Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Help for hoarding tendency or when keeping too much stuff.

Possessions spectrum

Very few people live without possessions, many people live with too many possessions. Between those extremes is a spectrum of ownership. Commenting on others levels of material possessions is rarely received with grace. Even an admiring "You have lots of stuff." comes across as "You have loads of junk." It's all about the point of view, one persons sacred collection of seashells and driftwood is another persons heap of bio-waste and major fire hazard.

Possession hoarding is the difficult far end of the collecting items spectrum. Hoarding can have serious health implications and is certainly a state of mind problem.  See this linked article for a full description of the symptoms and underlying thought patterns associated with hoarding.  Like many frames of mind compulsive hoarders cannot see themselves as such. If hoarders do recognise there is a problem, they often feel so overwhelmed as to be paralysed by the thought of separating the good stuff from the junk.  We are not going far into that spectrum, just providing some advice and methods for "thinning the heard", "lightening the load", "opening the shelves", "out with the old before in with the new".  If the struggle is with a loft full of boxes or a "garage with things that matter to me" then this article may be able to help.

If you have a friend or relative living in the squaller of broken possessions, trash, and junk and you really want to help then, read the linked article above, understand the hoarding mindset and seek professional help. Anything else is just scratching at the edges of a serious problem. Check out online resources such as Help for Hoarders.

A big pile of stuff arrives one item at a time and remains a problem every single day in which no clearing action is taken. Messy houses do not happen in a day and won't be cleared in a single day - take a forward step each and every day.

On a lighter note remember the argument between two "Collectors" :
A to B ) All your stuff is junk, all my junk is stuff....
B to A ) No, all my junk is stuff, all your stuff is junk.
(nod to PeteF for this one)

How to tell the difference between a "collection" and a "heap of stuff" ? 

A collection is a group of very similar items each of which has proven resale value and together could be sold under a single item listing at an action site. For example :

My vinyl records are not a collection because most of them have no value ( too common ) and could not be sold together because they spread across too many musical genres. This makes them just a heap of old records. The real issue is what items have emotional attachment and what have actual provable monetary value. If they are not all together and catalogued, they probably not a collection.

Only others can say if the things in front of you have value. That value is only determined by an actual sale. You might like, love, value, cherish each and every item but that does not give them value because others do not see or have the perceived emotional links. Emotional attachment has a scale; do not fool yourself into thinking that every item has or should deserve the same level of emotional attachment. Grandma's ashes in a jar are not the same as the teaspoons she used or the newspaper she wrapped her shoes in. If you cannot distinguish between various levels of emotional attachment to different items then hoarding madness lies just ahead. Practice the separation skills listed below to test this aspect.

Getting in the right frame of mind.

The first problem with starting is getting in the right frame of mind to move forward. Dismiss any feelings of "don't know where to start", or "the job is too big to even try" with one of these mind exercises. Lose the bonds of unnecessary attachment with these thought exercises :

  • For 3 minutes, close your eyes, relax and picture yourself looking out across an empty dessert landscape. Say 5 times out loud:  "I see nothing and that is a good thing." Prepare  for change with this simple thought pattern.
  • Picture yourself holding an apple, in one hand and small knife in the other hand. The apple is rosy red, fresh and juicy but looking more closely the other side is bruised. Picture yourself cutting out the bruised flesh and throwing it in trash bin before eating and enjoying the rest of the fruit. Then see yourself putting core of apple in the same bin as the discarded flesh. Last of all image the garbage man taking away the trash bin to a far away place.  Repeat exercise with an apple, pear, pumpkin and orange. Practice this visualisation to help with separation between good and bad then visualise fair use and disposal.
  • Every morning and evening, first and last thing you do for a week prior and during clearing out project. Stand in a private space, naked with absolutely nothing on, not even watch or jewellery. Once relaxed and calm say 5 times out loud:  "I stand here with nothing and I need nothing to stand here." Experience the bearable lightness of nothing. Do this exercise to free yourself from the bonds and weight of possessions.  
  • Visit your local dump/landfill, make a list of what facilities there are for recycling newspapers, cardboard, glass, metal, wood, plastic, electrical items etc. and think "Every thing has a place and a place for everything. Sometimes that place is the dump." Remind self that for end of life items the best place is the recycling depot or landfill and not being a fire hazard in the front room.
  • Make up a emotional detachment mantra phrase that you believe in. Something along the lines of "My [relative/friend/neighbour] has no [strong feelings] to their [domestic item of little value] and neither do I."   to come up with something like :
    • "My grandmother had no emotional attachment to her hair rollers an neither do I".
    • "My son had no love for his shoes and neither do I".
    • "My neighbour has no on-going relationship with his newspapers and neither do I".
For most things older is not better. Food rots, batteries die, newspapers crumple and fall to dust in the sunshine. Wood gets bugs and crumbles. Technology moves on, candle stick phones don't send texts. There is a natural order for the life of stuff. Keeping material possessions beyond their natural life time denies them the chance to be re-cycled and born again as new items for others to use and love. Recycling iron, aluminium and cardboard uses a fraction of the energy and land resources of digging up and processing new metal. Don't be selfish and block the natural order or resource incarnation. Recycling is not throwing stuff away but is actually saving the planet - do your part. Accept the circle of life.

Getting started

When a task cannot be started, it will never be finished. Start even the hardest task by picking off a small nibble to break the ice. Frame a sub-task as a realistic time bounded goal and write it down. Do that task today. It does not have to be a big thing, just the smallest task is the first step. Try something like:
  • I will put 30 old newspapers / magazines into a box and take to recycle point or put out with trash.
  • I will be generous and will find 4 items to take to the charity shop/good will today. These will be items that I would pay good money for and want to have. Take them to the shop. There will be less items in the house tonight than this morning.
  • Before lunchtime I will separate the items in this cupboard into in-date or out of date and just the dump the possibly poison food.
If you cannot get started on stuff re-organisational tasks because of overwhelming feeling of anxiety,  indecision or hopelessness or just can't seem to put the same things together - then job #1 is to reach out to someone anyone, friend, neighbours, relative, church person or doctor for urgent help.

Remember that "activity is no substitute for progress" moving things between piles or boxes does not reduce the size of the overall issue. Only letting go via a garage sale, charity shop, eBay or recycling depot is progress.

Skills needed for clearing out junk into stuff

Listed here are some of the basic skill needed to make progress with pile of items to separate the stuff from the junk. Practice them in just a small way before tackling the major task.
  • Starting - Being ready to let go and move forward. The first step must be taken by deciding to move forward. Then get some boxes, tape and and marker pens. The clear storage boxes of moderate size that interlock and stack are a good start. A few similar sized moving boxes will also do. 
  • Scoping - Decide what can be achieved in the first session of a few hours. One counter top, One room or one class of item ( all shoes, all newspapers, magazines etc)
  • Matching - Put all the same stuff together in one place.
  • Ordering - Stretching out a collection of the same stuff into an line based of value based on age, usefulness, colour, state of repair etc.
  • Filtering - Knowing what is good to keep and what must go, what has value and what has  not.
  • Completing - Moving things out the door to the recycle point, ebay or charity shop.

These skills are needed for minor reorganisation tasks. If you have a mountain of stuff - just close your eyes, go nuclear and call a cleaning or clearance company. Job done and relax.

Practical recipes for clearing out junk.

4 boxes method

Use separation skills to divide items into 4 boxes. Once boxes are set up and labeled move quickly through the target items. Don't overthink any items, Don't reconsider after first decision has been made.

An example way to Implement this method :
By the end of today I will separate all the shoes in this room into 4 clearly labeled boxes based on "Fit me but I have not used them for over 6 months" and "Has hole or broken strap" and "No longer fit my feet" and "Some one would love these shoes when they come back into fashion". Keep one box and give one box to goodwill and put other boxes out for the trash.

Ebay is the new storage

Think of eBay and Gumtree as a virtual storage company or warehouse. You put stuff into the virtual storage by selling it. Then if you ever need it again just buy it back. The difference between the buy and sell price is the "Storage costs". As it turns out some items go up and some down in price over time. This works for all items that actually have a value. If an item has no value because it won't sell on eBay then look closely as to why it is being kept.  Revise the emotional detachment mantra above.

Make a Virtual museum 

Keep the memories alive (without the clutter) for emotionally attached items such as photos, posters even tee shirts by building a virtual museum. Save the images and thus the memories without having the pile of clutter in your space.  This simple tactic involved just taking a photo of the items and making a web photo album viewable on a PC or tablet. Photos software on a Mac or something from http://windowsreport.com/photo-album-software-pc/  will achieve this task. Once all the items are captured as an image the actual items can be all packed away together or sold as a collection.

Doing a car-boot or garage sale.

Nothing finds the value of items quite a quickly as doing a car-boot or garage sale. Pick out all those items that feel like they can't be disposed of  "because they have a value" and take them to a car-boot sale or two. Accept that if the stuff does not sell then it really does not have a value. Recycle unsold items to return the resources to the planet for re-use.

6 months box rule

Pack a load of clothing/shoes/plastic toys/magazines into closed boxes and write the date on the outside and put in a place for no more than 6 month. If nothing is needed from those bosses ship them out unopened for recycling/re-sale. Do not reopen or resort the box.


Putting tasks off today what will be harder tomorrow is a classic avoiding tactic. Remember that making a start, building momentum and completing something brings satisfaction and builds the possibility of the better future. There is a spectrum between just having too much stuff and chaotic hoarding. Too much stuff can be self-tackled but hoarding needs help.


Article on symptoms and underlying thought patterns associated with hoarding.
Message boards and general site Help for Hoarders.
FlyLady housekeeping and life advice especially for those with a collectors tenancy"

Friday, 28 July 2017

Where are the new posts on this blog ?

I fell into the time swamp that is Facebook. It's not my fault, my other half and darling daughter went there first and sort of dragged me over. I have to say that it is an interesting place to be. Lots of special interest groups, for cars and bikes, and local community forums. FB has selling places and campaigning groups as well as the plugged in messenger service. Facebook is not all cream and roses   the wider public assemble there and not all folks have the same levels of considerations for others. I can see that having a wide range of friends, that are not just an echo chamber, is important to ensure there is someone to banter with.

A profile is a view of a person but not all of that person. What they share is mostly what they see and resonate with but is not necessarily the whole of their thinking.  There are self-enforcing ill-informed memes with ugly message that need challenging but having a spat fight with every single picture circulated is just pissing into the wind. What can be clearly seen from most profiles is that many more folks are media consumers than creators.

The transient nature of FB feeds loses the good stuff far quicker than a self created blogs so I will be continuing to extend this blog once in a while with the random scribblings that I enjoy.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Invoice scam - Do not pay for services not ordered or needed - techesseosseo.org was oseoservice.org SPAM FRAUD SCAM

December 2016 update
Same scam - new domain = techesseosseo.org

Seriously unless you have a business relationship with

]Registrant Email: wangbing616@engineer.com
Admin ID: 1611081654kifh
Admin Name: wang bing
Admin Organization: wang bing
Admin Street: Dong Shan Quxiangzhouqucuixiangjiedao1406hao
Admin City: guangzhou
Admin State/Province: guangdong
Admin Postal Code: 519000
Admin Country: CN
Admin Phone: +86.075620871127

Don't send him/her any money or CC card details.

As the owner of few domains on the internet I get my share of frauds and scam emails. The fake SEO service invoice that looks and sounds proper is a common culprit. Intended to arrive on the desk of an admin person, who may be does not look to closely or is fooled by the language, and just clicks to pay.  This is fraud as regardless of if the service exists, and it probably doesn't, because the service was not ordered.  Sending invoice in bulk hoping that a few pay up is a common scam made easier by  email and web technology.

Don't fall for this one.  The letter says :

We do not register or renew domain names. We sell traffic generator software.

and yet uses the domain registration information to spam. The fact that the scammers have used domain information to scrape admin email addresses in breach of the terms of service of the registrars is just a minor point.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Sometimes warranties work - Samsung Fridge Freezer fixed for free. (almost)

We have a nice big 2013 Samsung fridge freezer Model RSH7ZNBP that had a problem.

Over the last few months it had developed a "Death Rattle". Each time the motor stopped it would rattle like something inside was loose. Of the few moving parts in a fridge the core compressor is the most important providing the central cooling function and this sounded like it was suffering.  Being fairly new device Samsung was called who recommend a server company in our area. Actually about 100 miles away in Somerset, but they visited the next week.  The repair quoted was 
  • Replace the Compressor, 3 way Valve & Re-gas appliance at a cost of £413 and thanks for the £94 call out fee. 
This seemed a lot to pay for a quality fridge that was just a few years old.  I was about to call Samsung in a huff to see about getting a reduction when I saw a sticker on the front of the instruction booklet ...

  • 10 Year Warranty on the DigitalInterverter compressor
Fantastic. The words inside confirmed that the compressor was only guaranteed for cost of parts but that is the main cost involved.  A call to the service centre when much easier than expected and the same service folks listed a week later, with the wrong part.  Another visit a week later saw the compressor, 3 way valve all replace and the fridge/freezer re-gassed and working. No more mechanical clanging rattle on compressor stop.

Looking back just a bit concerned that the service folks who fist visited did not know about the 10 year extended warranty given for free with this model but ho hum all sorted in the end. 

The usual rules apply for these complex appliances, Keep the receipt and book of words and insist on a woking life of 3..8 years without major repairs.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Sani pass adventure - on a hired mountain bike 2011

I saw that BBC Top Gear S23E2 went up the Sani Pass in three high cost high power SUVS.  The track from the South Africa border post to the entrance to Lesotho at the top is a long dirt trail with stream crossings, precipitous edges. The views are fantastic high up in the Dackenberg range.

BBC has a big budget, I had a rented mountain bike. Friend Ian drive me and bike from Underberg to the base of the climb. It took a solid 3 hours and bit to crawl up to the top. The clouds came down and the chill descended on the last section.




Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Silverstone April 2014 World Endurance racing - pictures

Choose your favourite ..
Aston Martins


American muscle



All racing at Silverstone April 16/17 2016 weekend. Results write up here and full gallery here.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Paradox database.db recycled into Libre Office ready for mailing label generation


A neighbour asked for some help moving over from a couple of turn of the century windows XP boxes onto a new PC running Windows 10. Most of this was easy as the printer was quite up-to-date and most of the activity on the machine was for email using Thunderbird and document creation using Word 2003. The sting in the tail was the "Mailings" system used to handle a small business mailing list. As can be seen the standard address data was supplemented with some flags marked a..z which are used to record various attributes about the entry.  The main output from the system was mailing labels used for posting catalogs. There are about 5700+ entries in the database.

Research and process

The first task was to find which database system is used to hold the data, then see if the data can be extracted easily. Step two would be to reformat the extracted data into a modern usable format and finally figure out how to create mailing labels from that data.

Finding the brand of database was achieved by online search of files ending in .DB and .PX. Doing a strings command on the .EXE file and looking on the web for hints from the contents.

The strings output gave these names that looked like sub-routines or procedure names near the start of the file.


Search on these names gave hints that Delphi development environment had been used. The searches for .DB and .PX had results that indicated a Paradox database was being used. This matched with the known technology from the age of the system from around 2004. 

There are four main ways to read and refactor database files :
  1. Start the existing database - connect to it and extract all the data,
  2. Read the database files using an extractor tool, reformat or reuse the output,
  3. Read the database files and figure out the low level format to extract the records and rebuild into an input format,
  4. Use the import feature of a new database to read an older one.

The major advantage of using some kind of extraction tool  2) over a forensic bit twiddling approach 3) are time to solution, accuracy and ease of use.  Extraction from database using encryption mandate methods 1 & 4 above. For this project method 2 was to be used.

Knowing that the database was in Paradox format allowed the research to be more focused on obtaining a read and extract tool. Luckily the Wikipedia page for Paradox database listed PxTools & Pxlib combination that could be used to read an existing database file. The PxTools project is partly hosted on Sourceforge and partly on private web pages of  Jan Kneschke. The download links were a bit mixed up but just knowing that such a tool existed was enough to believe that clean extraction would be possible.

After some struggles to get a clean compile of the pxlib and link-load with pxtool ( -lm was needed ) a viable binary was obtained. 

Many database files build in the format of the data into a header record. Once that header is understood the rest of the data extraction is quite straight forward. The pxtool was then able to pull the record format and then provide the data in a variety of formats.

$ more ADDRESS_sceema.txt
File Version:            5.0
File Type:               indexed .DB data file
Tablename:               resttemp.DB
Num. of Records:         5716
Theor. Num. of Rec.:     6980
Num. of Fields:          36
Header size:             2048 (0x800)
Max. Table size:         2 (0x800)
Num. of Data Blocks:     1396
Num. of 1st Data Block:  1
Num. of last Data Block: 1241
Num. of prim. Key fields: 1
Next auto inc. value:    0
Write protected:         0
Code Page:               437 (0x1B5)
Encryption:              0x0
Update time:             27.8.2001 23:00:00 (998949600)

Fieldname          | Type
         Client No | int(4)
           Surname | char(50)
              Name | char(50)
           Address | char(100)
              Town | char(30)
            County | char(30)
          Postcode | char(10)
         Telephone | char(40)
              Date | int(2)
                 A | boolean(1)
                 B | boolean(1)
                 C | boolean(1)
                 D | boolean(1)
                 E | boolean(1)
                 F | boolean(1)
                 G | boolean(1)
                 H | boolean(1)
                 I | boolean(1)
                 J | boolean(1)
                 K | boolean(1)
                 L | boolean(1)
                 M | boolean(1)
                 N | boolean(1)
                 O | boolean(1)
                 P | boolean(1)
                 Q | boolean(1)
                 R | boolean(1)
                 S | boolean(1)
                 T | boolean(1)
                 U | boolean(1)
                 V | boolean(1)
                 W | boolean(1)
                 X | boolean(1)
                 Y | boolean(1)
                 Z | boolean(1)
     Mailsort Code | int(4)
     Record length | 346 (0x15A)

Extracts in .cvs and .html and .sql were obtained using the various options of PxTool. The database originally had some more involved functions to enable the use of mail sort codes but this was no longer needed. 

With the data extracted into .csv format, the import into LibreOffice Calc was straightforward. The 5777 address records appear as a row each with the fields separated out into columns.  The standard data filters were applied to the headings row to allow for sorting and searching. Conditional formatting was applied to the A..Z fields to highlight the set values. Some of the Address fields had line breaks which were replaced with, using a find/replace command.

Creating output

The last stage was to figure out how to generate the mailing labels, now only needed for Xmas cards, as the whole catalog process has moved on-line to a website. The lettered column flags are used to filter the data into various categories one of which was to send a Christmas card.

Libre Office has all the features needed to generate mail merge and labels project.  The steps required to do this are all.
  1. Review the data and check the column alignment and data.
  2. Register the spreadsheet as a data source in the Libre office Base program,
  3. Create a template label document with fields from the data source set up in 2)
  4. Generate the actual labels document using a filtered set of the data.
Step 2 is the magic, a new database is created that links back into the spreadsheet. After this step this "bridge" database can be used as a data source for later merges.

Once this whole process has been done for the first time just step 4) is repeated for other output selections. There are a couple of ways to achieve this all of which are demonstrated in YouTube. The most useful YouTube demos coming from TheFrugalComputerGuy who goes over many of the basic and advanced feature of Libre office.

Reimplementation of a database is the sort of project that can be a real time sink. Using the resources already existing this transformation was achieved in a couple of afternoons work.