Tuesday 27 November 2012

At some point all manufacturers will realise this is all we really want

Lenovo P770 droid phone packs a 3,500mAh battery - GSMArena.com news

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Fix a noisy toilet pipe

If your toilet (or any tap for that matter) vibrates noisily like a foghorn after the toilet cistern has finished filling (or you shut the tap), there's a really easy fix.

Ours started after we'd had the water turned off a few times, and got to the point where it happened every time for several seconds - not brilliant at 3am!

To fix:
1) turn the water off using the stopcock under the sink
2) open all the taps in the house
3) get someone to hold down the toilet flush
4) very slowly turn the water back on
5) shut off the downstairs taps
6) shut off the upstairs taps
7) let go of the toilet flush

You should now have a quiet toilet again! The cause is 'pipe hammer' caused by the inbuilt air traps in the house filling with water over time.  Without the shock absorbing air in the traps the sudden stopping of the water flow when the toilet finishes filling causes the pipes to vibrate.

Sunday 7 October 2012

A Baxi Solo 2 that won't fire

Yesterday I got home to find my wife trying to try some clothes on the radiator, but the radiators weren't getting hot.  I checked that both the control panel in the airing cupboard and the thermostat in the hallway were calling for heat, then took a look at the boiler.

I took the front panel shield off the boiler, to find just two lights lit (boiler on, fan on), but no pilot and no burner.  My first instinct was maybe we've got no gas.  A quick check next door sadly ruled that one out.  The boiler was humming, but for some reason it wasn't getting as far as lighting the pilot and the burners.

Frantic googling revealed this post amongst a few others.  It seems that the boiler won't fire if the fan isn't running, and the noise I could hear was the motor failing to spin the fan.


So, off went the electricity, out came the front two philips screws, off came the casing, off came the four spring clips (2 each side), off came the metal panel.

At the top of the unit there's a fan, which at first glance looks like a fully sealed hairdryer-type assembly, but on closer inspection there's a small spindle on top of it with a number of small silver fan blades.  Spinning this with a pencil found several places where it would stick, so I repeatedly squirted copper grease all over the fan spindle, and now it's running fine again (for now).

A bit more googling found that the Solo 2 is only 68% efficient, and therefore G-rated (I've no idea how old it is), so I think it may be time to think about a replacement as it's bound to stop again (probably xmas eve knowing my luck).

Saturday 29 September 2012

Create a generic www redirect app for Webfaction

I've just been struggling with getting my hosted websites to automatically redirect from http://domainname.ext to http://www.domainname.ext .  Now it's working I thought I'd share how it's done.

Note: These instructions apply specifically to websites hosted by the hosting company WebFaction

Uunless told otherwise, Google will treat "www." and "non www." versions of the same website as two separate sites, with implications for page rankings, etc.  So there's a clear need to push one version of the site over the other, and the most foolproof way of doing this is to redirect (using HTTP 301) one version to the other.

There's some debate as to which one you should keep and which you should redirect, but for the purposes of this article, we're going to go from "non www" to "www".

Now Webfaction, a company which I like very much, have some documentation on how to do this, but this particular scenario isn't spelt out, and you can make it more generic than their instructions suggest.

So, in the control panel:

  1. Create a new Static/CGI/PHP-5.x application
  2. Call it "apache_redirects"
  3. Look at the websites page in the control panel and find any sites where you're using both www and non-www domains on a single website
  4. Remove the non-www domain from each website
  5. Create a new website, call it "redirects", add ALL the non-www domains to it, and point it to the apache_redirects application
  6. Hit save

Now, SSH into the server, and:

  1. cd /home/username/webapps/apache_redirects
  2. vi .htaccess (I'm assuming you know how to insert and edit text in vi, if not pick another editor)
  3. add the following lines, and save the file
RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^www\.
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.%{HTTP_HOST}/$1 [R=301,L,NC]

Job done!  There's no need to create multiple versions and hard code the domain details in the above two lines, because this version works fine.

Saturday 16 June 2012

Honda Jazz leaking water

A few days ago I got a call from my wife with unwanted news - the driver's side rear footwell of our car was sodden with water.  The car's 10 years old this year, and other than the usual for a car of it's age, we haven't had any problems with it.

We'd had some heavy rain the day before, but as our daughter normally sits in the back (and the mat is on top of the carpet), nothing was spotted until Jo's mum sat in the back of the car.  A quick press on the surface of the carpet revealed a fair quantity of water would bubble up through it.

Further inspection revealed water in the boot and spare wheel well, but nothing obviously wrong with any seals, etc.  After a couple of hours drying the car out, I covered it over ready for some detective work at the weekend.  A bit of research reveals it's not unknown for Jazzes to ingress water, but some of the solutions really scared me ("start by removing all interior trim...") especially as ours has a sunroof, and that's one possible cause.

So, out comes the watering can and a watering can full of water is poured over the rear of the car, concentrated on the side where the wet footwell was.  Removing the plastic cover inside the boot protecting the rear light cluster quickly revealed a fair amount of the watering can's contents was dripping down inside it. So off I go to Halfords to buy some sealant in the hope that resealing the rear light cluster will fix it. Wish me luck.

Update 1:

After much fiddling (and borrowing an 8mm spanner from a kind neighbour) I've taken the right rear light cluster off and resealed it, and then put it back on again (not forgetting the hidden screw), but then on further inspection (the area round the light cluster looks fine) it may actually be due to a big hulking crack in the roof trim sealant, so I've sealed that as well (without scraping out the old stuff so we'll see what happens when it rains) but hopefully it'll be less leaky than it was before...

A game theoretic approach to the toilet seat problem

Bringing the full weight of maths to bear on the toilet seat...

Consider a bathroom with one omnipurpose toilet (also known as a WC) which is used for two toilet operations which we shall designate as #1 and #2. The toilet has an attachment which we shall refer to as the seat (but see remark 1 below) which may be in either of two positions which we shall designate as up and down.

Read more

'via Blog this'

Thursday 3 May 2012

Open letter and video re threat to GM Research - Rothamsted Research - YouTube/Sense About Science

Open letter and video re threat to GM Research - Rothamsted Research - YouTube/Sense About Science:
27th April 2012
Dear Take the Flour Back,
We have learned that you are planning to attack our research test site on 27th May. Please read the following in the spirit of openness and dialogue – we know we cannot stop you from taking the action you plan, nor would we wish to see force used against you. Therefore we can only appeal to your consciences, and ask you to reconsider before it is too late, and before years of work to which we have devoted our lives are destroyed forever.
We appeal to you as environmentalists. We agree that agriculture should seek to work “with nature rather than against it” (to quote from our website), and that motivation underlies our work. We have developed a variety of wheat which does not need to be sprayed with insecticides. Instead, we have identified a way of getting the plant to repel aphids, using a natural process that has evolved in mint and many other plants – and simply adding this into the wheat genome to enable it to do the same thing.
So our GM wheat could, for future generations, substantially reduce the use of agricultural chemicals. Are you really against this? Or are you simply against it because it is “GMO” and you therefore think it is unnatural in some way?
Remember – all plants in all types of agriculture are genetically modified to serve humanity’s needs, and the (E)-β-farnesene compound our wheat produces is already found in over 400 species of plant, many of which are consumed as food and drink on a daily basis (including the hops used in beer, to give just one example). To suggest that we have used a ‘cow gene’ and that our wheat is somehow part-cow betrays a misunderstanding which may serve to confuse people or scare them but has no basis in scientific reality.
You seem to think, even before we have had a chance to test it, that our new wheat variety is bad. How do you know this? Clearly it is not through scientific enquiry, as the tests have not yet been performed. You state on your website: “There is serious doubt that the aphid alarm pheromone as found in this GM crop would even work.” You could be right – but if you destroy our test, you and we will never know. Is that what you want? Our research is trying to shed light on questions about the safety and the usefulness of new varieties of the staple food crops on which all of us depend. As activists you might prefer never to know whether our new wheat variety would work, but we believe you are in a minority – in a democratic society most people do value factual knowledge and understand that it is necessary for sensible decision making.
You have described genetically modified crops as “not properly tested”. Yet when tests are carried out you are planning to destroy them before any useful information can be obtained. We do not see how preventing the acquisition of knowledge is a defensible position in an age of reason – what you are planning to do is reminiscent of clearing books from a library because you wish to stop other people finding out what they contain. We remind you that such actions do not have a proud tradition.
Our work is publically funded, we have pledged that our results will not be patented and will not be owned by any private company - if our wheat proves to be beneficial we want it to be available to farmers around the world at minimum cost. If you destroy publicly funded research, you leave us in a situation where only the big corporations can afford the drastic security precautions needed to continue biotechnology research - and you therefore further promote a situation you say you are trying to avoid.
We end with a further concern. You may not know much about Rothamsted. You may not know that our institute is the site of perhaps the longest-running environmental experiment in the world, with plots testing different agricultural methods and their ecological consequences dating all the way back to 1843. Some of these plots are very close to the GM wheat test site, and we are extremely worried that anyone walking onto them would endanger a research programme that has been in operation for almost two centuries.
But we also see our newest tests as part of this unbroken line – research never ends, and technology never can nor should be frozen in time (as implied by the term ‘GM freeze’). Society didn’t stop with the horse-drawn plough because of fears that the tractor was ‘unnatural’. We didn’t refuse to develop better wheat varieties in the past – which keep us well-fed today – simply because they were different from what went before and therefore scary. The wheat that we consume today has had many genetic changes made to it – to make plants produce more grain, resist disease, avoid growing too tall and blow over in the wind, be suitable for different uses like pasta and bread, provide more nutrition and grow at the right time for farming seasons. These agricultural developments make it possible for the same amount of food to be produced from a smaller area of land, meaning less necessity for farmers to convert wildlands to agriculture, surely we should work together in this?
When you visit us on 27 May we will be available to meet and talk to you. We would welcome the chance to show you our work and explain why we think it could benefit the environment in the future. But we must ask you to respect the need to gather knowledge unimpeded. Please do not come to damage and destroy.
As scientists we know only too well that we do not have all the answers. That is why we need to conduct experiments. And that is why you in turn must not destroy them.
Yours sincerely
J. A. PICKETT DSc, CBE, FRS (Professor) Michael Elliott Distinguished Research Fellow and Scientific Leader of Chemical Ecology Toby Bruce (Scientist specialising in plant-insect interactions, Team Leader) Gia Aradottir (Insect Biology, Postdoc ) Huw Jones (Wheat Transformation, Coinvestigator) Lesley Smart (Field Entomology) Janet Martin (Field Entomology) Johnathan Napier (Plant Science, Coinvestigator) John Pickett (Chemical Ecology, Principal Investigator)
Original letter
YouTube video:
If you wish to show your support for the research being carried out and add your voice against those who are planning to disrupt it, there is a Sense About Science petition here.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Lastpass or Keepass?

At the office today we were discussing which is better - Lastpass or Keepass?

The answer is: it really doesn't matter. Using either is vastly better than what the majority of the population uses for staying secure online.

This point was hammered home in my mind when I got back from work to see a Facebook update which said the following:
some **** in London has hacked into my account and ordered himself a nice new expensive mobile on my account, time to change all passwords I think

Now I don't know all the details, but it's more than likely the culprit was poor password security. The victim was very likely to be using the same password for several or all of their logins, and that password was probably  "easy to remember", exactly the property which makes it easy to hack.

Both of the above solutions allow you to achieve the same goal, which is to stop you having to remember a boatload of passwords, and just concentrate on remembering one strong password or phrase.  From that starting place, every site you visit can have a unique, random, long (>12 character) and therefore secure password.  You don't have to remember all these passwords because the password vault does it for you, even filling it into web pages at the right time.  If one site is hacked, all your other passwords are still secure.

The problem is nicely summed up by what's known as the Dancing pigs problem, which states
Given a choice between dancing pigs and security, users will pick dancing pigs every time
People would rather not care about this sort of stuff, but it's important, because when it goes wrong it will be, at best, a whole lot of hassle.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

WDTV model numbers

This post will be a bit of a rant because I bought the wrong Western Digital TV streaming media player late last year.  Instead of buying the new, latest and greatest, streams Spotify, Netflix and iPlayer (as of today) version, I bought a 3 year old model for the same price. Feel free to laugh in the comments.

This mistake was made all too easily, as they've changed the name from "WDTV HD" to "WDTV Live HD" to "WDTV Live Plus" to "WDTV Live Streaming".

The fact that they're all sold as HD streaming media players means that you have to try to tell the difference between a "WDTV Live HD streaming media player", and a "WDTV Live Streaming HD media player".  Not so easy now is it?

They look very similar, apart from the new model having a larger remote (and the extra chipset for streaming Spotify + Netflix, etc).

So you don't make the same mistake I did, here's an official list of models, and here's an unofficial list of model numbers (you might need to register to access the latter).

Luckily I own a Wii which can handle Netflix and BBC iPlayer, but it would've been nice to have everything on the same box, and not feel slightly ripped off.