Monday, 26 February 2018

Brexitopia, Brexitropolis and the Fury Road


After that David Davis speech, my own revision for dystopian futures has to include Bladerunner, RoboCop, Minority Report and so on. Which ever of these movies one views, the actual cityscapes are like an intrinsic character in the plot. Witty, well observed and really quite clever.

Unlike that David Davis, who is trying more snake oil in an attempt to be more interesting.

Meanwhile, the dystopias which he renounces all have a darkness and a separation between a Hunger Games style elite and a kind of Just About Managing underclass. Hmm.

A pre-Bladerunner depiction of this would be Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

Even in that 1927 movie, we get the towers to house the industrialist super-rich, the dangerous and deadly working conditions of the poor, a mad looking scientist and the deadly False (Maybot) Maria robot.

It makes me wonder about a recent addition to the dystopian canon in the form of Altered Carbon. A lavish Netflix derived from Richard Morgan's 21st century sci-fi novels. I was hoping, because it is more recent than many of the other adaptations, that it would offer some new thinking about futures. So far it seems to have forgotten that it could add some fresh social commentary. Even my crazy favourite The Fifth Element adds plenty of worldview.

Admittedly in Altered Carbon, the plot thematic elements like spun-up disk-based personalities, tycoons who can live forever and criminals given one last chance to get a pardon are all pretty much staples of the genre. Maybe that's for comment another day.

In Fifth Element, like Bladerunner, they built the worlds. Then think of the fun adding the detailing. Which they did, so the whole idea of the multi-level car lanes, sidewalk advertising and the Thai Food Flying Junk all had a chance to breathe.

The same with Bladerunner 2048. A chance for the envisioners to walk around in the city. To see the backs of things and how they interact. A chance to add ideas, even to the already formed Bladerunner universe.

That seems to be missing from Altered Carbon. But not as much as it's missing from the current government worldview.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Big Fat Lie - request stop


It's been well reported that any Brexit Stoppers have no chance. Request Stop is not a known term. People are saying that the referendum rules were agreed by 'everyone' in advance. Pah. Not even Mr Farage was able to agree the rules, preferring to hedge in case the ballot went slightly against his position.

Now, many people are saying to the politicians 'just get on with it' and popular search terms revert to football teams and gossip. Saturation Brexit coverage has become 'boring', whilst UK perfunctorily casts itself adrift.

Let's recap.

First we lethargically populated the EU with well-paid politicians whose self-appointed purpose was to undermine it. Then we set up a simplistic vote which was strewn with lies from both sides about the EU was and what would happen if we left. Then we voted to leave, without any plan. Then we dithered before appointing a group of titular heads to shuffle around ineffectively.

There's still no plan. We are being dished out reheated sound bites, not truths about what will happen. Many career politicians are distancing themselves whilst waiting for whatever fudge will solidify before making their next bids to take over.

Here's some outcomes:

1) Adrift. No Plan. More extensions
2) Parallel working for years
3) Keep paying the EU but no voice (Norway/Canada/Switzerland etc)
4) Hard Brexit. No extensions. We blame Brexit instead of Brussels for everything going wrong.

Gosh, which to choose?

Surely this is a moment for an opposition to rally? Not just a gesture, a radical plan.

5) Opposition led revolt. Why are we where we are when it seems so wrong?
6) Youth led revolt. Whose future is it?
6) Demographic suasion. After an age of non-resolution we must change the game.
7) Call out the big fat lies. Reset.
8) Admit it is a big failed project. Revoke Article 50.

Then scrap the well-paid EU faux-politicians and replace them with some people in that actually care.

Don't be tempted to let Brexit just drift into being in order to see what will happen next. Too much like a definition of madness.

Friday, 23 February 2018

No triptych in the three baskets case (ceteris paribus)?


A few days ago Barnier's EU27 paper said "No" to a continued customs union, no interventions by UK in EU decision making, along with no de-facto mirroring of EU conditions.

It puts the kibosh on a simple solution to customs management, messes up UK financial services passporting and potentially even puts a Cork cabáiste on the border question for Ireland.

There's no sign of a Garden of Earthly Delights and even the buzzword compliant 'Managed Divergence' has been blocked by the bloc.

Aside from the Guinness soaked beef and the lemon tart, it's all gone secret again at the self-named 'war Cabinet'. At least until Theresa May gives her Next Big Speech.

Meanwhile, Jeremy's lot have a short time to regroup, perhaps involving some of the Tory stragglers. No doubt there will be extreme Tory whippery over the next few days, to attempt to ensure that the government doesn't lose a House of Commons vote.

Failing that, we'd better start identifying the next group of stooges waiting to take over because we sure enough won't be getting a crystal sphere of clarity any time soon.

Weakness and instability? No, wait a minute, that wasn't the slogan? I'll have to see what it says on the side of the next red bus.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Dear Theresa, How come currently only 0.7% of the public tax bill goes to the EU?


As a UK taxpayer, I recently received one of those online summaries of where the tax goes.

I wanted to see how much the typical tax contribution to European Union budget was, per head of the population. My figures are different from many of the tabloids.

Admittedly, I used that fount of knowledge (GQ) to convert the figure into an average UK salary statistic. But that's okay. GQ got their average UK salary figure of £27,271 from the Office for National Statistics, where it is based upon 21,653,000 people's earnings. It creates a tax bill for this average salary of around 19%, which I've rounded approximated to £5,000 per annum.

This ONS averaging means that brokers, who earned £133,677 on average, chief executives and senior officials (£107,703), aircraft pilots and flight engineers (£90,146) and marketing and sales directors (£82,962) are well above the average and their tax bills should be significantly higher.

At the other end of the scale are retail assistants (£10,296), hairdressers and barbers (£10,019), cleaners (£7,919), waiters (£7,554) and bar staff (£7,404). Their tax bill should, with annual allowances (but notwithstanding NI contributions), be almost zero.
Here's a table of the contributions:

And here's one of the numbers of taxpayers by lower limit income distribution (derived from HMRC data 2017-2018)

Using my tax bill average, the calculation for the European Union component is still 0.7%. That works out to being around £35 per year of an average UK taxpayer's bill. Yes, brokers and pilots pay significantly more and the retail assistants, hairdressers and bar staff don't pay any direct contribution.

I realise that the tax contribution is only a part of the leveraged contribution that the European Union has made to the UK, but it is the piece that has been used to run many of the arguments. A direct cost argument, rather than an added value argument.

No, I am not in denial, but I don't like being massively misled.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Kusnetsky Most and all that


That Mueller indictment about the Russian influence on the U.S. Presidential election campaign makes interesting reading. The full thing is 37 pages in a legalese format, but there are some basic gems within.

6. Defendant ORGANIZATION (ie the Russian organisation, in its various guises) had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendants posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, Defendants operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (Trump Campaign) and disparaging Hillary Clinton.

Defendants made various expenditures to carry out those activities, including buying political advertisements on social media in the names of US. persons and entities.

Defendants also staged political rallies inside the United States, and while posing as US. grassroots entities and US. persons, and without revealing their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation, solicited and compensated real U.S. persons to promote or disparage candidates.

Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russia association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.


There's a whole almost Cold War style movie right there, with weaponised cyber-trolling sponsored by a mysterious Russian conglomerate. Creating fake identities, suckering the real Trump campaign into the organised marches. Paying people via a web of offshore accounts.

So what was it all for?

Object of the Conspiracy

28. The conspiracy had as its object impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions of the United States by dishonest means in order to enable the Defendants to interfere with U.S. political and electoral processes, including the 2016 US. presidential election.

43. By 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used their fictitious online personas to interfere with the 2016 US. presidential election. They engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.


Now, the question is, whether Trump knew anything about any of this? And also, whether any of his immediate team were aware of what was happening?

It is possible that this (so far alleged) Russian plan was orchestrated by, say, the Russian FSB. If that were the case, then it is inconceivable that Putin wouldn't know what was happening. After all, an attempt to destabilise the U.S. via cyber-influence is a pretty big deal, albeit inexpensive compared with the use of conventional military approaches.

And what started as online influencing could later morph into street rallies and similar. Let's have another peek at the indictment.

46. In or around the latter half of 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through their (manufactured false) personas, began to encourage U.S. minority groups not to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election or to vote for a third-party US. presidential candidate.

48. From at least April 2016 through November 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, while concealing their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation through false personas, began to produce, purchase, and post advertisements on U.S. social media and other online sites expressly advocating for the election of then-candidate Trump or expressly opposing Clinton. Defendants and their co-conspirators did not report their expenditures to the Federal Election Commission, or register as foreign agents with the US. Department of Justice.


Having remotely created a groundswell of activism in the U.S. the next stage was to influence it to take to the streets. How does it go? Infiltrate, Educate, Manipulate? So they used the false personas to gain some supporters, told them what they wanted to hear and embellished it to make it agitative. Then, using the motivated U.S. citizens to start to run U.S. visible street events, whether through advertising or rallies.

52. In order to build attendance for the rallies, Defendants and their co-conspirators promoted the events through public posts on their false U.S. persona social media accounts. In addition, Defendants and their co-conspirators contacted administrators of large social media groups focused on US. politics and requested that they advertise the rallies.

56. After the rallies in Florida, Defendants and their co-conspirators used false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies supporting then-candidate Trump in New York and Defendants and their co-conspirators used the same techniques to build and promote these rallies as they had in Florida, including: buying Facebook advertisements; paying U.S. persons to participate in, or perform certain tasks at, the rallies; and communicating with real U.S. persons and grassroots organizations supporting then-candidate Trump.

That last series of events (which is dealt with at length in the indictment (sections 70 to 80ish) illustrates the direct contact between the Russian personas (such as a fake person called Matt Skiber) and the Trump Campaign (including the 18-20 August events around the Florida March for Trump).

What Mueller's work doesn't cover is any overt linkages leading back to the so-called president or his team. I guess we'll have to wait for another story to break before any links are uncovers. That is, unless Trump disbands the investigation by linking it to something else which he thinks is more important.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Metalhead's dogs are creeper than Boston Dynamics


Last week's The Last Leg tv show referenced a meme of a robot dog opening a door.

To me, the striking thing about the sequence wasn't its creepiness, but it was how similar the robot looked to the ones in the Metalhead episode of Black Mirror. maybe if I'd seen this first I would have thought it creepier, but somehow the Charlie Brooker ones win.

Ironically, the main robot in the Metalhead story was three-legged, something which The Last Leg didn't mention. I wonder if there's a whole licensing/copying thing lurking in the background?

The manufacturers of the real SpotMini robot are Boston Dynamics, and they have a whole slew of others, right the way up to a RoboCop sized device, although I don't think they have been fitted with guns (yet).

The original BigDog model was developed for the US Army/DARPA as a pack mule to traverse difficult terrain. Although it could carry 150lbs, it needed a 2 stroke petrol engine to operate and was deemed unsuitable for service.

Boston Dynamics has an interesting history, including spending part of its life owned by Alphabet/Google. It has made a whole array of robotic prototypes, including an earlier dog that famously was almost impossible to kick over.

The company was sold on in 2017, to the cuddly-named Japanese Softbank.

Some of the original robots have since been -er- canned, and the latest consumer variant to is nothing to be sneezed at.

Although, I can't help thinking its more like a mannequin holding an iPad. But maybe the friendly looking one is there as a placeholder whilst they get the 6 foot tall Atlas series ready. And yes, that's a real picture of the prototype. I have a feeling it will take more than the 80 Watts continuous that the average human requires to operate.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

select gear and pedal


The Garmin is once more functional on my bike, and Fitbit is again logging step counts. Curiously, the Fitbit logs a considerably lower step count than an equivalent Vivofit, but I'll stick with what I know.

Maybe it is a case of 'this is my truth, give me yours' or something like that? Appropriate to health measurement as well as a chance to slip in a Nye Bevan quote as a nod to the health service.

However I look at it, both my step count and my cycling history show a lengthy period of underwhelming activity. The cycling has the long gap caused by the locked away bicycles.

It's along the lines of the last 90 days (and longer) with zero activity and then a recent faltering restart.

The late January interrupted restart included getting the bikes sorted out, then getting the little sensor things re-aligned as well as getting the bike(s) to once more automatically blog what they had been up to.

Next, I'll need to set some belated 2018 targets.

Friday, 16 February 2018

дезинформация? безусловно не *


Now that 13 Russians are under indictment related to US vote manipulation accusations, we are either at the start of a protracted process, or about to see a team of investigators deposed.

As I've previously noted, much of the material about these matters has been circulating for many months.

The clever move has been to denounce much of what is out there as 'Fake News' or, as the Russians would prefer to think of it, as дезинформация / dezinformatsiya. Brilliantly, they have had their own troll farms to pump out whatever stories they liked for many years. It's pretty much the continuation of the systems started during the Cold War.

There's also a US embarrassment, because even after the FBI's NorthernLights operation to track some of the disinformation providers prior to the US election, there was a senior US belief that it was impregnable to such influence capers.

Brrrp.


So a small team of Russians in a company owned by Yevgeny V. Prigozhin -ahem- "Putin's cook" and originally described as the Internet Research Agency (nowadays Glavset) could inexpensively create mayhem via well-targeted messaging. Yes, that's billionaire Yevgeny serving Vladimir a salad.

Meanwhile the US was less concerned about countermeasures instead fumbling to create its own equivalence.

It also makes the whole Trump involvement question quite slippery. Trump may have had form in Russia, with Miss Universe contests and Trump Tower licensing. It almost didn't matter to the Russians who Trump actually knew, he could simply be targeted as a stooge to Russian destabilisation plans.

Notwithstanding the well-documented cases around misogyny, mendacity, racism, narcissm and sociopathy, we still have the questions around hard factual crimes to examine. Some might infer that a Trump owned building that housed money launderers, mafia style enforcers and casino interests might have some links back to the various activities? Or are they just trumped up suspicions?

We shall probably never know, because of the labyrinthine way that most of the topics are handled and the huge misdirections that permit one form of lamentable act to take place whilst everyone is looking at something else.

* disinformation? surely not.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

zero she flies

kraken garmin
Now I have the bicycles working again, I'm also keen to get the electronics working that provide progress monitoring. Unfortunately, the Edge 810 handlebar unit I've used for since 2013 has died, with a combination of a battery problem and a switch problem. Unusable and regrettably binned.

I've temporarily tried reverting to an older 2010 Edge 800 unit which seems to hold a (short) battery charge, and although it will clock up metrics, it doesn't want to upload them. I've tried all the recommended resets and deletes, but it doesn't seem to make any difference.

I think it is time to get a reliable replacement unit.

My TrainingPeaks statistics go back to 2011 so I'd much rather get it all working again. It's almost annoying now when I use the tracker but it doesn't work reliably.

All of this means that right now I'm back at less than zero on all my main statistics, so it will be interesting to see if I can reclaim some of the fitness.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

not watched over by machines of loving grace


I see that some of the people that were betting on the indexation of volatility came unstuck last week. Not forgetting that many regular equity investors also lost money.

Credit Suisse handled one of the exchange traded products central to what happened and which was once worth $2.2bn, although last week it lost 96% of its value during the equities sell off, before being declared defunct. Nomura had a similar product which they also shut down.

Neither bank will have been directly affected by this, being merely the facilitators of the products and consequently only accepting their 'that'll do nicely' margin on all of the transactions involved.

It reminds me of that movie, The Big Short, where complex bundling was used to hide dodgy products, until it all unwound. I suppose it illustrates that the slippy money just gets moved around to the next big scam whilst the real effects of the losses drift through into pension funds originally designed to support average working folk.

The guy who wrote the original book of The Big Short (Michael Lewis) also wrote Flash Boys, which is the one about High Frequency Traders. It describes the people who trade in the microseconds of volatility during share disruptions using ultra fast computers on fast links close to the main exchanges. The principal is like that rigged betting used in the movie The Sting, only this version is legal.

Now there's an ironic twist as the listed values of these HFTs are themselves rising. Companies like Virtu and Flow Traders are seeing short term gains in their own listings. A kind of 'meta cubed' level of redirection. Betting on the companies that trade on the volatility of the markets created by exchange traded products failing.

Something else trips into view with all of this. The volatility index (Vix) which was another catalyst in the week's big sell off. More than it being a lagging indicator, there's allegations that trading firms with sophisticated algorithms could manipulate the Vix up or down by posting quotes on S&P options. If true, they wouldn't even need to trade or deploy capital but could cash in on shorts against the falling equities.

But its all quite sophisticated stuff, muddied further by machines running much of the buying and selling. We are still some way from Richard Brautigan's
cybernetic forest filled with pines and electronics where deer stroll peacefully past computers as if they were flowers with spinning blossoms.

Monday, 12 February 2018

a hack from a handsaw


I still use and am even fairly loyal to Garmin products, but I've recently had another one croak on me. This time it was a combination of failing battery and then the switch on the side of the unit stopped working.

I can remember from other Garmin units that when they die, they really die and there's no economical way to repair them. I experienced it with an earlier Edge unit and a couple of their watches. I suppose they do get bashed about a bit in all conditions, but it seems to be quite small things that eventually make them stop working.

Another Garmin device used a small 2032 battery which, once removed, lost all the settings forever and wouldn't allow the unit to be restarted.

And now I see that the latest Apple gadget may be following a similar route.

Even the iFixit team couldn't get inside the new HomePod without using a hacksaw. They also noticed that the circuit boards have been flooded with glue to keep the components in place and to stop rattles. That'll stop home adaptations of the units too.

Maybe the intention is that this will be a 'buy once, lasts forever' kind of purchase, which certainly was true in the days of component hi-fi, but less so in these digital times.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

air


My earlier photos of the slopes made it look fairly deserted. Naturally, around the ski stations there's plenty of people. The wide range of feeder cable car routes make this inevitable. Although it looks like a free-for-all it is really quite orderly as people go through the Oyster card style gates to get onto the individual gondolas. I reckon the queue time was only a matter of two or three minutes.

The alternative to using the main slopes is to walk to one of the freestyle areas, ideally carrying a snowboard, to enable some proper air action.

And anyway, once down a slope, there's plenty of spots to pause, maybe to drink in some sunshine, maybe something else as well.

But let's don the Volcom and go take a look over the edge.

There's various ways to get started...

But what goes up must surely come down...

Sometimes moving the show around just a little bit.

Or, just throw some snow around. It still looks dramatic.

Those snow machines will soon put it all back in the right place.

And here's another one of a wider area, to show that there's something for everyone.

So, choose your style and pursue it with vigour.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Kaprun construction

Top of Kitzsteinhorn
Our base is in the Austrian ski resort area of Kaprun, a small town a few kilometres from Zell-am-See and about 100 kilometres south-west of Salzburg. Nowadays it has adapted to the tourism associated with skiing, having some of the higher mountains close by and a glacier which can provide a snow experience throughout the whole year.

See Kaprun at the bottom of the valley, from my picture taken on the mountainside.

Right now Kaprun is part way through building two new gondola lifts from the centre of town which will link onto the route to the glacier. This significant civil engineering requires both a new cablecar system and also new roads and feeder infrastructure.

My diagram shows the planned new piece of infrastructure, which links right to the Langwied Mountain Station at around 1976 metres. Currently the way to get there involves a 6 km route out of Kaprun before reaching a base station at around 900 metres. Then it is separate routes at 1976m, then 2450m and finally 3029m to get to the top. The new route will go directly to the intermediate 1976m station and presumably will create a big new opportunity for the once farming village of Kaprun.

But these old pictures only tell a partial story of a village that came under Hermann Göring's rule as part of a German propaganda initiative.

In 1938, the Austrian Chancellor Schuschnigg had been bullied by Hitler into agreeing a greater Nazi presence within Austria. Schuschnigg hoped that agreeing to Hitler’s demands would prevent a German invasion. Instead, German foreign minister Göring faked a "plea" for German assistance from inside the Austrian government. Then German troops marched into Austria and Hitler announced his Anschluss (the so called Union of Austria and Germany).

Göring staged the start of construction of Kaprun Dams in 1938, as part of plans for a "Tauernkraftwerk" mountain hydro electricity power plant. There were no plans so he simply used a field and some men with shovels to create the propaganda.

Despite the lack of plans, forced labourers (i.e. slaves) were used to begin the construction in horrendous conditions. As the war started, prisoners including Polish, French and Soviet POWs, Italians, people from the territories of the Soviet Union (‘Ostarbeiter’) and Jews were used to continue the work on power station and on the dam above it in the valley.

By the end of 1944, work on the site had come to a halt, but not before a crude barrage had been constructed out of any materials available at the mountain camp in a desperate attempt to produce some electricity. The propaganda value of this Kaprun Hauptstufe was considerable, even though the amount of power generated was negligible.

After the war the construction of the original Kaprun dams stopped. Then, in 1947, it was started up again and advanced quickly, albeit with still extremely challenging conditions.

Initially, the revised projects were led by the Americans, and the still tough working environment deployed local Austrians and added a few features like the working camp cinema, as was to try to improve morale for this second wave of the project.

Quite quickly, in 1951, the 120 metre high Limberg wall was finished and one year later the main power plant started to operate. Also, in 1950, the construction of the second Kaprun Oberstufe Dam started. Finished five years later, the two dams are connected through a 12 kilometre tunnel.

We found out most of this from a small museum in Kaprun and subsequently I noticed this Austrian movie dramatisation of the second wave of construction. Incidentally, notice the 'Sound of Music' moment in this movie (0:50-ish), ten years before the actual Sound of Music was made.