Friday 31 July 2015

Amble around Andover

The weather was nice today, and I wanted to try out my new 10AH batteries, so I went down to Andover.

First I did a 20-cache circuit "Abbotts Ann Amble". I found them all, although the first three took me a long time,. But I got back to the car for lunch and battery-swap at about 1pm.

Then I went North and West of where I'd parked, working my way round to Andover - I had a regrettably large number of DNFs there, but I managed a total of 45 caches for the day.

On the minus side, my saddlebag ripped rather badly, and might not be repairable. Never mind, I have several alternatives!

While I was out, I saw a flock of six helicopters pass by overhead.

Wednesday 29 July 2015

Four becomes three, 10 becomes 16.

I was setting up a server, I wanted to raid two t4b drives together, then partition it into three pieces, 1tb. 3tb and 4tb. The first two were fine, but when I tried to make the 4tb partition, it told me that I was going past the end of the drives.

I tried this way and that, but eventually I asked the raid how big it was, and it said 7tb. What?

So I interrogated the individual drives. One reported 4tb, the other reported 3tb. But the drive label says 4tb, the drive part number is for a 4tb. So what happened?

I have no idea, and the hassle of sending it back for a replacement is sufficiently great that I've said, the hell with it, and I made it a 7tb raid, which is big enough, and I sorted out two other drives to make the 8tb drive.

However, on the good side ... I've been finding that my Foxconn motherboards are "worn out". I suspect that a component, maybe a capacitor, fails after a long time. So I'm replacing them with Gigabyte boards. In the last few days, I've done that a few times, and I've just had to open my last carton of boards.

The good news, is that I thought there were ten boards per carton, and there's actually 16.

You win some, you lose some.

Tuesday 28 July 2015

Piping apache

Apache is the most commonly user web server, and it's the one I've been using for the last 20 years. So I thought I knew it pretty well.

I set up a server with Fedora 22 (that's the latest version) and Apache/2.4.12. No problems, except when I started it up, it failed.

One of the things I do, is I take the log output of apache, and pipe it into an analysis program, which alerts me via email to any naughty stuff. That's easy to do,

CustomLog "|/home/engine/" vlog

For reasons I really don't understand, it wasn't working. It seemed to be claiming that it couldn't access the file.

I removed the quote marks, and it worked. I put the quote marks back ... and it still worked.


Monday 27 July 2015

The Duxford air museum

We went out on Saturday; ladysolly suggested the Duxford air museum because she knew I'd like it.

First, we went to the visitor center, where I fell in love with a flying helmet, thich sheepsking, with ears well covered, and that's going to be my biking helmet in winter! And a pair of flying goggles, for when it rains. We also bought a few books. Then on to the museum.

There's 11 buildings, and we went into them one at a time,. The place is huge, we walked seven kilometers by the time we got back to the car.

First, two spitfires.

And a Hurricane.

Then outside, the Memphis Belle ...

And a BUFF ...

In a hangar, a V1

And outside, a V1 on a ramp, ready for firing.

And a Concorde.

And finally, two views of a Lancaster.

It was a really good day out, and I'd recommend it to everyone.

Time travel

Lots of fun recently!

My central data server (xanth) uses mirrored drives, because it's a very important server. And, of course, it has backups - I can immediately think of six separate backups. I'm careful.

So a couple of days ago, I was having trouble accessing it. Access was intermittent, and even when it was working, it was very slow. I went into fault-finding mode. First, I looked at the hard drive reports, and one of the drives was reporting that it wasn't working. I did a power-cycle, that fixed that, but the problem persisted.

After much trial and error, I noticed that if I accessed it from another server within the computer room, it was fine, it was only when I accessed it across my network that it was slow. So I changed the network switch upstairs (it runs very hot, and is about 20 years old). I changed the network switch leading to that server downstairs. I power-cycled the network switch that connects all the rooms together. No joy.

Then I remembered something. I'm doing a mammoth copy, to get several servers ready for taking to my colo. And in order for that not to mess up my network, I had all the servers being copied from and to, on a separate segment. Except xanth! And what I was seeing was network saturation; the network was so busy with the copying, it wasn't able to do much else.

So I killed the copying processes, and put a different server on the special segment for the copy, and xanth was fine! Panic over.


Several hours later, I loaded up my logging spreadsheet; and all the logs for the last several days had vanished. How can that be? I checked, and I was looking at a seven day old copy of that file. Where did that come from?

Fortunately, my logging spreadsheet isn't that important, I do it so that I can keep track of usage trends. But then I thought, what else has gone? A thorough investigation revealed that, on xanth, any file more recent that several days ago, had vanished.

It was like I'd gone back in time by seven days. Spooky!

So I've thought about this, it's not something I want happening too often! And I've come to the conculsion that here's what happened.

Several days ago, the primary of the mirrored drive, dropped out. Drives do that occasionally; they just refuse to repond, but when you power-cycle, they come back (but I wouldn't trust it too much, it's liable to go again). When that happened, the clever mirroring software fell back on using the mirrored drive, and I was none the wiser.

When I cycled the power, the main drive came back online.  The clever mirroring software said "Aha, the main drive is back, I'll mirror what's on it to the backup drive". And so six days of changes went up in smoke.

The above is just a guess, but I can't see any other way for the drive to have gone back in time.

I've never been a big fan of mirroring, and the reason has always been, that I don't know what it does. I know in general terms, but I don't know exactly what decisions the software will make as a drive goes down or up.

So I'm making a new server for my central data server.

And this time, I won't be mirroring.

Friday 24 July 2015

Your password?

Much guff is talked about passwords. This has been going on for a long time - more than 30 years in my own experience. So here's my thoughts.

1) Don't use the same password on multiple sites. Most of the password theft that I see, comes about because someone used the same password everywhere, and they signed up on a site that offered them something for free and needed you to choose a username and password. That username/password pair is then added to the list used for guessing passwords on other sites, because that's the whole purpose of the site.

2) Choose a password that isn't easily guessed, but easy to remember. That mostly means, don't use "password" or "letmein". After that, avoid any word that's in a dictionary or any names. What I do, is look around the room, pick three things, take one syllable from each, which gives me a password like boopaplon (boo, because I can see a box that used to contain a pair of boots, pap for paper and lon because I'm using a mug that's a souvenier of London). Not in any dictionary, but because it can be pronounced, easy to remember.

3) Eventually, you'll need so many passwords that you can't remember them all, You could use a password manager (but use one that doesn't store passwords on someone else's computer, duh, but some people don't realise that "the cloud" means "someone else's computer"). Or write them down (but don't keep them on a post-it note on your screen or under your keyboard.

And here's another idea I use. I have a magic number, that only I know. So then I get given a four digit credit card code that I'm expected to remember (along with several others). So I subtract my magic number from the four digit number, and write that down. So if you get my wallet, and my credit card, you also have the four digits I wrote down, but they won't work for you because you don't know my magic number.

4) Don't tell anyone your password. That includes people who phone you up and claim to be "Technical support". I was once working as a consultant in a company, and they gave me a login to their computer so I could do the work. I was beavering away, when the phone on my desk rang. I ignored it for a while, because it couldn't be for me, but eventually I answered it. The guy at the other end claimed to be from tech support, and needed to do stuff on the terminal I was working at. He got me to go round the back and read off the serial number, which I did, and asked me which software I was using, which I told him, and then he asked for my password. I told him "I don't give out passwords". "It's OK, I'm with tech support". I didn't explain to him that this was just his opinion, and how do I know he's telling the truth, but I did say "I don't give out passwords, even to tech support." "But I need it, so I can do the work on your account that needs doing!"

Persistent. "OK, I'll tell you what I'll do. You give me your password, and I'll give you mine." So he did! And then he said "And yours is?" So I said " I already explained this, I don't give out passwords, even to tech support." "But I gave you mine!"

"Yes," I said, "it looks like you have three problems. First, you have whatever problem is it you're trying to fix. Second, you've created in your user base an expectation that they should give out their password to anyone who asks for it." Short pause. "And the third problem?" "Gullible tech support staff."

5) If someone comes up to you in the street and offers you a bar of chocolate for your password, you should eagerly accept, then tell them that your password is "password". Apparently, the people who ran this test placed total trust in the honesty of respondents. Gullible research staff.

6) Mother's maiden name. Why do banks and other people ask for your mother's maiden name? So that they can verify that you are who you say you are, because surely no-one but you would know your mother's maiden name? And there's other similarly stupid things that you get asked. My approach is to make up a word, so in response to "mother's maiden name" I'll put "Prognosis" or some other random word. Likewise for name of primary school, name of first pet and so on. I record these answers so that I can give them back on request, but it means that they can't be guessed.

7) Two factor authentication. There's some confusion about this. The right way it should work, is that you have to get two things right; one might be a password, the other might be, the bank texts your mobile, gives a made-up code, and you have to type that in. Thus, it's checking that *both* you know the password, and *also* you have possession of the right mobile phone.

But if you're expected to *either* know your password or *alternatively* possess the right phone, then that's not doubling the security, it's halving it.

Thursday 23 July 2015


There's some controversy about Uber. Uber is a service whereby you can summon a driver+car, to take you to where you want to go. It's kind of like a taxi. Lyft is a similar service.

But it isn't a licensed taxi service. The London black cabs (which aren't always black) are a licensed service. That means that you can hail one; you wave your hand and flag one down. Ladysolly and I usually do this when going from Marylebone to Victoria, or vice versa. because there's always a flock of cabs at Marylebone, and if you stand at the roadside near Victoria, you'll see loads of cabs.

I remember the controversy when "minicabs" started. A minicab is a car plus driver, you call their dispatcher, they send the car to where you are, and they take you to where you want to go. Minicabs are cheaper than black cabs, but you can't hail them. Minicabs seem to be acceptable now.

So what don't people like about Uber? Here's some criticisms I've heard.

1) It isn't safe, because the drivers aren't licensed.
2) The prices go up when there's more demand.
3) The drivers don't have the Knowledge of London like black cabbies have.

I'll discuss these one at a time.

1) Safety. When you get an Uber car, you do it via Uber's service. So they know your identity, and also that of the driver. If something terrible happens, it['s clear who the attacker was. With a black cab that you hail on the street, if something terrible happens, you probably didn't make a note of the taxi licence number, so it could be more difficult to trace the attacker. The certainty of being caught, must be a deterrent to attack. Also, Uber does a background check on the driver before including them - that's not infallible, of course, but it must help.

2) Prices. I actually think that this is a good idea. In London, when it rains, you can't get a black cab, because everyone else has the same idea. Supply is fixed, demand blossoms and I get wet. With the Uber system, the temporarily higher price will get more drivers into action, or move them from where they aren't so much needed, to where they are.

3) This is true. But if you have a satnav, you can easily navigate around a city. What you don't know, is that when Park Lane is blocked, what might be a good diversion. So the cab driver with the knowledge is a plus. Also, black cabs can use bus lanes. I'm not sure if Uber drivers can, but I suspect not.

Minicabs, Lyft and Uber all eat away at the black cab monopoly, which is one good reason why they don't like it. And a very big reason why I do like it.

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Cheaper bike batteries, part two

The new batteries arrived, and they look nice, and tested fine. They terminate in XT90 connectors, and I've standardised everything on EC5, so I made three adaptors to convert.

I use EC5s for a few reasons. They're large, so plugging and unplugging (which I do a lot) is easy althugh it does take some effort to overcome the friction. And they can handle 100 amps (I'm putting 10 to 15 amps through them).

And there's another advantage I hadn't planned on. A couple of times when I've come off the bike, and the pannier holding the batteries separated from the bike. I'm glad to say that the EC5 connecting the batteries to the bike, separated, which is good because if it hadn't, it would have torn the wires out, making it very difficult for me to carry on. But not impossible; I did do it once before.

Also, they're a bit lighter. They weigh 800 grams, whereas the  batteries I've been using weigh 528 grams for half the kilowatt-hours. So what do I lose? The old batteries were 30C, which means I can pull up to 150 amps from each them. With the new batteries, they're 20C which means I could pull up to 200 amps! Since the bike only pulls 10 amps, with maybe a peak of 15, it's not an issue.

One of my old batteries has failed; it's swelled up and broke through the hard case, so I've retired it. Batteries don't last for ever!

I also bought a new kind of charger.

The chargers I mostly use are 80W. I'm charging three lots of 14.4 volts at 5 amps total, so I do need those 80 watts. If I use a 50W charger, then they only charge ar 3.2 amps, and so charge more slowly. This charger is only 30W, but I got three of them, so I can still charge my three 14.4 volt batteries at 1.5 amps per battery, a total of 4.5 amps, so it's pretty much the same charge speed. But the big plus of these chargers, is that they charge via the balance leads, so instead of having to plug in six leads (and the EC5s need quite a bit of effort) I just plug in the balance leads, which is a lot easier.

I've only just started using these, so I'm not giving a final verdict yet, but they look promising.

I also got a new balance charger, the Turnigy MAX80W.

I've tried a number of different chargers; most of them have failed on me. The ones that I still have a little bit of faith in, are the Accucell 8150 and the Turnigy MAX80W. I got a clone iMax 50W from Ebay, and it failed after a couple of weeks; others have lasted longer, but have failed sooner than I'd expect. I'm guessing that a lot of people are using el-cheapo components.

Drives arrived

The six 8tb drives arrived yesterday. Unfortunately, one of them was DOA (dead on arrival) and I'll be sending it back for replacement.

I've never had that before, except in one instance where some drives had very obviously been dropped onto something hard, probably in the warehouse. When the company I got them from wouldn't replace the drives, I stopped buying from that company. But Seagate gave me replacements, so that ended OK.

I've built up six 1U servers for these drives, and I put the drives into four of them; now I'm loading them up with data, which is a very long process (especially for the two computers with 16tb). I'm guessing a couple of weeks, maybe a month!

Rather than wait for the replacement for the faulty 8tb drive, I took a couple of 4tb drives from a computer that was in reserve, raided them to 8tb, and I'm using that instead.

I also have 12gb of memory on the way from China; the memory I'm using at the moment includes "Rendition" brand, and I've had bad experiences with that brand, so I don't want to use it long term in anything important.

Four of the servers that I tried to install on, crashed out near the start of the install. I tried changing the power supply, no joy. So I replaced the motherboard, and in two of them (and probably in the other two) that's done the trick. The old motherboards were Foxconn, but the part number of those is so old, I doubt if they're available any more. I replaced them with Gigabytes from a batch I bought some years ago (I still have a dozen of those, new boxed and unused).

Seagulls and religion

Seagulls are causing a bit of a nuisance; they swoop down and steal your chips, and they've attacked a tortoise and a dog. So maybe we should stop encouraging them?

So in Conwy, they thought about fining people who feed the birds. Which seems to me to be a reasonable response, although I doubt if it'll have much effect.

Actually, it'll have no effect, because they've decided not to implement the idea.

They made this decision because they thought it might offend some religions. They think that Jews and Hindus are encouraged to take care of animals. Now I don't know a lot about Hindu, but I'm pretty sure that Jews aren't going to take offence at being told not to feed the seagulls.

But, as a gastronomic Jew, I take *great* offence at being used as an excuse for not taking a measure that the council thinks would be useful. And as an Atheist, I take even more offence at being told that somethng isn't being done in case it offends religious sensibilities.

The right not to be offended, doesn't exist. But if it does, the Conwy council will have to plot the difficult course of between the Scylla of potentially offending Jews and Hindus, and the Charybdis of not offending me, and surely I have an equal right not to be offended to anyone else?

Tuesday 21 July 2015

A tour of Bagpuss

Actually, Bagpuize. Out on the bike today for a long ride, 52 caches done and a few DNFs. I think there must have been RAF airfields around here during WW2, because there were a lot of concrete pillboxes. This one has seen better days.

He's fallen in the water!

Monday 20 July 2015

Spring has arrived

Not the season, the bike suspension. When my rear suspension spring broke, I took the one in my spares Haro bike (I bought it for £58, with the express intention of using it as a reservoir of spare parts).

So then I ordered a spring that looked right on Ebay (about £5). It arrived today, and it was exactly right, so I installed it on the spares bike. It took about five minutes.

Eight terabytes

Seagate has come up with 8tb drives. They're sold as "archive", the idea being that they're more suitable for being read from, than for writing to. But they're really really cheap, under £190 (inc VAT). I've just bought half a dozen, because I need to refurbish my colocation servers.

At my colocation, I have customer-facing servers, and servers that are spare, so that if a customer-facing server develops a fault, I can do a switch without having to make an emergency visit. And I now have six failed servers, sitting there doing nothing.

I make a rule of always buying the biggest drives available, because they tend to be better value for money; these 8tb drives are amazing. I remember when I was buying 80 gb drives (1% of the size) for the same price.

I've also bought a load of 1gb memory sticks, because what I do, is build up servers (I'm planning six), load the latest version of Linux (currently 22), test them for a week or two, then take them up to the colocation, swap them for the failed servers, and work on the failed servers back in my workshop.


My favourite web site is up again.

It was being moved to a different host, and it takes 24-48 hours for the DNS change to propagate.

What one ought to do in this situation, is have the site in both places for a couple of days. That means that the "old site" has to be locked for updates, because if anyone posts a comment to it, that will not be on the new site, so will seem to vanish. But maybe there wasn't any way to temporarily disable comments.

A sweet little scam

From: Beth Carpenter 

I have visited your location today and ordered some food for take-away.
I was charged with 2 bottles of still water i never ordered.
When I started asking questions I was kicked out by a certain Thomas.

I am attaching the receipt I got after I paid.
Please help!

The attachement is an Excel spreadsheet, and I haven't loaded it (of course) but I'd guess that if I did, it would install a trojan.

It's a nice, plausible little email; you can't help feeling a bit sorry for Beth, overcharged for two bottles of water.

Animal testing

We need new medicines; treatments for cancer, Alzheimers, antibiotics. So using the skills and knowledge of clever people, and quite a lot of luck, new medicines are designed.

By the way, it's illegal to use animals for testing cosmetics in the UK (and other European countries). So what we're talking about here, is stuff that's intended to be used as medicines.

Would you like to be a person who takes a drug straight from the lab and try it out? No, neither would I. Remember Thalidomide.

New drugs are tested carefully. You start off with tests in a petri dish. an antibiotic (for example) is introduced to a culture of bacteria. Hopefully, it kills them, because if it doesn't, it's not so useful. And you try it on cultured cell samples. If bad things happen to your cell samples, the drug fails, end of story. Then you might tries flies or worms. Then you might try it on mice. If it tends to kill your mice, well, that's bad, but at least it's only a mouse. Or a rat.

Most of the animals used in testing are invertebrates (don't have a spine); mostly flies and worms. Amongst vertebrates, about 75% of animals used for testing are mice or rats.

So do you go straight to humans? Probably not. You might try it on dogs. We all love dogs, but what's the alternative, cats? Lots of people like cats too. So what, go straight to humans? Before you've checked out the drug on significant group of large mammals? And, at the same time, you're determining what would be an appropriate dose, because scaling up the dose from a one pound mouse to a 200 pound human isn't just a matter of multiplying by 200. And it's important to know what the right dose is.

That's why we breed dogs for drug testing. Because it would be difficult to use any other large mammal (cows, horses?). And almost impossible, and very unethical, to get together a group of 100 humans to use as test subjects for a new drug that hasn't been previously tested on animals.

I know it's not a popular idea to use dogs for drug testing. The problem is, the alternatives are worse.

Saturday 18 July 2015

Bike maintenance

Once again, the inner tube of my back tire has ridden round and the valve isn't at a right angle to the rim. So I deflated the tube, and worked it back into place.

The other thing I did yesterday; I was finding my Tracpac shoulder caching bag (which is, IMHO, the ideal shoulder bag for caching because of all the compartments) to be rather heavy. But it's been a long time since I went caching on foot, so surely I should be getting the bike to carry more?

I looked in my caching bag, and sorted out the things I use several times per day (such as the pencil) from the things I use rarely, such as the multitool. I put all the stuff I don't use often into a front bike bag (a bit like this). I can also put my iphone and car keys in there while I'm out (in a zipped compartment, so they'll be safe), so my shoulder bag is a *lot* lighter now. I've also put a shoulder strap in the front bag, so that if I leave my bike for a while, I can easily carry it with me.

I'll see how it goes next time I'm out.

Cheaper bike batteries

I notice that Hobbyking now has 10,000 mah 4S batteries for £26.57. 4S means 14.8 volts nominal, 16.8 volts fully charged. I use them as three in series (12S), giving me 50 volts fully charged. Three of them would weigh 2.4 kg and cost £80, and I'd expect to get an whole morning or afternoon caching from a set of three, and I'm very heavy on the power usage.

Before I found out about Lipo, I was paying about £200 for 7S of 10,000 mah, which is more than twice as much cash for a bit more than half the power. These "Multistar" batteries are now the most cost-effective batteries I've found, even better than the 5000 mah 4S "Hardcase" batteries that have half the power and cost a bit more than half the cash.

So I've just bought a set of three, together with a new 80W charger (the one I got from Ebay just stopped working) and a set of three 30W chargers that might work out more effective.

Friday 17 July 2015

Britain the peculiar

There's some strange things about the UK, too. There's probably more than I can list, because some things don't feel strange to me, but might to someone not British.

The House of Lords. We have an upper house of parliament that isn't elected. And they can actually influence what laws are passed.

We have an established church, the Church of England. This means that one religion is privileged above all others. It also means that 26 of the members of the House of Lords are Bishops, so the church can directly affect our legal system.

Drug legality. Whereas a number of other states are legalising (or at least decriminalising) cannabis, the UK government doesn't seem to have thought about it.

The TV licence. I know of no other country that imposes a tax on its citizens for owning a TV.
And by the way, we're not actually citizens, we're subjects.

Prince Charles. He's not insane, I think, but he does have leanings in that directions. and he's likely to be our next monarch. And he doesn't seem to have understood that the role of the monarch is to NOT INTERFERE with the running of the country.

Our police are, in general not armed. I think that's great, but it is unusual compared to other countries.

In England, getting a degree will cost you £27,000 in tuition fees (and living costs on top of that). In Scotland, it's free. In England it used to be free until the Labour Government of the day changed that.

We drive on the left. Almost every other country drives on the right.

A while back, we went metric, and metric is compulsory when selling goods. But all out road signs are still in imperial and our speed limits are imperial.

We don't have a written constitution. Pretty much every other country does.

If we have a national song, it's "Jerusalem". Which is all about how maybe Jesus Christ visited England.

The greatest military victory that most people can think of, is Dunkirk. Which was actually an evacuation in the face of the enemy. And people still refer to "the spirit of Dunkirk".

The Goons, ISIRTA, ISIHAC and Monty Python.

Deep fried Mars bars.

The British National Dish is Chicken Tikka Masala.





Lambourn lollop

I did two circuits today. First the 20 or so of "All the downs are up", including the three "Old Warren" caches that I left out last time I was here, and also a very old cache "Well Copse". I try do to the old caches that are distinguished by their four-character codes, whenever I can.

Then I relocated to Lambourn, to so the 24-cache Rocksnest circuit.

Rather a lot of DNFs today, but many of those I'm pretty sure had gone, so I replaced them.

I got close enought to this big fellow and his harem. I told them that I was a horse, but I don't think they believed me.

Thursday 16 July 2015

Alternative mathematics

Peter Fisher is the Clinical Director and Director of Research at the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine (formerly the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital). Recently, in the BMJ (British Medical Journal, a widely respected scientific publication) he argues that homeopathy is misunderstood

Currently, the NHS spends £4 million on homeopathy, which is a small sum, and is dwarfed by the over-the-counter market of £46 million.

I'm not a medical doctor, so I certainly would not presume to pontificate on whether a bottle of pure water can cure a very wide variety of conditions, especially as that august personage Prince Charles is strongly in favour of alternative medicine.

No, I'm here to argue the case for alternative mathematics.

The trouble with ordinary mathematics, is that it's just too difficult. I once went into a post office to buy ten 7p stamps. I offered a pound for the transaction, expecting to be given the stamps and 30p change. To my surprise, the post office worker pulled out a calculator, punched in some sums, and then asked me for a further 30p. And when I said that she got it wrong, she argued so strenuously that I decided it wasn't worth my time, so I ponied up the extra 30p.

So how would alternative maths work? Well, there wouldn't just be the one. There would be homeopathic maths, traditional maths, holistic maths and faith maths. So let's start off with faith maths.

Faith maths

This is the easiest maths. You have a Book in which every possible mathematical calculation is recorded; if it isn't in the Book, then you'll have to rely on rabbinical commentaries and papal pronouncements, and if it isn't covered by those, then the calculation that you proposed is a sin. Change comes from Divine Revelation.

Holistic maths

Each mathematical calculation has to take account of every other possible calculation. This, of course, slows down calculations to the point where they cannot, in practice, be carried out, and when you recognise this, you recognise the futility of calculation, and avoid doing it. Change comes from within.

Traditional maths

Roman numerals are used for arithmetic, and if you've ever tried to multiply MDXVIII by LIX then you'll be glad if they ever invent calculators that can use this system. Fit mutatio ex calculo.

Homeopathic maths

This uses numbers that are so heavily diluted that they bear no resemblance to their original form. So, before performing any calculation, you multiply each number by zero. As you can see, this makes computation vastly simpler, and the final answer is, unsurprisingly, zero. There is no change.

America the odd

I'm British, and we find all foreigners strange. The French love garlic, the Germans have no sense of humour, the Italians drive like maniacs and the Greeks don't have an economy. But the strangest foreigners of all, are the Americans, and that itself is strange, because Americans are just British people who decided to live in a different country.

So in what ways are Americans strange? It's in their attitudes to some things, that are totally different from what I would see as normal. And here's a list.

Skin colour. This is at the top of my list, because it seems to be so, so important to Americans. Sure, it's of marginal importance in other countries, but in America? Here's an example - America recently elected their first black president. The interesting thing about that, is that he's actually as white as he is black, but no-one ever seems to mention this. He's half black, therefore he's black. And that's just a minor example of the American pre-occupation with skin colour.

Abortion, This is another really big deal in America. If you're against it, you're "pro-life", if you're in favour, you're "pro-choice", and these euphemisms demonstrate the importance of the question. Considerable violence has been committed in this area, but vastly more in the USA than anywhere else. Elsewhere, we certainly debate the issue and amend the laws sometimes, but we tend not to kill and burn.

Religion. It's said that an Atheist cannot run for office in the USA. In England, we wouldn't dream of asking someone's religion, that's entirely their private business. As Tony Blair's spin doctor said, "We don't do god". In the USA, huge megachurches dot the landscape, religious TV channels and radio, and you'll be unlikely to hear a political speech that fails to include the word "god".

GMO. In England, most people wouldn't even know that that stands for, but in America, "genetically modified organisms" seems to be a huge issue.

Campaign funding. In the USA, billions of dollars are spent buying elections. In the UK, we get by with a few million. In Germany, two hundred millions.

Gay rights. America is actually roughly in line with the rest of the world here. Remember, as recently as 1966, homosexual acts were criminal in the UK, and both the UK and the USA have only recently legitimised gay marriage. But there is a difference - there seems to be a lot more heat in gay marriage in the USA, whereas in the UK, pretty much everyone shrugged their shoulders and thought "Doesn't affect me".

Guns. They seem to be totally besotted by guns, and repeated massacres of the innocents doesn't seem to make the slightest difference. It's pretty obvious to the rest of the world that they need to do something about this, but clearly, not to them.

Prisons. When not exectuting people, Americans hurl them into clink. Only Seychelles has a higher prison population per million population.

The war on drugs. Apparently, this is still running, although several US states have decriminalised cannabis. Most countries have laws agains drugs (in the UK, for example, cannabis is still illegal), but only in the USA is this framed as a "war". And the high prison population might, at least partially, be a result of this. They are "prisoners of war".

Capital punishment. There's five contries with more executions than the USA - China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.  Nowhere in Europe is there a death penalty.

Health. European countries pay for a health service out of taxation - the healthy subsidise the ill. But in America, if you don't have private health insurance and you get ill, you're stuffed. And even if you have health insurance you can get stuffed, because the insurer might decide that you're not actually insured for the problem you have. Even after "Obamacare" there's still a large number of uninsured. If you're uninsured, and poor, and have toothache - your only option is to suffer.

University education. In America, you have to go deeply into debt to get a degree. But in many European countries, tuition is free, paid for by the state. In England, I'm ashamed to say, we go the American way; a degree will cost you big money. In Scotland, it's free.

Military. They didn't do much in WW1 (too little, too late) or even in WW2 (it was the Russians who beat the Germans; the Americans beat the Japanese). Since then, the Korean war was a draw, Vietnam was a loss, and in Iraq and Afghanistan, the jury is still out, but it's not looking good. Today, military spending in the USA is as much as in the next nine countries put together. I'm not saying they're wrong to do this, but it is different.

The flag. Americans have an unusual attitude to flags. For example, it's illegal to have a US flag rug, or to wear it as part of your clothes (although they don't seem to know that). If you go to America, you'll see the flag flying from numerous houses; I don't know of any other country where that happens.

Having said all this, I do like Americans. I've met tons of them, and I've never met one I didn't like. And I doubt if many Americans will read this essay, but if they do, they should understand that what they're reading is the view from outside America, of some of the imperfections in their country. I could write a similar essay about the imperfections of England.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Lounging around Lambourn

It was raining all the way there, but once I'd arrived, the rain stopped, which was nice.

First, I did the Down Barn Farm circuit. There was a bonus cache, requiring me to collect six numbers. But I was only able to find three of the numbers - fortunately, it was exactly the three that I needed to be able to find the final, which pleased me greatly.

Then I went on to the Red Barn circuit. Again there was a bonus, but in this case I was able to get all the numbers for the final, which I then found. I also did some puzzle caches in that area, and when I did one of the caches in Lambourn hidden at someone's house, I also knocked on the door and said hello to them.

The bike, with the replacement rear spring, performed well.

44 caches done today, but also more DNFs than I usually have.

Tuesday 14 July 2015

Foxes OK!

Following opposition from this blog, the government have climbed down over a vote to change the rules against fox hunting.

Monday 13 July 2015

Answer to your asking

Subject: Answer to your asking


Thank you for your appeal of 12 July.
Our company offers a huge diapason of monetary assistants to help in your work progress. I am appening company's tract and pricelist for futher circumstantial speculation. Any matter may be clear up by letter and phone.
We expect to your arrangement.
faithfully George Bishop Business consultant

I have no idea what this might mean, except that there was a doc file attached, which might or might not be a trojan.

But I loved the "huge diapason of monetary assistants".

Too many Indians?

A few months ago, I pruned my Facebook-friends. A Facebook-friend is someone you might know slightly, and who might know you slightly, or the two of you have someone who you both know slightly. The criterion I used, was to prune all the people who posted in a language that I don't speak, or who posted invitations to join in games. Quite possibly their posts were deep and meaningful, but since I couldn't read them, of no meaning to me. And I don't play Facebook games.

Again, I'm facing a decision. There's 1,300 million Indians, a lot of them have computers (or smartphones), and I'm guessing that nearly all of those, speak English. Indeed, one of the great benefits we gave India (and America, and many other countries) was the gift of English. But the problem I'm having, is that quite a large percentage of the posts that I see, go completely over my head. I don't know who their politicians and film stars are. Some of the postings from my Indian Facebook-friends aren't in English (I don't know what language they are in, all I know is that I can't understand them). There are marriage announcements from people I've never heard of. And so on.

So a second round of pruning (not only of my Indian Facebook-friends) is about to start. I hope that the Facebook-friends who get pruned don't take offence. Ideally, they'll never know.

Sunday 12 July 2015


The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible. I have no objection to people donning fancy dress, mounting horses, and charging around over the countryside. What I don't like, is if they're hunting foxes, or other animals.

I read in the Telegraph today, an article by Simon Heffer, "It's crueller to shoot a fox than to hunt one", and if that's the main argument, then he just hasn't thought about it. Because the fox isn't just killed by a pack of hounds. It's pursued across the countryside for miles - that's the whole point of the hunt - for as long as it takes for it to either lose the hounds, or be caught and killed. The fox is well aware of what's at stake - it's life. The fox must be absolutely terrified the whole time, I know I would be in that position. And we *know* that animals feel fear. I've seen horses that are so scared by the mere sight of my bicycle, that they have to be carefully persuaded by their rider to move forward. And I'm repeatedly told by owners that dogs that I encounter are afraid of my hat. So yes, it's cruel, very cruel.

We've banned dog fighting. We've banned fights between dogs and bulls, between dogs and bears, between cocks. We've banned them because we know, better than they did a few hundred years ago, that this practice is barbaric; unspeakably cruel.

Look. If you want a sport, then look at drag hunting.

One person lays a scent trail using aniseed and other dog-friendly scents. Then the hounds are released, and away goes the pack, followed by the hunters.

So you'll still have a sport, you'll still have your traditional dress-up and social occasion, and you'll still have your employment of country folk. These are three arguments I've seen used to support fox hunting. By the way, what happened to all the people that had employment because of bear baiting?

The Labour party have told all their MPs to vote against the relaxation of the fox hunting ban. The Tories can vote by their conscience. I would hope that their conscience tells them that gratuitous cruelty to animals is wrong.

Saturday 11 July 2015

Puff puff

I heard this rumbling noise, and I got my camera out just in time.

A steam powered traction engine!

What is a blog?

A blog can be many things, it's entirely up to the blogger. A company can run a blog to keep their customers up-to-date on their latest products. An individual can run a blog to tell people about their lifestyle and recommendations, or about things they do.

Sometimes when I'm looking for how to do something, google will send me to a blog describing what I need (and occasionally, that's sent me to one of my own blogs).

To me, my blog is a few things.

It's a record of my life going out geocaching. I could do these write-ups on the web site, but that expects you to write up each cache, whereas to me, a geocaching outing is the whole adventure, and I want to describe that.

It's technical stuff about bike maintenance, computer hardware and software. That might help other people, but it will also help me when I come to do the same thing again in future.

It's essays about matters that I'm concerned about, and which I think other people might be concerned about; politics, ethics, morals and suchlike.

And it's great fun.

The unkindest cut

An estimated one third of males are circumcised. The main reason for this is that two of the Abrahamic religions require it, In addition, about half of men in the USA are circumcised, and that's not for religious reasons, it just seems to be a cultural norm.


I knew about Jews and Moslems, I hadn't known until very recently about the USA. I can sort of understand when people do something insane because their god told them to do it, that's what religion does. But there's millions and and millions of Americans who see their new baby, think, "Oh, how perfect ... but we can improve on God's design if we just hack off a bit."
Or if they aren't Christians, "We can improve on evolution if ..."

When ladysolly got pregnant, we had to start thinking about what we'd do.  When the babies arrived, they both turned out to be girls, and female circumcision didn't even occur to us (besides, it's barbaric and illegal). So we didn't have to consider the issue, but I like to think that we would have refused to let a mohel get his scissors anywhere near our rugrats. By the way, there are lots of good mohel jokes.

 I have no problem with adults deciding to get circumcised - if a grown man wants to cut bits off himself, that's his decision. Likewise grown women. The problem I have, is that infant circumcision is child abuse, and I don't really understand why it's legal.

Yes, I know that god told his Chosen People to do it, but he also told them to stone children to death for disobeying their parents, for adultery, for gathering sticks on Saturday, for a woman not being a virgin on her wedding night, for blasphemy and so on. But somehow, the Chosen People have worked out that stoning people is no longer necessary. Even the most orthodox of jews don't seem to stone people any more. So why is this? It's because they've come to realise that stoning people to death for a wide variety of sins, isn't quite right.

The same is true of circumcision. In exchange for circumcision, god promised to give Abraham's descendants all the land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates. Well, god hasn't kept his part of the bargain.

Since Abraham's time, a few thousand years have passed, and we no longer endorse stoning or slavery; it's time we stopped mutilating our children. And the Americans don't even have the excuse of religion.

Friday 10 July 2015

Bank security nonsense

I needed access to a service from Barclays, so I phoned them up to get an access sorted out. I did the usual security questions (account number and so on), and they gave me the username to use, but not the password. The password has to be sent by email. So I gave him my email address, and asked "Why can't you give it over the phone?" "For security reasons." "You mean, to make sure that the password goes to the right person, and not to some random person who phoned you?" "That's right," he said.

That doesn't work, of course. He just sent it to the email address that I gave him over the phone. This is no more secure than giving it to me by phone.

Bike maintenance

Here's the broken suspension.

You can see the cracked spring.

Several months ago, I bought a used Haro bike, with the idea that I'd use it as a cheap source of spare parts. So today, I unbolted the suspension assembly, and used that to replace the broken part. When I examined the broken part, I found that as well as the broken spring, the bushes attaching it to the bike were broken.

I went on to Ebay, and bought a replacement suspension, it was only £5. Can you imagine what the equivalent on a car would be?

Thursday 9 July 2015

Ridgeway run

I went west to Swindon to trundle round the Ridgeway. But before I left, I had a look at the Jellyfish cache. This is a Google Maps satellite shot of a crop circle that looks a bit like a jellyfish. I first had to find where that crop circle was (I used a combination of Google search and Google maps). Then I had to project a bearing, which took me to a place where I could get some numbers that let me calculate where the cache was.

But even before I worked out the location, I had made a guess about where it would be, so instead of climbing up a hill to get to it, I got to it as part of my circuit of the White Horse Trail, which meant that I could do it on the bike. When I got there, I had to search for quite a while to find it, but since I'd already gone to all that trouble, I was pretty determined.


The track I biked over to get to it was very rough, and halfway back to the WHT route, I heard a "CRACK" from the bike. I stopped, and examined it carefully, and the rear suspension spring had broken. After a bit of thought, and after bouncing up and down on it to test it, I decided that it would be safe to carr y on biking. And I was right, it didn't let me down for the rest of the day. But I'll have to replace that spring.

Later on, I did Wayland's Smithy, which is a long barrow.

This is a puzzle cache. I could see what I had to do, but it took me a few tries before I got the numbers right.

When I got back to the car, it wouldn't start, it reported "Smart key not present", which is bullshit because I'd just used it to open the door. So I locked and unlocked the door, and then it worked. So there.

43 caches done today.

Wednesday 8 July 2015

Tories scrap uni grants

Let's start in 1966. I got offered a place in Cambridge via their entrance exam, I got great A levels (three As and a B) and there was no question about what would happen for my next three years. I went to university, and the government paid all my university fees (indeed, I wasn't actually aware that anything needed to be paid, since I was only 17 and not wise in the ways of the world). Furthermore, the government paid me £370 per year for spending on books, bridge and beer. So I got myself a degree, followed by a series of good jobs, and everything was great.

In 1998, the Labour government said that students had to pay £1000 per year for tuition. I could hardly believe my ears - that a Labour government would do such a thing? But it was true, and soon after, in 2004, that was increased, again by a Labour government, to £3000. And then in 2012, universities were allowed to charge up to £9000 per year, and the majority of them did.

This is awful. Our children are our future, and education is important. In the 2015 election, UKIP said that they would abolish fees for students of science, maths and engineering, a policy that made me actually think about the possibility of voting for them (but other things about UKIP outweighed that).

In Germany - no tuition fees, it's paid out of taxation. In France, 188 euros per year. If you look through all the countries in Europe, tuition fees are either zero, or less than £1000.

And now it's 2015, and George Bloody Osborne has just announced that the one chance for students from low income families is about to be taken away.

So explain this to me. How come in 1966, our government was able to pay for my university education (plus give me a grant to spend), but 50 years later, after 50 years of economic growth, we can't afford it?

George Bloody Osborne says that over the next decade, the cost of supporting low-income students will rise to £3 billion. I say, that's money well spent. What we get for it, is a million educated children, and that's an absolute bargain. It's an investment in each person that will pay dividends for the next 50 years, and all it will cost is a tiny fraction of the cost of HS2, which has a more doubtful dividend.

Begging letter

I'm used to getting begging letters from Cambridge University, and in particular from Fitzwillliam College - I spent three great years there, so I'm a likely touch.

Today, I got a begging letter from Oxford; specifically from Frances Wheare, Development and Alumni Manager. And I'm not an alumnus of Oxford.

It was not, of course, framed as a begging letter. At no point did it suggest a donation, so possibly I'm wrong about this. Experience suggests otherwise, and when she says "would be extremely interested to hear your thoughts on how we might achieve our goals", I hear "donation".

She didn't send the (paper) letter to me - she sent it to the registered address of my company, which means that she bought a spamming list of names and addresses of computer-related companies. She does mention that I have a background in information security, so maybe she did some research?

But she doesn't give an email address. So how do I reply? There's a phone number, but that's for "General enquiries", and an address "Department of Computer Science". Why no email address? Why no direct line?

So, of course, I googled her name to try to find an email address, and found her on twitter (she hasn't posted there for about a year, and I couldn't see an email address). "Recovering arts fundraiser, now geek-in-training at Oxford University's Department of Computer Science." Fundraiser, eh? I thought so.

She's on Linked-in, still no email address. Before she went to Oxford, she was "Donor development manager" at the Philharmonia. Donor - I thought so. I also found her on the Guardian's "blind date", where she was given 7 out of 10.

She was also a fundraiser for the Edinburgh Marathon.

She's also on Myspace, Flickr, Pinterest - nothing recent, or of interest there.

So Frances, here's my recommendations.

1) Don't buy lists from list vendors of people who you might spam to.
2) Give your email address when you write to someone.
3) Oxford alumni are probably a better touch for you than Cambridge alumni.

A vow of silence

Ladysolly has a painful throat. We're not sure exactly what the cause is; the medical profession is baffled, even after an esophagoscopy (a camera down her throat after sedation). Next, she'll be seeing an ear-nose-and-throat doctor. Meanwhile, she's self-treating.

Self treatment consists of throat pastilles and silence. Since it hurts to speak, the solly household has been quieter than usual. We communicate by non-oral means. She claps her hands to get my attention, or honks the Harpo-type hooter I got for her.

We've also established "one for yes, two for no" while we're in the car and I can't turn to look at her. But the main means of communication right now, is handwritten notes - it's almost as if she's joined the Benedictine order of nuns.

So I looked up some other possible remedies with Google, and found this homeopathic remedy, as recommended by our own dear Bigears. I read as far as the first ingredient, which is "Belladonna", but I happen to know that this is the latin name for what is also known as "Deadly Nightshade". My eye then fell on the fourth ingredient, which is "Mercurius Ruber", and my latin is good enough for me to immediately recognise this as "red mercury".

Good grief! How can they get away with this? A fast acting poison, and a slow acting one? Well, of course they dilute it and dilute it so that they're actually no molecules of the "active ingredient" (but then how can you call it an active ingredient? Either it is or it isn't) in what they sell. But despite this, they still think it's sufficiently dangerous to include this warning: "In case of accidental overdose, contact a poison control center immediately." Although they don't tell you what to do in case of an accidental underdose.

So maybe not. She'll just have to suffer in silence.

Tuesday 7 July 2015

Sunday trading

As the law stands now, a big shop can only be open for six consecutive hours on Sunday. This is a vestigial hangover from the days when religion dictated everything. Sunday is supposed to be a day of churchgoing and rest, so you mustn't visit your local DIY superstore!

This is, I guess, based on the fourth commandment (in some counts, the third) which says
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy."

Two problems, one small, one large. The small problem is that there's a lot of us atheists - why should we be required to conform to the dictates of someone's religion? And there's a lot of religions that don't follow the Ten Commandments. And some christians take Saturday as the day of rest.

The large problem, is that Saturday is the seventh day.  Sunday isn't.  Sunday is the Lord's Day, the weekly memorial of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christians can keep this as a holy day if they want to, of course, but if they don't also keep Saturday, then they're in violation of the fourth commandment (in some counts, the third. 

So now I read that the government is planning to open up Sunday trading. There might be some opposition from the trade unions, but they don'thave the clout that they once did. And there will certainly be some opposition from some of the churches (but not all, see above). I'm fairly sure that some of these religionists will cite the fourth commandment, blissfully ignorant of the irony that they're trying to protect the wrong day.

This blog is, of course, in favour of allowing shops to open whenever they feel that it's useful for them to do so, and if the Bishops sitting in the House of Lords raise a major objection, then that's one more reason for us to be disestablishmentarians.

Bike maintenance

I had dead batteries in the motor thermometer. It's actually an aquarium thermometer, with the sensor blu-tacked to the torque arm. This means that if the motor starts to get hotter than I'd like, at least I know that I have a problem and I can let it cool down for a while.

I also checked the rear brake (still plenty of wear), remover the rear reflector (I don't think it's actually useful, because I carry a small rear light as part of my emergency kit).

I've changed the pannier bag; the one I was using before, has clips that are difficult to get onto the rack, yet I've found a couple of times that they're able to bounce out. So I'm trying out a different pannier.

The throttle cable was showing signs of wear; I thnk I might have nipped it in something. It still works, so I've wrapped the slightly damaged part in duct tape, so that should stop it getting worse.

I also made up a new cable for connecting three 14.8 volt batteries in series; that gives me 50 volts when the batteries are fresh. The old cable was beginning to look a bit grotty. The motor is rated for 36 volts, so over-volting it like this gives me a bit more oomph, and even when the batteries are down to 42 volts, I'm still getting a good push.

UPS maintenance

My UPS number 1 has been showing a "battery fault" light. The batteries are four years old, so that's not too surprising.

I ordered a new set of batteries (£95, from Ebay) and they arrived yesterday while I was out caching. Today, I took down all the servers being powered from that UPS, and put them on another one temporarily. Then I shut down the UPS, dragged it out to where I could get good access to it (wow, those things are HEAVY, more than 50 kilos), took off the top plate, and the batteries slid out easily. When I checked them with a voltmeter, nearly all of them were fine.

I put the wiring harness on the new batteries, slid them into the UPS, heaved it back into place, powered up, and it's working fine, so I put the servers I'd moved, back onto that UPS.
I also added an external cooling fan onto UPS 1 and 2 (I already have one on the other three).

I should be OK for a few years now!

The Perfect Antivirus

A couple of decades ago, I got really fed up with the quality of antivirus product testing. So I invented "The Perfect Antivirus". My thought was, if you've devised a product test protocol, then you should apply it to "The Perfect Antivirus", and if the product test agrees that this is a good product, then the product test is rubbish. Here's how it works.

The Perfect Antivirus

by drsolly

I shall now give you, free of charge, an antivirus that if used correctly, detects all past, present and future viruses, never gives a false alarm, and has a zero cost. Skeptical? Then watch carefully ...

program P1.BAT:
Echo %1 is infected by a virus!!!

You'll agree, I think, that P1.BAT will detect all past present and future viruses. That alone meets the "mathematically impossible" task! But, I hear you thinking, aren't there rather a lot of false alarms? Well, you didn't say you wanted a low false alarm rate....

OK, OK. I'm used to projects where the user specification changes in the middle. Never mind. I can deal with the false alarms ...

program P2.BAT:
Echo %1 is NOT infected by a virus!!!

You'll agree, I think, that P2.BAT will never, ever, tell you that you have a virus when you don't. Of course, it has a pretty poor detection rate. I admit that. But I can fix it. See here ...

program PERFECT.BAT:
Echo Is %1 a virus? (Y/N)

If the user types "Y", you run P1.BAT. If the user types"N", you run P2.BAT. Remember what I promised you? An antivirus that if used correctly, detects all past, present and future viruses, never gives a false alarm, and has a zero cost.

So what can we learn from this?

1. If something is superb at detecting viruses, it's no use if it gives a lot of false alarms.
2. Anything that relies on the user to make a correct decision, on matters that he is not likely to be able to decide about, is useless.
3. You can receive something that is exactly what the salesman promised to deliver, and it's nevertheless useless.
4. If an antivirus product test would give a 100% score to "The Perfect Antivirus" then the test is useless.

Monday 6 July 2015


Today, I went to the Cuckoo line. I've been there a few times before, and it's always a pleasure.

I started off in the middle, and went south, back to the middle for lunch, then north. So, a lovely long bike ride in great weather. The caches were mostly not easy to find, so I could only rack up 37.

Friday 3 July 2015


I went to the fridge today, and found a pint of milk with a lilac cap. It was "1% fat" milk.

There's skimmed milk (red top, 0.2% fat), semi-skimmed milk (green top, 1.7% fat), full-fat milk (blue top, 4% fat); in the US, they have a somewhat different system, but the idea is the same, there's various degrees of fat reduction.

I don't like black coffee, but I do like coffee with milk. However, as part of my attempt to reduce my weight, I generally use red top milk, although I'm not fanatical about it.

So why are there four types of milk? It has to be that there's demand for each of them. Or maybe there isn't.

The farmers are constantly bleating that bottled water costs more than milk, as if that were some sort of argument. All that means is that people are willing to pay a premium for branded water. Is milk better for you than water? Are farmers entitled to keep cows for milking, and entitled to whatever price will make that profitable?

I'm a really good Fortran programmer. It's a pretty much obsolete skill, even though if you can't do it in Fortran, it isn't worth doing. When I found Turbo Pascal, I ditched Fortran, and when I found Perl, I ditched Pascal.

In the USA, the supply of milk is greater than the demand, or to put it another way, the price of milk is being kept artificially high. So they're pouring milk away, because what else could you do with it?

Well, you could store it for the future - except that milk doesn't store very well. You could give it away to poor people - except that this actually makes the situation worse, because you might increase the demand a bit, but you'll also decrease the *paid* demand a bit, and the revenues to the farmer are only going to go down. You could process it into cheese, except that they already know that you can make cheese from milk, and if they aren't doing that, then it's probably because it isn't economic, and because the cheese-making capacity is fully in use.

There's too much milk world wide. It's really as simple as that. In such a situation, the price of bulk milk falls, some farmers decide that they should get out of milk production because it's not profitable to them, and supply falls. Supply and demand tend to get closer into balance.

But this takes time; you can't reduce (or increase) milk supply instantaneously. It takes time to change agricultural production, that's why you get the classical "hog cycle".

Meanwhile, what can farmers do when they can't sell their milk? All they can do, is pour it away. And in the longer run, change to producing something else.

Thursday 2 July 2015

Hackers today

Today, someone uploaded a file to my publicly-available ftp. That does nothing, of course, the file just sits there until I decide what to do with it.

It was an HTML file, and it said "we hack this site to pass a MSG we will fight to the end no matter what happen".

Well, what will happen, is that I'll delete the file, and that's the end of it.

I get a lot of these - people upload files to my ftp, and when I look at them, I can see they're supposed to do something. Sometimes, they're supposed to give control of my server to anyone who accesses the file (but they can't access it, because you can upload but then you can't access the file, for obvious reasons.). Sometimes the file is obfuscated, and I can't tell what it does unless I spend an hour or two analysing it, which I'm not going to do because I'm not that interested. I just delete it. Sometimes the file name indicates that it's pretending to be a jpg, because the filename ends in .jpg.php. Which makes it actually a php file, which wouldn't do anything even if I let people run it, because I don't run php, because it's such a security risk.

But this must, I guess, work sometimes, otherwise people wouldn't do it. They can't possibly be thinking that I'll just move the file to an accessible area without looking at it. So that means that there must be public ftps available, that you can upload to, and then people can immediately access what was uploaded.

So if you have an ftp that allows that, you'd better fix it.


It was very hot yesterday.

I remember the summer of 1976. It was glorious; hot and no rain for weeks and weeks.

At the time, I had an allottment, at the Welsh Harp allottment area. There was a hosepipe ban, in an effort to conserve water.  There was no rain, so it was out with the big watering can in order to keep the plants alive.

Then the government appointed Denis Howell as Minister for Drought; that worked immediately, because the rain came down in buckets, ending the drought.

I'd planted ten times the number of lettuces that I wanted, expecting 90% of them to die in the drought - seeds are very cheap. So when the rains came, I found myself with a huge number of excellent Cos and Iceberg lettuces. I took them into work and gave them away, but that didn't make enough of a dent in them.

So I organised a lettuce tasting. There were about 30 of us, and we took a couple of dozen lettuces, and a couple of dozen bottles of wine, down to St James's Park, and we sat around of the grass enjoying the sun.

Pix 506e

The pix 506e that I got for £20 is fine. I looked at it today. I powered it up, and it worked, so I connected to the serial port, got into the monitor, downloaded the password utility, set new passwords, removed the old configuration, and put on the configuration that I have on my existing pix.

 So now, if my working pix dies, I have a fallback, and that's important, because everything goes via the pix!

Then I put it away in a box, because I'm not expecting to actually have to use it.

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Flash again

Once again, a big security issue has been found in flash. So I updated my flash plugin for Firefox. Again!

Here's what I can't understand. The web site that I use to set up security scans of my servers, *requires* me to use flash.


Once upon a time, each country had their own currency. If a county's imports were greater than their exports, the value of the currency would tend to fall, which tended to increase exports (by making their exports cheaper) and decrease imports (by making imports more expensive).

This is called "floating exchange rates". The downside of this is that a business that imports raw materials and/or exports products, finds it difficult to set prices, or to plan ahead. It meant that, maybe you thought that you were in the business of importing tulip bulbs from Holland and exporting flowers to Spain. But you were also, willy-nilly, in the business of taking risks in exchange rates.

Before WW1, countries tended to tie their curency to gold, so for each country that did that, exchange rates were constant, which made international trade more predictable. Except that every now and then, pressures got too great, and a country had to devalue. You'll remember 1967 when the pound was devalued from $2.80 to $2.40.

After WW2, there was an international agreement to have fixed exhange rates. This collapsed in the 1970s. After then, exchange rates floated. How many dollars you got for your pound, was whatever value made the number of sellers equal the number of buyers. In other words, a market rate.

In 1999, 11 of the countries of the EEC (most notably excepting the UK, and now 19 countries) agreed to adopt a common currency, the euro. This made international trade between those countries easier and less prone to the foreign currency risk mentioned above.

So what happens if you're in the euro, but your imports are more than your exports? You'll have to borrow the difference. If you're a country, you're usually considered a good risk, banks are very willing to lend to you. But the more you borrow, the more you don't look like a good risk, until eventually, you run out of lenders.

So then you have to make special arrangements. You go to your creditors and say, "Choose one of these; 1) we default and you lose your entire loan or 2) you accept that we only owe you half of what we really owe you". This is called a haircut. In 2012, Greece persuaded their creditors to accept a 53.5% haircut. But as you can imagine, once someone has pulled that stunt, people are a lot less likely to lend to them for a long time afterwards.

The other thing you can do, is go to special sources of finance. In the UK, we have the Bank of England as the "lender of last resort", meaning when no-one will lend you money to go on trading. In the case of Greece, that would be the European Central Bank, or the IMF.

Hopefully, the haircut, plus the special finance, gives the country enough time to take measures to boost exports and cut imports; possibly they'll have to reduce public spending, economise in whatever ways they can (this is sometimes called "austerity") so that income and expenditure come back into balance.

If the country doesn't get itself back into balance. then it's back to the haircut and special finances.

Of course, there's only so many times that lenders wil lend money to a spendthrift when there's no apparent possibility of getting paid back. Do not blame the people who are no longer willing to lend good money after bad. Blame the spendthrift.

And that is now what's happened to Greece. So what's the solution? First, let's look at something that isn't a solution. A crowdfund is raising money, with the objective of raising 1600 million euroes. So far, they've raised 1 million.

And if you donate, for example, three euros, you're told that you'll get a postcard of the Greek prime minister, sent from Greece. Of course, the cost of the card and the stamp will eat up a fair chunk of that. And, of course, if the crowdfund doesn't add up to 1600 million euros, everyone gets their money back. The person who set it up says that this isn't a joke.

And, by the way, 1,600 million euros is just one piece of the Greek debt to the IMF.   Total Greek debt to the IMF is 27,000 million euros. Total Greek debt is more than 320,000 million euros.

Now let's look at what is probably the only possible solution. Greece will have to leave the euro, and have their own currency, which I'd guess they'd call the drachma. The drachma would float against other currencies and find its own level.

And then what happens in Greece?

The first effect will be on the banking system. If the banks can't get euros, then they can't give euros to their depositors. And you can be sure that the depositors are right now keen to withdraw as much as they can, before the banks run out of funds - this is what is called "a run on the banks". Right now,, you're only allowed to take 60 euros per day from your account. That's maybe enough for food and necessaries, but not for much more. And, but the way, when the UK government bailed out our banks in 2008-2009,, it was to prevent exactly this situation. And the inability of consumers to spend, will deepen the Greek recession.

The move to drachmas will be total chaos. For a start, no-one will know what a drachma is worth, even after the Greek government says what they want it to be. Secondly, switching to a new currency is a horribly complicated business, and you can be sure that people with euro deposits in greek banks, will be given a compulsory, and substantial, haircut. And thirdly, it's all being done with very little notice, and not a lot of planning.

Greece - we wish you well. But you've run out of people willing to lend to you.