Tuesday 30 June 2015

To Pompey

Ladysolly and I went to Portsmouth today. We got there at about 1pm, so we went to the Gunwharf Quay for lunch. I wanted a Chiquitos, but ladysolly can't take spicy food just now, so we went to Nandos.

After a nice lunch in the shade (it was *very* hot today), we went to try to find a cache, the nearby Sidetracked. I've failed on this one twice before; the combined efforts of myself and ladysolly yielded another fail.

Then we went on to the Historic Dockyard, and went through the museum there. After that, we visited the warship Warrior, which has been restored to an immaculate condition.

We went round the ship, and I explained various nautical things to ladysolly, who made suitable "ooh" noises.

Then we went back to the car, and motored around the area to pick up three puzzle caches that we'd solved last night, and then back home.

A good day out.

Monday 29 June 2015

I'm going not-caching

Tomorrow, it's going to be very hot - the weather forecast suggests 30 degrees, which is nearly 90 in the old money. So I'm taking ladysolly to Portsmouth, and we're not going caching! There's the Mary Rose, HMS Victory, HMS Warrior, the Spinnaker and the shopping center at Gunwharf Quay.

I'll probably pick up at least one cache, though.

Card security compliance

I've written about this before. According to the Verizon survey of 2015, 80% of companies are not compliant with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

That's massive. It means that only a 20% minority of companies that take credit card data, have security that's up to the level that Visa, Mastercard and the others, require.

Well, I might have just found out why. I've always known that staying compliant is a major pain in the arse. Each year (in my case, since 2008), you have to fill in a checklist of questions (over 300 this year), and it keeps growing,. The first time I did it, it was version 1.0, then 1.1, 1.2, 2.0 and now 3.0.

Also, each month, my secure systems are scanned for vulnerabilities, and every other month, a new vulnerability is discovered in the software that everyone uses, that means that I have to update the server software, in order to remain compliant. These updates have become so common, that I've actually written myself a recipe to follow, so that I can do it without having to work out how from scratch each time.

So why, you might ask, do I stay PCI DSS compliant, other than a sense of responsibility towards the people who entrust me with their card data? Why indeed. What's the downside?

Well, let me quote from a letter I just got from Worldpay, formerly known to me as the "Natwest credit card people". You can also find this information on the web. Note that it's in the Google cache. You'll also find it on the Streamline web site, if you look carefully.

If you're not PCI DSS compliant, it will cost you £9.99 per month.
If you're not PCI DSS compliant for more than 12 months, that goes up to £21.99 per month.

Plus VAT.

To any moderate sized company, £22/month is peanuts.

If that's the apparent cost of not being compliant, it's not too surprising that 80% of companies don't bother.

The downside of buying American goods

Five years ago, we bought a Viking cooker, fridge and freezer; they came from Harrods. Today, we wanted to get the fridge serviced.

A Google search turned up no-one in the UK who could service a Viking fridge. So I contacted Viking.

Could you please give us contact details of a company in the UK that does servicing for the
Viking Professional? We have an 18.2 cu ft refrigerator and a 15.9 cu ft freezer. If we can't get anyone to service it, then we've made a terrible mistake in buying your products. Thank you.

They responded by getting a guy in Newcastle to call us. He said that it's too far for him to come.

So I tried to contact Viking again, to give them a second chance. Second time around, I filled in the online support form, but it no longer asks for "country", and when I give it my address details, it says "Not a valid zip code", because I gave my UK post code, of course.

So I've emailed them, explaining the story so far, asking for the details of a company that can do the servicing, and as a useful extra, telling them that their online form no longer works for their customers outside the USA.

Ladysolly is talking about buying another fridge. It's unlikely to be a Viking, unless they're able to recover from the impression I've got of them so far.

Then I went back to the Viking web site, and I found their international section . That led me to Middleby Worldwide UK. The suggested Warranty Solutions, who don't do Viking fridge servicing, but gave me the mobile number of their Viking expert, Stephen Stroud. He gave me the number of FFR Services. Their number is 0844 504 8326, and I spoke to someone there who gave me the mobile number of Bryan Williams.

Bryan sounds good, and he sounds like he knows what he's talking about! He does servicing for Viking fridges, freezers and cookers (and I'd guess a lot more besides) even though Viking isn't mentioned on their web site home page, although it is mentioned in their "about us".

I photographed the labels on the three appliances that give the model number and serial number, and emailed it to him. To fix the oven door, he thinks he'll need a new hinge, and he's waiting on parts from Viking for that. He charges £190 callout plus parts, so I think I've found what we've been looking for.

Viking, of course, are unaware of pretty much the only person in the UK who can service their appliances.

Sunday 28 June 2015

506e power supply - implementation

This idea was too good not to do. So I did it.

First, I cut the old power cable from the power brick. That gave me a cable with the right sort of connector on one end, and eight wires on the other end. The wires were: black, black, blue, red, red, orange, green and white. That slightly surprised me, I wasn't expecting a white. Obviously, the usual power colour conventions aren't being followed. So I traced each wire to the connector - the connector is documented on the power brick, thus:

On my cable, black black and blue were ground, red and red were +5v, orange was +12v, green was -12v and white was on/off.  WARNING - if you do this yourself, check the colours, maybe Cisco change it from time to time. Also check that the pinouts on the plug are the same. If they are different, then do what I did, and identify each wire with a continuity tester.

Then I took a 20-way power extender, suitable for a PC power supply, and cut it in half. On that, the black wires are ground, yellow is +12v, red is +5v, blue is -12v and green is on/off.

I soldered the Cisco cable ends to the extender power ends, wrapped it up in insulating tape, and now I have a cable that will let me use any PC power supply as a Cisco power supply.

And there's an idea for a business for you. If you go onto Ebay, you'll see tons of Pix 506e units for sale, at £25 or less, being sold without the PSU. That's probably because the PSU is a lot more likely to fail than the 506e itself. You'll also see power supplies for sale, at £25 to £50. WARNING - there's two kinds of units sold as 506 power supply; one has a white 3x2 plug, and won't fit in the 4x2 socket of the 506e, and the other one has a black 4x2 plug, which is the right one. The Wrong Sort of power supply is, of course, quite cheap.  And a Pix 506e including power supply, will probably fetch about £50 - £80, looking at Ebay today.

So the business would be; buy any Pix 506e that comes up on Ebay without power supply for £25 or less. Buy a few cheap power supplies. I notice that many of the Dell ones on Ebay have a 4x2 way plug that looks just like the Cisco one (but I doubt if they can be used for this, because they won't offer the range of voltages that the Pix wants). This must mean that the plugs aren't unique to Cisco, so you can probably buy them somewhere. A standard PC power supply will cost under £8.

Wire the power supply to the plug. If you cant find a source for the 4x2 plugs, I'd wire a 20-way to the 506e, so that you can plug the PC PSU straight into that.  Check that the Pix works, reset the password as per my previous blog, and you can sell a working Pix 506e, with "Special power supply", for, say £50, or £70 with a 12 month guarantee, and the cost to you was about £35. You should be pretty safe to guarantee it for 12 months, because as I said, the only failures I've ever had with Pixes are with the power supply, and you'll replace that for £8. The Pix is obsolete, but I can tell you that it works as well as it ever did, which is to say that it works superbly and the only failures I've ever had are with the power supply. One caveat; it only has two ethernet interfaces, so you can't use it to set up a DMZ, whereas the Cisco ASA 5505 with a base licence can be used to set up a DMZ.

It will give a throughput of 100 mbps, which is enough for any home user or small business. The competition is the Cisco ASA 5505 (150 Mbps, and judging from Ebay, they also suffer from failing power supplies, because there's tons available without PSU) which costs £300 new, £160 on Ebay.

Down with the stars and bars

Nine people were killed in a church by a Dylann Roof with a semiautomatic gun. A semiautomatic gun makes it quick and easy to shoot a large number of bullets in a short time - that's the whole purpose of the gun.

America's response to this, has been to remove some confederate flags from some flagpoles.

I wouldn't argue against doing that, but is it a sufficient response?

I keep hearing "guns don't kill people, it's people that kill people" and "if guns were unobtainable, people would kill with knives.

Here's what I wonder. If Roof had been armed with a knife, killing nine people would have been very difficult, probably impossible. And given the difficulty, would he have actually even tried? I don't know, but if he had, I don't think there would have been so many killed. People don't just stand around when someone starts waving a knife around. The key difference is A) a gun can kill at a distance, and B) a gun can kill a lot of people quickly.

Let's consider a particular genre of massacre - school shootings. This doesn't only happen in America, it also happens in the rest of the world. In England, for example, there was Dunblane in 1996, and there was legislation in reaction to that. But that's the only one I could find. On the other hand, in the USA there were 24 incidents just in 2014 and as far as I can see, the reaction each time (Columbine, Sandy Hook) has been "how terrible".
So here's my question. What benefit do Americans think they get from the widespread ownership of guns, that is worth this cost?

Saturday 27 June 2015

Pix 506e power supply

I'm currently using two pix 506e firewalls; one here, and one at my colocation. I have a third as spare, but no spare power supply, and it's the power supply that's most likely to go toes-up.

I have bought a spare power supply, but it's coming from the USA, and might take a while to get here. I've also bought another 506e with a power supply, so when either of those get to me, I'll feel that I have a fall-back.

This is only a short term solution. In the longer term, when my ethernet link finally arrives (it's taken eight months so far and counting), I plan to switch to a Pix 525, which has a great user interface, and when I'm happy that's working well, I'll switch to a pix 515, which has a DMZ, and will be my only firewall, with the Pix 525 as my backup in case of failure.

Today, I had a look at the failed 506e power supply, in case I could repair it. Maybe the problem is just a blown fuse? Sadly, no. But as I looked at the 506e power supply, I could see that what it gave was ground,+5v, +12v and -12v. And that's exacly what you can get out of an ordinary computer power supply.

So I checked around the web, and I found this and this, which show how you can adapt an ordinary PC power supply (costing under £10).

I have an even better idea.

If I cut off the cable from the dead pix power supply, then I have at one end, the plug that goes into the pix, and at the other end, eight wires. And there are also these, which I have several off in my spares box.

So I can cut one of those, removing the male plug, and then I have 24 wires. And all I need to do, is solder those 24 wires to the eight wires on the pix cable (carefully making sure that I connect the right ones) and I have an adaptor that will let me use any PC power supply, with any pix 506e, and I'd guess that this will be less than an hour's work. And even if that PC power supply dies, I can just use the same adaptor with another one.

But since I have two 506e power supplies on their way to me, there's not really any point in doing it. Pity; but it would be a neat fix, if things go south before the power supplies arrive.

By the way, here's what you do if you've just bought a second hand pix 506e (or any other pix), and you don't know the password. You connect to the serial port at 9600,N, 8, 1, power the pix on and when it does a 10 second countdown during startup, you hit "esc". That gets you the "monitor" prompt. Get the PIX password Lockout Utility from here. And that page also tells you how to run it.. After you've done this, the password to the unit is "cisco", so, of course, you should now change it, and create an enable password.

Friday 26 June 2015

Letchworth Garden City

Today, I went to Letchworth for a nice long bike ride. In the morning, I did 28 caches, and another 30 in the afternoon, although there were a fair few DNFs. Late in the afternoon, it rain quite heavily, so I got a bit wet. But that's all part of the fun, and at least it wasn't cold wet rain.

It seems to me that you don't need a GPS to geocache in Letchworth. Just look behind every green BT box and you'll find a cache.

Thursday 25 June 2015

Vehicle leasing spam fun

I got a spam email to one of the addresses I don't use; all that address ever gets is spam. A couple of decades ago, it got onto a list of email addresses, and it's been sold and resold endlessly ever since.

This time, the spam was from a vehicle leasing company. They thought it was a business address (it isn't) and that it had opted in (it hadn't). I told them this, and the spammer told me his tale of woe.

He bought a list from a Nigerian (not all Nigerians are crooks), 600,000 addresses, and he spammed to it. He got 10% failures to arrive, and 10% unsubscribes. I didn't point out to him that most people being spammed don't bother to unsubscribe, so 10% is a big number.

So, he said, that went well, he even got some sales leads. So then he bought 1,200,000 addresses from the same person. What he got, was the same 600,000 he already bought, and an additional 600,000. So he pointed this out, and was told "I never said they'd be different", which is maybe true, but it's kind of implied in the transaction. So he refused to pay the invoice, and only paid half, which sounds reasonable to me, but the vendor was very angry, and called him names and made threats.

Then he told me the name of the list vendor, and it's a company I've met before. And the name of the guy running it, also rang a bell. I looked him up in my records, and sure enough, there he was, and it was also in connection with vehicle leasing.

So I phoned him, he was on the same number as before. As soon as I started to tell him the problem, he remembered me, He said he'll look into it, but I'm not terribly optimistic.

The business of selling email lists, is full of people with doubtful ethics. You could say that this servers the buyers right; it's the buyers of lists that are actually doing the spamming.

So if you're in the vehicle leasing business, and you're thinking of buying a mailing list, contact me first and run the name of the vendor past me, and I'll tell you if they're known to me.

More UPS maintenance

The eight batteries for the APC 3000 arrived today, so I did the swap-out. I took down the servers that were on that UPS, opened it up and the old batteries came out very easily - so often, I have to lever them out with a crowbar and mallet! The replacements slid in, and the UPS was back on line a few minutes later.

Then I tested the batteries I'd taken out. Six of them looked good, showing 13.5 volts, but two of them were showing 11 and 9 volts, and that's perhaps why I was getting a battery alarm. But six good batteries - if only I could think of a use for them ....

And then it occurred to me; the Mustek 2000s that I have, use the same sort of batteries, and I have three of them out of action. So I pulled the batteries apart (they were stuck together with sticky-back plastic), and one by one, I took the Musteks apart and put in the replacement batteries. I reassembled them, and tested each one by plugging in my soldering iron as a load, and they seem OK.

So now all my five APC3000s are working, plus I have three extra Mustek 2000s to play with. A good day's work.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

UPS preventive maintenance

I was working in the data room, and something suddenly started beeping. My ears took me to one of my big UPSes. It soon stopped beeping, but there's a red light showing, indicating battery failure. They haven't actually failed, but my label on the UPS tells me that I last put in new batteries in 2011, so they're four years old, and these batteries last three to five years.

So I've ordered a replacement set of batteries, which should arrive soon.

I also thought a bit about which of my servers actually need to be on a UPS and which don't - this led me to powering down two servers, and putting two others onto non-UPS power.

And I've done a census; I have a non-working APC 3000 (last time I powered it up after putting in batteries, there was a flash and a bang), three non-working BPC UPSes and severs smaller units that don't work. One of more of the smaller units might be repairable, so I've ordered batteries for one of them.

A conclusion I draw from this, is that APC 3000s are more reliable than others I've used in the past. Of course, they all  need new batteries every 3-5 years.

Tuesday 23 June 2015


Today was a long trip on the bike - 70 caches. First I did the Warmington Waypoint, then the Morbonne Maillot Jeune, and I wore a yellow jersey to do it! I had some great views of the Morbonne Transmitter.

You can see why it always makes me think of Laurel and Hardy.

Then on to the 90th BBH event, for a fish and chip supper and lots of caching chat with the folks there.

Monday 22 June 2015

DSL fails again

The DSL router that I put in as a replacement for the one that failed recently ... failed. I rebooted it, but it connected for two seconds before it failed again, and it did that consistently each time I rebooted it.

So I put in the router that worked for a day or so before failing, and that worked fine, which tells me that it isn't a line fault, it's a router fault.

The router I use is by Cnet, "conexant hasbani", whatever that is. I've been using them for several years. Originally, I had six of them working in parallel, because the best line I could get was 0.5 megabit, but then I was able to get a much faster DSL, so I cut down to three, which left me with three working DSLs in reserve.

I have now used all of those. In my junk box, I see nine non-working routers like this, so they obviously have a limited lifespan. Fortunately, when I originally bought them (several years ago) I bought two spares, and those were still boxed and unused. So I brought one of those into play, and it's working fine.

They only cost me £15 when I bought them, so I'm not really complaining!

I just checked. They are still available! They are now called "Trust" but it's the same box, and they cost £12. But, just in case, I've ordered a "Siemens Wireless G Router 54 Mbps 4-Port 10/100 Gigaset SE587 WLAN dsl" from Ebay, for £4.95 (which is a really silly price, I guess someone got a large number of these as bankrupt stock or suchlike), because maybe it will last longer, and anyway it will mean I have another wireless point in the house.

Sunday 21 June 2015

Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone.

When you first hear this, you might think, "How wise, how noble, how true". But let's actually apply a bit of critical thinking to this idea.

So let's restate the idea; you shouldn't punish anyone unless you are without sin. But Christianity teaches us that we are all sinners, and I have to admit that I'd be very surprised if you could show me any adult (apart from fictional characters) who are sinless. So the suggestion is that we should never punish anyone.

This is absurd, as is evidenced by the fact that every human culture there is the concept of crime and punishment. Punishment has three purposes. 1) it acts as a deterrent to committing future crimes, 2) in prison there are very few crimes that you can commit and 3) prison can be an opportunity for rehabilitation, to turn your life around.

So since we're all agreed that punishment for crime is a good idea, it follows that we all think that the idea "Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone" is nonsense.

Saturday 20 June 2015

A taste of London

If you go down to Regents Park today, you're sure of a big surprise. It's like a computer show, only for food and drink.

A lot of it is drink. And a lot of the food is rubbish. Some of the food was good; I had some great barbecued lamb chops  and chicken, and some excellent ice cream. But most of the food wasn't really of interest.

To find the good stuff, look for the crowds. Where a stand is packed, there's good food. But there were only a few.

The stands make the same mistakes as I used to see at computer shows. On far too many stands, it's completely obscure what they're offering, and on a great many, you can see what they're selling, but they don't show their prices.

It's also eye-wateringly expensive. How about £9 for a single lamb chop? I expect the vendors are paying a huge fee to the organisers, who are paying a big cut to the owners of Regents Park. But from the point of view of the consumer - wow!

You pay in crowns. A crown is, of course, five shillings. Except is isn't, it's £1. You buy your crowns for £1 each, and pay the vendors with these tokens. Of course, the vendors won't be getting £1 for each crown, which explains why they're very happy to be paid in cash.

The 34th birthday of daughter.1 was being celebrated here, so we all had a great time, and I (and some others) got somewhat tipsy.

Is vaping good or bad?

Some very clever chemist invented the e-cigarette. This is a battery-operated device, the same size as a cigarette, which uses a heating element to vaporise a dose of nicotine. You then breathe that in, and that gives you your nicotine fix.

I'm not a smoker, never have been. But I know smokers, and they tell me that it's very, very difficult to give it up; the problem is the craving for nicotine, So why do they want to give it up? Because cigarettes can make you very ill, or kill you. However, it isn't the nicotine that does the damage, it's the tar, the smoke, and the other junk that you inhale deep inside your lungs which aren't designed to deal with this.

So if you switch from smoking cigarettes, to e-cigarettes, you reap huge health benefits. But what about the people around you? What about passive vaping?

Well, I'm pretty sceptical about the damage done by passive smoking; I think the air would have to be heavily smoky, and long term, to make much difference. I don't like to be close to a smoker, though; the smell is horrible, and I prefer to move away. So I'm happy with a ban on indoor smoking, and I certainly wouldn't let anyone smoke in my house or my car. So, on the whole, I support an indoors smoking ban.

Vaping? I don't know. What is coming out of the device is mostly water vapour, but also the flavouring, glycerin and propylene glycol, and perhaps some nicotine. Water vapour is harmless, but I wouldn't want to be breathing in large amounts of nicotine. However, research has shown that the amount of nicotine you get from passive vaping, it really tiny, which isn't surprising. Why? Because, think about it. To get a sufficient dose of nicotine, the vaper inhales the whole amount into her lungs. But the passive vaper, is inhaling something diluted by a roomful of air. So the answer is, maybe, but certainly not as bad as passive smoking.

Another issue, is, does vaping lead to smoking? Is it a "gateway" drug? If someone takes up vaping, will that lead them on to smoking? I don't think so; I don't see why it would. Smoking is massively more expensive, and everyone knows about the health risks. Whereas, we do know that smokers turn to vaping as a good way to give up the more harmful and expensive habit of smoking.

So should vaping be discouraged, or banned in enclosed public places? Well, this depends on how harmful passive vaping is. So maybe more research is needed. Here's a proposal.

We want an experimental group and a control group. In the experimental group, we'd discourage vaping, on the grounds of "gateway" and "passive". This would lead to fewer people giving up smoking (and therefore more deaths and illness), sadly, but we must make sacrifices to arrive at truth. In the control group, we wouldn't discourage or regulate vaping.

It would, of course, be grossly unethical to force a group of people to be our experimental group and suffer in health as a result. We couldn't do that, in good conscience, to a group of people.

However, the Welsh are about to do it to themselves.

Friday 19 June 2015

Pix down

The great thing about a firewall is that it keeps intruders out. The bad thing about a firewall is, if it goes down, it becomes a brick wall. And that's what happened today.

In my experience, Pixes never go down. Well, today, mine did, and access was lost for five hours. Meanwhile, I was out geocaching, and didn't know. When I got back, my alarms system was reporting six thousand errors, because each server had been unable to talk to the firewall.

I powered it off and on again. The lights flickered, and died. I tried a couple more times, and it didn't get any better. So I powered it off and went to hunt for my spare Pix 506E.

Eventually, I found it in one place,, and the power supply in another. When I brought them togather, I found out why I'd done that - the Pix worked, but the power supply didn't.


Then I powered on the Pix that had failed, and it came alive, and stayed alive. So I dont know what's wrong there. But I do know this - I need a spare, so I've ordered a new power supply from Ebay, and also a new Pix 506E plus power supply; if I get both, I'll have two spares!

And when I switch from using a colocation to using a 100 mbit feed, I'll have two more spares, because at that point, I'm planning not to use a 506E. I have a 525 and a 515 ready to roll.

Wakerley Wood Wander

Today, SimplyPaul and I went to Wakerley wood, to do the Halloween caches set in 2014. I had a go at some of these a few months ago, but there were plenty left to do.

Cycling around the forest was quite exhausting, and my back was hurting by the time we finished. We did 30 caches in six hours, which is a very slow rate of caching. This was mostly because so many of them were hard to find; the original Halloween scary caches had been replaced by micros, and GPS accuracy in a wood tends to be rather poor.

We managed to do them all, except for one DNF, although we spent a long time looking for that one.

Back at the car, we finished our day in the wood with a very late lunch and coffee, followed by a very simple Whereigo

Thursday 18 June 2015

UPS failures

There was a blip in the electriciy. That shouldn't cause me a problem, everything has UPSes. But after the blip, two of the UPSes were off, so lots of hassle for me.

One of the UPSes was the one upstairs. That's not a problem, it's just workstations. I restarted the UPS and it was fine, I could log into things.

Or rather, I couldn't.

Investigation revealed that the UPS in the cupboard under the stairs had failed too. And that powers the DSLs (unimportant, except that ladysolly's iPad couldn't reach the internet) and the 32-way distribution switch, which is very very important, because it links pretty much everything together.

So, I replaced that UPS with one that wasn't doing much, and now that's looking good.

Then I discovered that another UPS had failed. It was powered-on, but it had lost power for a short while. As a result, five computers had rebooted, and a lot of what needs to be run at boot-up, isn't automated (that's deliberate). So I took that UPS out of action, and connected those five to one of my "BIG FIVE" UPSes, one that wasn't carrying much load.

The root of the problem is that the batteries in UPSes are sealed lead acid (SLA). SLA batteries don't last for ever, I'd estimate that they'll be good for three to five years. And the failing UPSes were last re-batteried in 2010.

I took the one from the DSL cupboard apart, and re-batteried it with a set I've only just bought. But when I tried to power it on, it just sat there sullenly, refusing to wake. So that's probably no good now. I also took the one that had been powering those five computers apart, found that one of the batteries inside was duff, and replaced that with a goodish one (I say goodish, because although it's a few years old, it was showing 12 volts). That is now my only spare UPS, although I have another that's covering three computers, and those could go onto one of my BIG FIVE.

I nearly joined the Union

Back in the mid 1980s, I nearly joined a union. I was writing for several computer magazines as a freelance. It was a great deal for me. I could knock out a 1000 word article in an hour, writing it on a little computer I carried in the train as I commuted in to my day job, and I'd get £100 for it. And it was like a free advertisement too, because my name was our brand name. And on the rare days that I went in to visit the magazines, I went away loaded down with technical manuals and other good stuff.

After doing this for a while, my editor at PC Magazine told me that I ought to join the union - the National Union of Journalists. Well, when you're a freelance, you tend to do what your editor suggests, so I applied to join the NUJ.

They rejected my application, because I was only part time. Well, I wasn't too sad about that, I was only doing it to make my editor happy.

Then the NUJ called a strike against VNU, one of the big magazine publishers, they published of PC Week and PC Magazine. And they had a picket line. And I made a point of visiting that day, and walked through the picket lines, explaining to the pickets that since the NUJ wouldn't let me join the union, I wasn't going to support the NUJ strike.

RBS screw up again

Do you bank with RBS? 600,000 customer payments fell into a black hole. 600,000 people aren't getting the money they expected, and in some cases, rely on.

RBS has form on this; they had a major outage in 2012.

If I banked with RBS, which I don't, or Natwest (affected by the same problem), I'd be changing my bank. If a bank can't even do this fundamental task, Then clearly, they are not "too big to fail", because they just failed.

Two days ago, the head of RBS, Ross McEwan, said "we have now built a lot of resilience back into the bank, which we're very proud of."


Wednesday 17 June 2015

Yaxley Yomp

I've been here a few times, but there's a series called "Tour de Yaxley" which is perfect for cyclisme. I did that circuit, 40 caches, back to Froggy for lunch, then another dozen across the motorway. Then I relocated to Yaxley itself, and did a series of eight, plus four multi church micros, for a total of 67 found and one DNF..

I got some good pictures. This is a gauging station. I don't know what a gauging station is. I suppose it's a station where you gauge.

Norman Cross has a cuckoo on a stick.

My bike is inside this small church in a random place along the bridleway. My bike doesn't get to go inside churches much. Inside on the right, there's a Tupperware box with religious books in. The cache is on the other side.

A small collection of birds of prey as I cycled past. They didn't like the bike, and tried to take off as I went by, but they were chained to their perches, so just did a faceplant on the grass.

Mr Brock, RIP.

The is the Morlock Transmitter. It isn't really Morlock, but I can never remember the name. Anyway, it always reminds me of Laurel and Hardy, and I was whistling the Cuckoo Song as I biked past.

I love this notice.

Tuesday 16 June 2015

Bike maintenance

Just a bit, today. I replaced the cable tie that broke while I was out yesterday, checked that the brake pads were still good, checked that the rear gearchanger was still good. Then the tires. I don't know why, but on my rear wheel, the inner tube creeps around; I can tell because the angle the valve makes with the rim, which should be 90 degrees, gets sharper and sharper, and I also know that if it gets bad enough, the valve will suddenly sheer off, or at least fail, leaving me with a flat tire. Because that happened to me once.

So I deflated the tire, worked the inner tube back to where it should be, then reinflated. I also topped up the front tire which was down to 20 psi (I want it at 40).

Froggy went well yesterday. I've added tome duct tape in places where putting my bike in and out might scratch the paintwork, and I've put an odd sock (Zionists stole the other one) over the right pedal to stop it from scratching the paintwork as I put it inside.

As soon as the petrol can is empty, I'll leave it open for a while to evaporate any residual, then I'll paint the word "DIESEL" on it and use it as my spare gallon.

Monday 15 June 2015

Sometimes critical thinking fails

Sometimes, I see a story that I just can't parse.

Asghar Bukhari has had one of his shoes stolen by Zionists.

So now I try to use my critical thinking skills. What's the truth of this story? Is he serious? Mistaken? Correct? I apply the "likelihood" test - what is more likely, that an unnamed Zionist agency sneaked into his house and stole one of his shoes in order to intimidate him, or that the explanation is something else.

He doesn't have a dog. He has a cat, but no cat flap. The shoe has gone, and we don't have a good explanation. Perhaps god did it?

Here's the only way I can make sense of this. It's the Zionists, of course, because everything is the Zionists. and one of them is pretending to be Asghar Bukhari and is spreading this story in order to make him look silly.

Well your ploy hasn't worked, Zionists! I've seen though your evil plot.

So you might as well give him his shoe back.

Froggy's debut

Today was Froggy's first outing as a cachemobile; we went to Royston and Melbourne. This took us to the A10, a road I often hitchhiked along when travelling between home in Stamford Hill and college at Cambridge. And I still remember spending a horribly long time being stuck in Melbourne.

One of the big plusses of Froggy over Freda, is that  Froggy has DAB radio, That meant that I wasn't forced to listen to the Archers and Front Row on the way home; instead I enjoyed (for the fourth time) an episode of Dad's Army; the one with the bagpipes and haggis.

I did two circuits, but it wasn't that simple. I did loads of extra caches as well as those. And I wound up with 61 caches today; it was a good day out.

Sunday 14 June 2015

IBM PC User Group Newsletter

20 years ago, I wrote two regular columns for the IBM PC User Group Newsletter, Dr Solomon's Surgery (where I was a PC agony aunt) and Dr Solomon's Workshop, where I tackled interesting technical issues connected with the PC. Many of these are on my web site.

Recently, I attended a family reunion (ladysolly's side of the family), and one of the attendees gave me a collection of old issues of the newsletter. I've been reading through them, and in the July issue, I found one of my favourite Workshop articles. It's on my web site, along with loads of others from those days. It's all about pointers, linked lists and hashing, and it's still, 20 years later, a useful article. And it mentions daughter.1.

Dog on wheels

Some people might remember this. About 20 years ago, we set up a stand for antivirus, themed around Dr Who. We got permission from the BBC for this, but we weren't allowed to have a Dalek (because Daleks don't belong to the BBC). And we weren't allowed to have a K9.

It was bad enough not being allowed a Dalek (but we got a thing that let us do Dalek-like voices - exterminate). But not to be allowed a K9? Insult to injury.

So I led a team down to London to find a good substitute. Hamleys had nothing, but in Harrods, we found something like this.

And when the time came for K9 to take the stage, we brought on our dog-on-wheels, and got a great laugh.

So I was round at grandson.1's place, and when I saw his dog on wheels, it brought back the memory!

Friday 12 June 2015

I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition

In 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella made the Alhambra Decree. This said that jews had to convert to Catholicism, or else. And if you only pretended to convert, and got found out, the Spanish Inquisition would have a word with you.

In response, a lot of people left Spain, and these are what we call the Sephardi jews, who have a slightly different culture from the Ashkenazi jews. I know this, because my sister (an Ashkenazi like me) married a Sephardi, and when I go each year to the Seder night, I see the differences; for example, Sephardis eat rice over the Passover, You might think that this is a pretty silly difference, but hey, religion. And in general, Sephardi cuisine is different from the Ashkenazi cuisine that is my heritage. This is important to me, because although I'm an atheist by conviction, I'm still gastronomically a jew.

Anyway. Good news. The Spanish has said that the Sephardis can return, only 523 years later. Which is jolly decent of them, but I doubt if my sister will be taking up their kind offer (and I'm not sure if it applies to her, since she's only Sephardi by marriage).

Update from my sister ...

Sephardim - there are some that stayed in middle east countries for over 2-3000 years ...Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Jordan, Israel etc. During that time some moved on. they settled in Spain, Portugal, France, Morrocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Italy. The Spanish and Portugese became prosperous and stayed. They even developed their own jewish language called Landino. They developed their own recipes etc so Spanish and Portugese are not the original Sephardim, but a sub group.

Others are just as interesting.  The Silk route meant that jews set up in China. They dressed  Chinese, and due to many generations of intermarriage they all looked Chinese. There are very few left now since early 20th century. Then the Cochin jews are said to be from a shipwreck and were isolated for hundreds of years in Cochin, India. They also intermarried and look very Indian. And the black jews of Ethiopia were practicing isolated. Rabbi's in Israel argued that they were not jewish, but they had great discrimination against them, and were in danger so they were airlifted to Israel. I think some over there still are not sure if they are jewish, and these black jews still suffer discrimination but can live in much more safety and comfort.

Solly's heritage is Iraq.  His family all spoke Arabic. Also English. Then the Iraqi Antisemitism started with mob murders. Then state got onto bandwagon and things got really bad. about 1920-30s (The Caliph was getting friendly with Hitler). Over the next few decades most jews left mainly forced out stateless and pennyless. Some got there money out.

Solly's Dad's family upped sticks and went to Burma where his dad was born. Mean while his mum's family went to Calcutta. His mum & dad both spoke English, but of course spoke Hindu and Burmese respectively. They adapted their Cuisine but are still heavily based on Iraqi Jewish food. His dad and most of his family had to escape Burma when the Japanese arrived in WW2. They went to Calcutta. but already the two communities were trading with each other.

Now you have typically Jewish food, that is Ashkenazi, Iraqi, Spanish/Portugese, Chinese, Indian, Morroccan, Lebanese, Syrian etc etc. Solly's family recipes are mainly Indian Jewish. The first time I ate at my inlaws they were surprised I had not met typically Jewish Food - Nope never seen Aloo Mekalla, Shiftas, yellow chicken, Pilou, etc!!

Here I will introduce an Ashkenazi twist of the Kons family. Our Grandpa  also had rice during Pessach I do not know why. He was from Romania. Before he left Romania he did go to Turkey to work for his uncle who was living there I guesstimate that may have been around 1890. 

Froggie arrives!

New car part 5 - Froggie has arrived, and she's very nice.

Thursday 11 June 2015

New car part 5

I did a test drive of the new (March 2014) car today. It's a diesel, so there's a slight lag between putting my foot down and the acceleration, but it's a very slight gap, and I'll soon get used to it. I like the DAB radio, because I'll be able to get Radio 4 Extra, instead of having to listen only to Radio 4 as I drive home after caching. That means Hancock instead of the Archers!

The electric handbrake is going to take some getting used to; I kept reaching for the lever. There's no "privacy glass", but if anyone peers into the back of my car, they'll see two wire baskets full of junk (my caching stuff), and (optionally, when I'm in the car) a folding bike, so I don't think it'll be an attractive car to rob. The air conditioning is as good as Freda's was, which is really good. There's fog lamps, but I can only remember one occasion where I was in thick fog, and it was so bad then, I was driving at 10 or 20 mph, so I doubt if the fog lamps would have helped much.

It still has the different driving terrain modes; snow, mud etc. I've rarely used those, because I'm only rarely driving on really difficult terrain.

The "parking distance control" doesn't seem too good. It seems to alert whether I'm near to the car behind or not, but maybe I'll get more used to it. There's no satnav, but I'm totally happy with that, because I'd rather use my Tomtom, I can put 50,000 geocaching POIs into it, and I can program my destination while sitting in my office.

So, overall, I'm happy, and I have a name for her - Froggy, from "FReelander Orkney Grey"; thanks to a suggestion from an anonymous poster who suggested "Foggy", but I already have a computer of that name, hence "Froggy". The satnav will still be called "Madge".

Froggy will arrive in a day or two. Freda has been sold for a rather paltry sum. I wish her well for the future; she'll be sold at auction, hopefully to a good home.

Two factor identification problems

A lot of people are advocating two factor identification as a way to improve security. But it isn't as simple as that.

There's always a trade-off between security and convenience. And here's an example.

The DVLA (the UK's Driving Licence authority) have introduced a new scheme, starting this week. Before, if you wanted to prove that you have a driving licence, you showed your driving licence. Simple. There was a plastic card, and a paper with the details, showing what you could drive, and what penalty points you had. So if, for example, you wanted to hire a car, you showed them that, then you could drive away.

Now it's different. You have to go to their web site and fill in a form, giving your driving licence number and your National Insurance number. That gives you an 8 character code, and third parties can check that code and your driving licence number do see the details that were previously on the paper. The code is only valid for 72 hours, and can only be used once.

So here's the problem. What if, three days after you generated that code, you need to do it again? If you've made a note of your National Insurance number, and if you have internet access, you'll be OK. But if you don't, you're stuck. And if the DVLA web site is down, you're stuck.

If you're thinking of introducing two factor identification, you should think carefully about the ways that it can go wrong, before you make it compulsory.

Wednesday 10 June 2015

Dead man's handle

Have you ever wondered what would happen if the person driving the train you're on, were to die at the controls? Will the train hurtle on until it collides with something?

No, of course not. There's a dead man's handle. The train stops safely as soon as the person at the control is no longer able to control the train.

It's a very good idea, and it's been adopted by "You've been left behind", except that YBLB are preying on the credulous. Here's the deal.

You pay $14.95 per month. They'll store up to 250 mb of documents, which will be emailed to up to 62 email addresses of your choice, in the event that the Rapture happens.

The Rapture, I hear you ask? Yes. That's when all the Chosen Ones are whisked up to heaven, just before the End Times. They just go, and the rest of us are Left Behind.

So they've found four Christian couples, If three out of four fail to log in to show that they're still non-Raptured, then the system assumes that the Rapture has happened (dead man's handle), and those 250 mb of documents will be automatically mailed to the addresses you chose, which will give your loved ones a last chance to Repent.

Well, the first thing I notice, is that if millions of people suddenly disappear, leaving their clothes behind where they stood, it'll make the news. And if this happens, even atheists like you and I will think, hmm, maybe this is evidence that the Christians were right all along. I've mentioned this before; I don't have a "faith muscle" whereby I can voluntarily believe in something just by willing it. But in the face of such concrete evidence, an additional 250 mb of documents isn't going to matter much; I'll be revising my beliefs substantially. And if the Rapture happens, then if you don't know what it all means, you'll soon be informed by the world media.

The second thing I wonder, is how to they know that the couples that they've chosen, will be Raptured? If two couples are raptured and two aren't, the emails don't go out. Although I guess the two that are still there will notice that millions of people have been Raptured, and I would hope, they have a way to send out those vital emails.

And the third thing I wonder is whether the internet will still be working. With millions of people disappearing, there will be world-wide consternation. And a lot of data centers will go down. And electricity might become unreliable. And the emails might not arrive.

And the fourth thing I wonder, is, what if those emails are blocked by spam filters?

And the last thing I wonder is, why didn't I think of this? What a great way to make $14.95 per month for doing nothing!

New car part 4

I've been offered a very tiny sum for Freda (if you saw her, you'd understand why, she's very battered and dented), and if I spent several thousand to have her fixed, she'd be worth a couple of thousand. So it's out to pasture for Freda.

We went back to Chipperfield to have a look at a replacement, not that anything will replace Freda in our hearts. They have a few possibilities. I eliminated the one without a heated windscreen, because having a heated windscreen in the winter, means that by the time I get out of the front gate, I can see where I'm going, and I won't need to spend a while scrubbing away at the frost.

They're still getting it ready, so I couldn't test drive it. We're going back tomorrow for a drive (and I'd better remember my driving licence), although I very much doubt if that will raise any questions. I already know that the drive will feel quite different from Freda, because the new car is diesel; Freda was petrol.

Which leaves an important question. Would anyone like to suggest a name for the new car, which is a diesel-engined (my first) Freelander GS, in Orkney Grey metallic paint.

Tuesday 9 June 2015

New car, part 3

The garage has reported a plethora of problems. The bottom line looks like £3000 or more, and if you could see the battered, scratched and dented state of Freda, you'd understand why it's looking like she'll be going to that Great Car Park in the Sky, because God wants another 4WD.

On the good side, I took the Volvo out caching today, and she carried my folding bike, batteries and the huge quantity of caching paraphenalia I always take, with no problems, so the need isn't urgent, I can take some time to get a good replacement.

Although nothing can replace Freda.


When Swift wrote his "Modest proposal", little did he know what he was starting. Today, there are many satire web sites, and some of them are quite funny. I don't think that  the Onion  is much good, but it's very popular, so a lot of people must disagree with me.

The problem happens when a satire site is quoted without the context. And so it isn't at all obvious that it's satire. And when that happens, you can see people taking the anti-fact on board (an anti-fact is something that a satire makes up and pretends, for the sake of satire, is a fact, but you know it isn't a fact because it's satire. Unless you didn't know it's satire).

Here's a recent example

This article was posted by someone on Facebook, and there followed a discussion in which no-one seemed to have noticed that the article quoted was satirical.

Critical thinking, folks. If you read just the headline "Smoking in public before 8 p.m. to be illegal starting July 1" then you might take it as real, unless you think critically and ask yourself "Is this likely to be true?" followed by a rather easy piece of research (i.e., read the rest of the article) which confirms "No, it isn't true, it's satire".

And, by the way, here's another useful aid to critical thinking.

Can a $2.50 gadget extend alkaline battery life by 800%?

This is a real product, being covered by a non-satirical web site. But the giveaway is the question mark in the headline. Betteridge's law of headlines; any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.

What's happening here, is that the author of the article knows perfectly well that the story is bullshit. But he still wants to run the article, and by framing it as a question, he isn't actually telling a lie.

And by the way, it's a real product, and useful, and will extend battery life by maybe 20% or 30%.

Riding around Reading

Today I went to the west of Reading. The interesting thing about today's ride, is that most of the time I was riding on tracks that aren't shown on the map, and the area is infested with canals, rivers, railways and a motorway, so getting from A to B was quite iffy.

Despite this, I managed to do 44 caches, and there were only two DNFs.

And I found a cache of a type I've never seen before, which doesn't happen often. It was a nail in a post, with the log in a tube on the end of the nail. The only thing that gave it away, was that the nail was loose.

Monday 8 June 2015

New car, part 2

Freda the Freelander goes to the garage tomorrow. I'm going out caching using the Volvo estate. Some time tomorrow, I'll get a phone call telling me how much it's going to cost to keep Freda running.

My current thinking is that the problem is with the VCU, the viscous coupling unit, the thing that connects the front wheels with the back wheels. If it is that, I'm looking at just a few hundred pounds. The recommendation is to replace it every 70,000 miles, and I've done 180,000. Another possibility is that the problem is to do with the handbrake. And the third possibility is that it's neither of the above.

I contacted Bones; he's already sold his Freelander 2, and he got a very good price for it. I have my eye on another Freelander 2, vintage 2014, costing around £25,000. That's a lot less than I paid for Freda.

Sunday 7 June 2015

In defence of negativity

I have noticed that there seems to be, in many people, a bias against negativity. This is, of course, a negative attitude, but never mind. The next person who tells me "don't be negative" will have this pointed out to them.

Negativity, like positivity, is neither good nor bad. It's plainly right to be negative about some things; you can make your own list, which might include brussel sprouts and Marmite, both of which I love.

Some people seem to believe that, in every negative situation, you should look for the positive. So, if you've sprained your ankle and can't go out for a walk today, you should see the positive benefits of this; you can stay indoors and read an improving book. Or even worse - this is part of Gods Great Plan, and just because you can't see a good reason for your sprained ankle, that just means that you can't understand God's Great Plan


If I preferred to read a book to going out for a walk, I would do just that. If my sprained ankle prevents me walking, that's not a positive, it's a negative, and I'm not afraid to say so. OK, I'll do the next best thing, but that wasn't my first choice.

Having said that, I'm an optimist. A severe optimist. A half full glass gives me something to drink; a half empty glass gives me the opportunity to fill it and drink. Indeed, one of my favourite sayings is that every problem is just an opportunity seen from the other end. But before you can see the opportunity, you have to see the problem, and a problem is, of course, a negative.

But how do you distinguish between a positive and a negative? That brings me to my other point - judgement. In order to make that differentiation, you have to use your judgement. Or, in the language of today, you have to "be judgemental". Which is thought to be negative.

How often have I heard "don't be judgemental"? Far too often. But if you don't use your judgement on things, people and situations, how will you decide whether they are good or bad? It is of prime importance that we be judgemental. The alternatives are to suspend judgement (which is a valid alternative, unless you need to actually do something, in which case action without judgement is like jumping with your eyes closed) or to have faith.

Well, readers of this blog must know by now that faith is just a synonym for gullibility.

So we should be positive or negative, as the situation requires, and we should never be reluctant to use our judgement.

Friday 5 June 2015

Bike maintenance, and a new car?

Regular readers of this blog know that bike maintenance isn't a chore, it's a joy.

Today, I replaced the right hand pedal on my main bike, because the old one had fallen apart, and was now held together with duct tape. While doing this mainenance, I also replaced one of the handlebar ends, which had become loose and was in a bad state, and I also adjusted the gears - this time, the front set, which I rarely use (because with an electric bike you rarely need very low gears), but which I think I would find useful - so I got them working. I also rearranged the controls on the handlebar, so that changing gear would be easier.

The car, on the other hand, isn't a joy. I drive a Landrover Freelander II, which is now about nine years old, and very battered and scraped. I don't mind that, but recently there's been a lot of sound coming from the car, and I'm wondering if it's the automatic transmission.

It's done a lot of miles; 180,000 I think. And it's been pretty reliable, apart from a tendency to overheat in traffic jams. I'm thinking that a new transmission (if that's what's needed) will cost a lot more than the value of the car plus new transmission, in which case, I might be about to get a new car.

I do like that car. The turning circle is really good, and I can get all my caching stuff, plus the bike, into the back. My caching stuff goes in baskets that are 74cm high, 90 cm wide, 45 cm deep. The space where my bike goes is 80 cm high, and it just fits. Maybe I'll get another Freelander? No, I won't. They've stopped making them. The older I get, the more this happens to me - things that I want to replace on a like-for-like basis, can't be replaced because they've been obsoleted.

Instead, there's the Discovery Sport. That costs £34k. The thing I don't know is whether that will take my caching stuff and bike. The turning circle is 11.6 meters, compared with 11.4 for my Freelander. The rear area is 78 cm high, 132 m wide for 1700 litres total. And it can wade in 60 cm water. But you only get 37 mpg (their figures) and 0-60 is 8.8 seconds. Electric seat is £420.

The Disco 4 turning circle is 11.45. The SE starts at £42k, and I'm sure it will take all my caching stuff and bike. That's without satnav (which I never use, because I prefer to use my Tomtom). If you fold down all the seats (as I would), you get a space 103 cm high by 124 cm wide for a total of 2560 litres. It can wade in 70 cm. You only get 53 mpg (their figures) and 0-60 is 8.4 seconds. Electric seat is £815, power fold mirrors are £215.

Actually, what I really want is a self driving electric car with a 500 mile range. But I don't think there is one.

But there is a hybrid 4x4; the Mitsubishi. With 32 miles of electric range. Which sounds to me like it's designed for mostly short trips, whereas I do mosly long trips.

So it's looking like a Disco Sport SE; it's cheaper, faster, and a lot more economical. Unless it's too small inside, in which case it's the Disco 4 SE..

Thursday 4 June 2015

Goring again

This was my second trip to Goring this week, to finish off the caches that I didn't do on Monday. 48 caches done, including a couple of puzzles, but a few DNFs.

The right pedal on my bike broke; I did a temporary repair with duct tape, and now I'll replace it.

Wednesday 3 June 2015


I got the big bike out today, for a trip to Old Amersham. First, the hospital for my regular 3-monthly blood test, and to visit the library there, where I picked up five books. Then on to the barber; they've been there for 150 years, but it's the first time I've visited this barber. Snip snip snip; no fuss, no bother, and I came out with my annual haircut.

The barber suggested that I might make it twice a year, but I explained that this would be silly, because it would mean that I'm be getting a haircut for winter, whereas by having it once a year, it's a haircut in time for summer.

Monday 1 June 2015

Deduction, induction and contradiction.

In order to think, we need the tools for thinking. And thinking can be slippery. Consider the following proof.

A normal dog has one more tail than no dog.
No dog has two tails
Therefore a normal dog has three tails.

The fallacy here is simple; the phrase "no dog" has two different meanings. But it illustrates how easy it can be to think fallaciously. And in particular, when dealing with concepts like "zero" and "nothing", you have to be especially watchful.

I'm used to three ways to prove things. The first is deduction.

Suppose 2x = 6, then what is x? Well, we divide both sides by 2 to get x=3. That's deduction.
Another deduction: All dogs have a tail. Rover is a dog. Therefore, Rover has a tail.

Induction is also good, but more subtle. Suppose we want to prove that for all integers, 1 + 2 + 3 + ... + n = n(n + 1)/2

First, is it true for n=1? A few momentw using your fingers will convence you that it is. A good start.

Now, suppose it's true for integer n. Is it true for n+1? Well, if it's true for n, and we add n+1 to both sides of the equation, then the right hand side becomes (n-squared+n)/2+n+1 = (n-squared+3n+2)/2 = ((n+1)(n+2)/2.

So for any n, it's also true for n+1. And it's true for 1. So it's true for all integers.

The third, and my favourite proof, is proof by contradiction. I will now prove that there's an infinite number of prime numbers.

Suppose there's a finite number of primes, N. Multiply them all together, and add one. This must be a prime, because if you divide it by any of the lower primes, you get a remainder of one. And clearly it's larger than the others. So there's one more prime than we thought. Contradiction! So there cannot be a finite number pf primes.

A nice day out

I went to Goring today; I did a circuit of 33, and a bunch of extras for a total of 48 caches. A couple of nice pictures.

Wishful thinking - critical thinking

Wishful thinking is one of the biggest obstacles to critical thinking.

Wouldn't it be great if there was a lottery win of £1,000,000 just waiting for me, and all I have to do it pay the paltry amount of £32 to release it? Wouldn't it be great if there was a pill that could takes 30 pounds of fat off me without the need for dieting? Wouldn't it be great if I could double my IQ just be drinking this medicine?

Yes, it would be great. And because we so want it to be true, we're tempted to think that maybe it is true.

Wouldn't it be great if after we die, that isn't the end, but things get even better? Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could get what we desperately want, by asking the magic man in the sky? Wouldn't it be great if we could shed all guilt and responsibility by being forgiven by a shaman?

Yes, it would be great. And because we so want it to be true, we're tempted to think that maybe it is true.

Recently, I heard a terrible story about a young girl who committed suicide because she so desperately wanted to be with her father who had died a few years previously. Awful. Appalling. But untrue. Some people wanted it to be true, because it shows how religion can directly lead to a bad outcome, and for a while I believed it. But then I thought, if I want this to be true, am I falling into the trap of wishful thinking?

And it turned out to be untrue. I checked back to the sources, which turned out to be the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail, and they gave no source. So I checked further, and found a Polish source. And this important fact was uncovered - there was no suicide note, even though the newspaper reports quoted a suicide note verbatim in English (although I would have expected her to write in Polish). We don't actually know why she killed herself.

So in our efforts to believe what is true and disbelieve what isn't true, we should especially beware of wishful thinking.