Wednesday, 17 May 2017

tilting the house of cards

Depending whose news one absorbs it would seem that Mr Trump did not fire director of the FBI James Comey last week. Comey resigned. Similarly, Trump didn't pass partially Israeli-sourced information to Russia's foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov about an Islamic State plot. Oh, and Trump didn't attempt to pressurise Comey into shutting down the investigation of Michael Flynn.

So how much of the above is post truth? The problem is that everyone is scared of what Trump can do. With Republicans in Congress, no one-will want to tip 'their own' President out of office. No-one survives daring to contradict, maybe unless it gets to kompromat or an indictment - and even that would require Hatch-ing a jiggle around the Supremacy Clause. Bookies' odds, anyone?

Unconnected (of course) in a truly Baldacci-esque twist we saw the brutal gunning down of Seth Rich a few days ago. It's been attributed to a botched robbery although nothing was stolen. Rich was the Democrat National Committee staffer alleged to have leaked the 35,000 emails to Wikileaks, which Trump used notably during his election campaign.

Now that Trump is getting his administration stooged-up, the game is becoming increasingly slanted. On one hand, there's the opportunity of outrage at dubious choices. At the same time there's the risk that the increasingly tilted administration becomes unstoppable.

Monday, 15 May 2017

you are a micro target

Tammany Hall vote-stuffing exemplifies dubious voting practices. However, instead of visiting multiple polling stations or being offered booze and a shave before revisiting the same location, the fraudulent systems have become more sophisticated.

Although even as recently as last September, it was blatant vote-stuffing, such as in Putin’s Russia. Turn up and empty a handbag of extra votes into the box. Or maybe bring a line of soldiers to vote out of area.

Information Technology and Big Data have made it all more clandestine. Hack the voting machines? Use Big Data to micro-target electorate with appropriate messaging?

Recent stories feature the Brexit vote influence from Cambridge Analytica (via its –ahem- non-subsidiary AggregateIQ).

Behind this chain of influence appears to be Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon, both showing form with Trump with organisations potentially involved in the tweaking of the US electorate vote through micro-messaging. There's other interesting names to link into this, but time will out them.

UK's Vote Leave spent almost £4m with Aggregate IQ, and its spokesperson Dominic Cummings extolls their virtues on their web-site’s home page. There's also curious funding associated with all of this - I wonder how much it costs to tip a ballot nowadays? It wouldn't be a huge sum to a billionaire or a state with a particular agenda. Wanna customise America? Or maybe break up Europe? Align your favourite deck of political leaders? Perhaps there's an evolving menu of prices?

To get the information to be able to work out the profiles of the electorate requires a few Groupby-Before-Join queries, to blend various data together. The smart propeller heads can make it all seem more complicated and talk about grid-based n-dimensional parallel sparse matrix-vectors and so on, but it's really like creating a whacking great mailing list.

Cambridge Analytica has access to Facebook behavioural data, so a blend of that with, say, mailing list magazine subscriptions and perhaps the electoral register would provide a rather interesting way to classify people.

I don't know how much of what I speculate is strictly legal, mind you, but I doubt that the Data Protection Act will get in the way.

So think carefully before completing the next Facebook meme to see whether you are more like a unicorn or a rainbow.

Of course, I’m making up the exact approach used, but anyone that has used mailmerge with mailchimp filters can see how this could work.

Admittedly the number of rows of data become quite large, but nothing that can’t be handled with some divide and conquer techniques.

Although, from time to time, you can see how it goes awry if you get one of those apologetic emails from a mailshot that shouldn’t have been sent.

So, where does this leave us all?

Disenfranchised and manipulated, maybe?

Sunday, 14 May 2017

horsing around

The horses from the stables next door are currently at the near end of the field. We are now at least partly off grid, although access to a usable wi-fi assists with the creature comfort.

Most of the big stuff will have been transferred from the yellow lorry into storage by now and I've just filled the car with fuel ready for tomorrow's leg of the journey.

Later we'll head towards the lane to find a pub for Sunday lunch.

Friday, 12 May 2017

if block systems then block chain; #malware #eternalblue #killswitch

The despicable cyber attacks on the NHS as well as Telefónica in Spain and other companies are still very active. Some, like Iberdrola and Vodafone Spain have simply told employees to switch off their computers.

There's advice about restoring from backups although there's a challenge with this because some of the Wana/Wanna type viruses used can lay dormant until invoked. Therefore a backup could already have been compromised,

This is somewhat akin to the olden days of burglary of VHS recorders, which would be stolen, replaced on insurance and then stolen again.

It is also annoying that one needs to buy all kinds of extra software and beefier hardware, simply to provide the cyber protection, using extra disks and cpu cycles just to run the protection.

Add in that part of the SMB file-sharing exploit used is from a US NSA 'weaponised' malware called EternalBlue and somehow 'stolen' by a ShadowBrokers, a malware brokerage.

That the most secure American organisation (National Security Administration) could be subject to theft from one of its most clandestine areas (Office of Tailored Access Operations -TAO) and of some of its most malevolent software is also noteworthy, yet goes mainly uncommented. As is the possibility that NSA worked with another party, such as Equation Group, who are known for their very strong crypto?

Then there's the related demand to use Bitcoin to pay the ransom illustrating that this open-source anonymous blockchain-based cryptocurrency is becoming the cash-substitute of choice for organised crime.

There's also a weird circle in all of this.

Cyber encryption to make cyber currency like Bitcoin. Cyber encryption to create a ransom-able computer.

Viral spreading of the Bitcoin message. Viral spreading of the ransomware.

Even payment in Bitcoin to scan online advert streams (i.e. to look like hits). Oh, and to buy dubious products anonymously.

There's a whole circle of dark and uncommented monetisation occurring at a rather organised level.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

tread softly, new dreams being assembled

I'd almost forgotten what the inside of the garage looked like, when it would be used for its original purpose of storing cars, so 'Ta-Da!' here it is back to empty.

Over the years it had acquired random items from various other rashbre locations, to the extent that at some points I needed the skills of a maze-walker to get around it.

But then came the start of the great crating project. Admittedly it has run for a quiet month or two, but the end result has been mainly residual 'spark joy' items, compartmentalised into plastic crates.

And yes, I even created a spreadsheet of the crates. Simple process. Open the lid, iPhone snap. Find the label, iPhone snap. Transfer the results into Excel.

Around 50% of the available materials didn't make it, instead being donated or junked. That included a stash of vinyls, a table and chairs, a sofa, a bed and so many books that I had to spread them around different charities.

There's still a whole ton of stuff, but I think we've made a good start on the next adventure.

Monday, 8 May 2017

a temporary deckchair heralds change

Another day of checklists. It has included the removal of some larger items that won't be making the journey to the next place. Plus dismantling, in stages, the various electronic systems.

Fortunately the main 24-way Gigabit switch could be de-rated to a simpler 8-way switch and now down to a single 4-way Apple time capsule. It means we still have the printer working although the scanner has already gone. I had to scan a couple of documents today and used that iPhone Scanbot Pro as a makeshift replacement.

The media centre will be next to go, but I've said I'll hold off on that until tomorrow. Maybe I'll watch some TV from the temporary deckchair.

Friday, 5 May 2017

dolly mixtures

The packing continues and we have now reached the stage where there's a large quantity of self packed items in the garage, plus a selection to go to a man in a van and the rest to be placed into storage.
Along the way we've rationalised the kitchen, and even sent a consignment of spices to the North.
Some of the rooms are beginning to look a little empty now, although we have kept enough food to still be able to cook some decent meals.
By Wednesday evening we may well be thinking about eating out, but I suspect once that starts we'll be doing it for quite a time.
Although, come to think of it, we'll have decent range of venues and no doubt some entertaining choices ahead.

And meantime, I can report that the old dolls' house has found a new home, somewhere in Surrey.

Sunday, 30 April 2017


I've realised that I'll be shutting down the computer running my local Spamsieve mail filter in the next couple of days.

It's been pretty good because a combination of its work plus my special 'Cleaner' contact group means I can remove most of the noise from my personal email account.

The cleaner rule is very simple so I suppose I should really switch it on for my laptop too.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

you know, you know

A spot of jazz this weekend, at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

Nothing too avant-garde, although some of my remaining crated vinyls are of an altogether more Mahavishnu persuasion.

And then time for plenty of chatter, as we caught up on news and put the world to rights.

Friday, 28 April 2017

countdown to an altogether more local road trip

This weekend marks an informal start to what will become a road-trip lasting into the summer. The reason is simply because of our planned move.

Most sane people would make the get-out and the get-in co-incide, or if they didn't, they would take temporary accommodation somewhere.

Not us.

We've decided to make temporary homelessness into a UK-mini adventure, moving from place to place whilst we wait for the new home to become ready. Oh yes, it has to be built.

But currently we still have our current base, so as we head off for the weekend it gives us a chance to practice what will become our new lifestyle for a while.

It's fair to say we've had larger cross-European adventures with little more than backpacks, sleeping bags and my bright orange tent, so using luxury cars and credit cards should make this a teensy bit easier.

Last year's summer break was pretty much in one part of California, but the previous year we headed the 1,111 miles from Seattle to Santa Barbara, so we've some recent form. Not forgetting Route 66, or the BC-1 Trans Canada Highway.

It should make the A40 less daunting. Even in term-time.

There's still immediate challenges though. Fitting in some work, which lasts right up to the end of the UK academic year. Turning up well-presented. Juggling a minimal set of 21st Century technology, which will all be small but need frequent battery charging. Continuing to appear normal through what could be a slightly odd time, but without the cover of, say, Key West.

This weekend isn't the formal start, but it should give a few quick insights into our upcoming life on the road.

If the blogging goes blank then it probably means that a battery or two has run down. Or we've gone Scooby-Doo.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

fruit machine lie generator

One of the characteristics of the Referendum was that most of us were lied to by the various parties throughout the process.

Which ever topic lever was pulled, a lie popped out.

Immediately afterwards these fibs were largely explained away as part of the jolly japes of campaigning.

It all seems to be happening again, for the snap general election. And still no sign of a 'Tilt' light.

Watch the telly and a procession of briefed politicians of all hues tell stories built on the shaky foundations of prior events. A case in point is the Conservative 'Plan' for Brexit. Fragile and aspirational at best, it is being cited now as if it is a proper plan and somehow beats the equally thin offerings from the other parties.

Listen to the descriptions from the Labour party about continued use of the Customs Union. Wishful thinking, given the posture being adopted by Brussels. Then there's the LibDem position which is almost denying Brexit as a way forward.

The decision to call the election is purportedly based upon the need for more government majority support. A sketchy reason, given the pre-existing majority. It is far more likely to be a Lynton Crosby move from the shadows, designed to grab a huge majority whilst a simpering opposition can't get its act together and resorts to gimmicks like extra public holidays.

Behind the scenes, May and Hammond have realised that the only way out of the EU is to pay a shed-load of money to Brussels and then to operate with a kind of Norwegian trading model. Last year I estimated this to be some £8 billion annual ongoing run-rate and I notice that such a figure is now being bandied about in some of the press.

That's before any one off exit fee. Although, it should be reminded that the EU proportion of UK Government spending has always been around 1.4%, one of the lowest category items, yet one that is now a huge distraction from everything else.

The big switcheroo is also being played with the substitution of a new Tory manifesto. Hammond (who knows how spreadsheets work) knows that that Osborne completely messed up the numbers and is looking around for available levers to pull or buttons to press.

May will need to run some diversionary tactics whilst the clandestine levers are unlocked. The big Brexit flashing lights can become the distraction. There will also need to be some short term holds on a few of the fruit machine's wheels. Holds on things that could inconvenience the rich, like dividend tax changes (hold), non-dom taxation changes(hold). Use of the Make Tax Digital (MTD) initiative can be a clever way to tap the pause button.

Then there's a few items that could be played post election. Removal of triple lock protections for pensioners. The Conservatives will want to do this but only after the pensioners have voted for them. Increase income tax and National Insurance?

A combination of a huge majority followed by the 2018 boundary changes should secure the Tory position indefinitely. Perhaps even VAT could come up for grabs again?

I still blame the prior Etonian leadership for creating most of the mess and then doing a runner. As more of the engine room power of the economy slips overseas, the original perpetrators of the mess quietly collect big fat fees from the private sector.

And no-one really knows what is going on.

Friday, 21 April 2017

within un-, sub- or supernatural forces of the love, blood, and rhetorical exchange

{Heads} We watched the terrific NT Daniel Radcliffe, Joshua McGuire and David Haig performance of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead yesterday evening. {Heads} This is the excellent Old Vic production by David Leveaux.

For anyone who doesn't know the story, it is a kind of meta-play, which zeroes in on two minor characters from Shakespeare's Hamlet. In Hamlet they are Hamlet's school buddies and, on orders, attempt to take Hamlet to England.

Stoppard takes the characters, who are mostly at rest in the real Hamlet play, and assumes instead that they have thoughts on the pages where they do not feature. He also gives them the opportunity to try to work out what is happening, albeit from their position of very little knowledge.

It's a hoot with whip crack lines between the two characters, chunks of Shakespeare dropped into the proceedings and David Haig's The Player appearing with his motley ensemble to wreak further havoc.

I couldn't help but think of another recent situation where, as a player, I still see only a sliver of what is happening. We've been doing a house conveyancing exchange of contracts over the last few days.

Across the years I've done this a fair few times and it has generally all happened on the due date.

Not this time, where both upstream and downstream there have been hiccups which have caused the whole thing to reset. Literally to the start. Each time. We finally achieved the exchange on about the sixth attempt, although I can't help wonder if someone had been attempting a Hamlet letter swap somewhere in the process and without our knowledge.

Although as opaque as R & G's knowledge of Hamlet from back-stage, it seems to have ended well for us.

Famously less so for R & G who were summarily executed off-stage by Shakespeare in the original Hamlet.