Sunday 29 June 2014

Caching and cake

For some reason, geocaching and cake seem to go together. And so it was that ladysolly and I beetled down to the woods near Wendover to attend the Cacke Race Caching event.

I had a fair amount of cake, and caught up on the latest geocaching gossip - who is bragus with who, and who is having health problems - we're all getting older.

Then ladysolly and I did a few local geocaches; eight altogether.

Saturday 28 June 2014

The situation with bike.2

I was right. Something had gone badly wrong inside the motor.

It was wet today, so we didn't go out caching, which gave me some time to have some fun fixing the bike.

First, I used my ebike diagnoser to check that the hall sensors worked and the windings were good; yes, everything was OK. Then I took the motor apart, and the problem was immediately obvious. It looked a bit like this and it should look like this.

It's a sun-and-planet gear, a neat system. It means that the motor can turn a lot faster than the wheel, thereby giving me good torque at low speeds. And the metal part behind the gear wheels is a clutch, so that if I pedal the bike, I'm not trying to turn the motor.

As it happened, I had a spare, I got it from Whoosh Bikes a few months ago, so I took out the old wrecked part, and put in the replacement. Or at least, I tried to. It wouldn't go in. It looked very similar, and it almost fitted, but not quite. I gave it an hour or so, and then I gave up.

The reason I gave up so easily, is that I've ordered a replacement motor already, from germanladen, and that's already been dispatched, and as it's only coming from Portsmouth, it should be with me next week.

My plan is to take off the tire and tube they provide, and put on one of my thick-wall tubes, a gel liner, and a kevlar tire; in my experience, that combinati0n stops me getting punctures. Then I'll install the new wheel; I'll try it with the controller that they provide, but I'll probably switch over to the Infineon controller that I rather like, and which was driving bike.2 until the motor problem.

 ...later ...

OK, I see why the replacement gear wouldn't go on. The gear wheels have 36 teeth, and the old ones had 28 teeth. So I've emailed a couple of possible suppliers to see if they can help. I'd guess I'm looking at around £10 to repair this motor; if it were a lot more than that, it wouldn't be worth repairing, as a new motor is only £50 to £100

Weight report 81

15 stone, 6 pounds. Yay!

Friday 27 June 2014

A spot

There's a spot on my leg that decided to start oozing blood several months ago, and it only stopped when I put a plaster on it. Then it didn't heal up properly. I've been waiting since then for it to sort itself out, as these things usually do, but eventually I decided to show it to my GP.

I didn't like the look of what I saw when I removed the plaster. Here's a tip - don't put a plaster on and then leave it in place for weeks. My skin had disliked the plaster, and now as well as the spot, I had an area that looked pretty bad.

The GP looked at it carefully, said that it's probably OK, but wanted to refer me to a dermatologist at Amersham Hospital. She also gave me some ointment for the problem I'd caused with the plaster, and that's looking OK now.

I went to Amersham today, and the dermatologist examined it carefully, and asked me about its history, which I have to admit I was a bit vague about, and then she said that it's probably OK, but she'd like to take a biopsy and microscope it.


That will involve a local anesthetic and a sharp knife. I'll have to go off Warfarin for a couple of days, and then I'll have to get tested so I can prove that I'm not going to bleed bucketfulls when the slice a bit off me.

It's all very unpleasant, and I can envisage two days that I won't be able to cache; one for the blood test and one for the unkind cut.

Meanwhile, instead of protecting it with a plaster, I'm using a piece of gauze, and a light bandage to hold the gauze in place.

New wheel

Bike.1 has an intermittent problem with the motor, and I'm still waiting for a new controller to help diagnose it.

Bike.2 - the motor makes a grinding noise, and I need to open up the motor to see what's wrong. It sounds really bad.

Bike.3 is working fine. I've just added a voltmeter to is, and a centerstand. But it's sensorless, which means that the motor doesn't work until I'm moving forward slightly. That wouldn't be a problem for cruising, but when geocaching, it's all stops and starts.

Bike.4 is the Synergie, 20 inch wheels. It's OK for caching, but not great.

Bike.5 is the Downtube; the motor overheats when I use it for several hours.


I've decided to replace the motor on bike.2, and I've ordered a 48 volt motor frmo Germanladen. From what I can fathom, this is a warehouse in Portsmouth with a hyperspace link to China. Maybe not hyperspace, maybe they just stuff loads of stuff into a container and ship it. They sell such a huge variety of stuff, I doubt if they have any ebike expertise. But I don't think I need that.

The kit includes a 26 inch wheel, with inner tube and tire. I'll be taking off their tube and tire, and putting on my own very heavy-duty inner tube, line and tire, so protect against punctures. It includes a controller (but I might use my own, because I like the way the Infineon works). Plus a disc brake, ebrakes, a thumb throttle, pedelec sensor (which I don't use) and a few miscellaneous bits.

The toughest decision was whether to go for 36 volts or 48. All my existing bikes are 24 volts, but the modular way I use batteries means that I can cope with 36 or 48 volts. I read some web pages on whether 36 or 48 is better, but most of them seem to think that 48 volts gives you more torque, which is obviously wrong. On the same wheel, 48 volts will give you more torque than 36, but if the wheel is designed for 36 volts, that can have as much torque as a wheel designed for 48.

I suspect, though, that Germanladen are selling the same motor as either 36 or 48, and the difference is in the controller; maybe even in software in the controller.

There is one clear advantage, and one clear disadvantage. This is more obvious if you compare 24 and 48 volts. If you're running 250 watts of power, then 24 volts needs 10 amps, whereas 48 volts needs only 5. So you get less losses in the wiring (but the losses are very low anyway). The disadvantage of 48 volts, is that if you put your fingers on the terminals of a 24 volt battery, you won't feel anything; with 48 volts, you'll feel a tingle at least. Maybe more, it depends on the individual, because some people are more conductive than others. But 48 volts isn't actually dangerous; the fact that it's DC (not AC) helps. And I've made a spark suppressor, so that when I plug the battery in, there isn't a big blue spark.

So I decided to go for 48 volts, although I will also try it out at 36. For 36 volts, I'll use 10 cells in series (two 4s and a 2s), giving 37 volts nominal, 42 volts freshly charged. For 48 volts, I'll use 14 cells in series (three 4s and a 2s), giving 52 volts nominal, 59 volts freshly charged.

The kit cost me £179, which is a very good price if it works as advertised. It's even good value if I only use the wheel, and not the other stuff. And because it comes from Portsmouth, the shipping is free and I won't have to pay import duty or VAT.

Thursday 26 June 2014


A guy bites someone, and the only result is that he can't play football for four months?

There should be a prosecution for assault. This isn't a kick on the leg that might or might not be accidental.

Much biking in Market Deeping

Out today to Market Deeping. When I arrived, I discovered that, although I'd updated my database, I'd forgotten to update my PDA. As a result, the first circuit that I'd planned, wasn't on the device, so I couldn't do it.

Never mind, there's plenty more round here, so I went on to the second circuit.

I got the bike out, and found that my repairs of yesterday had caused a couple of problems. The back rack, which is a very complicated assembly of rods and bolts, came apart, because I'd neglected to tighten one of the bolts. I fixed that using my bike multitool, and then I found that the rack was touching the rear tire. To be exact, there's a plate that goes downward from the rack, which is supposed to be used for rear lights, and that was touching the tire. I fixed it by the simple expedient of grabbing it and bending it out of the way. And then I was able to set off.

After I did that second circuit, I rode into town and grabbed whatever I could find there.

I did 46 caches today, but had a large number of DNFs.

One of the caches that I did find, could only be accessed by crossing a sea of nettles. This is what that looked like:

On the other side of the sea of nettles, you can see my bike, lying down while I got the cache.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

1000 posts

This is post number one thousand.

This blog is ereally a diary of interesting things that happen to me, and miscellaneous thoughts that occur to me. I have several followers now, and my account of the tech support scam was very popular.

A nice bike ride

I did the series "Burnt-up bike ride", on bike.3. I found a few problems.

1) I couldn't use the top gear, because the back rack fouled the chain. I've fixed that.
2) The speedometer didn't work, I'll explain why below, I've fixed that.
3) The layout of the handlebars wasn't quite right, so I've reorganised things.
4) Because there's no Hall sensors, the bike only knows where the wheel is when it's moving. That means that I can't give it power from a standing start, I have to be moving a bit before I can apply throttle. Because in geocaching I'm stopping and starting a lot, that's a real problem

The biggest problem was that I fell off. It wasn't the bike's fault, nor was it my fault, really. I was biking (slowly) along a very overgrown track, and the front wheel dropped into a big, big hole. The bike, of course, stopped abruptly, but I didn't. I continued on, over the handlebars and wound up with the bike on top of me. It all happened so fast, I'm not really sure how come I ended up under the bike, having started on top.

The saddlebag was also thrown (the batteries are in there, so that could nave been a big problem). But I put the batteries in a hard plastic case so a bump shouldn't damage them, and when the saddlebag parted company with the bike, the power plug came neatly undone, so all I had to do was put the bag back on, and reconnect the power cable. Also,, the speedo cable broke.

The good news is that I wasn't hurt. I got up, picked up the bike, and continued along that track, but now walking the bike. I'd feel such a fool if the same thing happened again!

So, overall, the bike worked well enough. But I'm missing the ability to use the throttle on start-up.

After that series, I rode around the area picking up more caches, then in to Whittlesey to clean up the town.

47 caches done, one DNF.

Tuesday 24 June 2014

The bike situation

Bike.1  (a 26 inch wheel Haro) is giving an (very) intermittent problem, which I think might be a loose connection on one of the Halls. I've ordered a sensorless controller; when that arrives, I'll fit it, and if that cures the problem, great.

Bike.2 is the other Haro. I was going to take it out tomorrow, but after I'd installed a voltmeter, and a cable shield (to protect the wiring as it enters the motor), I took it out for a test. And towards the end of that test, it was running very roughly. I think something is wrong inside the motor.

Bike.3 is an Everest folder 26" wheel, which I converted to electric. It uses a sensorless motor, which means that it's not good at starting from stationary, but it's OK if I kick off a bit.

Bike.4 is the old Synergie, which I stopped using after the bottom bracket became very worn. But I was able to replace it, and now it's working. But it has a 20 inch wheel, which isn't as good as 26 on rough ground. It needs a speedometer, but that's easy to fit. The controller doesn't like running on 8s unless they're newly charged, so it'll have to be run on 10s.

Bike.5 is the downtube, a brushed motor. It's the lightest bike, and has a very handy center stand, but when I run it, the motor gets hot after a while. And when it's hot, it runs *very* roughly. So I can use it for caching, but it isn't ideal.

Bike.6 is the Forza. It's non-folding, so not too good for caching.But otherwise, it's a great bike, and I use it for local trips.

So after thinking about all these for a while, I've come to the following conclusions.

1. I'll use bike.3 for caching, for now.

2. I need to buy a new motor.

Tomorrow I'm going near Peterborough; there's a circuit called "Burnt up bike ride" which I can't resist, and then I'll go into Wittlesey and environs, and mop up what I can find there.

... later ...

I've rummaged around the internet a bit, and I think I might get a Mac motor from em3ev, which I can get in a 12-T winding. That means, less speed, but more torque. Which means that my top speed will be 15 mph, and I'm OK with that, but it'll be very good at helping me get up steep hills, or across rough ground that's also uphill, a very common situation. It's looking like around £210, plus £55 shipping. Or there's a company in Portsmouth that can supply a similar wheel, for £180, including shipping. But they don't tell you anything about the winding, and I suspect that, unlike em3ev, they don't actually know anything about what they're selling.

Some thought is required ...

Monday 23 June 2014


Now that I've taken bike.5 out caching, I don't think I can use it. With 8s (29.6 volts nominal, 33.6 newly charged) the motor overheated. So for the second circuit, I used 6s (22.2 volts nominal, 25.2 when newly charged). And even that led to overheating. And the overheating was such that the motor was too hot to comfortably touch. The main symptom is a grinding noise and a reluctance to run. The problem seems to only be there while the motor is hot, so I don't think I've wrecked anything. Still, not suitable for caching.

So I thought again, and I've decided to use bike.2, which is a Haro 26 inch folder just like bike.1. I've added a voltmeter, made the wiring neat and tidy with plastic curly-wurly. Tomorrow I'll add a second torque arm to the motor wheel, and I'll make a metal bracket to protect where the wires enter the wheel against being knocked. I'm also going to install a thermometer with a readout on the handlebars, so that I can see the motor temperature as I'm going along. I'm hoping to get this finished tomorrow (the field of rape has left me too worn out to go out tomorrow) and tested.

Sawtry and Grafham

I took bike.5 out today, and it was not a success. It has 20 inch wheels, and 26 inch is definitely better over rough ground. And it has no rear suspension, another disadvantage over rough ground.

But the biggest ptoblem, was that the motor overheated. Running it at 8s (29.6 volts nominally, actually 33.6 when fully charged), the controller let the motor have as much current as it wanted, and as a result, it overheated. I put my hand on it, and it was too hot to keep my hand there.

This led to a grinding noise; I think it's the clutch inside the motor. When it cooled off, the noise went too. But I think this rules it out as a caching bike.

So I had another think, and I'll tell you what I've come up with later - see next blog.

The caching was good, but with some exceptions, I went round the Woodwalton Whichway. My first mistake was to lift the bike over a stile without removing the battery pack. My reasoning was that this bike is a lot lighter than bike.1, my usual bike, and even with the batteries, it would still be lighter than bike.1. But the battery pack makes it a very unbalanced lift, and I nearly strained my back. I think I got away with it, though. I'll see how it feels tomorrow.

The biggest problem with the circuit, came between caches 13 and 14. The track went through a field of rape, and at this time of year, it's fully grown and in seed. The track was very overgrown with the plants, and they're very tough to get a bike through, because the stalks grab the bike and won't let go. It took me ages to get through that lot!

After I finished the circuit, I went to pick up some drive-bys, including "Alconbury Amble #1". I've had four goes at this already, and this fifth go was another failure. Grrr!

Then to Grafham, where I started off with two DNFs, but then things got a lot better, and I finished the day with 47 finds and three DNFs.

Saturday 21 June 2014

Bike problem

Bike.1, my usual bike, has a loose hall connection, and I'm reluctant to keep using it because if the intermittent problem that can be fixed by wiggling the wire, becomes a more permanent issue, I could be stuck in the middle of a circuit with an unpowered bike, which isn't a disaster, but it would be annoying.

I have five other bikes I could use instead while I fix it, and I wonder which one I'll use?

Bike.2, also a Haro, weighs 52 pounds.

Bike.3, the Everest, running a brushless motor with no halls (which should, theoretically, make it slightly sticky to get started after a halt), 51 pounds.

Bike.4, the green 20-inch wheel Synergie, running a 6 Fet 3077 and therefore needing 10s battery, 47 pounds.

Bike.5, the silver 20-inch wheel Downtube, with Sturmey-Archer gears (which means you can't change gear while pedalling, but you can change gear while stationary), with a two-leg stand (a big plus, because with a one-leg stand, a bike isn't stable enough to be left standing on rough and/or soft ground, so if I can't lean it against something while stopped, I have to lay it down ... which also means I have to lift it up, and those 50-pounds bikes aren't light! The motor is a brushed motor; just two power wires and no halls needed, 43 pounds. People tell me that a brushed motor isn't as good as brushless, but the main reason seems to be that one day the brushes will need to be replaced, which won't be easy.

Bike.6, the Forza. This is the only non-folder, so it's not convenient for caching because A) I'd have to carry it on the car in a bike rack, not inside, and B) it'll have to be lifted over metal kissing gates whereas the folders can just be folded through. 49 pounds

So, on the whole, I think bike.5 will be the choice. I'll give it a quick run today, to check that it's good to go.

The dollar is cheap

I haven't seen this mentioned in the newspapers, or other media, but the dollar is looking very low right now. You can get $1.70 for £1, and I remember, quite recently, you could only get $1.50.

I don't know what's caused this, but it has an effect on me.

Most of my business revenue is in dollars, so it means I'm getting a bit less revenue. Most of my business expenses are in pounds, so it doesn't balance out.

Weight report 80

15 stone, 7 pounds. It's a while since I've been that low, so that's good.

Friday 20 June 2014

Two rings and some oddments

The first ring I did today was "Cromwell's Manor and back", plus a church micro multi. The second was "Fotheringhay Foxtrot". That added up to 55 caches, and the oddments took me to 69 caches. Not bad, considering I also went out yesterday, and didn't take my usual day of recovery.

But there's a problem with the bike. This is bike.2. The problem is that one of the hall wires has a loose connection. The halls tell the controller the attitude of the wheel, so tat the controller knows which coils to energise to pull the wheel round a step. With one hall diconnected, it's only energising 2/3 of the motor. When I wiggle the wires as they go nito the motor, I can get a good connection, but it's worrying, and I really need to dismantle that motor and make a good connection.

The trouble is, I can't see how to take this motor apart.

Thursday 19 June 2014

A bit of a problem for the scammers

I reported the code numbers that they were using at

I got an encouraging email back from I think the scammers will need to set up new numbers now. I also suggested that look carefully at the IP address that they come from, and block their IP range. Of course, they could always use a proxy, but anything that makes it more difficult for them has to be good.

I wasn't in today, I was out caching. So I don't know if they phoned. And I won't be in tomorrow either, also caching. Which is a pity, because I've worked out a wonderful story for them next time. I do hope they call back.

Where was I on Thursday and Friday? I was at the hospital. See, it's really important to me that this computer works properly. Life and death. Literally. because this computer controls my  kidney dialysis machine which I have to use because on my Type Four diabetes, and if anything goes wrong with this computer ... excuse me ... I'll be alright in a minute, just give me a moment to settle down, no I'm not actually crying, really I'm not ... <<sound of blowing nose>> OK, I'm OK now, it's just that life is so difficult since they had to amputate my foot ... can we proceed with you sorting out my computer now?

And if they're willing to go on installing their malware after that sob story, then they're not nice people.

Two circuits near Keysoe

Again, I went north. This time I did "Keysoe Klip lock" and "Pertenhall pocket query". 46 caches done today, and while I was out I saw this, next to the bridleway.

Looking at the inscriptions, I think they're all dogs.

I got home very early; I just couldn't see any more caches to do near where I was! So I'll be going out again tomorrow.

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Cold call from Home Appliance Guard

As you might expect, I'm registered with the Telephone Preference Service, and have been for years. This should mean that I don't get cold sales calls. It's a free service. Once you're registered "telemarketers are legally bound not to call you".

Karl called, from "Home Appliance Guard". He explained that my Panasonic TV, at 87, Hallburn Gardens, Windsor, is now out of guarantee, and would I like to purchase an ongoing contract?

As we all know, these appliance insurance policies are a really stupid idea (from the point of view of the consumer), and a really great idea from the point of view of the insurer. It's worth insuring your house, because if that collapses, you have a real big financial problem. But if your toaster, or your TV stops working, you can get a new one really cheaply. It's not worth insuring cheap stuff. We all know that, don't we?

I guess not, otherwise people like Karl wouldn't be selling them in the expectation of making sales.

So I asked to talk to his supervisor, Kirk Litchfield, and I explained to him about the Telephone Preference Service and that he really isn't allowed to call me like this. He said that they'd bought the data from a market research company (and this is where the whole scheme falters, because it *is* legal to make market research calls, and for some reason, companies feel that because someone else made a market research call, they're entitled to make a sales call).

So I pointed out that he had completely the wrong address for me, and asked him to find out the source of their data. I explained to him that it was still their obligation to conform to the TPS. He said he'd talk to their Data Director, but couldn't make promises because Data Director has just had a baby. I checked their phone number, it's 08433 771405. Their web site gives 0800 652 6789.

So I tracked back. "Home Appliance Guard" is owned by "Tobell Insurance services" (Karl told me that, in the legally-required disclosure that he had to make to me), and that's confirmed by Google, so I googled Tobell and went to their web site.

Or rather, I didn't. Their web site is down. Never mind, Google was able to give me their phone number (020 7220 9050) and I spoke to their Mr Luke Maynard, and explained the situation. And that the authorities can take a dim view of violations. And I pointed out that they had the wrong address. And I put the cherry on top by telling him that his web site is down.

And I've made a complaint to the TPS about them.

Technical support scam part 6

Sam called again! 11.00 am.

First, he talked me through doing "shutdown -a". This time he included the
all-important space! The command should abort an ongoing shutdown, I think this
was his way to cure my computer of its annoying reboots.

Then he sent me to, and hey, the computer didn't reboot! There's a
clear warning on that page, not to give unknown people access to your computer,
but I ignored that, and clicked on "Start working with Ammyy Admin (it's free)".

Or at least, that's what I told Sam. And it started downloading the software.
Or at least, that's what I told Sam. For a long time. He kept asking me if it
had finished downloading , and I kept saying "not yet". Then I asked him how
long it should take to download, and he said "a few minutes". So I told him I'd
wait a few minutes.

And we waited.

And waited. It was stuck on three minutes.

Then he talked me through trying to download it again, but it wouldn't do that because it was already downloading.

So he guessed that I have a loose connection to the internet, and asked me to check it. And I checked it by unplugging it, and then I told him that I had. So he told me to plug it in again.

Then he told me to type into the run box, and silly me typed, and the browser couldn't find it. So he asked me to check if the power switches were all on. Heh. We did this before, let's do it again ... I turned them off.

Sam, I think, has had enough. He's passed me over to Flora Adams, a senior manager there. Hey, I've been escalated! And she told me to switch the switches back on again. So I did that. I should mention here, that these switches are quite a long way from my phone, so it's all taking a long time...

She asked me to make sure that I was connected to the internet. "How do I make sure?" I asked. "There's a white box near your computer, with green lights". So I went to have a look. "No white box here," I reported.  "Can you see if something is blinking with green colours?" So I went and had another look. "Well, there's no white box, but there is a blue box. Is that the wrong box? Maybe that's why I'm having a problem?"

"Not a problem, it's OK, you don't need that". "I'll go and switch it off, then."

She got quite aeriated. "It doesn't matter the colour, it can be white, blue or yellow. You have to switch it on again." So I went back and switched it on again.

"You know that none of the lights are on? Except a red light? On the blue box?" Flora thought that this didn't matter, and talked me through going to again. Which, of course, didn't work. And I reminded her that on the blue box, none of the lights were green.

The blue box, of course, is entirely fictitious.

So then she asked me if the internet was connected, and I said "How can I tell?" And she didn't have a suggestion, so I remembered that Sam had told me I could do that by checking my email.

When I got back from that, Flora had gone and Sam was back. So I said I wanted Flora, because, frankly, Sam, you've been trying to help me for a long time, and I know you're doing your best, but to be honest, you aren't making much progress, whereas I felt that Flora was getting somewhere ...

And I got Flora back. She's nice, I like Flora, she doesn't shout at me like Sam does sometimes. Although when she gets a frustrated, I can hear a bit of an edge in her voice.

So Flora asked me to make sure that all the wires were properly connected. And I suggested that the way to do that was to unplug them all and plug them back in again, and she agreed, so I did that.

"You've done a brilliant job," she said. "Thank you." "I think you're really intelligent," "Thank you." "What do you do for a living." "I'm a cook, No, I'm a chef. Well, I'm really a cook, but I like to call myself a chef." "What is your favourite dish?" And I cheekily said "Curry". And when she asked what recipe, I was caught in a trap of my own making, but fortunately she didn't pursue that and went straight to "How old is your computer?" "About 8 or ten years old". "That's really old" "Yes, but not as old as my typewriter." This fictitious typewriter is my alibi for all the typing noises that they can hear over the phone while my computer is supposedly rebooting or whatever. None of them have wondered why I would have a typewriter.

So she talked me through going to They give a warning "Be cautious if you receive unsolicited requests to access your computer.
Only join support sessions with people you recognize and trust." She reassured me about that, she works for Microsoft, and it's a Microsoft web site, so everything is fine.

Then she gave me a support number, so I typed in something else, clicked on "Continue" and got "invalid support key". So then she gave me another key, but I didn't erase the previous key when I typed it in, so I got "invalid support key" again. So she told me to erase the previous key and type in that second key, and again I got "invalid support key".

She passed me over to Sam. He gave me a third key, and that gave  "invalid support key". And then we lost connection. Maybe Sam hung up on me, maybe they really do have comms problems.

Flora called back immediately, so maybe it is a comms problem they have. And she talked me through going to And the computer rebooted.

So then she talked me through going to So I went to that web site (really, but using a Linux box) and she asked me what I saw, and I told her, and she asked me to click on the orange button "Start meeting." But there wasn't an orange button, just a green one "join meeting". "Click on that," she said, so I did, and up popped a box asking for a nine digit code.

"No," she said, "Click on the orange arrow." "There is no orange arrow" "Yes there is" "No, there isn't." This went on for a while, and then I said  "Would you like me to send you a screen shot, because you obviously don't believe me." And, of course, she doesn't want a screen shot because that would mean she'd have to give an email address. So we riffed on that for a while, she being sure that there should be an orange arrow, and me pointing out that there's an orange box saying "Upcoming system maintenance", and offering to send a screen shot and she asks me "Why aren't you seeing the orange arrow," and me saying, "Well, it's your web site, how would I know what's going wrong?" because they've been claiming that all these remote support sites are actually theirs.

And then she suggested that she call me back later, and it's 12:22, and she and Sam between them have now spent more than an hour.

Oh, and now I'm going to report the three code numbers that they gave me, to the "" people as being used by scammers.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

And then Liam from BT called

Well, he said he was from BT. I'll worry later about whether that's true or not. He knew my name (not difficult) and wanted to sell me broadband. I told him I 'm interested in fibre. He said he was sure that he could offer me fibre, but then he checked, and no, he can't. So I asked him when we'll be able to get broadband. He didn't know. So he put me through to Ben.

Ben wanted loads of details, so he could choose the best fiber package for me. I took control of the conversation by saying "Shouldn't we find out if fiber is avaiable first?" And, of course, it isn't. Ben suggested that I "register my interest" on their web site. Well, of course, I did that, a long time ago.

I think what that does, is give them a list they can spam when they finally get around to making it available here. What I don't think it does, is change the date when it's going to happen.

I asked to speak to the supervisor, whose name is Lois. And, of course, there was no change.

I'm seeing fiber all over the place, and I'm getting really peeved at the BT adverts extolling the virtues of superfast broadband. I don't need to be sold on the idea. All you need is to divert some of the money you're wasting on advertising, into actually making it available, and I promise I'll sign up the next day.

Technical support scam part 5

Sam called again. A glutton for punishment.

He sent me to via the run box. I reported that Explorer couldn't find it. So he said "Have you got the power on?" I said yes, otherwise I wouldn't see anything, would I? So he suggested that I switch on all the power switches, so I did that, and we tried Still no luck. So he suggested I reboot, and I did that.

Then we went to, but I typed in, silly me. And that led to a page that offered me £80 if I took their survey. Well, that sounds really good, but Sam didn't want me to do it, I don't know why. So then he talked me through going to the real, but at the point where it wanted to download their software and install it on my computer ... it rebooted. Sigh.

Sam thinks that I have a hardware problem, and since his company (which he says is Microsoft) only deals with software .... and then the phone went dead, and I thought "He's given up".

But no. He called again. "Do you have skype?" he asked. "What?" "Do you have skype?" "What's skype?" I asked. "Oh".

So then there was a long pause at his end.

And then he brought up the library idea again. And he asked me for their phone number.


Yesterday, while I was out, I got a phone call. This rang twice, then hung up. So I called the number back. Bad idea! It was an 0843 number, which means I pay heavily for the privilege of calling them. I got a recorded message, then the Minute Waltz, and then I realised what this was all about, so I hung up. The scam is, they call, you call back, and they earn a few pence per minute for as long as you're willing to hold on.

So I gave Sam that 0843 number.

He also asked for my email address, so I chose one of the spams in my mailbox, and gave him the spammer's address.

He called back quite quickly. "It's an invalid number." I guess 0843 numbers can't be called from outside the UK. Sam says he's calling from the USA. I suggested that I call them and see if it's working. He thought that was a good idea, and said he'd call me back in five minutes. So I made an imaginary call to the same number, and it worked fine.

I used Google. Sure enough, you can't call an 0843 number from outside the UK So I told Sam this. Also, realising that Sam was now using skype to talk to me, I told him that it's a very bad line, could he call me back on a better line?

So he did. And now he came up with the idea of connecting my other (imaginary) computer to the internet. Good idea, I enthused, how do I do that.

 A lesser being would have quailed at the thought of talking a rather stupid user (me) through the process of connecting a computer to the internet. But Sam is made of strong stuff. He didn't quail at all.

But then, when I asked him which wire to connect to what, he quailed. He asked me if I had a neighbour who could help. No, I don't. No good neighbours? Yes, good neighbours, but they aren't computer experts.

So then the line went bad again, so I got him to call me again. Three times.

Then I raised the idea of using the library again, but instead of him calling me at the library, which we've now discovered doesn't work, I suggested that I call him. "But," he said, "that would cost 5.5p per minute. "Well, I said, "that means if it takes ten minutes, that's only 50p".

"It would cost $10," he said. "Well, that sounds good to me. I spend $10 and I get the $105 dollars from you."  "Alright," he said, "I'll give you my number."

And then he hung up.

Conversation length - one hour.

Technical support scam part 4

They're back!

It's 1:36, his name is Sam, and he doesn't press the mic-silent key when he talks to his techie. I don't recognise the language he's using, so it isn't European.

He has a new scam. He's offering to refund me the $99 that I paid! Actually, he's offering $105. It seems that their company wasn't allowed to operate in the UK, so they have to give all the money back. But first ... I have to fill in a form.

So he sends me to www. That's the same place the other guys used, and I give Sam the same response. My computer, I tell him, just rebooted. And that, of course, is just the start of the fun.

We try, and I reboot. again, this time by typing it into the Internet Explorer box. Reboot. Then a new one. He talks me through bringing up a run box, then typing "shutdown-t"

Oops. I feel sure that he should have said "shutdown -t", he left out the space. So I tell him the Windows message "Wnidows cannot find shutdown-t". He doesn't twig that he made this mistake, so we proceed.

"You have a loose power connection" he says. Sure enough, when I tug hard on the power cable it comes loose. Result! So I reconnect it, and the computer reboots and we go to again and the computer reboots again.

 Then we do a long riff on "the internet isn't working". We cycled the power on my router, and then he asked me to check if the internet was working. "How do I do that?" I asked. "Check your email," he said.

Well, obviously, checking my email took me quite a long time, but he was ever so patient, and when I eventually got back to him, he was game for more.

So then he took me to again, but I typed a comma instead of a dot, so that didn't work. When he eventually worked out what I'd done, he talked me through doing it again, but this time I type, and we got the message that it didn't exist. So when he worked out what I'd done wrong, he told me to type in or at least that's what I thought he said, but apparently he'd meant, and when we sorted that out, the computer rebooted.

So Sam passed me over to Max.

Max sounded a lot more knowledgable, and talked me through going to, and this time it worked, or at least it worked until he asked me to click the button that downloads the ammyy software, at which point, I rebooted.

So he passed me back to Sam.

Sam asked me if I have another computer. Yes, I do. Sam is happy at this news, and asks me to switch it on. So I do. I give him a minute, and then report that it's on. So he tells me to press windows-R. So I do, but as the other computer is downstairs from the phone, this all takes a while.

So then I'm told to type "www.". So I run downstairs and do that, then back upstairs. Then "". So I run downstairs, do that, and run upstairs. "Then click on OK". So I run downstairs, do that, and run upstairs. He tells me to click on the button that installs ammyy software. I forgot to tell him that this particular imaginary computer isn't connected to the internet. I think it's time to tell him.

But he has other ideas. He's really controlling this conversation, and when I tell him that "Can't find the computer at" he wants me to make sure that all the power switches are turned on. So, of course, I run downstairs and turn them off.

So I tell him that I've just turned off all the power, and we have a little riff on whether he said "on" or "off", and he apologises if he said the wrong thing, and I apologise that it was probably me hearing him wrong. And he sends me back downstairs to turn them on.

So I do that. And then he wants me to check my email on that computer. "But I can't", I say. "Why not?" he asks. and then I drop my bombshell. "Because that computer doesn't have internet."

I hear what might well be a rude word in his language. I don't know. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he said "Bother".

"I told you to use the internet on another computer," he says. "No," I reply, " you asked me if I have another computer, and I do, you didn't say anything about the internet." And he says "Bother" again, or whatever it was.

So then we went back to using the original computer. We tried "", but that caused a reboot. And we tried "".

That popped up a red box, that said "Do not accept help from unknown callers". Wise advice. I put that to Sam, and he said that he isn't an unknown caller, he's from the "Windows technical department". "Is that part of Microsoft?" I asked. Yes it is. Definitely. Part of Microsoft. So I feel reassured. And I clicked on the button that should install the Showmypc software, and we had ourselves a reboot.

Then Sam wanted to call me back tomorrow. I wasn't keen on this, and wanted to complete it today. So I suggested that I pop down to my local library, and use their computer. "It's only five minutes away," I say, "and I can call you back from there."

I wonder how library computers are protected from this sort of scam?

No, says Sam, we can't use the library computer, and then he gave me some flannel about it being a different internet address, and he wants to call me back tomorrow.  There's a form I have to fill in.

"So to do that I need to go to your web site?" "Yes". "But every time I go to one of your web sites, my computer reboots, why is that?" Sam  doesn't know. He thinks there's something wrong with my computer.

So I tell him that there's another way I can get a refund. "What's that," he asks. "I can ask Paypal to do a refund." He doesn't sound keen on this idea, because he needs to have his form filled in.

So it's now 15:18, and he's spent  more than an hour and a half entertaining me, and he wants to call back later today.

I can't imagine why.

Monday 16 June 2014

Bedford binge

I went up to Bedford today, to see how many of the "Two birthdays" circuit I could do.

In the morning, I did 23 plus a church micro, which got me back to the car. I had lunch, swapped a used battery for a fresh one, and set off again.

On the way to the first afternoon cache, I encountered a field full of kids and parents, throwing balls around and generally having fun. So I slowed right down as I went through, about 3 mph. As I proceeded, a woman addressed me.

"This is a footpath, you have to walk your bike."

But my map shows it as a bridleway, and the sign that I passed when I turned off the road said it was a bridleway. So I enlightened her. "No, it's a bridleway." She looked a bit shocked at being contradicted. "Well anyway," she said, "as you can see, we're having an event here, so could you walk your bike?" ""That's why I'm going so slowly," I explained. "So could you walk your bike?" "It's a bridleway," I repeated.

I think if she'd started off with a polite request, rather than a demand accompanied by a lie, I might have been more cooperative. As it was, at the speed I was going (a bit less than walking speed) I felt it was perfectly safe even with the kids running around. So I continued on my bike. As I left, she apologised for lying about it being a footpath, and I graciously accepted her apology. And stayed on my bike.

I did a couple of puzzles that I'd solved, even though they took me a couple of miiles out of my way, but the terrain was good for biking, so it wasn't much of a burden.

Altogether, I did 81 caches today, and one DNF.

Sunday 15 June 2014

Another day at Coombe Hill

Out again with ladysolly, to do the caches on Coombe Hill that we didn't get to yesterday, then to Princes Risborough for a handful of Captain Jacks.

The highlight of the day was me scrambling 50 meters up a 45 degree slope while ladysolly cheered me on from the track ... and then coming down again without breaking my neck.

15 caches done today.

Yahoo! futility

"554 5.7.9: Message not accepted for policy reasons" when sending email to Yahoo"

Gee, thanks yahoo!.

For many years, I've been emailing various folks on Yahoo!, and I give as my from-address, an address, because that's what they're expecting, and where they should send any replies.

Suddenly, as of about a month ago, Yahoo! have implemented DMARC. This checks that emails really did come from the address they claimed to come from. And since my emails didn't really come from AOL, they got rejected.

"We recently changed our DMARC policy to proactively protect our users from increasing email spam that uses Yahoo users’ email addresses from other mail servers."

Well, 10/10 for trying to protect your users from spam. But I really don't think that this will do it. All it's going to do, is annoy legitimate email senders like me, that have been sending Yahoo! users email for the last 17 years, and now suddenly can't. It took me a few minutes to work out what I had to change, and a few seconds to make the change, but I think that most people caught by this, aren't going to be able to work out what to do. And Yahoo! users won't get emails that could be important.

The spammers, of course, thoroughly understand the email system, and will know immediately what to do. Duh.

The spam problem comes about because the cost of sending, transmitting and receiving spam doesn't fall on the spammer. It's borne by everyone else. So, it costs almost nothing to send a million emails, and a response rate of one in a million is good enough. And that's why you get so much spam. Indeed, about half the spam I get, I couldn't read even if I wanted to, because it's in Chinese, or Russian where I can't even understand the alphabet. Or a foreigh language where I can read it, but can't understand it.

Once you've understood the cause of the spam problem, the answer becomes obvious. If spammers had to pay, say, 0.1p for each email sent, then a million emails would cost £1000, and a one-in-a-million success rate wouldn't be enough. They'd have to target their emails a lot more carefully. Instead of me getting a torrent of Viagra offers, I'd only get emails offering useful parts for bikes.

Of course, that means that normal users have to pay too. But since I send maybe 100 emails per week, the 10p cost wouldn't cause me a problem. I'd willingly pay that to avoid  emails with subjects like "三連複がアツい♪【6月15日(日)第19回マーメイドス", "Polizza Auto? Salva un Preventivo e scopri se hai vinto 100 euro in Buoni" or even "Find the greatest solution to all your health wants".

The random response faction

I was just phone by Ipsos-Mori, and asked to do a survey. I told them that I was on the telephone preference list, so Joe explained to me that this didn't apply to people who, like him, were doing market research, it was only for sales calls. So I explained to him that I knew that, and that I was a member of the "Random response faction". He didn't ask what that meant.

He then proceeded to ask me a series of political questions, which I answered, as you might expect, in a very random manner, not reflecting any views I might actually have, but chosen at random from his options.

After several minutes of this, I felt that he'd got to the end of his script, so I reminded him that I had told him that I was a member of the "Random response faction" and ask if he knew what it implied. He didn't. So I explained it to him.

There was a short silence, and then he asked if they could contact me again for any future research, and I said that they could, but expressed surprise that any market researcher would actually want to contact a member of the "Random response faction".

He gave me the number of Ipsos-Mori and f the Market Research Association, so that I can explain to them about the "Random response faction" and the best way to avoid encountering us.

All you have to do, is respect the telephone preference list.

Saturday 14 June 2014

A day at Coombe Hill

Out today with ladysolly, for a walk around Coombe Hill. We've been caching there a few times before, so most of the caches in the area are already done, but there were a dozen that we could pick up.

But after walking round seven, ladysolly was so exhausted that we went back to the car and home.

I say hacker, you say maker

There was a time when "hacker" was a compliment.It meant someone who could make a computer do really neat things, and I've always thought of my self as a hacker.

But then the word got hijacked by the media, and despite efforts to reclaim it, it has now come to mean "someone who does illegal things with computers".

The language evolves. Ten items or less. Thankyou for that. Cool.

But now there's a new word, "maker". A maker is, obviously, someone who makes things. Especially, someone who makes really neat things. And those things can be physical objects (hardware) or non-physical (software).

I'm a maker. I like making things. I like repairing things, much to the chagrin of ladysolly, who thinks I should throw out a rusty old bycycle, not convert it into a shiny new electric bike.

Jerome K Jerome said that you can either ride a bike, or fix it. Trying to do both with the same machine is a recipe for disaster. So I tend to do as little as possible to the bike that I actually take out and ride. But tI think that the art of bike repair has come on a lot since his day - I don't even know what a screw-hammer is.

Thursday 12 June 2014

A long circuit

Today I went north again, to do "Uffingdon and back", which is a circuit of 56 caches; I did an extra four along the way, a total of 61.

I couldn't see an easy way to divide it into two segments; I'd have to do the whole big circuit in one bite. That meant a bit of planning. I prefer to have only one bike pannier, because it means that I can lay the bike down on the side that's pannier-less; it also makes it slightly easier to get over obstacles (only one bag to carry).

So I packed four of my usual 5AH batteries, but I thought that might not be enough, so I also packed two of my new 4AH batteries. And I took two bottles of water, because on a hot day like this, I'll need it.

So I set off. The track was dry mostly, which is good for biking over. Soon after I started, I encountered two nano caches (hint: behind lamppost) that had been DNFed by previous cachers, and it looked like the cache had gone (there's only one place you can hide a cache behind a lamppost), so I replaced those.

The circuit route then took me down a track that wasn't a public right of way, according to my map. That made me a bit uncomfortable, but I didn't encounter any angry farmers. Then I was back on mapped tracks, I carried on to Barholm, then Greatford, where I did a minor diversion to pick up a phone box cache ... except that Anglian Water had the road up, and no vehicles could get through. Except bikes. And on the way back, the workmen stopped their activities so I could pass through safely.

Then on to an ancient multi "Definitely borderline 1". I'd had a look at this on the web site, because I do like doing ancient caches, and it looked like I wouldn't be able to do it. The previous cacher had failed to find the micro that starts you off, and the cacher before that had been unable to find the info for the northing. But the track was a good one, and I was on the bike, so I thought, wotthehell, and biked the 400 yards to the micro. I was surprised at how easily I found it. It wasn't under the first tree I checked, but it was very obvious under the second tree. So then on to pick up the information. I got to the railway bridge, and it tells you to count the 30mm bolts. I had a look at that bridge, and there seemed to be hundreds of them! Then I realised that most of what I was looking at, were rivets. That still left an awful lot, but then I realised that most of the bolts were much smaller than 30mm. So I got the info that gave me the westings, but I need the northings. I remembered something I'd seen on the way to the bridge, and I went back and had a more careful look, and there it was! So now I had the coordinates, it was just a matter of cycling about a kilometer, which I did, and then the cache was an easy find. It hasn't been found for a year; maybe people will go look for it now that I've shown that it's still viable.

65 caches done today, and I only used three of the 5AH batteries.

And quite a bit of sneezing. It's that time of year.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

A big day out.

Today, I was busy. I did the 31-cache "Ryhall and back" circuit, but first I did a few Gwash micros (that's the river around  here) and some Belmesthorpe Railway caches. I followed the circuit to Stamford, then I diverted and did a few of the Stamford caches that I haven't done yet. Stamford is now all cached out.

And then I did half of the "Another Stamford Saunter" before getting back to the "Ryhall and back" circuit (and I picked up a few more on the way). By the time I got back to the car for lunch (3:30),those 31 caches had become 45.

So after lunch, I did another ring, the 17-cache "Ryhall Heath and back" circuit. By the time I got back to the car at the end of the day, I had done 68 caches, no DNFs.

As I neared the end of the last ring, I saw this.

A stone bench, engraved "Joe's corner". There's a story behind that, and I wish I knew what it was.

On the way home, I used the heated car seat to try to help my back. I find that a long day on the bike )or on foot) has the biggest effect on my back.

Tomorrow I can rest - we're visiting daughter.1.

Monday 9 June 2014

A quickie

While I was getting my PDA ready for another outing tomorrow, I noticed a couple of puzzle caches published pretty close to me. I had a look at them, and I could see how to solve one of them straight away, so I did. And since no-one had logged it yet, I decided to pop out and possibly bag a First-to-Find.

So I drove a couple of miles, parked, locked the car ... the car wouldn't lock, and I had to slam the bonnet several times before it believed that the bonnet was closed. Then I hastened off across a field, via a footpath. The cache was an easy find, and my name was first in the log book. I haven't done a FTF for a long time!

Sunday 8 June 2014

Stamford stomp

Today, I did "Stamford and back, and while I was in Stamford, I did four multis. I got back to the car at 3:30 for a late lunch, then out on the bike again for several more caches. 45 caches found today, two DNFs.

While I was out, I saw this castle. It's either under construction, or falling down.

I used the new Hobbyking batteries for the first time today. They have a couple of minor drawbacks. One is that they're 8s, meaning 8 cells in series, meaning that if one of those 8 goes bad, the whole battery is useless. The other drawback I discovered when I went to charge it. Because the voltage had fallen to just under 28 volts, my charger thought it was a 7s, and I had to charge it up a bit before it would accept that it's an 8s.

Saturday 7 June 2014

You had an accident ...

Phone call started at 5:24. I wonder how long he'll hang on ... I'm telling him I need to look for the name of the insurance company ... 5:30 ... 5:33, "Oh I forgot what it was you wanted me to find?" "The name of the insurance company." "Oh yes, please hang on ..."

5:35 "Sorry, I can't find it, is it important?" "No, not at all. What's the registration?" "KV08WZP" "Volkswagen, silver, right?" He's obviously looked up my fictitious registration number. "Right?" "What side of the car was hit?" The left" "Yes" "And your name is?" "Allen Sullivan", which isn't quite my name. And I spelled it out to him. It's an easy mistake to make.

"You are going to receive two to three thousand pounds". "Oh, I see."  "Date of birth?" "14 September 1949" "You sound so young," he said. "Thank you, I said. "Are you retired then?" "No." "Occupation?" "Policeman". All a fiction. Hey, he's lying to me, I can lie to him.

I thought that would put him off, but it didn't. "What was the date of the accident?" "I'll need to look it up, can you hang on?" 5:41, I'll give him a bit of a wait now ...

5:47 "Which accident are you talking about, I've had more than one." "More than one?" "Yes". "June 2013," he said. "OK, can you hold on, I'll go and check ..."

5:52 "It wasn't in June, could your information be wrong?" "Yes, the report is a bit vague" I'll say it is. and he suggested that I find out the date. "OK, I will, hold on ..."

5:59 I think he hung up.

6:04, He called back. I told him it was in August.

Then we spoke about addresses. I told him 74, Chartridge Lane, Chesham HP5 2RG, another fiction. So then he told me that the medical experts have analysed my accident, and that this is enough to cause some aches and pains in my neck and back. And that I deserve £300 or £2000 because of the aches and pains. So I told him that I didn't have any aches or pains.

And then he started giving me the same line. After a few minutes, I asked him to say it again, only slowly please, Imram. And he wants me to confirm that I sustained some pain. No, I didn't. So he said that I might feel some pain in future.

Well, maybe. I can't say that I won't feel any pain in future. "So are you feeling any pains right now?" "No." Which isn't what he wants to hear, of course.

6:15. He gave me assurance that the paperwork will be sent to me, which is unlikely, since he has the wrong name and the wrong address. And we parted good friends.

So here's the scam. He wants me to pretend that a minor bump, at 5mph, while I was parked, has led me to feeling on-and-off pain ever since, and that if I take an oath to this lie, I'll get £3000.

No wonder insurance premiums are so high.

Dawkins and the Santa lie

There's an interesting debate going on in (of course) the USA. Is it right to lie to your children about the existence of Santa Claus?

First, let's dispose of some other arguments. Should we tell children stories about a princess kissing a frog and the frog turning into a prince? Yes. Because they know it's just a story, and stories are not supposed to be true, they're supposed to be entertaining, and maybe a bit edifying.

So I disagree with Dawkins and "There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable". Well, duh. I read a lot of fairytale books when I was young, and I don't think I ever thought it actually happened that a frog turned into a prince. It was a *story*. I could tell the difference. I also used to make up stories for my kid sister; we both knew that they were stories.

No - Santa Claus is different. Some parents tell their kids that it's no story, it's real. And that, of course, is lying. Lying is different from telling a story. So, should parents lie to their children and this?

For me, the key argument can be found on one of the Christian web sites. This points out that eventually, the children find out that they've been lied to, Santa doesn't exist. And that this "must damage their ability to have faith in the one true God who really does exist".

Here's another web site  "If you lie to your children about Santa, why should they believe you about JESUS ???? GUESS WHAT? THEY DON'T! " 

And here " If we lie to our children about Santa then how are they to know we aren't lying about Jesus?"

For me, that' a very strong argument in favour of the "Santa lie."

The children find out that grown-ups make up imaginary friends, and then lie to their children about their existence. The web sites rightly point out, that discovering that Santa doesn't exist despite parental assurances, can lead to discovering that the parent's god doesn't exist, despite parental assurances.

And that, obviously, is a good thing. Children shouldn't follow their parents' religion just because they say so.

So I think it's a good thing for parents to lie to their children about Santa. It teaches them a valuable lesson.

So what did we do with our kids? We made them a Christmas, but it was more like the original meaning of Christmas, before the Christians got their hands on it. It was a celebration of the middle of winter, the time when days start to get longer, and spring can't be far away. It was a day of feasting (meaning, over-eating), mince pies and chocolate. It was a day of presents, and a decorated tree, in the finest Druid tradition. And Santa brought the presents, carried by Rudolf and the other reindeer, and they put out the traditional sherry for Santa, and a mince pie for the reindeer. And ladysolly and I crept into their room at night and filled the stockings.

And on Christmas morning, daughter.2 dressed up as the Christmas Elf, and we sat round and opened our presents. And I can guarantee you that none of us thought that she really was an elf. It was all make-believe, and we enjoyed it a lot.

PPI again

Just when you thought it was safe to start reading your emails, just when you thought that the big "Have you been mis-sold PPI" telephone calls are over - it's back.

There's another £1 billion to claim. The tossers who kept calling me to ask me to claim  PPI compensation must be salivating, and digging out their old lists of phone numbers and email addresses. Brace yourselves.

I do remember, a very long time ago (about 40 years, I think) when I took out a mortgage, I was offered PPI insurance by (I think) the Building Society. Or it might have been the company that sold the with-profits insurance policy that I used to pay off the loan. Anyway. I read what they were offering, and it seemed to me to be something that wasn't worth the cost. I can't remember exactly why I decided against it.

Friday 6 June 2014

A day of soldering

My big parcel from Hobbyking arrived today. Hurrah! Lots of new batteries, another charger (now I have five) and some bits and pieces.

One of my existing 4S batteries, is completely refusing to respond, so I'm glad that I ordered a 4s to replace it. But the main order was four 8s batteries. 8s means 30 volts; one of these little fellows is all I need to power my bike. It's 4 amp-hours, and only 820 grams (what I'm currently using is 5 AH, and 1050 grams).

As soon as I saw those 8s batteries, I could see a problem. They have a main power lead, like the 4s ones, but the balance port isn't an 8s cable, it's two 4s cables. So I contacted Hobbyking to ask how I was supposed to charge this up. They said that I needed an XH multi-pack balance board, which costs only £2.53. But the important thing was, they didn't have any. Not in their UK warehouse, and not in their Chinese warehouse. And if I asked them when they would be available, they wouldn't know (optionally, they would pretend that they did know and give me a date, and be really apologetic when that didn't happen). So now I have four 8s batteries, and no way to charge them.

And that's where my trusty soldering iron came in. I had some 8s extension cables. I cut one of them in half, and I cut two 4s cables in half, and soldered the two 4s pieces to the 8s piece. That's not as simple as it sounds; you have to connect the correct wires on each side, otherwise when you plug it into the battery, there's a bang and a cloud of smoke as 100 amps tries to rush across a wire thick enough for five amps. I won't explain here how the wiring goes, but if anyone needs to know, email me.

So I soldered it up, and also made an adaptor to convert the 4mm bullets that the battery comes with, to an EC5 which is my preferred power connector, and then I plugged it all in, and ... no smoke! So I powered up the charger, and plugged that in - still no catastrophic short. So I charged it up. And then I did the same for the other three 8s batteries. So now I have four 8s, 4ah batteries, which is 16ah at 8s, and which is probably enough for most days out.

It'll be pouring with rain tomorrow, according to the forecast, so we won't be going out caching, but if there's a dry spell, I'll use it to test the bike with the new batteries.

I also ordered six 2s batteries, because I found that running at 10s (37 volts) is a bit peppier than 8s. So I can put a 2s in series with an 8s (or a pair of 4s) to give me 10s any time I want a boost. And I had to make 4mm to EC5 adaptors for those, also. I ran out of 2s extension leads, so I ordered 10 more from China. And I wired up the new charger, so that I can use it to charge up to six 4s batteries at once. I now have five chargers; two for 8s, two for 4s and one for 2s (although I have some flexibility in that) and all of these are powered by old 2U PC power supplies that I consider too dodgy to use for PCs because they aren't reliable enough, but they're good enough for this purpose.

The last bit of soldering I did, was an idea I had when I was out yesterday. I'm using one of my bike batteries, via a step-down card, to charge up the PDA while I sit in the car for lunch. It occurred to me that I could use the big lead-acid battery that I keep in the car as an emergency start-the-car thing (and it also has a tire pump, and a cigarette-lighter socket). If I had the sort of plug that plugs into that socket, wired to an EC5, then I could use the lead-acid to charge my PDA (or even the main car battery). I took the plug from a dead inverter (I tend to keep things that break that might have useful components), and a quick bit of soldering gave me what I needed.

Another arrival today was a pair of Altura panniers. I like Altura, because they're sturdy, they fix to my rear rack in a way that means they can't bounce off, and yet they're quick release (and have a handy handle) so that when I encounter an obstacle, I only have to unplug one plug, lift the pannier off the rack, and then lifting the bike is about five kilograms easier. And believe me, that five kilograms makes a big difference! I got these Alturas second hand, but they're in excellent condition. I got them cheap because they're missing the fixing that attaches the pannier to the lower end of the rack. But A) I probably won't need that, and B) I can always use the fixing from my existing pannier, which is looking very sad and sorry, because I've had to glue patches to it because parts of it have worn away, because of the extreme abuse that it suffers.

Also today, my new camera arrived. It's like the GoPro, except it's a fraction of the cost. Same shape and size, same resolution. I can attach it to my bike handlebars, or to my helmet.

Thursday 5 June 2014

Stumbling arouund Stamford

First, I did the Ingthorpe and Back ring. Then I relocated, and did a walk of a mile and back to collect a few Rutland ROund caches - I was glad I did this on foot, because there were six difficult stiles on the way there, and the same six on the way back.

Then some more Rutland Rounds going north, then I relocated into Samford to do the big Stamford Taurus multi, at the same time picking up a few more caches for a total of 50 today.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

More on passwords

I got called today by HSBC. Or at least, that's what they said. How do I know it really is HSBC? She said that her name is "Shell Townend". Which, by the way, is also the name of a building materials company in Sheffield.

So I called HSBC. They verified that there really is someone with that name working for them, and that they really had made the phone call.

But when they call back, it'll be someone else. So I phoned HSBC again, to complain.

Here's their system. They call you, and claim to be from HSBC. To prove that they really are HSBC, they give the first two digits of my date of birth, and the first three of my post code.


For most people, it's really easy to discover that information. It isn't exactly a secret. Use Google, or Facebook. So, is the information that HSBC a secret, and can be used as proof that they really are HSBC? Pants.

A password is a shared secret. It's something that HSBC knows, and I know, and no-one else knows. You'd think that a bank, with any kind of interest in security, would know this.

And it isn't only HSBC. Barclays think that my bank sort code and account number (which is on every cheque that I've ever sent to anyone) is a secret, and they use that to "prove" that I am who I say I am.

The reason why bank security is so awful, is that banks don't take security seriously.

And that's why I wouldn't use telephone banking, or internet banking.

And by the way, if you look me up on Facebook, you'll discover that my date of birth is January 1, 1905. And I don't have an address.

Tuesday 3 June 2014

Soaked and knackered

Up north today, to Stamford. It drizzled all the way as I drove up the A1M and A1, but it had stopped when I reached my parking spot. So I got the bike out, loaded up four batteries (I actually needed three) and set off.

Half an hour later, when I was far from shelter, it rained. No, it poured, with a side helping of hail. I waited under a tree, so at least the hail didn't get me, but I still got soaked. Fortunately, that was the only rain today.

I did a lot of lifting today - hence the knackered. But I managed to do 50 caches, of which one was outstanding, "Sneaky ex-tree", which involved me rummaging around in wood shavings.

Monday 2 June 2014

Two weeks to prepare for cyber attack


This has all the hallmarks of an incipient panic. I remember the panics over Jerusalem, Datacrime, Michelangelo and others. The big thing that those had in common, was a deadline The National Crime Agency (NCA) is stirring this one up, and they've set a deadline - two weeks, meaning June 16. And what are they recommending?

Update your operating system (modern OSes already do this automatically).

Think twice before clicking on links or attachments in unsolicited emails (aren't people already doing that?).

Do a backup.

Of all their advice, the third is the most useful, and the least likely to be followed.

"Users are typically infected by clicking on attachments or links in emails which may look like they have been sent by genuine contacts". So these aren't unsolicited emails, they're emails from people you already knew.

I predict:

An increasingly loud series of warnings from the media, who simply love this sort of thing, it's a real circulation-booster. And then, on June 16 (two weeks from now), the media switches smartly into reverse and castigates anyone who issued a warning (except themselves, of course) because on June 16 ... nothing happens.

A big increase in fake security software - you can read my recent blogs for an incident where a scammer tried to convince me to pay them loads-a-money and install a trojan on my computer. Lots of emails warning about the two week deadline, and advising "click in this link to protect yourself".

The NCA thinks that 15,500 UK computers have this thing (which they name as GOZeuS or P2PZeuS. If they're right, that's actually a very small number out of the many millions of computers in the UK.

But what I haven't seen anywhere, is any reason for the two week deadline. What is supposed to happen on June 16?

So, here's some advice from someone who has been in this field for 25 years. Me, that is.

1. Do a backup, at least once a week, probably once a day. Yes, I know you aren't actually going to do this because it's "too difficult". But the reason for doing it, is that your computer will fail. Probably not on June 16, probably not this year, probably not next year. But one day, it will simply not work. What, did you think computers lasted for ever?

2. Run Linux, not Windows. Linux, as of 2014, doesn't get hit by this sort of thing. Yes, I know you have some wonderful program that only works with Windows and you aren't going to run Linux.

3. Don't do banking online. I don't. I don't use cash machines, either. Because A) I don't see how either of those can be made secure, and B) as far as I can tell, banks don't really care about computer security. A cash machine on the inside (not on the outside) of a bank might be OK.

When I buy things online, I go via Ebay, Amazon, or one of a very, very small number of other sites. Ebay offers a conflict resolution - I can get a refund if I'm scammed. I pay via Paypal; Paypal offers a conflict resolution - I can get a refund if I'm scammed. And my payment to Paypal is via a credit card with limited funds, and if you use a credit card, you can dispute the transation and *always* get a full refund, unless you've actually, physically, signed a sales slip. So I have three layers of protection.

Roll on June 16th. It's always fun to watch a panic in action.

Technical support scam part 3

Shane phoned! He asked me about the credit card that I was supposed to have got from the Post Office and I told him that I have a postal order. I think he didn't like that.

Then we had a bit of a discussion about the cost. I brought up the £99 that he'd mentioned before, he insisted that it had to be £119, and we had quite a long discussion about that. We've left that hanging.

He talked me through starting explorer, then going to, at which point, my imaginary computer rebooted. How annoying.

So then he wanted to find out what version of Windows I was on, so we went to "Start" ... "computer" ... "properties" ... "advanced system settings" ... "settings" ... and then my imaginary computer rebooted.

While this happened, Shane gave me lots more patter - he's really good at the patter and has a great "bedside manner", repeatedly assuring me that everything will be "safe and secure".

And he heard me typing again, so I repeated the myth about using a typewriter.

So then he talked me through  "Start" ... "computer" ... "properties" ... "advanced system settings" ... "settings" ... and then my imaginary computer rebooted. Again.

So then, Shane put me on hold. I think that at this point, he's put the problem of me paying him into limbo, and he's concentrating on getting his trojan installed on my computer, but how will he do that if every time I go to one of the RAT (remote access terminal) sites, the wretched thing reboots? It's certainly a bit of a problem!

After a little while on hold, I started to get impatient, and called him "Hello, hello?".

So now he says I have to run a scan. I wonder what that means? He asked if the computer came with a CD? No it didn't. "So," he said, "the shop have made a fool of you. They should have provided a CD"

So then he asked me to disconnect the internet connection to my computer. So I asked him "How do I do that?" "Are you using broadband, wireless?"  "I'm using British Telecom".

So then he talked me through disabling connectivity to the network. And then he was surprised when we couldn't access the internet. So he tried to talk me through re-enabling access to the internet. But - guess what - that didn't work!

Eventually, I convinced him that he'd now managed to disable the internet connection. So he talked me through re-enabling it, but that didn't work, and then rebooting, but that didn't help either. And then he got a real technician involved, and between them, they talked me through re-enabling the network connection by using the Microsoft troubleshooter. Hurrah!

So then I could access the internet, and I could go to Google, so he got me to go to

And the computer rebooted.

So Shane said "Your computer is fucked". "What?" I said? He repeated the f-word. Well, that's pretty offensive, and I told him so. "There's no need to swear," I said, and then we had a bit of a discussion about that.

"You might as well throw it in the garbage," he said. "Well," I said, "I did suggest that last Thursday, and you told me not to." "Yes, because you'll have the same problem with the replacement." "So we need to fix this computer, don't we?"

Then he went into a rant. "You're an expert, you're just pretending to be stupid. You're just wasting my time!!!"


"No, I'm not," I replied. And he believed me, calmed down, and started talking me through going to again, and we rebooted again.

I suggested that Shane pass me over to the expert that he talks to when he's getting guidance (this is the reason for the silences on the line, of course). "I'm not talking to anyone." "Yes, I mean the guy you talk to when you need advice." "How do you know I'm talking to someone?" "Because I can hear you, of course." I'm pretending that he's forgotten to press the disconnect-microphone button. "He's obviously a knowledgable person, can I talk to him?"

So he handed me over to James. Who A) had an accent I could barely decipher and B) knew even less than Shane. James is the person who does the cold-calling, I spoke to him right at the start of this process, and he passes on possible prospects to Shane.  I've been downgraded! De-escalated!

 James took me to again. So I explained to him that every time Shane tried to access that site, the computer rebooted, does he still want me to go there? "Yes". And, the computer rebooted again. Duh.

I suggested that James pass me over to the expert that he talks to. He said that the technician doesn't have a headset. And he talked me through going to again, and the "computer rebooted again".

And then I got passed on to a third person, who sadly told me that they wouldn't be able to help me. "So what do I do?" I asked, plaintively.

And he hung up.

So, what have we learned?

1. These scammers can be *very* patient if they think there's the possibility of success. I'd estimate that they wasted about four or five hours on me. I, of course, was doing other stuff on my "typewriter" while all this was going on.

2. Microsoft Troubleshooting can work!

Sunday 1 June 2014

A day out with ladysolly

We strapped on her knee support, attached her finger splint and loaded her into the car for a day out in the lovely weather.

First, we went along the M4 to Chievely Services. This is one of our favourite eating places, and well worthy of a review by Silverspoonlondon. I chose a Chicken Corizo cornish pasty, while ladysolly opted for the salmon salad. The pasty was so good, that I went back for another, this time a traditional, large size.

The meal was topped off by coffee for both of us. We paid for the meal, and I can really recommend those pasties.

Then on to the caching. On our way to the start of the route I'd chosen, we passed a cache, so we stopped to grab it. Then another, and another ... 13 drive-by caches later, we arrived at our start point.

The route was quite short, in deference to ladysolly's knee, so there were only 14 caches in the ring. Partway round, we encountered the "Cheeky Monkeys", another caching team.

After we finished, we had coffee and a bun (me) and water (ladysolly). Then on to do a quick church micro.

Then to a puzzle I've solved that uses Puztox (puzzle tokens), a SimplyPaul invention, and finally a few more drive-bys.

33 caches today, no DNFs.