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Showing posts from March, 2008

Beards are Back

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Beards are back. A nostalgic IT industry fashion statement, which I’m certain will find favour beyond the present generation of Linux programmers and may even present an opportunity, along with the baseball cap and the ‘hoodie’, of concealing one’s identity from the expanding and intrusive surveillance society in which we live.

Following in the wake of Vogue magazine and the introduction of the stylish ‘Information Taleban’ look, there are signs emerging that spreading every minor detail about one’s personal life across the internet may be on the wane, as a lifestyle choice, at least among the over twenty-fives.

With identity theft now rife and steadily rising, keeping one’s online personal information to an absolute minimum is starting to look increasingly attractive. While large businesses use services to monitor corporate reputation, a niche may now exist for a similar model, able to measure both personal reputation and exposure to the internet; capable of linking into one’s credit r…

Impossible Missions

Sunday morning and a bit of a challenge, with a telephone call from Abu Dhabi. Apparently, the ruler of this wealthy state wants a special banner flown for him this week, to celebrate his son's birthday but while I'm delighted to have been asked as having the most visible operation outside the United States, the logistics required present an enormous challenge, even with our partner banner operation now operating in Dubai.

The impossible we can achieve but miracles can present us with a real challenge!

Kalashnikov Theory at Heathrow Terminal 5

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My "Kalashnikov theory" of technology found itself into the Observer newspaper this morning to describe one element of the chaos at British Airway's new Terminal 5.0.

"Systems analysts talk about the Kalashnikov theory. 'We speak all the time about people, processes and technology, but people are steadily being eliminated from the equation and a large organisation can't do away with them altogether,' said Dr Simon Moores, a veteran IT expert who advises the likes of Microsoft and the Conservative party. 'Hence solutions should be like the Kalashnikov rifle: modular. You can buy an AK47 that has a Chinese receiver, a Czech barrel and a Russian frame in an African bazaar and it still won't jam because all the parts fit together."

I originally used the expression in my frequent eGovernment trips to the Arab world. I think the last occasion may have been in Bahrain with a speech entitled: 'The eGovernment Challenge in the Middle East', as …

Up and Away

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It really is quite restful, not 'Blogging' as much as I have done. There is a danger that weblogs, much like the rest of the internet, can become obsessive and giving it a rest for a while is not such a bad thing, as one re-discovers other interests in the real world. Being published in hard copy is also a little more productive and has a much greater reach than waiting for the occasional weblog visitor to chance upon my rambling thoughts.

From my own point of view, this has been an important week in my life, with the publication of my last CAA exam results. I had worried about navigation; I consider myself pretty useless at math but was pleasantly surprised at the result I achieved, when I was only praying for a simple 75% pass. I wasn't convinced I would get that either.

So now, I have fifteen hours preparation in a complex aircraft to do and then its a sweaty ride with a CAA examiner. Perhaps then, I can have my life back after almost a year and a half of exam stress, get…

The BALPA Flypast

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Despite pretty daunting conditions this morning, with fog and low cloud, we decided to "have a go" at getting to Brimpton airfield just north of Farnborough, to launch the BALPA banner to support the British Airways pilots union march at Heathrow today. (see BBC)

Departing in minimal visibility, we were in the cloud past Rochester and pretty much until Ockham, remaining "VFR on top" at 2000 feet but found, to our surprise as we passed Blackbushe that the weather, although not great, looked good enough for the flight.

While one of us filmed, AIRADS Chief Pilot, John Waller, took BALPA's Head of Flight Safety, Carolyn Evans, along as co-pilot. (Pictured) Off first towards Reading and then with the approval and control of Heathrow ATC, along the M4 towards Slough and the Burnham beacon.


By then the rain had started and the cloudbase was starting to fall but John, as you can see from the video, bought back a very wet and "draggy" banner to drop at Brimpton …

Undercover Blogger

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The next big 'Hurricane' of the winter is on us this morning. There may be a record number of ships in the bay in front of me. I'll have to venture out to see if in fact more than seventeen vessels have squeezed past the Margate Sands! (20 in fact)

I have removed this weblog from general sight for a while. The attention that forced me to close my local weblog has also followed me here and its best I think, to remove the fuel from the flames until those involved find another subject to chew on. At the same time, As readers will see, this weblog/online diary, existed quite happily until I chose to become involved in local politics and elected as a ward councillor but now its perceived as something other than it is; so best keep it out of view and allow a small group of fascinated individuals to move on.

Yesterday was, I hope, the last of my commercial pilot exams at Gatwick. As one other candidate commented at the end: "That was nasty, really nasty" and we all agree…

Crosswind

Sitting across from the runway at Gatwick this morning, I was watching the landing traffic with some interest, as the gusts of wind became intense. I didn't have to wait long before I watch one A400 "Go around". The wind shear was not as severe as that in the Frankfurt video, shown below, but was enough for the pilot to think twice in the circumstances, as I estimated that the wind was almost 90 degrees off the runway and at least 45 knots.

I did feel rather sorry for the passengers, who must have realised at that moment how difficult the landing was going to be and had to look forward to a second attempt, which obviously proved a success.

When people climb on-board a modern airliner in all weathers there's always that blase confidence that nothing can go wrong and that accidents only happen once in a million flights. But up at the 'sharp-end' there's always a very different view of the prevailing conditions and pilots are trained to watch themselves and ea…

The Google Dilemma

No, it wasn’t me who took down Google last night but something obviously happened, severe enough to cause a lengthy outage across their Blogger servers.

The column I wrote for Silicon “Just whose legislation rules the internet” last week, was of sufficient interest for me to include it in a meeting at Westminster. on the evening before the ecrime congress. With luck, it may provide a little background detail as a foundation for an adjournment debate on the internet and law, which I think is planned for next week, Parliamentary time permitting.

It has placed Google in a slightly awkward position and as one observer told me (paraphrased), “I don’t think that when pressed with a UK court order, Google UK will refuse to comply with a proper request for information. However because of the brand and the sheer volume of potential complaints they might receive, they are more likely to hide behind the smokescreen of US law in order to discourage such enquiries.”

This view reflects an earlier conv…

945 and Falling

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I can't recall ever seeing a pressure front of 945 millibars on the forecast before. That's an 1,836 foot pressure difference from normal!

935 mb was the lowest ever recorded, I'm told, which is another 270 foot difference but to place it all in context, imagine standing on the beach and then imagine descending another 2000 feet.

On the left, you can see the chart for later today and I can see why the Met Office are worried by this storm. If the arrival of this approaching cold front coincides with the tides and the wind direction on parts of the exposed coast, then once again, there is a risk of damage and flooding.

It didn't happen last time but it is the the same combination of natural forces that led to some really big storms in the past and so it will be interesting to see how I describe the result in Monday's blog entry!

No Take-offs - Just Go Around

Flying is "Off" for today. It very much looks as if a significant Atlantic depression is hurtling in our direction and so by the end of tomorrow, it could be time to secure children, pets and loose objects against the forces of nature.

Monday appears to be the day of the big storm and that is predicted to coincide with some very high tides and so I will be curious to watch how far the sea comes up the road outside my home.

I'm down at Gatwick, visiting the CAA on Monday, and so it will be interesting to observe how the big passenger jets deal with the bad weather predicted. Most of us have now seen the lucky escape of an A300 Airbus landing at Frankfurt at the end of last month. Great credit to the crew for reacting so quickly on the throttles. The video of what happened also illustrates the tremendous thrust a modern jet aircraft turbine can produce in an emergency go-around situation.

A Long Time in Politics

Looking back through this weblog, I see that at the end of last month, six years had passed since the front door of No10 Downing Street closed behind me.

I was seeing Ed Richards that morning. He was the senior policy advisor to Tony Blair and I had been asked along to talk about ideas for the new "Broadband Britain." Since then of course, Ed has been made Chief Executive of OFCOM and I've become a member of the Conservative Party.

Something changed in Government after 2002. In some ways it resembled George Orwell's story, Animal Farm and today, after a decade of the same Government, it is far more pronounced and indeed visible to the broader population. Peter Hitchin, in his book, 'The Abolition of Britain' started to worry about this cultural revolution as far back as 1999 and I really started to notice its influence in the corridoors of power in 2002. Things were not quite as they seemed in the new politics and I doubt they will ever be the same again.

We ar…

Down Under

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I see that I'm getting referral traffic from my Wikipedia entry, possibly from people who wish to see whether I really exist or not. Maybe I'm only a figment of my own imagination?

With ecrime 2008 finished, I've six months before I have to start working with the team on planning ecrime 2009 and inviting speakers to attend. This year was seen by many as the best yet - certainly the best attended - and took a tremendous organisational effort from everyone involved. I would really like to see the Home Secretary pay us a visit in 2009. To date, we have had MPs' Jim Paice, Vernon Coaker, Caroline Flint, James Brokenshire and David Davis and by the time it comes around again, perhaps government will have adopted a firm new policy on the subject?

Up and coming, I've got Milan, Talin and Frankurt conferences to work on, with the first of these coming-up very quickly indeed.

With strong winds forecast for tomorrow, it looks as if the banner-towing is out for tomorrow but the …

Identity Parade

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Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis (Pictured) used the ecrime congress to launch the Conservative Party's ecrime policy this morning. I'm back too late to see any of the coverage and Channel 4 News told me that they are making it into a package, having interviewed a number of people, so I'll look forward to watching it when it eventually appears.

Regardless of any political affiliation, I have to admit that David is very good, it was universally agreed among those in an international audience that I spoke with today. He made an excellent speech full of very precise detail about the problem we all face from online crime and what needs to be done by Government if we are to try and turn the tide.

Caught in a second mugshot, FBI Director Finch, over from Washington to share in confidence with the audience, one of the agency's latest initiatives in tackling organised crime on the internet.

The Underground Economy

It's been a long day, starting with the Chief Security Officer of Paypal and concluding with an address from the head of NATO's incident response centre. Visions of author, Tom Clancy's 'Op-Centre' which does exist.

The internet underground is alive and well and thriving and Gartner Research estimates its value as being around $3.2 billion annually. Contrast this with the estimated annual value of the United States and South American narcotics trade at $5.6 billion and you'll see why the internet is so attractive to serious and organised crime groups.

Tomorrow is going to be a hectic start. Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, is going to start the day with a keynote address on the ecrime problem facing our society and I'm juggling bids from Sky News, Voice of America, the BBC and Channel 4 News to squeeze into an already packed auditorium to film his speech and interview some of the experts from business, industry, banking and law-enforcement, here at the ecr…

International Pubbing

I dropped into Westminster this afternoon to have a chat with MP, Jeremey Hunt about internet content and child protection. Is it feasible to even consider some kind of government action which places the responsibility on internet service providers to be more aggressive in filtering out inappropriate, illegal or downright unacceptable content or should we simply surrender to the American model of everything or nothing? There's a powerful moral argument for more direct action but it's a subject that makes politicians uncomfortable, with its tacit implication of internet control in a free society. Now's not the time, it being very late, for me to start thinking out loud about a problem which is starting to show signs of provoking a political confrontation with a moral dilemma.

With the world's law-enforcement gathering for the ecrime congress, en masse, now busily engaged in the pub across the road, I'm struck by how many I now recognise on first name terms. The head …

Low Down

In the days when the island of Zanzibar was still an exotic destination, I can recall tree-top flying in a twin, many years ago, when on safari down the Rufiji river, in Tanzania. However, in contrast with this video I just stumbled across on YouTube, the tree-tops look like extreme altitude. Some crazy French fighter pilots in action! Whether the RAF would sanction this level of "low-level" work for our own dwindling inventory of fighter aircraft, I wonder? Simply having sufficient fuel budget to keep up the training hours is a challenge, I'm told by cynical fliers, who look enviously at the time available to their American and European opposites.

Back in the bunker though I've had an enquiry for Farnborough 2008 - we opened the airshow very day in 2006 - so we may be lucky again. In the same week, I've also taken several calls for one major publicity stunt which will demand an eye-watering series of permissions if it's going to happen. However well-placed t…

Spitfire U2 at Manston

As today's strong winds have put a stop to any flying work I had, I've been having a quick look through some of my videos and remembered this one, that I took of Spitfire U2. Corgi even produced a special collector's edition scale model of the same aircraft that I have on the shelf in front of me.

Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, I can now share this short clip with any Spitfire fans or history enthusiasts. The original story on the weblogwith photos can be found here.

The rain that day was so bad that the fresh blue paint on the Spitfire started to wash off!

Strike or Spartacus?

I made the mistake of watching the BBC’s story of “Spartacus” last night. A programme that reminded me somewhat of the 90’s Comic Strip production of “Strike” – see video – with Al Pacino in the starring role of Arthur Scargill.

If that wasn’t bad enough, it looked to me as if the whole attempt at portraying the epic gladiators and slaves struggle of 70BC was in fact a thinly disguised polemic for a contemporary class-war theme, populated with thick regionally accented extras and actors from East Enders and aimed directly at that enemy of the BBC, the political middle class. “What did the Romans ever do for us?”

As a bit of a history buff and given the example of “Gladiator” and “Rome” I wouldn’t have minded if the BBC had made even a small effort at keeping the script as historically accurate as possible but it did rather get carried away with its political message and Spartacus, more Geordie than Thracian, didn’t quite look the part of lean mean gladiator material.

Was I the only one t…