rashbre central: September 2018

Sunday 30 September 2018

let them eat cake (but #nobribes)

How wrong can one be? I predicted a few days ago that the bribes would be starting around now related to Brexit.

My paltry doughnuts were clearly not visionary enough.

Admittedly I'd already spotted the cheap tax regime to be offered to foreign investors by the Tories. I'd even commented about the equivalent of 'beads for the natives', but I'd missed the grand thinking to create a new Festival of Britain (including Scotland still, and Northern Ireland and Wales obvs.)

Why would one need to have a People's Vote when there is the offer of a Festival? Whilst it could be partly financed by the public purse (allow £2 per UK person = £120 million). If street parties were added then the rest would be sort of free, especially if it was held over a long weekend.

The money involved is a drop in the ocean compared with the new outgoing associated with the DExEU and all the new controlling departments. Latest figures are pushing towards a new on-cost of about £27bn per annum which is about £1k per household (excluding the very rich etc). I expect it will all change again though, what with another budget coming up after the conference season.

The Maybot is self-rebooting and runs on a self-laying track. It's harder to defuse than that bomb in the Bodyguard.

But I'm wondering if the whole scheme is as deranged derailed as BoJo the Clown (seen in picture with Top Hat Toff clown) thinks, then what happens? The Clowns don't really have a better class of bribe. Some of them are clutching at vanity projects in the absence of anything sensible.

I keep seeing the one-liner suggestions from 2016 swirling around with some light repackaging. It's as if no-one involved has done any real work over the last two years. All too busy keeping heads down in disillusioned jobs in disrupted departments following disingenuous policy.

It's a well known myth that Marie Antoinette didn't really say the cake/brioche line about the peasants having no bread so they'd jolly well have to eat cake.

"Qu'ils mangent de la brioche"

Our modern equivalent of the cake story needs one of those tag lines too. Something snappy about being continuously lied to around decisions were are supposed to have made ourselves, then converting dubious action into a misappropriated will of the people in order to gather political power.

"Qu'ils mangent les mensonge alors que nous saisissons le pouvoir."

Let them eat lies while we seize power.

Not as snappy in my pidgin French, but wait.

Friday 28 September 2018

sunset, ale and a fast clock rate

Down by the river for an evening to put the world to rights.

A sunset view with a glass of ale, and that strange effect when the clocks spin madly after one-o-clock in the morning and it is suddenly three-thirty a.m.

Thursday 27 September 2018

#devon sunshine and a French warship

After a comment from blogger Nikki-ann noted that my pictures seemed to be showing sunnier weather than in her area, I thought I'd do a few snapshots from yesterday. It's where we had a very late lunch (5 pm) and shows more of that end of summer sunshine.

It also gave us a chance to wander, and look across to the small island just visible in the picture below, to the left of the yacht.
Time for a small exploration and we soon found high ground with a better view of the island.
By now, the sun was setting and the sky was losing its bluest hue. We were close to a lighthouse and to its right hand side we could see a distant warship.

I assumed it would be from the Royal Navy, but a closer inspection revealed otherwise.
It was D646, a French F70 anti-submarine frigate FS Latouche Treville. Moored just off the shoreline, it released nonchalant plumes of smoke, in the now setting sun.

Wednesday 26 September 2018

doughnut spins

Days after EU leaders said the Brexit plans won't work, it is worth looking out for the bribes - and I don't just mean doughnuts.

May's are clear. Whilst saying the UK has a “knowledge-rich, highly innovative, highly skilled and high quality" economy, she is adding that it will have low tax and 'smart regulation'.

It is a lightly coded message for investors. It is saying that investing in a post-Brexit Britain will give the lowest rate of corporation tax in the G20.

The Labour bribes are more spluttery. The target electorate get that ad-hoc Kier Starmer speech addition about bringing in a Remain clause to any new Peoples' Vote.

Labour's recent suggestion would be to force employer share give-aways to benefit workers in UK-listed companies.

Now we get front-man affable uncle Corbyn going all enigmatic. Maybe slippery, because it's being called triangulated strategic ambiguity. He's far more interested in an election than a referendum. His team can hint at futures, but he still holds the key and his latest 'something for everyone' bag of promises.

It's all very well but the weeks of futzing around don't inspire real confidence related to opposition politics. Sadly, it's been about 'put us in charge or we'll continue to behave like limp lettuce.' (Except in occasional wave/waive making bursts at Labour's conference)

So we're having to dunk the doughnuts in fudge. Not really that appealing?

I decided it was about time to take a look at what an investor organisation might be saying. I randomly picked Barclays. A bank, international, but with a high UK footprint.

As Theresa May might say later today ;-) “You will access service industries and a financial centre in London that are the envy of the world, the best universities, strong institutions, a sound approach to public finance and a consistent and dependable approach to high standards but intelligent regulation.”

But what do Barclays (as a proxy for investors) think? Firstly, they see British trade outside the EU trade falling ever since the 1950s.

Their own analysis of the ONS figures shows UK trade with EU representing 49% of all UK trade.

Another aspect of the current situation is that most of May's trade discussions seem to focus on goods rather than services. By the way, did anyone else spot the Barclays error on the above published chart?

Whilst clearly very important, the UK services economy is also huge but missing from much of May's recent commentary. Barclays make some observations on the trade agreement situation:

Notice that it reckons 78% of total value added comes from services, which also produce a trade surplus. This doesn't bode well if the Brexit work has focused on goods well above and beyond services.

May and Co know all of this and we are now being fed selective information about what could be agreed. Even the high points of it are quite low.

But what does Barclays think? They have a whole video for this, which I'm almost tempted to embed.

It mainly lists some scenarios around different forms of Brexit:
  1. Leave EU but stay in EEA. Similar trading to now except UK can't influence anything from EU.
  2. Leave EU and EEA but stay in Customs Union. Worse than (1) with less agreements and even less influence
  3. Leave Eu and revert to World Trade Organisation agreements. Worse than (1)&(2). Lose all EU agreements and all EU agreements with rest of world. Need to build a new set.
  4. No Deal crash out of EU. Worse than (1)&(2)&(3). No structures and no legal frameworks. Currency impacting.
  5. The next two are really roll-forwards of (4) and illustrate a couple of recovery scenarios:

  6. Like (4) but additional need to rapidly sign comprehensive free trade agreements with everyone. Would take years.
  7. Like (5) but even later, a resumption of a new equilibrium. Worryingly, the diagrams for this don't show it any better than staying with the EU.
Barclays isn't showing much optimism, although it can see the business opportunities to support 'hope' through advising businesses across whatever choppy waters might occur.

I reworked one of the Barclays charts. First, there's a corrected version.

That chart is fundamentally the same as Barclay's one. Then I took away some EU trade based on the lack of agreements and the UK needing to pay more to operate its agreements. I used a mid-point figure of 13% impact on just the EU trading. It does move the numbers around, but I've left the non-EU trade at its current level.

Surprisingly, the end effect isn't quite as much as I expected, although the resultant doughnut is smaller than the original one. When I look at the effect in money it becomes more interesting. £56 billion per annum. Put another way, that's around a quarter of the welfare budget, or a third of the health budget, or almost half of the pensions or education budget. Slam dnkd?

Tuesday 25 September 2018

stacking the stones

Before the month clicks round, I've been meaning to post the above picture.

It's all my own work, a little pile of stones. My one was built upon a stony beach, so there's no question of displacing rocks from one area to another. Whilst not entirely 'leave no trace' it's the equivalent of building a sandcastle on a sunny beach.

My own rock balancing is about as simple as it gets, but it is still very satisfying to have a go. The gentle pull of a rock as it looks for three points upon which to rest. The satisfaction of adding more stones. The thunk noise as one stone brushes against another. The discernible pull from the earth when trying to place the stones.

Some would argue that there's a Yogic Guna with the stones. The Sattva of goodness, constructivism, and harmony. The Rajas of passion, activity and sometimes confusion. The Tamas of darkness, destruction and chaos. Maybe the stones have more of the Tamas, the dense and slow Guna?

Others might say that the stacked stones are best used as a memorial or as a way-marker.

I'll just say it's good fun.

Monday 24 September 2018

Raspberry Pi and Wordpress

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

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

Slight warning, it gets a bit technical from here.

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 23 September 2018

lazing on a sunny afternoon

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

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

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

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


Saturday 22 September 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Either way, they are times to enjoy and cherish.

Friday 21 September 2018

whither weather the weather and whether to go or together?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately it lead towards basic regional corruption.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 20 September 2018

end of a brute but start of brute force development?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 19 September 2018

Killing Eve - no fleas on this spy enigma

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

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

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

And relax. It's been twistedly good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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