Tuesday 30 December 2014

New rule!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can register for VAT MOSS here.

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

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

 ... update ...

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

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

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

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

A week?

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

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

Saturday 27 December 2014

4613 errors

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

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

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

and after I rebooted ...

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

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

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

I survived Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

And a mountain of books.

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

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

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

Thursday 25 December 2014

It's Christmas!

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

Sunday 21 December 2014

Reigate ramble

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

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

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

Friday 19 December 2014

Aynho adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 18 December 2014

My mug

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three cheers for SportsDirect!!!

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Tottering round Totternhoe

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

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

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

Monday 15 December 2014

Repeating keys

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

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

To set keyboard delay, the linux command is

kbdrate -d 1000

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

xset r rate 1000 30

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

And I think that's fixed it!

Saturday 13 December 2014

Wandering around Welwyn

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 12 December 2014

Henley Regatta

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

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

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

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

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

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

 ... update ...

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

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

So I wished him luck in pursuing this.

Facebook password change

I got this email:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Repowering the robot arm

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

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

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

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

Thursday 11 December 2014

Mud, mud, glorious mud ...

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

I did get mudded on, though.

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

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

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

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

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

And here's the hippopotamus song.

Disk drive diversions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 10 December 2014

The only atheist in the restaurant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had salt beef.

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 7 December 2014

My irony meter broke

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 6 December 2014

Not enough volts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 4 December 2014

A sea of mud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

39 caches done today, no DNFs.

Wednesday 3 December 2014


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

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

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

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

So why a PS?

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

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