When busy bees lose the plot

OK, I have all this stuff to do but somehow I just can’t get focused on doing it. I seem to be stuck here, in the wrong place, doing something that just isn’t my priority right now.

Don’t get me wrong, I like being a bee and collecting pollen and all that stuff for the hive but honestly, I’m knackered. I just want to sit here and look at – what is that, anyway? Some kind of pipe. Interesting. I like pipes. Think I’ll blog about pipes.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. I’m going to go and get some of that pollen. For the hive. Because it’s what I’m supposed to be doing right now.

Hacking the Canon Powershot SX20 IS

I’ve had my Canon Powershot SX20 IS camera for a few years now and have always regarded it as a stepping-stone to a better, “proper” camera. The problem is I have never quite got to the point where I can justify shelling out the considerable wonga to take the next step.

What I’d like is a modern digital equivalent to my brilliant old Nikon FM that served me well for a number of years, with up to date features as well as the best of the old. Two things in particular have annoyed me about the SX20 – the maximum exposure time of 15 seconds and the digital compression which irrationally leaves me with FOMO – something is missing from my photographs.

Having resolved not to spend a grand on a new camera, instead I lobbed a hundred quid into the Physics Pixies UNICEF appeal and set about altering the camera I have to deal with the two “problems”. The alterations amount to a firmware update using the CHDK (Canon Hack Development Kit) firmware addon. This is now an open-source project built on the work of programmer VitalyB’s RAW enabler and Andrei Gratchev’s development kit. The firmware update now includes a number of other really nice features including time-lapse, motion detection and bracketing of exposure and focus.

Finding out the camera’s firmware

The EXIF data in a digital photograph tells you quite a lot about the camera that took it and the settings used – see, for example, this picture on Flickr. Click “show EXIF”. This tells me almost but not quite enough about the firmware Revision – 1.02 rev 2.00. Your camera will tell you, though. First, create an empty file called ver.req in the root of the SD card. I did this on a MacBook Pro with the SD card in a slot on the laptop by issuing these commands:

$ cd Volumes/CANON_DC/
$ touch ver.req

Put the card in your camera and start it up in playback mode. From the main screen (should be displaying NO IMAGE for no images on the card), press FUNC SET and DISP. buttons and the camera will display a screen like this for about 5 seconds:

IMG_4842

So my firmware version is GM1.02B. Other information is available – read the CHDK wiki for more.

Getting the firmware update

There are lots of different versions of the CHDK available and it seems to be important that you get the right one. Visit the download page and click the link to the stable build – this takes you the list of available versions. Obviously, pick the right one for your camera – the SX20 files are near the end of the page. I went for this one:

sx20-102b-1.2.0-3537-full.zip

I downloaded and unzipped the archive locally, then removed the quarantine tag from the binary (something the OSX archive utility does to protect you from yourself):

$ xattr -d com.apple.quarantine DISKBOOT.BIN

Choosing the load method

There are two possible methods to set up your camera with this new software, neither of which alters the camera’s installed firmware. In the first and simplest, the SD card contains files that are loaded by the camera using the normal “firmware update” menu function. It doesn’t actually update the firmware: the code is loaded into RAM which means that the camera reverts to standard operation when it is switched off.

The second method requires a “bootable” SD card containing the CHDK and partitioned in the right way – a slightly more complex procedure being required to set this up. I wanted to go with the first method initially, principally because I am impatient, but discovered (because the required PS.FIR file was missing from the download archive) that the SX20 CHDK does not support the firmware update method. All the details for both methods are available on the wiki.

Preparing the SD card

First step in preparing for the “bootable” method is to partition and format the SD card. I used the OSX disk utility to do this on an 8GB SD card, setting up a 500MB MBR partition and the rest in a second partition, both formatted as FAT. The disk utility seemed to throw an error after partitioning and didn’t mount the first partition at this stage.

The next step requires the first partition to be unmounted anyway, as we convert it to a FAT16 partition by issuing this command using the appropriate disk identifier (disk1s1 in my case):

$ sudo newfs_msdos -F 16 -v Canon_DC -b 4096 -c 128 /dev/disk1s1

Ejecting and re-inserting the SD card shows the new partition arrangement is OK and both partitions mounted. The next step is to make the card bootable – first, by invoking the fdisk utility (you type the bold bits):

$ sudo fdisk -e /dev/disk1
fdisk: could not open MBR file [] No such file or directory <== IGNORE THIS
fdisk: 1> setpid 1
Partition id ('0' to disable) [0 - FF]: [B] (? for help) 1
fdisk:*1> write
Device could not be accessed exclusively.
A reboot will be needed for changes to take effect. OK? [n] y
Writing MBR at offset 0.
fdisk: 1> exit

Next, we have to edit the SD card’s Master Boot Record. Get a copy of it locally by issuing this:

$ sudo dd if=/dev/disk1s1 of=BootSector.bin bs=512 count=1

Remember to use the correct disk identifier (disk1s1 in my case). If you get “Resource busy”, it’s because the first partition is mounted – unmount (do not eject) it and try the dd command again. Next, the BootSector.bin file needs to be edited – I used HexEdit.app – to overwrite from position 0x40 the word BOOTDISK:

bs

You should finish up with a file that’s still exactly 512 bytes that you can dd back to the SD card boot partition:

$ sudo dd if=BootSector.bin of=/dev/disk1s1 bs=512 count=1

Remounting the partition (using disk utility), the final step in preparing the SD card is to copy the CHDK files over. The file DISKBOOT.BIN (and PS.FI?, if you have it) goes in the first partition, everything else from the archive goes in the second, larger partition.

Finally

Eject the card and move the lock switch to the LOCK position (this is required to make CHDK operate – in the UNLOCK position, it’s just a normal Powershot but limited to the first partition). Put the SD card in the camera and start it up – you’ll notice a new splash screen:

IMG_1865

You’ll also see some new items, like a battery monitor, but most of the CHDK functions are accessed through their own menus – you (and I) will have to spend a little time with the user manual, but look out for results on BlipFoto, Flickr or maybe even 500px.

GTCS Professional Update

IMG_5843The General Teaching Council for Scotland has for the past few years been preparing for the introduction of a scheme of re-accreditation for teachers, required as part of the legislation which saw it gain “independence” from Government in 2012.

As with every other public body with an education remit, the GTCS can no doubt show that it has consulted widely and has “a regard to any views expressed by those consulted” [1]. The GTCS leadership have been at pains to distance itself from the competency overtones of the term “re-accreditation” and has positioned the professional update scheme, which goes live next week, as an enhancement of the annual professional review and development (PRD) process.

According to the GTCS website, I have to engage in the professional update process in August but, as with every other public body with an education remit, getting a clear statement of exactly what it is I have to do is difficult. I have a suspicion from talking to those involved in the pilot process that in the end, anything that from 500 yards looks like a duck, will be called a duck. “It’s a skoosh”, according to one participant.

This is familiar territory to anyone who has used the COSLA myjobscotland website, which is clearly designed to show how the official bodies are working hard to operate an open, equal and fair process but which in fact delivers an awkward, dysfunctional and frustrating exercise in time-wasting for potential applicants. Reading Kafka is great preparation for using this site if you’re considering it.

So, it’s August next week and, like a lot of teachers, I have a lot of things to do during the so-called holiday period, including preparing for Professional Update. From the GTCS website today:

28. When will I be required to complete the Professional Update process for the first time?

From my GTCS number, I will be required to complete Professional Update in 2014/15.

29. How should I be preparing for Professional Update?

“From August 2014, engagement in the Professional Update process will be a condition of registration with GTC Scotland. National implementation will be on a phased basis, as outlined in the question above. Teachers will not be asked to provide retrospective evidence in the PRD process prior to 2014. GTC Scotland will continue to take every opportunity to communicate with the profession to ensure that all teachers are aware of the timescale of implementation, and what will be required of them to complete the Professional Update process.”

A paragraph of text which doesn’t answer the question by stating that GTCS will take “every opportunity” to answer the question. So, I get that this is something to do with the PRD process, which from the past decade I’ve spent in education, is a futile ticky-box role-playing exercise with absolutely no value whatsoever to me, the people I teach, nor the service. OK, I think I’m ready for that.

WordPress XML-RPC Attack

This week, one of my sites, sptr.net, has been under a co-ordinated and sustained attack from what appears to be a botnet – a collective of several hundred virus-infected computers running Microsoft Windows. The attack comprises attempts to use the remote procedure call methods built into WordPress to post unauthorised content.

Detection

I was notified by one of my independent monitoring services that the site was having trouble some time after the attack began. It appears that once triggered by the attacker, it takes a while for the command to spread to a significant number of infected machines – this is reasonable if you assume the greatest number of infected PCs is in the USA. The attack peaked around the middle of the day in Scotland, coincident with the switching on of computers as the sun moved East to West across the continental US. Although the server remained operational, it was struggling to continue to respond to requests in a reasonable time as the CPU usage soared way above 1000% of nominal maximum. A look at the top processes on the server showed that it was trying to keep things together:

  PID USER      PRI  NI  VIRT   RES   SHR S CPU% MEM%   TIME+  Command
12345 xxxxxxx    20   0 55992 36080  7128 R 49.0  6.9  0:15.73 [see below]
12346 xxxxxxx    20   0 56036 36124  7188 R 46.0  6.9  0:04.96 [see below]
12347 xxxxxxx    20   0 55940 36076  7128 R 46.0  6.9  0:03.82 [see below]
12349 xxxxxxx    20   0 55912 35908  6984 R 46.0  6.8  0:07.88 [see below]
12340 xxxxxxx    20   0 55976 36116  7180 R 46.0  6.9  0:03.59 [see below]
12342 xxxxxxx    20   0 55940 36064  7128 R 44.0  6.9  0:07.21 [see below]
12341 xxxxxxx    20   0 55948 36140  7196 R 44.0  6.9  0:34.79 [see below]
12343 xxxxxxx    20   0 55972 36248  7276 R 44.0  6.9  2:20.11 [see below]

The command attempted showed that it was an attack on a php script:

/usr/bin/php-cgi -c /var/www/vhosts/sptr.net/etc/php.ini

Further investigation

Looking at the server access logs identified the specific script targeted by the attacker, the machines and methodology involved. The range of IP addresses showed that the infected PCs were world-wide (in the sample below, India, Poland, Egypt, Thailand, Algeria, Brazil and Pakistan).

106.76.44.110 - - [10/Jul/2014:14:03:19 +0000] "POST /xmlrpc.php HTTP/1.1" 200 159 "-" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; Win32; WinHttp.WinHttpRequest.5)"
194.50.157.187 - - [10/Jul/2014:14:03:34 +0000] "POST /xmlrpc.php HTTP/1.1" 200 159 "-" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; Win32; WinHttp.WinHttpRequest.5)"
41.235.83.103 - - [10/Jul/2014:14:03:43 +0000] "POST /xmlrpc.php HTTP/1.1" 200 159 "-" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; Win32; WinHttp.WinHttpRequest.5)"
171.6.204.105 - - [10/Jul/2014:14:03:54 +0000] "POST /xmlrpc.php HTTP/1.1" 200 159 "-" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; Win32; WinHttp.WinHttpRequest.5)"
41.107.87.186 - - [10/Jul/2014:14:04:04 +0000] "POST /xmlrpc.php HTTP/1.1" 200 159 "-" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; Win32; WinHttp.WinHttpRequest.5)"
179.186.51.47 - - [10/Jul/2014:14:04:06 +0000] "POST /xmlrpc.php HTTP/1.1" 200 159 "-" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; Win32; WinHttp.WinHttpRequest.5)"
39.44.61.247 - - [10/Jul/2014:14:04:14 +0000] "POST /xmlrpc.php HTTP/1.1" 200 159 "-" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; Win32; WinHttp.WinHttpRequest.5)"

Mitigation

Restarting the VPS container made no difference. CPU usage remained very high. Installing a plugin to disable XML-RPC in WordPress seemed to make things better, probably because of the response time improvement but as the day progressed, the attack seemed to abate and the server was coping better with CPU usage falling below 100% nominal maximum. The log sample above is from today, when the attacks have fallen to a few per minute instead of the hundreds per second on Tuesday. It looks like the botnet is learning that there are robust passwords on the system that will take too long to guess and is giving up.

Brute force solution

I’m not happy with this constant knocking at my door, however, so have decided that I don’t need a door there at all. Removing the target script doesn’t directly affect the rate of attack, it changes the 200 response to a 404 (page not found), which is quickly delivered.

94.55.132.13 - - [10/Jul/2014:14:09:13 +0000] "POST /xmlrpc.php HTTP/1.1" 404 430 "-" "Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; Win32; WinHttp.WinHttpRequest.5)"

Desert Island Discs

didA colleague recently asked for suggestions for music which got me thinking that everyone should at least have a rough idea of what to play were they ever to be invited onto Roy Plomley’s Desert Island Discs. Now, it’s a vanity to even momentarily entertain the idea that one is of sufficient public interest to be invited onto this great British Radio programme, but that didn’t stop me preparing my list. Here it is.

The rules

The rules of being cast away on the imaginary island might seem a little anachronistic in this digital age but they boil down to these: you’re allowed 8 discs – tracks, in the modern vernacular – and the means to play them, presumably mechanical as there is no source of power for electronic devices. Concessions are that you can take with you a holy or philosophical book, the complete works of Shakespeare and one other book, plus one luxury item, provided that it doesn’t aid your escape from the island.

First two discs

The first disc sent me back to Letchworth, where I grew up in a house full of music. My mother sang all her life until age overtook her vocal cords. She still has the same passion for music, particularly Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto number 2, which would often play as I took my weekly bath on a Sunday evening. Mum is and always was a girl who liked fun, however, and was as likely to be found lost in a boogie-woogie – her favourite being Down the road a piece. My first two discs reflect my mother’s influence, therefore: the first, a classical masterpiece rendered by Isao Tomita electronically to great effect, especially from about 5 min 30 sec, where the effect of percussion leading in a sweeping chorus still moves me as much now as when I first heard it 35 years ago.

1. Tomita: Pavane (Ravel) from the album Daphnis & Chloe 1979

The second of my desert island discs is possibly the best blues track I ever heard. I played this as a teenager, over and over again, and have never tired of hearing it. From Fleetwood Mac’s early years, it was the B side to Albatross, another instrumental that showed the expressive power of the electric guitar in the hands of a master – in this case, Peter Green, and on my second disc, Danny Kirwan. Catch the contrast between the blue notes and the happy middle eight.

2. Jigsaw Puzzle Blues – Fleetwood Mac

The guitar is an instrument I have been playing for almost fifty years. I’m still pretty mediocre, despite a period as a professional bass player.

Guitars, voices and songs

I wondered if I might take a guitar with me to the island. In the interests of not driving myself crazy with frustration and rage at my own inability to play as well as I’d like, it will be better that I don’t. Instead, a track featuring one of my favourite guitarists of all time, Ritchie Blackmore. The band Deep Purple produced the most incredible quality music, not least due to the influence of Jon Lord. In my time as a bass player, I owned a Rickenbacker that was supposed to have belonged to Roger Glover of the same band. The vocalist Ian Gillan is most closely associated with Deep Purple, but for me, the greatest voice for Blackmore’s guitar belonged to David Coverdale. Here they both are, doing what they both do best.

3. Soldier of Fortune – Deep Purple (Stormbringer)

My work took me around the world, where I would often be working shifts in the air-conditioned sterility of the computer room, waiting for code to compile and link. In the splendid isolation of those places, I often listened to cassette tapes through headphones, loud. One artist that accompanied me in that place during an extended trip to Seattle was Joni Mitchell, whose album Blue was played end to end, stopping only half way through to turn the tape around. My island disc from that album features the delicious sound of the Appalachian Dulcimer.

4. A Case of You – Joni Mitchell

Songs of significance

I have never hung on to my career at all costs, preferring to recognise that a point has been reached where further progress is impossible, further contribution wasted and that a new path beckons. These points have often featured significant songs or music and the next track is an example. I used it as the introduction to a corporate presentation shortly before I left the corporation.

5. That’s what I’ll do – Robert Cray

In a similar way, I found the music of Omar Faruk Tekbilek to be significant, drawn as I was at the time to Islam. As Muhammad Bilal, I spent a number of years with that faith and as part of that community, the Ummah. The imam at my local mosque had a beautiful singing voice and would often lead the singing of a naat, a poem in praise of the Prophet. One in particular, I still sometimes catch myself singing the chorus of: Mustafa Jaan-e-Rehmat Pe Laakhon Salaam.

“Islam” means “peace” and I found a peace here that I hadn’t experienced before, in the prayer and the respect for all, men and women, “sons of Abraham”, for nature, for knowledge and science. It breaks my heart to see how the great religion that Islam is, can be so sullied by the actions of lunatics, dead cultural habits and the ignorant. Here, the music and lyrics of Omar Faruk Tekbilek are evocative of a place of peace for the Muslim, particularly the spiritual Sufi, a garden.

6. Manhem – Omar Faruk Tekbilek

Growing up

I have now spent a significant part of my adult life in Scotland. I consider it to be my home, with all of its strange cultures and heritages, most of which are imports. The pipes, originating as they did in Egypt, are perhaps iconic for Scottish culture and there is nothing so stirring as hearing the massed pipes and drums of a decent rendering of Highland Cathedral. The tune is, of course, written by a couple of Germans, which I think is funny. I don’t want any of that on the island. What I will have is a single track by Matt Rach, a young French guitarist whose talent I am insanely jealous of and whose music, whether covers or his own material, is quite exceptionally, furiously, good. This one will do: it’s his cover of the theme from Rosemary’s Baby.

7. Rosemary’s Baby Theme – Matt Rach

Immortality

My final track seems to the perfect synthesis of the music I have loved the most, crossing cultural, religious and national boundaries in a way that digs deep into my psyche. I can do nothing when I hear this but close my eyes and listen to it. It was written by the cellist Joceyln Pook for Akram Khan’s DESH, a full-length contemporary dance solo. I have never seen the dance. I like to think that this unresolved rift in the balance of harmony in my life makes me immortal.

8. Ave Maria (DESH): Jocelyn Pook

The book

I am free of God now but recognise the value of values and the power of prayer. There is no peace like the peace of the mosque; no hope so vain as the hope of salvation; no service but that which is given unconditionally and without recognition. That said, I have no need of the religious or philosophical Book: neither the Bible nor Qu’ran are any use to me now. If I need fiction, I have the complete works of Shakespeare, altogether more credible a read.

I was thinking that I might take for my own choice Sun Tzu’s Art of War. If I have nobody to fight a war with but myself it may offer a route to greater self-awareness. However, I have settled on a brilliant little book that will keep me occupied and mentally stimulated until I am rescued from the island: The Chicken from Minsk: And 99 Other Infuriating Brainteasers. I was recommended this book several years ago and finally bought one, second-hand, for a penny. To give you a flavour of the book, from the back cover:

Besides chess playing and problem solving, drinking is and always has been the most common form of recreation in Russia. Vassily has acquired a 12 litre bucket of vodka and wishes to share it with Pyotr. However, all Pyotr has is an empty 8 litre bottle and an empty 5 litre bottle. How can the vodka be divided evenly?

The Luxury item and the One Disc I’d Save

I was considering an Appalachian Dulcimer, so that I could learn to play “A Case of You” – the one disc I would save from the waves if I had to – but realised that I would probably break the strings quite quickly. A longer-lasting luxury, depending on how much I am permitted to have of this, would be writing and sketching materials. Writing is the one thing I have never tired of: and when I do, I tend to sketch. Not very well, but like the guitar playing, well enough for my own entertainment.

Which is probably good news for the other inhabitants of the island.

MacBook Memory Storage upgrade

Noticing the performance of my 5-year-old MacBook Pro was becoming – well, noticeable, I thought it might be time to replace it. The trouble with that is cost. That, and the inconvenience of it. I asked around some of my Mac buddies, did a bit of googling (other search engines are available, but nobody uses them), and sought advice from the Apple Store. The hive mind seemed to favour and recommend an increase in RAM and a replacement of the hard drive with a solid state drive (SSD). Here’s how it went.

1. Backup/clone

The first thing I had to do was create a copy of all the files on my 256GB internal hard drive. The drive was running with about 75GB unused spaceIMG_2699 but I had a 256GB external USB hard drive available for this purpose. You can buy USB enclosures for about a fiver which would allow you to clone your old hard drive straight to your new SSD but I took the intermediate step because I wanted to tread carefully and also create a backup of the drive and settings, something I hadn’t properly done before. I am a regular backer-upper of my files, sometimes keeping several redundant copies of important things. The backup tool of choice is Bombich’s Carbon Copy Cloner. I like this software because (a) it works, (b) it anticipates the user’s possible lack of caution or experience and (c) helps the user do the right thing. There’s a 30-day trial available but if you’re spending money on an upgrade, why not include the just-under-thirty-quid full licence as part of your budget and get a decent backup solution while you’re at it?

2. Buy the right bits

The Apple Store people were quite clear and unhesitant in telling me that Crucial Memory is the place to buy your upgraded memory chips and drives. There is a config checker tool on their site that will tell you what you need and guarantee it’s right if you buy from them. If you’re certain that it was 2009 when you bought your Mac, then you might not need this. I was certain but used the tool anyway. I was impressed with the speed of service and delivery from Crucial. Ordering late on Wednesday night and not paying extra for faster postage, the new drive and memory dropped through my letterbox on Friday morning.

IMG_2700IMG_2701

3. Replace

The replacement is pretty straightforward. The back of the MBP is retained by 10 cross-head screws (you’ll need instrument screwdIMG_2702rivers), 3 of which are longer than the rest. Remember where they go. I recommend that you read about and follow good static discharge protection procedures, before you fry anything electronic and sensitive. The big yellow sticker is trying to tell you that. I used a bonding wrist strap that I connected to the case of the laptop and generally tried hard not to touch anything metal at all.

The memory cards are held in their slots by two plastic clips, one on each side, that you pull aside to allow the card to pop up for easy removal. The second card slot on my MBP is under the first.

IMG_2704

Make sure you align the new memory cards correctly before trying to press them into the holder. There is a notch in the connector side which requires you to put it in the correct way round. On mine the notch is to the left of centre. If you refer to the top image of the new memory, you’ll see this meant that I had to put the memory in with that “Crucial” label facing down (i.e. on the keyboard side).

IMG_2705

The HDD came out easily enough. There are two retaining brackets held in by a total of four cross-head screws. You can only see one clearly in the picture, at the bottom left. Remove these and disconnect the HDD carefully. For some reason there was a rubber blind washer in the case by this connector (see picture). I have no idea why. I have put it back where it was.

The HDD is fitted with four spigots which are needed for the new SSD. They are Torx screws, of a size I do not have the tool for, so I removed them with pliers and installed them in the SSD the same way. Reassembly is the reverse of what you’ve done so far.

4. Restore

Once your MBP is back in one piece, so to speak, you will need to boot it from the external clone if you made one, or straight from the new SSD if you didn’t take that step. If like me, you used the external clone, then you have another couple of hours to wait while you clone onto the new SSD.

5. Outcomes

What I have now is the same MBP as before only a lot faster and quieter. The fan did run fast for the first hour or two of operation but this is partly due to Google Drive getting its knickers in a twist. GDrive cannot cope with moving your GDrive folder to a different place – it has to start from scratch, synching from the web. Yet another good reason not to use GDrive. Dropbox needs you to log in again. Copy.com just copes.

Some of your file associations will have reverted to default settings in the process of setting up partitions on the clone. Apart from that, it looks exactly the same as it did before but somehow feels new. Browsing, email and compiling are all noticeably faster.

Thanks to those who steered me in the right direction; also to CarbonCopy and to Crucial for great products and customer support.

6. Next steps

Next? Probably a new battery. Even with the low-energy SSD, I’m probably down to about 3 or 4 hours maximum use from my five-year old battery which has been asking for service for months.

Declaration of Independence

Hoots, mon, old chap.
Hoots, mon, old chap.

A while ago, an old friend from my Sussex days posted on Facebook, “When are you coming home?”. My response, to the applause of the crowd, was, “I am home”. I love Scotland, or at least parts of it, and she has been quite kind to me since I came here in 1991 for what I had intended to be a maximum of 6 months.

I migrated involuntarily to Scotland 23 years ago out of economic necessity. My pedigree is not dissimilar to your average mongrel although I do have strong roots back 200 years through my American father’s line to the Hoods of Dumfries. I am as proud of my heritage as I am of anything else I have no control over, like my height. “Proud” in the sense that I recognise it as my good fortune and something I should (and do) take full advantage of.

Something else I inherited from my father was his intolerance of pretension, although I think I can run with a line so far, before rebelling (this trait from the Bourne family, my mother’s genetic base). This is what I often refer to as the “F*ck it” point.

I have reached this point in the debate over Scotland’s independence. Listening carefully to both sides of the argument, I have found no imperative nor evidence to support the action of severing the leg we stand on in the United Kingdom. Neither the leg nor the amputee would fare well, although I suspect that the economic reality of our population distribution, one-eighth of it in London and 91% not in the metaphorical leg, the UK-not-including-Scotland will survive.

The vote in September is going to be made with people’s heads, hearts and the (m)asses.

To intellectualise the argument, there is no economic or political advantage for Scotland to cede from the rest of the UK: our UK research investment, world investment, finance investment, European investment would be damaged substantially. Alec Salmond, clever cookie that he might be, has failed to convince anyone’s head that a Yes vote is in anyone’s interests.

Hearts will be bursting with nationalistic emotion, the halls and glens still echoing to the skirl of pipes and the choruses of “Caledonia” and “Flùr na h-Alba” at the end of the Glasgow games and the SNP will be hoping for a “games effect”  just in time for the referendum in September.

Finally, there is, despite all the hype, door-knocking, state-funded leafleting and propaganda, the most powerful political force of all: the disinterest of the masses. Here is the greatest vote, if not actually for the status quo, but against the change in it. For same reason I didn’t engage with the rubbish waiter in the rubbish restaurant I had lunch in yesterday when he asked if everything was all right, people don’t feel sufficiently interested in revolution or changing things for the better to engage in the argument. This is why you see a predominance of “Yes” stickers all over the place. There is the sense that to dissent from the nationalist zeitgeist is somehow anti-Scottish, not something to be in times of Nationalist fervour.

Well, I am at the F*ck it point with this debate. Blame my breeding. I am going to vote against independence: because I love Scotland (parts of it); because there’s no argument for it that even remotely sounds convincing to me; because as part of the UK, Scotland punches above its weight and I like that; and because it’s right to stand up against Nationalism in this insidious form. I declare my independence.

WordPress Redirect Loop

WordPress is a brilliant tool, probably the best of the CMSs – Google says so – but every now and then it can stop you in your tracks. It did this today as I was setting up a new site for Marc Walker, the British Biathlon veteran and team manager who is retiring from Her Majesty’s service in August to set up a very special personal trainer business in Knutsford.

Marc Walker (image copyright Marcel Laponder CC-BY-3.0)
Marc Walker (image copyright Marcel Laponder CC-BY-3.0)

I hit a wee problem with an unexpected redirect loop when trying to access the back end. There are plenty of articles and “fixes” available on the web, none of which were relevant to my installation and most of which relate to permalinks and .htaccess. Because my installation is a long-standing derivative of WPMU or multi-site, it could not have been that.

For others in the same position, here’s what my install looks like:

  • LAMP hosted (on a VPS)
  • Version 3.9.1
  • Multiple WP sites, domain-mapped

I had a while ago, for some reason I have now forgotten, network disabled the default WordPress themes. When I added this new site, created the new admin user and mapped the domain, I found that the admin or login pages simply got stuck in a redirect loop.

The fix was easy enough – I simply had to enable Twenty-Fourteen (the default WP theme) for the new site via the network admin panel.

If you want to visit Marc’s new site, it’s at AvantgardePT.com. His new business will start up in August and will have a strong European baseline from his track record in Biathlon, military fitness, Iron Man, and an impressive bunch of competitive sports.

Efficient, searchable logging

I’ve been trying to find out what is the best way – for me – to keep a record of readings, meetings, seminars and the other stuff of studying to become a researcher. I begin a part time PhD in September and as I will have severe demands on my time for the day job, need to be sure that I work smart.

I thought about all kinds of tools for this. The first thing to realise is that I will probably be making use of pen and paper as the ultimate portable and immediate way to organise my thinking. I’ve done this since 1976 and have a wall full of diaries and notes back to that time. Despite being a technophile, I have tried and failed to like any of the web or tablet based services like Evernote. I want to capture images, probably like this photo of hand-written notes. I want what I record to be searchable.

So, what am I going to try? A combination of email and blogging. I already have the blog you’re reading and this post is made using the JetPack “post by email” feature. I wonder if it will work?