August 30, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Nursing Home Murder, Ngaio Marsh

1935 classic English detective fiction; third of Marsh's novels of Inspector Roderick Alleyn. In a private hospital, the Home Secretary was operated on for appendicitis: shortly afterwards he was dead, poisoned with hyoscine (scopolamine). And all sorts of people seem to have had motives.

August 30, 2016 08:01 AM

August 29, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Sleepy Hollow season 3

2015-2016: Ichabod Crane, survivor from the American Revolutionary War, and Abbie Mills, FBI agent, continue to fight supernatural beasties in the present day. (Spoilers for all seasons.)

August 29, 2016 08:04 AM

August 28, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Hanging in the Hotel, Simon Brett

2004 mystery; fifth in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). Jude is helping out at the Hopwicke Country House Hotel, but the morning after a boozy meeting of the Pillars of Sussex, an organisation of local businessmen, one of them doesn't come down to breakfast… because he's hanging from a beam of his four-poster bed. Obviously a suicide…

…or obviously not, but proving it will be hard work, especially when the Pillars of Sussex close ranks to disassociate themselves from the victim. Everybody's far too willing to talk to Carole and Jude, as usual, but a key player appears for the first time three-quarters of the way through the book, which doesn't help matters.

Most of the investigation is a trudge through local businesses, and Brett's usual cast of horrible people. Everyone has something to hide, of course, and it usually reinforces how ghastly they are.

As in The Torso in the Town, the ultimate villain goes unpunished, which again seems to be a violation of the principles of murder mysteries: the detectives find themselves stymied and essentially give up and go home. But they do that seemingly because there are only a few pages left; if it were half-way through the book they'd go after some alternative source of information, and for their behaviour to be so blatantly affected by a non-diegetic element breaks my suspension of disbelief.

But in this book, the mystery is the bread on which the pâté of human drama is spread: what are these people's secrets, and how do they react as things come out? Also, this marks a significant achievement in the process of Carole's transformation into a human being, as she finds herself become able to talk with her son and his fiancée in a way she certainly wouldn't have been when the series started. (However, I think Brett realised that without having Carole as a pompous prig he loses the contrast she strikes against free-spirited Jude, so her progress from this point on is much slower and sometimes even reversed.)

Followed by The Witness at the Wedding.

August 28, 2016 08:03 AM

August 27, 2016

Roger Bell-West


2015 short science fiction, dir. Luke Gilford, Pamela Anderson, Dree Hemingway: IMDb.

An ageing fitness instructor is dissatisfied with her life, in particular feeling disconnected from the world, and looks for a way to fix it.

August 27, 2016 08:04 AM

August 26, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Castlemaine Murders, Kerry Greenwood

2003 historical detection, thirteenth in Greenwood's Phryne Fisher series (1920s flapper detective in Australia). Phryne investigates a mummified corpse found in a carnival attraction.

August 26, 2016 08:04 AM

August 25, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Failing to Fix Operation Hard Sell

Operation Hard Sell was the adventure that convinced me I should stop running Torg, at least for a while. Spoilers for this adventure follow.

August 25, 2016 08:03 AM

August 24, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Murder in the Museum, Simon Brett

2003; fourth in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). Bracketts, an Elizabethan house, is to be turned into a museum celebrating the life and work of the local poet Esmond Chadleigh, its most famous resident. Then a skull is dug up in the garden.

August 24, 2016 08:04 AM

August 23, 2016

Roger Bell-West

SpringCon 23 July 2016

Back to this small quarterly boardgames convention in Watford, the first one I've got to for a while as it's usually announced at fairly short notice. With images; cc-by-sa on everything.

August 23, 2016 08:01 AM

August 22, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Shattered Sphere, Roger MacBride Allen

1994 science fiction, sequel to The Ring of Charon. This review contains spoilers for that first book.

August 22, 2016 08:04 AM

August 21, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Subete ga F ni Naru

2015 mystery novel adaptation, 11 episodes: AniDB, vt "Everything Becomes F" or "The Perfect Insider". Shiki Magata killed her parents when she was fourteen, but her mind was clearly disturbed, and she's a brilliant programmer; for the fifteen years since then, she's been confined to a few rooms within a research lab, with extremely restricted communication with the outside world. And yet, someone has managed to murder her.

August 21, 2016 08:01 AM

August 20, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Torso in the Town, Simon Brett

2002 mystery; third in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). The couple who've just moved into the Big House in Fedborough, inland up the river from Fethering, throw a dinner party to try to get into the local social scene… which is somewhat spoiled when a limbless body is discovered in the cellar.

August 20, 2016 08:02 AM

August 19, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Suburbia component enhancements

I wanted to improve the experience of playing Surburbia, so I designed some organisational aids.

August 19, 2016 08:03 AM

Steve Kennedy

There's a new business bank in town and it'll wash the competition (it's called Tide)

There's a new business mobile first bank which will be launching soon. It's called Tide and it looks pretty good.

Though there are a slew of new banks coming on-line, Tide is aiming for the business market with no fees (they make their money on various services that a banking customer might use and they're not unreasonable).

The first thing to say is it very easy to sign-up. Just present a valid ID to the app and take a photo of it, then clever magic works out who you are (which you confirm) and then it asks what company you're going to use (it looks up your details in Companies House).

You then get an account (a real account number and sort code).

Once set-up you can do all sorts of things through the app, like invoice customers, pay invoices from suppliers etc. When invoicing it can track incoming payments and send out reminders if the customer doesn't pay. If you need to take a credit card payment, it can do that too, just scan the customer card, it will then ask the customers for the CCV (the number on the back of the card) and that's it (there's a fee for handling the payment, that's where Tide take a small percentage), but no card readers to worry about etc.

The service is currently in alpha to a few select customers (the alpha client looks very nice, though the version tested was a sandbox'ed version so not doing live transactions, the real alpha client does the same thing in a live environment) and it will hopefully launch in beta very soon.

Though it's mobile first, all services are also available on-line (web access) and there's a (developing) API on to everything, so if you want to build your own client and offer new services, you'll be able to do so.

If you want to sign-up for access, use this link Tide Preview.

by Steve Karmeinsky ( at August 19, 2016 12:05 AM

August 18, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Enter a Murderer, Ngaio Marsh

1935 classic English detective fiction; second of Marsh's novels of Inspector Roderick Alleyn. When Arthur Surbonadier is fatally shot on stage during the last act of The Rat and the Beaver, there's no question about who pulled the trigger: the shooting was part of the play. But there wasn't supposed to be live ammunition in the gun.

August 18, 2016 08:04 AM

August 17, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Second Chance, season 1

2016 science fiction crime drama, 11 episodes. Jimmy Pritchard is a 75-year-old, corrupt, disgraced, but unrepentant former sheriff. When he's murdered, secretive tech billionaire twins restore him to life, youth and extreme vitality (as a side effect of their own plans). Formerly known as Frankenstein, The Frankenstein Code and Lookinglass.

August 17, 2016 08:04 AM

August 16, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Death on the Downs, Simon Brett

2001 mystery; second in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). While out exploring the South Downs, Carole stumbles on a human skeleton. Jude thinks she knows who it might have been.

August 16, 2016 08:02 AM

August 15, 2016

Roger Bell-West

GURPS Magic: Death Spells, Sean Punch

This supplement adds to the standard GURPS magic system, with spells designed not just to injure or curse but to kill.

August 15, 2016 08:02 AM

August 14, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Ruined City, Nevil Shute

1938 fiction. Henry Warren, a successful banker, works all his waking hours, travelling across Europe to sort out financial deals, particularly share issues. His digestion is bad, and his wife's having an affair with a foreigner. When all the stress catches up with him, he winds up in the hospital of a northern town, one that's been without significant employment since the shipyard closed, and decides to do something about it. (US vt Kindling.)

August 14, 2016 08:00 AM

August 13, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Boardgaming At Home, July 2016

A five-player games session on a hot afternoon at home. Images follow: cc-by-sa on everything.

August 13, 2016 08:01 AM

August 12, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Body on the Beach, Simon Brett

2000 mystery; first in Brett's Fethering Mysteries series (amateur sleuthing). Carole Seddon, conventional, divorced, and retired from the Home Office, moves to the small seaside town of Fethering (inspired by the real Tarring in West Sussex). But her neighbour Jude turns out to be distressingly bohemian, and she finds a dead body while walking her dog on the beach… but by the time the police turn up, it's gone.

August 12, 2016 08:03 AM

August 11, 2016

Roger Bell-West

New Passport

My passport was a few months away from expory, so when I got back from the latest foreign trip I renewed it. It only took two weeks, which isn't bad, though I think the Passport Office might take a tip or two from an enthusiastic amateur; their professional advisors don't seem to be doing a terribly good job.

August 11, 2016 08:04 AM

August 10, 2016

Liam Proven

Windows and malware, and the vulnerability of Internet Explorer.

My last job over here in Czechia was a year basically acting as the entire international customer complaints department for a prominent antivirus vendor.

Damned straight, Windows still has severe malware and virus problems! Yes, even Windows 8.x and 10.

The original dynamic content model for Interner Explorer was: download and run native binaries from the Internet. (AKA "ActiveX", basically OLE on web pages.) This is insane if you know anything about safe, secure software design.

It's better now, but the problem is that since IE is integrated into Windows, IE uses Windows core code to render text, images, etc. So any exploit that targets these Windows DLLs can allow a web page to execute code on your machine.

Unix' default model is that only binaries on your own system that have been marked as executable can run. By default it won't even run local stuff that isn't marked as such, let alone anything from a remote host.

(This is a dramatic oversimplification.)

Microsoft has slowly and painfully learned that the way Unix does things is safer than its own ways, and it's changing, but the damage is done. If MS rewrote Windows and fixed all this stuff, a lot of existing Windows programs wouldn't work any more. And the only reason to choose Windows is the huge base of software that there is for Windows.

Such things can be done. Mac OS X didn't run all classic MacOS apps when it was launched in 2001 or so. Then in 10.5 Apple dropped the ability to run old classic apps at all. Then in 10.6 it dropped the ability to run the OS on machines with the old processors. Then in 10.7 it dropped the ability to run apps compiled for the old processor.

It has carefully stage managed a transition, despite resistance. Microsoft _could_ have done this, but it didn't have the nerve.

It's worth mentioning that, to give it credit, the core code of both Windows 3 and Windows 95 contains some _inspired_ hacks to make stuff work, that Windows NT is a technical tour de force, and that the crap that has gradually worked its way in since Windows XP is due to the marketing people's insistence, not due to the programmers and their managers, who do superb work.

Other teams _do_ have the guts for drastic changes: look at Office 2007 (whole new UI, which I personally hate, but others like), and Windows 8 (whole new UI, which I liked but everyone else hated).

However Windows is the big cash cow and they didn't have the the courage when it was needed. Now, it's too late.

August 10, 2016 04:14 PM

Roger Bell-West

Retribution Falls, Chris Wooding

2009 steampunk fantasy. Darian Frey is the captain of the Ketty Jay and her crew of misfits, as they go about doing small-time jobs for small-time people. But they're all about to play for much higher stakes than they were ever expecting.

August 10, 2016 08:03 AM

August 09, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Colony, season 1

2016 science fiction drama, 10 episodes. Aliens have landed and conquered Earth, ruling through drones and human trusties. But there is, of course, a resistance.

August 09, 2016 08:04 AM

August 08, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Viper Strike, Keith Douglass

1991 military fiction; second in the Carrier series. A complex plot sees Burmese, Thai and Chinese renegades orchestrating a breakup of SEATO for purposes unclear at first. Carrier Battle Group 14 is going to get caught in the middle.

August 08, 2016 08:04 AM

August 07, 2016

Roger Bell-West

GURPS Power-Ups 7: Wildcard Skills, Sean Punch

This supplement clarifies and gives comprehensive examples of Wildcard Skills, a relatively under-used element of GURPS 4th edition.

August 07, 2016 08:01 AM

August 06, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Another Man's Poison, Ann Cleeves

1993 detective fiction; fifth of Cleeves's novels of amateur private detectives George and Molly Palmer-Jones. Elderly Ursula Ottway lives in a cottage on an estate in the Cumbrian fell country; when she finds her cats dead from eating poisoned bait, she threatens to expose her landlord, rising politician Marcus Grenville, since he's obviously been illegally poisoning raptors to improve the grouse shooting. The next day she's dead. But she was Molly's aunt, and George and Molly were on their way to visit.

August 06, 2016 08:03 AM

August 05, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Thirsty Meeples July 2016

Back to the boardgame café again. With images; cc-by-sa on everything.

August 05, 2016 08:00 AM

August 04, 2016

Mark Goodge

Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign pledges. Some of this will shock you.

These are the ten pledges launched today by Jeremy Corbyn as part of his campaign to retain control of the Labour Party. I thought they’re worth a few comments.

1. A decent job for all, in a decent economy

This seems remarkably lacking in ambition. I’d prefer good jobs, in a strong economy. But I suppose we can thank Jeremy for at least being honest here if he thinks he can’t achieve that.

2. A secure home for everyone

I’m not sure that “secure” is the right word here, either. Prisons are (hopefully) secure. Most people would, I think, prefer to focus on homes being affordable and readily available. I hope the choice of wording isn’t a Freudian slip.

3. Dignity and rights at work

Absolutely, we all want dignity and rights at work. Well, rights, anyway. I’m not so sure we all want dignity. I’d like the right to take a Nerf gun with me and pepper my colleagues with it when I think they’re getting a bit too far up themselves. It may not be dignified, but what the heck. It would make a great right.

4. A properly-funded NHS and social care

I’m pretty sure we’re all in favour of doing things properly, as well.

5. Education for all from cradle to grave

Now this really appeals to me. I left school more than three decades ago, but if education is available all the way to my deathbed, then well – where do I sign up for state-run classes in advanced jQuery and thrash metal guitar?

6. Clean, green energy we can afford

Again, nobody is going to complain about being offered this. But it’s nice to see Jeremy accepting that low carbon energy needs to be affordable.

7. Services run by and for the public

That’s called “free enterprise”. Entrepreneurs like you and me setting up businesses to provide goods and services which meet demand from other people like us. It’s an excellent ambition, and I wholeheartedly applaud Jeremy for endorsing it.

8. Everyone paying their fair share

“You use it, you pay for it”. Seems fair to me. Although, if I’m honest, I actually think we need a bit of unfairness in our tax system. Sometimes people’s circumstances are different, and sometimes they need more than others. As I say to my children sometimes when they complain that it’s unfair to let the younger get more leeway because she’s the younger, or the older get more privileges because she’s older, “it isn’t fair, but it is right”.

9. A society free from prejudice

Much easier said than done, of course. But I do agree that we need more independent thought, and less tribalism, in the UK. We could make a start in our political parties.

10. A just foreign policy that promotes peace

As it happens, this is something that the world as a whole does seem to have been pretty successful in since 1945. But it’s good to see that Jeremy wants to continue with the success of these policies.

by Mark at August 04, 2016 11:59 AM

Roger Bell-West

Carrier, Keith Douglass

1991 military fiction; first in the Carrier series. An American intelligence ship and her crew vanish on the high seas; the North Koreans admit nothing. Carrier Battle Group 14 is sent in to get them out.

August 04, 2016 08:00 AM

August 03, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Agent Carter, season 2

2015-2016 superheroic fantasy, 10 episodes. In 1947, Peggy Carter, still working for a secret government agency, travels to Los Angeles to investigate strange goings-on there.

August 03, 2016 08:04 AM

August 02, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Brotherhood in Death, J. D. Robb

2016 SF/mystery; fifty-third (roughly) of J. D. Robb's In Death series. Dennis Mira went to confront his cousin Edward over plans to sell the family house, but found him tied up in a chair; then someone knocked Dennis on the head. Now Edward's missing. Fortunately Dennis is married to Charlotte Mira, police profiler and friend of Lieutenant Eve Dallas.

August 02, 2016 08:02 AM

August 01, 2016

Roger Bell-West

July 2016 Trailers

Some trailers I've seen recently, and my thoughts on them. (Links are to youtube. Opinions are thoroughly personal.)

August 01, 2016 08:01 AM

July 31, 2016

Liam Proven

Installing Linux onto a USB key

Something I seldom see mentioned, but I use a lot, is Linux systems installed directly onto USB sticks (pendrives).

No, you can't install from these, but they are very useful for system recovery & maintenance.

There are 2 ways to do it.

[1] Use a diskless PC, or disconnect your hard disk.

This is fiddly.

[2] Use a VM.

VirtualBox is free and lets you assign a physical disk drive to a VM. It's much harder to do this than it is in VMware -- it requires some shell commands to create, and other ones every time you wish to use it -- but it does work.

Here's how:

Read the comments!

Every time you want to run the VM, you must take ownership of the USB device's entry in /dev


chown lproven:lproven /dev/sdc

N.B. This may require sudo.

Then the VM works. If you don't do this, the VM won't start and will give an unhelpful error message about nonexistent devices, then quit.

(It's possible that you could work around this by running VirtualBox as root, but that is not advisable.)

The full Unity edition of Ubuntu 16.04 will not install on an 8GB USB key, but Lubuntu will. I suspect that Xubuntu would also be fine, and maybe the Maté edition. I suspect but have not tested that KDE and GNOME editions won't work, as they're bigger. They'd be fine on bigger keys, of course, but see the next paragraph.

Also note that desktops based on GNOME 3 require hardware OpenGL support, and thus run very badly inside VMs. This includes GNOME Shell, Unity & Cinnamon, and in my experience, KDE 4 & 5.

Installation puts GRUB in the MBR of the key, so it boots like any other disk.


  • Partition the disk as usual. I suggest no separate /home but it's up to you. A single partition is easiest.

  • Format the root partition as ext2 to extend flash media life (no journalling -> fewer writes)

  • Add ``noatime'' to the /etc/fstab entry for the root volume -- faster & again reduces disk writes

  • No swap. Swapping wears out flash media. I install and enable ZRAM just in case it's used on low-RAM machines:

  • You can add VirtualBox Guest Additions if you like. The key will run better in a VM and when booted on bare metal they just don't activate.

I then update as normal.

You can update when booted on bare metal, but if it installs a kernel update, then it will run ``update-grub'' and this will add entries for any OSes on that machine's hard disk into the GRUB menu. I don't like this -- it looks messy -- so I try to only update inside a VM.

I usually use a 32-bit edition; the resulting key will boot and run 64-bit machines too and modern versions automatically run PAE and use all available RAM.

Sadly my Mac does not see such devices as bootable volumes, but the keys work on normal PCs fine.

EDIT: It occurs to me that they might not work on UEFI PCs unless you create a UEFI system partition and appropriate boot files. I don't have a UEFI PC to experiment with. I'd welcome comments on this.

Windows can't see them as it does not natively understand ext* format filesystems. If you wish you can partition the drive and have an exFAT (or whatever format you prefer) data partition as well, of course.

I also install some handy tools such as additional filesystem support (exFAT, HFS etc.), GParted, things like that.

I find such keys a handy addition to my portable toolkit and have used them widely.

If you wish and you used a big enough key, you could install multiple distros on a single key this way. But remember, you can't install from them.

I've also found that the BootRepair tool won't install on what it considers to be an installed system. It insists on being installed on a live installer drive.

If you want to carry around lots of ISO files and choose which to install, a device like this is the easiest way:

July 31, 2016 02:23 PM

Roger Bell-West

Deep South, Nevada Barr

2000 mystery, eighth in Barr's Anna Pigeon series, murder mysteries in US National Parks. Newly promoted to District Ranger on the Natchez Trace Parkway, Anna finds herself the object of resentment by her time-serving underlings, then discovers the body of a young woman (who "had accrued a surprising number of reasons to be done to death for a girl of her tender years").

July 31, 2016 08:03 AM

July 30, 2016

Roger Bell-West

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 16: Wilderness Adventures, Sean Punch

This Dungeon Fantasy supplement gets away from the cycle of dungeon to generic-town and back again, and moves adventures into the great outdoors.

July 30, 2016 08:01 AM

July 29, 2016

Roger Bell-West

The Mad Scientist's Daughter, Cassandra Rose Clarke

2013 science fiction/romance. Finn is a robot who looks and acts human; he arrives in young Cat Novak's life as her tutor, and stays as the years pass.

July 29, 2016 08:02 AM

July 28, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Welcome to the Dungeon storage inlay

Welcome to the Dungeon is an enjoyable short game that's hard to store effectively. I decided to improve this.

July 28, 2016 08:02 AM

July 27, 2016

Andy Davidson

First Impressions of Japan Camera Hunter's New Street Pan 400 Film

The Japan Camera Hunter, Bellamy Hunt, is a street photographer who loves to unite rare, esoteric, and beautiful film cameras with new rightful owners. In that spirit, he has sourced and is marketing a rare and esoteric camera film. I impulse bought some as soon as pre-orders were announced and shot my first roll at the weekend.

The film, StreetPan 400 costs a UK buyer around £6.50 a roll when bought in a bundle of ten. It's more expensive than my usual go-to, T-Max 400, so it must pack a punch to compete. It was quite a bit cheaper a few weeks ago, please blame exchange rate fluctuations and those who inflicted them.

I decided to carry the film everywhere I went this weekend so that I could try a roll in a variety of conditions. I loaded up my Canon 7, a rangefinder from 1961, paired up with the wonderful 50mm f/1.4 lens which was designed for the camera. I metered using the 'Sunny 16' rule when conditions allowed, and using the meter on the camera at other times. The negatives were developed commercially in Sheffield, and scanned on a Minolta DImage 5400. They were imported into Lightroom for a spot of dust cleaning only - the images have not been altered in any other way. As ever, you can inspect larger copies of the images via the gallery links at the bottom of this post.

I've left the scan borders on - try to think of it as evidence of my scan's authenticity rather than my own hipsterdom.

So what happened out on the street ?


The first thing I noticed was how much detail showed up in the mid-tones, which appear on scans with bags of contrast. Additionally, I enjoyed seeing a full range of tones from deep black to pure white on an image. The film emulsion is understood to derive from a surveillance camera application which suggests that it was specifically designed to render very clearly and accurately and the film does not disappoint. As you would expect from film rather than a digital sensor, high contrast scenes are recorded with enormous dynamic range as shown in the above, a pretty contrasty shot.

Though, today, there's not a film for sale which does not have great dyamic range and good detail in the contrast so I went looking through my negatives for features which made this film special.


When I shot this image, I expected it to be a throwaway. After all, how could a street photographer's film possibly render such dark, indoor tones ? I exposed for the highlight plus two stops, expecting an almost blank negative without detail in the dark patches. In reality there is very little of the scene which is detail-free, the dark patches are rendered honestly, with much more detail than I was expecting. I would expect a digital rendition of this scene to be quite noisy in the dark areas.

Yes the negative was thin - of course it was because the room was very dark, but when the preview appeared in Vuescan I was shocked how much there was to look at in the dark areas. And how I'd managed to focus on a chicken in the dark.


In the bright light StreetPan is more of a mixed bag. Again, in the mid-tones, I saw amazing levels of detail - in fact, I almost cleaned a 'hair mark' on the negative before realising it was some detail in a tree bark. And the film even managed to cut through a bit of haze present in the distance on the day to substantially improve sharpness in the distance. Though if you look in the sky, at the overexposed area, the grain is very pronounced. Not unpleasant but definitely coarse. This is a film landscape lovers might like to use to add contrast to flat days, but not one for a sunny July lunchtime.


Here's a street scene with every bit of light to contend with - bright direct sunlight, total shade, and everythng in between. I think it shows that the film can cope with everything that a street photographer needs it to. I'm looking forward to trying it on some rainy days in London - I think it will become a firm favourite. I'm also hoping for a medium format version, since I would love to see a little less grain in the image than is recorded by Street Pan.

I recommend that all film photographers give it a try.

More images from the weekend below :

July 27, 2016 11:00 PM

Roger Bell-West

Liberty Falling, Nevada Barr

1999 mystery, seventh in Barr's Anna Pigeon series, murder mysteries in US National Parks. With her sister hospitalised in New York, Anna stays on Liberty Island (where the statue is) and explores Ellis Island outside hospital visiting hours. Then a young girl falls to her death from the statue.

July 27, 2016 08:03 AM

July 26, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Electra Woman & Dyna Girl

2016 superhero comedy (miniseries re-presented as film), dir. Chris Marrs Piliero, Grace Helbig, Hannah Hart: IMDb

Low-level superheroes Electra Woman and Dyna Girl move to Los Angeles to make the big time. But can they be true to themselves?

July 26, 2016 08:00 AM

July 25, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Death of a Ghost, Margery Allingham

1934 classic English detective fiction; sixth of Allingham's novels of Albert Campion. The great artist John Lafcadio left twelve final paintings, to be shown one per year after his death. At the unveiling of the eighth, a young artist is fatally stabbed with a pair of decorative scissors.

July 25, 2016 08:03 AM

July 24, 2016

Andrew Elwell

The writing's on the wall

For the last couple of jobs I've had, having some sort of status display has proved itself really useful. Things like an overloaded nagios dashboard help to drill down to see what system issues you may have, but on large systems there'll always be some component that's not green (however your service should work around these transparently to the end user).  In a smaller team without 24/7 operations staff and shift handovers, how do you know things aren't on fire when you walk into the office? - I'll ignore the fact that you probably read your email over breakfast.


At $job[-1] we put a spare monitor on the office wall and ran concerto on a PC feeding it. The backend at that time was php, and made assumptions such as assuming that short tags were OK - I hacked on a branch to make it more standard with the scientific linux systems we were using at the time. Given this was (is?) a student project out of the Rensselaer Institute ir's hardly suprising as young developers want LATEST SHINY. They then went through a second system effect, rewriting from scratch and completely missing the launch of the raspberry pi, which could have made a killer combination.
The problem is that many browser based clients need the overhead of X11 and all the various hacks to remove mouse cursors and make them more 'kiosky'


Fast forwards a few years and I have mini-magnus on my desk showing status and a set of 3 unused monitors on a wall looking to display some info. A quick bit of research flagged up info-beamer which has been used in production at the CCC events for several years. I've been playing with it for a couple of days now in the standalone pi and hosted variant.

hosted info-beamer

The install of this is very smoothly done. Small zip file download to populate an SD card with the raspberry pi bootloader files and a squashfs  and it self-installs the rest of the distribution from S3 and prompts you to register the node to your info-beamer account (in a similar way to a chromecast).
Florian has made some really nice touches to the setup - little things like setting cec_osd_name if your TV screen uses it, a custom kernel logo, and suppression of all but the player-related boot messages. In a public area, this makes it look a lot more professional than most of the other solutions which show the operating system before launching a player should they reboot. I've only played with a couple of the sample packages, but the install process is slick, if initially confusing terminology between packages, setups and playlists.

I'd love to see this integrated with indico - the meeting software used at CERN. Hint :-)

standalone info-beamer

The personal use player is distributed as a binary executable - I can understand the reasons for that, but it doesn't feel right. It doesn't (yet?) come as a debian package - It should be trivial for me to do myself according to the docs. When that's done, I'll install and run using systemd rather than the daemontools method (which is used by the various syncer scripts used in the hosted version). My concern is that the logging is presently noisy (good for debugging, bad for SD lifetime) 
I'm also planning on managing these R-Pi nodes using Ansible (Puppet is overkill for this as I want something that can bootstrap up a fresh SD card without needing extra daemons running) so I suspect there'll be future blogging on that. 

I've not yet investigated sending values directly to the info-beamer listening port (hoping I can do something with an MQTT subscriber) but pushing json files from various subsystems seems to work well. Obligatory screenshot:
Prototype display testing
Overall, I'm very impressed. Given I'd started learning lua for some nodemcu work I should be able to develop something functional. I've asked the work graphic designer to assist, so hopefully it won't end up "engineer style"

by Andrew Elwell ( at July 24, 2016 01:28 PM

Roger Bell-West

Marlow Tabletop and Board Games 4 July 2016

This new group is organised via Meetup, and I went along to the initial meeting in the Churchill Tap.

July 24, 2016 08:04 AM

July 23, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Blind Descent, Nevada Barr

1998 mystery, sixth in Barr's Anna Pigeon series, murder mysteries in US National Parks. Lechugilla Cavern is a huge and largely unexplored cave in Carlsbad Caverns National Park; whena friend and fellow ranger is injured there, Anna swallows her claustrophobia and goes in to help with the evacuation.

July 23, 2016 08:03 AM

July 22, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Summer Barbecue 2016

On a day of sun and showers, a surprising lot of us got together for beer and belly-pork.

July 22, 2016 08:04 AM

July 21, 2016

Steve Kennedy

Blink (and the thieves are gone)

There's a new home security security system, it was originally a Kickstarter project and was delayed a long time. But now it's here and it's called Blink.

There's a sync module and then camera units (the system can cope with 10 units in total i.e. 9 cameras and 1 sync unit). Currently it all works over WiFi, but as there's an Ethernet port on the sync unit, it's expected that it will be enabled with some future version of the firmware.

Set-up is relatively simple, install the iOS (or Android) app, create an account and then it will look for the sync unit (it initially uses its own WiFi), connect to it and select the WiFi network you want it to work with.

It then asks to set-up the cameras, which is done by adding the number printed inside them (you have to open them to put the batteries in anyway), they then get added (and you can name them) and they also connect to the WiFi network.

The camera install is relatively straight forward too, open the back, put in the batteries, push out the bit of plastic in the hole where the mount goes, put it all back together (snaps), put the mount on, then affix the two sided pad and stick it on a wall (or wherever suits).

Though they're battery powered, they should operate for a year under normal operating conditions. The cameras have a motion detection on them (infrared red) and also an LED flash (for night time usage) which is VERY bright. If a burglar were to break in, they'd probably be more put off by being blinded rather than a camera being in the room. The cameras can take a photo or video (720p with audio) and the system can be alarmed and when triggered, your phone will notify you and get a video or photo.

People have used the cameras outside, but they're not waterproof so if that's required, mount them somewhere where they'll be protected from direct rain (like under the eaves or similar).

A single sync module and camera costs $99 (available from or directly from Blink), a 2 camera kit is $159, 3 camera kit $219 and 5 camera kit $399. Additional cameras are $70. Unfortunately they don't seem to be directly available in the UK yet (though Blink will ship to the UK).

by Steve Karmeinsky ( at July 21, 2016 07:45 PM

Liam Proven

Would anyone like to buy my Blackberry?

I am reluctant, but I have to sell this lovely phone.

It's a 32GB, fully-unlocked Blackberry Passport running the latest OS. It's still in support and receiving updates.

The sale includes a PDAir black leather folding case which is included in the price -- one of these:

It is used but in excellent condition and fully working. I have used both Tesco Mobile CZ and UK EE micro SIM cards and both worked perfectly.

The keyboard is also a trackpad and can be used to scroll and select text. The screen is square and hi-resolution -- the best I have ever used on a smartphone.

It runs the latest Blackberry 10 OS, which has the best email client on any pocket device. It can also run some Android apps and includes the Amazon app store. I side-loaded the Google Play store but not all apps for standard Android work. I am happy to help you load this if you want.

It is 100% usable without a Google, Apple or Microsoft account, if you are concerned about privacy issues.

It supports Blackberry Messenger, obviously, and has native clients for Twitter and other social networks -- I used Skype, Reddit, Foursquare and Untappd, among others. I also ran Android clients for Runkeeper, Last.FM and several other services. Facebook, Google+ and others are usable via their web interfaces.

I will do a full factory reset before handing it over.

It has a microSD slot for additional storage if you need it.

It is about a year old and has been used, so the battery is not good as new, but it still lasts much longer than the Android phablet that replaced it!

You can see it and try it before purchase if you wish.

Reason for sale: I needed more apps. :-( I do not speak Czech and I need Google Translate and Google Maps almost every day.

Note: no mains adaptor included but it charges over micro-USB, so any charger will work, although it complains about other phone brand's chargers -- but they still work.

IKEA sell a cheap multiport one:

You can see photos of my device here:

This is the Flickr album, or click on the photo above.

I am hoping for CzK 10000 but I am willing to negotiate.

Contact details on my profile page, or email lproven on Google Mail.

July 21, 2016 05:39 PM

Roger Bell-West

Endless Blue, Wen Spencer

2007 science fiction. The starship Fenrir was lost ten years ago to a misjump, but its warp engine has just reappeared in open space… embedded in coral, and accompanied by three dead bodies and a fishing boat. Captain Mikhail Ivanovich Volkov takes the frigate Svoboda to find out where the Fenrir has been.

July 21, 2016 08:03 AM

July 20, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Pyramid 92: Zombies

Pyramid, edited by Steven Marsh, is the monthly GURPS supplement containing short articles with a loose linking theme. This time it's zombies.

July 20, 2016 08:04 AM

July 19, 2016

Liam Proven

Respinning Linux -- Linux as a tool for bringing Internet access to the socially-disadvantaged

I found this post interesting:

"Respinning Linux"

It led me to comment as follows...

Have you folks encountered LXLE? It's a special version of Lubuntu, the lightest-weight of the official Ubuntu remixes, optimised for older hardware.

Cinnamon is a lot less than ideal, because it uses a desktop compositor. This requires hardware OpenGL. If the graphics driver doesn't do this, it emulates it using a thing called "LLVMpipe". This process is slow & uses a lot of CPU bandwidth. This is true of all desktops based on GNOME 3 -- including Unity, Elementary OS, RHEL/CentOS "Gnome Classic", SolusOS's Consort, and more. All are based on Gtk 3.

In KDE, it is possible to disable the compositor, but it's still very heavyweight.

The mainstream desktops that do not need compositing at all are, in order of size (memory footprint), from largest to smallest:
* Maté
* Xfce

All are based on Gtk 2, which has now been replaced with Gtk 3.

Of these, LXDE is the lightest, but it is currently undergoing a merger with the Razor-Qt desktop to become LXQt. This may be larger & slower when finished -- it's too soon to tell.

However, of the 3, this means it has a brighter-looking future because it will be based on a current toolkit. Neither Maté nor Xfce have announced firm migration paths to Gtk 3 yet.

July 19, 2016 05:04 PM

Roger Bell-West

Endangered Species, Nevada Barr

1997 mystery, fifth in Barr's Anna Pigeon series, murder mysteries in US National Parks. After the events of the previous book, Anna's sent to Cumberland Island Park for "pre-suppression" fire duty, and a bit of a lighter posting. But she and another ranger spot a plume of smoke, which turns out to be the fresh wreckage of the island's drug-interdiction plane.

July 19, 2016 08:02 AM

July 18, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Angie Tribeca, season 1

2016 police parody, 10 episodes. Detective Angie Tribeca solves crimes in the RHCU, the Really Heinous Crimes Unit.

July 18, 2016 08:01 AM

July 17, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Sweet Danger, Margery Allingham

1933 classic English detective fiction; fifth of Allingham's novels of Albert Campion. The Fitton family operate a run-down watermill in Suffolk, but may be the forgotten heirs of Averna, a tiny European principality that may suddenly be terribly important. US vtt Kingdom of Earth and The Fear Sign.

July 17, 2016 08:04 AM

July 16, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Summer Stabcon 2016

This long-running games convention started off as a Diplomacy gathering. These days it's a blend of board-gaming and roleplaying. With images; cc-by-sa on everything.

July 16, 2016 08:04 AM

July 15, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Firestorm, Nevada Barr

1996 mystery, fourth in Barr's Anna Pigeon series, murder mysteries in US National Parks. Anna's called in to help fight a wildfire in Lassen Volcanic National Park, but the wind shifts and a firestorm overtakes the team. When they come out of their protective tents, one of them's been stabbed in the back.

July 15, 2016 08:04 AM

July 14, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Back to School at Dartmouth in space

For my latest RPG campaign, Wives and Sweethearts, I've been trying something a little different, making extensive use of the rules from GURPS Social Engineering: Back to School.

July 14, 2016 08:04 AM

July 13, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Swastika Night, Katherine Burdekin

1937 feminist alternate history. Seven centuries after Nazi victory, women are uneducated cattle, and men have eliminated history, books, and creativity.

July 13, 2016 08:02 AM

July 12, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Leaving Earth money board

As will have become apparent, I'm a big fan of Joe Fatula's boardgame Leaving Earth. The thing that's most fiddly, though, is money: you reset your funds to a standard level at the start of each turn, which means lots of passing paper banknotes back and forth.

July 12, 2016 08:01 AM

July 11, 2016

Roger Bell-West

Ill Wind, Nevada Barr

1995 mystery, third in Barr's Anna Pigeon series, murder mysteries in US National Parks. Visitors to Mesa Verde Park and the Anasazi cliff dwellings have been coming away with a strange and deadly illness.

July 11, 2016 08:04 AM