About Me

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

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Definition of Potential Energy....

Just Finished Reading: The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory (FP: 2012)

England: 1465. Eight year old Anne Neville is concentrating very hard indeed. Her task is not to tread on her mothers or her older sisters dress as they approach the new Queen. It is very important that they don’t embarrass their mother and especially their father, the Earl of Warwick who has been instrumental in placing the King on the throne. Of course Warwick is far less pleased that the King has chosen his wife without his advice and destroyed years of hard negotiating with France and the possibility of marriage between the two historic enemies possibly healing a rift for all time and finally uniting the two kingdoms. But, it was not to be, love (or more likely lust) has reduced that plan to dust. But Warwick still has two daughters he can move into positions of power and position for despite the recent setback there is still much to play for. But Warwick, the Kingmaker, has not bargained on the talents and ambitions of the upstate Queen Elizabeth Woodville. Without reference to protocol or rank she, through her husband start placing members of her enormous family in important positions gaining increasing power and wealth for the Woodville clan – the Rivers. Clearly no longer under Warwick’s influence he begins to move in the background to have someone more amenable on the throne and he knows exactly who should be the new Kings wife – one of his daughters who will in turn produce the next King of England putting the Neville family is an unassailable position for generations to come.

This is the 4th book in the Cousin’s War series and is as gripping as ever. I think the most surprising aspect of the whole thing is that, essentially the same ground is covered (or at least they seriously overlap) but each looks at the Wars of the Roses from different perspectives – York and Lancaster as well as each major family involved – to give a much more rounded view of what actually happened. Of course different players give events a different emphasis and a different spin. Here the supposedly evil Richard III gets a much better press and (despite still being unable to explain what happened to the Princes in the Tower) comes out of things in much better shape if not exactly smelling of Plantagenet white roses. So much so, indeed, that I’m no longer so sure that Richard was indeed a bad guy! Oh, the power of literature. I’m going to have to research this further. Of course Richard lost at Bosworth and, as we all know the victors write the histories so maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t the complete power grabbing bastard I’ve been told since early in my school career… The author makes no bones about her overall ‘mission’ in her novels – to bring the long neglected women of that period back into the foreground of public consciousness. The problem, as she rightly states, is that even for high ranking women such as Anne and her sister Isobel there is actually little to go on in the historical record. Of necessity much in the novel has to be speculation and the serious filling in of gaps in the historical record. But, and this is an important point, the author clearly knows just how far she can go in her speculative musings. She knows the period and knows her stuff. This is historical fiction – and clearly portrayed as such - with the aim of getting people to read the history of the era and not simply leave things in the fictional realm. So much so that this, and other books in the series, come complete with a bibliography which, to be honest, you will find in very few modern novels! Needless to say that I was, yet again, deeply impressed with this slice of the continuing sage of the war between York and Lancaster. Much more to come both in fiction and non-fiction of one of my favourite periods of English history.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Don't forget about the radioactivity......!

Is 'killer robot' warfare closer than we think?

By Mark Smith for BBC News

25 August 2017

More than 100 of the world's top robotics experts wrote a letter to the United Nations recently calling for a ban on the development of "killer robots" and warning of a new arms race. But are their fears really justified? Entire regiments of unmanned tanks; drones that can spot an insurgent in a crowd of civilians; and weapons controlled by computerised "brains" that learn like we do, are all among the "smart" tech being unleashed by an arms industry many believe is now entering a "third revolution in warfare". "In every sphere of the battlefield - in the air, on the sea, under the sea or on the land - the military around the world are now demonstrating prototype autonomous weapons," says Toby Walsh, professor of artificial intelligence at Sydney's New South Wales University. "New technologies like deep learning are helping drive this revolution. The tech space is clearly leading the charge, and the military is playing catch-up." One reported breakthrough giving killer machine opponents sleepless nights is Kalashnikov's "neural net" combat module. It features a 7.62mm machine gun and a camera attached to a computer system that its makers claim can make its own targeting judgements without any human control. According to Russia's state-run Tass news agency it uses "neural network technologies that enable it to identify targets and make decisions". Unlike a conventional computer that uses pre-programmed instructions to tackle a specific but limited range of predictable possibilities, a neural network is designed to learn from previous examples then adapt to circumstances it may not have encountered before. And it is this supposed ability to make its own decisions that is worrying to many.

"If weapons are using neural networks and advanced artificial intelligence then we wouldn't necessarily know the basis on which they made the decision to attack - and that's very dangerous," says Andrew Nanson, chief technology officer at defence specialist Ultra Electronics. But he remains sceptical about some of the claims arms manufacturers are making. Automated defence systems can already make decisions based on an analysis of a threat - the shape, size, speed and trajectory of an incoming missile, for example - and choose an appropriate response much faster than humans can. But what happens when such systems encounter something they have no experience of, but are still given the freedom to act using a "best guess" approach? Mistakes could be disastrous - the killing of innocent civilians; the destruction of non-military targets; "friendly fire" attacks on your own side.

And this is what many experts fear, not that AI will become too smart - taking over the world like the Skynet supercomputer from the Terminator films - but that it's too stupid. "The current problems are not with super-intelligent robots but with pretty dumb ones that cannot flexibly discriminate between civilian targets and military targets except in very narrowly contained settings," says Noel Sharkey, professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at Sheffield University. Despite such concerns, Kalashnikov's latest products are not the only autonomous and semi-autonomous weapons being trialled in Russia. The Uran-9 is an unmanned ground combat vehicle and features a machine gun and 30mm cannon. It can be remotely controlled at distances of up to 10km. And the diminutive Platform-M combat robot boasts automated targeting and can operate in extremes of heat and cold. Meanwhile the Armata T-14 "super tank" has an autonomous turret that designer Andrei Terlikov claims will pave the way for fully autonomous tanks on the battlefield. Manufacturer Uralvagonzavod also didn't respond to BBC requests for an interview, but Prof Sharkey - who is a member of pressure group The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots - is wary of its potential. "The T-14 is years ahead of the West, and the idea of thousands of autonomous T-14s sitting on the border with Europe does not bear thinking about," he says. And it's not just Russia developing such weapons.

Last summer, the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) equipped an ordinary surveillance drone with advanced AI designed to discern between civilians and insurgents during a test over a replica Middle Eastern village in Massachusetts. And Samsung's SGR-A1 sentry gun, capable of firing autonomously, has been deployed along the South Korean side of the Korean Demilitarised Zone. The UK's Taranis drone - which is roughly the size of a Red Arrow Hawk fighter jet - is being developed by BAE Systems. It is designed to carry a myriad of weapons long distances and will have "elements" of full autonomy, BAE says. At sea, the USA's Sea Hunter autonomous warship is designed to operate for extended periods at sea without a single crew member, and to even guide itself in and out of port. All the Western arms manufacturers contacted by the BBC, including Boeing's Phantom Works, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, refused to co-operate with this feature, an indication perhaps of the controversial nature of this technology. But could autonomous military technology also be used simply as support for human military operations? Roland Sonnenberg, head of defence at consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, says combat simulation, logistics, threat analysis and back office functions are the more mundane - but equally important - aspects of warfare that robots and AI could perform. "The benefits that AI has to offer are only useful if they can be applied effectively in the real world and will only be broadly adopted if companies, consumers and society trust the technology and take a responsible approach," he says.

And some argue that autonomous weapons could actually reduce the number of human casualties. But Elizabeth Quintana, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, disagrees. "Deploying robotic systems might be more attractive to politicians because there would be fewer body bags coming home. My view is that war is an inherently human activity and that if you wage war from a distance at another group or country, they will find a way to hurt you at home because that is the only way that they can retaliate." The prospect of autonomous weapons systems inadvertently leading to an escalation in domestic terrorism or cyber-warfare is perhaps another reason to treat this new tech with caution.

[I know I keep banging on about it and I’m probably boring some of you but it needs to be said. Nations around the globe are actively building machines whose express design and mission is to kill human beings. Presently humans are still (largely) in the loop but that’s going to go the first time machine meets machine and the autonomous one beats the human controlled one to the draw. Future wars between technologically advanced nations will be humans & machines against other humans and machines. Whether or not humans are ever completely removed from the battlefield is unknown at this point. It does raise the question what exactly remains though? If machines are fighting machines in some godforsaken desert somewhere is that really warfare? Without people involved and soldiers dying on either side what exactly is happening? That’s also leaving the probability that advanced countries will be fighting less advanced ones who don’t have robots. There robots will almost exclusively be killing humans with zero risk to the country using them. Again, is this actually war or something more akin to slaughter or even, taken far enough, genocide? Are we sleepwalking into James Cameron’s nightmare?]

Saturday, August 26, 2017

A Sign for all occasions...... 

'Self-driving' lorries to be tested on UK roads

From The BBC

25 August 2017

Small convoys of partially self-driving lorries will be tried out on major British roads by the end of next year, the government has announced. A contract has been awarded to the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) to carry out the tests of vehicle "platoons". Up to three lorries will travel in formation, with acceleration and braking controlled by the lead vehicle. But the head of the AA said platoons raised safety concerns. In the platoons, the lead vehicle will be controlled by a human driver and will communicate with the rest of the convoy wirelessly. The following vehicles will be instructed to accelerate and brake by the lead vehicle, allowing the lorries to drive closer together than they could with human drivers.

Lorries driving close together could reduce air resistance for the following vehicles, as the front lorry pushes air out of the way. This could lead to fuel efficiency savings for haulage companies, which Transport Minister Paul Maynard hopes will be passed on to consumers. The following vehicles could also react more quickly to the lead lorry braking than human drivers can. However, human drivers will still steer all the lorries in the convoy. The TRL will begin trials of the technology on test tracks, but these trials are expected to move to major roads by the end of 2018. The government has been promising such a project since at least 2014. Last year, for example, it announced its intention to carry out platooning trials but was later frustrated after some European lorrymakers declined to participate. A Department for Transport spokesman told the BBC that the experiments are now expected to go ahead as the contract had been awarded.

Platooning has been tested in a number of countries around the world, including the US, Germany and Japan. However, British roads present a unique challenge, said Edmund King, president of the AA. "We all want to promote fuel efficiency and reduce congestion but we are not yet convinced that lorry platooning on UK motorways is the way to go about it," he said, pointing out, for example, that small convoys of lorries can block road signs from the view of other road users. "We have some of the busiest motorways in Europe with many more exits and entries. Platooning may work on the miles of deserted freeways in Arizona or Nevada but this is not America," he added. His comments were echoed by the RAC Foundation. Its director, Steve Gooding, said: "Streams of close-running HGVs could provide financial savings on long-distance journeys, but on our heavily congested motorways - with stop-start traffic and vehicles jostling for position - the benefits are less certain." Campaign group the Road Haulage Association said "safety has to come first". Transport Minister Paul Maynard said platooning could lead to cheaper fuel bills, lower emissions and less congestion. "But first we must make sure the technology is safe and works well on our roads, and that's why we are investing in these trials," he said.

[It’s been a long time coming but anyone who has been keeping an eye on tech progress it’s inevitable that fully autonomous vehicles will be the end point of baby steps such as this. I’d say that within 20 years (a conservative estimate) that 50% of all haulage and delivery vehicles will be self-drive and that within 30 years all public transport plus rail transport will be fully autonomous. It is, as they say, only a matter of time. Any organisation that tries to flow against the tide will not be able to compete against robotic vehicles that can drive faster, safer and for longer than any human being. Once they become accepted people will really wonder why we took so long to have them on our roads. Welcome to the future of transport.]

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Just Finished Reading: A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton (FP: 2014)

London, Present Day. Lacey Flint is the newest member of the River Police patrolling the river Thames snaking its way through the heart of London. But she is far from a green recruit straight out of training. Lacey used to be a detective but, on the edge of burn out, decided on a voluntary demotion back into uniform. Hoping for a quieter life where she can recharge her emotional batteries and come to terms with recent events her retreat is shattered when she discovers a body floating in the Thames. But this is no ordinary accident or even suicide. The body has been wrapped in a ceremonial cloth and clearly weighted to remain at the bottom of the river. When a second body is found it becomes clear that a serial killer is targeting a very specific type of person for very specific reasons. Unfortunately for Lacey she neatly fits into the killers profile and the killer seems to know a great deal about her. As Lacey becomes more and more entangled in the plots of others her hidden past begins to float to the surface. Who is the woman she visits in prison every week without fail who she seems to know very well despite being on the very opposite sides of the law, why does she lie about her birthday and is her name even Lacey to begin with. So many questions and so little time for the tide is turning and soon all will be revealed.

This was one of those random books I’ve started picking up from my local supermarket. Twice a week they update their Top 40 books and I find myself browsing through them looking for something interesting, something different and something cheap in case my instincts fail me and I bring home a stinker. Well, this time my instincts did not fail me – far from it. Despite only (presently) having a little over 50 books listed in this category Crime novels are actually one of my favourite genres. I am by nature a puzzle solver and there are hardly more interesting puzzles than other human beings especially acting under stress. Crime novels allows the reader to experience things that they’ll hopefully never experience for real and, in the process often solve (or at least try to solve) an often complex and cool puzzle. The reward is getting to the killer or an important clue before the author reviews them to the reader. Although I failed to get the killer correct – she kept me guessing until the very end – I am proud to say that I clued into the motive behind the killings around 10 pages before the author confirmed my hunch. But, apart from the fact that the novel was very well, and very tightly, written and often had a wonderfully creepy atmosphere, it had a superb cast of characters (both minor and major) who were completely believable. I’ve worked (briefly) with the police before and the author had their dialogue spot on – that half jokey, half world weary way of talking that seems to say that they’ve seen it all and that nothing could phase them, but still it does. Lacey herself was a real gem. I discovered part way through this book that it’s actually the 4th in the series. Luckily this did not detract from things at all. There are references throughout to earlier episodes in her life but there just added extra depth to an already interesting character. The good thing, of course, is that I know have another 4 books to find out more about her! As you can tell I was very impressed by this rather rare foray into contemporary crime. Needless to say there will be much more coming and much more from Ms Flint.  

Monday, August 21, 2017

Feeling insignificant yet...........?

…and So It Begins (or carries on, it’s unclear)….and STILL catching up…

UK inflation rate leaps to 2.3%.

Rising fuel and food prices helped to push last month's inflation rate to the highest since September 2013. Inflation as measured by the Office for National Statistics' Consumer Prices Index (CPI) jumped to 2.3% in February - up from 1.8% in January. The increase has pushed the rate above the Bank of England's 2% target. Food prices recorded their first annual increase for more than two-and-a-half years, standing 0.3% higher in February than a year earlier. The Bank of England has said it expects inflation will peak at 2.8% next year, although some economists think the rate could rise above 3%. This month, the ONS has started to promote its preferred inflation statistic, CPIH, which includes a measure of housing costs and council tax. This was also measured as growing at a rate of 2.3% in February. The Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation rose to 3.2% in February from 2.6% the month before. At the last week's meeting of the Bank of England's interest rate setting committee, one member voted for interest rates to rise to curb the threat of inflation. But despite inflation standing above the 2% target, some economists do not expect interest rates to rise any time soon. Inflation is now running at the same rate as growth in wages, putting pressure on household income and spending. Chris Williamson, chief business economist at Markit, said: "It remains likely that policymakers will adopt an increasingly dovish tone in coming months, despite the rise in inflation, as the economy slows due to consumers being squeezed by low pay and rising prices."

Thousands of anti-Brexit activists join London march.

Tens of thousands of people joined an anti-Brexit march to call for Britain to remain in the European Union. The Unite for Europe march in London coincided with events to mark 60 years since the EU's founding agreement, the Treaty of Rome, was signed. A minute's silence to remember the victims of the Westminster attack was held ahead of speeches at a rally in Parliament Square. Prime Minister Theresa May will trigger the exit process from the EU next week. One marcher, Jaqueline Skelton, told the BBC she had joined the demonstration because she was "really, really frightened" about leaving the EU. But onlooker Mike McKenna, who voted to leave, said it would be better for the nation to unite before talks with the EU begin, "not stamp your feet and have hissy fits". Brexit Secretary David Davis has described the upcoming talks to leave the EU as "the threshold of the most important negotiation for this country for a generation".

Brexit: Food chiefs warn on EU tariffs.

Farmers, supermarkets and food suppliers have called on Theresa May to secure a free trade deal with the European Union after Brexit. Industry bosses said failure to do so could harm the UK's supply of food and drink and lead to higher prices. Although much of the industry is based in the UK, it "cannot operate in isolation", they said. They urged ministers to ensure higher tariffs were not imposed on imported and exported produce. In a joint letter, the National Farmers Union, the Food and Drink Federation and the British Retail Consortium (BRC) called on ministers to ensure they continued to enjoy tariff-free trade with the EU. Helen Dickinson, director general at the BRC, said the bloc was by far the UK's biggest trading partner for food. "To keep prices low for consumers, it is particularly important that we don't have any new tariffs and we maintain frictionless movement of goods and put consumers at the heart of this," she told the Mail on Sunday. The groups' members include British farms, food giants like Nestle and supermarket chains such as Tesco.

Brexit: Civil service 'needs more staff'

The government has been warned that the civil service has failed to recruit enough extra staff to deal with Britain leaving the European Union. The National Audit Office said that there were still hundreds of posts to be filled, days before Brexit negotiations are scheduled to begin. Prime Minister Theresa May is due trigger Article 50 on Wednesday. The head of the civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, said it was "well placed" to deal with challenges ahead. In its report, the NAO, which scrutinises government spending, said Brexit would "further increase the capability challenges" facing a civil service already struggling to cope with major projects. It said the government must show "greater urgency" in filling skills gaps in Whitehall. Its report said a third of the 1,000 roles created in the new Department for Exiting the EU and the Department for International Trade had yet to be filled as of February.

And the posts that had been filled were done so "mostly by transferring staff from elsewhere in government". The spending watchdog said many of the specialist skills needed for the negotiations were in short supply and departments were competing against each other to recruit the right staff. National Audit Office chief Amyas Morse said the government must prioritise its activities and be ready to stop work on projects "it is not confident it has the capability to deliver". He said: "The civil service is facing ever-increasing challenges. The work of government is becoming more technical, continuing budgetary restraint is putting pressure on departments and the decision to leave the EU means government will have to develop new skills and take on work previously done by others. Government has gaps in its capability and knows it must do more to develop the skills it needs. It is making plans to do so but the scale of the challenge ahead means greater urgency is needed."

All details above from BBC News website.

[It’s hard to tell (sometimes) if the UK government negotiation team are fantasists, badly advised, deadly serious or simply incompetent. If what’s come out so far is anything to go by and that is where our negotiating position starts from I’d say that we’re going to need a lot longer than 2 years to negotiate jack-shit. Rather than simply playing to the peanut gallery with ideas of open access whilst restricting immigration – always good for votes – this actually seems to be what we are asking for, as if the EU can or wants to give us these quite bizarre accommodations after we’ve left the EU completely. Thinking about it I’d have to plump for delusional. Yes, that’s it. We’re clearly delusional.]

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Oh, look..... More rain.....
Very few girls took computing A-level.

By Jane Wakefield, Technology reporter for BBC News

17 August 2017

A worrying statistic for the tech industry was revealed in freshly-released A-level data - only 9.8% of those completing a computing course were girls. It comes amid a storm in Silicon Valley over the number of women employed in the tech industry. Experts agree that the world faces a digital skills shortage and that a more even gender balance is crucial. One industry body worried that too few boys were also choosing the subject.

"Today's announcement that nearly 7,600 students in England took A-level computing means it's not going to be party time in the IT world for a long time to come," said Bill Mitchell, director of education at the IT Chartered Institute, BCS. He said that it fell well short of the 40,000 level that "we should be seeing". But he added that the fact so few girls were taking the subject was particularly worrying. "At less than 10%, the numbers of girls taking computing A-level are seriously low. We know that this a problem starting at primary school and it's something that we need to address at all levels throughout education. As a society, we need to make sure that our young women are leaving education with the digital skills they need to secure a worthwhile job, an apprenticeship or go on to further study." The figures, from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), are not all bad news. They reveal that there has been a 34% rise in the number of female students sitting the computer science exam, up to 816 from 609 in 2016.

Google engineer James Damore caused controversy this month when he penned a memo suggesting that there were fewer women at Google because of biological differences. The search giant sacked him over the remarks, saying they were "offensive". A recent survey of 1,000 university students conducted by audit firm KPMG suggested that only 37% of young women were confident they had the tech skills needed by today's employers. A total of 73% said that they had not considered a graduate job in technology. Aidan Brennan, KPMG's head of digital transformation, said: "The issue here isn't around competency - far from it - but rather how businesses understand the underlying capability of an individual and how to unlock it. I think this research highlights the work that needs to be done to show the next generation that when it comes to a career in tech, gender isn't part of the equation. Competition for jobs is tough and we know that female job seekers can be less likely to apply for a role than their male counterparts if they don't feel they already possess every prerequisite the job demands."

Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE, who founded the charity Stemettes to persuade more girls to pursue careers in Science, Technology Engineering and Maths has her own view about the low number of girls taking A-level computing. "Girls often don't want to be the only one in the class so they tend not to pick the subject when it is an option," she said. "Also, it's often not even an option in a lot of schools so it's an uphill battle but fortunately, a lot of computer science courses take A-level maths students, so there is a very viable route for girls into the course itself and related courses."

[Considering how IT heavy the world is increasingly becoming and how the young seem to swim so easily in those waters you would think that more of them would be interested in pursuing it as a potential career. Plus there’s plenty of money to be made in the High Tech clouds so why the reluctance to get involved? A perception that it’s a difficult subject area? An assumption that tech is getting easier to use every year so why bother to learn anything that will be obsolete by the time they graduate? But it would seem that, at least for the foreseeable future, those with IT skills will live in a sellers market.]

Thursday, August 17, 2017

...and at the back of the property.....

Just Finished re-Reading: The War of the Flea – A Study of Guerrilla Warfare Theory & Practice by Robert Taber (FP: 1965/1969)

After reading this rich and well-argued little book (a mere 160 pages in my 1970 Paladin edition) I was no longer surprised that the entire first edition printed in the US was purchased by various branches of the military then engaged in a deadly guerrilla war in Vietnam. Not that it helped them win because, as the author himself cogently argued, it was probably already too late in 1965 never mind in 19775 when the war officially ended.

The author, neither a military man nor an academic, was a journalist and, by all accounts a damned good one. From reading this impressive analysis of the weak fighting against the strong (and sometimes seemingly the impossibly strong) I became more and more impressed as to the remarkable diagnostic focus he gave to modern conflicts were apparently weak enemies consistently beat much stronger ones – the classic example (still on-going at the time of publication) being that of Vietnam. But, as everyone should know, what we know as the Vietnam war was in fact the second such conflict in that region and, arguably, simply a continuation of the first complete with the same mistakes. Where the French failed after WW2 the Americans failed in the 1960’s and 1970’s. But although the two Vietnam conflicts garnered a substantial proportion of this book the authors analysis went much broader using examples from Malaya, Cyprus, Algeria, Ireland (from the Easter Rising in 1916 onwards), Greece (after WW2), Cuba and, of course, the Chinese Revolution/Civil War masterminded by Mao – the godfather of countless revolutions afterwards.

It was a lot of ground to cover and the author did so with little wasted effort and, more often than not, with pin-point accuracy not unlike his subjects the guerrilla fighters themselves. Most of the successful case studies followed the same progression through various stages from the founding of the guerrilla group up until final victory years or even decades later. Most rebellions, or wars of National Liberation, worked because the underlying conditions made them practically inevitable. His case studies of guerrilla wars that failed – most notably the Communist insurgency in Greece and the failed uprising in British Malaya – illustrated his points all the more starkly as each failed to follow Mao’s recommendations and sometimes actively worked against them.

This is an area of study of particular interest to me – how the weak can fight and even defeat a much stronger opponent (at least on paper). Fleas, it seems, can debilitate a much bigger and stronger dog one small bite at a time. But when the dog retaliates it strikes at nothing and slowly bleeds into inactivity and finally death. We still see it today – when Superpowers, no matter what they do short of genocide, seem helpless in the face of opponents with little more than the AK-47 they carry. Afghanistan is rightly renowned as being the grave site of empires and imperial ambitions. Alexander the Great couldn’t subdue it, neither could the British Empire, the Soviet Union or the USA. It is an example of the war of the flea – par excellence! Not only has this excellent little book rekindled my interest in this type of warfare it has also altered and sharpened my focus of my approach to the R4 label. In future there will be somewhat less revolution and somewhat more guerrilla activity in the bush. Much more to come.

Speaking of Bond.... James Bond......

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

They did this a lot where my Mum lives (and I lived for 10+ years). Most of the area was new build so they put in the minimum of paved walkways and then left it. About 6-12 months later they came back and paved the bits where people had produced their own paths. What a very bright idea I thought!

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Costs are Becoming Apparent…… (Catching Up…!)

Boris Johnson: UK should reject 'Brexit cash bill'.

Boris Johnson has told the BBC that Britain should reject any EU demands for a £50bn "exit bill" and follow the example of former PM Margaret Thatcher. It has been reported that EU negotiator Michel Barnier has said the UK must continue to pay into the EU until 2020. Mr Johnson said it was "not reasonable" for the UK to "continue to make vast budget payments" once it left the EU. He cited Mrs Thatcher's success at the 1984 Fontainebleau Summit, when she threatened to halt payments to the EU. "I think we have illustrious precedent in this matter, and you will doubtless recall the 1984 Fontainebleau Summit in which Mrs Thatcher said she wanted her money back, and I think that is exactly what we will get," he told BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg in BBC Two's Brexit: Britain's Biggest Deal. "It is not reasonable, I don't think, for the UK having left the EU to continue to make vast budget payments, I think everybody understands that and that's the reality." The UK won the rebate in 1984, after then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher threatened to halt payments to the EU budget. At the time the UK was then the third poorest member of the Community but was on course to become the biggest net contributor to the EU budget.

Government still paying Brexit appeal cost.

The government has not yet finished paying the legal costs of its Supreme Court challenge over Brexit. In January, the Supreme Court upheld the High Court ruling that Parliament had to be consulted before Article 50 could be triggered. Labour MP Gloria de Piero tabled a written question asking when the cost of the appeal would be published. Brexit Minister Robin Walker replied: "The department has not been billed for all costs related to the case." He continued: "Details of the total costs associated with the case, including the costs of the Supreme Court appeal, will be published in due course after they have been settled." The government has rejected Freedom of Information requests for the cost to be revealed, saying it will be made public at a future date.

Brexit: Early financial settlement won't be 'forced on UK'.

The UK has been told it will not have to agree the exact sum of its financial exit settlement in the early stages after Article 50 has been triggered, BBC Newsnight has learned. A message has been passed through informal channels from EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier to top figures in David Davis's department. The UK would first have to agree the broad principles of the payment. The principles for EU citizens in the UK would then have to be agreed. Once these two principles have been agreed - on the financial settlement payment and EU citizens - Mr Barnier is prepared to open up the negotiations to cover all areas and the nature of the UK's future relations with the EU. This would meet the UK demand for the negotiations on the UK's future trade deal with the EU to be discussed in parallel with the Article 50 talks. Prime Minister Theresa May will trigger Article 50 - which have to be concluded within two years - in the final week of March. The exact sum of the divorce settlement would be agreed later in the negotiations. Amid reports that the UK could face a bill of between €34bn (£30bn) to €60bn (£52bn), Mr Barnier is saying the exact sum will be determined on the EU side by the EU's Court of Auditors towards the end of the two year negotiations. The ballpark in Brussels is that the EU has liabilities of around €600bn (£520bn). The UK would be responsible for around 12% of that, producing a rough figure of €60bn (£52bn).

Housebuilder Berkeley shrugs off Brexit vote to hit profit targets.

Housebuilder Berkeley Group has said it expects profits at be at the top end of forecasts this year, as it signalled the housing market in London and the South East had "stabilised". In the seven months since the Brexit referendum result, Berkeley said new home sales had fallen by 16%. But in the last two months reservations were higher than a year earlier. The London-focused developer also said inquiry levels remained "robust" and pricing continued to be "resilient". It said the market had been adversely affected by a number of factors apart from Brexit uncertainty, including changes to stamp duty, the challenges of securing planning permission and the demands to provide affordable housing. As a result, new housing starts have fallen by 30% in the capital. However, the company said: "Berkeley is uniquely placed to maintain its high levels of production in London and the South East and we are onsite in production on 58 sites." It added that there were a further 22 sites in the pipeline.

Schaeuble calls for 'strong' City post Brexit.

Germany's finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has said it is in the EU's interest to have a strong financial centre in London. Speaking ahead of Friday's G20 meeting, Mr Schaeuble said he would want to negotiate a Brexit deal in which the City of London remains a global financial force. He said it was not feasible to move all of the City's operations abroad. To do so would involve a huge upheaval, Mr Schaeuble pointed out. In a keynote address to the IIF Conference in Frankfurt, he said: "I am convinced that for Europe as a whole - and I'm not sure this will be very beloved in Paris - it's in our own interests to have strong financial centre in London." Although he did promote Frankfurt as an alternative EU base for international banks in the wake of Brexit, Mr Schaeuble said he would want to negotiate a deal in which the City of London kept a key role. However, he cautioned, it had not been easy to "brainstorm" with his British counterparts. Mr Schaeuble's comments, made in conversation with UBS chair Axel Weber, come after Mr Weber confirmed that his bank would not wait for the outcome of Brexit negotiations to move up to 1,500 staff from London to an EU base.

All details above from BBC News website.

[Well, the Government are finally starting to get their act together and are beginning to speak with a single voice. I give that maybe 48-72 hours before the infighting and back-biting starts again amongst the usual leaks and ‘sources close to the Prime Minister’ headlines in both the pro and anti-Brexit papers. Apparently we’re now back to ‘Brexit means Brexit’ with none of this weak-assed ‘transitionary period’ nonsense. I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry some days….]  

Saturday, August 12, 2017

...and I thought that *my* school was underfunded.....!
US firm reveals gun-toting drone that can fire in mid-air

By Mary-Ann Russon for BBC News

11th August 2017

A US technology firm has developed a drone that is able to aim and fire at enemies while flying in mid-air. The Tikad drone, developed by Duke Robotics, is armed with a machine-gun and a grenade launcher. The gun can be fired only by remote control, and is designed to reduce military casualties by cutting the number of ground troops required. But campaigners warn that in the wrong hands, it will make it easier to kill innocent people. The Tikad drone, available for private sale at an undisclosed price, has won a security innovation award from the US Department of Defense, and there is interest from several military forces around the world, including Israel, reports Defense One. According to the firm's website, two of the three co-founders of Duke Robotics worked for the Israel Defense Forces and the third at Israel Aerospace Industries.

"As a former Special Mission Unit commander, I have been in the battlefield for many years," said CEO Raziel Atuar. "Over the last few years, we have seen how the needs of our troops in our battlefield have changed." However, robotics expert Professor Noel Sharkey expressed concern that gun-toting drones could make it easier to kill innocent people. "Big military drones traditionally have to fly thousands of feet overhead to get to targets, but these smaller drones could easily fly down the street to apply violent force," he told the BBC. "This is my biggest worry since there have been many legal cases of human-rights violations using the large fixed-wing drones, and these could potentially result in many more." For the past decade, Prof Sharkey has been campaigning against killer robots, which are fully autonomous, computer-powered weapons that would be able to track and select targets without human supervision. Together with the Campaign To Stop Killer Robots, a coalition of over 60 international NGOs including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Nobel Women's Initiative, Sharkey has been lobbying the United Nations to ban autonomous weapons. However, the machine-gun on board the Duke Robotics device still has to be controlled remotely by a human operator.

According to Prof Sharkey, some US military officials are concerned that although the US might follow the laws of war, terrorists could easily look at drone innovations and copy the idea to kill innocent people. "We already know that Islamic State is using drones laden with explosives to kill people. What's to stop them from getting their hands on this? Copying has not been possible with big military drones, but once you get the idea that you can strap automatic weapons onto one and operate it remotely, that's very much easier," he said. "This type of weapon is another dangerous step towards the development of fully autonomous weapons that could hunt down targets and kill them without human supervision."

[Just because we’re not moving towards a Terminator-style world fast enough……… Here we have a technology that will give the US and its Allies a distinct combat advantage on the future battlefield – for about a month or possibly two before the enemy of the week start using them too. Either they will capture our drones and send them right back to us or repair downed drones to do likewise, buy them on the open market (or be given them by a technologically advanced ally) or probably build them themselves from plans downloaded from or stolen from the Internet…. And in 10-15 years they’ll be fully autonomous just to make things even more interesting – and just wait until the first one is used in an urban environment hundreds or thousands of miles away from the nearest battlefield. Welcome to the future of law enforcement, terrorism and assassination.....]

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Batter Up...!

Just Finished Reading: Fusiliers – How the British Army lost America but learned how to Fight by Mark Urban (FP: 2007)

I’ll be the first to admit that, prior to reading this excellent book, my knowledge of the American War of Independence was rather scant. I knew it happened, I know the date 1776, I know we lost. I know the name Washington (as in General) and that battles happened at Lexington, Concord, Bunker Hill and Yorktown. But that’s about it. Until this book I couldn’t have named a single British commander and I couldn’t have said with certainty who won any of the battles listed – never mind the further battles mentioned in the book that I’d never heard of before. I guess that my American readers in particular might find this rather peculiar. After all this conflict is a large part of the American foundation myth so it stands to reason that, even after all this time, we still feel the hurt of separation. Not so much it seems!

As far as I can remember, apart from the fact it happened, I don’t believe that we ever studied the War of Independence at all in school. That’s over an educational era spanning 11-13 years. Maybe, mostly because we lost, it just wasn’t a hot enough topic to impress the minds of youngsters with. Anyway my ignorance was almost total so, as you might imagine, I learnt quite a lot in just over 300 pages. To give the story coherence the author focused (mainly) on a single regiment – The Royal Welch Fusiliers - and looked at the events from a singular point of view. This was essentially just how bad the British army was at the beginning of the conflict and just how good they were at the end (despite losing the war!). Inevitably much of the early part of the book is dedicated to the faults – endemic and deep seated – with the British military system. The most notorious was the practice of the purchase of commissions – essentially the way to get promoted or to enter into the officer class you simply paid for the post. The more money and higher position in society you had the higher rank was on offer to you. Ability, training or experience had no influence of this. You could be a complete novice with a lot of money and, moments after handing over a wodge of cash become a Colonel in His Majesties army and lead hundreds if not thousands of men into battle. The younger sons of the gentry started, often in their teens, as lieutenants straight from school and were expected to ‘learn on the job’ often with the blood of the men they led into the carnage of the 18th century battlefield. Ordinary soldiers, no matter how good or how experienced, who had neither money nor patronage languished at the bottom end of the rank structure until they died or left. Promotion of any sort – together with any kind of living wage – was a dream that few actually realised. Almost another side to this coin was the indiscipline of the common solider who was not beyond striking his officers, looting and other illegal acts of war and deserting at the earliest opportunity. Such tendencies were not helped by leniency at the highest levels who all too often commuted harsh sentences to much lessor ones or who wrote them off completely. It wasn’t until a succession of defeats or near defeats (with higher than expected casualties to match) forced a rethink.

This, the author strongly contends, was the beginning of the greatness in the British army who, not that long after losing America, went on to resoundedly beat the great Napoleon Bonaparte. Lessons learned on the battlefields in America, as well as lessons rejected from the Prussians with their parade ground precision in Europe, produced a force that could not only take a great deal of damage during an encounter with the enemy but then return the favour in kind and them some thereby shattering the Napoleonic columns that had previously defeated every other army thrown against them.

My knowledge of the Independence struggle of our American Colonies is much better now though admittedly from a very shallow base! As will most successful revolutions this one was too far advanced to successfully oppose long before the first shot was fired. The British took more than 6 years to realise that fact before throwing in the towel and sailing away to future glory on the battlefields of continental Europe. Whether or not without the War the British might have, ultimately, been defeated by the French is an interesting speculation. How the world might have turned out if that was the case is even more interesting to think about! A very interesting look at a pivotal moment in world history from the point of view of, this time, the losing faction.