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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Body scanners to screen LA subway riders

From The BBC

17 August 2018

Body scanners will be used on the Los Angeles subway to screen passengers for explosives and weapons, the local transport authority has announced. It is the first mass transport system in the US to adopt the technology. Portable scanners will be used to screen passengers as they enter stations, without them having to pass through a security checkpoint. Authorities said the screening would be "voluntary", but those refusing a scan will not be allowed to travel. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA) said it had ordered equipment from UK manufacturer Thruvision. The company's equipment is not currently used on UK public transport, but it has been trialled at the Farnborough Airshow. The scanners have a wide field of view and can screen passengers as they ride an escalator or enter through ticket barriers. The company says its scanners can detect suspicious items from up to 32ft (10m) away, and can scan more than 2,000 passengers an hour. However, it will be used on a pop-up basis rather than permanently installed at specific stations in LA.

David Pekoske, from the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA), told the Associated Press that the country faced "persistent threats to our transportation systems". "Our job is to ensure security in the transportation systems so that a terrorist incident does not happen on our watch," he said. Alex Wiggins, from the LACMTA, said the authority was looking for weapons that could cause a "mass-casualty event" such as explosives and assault rifles, rather than smaller weapons. The authority hopes to buy additional scanners that can follow individual suspects. The TSA has previously tested body scanners in New York's Penn Station, which is described as the busiest rail hub in North America. In December, a 27-year-old man was injured when he set off a "low-tech explosive device" in a subway passage near Times Square, New York. Three other people suffered minor wounds when the device blew up in an underpass.

[My first thought was a flash to the subway scene in Total Recall but it looks like the technology isn’t quite that sophisticated. It’s essentially an infra-red detection device that picks up on ‘dark’ areas on a person’s body that might reveal concealed weapons or suicide vests. If the trail is successful I’m guessing that such things will be showing up at all mass transit facilities and the police will start using them, or something similar, on the streets before long. Oh, what a brave new world we have created for ourselves….]

"If you never have to worry about not knowing where you are, then you never have to know where you are."

Nicolas Carr, The Glass Cage, 2014

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Just Finished Reading: Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse (FP: 1927)

Harry Haller has a problem. All around him he sees decay, mundane living, and the daily drudge. The world is flat, uninviting, monochrome. What few pleasures he takes from life are all too fleeting and he sneers at his own weakness in needing them. Harry’s problem is that he is split in two – with a human half seeking reason and order and an animal half seeking chaos and intense emotion. Harry is a wolf from the steppes – a Steppenwolf – in human clothing fitting into neither world and suffering in both. Or at least so he believes….

After verbally attacking his host at a late night get-together Harry finds himself in a nightclub in need of a drink. Before he can start drinking himself into oblivion he is approached by Hermine, a cute almost boyish young woman full of life and the knowledge of the night. Seeing him for exactly what he is Hermine takes charge ordering Harry food and drink and forcing him to rest whilst she dances. Entranced by his new found friend Harry promises to do whatever she says. What she wants is to teach him to dance and to laugh and to enjoy himself. Reluctantly Harry agrees and so begins his new life of dancing with strangers, finding a new young lover (procured by Hermine), enjoying Jazz music, taking various drugs (supplied by his new friend Pablo) and learning how to laugh. For all of this however Hermine demands a price – on their first evening out she extracts a promise from Harry, that when he falls in love with her he must do the one thing he can barely bring himself to think about. On the night he falls in love he must kill her to put her out of the misery she feels every day.

This has been sitting on my shelf for some years now untouched. It was one of those books that almost everyone had heard about but almost no one had read. Back when I first bought it I didn’t even try to read it – maybe I thought I could just absorb these classics by literary osmosis? Tried that – didn’t work. So read it I must! It was to be honest rather weird. The last 5th of the book was the weirdest of all (essentially an extended dreamscape) but the rest of it preceding this was, by and large, a standard narrative (with a few sprinkles of magical realism thrown in). What I did honestly find fascinating was his descriptions of Harry’s inability to fit into or accept standard bourgeois society. This was because, Hermine explained: “Whoever wants to live and enjoy his life today must not be like you and me. Whoever wants music instead of noise, joy instead of pleasure, soul instead of gold, creative work instead of business, passion instead of foolery, finds no home in this trivial world of ours…..” Well, it was like a German author from the late 1920’s was talking directly to me. That, to be honest, knocked me back on my heels for a while! And that wasn’t the only passage that resonated deeply with me. His understanding, not only of German culture between the wars, but of human nature itself was profound. He certainly gave me many moments for thought. This was, despite my rather rambling synopsis, a gem of a book. It probably won’t sit well with most people but the Steppenwolves out there will know exactly what he’s talking about. Care to find out if you’re one……?

Translated from the German by Joseph Mileck and Horst Frenz

Monday, August 13, 2018

A (Temporary) Loss of Focus…..

Over the last few months I’ve noticed an odd lack of focus – on reading. Part of it, I’m sure, is to do with the unseasonably fine summer weather. After all this is England and the last thing we expect in the summer is day after day of hot dry weather. It’s not affecting my sleep as much as I thought it would but it did have an effect. Then there’s the dry and the dust which effects my eyes. Not so easy to read when your eyes are watering (not taking in to account my hay fever).

On top of that I’ve been spending quite a bit of extra time on YouTube watching US News shows, bits of gaming videos, motivational videos (I kid you not) and anything else that attracts my notice for a few minutes. It’s all rather addictive once you get going! Finally I have a new game which is eating up quite a bit of my time – although mostly late at night when I’m too tired to actually read but it’s not bed time yet. The game is No Man’s Sky (Next) which was half price on Steam and one of the guys alerted me to the fact. So I downloaded it…… 30+ gaming hours later I’m just finding my feet (on alien worlds) and am really enjoying it. I can’t play it much until later in the week because, until Wednesday, I’m playing Company of Heroes 2 with my primary gaming partners. So, what happens on/from Wednesday? The latest expansion to World of Warcraft drops….. Now normally I’d be all over that and would have been spending the last few weeks getting ready. But as I now have NMS(N) I feel that I just can’t devote the time to TWO open ended games. So I had to choose and I chose to explore an entire friggin’ UNIVERSE in a completely new game rather than continue in a game I had been playing for the last 5+ years. Seemed eminently sensible.

Compared to some people (several regulars here!) I don’t read that much or that fast. My aim is to average 50 pages a day which I do (or did until recently) 95% of the time. These days’ 50 pages is a struggle even at weekends – although I was impressed that I read 100+ pages on Sunday. Taking that into account I thought that my reading drought (something I experience periodically) was coming to an end. I do hope so! One very noticeable effect of all of this is the reduction of my review pile – presently sitting at zero. This almost never happened in the past 10 years and has now become the norm. I expect to have a book to review on Thursday but presently I’m not too sure. Of course I’m not going to bust a gut to finish it quickly just to be able to review it for you guys (and any lurkers out there) but I have temporarily increased my lunch breaks and am making more of an effort to read on the bus on the way into work. That helps.

What I essentially need to do is focus more. These days I seem to be particularly easily distracted after 4, 5, 10 pages and will do something else for 30, 45, 60 minutes before coming back to the book. I need to concentrate more. It’s a habit I seem to have (hopefully temporarily) misplaced….. and speaking of which I’ll go red for 30 minutes (at least) before bed……