Blog

For a wider audience and instant distribution most of my thoughts go straight to Facebook. But for extending those thoughts, and to reach people who understand where I'm going, those thoughts may also appear here.

Unlike every other weblog you ever saw, this one is in correct chronological order so you can read it the right way round. But it always shows you the latest entry first so scroll up for earlier stuff.

The 2022 index will appear here in a mo ...

Hard choice

We are constantly faced by difficult decisions: It works well in our family. The missus makes all the small decisions, such as where we live and go on holiday, what car to buy. I make the BIG decisions like, should we invade Iraq.

Trying to make the right choice is harder than simply weighing up the pros and cons, especially if it involves other people. In that case, the usual ploy is to make sure that all parties "have ownership" of the decision, through discussion, voting and agreement. This system is used by management so they can later tell dissenting workers, "You agreed to this."

Embers sometimes face the hard choice of either riding on our usual Thursday in spite of a bad weather forecast, or postponing for better weather promised on Friday. The result can be a foregone conclusion. Individual votes are unpredictable and depend on family circumstances. Overall, the result depends on a single factor:
what is the weather like when the vote is taken.

Trying to make hard choices for the website depends on accurate and relevant information. Should pages be promoted, hidden or deleted? Informative data comes from our weblogs. Here is how visitors to LPMCC.net voted with their page views in 2021. Postcards is the page under review, marked in the pecking order by a red line. Compare it with other pages.

Page Views 2021
300+
200
100
Views

Colour Key     Rallies    Others

Why pick on postcards? For one thing, it is very peripheral to our core interests of the Leicester Phoenix MCC history and members, and rallying from the 1960s. The same could be said of many other pages. Even sections firmly rooted in our aims and objectives draw far fewer views, mainly because they appeal to a very select group.

The page uses a lot of our precious server space to hold acceptable quality images of the postcards. That also makes the page slower to open and a drain on mobile data allocations.

Which begs the question, which other pages should be discontinued? Today I removed half a dozen esoteric pages. You don't need to ask which; no‑one was ever interested in them anyway!

It brings us back to where we started. Asking for your opinion and listening to criticism of the subject matter on the website.

Who will say what needs to be said?

Hideaway code

New Highway Code rules will begin to apply this week.

Off I went into town to buy a spanking new Highway Code to study in preparation for the changes.

The Works don't stock them. Waterstones and WHSmith have the 2015 Edition (Tenth impression 2021)

"Never mind", thinks I, "I'll buy online."

The old version says "Available from www.gov.uk."

Nope, couldn't find it.

It is printed by The Stationery Office (what was presumably HMSO before privatisation)

A search on www.tsoshop.co.uk turns up more copies of the 2015 version.

Presumably the new rules are a closely guarded state secret. Ignorance is no defence in law. The whole thing is very Kafka and parallels pandemic regulations.

Open quote There are new rules,
but
we are not telling you what they are! Close quote

Perhaps all the shops have sold out because people have been panic buying them ... for lavatory paper!

Update 24 Jan:   A phone call to The Stationery Office reveals that the new Highway Code will not be available for several months because the legislation has only just been passed in Parliament. No news yet on whether the cover picture will be changed.

Update 26 Jan:   Summary of the changes are on www.gov.uk and the new version will be on-line from 29 January. The code is due to be published in April 2022 and it will have the following cover to distinguish it from previous versions.

Eyes closed, vision on

What do you see when you close your eyes? I am curious about the shapes and shadows that appear. Unrecognisable and indescribable but, somehow, familiar.


Tired of sleep, a time rolls in
When Lethargy, my comfort friend,
Says "Close your eyes and look within
To watch the images I send."

Graphite curtains pull aside.
As my shuttered eyes aclime,
Flickering shapes are now espied,
Beckoning to a world sublime.

A face of roughened furnace tiles.
As the moving darkness falls
Gothic arches catch the piles
Of shadows washed from cavern walls.

A thousand years it takes to break
A single wave of bitumen.
No tide upon this shoreless lake
But let the mermaids pull me in.

A beach of jet and anthracite
With footprints yet to wash away,
Curves from the foreground out of sight,
To form an all-enclosing bay.

As phytoplankton die and drift,
Their ultraviolet shimmers cease.
Their sacrifice becomes a gift
Of dark and deep and endless peace.

Lines on slate, scratched in haste,
Words on a chalkboard, briefly wiped,
Granite carvings, soot defaced,
Carbon paper lightly typed.

Truths once told become a lie.
Secrets kept will fade away,
Knowledge lost with those who die,
White and black now merged to grey.

Clouds of darkness billow high,
Climbing over hidden fields.
No morning star in velvet sky,
No hint of daybreak yet reveals.

Enfolding shrouds of silky night
Cover where they fall and lay,
Muffling echoes of the light,
Bidding me to linger . . . stay.

Open secrets

Way back in 2020 I described a method of obfuscating a message. What I didn't mention at the time was that there are many examples of hidden text on LPMCC.net that you probably won't find.

Secret One

They are secret messages to a foreign power, ie Google. The search engine is very clever and indexes everything it finds on the InterWeb, mainly so it can sell directed advertising. It is also helpful for answering search queries from punters. But when it comes to photos it cannot always translate them into the kind of data that answers your questions.

Some pictures on LPMCC.net are of posters, programmes and flyers. To help Google pick out the key phrases from those pictures I usually transcribe them as plain text, but hide that text version underneath the picture where you cannot see it (but the Google Bots can!)

Case in point is today's addition of a programme from Hans Mondorf for the 2001 Pilgrims Rally. If you don't believe me, here is how to find the text version...

Click the above link to open that page at the programme. If you are quick you may catch sight of the underlying text before the images cover it. Otherwise, click and hold down your left mouse button in the paragraph above the programme and drag the pointer down into the paragraph below the programme. Everything you highlight in this way should turn white text on blue background . While it is like that, hold down your Ctrl key and press C to copy what is selected.

Now open a text editor such as Notepad, put your cursor into the working area and press Ctrl+V to paste the content of your clipboard into it. Or, to make it even easier for you, paste it into the text box below.

WELL DONE. YOU FOUND OUT IT ALSO WORKS ON THIS EXAMPLE.

Only the text will be pasted, including the top and bottom paragraphs and the hidden text from beneath the programme images.

or

In Google Chrome, press Ctrl+U to see the HTML of the page and scroll down to the bit that is PREformatted. (beginning where it says page 1). You will find many other secrets within that view!

Secret Two

Back in the bad old days I had to transcribe old print documents by retyping them. That is how all the Megaphones were added. Trials with optical character readers (OCR) of scans were unsuccessful due to the poor quality of the original printing and the poor performance of early OCR.

All that has changed now. It is fairly foolproof to turn a photo of words into editable text. It is all done by the foreign power Spy Master, Google.

Go to your Google Drive page and drag your photo of words into it. As soon as it is loaded, right click it in your list of documents and choose "Open with" > "Google Docs". Wait a moment and the image will appear in a new document and below it is Google's version of the text content! Google will also highlight anything it thinks is an error. In the Pilgrims example mentioned here, it highlighted Phil Jones' plural hyphens for hand correction. Download or simply copy and paste the result.

It is a quick and powerful method of transcribing images of text. It works with many fonts including Old English and makes a good stab at reasonable handwriting.

Don't expect it to decipher your doctor's prescriptions though.

See the update on 5 November.

Highway robbery

Following on from my January 22 tirade, I now have a copy of the latest Highway Code, hot from the press.

I complained before that WHSmiths were discounting old versions from £2.50 to the bargain price of £2.99, a massive saving of minus 49p. So, on today's visit, fair dues to WHS, they had the new version prominently displayed on their check-out tills at the new official price of £4.99.

After negotiating easy terms, I came home in proud possession of my new Highway Code.

Don't jump to the conclusion that I am intending to read it. At this price it is only for coffee table decoration. However, I may take it on the road occasionally. When I'm driving, I can wave it at errant cyclists who are delivering someones pizza as a death wish. Or, when I'm cycling, I can waft it at erratic car drivers, despite their poor eyesight failing to identify the object displayed behind two fingers.

THESE   VERSUS   THESE

Judging from the vitriol on social media, we are only permitted to lambast other types of road user.

The new Highway Code cover helpfully illustrates this
Circle of Opposition

I will continue to ignore the stupidity of pedestrians for several reasons. They are not expected to know The Code (especially the under fives and their grown-up equivalents). With attention and eyes transfixed by mobile phones, they are unlikely to hear my gentle invitation to learn the rules.

I may even take it to my local pub to fan the flames of heated discussions over what is advisory, what is The Law and what is safe.

Notice that I haven't dragged motorcyclists into this. We all know that they are careful and considerate.

At least, the live ones are.

Catching up

Let me be clear: I am not complaining. If website work is a problem then it is the kind of problem we don't get enough of.

To give you some idea of how lucky we are to have no rest, take a quick read through our present schedule.

Badges: Looking at today's count, we have over 2000 assorted badges, patches and stickers waiting to be added to the 13,435 already on the website. They are logged every Sunday, checked for duplication, adjusted for the website, added to the catalogue, counted on the page and menu button. Thumbnails and promotion banners renewed and then released, rally badges on Tuesday (Badge Addition Day) or Wednesday for other paraphernalia. Below is a chart of incoming badges over the past 50 weeks.

Badges received per week

Thankfully, Francois cookie-cuts his badges and carefully checks all the pages. That saves me an awful lot of work.

Tinkering: As mentioned before, I keep a record of site development in notebooks of odd jottings about how to add, fix and improve features. This week I came to the end of journal 17 and the first thing I wrote in journal 18 were legacy tasks. Those are the jobs and ideas carried over because they were never completed. This time there were eight tasks that I put in priority order, plus a handful of ideas for improving my methods.

Legacy tasks are usually ignored. If I couldn't be bothered to do them last year, why should this year be different? Well, I'm turning ever a new leaf today (and probably back to the old one tomorrow). I have prioritised the tasks according to...

  • How essential they are to the website
  • How easy they are to achieve
  • How much fun I'll have doing them
... with emphasis on the third consideration!

I've already completed the first task. Some pages will tell you if new content is scheduled and when it will appear. That will happen mainly on the badge pages. With a huge stock of badges to add, we can plan a long way ahead and now we share that information with you.

Two wrongs

Thanks to Terry Reynolds who sent a copy of the Matrix and Control Details as soon as the competitors had access, we were able to get our interactive Matrix on-line by late Monday. Official access for control organisers didn't arrive until today's 11:30am delivery of the poster with its code.

The Matrix and associated mobile page and printable route, are always a rush job because we need to wait for the data the same as everyone else. It wouldn't be the first time I accidentally allowed embargoed information to slip through, so it's wise to keep the information under tight ... er ... control.

In the months ahead of the data arriving I spent a great deal of time rewriting the system to make it quicker to update or modify. That also allowed me to become familiar again with the code that I usually forget in the year between National Road Rallies. I fatally neglected the linked files.

Fortunately the mobile version seems to work anyhow, once it was linked to the 2022 data. Not so lucky with the route printout page. The NRR Facebook Group alerted me to bugs reported by David Brown and Stephen Lipscombe. Panicked bodges were installed to fix those errors.

In case you are interested, the problem was caused by a variable that marks the overnight pause in the route. The controls-count is the number of control data lines along the route minus a value that is zero on Day One and one after the break. But to distinguish between the first control after the break, which mustn't add connecting miles to the previous control, and subsequent Day Two controls, the subtracted value is changed to two !

(If your eyes haven't glazed over yet, they will in a minute)

To keep the variable value as 1 or 2 but only subtract 1, I used a quick and dirty trick; a double-negative on the value when it is subtracted. That is because, in JavaScript, zero ≡ false and vice-versa, and any positive number ≡ true. The reverse of that is true ≡ 1.

So putting a double-negative, denoted by two exclamation marks ! ! , turns any number from true to false (≡zero) and back to true (≡1).

Start of quotation A prime example of the human tendency of finding fixes by adding complexity, rather than taking it away.

End of quotation

The question remains: will I remember and understand that trick in twelve months' time when I prepare the 2023 version?

Unlikely

Universe Wide Webb

At 3.30pm BST today I joined NASA Live TV to share the first high resolution photos from the James Webb Space Telescope. Over the years I have remained excited by advances in space, right from the launch of Sputnik in International Geophysical Year (1957) while I was still at secondary school.

I sat up all night in July 1962 waiting for the radio telescope at Goonhilly Downs to pick up the first transmission from Telstar. Disappointingly, they didn't pick it up that evening, but that didn't damp my enthusiasm. The decade closed with the unforgettable live TV coverage of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon.

In 1973, while the world was distracted by Watergate and the Yom Kippur War, I followed the launch of Sky Lab, forerunner of the International Space Station. Over the decades I have retained an interest in each and every step that humanity makes into space.

Yet I am still surprised by the failures down on Earth to transmit those achievements. Contrasting with the time and care lavished on JWST, NASA Live TV coverage was pretty shambolic: microphones not working, Internet connections buffering, voice/lips out of synch, music and people talking over each other, poor lighting ... but none of it spoiled the excitement and wonder of the actual pictures that were revealed.

Photo of the Southern Ring Nebula from www.nasa.gov/webbfirstimages.
Roll your mousewheel to rocket into the stars.

Data Minor

There are lies, damn lies and vital statistics.

Before beginning a diet, it helps to know how much cake you are presently gobbling. Similarly, to save more time for important things, like watching TV and napping, I'm keeping a close record of hours worked on LPMCC.net.

Starting in July I have buttons on my home screen (ie shortcut icons on the desktop) to click when I start, pause and finish work on a task. These create a list of dates and times and the files backed up after creation or update. The file list is edited by an admin page that shows me which files to transfer to the web server.

Time spent by day and by section are displayed in graphs and charts that have been added to our Statistics page. It shows work in the current month so don't expect it to show much today. Those charts update as I complete work. Below are static examples of the charts for July 2022.

You will not be surprised that most of my time this month has been spent developing this data mining exercise. It includes an updated method of drawing the pie charts. Another legacy task completed.

King's English

At this time of national grief, we are sustained by the spectacle of extraordinary pageantry. Based on hundred of years of history, they bring continuity even greater than the constancy of the late Queen.

As we continue the monarchy with King Charles III, progress evolves, mainly with technology that has a long way to go before it can take its place as faultless part of the process. For me and many of my age, our first encounter with television was the coronation of Elizabeth II. Over the past 70 years it has become an integral part of royal and national events.

I've been taking some comfort, and giggling, at the wonderful subtitles to the BBC TV coverage. The gaffs don't detract from the solemnity, but they are a reminder that well practised traditional procedures are there for a purpose.

I suggest that, from now on, we don't complain that our text messages contain autocorrect errors.

We should embrace them as King's English.

Change

The great wallowing in grief, gratitude and gratuitous pageantry that marked the passing of QEII underlined the problems facing our nation.

We hope things will stay stable and remain the same.

They will not.

We must prepare for a future bringing changes for the worse.
Not by the end of the century. Now.

People my age and short-term elected representatives believe
"It won't be my problem". Wrong.

We are already experiencing -

  • extreme climate events
  • shortages and price rises
  • collapse of health and welfare
  • massive immigration
and, as a result of all of those, should expect
  • civil unrest and the breakdown of law

His Majesty's Government is simply bribing us with our own money instead of solving the problems.

Our first step towards tomorrow is an end to yesterday's complacency.

RIP Phil Read MBE

The following photos were kindly sent by Jean-Francois Helias from his personal collection of memorabilia so that you can quietly pay respects to a guy who excited our imaginations in our salad days.

WWWobbly

In a recent News I mentioned that you may get a security warning when trying to access LPMCC.net. I checked on Google and it is as suspected. The top result shows the old http:// address that will result in the warning. All the other links are for the https:// (s for secure) pages and don't cause any problems.

This is what Google says about its result...

As you can see, the result is more than 10 years old! No wonder they are showing the old address.

Picking Advanced and Proceed anyway is not helpful because Google then inserts an extra "www." into the address that throws up "Page not found" (of course!)

My advice is to either bookmark the page you use most or ditch Google Search in favour of DuckDuckGo, or Bing

Links from other websites may still use the old (insecure) http:// and Chrome will treat those links just as carelessly. Firefox works fine but Edge also uses Chrome internals and gives the same rubbish result.

Try them for yourself...

http://www.lpmcc.net https://www.lpmcc.net

When you eventually get the right address it should look like this.

Note the little lock symbol on the left that indicates a secure site.

LPMCC.net adopted the secure protocol some time back, simply because Google claims to favour secure sites. If you actually reach the http://www,lpmcc.net address you will be automatically transferred to the secure version. We can do what Google fails to achieve.

Google, in its wisdom, is trying to favour and force secure connections and doing it very badly. It also serves up the oldest pages it can find, simply because they have accumulated the most external links and, in a self-fulfilling prophesy, the most previous clicks. That's why, if you want the latest information on something, you need to use a better search engine.

Both the Chrome browser (under various badges) and Google Search have become distinctly wwwobbly. Use the Firefox browser and DuckDuckGo search.

Beyond capability

We all struggle with long and unfamiliar numbers. Therefore, long numbers are often broken up into groups of 2, 3 or 4 digits and separated by spaces or dashes. Thus you see the following formats.

  • (Ol23) 456 789O (telephone)
  • 456 012 789 (NHS)
  • 1234 2345 3456 4567 (vehicle tax renewel)
  • 01-02-03 (bank sort code)

Increasingly you need to enter these numbers into on-line forms, along with many other details.

Then you hit the CONTINUE button and nothing appears to happen. A close inspection of the page shows a line of red text that says...
"one or more of the fields entered is incorrect. Please correct it and try again"

So you check down the list of all the things you have entered and may find that the item causing rejection is the number that you carefully copied (or even copied and pasted) from the original document.

Then, after faffing about, you finally discover that it needs the number to be contiguous ie, no spaces, dashes, dots or brackets.

The annoying thing is, it is so easy for the clever arses that wrote the page to reformat your input at the same time they are parsing it for acceptable content.

Try pasting the above numbers into the input below and pressing the DUMB button. Then try with the WISE button.

 

How can these form designers get paid so much for doing such a bad job?

Nor is it beyond the capability of a half-decent coder to check for capital O in place of zero and small L in place of one. Try it in the above box.

Copy in haste

Back in April I mentioned how Google can transcribe text from an image. Since then, Microsoft have added a transcription shortcut to their excellent Power Toys.

Microsoft Power Toys was already packed with useful features, and the latest update added Text Extractor. It is available for Windows 10 and 11 from Windows App Store.

The Text Extractor is enabled using the key combination Shift+Win+T (a bit of a stretch for one hand). After a second the screen dims slightly and you then use your mouse to drag a rectangle round the text you want to extract. Then go to a text document such as Word or Notepad and paste (Ctrl+V) the text. Much easier than the April 8 method.

While we are on the subject of grabbing content off your screen, there is another program on Windows 10 and 11 by default called Snip & Sketch. This allows you to grab an image from your screen. It is invoked using the keys Shift+Win+S. That puts the following contol at the top/centre of your screen.

The icons stand for...

  1. Rectangular Snip
  2. Freeform Snip
  3. Window Snip
  4. Fullscreen Snip

The blue highlight shows it is set for rectangular snip and you grab any part of the screen by defining the area with you mouse in the same way as using Text Extractor. Then paste (Ctrl+V) the item into a graphics or photo editing application such as Paint or directly into an email or Facebook post etc

Try the Freeform Snip to create something like this...

Why would you need to use it? To report to me where LPMCC.net has a problem. A picture paints a thousand words.

Keeping busy

For those of you still grafting for a crust, the following may be more annoying than informative. It is how I spent yesterday's busy 24 hours.

Today I'll take things bit easier, maybe loiter over breafast and cut down on the Soduku for an early night.

- Ben Crossley