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Showing posts from 2010

Ice Pilots

I've been floating above the snow-covered Suffolk countryside this morning over a stately-looking pile at place called Ellingham, where WikiLeak's Julian Assange is hiding from a small army of satellite vans and press photographers camped among the trees. It's bitterly cold out there and I'm only just getting the feeling back in my hands after putting the aircraft away. Somehow, I don't think Assange is likely to break bail without someone noticing or him leaving footprints in the snow but I do feel sorry for the world's press as my aircraft's outside thermometer was showing -10 degrees Celsius at 1000 feet.


Watching the Detectives

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Watching from the sidelines, it’s interesting how the on-going WikiLeaks story is encouraging a conceptual shift in information security thinking.

Today’s virtual battlefield offers parallels with the Maginot Line philosophy before the outbreak of the Second World War; lots of trenches, barbed wire,’ impregnable’ fortresses and firewalls, a hardened security layer designed to hamper infiltration and movement and slow-down any digital attack on business assets. When U.S. Army private, Bradley Manning, an information analyst, allegedly passed hundreds of thousands of classified State Department cables to WikiLeaks on re-written music CDs, he revealed what many of us knew already, that a $20 billion a year global information security industry can be proved quite helpless against the weakest and most disgruntled link in the organisational security chain.

It can be argued that WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange’s biggest tactical mistake was not that of revealing classified United States…

Privacy is Dead - Well Almost!

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"Privacy" said Sun Microsystems CEO, Scott McNealy, "is dead. Deal with it"

It may not be dead but it’s certainly struggling and while McNealy's statement is unlikely to alarm many organisations, then it should, as we continue to experience the turbulent wake of this month’s WikiLeaks revelations. Julian Assange’s latest target, is now big business and in what could be his biggest mistake to date, he promises to turn a major US bank, reportedly the Bank of America, "Inside-out", with "Tens of thousands" of documents to be released in the New Year. Indeed, 2011 may be the year that 'Information assurance', frequently regarded as an oxymoron, assumes a new meaning and an urgency to match.

Here, in the UK the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has new and overdue powers to fine private and public sector bodies that fail to meet their data protection, compliance and privacy obligations. Most recently, Hertfordshire county counc…

Trafford View

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Back from Old Trafford to find lots of comment spam on this weblog. Why on earth people bother to do this I really don't know but clearly, somewhere out there in the world, there are people paid a pittance to leave comments in tortured English promoting fake watches, drugs and worse on the off-chance that some reader would think: "That's a really good idea, I could really use some fake Viagra" and go online shopping! But people do and in large enough numbers to make it lucratively worthwhile for the sinister crime gangs that hide behind the shadowy anonymity of the Internet.

At Manchester United this morning after the big game the evening before and Wayne Rooney's future is the talk of the taxi drivers. I had the full ten minute lecture about the club, Beckham, Rooney, nightclubs, girls, you name it from a driver who has seen it all.

The area around the quays is vaguely Dubai like with brand new, modern buildings springing-up quickly enough to confuse the taxi dri…

Wayne's World

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The media, I see, I getting all excited by the inclusion of 'cyber-warfare' and the threat from 'cyber-terrorism' as a clear and present danger in the Strategic Defense Review.
It's a topic I have some familiarity with – next stop Abu Dhabi around the same subject - and we all have good reason to be concerned as the internet groans under the weight of ever more increasingly sophisticated attacks from state and non-state actors.
A couple of years ago I gave a lecture in Milan on what the Chinese were up to in terms of massive industrial espionage efforts against the largest European engineering companies such as Rolls Royce. On the Russian side, it's more a matter of organised crime, which can just as easily be switched to military use with an alleged nod from 'the right people' in their own state security apparatus; the cyber-attack in Estonia being a good example.
It's not really the kind of thing that would worry us much, here on the north-eastern t…

A Revolutionary Time

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Another party conference and endless hours of political analysis yet to come on both the BBC and Sky News, interspersed by footage of ducks swimming along the submerged fairways at the Ryder cup in Wales.

Now that 'Red Ed' has been put to bed – forgive the pun- It's David Cameron's turn with the Government's spending review now less than three weeks away. The recent IMF and CBI figures on economic growth give some room for optimism but the scale of public debt and the measures that are going to be necessary to reduce it, will fall on all our shoulders as its revealed the Government owes more than £1 trillion for the first time in its history.

I will remind readers that the former leader of Thanet's Labour group, described talk of a recession as "Complete tosh" and either a "Conservative invention" or "Something that the Conservatives should be familiar with." (It's not transparently clear which of these it was from the minutes…

Gratitude at Altitude

Nandos' agency, 'Pretty Green' made a video of their V-Festival Banner; 'Gratitude at Altitude.' Great fund and you can watch it here!

It involves having one of our aircraft 'borrowed' by an enthusiastic young lady; Mandy in this case!

Sim City

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It's the middle of my peak flying season and it appears to be peak meetings time at the council too; perhaps it's something to do with the summer holidays or more likely the vigorous debate that surrounds the asset disposal programme which now lies partly within my own portfolio and is presently under a review.

This last week, I've been back in the 'Sim' again to prepare for my mandatory annual re-test. It's always a big leap back into a multi-engine, 'glass cockpit' with lots of 'whistles & bells' plus spoken warnings, from the single-engined aircraft which counts as my main office during the summer months. Tidying up my photo library this evening, I stumbled across this old photo of a Pitts S1 that I owned that was sponsored by Lotus Development. Remember them? They were bigger than Microsoft twenty years ago in a distant time before Windows.


The little 'S1' was a bit of a beast to fly. Weighing hardly anything, it felt like strapp…

Mons - The Overture

I've just been watching with some interest, a programme on the History Channel, which describes the first action of the First World War; the 23rd August 1914, a cavalry engagement at Soignies in Belgium, between the 4th Royal Dragoon Guards and German lancers. This had me running upstairs to my bookcase and my great uncle's book: 'Unwilling Passenger', because on page 24 and a new chapter 'Mons the Overture', he describes the action in some depth as he was present.

He describes the German cavalry as 'Bavarian ploughboys' who were routed by the professional British cavalry and adds: "Some of our men pursuing them had refrained at first from running them through because their backs were turned. This gallantry was not to last very long!"

He adds: "I asked one of the prisoners for a button, which he cut off, my first souvenir! Rather tearfully he insisted that his brother had been shot at Munich for refusing to join-up and that he himself wa…

Dogfight Over Margate

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My own flight was blown away by the weather this morning but from the look of it, everything else went according to plan at the ‘Big Event’ and when I was up there at lunchtime, there were so many fairground amusements, it did rather remind me of Dreamland in its heyday.

I had lunch at the Phoenix club mess and watched the Red Arrows take-off at Manston and almost instantly disappear into an intense downpour but assume they popped-out of it in time to entertain the crowds at Palm Bay.

A little later, I was at the seafront in Westgate waiting for the Lancaster, Spitfires and ME109 to appear and managed to get some photos of the mock dogfight swirling over Margate. How times have changed!


As a photographed the Me109 fly past back along the coast towards the west, followed by the Spitfires, a group of boys playing football didn’t even look-up, not even when the Lancaster swept by in the opposite direction towards the airshow. I was of course raised with the excitement engendered by the a…

A Little Bizarre

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Here's a sneak preview of the next in a series of television advertisements from creditexpert.co.uk  filmed earlier in the week. What is the strange purpose you may wonder of the ornate 'Tardis-like' box in the middle of the room at  the  Tudor stately home, Dorney Court and why is Basil the butler in a suit of armour?

All will, I'm sure be revealed in the not too distant future, as will my own small role, as the 'Master'; one of the most bizarre things I've ever done to be sure!

It's the  'Big-Event' and air show of course this weekend and the forecast is a little iffy, for  me at least, as I'm up at the start with a banner for a local business, www.tradeshop.org.uk each day. If the winds don't die-down a bit, it's going to put me out of the picture and with a northerly wind blowing, may impact the vintage aircraft trying to operate from Manston's runway in a cross-wind. Finger's crossed though, that the gods will bless the e…

The Road to 2012

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Up and about on various jobs today and I thought I would share a photo (copyright) showing the progress of the London Olympic site, as clock ticks towards 2012.

How on earth we are going to pay for this sporting extravaganza though is anyone's guess! Just look what the Olympics did for Greece as a lesson in optimism over financial prudence.

Cameron in 2010

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Over at Grays in Essex  this morning to ambush David Cameron, with a banner message: 'CAMERON2010@No10'.

There was a large reception committee in evidence in the playing field behind the school or college below, with TV outside broadcast vans with satellite dishes on their roofs, parked-up outside. On teh way back to the airfield I passed a very smart looking Agusta helicopter, en route to Grays,, I asusme to pick him up for his next appointment.

I've some photos in my camera and will try and put one up later, as I'm typing this between jobs at the airfield.

Next-up is the pop concert the afternoon at Camber Sands, with a rather different message and one that to be honest I don't understand: "WHEN HARD CREW RULED THE WORLD."

Now, if only someone would tell me what Gordon Brown's schedule is, I could have a special message flown for him too. Suggestions welcome!

No Dust Over Brighton

I've been up over Brighton this morning flying a banner over the inaugural marathon in the town. A glorious hazy day in warm sunshine and thousands of runners threading their way along the streets and the seafront. In fact I wouldn't envy any of them in this temperature, as I'm sure a number of runners are going to encounter heat stress given the sudden change in temperature.

On the way over there, I found I was the only pilot on the London information frequency which covers the entire south of England. It was a bizarre experience because normally there's a busy level of communications chatter on a weekend but early this morning, just an eerie silence.

By noon, the airwaves had 'warmed-up' as more light aircraft pilots took to the skies. Piston-engined aircraft which have filters installed as standard don't face the same level of risk from volcanic dust as jet-engined aircraft at high altitudes and so it seemed that everybody who could fly was taking a once…

Time to Spare - Go By Air

Last week, I had to go through the torment of my annual multi-engine renewal, which is rather like having to take your driving test each year but with the added bonus of the examiner turning-off one of the engines at a critical time in the flight. Of course, with the tragic events that took place in Russia yesterday, my thoughts are with the Polish people and this gets me thinking about what on earth might have happened, without trying to pre-judge the conclusions air accident investigation which will take place.

From what I can discover, 'Smolensk military' has no precision landing aids and was sufficiently blanketed in fog for an earlier transport aircraft attempting to land, to divert to Minsk. While Poland is in Europe and is an ICAO/EASA signatory, when it comes to our rigid civil air-safety standards, what we appear to have in this incident is a refurbished Presidential Tupolev which is rather less than 'State-of-the art' and an experienced Polish Air Force crew…

Labour Loses the Digital Plot

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It's Gordon's new 'Big Idea', "Tens of thousands of public sector jobs could be scrapped in Jobcentres, passport centres and town halls as a result of the plans, which the government says will save £4 billion over four years.

The government wants everybody in the country to have a personalised website within a year and this clearly shows how out of touch they are with some simple realities of our internet society.
Having been around at the very beginning of UK Online, delivering on Tony Blair's 1998 vision through the Office of the e-Envoy, what Government is forgetting are two essential facts of life in our newly joined-up society.

The first is that 'Broadband Britain' only exists for those people who are lucky enough to live close to an exchange and even here in Thanet, out in the villages, it remains a challenge which has still to be resolved. The second and perhaps more important point that we've always known about, is that the poorer and more …

The Quick Secret to Making Millions

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"It's a fair cop", I said, standing in front of some 600 delegates and assembled police officers from as far away as New Zealand, Vietnam, Panama and Pakistan. "The blogger, Lord Matt of the 'Thanet Star' revealed last year that I'm involved in 'shady internet activities', gambling and casual sex websites and so I'm turning myself in to anyone who cares to arrest me."

Other than a few laughs from the audience, nobody stepped forward to put the cuffs on me but they know where I live and I expect the knock on my front door any moment now!

Back to business then and I wanted to share the attached screenshot for readers' attention.

It's the home page of a real website although you need a special invitation from a reputable serious and organised crime contact to be able to access it. Think of it as eBay with a powerful underground economy slant.



This is one of many such operations running-out of the old Soviet Union and with global link…

An Unwilling Passenger - One' Man's Story of the Great War

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A nice thank you note from Ian Hislop, along with the return of my great-uncle's book, which he has been reading 'Unwilling Passenger' Arthur Osburn's account of the First World War from the opening shots to the end.

Many readers will be familiar with Hislop's documentaries on the Great War and so I'm delighted he enjoyed this particular story: It's been out of print for years now and you may recall me writing that I managed to track down a copy in the United States on the internet via Abe's Book's. My thanks to Michael Child for pointing me in the right direction!

Here's a small excerpt:

"Quite a young girl. Without any stupid false shame, she coolly kept her thumb pressed on bleeding arteries whilst I got wads of gauze and tourniquets ready. Several times she went through the village to bring me warm water from a cottage and I thought that each time she would be killed. Later that day, she was killed. I found her body that afternoon when w…

Gone Cloudy

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Most of us will be familiar with the concept of new technologies arriving in ‘waves’, in the greater part driven by the inexorable progress of Moore’s Law, as computing power becomes ever increasingly available and powerful, with the rate of paradigm shift doubling every ten years and silicon-powered price performance every twelve months or so.

There’s been a great deal of talk of late about something called ‘disruptive shift’, a phenomenon which is being hastened by changes in rapid technology and the consequences of the worst global recession in generations. One good example, which many of us can relate to, involves Apple’s iPhone and the expression, ‘There’s an App for that’ in fact well over 100,000 now. This involves the movement of computing into the internet’s ‘network of networks’, global positioning data and cellular telephony.

The disruptive shift, in this example, is towards personal mobile applications and a new market, encouraged by Google and by Apple, which is springing…

Easy Jet

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Strangely enough the beach this morning reminded me of Saudi Arabia, almost thirty years ago, with the bright sunlight and the waves breaking gently on the rocks. In those days, we would wade out and drop over the coral reef into the deep water beyond and explore incredible diversity of marine life that waited for us offshore.

There was a time even when I used to dive on my own from time to time between St Mildreds Bay and West Bay on those unusually clear days that happen a few times each year but being hooked by an enthusiastic promenade angler one fine day, soon put me off the idea and I'm sure the seals keep their distance too.

Better late than never, I see that my feature in P1 Magazine has appeared, taking a Gulfstream jet into Milan's Linate airport in September. It was held over from the November issue but I'm quite pleased with the result and it's one-up from 'Top Gear' as the engines involved are a little larger and the top speed even greater too. Wat…

Small Change

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It was nice to have a cheque from those kind people at HMRC, finally returning the tax that they incorrectly grabbed from me last year, with the normal, 'demanding money with menaces' letter. This year, I hear it will be even worse with as many as a quarter of tax codes completely incorrect and yet HMRC have once again posted these out in full knowledge of the error.

A week or so ago, I listened to a spokesperson from HMRC being 'beaten-up' on the Radio 4 'Moneybox' programme. The incredulous interviewer asking: "So you knew a substantial number of tax codes were incorrect and yet you still sent these out?"

She replied something along the lines of: "Waffle Waffle, working in partnership with our 'customers', waffle waffle, new computer system, waffle, better next year, very sorry, waffle, call us and we will set it right."

"But", said the BBC man, "The Audit commission has just censured you for not answering 40% of …

Special Needs

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I see the government has rumbled one ruse, reportedly used by schools to 'get extra funding and inflate their position in new-style rankings' and that's to label as many pupils as possible with 'Special Educational Needs'. Apparently, in some schools, as many as half of pupils are now diagnosed with learning difficulties or behavioral problems, it was revealed, just weeks after a cross-party group of MPs criticised schools for being too quick to label children with poor reading skills as dyslexic.

Given the enormous pressure placed on schools to improve their results by the government, I'm not surprised at this or in fact any other gambit being used to show an annual league table improvement and in many ways, it mirrors the pressures being applied to hospital trusts in showing constant improvement or to conceal what often appears to the man-in-the-street, to be a steady decline in overall standards which are contradicted by statistics.

The reality of the matte…

Photo Call

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With the risk of a terrorist incident now raised to the level of 'Severe', I've come out from under my desk long enough to write this short blog entry, before returning to cover my windows in brown paper.

What this heightened state actually means in real terms is hard to fathom and the Home Secretary doesn't appear to be any wiser either. What he can't say of course is who might be responsible or indeed, whether 'they', whoever 'they' might be, may have returned from any recent adventure holiday break to Pakistan or Yemen or Somalia.



I'm pretty sure though, that if you went down to the bookmakers and placed a bet, call it risk profiling if you like, based on actual incidents over the last ten years, you would get pretty short odds on the suspects, leaving one to wonder why Auntie Mabel really needs to experience the indignity of airport body scanning, now she's passed the age of seventy.

So for now, we all have to treat each other with equal…

A Bite of the Apple

Today, I finally joined the massed ranks of Apple's iPhone users, swapping out my Blackberry 9000 for the first batch of the popular smartphones to ship out of Vodafone.

I've been patiently for a year now, as O2 users have had the device for rather a long time and have delighted in showing me how limited the Blackberry, which is powerful in its email capability, is when it comes to 100,000 iPhone 'apps'.

I mentioned that I gave my wife one of the HTC Google Android devices for Christmas and to be honest, it's much easier to install than the iPhone and given its powerful integration with the expanding Google product platform, possibly a better device. However, the iPhone has all the aviation and business apps that haven't yet appeared on the Android and from my point of view, it's apps library has some 80,000 more compelling applications available than Google's but I'm sure that will soon change.

In my view however, if you are looking for one of the…

Gesture Politics

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Up to the big city today and the large amount of snow on the ground past Herne Bay towards London came as a surprise to me; as did the presence of British Transport Police on the train. Where the former was concerned this illustrated how much Thanet benefits from its micro-climate and the latter, well I've been corresponding with the Chief Constable of British Transport Police in conjunction with Thanet North MP, Roger Gale and I'm delighted to see they have a series of operations running on the trains between here and Faversham. With luck, an occasional police presence will deter the teenage element that I frequently see causing problems between Margate and Herne bay when I'm travelling.

I did notice today an initiative from Gordon Brown to put PCs into the hands of more deprived children and their families, a laudable objective. In fact, when he did this first time around at the beginning of the decade, I was still working with the present Government through the Cabinet…

Fishy Story

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It's a bit quiet out there this morning. The road in from Birchington is almost empty, on account of both the A28 and the Thanet Way being closed by accidents, effectively cutting-off the island from the outside world until cleared. We appear to have escaped the worst of the snow as usual, having warmer sea temperatures on both sides and the further west you go, I hear the worse it is.

I'm trying to get to a meeting at the council offices in Margate today so rather than risk the icy roads; I plan to walk along the seafront, as it's a pleasant if rather brisk day. Neither one of my small dogs is prepared to volunteer for arctic sled work and earlier, the older one arbitrarily decide to turn around and head for home after experiencing the bitter wind chill on the beach at 8am.

Wednesday, was one more exciting day in politics with what appears to have been a failed attempt by Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt, to unseat Gordon Brown from his 'Scotsman –like' grip on the …

School's Out

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I'm not convinced that Schools Secretary, Ed Balls and I share the same planet. After watching his interview on BBC Breakfast this morning, I'm even more concerned that he's 'lost the plot' in a fog of well-meaning and wide-eyed socialist zeal.



To cut a very long story short, Ed, like everyone else, wants the best possible education for all our children to give them the best possible start in society and to deliver the best possible skills to the economy of tomorrow. It's a laudable aspiration shared by every politician regardless of party.

The Schools Secretary however believes that he can legislate for such success, increasing the education budget and guaranteeing parents that if their child falls behind, then one-to-one teaching will be made available. It's a little more detailed than this of course but I think you will grasp the broad picture.

Strangely enough, even his BBC interviewer appeared a little incredulous. After all, you may throw large amount…

History Reminds Us

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It occurs to me that Britain's' future security won't so much be determined by what happens on the playing fields of Eton rather than the mountains of Yemen.



I was invited to the country five years ago by the UN to speak at a conference in the capital, Sana'a. I really wanted to visit as this is one part of the Arab world that I have yet to set foot in but with it being a hotbed for Islamic terrorist groups, I decided to give the British Ambassador a call for her opinion on whether it was a safe choice of destination. As she only ventured out in the company of an armoured Range Rover and a handful of Special Forces bodyguards, her answer was quite unequivocal. So I asked the UN if they were able to guarantee my personal safety and the reply was an equally unequivocal 'No', so I politely declined the invitation.

In the week that saw the release of IT consultant Peter Moore, from long captivity in Iraq as well, I'm rather glad that I didn't take-up the o…

Postmans' Knock

The postman had to remind me this morning that it wasn't Sunday. "It's OK," he said, "I almost forgot as well" and so thankfully, I avoided waking the family up in time for church.

After a while, the Christmas holiday starts to resemble the film, 'Groundhog Day'. There's still half a Christmas pudding left under cling film and the cream is reaching its sell-by-date and so someone has to make that final gesture of selfless courage and eat it. The two bottles of good Irish whiskey present me with a rather more difficult challenge before work starts on Monday.

The New Year is hardly hours old before all the political parties are starting their pre-election campaigns. I caught the LibDems Chris Hulme this morning taking a thinly disguised class-war swipe at David Cameron over Conservative plans for inheritance tax reform, suggesting it was a cynical ploy to pander to his rich friends and George Osborne's.

Curiously enough though, the BBC ran a p…

A Tale of Two Digits

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Reading today's papers, one story in particular struck me as one with a deep interest in both education and technology.



Reportedly, a group of eight primary school head teachers have spent £32,000 of taxpayer's money on a three-week training course in Australia, which involved visiting 12 Australian schools. This was apparently an 'investment', or as the trip head teacher Lauren Connor said: 'We want to learn more about how they are using ICT as a delivery mechanism for the whole curriculum. "We made a short film to present to the Australian Education Department in Sydney, and we are looking forward to establishing closer links with schools down under."

To be honest, I can't really see what can be achieved from a trip of this kind 'down-under' as head teachers are pretty much locked-in to our own national curriculum and their own tight budgets. In recent months, I've been on a university course and have also been in school, observing how …