Wulf's Webden

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Tuesday 21 February 2017
by Wulf
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Patterns to Avoid

For sometime now, I have been using LastPass as a tool to help me remember a lot of my passwords. I can have different passwords for each website I log into, each one long, complex and random, and I don’t have to write any of them down. Even better, the encrypted store of information is automatically synchronised across several devices so I get log into a site from my tablet or phone without having to be sitting in front of my computer. However, although LastPass works well for me at the moment, I do like to keep an eye on other options. Like anything, it may not last forever or may change into a form where I’m not willing to trust it.

Towards the tail end of last year, I came across an Open Source tool called LessPass that sounded intriguing and, yes, just a bit similar. It worked on the premise that you would remember a master password and then generate a password for a given site and user name by following an algorithm.

It sounds a neat idea but discussion in the information security revealed some problems (for example, see Security Now issue 586). The source code, short and readily available used a pattern-based algorithm. As I understand it, the system worked through the generated string and picked out a lower case character, then an upper case one, then a number then symbol before repeating. Unfortunately, even if you don’t know the password, it significantly reduces the potential patterns. Under regular rules, there would be about 95 options per character so a four character password (way too short!) would have 81,450,625 permutations. If you follow a sequence, you only get 223,080 (26 * 26 * 10 * 33) permutations – still a big number but one that rapidly falls short of a truly random pattern. Furthermore, if you decide that one of your passwords has been compromised (for example, you used it on a site that then confessed to leaking its login data in plain text), you can’t change the site address or your username so you have to change your master password and thus your login details on every site for which you used the tool.

Information security is difficult! It is probably best to leave LessPass to the developers for a bit longer and, meanwhile, remember to resist simple, repeating patterns.

Monday 20 February 2017
by Wulf
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Beef Shin Stew

At the butchers on Friday, I spotted beef shin. I don’t recall cooking it before but it sounded like something for slow cooking, which the butcher confirmed. Yesterday, it was time to cook it up so I did a survey of online advice and settled on a Felicity Cloake piece from The Guardian: How to Cook Perfect Beef Stew.

Meat stews aren’t entirely new to me so I mainly used it as inspiration rather than instruction, although the tip about trimming back the silvery film on the outside of the meat was a good one. The trimming was quite time-consuming but eventually I ended up with a bowl full of beef chunks which I coated in seasoned flour (salt, pepper and also some cumin and all-spice). The rest of the method was straightforward: brown the meat and set aside, soften chopped onions, add other root vegetables (carrots and celeriac in this case), add the meat, top up with stock (just from an Oxo cube in this case) and some beer (my own Bitter Dog stout – turning out delicious), bring to the boil, cover and stick in a low oven for a few hours. Oh, and I put the trimmed bone back in, to benefit from that rendering down a bit.

It actually cooked quicker than I expected. In the 150°C oven, we got it in by 3pm before popping out and it was getting ready by the time we got back, not long after 5pm. I let it finish off uncovered in the oven while I cooked some mashed potatoes. It wasn’t a spicy, exotic meal but very satisfying and I think I will definitely go for the shin again.

Sunday 19 February 2017
by Wulf
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Thin Red Lion

That is to say that I’m out at the Red Lion in Brightwell cum Sotwell this evening to keep the bass chair warm for the monthly jazz jam (7-9pm). What has thinness got to do with it? Not much, although it is free to watch (or participate) so it won’t slim down your wallet. And, it would be fair to note, this is a fairly skinny excuse for a blog post!

Saturday 18 February 2017
by Wulf
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Books and Covers

The Alpha Course session Jane and I were helping lead this week was on the topic Why and How to Read the Bible? As a visual aid, I’d bought down a collection of Bibles pulled from our bookshelves but it wasn’t until I glanced at them sitting on the table in the meeting room that it struck me how each of them tells me stories.

There is the NIV study Bible, the spine repaired with black insulation tape and decorated with a hedgehog sticker, that I bought in 1990 and which was my main Bible during my first couple of years of university. I remember how my first attempt to buy a study Bible landed me with a commentary instead (useful but not quite the same thing) and how I took a trip to Leytonstone to buy a book that combined study notes – the Thompson Chain reference system – with the full Biblical text.

Or there was the New Revised Standard Version, I’d purchased a couple of months earlier. I remember reading it on a minibus travelling to a beach mission in Blackpool and wondering if some kind of miracle had occurred when I noticed my hands were sparkling with flecks of gold. Then I spotted that the gold decoration on the cover and the edge of the pages was rubbing off. Not such a miracle, then, but it brings back a memory.

Today, there is a lot to be said for electronic versions. Carry multiple versions round on a Kindle or mobile phone without adding any extra weight or look it up directly online and even have the text read out to you. However, those won’t carry the same physical memories as an actual dead tree edition. I think there is less need today to purchase a whole shelf full of Bibles (why not give some money so someone else can have a copy instead) but, in our ephemeral world, perhaps it is more important than ever to have a copy or two that you weave into the fabric of your own history.

Friday 17 February 2017
by Wulf
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Myrtle Gin for 2017

I harvested berries from my myrtle bushes today to make another batch of myrtle gin. I’m using a similar mix to last time but I’ve tried to use a little less sugar. I’ve also thrown in some fresh ginger to infuse.

Now, I have a few weeks of regularly shaking the bottle, then decanting it and then about six months to find out what the result is. Well, perhaps one or two early samples allowed!

Wednesday 15 February 2017
by Wulf
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Mad Goose

With dinner tonight, I tried a pale ale called Mad Goose from the Purity Brewing Company. They describe it as, “a zesty pale ale with a smooth and citrusy finish.” I’m tempted to describe it as like chewing on a hop pellet with a slight hint of beer!

That is perhaps a little unfair but the style is so hop forward that my mouth is still flashing back to a bitter, green invasion three hours later. I think this one might be delicious on a hot summer day but, for my palette, is a bit too strident for a dark winter evening. One to come back to later in the year. It would be interesting to compare it with some of the hoppy beers I would count among my favourites, such as Proper Job.

I don’t think my recent Bitter Dog stout is going to turn out nearly as bitter, although it will be another week or two until I can pass judgement.

Tuesday 14 February 2017
by Wulf
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Inkflow

The OU course I am doing at the moment, TU812: Managing Systemic Change, involves a lot of visual thinking. A wide range of types of diagrams are used, from systems maps to sign graphs. That’s alright with me because I love working out ideas by scribbling. However, working on paper can be a bit limiting when you find the picture is stretching towards the edge of the page rather than the centre or that an element would be better shifted elsewhere. A certain amount can be done with rubbing out and redrawing sections but it often isn’t long since the palimpsest page needs to be be abandoned and a fresh version drawn up.

Therefore, since I’ve got the technical gubbins to make the most of it, I’m delighted to have found an app called Inkflow that allows me to work on the iPad with a wide range of (simulated) drawing implements, far more colour variations than I am ever going to need and, crucially, the ability to move and resize elements on the page. Moving too close to the edge? Just select the diagram and shift it over.

It still takes a bit of planning – if you put elements too close together, it is hard to select them cleanly. It also, at the moment at least, produces scribbly results – I haven’t got decades of writing and drawing with the Apple Pencil behind me so (when I’m concentrating) pen and pencil still produce better results. However, as a tool for visually developing ideas, for the course and beyond, Inkflow is proving to be a boon.