Dan Q found GC5PPFT Ssssshhhh it’s a …….

This checkin to GC5PPFT Ssssshhhh it's a ....... reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

I’ve been working in Witney one day every week or two lately, but somehow I’ve never managed to sync up my work times with the hours that this building is accessible! Or, when I do, I’m in a hurry and don’t have time to stop and hunt!

This morning, though, the stars aligned and I was able to get to the GZ. The cache was pretty much where I expected based on the coordinates and the hint, but still took a minute out two to lay hands on. Soon, though, I was quietly sitting and reading past log entries.

SL TFTC! FP awarded for sheer awesome.

Dan sits in a library, holding a small book and with his finger to his lips in a 'shush' gesture. The back cover of the book contains text identifying it as a geocache.

Map of 51.786517,-1.487183

Dan Q archived GC90RH3 Tiny Log Book

This checkin to GC90RH3 Tiny Log Book reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

This morning two men from the council turned up at my door and asked if they could borrow my driveway to park their vehicle. We got chatting, and it turned out that they were going to be working on footpath maintenance nearby. Realising where they meant, I asked for more information about their work: their plan was to remove the footbridge which acts as the home to this geocache, and replace it with a new one a couple of metres over in order to bring the path in-line with its “correct” location!

A rugged white flatbed van with a yellow stripe and the logo of Oxfordshire County Council sits on a gravel driveway in a garden. The sun glistens off the windscreen and the driver-side window is partially ajar.

So I wandered out with them and removed the geocache before they got started on removing the bridge. I might be able to replace it after the new bridge is built, but – based on their description of the new bridge – it might need to be a different design of cache, so for now I’m archiving this one. This is perhaps my happiest cache-archiving ever.

I confirmed that this team weren’t the bridge inspection team who wrote a lovely log in a cache of mine hidden under a different bridge in this area, but they said that they do occasionally find caches as part of their work and try to return them as-they-found-them. Delightful conversation.

Map of 51.757567,-1.40085

Dan Q found GC8R5WH NANOBLITZ Like a Rat up a Pipe

This checkin to GC8R5WH NANOBLITZ Like a Rat up a Pipe reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

First place I looked, but I still squeaked with delight to see the cache container! There were many options for my stop-and-cache plan on today’s journey, but I’m already glad I chose here: these caches are awesome, and that’s coming from somebody who normally hates nanos. FP awarded.

Map of 52.400483,-2.185333

Dan Q performed maintenance for GC8W7QW Forgotten Bridge

This checkin to GC8W7QW Forgotten Bridge reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

Took a late hike out here for a maintenance checkup before winter: make sure the waterproof seal is good etc. Really creepy to walk out here alone in the night fog, silent except for the occasional startling loud bellow of a rutting muntjack!

All is good here, and I was delighted to find in the logbook perhaps my favourite ever log entry in a geocache I own… it’s from the Oxfordshire County Council Countryside Access Team!

Geocache logbook entry reading: "2/11/21 - Found during bridge inspection. Oxfordshire County Council Countryside Access Team."

Map of 51.7652,-1.390367

Dan Q found GC944X7 Pop! Bang! Crack! Goes the Christmas Cracker

This checkin to GC944X7 Pop! Bang! Crack! Goes the Christmas Cracker reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

The second of the caches in this series that I found in between errands, this afternoon, was probably the easiest, because the hiding place reminds me distinctly of one of my own hides! This one, though, enjoys some excellent Christmas theming, for which a FP is due. TFTC!

Map of 51.678267,-1.42455

Dan Q found GC7JRT4 Preston Docks – Oh Buoy!

This checkin to GC7JRT4 Preston Docks - Oh Buoy! reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

What an excellent cache container! I immediately spotted it but then disregarded it when I couldn’t see an obvious ingress. My sister Sarah, though, whom I’m visiting in Preston, tried touching it a different way and soon discovered how to get at the cache. Log almost full – space only for one or two more entries.

Excellent cache. FP awarded. TFTC.

Map of 53.759583,-2.74225

Dan Q found GC98N5T Tar Lakes/South Leigh Loop #12 Clockwork Orange

This checkin to GC98N5T Tar Lakes/South Leigh Loop #12 Clockwork Orange reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

As I worked my way to this, the third cache in my tour for today, I realised that my local sparrowhawk – who lives up a tree behind my house in Sutton – seemed to be following me. I’d seen him atop a couple of telegraph poles earlier on and I’d heard him screech a few times, and when I looked up I saw that he was still above me. Perhaps he’d decided to come on this expedition too?

One of the things that I love most about this series is the diversity of quirky and unusual cache containers, of which this was no exception. I was also pleased to find a fresh, clean log sheet, and added my name as the first on the list. TFTC, and FP for the surprise!

Map of 51.765533,-1.43245

Holidays in the Age of COVID

We’ve missed out on or delayed a number of trips and holidays over the last year and a half for, you know, pandemic-related reasons. So this summer, in addition to our trip to Lichfield, we arranged a series of back-to-back expeditions.

1. Alton Towers

The first leg of our holiday saw us spend a long weekend at Alton Towers, staying over at one of their themed hotels in between days at the water park and theme park:

2. Darwin Forest

The second leg of our holiday took us to a log cabin in the Darwin Forest Country Park for a week:

3. Preston

Kicking off the second week of our holiday, we crossed the Pennines to Preston to hang out with my family (with the exception of JTA, who had work to do back in Oxfordshire that he needed to return to):

4. Forest of Bowland

Ruth and I then left the kids with my mother and sisters for a few days to take an “anniversary mini-break” of glamping in the gorgeous Forest of Bowland:

(If you’re interested in Steve Taylor’s bathtub-carrying virtual-Everest expedition, here’s his Facebook page and JustGiving profile.)

5. Meanwhile, in Preston

The children, back in Preston, were apparently having a whale of a time:

6. Suddenly, A Ping

The plan from this point was simple: Ruth and I would return to Preston for a few days, hang out with my family some more, and eventually make a leisurely return to Oxfordshire. But it wasn’t to be…

Screenshot from the NHS Covid App: "You need to self-isolate."
Well that’s not the kind of message you want to get from your phone.

I got a “ping”. What that means is that my phone was in close proximity to somebody else’s phone on 29 August and that other person subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.

My risk from this contact is exceptionally low. There’s only one place that my phone was in close proximity to the phone of anybody else outside of my immediate family, that day, and it’s when I left it in a locker at the swimming pool near our cabin in the Darwin Forest. Also, of course, I’d been double-jabbed for a month and a half and I’m more-cautious than most about contact, distance, mask usage etc. But my family are, for their own (good) reasons, more-cautious still, so self-isolating at Preston didn’t look like a possibility for us.

Ruth and Dan in a car, in a car park.
Ruth and I went directly to a drive-through PCR testing facility.

As soon as I got the notification we redirected to the nearest testing facility and both got swabs done. 8 days after possible exposure we ought to have a detectable viral load, if we’ve been infected. But, of course, the tests take a day or so to process, so we still needed to do a socially-distanced pickup of the kids and all their stuff from Preston and turn tail for Oxfordshire immediately, cutting our trip short.

The results would turn up negative, and subsequent tests would confirm that the “ping” was a false positive. And in an ironic twist, heading straight home actually put us closer to an actual COVID case as Ruth’s brother Owen turned out to have contracted the bug at almost exactly the same time and had, while we’d been travelling down the motorway, been working on isolating himself in an annex of the “North wing” of our house for the duration of his quarantine.

Barricade with signs reading "Quarantine: Zombie Outbreak"
I set up a “yellow zone” between Owen’s quarantine area and the rest of the house into which we could throw supplies. And I figured I’d have fun with the signage.

7. Ruth & JTA go to Berwick

Thanks to negative tests and quick action in quarantining Owen, Ruth and JTA were still able to undertake the next part of this three-week holiday period and take their anniversary break (which technically should be later in the year, but who knows what the situation will be by then?) to Berwick-upon-Tweed. That’s their story to tell, if they want to, but the kids and I had fun in their absence:

8. Reunited again

Finally, Ruth and JTA returned from their mini-break and we got to do a few things together as a family again before our extended holiday drew to a close:

9. Back to work?

Tomorrow I’m back at work, and after 23 days “off” I’m honestly not sure I remember what I do for a living any more. Something to do with the Internet, right? Maybe ecommerce?

I’m sure it’ll all come right back to me, at least by the time I’ve read through all the messages and notifications that doubtless await me (I’ve been especially good at the discipline, this break, of not looking at work notifications while I’ve been on holiday; I’m pretty proud of myself.)

But looking back, it’s been a hell of a three weeks. After a year and a half of being pretty-well confined to one place, doing a “grand tour” of so many destinations as a family and getting to do so many new and exciting things has made the break feel even longer than it was. It seems like it must have been months since I last had a Zoom meeting with a work colleague!

For now, though, it’s time to try to get the old brain back into work mode and get back to making the Web a better place!

Dan Q found GC98N1P Tar Lakes/South Leigh Loop #5 LOST

This checkin to GC98N1P Tar Lakes/South Leigh Loop #5 LOST reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

Like all the other caches on this trail, the coordinates for this were spot on and I was delighted and surprised to find a most-excellent themed cache. The container was a little hard to open: perhaps there’s an emergency lever somewhere on the inside that I just couldn’t see? ;-) FP awarded. TFTC.

Map of 51.769333,-1.443267

Dan Q found GC98MZC Tar Lakes/South Leigh Loop #2 Four Weddings

This checkin to GC98MZC Tar Lakes/South Leigh Loop #2 Four Weddings reflects a geocaching.com log entry. See more of Dan's cache logs.

I spent a long time looking in all the wrong places before I finally… swung around… to the right way of thinking. Brilliant hiding place, FP awarded.

I’d figured that this path, being listed as a bridleway, would be suitable for my bike: i.e. relatively broad and flat, no stiles, etc. I was partially right, and the path soon became a little bumpy for my mostly road-going bike, but it worked out.

Map of 51.7618,-1.4421

The Diamonds, The Dagger and One Classy Dame

On account of the pandemic, I’d expected my fortieth birthday to be a somewhat more-muted affair than I’d hoped. I had a banner, I got trolled by bagels, and I received as a gift a pizza oven with which I immediately set fire to several pieces of cookware, but I hadn’t expected to be able to do anything like the “surprise” party of my thirtieth, and that saddened me a little. So imagine my surprise when I come back from an evening walk the day after my birthday to discover than an actual (remote) surprise party really had been arranged without my knowing!

Matt, Suz, Alec, Jen, Dermot and Doreen on a Google Meet screen.
“Hello, remote guests! What are you doing here?”

Not content with merely getting a few folks together for drinks, though, Ruth and team had gone to great trouble (involving lots of use of the postal service) arranging a “kit” murder mystery party in the Inspector McClue series – The Diamonds, The Dagger, and One Classy Dame – for us all to play. The story is sort-of a spiritual successor to The Brie, The Bullet, and The Black Cat, which we’d played fifteen years earlier. Minor spoilers follow.

JTA (wearing a string of pearls) and Robin (wearing sunglasses)
“Hello, local guests. Wait… why are you all in costumes…?”

Naturally, I immediately felt underdressed, having not been instructed that I might need a costume, and underprepared, having only just heard for the first time that I would be playing the part of German security sidekick Lieutenant Kurt Von Strohm minutes before I had to attempt my most outrageous German accent.

Dan with his tongue out holding a glass of champagne.
Fortunately I was able to quickly imbibe a few glasses of champagne and quickly get into the spirit. Hic.

The plot gave me in particular a certain sense of deja vu. In The Brie, The Bullet, and The Black Cat, I played a French nightclub owner who later turned out to be an English secret agent supplying the French Resistance with information. But in The Diamonds, The Dagger, and One Classy Dame I played a Gestapo officer who… also later turned out to be an English secret agent infiltrating the regime and, you guessed it, supplying the French Resistance.

Jen drinking from the neck of a nearly-empty wine bottle.
As she had previously with Sour Grapes, Ruth had worked to ensure that a “care package” had reached each murder mystery guest. Why yes, it was a boozy care package.

It was not the smoothest nor the most-sophisticated “kit” murder mystery we’ve enjoyed. The technology made communication challenging, the reveal was less-satisfying than some others etc. But the company was excellent. (And the acting way pretty good too, especially by our murderer whose character was exquisitely played.)

JTA downing a Jeroboam of champagne.
The largest bottle, though, was with us: we opened the Jeroboam of champagne Ruth and JTA had been saving from their anniversary (they have a tradition involving increasing sizes of bottle; it’s a whole thing; I’ll leave them to write about it someday).

And of course the whole thing quickly descended into a delightful shouting match with accusations flying left, right, and centre and nobody having a clue what was going on. Like all of our murder mystery parties!

Google Meet transcript with the words "You are the Jewish", which nobody said.
I’m not sure how I feel about Google Meet’s automatic transcription feature. It was generally pretty accurate, but it repeatedly thought that it heard the word “Jewish” being spoken by those of us who were putting on German accents, even though none of us said that.

In summary, the weekend of my fortieth birthday was made immeasurably better by getting to hang out with (and play a stupid game with) some of my friends despite the lockdown, and I’m ever so grateful that those closest to me were able to make such a thing happen (and without me even noticing in advance).

Dissertation Hand-In Déjà Vu

I last handed in a dissertation almost 16 years ago; that one marked the cumulation of my academic work at Aberystwyth University, then the “University of Wales, Aberystwyth”. Since then I’ve studied programming, pentesting and psychology (the P-subject Triathalon?)… before returning to university to undertake a masters degree in information security and forensics.

Today, I handed in that dissertation. Thanks to digital hand-ins, I’m able to “hand it in” and then change my mind, make changes, and hand-in a replacement version right up until the deadline on Wednesday (I’m already on my second version!), so I’ve still got a few evenings left for last-minute proofreads and tweaks. That said, I’m mostly happy with where it is right now.

Project management graph for my dissertation
I found it motivating to maintain a graph of my dissertation’s “outstanding tasks” where I would see it every day. Also, as it started to get hairy, my word limit.

Writing a dissertation was harder this time around. Things that made it harder included:

  • Writing a masters-level dissertation rather than a bachelors-level one, naturally.
  • Opting for a research dissertation rather than an engineering one: I had the choice, and I knew that I’d do better in engineering, but I did research anyway because I thought that the challenge would be good for me.
  • Being older! It’s harder to cram information into a late-thirty-something brain than into a young-twenty-something one.
  • Work: going through the recruitment process for and starting at Automattic ate a lot of my time, especially as I was used to working part-time at the Bodleian and I’d been turning a little of what would otherwise have been my “freelance work time” into “study time” (last time around I was working part-time for SmartData, of course).
  • Life: the kids, our (hopefully) upcoming house move and other commitments are pretty good at getting in the way. Ruth and JTA have been amazing at carving out blocks of time for me to study, especially these last few weekends, which may have made all the difference.
Dan's masters dissertation: "Impact of the use of Language on Adoption of Optional Multifactor Authentication"
Despite this thing being big and heavy and dense, it somehow doesn’t seem to fully represent the weight of blood, sweat and tears that went into it.

It feels like less of a bang than last time around, but still sufficient that I’ll breathe a big sigh of relief. I’ve a huge backlog of things to get on with that I’ve been putting-off until this monster gets finished, but I’m not thinking about them quite yet.

I need a moment to get my bearings again and get used to the fact that once again – and for the first time in several years – I’ll soon be not-a-student. Fun fact, I’ve spent very-slightly-more than half of my adult life as a registered student: apparently I’m a sucker it, for all that I complain… in fact, I’m already wondering what I can study next (suggestions welcome!), although I’ve promised myself that I’ll take a couple of years off before I get into anything serious.

(This is, of course, assuming I pass my masters degree, otherwise I might still be a student for a little longer while I “fix” my dissertation!)

Sankey chart showing participants divided into groups and exposed to different experiments, and the results of those experiments.
A personal highlight was that I got to find a genuine use for Sankey charts and treemaps in my work for perhaps the first time.

If anybody’s curious (and I shan’t blame you if you’re not), here’s my abstract… assuming I don’t go back and change it yet again in the next couple of days (it’s still a little clunky especially in the final sentence):

Multifactor authentication (MFA), such as the use of a mobile phone in addition to a username and password when logging in to a website, is one of the strongest security enhancements an individual can add to their online accounts. Compared to alternative enhancements like refraining from the reuse of passwords it’s been shown to be easy and effective. However: MFA is optional for most consumer-facing Web services supporting MFA, and elective user adoption is well under 10%.

How can user adoption be increased? Delivering security awareness training to users has been shown to help, but the gold standard would be a mechanism to encourage uptake that can be delivered at the point at which the user first creates an account on a system. This would provide strong protection to an account for its entire life.

Using realistic account signup scenarios delivered to participants’ own computers, an experiment was performed into the use of language surrounding the invitation to adopt MFA. During the scenarios, participants were exposed to statements designed to either instil fear of hackers or to praise them for setting up an account and considering MFA. The effect on uptake rates is compared. A follow-up questionnaire asks questions to understand user security behaviours including password and MFA choices and explain their thought processes when considering each.

No significant difference is found between the use of “fear” and “praise” statements. However, secondary information revealed during the experiment and survey provides recommendations for service providers to offer MFA after, rather than at, the point of account signup, and for security educators to focus their energies on dispelling user preconceptions about the convenience, privacy implications, and necessity of MFA.