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A Day at The Shard

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One of those days in a lifetime to remember.
Today, I had to fly a banner around London’s iconic landmark, The Shard.

The occasion was a marriage ceremony at the top of the building. Sonya and Paul were having their big day, courtesy of the ITV, ‘This Morning’ programme, and I had to cap-it-off with a large programme logo, followed by a ‘Just married’ message with a large red heart, at exactly 12:18. The public and clients really don’t understand what a significant challenge placing an aircraft over central London involves. Why would they? Other than the simple logistics of the aircraft - it has to be a twin-engine - crew and ground crew, one has to gain the permission of NATS at Swanwick, Heathrow, Special Branch and quite possibly even the Archbishop of Westminster. London is now an intense security space and the authorities are somewhat ‘twitchy’ at the thought of any non-scheduled aviation activity inside it’s tightly policed borders. Bringing the plan together, involved borrowing the…

Nothing New Here Folks

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“Parliament leaks like a sieve.” - That takes me all the way back to a weblog entry in 2002.

News today that the emails of Members of Parliament may have been compromised, stolen, hacked; you name it, comes as no great surprise. In fifteen years or more since I was invited in to discuss a similar problem with Parliament’s head of security, a former police officer, I somehow doubt very much has changed.

MPs were reportedly informed about the hack on Friday night and later told of difficulties in accessing their emails away from the Westminster estate.

The issue, I think we need to grasp, is that there’s a big difference between the .GSI, the Government Secure Internet and the personal email of Members of Parliament. In my time, one was built to be secure and the other assumed, that much like herding cats, the communications of MPs was intrinsically insecure; much, I discovered, like that of local councillors, during my brief foray into politics.

However, what is likely to be substantive…

Civilisational Data Mining

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It’s a new expression I haven’t heard before. ‘Civilisational data mining.’

Let me start by putting it in some context. Every character, you or I have typed into the Google search engine or Facebook over the last decade, means something, to someone or perhaps ‘something,’ if it’s an algorithm.


In May 2014, journalists revealed that the United States National Security Agency, the NSA, was recording and archiving every single cell-phone conversation that took place in the Bahamas. In the process they managed to transform a significant proportion of a society’s day to day interactions into unstructured data; valuable information which can of course be analysed, correlated and transformed for whatever purpose the intelligence agency deems fit.

And today, I read that a GOP-hired data company in the United States has ‘leaked’ personal information, preferences and voting intentions on… wait for it… 198 million US citizens.

Within another decade or so, the cost of sequencing the human genome …

The’Big Bang’ isn’t Quite What We Thought it Was.

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I’ve been struggling with a book on the latest theories in physics, the Higgs particle, quantum gravity and scalar fields. At which point your eyes may glaze over and I would quite understand.

For me, at least, it’s fascinating, if only because our view of the universe has changed so dramatically in my own lifetime and even more so over the last decade.

But understanding how it all fits together is a challenge; particularly when like me, you might have been tipped as the student most likely to become a Jesuit rather than a physicist.

Today is the most beautiful of summer’s days and the first time in a year, that I’ve found a moment to drag my kayak the hundred metres or more down to the sea and enjoy a moment of contemplation, bobbing-up and down in the bay, here on the North Kent coast.

The tide is in and there’s a brisk offshore breeze, with a late afternoon Sun creating a shimmering pathway on the water towards the West and the Isle of Sheppey.

So there I was, several hundred yards…

Catching-up with Tomorrow

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“I'm not trying to predict the future, I’m trying to prevent it” – Ray Bradbury.

Nobody has a clue what the world will look like in five years and yet we are all preparing for the future.  Studies of information-technology adaptation suggest there is generally a gap of between five and fifteen years, between investments we make in new technology and the appearance of measurable returns in productivity associated with that investment.

After decades of exaggerated prediction, the internet is finally transforming both business and politics, but not quite in the way the digital prophets expected. It’s twenty years this month since Gary Kasparov was beaten at Chess by IBM’s Deep Blue computer. In the interval since, the human Rubik's cube record has dropped to 5 seconds while the machine record is now an astonishing 0.637 seconds.

As computing has become embedded in everything from our cars and our telephones to our financial markets, raw technological complexity has obscured our c…

The Nature of Nurture?

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Recently, I found myself in a fascinating four-way Twitter exchange, with Professor Adam Rutherford and two other science-minded friends The subject, frequently regarded as a delicate one, genetics and whether there could exist an unknown but contributory genetic factor(s) or influences in determining what we broadly understand or misunderstand as human intelligence.

I won’t discuss this subject in any great detail here, being completely unqualified to do so, but I’ll point you at the document we were discussing, and Rutherford’s excellent new book, ‘A Brief History of Everyone.”

What had sparked my own interest was the story of my own grandfather, Edmond Greville; unless you are an expert on the history of French cinema, you are unlikely to have ever hear of him but he still enjoys an almost cult-like following for his work, half a century after his death.

I've been enjoying the series "Genius" on National Geographic about the life of Albert Einstein. The four of us ha…

Swinging Voters.

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One of those windy, hot summer’s days, which makes my life as a pilot, (weekend job) awkward when trying to thread an aircraft with precision, between two poles, ten feet off the ground.

Back home again and time to relax before my dinner of Quorn burgers. I’ve given-up on meat both for ethical and health reasons and to be honest, I rarely miss it now and feel rather better for the change. It was all prompted by reading Yuval Noah Harari’s book, ‘Homo Deus’ when I was on the way to give a talk in Abu Dhabi and I haven’t looked back since.

As I was away, speaking at a conference yesterday and didn’t arrive home until late, I managed to avoid writing my own thoughts on the results of our dysfunctional General Election, like a million other people. Without going into any great detail, because you all likely know it by now, several things struck me most about the result.

Firstly, reportedly 120 people out of over 40 million voters decided the result in removing the Government’s overall maj…