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Transformative technologies

The Overhead.

The Internet c.1800s...

That was the semaphore system built by Claude Chappe in France around the time of the French Revolution. If the idea of big semaphore machines connecting a nation (indeed internationally) reminds you of the “Clacks” on Discworld then you are in the right ball-park – almost. There is a key difference which we shall come to though and it is a biggy.

Anyway, this is the size of the network…

... and its reach.

Now here is the big difference. What is the modern, electronic, internet as we know it used for? It is a chaos of chatter and (in)sanity, logic and weirdness, bank transactions, Christmas greetings, pornography, blogging, tweeting, facebook, gaming, terrorist plots and how to build a bomb or how to cook a risotto. It can be anything from an interview with One Direction or a seminar on quantum entanglement. It is humanity in toto.

The French clacks wasn’t (that is the “biggy” I mentioned) and neither could it technically be nor was intended to be. The inventor had this rather disingenuous thing to say,

“Chappe once claimed that a signal could go from Toulon to Paris – 120 stations across 475 miles – in just ten or twelve minutes. But he could not make that claim for a full message, even a relatively short one. Three signals per minute was the most that could be expected of even the fastest telegraph operator.”

In modern terms that is 1/20 bit per second (roughly – the Chappe code had a signal space of 98 symbols (2 beam positions and 7 positions each for the “arms” = 2x7x7=98) which is near enough the size of the standard 7 bit ASCII code – 128 symbols – to compare with allowing a bit of wiggle on human factors). Difference is the first common(ish) home modems worked at like 2000 bps or 40,000 times that speed. Sending a signal as simple as, “Advance at noon, reinforcements will meet on your left flank by 1pm.” would be nightmarish. And that is assuming absolute accuracy in transcription at all stations along the way. It need not be said that 2000bps is dismal. A slow ADSL line is over a thousand times faster and if BT Reach-Around has deemed fit to bother with laying fibre even ADSL on Cu is laughable. Sky (my broadband, TV and landline provider keep on trying to get BT to get us into the C21st – to no avail so far). There are always BT vans prowling and doing nowt. I’m not surprised. I used to work for BT and trying to get them to do anything to the porpoise is like assaulting Broadmoor with soft fruit. They might technically be private but they still behave like a state monopoly. Utterly complacent Bertram Blunts plus ultra.

Anyhoo, back to those old French folk. Not only was the system technically very limited (in that it was fast but with abysmal bandwidth) and therefore unsuitable for general communication but it was never intended for such use. Chappe again,

“…took it for granted that the telegraph network of which he dreamed would be a department of the state, government owned and operated. He saw it not as an instrument of knowledge or of riches, but as an instrument of power. ‘The day will come,” he wrote, ‘when the Government will be able to achieve the grandest idea we can possibly have of power, by using the telegraph system in order to spread directly, every day, every hour, and simultaneously, its influence over the whole republic.”

Chilling but not a million miles away from how our Lords and Masters see the internet. Fortunately they don’t really understand TCP/IP and all that jazz and I don’t think they understand the importance of a technology they simply don’t understand (they don’t understand much tech stuff). But they try, hence such things as the unbelievably poorly thought out violent and extreme pornography bill or assorted attempts around the globe to make pornography an “opt-in” service (for the sake of the children, naturally). And will it stop at porn? Does it ever stop? No, of course not!

Now obviously, there is a difference here – almost an inversion. The old French mechanical “clacks” was a way to govern and the modern internet is a way to keep tabs on the governed. This morning for the first time ever I used my bank card contactless (I’ve forgotten my PIN!!!). Some bugger at the NSA or GCHQ now knows what toilet paper I buy, the brand of ciggies I smoke and that I drink semi-skimmed milk. And yeah, I know they could harvest that from the chip anyway but… as a true believing physicist I find action at a distance, “spooky” ;-) That’s a quote from Einstein by the way though Newton himself was not 100% happy with gravity working like that. General Relativity is at least a locally realistic theory. It may be (usually) more mathematically complicated but Relativity makes far fewer metaphysical assumptions than did Newton. Newton has a fair few mad old dears stashed in the attic clad in their wedding dresses. But I digress…

The simple truth is that by hook or by crook any advance in comms will be seen by our Lords and Masters as a potential means of control. Whether it is owning the entire shooting match or just spying on it is a mere matter of tech to the L&M. Tech they will, thankfully, cock-up profoundly but they do try, bless ‘em.

All quotes from “The Information” by James Glieck.

Day of the Doctor.

It is today. It is a fixed point in time and space and I shall be there – or at least in Stockport (the Manchester tickets had gone) – to see the 50th anniversary show live in 3D in the cinema. Cool. I shall not be alone. This is being shown live in 94 countries in 1500 cinemas live. This has never been done before. My wife recently bought the 50th anniversary edition of Dr Who Magazine. It has a copy of the 1964 first anniversary edition of the mag which includes a letter from a reader saying that the Who was the best programme (don’t we call ‘em “shows” now) on either channel. How times change!

I should have bought a fez for the night. Fez’s are cool. There is nothing more but this…

Gen Gapped

I recently had a strange experience. I was buying cat food and smokes in the Co-op. The new lass is quite young and my card failed. It took three wipes for the chip to work. It’s a bit embarrassing to have your card not clocked by the machine as a cue forms. And note I was buying cat food and a pack of fags – not a Mercedes. Anyway, it worked eventually and I mumbled an apology to the shop assistant. I said something about how I wished they’d never gone “chip and pin” and just kept the magnetic strip. The look was as though I had attempted to broker kitty food and 10 Mayfair using Triskelion Quatloos. She said she’d never known anything but chips. Weird for both of us. I had to show her the vestigal mag strip on my card. It was almost as though (and I’m 40!) I’d had to explain that once I had to drive sheep into town to buy dung. I’m typing this on a lovely little Lenovo bought this year – I wear mirror-shades and am a techno-fetishist of the first water. I grok tech. Having said that my GnatWest (a million pin-pricks) card does the contactless which I just don’t trust despite not being a ludd-not-ist. I want an active transferral of funds and not a vague wave of the card. And that because I understand the tech to the extent to which I understand how it can be subverted. I wonder how she would have reacted if I’d tried to pay in Au*.

So I got gen-gapped. I wonder. And I wonder this. This was a relative gen-gap. OK if me and this girl (I use the term after some thought) were “walking out” then it would be a bit odd due to the age difference but not staggering. But not to bizarre. No, but it does raise a question I used to often ponder… How far back does one have to go that if you “time-scooped” someone they would find the contemporary World utterly baffling? It’s, I think a very interesting question. As an addition to this my wife is probably roughly twice the age of the girl in the Co-op but has never played a vinyl record. As a further question here has this Co-op lass ever played a CD? She’s never used a swipe card

Have any of you had similar experiences? I’d like to know.

*You seen those TV and other ads for “unwanted gold”. Now I’m not a “gold-bug” but does anyone have “unwanted gold”? I mean they might be on their uppers and a tin of beans to feed their kids is more valuable (value is relative to need – the basis of the market). In the context cat-food (4% meat and therefore 96% God knows what was more valuable to me than what was in my bank A/C. Obviously! That is how markets work and must work. Anybody sitting at their computer who has had Mr or Ms Kitty pawing at the return key knows this. So does the cat which is why the little furry buggers do it.

That Dashing Young Man and His — WHAT Machine??

Over at Samizdata, Natalie has posted something on the mewlings of a certain Public Intellectual. One thing led to another with the result that Nick (nice-guy) Gray brought up what he calls “mental pollution.” Through the magic of YrsTrly’s wetware, the same found this, which might provide some entertainment for those Kitties who are loafing around rather than occupying themselves properly with Kounting….

There is a short video of this technological miracle in operation at

http://www.computerhistory.org/babbage/

While there, visitors might wish to consult the Site Map.

Windy Miller – Irish edition – it’s like a Leprechaun rotisserie!

UK and Irish ministers will today sign an agreement that could see some of the world’s largest wind turbines built across the Irish midlands.

Stretching more than 600 feet (180 metres) in the air, the towers are set to generate energy for millions of UK homes from 2017.

The companies involved say the Irish power is a cheaper form of renewable than UK offshore wind.

Note cheaper form of “renewables” and no mention is made of burning coal or oil or gas or trash or uranium.

But environmentalists have described the scheme as “crazy”.

They say it risks damaging Ireland’s landscape.

Well, for once I’m with the Greens here. I mean Mr Magoo himself would manage to spot a 180m tower. That is roughly the height of the BT tower in London. Apparently they don’t look so big if you look at them from a long way away. Neither does Jupiter.

BTW that is an explicit ref to “Father Ted” and cows. And he was trying to explain scale and such to his dim-witted curate Dougal.

Under the plan, a number of companies are seeking to erect hundreds of wind turbines across the boggy midlands of Ireland. The power generated would be transferred to the UK via undersea cables that would join the grid at two points in Wales.

“Boggy midlands”. Dear Gods! Have people been on the Poitín? I mean building a 180m tower in a bog? What could possibly go wrong?

One of the developers, Element Power, says the plan would save UK consumers around £7bn over 15 years compared to other renewable sources.

Again with the renewables Moriaty! Electricity is the life-blood of modernity. Without the electricity we might as well dig-up Jimmy Maxwell and bugger the remains. I mean for fuck’s sake! Let’s make the most important thing in the World – the thing that separates us from the brutes in the most half-arsed manner imaginable! But that’s OK because this utter fuckeration is happening in Paddyshire. And they are stonier than an Old Testament execution.

The developers also say that thousands of jobs will be created in Ireland and the economy as a whole will benefit.

But it creates jobs! What Keynesian madness is that? You might as well just pay Pat to dig a hole in the bog and Mick to fill it in. I hate this. It is the key fail of BBC News. Always with the jobs Moriaty! Economic development is about destroying jobs not make-work for the sake of it. I mean how many dung-chewers or pig-pokers do you know? We had this thing called an “Industrial Revolution”. This meant we made things quicker, cheaper, faster and with less general effort. We might as well climb up a 180m tower and piss on the grave of Lord Armstrong. And yes, his gaff was the first home in the world with electricity. He had a hydro station because he wasn’t a numpty.

But concerns are now growing that the turbines needed to provide the power will be of a size and scale not seen in Britain or Ireland before.

Because the bog lands are relatively windless, the company behind the scheme says they will need to stretch high into the sky to catch sufficient wind to generate power.

Some old-time buggers in Babylon had a similar idea. That’s in fucking Genesis. Do we ever learn?

“We felt it was better to built slightly larger turbines but fewer of them and that’s the best way to minimise the impact on the local area.”

180m is slightly larger. I am a former student of astrophysics so I have a technical term for 180m, “fucking enormous”.

But opponents say that local people have not been consulted and few actually realise just what an impact the turbines will have on the landscape.

“People don’t actually understand the scale of them,” said Andrew Duncan, an auctioneer and spokesman for the Lakelands Wind Information group, who are opposed to the plan.

Is Mr Duncan lobbying for windy milling in the Lakes. Because if so he can fuck off too. Cumbria has a major role in power generation – it’s called Sellafield.

“Putting up the largest turbines in the world without consultation – I think it is ludicrous, to be honest.”

Yeah, well I live in a grade II listed building and technically I’m not allowed a Sky dish. And that is less than a metre across! It was hidden round the back of the chimney by the Sky-man. Of course in order to get “council telly” I could perfectly legally erect a monstrance of a 5 metre Yagi dipole which is odd because just down the road from me is a fucking ginormous dish. We call it Jodrell Bank. Oddly enough that is also a grade II listed building. A few years back it was faced with closure for the want of GBP 3.5 million. I almost did an MSc there but I also had an offer from Queen Mary in London and I kinda figured Stepney would be more fun than Macclesfield which is (in a weird way) is how I wound-up in Cheshire anyway. In the end though London was fun – as ever.

Jodrell Bank is fucking awesome. I go there when they have does. I go there because it is the future, not the past. I recall being disgusted when it was to be scrapped and folk were on about what an iconic thing on the Cheshire skyline it was. Yes, it is but is that the point of it? There’s a Universe out there and that is our telephone. It is not about being cute. It’s about being an enormous steerable array. It’s about astronomy, not heritage. This is Britain. This is the birthplace of the industrial age and the nation of Newton and Darwin. We are not a fucking museum. My boss at Nottingham University won the Nobel Prize for inventing the MRI scanner. There is no blue plaque on the door. We are now going for the Blue Paque and twinning with Hobbiton. I have stood on the reactor plate of the first ever nuclear power station at Calder Hall in Cumbria as a kid (A-Level Physics school trip) and I shall be buggered if I’m giving up that to build cunting windmills in Irish bogs. You couldn’t get Fathers Ted, Jack and Dougal to come up with something more half-witted! And at least Craggy Island was windy.

Oh for God’s sake electricity, the motor car and heavier than air flight are like cool. They are the second industrial revolution. They are the reason I can get fro Manchester Airport to Paris in just over an hour or to Istanbul in like four. It is the reason I don’t go into the stream and bang my washing with rocks like some medieval cunt but stick it in the electric machine instead. Dear sweet Jesus! Do I want to live like my grandparents? No. And they appreciated new stuff too. My Grandad went to primary school without shoes. I went to university in Nike Airs. I’d say that was an improvement and so would he if he was still with us.

But not everything has been cured yet.

In the event of failure

Do you know much about data communications networking structures?

The most common type of network you are likely to come across is is what is called a client-server network. The local device, the phone in your pocket, the computer on your desk at work, register themselves with a big fat central machine, and as the client then make requests that the central machine provide services. Your phone, for instance, along with every other nearby phone, registers with a local base station and asks that that station provide the service of relaying on telephone calls, SMS texts, Internet accesses and so on. As you move around the phone detects which of many base stations have the strongest signal and continually re registers with new ones as you pass them. Of course, when you get out into the wilderness the phone can be stuffed, no station signal strong enough to allow registration or communication.

Thing is, it isn’t just wilderness areas where communications can drop away either. Consider a natural disaster, an earthquake in a city, or a wild fire in the countryside, where the local base station infrastructure can be wiped out; situations where communications are critical but suddenly non existent?

With current client server models you are stuffed.

(more…)

Alan Turing

Today would be Alan Turing’s 100th birthday. Alas it never transpired. He died in still debatable circumstances when he was in his prime. Was he a great pure mathematician? Yes, I’d put him almost as high as Gödel and that is like comparing a footballer to Pele. Both of course were not normal men. Turing had some fairly odd ideas and Kurt Gödel starved to death. Gödel was paranoid and refused to eat any food not prepared by his wife, then his wife died. Now Gödel was a nutter. Perhaps everyone who scales such (literally) infinite heights is going to be a bit unusual. It is hard to say what killed Turing. It has entered the popular consciousness that he was a sort of gay martyr (the statue of him in Manchester is in the gay village and not where it ought to be – in front of the University) and this is possibly true. He was convicted of “gross indecency” for having sex with another man. If there is a great villain here it is the law. My understanding is Turing had sex with Arnold Murray in his own home in Wilmslow and it all came out when he reported a burglary by his shagging partner. I fail to see how anyone can be “indecent” in their own home.

But it is possible the cyanide coated apple was a mere mistake. It has been mooted. Certainly Turing (a pure mathematician not schooled in lab discipline) was new to the game. And trust me as a physicist I have worked with lethal things and I wouldn’t trust a mathematician in my lab. Mainly those lethalities were in the sense of serious voltages and radioactive stuff and not any biohazard or poison*. So maybe? Who knows! Who cares! I am typing this on a Lenovo S205. That is what matters. It is certainly possible that the female hormones Turing was ordered to take after his conviction that caused him to grow breasts outraged him because he was also verging on being a world-class long-distance runner or following his conviction (not unrelated to the Cambridge spies) he lost his security clearance (for being gay – unlike the Cambridge spies he was not a KGB agent, just gay) or even the fact he was only a reader at Manchester because the security about Enigma/Lorenz had left a “black-hole” in his career. A fundamental thing here is that we were moving from Empire at the time and gave as a parting gift Enigma machines we’d snicked from the Germans but we didn’t want them to know we could break the code. Sneaky? Brilliant! But it meant nobody involved with Station X or Ultra got the credit. You can compare and contrast with Manhattan. Of course that was for obvious reasons much harder to keep on the QT.

There are people who define centuries. Roughly the Stephensons defined the C19. The C20th was invented by Nikola Tesla. Our time belongs to Turing. If you are reading this you are reading this on a Turing Machine. Much the same as the Turing machine I am writing this on. I got my first Turing machine (a 48K Speccie) in 1984. I felt like a king – I had a computer and they had been huge things maintained by fit librarian-type birds in lab-coats with clip-boards and owned by Bond villains in Mao suits and cats. I wrote a game even – it was very poor – but hell’s buggery – I wrote a game! I learned maths and drew fractals from outlines of programs from Scientific American my Dad nabbed from work. Alan Turing made it so. The game BTW was called “Orc Fighter” and was truly dreadful.

So fill your cups for Alan Turing. He made us. We have a category here called “Transformative Technologies”. Turing is certainly up there. He is up there with George Stephenson and the Wright Brothers. He is there in the pantheon with Tesla and Newton. And I don’t say that about many folks.

*My final university experimental project was… Well I built a magnetometer out of bits. It worked down to very few fractions of a Tesla. Nano Tesla I think. It annoyed some profs because I had proven data of car movements in the car park… Not everyone was actually clocking in or out at time. But that was not my original scheme. Oh, no I wanted to play with magnetotactic bacteria as a model for certain solid state systems. Three problems. A budget of GBP35, the fact these buggers come from New England swamps and thirdly nobody in the physics department having the slightest idea on the H&S issues. The magnetometer was built in the end with scavenged parts for about a tenner. God knows what happened to it.

Thanks Fred!

This morning I stumble out of bed and out the house to buy some ciggy-wigs. Upon my return my wife has found a jiffy-bag from Suffolk pushed through the letterbox (which by the way is like Arkwright’s till. It contains some CDs and a letter from commentator Fred Thrung (not his real name)). So thanks Fred! This is what I shall do. I shall attempt to fix the XP system. If that goes pear shaped I shall do a clean re-install by also by the means of the disk. I shall appoint a HD with XP on it and use that to access the drive with like all my wife’s stuff (including billing details!) and then re-install the full caper including Office. Thanks again Fred! As every computer I build is builded Raskolnikov doesn’t have a single drive so that ought to be doable. It will mean crawling under a desk with a posidrive and trying not to ingest dust-bunnies but that is my life. And I love it. Oh, I complain (of course I do!) but I love it. To me the most beautiful sound in the world is the Windows opening jingle because it means my work is done and I can watch Doctor Who.

Machines I have built:

First was Urania (there was also Urania II and I think III – Urania I died from the click of death a fault common to IBM drives of the time), a computer for my father in law (forget the name – not his name!), then Thalia (a stormer with twin WD RAID Raptors that set the fucking twilight reeling – she sounded like a form of apocalypse – it was fast as the cunting fuck) Calliope and Astarte and ultimately, via ifs and buts, Hekate – aka “The Deathstar” – faster than any cunting fuck imaginable this side of tachyons (I pity iPad users – I really do – the suckers of Steve’s mummified Jobby that they are). And so many others… They all have names (mainly classical and female – you grokked my trend?) and they all exist. They are the best of me. They are what I do when I am at my best. The rest of the time I’m a grumpy git railing against half-wits like Ed Balls or Michael Gove but sometimes I build things that count. I build universal machines and give them classical names because they deserve it. I dare not name a machine “Alan” though if I do be very afraid. Because if I dare build an “Alan” it will have to make HAL-9000 look like a pocket calculator.

Anyway, cheers Fred. It has not gone unoticed that was Special Delivery.

PS. My wife is delighted! She reckons you a capital fellow.

Transformative Technologies

And Google will have a record of every single incident
Do you really want them to have that?

H/T Next Big Future

Tell me this is an April Fool. Please!

The government will be able to monitor the calls, emails, texts and website visits of everyone in the UK under new legislation set to be announced soon.

Internet firms will be required to give intelligence agency GCHQ access to communications on demand, in real time.

The Home Office says the move is key to tackling crime and terrorism, but civil liberties groups have criticised it.

Words fail.

Tory MP David Davis called it “an unnecessary extension of the ability of the state to snoop on ordinary people”.

Attempts by the last Labour government to take similar steps failed after huge opposition, including from the Tories.

I might as well move to Pyongyang. Oh, and why is the phrase, “Out of the frying pan and into the fire” springing to mind? Oh, and encrypt everything. I have a scheme for a cipher that is potentially unbreakable in principle. At least if you don’t know how it works ;-) More on that in a later post!

Read the whole thing. And get angry. I shall be writing to my MP.

Such Things As Communism Could only Dream of…

Cats seems to think this is sinister. It ain’t got nothing on this though. It’s a long article but well worth reading in full. I’m excerpting bits to give the flavour.

On the surface, Shustorovich’s project is a public-spirited attempt to bring Russia’s education system into the digital era. In the 2010-11 academic year, around 300 year-six pupils from 11 schools in cities across Russia, from well-heeled Moscow to the rural Siberian city of Tomsk and the mining stronghold of Magnitogorsk, were loaned a portable hybrid e-book and tablet computer with which to learn, do their homework, revise for exams and — soon — order lunch from the school cafeteria.

But this isn’t solely a social experiment. Shustorovich, 45, wants to create Russia’s next platform for digital interactions, one that his business controls. With every keystroke and swipe on his devices, he is building a giant real-time spreadsheet of personal data. Once millions of teenagers get used to learning, interacting and connecting via Shustorovich’s proprietary system, then what need will this and future generations have for social networks such as Facebook? “Facebook is Facebook,” he says. “But adding a social network on top of the [educational platform] will be very easy.”

Unlike other electronic classroom aids, E-OK isn’t designed merely to complement books and desktop PCs, but to replace everything a pupil uses to study. Connected wirelessly (and soon via 4G) to the school’s year-six and -seven curricula — with years five and eight due to be added shortly — the devices aim to reboot how children learn, teachers teach and principals run schools. By gathering data from classroom test scores, exam results and attendance records alongside statistics from mandatory school medical checks and even food ordered by the catering staff, the system creates a real-time data chain which loops from individual schools, through regional hubs, to the Ministry of Education — right up to the Kremlin. Last June, prime minister Vladimir Putin signed a directive ordering Russia’s ministers of education and communications to evaluate and report to him personally. Both ministers have since reported back “favourably”, says Shustorovich, speaking in support of E-OK’s implementation in schools.

The trial has shown her the project’s huge potential: “The information flows from the child, to the teacher, to me and all the way to the district prefect.”

E-OK is Shustorovich’s brainchild, and the sheer scale of his vision quickly becomes apparent. He intends to rewire one of the world’s greatest bureaucracies — the Russian state.

Ultimately he intends that every child in Russia’s 50,000 secondary schools — some 16.5 million — will have their own tablet. “[The situation's] so fluid right now. But if we continue to get the sort of traction we’re getting, eventually we’ll be in every school in the country.” [He has the Russian patents and they are pending elsewhere...]

“We had three aptitudes which made us unique players,” he explains. “A long history of being conversant with technology, because we produced a huge volume of scientific information. Second, we had the experience with dealing with internet products in a financial way — our electronic sales of scientific journals and information for universities is in the high-nineties per cent [of overall sales]. And the third was that we knew how to develop school curricula.”

“…when they get their hands on our device, it’s transformative for the psyche.”

Do I need to comment further?

BoJo on Facebook…

For the record I’m on Facebook and essentially it seems to me a method by which people I didn’t get on with at school pretend they are my friends. Whatever! I appreciate how it works and indeed what it is for.

Boris Johnson doesn’t but wishes we had a similar “get-up and go” attitude to the internet. The article is extremely dull and full of BoJo-ish bumptiousnessness until..

I don’t pretend to grasp the economics of the web, which seems to me to be a colossal destroyer of value, reducing the price of text, music, images and voice telephony to virtually nil.

There is one word I object to there. Guess! It’s “value”. Is hearing your favourite song via an iPod via iTunes less valuable to you than if you’d bought it on disc at HMV? Is telephony worth less because it used to cost more?

OK. Here’s a personal tale on the conflation of price and value. My Great Aunt (and family – she was the draw being a qualified nurse) emigrated to the land of Oz in the ’60s. At the time the parting was such sweet sorrow. She honestly never thought she’d see my Gran (her sister) again. On roll times and she can afford to come back on holiday for a visit which she did. So I get (on a number of times) to meet my Great Aunty Pat from Melbourne. “Cost” and “Value” recall? My sister-in-law is currently in the country – we had a roast dinner in Derbyshire on Sunday – though she normally lives in Silesia. She came over because her Gran took a tumble and is currently in Stepping Hill Hospital (Yes, that one). She came over at the drop of a hat because you can these days. She keeps in touch with folks back here via Skype. Hell’s teeth, last autumn I and my wife (her sister) was over her end and but for the tender ministrations of our own version of the TSA it was like getting on a bus – to travel half a continent away.

The only thing that annoyed me was they have (in a small town in Silesia) better broadband and HDTV for a nominal sum compared to what we have to shell-out to Sky. Sky for perverse reasons (this also applies to Virgin) aren’t allowed to lay cable (or absolutely not) run it on overheads. Those BT ads make me wanna puke. They still have the local loop and are still a de facto monopoly.

Anyway. I’m typing this on a Lenovo S205 laptop/netbook (nobody seems able to make their mind up) and whilst it my have cost less in both real and actual terms as my first PC – the Elonex 386SX16 or yore – it brings more value to my life than that heffalumping thing did. And it was beige.

So Boris, please work this out. “Value” does not equal “Cost”.

Will the agony never end?

I heard on the car radio yesterday that ITV1 is reprising “Dancing on Ice”.

Here is the misfit’s parade of hasbeens and neverbeens who shall risk broken ankles for our “entertainment”…

1. Charlene Tilton.
Lucy Ewing from Dallas.

2. Corey Feldman.
Former “Goonie” and “Lost Boys” vampire hunter from the age when Coreys ruled the world. You might know it as the ’80s.

3. Heidi Range.
Former Sugababe who “was once ranked ’94th sexiest woman in the world’ by FHM.” (out of 100). ITV1 presumably couldn’t afford #93 after they’d paid Antndec’s salary. If that entity were assasinated Cameron would have to abandon Newcastle to “managed decline”.

4. Chesney Hawkes.
“The One and Only (hit)” himself. I once walked past him in a street in Edinburgh after he was famous. I was there as a visitor to the festival and so was he.

5. Laila Morse.
“Big Mo” from “EastEnders”. And yes she is big. I do worry about mass and inertia in a very low friction environment here. Forget about lifting – this lady is not for turning.

6. Rosemary Conley.
A maker of fitness videos that would put the most hormonally challenged teenage boy on the slack.

7. Sam Nixon…
…finished third in 2003′s Pop Idol. Clearly couldn’t get a panto slot at the local community centre this year.

8. Jennifer Ellison.
“Brookside” ‘actress’ until 2003. And if that isn’t barrel-scrapping she also got to #6 with a cover of a Transvision Vamp song and other than that, “Baby I Don’t Care”.

9. Andy Akinwolere.
Former kids TV presenter. “In June 2011, he broke the world record for the deepest location for an open water swim, swimming five miles across the Pacific Ocean.” So he swam at the deep end. The last time I did any sea-swimming I was in a few metres of water off Malta or Key West where you can still drown. Hell, you can drown in 2″ of water (allegedly)! I mean having an abysmal trench doesn’t matter unless you’re ITV1 and then that’s your channel!

10. Matthew Wolfenden.
Former “Emmerdale” ‘actor’. “He has appeared in a reality show before, finishing ninth in Soapstar Superstar”.

11. Jorgie Porter.
“With a trademark head of white blonde hair, Porter is famous for playing Theresa McQueen in Channel 4′s “Hollyoaks”*.
She also appeared in ITV’s “Born To Shine”, losing out in the final to Jason Manford.”

12. Sébastien Foucan.
“Foucan is considered one of the founders of parkour”. Fair play except isn’t that a sort of concrete roots thing so doesn’t exactly have founders in the way that say the Royal Geological Society does? He was in a chase scene with Bond though.

13. Chemmy Alcott.
“Alcott is the current female British number one alpine ski racer.” Fair enough but do bear in mind that British skiing is like Belgian mountaineering.

14. Mark Rhodes.
“As the other half of Sam & Mark (the above Sam), Rhodes should provide some fierce competition for his co-presenter in Dancing on Ice”. He also appeared in Pop Idol, finishing second and losing out to Michelle McManus.” Michelle McManus -the mannatee of lurve.

15. Andy Whyment.
Whyment indeed!

So that is this season’s flagship show on ITV1. The Christmas schedules (not just ITV – all of them) were bad enough recycling garbage nostalgia from the past ad nauseum. “An Evening with Morecombe and Wise”? “An Audience with Dame Edna” – from 1980!? “Harry Potter and the Well-Milked Cash Cow”? It is clear to me that traditional broadcasting is strapped for cash and ideas. I suspect a causal relationship there and the ideas are prior to the cash. I have a radical idea and I mean real over the hills and far away blue sky thinking here. Why not get some good scripts for things like drama and comedy – you know the things that have been the mainstay of entertainment since Socrates took in a show? Last night I watched an episode of “Open All Hours” and it is sharper and funnier than anything the BBC have made since God knows when.

Regardless of if they take up my scheme I think we are seeing the death throes of broadcast TV. Or we should be. Very few people in the UK (unlike in say the Republic of Korea) have even the option of fast enough broadband to watch what they want when they want in HD. And no the government isn’t helping with it’s talk of a guaranteed 2Mb/s to the Outer Hebrides or whatever. A critical mass will occur – at least in some countries – where a TV is just a big screen for whatever and show producers sell to that market rather than have it via a “channel”. You doubt it? A similar thing has happened with music. For years the music industry (Tunificous dynosaurus) clung to the belief that the punters wouldn’t buy music unless they had a physical thing to clutter their shelves. Well the iPod saw to that didn’t it?

Until then there is always Dave…

Put a Li(e) in the tank…

One of my themes here is the extent to which the mainstream media can get anything technical spectacularly wrong.

Bolivia has vast reserves of lithium, seen as the green energy fuel of the future, which it wants to exploit on its own. But the lithium is locked underneath a 10,000 sq km salt flat.

Except it isn’t a fuel is it? It can be made into batteries but they need charging don’t they? The whole mindset of that article is that lithium in and of itself can replace burning stuff. It can’t. It is the entire “renewables” argument writ large. It is fantasy. It’s reversing the polarity of the neutron flow “science”.

Anyway, read the whole thing here. It’s a hoot. There is one pearl of wisdom mind. Apparently Bolivia is bestest chums with Iran and Venezuela (magic) and seeing as those two are knee-deep in four-star aren’t exactly heralding the age of the ‘lecky car. But they’re mates so what can you do?

But what really creased me was the idea from the Bolivian vice-minister for mining that they want to mine “sustainably”. How? I mean once you’ve dug it up it’s gone. You can farm sustainably but mining don’t work like that. Bolivia is the poorest country in South America and is clearly making a hash of this bounty. Anyway do read the whole thing. It’s a classic example of the failure of socialism.

60%-90% drivel

The UK could be primarily powered by a secure and inexhaustible supply of renewable energy by 2030 without the need for new nuclear power plants, according to a report commissioned by WWF.

And if you have a cow you don’t need I have some magic beans…

Between 60% and 90% of the nation’s electricity could come from wind, solar, tidal and other sustainable sources, with the rest supplied via an international supergrid and gas power stations.

OK. Firstly, “Between 60% and 90%” is a hell of a margin of error. If it’s 90% then fair does but if it’s 60% then that is the dark ages. Secondly the international supergrid idea and gas stations. Neither are secure. If the French Prez decided to pull the plug then it’s back to the bloody stone-age. If the Russian Prez decided to close the pipeline then gas is not an option. Or we could buy it from Nigeria or Saudi Arabia both nations noted for their stability and adherence to Western values of fair play and not in the slightest corrupt. We could (and do) buy coal from Poland and Australia which are countries we are on excellent terms with and have loads of the stuff but coal is evil. Well, isn’t gas a bit evil too by the same CO2 token?

This report is inspiring, but also entirely realistic. It shows that a clean, renewable energy future really is within our grasp,” said David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK. “Failure to commit to a high-renewables future would leave us facing the prospect of dangerous levels of climate change and high energy prices.”

Is he taking the Michael? No. I think he’s doing something worse. He is costing wind-power including subsidies. Like almost every Green economic comment I ever heard it is nonsense. It reminds me of some plane-sense wonk a few years back who claimed the government subsidised aviation fuel. What he actually meant was they didn’t tax it. Now why do you think they don’t tax it? Why indeed do they instead have air-passenger duty? Is it not because air-transportation is intrinsically international? You wouldn’t drive the motor to France for a tank of gas but your motor wasn’t built by Boeing and “fill her up!” doesn’t mean over two hundred thousand litres.

The report states backing renewables would create hundreds of thousands of jobs and new economic growth. “Investing in clean energy offers us a means to tackle the two most crucial market failures that now confront the world: the financial crisis and climate change,” said Nussbaum. “The only question that remains is, are we bold enough to take it?”

No, it wouldn’t. I have no idea why people believe this rot but they do. The greatest ever expansion in economic growth was the industrial revolution. This was not caused by folks “Up Norf” abandoning the Ravelling Nancy for hand tools. It was due to a reduction in jobs which of course enabled productivity to rise per worker. It is not rocket science though of course it led to it. Or put it another way we could have full employment if we ditched tractors, pesticides and the Haber process and had 90% of the populace living as subsistence farmers for a mess of potage. I mean do they have unemployment in North Korea?

The report was welcomed by a host of businesses, including one the UK’s “big six” energy suppliers, SSE. “It’s a useful addition to the debate,” said Keith MacLean, SSE’s policy and research director. “Sufficient certainty that renewables will be a long term part of the energy system, well beyond the current 2020 cliff edge, is needed in order to allow the industry to mature and put renewables on a path of cost reduction that will steadily reduce and eliminate the need for support.“.

And if you believe that I’ve just put the Brooklyn Bridge on eBay!

WWF’s Positive Energy report differs from previous analyses by including a continuation of renewable energy building after 2020, as well as big increases in energy efficiency. The energy scenarios at the core of the report were developed by GL Garrad Hassan, the world’s largest renewable energy consultancy and part of the GL Group, which also works in the oil and gas industries.

So GL absolutely don’t have a dog in this fight?

The electricity not generated from renewables in the report’s scenarios comes instead from gas power. In the most ambitious 90% scenarios, the carbon emissions from those gas plants do not need to be captured and stored underground in order to meet the UK’s climate change targets, but in the less ambitious 60% scenarios, about one-third of the gas plants would require carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to be fitted. There are no coal plants of any sort in the scenarios, or nuclear plants.

I was wrong! GL have two dogs in the fight.

The warning that a new “dash for gas” could lock in high carbon emissions is echoed in another report published on Tuesday, from MPs on the Commons select committee on energy and climate change. The MPs state the current proposals for electricity market reform put too much emphasis on building new gas plants to fill the gap left by the closure of about 19GW of nuclear, oil-fired and coal-fired plants by 2020, and not enough on decarbonising the power sector over the course of the 2020s in which gas without CCS will have “only a very limited role”. The climate and energy secretary, Chris Huhne, told the Guardian last month that the government “will not consent so much gas plant so as to endanger our carbon dioxide goals”.

I agree. A “gas dash” is an epically bad idea. It will happen. It will happen because the real argument contra nuclear is NIMBYS and the luddites already are saying the whole of Japan is a nuclear wasteland with mutants eating brains. Despite the fact that unlike Japan we’re very geologically stable. A further point is that CCS is just an idea. It’s not an extant technology. It is almost certainly do-able but the costs are a complete unknown. Also that is fairly clear that Chris Huhne clearly puts the war on CO2 way above keeping the lights on and that is scary. It used to be said every country is three meals from revolution. These days I think it’s fairer to say we’re two power-cuts from anarchy. If this nonsense brown-outs Birmingham for a weekend there will be hell to pay.

The MPs’ report also echoes WWF’s call for more action on energy efficiency. “The government could be doing a lot more to reduce unnecessary energy wastage,” said Tim Yeo MP, the Conservative chairman of the committee. “It needs to look at how it can use building regulations and energy efficiency standards for electrical appliances to cut waste and save cash on people’s energy bills.

That is wishful thinking. Everything involves the use of energy. It’s basic thermodynamics. Do these people honestly believe that better insulated homes will not require more energy to build or that wind-farms are built by bunny rabbits?

The committee’s report additionally calls for much more gas storage capacity in the UK, to minimise the damage from supply interruptions or price spikes. The UK’s current storage capacity is just 14 days’ worth of gas, states the report, “a dangerously low level compared with France which has 87 days’ worth of gas storage, Germany 69 and Italy 59.”

Now why do the French have the best gas supply? They don’t have any. What they do have is a massive nuclear industry so almost all their electricity is nuclear so they’re not burning gas so they use less gas… D’oh!

In conclusion I have never read so much drivel in my life.

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