Well, That Was Close! (Part 2)

Having just about recovered from nearly trashing my email setup, I was left with a problem. The machine I use 90% of the time [using it to type this] was running the older Mint 18.3, with a version of Claws-Mail I could not use any more… What to do? Well, the obvious answer was upgrade Mint to 19.0…

And to do this, the Mint Team have produced a helpful and very short, slick automated upgrade utility. So I downloaded and launched it, but the first thing it wanted me to do was to perform a local backup, using “TimeShift”, the integrated system backup utility. I tried. Unfortunately, my system was demanding 19.4Gb of space for a single backup – and the largest ext4 partition on my system is 16Gb. Ain’t gonna happen.

Still… the process looked pretty easy. What could possibly go wrong???

Um: everything? At first the update went very smoothly… All files downloaded and checked out. I ran all the “test” scenarios and saw no issues being flagged. All looked good. But when it came to the “point of no return”: disaster. The upgrade process got itself into a loop because of unfulfilled dependencies and eventually crapped out on me.

Bother.

This particular machine happens to be a system that dual boots with Windows 10… I needed to have this working properly. Nothing to it, then, except to upgrade the old fashioned way, by using installation media and over-writing the 18.3 system from scratch.

A process which blew up on me just as it was attempting to write the boot-loader [the system startup file] to disk. And, just to make me happy, it did this in a way which trashed not just the Mint system, but Windows 10, too.

Dead system. Deceased. Monty Python Dead Parrot sketch. You get the idea.

Oh crap: now what? Well, it turns out that I wasn’t the first to have this issue with grub. Mint spotted the problem and updated their ISO file… I was trying to use v1, not the later v2. So: boot to another machine; download the v2 image file; attempt another installation using v2 and…. I have a fully recovered, fully working machine.

In fairness, if that had failed, I could have recovered with a complete wipe of the entire SSD, a re-install of Windows 10 and then a clean install of Mint 19.0. But, with much of the licensed software on the Windows image having number-of-installation restrictions, I really didn’t want to have to do that if I could avoid it.

Thanks, Mint Team, that was close.

And: I know trouble comes in threes… but I think two scares is entirely enough for me to be getting along with for now. Thanks.

FootNote:
I dropped a brief email to Tony George, the author of the Timeshift archive utility, to ask him if there was something I was doing wrong that prevented the utility from “seeing” the NTFS partition contained on this particular machine.

It turns out that Timeshift needs and uses meta-data that it obtains from the ext4 file system. NTFS literally doesn’t store the attributes that Timeshift needs, hence Timeshift can’t work with NTFS volumes.

Good to know, although I now need to decide if I’m going to replace the single large NTFS volume in this machine with a pair at half that size, one still NTFS and one as ext4. It kinda makes sense.

A Question of Earth-Shattering Importance

This last weekend I met some friends for lunch. Over a fantastic afternoon, one of the topics that came up for discussion was the movie “Blade Runner 2049“, starring Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford.

This led to the supremely important question from the original movie: Is Deckard (Harrison Ford’s Character) a Replicant?

Spoiler Alert:

In narrow, simplistic terms: yes, yes he is. But – it’s just a tad more complex than that.

Before we dive in to the complexity, however, here’s a brief explanation – and proof – that the above statement is at least partially true. In a televised interview, made after the release of BR2049, Ridley Scott explicitly confirms that the “movie version” of Deckard is a Replicant.

He explains that in the middle of the film there is a scene in which Deckard sits at a piano, in his apartment, where he dreams. The dream sequence is of a verdant, grassy meadow with a unicorn galloping gently towards the camera.

Then, in the closing scene of the film, where Deckard is “escaping” with Rachael, we see him scout the way as he escorts her to the elevator in his apartment building. He turns back to check that they are alone and spots a tiny origami unicorn, placed on the floor just outside Deckard’s apartment. At that moment we hear Gaff (the always-awesome Edward James Olmos) calling out as if from a distance, “It’s a pity she won’t live!”

The first scene mentioned here clearly shows the view that Deckard is experiencing a dream. The second also shows us that Gaff knows the content of the dream and has found a way to let Deckard “know that he knows”. Obviously, the only way that Gaff could know about Deckard’s dream would be if Deckard were a Replicant. Earlier in the movie the viewer is given another example of this – when Deckard applies the Voight-Kampf test to Rachael, they discuss her dream about the spiders – a “memory” implanted in Rachael but which Deckard had been briefed on. The unicorn dream is the same approach applied to Deckard and Gaff.  Given the perceived threat of rogue Replicants, it’s conceivable that Gaff would at some point have been asked to “retire” Deckard – the origami unicorn at the apartment was Gaff’s way of saying, “Get out of here – scram – I’m not going to ‘retire’ you…”

 

All of which – but in particular Ridley’s comments in the linked YouTube clip, give us a very definitive answer – for the movies. However, that’s not the whole story.

Blade Runner itself [the original] was based on a book, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”,  by Philip K. Dick. In the book, at least, this question was never definitively resolved. The origami we see in the film was a device added to the story, by Scott, with the specific intention of answering this question – but in a really subtle way.

I am still searching for a quotation from Philip K. Dick on the subject and will update this post if I find one I can link to.

Was Deckard a Replicant or a human? Yes, he was definitely one of those.

Trouble Comes In Threes – Part Three: Amazon

OK… so having been left with a dead printer in the wake of the complete fiasco of Microsoft’s recent Windows Update, I needed a replacement. A check of Amazon’s various offerings and the shortlist narrowed to an OfficeJet 8210 (basically the latest version of the unit that had just died). Now, in fairness, you might be wondering: hang on, if you’ve just had one HP printer trash itself under very suspicious circumstances, why would you throw more money at HP? Are you mad?

Well, yes. I did quite a bit of research, looking at offerings from Epson, Canon and the closest I could get in terms of specification was the Epson EcoTank ET-4500. On the positive side of things, it comes with vast ink tanks – and the ability to buy bottles of ink that top up the tanks at an extremely reasonable cost. As a bonus it has a good quality epson scanner – even with a paper feeder – built in. On the down side it is not cheap [£350], but the clincher was that it has a reputation for poor print quality, where the HP is always super-crisp.

Do I print so much that the economy of the Epson would make a big difference? No. Do I need the scanner? No. And the clincher was that I could buy five of the HP printers for the price of one of the Epsons… Even if the HP died at a year old… it would still work out cheaper than if the Epson lasted 4 years…

OK, decision made, I ordered one, from a very well-reviewed Amazon reseller, at 11:19am on Sunday 18th March.

At 09:42 on Monday 19th March [the next day] I received an email to tell me that the printer had been dispatched by Royal Mail and was expected by Thursday, 22nd March.

Thursday came round. No printer.
Friday. Nothing.
Saturday. Zip, zilch.
Sunday. Nada.

OK, time for a polite check with the reseller… I dropped them an email to ask if I might have the Shipping Number from Royal Mail, so I could trace the printer. I received a reply within 30 minutes, to say that there was nobody in the office on Sunday [the message picked up on a mobile phone] but that I would have a reply first thing Monday. Well, can’t argue with that…

At 10:32 on Monday 26th March I received an email from the reseller which read,

Thank you for your recent order. However, the following items are on Back Order with our Suppliers and not due in for another month.

I a very sorry regarding this.

1x D9L63A#A81 – HP OfficeJet Pro 8210 Printer Instant Ink Compatible

Are you happy to wait for these to come back in to stock, or would you like to me to locate an alternative for you? If you prefer, I can refund these items for you. If you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to contact us.”

Wait, what? I got an email exactly one week previously, telling me that you had shipped this printer. Now I ask you where it has got to, you tell me that you never had it in the first place? What the #### is going on? I was properly angry. It’s not the first time I’ve had an issue with an Amazon reseller – and although I’ll never be able to prove it, I have a suspicion that what some do is to claim shipment [to get Amazon to pay them], order the goods from a wholesaler, then ship them out once they arrive. Easy and requires no up-front cash. OK, time to complain to Amazon.

I wrote Amazon quite the snot-o-gram, mainly because I was angry with them for allowing this dubious practice and for deducting money from my credit card when they had not received any evidence from the reseller to show that the goods had actually shipped. I received an acknowledgement from Amazon [not a copy of my email] at 12:10 on Monday 26th.

At 13:44, I received another email from Amazon, telling me that I had asked for a refund and that in so doing, my comments had been, “Did not receive full order, after dispatching and charging why you said the item is due for another one month, hence filing for a full refund.” Except: I had not asked for a refund – in fact my note to the reseller had asked them to explain what they proposed to do to rectify the issue – and I most certainly had not written the words attributed to me in the Amazon email….

What the #### was going on?

I immediately wrote a brief note to the reseller to let them know that I had not initiated a refund request – that this was all Amazon’s doing – and that I was still waiting to hear from them…

At 14:40 on Monday 26th, I received a full explanation from the reseller, which reads,

Apologies it was marked as dispatched by Amazon, they do not have access to our tracking therefore they estimate and assume.

Would you like to cancel the order or are you okay to wait?”

Wait, what? Are you telling me that Amazon just “decided” that the reseller had shipped the printer, and decided to bill me anyway? Yes, apparently. That is exactly what the reseller was telling me.

Stop and think about that for a moment… Amazon handle the order, pass the details to the reseller – and then, entirely by themselves, decide when they think the reseller will ship the goods – and then they bill the customer for the goods. They have absolutely no evidence that the reseller has in fact shipped the goods. But, by billing the customer’s credit card, they grab the money and put it in their bank account immediately.

Then, at some point [and it isn’t clear to me how or when this happens] Amazon gives the reseller the value of the order, less the commission they [Amazon] take from the sale. So why would they operate like this? They communicate the order details to the reseller, surely they have the means to allow the reseller to log in to a page and confirm shipment?

No.

And here’s why. When you think about the number of orders placed with resellers every single day, the sums of money must run to tens or hundreds of millions of pounds [and dollars, euro’s, yuan, yen and so on]. By taking the money from the customer – and then perhaps not paying the reseller for a couple of days – Amazon get the opportunity to “overnight” that money. What does that mean? It means that they put it up as collateral [it’s not their money – no risk to them!] for overnight loans, likely facilitated by their bank and most likely using something like LIBOR [the London Inter-Bank Overnight Rate]. In other words, if a bank or major borrower needs short-term liquidity, they can borrow money literally for one night. The duration is short, but the size of the loans are so huge [to balance the books] that a worthwhile amount of interest can be charged. Exept, of course, that anyone offering the money for a loan is going to earn a nice little bit of interest. Amazon would be able to earn interest on other people’s money.

In Summary
Amazon are ripping everyone off. They are sending emails as confirmation of shipment, yet doing so with no evidence that goods have been shipped. They are taking money from clients.

Section Two of The Fraud Act of 2006 notes that Fraud can occur by false representation:-

2  Fraud by false representation
(1)A person is in breach of this section if he—
(a)dishonestly makes a false representation, and
(b)intends, by making the representation—
(i)to make a gain for himself or another, or
(ii)to cause loss to another or to expose another to a risk of loss.

(2)A representation is false if—
(a)it is untrue or misleading, and
(b)the person making it knows that it is, or might be, untrue or misleading.

(3)“Representation” means any representation as to fact or law, including a  representation as to the state of mind of—
(a)the person making the representation, or
(b)any other person.

(4)A representation may be express or implied.

(5)For the purposes of this section a representation may be regarded as made if it (or anything implying it) is submitted in any form to any system or device designed to receive, convey or respond to communications (with or without human intervention).

So: when Amazon tell you that goods have shipped – and charge your card – with no knowledge of whether or not that has happened, are they committing fraud? You be the judge.

Bastards. Utter, utter Bastards.

2017 Pedal Car Grand Prix

This year the Pedal Car Grand Prix returned to town [it alternates with Ringwood] and once again the turnout and enthusiasm of both Teams and spectators was exceptional. It was a fiercely hot day – exhausting just to wander round taking photographs, so spare a thought for the contestants. We had a couple of minor spills and quite a few “racing incidents” – let’s just say that the “sin bin” saw a fair few visitors this year… On the whole, though, it was an entertaining spectacle and as popular as ever.

I took the opportunity to try out the Olympus OM-D EM-1 MkII “focus tracking”… To start with I found this to be remarkable fiddly – for example, give it an approaching pedal car and it will generally select the front of the car itself [usually the logo or race number] as the target. However, as the subject draws closer, so the camera’s built-in facial recognition software kicks in and the moment that it detects a person in the vehicle, the focus would automatically adjust. A little bit of patience and a lot of faith were certainly required. On the other hand, 16fps continuous shooting, with a ludicrously large capture buffer meant that burst-mode shooting was the order of the day.

The last time I was here I had my Canon EOS 7D with a 24-70mm lens [38-112mm equivalent] and I probably kept 2-3 images. This year I was using the Olympus with the 40-150mm lens [80-300mm equivalent] and I reckon that more than 60% were sharp enough to look to keep… OK, the Canon is quite a bit older, but it’s amazing to see how far the technology has moved.

Marvel-less Marwell

Having recently treated myself to a new lens (the ridiculously good Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm f2.8 Pro), I was in search of something interesting to go point it at when I saw an article relating to Marwell Zoological Park…

And no, before you wonder what a UK zoo has to do with the comic/movie mega-franchise, the answer is nothing. In fact, the title of this post is a reference to the remarkably dreary experience of visiting what is supposed to be one of the UK’s premiere wildlife attractions. The animals were listless, lifeless and looked to be mostly bored. The enclosures were poorly maintained and dirty, the “viewing areas” – most of which were glazed rather than fenced off with wired netting – included filthy glass covered with hand-prints, smeared ice-cream or chocolate and were overlooking empty views. I’d estimate that something like 20-25% of the exhibits were closed. I only bothered trying one cafeteria, which seemed to be offering a good range of hot food – but soggy and tasteless sandwiches [more fool me] all charged at obscene prices.

It was interesting to go somewhere different, but I came away wishing I’d spent my £20 admission and ~ £7 lunch money going somewhere slightly less oppressive. Oh well. Not many shots pulled out just yet – I took about 220 and just skimmed through quickly looking for a few examples. Lens did spectacularly well. Anything of less than stunning quality here is either as a consequence of the subject being a *long* way back [Snow Leopard, for example] or thanks to the idiot operating the camera…