Saturday, 20 January 2018

an uncropped one in the eye

Someone emailed me about that picture I used for the Carillion post a couple of days ago. Yes, I did crop the left hand side. Not so much to make it fit, but rather more in the interests of general taste. It's a picture of fat cat city businessmen after their lunch, too drunk to even move onto the puddings. The women have all left the area.

Events of the last few days have added further piquancy to the scene. My narrative was about outsourcing, and we now have a French example to add to the mix. The Bayeux tapestry is being loaned to the British by France. A blinder of a play by Macron. It's a French state item, which he cut through red tape to have delivered quickly.

Maybe it does show the demise of Harold Godwinson at the arrows of William the Conqueror. Perhaps that folk observation overcooks Anglo-Saxons as the namers of animals: (bull, pig, sheep) and the Normans as the namers of the food: (beef, pork, mutton). But Bayeux Scene 52 shows the Anglo-Saxon infantry under serious threat from the Norman cavalry.

Macron knows that we should never forget that thousands were killed and many more deprived of their livelihoods at and after the Battle of Hastings. Then, as the Smithsonian review of the Bayeux describes, the next four years witnessed a truly exceptional takeover of England’s resources by an elite from Normandy and other regions of northern France.

Or am I reading too much symbolism into all of this?

Let's go back to that colourful and this time tastefully miniaturised version of the dining scene.

The full caption for L'après-dinée des Anglais reads:

"Six men in varying stages of intoxication surround a low, cloth-covered dinner-table (not bare as was customary for dessert), on which are a big punch-bowl, bottle, and glasses. One lies on the floor clasping a bottle and shouting, his chair overturned. Two pairs converse affectionately; an elderly man, his elbows on the table, supports his head, registering anguish. A seventh stands at a sideboard with a chamber-pot taken from a cupboard in the sideboard. (This was the practice after the ladies had left the dining-room) ... On the wall is a landscape with heavy rain as the chief feature.

The original of the print was published by Aaron Martinet and is available via the British Museum, as well as being seen on more traditional pub walls throughout the land.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

streamlining domestic comms

We installed Virgin fibre broadband at the new place, which seems to reliably operate at 200Mb/s, somewhat faster than the supposedly lightning fast 34Mb/s BT infinity 2 we had previously.

It has created a chance to rebundle the rest of the household communications network.

We scrapped the idea of a Sky dish and now have Virgin for TV as well as its fast broadband. To be honest, the menu system is not quite a good, but it may be also that we've a 15 year Sky habit to break.

We also ditched the idea of a BT phone line and now use Vonage for cheap dial anywhere VOIP phone calls, delivered through standard BT DECT phones, but also including virtual extensions to our mobile phones. It works a treat and is kind of connect and forget.

Then to move the mobile phones onto new SIMs. This was away from the inexpensive O2 tariff to an even cheaper Virgin one (half the price). The new one doesn't seem to have any practical monthly limits on any of the services (voice, data, messaging etc.) The roaming is good too and the Vonage virtual extensions work away from home, in both directions as I accidentally discovered in Exeter the other day.

The whole transfer took a couple of days, and along the way the O2 retention people offered me a half price tariff if I decided to change my mind. Sorry, guys, you were too late and your monthly fees had started to drift upwards.

The other piece of the jigsaw has been to clean up the multitude of streaming subscriptions. Annoyingly, the main providers like Virgin, Apple, Amazon, BT Freeview, Sony etc will provide some, but not all, of the services through their devices.

Day to day telly works fine on the Virgin box, but I still need a separate Apple TV for all the home system (iTune) movie and TV libraries to work properly. Nowadays the Apple TV does also support most of the other subscriptions: Netflix, Amazon, iPlayer, ITVHub and tv player to name the majority. For the mostly abandoned other TVs I decided to try the Roku stick as a way to manage most things else. It's a case of 'so far, so good'. It also supports most of the above, except iTunes although PLEX support can work for the home library. It all seems to be simple to run too, although I've now our set our Logitech Harmony hand controllers to work with it (took 10 minutes), so we still have one remote control for all the main systems.

The Roku plugs into the HDMI HDCP2.2 on the back of a telly and uses a traditional (big) USB socket on the TV to draw its power. The little cable supplied has a built in wifi aerial, hence its slightly bulky appearance, although once installed behind the TV it is for all practical purposes, invisible.

So, a vastly different set of comms here, which doesn't need a dish, BT phone line or even a roof aerial. It's at least 6 times faster, and also considerably cheaper. 21st century, or what?

Next will be to simplify the voice control.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

gaslight district

So here we go again. I've checked out that Montreal Cognitive Test. Y'know, the one the so-called president took as part of his fitness test. It uses a rhino and a lion to help identify dementia, but I'm less sure about a whether it can pick up on a sociopath or a narcissist.

Perhaps the test was ill chosen? Instead of going hunting it provides a mad north-north-westerly wind which obscures the view. The hunter would prefer a southerly wind to know a hawk from a handsaw.

But, then I'm not sure if there is a specific test for sociopathic or narcissistic gaslighting tactics?

Let's see now - we could make one.

A sociopath may consistently transgress social mores. [check] They may break laws [check - allegedly?] - even exploit others [check]. They are also convincing liars who consistently deny wrongdoing [check].

Part of the gaslighting tactic is to make recipients doubt their own perceptions. Perhaps with false facts [check] or fake news [check].

Remember poor Ingrid Bergman in that George Cukor movie? There's a whole plot line of manipulations to create self-doubt. Such that the judgemental bar gets lowered as a result of manipulation [check].

Check out a few a long list of the reality distortions here:

Oh dear.

Caption: This well-syndicated picture of healthy snacking may well becomes fake news. Enjoy it manipulation-free whilst bigly applauding the svelte and low Body Mass Index of the 6'3" tall subject. Curiously, when standing next to Barack Obama in photos, he appears the same height, yet Obama is officially 2" shorter?

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

short selling

I remember the old guideline for corporate (and other) logos was to use an absolute maximum of three block colours. It was partly so that the logo could transfer easily to varied media and surfaces. I get it that with modern media and emoticons there is some scope for relaxation, but I still worry when I see overly fancy graphics for the logo.

Carillion were in the ornate category. The companies they took over all had fairly plain 'no nonsense' building company type logos, but the resultant frippery used by carillion was only one character away from setting bells ringing.

I'm sure lengthy investigations will unpeel some of the horrible situation, but here's another example of some well remunerated captains of industry driving a company onto the ice.

At initial glance it seems strange that a company winning bids for huge government contracts could find itself in this position. Here's the organisation that had a significant hand in the building of the Tate extension, the Channel Tunnel, has won extensive HS2 contracts, bids to build schools, is the biggest manager of UK Ministry of Defence bases...the list goes on.

There's talk now of the extra government contract awards to Carillion after their July 2017 profit warnings. My custom chart via the FT illustrates the situation, and I've thrown in a linear regression to doubly make the point.

It makes me wonder what the Government guidelines on Management of Risk (M_o_R) are actually used for? It would be handy to know how to spot a downward trend and maybe to have some remediations. Of course, the smart hedge funds could see the situation back in July. They made Carillion the biggest UK shorted stock - itself a cause for some alarm. Blackrock (that employer of consultant George Osborne) was amongst the top shorters, in effect betting that the share price will fall so that they can make a profit.

Popular gossip was that Carillion was underbidding for some of its contracts , in other words 'buying the business'. I don't know about that, but I do know that there has been a fairly unremitting increase in category management advisory services, which should provide all around advice to purchasers of services. The advisors' magic trick is to zero in on 'savings' which effectively pushes down the rates that suppliers can charge. It is okay up to a point, but when the supplier is no longer able to function with a sensible profitability than it jeopardises the whole situation.

I don't know whether that was happening with Government procurement of Carillion services and a labyrinthine middle tier structure doesn't help to make things any clearer. That's because Carillion itself sub-contracted, via similar category management, to other lower level suppliers. Wheels within wheels.

There seems to be around £5 billion in play with the entirety of the Carillion situation, plus more than half a billion linked to pension scheme deficits. Now that the first-to-get-paid advisors like PWC have moved in, there will discussions about who will get anything from the situation and where the shortfall money will be parked.

What is already noticeable is that early positioning is drifting the deficit towards the smaller people - suppliers to Carillion, retail shareholders, people in the pension system.

Yet the big chiefs guiding all of this have done okay. Just like chief executive Richard Howson who earned £1.5m in 2016, including £591,000 in bonuses. For some that would be a lifetime's earnings. But wait - although he has already stepped down, he was due to stay on the payroll to pick up another £660,000 salary and £28,000 benefits through to October 2018. He wasn't the only one on that HS gravy train.

Does it seem strange that a business with an almost never-ending supply of UK Government contracts could find itself in this position? Maybe it was enforced low margins? Perhaps it was an over bloated middle management? Perhaps it was a lack of risk management? Maybe the whole value chain was tainted in some way? Behind the headlines there's the 20,000 UK employees affected, plus a similar number on overseas projects.

But by now Blackrock and the other hedge funds have moved on. Other heavily shorted stocks at the moment include Mitie, Marks and Spence and Ocado.

Watch out.

Friday, 12 January 2018

red dot

A couple of days ago I completed that Fire and Fury book about Trump. I've already commented that it felt like the book was going out of date faster than I could read it. The narrative finished sometime in October, so there's the last few missing months, weeks and days.

Usually I pay attention to the 'long waves', which tend to iron out the buzzy moves of a 24 hour news cycle. It's far more difficult with Trump, because of the sheer volume of interference frequencies that operate all of the time.

It was similar with this book. Noisy in its own right, it was also looking in a certain direction. Although wide-angled, it showed certain major interests, such as Jarvanka and Bannon. As an example, when there was an inference of a link to, say, Russia, or to, say, organised crime, this book would deal more with how the inference was handled rather than what the inference was actually about. I suppose the author had to draw lines in order to get something published.

But the directionality means that (for example) the Christopher Steele dossier (pp 37-39, 92-93, 102, 151, 156) and the Glenn Simpson data digging (not listed) can still seem somewhat underplayed. Maybe the ongoing Mueller investigation will have more to say about it, assuming Trump doesn't find a reason to remove him.

Trump's pseudo-monopoly power gives him so many strings to pull. It means on a matter involving his personal integrity he believes he owns all of the 'get out of jail cards'.

Presidential privilege, a fistful of lawyers, a massive genius bigger-than-big tilt button (the biggest) to press whenever he likes, even the recent resurrection of a 24 year old Espy case. He can do what he likes to avoid having to stand up to proper questioning about any of his curious past or as he calls it the 'Democrat hoax'.

Today's US Embassy in London excuse is another example. He suspects it wouldn't be a popular visit. For starters, he wouldn't be rewarded with full pomp and shiny-shiny, so he incorrectly blames the previous president for the selection of Nine Elms as siting for the new embassy, away from the prior Mayfair.

But before we've had a chance to visit the embassy construction site to pose next to the Madame Tussauds waxwork figure, he's already moved on to racially slurring a range of countries (which he now denies). And so it goes on.

What did come through clearly in the book was that the narcissistic sun-god man-child doesn't like to be confused by facts and uses a simple red dot approach to clearing out people he doesn't like. Nothing subtle, just a straight line to the target.

And that target can be anyone who could make him look secondary.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

nihil profici patientia nisi ut graviora tamquam ex facili tolerantibus imperentur

"All we get by patience is that heavier demands are exacted from us, as from men who will readily submit."

Not new thinking exactly, it's from ancient days when Britons dwelt upon the miseries of subjugation.

Back around AD60-ish, Tacitus wrote of Britain in ways similar to Douglas Adams in the Hitchikers Guide describing Earth. Not 'mostly harmless', but instead that 'Their sky is obscured by continual rain and cloud. Severity of cold is unknown.'

As well as climate commentary, Tacitus noted that the Brits could be easily divided.

"They were once ruled by kings, but are now divided under chieftains into factions and parties. Our greatest (Roman) advantage in coping with tribes ... is that they do not act in concert. Seldom is it that two or three states meet together to ward off a common danger. Thus, while they fight singly, all are conquered."

And so was the means by which Boudicea was defeated, similar to that new TV show set in a slightly earlier time, with different tribes, similar divisions and a different female leader.

Considering this was around 2,000 years ago, there's still some similarities.

The Brits may be protesting their place in the European Union and ostensibly planning exit. We still don't seem to have a united plan. Even one of the chief agitators, that awful ashtray and claret man, is suggesting a second referendum, secure in his 49% leave: 37% stay: 13% don't know knowledge that the Brexiteers would still prevail. And our leader is inconsequentially shuffling her tribal leaders and avoiding any brexecutions.

Meanwhile we get complicated ceremonies and charts, but still lack real content to make it interesting.

No wonder the EU27 don't offer anything constructive. As an example, a three tier system of membership (Gold, Silver, Bronze) could probably have solved many of the EU questions a long time ago. Gold for the hardcore members (France, Germany and so on), Silver for a less convinced ring (some of the Balkan states etc). Then fold partial members into a Bronze membership (Switzerland, Norway, Great Britain). Everyone pays something to be in the club, but - guess what- the Gold members get more from it than the Bronze.

Each to his own, albeit with less individual power. So that can't be, can it? Not a chance.

As Tacitus observed, "Lust of absolute power is more burning than all the passions"

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

distant weather

We've been keeping a watch on the terrible weather in Southern California.

It's an area we enjoy visiting and last time we were there just over year ago we stayed for several days in Montecito, which is just along the coast from Santa Barbara.

Both towns are usually sun drenched, although last time we also saw some of the forest fires in the surrounding area. There were fire tenders all the way along the coast from around Santa Barbara right into the back of Los Angeles, where we also saw those planes that bomb the flames with water.

The last few days has seen the weather switch as heavy rain has hit the area, creating huge lethal mud slides, including right to the very Inn where we stayed.

Here's the 'now' picture showing the terrible mud which has flooded the hotel.

Contrast with the 'then' picture of the hotel when we stayed in more normal conditions:

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

same as it ever was same as it ever was same as it ever was same as it ever was

And you may find yourself
Living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself
In another part of the world
And you may find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile

The government's so-called reshuffle seems less of a big event than advertised.
We get a new horse-racing enthusiast to take over Culture, Media and Sport.

Then there's a couple of bodged replacements - including a refusal to budge and an unexpected resignation. We get some not completely new back-fills as a result of 'alleged' sleaze. So let's take a look at the top of the list for changes.

And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?

Sure, there's a couple of tweaks, with Justice and Education. International Development and Defence 'changes' since 2016 are really the result of rogue operation repair and rogue behaviour repair. So somewhat like the two steps backward election, we have a leader demonstrating a lack of resolve from her sulky compatriots. It reduces the effect of the change by not really offering anything new, but instead presenting the same old same old with hasty coffee cup adjustments.
Yes, we all spotted the first outing of the sustainable tie-matching plastic cup that the Environment secretary sported in an attempt at damage limitation.

The secretive wraps around covefe are finally removed. It's all about Goveffee, also used to pantomime effect again on the way out of number 10.

I have a feeling that the disposable to re-usable metaphor might even recur. But, as Talking Heads might say:

Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was

Monday, 8 January 2018

its like a real smart stable genius discourse particle innit

A weird thing about reading that Fire and Fury book is the realtime rate of change.

A kind of dx/dt where the rate of page turning and passing of time destroy this brand new content in just a few days. "Best before".
  • Thursday (Day 1) : I read some previews and take them at face value as a mixed bag of truth and rumours.
  • Friday (Day 2) : A copy of the book arrives in my in tray. I start to read, but the press is already all over it leaking sections and looking for reactions.
  • Friday (Day 2 evening): Mr Trump starts his stable genius dismissal of the content. No sloppy schoolboy behaviour here. No valley-speak. Move along.
  • Saturday (Day 3) : Everyone gets lawyered up. Trump has a picture showing him with about 6-7 legal representatives.
  • Saturday (Day 3 later) : The first denials about the content trickle in. Could the author have been mistaken?
  • Sunday (Day 4): Even Mr Bannon starts to issue denials. I'm still only 2/3 of the way through.
  • Monday (Day 5): Maybe I'll finish it today. I could treat it as a work of fiction using real names, but I can't help thinking there's an awful lot of truth within.

Meanwhile, Trumpism continues to make new moves. After that rich person benefit tax relief, the middle east interventions, the shut down of the voting probe, this book must surely be a great smokescreen for the bandit business as usual?

Better call Saul.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

my current favourite Barry Blitt cartoon

I don't very often recycle cartoons or memes, but this one did make me both chuckle and sad at the same time.

Friday, 5 January 2018

silent Bob is no longer silent

I was mistaken when I thought that the intel bug that is in the news isn't all that recent. I thought it was announced back in May last year as part of that Active Management Technology 'silent Bob' blooper. Hands up all the that still have ports 16992, 16993, and 623 active?

I also remember having a Thinkpad where some Intel management technology was quietly discontinued - at least two years ago,

They were examples of where the computer's management system could provide a more serious security exploit than the systems it is protecting. Much like the way that Bruce Willis et al will shoot the security lock on the wall of the citadel in order to spark the wires to get in.

It turns out that the recently named spectre and meltdown exploits have an even older origin. In ye olden days of computing, a way to do something tricksy was to embed the 'machine code' into the data string of a high level language and then to deliberately overrun the normal length of the embedded data to, in effect, execute the data as if it was machine instructions.

Huh? I hear you say. Mumbo jumbo?

It used to be a way to very efficiently execute something that might otherwise have not been practical. To put some raw machine code into the middle of a high level program (nowadays an App).

There even used to be reserved words for it, typically 'code' followed by a data string. Of course in those days, it was done for wholesome performance reasons.

Nowadays it is more likely to be prefaced as something like "arbitrary code execution via unrestricted deserialization" and be the source of a menacing attack.

But as we've all got anti-virus and other security software, it should be okay?

Just because Barclays stopped offering free Kaspersky software to customers as a "precautionary decision" shouldn't mean that the Russian-based software isn't fine to use. Nor should the (British) National Cyber Security Centre decision to write to all government departments to suggest they don't use the that particular brand of Russian anti-virus software be seen as anything worrisome.

And I suppose if it is difficult to revise the firmware code on all the Intel and AMD cpus produced since 2008, imagine what it will be like when the Internet of Things really gets going.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

larceny, mind loss and misdirection (with buttons)

I've been reading some of the preview sections of that Michael Wolff book about Trump. It's been in the news, particularly because of the Bannon quotes, although it doesn't officially get published until next week.

It's an entertaining read, because however accurate it is (or not), there's interesting moments, like the whole expectation within the Trump camp that they would lose and that the electioneering was really a way to propel other media agendas.

Then we get the top-up money required from Trump to run his campaign. Bannon asks for $50m and Trump provides $10m, which he is insistent and quick to recoup once the funds have been raised.

Wolff compares the early days of the presidency with the well-known movie The Producers. Make something bad but then be wrong-footed when it is successful.

There's some great one liners too. "Twinkle in his eye, larceny in his soul". Ann Coulter telling him, "You can't just hire your children."

Then there's the efficient but perplexed Katie Walsh as deputy chief of staff at a White House devoid of an up-and-down structure. A childish figure at the top and everyone else scrambling for his attention. Not task-based so much as response-oriented, to whatever the boss was currently thinking about - often whimsically from the 6am Fox broadcasts.

That's where this book rings true. Trump doesn't process information in any conventional sense. He appears not to read. Not even skim. Some believe him to be no more than semi-­literate.

Some say he gathers most of his information from television, but then they also say he eats a lot of fast food and worries about being poisoned via his toothpaste. There's a lot to unscramble. And through it all his ego uncompromisingly trusts his own expertise ­— no matter how paltry or irrelevant.

Maybe it explains his lashing out with gut instincts, often starting with policy announced on twitter? Yet despite a reduced linguistic sophistication, and impaired impulse control, there's still a snake oil salesman in there somewhere. A 'Don the Con' use of misdirection, to hide something else. Today's disbanding of the voter fraud investigation is a case in point.

No doubt the book will be derided as fake news or trashy tabloid and maybe lawyers will get involved. The author may have exaggerated too. We won't know, although the narrative I've seen seems to fit rather well against broad perceptions of what has been happening.