Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Adult Oxymoron

I was travelling back from Northampton today listening to my radio station of choice. In fact, I thought my car only had two stations - press FM for BBC Radio 4 and AM for BBC Radio 5 Live. I was surprised and amazed the other day when my passenger pressed one of the numbered button and got a different station apparently called "Virgin". It seems there are hundreds of them (radio stations, not virgins, not that there aren't hundreds of virgins too, otherwise what would dragons eat?).

I was listening to Making History and they had an article on HM Stanley, best known for presuming Doctor Livingstone. Henry Livingstone had an interesting life and it started by being born to what Sue Cook called an "amateur prostitute". A prostitute has sex for money, let's not beat about the bush, but an amateur is somebody who does whatever they do unpaid. As soon as you accept money you are regarded as professional - at least in the days of amateur Olympics and Rugby Union you were.

According to the Stanley biographer they interviewed, he actually did say "Doctor Livingstone, I presume". It's nice to see one of these legends turn out true.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Apto Solutions

My first day at my new company started badly when I was late for work. This was following a hard Saturday on the Round the Island Race and a long day at the Goodwood Festival of Speed on Sunday.

Anyway, the company exists and has started trading. We even have some work to do - actually, a lot of work to do.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Round the Island Race result

The weather was miserable, the crew not 100% fit, but overall it behaved like a well oiled machine (not in the beer sense) and we finished 36th in class of 78 and 300th overall (out of about 700). The crew sustained one minor injury.

Preparation started on the Friday night during which the crew tackled the weight problem caused by the fridge's excessive beer content. This was followed by a curry in Cowes and more beer at the beer tent in the marina (with an extremely good band). The minor injury was sustained on the way back to the boat as I descended the gangplank onto the pontoon. I went over on my ankle but being beered up did not think too much of it at the time. The next morning it was pretty sore, but appeared to be functioning in that I could walk on it. As I write this, it is a bit swollen and a sort of reddish purple hue.

The start was at 7.20am and we got out of the blocks well. The wind being about 20 knots suited us and we had much amusement watching other people mishandle their spinakers (we didn't have a spinaker, but we seemed to be going fast enough anyway). The rule was: we could eat a jellybaby if we overtook another boat. We managed to get in several.

The leg from the Needles to Saint Catherine's Point was interesting as we had to tack several times. Most of the time we were on the starboard tack, but every now and then we would have to go onto the port tack to avoid hitting land. This was exciting because you would then be crossing most other boats paths at right angles and under the rules of the sea, the boat on the port tack gives way.

During the next leg to Bembridge we were absolutely flying - wind and tide were just right and we hit 10 knots over the ground at one point. We seemed to be one of the fastest boats at this point, and the jellybaby supply was giving cause for concern.

The final leg back to Cowes was a bit of a disapointment. It was directly downwind and you really do need a spinaker in that situation. Questions were being asked. Would we have to give the jellybabies back?

It was on this leg that we had our altercation. Another yacht was approaching us from the port side on a course that was about 30 degrees off what everybody else (including us) was doing. There was some dispute about who had right of way. We said they were the overtaking boat. They said we were on the port tack, which was technically true; although we were going straight downwind, the mainsail was out on the starboard side. By the time we had finished arguing about this, the boats were so close together we had to jibe rather sharply. The boom wasn't totally under control and went flying across to the port side. Somebody on the other boat was heard to say "nice jibe" in an unnecessarily sarcastic tone. You can imagine the amusement when shortly afterwards their spinaker collapsed and they managed to get a line tangled in the prop or rudder whilst trying to sort it out.

Towards the end of the leg the wind dropped to 10 knots which was unfortunate in that the Moana doesn't sail well in those conditions. The speed over the water dropped almost to the point where we didn't have steerage, however, we struggled over the line in a time of eight hours, nine minutes and 30 seconds.

Celebrations were tempered by the fact that we couldn't find a berth at the marina or anywhere in Cowes and so had to go back to Southampton. We did get a tankard to prove we had finished the race.

Monday, June 21, 2004


Spent the weekend at Mum and Dad's with my friend Sara. I told Sara about their swimming pool. Sara said it was going to be too cold to swim. I said the edge of Suffolk has a microclimate and would be boiling hot. Sara didn't believe me.

I wore my new tee shirt which had the opposite of the desired effect in that a) Dad's PC wouldn't install Norton Antivirus and b) Mum's PC couldn't see Dad's PC or laptop on their home network and "can you fix it pleeeeeaaasssse or don't have any food this weekend - it's your choice". Fortunately both problems were duly solved.

The NAV problem was fixed by converting all the FAT32 file systems to NTFS (why the WinXP upgrade doesn't do that is beyond me - the whole process is quick and painless even for the system drive) and deleting all evidence of previous failed installs from the registry (boy was I glad the PC successfully booted even after hacking the registry for 20 mins). The networking problem turned out to be because Dad's PC and the laptop had somehow been set to use DHCP which was unfortunate what with the lack of DHCP servers on their home network.

The microclimate was best described as "biting". I did go for a swim but, although the water was warm, it was best to keep totally immersed to avoid getting frostbite on the areas of skin exposed to the air. Sara whimped out.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Lloyds TSB "spam"

Today I received the following e-mail:

Dear Lloyds TSB customer!

Please read this important message about
security. Your account has been randomly
chosen for verification. This is requested
to us to verify that you are the real owner
of this account. All you need to do is to
click on the link below. You will see a verification
page. Please complete all fields that you will see
and submit the form. You will be redirected to Lloyds
TSB home page after verification. Please note that if
you don't verify your ownership of account in 24 hours we
will block it to protect your money. Thank you.

Lloyds TSB Bank?plc and Lloyds TSB Scotland plc are
authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority

I thought that was very considerate of them, especially as I don't have a Lloyds TSB account. I decided to go to their web site and congratulate them on such a proactive service and of course my eye was drawn to this security page.

In actual fact, the e-mail was delivered to an account which I only read with the Unix mail command and so it really looked like:

From service@lloydstsb.com Wed Jun 16 14:02:02 2004
Return-Path: <service@lloydstsb.com>
Received: from xxxxxxxx.co.uk ([xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx])
  by xxx.xxx.xxx (8.12.11/8.12.11) with SMTP id i5GD21mZ005947
  for <xxxxx@xxxx.xxx.net>; Wed, 16 Jun 2004 14:02:02 +0100
Received: (qmail 5666 invoked by uid 89); 16 Jun 2004 11:50:48 -0000
Delivered-To: xxx.xxx-xxxxx@xxxxx.net
Received: (qmail 5662 invoked from network); 16 Jun 2004 11:50:47 -0000
Received: from xxxx.xxxx.net (xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx)
  by 0 with SMTP; 16 Jun 2004 11:50:47 -0000
Received: from pcp09625918pcs.mtlrel01.nj.comcast.net ([] helo=lloydstsb.com)
  by xxx.xxx.net with smtp (Exim 4.32)
  id 1BaYwE-0008yT-Vo
  for xxxx@xxxxxx.co.uk; Wed, 16 Jun 2004 12:50:43 +0100
Date: Wed, 16 Jun 2004 11:44:37 +0000
From: Lloyds TSB <service@lloydstsb.com>
Subject: OfficiaI lnformation from LIoyds TSB
To: Xxxx <xxxx@xxxxxx.co.uk>
References: <78AB648078G3J092@xxxxx.co.uk>
In-Reply-To: <78AB648078G3J092@xxxxxx.co.uk>
Message-ID: <70KL79LF158L7A1E@lloydstsb.com>
Reply-To: Lloyds TSB online <online@lloydstsb.com>
Sender: Lloyds TSB online <online@lloydstsb.com>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/html; charset=Windows-1251
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 8bit
Delivered-To: xxxx@xxxxx.co.uk
Delivered-To: xxxxxxxx@xxxxx.co.uk
Status: R

Dear Lloyds TSB customer!<br><br>
Please read this important message about<br>
security. Your account has been randomly<br>
chosen for verification. This is requested<br>
to us to verify that you are the real owner<br>
of this account. All you need to do is to<br>
click on the link below. You will see a verification<br>
page. Please complete all fields that you will see<br>
and submit the form. You will be redirected to Lloyds<br>
TSB home page after verification. Please note that if<br>
you don't verify your ownership of account in 24 hours we<br>
will block it to protect your money. Thank you.<br>
<a href="http://xxxx-xxxxx.info/lloy/loys.html">https://online.lloydstsb.co.uk/applypassword.ibc</a><br><br>
Lloyds TSB Bank?plc and Lloyds TSB Scotland plc are<br>
authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority

Note that the URL is obfuscated not to protect the identity of the site, but to prevent people from clicking it even by accident. Note also that it is extremely easy to forge the "from" address so the fact that the addresses in the headers all look like legitimate Lloyds e-mail addresses, they were forged.

The received line containing "pcp09625918pcs.mtlrel01.nj.comcast.net ([] helo=lloydstsb.com)" is the machine that apparently created the e-mail. This cannot be forged since it was put there by a legitimate mail server. When a mail server receives a connection from a client it does a reverse lookup on the IP address to find out its DNS name. The client then has to say who it thinks it is. This is why the legitimate server has put the helo=.... part in. The client is pretending to be somebody it isn't. It's probably really an innocent person's PC connected to a cable modem that has been compromised by a virus.


Reading Audi left a voice mail on my phone the other day. "Hi this is Sharon. Just following up on your service. I wanted to check that everything was OK with it." Now, as I have posted elsewhere, I feel justified in thinking I was slightly ripped off. "Right," I thought. "I'm going to give them a piece of my mind." So I phoned Audi in a mood of righteous idignation. The conversation went something like this:

Receptionist: "Hello, Reading Audi"
Me: (blood boiling, keeping temper in check because it wasn't the receptionist's fault about the tyres) "I'm returning a a call from Sharon."
Receptionist: "I'll put you through."
Telephone: (I'm channelling my rage for the onslaught) plinkety plong (a few seconds of muzak).
Sharon: "Hello, this is Sharon, how can I help you?"
Me: (Rage is very nearly channelled, just a few more seconds before I unleash my wrath) "You rang about my service."
Sharon: "Oh yes, and how was it? Do you have any comments"
Me: "No everything was fine; couldn't be happier"

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Tuning in

iTunes UK is up! I logged in today and gave them my credit card number which turned out to be a huge mistake. All you have to do is select the song or album you want, press a button and zap your card limit has been reached. There is a little warning that says you will be charged money for downloading your song, but you can disable that and everything magically becomes free - I think.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Administration ministrations

Yesterday I discovered Windows XP's "Run As..." context menu option. This allows you to right click on an exe and run it as another user. In my house I have an old tower PC running Linux From Scratch - the true geeks' Linux - which is my firewall and NAT router as well as hosting my subversion repository and spam sink. I also have an old Powebook which is doing nothing, a new Powerbook (well only 18 months old) for all my serious stuff and a tower PC running Windows XP. The XP PC (called Amy) is used for Windows development and playing games. I also surf the web with it occasionally.

The "Run as..." option is fab because it negates one of the major security problems with Windows. I bet virtually everybody who is reading this is doing so on a Windows box of some sort. Ignoring the people who are using some other operating system, most of you will be using Internet Explorer and all of you are probably logged in on an account with administration rights. This combination is a disaster from a security standpoint because most of the malware on the Internet is targetted at Internet Explorer or Outlook and as soon as IE is compromised, your box is rooted (Unix expression meaning some nasty person owns admin rights).

Why are you all logged in as admin? It's stupid and dangerous! No Unix user would ever consider doing that. My guess is that you do it for the same reason I did until yesterday: it's a pain in the bum to install new software if you don't run as admin. It's also a pain in the bum to do config changes. Unix users have never really had this problem because they have two tools "su" and "sudo" which allow them to temporarily give themselves admin priviledges. With "Run as..." XP users can do the same thing as Unix users. For instance you can run your software installer as admin while being logged in as a normal user.

So I've enabled the Administrator account on my XP box and downgraded my own account to "Power user". If that works out, I'll downgrade it further to ordinary user and I'll be saf(er) from all those nasty viruses and worms. Hooray!

An Alan in a Peartree

Rich's blog is slowly coming back on line. It's moved to a .net domain, which is probably more apt for a personal site anyway.


Friday, June 11, 2004

Tyring day

Yesterday I had my car serviced. It's an Audi, so it's always best to take out a large bank loan before getting it done. By the time you've added all the extras that they didn't tell you about when they quoted £340, it gets to be quite expensive.

I was informed at lunchtime that both front tyres were verging on illegal and the dealership could replace them. I was given a choice of Michelins like the ones I already had (expensive), Pirellis (less so) or Dunlops (cheap). The price quoted for the Michelins was only £10 more than I had paid to have the rear tyres replaced at Kwik Fit only two months previously, so given that it would save me a trip to Kwik Fit on saturday morning, I said put the Michelins on.

Somebody once told me that Michelins were the best and I don't think tyres are something you should compromise on. OK, there's some inconsistency there in that I was prepared to let the previous set of Michelins get into an almost dangerous condition, but I reckon bald Michelins must be better than bald Dunlops any day.

Later the same day as I came out of PC World following an unsuccessful search for a graphics card, I decided to inspect my tyres. There's something deeply satisfying about a new set of tyres with an abundance of tread. What I saw deeply disturbed me. To be fair, the Audi dealer did only say Michelins like the ones you've got. They didn't say "exactly the same", I admit, but the implication was "the same but with some rubber on them". The new tyres were 205/55R16 91V not 205/55R16 91W as previously specced on the old tyres. I'd been ripped off.

"What's so worrying about one measly letter?" I hear you say. Tyre specifications are bizarre in the extreme and use three different measuring scales. The 205 refers to the width of the wheel in millimetres. The 55 is the height of the tyre wall as a percentage of the width. A low number here means low profile. The R says that the tyres are radial. The 16 means the diameter in inches (mixing Imperial and metric Tsch!) . The 91 is the load rating. The letter is the speed rating. W rated tyres are good for 170 mph. V rated tyres are only good for 150 mph. My car is no longer safe at speeds above 150 mph! It's a death trap.

Actually, the handbook says my A3 is not even capable of 150 mph and I myself have only ever done half that (ahem), but I bet V rated tyres are cheaper than Ws.

New company name

The new company name is turning out to be more than insurmountable. One idea we came up with was "Atrani" which is where my parents' holiday house is. Unfortunately, one of our backers pooh-poohed that idea. Carol's comment "I'd go for something involving donkeys" would be disturbing in any other context, but fortunately she is one of the founders of Puzzle Donkey and Shop Donkey.

Note to Rich: Do I get a discount for plugging your site?


Oh dear. My brother's blog has just died. It was due for renewal soon anyway, so maybe his ISP just pulled the plug. I'll keep you posted as to what went wrong.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Round the Island Race update

Some details:

We are in ISC class B. This is the class for big fat cruising yachts. Dave says our handicap is pretty unfavourable so Andy and I will have to shed a few pounds. He also made some mysterious comment about the engine being fortunately quiet and putting the heavier crew members in the dinghy.

Our start time is 7.20 am, so we'll be visible outside Cowes at around that time and again (hopefully) about 10 hours later at 5 pm ish. Our sail number is 8755T so keen people with binoculars will be able to spot our boat.

Case sensible

I'm a user of subversion and therefore subscribed to the users mailing list. One of the topics that comes around a lot is the problem of case insensitivity. (Is there a special name for topics that come up regularly in mailing lists and forums in which exactly the same arguments get rehearsed over and over and eventually somebody says "look this was all in the archives from a month ago"? I propose "rehash" which has the advantage of also being a Gorillaz song)

The problem with subversion (well not subversion as we shall see) is that it is cross platform. It runs on myriads of Unix operating systems, Mac OS X and Windows. The Unix file system is case sensitive. That is: file names that differ in case only e.g. jeremyp.txt and JeremyP.txt actually represent different files. With Windows and Mac OS X file names are case insensitive, preserve case, which is to say that jeremyp.txt and JeremyP.txt are the same file, but the operating system remembers what combination of upper and lower case you typed in when you named the file.

Case sensitivity causes subversion a problem because although it is cross platform it has to support case sensitivity for the Unix boys and girls who may stupidly call two different files by the same name e.g. foobar.c and foobar.C (note that some misguided people use uppercase "C" as a file extension for C++ and lower case "c" for normal C files). If a Mac OS X person tries to check out a subversion repository with foobar.c and foobar.C in it, the checkout will fail because when subversion gets to the second file, it finds it already exists and isn't prepared to overwrite it (quite correct IMHO).

The Unix file system is case sensitive probably because Thompson and Ritchie couldn't be bothered to write the extra few bytes of code required to do case insensitive compares. In real life this is a stupid way of doing things. Any human can figure out that JeremyP, jeremyp, JEREMYP and JeReMyP all refer to the same person and there is no reason that a computer can't. Even Windows, which is much derided by Linux fans, knows how to do names properly.

The ultimate stupidity of the Unix way of working (UNIX, Unix same operating system, right?) is the humble URL. A URL looks a bit like this: http://somehost.mydomain/path/to/file.html. The somehost.mydomain part is case insensitive. This is because it is a DNS name and DNS is sensible. However, the path/to/file.html part is case sensitive because traditionally it was actually a Unix file (relative to what is now known as the document root). Here we have a specification that includes two different conventions for case sensitivity in one object. How lame is that!

Things were improving for a while. HTML tags are not case sensitive, but now it turns out that XML and by extension XHTML have case sensitive tags. This is a backward step in my opinion.

Mac OS X (my fave) shows that you can run Unix sensibly with a case insensitive file system, so I think we should rise up in arms against case sensitivity all over the world.

Sensible case, not case sensitive!

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Rant about images

Only the other day I was checking the stats for my web site and I noticed that there was a referrer from a forum so I decided to check it out. A poster to the forum had posted one of my images (in fact the one that also appears in my profile on this blog) and made some comment that he thought whitty.

I didn't mind the fact that he had made the comment - the worst form of insult is to be ignored - but he had used my image in an inline image tag so there was no attribution. Not only that, but because the image source was my web site, he was using my bandwidth. If he had posted a normal link so that it was obviously from a third party site, I think I would have been less upset.

Now, I'm not naiive enough to think that this sort of thing doesn't happen all the time, but now it's happened to me, it's got me thinking. Firstly, have I ever done this before and did the people I do it to get as upset. I don't think there are any issues like this with my current site. Secondly, how can I stop things like this from happening. I did think of putting a link obfuscation mechanism in using PHP so that people could link to the album or even individual pages in it but not the actual JPEGs. Unfortunately, I use iPhoto to generate the albums so that would be a big hassle. The only other idea I had was to stamp every photograph with a copyright notice.



I'm leaving my current company to set up with a friend of mine. Initially, we will be doing contract work and consultancy in the software industry. Then we are going to have a brilliant idea and rool the world!

Our first almost insurmountable problem is thinking up a name for the company.

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