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Showing posts from January, 2006

Crouching Tiger

He joined the late train from Victoria at Herne Bay, a young man in his twenties, in a paint-stained black bomber jacket, dark rings under his eyes. Sitting down two seats across from me, he produced a bottle of vodka from his pocket and filled a plastic cup with the contents, drinking it down in large satisfied gulps. Feeling better for it, he rolled a cigarette on his knee and then after fiddling with it for a while, looking around for any sign of the conductor, he produced a Bic lighter and started to smoke, unpertubed by the "No Smoking" signs on the windows of the carriage. The two of us left the train when it arrived in Westgate, very different journeys home to the same small town.

I had a rather surreal experience at Westminster yesterday afternoon inside Portcullis House, where the MPs live. I’m assuming there was a meeting taking place between an Islamic interest group and Members of Parliament, because at 5’O’clock, the corridor filled with the faithful, prostrating…

Mellon Hack

The Sunday Times reports that Matthew Mellon, heir to a £6.6 billion banking and oil fortune, will appear in court next month in connection with an investigation into an alleged phone-tapping and computer hacking gang.

The former husband of Tamara Mellon, who runs the Jimmy Choo shoe empire, will appear alongside 17 other defendants accused of involvement in the operation, which allegedly provided clients with confidential information about wealthy people and businesses.

Following a tip-off from BT, Scotland Yard has conducted a long investigation into a private detective agency run by a former policeman which it believed was bugging phone calls.

It is now alleged the group was also hacking into NHS computers to access confidential medical files to blackmail people, spying on police and bugging their phone calls to get information. There are also several charges of falsifying invoices.

One of the group is said to have taken BT overalls, a reflective jacket and tools, along with a BT w…

Backs to the Wall

Not much to put up today as I’m just in from Westminster, having witnessed the implosion of the Liberal Democrats as a force in British Politics. Lots of tasteless jokes in circulation as you can imagine... “Don’t let the **** get you down” and “In the Liberal party, it’s best to keep your back against the wall.”

Now it’s a question of who picks up the tattered remains of the party in the years before the next election unless there’s some kind of miraculous resurrection. All this twenty-five years after the birth of the SDP, for which so many people, including me, as a speech writer for David Owen, had such high hopes.

It does seem a rather long time ago... in politics that is!

The Way of the Web

I was comfortably settled watching last week’s ‘Money Programme’ on the subject of Google and its business, when the phone rang. To my surprise it was the BBC, News, who wanted me to come into the studio to discuss Google’s defiant refusal to surrender a week’s worth of its search records to Uncle Sam, who wished to know if an analysis of the same would support the resurrection of some Clinton-era anti-pornography legislation.

It was the same day, strangely enough, that I installed the Google Desktop on my Personal Computer, the same one I warned PC users to avoid last year for personal security reasons when it first appeared. This is not to say that I’m vindicating the Google Desktop, I’m not but I’m prepared to balance the security risks against its more general utility, now the well-publicized post-launch bugs have been ironed out. In fact, I now assume by default, that my computer behavior is likely to be tracked at some unspecified level of granularity by someone and should govern…

Never Enough Taxes

I was wrong in my estimation of jobless figures last week. The Sunday Times has been looking at the problem and apparently, the number of “economically inactive” people of working age has risen 25,000 to 7.94m, the highest since comparable records began in 1971.

“There are many reasons”, it reports, “for the rise in economic inactivity. It is a direct consequence of higher staying-on rates in schools and higher university participation — 1.85m of the inactive are students, no joke intended. It is also a reflection of past policies designed to massage down the jobless numbers for political reasons.”

“It includes early retirees (0.6m), and the long-term sick (2.1m). Many of the inactive (2.3m) — and they would dispute this label — are looking after family and home. In all, three-quarters of the inactive say they are not seeking work.”

“But that leaves just over 2m who say they are. Add that to the 1.5m counted as unemployed and you end up with what John Philpott, chief economist at the …

Politics for Rent

All of us know what an alcoholic is but I’m struggling to find a definition for “Rent-boy” in the dictionary. Both however appear to have some vague connection with British politics and the Liberal Democrats this weekend in a scandal that takes us back to the Jeremy Thorpe debacle in the early seventies, involving a Norman Scott and Andrew 'Gino' Newton. I cannot comment any further on this, as to do so would risk a visit from the police under new legislation which forbids any of us to comment on another person’s sexual orientation or preference.

Anyway what happened to the Liberal Party under Thorpe looks set to repeat itself, probably under the leadership of Sir Menzies (Ming) Campbell, who did some neat political dodging around Adam Boulton’s questions this morning over he and a “Gang of Scottish Labour Politicians”, influencing the direction of English Parliamentary legislation when our MP’s can’t vote over Scottish affairs.

Whichever way you look at it though, the Liberals …

We Know Where You Live

Casting around the news this morning, I see that search-engine-giant; Google is defying a request by the US government to hand over data revealing what its users are searching for online. The Bush administration wants a list of requests entered into Google's online search engine in an unspecified single week. It also wants one million randomly selected web addresses from Google's databases.

There was an interesting BBC Money Programme on Google on Friday evening and as I was watching it, the phone rang and to my surprise, it was the BBC, attempting to drag me into the news studio to discuss the same story. Unfortunately for the “Beeb”, I was entirely comfortable where I was, on the sofa and they had obviously not updated their own records for the last three years, because they still believe I live in Wimbledon.

I plan to write a longer story on this subject for my column, probably on the train to London on Monday but in a nutshell, the US administration wants an excu…

Red Letter Valentine Card

Don't forget, if you want to send that special message for Valentine's Day next month, then you had better put your order in with Airads quickly.

A ballpark figure for a local tow from Airads is about £275+VAT + positioning fuel costs, depending on where you need the banner but be quick, it's a busy day for the aerial banner pilots.

Off the Rails - ID Fraud

The Times reveals that the identities of thousands of rail workers have been stolen by criminal gangs and used to steal millions of pounds from the Treasury.

One in seven staff at Network Rail has been caught up in the tax credit fraud that has plunged the tax system into chaos and could turn out to be Britain’s biggest benefit scam.

Last month it emerged that 13,000 Jobcentre workers had had their identities stolen and there are fears that other leading companies have also been targeted by the gangs. Suspicions are mounting that HM Revenue and Customs insiders are involved in the fraud.

Network Rail was alerted to the problem by Revenue officials last week and a criminal investigation is now under way. John Armitt, chief executive of Network Rail, yesterday sent a letter to all 30,000 staff at the company to allay fears over the fraud and its potential impact on legitimate tax credit payments and credit ratings.

Mum's Army

GMTV blew-out again today, I rather thought they might but I suspect they’ll be back. It’s curious how seemingly disorganised these daytime shows are, driven as they are by a diet of current affairs stories. Richard & Judy are no better I discovered but ironically, along comes the Arabic TV channel, Al Jazeera instead.

My good friend Stephen Cole, who presented the BBC’s Click Online programme for many years, has now been lured along to join them and I had a call today about doing a feature on identity theft from start to finish, i.e. they want someone to show them how easy it is to steal someone’s identity and apparently Stephen has pointed a finger in my direction. Who did you have in mind I wonder?

If you are confused at this point about what I do other than flying an aircraft around taking photos of Thanet and writing this weblog, then it can be awkward to explain but if you look at the Govtec site, a job I’m doing in Bahrain next month, one part of the jigsaw at least will be r…

The Chinese Way

On the train home from London yesterday, I shared a carriage with three Russian women, two Chinese, one African and I think, an Iranian sitting opposite me. It somehow reminded me of the film, “Blade Runner”, where in a futuristic Los Angeles; even the police speak a peculiar mix of “City speak”, Chinese, Spanish and English.

Chinese or at least Mandarin is now the language to learn and if I was younger, Id’ probably try learning it myself and if it were taught in my daughter’s school, I’d be delighted.

An independent school in Brighton has become the first in the UK to make Mandarin Chinese compulsory for pupils, reflecting the growing importance of China on the world stage. But it's not an easy language to master. Firstly, the script poses problems. There is no alphabet, just thousands of characters; so many that no one can give a definitive total, but it is believed to be around 60,000.

China is now the world's fastest growing major economy and with British exports to the coun…

Fighting the G-Force

Playing table tennis with Microsoft’s PR agency and GMTV this afternoon on the train home from London. Last Friday GMTV had scheduled young Charlotte, now aged eleven, to go flying with one of the UK’s top professional aerobatics pilots, Denny Dobson in his Extra 300. You may have seen Denny on the Discovery Channel’s new “Rough Trades” series last night.

The idea is that GMTV film Charlotte flying the more sedate Cessna 172 and then Denny will give her a lesson and let her fly the Extra 300, probably out of Manston, the biggest challenge being an attempt to do this by 8 am; it only gets lights at 7:45 am as I explained to the PR agency. Anyway, last Friday fell through, because of weather, darkness, timings etc, so we may have another go on Wednesday or simply leave it until it gets light a little earlier. in the mornings.

Thanet's eleven year old test TV pilot has insisted that if she has to risk puling an inverted six "G" then she would rather like a Microsoft X-Box out…

A Visit to the Pat Marsh Show

The drive to the BBC studio in Tunbridge Wells seemed to take forever this morning and it was only thanks to the new GPS – a Halfords January sale special - in my car that I managed to find the place with minutes to spare. Then it was a mad scramble back to Thanet in time for my daughter's birthday party, folowing the GPS once again, which this time decided it would take me back to Thanet via the Danson Interchange, in the opposite direction.

I’ve uploaded a short video clip of the segment before I was on but thanks to producer Steve McCormick (pictured below ) for inviting me and to Pat Marsh (pictured left) for having me on the programme. If you listened I hope you found it as much fun as I did.

Radio Times

For those of you who might like to listen, I will be pitching up on BBC Radio Kent on Saturday with presenter Pat Marsh from 12:15 pm to talk about ‘Weblogs’, anything else that comes up during the programme.

As mentioned in the earlier post, I’m not sure how much of a listener phone-in there is if any on the programme but I’ll do my best to be as controversial as possible! If there’s anything you think I should focus on, given the opportunity, let me know.

96.7FM, 104.2FM, 97.6FM, DAB Digital Radio and online at

China is Internet Number Two Nation

China has become the world's second most populous internet nation, with 20 million new users going online last year, according to research announced this week.

The total number of Chinese surfers reached almost 120 million last year, according to a report from US-based research and consulting firm eTForecasts

The top internet nation, measured by total number of users, remains the US, with 197.8 million, followed by China, Japan, India, Germany, the UK, and South Korea.

The worldwide total number of users is given as 1.08 billion, up 150 million since 2004. Global internet use increased almost tenfold from only 45 million in 1995 to 420 million in 2000. The figure has more than doubled in the five years since then, and is expected to double again to reach two billion in five years' time.


Skip Theft

I see from the papers that the Grand Hotel in Brighton dumped all their old guest records from 1997 into a skip outside the hotel. These reportedly included the personal address and financial information, such as credit card details of some very important people who had stayed there over the last decade.

This kind of foolishness underlines how important it is to take every effort to protect your personal information against the increasing risk of identity theft.

According to CIFAS - the UK's fraud prevention service - 120,000 people are affected by identity theft in the UK each year, while a Cabinet Office study carried out in 2002 estimated that crime facilitated by identity fraud cost Britain £1.3bn a year. This remains the most recent research on the problem, though in reality the figure could be much higher. The Home Office has put together a steering committee to tackle the issue. The committee's website,, offers detailed advice on protection from …

Brown Out

I see that the odds have now shortened considerably on young David Miliband taking over from the President when he finally leaves No10.

I suggested this in one of my weblogs a very long time ago and with the Conservatives under a new leader, David Cameron, attracting a record number of new members, I suspect the writing may be on the wall for Gordon Brown.

The temptation to walk down to Ladbrokes and lay a large bet on the succession with Miliband at 9:1 odds is very strong and I don’t normally bet.

When the time comes for Tony Blair to go and enjoy his “retirement”, Labour, like the LibDems could find itself in a leadership dilemma. In my own opinion Gordon Brown has passed his sell by date and Cameron is right, he’s an eighties politician, old, new Labour who we all know will tax us shamelessly but less covertly, if he has the chance. Anyway, should Labour really put its future in the hands of a man who can’t stop biting his nails into middle age or should it choose another Tony clone …

Among the Believers

My last column on Open Source, “The Empire strikes back” provoked the inevitable remarks that I’ve come to expect, every time I pop my head above the parapet, take a deep breath and attempt to take an objective look at the progress of Open Source Software (OSS), which I’ve been doing since I was one of the first columnists to take an interest in ‘penguin’ evolution.

Once again, I expect to be shot down in flames by the Open Source groupies and I sometimes wonder if the author Salman Rushdie gives an occasional sigh of relief that he wrote the ‘Satanic Verses’ and not a column on Linux.

OSS enthusiasts may be pleased to hear that following an excellent and well-attended Westminster presentation, by my colleague, Dr Mohammed Al-Ubaydli of the Conservative Technology Forum, entitled "Open Source software for government”, I’m involved in a project to explore the practical application of OSS to deliver integrated and workable public sector solutions and in particular using bottom-up OSS…

Cloud Cover

I’m looking at the actual and forecast weather this morning and debating whether to pop across to Rochester to pick up fuel but I think I’ll pass. It’s quite flyable but it’s damp and cold and there’s a 30 per cent chance of snow across the western side of Kent this morning and another 30 per cent chance that I’ll flatten my battery trying to start an engine with cold oil. Here in Thanet we are more likely to get rain instead. If you look out of the window at the towering cumulus clouds, you’ll see what I mean The aircraft on the left is one I used to own before I became sensible and I miss it sometimes.

I see there’s a fuss in the Guardian newspaper and elsewhere over the size of the police DNA database and that a particular racial group appear to be over-represented. Perhaps it would instead be fairer if we all contributed a DNA sample in the interests of supporting law and order. After all, the police have reportedly caught 30,000 criminals through the simple expedient of matching-u…

Boodah Rules

He seems a bit old to be tagging the promenade with graffiti I though but at least his boxer dog appears to appreciate his efforts. If the slogan “Boodah Rules” pops up anywhere else in Westgate then we know who to ask.

Looking back for a moment at impact of alcohol and binge-drinking on the New Year celebrations which overwhelmed the London Ambulance Service I wonder if government should simply raise the level of taxation on drinks over certain alcohol content and reduce it on those that are low or alcohol free. Thus the popular “Extra Strong” brews that lie in tall stacks along our 24*7 local supermarket shelves might be priced out of the range, of some of the same people that I see still drinking on trains or along the streets in the mornings. Perhaps this sounds like prohibition but if my favourite whiskey was priced-up and the result led to less binge drinking among the young that would be a price I’d be prepared to pay.

Put another way, with the shocking figures out on the number …

Bring in The New

Happy New Year everyone and already my first resolution is in full swing, to lose the surprise increase in weight that appeared over the last two weeks. For this purpose I’ve invented the new coffee, salad and sardines diet which I predict will soon take the place of Dr Atkins diet of last year. Whether it actually works or not is another matter!

Top stories I’ve noticed from today’s New Year Sunday papers today are:

How the RAF has 40 air marshals for 36 squadrons. Much the same for the Army and the Navy too and how our armed forces have become a paper-pushing disaster zone that let down the men in the front line.

Why bits fall-off British Airways passenger jets because the engineers can’t be bothered to screw the hatches back on.

99.99 per cent of the population - can only look forward to a year of financial belt-tightening and uncertainty. The economic omens for 2006 are more depressing than at the start of any year so far this century.

As we manufacture less at home but still want the …