2018-07-16

Funeral plans

It seems I am of an age where I get adverts for funeral plans.

They are missing the point!

A funeral is an odd thing, and at my age I have been to a few. They are a formalised way to say goodbye and have some closure, with or without religious aspects.

To be honest I was really ready to shout out some annoyance at one where they are saying "you can be certain that [the deceased] is now in heaven with [a] God and Jesus". FFS, whatever you choose to believe, there is no such certainty and I spent the whole service thinking how any business doing this would fall foul of so many trades descriptions and mis-selling laws, it was scary.

I have been to non religious funerals, and they seem far more sensible, they are emotional times for all concerned but they allow the psychological closure we all need. They make sense, and are important ceremonies. Some times we need things to be marked with a ceremony.

But there is no point selling me a funeral! I don't need one! Once I am dead (and I plan not to ever be so) I need no sense of closure or formal send off. I will be dead and will not care. I will not exist any more than the 13.772 billion years before I was born, none of which I experienced.

If you want to sell a funeral plan you need to target those left behind, my kids, maybe my wife, but not me. Why would I buy a funeral FFS? I have no interest in what happens to be after I die. My family can decide what they want, if anything, and what is good value for money, or not. It is not my choice, and should not be - it is not for my benefit in any way.

2018-07-14

Some lessons learned with inkscape

As I posted, I had a bit of fun designing and drawing some playing cards. This involved code, and working on SVG artwork for court cards using inkscape. I am pleased to say they are actually being made in to packs, thanks to Ivory Graphics.


Various SVG decks are at www.me.uk/cards/

Update: Yes, we have batches of A&A and FireBrick cards arriving in a week, and we'll be selling them, but we expect to give some away as well. The A&A pack is poker size and goes up to 11 (56 card deck). The FireBrick pack is bridge card size and standard 52 card deck. Ignis is the joker, of course. Watch this space.

As I explained, I was trying to go for reasonably compact SVG files, which meant all the main cards were code generated and using some hand crafted SVG paths, even using SVG symbol objects. This worked well making quite small SVG files. The complication was the court cards, which have a lot of detail.

My solution was to use inscape, and make layers - the lowest being a scan of the antique cards I have, and then layers for Gold, Red, Blue and Black. Each layer was one fill path from which I extracted the path and made part of the final SVG without all of inskscape's bloat. It worked well, and even allowed me to make them one way up only and duplicate the rotated side.

Having spent some time drawing the court cards the first time, I decided I could have done some of it better. ..

Scale, and pixels.

One issue was that some paths inkscape made had a transform, and for this reason I made each layer a single path. I included the transform inscape had chosen in the final SVG.

However, by setting inscape to use px (pixels) everywhere I was able to convince it not to scale and translate stuff, pretty much (few exceptions easily worked around).

Concatenating paths

My final SVG did not need several paths per layer though, so I concatenated them in to one path. This did not work, and it took me a few minutes to work out why.

SVG allows relative and absolute functions in the path, but you can start a path with a relative m command (move) and have several sets of co-ordinates. The first are a move and then the rest are line draw and all are relative. But as it is the start of the path the first move is actually absolute and not relative.

Why SVG has this logic I have no idea - you have to separate the first co-ordinates from the next by something, such as white space, so could have an l (line) instead of a space.

The problem is that tacking an m on the end of an existing path is relative! So I had to change it to M and find the separator and add an explicit l after the first co-ordinates if it was running-on from the initial move.

Compressing paths

At the same time I removed the spaces before and after all of the letter commands, as not needed. That worked with no problem!

Fill or stroke

One of the things I did originally was make all layers a simple fill. However, the blue layer is almost entirely line drawing on the cards, and the rest basically colouring in between the blue lines (almost none of which is actually blue). So I decided to add an extra stroked blue layer, and even a thinner stroked blue layer used for some of the fine detail on hands and eyes.

This had a much bigger effect than I expected!

For example, if you have a simple Bezier curve like this - two points and two control points:-


It translates to a path of "m 15,320.54165 c 15,-25 55,25 70,0" which I compress to "M15,320.54165c15,-25 55,25 70,0" which is tiny.  The co-ordinates are mostly whole numbers (because I am snapping to a pixel grid).

However, as soon as you stroke this to a fill, you get this:-


As you may be able to just about see, that has 12 points, each of which have control points. It makes a path like this "m 31.427734,303.5918 c -8.488979,-1.08833 -19.486526,2.61231 -25.0019528,11.80468 A 10.001,10.001 0 1 0 23.574219,325.6875 c 1.984573,-3.30762 1.612026,-2.73198 5.310547,-2.25781 3.69852,0.47417 10.101562,3.08984 16.976562,6.21484 6.875,3.125 14.221958,6.75933 22.710938,7.84766 8.488979,1.08833 19.486526,-2.61231 25.001953,-11.80469 A 10.001,10.001 0 1 0 76.425781,315.39648 c -1.984573,3.30763 -1.612026,2.73199 -5.310547,2.25782 -3.69852,-0.47417 -10.101562,-3.0918 -16.976562,-6.2168 -6.875,-3.125 -14.221958,-6.75737 -22.710938,-7.8457 z"

Not only has a 2 point Bezier become a set of 12 Beziers / arcs, but all of the points are no longer nice small integers (for obvious reasons).

Easier to use inkscape now

By changing to stroked paths and allowing lots of paths I was able to easily copy paths to make filled in areas within blue lines on other layers, and I could use path intersection and line cutting logic in inkscape to avoid rough edges or manual lining things up by eye.

This also makes it way easier to make tweaks and fix errors later. Previous I draw paths and then converted to stroke fill and union with the layer making edits almost impossible. Now I can simply edit the distinct paths.

Adding pips

The suit symbol is a feature of the clothing on all of the court cards. Previously this was just part of the artwork, but I have now made it use SVG symbols to show the suit symbol (pips) in the necessary size, rotation and locations. This means that if the suit symbol is different (as I did for an old style of cards) they are changed on the court cards as well. It also saves some space, just.

The end result?

Well, so far I have re-drawn one of the cards, which was slightly less tedious than before. The new Jack of Spades is 41k instead of the previous 119k. Note Chris Aguilar's Ace of Spades, saved from inkscape, is 137k.

What next?

I'll probably do all of the cards eventually. I am taking the opportunity to basically just do them better anyway. I feel a lot more like I have made some creative input to this project now, rather than just trying to exactly reproduce the (badly printed) antique card designs.

P.S. I have done two cards now, it is time consuming, tedious, and requires some artistic elements, but the end results are very nice so I plan to finish all 12 in due course just for good measure. They are also uploaded to wikimedia. If I do before the next batch of printed playing cards, they will be a nice version 2 of my designs.

P.P.S. I have done the Jacks now, it is hard work, but little things like inkscape has a (configurable) delay before snapping to an object, which means if you are too quick you get misaligned stuff (WTF?). It has a "cut path" function which "misses" and screws up some times. But I am getting better at using stroke to path to make parallel curved lines which looks better. Not only are we around ⅓ of the file size now, but much neater artwork. I also discovered I gave one of the Jacks the wrong colour of hat before, making these initial packs we are getting this week "limited edition" ones :-)

P.P.P.S. I have done them all now - the main problem is that real work takes priority, but I am happy with the end result and I have updated wikimedia. The history of playing cards being [badly] copied dates back around 500 years which is quite amazing really. I feel almost honoured to be a step is such a long tradition.

2018-07-11

Diabetic dieting

As I have said, I am diabetic. It runs in the family, and basically means I don't make enough insulin. Nothing like as bad as my mum who produces no insulin and has to have an injection with every meal - she has been diabetic over 50 years.

In my case I only need one slow release injection a day to top up things. This is a bit of a double edged thing! It means only one injection, at home, not carrying around insulin, that is good. It also means I cannot adjust to any changes and need to stick to a routine.

Without insulin my blood sugar gets stupidly high, I get really tired, and get zits and infections far too easily. Long term it would be bad!

The only issue really is the routine to which I stick is not that healthy, and I have been putting on about 1kg a year for some time.

So, for the first time ever I decided to try and do something about it, even if just for a while to see how it goes. Curse those full size mirrors in the en-suite on the cruise!

Not the same for everyone

I have a wife and four daughters so I have lived with people on diets for a very long time, so I know already that everyone is different. In my case I am sure I am different to other diabetics, and there are a lot of different types and levels of the condition. So please, do not take this an any sort of advice without talking to your diabetic doctor/nurse - I just am explaining what I am doing and how it is working.

Not some particular diet

First off, I have not gone for some standard or fad diet, of which there are many. I have gone for being "a bit more sensible". After all, 1kg a year is what? 3g a day!. Reverse that and I'll be my ideal weight in 30 years, sorted. But in all seriousness I don't expect to have to change a lot to make some progress.

The basics

My routine has changed over time, but generally these days, before I started trying to lose weight, I would have a breakfast (sod Costa for no longer doing sausage rolls, that is not nice), usually some snacks as and when hungry, maybe some sort of lunch around mid-day, perhaps soup or toast, a proper meal early evening (thanks Sandra), far too much whisky, and then loads of fruit juice. I rather like tropicana, and fruit juice is usually quite good for you, except it has as much in the way of carbs as the average energy drink, so, well, not so good. However, this meant I did not get hypo, and did not have high blood sugar, and slept well, and have a good HbA1c (a longer term blood sugar test done at my regular check ups). Indeed, the only real issue was gradually putting on more weight.

The big change I have made is cutting out snacks and juice. I started also not drinking at all, largely because of the pain killers from doing my back in, but actually the drink is not having much impact on my blood sugar so I am drinking some whisky again now. I may cut that out again and see if it helps.

The other big change is exercise - going for walks. Just round the block, 1.5km or 2.2km type walks, several times a day. Indeed, walking after eating seems to work really well for getting the blood sugar levels down after a meal. When I do go in to the office I am walking there, or back, or both.

I have also been drinking much more water. Bottled water seems a waste but is easy to carry (when walking) and keep in the fridge to be cold when you want it.

Balancing act

The big problem with a big change in carbs in my diet is balancing the insulin I take every day. This has been hard work - I have changed levels gradually and now reduced insulin by about a third. During this transition I have been hypo a lot, sometimes way too much (my vision starts to go if too low blood sugar!). I have some chocolate bars just in case, and a few times woken up in the night and had to eat half a bar of chocolate just to avoid passing out properly.

However, over the weeks I have got more and more balanced, and not going hypo as much. Even so, my blood sugar is on the low side a lot of the time, so may need a bit more adjustment. It is all about finding a new balance and routine.

Is it working?

Well yes, sort of. This is where the female dieting "experts" in the family are reassuring me. I have lost around 4kg so far in around a month, but 3kg of that was in the first week. I feel less big, and less uncomfortable, so that is good. The walks are getting easier (I live at the top of a hill, which makes them an extra challenge).

How do I feel?

I think this is probably getting to a sensible routine, but it has been hard work. The hypos have been a problem, not just making me ill, impacting my vision, but also leaving me with no energy and even causing migraines. Now I think I have the balance a lot better I do feel better.

Will I keep it up?

Well, I hope so. I really miss the fruit juice to be honest. I am pondering stopping drinking to see if that makes any difference to weight loss (probably will), but as I say I do not need to aim too high here in order to gradually lose weight.

I do feel like I have something nagging at me - a subconscious voice telling me I cannot eat a snack (no matter ho hypo I feel) or that I must go for a walk. To be honest that is annoying. I have set the challenge to myself, and I do not like my task master on this.

So I don't know how long I will keep this up. I don't know if drinking some juice but keeping up the exercise would work, for example. Am I pushing myself too far here?

OK sorry, I am new to dieting

I know, I bet everyone doing any diet goes through all of this, and sorry if I am being lame here. I have managed 54 years without having to diet. I am a newbie, and maybe a never-to-be-again if I get too annoyed with it.

Very frustrating modem bug

I blogged in 2013 about a bug in BT supplied FTTC/VDSL modems (here). BT & manufacturer fixed that modem, but sadly the same bug seems to exist in other modems.

We're seeing this in some Zyxel modems now. I am pretty sure I have had reports of other modes as well. The problem is that it is not always obvious what the issue is, people turn things off and back on again, and that fixes it, so we do not always get clear reports of issues.

The issue is that the modem seems to have some sort of packet acceleration in the chipset - for what reason we cannot image - it seems that it caches around 254 different IP/port/protocol sets. This is a bit like header compression by the sound of it.

This means these cached headers are reconstructed, which is fine, if not for a bug. It seems that when passing PPPoE the IP/port/protocols are matched but the PPPoE ID field is not, yet this is part of what is reconstructed.

This means that on any fixed IP line (IP being an one of the things that needs not to have changed to hit the cache), a PPP restart leaves any packets matching the cache from the previous PPPoE session not working (they send down the line with the PPPoE ID of the previous session, and so are dropped).

For a lot of people this does not matter - dynamic IP has no issue, and even a lot of Internet traffic has different IP/ports, e.g. accessing web pages, so just work.

Sadly there are a number of protocols that easily break, including VPNs like IPsec, and VoIP. So a simple PPP restart on a line causes things not to work. The other issue is these protocols tend to keep trying. so the cache never clears or times out. It just stays not working.

Resetting the modem is one (slow) way to fix, but all it actually needs is the Ethernet port to be reset - just un-plug the cable and re-plug. This causes the modem to clear the cache (why do this on a port reset and not on seeing a PADI, I have no idea, but bugs are funny like that).

When this was one modem and the issue was fixed, that was fine. Now it seems to be more modems, and not fixed, it needs some work arounds. So today I have added an Ethernet port reset feature to our FireBricks so that the port connected to the modem is reset for a second when PPPoE shuts down.

It is a bodge to work around someone else's bug, but it is a pragmatic step. It is in the latest FireBrick alpha release for testing.

What fun?!?

P.S. Until now people have used the profile feature of the FireBrick to reset the port when needed because a VPN would not come up due to this modem bug. This is just how flexible the FireBrick is, but it was not easy to do for VoIP related issues, and so I felt it was time for some special code for this.

2018-07-07

Copyright

I have said it before, but I do believe copyright law needs a good shake up, and so I am putting a few of my thoughts down for if/when that ever happens.

Getting too big

One of the big concerns I have is that the big players in copyright (not the artists, but publishers like the BPI, etc) seem to have far too much influence over legislation with not just the Copyright Act but lots of other laws around copyright. The latest moves to make automated filters are just insane! This is not quite as bad as a sort of legal mafia, but it seems wrong for any body or industry to have that much control that they have so many special laws just for their industry. It is a sign things are not right and that alone is a reason to redress some of the copyright laws. Such an industry is not there for the artists but for themselves, they are too big, IMHO.

Artists deserve credit and money!

However, do not get me wrong, the "creative industry" needs something, I am sure, to ensure they are able to do their thing and profit from it. Some protection does seem to me to make some sense, but what exactly is needed, that is the question.

A big issue here is the artists are often not the ones that get the protection in practice, it is the big companies that exploit them that are winning here. So maybe we need a new model?

Copying is not the thing now

The legislation does cover a bit more than just copying (performance, distribution, etc), but the key thing was always "copying", hence the name "copyright". But this is dated, and comes from the days that making a copy of a thing was hard, costly, and done purely for some commercial reasons.

Now, copying is incidental in so many ways. Even if I "own" a legitimate "copy" of something, that "file" may be on a file system using RAID (so two copies) and copied to RAM and to video card and so on. Heck, the "file" may be stored in the cloud where it exists on multiple servers, copied when I access it through network equipment and so on. Amusingly, if I "gave a copy" of such a file to someone on the same "cloud" system that may mean no actual copy being made, simply someone else accessing the same copy - so in that respect a law protecting "copying" is flawed the other way around even!

It is annoying that if I own a record (remember them) I need no end user licence. Copyright law prevents a few things but to listen to that record I need no licence. These days all that incidental copying means normal use means I need a licence, and a licence can include any onerous terms "they" like.

It was recently ruled that the incidental copying in viewing a web page was "out of scope" of copyright, right up to the cache file on the disk of the viewer. There are currently some provisions for incidental copies, but it is not a clear as it could be. Reading a web page was seen as the same as "reading a book" - not any sort of wrongdoing on the part of the person doing the "reading".

I'd like to see actual "copying" to be removed from copyright as a thing. You can still protect the commercial exploitation of a commercial work without trying to pin down "copying" as a protected right. It makes no sense now when copying is so "normal", and cost free that it happens without any thought or cost.

Right to a digital copy instance?

I logically "own" many digital "copies" of lots of films and TV shows on my Apple TV box. That allows me to view these any time I like on various devices and to share with my friends and family to a limited extent.

This is not enshrined in law in any way and not the same as my owning a VHS cassette. There is some law on this, but not quite the same as simply owning property, i.e. owning "a copy". It is contract with Apple. Oddly it lacks the loan and re-sell of a VHS cassette which I think it also needs.

What I would like is a concept in the law that I actually "own" a digital copy instance. That if Apple ever stopped AppleTV I could even receive that as a copy of the movie or some right to allow some other streaming / provider to take on that digital right instance to offer me the means to view that movie in their service.

I'd like a proper property law type ownership that I could sell or loan to someone even.

This is not trivial, I have invested thousands of pounds in these digital instances with Apple. These could all vanish at a whim of Apple if they wished. I need the law to protect those digital rights. Will my kids inherit those rights when I die? That is a serious question!

There are no lost millions of pounds

Please, get real, the idea that everyone that had copied, illegally and/or immorally, some copyright work "would have paid full price for it" and that this adds up to a vast amount of lost revenue is batshit insane, sorry. If it was pay or don't have it, it would be don't have it. There is not some huge pot of money waiting for you if only you can just get the law and technical measures right!

Open source

There is a whole world of open source stuff, in various levels of control. GPL, Creative Commons, attribution or not, etc. These manage to exist within copyright frameworks, but maybe copyright law needs to recognise the rights of people to waive some or all of their rights in a formal way to be clear that these schemes are valid, even just to irrevokably commend a work to the "public domain".

70 years, fuck that!

The 70 years is crazy, and even more complex is that it is 70 years from death of author. Working out if something is within copyright is complicated as not always obvious who the author is even if the date of publication or creation is know. Patents are 20, and maybe copyright should be the same, or shorter. Get real here! This is all about commerce, if you have not exploited the shit out of your creative works in 20 years then give up.

Registering copyright

One idea is copyright not being automatic, but you have to pay (nominal fee) to register any copyright work to get commercial protection.

I think this may be a winner. I do think things like the moral rights to attribution should perhaps be automatic, and maybe even more than 20 years, but commercial rights - why not have them paid for?

After all, what is a £10 fee to register copyright in a £20mil movies release? Could BPI really complain at having to register copyright?

Of course, what of software that is release regularly - a fee every time? What of my blog - a fee every post? Well, maybe if the moral rights were automatic (attribution) I would simply say what the fuck and not "register" copyright in my blog?

It would make some things simpler even, like the movie industry has massive hassle using any copyright material. Make it registered and 20 years max (paid each year maybe even). That would help them use material as well as offer protection on what they publish.

2018-07-05

FTTP and G.fast

A few people have commented that I have not blogged on FTTP and G.fast at A&A. Obviously this is not the official channel for A&A, as you know, but I appreciate people do follow what I say on here and so perhaps I have been a tad lax here, sorry. No attempt to hide anything.

Basically, we have FTTP available, as we have had for some time, but now offering 160M/30M option for £10 extra. However, sadly, the price of FTTP has been increased due to an increase in BT prices. We are paying £9+VAT more now as BT have dropped the "transition line" discount (where phone line also present) - we have only increased prices by £5 though, so absorbing some of that increase ourselves. We are also not applying this increase  to existing customers, at least not yet.

We are trialing G.fast too, and again offering 160M/30M. We are also looking to offer a 160M/50M option for higher uplink.

I appreciate people like the higher download speeds, and to that end we are trying the 160M services now. We do plan to embrace some of the much higher speeds like 300M and even gigabit in time, but ensuring we are not the bottleneck means we have quite a bit of work to do our side before we are comfortable offering these higher speeds. We are, however, working on that.

A couple of important notes here...

1. If you use the availability checker, either use a phone number of a line at the address, or use a postcode and follow the link to do a full address check. Just checking on postcode is not good enough.

2. We are not doing FTTP-on-demand. All the quotes we have done have been crazy (more than a normal fibre Ethernet install in some cases) and as we understand it from other ISPs the lead times and hassle are still untenable.

2018-07-03

Blogspot did it again

A while ago (GDPR day) I stopped getting moderation emails for comments.

Eventually after changing the setting to a totally different email address, and getting a confirmation email with a link, I started getting them again, yay.

However, it seems to have broken again, and I am not longer getting them - so loads of comments have only just been posted.

I'll try changing email again - thanks GDPR - this is the sort of hassle we wanted, and I still get loads of spam about which I can do bugger all.

2018-07-02

Air conditioning at home (planning permission!)

For many years I used a small stand-alone air-conditioning unit in my study (the box room in the house) and I even had a hole in the wall for the air vent. It just about worked in a tiny room, and needed replacing every few years. In the height of summer I would even put such a unit in the bedroom but that meant a vent out of the window which sort of defeated the object.

However, when my wife finally agreed to my converting the garage in to a "man cave" I decided to do things properly and get a proper split air-conditioning unit installed in the garage (as it was still) and four bedrooms. Yes, overkill I know, but they work well, and they serve to provide energy efficient heating in the winter. I know running air-conditioning has a cost, but it is well worth it for a good nights sleep, and being on a green electricity tariff it is not like I am contributing to climate change either.

Two units are round the side of the house where you cannot see them, but three of them are on the wall facing the road and more noticeable. I did not really think about where they were being put - just left it to the air-con installer to sort them out. In hindsight we could have done something neater and lower down, but he was concerned about children in the garden poking fingers where they should not.

Anyway, this was nearly four years ago now, and they have worked pretty well. Only one unit has developed a fault in that time, which is now fixed.

There can be only one!

Interestingly, a few years ago, someone commented on a picture or video I posted that as I had more than one unit I would need planning permission! Now, planning permission is not something I have had to worry about before, and I assumed only related to actual building work, not simply an electrical appliance. Indeed, the air-conditioning installer had not heard of any need for planning permission and he has installed thousands of these.

When do you need planning permission?

It seems any development needs planning permission, and a development is almost anything that changes the exterior appearance of the property. There are then a long list of permitted developments that allow things without planning permission, and these then have conditions and rules.

So, yes, an air-conditioning unit needs planning permission, but it can come under one of the permitted developments under Part 14 G of the The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015. This lists some rules, like a maximum of one unit, not if you have a wind turbine, outside unit less than 0.6m³, not within 1m of boundary, not on a pitched roof, not within 1m of edge of flat roof - pretty simple stuff to be honest. The big one is that there can be only one (but there is a catch, read on).

If you look at air-conditioning installer web sites you will see a lot of companies reference this order and explain that you can have one unit installed without planning permission - yay!

There is a catch!

There is, however, a catch, and it is one even the council seem to be unaware of most of the time, and that is G3(a) states "the air source heat pump is used solely for heating purposes". That's right, an air-conditioning unit that cools, or heats and cools, is not allowed under this permitted development, so even if you have only one, it needs planning permission! Air-conditioning installer web sites do not mention that gem.

Does anyone care?

Well, to be honest, I assumed it would not matter. I mean who really cares?

Well, it turns out someone did! After three and a half years someone, anonymously, complained to the council that we had no planning permission. I mean what the? THREE AND A HALF YEARS!

And no, they won't tell me who complained. Oddly they did think one unit was allowed. I queried this on the basis that maybe they were confused about what I had - after all the permitted development is all about micro generation and renewable energy and wind turbines even, so maybe what I have has nothing to do with part 14 G? They confirmed that air-conditioning units did come unit air source heat pump micro generation! They also confirmed that if it did not then it would not come under any other permitted development so would need planning permission anyway! They then agreed that even one was not permitted if it cools as well as heats!

Interestingly, if it had been over four years after installation it would not matter. Apparently (thanks Neil for finding the reference, here) there is a time limit on these things. That makes the three and a half year delay mentioning it even more odd and annoying.

What next?

Well, I get a formal notice that I am in breach of planning regulations, and a questionnaire. Oddly they said I would have six months to remove them and asked daft questions like how long it will take and why, to which my answer was basically "every last minute of the six months you allow me, Why? Because I like my air-conditioning!". What kind of daft question was that anyway?

The only real option I have, if I want to keep them (duh!), is to apply for retrospective planning permission!

Applying for planning permission...

This is where the real bureaucracy starts! The council web site leads to an on-line application form, which is clear as mud. I eventually managed to make a filing, and paid the few hundred pounds for the application. I had to upload some "plans", a site plan notably, and some pictures. So, I uploaded a google earth view of the house with some arrows added and some pictures. Simple...

After a while they come back and say they need a proper site plan on a recognised scale. Hmm, but hang on, the formal notice I got saying I did not have planning permission had one of those. So I could literally send back to the council the plan that the council had sent me. They clearly have a plan of the "site" on record anyway, but I had to go through this fiasco.

Then they said they needed the size of the outside units. So I measured carefully and sent a detailed email.

Then they said that was not good enough, they needed the photographs annotated with the sizes. Really? OK, I added some arrows to the photographs with the same numbers that I had put in the email!

At this point they felt I had actually provided enough for the application to be submitted or some such, and then I am told the planner is not happy and they want a proper elevation drawing of the sides of the house on a recognised scale showing the position of the units...

OK, losing my patience and the will to live, I engaged an architect for another few hundred pounds to come and measure and do a proper drawing. He did a nice job, and they really could not argue with a proper architect's drawing could they. That worked!

Council planning web site.

At this point the planning application is published on their web site and neighbours are written to. Seems simple enough.

So I kept an eye on the site. It was not made clear to me how this works - do they have a set of rules for such things to which I have to comply, or do I just get permission if nobody objects? It seems a bit like the latter, almost.

Now I know!

Well, there was an objection filed, and guess what - objections to planning permission are not anonymous, so I know exactly who is complaining. The issue is not the units high up on the wall facing the road but the ones on the side of the house only visible from that neighbour (and only one can been seen as trees/bushes in the way of the other one).

Now, these are neighbours who are not usually a problem. We don't know them that well, beyond popping round for drinks at Christmas, etc. But they are the first to come round if they have any complaint, no matter how small. So I am shocked that this one point has taken them so long to raise as an issue! To be honest, we cannot be 100% sure they are the anonymous complainer and not just that they decided to complain once they got the letter from the council.

Their main complaint - the noise! These are really quiet units. No way the noise could be an issue surely, and at the far end of their garden behind some trees/bushes even.

Investigating the objection

So, the council investigate the objection...

One of the first steps was that the person investigating decided to visit the neighbour to hear how loud it was, and told me I did not need to be there. This seems odd, as surely they need me to ensure the air-conditioning is running when they visit. Indeed, a lot of the time the air-conditioning is "at temperature" and not running. If I am not there, then it may be totally off.

Then she said that she needed to check with environmental health to check what noise level is acceptable. But it seems she had taken no measurements or anything.

She then came back to say that I needed to have a noise consultant make a report! And yes, a noise report for all of the units, not just those facing that neighbour. Yet more cost, so I asked what levels were acceptable (in case I need to order a replacement unit that is quieter).

To my surprise she came back and said no noise report was needed, but I had to confirm the units met: "Noise resulting from the use of the plant, machinery or equipment hereby approved shall not exceed a level of 5 dB(A) below the existing background noise level (or 10 dB(A) below if there is a particular tonal quality) when measured according to British Standard BS4142: 2014 at the boundary of any adjoining or nearby noise sensitive premises."

Now call me a cynic here, but the only way I can confirm that is by getting a report from a noise consultant.

I had an alternative idea - I got the spec sheet for the air-conditioning unit and measured the distance to the boundary and sent that asking if it met the above requirement.

Time running out

Then, out of the blue, I am told time is running out - they apparently have a deadline by which to make a determination, and it was coming up! So I had a choice. They would either give me planning permission which was conditional on it meeting that noise spec. Or I could grant an extension to allow them to play ping pong with environmental health.

I double checked, and there is no chance of penalties or fines or anything. So basically I have said give me the permission, and they did. I now have planning permission!

This now leaves the ball in their (or neighbour's) court - they can complain it is too loud and they can get their noise report to prove it. If it is, and they prove it, then all I have to do is turn it off until I change to a quieter unit or re-positioning of the unit so quieter at the boundary.

In practice, as I say, these units are really quiet, so I seriously doubt they fail to meet the noise requirement.

Pondering the stupidity of this law

Having read a bit more, I wonder is there a way I could have done this better? To be clear I have not tried these and do not know the legality of them.

The simplest seems to be to get a shed lean-to on the house. This seems to be something that does not need planning permission from what I can see. Then, in the shed, install outside units for the air conditioning. This is something that does not change the external appearance of the proper and so is not a development and so does not need planning permission - no more than any other work inside the house like installing a new fridge. And also, nobody knows you have air-conditioning units so won't complain!

Another idea was to install one heating only unit as per permitted development. The air-con installer said these units can be set heat only. Then, as a separate thing on a later date you "modify" your existing installation to be heating and cooling. This modification is not something that changes the external appearance of the property and so not a development and so does not need planning permission. If I was only installing one unit I'd rely on the confusion of the council thinking there can be one unit allowed, but have this as a fall back, stating what dates the heating only install was done, and what date the modification was done. I'd probably even make a video of my making the modification. I cannot see how that falls foul of the rules at all, but does rather make a mockery of the rules.

Finally, and most iffy of ideas, was if you want more than one unit. Install one heating only (permitted development). Then install a second along side that is cooling only. Now, this does not break the permitted development on the first unit as there is only one heating unit still, but the cooling one needs planning permission - except there is a general permitted development for modifications to the properly using same materials. I tried that one as a reason to not need planning permission for cooling only and was told "I doubt your house is made of the same materials as the air-conditioning unit". However, because you do have one unit (permitted, heating only), the second (cooling only) unit is using the same materials so should come under that general permitted development. Add a 3rd and 4th as needed on the same basis. Then, one day, change all to heating and cooling as a separate step which does not change external appearance and so is not a development. Would that fly I wonder? If so, the rules really are stupid.

Anyway, what I can say from practical experience, simply budget for planning permission and go ahead without. If you are lucky they will assume one unit is allowed, or nobody will complain for four years. If you are unlucky you have to apply for permission, which seems simple enough! Well, that's my view anyway, even if not my usual "doing it right" viewpoint, sorry.

Conclusion

What a waste of time and money - actually not that much of my time to be honest - and now we have permission. Why did they bother?

We did think the neighbour may be trying to sell, and concerned over the air-con. My house is not the one over which they should be concerned to be honest. But if that was their plan, now they have a neighbour's planning permission "on file" and that will show in a search, so making it far more obvious to any potential buyer. Ooops.

2018-06-26

SVG Vector Playing Cards

I decided to make some SVG playing cards, well, for fun. Scalable Vector Graphics is excellent for such things and works with all major browsers.

Chris Aguilar's
Queen of Spades
But first I googled, and found someone had already done it! In fact quite a few people have - with perhaps one of the best examples done by Chris Aguilar (here). There is even a rather good set of Javascript functions which work with his cards (here). Wikipedia also have an impressive set of SVG playing cards of various styles (here). People do like their playing cards, don't they!

Well, to be frank, I was almost put off. Chris Aguilar has done an excellent job, I am impressed. Well, everyone doing this has done a stunning job to be honest. But that did not quite stop me in my tracks (those that know me will not be surprised). It would be a fun exercise to do this, but really only if I can do a better (or at least different) job in at least some aspect. To be fair, that was going to be hard. From an artistic point of view, Chris Aguilar has done an excellent job as had others, and I am not really an artist, so I concentrated on the technical aspects mostly. Even so, this turned in to a week long project and a lot of work just for a bit of fun...

This is what I came up with - enjoy...

How are things better and/or different?

Licence

One of the simplest improvements I can make is releasing my cards under a completely open Creative Commons CC0 Public Domain licence, not even requiring attribution. This makes them much easier to use. Whilst I'd like credit, obviously, and it would be appreciated if the link on the Ace of Spades was left intact, that is not a requirement. Do what you like with them.

Compact SVG

The first thing I noticed was that Chris used inkscape. This is an excellent choice, and it is pretty much the editor for SVG. It also does a good job tracing scanned images. However SVG has a lot of bloat. Making a ten of clubs resulted in a file that was 29k. One I picked on wikipedia was 33k. By making the SVG myself, not using inkscape I was able to make use of symbol objects, so only drawing the club once, then using it 12 times for example. My SVG is probably not quite as compact as I would like, but my ten of clubs is only 1.7k, so much leaner.

My 10 of Clubs
Hand crafted paths

The other thing I could do to save space was to hand craft some of the SVG, making the pips (suit symbols) and digits/letters (value symbols) from scratch. The actual shape of these has varied over time, and this allowed me to add my own subtle variation on a theme. It ensured the pips were symmetric and took less space. I am quite pleased with the result.

Separate files

One slightly odd thing about Chris's work is that he has made one large SVG image for the whole deck. I decided to make separate files for each card and a zip of them per deck. I am not sure why he did that to be honest, as he says, you can export them from the SVG he has made, but that is a tedious task, 54 times, so seems unnecessary. Wikipedia has separate files.

Court cards

The court cards are an issue. All the rest can easily be made and done so programatically, but the court cards are art! I am not an artist even if I did take O-Level art. So I had basically three choices.
  • I could use Chris's court cards, or someone else's. This is somewhat admitting defeat, and obviously I would credit him, and it would limit the licence by which I could publish.
  • I could design and draw my own - except, as I say, I am not an artist.
  • I could scan / trace / copy / draw from some actual court cards.
Antique (c.1870) Goodall & Son piquet deck
One possible issue here is one of copyright. Chris has copyright in the work he has done. Every time someone makes a design, or photograph or scan, they create a new copyright. Notably he says he has used very old designs that are out of copyright, but I noted different card manufacturers seem to have subtly different court cards and his look identical to Bicycle playing cards, but he may well have found an out of copyright original from which to make his design. My solution was to obtain some actual antique playing cards (Goodall & Son, c. 1870), so old they do not even have numbers on the cards (you have to count the pips!) but they have nice court cards and they are too old to be in copyright any more. They are thick board, square corners, badly aligned printing, and this was a Piquet pack (so no 2 to 6 cards), but the court cards were fine.

Trace of Goodall & Son
Ace of Spades
(dates to 1867-97)
I could have just used inkscape image trace, but that does not fit with the neat and compact SVGs I had done so far, and the originals are not that good, so I used inkscape to carefully manually trace the court cards creating my own new designs. Time consuming, and like most artistic projects I find you can spend forever on the fine detail. In fact, I think I have found a bigger time-suck than even 3D printing - it took over three days solidly working on these, and even then I went back to tweak a couple of cards once I got reasonably good at it.

What really bugged me is that the designs should be symmetric, in theory, but these cards are not only badly aligned print of each colour but badly drawn in the first place, so I had to be a tad artistic in places. I was drawing only half the card but kept having to preview with the 180 degree rotation to confirm things lined up with the other half. It even turned out one card was designed to not be symmetric, so I improvised, the Jack of Heats actually had a heart dead centre, so had a "way up", so I did two hearts side by side instead.

History

There is one thing that is noticeable though - modern court cards (at least English decks) all face in a standard way. It is a total mess, i.e. there are four ways they face (profile left, half left, half right, profile right) but each suit does not have all four versions. The deck I used as reference is old, and so six of the court cards actually face a different way to modern cards - it makes them that bit different.

Some of the history is interesting - it seems in the 19th Century Goodall & Son and De La Rue were cornering the market in playing cards, merging in to De La Rue in the 1920s, and going on from making playing cards to now making bank cards. I never knew bank cards had a history in playing cards!

My Queen of Spades
Coding

I did not simply make a deck of SVG cards - that is not quite my style - what I made was a C programme that creates a deck of cards. It has lots of options (see below). It is fun working out the different ways you can make cards, and some of the subtle detail - for example, the 9 of clubs needs the centre club to be slightly higher than central to avoid clashing with the clubs on the sides! Of course the SVG was made using an XML library in the code.

Then I made more C code, this time to allow me to edit and tinker with the court card drawings in SVG, and extract the raw paths to make the include file for the main C code.

Size

The design allows me to make other sizes easily but I decided to stick to standard poker deck size (2.5" by 3.5") or the metric version (63mm by 88mm). Obviously as SVGs this is pretty academic as it is scalable.

Ghost pack is confusing
Variations

The C code, which I may yet publish, has a number of options which I can use in any combination. I have published a selection of decks made using some of these.
  • Ghost - all black except the small pips under the value which are red for hearts and diamonds - inspired by a Bicycle Ghost deck. No, I have not done a black ghost deck (yet).
  • Blue - Blue instead of red!
  • Plain - Court cards and joker are simple letters, making the deck much smaller SVG.
  • Box - A box is present around the court card artwork anyway, but this adds a box around all of the other cards, with a cream background
  • Ace of Spades - This is normally "special", dating back to showing tax was paid (apparently) but can be made simple, just one standard size spade pip in the middle. Custom text/URL under the ace as well.
  • No-Left - Not showing the index value and suit on the top left - so old school where you had to count the pipes
  • Right - Also showing the index value and suit on the top right, for left handed players!
  • No-Flip - Not inverting the pips on the bottom of the cards - like really old packs
  • Old - using old style pips from the 1870 deck - they look quite different to what we see these days - typically used with no-left and no-flip to give the authentic style
  • Eleven - Add an "eleven" card for extra fun - it comes between 10 and Jack.
  • And of course options for artwork with no border/outline, and with bleed area for printing, and different sizes (bridge, poker, etc).
I addition, I can make custom backs, and jokers and so on for different decks.

My 11 of Clubs
Going up to 11

Obviously I have made a pack with 11s in it (between 10 and Jack). Adding an 11 seemed obvious and for some games it will be simple as the order of cards is what matters (it is clearly ... 9, 10, 11, J, Q, K). So anything based on whist is no problem. Where it gets more complex is where the cards have scores, e.g. J, Q, K count as 10 and A counts as 1 or 11. Well, should the court cards now be 11? Should the A only count as 1 now? You'd have to make your own rules. I have not found much about using 14 card suits with my googling, but have found other SVG cards for 11s, so not original by any means.

Printing

I added options to add 3mm bleed area, and no card border/outline, to make it easy to make print ready graphics. An inkscape command line easily turns the SVGs in to PDFs. I had to design in clip paths for my court cards as web browsers limit the symbol to the viewBox, but sadly inkscape seems not to do that, so "bleed" from my court card designs were showing.

I found a company that seems to know what they are doing when it comes to printing playing cards, Ivory Graphics.

One thing that did puzzle me is their print tolerances. They want 3mm bleed around the card and 5mm clearance inside. This makes no sense as surely if they can be more than 3mm off on the card cutting they will be beyond the bleed, so why expect 5mm clearance not 3mm? Anyway, they were happy to try with 3mm clearance, which fits with actual playing cards I have checked. The big issue is that even 1 or 2mm may be enough to make an asymmetric back image which can be exploited, so a serious playing card printing company has to be pretty damn good and way better than 3mm...

The other thing is the way they work - and I suspect it is just common for companies to work like this. They have a pretty slick ordering system - you ask for a quote with all the options very clearly laid out, and then send one, and you click a link to order. You upload artwork (PDF files, nice). They have artwork templates and rules, so pretty simple. Now, if I was doing it, I would allow you to arrange which artwork is front and which is back of each card and the arrange the order of the cards, but no, it just lets you upload a load of files (and only one at a time, when I know browsers can handle more than one at a time if you try). You have to give them separate instructions for how the artwork is to be used, and even then they don't necessarily follow the instructions. Then produce a "proof" which is again PDFs but one for each front and back of each card with the card outline. This process seems to take a couple of days and be somewhat manual their end. I would have made it part of the ordering system showing the "proof" there and then, and hence bypassing some manual process and removing a two or three day delay in the process. However, with all of this, they do have good expectation management saying they take 6 days - I am impatient and finding inefficiency a tad annoying. That said, they were interested in the suggestion for improvements and said they are always trying to improve.

Email was a challenge - their system did not "like" that I had ivorygraphics in the email address I gave them, and my system flagged all their emails as spam so I had to go hunting for them!

The real proof is seeing the test pack of cards.

The test pack of an A&A deck

The verdict - well the cards are good, they look and feel the same as a "real" pack of cards, but the cutting was not perfect on all cards. I have changed the design slightly for printing to have a bigger margin to avoid this being such an issue - this was a "test pack" after all. The printers have also said they were not happy with the cutting and are doing a new test pack for me now.

P.S. Having the test pack has actually allowed me to make a number of minor changes to the designs, not just margins so that print tolerance issues won't show, but also really subtle things like miter-limit on the top of the digit "4" and other details that seem more obvious looking at the actual pack.

2018-06-19

Tesco Scan As You Shop

Someone may point out the obvious that I am missing, but I am puzzled by the latest development with Tesco Scan As You Shop system.

Overall it works well, and even some of the issues I have seen in the past are now fixed (mainly that you could not scan through the notice of things being on offer, which you can now).

But this latest innovation seems a tad special. Scan As You Shop is all about convenience. You can pack bags as you go (something my wife takes very seriously) and then check out quickly.

Indeed, my wife gets exasperated at the occasional extra scan of like 5 items as it messes up her neat packing. I know why they do that - obviously to catch genuine errors and to catch those taking the piss as well.

However this new thing appears to be applied in a manual way, not part of the system. They have applied a red mark to some of the handsets and then they have staff force a full re-scan. Indeed, I wonder what would happen if you kept quiet about the red mark as I bet the "system" has no idea it is there. Update: Saw today - no, the system does not know, if you hide the red mark you can check out as normal!

I have to wonder what purpose this serves. If you are planning to shove a few things in the bag without scanning, you know not to if you get the red mark. So not for catching thieves at all.

Apart from having no advantages, surely it is just pointless in other ways. Sadly I think the system means you cannot simply pick up another scanner, as you have one already on that club card. Maybe take two club cards to the shop just in case.

But you can put the scanner back and walk away - go to a sensible shop instead.

You can also decide, well, if all is being scanned, I'll just use an ordinary till anyway, save me scanning stuff myself.

In what way is this at all beneficial to Tesco in any circumstance?

I can see us shopping elsewhere pretty soon. The pharmacy have already lost our business because they were unable to get Aviva blood test strips, and they are a pain for other reasons too.

Or have I missed the obvious here?