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.

Bracing

November 4th, 2017

We’ve been away to Llandudno (again). In November. Traditionally, we’ve headed to sunnier climes at this time of year, but with a reluctance to be in a metal cylinder of bastards (run by airlines that may go bust) and an expensive roofing bill, we economised a little.

We might not have had the weather, but the travel is much easier when you’re in control: a leisurely drive up the A41/A55 saw us in Pensarn for lunch at 1:30, then in Llandudno and our rather nice holiday cottage by 3pm, and on the pier with a drink by 4. Given our timing (Saturday November 4), there were fireworks, too- and while the promenade was crowded, the pier was a great place to watch:

Fireworks from Llandudno pier

So what of the rest of the week? Unsurprisingly, pubs were involved. We went and checked out the highlights of Rhyl (nowhere near as bad as memory told me it was- in fact, for a cold day in Novenber not bad at all) and the lowlights of Towyn (seemingly endless caravan parks and “fun” pubs) on the way. We went to Colwyn Bay to see the ongoing dismantling of the pier, and discovered that my memories of the town as being a little grim were unfounded and unreasonable, and that, on foot, the seperation of town from promenade by the A55 isn’t anything like as bad as you’d think. The local bus service made all this easy: I know Arriva come in for stick from Andy, but the service between the North Wales coastal towns was reliable, frequent, and reasonably priced.

We wandered up and down Llandudno’s pier a few times, managed to get on the Orme Tramway for its last day of running (apparently, it is steep. Also apparently, the station labelled “Halfway Station” is approximately half way up. I only know this thanks to fellow passengers remarking upon that several times).

We also had the joy of a Holiday Cat.

Holiday Cat

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.