Sunday 28 September 2014


There's a very tiny patch of skin on my left leg (about 2mm diameter); it started bleeding several months ago for no apparent reason. I put a bit of gauze on it, then a plaster, and it mostly healed up. I say "mostly" because usually when I get a scratch or graze, when it's healed the skin is indistinguisable from the skin around it. But in this case, there was a noticable difference.

And then it happened again, same place.

When it happened a third time, I decided to show it to my GP, who referred me to a dermatologist, who said that it looked OK, but wanted to test a sample.

So a few days ago, I went off Warfarin, and on Friday, I visited Dermatology at Amersham Hospital.

First I saw a research doctor. You might have heard the idea that dogs can smell cancer? She's testing this idea experimentally. She put a bit of gauze on the place on my leg and left it there for a few minutes. That's going to be shown to a dog, and it's also going to "sniffed" by a gas chromatograph.

This might sound like an unlikely idea, but it costs very little to test it out, and if it does work, then a fairly simple apparatus could be used to determine whether a lesion is likely to be cancerous or not; non-intrusively and non-painfully.

Then I went on to the real test. First, a shot of local anasthetic. Ow. Then, while the area was numb, the surgical nurse scraped the area. She told me that when it heals up, it should heal properly now. That didn't hurt, of course, the anasthetic did its job. She put on a dressing of gauze followed by sticky-stuff, and told me to change it after 48 hours.

That meant today. I wasn't looking forward to this. By now, the whole of the gauze covering was ominously red.

First, I carefully peeled back the sticky-stuff, which, of course, was stuck to my leg hairs, and that hurt a bit. Then I put the whole thing in the shower, and turned the shower head on it - the idea is to painlessly wash off the gauze dressing. Most of it came off easily. But about a square centimeter was stuck fast.

I gave it several more minutes of shower head, but it wasn't moving, so I got out of the shower, put my foot on a chair, gritted my teeth, gripped the gauze and pulled.

It came off. Followed, of course, by a fair amount of blood. I mopped at it with a couple of tissues until the flow abated, then covered the wound with vaseline (as per instructions) then a bit of gauze, then some surgical sticky tape to hold this in place.

It did sting a bit while I did it, but it's stopped stinging now, and it isn't bleeding.

Friday 26 September 2014


I got back from dinner with relatives at 20:30 on the 25th, and saw that my telecoms alert has been going for the last four hours. I did a few checks for example, ping, which is Google) and sure enough, my telecoms link was down, and had been down since 16:30.

So I called Daisy to tell them.

Daisy monitor their customers' lines, so that they can take action before the customer knows there's a problem. Good idea! But in this case, something must have gone wrong with their monitoring system, because it was news to them.

I explained to the tech upport people that any competent programmer could write a perl program that checked each of a list of ip addresses, once per minute, and raise the alarm if any of them can't be contacted. OK, I can see why you'd want an expensive and complicated system, but wouldn't it also be a good idea to have a nice simple *working* system running alongside? That's pretty much what I use.

The tech support folks at Diasy got me to reboot my router (which did nothing useful, but I suppose was easy to do and might just have worked). When that didn't work, they started their fault process.

That meant that they contacted Vodafone, who are Daisy's supplier in this, and asked Vodafone to look into it. In the fullness of time, Vodafone determined that it wasn't their problem, and pushed it towards BT.

By then it was midnight. Maybe no-one works after midnight, or of they do, nothing useful was done because the tech support guy told me that a BT engineer would attend tomorrow morning.

Overnight, no change. My comms were down when I checked in the morning, and then I went out to have something slightly unleasant done to my leg at Amersham Hospital. I got back at 11am, and no BT engineer had arrived.

So I called Daisy again. They called Vodafone, and Vodafone called BT. Apparently, the engineer that was supposed to visit me, had been diverted to something else.

So Daisy called Vodafone and Vodafone called BT, and another engineer was tasked with my outage, due to arrive at 2pm.

2pm came and went, I called Daisy again, they called Vodafone, and Vodafone called BT. Apparently 2pm meant 2pm GMT, and I, silly me, assumed it meant BST, which is the time zone we're all in.

At about 3:15, my line started working, and shortly after that the BT engineer turned up - he'd done something down at the exchange. But he also wanted to replace the BT box screwed to my wall, just in case. So he rummaged in his van for a while, then announced that he'd come out without his wire stripper. I offered mine, but it's the Wrong Sort of Stripper.

So off he went again, found another BT engineer who had the right sort of wire stripper. Swapping the box took a couple of minutes, but then he had to go back to the exchange to tell it about the new box.

And so, at about 16:50, just over 24 hours after the outage started, everything was tickety-boo.

This is a 2mbit leased line. They're supposed to be extremely reliable, much more so than consumer-grade broadband.

Cat and mouse

Next door's black-and-white has just caught a mouse, and is now playing with it on our drive.


He's just walked off, maybe to take it home as a gift for our neighbours.

Wednesday 24 September 2014

A new way to annoy spammers

I'm just trying this out.

Imagine if you sent out a million spams, and you got back 900,000 answers that sounded interested, except that you just know that 99.9% of them are a waste of time? You'd think twice before repeating the exercise.

So, to people who have just bought a database with one of my email addresses on it that was scraped from somewhere 20 years ago and has been endlessly resold ever since, I'm replying with an expression of polite interest, but asking for a better price.

And they don't know this yet, but each time they offer a better price, I'll be telling them it's still too high. Until they get fed up with this game.

Dropbox tip

I needed to copy a bunch of files to Dropbox. Usually, I use a thing called "dropbox_uploader", which lets me upload a batch of files from my linux box to Dropbox.

Today, without thinking, I did a drag-and-drop of ten files from Xfe (which is a bit like Windows File Explorer, but for Linux) to the Dropbox window in Firefox (which is a browser like Windows Internet Explorer). And it worked!


Fun with PCI DSS

Once again, some meddling children have discovered an obscure bug in SSL that could mean a data leakage. So I (and umpteen million other people) are suddenly not compliant woth the PCI DSS (payment card industry data security standard) and I have to update my software.

This time, it went easily. I downloaded, compiled and installed the latest version of SSL, recompiled apache, restarted apache, got the server retested and all is now cool. We're compliant. I would guess that 99% of all other servers, are not compliant, I would further guess that more than 90% won't be compliant by Christmas.

If it weren't for those meddling children, I would never have known.

And oh what fun! Version 3.0 of the PCI DSS will go into effect on January 1 2015.

Meanwhile, back in reality. A Verizon report says that in 2013, 89% of companies are not PCI DSS compliant.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Fumbling round Foxton

I went north to Foxton today, to do the "Foxton Frolics" ring. It took me longer than I expected, because some of the caches were difficult to find. And there was rather a lot of bike lifting.

45 caches found, and a few DNFs.

Friday 19 September 2014

Compensation for an outage

In August, I had an 8 hour communications outage. My service provider says it was the fault of people upstream from them. But I have a Service Level Agreement, and I asked them for compensation for this outage.

They offered me £3.93.

This has had a major impact on my likelihood of signing up again with them. I was on the verge of signing the papers for another three years, and for a beefier connection. But now I'm not so sure.

The problem is this.

I feel sure that the tech people will bust a gut to fix any outage; that's what we do. Even though the penalty for not fixing it is a paltry £12 per day, they'll do their very best.

No, the problem is with the accountants. The bean counters. Suppose the tech guys say to the beanies, "We'd like to spend £20,000 on a router that will just sit on a shelf. We want it, because if anything happens to one of our major routers, we'll be able to swap in the replacement in minutes, rather than order one from the vendor and hope to get it within 24 hours"

The beanie will look at spending £20,000, look at the penalties of not spending it (£12 per day) and "request denied".

Unless there's a real incentive to spend money to minimise outages, why would they fork out?

So I'm talking to TalkTalk again.

Another change to the credit card system

I feel sure that Visa and Mastercard have no idea how much trouble they cause when they make even a small change to their requirements.

New rules:

1. If you make excessive authorisation requests, you get penalised.
2. You now have to have Unique Transaction Identifiers and Trace IDs.
3. There's a new indicator for recurring transactions.
4. You have to distinguish between pre and final authorisations

All over the world, people who write credit card transaction software have until October 1st to implement a whole bunch of changes.

And they tell us on September 19th.

What world do these guys live in?

 ... update ...

I spoke to the technical people. They say that no action is required of me, because I'm in a category that has it taken care of by Barclays Merchant Services, who are the people who sent me the leaflet.

They've done this so many times now - sending me a letter or leaflet asking that I jump through certain hoops within a very short deadline, and when I call them to get details, they tell me that it doesn't apply to me.

I guess it's cheaper for them to send these leaflets out to everyone, rather than just the people who are applicable.

Better together

The Scots have done the right thing. But for a while there, I thought they might not!

Puzzle at Disneyland

The question is, how to they do this?

I'm guessing that they're standing on a platform which uses electric motors to move forward or spin. That's easily done. But how is it controlled?

If the performer isn't controlling it, then it would be extremely difficult not to fall, and that would ruin the effect totally. So I think the performer must be controlling it, but how?You can see the slight wobbles as they keep their balance.


Fun at the Magic Kingdom

Just in case you thought it was all wifi problems, here's some pictures.