An interesting aside about gravity


Is the science settled?

Originally posted on ...and Then There's Physics:

In the past, when discussing the role of chaos in climate models, I’ve been known to argue that the complexity of multi-body dynamical systems means that we could probably not run a model of the formation of our Solar System that would actually produce a result entirely consistent with what we see today. That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t use such models to understand how our Solar System formed and evolved. Similarly, that climate models are inherently chaotic does not mean that we cannot use them to understand how our climate might respond to changes in anthropogenic forcings. The response I would typically get is that gravity is verified/validated (or whatever other term the person chooses to use) but climate science is not (ignoring that much of the underlying physics is about as well understood as gravity).

Ignoring the complications of General Relativity, the gravitational force between two bodies…

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Originally posted on RachelSquirrel:

Full disclosure first: I love and I want to acknowledge that I might be a bit biased for two reasons. Firstly, I blog at and secondly, I work for Automattic, the company behind it. 

I work in support at Automattic and so I get to see first hand the sorts of things users are doing with, why some want to get a self-hosted site instead, and the sorts of problems users experience with these sites. Since I started in April this year, I have answered 4,360 queries from users. Many of these queries have been about the difference between and which seems to be an enormous source of confusion.

It is confusing! I agree. I can remember finding it confusing when I first started blogging at But I will try to explain the difference here and also explain why I think is often the best choice.

WordPress is software that drives 22% of…

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The Met Office’s outlook for the UK summer 2014

Originally posted on Met Office News Blog:

There are headlines in the media today which suggest the Met Office is forecasting that this summer will be one of the hottest on record. However, the Met Office hasn’t issued a forecast along these lines.

The news stories are based on information taken from our three month outlook for contingency planners, so let’s take a closer look at that.

What does our three month outlook say?

As we’ve discussed previously, this outlook assesses the level of risk connected to five different scenarios for both temperature and rainfall for the whole season. It’s a bit like the science-equivalent of factoring the odds on a horse race.

However, as with any horse race, it’s always possible that the favourite won’t win – so these probability scenarios have to be used in the right context. This is why they’re useful for planners and businesses who plan ahead based on risk, but…

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Elmo drops! A tale of a lot of carrot and a very little stick

Our practically perfect mutt has become that bit more perfect over the last fortnight. He’s always chased balls (see Zogoflex) but he then pranced around, taunting me with his gains. We could go to the park for an hour and I might cajole him into three or four throws. No more. Now he fetches, returns and drops on command – most of the time. Like this.


We were in Richmond Park one morning when we chanced upon a woman with two younger and smaller dogs. Elmo went up, to be admired, and she asked if he could have a treat – of course. She took out a small bag of treats and her two dogs promptly sat at her feet staring up expectantly. And so did Elmo – bolt upright. He had his bit – and sat rigidly waiting for more. I was amazed. Elmo is toy and ball oriented. Chase a ball, tug-o-war, always trump food. Treats were very much an after-thought.

What was this ambrosia, this food of the gods? Home-made liver cake.

The web is full of recipes. I used the simplest: 250 grams of chicken livers, 125 grams of flour, two eggs;  pulverised and poured into a baking tin; into the oven for 30 minutes and cut when warm – making a month worth of supplies to freeze.

We set off to the park. I gave Elmo a treat to set the scene. I threw the ball. He fetched it and came rushing back to my feet. He dropped the ball to have another treat as I praised with “good drop”. And that was pretty well it. Within a session or two it was pretty automatic. Now I have to gauge how much running he can take or he will exhaust himself.

Of course, a couple of times he reverted to his old ways. He’d retrieve, come back to me only to show the ball, not drop it -and walk away hoping I’d chase him. And that’s where the “stick” comes in. I have a spray tube of Pet Corrector. It’s just compressed air that makes a hissing sound. You don’t actually spray it at the dog, it’s just a noise. But the hiss makes them stop dead and drop anything from their mouths. So, when Elmo didn’t drop the ball I used it and he dropped it. Now, if I even motion to use it, he drops the ball.

So, there you have it. Home made liver cake and the odd hiss.

If we go to the park now for 20 minutes he’s shattered. Each chase is about 40 yards. He heads off at full pelt and is there in about 4 seconds. You don’t need very many maximal exertion wind sprints.

He’s not quite perfect, just practically perfect.

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How would I cope with data-napping?

I was reading about ransomware – where you lose access to your data due to a nefarious application encrypting all your data. Hundreds of thousands of people have been affected by CryptoLocker – having to pay criminals in the hope of regaining access to their prized photographs, documents, email… Best not to get infected, of course. Best not to open suspicious attachments, of course. But what would happen if I goofed? After all, I goof a lot. There’s advice out there, but am I prepared?

Before starting to consider what I would do, what are my exposures?

  • My documents, spreadsheets, etc are in Google’s Cloud. Could they be data-napped? Why yes, though that may surprise you. Google Drive looks like a mapped drive to your PC – and the ransomware can see it. In mitigation, Google Drive has versioning. So, if the ransomware encrypts a file, you should be able to retrieve the older versions – but read the fine print. The versioning times out after 30 days and only survives 100 changes. That’s not bad – but I could feel better rather than stepping through each file, one at a time.
  • My photographic collection is far too large for the cloud. I keep it on a NAS. Could they be data-napped? Yes. In partial mitigation, my prior years’ photographs are archived on Amazon Glacier. I can get them back.
  • My current year photographs are stored on the NAS and not yet archived to Amazon Glacier. So there’s a vulnerability. But I keep a copy of my current year’s photographs on Google Drive – and we already know that supports versioning. So I have something, just a bit messy.
  • My wife isn’t using any cloud solutions. All her data is on her laptop. We’re using File History to back up her data onto the NAS – but then both her machine and the NAS could be data-napped. We also have Carbonite running on her laptop – so her files are being versioned – that’s not bad – but I could feel better rather than stepping through each file, one at a time.

So, I should do something. My wife’s and my data (and newer photogaphs) are covered with the versioning of our current solutions – Carbonite and Google Drive. But with potentially thousands of files to recover, recovery would be messy, protracted and error-prone.

(In the back of my head, I think I’d like to get rid of Carbonite. It seems unnecessary. That said, I’ve used it a few times – and it has proven utterly reliable and invaluable.)

As an aside, the better the synchronisation the faster errors propagate. I have my NAS and Google Drive synchronising using Synology’s Cloud Sync (not Cloud Station). I have a backup to Google. Hah. I felt very proud. But, of course, if one corrupts the other corrupts. Oh. Oh dear.

Given my vulnerabilities, what are my options?

  • Retreat to pen and paper. This IT stuff is way over-complicated. Kidding.
  • Live with the current arrangement. Google Mail does a good job of filtering crap email. OpenDNS does a good job of keeping us away from dubious sites. That’s good prevention, but what if…
  • Take a point in time backup – and store it disconnected from the network. That’s an important point, if it’s connected it can be infected. So having taken a backup I must take it offline – or the rasnsomware could find it.

My NAS supports backup to either a directly connected drive or a networked device . I have options. I have an eight year old NAS – ah, but it doesn’t have enough capacity. I have a USB 3 connecting disk caddy and an old drive – it’s big enough for now. If I need a bigger, and faster, drive I’ll get one.

The process is: attach the drive, do the backup and detach the drive. I can see no way of automating this. After all, if I can automate it, so can some rogue piece of software. If I need to recover, I recover from the latest backup to regain most files. And then I use any versioning to try and recover the stragglers that’d been updated after the backup.

It takes about 18 hours to back up all my 1 TB of data from my NAS to my old slow drive. It looks like subsequent backups are incremental and thus quicker. Hmm. I think this may be it.

So, assuming you’ve read this, what are your exposures? What would you do if someone data napped your PC and all the devices on it?

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The Kids are Alright

Originally posted on The Science Dog:

childhuggingdog   Baby sitting on dog   baby with pit bull

child and dog 3  dogkid5  childwithdog


Disclaimer: If you are not horrified by these photographs (even worse….if you think they are cute), you are probably not going to like what follows.

A few statistics: According to the CDC, approximately 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. Of these reported bites, a large victim demographic is children under the age of 10. Children are most likely to be bitten severely enough to require medical care or hospitalization. They are also most frequently bitten by their own dog or by a dog who they know, such as the dog belonging to a neighbor or relative. Bites to the face and neck are common in children, most likely because of their size and the types of behavior that they engage in with dogs.

Why is this surprising? Really now. If I can find…

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Stayed with Vodafone, should’ve gone with GiffGaff

Heather and I both have two plus year old Samsung Galaxy S2 mobile ‘phones. The two year deal was the ‘phone plus more minutes, text and data than we could use for about £25 per month each from Vodafone. Our ‘phones were fine – neither of us really needed or wanted a new one.

Looking around, the least expensive SIM only alternative was GiffGaff, at £10 per month – way more minutes, text and data than we could use. Vodafone’s slightly stingier alternative was £13 per month. In a year £72 could buy the two of us meal and a night at the theatre. The downside was the hassle in moving and, supposedly, the lower level of support from GiffGaff – only online, no number to call. I’d been a Vodafone client for two decades in business and persona life but, hey ho, time for a change.

So, I prepared to move us. I decided I’d go first to smooth the way.

First I needed a GIffGaff SIM card. I went on-line, ordered one and it appeared in the post a day later, free.

Next, I had to unlock my phone. I filled in the Vodafone form and…nothing…for a week. I looked on-line and the instructions were complicated – basically put a new OS on. Ugh. I called Vodafone a few times. I escalated the lack of response to a senior technician. He told me the phone was already unlocked. All their Samsung ‘phones are. It took a week to find out I had nothing to do – that’s kind of a win.

Then I went on-line to transfer the number, to get the PAC code. Again, that was boring – no response. I ended up calling and got it. Just a couple of wasted days. And, having got it, I submitted it – Saturday the 18th of January. The mobile number I’d had for 20 years was on its way from Vodafone to GiffGaff.

Having submitted my request on Saturday, for activation on Tuesday, I was quite laid back.

On the Sunday, the 19th of January, Vodafone Outbound Retention called. They’d like to keep me. Instead of the £13 list, they’d offer me 20% off – £10.40 per month, 40 p more than GiffGaff. And give me a £10 credit too. And do the same for Heather. And, yes, they’d cancel my transfer. And, no, there’d be no charges. Yes, they would cancel the PAC transfer. I also contacted GiffGaff to say I cancelled – who acknowledged the cancellation, wished me the best of luck and said I could come back any time, without a contract.

Boo, Vodafone. I only get the best deal if I leave. And you still lock me in for a year.

Stay with Vodafone I thought. It’ll be easier I thought. It’s only £5 a year extra. So what if it’s an annual contract, life will be simpler.

Heather’s ‘phone worked fine. Her new tariff worked fine. Hurrah.

Come the Tuesday the 21st of January. my ‘phone suddenly showed “Emergency Calls only”. Yup, it had been transferred after all. Why? The Sunday before Vodafone had updated their back end systems. It hadn’t gone well. It turns out their staff had had no system to access, so my number transfer had gone through and had not been cancelled. Vodafone couldn’t retrieve it from GiffGaff, only I could.

I contacted GiffGaff, online. They responded in four hours, with a “sorry to hear you’re not staying, but come back any time, here’s your PAC code”.

I told Vodafone I was ready to transfer my number back. Well, you remember that back end upgrade that hadn’t gone well over the weekend. It was still down, four days later. I couldn’t transfer back. Indeed, I couldn’t transfer back for almost two weeks. And, even then, I spent nearly two hours with Vodafone’s Indian outsourced technical support team. Because the number had gone to GiffGaff, despite Vodafone’s reassurance, I no longer had an account. I no longer had a contract. Their second level team told me that I was just going to have to have a new number.

Well, at this point, it was pretty plain that Vodafone was a waste of time. If I needed a new number I’d go with GiffGaff. They’d proven themselves far more competent.

But I wanted to keep my old number. I know it. It’s on my email signature. It’s associated with all my records, online and offline. It’s part of a handful of two factor authentication logins. What a pain.

Those who’ve worked in overly aggressive IT organisations will know this as well as I do. Many revenue first shops cripple Support but leave the power with Sales. I called Vodafone Sales to say I wanted to keep my old number. 15 minutes later, I had it.

Boo, Vodafone. Your Support is not empowered. Your Sales is. That’s a stupid management decision.

Great my ‘phone works. I’ll login to my account and check out the details. Yes, you guessed it, my login failed with “Some Business Exception has occured while processing registration/subscription“. (The misspelling was just a bonus.) I reported it and checked back on the status a couple of days later – there was no record of my reporting it. I reported it via email – and was then asked for my bank details to confirm my account. It looks like my transfer, their back end failure and my return screwed up their records. It was two weeks and multiple screen shots later before I could login.

Boo, Vodafone. Your back end systems suck and their support is slow.

This morning, some six weeks after I started a “seamless” transfer I had my first bill from Vodafone. I’m on a £10.40 tariff with a £10 credit. I expected a bill in pence. The £135.36 was more than I expected. I called 191 from my mobile. “That’s because you have a new contract, sir – I can have someone from Accounts call you within the next hour”. 90 minutes later I was called and told it was my fault for cancelling. If I wanted to escalate the matter still further they would ask a manager to call me within the next 48 hours.

Right, I thought. I’m just going to cancel the Direct Debit and go to GiffGaff with a new number. Life is too short.  And then I remembered the power is with Sales.  I called Sales to say I’d never really left Vodafone – 15 minutes later I received a text to say the cancellation charge had been cancelled.

Boo, Vodafone. Your Support is not empowered. Your Sales is. That’s a stupid management decision.

At every step in the process, including some I’ve not mentioned, Vodafone’s normal process came up short. Had I known I’d lose my ‘phone access for a fortnight, my online account access for a month, get a bill for over £100 and spend nearly two working days on my not transferring I’d have gone with GiffGaff.

Come next year, when my annual contract is up, I may just do that anyway. Despite having been customer for a score of years I now have little confidence in my supplier dealing with anything untoward. And I know their preferred internal processes are broken.

I’d been worried about leaving Vodafone’s manned support for GiggGaff’s electronic support. GG have been terrific. V has been an omnishambles.

Stayed with Vodafone, should’ve gone with GiffGaff. Maybe next year.

Update Tuesday 25 February

I have a text from Vodafone Customer Services, at 1:54pm.

Dear Customer, This to confirm that we will be removing the cancelation fees of your bill thank you for calling vodafone

Update Thursday 27 February

The cancellation charge still appeared on my bill on Wednesday – apparently it takes 48 hours for it to disappear. So I checked on Thursday – and their online accounting system was crashing with BEA webmethod errors. They’re upgrading in prime time without redirecting or notifying customers. Cracking. A manager promised me a call before 8pm on Thursday. It’s now 9pm.

I’ve been a personal subscriber since 1999 – and a business subscriber for the decade before that. My once efficient supplier seems to now be in death throes.

Update Friday 28 February

I have another text from Vodafone Customer Services, at 5:12pm.

Dear Customer, please note that we are still waiting for an update on your account and will update you with a text shortly

Update Tuesday 4 March

I chatted again, today. For the third time I was asked to wait 48 hour to see if (if?) the money would be transferred. Again, I was told my case had been escalated. Again, I was told a manager would call me.

I’ve now written an email of complaint using their official channel. Given how inefficient their other processes have been I’m not sure I hold out much hope. But I’m trying to be reasonable.

This farrago has cost me many days of time. It must have cost them many days and pounds. If Vodafone’s results are not all they wished I think I have a glimmering as to why.

Update Friday 7 March

My complaint of early the 4th of March, #6267945, was met with “Your query will be dealt with within 48 hours.” We’re now entering the weekend. I still haven’t received my promised refund. The 48 hours has been and gone.

I’ve now contacted Vodafone UK Help via a Direct Message on Twitter. I’d been tempted to just tweet this blog entry with the hashtag #vodafail, but resisted the impulse. They’ve responded – good. But they need yet more – sigh.

What do I really, really want from this? In order:

  • I want my money back.
  • I’d like some financial recognition of the week plus of no mobile service.
  • I’d like some financial recognition of the days, literally, I’ve spent trying to get Vodafone’s attention.
  • It’s obvious they don’t want my business. I get the message. Give me the PAC to transfer my number and cancel my contract, without any penalties.

Update Sunday 9 March

It just gets better. I missed a call. The caller left a voice mail. I dialled 121 to retrieve my voice mail. I got a message saying I needed to set a voice mail PIN to retrieve my messages from overseas or another phone – and that I should do so by calling 121. The first trouble is the message came from 121 – and gave no options to change my security code. The next is that I wasn’t dialling from a different ‘phone or from overseas. I was dialling from my mobile from my office. Sigh.

I dialled 191. After the ritual wait and security clearance I had my voice mail code reset – it was texted to me.

I dialled 121. I was challenged for my security code. I entered the new security code – absolutely accurately. And I heard the response along the lines of “that was wrong, and your voicemail is now locked”. There was no second or third chance – but it would have made no difference, I’d entered my new code correctly first time.

So, I contacted support again – this time via a chat window instead of a call, so that I have a record.  He did the same thing, with the same result.

I was then connected with a specialist. He did the same thing, with the same result. He then had me deregister my phone from vodafone, turn the device off and remove the SIM. The he said he was transferring me to second level – and I listened to Muzak for a few minutes.

The second level chap came back and said the error was on the network side, not on the device side. He was transferring the call to them. But they don’t work on Sundays so someone will start to look at it on Monday. And they usually fix things within 48 hours of starting.

So, that’s at least another day or two without voice mail. And I wonder if we will lose the voice mail? I hope it wasn’t urgent. :-(

Update Monday 10 March

Someone whose name I did not catch (between his strong accent and my weak ear) has called and told me he is crediting my account for the cancellation fee – and that it should be with me in three to five working days – and that he’d send me an email confirming this.

Interestingly the call was not as a result of my open trouble ticket, nor was it a result of the formal complaint procedure – it was from the social media team.

I decided not to pursue any other points until after I’ve seen the money. I’ve not asked about any recompense for my time or loss of service. I’ve not asked for my contract to end. I didn’t ask when my voice mail would be repaired. Not yet.

I am preparing to call Which Legal one week from now if the money does not appear.

Update Wednesday 12 March

I had a text to say my voicemail problem had been fixed. Of course the final PIN didn’t work so I had to call 191 to have it reset – and then call 121 to set it to something I would remember. But at least it worked – and the whole process only took 15 minutes – cracking for Vodafone.

And do you know what voicemail was stuck? Why the one from Customer Services to do with my refund. They’d called my mobile on Sunday and left the message. Thank goodness I’d given them my landline.

The refund has not appeared as yet.

Update Friday 14 March 

The refund arrived. Huzzah.

Come February 2015 it will be time to move away from them.

Over the last nearly two months:

  • I lost access to my mobile number for two weeks.
  • I lost access to my online account for nearly a month.
  • I lost access to my voicemail.
  • I’ve been billed for leaving when I never left.
  • I have spent approaching 40 hours dealing with Vodafone’s problems.


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