Unitary Authority

September 17th, 2017

I’ve had this one simmering for a while, so instead of finishing that post that’s been in drafts for ten months, I’ll write this.

I started recently to see a bit of a resurgence of the statement that “we should return to and/or keep imperial measurements because they mean more to people and make more sense”. This is probably due to me following @AnAcreofpints, a twitter account that is

Making the case for keeping customary units like pints, pounds and miles.

Then of course, the Americans chip in, and I see lots of horseshit claiming that degrees Farenheit make more sense than degrees C “because 100 F is about as hot as 0 F is cold” and “a foot is about the length of your foot” and other such crap.

Then there’s the “well, how would you describe someone’s height? In feet and inches, or metres?”.

I thought that was interesting. I grew up in the 70s and 80s: I’m currently in my late forties. I will:

1. Expect draught beer to come in pints (or thirds/halves thereof) in the UK or Ireland.
2. Probably ask for a pound (or quarter/half thereof) of foodstuff at a butchers/greengrocers/sweet shop etc
3. State estimated weight of a person in stones and pounds
4. State estimated height of a person in feet and inches
5. State long road distances in miles
6. State shorter road distances in meteres or yards
7. Measure (eg: within a room) distances in metres/millimeters
8. State temperatures in Celsius
9. Use a recipe in pounds/ounces
10. Weigh a parcel in grams or kg
11. Have a feel for the weight of something large (eg: a car in kg or tonnes (i.e: metric tonnes)
12. Estimate very short distances in mm, ones a bit longer in inches
13. Fuel consumption is in MPG.

I can also, for approximations, freely switch between units. Metres and yards are neither here nor there for road distances of a hundred or two; the conversion difference is neither here nor there. A pint is a bit more than half a litre, a pound is just under 500g. Unless you’re needing any level of precision, the error doesn’t count. Some countries have the concept of a “metric pound” which is 500g.

So what?

My point here is that it’s largely familiarity here. I’m mixing and matching as I see fit, and I think here’s the key: units are a measurement, nothing else. They’re not a expression of Britishness (“I voted Brexit so I can buy potatoes in pounds again”), a political statement, or a way of sticking it to the Eurepeans, and largely, it’s a comfort and familiarity thing, like Windows vs Mac vs Linux, Apple IOS vs Android or Vi vs Emacs. I have this eclectic mix of units because I grew up during a time of change: my Mom taught me to cook, and she’s 30 years older than me, so that was pounds and ounces- many people older will have a much larger swing towards imperial units because they’re familiar with it, it’s not because it’s inherently easier, it just seems so to them. (though how anyone can claim imperial units, with non-decimal subdivisions is easy, is totally beyond me, similarly Guineas and £ S d– I meant, just why would you do that, 240 pennies to a pound?).

Coming back to precision, engineering and science uses metric units. The maths leaves less room for error, when you’re below whole units- something that engineering decided for itself before metrication with “thou”, a metric fraction of an imperial unit…

Over the Borderline

September 3rd, 2017

We’ve been away again, to Selkirk in the Scottish borders. We’d hoped to avoid some of the English Bank Holiday traffic by traveling on the Friday, but that didn’t work out well: 4.5 hours to our overnight stop (which we’d booked just to extend our holiday, rather than for distance) at Penrith, with an average speed of 38mph, despite doing a lot more than that at times. Sheer need of a slash and some food drove us out of the stop-start traffic at Knutsford, which was surprisingly OK. We rejoined the crawl, eventually getting free after a few miles, only to not get our kicks, but hit a load of traffic again, on the A66, but thankfully it was only a short drive for a rest, food, and beer.

The next day saw us with loads of time: having left at 10am, we couldn’t get into our holiday rental until 3pm, so a gentle drive up the M6 and then the rather lovely A7. Under-improved it might be, but it passes through lovely scenery, is intersting to drive, and didn’t seem traffic-choked. Even stopping for fuel and doing ~50mph, we made Selkirk far too early, so went on to Melrose. Melrose is quite nice- affluent, civilised, attractive-looking, if a bit “jolly rugger and ladies who lunch”. Sadly, some of the ladies lunching were in the pub we dropped into, and were….screechy, so we escaped, went for a look around the abbey and Priorwood Gardens, got some shopping in, and drove back to Selkirk.

Selkirk is clearly less affluent, but on the way up by the looks of it: the market square is being tarted up, there’s coffee shops and decent restaurants, even if the number of pubs has dropped markedly, and there’s a lot of community stuff going on- like the Yarnstormers. Even nearby Galashiels felt nicer than reputation when we passed through.

So, what else did we do? Well, obviously, pubs were involved. Restaurants were involved. We caught the bus to Hawick, a train to Edinburgh (the return of which was cancelled, which was no fun at all). We drove to Eyemouth, and passed the Blackadder Inn, resisting tempatation to pop in for six large beers and another large beer, as I was driving.

Bell Ends

August 21st, 2017

[Title shamelessly stolen from here]

So then, Andy wonders why i have no faith in the political system.

As part of refurbishments, Big Ben in the Queen Elizabeth Tower at the Houses of Parliament is to be silent for a while, and some of our wonderful representatives are crying, holding vigils and demanding that it doesn’t happen.

Politicians. Once more trying to change things with words because they don’t have the ability or talent to do anything else. Do they really think that the bell would be silenced if there was a viable alternative, given that we have to accept it’s huge symbolism?

We’re in the middle of one of the biggest shitfests changes since WW2. We have crises in care and welfare. We have the most inept Prime Minister for many years, and we have people still homeless from the stunningly mismanaged Grenfall Tower.

Our Prime Minister grasps hold of the really important issue, of course.

Are our representatives in the Commons really so inept or ignorant that this is what they consider a valuable use of the time we pay them for? It’s clearly evident that they know fuck-all squared about health and safety law, engineering, historic building restoration, or horology, but they’ll just make demands like a bunch of toddlers anyway. It just goes to show how impractical and out-of-touch they are.

*shakes head, wanders off*

In the Hall of the Greene King

August 17th, 2017

So, there was a bit of work needed at an office in Bury St Edmunds- a bit of network diagnosis and install a ID card printer. I’m chief network monkey, so it’s my sort of job. Time was flexible. I’d always fancied seeing the town, so last Friday my other half and I left out at early-O-clock, and hit the M6T, M6, and A14 again.

Pleasingly, Cathorpe has been finished, and the difference is amazing, such that even with a breakfast stop near Cambridge, we arrived at the office well before 9am, untroubled by the speed cameras, which have mostly evolved into average-speed ones, thereby avoiding the horrors I discussed here.

So then, a fight with the printer and it’s terrible drivers, a quick tweak of a Cisco config, fix a few other minor issues, and finished by 13:40. Off to the lovely hotel, and hit the pubs. Bury is a lovely town; historic, beautiful, but not up-itself- a very rare mix. People were friendly, drinks and food reasonably priced. Even my better half’s bus fare into town from the office was a mere 75p.

The next day, we took a trip to Ickworth, a stunning property, and such a short drive not going would have been madness, and then had a look around the town, visited Green King’s cafe, wandered around Abbey Gardens.

I’m not usually a massive fan of GK’s beers, which maybe made a trip to Bury rather an odd one, as it’s Greene King Central, but the good thing was that some of GK’s less usual beers were about- and the double bonus of getting some work that needed doing done and another part of the UK visited was worthwhile.

Diesel Do

August 1st, 2017

So having had the emmissions-test cheat mode removed from my car, I was interested to see on BBC Watchdog (everyone’s favourite combination of fuckwits and whingers) that there seems to be a growing number of complaints following the “service action”.

It seems the complaints centre around limp-home mode getting triggered, and it seems that the EGR valve has been a common failure. It does seem that logically, the EGR may be more active post-fix in order to reduce NOx at the expense of more particulates and reduced power/economy.

The Watchdog article fairly obviously prompted this letter from VW:

Page one of the VW “all is well” letter. Click to embiggen.

Page two of the VW “all is well” letter. Click to embiggen. Note in section 3, bullet point 5.

And there’s something interesting in section 3, bullet point 5 that gives VW a potential get-out. On page 1, they’re saying that they’ll be favourable to clains for 2 years/up to 160K miles, but then say that they won’t cover a DFP full of ash. There’s scant infornmation about what the VW fix does apart from removing the rolling road detection, but consensus seems to be that is alters injection quantity, pattern, and timing, and tweaks EGR. All of these could have an effect on the particulates produced.

Now, since Euro V, we’re not allowed to pump those particulates out to atmosphere (boo hiss!):

So the particulates have to go somewhere, and that somewhere is the DPF. DPFs obviously can get full of soot, and they then need to be regenerated. This can happen passively (if it gets hot enough), or can be triggered by the engine ECU injecting fuel on an exhaust stroke, so that it burns in the DPF. This turns the soot to ash- the ash that VW won’t replace your DPF for if it’s full of it. Which is interesting: you can’t get something for nothing, and the reduced NOx emissions comes (apparently) at a cost of more particulates, which means more DPF regens, and therefore more ash, so a shorter DPF life.

I don’t know what to make of this, to be honest. My own VW seems have economy and performance unchanged, and doesn’t seem to be doing active regenerations often, but you don’t miraculously lose the NOx without paying for it somewhere. I suppose EGR and DPF life remains to be seen. I’d really like to see a full analysis/reverse engineering of the remapped ECU (because, on the 2L engine, that’s all that happens).

This is interesting in the light of news recently that the sale of conventional diesel & petrol cars is to be outlawed by 2040. I think that’s a bit of a non-story: we’re already in the twilight of internal combustion cars: both petrol and diesel cars are now loaded with lots of controls and mechanisms not to increase efficiency or power, but to limit harmful emissions, and even with those they pollute our environment in a way that is impossible to contain. Electric cars will still pollute, of course, (and will still congest the roads), but the internal combustion engine is on it’s way out, inevitably. We’ll still have IC cars on the road by 2040 (and assuming I make it, I’ll be a pensioner), but they’ll be diminishing in quantity.

It’s a Different Kind of Party Altogether

July 21st, 2017

Last weekend went far too quickly, aided by the rather excellent choice of birthday party by Mr Sublimeproduct (who blogs even less than me these days, but is now old, like the rest of us, even if he doesn’t look it, the bastard). The day involved meeting at the Light House in Wolverhampton, a private screening of a superb film:

Followed by what was supposed to be a pub crawl, but just turned into getting hammerred at a truly great pub.

I don’t usually like parties, but this is the way to do it. I’d intended getting home mid-evening, crawled in by 11pm…

Strait Up

July 10th, 2017

You know, I always hated this record:

and I still do.

Anyway, we actually did have a lovely time in Bangor. My dear Stymistress booked us a weekend away, the primary objective being a visit to Bangor Garth Pier, so a trip up the A41 and along the A55 on a Friday morning saw us in Bangor by lunchtime, with lunch in a nearby pub and checked into the hotel overlooking the pier.

The pier, from the car park, a mere few yards from our hotel.

The pier itself is lovely: in generally good order, unlike one just down the coast, and long, poking out long enough into the Menai Strait that Whatpub starts suggesting The Gazelle Inn as nearby:

As to the town, subsequent exploring on Saturday showed that our location by the pier was by far the best for pubs and food: I don’t think the town’s considerable student population does it any favours, so we stayed around Garth mostly, though the fact we both were suffering with a cold probably helped on that one, a pleasant sit in the sun on the pier or a nearby beer garden being better than a sticky-floored, sticky-tabled city pub.

Sunday saw us drive over the lovely Menai Bridge to Menai Bridge, and a pop up the coast for a bonus pier, Beaumaris: less impressive than Bangor, but at least not falling down :-/.

A trip back down the coast, a visit to Plas Newyd, and a drive home. 2 more piers visited!


May 29th, 2017

I happened across a tweet from CPMG last week,and retweeted it (amd, indeed, responded to it with both a reply and by completing the survey (which I’d encourage you to do). The conversation that resulted can be viewed on twitter by clicking the first link, but is also screenshotted below:

Screenshot 1 of 2- click to embiggen.

screenshot 2 of 2, click to embiggen.

An interesting conversation, rapidly joined by Livestream Data Systems, who, in their own words, provide backend systems for ANPR. Almost as if they were ready, watching for replies, huh?

They made the very valid point that a number plate (VRM) is public data, publicly visible all the time. This is true, of course, but it’s trivial for people to associate my number plate with me- especially should the “they” be law enforcement, who can look it up in seconds.

Continuing that, it’s pretty trivial to track me by combining ANPR with a few other things. A thought occurred to me as an example: I completed the survey from the holiday flat we rented. I checked the public-side IP of the broadband connection, and it geolocated to within a few miles of my location (I was in Torquay, it said Dawlish). So, taking only public or non-personal data along with potential ANPR data (the camera locations are not public) I follow CPMG on twitter. I completed the survey from a location near Torquay having clicked through from Twitter (this data could be obtained from server logs).

CPMG probably don’t have many followers on the English Riviera, as they’re a Midlands unit.

Now search the ANPR data for cars travelling between the Midlands and the South West. Add in from the server logs that I used Linux, google a bit, and you have me, most likely. You know where I am, what car I drive, and you have my opinions on ANPR, without having to apply for a court order or similar. Analyse ny tweets, dig over this blog and there’s plenty to learn (of course, what I tweet or post here I’m voluntarily supplying, thank fuck I don’t use Facebook).

That might sound a little paranoid, but it’s an example, and it’s why we should all remain vigilant and wary. I don’t have anything to hide, and you could therefore take the view of “who cares”, but are you comfortable with being tracked?

There’s going to be a lot of pressure in coming times for greater surveillance, especially given recent terror events: but one thing to consider here is that if a terrorist is willing to kill or injure many people with explosives, I don’t think using false plates and/or changing vehicles is going to bother them, whereas the majority of us use one or two vehicles regularly, so it’s far easier to track ordinary citizens than the criminals. Most of us voluntarily carry a tracking device (smartphone), use bank cards: do the bad guys do that?

I’d like to make it clear I fully support CPMGs work, keeping the road safe for us all, but I’m a bit concerned about data use (and misuse) here, and this isn’t the first time. It’s the work of seconds to reveal misuse of anti-terror legislation for things as trivial as school catchment areas, and there’s prior cases of ANPR misuse. That’s even before we consider that companies like Livestream- a private company- may be providing the back end and processing for the national network (I don’t know exactly who does), and therefore we could be trusting their systems and employees with this data.

A quick Google search revealed a supplier of services to councils who apparently encrypt ANPR data with SQL.


Oooh- what’s that black helicopter overhead?


May 28th, 2017

We went off to Torquay. It was lovely. We had a good journey (amazingly, both ways, despite coming back on a bank holiday Saturday) great weather, a nice flat to stay in. We went and saw three three piers: Torquay Princess, Paignton, and Teignmouth- though they were all a little dissapointing, if I’m totally honest. Torquay Princess has lovely cast-iron railings, but is othewise a jetty with planking, to be honest. Paignton’s signage might as well say “no fun, ever”, and the end of the pier was unreachable because the rides there were locked off.

Just one of many signs prohibiting *everything on Paignton Pier.

Teignmouth’s pier was shut off from just behing the amusement shed too, though at least this was seeemingly because the pier is in need of repair:

Teignmouth’s pier- in need of TLC.

We’d been to Teignmouth together before- our first holiday together, in fact, almost 30 years ago: we recognised bits, but couldn’t remember what the pier was like then.

In between the pier-bothering, we had a lovely ride on an old bus:

Leyland PD1/2, since you asked.

Rides out on the train to a lovely pub at Tospham and around Torbay, had lovely Thai food and a slightly underwheming Indian with a proprietor that gets terribly upset about any criticism, got sunburned and generally relaxed.

NHS & Ransomware

May 13th, 2017

Last night, news of a big ransomware outbreak within the NHS came out. This is very bad news: ransomware takes control of your PC and then encrypts any files it can, including any network drives it can get to, then demands money to decrypt them.

Ever since this outbreak was disclosed, there’s been a parallel out break of fuckwits. Stating that various people, from the NHS IT techs to the government are (ir)responsible, and this was entirely avoidable.

It was, of course. But at what cost? Lots of network admins will say how easy it is to keep systems up to date, and at one level it is. My home network is continually up to date: firmware on my domestic router is recent, all the PCs are patched. This is really, really simple, and I barely have to lift a finger to manage it.

It’s also quite simple in a large corporate network if the machines are simple- if they’re all recent PCs, and running little more than Windows and Office, you set up WSUS, keep the OS up to date by having an MS subscription, and it’s job done, and you’re in the pub by lunchtime.

Except, as usual, it’s not that simple.

There are times you can’t update an OS, or at least it’s prohibitively expensive and/or hard. This Twitter thread says it better than I could in relation to the NHS, but all over the place, in industry, education, and everywhere else, there’s systems that are only certified for old operating systems, systems that use bodged, modified OSs (Nortel Callpilot, I’m looking at you) and systems that are untested with patches and/or new operating systems. These cannot be patched or upgraded, and may have millions of pounds of hardware attached which can’t talk to anything else, so the choice becomes to air-gap them, stop using them and buy replacements, engineer a gateway between them and other systems, or just try to beef up the firewall and other edge-protection, and hope nothing gets through; and the compromise is a matter of judgment and risk management, balancing risk against cost and practicalities given limited resources of both staff and cash, and trying to maintain service in something cut to the bone by the current government. It’s worth remembering her that the NHS isn’t the only victim: anyone with finite resources can get hit- so that means basically, all businesses. As complexity increases, the dificulty of keeping it all up to date increases exponentially. Keeping tens of PCs and one server up to date is trivial, hundreds of servers and thousands of PCs with bespoke, complex software is most definitely not.

Finally, spare a thought for the poor NHS sysadmins, fighting this while probably not getting paid, and please, if you’ve suddenly discovered an interest in patching operating systems and are trying to grind a political axe with it, shut the fuck up until you know what you’re talking about.

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