Wulf's Webden

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Thursday 12 September 2019
by Wulf

So, who invented computer passwords?

A bit of trivia today but also an obituary for a man who, given you are probably reading this on an electronic device, has had more influence on your life than you would expect, given that you have probably not heard of him before.

In the 1950’s, Dr. Fernando Jose “Corby” Corbato was a physicist who got side-tracked into the then brand-new world of research computing. Realising that most people didn’t need all of the resources of the huge and expensive computers all to themselves at any one time, he developed something called the Compatible Time Sharing System (CTSS). That meant identifiable users and (probably to thwart all the bright sparks who decided to pretend to be someone else) the implementation of computer passwords to allow access to those resources. Similar ideas – hidden words or phrases that would identify someone as being allowed access – had been around for centuries or even millennia but this is believed to be the point when they entered computing.

The venerable Dr Corbato passed away recently, aged 93, but passwords are still a daily part of computing and probably will be so for a long time to come.

Wednesday 11 September 2019
by Wulf

Come, Ye Thankful People, Come

Harvest is still regularly celebrated in UK churches, even those which are long-divorced from a direct connection with agricultural seasons, but unlike, say, Christmas, it is not fixed to a particular date (certainly within the Anglican church). On the Church of England’s liturgical calendar, the closest you can get is that Harvest Sunday is likely to appear quite a long way after Trinity but at least a few weeks before Advent.

At St Clement’s, we’re celebrating it on 6 October this year and I’m doing some work on a choral arrangement of Come, Ye Thankful People, Come which we might use as part of the service. Nothing too ambitious mind; we don’t have a big choir tradition so there’s no point dreaming up a 16 part motet. I’m thinking more in terms of unison for the first verse, outer parts (tune and bass) for the second, something a bit more crunchy for number 3 and probably either outer parts or full traditional four part harmony for verse 4.

That should be pretty feasible both to write (I’m almost there on the composing although I probably won’t manage to get parts done for tomorrow’s rehearsal) and to perform.

Tuesday 10 September 2019
by Wulf

I Suppose It’s Fair

I suppose it is fair that the street of St Giles in Oxford (with some encroachment on surrounding roads) gets taken over for an annual two day street event in September – the St Giles’ Fair. I’ve never had a job in town during the fair before, so I haven’t had particular cause to remark on it, but it lays right across my cycle commute.

The way in isn’t too bad as it is early in the morning, well before the fair starts, but it is pretty mad trying to get across St Giles and the bottom of Banbury Road on the way home with all the crowds (I wouldn’t even attempt my regular route along St Giles and onto Broad Street). Also, from late morning, we get a muffled version of sounds from the fair drifting into our offices.

Still, it’s only once a year and I guess it is an experience. For what it is worth, Wikipedia notes that St Giles was a saintly hermit in late 7th / early 8th century France and is known as the patron saint of (take a breath)… beggars; blacksmiths; breast cancer; breast feeding; cancer patients; disabled people; Edinburgh (Scotland); epilepsy; noctiphobics; forests; hermits; horses; lepers; mental illness; outcasts; poor people; rams; spur makers; sterility! What he would make of the Oxford event, one can only guess!

Monday 9 September 2019
by Wulf

Ransomware: evolution and questions

Ransomware continues to affect targets around the globe. This type of malware encrypts data on target systems and makes the offer of unlocking it in return for payment of a ransom. Earlier this decade, such attacks normally affected individuals although sometimes they would spill out onto networks they were attached. The game has shifted though and larger organisations seem to have become the primary target, such as in this recent story about a US city.

It is a global problem although US cities seem to attract particular attention. I did some searching and found a map of recent reported cases in the USA (from here), which shows that health and educational institutions are also common targets. I did wonder about the distribution of attacks but it largely follows the pattern of US population density.

What I would be interested to know, and haven’t been able to track down yet, is how many places get hit twice or more? I would hope that those organisations that pay the high cost of refusing the ransom and fixing their own systems come out of the experience with more resilient setups, on a par with those that have shrugged off such attacks (for example, the St John Ambulance organisation in the UK was recently reported to have weathered such a storm). I would also be interested to see if those who pay their ‘Danegeld‘ tend to get hit again, either by the same or other attackers. Perhaps, instead, they pay the ransom and pay for improved protection.

Meanwhile, in terms of personal defences, it is vital to have back ups of everything important, which you know you could restore from. They need to be kept current and you need copies stored in locations that aren’t directly accessible from anything that goes rogue on your main system.

Sunday 8 September 2019
by Wulf

Same Dog, More Tricks

I have just finished setting up my Variax and Helix LT with the settings I want to use this morning and I’ve discovered another neat trick – I can control one of the effects using the tone knob on the guitar.

I was trying to figure out how to assign all the different tricks to foot switches on the Helix. You only get eight but you can have a lot more effects and I had already stacked up a couple (delay and chorus for a massive ambient sound; wah and univibe for unleashing psychadelic wobbles (*)). However, I still had tremolo, rotary speaker and chorus to go, each of which I wanted to be able to turn on and off separately, and only two switches unassigned.

Then I spotted the ‘Variax tone knob’ option. I’ve now got the tremolo on that. Initially, it was only off when the knob was all the way down but, after some experimentation, I’ve tweaked it. I’ve got most of the range for the regular purpose of controlling tone but, if I open it all the way up, the tremolo also comes on, adding another dimension to the sound.

All I need to do now is remember that while I’m playing this morning, so I don’t forget to use it – or don’t activate it when it wouldn’t fit!

(*) No, I probably won’t be using that one much at church this morning but you never know…

Saturday 7 September 2019
by Wulf


I realised earlier this week why my water butts didn’t fill up at all in the heavy rain we had last Friday – I still had the plug in from last time they were full to the brim.

In theory, the design of the feed should stop them filling automatically when the butts become full but, particularly with two linked together, it isn’t quite so easy to get that working in practice. My solution is an old rubber wine-bottle stopper, which I’ve trimmed down at one and can use to stem the flow if necessary. The trouble is, it can be easy to forget and leave the plug in!

According to the present forecast, we will probably get more rain on Monday afternoon, so at least I’m now ready for that.

Friday 6 September 2019
by Wulf

Fruitful Day

Solanum lycopersicum 'Orange Rapture'
Orange Rapture

We’re into peak tomato season. Here is Tuesday’s haul of “Orange Rapture” tomatoes and I think there will be more to pick tomorrow.

This particular variety came from seed saved from a punnet of tomatoes purchased in a supermarket last year. I wasn’t sure if they would grow true to type but they’ve got the colour and, if anything, and even better flavour. I’ve also been interested to note that the early fruits were quite small but I am now starting to get cherry tomatoes that are pretty much the size of the original batch.

Given that the original punnet cost less than the average pack of tomato seeds and that I had plenty for myself and to give away, I’d count this one as a financial (and horticultural and gastronomic) success.