Do not buy Mahabis slippers as gifts

We’re an organised family, perhaps overly so. I start thinking about Christmas gifts for my family from Boxing Day. I order goods as experience has taught me that delay oft leads to disappointment.

So, when darling daughter Kate raved about her Mahabis slippers I thought about my darling wife’s retirement padding about the house and thought “Great!”. Expensive, maybe – but comfortable and en point – a win. I know Heather’s shoe size, 38. As per their FAQ I ordered a bit smaller, 37. I hesitated a bit, but Kate had found smaller was better.

That was in September.

Modern retailers have long cottoned on that they want the Christmas gift market – and so have accepted that gift exchanges for months ago purchased items are inevitable if you want the sale. A trendy, web-oriented, North London retailer – I didn’t give it a second thought.

I should’ve given it that second thought.

Come Christmas, Heather opened her present – and laughed at me a bit for falling for a fashion. (There is nothing unusual in that.) But she tried them on and they were too small. I contacted Mahabis only to be told their standard return terms were 14 days with the extended term of one month leading up to Christmas. It’s all on their website, of course, so I could have known. Even better, had I been slightly more cautions, I’d have looked at Mahabis’ appalling customer service reviews before the purchase and backed away.

I have thanked Mahabis for teaching me a vital lesson in shopping. As a service to their prospective clients I thought I could help by sharing.

Anyone want “1x Larvik Dark Grey Mahabis Classic Bundle (+FREE soles) – 37 / gotland green“? They don’t fit me either. (Update: now sold.)

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Christmas 2014

It’s late November and Granny, aka Heather, has already spent nigh on three days wrapping presents. We’ve ordered our Christmas bird (partridge in pheasant in duck in turkey) for the Christmas family gathering. A few new ornaments have been purchased to augment our classic late 1970s baubles. The late November days are grey and misty. So it must be time for our annual Christmas letter – our 22nd.

Did I say “Granny”? Yes, Jo gave birth to Wilfred Jack Samuel on May 4th. He’s a very happy, very engaged little chap. Jo and Ben are terrific parents. They had a busy spring. In addition to Wilf they moved house within Walthamstow just a few weeks earlier. And Ben turned 30. The Metzler piano Heather’s mother, Alice, bought for us is now nestled in their dining room. Wilf shall not escape practice. We spend the odd day over there to see the lad and his parents.

Kate and Pedro are engaged. The marriage date has yet to be determined. If they manage to buy a new house they may delay the ceremony due to cash flow. Or not. Kate has joined Hiller and Knowlton after a multi-year mutual stalking. They’ve been on the Garden tour of South Africa and are off to Lapland. Heather and I went to Lisbon with them and met Pedro’s family. Pedro also corrected our initial, not so good, impressions of Portuguese food.

Heather retired at the end of July. She loved working with the children. She liked her colleagues. She grew tired of the NHS’ increasing demands to demonstrate her value. When the expectation is that one spends more time on planning, reporting and following up than actually performing the role life becomes frustrating. Now she has time to walk the dog, knit and have the odd lunch out with friends or even me.

I met Heather through Chris Thompson, a university colleague, in 1973. He and I shared flats a couple of times. Whilst I may not have been the greatest flatmate ever Chris probably has more similar attitudes to mine than anyone I’ve ever met. We reconnected on Facebook a few years back and still got along. Heather and I were very pleasantly surprised to be invited to his wedding to Louise Florent in September. I think he was surprised, hopefully pleasantly, that we’d come to Bronte Harbour, near Toronto, for the ceremony. Louise and he offered us a room to stay – and Chris then asked me to be Best Man. I got to stand up front with a silly grin planted on my face as the very happy couple married over a very nice meal indeed. I’d never made a Best Man’s speech so decided short and not too humourous was the safest course of action. Mark Hauser’s official photographs are here and mine are here.

Anne-Marie, the friend Heather originally emigrated to Canada with, and Jim were also invited to the wedding. We spent a few days afterwards with Annie, Jim, Mia and baby Aria. It’s always good to see them.

After Toronto we set off to Chalfont, outside Philadelphia, ostensibly to farm sit for our American ex-Richmond friends Barb and Terry. In the end they left us alone for only about 18 hours while we got ten days room, board and local tours. (We did manage to introduce them to ex-Herbert Smith, now Bucks County Rupa (Rohini), Ram and little girl Jia. They seemed to enjoy each others’ company so maybe they’ll keep it up.)

Then, just a few weeks later, we returned to Chalfont for the wedding of their daughter, Whitney Young, to Terry Fitzgibbons. It was fun to have a reception set in a barn and catered with street food. We bolted on a few days in Philadelphia, a city we’d never been to before. We liked it – a very pleasant mid-size city.

I’d already blogged about our 2013 Malaysian Christmas. We also had a long weekend in Guernsey. Next year we know we’re off to Vietnam, Cambodia and the Mekong Delta. Who is to say what else will take our fancy?

Work in the house this year has been dedicated to clearing Kate’s and Ben’s rooms. Oxfam was delighted to receive a score of boxes of books. Next year we’ll put secondary glazing on our lovely, but cold, Victorian windows, update our bathroom to a wet room and, finally, cover the upstairs floorboards. We’d ripped up all the carpet in the house when we had two long haired dogs and never quite got around to finishing the job. 2015 for sure.

As for Elmo, he continues to delight us every day. This year he has learned how to fetch with the help of homemade liver cake.

For those, admittedly few, who look forward to reading what theatre we have seen try this.

We hope all our family and friends enjoy a pleasant holiday season and a happy 2015.

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Pane di Natale: 7 Italian Breads for Christmas

Italian bread for the festivities? Don’t mind if I do, thank you.

Travel Gourmet

Christmas breads at Corto Italian Deli, Twickenham Christmas breads at Corto Italian Deli, Twickenham

The blog is a constant source of joy, not least because it’s led me to meet some lovely people: other bloggers, chefs and restaurateurs who have been willing to let me interview them (click here), owners of food shops and cafes, and today two other people who are as enthusiastic about Italy and Italian food as me. William Goodacre founded Tastes of Italy (click here) in 2000, specialising in cookery and wine tours; Dorcas Jamieson handles their PR. Dorcas got in touch to suggest we all meet, telling me that William was a ‘font of knowledge’ about Italy and Italian food. How better to spend nearly two hours on a Friday morning than talking about Italy and food, and especially Venice and Venetian food, over coffee. I had a great time and was surprised and so pleased when William gave…

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What have we seen in 2014?

With two live theatres within walking distance in Richmond, the National Theatre a half hour away and London on our doorstep we are fortunate to have so much live entertainment on offer.

Don’t bother seeing Stephen K Amos.

We’ve also done well with the cinema this year: Boyhood, My Old Lady, Mr Turner and The Imitation Game. One of our small joys is the £5 noon showings at the Curzon. With the money we save we can afford a glass of wine at our seats.

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The clouds in my thinking over backups are clearing

Last year, 2013, I put together a presentation on how not to lose data, particularly for photographers. At that point I was advocating Amazon Glacier as an exceptionally inexpensive archival system in the cloud.

Nearly a year later I came to finally give this presentation. Before giving it I reviewed it to bring it up-to-date. In the intervening year Synology, the manufacturer of my NAS, has introduced Cloud Sync, allowing two way synchronisation between my local NAS storage and various cloud storage, including Google Drive. And Google dropped the price of their live cloud storage to almost the level of Amazon Glacier’s cold archival storage, $9.99 (£6) per month for  a terabyte.

Now Glacier is only costing me £2 per month. So paying three times more, £6 (!), might seem an indulgence. But whilst Glacier is inexpensive and does work it does have drawbacks. It is slow to update. It is slow to retrieve. Changing your mind is painful. As an example I archived my 75G of 2013 photographs in January. It took a few hours to zip up. It took a couple of days to upload.  And that’s fine, as far as it goes. But, any changes I have made to any of 2013’s photographs are not captured. In my live environment I’ve deleted a few photos and moved others between folders. None of this is captured in Glacier. One can do incremental backups, but they’re a bit slow and painful too. That’s not a show-stopper, but I can see it being a pain. For £4 per month to have comparable size but with direct access and near real time synchronisation seems a bargain – and I already use Google Drive anyway.

So, the aspiration is to dump Glacier.

My free GMail and Google Drive account more than comfortably holds all my email, documents and presentations. I’ve already set up Synology Cloud Sync so that my NAS contains a copy of those. If I purchase the extra Google storage I’ll simply have my raw photographs synchronised from the NAS to Google Drive. Lightroom will access the photographs on the NAS. I’ll also have a copy of my Lightroom catalog on the NAS – and thus on Google Drive.

So everything I care about is:

  • in the cloud on Google Drive – one copy
  • and on my Synology NAS, with redundant storage – two copies, making three so far
  • and the NAS incrementally backed up to a spare drive in a disk caddy every week – one more copy, making four all told
  • and both Google and NAS with the same folder structure, making life more obvious

321three copies, in two different formats, one of which is off-site – so I’ve over-achieved the accepted data centre criteria for sufficient backups.

I think I’d be more comfortable still by backing up my Google data to another cloud. I’d like to do that cloud-to-cloud, not through my NAS. There are many such providers – but most want me to upgrade to Google Apps. That upgrade doesn’t cost all that much. And isn’t all that painful. But the upgrade doesn’t buy me much either,  beyond enabling yet another backup. However, there does seem to be one provider, CloudAlly, who do backup simple Google accounts. I’ve started a free trial with them. For £2 per month, it it works, it might be worth it.

I think I’ve mastered offline access in Google now. Indeed I gave the somewhat updated presentation offline a week ago.

Now I think I may need to understand managing versions in Google. That’s going to become more important to me as it becomes more critical.

And my PC? Well, it’ll just be an app engine holding only transient data. Indeed the only app I really really care about is Adobe Lightroom. Yes, I have a score of other “convenience” apps but none of them are critical to me, just Lightroom.

Oh, and a thank you is due to someone who gone before me and confirmed some of my thinking. Credit to the brave few.

Some notes so far, a few days later…

  • Google Drive on the web and my Nexus 5 phone both render photographs from raw (.RAF). Good.
  • syncing my photographs from my NAS up to Google Drive is about ten times faster than syncing up to Amazon Glacier. It will take about four days instead of forty. Good.
  • Gavin Meek has noted that you can actually physically send big data to Amazon Glacier for deep archiving as per Possibly useful.
  • I still have the Google Drive app running on my PC. That allows me some offline working with my Google stuff. Due to the sheer size of storage and bandwidth consumed I synchronise everything except my raw photographs – it all happens in a very few minutes. Good.
  • I have enabled Smart Previews within Lightroom. So I can edit photos on my laptop when travelling without being connected to my NAS. Good.
  • any Google documents (documents, spreadsheet, presentations) are not synchronised to the NAS. The little 100 or so byte container pointing back to Google is, but not the contents. Bugger. I could use Google Takeout to periodically take a copy of my Google Docs just in case I delete something. 
  • Cloudally is backing up my GMail account: mail, calendar, contacts and tasks, and all my photographs on Google Drive. Good. And it keeps all my backups forever, so I can go back a very long way if I’ve accidentally deleted something. I may well use this instead of my local disk caddy backup. And, unlike the NAS, it backs up the contents, not just the container, of Google documents, spreadsheets, presentations.

So, to recap:

  • Most of my stuff starts and stops in Google Drive.
  • I have installed the Google Drive app on my PC to allow offline working with Google material.
  • My photographs are on the NAS – syncing to Google Drive.
  • Native Google files do not sync their content back to the NAS. Sigh.
  • So I will use CloudAlly for cloud-to-cloud backup – all my photographs and all my content.

Were it not for my raw photographs I’m not sure I’d bother with a NAS.

Posted in Photography, Technology | 1 Comment

An interesting aside about gravity

Is the science settled?

...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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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

Official blog of the Met Office news team

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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