Evil geniuses and world domination are 2 of our goals... we also like Dr Who

updates on debsplorer

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Well – a while back I was looking at how I could extend the hosting of deb files onto a word press site.  My idea was to create a plugin that would allow the server to automatically extract the latest version of a file stored in a deb file.  The idea was that if you were an author, publishing your book, that you publish you book once – to launchpad, and access the binary e-pub file from you word press website.

I’ve been working on the plugin off and on, and today I am sorry to say that I’ve not made much progress on it.  The plugin currently pulls back the latest deb file – from an address you specify in the short code, and I can create a copy of that file.  Deb files are Unix .ar files under the covers, and unfortunately I have been unable to extract specific files from the archive using php.

So it looks for the immediate term that the ability to link your published e-book to your word press site isn’t going to be possible – unless anyone out there can offer any guidance?

I am not disheartened – perhaps I need to look at other options for publishing you book from launchpad to your website, but for the moment debsplorer will have to remain incomplete.

Everyday Security

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I been meaning to write this post for a while, but things are a little busy. How busy you ask? How about so busy that there is a little quiz on the latest episode of Hoo on Who where listeners are invited to finish the following sentence

“Dave Hingley is so busy…”

Still never mind.

Another reason this article has taken it’s time being published is that I had some question about whether or not I should actually be writing this. The story is a little about security and I was concerned with other people’s privacy. I ran it past Mike and the general consensus was that all the information was freely available in the public domain. So, here goes.

Here’s a fun story about a couple of delightful tykes who manage to sell their parents home in 6 days without using Estate agents, covered by the pinnacle of journalistic excellence – Yahoo

The original news article is here, but to cut a long story short, Yahoo took a picture of the posters the 2 children put up to sell their home:

Adorable Kids Selling their home

What a cute poster – awww!

Note they blurred out the house number . Very laudable.  And understandable. You don’t want to be swamped with members of the public taking photos or hassling these young kids right?
But what about these adorable kids in question? well here’s the picture that yahoo put up in the same story :
The Kids and Their poster

The Kids and Their poster

Thanks to the paranoia inducing @__freakyclown__‘s oggcamp talk about exif and digital image forensics data The images don’t look like they have any geotagging data in them.

The new buyers wish to remain anonymous, but how hard would it be to find out the name of the occupants, knowing the address?

Well, it seems that it’s entirely possible to trace the owners using tax records or even in this modern age, outsource this data gathering to an external website like findermonkey. and how much would this cost? Depends.  If the new owners where previous bad tenants, then Findermonkey claim to be able to find previous tenants for £65 – and using the information from yahoo would make it a lot easier wouldn’t it?

In the meantime, here’s some more information on the house in question, and here’s a google street view of it.

Looking at the information. it does raise an interesting question. If we assume that the house sale went through with no problems. there should be some kind of record on the Zoopla page right? wrong. Because is appears that Zoopla and other services get their data from estate agents.  as there was no estate agent involved in the sale, then there is no record of the sale.

However there is no way of knowing if the move went well, unless Yahoo decide to do a follow-up story. But think about this for a second. The property was sold without the need of an Estate agent. It was sold at the asking price without an estate agent, the price looks like it was derived from the last sale price , which would have been provided by an estate agent.

The assumption therefore,  is that any estate agent valuing a property in French weir avenue, for example, would look up the property on Zoopla, see what it was sold for and how long ago, and makes up a figure using that data.

How accurate can that model be? When there can be gaps introduced into records of individual house prices? If all that Estate agents are doing is making up a figure, based on previous data, and putting an advert in the paper – why should we kow-tow their expertise? if Estate Agents are such experts in property, why has there been a history of property bubbles and not a stable maintainable market?

At this point Mike got involved. from the information in the article he was able to obtain copies of the title plan and register details from the land regstry for the princely sum of £6 you can find them here and here. This does raise questions about how complex process of conveyancing actually is. I appreciate that buying a house is a lengthy process and as such you will want the protection that comes with a legal professional dealing with your claim. but maybe there is a saving to be made by performing theses types of searches yourself?

Looking at the Land registry Documents, The Penny’s still seem to be the registered owners. It is possible that records might take time to update, but the original story was published on Yahoo on the 5th February 2014, Mike obtained the documents from the Land registry on the 27th March 2014.

At this point. It occurs to me that the Zoopla Sales data  could be gathered from Land registry Register details. as it details the location, current owner and cost of the property and the reason that  Zoopla aren’t currently showing the property has sold, is because:

  • the sale actually hasn’t finalised yet
  • the sale has gone through but the records have not been refreshed either by the Land registry, which I doubt or by Zoopla , which I think would be more likely as its is presumably periodically  polling/scraping the Land registry website for the information
  • The sale has fallen through.

In any case this story had me consider the relevancy of Estate Agents, The ease of obtaining copies of important documents with freely available information and how hard or easy it would be to track someone down with just a few basic bits of information.

And just think, if Yahoo had been consistent with blurring the address of the property in question, I wouldn’t have bothered to do all this digging.


Idea for UI improvement for @AncestryUK

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Adding children through simple gesture (drag down)

Adding children through simple gesture (drag down)


I was completing an Ancestry customer satisfaction survey, when they asked the question :

“What suggestions would you give to improve the website?”

So I thought about it.  I’ve realised that the further back in time you go when researching family trees, the more children and siblings there tends to be.  So a lot of time will be spent adding children to parents or siblings to individuals.  I believe that ancestry could improve the UI for adding children, and here’s how.

The easiest way to add a relative is to

  • Find the person
  • Click on the person
  • Select Add relative.
  • This then prompts you to add a brother, sister, spouse or child.

I believe this could be streamlined to clicking on the marker point in the marriage line and dragging

  • Down to create a child (the parents are those defined in the marriage)
  • Perhaps diagonally down left / right to create male / female children.  Maybe even dragging up for information about the marriage event?


Suggested Drag children option

Suggested Drag children option – drag into the blue section for a boy, pink for a – well you get the idea.

This gesture based control system could be extended to add siblings (drag the user left to add a sister, right to add a brother) or to swap individuals where the wrong individual has been assigned to an event.

This reduces the number of clicks required for the fairly common operation of adding a child, or sibling, and the idea of dragging the marriage marker to create children also seems to to quite nicely into the operation of the site through a mobile or touch based interface – which seems all the rage these days. 


New Video from Titanium Bunker TV

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I went for a ‘walk’ at lunch yesterday – spotted this on the pavement.

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It’s not easy being green – and for this little chappie, I’d suggest it’s downright impossible



Dessicated Frog found on pavement – closeup

The Mystery of the pig corkscrew.

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You may remember this post, well I tweeted @Tesco about it.

and got he following response :

I’ve also informed them through the product page.

Looking to book a MS Exam in Birmingham UK…

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I popped onto the Prometric testing site to try to book a Microsoft Development exam, and after fighting my way through the interface, I thought I’d share my experience with you all.

Prometric 1

So – first of all we’re asked about our location – this makes sense as I want to book a test location close to a location where I am, or at least where I am scheduled to be.  I am a bit annoyed that the page updates the list of state/province for United Kingdom to contain only — None –.  That would be an ideal opportunity to remove that field if it isn’t applicable.  However it only seems to be applicable if you’re from the United States or Canada – so for the rest of the world – here… have an input box that you’ll never use.

My suggestion : Provide an interface that adjusts based on the user.  If the user picks United states or Canada then show the State/Province options.  How about some map based input?  Perhaps a google map?  So I pick United Kingdom, and select Next.

Prometric 2

Now I am presented with a list of options.  I’m interested in booking an exam, so I’ll pick “Locate a test center.  Quickly and easily find a test centre nearest you.” – hey guys – in the UK we write that as Centre.  Oh – and did you notice that all of the options in the main content of the page, are the same options from the left hand column of the page – but don’t worry – there’s yet more duplication and inefficient design to come :)

Prometric 3

And then for some reason I’m asked for my country again. So I’ll just tell you that again….  Hopefully you’ll remember that now…

Prometric 4


And yes – it looks like you have remembered it – and I’m offered yet another way of altering my current location.  So now I need to specify which test I am interested in to determine which tests centres are most applicable for me:

So I’ll pick the appropriate answers here – Microsoft and Microsoft (070, 071, 074, MBx) and I’m presented with another screen.

Prometric 5


Registration?  All I wanted to do was check seat availability.  I’m not entirely sure that this page is 100% required, as I can click Next without clicking on anything else, and I’m presented with another screen.  Notice that the orange banner to change location has mysteriously disappeared.

Prometric 6

So I now search through this large unwieldy list for the exam I’m planning on taking.  What’s interesting is that for some reason, the language and the currency are important for me to know to book availability.   I pick English, and the currency (GBP) from the list that only has GBP in it (sigh) and click next.

Prometric 7

Hey! the orange banner has returned  - welcome back!.  So all I have to do now is find a centre near Birmingham.  In my opinion this is weak.  we should be presenting this geographical information based on nearest town.  Asking for a list of UK test centres isn’t going to help me if I’m based in or near Birmingham and the top of this list of for Londonderry – a mere 394 mile, 8.5 hour drive (and a ferry crossing) away. What would be more practical for this geographical information would be a map based interface – like a google map.

Anyway – let’s look at what availability QA Training, Birmingham have.  So I click on seat availability.

Prometric 8


They have one day – 19/03/2014.  That’s it.  1 day for the whole of this year going forward.

Nothing in April :

Prometric 9

So – I phoned them – If you’re interested Prometric list their number as 44 121 6656465 whereas QA list their number as 0845 074 7821 – Might be worth taking a note of that number in light of the costs associated with Non geographic numbers.

Turns out that QA Birmingham are having the whole of April off as holiday, according to the receptionist that I spoke to, and that the availability is only provided up to 8 weeks.

Well this is news to me as there was nothing on the web page to say that – so I have tweeted the 2 prometric addresses I could find (@PrometricEvents, @Prometric_News ), and sent them an email via their contact form – Trying to find a phone number for them was nay on impossible.  Click on contact us – for phone, it asks you to identify your test sponsor – click on Microsoft, click on contact us and it asks to identify test sponsor again, 

This 8 week availability restriction also might be news to Birmingham University, who have a date in May currently available.

Prometric 10 - Bham University


Here’s what I asked :

Can someone please confirm – when I’m looking at the seat availability, how far is that valid? does it show to the end of the year, or only 8 weeks ? Doesn’t say on your page.


Mike Hingley

Here’s the response I received :

Dear Candidate,


Thank you for your email.


Please be informed that dates availability is subject to change on the website. In order to locate suitable test site as well as testing date, you are requested to either keep checking on the website www.prometric.com or you may contact the Care Department by calling at +0800-592-873 or +31-320-23-9895 on Monday-Friday 9:00-18:00 GMT for further assistance.

Should you have further queries please do not hesitate to contact us again.

We hope this information Is helpful.


So the official guidance is to just keep checking – So you keep checking over and over hoping for an update – not that you’d know there’s been an update because date ranges where there is no data look the same as date ranges when there is no seat availability. If we could know how far prometric has received seat availability data for that would be something.

Notes :

  • To be fair I could only get the “forgetting the country” bug to occur once while recording these screenshots.

Quaker oats

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In a previous post, I hinted that I had found an issue with the Quaker Oats So simple sachets.  A picture paints a 1000 words and here’s 2000 worth :).   In this first picture we can see the three sachets in question – Winter Pudding, Caramel and Sweet Cinnamon


Oats so Simple sachets – Winter Pudding, Caramel and Sweet Cinnamon

Here are the backs of the sachets.


Oats so Simple reverse of sachet showing preparation instructions

I’ve noticed a couple of issues with these instructions. One issue is that the instructions make reference to a tear line – except that there is no tear line. The tear line is shown on the front only – so a quick fix to make these instructions more obvious would be to drive the behaviour of the consumer and add a tear line on the back. In design parlance this is what is referred to as affordance and Constraints. Looking at other sachet design like this tomato sauce sachet from Heinz :

Heinz Tomato Ketchup Sachet

Heinz Tomato Ketchup Sachet

The physical size of the sachet (being only a single serving of tomato ketchup) prevents a lot of instructions, but the user is shown that the sachet can have its top right hand corner ripped off to open the sachet. This is suggested through the use of the dotted line indicating how far and what shape to tear, and the jagged edge to the sachet, which provide an edge contour which should make it easier to tear.

I would suggest that Quaker make a small nick in the side of the sachet to aid tearing, and reinforce that with a tear line on the reverse of the sachet.  To be fair there is a nick in the side of the packet – but I believe that this is on the wrong side of the packet for right-handed people (70-90% of world population).  A second nick could be placed on either side of the packet

modified quaker oats sachet

modified Quaker oats sachet

The other issue is the difference between the fill levels.  Looking at the sachets, notice that the Sweet Cinnamon sachet has its fill line lower down that the other sachet – yet the instructions for all of the flavours say to fill with milk to the fill level (180 ml). The sachets are the same size (12.7cm x 10.4cm) so it is highly likely this is a printing issue, but I really wanted to confirm that, so I carried out some experiments comparing the Caramel, Sweet Cinnamon and Winter Pudding flavours in terms of the finished product following only the instructions on the back of the sachet, and using the fill line.

Making Oats so Simple using the sachet measuring level.

Caramel Flavour

Filling to the fill line on the Caramel sachet results in nearly 250 ml of milk.

Caramel – Sachet to fill line

I filled the Caramel flavoured sachet with milk to the fill line, and measured it using a measuring jug. The photo shows that following the sachet instructions results in nearly 250 ml of milk rather than the 180 as presented in the printed instructions – approximately a 32% inaccuracy. Here’s what that looks like when you follow the sachet instructions :


Sweet Cinnamon Flavour

Filling to the fill line on the Sweet Cinnamon sachet.

Sweet Cinnamon – Sachet to fill line

I repeated the same procedure for the Sweet Cinnamon flavour, filling the sachet to the fill line and measuring it using a measuring jug. The photo shows that sachet holds just over 200 ml of milk, and less than 250 ml.



Winter Pudding Flavour

Filling to the fill line on the Winter Pudding sachet

Winter Pudding – Sachet to fill line

I repeated the same procedure for the Winter Pudding flavour, filling the sachet to the fill line and measuring it using a measuring jug. The photo shows that sachet holds just over 200 ml of milk, and less than 250 ml.



Making Oats so Simple using measured ingredients.

Next I followed the instructions, but measured the milk using a Pyrex scientific measuring beaker.

Overall the results obtained using an accurate measure of the milk were better than using the fill line from the sachet.  I therefore decided to examine the accuracy of the fill line.  Taking a Winter Pudding sachet, I measured 180 ml of milk, and poured it into the sachet, marking on the sachet the actual fill line. This line was 2.5 cm lower than usual fill line on the sachet.  This means that – for winter pudding sachets – that instead of the line being 10.5cm from base, the line should be 8 cm from base.  Translating this line on a Sweet Cinnamon sachet reveals that this sachet fill line is only 1cm higher than it should be.

Updated Packet - Winter Pudding

Updated Packet – Winter Pudding

Updated Packet - Sweet Cinnamon

Updated Packet – Sweet Cinnamon



Conclusion : There’s been some mix up relating to the sachet graphics.

This is supported when looking at the “So Simple” graphics  at the bottom right of the packet.  The Sweet Cinnamon packet has the graphics lower down the sachet when comparing to the caramel or winter pudding flavours – but in combination the graphic itself is also inaccurate.  To fix this Quaker Oats needs to drop the fill line on the graphic by 1cm, and ensure that the graphics are printed from the same registration point, and that this registration point should probably be based around the Sweet Cinnamon registration point.

Alternatively I suggest investing in a Pyrex scientific measuring beaker - however this removes some of the convenience of working with oats so simple.

Micro Men

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Martin Freeman as Chris Curry Left and Alexander Armstring as Sir Clive Sinclair Right

On Saturday, Miss Vicki and myself spent an evening with Saul Metzstein. second unit director on Dredd and The director of Doctor who stories ‘The Name of the Doctor ‘, ‘ The Crimson Horror’, ‘The Snowmen’ ‘A Town Called Mercy’ and ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’. Specifically he directed the 2009 film Micro Men starring Martin Freeman and Alexander Armstrong detailing the rivalry between Sir Clive Sinclair and Chris Curry.

I remember missing the film when it first aired and looked forward to the screening which was held at the centre for computing history in Cambridge. Now I know where it is, I will be kicking myself I hadn’t found it sooner.  Expect future posts on this most interesting place.

The film was a more lighthearted take on the events of the time, but it would be wrong to classify it as a comedy. Saul stopped for a Q+A afterwards and he was most interesting.   However, given the history of the BBC micro, and recent events trying to get kids into coding, the Q+A was derailed for a minute while a room full of computer programmers vented their collective spleens about the poor quality of modern IT education. My hand is up, it was my fault

Saul lamented that the film would probably never get a DVD release, down to rights issues and simply that it’s not a very international story, which is a shame.

It’s possible the whole film is lurking on YouTube someplace. I wouldn’t even begin to speculate if that was possible, but you know, it’s the internet. Surely it must be out there somewhere.



Flora Proactiv fail

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Tried signing up this morning for the proactiv news letter – got the following error



The actual error is :

Server Error in ‘/’ Application.

A connection attempt failed because the connected party did not properly respond after a period of time, or established connection failed because connected host has failed to respond

Description: An unhandled exception occurred during the execution of the current web request. Please review the stack trace for more information about the error and where it originated in the code.

Exception Details: System.Net.Sockets.SocketException: A connection attempt failed because the connected party did not properly respond after a period of time, or established connection failed because connected host has failed to respond

Source Error:

An unhandled exception was generated during the execution of the current web request. Information regarding the origin and location of the exception can be identified using the exception stack trace below.

Stack Trace:

[SocketException (0x274c): A connection attempt failed because the connected party did not properly respond after a period of time, or established connection failed because connected host has failed to respond]
   System.Net.Sockets.Socket.DoConnect(EndPoint endPointSnapshot, SocketAddress socketAddress) +525
   System.Net.Sockets.Socket.InternalConnect(EndPoint remoteEP) +51
   System.Net.ServicePoint.ConnectSocketInternal(Boolean connectFailure, Socket s4, Socket s6, Socket& socket, IPAddress& address, ConnectSocketState state, IAsyncResult asyncResult, Int32 timeout, Exception& exception) +606

[WebException: Unable to connect to the remote server]
   System.Net.HttpWebRequest.GetRequestStream(TransportContext& context) +938
   System.Net.HttpWebRequest.GetRequestStream() +23
   Traction.Fusion.HttpPostService.ProcessRequest(RequestContext context, Boolean closeConnection) +797
   Traction.Fusion.HttpPostService.ProcessRequest(RequestContext context) +63
   Traction.Fusion.Customers.AddCustomerService.AddCustomerInternal(IMatchKey matchKey, UpdateAttributeCollection attributes) +649
   Traction.Fusion.Customers.AddCustomerService.AddCustomer(IMatchKey matchKey, UpdateAttributeCollection attributes) +80
   Unilever.Flora.VitalityAcquisitionEmailPromotion.AddCustomerFormProcessor.ExecuteAddCustomer(IAddCustomer form) in C:\Projects\MUK\FloraVitalityAcquisition\Templates2010\Unilever.Brand.Template\AddCustomerFormProcessor.cs:38
   FloraVitalityForm2010.Acquisition.SaveToTractionAddCustomer() +168
   FloraVitalityForm2010.Acquisition.ProcessForm() +164
   FloraVitalityForm2010.Acquisition.Submit_Click(Object sender, EventArgs e) +51
   System.Web.UI.WebControls.Button.RaisePostBackEvent(String eventArgument) +159
   System.Web.UI.Page.ProcessRequestMain(Boolean includeStagesBeforeAsyncPoint, Boolean includeStagesAfterAsyncPoint) +3482


Version Information: Microsoft .NET Framework Version:4.0.30319; ASP.NET Version:4.0.30319.1016