Archive for May 2012

Weyland-JPL… Building Better Wheels

Posted by on May 25th 2012 in Rambling on...

There's an interesting/nerdy story about the design-evolution of the wheels on NASA's Curiosity Rover. The tale goes something like this...

An early suspension-test prototype rover was equipped with metal wheels which prominently featured "JPL" in raised letters which would imprint the company's initials onto the surface of Mars:

According to one of the scientists on the project, NASA was extremely upset by the "JPL" raised letters on the wheels, wanting them to read "NASA" instead. JPL assured NASA that this was merely a prototype and that the letters wouldn't appear on the final model.

Eventually the design was finalised and approved, and the wheels were made and fitted:

I'd imagine that the NASA folks would have felt that they'd won a little victory over JPL - all of the lettering on the wheels had been designed-out.

And I'd imagine that JPL's lot would have felt far more victorious because they'd got their initials in there anyway in the form of Morse Code which NASA, apparently, didn't notice:


Well, they launched Curiosity back in November 2011 and it's scheduled to land on Mars in August 2012 so there's no chance that they'll call it into the pits for a tyre-change. JPL will leave its mark on Mars despite NASA's objection. And those marks will be useful - the regular Morse patterns in the wheel-tracks will act as index marks, Curiosity's camera will count them to judge the distance travelled across the surface.

I reckon that's a cool story.

Of course you don't want to read too much into these things or you might start to believe that this pattern:

bears some similarity to this logo:

 Building Better Wheels Worlds


New Card, Security Alert

Posted by on May 23rd 2012 in Rambling on...

Right on schedule last week my debit card fell apart. The chip fell out of it. The same thing happened two years back and two years before that, IIRC. It's a design flaw, it's bound to happen eventually when a rigid chip is embedded in a flexible card. I've discussed the matter with my account managers a few times and all that they ever recommend is that I try avoid bending the card. That's difficult when it resides in a wallet which stays as much as possible in the back pocket of my trews - it's inevitable that it'll be flexed twixt butt and seat when I sit down anywhere. The irony is that I have a Flex Account...


Anyway, I'd phoned for a replacement card last week and it arrived this morning. I did all the right things - I signed the reverse side of the new card, I destroyed the old card, I broke the old chip, I updated all of my online accounts. It was only when I came to tear up the three-section folded accompanying letter that I noticed something odd... something worrying...


  • The upper section which had been between the card and the envelope bore a "carbon-copy" of the front of my card - the embossed characters had pressed the paper against the blue-printed inside of the envelope and the result was a clear-as-day blue-on-white "brass-rubbing" image of my card details.
  • The middle section had been pressed directly against the card-front and so the card's embossed details were indented into the paper. Again, apart from being reversed, the details were clearly legible.
  • The best bit was the lower section where the back of the card had been - the indents of the three-digit security code (and the last four digits of the long card number) are light indents filled with black pigment, and that pigment clearly wasn't dry when the letter and card were married together - there on the paper was a reversed yet clear black-on-white contact-print of my security code.


In short, all of the details needed to go shopping on the phone were there for anybody to read. Indeed, along with my name and address as printed on the letter, and a quick online search to find my D.O.B., there are sufficient details there to get through the phone-banking security checks and do some serious account-hacking.

Now I know that we're advised to take care when disposing of sensitive documents but when compiled properly these accompanying letters should bear no account details apart from the recipient's name and address, and the address of the issuing bank or building society, so the letters should be perfectly safe. Based on that assumption, some folk might just scrunch up their letters and dispose of them. And if they haven't noticed that the traces of their card details are there for others to see, and if that letter goes whole into the paper-recycling bin, and if some cheap-labour eco-migrant paper-sorter finds it down at the recycling centre, then it's phone-shopping party-time for somebody and financial hell for the card-holder.

I've told the phone-banking peeps about it and I've been into branch to show them the letter, they've never seen such a situation before and they're quite concerned about the security implications. They say that they''ll "take measures..." I should point out that this isn't the fault of the bank or building society, it's a problem at the agency that they contract to make and package the debit cards.

So please be advised: next time you get a new card, be careful about how you dispose of the leftovers. We give eco-migrants far too much already without giving them free and easy access to our personal savings.

Poetry Bucks

Posted by on May 22nd 2012 in Rambling on...

I guess that a lot of folk have received, or are due to receive soon, a similar letter...


"Dear Parent/Guardian,

Recently [your child's name]'s school, [your child's school] submitted some of their pupil's work for our [title here] competition...

Work has been selected for publication based on perception, imagination, expression, interpretation of poetry and use of language...

I am therefore delighted to inform you that [your child's name]'s poem, [poem title], has been chosen for publication in [title of publication]...

Each school featured in the book will receive a complimentary copy for their library, and a copy of the book will be sent to the British Library and further libraries across the UK and Republic of Ireland...

... to mark [your child's name]'s achievement we've enclosed a certificate of merit and a bookmark...

Also enclosed is a Copyright/Permission form for [your child's name]'s poem...

Books in this series will be attractively laid out A5 softbacks with a full colour cover...

Yourself, and family members, are entitled to order before publication at £15.99 per copy, and for every two copies you purchase we'll give you a third copy free..."


Leaving aside the obvious grammatical errors in the letter, the rest sounds good. My daughter's work in print, with both her name and her school's name there on the page. In truth her poem is really good, her Head Teacher is really impressed by it and I'm really proud of her. And she's in there with a chance of a reward for her efforts, but more about that later.

My daughter's obviously good at poetry, let's see how good I am at ball-park maths...

The publisher has received entries from "UK and overseas" and the books are regional collections - for example, the one offered to us covers works from pupils in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire Secondary Schools. The competition is open to all pupils aged 11-18, the latest available data from the ONS is for the year 2008/9 and shows that there were approximately 4 million eligible pupils in the U.K. (source, it's in .xls format).

Now I'll do some estimating...

Looking at the U.K. pupil stats I'll deduct 10% to account for those pupils that don't continue with English post-16. I'll deduct another 20% which is a complete guess at the number represented by schools that don't participate, and another 10% for qualifying pupils that didn't submit an entry. That still leaves 2.4 million potential entrants.

Now I'll split the maths into two parallel calculations. Why? Well, if you believe the blurb, all submissions are filtered, so the number of "Well Done" letters sent out to proud parents would be relatively low. I'll call that "Scenario 1". However, if you believe some of the accounts available on the internet (see here and here) some schools submit all of their pupils' output and these "Well Done" letters then get delivered to all of the parents of pupils concerned. I'll call that "Scenario 2". For both Scenarios I'll assume that of all the parents that receive "well done" letters 1/3 will buy one book, 1/3 will buy two and get a third book free, and the remaining 1/3 won't buy anything.

I'll also round up the book price to £16.00 to make the maths easy.

So, Scenario 1...

After filtering, the best 10% of pupil's poetry pieces (the best three pieces from each class of 30 pupils sounds like a reasonable estimate) are submitted and are proposed for publication. That would mean 240,000 "Well Done" letters and 240,000 potential sales. Assuming the 1:1:1 uptake ratio, that's sales of 80,000 @ £16 and 80,000 @ £32, I make that £3,840,000

And Scenario 2...

With no filtering, all of the poetry pieces are proposed for publication. That would mean 2,400,000 "Well Done" letters and 2,400,000 potential sales. Assuming the 1:1:1 uptake ratio, that's sales of 800,000 @ £16 and 800,000 @ £32, I make that £38,400,000

You'll have noticed that I've only done the calculations based on U.K. pupil numbers. I shudder to think of the results possible if the "overseas" element was to be included. Oh, and there's P&P to be added - £2 per order for deliveries in the U.K., £4.95 per book for deliveries anywhere else.

Now fair enough, everybody's out to make a buck these days, and I know that there are printing, distribution and other costs to be deducted from those figures before a true profit figure can be calculated, but we're still talking huge sums of money here for a publisher that has all of the content provided by kids, via schools, for free.

Talking of the kids and the schools, what do they get out of all of this, aside from getting their poetry and their names in print?

Well, the generosity of the publisher knows no bounds...


"We will be awarding £3,000 in cash prizes to 7 schools nationwide, with the best school winning £1,000. The best young writer in each regional collection will be awarded a £10 book token."


A £10 book token for each best regional writer?

Considering the amount of money in this venture, that's not a prize, that's an insult.

Did somebody at the back just mention "exploitation"?

Helen A. Handcart

Posted by on May 18th 2012 in Illness and injury

So, where were we? Ah yes, the three-month Mebeverine/Colofac trial (for which I was told to acquire drugs for only two months). As previously stated my flexible sigmoidoscopy took place on 23rd April and I am supposed to attend a follow-up clinic three months after that, so we're looking at sometime during the "backend" of July by my crude reckoning. Basic maths and all that. You'll recall my parting shot: "Now, dear readers, it's time to place your bets... the three-month follow-up appointment should be for sometime around Monday 23rd July... how close do you think they can get?"

Well, this morning I'd still not received a letter about the follow-up appointment so I phoned the hospital appointments people. The woman I spoke to was somewhat edgy and told me that there were no clinics arranged for the summer, she wouldn't tell me why although she said that she did know. I asked her if the place was closing down, she went quiet, then she got flustered, then she advised me to speak with one of the General Surgery Admin Managers.

I phoned an Admin Manager and she was a bit more forthcoming with information. She said that they have four consultants and in theory they work a six-week rotation. Of those four one is in long-term recovery after an op, one is awaiting an op and will be in recovery over the summer and one appears to be available for duty. And what about my consultant? They're letting him go on holiday again, regardless of them being short-staffed. And when he's not on holiday he will be dividing his time/loyalty between slaving for the NHS and making a fortune at the BUPA hospital. I think we can guess where his priorities will lie. They're trying to draft in more consultants but there are "funding issues" and "staffing issues".

She then advised me to contact my consultant's secretary so I made yet another call. Said secretary Helen told me a similar tale of woe - my consultant would hold no clinics before the end of August as he wouldn't have time for them.

Now I'm no expert but I'd have thought that if patients were treated effectively from the start, so as to reduce the chances of complications and the need for follow-ups, then the demands on consultants wouldn't be so high and funding/staffing issues would be less of a burden. Back when I was in Quality Assurance we called it getting it "Right First Time", and when it wasn't right first time we worked hard and fast to make it right ASAP. Mind you, industry was customer-driven - no customer-satisfaction meant no cash. The NHS isn't customer-driven, indeed it's difficult to tell if there's anybody driving at all. Maybe it's on Otto Pilot?



Anyway, the long and the short of it is that there are no clinics scheduled until September at the earliest, by which time I'll have been off my drugs for longer than I was taking them. What sort of three-month trial is that?

My consultant's secretary says that she''ll "get back to me" sometime next week.

Yeah, like that'll happen. I'll not be holding my breath.

The one good thing about this postponement is that we can now finalise our holiday plans. Skye in August. And when my arse falls off while I'm high in the Cuillin and they complain about having to treat me again because they reckon that I've overdone it, I'll take great delight in reminding them that my consultant has declared me to be OK for that sort of thing.

Oh, and the Mebeverine isn't making any positive difference anyway, but it does make the call of nature harder to answer and gives me so much wind that I could drive all of Wee Eck's windmills 24/7.

Profiteering Freeloaders poll – interesting results

Posted by on May 14th 2012 in Blogroll

Well that poll got a reasonable response and it shows clearly the balance of opinion of the regulars here.

The stats are interesting but hardly unexpected: 55% majority in favour of the axe... 85% of voters are UK-based... the 10% of voters in favour of maintaining the status quo are from Finland or Germany...

I'll start by thinning-out the undergrowth  😉

Too much baggage?

Posted by on May 10th 2012 in Rambling on...

UPDATE 11/05/2012...

The retailer whose ad was featured here has been in touch to reassure me that the ad was published with no intent to offend anyone.

The retailer has pulled the ad campaign and therefore it made sense that I should pull the original content of this post.

Thanks to G for contacting me regarding this matter, it's a sign of a good retailer that they're on the ball and have a responsible and considerate attitude to these matters.

7 UP

Posted by on May 9th 2012 in Car stuff

Seven straight passes.

No, it's not what England need to start stringing together to win the Six Nations next year.

It's what Rab achieved today at the MOT test station.

I didn't expect a pass, I thought he'd be failed on the brake pads (he's still on the originals) but he only got an advisory for the rears.

Preventative maintenance... shelled out £275.94 for the supply and fitting of a new cambelt kit. Ouch!

But then again I did get 54k miles and 9 years out of the one that he had when new.

I can't really complain - so far he's been a great car and he owes me nothing.

And he still goes like 5h!t-off-a-stick when the need arises  😈

Domain Name Renewal scam (?)

Posted by on May 8th 2012 in In the post, Name and Shame

It all looks genuine and official, very slick.

I wonder how many folk fall for it.

Profiteering Freeloaders – a reader poll

Posted by on May 6th 2012 in Blogroll

So, you've got yourself a blog and you've made yourself a blogroll. You might link to other blogs because you like them, you might link because you'd recommend the places to others, you might link because of a reciprocal arrangement. In short, it's up to you, and you draw the line.

I've had a fairly comprehensive and (I think) reasonably well-organised blogroll sitting there in the sidebar for many years now, I try to keep it updated and I add a few more links now and again.

When the original single list got too long I brought in drop-downs to make it more manageable, but of late it's been getting more unwieldy and so I've been reviewing my qualifying criteria. I've been thinking of fair ways to cut it down a bit, to redraw the line, to get rid of the dross.

I'd like to start by dealing with blogs which make money via my blog (when visitors from my blog click their affiliate links, say) but whose owners can't be arsed to link back to mine. Don't get me wrong, I've nowt against folk making a buck out of blogging, but to make it with my help without the courtesy of providing a readily-accessible backlink is a tad rum IMHO.

I'd value your opinions before I start chopping so here's a poll for you to play with. If you want me to add any more options it can be arranged.

I'll run the poll (and keep this post "sticky") for a week while I sharpen the axe, you have until the end of Sunday 13th May 2012 to tick yer box.

You could call it "A Week in Review"...


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[poll id="2"]


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Wrong on both counts

Posted by on May 4th 2012 in A bit of a rant, In the News

"To compete on English soil, we train on Argentine soil."


If they're intent on stirring up trouble again they could at least get their facts right...

NOT English...

NOT Argentine...




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