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Saturday, 19 October 2019

Deal or no deal part two

OK, I've done everything I can to prepare for a no-deal Brexit.

So now what do I do to prepare for a Brexit with the Boris deal? Nobody knows.

The Letwin Amendment says that Boris has to ask for an extension. Boris says "Non". Parliament say he has to. The last person who defied a clear order from parliament got decapitated. Perhaps that won't happen to Boris.

So, where are we?

Nobody knows.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

PCI DSS

At last, I have a clean PCI DSS.

There's always been a few non-critical remarks in the test report, but this time around, I got a clean report.

To get rid of the report's uneasiness about the secure server accepting mail, I changed one line in sendmail.mc to

DAEMON_OPTIONS(`Port=smtp, Addr=127.0.0.1, Name=MTA')dnl

What that does, is disallow email from other servers. That's not a real vulnerability, but the PCI DSS report used to mention it. And I don't actually receive email on that sever, so it's no loss to me.

I also added these lines to my startup script.


iptables -I INPUT  -p icmp --icmp-type timestamp-request -j DROP
iptables -I OUTPUT -p icmp --icmp-type timestamp-reply   -j DROP


That stops people from finding out the date and time on my server. I don't see this as a big problem, because it's easy for people to see that my server is in the UK, and it's really easy to find out the time here. But, the PCI DSS report has always reported it as an information leakage. So I've blocked it.

Finally, there was a report that my certificate used SHA-256. It does, but only for the root certificate, and browsers dn't cheack SHA-256, they check the whole certificate. So that isn't a vulnerability at all, it's been a false positive for years, and each time I did a scan, I did a cut-and-paste of my explanation why it's a false positive, and they always accepted it. But now they've fixed their false positive!

That leaves only one thing in the report - that the server is accessible via https. Well yes, it is, because that's my Secure Server, and if all access to it is blockedd, it's as useful as a chololate teapot.


Thursday, 26 September 2019

Raspberry Pi 4 cooling

A lot of people seem to be saying that the Pi 4 runs too hot, and needs cooling. I thought of passive cooling, and started sawing up an old heat sink into small Pi-sized pieces, but that turned out to be more work than I'd thought. You can buy a Pi 4 set of four heat sinks on eBay for 99p. It's just aluminium with fins.

Then I thought, wait. I have innumerable small fans. I pulled out a 60 cm wide by 25 cm deep fan, because that seemed to be about the right size, blue-tacked it to the Pi (I didn't have any bolts that were long enough and thin enough),  then realised it needs 12 volts, and the Pi can only supply 3.3 or 5.

Not a problem. The way I power Pis, is by taking wires from the 12 volt power supply of a PC (usually a PC nearby), and running that over a power-over-ethernet cable to wherever the Pi is. Then I feed the 12 volts (more like 10 or 11 by the time it's run over all that wire) and use a voltage stepper-downer (eBay, £1) to take it to 5.5 volts, which I feed into the Pi.

So I took that 12 volts feed, and fed it onto the fan. The fan is almost silent (I can hear it if I get really close to it and listen really carefully) and brought the Pi temperature down from 56C to 39C. Which means that I can now try to overclock it!

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Democracy

Imagine a system of government where important issues are voted on, but once that vote is done, the issue can never be revisited. Imagine a situation where if the Nationalist Social British Worker's Party is voted into power, it can never be voted out again.

Imagine a situation where the electorate, once it has spoken, is not allowed to change its mind when the situation changes, or they discover that things are not happening as promised.

Imagine that, when some people who want to change things, are told "No, we voted on that years ago, so it has to be like that from now on."

And then imagine how it feels when, people who want change and are willing to have a democratic vote for change, are told "No, we had a vote on that once before, so we can't have a vote again, even though we have now found information that has led us to change our minds"

When the General Election happens (probably in the next few months), I will be voting Liberal Democrat. I haven't forgotten their past incompetence, but that is insignificant compared to the appalling mess that is Tory, Labour, UKIP or Brexit. Because they've found a way out of the mess that those parties got us into, and the way out is simple.

Revoke article 50. End the nightmare of Brexit, and we can dump the way that one single issue has dominated politics to the exclusion of all other issues, and get back to tackling all the other issues in this country.



Friday, 20 September 2019

Deal or no deal?

I've started seeing the advertising. "Prepare for a no-deal Brexit."

I've also seen that a no-deal Brexit would be illegal, since Parliament passed a law to say so.

So I'm supposed to prepare for something illegal?

I checked out the government's web site. They're saying that if there's no deal, then I'm bound by the VAT laws of the EU.

Wait, what? What happened to "clean break"? What happened to "Take back control"? I'm being told that, if there is no deal (which would be illegal) then I have to register with the VAT authorities of an EU country (I can choose which) so that I can pay VAT on digital sales to EU countries, to the EU country who made the purchase.

I really don't understand this. Canada (for example) has a VAT (they call it GST), but no-one has ever suggested that I have to send money to Canada for sales made to Canadians. Likewise every other foreign country. So, under no-deal (which is illegal), the EU becomes 27 foreign countrues. Why do I have to obey their tax laws?

But, maybe this won't happen, since no-deal is illegal.

I shall have to consult my accountant, and get a written opinion. That way, if they're wrong, I can point the finger at the accountant.

On October 31st, something might or might not happen. If it happens, no-one knows what the result will be. If it doesn't happen, no-one knows what the result will be.

I'm as ready as I'll ever be. Are you?

Thursday, 19 September 2019

This email appeared in 3 known data breaches.

Firefox gave me this warning.



Evite is an email greeting card site. I've never used this, but I'm guessing that someone sent me an e-card, which gave them my email address.

Moneybookers I have used, but not for a very, very long time, and with a very long password, and they aren't saying that was collected.

Verifications.io? That web site doesn't exist, and I've never used it in the past.

Another of my email addresses was compromised at LinkedIn. I already knew about that, because I've been getting spam claiming that they know my password, and giving the password that I used there a long time ago.

You can check your email address at https://monitor.firefox.com/scan




Make sure that you don't use the same password on different web sites.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

50 followers!

I've reached 50 followers. That's about four dozen more than I expected when I started this blog. And 1.5 million page views. Wow.

So what is the purpose of this blog. It's kind of like a journal, in which I post things that I've done, things that have happened, thoughts that I've thought

So thanks to the 48 unexpected followers, and here's to the next 50!

Raspberry Pi 4 workstation

I've been using a Raspberry Pi 3 for a couple of years now as a workstation, but only as multiple terminals, plus a bit of Googling. When the Pi 4 came out, at first I couldn't get hold of one, but after a while they became easily available.

You can get them in 1gb, 2gb and 4gb.  But you can't upgrade. The cost is £35, £45 and £55, so I got the 4gb version. I also got the recommended power supply (I can try it out later with my own power supplies). My own? I'll just explain that.

I use standard PC power supplies (and in some cases, they are powering an ordinary computer). I take the 12 volt line, and feed that into the ethernet cable, using a POE adaptor. Ethernet cables are 8 wires, but only four of them are used. So this uses the other four to carry power. Then I feed that 12 volts (which will have dropped a bit by the time it arrives where it's needed) into a little card that drops that 12v to what the Pi wants, which is about 5 volts (or maybe 5.5). This means that I don't need lots of Pi power supplies; that little card is very cheap. And it means I don't have a big overhead in the power conversion.

I set up a 64gb SD card using the latest Raspbian, Buster (I only recently found out that the various versions are named after Toy Story characters). But then I hit the first problem - I only have HDMI cables, and the Pi 4 uses mini HDMI. So on Ebay, I bought a little converter from HDMI to mini HDMI.

I plugged in a USB keyboard and USB mouse, and powered up. To my great happiness, the Pi 4 was immediately driving my Acer et430k monitor giving me 43 inches of 3840 by 2160 loveliness. I was half-expecting to do a lot of messing about for that, but it "just worked".

The USB keyboard is rubbish - what do you expect for £4? But I was able to replace that with one of my beautiful big IBM keyboards (you can still get them, they're about £100, but if you do a lot of typing, and like a positive clicky keyboard, it is perfection). That has a PS/2 interface, but I have a converter for that, and that worked first time too!

But the sound didn't work. The HDMI interface should feed sound into the monitor, and it wasn't working. I haven't given up on that yet; I feel that the problem is at the monitor end. But I do want sound! So I used the audio output on the Pi 4, and fed that into a pair of powered speakers. And that worked first time too!

So then I added Firefox, and xfe (the file manager that I like), and Nedit (my favourite editor). A slight problem there; most of my computers are Fedora, and I know how to add software to those using yum. But the Pi 4 is using Raspbian, a derivative of Debian, and that uses apt-get. I think all the packages I want are probably available, but the names are slightly different. Google gets me there.

And printing. I have three printers, my Old Faithful HP Laserjet 6p, which I've had for 25 years. That was very easy to set up because I use Jetdirect, an ethernet-to-parallel converter. The Dell was easy too, because it is natively a network printer, and the Samsung took a bit of messing about to get that working with the Pi 4.

Networking can be done using the built-in Wifi, or the Gigabit ethernet port. At first, I used the Wifi, but it didn't play youtube smoothly. So I used a speed tester on it. I found that my various Wifi access points were giving me 5mbps, 7, 10 and 20, with the 20 running off the TP link. But with a wired connection I got 60 mbps, which is about what I'd expect, because my link to the internet is 100 mbps. Roll on Gigabit broadband!

So what's the point of all this?

The Raspberry Pi 4 takes about 2 amps at 5 volts, which is 10 watts. When I put my hand above it, I can feel that it's slightly warm. But that is replacing a full size computer that was pulling about 150 watts. And it isn't just the cost of the electricity. It's the heat. All that 150 watts comes out as heat, which isn't a problem in winter, but we had a really really hot summer this year, and even opening the window didn't help, because it was hotter outside than inside. But next year, when the hot weather arrives, I can power off all my computers in the office except the Pi.


Thursday, 5 September 2019

Setting up a phpBB forum

phpBB is one of the more commonly used forum software packages. I used it on a Linux Fedora box, and it was fairly easy to set up.

But I wanted to move the whole thing to a Raspberry Pi, as part of my electricity economy drive. I had a Pi 2 that wasn't being used, and that has 1 gb of memory, so that was my intention.

First, I tried to set it up with Fedora. That's not what most people use on a pi, but I thought it might be easier since I was moving the phpBB from a Fedora box.

Fedora version 30 is available for the pi (and version 29). But when I set it up, I discovered that it occupies a couple of gb, and there seemed to be no way to tell it to use the whole 64gb on the SD card. It said that it did; the partition was expanded to 64gb, but the partition wasn't being fully used. It was only after I realised that, since it was using the xfs file system, you can't use fsck to fix it, you have to use the xfs equivalent, "xfs_growfs /". And that expanded it to 64gb, but really the install process should have done that for me.

And then I found that there were four processes running continuously, which meant that the loading of the pi was 4, and that was before I was running anything.

And when I installed PHP, it gave me version 7.3.8, and phpBB won't use such a recent version of PHP, and at that point I gave up on Fedora on the pi.

So, on to Raspbian, which is what most people use on the pi. I tried the latest version of Raspbian first, "Buster". That didn't work, because it also gave me a too-recent version for PHP, so I tried using the previous version , "Stretch". Whatever happened to good old-fashioned version numbers?

I had a lot of false start with that too, but I eventually got it to work. Here's hw.

First, I installed Raspbian Lite. Then:
raspi-config
apt-get update
apt-get install network-manager -y
        Then I used nmtui change ip to 10.11.0.37
        Then I edited /etc/ssh/sshd_config to allow rootlogin
reboot

Then I installed some more stuff:

apt-get -y install rdate
apt-get -y install rsync
apt-get -y install dcfldd
apt-get -y install apache2
apt-get -y install php7.0
apt-get -y install php7.0-mysql php7.0-curl php7.0-json php7.0-cgi php7.0-xsl
apt-get -y install mysql-server
apt-get -y install libxml2-dev
apt-get -y install php-xml

Then I added a user, and edited the apache configuration, so it would run using https.
And then I copied over the ssl certificates

And now phpBB
bunzip2 phpBB-3.2.7.tar.bz2
tar -xf phpBB-3.2.7.tar
rm phpBB-3.2.7.tar

Then, as root, I created the database.
mysql
CREATE DATABASE db;
use db; 
UPDATE mysql.user SET authentication_string = PASSWORD('****') where user = 'db' AND Host = 'localhost';
GRANT ALL PRIVILEGES ON *.* TO 'db'@'localhost' IDENTIFIED BY 'db';
exit






Then I could do the install of phpBB, which was only what really needed to be done, because I was going to copy the already-existing phpBB. So to do that, on the old forum, I did a backup. I copied the file to the raspberry, and tried to do a restore.

It didn't work.

So I tried to do a backup of the newly created database, and that worked, and I tried to restore that backup, and the restore didn't work.

Oh, great. Millions of people are using this system, and if you do a backup, you can't do a restore.

So I googled some more.

cd /home/rd/pub/phpBB3/includes/acp
acp_database.php on line 219
line 219 incorrectly tries to reference "extensions", instead of "extension"
So I edited that line, and then the restore worked.


I would estimate that doing this job took about a week, and it should have taken an hour. Partly because there are so many things that don't work as they should, and partly because there are so many things that don't work with each other.

But, I got it done in the end.

So now I can try out my new Raspberry Pi 4, which I want to use as a workstation with a 4K monitor.

Friday, 30 August 2019

When Brexit happens, what happens to VAT?

We're being told to prepare for a no-deal Brexit, and my current thinking is that the most likely scenario is that we will blunder out on October 31 with no deal. So, I'm trying to prepare.

Currently, when I sell to a customer in Germany, I charge him VAT at the rate of 19% (that being the German rate, other countries each have their own VAT rate). I send that tax to Germany once per quarter, via a thing called the "Union VAT MOSS" scheme.

So the first question is, do I charge German customers VAT in the event of a no-deal Brexit. I phoned HMRC on 0300 200 3700. I spoke to a guy there who knew VAT, but not Brexit, and he said "It depends". So I interrupted him and said "No, it doesn't, I'm talking about a no-deal Brexit, so it doesn't depend on a deal". So then he said, "If there's no deal, then UK businesses have no obligation to charge VAT to EU customers. It's just like Canada or China. I think." He wasn't certain; he's had no official guidance on this. But he thinks there will be a hotline for this sort of question (and that will be saturated as soon as it opens) and a web site.

The second question is more complicated. On October 31, the "Union VAT MOSS" scheme ends. But I will have dutifully charged EU members VAT until October 31. I'm next due to pay VAT just after December 31st, so I wont be able to pay my EU VAT via the "Union VAT MOSS" scheme.

I'll have to join  the "non-Union VAT MOSS" scheme, which means I have to sign up at some foreign country (maybe Germany, or Ireland?) in order to pay that remaining month of VAT. Wouldn't it be nice if the "Union VAT MOSS" scheme stayed open until, say, January 31 2020? But I doubt if anyone has made any plan for this.

So, I have no idea, neither does HMRC, nor does anyone else.

And what about the other EU countries. What will happen when I suddenly stop sending them the VAT that I've been sending them each quarter. Will they start sending me letters asking for their money, money which I don't think they are due? Are they ready for the change on October 31?

Omnishambles.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Angie's disk

I found a 5 1/4 inch floppy labelled "Angie's disk", so I wondered what was on it. But none of my computers have 3 1/2 inch diskette drives, let alone 5 1/4.

I went up to the attic, and heaved down an ancient AST 386 with both kinds of diskette drive; I remember this computer well, at the time is was my best computer, used for compiling Doctor Solomon's Antivirus Toolkit. But it needed a mono monitor, not one of the VGAs that we use today.

So I went to the shed and dug out a couple of monitors. One was labelled as not working (so why did I keep it?) and the other had a label that had deteriorated with time and was unreadable. Sure enough, neither of them worked.

Back up to the attic, where I had another mono monitor stashed away, this one labelled as "working". Hurrah! And when I connected it to the AST, it all worked.

Except that the AST had been unused so long, the cmos battery was dead and it had lost its setup. I opened it up, and some genius had written the number of cylinders, heads and sectors on the case of the hard drive. So I set it up for that, and it booted up to Dos.

All the files on the hard drive were still there, dated 27 years ago. And the floppy drives worked, so I was able to see what was on the diskettes.

There was Alley Cat, which had been a favourite game of both the girls (but it needed CGA), there were several other games thatneeded CGA, but there were a few that worked on my mono monitor, such as "Funnels and buckets", a game for exercising your mental arithmetic.

But there wasn't anything there that is likely to work on a modern computer, plus both girls seem to have defected to the Apple camp.

So, with a sigh, I put the computer and monitor away.

You never know when you might need a 27 year old computer and monitor.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Hurrah for DOS

I have a Western Digital 200 gb drive that I suspect of being bad, so I wanted to test it. The Seagate drive test didnt help, nor the Maxtor. Obviously, I need a Western Digital drive test.

Google to the rescue; I easily found DOSDLG.exe. But it has to run under Dos.

So I burned it to a CD, and burned Freedos to a CD. I booted from the Freedos CD, and swapped the CDs.

Freedos thought that the Freedos CD was still in place.

Several minutes later, I decided that I wasn't going to be able to change its mind. And I couldn't add the WD diags to that CD, because it was burned as an iso.

So I dug out an old 3 1/2 floppy drive (remember those?) to connect to the test computer, and I found an old bootable Dos disk, and that booted up OK.

But then that didn't recognised the CD drive which had the WD diags on. So I thought, OK, I have to copy the WD Diags to a floppy, but I don't have a working computer with a floppy drive; I stopped using floppies yonks ago. So, I thought, no problem, I'll take a computer apart and add a floppy drive.

This was getting ridiculous. You know the situation where you're trying to solve a small problem, but to do that you have to solve a bigger problem, which entails solving an even bigger problem ...

So I stopped and had a think.

USB!

So I formatted a USB drive to FAT-32, and installed Dos on it using Rufus.exe (find it with Google). Then I copied the WD diags program to it. I told the test computer to boot from the USB drive, which it did, and then I was able to run the WD diagnostics program.

Result!


Saturday, 3 August 2019

Rsync trick

I was trying to rsync from one computer to another. The destination was Fedora 30, the current version. The source was fedora 1, a ten year old version. And rsync complained about a protocol mismatch, and much googling, trial-and-error and brain-sweat didn't give me an answer.

So I played a trick on it. I used nfs to mount an export from the old computer, to a temporary directory on the new computer. Then I could rsync just fine, because as far as rsync was concerned, it was from Fedora 30 to Fedora 30.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

The Public library

In 1919, the Public Libraries Actcreated public libraries

50 year later, I started reading my way through the Stamford Hill public library. I started in the Children's section; Edith Nesbit, Arthur Ransome, Captain W E Johns, Hugh Lofting and on and on.

The on to the adults library non-fiction - I persuaded the Librarian that books on maths and physics were unlikely to currupt my pure soul, so I rampaged through the Humour section (Jerome K Jerome, George Mikes and P G Wodehouse). Then on to the main fiction section.

I persuaded the librarian that I needed ten tickets, so that I could take out ten books per week. Then I discovered that I could get the bus to Tottenham Library, and get another ten tickets. And the the Hackney Library. And tickets from one of those, could be used in the others. I was taking my sister's old push chair each time I visited the library, to haul away my selections.

My education was partly at school, and partly in the public libraries.

I'm very sad that cuts in funding are leading to so many of them closing.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Setting up a Netgear wifi access point

I have an ancient Netgear access point in my spares cupboard, and I needed an additional access point, so I got it out and tried to configure it.

The problem was, the Netgear box was so old, that the https encryption methods that it could use, are all so old that current browsers don't use them. And it refused to be accessed via http.

I tried Firefox and Chrome. No luck.

So I had a bit of a think. What I needed was an old browser. So, using Google, I found Firefox 38 and installed that; installation was easy, and didn't mess up my current Firefox. And that worked - I was able to access and configure the Netgear, and it is now sitting quietly in an area that gives wifi coverage to a part of the house that was previously uncovered.

It turned out, I needn't have done it. I also have a Buffalo wifi access point (I have a story about that, see below) which still works, and I bought another TP-Link on eBay for £12,a nd I also have a wifi repeater that will also work as an access point. And the Siemens wifi AP that I thought had failed, just needed reconfiguring. An embarrassment of riches.

So, the story about the Buffalo.

A long time ago, I had my leased-line access (2 megabits) terminating in the house, and most of the servers in the garage, which was a separate building several yards away. In order to join the garage servers to the in-house servers, I used two Buffalo wifi APs as a bridge, so that the two groups appeared as a single network, and I had a speed of 54 mbits between the two groups.

Later on, I strung a cat 5 overhead between the two buildings. Maybe I should have done that in the first place.

Words have consequences

So said Mr Abdullah A. S. Patel, an Imam from Bristol, when he questioned the Tory leadership candidates.

The candidates eagerly agreed, and promised to investigate Muslim-hatred in the Tory party.

But words do indeed have consequences. Here's some words from Mr Patel, advice for women.

 Here's Mr Patel's proposal for Israel - this is the same graphic that Naz Shah, the Labour MP shared, and which she subsequently apologised for as antisemitic.



In other tweets, he claims that British politicians are 'on the Zionists Payroll’. That "Zionists are "hiding behind the Holocaust".

But, as Mr Patel explained - words have consequences. Mr Patel has now been suspended from the school that he is deputy head of.

Yes. Words have consequences. And if you live in a glass house, don't throw stones.

Monday, 17 June 2019

Parliament Prorogue

Parliament closes for the holidays; this is normal and traditional, and nothing much happens while parliament is prorogued.

But the idea of proroguing parliament so that a government can push through an action while parliament isn't sitting, is very very bad.

In the British Constitution, parliament is sovereign. At the top of the tree. The main thing. If a government deliberately prorogues parliament in order to take an action, then they are doing so because they know that if parliament is sitting, then the action would not be allowed.

This is called a coup.

This is how the Roman Republic became the Roman Empire; instead of the Senate being the Main Thing, it was Julius Caesar - until he got milkshaked. And then it was Augustus, and his successors. It was the end of the republic. And this is also how the Nazi party converted a majority in the Bundestag, into a permanent dictatorship. It's the sort of action that one might expect in a banana republic.

No party should be allowed to do this, and I would hope that no-one will even try, because the fallout from such an attempt would make the current ding-dong over Brexit look like a food fight at the vicar's tea party.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Reinstalling BPT

HMRC provide a handy PAYE program so that we can pay our taxes quickly and accurately. This is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and is called HMRC-BPT. I was running it on my main workstation before it crashed.

Obviously, I do a backup each month, to my central server (and it gets copied from there to the backup servers). So there should not have been a problem.

Except that they provide BPT for 32 bit linux. Not 64 bit Fedora linux, which is what I'm running. And then  you try to run the program, it just exits, because it realises that it's on a 64 bit system.

This is bad news - I'll be needing to run this program on June 1, 5 days away. And it's puzzling, because I've been running it on a 64 bit linux for years. And, of course, I dn't remember how several years ago, I got it working.

When I stopped panicking, I realised that, if the worst came to the worst, I could install BPT on the only Windows box that I keep (rather like a tame snake). So I did that, restored my data backup, and it worked. Whew!

But then I tried it on the 64 bit linux box. First, I ran the install program, and to my surprise, that worked. But when I came to run BPT itself, it didn't work.

So I went to the directory where rti.linux lives, and ran that. It helpfully told me that I was missing libm.so.6. So I ferreted around and found a copy of that, put it in place, and tried again. This time, it said that I was missing libsqlite3.so.0. So again, I found a copy of that
and put it into the /usr/lib directory (which is where the 32 bit libraries are). At this point, I was expecting that I'd be going through this procedure several more times. At least.

Then I tried it again, and to my surprise and delight, it worked!

So, if you have a 64 bit Fedora linux system and want to run BPT, don't despair. Even though HMRC don't tell you how to do it, it's actually pretty easy.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

A crash, and a recovery

My main workstation needed a reboot, so I rebooted it ... and it didn't reboot. It came back with the dreaded "grub-rescue" prompt. And I couldn't work out how to rescue it.

So I decided to reinstall linux (Fedora 30). That didn't go as smoothly as I would have liked.
The first five drives that I tried to install to, were recognised by the HP xw6600, but not by linux. Eventually, I tried a 160gb drive, and that worked. I have no idea why.

So I also connected up the drive that wouldn't boot as the second drive, hoping that I'd be able to copy all the configuration files across.

That worked. I mounted it using mount /dev/mapper/fedora-root temp2 and all the files were there, so I was able to copy them to the newly installed drive. That meant that all my bookmarks, and ftp bookmarks, were preserved!



So why did it fail? I just don't know. Computers fail all the time. Just keep making backups!

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Milkshakes

Is throwing a milkshake at someone, an acceptable form of protest?

Absolutely not!

Saying what you think is acceptable. Holding up a placard is acceptable. Joining in a protest march is acceptable.

Throwing a milkshake is bullying. Legally, it's common assault. It is not NOT political discourse, it is not legally protected free speech. If you think that throwing a milkshake is an acceptable form of protest, then you also think that an appropriate reply to your milkshake, would be a milkshake thrown at you.

What happened to polite, civilised disagreement?

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Your personal information

They leak. They all leak.

I've been getting huge amounts of spam from people claiming to know my password. They give an old password that I used at one time on LinkedIn (long since changed, but I keep a record of past passwords). Clearly, LinkedIn had a leak at one time. It's annoying (but my spam filter removes the spam from my inbox).

Twitter leaked 32 million account details.

Facebook leaked hundreds of million account details.

Now Instagram has leaked 49 million names and phone numbers.

I'm not surprised. When you have systems as large and complex as that, there's likely to be security lapses.

So, what do you do when one of these social media sites asks you for your personal information? Me - I make up something for them. A fake name, a fake date of birth, a fake phone number. The email address is one that I create just for that purpose. And I record all of this, in case they ask me to prove that I am who I say I am.

It's surprising what they accept as proof. Facebook commonly asks people to prove identity by giving a phone number, which they then text a code to, and you type the code into Facebook, thus proving ... proving that you own a phone. Why they think that this proves that you are who you say you are, is beyond my feeble brain to fathom.

So that when all this gets leaked, and becomes available on the various sites that offer such information, I haven't lost anything that would allow impersonation (modern parlance is "identity theft").

Eventually, Facebook might ask me to prove my identity - a passport, or a driving licence, perhaps? NO WAY. It's bad enough if you leak my name, phone and birthday. I'm not going to give you something which, if leaked, will cause me SERIOUS inconvenience. And yes, I do see all the promises that you make that you'll take very great care over this information.

But I don't believe that you are able to.

Fedora 30 upgrade problem

There's a nasty little problem when you upgrade to Fedora 30. If your original install was Fedora 20 or older, then when you upgrade to Fedora 30 and reboot, it doesn't reboot. You find yourself looking at the grub> prompt.

This is because when you upgrade Linux, that doesn't upgrade grub.

The answer is to do grub2-install before you upgrade to Fedora 30.

If you don't, then fix it thus:


grub> configfile /grub2/grub.cfg.rpmsave 
 
and then  grub2-install /dev/sda1 (or whatever the boot partition is).
 
 
 
https://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Common_F30_bugs

Thursday, 18 April 2019

A pain in the arse

Last week, I had a pain in my upper left leg; it was so bad, and continuous, I couldn't sleep. I went to the doctor, he poked it a bit, and prodded, and told me he thought it wasn't a DVT (I had a DVT in that leg a couple of decades ago) and sent me home.

Then it faded, and I was alright for a few days.

But on Tuesday it returned. Ladysolly was out playing bridge, but when she got back, I told her that I needed to go to A&E. Because 1) it was very painful, and I was facing another sleepless night, and 2) the GP hadn't done anything. So, round about midnight, we set out for Stoke Mandeville (because they dealt with my broken ribs so well).

Again, they dealt with me very well. I was obviously not an urgent case, and while I was waiting, a couple of babies came in and they were, rightly, pushed to the head of the queue. And there was a man there who was clutching his chest in great pain. I was also in pain, but a pain in the arse isn't as threatening as a pain in the chest.

After an hour, I was triaged. After another hour or so, I saw a nurse who took my blood pressure, temperature and oxygen level. After another hours, I saw another nurse who put in a cannula and took four blood samples, and after another hour, I saw the doctor.

His opinion is that it's a trapped nerve (the blood samples came up clean). He gave me Diazepam for it (a muscle relaxer) and suggested paracetamol as a pain killer. I got home at about 6am, and went to bed.

I checked the internet for additional recommendations, and it suggested heat treatment, so I'm applying a small electric blanket, and I think that also helps.





Thursday, 11 April 2019

Brexit delayed

The can has successfully been kicked six months down the road. October 31st is the new target date. So now we can procrastinate, equivocate and tergiversate until October 30th, and then go into panic mode again and ask for a further can-kicking.

Huh.

What's going to happen?

The ERG Awkward Squad can now go back to being Awkward, Jeremy can point to the fact that he hasn't actually been offered any leeway, and anyway why would he want to help the Tories get free of the petard that they are hoisting themselves with, and the 650-strong clown car in Westminster can continue to be weak and wobbly for another six months.

But I can see a way out!

Revoke article 50. We've already done major damage to our economy via the three years of uncertainty, and we won't get that back.

In 2016, most people didn't know that we had a treaty with the Republic of Ireland (the Good Friday Agreement) that guarantees open borders, which can only happen if we have a customs union or a single market.

So the choices are:

1. Outside the EU, but customs union.
2. Outside the EU, but single market.
3. Inside the EU (revoke A50).

Those are the only three options, although there's minor adjustments that could be added.

So never mind how we voted three years ago. Democracy means that you get to change your mind every few years.

What's the best option, 1, 2 or 3?

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Tomtom update

On April 6th, 2019, many GPSes, including TomTom, got hit be the "Millenium bug". Sort of.  There's a 10 bit week number in the clock, and that means 1024 weeks, about 20 years. Who would have thought we'd be using GPS 20 years later? Duh.

The practical effect on my ancient TomTom XXL, is that it can no longer tell me how many minutes to go before reaching my destination, or what my speed is. This is a minor problem, but slightly annoying.

So I updated the TomTom software. That turned out to be non-trivial, of course. You can only do it from a Windows box or a Mac, so I downloaded the software, and tried to run it. It crached, of course. I tried again. Same result. So I loged in to the Windows box as root, and tried again. That worked, nd the software was installed. So I tried to run it, and it asked for my username and password, and it rejected the one I had written down, so I asked it to email me a pssword reminder. It emailed me a link to click on, except that I don't use a web interface to my email (it's just too dangerous). So I clicked on the link in the email, which showed me the URL, I copy-pasted the URL to Firefox, it asked for a new password, which I supplied.

Then I was able to run the update. I chose to also update the speed camera data, but it choked on that, so I left that out and re-ran, and it worked!

So now I have a map update, and the clock works again.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Brexit - can I see a light?

Theresa May is, at last, reaching out to Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, and trying to reach a consensus that parliament can get behind. I would hope that between the two of them, they can reach an agreement, which probably means a Brexit with a customs union and "a strong relationship" with the Single Market.

This, at a stroke, solves the whole problem of the Irish Backstop. It removes the problem of the frictions in trade that a crash-out will cause. And yet it conforms to the stated requirement of the referendum - we leave the EU.

Yes, it's true that this wouldn't be as good as the deal that we have now, but 17.4 million people have rejected that, so we have to respect the referendum, and do as well as we can within that.

But. Are there enough members of the Awkward Squad (Right wing) and the Awkward Squad (Left wing) to block this? I hope not.

One very good sign, is that Nigel Farage is incandescent with rage about this. Anything that infuriates Nigel, is probably good for the country.

So let's see what happens when Theresa meets Jeremy.


Friday, 29 March 2019

MV3 rejected - now what?

The government lost by 344 votes to 286, a majority of 58. The May deal was rejected for the third time. So now what?

On Monday, the Letwin Parliament meets again. Last time they met, they looked at the eight possibilities and rejected all eight. Sigh.

On Monday, they could take most of those off the table, based on the ones that were worst, and then vote on the three most promising.

But first ... the petition with nearly 6 million signatures calling for Revoke, will be debated. I think it will be rejected, but the result will be closer than the rejections of the May Deal. Previously, that was defeated by 184 to 293. I think it will be defeated again, but not by so much.


Then the Letwin Parliament sits, and I think it will consider:

Customs union, previously defeated 265 to 271
Labour plan – previously defeated 237 to 307
Revoke article 50 – previously defeated 184 to 293

The awkward squad (the ERG) will continue to squawkward, and Farage will moan and groan, but the fact is, we need to make a decision about this, and "No deal" was previously defeated 160 to 400. Plus, it does nothing to preserve the committments we made in the Good Friday agreement.

And my best guess for what could come out of this, would be the customs union, which is also part of the Labour plan (and, by the way, it doesn't violate the Good Friday agreement). But to get there, I think May must go, new General Election, and when we have that sorted, we can decide which of the realistic options we want (and by realistic, I mean that the EU is likely to accept, not the pie in the sky of "they'll give us everything we ask for because we own the only unicorn in Europe"). So, for example, if we go for the "Norway" option, we can reasonably hope that the EU will accept it because of the precedent.

And should we have a "confirmatory" vote? A "people's" vote? A second referendum?

I think that's a really bad idea, because look what happened last time. The 2016 referendum specified leaving the EU, and the Norway option fulfils that specification. Please, let's not ask the people again.

But scrapping the May Deal and not crashing out, and having a general election, and getting a "Norway option" agreed, will take more than a couple of weeks, so while that is happening, we should revoke article 50, because there's no sane alternative (praying for time to stop isn't going to work).

Then, when we've firmed up what we want, we can invoke Article 50 again, and leave with grace and agreement, and settle down to enjoy all the unicorns that the last few years have earned us.

So who will be the next PM?

Not me, that's for sure.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

A very British coup

Rumours are swirling about the possibility of a cabinet coup to topple Theresa May.

Two problems.

First, I don't see how that's possible. Tory party rules are that you can't have two leadership challenges within 12 months, so the next one can't happen until December.

Second, I don't see how this gets us out of the mess we're in. There's still only three choices, No deal, May deal, Revoke.  The deadline is a couple of weeks away, so no time for the "Ask the people" option, and we already used the "Take half the options off the table", and we took all the options except "Revoke" away. And the anti-revokers are threatening to throw their toys out of the pram if we revoke. Or even if we do an "Ask the people".

Imagine that there is some way to have a leadership change (perhaps someone convinces May to resign). Then exactly which leader would be able to get a majority for any of those three? Even if they asked the best possible candidate (which is, obviously, me) I would say "I'll go for Revoke" and if that failed to get a majority, I'd resign.

I used to live in a sensible country, where the main controversy was about women bishops.

What happened?

Saturday, 23 March 2019

The knife panic

We are staring at a possible panic over knife crime. This has become such a serious issue  that it has even temporarily displaced Brexit in parliament.

They are talking abuot a ten year prison sentence for carrying a knofe.

I can only hope that the law as actually drafted, is not born of panic. I carry a knife; in my man bag, I have a pen knife with a one inch blade. In my car, a pen knife with a three inch blade. In my car tool kit, I have several tools, one of which is a multitool including a knife. And screwdrivers, of course, including one screwdriver which is several inches long. I would hate to be stabbed with a screwdriver.

So let's hope that the Ship of Fools, during their brief respite from voting on what sort of Brexit they don't want, are able to come up with a well-designed knife law.

Or maybe they'll only be able to decide that knife law they don't want.

Friday, 22 March 2019

A possibility of sanity?

Thee are now seven options on the table, and one of them is to revoke article 50, which cancels the whole Brexit farrago, and is now the best option available to us.

We know that about 70% of the 650 clowns are in favour of this, and it's become clear that this is the best option available to us, now that we know that the EU is not willing to give us all the benefits of membership without any of the membership requirements. Which, it seems, came as a great surprise to many people. And that the expected unicorn that would give us the sun, moon and stars has not appeared, probably because you need a virgin to tame a unicorn.

So will our Respected Rulers vote for the best option available?

No chance.

They voted 312 to 308 against "No deal". So that's probably what we'll get.

Kick the can, kick the can

So now we have a two week extension to Brexit - the can has been successfully kicked down the road again. And if parliament can be poured into the May Deal mold, we can have another couple of weeks.

So now what? With a majority against it of 150, with the ERG awkward squad calling the May Deal "The worst deal in history", I don't see them doing a somersault. So, still no deal, it would appear.

You remember when we were told that these deals would be the easiest deals in history?

Here's the thing. We have this wonderful pink unicorn, and other countries will give us anything we ask in exchange for unicorn milk, so we can rely on being able to get whatever we want.

Except that we seem to have misplaced our pink unicorn.

Why, oh why did we get ourselves into this mess?

So we're going to be in the same situation; Parliament doesn't want "no deal", parliament doesn't want "May deal", it's inconceivable that the EU will give another extension. We've painted ourselves into a corner, and there's no-one to blame except the circus of 650 clowns.
It's going to boil down to a choice between "No deal" and "Revoke article 50", and wither way, there is going to be a LOT of angry people. Because No Deal is going to bugger up the Irish Good Friday agreement, which is the treaty that ended the Irish Troubles, and violating that treaty wuld be INSANE.

So, now about my own VAT problems.

My VAT quarter ends on March 31, Brexit happens on March 29. And it will still end on March 29, unless the clown circus can pass legislation to move that forward. And can they do it? I'm damned if I know. On past performance, all they can say is what they don't want.

Clowns. CLOWNS. CLOWNS!!!




Wednesday, 20 March 2019

The stages of every project


These are the stages of every project, and  Brexit is no exception.


  • Planning (have an idea)
  • Estimation – always wildly optimistic
  • Design – this stage may be done while implementing
  • Implementation – project starts to overrun
  • Private discussion with customer introduces a few trivial changes
  • Design is finally written down – this stage may be omitted if time pressing
  • Changes are discovered to double the project time and budget
  • Project starts over-running severely
  • Features start being cut, but are replaced by new features
  • Project now massively over-running
  • Features cut again
  • Project released in beta
  • Steady set of bug fixes
  • Blame assigned


  • Sunday, 17 March 2019

    After Brexit

    Too many Remainers are thinking that after the shambles of Brexit, the lack of trade deals and the fall in the economy, will teach Brexiters what a bad decision we made.

    But it won't.

    There will be trade deals, because the government will be so desperate to sign deals, they will take poor bargains and pretend that they are great. To do a deal with the USA, we're going to have to accept their Chlorinated chicken. (for example).

    Chlorination isn't the problem, the problem is that even after chlorination, the chicken is so dodgy that salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations, and 450 deaths in the United States every year. 

    In England and Wales in 2015, 8451 cases; our chicken is safer. 

    Post-Brexit, I shall be carefully avoiding US chicken, not because it's chlorinated, but because of the salmonella risk.

    But I doubt if you'll hear much about this. Because of the importance of pretending that the trade deal is good.

    It isn't just the US, though. Most other countries are in no hurry to sign trade deals with the UK, because it's obvious that post-Brexit, we're going to be desperate, and desperate negotiators are easy meat.

    And there will be considerable job losses.

    But.

    This will be blamed on the horrible foreigners, not our fault at all. Expecially on the EU, which will be portrayed as punishing the UK.

    I don't find it possible to be optimistic.

    Thursday, 14 March 2019

    The can, kicked again

    After a flurry of votes on various amendments, our team of 650 clowns has decided to ... kick the can further down the road. Again. Maybe.

    The vote was 412 to 202 to ask the EU for a delay beyond 29 March. But for that to happen, the 27 other EU countries have to ALL say yes. Will they?

    Why should they? We still haven't said what we want. All we've said is what we don't want, so I'll just list that.

    1. We don't want the May deal.
    2. We don't want to leave with no deal.
    3. We don't want to stay in the EU.

    And to that, we can add:

    4. The EU has said that the May deal is the only one on offer.

    So what do we want? We don't know. And when do we want it? We don't know.

    Quite likely, not all the 27 EU countries will agree to an extension that has no end in sight. They must think we're a bunch of toddlers, making a demand but without any clear idea of what we're demanding.

    "Give me what I want!"
    "What do you want?"
    "I DON'T KNOW!!!"


    How does that affect me?

    I'm ready for "Making Tax Digital" which comes in on April 1 (good choice, clowns). But I'm not ready for paying my VAT which will come due on April , because our 650 clowns can't tell me whether we'll be in the EU or out. If we're in, I can use the "Union VAT-Moss scheme" which I've been using for a few years now. If we're out, then I can't use that, I have to use the "non-Union VAT-Moss scheme". But for that, I have to register for it in an EU country, and I can't register until we're out of the EU.

    And if we leave on 29 March, then I think I will have to simply not make any sales on the next two days, because if I do, I'll be blowed if I know what to do with the EU VAT.

    Those 650 clowns have absolutely no idea how much chaos they're causing.

    The damage to democracy isn't being done by the possibility of re-running the referendum, it's being done by the clown car crash that is Westminster and the revelation of utter incompetence that we are witnessing.

    Sunday, 10 March 2019

    Screwdrivers

    The current debate about knife crime seems to have focussed on knives. Asda will no longer allow the sale of a single knife, there are suggestions that carrying a knife with a blade longer than three inches could get you into trouble.

    In my car, I carry a selection of spanners and other tools, so that if I have a mechanical problem, I stand a chance of fixing it. And they have been useful in the past, especially for bicycle maintenance.

    One of those tools is a screwdriver, with a shaft several inches long.  No-one is talking about screwdrivers.

    Or sharpened sticks.

    Friday, 8 March 2019

    VAT update

     I finally got an email about VAT Moss. It tells me what happens if we crash out on March 29.

    So I will be able to do my last VAT Moss payment on April 1, but I better not make any sales on March 30 or 31st. And then I'll have to register for the non-Union scheme in an EU country. Maybe Ireland, because the speak English.

    But what happens if we leave with the May deal? No-one has told me. What happens if Brexit is postponed? No-one has told me.

    What they are telling me, is "get ready". How, when no-one knows what's happening?

    Dear VAT MOSS user,

    We are writing to tell you about changes to the UK Mini One Stop Shop (MOSS) and the actions you’ll need to take if the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 29 March 2019.

    What will change?                        

    The UK will no longer be a part of the VAT MOSS service. UK businesses that sell digital services after the UK has left the EU won’t be able to use the UK MOSS portal to declare VAT due in EU Member States.

    The £8,818 annual threshold for cross border sales of digital services to EU consumers will no longer apply. All supplies of digital services to consumers in the EU will become liable for VAT in the consumer’s Member State.

    What do I need to do?

    If the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019, the last return you will be able to submit via the UK MOSS portal is for the period ending March 2019. You should only include sales made between 1 January 2019 and 11pm on 29 March 2019. The submission and payment deadline is the 20 April 2019. The portal will remain open until the 15 May 2019 in case you need to amend your quarter one 2019 return after submission.

    Any other outstanding MOSS returns or corrections should be made via the UK MOSS portal by 29 March 2019. After this date, you will need to contact the relevant Member State concerned if you need to amend earlier returns.

    If you continue to make supplies of digital services to EU consumers after the UK has left the EU then you must charge VAT at the rate of the Member State of your customer, regardless of the value of the supply, and either:

    ·         register for VAT in each Member State where VAT is due; or

    ·         register for the VAT MOSS non-Union scheme in a Member State of your choosing.

    How do I register for the VAT MOSS non-Union scheme?

    You can only register for the MOSS non-Union scheme after the UK has left the EU. You need to register within 10 days of the month following your first sale after the UK has left the EU as otherwise your registration will take effect from the first day of the quarter after the date you apply to register. This means that if you make a sale between 30 and 31 March 2019 then you will need to register by 10 April 2019. If you apply to register after that date, and have made sales on 30 or 31 March, then your registration will take effect from 1 July 2019 and you will become liable to register for VAT in each Member State where VAT is due for the period prior to 1 July 2019.

    To allow you to register for the non-Union scheme, you will be automatically deregistered from UK MOSS with effect from 1 April 2019. You will still be able to access the system after you have been deregistered so you can submit and amend your return for the first quarter of 2019 and view previous returns.

    You can find further information on registering for the MOSS non-Union scheme on the EU Commission’s webpage [ec.europa.eu](ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/business/vat/telecommunications-broadcasting-electronic-services/content/r>
    ss_en) and information on EU exit on gov.uk ‘Trading with the EU if the UK leaves without a deal’ [www.gov.uk].

    Businesses can register for our email update service at: www.gov.uk/hmrc/business-support [www.gov.uk] - select ‘business help and education emails’, then ‘EU Exit’. You can use the ‘Prepare your business for the UK leaving the EU [www.gov.uk]’ tool on GOV.UK to find further guidance and support to help your business.

    If you have any questions in respect of UK MOSS and EU exit, you can ask email the VAT MOSS team at:


    VAT2015.contact@hmrc.gov.uk.

    Yours sincerely,

    The VAT MOSS Team

    HM Revenue & Customs

    United Kingdom

    Thursday, 7 March 2019

    Institutional anti-Semitism

    What is institutional anti-Semitism? There's probably a definition somewhere, but for me, it would mean that the organisation in question, is more sluggish to investigate Jew hatred, than it is of other forms of racism. It might also mean that punishments for Jew hatred are lighter than for other forms of racism.

    So is the Labour party institutionally anti-Semitic? I don't have enough information to be able to form a judgement, but I think the way to find out, is to look at complaints of anti-Semitism, and complains of Islamophobia, and see if there's a difference in how long it takes to investigate. I would also want to compare the weight of sanctions, but that's more difficult, because how can you compare like with like.

    The Equalities and Human Rights Commission have decided to investigate the Labour party. I hope that they can finally excise the cancer of anti-Semitism from the Labour party - if indeed there is institutional anti-Semitism, and if it is possible to cut it out.

    Eye drops

    I just went for testing, because I had over-pressure in my left eye.

    I've been taking drops for it for a few years now (one drop in the morning). Today, the test showed that the pressure was up again, 25 where it should have been 20 (that's millimeters of mercury). So I was prescribed an additional eye drop, to be taken morning and evening.

    The problem with eye over-pressure is that it would eventually damage the eye nerve. I already have very minor damage, the VFI is 96% (my right eye is 100%).

    Reading the doctors charts, there was one for the left eye, and one for the right. I was about to ask which was which, and then I noticed that one was headed OD and the other OS.
    I did Latin for four years, so I knew that was "Oculus Dexter" and "Oculus Sinister". Right eye and left eye.

    While on the subject of health; I had a touch of psoriasis. Nothing serious, but it wasn't clearing up on its own, so I went to the doctor last week. He gave me clobetasone butyrate ointment, to be smeared on once per day, and Diprobase cream for a few times per day. That seems to have cleared it up very quickly.

    Moral - if you have a problem, consult your GP.

    Saturday, 2 March 2019

    Swallows and Amazons

    One of the great delights of my childhood, were the books by Arthur Ransome. Written in 1930 or so, they describe the adventures of the Swallows (the four Walker children) and the Amazons (the Blackett girls), sailing in the Lake District.

    Recently, I found these stories as PDF fles, and I've been reading them again. And they are just as good as they were 60 years ago.

    Monday, 25 February 2019

    Second referendum

    And now the Labour Party is supporting a second referendum. Labour is against "A damaging Tory Brexit".

    I expect a howl or anguish from all the Brexiteers who think that this will reverse Brexit, and they undemocratically don't want to ask the people. So what's the justification for this?

    It's very simple. Any rational person will take into account any new information that affects a previous decision. And we have new information that we didn't have 2 1/2 years ago. We now know a lot more about the ins and outs of Brexit, and the consequences of Brexit, and the difficulty of Brexit, than we did in 2016.

    How can anybody possibly argue that a referendum would be undemocratic?

    If you think that the result will be "Leave", what's the problem? If you think that the result would be "Remain", then why are you trying to go against the will of the people?

    But what about the cost?

    The cost of Brexit has already been so immense, that the cost of a second referendum is insignificant in comparison.

    So - it's great news! The proponents of "Project Lemming" are quaking in their boots.

    Sunday, 24 February 2019

    Kicking the can

    Once again, Mrs May's only idea is to kick the can further down the road.

    The vote on Brexit will be on March 12. Brexit is on March 29. Early in April, I have to do my VAT, and I have no idea how (or even whether) I pay my VAT to EU countries. This is a small thing compared to the rest of Project Chaos.

    So - my prediction for March 29?

    The Head Clown will find another way to kick the can further down the road, and the 649 Assisant Clowns will vote to do just that.

    I can't wait until the next General Election so that I can pull the wheels off the Clown Car.

    Saturday, 2 February 2019

    Microsoft's best ever product ...

    ... is a mouse. The Wheel Mouse Optical 1.1A USB Wired. I've been using these for a couple of decades now, and I can really recommend them. I've only ever had one fail.

    And, of course, they don't make them any more. It seems to be a rule. When a company makes something really good, they replace it with something. Maybe the current crop of Microsoft mice are just as good, but I'd have to wait a few years to know.

    So when I spotted a nest of nine of them in an eBay advert (the picture showed ten), I snapped them up.

    While I'm on the subject of input devices - I'm still using the IBM "buckling spring" keyboards that were made in 1983, 36 years ago. There are people reading this blog that weren't born when these keyboards were made. What I like about them, is the feel, and the way that you know when you hit a key, because of the buckling spring system they use. I'm glad to say, I bought six of them 20 years ago, when it was still possible to get them.

    You can still get keyboards like them (but without the IBM brand) for about £100.









    JetDirect 170X

    One of my servers is only there to connect my HP LaserJet 6P.

    I've had that HP LaserJet 6P for more than 25 years, and it's given good service all that time. But the only port it has is an old-fashioned parallel port, and computers today don't have parallel ports. So I used an old computer to run the HP.

    I tried using a parallel to USB cable, but that didn't work. And then I had an idea. I went on eBay and bought a second hand JetDirect 170X for £19. It arrived today. I plugged it in and powered it up, and pressed the test button, and it told me that its IP address was 172.22.28.190; presumably that's the IP address that the last user set it to. So I unplugged it, held down the test button and powered it up again, holding the test button down for several seconds. That did a factory reset.

    When I rebooted it, it used DHCP to acquire an IP address of 10.14.63.23, because my whole network uses addresses in the 10.x.x.x range. That's better, and I was able to access it. I tried to use the web interface, but it wanted a prehistoric version of Internet Explorer or Netscape, so instead, I used Telnet.

    I disabled DHCP and set the IP address to a fixed value so that various computers would be able to find it. And it all worked!



    Friday, 1 February 2019

    VAT Update

    As anyone following this blog knows, on April 1 we all become April Fools. Because for a lot of people, that is the date (or soon after) that we submit our quarterly VAT returns, and then pay the VAT.

    But "Making Tax Digital" is happening, and instead of filling in the form with half a dozen numbers, we have to submit the form electronically. And to do that, you need to get a username and password.

    I already have a username and password for VAT - that's how I've been submitting my VAT return for ages. But no. They don't want it to be that easy. I have to make myself a new username and password. And they don't make it easy to discover where you sign up - I challenge you to find it. So here's what I've discovered.

    Sign up here.

    I haven't signed up yet. They want my UTR (Unique Taxpayer Reference number), which I've never needed before, and I'll need to find it.

    But there's more. On March 29th, ...

    Actually, I don't know what will happen on March 29th, and neither does anyone else, including the 650 Lords of Chaos who are currently starring in the Brexit pantomime. But we're being asked to prepare for "No deal".

    In "No Deal",  we are no longer in the EU, but I still have an obligation to pay VAT on sales to the EU-27 countries. Or do I? I don't know, nor does anyone else. I don't pay VAT on sales to Australia, Canada or the USA, so why should I pay other foreign taxes? I don't know.

    If I do have to pay VAT to the EU-27, how do I do it? I currently pay via the "Union VAT MOSS" system, but if the UK is no longer in the EU, that won't work. Or will it? I don't know, nor does anyone else.

    If it doesn't work, I have to sign up for the  "non-Union VAT MOSS" system in some other country. I had a look at the Irish web site (they speak English there) but that started asking me for information that I don't have.

    The Lords of Chaos are incompetent, incoherent and clueless.

    Thursday, 31 January 2019

    Brexit update

    There have been more votes.
    There have been more attempts to renegotiate.
    There have been many factions.

    I'm not even going to try to explain it. What I'm seeing is a bunch of headless chickens who don't know where they've been or where they're going.

    Plus, we have an MP in jail, but who isn't going to resign because she wants to keep on getting that nice £77,000/year.

    What we are seeing here is a synchronised display of incompetence, and of the British Public loses faith in parliament, it won't be because of any future referendum, it will be because we never realised that they were such plonkers.

    And I've found out that if we leave the EU, then I can't use the VAT Moss scheme for paying vst to the EU-27 as I have before. I have to join a different scheme, and to do that I have to sign up with some other country (Ireland is my choice, because they'll speak English there)
    to pay my VAT obligations to the 27 remaining EU countries.

    Except that I can't do that until after March 29.
    And my VAT quarter ends on March 31.

    These idiots have absolutely no idea what chaos they're causing.

    Thursday, 24 January 2019

    Making Tax Digital

    On March 29th, we ... well, I don't know what happens then, and nor does anyone else.

    But from April 1, 2019,  VAT returns go digital. No longer will you have to go to the HMRC web site and type in five numbers. Now, it's going to be made digital! Which means that instead of typing in these five numbers, I have to use an accounting system that automatically transfers these five numbers to the HMRC system.

    I doubt if many small traders are ready for this. Or even know about it. With any luck, the accounting package they currently use, will do this for them; for example Sage and Quickbooks will. But what about those of us who use custom systems?

    I've been worrying about this, and with the deadline coming up, I've done some serious research, and it turns out that it's not going to be a big problem.

    Various packages are available, costing anything from £216 per year down to £15/year.  Taxoptimiser will do it for free for the first year, £30/year thereafter. But there's even better news.


    https://www.quickfile.co.uk will do it for free. I've signed up for their service, I found where to go to do the tax returns, and it looks easy.

    Thursday, 17 January 2019

    Strange spam

    From: Rosie L. Ashton <Sofia@madisonleingang.com>
    To: {redacted}
    Subject: Up to date emergency exit map
    Parts/Attachments:
       1 Shown    ~9 lines  Text
       2   OK    ~20 lines  Text
    ----------------------------------------

    Hi All,
    Please find below the Up to date emergency exit map.

    Emergency exit map.

    Thanks,
    Rosie L. Ashton,
    Estate Management


    A very strange spam. There was nothing enclosed, no product on offer. So I looked deeper, and the "Emergency exit map" is a link to a web site which I'm not going to visit.

    Beware of what you click on!

    Now listen ...

    My hearing isn't too good. I have trouble when there's a lot of noise going on and I cant focus on the conversation, especially when people aren't facing me when I talk.

    I had a hearing test, but they said I was fine. So - hearing aid?

    I decided on something more drastic; a unidirectional microphone with a paraboloid reflector (which will help with the unidirectionality), with an amplifier. And a filter for high/low frequency sound.

    This sounds expensive - a good digital hearing aid can be well over £1000. But this wasn't. £20 got me a device that is used for listening to birdsong at a distance, and as a bonus, it can record what you hear.


    And it works!

    I can't wait for the next time I go out with the family to a restaurant, and I bring out this device.

    Tuesday, 15 January 2019

    May loses big

    432 to 202, the biggest government defeat for nearly 100 years. So that's the May Deal out of the window.

     'E's not pinin'! 'E's passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! 'E's expired and gone to meet 'is maker! 'E's a stiff! Bereft of life, 'e rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed 'im to the perch 'e'd be pushing up the daisies! 'Is metabolic processes are now 'istory! 'E's off the twig! 'E's kicked the bucket, 'e's shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!


    What next?

    Tomorrow, there will be a confidence vote on the government. I think that Corbyn is right to call it, but the Tory government will win, because they can't afford to lose, because that leads to a General Election, and the possibility that the Tories are out of government.

    Then May has three days to explain plan B.

    There is no plan B, of course. I will not be surprised if she resigns, on the grounds that she's done her best, and someone else can clean up this mess.

    There will be much talk of another referendum, carefully camouflaged by calling it a "People's Vote". There will be talk of postponing March 29, which I think actually can't be done. There will be talk of cancelling Brexit, which can be done, but will be voted down if asked. There will be much talk of Canada, and Norway, and shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings. And there will be much talk of "crashing out, leaving without any deal", for which there is no parliamentary majority, but that's what will happen unless we change course.

    And I think that the steering and brakes on this particular bus, have failed. We're crashing out. No deal.

    So let me explain my own particular little problem, and it is to do with VAT.

    I charge VAT on sales, of course, to sales to the UK and the other 27 EU countries. And every three months, I total up sales to each country, and work out the VAT for each country, using the VAT rate of that country (which varies between 17% and 25%) and pay that VAT to each country, using a scheme called "VAT MOSS".

    So, after March 29, and if there's no deal, what do I do? Do I charge VAT on sales to EU countries? I don't see a good reason why I should, just as I don't charge VAT on sales to the USA.

    Or am I wrong? I've asked HMRC; they don't know either.

    And, of course, it isn't just me, and it isn't just VAT.

    Omnishambles.