A Driving Instructor's Blog

Computers & Tech

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Privacy button on keyboardI’m being driven to distraction by the number of emails from sites I’m subscribed to either asking me to confirm I still want them to contact me (there were a lot of these when GDPR first came in), or telling me that they’ll still contact me unless I tell them not to (the more recent, and far more sensible, approach). To be honest, I’d just prefer it if they left things as they are and didn’t keep telling me about it, but everyone seems afraid of GDPR and they feel they have to do something – even if “something” is a fantastic pain in the arse.

The worst approach, though, is how an increasing number of sites have simply blocked European visitors.

The main culprits seem to be American food sites and blogs. It’s perhaps understandable when you consider the kinds of people who run them, but it’s still annoying now that simple Google searches throw up links that you can’t visit. It’s like we’ve gone back to The Dark Ages.

Well, I don’t like that one bit. Getting round it is easy, though. All you need is a VPN client. Fire it up, and you can pretend to be in any country in the world. I just pick an American server location, then refresh my browser, and the blocked site loads up normally. It also works when you get one of those “this content is not available from your location” messages on YouTube or other sites carrying broadcast items (MSN can be very irritating when it feeds you a link, then won’t let you see it when you click it!)

Incidentally, a year or so ago, there was that kerfuffle involving a British celebrity who had obtained an injunction so that his name could not be seen by anyone in the UK concerning some domestic issue he was involved in. It was a bit of a joke, because every other country could print it unrestricted, so finding out who it was would be easy for anyone who had contacts outside the UK (a large percentage of the population, I would imagine). Indeed, it was on many forums in black and white, though posts were quickly removed in some cases. At the time, I was curious, so I fired up the VPN and simply looked at some foreign newspapers to find out who they were talking about.

The client I use is called SlickVPN (I get it as part of my Usenet subscription).

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Audacity main windowI don’t know about you, but I find that people are rubbish at leaving coherent voicemail messages. If they’re not rubbing the phone around their head making crackles and thumps, or blowing into the microphone so it sounds like they’re standing in a Force 9 gale (this is right up there with whistling on the annoyance scale for me), they’re mumbling or stumbling over their words. Many important voicemails come from people wearing headsets, and while these tend to be quiet at the best of times, clarity is often worsened by the user touching or adjusting the boom while they’re talking.

The result is that you have to listen to the message several times to extract the information, and even then it’s sometimes hard picking out details like phone numbers or other numerical details.

I had an important message last week which was definitely going to need several listens. The speaker was talking very quickly, and the nature of the call meant she was back-pedalling and stumbling over her words. Calling back wasn’t an option since they never answer calls directly, and this voicemail was already their response to an email I had sent (not replying by email, so everything is there in black and white, was another example of their back-pedalling). So it occurred to me that it would be useful if I could save the message indefinitely on my PC. I could then process and amplify it, and use decent headphones so I could hear it properly.

One way of doing it would be to use a 3.5mm jack cable between your phone’s headphone socket and your computer’s soundcard line-in. Except many phones these days use the USB port for the headphones (mine is one of them), and the way they use it is non-standard and isn’t guaranteed to work with audio devices the way you’d expect (mine is one of those, too). I wasn’t in the mood to start playing around with USB cables, so I looked for a different way.

On a Windows computer you can use something called loopback, where you effectively tap into the audio signals that get sent through your soundcard. All you need is an app to play your voicemail – like Skype – and suitable recording software to grab it.

My favourite sound recorder is Audacity. I use it to edit and enhance recordings I make at gigs, and it’s open source – which means it’s free (I’ve donated). Assuming you have installed Audacity, all you need to do is set your Audio Host to Windows WASAPI and your Audio Device to Speakers (Realtek High Definition Audio) (loopback). That last one might be different on your machine if you have a different soundcard driver.

My phone is on EE, and if you dial 07953 222222 from another phone (or Skype), then enter your mobile number and password, you can access your voicemail.

And that’s it. Dial in to your voicemail, set it playing, then click the record button in Audacity. Once you’ve captured it, Audacity lets you trim off the lead-in and -out parts so you’re left with just your voicemail message. You can make it louder in various ways, but the simplest is to select Effect >> Normalize… and apply a setting of about -2.0dB. You can save your file in various formats – MP3 if you’re not going to adjust it any more (small file) or WAV if you are (bigger file).

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Ford Focus oil change messageThis article was originally written a few years ago, but it has become extremely popular, and gets hundreds of hits a week.

It all began back in 2016, when I got a message on my brand new Ford Focus TDCi Titanium centre display telling me that it was due for an oil change. I wouldn’t have minded, except that it was only on 5,500 miles and my official service points (set by my lease agent) are every 12,500 miles.

I spoke with the local dealer and they said just to book it in so they could reset it. I wasn’t too keen on that, since visits to the dealer inevitably mean at least half a day in lost lesson time.

I didn’t for a moment think it was anything other than an erroneous message. There is an oil warning lamp on the dash which I would never ignore, but centre display messages are a different matter entirely. I mean, how many of us have been driving up a 40% slope only to be advised to change the gear to 4th, 5th, or even 6th? The car just won’t do it. Before I quite realised this, my first action was to buy an OBD II monitor tool so I could check/reset the message myself, but the OBD found no faults, and there was nothing to reset. I should have realised this – and the oil change warning remained stubbornly visible.

Then I did what I should have done in the first place and Googled it. It turns out Ford has a system which gives and oil change warning at various points based on how it thinks the car is being driven. No fault is logged, since the trigger is software-based and is “calculated”. Apparently, you used to be able to set different trigger points manually (in America, at least), but there is no such option in the UK that I can see.

Since 2016, and across at least four other Focuses, I’ve had it come on at as low as around 1,000 miles, and at other silly points shortly after a service. None of my pupils (or me) drives it that badly, of that I’m certain.

How to reset the oil change warning

Resetting it is incredibly simple – though completely undocumented by Ford. All you do is:

  1. Turn on the ignition (or push the start button with the clutch up)
  2. Press the brake and accelerator fully down

After a moment, the centre display will tell you that the reset is in progress. Keep the pedals down until it informs you that reset is complete. No more oil change warning! From what I understand, this applies to all Focus models from MkII onwards.

Does this work on other Ford models?

You’ll have to try it and see. Logic would dictate that Ford has implemented the same procedure on all its current models. However, when you consider Ford’s indexing system at the back of the User Manual, logic isn’t something they seem to waste much time on, and there’s every possibility that the reset procedure is totally different on other models. If you try it and it works, drop me a line so I can add the model here.

How soon should I get my oil changed when the warning message comes on?

For a Focus, if your car is under the manufacturer’s warranty then I think they allow 1,000 miles on top of the normal service points (but check that with your local agents). My lease company allows me the range of 11,500-13,500 to book it in for a service. Whatever your local agent allows, outside of that might affect your warranty, so I say again: check with them before assuming anything.

Of course, if the oil change warning message appears before 12,500 miles (or whatever your service points are) then you can safely ignore it (or reset it, as explained above). It isn’t a sensor warning, just a software-based calculated value. If the oil warning dashboard light comes on, though, you mustn’t ignore that.

You shouldn’t ignore the message because you could damage your car

Someone wrote to me, making this point. As I have explained above, the alert (it isn’t a warning) is calculated based on how the in-car computer thinks you’re driving. Frankly, when it comes on at around 1,000 miles when you’ve only had the car a few weeks, or several days after it has had a service, and the oil definitely isn’t old, yes you can ignore it.

My lease agent sets the service points at every 12,500 miles. They will not allow me to have it serviced any earlier (±1,000 miles). I know that Ford talks of 7,500 mile service points, and that’s fine. If you have a private vehicle then follow their advice. But if the warning comes on at any other time before that you can safely reset it – if nothing else, until you can get it in for its service.

 

Disclaimer: I take no responsibility if an oil change really is due and you ignore it.

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Tektronix Oscilloscope - CRT typeMany moons ago, I got hold of an oscilloscope from an army surplus depot. It was a pretty decent machine – a Tektronix – albeit very basic and dated. I haven’t used it in donkey’s years, and although it is still in the garage I wouldn’t dare turn it on now. It was one of the old CRT jobs, and they had high voltages inside, so with the damp and all that… too risky. It only cost me about £50, but a new one would have been several hundred, so it was a good deal at the time. Like the old TV sets, it weighed an absolute ton, mainly due to the massive transformer and valve chassis inside.

I’ve got a project on the go at the moment which involves an audio circuit – basically, a microphone input and a line-level output. I need to check the frequency characteristics of the circuit to make sure there’s no signal dropout (and to be able to quote this for the final product), so I was suddenly looking for an oscilloscope and a signal generator.

Over the last few years I’ve bought quite a bit of stuff from AliExpress. Consider this: if you wanted to buy, for example, a strip of 5050 LEDs (60 LEDs per metre, IP20), you’d be looking at paying at least £12 for a 5m reel in the UK – probably with shipping on top of that. You can buy the same from sellers on AliExpress for about £3.50 with free shipping. This price differential applies to virtually everything on there. You usually don’t pay any import duty, and even if you do it isn’t much. The only negative is how long things can take to arrive. Sometimes they come in less than a fortnight, other times (though rarely) it can take two months. Most shipments are tracked, and suppliers bend over backwards to help, and will replace lost or faulty items without quibble.

With that in mind, I hopped on over to the AliExpress website to see if they had any handheld oscilloscopes. I almost drowned in my own drool when I saw what they had. You can get “pocket” oscilloscopes the size a smartphone for not much more than $100, and many include a signal generator built-in. I’d earmarked one of these, but then I discovered the Instrustar ISDS205X Virtual PC USB oscilloscope. It has a signal generator and logic analyser, and seemed too good to be true. I asked the supplier if it was Windows 10-compatible – it was – and duly placed an order.

It took about two weeks to arrive (nearly one of those weeks stuck at Heathrow customs judging from the tracking data, and the fact I did have to pay import duty of about £12 on its £70 selling price).

Instrustar virtual PC oscilloscope - main moduleThe oscilloscope consists of the main module, housed in a 160 x 110 x 28mm metal case with rubber end-caps, and a collection of probes and cables – plus the all-important software on a mini-DVD. The instructions on the DVD are typical Chinese-English material, but since I am not a Brexiter I can work around that and see things for what they are rather than demanding an immediate bonfire to burn things I don’t like. So I installed the drivers and plugged the oscilloscope into my PC. It is powered by the USB port, so no separate PSU is needed.

I wasn’t expecting much from the software, and all I wanted was for it to work. To say that I was pleasantly surprised is a huge understatement. The software is very smart-looking.

instrustar_sw_thumbWhenever you run it you have a choice between “professional” and “simplified” and various other displays. The snapshot, above, is of the simplified one showing a 2kHz square wave produced by the internal signal generator being monitored on Channel 1. If you click the image, you can see the display in more detail.

I’m running it on a Windows 10 machine with a 4k display, and it works perfectly. I haven’t got to grips with all the functions yet, but you can save data – so it is also a logger. A further huge bonus is that the signal generator has a “sweep” mode, so I can set it to start at 20Hz and go up in increments of maybe 100Hz (or whatever I choose) to 20kHz, and save the data. This means I can connect the signal generator output to my circuit input, attach the oscilloscope to the output (one channel per stereo channel), set it to “sweep”, and record the results. A feature I think it might also have is that I can mathematically compare the input and outputs and get a difference (even if it doesn’t, a spreadsheet will do that for me).

I doubt that I will ever use the full range of features, but at least I have everything I need for my latest project.

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Maplin logoBack in the day, when I first got into technology, the go-to place for all your bits and pieces was Maplin Electronics.

Back then, pretty much all they supplied was electronic components, and it was all done through mail order using order forms, with items being selected from a catalogue which rivalled the old-style phone directories in size. When I was very young, the Dandy or Beano annuals were the most eagerly anticipated publications of the year. If you were into electronics, the new Maplin catalogue was the thing.

Maplin was the cheapest source of small quantities of components to the hobbyist. It also had the most extensive range.

I built my first AM radio receiver from a Maplin circuit (making my own printed circuit board). I also built my first modem from a Maplin kit – a 300 baud device in a large blue box (I might still have it somewhere). I also built or repaired dozens of other things thanks to them, and learned a lot, too.

As I got older, and computers appeared on the scene, I spent less time building varied circuits and began to focus on computer-specific ones. As more time passed, there was an ever-declining need to build anything at all. This shift affected Maplin, and they branched out into retail consumer electronics. In those early days of supplying components, I think they only had two actual shops, and I dreamed of one opening near me. Nottingham has two Maplin stores now, and there are 217 around the country.

In my opinion, a large part of the problem was that most of the stuff they began selling was overpriced and non-branded. You could get better for much less money online. Electronic components were still available, but hidden in the back of the store, and the range was drastically reduced – even more so if you wanted it to be in stock right now for an emergency. And the staff were not always as helpful as you’d expect. I remember one time not that long ago waiting to be served at the click-and-collect in one branch, and the staff repeatedly walked past me, looked at me, and ignored me as they congregated in a group on the other side of the shop floor (until I yelled across that I was waiting to be served). Don’t get me wrong – other times they were great… but not always.

But if only for the sake of nostalgia, it was a shame to hear that they have gone into administration.

Irrespective of my own potted history linking to their current situation, Maplin as a retailer has been hit hard by the fall in the value of the GBP due to Brexit. Indeed, Brexit is cited as a significant factor in their collapse.

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Places in the UK where broadband is slowExtensive government research has identified several areas in the UK where broadband is quite slow.

Note that the population density in the UK as a whole is over 270 people per square kilometre. The population density in the areas identified as having the slowest broadband – mainly the extremities of Scotland and rural Wales – is as low as 3-4 people per square kilometre (and in one area, 3-4 probably represents the average IQ of the population there as well).

MPs are apparently planning next to spend a lot more money on identifying that it is darker at night than it is during the daytime, and that ice melts when it warms up.

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Microsoft OutlookI use Office and always have done. I like Microsoft, and see no reason to resort to using a hammer and small chisel to make cuneiform tablets for the purposes of communication just because I’m jealous of how big Microsoft is.

Anyway, yesterday I came home and discovered that a new Windows Insider update had come through, but the installation had failed. After re-booting, my system restored itself to the previous build, and I made a note to try the update later that evening. In the meantime, I checked my email, and deleted the stuff I didn’t want. It was then I discovered a stupid, drawn-out quacking sound each time I deleted a message. The problem – well, the change – was too recent for there to be any coherent information on Google.

In Outlook’s settings, there is nothing associated with sounds other than turning off the one you get when an email arrives. I’ve lived through the hell of that annoying chime every time an email arrives, and switched it off long ago. So I was stumped.

But then, the following day, and to add insult to injury, I found out that when I opened Excel and launched a spreadsheet, a new and very annoying sound had been added to that action, too.

Long story short. I disabled “Provide feedback with sound” in Excel’s Options >> Ease of Access panel, and that stopped Excel making noises. The big benefit was that this stopped Outlook doing it, too.

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I originally wrote this in 2015 and updated it in mid-2016. It has been popular again recently as a result of the Wannacry and Petya/NotPetya outbreaks.


I upgraded to Windows 10 [2014], and I haven’t regretted it for a moment. The only drawback to Microsoft’s “free upgrade” at that time was that you didn’t get an installation disk (though you can make your own), and it was just that: an upgrade. Hard disk internal view

I have been building my own computers for the last 15 years or so, and I like them running in tip-top condition. Windows has always suffered from what is known as “OS decay” (also called “software rot” and “Windows rot”). The simple fact is that ALL software is liable to degrade over time, and it isn’t just a Windows issue, and what happens is that all the juggling of files, upgrading, installing and uninstalling, software bugs, crashes, and so on, can cause a lot of small changes on a computer. Over time these may accumulate to such a level that the system becomes slow or unstable, and the only sensible way around it is to format your hard drive and do an absolutely clean install of Windows, followed by all your other drivers and software. Absolutely the last thing you want to be doing is upgrading a system which is already in bad shape. But that’s pretty much what you had to do with Windows 10 in order to take up the free offer.

I’ve done clean installs so many times on my own machines (and those of others, including over the phone when I worked in tech support) that I can usually do a format and have a clean machine running in a few hours. I have all my software’s installation files saved along with my software keys, which I just cut and paste as and when I need them. It sounds easy, but even when it’s your own system and you know what you’re doing, it’s still a bloody nuisance. You lose anything you haven’t backed up, and no matter how careful you are there’s always something you forget or misplace. I’ve never been 100% happy with doing it this way. It’s a right pain in the arse.

In the past I’ve toyed with using disk imaging software. The idea behind this is that you can effectively take a snapshot of your hard drive – with Windows and all your software on it – save it, and then copy it back (re-image) on to your disk at some point in the future if you need to. Each time you restore a saved image snapshot, you end up with a system which is in exactly the same condition it was in when you took the snapshot.

For some years I used Paragon software for creating backup images of my Windows installations. On paper, Paragon’s program was very good, but in all honesty it was the absolute pits when it came to doing an actual restore. It wasn’t at all user friendly, which is why I’ve tended to go for clean installs. But with Windows 10 initially being an upgrade rather than a standalone install, I decided that I really did need a proper disk imaging system once and for all.Macrium Reflect

After a bit of research, I found Macrium Reflect. It is available as a free version, and installs in a few seconds. I can’t believe I mucked about with Paragon for so long. I have since upgraded to the Pro version of Reflect.

When you first run Reflect it nags you to create bootable rescue disk (the Pro version also allows you to create a bootable USB stick), which you need in order to restore an image. Creating the rescue disk is very simple, and once you’ve done it you’re free to create your main image.

With my initial Windows 10 upgrade, what I did was this:

  • backed up all my important stuff (photos, documents, emails, etc.) to separate hard drives
  • ran the Windows 10 upgrade in order to activate my free licence
  • did a clean install of Windows 10 (which you can do once you have the licence)
  • installed my drivers
  • created a Reflect image of that system (“clean image”)

Then I installed all my software, activated it, and created another image (“clean working image”).

Periodically, I create a rolling image of my system as it stands at the time. If anything goes wrong in the short term I can restore that, but more serious issues might require me to use one of the previous two images.

A good example of needing to re-image my system stems from my participation in the Windows Insider Program. Due to a couple of cranky Insider builds, I decided I wanted a clean install. All I had to do was export my Outlook files (my other personal files are not stored on the C drive), then run the Macrium restore. It took about 5 minutes and I had a fully operational clean install from the “clean working image”. I then reinstalled any software I’d purchased since that image was made, and that was it.

Macrium Reflect is perfect anyone who wants to create a safe backup of their system. Just remember that you need somewhere to store your image files. My system has 8TB of storage across seven HDDs, but if you only have single HDD you’re going to need at least 20GB free space to create an image.

Doesn’t Windows’ own backup keep my files safe from Wannacry?

No. Windows backs up your personal files, not itself. If you get a virus, this will infect Windows and probably all your backed up files anyway.

Is a disk image safe from Wannacry?

As long as the image is clean (i.e. you didn’t have the virus already on it) then the image itself is safe to use. However, it would not be wise to keep the image on a networked drive where any virus could get at it. In the case of Wannacry, it encrypts everything – and I assume this would include .ISO images and anything else it found.

My images are stored in the cloud, and on spare hard drives and USB devices.

Why is imaging better than a full reinstall?

My own opinion is that it is a pain having to start from scratch with all your software when you do a full reinstall, whereas restoring an image yields a 100% functional system (or one that is close to 100% if you installed software after you made the image).

Bear in mind that a Windows installation DVD is about 4.7GB maximum capacity. A clean image of your hard drive following a clean reinstall will typically be about 20GB (over 5 DVDs). My clean working image is about 60GB (15 DVDs). Since DVDs can get scratched and become unreadable (especially ones you burn yourself), that method of storage is unreliable (in my opinion and experience).

You need to allow for these file sizes when you are backing up.

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Interconnecting cogs and gearsThe only people likely to not realise the significance of technology in the world today – other than a few isolated tribes in the Amazonian rain forests – are Brexiters. Even if they’re technically capable of understanding, they won’t, because they’re blinded by their obsession to leave the EU no matter what the ultimate cost.

My view on Brexit should be well known by now. It was the stupidest decision this country has ever made, and it was largely made by the stupidest people this country has ever thrown into the gene pool. They should never have been given a direct vote on something they did not understand. And make no bones about it, in spite of what some may claim, the majority of Brexiters haven’t a clue about what they’ve done. All that mattered to most of them was the idea that Britannia would Rule The Waves again without any help from those damned foreigners, and that we would kick out anyone whose skin was not alabaster white by the afternoon of 24 June 2016. It was those two things, coupled with the lie emblazoned across that big red bus about spending £350,000,000 a week on the NHS, that carried the vote.

Since last June, having more or less resigned themselves to not seeing convoys of people being kicked out of the UK (yet – they still live in hope), they’ve spent much of the time accusing the media of “bias” every time it reports simple economic facts. The pound falls in value, reporting it is left-wing bias. Someone mentions the risk of losing access to the single market, it’s “remoaner bias”. Interest rates stay fixed, the BoE is anti-Brexit. There’s talk of interest rates going up, the BoE is anti-Brexit.

They are just too thick to understand that the economy isn’t controlled by a single light switch, but is more akin to a supercomputer, full of logic gates and conditional switches. A better analogy for what I’m going to say next is that it is like some huge steampunk device, composed of myriad interconnecting gears and cogs.

Brexit has been like someone ramming a huge spanner into it.

Most Brexiters will have been completely unaware of Galileo, a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) being developed by the EU. The fact that many Brexiters are probably also unaware (or certainly wary) even of GPS in the first place means that they will have also been unaware of its limitations. Civilian GPS resolution is limited to 4 metres at best, though the military can resolve to less than 10cm. Since it is controlled by the US, the service could be switched off at any time in any significant conflict scenario. Galileo GNSS, on the other hand, would offer the same resolution to all users, and this could be down to a few centimetres once it is operational. The USA has not been happy about this.

Galileo is a combined effort by the ESA and the European GNSS Agency. As a member of the EU, the UK has equal rights to work on EU projects, and SSTL (Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd) in the UK has so far built navigation payloads for 22 of the estimated 30 satellites needed to form the Galileo system in space. SSTL will retain those equal rights right up until the day the UK officially leaves the EU.

And that’s where the potential shit hits the fan.

On Thursday this week, the contract for a further 8 satellites is to be signed at the Paris Air Show. However, SSTL is unlikely to have delivered all 8 of those by the time Brexit happens on 29 March 2019. At that point, it will become “illegal” for the UK – as a “third country” – to work on certain aspects of the Galileo system. Only a Brexiter could also fail to appreciate that it would kibosh any future involvement, or that the UK’s use of Galileo once it becomes operational would also become questionable.

Each Galileo satellite costs about €30 million (£26.5 million), and SSTL will be earning a significant chunk out of that right now. After Brexit, they probably won’t – not unless this issue is added to the growing list of Things The UK Must Demand From The EU during Brexit talks, and is resolved in our favour.

On a related note, another jingoistic outburst yesterday involving The Queen’s Speech reports that Britain will “shoot for the moon”.

One will focus on growing the space sector and would allow satellites to be launched from the UK for the first time, as well as develop scientific missions and manned vertical rockets.

I can see it now. Once the mandatory “democratic vote” involving school children has taken place to name the new launch system, the Rocky McRocketface Two-stage Payload Deployment System Mk I will eventually have the opportunity to do one of three things:

  • make it into space
  • explode over the North Sea
  • explode over somewhere else. Like Hull

I noticed some Brexiter commenting on Facebook yesterday:

Facebook post - Leslie Chiazzari DuckworthAt the moment, all Brexit supporters can do is try to make silk purses out of sows’ ears. Notice how, after informing everyone that the government wouldn’t be launching the satellites directly (no, really?) he skims over the massive logistical issues, which should be quite clear to any sensible person.

Satellite launching in Australia and the USA (and Russia, for that matter) is successful for one main reason, which can be demonstrated easily using ruler and a map of the world.World Map

Australia is over 30x bigger than the UK, and it’s population density is over 140x less. Woomera launch site is 4 miles from the nearest road (and there are only two of those in a radius of at least 150 miles), and 8 miles from the nearest town not including Woomera itself (and 35 miles from the only other one after that). The USA is over 40x bigger than the UK, and its population density is just a tenth of the UK’s. Cape Canaveral is at least 4 miles away from the nearest non-military town, and over 12 miles away from the nearest large town. Both of these launch sites have convenient oceans nearby, with nothing for thousands of miles.

In the UK, even in the middle of one of the national parks, you’re lucky if you’re further than a couple of miles away from any place where people are likely to be, even if they’re just passing through on bikes or having a cream tea in a cafe. And that’s especially true near the only coast line with enough sea to minimise the risk of pissing off the neighbours if a launch went titsup. Of course, there’s Scotland – and if we could persuade them to let us screw up some heathland, then there’d only be the matter of the weather, with rain, snow, and gale force winds for 360 days of the year.

Before we gloss over these risks, it’s worth remembering that the last mission we had any significant involvement with (the only one I can think of, actually, where we tried to land something ourselves) created a new crater on the surface of Mars. And we we weren’t even involved with the initial flashy, explodey bit. Launching rockets in the UK carries immense risks, and these never go away, since even with successful launch systems there is a risk of catastrophic failure every single launch. It happens even to people who are quite good at it, and who have a proven track record. We don’t.

If anything goes wrong in Woomera, the sand just gets a bit of browner. In the US, there’s a big splash. Over here, you could lose Cardiff.

And finally, there is the timescale and cost. Considering that the current government will be lucky if it lasts another 6 months with the way things are now, identifying a location, building the facility, developing rockets, testing them, then finally using them will take a decade or more. Assuming everything is a complete success at each stage – which would buck the trend for everyone else who has ever gone into this industry – the entire development sequence will only cost money. It cannot make money until it is successfully launching stuff into space. And even then, the implication is that it’s our stuff.

Each launch of the Ariane system costs about £150m. It cost billions to develop – and it took decades to develop.

Ironically, there’s already a bloody system in place. And it is called Ariane. And we’re walking away from it, to build our own as a result of our suicidal decision to leave the EU.

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WannaCry RansomwareEveryone must have heard about the problems this week with an unprecedented attack on Windows computer systems around the world. I understand that there are already reports of further cases as we head into the new week.

I’m not going to do an in-depth report, since you can find them all over the internet, and they’re written by people  much more knowledgeable on the subject than me. However, the one thing you MUST do is install any updates or patches as soon as possible.

Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 7, and Windows Vista systems should already have been patched (back in March). If you haven’t done the patch, do it soon. Microsoft no longer officially supports Windows 8 or Windows XP (except by custom arrangements), though the NHS still uses it from what I have read. However, they have released an emergency patch for both Windows 8 and Windows XP that regular users can apply.

Just do it.

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