Sunday, 31 January 2016

in which i accidentally shop in the wrong town


I decided that Southampton was completely broken yesterday.

We were in a dual lane of cars pointing towards the central car parks and it took us 90 minutes to drive the last 1000 yards to the entrance. That's about 0.4 mph.

When we eventually arrived inside the first available car park it signalled for us to go to the roof around a spiralling metal system and as we'd predicted, the whole area was full. After fruitlessly exploring two of the lower floors, we drove out and away from the centre, finding a space in a more out-of-town looking car park. Another 20 minutes.

I wasn't best pleased as we yomped around the temporary fences put up to block the shortest pedestrian route back towards our destination.

Later, we stopped at a well-known casual mid-range eatery. Fortunately we were chatting, because it took almost an hour for the starters to arrive. Our parking was almost expired and we had to ask them to hurry what turned out to be an insipid main course.

As we drove away, it took less than two minutes to drive beyond the end of where we'd been waiting on the inbound traffic jam.

I shall remove this from my list of desirable destinations.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

sharpening the eraser


Despite my recent winnings, I've decided its time to properly opt out of the national lottery.

Winning an occasional lottery lucky dip is rather pathetic and symptomatic of their attempts to get publicity by making the odds so high that the wins will be every 12 or so weeks and each time create free publicity. Only committed gamblers need apply.

My remaining small fund originally accumulated from tiny sales of the novel 'The Triangle' will go towards a new pencil.

Friday, 29 January 2016

morning maniac music


White tee-shirted Paul Kantner plays guitar on this, with Grace Slick singing. He was said to be the catalyst for the original band.

This slightly out of sync out-take didn't make it to the original movie.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

I finally get around to using the new improved Trainerroad with Sufferfest. All good. IWBMATTKYT .


My cycling speed and effort results had been plummeting this year.

I've been using my Tacx Bushido turbo with Trainerroad and it has all been going the wrong way. I'd Googled the symptoms of overtraining and so on, but it didn't feel as if I'd been overdoing it.

Could it be a residual mince pies effect from Christmas? Another year on my personal clock? I'm also doing Dryathalon January (no booze) so that should compensate to some degree.

I'd cleaned the bike gears and then relubricated them. It did make a difference to the way the bike felt but no difference to the Garmin readouts. I even changed all the sensor batteries. No difference. Maybe it was me after all?

Then I tried one of the Trainerroad Sufferfest videos. Big Clue. It wouldn't play properly. I retraced my steps. I'd run the update to put Windows 10 on the bicycle laptop computer sometime just before Christmas. It was during that time when I'd mainly turbo cycled lightly whilst watching Jessica Jones and Mr Robot episodes.

The stuttering video was the clue that although regular movies played okay, there was something amiss.

Download the latest Trainerroad and I realised there had been a major update. The software has been completely re-written although I must have missed the memo.

The 'new' Trainerroad (actually November 2015) is easier to user, cleaner and smooth again. Sufferfest is again zanily challenging. The Sufferlandians' motto of IWBMATTKYT holds good. The pulsing music pumps out again at the right beats per minutes.

My scores shot back into the right zone. If anything slightly higher.

Trainerroad can be used as a horizontal strip across the bottom of a laptop screen, leaving plenty of space for either a training video (like Sufferfest) or for a Netflix, Amazon, iTunes or plain ol' DVD. I've used it in all the combinations and really like the fast startup so that a cycling session can be underway in seconds.

I'll have to put January's low TSS scores down to my lack of technical wizardry and make do with the knowledge that I'm on the way to this year's mileage target. Normal service has, as they say, been resumed.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Hail, Caesar : would that it were so simple


I saw the trailer for the next Coen Brothers movie when I watched The Big Short.

(Mental Note: I'm almost reviewing a trailer here!)

It looks like a celebration of Hollywood's great celluloid movie ride. The basis seems to be George Clooney playing a forgetful actor in a Ben Hur/Bible style epic, with several other classic movies (sailors on the town/russian submarines/westerns/Busby Berkeley) being made on the surrounding sound stages.

The Coen Brothers seem to have packed it with well-known movie faces too, and there will no doubt be some twisted surprises.

Although the cinema trailer said 'Next Year', I suspect it really meant 2016.

Would that it were so simple. Here's a whole scene in the making...

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

The Big Short


I just watched The Big Short, the movie about the financial crisis of 2007-2008, brought about by the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market in the USA. It's based on what really happened and derived from the Michael Lewis book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, so the characters in the movie are based upon real people. Its not really spoilers to describe any of this, although the movie does dig into some of the Teflon-coated dishonesty rampant in the system.

This was the 2005-2008 era of creating rebundled mortgages (collateralised debt obligations/CDOs) and their even more arcane derivatives (synthetic CDAs).

Hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale) discovers that there's a time bomb in many US mortgages, when the interest rates change from the 'lure rate' to an ongoing rate at around three times as much, mainly clicking in during 2Q07. These mortgages have been bundled into packages generally labelled as Triple-A rated, despite their low quality (sub-prime) loan profiles.

He's not the only one on to this and a few other players also delve into the situation, which is more rotten than most could dream, based around a mix of greed and ignorance. There's also complicity from the regulators and later the government, which has to bail out the worst excesses to stop a complete crash of the US financial system.

I can understand that the subject matter might not be everyone's cup of tea, with all the financial lingo, but the movie makers recognised this too. From time to time we have little cutaway scenes like chef Anthony Bourdain explaining blended securitisation by comparison with seafood stew using three-day-old halibut and Margot Robbie drinking champagne in a bubblebath, explaining the CDO marketplace to the cinemagoers.

There's a strong mainly male cast in this 'boys in Wall Street' movie with Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt among the players in what is a strong ensemble piece.

At one level its almost a caper story with the big short being the bet against the outcome (i.e. that the US property market will tank). It would be a caper except that the CDOs really happened and people were evicted from homes, lost jobs and billions were wiped out of real peoples' pension funds as a result.

Hardly any culpable bankers lost anything from this (although Bear Stearns and Lehman were toppled) although a Fed bail-out and quick Wall Street shuffle later and those that were out of jobs could just pop up again somewhere else.

Today we don't quite have the old-style CDOs, but the new emerging instrument is called a "bespoke tranche" opportunity. Yes, get ready for it to happen again.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

mystery shopping and a spark


A couple of days ago I showed a selection of items recommended to me by Amazon.

I worked out that they were components from inside of a toilet cistern. I don't think I'll be buying anything from that selection somehow.

The next day I was provided another Amazon recommendation. This time it took the idea of toilets, plus movie, plus German language and suggested this:

My guess is that it knows that I (a) watch Amazon Movies (b) have been watching a German language series recently (Deutschland '83) (c) something to do with plumbing, although I'm less sure where this has come from.

Separately from all of that, Marks and Spencer recently started a new Sparks card and sent me a special offer. I'd got just over 6000 points (I reckon 6000 points represents about £600 of spending).

There were actually five offers of similar value and I could select any one I liked! I looked for the best one. It was 20% off all eggs, in store, valid for the next six days.

Well, you can imagine how I wanted to rush to get that offer! I could save maybe 50p-60p on a dozen eggs if I hurried along - and if I selected the offer on-line first.

This is a new level of complication with a loyalty card. Offers that can only be pre-selected on-line ahead of purchase.

Now as luck would have it, when I was leaving the site, a questionnaire popped up. Normally I ignore them all, but I couldn't resist on this occasion. I like to think that my answers are why I got the explanatory email from Sparks about their offers not always being right.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

5 million barrels makes all the difference in the world


With all this talk of oil prices, I thought I'd have a look at the consumption and pricing graphs. All the press is reporting about volatility, pump prices and the re-entry of Iran to the marketplace,

I created the above slightly hand drawn graphs by comparing the barrel price with global output statements and an estimate of world demand. Notably the Nynex forward pricing appears completely bonkers with a barrel price swing of between $20 to $90 through to the end of 2017.

It looks as if no-one has a clue.

I was more intrigued to look at the sensitivity of the price around the break-even production point. It makes for interesting reading. Excuse my rough numbers, but they are close enough to illustrate the point.

The world consumes about 94.5 million barrels per day. When it produced less than this amount the (say 92 million barrels per day), the price was around $100 per barrel. On track where production equals demand it is around an America-friendly $65. Now the world is producing 97 million barrels per day, the price has dropped to $30 per barrel. That includes the Americans adding in shale oil, plus the Saudis increasing their output to hold market share and Iran coming back into the market after sanctions were lifted.

Those factors appear to affect the last 5 million barrels of production and crazily create the $70 swing in price.

Break even points are very different based upon which country is producing the stuff. Poke a stick in the ground in Iran and it will come out black from oil.

By comparison, the Americans in self-named Boomtown, USA (also known as Williston, North Dakota) are having to run high pressure fracking systems whose economically sound point is around double the current oil price.

Meanwhile tankers sit moored around the seven seas, each containing 2 million barrels of oil, today worth $60 million but possibly worth north of $100 million if sold at the right time.

This whole demand curve is strikingly non-linear, through a mix of politics and the sort of non climate friendly pricing algorithms that only machines can understand. Presumably there will be more roller coaster upsets through the rest of 2016 as the era of fossil fuels gets restructured.

Friday, 22 January 2016

inspired by my shopping trends?


Yikes.

It looks like a system error?

These robot shopping systems still have a way to go.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

no wavering from the agenda


Cameron pitched up at 14:00CET for his 30 minute handwaver, expressly about his four EU negotiation points before the Brexit referendum.
  • Competitiveness: The UK to push for stronger efforts to make the EU economy more competitive, through cutting red tape for business and deepening the single market. I suppose no EU country would oppose such a 'no brainer' but any direct steps will be hard to achieve in time for the referendum.
  • Sovereignty (nee Treaty): The UK insists on an opt-out from the EU treaty goal of “ever closer Union”. It also wants the EU to give national parliaments more powers to stall or reject new EU rules. For this one, the UK is likely to be given a written commitment that the Lisbon Treaty rights for national parliaments will be upheld. In other words, yes but it will take ages and committees to change the treaties.
  • Euro “ins” and “outs”: The UK wants safeguards that the Eurozone members can't outvote the non-euro countries on EU policies (especially financial services). It is predicted that with nine EU countries outside the euro, adjustments to voting should be feasible but will again take time to figure out. This was being discussed on the day the GBP was unexpectedly sliding to €1.30
  • Migration:Cameron has called for stricter rules on migration, in particular curbs on in-work benefits for EU nationals coming to the UK. This is the one where there is likely to be large disagreements, although possibly Cameron has built wiggle room into the 'four years qualifying period' part of his statements?

The upshot of it all was Cameron was able to say he'd like to conclude the negotiations by end February, but if it takes longer then so be it. I'm guessing he could get 3 of 4 but the migration one is unlikely to land unless there's some significant changes.

None of the questioners in the last 8 minutes mentioned that UK has 73 MEPs of which 22 (30%) are UKIP hardcore Eurosceptics determined to undermine UK's EU role.

Cameron also stated that he didn't need to have the referendum until end 2017. Perhaps an interesting way to manage UK expectations: announcing the potential for slippage from May 2016 in a 30 minute slot in Switzerland?

And we've just seen how useless the pollsters are, so I suppose the whole referendum vote will still net down to some sort of personality contest about who the voters want to kick out from (UK) office.

Davos discuss the meltdown


There's a few more interesting topics in the Davos snow today.

With global stock markets going into meltdown yesterday, the comments in Davos about global growth in 2016 being 'disappointing and uneven' might be an understatement.


The supposition of these economists is that growth is being held back by (wait for it!) low productivity, aging populations, and the legacies of the global financial crisis.

That'd be high debt, low investment, and weak banks burdening advanced economies - although all that new money being created by the Central Bank in the Eurozone must surely be for a reason?

I can't help thinking that there's other structural forces at play. The new ways of doing business mean that huge pieces of traditional infrastructure are being impacted. Virtual shopping, Printed cars like the early one below. Public/Private domain distinctions.

No wonder companies sit on $7 trillion of cash - they don't know where to invest/what to develop next. Mergers & acquisitions maybe but capital expenditure less likely, all implying low growth. It does raise a few leadership questions - beyond the bluffers and duffers.

Later today, Cameron will present on UK matters which will certainly include the Brexit debate, and there's already been a session on finance.

For finance the buzzphrase seems to be about fintech a.k.a. financial technology. By comparison 'Regulation' seems to have dropped down the list somewhat, or maybe that's a feature of this type of meeting.

A Davos re-spin of the 2008 financial crash implies it was caused by fragmentation in the regulatory world - huh? - anything but the bankers themselves. Not the highly target-driven twenty-somethings given full access to global markets to trade using other peoples' money. Oh no. And I'm not sure that it has really changed that much?

And here's the thing...Fintech inevitably gets linked to disruptive technologies which, by their nature, are the ones less likely to be regulated. Anyone spot the place to drive the coach and six horse string? (gratuitous Tarantino reference)

A quick example of a digital disrupters is the algorithms used for energy trading and risk management. Might these robot calculations be having a part to play in the current oil pricing? Just because these systems don't look like Cybermen doesn't mean they aren't software driven. And now we should start adding virtual money into the mix - has anyone an inkling of how to regulate that?

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

get rich quick in Davos?


The once a year occupation of Davos is underway again, with the mega-rich taking over the Swiss town to talk about the world economy.

Personally, I've found Davos to be a slightly creepy place, for reasons I can't quite pin down.

Strip away the fancy marquees and street branding and there's a sleepy looking ribbon development underneath, with a few tell-tale trappings of Swiss affluence. Then, towards the centre there is a curious wooden sculpture comprising a procession of people walking into a lake carrying umbrellas.

Nonetheless, I can understand why a premium Swiss ski resort in the middle of a country famous for quiet banking and taxation regimes gets selected. Placing the conference 2.5 hours by road or train from a main airport also limits access, although the staff can still get in to run things and helicopter is still available for those that need to get there quickly.

Alongside the rich folk, there's a good smattering of advisors, with some well-known banking and tax specialists in the mix, as well as a few more -er- specialised organisations. They help maintain the 62 folk who apparently equate to half the world's total wealth. Of course, the WEF conference is larger than that, with some 2,500 delegates.

I'm interested to see if there is can be something for everyman at this world event. It would be so easy to run wallpaper presentations that gently summarise without really bringing new enlightenment and to keep the good stuff off stage in the one to ones.

If the real 1% are even present, they'll all have huge run-rates of software licences, confectionery, ball bearings, beer and fashion items to keep themselves in cash. The very top of the wealth list is characterised by these type of people. I can't help thinking of Weeds or Breaking Bad though. That need to have a car wash or a cake shop to help run the funds through.

Further down we start to get the properly 'diversified','investments' and 'hedge funds' people who'd rather not say what the main secret of the success comprises. And of course there's a few 'casinos' in the mix too.

So let's have a peek at today's world and then today's WEF topics:

First, the world.
  • Oil supply Now it's down at $27 a barrel, even the middle east must be worrying. The UK economic viability point for its own production is around $60. Norway is slightly less and the USA is slightly more. The middle east can run at about $30. Now Iran is also back in the game, the entire world is running production at around the lowest possible breakpoint and with a massive and growing surplus. Cheap fossil fuel implies burning the planet and runs against the climate change agenda.
  • Eve of Destruction How does that song go? Barry McGuire may have sung back in 1965, but this time it's Stephen Hawking warning about nuclear war, global warming and genetically engineered viruses posing threats to humanity, alongside scientific progress that will create “new ways things can go wrong”. Yikes
  • Re-bordering: As Brussels scraps asylum laws that the first country a refugee enters is responsible for any claim, it is changing completely the way that border structures operate throughout the whole EU bloc.
  • Rich money: The little scheme dreamt up in Euro-land to pump €60bn per month into the Euro, starting in March. That's quantitive easing money lobbed in at the bond end which flows through to the more affluent end of the market - whilst trying to stop the Euro from capsizing. Pass the bubbly.
  • Cyber attacks, of course: If ever I pick up a technical journal, the front cover has something about cyber attacks. As we drift further into Internet of Things and clever cars, the predictions are about off-shored nation state engineering of cyber attacks.
  • Loony tunes: What do I know, but it all seems to be going very wobbly in America, what with the President on his farewell tour and Trump having a love-fest with that Alaskan tea-party Palin woman. Large chunks of America seem to love all this stuff.
  • China broken and fatter: After its share price rises, China is now jittery and struggling - which is knocking through to everyone else. There's also that recently rescinded 'one child' gap creating a kind of population time-bomb as it ascends into and beyond the workplace. There's also a new obesity and diabetes healthcare epidemic, as well as the west working out how many ways to sell sticks (cigarettes) to the Chinese.
  • Climate Change: Should be in the list, but somehow the 62 people = 50% wealth or .1% people = 80% wealth signpost away from this topic.

There's more, of course, but that'll do: The World Economic Forum presentations are in a different vein:

  • Top technology trends - Buying that gold Rolex just got easier: Yes - a last minute Christmas $20k gift, bought via an iPhone app. The related trends are: The age of everywhere (like IoT)/ data to add context/ on-demand inventory/ true global commerce/ virtual reality shopping

    And my personal favourite - "sustainable shopping" - that's "buy/use/sell" to you and me and will probably appear in Ebay's tag line anytime soon.
  • Greatest users of mobile eCommerce?Why, the Brits! Then the Germans and in third place the Americans. 28% of all eCommerce in Britain is mobile generated. Shop till you drop?
  • Healthcare in the home: Use of sensors and home monitoring, which is already underway. Then it talks about delivering medicines from one room in the home to another by drone.

    Ok. I guess the presentations don't really want to give away anything that could seriously make money.
  • Gender equality: Using the index of 0 to 1 for parity of representation, women score 0.0 on Politics, 0.6 on economics and close to 1.0 on Education and Healthcare. For the conference, they'd score 0.18, which is still a low representation.
  • Fourth Industrial Revolution Billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge. Possibilities multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.

    Let's face it, there's a lot of people in the rich list that made it with software. There'll be plenty more with all this stuff. Assuming that the government/commerce/citizen triangle can be figured out.
  • I, and a Robot The storyline that workers will have greater employment opportunites if their occupation undergoes some degree of computer automation. Just watch out if you see anyone designing a Cylon or a Replicant.

So if the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the overall theme of the conference, with 1) Automation, 2) China, 3) Stuttering emerging markets and 4) What Britain decides to do in Europe all in the mix, then perhaps we could expect some interesting viewpoints?

More likely it's a choreographed move away from the ongoing themes of bankers gone wild, new war zones, terrorism, migration and climate?

Then again, the folk at the conference can probably work out that there's money to be made from the fourth industrial revolution, and maybe it's better for them to keep all the really good stuff secret.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The Hateful Eight in Tarantino's Movieverse


Ever since the Vega Brothers turned up split between two Tarantino movies (Vic played by Madsen in Reservoir Dogs and Vincent played by Travolta in Pulp Fiction) I've been aware of the emerging Tarantino Universe.

The most obvious reference would probably be in the $5 milkshake scene in Pulp Fiction when Uma Thurman's character describes Fox Force Five (i.e. Kill Bill) to John Travolta's character. This was long before the Kill Bill movie was made, of course.

Tarantino indicates that The Hateful Eight is his eighth movie and indeed it is emblazoned across the start. In practice, there's a few more out there where he had a significant role such as True Romance or Natural Born Killers. I reckon the real-time chronology of their settings would be something like:
  1. Django Unchained
  2. The Hateful Eight
  3. From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter (DVD only)
  4. Inglorious Basterds
  5. Reservoir Dogs
  6. True Romance
  7. Natural Born Killers
  8. Four Rooms
  9. Jackie Brown
  10. Death Proof
  11. Planet Terror (kind of - e.g. the Missing Reel effect)
  12. From Dusk Till Dawn
  13. From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (DVD only)
  14. Curdled (a play)
  15. Pulp Fiction
  16. Kill Bill Volume 1
  17. Kill Bill Volume 2
Others have drawn complex diagrams showing the interdependencies between these movies in Tarantino's 'Realer than Real' Universe and the 'Movies Movie' Universe, which contains the kind of films his characters from Realer than Real would go to see.

For me it was the Ultra Panavision 70mm 2.76:1 version of this newest Tarantino movie. This was proper event cinema, an overture before the film, a popcorn intermission.

The outdoor scenes looked stunning on this ultra-wide format and when a large part played out inside Millie's Haberdashery (the stagecoach roadhouse) at times you could every nook and cranny of the room, which became useful for looking out for clues towards other activities.

I can't really talk about plot (which works on different levels) and being a Tarantino, there's some stark and flinch-inducing moments.

At a kind of deconstructed level there's a setup in the snowy wilds of Wyoming, and then an extended play-like format in the roadhouse, based around a series of deliberately archetypal western characters including bounty hunters, sheriffs and a hangman, still raw from the Civil War.

My first impression was of a somewhat slow-burn movie, but progressively the howling winds and snow and burrow into the subconscious.

As I became further immersed in this world I realised I'd got no clue about how things would turn out. Tarantino's pacing was like a Fibonacci spiral, cranking up as the movie progressed.

Sure, I could recognise some leading clues, but there was no way that I could have predicted what actually took place.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

vintage downton alien


An intriguing photography-related article appeared across some of the media feeds over the last day or two.

For some time I've been tinkering wth 'old-school' analogue lenses to use with modern digital cameras. In my case they have been inexpensive yet high-quality ones which can be connected to the latest digital still and movie cameras. Good control of depth of field to get that movie-like blurriness, compactness coupled with simple manual control.

It turns out that the professionals are doing it too. The sharpness and extended depth of field of modern kit has created a need for extensive post-processing to get the right 'feel' for the some pieces. Period dramas get singled out for attention, although I'd expect anything with a more arty look to need that blurriness.

Instead of trying to post process it, some of the film and high-end television cameramen are now recommending the use of so called 'vintage' lenses to create the effect naturally as part of the filming.

Downton Abbey gets mentioned in the articles, as does the buying and selling of lenses from well-known movies classic such as Alien.

Although, I'm not sure that Alien was going for a period drams look when it was created?

Thursday, 14 January 2016

bicycle targets and silencers


I've loaded my annual targets for my cycling for 2016 and am already on the way (just).

More bizarrely, I noticed the Daily Telegraph encouraging a bicycle target aimed at buying a 'dream bicycle' for Jeremy Corbyn.

It's another dig by the newspaper that encouraged non-Labour supporters to spend £3 to, in the Telegraph's words, 'destroy the Labour party'. This time the campaign appears more whimsical, but still runs the dog-whistle politics of destabilisation.

A leading proponent of these subliminal high frequency influences has been UK-living non-dom Lynton Crosby, who bizarrely secured a knighthood for his extremely well-paid strategising to get Cameron elected. Surely the cash should have been the reward enough, but as he doesn't appear to like Cameron, maybe the 'Sir' was akin to a silencer?

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Deutschland '83


With yesterday's passing reference to secret services, I remembered I've been watching some spy films recently. There's the James Bond style fast action ones but then a whole genre of slower paced movies, usually with the Berlin Wall included somewhere.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy which re-appeared on TV in its movie form with Gary Oldman a few day ago. A bunch of the people that moved into later spy television series were in the cast, so last year gave us other beige-world dramas with rain, double decker buses and German borders.

London Spy (shown at the end of last year) was of a similar slow pace - I had a look through the shooting script and there are only about 40 spoken words in the first four pages. Of course, the spy aspect was secondary in that particular story, although it followed the conventions.

Earlier in 2015 we had 'The Game' which was set in the 70s and featured plenty of intra episode plot points to remember. I suppose that's why its easier to get something like 'Death in Paradise' recommissioned, with every episode self-contained comprising 1)a murder 2)some false leads 3)a grand reveal - often with something that only the clever detective could spot 4)a side line jolly jape like buying a rusty boat or learning to water-ski badly.

Anyway, its a long way around to saying I've been watching Deutschland '83 over the last couple of weeks and am thoroughly enjoying it.

There may be some remarkable co-incidences that help the story along, but it seems to be a good way to produce a snappy alternative to the frequently brown-toned spy format. The filming itself is also super saturated and entertainingly framed.

We get the East German border guard who is forced to become a double agent in the West and the inevitable culture shock when he sees the supermarkets for the first time (Sweet dreams are made of this) and the humorous hardship of another double agent forced to stay in the wealthy west as well as rafts of other passing characters.

Set in the 80s at the peak of the Reagan missile deployments, we get Nena's 99 Luftballon playing on the radios both sides of the wall, with the original lyrics that the balloons triggered a nuclear alert. In the German song it was a suspected UFO and some suggestions of street riots whilst the English version had a software bug and political escalation. They both scrambled jet fighters with flying knights thinking they were Captain Kirk. Oh well.

And that's just a side line in this fast moving and sometimes deliberately awkward spy piece. I'm finding it a delight to watch and a whole other style for some of the spy genre to consider. It shares some spirit with 'Good Bye, Lenin!' which is a German movie set just after the wall came down.

So here's Nena, mainly in German but on this subversive version with a bit of French added to the chanson.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

semper occultus


I've been receiving password renewal reminders for some of my secret squirrel accounts.

I've used the relevant one-shot security token for logging-in.

I know the old password and I know how to create a new rule-compliant one which is at least x characters long, has no words in it, includes numbers blah blah blah.

Yet, after I create the new one, it is only working with some of the systems that are supposed to be supported. I sense I'll be needing to call the help desk about this.

Monday, 11 January 2016

far out in the red sky


Far out in the red-sky
Far out from the sad eyes
Strange, mad celebration
So softly a supergod dies

Saturday, 9 January 2016

rise of the refrigerators


I've been looking at some of the new technology from CES this week.

Among the items that seems to have received disproportionately high coverage are the new generation refrigerators, which are now Internet of Things enabled.

The refrigerator is becoming the newest robot to need to be obeyed.

I've been an early adopter of IoT technology around the home and we have various devices like Nest, Hue, music and automated fireplace controls that work from WiFi/Zigbee signalling. Hubs R Us etc.

A key facet for me is that IoT should be quiet technology. By that I mean it does its thing without needing to be obviously present. The technology should be hidden away, yet these newest devices seem to be the opposite. PC280561.jpg
Their design point reminds me of building surfaces in Shanghai or Tokyo - or on a modest scale Leicester Square.

Brightly lit animated and flashy, like a reverse version of form over function. Limited function dictating the entire form.

I can almost imagine the meetings at Samsung, LG or Philips.

"See if you can figure out how to put a flat panel television screen onto this white surface."

And lo, they have done it. There's a fridge that now has a glass panel in the front that is dark - like those glass fronts on office meeting rooms or showers in Novotels, you know the ones that can go misty at the tap of a button. In this case the glass is dark but goes clear when you tap it.

Yes, you can see inside the fridge without opening the door! And then there's a special foot sensor which, when a foot is put in the right place on the floor will automatically open the fridge door.

The demonstrator here looks thoughtful...

"Manual doors are so 20th Century"/"Does it come in black?"/"That'll attract fingerprints"/"What about the other three doors?"/"It's not completely dark, I can see inside before I've tapped it"/"Now I'll always need Fortnum's fridge goods so nosy neighbours can only see the good stuff"/"My next kitchen will be styled on an aircraft maintenance facility"...and so on.

So are these kitchen hubs totally pointless options? Who am I to say. I suppose if I was staying away from home and had one of these in a temporary apartment then it would make a conversation piece?

But practically - will the food lose that much freshness when the fridge door is opened? And what happens to that handy part of the door where the milk gets stored? As for the foot control - they can sell the feature that it doesn't respond to cats, dogs or small children, I suppose. An example of a solution looking for a problem.

Then there's the 'flat panel TV glued to the door' type fridges. Proper computer hubs, turning one of the simplest and most reliable kitchen appliances into one of the one most likely to go wrong and need rebooting. Internet browser enabled, of course. And capable of monetisation. Add an ordering option to the front so that when the bottled capers or cranberries are getting low they can automatically be re-ordered. Guess what? They've also added a 'fridge housekeeping function' so that you can drag and drop the fridge inventory as well as its 'use by' dates. So many things to go wrong with this one, and an ugly great black mirror to live with in the kitchen too. I suppose if it does crash then it could re-order its entire content automatically.

Much more fun would be to create the (c) rashbre central fridge cam which records fridge accesses and alerts when the last yoghurt/can of beer has been taken. Maybe add an optional "Midnight munchies suppression" feature.

I understand that the marketeers want to take punt on some of this stuff, but I'm not sure how many people will want a row of LCD screens distracting their kitchens.

"Open the fridge bay door, Hal"

Friday, 8 January 2016

should I get a 45 million to 1 lotto ticket ? - oh, go on then...


I must stop my weekly UK lotto gambling.

It's only been funded by sales of my novel, the funds from which seeded my tiny lottery fund out of which I bet on a ticket every week. Despite the old odds of 14 million to 1, I managed a few wins that kept the fund topped up (reinvestment - none of the wins were that spectacular).

At some stage along the way they doubled the entry cost, with the entry stake moving from £1 to £2. Maybe it was an attempt to hide the falling size of the main prizes as less people were entering the bet.

More recently, with the size of the jackpot still falling, Camelot/Lotto decided to change/rig the odds by adding another ten balls to the system, moving the odds to 45 million to 1. Maybe they took advice from their sole shareholder/owner, the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan?

Unsurprisingly, the revised odds have created more weeks without a jackpot winner at all (like we all notice?), and so eventually, after some 13 weeks, they are invoking a payout based upon a different rule.

More surprisingly, in those blank payout weeks I have managed to win couple of small prizes! Guess what? Another con. In the old days a small win might be £10 or £25 which would keep a small-time gambler like me running for plenty of weeks. This time my small win was - a free entry to the next Lotto game. I remember the old negotiating tactic (from the eminently practical Karrass probably) - It runs along the lines of "If you have to give something away give something that is cheap to you but of perceived good value to the recipient".

So they give me a free entry - which would cost me £2 but they know is essentially useless because the odd of it winning are so low.

I get it that the new odds will create a headline grabbing piece of free publicity every 10 weeks or so, when the non-wins accumulate enough to give a big payout.

So yes, I will enter this weeks lottery, but unless I win something then this may also be the perfect time to cancel my recurring random bet.



Thursday, 7 January 2016

Dickensian text messaging


I've been enjoying that BBC series 'Dickensian' which is now on around episode 6 of 20. Take a bundle of Dickens characters and put them together in a closed world and see how they interact. The stories are all from a time before the main Dicken's novels but have a similar episodic feel to them.

Set in east London, with a daily cliffhanger ending, murders, a pub frequented by many of the players and even a wedding that could go a bit wrong...Why it sounds like another show on the BBC, except the cor blimey Cockney is less pronounced in this than in modern day Eastenders.

If Eastenders is like an 'X-Factor' soap, mainly brash and sensationalism, then Dickensian reminds me more of a 'Strictly' version, still with scenes of anguish and mayhem, but somehow with more of a heart. It even tickles me to see Stephen Rea playing Bucket from the Yard with a smile in his eye.

The extensive and well detailed set reminds me of something from a Punchdrunk production and is being well used, although I suppose the roaming camera will eventually run out of novel angles.

I'm enjoying the simple pleasure of the series. Some of the plots are a little contrived, but the spirit of the production has a warmth that seems just right for this time of year. It may often be snowing in the streets of this particular part of East London, and there may be a permanent mist hanging in the alleyways and by the dockyard, but I'm still interested to see how Bucket is influenced by Venus the Taxidermist, or whether Arthur Havisham's disinheritance was for *ahem* another reason fleetingly alluded to in the shared digs with Compeyson.

Really there's so many rich resources to deploy across the realm of Market Street, with its Curiosity Shop, Mantalini's, Scrooge and Marley's offices, The Cratchits, Bumble's Workhouse and Fagin's Lair. Somehow the twenty 30 minute episodes are not enough to do full justice to these 'Greatest character hits' from Dickens.

And just when I think Eastenders relies upon telephone-based drama too much, with text messages, missed calls and all, I see that Dickensian has a similar device. Except they shout "Boy", and pass their handwritten note and a penny to the nearest Short Message Service. Properly voice activated and long before Siri.