Tuesday, 12 December 2017

pushing the problem forward

Two things about air travel. One is the amount of noise generated by a passenger when trying to get an upgrade doesn't achieve better results. Proper gold cards (or above) always win. Second, there's a technique called that ground staff use which is basically 'push the problem forward'. Thus, at the gate, without a magic card, there's not much that a noisy passenger can do. Get on the plane or go home.

I can't help wondering whether the 27 remaining members of the EU are using an airline playbook? They each have a golden card, but our number 28 British one is already kind of suspended.

As for Theresa and and occasionally David - they are both letting the problems roll forward, making statements without tangible plans or solutions for what they are accepting. It might be occasionally noisy, but they are still getting closer to the gate without an upgrade.

Oh yes and there's another negotiating tactic, called 'get the boss out of bed' (a variation on the union negotator's 'send in the fish and chips'). Sound familiar?

Monday, 11 December 2017


I was caught out last Thursday evening, when I had to be somewhere at 7pm, but hadn't anticipated the thousands of additional people on the move.

I'd headed to a usually empty car park, but on this occasion it was so full that there were cars queuing and blocking both the way in, and as importantly, the way out.

Yes, everyone was out for late night shopping.

Today was much easier to get around, even despite the 2 millimetre of snow that briefly melted over Central London.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

driverless crash testing

I see that the until-recently invisible David Davis has resurfaced to explain away that so-called sector analysis.

When it was first mentioned, I imagine a scene where he had to say something - anything. Perhaps he badly remembered a summary he'd seen? By mentioning it on the record he then had to produce a version of it. Perhaps by stalling for 2-3 weeks it gave him time to ask a roomful of interns to generate the necessary kilos of paper, which one of his team could then speedily redact?

My guess is that one of the 'paid pro-bono' (sic) consultancies produced the basis of the original analysis that Davis remembered.

If I had to plump for one I'd go with KPMG's work, which produced 57 snapshots as re-cuts of 19 industry segments.

The summary of the sector analysis looked something like the one above and was actually an amalgam of ONS and KPMG work. I know there's not 58 sectors in it, but it isn't too difficult to drum up 57 with a bit of table sorting.

Davis admits that he'd not read the main reports in any case, just a summary. He's also saying now that the summaries are qualitative, not quantitative. Although I suppose the use of facts or hard numbers in this situation might mean working more than three days a week?

Saturday, 2 December 2017

in which I test Amazon Echo and Alexa with Clark Hutchinson's Best Suit

I'm just getting some of the home tech re-assembled. No Nest system at the new place, so the complicated balancing of smoke detectors and heating controls from the last place isn't needed. No more increasingly urgent sounding female alarm voice from the speakers whilst the cooking slightly overheats. That's even now that Google are giving away a 'free' Google home mini with their Nest temperature controllers.

I'll wait until the full HAL version of the Nest is eventually released. You know, with voice control directly on the unit. And an optional red 'eye'. Meantime the conventional 2-zone Honeywell system is doing fine.

Instead I've been re-instating the Amazon Echo controller after a seven month break. The big vendors are all trying to capture the whole market, so the latest version of the Echo includes a home hub inside, compatible with Hue and similar.

We already have the Hue lighting system, so no need for the new version, and the external Hue hub also works with Apple Homekit, so everything can also work simply from an iPhone.

That does lead to a slight battle of the Personal Assistants though, with Siri on the phone and Alexa in the room. Not forgetting that the Sony TV also seems to have its own voice recognition. Someone is bound to have made them all talk at one another...

We can see that both Google and Amazon are attempting some bundling to gain the upper hand.

And then, sometime in January, Apple enter the market with their HomePod.

Take a look inside HomePod and it is well specified, but it also looks as if it was designed by audio people. A good idea at one level - they have probably made a better job than the acceptable audio that comes from the similar sized Amazon device. Interestingly, they seem to have have used all the A8 cpu on sound. The device supports Wifi and MIMO, bu there's no home device control anywhere to be seen.

Apple have pushed the actual home control off to their devices that run iOS. Typically phones, iPads or increasingly watches. The other device becomes like a key to the home being managed.

I like the idea of sensible home control. Less so the more gimmicky extremes like cooker innards tv-monitoring and fridge door displays showing the contents.

We are also in a period where there is no obvious leader in this technology and just about all of the combinations leave out some of the functionality.

That's why I'm still using Amazon Alexa, which seems to work with my iTunes library as well as its own playlists, plus can control lights and basic television (via Harmony).

The "Alexa Play BBC Radio 4" type commands work well, and my recent test with the amazing 'Best Suit, by Clark Hutchinson' passed the 'Find a track that's not on libraries anywhere' test.

Yes, Amazon has learned my entire music collection and can voice recognise requests. It'll do for now and if I want to up the fidelity the smaller Dot device has a stereo speaker out connection.

Meanwhile I'm listening to more of the Clark Hutchinson second album Retribution and am slightly amazed to see that their third album, Gestalt (which I have on vinyl) is actually in the Amazon Unlimited library.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Show of Hands at Exmouth Pavilion

Thursday night and we were along to Exmouth Pavilion to see Show of Hands performing at the end of their Cathedrals Tour.

My seaside sand covered boots were a sign that the parking was difficult for this packed occasion.

All worth it to see this utterly accomplished folk band play a lengthy and varied set. Steve Knightley and Phil Beer (Show of Hands) plus Miranda Sykes on double bass stormed their way through an extensive set.

Opening a cappella and walking into the venue singing, they started with a couple of fairly dark songs before livening things up. Superb musicianship and interesting songs which varied between ones written by themselves, by friends or indeed traditional ones.

There was plenty of imagery, from walks across Exmoor, of a priest on a rocky island, through the blue cockade of enlisting as well as varied advice on life and romance.

Part way through they brought in the Lost Sound choir, who provided sensitive accompaniment to a range of the songs. They ran the gig as a single set, too, with only the tiniest pause for the extensive and well-deserved encore.

Their own songwriting is crisp, the sounds they create are of high fidelity making the lyrics shine through.

It is obvious that they play many gigs; they made the musicianship look easy, despite many twiddly bits and clever harmonies. The set list was varied without a dull moment. A few times they paused for lighthearted banter.

At one point we heard why they like to finish their tours back in Exmouth. The band first met at a nearby folk club and can claim to have travelled the full 100 yards from their origin to where they were performing now.

Maybe there will be a pause for Xmas, but I'm sure there will be many more orbits embracing this part of Devon.

Here's part of their (old) Tour of Topsham, which they used to prepare for an Albert Hall gig.

And so pleasant to walk back from an excellent evening, along the shoreline, under the stars and, yes, with more sand on my boots.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

please mind the gap

There's still a load of numbers missing from the often-missing David Davies spreadsheet.

My original calculation for the Brexit cost of exit was somewhere around €41bn. Just a tad north of the current estimated figure. I based it on a 'snake in the tunnel' model which I boshed out on my MacBook Air.

The 'aggressive low' figure was based upon UK strong-arm and around €27bn and the high figure based upon EU27 toughness was €55bn.

We are just talking about the exit cost.

In my model I then added an amount for ongoing run rate charges, which in my model lasted until 2027. No-one is mentioning that aspect yet, which I suppose will be a factor of Stage 2 or whatever it is called and will include things like pensions and long term project commitments.

I'd better revise my spreadsheet now that some harder numbers are available. There's likely to be an improvement to what I show as the ongoing run-rate, which I'll remodel when I get a few more minutes. Instead of a Department of 1000 people, I'm doing this alone, but I'd better get it up to date for the next time they pop over to - y'know - copy my findings.

In my modelling I show the big payment as part of a run-rate. This is handy for the government, who can make it look less severe by spreading the payment over say 2019-2021. They've just finished doing something similar with the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The ex-macho casino bank was bought up by the government a few years ago and the toxic waste created by the banking gangsters was hived off into a separate unit. That unit has just announced its closure. The cost to the tax-payers? Around £45m. Slightly more than the cost of the exit portion of Brexit.

In comparison with Brexit, this once-deplorable city gentleman's club now gets a tiny amount of attention yet still seems to clock up similar amounts of government bail-out money.

Of course, Brexit is a much bigger situation overall, although the power-lies told about its cost have continued ever since the referendum. In UK public spending terms net EU-annual cost is still a smaller amount than the money UK provides to foreign aid.

I've also looked up some of my other early calculations (from around nine months ago) and can see the other significant lumps of money which will need to be brought into the discussion. Instead of using a grand total, we are getting slices of the full amount fed to us as individual portions.

I'm also curious about David Davis? He seems to have drifted even further from visibility, not even bothering to turn up to questions on Tuesday and instead fielding another Minister.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

down to the crossroads

I haven't amassed a collection of 'hanging around' pictures yet in my new area, although I'm just starting the process.

They are the kind of pictures that come in handy when I want to burble on about nothing in particular, like the other evening when we went to the pub after our little German Feierabend. We all brought various goodies, including way too much Stollen and Lebkuchen. There was a cheeky little Schnaps too, although I was quite careful.

Later on and past the German-speaking part of the evening, we tried a nearby independent bar which sold a steam beer made locally. From the first sip it gave me flashbacks to San Fransisco drinking Anchor Steam out of frozen glasses. Outside, instead of warm weather and fog, we had icy rain, but that is another story.

But I'll take the general situation as a good sign.

We are getting more established around here, albeit with varied trips to London and elsewhere. My pictures of black cabs might be slightly less frequent, but perhaps I will replace them with seagulls and boats.
Old Brompton Road and Bina Gardens
And come to think of it, it's less than a week since I stopped off for a hasty lunch at Leon's. That's the one on the South Bank.
It will still take time to get things set up here.

At least I've some shelving in the new office, so we can start to sort through more of the containers. There comes a point where everything that was packed away drifts to new locations.
Sometimes this is logical, other times it makes no sense other than as an indicator that the item(s) may no longer be required.

My recent mention of the bike turbo is similarly a good sign. There's finally enough room in the garage to be able to sort out the bicycles after a seven month gap.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Yep, binged my way through Stranger Things 2. Next comes the bike turbo full set viewing

I'll guiltily admit to binge watching the Stranger Things 2 series. Not all in one go, but still quite speedily. The mainly U-Certificate scariness is appealing, along with some proper Saturday morning cinema cliffhangers.

The actors, both youthful and adult, play the whole storyline convincingly, whilst little hat-tips acknowledge other movies and TV-shows. It could be as simple as the retrieval of a hat after the equivalent of a Temple of Doom moment, mysterious foreboding colour signals, or even the ways that colours repeat around the Mom character played by Winona Ryder.

Actually, Ryder's part as the mother plays brilliantly, and she doesn't seem to waste a single frame. And that's the thing with this series. Just about all the characters could have been selected from other slightly scary movies to play their parts in this one. Whether it's the tough lone cop with a heart of gold, the scientist with secrets, the ensemble BMX-riding lads with their 1980's walkie talkies, mysterious 011, it all fits nicely together.

They've managed to get over the sequel to Part 1 issue too, with the pre-existing scary thing now part of a Much Bigger Thing. For a series which requires plenty of dark-scene action, they've also managed to shoot it well. The only time the screen goes properly black is when they intend it to. Other times we see shadows well lit enough to tell what is happening.

Maybe there were a few pacing issues in this series. There were times when conversations seemed to take their time, but I suppose this was also an echo of olden days episodic shows where the right cliffhanger needed to happen at exactly the right point. Okay, and there is one Mr Robot-esque episode that doesn't seem to serve a sensible purpose, except maybe if they were hunting around for a sequel or trying to think of ideas for a spin off. Easily forgotten in the run of the series although an overly clumsy way to rebuild a character.

Aside from the minor gripes I've decided to do a full series sweep through Series 1 and 2 at some point soon. It may need to be a bike turbo thing.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

How Apple, Sainsburys, Jacobs and Stocard are driving me crackers

Okay Apple, Sainsburys, Jacobs, United Biscuits, pladis, Stocard; enough. This is the start of a slippery slope.

It's one thing to advertise biscuits on the tube, even to blast those across platform retailing projections that TfL is so pleased to be extending. But you should not be invading my personal wristwatch with your crass marketing*.

Tim Cook said of the Apple Watch on his wrist. "This isn’t obnoxious. This isn’t building a barrier...it will tap my wrist" (with silent vibrations) "I can casually look and see what’s going on."

Okay if it is some big news story, even the weather or a daily health statistics update.

But an advertisement for cheap crackers in a local store?

C'mon. Someone has lost the plot. And where one apprentice marketeer stumbles, a whole meddle of errant marketeers will follow.

Why get Jony Ive, Marc Newson, Alan Dye and the whole team of designers to come up with a personal, customisable watch and then let barbarians attack it with value-destroying promotions?

I suppose it has taken a couple of years for this crass monetisation to start.

Tim & Jony, get it sorted.

* And yes, I know there are ways to suppress the notifications, but I should not need to do this

Friday, 24 November 2017

red star over russia

Another exhibition I've visited recently is Red Star over Russia, which presents Russian visual culture from 1905-55. Much of the exhibition shocks, as it documents the reshaping of communist ideals and power in the wake of the 1917 Russian Revolution.

The selection on show is from a much larger collection originally curated by David King (1943-2016). It shows the propaganda via photographs, posters, journals and books to carry the Communist message across the vast land mass of Russia.

Look carefully into the photomontages and the workers can be seen to be more tired and worn than the purveyors of the posters would desire.

There's another David King book also called Red Star over Russia, which deals with the same subject matter, but adds greater commentary around the impacts of the Bolshevik seizure of power, of Lenin and Trotsky's supposition that they could create a workers' state.

We see later portrayals of peasants, workers and intellectuals. Of the Red Army and of the agitational propaganda trains with their unmerciful depiction of the overthrow of the Tsar. There's hardly any feel-good, nearly all of it has a poses a threat in its meaning.

A smaller exhibit shows some of the cropping or editing of pictures to remove those no longer in favour. On some its a simple photo-edit. On others there's a scissor cut. A few are clumsily removed with a knife.

What is also striking, even at this distance fro the hell, is the differences between the portrayals and the realities. Here's the vision:

And then there's a picture of a reality, in this case in Uralmashstroi, 1933.

The white apartment blocks were reserved for the foreign specialists, factory management and members of the party. I cropped the Russian slogan from above the first colourful picture. It said something like: Cleanse the party of class aliens and hostile elements, self-seekers, bureaucrats and morally decayed persons.

And that hardline undercurrent runs relentlessly through many of the graphics.

Today we see a Russian Confederation that covers one eighth of earth's inhabited land area spanning eleven time zones yet with three quarters of its 145 million population living in the European part of the country.

Their early weaponised graphics appear to have evolved into something that can nowadays embrace the social media.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Modigliani at the Tate

Along to the Tate for the opening of the Modigliani exhibition.

There's a style to Modiligiani's portraits, which take an essence of a person and simplify its structure to a level that dare I say Disney would be pleased with.

The show has been heavily advertised for the large collection of nudes included, although there's also a compelling selection of portraits of his contemporaries.

An aspect airbrushed from the exhibition seems to be the beyond louche treatment that Modigliani meted out on some of his models. Here we have an artist who flamed and sputtered out by the age of 38, after copious sex, absinthe, cocaine and other Montmartre delicacies.

I enjoyed the exhibition. Maybe it doesn't appeal to many lovers of modernism, because it only offers a token amount of shapes, preferring instead to keep the personalities of the sitters recognisable.

There's some styling cues too, like the almond-shaped eyes, often dark and undetailed, yet still presenting a look towards the viewer.

Almost every portrait is of the sitter alone, without much distraction in background detailing. Look closely at some of the [pictures (you can get right up close to most of them) and it's possible to see the ways he filled in background and areas with sometimes small squares being painted consecutively. Here's one from a series of Paul Guillaume.

The show also featured a small and heavily subscribed Virtual Reality area, where Modigliani's studio was on display. Untidy, cluttered and with a VR cigarette smouldering in a corner. Add a bucket to catch dripping rain water and it is no wonder he was often ill.

But back to Modigliani, we can see pictures that span his short life. The latter ones include his then lover Jeanne Hébuterne.

Tragically, she died a couple of days after his own death, falling from a 5th floor window.

Exhibition worth seeing? Yes. Thought provoking? Yes. Popular? Certainly.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

beta testing festive Xmas travel arrangements

Sometimes it can all go a bit pear shaped. We'd met at the assigned point for a spot of lunch and maybe a glass of beer. Central London, just a few steps from Waterloo station. It was all part of the plan.

And we had a great time. Enough of a good time to stay a little longer than the original plan. It turned me into the designated survivor for the walk back to the station. I wasn't actually planning to go to the station at all. I needed to head along Lower Marsh, but this was only a short diversion.

I'll put it down to the last sips of Malbec. My colleague had something fo a parity failure. The type where everything becomes suddenly discombobulated.

I've had many years of commuting from Waterloo and recognise that progressive move towards the festive season, where there are a few slightly damaged people on the last trains home.

But this was (a) November and (b) only around 8pm.

Also, This. Was. Not. A. Drill.

Anyway, I poured my colleague into one of the blue flagged seats (the ones that signify 'may need attention'), checked that the train wasn't going much further than the required stop (Weybridge on a train to Woking). Then time to say goodbye and frantically text ahead for collection at the destination.

One slight glitch because there were two trains within 8 minutes of one another departing Waterloo.

Let's just say it worked out fine and I could then make my way back to Lower Marsh.

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?