Spam Spam Spam

February 15th, 2018

Comments are registered users only for a while, thanks to spammers. I’ll get a better filter installed…..

[edit]

I’ve chucked a few quid to Akismet and installed that. Spam Karma did me very well, considering it’s not been updated for years now. I’ve also updated WordPress to the latest.

A Slightly Longer Spin

January 30th, 2018

I’d finished work early to get a broken coil spring fixed on my car (the bodyshop visit having prevented me being organised and getting the MOT done with more time to spare) and the MOT retest done. The current horrors of the M5 make the journey unpredictable, so leaving plenty of time I ended up 45 minutes early, but Midland VW sorted the car early too, so I had time to visit my Mom, and still be home at around 4:30. What better way to use an unexpected bit of time than a short ride, down on the towpath, while rush hour goes on above and around?

I’m still not doing my normal, regular route (Chasewater and back) as I need to look at my bike setup and see how the knee bears up, but I was curious about Ogley Junction Footbridge, which as BrownhillsBob has observed, is undergoing serious work (and not before time; it’s a lovely structure and one of only 3 listed structures in Brownhills, all of them bridges).

I got warned by a chap coming the other way that it was covered in plastic, though he’d clearly passed over it as there was nowhere else he could have come from, but it looked tricky:

Sheeted up.

I wasn’t going any further anyway. Back home, with a few aches but nothing serious. A much better way to spend that time than sat in traffic.

The Automatic Choice

January 29th, 2018

I had a mishap in a car park with my car; so a bodyshop visit was required. This meant a courtesy car. This is rarely a good experience, courtesy cars usually fall into 2 camps: old and knackered or new and bargain-basement, with one exception when a loss-recovery company hired me something flasher.

So, then, this was the bargain-basement end. A nearly new Toyota Aygo, and as I need an autobox these days, one with the MMT transmission. A car so thoroughly vile, I chose to leave it at work when I could, and get a lift from a colleague.

I need, at this point, to be fair. The Aygo is a 1-litre city car, and it’s actually not built badly; it feels light and flimsy because it is light: the engine develops a fair amount of power (about 67BHP) for a non-blown 1 litre, but you need light weight. You also need minimal transmission losses, which is where MMT comes in.

MMT isn’t a traditional autobox, and, by that, I mean a torque converter-and-epicyclic auto, which was the way to do an auto in bygone times. It’s essentially the normal, manual box with a few actuators bolted on and some electronic control. This is done for efficiency and cost- both in terms of production and fuel economy/emissions: the conventional auto is expensive, heavy, and inefficient. MMT, and it’s work-a-likes from other manufacturers is cheaper, lighter, and has low parasitic losses. That’s where the good news ends: even VWs offering, ASG, seems to suffer from inherent “features”.

I can’t vouch for ASG, but forums are full of opinions that mirror my experiences with MMT and the technology is pretty much identical. MMT vibrates at standstill as the ECU slips the clutch at low revs to provide “creep”. The creep itself is lumpy as the 3 cylinder engine struggles, and the change from 1st to second could be timed on a calendar as the car loses momentum and then bogs down when the lack of torque fails to make up for the delay. In traffic, surely the ideal place for an automatic city car, the smooth, easy progress of a decent auto becomes lumpy, jerky and learnerish. In an odd thing for a city car, there’s paddle shifters, for when you inevitably need to override the ECU’s choice. As if that weren’t enough, rumours of poor reliability are common.

Higher speeds are obviously noisy, and kickdown is merely a volume control.

I’ve driven automatics on and off for 30 years: conventional ones (including this rather revolutionary British interpretation, German and Japanese implmentations), CVTs with a torque converter, dual-clutch things like DSG or Powershift, and I can say that if automated, single-clutch manual gearboxes are the future for small cars, then either take us back to the past, or pray for the death of internal combustion engine (or buy a manual, if you can). If you can’t, then for $deity’s sake, get a DCT or conventional auto, you’ll not regret the expense or the economy trade-off.

LMGTFY

January 24th, 2018

A minor intertubes annoyance of mine.

I use Google Maps quite a bit. Not massively for sat-nav, as I’m a terrible luddite for navigation, and don’t have a suitable car holder, but for finding pubs, bars, restaurants, stations, shops etc if walking. I’ll use the reviews as a guide, and I contribute back to it as well: I’ll edit places I know are wrong, I’ve added photos of opening times that Google can scan and publish automagically.

Overall, it’s pretty cool. Yes, you’re dealing with a big evil tech firm, and they’re getting a lot of data for free, but it’s useful for me, and the contributions may be useful (they’d be even better if it would let me add The Jigger’s Whistle, but meh).

One thing, though, is troubling me. Nagging away at me like an untraceable rattle in the dashboard.

Questions. Questions asked by people too damn lazy and/or stupid to do even the most basic research on the computer they are in front of or holding in their hand. The maps app on my phone will occasionally prompt me about a place it knows I have been and say

Someone has a question about [place], can you help?

and like a twat, I’ll view the question, because it’s good to help.

Here’s a typical example, with a fairly succinct answer from another contributor.

FFS. Let me Google that for you.

Really? Not even a full sentence, and the answer should be pretty fucking easy with the fucking Internet in front of you, shouldn’t it?

Looks pretty easy to me. Fuckwits.

A Short Spin

January 7th, 2018

I’d had to knock cycling on the head for a short while, due to a uncomfortable swelling in my trousers. My knee, to be precise.

So, it’s been a while. I got the bike out, wiped the worst of the crud off the chain, re-inflated the tyres, and got out. I managed to mount Black Cock without too much discomfort, and it was back on the towpath for the first time in a few months.

I was taking it easy; a physio recommended a turbo trainer, but I didn’t fancy it; I might not cycle that much, relatively, but I don’t think there’s an alternative for being outside. Plus, I already have more than enough clutter.

So, a very short ride. No further than Catshill Junction for a first spin. I was hoping to see Eyebrow Cat, because, frankly, he’s lovely and reminds me of my own QT, but he was presumably sleeping inside on what was, to be fair, a very cold day.

A short stop at Catshill:

Catshill Junction, and a muddy bike. No Eyebrow Cat, though.

And briefly thinking how sunshine can even make the tower blocks look attractive:

Hope that cladding isn’t flammable…

and a ride home.It’s good the be back on two wheels, however briefly.

Ubuntu 17.10 and an abcde ripping failure

January 4th, 2018

Recorded here as I couldn’t find any mention online: abcde is a fantastic command-line CD ripper for Linux that does something very clever- it glues together lots of individual tools to automate ripping, encoding, and tagging music files. Handily it can rip to FLAC and MP3 (for the car stereo) in one hit, like this:

I recently had a bit of a mishap involving a laptop, so had to fresh-install Ubuntu, and copied over the config file for abcde. It sort-of worked, but at the point where it has ripped tracks, and is meant to tag them and move them from the working folder to $HOME/Music/mp3 and $HOME/Music/flac it bombed with

tagtrack-mp3-03: returned code 1: nice -n 10 eyeD3 [arguments sent to eyeD3]

Running eyeD3 with the same arguments manually gave

Traceback (most recent call last):
File "/usr/bin/eyeD3", line 6, in
from pkg_resources import load_entry_point
ImportError: No module named pkg_resources

The simple answer is

sudo apt-get install python-pkg-resources

and away it goes. I’m not sure if that package is suggested for eyeD3 or abcde, but it’s clearly not set as a dependency, or apt would install it- apt is usually extremely good at this kind of stuff.

New Year

January 1st, 2018

So, I missed a Christmas 2017 post, and the blog reaches its 14th birthday, and I look back on another year. Just where the actual fuck does it go? Not all of it is a blur of beer and curry, but thankfully some has been. Christmas passed for us in a fairly typical way: beer and curry on Christmas eve, dinner with family on the day itself, and a quiet evening at home.

So, what happened in 2017? We went away quite a bit, but unusually didn’t leave the UK, but we visited places we hadn’t been for many years, and did the B&B-hopping thing we’d fancied.

Sadly, our beer festival idea went a bit wrong; logistically being fixed to dates and places doesn’t seem to work well for us and our co-conspirators.

At this point, I’d really like to be more positive about this year, but I think I’ll struggle. I’ll briefly mention Brexit- whatever your opinion on whether it should happen or not, I’m pretty certain that no-one could say it is being implemented competently. We still have a spectacularly inept prime minister, too- politics remains a fuck-up, increasing in impact all the time.

About the only positive thing to think of is family and friends: let’s at least be thankful for those, while the world falls apart around us :-), may 2018 be a good year for you all.

Password Authentication Protocol

December 3rd, 2017

I’m not known for my love of politicians: I generally hold the opinion that anyone looking to become a politician should automatically be prevented from doing so. Politiciana, I feel, are generally out for themselves, are often involved in debates that they’re ill-qualified to speak in. I know there’s exceptions, I know some politicians are direct and work hard to represent their constituents.

But I also know that there’s also terribly ignorant people in the House of Commons.

Great example, this week. Damien Green is under investigation because a large quantity of e-smut was found on his PC.

Now, let’s be clear: I don’t care about the actual porn. Nothing was illegal, so if he feels the need to knock one out at at work, I don’t see the problem provided he’s alone and has sufficient tissue to hand, if you’ll forgive the expression- if indeed it was him viewing the pr0n.

And there are the problems. First of all, porn sites are famed for introducing malware, so somewhat ironically, if you go looking for Internet sex, you stand a higher chance of encountering a dose of the e-pox.

Secondly, there’s a question that it was him. Nadine Dorries was quick to leap to his defence:

and was then followed by a truckload of MPs saying similar things. Jumping over one another, in fact, to say just how shit they are.

So, essentially, it’s common practice for MPs to share their passwords with all and sundry. MPs that represent us, store our personal data, and make the laws of this country, showing an apalling lack of good practice. For a really good, in-depth analysis of just what is wrong here, take a look at Tim Turner’s Information Law Blog.

In the meantime, just take a while to think about these people who are too important to take your data seriously.

Breaking the System

December 2nd, 2017

I’ve been in hospital again. Less involved than last time, but another reduction in mobility that sees me off work for a short while, and reduced mobility for a while. I’m grumpy too, because I can’t get out to the pub, and that dancing program is on.

What I’m going to whinge about this time is the running of the NHS at the moment, no, in fact, the systematic disassembly of the NHS by the current government.

Something happened that I’m fundamentally opposed to. Not opposed enough to refuse treatment, obviously, but something that sticks with me.

I was treated in a very nice Spire private hospital, just up the road in La-di-dah Little Aston. I hadn’t suddenly discovered untold riches, and got private insurance that would actually cover my fucked-up body, or tested the limit on my credit card by paying for it myself- the NHS paid. Very nice it was too, pleasant, seemingly unstressed staff, a comfortable private room, decent food after the op. Free parking for my other half to collect me (though there’s a question over if that’s a good thing or not at a large site).

This annoys me in two ways:

Firstly, I would imagine that Spire made some cash out of NHS budgets.

Secondly, NHS hospitals could be more like this. Where it really counts. When I was last in, and the time before, my care was great. Staff were really good, but stressed, and overworked. I didn’t get that feeling in Little Aston- when I was in a bed that I’d bled over, it was changed with little fuss in about 10 minutes flat, simply because the staff had time to do it.

Despite what many would have you believe there’s no reason why the NHS couldn’t be like this. Much of the stuff we’re told about our “failing NHS” is manufactured, precisely to allow the privatisation-by-stealth I’ve played a reluctant part in, and it’s just plain fucking wrong.

If we didn’t have an NHS, I would not be here today. The circumstances of my birth not far off (not far enough!) 50 years ago meant that without the NHS I’d have died, simple as that: my family were not wealthy (not that poor, but not wealthy). I have family and friends who have been saved more recently than that. These same people would, like me, be told to go and fuck off by private health insurance.

Let’s not split hairs here: the objective here is to make money for the rich, and price anyone who isn’t rich out. Stop funding it properly, farm bits out to the private sector (because they’re always more efficient, huh?), preparing the ground to privatise the whole fucking lot. After all, it worked a fucking treat with the railways, buses, and energy, didn’t it- they’re all perfect examples of a well-run private-enterprise system working cohesively and efficiently for everyone’s benefit. The increased competition keeps prices down and efficiency up so well, and there’s no cases whatsoever of near-monopoly funded by the taxpayer to line the pockets of wealthy fucking twats.

If you think you’ll be fine because you’re healthy, you’re young, or you have a good job, take a good hard think: Life can have a good go at fucking all that up and showing you up to be a fool. If you have a hint of a prior health problem, the insurance companies will be off into the sunset before you know it. If you become ill, and lose that job, you’ll be unable to pay the premiums anyway.

Our NHS is one of the genius strokes of government policy (a decidedly rare thing), and we’re allowing it to be wrecked.

I do have a fairly decent job. I pay a reasonably large amount of income tax each month. You know what? I’ll willingly pay more if that is what it takes to fund the NHS properly, and if you don’t agree, you’re a fucking short-sighted idiot.

Almost Pierless

November 9th, 2017

So, our holiday to North Wales in November meant an opportunity to revisit Colwyn Bay Victoria Pier. At my last visit its future was uncertain, and now it’s a done deal: it is being dismantled, with parts being retained for possible re-instatement as a truncated version of the pier at soem time in the future.

I won’t hold my breath. Generally, in this kind of situation, the parts are taken away, then forgotten about until the fuss dies down, then chucked. Call me overly cynical, but I’d be not at all surprised if that happens.

Anyway, I got some more photos to compare to 2014. I tried to get the same viewpoints, but memory and fencing played their parts in preventing this altogether:

Colwyn Bay Pier Entrance from the railway tunnel, 9 November 2017

Colwyn Bay Pier- Walkway now missing the railings- 9 November 2017

Colwyn Bay Pier- (east side) – 9 November 2017

Colwyn bay Pier (east side)- 9 November 2017)

To be honest, it’s now in such a state that the demolition is almost welcome. The beach and promenade have been redeveloped, mostly, and the pier is now just a rotting, dangerous pile of iron and wood in the middle of it. It’s just so sad it was allowed (planned?) to go this way.