Saturday, 25 December 2021

Day 648 of self-isolation - Merry Christmas from France

Merry Christmas from France

I got an unexpected Christmas present today, from the VAT people in France. They think I owe them money - they think I didn't pay them for Q3 2021. And they are demanding payment, with menaces.

So I gave them a polite reply, explaining that I filled in the VAT MOSS form for the Irish Moss people, and that I paid the Irish Moss people (who are then supposed to pay each of the 27 EU members), and I sent them screen caps showing that the amount they was asking for was correct, but that I have already paid it, and that perhaps they need to talk to the Irish people.

There are 27 EU countries, and therefore 27 VAT offices capable of getting this wrong. In the past, it's been Hungary, and that was sorted out by the UK Moss people, but since we left the EU, the UK no longer offer this service, so I went with the Irish tax people, on the grounds that at least they speak English.

And I'm still wondering how come, since we left the EU, I'm still paying EU taxes.

As an extra Christmas Eve present, I upgraded my main workstation from Fedora 34 to Fedora 35, which I've done on other computers, and which should be routine. But it wasn't, and when I got to the point where Yum didn't work (that's the program that does updates and installs new software), I decided to scrap the old system and do a fresh install of Fedora 35.

Which meant that I had to do a whole bunch of other things, like copy the bookmarks from my Firefox and gtfp installs, reinstall "Basic Paye Tools" (which means that I also have to install a bunch of 32 bit libraries, because HMRC hasn't noticed yet that everyone is using 64 bit computers). And I had to do all the configuring that makes my main workstation, work the way I expect. So, several hours work.

On the good side, my weight is up to 13 stone. It's good news because I was 13 stone 11 before I went to hospital for the 17 day stay, and while I was there I lost 18 pounds, mostly because I spent 10 days not eating on account of peritonitis. So I've been trying to actually gain weight recently. And I've been doing two 20 minute sessions on the static bike, for exercise.


Wednesday, 22 December 2021

Day 645 of self-isolation - too much Omicron

Too much Omicron

The latest report on the number of new cases in the UK has reached 106,122. This is the first time that new case numbers per day have exceeded 100,000.

The response of our half-baked government is, of course, to do nothing. It's almost as if they are hoping for a Christmas truce. Overworked nurses and doctors will play football againt a team of various variants from Alpha to Omicron, and then we'll all sing Christmas carols together, before returning to the intensive care units to resume battle the next day.

The source of this fear is in the likely reaction to taking action sooner. People will wonder whether senior government politicians and civil servants, will eschew their own parties, while we, the hoi polloi, sit lonely at home, parted from our loved ones by government fiat. We know that last year it was one rule for us, no rules for them.

After Christmas, of course, the bans will arrive (or possibly they'll wait until after New Year's Day). 

But the virus knows not of any truce. Covid hasn't signed an armistice.


Tuesday, 21 December 2021

Day 644 of self-isolation - 12-12


My weight is up to 12-12, which is good, because I'm currently trying to  gain. That's 81.9 kg, because I think I'll switch to kilograms now.

Temperature is 36.9 (37 is normal), so that's good. The normal range, for my age and for ears, is 35.8 to 37.5.

My appetite has improved (hence the weight gain).And I'm on the static bike for twenty minutes, twice per day, at level seven. This is enough to bring on a good sweat, but without making me puffed out.

Sunday, 19 December 2021

Day 642 of self-isolation - Britain leads the way!

Britain leads the way!

The original Covid-19 had an R0 number of 3, meaning that each person infected, passed the virus on to three other people. And, as we all know, it spread very quickly.

Then we saw the alpha variant (which seems to have originated in Kent) - that had an R0 of 4 to 5, and as a result, replaced the original Covid throughout the UK. Then came delta, with an R0 of 6 to 8, which soon replaced alpha and became pretty much the only variant of Covid in the UK.

Now the UK is hosting the Omicron varian, which is said to be as infectious as measles, with an R0 of about 18.

Why the UK? Why us?  Maybe we're just unlucky. Or maybe our oven-ready half-baked government has made blunder after blunder - the late 2020 lockdown, the idiotic "eat out to help out" plan, the "circuit breaker" that didn't happen - and now, our world-beating half-baked government is straining every sinew to avoid taking action before Christmas, at a time when the daily count of new cases is higher than ever before, and not much short of 100,000 per day. Plus the attitude they seem to have, that the rules they publish for US to follow, don't apply to THEM.

And if the R0 number is 18, then we don't get herd immunity until 95% of the population is immune, and that isn't going to happen, partly because of anti-vaxxers, and partly because you can get Covid more than once.

This winter is going to be bleak.



Wednesday, 15 December 2021

Day 638 of self-isolation - Omicron


78,610 new Covid cases in the UK today; probably at least half of those are Omicron. And this is the largest number of new cases in a day since the pandemic began.

But hospitalisations aren't too bad (yet - there's a lag of several days) and the death rate, although averaging over 100, isn't nearly as bad as it was in the first two waves.

We also know that there's a major shortage of testing kits, which means that this might be capping the official figures.

Omicron is a lot more infectious than delta, which was more infectious than alpha, which was more infectious than the original Covid. That's how evolution works - a mutation that reproduces faster, replaces the old variant. Omicron won't be the last variant.

The government response is to order a million boosters per day until the end of the year. I had mine a few weeks ago, but people getting theirs today, won 't be covered until a couple of weeks later. And the target looks very optimistic.

The number of new cases is going to rocket, but I'm hopeful that this won't lead to the sort of death toll we've seen before, because of all the people who are double-vaccinated, all those with the booster, and with all the new treatments that we're seeing now. This is going to hit the unvaccinated much harder than the rest of us - but that's their choice.

And what happens in the UK in the next few weeks, will happen in the USA in the new year. Plus, there's a lot more unvaccinated there. Why is that? I don't know, but perhaps it's because the pandemic somehow got politicised, and being unvaccinated is a badge of courage.

Monday, 6 December 2021

Day 629 of self-isolation - Ancient VAT

Ancient VAT

In 2015, it was the first time I used the VAT Moss system, and by mistake, I made the payment late. As a result, in 2018, the Italian VAT people chased me with a fine of 60 euros, which I paid.

Today, I got a fine of 83.33 euros for the same late payment. I've paid it, but under protest - I've asked them to check if they've made a mistake and fined me twice.

And paying it wasn't easy. Their letter was in Italian, of course. Plus, my bank won't let me use the underline character _ in the recipient code, so I used a minus - instead.

The thing is - I'm willing to pay the taxes that I owe, and even cough up a fine when I make a mistake. But why do they make it unnecessarily difficult?

Thursday, 2 December 2021

Day 625 of self-isolation - Snow


 We had half an inch of snow last night, it looked lovely in the morning.


Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Day 623 of self-isolation - Alexa


I was pottering around on Amazon when I noticed a great deal.  Two Echo Dots and a smart plug for £37, so I bought one.

Setting it up was very simple, and then I put my bedside lamp on the smart plug. So now when I wake up at night, I don't have to grope for the light switch - I say "Alexa light on" and I can see.

So I went back to the web site and ordered an Echo Flex plus smart plug for £17. The Flex is just like the Dot, but with a tinny speaker.


Sunday, 28 November 2021

Day 621 of self-isolation - Nosebleed!


It started at midnight, and it was a gusher. By 1:30, it was still going, so ladysolly took me to Stoke Mandeville hospital. They saw me very quickly, and I thought we'd staunched the flow, but it restarted.

Then the doctor got involved, and put some wadding soaked in something up the nostril, but that didn't help. So he decided that I'd have to go to the "Ear, nose and throat" unit at John Radcliffe. They arranged an ambulance to transfer me, but first he put a "balloon" up my nose, which was very painful - and then he inflated it, which felt even worse - but at least it served as a stop-gap to stop the bleeding.

There followed a painful (because of the balloon) and rather jolting ride of 35 minutes to Oxford. They put me in a bed in a corridor, and I waited ... and waited. They had two resuscitations going, and everyone was going at full speed on those. But then someone noticed me, decided that I didn't need to go through triage (because I was a referral from Stoke) and I went straight up to the GP referral ward.

That ward was almost empty, so I saw the doctor immediately. He removed the balloon and asked me about what had happened. He used suction to clear out the mess inside, then used a light to examine the nostril. He found the problem immediately, and said that the answer was to cauterise.

I didn't like the sound of that, I was thinking of red hot iron. But no, it's a dab of silver nitrate on a stick! Then he applied antiseptic, and then he shoved a sponge up the nostril that was soaked in various good stuff (the sponge will dissolve itself).

So, problem fixed, but I did lose a full night's sleep, and now I need to catch up.

Saturday, 27 November 2021

Day 620 of self-isolation - 12 stone 8

12 stone 8

And my temperature is 37.8, so I have a slight fever, I think from the booster shot. At a BMI of 25.3 I'm still overweight, but only by 0.3. I need to stop losing weight now. I'm under 80 kilos!


Thursday, 25 November 2021

Day 618 of self-isolation - I'm normal!

I'm normal!

My weight this morning was 12 stone 10. Taking a slightly optimistic measure of my height, that give me a BMI of 24.8, which is in the Normal range. 


Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Day 617 of self-isolation - I'm boosted

I'm boosted

I had my booster jab for Covid. I suspect we'll be getting these every six months now.


Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Day 616 of self-isolation - Twelve-eleven


Twelve stone, eleven pounds.  So my BMI is 25.7, which is "overweight" but only just.

I've achieved the goal I set myself in March 2020, when I was 17 stone 11, which was to "lose a lot of weight". I've lost five stone, which is 70 pounds. I would struggle to lift 70 pounds, but I was carrying it around with me every day, and now I'm not.

My next objective is to get fit, so I'm getting back into geocaching, which consists of talking long walks, and I've contacted my geocaching pals to help.

Thursday, 11 November 2021

Day 605 of self-isolation - Where's Solly?

Where's Solly?

 People have been asking, "Where's Solly".

 I went to a hospital to have a minor procedure - I was expecting to walk out again the same day. 

That didn't happen and I still here. The minor procedure gave me peritonitis, an inflammation of the peritoneum, which has a function that is complete mystery to me, but which is obviously needed.

The main symptom is a bad tummy ache. Really bad, all across my lower tummy. so bad that even the thought of food nauseated me, and I'm well known for liking my food. I'll be here for a while longer, but as you can see, I have a computer and I can use it. The hospital's wifi is really good. So is the food. I love our NHS.



Friday, 5 November 2021

Day 598 of self-isolation - Echocardiogram


 On Wednesday, I went to our local hospital for an echocardiogram. They stuck sound transducers to my back, put jelly on my front, and took a whole bunch of readings. The process was entirely painless, except when they took the transducers off - ouch! That's the drawback of being a bit hairy.

Also - my ankle, which was a little bit umpty after using the treadmill, now feels better. What I'm going to do, is use walking boots on the treadmill next time, because they give some ankle support.  And that worked!

Also what worked, it watching Netflix while I walk or bike. I don't have to be aware of road traffic :-).

So I added another wifi access point near where the treadmill and bike are, so I get good connectivity.

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Day 597 of self-isolation - Labour party data loss

Labour party data loss

I just got an email from the Labour party (of which I am a member) telling me that the third party that handles data on our behalf has been subject to a  "cyber incident" and a significant quantity of Party data has been "rendered inaccessible".

It sounds like they've been hit by ransomware.

There are 400,000 members. If each one has 1kb of data, then that's 400 megabytes. I'd use linux, an SQL database, and I'd have a 2gb hard drive (or bigger). It really isn't a big deal for a modern computer.

So, there's two things here. Why is a third party (unnamed in the email) handling our data? It's not that difficult to run a computer, and if there's no-one in our Labour Party who knows how, surely we could hire someone?

Secondly, to be hit by ransomware in this way, means two things.

1) The company handling our data, didn't have adequate security and so got hit by the ransomware.

2) The company handling our data, hasn't considered ransomware in their backup strategy.

I'm not sure who to blame more, the Labour Party for farming out the data to a bunch of people of insufficient competence (the word "cowboys" comes to mind), or the unnamed third party who is supposed to look after the data for their incompetence.

This was discovered on October 29, and since the email was sent on November 3rd, clearly this isn't going to be just a case of restoring a recent backup.

So - how do you make a backup system that works even against ransomware?

An ordinary backup system won't work. If you take a full backup each day to the same media, then when the ransomware encrypts your data, you are copying the encrypted files onto your good data.

So what you have to do, is take a backup each day onto write-once media. A CD Rom will take 700 mb, enough for most databases. A DVD will take 4.7 gb and a Blu-ray will handle 50gb. You don't actually have to back up the whole computer in this way, just your data. You can always reinstall linux and your database software.

Then, when the ransomware announces itself, you can go back to a backup taken before the ransomware started encrypting your data.

But what if the ransomware waits a few months before announcing itself? You'd have to go back to a disk made months ago!

The way to avoid this, is to test the backup. It's really easy to tell the difference between good data and encrypted data, the test would only take a few seconds per file. So, you take the disk to a computer that has never been connected to the network, run the test program, and then you know. Let me know if you want me to explain how you can tell the difference between encrypted data and unencrypted data.

And as soon as you know "this disk has encrypted files on it" and those are files that you didn't encrypt, then you go back to the previous day's backup, and you've only lost, at most, one day of data.

Does this sound like a lot of work? Certainly, it is some work, probably as much as ten minutes per day, plus the cost of another computer - but set against the anguish of losing all your data, it isn't much. One disk per day, and a few minutes of checking.


No-one asked me.

I am available for consulting, for a modest fee.

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Day 596 of self-isolation - Fedora 35 is out

Fedora 35 is out

The latest version of Fedora (formerly called Red Hat) is now available, so I downloaded it. Only 64 bit versions are available, and it's been that way since version 31, so all my 32 bit computers are version 30.

I remember when 8 bit was the thing for computers like the Sinclair Spectrum, and even the IBM PC was a mixture of 8 bit and 16 bit. But now even 32 bit computers are obsolete.

So I downloaded the server version, the workstation version and the netinstall version. The first two are on DVDs and the netinstall on a CD, because it works by downloading all the extras from the internet.

I can upgrade existing computers with:

dnf -y --releasever=35 --setopt=deltarpm=false distro-sync --allowerasing

But I'm in no hurry to do it, and if there is some serious problem, other people will find and report it.

Tuesday, 2 November 2021

Day 595 of self-isolation - Breathing and cycling

Breathing and cycling

I'm doing breathing exercises twice each day now, to improve my lung muscle, and I'm on the exercise bike that we inherited from daughter.1; I'm doing two sessions of ten minutes each.

The good thing about an exercise bike is that I'm not going to fall off (which I have done several times while riding along rough bridleways) and I'm not going to be in an accident with a car (which happened three years ago and gave me three cracked ribs and a lot of pain).

The bad thing about an exercise bike is that I'm not actually going anywhere, and it can get a bit boring. However! It occurs to me that I can watch Netflix while I cycle, since I really don't need to look where I'm going.


Monday, 1 November 2021

Day 594 of self-isolation - Six feet

Six feet

This changes everything. I used to tell people that I'm six foot tall, because that sounds good - actually, I was more like five feet eleven and a half. And now, when I measure myself in the morning, I'm five feet eleven inches.

But as we all know, during the day the vertebrae settle a bit, so when I just got officially measured, I came in at five feet ten. So my BMI comes in at 27.7 and I have to get down to twelve stone six to stop being "overweight". That's 18 pounds to lose, but I think I'll be losing it more slowly than I have been, because we're increasing my protein intake a bit, and I've started taking exercise.

Ten minutes on the treadmill, and my heart rate went up to 110, I worked up a sweat, and my right ankle hurts. So the next ten minutes on the stationary bike, still working up a sweat, but not hurting my ankle.

But I'm still going to tell people that I'm six feet tall, nearly.


Sunday, 31 October 2021

Day 593 of self-isolation - Busy writing manuals

Busy writing manuals

I've been writing some manuals today. Manuals for doing billing, for doing PAYE and for doing VAT. I've obviously had all this information on file, but it wasn't in the form of "Do this, then do that, then do the other thing ..."

This should make it easier for myself (or anyone else) to do the routines I've been doing for years now.

I also started doing exercise (ugh). I have a thing that I inhale from against some resistance to improve my lung strength. And I've started using the treadmill (double ugh). And the stationary bike. That this bike needs is an electric motor and some batteries!

Ten minutes on the treadmill and I'm sweating and my heart rate is 110. Ten minutes on the bike and the same effect.

Saturday, 30 October 2021

Day 592 of self-isolation - A trip to Oxford

A trip to Oxford

One of the advantages of the NHS, is that all the NHS hospitals work together. So I've been to Amersham, Stoke Mandeville and Wycombe. On Friday, I went to Oxford.

One of the disadvantages, is that I'm getting sent all over England.


Friday, 29 October 2021

Day 591 of self-isolation - Anniversary


48 years ago on 28 October, 1973, ladysolly and I got wed.  

Best move I ever made.

That isn't us.

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Day 590 of self-isolation - MRI scan

MRI scan

I'm going for an MRI scan at Wycombe hospital. Is the mauve light really a thing?

My blood sugar is ranging between 7 and 9. And I just got this spam ...

Here’s how to do it yourself
(1) Get your thumb and index finger
(2) And then do this strange pinch method
to rapidy reset your blood sugar levels!

I didn't bother to get the details.

 ... later ...


The scan is done. It wasn't painful, but I wouldn't want to do one every day. They put a cannula in my arm in order to inject the dye, and it was a big ouch when the took the sticky plaster off.

I lay on my back, unmoving for over an hour. That, of course, locked up my back, and getting up again wasn't easy. I was told about the ludness, but I didn't notice anyting very loud - maybe because they put huge headphones on me to block the noise.

I was having to breathe in and out and hold for 19 seconds, but that isn't difficult.

But I was glad to get out of there.

Tuesday, 26 October 2021

Day 589 of self-isolation - Fixed the Ctrl key

Fixed the Ctrl key

On keyboard 4, the right Ctrl key wasn't working. Oh well.

With all the practice I've had,  taking it apart was quick. I did a bit of filing on the seating for the ket, reassembled it, and now it works.

And my latest blood glucose is 7.1, just a tidge above normal.

Monday, 25 October 2021

Day 587 of self-isolation - A trip to London

A trip to London

A visit to see the family.  

My left arm is still sore from the flu jab. I think that means that it's working.

Sunday, 24 October 2021

Day 587 of self-isolation - Flu jab

Flu jab

I just had my flu jab. We arrived at the surgery five minutes before we were due, went straight in (masked), were called immediately, got the jab and were out again within a minute.

Why did I get the jab? It's a no-brainer. It reduces the likelihood that I'll get a serious bout of influenza, and the cost was a ten minute trip to get jabbed.

Also, I have a slightly sore arm.


Saturday, 23 October 2021

Day 586 of self-isolation - Home blood test

Home blood test

I don't really need to do these tests, they are really for people on insulin. But I like to know where I am.

I did my first blood test using the Accu-chek; I did it some hours after eating, It took me three tries to get it right. I had to line up the finger-pricker with the lancets. Then I didn't get enough blood, but on the third attempt, I got it right, and came in at 7.9

Normal is less than 7.8  mmol/L (millimoles per litre). Just to confuse us, they also use units of milligrams per decilitre, and I come in at 142. To convert, you multiply by 18.

 And then there's HbA1c. That's what you measure when you do a full blood analysis, and it's an average of what your glucose (meaning, sugar) has been over the last three months - this is based on the amount of glucose that has stuck to the blood cells. The objective for that is 48 mmol/mol or 6.5%. Blood glucose numbers are different from HbA1c.

So, my 7.9 is looking good. Still diabetic, but only just. It'll go up after a meal, and I'm guessing down if I do a test first thing in the morning. 

Also - keyboard 4 is fixed, after reassembling it for the third time. So, now I've fixed all four faulty IBM Model M keyboards.


Friday, 22 October 2021

Day 585 of self-isolation - Keyboard testing

Keyboard testing

My repair of the led leads worked, and the leds all work now.

But the esc key doesn't.


I just bought four 160 gb drives for £3.96 each. Last time I bought 160s, they cost about £200.


Thursday, 21 October 2021

Day 584 of self-isolation - Blood testing

Blood testing

As part of my weight loss program, I use a bathroom scale; it tells me what I weigh. So I can see how I'm doing. It's feedback.

I need the same thing for my diabetes. The doctors use a thing where you prick your finger and it analyses the blood,  and gives you a number. I want one of those.

So I did some research, and it turns out that there are dozens, maybe hundreds of them. How to choose? Comparison sites weren't very useful.

And there's one that doesn't need a pricked finger, it uses something that clips to yuor earlobe. but ut seems to cost around £2000, and There doesn't seem to be anywhere I can buy it, so I'm thinking that maybe it doesn't actually exist.

Next door to my doctor's surgery, there is a Lloyds pharmacy. So I went to their web site, and they had two brands. So I chose one of those (Accu-chek), and went on to eBay and bought the same kit (for less than Lloyds price). I also bought 50 test strips, and 200 lancets.

On the keyboard - I took keyboard 4 apart (there was no real chance that I'd leave it imperfect). I can see why the leds don't work, it's the leads from the keyboard electronics to the led module. I checked it with the multimeter, and then I could see the breaks in the leads. I've used silver paint to fix it.

Then I dismantled the inside, and I could see how the spring assembly for the esc key was out of place. So I fixed that, and reassembled the inside of the keyboard. Each time I do this, it gets easier. I tested the silver paint job, and I think that's worked, but I'll let it dry some more before I make the connections.


Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Day 583 of self-isolation - Hospital results

Hospital results

The results are good.

I got to Stoke Mandeville at 9am, chaffeured by ladysolly, and made my way to the "Ambulatory emergency unit". I didn't like the word "emergency" there, but heigh-ho. I made myself known at reception, and settled down to wait in the waiting room. I had brought a small library with me.

After an hour, I was seen by a nurse who put a cannula into my wrist, extracted three vials of blood, and taped the cannula into place. The cannula was unpleasant, but not painful. He also did an ECG. He sent the vials for analysis, and I went back to the waiting room, and read my book. Someone came round offering tea and coffee. After a couple of hours, I saw a nurse-practioner, which looks to me like a very capable nurse who is also (almost) a doctor. We had a long talk, in which she took my detailed medical history, added questions like whether I've seen any bleeding, chest pains, tummy pains, and so on.

The blood sample confirmed that I have a high blood sugar level (the medical term is "diabetic"), and also that there was some elevated enzyme levels in my liver.

Then I waited for two more hours, and then I was called for a cat scan. I lay down on the sliding bed, and they trundled me in. Then they used the cannula to install dye into me; it was a little bit painful when they started to pump it in, but not too bad. And then they did another cat scan. I have to drink a lot of water to flush it out in the next couple of days.

Back to the waiting room. I talked to the other people there; one guy had a suspected DVT, and the nice lady next to me was on her second DVT (and also had Leyden factor 5), and I expressed surprise that they hadn't put her on Warfarin. We talked about how good the NHS was, especially compared with the terrible system they have in the USA.

Someone came round with tea and coffee, and sandwiches. I had a tuna, and it was good.

Then I was called by the nurse practitioner for another talk, and this time she had the results of the cat scan.

So apparently, all my internal organs (kidneys, liver, pancreas, lungs) are fine. There's some calceous deposit on the arteries to my heart, but nothing that you wouldn't expect at my age.

I also have a small lump on the left of my chest, but everyone agrees that this is just a subcutaneous fatty lump, and nothing to worry about. And the dark spot on my face is also just darkened skin, not a problem. It's always nice to get such reassurances.

But there are three issues.

1. I am diabetic, and she gave me a prescription to start taking immediately; the diabetes is going to be handled by my GP.

2. I have a heart murmur. Again, this is quite common and not alarming, but they're going to do an echocardiogram (that's an ultrasound thing) to see if there's anything to be concerned about.

3. There's a lump in the duct between my gall bladder and my liver, and that needs further investigation. So they're going to do another cat scan, but focussed on that location. Depending on that, they might also need to do a biopsy, which consists of sticking a needle in exactly the right place and taking a small sample.

For the diabetes, I'm to avoid white rice (use brown) and white bread (use wholemeal). We can also use sweet potatoes instead of potatoes. And I'll be taking a pill, once per day. And I guess I'll be seeing someone fairly often to chack my blood sugar (which can be done with a prick test, so no big deal).

For the other two issues, I'll be given appointments with the relevant units within the hospital. 

Thank you, NHS.


Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Day 582 of self-isolation - Keyboard four, part three

Keyboard four, part 3

I took out all the nuts and bolts, and reassembled the keyboard with the plastic sheets. It's difficult to put in the first couple of bolts, because I have to hold the assembly with the black plastic side down, which means that I have to put the bolts in upwards, and that's difficult. But I found a fix - I used a clamp to hold the thing together, and then I could work with the black plastic uppermost. That makes it a lot easier.

I put in all the bolts and tightened the nuts, put it back in the plastic outer, and connected it to a computer.

All the keys work except the esc key, and the LEDs that indicate caps lock and num lock, don't work. I don't use the esc key much, so the keyboard is now usable, and maybe I can remap the esc key to another key. I'll ponder on this - is it worth taking everything apart just to fix the esc key (the problem is that the spring assembly has come adrift).

I can remap the esc key to the caps lock key - I don't use caps lock.

But there's other things going on.

I liked the idea of going on to an alternative to Warfarin that doesn't involve me getting prick-tested very few weeks. I gave a blood sample so they could see if I was good to go, and it came back with an elevated ALS enzyme, which is the responsibility of the liver.

So they asked me to do another blood test, and it came back with an elevated blood sugar level; 15 where the normal range is 7-11. At the same time, they did an ultrasound, and that came back as normal.

But the high blood sugar is a concern, and they want to investigate further. So I'm off to Stoke Mandeville for a cat scan (and we don't have a cat), plus blood tests, and I don't know what else. I'll be spending Tuesday being poked, prodded and pricked. I'm to get there first thing in the morning, and I've been told that it could take all day, although most of that will be spent waiting - I'll be taking a bunch of books to read.

It looks like either I'm not making enough insulin, or else I'm not using it efficiently. And the technical term for this is "diabetes", which is a nasty-sounding word, but it just means "high blood sugar", and I seem to have it, although in a mild form. It's possible that I'll be adding another pill to the array that I take each day.

While I was at the doctor, I asked her about my right index finger. The top joint has become slightly bend, and there was a while when it was painful to use. She said it's common, it's an age thing, and there's nothing to do about it (I'm not letting them replace it, I'm rather attached to it). And it's not too bad; I can type and mouse just fine (although when it was painful, I couldn't).

Monday, 18 October 2021

Day 581 of self-isolation - Keyboard four, part two

Keyboard four, part two

I tested the silver paste repairs, and all three of them worked. This silver paste is much more conductive than the graphite, and it comes with a hypodermic needle, so you can make very fine and accurate lines with it. And a little goes a long way; I got 0.3 ml and I haven't even used half of one ml.

The keycaps are all dry and ready to be reinstalled.


Sunday, 17 October 2021

Day 580 of self-isolation - Keyboard four, 13:10

Keyboard four

More good news, I'm down to 13 stone 10. 

And I filled up on petrol at Tesco. No queues, no shortage.

With three keyboards fixed, I couldn't stop now. Keyboard four has both ctrl keys and both alt keys not working .. and a few more. I can't use a keyboard that doesn't have a working ctrl key.

I opened up the plastic case, noticing that one of the screws was missing. That won't be a problem, I'll replace it with a Phillips head screw. I used the chisel to remove the rivets, that is now very quick and easy. 

I dismantled the inside, removing the key caps for cleaning. I've found another trick; to separate the two parts of the key cap, you squeeze the outer (with the letter embossed), and the inner comes out easily. But you have to squeeze north-south. I left the key caps to soak, and cleaned the plastic sheets. When they were dry, I tested the one with the narrow ribbon cable. And, as I had thought, one of the traces doesn't make contact with the connector. 

My first try at fixing this, is to use silver paste at the connector. It'll have to dry before I can see if that works. I left it overnight.

... much later ...

It worked!

So then I tested the plastic sheet with the wide ribbon cable, and the first and last traces didn't work at all. So I've used silver paste to fix this, but it'll have to dry before I can test it. Meanwhile, I've spread the keycaps out to dry, and I've drilled the black plastic keyholder. The drilling is a lot easier with the Dremel at 1/16 inch, followed by a 3/32 drill, used in a power screwdriver.

I've also ordered 25 of the screws that hold together the plastic shell - I really only need four, but they come in 25s.

And I've ordered 100 more nuts and bolts, and ten 1/16 drills, and ten 3/32 drills, all for future use.

And a chuck to fit on an electric screwdriver; because then I can use any drill bit.

Saturday, 16 October 2021

Day 579 of self-isolation - Keyboard three fixed

Keyboard three fixed

I had to completely disassemble the keyboard, but the whole job - dissassembly and reassembly only took two hours. The problem was as I thought, the spring assembly for the U key wasn't moving freely, there was a bit of plastic scurf blocking it. 

When I tested it, the right hand ctrl key didn't work, but I don't use that key, I always use the left hand ctrl key. Because it's either ctrl-c or ctrl-v. So am I bovvered?

But after fiddling with it for a bit, I think I got it working. Anyway, job done. And this was the keyboard that I thought was most likely to be unfixable!

Now the fourth ...

I also paid a routine visit to Amersham hospital, to have an INR test. My INR was 2.4, and the ideal range is 2.5 to 3.2. It has been wobbling about a bit, and they've been chasing it around. So now instead of 6.5 mg per day, I'm on 6.5 per day and 7 on weekends. Which is 6.64, a whole 0.14 milligrams more than before, a 2% change.

While I was there, I toddled over to the blood test clinic, this is part of the investigation into why my liver ALS is so high. It isn't booze; most weeks I have none, some weeks I might have a bottle of beer.

They saw me immediately, took a couple of vials of blood out of my arm, gave me a bit of cotton wool, and I was done.

So I visited the bookshop on my way out, and treated myself to four books, while at the same time helping the scanner fund.

Then, fours hours later, I went back for my ultrasound scan. I lay on my back while a nice nurse tickled me and eventually told me that she'd found nothing of interest. So I bought four more books. This is why paper books are better than e-books. I can buy second-hand paper books.

Friday, 15 October 2021

Day 578 of self-isolation - Keyboard three reassembled

Keyboard three reassembled

I've learned a bit more - don't bother with replacing the rivets at the front edge. Also - note which places on the keyholder, don't have a buckling spring assembly; mark with a red cross, otherwise you won't know which ones to leave empty when you reassemble.

So, I reassembled the keyboard and tested it. It worked ... except for the letter U. Clearly, I can't use a keyboard that is missing the U, although I can create a U using the alt key and the numeric keypad, but that's  clumsy.

I think the problem would be that during the reassembly, I didn't get that bucking spring assembly right. So, I'll have to dismantle the keyboard and try again

The original problem that this keyboard had, is solved. I think it was the mess on the plastic sheets

It'll be much easier second time around - no chiselling or drilling required, and no washing. Also, I've been gradually collecting tools to make the job easier. Plus, practice makes things easier.

I'll use "showkey -k" to test the keys. Also the grey + key on my main workstation keyboard wasn't working. I took off the keycap, and prodded the bucking spring assembly with a plastic prodder, replaced the keycap, and now it's working!

Thursday, 14 October 2021

Day 577 of self-isolation - Keyboard three, 13:11

Keyboard three

With the recent experience of fixing keyboard 1 and 2, I turned my attention to keyboard three. The problem there is that all the keys work, but some of them add extra characters, such as a #. I can't imagine what could be causing this, but let's have a look inside.

I took off the outer beige shell, took off the keycaps (and put them to soak in water with a bit of detergent - some of them were very dirty) then turned it over. I balanced the assembly on two dead hard drives to keep it steady, then selected one of my new chisels (1/2 inch) and a mallet. It turns out that this is a MUCH easier way to cut the heads off the plastic rivets than the way I did it before. So I was soon able to separate the black plastic keyholder from the steel backplate.

The plastic sheets holding the traces were really dirty; I scrubbed them with a soft brush and some detergent, and left them to dry. When they were dry, I checked all the contacts for continuity, and they worked fine - no silver paste needed.

Then I started drilling. I'm using the Dremel now, and it's much better than the big drill in the stand. I got a chuck from eBay that lets me put small drills on the Dremel. The drill got clogged up with plastic every few holes; I scraped it off with a Stanley knife.

A 1/16 drill bit from the Dremel, then I'm using a 3/32 bit in an electric screwdriver to widen the hole slightly, so that the bolt goes in more easily.  I've drilled all the 57 holes, and checked that the bolt and nut will work.

All the keycaps are clean now, and I'm leaving them out to dry.

The steel backplate was rusty in places, so I wire brushed it until it was clean with the Dremel.  And some rust had leaked into the plastic sheets, and maybe that's the cause of the problem? At some point, this keyboard must have had water inside. We'll see after I do the reassembly.

And I'm down to 13:11; BMI = 27

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Day 576 of self-isolation - Keyboard fixed!

Keyboard fixed!

The model M IBM keyboard that I've been working on, is fixed. I tightened all the nuts and bolts, reassembled the keyboard, and plugged it into a computer. I checked all the keys and they all work!

I have learned a lot about how to do this repair. I have three more keyboards that need attention.

So, in summary. Remove the outer white plastic shell, and remove all the keycaps. Then use a chisel or a grinder to cut the heads of the plastic rivets,and pull the keyboard apart, separating the black plastic keyholder from the steel backplate. Remove the four sheets inside.

Remove the buckling springs. Now all the bucking springs, and all the key caps, can be cleaned, in a dilute solution of detergent. All you need to do is soak them.

Use a 1/16 drill to drill from the holes in the steel backplate though the black plastic keyholder. Then line up these two, and see if you can probe from front to back with a fine screwdriver or similar. At that point, I think it's a good idea to enlarge the hole to 1/8 using a slow drill, and at the same time, improve the lineup of the holes in the steel and the black plastic. Eventually, is should be possible to bolt the two together with all the bolts - but it might be necessary to do a bit more drilling to get the lineups right.

Test the two plastic sheets with traces, to ensure connectivity between the thing that plugs into the electronics, and all the places on the sheet that is should connect to. I would expect something like 25 to 50 ohms resistance, but 90 ohms is OK. If there is a break, repair it with silver or graphite paste (silver is better, but graphite is cheaper). When the paste is dry, check it again (the paste isn't conductive until it is thoroughly dry).

When everything is properly dry, reassembly can start. First you put the bucking spring assemblies into place, then you put the plastic sheets over that, then the rubber sheet, then the steel backplate. You'll need to do all that without inverting what you're working on, because if you do, the buckling spring assemblies come loose, you won't realise it, and the keyboard won't work when it's reassembled. I found that a useful test is to wiggle the keyboard slightly, and check that the springs also wobble.

So doing up the first few screws is difficult, because you're working upside down, but after you have a few in place, you can turn it over and work from there.

I'm using phillips head bolts. And although everyone says you need washers, I found that if you tried to use a washer, then the bolts wouldn't be long enough to reach the nut. At the front of the keyboard, you don't want a length of bolt sticking out, because that will stop you from putting the keyboard assembly into the white plastic back. 

If the space bar, or one of the other big keys goes down by doesn't come up again, a touch of oil can help. And then I say a touch, I mean a lot less than a drop. I put a drop on a piece of plastic, then use a fine screwdriver to pick up a touch of oil and put it where needed.

My second faulty keyboard, is just a bit hesitant on the space bar. Now that I've seen inside the first keyboard, I don't think dismantling it is the way to go. So I took out the space bar, and put a touch of oil in the right places, and now it's a bit better.

So - on to the third faulty keyboard ...

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Day 575 of self-isolation - Keyboard - second try

Keyboard - second try

I removed most of the keycaps so that I could see the bolt heads, then I removed the nuts holding the keyboard together. It was a mistake not to remove all the keycaps, because the keycaps that were in place, made the buckling spring parts come out of their places.

I tested the traces for continuity again, and they were all fine. So I thnk that the problem had been that the buckling spring parts hadn't been seated properly.

I reassembled the layers of the keyboard, but soon found that some of the buckling spring parts had come out of their seatings. So I took it apart again, reseated the buckling spring parts and, without turning the keyboard over, reassembled the layers and put in some of the nuts and bolts.

I think that the test to do then, is to turn the keyboard over so that the buckling spring parts are uppermost, and then shake it slightly to check that they all move freely.

So I put in all the bolts and nuts. The next thing, tomorrow, will be to tighten up all the nuts (I've just bought a 4mm spanner from Hobbyking) and see if everything works.

Here are pictures of the traces. As you can see, the wide connector connects to lines of traces that go up and down, while the narrow connector connects to lines that go from side to side. 

Pressing a key, should bring one of the white blobs in the upper picture, into contact with one of the white blobs in the lower picture. The connectors go to a small electronics board, and that knows (by seeing which connectors are connected via the keypress) which key has been pressed, and it translates tat to a scan code that it sends to the computer. Very clever.

You can see in the lower picture where I painted conductive graphite to repair three breaks in the lines. I think those breaks were caused by the water spill that started this whole repair job off.

The egg whisk that you see in the top right hand corner of the picture. is actually the key puller, and it does that job splendidly.

Monday, 11 October 2021

Day 574 of self-isolation - Jaunt to London

Jaunt to London

Another trip to London. On the way there, we noticed that each of the petrol stations we passed had a few people filling up and no queues. And in the evening, we saw a tanker filling up a forecourt.

So the petrol crisis looks to be over.



Sunday, 10 October 2021

Day 573 of self-isolation - Thirteen stone, twelve pounds

Thirteen stone, twelve pounds

Yes, another pound less. 194 pounds, 88 kilograms. Still going down.

Also, on the keyboard. I tried tightening up the nuts and bolts that hold it together. I didn't think it would work, but there was the possibility that it would, and it was an easier thing to try than to dismantle and look at the insides.

It didn't work.

So, the next step will be to undo those 57 nuts and see if I can work out why those keys aren't working.

Saturday, 9 October 2021

Day 572 of self-isolation - Testing the Model M

Testing the Model M

So it's assembled - now to test it. I started up a small computer, checked that a keyboard worked, then replaced that with the model M. I typed a few keys, and they worked! I checked the v, b and space bar, and they all worked. Those were the keys that were failing before. So my repair of the conductive traces using graphite, worked.

Then I did a systematic test of all the keys. The q, w and several others on that row and the row above, didn't work. And a number of keys in the same rows, needed a very hard press to work.

So I'm thinking that the problem is with the plastic carrying the horizontal traces, and I'm going to have to open up the keyboard again to find out what the problem is. This will be a lot easier than my previous efforts, because all I have to do is undo 57 nuts - I shouldn't need to do any drilling. And I'm hoping that I won't need to remove the keycaps.


Friday, 8 October 2021

Day 571 of self-isolation - Assembly finished

Assembly finished

The bolts that I used at the front of the board are too long, they stop the board from sliding under the plastic retainers at the front. So I shortened the bolts by adding two nuts at the head of the bolt.

The other thing I've learned is, to drill with the 1/16 bit to make the hole, but then enlarge is with a 1/8 bit, and make sure that the bolt goes right through and is in line. If it isn't, coax the hole a little with the drill.

I put all the nuts and bolts in, connected up the electronic key decoder and the LEDs, and screwed the plastic back and front pieces. Then I added the keycaps without legends; I discovered the hard way that the slight extra spacing in the keycap goes at the front. 

Then I added the keycaps with the letters, numbers etc - that was fairly easy.

But on testing, I found that the space bar and the backspace didn't work - and those are vital. After some experimentation and messing around, I found that a tidge of lubrication was what they needed. Now all the keys feel like they work.

But I haven't tested it yet ... I'll do that tomorrow.


Thursday, 7 October 2021

Day 570 of self-isolation - Model M reassembly

Model M reassembly

I've put all the buckling springs back in place - there are four places that are empty, but I marked those when I took it apart. Then I laid the various plastic layers down, in the correct order. And then I started bolting the black plastic keyframe to the metal back plane.

I'm hoping that the carbon paste will give a low enough resistance for the keys to all work, but if it isn't good enough, the silver paste has just arrived; I can wash off the carbon and try the silver instead. I got 93 ohms using the black carbon, and the other ones that were unbroken are about 36 ohms. So I'm hoping that a current that's a third of the normal level will be good enough.

I've installed about a dozen nuts and bolts out of the 57 total. I'll do more tomorrow, but I think I've done the most difficult part now.

Also, I've done my quarterly VAT MOSS return via the Irish tax web site, and paid the tax.

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Day 568 of self-isolation - The Machine Stops

The Machine Stops

Suddenly, I wasn't getting access to Facebook. No browser access, and I couldn't even ping it. What happened? So I looked into it.

First of all, it isn't just me. The internet has lit up with people reporting Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram being down. This started at about 4:45 BST, October 4th. It's a worldwide issue.

I did a "whois". This reveals that Facebook's domain registrar is And that's also down.

Twitter is up, and that's full of reports that Facebook is down.

I would imagine that the system admins at Facebook are running around like headless chickens, but unable to do anything because the problem is at - which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Facebook.

Somewhere there is a domain name server that should be translating "facebook,com" into an IP address, and it isn't working.

So if you're relying on "the cloud" for anything important, you should always remember this. You are relying on Someone Else's Computer.

... update ... so far it's been six hours and counting. ALL of Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram users are cut off from these services. Six hours means that it's a major problem. Even a total hardware failure shouldn't last for more than an hour.

If I were the Facebook Network admin, I would not have set it up this way. Facebook etc, have a single point of failure. They have one DNS service, When this is all over, I expect to see a pile of skulls outside Facebook's offices.

... update ... 10:45 and I can access Facebook, but it's very slow. And a lot of it isn't working yet.

Monday, 4 October 2021

Day 567 of self-isolation - Fourteen stones

Fourteen stones

That's 196 pounds,  89 kilograms. My BMI is 27.3; "overweight" is 25-30, so I'm still overweight, but a good distance from "obese".

My back feels great, although I'm going to be extra careful about lifting heavy things. I think I just pulled a muscle, rather than slipped a disc, although the pain was very bad. I can run upstairs two at a time, so my knees are great. And the feet work well. The only issues that I have now is my right index finger, which is still a bit dodgy, and my left eye which has a cornea problem. My left eye vision is a lot worse than my right eye. Part of that is blurring, part of that is that less light passes through. Eventually, this could need a replacement, which I can probably get on the NHS.

I don't think I've had Covid (although I spent a few hours in a car nxt to an infected person) but I have had two Pfizer vaccinations, and I'll be getting a booster (and a flu shot).

One symptom that I do get, is that I find myself struggling to remember a word - a word I know well. It comes to me eventually, and it's possible that I always had the problem but now I'm noticing it more.


Sunday, 3 October 2021

Day 566 of self-isolation - Model M drilling done

Model M drilling done

I've finished the drilling, and it turns out that there are not 87 holes to drill, it's 57. For which I am grateful, because each hole was a performance. I can't hold the workpiece in a jig, so I can't accurately position the hole. Each hole needed extra drilling with a 1/8 inch handheld drill.

It didn't help when my 1/16 bit broke; that happened because the drill battery was getting exhausted and the drill was spinning too slowly. Another lesson learned.

So then I tested the continuity of the conductors that the keys strike, and I found a couple of places where the continuity was interrupted, and that's consistent with the keys that aren't working on that keyboard. Looking at this, I can't see the problem, but the multimeter doesn't lie. So I'm using electrically conductive paint to fix the problem. 

The first paint I tried was graphite-based, but the conductivity doesn't seem good enough, so I've ordered some silver-based paint.


Saturday, 2 October 2021

Day 565 of self-isolation - Model M more drilling

Model M more drilling

It's a routine now. I drill ten or so holes through the steel backplate into the black plastic. I can't drill from the black plastic side because I can't see where to drill. So  I drill a 1/16 hole, then I can see where it goes. Then I use a 1/8 handheld drill to widen the hole slightly, so I can insert the bolt and add the nut.

For a few of them, I have to grind some plastic out of the way, or the bolt won't go in straight.

Out of the original 87, I have 21 left to do.