Monday, 24 September 2018

Raspberry Pi and Wordpress


I've recently been helping out in the background with a web-site. None of my own content, for this particular site I'm the behind-the-scenes person who happens to know Wordpress.

Anyway, it was decided that to avoid making accidental changes to the live site, we'd have a second copy running on something else. We're using a Raspberry Pi, which has been fun to do in its own right. The general gist has been to set up a presspi turnkey wordpress environment on the Pi.

Slight warning, it gets a bit technical from here.

The Presspi configuration includes a pre-configured version of Ubuntu Linux, NGINX server, a SQL server and the the relevant Wordpress installation.

Once the Pi has a basic operating system, it can be DHCP LAN attached via ethernet and then accessed without a monitor and keyboard by using a remote terminal program such as OS/X Terminal (or PuTTY)

Access to the generated web site has required a small change to the network /private/etc/hosts file, so that the Domain Name Services will resolve the PressPi server name references.

Accessing the Pi Presspi remotely has required getting underneath the usual OS/X shell down to the 'green screen' version of the Mac Operating system.

Inevitably, there's some flashback moments editing with raw Unix commands, but the end result of running a Wordpress system hosted on a $30 box the size of a pack of playing cards is still quite entertaining. Next will be to try with the Vocore, which is even smaller. At this rate I can see how easy it could be to just lose the whole server down the back of a shelf.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

lazing on a sunny afternoon

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We were around at friends a few days ago and they asked about some of the activities I'm involved with.

As I was describing them (and where we met), it was commented that several seem to be pub-based. True enough, although they are actually spread out around the local area.

Some are walkable, but for most I'm the designated driver, so a combination of tonic waters, diet cokes, zero alcohol beers and a very occasional shandy are about as far as it goes.

I'm not complaining at all. At this time of year there's always a good view and still a chance to sit outside.

Cheers.
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Saturday, 22 September 2018

Budleigh Salterton and the healing of the coastal path @BudleighLitFest #literary


My sunny picture shows a more typical scene, rather than today's short, rainy, journey to Budleigh Salterton, on the rugged 630 mile South West Coastal Path.

The naturist beach was drenched and deserted, but the main streets were packed with undeterred folk carrying umbrellas and in hooded jackets attending the annual Literary Festival, which is in full swing.

We stopped off to see a couple of writers, both with direct connections and discoveries related to that long path around the end of the country.

First was Raynor Winn, who described a rapid and terrible sequence of events. She learned that her husband, Moss, was terminally ill, their home was taken away and they lost their livelihood.

Penniless, homeless and with little time, they made a brave and impulsive decision to walk and wild camp along the full distance of the sea-swept path from Somerset via Lands End and all the way to Dorset. Their walk became a remarkable journey, and the now best-selling, The Salt Path, is the honest and life-affirming story of it.

For entirely different reasons, in 2015, Katherine May set out to walk the SWCP in her attempt to understand why she had stopped coping with everyday life.

Her walk was completed in many stages, with an added complexity being that she lived in Whitstable between attempting her sections of the walk. That's some four or five hours away from even the nearest sections of the path.

As she walked, her answers begin to unfold. Her book, The Electricity of Every Living Thing, tells the story of her revelation and re-evaluation of her life.

Both accounts appear as so much more than guides or travel logs. They describe transitions from worldly worries through to a calmed mind and onward to self discovery.

Hearing them talk reminded me of times on my (much shorter!) equivalent walks and also of sometimes being alone cycling. I can recognise the personal mini-adventures that occur, sometimes in the scenery and other times in the mind.

Either way, they are times to enjoy and cherish.

Friday, 21 September 2018

whither weather the weather and whether to go or together?


Today, an extension from yesterday's pub conversation. We'd been talking about whether the weather could be controlled by particle beams. Someone mentioned ionospheric heaters and the next thing we knew, we were looking up conspiracy theories on youtube.

Here's the weather control theory, netted down to a couple of sentences:

Fire a beam of particles from somewhere to divert a major storm system. Use a combination of power sources and a big reflector to achieve it.

Here's a diagram from the MIMIC (Morphed Integrated Microwave Imagery at CIMSS) weather system recorder which shows what could be described as a burst of energy pointing towards a weather system. It's the bobbly bits up the middle of the map and another set from off the coast of west Africa that could be read as a generated disruptor.

Now I'm a bit of a sceptic on this kind of stuff, so I had a look around for strange arrays of sky facing aerials and big dishes. There's a few around.

The biggest array in the world is the one in Jicamarca, Peru called JMO 50, which has been used to send out Doppler signals and record their rebounds. These things need a lot of power to operate (in this case up to 6 mega watts) and then need large expanses to pick up the return signal. The guys at JMO started back in 1961 and use incoherent scatter radar techniques to gather their measurements. It's a bit like the way that Radio Luxembourg used get Medium Wave interference from Russia's Gorky and sounded kind of wavy.

My point is two fold. To significantly disrupt the atmosphere you need something big and you need a lot of power.

Even then, with inverse square law, the power drops quickly over long distances.

It's like the fall off from a torch beam over distance. Which brings me back to the weather system disruptors. There'd need to be an awful lot of power to shift a hurricane path. So what about big dish type beams? Again, I looked for some big ones. The popular and well-known one is Arecibo, in Puerto Rico. It was part of Cornell University until a few years ago, when Florida took over.

It's a decent size, but not so manoeuvrable. Once again, it's been around since the 1960s. If the 6 Megawatts in Peru seemed powerful, this one does better, with four radar transmitters, with an effective isotropic power of 20 Terawatts continuous. Oh yes, this one goes further than Back to the Future on power. However, that assumes the power is spread all around, whilst the effective focussed amount will be considerably less.

Hold that thought, as we move to another big dish. This one is quite new, the Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST; Chinese: 五百米口径球面射电望远镜), nicknamed Tianyan (天眼, which is "The Eye of Heaven”).

Now this deep dish is the biggest on earth and something of a status symbol to the Chinese. The thing is, with all its power, the new collector is surprisingly sensitive. So sensitive that the effect of tourists visiting it is impeding its effectiveness. Indeed, the dish gets more tourists now than the Great Wall of China. And that's the problem. They make too much noise and vibration which upsets the delicate readings.

But let's get back to that weather map. The other place of interest is that west African island. It turns out to be Annobón, which is a small province of Equatorial Guinea. I zoomed into it on Google.

Most of the 5,300 low-income inhabitants speak a creole form of Portuguese. Curiously, in the last few years a new international airport has been built as well as a major harbour extension. In addition, the volcanic lake in the middle of the island appears to have been drained in the last year or two.

It indicates that surprising amounts of money have been tipped into a 5,300 population island off of Africa. Back to those energy blips on the MIMIC weather scans. I decided to look a tad further. This is where my own investigation veered away from space rays.

Unfortunately it lead towards basic regional corruption.

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has been President of Equatorial Guinea since 1979 when he ousted his uncle in a military coup.

In the 1980s, Obiang signed a number of agreements with British, French and US companies for the large-scale dumping of toxic and possibly radioactive wastes on Annobon and in adjoining waters.

After protests, the Equatorial Guinean government agreed to suspend the deals, although it gave no commitment to abandon its interest in the trade. In the 1990s, a military blockade was imposed on the island. A visiting German agronomist who managed to obtain access alleged that: 'There are indications of storage of radioactive substances in the coast of Annobón. The island is protected by the military, all the communications are cut...'.

Oh well, a low inhabitancy toxic island? Great place to hide a ray gun?

But wait. It's also close to some huge oil fields. Obiang had also felt compelled to take full control of the national treasury in order to prevent civil servants from being tempted to engage in corrupt practices.

From it, he allegedly deposited more than half a billion dollars into sixty accounts controlled by himself and his family at Riggs Bank in Washington, D.C., leading a U.S. federal court to fine the bank $16 million for allowing him to do so. Some of those payments were from Exxon Mobil and Hess Corporation.

It sets the stage for the next developments on this island. Clean up the mess. Build an international airport length runway and a port to bring in tankers. But, what about that strange star shaped constellation on the corner of the island? Could that hold a weather bending ray?

I have a couple of ideas. Maybe it's a new airport terminal complex? Or could it be for the implausibly large amount of solar power generation being installed on the island?

What's sure is that the investment is out of kilter with the not well-off population. International airport runway, modern docks and enough on-island-generated solar power for every inhabitant to move from 5-6 hours per day of electricity to full time connectivity to a new power grid.

So some this doesn't add up, but for now I'll remain sceptical about the weather beams?

Thursday, 20 September 2018

end of a brute but start of brute force development?


It looks as if the end is in sight for the well-known piece of brutalist architecture south of Blackfriars Bridge, known as Sampson House. I should declare an interest in that I worked there in a sliver of the last century, when it was still a rather modern edifice.

In those days it was a technology based building and I believe even now its current occupants come from a computer background. Such a substantial building, one would have thought that an inner gutting and refurbishment could have extended its life. But I'm forgetting, its on prime South Bank real estate. Perhaps, instead, it will be demolished and replaced with more high-rise dwellings with some new public realm?

Yes, that's the plan. Around 450 new dwellings in high rise apartment blocks and a redesign of the ground level to make an urban forest, which is not an actual forest, but means the concrete will be interspersed with greenery.

The area has a very mixed past. Bankside is one of the oldest settlements in Britain, dating back over 6000 years. When the Romans founded Londinium on the north bank of the Thames, a bridge was built near the present day London Bridge, and the surrounding south bank area (foreground in the picture above) has been inhabited ever since.

I enjoy walking around this part of the South Bank/Bankside, once rich with wharves and river access and now with areas that include the Tate Modern, The Globe and the Millennium Bridge. Noticable that several of these areas have been substantially improved aver the last 20 or so years.

The language of the new development proposal is filled with customary hyperbole as it describes the demolition of Sampson House to open up new walkways through the area. Most people know the fun route along the Thames under the railway and would select that out of choice in any case. Rest assured that the new plans will pick through the heritage names and re-introduce some of them in the interests of cultural reinstatement.

I found an artist impression of the new look, which is drastically different from the old version of this area. Brutalist Sampson House is around the same height as Falcon Point residential block in the foreground of the above picture.

The changes to the area mean that these dimensions are dwarfed by those planned. Actually, the chrysalis shaped building with the upper floor bulge has already been completed and sets a new benchmark for height in the immediate area. It seems the only way is up nowadays. Okay, down is reserved for underground car parks, but only for a very select few.

Here's an impression showing the little piece of walkway between Blackfriars train station and the Blackfriars Bridge, after the new scheme completes. The foreground building gets a special facing treatment, but less for the ones behind it.

I can understand the developers wanting to get every available GBP from a new development, but I wonder who will actually live there and when it tips into over-development of a site?

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Killing Eve - no fleas on this spy enigma


Okay, I'll admit that I've watched the whole of Fleabag twice. That's the series written by, and starring, Phoebe Waller-Bridge as a London woman running an off-kilter singles life and struggling at every turn.

A clever script and continuous breaking of the fourth wall to talk directly to the viewers. Uninhibited, with great characters and an interesting storyline, and a particular eye for detail. A favourite refrain for me is about "London Prices" which crops up every time anyone wants to buy anything in the cafe run by the lead.

I was quite intrigued when I saw the trailers for Killing Eve, a spy genre thriller, completely at odds with the styling of Fleabag. I couldn't wait to see what Phoebe Waller-Bridge would do with this very different kind of series.

And relax. It's been twistedly good.

There's Eve (Sandra Oh) who is a bored, intelligent, pay-grade MI5 security officer whose desk-bound job doesn't fulfil her fantasies of being a spy.

And then Villanelle (Jodie Comer) as a mercurial, talented psychopathic killer who clings to the luxuries her violent job affords her.

Killing Eve breaks the typical spy-action thriller as these two equally obsessed women lock in an epic game of cat and mouse across Europe.

I've watched the whole series which features complicated Russian doll style plot unpacking as well as the enigma of the lead assassin who, with some fascination, sees off various victims. There are some real "Whoa." moments in it.

Subconsciously I also noticed Fleabag type detailing. It is there - right through to the inexplicably messy rooms (we know why). Indeed, one of the characters could almost be a grown-up version of Fleabag (I won't say which). There's a couple of episodes in the middle which suffer from exposition overload and clunkiness, but in general the whole story cracks along with a different eye from many conventional spy genre thrillers.

Actually, I've checked IMDB and it turns out that the middle section was written other people. I'm guessing the BBC America producers wanted to turn it from a UK style 3-4 parter into something more box-settian. Notably, the lurches into by-the-numbers story-telling are in the outsourced chunks and illustrates the need for show-runner thinking.

But the (no spoilers here) ending has plenty of hooks for a next series. Oh yes. Please.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

shiny beads and shallow flattery


I'm guessing that Mr Barnier is prepared to throw a few shiny beads into the Brexit negotiation in order to get the legal part signed. Once that is done, there's no going back, as well as the requirement for that €39 billion payment from UK to EU.

The 'will of the people' should be all for getting on with it, if the plans for the next steps were sensible and covered the main bases.

The current May Plan does neither.

There's holes, wishful thinking, reality distortions and fudges all over it. Some of her own party (including the man once responsible David Davis) are saying it is not fit for purpose.

Alongside Barnier's civil service mechanics we still hear that, by definition, the EU won't concede on many things useful to the UK. Angela Merkel has followed guidance from her own German industries that Britain must be punished. Macron in France follows a similar hard line.

Even the UK press readership is struggling, according to this week's yougov poll.

And now, the government say that talk of a peoples' vote weakens the current situation because EU would then deliberately negotiate in a way to force a 'Stay' vote.

The PM's single-mindedness creates a massive blind spot. So far I haven't linked May's name with that of Farage, Johnson, Cameron, Gove, Rees-Mogg, Davis and the others on the catastrophic bus. But now??

May's Chequers Deal wheels have come off before the bus quite got to the cliff edge. But beware: Barnier's beads will be just enough to ensure we can drive it over.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Why Brexit is too much like Scylla and Charybdis


A couple of times recently I've been in casual group conversations when the Brexit thing has popped up. In the course of these chats I've mentioned the run-rate payment figure and everyone said I was way off the mark. I decided to recheck the numbers from ONS and found that my approximations were, indeed, almost exact.

The most current complete ONS Pink Book (2016) gives the following figures:

But actually, there's a few more credits from the EC back to the private sector, so the real numbers are slightly different and a bit lower than the figures I remembered.

But, goes the argument, even if I'm right, that's still an awful lot of money...

Well, yes, to a single individual, but not to a Government exchequer. My similar calculation for the amount of the annual UK run-rate is around 1%. Here's the pie chart, which I originally generated about 18 months ago on 9 March 2017.

We can see that the EU spending is one of the smallest items, albeit now consuming nearly all of the UK's available government bandwidth. To the point about it still being a big number, here's how it falls out:

About 40p per person per day. I have a sneaking suspicion that the new cost of being 'out' will be somewhat higher. So my thinking is that we've given the government, other politicians and even the opposition a chance to come up with a proper exit plan.

Everyone has failed, giving a choice between 'No Deal' (Crash out) and 'Chequers' - a cobbled together deal which even the Conservatives can't agree about.

It's even more galling to see some of those responsible for the mess now taking side-swipes at what is ultimately of their own doing.

It leaves Mrs May between a rock and a hard place. Choose a whirlpool or a multi headed monster.

Unfortunately, Mrs May doesn't have a Circe to advise on the choice.

Her advisors are about as foresightful as Epimetheus, shown here taking Pandora's gift. Will he open the box? Oops.

It makes my own Brexit decision preference appear loopy, but to me, still the best option. Even at this late stage, just abandon the whole thing.

I'll argue that we need to make the choice richer.
  • No Deal (awful and this way lies the freefall madness of the whirlpool)
  • Chequers deal (bad enough and already compromised. Meet the 6 headed monster)
  • Rescind Article 50 and stay in. Like the same as now, but ideally with better representatives than the saboteurs we all elected
No one yet likes my last option. It's backtracking, against the will of the people, unconstitutional, could create civil unrest, too late.

But it's my preference and I think it should be given proper airtime alongside the awful options. We have just wasted two years not achieving anything. Let's not waste another four splashing through a whirlpool whilst having our industries and services picked off one-by-one by a multi-headed monster.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Cor Baby, that's really John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett in Topsham


An early evening Sunday roast in The Globe, then time to saunter to the local St Matthews Hall, where pop-star legends John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett were performing a gig.

Their gigs are designed to be experienced rather than reported, so I'll leave out some of the spoiler moments. Suffice to say the bouncing self-effacing pop-star persona of John Otway contrasts to the grounded owl-like professional musician image of Wild Willy Barrett.

A totally entertaining evening with an, at times, unhinged performance interspersed with stories and -er- unusual events.

They've had a couple of hits spaced around 25 years apart, so Otway will describe himself as a pop musician with a long career.

It's never that simple and along the way there were the band years paying several sets of wages, the split and re-union with Wild Willy Barrett, gigs ranging from pubs right the way to the Albert Hall, a failed world tour with an expensive jet plane, and the mysterious coach tour gigs to Dunkirk.

Otway's first book was called "Cor Baby that's really me" and taglined as "Rock-and-roll's greatest failure". He wears the badge proudly and still tells of moment as a nine-year old when the fortune teller explained about his golden bird of good fortune.

On-stage, there's a broad range of instruments, and the two musicians establish and easy and humorous rapport, between themselves and with the audience. The brown wheely bin is a sensational musical instrument in its own right, and I'd say it's the only one of those I've ever seen.

A whole evening best described as 'unforgettable'.

I decided to add some old footage of a few markers along the path, and urge anyone to see them whenever they are in their area.

First, their original Old Grey Whistle Test performance, including live mishap.

Then, a documentary during the 'punk meets Stones' band years.

And a lovely 2010 interview with Otway, which explains a few things

Come back soon.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Topsham field notes


A few months illustrating machinery on the field opposite. We start with some ploughing.

Then later, some harvesting of the results.

Add a recent spot of digging.

Maybe check for anything of archeological significance.

It's not that far to dig down to the Roman level. Isca Dumnoniorum and all that.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

sun bubble

Topsham Quay view
We've been in a sun bubble this week. It was similar last week although suspicious in terms of the various weather forecasts we all use.

As well as the inevitable BBC weather, I use Carrot, which I find generally accurate. However, between our varied group we had about six services, which all gave different results. Maybe an 8 degree Celsius spread and vastly different predictions for rainfall.

We gambled that the weather would be better than most predictions and sure enough our luck held. Morning on the water, with a few scenic clouds.
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It's even more bizarre for this area, where we are close to the Met Centre, yet BBC now uses MeteoGroup, which was originally a German system, now spreading across Europe. Fortunately we had clear skies when a passing Spitfire decided to do a barrel roll in front of us.

It turns out that a well-known prince was making a visit to the area and a small display was provided for his enjoyment.

And then the clear skies continued into the evening.
Topsham Turf Ferry, evening at the Quay
Early evening we could see the moon from the quayside and later even identify stars and constellations from outside the pub
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