Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Amazing

It turns out that the algorithms for creating a maze are quite diverse and complicated - wikipedia has much on this.

Basically, I have done it again - I found something that looks cool on thingiverse and decided to take it to the limit and do it myself. The thing was a simple labyrinth box. It was quite cool.

So I thought I would give it a try, and the issue is not really the actual 3D artwork and OpenSCAD stuff, it is the maze itself. How to make a maze that is challenging. Instead of a fixed thing that has a maze, I wanted a random maze so each one is different. OpenSCAD cannot quite manage that. So I used the source (Luke) and wrote C to make OpenSCAD.

The first thing is that this maze inherently wraps, i.e. mostly a maze is in a simple rectangle, but this is on a cylindrical shape so the X axis wraps. Easy enough for the maze generation logic.

My initial thought, and how I have made mazes before, is you have a path from origin and a point moves randomly where it can (i.e. to an empty cell). If it finds it cannot move at all it back tracks. This is a very simple algorithm to fill the whole space of a maze with no loops. The "no loops" part is pretty common as a basic principle. Maybe I'll deliberately throw in a loop some time.

My concern was that this made a maze that was going to be too simple. Or that did not "look nice", so I added a few variations.

For a start, when moving, I made a bias to continuing in a straight line rather than left or right. 25% of the time it continues, else it is random (including continuing). This makes for nice long runs in the maze.

I then added a bias for back-tracking even when not a dead end. This did make the maze more interesting but created a lot of one unit blind dead ends which are annoying and boring. You want your blind dead ends to be "interesting" and so long.

So I started again and made it that a set of all cells in the maze with somewhere to go, are picked from at random to continue the maze. This is not following the last point and backtracking, it is saying we have a set of points that can move, and picking one and moving.

This created a lot of short blind paths, hmmm... OK next trick was to add a random bias to use the last added point and continue from there, but not all of the time (just 75%). This made much longer blind runs which is what I wanted. I actually made it wander like this 100% initially until it hit a dead end or the top layer, then 75% leaving 25% of the time it picks any node at random to continue from making a fork.

Finally the trick was to then make the exit at the top the cell where it is the longest path from the start. This helped avoid accidentally having a straight line from start to finish or something that simple.

I am actually quite pleased with the result, which you can find at thingiverse. It is interesting how slight biases and choice of algorithm can massive change the nature and appearance of a maze.

P.S. You will note that there are a number of example STL files on that thingiverse entry. Obviously, as I have been tinkering, changing the artwork slightly, and changing the maze design logic slightly, I have wanted to update the thingiverse entry. But this is a set of about 10 designs as examples, so a tad tedious to load each one in to OpenSCAD and make an STL file. Thankfully OpenSCAD (even on a Mac) has a command line option, so with a simple script (and waiting several minutes) I can make a set of files automatically!

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Stereotyping?

So, we have a case of someone feeling they should mow down a group of muslims praying, and why? Presumably because it was muslims that did something nasty last time.

This logic is terrible, and if you follow the same logic forward, the logic used for all race and religious hatred, you must now panic at the sight of a white van man!

On my drive right now, we have two of them (carpenter and decorator), so that must be terrifying to the neighbours!


If people can see that such a comment makes no sense, how can they not see that such comments about muslims or any other race or religious group are just as daft.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Controversy of empty London buildings

After the Grenfell Tower fire there have been interesting questions raised in the news, and these are seen as Labour vs Tory, but are not so simple I am sure.

The issue, it seems, is there are many empty houses in London for various reasons, and there have been some calls to force those to be used to house people stranded after the fire.

Before I am start on my musings on this issue it is worth pointing out that this question should not have come up, surely?
  1. It should not have happened - no way a tower block should catch like this - we have building codes, and health and safety nightmare legislation for a reason.
  2. Why can the council simply not cope - it is a building managed for the council - but there has to be some fire insurance, and anyway the council must have contingencies to take care of people in an emergency, surely? The council can pay for people to be in hotels if needed. The landlord should surely have some responsibility for this?
But, rants aside, my thoughts here are really on the issue of empty houses, and the idea of commandeering them to house people in this emergency.

Owning property is a right!

The issue comes down to basic rights to own property. If you own a house, whether you are living there or not, you have rights. We have basic concept of property rights in this country. These will always be unfair by their very nature - i.e. if I own a thing (whether an empty house in London or a Mars bar) and you need it, but cannot afford to pay for it, then that is a problem. If you are starving and I have a Mars bar, do I have a moral obligation to give it to you? Probably, unless I am starving, or I was going to give it to someone else who is starving and giving it to you would deprive them. Ethics and morals are hard, aren't they. Even so, however unfair property rights are, they do exist, and we do not want to abandon them on a whim or even an emergency like this.

So what does it mean? Well, we do have laws that curtail some property rights. There are rights over monopoly control of things, where people can set any price they like as they own all of something. There are rules for landlords even when they own the properly (rules that should make them responsible for helping tenants out in cases like this I am sure). But we only curtail these basic rights in very rare cases. Is this such a rare case where new laws should apply?

Emergencies only?

One thought is some sort of emergency measures arrangement - where something like this would be some sort of special case. But that is complicated. There are around 600 homeless after the fire. So is 600 homeless people an emergency deserving a law allowing homes to be commandeered? Seems legit, until you realise that "Shelter calculates that 170,000 people are homeless in London today" so if 600 is an emergency we would have a permanent emergency and nobody would want to have an empty house in London. Indeed, anyone investing in London property would take down the house, or make it uninhabitable, so they avoid this special emergency legislation. Such a law would not actually help...

Of course, if you do allow houses to be taken over, how far do you go. Does everyone with an empty bedroom have to take on an otherwise homeless stranger? Where would you draw the line?

But some people want to help!

This is good news, there are builders that have finished flats and houses about to go on the market but offering for free as an interim measure. Apparently this is an issue, as anyone taking such a place apparently gets taken off the council housing list to find somewhere (as they have somewhere now!). This is bad for them, and the person offering the temporary accommodation.

In fact, it is hard to offer temporary accommodation without issues with sitting tenants or squatters that you cannot get rid of. Normally this is good for tenants - having strong laws to help them. But this is probably the very reason why there are lots of empty houses. If renting them out was a "safe" thing to do, people would do it and make more. Sadly, if they do, then selling their investment property is harder - they have to find someone prepared to take over the tenant or some way to get rid of them, so simpler to keep the place empty. There is, perhaps, the real problem here.

Maybe we need some type of tenancy where you have a fixed term and an absolute right to evict at the end of that time, come what may, but not a moment before. That would allow a very clear cut arrangement, a house for 3 months, but not a day more unless you are offered an extension. Safe for landlord - no messing with court orders, etc, just evict - and safe for the tenant as he knows where they stand and has security for that fixed period.

Of course, if such tenancy agreements existed, they would be used all the time, so that is not good. Maybe an arrangement like this could work where there is zero rent. People would only offer such arrangements in emergencies like this, but would not be hindered, or stuck with squatters, if they do offer generosity like this.

To be clear here, I am not saying that people will stitch up someone being kind, but they may find themselves with no choice. If you are homeless today, offered a house for 3 months, and then find the only option is being homeless again you may choose to become a squatter if that is allowed or at least prolongs your stay. If the alternative is being homeless for those 3 months instead, surely it is better to have someone prepared to offer somewhere, even on a short term arrangement like that?

Is there a solution?

The issue is people feel it really unfair that there are so many empty houses, and so many homeless (not just because of the fire). Maybe the existing legal framework is skewed just a tad too far towards the tenant? Maybe if there were some changes that could make it sensible for people with empty houses to rent them out then we would not have empty houses. It may simply be a case where the law has pushed too far in favour of one side of a commonly adversarial contractual arrangement (tenancy) to the ultimate detriment of both parties, and hardship of potential tenants.

Conclusion

Needless to say, I once again think the issue is not the symptom we see (empty houses) but what legal and economic framework resulted in that being a sensible thing to come about. That is what needs fixing, not the symptom. People need to "take a step back" a little more often.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Much better motion blur using Final Cut Pro

Thanks for the feedback on the last blog post.

I agree, it looked way too ghosty, and I have finally worked out why.

If you want to do this, you need to be a bit careful with the settings, and also a bit careful with believing what people say on the various Final Cut tutorial videos.

You use Motion to create a Final Cut Title.


You then do a few simple steps:-

  • Remove the text element - we are just showing the "background"
  • In "Render", click "Motion Blur"
  • In "Projects", "Inspector", "Properties", set motion blur samples and shutter angle.
  • Save it with a suitable name for Final Cut to see it as a title effect

Some experimentation confirms what I understood. I am applying this to a sped up video. In my case 60x normal speed. So I set 60 samples and 360° shutter. What this does is for each frame of output it merges all 60 frames of original creating a smooth motion blur effect in that one frame the same as if this was actually a 60/25 (2.4s) second exposure for that one frame. This is the effect I actually wanted.

So what did I do wrong?

Firstly the various tutorial videos say the duration of the title effect does not matter, so I made a 10 second (the default) duration effect. I placed it over my (sped up) video, and stretched to fit (in this case, 3 minutes).

What I did not realise is that stretching the effect meant that it stretched the sampling. Each output frame was indeed merged from 60 input frames, but the sampling time period had been stretched 18 times, meaning that it spread over not 2.4 seconds of original (which makes one 1/25th second output frame) but over 43 seconds of original, moving 2.4 seconds forward each frame. Hence the rather odd ghosting effect.

The solution was to make an effect that was 3 minutes long and not to stretch it!

Is there another way?

One of the tutorial videos said to set the effect to loop one frame before its end. Presumably to make a 10 second effect, that when stretched, did not stretch the sampling.

It worked for the 1st 10 seconds, but unfortunately this simply meant the video looped every 10 seconds.

Maybe there is some other setting to define the way the title effect works when stretched, I may have a play.

How did it look?

Here are the three videos again.





Saturday, 17 June 2017

Time lapse and motion blur (Final Cut)

I have a slight dilemma with my new camera. It can record for about two hours because (a) the 256G card I have records about that and (b) the battery lasts about that long.

So, if I want a time lapse I have to change battery every 2 hours or so anyway, so may as well change memory card. Hence not a lot of point in recording in "time lapse" in the first place unless I can connect some mains power to the camera. There may be cases where that is sensible and the time lapse feature in the camera makes sense.

However, for now, I figured I may as well record in real time, and then make a time lapse in Final Cut Pro. It is very simple to tell it to speed up a clip.

There is a down side, the time it takes to transfer and process 256GB of data at a time, and so on. However, I think Final Cut Pro could do a better job than the simple time lapse.

The first thing that occurred to me is that the time lapse would be good if it did a proper "motion blur" on the images. So if I am doing 60x time lapse, process 60 frames to make a motion blur for each frame.

It turns out that whilst this is not a native feature of Final Cut Pro, it is a feature of the titling functions. So by buying the "Motion" system, and creating a text title with no text in it and set to do motion blur as a feature, I can overlay that on the sped up video. Yes, it is complicate to make it (and you can google for videos of how to do it), but it works.

Down side it that it takes a while, well, especially if you do 60 samples at 60x speed like I am. It takes a very long time! I need a faster machine (roll on December, Apple).

But the result is impressive.

So first the non motion blur video - which is as you might expect - still very good :-



And now the motion blur version :-



As you can see, quite a difference. It makes for a very different time lapse, and looks ghosty - see next post for the fix!

So, when the do eventually start building the actual climbing frame, etc, I should be able to make a nice time lapse.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

I am me

I have been pondering a bit on "identity"...

This is not a simple matter, and mostly I am looking at this through the eyes of the techie. The way in which one identifies a user of a computer, for example. But it is a bit more complex than that.

Roles

One issue is that we often play many roles. In some cases the concept of an "identity" in a computer system may sensibly apply to a role that a person plays, such as "The System Administrator". Even the role in a company, such as "Managing Director". For a lot of systems there may be a role that persists beyond changes of the person taking on that role. Ideally in a computer system you want "identity" to actually relate to a person, and have a separate linkage of that person to the role they play, currently - a linkage that can change later. A lot of systems do not quite work like that.

Even knowing my identity, I have many roles I play when interacting with systems. If all systems could have the same way to actually establish my identity first and then see which roles may apply to them, that would be "neater" in many ways. At present, each system, even those that understand roles as separate from identity, have to have identity recognition which is separate to each other system.

In an ideal world we would be able to identify ourselves in some simple and consistent way to any system. We would not then need multiple logins and passwords. Such systems are an ideal which is fraught with issues though when it comes to sharing information and trusting third parties.

Multiple realms

Even so, we each may want more than one logical identity. This is not simply different roles, but we live our lives in different circles. Some times we may have almost completely separate lives. I am not talking actual multiple personality issues as a mental disorder here (though that raises some huge issues for "identity" management), but simply the multiple roles we all have in our lives.

For most of us we have "work" and "home" at least as two disconnected sets of people. We may be known by different names even (a nick name at home and family?). With social media we may have totally different lives and groups of people that know us in a different way as they are on one platform or another. Some even have multiple "handles" on social media platforms. Some of us have very different personalities in different social circles even. When you then look at "gaming" we have people that have totally different personas and roles in a context of a different group of people unconnected with their "real" lives.

The fact we can have many distinct social groups and ways in which we interact is also an issue for "identity". We may not even want those circles to be able to overlap - i.e. we do not want someone in one circle to be able to identify us in another circle.

That concept - a social compartmentalisation privacy requirement, would be a hard thing for any "real" identify requirement on computer systems.

Such separation may be even more important for people who have requirements to operate in socially distinct groups - I am thinking largely of those with sexual preferences that may still have stigma and prejudice. We see people that are homosexual finally finding themselves able to declare that to the world, but this is not the only social grouping where distinct identities may have been required in the past and may be required in the future. There will always be prejudice, and even political viewpoints may create distinct social circles which people seek to be kept separate.

I think "social compartmentalisation privacy requirement" may be a concept that the law has yet to understand or even recognise. I do not think it even comes under privacy rights at UN or EU where a right to a private family life may come in. The right to multiple independent lives/identities may not be a thing yet!

Such rights would mean ensuring individuals can maintain multiple independent "identities" within identification systems that emerge over time. Even to the extent of multiple "identity cards" if such things become a reality in the UK ever.

Of course such systems need some what to not allow someone to operate as multiple people, e.g. when it comes to voting or legal liability for crimes.

Identity cards

One thing occasionally called for is identify cards. These serve to create a record in a database, a national database typically, that associates a person in real life with that record and then associates various attributes to that record such as name, address, date of birth, and so on.

The issue is guaranteeing that the actual physical person can uniquely be linked to the record and the record can be linked to the person in a very one to one association. No chance of one person having no ID card or having more than one ID card. This is a challenge.

It would, however, distill the person to one identity, and so break that concept of any privacy between realms.

Fingerprints and the like

There are ways to identify an actual physical person, and these are typically called biometrics.

This is where you get close to a system to ensure a record in a database has a one to one link to an actual person and ties up their "identity" to that one record.

However for the concept of identity theft, where someone claims to be you, these have a big issue that you cannot revoke them or change them. Any system that can be fooled by a fake fingerprint is a problem as you cannot change your fingerprint once compromised.

Such biometrics only work if the actual sensing technology cannot be fooled, and that is not entirely the case yet.

DNA

DNA is, in effect, the holy grail of identity - as everyone has a different DNA. There are, however two big holes in this. Firstly DNA checks usually look for markers and not your entire sequence. Even so, that is probably good enough to identify a unique individual. The second issue, and big fly in the ointment is identical twins, who share the same DNA. So close, but so far. I can almost see a world where identical twins are banned (kill all but one?) or legally treated as the same person sharing the same debts and crimes.

Also, if you believe one of the episodes of CSI (and why not?), you can get people with Chimera DNA where they have two separate sets of DNA in their body. I suspect a Chimera where one set of DNA is shared with an identical twin is almost (but not quite) impossible.

Even so, for most people, a DNA profile to tie to an identity record is pretty final - you cannot escape that identity match.

When identity is not actually simple

There will be special cases, and these have been a challenge for law I believe.

One is, of course, a proper multiple personality disorder. Should each personality have their own "identity" if they can act independently?

Another is Siamese twins, where you may have two people in one body - again, do they get distinct identities.

In both cases you have a challenge if one of the two has debts or crimes, and punishment cannot only apply to one!

Law and order

Obviously, ultimately, law has to handle identity. Your identity is you, the person (baring complications as I mention above). If you committed a crime, you pay the price, not someone else. It matters not what your name is or your address or what a record says is your date of birth.

Identity is all about matching one thing to another. Matching a real person to some record of their actions, such as committing a crime (a fingerprint at the scene, etc).

I am me

You get things like PGP signing events where people sign other people's keys.

At the end of the day they are saying this "tag", or "attribute" matches some other "attribute". Ultimately this person that has in their mind the memory of the pass phrase for this secret key is associated with this "identity" such as a name or address or DOB...

I have said before in such cases, I am me. I do not need a passport to prove I am me, all that does is associate a name, DOB and passport number with me. I am me, here, now, I will enter pass phrase for this key, so you can see this key is mine (or a gullible friend's key) - take a picture if you like and link that to the key - that is one way to identify me the person in front of you...

Identity comes down to the ways we address real people - linking that addressing (name, twitter handle, whatever) to a real person. And such things are improving all of the time.

Allowing a person to legally maintain more than one identity (even if not for crime or debt or voting) is a challenge we may not have considered fully.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Why you need exactly TWO 3D printers...

As I am sure you know we have a 3D printer. We have a Makerbot Replicator II at the office. But we also have a TAZ 6 which I have at my home office. Whilst the company does not (yet) do a lot of contract 3D printing, we have found them useful in the business from time to time. The jobs we have done are quite diverse! Some jobs are better on the TAZ 6 but most are done on the Makerbot. Here, I have tried to hone my skills in design and printing using a 3D printer with the side effect of my grandson getting some interesting toys and learning aids. These skills mean we can consider a 3D printed part in the next FireBrick even, something we would not have done if we did not understand 3D printing I expect.

Only this week, my grandson got a wooden train set to play with, but found the bridge sections simple fell down as nothing was there to hold them in place. Within around half an hour I had designed and printed a clip to hold in place. It really is quite an amazing world in which we live. It is amazing the world he is growing up to, where this sort of thing may be really "normal"?!

Yesterday, whilst printing something, I heard a crack, and then another. I then realised the print was not working. It took me a moment to spot, but a part on the printer had snapped and was coming apart. The broken part is the idler which holds a bearing which applies pressure to the filament as it passes a knurled bolt to feed the filament in to the extruder. Without enough pressure the filament does not feed properly.

So I googled, and found the part on-line, and loaded it to print. It nearly worked - printing on the broken printer, but sadly in the end the part finally came completely apart.



What a lot of people do not realise is how many parts of the typical 3D printer are actually 3D printed.

Having failed, this is where you realise you do need two 3D printers. I printed a replacement part at work, in PLA (well, Andrew printed it for me). It worked, but I did print another in PLA straight away just in case. Once you have a second 3D printer you can always print spare parts for either printer! I suppose you could have a full set of spare parts pre-printed, but that is sort of having a second 3D printer anyway!


My concern was that the original was a much stronger plastic, ABS. I can print ABS (on this printer) but don't have any in stock. I don't know if PLA will last. However, having managed to print one extra spare, I printed one in carbon fibre fill filament. It is very light, but very strong, and slightly soft (sounds like toilet roll when I say it like that). I expect it will not snap. If it does, I have PLA spares.


Sunday, 11 June 2017

Right and Left

Another one on politics.

I grew up living in a flat over a shop - my parents ran their own business. The world in which I grew up was one of doing things for yourself, making money for yourself, and not relying on the state.

I have always found ways to make money - even as a child I would fix things for people for a fee, and even when I got jobs I would sell things on the side. A bit of a DelBoy in some ways. I sold landline phones. I sold mobile phones. I sold ISDN phone systems. I eventually gave up working for an employer, and went contracting, and eventually started A&A. Now I employ tens of people and reap the benefits of doing so, where I can. Even so, I feel a sense of social responsibility for ensuring my staff are well enough paid and happy before I pay off my mortgage.

I have always been keen on the free market and the idea of trying to make my own money, and if possible, keeping as much of that as I can. To a large extent I still am.

As a result I voted Conservative. It seemed to fit. The alternative was a much more socialist view, where we all work to a common community.

Now, I am not against the socialist principles, to an extent. There are many that need the support of the community, and I pay a lot of tax in various ways to that end. Ironically my own kids end up on the receiving end of socialist benefits in various ways, and so does my own Mother who is going in to care.

What has lost it for me voting for Conservatives is the other aspect of such a facist government. The monitoring and snooping on everyone, and the expulsion of those that do not fit (immigrants). This is not what I want. I am happy to have my privacy. I am happy to compete with anyone, not just the select few in the UK. I am happy that I make my own money to a large extent and pay some to social society. But I am not happy about the snooping and xenophobia. Why is that, and a police state, associated with being on the far right?

So I wonder, what political party supports a largely capitalist society but not a facist one, and still supports some socialist ideals to ensure the worst off in society have the help they need?

Is it too much to ask?

Who is that?

Politics

I can't help feeling that it would be the time to blog something about the current political situation.

The problem I have is that I really have no bloody idea what the hell is going on. Am I alone? Does Theresa May have any more clue? This is not a lack of news sources, but a lack of any sanity in what seems to be going on.

I was shocked at the idea of the DUP in a coalition with Tories - it made no sense, and now we hear it is probably breaking Good Friday agreement (sounds plausible), and then that non English votes will not help for much of the English laws Theresa May would like to enact (also sounds plausible).

We have the constant attack on the Internet as the cause, or enablers, of terrorist attacks. Not roads. Not white vans. Not pink ceramic knives from Lidl. No, attack the Internet! The only reason the Internet is involved is because it is the current sensible way to communicate. IRA managed quite well before the Internet. If we did not have it, we would be seeing political attacks on the telephone or postal services being used. It is nonsense, and stupid. Someone needs to tackle the issues and the reasons for the attacks happening in the first place, not how they happen!

We have this crazy "who actually won" discussion because of the hung parliament.

We have the "Made a deal with DUP" and "Starting discussion next week with DUP" - maybe even misleading the Queen (treason?).

In many ways, having an effective opposition that can challenge the more extreme views of the government, and only pass laws we all agree on, is a good idea. Sadly that would not revoke some of the recent nasty laws either.

I am shocked that Theresa May is still in charge, and expect that to change soon. Seriously, are they going to have to physically manhandle her out of number 10? Has she learned the stubbornness from Trump?

I was not surprised Trump chickened out - the threats of a lot of people mooning him, I think. Or has he, or is the trip postponed until after the impeachment, or what? Hard to be sure. Conflicting news on that one too.

All I can say is that now we don't have Batman to save us - is all hope lost?

Bandwidth

I am sat here in my "man cave" on a Sunday afternoon, watching netflix (working through TNG again). Well, technically, I am doing some work, and trying to fix a 3D printer, and I have netflix on as well.

This uses a lot of bandwidth, but at least I am here and watching the TV, so probably not "wasteful".

I just went to the kitchen to make a coffee, and found that my wife had left "internet radio" playing on the iPad in the kitchen. Nobody listening to it. She has gone shopping.

She is using way less bandwidth than I, but it felt "wrong".

I remember when internet radio would easily use all of the bandwidth of an ISDN channel whilst tying up a port that is supposed to be shared with dozens of other people - it cost money and was using a shared resource.

Even just a few years ago, running internet radio all day would use up a significant share of backhaul and transit bandwidth - making you a high usage user. One of the classic ways to accidentally run up high usage or extra charges in an office would be someone running an internet radio, having later turned down the volume, and forgotten about it.

Times have moved on, and the average usage per customer, and part of a typical package, allows internet radio with no problem, and can even allow watching streaming TV most of the day and still be well within usage levels. Watching TV would still make people a "high usage user" compared to the average, but not the end of the world. We have packages allowing a terabyte a month now for a fixed price.

So I was pondering why the unattended iPad in the kitchen seemed wrong to me, and the best analogy I can come up with is water supply.

We have no water meter in this house - so we pay a fixed price for water, however much we use. There is no major water shortage in the UK, usually, so I have no issue with having a shower every day, the occasional bath, or flushing the toilet! But in spite of all of that I would not run a tap down the sink all day. It would be "wrong", because the water is a shared resource. If we all did that it would not work. It felt like leaving streaming music playing on the iPad was running water down the sink, if you see what I mean. No costs to worry about, but felt "wrong".

I am sure the time will come soon when such notions just seem like a total nonsense when it comes to Internet access. A time when my notions of wasting bandwidth seem strange and hard to understand.

Even now, my "feeling" on this is skewed - leaving the TV playing for the few minutes whilst I made that coffee is probably worth hours of leaving the music playing on the iPad. It is strange how we create these biases.

But I bet there are a lot of people who have no "feeling" for using bandwidth being like using water in the first place (as well as those that have no worries about wasting water either).

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Boiler plate text on emails

You would think solicitors know better...

You are prohibited from reading this message unless and until you have read and agreed to the ****** Solicitors communication terms, which are deemed incorporated in this message.

Yes, that is right, you have to read (part of) the message to get to the bit telling you that you are prohibited from reading the message.

In order not to be prohibited you have to read and agree the terms which are incorporated in the message which you are prohibited from reading. So even if you consider that boiler plate text not to be part of the message, the terms are explicated stated as being incorporated in the message, the one you are prohibited from reading.

So to agree to the terms and not be prohibited from reading the message you absolutely have to have broken those terms already and ignored a prohibition.

AFAIK there is no way to "prohibit someone from reading a message". Even copyright law does not cover that, i.e. they have no "right" to prohibit reading a message and there is no consequence for ignoring their made up prohibition.

I cannot see how you could be deemed to have accepted their terms either, given that you have to ignore them in order to read and accept them in the first place.

Why do they do it?

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Vote!

Agree with my views, or don't agree. Whichever. Please go out and vote tomorrow.

Ideally please, THINK ABOUT IT, and don't just vote because it is the way you always have or the way your parents did. Please THINK about the issues, and make a decision, and vote.

And remember, using social media, you will see a view that is selected by you, and is not representative. You will see a lot of biased news, what your friends pick to share. It is worth trying to find impartial and factual sources of information if you can.

Unlike the lottery, you don't have to be in it to win it - the result of the election impacts you whether you voted or not. Better to vote and try and influence your future.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Social media bubble

One of the interesting concepts of the modern age is that we all live in our own social media bubble.

With broadcast media on the decline (I have not watched traditional TV in years) and news spread by social media, and the likes of FaceBook and Twitter, we all see a different viewpoint.

The idea is simple, to me, almost all of my "friends" and followers on twitter and Facebook mostly agree with my views. That is why I select or tolerate them being "friends".

This is because I, and they, choose their associations and create this "bubble" of "like minded" people.

The problem is we have no voice, or ear, outside our bubble, and we see the world as those inside that bubble. It is an odd situation.

I do have a few "friends" that are there because of historic or geographic perspective, e.g. a brother of someone I knew at school and a relative of someone that was in the same place for CB radio when I was any university. They are outside my "perspective bubble" due to pure geography and timing. Even so, they often appear on social media to me as outliers. They have unexpected views.

They will all have their own social media bubble.

So, what is the implication of this?

Well, there are people that think alike and communicate and associate together. But there is no system of government, even within the geographic confines of a country, that works to address this. We do not see the MP for facebook bubble "likes RevK", do we? And maybe we should?

Maybe the differing social "bubbles" should have their own constituencies, with voters choosing the group with which they associate? Maybe we should be able to choose to vote for virtual constituencies within the UK rather than where we physically live.

After all, for local services we can vote on the local council. But for governing the country we need more virtual constituencies and a choice of where we vote?

If we have to have constituencies, and MPs, why not allow EVERYONE in the UK to select the group in which they vote? It would quickly align with social media bubbles and allow some more representative central government.

Pen & Paper cryptography - people always have a safe place to communicate

I have covered this before (here), but, like a bad penny, these arguments keep coming back. The have been cropping up for decades, and the latest rants from Theresa May on regulating the Internet are no different.

So time to bring it up again, and I have updated the video. Please do watch, and maybe show to your MP when you have one.

Update: We are having some work done and my carpenter was around, he saw me working on the video and pulled up a chair to watch it all the way through. That is rare for me as I am a bit techie, but does suggest that even if you are not techie, this is an informative and maybe slightly amusing video - so do watch.

Basically, this explains the very simple method of pen & paper cryptography. Proper school boy stuff. No, I did not invent it, it is old, and simple, and uncrackable, and does not need a computer! It is a simple one-time-pad.

You can't ban it, or stop it, and it shows that the end game of whack-a-mole over controlling terrorist use of encryption is they can still do this, and you can never win. So let's stop playing now and concentrate efforts in other places (some more funding for police may be a good start).


Sunday, 4 June 2017

Extremism

I am going to try and discuss some difficult topics here. I do not profess to be an expert on foreign policy or politics or even religion, so I hope I have not got this too wrong. I usually try to avoid religion if I can, simply because of the impossibility of a reasoned and rational debate on the matter, in most cases.

We are now seeing calls for banning of extremism. The wiping of such things from social media.

Now, I think I know where they are going with this. My understanding is that there are groups of people that not only have their own political agenda, but are actually quite good at "indoctrinating" people - so much so that they manage to create suicide bombers and suicide "mad stabbing rampage" nutters even, as we saw yesterday. Somehow people who may otherwise be normal and rational have managed to be convinced to take radical, and life threatening steps, in the name of some belief they now hold.

This is quite scary. It shows the power of such things, and is part of a problem with religion generally. I would not dream of picking on one religion here. It seems to me that all religions have the unenviable challenge of convincing people to believe something with no evidence. This is very contrary to our normal rational thought processes. I suspect some people are much more susceptible than others. Personally, I think we create this problem by bringing up children with belief in religion - we indoctrinate our children (well, not mine, but a lot of people do) in to some belief (the same one we learned when we were young). We force children to compartmentalise a set of irrational and unsubstantiated views and beliefs in a part of their mind that they can keep separate from their other sane and rational part of their mind - and wrap that irrational part in immutable walls of "faith".

I cannot help thinking that a child raised without indoctrination, even one educated on the ways of religion as a thing that exists in the world - like teaching of the old Norse Gods and so on - an interesting set of beliefs people once had and some people still have for the few religions still "alive" today - that such a child would be much harder as an adult to pull in to a cult and make in to a suicide bomber. Is this just my being optimistic, or is it true.

However, we see people use religion as a tool. It probably does not matter which religion they choose, most of them will have suitable wording in their holy texts that can be distorted to your goals with the authority of being ancient and revered. It is often said the the best way to turn a Christian in to an atheist is to get them to property read and study the bible, and I suspect the same is true for many religions. But being selective and however they do this brain washing, they seem to succeed in making human weapons.

So let's get back to the politics for a moment. We want this to stop. Personally, I think we need to be understanding the motives of the organisers - why they are doing this and what do they want? Can we work with them, as we have done in the past in terrorist disputes, to find common ground and an resolution to conflict? I don't know.

What we see cries for is to pull the extremism from the internet. This is hard, the extremism is exploiting religion. Even our own state religion (Church of England) has many dark things in the bible - things that will definitely count as extremist texts. To ban extremism is pretty much to ban religion - because religion is extreme - it is believe something with no evidence.

That may sound sensible to many, but sadly it has been seen not to work - once a meme is out there, especially one as old as most religions, banning it has the opposite effect and creates underground movements and followers. You have to tollerate it, allow it, tax it, much like alcohol. Banning it won't  work.

But even if you wanted to try and ban the most extreme bits, you have a massive problem, because there lies the curse of censorship and control of free speech. Where on earth do you draw the line? And how do you stop that line creeping ever closer to any thoughts that are not sanctioned by the thought police?

I really feel free speech, and freedom of expression, even by religious groups, is a human right we should not be compromising - especially at a time like this.

P.S. Yes, I am expecting this to be a tad controversial to some, so please do comment.

[also, for those that would rather listen to me than read...]

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Blue, Black, White, or Gold dress

The internet meme of the coloured dress and the strange way so many people disagree on the colour is something known to photographers as white balance.

It is the way we see colour, and the fact we always see it in context of surroundings and lighting.

XKCD did a nice example in https://xkcd.com/1492/


The dresses are identical, the background makes all the difference.

A lot of the photographs I take are done under AWB (Automatic White Balance), as that usually works out the right white balance to apply. However, I was shocked in a recent blog post when I included the picture here..


That is blue, a rather nice shade of blue. In fact, I have a blue of that shade in stock even, though not in PLA. It is nice, but it is not reality. The cube was in fact green. It did not matter for the blog post so I left it, but it is one of the few occasions where AWB has got it way wrong.

Basically the colour of my worktop/desk around it was the culprit. I set a fixed 5200K WB and took another shot of the same cube...


This is much closer to reality, but perhaps not quite as dark a green as it should be - at least it is green! Of course, some of that is how my monitor displays the image.


Interestingly, taking a picture of the cube against my monitor looks good.



Isn't colour a fun thing :-)

Friday, 2 June 2017

Junk mail

I have not blogged about junk mail for a while, but it is still a huge problem.

I was rather disheartened when a judge decided that I had no loss from receiving junk mail and so could not make a claim under the The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003.

It was a real shame as it made the whole legislation somewhat moot. I really do feel we need a simple minimum loss that does not have to be proved, much like Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998 where £40 applies. This would make such cases work, as one would not have to prove an actual loss for the hassle of handling junk emails.

Anyway, time to try a new tack, inspired by a junk email today from a UK company :-


Yes, they really emailed: i-hereby-order-consultancy-services@by-sending-this-email-i-agree-to-pay-a-kennard-50-ukpounds.uk

I don't think I have used that in any mailing lists or anything, I am at a loss as to how they found it, to be honest.

I have told them £50 in next 7 days or a county court claim.

Comparing tatt

As I posted, I ordered some cheap gold playing cards. I actually ordered a set of three items, and the others have arrived. These varied from £2 to £6.

This means I can compare them. And I am surprised that they do have differences.

The first, as I reported, has a rather distorted and coloured £50 note image.


However, the next one, much cheaper (around £2) has a gold only, and better proportioned £50 note.


Finally, the US version with a $100 note - not simply a distorted $100 bill, but a design like a $100 bill but in the proportions of the playing card. $100 bills are quite long.


Looking at Amazon, there are actually loads of variations, with or without a box and certificate, and with various backs. Interestingly, they are all made by the same people, it seems.


Oddly, the edges are also different, and the cheapest one (the gold £50 note backed ones) "feel" better (the gold edge).



Of course, if you want slightly less tatt, but more likely to slice your fingers (!) then carbon fibre cards are pretty impressive.


Thursday, 1 June 2017

We live in interesting times

I had a meeting today - it was actually one relating to the new FireBrick development, and one of the things we were looking at were some of the drawings.

One of the drawings was of a simple plastic cube with some holes drilled in it. I won't bore you with the details of where it goes in the final product...

Well, I could not pass this up, so I opened my laptop, made the object in openscad, and sent to printer.  The design was literally a handful of lines of openscad. It meant that during the meeting we had a prototype of this thing in a matter of minutes. These prototypes can now be checked that they align with the other parts correctly, and tested.

It is an amazing time to be alive when you can do things like that.


Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Feiyu MG V2 3 axis gimbal

I have concluded that video cameras are a problem - you either need a tripod, and then you need a fluid head to get anything reasonable, or you need a trolly or a something, and for hand held you absolutely need a 3 axis gimbal. On their own a video camera will always look rather amateur.

So, having got a video camera I looked at reviews and prices and decided to get the Feiyu MG V2 3 axis gimbal from Wex Photographic.

The instructions were clear, and balancing the camera was also very easy, surprisingly so.

It comes with a hard case for transport.

It can be assembled for one handed use...


Or, for two handed...


In fact it can be used in a variety of ways.

(Thanks to Lewis, age 4, for taking those pictures for me)

I am amazed at the difference it makes, and here we come to something that really needs a video, so here it is. The first part is with the gimbal, and the second is all hand held. Lewis has a go at both, but unfortunately his arms are a bit short to stop the gimbal hitting his chest and so he is a bit jerky. Even so, compare to Lewis hand held with no gimbal at the end. Sick bags available in the foyer.

P.S. the hand-held was using the image stabiliser that is built in to the camera even...

Time-lapse

The Canon XC15 video camera has a time-lapse feature, so I gave it a try. This was around 2 hours worth of 3D printing...



The first issue was that the battery ran out just at the end, thankfully right at the end, so nothing lost, but this raises some questions. The card can take just under 2 hours of 4k video (256G), and the camera battery can last just under 2 hours (around 110 minutes). Unless using external power, the longest I can record for is the card or battery, and they are pretty much the same. So I could have just recorded, and then sped up later, deciding on what level of speed increase I want, making slowed for anything interesting that happens, etc. Much more flexible. So basically, the time-lapse feature really only makes any sense if I have power attached.

The other issue is that when it shut down for lack of power, it was not clean. It left the file broken. The only clever bit is that it knew this when I put in a new battery, and has a "data recovery" option if you try to play the video on the camera. That fixed it, but a tad messy.

Monday, 29 May 2017

A crime that one cannot report

I was witness to what I believe was a crime.

The crime happened in the UK, and the victim of the crime is in the UK and the perpetrator of the crime is in the UK.

The crime happened on 26th May, and was reported in detail here.

The crime was that Sky broadband impeded access to data on a computer, specifically the contents of the web site www.ispreview.co.uk for a period of time, and did so intentionally - it is a clear violation of The Computer Misuse Act 1990, specifically section 3(2)(b) of the Act.

Sky did "prevent or hinder access to any program or data held in any computer" and did so without consent of the person responsible for that computer.

This is not different to someone launching a DoS attack on ispreview, except we know who did it and they admit they did it.

They clearly had intent to hinder access, as that is the purpose of their parental controls system.

They did not have to target that computer (see 3(4)(a)). Perhaps it was simply a mistake (i.e. reckless), but that is still a crime, see 3(4).

In my opinion, as a non lawyer, a crime has been committed. One that should be addressed.

Now, in this case, ispreview told Sky, and Sky admitted their action and rectified the matter. But that does not stop it being a crime in the first place. Tell a thief he has stolen your stuff and have him give it back does not stop him being a criminal.

I have no specific gripe against Sky. My issue is with the law. This blocking has no legal framework. ispreview have no legal recourse if blocked incorrectly - no right of appeal - not even any notice from Sky that they are blocked. ispreview had no malware, but even if they did, the actions of Sky are not legal under The Computer Misuse Act as far as I can see. Blocking access to a web site, even with permission from your own customer (unless they are responsible for the web site) is not legal, simple as that - why do so many ISPs do this illegal thing?

What is worse in this case is ispreview are a web site promoting many competing ISPs, so blocking it is also anti-competative.

Also, apparently, the block impacted some political party web sites - which I think may be a separate crime in itself - perhaps even more so during campaigning for a general election.

I reported to the Met Police, and they are not interested. They suggested Action Fraud. Unfortunately Action Fraud are all geared up to handle "fraud", which this was not. They suggested police (again) or crime stoppers. I am getting nowhere.

We have a crime that was committed and the perpetrator actually admitting they did it, and the police not interested. What is the point of these laws exactly?

Does this mean that we can all ignore The Computer Misuse Act as nobody enforces it?

P.S. Still trying...

Met police twitter suggested action fraud chat. Apparently they will not take a report unless a victim gives me permission. Do any Sky customers out there do so?


It gets worse...


24k Gold Foil Playing Cards - with Certificate

I did this as a video first (here) and decided to make a blog separately. I am still not sure which medium is best, and I suspect it is worth trying to do things both ways as some people prefer one and some people prefer another. This is not a bad example to try as it is a totally trivial subject matter.

It all started when I saw some click bait on Facebook selling "24k Gold Foil Playing Cards - with Certificate", and they looked like fun. The web site was typical, constantly an offer which was just about to expire, only a few cards left, reduced price from £77.10 to only £19.46, but now!

Obviously this is a transparent and annoying ploy, and also, if you read more, it is a US site selling in $ and shipping in 2 to 4 weeks (if you are lucky).

So I googled, and amazon sell the same cards, and several similar ones for much less. Indeed, one identical pack for £1.81!

Now, I was under no illusion what I was buying. I spent a couple more pounds for a pack in a presentation box even.

I was not disappointed - what I received was utter tatt!

Start with the box, with the label (actually some sort of sticky backed foil) stuck on at an angle - a sure sign of a quality product.


Then, opening the box, we have some glue along the bottom, messy.


Then comes the box, which was not stuck together as the double sided tape had come undone. Even when stuck down it is tacky. There is a certificate, claiming 99.9% pure 24K gold foil. I expect that could be true but a few atoms thick :-)


The box is made of the same plastic as the cards, and that made it hard to actually open. I had to prize it open with my pen knife.


The cards themselves, in this case, have a rather distorted image of a £50 note. The one in that advert was a 100 dollar bill, and probably looks as bad to an American.



The cards themselves look quite nice.


The cards clearly have the embossing/foil printed per card, as you can see in the background for the picture cards. The printing is, however, a tad misaligned, with the digits looking like they have a bit of a shadow.


Overall, tacky as expected, but quite fun, and for under £2 you cannot really argue. Not sure I would ever give as a gift, but we'll try playing with them. There is a danger the gold will scratch and leave distinctive wear marks on the backs, which may be a bit of a flaw, but I don't know yet.

A lesson in not following click-bait :-)

As for whether this should be a blog post or a video - you decide. The blog post has ended up as a narrative with a series of pictures, but you can read at your own pace.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear!

We have a lot of trouble in the industry with normal people being stupid.

Or rather, sorry, I should say, people being lazy. Saying stupid is unfair.

How do you get people not to make their password "password". After all, we are insisting they have a damn password. They don't want one. They just want things to work.

Yes, if they get hacked, they moan, but it does not matter how much we try, they will take the lazy route.

People will not care if a site is using https or http.

People will not care is some site has a warning. The poke posted a good image for this today.


So keeping normal people safe is hard work.

But what if you do have something to hide - whether it is something non-criminal but embarrassing or just commercially sensitive. What if it is criminal, or worse terroristy...

Well, then you need to plan and be careful. Then you need to check how you keep yourself safe and communicate safely.

This is why the security theatre of politicians today is bad - they want to advocate weaker security for the masses, for everyone, so that they can catch criminals more easily.

The effect will be weaker security for the masses, yes, and a much harder time protecting them. However, anyone with any reason to actually put in a modicum of effort, such as terrorists, can easily stay safe - using their own encryption rather than using WhatsApp.

A terrorist can simply google* how to do this, download the right code, and be their own vendor for end-to-end encryption. Cimincals can stay safe. (*Books also have this information)

Who wins here - the criminals!

Who loses here - the rest of us!

Please, let us use encryption to protect us all - yes it protects criminals as well, but we can't stop that, and protecting the rest of us actually thwarts a lot of criminals. Net gain.

This blog also on YouTube:-

No way for terrorists to safely communicate!

[This blog also on YouTube - I wonder which people prefer]

Once again we hear the call for there to be no safe place or safe way for terrorists to communicate.

I will try and explain the problems with this sort of comment as simply as I can, and without any sort of technical waffle.

Which are the terrorists?

If you are saying that only terrorists are not allowed a way to communicate safely, but that us normal non terrorists are allowed to communicate safely, you have to be able to tell them apart somehow.

How would you do this? And when you have identified those terrorists how do you make sure that they are not going to communicate like non terrorists. Do you given them some notice that they are now summarily deemed to be terrorists and denied access to all secure communication? How would it work? Would access to secure communications have a licence, and you can revoke it for anyone that is a suspect? Such a process to revoke a licence could not have proper due process to prove a crime, else, having proved a crime you simply lock them up and deny communication that way. You'd have to have a way to revoke peoples secure communications licence on mere suspicion without any due process or proof of a crime. A nice society in which to live?

And how would you tell they are terrorists before they do anything bad? Is it by what they communicate? Well, if they are using the safe communication systems reserved for non terrorists then you do not know what they are communicating, do you?

Basically, the only way the phrase makes sense is if it is "No way for people to safely communicate".

That seems a bit more extreme, but please, if that is what you mean, as a politician, please say it. Say that you do not want any way for PEOPLE to communicate safely, because you know full well that there is no legislative or technical way to only apply your restrictions to terrorists.

Of course, it could be that only approved people will be able to communicate safely. The elite who have passed positive vetting. Only they will be allowed access to secure communications. Only they will be able to use a credit card on an on-line shop. If that is what politicians are wanting - say so.

Who can see the communications?

The issue with safe or unsafe communication is if you are communicating safely, there is no way for someone else to see the communication, just the intended party or parties.

So, if we are saying that there is no safe communication, we mean that someone else can see the communications, but who?

The answer, of course, is "good people". By which I am sure a politician will say is people who have suitable legal authority with necessary warrants and accountability, and so on. But at the end of the day it is "good people" rather than "bad people".

Even ignoring some of the technical issues, you have the issue of who is "good" and who is "bad"? If a UK newspaper editor sends a WhatsApp message to a journalist in Korea, it is OK for the Korean government to monitor that too I assume, as well as the UK government? Maybe it is... Who is "good" and who is "bad" depends on your viewpoint.

But sadly there are more "bad people" out there - and we have seen, over and over again, that any sort of "back door" to allow monitoring communication can, and will, be exploited by others. Hackers, criminals, people working in the intermediate companies that have been bribed. Lots of people.

This is partly why safe communication is expected for accessing a bank or a merchant where you want to use a bank card, even if that merchant is not in the UK and you are using a form of "end to end encryption" from your computer to theirs.

Will criminals obey these laws?

This is another issue with all such laws. People (even criminals) can encrypt messages themselves. It can be done using pen and paper and done in a way that nobody, not GCHQ or NSA, can decode. How do you outlaw that? There is also a way to hide the encrypted communications in other messages in a way you cannot tell if it is there - so banning all encryption would not actually stop someone sending coding or encrypted messages, simple as that.

So, whilst such moves would stop all of the normal, non terrorist, people using safe communications, there is no reason to think it will stop terrorists using safe communications which they can make themselves (whether using computers or, as I say, just pen and paper).

Stephen Fry calls it technophobic-canutisim!


Friday, 26 May 2017

The internet of video

Call me old if you will, but I remember a time when the Internet did not even exist - when I was making protocols for file transfer over 300bps modems (for my B.Sc.) at around the same time as IP packets were being dreamt up. I had used computers for many years by them.

I have seen it change over time, and change in many ways.

At the start it was a bit like ham radio - sending packets to each other was what we did - using protocols like TCP on top of that, and I was lucky enough to find Demon for my first home Internet connection with a fixed IP and no filtering. I commend Demon as pioneers of their day.

Times have changed, and the invention of the world wide web, and http, was a major thing. I remember actually going on a course for UI design that mentioned hyperlinking, and a course on web page design (all manually created HTML).

The usage of the Internet really has come a long way and we are now in the video phase of that usage. At each stage the Internet has had its high users. It was text initially, and then images, audio files, and now video.

One of the things I have always said is that there probably are some limits on what consumer Internet will need to provide, and those limits stem from the bandwidth of the person - of the human being. How much data can we, as a person, absorb?

Obviously there are always exceptions, cases where data is transferred for processing by computer systems and not a person, but by far the highest usage of the Internet as a consumer service right now is the video streaming, and that is there to ultimately be fed to the eyes and ears of one or more people.

We have many senses, and even then we have to consider the "resolution" of those senses. The fact we have 4k video now, even at levels perhaps beyond the resolution of our eyes (because we can move our eyes around the screen) is quite amazing. We may go to higher resolutions even, and more 3D and so on. Vision is perhaps the highest bandwidth sense we have, with sound, and smell and touch all taking a back seat.

With consumer Internet connections starting to approach the level where each person in a household is able to receive the video streaming, and the content, at least as much as they as a person can absorb in real time for 24 hours a day - we may start to finally reach limits of consumer Internet connectivity.

Of course there is the uplink side, and that has yet to fully catch up. Internet has been asymmetrical for some time, but even now FTTC offers 20Mb/s uplink if you can get it. We have to consider people creating content, and that content being video. Ratios of content production to content consumption will always be skewed to the consumption so maybe what we have makes sense now.

Personally I am thinking I need to move more to video content - my blog moving to a vlog (or whatever it is called). I have a youtube channel (do subscribe). I will try to learn more about video and multiple cameras, and sound, and so on, and maybe get good at it...

Maybe that will be the new me - the video content generator?

It reminds me a lot of this comic (see image on the right). Well worth reading.

Oh Apple, thou art trying to vex me

With all the messing with my apple login to try and sort the apple-TV issue (no idea if fixed, not tried for two weeks), I ended up logging out and logging in on my Mac several times.

The first annoyance is that this left my Mac contacts book with about 7 copies of every contact. Very silly.

So, today, I deleted 6 out of 7 of each contact instance and tidied it up a lot.

What do you think happened?

Well, now I have one copy of each contact on my Mac and zero copies of them on my phone. Almost every contact has vanished from my phone.

Why Apple? Why?

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Stupidity tax?

This is largely a rant as I am the one that sorts the unreconcilable banking stuff on our system - mostly passing it on to the accounts department. But ultimately I am the only one with access to the actual bank - the company is small enough that it makes sense to work that way. So when things appear on the daily statement that cannot be automatically processed, I have to decide what to do.

Some days, rarely, there is nothing to check, but most days there is something, and it is almost always customers being a tad annoying.

We mostly collect payment by Direct Debit, which "just works" - however we allow payment by bank transfer at no extra cost (though some packages are DD only). Basically, some people do not trust Direct Debit, and I know why. We don't trust it - or to be more accurate we don't trust all of our suppliers to actually do Direct Debit in accordance with the rules. It is a sad state of affairs as the rules are actually very clear and simple, and allow claw-back if not followed. When we do Direct Debit we make damn sure we are following the rules. However, if someone wants to pay us by bank transfer they can. I really do understand. We have many people doing that correctly and on time.

The only stipulation we have is that they complete the correct beneficiary reference on the payment. Well, of course, they also have to do the right sort code and account number, but the reference is for our benefit. It is to allow us to assign the payment correctly.

I had one today and it wound me up - hence the post. The customer pays quarterly and uses normal 2 day BACS transfers, and normally pays on time.

They never send the right reference, in fact they send "0". We do not get sender sort code and account from our bank, so we have to make some guess and generally I have to make the assignment of their payment manually. We charge £5 for doing so - it is manual work we should not have to do.

So is it unfair that we insist on the correct reference on the payment?

I really do not think so - at the end of the day that is why the reference exists, and there are so many organisations you have to pay that also insist on the correct reference: Gas, Electric, Water, Telephone, Rates, VAT, PAYE, and many more. Companies have to have a way to send payments with the right beneficiary reference else they have some serious problems paying the most basic things like VAT and Rates. We are no different.

The one today was extra special. It was a company that usually pays on time but never uses the right reference. As such we charge £5, but to make it easy we include that as a line item in the next bill and not a separate invoice. If we made it a separate invoice you have an infinite loop of paying that without the correct reference and again being invoiced. We saw that happen once when we made it a separate invoice - very sad - we did not have the heart to keep it going and so changed the system.

But occasionally this organisation also pays late and so gets a late payment invoice (typically £40) and then a separate invoice when they pay, for the interest. In this case it was for 3p. This is all according to statute for late payment of commercial debts. If you don't like it, pay on time, duh!

What was especially sad is they sent a BACS payment for the 3p. BACS works for 1p to £10million. They did not send £40.03 to cover both invoices, but just 3p, leaving the £40 overdue. They will end up with a £5 charge on the next invoice for paying 3p without a reference - a £5 charge for my time and the accounts team's time handling the payment with not reference (bargain). They probably pay bank charges to send the 3p that is a lot more than 3p!

It is sad that large company bureaucracy can end up like this - just paying - not even complaining - paying for their own failings time and time again.

I think the £5 charge is fair. I dislike having to faff around every day (even when on the North Sea) to do bank reconciliation, and then paying accounts staff as well. It costs money and is avoidable - just use the right reference. It is even the same every time (the A...A account number) but we are flexible and can handle the I...A invoice number if preferred. This is not a way for us to make extra money at the expense of companies that are inept, honest.

Even so, this is verging on a stupidity tax, and so it is scary...

Tesco multibuy

A bit of a rant on bad user interface!

Please excuse VVS :-)



P.S. it is worth pointing out the other gripe which I have not videoed...

At the check-out, you scan the check-out barcode. From a user interface point of view I think that at that point it should transfer control to the check-out in all cases. It knows you are at the check-out, and which one. You should be done with the handset then.

There are two issues.

1. It asks a question on the handset at that point - regarding items that did not scan. Why? Why not ask that on the check-out as the first question. This annoying split of a question on handset then next question on check-out is not helpful.

2. If you are picked for a random check, you are told on the handset. The check-out transfer does not happen. At this point there is NO ALERT to staff of an issue - the status Red/Amber/Green on check-out is not set to alert staff. Nothing tells staff you are stuck and you have to find someone or wait indefinitely for someone. If the transfer was to checkout at that point, and then it says "random check" that would allow the check-out status to alert staff. The re-scan could use the handset or the check-out reader, does not really matter.

I just feel that this is not thought out well at all.