Freesteel Blog » 2009 » August

Saturday, August 29th, 2009 at 11:52 pm - - Whipping 2 Comments »

It’s quite simple. We’ve got the young Ed Miliband, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate change, keeping himself busy on jollies around the world, like a government sponsored Cory Doctorow, with no time for anything productive, such as visiting the climate camp or lying down in front of the coal trucks going into Kingsnorth power station.

But who knows? It might be possible to hold our home-grown fossil fuel corporate monsters to account from the plains of Africa, while they are busy funding professional liars to undermine the political will.

But maybe there’s some kind of relevance to negotiating with governments around the world in advance of a Copenhagen Treaty, which is actually going to look more like a suicide note of the human race when it comes around.

Here’s the email:


I emailed you earlier this week to tell you about my new website, well today marks a 100 days left until Copenhagen.

During the week people have been visiting to add their support – they realise that we need to show the strength of public feeling to get the ambitious, effective and fair deal we need.

The amount of passion I have seen in the messages of support people have left me in no doubt that we have more chance of getting a deal if we have real voices demanding action.

You may have many friends who aren’t members of the Party, and won’t receive this email so I am asking you to forward this email onto them now. Ask them to make our pledge for a deal that’s ambitious, effective and fair.

Okay. That link for actually connects to:

which then forwards it to:

So there’s some kind of weird serial number email forwarding system going on here, which shows they’re trying to track where their hits are coming from. It’s a worthwhile thing to do, but this one is very poorly implemented.

The root page for is stupidly totally blank, but it appears to be owned by Tangent Communications Plc.

At the bottom of the final destination page,, it says:

Promoted by Ray Collins, General Secretary, the Labour Party,on behalf of the Labour Party, both at 39 Victoria Street, London, SW1H 0HA.
Hosted by Tangent Labs, 32-42 East Road, London, N1 6AD, England, UK

Great! So, if this Tangent outfit control the final destination website, why do they need to stick in this incompetant intermediate web-forwarding layer to count the hits, when they could just as well count them from the destination website, possibly by using the referrer field, or a code more subtle than 100109/1666/1666/4/138/61838/7315ddb1a23831c9b808eab3d45182bd/563/ mapped to tmtid=563-100109-4-138-61838?

Or is their technology this patently crap? As it says on their jobs page:

If you’re painfully, excessively smart, have experience in php, Flex or Flash and would like to work somewhere that goes out of its way to foster ingenuity and new thinking, you’ve come to the right place. Send us your CV and a covering note telling us a bit about what you’ve invented lately.

Painful is certainly the word. And I’ll tell you what’s painful. I tried filling in the signup on, and it requires a mobile phone number. I’ve not got a mobile phone number to give it!

Field: First name is required
Field: Last name is required
Field: Postcode is required
The postcode you entered is not valid
Field: Email is required
The email you entered is not valid
Field: Mobile is required
Please enter a valid Mobile number
Field: Have your say on why we need a deal at Copenhagen is required

Normally you can work around this by using a number like 077777777, but the problem is that these excessively painfully smart people have wired in some server call on the form so it sends the number back, and checks if its a fake number.

What a lot of effort. What could they possibly require my phone number for? I’ve given them an email.

I gave up and replied to the original email, like so:

To: Ed Miliband
date: Fri, Aug 28, 2009 at 8:35 PM
subject Re: Time is running out

Not good. Why do you need a valid mobile phone number to sign up. I haven’t got one and I wouldn’t want you phoning it anyway!

Julian Todd.

Can you believe what I got back?

Here it is:

Thank you for contacting the Labour Party.

Your comments and questions are important to us.

But we will not have seen this email you sent us.

You will need to re-send your email by clicking on the link below and completing the online form.

Go to By using this form we will be better able to deal with your comments and questions in the most appropriate manner.

Thank you for contacting us.

Membership and Communications Unit

The Labour Party


Well, at least that link in the email didn’t contain some crappy redirect through taomail so they could find out how many victims didn’t give up at this point where they experienced this totally ignorant plan of deliberately discarding return mails from the few people who have taken the trouble of writing back with a potentially relevant point of view.

Who could possibly imagine this was a good idea?

Tangent Plc, while the six directors are busy draining half a million quid from the company per year, and declaring donations to the Labour Party of £6000 per year (which does not corroborate with the register), they boast:

Tangent Labs is a pure technology development business. Project teams with highly-skilled technical developers build the applications which support the clients of Tangent One and Tangent Direct. In addition Tangent Labs has a number of direct large corporate clients for which it provides bespoke project work.

The division employs 23 people and uses bespoke development methodologies to achieve high levels of innovative output….

The year saw growth in sales, team capabilities and product development. Demand for the services sold
by Tangent Direct and Tangent One accelerated the investment in TaoBase, Tangent’s proprietary technology platform. Today the platform is the cornerstone for a range of solutions which include:
* TaoBase – database design, construction and implementation;
* TaoMail – fully integrated email platform generating targeted and high volume email campaigns with a fully integrated tracking and results interface for campaign management…

Good for them. So they’re a glorified spam generator. As the Labour Party is one of their important clients, and a stupid one at that, there is a Case Study:

The organisation and funding of the Labour party is based on membership, donations and affiliations with Unions. The party has around 200 staff who support all MPs, councillors and constituencies as well as a network of activists and volunteers who are organized into campaigning groups at the time of local or national elections. With over 200,000 members, Labour needed a comprehensive communications structure that allowed them to communicate with members who in turn could deliver both national and local messages to the electorate.

Tangent was able to quickly build a communications network that can deliver a highly effective CRM solution across the party’s national and local infrastructure. Called Membersnet, this solution is available to all party members and carries personal and constituency information that is used to engage the local electorate. Membersnet allows events to be promoted at a constituency level and every party member can access, design, manage and execute a wide range of campaign materials through a single web interface. Member to member blogging, emailing and SMS messaging has been enabled and Mosaic data on voters can also be accessed through the same interface.

Membersnet has revolutionised the way that the Labour Party communicates both internally and with the public and feedback to mailings has increased by over 55%.

That’s got to be a joke.

For the record, I am not a member of the Labour Party. I’m just on their email list, having entered it into one of their forms at some point.

I do, though, have a friend who was a member of the Labour Party, and recently rejoined. Then he received this robot phone call containing a recorded message from Harriet Harman, and canceled his membership in disgust on the same day.

Marketing sucks when all you have to sell is how little you care.

Friday, August 21st, 2009 at 6:29 pm - - Machining, Whipping 3 Comments »

Martin and I had an inner cabin without a window on deck 9 of the Dana Sirena on the journey back from Denmark. We passed the time eating and drinking beer in the cabin and coding.

In the morning Sky News were running this story:

A ship sent to Brazil from Britain allegedly full of nappies, condoms and other toxic waste has arrived home [to Felixstowe] after being sent back in disgust.

When the MSC Serena docked in the port of Santos, near Sao Paolo, authorites opened up a container and, instead of the clean recyclable plastic expected, they found a stinking mess of rubbish.

Cool, I thought. I’m getting a little sick of plying the waters between Harwich and Esbjerg up to two times per year on this ship where the meals are over-priced and going downhill, so it was interesting to hear it shared a name with a toxic waste ship in the same harbour at the same time. (BBC news story.)

Anyway, here’s my photo.


It’s probably only a few containers of many that contain the crap. Pretty minor issue. If you have some ships that are complete rusting hulks full of asbestos and other toxins that you haven’t been bothered to clean up for the last 40 years, they are welcome at a place further up the coast.

While at sea, the Danish captain came on the intercom and told everyone to go out on deck to see the fleet of 25 “tank ships” parked off the coast of Great Yarmouth waiting for the recession to be over so they could get a better price for their oil. He said it represented one month’s supply of oil for the whole of Europe. I think he was glad he wasn’t having to drive through the area at night. They were all higgledy piggledy.


Since this fleet hasn’t been involved in an instantaneous newsworthy event of any kind, there isn’t a story about it in the regular papers. However, I’ve found the following July 2009 letter in the Southwold Organ:

I read, with more than a little interest, the letter from the District Emergency Officer in response to local concern over the recent increase in the presence of oil tankers offshore. I first found out about the licensed ship-to-ship oil transfers about 18 months ago. This is a very serious issue, with potentially catastrophic implications for local tourism and the environment. I’ll come back to this later, but, first, I’d like to fill in some of the background and thereby take issue with some of Mike Topliss’ contentions.

Southwold is the only place in England where this activity occurs. The only other places in the UK are three Scottish locations associated with the oil industry. Oil-transportation companies tried to obtain licenses for three other locations: the Firth of Forth, Falmouth Bay and Lyme Bay. These applications encountered very strong local opposition and, in the case of the latter, it seems that STS activity has been suspended.

The reason for the oil transfers is that large tankers cannot get through to Russian oil terminals in the Baltic, so relatively small tankers (eg 60,000 tonnes) travel through into the North Sea and disgorge into supertankers, which then travel to the Far East. The type of oil is Russian Export Blend Crude, a Grade 4 very heavy and persistent product. Clearly, if ship-to-ship oil transfer was carried out in a much safer harbour/jetty situation, then the oil transporters would be liable for dues, which would impinge upon the £120-million revenue generated per trip (2005 prices). (See for Southwold STS operators.)

Although Mr Topliss mentions ‘several ships’, I’m afraid that the reality is very different. It may look like a mere handful of vessels off Southwold beach, but, if you use binoculars, then the scene changes. The farther out you look, the bigger the supertankers are. On 5th May this year, I counted 18 tankers off Covehithe cliffs; today, 16th June, there were 17 visible from outside the Sailors’ Reading Room.

Then in August the same correspondent writes:

On 23rd June, there was a sharp reminder of the goings on just off shore from Southwold. Many people in the town were assailed by a sudden strong smell of gas and even in Reydon, almost three-quarters of a mile from the sea, a short-lived, but powerful odour swept through some parts of the village.

Left with a definite ‘scorched’ feeling on the back of the throat, we wondered if someone had dropped their bottle of the new Beckham fragrance, but a call to the Marine and Coastguard Agency at Yarmouth quickly confirmed the true nature of the waft. We were victims of methyl mercaptan, a chemical used to give the ‘gassy smell’ to natural gas, and where had it come from? Yes, you’ve guessed, the floating chemical complex sitting just off shore. It seems that a rise in temperature meant that the liquified natural gas (LNG) bulk carriers had to vent their tanks for safety reasons.

Lowestoft had suffered the day before, with hundreds of calls about gas leaks and the evacuation of some schools and offices. The chemical itself is reputedly safe, but the disruption to coastal life and the masking of genuine gas leaks is simply not acceptable.

So, it seems that Southwold is now a concentration zone for a floating toxic timebomb. Not only do we have the potentially catastrophic ship-to-ship transfer of oil occurring at unprecedented levels, but added to the cocktail are LNG carriers and, according to the Wall Street Journal, amongst other sources, very large crude carriers (300,000 tonnes plus) acting as floating storage tanks for up to eight months or more.

On 13th July, there was a new and different addition to the fleet of 25 or so tankers visible from Benacre Cliffs. Quite close to the shore sat a small tug. This suggests that there is now an awareness that severe weather, coupled with a loss of power, could lead to the beaching of any one or more of these tankers. Exactly how effective this ‘protection’ might be, or who is paying for it, remains a mystery.

There is clearly an unprecedented rise in very hazardous activity just off our coast, clearly within so-called ‘territorial waters’. The Marine and Coastguard Agency seems hamstrung by the lack of effective legislation to deal with this issue in anything other than reactive fashion; in other words, after a spillage has occurred.

Maybe I’m wrong about the newspaper thing. But I can’t log on to the Wall Street Journal and look up this story. But I wonder if these license applications to do dangerous shipping maneuvers are on-line anywhere and available for webscraping. Just another thing to look into.

And so, we got off, had a coffee, and caught the next train out of town. At least they weren’t on strike like they were on the way out when I had to get my sister to drive us from Cambridge to Harwich.

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009 at 7:40 am - - Machining


Another week, another long day in the office in Copenhagen being frog-marched through scallop bugs that I have quietly been ignoring over the past year. Who knows which ones are the most important. No time for blogging or anything like that. I’ll push back any plans for the scallop bisectors, which would be another feature that will merely bring in a whole lot of new bugs once people started using and depending on it. Maybe it’ll have to wait until another CAM system does it, and then there’s a reason to have it.

It’s a bit like the developments in the Adaptive Clearing, now being driven by what others are doing. I had a too-brief look at the Mastercam Dynamic Milling and got pointed out a couple of features that are liked in it which we don’t have. In particular, having different shapes for ramping down into a level, instead of always doing a helix. I think I can frig some algorithm to find an approximate bisector of a pocket for the purpose of zig-zag ramping. Here the average cut depth is half the step-down, but there is a spike in the load at the tool approaches the end of each the zig-zag swipe when the cutter is doing a full width full step-down cut — followed by no load as it goes back in the opposite direction. Maybe the dynamics of this are fine in practice because it has time to cool off. But that would suggest that there is an optimum length for the zig-zag, because if it’s too long then we would have a proportionately long period at the max load. Not that I know anything about real world machining. I’m just guessing.

Tomorrow we catch the ferry back from Esbjerg to Harwich, and then onwards. Hopefully the trains won’t be on strike this time.

Friday, August 7th, 2009 at 7:41 am - - Canyon 1 Comment »

Well, we went canyonning near here in Grabenbach. The road on the walk up had a recent memorial for a deceased digger driver (we found the remains of the digger in the canyon later), and a memorial for two dead canyoneers just at the start of the big double waterfall. The tacklesack with my SRT kit went over the edge at the middle pool in the waterfall and sank without trace once the floatation plastic cola bottles had escaped. Then four pitches later we lost the rope in another bottomless pool. Luckily there were no more waterfalls to descend, so we got out happily without having to scale the canyon walls.


Meanwhile, seems to be down, just in time for my article in 2600 magazine to get published. Great timing.

I’ll be driving home tonight over the course of the next two days. I hate driving.

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009 at 10:41 am - - Cave 6 Comments »

After many days of fruitless hacking on troggle, then losing my mp3 player sometime in the process of canoeing across Toplitzsee, and returning to hoards of very beery Austrians moving in on Base Camp like leiderhausen-clad apes with camper vans, I was seriously pissed off enough to go caving.

Team Tunnocks-string (Steve+Becka) had reportedly found some new horizontal levels at the depth of the ‘Wheres in 204, causing Becka to bounce down to Base Camp in order to type in her notes, only to find that she had forgotten to pack them in her bag. She had returned to Top Camp and tried phoning them down to me so I could type them into the computer, run the calculations, and find out where they were going in relation to the rest of the cave.

All I could see on the screen was a little knot of loops at the bottom of a 100m pitch, because that’s all she had surveyed. Steve complained later about how all they did was survey short loops around phreatic pillars and not actually go anywhere. The wide open leads that were left undone were not part of the numerical data.

Lacking sufficient toll road passes to justify driving up on my own, I was pissed off enough to cycle up the hill (easy after a mental two week Alpine cycling holiday) and walk in to Top Camp without any mp3 audio entertainment to keep my mind from stewing in its own thoughts, just in time to cook for all the returning cavers.


Saturday, August 1st, 2009 at 5:27 am - - Cave 1 Comment »

I’ve done about 3 days of solid coding for managing the CUCC/Expo cave data to very little effect. What a waste of my time when I should be caving. But I’m too lazy. I did actually get underground last week to visit Satan’s Sitting Room, a section of passage discovered in 1992.


We found a carbide pig that had been left there during previous explorations. This is a length of inner tube stuffed with carbide lumps and sealed by snoopy loops to run your carbide generators for the caving lights on these long remote expeditions when batteries just won’t do.