Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Defuse and diffuse

It seems to me as if journalists cannot tell the difference between these two words. They aren't even homonyms!

Defuse. That's what you do with a bomb. More metaphorically, that's what you do with a dangerous situation - you calm it down and remove the detonator and explosive.

Diffuse. When you add a drop of ink to a glass of water, the ink diffuses through the water, until eventually it's all mixed in.

Do, you do not "diffuse" a dangerous situation. You defuse it.

Please get these straight.

Thank you.

Monday, 9 April 2018

https blog

Visitors to this blog will no longer be able to access the unencrypted version (via http). All access will be via https.

It's not that there's anything secret on this blog - far from it. But this is part of a move on the whole internet to https.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Hungary again

Several months ago, I got an email from Hungary claiming that I hadn't paid my VAT for Q1 2017, and I owed them 8.65 euros. I passed the email over to HMRC, because I use the HMRC VAT Moss system. That lets me pay the VAT to all 27 non-UK EU countries in one go, telling them how much goes to each. And then HMRC pays the various tax authorities in each country.  HMRC told me to take no action, they'd deal with it. So I just left them to it.

Today, I got another email, suggesting that I owe them for Q4 2017, the sum of 33.33 euros.
So I've passed that on to HMRC, and I've asked what happened to the previous demand?

Hungary is now quite low on my list of countries I love.


We triggered article 50 a year ago. A year from now, we tumble out of the EU. There might be some intervening period, of a couple of years, we don't know the details of that yet.

What I'm wondering is this. When I sell the USA, there's no VAT to pay, because the USA isn't in the EU, and I don't have a tariff to pay. When we are disgorged from the EU:

Will I have to still pay VAT on exports to EU countries?
Will the VAT Moss system still be there?
What happens during the two years when we're partially in ?

What's going on?

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Data Recovery

Jeff Bones emailed me - his computer won't boot up and he has valuable data on it. So I asked him to bring it round.

I used to do data recovery professionally, but I haven't done that for 25 years. Just occasionally as a favour to a friend.

He was right. The Advent laptop computer got as far as a screen from Windows telling me about a problem. That's good, it shows that the drive is at least working. The drive is a 500 gb 2 1/2 inch Sata drive, a Western Digital WD5000 BEVT. I had a look around; those are pretty much unobtainable now, but there's lots of other similar 500gb drives for sale.

So I connected up an external DVD drive (I couldn't persuade the built-in DVD drive to read my DVDs, I don't know why, and didn't investigate it because I was happy to use my own DVD drive) and booted up from Fedora Linux Live. Fedora Linux Live means that I'm running Linux, but didn't install anything on the hard disk. Because if I did install on the hard disk, that would wipe out the data I'm trying to recover.

So Linux booted up fine. I connected it to my internal network, which meant I could ssh into it and run stuff on it without having to use the inferior laptop keyboard (all laptop keyboards are inferior to my beautiful IBM Model S clicky keyboard).

I had a look around, and I was able to mount drives sda1 and sda2, and I could see all the files. So now I need to copy the files. But there's 150 gb of files. Obviously Jeff didn't want them all; a lot of them were system files, temporary files, ancient backups and so on. But Jeff needs to think a bit to decide what he wants.

I started off by copying the files across the network to my server. But that was going astoundingly slowly (I don't know why) and wasn't really going to fully solve the problem. Because I'd need 30-odd DVDs to copy that lot. Not practical.

Then I had an idea. I have a 1000 gb external drive. So I connected that, and started copying the files to it. Then I stopped, because I realised that I had a linux ext3 file system on that drive, and can Windows handle that? I don't know. But Linux can handle an NTFS file system. So I deleted the partition on my 1000 gb, and made a new partition, telling fdisk that it would be NTFS. Then I formatted it as an NTFS file system, and mounted it to the laptop.

I used rsync to copy the files from the laptop to my 1000 gb, and I was surprised how quickly that went. So now I have Jeff's 150 gb of data on this external drive. I've suggested that he bring his new laptop round, so that I could connect up the external drive and check that everything is accessible, and then he can, in his own time, rummage through the files that I've rescued, and copy them to his new computer.

Job (probably) done. I've still got it!

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Silence is golden

I have a nice 32gb HP workstation, but it's unusable because the fans are too loud. So I decided to do something about it. I bought three things from eBay..

Computer cooling fans can be loud when they run fast. There's two ways to slow down a fan. One is to use a lower voltage than the 12 volts they're designed for, the other way is PWM, pulse width modulation. PWM means that you switch the fan on and off rapidly, umpteen times per second. Less power, means it runs slower.

My first purchase (£2) is a little board that takes 12 volt input, and has three header blocks for fans, one for a thermometer and one for a buzzer. You set the desired temperature ranges with the dip switches.

Next, I bought a few PWM controllers each for a single fan, £2.25 each.

And third, I bought five 4-pin extension cables, to make life easier.

I installed the board and connected up the two external fans, and the fan that blew down on the memory. This immediately made the box a lot quieter. But still a bit noisy, so I used one of the single-fan controllers to slow down the fan cooling the memory, and that was good.

So I put the board inside a plastic box, to make sure it wouldn't cause a short circuit, and I'm happy with the result.

Monday, 26 March 2018

A health tax?

Jeremy Hunt believes that there should be a dedicated tax specifically to be spent on the NHS and social care.

What a bad idea!

If you don't think very hard, it sounds like a nice idea. More money for the NHS!

Or is it? If you have a "Health tax" that garners £10 billion per year, then hey! We could reduce the NHS money that comes out of general taxation by £10 billion!

If the NHS needs more funding (which is a separate question), then wouldn't it be a good idea to simply raise income tax, which would bear harder on the rich than on the poor?  Rather than invent a whole new tax system, with a herd of civil servants to administer it, with bookfulls of legislation to enact it, and providing an whole new source of revenue for accountants as they sought ways to minimise clients exposure to this new tax?

If you want more money, raise income tax. And don't try to fool us into thinking that some new tax is ringfenced for the NHS.

Jeremy and the Mural

I am not a great fan of Jeremy Corbyn, and I am definitely against antisemitism in any form. But.

Jeremy is being attacked because of a mural. The mural was being removed, and jeremy said that he was opposed to the destruction of art.

That was a while ago, on a Facebook group. And now, just recently, it is revealed that Jeremy supported an antisemitic mural.

But look at this.

I see a monopoly board resting on the backs of people. I see six men sitting round that board. The implication is that these six men are exploiting the guys under the table.

What I don't understand, is what is it that tells you that the six guys are Jewish?

None of them is wearing a skullcap. I see no star of David. No clothing as per orthodox jews. No payot (the curls that hang down by the ears of orthodox jews. Only one has a beard.

Behind them, there's the pyramid with the eye. That's what you find on dollar bills. It's not any kind of Jewish ting that I'm aware of.

I can't actually see anything that says "These are Jews".

What they are, is old white guys.

So I really really don't see how this is being portrayed as antisemitic.

But what do I know? The witchhunt has started. And everyone (other than me?) seems to have accepted the mural as antisemitic.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Give that man a medal

Never mind about the flat-earth nonsense, this guy is a hero.

He built a steam powered (!) rocket (!) strapped himself into it (!) and soared to 2000 feet.

“Mad” Mike Hughes - give him a medal.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Healthcare should not be left to religion.

Healthcare should not be left to religion.

Dr Prakash Chandra Saxena, principal and superintendent of Government Ayurveda College and Hospital in Pilibhit, said, "Not just for medicinal purpose, we will promote cow urine as a health-giving drink. We have prepared a plan and will discuss it with Ayurveda department in Lucknow for approval. Drinking 10 ml to 20 ml cow urine daily will act as a preventive against seasonal diseases, like fever, cough and stomach-related ailments. Daily consumption of cow urine will also help increase people's immunity. Our aim is to make cow urine easily available to common public."

But don't laugh.

Narrated Anas:Some people from the tribe of 'Ukl came to the Prophet and embraced Islam. The climate of Medina did not suit them, so the Prophet ordered them to go to the (herd of milch) camels of charity and to drink, their milk and urine (as a medicine).
Sahih Bukhari 8:82:794

Stop giggling, there's more.

A woman has died after undergoing bee-sting therapy, a form of treatment backed by Gwyneth Paltrow.

The 55-year-old Spanish woman had been having live bee acupuncture for two years when she developed a severe reaction.

She died weeks later of multiple organ failure.

And that's not funny. Neither is this:

2-Year-Old Girl Dies After Faith-Healing Parents Refuse Medical Treatment

Jonathan and Grace Foster attributed the Nov. 8 death of their daughter, Ella Grace Foster, to "God's will," according to a police affidavit.

And, of course, there's homeopathy, the belief that plain water is medicine.
Well, at least it can't hurt, can it?

Right on its packaging CVS' homeopathic constipation relief says it's safe and non-habit forming. Yvette d'Entremont disagrees."I was an analytical chemist," said d'Entremont.These days d'Entremont uses her mastery of chemistry on YouTube as the 'Sci-Babe" debunking what she calls medicinal myths with science. As for the claim here of a non-habit forming laxative"There was 20% alcohol listed as an inactive ingredient," said d'Entremont. "This is 20% alcohol by volume which means it's 40 proof."That's 40 proof, by standards for purchasing liquor, yet sold over the counter with no age requirements.

Wow. That's as strong as whiskey!

Thursday, 22 March 2018

The divine origin of the Quran

After speaking to Muslims, I find that for many of them, the reasoning
goes as follows.

1) We follow Islam because the Quran came from Allah.

2) We know it came from Allah because of the many scientific facts in the Quran that we now know to be true.

3) These facts could only have been known by Allah at the time of the Prophet (pbuh) 650 AD.

The problem with this logic, is that 3) isn't correct.

Dozens of examples are given. I don't want this post to be too long, so I'll look at three of them that are commonly given.

1) The Big Bang. The Quran 21:30 tells us that the Big Bang happened, but scientists have only recently rediscovered this.

Not so. The Ancient Greeks proposed this. Anaxagoras in the 5th century BC
proposed this, 1000 years before the time of the Prophet. And the Hindu Rigveda proposed this also, 2000 years before Mohammed (pbuh).

But how could an illiterate Mohammed (pbuh) have read the writings of the ancient Greeks?

He had Companions. Not everyone in that region was illiterate. And people talk to each other. The origin of the universe is an interesting question, and would have been discussed often.

2) The different stages of development of the human fetus. How, before X-rays and ultrasound, could they have known about that? Quran 23:12-14

Because of miscarriages. And the Ancient Greeks, 1000 years before the Quran was revealed knew this. And the Bhagavata Purana, 100 years before the Apostle of Allah, gave an accurate account of the development of the fetus.

3. The waters salt and fresh, not mixing, Quran 55:19:20. This explains that you can have water that is salt, and water that is fresh, side by side, not mixing.

If you live by the coast, near a river, then you can go out in a boat and see this for yourself. It isn't hard to check. Fishermen would have known abuot this for thousands of years. But how would an illiterate man, not living by the coast, have known abut this?

Again - people talk to each other.

And, by the way, if you think that salt water and fresh water can never mix (as suggested by the Quran), try it yourself. Take a half glass of fresh water and a half glass of salt water, pour them into a single glass, stir well, and taste. It will be half as salty as the original salt water. And you don't need to take my word for this, you can try it yourself.

So here's my suggestion to Muslims. Look through the Quran, and find some true scientific fact that could only have had a divine origin. And I will undertake to show you that this fact was already well known at the time of the Prophet (pbuh).

Wednesday, 21 March 2018


Israel’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi, Yitzhak Yosef, called black people "monkeys".

And then his office made it worse, by explaning that he was quoting the Talmud.

If that's true, then we need to revise the Talmud. Call it Talmud, second edition.

We might need to revise the Old Testament, while we're at it.

But we definitely need to replace Yitzhak Yosef.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Annoyance number 4,592. Videos autoplaying.

When I go to a page that has a video, maybe I'll play it, maybe I won't. If I'm already playing another video, I definitely won't, I can't listen to two videos at once.

But HTML 5 lets videos decide for me.

To disable this in Firefox:

Type about:config in the browser's address bar and hit enter.
Confirm that you will be careful if the notification comes up.
Find the "media.autoplay.enabled"
Double-click on it.

Blessed silence.

Monday, 19 March 2018

The Irish question

There is an important question hanging over Brexit, that has not been resolved, and I can't see how it can be resolved.

It's the Irish question.

The Republic is in the EU. Soon, the UK will not be in the EU. So there will be a border. On one side of the border is an area with EU tariffs, on the other with UK tariffs.

When the UK was in the EU, this was not a problem; Eu tariffs = UK tariffs. But what now?

If we had a single free-trade area, there would not be a problem, even with the UK outside the EU. But this isn't going to happen. The hard-liners in the Tory party would rather cut their own throats.

If we had free trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic, that would solve the problem, but then there's a trade barrier between Northern ireland and the rest of the UK, so that isn't going to happen, the DUP would eat Theresa May *and* Boris before they let that happen.

So we are going to have a tariff barrier between Northern Ireland and the Republic, with customs barriers and infrastructure and everything that goes with a land border. Except that we've promised we wont. The Republic won't wear it, and they get a veto, as part of the EU27.

It's a problem like a fidget spinner, with three sides that you keep turning. Why didn't The Powers That Be see this coming two years ago?

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Italian scam for VAT part 2

Well, it turned out that it wasn't a scam. I really did pay my VAT to Italy in 2015 1Q, three months late. I can't remember why, this was three years ago, but I have a feeling it was because the HMRC Vatmoss system wasn't fully operational yet.

I contacted HMRC, and they confirmed the late payment, and my records said the same thing.

So I've paid them, Well, it was only 65 euros.

Poo in the post

I put some poo into the post box near me today.

Every two years, the NHS sends me a bowel cancel screening programme test kit. I have to take six samples of my poo, using the method they explain, and post it to them. They check it, and tell me if I have bowel cancer. So far, so good.

This is one of the benefits of a healthcare system where the priority is the health of everyone in the country. If the NHS's priority were profit, they wouldn't do this.

Aren't you glad we live in England?

 ... later ...

Result came back normal.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

School shooting shelters

When it became clear that WW2 was imminent, the UK government designed air raid shelters for families. These were called Anderson shelters, and they were effective against anything except a direct hit. So when there was an air raid warning (you usually got several minutes) the family would dress warmly, and get to the Anderson shelter in their back garden.

Anderson shelters were simple, cheap and effective. You got six pieces of corrugated iron, 1.95m by 1.35m. You dug out an area of the garden to a depth of a couple of feet, then covered that with the corrugated iron. Finally, you heaped earth over the top.

It worked. A family taking shelter in their Anderson, could emerge after the raid to see their house demolished by a bomb, which was terrible, but at least they were alive.

So how does this apply to school shootings? I went to Ebay. You can get 8ft by 3ft corrugated iron for £11 per sheet.  So if you bought six of these, and put it in the corner of a classroom, that would give you an area nine feet by nine feet by eight feet high; you should be able to get a teacher and a couple of dozen kids in there quite easily.

But will it be proof against bullets from an AR 15? I don't know (that could be tested easily). I'm assuming that it isn't, So what you do, is buy eight more sheets, and put those up as an outer shell, leaving a gap between the two shells. Then you fill that gap with sandbags; cheap and easy to handle.

And that will give you a shelter that would resist bullets. Add a door with a lock, and you have an Anderson Shelter. Total cost, £200. You would need one for each classroom. I would have thought that parents would be willing to stump up the necessary £10 per head, to keep their kids safe against a school shooter.

The bullet resistance comes from the sandbags. The corrugated iron is just a cheap way to make the structure.

Of course, I did all this in UK pounds, which is silly, because if you suggested this in the UK, people would say "Why?". But I'd guess that corrugated iron costs about the same in the USA (more after the Trump Tariffs start to bite) and that American parents wold be really keen on this idea.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

The acorn doesn't fall far from the tree.

Sir Oswald Moseley was the blackshirted scroat whi led the British Union of Fascists (usually known as the Black Shirts) until just before war broke out with Germany in 1939, whereupon he was confined to quarters until we'd dealt with his much-admired chum Herr Hitler.

Meanwhile, P G Wodehouse wrote a great spoof about a party he called the Black Shorts, led by a pugnacious bully called Lord Roderick Spode,

who usually got his come-uppance from Wooster and Jeeves well before the last chapter of the book. Recommended.

After the Battle of Cable Steet in 1936, when Moseley's Blackshirts were unable to intimidate the East Enders, his influence waned, reaching its nadir when WW2 started

Oswald Mosely had a son, Max. Young Max was involved in politics when he was a teenager, and the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree.

In 2008, there was this.

No longer a callow youth, Max turns out to have an interesting taste when it comes to his fun.

So he sued the News of the World in privacy grounds. After all, if someone wants to dress up as a Nazi and do sexy sado/masochistic things in private, that's not anyone else's business.

Max won the case. His private proclivities were, the judge said, not a matter of public interest.

But in the course of that case, reference was made to an unpleasant-sounding leaflet, with racist content, used in a political campaign that he was involved in, and signed off by him. Unfortunately, no-one had a copy of the leaflet, so his denial was accepted.

Now the leaflet, which says it was "published by Max Mosley" has surfaced. It includes ""Protect your health. There is no medical check on immigration. Tuberculosis, VD [venereal (sexually transmitted) disease] and other terrible diseases like leprosy are on the increase. Coloured immigration threatens your children's health."

He's in a bit of a pickle. Did he commit perjury? I don't know, but the penalty is seven years if he did. Here's Max being interviewed by Channel Four News.

 The acorn doesn't fall far from the tree.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

OK, Google

My Google Home mini arrived, and it's rather nice. It's a puck-shaped thing, about four inches across, and I can ask it to do things. So, for example, I asked it how long it would take me to drive to Leighton Buzzard, and it told me 55 minutes, which is right. And the weather, and whether pigs have wings. And apparently, some people think they do. Huh. Who knew?

But what I really want to do, is use it to control things.

So first, I installed the Google Home app on my iPhone, and used that to go through the rather simple setup steps for the Google Home. Mostly, this is to tell it the password for my wifi. And then - let's take CONTROL ...

I already set up a Pi Zero with a pair of relays, controlled via the GPIO ports, and a cgi so that I can switch them on and off over the web. So I decided to use that for the experiment.

Here's how I did it.

The key thing is the ifttt web site. I registered on that, and set up an app.
What my app does, is if I say "OK Google, switch on one" then Google Home talks to ifttt, and ifttt accesses my Pi Zero over the internet, and runs the cgi. The URL it accesses looks like this.'lights=on&port=1'

Where instead of on I could say "off" and instead of 1 I could say 2. Except that it doesn't seem to be able to understand the word "two". But it can understand three. Not four. Yes five. Then I thought, Two is a homonym for "to" and "too". Four is a homonyn for "for". So what works is 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. So I think it's a homonym problem.

The way round it is to say "OK Google, switch on number two" and that works.

So I can switch either of the two relays on or off with a voice command.

Wow! This has potential!

There's a way I can use a Google SDK to make a Google Home on a Raspberry Pi, and I'm planning to have a bash at that; I have a few Pies not doing anything right now.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Hungary wants money

I got an email from the tax office in Hungary. They are saying that although I declared my VAT owing to them on Q1 2017 as 9.65 euros, I haven't paid them.

I have, of course, via the HMRC MOSS system, which lets me pay my VAT to all the EU countries as soon as I've calculated how much is should be. I pay it all in one lump, for all 27 EU countries (UK vat is paid in a different way) to HMRC, and they are supposed to take it from there.

This is annoying. I'm also being chased by the Italian tax office; they claim that in 2015 Q1, I paid the VAT three months late. Again, I didn't. I paid via HMRC's Vat Moss. So, three years later ...

Although I do believe that staying in the EU would be best for the country, these erroneous demands for small amounts of money are starting to annoy me. Just think, from 1 March 2019, I won't have to pay VAT to EU members. Or will I? No-one knows what will happen.

Another scammer

This one is with BT, at least that's what he claimed. Apparently, my IP address is being used in California. Oh no! So ...

First, he established that I have a computer. But I dn't know what browser I'm using. He suggested a few, but dopey me, I just don't know. So then he told me to find the Ctrl key. "Hold on," I said.

After a few minutes, I cme back. And then he wanted to know what key was next to it. He's looking for the Windows key, which my beautiful IBM Model S, vintage 1983, does not have. But I lied to him, and said, after a few minutes pause, "there's a sort of squarey squidgy thing".

At that point, he realised that the computer wasn't next to the phone. So he suggested I move the phone. No can do, there isn't a phone point where the computer is. So do I have a mobile? No.

So I suggested that I move the computer to where the phone is. Fun fun fun.

So then I left him waiting for five minutes, while I "moved the coputer". He called again, and I told him that he just interrupted me moving the computer because I went to answer the phone. "Do you do internet banking," he asked. I told him I did, just to get him excited.

Because I'm pretty sure I know this scam. He wants me to install a RAT (remote access tool) so he can take over my computer, install his trojan, and then charge me money to remove it, which he won't do anyhow. I've been here before.

So now I've moved the computer, but I haven't moved the screen yet. We had a lottle chat about that. These CRT screens are *heavy* and it takes a long time to move them, especially for an old geezer like me. Puff puff. And the keyboard.

And when it's moved, I have another disappointment for him ...

He wanted me to connect to, which, I guess, he wants me to think is a BT site. I checked the whois, it's a Czech company. I've emailed them to alert them to the problem.

The internet connection is back where the computer used to be.

So he told me to take the computer back there. But that was after a riff that I dn't really understand, when he was asking me to look at the bottom left hand corner of the screen which is where the time is? Only it isn't. Maybe his version of windows is different from mine.

So now I'm "taking the computer back again" ...

So now, as if by magic, I'm able to sit in front of the computer and use the phone. So he talked me through starting up a run box (Windows-R) and

And the computer rebooted.

So he took me through the same process again

And the computer rebooted again.

So he took me through the same process again

And the computer rebooted again.

 So he passed me over to his manager, Mark Roger. Who got me to run Google, and do a search on "my 1p address" (not my ip address!).
IP Address66.249.79.92 [Hide this IP with VPN]
IP LocationMountain View, California (US) [Details]    

OMG! He's right! Time to panic ... (actually, it's a googlebot).

So he sent me to And the computer rebooted.

He told me that this is caused by the "hackers" locking me out from the british-telecom web site. 

He thought that maybe it is a loose power cable. So he got me to unplug and plug it back in.
And I was a bit clever here; I unplugged both ends of the cable and plugged it back in. Not excessively clever, though - I didn't switch it back on until he told me to.

So then it rebooted, and Windows came back up, and I told him that, abd he said "yes yes" and then the phone line went dead.

Am I rumbled?

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Going SSL, part 2

The two sites I upgraded seem to have gone well, so I did all the others. That turned out to be more complicated, because some of them are spread over more than one computer, and some of them have subdomains.

And then I decided to upgrade one of the computers, which was running Fedora 9, to the current Fedora 27. And that included upgrading the version of perl, and the newer version of perl has things that are no longer allowed, such as defined %array. So I had to change that.

Also, if a page includes something dragged ni from another site, then if that other site isn't using https, then the whole page shows up as "insecure".

So I've fixed that where I can, but in some places, it actually can't be fixed. That's usually a page that references a graphic from another site

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Going SSL

Chrome have announced that, come  July 2018, which is only six months away, if the browser accesses a site using http instead of https, it will be flagged as "Not secure".

For most sites, it really doesn't matter much if a site is secure or not. After all, we've been just fine using http for decades now, and only insisted on https when using Paypal or your bank, that sort of thing.

What https gives you, is end-to-end encryption. So the content coming from the remote server to your computer, is encrypted before it leaves the server, and only decrypted when it reaches your computer. So the picture of a kitten that you're viewing, is safe from prying eyes in between.

There are obvious advantages in increasing internet security. Firefox are moving in this direction too. But this is going to have a big impact on some sites, because if you don't move from http to https, that "Not secure" flag in the browser URL bar, is going to worry some (maybe most) users, who won't really know the implications, except that "Not secure" sounds really bad.

So I've started to get ready for this.

First, I've recompiled and reinstalled Apache so that it includes support for https. But then, each site that I manage will need a certificate. That certificate will tell Apache how to do the encryption.

Usually, these certs aren't cheap - you might pay $50 per year, per site. But there's a way round it. Let's Encrypt offer free certs. These aren't as flexible as the certs that you pay for - my paid-for cert on my Secure Server (the one I use to collect money from people) not only drives the encryption, it also reassures the user that I am who I say I am (if they know how to look at the cert, and I doubt if anyone ever does).

So, last November, after I installed the https version of Apache, I applied for a few dozen certs. It was a bit tedious setting this up, but I soon had it pretty much sorted, and that gave me all the certs I need, for free. They only last three months, but updating them is also free, and it's a lot easier to update them that to get them in the first place. You do

getssl -a

And it takes a while, but after several minutes, I was all updated.

Next, I needed to change the Apache config files, to tell it two things. First, where the certs were. Second, that I wanted it to use port 443 (that's the https port) as well as 80. And thirdly, I told it that if any user asked for an http connection, then it should switch to an https connection. That means I won't have to change a humungous number of links, both on my web sites, and scattered all over the internet. To do this, I used redirect.

Redirect permanent /

This redirect is so permanent, that Firefox, once it's seen it, remembers it, like, forever (there is a way to clear Firefox's memory of that). That caused me immense problems, because I hadn't known this, and my first effort was slightly wrong, and when I fixed the mistake, Firefox was still going to the wrong place, and I spent a lot of anguish and elbow grease trying various things to fix a problem that I had already fixed, dammit, except that Firefox carried on redireccting to the wrong place, until I cleared it's mistaken redirect.

So, I've changed two web sites over to being all https. I'll wait and see if there's any unpleasant side effects, but I don't think there will be, and I'll change everything else to https.

If you have a web site, you should also change over before July 2018.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Gold scam

Dear Sir/Madam

We are village local gold miners located here in Mali in West
Africa we hereby make this offer of au metal gold dust under the penalty
of perjury with full responsibility. the purity bellow.

The purity bellow.
1. Product:Au metal (gold dust)
2. Origin:mali,west africa
3. Type: alluvial
4. Purity:92.7% or better
5. Carats:22+
6.Pirce $26,500 USD

We are searching for a serious gold buyer,whom we can establish a long
term business with,to enable us discuss the procedures of delivery and
payments,you know that the local minners has not being to school in this
case they don't understand the baking procedures about gold,now is you
or your mandate will explain to us how you will want the business to be. i
want you and your company to be my AGENT.

Best regards.
Mr Mohammed Alpha

Saturday, 27 January 2018

The Orange Pi

Rummaging round in Hobbyking, I came across the Orange Pi. It's like a Raspberry Pi, but cheaper and with more.

£6.31 gets you an Orange Pi, with a quad core, 1gb memory, 10/100 ethernet, card slot, wifi and 4 USB ports

£14.04 gets you an Orange Pi Plus, with a quad core, 1gb memory plus 8GB flash, sata and gigabit ethernet and 5 USB ports.

The Raspberry Pi 3 is £30, by comparison.


Massive malvertising

I should have thought of this.

Instead of just feeding malicious software into genuine advertising agencies, how about setting up your own malicious agency? And if not one, how about 28? And that's exactly what happened.

So you set up a 28 fake ad agencies - that's easy enough, it just takes a bunch of web sites and some fake profiles on linkedin. Then those agencies contact web sites and offer money for ads on genuine web sites. And although they promise to pay, they don't actually have pay for those ads - this is a criminal enterprise.

So unsuspecting users are deluged with malvertising from malagencies. Here's the details.

That's why I block advertising. Not because it's annoying and intrusive, but because some of it is actually malicious.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Fixing the Masterswitch

APC make a product called the Masterswitch. The ones I have are about 20 years old; I have three of them, and two are in use. They let me control the power to any of eight outlets, which means that I can switch computers on or off, remotely. From anywhere!

The one that isn't in use, is out of action because I can't access it via the ethernet port. I can access it via a serial port, but that's a bit clumsy. I wanted to fix it.

It's been like that for several years, but a few days ago, I had a sudden thought. Maybe the problem is just the ethernet card? So I went on to eBay, and discovered that these cards (AP9606) cost about £25, whereas I can get an entire second-hand Masterswitch for about £70. And I didn't actually know that buying that £25 card would fix the Masterswitch.

But I told eBay to email me if anything came up, and hey! A card was offered for £12.86, so I grabbed it. It arrived today.

I put the card into the faulty Masterswitch, and accessed it over the serial port, in order to set the IP address and suchlike. Then I tried to use it. No luck. And after trying this, that and the other, I suddenly realised that this hadn't come out of a Masterswitch, it had come out of a UPS; APC also make very nice UPSes. So the card was trying to control a UPS, it had no idea about eight switchable power outlets.

Hey ho, I thought, that's £12.86 wasted. And then I had another thought. I looked at the old card, and it had a label on it that said:

Model: AP9212
AOS: aos253.bin
APP: ms202.bin

So I'm guessing that aos is the operating system, and ms202 is the Masterswitch software. So maybe I can upload those to the new card?

I googled around, and found the software on the APC site, here. I downloaded the latest version, vintage 2001 (I told you I've had these for a long time) and used ftp to copy the files to the Masterswitch. They copied just fine!

Then I rebooted the Masterswitch, and it came up nicely. And then I accessed it via the web interface over the network, I was able to switch outlets on and off just perfectly.

Job done!

Monday, 22 January 2018

Network switches

After one of my network switches crashed catastrophically, I needed a replacement, so I went to eBay.

I should first explain what a network switch is. Each computer has an ethernet port (or uses Wifi, but most of mine use wires). The cable from that port, goes to an ethernet switch, and that acts as a kind of traffic manager. Like roads leading to a roundabout?

The switch that failed, was a 32 port switch, but I've grown a bit since then, and I looked for a 48 port switch. And I wanted it to run at 1000 mbit speed (gigabit) because I've been using gigabit speeds on an increasing number of computers. The cards cost just a couple of dollars now.

You have to be a bit careful; some switches have just a few gigabit ports and the others are all megabit. I wanted a switch that was all gigabit. So I went to eBay and rummaged.

I wound up buying a "3com Baseline Switch 2948-SFP Plus" for £30. And after a bit of thought, I bought another one for £35. These give me 48 gigabit ports, so I can put one on my front rack and one on the rear rack.

I installed the front rack switch, and that was working well. So I looked at the rear rack switch, and decided that before I installed it, I'd have a play around with it, to see what else it could do. And I was amazed! This is what is called a "managed switch". You can disable ports, or restrict the speed. You can monitor the throughput of each port, and tons more.

So after playing with my new switch, I installed it, so now my main Data Shed is entirely gigabit switches.

And then I went to eBay about bought another "3com Baseline Switch 2948-SFP Plus" for £35. The only thing I don't really understand, is why they are so cheap!

Sunday, 21 January 2018

A consulting job

This happened a couple of decades back. I was asked by a computer dealer to appear in court as an expert witness. They wanted me to swear that a 10 mbit ethernet network, is 2.5 times as fast as a 4 mbit token ring network. They had replaced, for a customer, their old Token Ring network with a new ethernet network, and the customer was complaining that it ran very very slowly now. And this was going to be a court case, because customer wanted dealer to rip out the ethernet cabling and hardware, and reinstall their old token ring, and that would be very expensive for the dealer.

It sounds like it would be faster. But networks aren't quite that simple. And why would the customer be wrong about this? So I said "I need to visit and have a look at this." "The dealer said, "Why? It's very simple, 10 mbit compared to 4 mbit." So I explained, when I'm up on the witness stand giving my expert opinion, and the cross-examination asks me "So, Dr Solomon, did you actually go and look at this network?"  then I don't want to have to ansewr, "No, I'm just guessing."

So we made an appointment, and I went to visit the customer. The customer showed me; he started up Dataease (a database that I knew and loved) and nothing happened, for a very very long time, until eventually, the opening screen came up. "Odd, I though, "that should have been instant, they haven't actually done anything yet." So we closed it down, and started it up, and this time I went to watch the server. And the disk light was flashing, and flashing, and flashing - lots of disk access, and eventually the database started up.

"Hmmm, I thought, "I wonder what's causing that?" So I started it up again, but in single user mode, and this time, it came alive instantly. The customer was watching, and said "Yes, that's more like it! Well done, you've fixed it." No, I hadn't. You can't use a multi-user database in single user mode, there will be collisions. But it was clear what was wrong; the database was implementing locking by opening little files to indicate "File in use", and closing them, and opening them, and so on.

So, how to fix this? I phoned Dataease tech support; I had a good name to talk to, which got me past the front line support "Have you switched the monitor on?". And he said, "Yes, that was version 4, but version 5 does proper in-memory locking using the operating system locks." "So how can I get an update?" I asked. And the customer interrupted, "Do you mean this?" he asked, waggling a copy of Dataease 5 that they had been sent but hadn't bothered to install.

So  I upgraded their software, ran it multiuser, it was swift as an arrow, everyone was happy (the customer, the dealer and me - but not the lawyers who had been deprived of their fees).

Job done.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Power controller

I use APC remote control power distribution units. They give me eight power ports, controllable remotely via my network; very nice. It means that I can be on the other side of the world, and reboot my computers.

I used to have three DSL lines, used for backup across the internet, because they were cheaper than my old 2mbit leased line. When I moved to a 100 mbit connection, I didn't really need them. But I kept one, because A) it gives me at least some connectivity if the 100 mbit line goes down (which it has, they called it routine maintenance, but they didn't warn me in advance, so I claimed compensation, which I got) and it also means that I have a way of accessing my network from "outside".

The APC PDU was still there, now controlling only one DSL router. Which is a waste, I could find a use for that elsewhere. So, I thought, let's make a remote rebooter from parts in my parts box.

I used a Raspberry Pi, of course, version 1. I also had a little relay board, they cost £1 on eBay.

The DSL is powered by a plug-in power supply which claims to give 12 volts; it actually gave 15 volts. Too rich for the Pi, I already fried one that way! So I used a step-down converter (eBay, £1.33) to get it down to the needed 5 volts.

I connected pin 2 of the Pi to give the relay its 5 volts, and pin 6 for the ground. Pin 12 is GPIO18, and that was the pin that would switch the relay. So the 15 volt PSU supplied the Pi after going through the converter, and also supplied the DSL router, after going through the relay.

The software to control this was pretty simple. First, run only once after boot-up, to set up the Pi gpio pin.

# put the gpio pin 18 (physical 12) under control of the kernel
echo "18" > /sys/class/gpio/export
# make pin 18 an output pin
echo "out" > /sys/class/gpio/gpio18/direction

Then, to switch on, I do "gpio -g write 18  0" and to switch off, I do "gpio -g write 18  1".

Instead of having to log in to do this, I implemented a little cgi, so that I can access it as a web page and click the on or off button.


Wednesday, 17 January 2018

How to activate your HSBC debit card

Why does the card need activating? Is it a security thing, in case the card the posted falls into the wrong hands?

So I phone the number they give, 0800 783 5263 and the rest was automated. It asked for the card number, which I gave, and then to ensure that it really was me calling, they asked for my date of birth.

Wait, what? They think this is something known only to myself and HSBC?

No wonder there's so much fraud.

Network down

I got up this morning to find my entire network down. I did a few checks, then went down to the Data Shed to see if I could spot the problem. I saw, almost immediately, one of the big gigabit switches (32 ports) was flashing all ports. I powered that switch down, and my network came back to life.

I think the switch had simply gone gaga, and was throwing packets onto the network as fast as it could. I doubt if it's something I can fix. So I replaced it with one of my old 100mbit switches, and now everything works.

I use gigabit on most servers, because it makes throwing huge amounts of data from one server to another, very fast. I need that when I'm backing up terabytes of data. But for external access, the limit is 100 mbit, because that's the speed of my line.

I would like to use a gigabit switch instead of that temporary 100 mbit switch. So I went on to Ebay, and found a 48-port gigabit switch for £30. Which is not bad, since a 48 port gigabit switch is, when new, over £200.

 ... later ... So then I bought another one for £35.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Dental diagnosis

Time for my annual tooth check. So I toddled down to the dentist.

She poked and prodded, and stuck something sharp into my gums, and after a somewhat uncomfortable five minutes, she gave me the all-clear!

Friday, 12 January 2018

The Black Baron

This is about the first themed show that we did. We had previously done the same chrome-and-white-plastic shows as everyone else. In order to be taken seriously, you have to be serious. And boring. And people forget everything you told them as soon as you've finished talking. So I decided to try something completely different.

This was just at the time when viruses had been written by someone calling himslef the "Black Baron" - he turned out to be a British guy from Plymouth. He called his viruses Smeg.Queeg and Smeg.Pathogen, and generally seemed to be a fan of the TV show "Red Dwarf". The interesting thing about his viruses, was that they were very polymorphic. at a time when polymorphic viruses weren't common.

Before the show, I thought about what we could do, and I put together a mini-presentation, to show to our sales and marketing people, with sound from a tiny tape recorder, and I hoped they could use their imagination to see what the real thing would look like. I heard a whisper "Is he serious?".

I wanted to impress on the audience that, no matter how clever the author of the viruses were, we were cleverer, and were completely on top of the situation.

The occasion was Softteach, a show put on by distributor Softsell, aimed at dealers. And what dealers want, of course, is something they can sell, for a profit. And which doesn't cause them hassle later.

So my commercial pitch was this. We're giving you a free copy of the Antivirus Toolkit, and you can sell it to whoever you want. Because when someone wants an AV, they want it RIGHT NOW, not after a couple of days for delivery to happen. But when you sell it, you'll re-order, right? So that you can keep on selling it. Also, don't worry about tech support. We do all that, we have a free tech support line. And don't worry about us undercutting you on price - I promise that we won't sell copies to anyone at anything other than our recommended list price. So the message was "You can make money out of this".

So that was the main message. I know what turns dealers on. But that's boring. So I decided to explain to them about how polymorphic viruses worked, using an animated Powerpoint presentation to show how the viruses self-mutated in each copy. Also boring, but really the point I was trying to make is "We know what we're doing."

But how to make it really interesting? At Softteach, each vendor had a room, and you do the same presentation several times over the two days. We installed a really good sound system in our room, and we controlled the lighting.

When the dealers came in, we were playing the theme tune to "Red Dwarf", which was so popular at the time, everyone recognised it. Then, when everyone was sat down and the room filled, we started. "I'm going to tell you about the Smeg viruses, written by "The Black Baron" and when I said "The Black Baron", we did a flash of lighting and a crash of thunder, really loud. Which they weren't expecting, so it made them jump. And from then on, whenever I said "The Black Baron", we hit them with lightning and thunder again. And the presentation was quite technical (these are dealers, so they do understand about computers) and it didn't matter that it was over their heads, because A) we were flattering them by being so technical and B) we were saying "We know what we're doing."

We all wore t-shirts with the message "Smoke me a kipper" and  a picture of one of the Red Dwarf characters. I still have one of those t-shirts.

Word soon spread "Have you seen the S&S presentation? You've got to see it?" and we were packed out. We gave away hundreds of free Toolkit copies to these dealers and from that time on, whenever anyone asked for an antivirus from those dealers, they were sold one of our Toolkits. Which was, at the time, the best product around, so everyone gained.

And it was so much fun to do!

Except for Chris Pile, The Black Baron. He was apprehended, pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to 18 months.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Evolution explained

Some people have a wrong idea about what evolution is, and they rightly think that their vision of evolution is nonsense and implausible. Monkeys don't change into people. And that's right, they don't. That isn't how it works.

For evolution to happen, you need three things.

1. When animals produce young, the young are a bit different from the parents.
2. The characteristics of the animal, are inheritable.
3. Something chooses which of the young will survive and reproduce, and which won't.


So, 1 is obvious. You are slightly different from your parents. Animals are diferent from their parents too, but since to us all sheep look the same, that isn't obvious. But it's true for all animals.

The differences might be, you're taller or shorter, you're more or less clever, your hair might be a different colour, your skin might be lighter or darker. You might be better or worse at seeing, hearing or smelling things.


We also know that characteristics are inheritable. "Doesn't he look like his father!" is something we often say, or "She's got her mother's nose". And if you look at dogs; two greyhounds make greyhound puppies, inheriting the characteristics of their parents. But if you mate a greyhound with a bulldog, you get something that is a bit like both, inheriting some of the characteristics of each parent. It's only relatively recently that we found out the reason for this, and we call the study of this "genetics".

Humans choose

Now consider dogs. For a very long time, humans have chosen which of the litter to keep, and which not to keep. As a result, there are numerous breeds of dog which are very different from each other. This demonstrates that it is possible, over a period of some millenia, that dogs can become many different breeds.

But dogs are still dogs. Greyhounds can mate with bulldogs (although I'm not sure how a chihuahua would cope with a Great Dane).

In this case, it was humans who did the choosing.

God chooses

Another way for this to happen, would be for God to choose. If you believe in God.

Nature chooses

The third way, is for nature to choose. If some of the lion cubs are faster, then they are more able to chase down prey; the slower ones will find it more difficult to catch prey, and will eat less well. The faster cubs are more likely to grow to adults and breed, and be able to feed their young. So pressure from their environment, pushes lions towards being able to run faster, or hide better, or kill more easily.

It takes generations. Evolution is slow. Animals don't change, it's populations that change, and they change in response to environmental pressures. But in a few short generations, we can already see changes; there are (and always have been) elephants without tusks. That used to be a disadvantage; tusks are useful tools. But today, a fine pair of tusks can get you killed for ivory. Tuskless elephants don't get killed for their ivory, because they don't have any, so are more likely to survive and reproduce. And they pass on the inheritable characteristic of "having no tusks". As a result, the percentage of tuskless female elephants has increased from 10% in 1969, to 38% in 1989. So here, although humans aren't intending to create tuskless elephants, human predation is giving that effect.

Natural evolution is even slower. The variations are quite small, and the advantage gained can also be small. But even a small advantage, over millions of years, can result in big changes.

For example, consider a populations of rabbits. Rabbits all over the place! And then, something happens, such as when the UK changed from being part of the continent, to being an island. Now there are two populations of rabbits, unable to interbreed because rabbits can't swim that far.

So what happens if the environmental pressures on the rabbits are different. Suppose the mainland rabbits are mostly predated by wolves; the island rabbits by eagles. On the mainland, natural selection will favour rabbits that spot wolves and get into their burrows quickly. On the island, natural selection will favour rabbits that spot eagles when they start to dive.

Mainland rabbits will be looking around them and listening for wolves; island rabbits will be looking upwards. On the island, selection will favour rabbits that mostly look up, and keep their heads turned up; also, they need better eyes, to see the eagle while it's still high up. Mainland rabbits will be favoured if they can run faster.

Over a long period of time, the island rabbits will tend to rest in a position that scans the sky and have good eyesight; mainland rabbits will develop more powerful running legs. Eventually, both populations will have changed so much (remember how much dogs have changed in only a few millenia?) that you wouldn't call either population rabbits any more. The island creatures are we now call skyscanners, and the mainland creatures are called fastrunners. And if you try to mate a skyscanner with a fastrunner, they are so different that they can't breed together.

And that's how evolution works.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018


We were sitting round a table, all the top sales and marketing folks at S&S, talking about our upcoming show. At the previous show, I had been much impressed by the Word Perfect stand, where they were giving away plastic hats, and everyone wanted one.

Except they didn't. the rubbish bins at the show were overflowing with these useless plastic hats. I mean, what can you do with a plastic hat?

But I liked the idea of a giveaway, and we brainstormed the notion.

It was me that came up with the idea of socks.

The marketing folks thought I was joking. I heard a whisper, "He is joking, isn't he?" No, I wasn't.

Socks are fairly cheap, if bought in volume (we wound up buying 50,000, I think they cost 47p per pair). We had them embroidered with "Dr Solomon" which was our brand name. "But," said one of the marketing people, "you won't be able to see the brand name when you're wearing them". Yes, that was the idea. The recipient wouldn't throw them into the binm because a pair of black socks is always useful. And each time he or she put them on or took them off, we get an advertising hit. And people aren't going to wear something that's blatantly advertising.

What I didn't expect, was some of the outcomes. We were drawing such huge crowds at the stand, I had to devise a way to throw socks a long distance to the audience. One useful property of socks, is that if you get hit in the face by a pair of socks, it doesn't hurt. So I developed the Sock Cannon.

Another unexpected outsome, was the "Dr Solly Salute". This consisted of the lifting of one trouser leg, to show that the you were wearing the socks. And, of course, anyone already wearing the socks, would get another pair. Virtue rewarded.

People still remember the socks. I still wear mine.

I gave a pair of socks to Prince Charles, we were on some committee together, I forget what for.

It was an excellent promotion. I'm surprised that no-one ever copied the idea.

We did a show

On of the earliest shows that we did (we being S&S INternational) was in one of those big hallls; Earls Court, I think. I forget who organised it; this was over 25 years ago. But the organisers sent us a copy of the rules, and it ran to a couple of dozen pages. So, being the sort of person that I am, I read it.

And in the rules, it set a limit on how much sound you could use. It hadn't really occurred to me before, but if you use sound the right way, you can attract a lot more people to your stand than if you just sit there quietly.

And I read the rules. It said 96 decibels.

That is a *LOT*. It's really *REALLY* loud. So we got a couple of good quality speakers, and a decent sound system, and turned the volume up to eleven, as one does. And sure enough, the show organisers hurtled down to ask us to shut that noise up. The noise they were referring to was myself and Graham Cluley, doing our double act, which tangentially referenced antivirus, but was mostly just fun.

And it was at that point that I pulled out the show rules. 96 decibles. And, of course, I had a sound meter. We were doing 94 decibels, at the point where we measured it. So I pointed out  But I promised I'd turn it down by a couple of decibels, and the show organiser went away.

I think that was the year that we dressed the stand up to look like a saloon bar in the old West, and we all dressed up as cowboys, on the grounds that we could do that precisely because we weren't cowboys.

I looked at the show stats afterwards; we had more people round our stand than even Microsoft!

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

12 tb drives

Bluepoint are offering 12tb drives for just £250. I an so tempted!

The first hard drive I bought was 10 mb, list price £990. And I was very pleased with it, it made compiling Fortran programs massively faster than swapping diskettes all the time.

12tb is 1.2 million times larger, at a quarter the price.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Fox hunting

In the last election, the Tory manifesto promised to have another vote on the banned animal-torture of fox hunting. That was one of my reasons for not voting Tory; I was horrified that there would be a possibility that this dreadful activity would be made legal. What about bear baiting? Dog fighting? Cock fighting?

If the want to go out with horse and hounds, there is the perfectly harmless activity called "drag hunting" whereby a man runs out first, dragging a sack of aniseed or suchlike. Then the horse and hounds chase the man. If they catch him, then they win, and the hounds jump joyfully around the friend that they have tracked. No-one gets hurt.

Now, Theresa May has announced that they've changed their minds. There won't be another vote on fox hunting.

If she'd said that before the last election, she might have done a lot better.


Thursday, 4 January 2018

I can send texts!

The Hologram Nova arrived. It cost $49, and then I had to pay some sort of import tax.

I connected it to a Raspberry Pi, and tried to install the software. The error messages led me to think that I'd need to upgrade the version of Raspbian, so I did that, and tried again. This time, the Hologram software installed.

I went to their web site at and registered the Sim that came wiith the device. I chose the free option. That went well. Then I created a devicekey, and then I tried it out.

hologram send -v --sms --devicekey xxxxxxxx --destination +44yyyyyyyyyy   "This is a test"

xxxxxxxx is my devicekey, yyyyyyyyyy is my mobile number, with the leading zero removed. And after about ten minutes of so, the text appeared on my mobile phone.

So now I can log into the Pi with the Nova and send texts to anyone with a mobile phone.

Evil laughter ...

Monday, 1 January 2018

I have Vaselined my toothbrushes

I use an electric toothbrush. Actually two, one for the main brush, one for the fine brush. They are battery powered, using AA batteries. That's preferable to the kind that has a built-in battery, because when the built-in fails, all you can do is throw the entire thing away.

The steel core that engages the brush, can get rusty. I think it's nickel-plated, but still it rusts. So once per year, I take off the brush heads, give the shafts a good scrape, and then coat the shafts with Vaseline. This preserves them against rust for another year.