Back From The Dead!

Okay, so I am not literally back from the dead, that really would be something to write about! It just feels like it, certainly in terms of my absence from posting on my site, as it has been almost three years now! And lets face it, there has certainly been plenty to comment about. Brexit, deathly pandemics, world leaders that make the Three Stooges look like the Brains Trust and not to mention the economic melt-down of the free world. Whatever next, war in Europe! Oh yeah, there’s that as well.

All in all, it has been quite a crappy time and it doesn’t look like getting better any time soon. Oh well, there is always emigrating to Mars to look forward to (and by that I mean the chocolate factory in Slough of course!!).

For those of you that have read any of my content here, you will know that I have opinions on such things and I’m not afraid to share them. I like to think that I apply a little common sense and rationale to my “solutions”, even if some of them are a little tongue in cheek. As we seem to be hurtling towards the abyss with Armageddon lurking like the grim reaper, the onus seems to be put more and more on the populace to sort things out. I have had a lot of thoughts on things such as climate change, pollution, economic disparity, social inequality and technology’s hand in the downturn of our society and over the weeks I will tackle each one individually.

Next week, I am hoping to start with a fairly small, innocuous topic – IT’S TIME TO ABOLISH MONEY!!!

A little ambitious and unworkable? Maybe not! Not so much down with capitalism, more, let’s see an end to consumerism.

Thanks as always for reading so far, and stay tuned for my thoughts on how abolishing money could instantly solve many of our current problems!

Don’t Ask for Whom The Bell Tolls. It Tolls For The BBC.

A while ago, the news channels ran a feature about the salaries that were being paid by the BBC. At the time, they were highlighting the disparity between what men were being paid, versus what women were receiving. I was more interested in the disparity between what “entertainers” were being paid, compared to the incomes of the rest of us mere mortals.

You can read my thoughts about the subject here.

Lo and behold and the topic is being revisited. This time though, the issue is in connection to the over-75’s being made to pay for their TV licenses. Understandably, there is an outcry as public feeling is very strong. After all, didn’t a very wise man once say, a society can be judged by how it looks after its children and the elderly.

General opinion is such that most people are advising the over-75’s to refuse to pay for their licenses. After all, the courts are unlikely to lock-up thousands and thousands of pensioners. A noble sentiment, but a tad scarier in practice. Especially if you are the one that is facing possible imprisonment. In actuality, there is a much simpler solution. Please bear with me.

We live in an age where the way we used to watch television has changed radically. No longer do we have to plan ahead, schedule watching our favourite programs and then wait days for them to come on. Only to miss half of the program, because we have forgotten that it is actually on! No, everything now is on demand. We pay to stream programs live onto our screens. And not just TV screens either. We watch TV on laptops, our tablets and our smartphones. No longer are we constrained to hunker down in the room that contains our telly in order to watch our preferred programs. Now we can pretty much watch them anywhere that we receive a WiFi signal.

So the answer then I hear you cry! We should all write to the BBC and give them notice of the cessation of our payment of the license fee. We should instruct them that we no longer wish to receive their signal as we have other means by which to watch TV. This way, it won’t just be the over-75’s that are refusing to pay the license fee, but all of us, and with a legitimate reason. We are not just refusing to pay, we have also given notice that we no longer wish to receive their service.

It would ring the death knell for the BBC. Overnight they would be crippled and their incoming revenue would be turned off like a tap. In turn, this would force them to re-think the whole way they are funded. But this would mean advertising on the BBC! Never! Sacrilege! Not necessarily, there are other ways. Fairer ways that would mean that those that can afford it would pay and not those that deserve to be looked after in the autumn of their life.

But that, as they say, is another story. One to which I may have inferred to earlier on!

The Cloud. The Sky Darkens.

I had an interesting conversation with someone the other day concerning my previous post, The Cloud. Virtual Computing Or Pie In The Sky. From their point of view, the cloud was a great idea. It gave them the opportunity to access their information from anywhere, plus, they could store huge amounts of data without having to go and buy expensive storage devices.

Point taken, you can’t argue with that. However, it’s important to understand just why the “cloud” was developed in the first place. In the good-old-days, IT companies used to manufacture hardware and this was the mainstay of their business. They weren’t too bothered about operating systems and software as this was someone else’s concern. Plus, all of the big “meaty” computers, such as mainframe and Unix based servers had their own operating environments. However, as PC’s that were once deemed as being for home use only, became faster and more reliable, companies started to turn to these instead.

As a result, computer server manufacturers started to see a squeeze on their margins. What were once their cash-cows, were now turning into money losers. As a result, the manufacturers turned to other avenues in order to generate revenue. They started to work closely with software integrators as well as develop their own in-house software. Maintenance and service plans were pushed with gusto. They soon started to realise that getting their customers to subscribe to products and services was the way forward.

The hardware became the loss-leader. The device to get a stranglehold on their customers in order to get them to sign up to an endless stream of products that were vital to the running of their everyday business. Software licenses, maintenance plans, disaster recovery services, asset management programs, etc., etc. The list goes on. If only they didn’t have to manufacture hardware at all! Genius!!

And so the cloud was born. One manufacturer in particular built huge data centres capable of housing and storing massive amounts of data. The investment was huge; millions and millions of dollars, but it didn’t matter. They were manufacturing the hardware anyway. The difference was, they would only have to do it the once. They could then sell “virtual computing” to their customers. All a company would need would be terminals on desks and a decent internet connection. You were then good to go.

What’s the problem then, I hear you ask. It’s the commercial world that are paying for these data-centres and we get to reap the benefits. Not quite. What happens when the data centres fill up, or it starts costing too much money to maintain them. Someone will have to pay. Imagine, all of your music, your films, your treasured photographs, not to mention your important data, all held remotely. Someone has the power to pull the plug on all your “stuff”, and guess what. It’s not you! If you get asked to pay, you’re not going to have too much of a choice.

If you think this won’t happen, then you’re wrong. It already is. There are a number of photo hosting sites that have scrapped their free option, or are at least looking at massively restricting how many photos you can store before you have to pay. You know how it works. Once one company gets away with it, they’ll all be doing it.

So, if your happy to keep your head in the clouds, then fine. Me, I keep everything backed up on hard drives, flash drives and USB sticks. I even have a ton of photos saved on DVD’s. Remember them!

The Cloud. Virtual Computing or Pie In The Sky.

You used to get asked, “Have you saved your work?” That’s changed to, “Have you backed up to the cloud?” As you know, it’s important to save your work, you don’t want to lose everything. But are saving and backing up to the cloud the same thing?

You would be forgiven for thinking they were. Until you actually start to consider what the “cloud” actually is. “Duh! Do you think I’m stupid”, I hear you cry. “The cloud is just a remote, virtual computer that allows you to log into your data from wherever you have internet access”.

Yeah, that’s kind of right, but there’s more to it than that. “There always is with you”, I hear you sigh! For those of you that have read some of my previous ramblings, you may have guessed that I am involved with the world that is the Technology of everything Information based. I have basically sold IT to the world for over twenty years and have seen many things come and go.

A while back, when the cloud was still in its infancy, I was asked to attend a meeting where my customer was being sold the concept of migrating everything they did onto the cloud. In that meeting, I sat and listened as we were told that the cloud was the future. Companies would no longer need to be tied into lengthy and expensive contracts in order to maintain their IT infrastructure. No more complicated maintenance plans. No more worrying about whether you had the right level of software, or whether you had applied the latest patch. All of this was taken care of for you. And, at the fraction of the cost of doing it all in-house. It sounded just too good to be true. It was.

I was sceptical. Whilst initially, there did seem to be cost savings, I was worried about the loss of control. Currently, if my customer’s system went down, they had a contract in place to ensure that had a workable solution within a given period of time. The cost of this service was fixed and if the provider tried to raise that cost, my customer could shop around for a better deal elsewhere. After much research, I advised my customer against going the cloud route. I felt for them, it wasn’t the right solution. The information they held and the customers they dealt with were too sensitive in my opinion. What do I know though? They chose to migrate everything to the cloud.

Fast forward a few years and I receive a panic call from my customer. They are having terrible problems accessing their systems and it has brought their whole company to a halt. It gets worse though. On contacting the company who now host their systems, they are told that they are experiencing “financial problems” and in order for my customer to have their systems turned back on, they would have to pay a fee. This was quite a considerable sum of money. Of course, my customer refused and they informed the relevant authorities.

Apparently the hosting company were in dire straits and in order to try and raise some cash in order to buy their way out of trouble, they had held a number of their customers to ransom. Eventually, the hosting company were prosecuted, the directors were heavily fined and the company was dissolved. The problem is, the impact that this had on my customer was huge. They did finally get their systems turned back on, but it took days. The loss of business that it caused them, almost took my customer down as well.

It could have been worse though. Worse! How could it possibly be worse though, I hear you cry. Well, the hosting company could have said nothing and just closed up and my customer would have lost everything. And it wouldn’t have just been my customer, it would have been countless other companies as well. Maybe even yours, or the company that you work for.

So, the next time you are backing up to the cloud, or flicking through all the pictures that you have stored remotely, just ask yourself this. Are you really happy to have someone else look after all of your data and personal details? But, more importantly, do you have the ransom money to pay when it all goes wrong!?

Now You See Me!

My phone keeps pinging me a message that my photos on my iCloud account cannot be accessed. Well that’s just fine, as I don’t want them to be accessed. And anyway, I don’t keep any photos in the cloud.

I remember years ago, when a certain smartphone producer announced that their phones would be able to “recognise” faces when taking photos. We were told that this would be help us to take better pictures and it would eliminate blurry images, not to mention the dreaded red-eye. On the whole, most people accepted this and thought it was a good idea. I was left scratching my head. Why would I want my phone to recognise faces, when I was perfectly able to achieve this task for myself. After all, I have been doing this all my life. My brain is programmed to recognise human faces and most importantly, I have one myself!

Then came face recognition software. Now, instead of coming under the close scrutiny of a border guard at the airport, we were asked instead to stare into a small camera. We would wait until some unknown entity decided whether we were a renowned international terrorist, or just an everyday citizen jetting off for a two-week holiday in Magaluf. I must be the former, as I’ve never even considered going to Magaluf!

Next, we learn that face recognition software has progressed to such an extent, that they are planning to roll it out in the retail industry. Not only will it be able to identify potential shoplifters, it will be able to recognise repeat shoppers and thereby predict that persons shopping habits and preferences. We are also told that this software will recognise us to such an accurate degree, it will be able to greet us personally on entering the shop. “Good morning Mr Smith and how are you toady?” Sound like some scary science-fiction movie. It does to me!

I recently had my profile locked on a well known social media site, because I refused to upload a photo of myself. Not a great problem, as I rarely use the site anyway. I did however contact them to say that I valued my privacy and I didn’t want “strangers” seeing who I was. They replied, reassuring me that it was fine, the photo wouldn’t be visible to all and sundry and it was only for their own security profile. I did point out that they were the very sort of stranger that I didn’t want seeing my picture. They failed to respond and my profile remains locked. Oh, well!

My point? I don’t want my image stored on various databases for other people to make assumptions and decisions about what I may, or may not do. Leaving aside the conspiracy theories that these images are being stored for nefarious reasons, it is conceivable that someone at some point could misuse people’s photographs. As accurate as they claim the software to be, it still can’t identify between twins. It can’t take into account someone’s face being partially blocked by a hat or a scarf and it still has problems with fixing points on a moving image. You also have to consider that there are only a certain number of face “types” and you can start to appreciate how easy it will be for mistakes to be made.

So, are we being watched? Probably. Is someone gathering as many images on everyone as possible? Quite possibly. Is it for the good of the population as a whole? Of course it’s not! No. As far as I’m concerned, the word-wide-web will just have to get along without any photos of yours truly. There is not a single image of me on the internet anywhere and that is how I intend it to remain. Anyway, no one would want to look at my photo. It would scare small children and curdle milk at twenty paces!

Say What You Mean & Mean What You Say

It seems that whatever we say these days seems to offend someone. Everything and everyone has been identified and labelled and that is what they must be referred to as.

What about freedom of speech though? Didn’t somebody once say, that for speech to be truly free, someone will end up taking offence. That’s all well and good, I hear you say, but we don’t want to encourage hate-speak. Hate-speak, just what is that? It sounds like something straight out of a George Orwell novel. Yet another label to bend and guide what we do and don’t say.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that we should put up with extreme opinions, just because it is free speech. The incitement of hatred and violence is never justified in the pursuit of voicing an opinion. But surely, the censorship of such opinions lies in our hands and not in the politicians and the policy setters.

If somebody is spouting off about some nonsense, just walk away. Don’t read that blog, or post. Delete that email, or article. Starve these things of the publicity they crave and they will quickly fade away. Instead, support the things you believe in and that mirror your own opinions.

After all, they are only words. How many times have we heard a comedian tell a joke that is “politically incorrect”, (don’t you just hate that term!), only to be told, “it’s all right, that person, is Jewish/black/disabled”, (delete as applicable). Does that make it okay though? If a person in a wheelchair tells a joke about someone with no legs, should we laugh? Of course we should! They’re a comedian and they’ll sell more tickets if we all laugh at their jokes! On a serious note though, surely it’s down to the intent. We know that the words they use are not meant to offend and that is the key.

If someone were to call you thick, I hope that you would be offended. However, if a waiter asked you if you wanted a thick steak, you wouldn’t think anything of it. It’s all down to the word’s intention.

So, in conclusion, should there be absolute freedom of speech. Of course there should! But the caveat should be, we should choose our words carefully and we should mean every one of them. We should also be prepared to suffer the consequences of them. Certain figures in history have done just this and have gone on to make an enormous difference. People like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela chose their words very carefully. They stood by them and in the end, hopefully, the will surely make a difference.

As the saying goes, talk is cheap, but speech should be truly free.

The Mastaba House. A Gratuitous Plug.

A close family member has recently written a book and after much persuasion and cajoling, they have decided to publish it. I had made the decision not to push or advertise any products on my blog, but decided to make an exception with this one. Well, it is family! I’ve cut and pasted the “blurb” about the story-line, but if you click on the image to the right, this will take you straight to the amazon store.

“At a séance, Danny receives a curious message. Just three words. Car. Red. Fire. Danny dismisses it as nonsense. After all, his car is silver. The following morning whilst out running, Danny passes a small forest beyond a gate. In a clearing he can see a brick building, no larger than a garden shed. It looks completely out of place, so Danny climbs the gate to investigate.

An alarm rings and Danny wakes in his bed. His running clothes lie unworn and it is clear that Danny hasn’t left his room. It must have been a dream, albeit, an extremely realistic one. Danny’s day continues to unravel. At work, his pass won’t allow him access and he is unable to log into his computer. As he tries to rectify the issues, he is told that his details are no longer on the company database. Later on, his bank and credit cards are refused and he is told that he doesn’t hold an account with the bank. He feels as though his life is slowly being erased. When his car won’t start, he calls his friend for a lift. They are involved in a terrible accident and whilst Danny and his friend escape, the car explodes and through the flames, Danny thinks he sees someone. The car is red.

Danny confides in his best friend Jackie and she insists on seeing the forest. They discover that the building does exist and after some research they learn that it’s called Mastaba House and is owned by the secretive Genesis Foundation. When Jackie suddenly disappears, Danny is convinced that all of these events are intertwined. As he sets out to find his friend, Danny is approached by Derek Stevens. Claiming to have seen Jackie, the mysterious old man tells Danny that he used to work for The Genesis Foundation and that he can help.

As the two men search for Jackie, Danny learns that he has a secret. An artefact left by a distant relative may hold the key to everything that is going on. Will Danny find his friend and in doing so, learn the secret hidden deep below Mastaba House. Or will The Genesis Foundation beat him to it. “

Please take a look, you can even download and read it for free for a limited period of time. And if you like it, leave a comment. I know it will be greatly appreciated.

I Don’t Think We Belong Here.

Have you ever wondered why the planet we live on is so hostile? I’m not talking about being a victim of crime, or being attacked by wild animals. Nor am I talking about cutting in the line at the post office on pension day. No, I’m talking about everyday things. Situations that we should be very well adapted for, especially bearing in mind how long we have lived on this planet. Surely, evolution should have equipped us with the fundamental abilities to survive living on planet earth.

You would think so? But take just going outside for example. Especially on a hot sunny day. We wear sunglasses and slather our bodies in protective lotion. We are all too aware of the dangers of not doing either of these things. Exposure to more than thirty minutes of direct sunlight will see our skin turn red and burn. Prolonged exposure will put us at risk from skin melanoma and cancer. That can’t be right can it? The planet relies on the sun’s rays in order to keep the ambient temperature at the correct level to grow and sustain life. Apart from human beings apparently.

And relating to the temperature, is our body fat. Without getting too technical, our bodies produce two types of fat. One good and the other bad (I told you it wouldn’t be technical!). Our body produces the bad type of fat very easily at the average sort of temperatures that we live in. If the planet’s temperature was ten degrees or so higher, our bodies would produce more of the good fat and metabolise the bad stuff more easily. Not great for the environment of course, but more beneficial for our general health. We all now how bad it is to be carrying too much of the wrong sort of body fat.

And let’s not get started on the food we eat. How many people are allergic or intolerant to wheat? Wheat! The very food stuff that is supposed to be the staple of life. Growing wheat transferred human beings from nomadic hunter-gathers into land cultivating farmers. Arguably, farming wheat was instrumental in helping us to develop larger social groups that spread to become settlements. Which in turn, lead to the formation of towns and cities. Yet, a vast number of us are no longer able to eat the very thing that helped us to evolve into the society we are now. And this is just the tip of iceberg.

We seem to be allergic to more and more things as time goes by. Life-saving Epi-pens, once unheard of, are now common place in schools. Teachers now have bags filled with the things, each one labelled with the name of the child it is intended for. Waiting to inject every bloating, convulsive victim at the onset of a deadly peanut invasion!

The more you think about it, the more you come to the conclusion that we appear to be mere interlopers on this planet. Just a look at our own circadian rhythms seem to support this hypothesis. Whilst most animals seem to be in harmony with the world around them, we do not seem able to cope without, clocks , compasses or maps. Well, that’s just down to advances in technology, I hear you cry. We have devices that can track these things for us. Devices that do a much better job.

Then, how do you explain astronauts? A recent study showed that astronauts own “body clocks” (circadian rhythms) followed a 24-hour cycle. However, after a short while in space, this re-calibrated to follow a 24.9 hour cycle. Doesn’t sound a great deal, but that’s almost a whole hour per day. That’s an extra fifteen days per year. How does that work?

So what’s the answer? I don’t know, is the only reply I have for you. The more you look into it, the more it seems as though we haven’t adapted very well to living on this planet. Does that mean we were actually once from another planet? I’m not sure. But, the next time that you feel alone and a bit of an outsider, maybe there’s a reason for it. It’s because you are!

And Yet, We Can Put A Man On The Moon.

We’ve come a long way haven’t we? The human race I mean. Later this year it will be the 50th anniversary of the moon landings. Half-a-century on from that amazing achievement and there’s talk of firing nano-rockets into space via laser beams in order to explore neighbouring galaxies. Wow! Doesn’t that just blow your mind!

From picking up rocks and stones and fashioning them into rudimentary tools, we now have computers so intelligent, they are capable of doing most things that human beings can do. From the humble wheel, we now have planes that can jet from continent to continent in mere hours. Magnetic levitation trains that can travel at speeds of up to 375 mph (603 kph). We now understand our own physiology down to the genome level. So much so, we are now able to identify the very gene that ages us.

Our understanding of ourselves and the world around us has never been higher. The advancement we have made in the last hundred years is absolutely unprecedented. Or is it?

And yet we are flummoxed by the most mundane, everyday things. Here in the UK, the country grinds to a halt if we have a light smattering of snow, or if leaves happen to fall on the train tracks. We are unable to buy a few simple grocery items, because the self-serve till can’t differentiate between a carrier bag and an empty space. People are no longer able to change a light bulb, because there isn’t an app to show us how to do it.

We are still unable to cure the common cold and in trying to do so, we have almost made ourselves impervious to modern antibiotics. We cannot generate the energy that we require to sustain ourselves without destroying the very planet that we live upon. We are unable to ensure that all children reach early adulthood with the educational fundamentals they require in order to be independent. And we are unable to guarantee that our elderly and infirm will be cared for and looked after in a manner to which they deserve.

The most frightening thing about all of this though, is that it doesn’t look likely that we are going to get a handle on these things anytime soon. Or maybe it’s a case that we don’t want to, that we aren’t even trying to fix these things. After all, if you cure the common cold, the pharmaceutical companies will lose millions selling us next to useless remedies. And why develop cheap sustainable energy when you can rape the environment and turn it into billions of dollars instead. In the future, it will be someone else’s problem. As for the young and the old, screw ’em! The young are our next generation of workers and slaves and the old are of no use to us any more.

Oh yes, we’ve come a long way all right. We have turned billions of people into drones, so that a few people can be unimaginably rich. We should be so proud!

The Robots Are Coming! It’s the End of the World!!

Have you ever been with friends and someone has asked one of those abstract questions to engage everyone in a light-hearted debate. You know the sort of thing, who would win a fight, a shark, or a gorilla. What power would you have if you were a superhero? And the old favourite, just how will the world end.

We used to worry about nuclear holocaust being the primary cause of bringing about Armageddon. Then came climate change. The world would end in some sort of cataclysmic event due to the pollution of the planet. Carbon dioxide would heat the atmosphere up to such a degree, the ice caps would melt causing huge tidal waves and tsunamis. Now people talk about super-bugs wiping out millions of people, due to our overuse of antibiotics. In the future, a simple cut will be enough to induce sepsis and there will be no way of fighting it.

All plausible, and each one is a genuine threat, but ask the so-called “experts”, what they think will be the real cause of our demise and opinion is pretty much shared. A robot uprising. Or, more accurately, artificial intelligence will get to such a point, that computers will be able to make and program even more powerful computers. At some point, their logic will tell them that there is no use for humans and it is then we will be eradicated. It’s the old joke. The factory of the future will be completely automated with no need for people. The only living creatures in the factory will be an old man and a dog. The man is there to feed the dog and the dog is there to make sure the man doesn’t touch anything!

All quite funny, but there is a serious side to the whole thing. Recently, scientists designed two robots, two chatbots, to talk to each other via the internet. The aim was to see if each chatbot could convince the other that they were actually a real person. The program ran for a while, before the scientists pulled the plug on the whole thing. Everything had been going well, until someone noticed that the transcript of the chatbot’s conversation was nothing but nonsense. It was then that someone realised that the chatbot’s had devised their own language. The problem was, no one knew what the hell the chatbots were talking about! Scary stuff!!

Personally, I don’t think it will be AI that finally kills off the human-race. No, I don’t think it will be global warming, or superbugs either. All these things are just the effects. The real cause is us. Human beings, people, mankind. We will be the cause of our own downfall. Without us, there would be no global warming. Without our dependence on drugs, we wouldn’t have created bacteria that we are unable to treat. And if it wasn’t for our desire to make our lives “easier”, to make things quicker and more efficient, we wouldn’t be rushing headlong into the abyss that is artificial intelligence.

But don’t say that we weren’t warned, because we were. Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have both given their opinions of the very subject. Indeed, it was the former that advised that we only have about one hundred years left to do something about climate change. At that point, if it continues to get worse, we will either have to leave the planet, or stay and die.

Still, we don’t have to really worry about being drowned in a cataclysmic flood of biblical proportions. That’s just nonsense. The robot army will  have killed us all by then!!