Saturday, 18 November 2017

lighting up time

The lights were turned on a few days ago and the wooden huts of the Christmas market are lively with punters in the grounds of the cathedral. I've actually consumed my first tartiflette with reblochon which seems to be a current festive thing.

An in my mince pie tasting the budget varieties are currently winning, with a close run thing between Tescos and Waitrose.

Of course we haven't actually crossed over that artificially introduced UK Black Friday yet, although some well-known on-line retailers are anxious to remind us of all kinds of bargains.

I'm also liking some of the slogans that have appeared: My current favourite is:

"All I want for Christmas is...
simple journey planning to get us from stop to shop"

Snappy, isn't it? Especially when they closed the central bus routes for the evening that the sign was on display. Another slogan, "Hay, time to get your gift on." is obviously in some kind of code.

But kudos to the band in the shopping centre playing a mix of xmas tunes with some black-eyed peas mixed in. It was all very jolly with a good live buzz, balancing a Timmy Mallet meets Top of the Pops vibe, which was retro but genuinely enjoyable.

Here's some real Black-Eyed Peas. The still fabulous "Where is the love?"

Friday, 17 November 2017

Visible Girls: The Phoenix #exeter

I was along to the opening of Anita Corbin's Visible Girls exhibition at the Phoenix in Gandy Street on Thursday. It's a series of double portraits by Anita Corbin, taken in in the 1980s and reflecting the colourful and vibrant personalities of those featured.

The original series illustrated various types of non-conformity, sub-cultures, styles and spirit. Many of the young women were playing with self identity, captured in the pairs of individuals.

A later twist has been to re-photograph the same pairs of women in modern times. Quite a challenge, bridging a 35 year gap although a surprising number have been found and re-photographed thanks often to social media.

On opening night, the gallery was packed with people animatedly exploring the pictures. I'm told the project continues as there are still some of the original set that have escaped the second picture.

These are lovely often posed pictures, taken at clubs, pubs and even ladies loos, sprinkled around London. There's limited scratchy backdrops which are still evocative of place and time and in some cases the original location has been used for both pictures. In one example, there's a copy of the original picture on a piano in the recent picture. Every picture has a little caption naming the women and often explaining the future situation and when and how they were tracked down.

I like the way the colour and lighting has been used too. Some photographers used to challenge the authenticity of portraiture in colour, yet here it works perfectly. I like that there's catchlight in eyes and the new pictures have been taken to blend very well with the older ones.

For me, most of all, it's about the way that the individuality, friendships and attitude have been captured.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

carping about parking

I had to add another new parking app to my phone the other day. There's supposed to be two brand leaders, but there seem to be an awful lot of second tier additions.

I notice Westminster has taken the once-ubiquitous RingGo and re-branded it for their own use. All so we can get a picture of Parliament on the home page.

To get around my area we need to use at least a couple of these apps regularly, no doubt the result of some whimsical tendering process.

As it all becomes increasingly cashless, there are the additionally systems that use Wave or some other contactless add-ons.

The trick is to remember to keep the apps current, which is easier done away from the parking site. A rainy windswept Pay and Display isn't always the ideal spot to have to do update maintenance and downloads, simply to be able to park. Although sitting updating parking apps isn't what I'd expect in Generation Y.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

too early

I see a few newspapers published articles about the Greggs advent calendar before the commentary related to the sausage roll picture started.

The London Metro includes a picture of the nativity scene, with the sausage roll and a description about shepherds paying a nativity homage. No criticism from that paper, although I think they got their sheep-minding facts wrong. Even I can see the three pictured men are carrying gold, frankincense and myrrh.

I'll be watching to see if the Metro, Mirror and others now attempt to flip across to the critical bandwagon.

There's an indulgent hypocrisy to all of this, given most people's secular outlook. Office parties, booze, gifts, Festivus '97, winter sales. I'm reminded of that story about expelling the merchants from the temple, somewhat overlooked whilst we drift towards this year's Yule.

Meanwhile, Greggs continues via its longstanding Greggs Foundation, to donate to 450 children breakfast clubs across the UK and quietly donates its unsold food to numerous UK food banks, where the amount has increased 16 fold over the last four years.

shorting the UK

They say that instability worries the stock markets, so an outfit like the tax-avoiding Barclay Brothers, owners of the Torygraph and based in Monaco and Brecqhou in the Channel Islands can wreak havoc with their Правда-like stories.

I suppose it is a way to make money from Brexit news. I expect there are others with similar ideas.

Here's how. Create disruption. Sell short. Sell shares you don't own and buy them back on the instability pushing the prices south. Make sure it's all done through offshore arrangements and then there's no tax bills to worry about.

Here's the last few days on the market, with today's news creating a further wipeout.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

rise of the fast idiots

We all know that Dan Ashcroft was right with his predictions of the cereal cafes and twit machines which invaded Hipston and other oft-bearded areas.

I still occasionally watch an episode of that Nathan Barley series, which is so ancient that it had to predict the likes of Twitter and smoked salmon coffee before they were, y'know, things.

Now much of Ashcroft's world has happened, to the extent that some people watch the TV show on YouTube and have to ask if it is meant to be a spoof. Meanwhile the nextgen worldview variants are powered up, with ever increasing artificial intelligence. There's earnest debates on the radio about the rise of robots to replace workers.

Some of it seems bizarre, like the camera built into an oven to check how the cakes are coming along, and the full sized screen on a fridge to show its contents without opening the door.

In technology we used to talk about a solution looking for a problem. I sense that we have passed that point now, as many of the Generation Y and even some Zs are reaching positions of influence in product design.

I can see the temptation put ever-cheaper electronics into everything, but it can all go awry. Our previous oven was touch-screen controlled but would require a complete re-boot about once every two weeks. The built-in microwave needed about six separate menu selections to start, compared with the prior one which needed one twist of a dial.

The new smart radiator controls miss a point. Generally you don't need to continuously micro adjust the heat output of individual home radiators and an occasional twist to, say, position 3 can suffice. Below are a couple of thermostat examples. The one on the left is manual and twisted to position 3. The one on the right is battery operated, requires a wi-fi connection and can then be set by the arrows or a phone. I notice it is also low on battery at the moment.

Of course, I do play around with the home technology and have some of it for lights and television control simplification (one handset instead of five etc). It's that question of balance.

So will my self-driving car be capable of negotiating twisty Devon single track lanes with passing places. Will it be able to convincingly reverse when a tractor is ahead? Will Alexa learn to stop interrupting television shows with random outbursts of non-comprehension?

Can Google learn that when I ask for "train Exeter to Paddington" (A famous and high-speed route from the dawn of the railways direct to London), that I don't want to go to Paddington, Warrington.

We seem to be at an interesting point. Like Dan Ashcroft's rise of the idiots, I suspect we now have to add in a couple of other factors. The click generation with it's less than 140 character attention span coupled with an abundance of high speed. They used to call a computer a fast idiot; perhaps its time has arrived?

Monday, 13 November 2017

at the beach

Just because it is almost officially winter doesn't mean we can't visit the beach.

That's the second time in the last few days that we've dined by the water's edge. Last time outside a pub and this time a small restaurant looking out to sea. In between I strolled a different beach along the evening sand.

Winter can wait just a while longer.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

fixing the non-charging iPhone

My iPhone has been erratically charging for a couple of weeks. It kinda sneaks up that it isn't charging when I've had a couple of days where it has been down to the red battery level unexpectedly.

I checked the various charging cables and noticed they needed to be wiggled before the phone would charge. Then I remembered the occasional need to blow into the lightening port. This time no difference and I couldn't find the canned air to give more of a blast. Instead I found a small screwdriver to pick carefully at the lint which had worked its way into the slot. A surprising amount, easily enough to stop electrical connections. Of course, if I were telling someone else to try this I'd suggest using a non conductive material such as a toothpick.

Normal charging (including through a charging dock) has resumed.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Further Emissions

I've been keeping an eye on the moves to make London's air cleaner with the various new congestion charges. My own car already pays the £10.50 per day charge when it is in London for not being electric or hybrid. If you don't enrol in the automatic scheme then it is £11.50 per day.

My vehicle is a Blue Efficiency model, to Euro 5 standards, which were the most efficient available at the time of purchase. As a result, it dodges the extra charge that is due to start in April next year. That's the T-Charge, which is a further £10 per day.

It starts for diesel cars up to Euro 4, so my Euro 5 is a pass.

But then, in 2019, the ULEZ is being introduced. Ultra Low Emissions Zone. That's the one for less than Euro 6 diesel and will affect my car (if I still have it). The daily charge for that is £12.50, so at that point my car would cost £11.50 + £12.50 per day in Central London. £24 before parking is enough to consider other options, although I suppose many with company accounts or the well-heeled will consider this simply a cost of doing business. For anyone with an older vehicle at Euro 4 level or lower it is even tougher with a cost of £34 per day.

I'm all for cleaner air and am a regular cyclist for shorter journeys. I also use public transport around the centre comprising a mix of bus and tube. I still find it galling that I bought diesel when we were all told to, that the mpg was much better, that the common rail versions were all clean and nothing like the old smelly diesels of yesteryear.

It is consequently annoying to be penalised at the extent envisaged, because new discoveries have shown the previous science, marketing and good citizenship to be wrong.

We are also in the middle of a cycle of manufacturers' semi-updates to vehicles. The manufacturers are figuring out how to make batteries, how to make them last, how to redesign the cars for them to fit, how the replacements will be fitted after about 4-5 years. The list goes on. They also have heaps invested int ht current production lines and will no doubt want to keep it run sign as long as possible. As a comparison of longevity I notice that Ford still fit drum brakes to the rear wheels of many of their vehicles.

I also have a suspicion that whilst a Euro 5 diesel car might last 8-10 years, the substitute semi-electric will have a considerably shorter life because of the cost of renewing the power packs.

Guess I'll need to keep an eye on Mr Musk's share price.

beyond the X, to the gravity defying Y-Phone.

It may defy physics, but it's a bit more advanced than the X.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

rewards of chaos

It is getting very confusing. Despite the quantity of meetings that Patel had during her 'holiday' in Israel, there's some pieces that still don't stack up with the news reports.

There's that minuted meeting on 22 August where Mr Oren, Deputy Minister at the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, told Middle East minister Alistair Burt and British Ambassador David Quarrey that Ms. Patel had a successful meeting with Mr Netanyahu.

It says they in turn told Downing Street. But perhaps they forgot. Or it could be a fib, I suppose? But wait, they are diplomats, so they must be telling the truth. Maybe its a symptom of the chaos.

Then there's the London meetings, back in September. There's actually a tweet with a photograph of Patel and Erdan standing in the House of Commons.

Now this would be a very badly kept secret, or maybe there's a fib somewhere in the process? Or more chaos?

The strangest one is when Patel met Rotem in New York on September 18th. It says that the meeting wasn't disclosed after advice from Number 10 because of potential embarrassment to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Apparently the FCO gets sensitive about having things happen which it feels are its own territory.

So was there a cover up, or is it a fib that Number 10 didn't know? Perhaps put it down to chaos?

I'll also take the broader view of Number 10. It's not one person. It's a full dither of civil servants, with commensurate stackable in-trays. So who knows where the isolated information has finally landed? And who bothered to forward it anywhere? Perhaps it was all chaotic?

As a slight aside, I used to travel to Israel and remember some of the weird meeting pressures. My typical post-flight hotel arrival time was around 5 a.m, and my hosts for whatever meetings I was attending would invariably have things booked for later that same morning.

Despite a main purpose there would always be extra meetings snuck in, and they'd often have sensitive connotations. Meet this security firm. Meet this supplier operating with special tax advantages. Today we are meeting the Army, but outside the barracks in a metal-detector surrounded cafe. I became wise to this after a while, but it seemed to be a part of the local culture to attempt these extra things, so the thought of Patel's 12 meetings organised by a fixer doesn't particularly surprise me, and could easily have been run over just a couple of days.

But back to the UK.

Boris Johnson has wanted his department to absorb DfID, calling it “a colossal mistake in the 1990s to divide the Department for International Development from the Foreign Office”. No great surprise if there's no love lost during the recent exchanges, then.

And behind the monied scenes, let's not forget that DfID uncovered some dubious practices about how foreign aid has been offered from the UK. There were the stolen papers from DfID allegedly used for Business Development by a well-known firm of contractors referred to in tabloid circles as foreign aid fat-cats.

Some quite complicated agendas then.

There's too many half-truths in all of it. More like a government-wide malaise. Instead of strong and stable we get chaos and lies.

Johnson makes it up on the hoof. The last few days illustrate his lack of contrition related to that prisoner situation, but it is only one of his series of blunders which are still not being brought to an end.

And Davis, with his own quoted 50-60 Brexit sector analyses which, now they are being asked for, are mysteriously incomplete.

But May doesn't need to do anything. No-one wants her job at the moment.