Tuesday, 31 January 2017

suitability of multipass vs galactic republic id?


Pre ESTA days, I used to have one of those long-term USA visas. Come to think of it, I suppose its time limit was described as 'indefinite'. So true.

One day I was travelling alone, re-entering the US through somewhere like JFK and was stopped by the border official.

He called to another person who escorted me over into a small side room, like in a Jason Bourne movie. I was asked a few questions by one person whilst another one hovered in the background. They explained they were revoking my visa. Its full page glory was unceremoniously cancelled and I was given a new mini stamp in the passport with a time limit.

In its own small way, this was quite unnerving, yet the actual process was probably only 15 minutes, admittedly at the end of a six hour flight.

Because of my frequent travelling, in those days I used to keep a couple of passports running, one which I called my 'clean' passport and the other one which has a few more stamps in it. Even that process changed as the various authorities started to move over to those whole page stickers with photographs on them. And there was a certain country which I visited that would put their stamps onto paper to be kept with the passport for the duration of the visit (wink wink).

Even now I order the extra pages version of the passport.

But with new border controls being created, I'm wondering about the whole passport thing again. Aside from the shhh! fake camouflage 'passports' which anyone can get (like British Honduras or Western Sahara), there's the places that have lesser rules.

I'm guessing that the US will once again rein in the H-1/H-1B and similar visas, as another part of the buy American thing. I wonder which nationalities possessing such documents will still, like me, get into the country with an replacement alternative stamp?

(Update: I wrote this before it happened, but yes, it's now in the news)

The other part of this is the way that dual nationalities get sold. There's a list of special companies and particular countries that provide -er- services to help people get around. In at least one place you can simple hand over dosh to become a citizen. It's about the same amount as needed to buy a new Bentley, if you know what I mean.

It'd be daft to try to get, say, a U.N. Special Services Diplomatic passport, but there's other jus sanguinis (right of bloodline) countries like Italy or Ireland, where in the right circumstances, it is more about filling in the right forms.

These three are quite useful

Consultancies like that one close to the US Embassy in London are now running free seminars in certain areas like the Middle East, to help guide people through the options. I expect it is still tricky to get a pretty pink Singapore passport (2 years residence) or a Belgian E.U. passport (that's the one the Eurocrats are lining up for). Of course, typing in 'fake passports' to the internet wouldn't work, would it?

Maybe it's time to get a multipass?

Sunday, 29 January 2017

drinking coffee and trying to confuse Alexa

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Sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee, listening to a laid back acoustic playlist, I found the sound from the Alexa Echo a little bit boomy, so I tried "Alexa, turn down the bass." It seemed to work although the volume also seemed to go down. Then I tried "Alexa, turn up the treble." No volume increase but more treble. Then "Alexa, louder."

"Alexa turn living room up/down" seems to work the side lights in that room. "Alexa, Add three degrees to the temperature" works, although it is doing it in Fahrenheit whilst everything is set to Celsius here.

And Alexa hasn't gone rogue yet and ordered something on-line, because a TV programme told it to. "Alexa, buy [my product] with one-click". Only a matter of time before it happens.

Mainly good. Then to ask "Alexa, What is the Prime Directive?"

Bizarrely, that works as well.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

startup


The other box-set I've been watching, albeit in a half-hearted way, is called "Startup". It's on Sparkle, which is the Sony streaming service also available in the UK via Amazon. It's about a group of people trying to start a Bitcoin style cyber-currency, largely built upon the proceeds of crime.

Compared with the stylisation of LA/Santa Monica-based Goliath, this one fails to hold real interest. There's a Miami-based plot that includes gangsters, guns, the dynamics of successful Cubans, less-well-off Haitians and the alternative Wall Street in the form of Miami's money laundering capital around Brickell Street.

It should make up a pretty good plotline, but somehow in amongst the sexed up scenes they have dropped Martin (Dr Watson) Freeman. He plays an implausible American cop who drinks fashionable coffee, cooks English-style sausage and bacon breakfast and wears his gun on a hip holster like a cowboy. They make him run about a bit but his role (like his American accent) seems to have a weird style over substance for much of the narrative. It's almost as if the writers are having a bit of snide fun with his character.

It feels like there was an awkward plot point that needed to be included and then the producers decide to do some stunt casting to appeal to the Brits. It is shame, because I thought Freeman did a decent job playing that out-of-control character in the Fargo I series a while back.

And unlike True Detective, Goliath or even Mr Robot, the Miami sense of place is far less evident. Sure they signpost a few locations from a rooftop and clip in some iffy over-saturated postcard style film, but it doesn't have that intimacy of place of a really good American crime series.

I won't give away plot points except to say that even some of the more dramatic events feel as if they have been filmed after rote-learning some camera angles. A decent Coen Brothers or similar would have found more twists.

Even the other central plot around computer software is left indistinct (compared with the precision in Mr Robot). Kind of "Here comes the science part".

And, I know, Freeman is not being Dr Watson, but some of the things he does as a cop wouldn't stand up very well to modern policing detection methods.

To my analysis, the main storyline almost stands up without the whole Freeman line, except for the need of an obvious point to create the tension in the story driven by the other three very complementary actors. There's large chunks with them doing their startup fundraising and playing off against other recognisable American actors who actually do hold attention. Indeed the pacing of the three American lead actors is completely different from the slowed down moodiness and long gazes of Freeman's scenes. Kind of we've paid for him, let's give him screen time.

I'm about half way through this and will watch the rest, but I can't help thinking that with a potentially strong premise this could have been so much better.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

TUO YAW


I took a look at that UK Supreme Court Judgment when it was produced a couple of days ago.

To be honest, I found its 96 pages of legalese pretty hard to decipher, what with it lacking an executive summary, bottom line or similar section. Buried in clause 124 on page 36 of 96 was the bit that said that Parliament must take a vote on the triggering of Article 50. Roughly what the House of Lords report said last September in a third of the pages.

I found the whole Supreme Court thing couched in CYA-speak, so that it was difficult to pin anything directly on anyone, and it took a separate Press Release to explain the outcome to the mortals of the real world.

Then today, I noticed the 67 words of preamble and 50 words of the today's hastily assembled Article 50 trigger Bill and then 16 words describing a short title for the Bill. 133 words for the entire trigger. It's not the shortest bill ever (that is the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918)

Like those recent Executive Orders in the USA, we seem to be able to dispense a particularly "lite" form of bureaucracy when it suits.

The 50 main words of the Bill affect legislation from at least 1993-2017. Whilst numbers are not available for that whole period, up to 2014 there were 945 Acts of Parliament of which 231 implemented EU obligations, plus a further 33,160 statutory instruments including 4,283 EU obligations. Quite a bundle to begin to repurpose with those 50 words.

I wonder if we will see the stages of First Reading, Second Reading, Committee Stage and Third Reading in the Commons and then input by the Lords? and then a Royal Assent? All before the end of March and with Parliament due for a recess in a few days.

Game on?

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

200 million years of bird migration


After the Trump administration told the US Environment Protection Agency to shut up, I thought it was time to have a peek at what they are doing. It appears to be quite fascinating long term research which provides all manner of indicators about climate change.

There's a superb climate change report available from their web-site, at least until the on-boarding of their new digital strategist decrees whether or not it will still be available.

In the shorter term they have been forbidden from press releases, no blogging, reduction of webinars, no new content to be released and more. I suppose they need to be consistent with Trump's viewpoint on climate change, which may require some further adjustments somewhere.

I decided to take a look at the section about bird migration. Birds are supposed to be descendants of dinosaurs, which learned how to survive by small size and use of flight. It has seen them do pretty well for the last two hundred million years or so, as they scaled back from the velociraptor and adapted to the use of feathers. This little Scientific American graphic illustrates the story.

So when the centre of abundance for multiple species of birds moves northward over 40 miles during the last 50 years, it suggests that things must be getting warmer. And some of the species (about 48) have moved northwards by around 200 miles. Here's a little graphic from the EPA report.

Of course, if the birds are among nature's survivors then another interesting chart would be one that covered the effect of whatever is happening on human health. That gets covered in the report as well, along with one of those cause effect graphics, to show some of the main interdependencies.

But I'm wondering if this well-produced report, reviewed by plenty of industry experts, is about to be given the heave-ho? It doesn't seem to support the direction of some of the new administration's executive orders, so perhaps the new digital strategist will be making some adjustments?

Perhaps we will be told?

Update: I was going to post this tomorrow, but have brought it forward because the Trump Administration has now asked the EPA to remove its climate change section.

turbo cycling and watching goliath


I've been watching that Goliath series on box-set over the last few days whilst I try to get my cycling legs working again.

I suppose the show would be classed as a legal procedural and is about a big business doing something that may not be entirely law-abiding. I suspect they used the entire effects budget in the first scene.

The neo-noir show has Billy Bob Thornton as the lead character playing a broken hotshot lawyer who now lives in a motel in Santa Monica. There's several plot points that many of these legally derived shows have in common. In Better Call Saul, (the Bob Odenkirk show) there's an ex partner lawyer who has had a breakdown and now lives in a darkened room with an annoying aversion to electricity.

Check. In this show we get Thornton as the busted ex-partner and remarkably William Hurt as the melodramatic still-in-place partner with a sooo annoying habit who, yes, lives in a darkened office at the top of his tower block.

There's the Grisham/Badalucci-esque spirited female assistants on hand to help Thornton with the case, most of whom seem to work for nothing. Then there's Thornton's broken marriage, savvy teen daughter and ex-wife with a new lover who works for the opposing council.

The thing is, formulaic as it may be, I'm enjoying the show. Thornton's switches from slightly drunk to razor-sharp in the courtroom. The stealth of the big business trying to quash investigations. The brown lighting of Thornton's world to the sterile glass cubes within glass cubes where the Goliath action plays out.

And behind it all is a very good sense of coastal Los Angeles. It was genius to give Thornton a beaten up convertible (red Mustang, of course), because when he drives around you see so much more of the neighbourhood. Even I could recognise real streets and areas from my own experience so there was that quiet 'been there' thought through some parts of it.

I've still about three episodes left to watch, but with Thornton's understated play of the dialogue and great ensemble casting, this is really quite entertaining. I'd even watch another series, if they ever made it.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

where to point the track?

Within a second of that Supreme Court ruling on Article 50 the tweetsters pulled their own triggers.

The score was on every pundit's door and moments later there were dooks and hisses about the sovereignty of Parliament.

In practice, everyone has been positioning their 'amendments' to the trigger for days. Even Mrs May said she'll put the final deal to Parliament as a kind of stress test. Labour will harrumph rather than block although Farron's lot will try to stall things unless the whole kit and caboodle goes beyond Mrs May's promise and to a second referendum.

Oh yes, a canvas bagful of ferrets is breaking into song.

The process is starting to run on rails now, starting with David Davis at 12:30 in the Commons.

There's still many awkward points, like the US/UK trade only being one third of the value of EU trade and China needing to get beyond the trouble at the power station let alone Tony Xia's Chinese-owned Aston Villa transfer news.

So, although track is being laid, the trick will be to know which way to point the self-laying track machine, before it runs over an edge.

Monday, 23 January 2017

pedal power, sunshine and doublethink

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Last May was the first (short) time that the UK ran its entire power grid without coal all the way since 1882, although there was some subsequent scurrying to find enough power from other sources.

And last year, when I was out cycling, I would sometimes pass the edge of a nearby field, being converted for solar power. My picture at the top of the post is a frosty morning snapshot of one of the fields, taken a few days ago, when I passed it on the train.

Yes, by now, it is complete and in service, and I believe each of two nearby schemes is capable of producing a few megawatts of power. Compared with a 2000-3000 Mw power station, this isn't a lot, although it is sufficient to power the adjacent 1000 or so homes, at least when there's enough sunshine.

These local field schemes have been somewhat contentious. In one case the original site wasn't used, although an adjacent one was found and seems to suit the local population as well as the farmers. It changes the nature of some of the farmland, alongside the increasing poly-tunnels for fruit growing and now these mainly flat solar panels.

Most advertising of them add a few sheep running around to make it all look more picturesque. Eagle eyed may spot German sheep in this particular photo. German farmers soon discovered that the sheep were by far the best way to manage the grassland around the panels.

So now the UK's big energy agenda is to move from coal to natural gas, towards renewables (biomass) and to wind, tidal and solar power. Nuclear is still in there, assuming the fabled French/Chinese/British plants ever get built and don't just follow the Trumpian example of driving busy diggers around a muddy plot of land.

This British and European route towards decarbonisation is quite different from the new one advertised by America on their White House web site. Although their same description also expresses the need for responsible stewardship of the environment.

You can tell, I'm still getting used to the idea of post truth, alternative truth, newspeak and doublethink.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

with cat like tread

EM570196 Thames, South Bank
Wandering around London is never dull, and over the life of this blog there's been many changes that start from an original glimpse or drawing and finish with the actual delivered item.

A quick example would be the new American Embassy, which was still a sugar cube sketch back in the day and now looks almost ready for use.

I see it more from the train than the roadside, because there's still building site paraphernalia around the actual area.

The taxi drivers are always full of stories of the price of the apartments opposite and although it is right next to the Nine Elms fruit and veg market, the market somehow seems to get edited out of most of the pictures.

The old embassy in Grosvenor Square is to become another Qatari-owned luxury hotel, like most of that particular part of Mayfair. So I'm not sure if yesterday's big protest will be the last one to convene in Grosvenor Square.

The route from the old US embassy to Trafalgar Square is just over a mile and fairly straightforward.

A new route from Nine Elms to Traf. Square would be more than twice as far and additionally would logically pass the Palace of Westminster itself. This could be tricky because of all of the rules about marches near to Parliament.

But, come to think of it, our Prime Minister is visiting the US President on Friday, so perhaps that will clear up any misunderstandings about respective roles and positions?

Meanwhile, here's one of my cheeky low sunlight snapshots of Parliament, from the currently uncrowded Westminster Bridge, featuring Charles Barry's architectural designs, and ahead of Parliament's own rebuild.
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Saturday, 21 January 2017

swamp replacement strategies?


Wading through the words and gestures...

Not sure that the swamp got drained exactly. More an overhaul of its inhabitants.

Now everyone blamed his old man
For making him mean as a snake
When Amos Moses was a boy
His daddy would use him for alligator bait
Tie a rope around his neck and throw him in the swamp

Friday, 20 January 2017

from mathematical to bridge of sighs


Anyone who has ever been punting along the Backs at Cambridge will know the wooden bridge that joins the two halves of Queens' College. The myth was that Sir Isaac Newton built it entirely from wood. When students dismantled it, they were unable to rebuild it without bolts.

Untrue, because its mathematical design was later than Newton, by William Etheridge, and built by James Essex in 1749. The whole saga is still a good story, and even if Newton didn't build it, he did say "We build too many walls and not enough bridges."

A useful message for today, this January 20th, as another so-called builder is installed. What's that other bridge just north of the Wooden Bridge? Oh yes, The Bridge of Sighs.

Choose the type of doomsaying techno fear only seen in the letters pages of a Home Counties gardening circular #LWL


I enjoy the film reviews at Little White Lies. Always high quality, in depth and considered.

Their recent one for Trainspotting T2 made me laugh on an actual train. Below is a short extract.

"Choose a film that feels like the ageing, obese foreman at a mayonnaise factory explaining the plot and characters of the original Trainspotting to his pet canary.”

It got a low 2.1.1 for Anticipation, Enjoyment, Retrospect.

Oh dear.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

we're gonna need a bigger thumb

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Every time I walk past this fourth plinth sculpture I can't help but smile.

David Shrigley's "Really Good" gives the extended thumbs up to positivity. It is made of the same bronze as the other statues in Trafalgar Square, yet, to me, somehow this one looks as if it could be a collection of balloons rather than something weighing 4.5 tonnes.

Like Shrigley says, it is supposed to inspire positivity.
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Okay then, Everything's fine right now.


last day of america?

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

i get tricked by the supermarket twice


Dear Tesco,

Some time ago you sent me one of your on-line surveys about our local store.

I was generally positive, but did comment that occasionally, particularly with bakery items, I'd pick up something that was on its best before timeout date.

I didn't hear from you again about this and honestly I don't really think about it and still usually pick up the first available item without perusing all the date stamps.

I've also partially changed my shopping to use a nearby Waitrose, which doesn't suffer the same dates problem.

So imagine my surprise this week when I popped into your store on Sunday for some bread, got it home and noticed it was 'best before' the date I purchased it. Okay, it is still edible, and best before is only guidance, but somehow it didn't feel right.

Then, on Tuesday, I dropped into the same store after a train journey. Just some milk and a couple of other bits. This time, once home, I noticed that the long date 'Pure' milk was dated use by 17th. That's the date I bought it. I'll let you know if it makes me ill.

I looked in the fridge at my last long date Pure - it was dated 30th January. This time you'd somehow sold me long shelf life milk that was already about to expire.

That's twice in three days. I know I should pay more attention to the stuff on your shelves. I suppose you want to rotate the almost expired stuff out to the customers. Really it's a false economy. Others like me will just break the habit and buy stuff elsewhere.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

tune in, drop in

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It was business as usual around the central part of London whilst Mrs May was giving her Brexit speech in Lancaster House, just across the road from the Queen's place.
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I'd already passed a yawning Downing Street, quiet like the whole of Whitehall and Parliament Street, particularly since the newer traffic measures.

Usually when there's something big going on involving politicians around Westminster, there will also be a static helicopter or two overhead. The police will have one and sometimes there will be news agencies as well.
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Nothing this time until I counted three Apache attack gunships flying purposefully into the central area before making their way westward along the Thames.

Their flypast close to Lancaster House was around the time that all the diplomats would be emerging from the session. Coincidence, security measures, practice for something else or making a point?

Sunday, 15 January 2017

just finished reading I'm not with the band


I finished Sylvia Patterson's "I'm not with the band". A sprited account of Sylvia's time in the music business, writing mainly for the once epic Smash Hits.

Although I was more an earnest Melody Maker reader, even then we knew that the fun was taking place across in the rollicking Smash Hits offices.

There was a kind of madness to the way that pop music was treated, far removed from 2017's acquired earnest burbling of the beige wannabes on Cowell's sociopathic talent shows, such that Patterson's world is another planet.

The book describes the immensely well-connected Sylvia larking her way through encounters with just about everyone from the 80's and 90's pop scene.

Whether it's Beyonce, Prince, Morrissey or Madonna, she'll have tales to tell. Of Noel Gallagher in the living room of her flat whilst she was somewhat inconvenienced upstairs. The subsequent 3am departure to Gary Barlow's house.

It was pretty simple too, separating the pop stars with an attitude from the ones that were just plain boring.

There's also a many a positive spin to the tabloid elements. Instead of everything being negative and about put-downs, there's far more positive craziness.

Sylvia's story telling is far more about the people and their attitudes rather than the music. This provides its own layering which I suspect many modern day wannabe slebs probably wouldn't know how to handle.

The best bits of the book show the random and spontaneous nature of the people she worked around. A word springs to mind that is largely missing from much of 2017 pop.

Carefree.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Inside share price punditry


They were just re-running Wolf of Wall Street on telly and I remember the improvised Matthew McConaughey description of Wall Street trading.

The great fugazi.
Just add a dash of Bernie Sanders quotes and we can start to see that the next few weeks and months can be an unpredictable ride.

It's hard enough to make any sense, what with the weakening pound.

Sure, it boosts the apparent value of shares, but at the moment we appear to be at roughly the same rebased level as in 1999.

The end of year assessments from the learned financial advisors are coming in, and in some cases they have comprehensively failed to beat the market average.

That's where Matthew and Leonardo could well be right.

Keep the punters in the market.
Don't let anything crystallise.

Although it could be harder than it sounds with the bucking bronco about to kick in.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Covonia nights, Austrian fans, Nena and the impending discovery of the grand tour hoax

Noctua Fan
I decided to watch an episode of that Grand Tour. Truth is, I've been under the weather for a few days and wanted something mindless. The episode I picked was set in Stuttgart, which is somewhere I use to live.

Actually, although superficially similar to the main square in Stuttgart, the actual setting they used was a castle at Ludwigsburg, which is way to the north of central Stuttgart.

Now Stuttgart is also the home of Daimler-Benz, Porsche and even Smart, so I thought they'd have something to say about the great car companies on their theoretical doorstep. Admittedly Mercedes and Porsche did get a superficial mention, but nothing about the Mercedes factory test track, the Porsche museum, the refined customer collection experience where new vehicles can be handed over personally or even a couple of the futuristic cars sketched onto the walls of one of the restaurants. Instead they cut to film to look at a Honda and a botched up Clarkson ego vehicle which fell to pieces and was worth far less than he paid for it. At least they got that last part right.

For my Lemsip fuelled viewing the show was barely tolerable, being like a bad episode of the old programme with half of the features missing. A somewhat predictable red balloon failure prevented 1980s pop star Nena from appearing in the studio.

To my viewing the programme is now just about as contemptuous of its viewers as it can be whilst still churning out episodes. I shudder to think where all the money is being spent and wonder when someone will point out to the American paymasters that this series is really a gigantic hoax.

As a comparison, I found a newly aired 30 minute BBC4 programme by James May about re-assembling a 1960s Kenwood Food mixer comparatively entertaining.

This had been shot in a fake Barry Bucknell style shed with about £10,000 of artistically arranged tools and showed all the main stages of putting the pristine vintage mixer back into working order to then mix a cake. A curious form of television, I'm sure, but highly suitable when under the influence of Covonia cough syrup.

To the extent that I ordered the parts to replace the fans in my own Drobo disk drives.

The original fans have progressively become noisy, so I decided to swap them out for some high tech industrial ones from Austria. Inexpensive non PWM fans that can operate from 5.5v to 12 volts such that my Drobo devices are once again almost silent. 30 minutes per unit, and in my case with real soldering of the needed cable joints.

But, like replacing The Grand Tour with a food mixer re-assembly, I suspect this recent Nena live performance of 99 Luftballons is far more interesting than a picture of me soldering.