They’ve got Phorm…

You may have heard of Phorm – they’re the scumbags that, with the complicity of your ISP, plan to hijack your personal data – i.e., everything you do via your browser, including bank and other sensitive information – and use it to foist unwanted but targeted advertising upon you.

A BT trial started today – they’ve run two already, bet they didn’t tell you, and it’ll likely gain wider distribution as time goes on. There’s a huge groundswell of opinion against Phorm, and am anti-Phorm petition at http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/ispphorm/ with, at the time of writing, over 18,000 signatures.

There’s software, called AntiPhorm, which as far as I can tell is far too clunky – I can’t make the bugger work, and every time I fix one problem, it throws up another. One way to fix Phorm is to block the website http://www.webwise.net in your browser, as that’s the website that delivers Phorm’s cookies. If it works, this seems like the simplest solution. For Firefox, the TrackMeNot add-on does an excellent job of misdirection – note that it doesn’t enable automatically on installation. Right-click the TMN icon, bottom right of the browser window, select Options and check Enable.

If Phorm is new to you, check this out http://chris-linfoot.net/d6plinks/CWLT-7CWN5X from where I filched the website fix, above.

Is your blog safe?

How often do you back up your blog? I suspect, for many Web2 bloggers, the answer is never – big mistake. You should never assume your data is safe unless it’s somewhere you can actually get your grubby mitts on it in person. Online it’s massively vulnerable. Back when I wrote a magazine column, I repeatedly stressed the importance of backing up one’s PC – it’s even more important to back-up your online data. And that means to your system, not to somewhere else online!

The blog I operated prior to this one was part of my website, and was stored on my PC, so no problems, as that was backed up to an external hard drive. Web2 blogs, like this one, aren’t as safe.

Overall, the risk of losing your blog to a systems failure is low, but the more people hosting services have on board, the greater the risk. A 1% failure rate, for example, is pretty low, but in real terms that’s an awful lot of individuals whose data is at risk.

And, of course, it’s possible to inadvertently piss off your hosting company (by breaching someone’s copyright – very easily done, even without malicious intent – or accidentally libelling them), who will just shut you down without notice or appeal – as WordPress will, and doubtless other hosting services operate a similar policy. In my view, this is entirely wrong, and the blogger should at least be given the opportunity to remove the offending post and, maybe, apologise. But we have to deal with the reality of the situation, which is that your blog is vulnerable.

For a whole variety of reasons, mostly related to the weaknesses of cloud computing, into which far too many people who should know better are getting sucked, you really should back up your blog, because that’s part of the cloud too. There’s only one safe place to store your data, and that’s on your personal system. And don’t neglect your security – back up to an external hard drive and physically disconnect it when it’s not actually in use; that’s as safe as it gets. Even backing up to a CD or DVD is better than nothing.

WordPress has a backup widget which takes seconds, and saves your blog as an XML file, but we’re asked not to use it, except when moving hosts, or renaming the blog, or whatever, as it puts too much pressure on the system if everyone uses it for backing up. Fair enough, but when I started backing up a few months ago, I used it just once, as there was far too much to do manually, and that’s only possible for the current month anyway, as once a month is archived, all you get is the first few lines of each post in the month’s summary. I’m not sure if that varies depending on the theme used and/or the hosting service – you’ll have to figure that out (I’m using Misty, obviously on WordPress).

Since then, though, I’ve backed up several times a month, simply by copying my current month’s posts, which are shown in full on my Home page, and pasting them into a Word document. A few seconds work to delete the extraneous gubbins that comes along with them, and I’m safely backed up. (Those of a more techie disposition may know of a better, or at least different, method, but this one works for everyone, no matter what their level of expertise.) This isn’t as tedious as it might sound. For reasons I won’t bore you with, I never got round to backing up September’s posts until today (and I must remember to add this one), but even doing a whole month at once only took a few minutes.

There’s one shortfall using this system – you don’t get your comments (you need to back up each post individually to do that, and life’s just too short). The important thing, though, is that all your hard work is safe. Just remember to do it on or before the last day of the month, or you’re stuffed!

So, there you have it; it’s the last day of September – get backing up now, before some unforeseen event consigns your golden prose to oblivion.

NB: If you subsequently update a post, don’t forget to back that up, too.

F1 shock-horror…

This disgraceful state of affairs just can’t be allowed to continue.

Lewis Hamilton places third in the Singapore Grand Prix. Ferrari, however, were nowhere, having screwed up Massa’s pit-stop, and seen Raikkonen crash out and, you know, nobody at Ferrari/FIA Inc., has found any way at all to penalise McLaren and/or Hamilton for those events.

That’s absolutely deplorable, and it really can’t be allowed to happen again.

Human ice cream…

Peta, the animals rights group, has asked Ben & Jerry’s to use human breast milk instead of cow’s milk. “If Ben & Jerry’s replaced the cow’s milk in its ice-cream with breast milk, your customers – and cows – would reap the benefits,” wrote Peta’s Tracy Reiman.

And not too long ago, we had Heather Mills (I think), suggesting we should be milking rats as there are, like, just so many of them. Or something.

Sheer bloody lunacy, in both cases. And in the case of Reiman, it reveals a staggering ignorance of human biology. Look, Tracy, it’s simple enough for a child to understand – cows give milk in litres, and lots of them, women in ounces, and slowly at that, so your idea is utterly unfeasible just on physical grounds, never mind the grounds of stupidity and taste. Yes, I do know you were just making a point, but please, go away and stop being such a tedious dumbass…

Hollywood cancer…

With Paul Newman yet another Hollywood star succumbs to cancer – the death rate from cancers of all forms in the movie community, if my memory is reliable, is staggering – so I Googled it, using various search parameters, thinking there must have been research into the phenomenon, but answers came there none. (If I’ve missed something, please let me know.)

One movie, with an absurdly high death rate from cancer among cast and crew has been examined (in the book The Hollywood Hall of Shame by Harry and Michael Medved, which dealt with movie flops rather than the incidence of cancer). This was The Conqueror, a Howard Hughes project filmed in the area around St. George, Utah in 1955 – of the over 200 cast and crew, 91 subsequently contracted cancer, over three times the average rate for the US, and 46 died of it, including stars John Wayne, Susan Hayward, and Agnes Moorehead, and director Dick Powell. In the town of St. George, around half of the population contracted cancer.

The source of the problem, of course, was the US atomic bomb testing programme in neighbouring Nevada, which contaminated vast tracts of the West. In the 4 years before filming commenced on The Conqueror, the US military had tested no fewer than 34 nukes in Nevada, culminating, in 1953, with the 11-nuke series of Operation Upshot-Knothole (it never seemed to occur to the military to give their tests more appropriate names, like Operation Fuckwit-Dickhead), the prevailing winds hauling away the resulting fallout to drop it down-range on unsuspecting American citizens who, living in fear of Soviet nukes, were nailed by their own country. Operation Teapot, a 14 nuke sequence, took place in the first half of 1955, and may well have coincided with filming.

In the case of Upshot-Knothole, much of the radioactive crap found its way in to an area called Snow Canyon, near St. George, which got its own share, and where, tragically, The Conqueror was filmed two years later. And, to add insult to injury, producer Howard Hughes had 60 tons of radioactive Snow Canyon dirt shipped back to Hollywood, for use in retakes. Doubtless, that crap lingered for many years, and may still be kicking around. And the really scary, mind-bogglingly dumb thing is that everyone knew about the radiation – there’s even archive film of Wayne checking out the set with a Geiger counter – and yet it apparently didn’t occur to anyone to think Oh shit – we’re fucked! Mind you, this was in an era when, all over America (and to a lesser degree here in the UK), you could blithely zap your child’s feet with radiation in shoe-store fluoroscopes! The kids, of course, got a short blast – the unfortunate staff, for whom no-one had thought to provide shielding, got to spend their entire working day alongside the machines (there was still a school of thought, at that time, that said radiation was in some way beneficial – human stupidity, when there’s money to be made, knowing no bounds at all).

The Nevada Test Site (stats from Wikipedia), between 1951 and 1992, tested no fewer than 1,021 nukes, of which 921 were subterranean, though that by no means guaranteed that radioactive material wouldn’t be released into the atmosphere. And what I find spectaculary insane is that the NTS is now a tourist attraction – what the hell is that doing for cancer rates, especially among the staff? In addition, ground zero of Operation Teapot is now used for anti-terrorist training against radiological attacks on the transport infrastructure. I’m not sure if that’s ironic or plain stupid.

The problem is, with the Nevada testing programme, is that if you check out a map of the US, it had the potential to contaminate – and probably did – huge tracts of the western US, depending on the strength and direction of the wind. In Nevada, and the states bordering it, especially in and around Monument Valley on the Utah-Arizona border, an awful lot of Westerns and other outdoor-action movies, not to mention TV series, have been shot over the years so, really, it’s no surprise at all that people like Newman are still dying of cancer, and no doubt many more will continue to do so.

And let’s not lose sight of the fact that actors and celebrities are simply the conspicuous end of the cancer death spectrum – how many ordinary people have died hideous and painful deaths as a result of the nuclear testing programme, and what deranged fuckwit ever though that it was a good idea in the first place?

Feeling the pinch…

Like most people on low, fixed, incomes – like benefits – I’m feeling the pinch right now, with the price of pretty much everything moving remorselessly upwards. I’d love to shop at discount stores like my local Aldi, but it’s such a soul-destroying experience I avoid the place when I can. Every time I go there, I have to get the manager to go and find out where the checkout girl has buggered off to – every bloody time. It’d be nice if the guy did his job and kept the kid at her post – that’s what she’s paid for. And, while they have some excellent frozen fish (if you’ve never eaten tilapia, get yourself to Aldi without delay), and the frozen burgers are pretty good, especially the ones with Stilton, overall the choice of food is pretty limited compared to the Sainsbury’s store across the car park. They used to sell excellent Bratwurst, but not any longer, it seems.

I normally shop at the Sainsbury’s superstore a few miles away, but I couldn’t get there this week, so I went to my local branch, by Aldi. As the store had gone through a lengthy makeover a little while ago, I was expecting good things. Ha! Nothing of the sort – think Netto, but with Sainsbury’s prices, and you’re getting close to the hell-hole it’s become.

The fresh veg area has been decimated, quite literally, being a fraction of its former size, with a very poor choice of veg, not helped by the same pathetic cabbages being displayed in three different places. I like cabbage, but in recent years it’s been impossible to buy any that taste of anything. Yesterday I wanted two baby cabbage, in the hope of getting some flavour (young veg is tastier than mature veg, on the whole). Didn’t sell them – which set the pattern for the entire trip. Baby sweetcorn? Nope. Sandwich steaks? Ditto, and so it went on. I also wanted some braising steak – you’d think they’d have something so basic, but no, not a trace (and none of these things were sold out, you understand, they’d never been there, despite what their website claims). In the end, I got a pack of Basics Irish Frying Steak.

The Basics range is, allegedly, good quality, but less than cosmetically perfect, and with the minimum of packaging (excellent idea, the latter). Normally, the only Basics item I buy is peeled plum tomatoes – as good a canned tomato as you’ll find anywhere, as long as you don’t mind trimming off the odd bit of skin, or a bit of green from the stalk end (and you can get that no matter what you pay), which are unbeatable at 18p a tin (tip – never buy chopped tomatoes – the quality is less than wonderful, no matter how much you pay, and don’t pay for added herbs and suchlike – add your own).

During the Baked Bean Wars, about 10 years ago, when beans were down to about 3p a can for a while, I bough Basics beans – same price as the toms now – and they’re pretty good, too. True, not every bean is perfect – some may have been broken or squashed – but so what?

Anyway, back to the meat. I’ve never been fond of fried steak, much preferring fish, but I wanted this for braising. Had I fried it, it would have been disappointing, as two steaks were quite thin, and one thick (the cosmetic thing again), but at the price of £3.03 for 456g, which makes it £1.70 a kg cheaper than the braising steak they didn’t have, I wasn’t complaining. And it wasn’t suspiciously wet, as cheap meat can be. I cut it in suitable pieces, and fried it off with almost no spitting, fried the onions in the same pan (tip – when frying onions for a dish like this, don’t stir them around too much in the pan – let the bottom layer brown, then toss them in with the meat – the mix of fried and almost raw onion will give you a better flavour; that’s something Delia won’t tell you!), then I deglazed it with boiling water, so not a bit of flavour was missed.

I simmered it very gently, with carrots, peas and and a garlic clove finely chopped, with a stock cube and a squirt of HP sauce (an excellent addition, as long as you don’t overdo it – you shouldn’t be able to taste it in the finished dish), with some herbs and, you know, it’s excellent. Not just excellent for the money – excellent, period, and tender enough to eat with a spoon.

It should be even better tomorrow – casseroles, stews and soups, and braised steak, all benefit from 24 hours in the fridge, once they’ve cooled down, to give the various flavours time to snuggle up to each other, and smooth out any rough edges. By the way, I think the steak may well have been fine fried, as long as it was left a little rare – just a touch of pink.

So in future, I’m certainly going to pay closer attention to the Basics range (Tesco’s version is called Value, and prices are much the same as Sainsbury’s), as there are substantial savings to be made. And Basics eggs actually taste eggy – a rare event these days. I’d forgotten about them.

OK, there are some things I just won’t economise on – sausages and bread, for example, and beer (though I’ve switched to a pub where the beer is £2.20 a pint, and excellent, and perfectly fine fish and chips is £2.95, and as a bonus the barmaid has blue eyes and freckles! – £2.60 and £5.95 where I usually go) – but overall I think I can eat better for less – probably quite a bit less, buying Basics. Check back in a week or two for a progress report.

A word of warning – the Basics range also includes ready-meals. As Sainsbury’s normal (and more upmarket), ready-meals leave rather a lot to be desired, treat the Basics meals with caution. They won’t do you any harm, but it’ll be a joyless experience.

By the way, if you’re a regular reader and you’re wondering what’s happened to my vegetarianism, it’s been absorbed into a much more varied diet – I just couldn’t face it full time. I still don’t eat a lot of meat, 3 or 4 ounces in a meal is ample, and not at every meal – I wouldn’t thank you for a 12oz steak – veggie meals have mostly lost their appeal, though I’m perfectly happy with meat-free soups.

One final thought – save money by buying fruit and veg in season, that hasn’t been air-freighted half-way around the world, and eschew produce that has already been prepped for you (unless, through disability, you have no choice), as you’ll pay dearly for it. Check out www.eattheseasons.co.uk to see what’s in season.

Update: Having to shop for my groceries online this week, I decided to try Tesco’s Value Frying Steak. It’s dog food (fried, it would be uneatable, I’m sure). In 400g of meat there was 140g of inedible gristle, veins etc., and that’s not acceptable. Clearly, then, if you want good quality cheap steak, avoid Tesco. I tried simmering the scraps, as there was far too much to waste completely – something I often do – but the smell of the resulting stock was terrible. The meat itself, which had a very loose texture, went into a pan of scouse where, hopefully, it’ll hide among the spuds and veggies!

I also brought some braising steak from Tesco at the same time, in the freezer for now, and that looks to be excellent quality. Anyway, hopefully, I won’t have to shop online for a while – being a fussy sod I prefer to do it in person when I can.

Clenil Modulite Problems…

Note, December 2 2008 – see also this page, which is more important.

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For those of you who don’t have COPD, this may seem a bit gross, as it discusses sputum quality in COPD.

I mentioned, previously, that I thought that Clenil Modulite increased sputum production, and I’m now certain it does. This is not a good thing.

I rely greatly on the taste of my sputum as an early warning of a developing infection, to which those of us with COPD are prone, as experience has shown that the earlier an infection is treated with antibiotics, the more effective the treatment is. This is particularly important since GPs, as a result of the paranoia surrounding the use of antibiotics, tend to prescribe inadequate quantities – 7 days worth frequently isn’t enough, once an infection has become well established. However, since CM is hideously sweet, that’s all I can taste. That’s not only unhelpful, it’s potentially dangerous .

For the record, CM, in addition to its active ingredient (Beclometasone dipropionate), also contains two forms of alcohol, ethanol and glycerol, the latter presumably responsible for its sweetness (Beclometasone has never been in need of sweetening before, and the propellant is widely used, so that doesn’t need sweetening, so what’s going on?). This prompts a question, as the alcohol contained in the drug pretty much goes straight into the blood stream, how much does it contribute to blood alcohol levels? Admittedly, the amount of ethanol is small (13%), though no information is given for the glycerol, but it must have some effect, no matter how slight, yet an assiduous search of Google, using several search parameters, came up blank. The information must surely be somewhere, though – I can’t believe it’s simply been ignored.

Footnote:-

Back on the subject of alcohol, I have a fondness for beer and, of late, I’ve been getting remarkably drunk without actually drinking any more then usual (normally, I would just get a little blurred around the edges). Yesterday, for example, the pub had a rather good, if quite weak, beer (I’m not one of those macho pillocks who only drinks strong beer – how it tastes is far more important), and yet I was extraordinarily drunk. Not dysfunctional in any way, but way drunker than I should have been. I’m either developing an intolerance to alcohol or it’s another factor, and the only thing that’s different is Clenil Modulite – I always take a dose when I’m out. Very strange.

Er, I was wromg about my inhaler – see comments…

Sainsbury’s rip-off…

Want to get your shopping delivered by Sainsbury’s? Are you, like me, a disabled singleton who doesn’t need to spend a hell of a lot? Ha! You’re screwed.

Now carless (and my usual lift having gone off on holiday), I thought getting my shopping delivered wouldn’t cost much more than the inconvenience of getting a bus there and a taxi home. And so it proved when I booked my slot – it said, quite clearly, that it would cost me £4.50, as under – my slot is 9am-10am, as shown (a taxi, including the inevitable tip, is about the same).

When I came to check out, though, I noticed that the delivery charge had magically gone up to £6. So I had a rummage around and came up with this gem:-

Can you equate these charges with those in the booking pane, because I can’t – there is no mention of a £4.50 charge, or any qualifying conditions for it. And what about the £5.50 charge which, according to the Delivery Information box, just doesn’t exist, yet there it is in the booking pane?

And why should my order, at £22, attract a higher delivery charge? They’re in the bloody area anyway – I see them every day – and my small order uses less fuel than an order for a family of six, or someone who shops once a month. Tesco, by the way, have a flat fee, no mealy-mouthed conditions, or works of fiction as we have here – Sainsbury’s £4.50 delivery charge simply does not exist, for anyone – it’s a lie.

It’s not that I can’t afford £6 – I can – but there’s a principle at stake here – it can’t be justified. Anyway, I have a serious problem with this – it’s blatant discrimination. If they were to say, for example, black people must pay a delivery surcharge, they’d get their collars felt in very short order. But they can say it about single people – or, for that matter, poor people – with impunity. Discrimination on economic grounds is just as unacceptable as discrimination on racial grounds. Mind you, economic discrimination has been apparent for a while now.

The area in which I live, in Wirral, has one of the lowest rates of car ownership in the country, yet neither Sainsbury’s nor Tesco’s megastores are easily accessible to anyone who doesn’t use a car. Tesco, at least, has a free bus service to its Bidston Moss store. It’s no good to me, but at least it’s there for those who can access it. Re-routing an existing service would be even better, as it would be far more frequent.

Sainsbury’s, though, make no such effort. Their website says, tersely “Getting there – train: Upton”. That’s over half a mile away – they can’t even be bothered to list the buses that pass their store. The bottom line – unless you have a large family, shop infrequently but heavily, and/or drive a car, Sainsbury’s would rather you didn’t bother them. I, for one, will be only too happy to oblige them.

In fact I’m sorely tempted to pass this on to Trading Standards, but I know what response I’ll get – Oh, it’s just a mistake. . .

Huntin, shootin, and Palin…

Apparently, in a San Francisco wine bar, sales of a rather decent Chilean Syrah have plummeted since the Republican conference. Why? It’s called Palin. Isn’t that just pathetic?

On a more serious note, you may well find this article interesting in a gruesome sort of way. Reading the (interminable), comments provides an insight into how much of America perceives Palin – seriously worrying.

Sprouting Seeds (Part 2)…

Well, as I mentioned last time, I’ve bought a small sprouter for, er, sprouts, and now I’ve got a much larger propagator for growing micro greens. It’s the Sankey Growarm 300. Originally I’d planned to pay £29.99 for one (plus £7 p&p), but with the month-end bills looming, meaning cash is short, I searched Google rather more assiduously, and found it here for £19.99 (same p&p). The tenner saved will buy me a bag of Vermiculite as a growing medium (or seed compost – I’m still undecided and I’ll probably go with a mix of both). I’m still trying to find an online source of vermiculite, too – or, at least, one where the postage costs doesn’t exceed the cost of the product. No joy yet. While I’m waiting, it’s possible to grow some seeds on damp tissue – shades of school-days – so I can get production underway without delay.

The propagator is 52cm x 42 x 25 high, and is designed to maintain a temperature of 21-26 Celsius ( a tad under 80 degrees max in old money). Of course, that depends on the ambient temperature and, being indoors, the heater is unlikely to be used once the seeds have germinated, unless we have a very hard winter. The heating element is moulded into the base, so is kept well away from any moisture. The investment in a cheap, segmented (not digital), timer switch will enable effective, if crude, temperature control, should I need heat for a long period.

The propagator comes with two 22cm and one 38cm seed trays and a handful of small plant-pots, which adds to its versatility. Using the trays will enable me to grow alfalfa and, say, hemp in the large tray, while growing two more flavoursome plants, like mustard and broccoli, in the two smaller ones.

I’m seriously considering using the heated propagator just to germinate seeds, then transferring the plants to unheated ones for growing on, thus ensuring a steady supply of greens, plus sprouts from the sprouter. Though as the entire growth cycle is pretty short this may be overkill – time will tell.

The sprouter (not to scale – decent images are impossible to find), with its not very imaginative name, is widely sold as the Being Fare sprouter (no idea what that’s supposed to mean, if anything). It’s 15cm high and the growing trays – actually three, not two as shown (the bottom one is a drip tray) – are 15cm square – perfectly adequate for one person. I bought that along with the seeds I mentioned last time (in Part 1, Food for Thought ), which are hemp, alfalfa, mustard, broccoli and golden linseed, to save you referring back if you’ve already read that page. Postage for that lot was £7.95 (getting anything by post these days is becoming less cost-effective with every postage increase).

The location – on top of a chest of drawers in my bedroom, gets good light from a south-facing window, while being out of direct sunlight. Covering the adjacent wall with kitchen foil will enhance light levels, and minimise the tendency of plants to lean towards a light source though, of course, just turning the propagator round is perfectly feasible.

Pictures of my first crop, plus details of what I did – right or wrong (though, really, if I get this wrong I shouldn’t be allowed out on my own!) – will be posted here in due course.