Amazon again

I think next time we ship to amazon we'll have to keep the boxes open until UPS arrive to collect and then video them as we tape them up and hand them over.

We sent 2x50 packs of cards to Amazon.
They show 49 packs of cards received.

We have to wait until 30th to dispute - we'll have to see how that goes!

P.S. 49 packs received, not 100. So that is 51 packs missing somehow!

P.P.S. Blogspot is broken, I can't reply to comments! All I see from Amazon is a number and that I can dispute on 30th


Stargate addresses

OK, I know that film / TV show producers don't really care for this level of detail, clearly, but some times it gets a tad annoying!

I was trying to compile a list of known gate addresses to put on the cards I am making. Seemed like a nice touch to include them. There are wikis and blogs which are a good start, but I was being diligent and checking them (like I need an excuse to watch SG-1 again!). Whilst there are minor typos on various lists which I picked up, in some cases the producer of the show seems to be just taking the piss.

SG-1 s2e14 Touchstone, literally a few seconds apart in the show.

I may as well give up and just make up addresses randomly. I have no idea which is "right" for P5F-5T2 and P7J-1P3. One wiki listing gate addresses had :-

That is almost, but not quite, the top one! Looks like they type 39 instead of 36 for first symbol.

I can do my best. The cards are coming along nicely, just working on discussions with MGM over royalties.

P.S. Thinking about it, that scene involved flashing up the same scrolling list when searching three times in a row. To make the addresses different would have actually meant some deliberate action. Why? Just why?

P.P.S. This address (same dialling shot I assume) is used a *lot* which makes it difficult. This is from SG-1 s3e15 A Matter of Time but is the address of Chulak!


Gate glyphs (#stargate)

I was trying to work out the right artwork for the Stargate glyphs. It turns out to not be as simple as you might expect!

There are several gate drawings, e.g. this simple svg, and this more detailed one. They have subtly different artwork.

A simple example from that is Pegasus which shows in different orientations and with or without an extra point/triangle.


Whilst the orientation actually on the gate should be fixed and defined, when shown as a gate address or symbol on a playing card, the orientation is more flexible. I have gone for the way it would be at the top of the gate. But that does not explain the subtly different designs.

Another orientation issue is Gemini, which shows in different orientations. In the above examples, they are almost the same, but in the third example, it is aligned with the ring rather than at an angle.

One site, stargate.wikia.com, has a good set of glyph SVGs. But its idea of Pegasus has the extra point/triangle :-

So I tried to work out if there had been different versions of the gates, which meant watching the original film, and episodes from several series of SG-1. All are the same, even series 10 opening credits show clearly no extra point/triangle on Pegasus. There are differences in the CGI in the opening credits though which may be a clue. Interestingly the film has the same constellations but again slightly different artwork, but still basically the same as the series.

Even today, at gatecon in Vancouver, they are doing photos with a green screen and gate in the background. One occasions to see a high res photo of a gate, and it has no extra point/triangle!

I think, however, I have found the source of the "wrong" glyphs, the book Stargate SG-1 The Ultimate Visual Guide (of which I have now obtained a copy). On page 10 they show the gate and glyphs in detail :-

Though even page 12, which has actual pictures of the gate, contradicts the drawing on page 10. You'll also note that symbols like Piscis Austrinus are shown with outline rather than filling in artwork, where as the gate does not have outlines like that.

So, I think my glyphs are actually correct, and the right way around (as would be viewed at the top of the gate).

Of course, if these cards ever get launched there will be fans saying I have it wrong. Par for the course I guess.


The RevK brand

I am far from retired, and may never be. There is a lot involved in running a company even if you have very good staff to handle a lot of the day to day work. However, I am trying to find more time for myself, and that does mean some times I come up with little projects of my own.

Historically, as a business, we have embraced many new things from laser engraving to 3D printing, and incorporated them in to the business. Indeed, these can be very useful - we use laser engraving on some FireBrick products and right now I am looking in to some 3D printing with flame retardant ABS for a related project. So they are not totally divorced from the main company activity. We are known for broadband, but have always been involved in a wide range of goods and services.

However, just occasionally, it is quite fun to try something completely different. Some times such things are commercial though.

Unfortunately it does not really make a huge amount of sense for me to set up a separate company and VAT and so on, unless I do come up with some more serious viable project. Obviously if I do, then that is a consideration. It also does not make a lot of sense for me to try a commercial project as myself, with the extra tax implications, and so on. So generally new projects that have any commercial prospect do go through the company, even if they are totally off the wall and unrelated to our main business. Obviously that means the business makes any profit from these ventures, and also, obviously, such projects need to be low risk and/or profitable.

So the plan is to make use of my personal brand, "RevK", for which I have a registered trade mark, and the business will sell some RevK branded stuff from time to time.

You may already see that we have RevK reproduction playing cards listed on Amazon.

My latest side quest, as you will have noticed, is these Stargate related playing cards. The good news is MGM are finally talking to me. The bad news is how much they want up front in royalties. The amount per pack of cards is not crazy though. However, we are talking, and it may actually happen. It is a nice change for me to do something creative and fun. So watch this space for possible new RevK branded stuff.


Dual purpose QR codes

We used to include a QR code on product labels with the serial number. This is so that sales staff can scan in serial numbers to delivery notes and track stock. This is not uncommon.

This example barcode has a simple serial number 2900-0000-0000 which is great if you want to know the serial number, as we do.

However, QR codes are starting to be quite common and most phones will just read them, even in the camera app. This is somewhat boring being just a serial number. People are actually used to QR codes having useful URLs to take them to a web site.

So, we came up with a cunning plan. This was actually to help one of my friends with some work he is doing for a customer, and we came up with this plan between us, and it works quite well.

The trick is making the barcode useful to us as a serial number but also useful to random people reading it on their phone.

To that end, we make a slight change to the content of the barcode, and now it has HTTPS://FB0.UK/290000000000 in it, as an example.

As you see, you can fit a short domain like that, and 12 digits of serial number, in the same minimum size QR code. We had to lose the hyphens, and stick to upper case, to fit without being a more dense QR code or taking more space.

When scanned, you get to the FireBrick web site, and indeed to the FB2900 product page which includes a link to the quick start guide, etc. This makes it actually a useful barcode for anyone pointing their phone at it.

For our systems, we can easily make them strip the initial HTTPS://FB0.UK/ (and add in hyphens to look nicer). So we can use it as a serial number just as we did before.

Bingo, dual use QR codes.


Printing, and microscopes!

I got a small £15 USB microscope off Amazon, as you do. Great fun, but there was a practical reason.

I have been trying to work out the logic of the printing from my Mac to a Brother QL-700 printer. I have this sussed when it comes to using linux (finally) with a lot of careful arguments to ghostscript and inkscape to take my initial SVGs and print them with no dithering. That is working well. But I am trying to work out how to print from a Mac when printing something that is fussy, like a bar code.

Printing PDFs

The most obvious choice was to make a PDF. I had carefully made the barcodes in the PDF to the exact print resolution of 300 dpi. Everything was vector based. On screen it is perfectly crisp and clear.

However, the printing from the Mac constantly insisted on scaling to fit page. Even when I put 100% scale the printing was not spot on, and did not read very well, if at all. In fact it was slightly better printed at 101%. This is silly.

Printing PNGs

So I tried PNGs. The good news is that by default, where the PNG has a resolution set, it defaults to print at 100% and seems to have the sense to align pixels well. I thought my problems were solved, and to the naked eye, the QR codes looked fine.

But I decided to check, which is where the microscope comes in!

I generated a PNG with a QR code at 100dpi with one PNG pixel per QR code unit/pixel.

This was the result!

As you can see, there are bits sticking out all over the place. It took me a while to work out what was happening! Basically, something in the process has decided to soften the edges of the pixels, and then something has decided to dither the greys that are then produced. Even tinkering with the dither settings I could not make it stop doing this. Surprisingly it does read, usually. (Yes, I also bought a 2D barcode reader from Amazon).

However, one small change makes it massively better. By making a PNG at 300dpi, and using 3x3 PNG pixels per QR unit/pixel I get this!

No bits sticking out. It is not quite perfect, but that may be the printer - it seems to bleed on the trailing edge of printing making all black slightly wider. I may be able to do something to compensate for that. This reads much more reliably than the previous one.

However, making a 600dpi image and 6x6 pixels did not help - it created anti-aliasing greys which dithered, though not as bad... If I was able to align this properly it would probably work as well.

So, the moral of the story is to make PNGs that match exactly the printer resolution, and ensure you have way more than 1x1 pixels for the bar code units. For this printer I would say at least 3 print pixels per unit.

P.S. linux pdfinfo command shows resolution in DPI and then has "(pixels per meter)" which is very confusing.


New CLI rules are a bad idea

OFCOM have come up with some new rules on Calling Line Identity. Neil Brown has done a nice article on it (here).

One aspect is good! It is that the service to show CLI has to be free now. I like that part.

However. The other aspect is on various moves to try and make CLI more reliable. This is seems to make sense as junk callers often use invalid CLIs these days, e.g. 025 numbers.

But OFCOM have gone way further, insisting that CLIs should be valid and dialable, i.e. in service and can be used to make a return call. Now this is huge. There are loads of reasons you may not be able to make a return call :-
  • Number is not valid / in service (what OFCOM want to catch)
  • Incoming call barring (a valid service which currently does not stop CLI being sent)
  • Incoming call diversion (to numbers that are not valid, etc, etc)
  • Incoming call where caller is calling withheld and withheld is blocked (ACR)
  • Incoming call where the called party has used some call refusal / blocking service
  • Incoming call to a phone system which is able to reject the call (e.g. ISDN, SIP, etc).
  • Incoming call that the called party rejects (e.g. to a mobile and press red/cancel button)
  • Incoming call that the called party simply chooses not to answer
All of these are (or were) valid services to stop someone making a return call. However, taking OFCOM strictly at their word, if any of these are in place as a service (such as incoming call barring) then the calling telco should not send CLI or possible not allow the original call, because the CLI is not one that can be used to make a return call!

It is also unclear why OFCOM decided to go this far. There seems to be some merit in expecting some basic validation, maybe, but even that may have problems. That can be done in various ways, but if considering international numbers you suddenly present the telcos with the job of maintaining lists of all valid number allocation blocks for the whole world, a complex tasks, or relying on some 3rd party to do that, placing them in a position of power if they decide not to include some block of numbers in the CLI allow list and hence not allow calls. It creates lots of scope for consumer problems, which already exists with new number blocks not routing to their destination - now we face a separate hell of new number blocks unable to route outgoing calls as the block is not in CLI allow lists.

But, even if we have that, we have already seen junk callers go from withheld to invalid prefixes. They will now simply move to valid number blocks and there will be ways to get those in to the phone network I am sure. This will create something called back-scatter. Oddly I have already seen these where junk callers are using invalid numbers as I have some 0200 numbers (which would normally count as invalid), and I suddenly started getting calls from people saying I had called them trying to sell them something. It was not pleasant, not matter how much I tried to explain (and I knew what must have happened). I had to turn off one of my numbers for this. Now consider what happens when junk callers move to using real numbers that belong to innocent victims. This will be bad.

One reason calls will get in is that a telco / carrier cannot easily verify the CLIs of calls. We are a small telco and we will be able to send any CLI we choose, not just from our number blocks. (Obviously we are strict with our customers and follow rules) But the reason we can send any numbers is (a) presentation numbers and (b) forwarded calls. If a call comes in to us from telco A and we forward at our customer's request on to a number which we send via telco B, then telco B has to trust we are sending a sensible CLI even though not one of our numbers or a call they see coming in to us.

So junk callers need to make calls from the OFCOM press office direct line CLI as much as possible, that way OFCOM will understand the issue of back scatter. [OK that is an illustration, and I am not actually trying to incite people to do that].

If anything, better education that CLIs can, and are, spoofed, would help. It is just the same with email addresses. (educating police on this fact is a good idea too!)

Sorry OFCOM, I think you have massively missed the mark here, and could cause legitimate services like incoming call barring to impact CLI for no reason, and cause back-scatter on junk calls, whilst not actually addressing the real problem.


Amazon, again

Whilst the first product we tried (and honest, this is one reason for my latest obsession with playing cards, to test Amazon) went well.

The second has not - it took a week to get in to FBA inventory for no good reason. OK, that is apparently within their terms, so OK.

Now I find there are customers waiting, over 6 days now, for delivery. Now, AFAIK, even Amazon do not consider that acceptable and would give a seller a black mark for late delivery like this.

I'll see what they have to say - I have raised yet another ticket.



Stargate address numbering P3X-421

One of the nice things about taking the odd walk (to try and get more healthy / lose weight) is I get 20 minutes to ponder something totally random - like how are the Stargate address numbers worked out?

This is a matter of some debate. Basically, the show references gate addresses by a code, e.g. P3X-421, rather than by the gate symbols which would be tricky (though we later find they do have names / sounds that can be strung together to make words of a sort). An address is actually 6 (non repeating) gate symbols from a set of 38.

[Someone commented as a linguist that the idea of the gate symbols having sounds that make up the names of planets was crazy as no way the location in space and the name would happen to line up. They missed an obvious point that the people naming the planet may have been the Alterans and they named the planet using the sounds from the planet's gate address. But that is beside the point]

Anyway, back to these gate numbers. The Milky Way gates are almost all P something. This suggests that maybe the letter is not part of the address (P=Planet), but even the odd exception (M=Moon) does not quite fit, and a B and K have also been used. With no doubt deliberate irony the Pegasus gates start M.

This leaves 5 alphanumeric characters to define a gate address. Even if you take all letters and numbers (36 combinations), 36^5 is only 60,466,176, but there are 1,987,690,320 possible 6 figure addresses (38*37*36*35*34*33). So it cannot be a simple mapping to the gate address.

Except, and this is where the pondering whilst walking around the block comes in, let's pretend we accept the original description for how a gate address works.

The way it is described is that the 38 symbols (apart from point of origin) are constellations as viewed from Earth (which they are, you can work out which they are even), and that they represent points in space. You need 6 so as to make three lines which intersect at the destination, and then to "plot a course" you need a 7th (point of origin).

OK, here are a few of the issues:-
  • A constellation is not a point in space, the "stars" that make it up are at different distances and some may even be very distant galaxies.
  • Even if these symbols represented a point in space, the chances of ever making three lines that intersect exactly out of 38 arbitrary points is, well, slim at best. The chance that such an intersection is actually where you want to go (hits a planet, or even a solar system) is even slimmer. It is just not a way to address points in space
  • Obviously, even if using points in space as a reference, you can make a target using just one line and one point. Even so, the possible points are nowhere near enough to address a planet or solar system in the galaxy from 38 control points.
  • The fact you used reference points means that actually the expansion of the galaxy is likely to ensure gate addresses do stay the same, yet apparently they stop working after a while.
  • You obviously do not need a point of origin - the origin is "here". If you did, then how come it does not also take 6 symbols to define it. Also, does that mean by dialling a different symbol as the 7th you create a wormhole from some distant gate to some other gate in the galaxy?
OK, let's forget all of that, it is a film, let's pretend it makes sense, and that is how gate addresses work.

Well, that may solve the gate numbering issue. Each line is a pair of symbols, but clearly it does not matter which way around they are as they make the same line. So that reduces the combinations by 8 (2 for each of the three lines). Also, the order of the 3 lines does not matter, so that reduces the combinations by 6.

So instead of 1,987,690,320 gate addresses, we have only 41,410,215. This is smaller than 36^5. In fact it can be covered by 34^5 which is nice, as I would leave out "I" and "O" to avoid confusion with "1" and "0".

So yes, in theory, the Pxxxxx could be a full gate address using just the 5 letters and numbers. And the "P" could indicate type of destination somehow.

Of course, what the actual mapping is, is a different matter. It is very likely they are just random.

As an aside, why can't film makers employ a geek for a few days whilst making the screenplay. I would be trivially cheap for them, but things like this could be made to a proper scheme of some sort and have some consistency. They could have avoided the whole "points in space" crap and maybe gone for just "it's like a telephone number" which would have been way easier to explain and not tied their hands as much. Even if they just pinned down the made up rules and made up physics at the start they could avoid making inconsistent story lines later. Oh well.


Alteran digits

I am making progress on the new Alteran deck(s) design as per previous blog post. I am making some progress that someone on twitter says they may have a contact at MGM. We can only hope.

So first off, I have a pretty good set of glyphs. They are from wikimedia, and to be credited on the box.

They are the orientation that matches the placement on the gate, which is not quite the same as the cards Dr Weir deals, which is a shame. I plan to do a bit more research (watching SG-1 episodes) to check these...

Now, the other sticking point is Alteran characters. There are a lot of fonts out there for this, really, I am amazed.

It is 100% clear that normal Alteran letters are a simple 3x4 block structure. No problem. Takes me back to the block graphics on a TRS-80 and even teletext graphics (both 2x3). Those were the days.

However the digits are another matter. They have a bit that sticks down in the middle. One font, and a web site, claims that the bottom row of blocks has half height left and right, like this.

This creates an odd shape for the "0" as the bottom does not match the top as a box. However, it fits the overall size nicely.

However, this does not fit the control stations in Atlantis. They are clearly 3x4 with a bit below.

These are odd, the second panel (as I noticed when first watching this) is back to front. However, this is clearly a 3x4 with an extra half pixel below the bottom middle. The "0" looks way neater. I assume the back to front digits was a production error.

Stargate Universe makes this even easier to see, with a countdown clock.

Here we see the 3x4 grid and what looks like a whole pixel below rather than half of one (making 3x5 grid) but not 100% clear to be honest from that picture, sorry. They have colon and dot which is nice and confirms the "baseline" for the font so the pip on the bottom of the digits is definitely below the baseline.

So I have decided to make my Alteran characters for playing cards use a 3x4.5 grid with the extra half pixel below much like an accent, a Cedilla if you will, only half a pixel high.

As I said before, a 16 card per suit deck, 64 total (100 in octal) makes sense, and I have it all designed now.

I have even designed the box, and we are ready to go once MGM confirm licensing.

So, watch this space! Or give me a contact at MGM...

BTW, the back is just the Stargate unless I have better ideas. Suggestions welcome.