To boldly split infinitives that no man had split before

One of the advantages of being my age is that I remember the UK TV première of Star Trek and the first R4 run of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Today's Today programme had something on being the 50th anniversary of the original Star Trek, but a) it'd had been broadcast on the 6th Sept 1966 in Canada* so they're two days late, and b) the UK première wasn't until the 12th July 1969, just over a month after the last original series episode was broadcast in the US.

Why it took so long to get to the UK, I don't know. Perhaps it got cheaper to buy after NBC made the decision to cancel it, or perhaps the imminent moon landings made a space programme more attractive to buy.

In a bit of programming that's either inspired or boringly predictable, it was placed in the Saturday teatime 'Dr Who slot'. I was the only member of the family to watch it – afterwards I remember being asked how much I understood** and saying all of it except the 'star dates'.

I would have missed the next episode – we went to Butlins that summer just before moving house and we were there when the Apollo 11 landing happened – which is slightly annoying, because the BBC had their own ordering of the programmes and, after the Kirk pilot, they put the best ones on first. So The City on the Edge of Forever was 3rd out of 24, rather than 28th out of 29,*** for example.

While I can listen to Hitchhikers (and complain that the mice don't sound right), I'm not tempted to watch all of the Star Treks again. Perhaps one or two…

* Thank you, WP!

** I was seven at the time.

*** The BBC didn't show some of the first season until 1992 because "they all dealt most unpleasantly with the already unpleasant subjects of madness, torture, sadism and disease".

Lizards and cack

My favourite episode of Star Stories is probably the one 'by' Simon Cowell: 'I had invented the TV talent show! .. I had invented the TV talent show AGAIN!!'.

It could quite possibly be Max Temkin's favourite too. Who? He's one of the eight creators of Cards Against Humanity, the game that took the award-winning Apples to Apples, wrote words like 'bottom' and 'willy' on the cards and decided that was a new game.* At least – unlike the 'inventor' of Othello – they had the decency not to attempt to patent it,** and it's available as a free print-and-play version rather than paying them. (Not that that stops people from doing so in large numbers, alas.)

His latest (re)invention with others is a hidden personality game, Secret Hitler that's quite a bit like The Resistance. Nominally set in Weimar Republic Germany, some players are 'liberals' and some 'fascists' with one being Hitler, but most players don't know where the loyalties of the others lie. Each turn, a small elected subset of players does something that will help one side or the other, and depending on which side gets the most of those, one team will win. Gosh, it really is a lot like The Resistance, even if most of one side is given complete info about everyone else's personality and this breaks the game.

There's a history of taking other people's ideas in this genre and slapping a price tag on it: Werewolf has been thoroughly commercialised, for example. They also have a free print-and-play version again. So even though they have a licence that stops anyone else commercialising anything they produce, I'm not so upset by that as by the graphical choice to have the fascists be represented as lizards rather be humans like the liberals.

On the one hand, ho ho ho, it's David Icke time. On the other, the other-ing of fascists ignores the way that they are within us. The game is set in an era where plenty of people were prepared to carry out genocide without being forced to. One of the lessons of the Holocaust isn't how hard it was to make it happen, but how easy: logistics was much more of a problem than finding people to do it. Pretending otherwise, that it wasn't ordinary Germans and others, makes it easier to do again.

Interestingly,*** I wouldn't have complained if they did an updated version with Democrats and Republicans and called it 'Secret Trump'…

* One reason for me thinking of it as 'CAH Cards', or 'Cack'.

** Perhaps the timescale, just over a decade, meant they couldn't get away with it. The 'inventor' of Othello waited until over eighty years after the invention of Reversi before making his one small change.

*** And hypocritically! Perhaps lizarding Trump makes it topical satire.

British priorities made clear, again

Currently, the fourth most read story on the BBC news website is a story about Sainsbury's removing their 'taste the difference' sandwiches from their 'meal deal'. You don't get a fork with the pasta options either, which seems a bit silly unless they're going to be supplied separately, as in M&S.

This is beating stories about the Met Police starting to use 'spit hoods' over the heads of suspects in police stations – doubtless we'll see more ones like this, on police using one on a 12 year old disabled girl – and Keith Vaz resigning as the chair of Parliament's Home Affairs select committee.

There's a fascinating discussion on supermarket sandwiches on Reddit started by someone who claims to work for the company that Sainsbury's have stopped using.. and Boots have started. (Obs warning that people on Reddit may not be who they say they are.)

What did you do in the war, daddy?

The title is a slight misquote of a famous First World War recruitment poster..
WWI recruitment poster, with a father being asked what he did in the war
.. but it's brought on several thoughts.

In 1915, the poster was intended to emotionally blackmail men who – like the person who commissioned it – didn't want to enlist. Today, another reading is seeing the father as someone who did serve, and who knows that his son's toy war is nothing like the reality…

This aspect was the subject of a programme on three men's family links to the Holocaust. It featured two sons of Nazi war criminals. One's glad his father, Hans Frank, was executed for his role as leader of the 'General Government (the bits of Poland that the Germans didn't annex). The other still thinks of his father, Otto Wächter, as someone who was basically good.*

That survives a visit to the ruins of the synagogue used by the third man's relations, and the field where several thousand Jews were massacred, one by one, and still lie buried today. Otto Wächter was ultimately in charge of the auxiliaries who carried that out.

But his son is not the only one who admires him: one of the other things he did was form an SS unit of Ukrainians, known for Nazi political reasons as a Galician division, and many Ukrainians see the Soviet Union as their main enemy in that era and have a 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' attitude to those years, despite the sort of 'friend' Nazi Germany was. (Of course, in the West, the British and Americans took the same attitude to Stalin, to the point of keeping quiet about Soviet war crimes until after 1945.)

And I suspect that many people who've been in a war have horror stories. I think I've mentioned one uncle who served in submarines and risked his own career to try to have his captain charged with ordering the killing of women and children on one Japanese boat they stopped and searched. Coming back full circle, another relation did not talk about what happened in the trenches, even aged eighty.

Perhaps the other reading is more accurate.

* I wasn't the one to tag the neutrality issues with the WP article, but it's got them…

Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum's Non Commercial Licence – more info about it and the poster at the link.

Make electronics stuff?

A local business – formerly Ciseco, now WirelessThings – is sadly closing down. They've got a 70% off sale for the next couple of days.

Quite a bit is out of stock, but I've got more LED boards for the Raspberry Pi and Arduino, plus their 'Arduino with built-in wireless' board.

(No clickable link, because it'll doubtless end up being squatted, but wirelessthings.net is where to look.)

On the other hand, that's quite quick compared to some things

It was at a bisexual activists weekend in Manchester back in April 2005 that someone made a comment about being 'bi-furious' rather than 'bi-curious' and everyone else laughed.

At some point that afternoon, I registered bifurious.co.uk.* (I also got bi-furious.co.uk but that just ends up at the same site.)

And now, a mere eleven and a bit years later, I've finally got around to starting to use it. I nearly started two years ago: a smug comment about it taking less than a decade has been deleted, as has a conceit about having users called '(first name) Stavro Blofeld' – I had a lovely Photoshopped GIMPed picture of me stroking a white cat – and using the lyrics of songs from Paul Williams' Phantom of the Paradise soundtrack.

But it's now up and a place for me to be cross about biphobia, erasure and other such stuff. At some point, I'll do some back posts, particularly around the past behaviour of Stonewall.

If you'd like an account so you can be cross there too, let me know.

* I can remember the where and the when, but I can't remember how – it was about three years before I had an Eee-PC netbook and five years before I had a smartphone. Perhaps the centre we were at had some internet connected PCs available.

Muesli musings

For the past (cough) years, my basic breakfast has been yogurt, fruit and muesli. This means I've tried rather a lot of mueslis.

I've never liked the standard Alpen or its 'let's see how much loose sugar we can add' clones, and the Dorset Cereals range is way too expensive unless there's a serious discount on offer, so my current favourite is the Harvest Morn 'Luxury Fruit & Nut' which is an Aldi own brand product.

You would have thought that would make it simple to get, but one of the things Aldi do to make their stock control easier is bundle more than one product together in the same packaging and with the same barcode. In this case, the 'Fruit & Nut' (purple box) muesli is paired with the 'Fruit' (brown box) muesli. Which isn't as nice.

It's not just me who thinks so either. Typically, whenever I go into an Aldi, there are about four big boxes of the two. They started life equally split between the Fruit & Nut and the Fruit, but what's left on the shelf is almost always entirely Fruit, sometimes to the point that two boxes-worth of Fruit have been stuffed into one. If I'm lucky, the box underneath and behind the rest has a couple of Fruit & Nuts, so I buy them – you can never be sure when you'll find it again.

The downside of having the same barcode for both is that the Aldi stock control system never realises that there's a big disparity in demand. It was a similar situation with their 'not from concentrate' orange and apple juices, but they did move from 4:4 in a box to five orange and three apple, which seems to reflect real demand – there's never a huge preponderance of one or the other now. Here, it should be at least 6:2…

Two exciting* developments have happened recently. Firstly, the packet size has increased from 750g to 1kg. This means there are now fewer packets in each box, but they stand up better to being rummaged through to find the Fruit & Nut ones. They're so much better at this that I wonder if that was the reason for making the change (I should really have checked to see if the price per 100g changed, but..)

Secondly, the 'best before' dates have got more variation. Before, you could buy two packets many weeks apart and discover that both had the same 'BB' date. There were only about four of them in any year and it would jump from some date in April 2017 to 6th July 2017. Now, I have four packets in the cupboard* and they have four different BB dates, including two with 2nd Aug 2017 and one with 4th Aug 2017.

* Your level of excitement at these may vary, and almost certainly does!

** This translates to about three weeks supply. I have no idea who has a 30g portion – mine's nearer 200g.

Amazon marketplace scam, but which?

There's a bit of electronics kit that I'd quite like, so obviously I keep a close eye on the price movements for it on Amazon and specifically the offers from other people.

Several times recently, the price from someone has been very good – over a hundred pounds below anyone else. Checking the vendor's 'store' comes up with something that has feedback going back some time, but also shows that a lot of electronics stuff is on offer for similar bargain prices.

Each time, there's been an odd bit in the condition note about emailing some webmail address before ordering. I've done this once, but got no reply. Whether or not I do it, when I order it, it's cancelled (by them) shortly afterwards. All of their stock vanishes not long afterwards too.

After the most recent time, something made me wonder what the price was on Amazon.de… Oh, that's interesting, three vendors doing the same thing there. They have different prices, but they're all bargains and all have the odd 'email us' bit in either the condition note or the title of the store.

One of the vendors is a UK garment embroidery business, which has obviously sold clothing-related stuff in the past (the feedback) but is now..

.. ah ha! People are using hacked Amazon marketplace accounts to offer stuff at very low prices as part of some scam.

Whether they're taking the money and running without delivering stuff – if you sell on Amazon, they pay out not long after you say you've shipped orders – or if they're laundering money – buy it with stolen card details, and Amazon will give you clean money before the crime is discovered – I don't know. Probably the former because why bother to have low prices for the latter? I'll ask the next time I see this…

After the #IndyRef – equality for England

As part of the response to the 'no' vote in Scotland's independence referendum, various Tory MPs – from the Prime Minister downwards – have been talking about the answer to the West Lothian question* by having only people elected in England voting on matters that affect only England.

They want equality for England to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Good.

The Scottish Parliament is elected by PR (under the additional member system). The Welsh Assembly is elected by PR (the additional member system again). The Northern Ireland Assembly is elected by PR (STV this time).

All these ensure that the relevant decision-making bodies actually reflect the wishes of the whole of electorate they are representing much more than a Parliament elected by 'first past the post'.

If it's to be "English votes for English laws", the votes who elect those representatives have to be fair ones. It would also be good to see some devolution within England and it's notable that when that was proposed in 2004, it involved regional assemblies elected via the Additional Member System.**

As well as ignoring the question of which members of the House of Lords would be entitled to vote, the 'grand committee' of the House of Commons consisting of all the MPs elected to English constituencies that various Tory MPs are proposing out of naked self-interest simply isn't good enough.

* It's a sign of my age that I would have been amongst the first to write about that in an O-Level exam in the following June…

** One area rejected a flawed proposal and two others were cancelled because of that and irregularities in an all-postal ballot election.

Using Yahoo for email? Please stop..

.. because I cannot email you at the moment. (You don't need to have a @yahoo email address to be shackled to this bunch of incompetents either: if you're a customer of Sky or BT broadband, your @sky.com etc email address is handled by Yahoo too.)

Until last week, I could. But I have just changed the server that handles my email and Yahoo is blocking the new one.

The actual message Yahoo give when I try is:

421 4.7.1 [TS03] All messages from (your server) will be permanently deferred; Retrying will NOT succeed. See http://postmaster.yahoo.com/421-ts03.html

That URL doesn't go to the right place (you can get an idea of the quality of Yahoo already, can't you?) It should be help.yahoo.com/kb/mail/SLN3436.html, which says:

This message indicates Yahoo is seeing a high volume of emails from your IP address, which is a characteristic of unsolicited, bulk emailing. .. we do not disclose further information about our filtering practices.

One of the joys of running your own mail server is that is that you can see for certain how many a "high volume" is. In this case, it’s four. In a week. Instead of being unsolicited, all were replies to emails sent from Yahoo. And it's blocked them all.

Another page reckons that a 421 error means..

Resources temporarily unavailable. Please try again later: This means that the Yahoo Mail servers are temporarily too busy. Your server should try to resend the message after a few minutes.

.. which it does, and the server should. Except that they've just told you in the actual error message not to.

Elsewhere on the mess that’s Yahoo’s 'help' area is the advice to "secure your mail servers". Not that Yahoo would recognise a secure email server if they fell over one: hacked Yahoo accounts are the single biggest source of the spam that gets through the filters here (the victims are people I know, so their mail is treated differently to that from addresses I’ve never heard of).

The only things that changed between the old server and the new were (technical stuff coming up!) the IP address and the domain name of the server. Both before and afterwards, the IP address was not in any blacklist, the domain name of the server matched what you get if you look up its IP address (a simple test that most spambots fail), and the SPF ('sender permitted from') records for the domains of the email said 'yep, this IP address sends our email'. Since noticing this problem, I have even implemented Yahoo's half-baked DKIM system (another way of saying, 'yes, this server sends our mail') to no avail.

Yahoo, of course, don't make it easy to report a problem, but the page to complain about them blocking email you send is (currently) here. I've done that, even though it's aimed at people sending "bulk" email. Not a peep back and my mail is still blocked.

You're generously allowed to resubmit it after 48 hours, which I did after setting up DKIM and verifying that it works (via the useful check-auth at verifier.port25.com facility). Still nothing from Yahoo and my mail is still blocked.

So, at the moment I have no way of knowing when they will let me email you, even in reply to an email you send me.

You could complain to them about it – and please do, if you can find out how – but the basic cure is to use someone else for your email. Gmail is not perfect, but it is so much better than Yahoo.

Because who else are they blocking – including, as here, blocking replies to your emails – without either asking or telling you?