place, and that wouldn't happen with the valve.

Fortunately, I carry a spare inner tube. It isn't one of those nice thick ones, because they take up a huge amount of space - it's a standard thin-walled tube. Enough, I hope, to get me home. So I got my toolkit out, took the back wheel off, removed the duff inner tube, put in the replacement, pumped it up, and it held. So I replaced the back wheel, pumped the tire up fully, and was able to spend the rest of the day biking round my route. It cost me about 30 minutes. And that's why I carry a substantial toolkit when I got out caching.

The third disappointment was when I did a multi. I gathered the information, and set off. Soon, I came to the bridge, under which the cache would be. So I started to get down under the bridge, to find it. But the ground was steep and the ground was muddy, and you can probably guess what happened next. Splash! I was in the river and wet up to my knees, including two bootfulls of water.

And I couldn't find the cache - possibly it isn't there.

As soon as I found somewhere dry to sit down, I took off my boots and poured half a pint of water out of each, wrung out my socks, and put the socks and boots back on. I still had wet feet, but al least I wasn't walking in a pint of water. Squish squish squish.

I did a total of 68 caches today, so it was a good day out altogether. Here's a nice thing I saw along the way:

It's a pump, and if you turn the handle (which I did) it actually works.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

My new 100 megabit link

I just got an email - they're talking about 02/02/2015 as the installation date, although they'll do it sooner if they can, or later if they have to. The really good news, is that they don't seem to be asking me to pay for the install. I was concerned that I might have to cough up some dosh, because they have to run the fiber from quite a distance away, then from the street into the building. But we found the existing conduit into the building, and they can almost certainly use that for the last part, and I guess they've solved the problem of getting it down the street - there is a conduit for it, but it's pretty old, and the BT engineer was worried that it could be blocked.

So - good news!

iTunes user interface

I wanted to put the geocache data on to ladysolly's new iPhone 6. iTunes wouldn't recognise her iPhone, so I thought, first step, update to the latest iTunes, which is version But when I did that, I found that not only have Apple changed the user interface, they've made it really difficult to find where to go to copy data for apps onto the iPhone.

I use Gsak for keeping track of my cache data. Actually, I use several copies of Gsak on three computers; that spreads the processing load. So, from Gsak, I output a GPX file of all the caches not found by me within 120 kilometers. But that's 41,000 caches, and Memory Map can't handle that many on the Loox, so I divide it into four quadrants; NE, NW, SE and SW. I notice Star Trek uses the word "quadrant", where what they actually mean is "region".

I have a program that reads that GPX file, and spits out:

1. TomTom "Favourite places" so that when I'm using the satnav, caches show up as I'm driving along, and I can use it to navigate to them. Different kinds of caches have different coloured icons.

2. GPX files (in four quadrants) for Memory Map on the iPhone.

3. Geosphere data files (divided into 16 regions) for the iPhone (because Geosphere can't handle more than 8000 caches at once).

4. HTML files with the cache page, hint and last 25 logs of each cache. But I don't want 41,000 files, because the FAT file system gets very sluggish when a directory has that many files. So they're grouped by the first two or three letters of the cache code. So one HTML file might cover 41d00 up to 41dzz. So there's only 4500 files, covering the 41,000 caches.

5. CSV files for Memory Map on the Loox and the PC; again,different kinds of caches have different coloured icons; a cache whose most recent log isn't a find has the icon upside-down, and micros have the icon backwards.  I use the PC for planning the day out (because it's got a lovely big screen) and the Loox for caching on the trail (because I don't want to carry a PC as I walk around). The iPhone is an emergency backup. But on a long route, like I'm planning tomorrow, I take a second Loox.

I have used the iPhone, when water got into my Loox and made it temporarily dead. It is possible to use the iPhone for caching, but the Loox is much, much better.

So, as part of all this, I need to copy Memory Map and Geosphere files to the iPhone. With iTunes 10, it was pretty obvious how to do this; you click on iPhone ... apps  and then it's easy. With iTunes 12, you click on a tiny rectangular icon which turns out to be "iPhone", and I had terrible trouble finding it. There doesn't seem to be a menu equivalent. Until you find that icon (which doesn't look to me like an iPhone) ... you're stuffed.

Thanks, Apple.

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Sunday 16 November 2014

Claim under warranty

Often, when a drive fails, I check and it's still within warranty (I use quite a lot of drives). So I send it back to Seagate for warranty replacement. If it isn't withing warranty, I give it a low level reformat and give it away in a geocache.

In the last couple of years, I've been finding that they often replace with a "remanufactured" drive. Whatever that means. Could it mean the replaced the innards of the drive? Or could it mean that they just gave it a format and hoped for the best?

I'm finding that these "remanufactured" drives are even lower qquality than the usual Seagate drives. I just had another one fail, and it was still within it's warranty. So, back it goes.

I'm not buying any more Seagate 3tb drives. They rank with the Maxtor 160gbs, pretty low down.

Microsoft's Certified Professional

Some qualifications (such as Watermanship Two) are good to have; in this case, it means you can swim somewhat.


When a five year old passes the exam for "Microsoft Certified Professional", then that tells you two things.

A) The kid must be pretty bright.

B) I wouldn't let someone with the "Microsoft Certified Professional" qualification anywhere near my network. Unless they had something a lot more substantial.

Saturday 15 November 2014


I was out today with ladysolly, doing the Ridge Top Ramble, which included some very steep descends and climbs, and some very soggy terrain. The highlight of the day happened when I heard a sudden scream from behind me, followed by a splash, or more precisely, a spludge.

Some electrified fence had come off its posts and was tangled all over the ground. I saw it, and avoided it, but ladysolly didn't, got her feet caught up in it, and toppled over, face first, into the soggy ground. It was so soft and wet that she didn't get hurt, but she did get a faceful of mud, and spent the next several minutes spitting it out again. Here's what she looked like:

As you can see, her trousers and jumper were soaked and muddy. We headed straight for the car - we'd nearly finished anyway - but by the time we got there, the wet had wicked into her socks, so she had wet feet. Also wet t-shirt, panties ... you get the idea.

I know, I should have taken a picture when she was face-down in the mud, but I didn't have the heart. Or courage.

After a quick bath when we got home, she's fine.

26 caches done, no DNFs.

Thursday 13 November 2014

New alerter

While I was rummaging around the cheaper end of Ebay (as one does), I found a 1280 by 1024 LCD monitor for only £25. And it does HDMI!

I thought about the little three inch screen I currently have my alerts on, and I thought, this is what I need.

It arrived today, and I have it in action now.

To use it, I set the framebuffer


And the HDMI mode

The information displayed comes from my external temperature sensor, my mail server, and the Pi's clock.

I'm using Imagemagick to create the bmp file with the information, Then I convert that to a framebuffer format using ffmpeg. I have no idea why I needed to do that, but I couldn't see how to make Imagemagick create framebuffer formats. Then I copy the file to /dev/fb0.


The alerts thing goes yellow if it's looking bad, and red if it's very bad. Red means that a server is definitely playing up, and needs to be checked out.

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Sixty six

I did 66 caches today, not counting one DNF. The DNF was one that I've DNFed before. But it was missing then. I wonder if it's missing now?

I did three circuits; Barnack and Back, Etton and Back and Frognall and Back. Doing the last circuit, I was on the home stretch, it was dark (but I have a good head torch) and I crossed a bridge that led to a track across a muddy field. I bottled out. My experience of such a track, is that you can get so badly bogged down that you practically have to carry the bike, which at 80 pounds is no easy matter. I only missed out one cache by doing this; the other two along that track were multis, and I guessed (correctly) the answers and found the caches, which were nowhere near the muddy field.

So, a good day out, which ended just as it was about to start raining, and which netted a most appropriate number of finds!

Monday 10 November 2014


November 7 is the birthday of daughter.2, and the 11th is mine. So yesterday, we had a joint celebration, with daughter.1, other halves and grandson.1.

We went to a French-style restaurant. Well, the menu was in french, the food was frechified and the waiter had a french accent. It wasn't expensive. Quite cheap, actually, about £200 for seven of us. But the quality matched the price.

Afterwards, we went back to daughter.1's for lounging around followed by dinner. We got a takeaway from a local Indian, but they forgot to include three of the items we ordered (and paid for). Fortunately, there was enough even so.

A nice day out.

Thursday 6 November 2014

Wakerley Great Wood

Last week, the Halloween Mega was held in Wakerley Great Wood. I didn't go to that, because I'm a bit too old to get a thrill out of skeletons and vampires, and I'm not too keen on caching in a huge group. So I went there today.

Caching on a bike in a forest can be very nice, if the tracks are good, or very iffy if the tracks are muddy and squishy. Wakerley Great Wood was half and half. But the big problem I had, was that they've taken all the scary-fun caches out (so they can use them again next year) and replaced them with micros. And the hints are often left as they were. Which leaves me looking for a micro in a forest, without a hint. Or with a hint that applies to the original cache.

Forests aren't good for GPSes. The tall trees bounce the signal around, and accuracy is badly affected.  There's about 50 caches there, and I had hoped to get all 50. But I only got about half.

At about 2pm, I got back to the car for lunch and a battery change. This little fellow invited himself to join me.

He came right up to the car, obviously begging. I held out for several minutes, but eventually I gave him a crumb of bread, which he happily ate. Then asked for more.

Wednesday 5 November 2014


This morning, the BT engineer arrived for the site survey. I'm planning to get a 100 megabit link installed, which means fibre. I already have a 2 mb link, and there's a conduit from the nearest telephone pole to the house carrying the copper for this. The plan is, to run the fibre through that same conduit, so we won't have to dig up the garden.

It took us a long time to work out where that conduit came into the house, but we found it eventually. Quite a lot of dismantling was necessary to be sure we'd found it. When ladysolly got back from the morning's bridge, she said "I could have told you where it was." It hadn't ocurred to me that she might know!

So it looks like the route from the road to inside the house will be fine, but the BT man wasn't sure about running from the nearest exchange with fibre, along the road. There is a conduit, but it's quite old, and if it's blocked anywhere along the way, then we have a problem. The cost of putting in a new conduit would be quite heavy. I'd probably be expected to carry a lot of that.

I did suggest that the cost might be shared because they would then be able to offer fibre broadband to the other people along the road, but I think I was talking to the wrong person for that idea.

We'll see what he says about the existing conduit.

Wheep wheep wheep

Something was going "wheep wheep wheep". It was starting to annoy me. I checked the phone - not off the hook. Then I realised, it was tania, the computer I use for having loads of terminals open to various servers. Tania was telling me "I'm overheating".

So I powered it down, and opened it up. There's four fans, One is in the power supply, that was fine. One was at the back of the case, that was fine. One was in the front of the case, and that was too stiff to turn. And one was blowing cold air onto the CPU, or rather it wasn't, because that was only just about managing to turn slowly. And it was the last one that was probably the reason for the wheeping.

I got out my several boxes of spare fans, and replaced the two faulty ones. Those were my last two 60 by 60 by 15 mm fans, so I went on to Ebay and ordered several more for stock. I powered tania up and put it back into service, and there's no wheeping now.

In a computer, the cpu fan is the component most likely to fail and stop the computer from working. It's a mechanical thing, and they wear out after some years of service. They're very cheap (I just paid £0.99 for these fans) and I expect they're built to the price.

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Andover again

Back to Andover today. First I did a ring of about 32 caches, the LWL series. While I was doing the second one, a man with a dog came up, "I know what you're doing", said he. And so it was that I met one of the local geocachers.

After finishing that ring (with a few extras) I got back to the car for lunch, battery changes, and then to Andover town to see what I could find there. I had a few DNFs there, but completed 48 caches today.

Sunday 2 November 2014


I like metric. I cache in kilometers and meters. I had a debate with Jeff Bones, he prefers Imperial, feet and miles, he said it's easier to think in feet and miles. So I asked him how many meters there are in a kilometer. He said 1000, because it's easy. Then I asked him how many feet in a mile, and he didn't know. I suspect most people wouldn't know unless they looked it up, or had a long think.

So I'm in favour of metrication. The problem is, we're making such a dogs dinner out of it. The UK speed limit is still in miles per hour, and almost all signposts are in miles. Except some which tell you "Give way in 180 meters", which is probably a "translation" of 200 yards.

Milk is in litres, beer is in pints. People's weight is in stones and pounds, potatoes are in kilos.
And the whole mess is summed up by this notice:

This was in the bathroom of my hotel. Metric litres of water, imperial tons of washing powder. Why not "millions of litres of water, millions of kilograms of washng powder"?

Saturday 1 November 2014

Bournemouth bridge bash

We arrived at 5ish, upacked, and went to the pre-bridge drinkies, then on to dinner. After dinner, ladysolly went for her first bridge session, and I went out for a few hours caching.

My favourite was a water-pouring cache. It took me a while to find, then I spotted a pipe nailed to a fence post, two holes in the bottom to let the water out. I carry a couple of liters of water in the car for just such a cache. Finger and thumb over the holes, and I poured the water in. the cache should have bobbed up to the top. But it didn't. So I gave it a good prodding with a stick sourced locally and tried again. It worked on the third attempt, and on the fourth attempt, I managed to grab he cache. And when I took my fingers off the holes, I was able to evade to resulting jet of water

32 caches done.

On the Saturday, I got up at 7am, wandered down to breakfast at 7:30 only to be told that it didn't start until 8. I mentally translated that to "8am maybe" and decided to go out caching without waiting. In the course of the day, I visited Tolpuddle, where the Tolpuddle Martyrs have a museum, and Shaftesbury, where I got my lunch at the local Asda,

I did 110 caches (plus a couple of DNFs), which is a new high for me.I got back to the hotel at 9:30 - ladysolly was deep in a bridge game.

Two lessons learned - my favourite headtorch only lasts for a few hours, so in future, I'll be sure to carry a spare battery. And my gps blutooth lasts for about 11 hours (it used to last for 13).

Friday 31 October 2014

Bridge at Bournemouth

Ladysolly's at a bridge weekend, so I'm along as driver. I'm excused bridge, so I'm going out caching.

Traffic on the way here was pretty bad. We stopped at Fleet Services for lunch; three Papa John Pizzas, divided 2-1.

Thursday 30 October 2014

0843 calling ...

I just got a call from an 0843 number. It rang once, and stopped before I could answer it.

The scam is, you call them back, and then it costs

Landline: 5p to 13p per minute
Mobile:    20p to 40p per minute

Ladysolly got one of these yesterday, she didn't call it back, of course. So obviously there's a scammer out there looking for mugs.

Halloween scary story

A scary story for Halloween.

This happened about 22 years ago, and it's one of the scariest things that a computer ever did to me.

I was working in the Virus Lab, which was actually a small bedroom being used as an office, with strict rules about what could leave the room. I was working late at night, which I often did, partly because that's a good time for being able to concentrate free of distractions, and partly because there was just so much work to do. To maintain Findvirus, I had to replicate each file that came in as a possible virus (a large number of "suspicious files" weren't viruses, and I even wrote a program called "dustbin" to recognise the checksum of files that I'd already checked and decided weren't viruses). Then after replicating it, and getting it to infect several of my standard, very simple "sacrificial goat" files, I could then disassemble the goat file, knowing that everything I saw there was part of the virus, and not part of some complex host program.

I used two computers (at least). One was for actually running the virus, this was the "goat" computer, called "Dobbin", and the other was my programming machine, used for disassembly of the virus and for writing the Virtran (virus transaction language) that would describe how to find the virus, what to look for and exactly where, the checksum of the static code to do an exact identification (which is necessary before attempting a repair) and then the steps necessary to strip the virus out of the infected file and restore it to how it was before it got infected. I also had a computer used for timing tests, so that I could check that Findvirus was still twice as fast as the nearest competitor.

So I'd got the virus to infect the goat files on Dobbin, and I copied the goats onto a floppy (no network in the virus lab) and started work on the disassembly, which is best done with complete concentration.

Suddenly, I started hearing this music. I nearly jumped out of my skin. It was coming from Dobbin, being played via the little speaker that was what all computers had, used for making the beep noise, but you could also play music through it (but not very well).

It was, of course, the virus that I'd left running on Dobbin. It was several minutes before I could calm down enough to get back to work.

Critical thinking

I've been asked to give a talk at a school to age 15+ pupils, and I'm wondering if a talk on critical thinking would be a good one. I'm not sure that it gets taught. How could you teach critical thinking at a faith school?

Critical thinking is, of course, pretty much the opposite of faith. If you take things on  faith, you don't need to think about them at all, let alone critically. But how do you do critical thinking? There's probably several ways, and several theories. Here's mine.

I start off with Bayes theorem, and evidence.

That tells you how you should modify your beliefs in the light of new evidence. And, of course, it was the major subject of my PhD Thesis. So I'll  talk about my PhD a bit.

It started 30+ years ago. I had a discussion with a colleague, about the difference between my forecasts for the current year, and his. His view was that his forecast for the year had to be better than mine, because it was based on some months of actual data for the first few months of the year. My view was that the monthly statistics were much less accurate than the annual stats, because of how they were collected. And that meant that a forecast based on annual numbers, could be better.

But I thought about that, and wanted to quantify it, and that led me to Bayes theorem, and how Bayes could be used for the estimation of economic parameters. I devised a methodology called "Recursive Bayesian Estimation" (RBE), which I generalised to multiple variables, and it was a whole new thing.

Until I discovered that electrical engineers had something called the Kalman Filter, invented a few years previously, and which turned out to be mathematically equivalent to RBE. A big disappointment for me, but because I was the first to apply this method to economics, I still got my PhD.

Anyway. RBE is all about how you combine your previous belief about something (such as, the price elasticity of beer) with fresh information about it, to give a new best belief. And you do it by weighting how good your previous estimate was, and how good your fresh information is.


When you read in the newspaper "The tooth fairy left John Campbell a pound under his pillow", you take your previous belief about the tooth fairy and weight that, you take the new information and weight that with how accurate it's likely to be, and you wind up with a new belief. In this case, you probably end up continuing to disbelieve in the tooth fairy. However, if the new information were better than "read it in the newspaper", but instead "saw her flutter in and put the coin in place", then the weighting is different, and maybe you do start to believe in the tooth fairy. Or maybe your previous certainty was so strong that you disbelieve the evidence of your own eyes - maybe you had a brain fart? One of the things I've learned from geocaching, is that your eyes usually see what you expect to see, not what is actually there.

By the way, can you prove that the tooth fairy doesn't exist? I don't think you can. All you can do is ascribe a very low probability to her existence. Or his.

As a general rule, I always take what I read in the newspapers (or any other "news" source) with a large helping of scepticism, because when they cover an area I actually know about, they get things badly, sometimes hilariously, wrong.

So far, non controversial. But then we apply that to the real world.

Take, for example, the Mormon religion. This was discovered (invented? Revealed?) by Joseph Smith. The big problem here, is that he was convicted of fraud. So I take my prior belief that people can be visited by an angel and given a set of gold plates of revelation (which is pretty much equivalent to being visited by the tooth fairy and being left a pound), and my weighting of the word of a fraudster, and wind up with a very low probability that Mormons have got it right.

Take, for example, Scientology. It's a religion (some say it's a cult) invented by L Ron Hubbard. I won't explain the full set of beliefs, but ... 75 million years ago Xenu brought billions of people to Earth in spacecraft resembling Douglas DC-8 airliners, stacked them around volcanoes and detonated hydrogen bombs in the volcanoes. The thetans then clustered together, stuck to the bodies of the living, and continue to do this today. I find it hard to take this seriously.

Discussing Mormonism and Scientology probably won't get me lynched. But what about the more mainstream religions? Jehovahs Witnesses have repeatedly forecast the end of the world, giving specific dates. So far, wrongly. Good evidence that they don't have it right. And hewre's a quote from the October 2014 edition of "Awake!", given to me free by a nice lady in Victoria. "Did the structure of the horse's legs come about by evolution? Or was it designed?" That's an easy one - evolution.

I probably don't need to cover Jupiter, Jove, Zeus, Athena, Odin, Thor, Mithras and all the other zillions of obsolete gods - I wonder what happens to a god that becomes obsolete?

Many American Christians believe that the world was created only 6000-odd years ago, and evolution is rubbish. It's hard to keep a straight face.

But then we come to mainstream Christianity. There's lots I could say without offending the audience. For example, what's more likely, a miracle whereby a woman gets pregnant by God, or a pregnant jewish girl told a lie? I once went caching with an ex-vicar. He told me that he'd lost his faith a long time ago, and he felt that he was making a living out of telling lies to people. It was a major effort for him to leave the church, though, because he lost his job, his home and his friends. He's a driving instructor now.

The reason that discussing mainstream Christianity probably won't offend the audience, is that this is a faith school, and the faith is Judaism. So what can I say about that? I think all I can say is, for everything in your life you should apply critical thinking, but in the matter of the jewish faith, just think what you're told to think.

And I'll try to keep a straight face.