Sunday, January 31, 2010

Times when I feel old

A few days I was thinking at an event how I was beginning to feel slightly above the average age, and i commented on this to someone.  I justified this with these beauties from my past:
  1. As a child I can clearly remember (whilst living in a London suburb), the milkman delivering by horse and cart.  Further he lived in the next street with a stable instead of a garage, and it didn't seem odd!
  2. Our house was not centrally heated, we had coal fires in the 2 main living rooms, electric radiators (when we were ill) in the bedroom, and in the bathroom - a paraffin heater.  The fuel was purchased every now and then when the lorry came round, and kids and neighbours would queue up to fill the jerrycan.
  3. And i do swear i remember a Frenchman on a bike selling onions.  I do know i remember thinking "it's a long way to go back and forth to get more onions".  never occured to my young self that there might be a lorry round the corner!
I got a rather surprised look!

I know i'm not that old but a lot has changed in only a few decades.  I quite enjoy remembering such different times - how about these happy memories:
  • Black and White TV
  • only 2 channels on TV
  • Just the one phone in the house, and the GPO taking weeks or months to install it
  • the test of BST in the winter, and walking to school with free reflective armbands
  • the continent of Europe being so far away
what are yours?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Human Rights and Asimov

There's an awful lot of stuff written about Human Rights in this country. The UK Government has enshrined them in law, and there's regularly a load of tosh about them, but also some genuine concerns.

Most of these concerns rotate around people being able to exercise their rights without a concomitant sense of responsibility. Things like a killer being released from gaol but not being deported (despite various promises from government at the time), because this might infringe their human rights when they arrive.

I think the answer is quite simple. In Asimov’s Robot series he created and spent a lot of time considering the fundamental three laws of robotics:
  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm
  2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

You can read more here: Asimov's Robotic Laws on Wikipedia

But, whilst you do, please note the creation at a later time, of a zeroth Law

  • a robot must not merely act in the interests of individual humans, but of all humanity

This principle could easily be applied to Human Rights. Everyone can have their human rights, but not at the cost of the community’s human rights. Thus we can be protected from people who invoke Human Rights without having a care for their social responsibilities.


Or have I missed something?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Thank the Victorians for our PC's

Happy Geek tweeted a week or two ago about this article Thank the Victorians for our PC.  I noted it at the time, and wanted to go into more details, but frankly I've not had the time to put into it.  So briefly, have a look - we can thank them for:
  • The analytical engine
  • The computer program
  • Boolean logic
  • Data transmission
  • Radio communication
Just where would we be without those?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A day in Bradford

You know it's been a good day overall when faced with a 3 hour or so drive late at night in the dark and rain, you crack on, don't stop, and enjoy the drive home (and beat the SatNav prediction by 23 minutes to boot !)

Yesterday was the Black Marble Tech Day;. It was their 9th or so, but my first. I'd decided to go because:
  • Eileen Brown was presenting on Social Media in the evening
  • They were attempting to summarise the current Microsoft Wave in just one morning
  • There were a lengthier session on Azure, a thing in which I have some interest, but I thought a non-Microsoft centred (but Microsoft involved) presentation would be interesting
  • And finally, but no less importantly, I would get a chance to hook up the night before with our friend Mark who I've not seen for a while.
So, the morning session was ambitious to say the least, one slide showed in detail the product mix at Microsoft and the goal was go through each area. Currently the slides are not posted, but I hope to link here later. Suffice to say that the icons and text were pretty damn small, and the product mix extensive. That gave me pause for thought on what they would manage to squeeze in. The whole could easily have been turned over to just this one presentation.

What really puts the ambition into perspective is if you take just one of Microsoft's new products from last year. Windows Server 2008 R2. Microsoft have released a Feature Components Diagram, but it's 2.5MB and you probably haven't got a printer format large enough to make it readable! On my 30" screen I can read 1/8th of this chart at a time. So someone bright spark put it onto Seadragon and this works well - it's 13,122 x 7,188 pixels.

So, my point - if just 1 product's new feature set charts needs to be printed A0, what hope has a presented to spin round the entire business platform for Microsoft in just a few hours? To be blunt, none. But I was pleasantly surprised at the presentation - it went through shedloads of information in an informative way, and led me to think a bit more about a few clients and projects I'm involved with (and inevitably I also came up with about another 20 major projects to kick off in the home office).

Lunch was an absolute delight. One of the best I've had at an event for ages. Some companies try so hard to be fancy and impressive. Most of the time, I just want a couple of good sandwiches, made with proper bread. They came up trumps!
The afternoon was dedicated to Azure. BM and Microsoft speakers discussed what's happening with Azure, new business models, and a number of case studies which did more to convince me of some of the benefits - these were specific "I need computing power, and I need it now" examples where, with some process re-engineering, the companies could truly utilise what's on offer.

However, there are still some major issues for me with cloud computing:statutory duties for data protection are a deep concern
  • statutory duties for data protection are a deep concern
  • robust geo-location of your data
  • decent penalties for cloud failure
  • the ability to check out as well as check into the cloud
For me, though, we need a major cloud failure (and I don't mean Google Docs doing down for a few hours, or the Sidekick Fiasco. When a major cloud player goes bust I will watch with interest how the user community makes the transition elsewhere, and how the industry supports them. Only after such an event will things mature.

Then finally, in the evening slot Eileen Brown gave a 1 hour talk on using "Using Digital Marketing and Social Media to Build and Maintain your Online Brand". I came to this from a couple of angles - despite the time I've known of and known Eileen, I'd never seen her present, and I was interested to see how my sub-optimal use of Social Media could be improved.

After the hour, I'd emailed myself 10 or so "urgent" things to do. That's close to a record for me! I've got some really useful ideas buzzing around my head now.

Oh, and of course, it meant I spent a day in God's Own Country !!

Updated 30/01/10: Oops, sorry some typos crept, and I've corrected those.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bill McLaren RIP 1923-2010

I grew up listening Bill's voice all over the (then) Five Nations rugby. There was always massive disappointment for me when the commentator was someone else. Even for England v Scotland games where my fierce English pride could flourish in 'just a game'. His impartiality was a wonder to hear.

He kept a sensible view of the match rather than scathing comments about players, rules, decisions etc and was an education as I grew up, and a pleasure as an adult.

So I was surprised at how saddened I felt when I heard of his death today. Eighty-six is a pretty good innings, so I cannot complain of a man taken young; but an icon of my youth, and of rugby is gone.

I remember well Rory Bremner's first appearance on my TV - he 'did' Bill's voice to a tee. No-one did it before (or since I think), and it was done with affection. I knew then that a) someone shared my perception, and b) Rory would become a star.

Bye Bill

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My first day on the bombe…

Last week was my introduction to the Bombe in Bletchley Park. I had volunteered last year to be a demonstrator and I was going there to find out more, and also for John H who ran the rebuild project to check me out and gain confidence that I might be up to it – a mutual interview as it were.

My first challenge was to get there, having woken early I looked out on a whiteout, snow had reached East Anglia again, and there were a good few inches of snow on the ground, and it was settling well. I live in a very rural area, and there would be no gritted roads for some distance. Driving a powerful rear wheel drive car would also add some extra fun into the equation :-). At least I had fully de-iced the car the day before so that I could get away fairly quickly!

In the end I convinced myself that the weather would not deteriorate and set off early into the falling snow. The next hour saw me travel all of 2 miles as all traffic seemed to have come to a halt in our area, so I went ‘off-piste’ as it were and got to the gritted main roads and then got to BP only about ½ hour later than expected.

I met up with John H, Mike and Paul - 3 stalwarts of the Bombe project. First up was coffee (very welcome!), and then we covered H&S issues – the conversation went along the lines of
“been electrocuted?”
“yup (shows scar on thumb), full mains for 5-10 seconds right hand to left and left with back injury (spondylolisthesis if you are interested) to prove it. Oh and I’m sufficiently risk averse to have this in my pocket (holds up snow/ice scraper for car)”
“so you’ll be sensible around 200V DC then… …now this is the instruction sheet for starting the Bombe, let’s start”
OK, so I abbreviated, paraphrased, and been a bit facetious.
But H&S is taken seriously on the project in the practical environment so we don’t need a nanny state approach to things!!

So then it was time to run the Bombe. The Bombe rebuild project was more an engineering project than anything else so as a computer graduate and geek, rather than an engineer I come to the project with a different focus.

The conversation we had around just 1 A4 sheet of detailed instructions is lengthy as the geek in me comes out and pursues different angles and more than 1 cul-de-sac; but we get through it all and I finally push the last button and it’s running!!! The 13 year old in me was completely satisfied and delighted, and grinning away, although I try to convey a quiet satisfaction externally. We stop the machine, and I discover my placement of the wheels was not precise enough and we have had “slippage”. We fixed that by throwing the special switch which speeds the Bombe back to ZZZ and then stops. I reposition the wheels and things then work fine.

At about this point some visitors came through and were asked (not my me!) if they wanted to see it running - carefully following my instructions again I did my first live (as it were) demonstration. It worked as it should, and this time did not slip – hurrah!

We switched off and then I throw the instructions into reverse and shutdown and dis-assemble my part of the Bombe.

Well that went well!!

So we went off to see Kelsey Griffin and thence to lunch in Hut 4.

On returning to the Bombe, we spent some time looking at the demonstration ‘cut down’ Bombe which is being built so that visitors can see a much smaller machine running on demand (and without the need for a demonstrator) in the same way as the real thing. This will be a great addition to the exhibition as the noise and movement makes the Bombe so tangible rather than a boring static box of tricks. There are a number of engineering issues, and I could not add much to what was going on, but I did enjoy the discussion about whether to move a component (or not) that ended with the question “Do you like hospital food?”. The component stayed where it was :-)

To get back on track with education I then went into the booth to view the splendid 3D presentation on the Enigma machine and the decryption work at BP. If you go, don’t miss it.

The final part to the day’s training was to spend some more time with John going through ‘menus’. During the war the cryptographers came up with cribs which offered clues to settings of the Enigmas in use with a particular code, and this resulted in a diagram of letters with connections between them. These are commonly shown in books, but I have always found some difficulty in understanding what went on (getting to them from the crib seems easier somehow).

John then very patiently went through a sample menu, and I then realised that the books and documentation I had read to date simply did not explain how much intellectual effort the Wrens who ran the Bombes went through to turn the menu into a practical wiring assembly. There’s a really complex set of decisions and wiring layouts to plan so that the menu can be turned into a Bombe run and thus reveal potential settings for the Enigma used for the original transmission. With each Bombe run taking a maximum of 12-13 minutes, there was not much time to plan the next run if it was not already prepared.

I’d like to think that sometime in the future I’ll fully understand all this, and be able to put it all together into something more publishable for the team.

Additionally the computer/maths graduate in me think there’s probably an algorithm in the process to be developed so that turning a menu into practical wiring would be semi or even fully automatic! Maybe 2012 :-)

With that we were done, and after a brief chat with Kelsey again, I hit the road and finally made it home. As I said on twitter on the day, that’s the highest bandwidth learning I’ve done since University days!


Bombe rebuild project - more information Bletchley Park is well worth a visit if you are anywhere near Milton Keynes, and for the techies amongst you it also houses
The National Museum Of Computing where both the Colossus rebuild (the world’s first computer), and Witch (the world’s oldest complete computer).

If you want to get involved with the Bombe project then contact Kelsey on twitter, or via the webpages mentioned above

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

King Crimson 5.1 DTS remasters

Last I spent an enjoyable amount of time listening to the 40th anniversary remasters instead of working. I tweeted as I went through them, and thought the tweets would make a different 'review' of them so:

Wed Jan 06 11:48:24: King Crimson 40th remasters arrived yesterday, the 5.1 DTS version of Red is currently shaking the snow off the roof :-)))))
Wed Jan 06 11:56:25: RT @timbo_baggins: @pjbryant I KNEW you were a fecking hippy ... -) <-- LOL enough to overshadow Fripp on Red Nightmare :-)))))
Wed Jan 06 11:58:43: RT @HD41117: Ohhhh I'd like to hear that! Fabulous. <- snow or :-)
Wed Jan 06 12:15:55: King Crimson, Starless, 5.1 DTS surround, very loud. BLISS. so much detail. Fripp just in front of me, Bruford's cymbal on my right shoulder
Wed Jan 06 12:18:13: Starless, 5.1 DTS guitar solo starts, Fripp moves to my right shoulder, Batterie moves stage front. Bass just everywhere, crescendo 1 & all
Wed Jan 06 12:21:17: Starless 5.1 DTS fecking hell 2nd CRESCENDO goosebumps all over, guitars fighting across the room. GO AND BUY THIS NOWWWW
Wed Jan 06 12:24:11: Starless 5.1 DTS finale - all out war around the room, and then final note fades, it's a whole new album.

In The Court Of The Crimson King
Wed Jan 06 12:27:42: @sgjsolutions sorry steve, better look away now ITCOTCK now in DTS.
Wed Jan 06 12:30:39: @HD41117 no, it's 40th anniversary box set. full 5.1 DTS or MLP 5.1 lossless dvd and mlp lossless stereo on 1 disk 24 bit, 48-96KHz
Wed Jan 06 12:32:17: In The Court Of The Crimson King DTS 5.1 - 21st Century Schizoid Man Robert's an althetic chap, crash chords sequencing around the room.
Wed Jan 06 12:34:20: ITCOTCK DTS 5.1 - 21st Century Schizoid Man Greg Lake dead ahead having taken singing lessons from the Daleks!!!
Wed Jan 06 12:38:09: ITCOTCK DTS 5.1 - I Talk To The Wind everythings gone breathy & beautful noodling Fripp just ahead, then descending plucks on right shoulder
Wed Jan 06 12:42:22: ITCOTCK DTS 5.1 - Epitaph begins with beautiful warming all enveloping swell of sound.
Wed Jan 06 12:44:03: ITCOTCK DTS 5.1 - Epitaph Greg's singing gorgeously, and Spanish guitar over right shoulder. My God that swell crescendo is amazing.
Wed Jan 06 12:46:00: ITCOTCK DTS 5.1 - Epitaph Sax and Batterie section reveberates. Paco Pena (sp?) now back on right shoulder. Finish should be good.
Wed Jan 06 12:48:23: ITCOTCK DTS 5.1 - Epitaph. "Finish should be good." It is. there's stuff in there I've never noticed before - some piano.
Wed Jan 06 12:51:19: ITCOTCK DTS 5.1 - Moonchild. I'm in the middle of the Batterie can 'see' every cymbal and bell and...
Wed Jan 06 13:01:27: ITCOTCK DTS 5.1 - Moonchild. Huge overfamiliarity with Young Person's version leads to whole new experience
Wed Jan 06 13:05:01: RT @timbo_baggins: @HD41117 can see Mr Bryant is having a productive day. My hifi _only_ has 2speakers & a sub <-- yes, v productive!
Wed Jan 06 13:08:15: ITCOTCK DTS 5.1 - and so to ITCOTCK. wondeful detail, Paco Pena now front left, choral section just complete and sublime.
Wed Jan 06 13:13:06: ITCOTCK DTS 5.1 - ITCOTCK. 'fairground organ' intro to outro breathy & outro collapses into centre speaker. Brilliant. OK, Lizard or lunch?
Wed Jan 06 14:39:28: King Crimson update - I now have work to do :-(. Saving Lizard for tomorrow. Guess, looking back, a hashtag might have been a good idea!

Thu Jan 07 12:07:27: King Crimson 5.1 DTS Lizard. Here we go....
Thu Jan 07 12:10:47: Lizard 5.1 DTS Cirkus. ooh, that was gd opening vocal fades right shoulder 2 front centre. Echo voice bounces off rear. Cracking detail
Thu Jan 07 12:16:21: RT @timbo_baggins: RT @pjbryant: King Crimson 5.1 DTS Lizard. Here we go.... <---again ;-) <-- LOL Tim, last one (for now)
Thu Jan 07 12:18:16: Lizard 5.1 DTS Indoor Games. All the jaunty Jazz is captured, odd instruments all around. It seems like i am inside the acoustic guitar!
Thu Jan 07 12:20:15: @hutchings More a King Crimson obsession :-)
Thu Jan 07 12:24:18: Lizard 5.1 DTS Happy Family. There seems to be Cyberman singing on back right. Might not be, not suggested Delete or Upgrade yet :-)
Thu Jan 07 12:27:55: Lizard 5.1 DTS Lady of the dancing water. This sounds a lot like Ant Phillips (ex Genesis) in design and execution, with Gabriel on flute.
Thu Jan 07 12:34:43: Lizard 5.1 DTS. By now I know why I don't know it this so well. Not that i "don't like" Lizard, more i don't "love it" so not played so much
Thu Jan 07 12:38:05: Lizard 5.1 DTS. Lizard. Cor Anglais a few mins in is almost a future echo of Starless. Is Fripp a Timelord?
Thu Jan 07 12:39:52: Lizard 5.1 DTS. Lizard. I cannot agree with the sleeve notes (can i call them that?) "too big an LP for just stereo". Not sure 5.1 is enough
Thu Jan 07 12:41:21: Lizard 5.1 DTS. Lizard. OOPS - I cannot agree MORE with the sleeve notes (can i call them that?) "too big an LP for just stereo".
Thu Jan 07 12:43:41: @HD41117 good point, checked back left is working, it is but the emphasis seems on the diagonal FL to BR. Maybe someone MOVED MY CHAIR!!
Thu Jan 07 12:46:54: @HD41117 nope, stood 'tween left speakers (at all 4 points of compass to eliminate ear bias) 4 "right" sax going on, & def right (ish)
Thu Jan 07 12:48:44: Lizard 5.1 DTS. Lizard. Interesting piano notes bouncing around and alternating left and right rear. No wonder this album split the fans.
Thu Jan 07 12:49:47: RT @timbo_baggins: You mean you don't have 7.1? I'm shocked. ;-) <skipping that, waiting for 9.3 :-)
Thu Jan 07 12:55:51: King Crimson 5.1 DTS. and that's it. Steve Wilson's done an amazing job. Looking forward to the next few.
Thu Jan 07 12:57:37: King Crimson 5.1 DTS. In the meantime, Wager's Ring cycle anyone? <ducks and runs>

If this slight madness interests you then there might be more at Twitter<> one day

Why I think I'll be leaving Orange UK as soon as I can

A few years ago Orange signal strength in the house and office was 4 bars or more. Over the years as they "upgrade" the network this has degraded. Now most of the time I have no signal or 1 bar and the phone becomes useless indoors.

We've been through all the technical testing, forcing it to particular signal types, and attempting forcing onto a different radio mast but to no avail.

Orange's conclusion was that the aerials might have been "nudged" during engineering work, but as I live in a relatively sparsely populated rural area and there were no other customers with issues they would do nothing.

Now today I've had a surprise - despite promising me Windows Mobile 6.5 for my phone (the excellent HTC Touch Pro2) in November/December, and then delaying it to this month, I've had an email from them stating that the upgrade will no longer be made available to customers. Even though HTC have an upgrade on their site for Orange that is being used by Orange elsewhere in the EU. If I use it and brick my phone, then I will have no technical support and have to pay to replace it.

This is NOT good customer service.  Interestingly, in their emails to business customers the state their ambition is "provide you with a brilliant service".

We'll, I'm not seeing it; so as soon as my contract expires, I'm off.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Global warming debate

I'm getting tired of reading stuff like this:

It seems if you say something off the cuff, and/or non-peer reviewed that supports the hypothesis of global warming it'll end up, eventually, being treated as fact. With the UEA leaks, it really is time for the a clear peer-reviewed assessment of what is actually happening, a bunch of hypothesis and for some proper scientific findings. Most of all we need to sort out all this man-made stuff.

My proposal:
a) Start again with standard, proper, tested, peer-reviewed science
b) Stop treating sceptics as Neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers, and let them participate
c) Separate the 2 key questions by asking 2 of these three questions:
1. Is the planet getting warmer overall?
2. Is it natural (sunspots, earth core changes, solar wind, whatever) or;
3. If not is it industrialisation or other anthropogenic activity?
d) If the answers to 1 is no - then let's stop panicking everyone.
e) If the answers to 1 and 2 are yes, then we probably cannot do much about it, but can reduce our impact on the planet
f) If the answer to 1 and 3 are yes, then let's properly evaluate how to reduce human impact.,

I am fully in favour of proportionate activity to reduce our impact on the planet whatever the answers. In fact those people without children (me included) can trump any "saving the planet for my kids" claim, as our impact on the planet dies with us.

So yes:
* reduce, reuse, recycle,
* do it NOW
So no to:
* faffing around with carbon credits that end up closing a perfectly serviceable steelworks in Redcar for financial and geopolitical reasons (see:
* ridiculous and unachievable carbon policies
* penalising third world nations who want and need to develop
* expensive (and in the current cold winter when we need them most: useless) wind farms
* a failure to invest in tidal and wave energy production which is available 24x7 and permanently available and therefore a much more sensible alternative to wind farms that need oil/coal/gas/nuclear power station backup precisely because wind is irregular
* useless jobsworths in local government taking our hard earned money in taxes to pay for
* stupid energy saving schemes where nPower send out unsolicited light bulbs
* scrapping of incandescent light bulbs that are inefficient in the sense of light output, but contribute heat to a house when it needs it. The heat might be waste, but the lights are generally on in colder times - it's disgraceful that this is ignored in calculations, and that the disposal of mercury and other poisons in low-energy bulbs is conveniently ignored by the lawmakers.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

#bpark - if you are in IT

If you are in IT, then you are in a privileged position. Our industry is new, and whilst some theoretical and some practical work (Babbage comes to mind) was done a long time ago, it is fair to say that the wartime work at Bletchley Park is the birthplace of this industry.

So we are doubly blessed that
a) Bletchley Park still exists, and is a museum containing both the Colossus and Bombe rebuilds which in my view were the ‘birth events/objects’ for IT.
b) Bletchley Park also contains The National Museum Of Computing

How many industries out there can point to their birthplace, see the original items (or at least reconstructions of them), and have a sizeable museum to them there as well to boot?  I guess the bridge at Ironbridge probably comes close, but I think this makes Bletchley park unique.

So, maybe when the snow clears, make a New Year’s resolution to go there, and see it, and help it to survive – it needs a lot of money to preserve that legacy.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Nanny state misses the point again

On first glance this advert seems like a sensible thing to do - even though I am yet to be convinced that anthropogenic climate change is happening*. Conserving resources is always a sensible thing, especially when money is tight.

But then you see the rest of the advert

If you look closely you'll see that the Climate Change enthusiasts are recommending that we still consider driving to pick up the children from school only a hundred or so yards away from home. The idea of the car outline might be funny-clever, but the actual implication is that everyone drives everywhere to do everything. Unless you are disabled, the various fictitous journeys through this map could all be done on foot or by bicycle for
  1. better health
  2. lower cost
  3. a bit more time admittedly
  4. less impact on the environment.
As our American cousins would say "go figure"

*If so then how do you explain ice ages, the mediaeval mini ice age, and so on. They all predate industrialisation. Do none of the climate change evangelists realise that the earth changes climate all by itself - can we have proof that WE are exclusively responsible for the changes?

All was quiet on New Year's Day

In usual fashion we headed for the North Norfolk coast on New Year's day to dip our toes in the North Sea. Unfortunately so did a lot of other people, so the roads were a bit clogged, so we went 'off piste' and found a back way to a pub we've not visited for years (in fact not since the smoking ban). The Lifeboat in Thornham (, where despite the 'no bookings, free for all' we got a table straight away and had a great lunch.

Then off to the coast. Within a few years this might become a quick stroll :), but for now it was a considerable stroll past rushes

over sea defences

through dunes

to the beach

and finally the sea!

As you can see the day was near it's end

and it was sufficiently cold to maintain my anonymity with my Yukon special winter hat (which was actually too warm at times!)

We returned back to the pub just in time for darkness to fall, and set off home, refreshed, recharged, a tad cold, but content :)