Friday, 30 June 2017

Moral guidance

The fact I am posting this probably says something about me :-) I am interested in people's views.

I ordered some goods on-line from a large company (does the fact that it is a large "faceless" company actually make a difference?). I ordered several things at once, and one item three times. It was on the web site at £20 which is actually an "offer", normally more.

The total order was around £90 and so I was puzzled when my card only appeared to be charged around £30. The goods arrived, along with a detailed receipt. Everything was there, and this particular item was listed as 50p each.

My guess is some sort of mistake... but...

I checked the terms and conditions, and they state quite categorically that the price shown on the web site and order form (i.e. the £20 price) is for guidance only and that the actual "price" is what they charge when they send the goods (i.e. the 50p price). So under their terms the price is indeed only 50p.

In fact, they even state that they have a temporary issue showing unit prices wrongly and they state categorically that the selling prices are correct. They say this in their terms.

So I have to assume the 50p charge is correct, it says so in the terms that they wrote. It is an excellent deal for the goods in question. So much so, I have ordered 3 more for tomorrow to see what happens.

Am I wrong to accept the 50p price they are charging, even though they state categorically that they are correct in their terms?

Should I tell them?

Should I not try and buy more at the low price?

Should I tell my friends the details so they can benefit?

Yes, I am sure a lot of people would not ponder the right or wrong of this situation for a moment.

Update...

It is clearly a system issue, or a genuine (bloody good) offer, as today I was charged 12p each.

I have asked them on twitter if I should tell them if charged a much lower price than the web site, and they said I do not need to.

I'm not going to take the piss. I'll see what I get charged next time I want to order some.

Monday, 26 June 2017

What is the scam here?

We have a (non) customer the keeps trying to buy a mobile number to receive texts.

Our automated credit control systems trap him every time! He makes new postal addresses, email addresses, bank details, telephone numbers, etc, but the systems are working well. The latest one flagged the account in 15 different ways!

Every time, he orders a mobile number and has some system send him a text from "AUTHMSG" to him which looks like Your Valued Opinions verification code is: XXXXXX.

He does not get the text due to the account being flagged as suspicious.

Obviously he wants a UK mobile number to get some code to do something, but I am at a loss as to what the scam is here.

I tried googling but still did not find what the scam is...

It is annoying the accounts staff, reversing out the account and invoices. 29 attempts so far!

P.S.....

Treading on thin ice? I am MD of a communications company - I (and the company) have to respect the Data Protection Act, and obviously as a company we take things very seriously, not just in terms of law but in terms of morals and ethics. In this case we have someone I cannot really identify as a person - but I have managed to identify (correlate) multiple fraudulent attempts as probably the same person that is trying to act illegally - so is there personal data? I posted the slightly redacted content of a message, is that personal data? Even so, there are exceptions in the legislation for prevention and detection of crime, so is that valid? It is a good point and maybe a fine line, on which I hope I am the right side.

At the end of the day, if the individual in question feels aggrieved, I am more than happy for them to identify themselves and raise the issue with me or the company. There are several outstanding invoices as well as possible criminal charges for fraud and breaches of the Communications Act that await if you feel I have breached your privacy - please go ahead!

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Badly written RFCs

There are many badly written RFCs, but I encountered one annoying one today

Update: Thanks for the comments, and I concede that the next page refers to "value" being quoted. Even so, the whole idea of using BNF syntax is to be unambiguous, and this is still therefor a rather badly written RFC!

So, for those less techie, "RFC" is "Request for comment" which is a sort of passive way of pushing proposals on other people when the Internet first started. The "standards" we now follow are all RFCs. There is a slightly more formal process that can promote an RFC to an actual standard.

The idea is that the RFC says how something works, especially when it is a protocol. People they try to make their systems work to the RFC.

Now, there is always a degree of ambiguity, and so there is a really good principle which has worked well for the Internet which is that you should be tolerant of what you receive and strict in what you send. Basically, if the standard says to do something you should aim to be as accurate and correct as possible in what you send. However, when someone sends something to you, and there is some flexibility in what you accept, you should try to be flexible and work out what it means.

This has allowed the slightly flawed and imperfect implementation of many standards.

Today's issue was an RFC over MIME email, specifically RFC 2387 which apparently has status of "proposed standard", and is 19 years old.

We were sending a MIME object in an email that is multipart/related with a "type" field, specifically type=text/html which says that the "root" of that object is of a type text/html. All well and good. Indeed, a type= attribute is mandatory in RFC2387.

The problem is that the email did not work properly when emailing yahoo addresses. But other email systems did work. We experimented and found the "fix" was to send type="text/html" instead.

Now, I am not happy about this! The RFC has this to say on the type attribute :-


This defines that type is specified (after a ;) has the text type, then the character = and then the type and the character / and then the subtype.

So, unless we are saying that the type is "text and the subtype is html", sending type="text/html" is simply wrong.

The problem is the examples in the RFC (and errata), such as :-


(the errata added the missing ; on the end of the first and third line)
Where the hell did those quote marks come from?

So, yahoo are not being tolerant in what they accept, they are actually expecting non standard data, and we were being strict in what we sent, but to make it work we are now being non standard.

There really is not much worse than an RFC where its own examples do not comply with the RFC!

I have submitted and errata to the RFC editors for this.

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!

P.P.S. I did do a bit more tinkering, not just the artwork (changing from round to polygonal outer shape), but also to the maze. The one "knob" in the lid was not that good so I made the maze mirror on to the other side so allowing two knobs - this simply means as I generate the maze I add the same to the far side, but the maze can still going around the cylinder interacting with its other self even. I made it general to allow N paths. I also tweaked the bottom (end point) of the maze to be a right angle. I even scripted rendering several random boxes to make a video :-



Update: I had a call to make the maze more complex. One of the simple steps I did is, as you progress the maze, for each cell, you also have an indication of "length" which is how far from the start, increasing one each time. Then, for the exit at the top layer I pick the point with the greatest length.

However, this is not quite enough, and so I changed the logic to start the maze in the middle, and pick both the entry and exit as longest from that point. Unfortunately this allowed a common path from the start point and then a short path to entry and exit. But it did seem to make a more interesting maze overall.

The solution is creating the maze then working out the start point and exit point that create the "best" path. I decided simple length is not good enough, we want complexity. Scoring is therefor also based on how many branch points we pass as well as length.

I also made the middle a ring all the way around on the taller mazes to make a staging point where you had lots of possible options to escape, all but one of which are wrong.

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.