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Mar 142018

Today came the news that Stephen Hawking has died, which is a loss to England, Britain, the United Kingdom, and the whole world. Well worthy of having a spot in Westminster Abbey. Yet as soon as his death was announced, we had bad christians (and at least one muslim) crowing about how he was going to spend all eternity in hell.

Yes, atheists know that christians think we’re going to hell. There’s no need to shout about it on twitter.

Apart from anything else, it makes christians and muslims look bad – is it any wonder that religion is losing ground to secularism when we have such noxious examples of the religious?

Now I’m not one of those atheists who thinks that all religious people are evil; a bit deluded perhaps, but not necessarily evil. But we do not see enough religious condemnation of bad christians from the good christians, or bad muslims from the good muslims.

It’s always worth remembering that evil words and deeds speak louder than good words and deeds, so good christians and good muslims need to flood their bad co-coreligionists with enough condemnation to drown out their evil words and deeds.

Rusty Anchor In The Sky


Mar 112018

Or did it just get a fresh coat of paint?

The news that a former Russian agent has been killed; almost certain by the Russian FSB. Think about it – who else would it be? Nobody else wanted him dead and Russian Today has been talking about how traitors in the UK will meet their end.

Russia has been subjected to secret police gangsters since the Tsarist era (the Okhrana). And yet whilst in the past, Russia’s leaders have supported the secret police, today’s leader (Vladimir Putin) is an old Chekist himself. Thus today’s FSB have less inclination to restrain themselves than any time in the past, and they didn’t show much restraint then!

Russia is today a rogue state prepared to resort to the kind of tactics that can lead to war, and it is not just their practice of killing traitors on foreign soil. Just look at their interference with the US election (we may not have a smoking gun, but plenty of Russian hands smell of cordite), the Ukrainian “adventures”, and suspicious activities in Syria.

In practice there is little we can do to change Russia; it has to come from within. All we can do is keep our defences up, try to avoid antagonising them, but not kowtow to their gangsterism either (a difficult line to balance).

Yes that means conventional arms, and unconventional defences too – Internet warfare can be dangerous or at the very least disruptive. And yes the spooks in the old-fashioned trenchcoats also need to get tooled up.

It also means not expanding NATO any more than it has already been.

Walking The Beach

Mar 102018

Alfred is a former Anglo-Saxon (actually Saxon) land-owner who has been reduced to serfdom for swearing to support William the Bastard and then breaking his oath in rebellion. Understandably he’s a bit put out by this.

William (no, not the Bastard; another one) is a Norman lord who has taken over Alfred’s estates. He is a bit of a thicko, and his main strength is bashing people with big lumps of optionally sharpened metal; his language skills aren’t especially pronounced which is somewhat ironic as a Norman is really a Viking with a French accent.

Bruce is William’s sword brother and is currently present so William can utter asides to him during the following dialog; he is presently visiting William as a break from his somewhat grimmer estates in Northumbria near the Scottish border, and to drink as much as is humanly possible.

William: “Oy! Alfred. Bring bœuf”

Alfred looks puzzled; he’s heard the word bœuf before but isn’t sure what it means, and isn’t in the mood to be helpful (he rarely is).

William (in Norman French which I have rendered in English because my Norman French is non-existent, and I’m not sure Google Translate is up to this job. It is also in italics to clarify that William is making an aside to Bruce): “These Saxons are a bit thick; can’t even understand the simplest commands.”

William: “Bring ox(masculine ending)”

Alfred: “We don’t have ox(masculine ending), how about ox(feminine ending)?”

William: “Just bring it”

Alfred leaves the hall looking puzzled, and is gone for an unusually long time.

Bruce: Is he trying to breed with the cow so he can bring a bull?

Alfred arrives back leading a cow on a rope; it is obviously still alive. William stands and starts to draw his sword whereas Bruce hurls his nearly empty tankard at Alfred which fortunately bonks his head. This seems to satisfy William who slumps back down in his chair and mutters: See what I have to put up with?

Alfred: “Did you mean ox(ending indicating a roasted dish)?”

William: “Bring food”

Alfred hands the cow’s rope to another serf, heads out of the hall, and comes back a few minutes later with some roast ox.

The Bench

Mar 092018

One of the things that annoys me about pagers such as lessmore, most, etc. is that they are dumb in the sense that they cannot detect the format of the text file they are displaying. For example, all of a sudden I find myself reading lots of markdown-formatted files, and I find myself using most to display it – never remembering that it is mdv I want.

As it happens, when I invoke a pager at the shell prompt, I typically use an alias (page or pg) to invoke a preferred pager, and by extending this functionality into a function I can start to approach what I want :-

function extension {
  printf "%s\n" ${argv/*\./}

function page {
 if [[ -z $argv ]]
   case $(extension $argv) in
       mdv -A $argv | $PAGER
       groff -m mandoc -Tutf8 $argv | $PAGER
       $PAGER $argv

Of course there are undoubtedly umpteen errors in that, and probably better ways to do it too. And it won’t work properly on its own ($PAGER hasn’t been set).
But it’s the start of something I can use to display all sorts of text files in a terminal window without having to remember all those commands. But as for ‘intelligent’, nope it’s not that – just a bit smarter than the average pager.

Mar 082018

There are tons of stories about poor unfortunates being caught out by the weather last week – in both Storm Emma, and it’s predecessor – and whilst they no doubt had a terrible time being stuck on roads or trains, should we be uncritically sympathetic?

As an extreme example, Friday brought stories about the poor motorists stuck on the M80 overnight. Yet to get stuck, they would have to travel during a red weather warning. And these warnings were not exactly difficult to find.

And the reason for travelling?

  • Making deliveries. Very few deliveries are so urgent they cannot wait 24 hours.
  • Trying to get to the airport to catch a flight for a netball competition. Sorry, but a netball competition isn’t more important than your life.
  • Travelling home from work? Get a hotel room.
  • Travelling to catch a show? Really??

It would be interesting to see the media start questioning people in such circumstances a bit more. Just ask them why did they travel, and whether it was important enough to ignore the warnings.

Grazing In The Misty Morning

Mar 082018

It sounds silly doesn’t it? Two people are crossing a pedestrian crossing; one walks straight across and the other walks a bit faster in a diagonal because they are turning left (or right) after they’re over the crossing. And the later crosses the path of the former, interrupting their crossing.

Dangerous? That’s going a bit too far.

Annoying as hell? Sure is.

The Window

Feb 272018

In days past the current spell of somewhat chilly weather would be called a “cold snap” rather than the intentionally scary “beast from the east”. When did we start having to make the weather scary?

Now don’t get me wrong – the cold weather is not entirely pleasant, but there is not much we can do about it other than turn the heating on, work from home if we have that option, and take care when out and about.

But what purpose is served by making the weather scary? What is the purpose behind getting a bit wimpy about the weather?

It’s nasty out there. Get over it already.

Pentland Hills

Feb 262018

So quite a while ago now, another mass shooting took place in a school in the USA; it’s gotten to the point where it is easy to get confused about which mass shooting is being talked about. Thus the “Film at 11” comment (which is hacker slang, for same old stuff).

The world is in a poor state when someone can get confused about which mass shooting is being discussed, or that implying that school children being killed is somehow boring.

US politicians did their usual thing – offering thoughts and prayers whilst assuring their NRA “supporters” (owners) that nothing would be done.

The difference this time, is that the victims have decided that they are not going to accept the status quo that nothing will be done about the rampant gun violence in the USA. They have set up a campaign organisation (NeverAgainMSD), and are actively campaigning for gun control.

Much to the consternation of the senile old farts in power.

It seems that these young people are not going to accept the status quo, or kow-tow to the inane stupidity of the US political elite when it comes to any “action” on gun control. Today gun control in the USA seems impossible; tomorrow it seems to be inevitable (much as us old farts hate it, the young will inherit the earth).

I have a certain level of sympathy with those who like playing with guns in a sensible way – and that is probably a majority of those who own guns. I would personally find it quite fun – I certainly enjoy putting arrows into a target. But a slim majority of people in the US want stronger gun control, and that level is increasing over time.

Rather than simply deny any possibility of gun control, it would probably make the most sense to look at forms of gun control that would leave the maximum amount of freedom (and perhaps even get additional freedom) whilst satisfying those who want to prevent mass shootings.

Obviously looking at mental health here is a good idea. Hell, it’s a good idea even ignoring the whole gun issue – people with untreated mental illnesses are likely to be more problematic to society that people with treated mental illnesses.

But in terms of gun control, what is wanted is a means to control the usage of guns; you want to make it difficult for a lone gun nut to take a gun into a crowded environment to carry out a mass shooting. One obvious way to do this is to make guns more difficult to obtain; and that’s a valid method.

Another way is to make it difficult to use guns without supervision. Imagine if you will that the only way to use a semi-automatic rifle is to go to a gun range, check it out of a locker, and use it at the gun range. Or if you want to take a high-powered rifle out hunting, you have to check it out of a community gun safe as part of a group (i.e. no hunting alone).

Sounds horrendous? It might just be better than not being able to play with your toys at all.

And yes I said toys. You could make a reasonable argument that reasonable hand-guns or reasonable shotguns can be used for self-defence in the home, but semi-automatic weapons are either toys or aimed at mass-shootings. And hunting is an entertainment too.

Crooked Church

Feb 082018

Some time ago, I wrote about using new (for the time) partition tables to create a memory stick with 100 partitions; each with a mountable file system on. And decided the time was right to have another look to see if things have improved … or degraded. After all, things have moved on, and everything has been updated.

I also improved the creation script slightly :-



parted $disk mklabel gpt
for x in {1..99}     
  echo Partition: $x
  parted -s $disk mkpart FAT $(($x * 100)) $((x * 100 + 99))
  sleep 0.2
  mkfs -t vfat -n DOOM${x} ${disk}${x} 
  sleep 0.2

And I used a zsh-ism – so shoot me.

The script ran fairly well, but :-

  1. The load average shot up through the roof as copies of systemd-udevd started, worked, and closed.
  2. Strangely the links in /dev/disk/by-label (and presumably elsewhere) kept disappearing and re-appearing. As if on each partition change to the disk, all of the disk’s devices were removed and re-created. This is probably not dangerous, but harmful to performance.
  3. Given that I used sleep within my script, it is hard to criticise performance, but it did seem slow. However this is not an area worth optimising for.
  4. Unlike last time, Linux did not refuse to create any file systems.

Now onto trying to stick the memory stick of doom into various systems…

Ubuntu 17.10

This was of course the machine I ran the script on initially.

This did not go so well, with the machine initially freezing momentarily (although it is a cheap and nasty laptop), apparently silently refusing to mount half the file systems, and “Files” (or Nautilus) getting wedged at 100% processor usage.

After some 10 minutes, Nautilus was still stuck with no signs of making any progress.

After I lost patience and restarted “Files”, it came up okay showing the mounted file systems and showing the file systems it had failed to mount. On one occasion the additional file systems were shown as unmounted (and could be mounted) and on another they were shown as mounted (even though they weren’t).

So both “Files” gets a thumb down for getting stuck, and whatever else gets a thumb down for trying and failing (silently) to mount all the file systems.

This is definitely a serious degradation from the previous try, although probably GNOME-specific rather than Linux-specific. Especially as a later mounted all the file systems from the command-line on a different system without an issue.

Windows 10

Windows 10 became unusually sluggish, although it may have been in the mysterious “we’ll run Windows update at the most inconvenient time possible” mode. It did attempt to mount the file systems, and failed miserably – it mounted the first set until it ran out of drive letters.

Which is just about understandable, as there aren’t 100 drive letters. However :-

  1. Where was the message saying “There are 100 partitions in this silly USB stick. You can see the first 22; additional ones can be mounted within folders if there is important data on them.”.
  2. Why is Windows still limiting itself with single letter device names? Okay it is what we’re used to, but when you run out of drive letters, start using the file system label – “DOOM99:”. Hell, I’d like all my removable disks treated that way under Windows.

As for the whole “ran out of drive letters, so don’t bother with the rest”, how many people are aware that drives can be mounted (as Unix does) in directories?

macOS 10.13 (OSX)

Oddly enough (but perhaps sensibly), macOS refused to have anything to do with the memory stick. Indeed it popped up a dialog suggesting initialising the disk, which is perhaps not particularly sensible with a disk that could contain data.

The “Disk Utility” happily showed the disk – increasing the size of the window inconveniently wide in the process – and happily indicated 99 partitions.

At the Terminal prompt, it was apparent that the operating system had created device files for each of the partitions, but for some reason wouldn’t mount them.


Inserting a “stick of doom” with 100 partitions on it into any machine is still a risky thing to do. It’s also a dumb thing to do, but something operating system developers should be doing.

Linux (or rather GNOME) performs significant worse this time around than previously, and my suspicions are that systemd is to blame.

But however bad Linux does, none of the operating systems actually do sensible things with the “stick of doom”. macOS arguably comes closest with refusing to have anything to do with the disk, but it also encourages you to reformat the disk without saying that it could be erasing data.

Ideally, a gooey would pop up a window listing the file system labels and ask you which you want to mount. That’s not even a bad idea for a more sensibly set up memory stick.

Pebble On Steel

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