The Divinity School

wewriwa
Welcome to weekend writing warriors. Many fine authors, and me, contribute short snippets for your delectation.

Since it seems that our Regency spy romance is much more popular than our science fiction, this post introduces the sequel to The Art of Deception.


Amanda looked up from her stitchery at the noise; her parents were arguing; they always were arguing. This time it seemed to be about the assembly tonight; her father did not want to attend it. She thought, “Perhaps they love to argue,” and with them distracted, put down her stitchery. She rose and slipped away to an upstairs room; a room away from the noise, but more important, it was where she hid her books. The ones that were too exciting for a mere female.
Ignoring the distant cries of battle from her parents, she sat in the window. She opened her book, a tattered copy of Hutton’s ‘Course in Mathematics’ and re-read the inscription, “To my darling sister, better you than me, Freddy.” She paged through the book to find the section, on symmetric polynomials; it was hard going, but interesting.
A gentle knock, on the door frame, disturbed her. Mary, her maid, said, “Miss, your mother is asking for you; remember, there is an assembly tonight.”


My sincere apologies for abusing semi-colons.

As a bit of a hint, symmetric polynomials were the basis for Galois’ investigations into polynomial groups. Groups form the basis for much of modern cryptography – including the https you don’t see at this website. Amanda won’t go there, but … well you’ll see. Any road, Dr Hutton’s book was state of the art for 1809, and her brother has done her a great favour by sending it to her. Mind you, he wants to be a poet – a much more suitable occupation for a gentleman.

Chipping Sodbury today

The assembly takes place in Chipping Sodbury, a small town near Coalpit Heath, which is near the villages of Frampton and Cotterell. Not to mention the thriving iron works at Iron Acton. It doesn’t look it today, but the area was a hotbed of coal mining and iron working in the early 19th century. Mind you, Frampton was an industrial centre for making hats. Today they’re all suburban communities on the outskirts of Bristol. The featured image shows how some of the area looks today – the buildings in the foreground would have been there, but those on the hill were built mostly after the second world war.

The Art of Deception, first in a series of late Georgian/early Regency spy novels is now up.. You can get the first part here.

Illegal aliens is up for order on Amazon. In the end, the way to fix my mistakes was to issue a new edition. I still used kindle create but in a more native way to produce a “reflowable” book.

You can get a copy of the first four chapters on instafreebie.

You can find my, well our, works here.

Illegal Aliens XX

wewriwa
Welcome to weekend writing warriors. Many fine authors, and me, contribute short snippets for your delectation. This is the start of a new work, Illegal Aliens. It is something of a cross between a horror story, a science fiction tale, and a romance.

One of a somewhat menacing pair of visitors finished last week with “that is irrelevant.” Maybe for them.  The visitors found a mysterious note in what looks vaguely like Arabic, in a somewhat illegal search. Roland, in a mixture of embarrassment and pride read it (or at least its summary) last week. Another element from Roland’s past and a cat show up.  Last week we met Roland’s old post-doctoral supervisor. Roland continues translating (and the cat is back). The cavalry arrives this week, in the form of a DI who worked on Roland’s missing wife and child.


The last image provoked a derisive laugh, “Are you sure, Dr Welchmann, that you can’t read it … the passage is from the book of the dead, a blessing … I mean, it’s in the textbooks;  even your books.”

The doorbell interrupted the readings; the woman went to the door, and after a heated discussion at the door, reluctantly escorted someone in; the man she escorted said, “Ah, Roland, I see you’re entertaining the funnies … what happened?”

“Apparently they’re worried about that explosion in London; think I had something to do with it.”

The man studied the two people for MI6 and then asked Roland, “Did you lay gas lines in 1950, and not bother to put them on the map?”

“No.”

“Then it’s hard to see what you have to do with it; it wasn’t a bomb, it was a gas leak … small comfort to the injured, but nothing to do with,” he nodded at the MI6 agents, “that lot.”

“Thank you John; I’m sure you didn’t visit just to tell me that.”

“No, this is … official … about Janet and Thomas.”

“News,” Roland’s attention focused on him.

“Good and bad … something’s been found, but …”


My sincere apologies for abusing semi-colons.

I’m getting a bit ahead but these images will be useful next week.

The Black Mountains of Wales are stark and beautiful. This picture shows the dense heather that covers their flat tops. Sugarloaf mountain is that peak to the right of the background.

Grwyne Fawr is on the other side of the mountain in this picture.

Illegal aliens is up for order on Amazon. In the end, the way to fix my mistakes was to issue a new edition. I still used kindle create but in a more native way to produce a “reflowable” book.

You can get a copy of the first four chapters on instafreebie.

You can find my, well our, works here.

The Art of Deception, first in a series of late Georgian/early Regency spy novels is now up.. You can get the first part here.

Make Mercia Great Again – Offa’s Dyke.

I had a chance to walk on Offa’s dyke. About 800 AD (or CE if you’re a stickler), Offa, the king of Mercia built a wall along the border with Wales. Parts of it still survive.

It was rather dark under all that growth, so the picture isn’t quite as clear as ideal. It wasn’t really a fortification, but more of a definition of the boundary between the two kingdoms, and no the Welsh didn’t pay for it. You can see where the Mercians dug stone and earth from the English side to build it up – usually on the edge of a ridge where there wasn’t room to grab soil from the Welsh.

The trail follows the wall for about four kilometers. We came back through Beech’s farm (a good looking campsite) and down “Miss Graces’ lane.”

There’s a ‘goddess’ offering near the Devil’s pulpit (since Tintern Abbey is in ruins, I guess he’s winning).

The pulpit, itself, with the ruins visible in the haze below. The Devil was supposed to preach to the monks from here.

English Robbins have set up near here. There were at least to male birds, both begging and chirping loudly to each other. (Get off my lawn?).

Long-horned cattle that reminded me of Aurochs as they moved through the forest were in the woods near our car.

A few places from Illegal Aliens #avebury

When I write set in modern day Britain, I’m careful about the settings.

The Red Lion is a real pub, with a real well inside it, and (according to my researcher) good food and great beer (Avebury Well Water was an awesome bitter by his report).

Avebury itself is full of tourists this time of year (the Equinox well past). Tourists, sheep, and stones.

There wasn’t a guided tour at the long barrow – the kind of thing Roland did for fun and spare cash – though my researcher passed one on the way back to the car.

Illegal Aliens XIX

wewriwa
Welcome to weekend writing warriors. Many fine authors, and me, contribute short snippets for your delectation. This is the start of a new work, Illegal Aliens. It is something of a cross between a horror story, a science fiction tale, and a romance.

Roland awoke after bringing an attractive young woman home, alone. Something of a surprise, and in some ways a shock. His mobile chirruped into life and the works manager – where he’d been called to examine a mysterious block of Roman concrete – told him the “bloody German bomb, it went.” A knock on the door interrupts their conversation just after Mr Shah explains that one of his workers couldn’t even stand the firecrackers on Guy Fawkes.

One of a somewhat menacing pair of visitors finished last week with “that is irrelevant.” Maybe for them.  The visitors found a mysterious note in what looks vaguely like Arabic, in a somewhat illegal search. Roland, in a mixture of embarrassment and pride read it (or at least its summary) last week. Another element from Roland’s past and a cat show up.  Last week we met Roland’s old post-doctoral supervisor. This week Roland continues translating (and the cat is back).


The man handed Roland his phone, there was an image, a scan of a fragment on it.

Roland started reading, darkness, despite the sunny morning, surrounded them and ‘his’ cat hissed; Roland stopped and the room lightened; the cat resumed her purr, “It’s a curse … not to be read aloud, at least not if you don’t mean it; it invokes Apep and Set among others … they’re the least obscure of the deities.”

“Who?”

“Apep, the God of Chaos and Evil, not to mention destruction; Set … basically the model for Satan the Bible, much as Osiris’s life and resurrection were models for Jesus or Mithras.”

“You don’t believe that tripe, do you?”

Roland shook his head, “No, not really, but it’s been such a strange last few days … I’d rather not tempt fate.”

He read further, silently; after looking at the wall for a moment, he turned to the agents and said, “It invokes them as protection; protection from something else; something far worse.”

The next image was spray-painted on a brick wall, “It’s from here, painted on the new biochemistry building, off Sherrington Road … keeps coming back, no matter what they do to clean it.”

“It’s a warning, about transgenic animals … bringing a curse from Bastet upon their efforts.”

His cat purred louder.


My sincere apologies for abusing semi-colons.

Illegal aliens is up for order on Amazon. In the end, the way to fix my mistakes was to issue a new edition. I still used kindle create but in a more native way to produce a “reflowable” book.

You can get a copy of the first four chapters on instafreebie.

I’ll be off exploring Exmoor next week. High open and wind-swept hills with unbelievable views (when it isn’t raining) and sea nearby (wet suits are a good idea if you want to actually bathe). Horses and horse-flies.

Horses on Exmoor Down

The ordnance survey maps show stone circles and other neat neolithic monuments. One has to be careful, however, the last time I was there I used the British Grid and a GPS to find one. It was literally a circle of small stones (about 2Kg each) in a field of heather. Unlike Stonehenge of Avebury, it wouldn’t have been a difficult feat of engineering.

You can find my, well our, works here.

The Art of Deception, first in a series of late Georgian/early Regency spy novels is available for preorder. You can get the first part here.

On Kindle Create

I tried using Kindle Create on Illegal Aliens – you can, from pdf, include all sorts of neat fonts and things like that.

Don’t.

I repeat, don’t.


You’ll get a non-reflowable book and one that is too large to set to 0.99 (and thus misses promo’s).

The only solution is to republish as a second edition. The kindle creator, starting from docx, etc files, can handle text dividers and things like that easily. It does a surprisingly good job of formatting and is worth using.

Illegal Aliens XVIII

wewriwa
Welcome to weekend writing warriors. Many fine authors, and me, contribute short snippets for your delectation. This is the start of a new work, Illegal Aliens. It is something of a cross between a horror story, a science fiction tale, and a romance.

Roland awoke after bringing an attractive young woman home, alone. Something of a surprise, and in some ways a shock. His mobile chirruped into life and the works manager – where he’d been called to examine a mysterious block of Roman concrete – told him the “bloody German bomb, it went.” A knock on the door interrupts their conversation just after Mr Shah explains that one of his workers couldn’t even stand the firecrackers on Guy Fawkes.

One of a somewhat menacing pair of visitors finished last week with “that is irrelevant.” Maybe for them.  The visitors found a mysterious note in what looks vaguely like Arabic, in a somewhat illegal search. Roland, in a mixture of embarrassment and pride read it (or at least its summary) last week. Another element from Roland’s past and a cat show up. The cat isn’t in today’s post, but hasn’t gone away (yet).


 

Roland sighed, Welchmann wasn’t his favourite person, not since that time when he was a post-doc and the professor had made a pass at Janet; more than a pass in fact, but the police hadn’t been very enthusiastic about pressing charges; not against an eminent and well-connected scholar when the charges were based on the word of a grubby post-doc and his wife.

He took the phone, “Yes,”

“Ah, Roland, I hear you’re reading Demotic now; quite fluently if you translated that – fairly obscure.”

“Yes.”

“Not a lot of call for that in Roman Britain, so I’d think.”

“You’d be surprised, besides I was thinking of a trip, need a change of scene.”

“No news about the lovely Janet … or your boy, whatshisname, then.”

“No.”

“Sorry, anyway there are a few cryptic inscriptions I’d like you to look at,”  Roland looked at his male guest; the man’s mobile buzzed and he jumped.  Welchmann continued, “I’ve sent them to our mutual acquaintance.”


My sincere apologies for abusing semi-colons.

It’s a little difficult to type them in wordpress, but you can get the appropriate fonts for hieroglyphics from psifer.com.  Hieroglyphic writing is an interesting mixture of more or less alphabetic approaches, combined with determinatives (shades of meaning) that make it something like a rebus. A reed might be the symbol for ‘i’ and a cup for “i’b” – but a cup could also mean that this word is an offering and not be part of the sound of the word at all. The Semetic people who developed the ancestor of our alphabet took the idea of pictures for sounds, but (fortunately) left the determinatives behind.

The hieroglyphs for Bastet (Bst) show how this works. The unsealed olive oil jar (Gardiner sign w2) is ‘Bs’ and the loaf of bread (it looks like a rising sun to me, but it’s a loaf) is ‘t’.  Sometimes you’ll see it with two ‘t’s to make it clear that it is bstt. The final sign is a determinative for a female god. Just for the heck of it the sealed olive oil jar (Gardiner sign w1) has a different sound.

Illegal aliens is up for order on Amazon. I tried using kindle creator on it to control dividers and formatting, and worked from a pdf file. The results are not as good as I’d hoped, but Amazon – in its wisdom won’t let me change it now that the kindle create program actually works from word files. It has, as usual, laid an egg.

You can get a copy of the first four chapters on instafreebie.

You can find my, well our, works here.

The Art of Deception, first in a series of late Georgian/early Regency spy novels is available for preorder. You can get the first part here.

Illegal Aliens XVII

wewriwa
Welcome to weekend writing warriors. Many fine authors, and me, contribute short snippets for your delectation. This is the start of a new work, Illegal Aliens. It is something of a cross between a horror story, a science fiction tale, and a romance.

Roland awoke after bringing an attractive young woman home, alone. Something of a surprise, and in some ways a shock. His mobile chirruped into life and the works manager – where he’d been called to examine a mysterious block of Roman concrete – told him the “bloody German bomb, it went.” A knock on the door interrupts their conversation just after Mr Shah explains that one of his workers couldn’t even stand the firecrackers on Guy Fawkes.

One of a somewhat menacing pair of visitors finished last week with “that is irrelevant.” Maybe for them.  The visitors found a mysterious note in what looks vaguely like Arabic, in a somewhat illegal search. Roland, in a mixture of embarrassment and pride read it (or at least its summary) last week. Another element from Roland’s past gets introduced this week.


A cat scratching at the outside door interrupted them;  the woman rose, “I’ll get it,” and let an animal in; a sleek, dark black animal, with glossy clean fur shot in and jumped into Roland’s lap; she, for it wasn’t a tom, purred; after inspecting the room as if she owned it, she turned and hissed at his two visitors.

“Did you own a cat … it’s not in your files, and I don’t see any cat dishes.”

“I guess I do now,” Roland stroked the cat, which had resumed purring and nuzzling him; he asked his uninvited guests “Are you done with me?”

The woman said, “Not yet;” then her mobile chittered away, playing ‘Rule Britannia’ as a ringtone.

“Not exactly subtle,” Roland said.

The man replied, “We’re not undercover.”

Roland and the man both listened to half of the conversation.

“So it really is Demotic.”

“A love note … that’s what he said too; read it to us.”

“No … it’s to Roland Stevens, he’s a lecturer at the local,” She handed the phone to Roland, “I’d sent a copy to our specialist, at Oxford. Professor Welchmann.”


My sincere apologies for abusing semi-colons.

Illegal aliens is up for order on Amazon. I tried using kindle creator on it to control dividers and formatting, and worked from a pdf file. The results are not as good as I’d hoped, but Amazon – in its wisdom won’t let me change it now that the kindle create program actually works from word files. It has, as usual, laid an egg.

You can get a copy of the first four chapters on instafreebie.

You can find my, well our, works here.

The Art of Deception, first in a series of late Georgian/early Regency spy novels is available for preorder. You can get the first part here.

A Little Wizardry, A Lot of Security.

fsck_itMy close collaborator wears one of these (in a men’s size and cut). Usually it means he’s a bit PO’ed, but he claims it’s to show his unix wizardry. Still, at least he looks the part – which I don’t. (At least he doesn’t smell the part.)

That said, I’m going to earn my right to wear this shirt with today’s post.

The problem:

Too many people want to look at your laptop and it may become difficult to stop them. Especially in those bulwarks of personal liberty – the USA and the UK. Not to mention other places which don’t even give lip service to the idea of freedom.

A solution:

You need to be able to show the spooks a machine that is clean. Even better, a machine that has links to the collected wisdom of Ms May or Mr Trump and a background set to an appropriate image. However, you want to use your machine to do other things and you don’t want traces left on it. Even more important the media that stores the data should be disposable.

You can get a cheap, solid-state, laptop such as a lenovo ns-10 for $100-$200 on Amazon. These have long battery lifetimes, but limited storage. They’re bullet-proof (figuratively speaking).

It turns out windows 10 will easily boot from a usb stick. There may be an event in the log files, but it’s not hard to do and it does not leave a tell-tale boot sequence.

It does mean, however, that you need to construct a persistent linux boot image on a device.

  • micro-sdhc cards can be put in a usb adapter and work like normal usb memory.
  • micro-sdhc cards are easy to destroy. A few seconds with a cigarette lighter and they’re toast. NSA-grade toast as far as recovery is concerned.
  • micro-sdhc cards are not terribly expensive, and can be sent by second channels such as regular mail, or inside of a camera or phone.

patriot_sdhc

So in many ways they’re a spy’s dream.

Making a persistent boot device.

  1. Acquire the software. Download your favorite linux distribution and make sure that gparted and unetbootin are installed.  (sudo apt-get install will usually do the trick. There are windows versions of these, but if you are installing a linux operating system bite the bullet and learn to use it.)
  2. Repartition the media.  I used gparted because it’s graphical and cute. parted will work too, but you have to be a little more careful about typos.  Windows will only boot from a fat32 partition (fat 16 is ok, but NTFS is right out). This will cause some complications, but nothing too hard to deal with.  I set up a 7 gig  fat 32 primary partition and labeled it bootable. (Two steps with gparted, make the partition (execute the commands), and then after it’s made set the bootable flag.) The rest of my disk (which will be invisible under windows anyway) was made into an ext3 partition. I could have used NTFS too. By the way, you’ll need to be root or sudoer to do this.
  3. Use unetbootin to install the software. It can read from an disk image (ISO) that you’ve downloaded. You’ll need enough space to install the software (about 3gig for linux mint 18) and 4 more gig.  At the bottom of the unetbootin menu is a line about creating a persistence file.  I made it 4 gig, which is as large as fat32 can take, by entering 4000.  Don’t accept unetbootin’s offer to reboot.
  4. So far these instructions have been more or less standard, and you have a bootable disk. But only 4 gig. WTF!  It used to be that you could have a casper-rw partition and it would mount that, but that actually took advantage of a security hole. So now for the magic.  With your disk mounted, cd to the other partition and create a whopping big file.   dd if=/dev/zero of=casper-rw bs=1M count=23300 will create a 24G file. It will take about an hour. Make a cup of tea. There’s probably a faster way to do this with the QEMU suite, but that’s another post.  The next step is to make that file into a filesystem itself.  mkfs.ext3 -F casper-rw will do the trick.
  5. Now you can boot the disk. But we’re not done. Casper files are mounted as loop-back files which means we have to mount them to proceed. The easiest way to do this is to just use the device. In windows 10, use the settings icon (that gear shaped thing), go to update & security and click on the recovery menu. Under advanced startup there is a restart now button. Click on it. Tell the machine to reboot from a device and then select the appropriate usb device. A grub menu should appear.

And it didn’t work. Well it did, sort of, booting without persistence. ARRGH! Now for the wizardry.

It turns out that the kernel needs to be passed a parameter to boot in a persistent mode.  This is literally the word ‘persistent’ and it’s appended after the ‘- -‘ in the configuration.  (i.e. it looks like stuff – – persistent with a space).  The configuration file was right. It just wasn’t the right configuration file.

So back on unix, we mount the drive and look at the boot/grub.cfg file. There’s no persistent passed to the kernel. So we add it. (Actually we copy the 5 lines and add it so we have both options.)  Now it works.

On with the show.

The casper-rw file is a virtual file system. It’s mounted as a loopback file system (mount casper-rw /other -o loop).  So we create a directory /other and a short script to mount the other casper file as a loop back.

#!/bin/sh
mount /media/mint/<a big funny string>/casper-rw /other -o loop

The <big funny string> is a UUID for the disk. One of those security things. I’m still working on how to get it to run automagically, but it works.

Why did I have to do this?

This is actually a feature. Most OS’s won’t let you run programs from a USB device because you could very easily make a virus that ran from disk to disk. The partitions on the disk are recognized as USB partitions, but once mounted in loopback mode are not and so files run. There were a set of instructions which involved making a casper-rw partition and which seemed to magically stop working. I suspect, and one of these days will check, that was an error in the grub configuration.

By the way, you’re the system user on this installation – so installing a useful utility like nmap might be an idea.

Illegal Aliens XVI

wewriwa
Welcome to weekend writing warriors. Many fine authors, and me, contribute short snippets for your delectation. This is the start of a new work, Illegal Aliens. It is something of a cross between a horror story, a science fiction tale, and a romance.

Roland awoke after bringing an attractive young woman home, alone. Something of a surprise, and in some ways a shock. His mobile chirruped into life and the works manager – where he’d been called to examine a mysterious block of Roman concrete – told him the “bloody German bomb, it went.” A knock on the door interrupts their conversation just after Mr Shah explains that one of his workers couldn’t even stand the firecrackers on Guy Fawkes.

One of a somewhat menacing pair of visitors finished last week with “that is irrelevant.” Maybe for them.  The visitors found a mysterious note in what looks vaguely like Arabic last week, in a somewhat illegal search.


 

“It’s a note from my … I don’t know; she was here last night … it’s just I’ve never had a note left for me in Demotic before.”

She asked, “Can you translate it?”

“Am I a specialist in Roman Britain?”

The woman glared at him, “Yes; we know that already; the Romans didn’t use Demotic.”

“I’ve studied it in the last couple of years – to keep my mind off … Janet.”

The man demanded, “What does it say?”

Roland blushed, “It’s sort of personal.”

“Translate it, or we’ll take you in and hold you while someone else does it.”

“Oh … well … here goes,” He cleared his throat and started, “Dearest love, thank you for last night, it was wonderful. It was so good that I’ll have to sleep it off; by all the Gods, even if it risks his revenge, even Zeus wasn’t that good, nor Jason.”


My sincere apologies for abusing semi-colons.

Illegal aliens is up for preorder on Amazon.
You can get a copy of the first four chapters on instafreebie.

You can find my, well our, works here.

Since Roland is a specialist in Roman Britain, and it is memorial day, a bit about Roman Armour.

Reenactors in Lorica Segmentata

The Romans didn’t actually use the breastplate and Mohawk-like Greek helmet so beloved in epic movies. The lorica segmentata (segmented armour) was much more practical. It was lighter, easier to make, easier to repair (if you survived) and easier to adjust to a new soldier. The plates are basically flat steel that is bent and strapped together. The overlapping segments provide decent protection, especially with your scutum (shield) and in a disciplined cohort. These reenactors are carrying pila (pilums) which are lances designed to break off once they hit. (Later on they used a shorter lawn-dart like construction – a plumbata –  an individual could carry 5-6 of them.)  Not shown are the gladius (sword) or the pugio (dagger). This reenactor wears chain mail (lorica hamata), which was worn mostly by auxiliaries.

The featured image shows a reconstruction of a Draco – dragon standard – similar to what the legions in Britain would have used. That and a Welsh flag which bears a striking remembrance of it.