Security robots – daft but dangerous

I saw this video of the Tmsuk T-34 Security Robot on robots.net. which can throw a net over a person. OK, OK, it is very small, not very fast and the net doesn’t look exactly dangerous. However, I think this is a glimpse of the future. The fact that this thing appears so daft and safe will make it acceptable to the public and law makers while big corporations may realise that a few of these things can be used to automatically hassle intruders while human guards are summoned.
Now doubt that, once they’re in regular use and appearing on TV the manufacturer (TMSUK and Alacom Co., Ltd) will bring out a new version with real speed, strength and firepower.

I wonder about the legality of these things and await the first test case where a passer by is attacked and injured by a robot.

British Summer Time

Last week was exhausting. An English friend who has moved to Melbourne visited. Having built up enough air miles on his credit card he had a whistle stop visit to England to see his family and dropped in to see on Monday night.

I saw him at Christmas but other than that not for years. He dropped his bag, we opened a couple of beers and within minutes were talking about solar power and cellular automata – I guess people don’t change. Well, maybe we do, we both seemed to have grown more stubborn. After an excellent Indian at Noori’s in Ship Street, we found ourselves in The Fishbowl pub and my friend attempted to talk to some locals while I attempted to photograph him and them. The people objected and asked me to wipe the pictures. This sort of pettiness depresses me and makes me recall the time I spent in California and the open, friendly way that people talked to each other. I recall entering Mel’s in Santa Barbara with a friend one evening singing New York New York at the top of our voices. Someone in the bar bought us both a beer for what must have been an awful performance. – as Tony Hancock said: “Not here though” . We left the pub and found ourselves at home dozing in chairs by 1:30am.

On Saturday night I joined some friends in The Quadrant for a few beers. They had some comedy going on upstairs and so we paid our fiver and went up to a wonderful comfortable room. Big arms chairs, an open window. Small but not cramped a perfect contrast to The Komedia.
The comedian came on and predictably began asking people where they were from. He seemed to settle on Australia for a while. In fact he seemed stuck on Australia. His style was frantic, never leaving time to breath. Sadly, we left before he finished his act.

Monday I visited London to see the Picasso exhibition at The National. Clever man Picasso but I wasn’t too impressed by viewing lots of his old drawings which seemed to have been created before he figured out what he was doing. The chunky nude was good but I think I may have been spoiled by visiting Reina Sofia in Madrid a couple of times.

The real star of the show on Monday was the weather. Brighton had been rainy but by 1:30pm in London it was warm and the sun was burning it’s way through the cloud. Trafalgar Square was gorgeous.

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

I walked along to Piccadilly Circus and then along Piccadilly and up to Speakers Corner. Here I found one fairly vanilla Christian with some placards, two Muslims, who appeared to be having a break, and a lone communist.

Hyde Park

Hyde Park

Walking along Bayswater Road I reflected that central London can resemble a ghost town on Sundays and bank holidays. Despite the beautiful balconies on the houses along the Bayswater Road there were no French windows thrown wide. No families enjoying the sunshine. The windows were all closed and it appeared that nobody was at home.

I walked down through Kensington Gardens and watched a heron catch a fish then down to The Albert Memorial with it’s fantastic gold finish and amazing statues.

As I walked around the back of Buckingham Palace along Grosvenor Place I wonderred who exactly owns the buildings which cluster around Her Majesties rear entrance. I started noting down the names on the brass plates:

Hemsley Fraser Group – Management & Leadership Training Courses
Trafalgar Management Services Ltd.
Adrenaline Advertising – Billboards
Weldon Walsh Chartered Architects and interior designs
The Irish Embassy
Tata
HSBC

I shall go no further with that metaphor.

The Telegraph’s expose of MP’s expenses continues and The Archbishop of Canterbury complained that the revelations could undermine faith in democracy. It’s odd how the establishment always trot out this argument when they’ve done something wrong. It amounts to: “We’re too important to be prosecuted”. It would be interesting to see a teenage shoplifter use the same argument: “You can’t prosecute me m’lord, it would undermine the public’s faith in the youth of today”.

It occurred to me that the editor of the Telegraph must have an overall strategy for his stories. He must have decided to start with some explosive revelations about Labour ministers, follow this up with an illumination of the dealings of the Tories and then continue on to cover the liberals. Having got the best out of the way at the start the public may now be somewhat inured to the scandal and the occasional revelation appears no more than a damp squib. However, like any good firework display the activity should increase dramatically toward the end and we await the final blast of one enormous air bomb. I wonder: who will it be?

What the future was suposed to be like

I was talking to a friend over a beer last might and I said that the future is turning out to be weirder than we thought. He said, yeh, that’s what men of our age have always said.

Perhaps. So, for any youngsters reading this, the video below is what the future was supposed to be like. It boils down to more space ships, bigger computers and jumping around in tight clothing.

It raises a question of course:

General election now! – Sign the petition

I have been mulling over the expenses scandal currently bubbling away in the British press and it seems to me that this is the straw that broke the camels back. The expenses scandle is the last in a long stream of betrayals by our leaders and specifically by New Labour. It is time for a general election. (See petition information below).

New Labour came to power promising an end to the sleaze that defined the fag end of the last Tory government. Tony Blair portrayed himself as embracing an innovative vision of The United Kingdom and promulgated a bold modern vision of the future of the UK.

MPs who tried to stop you seeing their expenses

MPs who tried to stop you seeing their expenses

However, it quickly became apparent that the cardinal attribute of New Labour was not vision but spin. One after another New Labour ministers proved themselves corrupt and were dismissed from office only to be brought back in once the fuss had died down.

New Labour policies turned out to be the wholesale adoption of Thatcherism but, as with all converts, the policies were embraced as a doctrine and without understanding or judgement. Privatisations continued and New Labour became the bitch of big business.

Tony Blair began hobnobbing with the super rich and power went to his head. At the frenzied height of New Labour devotion to hyper-capitalism he tried to introduce super casinos. That a Labour government should consider the massive expansion of gambling in this country when the only people calling for it were greedy American business men beggars belief but by this time he was so far gone he could not see further than the Gordon Brown’s balance sheet.

When George Bush decided to go to war with Iraq Blair’s dragged us in too. The Islamist terrorism unleashed the Big Brother tendency that is never far from the minds of any Labour government. New laws were introduced to detain people without trial, CCTV became almost ubiquitous

The credit crunch brought claims from our leaders that this was a global phenomena that had little to do with their policies ignoring the frequent articles in newspapers such as The Economist describing the dangerous asset price bubble which was being fueled by cheap money and would eventually burst.

When ordinary people protested against the bankers in London the police responded with highly questionable tactics such as kettling and casual violence which may have left one man dead. Yet our leaders supported the outrageous tactics and trotted out the usual platitudes about violent demonstrators.

Luckily the widespread use of video technology by the general public revealed that the violence was mainly perpetrated by the police.

Now we learn that those we trust with the leadership of our country are fiddling their expenses like so many seedy second hand car salesmen.

On The BBC, Radio 4 program Any Questions this week it was suggested that the British people use the upcoming European elections to withhold votes from the major parties. Our leadership on the panel showed the depth of their depravity once again by attempting to scare the public with the spectre of racism and erroneously implying that this meant a vote for the BNP.

Lord Falkner went on to complain that it was a tragedy that New Labour would be judged on the expenses story and that this was a distraction when more important issues were at stake.

Lord Falkner is Talking Bollocks!

There can be no more important issue than whether our leaders are trustworthy. Their policies and promises mean nothing if the are prepared to waive aside their probity and obligations for a few thousand pounds.

While preaching prudence our leaders have led us into the worst economic crisis for decades. They led us into an illegal war that caused the deaths of thousands and severely damaged Britain’s reputation abroad. They continue to introduce ever more draconian laws which erode our civil liberties and they encourage the police to suppress protest using methods not dissimilar to those found in Zimbabwe.

Now we hear that they have been fiddling their expenses.

During the Any Questions program Susan Kramer, MP, suggested that we need a general election. She is right. The British people must be given the chance to decide whether their representatives deserve the confidence and the responsibility with which they are entrusted.

We need a General election now.

But don’t stop there!!!!!

Sign the petition on the Downing Street web site:  

http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/GoToCountryNow/

 

Matt - The Daily Telegraph

Matt - The Daily Telegraph

Santa Barbara Fires – Mum & kids evacuate their home

The following is an account of a friend of mine evacuating her home in Santa Barbara, California.

Vons

Vons

After e-mailing you last, it became a rather nerve racking night Thursday night for me. Apparently everyone is supposed to get a phone call with recorded message informing you if you’re in evacuation warning, or whether you need to evacuate. I had the TV on constantly to try and monitor it, but it was rather confusing as to where it exactly was, as it was all over the hills, and the different reporters were at different spots to the area immediately adjacent to us.

Just before the kids went to bed we watched the hill opposite start on fire and it completely spread, then later in the evening I couldn’t see the flames, or even glow, but the smoke in the air was heavy, even smelled it all in the house.

By now the fire was so much lower on the hill towards the neighbourhoods, that’s why I couldn’t see it anymore. Just after e-mailing you about 2.30am I decided I was too tired to stay up any longer, and was just climbing into bed when thought I heard something faint, ran downstairs and looked out the window to see a police car driving off announcing we were to evacuate immediately – Panic!!!

I had not received any phone calls or warnings, and a few minutes later I would have been fast asleep and certainly not have heard them coming around the neighbourhood. Anyway, got the stuff in the car, kids, dog and box of our 4 pet mice, and a roof rack bag full of clothes, and headed off to the animal shelter to see if they’d take in the dog.
They eventually agreed to take her after a bit of a fuss, as they reckoned they were full. Then we went to the University where the Red Cross had set up a skating rink with beds etc. About 4am by now, and tired, but also rather adrenalined up.

The girls were just great the whole time. They said the scariest part was when they were sat in the car waiting for me to finish packing up the car, and then trying to turn the mains gas off, and the police were still coming around announcing to evacuate immediately.

We saw several people we knew at the University, and managed to find a couple of beds, and got an hour of sleep.
I have to say the Red Cross did a great job. Tables with toiletries for you to help yourself to, food, drinks, Internet, phones and TV’s following the fire. Even cooked egg and sausages for breakfast.

It was after breakfast when we were all sitting there, and a lot of people had left, and we were feeling a little lost, bewildered and homeless that the TV people asked us if we minded being filmed. Quite exciting really. Afterwards I wondered if they’d show any of it, as they usually like to capture dramatic sob stories, or people crying, and I wasn’t really offering either, however, several people, even my uncle in New Zealand, said they saw me on TV. So I’ve been hunting the Internet to find it. If I do, and it’s not too embarrassing will send it on to you.

Anyway, after the interview my friend who lived only about half a mile away from us, who wasn’t evacuated, but under warning, kindly invited us to go over and hang out at hers. We did, and they let us stay there that night too, so we didn’t have to go back to UCSB. We got back into our house Saturday, and all was well, lots of charred leaves on the ground everywhere. I think the girls found it all rather an adventure.

The fire is still on, although they hardly show anything about it on TV anymore, as it’s gone further over the top of the hills away from us. We’re still under warning, I suppose should the winds suddenly start up, which they’re predicting later in the week, and it get out of control again, but I don’t think it’ll come to that.

After I picked the girls up from school today, as most of the roads were open again for access, we drove around to get an idea where the fire actually was in relation to us. It was incredible, you just drive up any of the roads that head up the hill and it’s like a moonscape, all plants and trees burnt down to the ground, just little charred sticks where trees used to be.

Burnt leaves

Burnt leaves

Amidst the barren white ashy terrain, there stands houses dotted about here and there, un-burnt (obviously some weren’t so lucky, about 80 in total with this fire, the last fire just a few months ago, even though it didn’t burn so much area, burnt about 200 houses). There were so many fire-fighters sent to help from all over California, they were able to have at least one fire truck stationed at each house to keep spraying them and saving them from burning. Apparently the fire burnt a 5 mile stretch. The brush on the hills was so dried out and old, now it’s burnt away hopefully there won’t be much fuel for another big fire for several years to come.

 

When we were driving around today we came across Jesusita Lane, where it actually started, they reckon, by someone using some kind of power tool to clear the brush from around the houses. They actually recommend people have a cleared barrier around their properties, so it sounds like an unfortunate accident. They don’t know who it was yet.

Anyway right by here was a large lake, part of a water filtration plant and we watched the helicopters come and fill up before flying off over the back of the hills to douse the fires. They have a long dangling pipe that they dip into the water as they hover and suck up enough water to fill up their tank. Great to watch.

Schools were all back in today, although they made them all have playtime inside, as there’s a lot of loose ash around, even though you can’t see it in the air, it doesn’t take much to stir it up.

Anyway, yesterday I went on-line and registered our home phone number, and both our cell phones to received the emergency alert phone calls, I don’t know why we weren’t on their list already, the phone companies are supposed to supply the police all the numbers. That’s the bit that freaked me out, was what if I never heard their announcements or anything.

Better get off to my nice comfy bed now.

Click here to see an interactive map of the fies in Santa Barbara.

Ducks, Dance, Network Theory, Pricing Models, Insulation, Two bog seats Prescott

A tedious week at work. I reflected on the way the English language has been debased by commercialism when I read the words “Loyalty payment” and “Highly competitive exclusive offer”.

The ducks are still on the pond. The two males can be seen most days and mid week the female waddled out of her hut

2 ducks

2 ducks

and the two males sped after her. A tremendous fight ensued and at first we were unsure what was occurring. It became obvious that one male was earnestly pursuing the female while the other male tried strenuously to fend him off. After a while the female achieved some distance and the two males finished their fight with one chasing the other away. The hierarchy restored the female was left alone and the two males returned to being good buddies. A Pakistani colleague commented: “Just like the America, once their authority is established they want to be your friend”.

I watched an interesting documentary on Network Theory on Tuesday evening. Six degrees of separation and all that.

This year I ensured that I would see some of The Brighton Festival by drawing up a plan and booking in advance. Mostly this has been theatre but I was asked by some friends if I wanted to see some dance and I thought: what the hell, I’ll give it a go.

So on Wednesday evening I saw Aphasiadisiac at The Dome. This was not what I had expected and was inspiring. There was not much that most people would call dancing about it. The performance was created by a guy named Ted Stoffer and performed by a Belgian dance company named Les ballets C de la B.

I know very little about dance so I don’t really have the vocabulary to describe it. I was impressed by the ability of the performers to use their bodies to communicate. I was amazed at their ability to create a mood or a feeling by the choreography. They played the music themselves using a trumpet, a saxophone, drums and an accordion. The music itself was very good and at one particular point the performers all came together and sat and stood in a very tight group of five directly in front of us while they played. I found the proximity disarming and became self conscious. It felt strange to go from being a passive observer to somehow being observed and almost part of the performance.

Other parts were good in different ways. The awkwardness of a couple sitting together was portrayed perfectly through body language and facial expressions. A girl played an instrument and looked around while two of the men ran around as though desperate to remain in the spotlight of her gaze. Extraordinary stuff which opened my eyes to the world of dance. The Youtube vid below is of a different performance.

On Friday British Gas turned up to survey my loft prior to getting it insulated. B&Q are currently doing some very good deals to insulate your loft with parts and labour included for £198.

I began cogitating on how it is not really in the economic interests of the gas company to insulate my loft. It is in their interest to encourage me to consume as much gas as possible while it is in my interest to consume as little as possible while ensuring I am conformably warm.

I read somewhere that companies are much better at cutting their costs than individuals are. This makes sense. Companies makes plans and prepare budgets to control costs whereas most individuals are not so rational.

But panning back a bit and considering climate change and The UK’s dire economic condition it is in the Global Interest and National Interest that I consume as little gas as possible.

So surely we have the pricing model wrong. The model is currently configured so that the agent which is most efficient at controlling consumption (The gas company) actually benefits from excess consumption.

I recall a similar conversation on the subject of taxation. Our politicians tell us we should be saving energy and cutting CO2 emissions yet the greatest part of our taxation is placed on work. Taxation has two effects, firstly and obviously, it raises money to be spent by the government but secondly it deters the activity which is taxed. This has been known for centuries from windows to tobacco.

So the effect of our taxation system is to deter work. Surely we want people to work so why not lift all income tax and place it on petrol? If it were done intelligently I could still afford to drive my 2 litre car 90 miles a day to work. It would just make it painfully clear how much money, and therefore petrol, I am wasting.

It seems to me that there are three entities who can control costs: The seller, the buyer and the government. With conventional pricing models the economic motivation are for the seller to increase sales and the buyer to reduce sales. The government is the third entity and currently pays for services which are deemed communal such as waste disposal.

And waste disposal too has a dodgy pricing model. It is currently in the interest of retailers to bulk our their products with wasteful packaging as this helps to sell more product and the waste disposal costs are bourn by the tax payer. There have been attempts to makes consumers pay for the amount of waste that they produce but the problem with this is that consumers can cheat by fly tipping. Far better to charge the costs of waste disposal as a tax to be paid by retailers.

I have thought for a while that the main deficiency with socialism is the lack of a feedback mechanism. Command economies continue to manufacturer products which consumers do not want and fail to manufacture products which they do want because the production is not influenced by the consumer. Capitalism gets around this problem but the current capitalist model encourages and rewards over production.

I read an article in The Economist a while back about the British aviation engine manufacturer Rolls Royce. This was deemed a successful company because of the innovative pricing structure it had adopted. Rolls Royce does not make it’s profits from the sale of engines and can make a loss on engine sales. Instead it charges it’s customer (the airlines) for engine air time. Each engine is fitted with various computer systems which relay telemetry back to a control centre in Rugby. Engineers can then detected potential problems early and perform preventative maintenance when an aircraft next lands.

This is an excellent idea. Rolls Royce can become a successful engine maker, gain market share and earn greater profits. But at the same time the manufacture of engines is not the driving force. In fact it would be in Rolls Royce’s interest to keep engines airworthy for as long as possible and therefore restrict engine manufacture.

I suggest that we could do with this sort of thinking when designing pricing models for all sorts of goods and services. We still use capitalism but design the system in such as way that production is not the driving force for profits.

On Saturday afternoon I visited The Old Municipal Market to see an artwork by Anish Kapoor entitled The Dismemberment of Jeanne D’Arc

The Dismemberment of Jeanne D'Arc
The Dismemberment of Jeanne D’Arc

Yeh Anish, nice name!

The big blobby bits are the bits I’d seen clips of but I found the big red elipsical hole in the ground most effective. It appeared that Mr. Kapoor had opened up the ground to reveal that beneath the first few inches of dirt the living flesh of the planet Earth had been exposed. The Earth is alive!

On Saturday night I saw another small theatre production named Bane at The Three and Ten in Brighton. This was described as a “One-man comedic film noir parody.” Part thriller, art comedy the single actor played a plethora of characters and pulled it off brilliantly.

No round up of last week can be complete without mentioning the MP expenses scandal currently bubbling away in British politics. Last week The Daily Telegraph revealed that John Prescott had claimed for repair of a broken toilet seat twice. – You couldn’t make it up.

I’m a banana, I’m a banana

Infosec 2009

Infosec 2009

On Thursday I visited an Information Security Exhibition at Earl’s Court. Infosec 2009. Hundreds of stands from various suppliers of information security products including big names like IBM, Cisco etc.
For some time now the trend in the Information Technology industry has been to switch from selling products to selling services. Old fashioned hardware suppliers such as IBM and HP have attempted to turn themselves into 21st century equivalents of business consultancies and indeed some companies have teamed up with business consultancies.
The upshot of this is that the people attending the stands are of little practical use to a potential customer. I walked past several stands with teams of serious, earnest young men viewing the exhibition attendees the way a wolf might view sheep. It is seemingly impossible to approach a stand and discuss their products or services. Instead one’s questions are met with vague industry standard platitudes and buzzwords. The salesmen seem to have little grasp of their brief and continually try to turn the conversation to discovering what your projects are and then pretending to be experts on just that topic. This is usually followed up by a request for a meeting to discuss how they can assist.

The weather was “overcast with occasional sunny spells”. Sitting in a pub at lunchtime I watched the world go by and thought that perhaps London is a beautiful city. People walked past from all over the world, each one a potential friend. Each one a story.

On Saturday I saw a play named “A Month of Sundays” at a pub named the Three and Ten in Brighton. A low budget 4 actor production reminiscent of Brighton Rock. A thriller involving murder and a lost past. The production was notable for a technique to allow the audience dual perspectives on one scene and thought simple this was very effective.

Anish Kapoor is playing a big part in this year’s Brighton festival and on Monday I thought I’d visit a piece entitled C-Curve which was publicised as being at The Chattri. Disliking planning I drove up to Patcham looking for some kind of country house named The Chattri where I imagined the piece to be on display. After a while I found some cars parked next to a field with a sign saying that there was no vehicle access and directing me to walk across a field. After about a hundred yards I rose over the brow of a hill and could see the sculpture and a bunch of people a mile away on top of another hill. – “I see, so that’s the way of it”, I thought and continued on.

C-Curve

C-Curve

I first saw Kapoor’s work in what is now Tate Britain. What appeared to be a slab of rock with an opening directly on to the void of space. He seems to be attracted to illusions and uses polished metal surfaces quite a bit.

Curve is a very large curve of what appears to be polished chrome. The picture of the C-Curve in the brochure showed it positioned in some kind of room reflecting other items in the room but placing it in a field on the top of a hill in Sussex gave it a completely different feel.
Of course we all approached it and looked at out large distorted faces but the overcast sky was quite bright and the C-curve took this in and threw it out again. A child had realised that if he stood in the middle of the piece his face was stretched and his voice reflected back at him. “I’m a banana, I’m a banana”. – Hang on, long faces, talking bollocks, this reminds me of Infosec.

The Chattri

The Chattri

It turns out that The Chattri is a memorial to soldiers from India who died fighting in the first world war and is built on the spot where the bodies of many Sikhs and Hindus were cremated after dieing while in hospital in Brighton.