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.

Tuesday 28 October 2014


I went out today to Arundel, caching. First I did the HH series, 34 caches with a few extras along the way. On the track I saw this:

Huge mushrooms. Or maybe toadstools. I never did understand the difference.

I went round the 8 mile route in about 4 hours. I got back to the car and had lunch, and on to the second route, Riverdance. That was only 14 caches, but I saw this:

That's a well in the middle, and my bike has inveigled itself into the picture.

Further on in this circuit, I took a wrong turn, because I didn't notice the turn I should have taken. Usually, that doesn't have major consequences, but this time, it was catastrophic. I was cycling along, and went through what I thought was a big puddle, but it turned out to be a river, and my boots filled with water. Then I realised I'd gone the wrong way, so I walked the bike back.

As you can see from my selfie, the water came up to my knees, so I spent the rest of that circuit with sopping boots.

It's little adventures like this that make caching such fun. I decided not to do the third route I'd planned, owing to unexpected water in the boots area.

51 caches found, no DNFs.

Sunday 26 October 2014

£1.7 billion

The UK earned more than we might have, that's nice. I did too; that's also nice. Our accountant, George, didn't realise that we'd have to pay more tax, so now Dave is saying "Won't pay".

Hey, can I do that? Last year, I earned more than I might have. Can I say "Won't pay"?

Dave has now painted himself into a corner, a bit like he did over the EU presidency. he warned of "grave consequences on public opinion in Britain". I challenge you to name the president! Public opinion DOESN'T CARE. And Dave looked an idiot when he was ignored.

Now he's making a big deal out of the £1.7 billion tax we owe. Granted, £1.7 billion is a lot of money, It's nearly 0.1% of the UK national income. Massive. It's like being asked for £100 when your salary is £100,000 because your salary was £10,000 more than you thought it would be.

Yes, I wouldn't refuse the offer of £1.7 billion if it were made to me. But it won't be. I have to share it with 60 million other people, so I'd only get thirty quid. Enough for a third of a tank of petrol (of which the taxman grabs £20).

Now that Dave has said "We won't pay and you can't make us", he's going to look such a complete wally when he find out that they can and we will. And UKIP will make major hay out of this.

Don't look at me. I didn't vote for him. I don't fancy Farage, he has a look about him. And Milliband wants to tax my house. Looks like I'll be voting for the Official Monster Raving Loony Party again.

Friday 24 October 2014

Domain name ripoff

I just got an email from Network Solutions. I have a domain name, Recently, they gave me, for free, and I neither asked for, or wanted, either of these. Now they're offering "the perfect new domain extension for you .GAL ". They don't explain why it's perfect.  Google found me this:  "The domain extension .GAL is meant to help Galicia strengthen its image online while fostering a community hub for Galicia and informing the international community about their culture, language, and customs"

Why would I want Or indeed After the free period of a year ran out, they started emailing me suggesting that I renew it - at a cost, of course.

Here's how it's a ripoff.

Suppose you own a well-known brand, such as (which is, of course, owned ny someone). And you're trading nicely under the brandname of "Christmas". How would you feel if someone else registered, or Or

You wouldn't like it. But the only way to stop it from happening, is to own those yourself. So you stump up $10 per year for each of those domain names.

$30 isn't much to protect your brand. But the problem is, it doesn't stop there. There's everything from to christmas.zzz, , and that's $175,760 per year. Add in the digits 0 to 9, and you get to $466,560. That's just the tree letter extensions., At four letters, that's $17 million. At five letters, $600 million.

 All these additional domain extensions are not necessary. If they didn't exist, no-one would suffer. All they do, is generate revenue for the owner of the extension.

And I have no idea why Network Solutions think I'm located in Galicia. Actually, they know perfectly well I'm in the UK, since they have my address on record.

The whole thing is just a way to extract money from gullible companies. And by the way, is available for only $12.99 per year!

Getting older is better than the alternative

I had a minor problem at my colocation, and they weren't fixing it. Today I got a phone call from them.

Darren, who I've met a few times, and was one of their techies, had a motorbike accident yesterday. A drunk driver pulled out without looking, and killed Darren.

I used to ride a motorbike. I gave up after the second potentially deadly accident that wasn't my fault. The first time, I got doored; someone opened their car door at me (without looking). I hit the door, came off the bike, and I was lucky that there wasn't anything coming the other way to run over me.

The second time, I was waiting patiently at the entrance to a roundabout. The was a gap in the traffic, but I decided it wasn't big enough, so I carried on waiting. But the car behind me decided it was big enough, forgot that I was in front of him, smashed into my rear knocking me out into the roundabout road, and I was lucky not to be run over.

After that, I stopped riding a motorbike in London.

I do ride a bicycle, but that's mostly on bridleways and suchlike, and a bit on roads with almost no traffic.

I'm saddened by the fate of Darren.

Thursday 23 October 2014


To the dentist today - I've been dreading this.

A tooth completely crumbled; I was left with a loose fragment, a sliver of tooth and the root. And something had to be done about that.

So first, a jab, to numb it so that it doesn't hurt. I really can't imagine what dentistry was like before the invention of anaesthetics, especially locals. So I was numb in about a minute, and then the dentist could start.

The loose bit came out easily. The sliver, not too bad. But the root was a big struggle, it was dig and grip and heave. I didn't have a sensation of pain, but it was still pretty horrible. It came out piece by piece, and each time I thought, "Ah", but there was more. It felt like he was using a crowbar in there. Until eventually, he got it all out, including the abscess that had started up under the root, which would have caused me great pain at some time in the future.

In getting it out, he dislodged a filling in the tooth next door, so he refilled that too.

So it's done now, although with the jab wearing off, it's throbbing a bit, and I feel generally discombobulated. Next, we leave it for a few weeks, and decide whether to put in a fake tooth there, which would involve a crown on the tooth next door and a bridge to the fake tooth.

Boughton Street and Faversham

Out east yesterday. First I did a loop of 30 caches (plus a few extras). One of the extras was a ruined tower on Holly Hill. I didn't approach it via the recommended route, though, which would have needed a kilometer walk and back along a very poor path. Instead, I went down a nearby bridleway, hoping to find a way across. And I did - there was a track suitable for a bike that got me to within 80 meters of the tower. And then I left the bike, hoping that I'd be able to find it again, and plunged into the rhodedendrons. If you've ever tried to get through a thicket of rhodededrons, you'll know how difficult that can be.

Every now and then, I looked towards where I thought the tower should be, and couldn't see it, so pushed forward. Eventually, I spotted it, but well to the right of where I was expecting, and I struggled my way towards it. After all that, the find was very quick, and I found a much easier track to get back to the bike, which was exactly where I expected.

Then I did a solved puzzle and a couple of others, but as I was working my way towards the next cache, there was a "road closed" manned by a couple of police. Rats. So I went after some different caches, and eventually worked my way into Faversham, by which time it was dark. I parked, got the bike out, put my lights on, and did a few caches around there, and finally a Whereigo, "Finding Faversham Further".

To do the Whereigo, I used the iPhone 4. I tried to do one a while back on the 3, but the lag between movement and the iPhone recognising the new position is simply much too long. It was a case of move, wait five minutes, move and so on. With the 4, it's vastly better. I downloaded the "cartridge", and ran it. It asked me to go to a nearby Methodist church, but it didn't say how to get there, and the arrow on the Whereigo isn't as good as on a GPS. But I found it, answered the questions correctly, and it gave me a new place to go.

It sent me all over Faversham, and at each location I had to answer a question before I could get the next location, and I started to wonder how long this would go on. But eventually it took me to the last location, and gave me a code, which proves I've completed the journey.

While I was in Faversham, I saw this:

And that's my bike leaning on the wall.

46 caches done, and a good day out!

Only fools ...

I am Neil Trotter, a 41-year-old mechanic from London and i want to notify you that you are to recieve Ј3 million GBP from our Euromillions prize of Ј108 Million GBP on the 18 day of March 2014. Your email address was  submitted to me from the best web directory and search engine by legal advisers. You received this email because We have listed you as one of our 5 lucky individual to recieve this donation grant . You are advised to reply with this message on your private email address for more details on how to receive your cash grant.

Neil! I knew your cousin Del-boy.

Monday 20 October 2014

Popes and gays

Pope Francis asked the Catholic church to adapt to 'changing conditions of society'. He wants to soften the church's attitude to divorce and to homosexuality.

I'm baffled. I'm often baffled, but religion baffles me more than most things.

The issue is morals and ethics. What's right and what's wrong? Religions claim that morals and ethics come from their invisible friend (a terminology that tells you where I stand). Everyone else gets it from people around them. We change our morals and ethics as a society.

So, for example, slavery. This is now held to be wrong, very wrong. But for a long time, the religions supported it; the bible even lays down rules about how to treat your slaves.

And society's attitude to divorce changed, maybe 50 years ago. Now, if a couple find out after getting married, that they aren't right for each other, society accepts that they should go their separate ways, and not be chained together for ever.

Society's attitude to homosexuality changed, maybe 50 years ago. Now it's generally believed that what two consenting adults get up to, is no-one's concern except theirs. In 1967, the UK said "homosexuality is no longer illegal", and I think that Julian and Sandy helped a lot with that.

So now, Pope Gregory, may the Great Spaghetti Monster touch him with His Noodly Appendage, has decided that maybe gayness isn't as bad as they thought. But his bishops disagree. Who's in charge here? I thought Popes had a direct and infallible line to their invisible friend.

But here's the big problem. If your morals and ethics come from your invisible friend, as written down in your Holy Book, surely they can't be changed? The Holy Book didn't change, so how can the morals and ethics?

And if you can change your morals and ethics while the Holy Book remains unchanged (perhaps you've re-interpreted it to fit in with 'changing conditions of society'?) then what use is the Holy Book? Surely the obvious thing to do is move the Holy Book to the fiction section of the library, and concentrate on trying to keep up with the improvement in morals and ethics that us atheists are leading the way on.

But it's not all bad. Perhaps this will be one more nail in the coffin for the church.

Oops, I deleted all the files


It started yesterday. Something screwed up, and a file with an impossible name got copied to the CF card of my PDA, with all the maps and cache information. As a result, Memory Map couldn't work. I discovered this after we'd driven for two hours to get to the start location. Fortunately, I have a backup PDA in the car, and we used that. If that hadn't worked, I'd have used my iPhone 4 (you can't use an iPhone 3 for caching, because the lag between moving, and the location being registered, is a few minutes, but that's fixed on the 4).

When I got home, I discovered about the impossibly-named file. I tried to delete it, but that wouldn't work. So I tried to reformat the card and recopy the files, but the software for reformatting wouldn't work. Fortunately, I had a copy of it on my main server, so I reinstalled it, and then I was able to reformat the card. But then I needed to recopy the maps. Fortunately, I have a copy of all the maps on my main server, so three hours (8 gb of maps) later, they were all copied. Then I tried to recopy the caches, and that's when I discovered that the impossibly-named file was also on my main server, along with nearly 5000 other files of cache info.

Rather than delete 5000 files, I deleted the whole subdirectory, and recreated it. But instead of calling it "caches" I called it "cache". A minor mistake, with big consequences.

Then I ran the script to recreate the caches on my main server. That starts off like this:

cd /home/r/host/geocaching/memorymap/caches
rm *

But the directory called "caches" didn't exist, so instead, it deleted all the data and software in the place I ran it from.

Big Oops.

Fortunately, I have a backup of that directory. Or, to be more exact, I have five backups. One is a backup of the whole main server, done every day, and the second is another backup just like it. The third is a backup done on the 1st to the 10th of each month, the fourth is a backup done on the 11th to the 20th of each month, the fifth is a backup done on the 21st to the last day of the month. The reason for this is as follows.

Suppose something dreadful happens to a file, and I don't find out about it for a couple of weeks. Then I can still go back to the backup made a couple of weeks ago.

So, as you can see, "fortunately" isn't really the right word. I know that I make mistakes, and I try to organise my computer systems in such a way that they don't turn into big mistakes.

New baby!

Ladysolly's iPhone 6 plus has just arrived, and she's acting like we've just had a new baby.

Sunday 19 October 2014

Devilish delights with ladysolly

Ladysolly and i went out today to Arundel, to do the Devilish Delights series. We knew it was likely to take a long time, so ladysolly made an effort and we got out an hour later than we should have, she doesn't know why.

All of these caches are either evil, or clever, or both. And each cache took us quite a long time. So after four hours, we'd only done about 20, and we just had to leave the rest and head for the car. We'll be back!

20 caches done, 2 DNFs.

Friday 17 October 2014

Bulwick and back

As predicted, I did "Bulwick and back" today.

The day started badly, with a DNF. And then another DNF. These caches are not supposed to be difficult! It must be me.

But then I found the third one, and the fourth ...

I got to the point where I could cut back to the car along a road; I'd done 30 caches by then, and I was still trundling along on the first battery. Since I'd brought three, I knew I'd have enough, so I decided to continue.

Here's something fun I saw along the way.

At cache number 13, I caught up with a pair of cachers that I'd been following round - I could see their logs, it was Spindlewood. We had a chat about the caches I'd failed on, and I resolved to have another go.

I continued on round, and I encountered the dreaded "loose earth", which jammed up into my wheels and made biking impossible, and even wheeling the bike was difficult. And in this case, the earth was reinforced by straw, making it even worse. Altogether, I had to cope with about 800 meters of this, and it's exhausting! But most of the route was either grass, or gravel, or even tarmac.

One stile that I encountered was really evil. It started off with a race between me and a dozen bullocks; I wanted to get to the stile before they did, and I won that. But then, getting the bike over the stile was a nightmare, because it was a bridge, with crossed struts in front of it. I had to get up on the bridge and drag the bike over the struts. I'd rate this as a difficulty 5 stile. I've only ever encountered a difficulty 6 once. Difficulty 6 means "impossible for a bike". Difficulty 5 means "A major struggle".

I got back to the car at about 15:30, which meant I did 60-odd caches in 5 hours, not bad, especially considering I wasted a lot of time on the two DNFs, and trudging over the loose earth is very slow.. So I had coffee, and lunch, and went out to collect the ones I'd failed on before. My first fail was converted into a find with the help I'd had from Spindlewood. The second one was an immediate find, Surely I'd looked there before? This one is a bit of a mystery; the log now has two entries, Spindlewood and me, but the cache page says it's had five finds.

I also picked up a cache from a series I'd done a while back, but missed one out, I can't remember why. So a total today of 61 caches.

Thursday 16 October 2014

Out tomorrow

I'm planning to go out tomorrow to do "Bulwick and back", a ring of 60 caches. When things are going well, I'd expect to do about 10 caches per hour, so I'll probably set off at 11 and get back at 5.

At cache 31, the route crosses a road which would take me back to the car in 4 km, which isn't a long way if you're on a bike and tarmac, so I could break the ring into two if I do an extra 8km on the bike. I'm not sure yet; the alternative is to take enough batteries to do the whole thing in one lump. I think I'd need three batteries to complete the route, which means that I'd take four, plus lighting (in case it takes a lot longer than I think and it gets dark, which is at about 6:00 or 6:30 now). And a bottle of water, and the usual emergency kits for A) the bike and B) me.

So what I'll do, is take enough supplies to do the whole circuit in one lump, but when I reach cache 31, I have the option of changing my mind.

It's impossible

When a techie says to you that something is impossible, what he usually means is "I don't know how to do that." There was a good example in "The Apprentice" last night.

The boys team came up with what I thought was a good idea. You have a sweater with a display in front, and a camera. You use the camera to take a picture, which you then show on the display. They decided on that as their "wearable technology" and trotted off to a techie to get it designed. The techie said "It's impossible". And so they went with an idea so terrible that they sold zero.

But here's how it's done, and I know it's possible, because I just did it. First you have to replace the suggestion of an array of LEDs (which wouldn't work) with a cheap, light, low power LCD display.

You start off with a Raspberry Pi (of course) model A, and camera (the Pi Cam would probably be  a good one, but I'm using a cheap webcam-type that gives 640 by 480 resolution) and a small LCD monitor (the one I'm using is five inches, and displays 800 by 480 pixels, but you could use a larger panel. You use a 12 volt battery to power all this - a 4s from Hobbyking would be good. The 1000 mah would weigh about 100 gm and last several hours.


Raspberry Pi     £20
Camera            £5
Display          £13
Battery           £6
Voltage reducer   £1

Total £45, plus a cheap grey sweater. So the thing would cost maybe £48 to make, sell it to the retailer for £80, they'd offer it for £150. Would you pay £150 for something like that? It would certainly get you noticed in the night club! "Smile for the camera" and then you're dancing with the girl whose picture you're wearing.

Now the software. You install Linux on the Pi then streamer and ImageMagick. To capture the picture:

streamer -c /dev/video0 -s640x480 -q -o picture.jpg

and you just keep looping that.

To display the picture is a bit more complex. You have to use the framebuffer device. First you set it up in /boot/config.txt


Now we have to convert the 640 by 480 picture, to 800 by 480

convert picture.jpg -resize 800x480! picture.jpg

Then we convert the jpg to framebuffer format:

ffmpeg  -i picture.jpg -vcodec rawvideo -f rawvideo -pix_fmt rgb565 picture.fb

Then we send it to the framebuffer:

cp garden.fb /dev/fb0

And there it is! Add a push-button to tell the system to display a new picture.

So I wrapped all this up in a perl program (you could use any language that lets you run other programs) and I now have a continuously updating view of my front garden, which switches to a display showing the outside temperature, the time and the number of messages I've had from my server monitoring system.

Would anyone like to be my apprentice?

Wednesday 15 October 2014

An accident

It's happened to us all. "You've had an accident within the last three years", he said. Uh. Another spam phone call. Fortunately, I wasn't too busy, so I decided to play with him a bit.

He went on and on. I couldn't really make out what he was saying; the combination of a strong accent, a poor phone line and my usual difficulty of hearing (yes, it's another of my disabilities, don't make fun of me) meant that at the end of his spiel, I didn't really know what he'd said. But then he stopped and it was my turn.

"I've already sent you the paperwork."

That stopped him. Totally. And he passed me over to someone whose accent wasn't quite so strong, and I could actually understand what he said. He was concerned about the paperwork, he said they hadn't received it.

I can't see how he knew; he seemed to know immediately. He didn't check their data, he just knew. So I said, maybe I sent it to the wrong address? "What address did you send it to?" So I gave him the address of another spammer who I'd talked to recently. And then I asked him, "What's your address, what address should I have sent it to?" And he gave me an address, "171 Garrets Lane, SW17 1WX". I feel sure that he made up that address; well, that's fair enough, one fake address traded for another. Oh, and his name was Jack Dawson, and who am I to question whether someone with such a strong Indian accent would be likely to be named Jack Dawson. I was about to use the name of Abdul Abulbul Emir. Pot, kettle.

So he suggested that he send a chap around to hand deliver another form. "No need," I said, "I already send the form back to you. Didn't you get it?" He explained that they have ten offices in England and four in Wales, and he didn't know all the addresses. And he asked for the case number, but I didn't know it, because I already sent off the form. "I'll send you another copy," he said, and proceeded to recite my address, which would be disturbing if I didn't know that they buy voter registration lists. "No," I said, "that's not my name. And that's not my address either" and I got ready to give him the name of  Abdul Abulbul Emir  and the address of another spammer.

But he went a different way. And wanted to know what I'd put in the form I'd filled in. "When was the accident?" he asked. "It's all in the form, have you received it yet?" I think he was getting a bit frustrated now. "No, we haven't received the form." "Well, maybe we should wait a bit and see if it turns up," I said. He wanted to make an appointment, a date and time that he could send someone round. "No need, " I said, "I've already send you all the details." "In the form you sent in," he said. Yes, he's got it. "That's right," I said, and hung up on him, because I was suspecting that he was about to hang up on me, and it's always best to get your retaliation in first..

Then I did 1471 and he'd called from 0845 1541750 so I filed a tps complaint and wrote up this blog.

Not as much fun as the people trying to fix my computer, but I have to take whatever I get offered.

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Chichester chuchkas

Today I was mostly biking along a canal, followed by biking along a disused railway. At Chichester, first I went along the "Lipchis Canal Wander", followed by "The Return" which got me pretty much back to where I started, Then I went along the "Cicero Trail", a disused railway, But I DNFed four of those :-(

It was raining as I drove south, and it was raining when I drove back home. But while I was out, it stayed dry. A miracle!

A couple of nice things along the way.

A very elaborate metal butterfly.

A white duck.

A total of 51 caches, but several DNFs.

Friday 10 October 2014

Two loops in Cambridgeshire

First, the Catworth Cavalier; 33 caches (including a few extras) in a morning look on the bike.

Then back to the car for lunch, followed by a few drive-bys on the way to my second loop of the day, "Twywell and back" for another 25 caches. On the way to that, I found this.

I'm guessing, Halloween.

66 caches done today, and no DNFs, so it was a very good day out.

Thursday 9 October 2014

A terrible temptation to tread on the trite.

It's probably to do with my disability. You didn't know I have a disability? Yes, I have a disability. It isn't my fault, it's a disability, it's called "mouthfoot". When I hear something trite or stupid, I'm keen to say so and explain why.

This doesn't make me friends. I'd go further - I lose friends that way. Sometimes, someone I know and quite like, says something stupid, and you people without this terrible mouthfoot disability of mine, just smile and say "Oh well, that's just himself", but I find it difficult to just leave it be.

Facebook would be a big problem for me, were it not for the fact that a Facebook "friend" is just someone who you barely know (if at all, some of my "Facebook friends" I have no idea who they are). So losing a Facebook friend is usually no great loss.

I'm sometimes set off by the trite (and often really stupid) "motivational" messages that people post. A recent one was to tell children "Never give up on your dream". On the face of it, that sounds fine, but children don't always know that you shouldn't actually take any notice of such things, and "Never give up on your dream" could lead to a lifetime of trying to become an astronaut despite having severe motion sickness and a great fear of heights. Or wanting to be Tarzan while having only one leg.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Another long outage

At 10:50, my leased-line lost connectivity. There followed numerous phone calls to Daisy to get it sorted out. Apparently, BT was telling Vodafone that they couldn't see a problem at all.

Eventually, at 19:20, connectivity was restored. I expect Daisy will eventually tell me what the problem was.

But this is the ?fourth?  ?fifth? long outage I've had in the last couple of months. My guess is, it's all the same problem, but I don't know that. I hope it's sorted now, but given my experiences in the last couple of months, I'm not confident.

I think that I get no compensation from Daisy for this last outage, because they've already offered me one month's rebate, and they say that's all they give in any calendar quarter.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

New Hobbyking batteries

Hobbyking have just announced that they'll soon be offering lighter batteries. They'll be 6s (which is about 25 volts, fully charged) and 12 amp-hours. So I'd use two of these to power the bike, giving me 50v at 12ah. We don't know the price yet, but HK are usually very cheap.

HK are expecting these to be about half the weight of existing batteries.The drawback, is that they can only run at 2C, which means you can only pull 24 amps from them. That might be a bit limiting for model aircraft, but my bike is rated at 5 amps (because it's 250 watts, and at 50v, that's 5 amps), and if it pulls 20 amps then I'm going up a very steep hill without much pedalling assistance. So I'm happy with the 2C rating

Right now, I'm using 5ah 4s batteries that weigh 528 gm. I use three of them in series to power the bike, and I put three triples in the pannier, giving me 15 ah at 50v. Two triples are enough for the whole morning out (the third one is there because I'd rather have an extra spare), and when I get back to the car, I swap the used ones for fresh batteries for the afternoon ride. So two triples are about 3.2 kg = 7 lb

With these new batteries, I'll use two 12ah 6s batteries to give me 50v, and it'll weigh around 3 lb, if HK's statement is right. That should last the whole morning, with some to spare!

So - I was thinking of getting a couple more of those 5ah 4s batteries (£16 each). Instead, I'll hold off and see what these new batteries look like,

Sunday 5 October 2014


I have a Raspberry Pi that continuously displays the outside temperature, the time and the number of errors reported by my monitoring system. Currently, it's reporting 20, which is about normal. It displays on a 3.5 inch LCD monitor, and I wanted to put it on a 5 inch.

The monitor arrived a couple of days ago, and today I got round to putting it together. I installed it on a Pi that I already have running (I'm using the composite port for the display), and then came the matter of how to do the display.

I don't want to display in any ordinary font; that would only be readable from a few inches away, I want something big and bold. For the system I already set up, I used figlet (installed using apt-get install figlet). But I wanted colour!

So I did a rummage round the web, and I came up with toilet. You install it with apt-get install toilet, and now I have a nice multicoloured display.

Two days of celebration

Yesterday, the family converged on daughter.2s flat to end the fast of Yom Kippur. I, of course, didn't fast, it's against my principles, I'm an atheist (thank god). But I see no ethical reason not to enjoy a good nosh-up with family.

We had salmon beigels as canapes, for people who (like me) just couldn't wait. And cake. Then several kinds of fish, roast vegetables, chollah and a mountain of potatoes, followed by too much dessert. I ate too much, drank too much and had a great time. We got home just after midnight.

Then today, to inlaws.2 for the pidyon haben for the new baby recently arrived to my daughter.1's husband's sister.. This is as specified in Numbers 3:45-47. If you're not a Cohen or a Levy, then your firstborn son is destined for the cohenate, the priesthood. And if you don't want your new baby to be taken, you have to buy him back for five shekels, where a shekel is 20 gerahs. For some reason, the fundamentalist christians who want to strictly adhere to the bible have forgotten about this requirement, I don't know why, they quote the bible to support so many of their loony ideas.

So the father of the newborn paid a handy Cohen the requisite five shekels, after thoughtfully making the decision to keep the baby. I suggested to him that he should haggle, but apparently that's not usually done. Anyway, the mother kept tight hold of the baby throughout, in case the father made the wrong decision.

I would have haggled. Never take the first price you're offered. In the case of my 100 mbit line, I wound up paying about half the initial asking price.

Actually, it wouldn't have made any difference, the handy Cohen gave the shekels back as a gift. He doesn't have to do that, but if he didn't, he'd be a pretty unpopular guy!

And then, of course, we all ate. And drank, and generally had a very good time. And there was cheesecake!

Meanwhile, a small flock of children ran riot around the garden, making extensive use of grandson.1's newly repaired bubble gun.

Saturday 4 October 2014


I'm sitting here watching the rain fall down on small bedraggled groups of DoEers are they trudge wetly past my front garden.

Friday 3 October 2014

Serving Pi mail on a DSL

The cryptic title of this blog reflects the difficulty of the exercise. I wanted to use a Raspberry Pi as a mail server and DNS server, accessing the internet via a DSL line. It wasn't easy.

First, why a Raspberry Pi? Because it takes up very little space, and uses very little electricity. I'm trying to keep costs down.

Second, why do it at all? Well, I recently had an outage of more than 24 hours on my leased-line. That meant that, for example, any email that anyone was trying to send to me, was bouncing. If I can set up a server on the DSL, then after trying and failing on the leased line, a mailer should try the DSL, and at least the mail will get through.

My first problem was that the five SD cards that I had in stock, wouldn't boot up the Pi. The problem turned out to be that the Linux image on the cards was duff. I don't know how that happened, but the fix was to recopy the image. Then I was able to boot up.

For my first effort, I tried to use a DSL that I have with five static IP addresses. I'm not going to relate the full humiliating story of what I did; suffice it to say that despite many different attempts, and with tech support from the DSL vendor, I failed. That will be cancelled soon.

Far far better to relate the success, because that could provide guidance for others.

I'm using a DSL line that I originally got 15 years ago from Nildram. Nildram was bought by Opal, Opal was folded into TalkTalk, and there might have been other moves along the way.
The router I'm using is suitably ancient - I got it from Noah in exchange for three shekels and a goat. It's a Conexant. The nice thing about it, is that I've got half a dozen of them, so if one goes sput I can swap it out. And they are really flexible and easy to set up.

The DSL comes with a static IP address (that's vital for this purpose); let's call it
All my internal servers have IP addresses that start with 10 (such as,, because servers that start with 10 can't be seen from the internet, which also means that anyone can use those addresses internally. I can have 16 million computers with IP addresses that start with 10. Actually, I have only a few hundred. For the leased line, my firewall translates the IP addresses that I publish to the outside world, to the internal IP addresses that I use, for those servers that need to be accessed from outside.

The first task of the router, is that although it presents the address of to the outside world, it talks to my internal network with the address 10.something - in this case, That means that all my servers can see it as an internal device, not something on the outside world. And the router seamlessly translates packets coming in on to packets going to my network via And anything coming from the inside, is ejected outwardly to the internet outside. This is called "NAT, Network Address Translation", and it's the trick that stops the internet from collapsing owing to lack of IP addresses. Actually, it's NAPT (network address and port translation).

So the first thing I did, was to tell the router that anything coming in on ports 22, 25 or 53, needed to be passed over to my Raspberry Pi, on This is done using a thing called "Virtual Server" - at least, that's what Conexant calls it. Other routers probably have the same capability, but might call it something else. Port 22 is ssh, the thing you use to log in remotely to a server. 25 is the port used by email, and 53 is the DNS port. Then I went to an outside computer, and checked that it worked, and it did!

Then I set up the Pi. As well as all the usual stuff, I installed Sendmail so that it could send and receive mail, and Dovecot so that the computer that I use to read my mail, could pick up the mail from this server. Then I installed bind, the DNS server. Then I put it in a little plastic box, powered it with a few volts from the power supply that powers a dozen other Pis, and it is now humming away.

It's doing nothing, of course, and I really hope it continues doing nothing. Um ... not quite nothing. It's a spam trap. here's how that works. When you want to send email to someone, your mailer asks "Which server should I send it to?" In my case, there were three, called (imaginatively) mail1, mail2 and mail3. They had priority 100, 200 and 300. So you should send email to mail1 because it has the highest priority, but if you can't access that, then send it to mail 2, and if that's also down, try mail3. I would expect that any decent mail system would honour that. But when you do a "dig mx" to get the names of the mail servers, they get shown to you in random order, and the nice mailer has to sort them. But spammers don't bother, they just send it to the name at the top of the list, which could be any of them. So by adding a new mail server to the list, it will get a quarter of the spam that's sent to me.

But next time my leased line fails, emails should be routed to that server via the DSL (which is unlikely to fail at the same time, unless someone commits extensive sabotage to BT, in which case we have bigger problems than my email not working). If the outage lasts for more than a day (unlikely) then the DNS service that it provides will allow people to continue to find my servers.

In the longer run, the 2mbit leased line will be replaced by a 100 mbit ethernet, which (I hope) will be faster, more reliable and cheaper than my current arrangement.

In the very long run (maybe 3 or 5 years), I'm hoping that we can get fibre broadband, and then I'll move to that.

 ... update ...

I forgot to mention - you also have to change the gateway for the Pi to, the LAN address of the router. you can do that by changing the gateway in  /etc/network/interfaces to


or with

route del -net 0/0 gw [old gateway address] eth0
route add -net 0/0 gw eth0

Comment spam

I just had a look. 789 comments have been posted to this blog ... and about 20,000 spam comments. About 99.99% of those spam comments were filetered by the blog software straight to a spam folder, so no-one ever saw them. Of the 0.001% that actually made it to visibility, no-one ever read them, let alone clicked on the link, and no way bought anything.

So why do they do it?

I think most spam is a scam run by the spammer against a genuine business. For $100 (or whatever it is) they say "Your message will reach a million readers" or however many it is. But what they don't tell the business is "reach and be ignored by".

One of the common factors I hear when I contact a business spamming me, is that they feel swindled by the people who sold them the list and sent out the spam.

Thursday 2 October 2014

Tax avoidance

I keep reading politicians rants about how companies wriggle around their obligations to pay tax.  But what's actually happening, is that politicians make laws that allow you to pay less tax. And then they whine about the laws they made? And they're surprised that people choose not to pay more tax than they are legally obliged to?

Here's how to pay tax at a rate of 10% on the first £10 million you earn.

It's called  entrepreneur's relief. And here's how it works.

You start up a business. It does OK. It does well! It does very well! But if you pay yourself a salary, that will be taxed at the current rate of income tax, which is 30%, or even 40%. So ... don't pay yourself a salary.

How about paying yourself a dividend? If you pay yourself £32,000 you pay 10% tax. If you pay yourself £150,000 you pay 32.5% tax. Now that's looking better. I have to say, though, that I find it strange that giving yourself money using two different nomenclatures, results in different tax rates.

Or even better - don't pay a salary, don't pay a dividend. Close the business. Then you make a capital gain. The first £11,000 is free from tax. After that, you pay between 18% and 28% tax.

But here's the best scheme. Here's how to pay tax at a rate of 10% on the first £10 million you earn.

It's called  entrepreneur's relief. And here's how it works. You must own at least 5% of the company for a year, and you must be a director, partner or employee. And then you pay 10% tax.

What on earth is the point of this law? All it does, is give away tax revenue that would otherwise be well-spent on MP's expenses. If you want to encourage entrepreneurs, then here's how - just get out of their way and let them do their thing. You don't actually have to encourage entrepreneurs, you just have to get rid of all the stupid rules that make their life difficult.

Of course, I'm not an accountant (I'm glad to say)! Maybe there's more to it that appears on the web site. You should talk to your accountant and ask her about this.

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Hobbling round Hallerton

Deespite my slightly bad leg, I went out today. The important thing was, not to fall off my bike, because landing on my wound would be double plus ungood.

So, of course, I fell off the bike, landing on the side where the wound is. Fortunately, I didn't damage it, and I bounced back from the spill immediately.

There were some rather fun field puzzles today; that's where finding the cache isn't the end of it, you also have to work out how to open the box.

40 caches done today, one DNF.