SteveDickinson
Quintic
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Quintic

First a Quintic is the lowest order polynomial for which there is no known fomulatic solution. Chose Quintic as the name for my first Company, as there were five of us, and we were a disperate lot. Not surprisingly after 3.5 years there was a split. That instance of the Company was finally disolved in or around 2015.

In 2016 I started up another company called Quintic, just because I liked the name. its web site, (but not the company) is still active at www.quintic.co.uk

And, finally, if you search Google or, better still, DuckDuckGo for” Quintic Cambridge” you will not get any references to the 1995 Quintic company. Oh Yes!!!

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Printers

This blog is place for me to dump information about Printers. Over the years I have used a variety of printers. Initially (1995 – 2000) Epson was my manufacturer of choice, predominantly because of quality of print. For a short period I dallied with HP, because the convenience, but the quality of both their printers and print was not that good. More recently I have favoured Canon. Predominantly because of print quality, (I undertake a lot of Photographic printing) but the printers themselves are good quality and very reasonably priced.

All printers I have used for photographic work have been inkjet. I have had laser printers, but these were mono and used for business documents and correspondance. The quality of the the laser printers for text was way better than inkjet and faster print runs, but once my business model changed so that I was producing fewer reports I could not justify the cost .

When I say I could not justify the cost, the problem was the cost of the laser printers themselves. I was never at the top end, and I found at the level I was purchasing the feed mechanisms would wear out. The cost of replacing the feed mechanism was of the same order of cost as buying a new printer, which meant replacing the printer every four to five years.

That said, this was back in the early 2000’s so maybe things are different now.

However back to today. As I mentioned, for me now, Canon is the manufacturer of choice. I have two printers:

  • PIMXA MG5650
  • PIXMA Pro 100S

Pixma MG5650
Pixma MG5650
PIXMA Pro 100S
PIXMA Pro 100S

The MG5650 is the work-horse, text documents, scanning, and some photographic work – it does have individual cartridges for Cyan, Mageneta and Yellow, and produces acceptable images, but for my main photographic prints I use the Pro 100S. Supberb images upto A3 and at an acceptable throughput, once you have got past the startup time – which is annoyingly slow. (Canon claims a A3 image print takes 90 secs. I haven’t timed it, but that seems about right).

Loading Photographic paper in the rear feed is a little tricky, the paper has to be seated correctly in the guides, which you might think is obvious, but unfortuately, it is way too easy to sit the paper behind the guides, in which case it will not feed. And as an FYI, photographic paper is loaded print side up.

Canon Cartidges

As I said I like Canon’s print quality, and part of that quality is, obviously, down to their inks. However their cartidges are hordenously expensive. This year I did bite the bullet and tried the LCL equivalent cartidges both in the Pixma MG5650 (551’s) and Pixma Pro 100S (42’s).

So far, no problems. The cartidges have functioned perfectly, quality looks just as good, and they are at least a 1/3rd the price. Don’t get me wrong, I would prefer to stick with Canon, if only for the confidence of knowing that, should there be a problem, then I have a better chance of getting a resolution. However the price of the Canon cartidges is just too high. At full set of cartidges for the Pro 100S is basically £90. OK there are eight, but even so that, as an on going expence, is too high.

Another computer is using the printer

This is an error message that I have been getting with irritating regularity. I try to print from my Windows PC to my Canon printer and whilst it returns the status of the printer and ink cartidges, it refuses to print because it believes the printer is in use by another computer.

I searched the web to try to find a solution, and it appears that the problem has been around for some time. Since at least 2014. Microsoft say the problem is with Canon, and their usual suggestion is to reload the printer driver. Canon say the problem is with Windows, and their usual suggestion is to reboot the PC. Another suggestion, from a User with the problem, is to power off the printer at the socket, and then switch back on.

I finally came across the real culprit (at least for me it is), and that is the Print Spooler. To fix the problem on Windows 10. Type Control Panel in the windows search box and select the App. Go to:

Control Panel>System and Security>Administrative Tools>Services.

Scroll down to Print Spooler and stop and start this service.

Works for me every time.

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A Contract for the Web

A Contract for the Web

Tim Berners Lee launches Contract for the Web here. I hope that, if you are reading this blog, you have actually looked into what Contract for the Web is all about. Your first thoughts might be that it’s about ‘Nice’ people trying to achieve ‘nice’ things. You know, Parish councellors organising a litter pick up on News Years day. In fact it isn’t like that at all (or at least I am hoping it isn’t) . It is far more thought out than that, the contract is detailed, specific and, in large parts, measurable.

This last part is particularly important, because you know that initially everyone and their dog is going to sign up, at least in terms of governments that consider themselves democratic, and internet focused companies that want to publicize the fact that are Internet Friendly.

For the Contract to have any teeth, it has to be enforced. For it to be enforced you need to be able to demonstrate when someone (Government, Company, Individual) has breached the contract. To demonstrate that a breach has occured you need a defined framework against which conduct can be measured.

However, whilst having the contract specifics measureable is a pre-requisite of being able to enforce the contract. Of itself it is not enough. You need a policing agency to investigate posisible breaches, a judicary to decide if a breach has actually occured, and a proportionate consequence to breaching the code ( Reputational damage).

Early days, but let us hope that the Worlod Wide Web Foundation has the teeth to make this contract bite.

Sign up

I have signed up to the contract. I would urge everyone to do likewise. I believe that we need to stop Governments using the web for control of information, from spreading disinformation and for using it to spy on individuals. We need it to stop companies becoming more powerful than countries on the back of providing conduits for spreading mis-information, hurtful content, and stealing and selling private information, and we need it to eliminate the vitriol of bigotry and racism that individuals feel justifed in terrorising others with because they hold different views, or are from different backgrounds.

Leopards and Spots

However I notice, with a great deal of sceptism, that Google and Facebook have already signed up. I suspect as well that they have made substantial donations to the foundation. Let’s see if these particular Leopards can change their spots. If not, we are back to enforcement, and which counts for more, the contract or the donations.

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Home Appliance Insurance scam

7-Nov-2019. Just had a scam phone call from Jade at ‘Home Guard Care’ or some such company, informing me that my Home guard insurance policy had just expired, but as I hadn’t made a claim in the previous two years I could renew at a reduced price of £90.00 for two years, down from the £108 I paid two years ago.

Trouble is I do not have an insuance policy with this crowd. Now, according to Jade, I made a payment to this lot on November 5 2017. When I asked Jade to stay on the line whilst I went to check, Jade hung up.

This is the second time this lot has tried this scam. The phone number was withheld so I am unable to trace it back. Not that it makes much difference, because the phone numbers used are usually ‘one-off’s.

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WordPress

Intro

I developed this Web site, along with Quintic utilising WordPress. Initially I incorporated WordPress into my own, self generated web site as a means of providing bloging functionality. I subsequently took the plunge and merged the two aspects of the site to produce an integrated web site. However, I was very specific about my site should look and interact.

There are a plethora of themes available with WordPress, and potentially one of them could have provided the look and feel that I desired. Indeed it is even conceivable that the default themes form WordPress could be readily customised to do what I wanted. Trouble is I did not know enough about WordPress to know how to verify if either of those two scenarios were possible.

So instead I decided to write my own theme. This blog is, in part, a historic recollection of my experience and the knowledge gained, and in part an actual day to day diary of what I have done.

Security

I had already taken the general advice on securing the site.

  • Access to Admin features was restricted to a defined set of IP address
  • Apache would not serve up Directory Listings
  • Apache would not serve up file content
  • Single Admin user.
  • Installed a security plugin to monitor activity

Low and behold, the security plugin – Securi – started reporting BruteForce attacks. The attacks had not succeeded in any actaul log-ins, but what was concerning was that they were using actual UserNames. In particular the user-name I had selected for Admin (Which was not Admin!)

That was disconcerting. How had the perpetrator managed to get hold of the UserNames?

It transpires that with WordPress obtaining Usernames is actually quite easy. If you submit a request https://www.site-name.com/?author=1, then, assuming Author with Id = 1 exists, WordPress will open up a page for that user and the url will contain the actual username.

All the attacker has to do is just go through 1, 2, 3…. up to however high she/he likes and will collect a number of Usernames.

I accept that getting the usernames is only a small step towards gaining access to the site, but it is one that I would rather not be that easy to overcome. Also, if you do have users to your site, then you really should protect their information.

As it transpires there is a relatively simple solution to this issue. The following lines of code added to the sites main .htacess file will ensure that, unless you are issuing the request from an Admin site, that the request will be ignored.

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !^/wp-admin [NC]
RewriteCond %{QUERY_STRING} author=\d
RewriteRule ^ /? [L,R=301]

PCs, Tablets, Smartphones

Next major WordPress project is to make my site multi-device friendly. I have duckduckgo’d how to make WordPress sites multi-media friendly, and I’ll be honest have not got very far. I do realise there would never be an easy, works for all, solution (Even though there are a couple of plugins that suggest they can) but I was hoping for some guideance on how to achieve it.

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Alexa & Audio Station

Background

I have had a Synology DNS NAS drive now for about five years. I bought it originally as a safe, central, (relatively) fast storage for my photos, of which I have literally tens of thousands.

I also uploaded all my CDs to the NAS. it meant I could listen to my music whilst working and could play it through my Hi-Fi without having to search racks and racks of CDS looking for the one I wanted (No I did not have my CDs classified and catalogued)

Two years ago I purchased and set-up an Alexa, really just to see what these devices were like. Lets face when tablets cost between £500 and £750 and mobiles between £500 and £1000, £50 for an AI based Smart Speaker / Home Assistant is nothing.

In fact it begs one of two questions:

  1. Are they selling AI Speakers at below cost in order to capture the market?
  2. Are Tablets and Mobiles over hiked?

Anyway that aside having got my Alexa, I wanted to be able to play my music through it. And that is when the fun started.

Initial Surprise

The first problem I hit, and one that really did surprise me, is that whilst Alexa may be connected to my network, it cannot / will not talk to any devices on the network directly.

Alexa will only communicate with devices via the Cloud. So, any devices that you have that are not cloud based cannot communicate with Alexa.

Synology Audio Station

Goods news for those with a Synology NAS drive is that one of the applications that you can download is Audio Station, and Audio Station can be configured to operate with Alexa.

The bad news is that whilst configuring Audio Station to operate with Alexa is relatively easy (see XXXX), getting Alexa to work with Audio Station is a whole different ball game.

Configuration Requirements:

  1. Audio Station install on Synology DNS
  2. Audio Station configured to operate with Alexa
  3. Synology DNS configured to accept internet traffic (i.e Broadband hub configured to forward at least one open port to the DNS)
  4. SSL Certificate installed on Synology DNS (Self signed certificates are not accepted by Alexa)
  5. URL on certificate, exactly matches url given to Alexa, exactly matches URL in Audio Station Configuration
  6. Port given to Alexa matches port identified in Audio Station configuration, matches prot forewarding set up on Hub.

Note: Steps 3 – 6 are only necessary because Alexa will not talk directly to other networked devices.

Audio Station Installation