Monday, 14 January 2019

a glint of steel, but without the triumph


Various votes tomorrow as Brexit continues its zombie shuffle. Expect last minute go faster stripes and camouflage paint before the meaningful (sic) vote.

Assuming the Prime Minister takes a dive, we should expect new kerfuffles.

The emergent 'Brexit Plan B' is becoming ever closer to the one I speculated back on 28 June 2016. I called it BREFTA back then, a variant of the Norway/Switzerland approach. I calculated we'd still had to pay the EU ongoing money, albeit less than the current £13 billion per year. Then there's the little matter of the money we'd need to pay to be in a different club.

I suppose, if we were to actually do something 'managed' (other than Remain), then eventually the inconvenient truth about costs will resurface. At the moment politicians and pundits are talking about new intentions without fiscal constraint.

It's a question that should really be asked. What are the constraints? Set the bounds. Understand the oil.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

buffered


Fascinating to briefly glimpse the innards of the House of Commons on Friday afternoon.

A big debate in progress, but check my scene from around 11:50am to see there's only a half a card deck's worth of workers in the place. Friday, so maybe like some other professions they'd already gone to the pub or were back at home instead of continuing the Brexit debate?

Also notice that the front benches are almost empty. The big cards are mainly missing. Come to think of it, so are the jokers.

I mean, six days should've been plenty of time. This Friday Sitting thing was an annoying extension in any case. Who needs to be in Parliament on a Friday? These procedural points grate.

And being Friday it is important to get through the business by 3pm. Or 2:30pm to hit the buffers for the main debate. Here's a few quotes from the largely unreported day's discussion by a mix of MPs across parties and opinions.
  • "Probably the most important debate that the House of Commons will engage in in this generation."
  • "I want a quality debate, and so do our constituents, so let us stick to the facts, not the fiction."
  • (Speaker notes) "Let me say that there is quite a lot of chuntering from a sedentary position going on."
  • "Hotel California" (lyrics argument).
  • "We have been left with an angry country."
  • "Seventy-seven days to go and breaking up is hard to do — disentangling ourselves from 45 years of arrangements that touch every aspect of our lives. This is bigger than any piece of legislation, any Budget and anything that any of us has ever voted on. It is a big deal. This is existential stuff."
  • "We need a plan B to break this logjam, impasse, gridlock, deadlock, cul de sac."
  • "Blackmail Brexit with guns held to our heads."
  • "People have talked about improving the tone of debate, but we got to this position through betrayal, deceit and lies writ large on a bus, and through corruption and criminality that is still under investigation."
  • "But the big problem — and it is a very big problem — is that we have barely a napkin sketch of where we are going."
  • "Rather than setting us free and allowing us to take back control, this deal would tie the UK up in red tape, build a wall around the UK and take up the drawbridge. It fundamentally fails to take account of the reality in the world."
  • "As the Chancellor said about the referendum, people “did not vote to become poorer”, but that is exactly what will happen if we vote for this deal."
  • "Finally, it is a fundamental falsehood, deceit and insult to present no deal as the only outcome if the Government are defeated. It is not. For years people were told that they could not have the things that they need: a police service able to investigate and solve crime, a national health service that did not involve 20-week waits for standard appointments, and a solution to the housing crisis. The Government’s response was that there was no money and no deal. Now they find billions to waste on the no-deal Brexit, while people still suffer “neglexit” on housing, policing and the NHS. With this fundamentally fraudulent claim, the Prime Minister is playing Russian roulette with people’s livelihoods and jobs. The UK can and should revoke article 50, and I urge the Government to take that approach."
But wait. The Westminster Arms beckoned. The golden fuse that supplies the power to parliament was punctually removed.

Friday, 11 January 2019

ℑ imagine the odds


Maybe it's time to play the odds?
I know, it's a mug's game.
The house always wins.
Assuming there is a house.

For some it'll be tower block investment vehicles.
The super-rich trying to become mega-rich.
They lose count to avoid the truth,
that they still don't own an island.


Maybe the ones with an island know the secret?
They preen themselves with untaxed advice.
Like don't spend too long deciding,
Just buy them all.

Maybe the political ones have it covered?
They say they speak for the rest of us,
Whilst investing in foreign cities and vague domiciles,
Through their long games and short markets.

Maybe we secretly know the answer?
There's a hidden door at the back of the shack.
It leads to the good times.
Or no, it's just another way back to the mountain.

Maybe no-one knows the answer?
And it's all just random noise.
Statistics won't help, nor facts, real or imaginary.
Like the square root of -25.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

multipass for the multiverse?


I watched that recent Black Mirror episode called Bandersnatch. It uses the ideas from adventure games, where occasional selections are made to move to the next segment. I recollect some DVDs used a similar technology years ago to provide branching in their storyline.

Before that there were the comics and early games.

I particularly remember Day of the Tentacle, which when first released had above average cartoony graphics. The screen grab above is from the remastered version where the graphics and controls were given a boost.

Set in about 1982, the story telling and characterisations in Bandersnatch are fairly basic. Above all, at various points the same acting has to be able to branch to sometimes completely different forms of next scene. The underlying game in the story appears to be developed on a block graphics 48K memory cassette-based Sinclair Spectrum or similar.

Curiously I found the game aspect of the show a little wearing. Very so often another pair of choices would pop up on the bottom of the screen and I'd be expected to answer within a 10 second timed loop. Frosties of Sugar Puffs? I don't really care - and you are supposed to be telling the story anyway. There was subtlety in the clips though, with sometimes minor changes depending on where it appeared in the timeline. Then later choices seemed to be about the continuation or ending of individual characters (Keep 'em alive or kill 'em off). Not the most finessed approach, shall we say.

The main story also seemed to run with a route similar to IKEA short-cut maps. There's occasional short cuts or parallel paths in the Black Mirror episode, but they all loop and swoop along fundamentally similar paths until near to the end.

Being penned by Charlie Brooker, there was an additional meta-level about the ghosts trapped in the machine, which added some intrigue as well as slightly borrowing from a couple of his other stories. In other words there was a proper 'black Mirror' level of thought introduced.

I'm glad it has been done but sense that, much like that augmented reality episode of Mr Robot, it is also very much an experiment with the format.

Perhaps this version is like an early adaptation of something that will become genuinely clever beyond the mere ability to do it. I'm not sure though. I'll go out to see and participate in, say, a Punchdrunk show with promenade and apparent audience 'free-will'. Less sure that I want my routine entertainment dished up in this manner?


As a quick example, the also new TV series about office cleaners stealing insider trading secrets seems to have more character development and plot-lines in its linear 45 minute episode.

It makes me wonder who will be able to write much more than 1st person shooter style action into these multiverse shows?

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

winter's poster children


I was kind of fascinated by that Trump press conference a few days ago. The one where he appeared to have a poster of himself on the table in front of him.

It was only today that I saw the actual poster, which was reminiscent of something from Game of Thrones. The typography was certainly right, although I thought the portrayal of the villain didn't have enough nuance.

It got me thinking. His latest chaos move is back from his usual playbook. Keep making a noise and don't stand still. He doesn't care so long as he gets to do whatever he wants to do.

I hastily redrew his poster. I left his wording, although what a difference a day makes. Sanctions, Walls, Shutdown. As long as it diverts.

Instead of the original blank background I blue-casted the whole picture and added a subtle Viserion the dragon. That's the one that blew onto the big ice wall during GoT. The Winter had come and it wasn't good for all kinds of reasons.

Others will know more about this because I don't really watch the series.

But then, neither does Trump, or he'd know his 'Sanctions are Coming' misappropriation of 'Winter is Coming' refers to bleak times ahead. I have at least seen that part - it was in the very first episode.

With photoshop opened, I thought I'd re-use the dragon picture. 'Ere be dragons' could refer to the world outside the known one. Something for a UK context?

Crank it up ready for the next bit of campaigning maybe?

I know I've created my picture using Trajan Pro instead of the GoT font, but most readily available GoT fonts online are somewhat unpredictable.

They need a check before they are ready to be used. Or else there could be all kinds of mayhem.


Tuesday, 8 January 2019

pondering the uncivil war that was probably illegal?


I can understand that the Brexit: An Uncivil War had to be made in a way that distils many months of activity into a 90 minute drama.

That it used humour to portray certain buffoons and cartoonish political figures, whilst centring the story around strategy influencer Dominic Cummings, played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

This had a side-effect to me. Cumberbatch played the role extremely well, but made it look as if strategy rather than dastardly deeds had the greatest impact on outcome. It also meant that the clownish portrayals of Bojo, Gove and the UKIPsters really looked like clowns instead of scheming and rather unpleasant pieces of work.

The scripted moments like ‘listening to the ground’ rebadged Cummings as savant polymath seer rather than a lucky bandit who got hold of some extreme data.

I suppose the amount to be packed in to the available script created some challenges too. No sign of Corbyn - an almost entirely white posh-boys led debate from both the In and Out camps.

Cutting past the detail, the simplicity of a single message 'Take Back Control' and a daily hand grenade topic proved effective and kept the conference-call hacked Remainers on their back foot.
In pre-GDPR days the hoovering of data with a shonky football raffle might not have been completely illegal.

But not declaring its purpose related to the Referendum surely was?

It's the old school PTA raffle idea of an 'in your dreams' offer. This time a £50 million prize, but take out insurance against the chance that anyone would actually win it.

Meantime collect all the socially engineered data to use for targeting adverts.
What hasn't come through is any subsequent consequences from the lies and fixing.

It turns out that one of Mrs May's special advisors, SPAD Stephen Parkinson was in charge of the leave funding.

His enchanted Cambridge educated life seems to have wriggled through all of this without blemish, other than ratting out one of his erstwhile friends. Heck, I'm expecting him to turn up as a new MP sooner or later.

Then there's the wily whistle blower.
Christopher Wiley worked for Cambridge Analytica before setting up another 'off book' company to run CA style data analysis in places where it could otherwise prove awkward.

The whole of 'his' plan appears to be an extension of the use of the 'marketing' tools already available in Facebook. Data file custom audiences, website custom audiences and lookalike audiences. The difference was being able to run this on absolutely huge data sets and to augment the data from the dubious socially engineered clickbait.

We know that the lad who fronted the extra donations to Leave so they could pay AggregateIQ's fees was eventually fined £20,000, although that's now on appeal.

Curious that these actions and the money to tilt UK democracy get such light treatment. The BeLeave campaign got about 2 seconds as a cutaway in the dramatisation. They're the ones in the blue tee shirts.

But then there's other wheels within wheels. Mercer's empire involved in the discussions related to both Brexit and Trump. The pugly tinny swilling version of Aaron Banks in the dramatisation might hide altogether cleverer financial routings towards Leave.

Even Farage's early declaration that they might lose the referendum has a curious side effect. He has friends with hedge funds. Now what would happen after his 10pm 'oops - it looks like remain' statement? There'd be a drop in markets.

Ideal for the hedge funders that shorted the Brexit outcome. A barrier knock-in. His friend Damian Lyons-Lowe, ran the hedge-funders private Survation poll. Some hedge funders were very happy with that evening's positions. Ker-ching.

I suppose much of this is leverage. Play in a big enough game and the numbers can be vast. That's what has happened. Nothing to do with what the people want. Much more about what the posh boys can grab.

So it's good that the programme was made. It can surface some more for debate. The kind of stuff that Carole Cadwalladr has been exposing for ages. But the drama is one line of a more complex situation. A simplified version that can accidentally bury much of what happened and make the lies and deceit less awkward to handle.

Unless May makes a final gesture to call the Referendum outcome illegally obtained. What's that? another flying pig?

Sunday, 6 January 2019

a shell game of power?


All our regular get-togethers are starting up again for the new year.

Monday it's the Mill on the Exe for the Stammtisch and by Thursday I'm supposed to have read 'The Wind-Up Girl' by Paolo Bacigalupi in time for our pub discussion.

I got diverted along the way by an Xmas present book - The Power, by Naomi Alderman. I've obviously told enough people about the dystopian Book Club so I'm now being given relevant gifts.

Having recently read and talked about Vox for the same book club, it was interesting to flip from a crazy male domination story (electric shock word counters for women) to an equally unbalanced female domination one - also based around electricity.

In The Power there's a skeinful of new properties available to women which leads to subjugation of men. It plays out through three or four principal characters whose paths intersect.

I somehow preferred the story-telling in The Power to that of Vox. There seemed to be more to the premise, although the latter part of the novel became something like an Indiana Jones movie with jungle incidents and vicious female warriors.

It was easier to see what the author was trying to portray in The Power, and there was an initially subtle ramping of the effect from early discovery to later chapters of bleak realisation.

And no mistaking that the matriarchal power game wasn't so different from the more often written patriarchal one.

If I'm honest, I found some of the novel's middle section a bit heavy going. A new religion, a gangster hierarchy - it made the moves but somehow didn't develop them.

That's not to say there wasn't plenty to play with. I wondered if there was a quiet hint of Mikoto Misaka style Manga too, with the drug called Glitter although no certain scientific use of railgun ;-) Personally I thought a few further references could have added to the second half of the story telling and from an already female empowered source.

The author's overt humoiur was left for a few cheeky elements, when the book flipped into a meta-novel at the start and end. "Surely you'd be better submitting this as a woman?" suggested the female voice of the pretend agent to the (pretend) male voice of the author.

Even the shell games had shell games.

Next up will be my reading of the Wind-Up Girl. Here's that vintage Dresden Dolls track about a *ahem* coin operated boy.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

I'm sorry Theresa, I can't do that.


New year and a chance to again reflect upon how Bladerunner we've become.

We have the concrete, the flashing lights albeit less neon and more LED based. Intelligent bus stops that know the next transit. Adverts with built in quick-codes. Those weird ones that project through tube train windows.

Artificial intelligence and virtual reality - more embedded than made to look human. Alexa is closer to HAL 3000.

My visiting friend from Los Angeles was slightly surprised at the commonplace use of contactless cards in the UK. As he put it: "In America we have Apple Pay but hardly anyone uses it."

There's still that awkward question about those that govern. I'm reading another one of those dystopian novels about people having things done to them by the ruling class. That seems to be a slippery problem although modern politicos have a solution.

Make politics appear so useless that no-one pays any attention.

On many levels the original principal Brexit negotiator did so, wasting around 18 months on dismal schemes. Then the mono-focused may-bot head-girl juddered back to fritter the remaining time, such that by Monday we will all teeter on an abyss, recklessly squandering the UK's future.

There's no big view to help us see what is happening.

Over the water, they've shut down chunks of the government (again) whilst a madman holds the workers hostage attempting to hissy-fit money for wall construction which he can award to his buddies.

In Bladerunner the replicants were man-made with their own serial numbers and ordinarily deployed for subservient tasks.

Curiously our 2019 fore-runners have been bootstrapped through talent-free privilege mixed with ambiguous money. It's a whole different proposition.

Friday, 4 January 2019

scrobbled


I restarted my last.fm feed around March 2018 after several years where it wasn't really connected to anything.

It is much simpler having one statistics collector for music plays across all the platforms and last.fm with the audioscrobbler seems to do a reasonable job of sweeping up iTunes, Spotify and most of the other sources I use. I can see my top artists, albums and so-on.

I'll look at this in more detail on another occasion. I suspect that repeat use of some playlists skews the figures, along with that time I played every version of every track on The Beatles White Album.

The restart illustrates a progressive drop in the quantity of tunes played. I shall need to investigate what's happened.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Thursday Thirteen (57): thin men stalk the streets


  1. It's the year the Brexit hoax stalls. Yet, despite it all, Jeremy won't get into Downing Street.
  2. Newer MPs will have voices against the silver spoons, although establishment roots run deep.
  3. The EU becomes more fragile as a result of populist protest votes driven by immigration agendas.
  4. Legal action to depose Don the Con commences alongside fresh concerns about his mental health.
  5. Resultant certainties will stabilise markets regaining the losses of 2018.
  6. The middle east and some parts of Africa will continue to new levels of unchecked violence.
  7. China and the USA will continue their trade war alongside undercover military build up in the China seas.
  8. Oil prices wobble because of clumsy attempts to reboot the US economy using 19th Century economics.
  9. Putin will stir the pot with decoy military posturing whilst achieving far more with cyber warfare. Other state actors will include China and the USA, embedding network hacks into the internet of everything.
  10. Facebook's vacuous presence will take a dive, creating a major uptick for Alphabet/Google. Apple will recover its position once analysts factor the 19% YoY non-iPhone growth. Amazon will recover its blip downwards with enough new ideas to drive another S curve jump. Alibaba will start to become a western competitor for Amazon.
  11. Sport will continue tribally with big business and betting manipulating outcomes.
  12. Smart people will admit to using reddit to filter their twitter feeds.
  13. I'll look back on this list in December and wonder why I wrote it.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

solar


Our domestic solar panels are finally working. Not on the grand scale of Blackfriars train station, but at least capable of earning a bob or two.

In practice they have been functioning ever since we moved in, but whatever benefits we'd expect to get from them were, instead, flowing to our main electricity supplier.

It turns out that there is copious additional paperwork associated with power generation. I have to get the plant, generation equipment and so on registered, quoting my micro generator certificate number.

The paperwork includes the need to prove that the panels affixed to a less-visible but highly south-facing part of the property were, indeed, ours.

Then there's the reading system deployed. We already have smart meters but the small consumer head unit doesn't work properly.

It can't detect one of the meters. A kind of Zigbee (similar to bluetooth) failing with the wrong codes.

I have a phone number to get it fixed, but it's been a bit like that old Python gas cooker sketch.

Their latest update told me I need to have a meter replaced in order to get the head unit to work. I don't believe them and think it is a simple 'pairing' problem.

The Feed in Tariff rebate amount is between 4.5p and 5.5p per KwH, which compares with about 12-13p per KwH to buy from the electricity supplier. In my naivety I'd assumed that simply having the installation would put my electricity into the system and I'd get a benefit. Not so. Unless I specifically count the electricity generated and tell the electricity board, they just take it and resell it to me anyway. I'm effective paying for my own generated power.

Inevitably, the electricity generation part requires a separate meter so we've a special unit and a big red switch indoors. The electricity company can't read the separate meter remotely on this modern high tech installation. Instead they have given us four date ranges throughout a year to supply readings (by post, perhaps?)

The government, via the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy are stopping the scheme for new entrants in March 2019. We've just squeaked in and get a 20 year feed in agreement.

The whole process raises all kinds of questions.

  • How could the government get their estimates of payout so wrong that they had to cancel the scheme? The amount that electricity companies get is around 4 times that originally estimated.
  • Why didn't the scheme track wholesale prices? That alone could account for some of the overpayments.
  • How could a much heralded Clean Growth Strategy launched in 2012 need to be closed only a few years later? Some would say because of success, but the real reason is because of miscalculations.
  • How does this bode for any other schemes to be introduced on this, or other, topics over the next year or two? I hear there may be quite a few deals to peg down.

I didn't specifically apply to get this system. It came with the new property. It's a great idea and was probably fitted far more economically as part of the whole construction programme. If I'd paid separately for it then my quick examination of the official break-even point would be about 20 years, which is (surprise!) the same length as the FiT rebates.

Now I see what they did. Spreadsheet engineering to make the scheme viable.