Tag Archives: Tech Stuff

Smart meter gossip

Wonder if anyone from Florida can assist on this one. One of my contacts within the local power utility was overheard saying something about ‘Smart meters’ being removed from various premises in that state. They weren’t specific on the reasons, and of course it’s purely tech gossip and therefore not to be trusted as gospel, but are there any locales where the not-so-smart meters are actually not going in due to local opposition / operational difficulties? Or even where they are being removed?

The local meter readers don’t seem to be being laid off Like they were when this whole business began, and indeed appear busier than ever.

There are all sorts of rumours flying around about the so-called ‘smart grids’ not having a snowballs chance in hell of going fully operational because important decisions have been made for political and aspirational reasons rather than technical feasibility. Unverified, but all the same…

That’s all I know for certain right now, but I am starting to hear metaphorical wheels squeaking from all the backpedaling going on in the background. Very interesting…. Pity it’s eaten up so much taxpayer subsidy in these straitened times.

More changes to the point of view.

Have made a few alterations to the look of the blog. Comments and such are on the front page now, but you`ll have to scroll way down to the bottom as with this theme there is no room for sidebars. I did toy with the idea of an animated header, but that would have been a little over the top, even for me.

Stepdaughters are on their travels shortly. One back to blighty to complete legal studies, the other to Africa, and thence to Australia to work. We`re subbing them out of course, and they are staying with friends and family, so no rent and food bills etc. We`ll get the payback in later years, seeing them comfortably ensconced in good careers. Not that this will be appreciated, but that`s my cynicism for you. There it is! I was wondering where it had gone!

No doubt they will have many travelers tales to recount about the long wait at immigration at Heathrow and how many times they were searched on the way to see certain events at the London Olympics. Not that I`d go myself, worked there for a few years and had a bellyful. Sure the money`s not bad, but quite frankly I`d rather bed down in a nest of rattlesnakes. However, we all have to learn for ourselves.

The sun is taking a rest break behind clouds for the next four days, which will give my sunburn time to turn into tan. The pool is covered and there is work to do.

Changing the point of view

Just playing around with wordpress themes really. Nothing much to report apart from some minor issues with my Interweb browsers. Firefox has been problematic of late as far as videos are concerned, something to do with Realplayer and Shockwave Flash. Can’t be bothered to fix it any more, so Chrome has been getting more use. Firefox may find itself going the way of Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that I’m ticked off with having to mess around under the hood, so to speak.

As far as I’m concerned, Firefox is becoming like a vintage car. Looks great, even sounds wonderful; but getting a bit too slow, and getting too maintenance heavy.

Have been messing around with the blog template just to see what happens in a kind of Fisher-Price way.

An old satellite and a song

Today is the 50th Anniversary of Telstar, the first proper TV relay satellite. This song is also from that time. As is the one below. Slightly weird, but fun. In a geeky sort of way.

Elder sibling bought a copy, or had it bought for him, and I found it in his old record collection. Honest guv. I used to play it on his old record deck, a mahogany cased monster of a thing. Good grief, the memories flood back. 405 line TV sets (The ones you had to hit to get a half decent picture), hiding behind the sofa during Doctor Who (William Hartnell era), and when Ford Zodiac Mark II’s were thought to be the bees articular interfaces.

Awesome if used right

Am I the only one thinking that this could be a great tool for close-up news coverage of dangerous / secretive events? Add sound to the video and increase the battery life, and the possibilities for wildlife coverage or war zones are incredible. That and not having to struggle in a press of journo’s covering an outdoor event to see what someone really said.

First hand news, first hand, at an affordable price. Coming soon via drone technology. Awesome if used well. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Now the possibility exists that watchers can be watched right back.

It might even be fun.

Go, NightJack!

The blogging detective ‘outed’ by the Times has just lodged a claim for exemplary damages in the UK’s high court.

This blog wishes him every success.

As, I suspect, do a few more who were ‘outed’ by the Times and suffered career damage.

As they would say in my adopted new homeland; Go! Nightjack!

Why ‘Smart Meters’ increase electricity bills

If you are one of those who are concerned about ‘Smart Meters’, here is a simple reason not to have one; It will significantly increase your electricity bill if you have any electrical appliances in your house or business like a washing machine, dishwasher, heat pump, storage heaters, air conditioning, hot water heater and / or pump, or full size electric cooker. See this article here for more detail.

Simply speaking, when any domestic electrical appliance is switched on, it momentarily draws heavily on the electricity supply. The key words to remember here are ‘surge voltages’. These surges at switch on can be several times the electrical rating of an appliance, and the bigger (and older) the appliance, the larger the surge. With the old meters this wasn’t an issue, as these surges are so short that the old electromechanical meters couldn’t record them. However, the ‘Smart meters’ being purely electronic, record every last milliamp, and report these directly to the suppliers via a mesh type network on a real time basis. Never mind being billed at varying rates for different times of the day.

Essentially what happens is that if you have a family that uses dishwashers two or three times daily, or cooks with electricity using an electric oven twice a day, and has gotten used to washing their clothes regularly, then your bills will soar, especially if you cannot afford to replace all your older appliances whose surge voltages are likely to be significantly higher than more electricity efficient modern equipment.

Using this technology has also raised concerns in the Security community, including the FBI, about ‘smart grids’ vulnerability to simple software tools which can in their simplest form, shut down parts of the electricity grid. Informed opinion is that these ‘attacks’ are likely to spread. The genie is out of the bottle, and the law of unintended consequences doing a happy little jig in the shadows.

The meters themselves are also laughably vulnerable to the notorious alleged ‘magnet hack’ (Look it up yourself), where two strongish electromagnets placed diametrically either side of the meter can slow it down. Simply covering the meters with a Faraday cage (or even common or garden baking foil) type structure can completely block a ‘smart’ meters RF frequency reporting. The trick for the householder of course, is not to get caught doing it, or blame someone else (Anti Smart meter campaigners, notorious ‘electrosensitives‘ – catch my drift?) when the RF blocking device (Faraday cage etc) is discovered (“Well I didn’t put it there.”).

To add insult to injury these smart meter roll outs are being subsidised by Government (actually ‘taxpayer’) as part of a ‘green’ initiative. Which rather makes a better case for smaller government, as all big government demonstrably does is create bigger screw ups on a grander scale.

For more in depth and balanced information on the full range of Smart meter issues, read this article thoroughly.

Auroras and Sunstorms

Well, never mind the odd missing Server and a few 500 series errors, there might be real fireworks within the next twenty four hours. The little G class star from which all our solar energy flows is having a bit of a hiccup. An X5 solar flare no less. Not quite a Carrington event, but it looks like I might even be lucky enough to see my first ever Aurora borealis down here near the 49th parallel if the predictions hold good.

My Skymaster binoculars are on standby, and I shall be out on my deck in the predawn hours wrapped up warm with camera at the ready and a very large mug of hot coffee.

For those interested in events of this nature, the Canadian Space Science site has this real time auroral monitoring page. The NASA OVATION prediction page here.

Update: Bit of a disappointment so far. Too much cloud, and the view line is still a few hundred miles away, north of the Queen Charlotte Islands Heavy sigh. I was getting quite excited about that. Never mind. It’s not over yet, and there’s been a lot of flare activity over the past 12 months. Still, there was a nice Sunrise first thing. The sun blurring into an elongated vertical oblong through the clouds. Happens most mornings this time of year. I’m told it’s something to do with sunlight diffusing through ice crystals.

Update: Thursday 8th March 20:45 PST. Just had a look at the latest predictions for the Auroral ovals. If the current activity keeps up and there are a few clear patches, there’s a chance that even Seattle might get a glimpse. I’m hoping for a clear patch of sky to the north around 23:30 PST.

Update Friday 9th March 13:25 PST. Occasional vague green flickerings on the horizon in the early hours, but nothing more to report because of the cloud. Oh well, perhaps next time, or maybe when I’m further north some time.

New kit

Well it happens.  Stuff wears out.  Registry gets clogged.  Bits of code get corrupted, applications and browsers require ever more memory.  My old desktop ‘pooter has been retired to where it will no longer be asked to do what it was never designed for.  Now in its superceded dotage it will serve out its last days before silicon heaven as an offline backup server.  (Of course there’s a Silicon Heaven, otherwise where would all the dead calculators go?)

The new machine is a modest but workmanlike laptop, and a new wireless router has been purchased and configured.  A Wireless printer will also shortly serve our little home / office network.

The difference in performance is quite startling.  Even the most weighty web pages appear in a trice, I can work anywhere in the house or hopefully out on our spacious deck when it warms up a bit. Until I adapt my typing to the keyboard, my speed and accuracy will be a little reduced, but seeing as the old machine was responding so slowly that I was typing faster than text could appear, there will be little appreciable difference.

Dare I say it, a spring is returning to my step.  The light dawns and all the clouds that loured upon this house will soon be fading bad memories.  Well, after my Mother in law is returned to England in late May that is.   Oh, yes, and that other minor matter….  Hmm.  Okay. (Warm knowing chuckle)

March 8th – Death day for the Internet?

Picked up from the Russian news service, RT, here.

Apparently the FBI will be shutting down some temporary DNS servers set up to replace those infected by the botnet trojan, a nasty little piece of misdirection malware, on 8th March. The thing is, no one seems to know if those temporary, and Internet critical DNS servers are going to be replaced in time or not.

Without DNS there is no World Wide Web. Not as we know it. Looks like a lot of the Interweb might be subject to a major hiccup. Expect a lot of 500 series errors that day.

Might schedule that as a day off. Hi ho.

Nature and straight lines

One of the things that always makes me guffaw about the alarmist, wereallgonnadiesooooonunlessyougiveusallyourdosh prognostications from various factions, that unless humanity stops what it’s doing right now, man made (Why is it always our fault? I’m feeling a little victimised here) disaster is going to result in more floods / hurricanes / tornadoes / typhoons / visits from next doors cat, is a single 1nconvertible flaw in their arguments. They almost all rely on oversimplifications based upon two dimensional linear relationships. There is no down to their up. Their sine waves freely convert to never ending exponential curves without a wisp of logic. There is no Brownian in their motion. Ever upward is their creed, and therein lies its fault.

Forgive me for relying on data, as opposed to mere supposition, but it is my observation that there are no true straight lines in nature. Not in the flow of a river, in the boiling of any liquid, in the stress response of all materials, in heat absorption / refraction, in the Hertzsprung Russel diagram, nowhere. Even space / time is curved. Nature tends to the circular. Ripples are circular. Cycles are a translation of approximately circular motion. We as humans respond to the roughly cyclic nature of our world because we have evolved to respond to our innate, circadian rhythms. Upward cycles require ever increasing amounts of energy before they peak and fall. This is common knowledge. At least amongst those with any serious technical training / competence. This lack of straight lines is one of the reasons moderately advanced mathematics can seem so complex. After a point, the old x/y=z only works in artificial, human created environments, and then only for relatively narrow given ranges. The real world is somewhat more complex.

Take for example the old chestnut of panic-mongering about the world becoming irrevocably flooded. This, according to its vociferous proponents, will happen because of a straight line relationship in the infra red absorption of a certain molecule, and mans ever increasing output of said molecules. What said proponents forget is that the relationship they claim for said material fails because it does not act in such a linear fashion, even under laboratory conditions. Materials, all materials have non-linear responses. They fail, they saturate, their behaviour changes even if they do not undergo a state change, as with freezing or boiling water. Ever watched an infra red video of water being heated from freezing? Is the overall graph of energy input / output a straight line? No. Ever read a strain gauge when stress / failure testing metals? Do these follow straight lines? No. Their elasticity varies even with relatively minor changes in temperature, as any fule kno. So why does anyone with the slightest cognitive competence believe all these two dimensional over simplifications that claim to be ‘science’ when they’re demonstrably false? Or at least true for only a very small range.

Then again, when politics pollutes scientific study, this sort of cognitive dissonance always seems to pop up. For a given, and often arbitrary, value of ‘up’.

Upon reflection, perhaps politics is the antithesis of knowledge, making sure we uppity bipeds never get too clever for our own good? Some form of evolved self-limiting factor, perchance? Maybe throughout the history of humanity there are points at which our brains reach knowledge saturation and begin to suffer massive failures of logic?

This might account for the rise and fall of many civilisations. Greeks got too clever with all their philosophers, now look at them. Same for all those ancient Romans and Byzantines. They were technologically advanced, yet their technology had to be rediscovered. Which leads me to ask; is there such a thing as ‘peak technology’? One things for certain, the lines won’t be straight, no matter how you plot them.

What conspiracies?

Sometimes I look at these blogs and view them with the same jaundiced eye that a bar regular looks at the visiting nutter. Especially those wide eyed innocents who repost the semi coherent crap about how 9/11 was ‘done by the government’ to justify some otherwise unpalatable turn of foreign policy or create a ‘casus belli‘.

All of these conspiracy theories are crap. Every last single one; from UFO’s, ‘chemtrails’ and black helicopters, to ‘who shot JFK’, faked moon landings and 9/11 being a demolition job. Even the assertions of ‘New world Order’ are little more than Politicians letting off esteem. As for the ‘club of Rome’, that document is aspirational more than anything else, so no, it lacks credence, as do those politicians who try and follow the principles. A bureaucratic edifice of such rigid construction will rapidly collapse under its own internal socio-economic pressures. As we can see happening right now. Like the old Soviet Union, such entities are too rigid and inflexible to survive for long.

Why do I make this bold assertion (sic) prey tell? Simple, because I understand logistics and processes. I’ve also trained as an Engineer. You know, worked with real materials and seen, first hand how they behave under various conditions. How breaking strains alter under differing heat and pressure conditions. I also understand (to a degree) the science of illusion, having spent some time on the fringes of the ‘creative’ industry as an AV technician. Ever seen a movie being made? A proper feature film? Pre and post production? Worked and talked with people who do special effects for a living and seen how they ‘fake’ it? Then taken a good long look at the credits list of a movie at the cinema? Yes, I’m one of the sad buggers who doesn’t leap up from their seat the minute the end credits pop up, because I’m looking for names I recognise in the first and second units and the whole army of people it takes to put a half way and not so decent movie together.

Having also spent a deal of my working life in the public sector, I know how driven by cock-up the whole process of Government, both at local and national level, is. Because it is made up of people. Not super humans, but ordinary working stiffs doing stuff ‘by the book’ which has been written by another working stiff who is mere mortal flesh like the rest of us. People who make mistakes, as we all do. People who talk about their work, who bunk off early because its Friday and hide their mistakes from the boss lest they get fired or disciplined. The result being that Government leaks like a sieve. Even the so-called ‘secret’ CIA leaks, the UK security services leak, Mossad, the Russians, the Chinese, everyone leaks. Sometimes these leaks are managed for the purposes of political ‘spin’ by politicians, who are no smarter than the rest of the Mark 1 Human being (Possibly more dishonest, self interested or devious, but definitely not smarter). Sometimes a guy in a bar will say something about what he does to impress a girl with the object of removing her lingerie. Without spending a whole life in hiding, there is no perfect secrecy.

A fortiori; we are gossips. It is human. Leaks happen. That is human. So how on earth does anyone expect an imperfect agency, to wit; Government, to be perfectly secret about hugely complex operations? Even the Atomic Bomb programme leaked back in the 40’s. Even with the ‘special services’; they might not talk, but their neighbours do. Comings and goings at odd hours are noticed. Oddities stand out from the patterns of everyday life. Changes in behaviour. For these big conspiracies to happen, there’s a whole logistic chain of fallible humans to link together. The bigger the event, the easier it is to pick up a trail.

Let us take the example of the ‘space race’ chronicled and filmed to perdition, and with the AV technology available at the time, impossible to fake. For proof, look at Hollywoods finest contemporary portrayals that would have used state of the art camera technology and direction techniques. Now compare with the footage shot by Armstrong, Aldrin, and all the other Apollo astronauts. Then work out how many people would have had to been in on the ‘fake’. It would have been far easier to go there than fart around making truly convincing fake footage. I believe Mr Aldrin still gets pretty steamed at being called a liar by the crazies, and I don’t blame him for punching one of them out. He should have stomped on the nasty fuckers head, and hang the consequences.

For 9/11, look at the physics of failure in a stressed steel skin constriction skyscraper. Faking those with explosives would have necessitated weeks of placing obviously linked explosive charges in offices where people were actually working. Controlled demolition requires (According to a Civil Engineer friend of mine) a lot of work which would not have gone unnoticed. Supporting pillars would have had to be drilled, the charges would have to be linked with stuff like cordex running everywhere to ensure that the charges all went off in the correct order. Far easier to ram a Jet Airliner into a building and let the intense heat of burning aviation spirit weaken the internal structures to the point where they undergo catastrophic failure and the mass of the top thirty or so stories drops at 9.81 metres per second, crushing the rest (Which increases the falling mass), and splitting the external stressed skin from the inside like a banana. All the way down to the basement. As for WTC7, that caught fire, and the fire suppression system couldn’t cope with the blaze. A structural failure on the 13th floor sealed the buildings fate and it collapsed. No need for any conspiracy. No tinfoil hat required.

As for constructing buildings with the object of such a demolition in mind, that would be asking for spontaneous structural failure during the first storms, never mind some spurious Government ‘black ops’ Agency. No Civil Engineer or Architect would design such a thing on purpose. On top of the damage to the building there would be the damage to your businesses reputation. You’d never work again. As for the ‘Drone’ theory, oh FFS! Look at drone technology for 2002. The only place you’d get the level averred to is out of Star Trek or Star Wars. So yes, 9/11 conspiracy theories are total bollocks.

My point here is that governments are largely blunt instruments, good for large scale stuff, but they are also untidy and obvious because they are made up of people. Homo (not so) Sapiens. As Douglas Adams once noted ‘people are a problem’, or rather he should have said that problems are often made up of people screwing up, then covering up, which being imperfect, they also make a mess of. Quod erat demonstrandum. Every single day, everywhere. Ain’t life grand?

Tweeting is a two edged sword

We’re hearing a lot of heated rhetoric about ‘shutting down social media’ because of the use some rioters have been putting it to. On the whole, I’d say this is a mistake, and proof positive that ignorant politicians who don’t understand the uses of technology should back off and let the Police get on with the tough job of keeping the peace.

Like the MPS used to keep the lid on the recent situation in central London. They couldn’t catch it all, as evinced by the copy cat riots around the country, but from all accounts it could have been worse. Much worse.

As for the rioters, don’t they understand all this public domain stuff is available to the Police? I mean posting ‘Going to xxxxx to nick stuff’ on Twatter is an invitation to arrest. Dozy lot. Especially if the cops have got your number, or even one of your mates Blackberries. Same epithet can be used for senior coppers who can’t understand what a useful tool Social Media is.

Can you imagine Rent-a-mob tweeting “To the barricades, Comrades!” Only to find a line of tooled up riot Police waiting for them? (Evil snigger) Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch.

Compare and contrast

Living in BC as I do, and currently passing through Europe. I’m minded to compare and contrast my own experiences at the various customs points and checkins.

Local airport, Canada; Small, clean, friendly, and apologetic for all the security checks. Got all our boarding passes issued and luggage checked in for the whole three flight hop. Flew to Vancouver with barely a murmur, apart from a minor delay down to air traffic. Passed through Vancouver airport without a secondary check as we were in transit. Almost stepped straight through onto our transatlantic flight without breaking step. Couldn’t sleep much on the overnight, but that’s nothing unusual for me. Too much background noise. However, we’d spent the extra money on the extra legroom seats, so there was no repeat of last year’s air cattle truck experience.

Arrive in Europe; although we haven’t left the airport system, we have to pass through one of those whole body scanners and I still got frisked, as no one had bothered to look at the zip leg trousers I was wearing and wondered where those funny lines were on the whole body scanner. At least we passed through immigration fairly quickly as the desks were fully staffed (for a change). Quite frankly I don’t make a fuss about the security and just treat it as one more minor indignity, even if the operators appear as baffled by the technology as most travellers.

Ah yes, I have a few carefully chosen words for Google. Having had four gmail email addresses since it was in beta, I am quite frankly highly pissed off that I can’t access my email from my wife’s laptop in europe. I am now in the process of migrating to a more flexible webmail system that I can access from wherever I fucking well please without some cuntish crap to ‘verify’ who I am because I’m on a business trip. Isn’t that the whole idea of a webmail based system? To enable travel and mobile access to communication? Well chuckleheads, if Google can’t build a modestly secure webmail login system, their ‘product’, useful though it has been, is now far too unwieldy and user unfriendly for my purposes. Time to migrate.

As an additional note; if Google has lost me money because I can’t remotely access my email. I am currently considering legal action. Their new ‘security’ means I am now effectively out of touch. No email means no business, no business means no money. Needless to say, they are not my favourite people right now. However, you get what you pay for, and since their service is free, it appears to have gone one quantum leap further and become completely worthless. This means I will have to wait until returning home to access my webmail. Which rather defeats the object of the exercise.

How to really fight a Cyber-war

Just saw this about an Al Quaeda website being hacked by UK intelligence, and for once I heartily approve.  Now that’s how to fight a Cyber war; with a little wit and humour, not bullets and bombs.  Although if whoever did the hack really had their wits about them, they could have subtly changed the article into something the web site readers would not have readily recognised until Creme Brulee was loaded as opposed to explosive.  So instead of terrorist bomb, you have the far less dangerous terrorist comedy culinary disaster.

The whole idea of any Cyber war should be to discredit an enemy, disrupting their lines of information flow without it making obvious that anyone has done so.  A change of syntax here, the odd change of punctuation, and perhaps a pun in the right place is quite sufficient.  Before long, all the wannabe Bin thingy’s who visit the ‘terror’ site in question will have followed the detailed instructions and made complete idiots of themselves.  Swapping their Twitter feed for something more innocuous might help.  Removing the wind from someone’s sails can do more damage to a radical political movement than a team of Duke Nukems on amphetamines.

My point is that those who engage in violence as the first answer to conflict often suffer from low self esteem.   Playing head games with them in a way that they cannot respond violently to, I contend, is therefore more effective than a first nuclear strike.  It’s also a lot more fun screwing with the head of those who mean you harm than putting a bullet in their brain.  Less destructive all round, and no-one has to clean up the blood and gore afterwards.

To take a recent example; blowing someone’s head off and feeding them to the fishes may be deeply satisfying on one level, but it only creates in the mind of some followers a determination to have as ‘glorious’ a death as their beloved leader.  Not showing the body is also a mistake from a strictly Psy-Ops perspective.   Perhaps exile and ridicule would have been far better tools to dissociate a ‘leader’ from their one time followers and supporters.

Carefully applied ridicule and disinformation does not kill the person, but takes care of the really dangerous shit, and I’m talking about stuff that doesn’t go ‘bang’ here.  I’m talking about ideas, which are almost impossible to kill with bullets.  Unless of course you discredit them completely.  That requires subtlety, and is therefore a little more tricky.