United Kingdom must remain in the European Union

The United Kingdom must stay in the European Union.

A minority of nationalists have told a large number of lies to skew a gerrymandered advisory poll that has been used by a belligerent government to ignore the future of over half of the electorate to protect its parliamentary seats from the minority of nationalists.

The current Prime Minister May does not represent us.

The United Kingdom has done well in the EU and will do well in the EU in the future. It will not do well outside of the EU free trade area. The Government is trying to take away our citizenship of the world’s richest region. It is absurd and will be undone or it will be the undoing of the United Kingdom.

Gmail always marks emails as SPAM due to invalid SPF.

Two parts to this but essentially Gmail will put incoming emails into the Gmail SPAM folder if you have not configured SPF correctly on your sending domain DNS. It will only say,

"Why is this message in Spam? It's similar to messages that were detected by our spam filters. "

Rather than explaining this exactly, and assuming your test email is not written like a ‘409 letter, then your problem is always related to SPF records.

To make sure gmail will deliver emails from your private servers i.e. on your own domain and not a well known public email domain, you MUST have defined the SPF records correctly for your domain.

Here is a list of what can have gone wrong:

Your server uses IPv6. Gmail will default to IPv6 connections if your SMTP handling server has both IPv4 and IPv6. So you MUST add the IPv6 IP address to the SPF record.

You have incorrectly formatted the SPF record e.g. you have accidentally added double quotes around the record when using a web-style DNS record editor on your DNS/registrar.

To see what SPF records gmail found then select the Spam folder in Gmail and click your spammed email and then pick “More” (which is to the right of the display in the Gmail next to the reply button, and then pick “Show Original”.

You need to find the section for SPF and you now need to look for two things,

Authentication-Results: mx.google.com;
       spf=neutral (google.com: 2b01:499:56:1000:54a9:28c6:0:1 is neither permitted nor denied by best guess record for domain of listbounces@bam-monaco.org) smtp.mailfrom=listbounces@bam-monaco.org

A GOOD result is,

Received-SPF: pass (google.com: domain of listbounces@example.org designates 2b01:499:56:1000:54a9:28c6:0:1 as permitted sender) client-ip=2b01:499:56:1000:54a9:28c6:0:1; Authentication-Results: mx.google.com; spf=pass (google.com: domain of listbounces@example.org designates 2b01:499:56:1000:54a9:28c6:0:1 as permitted sender) smtp.mailfrom=listbounces@example.org


Always getting number unavailable with Cisco dial plan

Dial plans are fairly easy to read but there is one little gotcha if you enter in one of these incorrectly: you will always get number unavailable.

You need to make sure that the dial plan you have entered in is valid i.e. it uses the | pipebar for delimiters and has no spurious close brackets ‘)’

The web interlace of a Cisco IP phone does not validate your input.

Enabling WordPress comments

I just enabled WordPress comments on my own personal pages. For the moment I’ve enabled the SI Captcha plugin and to remove the default website link in the comment form I added the urlfilter.php file trick that I found here.

You do not need to be registered to logon but you need a name and email but all comments are moderated.

To retrofit enabling comments to older posts then you go into the All Posts dashboard option, check the box next to the title to select all the posts and then in the Bulk Actions you select Edit and then Apply. This will open a lot of selection and options. Pick the Comments option of Allow and then do Update.

Using multiple avatars and your right to privacy

Over the years we have taught many people to use the Internet and they have gone from nothing to active users. We mainly focus on the older person and they have some very specific usability issues and use cases such as planning and booking flights, booking tickets, booking hotels, buying books/eBooks, movies or music and using VOIP-like systems as well as traditional email.

We’re very proud of getting some people who have never had an email address and who relied on a lot of walking or phoning about to have them being able to plan, book and pay for trips to see their friends; all online from their home. It’s a really nice feeling to get things like videochat going so they can talk and see their grandchildren on the other side of the world or to take and upload photos rather than developing and posting hard copy prints.

Naturally they are fearful of phishing and identify theft and they have a reason to be as they actually have money that could be stolen.

Children have different concerns: Now we don’t have much demand to teach children as that is the other way around – they are taught at school and have no problems with being online, they don’t have much money or credit cards but do have a risk of identity discovery and potential abuse that could follow from that with cyberbullying or people socially engineering them to revealing parent’s details (like parent credit card details).

Our approach is to teach people, old and young, to maintain multiple online identities. We say that they are in control here of their data and not the other system. Make it like a game so the created names are something like an amalgam of characters they like. They also have their real identity that parts are only known to friends they meet in real life and obviously real data needs to be given to companies for credit card purchases or plane tickets but for every other system then use one or more avatars: the decent of a human to the Internet.

This works well with children as they love character acting and especially as every modern electronic gadget wants Internet access. Our own children’s Playstation3 for instance has nothing on it that could ever be of any use to someone socially engineering our children online. Everything from names, dates of birth, address or ZIP/Postcodes, email addresses can and is made up. So who cares ?

Well the government and the online companies seem to care. Their approach is that children need parents permission and they imply that the private data that the person should provide is accurate and that they will keep it safe. Companies want data they can sell that points back to real people and the Government just wants to do whatever governments want to do.

No, sorry, a better approach is for the person, the parent and the child to collude and give out nonsense data that allows them to use a service but the data is of little relevance as data outside of that service. The loss of data by the company becomes irrelevant as the theft has no relationship to the person’s actual physical identity or real person. By getting into a mindset that nothing online is what it seems then you instil the idea of do not trust anything unless you can verify your trust.


Using DNS TXT records to effect EU/UK cookie law

It struck me that the most logical way of expressing what policy you have for a web site for the use of cookies or personal data is to detail this policy within the DNS records that a person (or their device) must look up BEFORE they hit your site. A bit like how SPF records detail email delivery policy for your systems and recipients can use this (or ignore it) when they look at emails that are claimed to be from your domains.

The suggestions of using web page forms or pinch pages or similar requires both the site operator and the site user to do things for no logical and practical gain to either party.

So how would this work ? Well you would add a TXT record that has an expiry and for each CNAME or A record or a default, it would list either a URI to a privacy policy which would include details on cookie use and/or a set of flags on cookie use the URL of the policy is a bit like the CRL within SSL)..

The user, before they visit the web site thus has the opportunity to examine the privacy and cookie use policy without actually visiting the web site.

Actually we know anonymous web site users won’t give two flying ducks about what cookies our web sites use given they probably already use anything from ad blocking software to browsers within virtual machines, but for some bizarre reason the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has managed to gold-plate an equally bizarre EU cookie directive.  Yes the ICO is the same group that gets everyone who handles personal data from babysitters through to government departments to pay either Tier 1 of  £35 or Tier 2 of £500 (if you have 250 or more employees and £25.9 million revenues – yes logic isn’t their strong point) but the ICO doesn’t have an online payments system nor can it take credit/debit cards so you end up having to print out the forms you just filled in online and send those with your cheque or you can use a direct debit from your bank account only they can’t actually do direct debits if you had to pay a Tier 2 £500 fee. In sharp contrast the Companies House that is the regulator and registrar for companies does everything online and you can renew your annual company registration for the grand sum of £14 online as well.

Removing dust from CPU coolers works

I’ve always been loathe to clean the insides of computers but then I have spent most of my life with systems in machine rooms with filtered air. Taking machines down to remove dust bunnies makes no sense in a carrier-grade environment where you prevent dust in the first place and you do anything to protect uptime. The retail-domestic environment is rather different. You can’t filter dust unless you exclude humans and pets as dust is for the most part bits of human i.e. skin that we slough off, as well as dirt, hair and pet fur. Yes, dust is PEOPLE !

So what evidence do I have that it can make a difference ? I now try and log CPU and hard disk temperatures for any machine I manage to my central Pandora FMS system. Microsoft Windows is very poor in exposing the CPU temperature sensors with no proper support at all via WMI so you must rely on 3rd party programs of which few have a command line interface to allow cron-like collection and central logging. GNU/Linux machines on the other hand have the lm-sensors package and that generally works for all modern machines and gives a command-line access to the CPU temperatures (use the hddtemp package for hard disks). Here is a graph of a Ubuntu 11.04 based server we have in a kitchen environment,

About 3 months ago the average CPU temperature was about 30 degrees C (86 F) but this has trended up and was now about 44 degrees C (111 F) when idle. So for a spring-clean I decided to open the case and clean it out. There wasn’t a massive amount of dust but the AMD stock cooler vanes were clogged. Just used a vacuum cleaner to suck up the dust. Hold the CPU cooler fan to stop it from manically spinning around and just put the vacuum cleaner on maximum and pass over the cooler fan. The dust should slowly suck out.

As you can see it made a dramatic change to the CPU temp with a 14 degree C drop  (about 25 F drop). This is now the 3rd retail-domestic machine that I have cleaned and observed the side-effects and it is certainly worthwhile as long as you have recorded the CPU temperature over time to give yourself (and the client) the objective evidence that this is a necessary job.

Print it : Read it : Use it : Flush it.

I saw that someone had created an old style ticker-tape printer for Twitter feeds. I remember the days of 50 baud TELEX systems so there is a nostalgia here but I also remember being electrocuted on frames a few too many times with the +/- 80 VDC signalling that TELEX used from the exchange. That hurt.

A long while ago I thought of printing Wikipedia onto Toilet paper. The ever-changing, ever-growing nature of Wikipedia meant that you would never run out of material. Copyright was simple. Content filtering would be a lot harder. Then I imagined what would happen if someone found their favourite leader, person or icon was pre-printed onto toilet paper and back-burnered this idea.

Perhaps if there was a printer that was made that you could print your own toilet paper at home with your own Wikipedia data, Twitter feeds or even RSS feed. No need to censor as it is your home and it obviously needs no ideas from me for you to think what to print if you’ve spent even a few minutes in the more radical political arenas of the Internet. The more inappropriate and bizarre the political sentiment the more deserving to be printed onto this paper.

Maybe done centrally and you order say a dozen rolls of Political quotes from 1992-2012. Now that is adding value to a commodity !

Anyway just an idea…..

UPDATE: It appears that some else has the same idea – http://www.getshitter.com/ – for printing the toilet paper centrally from your Twitter feeds so I guess the technology to print on demand, rather than a pre-set pattern, must exist in the toilet paper world.

They launched on the 28th March so 4 days after my post here on the Twitter feeds but I see their domain name WHOIS was a month ago so they’re ahead as it’s a real product so great work whoever you are !.

Please sign up to the Companies House eReminder service

The United Kingdom government Companies House has an eReminder service that allows them to send out emails to up to 4 email addresses per company to remind secretaries or directors or other responsible people of legally important filing dates.

To set this go into the Companies House webfiling service and for each of your companies add your email address/es, or if you have an accountant that does this filing then get them to add your email address as one of the recipients. The system sends out a confirmation token to the email address to round-trip the subscription.

If you are a director of a company then you have certain legal duties related to your company. These are encoded in a multi-hundred page law plus more guidelines and regulations. There are a few critical dates and forms to file but this can all be done online in minutes.

The “Companies House” (who is the monopoly registrar of companies in England and Wales) has got a very good electronic system in place but there were a few things (the most important things) that still go via the regular post regarding filing accounts and annual returns. So they have an electronic filing system that allows you to file instantly but the trigger was paper-based letters sent out via the snail-mail post.

Confusion is guaranteed especially as more people think of their company as a virtual entity (well it is a legal fiction even though it is a legal person that has fundamental rights) and that all transactions are done online. With the statistics for missed or late filings then there has always been a background level of late filing and the government has got a reasonable amount of a few million pounds sterling a year from fines. For very large companies with paid accountants this non-filing is probably for strategic reasons to avoid having the financial position of the company revealed but for very small companies this is probably due to lack of staff or just plain forgetfulness.

Since early 2009 the statistics for fines has fluctuated dramatically and I think the Companies House noticed this too or simply saw that the ability to file documents electronically in minutes and yet they send out postal reminders was an illogical use of dead-trees and the eReminder service was launched mid-last year 2011.

If everyone uses this then it should stop or eliminate the accidental penalties and all that will be left will be the deliberate non-compliance, which is what the government is after anyway. The multi-million quid windfalls in fines that the government gets should also drop to a fraction of that.The effectiveness of this should hopefully show up in the statistics that the Companies House has on its web site for late-filing and fines from about last August onwards.

The UK remains a good location to start and run a company, especially a technology company. The ability to form a company in a day on your own for a few pounds and file everything electronically is incomparable to other parts of Europe that maintain a traditional approach of large minimum capital, high legal fees and lots of paperwork.

I just imagined the price of 3D printer “ink” !

I saw an older article on TheRegister.co.uk about Pirate Bay having 3D printer files.  The article and the comments are enthusiastic. Actually just about every article you see on 3D printing is overflowing with excitement. Reality hasn’t happened yet so we can all dream.

I also relish the idea of being able to knock out parts to repair things but with this article (perhaps it is the ‘flu I have)  I had the strangest of thoughts that cascaded around,

We know about how Inkjet printers cost a few dollars but the cartridges cost 10x that amount and how the printer manufacturers fight the re-fillers with chipped OEM cartridges ? Well I envisage 3D printers using the same model of low-cost printer but chipped feedstock containers. Just as printer ink can cost more than the tears of the Unicorns that dance in the moonlight of an enchanted forest so I expect to see feedstock of such cheap material as aluminium and ceramic powders that will cost more than semi-precious gems or silver and gold.

As the general public we know of counterfeit bags and other branded items which the logo is the most important part ? You can easily avoid these if you have no need to buy luxury-brand goods and it is not going to really kill you if you accidentally do get one. Well this counterfeit problem is now going to extend to a vast range of OEM parts such as car, boat, bike and household appliance spare parts. These could cause you injuries.

There has always been a problem with high priced items like aircraft parts but these should be  detected as the supply chain has an established ability to track items from source to destination. But other industries do not have that papertrail.

3D printing will cause emergent behaviours in our social systems and we won’t have a clue what will hit us. until it happens. You just have to be prepared to adapt and evolve.

Once again.

Unintended consequences – shopping bags

Like many we avoid the throwaway plastic shopping bags but have been driven to use the large re-usable ones. But the law of unintended consequences has happened and we now use these reusable bags for so many things we wonder where they have been all our lives,

  • they are great to carry computer desktops. Much easier than by hand but check sizes first.
  • Can be used to carry flat screens as well. Obviously not old CRTs but not many of those left.
  • perfect for network cables and other odds and ends that can’t be carried easily
  • ad hoc toy containers or a solution to clear a desk
  • laundry bags both to and from the washer and onto the line
  • to take recycled bottles and plastic to the the recycling bins
  • wood carriers to bring in firewood

Oh and shopping.



Observations on eBook usability

One interesting if emotional event had happened recently that has helped me understand the advantages and usability disadvantages and my observations about use of eBooks with the terminally ill.

One of my clients was admitted into a hospital and then later moved to a hospice (they have since died) and they had become very attached to their Amazon Kindle prior to their illness as it allowed them to read a large array of books without carrying around kilos of paper. When hospitalised then this certainly was an advantage as they were bedridden for around 3 months until they had died.

They had purchased the Kindle mid last year so I unwittingly ended up looking at a lot of usability issues of this device for older people right through to the day they died albeit with just this one example.

Other than the charging issues which I had blogged about here, the device worked well up until the client started to lose manual dexterity towards the last week of life and the loss of visual acuity around 36 hours before death.  Given all the eBook readers I have seen at the electronic stores have similar delicate and flush controls there is no clear solution here other than someone bringing out a more rugged device with a more chunky (think Steampunk or Industrial-Military) design and no one has done that yet.

The floors at hospitals are always smooth and hard so there is never the chance of a safe landing if the device is dropped. You must put the device in a hard case. The device also has the risk of being crushed or similar with either the patient or the nurses moving the patient so a hard cover that is visible is neccessary. The client had commented on the case I got that “Pity it was dark”; again this is an issue of visual acuity in finding the device on the bedside or bed covers. Modern beige, greys or black are not the best – it needs to be bright and eye-catching – maybe just retro-fit sticky fluorescent safely tape to the case ?

The device case or cover can’t be smooth plastics and slip out of fingers or slide off surfaces so a high-friction surface is needed but equally the device case or cover will get food on it so it must be a wipe-clean surface.

The electronic ink has a good contrast and the ability to scale fonts is certainly essential to help readability and I understand pretty well all eBook readers do this though towards the very end you will find that the client (patient) may significantly lose vision and cannot read at all. I don’t think there is much that technology can do to overcome this but it would be a helpful feature if you could get a reading summary or statistics page that detailed what was read e.g. as pages/words per session. I had to make a guess based on what the screen was on and what the percentages were of the books being read – based on the completion bars but I was only guessing. Even a basic statistics screen to allow per-session and/or per-day page flip counts would be extremely useful objective feedback to help provide an early warning of changes in the client’s (patient) mental or physical wellbeing.

Other ideas I had were that it would be nice if the reading spot light in the hospital room could come on automatically when the eBook was turned on (I was thinking infrared remote  – this could be aft-market in the retro-fitted case – and uniquely key-coded lights a bit like X10 – IR shouldn’t interfere with medical devices). I though that because the client had to fish around for the light controls and get those right and then find the eBook: I believe that technology should anticipate what you want to do thus if you pick up the eBook then you want to read so you want the reading lights on.

When the patient wanted a new book it was hard to work out what they wanted and how to get it to the device. If the online web site could also have a printed book listings with codes (including QR codes) so you could print out a cheat-sheet of new and related books for your client and then give those to them to choose. They can then decide and you can then buy and download via, for example, your mobile phone. Not all hospitals have WIFI built-in to rooms but cell phones usually work somewhere though they like you to turn them off in places but you’ll get service in public places – if the eBook was tethered to the cell (even if it was via USB or Bluetooth bridge) then this could be a way of synchronising the eBook with new material. The Kindle Whispernet is a good idea and worked well even on GPRS but navigation is naturally hard for the patient and the Whispernet is only Amazon’s not eBooks in general. Just ideas for now.

Pancakes and queues.

I like cooking food: from small meals for one to large multi-course meals for a party, food cooking to me is not just the fun of preparing food but it is also a good way to experience queue theory and project management in a physical way beyond spreadsheets and gantt charts..

A good cook is a good project manager. Delivering a meal is not only an exercise in the skill of preparing the ingredients but it is very much an exercise in timing deliverables. Not much use if your perfectly prepared fish is now waiting for the rice or vegetables to finish cooking or for the salad leaves to be washed.

Same with queue theory:one off productions don’t usually hit queue theory but when you start to make a batch of repeat items then quite naturally you will want to make this more efficient and prepare the food as a queue.

I was making pancakes on the weekend and to speed up the delivery rate I use two fry-pans but rather than cooking two pancakes in parallel i.e. two servers, I decided to cook the pancakes as a pipeline i.e. a series of two servers but the service time for each server is halved. Start off the pipeline by cooking one side of the first pancake on one fry-pan and then when that first side is ready I flip that into the second fry-pan.

The first fry-pan then gets the side one of the next pancake and so on. This allows me to fine-tune the quality of the pancake i.e. the deliverable, on the second fry-pan and ideally the “goodput” i.e. the throughput of actual pancakes should be at a mean departure rate that is the worse-case time taken to cook one side.

We don’t have two gas hobs with the same flame rate so used the medium flame on the first fry-pan and a lower flame on the second thinking that it should suffice.

Within 1 pancake the pipeline was stalling. The second pan was taking too long to cook properly and so I had to take the first pan with a waiting 1/2 cooked pancake off the heat. I had to put the second fry-pan onto a larger hob and so the cooking time for the second side was now faster but the second fry pan after 1 round was now waiting for the first one to finish the first side.

The lesson here is that a pipeline is as efficient as the worse-case service time of all the servers in the pipeline. If any server stalls then the whole pipeline stalls and if any server is too fast then it ends up being idle.

A better strategy for pancakes if you have multiple fry-pans is to cook all of each pancake in each frypan and not try and pipeline the cooking steps unless you can guarantee an equal cooking time for each step,

They tasted great though in the end even if the queuing strategy that was chosen was wrong for this kitchen environment. By the way – the recipe I use is just a scaled up version of the BBC one here though I don’t use butter as a grease but just use a non-stick pan.

Scribus 1.4 has been released on 1st Jan 2012

We use Scribus a lot – in the past year we have set two commercial trade paperback books, designed numerous A5/6 sized cards (both for charity and retail), newsletters for clients and 3-folds – so I think it is fair to put in a kind word for something that is Free and Open Source.

After 4 years since the last release, Scribus is now at release 1.4. See their release note here – http://wiki.scribus.net/canvas/1.4.0_Release

We’ve been using the beta version for the past year so it should be stable enough for production work. We’ll see and I’ll be upgrading our machines and producing a client e-mail newsletter as our first use of this new release.

Keep up the good work Scribus team !

Address collision on range extended LAN after re-numbering main LAN

Client had decided to change ADSL provider. They got sent a new ADSL modem and I had to install this. The modem didn’t need any configuring as it was ready-to-go out of the box but its default LAN that it allocated  DHCP was rather than the old LAN of

The client site has a SITECOM AP on this LAN and in another part of the building, a Belkin WIFI universal range extender that extended the WIFI. I had power cycled the SITECOM AP as it got its internet facing IP address from the DHCP server in the ADSL modem, but I never rebooted the range extender as it is in another part of the building and shouldn’t need to be rebooted.

The laptop that connects via the range extender was working fine but every few minutes Windows complained about an address collision.  The laptop is the only device on this range extender. The fix was easy – power cycled the range extender.  So though it shouldn’t need this as it’s using the different address space of the SITECOM AP (which is doing NAT), it did actually need doing.