Wednesday, 26 March 2014

An Anniversary!

Today is the anniversary of the installation of solar panels at Montoya Mansions!

In my first year, I have generated 1636 kWh. This is comfortably more than the predicted 1400 kWh for my first year's production, and alters the payback threshhold in my favour: if the price of electricity exceeds 14.042 p per unit, my solar setup has cost less than the electricity it will generate over 25 years (accounting for deterioration).

The timing of my feed-in tariff payments has fallen nicely, such that each payment is due almost exactly halfway between an equinox and a solstice; thus, they correspond to the seasons as counted by duration of daylight. My first payment was £117.75 on 3 August; then £73.88 on 3 November. The sun could barely be bothered to rise in Winter, leading to a dire £29.12 on 3 February (although it still more than covered the £1.82 per week standing charge). Come 3 May, I expect to receive another £70 or 80 for the Spring (this payment and the Autumn one should be fairly similar, by symmetry: the graph of day length vs. day of the year is sinusoidal).

When I get my storage batteries and UPS plumbed in, I should be able to save even more, as I won't need to pay for all the electricity I will be using in the evening .....

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Great news from the Independent on Sunday

The Independent on Sunday have announced a new policy of refusing to review children's books which are aimed only at boys, or only at girls:

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/genderspecific-books-demean-all-our-children-so-the-independent-on-sunday-will-no-longer-review-anything-marketed-to-exclude-either-sex-9194694.html

Which is A Good Thing. We don't need any more glittery pink books telling girls they should aspire to be princesses or fashion models; nor trashy, dumbed-down books for boys that ultimately only reinforce the idea that reading is for girls.

Thanks to Let Toys Be Toys for breaking this news.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

You can't run that from batteries!

Recently, I have managed to acquire a used, APC 3000 VA uninterruptible power supply – minus batteries.  (APC branded battery packs cost almost as much as a new UPS.  Generic sealed lead-acid batteries of the same capacity can be bought from the likes of http://www.tayna.co.uk/ for a fraction of that.)  The UPS is basically a self-contained battery pack, charger and inverter.  It converts DC from a bank of batteries, which are ordinarily kept charged from the mains, to AC when the mains fails.  I plan to use this, in conjunction with a bank of large batteries, to implement a solar energy storage system.

Now I have managed to pick up some batteries.  Although they are not the right ones for this UPS, they are "just about" compatible – the right voltage, but the wrong capacity  (there would normally be two series chains of four 12 V, 5.5 Ah batteries, in parallel for 48 V / 11 Ah; I have just one series chain of four 12 V, 7 Ah batteries, for 48 V / 7 Ah).

These batteries are rather used, and have a remaining usable capacity somewhat lower than advertised – but they cost nothing, which is always a point in favour.

And of course, having some batteries, we can test out the UPS!

You can see clearly that these aren't the right batteries -- I have had to stand the battery tray on top of the UPS because these are too tall.  The lamp was from an earlier test; look out for the black extension lead heading off the bottom left corner.  The 4-way extension lead is fitted with a "C20" plug for the UPS output (which can be up to 3000 VA, which is more than the usual "C14" / kettle-type can handle.)  The other end goes to .....

This microwave oven!  It's cooking just the burger from a microwave cheeseburger.  I toasted the cob separately, and added my own special tomato and herb sauce.

I was worried that the microwave would pull down the battery voltage far enough to trip the undervoltage cut-out in the UPS –this was what happened with a 2 kW kettle.  Fortunately, the slow-start action of the magnetron filament heating up was enough to allow the UPS batteries to recover.

This is a good sign.  And the nice people at http://www.tayna.co.uk/ are very helpful.  They certainly know their batteries.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Staffordshire Oatcakes

These are a kind of pancake that don't actually taste of anything.  The idea is that they can be served wrapped around literally any sweet or savoury filling, since there is no possibility of a flavour clash; and the texture of the oatcake brings out the flavour of the filling.

They are ideal for travelling, because you can wrap them up in paper in such a way as to be able to take a few bites and re-wrap every so often.  And despite the fact that oatcakes can be surprisingly filling, mini-oatcakes with ice cream also make a great dessert after a barbeque.

My parents and three of my grandparents were born in Stoke-on-Trent, even although I wasn't born there.  That does not stop me appreciating the Food of the Gods, at any rate, and I think I have the heritage.
  • 250 g. plain flour
  • 250 g. oatmeal
  • 500 ml. warm water
  • 500 ml. milk
  • 1 sachet (7 g.) bread machine yeast
Mix liquid, which should be at body temperature or maybe slightly higher; don't exceed 40 degrees.  Add dry ingredients.  Mix thoroughly for 1 minute, then cover loosely and leave to stand for 40 minutes to 1 hour until it has frothed up and then steadied out a bit.  Mix again for another minute.

Heat a large, heavy-based frying pan, melt a lump of butter over it and ladle in a dollop of the oatcake batter.  Shake the pan about to cover the whole of the base and keep frying, watching the clock.  As soon as the oatcake is beginning to come loose from the pan, note how much time has elapsed  (about a minute with a 30 cm. pan; maybe 90 seconds if the oatcake is really thick)  and time this long again.  By this time the top side should be hardening all over and should be full of 3 - 4 mm. bubble holes.  Turn over the oatcake.  You can toss it if you are experienced with pancake-tossing; otherwise, slide the oatcake sideways onto a plate, then pick up the plate and invert it over the pan.  Note, the bubble holes in the side cooked first will be a lot smaller, mostly under 1 mm.  Cook for as long on this side as you did on the other side, then slide sideways onto a plate.

As a guide, you should get 6 - 8, 30 cm. oatcakes out of this much mixture.  It's best to add fillings, roll up and serve at once -- even microwave awhile if needed, to make sure the fillings are properly hot.  But you can allow the oatcakes to cool  (put a layer of kitchen foil, greaseproof paper or similar between each one and the next to avoid them sticking together)  and serve later.  They will keep for a few days in the fridge.


Fillings:  Oatcakes were basically a lunchtime meal for the Staffordshire miners; so fillings such as bacon, mushroom and cheese or scrambled egg, perhaps with chopped sausage, would have been popular.  Or use something else that comes out of Staffordshire -- just down the A50 via Uttoxeter to Burton-on-Trent this time, find a nice real ale from a local brewery and cook up some cheap steak in an ale gravy with onions and mushrooms.  Thicken the gravy enough, and you can almost eat a steak and ale oatcake bare handed.  (But it probably would be even more delicious served on a plate with chunky hand-cut chips, petits pois and corn-on-the-cob.)  Leftovers can probably be wrapped up in an oatcake, too.

And while an oatcake doesn't make a very good substitute for a pizza base, spread with the sauce and with cheese and pizza toppings rolled up in the middle it makes a different kind of meal altogether.

Dessert oatcakes to be served with a sweet filling probably are best made in a smaller frying pan.  Fill with any combination of fruit, jam, jelly, custard, whipped cream, ice cream, grated chocolate and sticky sweet syrupy liquids and sprinkles you like.

If travelling, you may even want to prepare an oatcake with mostly a savoury filling, but then a bit of sweet filling -- jam or fruit compĂ´te and custard, say -- at one end. You can cut off a piece of oatcake to make a barrier between the sections.  Roll up, wrap in paper, mark which end to open first and there's main course and pudding in one!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Hey! I'm out to my co-workers!

Tonight, I officially came out as transgender to my co-workers, at the works christmas party.  I went as Julie, not ${BOYNAME}, and was accepted thus by everyone.

Think my boss must have suspcted for awhile; because if he's been looking at my out-of-hours activities like any decent hacker would then he must have spotted "Julie Montoya" signing some code that was embarrassingly similar in style to ${BOYNAME}'s code  (he writes like a girl anyway, in a girlie language).

I love you all <3 <3 <3

Sunday, 25 August 2013

R.I.P Shelley Cat

Shelley Cat passed away this morning at 11:00.
Almost exactly one year ago -- on the stormy Saturday night before the August bank holiday -- my next door neighbours, who knew I already had a cat, brought me a stray cat that they had found in the street, asking if I could look after it.  I accepted, thinking that it would only be a few days until an owner was located.

The poor little thing was in a terrible state; half drowned and half starved.  I soon discovered that it was a she  (at least, she did not object to the female pronoun)  and she responded well to being towelled down, warmed in front of the woodburner and fed what seemed to be pack after pack of cat food.  I took her to the vet's to see if she was microchipped, but she was not.  I took a photograph of her and printed out leaflets, four to a page, asking "IS THIS YOUR CAT?" and giving my phone number; which I posted through letterboxes, and gave the local shops full-page versions to display in their windows.

But nobody seemed to want the little cat back.  I received just two phone calls; one from a person who had lost a cat but the description did not match; and one explaining how a cat looking like my picture had belonged to a woman whose boyfriend moved in with her, but the boyfriend had been horrible to the cat, kicked her, and one night "accidentally" left the back door open and she escaped

Realising that she might be with me for some time, I decided she needed a name.  So I called her Shelley because her mostly-black fur had brown, tortoiseshell-like patches.

Shelley suffered with hyperthyroidism; which meant that she could eat and eat food but just never put on any weight.  She was given medication for this, which allowed her to put on some weight and her general condition to improve.    I also had her microchipped, to proclaim to the whole world that THIS CAT BELONGS TO: JULIE MONTOYA, c/o MONTOYA MANSIONS. Tel. XXXXXXXXXXX. 

Then, about 6 weeks ago, she suddenly seemed to have lost her appetite, and would not eat the piece of ham in which I had concealed her Vidalta  (thyroid pill).  She seemed to want it, just not to be able to take it, and I rushed her to the vet's.  There was an abscess in her mouth and ulcers all over her tongue.  She was given an injection of a long-term antibiotic and prescribed Metacam to relieve the pain and enable her to eat again.

After about 2 weeks, Shelley seemed much better; but this turned out to be short-lived.  She was soon back to the vet's, where she was prescribed Nisamox  (amoxycillin -- artificial penicillin -- and clavulanic acid)  and also Vetergesic  (buprenorphine -- an opiate, prescribed to humans as Subutex), to be followed by more Metacam when the vetergesic ran out. 

One week ago, she was due to give a blood sample to measure her thyroid hormone level and make sure the Vidalta dosage was still doing its work; and they also ran some additional tests.  Shelley tested positive for feline calicivirus.  This is highly contagious.  Younger, fitter cats may well be asymptomatic; but if the patient's immune system is in any way compromised, then the cat is rendered vulnerable to secondary infection.  This is obviously what was happening to Shelley.

Yesterday, Shelley took another turn for the worse.  My partner and I made the decision that Shelley had suffered enough already.  She was already due to go to the vet's today anyway.  This time, it was to be a one way journey.  I signed the consent form. We stood there, gently stroking Shelley, and she purred as the fluid went in; then she became silent and fell asleep. Her breathing slowed, she fell down softly onto the table, and that was the end.


Goodbye, Shelley.  Rest in Peace.  I will miss her funny little mannerisms.  Her damaged back legs made her movements awkward, but she used to drag herself up onto the sofa or my bed using her front paws.  She used to meow loudly when she wanted to be fed.  And even although she had lived outdoors as a stray, she still preferred to go indoors to use a litter tray.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Who Does Software Piracy Really Hurt?

It's often said that software piracy damages business.  It does, but not for who you think it does.

When someone uses a pirate copy of Microsoft Office to write letters, do their household finances and keep track of their CD collection, this does no harm to Microsoft; because they would never have paid £500 for a copy of Microsoft Office anyway, even if they could not have obtained a pirate copy free.  Rather, they would have searched for a less expensive office suite offering the functionality they needed -- or even stuck to good old-fashioned notebook and pencil.

Now supposing someone decides to release a basic office suite, with sufficient functionality for the needs of most users, and sell it for £50.  A user with a brand new computer has a choice:  Pay £500 for Microsoft Office, pay £50 for Cheap and Cheerful Office 2013 and save £450, take a pirate copy of Microsoft Office and save £500 or take a pirate copy of Cheap and Cheerful Office 2013 and save £50.  Paying for CaCO13 actually makes better economic sense * than not paying for it, but the pirate copy of Microsoft Office is the clear winner.

When, not if, the vendors of CaCO13 go out of business, it will be because of software piracy -- even although no-one need ever make a single pirate copy of Cheap and Cheerful Office 2013.

And it isn't just Microsoft Office, of course.  There's also Adobe Photoshop  (for holiday snaps)  and Dreamweaver  (for creating web sites),  and AutoCAD  (for drawing diagrams, dressmaking patterns and so forth).

Microsoft, Adobe and others tolerating rampant piracy is a deliberate tactic to eliminate competition, by saturating the market with freely available software.  They have nothing to lose from it anyway, since the pirates would most probably have bought a competitor's product.  What is more, this creates a huge pool of self-taught users of the major players' software.  If an amateur photographic artist, who already uses an illegal copy of Adobe Photoshop for their art, gets a job editing photographs, then it makes sense for their new employers to purchase the tool with which they are already most familiar.  Had they used some hypothetical inexpensive alternative software instead, they might have suggested it to their new employers, who might again have purchased the tool with which the employee was most familiar -- this time, from the small, independent software vendor, to Adobe's detriment.

Another loser from pirated software is the business that uses only legitimate, fully paid-up software.  When faced with an unusually large order, a business might have to take on additional staff, and so pay more for additional software licences for them.  This will create an additional cost for the job, which will have to be reflected in the price offered and could only be offset against guaranteed future purchases.  (In this economic climate?  YMBK.)  A rival business using pirated software would have no such increased overhead cost when taking on extra staff, and could undercut the competitor.

Although the big software vendors focus their attention on businesses and prosecute offenders heavily, and to much publicity, there are still far too many firms getting away with software piracy.

And lastly, but certainly not leastly, pirated software harms the Open Source movement.

Freedoms Zero  (the freedom to enjoy the use the software)  and Two  (the freedom to share the software)  can be taken by force if necessary  (this, if nothing else, is what piracy is).  Most people are not programmers, and cannot fully appreciate the value of Freedoms One  (the freedom to study the workings of the software)  and Three  (the freedom to adapt the software to one's needs)  -- freedoms in the practical exercise of which the Source Code, something jealously guarded by proprietary software vendors, is highly desirable.  This, in turn, is perhaps something that programmers cannot fully appreciate, if their worldview is that of a programmer ever seeking to improve software incrementally towards perfection.  Nonetheless, the fact that a particular freedom has perceived importance only to a minority should never be an excuse to permit it to become abridged -- to do so would simply be discrimination.  (And those who perceive Freedoms One and Three as important, perceive them as fundamental.)  To the majority, Freedoms 0 and 2 are sufficient; this may be unfair, but we have to work with it for now.

Open Source software competes fairly with pirated software on price; and has traditionally been behind in features but has now overtaken proprietary software in some areas.  This has come about because of both stagnation in the proprietary camp, and continued progress in the Open Source camp -- accelerating with the growth in user numbers, for even a complaint can lead to an improvement.  Nonetheless, a perception remains that it must be somehow ... unsophisticated, if people feel the need to give it away.  It is also disadvantaged by businesses continuing to use proprietary software  (because most of the workforce are also using pirate copies of the same software).

The reality is, every pirate copy of Microsoft Office is a lost "sale" of LibreOffice, OpenOfficeOrg, Calligra Suite, Trinity Office, or any number of other lesser-known Open Source projects -- a missed opportunity to educate someone in the use of an alternative product, who might go on to influence others to use it.  In the case where a lesser-known project is chosen, it can actually influence the project positively by providing feedback, creating interest and tempting other users to try it and maybe keep it.  And every pirate copy of a newer version of Windows than was originally installed on a machine  (a tactic which is often unsuccessful, due to the tendency of proprietary software to increase its demands to match improvements in hardware as proprietary developers are given the latest, fastest workstations; therefore, proprietary software is sub-optimal on older, slower hardware with less RAM and disk space.  Some Open Source developers are forced to work with less than the newest hardware, and make a deliberate effort to improve performance on slower hardware and limit memory requirements)  is a lost "sale" of a complete Linux distribution.

We should not take violations of proprietary end-user licence agreements any less seriously than we take violations  of the GPL.  Copyright law is ultimately what keeps the Source open; and this is what Microsoft, Adobe, AutoDesk et al are subverting when they subvert copyright law to their own ends by enforcing it selectively.  If users do not wish to pay for software, that is their choice:  but they should accept the gift of Open Source software, and not make unfair of proprietary software.  For it is unfair:  unfair to the legitimate users who pay, and unfair to the competitors whose work is spurned for something that its users should not even have.


* The fallacy is: You actually save a full £500 by not paying for Cheap Office, if you aren't paying for MS Office either.