Crypto-Gram security podcast

Today the Crypto-Gram 15th December podcast episode dropped into my podcatcher. This podcast is a reading of Bruce Schneier’s monthly Crypto-Gram Security Newsletter.

Bruce Schneier is a renowned American cryptographer, computer security professional, privacy specialist and writer. Dan Henage reads the latest newsletter and provides it as a podcast feed as a service to the security and IT community. The newsletter is a monthly summary of all the security topics that have caught Bruce’s attention. So it is a terrific resource to keep up to date on the major security news and topics of the day.

Crytpo-Gram can be found on the Schneier on Security blog and the podcast can be found on Dan Henage’s Libsyn feed.

Time to think

On Christmas break, with time off work, once the hectic preparations and celebrations are through, it leaves more time to think than during the usual hectic daily travails. For instance if you listen to a story, read an article or watch a drama, much of the joy or learning comes through pondering over what’s been experienced.

With the constant ‘on’ of modern life it can be easy to fall into the trap of constant stimulation and give little time to contemplation. Although this drinking (frantic gulping) from the constant torrent of life, might appear to be a constant stream of gratification, it may offer little satisfaction.

There’s a continuum between no time for thought and contemplation, and too much time to think. Overthinking things is not healthy. Some where in midway along the continuum lies sanity and happiness.

Well that’s about enough of that, probably the result of having to much time to think.

Paying Old Debts

Today’s podcast highlight was StarShip Sofa episode 569. This weeks show featured Gerri Leen’s story “Paying Old Debts”. There’s a first person noir protagonist who happens to be an advanced form of android (who can use contractions). A lot is packed into this story, there is a question of justice, morals and how to work within the rules but still achieve the end goal. There are no ‘three laws of robotics’ at play here; it does bring to mind the Asimov robot short stories, but this android has a very different set of constraints. An excellent story well worth a listen.

As a bonus this also has Jim Campanella’s Science News bulletin including this month’s ‘Idiot Scientist of the Month’ feature, where we get to learn about CRISPR and why it may not be a good idea to use it on the human genome.

Creative Clamping

I bought this blue Stagg guitar a while back, my children (now all adults) learned to play on this guitar, it has given excellent service for the £70 I payed. It had a hard life, but finally succumbed to having a set of heavy electric guitar strings applied. This broke the glue bonding the bridge to the body, pulling the bridge away more than a third of the way across. This messed up the tuning and intonation, raised the bridge, bent the neck forward, so messed up the action, to a point where it has become unplayable.

The guitar seemed to good to throw out, but I had no idea how to fix it and it wasn’t worth paying for it to be fixed, as it cost so little originally, and was never a high quality instrument. Having watched Jerry Rosa on his Rosa String Works channel bring similarly damaged guitars back to life, I thought I would try repairing the blue guitar using some of the techniques he applies.

First of all I removed the strings, relieving the tension. Once this was done I checked the neck with a straight edge. As best I can tell it appears to be straight. Using the edge of a woodworking square I checked for raised frets. There appears to be only one fret standing proud, so that may require some attention, but it looks like I can probably sort that out. But first the damage at the bridge end needed to be sorted, which has been this afternoon’s project.

excess finish and top ply carved and cleaned ready for reassembly

I had to lever the saddle out from the bridge using a sharp chisel as it was a very snug fit. The saddle is a plastic moulding, so in keeping with the price payed. Then the piezo pickup below the bridge had to be pushed back into the body so that it could not be damaged. After that I applied heat to the bridge with a hot clothes iron until the remaining glue had softened enough to use a thin flexible knife to separate the bridge from the body.

block shaped for underside of the bridge, masking tape rolls to hold it in place while clamping

Once the bridge was removed it could be seen that it was possible the bond failed due to it only being glued down in the middle. The finish on the front was under the edges of the saddle so it was never fully glued down. The front of the guitar turned out to be plywood, where the original glue had worked, the bonding of the top ply had failed before the glue. To get a good flat surface for a new bond I had to remove the excess finish and the remaining shreds of top ply. This will drop the bridge by about 1 mm, however since the action was high this might still be acceptable.

Unconventional, creative clamping with automotive repair equipment, and glazing wedges.

To re-glue the bridge I needed to clamp it down whilst the glue set. It needed a deep clamp to reach in through the sound hole and hold the it fast whilst the glue dries. None of my kit was suitable, but a good friend loaned me a valve spring compressor with a deep enough reach. To use this unconventional luthier’s tool I had to make an odd shaped block to fit under the bridge inside the body and cut a piece of CLS to pack out the top. I then used a couple of glaziers wedges (I knew I’d find a use for them one day) to hold down the ends of the saddle. This was all set up dry, then once it was proven I coated both the body and the bridge with strong wood adhesive and reassembled the clamp. On the final clamp up there was some excess that needed wiping up, after that it is a case of waiting until tomorrow to see if it has bonded successfully.

Tomorrow I will need to see if I can contrive some sort of levelling bar to deal with that raised fret. Friday new strings are due to arrive, so it may be possible to get a working instrument by the weekend.

P.S. Edited to get the terms saddle and bridge the right way around.


Having succumbed to the Christmas lurgy that traditionally appears this time of year, neither of us are in an acceptable state to celebrate the new year with friends (definitely not wanting to give this particular bug to friends, it would not be good way to start a year), we are partaking in a Game of thrones marathon. The perhaps ‘soon to be no more’ HMV were offering the 7 Disk Blue-ray box set in their sale and it proved to be irresistible (as it means not having paid for Sky for 7 years, it’s a bargain).

Given the opening scenes of Game of Thrones one of my Christmas presents seemed a particularly appropriate accompaniment to this new year’s eve activity, ‘Beheaded – strong ale -‘. This is a decidedly excellent Cornish ale. Keltek Brewey‘s own description of the beer is very accurate.

Beheaded. Our strongest ale; dark and deceptive with a smooth slightly sweet first impression and none of the alcoholic twang often associated with strong beers. It’s complex indulgent flavour is legendary.

Well I wouldn’t say legendary, that must be hyperbole, as according to the label the brewery has only existed since 1997. So not quite time to be legendary … yet; but it is damn fine beer all the same.

How to listen to podcasts

Well, Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode on their eponymous film review podcast would say “You just listen to podcasts”. For the uninitiated, this is their standard response to any tech. related question, such say “How do you Snapchat?”. However the way I listen to podcasts has changed considerably since I first discovered them, and it certainly wasn’t that easy back in 2006.

My first discovery of podcasts came soon after winning a 2GB iPod Nano from a prize draw that I was inadvertently entered into for buying a Virgin Lobster phone back in 2006. I needed a discrete mobile to chase interviews for a new job at the time, so just bought the lowest cost small pay as you go phone and two weeks later received the iPod in the post. A very nice surprise.

Although most people would have used iTunes to fill their iPod I was using Ubuntu Linux at the time and had to use a pod-catcher, GPodder I think, to collect the episodes. Then they had to be transferred to the iPod, that involved installing some other software to manage the proprietary Apple file transfer.

By the time the iPod died in 2008 (inevitable as my pocket has proven to be an arduous place for technology to survive), I had a more capable Nokia 6800 (the Batman phone) that could also play MP3s; so this became the target for my pod-catcher’s transfers.

Once I moved on to my HTC Desire S, with the Android OS, I tried a number of pod-catcher apps eventually settling upon Pocket Casts. The podcast app made things so much easier with episodes downloading automatically whenever WiFi was available. I’ve stuck with Pocket Casts since and it has improved with further updates, an is now on version 7.

The Bugle

“An audio newspaper for a visual world”

The Bugle is a weekly dose of satire from Andy Zaltzman and a rota of regular co-hosts. The podcast was started by Andy and John Oliver back in 2007, but was relaunched in 2016 with the guest co-hosts in place of John after his US success made it impossible for him to contribute.

Definitely ‘Not Suitable for Work’ the irreverent and often surreal satire pulls no punches. Often the shows are capped off with a cringe inducing pun run.

This week’s episode being a review of the last 6 months is an ideal opportunity to sample the show as it features excerpts from most of the regular hosts.

The Bugle can be found on The Bugle website where links to the feeds can be found. The Bugle is part of Radiotopia a collective of independent podcasters.

Single-use plastics

Single-use plastics has been a hot topic this year. David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II has really brought the problem of single use plastics to the fore in the UK.

Meanwhile back in October the European Parliament emphatically backed (by 571 votes to 53) the European Commission’s proposed directive to ‘clampdown’ on the 10 most commonly found categories of single use plastics products found on European beaches. Details on the directive are published here.

The UK Government are making some commitments toward reducing single use plastics. Currently that mainly appears to be via plans to tax plastics that have less than 30% recycled material. The Budget claimed that the government is pursuing “a package of measures closely coordinated across government, that will deliver a sustained reduction in single-use plastics, without placing undue burden on businesses or consumers.“. This was stated in the Budget 2018 Single-use Plastics Factsheet. I suspect that there’s more rhetoric than commitment from the current government, with all their Brexit debacle distraction. Fortunately if consumer sentiment persists at the current level, that is likely to have more impact on the end of single-use plastics.

We will all have to adjust to a life with more considered use of plastics. The one single-use plastic innovation that I am struggling to see an alternative to, is plastic dental floss applicators. Prior to these becoming available I’ve really struggled to use dental floss. Fortunately dental floss applicators are not on the EU hit list, according to their factsheet, so I’m OK for now; hopefully someone will invent a suitable alternative.

Funds vs Shares

I’ve been actively learning about investing since 2014. Although primarily interested in investing in shares I have recently been investigating Funds. Funds invest on behalf of the fund holders into a diverse range of investments. There are a wide variety of Funds with different goals.

As a ‘retail’ investor I have more limited options in how I invest than a fund manager would. Fund managers have other markets they can access, such as investing in non-listed companies, infrastructure or property. Depending on the rules/constitution of a fund its managers can also access other financial instruments such as currency hedging or leverage (borrowing to invest).

There has been some debate about tracking funds, which follow market indexes, versus active funds that have managers making decisions that hope to outperform the market. Given the recent trouncing of share prices in the UK and US stock markets, it will be interesting to see if these tracking funds remain in favour.

Close run thing

Following a busy Boxing Day there is only 15 minutes left to get a blog post in. A buffet lunch with the family involving recipes from Nigel Slater along with game pie and the Christmas cabbage. We had three of the recipes from the ‘Nigel Slater’s 12 Tastes of Christmas‘ program involving salmon, mushroom and nut burger things followed by a fruit salad with pistachio nut ginger snaps.

We finished up the evening with games and a Christmas pub quiz that had been shared at work, whilst drinking Saxby’s Sloe Gin Slider over ice.