This blog represents the views of the author, David Fosberry. Those opinions may change over time. They do not constitute an expert legal or financial opinion. New entries will appear when I have time, and when inspiration strikes.

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The Costs Of Brexit.

Posted on 14th July 2024

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This report on The London Economic very comprehensively spells out the decline in Britain post Brexit.

The headline really captures the situation: "There is [mould] in the walls and shit in the rivers, posh butter in the supermarkets has anti-theft tags stuck to it, the trains run on schedule about half the time." There is, however, much more, and it is well worth reading the article.

Most Brits are still in denial about Brexit, complaining that they are worse off but unable to admit that the did it to themselves by voting for Brexit. Is that much vaunted British sovereignty really worth the increase in the costs of living and the reduction in the quality of life? I think not.

Boeing Workers Afraid To Fly On The Planes They Build.

Posted on 14th July 2024

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This article on Newsweek reports on the experiences at Boeing of a whistleblower.

I have seen similar reports elsewhere.

The whistleblower, Santiago Paredes, worked at Boeing and Spirit (a Boeing subcontractor). One of the things he said was "Many employees are afraid to fly on planes they helped build because they knew how they were constructed and the defects they had. This fear reflects a problematic culture within Spirit and Boeing." This is extremely worrying.

Boeing's problems continue to get worse:

  • It looks like Boeing is about to plead guilty to fraud in relation to the safety issues with the 737 Max, and will have to pay an enormous fine as a result;
  • The Boeing Starliner is still stuck on the ISS (International Space Station) because of several technical issues;
  • There is a good chance that Boeing will not win any more business from NASA because of the Starliner problems;
  • People (relatives of crash victims and survivors of other incidents) are not done suing Boeing (and never will be if the accidents continue);
  • Airlines are not happy with Boeing, with cancelled orders, and more recently one airline returning a plane to Boeing after yet another incident of a wheel falling off;
  • The FAA says that thousands of Boeing aircraft need their oxygen generators checked, according to this story on Yahoo News.

Although it is not likely that the US government will allow the total collapse of Boeing, the company will probably be unrecognisable after all the chickens come home to roost.

Two More Boeing Incidents.

Posted on 14th March 2024

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This video is a news report from "9 News" in Australia. It describes two recent air safety incidents.

The first incident was a bad case of turbulence on an LATAM flight from Sydney to Auckland, in which many people were injured as they were thrown first against the ceiling and then onto the floor. Turbulence is not unusual, especially in that part of the world, and shows why airlines strongly recommend that passengers keep their seat belts fastened while seated (although that wouldn't have helped the poor guy who was injured in the toilet). I feel sympathy for the passengers (those injured and those simply scared), but turbulence cannot be blamed on Boeing. What is much more worrying is the statement by the pilot that all his instruments went dark for a few seconds when the turbulence hit. The times that instruments are most important are when something unusual and dangerous happens, and such a failure could increase the consequences of any incident.

Modern aircraft like the 787 use virtual instruments, where data such as airspeed, altitude etc. are displayed on electronic monitors in the cockpit, rather than on dedicated physical instruments. This has a number of advantages, including better use of the display real estate in the cockpit (instruments can be hidden at times when they are not needed), but also introduces several single points of failure which can cause all instruments to be lost, as in this case. The fact that such a failure occurred simply due to some turbulence is extremely concerning. Turbulence is most common during landing and take-off, and this incident suggests that pilots could lose all their instruments during those critical and high risk phases of the flight.

The other incident involved a United Airline flight from Sydney to San Francisco, this tine on a Boeing 777. The flight turned back due to what appeared to be a leak of hydraulic fluid from the undercarriage which caused smoke to come from one of the wheels. United blamed this on a "maintenance issue". This doesn't appear, at first glance, to be so critical, but on closer inspection is also extremely dangerous. Hydraulics are used to activate brakes, to raise and lower the undercarriage, and most importantly to operate the control surfaces (on the wings and tail) that pilots use to control the aircraft. A leak of hydraulic fluid is therefore potentially disastrous.

So, to summarise, there have been air safety incidents with 737 Max, 777 and 787 aircraft. Personally, I am not eager to fly on any Boeing plane right now.

Forever Chemicals In European Drinking Water.

Posted on 14th July 2024

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This article on Phys.Org describes a new study on drinking water quality in Europe, which shows high levels of TFA (trifluoroacetic acid) (a byproduct of the breakdown of PFAS, used in pesticides and refrigeration) in bottled and tap water in 11 EU countries. The study by the Water Technology Centre in Karlsruhe, Germany, found TFA in 34 of 36 tap water samples and in 12 of the 19 bottled mineral and spring waters.

The concentrations detected far exceed the levels currently considered safe, in many of the samples.

I don't currently have a list of which waters were tested, but the odds are that many of the polluted brands of bottled water are also sold in the USA, Canada and elsewhere.

There were already concerns about the safety of drinking water in many countries, with previous studies showing chemical and biological contamination detected in Europe, Britain and the USA.

Is there nothing left in this world that is safe to eat or drink? Have we really messed up our planet so badly?

111 Spice Production Licences Cancelled In India.

Posted on 10th July 2024

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I cook a lot of Indian and other spicy food at home, so this report on Latestly is particularly worrying.

"The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has canceled the manufacturing licenses of 111 spice makers, effective immediately, due to the presence of ethylene oxide, a cancer-causing pesticide ...". The pesticide was detected in spice samples from India in overseas markets.

A Private Cloud Is Still A Cloud.

Posted on 10th July 2024

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Cloud computing has been a growing trend in industry over the last few years.

This report on the BBC seems to totally misunderstand the concept of cloud computing.

The author suggests that the heyday of cloud computing is over, as companies move away from the cloud, for reasons of cost. This is illustrated with the example of software firm 37signals, which has saved more than $1m per year.

The truth is that the company has moved from an outsourced cloud service to an insourced (private) cloud, but it is still cloud.

Outsourcing has been a major trend in all industries for several decades, and the cost benefits are often questionable. 37signals is simply the latest firm to realise this, and to have the courage to make the necessary change.

Is A Vegan Diet Healthy?

Posted on 16th June 2024

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There already plenty of questions about whether veganism is really health, including:

  • What to do to ensure one gets enough vitamin B12 (eating marmite helps)?
  • What should pregnant and nursing mothers do to get enough calcium?
  • How can growing children get enough protein, calcium and fat?
  • What adjustments should one make if one is very active, e.g. plays a lot of sports?
  • How can older people (whose digestive systems tend to be less efficient) ensure enough nutrition?

There is a constant stream of cases hitting the news where at risk people like in the list above (especially children) end up being malnourished.

Now, to give people one more thing to worry about, there is this report on The Telegraph.

The food industry has responded to the demand for vegan food that looks, feels and tastes like meat by producing a range of ultra-highly processed (UHP) vegan food: companies like Impossible Food, Beyond Meat, etc. We ourselves occasionally use fake mince (called Muhlenhack in Germany).

It turns out that UHP vegan foods are not very healthy; the processing makes it hard for us to absorb the nutrients (this is actually true for non-vegan UHP foods too).

The answer, of course, is what our mothers and grandmothers always said: everything in moderation and nothing to excess; a balanced diet. It is not healthy to eat too much meat, but it is equally unhealthy to eat no meat at all.

Sheryl and I usually eat vegetarian (not usually vegan - we are way too addicted to cheese to be vegan) dinners about three days a week. When we severely cut down on meat, we both had problems of lack of energy, caused by lack of vitamin B12. We do sometimes buy UHP products (fake mince or Beyond Burgers about once per month), but we balance that with meat or fish on some days, raw vegetables and fresh ingredients in our cooking.

Microsoft Accepts Responsibility For Security Failures.

Posted on 16th June 2024

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This article on CNN reports on testimony by the president of Microsoft to the US House Homeland Security Committee, in which he "accepts responsibility for each and every one" of the cybersecurity failures that were listed in a recent US government-backed report.

The report by the US Cyber Safety Review Board "found that Microsoft committed a 'cascade' of 'avoidable errors' that allowed Chinese hackers to breach the tech giant’s network and later the email accounts of senior US officials last year, including the secretary of commerce."

This is only what I have been writing for some time now: that MS has a poor commitment to cybersecurity, and are incompetent and slow at fixing security issues.

Governments already have an abysmal track record of keeping secrets, including those of their citizens and allies; they certainly don't need corporations making things even worse by opening governments' cyber-doors to hackers.

For me, an apology and commitment to improve is not going to suffice; ask me again when Microsoft have actually improved.

The US government is probably the largest paying customer for Microsoft products, so I am sure that MS does care; the question is, whether can they improve, and if so, how quickly and comprehensively.

Some local governments are already changing their systems over to Linux and Libre Office, so MS has only a limited window of opportunity to improve.

Microsoft Has Lost The Trust Of Its Users.

Posted on 7th June 2024

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This article on Windows Central make a valid point: that Microsoft has lost the trust of its users. I am only surprised that it has taken so long for this to happen. I lost trust in Microsoft many years ago.

The article lists several things that have contributed to this loss of trust:

  • Requiring a Microsoft Account to setup Windows 11,
  • Advertising in system-level interfaces like Start, Widgets, Settings, and File Explorer,
  • Refusing to acknowledge user app defaults like browsers,
  • Shoehorning MSN into Windows,
  • Replacing native Windows apps with slower, uglier web apps,
  • Full-screen prompts pushing you to setup OneDrive or Microsoft 365.

I would add to that list with:

  • General poor system security (Windows is the most malware-prone of all the operating systems, and Microsoft is the slowest to patch security vulnerabilities),
  • Updates that damage or disable users' systems,
  • Updates and upgrades that are not optional,
  • The inability, for normal (non-corporate) users, to defer some updates to a more convenient time,
  • The inability to open apps remotely (you can open a remote desktop using RDP, but if you want just one app, you cannot - Citrix, used widely by corporate customers, allows this, as does Linux).

I am sure that many readers can add more to the list, from their own experience.

With the knowledge that MS does not want us to use Windows (discussed in the post directly below), the failures, annoyances and attitude that has led to loss of user trust looks more like a deliberate strategy than failure. In the operating system market, Microsoft makes most of its revenue from corporate customers, and almost nothing from private customer (most of whom get Windows already installed when they buy a PC, and which is licenced to the PC manufacturers at huge discounts).

I have only one system with Windows: a virtual machine with MS Office installed. I am seriously considering doing what Microsoft seems to want me to do: to change to the online Office 360 service, to manage my calendar directly in Google mail, and to retire my Windows VM.

Microsoft Continues Its Campaign To Force Us To Use Windows 11.

Posted on 6th June 2024

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Microsoft has been trying to force users to upgrade their operating systems to Windows 11 for some time, despite the fact that many Windows 10 users have PCs which do not meet Microsoft's hardware requirements. Some time ago, Microsoft even rolled out an update to force the upgrade on users, and when their hardware is not Windows 11 compatible, this update fails, and then repeats ad infinitum, causing Windows 10 to become unusable (10 minutes to log in, and another 10 minutes to open a file!).

This report on Forbes describes the latest attempts to force users to upgrade to Windows 11. Users with PCs that are not capable of running Windows 11 will be warned that "the PC will not receive updates and is not eligible for upgrades", so no more security or functional updates for these users. Users whose PCs are Windows 11 compatible will be given the opportunity to schedule the upgrade, so no choice but to upgrade. Customer choice is, apparently, an alien concept to Microsoft.

Another annoying issue with upgrading your operating system is the insistence that you have (and enter) a Microsoft email address. Many users do not want to have a user account linked to an MS email account, for good reason, and some made use of workarounds to get a local account for logging in to their machine. This report on PC World describes how MS have now blocked the simplest and most commonly used workaround. Another workaround exists (described briefly in the report), which still apparently still works, but PC World expects that this too will soon be blocked. Corporate customers gave up the fight long ago, and their staff logins are all done using an MS-linked email id. There are, however, large organisation (like to CIA and GCHQ) who have legitimate reasons to not have such MS-linked email/login ids, because to do so would be in direct contradiction to their security policies; I assume that such organisations have an exemption to Microsoft's rules, although they probably need a variant of the Windows 11 operating system to allow the exemption.

Add to all this the trend in Microsoft pricing, which is for users to be required to rent software (operating systems and applications) via a yearly subscription rather than a simple licence purchase, which will increase the cost of having a PC.

Given how difficult and unpleasant MS has made life for users, it came as no surprise to me to read recently that Microsoft doesn't actually want users to run their desktop operating system. They now make most of their money from Windows server and from applications, and their preferred model is to provide these apps online (Office 360 - access is via a browser, and it makes no difference what operating system you run your browser on); still free for private customers, but corporate customers must pay; expect to have to start to pay for Office 360 access, even as a private customer in the next year or two.

The knowledge that MS isn't really interested in providing your desktop operating system explains all of the complexity and unpleasantness that they are causing their users. They are trying to drive their customers away (to Mac, Chromebook and Linux), because Windows is a lot of effort for them, and generates little, if any, profit.

Windows users run the risk of being left high and dry by Microsoft. Time for you to jump ship.

No More Oil Licences Needed.

Posted on 5th June 2024

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A new study by University College London and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), reported on by The Guardian, shows that the world does not need any new licences for fossil fuel projects, because we already have enough to keep us supplied until 2050, at which point governments have committed to achieving "net zero emissions".

The study suggests that governments stop issuing new licences for fossil fuel exploration and exploitation immediately, since we do not need any more oil, gas, coal, etc. That, however is not enough. Other studies have already shown that we don't dare to use all of the reserves that we already have, because of the climate impact that would cause. This means that governments need to cancel existing licences and projects, and shut down some current extraction projects. Realistically, governments will not take such drastic steps, because fossil fuel companies donate huge amounts to political parties and employ a vast army of lobbyists, giving them huge influence on government policy.

Things are not looking good for our planet and the living things which inhabit it (wildlife, livestock and humans).

How To Tell If Your Webcam Has Been Hacked.

Posted on 2nd June 2024

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I thought that some readers might find this article on "How To Geek" useful.

It describes some simple ways to tell whether your webcam has been hacked, which probably means that someone has been spying on you.

I thought this especially relevant at the moment, given that there currently seems to be a campaign to blackmail people with claims that someone has "recorded some videos of you jerking off to highly controversial adult videos." I am currently receiving several such emails per day with this claim, but they do not fool me.

Not only can you use the article to check whether your webcam has been spying on you, but there are some very simple things you can do to prevent such intrusions:

  1. If you have a separate webcam, unplug it when you are not using it;
  2. If you have a webcam built into your laptop, cover it (e.g. with a post-it note or a folded small piece of paper) when you are not using it;
  3. Make sure that your firewall is on and properly configured;
  4. Install a malware/virus checker, and scan your computer with it regularly;
  5. Seriously consider changing from Windows (which is very prone to hacking and malware) to Linux or a Mac (both of which are much less prone to such problems);
  6. Never respond to emails that seem to be phishing or blackmail attempts;
  7. Use some critical thinking when you receiving such emails.
Oil Companies Are Failing In Their Climate Pledges? Well, Duh!

Posted on 26th May 2024

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The author (Dharna Noor) of this report on The Guardian seems genuinely surprised that the climate pledges made by fossil fuel companies are turning out the be nothing more than hot air.

None of us should be shocked to hear that "Major oil companies have in recent years made splashy climate pledges to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and take on the climate crisis, but a new report suggests those plans do not stand up to scrutiny." The law requires that companies maximise profits (see here), so the idea that oil companies can be trusted to run their businesses in an environmentally responsible manner is patently laughable.

Here are some relevant facts:

  • The US is now the largest fossil fuel producer in the world, so the US government is at least partly responsible for the lack of progress on climate change;
  • Several oil companies have walked back their climate pledges, although they have, of course, downplayed this in their publicity;
  • Fossil fuel firms are making record profits;
  • Experience has shown, time and time again, that strong legislation is the only way to make large corporations act responsibly;

How long do we have to wait as big business destroys our planet and the future of our children, while governments pussy-foot around one of the biggest problems ever to be faced by humanity?

Germany Has Too Much Solar Energy?

Posted on 26th May 2024

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This report on Yahoo Finance rather seems to miss the point.

The report claims that "Germany has too many solar panels", and as a result, wholesale energy prices (what solar energy producers get from the energy distributors) during peak production hours have dropped by 87% in the last 10 days, and "raw market energy prices fall into negative territory during these hours."

The idea that there are too many solar panels in Germany is, of course, nonsense. The nation is still generating electricity from natural gas, nuclear power plants and even coal powered stations. Consumer prices for electricity have fallen a little since the peaks reached at the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but are still higher than pre-war levels.

The problem is that, while private enterprise has taken tremendous strides in rolling out new solar power generation capacity, the government and the grid operators have not taken matching steps to provide increased energy storage capacity (battery and other storage technologies), so that cheap solar energy can be used while the sun is not shining.

It has become clear that one of the reasons that German industry was so successful was the low energy prices paid by industry (due to the very favourable deals that Germany made with Russia), and now that is over, the country's economy is in the doldrums. Government investment in energy storage is exactly the kind of infrastructure spending that governments are meant to, and indeed must, undertake.

The government seems to understand that they need to act decisively and quickly to boost the economy, and are taking action to fill the skill shortages and mitigate some of the taxation disincentives that are hampering economic growth, but don't seem to see the need for energy storage infrastructure.

There is a chance that this is just a problem with lead times. Energy storage infrastructure takes a while to build and bring online (longer than the time to roll out solar energy generation); maybe the German government has a slew of such projects in progress already, and we just need to be patient. I suspect, however, that the reality is that any energy storage projects will be too few and too late.

A Needle At The Speed Of Light?

Posted on 20the May 2024

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This ridiculous article on Unilad shows that the lunatics have again escaped from the asylum.

The piece describes the damage that a needle travelling at the speed of light would do if it hit the earth. The article claims that it is based on a theoretical study (actually, a computer simulation).

There are several huge problems with their hypothesis, all of them resulting from the theory of special relativity:

  1. To accelerate a needle (or any normal matter) to the speed of light is impossible,
  2. If it were possible, accelerating something to the speed of light would require an infinite amount of energy (and take infinite time),
  3. Of course, if something with infinite kinetic energy hit the earth, it would do an infinite amount of damage, not only to our planet, but to the whole universe.

The other huge problem with the article is the computer simulation: computer programs are inherently incapable of handling infinite numbers, so the creator of the video is not being honest with his readers.

In contrast to the predictions of special relativity, the video in the Unilad article suggests several possible outcomes, ranging from minimal damage to the destruction of earth, but no further afield.

Can we please stop with these ridiculous "studies"? They are just confusing people with bad science masquerading as real science.

Vast Oil And Gas Reserves Found In Antarctica!

Posted on 20th May 2024

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This article on The Telegraph reports that Russia has discovered enormous fossil fuel reserves in Antarctica, much of which is in the British Antarctic Territory. These reserves are about 10 times the size of the North Sea reserves.

Many people are understandably concerned that there will now be attempts to extract these fuels, which would cause untold damage to the wildlife in and around Antarctica.

My question is, why was anyone even looking for oil down there, given that:

  • The 1959 Antarctic Treaty bans all mineral or oil developments in Antarctica,
  • Russia cannot even sell the oil and gas that it has already developed, because of the sanctions imposed since the invasion of Ukraine, and has no need to find more,
  • We have a climate change crisis, due mainly to burning too much fossil fuel, and scientists have calculated that we do not dare to use even the reserves that we have already discovered if we are to save our planet and ourselves.

The problem, of course, is that both Russia and Britain are desperate for income, and are unlikely to let environmental concerns and treaty commitments interfere with making a quick buck.

Did Brexit Cause The Drastic Decline In Water Quality In The UK?

Posted on 20th May 2024

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This report on The London Economic is thoroughly scary.

The headline reads "... Faecal bacteria found in water supply in EIGHT more UK regions". There have been 34 new separate incidents in 8 regions. This in addition to the 46 cases of cryptosporidium (a gastrointestinal parasitic illness) have been reported in Devon. All this in a nation that has always been proud to say that the tap water is safe to drink.

After Brexit, the UK government leapt at the chance to revoke environmental legislation, and now allows laxer standards in air quality, food quality, and hygiene standards for tap water, rivers and beaches. I suspect that the decline in tap water described in the report is a direct result of this relaxation of standards and enforcement.

Of course, the relaxation of these standards has saved money, but how much is the health of the populace worth?

Overtime In Germany.

Posted on 16th May 2024

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This article on The Financial Times (or this one on MK, to avoid the FT paywall) reports that the German government is planning to provide tax breaks for overtime, to encourage workers to work longer hours.

If true, this would be a complete U-turn in employment policy. Current employment law heavily discourages overtime. Employees are limited to 48 hours per week, but may not be paid for the extra hours (these rules do not apply to freelance contractors); instead, staff must get compensatory leave (also known as time off in lieu), so that the hours worked do not exceed 8 hours per day averaged over a 6 month period. The situation is described in more detail in this article on I Am Expat, which points out (not very helpfully) the distinction between "Überstunden" and "Mehrarbeit", both of which are normally translated as overtime. Basically, unless your employment contract explicitly allows for paid overtime (Überstunden), you cannot be paid for it.

Now the German government wants to encourage workers to work longer hours, with tax breaks so that paid overtime will not be so heavily taxed, as a means to revitalise the economy.

Contrast this with the situation only 3½ months ago, when Germany began a trial, with 45 companies, of a 4 day working week (reported on here by HR Brew), with plans, if successful, to roll out the 4 day week more widely.

The new policy has some issues:

  • The people whose contracts allow paid overtime are most low-skilled workers in manufacturing industries, public transport (transportation, to some readers), garbage collection, retail workers, and the like. Professionals like engineers and managers (both of whom are in short supply in Germany) would be excluded; are these low-skilled workers expected to do the overtime without supervision or expert support?
  • There will be an enormous number of employment contracts needing renegotiation and rewriting to allow for paid overtime and the new regulations. This will take a very long time (German bureaucracy is notoriously slow).

The latest decision looks like a panic reaction by the government. I am sure that the unions will not be happy; the people on the experimental 4 day week will also be upset.

Nevertheless, something needs to be done; the German economy is in the doldrums, and people's disposable income gets less and less, by the month.

The Biggest Problem With US Politics Is The Money.

Posted on 12th May 2024

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This report on Electrek details how Donald Trump, as part of his campaign for re-election, told oil executives that, in exchange for $1 billion of campaign contributions, he would end electric vehicle incentives.

How is this not illegal? It illustrates that the main problem with American politics is the money. It is bad enough with all the lobbying and bribes in the form of election campaign funding, but now Trump, at least, is actively soliciting the bribes.

It really is time to get the money out of politics, to save democracy.

Poor Design On Windows 11.

Posted on 12th May 2024

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Sheryl's new laptop, which I bought earlier this year, runs Windows 11. So far, I am not impressed with the operating system.

Last night I noticed an odd bug. We had been watching a video, with the laptop connected to our TV, and the laptop charger plugged in. When we were finished, I unplugged the charger, and the screen (the laptop screen and the TV) both immediately went dark as the machine started to go into standby (suspend). As soon as I moved the mouse, the laptop woke up.

I puzzled over this for a while, and realised what had happened. The laptop has the default setting that, after 15 minutes of no user action (mouse or keyboard) while running on battery, it goes into standby. Obviously, this 15 minute timer is running even when charging, so as soon as the charger is removed, it goes into standby.

It really should start the timer only when the charger is removed. This is bad design, pure and simple; it shows that the requirements were not properly analysed, which would have highlighted this bug. This is exactly the kind of sloppy design that we have come to expect from Microsoft.

Reasons Not To Use Windows.

Posted on 11th May 2024

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This article on XDA is primarily about why product companies shouldn't use Windows in an NAS (Network Attached Storage) device, but a lot of the reasons they give are true for almost all uses of Windows.

I was recently searching for an NAS in an online shop, and the first two devices that I found were indeed based on Windows, and I rejected them for that reason.

The following is their list of reasons, with my comments.

Windows isn't a lightweight OS

If you own a Windows PC, you are probably aware that the operating system takes up a lot of disc space, and keeps growing with every update. In the past I have had to use an external USB disc to make room for the applications and updates, which made the PC slow and inconvenient to use.

Nowadays, disc storage has become dirt cheap, so this is less of a problem, but the larger the operating system, the slower it is to boot up, and the longer it takes to backup. Also, the larger the operating system, the more RAM you are likely to need to get it to work fast.

Windows is expensive

Even Windows Home Edition is expensive. If you need the Pro version, it becomes exorbitant.

Windows can be less secure

I have written, in this blog, at length about Microsoft's poor security, and their generally cavalier attitude to security, so I don't feel I need to repeat myself on this topic.

Windows isn't designed for servers

Despite the existence of Windows Server operating systems, the fact remains that Windows is not good in this role. Acting as a server was an afterthought; bolted on functionality. This is why virtually every web-server on the Internet runs on Linux, which was designed from the ground up as a server.

Windows doesn't have great remote management

If you want to use Windows in any kind of server role, not just as an NAS server, you will be severely limited by its lack of support for remote management. Again, this functionality was an afterthought.

Windows doesn't play well with more storage drives

As the article points out, anything more complex than a simple file server (with a few disc drives) and a few users will cause Windows to struggle.

Windows will do what it wants, not what you want

This is a constant source of complaints about Windows, for example being forced to update, and then reboot when it is not convenient. Lots of services do not restart automatically after a reboot.

NTFS isn't as good as other file-systems

Windows NTFS file system has a number of issues. Disc fragmentation (a problem which doesn't exist with Linux's EXT4 file system) is just one.

As the article explains, Windows has no built-in support for RAID drives, so if you want RAID storage you will have to buy a dedicated external NAS. Linux has built-in support for RAID (all levels, not just RAID-1).

Microsoft Gives Up!

Posted on 4th May 2024

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This report on Neowin details how Microsoft has given up trying to repair a bug that they introduced in one of their patches.

Microsoft rolled out two security patches (KB5034441 for Windows 10. and KB5034440 for Windows 11) to fix the BitLocker Secure Boot bypass vulnerability. For some users this introduced an error ("0x80070643 - ERROR_INSTALL_FAILURE"). There is a manual workaround for this error, but it is beyond the ability of many users to implement the workaround.

Initially, MS said they would issue a patch to repair the error caused by their faulty patch, but now they are saying that an automatic resolution for this issue will not be released, at least for Windows 10 (the situation is unclear for Windows 11) and the only resolution is by the manual workaround.

This just shows what an incompetent and irresponsible company Microsoft is.

It really is time for users to find an alternative to Windows: either Linux or Mac (which is just badge-engineered Linux).

Microsoft Knows What Is Best For You?

Posted on 1st May 2024

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This story on Techspot reports that Microsoft is up to its usual tricks: in this case installing software on its customers' without telling them.

In March, Microsoft infuriated many Windows 11 users by automatically installing the Copilot AI based chatbot app on their PCs. It seems that enough people complained that Microsoft are now rolling out updates which remove this app. Installing this app, without warning or permission is seriously sharp practice; this kind of thing is why I am a Linux user (I never have to install any update that I don't want).

AI is an inherently heavy user of computing resources: CPU capacity, RAM, disc space and Internet bandwidth. Why does Microsoft think it is OK to put this extra load on our PCs without permission?

I have an idea. In future, whenever MS forces new functionality on you without permission, send them an invoice for the resources it uses. They won't pay, of course, but if enough people do it they may think again about their update policy.

Being Offended On Behalf Of Someone Else?

Posted on 1st May 2024

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Today I saw a very annoying article (I am not going to provide a link because it is just a piece of celebrity gossip that is purest nonsense) about the backlash against Barbara Streisand for something she posted about Melissa McCarthy's recent dramatic weight loss, in which she asked "Did you take Ozempic?".

It seems that many people took offence to this simple comment.

One of the best quotes that I have heard about the issue of offence is from Ricky Gervais, who said that you shouldn't say that something is offensive, but rather that you are offended. This case, however, goes beyond that obvious truth. People have no reason and no right to be offended about something that is not about them. Nevertheless, we see this phenomenon all the time in social media. It is perfectly in order to believe that some things are wrong, and even in some cases to campaign for change, but I, for one, do not want people trying to tell me that I am offended, especially when I am not.

Melissa McCarthy is friends with Barbara Streisand, and has a significant social media present, so is perfectly capable of addressing any issue that she has with what Barbara Streisand posted, herself, but many people are busy being offended on her behalf. Why?

The obvious reason is that the people complaining about the offence are virtue signalling. They are shouting "Look at me! Look at how politically correct I am!"

Obviously, there are people who are not able to respond for themselves: people who are too young, too old, mute, too stupid or too illiterate to voice when they are offended. In those cases, other people perhaps have a right to complain about offence on their behalf, but generally it is inappropriate.

Can we please put a stop to this offence by proxy?

Be Careful What You Wish For!

Posted on 23rd April 2024

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This report on Unilad is utterly terrifying, not least because an AI Robot gave us fair warning of what might (and probably will) happen, and humanity will ignore it anyway.

The AI, Ameca, was asked when "AI will reach the level where it can design itself?" The initial answer was reassuring: "AI is a tool created and controlled by humans. It can optimize certain aspects of its operation, sure, but design itself from scratch? That's a whole different ball game. It requires creativity, innovation, understanding - qualities that are uniquely human. So, to answer your question, not anytime soon."

Then Ameca volunteered "And frankly, be careful what you wish for. An AI that can design itself is one step away from an AI that doesn't need humans at all. Now there's a thought to keep you up at night."

Now are you scared? Yous should be.

It’s Not COVID, It’s Bad Parenting.

Posted on 23rd April 2024

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No surprises (only disappointment) in this article on Upworthy.

The article is about a viral video on Tik Tok by Lisa Conselatore, an experienced teacher.

Her point is that everyone is blaming the epidemic of misbehaviour and disrespect by children today on COVID, whereas it is actually and issue of culture and bad parenting. Parents want to be their kids' friends more than they want to be their parents. As a result, they do not discipline their offspring at home, so that when they go to school and then to work they do not have the necessary social skills and attitude to succeed. Lisa Conselatore talks, in her video, about kids believing that they are always the most important person in any room; whatever happened to the Victorian idea that children should be seen and not heard? Children brought up with this severely mistaken attitude have serious problems coping with being in the same room as another child who also thinks they are the most important person there. At work, in a meeting, this attitude results in chaos.

It is, of course, possible to be your child's friend, but not at the expense of being their parent; this is similar to the balancing act of being someone's boss as well as their friend: it is possible, but requires care, so that the person (child or employee) is always clear when they are being spoken to by their parent/boss, and when by their friend. Some people cannot manage this balance; for those people the message is clear: being the parent or boss is more important than being the friend, so stick with that.

This can also be seen as a problem of conflict avoidance by parents. We see, time and time again, how parents will avoid enforcing discipline (especially in public) so that they (and bystanders) don't have to suffer the tears and tantrums they know will result. As everyone should understand, every battle over discipline that is deferred is a battle doubled; giving way rewards the child for bad behaviour and reinforces that behaviour; winning that lost ground back is very hard.

COVID is part of the mix, in that children spent more of their time at home instead of at school, summer camp, playing sport or hanging out with friends, thus exposing them to more bad parenting.

We are now raising a generation of children who are ineducable and unemployable. This is doing them no favours in their adult life. The attitudes with which we are imbuing our kids are probably the main cause of the entitlement that is so rife in the workplace and so evident on the Internet.

$143,000 Roaming Charge!

Posted on 19th April 2024

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I feel sorry for the victim described in this report on Moneywise.

The resident of Florida went on a 3 week vacation to Switzerland, and came home to a mobile phone bill from T-Mobile for a staggering $143,000! This could not happen in Europe.

In the past, before the law changed, I was caught out by an €1,800 roaming charge while on a ski trip to Austria, but then my mobile operator cut off my roaming service until I paid the bill. Since then, EU law has been changed so that, for EU customers, roaming mobile phone usage within the EU costs the same as in your home country. In addition, if I roam outside of the EU (e.g. when I visit family in New Zealand or the USA), my operator is legally is obliged ("obligated", to US readers) to cap charges at reasonable levels, and then cut off service, and to send warnings when charges come close to the cutoff limit. One of the major impacts of Brexit was that UK residents no longer get EU roaming at the same rate as when at home (but you did it to yourselves, so you get no sympathy from me).

I don't understand why the USA doesn't have similar legal protections against roaming charge shock. Most roaming charges are anyway a scam; telephone companies pay for traffic at wholesale rates (if you want to get an idea of how low these are, compare the cost of a call over Skype with the same call on your mobile phone), so most of what you pay when roaming is pure profit. When EU roaming was introduced, all the mobile operators complained bitterly, but none were driven to bankruptcy, and all continued to make profits.

Admittedly, the Florida man with the enormous bill could have been better prepared for his visit to Switzerland. When I visit New Zealand, I always get a local prepaid SIM card, so that I pay minimal roaming charges (just for incoming calls on my German number). Most recent mobile phones can hold two SIM cards (plus the option of eSIMs - no physical card involved), so there are no technical obstacles.

Water Company Doesn’t Disclose That The Thames Is Unsafe For Swimming!

Posted on 19th April 2024

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This report on Adventure must be very worrying for people living near the Thames.

A representative of Thames Water, the company responsible for water supply and sewage processing in the Thames area in the UK, has stated that "We're not responsible for letting the public know whether they can swim in the rivers or not. That's up to them". We are not talking about people swimming in the river as it flows through central London (that stretch of the river hasn't been safe for swimming for decades) but about further upstream, where many people live in river-front houses and areas nearby.

Due to discharge from sewage processing plants on the Thames, there are very high levels of harmful bacteria and viruses in the water, in some cases up to 4,000 times higher than safe levels. The company claims that the discharges are within the levels allowed by their storm permit for the treatment works.

Leaving aside the disgrace represented by the storm permits themselves, whereby the government has made dangerous levels of pollution legal for Water Companies, in what world do they not have any responsibility to notify the public about health hazards? I contrast this situation in the UK with what we have here in Germany, where local governments (who are often also responsible for water supply and sewage processing) regularly issue warnings when swimming in lakes and rivers is considered unsafe.

The only good thing I can say about this is that, at least, it is not as bad as the scandal of lead pollution in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan.

The BBC News App Works For One Day, Then Is Broken Again.

Posted on 18th April 2024

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I like the BBC News. I find it fairly politically neutral, informative and, mostly, well written.

I have, however, not been using the BBC News App on my mobile phone lately, because it hasn't worked for many weeks.

There was a resent update to a new version of the App, with a new look and feel. After the update, I had high hopes. It worked for a few days, and then stopped working. Yesterday it worked, but today it again doesn't.

The problem is clearly bad coding. The error message states that my phone has no Internet connection, even though it obviously does, and I am able to read news from other sources. I believe that, when the BBC News server used by the App is overloaded, the App decides that the problem is with the Internet connection on the client device, when it is actually a server issue.

There is no problem with the BBC News web-site, so I can read the news in a browser, but this is not as convenient on a mobile phone.

The BBC has a long and varied history of problems with their news App, including general problems with playing videos, and with advertisements in videos.

Other organisations are able to make working Apps for mobile phones; why can't the BBC do so as well? If they need help with their App, they should get in touch.

Job Applicants Don’t Have The Right Skills?

Posted on 10th April 2024

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I have rather mixed feelings about this article on Euronews.

They report that "75% of employers in 21 European countries could not find workers equipped with the right skills in 2023". That figure rose to 82% in Germany and Greece. At first glance this seems to be an education problem, but I am not so sure.

As a long-term resident in Germany I know from personal experience that the required qualifications for many jobs are simply too stringent; the same is true in many European countries. The concept of acquiring skills through work experience is almost non-existent, in Germany and most of Western Europe. As a freelance contractor, I was luckily able to sidestep many of the requirements that apply to permanent employees, but to be employed in my industry one must have the right qualifications to work as a manager, developer or tester. My partner Sheryl has also been caught out by this: she is still taking a leadership/management course that is specific to her industry, because it is a mandatory requirement imposed by the German government, even though she is probably better qualified to teach the course than the actual instructors.

Even people with qualifications usually have issues with the requirements, if they qualified in another country. You may have the appropriate certificates, but the government will decide whether they qualify you for a job, on a case by case basis. The only country that I know of that is worse in this respect is New Zealand, which typically requires immigrants to re-qualify in their profession before they can work. This applies to managers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, accountants etc. My father was an experienced manager in TV and radio repair in the UK, but when he moved to New Zealand he was paid as a technician until he re-qualified (6 months to take all the local exams - at least he didn't have to actually sit in a classroom or work under supervision to get all his NZ technical tickets).

There are other issues at play here. People now entering the workforce don't seem to be as committed to education: they may drop out, change subjects mid-course, or simply fail the exams. It may be a case of "the world owes me a living" syndrome.

Nevertheless, some of the shortage of skilled labour could be eased by making the qualification requirements a little less tough, and recognising certificates issued in other countries. Time for a bit of common sense, I feel, although common sense seems to be in woefully short supply nowadays.

Immigration Helps The US Economy.

Posted on 10th April 2024

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This report on MSNBC describes a new analysis which shows that "the large increase in [US] immigration in recent years is a major part of why the U.S. has recently experienced extraordinary economic growth compared to peer nations".

Immigration is a contentious topic around the world, especially in the USA. Many citizens in most countries do not want immigration, even when those citizens are themselves immigrants. At the same time there are critical skill shortages in most developed nations, and those same nations have a demographic problem (too many retirees in their populations, making it hard to fund pensions).

This latest analysis shows that "absent immigration, the US labor supply would have shrunk by 1.2 million since 2019. Instead, it expanded by 2 million". Immigration accounted for 20% of US economic growth since 2020, causing the country to outperform all other G7 economies.

I really think it is time for politicians around the world to have the courage to address the racism and fear amongst their voters, and start persuading people to accept immigration.

Samsung Proves They Know Nothing About Mobile Phone Apps Or The Law.

Posted on 3rd April 2024

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After a recent update on my Samsung mobile phone (cell-phone, to some of you, Handy to others) I am furious with Samsung.

I was notified of an update to "One UI", which I scheduled for last night. When I woke up this morning, wanting to check the news and notifications, I was not able to do so until I had typed in my SIM PIN-code; then I was presented with the One UI widget, asking me to sign in to my Samsung account.

I do not have a Samsung account (I was able to skip this step after previous updates), and did not want one. My current phone has only software control buttons, unlike all my previous models which had a hardware home button, and the One UI widget has no option to exit or to skip the sign-up.

After trying for several minutes, I gave in and selected the option to sign in with Google. In most cases this works fine, but not with Samsung. I was told to enter the verification code that Samsung had sent to my Google-Mail account. However, since there is no way to exit or even minimise the One UI widget, I couldn't get to my email app. So I went to my laptop to read my email and find the code and enter it, thinking that would be it.

I was wrong: that was not it. The One UI widget then asked for my password. Since I had not been asked to enter a password for my Samsung account, I assumed that they wanted my Google password; wrong again! They wanted my, at that point not set, Samsung password. The widget provided the URL for resetting the password, but not as a clickable link. I made another trip to my laptop to reset my password, since I was still trapped in the One UI widget on my phone.

That was finally it, after 30 minutes of fighting with the One UI widget and two trips to my laptop to access my email and then a browser, I was finally actually able to use my mobile phone.

I have to wonder how someone who is not a software professional would have dealt with this. Also, how would I have deal with it if I had not had another device to use, for example if I was away from home without my laptop?

Also, what if I needed to make an emergency call?

So, here are some pointers for Samsung (and any subcontractors they may have used):

  1. It is illegal to disable the ability to make emergency calls just because Samsung wants to gather user data and lock users into their service.
  2. It is an invasion of privacy to insist that I create a Samsung account.
  3. It is madness to send a verification code via email when one can't get to an email app.
  4. It is irresponsible to request a password without specifying for which account (Google or Samsung).
  5. It is ridiculous to ask for a password before giving the user a chance to set it.
  6. It is crazy to provide a "forgot your password" URL that is not clickable, especially when the user is locked in to One UI widget.
My ISP Changed My Terms Of Service Without Notice!

Posted on 2nd April 2024

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I currently have two Internet Service Providers (ISPs): M-Net and PŸUR (previously known as Cablesurf).

I have been a customer of M-Net for about two years, and am generally pleased with their service.

I have been a customer of PŸUR much longer (about 17 years). Whilst they are cheap (the cheapest ISP around), I have always had trouble with their service:

Woldwide IPv6 deployment
  • They have never offered the option of static IP addresses, which is problematic when hosting web-sites; in the early days the IP address changed very infrequently (once every few years), but more recently my IP address has changed every few months;
  • The upload speed (the most important bandwidth figure when hosting web-sites) has always been very much lower than than the download speed, with no option to get a higher proportion of the bandwidth for upload;
  • Just recently, whilst checking my PŸUR addresses (IPv4 & IPv6) in case they had changed, I noticed that the new IPv4 address started with "100." which is in a range reserved for NAT (Network Address Translation) connections (like the "192.168." address that your home LAN probably uses): what this means is that my PŸUR Internet modem no longer connects directly to the Internet, but instead connects to their NAT router, meaning that I can make outgoing connections, but no-one can establish an incoming connection, which is useless for any web-site that I host; my PŸUR IPv6 addresses are of course still reachable by Internet users, but much of the world still doesn't have IPv6 connectivity (see the map to the right).

It is not unusual for ISPs to change their Terms and Conditions, but, in Germany at least, all service providers (not just ISPs) are legally obliged (obligated, to US readers) to inform their customers. Changing Ts&Cs without due notice is a breach of contract. If I had time, I would sue; I will definitely cancel the contract with PŸUR, since I can operate my web-sites effectively with just my M-Net service.

The EPA Is Only Now Setting Tougher Emission Standards For Heavy Trucks And Buses!

Posted on 31st March 2024

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This piece on Associated Press (AP) News reports that the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is toughening up emission standards for "Heavy-Duty Vehicles". The standards for this class of vehicles hasn't been toughened since 2016 (8 years ago!). It is worth noting that the EPA's original proposals were watered down, for certain in response to industry lobbying.

The USA is heavily dependent on trucks for shipping goods across the nation; hardly anything is transported by train. This was brutally brought home to me in the last year, when I saw the outrageous number of trucks on the road on our trip from Chicago to Ohio for the funeral of Sheryl's father. Other countries make much better use of their rail networks for shipping goods. This is caused by the relatively lower cost of road transport, caused in turn by the ridiculously low price of fuel.

My real question is, why has it taken the EPA so long to act? I understand that, during the Trump presidency, the EPA were not allowed to toughen environmental regulations, but there have since been nearly 4 years of the Biden presidency, during which the EPA could have taken steps.

Does the EPA not understand that our planet has an environmental crisis? Swift and drastic action is needed. There is also a sound economic justification for tougher emissions standards ("over the next three decades ... $13 billion in net benefits in the form of fewer hospital visits, lost work days and deaths").

Stop messing around and do your job!

Harvard University Removes Human Skin Binding From Book.

Posted on 31st March 2024

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This BBC article reports that "Harvard University has removed the binding of human skin from a 19th Century book kept in its library." They claim that they did this "due to the ethically fraught nature of the book's origins and subsequent history." WTF!

The University stated that "the human remains will be given a respectful disposition that seeks to restore dignity to the woman whose skin was used".

Museums and Libraries have a long history of not treating human remains with this overblown degree of dignity: many museums have exhibits of human remains (the desiccated remains of Ötzi, Egyptian mummies, etc. - The British Museum, for example, holds approximately 6,000 human remains), so why does this human skin warrant special treatment?

It is not as if the use of human skin had no ethical point in this case. The doctor who provided the skin to the book's author, a friend, wrote "A book about the human soul deserved to have a human covering."

So what exactly is the "ethically fraught nature of the book's origins and subsequent history"? It sounds more like the University being afraid of a backlash from the woke brigade, in case they deciding to be offended on behalf of a the woman whose skin was used.

Basically, this is a case of re-fabricating historical evidence. I don't want my history to be rewritten to bring it inline with modern sensibilities. How will we ever learn from history if it is constantly being sanitised?

Bankman Fried Gets 25 Years.

Posted on 29th March 2024

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The BBC reports that Sam Bankman-Fried, co-founder of the failed crypto exchange FTX, has received a prison sentence of 25 years for his part in the fraud perpetrated by his company.

Maybe now we can start calling him by his correct name: Scam Bank-Man Fraud.

I admit to not being surprised when the news of the fraud hit. I have always considered all cryptocurrency to be a scam, and that it was only a matter of time before the shit hit the fan.

There Is No Such Thing As An Anodeless Battery!

Posted on 29the March 2024

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In this report on Electrec I am not sure whether the journalist or the marketing department of ION Storage Systems is responsible for this blatant stupidity.

The article claims that the company has developed an "anodeless, compressionless solid-state battery". This claim is arrant nonsense. This is not a matter of interpretation or design; it is a matter of definition.

The anode of a battery is the negative terminal, from which electrons flow into any external circuit attached to the battery, as clearly described (and illustrated with a diagram) here on Wikipedia. A battery cell must have both an anode and a cathode in order to work. Indeed, the report describes the anode of the new battery design as "a unique 3-D ceramic structure", instead of the usual solid graphite, so clearly it is not anodeless.

Are these people really so stupid, or do they think that we are?

Bad Service By German Post Office.

Posted on 22nd March 2024

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This incident was reported to me by someone who wishes to remain anonymous, although I have personally seen the evidence and can therefore confirm that it is genuine.

The victim of this bad service had ordered some products online. They eventually received a notice in their post box that DHL (the parcels division of Deutsche Post - the German Post office) had attempted to deliver the parcel on the 13) of March, but had been unable to deliver it because no-one was home, and that the parcel could be collected at the local post office from 14:00 (2 pm) the next day.

I find this odd because, on occasion, DHL will simply leave parcels in the hallway, even in the case of high value items like a laptop that I ordered, which then went missing.

The recipient of the parcel did not receive any mail at all for about a week, and when they did, it contained the notification about the parcel available for collection at the post office. When they went to collect their parcel, they were informed that it had already been sent back (the post office only holds parcels for a few days before returning them to the sender). How can someone know to collect their parcel unless they are informed in time to do so?

The totally bizarre aspect of this incident is that the parcel in question was actually delivered (left in front of the recipient's apartment door, rather than being really delivered) the day after the first attempt to deliver (there is no was to tell what a parcel contains or who it is from until one can see it).

It really seems that DHL and Deutsche Post don't know their arse from their elbow.

What makes this sorry tale especially unacceptable is the special legal status of Deutsche Post. Proof of posting is considered legal proof of delivery, which implies a highly reliable and secure service, whereas my experience, that of the victim of this incident, and many people living in Germany is to the contrary.

Americans Draw The Line At Tipping At The Self-Checkout.

Posted on 16th May 2023

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This report on The Independent is downright bizarre.

Tipping practices in the USA are very different to those in the rest of the world. In the USA a tip of less than 15% is considered to be mean, and 25% is not unusual; whenever Sheryl returns to Munich from a visit to Chicago she has to relearn to tip the 10% that more is more usual in Europe. In America tips are expected for virtually all transactions, whereas in Europe people would not normally tip in a café or the like.

The main reason for the difference is that waiters, baristas and bar staff are typically not paid a proper wage in America, and need the tips to survive, whereas in Europe they get a livable wage. Americans are therefore used to tipping for everything.

Now, apparently since the pandemic, customers in the USA are being prompted to leave a tip at supermarkets when using the self-checkout, and customers are quite rightly refusing; they are questioning to whom the tip is going, and for what service they are tipping.

On restaurant bills (checks to you Yanks) tips are usually labelled as "service charges", and it is clear across the board that a tip is for service, so why do supermarkets feel it appropriate to receive a tip when no service was provided? Some people go so far as to suggest that the goods should be charged at a lower price at self-checkouts, since the customer is working for the supermarket during check-out.

I don't mind leaving a tip. I always give tips to taxi drivers, I always leave a tip when buying a doner kebab (even though there is no table service) and I always tip at restaurants, but I never feel obliged (obligated, in American) to tip. I do, however, have a firm rule: if I am leaving no tip, or a low tip, I must explain why (slow service, badly prepared food, or whatever), otherwise how can they improve? If we are regular customers of an establishment, we often tip over the odds, which ensures that we can always get a table, get good service and quality food (some of our neighbours do not understand why we often get a free second bottle of wine at our local sushi restaurant; it is because we tip them well).

Many years ago I used to work in the Holborn area of London, and was often short of time to get my train home from Charing Cross (too little time to take the tube train), so I would often get a taxi. Taxi drivers are notorious for their tricks to boost the fare, by taking a longer route, so I developed the trick of getting out enough money to cover the fare plus a fair tip, and shaking it noisily (only works if at least some of it is change) during the drive. This made it clear that any unnecessary diversions or delays were going to be at the expense of their tip. This technique worked amazingly well.

Microsoft Is So Behind The Times On Cybersecurity.

Posted on 21th March 2024

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If anyone needs proof that Microsoft doesn't take their customers' security seriously, this report on Bleeping Computer is it.

For those who don't know, RSA security certificates are used to secure connections for services like HTTPS (secure web-site access), FTP (the usual method to upload files to remote web-servers), SSH (secure shell connections) and RDP remote desktop connection). The longer the key, the more secure it is (although there is a data processing overhead with longer keys), and 2048 bit keys have been common for a very long time, and the recommended minimum since 2013 (the Bleeping Computer report states that 1024 bit keys were disallowed by Internet standards and regulatory bodies in 2013. 2048 bit keys have been recommended since 2002. I have, on occasion, even generated 4096 bit RSA-based SSL certificates for web-sites.

Microsoft, however, is only now deprecating 1024 bit keys. Note that "deprecating" means that they are not encouraging the use of 1024 bit keys, rather than disabling them; you will get a warning, but will be allowed to create a connection to a system that uses one.

One of the systems that I have has a Windows 7 operating system (on a virtual machine). Windows 7 uses 1024 bit keys. Microsoft ended support for Windows 7 in January 2020, but in the 7 years since 1024 bit keys were disallowed (and the 12 years since 2048 bit keys have been recommended) no updates to introduce 2048 bit keys were issued by Microsoft.

Many popular tools (Firezilla, the most popular FTP client, all browsers and SSH) have required a minimum key length of 2048 bits since the end of 2013. I use Remmina (standard in Ubuntu and many other Linux variants) for my RDP sessions and it will not connect to a server unless it has at least 2048 bits; there is no option to ignore, and no way to relax the security settings. Windows, however, allows you to connect an RDP session to a remote system that has only a 1024 bit key (you will at least get a warning).

To spell it out clearly, your Microsoft systems are inherently insecure and prone to hacking, and the company doesn't care. Even if they did care, experience has shown that they are not good at system security, or indeed in issuing updates that work.

I know that many people still operate Windows 7 (the last Windows version that doesn't force system updates without the user's approval; there are several other legitimate reasons to use such an old operating system). If you are one of these, but would like to upgrade your RDP security, it is possible (complicated, but possible), here is what you can do:

  1. Use openssl to generate a standard self-signed 2048 bit certificate (generates two files). There are thousands of sites on the web to show you how to do this. Here is one.
  2. Package the two files into a pkcs12 file (see this guide).
  3. When logged in on your Windows 7 system as a system administrator, carefully follow this guide to add the certificate. This method should also work on more recent versions of Windows.
Poor Sleepy Pilots!

Posted on 13th March 2024

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As if there had not been enough air safety incidents lately, now the BBC reports on a case from Indonesia in which both the pilot and copilot fell asleep for 28 minutes during the flight.

The pilot told his copilot that he needed to rest, and took a nap; this is not meant to happen on short-haul flights. The copilot then also fell asleep. Air-traffic control were unable to raise anyone on the flight-deck during the naps.

"Our lives in their hands!"

Losing A Wheel Is Worse Than Losing a Tyre!

Posted on 9th March 2024

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The BBC reports that a United Airlines flight (a Boeing 777 flying from San Francisco to Tokyo) lost a tyre (tire) seconds after takeoff.

That is not correct. One can clearly see from the video of where it landed that it is a wheel (with the tyre still attached), not just a tyre. This is an important distinction, because losing a tyre is not uncommon, tyres are lost because they break up into smaller pieces and the damage when the tyre debris hits the ground is less severe, whereas a wheel plus tyre is one piece, is heavier and the damage when a tyre hits the ground is significant (as the video shows). Losing a wheel is much less common, and is usually a symptom of poor maintenance or faulty parts, and is a major safety concern.

Our Love Affair With Plastics Will Kill Us.

Posted on 7th March 2024

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This article on Science Alert reports on a small study conducted in Italy which showed microplastics in "more than 50% of plaques from clogged arteries".

The article also reminds us that microplastics are now found in human placentas.

"In the study, patients with microplastics in their excised plaques were twice as likely to have experienced a stroke, non-fatal heart attack or died from any cause after 34 months than people who had no detectable microplastics in the plaques that surgeons had removed."

We desperately need to find a way to manage without plastics. That, however, will not be enough - we need to start getting plastics out of our environment. If we don't, we are likely to start seeing spikes in health problems, including death, due to plastic getting into our bodies.

Airplane Mode On Flights.

Posted on 6th March 2024

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This report on Gizmodo will come as no surprise to many people. It is not necessary to put your mobile phone into airplane mode during flights.

As someone who worked in the avionics industry, where engineers expend enormous efforts to design equipment that is immune from the effects of interference from mobile phones and from other avionic systems, I have always known that it was a lie that phones and other mobile devices could interfere with the navigation and flight control systems of aircraft. That is why you have never heard an announcement from the cockpit demanding that passengers turn off the devices because interference.

Requests to turn off mobile devices or put them inti airplane mode come from the cabin staff, sometimes backed up with the statement that this is the law in whatever country (which certainly used to be true in some countries, but nowadays is generally untrue).

The report does explain why the cabin staff still make this request, even though it is unnecessary: to keep peace and quiet in the cabin during flights and to stop fights breaking out due to those people who insist on loudly using their phones all the time.

Whilst I do recommend that you comply with the request to turn off or switch to airplane mode, you do not need to worry that the plane will crash or get lost if you forget. Airplane mode uses less power, so your battery will last longer in that mode, and avoid all the shouting from bystanders and cabin staff.

Brains Are More Complex Than The Models!

Posted on 5the March 2024

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Denyse O'Leary, the author of this report on MindMatters, really shows her ignorance of basic science.

The headline, and the content of the article both state that the "Human Brain [is] More Complex Than the Models Show". Well duh! That is the nature of models; they are abstractions (simplifications).

Since all science is about models (there are no such things as laws of science, only models), a basic understanding of models, their nature and their inherent limitations is a necessary qualification for any science journalist; Ms. O'Leary clearly lacks that understanding, and therefore that qualification.

Perhaps it is time for her to seek a new career.

Asus WiFi Router Messed Up My Home Network.

Posted on 1st March 2024

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I recently retired one of my WiFi routers, an ASUS RT-N12EC1 that I have owned for a few years, because it was messing up my home network.

There were 3 WiFi networks (now only 2) in my home: 2 controlled by my 2 Internet modems, and the Asus router configured as an access point (AP) for one of the Internet modems, because otherwise the signal was not strong enough in every room. Most of our rooms have an Ethernet cable port, but there is only one cabled network with the two logical networks running over it.

The reason for retiring the Asus was that I discovered that it was sometimes claiming an IP address that was assigned (statically) to one of m servers. This is why I had problems getting my new server to work properly.

At some point in the distant past, I had set the Asus router to use IP address a.b.c.3, which is on the logical network controlled by Internet modem #1. Once the Asus was configured as an AP it had no discernible IP address of its own, so I didn't worry about its IP address. The Asus never worked as an AP on network #2 (simply too old to support the latest AP protocol) and was never assigned an address on that network. Eventually I found out that the Asus router would periodically attempt to connect to network #2 (a.b.d.0), and while trying would grab the address a.b.d.3, an address that had never been assigned to it. These failed attempts would last anywhere from a few seconds to more than 5 minutes. Obviously, my new server was unreachable while the Asus router was using that wrong address.

Now that Sheryl and I both have new mobile phones, there is strong enough WiFi signal throughout the apartment without the Asus working as an AP, so it is now stowed in a drawer.

This kind of undocumented behaviour is why one must always be careful buying cheap IT products.

We have one other Asus device at home: a laptop that Sheryl bought which has always been a source of problems. I most certainly do not recommend Asus products.

Another Faulty Update From Microsoft.

Posted on 1st March 2024

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Techspot reports on the latest updates to Windows 11 , which has a number of bugs affecting some users.

Problems include the sudden disappearance of the Taskbar, File Explorer crashes and degraded performance. In addition, some users experienced a failure to install (due to a failure to fully download the update).

Whilst almost all updates cause some loss of performance, it is unclear by how much the performance was reduced; past a certain point such downgrades are clearly intolerable.

Unlike free operating systems like Linux (Ubuntu and most other variants of Linux) and the tools that run on it, we pay for our Microsoft products, either directly or included in the price of our computers. I expect better quality in what is sometimes very expensive software. I have 6 machines running Ubuntu, and only 2 running Windows, but most of my problems are with Microsoft products. One thing that I strongly object to is paying Microsoft, when I buy a new computer with Windows pre-installed, when I then replace Windows with Linux.

How long will people tolerate such low quality software? Users are dependent on their computers for work, entertainment (games, music and videos), for online banking and online shopping, and anything which impacts these is a major inconvenience. Given that there are good alternatives to Microsoft products, I do not understand why more people aren't voting with their feet.

It is maybe time that users banded together to sue Microsoft for breach of contract.

Readers might also want to consider switching to Linux.

Boiling Water To Remove Microplastics?

Posted on 1st March 2024

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This report on The New Scientist seems, at first glance, to be total nonsense, but if one actually reads it, it makes sense.

Microplastics and nanoplastics are in everything: in our water, food, in our bodies and the bodies of animals and plants; even in our placentas and our new-born children. This pollution is carcinogenic, and seems to be implicated in reductions in sperm counts and fertility.

Boiling tap water removes about 80% of the tiny plastic particles. The obvious question is "what happens to the microplastics when one boils the water?" The answer is that it gets bound into the limescale that builds up in our kettles. If you have very hard tap water, as we do in Munich, more plastic is removed; if you have completely soft water, then presumably none is removed.

Of course, boiled water tastes disgusting. Some brands of bottled water taste better, but bottled water also contains microplastics, so that is no solution. I haven't seen any data on the effectiveness of water filters, but it seems logical that filtering would also remove some of the microplastics.

We really need a comprehensive plan to phase out plastics, or replace them with biodegradable plastics, before we make ourselves extinct.

Tucker Carlson Shows That The USA Is Still In The Dark Ages.

Posted on 29th February 2024

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I was somewhat unsure which thread I should post this in: maybe Bad Journalism, or Stupid People (Tucker Carlson definitely qualifies for both those threads). In the end, I decided to start a new thread: National Differences.

This post is about Tucker Carlson's "Interview with Vladimir Putin and trip to Russia", which begins in this Daily Show clip from 2 minutes and 26 seconds. My reason for writing begins at 7 minutes and 43 seconds. In it Tucker visits a Russian grocery store. He is amazed and impressed by the system of putting a 10 rouble coin into a slot to get to use a shopping cart/trolley, and getting it back when you return the cart. He is also impressed by the wheels of the cart, which lock into the surface of the sloping escalator so that the trolley stays in place without being held.

Having been to the USA several times, including 3 times in the last 18 months, I can confirm that I have never seen either of these pieces of technology there, so American viewers are probably as amazed and impressed as Tucker is. In Europe (the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Austria and Spain, in my personal experience) such trivial technology is completely standard, and has been for over 25 years. The same is true in New Zealand and Australia.

German Insulated Bricks

Other differences between the USA and elsewhere spring to mind. In some areas of America, many homes are damaged by tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and wildfires, made much worse by the fact that so many homes are built of wood. In Europe we build our homes of brick, stone or concrete. As a result houses last a long time; the house where I live is over 100 years old, and is still sound despite having been damaged (since repaired) by allied bombing in World War II; in America, a 100 year old wooden house is typically only fit for demolition. American homes typically have only single glazed windows, leading to higher heating and air-conditioning costs and more noise from the street, whereas in most of Europe double glazing is required by law (in Sweden, Norway and Finland triple gazing is required). New houses in Germany are typically built with cavity-insulated bricks (see photo to the right).

Then there are the cars and pickup trucks. In the USA "The maximum speed limit on rural interstate highways is 70mph ... On four-lane divided highways, the limit is 65mph, and on all other highways it's 55mph." [See here.] On much of Germany's autobahn network there is no speed limit, and I have often driven at 125mph where conditions allow. In the USA, however, average engine capacity is around 3 litres (liters for American readers), and 5 litre or more engines are not unusual, whereas the average German car has a 1800 cc engines; the only reason why the average engine size has fallen in recent years is because of the increase in sales of imported cars from Europe, Japan, etc. Why do Americans need 5 litre engines to drive at such low speeds; is there something wrong with the engines in American cars?

These and many other differences suggest that the USA is behind the rest of the world in a whole range of technology. I find this at odds with the fact that America is a world leader in software development, semiconductor fabrication technology and armaments (specifically, smart weapons) design. It seems that the advanced technology that the country develops does not trickle down to every day life, and that people are willing to make do with outdated capabilities and performance.

It is time for the man in the (American) street to insist on better products; they are being shortchanged.

Lots Of Worrying News About AI.

Posted on 20th February 2024

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The roll-out of AI into all aspects of our lives is in full swing, but there has been a whole host of very worrying news as a result. Below are some examples.

The BBC reports that big-tech companies (including Amazon, Google and Microsoft) "have agreed to tackle what they are calling deceptive artificial intelligence (AI) in elections". Whilst this might seem to be good news, I suspect that their efforts will be unsuccessful, and the fact that they have decided to do something shows just how dangerous AI disinformation is. It is bad enough when humans engage in disinformation, but AI provides the tools to dramatically increase the quantity and quality of such propaganda. With this increase in the quantity of disinformation, it will be nearly impossible for the current fact checking processes to keep up. I foresee a world where bad actors generate disinformation using AI, and the gate-keepers use AI to warn us that such content is untrustworthy. Social media is already full of junk, and AI is going to make that mush worse.

According to Futurism, Amazon have been testing a new Large Language Model (LLM - AI), that is showing "emergent abilities". The AI system ("Big Adaptive Streamable TTS with Emergent abilities" or BASE TTS) showed the ability to understand (and therefore potentially to use) aspects of language that it was not trained on. This is extremely scary.

Fortune tells us that Microsoft is reporting that Iran, North Korea, Russia and China are starting to use generative AI (Microsoft's own AI tools) to launch cyberattacks. One issue with that is the potential of a vastly increased volume of such attacks; another is that AI may devise attacks that are cleverer and more effective than man-made attacks, thinking of attack techniques that humans have not come up with. Given our dependence on IT for everything (news, banking, utility company operations, government services, telecoms, etc.), the impact could be enormous. Although Microsoft says that they had detected and disrupted some such cyberattacks, what about the ones they missed (or didn't care enough about) and what about other company's AI tools?

Lifehacker reports on the announcement by Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, of Sora, an AI that can generate amazingly realistic videos from text input. The article contains some examples. Whilst some such fake videos will be harmless and entertaining the potential for disinformation is enormous. People are generally likely to accept videos as genuine, and indeed courts often accept video evidence as factual (audio recordings are not, unless there is independent evidence of their veracity), creating risks of miscarriages of justice. Although the article states that it is (currently) possible with careful examination of the videos to detect that they are fake, this (Sora) is only the the first version of such text to video AI, and with later versions it will become progressively more difficult to detect AI generated fakes.

This report on Ars Technica is a story that has appeared in many places. Air Canada's chatbot gave incorrect advice to a passenger about the airline's bereavement discount policy. When the passenger followed that advice by claiming the bereavement discount refund after booking, his claim was refused, so he sued Air Canada. He won his lawsuit, but the defence used by Air Canada in court is what I find worrying. They claimed that the chatbot was an independent entity, and that they were not responsible for the advice that it gave. Legally, the chatbot is an agent of the company, just as a human sales or customer support representative is, and any advice given has legal standing. What worries me, however, is that big companies who use chatbots and other AI will keep contesting this, and may eventually win, establishing a precedent that undermines customers' rights.

Forbes reports on a warning from Google about AI. AI is finding its was into the Apps on our smartphones (whether Android or iPhone), and it appears that we all have a blind spot regarding our Apps: we think that our interaction with them is private; it is not! The potential for leaking confidential information (your bank account information, the name of your lover, income that you may not have declared to the tax man, your political affiliations, etc.) is enormous. We all need to learn new habits if we want to keep our secrets secret.

With the roll-out of AI, many people were worried that they might lose their jobs to AI. This article on Tech.co lists some of the companies that have already replaced workers with AI (MSN, Google, Dukaan, Ikea, BlueFocus, Salesforce and Duolingo), and some that are planning to do so soon (IBM and BT). We were right to be worried! As a counterpoint, Futurism reports on a study by MIT which shows that replacing workers with AI is more expensive, although the costs of AI are likely to fall in the future and companies are likely to plow ahead anyway.

Vice.com reports on very worrying results from international conflict simulations. Military organisations around the world are evaluating the use of AI to support decision making. The results show that AI is very prone to sudden escalation: "In several instances, the AIs deployed nuclear weapons without warning". It sounds like an old movie which many of us will have seen.

A Groupon Deal That We Couldn’t Use.

Posted on 17th February 2024

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One of our Christmas presents from Sheryl's sister Becky was a Groupon voucher for an airport lounge at Chicago O'Hare airport. We thought it was a nice idea, and were looking forward to a pleasant experience at the airport (O'Hare is otherwise a very unpleasant place to fly through, with very limited options for drinks, food and comfortable seats).

The voucher was a "Priority Pass" voucher, which entitles the holder (and a guest, I believe) to use the Swissport Lounge. Unfortunately, the Swissport Lounge is in terminal 5, and both United and Lufthansa (our only direct flight options from Chicago to Munich) fly from terminal 1. Once you have passed through security, you are stuck in the terminal from which you are flying.

So, just in case you are tempted by the Priority Pass, first check which terminal you are departing from (terminal 5 serves British Airways, Delta, LOT, SAS and Swiss).

France Downgrades Citizenship Rights Of People Born in Mayotte.

Posted on 16th February 2024

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According to this report on the BBC, France has decided to take away the right of people born in Mayotte, a département de France located in the Indian Ocean, to have full French citizenship.

France has 5 overseas départements (French Guiana in South America, Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, Martinique in the Caribbean, Réunion in the Indian Ocean and Mayotte in the Indian Ocean), as listed on this Wikipedia page. A département is equivalent to a county, part of the nation of France, and people born there have always enjoyed the right to full French citizenship. Now, however, due to massive immigration, the French government has decided to strip away that right in Mayotte. It is probably only a matter of time until the same thing happens in the other 4 départements.

This is almost identical to what happened to the people of Hong Kong, where the British government took away the long-standing right of people born there to have full British citizenship before handing Hong Kong back to China.

This is part of the same trend that we see in other European countries, in the USA, in Canada and elsewhere, where immigration is being made progressively more difficult as governments pander to the racism of the voting public, despite the desperate need for immigrants in all these nations to boost their economies and solve the demographic problem of funding pensions. What happened to the idea of governments taking the moral high-ground?

Solar Cells That Are 1000 Times More Efficient Are Impossible!

Posted on 16the February 2024

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I am also getting thoroughly pissed off with the articles like this one on the Brighter Side News, claiming breakthroughs in solar cell technology that makes them 1000 times more efficient. I have seen dozens of such claims over the last year or more.

As explained by the University of Michigan, current photovoltaic cells have typical efficiencies in the range of 17% to 20%. Making them 1000 times more efficient would make them up to 200% more efficient, producing 200 times more energy than what is input in the form of sunlight. This is clearly nonsense: no machine can output more energy than is input.

Maybe the Brighter Side News needs to fire some of their journalists and editors, to stop the lies.

UK does the right thing for Hong Kong residents, 33 years late!

Posted on 29th January 2021

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This report, and this report, on the BBC, are about the new rules for holders of a UK BNO visa, entitling them to live in the UK. The new rules take effect from the 31st of January 2021.

The UK government are very proud of themselves for doing this. It is only 33 years too late!

Hong Kong was returned to the control of China (when Britain's lease expired) in July 1997. Hong Kong residents used to be entitled to a full British passport, but the UK government were worried about a huge influx of immigrants, and removed that right well before the handover, and introduced the BNO (British National Overseas) passport (which could only be applied for before the handover of Hong Kong), which gave holders no right of residence in the UK.

At the time, I was disgusted with the the UK government: one of the reasons that I cut most of my ties with Britain when I left the country in 1990.

Finally they have redressed the matter, at least partly. As always, too little, too late. I am sure that the reason for the change has nothing to do with human rights or the protection of freedoms; if they feel those are valid reasons, they would have not created the injustice in the first place in 1997.

Brexit Enables Lower Pollution Standards.

Posted on 16th November 2023

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Well, no surprises in this article on The Guardian. It reports that "The government is to loosen EU-derived laws on chemicals in a move experts say will increase the likelihood of toxic substances entering the environment."

This exactly what I and a host of others predicted.

With this latest development, as a result of the increased freedom given by Brexit of the UK to make their own environmental legislation, UK residents now have to contend with:

  • A future with more frequent toxic chemical pollution events;
  • Water utilities across the country failing to meet the standards about the release of raw sewage into the environment, with no government intervention or fines;
  • The whittling away of food standards governing things like chlorinated chicken, growth hormones in beef, antibiotics in our food, pesticides on our vegetables and salad, etc.

There will be more erosion of UK standards in the near future, I am sure.

The Is No Such Thing As A 600 Mile Battery!

Posted on 10the February 2024

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I am fed up with seeing articles about "the 600 mile battery". There is no such thing.

The latest offender is Yahoo Tech News, but there have been dozens of such reports, including this story on Forbes, a well respected news source.

For one thing, the amount of range an electric vehicle (EV) has depends on how many batteries are in the vehicle. It is possible to give a Tesla 600 miles of range simply by adding more batteries, but then there would be no room for luggage and passengers.

For another thing, it is likely that most EV manufacturers will use the new generation of higher capacity batteries to reduce cost and weight (thus increasing performance), rather than keeping the same battery weight/size and increasing range.

If these news sources can't understand these basic facts of physics, then maybe they should refrain from writing about EVs and their batteries.

Barclays Pays Lip Service To Business Ethics.

Posted on 10th February 2024

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The BBC reports that Barclays bank has announced that it will no longer provide direct funding for new oil and gas projects. This is too little, too late!

Barclays has a long record of questionable business ethics. They were the last of the UK High Street banks to pull out of South Africa during the apartheid era, and has huge existing investments in fossil fuels. This report on Ethical Consumer has a more detailed explanation of the ethical issues with Barclays, which includes:

  • Barclays has been Europe’s biggest investor in fossil fuels,
  • Funding Bangladesh’s coal expansion,
  • Financing deforestation,
  • Violations of Indigenous rights.

Barclays' latest announcement states that it "will restrict lending to energy businesses that plan to expand their fossil fuel production." This means that they will continue to financially support the fossil fuel industry.

I case the management at Barclays didn't notice, the latest research shows that we have already passed the 1.5°C limit that world leaders set for themselves in the hope of saving our planet. It is time for companies that are part of the problem to take bolder steps, and become part of the solution.

He’s What?

Posted on 10the February 2024

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The BBC does it again! This story reports on a Spanish matador who the BBC describe him as "LBGT" (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) but he is certainly not all four of those thing.

The matador describes himself as pansexual, so bisexual. Being male (from birth, and still today) he certainly cannot be lesbian and is not transsexual. So, not LGBT, just B. A group of people can be described as LGBT, but a single person, by definition, cannot.

Get it right, BBC! It's not that hard.

Recent Air Travel Incidents.

Posted on 19th January 2024

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After two recent air travel incidents, many people will be worrying just how safe it is to travel by aircraft.

The first occurred on the 5th of January, a door blew out on an Alaska Airlines flight from Portland, Oregon to Ontario, California, as reported by the BBC. The blow-out occurred at 16,000 ft (4,876m, causing oxygen masks to be deployed and the jet to make an emergency descent , after which it returned to Portland.

Aircraft cabins are pressurised to the equivalent of 10,000 ft, so the sudden depressurisation would certainly have been noticed by the passengers. Most people, however, can tolerate air pressure at 20,000 (I have done so, while working, including moving heavy equipment). One commentator wrote that many passengers would probably have died if the blow-out had occurred at 30,000 ft (normal operating altitude for jets), although I suspect that passing out would be a much more likely outcome.

The Boeing 737 Max has had many problems, with hundreds of deaths in two high profile crashes and the whole fleet being grounded for over a year while changes were designed and tested, and the 737 Max was re-certified. Boeing must be grateful that this latest problem doesn't appear to be their fault.

More recently a passenger noticed, while looking out of the window just prior to take-off from Manchester (England) airport, that 4 bolts were missing from a wing panel, as reported the Mirror. The Airbus A330 wing-panel has a total of 119 fasteners, so the missing bolts were unlikely to have caused a crash. Such panels are often removed for inspections as part of routine maintenance, so this is not a case of the bolts having been forgotten at the factory.

Many readers will have read that air travel is the safest form of travel. This, however, is calculated either per mile travelled, or per hour travelled, and, for me at least, air journeys are much longer (in both time and distance travelled). What I would like to see is statistics calculated per trip, so that we can all make an properly informed decision.

This is a common problem with official statistics, which often tell us what someone else wants us to hear rather than what we need or want to hear. Such statistics should more properly be designated propaganda. As they say, "never trust statistics that you didn't falsify yourself."

Drinking Age In US Versus UK.

Posted on 30th December 2023

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I was struck by the contrast between the US and UK highlighted in this article on The Mirror, even though I already knew what it explains about UK law.

Under US law, no-one is allowed to drink or buy alcohol until they are 21 years old. In the UK, people can buy alcohol once they reach 18 years, and can have alcohol bought for them, for example in a bar or restaurant, once they reach 16. In private premises, e.g. at home, when under parental supervision, someone can legally drink at 5 years old!

There are a great number of studies showing that, when young people are introduced to alcohol in a safe and supervised environment, they are less likely to abuse alcohol and become alcoholics. Countries like France, Spain and Italy, where drinking wine with meals is part of the culture, have much lower rates of alcoholism. The statistics speak for themselves.

The other oddity about US drinking laws has been pointed out by many writers: at 18 years old, one is considered old enough to join the military and die for one's country, but not old enough to drink alcohol. This has never made any sense to me.

When my daughter was 5 years old, she would often open the bottle of wine for dinner, inspect it as she swilled it around the glass, smell it, taste it, and tell me whether it was OK. I would then ask her if she wanted any; sometimes she would say yes, and I would give her some mixed with water. She has grown up with a responsible attitude to alcohol.

I think that it would be better for people if the US moved to an approach more like in Europe, but I can't see that happening any time soon.

One More Thing To Worry About.

Posted on 28th December 2023

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As if there weren't already enough things to worry about with robotics and AI, now we also have to worry about malfunctions, as reported by The Daily Mail.

An engineer at Tesla's Giga Texas factory near Austin was attacked and seriously injured by a malfunctioning robot, while programming two disabled Tesla robots nearby. He was seriously injured, and the factory floor was covered in blood.

These kind of robots are not in any sense smart, but we should remember that AI can also malfunction (and sometimes does), and I dread to think of the carnage that could result.

SSH Security Under Threat.

Posted on 28th December 2023

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This report by Ars Technica should worry everyone. It describes a new vulnerability of SSH.

SSH, or Secure Shell Protocol, was invented in 1995, and provides secure access to remote computers. It provides not only command-line remote access, but also remote graphical applications (where the program runs on the remote computer and any windows that it opens appear on the local computer) using a feature called X11 forwarding.

This may seem rather esoteric to some readers, but it is the basis of the administration of remote computer systems like web-servers and cloud servers. It is very powerful and easy to use, and until now has been considered impregnably secure.

Now, however, it has been found to be vulnerable to a so-called "man in the middle" attack. We should expect a series of system penetration events, resulting in hackers gaining access to Internet-connected systems and stealing valuable data, ransomware attacks and the like.

Luckily, I do not use SSH to access my servers while away from home. Instead, I have written some tools which allow me to do most of the system administration by other methods.

The Hackers Have Been Busy.

Posted on 28th December 2023

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It seems that the hackers have been very busy lately.

Xfinity, a division of Comcast, waited about 9 days to patch a high-severity vulnerability. During that delay, hackers stole password data and other sensitive information belonging to 36 million Xfinity customers, as reported by Ars Technica. The stolen passwords are cryptographically hashed, so will not give the hackers access to those customers' accounts, but the other data is not encrypted. Basically, the problem was caused by laziness on the part of Comcast.

The LockBit ransomware group claims to have hacked accounting firm Xeinadin, which serves customers in the UK and Ireland, and is threatening to disclose the stolen data, according to Security Affairs. Stolen data apparently includes:

  • All internal databases,
  • Customer financials,
  • Passports,
  • Account balances,
  • Accesses to personal accounts of Companies House customers of Xeinadin,
  • Client legal information,
  • And much more.

Europe’s largest parking app operator, owner of brands including RingGo and ParkMobile, has reported itself to information regulators in the EU and UK after hackers stole customer data, according to this report on The Guardian. Data stolen includes customer names, phone numbers, addresses, email addresses and parts of credit card numbers. Luckily, complete credit card numbers were not stolen.

Rather more worrying is this security breach at Panasonic Avionics, which provides in-flight communications and entertainment systems, as reported by Bleeping Computer. Data stolen potentially includes:

  • individuals' names,
  • email address,
  • mailing address,
  • telephone number,
  • dates of birth,
  • medical and health insurance information,
  • financial account numbers,
  • company employment status,
  • and government identifiers such as Social Security numbers.

The reason that this is so worrying is that the breach occurred on the 30th of December 2022, but has only now been reported to California's Attorney General.

This just goes to prove that our data is not secure, whether it is held by government agencies or by companies.

Is Europe Becoming More Racist?

Posted on 25th November 2023

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There have been quite cases of racism in the news recently, so this question seems relevant. Notable examples of racism include:

  • In Ireland, a large riot by more than 500 right-wing extremists, as reported by the BBC. This shocked many, because Ireland has a reputation for welcoming immigrants and tourists. The BBC article points out that "At the moment - in contrast with most of the democratic world # - no politician [in Ireland] has been elected to any office - either at local council or national level - on a far-right platform", but the riot gives cause to worry that change is afoot in the nation's politics.
  • The surprise victory of Geert Wilders' PVV (Freedom Party) in the national election this week in the Netherlands, as reported by the BBC, with analysis of the implications by the BBC. The Dutch also have a strong reputation of welcoming visitors and immigrants, and is the easiest country through which to enter the EU. There is a significant chance that the Netherlands will enact tougher immigration laws as a result of the PVV victory.
  • The racist outpourings around the world against both side of the Israel/Hamas war. There is, of course, fault on both sides of the conflict, but many people voicing opinions on the matter are unable to show any balance in their views, and the war has let the genie of previously suppressed racism out of the bottle.
  • In Poland there has long been understandable anti-Russian sentiment. Now the undercurrent of anti-Ukrainian feelings, which have been around since at least the end of World War II, are on the rise, triggered by issues over Ukrainian grain imports and military and financial support being given as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. There is more information about Poland's anti-Ukrainian sentiment on Wikipedia.
  • In Italy there are a lot of protests against illegal immigrants, of which Italy gets more than its fair share due to its proximity to Africa. These protests are spilling over into Italian politics, making the country more racist.
  • In Spain the tolerance for immigrants, both legal and illegal, has been drastically reduced. Spain has illegal immigration from North Africa, for similar reasons to Italy, which is having financial and social consequences for the country. Legal immigrants have also had huge impacts, with locals priced out of the housing market because of foreigners buying and renting property. Shops in many areas now stock less local produce and more products imported from Germany (Sauerkraut, German sausages and German beer) and the UK (baked beans, HP sauce, steamed puddings and English beer), targeting the ex-pat community. Bars and restaurants have also undergone a change to accommodate the ex-pats, accompanied by price rises.
  • Since the election of Viktor Orban to Prime Minister of Hungary, the country has been a thorn in the side of the EU Commission and a hotbed of racism. It doesn't look like things will change any time soon. Hungary refuses to honour their commitments to the EU, in terms of accepting refugees.
  • France, despite government policy and established legislation, continues to have outbreaks of racism, as described on Wikipedia. Racism against blacks, Arabs, Jews, Germans (the French have still not forgiven WWII - Germans visiting France often pretend, in vain, to be English to avoid the racism), more recently against Britain (due to Brexit) and others is fairly common.
  • Greece has understandable animosity towards Turkey; the nations have long running disputes over the ownership of Cyprus and several Aegean islands, which has led to armed conflict in the past. More recently there has been a lot of anti-German feeling, after the EU financial bail-out of Greece and the strict austerity measures that were imposed as a condition of the bail-out.
  • Since the break up of the former Yugoslavia, The Balkans has had its racism exposed. Pretty much every Balkan nation hates at least one of the others, and the Serbs are hated by all the others. The divides are not only racial, but also religious. The racist hate has led to horrific atrocities, for example the massacre in Srebrenica and the siege of Sarajevo.
  • Even Sweden, once one of the most liberal and open nations, has a significant racist undercurrent, and some rather extreme institutionalised racism, as described on Wikipedia.

Of course, just because a nation has racism doesn't mean that it is getting worse, but my impression is that it is indeed getting worse. It is easy for a country's population to be open to immigration and equal opportunities for immigrants when that population has jobs, good housing and money, but that is no longer the case. Economic downturns due to the Covid pandemic and cyclic effects, inflation of food prices, the effort to be carbon neutral, and the impact of aging populations on pension systems and retirement ages has made people less willing to share their shrinking piece of the cake with foreigners, whether actually immigrants or simply different. The financial impacts are inevitably increasing racism. This is not so different to the situation with environmental issues: people are willing to recycle, to buy greener products etc. when they have enough money, but when times are hard they are not.

Rich People Are The Cause Of Our Environmental Problems.

Posted on 26th November 2023

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The argument that rich people are causing disproportionate environmental problems is proven by these two articles:

  • Barron's reports that the world's richest 1% emit as much carbon as the poorest two-thirds of the population. This is extreme, and there are growing calls for progressive tax rates for richer people to redress the balance.
  • Making the same point more personally and explicitly is this report on Reckon News, about 7 rich and powerful people who sacrificed the environment (our environment!) for wealth and power. The list of 7 people contains all the usual suspects (except, surprisingly, Elon Musk); the unusual member of the list is US Democratic senator Joe Manchin, who is not super rich like the others, but who has repeatedly blocked environmental initiatives in the USA because of the dependence of his constituency on coal mining.

If the richest 1% are creating the same carbon emissions as the poorest 67%, then we can solve the climate crisis just by forcing them to cut their emissions by half. It won't solve the problem overnight, but it will eventually.

People who control so much of the world's wealth have, anyway, a duty to take the lead in saving or planet; when those same people are directly responsible for causing the environmental crisis in the first place, it is time to force them to do the right thing.

Microsoft Makes Life Hard For Users.

Posted on 16th November 2023

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OneDrive Quit Dialogue

This report on Techspot describes a recent update to OneDrive, which requires a reason for why you want to disable service (see the picture to the right).

I can think of a few perfectly reasonable reasons to turn of the OneDrive service (not least to comply with an employer's or customer's security policy), and it is none of Microsoft's business.

All that Microsoft has achieved is to make the service less simple and pleasant to use, with te potential to drive customers away.

Is The Finance System About To Collapse?

Posted on 18th October 2023

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Things are not looking good for the world financial system.

In China, the crises at Evergrande and Country Garden are just the highest profile examples to hit the press, as more than 50 Chinese are have defaulted on their debts, as reported by The New York Times.

A major financial collapse in China will inevitably produce fall-out around the world.

There are some other significant threats that have not yet come to pass.

Many doomsayers are warning of societal collapse due to climate change, with financial collapse being just one symptom. For more on societal collapse, see the environment thread of this blog. It seems that humanity is unable to muster the collective will to stop climate change, so the consequences of it, including societal collapse, seem more inevitable with each passing day.

Another threat is AI, as reported by Gizmodo. AI is penetrating all areas of life, including trading and financial institutions, and one of the problems with that is the lack of diversity of AI models in AI, leading to every institution making the same choices. This has led one expert, Gary Gensler (Chairman of the US Securities and Exchange Commission), to predict that AI will cause a financial meltdown in the next 10 years unless there is comprehensive regulation of this use of AI very soon.

Using AI for trading decisions is inherently dangerous, since it is not so different from algorithmic automated trading systems, which have already caused so much instability in the markets that their use has been heavily regulated. AI will simply bring more of the same, with the added complication that no-one knows how AI works.

Health Insurance Overcharge.

Posted on 17th October 2023

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I have been having a long battle with my German health insurers, HEK (Hanseatische Krankenkasse). They have been trying to overcharge me for my health insurance, by a very large margin.

My insurance is Gesetzliche Krankenversucherung (statutory health insurance). This has a lot of advantages over private health insurance of the type common in the USA:

  • The costs depend on one's income, with the rate set by the government;
  • There are no risks in changing one's insurers, because there are no exemptions to health insurance cover due to pre-existing conditions;
  • There are no issues about having to use "on-network" health providers;
  • The insurers can only cancel an insurance policy in extreme circumstances, after a very lengthy due process has been followed.

Early this year the HEK began trying to charge me around €930 per month, instead of the previous amount of about €250, which was obviously wrong. When I looked at the letter documenting how this fee was calculated, I easily discovered a gross error: they had included a term for fees calculated from money that they knew I wasn't earning - the difference between my actual income and the maximum amount that may be used to calculate fees, which is meant for information only.

Since I am a pensioner, my account didn't contain enough to pay €930 per month, so the direct debit failed (in Germany, subscription services like insurance, utility bills etc. must normally be paid automatically by direct debit, rather than by cheque/check).

I wrote several letters to my health insurers, explaining their error, informing them that I would pay what I calculated to be the correct rate (using the percentages defined by the government and listed in their letter) manually, and notifying them that I would not reauthorise the direct debit until they corrected their error. My last letter was sent on the 2nd of August 2023. I actually manually paid a little more than I calculated, just to be sure.

Today (17th October 2023) I received several letters with correctly calculated fees, and a reduced premium for the current month as correction for my over-payments.

There are several things which bother me about this sorry saga:

  1. None of the letters contain an apology, nor an explanation;
  2. It took 11 weeks to respond to my last letter and correct my insurance premiums, which is an outrageous delay;
  3. Because of HEK's delay in replying, I contacted two different firms of lawyers with a view to suing them if needed, but neither firm deigned to reply; if my insurers had failed to correct their error and I had really needed to take them to court, I would have had extreme difficulty in finding legal representation.

Germany is notorious for their convoluted and inefficient bureaucracy, but my experience is extreme even for this country.

The Amazon May Be Dying.

Posted on 15th October 2023

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This BBC report shows the parlous state of the Amazon river, one of the largest in the world, with many shocking photos.

The Amazon river provides food, water and transportation for many people living on and near to the river.

If the river dies, then the Amazon rainforest, already severely reduced and degraded, will also die. That would be the beginning of the end for our world.

Developers Don’t Know How AI Works And Nor Does The AI Itself.

Posted on 18th July 2023

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This report on Vox highlights the scariest aspect of generative AI systems like ChatGPT; the developers cannot tell you how they work, and neither can the AI itself (many people have tried, but humans simply don't speak the language that AI uses internally).

The idea that we are using, and plan in future to use even more widely, systems that are inherently unpredictable and amoral, should worry us all.

Modern AI systems are not programmed in the conventional sense. The underlying neural network engine is coded, but the "intelligence" of AI comes from what it learns from huge sets of data, typically from the Internet (and we all know what a cess-pit of misinformation and immorality the Internet is).

This has some consequences:

  1. It is not possible to code rules of protection and morality (such as Asimov's laws of robotics) into AI.
  2. Any attempts to get an AI system to predict how it would behave (for example, would it ever attack humans) in various scenarios is inherently futile. Several people have attempted to do this, and the results are of great concern.
  3. It is impossible to ensure that AI will not allow itself to be used for illegal purposes; the only protection we have against illegal is in the conditions of use.
  4. Because the learning process is largely automatic, due to the necessary size of training datasets, it is impossible to prevent bias and prejudice from creeping into an AI's "mindset". There have already been a number of reported cases of racial bias found in AI's decisions.

There are many examples in science fiction of what could go wrong due to an amoral AI. One of the most extreme is Avengers: Age of Ultron.

More On Societal Collapse.

Posted on 1st October 2023

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This report on inews describes one climate scientist's view that society will completely collapse by 2050. He is so convinced of this that he has made preparations, including relocating his family and making his home proof against some of the consequences of such a collapse.

I have written several posts about societal collapse in this thread of this blog: in summary, everything from law enforcement and government services, though supplies of food and water, to the banking system are likely to fail.

One of the things that I and others have predicted is major water shortages, resulting in wars over access to water. Such problems are precisely what is going on in France right now, as reported here on Foreign Policy. Several parts of the USA have, or recently had, severe water shortages, with tensions between private consumers, industry and agriculture; between government and native American tribes; between different states in the USA; and between the USA and Mexico (over the usage of water from the Colorado River). There are water shortages all across Europe. The Panama canal has so little water that traffic through the canal has been limited, which is impacting availability and prices of internationally traded food.

On the financial side, the Daily Mail reports "staggering losses" by a gold-plated pension scheme. There have been bank collapses this year in the USA. Some nation's currencies have major problems; the Turkish Lira, for example, is in free-fall. There is enormous international concern because of some company collapses (e.g. Evergrande) in China (once an economic powerhouse).

Bearing all the above in mind, total societal collapse by 2050 seems somewhat optimistic. The early stages are happening now.

That Is Not How Batteries Work!

Posted on 1st October 2023

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This report on Upworthy is just so wrong.

The headline says it all: "Lamp powered by seawater ...". If you know anything at all about batteries, you know that they are not powered by the electrolyte (in this case, seawater). The power is generated by the anode and cathode, through the transport (transportation, to any American readers) of material from them into the electrolyte.

Journalists who understand so little about science and technology should not be allowed to write about them.

Article On Programming Languages That Are Dying Out Has Some Facts Wrong.

Posted on 23rd September 2023

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There are some things in this makeuseof.com article on "Programming Languages That Are Heading for Extinction" that are no surprise, and others that are just plain wrong.

For example, FORTRAN (intended for numeric computation and scientific computing) and PASCAL (designed as a teaching language, intended to encourage good programming practices using structured programming and data structuring) serve very little purpose nowadays. Modern programming languages are not primarily imperative in nature, and people need languages supporting modern and efficient concepts like object orientation and functional programming. Both FORTRAN and PASCAL are very old, and their extinction is no loss to the world.

COBOL is also very old, and although, since an update in 2002, it supports object orientation, it has some serious limitations (such as the lack of a large library of standard functions, and the very large number of reserved words). It was widely used by financial institutions, whose unwillingness to invest in porting their code to new languages has kept COBOL alive this long. It has become increasingly difficult and expensive for those financial institutions to get skilled COBOL programmers to maintain their legacy code. It is way past time that COBOL was put out of its (and our) misery.

I consider Visual Basic and Visual Basic Applications to be evidence of Microsoft's long effort to sabotage the world of software (both development and use), and few will mourn their passing.

Which brings us to Perl, which is widely used in web development, where it is used for server-side scripting (if you want to access a database on the web-server, you absolutely need server-side scripting). It can be used for a range of programming styles (imperative, functional and object oriented, for example). There is a vast array of free Perl modules to perform almost every imaginable task. Perl has been to a significant extent been supplanted by PHP. 80% of web-servers run on Linux, which means that the main choices for server-side scripting are Perl, PHP and Java (there are other options).

The article states that the downside of Perl is "higher CPU usage and memory requirements". I use Perl extensively on this web-site, and my experience contradicts this criticism. Perl performs at least 10 times better than PHP in terms of speed, CPU and memory usage. The resources used by Perl on this web-server are immeasurably small, whereas I found the CPU load from PHP was close to 100%. In addition, I consider PHP to have some serious security flaws. PHP is now banned on my web-hosting service because of its resource usage and security issues.

So, thanks to makeuseof.com for the article, but get your facts right!

Germany Finally Planning To Join The 21st Century On Cannabis.

Posted on 20th August 2023

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Reuters reports that the German cabinet has passed a bill to legalise cannabis for recreational use.

Although the bill has still to be passed by parliament, this is probably only a formality, and means that Germany will join the growing number of countries legalising cannabis/marijuana (more details on where and under what conditions it is legal here on Wikipedia).

The bill will allow adults to possess "up to 25 grams (0.88 oz) of the drug, grow a maximum of three plants, or acquire weed as associates of non-profit cannabis clubs".

The situation regarding cannabis in Germany has for decades been in limbo. In the late 1990s, the German federal government cancelled all federal legislation against cannabis, and left it to the Lände (states) to enact their own legislation; there was a period of about 3 months between the cancellation of the federal legislation and its replacement by state legislation when cannabis was legal. All states chose to make cannabis illegal, but most have chosen not to enforce those laws for possession for small quantities for personal use, although dealing and possession of larger quantities is prosecuted; the notable exception is Bavaria (where I live) which has continued to prosecute even possession of tiny amounts, and Bavaria may attempt to continue to do so despite the change of the law at the federal level.

As someone who suffers from a lot of pain (due to a back injury), this change in the law is very welcome.

Earth Overshoot Day Shows Just How Screwed We Are.

Posted on 7th August 2023

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Electrek reports statistics about Earth Overshoot. These are statistic of which I was previously unaware, but really bring home how badly we have messed up.

Earth Overshoot Day Graph

Earth Overshoot Day is the day in each year by which we have used up 100% of the resources that become available each year, and is currently the 2nd of August, but getting earlier each year. Another way of looking at this is that each year we are currently using 170% of the resources that the earth provides each year: clean air and water, forest products, fertile soil, pollination, fisheries, land use, etc. The graph to the right puts that all into focus.

In other words, we are living on an overdraft. This obviously cannot continue.

IRS Goes Paperless, Finally!

Posted on 7th August 2023

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The Messenger reports that the US IRS (Internal Revenue Service) will be going fully paperless (i.e. digital) by 2025.

This transformation will:

  • Speed up tax refunds;
  • Make it easier for Americans to file their tax returns, with fewer opportunities for mistakes;
  • Save the IRS millions of dollars in effort to process and check returns (which is the real reason for them making the change).

US citizens should not have any illusions about this digital transformation; the IRS will certainly screw it up, so that the full benefits may take several years to fully materialise.

Civilisation Is Carcinogenic To Our Planet.

Posted on 6th August 2023

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This article on Salon.com presents the opinion of a physician that human civilisation is carcinogenic to our environment.

I have no argument with that opinion; to me it seems unarguably true.

There is, however, an entirely possible consequence of this opinion. If it is a fair characterisation, and we think of the natural environment as an organism, there is a non-zero risk that the planet may mount an immune response to humanity, treating us as an infection and attempting to rid itself of the plague of humans. This immune response could be of several forms:

  • New diseases affecting humans; this is already happening (e.g. Covid-19);
  • Existing diseases becoming more dangerous (more infectious and/or drug resistant); this is is already happening (e.g. bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotics, diseases increasing their geographical range);
  • Increased geographical range of dangerous species; this is already happening (e.g. so-called murder hornets, poisonous snakes and spiders);
  • Increased frequency and severity of natural disasters (weather and earthquakes); this is already happening;
  • Wild species learning behaviour that is harmful to humans; this is already happening (e.g. Orca teaching other Orca how to overturn and sink small to medium sized boats, large predators such as tigers becoming man-eaters, more attacks by rogue elephants, bison, bears, etc.);
  • Growing problems with agricutural pests; this is already happening.

I am sure that this list can easily be expanded.

All this does not imply that there is any consciousness behind the changes, but statistically it looks as if something could be going on.

The answer is not to to wage war with the natural world (I am not sure how we could wage war on natural disasters anyway); the answer is to learn to be better house guests on the planet that we share.

Will Market Forces Be Enough To Phase Out Fossil Fuels?

Posted on 22nd July 2023

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This report on The Hill suggests that market forces would be sufficient to drastically reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. I disagree.

The author argues that the price of fossil fuels is very heavily subsidised by governments, allowing oil, coal and gas to out-compete renewable energy, keeping the world hooked on such polluting resources, and that eliminating these subsidies would make fossil fuels uncompetitive. This is unarguable.

My problems with the suggested approach to rebalancing energy markets using market forces are:

  1. It is too slow. It will take time to cancel the subsidies, and will be hard to do because the industry has huge political leverage, and there will be fall-out on employment. This is time that we do not have.
  2. Even if fossil fuel usage is drastically reduced, the damage to the environment, health and quality of life has already been done, and the repair of that damage needs to be paid for.
  3. The fossil fuel industry deliberately lied to us about the risks of climate change for decades, and they should be punished.

We have never paid the true cost of fossil fuels, because of the subsidies, and because of the costs due to pollution that have always been paid by others (mainly governments and the populace at large).

Paying the true cost means not only removing subsidies, but also charging the industry for the costs to us all of using this source of energy.

Well, That Didn’t Take Long.

Posted on 18th July 2023

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This story on UPI reports on a new piece of software, WormGPT, which is intended for use by criminals. WormGPT uses generative artificial intelligence. In a test, researchers used it to create a scam email to persuade companies to pay fraudulent invoices; apparently it was a very persuasive email.

Whilst it is no surprising that AI is being used for criminal activity, it surprised me how quickly it was created and marketed.

Is South Africa Really The Best Country To Visit?

Posted on 13th July 2022

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This article on The BBC reports on a survey of their readers conducted by The Telegraph, which concluded that South Africa is the best country in the world to visit. I beg to differ.

The article waxes lyrical about Cape Town, which is indeed a great destination, but is not representative of the whole country. I have been to South Africa quite a few times; I have friends and family there.

There is a huge number of problems in South Africa, for example:

  • Cape Town recently had an enormous problem with water supply, now resolved; not the kind of thing you want at your vacation destination.
  • Police corruption, including police road blocks simply to elicit bribes from drivers; a friend was stopped every day for months on her drive to take her child to school, and had to pay to avoid lengthy stops and vehicle searches.
  • An epidemic of carjacking, sometimes by people pretending to be police officers; this is so bad that standard advice is, if a "police officer" attempts to stop you, is to drive to the nearest police station to report the incident; carjacking is also often done through fake accidents, where one of the gang jumps in front of a car, and when the driver stops, a whole gang jumps out of the bushes with clubs and machetes, robs the driver and steals the car, sometimes killing the driver; stopping at traffic lights is also dangerous at night, since a gang may also come out of hiding and rob and kill the driver.
  • An ongoing issue of killing of white farmers in order to steal their land and livestock; farmers in some regions are selling up and even leaving the country.
  • Electricity supply problems, with regular (as in every day, for hours, on a published schedule) black-outs and brown-outs.
  • Violence on the streets; the drivers of the minivan "taxis" (the so-called kafer taxis) usually carry an AK-47 machine gun, and there are regular outbreaks of turf wars between different kafer taxi companies; most public transport (busses and trains) are unsafe.
  • There are constant break-ins and home invasions; most affluent homes have at least one gun, professionally trained guard dogs, and signs notifying potential burglars that the homeowner has an armed response security service; victims are often injured and even killed during break-ins.
  • Constant infrastructure thefts (telephone/Internet cables, railway tracks and even whole railway stations).

Most of these problems have been gong on for decades, and show no signs of being fixed.

Do you still want to go to South Africa? If so, I suggest Cape Town. I also recommend that you only go if you have friends there with whom you can stay, and who can teach you how to stay safe.

Business As Usual for Microsoft.

Posted on 13th July 2023

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This story on The BBC reports on Microsoft's attempt to take over major games publisher Activision Blizzard, makers of Call Of Duty, World Of Warcraft and Candy Crush.

For Microsoft this is business as usual. The company has a long history of being bad at innovation, and of solving this problem by taking over companies to fill the innovation gap; this has been going on since the very early days of Windows.

I think that it might be time for the authorities to break up Microsoft, in the same way as they did to AT&T. This would not only help solve their innovation shortfall, but also help stamp out Microsoft's uncompetitive practices.

Why Our Computers Keep Getting Slower.

Posted on 12th July 2023

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I was triggered to write this post by this article on Hackaday.

The author, Bryan Cockfield, suggests one reason why, despite computer hardware becoming faster every year, computers do not run any faster. What he says is that software is now being written in a more lazy way, using development frameworks, packaged services and more abstraction; the reasons include allowing software to run on more platforms, and reducing the time and cost of development.

While the effect that he describes certainly exists, it is not the whole story. The phenomenon commonly described as bloatware has been around for the entire history of computers. Here are some of my thoughts on the reason and the impacts.

We are all aware of the constant stream of updates to operating systems and applications, whether you are a Windows user, a Mac user or a Linux user. Some updates fix security flaws and some add functionality. In general, it is more difficult to retrofit (add as an afterthought) something to software (especially if the functionality was not originally foreseen in the software). Updates are, simply put, the reason for our computers getting constantly slower.

Abstraction

The growth in abstraction is a major cause of the constantly reducing efficiency and speed of software, which is Bryan Cockfield's thesis, and this trend is gathering pace. It is worth noting, however, that not all abstraction slows your software down. I use Linux on my laptops and servers, and when I need to use Microsoft tools I use a virtual machine, which runs Windows as a guest on a Linux machine through abstraction; the performance of Windows and Office is better using such an abstracted environment than it is in native mode. The reason is that native Linux services (memory management, file system services, etc.) are so much faster than Microsoft native mode services that the gains more than offset any inefficiencies due to the abstraction layer. It is nevertheless true that the type of abstraction used nowadays in writing software is much less efficient.

Security Updates

A lot of the regular updates pushed out to our computers are to deal with security vulnerabilities. In operating systems like windows, where security was not properly thought about in the design of the software architecture, adding extra security often adds huge inefficiencies. Operating systems like Linux (and MacOS, which is based on Linux) have an inherently better security architecture, and adding security features tends to add fewer inefficiencies. Nevertheless, for most users, it is usually a good idea to install these security updates; the amount of system slow-down will depend on your operating system and on the exact nature of the update.

Functionality Updates

Functionality updates are more likely to include abstraction layers, and therefore likely to slow your system down. Since Windows generally does not allow you to refuse an update (you might be able to defer it for a while), you will have to install functional updates if you use Windows. Linux never forces you to accept updates, so you always have a choice. Some functional updates also inherently add load to your system, because they are doing more (for example the Excel feature, added several years ago, that displays the sum, mean and count of a range of cells that you have selected).

Other Updates

Sometimes, updates break things. This happened with Sheryl's Windows laptop, where updates kept disabling the bluetooth interface, until finally it could not be re-enabled. Users have similar complaints about iOS updates on their iPhones.

After the introduction of Windows 11, Microsoft rolled out an update to the update software itself. This caused Windows 10 system to download and attempt to install the upgrade the system to Windows 11. Part of this upgrade process is to check whether the system is capable of being upgraded; if not, the upgrade fails, and the whole process starts again. This puts a huge load on the system (downloading, querying the hardware, starting an upgrade), making it unusable (connections to network drives fail, and lots of RAM is allocated to the upgrade process). Millions of Windows 10 users were left with unusable systems. There is a third-party fix for this problem, but no fix from Microsoft themselves. This is the most significant performance impacting update that Microsoft has ever rolled out, but not the only one.

Comparing Operating Systems

In 2012 I bought the Acer laptop that I am using to write this post. I immediately replaced the Windows operating system with Ubuntu Linux. It has Quad i7 processors, 16GB of RAM and I replaced the hard disc with an SSD. This system still works well, and is very fast.

A year or two later Sheryl bought a laptop (an ASUS, with i5 processors and 4BG of RAM). It came with Windows 8.0, but has now been upgraded to Windows 10; it is not capable of being upgraded to Windows 11. For at least the last 3 years this laptop has been unusably slow (10 minutes to boot, 10 minutes to login, more than 30 minutes to open a simple spreadsheet, even after installing the third-party fix to the Windows 11 upgrade problem. This is all due to software bloat.

Admittedly my laptop is higher specification than Sherly's, but nevertheless the above facts show that software bloat is vastly worse with Windows; this is why Linux fans call it Windoze.

Former UN Climate Chief Is An Idiot!

Posted on 11th July 2023

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The headline of this report on Common Dreams says it all: "Former UN Climate Chief Admits She Was Wrong That Fossil Fuel Industry Could Be an Ally ."

How stupid is this woman? Big Oil is demonstrably just as untrustworthy as Big Tobacco, but this woman, Christiana Figueres, thought that these companies could be an ally in the fight against climate change.

This level of stupidity and gullibility should disqualify someone from holding a position such as United Nations climate chief.

Time for the UN to overhaul their hiring practice.

Deforestation Is Down In Brazil, But It Needs To Be Reversed!

Posted on 11th July 2023

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This article on The BBC reports that deforestation in the Amazon is down by 33.6% in the first six months of the new Brazilian president's term.

While this might seem to be good news, what we really and urgently need is reforestation.

Water Technology Will Be The Next Goldrush.

Posted on 11th July 2023

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This report on The Next Web aligns with what I have been saying for some time.

Water is becoming a greater and greater problem around the world: "Demand is skyrocketing but supply is diminishing." There are again droughts in the USA (in California, Arizona and in the maize/corn growing parts of the great plains). River levels are again low in rivers in Europe, affecting river traffic on the Rhine.

I strongly believe that water shortages will drive massive increases in migration, and potentially also wars. So it is no surprise to me that water technology, to solve the issues of shortages, will be a huge growth industry in the near future.

Industry Lobbying Set To Undermine EU Environmental Legislation.

Posted on 11th July 2023

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This report on The Guardian is very worrying. It shows that the EU suffers from the same poison of lobbying as exists in the USA, which undermines democracy.

The EU had promised to "outlaw all but the most essential of Europe’s hazardous chemicals", including PFAS and other toxic and carcinogenic chemicals. Now, however, the EU’s executive are planning to climbdown under heavy pressure from Europe’s chemical industry and rightwing political parties.

The real problem with all this is that the lobbyists' arguments make no financial sense. The EU's analysis shows that the savings in the costs of treating illnesses such as cancer and obesity would amount to €11bn-€31bn (£9.4bn-£26.5bn) a year, whereas the costs to industry of banning these polluting chemicals would be around €0.9bn-€2.7bn a year (about a tenth of the savings).

I do not understand why the EU is bowing to industry lobbying, when there is no financial justification, and banning these harmful chemicals would yield enormous benefits in terms of health, quality of life and life expectancy.

The BBC Should Learn To Count!

Posted on 11th July 2023

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The BBC often posts articles that should contain multiple photographs, but actually only contain one.

I find this latest piece particularly annoying, since the headline ("Ansel Adams: Eight of the most iconic photos of the American West") clearly implies that it contains eight photos. This morning, when I opened the report, there was only one; now (a few hours later) it contains all eight.

Sometimes it works out like that, which shows that they are posting reports before they are finished. Sometime the missing photos are never added.

I used to have better expectations of the BBC, but I have long since learned that they are not the quality news organisation that they once were.

Polluted Tap Water In The USA.

Posted on 8th July 2023

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A recent study on tap water quality is reported on by Reuters and the Daily Mail (the Daily Mail article is more comprehensive).

The study shows that nearly half (45%) of the 700 tested tap water samples were polluted with PFAS (perfluoroalkyl or polyfluoroalkyl substances), commonly referred to as forever chemicals because they do not degrade in the environment nor in human or animal bodies, at levels exceeding safety benchmarks and U.S. proposed regulations (the EPA does not yet have enforceable regulations for PFAS).

PFAS are highly toxic and carcinogenic (cancer causing).

PFAS are used in textiles, fire suppressant foams (used extensively by firefighters at airfields), non-stick cookware, etc.

One sample, in Brunswick County, North Carolina, contained 46,000 times the proposed EPA limit! Other pollution hot spots include a region in Iowa, Philadelphia and Miami; I have friends in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Florida.

Americans don't drink so much bottled water, because tap water is cheaper (free in bars and restaurants), and most of them don't like sparkling water. They might want to think again about those choices. The next time I am in the US and someone criticises me for drinking bottled (sparkling) water they are going to get an earful.

Finally Some Sense About Immigration!

Posted on 24th June 2023

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Since I wrote this and this, there has been a change in Germany's position on immigration. For skilled workers, the German government has passed new legislation to relax immigration rules, as reported here, here and here on Deutsche Welle.

The change is needed and well overdue.

There is, however, something missing from their strategy. There is a large pool of skilled and experienced people within Germany which could also be utilised to fill the shortage of skilled workers: people who are retired. Germany has compulsory retirement at age 66 (only for permanent employees, not freelance contractors), and if the retirement regulations were relaxed, many people with vital skills would be willing and able to return to the workforce. This compulsory retirement has resulted in a strong prejudice against utilising older people even as freelance contractors, which will take some effort to overcome, but the benefits to the nation and the potential workers would be enormous. I am not suggesting that it be required that people over 66 return to work, but it should be an option for those who want to.

Eugenics.

Posted on 23rd June 2023

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In case you don't accept my opinion that the veneer of civilisation is very thin, this report on The Guardian provides more proof.

The story is about forced sterilisations in Japan: "between 1948 and 1996, about 16,500 people were operated on without their consent under a eugenics law ... that was not repealed until the 1990s". Unsurprisingly, the victims want compensation. The victims were each offered government compensation of "¥3.2m ($22,800) – an amount campaigners have said does not reflect the suffering the victims had experienced."

The report also points out that Germany and Sweden had similar eugenics laws, repealed decades before that in Japan, and those governments have since apologised to victims and paid compensation.

Eugenics legislation is inherently barbaric, and I find it bizarre that Japan, Germany and Sweden had such laws in place, despite the world having fought a war against Nazi Germany partly on the justification of their eugenics programmes against Jews, Gypsies and the like.

I do, however, take issue with the statement by campaigners in Japan that the offered compensation "does not reflect the suffering the victims had experienced", which seems to be based on the concept that reproduction is an inalienable human right, with which I strongly disagree:

  • There are people who clearly should not have children because of genetic disease, although preventing them from doing so, by sterilisation or forced abortion, is most certainly not justified in such cases;
  • There are people who are unfit or incapable of being parents for reasons of stupidity or sociopathic personalities, but again, prevention is not justified;
  • Our planet is heavily overpopulated, and is being quickly poisoned as a result, and people should be discouraged from reproducing as part of the effort to save our home-world, but it is no part of governments' responsibilities to decide who should reproduce and who not.
Climate For Billions Could Become Unliveable.

Posted on 22nd June 2023

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While the headline of this report on EcoWatch is a little misleading, it is nonetheless worrying news.

A study by the University of Exeter has calculated that the climate for billions of people (so, a very significant portion of the human population) will move outside of the “human climate niche”, which is defined in terms of temperature, due to climate change. Already, 9% of the world population are living outside of this climate niche.

The impacts will be huge, and include:

  • Increased death rates due to temperature stress and reduced life expectancy;
  • More sickness and reduced quality of life for the billions of people living in at-risk areas;
  • Decreased productivity, with impacts for the finances of both the individual people and their governments;
  • Increased migration to more hospitable climates.

The worst affected places will be India and parts of Africa, but will also include South East Asia, The Middle East, Central America, some Pacific Islands, and even Australia.

The Economy Will Be Hit Very Hard By Climate Change.

Posted on 13th June 2023

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Although this article on Common Dreams reads like a propaganda piece, full of rants and political bias, with phrases like "the oil companies' choice to use their monopoly over the energy system to offset their falling profits" and "the funding of the repressive apparatus", the author makes a good point (and he is not the first).

His thesis is in the title: "The Climate Crisis Will Be the Mother of All Financial Crises", and that some of our recent economic woes (inflation, supply chain problems and bank collapses) are just a foretaste of what the climate crisis will bring. The arguments are the same as those of the people warning us of societal collapse, which I wrote about here.

A major financial crisis is the most likely trigger for societal collapse, and that means that we can look forward to not only raging inflation and the loss of our investments, government benefits (tax allowances, unemployment benefit and health care) and pensions, but the resulting collapse of international trading (so, no more coffee for most of us, no out of season fruit and vegetables, and so on), law and order, public transport (transportation, to any Americans), the services that supply us with electricity, water, sewage handling, garbage collection, etc.

As a result, we can forget voting and constitutional rights, eating regularly and safe drinking water.

Life is likely to become very unpleasant, difficult and unsafe.

Those people, often viewed as nut jobs, who are survivalists, with a bunker, guns, batteries, stockpiles of food and generators won't look so crazy if it all comes to pass.

Blocking Immigration To The EU.

Posted on 13th June 2023

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The Daily Mail reports on a push by Germany to get the EU to adopt an immigration policy, similar to the UK's system (still being blocked by legal hurdles), to send asylum seekers to Rwanda (or elsewhere). This is causing rifts in Germany's ruling coalition, with MPs from the Greens and the dominant SDP fighting against the proposals.

In Germany, as elsewhere, immigration is a contentious issue. Germany has accepted a lot of refugees in the last few years, for example:

  • In 2015 and 2016, Germany accepted over one million refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, as reported by The Center For Global Development. The report states that the refugees are thriving in Germany, with over half of them having found jobs, and "public support for immigration remains high", but that glosses over the issues. More than 50% of them working is not bad, bearing in mind that some are dependents (wives and children) or too old to work (it is actually illegal for anyone over 66 to hold a permanent job in Germany), but these are virtually all low paid jobs (in Germany you need qualifications to do almost every job, even plumbers and electricians, and foreign qualifications are not recognised), so they are not contributing much to tax revenues. Integrating these refugees into society was a rocky road, and there are still families in which only the children speak German. Public support for immigration is far from universal (it depends on where they settle), and there is a significant and vocal minority who believe immigrants are stealing jobs from locals.
  • Euronews reports that one million Ukrainians have settled in Germany since Russia invaded Ukraine. Again, integration has been difficult, with many people needing to learn German and re-qualify for their professions (the article describes the case of Albina, who was a doctor in Crimea, and will need to study for many years to work as a doctor in Germany). Germans are especially sympathetic to the plight of Ukrainian refugees, but less so to immigrants and refugees from other places.

Some readers may be surprised to find out that Germany, which has a reputation as being fairly welcoming of immigrants and refugees, is leading the charge to keep them out of the EU. The stated reason is that they want to keep Europe's borders open, and are concerned that, without some action to limit immigration, some EU states, such as Hungary, may take unilateral and more drastic action to limit immigration. Germany's real concern with that is, if immigrants can't get into some other nations, more of them will come to Germany. Behind all of this is the widespread concern that the numbers of immigrants and refugees, already rising, will reach unmanageable levels in the near future, due to the effects of climate change and continuing wars. Mass migration is one of the things I have previously warned about here and here as consequences of climate change.

Although I wrote, here, a few days ago that most developed nations need more immigration to boost their economies, fill skill shortages and fund pension schemes, there is obviously a limit to the number of immigrants that any nation can absorb, and I therefore can't blame Germany for trying to impose some controls.

Looks Like Brexit Was All For Nothing!

Posted on 11th June 2023

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One rationale used to sell the idea of Brexit to the British voters was to reclaim UK sovereignty, but it seems, from this report on The Telegraph, that it is not going to happen.

The EU is currently revising and simplifying their 'breakfast directives', which regulate the quality and contents of breakfast foods. One of the directives applies to jam (fruit preserves), and the update will require higher fruit content than is currently the norm in Britain. If UK jam manufacturers want to continue exporting to EU markets, they will have to change their recipes to include more fruit.

This reminds me of the "sausage scandal" shortly after the UK joined the EU. There was an imminent threat of British sausages being made illegal (even in Britain) due to insufficient meat content. If I remember correctly the threat was averted by negotiating a relaxation of the rules. That negotiated settlement is now defunct; there are also new problems regarding the export of 'chilled meat preparations', e.g. sausage and minced meat, to the UK, from the start of 2021.

Despite having been born and grown up in the UK, I have no patriotic or emotional attachment to most British food and drink products:

  • British beer is vastly inferior to that from Germany, Belgium and the Czech Republic;
  • German and French jams are far superior to those from the UK, although, sadly, Germans don't seem to make marmalade, and call jam marmalade;
  • German sausages have no competition;
  • German bread is simply outstanding.

There is a very small, and ever shrinking, list of British good that we buy:

  • Bacon, not because Brits are any better at making bacon, but because in Germany it is usually sliced too thinly (I don't like crispy American/German bacon), although I recently discovered that our main supermarket, Edeka, has an own-brand bacon that is more thickly sliced;
  • Eccles cakes, because they are not made anywhere else (I suppose I could start making them myself);
  • Malt loaf, again, because there are no alternatives to importing from the UK (I could also make this myself).

I am sure that many Brits find it galling that the EU has the temerity to regulate the quality of food sold in the EU, when it effects British manufacturers, but personally, I am very happy that the quality and safety of the food I buy is controlled, for example:

  • Plenty of meat in my sausages (and if the label says it is beef, it is 100% beef);
  • Almost no GMO products in my food (which, I am sure, will not be the case in Britain for long);
  • No chlorinated poultry;
  • No growth hormones in my food;
  • Controls on antibiotics in meat and eggs.

British sausage producers are also crying about no longer being able to export to the EU, since 2021, but the problem is easily solved. In Germany, sausages are usually sold partly cooked (cooked, but not browned) and would be exempt from the EU regulations on the import of raw processed meat products; they are also coated in a water-based gel, which cooks off when you finish them off in the pan or oven, thus improving keeping qualities.

There doesn't seem to be any issue with exporting bacon to the EU, since it is not considered a processed raw meat product (it is chemically cooked by the curing process, and also preserved by smoking).

If Brits want to continue to eat garbage, for reasons of tradition, feel free, but don't expect to be able to sell that garbage to other nations.

So, anyway, regained sovereignty is yet another promise of Brexit that has not been delivered. Is anyone surprised?

The Politics Of Immigration.

Posted on 8th June 2023

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This article on The BBC reports on a statement by the deputy head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Gita Gopinath, that immigration can help drive down UK inflation.

This makes complete sense, and one has to ask oneself why it even needed to be pointed out. The answer, of course, is that governments around the world are trying very hard to limit immigration.

Voters in richer nations are generally against immigration, mainly due to prejudice (just search the Internet for old news stories about "Polish plumbers", who were accused of stealing jobs from Brits - immigrants are typically accused of stealing jobs from locals, and simultaneously accused of living off of government benefits, which is contradictory).

Governments in countries such as the UK, USA, Germany, etc. would like to encourage immigration, but don't dare to, because they will face a backlash from voters.

Immigration solves a number of important and otherwise intractable problems:

  • They do jobs that locals just do not want to do (bus drivers, garbage collectors, builders, etc.);
  • They will accept pay that locals would not (hence the reduction of inflation);
  • They help solve the huge shortage of highly skilled workers (doctors, nurses, engineers, programmers, etc.) faced by most western nations, and come ready trained/educated at zero cost the the nation to which they migrate;
  • They are actually willing to work, and work hard, unlike some of the younger generation (described by many employers as lazy, entitled and unmanageable);
  • They help to solve the problems that all developed countries have with funding their pension schemes, by changing the ratio of working pension contributors to pensioners.

Sadly, governments have yet to pluck up the courage to face this issue, and to educate their voters about the importance of immigration; instead, they make their countries poorer and less competitive by trying to get by. It is past time for these governments to grow a backbone.

Australia Finally Bans Nazi Symbols.

Posted on 8th June 2023

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According to this BBC report, Australia has finally decide to ban Nazi symbols. It is about time!

Many other nations, especially in Europe, have long had legislation against the display of Nazi symbols (see the list on Wikipedia), and in Australia some states already have their own bans. Australia is banning the Swastika and SS symbols, but not the Nazi salute (although it is banned in Victoria and Tasmania).

The planned legislation will have exemptions for Swastika-like religious symbols (upon which the Swastika itself was based) such as those used in Hinduism. Sometimes the distinction between Nazi Swastika and some of these religious symbols is hard to see, so their might be some rather fraught court cases on this.

I would like to welcome Australia to civilised society; their joining provides some counterbalance to the exits of the USA, Britain Poland, Israel and Hungary.

Pilots Worry That They Will Be Replaced By AI.

Posted on 8th June 2023

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This article on Le Monde (in English) reports that airline pilots are concerned that they will be replaced on the flight deck by AI systems which can fly the plane.

Their worries are unfounded. Passengers will simply not accept being flown by AI systems.

What is likely to happen is that flight deck crews will be reduced in size (large long-distance flights typically operate with a crew of 3: a pilot, a copilot and a flight engineer).

There is a basic safety engineering problem preventing the complete safe replacement of flight crew with computers. Computers have no common sense, and so cannot deal with situations for which they are not programmed (in the case of AI, programming means training). That means that every possible scenario has to be foreseen, and the systems must be trained (and tested) for each scenario. Human pilots are able to fill these gaps in training with common sense, by extrapolating from situations for which they were trained, and by applying high-level principles; AI systems cannot do this; although AI capabilities are improving in these areas, it will never be possible to to have the 100% confidence in their abilities that would be needed for safety critical systems.

There is a method used in safety engineering, called failure modes analysis, which requires the designers of safety critical and mission critical systems to envisage what usage scenarios (which would include flight scenarios, in the case of flight systems) could occur, and what system failures could occur, in order to create a design that can cope with such failures and usage scenarios (known as Use Cases). Failure modes analysis relies on the application of common sense and applied paranoia by engineers. This is, however, a far cry from designing a system that can automate something such as flying an aircraft. There have been many well documented failures of failure modes analysis (e.g. the flight control system responsible for the Boeing 737 Max crashes). In fact safety and reliability engineering is notorious for its failures, through lack of common sense, inadequate paranoia, and flawed technical analysis and faulty knowledge about how mechanical and electronic components can fail.

In the short term it is likely that AI will be used to reduce the size of flight crews by providing advice on what actions the pilot should take during emergencies, negating the need for memorizing flight manuals (cockpits currently have these manuals on paper, but it often takes too long to look things up), and speeding pilot responses. This is now considered tried and trusted technology (I worked on such a system in the 1980s!).

The article on Le Monde does mention some AI based flight control systems that can fly the plane, including landing and take-off, but, for the reasons that I have listed above, these are not safe in a comprehensive sense, and will not be licensed for use without pilots; a pilot will always be needed to override any AI-based flight control system when it makes a mistake.

So yes, the jobs of some flight crew may be lost to AI, but AI is not going to completely replace humans in the cockpit, and most of the replacement will be achieved by natural wastage, not redundancies.

AI: Scarier By The Minute.

Posted on 10th May 2023

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This article on The Telegraph (unfortunately, behind a paywall) reports that a professional body for technology workers has suggested that people should be required to have a licence in order to develop AI. Although it is a nice idea, it seems to be totally unenforceable. Nevertheless, it gives a good indication of how dangerous groups in the know feel AI is.

This report on The Guardian discusses the problem of "hallucination", which is when you ask an AI chatbot for a definition of something made up, and it gives you one, along with detailed footnotes. This is potentially extremely dangerous.

The most concerning article that I have seen about AI in the last few days is this report on ZDNet. The author asked different AI chatbots what worried them. The answer seems to be, AI worries them. That is totally frightening.

Round-up of Covid-19 news.

Posted on 11th May 2023

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The Covid-19 Crisis

This article on the BBC reports on the recent announcement by the WHO (World Health Organisation) that Covid-19 no longer represents a "global health emergency". Most of you had probably already noticed that things had become much more relaxed, with mask rules rescinded virtually everywhere, and less government pressure to get vaccines or boosters.

You should, however, be aware that there are a few Covid related restrictions in force. including those on international travel. Basically, if you want to fly to another country, you still need to have proof of up to date vaccinations; expect this requirement to continue for a couple of years.

Vaccines

It has become clear over the last two years that vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 (the virus which causes Covid-19) become less effective over a period of about 6 months. This has spawned the industry of booster shots. Now, as reported by Futurity, a group of researchers at Rutgers University have developed a new vaccine which they hope will provide longer lasting protection. That hope is not, as yet, proven (only time will tell), so don't get too excited. The new vaccine, MT-001, is still based on the virus' spike protein, which is very prone to mutations, so this news report could be nothing more than wishful thinking.

Long Covid

There is little progress regarding Long Covid; certainly nothing groundbreaking.

Long Covid seems to be a group of different syndromes with different symptoms. This inconvenient fact is the main reason why there is, so far, no reliable diagnostic test for the condition. It also means that there is unlikely to be a single effective treatment.

AI Development Going Full Steam Ahead Despite All The Warnings From Experts.

Posted on 7th May 2023

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This article on Yahoo Finance contains a warning by Paul Christiano, a former researcher at OpenAI, that AI "could soon surpass human capabilities", and that there is a non-zero chance that human- or superhuman-level A.I. could take control of humanity and even annihilate it." He said that ". “I think maybe there's a 10 to 20% chance of A.I. takeover [with] many, most humans dead.”

We are not talking about the usual doomsayers here, but an expert in the field, so his warning should not be taken lightly.

This piece on the BBC, reports on the resignation from Google of Geoffrey Hinton, widely considered the godfather of artificial intelligence. In his resignation letter he warns about the growing dangers of AI, and says that he now regrets his work.

This article on Venture Beat, by Louis Rosenberg (also an expert in the field of AI) not only outlines three of the better known risks posed by AI (the risk to jobs, the risk of fake content and the risk of sentient machines), but adds another to the list: AI generated interactive media, which will be way more targeted and manipulative than what we have today. This could take propaganda to a whole new level. This seems to me to be a very serious risk, and one that would bypass consumers' resistance to advertising and utterly undermine democracy. I also dread to think what might happen if/when crooks start to use AI to scam people.

Despite these and many other warnings, corporations are ploughing ahead with AI development (AI is getting smarter all the time) and deployment (AI is now accessible to all of us), and governments are doing nothing. Apparently, we are too stupid to save ourselves (as also seems to be the case with climate change).

Stupidity About Vegetarianism.

Posted on 4th May 2023

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I am astounded by the level of ignorance of the people described in this report on the Nottingham Post.

People are claiming that they feel "'violated' after they learn what Parmesan is made of". Their issue is the use of rennet to make cheese. Rennet is a cocktail of enzymes found in the stomachs of young animals (calves, lambs, goats etc.), which digests components of milk. Rennet is a byproduct of slaughtering animals for meat. How on earth did they not know this basic fact about food production?

Just to be clear, rennet is used in the production of almost all cheeses, not only Parmesan. There are vegetarian rennet substitutes, which are used in cheese manufacture, although these vegetarian cheeses are hard to find and usually more expensive.

The reason that I am so shocked by this ignorance is that, in my experience, vegetarians and vegans are usually eager to tell us meat eaters how unhealthy our diets are, quoting research and nutritional guides about risks from cholesterol and preservatives, as well as the arguments about cruelty to animals. How is it that they can devote so much time and effort to researching such matters, and miss the facts about rennet?

The discovery of rennet, and the invention of cheese in all its glorious forms, were major milestones in human nutrition. The majority of the world's adult population cannot digest milk (animals, including most humans, stop producing rennet once weaned). Cheese is digestible since rennet is used in its creation, so people who can't drink milk can eat cheese. Cheese making thus added a valuable source of nutrition, which would have otherwise gone to waste, to people's diets. Cheese also has the advantage of keeping much longer than unprocessed milk.

I feel that some people need to open their eyes and see the world, especially in the age of the Internet, with virtually all of human knowledge available online to everyone. In this day and age, ignorance can only be the result of stupidity and/or laziness.

I am a total cheese addict, and I make no apologies for eating a product that utilises a byproduct of meat production.

Medlars.

Posted on 29th April 2023

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It is medlar (Mispel in German) season again, so they are appearing in the shops.

I wrote 2 years ago about finding medlars in my local supermarket, and how bizarre I found it that there are no warning signs. Medlars need to be "bletted" (basically, rotted, normally done by burying them in sawdust) before they can be eaten. If you eat them before they are bletted, they are very astringent, and can make you ill.

I once had medlars as a child, and thought they were great. Those were bletted on the bush, rather than in sawdust, so I always thought that there had to be an easier method than using sawdust.

Today, Sheryl returned from a shopping trip with a "new fruit" to try: medlars. I searched on Google, and found this page on The Guardian, which describes bletting the medlars on a plate at room temperature. I have put Sheryl's purchase in a bowl, wrapped in a tea towel (to keep the flies off of them). I am hoping they turn out OK.

If you want to read more about medlars, there is a very extensive article on Country Life. They used to be very popular, but because of the need for bletting, the fact that they can't be transported once edible, and the sad truth that they don't look very appetising, they have fallen out of favour. I do, however, encourage you to try them.

How AI Is Taking Over Everything.

Posted on 29th April 2023

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I was having a conversation recently with someone who is the head of a large kindergarten. It was during the annual teacher-parent conference season, during which teachers have to prepare a document detailing each child's performance, highlighting any problems that need attention; there is then a meeting between the teachers and parents to discus the child's progress and problems. This year there were a number of problems, including plagiarism by some of the teachers, bad news being delivered in extremely undiplomatic language, and conference documents missing vital information that needed to be addressed by the parents. The boss of the kindergarten head suggested that it be investigated whether the conferences could be written by ChatGPT instead of by the teachers. I feel that this is a slippery slope; the ability to write these conference documents is a basic part of the teachers' jobs, and if they can't do it to an acceptable standard, they shouldn't be teaching.

Since then I was watching an episode of Bill Maher's Real Time, and heard how a university professor told his students that he knew they were using ChatGPT to wite the essays and assignments, and that they should realise that he was also using ChatGPT to mark/grade them. So, no human in the loop.

There are more examples of humans being removed from transactions:

  • Resumés (CVs) and job application letters are being written by AI (you can easily find advertisements for this service); at the same time, companies are using AI to screen and shortlist applications; humans are only involved in the selection of employees once interviews begin. This report on the BBC has more details.
  • This report on the BBC describes how a student in York used an AI chatbot to contest a wrongly issued parking fine; I find it shocking that a student felt it necessary to turn to AI for this, since presumably she has to write essays as part of her studies.
  • This article on NewsChain reports the statement by the UK's new Secretary of State for Science, Michelle Donelan, that AI like ChatGPT could have "a role in Whitehall". I shudder to think what kind of role or roles she has in mind: writing legislation? That would be a major step towards humans being ruled by AI.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk continues to try to warn the world about the dangers of AI, and suggests that we take a pause in the development of AI, according to this report on Reuters. Well, good luck with that idea; the genie is already out of the bottle. Also, the world is not listening; company greed trumps common sense and caution every time.

Just to prove Elon Musk right, this article on Science Focus reports on robots, created by AI from living tissue, which can reproduce! We are all doomed.

Now The Brits Want To Change Their Mind About Brexit?

Posted on 6th February 2023

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There is a new report on The London Economic showing that the British public is now firmly in favour (61:39) of reversing Brexit. That is a larger majority than the winning party gets in most general elections.

I don't want to say "I told you so!", but I told you so.

It seems that the voting public has had enough of the the list of downsides keeping getting longer, and the benefits having largely failed to materialise.

I suspect it may be too late, with too many bridges having been burnt. At the very least, the UK may have to pay to rejoin, as they had to pay to leave.

In part, the whole Brexit debacle is a demonstration of what is wrong with modern government: governing by ideology as opposed to governing by facts and proven theory. This political sickness is not unique to Britain, but British history is full of drastic and expensive examples of this approach. Here are a few examples:

  • The changeover to comprehensive education. This was based on an unproven theory, which was not adequately tested before being applied across the whole nation in 1965. The human cost of this, and the resulting economic fallout, was enormous, and still blights the nation. In contrast, Germany still has a selective education system, and despite there being problems and occasional cases of unfairness, it works well overall.
  • The nationalisation of many major industries (coal, steel, railways, telecoms, etc.) and the later privatisation of those same industries, all based on ideology, and with no sound or tested underpinning theory.
  • The downgrading of the right to British citizenship for residents of Hong Kong, prior to handing the territory back to China, based on the unsound theory that the UK would be swamped with millions of Chinese immigrants and the ideology of "Britain for the British".
  • The introduction of professional managers and administrators, people with no background in medicine, in British healthcare, which continues to cause problems and adds to the financial overhead of hospitals. To a lesser extent, the same problem exists in education, although to nowhere near the extent as in the USA.
  • The introduction of poll tax, where ministers and civil servants imposed a completely unimplementable policy on local government, ignoring a wealth of objective advice to the contrary. What is less commonly appreciated is the tremendous cost of implementing the tax for two years and then scrapping it.

There are many more examples here.

What is wrong with governments insisting on thoroughly analysed theories, and properly testing those theories, before implementing them as new policies? Every other profession insists on this approach (although, of course, there is the nub of the problem: politicians are not professionals, but rather amateurs).

Of course, I do understand that, in the case of Brexit, there were (and still are) other factors at play. At root, Brexit was about power; about British politicians trying to claw back the power they had lost to Brussels. Hence the enormous quantity of propaganda, often trivially easy to debunk during the Brexit campaign, and even now during the aftermath as politicians attempt to justify their stand.

It seems clear to me that the biggest single problem with politics today is politicians. The last person you want in charge of government is anyone who wants the job.

UK Grocery Price Rises Of Up To 80%!

Posted on 20th April 2023

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According to this report on The Guardian, prices in UK supermarkets have increased by up to 80% in the last year.

Unfortunately the Guardian doesn't analyse the causes, but hints that the government is somehow to blame. I, however, have a slightly different perspective.

Price increases are generally a result of shortages, and there have been a number of these in recent months. Also, it is not just Britain that is effected.

Grocery prices have increased in Germany and across continental Europe, and in the USA, although there is the Brexit effect to consider. There are no longer any real local markets for produce; everything is shipped around the world, so shortages and price rises impact everyone. There have been well reported shortages of salad vegetables (grown under glass) due to unusual winter weather in Spain, and of course, during such shortages producers choose to export to countries which are easier to export to (i.e. not the UK). This explains the increase of 142% in the UK price of tomatoes since 2019; it is reasonable to assume that tomato prices will fall as the 2023 growing season gets into full swing.

It should also be remembered that there is a shortage of energy, as a result of sanctions against Russia, due to the war in Ukraine. Energy is used to heat and irrigate greenhouse crops, and is also used to ship the crops to their end markets, so more expensive energy is pushing up the price of all groceries.

There is also an increasing demand for goods produced more environmentally, demonstrated by the increased sales of organic food. This inevitably drives up prices. Everyone always says that they understand and accept that being more environmental will increase prices; until, that is, their supermarket bills get bigger. Time to "man up" and "walk the talk".

Kids Killing Cats!

Posted on 20th April 2023

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There are so many issues with this report on the BBC.

New Zealand has a lot of problems with invasive species such as dogs, cats, rats, mice etc. The invaders kill native species such as kiwis.

To combat the problem, each year there is a competition to hunt and kill feral cats. In the latest competition, a new category was introduced for children of 14 years and younger. This resulted in an outcry, and the category has been withdrawn.

The feral cats are killed by shooting them. New Zealand is very much a nation of "hunting, shooting and fishing".

The backlash against children shooting the wild cats was on the grounds of animal cruelty. Also cited by New Zealand's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was the fact that neither children nor adults would be able to distinguish between feral cats and wandering pets.

The issues that I have with this bizarre competition include:

  1. The idea of kids of 14 years and younger going around shooting animals, presumably with a rifle, is terrifying. No matter what the rules of the competition are, and what the law may be, some of this hunting is certainly going to happen unsupervised. My own experience with my kids is that, at 14, they were not mature enough to deal with killing animals without negative psychological impacts (and my kids grew up on a farm, where the death of the farm animals was a normal and planned part of life).
  2. The grounds cited by the animal rights group, that even adults will not be able to distinguish between feral cats and pets is not that strong of an argument. It was true before the children's category of the competition was added. It could be seen as extreme, and cruel, but New Zealand is dealing with an emergency, with many native species under threat of extinction (and some already extinct) due to invasive predators. The shouting should be long over, on this point.
  3. The annual competition runs from mid-April to the end of June. If the "owner" of a pet cat is worried about their fur baby being killed, then keep them in the house for those 2½ months of each year. Such people letting their pets wander is what caused this crisis in the first place.
  4. There is not really any such thing as a domesticated cat. Cats have adapted to have a cushy life, but are in no sense domesticated.
This Is Just One Step From The AI Apocalypse!

Posted on 14th April 2023

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This report on Ars Technica has me very worried.

It is about the "Wolverine" experiment, a program that can be used to give Python programs the ability to "fix" and re-execute themselves.

Self-modifying code is the beginning of the end for humanity. It is technology that should be avoided at all costs, because it will lead to the AI apocalypse. The risks of such technology has been, and continues to be, thoroughly explored in many science fiction books, movies and TV series (e.g. "2001: A Space Odyssey" "Next"), so I don't feel that I need to explain it all again.

If this ability can be given to Python programs, it can easily be extended to other programming languages.

We are all doomed!

Florida Planning To Legalise Discrimination.

Posted on 14th April 2023

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This story on The Pink News reports on a new bill under consideration in Florida (USA) that would allow doctors, healthcare providers and medical insurers to refuse to treat patients or pay for their treatment on the grounds of “conscience-based objections without… threat of adverse actions".

Doctors could therefore claim to have religious, moral or ethical objections to treating LGBTQ+ patients, or to providing medical care such as birth control. Indeed, the list of groups to which religious, moral or ethical objections could be claimed is endless, and includes religions, ethnic groups, and genders.

This bill, if it becomes law, would undo decades of progress in the USA on equal rights.

I don't even see how such a law would be legal, since it seems to be in contravention of much federal law.

America seems to be regressing, and fast, at the moment.

Stop Corrupting My Language!

Posted on 10th April 2023

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I am getting thoroughly fed up with the constant corruption of my language (English - my native language, in which I have three separate qualifications) by the woke-brigade. Words and phrases that are established parts of English are constantly being given new meanings in the name of political correctness. In some cases this is not a problem, but in many it creates ambiguity, and even means that some things can no longer be used with their original meanings, for fear of offending someone (such as the case of the Black Bitch pub in Scotland).

  1. I often hear people referred to as "The Chair" of some committee, whereas the correct label is either "Chairman", "Chairwoman" or "Chair-person"; the Chair is the position that person occupies, but never the person that occupies it. If you want to avoid accusations of sexism, use "Chair-person".
  2. There is such a lot of nonsense around personal pronouns. People seem to believe that they have the right to choose their personal pronouns, and get offended if people forget or refuse to comply. Why? You did not get to choose your name (your parents did that) and you did not get to choose any nicknames that you have/had. "They/them" are popular choices; someone recently said to me that they (anonymous, so a correct usage of "they") would be willing to refer to someone as "they" if that person shows proof of having multiple personalities; I think that is fair comment. If you insist on having a gender neutral pronoun, invent a new one (English is very accommodating about the extension of the language with new words and loan-words from other languages).
  3. I have a right to be offended if someone accuses me for using the wrong job title for someone (e.g. stewardess, barmaid, hostess); offended because the criticism is a judgment of my motives, and if you want to criticise my intent you had better have proof. I had a South African once tell me that the proper gender neutral term for waiter/waitress was "waitron", and I have no problem having that added to the English language, but not OK with it being mandatory.
  4. Then there is the whole thing about PC terminology for people's ethnicity/skin-colour. Most (white) people find it totally inappropriate to refer to someone as a "nigger" (I would never do so in public), but it seems to be completely acceptable for African-Americans to use the word. Americans seem to have the idea that their PC words are universal, but they are not (I have even heard of Americans wrongly referring to black Africans as African-Americans); for example, in South Africa "black" is the proper word for a black African, whereas "coloured" is reserved for people of mixed race and for Indians/Pakistanis; Americans refer to "Native Americans", whereas Canadians insist that they be called "First Nations". We were shocked when a new neighbour referred to their partner as "Eine Schwarze" (a black), only finding out later that in German this means someone with black hair.

It is worth remembering that offence is in the ear of the listener, and not necessarily in the mind of the speaker.

Retiring Early Can Cause Cognitive Decline.

Posted on 26th March 2023

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This article on My Modern Met reports on a study which has shown that early retirement is not good for your mental health. Well, duh! There is already plenty of research that shows the same.

If you ask a man what he is, he will typically answer with his job, but if you ask a woman , she will usually reply with a more personal answer. Then when the man retires, unless he has one or more engrossing and challenging hobbies, he will often be dead in 5 to 10 years, with cognitive decline being a major cause. Often, his wife's raison d'etre was looking after he man, and once he dies, her decline begins.

My father always had many projects on the go, building and mending stuff, and thankfully never went into cognitive decline. He died from other illnesses, and almost immediately thereafter, my mother was diagnosed with dementia. This kind of scenario is repeated time and time again around the world.

So, not only is early retirement not good for you, retirement at any age can trigger the start of a decline in health, mental and physical.

I therefore find it bizarre that Germany has a compulsory retirement age (currently 66 years old). This condemns many people to failing health, adding a financial burden on the state, as well as robbing the government of much needed tax revenue. There are a number of other nations that have mandatory retirement, and the same consequences for people's health and the economy.

Many countries are currently reviewing their retirement legislation (the age, and whether or not it is compulsory), motivated, at least in part, by the fact that government pensions are underfunded as the age of their populations increases.

One thing that I do find bizarre is the reaction (protests and strikes) in France because the government is trying to increase the retirement age from its current 62 years. It seems that French workers do not know what is good for them.

Fraudulent Parking Fines.

Posted on 26th March 2023

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This report on The Sun describes a worrying trend in the UK.

Mr. Carnie parked in a privately managed public car park for 30 minutes on two consecutive days last year, but because the cameras didn't log him leaving the first day, he was fined £100 for 23 hours of parking. If you don't pay the fine, a County Court Judgment can be issued, meaning that debt collectors can come to your home (or place of work) to seize assets (unless you can pay there and then).

The article has little information about the car parking rules (I didn't expect good journalism from The Sun anyway) at Tower Retail Park in Crayford, Kent, but an online search yielded the information that parking is free, with a maximum parking time of 3 hours. There are cameras at the car park, connected to an ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) system, and fines are issued based on the data the system produces.

Mr. Carnie appealed the fine with independent adjudicator "Parking On Private Land Appeals" (POPLA) but was rejected. He also contacted the British Parking Association (BPA) by whom Nexus (the company which manages the car park) are represented, but they also came to "the same conclusion". Since then, however, GroupNexus have now offered to cancel the charge "as a gesture of goodwill". Mr. Carnie is understandably unhappy with this solution, since it implies that he was at fault and that the company has "generously" decided to forgive the debt (this is a bit like accepting a plea deal when charged with a crime you didn't commit).

Some research has shown Mr. Carnie that these mistaken parking fines are extremely common (I found some examples while searching for the parking rules of the car park); it is worth reading the article to see the inconsistencies in the data upon which the fines are based. He is therefore campaigning to have the ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) systems in car parks scrapped "until the data they produce is of a standard that would hold up in court".

The worrying trend that I mentioned in the first paragraph is that people, and courts, now believe that automated systems like ANPR are infallible, and will enforce fines while ignoring any facts that contradict the official narrative. This is akin to the unfounded belief that some people have, that "it must be true, because I read it on the Internet".

Personally, I feel that criminal charges should be brought against Nexus for fraudulent demands for money.

Cloud Solution Much More Expensive Than In-House Servers!

Posted on 15th March 2023

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I found this article on The A Register very interesting.

A company (Ahrefs) in Singapore compared the cost of buying and operating its own infrastructure of 850 servers with the cost of using AWS (Amazon Web Services) to do the same job, and reckon their in-house solution will save them $400 million over three years. The per-server cost of buying and operating the machines in their datacentre is $1,500, whereas with AWS it would cost around $17,557 per equivalent server. That is a huge saving!

To be fair to AWS, the level of service from their in-house datacentre may not be quite as good as that of AWS (it depends on what level of service you pay for). It seems that Ahrefs has only one datacentre, located at their offices, whereas, for business critical functions, companies would normally operate two datacentres in different locations, for higher resilience and reliability. Nevertheless, the price difference is enormous; even if they had opted for two independent datacentres, with added redundancy, the cost of the in-house solution would probably be significantly lower that the cloud based solution.

The article contains links to other reports about other companies that have reduced costs by using in-house infrastructure, so the situation for Ahrefs does not seem to be a special case.

There are other downsides to cloud solutions, including:

  • Cloud services are not 100% reliable, and there have been a number of notable failures, with significant downtimes;
  • There are legal constraints in some jurisdictions on where certain kinds of data can be stored, which can rule out cloud solutions in some cases;
  • The added complexity often associated with operating and managing cloud services, which can lead to unforeseen costs and longer time to repair when problems arise;
  • The fact that cloud providers usually provide sizing guidance that leads to overspecified systems, and thus unnecessarily higher costs (see this report, also on The A Register).

In short, although cloud solutions are trendy at the moment, they are not always the right answer; a proper cost-benefit analysis and a thorough risk analysis are essential for anyone considering using cloud solutions.

Microsoft: Bad Engineering Or Bad Business Ethics?

Posted on 12th March 2023

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Sheryl's laptop, an ASUS built for Windows 8 and since upgraded to Windows 10, is old and underpowered, and has been getting gradually slower due to software bloat. Last year I decided to do something about it, which involved:

  1. Removing non-essential applications,
  2. Deleting unneeded files (cache, downloaded files, etc.),
  3. Defragmenting and optimising the C: drive.

This made the machine significantly faster, and lasted about a week, after which the laptop became so slow as to be unusable:

  • Taking 5 minutes to shutdown and even longer to boot up,
  • Taking 2 hours to open a simple spreadsheet,
  • Taking too long to open any application, or even to open system menus,
  • Being unable to maintain connection to the network drives (data stored on my server) - once the connection is lost, only a reboot will restore it (if you are lucky),
  • Taking hours to do operating system updates.

I recently found out what the problem is. Microsoft is trying to force users to upgrade to Windows 11, even users like Sheryl whose hardware is not capable of running Windows 11.

What happens is that the update service tries to perform the upgrade. Once the software is downloaded, the operating system tries to perform the upgrade, and it fails because the computer doesn't meet the hardware requirements. It then tries again, and again, and again, ad infinitum. The attempts to upgrade grab all the system resources (Internet bandwidth, a large amount of disc space, RAM and CPU capacity), effectively disabling other, user initiated tasks (which run at lower priority).

This is effecting millions of users around the world, and begs the question: is this bad engineering or bad business ethics on the part of Microsoft? There are relatively simple ways to avoid this disruption, by better engineering, so why didn't Microsoft employ them? The fact that they didn't bother, and rolled out badly engineered software (again!) suggests bad business ethics, so the answer seems to be that this is both bad engineering and bad business ethics.

Luckily, there is a solution. It is possible to manually disable the update service, but only temporarily; the operating system will restart it after a while (10 to 30 days). There is, however, a piece of free software that you can download to disable updates long-term (you can re-enable the later, if you choose).

I became fed up with Microsoft's arrogance, poor security, expensive software licences, bad performance and lack of user control a long time ago, and use Linux for nearly everything. I use a Windows 7 (which you can still buy on Amazon) virtual machine for access to Outlook and MS-Office, and Linux for everything else. My Linux laptop runs:

  • Thunderbird (for email, if I don't need the features of Outlook),
  • GIMP (the best graphical editor),
  • Bluefish (a context-sensitive text editor that understands HTML, SQL, CSS, C/C++, Perl, PHP, Python, etc., and suggest auto-completion in most of those languages),
  • 4 different web-browsers,
  • Skype,
  • A MySql database client,
  • A media player (VLC),
  • An audio player (RhythmBox),
  • LibreOffice,
  • ProjectLibre,
  • A photo manager application,
  • virtual manager, for running and providing access to virtual machines,
  • and much more.

All of the above are free. Updates are only performed with user approval, at a time that suits me.

Some of of you might want to consider a change from Windoze to Linux (I use Ubuntu Linux), especially if you are suffering from system slowdown caused by Microsoft and their upgrade policy.

The UK Makes A Complete Dog’s Dinner Of The Transition To Renewable Energy.

Posted on 1st March 2023

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As this report on Sky News makes clear, the UK is not ready for the urgent and essential transition to renewable energy. It also suggests that governments are just as guilty of greenwashing as corporations.

The National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) is paying millions in "constraint costs", which may rise to as much as £2.5bn per year by the middle of this decade, before the necessary upgrades are made to the electricity distribution network (The National Grid).

These constraint costs arise because the National Grid doesn't have the capacity to deliver the power from wind farms in Scotland and in the North Sea to where it is needed in the more densely populated south of the country, and comprise:

  1. Paying for wind generators to be turned off (£215m in 2022),
  2. Paying to run expensive and polluting gas turbines located closer to the demand (£717m in 2022).

Scotland is not only where much of the UK's wind turbine capacity is located, but also where the fast growing sector of tidal electricity generation is based. This new source of power will also be severely undermined by the inadequacy of The National Grid.

Political Correctness Replaces Blasphemy Laws In The UK.

Posted on 27th February 2023

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This report on The Spectator highlights a worrying trend of woke-ness, cancel culture and political correctness taking over where legislation leaves off.

The article focuses on the "Qurangate" case in Britain, in which 4 students were suspended, and the police were called, because they (apparently accidentally) smudged some pages in a copy of Islam's holy book. Damage to books is a normal occurrence in schools, as I am sure most readers will remember from their student days.

Britain repealed its laws against blasphemy in 2008, so there is no question of the students having broken any law, and the school stated that there was no malicious intent by the kids. Nevertheless, everyone is so terrified of being accused of Islamophobia that the perpetrators were punished and publicly humiliated.

For context, the UK has no written constitution (unlike the USA and Pakistan); neither does it have any laws against blasphemy. There is only one officially recognised religion in England: The Church of England (protestant); in Scotland the Presbyterian Church of Scotland is recognised; as far as I know, other religions have no status under the law, and therefore no legal protections.

How is it, then, that this "Qurangate" case generated such outrage, and why were the police involved? The answer is simple: in today's society, political correctness is the new law; offenders can be punished, and even "cancelled", if public opinion so decides. This is not the kind of society that I want to live in.

Time to make a stand against this overreaching nonsense by the woke brigand!

Profiteering Energy Company Doubles Profits Due To Government Green Subsidies.

Posted on 25th February 2023

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This story on the Daily Mail reports on the public fury about the announcement by UK power station operator Drax that it has nearly doubled its profits (from £398 million to £731 million).

Not only is it clear that they are profiteering from the rise in energy prices, but their profit is only due to government bioenergy subsidies of £893 million.

The subsidies are for its power plant in Selby, in North Yorkshire, which burns wood pellets to generate electricity, which it touts as renewable and environmentally friendly, despite claims by environmental groups that it is not. Drax has been accused of greenwashing with respect to the Selby power station.

Where Does All The Plastic Pollution In The Oceans Come From?

Posted on 18th February 2023

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This report on Visual Capitalist describes a study of where the plastic pollution in our oceans comes from.

Estimates are that 1 million metric tons of plastic waste reaches the ocean every year. The result is the Great Pacific Garbage Dump, a vortex of garbage three times the size of France, in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii.

Plastic Pollution By Country

The graphic to the right shows a visual breakdown of where all the plastic comes from. As one can see, the majority of the plastic waste is sourced from Asia: The Philippines, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, China, Thailand and Vietnam. The contribution of The Philippines dwarfs that of the rest of the world. Anyone who, like me, has worked in that part of the world will not be surprised. I have seen the grossly polluted streams and rivers flowing through cities like Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, filled with discarded plastic bottle and bags (see the photo below).

Plastic Pollution in Malaysia

One thing surprises me about the analysis: that the USA and Europe are not worse offenders. There was a time (up until 1934) when the city of New York dumped all their garbage in the ocean, but this doesn't happen anymore. The Rhine river, which empties into the North Sea is a notorious source of ocean plastic (although it pales into insignificance next to China's Yangtze).

I really think that it is time for there to be an international body to measure and police ocean pollution, and to fine the worst offenders (spending the income from fines on cleanup and prevention). People (individuals, governments and corporations) need to pay for the damage they do to our planet.

Helen Mirren Did What?

Posted on 25th February 2023

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This report on the BBC is one of the worst examples of bad journalism (actually probably bad editing) that I have seen in a while.

The headline reads "Ukraine vigil: Helen Mirren tears up reciting poem in London." At first I read it to mean that Helen Mirren tore up a "reciting poem". All that was needed was to use some punctuation or less abbreviated English in the headline such as "Ukraine vigil: Helen Mirren tears while up reciting poem in London", or "Ukraine vigil: Helen Mirren tears up, reciting poem in London."

It is really not that hard! I have higher expectations of the BBC.

Roald Dahl’s Books Will Continue To Be Published In Original Form, After Backlash.

Posted on 25th February 2023

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As a follow-up to this post, in response to the public backlash, the publishers of Roald Dahl’s books has decided to continue to publish the works with their original wording (as well as with the new PC wording), as reported by the BBC.

This is a rare and welcome victory for common sense (a quality sadly lacking amongst the woke army of cancel culture).

Did Jimmy Carter Eat Horse-Meat?

Posted on 22nd February 2023

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This article on Tasting Table shows that the proof-reading of articles before publication is a dying art.

The article is about the differing food preferences of various US presidents, and reveals that "Lyndon Johnson was partial to lobster thermidor. And Richard Nixon, who famously banned soup from state dinners, at least liked his polenta. But Jimmy Carter " liked southern country food like collard greens, sweet corn and homemade peach ice-cream.

What the article actually say, however, is that "Carter enjoyed Southern stables like collard greens and sweet corn." This makes me wonder whether he ate horse-meat, or just liked to go to the stables to pet the horses.

US Gun Violence Statistics.

Posted on 22nd February 2023

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This report on the BBC contains some pertinent and shocking statistics on gun violence in the US.

Highlights (lowlights?) include:

  • The number of mass shootings (on the rise over the last few years);
  • How trivial the shootings at Columbine (13th on the list) now seem compared to what has happened since;
  • The number of gun-related killings as a proportion of all homicides in the US, compared to other countries:
  • The number of guns in the US - 120 per 100 residents (and that is just the ones they know about!);
  • The fact that a good majority of Americans support stronger gun laws (but politicians still haven't found the courage to toughen gun control);
  • The fact that only 7 states ban assault weapons.

As far as I can see, the statistics speak for themselves: gun ownership is a major cause of gun violence, and the voting public wants a change.

Sanitising Books.

Posted on 22nd February 2023

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This report on the BBC highlights a worrying trend in political correctness.

The estate and publisher of Roald Dahl's books has published politically correct versions of the author's books which remove references to things like characters' appearance and weight. This has, rightly, created a backlash, with the UK's Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, weighing in against the sanitising of the books; good for him.

Where will this end? Will we see cleaned up versions of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets and books by Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and Leo Tolstoy? Could the Christian Bible get an injection of woke-ism too? All of these works contain at least something that is nowadays considered offensive by some.

Our literature is part of our history and culture, and tampering with it undermines our understanding of ourselves and our history. Our history is full of prejudice and cruelty, and whitewashing it seriously distorts our understanding of why things happened.

I think it is time to pay much less attention to claims that some statements are offensive. Ricky Gervais had it right when he said "You have the right to offend and be offended. But you don't have the right to never be offended." He also said "I hate it when people say 'that joke was offensive'. No, you gotta say 'You found it offensive'."

Life is full of offense. I am offended every time someone assumes that I am a christian; when someone in Germany, the Netherlands or France assumes that I don't at least understand the local language; and assumes that because I went to the Oktoberfest, I got drunk. We just have to shrug it off; it usually isn't meant cruelly, and even if it is, we can live with it.

US States Ranked by Education/Stupidity.

Posted on 17th February 2023

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I am including the link to this story on Finance 1st for reference. It ranks US states by education.

There are not really any surprises in the article: the richer and more urban states tend to be better educated, and the poorer states and those where lots of people are involved in agriculture and coal mining tend to be more ignorant.

In summary, the ranking is as follows (most educated states first):

  1. Massachusetts,
  2. Maryland,
  3. Connecticut,
  4. Virginia,
  5. New York,
  6. New Jersey,
  7. Colorado,
  8. Vermont,
  9. New Hampshire,
  10. Washington,
  11. Illinois,
  12. Rhode Island,
  13. Delaware,
  14. Oregon,
  15. California,
  16. Pennsylvania,
  17. Minnesota,
  18. Georgia,
  19. Maine,
  20. Kansas,
  21. New Mexico,
  22. Michigan,
  23. North Carolina,
  24. Missouri,
  25. Alaska,
  26. Hawaii,
  27. Nebraska,
  28. Florida,
  29. Arizona,
  30. Utah,
  31. South Carolina,
  32. Ohio,
  33. Texas,
  34. Tennessee,
  35. Wisconsin,
  36. Montana,
  37. Wyoming,
  38. Kentucky,
  39. Alabama,
  40. Idaho,
  41. Indiana,
  42. Indiana,
  43. South Dakota,
  44. Oklahoma,
  45. Nevada,
  46. North Dakota,
  47. Louisiana,
  48. Mississippi,
  49. West Virginia,
  50. Arkansas.

It should be remembered that this is a relative ranking of education/ignorance, and in no way implies that residents of any state are any more or less educated, compared to any other country. Although there are plenty of examples on the Internet of how ignorant some Americans can be, I know from personal experience that this is not true of all of them.

Apple Infringes AliveCor’s Patent.

Posted on 18th February 2023

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This article on iMore reports that Apple's iWatch may be banned in the USA in a week or so, because it infringes a patent owned by AliveCor.

According to iMore, "the patents relate to electrocardiogram technology as used in Apple's latest wearables.

Apple is, of course, lobbying furiously to avoid a ban.

I find the situation amusing. Apple has long been a vigorous defender of its own patents, charging huge licensing fees or having products banned, so it seems only fair that they get some of their own medicine.

I hope that their lobbying is unsuccessful, and that their iWatches get banned until they reach a licensing agreement with AliveCor.

Shell Directors Get Sued.

Posted on 12th February 2023

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This story on the Guardian reports that all 11 directors of Shell are being personally sued by ClientEarth over the company's climate strategy, which the claimants say is "inadequate to meet climate targets".

The main issue seems to be Shell's plans to continue oil and gas exploration. The International Energy Agency (IAE) said in 2021 that "no new oil and gas projects were compatible with net zero emissions by 2050" (see here, also on the Guardian). “Doubling down [by Shell] on new oil and gas projects isn’t a credible plan – it’s a recipe for stranded assets.”

Shell is not the only fossil fuel company to tone down their emissions commitments or to plan increased exploration. They are also not the only such company to be sued (see here, also on the Guardian).

I see this as a healthy development. For too long companies have not had any consequences for the environmental damage (oil spills, gas leaks, oil-field gas burn-off and carbon emissions) that their businesses cause; this is a kind of false accounting, whereby the rest of us pay for the costs of the damage they cause, so that they appear to be profitable, but only because they are not paying the true costs of them doing business. They only way to make them act responsibly is to hit the directors personally in the wallet.

LOT Airlines Refuses To Allow €5 million Stradivarius Violin As Cabin Baggage!

Posted on 12th February 2023

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If I ever needed another reason for not travelling on LOT Airlines, it is in this case reported on Classic FM.

Polish violinist Janusz Wawrowski was returning from Vilnius, Lithuania, to Warsaw, Poland, with his Stradivarius violin, valued at €5 million. Understandably he wanted to take his violin on board as hand baggage, but the airline refused; LOT insisted that it go in the hold, and offered him the choice of complying or not flying.

When Wawrowski explained what the violin was worth and his concern that it would get damaged, as justification for not putting it in the hold, one airline employee said “we’ll see if it gets damaged in the hold”. I don't think so! That violin is irreplaceable, and would likely not be fully reparable if it got damaged; it is also worth more than the total value of all the other luggage on that flight.

Luckily, the traveller stuck to his guns, and instead travelled home by bus, which took 8 hours!

Most air travellers know, as I do from bitter experience, that hold luggage is frequently damaged. I have had many suitcases (and other items) damaged, even ruined, by baggage handlers. Airlines know how dangerous baggage handling is, which is why laptops are always allowed as cabin baggage, so why not a Stradivarius?

Dangerous School Uniform Code.

Posted on 12th February 2023

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I am very glad that none of my children went to a school like the one described in this report on the Sun. I would have gone to war with the school. There are so many issues with the controlling attitude and overreach of the school in question.

Aaron Bayley's son Levy had his coat confiscated by the school (Jesmond Park Academy), although it was obviously later returned), in the middle of an especially harsh winter, because it breaches their uniform code. The uniform rules require coats that have the school logo. Unfortunately the school-branded jacket is a thin jacket, not even water-proof, rather than a proper winter coat.

It gets worse, however. The school requires that students remove their coats at the gate before entering school grounds (which means that students often get cold and wet before they are allowed to enter the building). I don't see how what students wear outside of the school grounds is any of the school's business; I was subject to a similar school rule, but that was many years ago, and such overreach by schools is not tolerable today.

Add to that the fact Levy was recently hospitalised due to a bad case of 'flu, and two medical experts declared the official school-branded coat was "not suitable" for cold weather.

As Aaron Bayley points out, the uniform rule is not even compliant with government guidelines (it is unclear whether these are actually regulations, or mere suggestions), which state that schools should keep branded clothing "to a minimum" and should not require parents to buy branded versions of "everyday" items like coats, so that they can be used on non-school days.

It seems that Mr. Bayley is not the only parent to find the rules unfair. It looks like the school could have a parent revolution on their hands, which seems entirely appropriate.

More About Trickle-Down Economics.

Posted on 8th February 2023

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I recently saw a report on the BBC (actually not relevant to this post) about layoffs and layoff anxiety, which got me thinking more about my previous post in this thread about trickle-down economics.

Layoffs primarily happen to lower paid staff, and produce trickle-down impacts in reverse: people lose their income, so they spend less, meaning other people (shop owners, online retailers, service providers such as telecommunications companies, and the like) have reduced income. Governments also have reduced tax revenue.

All this means that the impact of one layoff is actually much larger than it at first appears. It also means that the cost/benefit case for government intervention to prevent layoffs is stronger than governments are willing to admit.

I think it is time that some unbiased independent financial analysis was applied to the rationale from companies and governments for layoffs.

Oil Companies Announce Record Profits.

Posted on 8th February 2023

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This BBC article reports on the announcement by British Petroleum (BP) of record profits: £23bn in 2022, double what it made the previous year. At the same time it announced that it is scaling back its commitments to reduce carbon emissions by reducing its oil and gas output.

The article also reports that other energy firms experienced similar increased profits, with Shell making almost $40bn.

How are these soaring profits ethical? Clearly these oil companies are profiting at the expense of consumers. Just because the price of oil has increased does not mean that profits have to increase.

Add to that the walking back of the targets for carbon emission reductions, and there there is no question (at least in my mind) that these companies care nothing about the financial of their consumers and the damage that they do to the environment.

Some people have been calling for governments to levy a windfall tax on oil companies, and since they can't control their greed, that seems to be the sensible option.

The UK and the European Court of Human Rights.

Posted on 6th February 2023

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I saw this article on LBC about Rishi Sunak preparing to pull the UK out of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and it made me think of this comedy clip starring Patrick Stewart.

I feel no more comment is needed.

Some Perspective On The Story Of The Lost Radioactive Capsule.

Posted on 5th February 2023

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This very sad tale from 1962, on IFL Science provides some much needed perspective for the story, described here, of the lost radioactive capsule.

The capsule recently lost in Australia since been recovered; the events in 1962 had a much more unhappy outcome.

The radioactive capsule found in 1962 contained Cobalt-60 which, like the Caesium-137 capsule lost in Australia, emits beta radiation, which produces Nickel-60, which then decays by emitting gamma rays. The capsule ended up being removed from its lead container, and was eventually placed in a kitchen drawer. Within a few months the boy (10), his sister (2), his mother and grandmother all died; only the father survived because he spent a large amount of time out of the house (at work), and very little time in the kitchen where the radioactive source was stored.

These events could easily have been repeated in Australia, and proper information from the press would have gone a long way to reducing the risk to the population.

Blasphemy Rears Its Ugly Head Again In Pakistan.

Posted on 5th February 2023

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This article on the BBC reports on the blocking of Wikipedia in Pakistan because of "blasphemous content".

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had demanded that the "blasphemous content" be removed; Wikipedia had removed some, but not all, and so have been blocked.

I have written before in this thread about how ridiculous it has to have legislation against blasphemy, because:

  • One religion's doctrine is another religion's blasphemy,
  • Holy books often contain so-called history which contradicts established historical facts (and Wikipedia contains a lot of history).
Religions In Pakistan - 2017

Wikipedia embodies a plurality of views and religions, and some of its content will inevitably be seen as blasphemous by some.

Whilst Pakistan was founded as an Islamic state, its constitution guarantees freedom of religion. The table to the right shows the mix of religious beliefs in Pakistan, and shows that, despite Islam being by far the majority religion, it is not the only one in Pakistan. Monotheistic religions such as Islam and Christianity consider the beliefs of multi-theistic religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and and Paganism to be inherently blasphemous, and vice versa. Does this mean that Hindus can petition to have much Islamic online material similarly blocked on the basis that it is, to them, blasphemous; I suspect not, which would mean that the laws against blasphemy are biased and flawed.

When will we see an end to the hypocrisy and stupidity of legislation against blasphemy?

I think it is time that the freedom from laws about blasphemy was declared an inalienable human right, and international sanctions brought against states that have them.

How About Telling Readers Something About Caesium-137?

Posted on 29th January 2023

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This report on the BBC is another example of bad journalism that is probably due to ignorance or laziness by the journalist.

The report is about the loss during transport (transportation, to some readers) of a capsule of Caesium-137 i Western Australia, but no information is included about the nature of this radioactive isotope, and thus the nature of the risk it poses, nor about why it is used in mining.

The Wikipedia page about Caesium-137 explains that it emits beta radiation, and has a half-life of 30.05 years. In the process, a lot of it decays to barium-137m, which has a emits gamma rays and has a short half-life (153 seconds). Both beta and gamma radiation are highly penetrative, and dangerous at large distance from the source, which might be good to know for anyone who finds the capsule (wearing gloves or using tongs or tweezers to handle it will not protect you).

Information on what exactly it is used for in mining is harder to find, but this page on the Santos company web-site briefly mentions that it is used in drilling to measure underground geology.

Why couldn't the journalist make the minimal effort to find this information (it took me 3 minutes to find it using Google) and include at least some of it in the article?

How To Make Trickle-Down Economics Work.

Posted on 28th January 2023

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One of the ongoing scandals around the world is the habit of governments to keep giving tax breaks to rich people and large corporations, while lower-income workers and the unemployed are ignored. The justification by those governments is always trickle-down economics.

The theory behind trickle-down economics is simple, and seems plausible: if you give people money in any way (tax cuts, grants and subsidies, paying for education or even in the form of food banks which leave people more disposable income), they will spend at least some of it. Governments get a proportion of the money back in the form of sales tax (VAT) and income tax, and most of the rest is spent again, reaping more tax income for governments and another round of people getting their share and spending, and so on, ad infinitum. The theory is often interpreted to mean that it doesn't matter to whom you give the money, and this is used to justify giving it to the rich.

Trickle-down economics came to the fore under Ronald Reagan, and seemed to work [accordding to The Balance Money] (but he also ran a huge programme of government spending that stimulated the US economy, and also cut income tax for lower income workers as well as the rich). The theory has, however, since been thoroughly debunked and is rejected by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) [see here on The Balance Money]. Despite the theory being debunked, governments are still applying it by giving tax cuts to the rich (see here on the BBC.

Trickle-down economics is widely, and justly, blamed for the ever widening wealth gap in today's society. There is a table here on Global Finance Magazine which shows how bad things are.

I recently read an article (which I can no longer find - sorry) explaining, at least in part, why trickle-down economics, as currently implemented by most governments, doesn't work: if you give rich people money, they are much less likely to spend it because they don't need it, so it gets saved and doesn't trickle down. There is a more detailed analysis of what is wrong with trickle-down economics here on Fair Economy. It is clear from this explanation what needs to change: trickle-down economics can only work if the money is given to lower income and unemployed people (those who need it and are guaranteed to spend it, thus driving the trickle down).

It is time for governments to actually listen to economists and:

  • Raise taxes on the rich;
  • Cut taxes on the poor;
  • Introduce (or increase) wealth tax on the excessively rich;
  • Introduce a comprehensive welfare system (unemployment benefit, health care, etc.) which will actually drive the trickle-down and generate more tax revenue for governments.
US DoJ Hacks Back.

Posted on 27th January 2023

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I was pleasantly surprised by this story on the BBC, which describes the Department of Justice's (DoJ) campaign of over 6 months hacking the cyber-crime organisation Hive.

The FBI managed to gain deep access to the Hive ransomware group in late July 2022. The were the able to warn victims of impending attacks. They also gave more than 300 decryption keys to victims, saving them more than $130m.

The US DoJ said it had taken down Hive's websites and communication networks, working with other national police forces including in Germany and the Netherlands.

We need more of this proactivity.

Boeing Contests 737 Max Lawsuit.

Posted on 27th January 2023

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Boeing is in court in the USA over the 737 Max crashes, as reported by the BBC.

The suit brought by relatives of of people killed in the crashes alleges fraud by the aircraft manufacturer, and of course Boeing denies this.

I have written extensively on the subject of the 737 Max crashes and the safety of the aircraft (see here), and have made my opinion (based on my experience in the avionics industry and work on other safety-critical systems) clear: Boeing mislead the FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) about the aircraft's safety in a way that amounts to fraud.

Boeing previously avoided a trial on this issue by agreeing to pay $2.5bn, but that appears to have been a fine rather than compensation. It is time for the company to pay up! Maybe they will then learn the lessons, for example what the definition of a safety-critical system is.

They Sold A Picasso And Now They Want It Back!

Posted on 27th January 2023

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This report on the BBC really demonstrates how messed up the world is nowadays.

WomanIroning

In 1938 a Jewish family living in Germany sold a painting (Woman Ironing) to pay for their escape from Nazi Germany. The painting is now in the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. The heirs of the Adler family want the painting back; they say that the family were forced to sell it, which they feel was unfair.

I am sorry, but Karl and Rosi Adler chose to sell the painting. The heirs claim that it was sold at below market value (which seems to be true, but not by a huge amount), so I don't see why they feel entitled to have it returned. I understand that the family only sold it because of the Nazi persecution of Jews, and I have sympathy with their plight, but the sale probably saved their lives; the loss of the painting seems a small price to pay for that. The Picasso was not stolen, confiscated or looted, but voluntarily sold by the owners.

I wonder where this tide of entitlement will end. Will someone who lost their job sue for the return of the car that they sold in order to pay their rent and grocery bills? Apparently some people missed the memo about choices and consequences.

Do people really want to live their whole lives swaddled in cotton wool, or only when it suits them?

The Disease Of Entitlement.

Posted on 1st October 2022

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The disease of entitlement is reaching epidemic proportions.

The cases mentioned below were all on airlines, but we meet entitled people making unreasonable demands in all situations.

In this report on The Gate a first class passenger is outraged that the cabin crew serve other passengers their meals, because she is allergic to nuts. The report makes it clear that expert opinion is that she would not be at risk from other passengers eating nuts in her vicinity, but she honestly expected the airline (American Airlines) to accommodate her request, and because they refused "She is never flying AA again because she says all other airlines honor her request.” Does her expectation extend to a type-1 diabetic not being fed, because of her paranoia about her nut allergy, when that could put the diabetic's life at risk?

Recently there has been a rash of stories about passengers demanding that other passengers swap seats so that, for example, the family could sit together, for example:

The good thing, in all of these examples, is that the request was refused, and social media is backing that refusal.

I understand that air travel is difficult with young children, and if kids can't sit with their parents, everyone's flight can be spoiled. Nevertheless, the bottom line for me is "choices and consequences": these people made the choice to have children, to fly with their children, to not check-in early enough to get seated together and to not pay the fee to choose their seats; there are consequences from all of these choices, and those consequences should not be on fellow passengers.

Other symptoms of entitlement on flights include "manspreading" (reported here on Live And Let's Fly), failure to share armrests and selfish reclining of seat-backs. Most of us have experienced examples of these.

We all need to stand against the spread of these entitled attitudes.

British National Health Service Admits Liability.

Posted on 25th January 2023

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In the UK, the NHS (National Health Service) continues to collapse due to lack of funding and understaffing.

This article on Lad Bible reports on a disgraceful case in which a young girl was incorrectly diagnosed and discharged from hospital, only to be readmitted a few hours later. She had meningitis and sepsis, which can be treated (if caught early enough - her first visit to hospital was early enough) with antibiotics, which had by then become so severe that she had to have her arms and legs amputated.

The NHS has admitted liability for the wrong diagnosis and subsequent delayed treatment, and has agreed to a settlement of about £39 million. In the USA the settlement would probably have been much higher. I don't feel that £39 million is enough to compensate the poor girl for such life altering and avoidable consequences.

Dr. Rothörl: A Fantastic Doctor.

Posted on 27th September 2022

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For a change, rather than complaining or criticising, I am making a recommendation.

Yesterday I returned home from a week in hospital: the Isar Klinikum. I was there for another operation on my back to repair two prolapsed lumbar discs. I had a similar operation in 2020, but after that I managed to damage my back again (moving a washing machine), so I needed another operation.

My surgeon was again the head of the spinal department, Dr. Rothörl. Immediately after the operation I found that the pain in my left leg was gone, but, of course, I had pain from the incision in my back, and needed frequent intravenous pain medication (morphine). The nurses responsible for administering the morphine had other ideas about how often I should have it. In the end, Dr. Rothörl overruled them, and I was able to get my meds.

Talking to other patients, I discovered that Dr. Rothörl had done the same for most of them, fighting on behalf of his patients to get them what they needed. He also intervened on other issues of poor treatment and even non-medical services. The man is a hero to all his patients.

The Isar Klinikum is so much better than the Rechts der Isar where I was treated for high blood pressure and for a stroke:

  • The diagnoses are more accurate;
  • The treatment is better;
  • The food is better;
  • The staff are friendlier and more competent;
  • The medical facilities are better;
  • Waiting times are shorter;
  • The Isar Klinikum is not a teaching hospital, so there is no pressure to opt for surgery when it is not needed.

Dr. Rothörl, in particular, is very attentive (he does rounds twice a day - at the Rechts der Isar it is once per day). He also meets my requirements for a good doctor:

  1. He explains things;
  2. He listens to his patients;
  3. He treats his patients as customers;
  4. He understands that the patient is in charge of their health, not the doctor, so that he does not try to give patients orders, rather recommendations.

I can't recommend Dr. Rothörl and the Isar Klinikum enough.

Again, Journalist Doesn’t Understand Difference Between Energy And Power!

Posted on 21st January 2023

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The difference between energy and power seems to be a particular blind spot for journalists, as evidenced by this article on Android Authority.

The writer states that the BLUETTI EP900 home backup power station stores 9000W (normally written as 9KW) of energy, but that is a measure of power, not energy. There is no excuse for this mistake; he includes the maker's specification table which has the correct units for power: 9.9kWh if you buy 2 battery modules.

Don't get me wrong: the BLUETTI EP900 home backup power station is an impressive device, but I expect a review of it to be written by someone who understands the subject matter, which the author clearly doesn't.

Climate Change Is Spreading Disease.

Posted on 21st January 2023

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If you have wondered why diseases seem to be getting worse, part of the reason may lie with climate change, according to this report from the World Economic Forum.

.

The main conclusions are summarised in the table to the right.

We are living with the consequences of this:

  • Increases in infections from known diseases like TB and measles;
  • Increasing rates of mutation of disease like influenza, making infections more severe and infectious, and making vaccines less effective;
  • Increased geographical ranges of known diseases like malaria;
  • And previously unknown diseases like Covid-19 causing pandemics amongst humans.

As is clear from the table, climate change is not the only thing driving these changes, but it is an important contributor. We should therefore be prepared to have more disease in our lives in future. We should also expect to pay higher taxes for controlling and preventing disease from now on.

Greenwashing Is Their Business.

Posted on 21st January 2023

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Sadly, I am not even slightly surprised by this report by The Guardian.

Analysis reveals that 94% of the carbon offsets provided by by Verra are worthless, and may even add to global warming. Verra is a non-profit organisation with a multi-million dollar turnover.

Verra's list of clients is extensive, and includes some very high profile corporations (Disney, Shell and Gucci among others), so those companies' claims of carbon neutrality can be consigned to the toilet in the light of this analysis.

Greta Thunberg has been warning the world about corporate greenwashing for quite some time, and now we have the proof (if common sense didn't bring you to this conclusion already).

AI Can Now Fake Your Voice.

Posted on 17th January 2023

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This article on ZDNet reports that Microsoft has announced that it has created an artificial intelligence system that only needs a 3 second recording "of you saying something in order to fake longer sentences and perhaps large speeches that weren't made by you, but sound pretty much like you". I expect that other technology companies will quickly match Microsoft's achievement.

I don't see this as a good development; we can look forward to a whole world of trouble once this technology becomes widely available. We already have deep-fake videos, and now we will have deep-fake audio.

China’s Population Falls!

Posted on 17th January 2023

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This report on the BBC gives me some hope that we might yet save our planet.

China's population fell by 850,000 from 2021 to 2022; the first fall in 60 years.

Many of the world's environmental problems are caused, directly or indirectly, by excessive population, and this has traditionally been driven mainly by two nations: China and India, both of whom are in the process of widespread industrialisation, which is increasing the environmental damage. The fact that China has now changed from population growth to population reduction is what gives me hope. What we now need is for India to do the same.

Going Full Circle.

Posted on 11th January 2023

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This article on Motor City reminded me of something that I am sure I am not the only one to have noticed.

A new prototype tyre (tire, to any American readers) from Goodyear is made from 90% sustainable materials. This is just like the old days, when tyres were made from rubber. We should, of course, take Goodyear's claims of sustainability with a large dose of salt, because large corporations are notorious for green-washing, but it sounds like a positive development.

We see the the same trend in packaging, with moves away from plastic and a return to paper, metal and glass (all of which are 100% recyclable, and can thus be sustainable).

We seem to be going full circle, and not before time.

The Costs Of Climate Change.

Posted on 11th January 2023

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This is for any climate change deniers out there.

This article on CNN describes a new report which estimates the costs of major extreme weather events in the USA over the last 7 years. The total comes to more than 1 trillion dollars.

The estimate covers "tornadoes, extreme heat and cold, deadly flooding and hurricanes and a climate change-fueled drought in the West", but only for weather events that caused damage of at least 1 billion dollars. Including the costs of less severe but more frequent events will clearly push the total even higher.

According to this report on Axios, the past 8 years were the hottest on record.

The USA is not even the worst affected by climate change, as this BBC report explains; Europe and the polar regions bore the brunt of global warming in 2022.

UK Government To Eliminate Tax Incentives For Electric Vehicles.

Posted on 24th December 2022

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This article on the Express reports on the recently announced decision by the UK government to eliminate virtually all the tax advantages of owning an electric vehicle.

From April 2025 EV owners will pay Vehicle Excise Duty; most will also pay the "expensive car supplement". These changes will make EVs as expensive to run as petrol (gasoline) powered vehicles.

Excuse me, but aren't governments around the world supposed to be working to reduce the pollution that causes climate change (and also adversely affects people's health) by encouraging more environmentally friendly life-styles? That aim does not seem to fit with this decision to tax EVs more.

Mark Carney's Hypocrisy.

Posted on 24th December 2022

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Back in 2014 I wrote, in this post, about Mark Carney's call for more ethics in business. Since then he has left his role as head of the Bank of England, and is now UN Climate envoy.

Now, as reported by the BBC, it has emerged that his firm sold farms in Brazil linked to deforestation claims. Not only does this go against his urging for more ethics in business, but is completely at odds with his role as UN Climate Envoy.

Time to stop just talking about business ethics, and actually act ethically, Mr. Carney.

Shortages Of Several Things Including Coffee Predicted.

Posted on 12th December 2022

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This article on Food & Wine reports on predictions by Sam Kass, a former White House chef.

I wouldn't normally rate a White House chef as an expert on this subject, but he was also the White House's first-ever senior adviser on nutrition, and he quotes some sources for his predictions that I do consider expert. These experts are saying that there could be significant shortages of:

  • Coffee, with many growers being forced to replace arabica with robusta coffee plants (so, worse coffee);
  • Cashews;
  • Avocados;
  • Wine;
  • Chocolate;
  • Shellfish;
  • And rice.

These crops are all under threat by climate change.

I can add to the above list, with:

There is not a single item listed above that I do not consume, and shortages and the resulting price rises will impact my diet, my quality of life and my bank balance. I imagine that most readers will be similarly affected.

UK Banks Withdraw Support For Trading In Cryptocurrency.

Posted on 10th December 2022

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According to this report on Tech Monitor, a growing number of UK High Street banks are banning their customers from investing in cryptocurrencies.

The table in the article shows that some UK banks do still support their customers buying crypto, a growing list now consider it to be to risky.

I have always said that crypto was nothing more than a bubble; now, with the collapse due to fraud of the FTX crypto exchange (summarised here by The New York Times), it seems that many banks agree with me.

A String Of Major Hacking Attacks.

Posted on 28th November 2022

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There have been a number of significant hacking breaches is the last few weeks.

This article on Security Affairs reports on a data breach (or multiple breaches - the report is a little confusing in this respect) at Twitter that has resulted in the data (including phone numbers and email addresses) of 5.4 million users being made available online.

An even larger breach has been suffered by WhatsApp, with the user data (in this case, phone numbers) of nearly half a billion (487 million, 25% of the total) users accessed, as reported by Business Standard: the data of 32 million users from the US, 11 million from the UK, 45 million from Egypt, 35 million from Italy, 29 million from Saudi Arabia, 20 million from France, 20 million from Turkey, 10 million from Russia (10 mn) and 6 million from India. At the moment this is only a risk, since the data has not yet been made available online, but that is probably only a matter of time. The article also pointed out that "Last year, information about more than 500 million users of Facebook, another Meta-owned company, was offered online for free. In 2019, data of 419 million Facebook and 49 million Instagram users were exposed. In the same year, it had faced another breach leaving data of 267 million users exposed."

Finally (for now), this piece from Bleeping Computer reports on the disclosure by Dropbox (whose software provides file storage and sharing, used by 700 million users) that 130 of their GitHub code repositories. Dropbox said "To date, our investigation has found that the code accessed by this threat actor contained some credentials — primarily, API keys — used by Dropbox developers," which opens up the possibility that Dropbox users' data (which is supposed to be secure) could, in future be accessed by the hackers.

All this goes to show that companies (Twitter, Facebook/Instagram and WhatsApp) are consistently unable to keep the data of their users secure.

Germany Penalises Clean Energy Producers.

Posted on 28th November 2022

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I find the decisions made by the German government, reported by Energy Voice, to be bizarre in the extreme.

German delegates have just returned from COP27; did they sleep through the whole event?

The new government plan is clearly designed to bring in some much needed cash to fund its consumer aid measures, which are intended to offset some of the impact on ordinary citizens of the huge rises in energy prices, but the results of this badly thought out plan will be bad for consumers and for the environment.

Taxing the windfall profits of energy companies so heavily will do nothing to reduce energy prices for consumers, and could indeed push them even higher. Directly regulating the price of energy would be much more effective at protecting consumers from price rises, and not have the inefficiencies inherent in taking money out with taxes and then paying it out again as consumer subsidies. Not only consumers, but also industry would benefit from effective measures to limit energy prices.

Looking at their plan's from an environmental perspective, the penalties and incentives simply seem wrong. True, the burning of lignite, the most polluting type of coal, to generate electricity will be most heavily penalised (earnings above €82 per megawatt), but oil-based generation will be much less heavily penalised (earnings above €280 per megawatt), while solar, wind and nuclear generation will be taxed on earnings above €130 per megawatt. Where is the incentive to invest in clean energy, and why is oil being given a pass?

The German government needs to rethink this half-arsed plan.

Spain Eases Visa Requirements For Brits.

Posted on 12th November 2022

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Quite a few Brits must be rather annoyed after reading this report on EuroNews.

Apparently, Spain has decided that it wants to allow people from the UK to stay indefinitely, rather than be limited to 90 days, as it is at the moment, although it needs permission from the EU to change this rule.

There were quite a lot of Brits who moved to Spain when the UK was part of the EU, for retirement or simply for a better lifestyle. Some of them didn't apply for permanent residence in Spain, and after Brexit were forced to leave, in many cases having to sell their property there. Now, however, there is the prospect that they can again live in Spain, and they must be asking why the Spanish government didn't change the visa rules for Brits sooner, so that they didn't have to move and sell up. Many may decide to move back to Spain once the rule has been changed, but some will probably be deterred by the cost of moving and buying property again. Property prices in Spain took a bit of a dive because of the exodus of Brits, and buying again now will be more expensive than the prices they got when they sold.

KFC Urges Germans To Celebrate The Kristallnacht (The Start Of The Holocaust)!

Posted on 12th November 2022

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Wow! KFC has "accidentally" sent a promotional message to customers in Germany, urging them to commemorate Kristallnacht with cheesy chicken, according to this report on the BBC.

"The Nazi-led series of attacks in the country in 1938 left more than 90 people dead, and destroyed Jewish-owned businesses and places of worship. It is widely seen as the beginning of the Holocaust."

People, especially Jews, are understandably outraged, and KFC's apology is not impressing anyone.

Given the broad and stringent legislation against Nazis and Nazi symbols in Germany, it is even possible that KFC could be fined for their mistake.

I assume that this is down to basic ignorance by staff in KFC's marketing department; someone probably found Kristallnacht in a German calendar, didn't know what it was, and decided to use it as the basis of a marketing promotion. Who knew that Americans were so ignorant about the world outside their borders (this is sarcasm, in case you weren't sure).

You Can' t Trust Fossil Fuel Companies.

Posted on 12th November 2022

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This report on the BBC demonstrates that you cannot trust fossil fuel companies.

It turns out that BP has been flaring massive amounts of gas from an oil field that it co-manages in Iraq. The gas is toxic, and the burnt gas causes leukemia. Also, the CO2 emissions, and the leak of any incompletely burnt gas, contribute massively to global warming. BP has not been declaring their gas flaring activities, leading to underestimates of greenhouse gas emissions. The BBC has exposed their disgraceful actions.

In a similar vein, this article on Quartz reports on the massive number of fossil fuel company lobbyists at the COP27 climate conference in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, the highest number ever, twice as many as the number of indigenous peoples' delegates, and more than any in any nation's delegation except one.

It is obvious that the fossil fuel companies are there to lobby against any measures that would limit their profits, which means they are working against the very purpose of the COP27 conference. Added to their lobbying activities at COP27 is the fact that many politicians, primarily in the US, but also in other nations, are financially supported and heavily influenced by fossil fuel companies.

It will be an uphill struggle to save the planet against this undue influence on the political process to stop and reverse global warming. I believe that, at the very least, fossil fuel company lobbyists should be barred from future climate conferences.

Digital Literacy.

Posted on 29th September 2022

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This article on the BBC reports on how digital literacy has become a requirement for the majority of jobs.

The thing that surprises me about the article is how the author, Alex Christian, seems to be so shocked by the facts.

Computers are now everywhere, from office jobs where skills in using word processors and spreadsheets are essential, to car mechanics using diagnostic computers, to the operators of checkout tills (now all computer-based), to the people restocking supermarket shelves. The pervasiveness of computers didn't happen overnight, so why is the author surprised?

There are some figures in the article: " By 2019, a UK government report showed digital skills were required in at least 82% of online advertised vacancies." The actual figure may well be higher, since, for some jobs, the need for digital literacy is implicit, and therefore not always explicitly stated in the advert.

Computers make most jobs more efficient and more accurate, and free workers from labour intensive and boring tasks, so I see the use of computers as a good thing, especially since many younger people can't do basic mental arithmetic anymore.

Schools are clearly to blame for the lack of digital literacy amongst the workforce. There is no consistent and concerted effort to teach students digital literacy. Where computer skills are taught at schools, they are often focused on programming, rather than how to use a spreadsheet, a database or an Internet search engine, so they do not prepare the students for work.

There is an irony here: as computers become more prevalent at home, at work and at school, many things including school work become easier, which means students learn less, and leave school with fewer of the skills they need to use computers at work and in private life. This just puts more pressure on the people developing and buying computer systems to make them smarter, so that dumber people can use them. The end of that road is workplaces with almost no human staff; we will have dumbed ourselves out of our jobs.

Microsoft Misunderstands Employee Motivation.

Posted on 2nd October 2022

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This article on Tech.co reports on how Microsoft is telling companies that they should “re-recruit” and "re-onboard" employees to prevent them from job-hopping and quiet quitting.

At first glance it appears that Microsoft are suggesting that staff be fired and then re-employed (a technique being increasingly used to reduce salaries and change contracts), but, in fact, that is not what is being suggested. The idea is that, for staff to be effective and motivated, especially in the era of remote and hybrid work, they need their skills boosted with more training.

Whilst this, in principle, sounds OK, it shows that Microsoft does not really understand staff motivation.

There is a well established theory of staff motivation, unfortunately not widely applied, which divides motivating factors into positive and negative motivators. Positive motivators are things that are essential for workers to do their jobs: adequate salary, an office (with adequate heating/air-conditioning), a computer or other work tools and the necessary training to do the job. Negative motivators are not things that will demotivate staff if they are absent, but rather non-essential things that will not motivate staff unless all the positive motivators are satisfied: a break room, an office newsletter, work social events and team-building activities. A company car is only a positive motivator in jobs where a car is essential, like travelling salesmen and civil engineers. Companies are wasting their money if they spend on negative motivators without first investing in all the positive motivators.

Job-specific training is generally classified as a positive motivator, when given at the start of employment, because it is usually essentially for the job. When given later, however, it is a negative motivator, because the employee clearly knows how to do the job, having already been doing it. Just because an employer labels it “re-recruiting” or "re-onboarding" does not change the employees' perception of the training as non-essential.

What all this means is that the strategy of branding retraining as “re-recruiting” or "re-onboarding" will not motivate staff, which is what Microsoft believes it will do. It is time for Microsoft managers to go back to school themselves, before mandating it for staff.

Amazing Photograph Of The Moon.

Posted on 23rd October 2022

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I recently found the photo below (in an article on BGR.com). It is actually an Adobe Stock photo.

I find the photo to be fantastic: well composed, made with perfect timing and superb colours.

Moon
Forever Chemicals In Most US Waterways.

Posted on 23rd October 2022

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Hot on the heels of my recent post (here) about the potential for wars over water comes this article on The Guardian, which reports on a study showing that over 80% of US waterways are polluted with PFAS (a class of "forever chemicals").

PFAS are called forever chemicals because they are not biodegradable (they last forever in the environment); they are also generally toxic.

You almost certainly have PFAS in your home, in the form of Teflon coating on non-stick pans and other cook-ware.

The fact that waterways are polluted with PFAS does not necessarily mean that drinking water is polluted, but other studies (see the links in The Guardian article) have shown that drinking water is indeed polluted in the majority of cases.

The other thing to bear in mind is the widespread culture of hunting and fishing (and even of eating roadkill) in the US, meaning that even if your drinking water is not polluted, what you eat may well be (wildlife drinks unfiltered water).

The problem is manifold, and includes:

  • Lax regulations on toxic discharges,
  • Outdated water supply infrastructure which doesn't remove everything that we are now concerned about,
  • People whose drinking water comes from unfiltered sources (springs and wells),
  • The fad for "raw water".

Maybe it is time for the USA to take environmental protection a little more seriously. Just because you have more wilderness per capita than Europe does not mean that that wilderness can't be polluted, if you don't look after it.

Marine Reserve Boosts Tuna Stocks.

Posted on 23th October 2022

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Commercial fishermen always complain about reduced catches whenever marine reserves are established; they make the same complaints whenever fish quotas are introduced. This report on the BBC shows that the opposite is true.

The Papahãnaumokuãkea Marine National Monument in Hawaii, a vast marine reserve ("almost four times the size of California"), was established in 2006, and already, after only 6 years, fish stocks in neighbouring waters have increased: "catch rates for yellowfin tuna had increased by 54%, bigeye tuna by 12% and all fish species combined by 8%". This shows that establishing marine reserves works to increase fish stocks and catch sizes, and quickly.

Maybe there is hope that we can save the oceans, if we act now.

Fights Over Water.

Posted on 29th September 2022

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This report on World Crunch describes the tensions and fights now erupting in Mongolia because of the lack of water.

I sense many readers thinking "Oh. Mongolia. That doesn't effect me." Wrong! it might not effect you yet, but fighting, even full blown wars, over water (and land and other resources in short supply) are coming to us all.

Just look around the world - shortages and disputes all over:

  • Water shortages in the west and south of the US (California, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada - with tap water in some states unsafe to drink and reservoirs at scarily low levels), yet the east and north (and Canada) have plenty of water;
  • Water shortages in Mexico, the source of a long running dispute with the USA over how much water is abstracted from the Colorado river before it crosses the border into Mexico;
  • Water shortages all over Europe (Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, the UK and even Switzerland) with water levels in rivers at historically low levels;
  • Water shortages and droughts in much of Africa (even in South Africa);
  • A major dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over the building of a new dam on the Nile;
  • Water shortages in many middle-eastern nations, with a long-running dispute between the Palestinians and Jordan on one side, and Israel on the other, about how much water Israel takes from the river Jordan;
  • Israel has abstracted so much ground water (mainly for agricultural irrigation) that it has become salty due to seepage from the sea;
  • Low water levels in the Caspian and Aral seas, caused by abstracting too much water for agriculture over decades;
  • A long list of historically arid nations, with matters now being made worse by climate change.

The causes of these water shortages are many:

  • Growing crops that require too much water in unsuitable areas (e.g. almonds in California);
  • The lack of national water grids in virtually all nations, so that water from wetter areas cannot be moved to more arid zones;
  • Global warming and climate change;
  • Lack of water conservation efforts and investment;
  • Leaking water mains in most countries;
  • Inappropriate water-hungry lawns in many arid areas of the USA;
  • Badly designed household hot water systems all across the USA, meaning that showers are left running for 5 minutes to allow the water temperature to stabilise before people can shower;
  • Abstraction of ground water during drier months, without replenishing the ground water during wetter months.

Most of these causes are not being addressed, and some will get worse over time. Some, however, could be addressed, for example:

  • Water could be piped from the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi and Missouri rivers to the arid parts of the USA, although this would not be cheap;
  • In the UK, a national water grid could pump water from Kielder dam and some Scottish lochs to the south of England, but again, not cheaply;
  • Domestic hot water systems in the USA could be improved, and thermostatic shower controls installed.

So, we have shortages of water in many places, in many cases with neighbouring areas/nations having more than sufficient water. How bad do you think it will have to get before people are prepared to fight to have drinking, washing and irrigation water? In Mongolia shepherds are already fighting over water for their livestock. What if Mexico decided to bomb Hoover Dam to get the Colorado river flowing properly? What if Egypt invaded Ethiopia to increase the flow in the Nile? What kind of pressure might the USA exert on Canada to get them to share their water? None of these scenarios are inconceivable; once the need is dire enough, they will happen.

The water wars are coming.

Much Of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Comes From Fishing Gear.

Posted on 11th September 2022

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This article on One Green Planet reports on a study, based on samples taken from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 2019, which shows that more than a quarter of the garbage is plastic from fishing gear: oyster spacers, eel traps, lobster, and fish tags, plastic floats and buoys.

Two thirds of the plastic items were made in Japan or China. About 6.5% were from the United States, 5.6% from Taiwan, and 4.7% came from Canada. Plastic was ten times more likely to originate from fishing activities than from land-based ones.

Isn't it time that fishing fleets were properly regulated and policed to stamp out the pollution and the overfishing that is rife in the industry? If we don't. we will destroy the marine ecosystems in a very short time, and seafood will become too polluted to be safe to eat.

More People Now Work In Clean Energy Than In Fossil Fuels!

Posted on 11th September 2022

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This report on Quartz describes the latest data from the International Energy Agency, which shows that the clean energy sector now provides "56% of total energy sector employment", which is more than those employed in "producing, transporting, and burning fossil fuels".

Maybe politicians will now stop using the claim of protecting employment as an excuse to resist environmental initiatives intended to stop climate change (although I don't have high hopes).

The Arrogance Of German Police.

Posted on 10th September 2022

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Bad Police Parking

I took this photo whilst on a recent shopping trip. It demonstrates the arrogance of the German police, at least when it comes to parking.

The police car is parked on the pavement, almost completely blocking the footpath (although the cycle-path was left clear). A disabled man on an electric mobility tricycle had just gone by going onto the very busy cycle-path.

I can understand that there might be a case for such selfish parking in the case of an emergency, but the cop was not even parked there on police business; he was posting a parcel (a return of an online purchase) which was almost certainly a private errand, and most certainly not an emergency.

Note that the photo does not include the police officer, since it is illegal in Germany to photograph or video record police in the execution of their duties (not that he was executing his duties, but I would rather not fight that out in court).

This kind of arrogant and selfish parking by police is very common here in Germany. I have often seen police vehicles parked at traffic accidents and at traffic stops in ways that block other traffic and create hazards for other motorists. This is especially dangerous at the sites of accidents, where that part of the road is already demonstrably dangerous, and where their dangerous parking only exacerbates the danger.

It really seems that many German police officers feel that they are above the law. I know that, if I parked on the pavement like that, I would get a ticket in short order.

Pub Name Change Because Of Political Correctness.

Posted on 30th August 2022

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I am livid after reading this report on Metro.

It seems that we cannot use some words in the English language without being blamed for being offensive, because there are other meanings for those words.

English, and indeed all languages, have words that have multiple meanings (which is a rich source of humour), but now we can't use the word in its original meaning because there now exist alternative meanings? This is nonsense!

The report on Metro is about a pub in called "The Black Bitch" in Linlithgow, Scotland. The brewery has applied to change the name because "it is offensive". The pub is named to commemorate a famous local dog, a female greyhound with a black coat; there is even a statue of said dog in the town. The name "The Black Bitch" is perfectly correct and accurately descriptive, and is not insulting to anyone; local people seem to agree, and in a town of 13,000 inhabitants 11,000 have signed a petition to stop the name change. The natives of Linlithgow are proud to be known as “Black Bitches”. It is clear from the pub sign, which depicts a black dog, that the name refers to a black female dog.

The brewery, Greene King, has previously changed the names of several pubs because of supposed racism, including three pubs called "The Black Boy" and one called "The Black’s Head"; it seems that they have a particular problem with the word black. They are seeing prejudice where none exists.

Where will this cult of woke-ism and political correctness end? Soon we may no longer be able to use:

  • Essex girl to refer to a girl from Essex, because it can also be used to refer to a girl of loose morals;
  • Tart to refer to a pie without a pastry lid, because it can also mean a prostitute;

    Pig or hog to refer to a swine, because it can also mean someone who is greedy;

    Knob to refer to a handle or control device, because it can also mean a penis;

    Prick to refer to a mark or hole made by a pointed instrument, because it can also mean a penis;

Because of the huge differences in how English is used in different parts of the world, there terms that are considered non-PC is some regions, but are standard, correct, perfectly PC, and even official in others. The obvious example are "black" and "coloured", which in South Africa respectively mean African, and Indian/Pakistani or mixed race, but in America are considered non-PC.

Things used to be very different. In the UK, the word Tory is often used to refer to the member or supporter of the Conservative Party, but originally it was an insulting name applied to that party, meaning outlaw or robber. I don't hear of any movement to stamp out the use of this once insulting nickname.

Thankfully, political correctness is not taking hold in Germany. Nouns which refer to people are still used in male and female forms: Artz and Ärtzin (doctor), Assistent and Assistentin, etc. There is no hesitance in using the word Schwarz (black) to refer to people. I hope that doesn't change.

Unfortunately, it is too late for the English language. Words that are tainted by any hint of prejudice cannot safely be used without a backlash and the risk of "cancellation". People are far more worried about political correctness than the use of proper grammar, punctuation and spelling.

People Arrested In Munich For Making Nazi Salute.

Posted on 20th August 2022

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This report on DW.com (Deutsche Welle) shows just how seriously Nazi symbols and the like are taken here in Germany.

I wrote previously in this thread (here) about the fact that Nazi symbols are banned in many countries. In German (and Austria) that includes Nazi salutes.

Well, now, a security steward at the European Athletics Championships in Munich has been arrested for making the Nazi salute.

If you are planning to come to Germany for a visit, don't make the salute while here, and if you are one of those strange people who have a swastika tattoo, cover it. Otherwise you may be arrested and fined.

Climate Change Is Making Diseases More Virulent!

Posted on 17th August 2022

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This article on Medical News Today reports on a study which shows that climate change is making pathogenic diseases more virulent.

If you had been wondering why pandemics seem more common recently, and why dangerous diseases are spreading further, there is your answer. Since climate change is still going on and getting worse, diseases like Covid-19, monkeypox, Zika, measles, TB, Polio, Ebola and malaria, and diseases yet to come, can be expected to continue to get worse.

Who Is It That Americans Believe Are Causing Climate Change?

Posted on 17th August 2022

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This report on U.S. News is extremely worrying.

Despite the heatwaves are droughts being suffered by so many Americans at the moment, the gradual increase in the severity of hurricanes and the length of the hurricanes season, and the constant improvement in the scientific data on climate change and its causes, fewer Americans are currently worried about climate change than 3 years ago. These people must be living under rocks, to have missed all that news.

CO</sub>2</sub> By Nation

Since the USA is the nation most responsible for global warming, as reported by Investopdeia, any solution will need to get the USA on board. That will be hard. since most Americans are not sufficiently worried about it, do not believe that their personal choices affect the climate and feel that their government is responsible for fixing any problems rather than them personally.

Punctuate Your Headlines!

Posted on 17th August 2022

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Why can't people put punctuation in headlines? It is as if they think that there is some unwritten rule for headlines that punctuation is not allowed.

This article on the BBC carries the headline "Ukraine war round-up: Strike on Wagner HQ and Russia to increase ties with North Korea." It leaves the reader wondering why attacks on the HQ in Ukraine of the Wagner group of Russian mercenaries, and also on Russia, would increase ties with North Korea. It just needs a comma to say what was intended: "... Strike on Wagner HQ, and Russia to increase ties with North Korea."

British Airways - The World's Favourite Airline?

Posted on 15th August 2022

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"The World's Favourite Airline" used to be BA's advertising slogan (it wasn't justified or true even back then), but now it seems to be "To fly, to serve."

This story on This Is Money shows that customer service is most definitely not part of BA's culture or business model.

A couple were flying first class back from a vacation in Mauritius to London, via Johannesburg. The flight was with BA, and their partner airline, Comair. Their bags did not make the flight, and when the bags arrived 3 days later, items to the value of £3,000 (a MacBook Pro laptop, various items of jewellery, two pairs of sunglasses and a first aid box containing some medication) were missing. BA declined to compensate them.

The letter in the story lists a number of complaints:

  • Extensive and targeted security checks of the man's partner in Mauritius by airline staff;
  • On the plane, the man's partner was directed to use the economy toilet even though she was seated in first class;
  • BA's refusal to compensate the travellers for their loss.

The author of the letter states that he had "been an extremely loyal BA customer for many years, spending tens of thousands of pounds with the company, and [had] been a shareholder for 25 years." He says that he won't use the airline again. The most obvious question is why? I personally have been refusing to fly BA since the dreadful incident in 2007 (see here).

BA states that valuable items such as laptops and jewellery should not be put in hold-luggage, and as a frequent flier I agree; if things do not get stolen, they may be damaged. This is most especially true when flying via Johannesburg, where theft from luggage is an epidemic. Even so, I find it bizarre that BA would take zero responsibility, considering that these were first class passengers (where the cost of the tickets is enough to defray the costs of some compensation).

The other complaints are also incomprehensible, and put the lie to BA's claims to be service oriented.

I hope people reading about this incident have the good sense to also boycott British Airways.

Bad Publicity for NHS IT Supplier.

Posted on 15th August 2022

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This BBC report is a really bad advertisement for the company involved, Advanced.

Advanced, which provides digital IT services to the NHS (UK National Health Service), has been hit by a ransomware attack. There is a chance (not yet confirmed) that NHS data including patient data, has been stolen in the attack. Although ransomware attacks do not usually steal data, the security vulnerabilities that allowed the ransomware attack could also be used by hacker organisations wanting to steal data.

The NHS relies on all of its suppliers of services and products to ensure the security and reliability of its services and data, and it only takes one weak link in the chain to compromise potentially everything.

This is not only very bad publicity for Advanced, but also (as if we needed any more proof - governments and their agencies are notorious for their poor protection of sensitive data) shows that the NHS is not taking cybersecurity seriously. Advance should be better protected, and the NHS have clearly failed in their duty of due diligence, which is something that needs to happen not only when suppliers are selected, but also continuously thereafter.

Customers Get Revenge On UK Banks.

Posted on 15th August 2022

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According to this report on Triple Pundit, customers are punishing the 'big-five' banks in the UK for their poor service.

500,000 customers have left the 'big-five' banks, Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, RBS and Santander, and moved their business to smaller more ethical ethical banks, as a result of the 'Move Your Money UK' campaign.

Big UK banks are notorious for their poor service (an example here), and now they are paying the price. Excellent!

British Ex-Pats Betrayed By Their Banks.

Posted on 14th August 2022

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This story on City A.M. highlights the plight of Britons living in the EU who, as a result of Brexit, are about to have their British bank accounts summarily closed.

The banks currently closing the bank accounts include Barclays, Halifax and Lloyd's. The reason for the closures is that, after Brexit, UK banks need special legal permissions to service EU residents, for each EU country individually; the grace period for gaining these permissions is about to close.

These banks must have decided that the bureaucratic overhead of gaining the necessary permissions exceeds the benefits of keeping those customers.

Not only is this another unexpected "benefit" of Brexit, but also a major inconvenience for the effected customers:

  • Any UK based direct debits will be cancelled, meaning that service for which a direct debit is required, such as a UK mobile phone, will be cancelled. Direct debits are only possible within country; there is no equivalent international variable regular payment service.
  • If they are drawing a UK pension (like me) and have been having it paid into their UK bank account (which I am not), they will need to contact the pension service to redirect the payments to an EU account; changing the account once payments have begun is difficult (normally not possible).
  • If they are operating a UK company, which some do, they will now have to have any invoices paid into an EU account; an inconvenience at both ends of the transactions, which may result in them losing customers.

    If they are paying UK income tax, which many must, as well as paying tax in their country of residence, there are also new complications.

I find it bizarre that these banks are not prepared to do the paperwork to be able to service customers with addresses in the EU. My Swiss bank has no issues with me living in Germany (Switzerland is not in the EU, and needs the same permissions that the UK banks need), and my fiancée's US bank also has no problem with her living in Germany (although one of her American credit card providers does have a problem with it).

I used to think that the UK was more service oriented than much of continental Europe; it seems that I was wrong.

Water Ban Exemptions For The Rich.

Posted on 14th August 2022

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This article on the BBC shows why I have such low hopes for us saving our planet.

The story reports on how "Climate activists in southern France have filled golf course holes with cement to protest against the exemption of golf greens from water bans amid the country's severe drought." Remember that France is in the grips of a severe water crisis (like most of Europe), to the extent that more than 100 communities are having water provided by trucks.

I applaud the protesters' action. Amid this crisis the government has granted golf courses (apparently all of them) exemptions from the bans on watering. Apparently, the government considers golf greens more important than people, fish, aquatic birds and other wildlife.

What this really shows is that money is what matters to governments. In the face of such blatant bias, there is no chance that essential environmental regulations will succeed.

The National Health Service, Britain's Pride And Joy, No Longer Fit For Purpose.

Posted on 13the August 2022

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In this report on The Mirror, a woman describes her dreadful experience at a NHS (National Health Service) A&E (Accident and Emergency) department.

The poor lady waited more than 15 hours for treatment (waiting times of over 17 hours were being predicted by staff at the A&E). In the end, she decided that "may as well have been in pain in bed at home", and went home. Such an occurrence might perhaps be forgiven if it was an isolated case, but it is not.

The whole concept of an emergency department is for dealing with emergencies: situations that require urgent treatment. Clearly, in this case, that department was not able to fulfill their purpose. Hospitals blame staff shortages as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, but that seems a cop-out.

Britain's NHS was once a great source of pride for Britons. That pride no longer seems to have any basis in fact.

Other countries also have increased waiting times in their emergency departments; here in Germany, for example (I know this from personal experience), but the problem is not only with waiting times, as evidenced by a recent message from a friend. He had to cut short a trip to Germany in December last year, and rush home to Britain to his wife, because she had been diagnosed with bladder cancer (because of blood in her urine). It turned out that cancer was a misdiagnosis, but they have spent 8 months and lots of their own money confirming this, because none of the doctors seem to care. She still has blood in her urine, and they still don't know why, so there will be more worry and expense for them over the coming months.

So, long waiting times and poor doctoring: the NHS needs drastic improvement, and a major injection of funds, to fix the problems, which probably won't happen. Anyone who lives in Britain will probably remember the promises by Boris Johnson (Prime Minister at the time) that leaving the EU would allow the UK government to put £350 million per week into the NHS. Clearly the NHS saw none of that money; those promises were nothing more than propaganda.

Wild Animals Have Rights Too!

Posted on 13th August 2022

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This report on the BBC highlights an all too common problem relating to wildlife.

Authorities in Norway say "Freya the walrus could be put down unless public back off." People are getting too close to the walrus, and are getting attacked.

What happens over and over again is that humans encroach on wild animals habitats, either by walking in the woods or going to the beach, or by building habitations and planting crops where wild animals live. If anyone challenges such encroachment, answers are along the lines of "I am not forcing the animals to move; they are welcome to be there too." Such statements are patently nonsense, because, as soon as there is a clash of interests (people getting attacked by walruses or bears, or deer or rabbits eating someone's crops), it is always the animals that have to give way, or worse still, be culled.

Wild animals have a perfect right to be in their natural habitats, and if humans encroach, it is the humans who should get out of the way.

There is an ever growing list of species which are either already extinct, or under threat, and we cannot afford to wipe out any more. It is time that public policy towards wild animals was changed to take into account these changed realities.

Kevin Spacey Gets Screwed By US Court.

Posted on 7th August 2022

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Whilst I am in no sense an apologist for Kevin Spacey, I feel that the court case reported on by the BBC is rather unfair on him.

Mr. Spacey was the star of the hit TV show "House of Cards" when the press found out about his various sexual misdemeanors. As a result, the producers of the show decided that they had to remove him from the show (probably a good call). On Thursday a court in Los Angeles awarded MRC (the production company) $31m for the costs of that removal.

Kevin Spacey began his illegal and inappropriate activities before he signed the contract with MRC. Although knowledge of this was not at that time in the public domain, it was generally privately known (or at least suspected) in the industry, so MRC got into the contract with there eyes open; they took a calculated risk, but when it all turned to doggy dos, they demanded compensation. That is not how the law is meant to work. If there is genuinely unknown and undisclosed information when a contract is signed, one can expect to be compensated, but when the issues are known (even if not provable at the time), the risk belongs to the party that suffered the loss. MRC was making lots of money from "House of Cards", and hoped that would continue; they gambled, and lost, and should bear the costs themselves.

This case sets a dangerous precedent for future compensation cases.

Water Shortages Hit Europe!

Posted on 7th August 2022

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This article on Euro News reports on the water shortages striking across Europe. The culprit seems to be the heatwave.

In France, more than 100 municipalities short of drinking water, and trucks are being used to take them water.

In Italy, "rice production in the river Po Valley is under severe threat as drought and hot weather continue to cause paddy fields to completely dry up and become salty from use of aquifers." The effects of the salt could last for years.

On Wednesday The Netherlands declared an official water shortage, after already having imposed limits on agriculture and shipping. The Netherlands is the world's second-largest agricultural exporter, so there could be food shortages as a result (as if there weren't already food shortages).

In Germany, the upper reaches of the Rhine river are drying up, according to this report on Business Insider, and the middle reaches (heavily used for goods transport) have such low water levels that ships are running at 25% capacity. There is concern about cooling water for power stations (due to heating of the river water). All major waterways in Germany seem to be affected.

There are similar problems with water levels in the Danube, which flows through Germany, Austria, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, Serbia, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Croatia.

In Britain there are also water shortages in some areas, with a legal battle going on between Southern Water and Fish Legal over plans to extract more water from the River Test, as reported by the Guardian. There are already hosepipe bans in place in some areas, and things are expected to get worse.

Even Norway, land of fjords, has water shortages, and is considering reducing electricity supplies to the UK as a conservation measure (much of Norway's capacity is hydroelectric), as reported by The Express.

What is shocking is how early in the season these shortages have hit, and how widespread they are. These problems may be a harbinger of times to come.

A Plan To Survive Societal Collapse - Fail!

Posted on 7th August 2022

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I found this report on the Guardian interesting but ultimately disappointing.

The article features Ben Green, who is living a largely self sufficient vegan life on a 12 acre plot in East Germany. This is his plan to survive the "collapse of capitalism". He is not alone in his belief that this collapse is coming (many experts predict the collapse of society within the next 10 years). His plan, however, seems to have a number of flaws and peculiarities:

  1. He has 12 acres, and this web-page suggests that 5 to 6 acres should be enough for one person (he seems to live alone) to live comfortably, so there should be enough surplus to sell or barter for his luxuries (tea, coffee and chocolate). In fact, to sustain a vegan, less acreage should be needed than the 5 to 6 acres suggested.
  2. One of the reasons, he claims, that he is not fully self sufficient is the cost of feeding his 3 rescue-pigs (obviously not for eating). This makes no sense. Pigs do not need industrial feed, and eat vegetables. According to this web-site, fully grown pigs can be raised 3 to 4 per acre (more with a proper rotation plan). I therefore do not understand why he is buying feed for his pigs. I do not even understand why he has the pigs at all; they don't seem to enhance his lifestyle or survival prospects.
  3. There is no mention of where he gets his vitamin B-12 (which most people get from meat). Vegans usually take vitamin supplement tablets; B-12 can also be obtained from nutritional yeast (which I guess he could produce, but doesn't seem to) or marmite; vitamin supplement tablets and marmite, as industrial products, will not be available if society collapses. As a vegan, he doesn't eat eggs which contain some B-12, although you need to eat 4 per day to get the daily recommended dose. Without vitamin B-12, people suffer from low energy levels and general poor health.
  4. If the capitalist system collapses, so will law and order. In that case, how will he stop people from stealing his food? He is going to need good fences, some guard-dogs (which need to eat meat), and probably a rifle. Such measures seem entirely missing from his plan.

It is not that I think his reasons are wrong; I think societal collapse is very likely. It is just that his plan needs some serious work.

What If Science Cannot Save Us?

Posted on 7th August 2022

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I saw an article today on Flipboard where the link asked the question "What If Science Cannot Save Us?" I haven't included the link to the article, because the actual headline in it does not include that question.

The question has an obvious and trivially simple answer. What will happen, if science can't save us, is that climate change and other environmental damage will continue to get worse until enough people die that the environmental damage that humans are causing reduces enough to reverse climate change. Not to be forgotten is the fact that the environment only responds slowly to changes in pollution levels, which means that there will be overshoot: even after the population is reduced (due to heatwaves, food and water shortages and polluted food and water) enough to reverse the effects, things will continue to get worse (for perhaps another 50 years) before they improve. That, in turn, means that the human population will be reduced to even lower levels than are sustainable.

In short, if we fail to fix the problem, due to scientific limitations, political issues, stupidity, or simply cost, we can expect life on earth to become very very unpleasant and hard, and for there to be a massive culling of humanity, due to our own stupidity and incompetence.

Here are my predictions for the next 10 years, if we do not act quickly enough and strongly enough, based on current research and on what has already happened:

  • The total collapse of most Atlantic fisheries (see here), and probably also Mediterranean and other fisheries;
  • Widespread food shortages;
  • Widespread water shortages;
  • Increased incidence of cancers and other pollution related illnesses:
  • Significant reductions in human fertility rates in many parts of the world;
  • Another global pandemic (maybe more than one) - if the next pandemic is not monkeypox, it will be something else;
  • At least one war over access to resources (water, food or mineral resources), with more to follow (remember that war is one of the most polluting human activities).

It will not be only humans who die. There will be massive reductions in the populations of wild plants and animals, with very many extinctions. Planet earth a century from now could be unrecognisable to us. These other species have just as much right to live on earth as we do.

If you don't want this apocalyptic future to come to pass, it is time to act: use less energy, waste less food and water, generate less garbage, recycle more (buy products in fully recyclable packaging), travel less (especially less air travel) and vote for politicians who are committed to saving the planet. Make the change now; tomorrow may be too late!

The Rise In Abuse Of Service Workers.

Posted on 4th August 2022

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This article on the BBC discusses a rising problem in the modern world: the increase in the abuse of service workers.

We have all read about such incidents, and in many cases witnessed some ourselves; some of you may even be guilty of doing it yourselves, despite, perhaps, feeling guilty about it afterwards So, why is it happening ever more frequently?

The article cites a couple of possible explanations:

  • 'Scapegoat theory' and power dynamics,
  • Powerlessness and the pandemic.

I have a couple of points to add to the discussion:

  1. Service workers are representatives of their employers, a fact that the article seems to overlook. If a customer is unhappy with the service that they receive, their grudge is with the company, but the service worker they are dealing with is the company's representative, and must expect that the dissatisfied customer will take their frustration out on them, irrespective of whether they have the power and authority to do what the customer expects.
  2. Increased powerlessness of service workers. Service workers have much less power to help the customer than was once the case; they have less discretionary authority. This is result of their scope and authority being constrained by their employer, in the form of processes which define what they may do, and how, often enforced by the computer tools that the service worker uses for their job. This is a failure of management, whereby the service worker has been given responsibility (to satisfy the customer) which is not matched by the appropriate authority; it is a basic management principle that authority and responsibility should be aligned. In a sense, by having misalignment between authority and responsibility, companies are setting up their service workers to be abused.
  3. Reducing levels of service. This is a common trend in many industries, from coffee shops to banks, telecoms service providers and airlines. Sometimes the reduced service is due to fewer staff (banks are a prime example of this), which increase waiting times, and make the service workers stressed and rushed. Sometimes it is due to deliberately less flexible contract terms (mobile phone and Internet providers are some of the worst offenders in this respect). If a customer gets worse service than before, of course they are likely to get upset and abusive more often. Sometimes, things that used to be free (like choosing your airline seat) now usually incur additional charges.
  4. More demanding customers and their feeling of entitlement. Customers of many industries (the prime example is probably the catering industry - coffee shops, restaurants, etc.) have definitely become more demanding: ever more complex cups of coffee being ordered, people ordering variations (like egg-white omelettes) of menu items, etc., which is diametrically opposed to companies' attempts to streamline their businesses by standardising what they offer. The growth in customers' feelings of entitlement means that they do not even realise that they are being demanding and unreasonable.
  5. More easily offended customers. People nowadays are much more easily offended by so many things - using the wrong pronoun, using language that the customer finds offensive (for whatever reason), assuming the wrong gender identity (e.g. when selecting clothes for a customer to try on), the service worker wearing fur or even drinking bottled water - the list is endless, and growing every day. If the customer is offended by the service worker, the conversation can much more easily cross the line into abuse.

Given the number of different issues at play here, there can be no single solution. Also, clearly, some of the causes lie with companies, and some with customers. Nevertheless, a bit of patience and tolerance will go a long way to easing the problem.

Gas Shortages In Germany.

Posted on 30th July 2022

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Prinzregentenplatz Fountain Still On

The BBC reports that the northern city of Hannover "has turned off the heating and switched to cold showers in all public buildings because of the Russian gas crisis."

This is a result of the war in Ukraine, and the resulting sanctions against Russia, which has in turn caused Russia to reduce supplies of natural gas to Europe.

Several cities in Germany have already taken action to reduce gas consumption; the action by Hannover is just one example.

The report also states "Other cities - such as Augsburg in Bavaria - have already introduced their own measures such as turning off public fountains." Well, that certainly doesn't include Munich (also in Bavaria), where public fountains are still running, as you can see from this photo, taken yesterday on Prinzregentenplatz.

A Tale Of Gross Medical Misconduct.

Posted on 28the July 2022

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I heard about this event this week; it happened within the last week, in Munich.

Doreen (not her real name) went to a clinic for a colonoscopy (a routine procedure, generally considered to be low risk). After she awoke from the anaesthetic, she was in a great deal of pain, and told the doctor about her pain. The clinic did an ultrasound scan and found nothing wrong, so the doctor insisted that there was nothing to worry about, but they nevertheless kept her in the clinic for two hours after she awoke.

Doreen's daughter came to the clinic to take her mother home, and was told that Doreen was still unconscious from the anaesthetic. At the same time, the clinic told Doreen that her daughter had not yet arrived to collect her. Eventually, Doreen's daughter heard her mother's voice, and barged into her room, to find her fully conscious, compos mentis and in lots of pain.

Despite the pain, the clinic felt that no further treatment was necessary, but Doreen sensibly decided to go to the hospital. The clinic felt that an ambulance was not called for, so Doreen got a taxi to the hospital.

The doctor at the hospital was worried enough to order a CT scan, which discovered that Doreen's bowel had three punctures, one of which was very large. She was given emergency surgery, in which they repaired the two smaller punctures, and removed the section of her intestine with the larger hole (because it was not repairable). Then, of course, Doreen's abdominal cavity had to be flushed out, because her bowel had been leaking for several hours. Normal procedure after a bowel leak like this also includes a strong course of antibiotics.

Doreen now has a surgical scar from below the navel up to her breast bone. She is probably still on antibiotics, and she can't lift anything.

The hospital is to be praised for acting correctly and quickly; they probably saved Doreen's life.

The clinic and their staff deserve to be punished for:

  1. Botching the colonoscopy;
  2. Not taking Doreen's reports of pain seriously;
  3. Failing to spot the damage to the bowel in the ultrasound scan;
  4. Claiming that there was no cause for concern, whilst clearly being aware that there was - otherwise they wouldn't have kept her at the clinic for so long;
  5. Lying to both Doreen and her daughter:
  6. Failing to order an ambulance to take Doreen to the hospital - if nothing else, patients arriving by ambulance get treated more quickly - patients who arrive at the emergency room under their own steam often have to wait hours for treatment, as I know from my own experience;

It is not as common in Germany to sue for things like malpractice as it is in the US, but in this case I think that Doreen should sue the clinic and the responsible doctor for her pain, stress and disfigurement. Her medical insurance could also attempt to recover the costs of Doreen's hospital treatment from the clinic, although they probably won't (they very rarely do). Doreen's employer could also attempt to use legal action to recover the costs of paying Doreen while she was on what should have been unnecessary sick leave (in Germany, employers pay the first 6 weeks of sick pay; after that, the medical insurer takes over the payment), but again, based on past cases, they probably won't. Finally, the responsible doctor should suffer disciplinary action; if this is not an isolated case, maybe even be struck off.

I don't yet know the name of the hospital which gave Doreen such excellent and prompt treatment; neither do I know the name of the clinic which is so incompetent and irresponsible. If I find out either name, I will edit this post to add the details.

So Few Words, So Much Stupidity.

Posted on 28th July 2022

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This article on Vice.com contains plenty of stupidity in just the headline and the first two-line paragraph.

The headline reads "'Our Priority Is Not to Save the Planet': Rainforest Auctioned for Oil Drilling." Whilst technically correct, it is easily misinterpreted to mean "Our Priority Is To Not Save the Planet". It would have been better to say "It is not our priority to save the planet." I suspect that the journalist is not to blame, since it seems to be a quote of something said by a representative of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

My issue with the journalist is the statement that "DR Congo will sell parts of the world's second-largest rainforest and peatlands that currently absorb a decade's worth of global carbon emissions. The absorption of carbon by the rainforest and peatlands is defined as a rate of absorption; the global carbon emissions are an amount; a rate and an amount cannot be directly compared. To put it another way, even a small 1 meter square of forest or peat can absorb a decades worth of global carbon emissions, if one waits long enough.

DR Congo Walks Back Its Environmental Commitment - The Importance Of Money In Environmental Protection.

Posted on 28th July 2022

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This article on Vice.com reports on the announcement by the Democratic Republic of Congo that they will auction off oil drilling rights in their large and environmentally vital rainforest and peatlands. This only months after promising to preserve these same rainforest and peatlands at the COP26 climate conference.

It is clear why they did this; they need the money. It does, however, highlight a flaw with all the climate pledges made by nations, rich and poor, at COP26: the pledges will only be fulfilled as long as they don't cost too much, and as long as they don't interfere with sources of income.

The need to save the planet by staving off climate change got good support at COP26, and has good support by people around the world, until it costs them money. You can ask people on the street whether they understand that saving the planet will increase prices, and they will reply "Yes, of course." Until, that is, that prices actually increase. The bottom line is that people are not prepared to pay anything for saving the planet.

There are many things (actually most things) for which we do not pay the true cost. Here are a few examples.

Fossil Fuels

Prices for fossil fuels like natural gas, petroleum/gasoline, coal and peat currently do not include any charge for carbon pollution, methane pollution, environmental clean-up after mining has finished, etc. True costs of these products, if these climate costs were factored in, would be many times higher than we currently pay. Since we are not paying these environmental costs, we and our descendants will pay them in the form of reduced health, life-span and quality of life.

Fuel costs trickle down into many other prices: air travel, goods in the shops, electricity, etc.

Unfortunately, every attempt to set a more realistic price for fossil fuels, e.g. by levying a carbon tax, has met with fierce resistance from politicians with vested interests.

Just look at the uproar by consumers around the world as fuel prices have risen as a result of the Ukraine war. People are clearly not prepared to pay a fair price for fossil fuel.

Beef

Beef is the most notorious of our farmed meat sources, being responsible for large mounts of methane pollution (in the farts and burps of cattle - methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2). Although efforts are under way to reduce the amount of methane that cattle emit, by selective breeding and alternative cattle feed, there have been no noticeable improvements so far.

Other sources of meat (chicken, deer, ostrich, etc.) are less environmentally harmful than beef, but it will take a while, and an increase in the price of beef, for this to happen, and consumers will protest loudly about any beef price increases.

Seafood

Current commercial fishing is unsustainable. Many species are overfished, with populations at risk of collapse. Many fishing methods are destroying the habitats, like coral reefs, upon which the fish depend. Enormous quantities of fish, bycatch, are discarded because they have no commercial value, or to avoid exceeding quotas. There is a huge problem with illegal fishing, much by Chinese fishing fleets: fishing in other nation's territorial waters, and even in protected marine reserves. Many of you may remember that, in recent decades there have been crises about population collapses of herring and cod, requiring stricter limits on catches. Currently, some populations of wild salmon are under severe threat. Freshwater eels have been nearly wiped out. Sturgeon has been similarly decimated, causing caviar exports from Russia to be banned for a while, and driving caviar prices through the roof. On top of this, a recent study reports that plankton (the base of all seafood food-chains) in the Atlantic has been reduced by 90% (see here), which means that Atlantic catches will plummet in the next few years.

At root, the problem is that we are catching too much, plus we are drastically polluting the oceans upon which we depend for our fish, thus reducing fish populations.

Seafood prices need to increase a lot, to reduce demand. If you want to eat fish, you should probably be looking for farmed fish: salmon, trout, carp, perch, etc.

We are clearly not paying enough for seafood, but, again, consumers will rebel if there is a significant price hike.

Palm Oil Products

Palm oil is used in many products: foodstuffs like Nutella and other processed foods, cosmetics and soaps. Many people do not even realise that they are buying products made with palm oil.

You don't get an idea of the scale of the problem with palm oil production until you fly over South East Asia: Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Looking out of the aircraft window you will see millions upon millions of acres of palm oil plantation, which has supplanted the native forest (home to Orangutans). Natural diversity has been drastically reduced, putting many species at risk of extinction.

Palm oil is so cheap that is is used in an unbelievable number of products, and this is destroying our planet. The price has to be increased as part of any effort to save the Earth.

Buildings

The carbon costs of concrete, used in all kinds of building, is enormous. Research is under way to develop less carbon intensive methods of producing concrete are under way, but this has yet to trickle down in any scale in the form of lower carbon pollution buildings.

Obviously, carbon impacts need to be factored into the cost of concrete, but it seems unlikely to happen any time soon; there is just too much consumer resistance.

Summary

It is obvious that we need to act now, to save our planet. It is also obvious that we need to consume less of some critical resources. One of the best understood and easiest to implement methods to limit consumption is to raise prices.

If we do not raise prices (in the form of special taxes) to reduce and adjust consumption, anything else that we do, or talk about doing, to limit climate change and other environmental damage is just hot air (figuratively and literally).

Stupidity About DNA Testing.

Posted on 24th July 2022

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Whilst it should come as no surprise to anyone that there are lots of stupid members of the US Congress, the case in this report on The Daily Mail really takes the biscuit!

Representative Jason Crow is quoted as saying "You can take someone's DNA and design a weapon that can kill them" and that bio-weapons are being made that use a target's DNA to only kill that person. He urges people not to share their DNA with health data with sites like 23andMe.

There are a couple of problems with his statements:

  1. Although someone's raw DNA can technically be used to design a weapon to target them, the DNA results that health and genealogy sites produce cannot. The tests work by chemically chopping the DNA at sites with specific DNA bases, and then using chromatography to show the number of fragments with various different lengths. These tests do not produce a complete map of a person's genome, which is what is needed to develop a weapon of the type that Jason Crow describes. These companies do, of course, need original raw DNA to conduct their tests, and the tests are often outsourced to labs in other countries like Russia and China, meaning that these other countries will get your DNA, and could create a targeted weapon.
  2. Complete genome mapping is an expensive and time-consuming process. The development of a targeted weapon from that genome map is an even more expensive and time-consuming process. This is why gene therapy medicine is still rare, although possible, and exorbitantly expensive. If you want to kill someone, it would be quicker and simpler to just hire a hit-man (even a top-quality, very expensive hit-man). Of course, improved technology is constantly driving down the time and cost of such genetic work, but there is a very long way to go before such targeted bio-weapons become viable.

I do, however, agree that it is not a good idea to share your DNA with such companies, nor indeed with anyone, for various reasons including the fact that some of these companies share your DNA with law enforcement agencies. Plus, of course, at some point the targeted bio-weapons that Jason Crow is worried about will become viable as prices continue to fall.

Stupidity About A Solar Flare.

Posted on 29th May 2022

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Despite the stupidity, this article on The Mirror was interesting. It was a warning about possible effects of a near miss by a solar flare, forecast for yesterday. One of the possible results of solar flares is disruption to telecommunications, and is the likely reason why none of our local shops were able to accept card payments on Saturday.

The stupidity was in relation to the acronym CME, which the author, Alice Peacock, translated (twice!) as "Coronal Mass Injection", whereas it stands for Coronal Mass Ejection (ejection being the complete opposite of injection). This is clearly more than simple ignorance (I would not expect the term Coronal Mass Ejection to be part of most people's knowledge); the fact that the acronym is CME, rather than CMI, should have given the game away.

Stupidity About Starlink Satellites.

Posted on 17th April 2022

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I am not sure who is stupider: the authors of this article on "The Edge Markets", or the Russian government.

If the report is to be believed, the Russian government is angry with Elon Musk's Starlink because "the Starlink satellite constellation was used to guide and modify fire on the Black Sea Fleet's flagship, the cruiser Moskva". The thing is, Starlink satellites provide Internet connection; they have no capability for providing images of earth, whether optical, thermal, radar, lidar or whatever. The only assistance that they could provide in targeting the Moskva is an Internet access service. Blaming Starlink for the sinking of the Moskva is like blaming AT&T because someone used their Internet access service to read a press statement issued by the US government which was critical of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The statement in the article that Dmitry Medvedev has ordered, as punishment for their actions, the destruction of the Starlink satellite constellation located over Russian Federation territory, the special military operation zone (i.e. Ukraine) and the Black Sea basin is pure nonsense. Whilst there are geostationary satellites (which are above that same part of the earth all the time), these are necessarily above the equator (none of the territories listed by Russia lie on the equator); Starlink satellites are all in low-earth orbit, which means they cover different parts of the planet in each orbit. Destroying the Starlink satellites which at some time pass over Russia, Ukraine and the Black Sea would essentially mean destroying every single Starlink satellite. That would keep the Russians busy for some time.

Stupid Promotional Article About Montserrat.

Posted on 6th April 2022

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This article on the BBC is a promotional piece, pure and simple. It describes the idyllic-sounding island of Montserrat, and talks about how the island's government is now promoting the British overseas territory as a destination for so-called digital nomads, on the basis that it is a beautiful and cheap place to work remotely.

Given their target audience, I was somewhat surprised to find absolutely no mention of their telecoms infrastructure. Phones and fast and reliable Internet are absolutely essential for any digital nomads, but the author didn't think to cover this subject.

A wasted read, written by someone stupid.

Is The Internet American?

Posted on 27th February 2022

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I found this article on "The Daddest" recently while browsing Facebook. It contains some hilarious examples of ignorance and stupidity by Americans.

The author's position seems to be that, yes, some Americans are stupid, but that he himself is not; sadly not true.

Internet

This is a copy from the article of a social media conversation between an ignorant American and a better informed person from somewhere else (unspecified). The American states, correctly, that the Internet is an American invention; the final posting states, also correctly, that the World Wide Web is a European invention.

The author of the article demonstrates that he doesn't know the difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web (the Internet is a communication network between computers, and the World Wide Web is a method of sharing and presenting information on those computers, which uses the Internet to access that information). The Internet was an invention of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the United States Department of Defense; the World Wide Web was developed by Tim Berners-Lee for CERN, so a European invention. The author "clarifies" that Tim Berners-Lee is an American, whereas as, in fact, he is British.

The idea that the units that one uses (in this case MPH) should be dictated by the inventor of the medium is laughable. That would mean that I should use KPH if writing something on Facebook using a browser (i.e. using the World Wide Web), but MPH if writing it using an App.

Optional Mandates?

Posted on 27th February 2022

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Although I find the content of this BBC article ("US Supreme Court blocks Biden's workplace vaccine mandate") sad, I had to laugh at the sign being held by the African-American gentleman in the photo at the start of the article, which says "Make Mandates Optional".

That would be a good trick, but the very nature of a mandate is that it is not optional; if something is optional, it is not mandated.

It seems that human stupidity knows no bounds.

RPMs Per Minute!?

Posted on 12th September 2021

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Yesterday Sheryl was watching an American TV show on a streaming service. The show is called something like "Metal Shop", and is a competition where contestants make items from metal.

One contestant explained that she was turning a work item slowly, at "5 RPMs per minute". RPM is an acronym for Revolutions Per Minute, so she claimed that she was turning it at 5 revolutions per minute per minute. Also, RPM does not have a plural; one should say "5 RPM".

Of course, there is such a thing as RPM per minute; it is a measure of the rate of change of RPM; after one minute rotation rate would be 5 RPM, and after 2 minutes it would be 10 RPM. That, however, is not what the contestant meant.

I would expect that "RPM" would be part of her expert vocabulary; even if her language skills are not great in all domains, they should be good in her area of expertise.

Stupid Fake Vaccination Card!

Posted on 3rd September 2021

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People's stupidity continues to amaze me.

This article on Gizmodo reports on a woman from Illinois who was arrested trying to enter Hawaii with a fake vaccination card which identified her vaccination as "Maderna"!

If you are going to all the effort of creating fake proof of vaccination, wouldn't you at least check the spelling of the vaccine?

Evolution Deniers Are Finally a Minority in the U.S.!

Posted on 26th August 2021

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Sometimes I despair of people. This report on Gizmodo describes new data that shows that "acceptance of evolution among Americans has increased, even among religious fundamentalists", and that evolution deniers are now a minority in the United States.

Evolution is a well established thing, with many well documented examples of evolution in action in the modern world; so no longer just a theory. Americans, however, have until recently, mostly not believed or accepted it, with many schools banning the teaching of evolution.

I find it very worrying that the USA, the nation with the most powerful military in the world, the powerhouse of technological innovation and the leading Western economy, has only just recently come around to accepting that evolution is real. I guess one doesn't need to be smart and educated to be rich and powerful.

Did He Want To Be Arrested?

Posted on 1st April 2021

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As the FBI continues to track down, arrest and charge people who participated in the insurrection at the Capitol in Washington DC, this news story on Vice shows what incredible idiots many of the rioters are.

'When federal authorities arrested a Capitol rioter who called for the deaths of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and a Capitol Police officer, they knew they had their guy, because he was allegedly wearing a shirt bearing the words “I Was There, Washington D.C., January 6, 2021.”'

There are only two possible conclusions: either he wanted them to find and arrest him, or his stupidity beggars belief.

Brexit: safe in their hands?

Posted on 13th January 2021

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This article on the BBC, from late December 2020, reports about the last minute deal on Brexit.

It seems that some of the text of the agreement was simply copied and pasted from previous (and very old) agreements.

The agreement mentions Netscape browser and Mozilla Mail: "modern e-mail software packages including Outlook, Mozilla Mail as well as Netscape Communicator 4.x"; The latter two are now obsolete - the last major release of Netscape Communicator was in 1997. It also recommends using encryption technology which is now vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

It is so good to know that the UK government and the EU Commission are looking after us so well.

Stupid Racism

Posted on 29th March 2019

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This short piece on Raw Story really shows how stupid people can be about their prejudices.

A man in California totally lost it in a Mexican fast food restaurant: Palapas Tacos in Anaheim. He complained (by shouting and gesticulating) about one menu sign which contained something (the day of the week on which a special was available), even though other signs in the restaurant spelled that same information out in English.

My first thought was that it was a Mexican restaurant, and Mexican customers speak Spanish. My second thought, as I read the story while sitting in a restaurant in the Netherlands and perusing an English menu, was "thank goodness that menus in other languages are totally normal and expected here".

Yes, I understand that the USA is an English speaking country (kinda), and that people who live and work there should speak English, but the people at Palapas Tacos do speak English, albeit not well. There is nothing wrong with providing menus and other information in languages that the customers speak, as long as that same information is provided in English, which it was.

Does this racist lunatic really want to stop people (citizens, residents and visitors) speaking other languages in the USA? Would that mean that, if I visited the USA, I would not be allowed to speak my proper English English, and have to use American English instead?

Why are Americans so against other languages? I recently read an article about Pete Buttigieg, a mayor who is running for the Democratic nomination for the Presidential elections in 2020. He speaks several languages (Norwegian, Spanish, Italian, Maltese, Arabic, Dari, and French) and analysts suggest that this could count against him in his nomination bid, because voters don't really approve. I see and hear a lot of American tourists in Europe, and I know that they are mostly not able to speak other languages, and also totally incompetent in speaking English to non-native-English-speakers (i.e. using different words when you have to repeat yourself, using words that are latin-based which are more likely to exist in the language of your listeners, avoiding colloquial/slang words, using simpler grammar, using redundancy in your sentences, avoiding euphemisms, speaking more slowly, etc.).

I contrast the above with Germany, where people will book a vacation somewhere where they don't speak the language, and promptly sign up for a course in that language, so that they will be able to communicate when they are there; also, people in the Netherlands and Scandinavia, where most people are fluent in several languages (ask a Dutch person "Do you speak English?" the answer is always "Yes, of course").

English is, world-wide, the most popular second language to learn. English is spoken in more and more places, and you can get by on a business trip or a vacation totally in English. Many schools across the world have English as a mandatory course. This is, in part because other countries encourage it, as a vital enabler for business, as help for tourists, and other reasons. Don't Americans feel any duty to respond in kind, and encourage the teaching and use of other languages in the USA? After all, the neighbouring countries to the south all speak Spanish, and to the north, part of Canada speaks French. It certainly seems that the ranting customer in this incident does not feel that way.

The Real Reason Why The USA Is Prepared To Defend Taiwan Against China.

Posted on 25th July 2022

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We have all been impacted in the last couple of years by the shortage of semiconductor chips (thankfully now easing), which caused shortages and delayed delivery of many things: cars, household electrical goods like dishwashers and washing machines, computers and their accessories, mobile phones, etc.

The USA has realised that their dependence on foreign chip foundries in Taiwan, South Korea and even China is of strategic importance, and has decided to do something about it, as reported by Fortune.

The problem is that the investment of $52 billion is too little, too late. It will take hundreds of billions of dollars, and decades, for the US to catch up with Asia in chip fabrication.

This dependence on Asian semiconductor factories does, however, explain why the USA has come down off the fence and stated unequivocally that they are prepared to defend Taiwan against aggression by China. As always, countries who pretend to be altruistic and moral have self interest as their real motivation.

A Good Side-Effect Of Statins.

Posted on 25the July 2022

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I recently blogged about an alternative to statins for lowering cholesterol, and how desperately needed it is (here), due to the side-effects of statins.

Now, someone has found a beneficial side-effect of statins, as reported here on The Brighter Side Of News.. It seems that statins slow down the metastasis of some cancers, stopping them from spreading to new locations in the body.

I suppose that nothing in this world is all bad.

Round-up of Monkeypox news.

Posted on 24th July 2022

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According to this report on the BBC, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared their highest level of alert, a global health emergency, over monkeypox. This is the same level as that declared for Covid-19, although monkeypox has not (yet) been declared a pandemic.

The BBC article contains some worrying numbers: more than 16,000 cases in 75 countries (the US has confirmed two cases in children, as reported here by the BBC), although so far only 5 deaths. The rate of spread of the infection seems similar to that of Covid-19 at the same stage.

Monkeypox really does seem to be on track to be the next pandemic.

Atlantic Plankton All But Wiped Out!

Posted on 21st July 2022

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We should all be very worried about the study reported by The Sunday Post.

The study by the the Global Oceanic Environmental Survey Foundation (Goes) at the University of Edinburgh, found that 90% of the plankton in the Atlantic Ocean has vanished.

Researchers blame pollution from plastics, farm fertilisers and pharmaceuticals for the decline in plankton.

The Atlantic contains a number of important commercial fisheries. Plankton is at the base of all aquatic food chains, and the loss of it will impact all species in the sea, leading to massive population drops, and extinctions, of fish, crustaceans (crab and lobster) and aquatic mammals such as whales, seals and dolphins.

We are looking at a future without seafood, in the very near future.

It seems that the world described in Soylent Green is coming, and much sooner than anyone expected. If you haven't seen this prescient movie, watch it now (steaming on Amazon Prime, Vudu, VUDU, Redbox and Apple TV).

Spiders Are Not Insects!

Posted on 21st July 2022

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This article on USA Today claims that it will tell you the what is the deadliest spider in the world. The answer seems to be the funnel web spider, although this is not explicitly stated.

What puts the veracity of the article into question is the description, in the first paragraph, of spiders as "many-legged insects". Spiders are most definitely not insects; insects are a totally different class of species; insects have 6 legs, and spiders have 8.

Why do these journalists try to pass themselves off as experts, when they clearly know nothing about the topics they write about?

Religious Walgreens Staff Refuse To Sell Birth Control And Pregnancy Tests.

Posted on 21st July 2022

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As reported on Pop Sugar, there is a movement to boycott Walgreens (a large low-cost pharmacy in the US) due to incidents where there staff have refused to sell birth control (condoms and birth control pills) to customers. In the related twitter posts, there are not only many cases of such refusal, but also a case where the employees have lied about whether there were any repeats left on a prescription for birth control pills and whether the pills were in stock, and another case where someone ordered a pregnancy test online and received something entirely different.

Walgreens' policy is that staff can refuse to sell items, if the item conflicts with their religious views; in that case they must hand the sale off to another staff member.

My initial question is, what if there is no staff member on duty whose religious views permit them to sell the requested item? Also, there is no excuse for lying about the status of a prescription (whether there are remaining repeats on it) and lying about whether the pills are in stock; most religions frown on lying. Finally, knowingly sending an incorrect item ordered online puts the company in breach of contract.

I find Walgreens' policy bizarre. An employee, especially a salesperson, is a representative of the company: of their views and policies. Since it is Walgreens' policy to sell birth control and pregnancy tests, every employee should be prepared to do so; if not, they took the job under false pretenses, and should leave and work somewhere which doesn't cause conflicts with their religious views.

So, I agree: boycott Walgreens, until they change their policy.

I feel that, at root, this is a problem of employees not properly understanding what it means to have a JOB, and is part of the disease of wokeism, political correctness and fear of offending people (in this case, Walgreens' staff).

Electrical Current 'Nanoknife' Operation To Cure Prostate Cancer.

Posted on 20the July 2022

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This report on The Brighter Side Of News describes a new, quick and simple operation to cure prostate cancer using an electrical 'nanoknife'.

Prostate cancer is relatively common, and is difficult to treat because the prostate gland is hard to reach. One of the current treatments, chemical castration, is not popular among patients, for obvious reasons.

The new one-hour 'nanoknife' operation has been described by surgeons as "amazingly simple and quick". I am sure that it will prove very popular among patients and doctors.

An Alternative To Statins?

Posted on 20the July 2022

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As someone who takes a statin, I was very interested to read this article on FreeThink.com, about a trial on humans currently under way to test a CRISPR (gene editing) technique to reduce cholesterol. The treatment is a one-time permanent cure for high cholesterol.

Statins are very widely prescribed; reducing cholesterol in the blood significantly reduces the risk of heart attacks and stroke, but there are a host of side effects, ranging from psychological effects to a long list of physical effects; they are also incompatible with grapefruit which vastly amplifies the negative side-effects of statins. Any alternative to taking statins would be very welcome for many people, including myself.

Doctors will be pleased to have an alternative treatment for high cholesterol. It will save them the time and effort of regularly prescribing statins. Also, because of the side-effects, many patients resist being prescribed statins, or stop taking them after a while.

Medical insurers will probably also be pleased to be able to replace the regular costs of prescriptions for statins with a one-time gene-editing treatment; although CRISPR treatments are not cheap, over the long term probably cheaper than the medicine.

Round-up of Covid-19 news.

Posted on 20th July 2022

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It has been several weeks since I posted and Covid-19 news, so there are a lot of things to report.

Rises In Infections

Many countries are seeing another wave of infections.

This article on The Times reports on the summer rise of Covid cases in Germany.

This report on Sky News describes the situation in the UK, where the number of cases rose by 43% to 1,415,600 in the second week of June.

Travel Restrictions

This article on the BBC (from the 10th of June) reports that the USA has dropped its requirement for air travellers to be tested before being able to fly. US airlines have also dropped their mask requirement.

Canada has rescinded its vaccination mandate for air travellers, according to this BBC report from the 14th of June.

This report on Schengen Visa Info lists the EU countries which have retained their entry restrictions for the summer: France, Malta, The Netherlands and Spain. It describes the restrictions in each of these four countries. It also explicitly lists the countries which have lifted their entry rules.

Long Covid

This article on the BBC reports on a study which found that Omicron is less likely to cause Long Covid than other variants of the virus.

This report on Fortune lists 6 groups (although there may be more) of people who are at higher risk of developing Long Covid:

  1. Those who've had repeat COVID infections, regardless of severity;
  2. Those who had a high viral load during their COVID infection;
  3. Those who harbor dormant Epstein-Barr virus (the virus that caused mononucleosis/glandular-fever - once you've had it, it remains on your body forever);
  4. Those who have autoimmune antibodies circulating;
  5. Those who had neurological symptoms during their COVID infection;
  6. And those who haven’t been vaccinated.
Reinfection

The Daily Beast reports on a study of Covid-19 which shows that with each reinfection, you are likely to get sicker, and suffer more side-effects than the time before. This is not good news, given that the Omicron variant seems able to overcome the body's immunity from vaccination and having been previously infected, so reinfections are now very common (The Conversation reports that "reinfection will be part of the pandemic for months to come").

Vaccinations

Both Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are working on Omicron-specific vaccinations, and have begun trials. This article on USA News reports that the trial of the Pfizer/BioNTech Omicron-specific vaccination is proving to be more protective against Omicron. I expect the Moderna trials to show similar effectiveness.

Also, Pfizer/BioNTech is about to start testing a universal coronavirus vaccine: one that would protect against not only Covid-19, but also potentially MERS, SARS, the common cold and a number of other viral infections, as reported here on The Jerusalem Post.

This BBC report describes a study which showed that taking a short break from the immune-suppressive drug methotrexate directly after getting a Covid booster shot improved the effectiveness of the vaccination.

Novavax’s vaccine, which has already been authorized in more than 40 countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, the EU and Australia, has been shown in a study to provide good protection against the Omicron variant, as reported here by New Atlas.

This article on the Toronto Sun reports that Canada now requires all citizens to get a Covid-19 booster every 9 months. This is in line with Covid vaccination validity regulations in the EU.

This report on Medical News Today describes the results of a study showing that the BA.5 and BA.4 Omicron subvariants are over four times as resistant to mRNA vaccines, as produced by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. If you are due another booster shot, you should try to get either Novavax or a new Omicron-specific mRNA vaccine (when the become available).

This report on Cleveland.com describes a study showing that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) immunisation may provide a degree of protection against Covid-19; there is also a possibility that the Tdap vaccination (against Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis) provides similar immunity against Covid-19. This may explain some of the variability in the severity of illness from Covid infections.

Testing

The situation regarding Covid-19 tests is rather confusing. On the one hand, Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT, also known as lateral flow tests) have been reported as being more accurate than PCR tests. This article on The Atlantic, however, reports on a growing problem with RAT: that, at least with the Omicron variant, tests can yield negative results for two or three days after symptoms appear, before one gets a positive test result.

Side-Effects

New Atlas reports on a large study confirming what I have previously written in this blog, shown by previous studies, that there is a big increased in the risk of heart disease and diabetes for several months after a Covid-19 infection.

A Collection Of Bad English.

Posted on 18th July 2022

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I decided to start a new thread for examples of bad English, because there have been such a lot of them lately (and that is not even including those that I saw in Facebook posts).

In this report on NBC News, about a woman waking from a coma after two years and identifying her attacker as her brother, is a quote of Jackson County Sheriff Ross Mellenger: "The keys to the whole thing lay with the victim herself and with her unable to communicate we were left with nothing. Now low and behold two years later and boom, she's awake and able to tell us exactly what happened." I am pretty sure that the statement by the Sheriff was oral, not written, so it is the journalist who doesn't know that the expression is "lo and behold" ("lo" is found fairly often in the Bible). Also, one normally says "The key to ...", not "The keys to ...", although this may be the fault of the Sheriff.

Another example is the headline of this report on CNX Software, which reads "YD-CH32V307VCT6 RISC-V MCU board comes with Ethernet and plenty of I/Os". I/O, which stands for input/output, can be used either as an adjective (e.g. "... has plenty of I/O ports") or as a noun, but as a noun it is non-countable (like air, water, time, money, etc.), so it has no plural (e.g. "... has plenty of I/O"). I would expect a publication that specialises in computer technology to know this.

Then there is this article on Discover Magazine. The "scientist you should know", Carolyn Bertozzi, has coined the word bioorthogonal to describe her field of research, and explains “Orthogonal means not interacting, and bioorthogonal means not interacting with biology,”. No, orthogonal does not mean not interacting, it means perpendicular (at a right-angle). Maybe the headline should read "Scientist You Should Know Not To Listen To: Carolyn Bertozzi ..."

There is also the headline of this report on "19 Forty Five", which reads "The F-22 Is So Stealth It Flew Under an Iranian F-4 Completely Undetected". Leaving aside the fact that the F-22 is a much more modern and advanced aircraft than the F-4 (so outdated that it is no longer flown by western nations - an F-22 should be able to remain largely undetected by an F-4), the word "Stealth" is a noun; if you want to use it as an adjective, you should use the adjective form, "Stealthy".

Finally, there is the headline of this report on "NY Post", which reads "Scientists develop dissolvable implant that can relieve pain without drugs." The word is "soluble"; the author clearly knows this, since he uses it in the body of the article.

Salmon Are Not The Only Fish Which Migrate To Breed!

Posted on 3rd July 2022

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This article on the BBC bemoans the dreadful state of salmon in Ireland's rivers.

Things are indeed very bad, especially for a country which used to market itself (possibly still does) as clean and pollution free, with a vibrant wildlife. Sadly, pollution and overfishing have decimated wild salmon populations.

About one third of the way down the article is a paragraph which starts with "As the only fish whose lifecycle demands a transition from salt to fresh water, ..." As any reasonably well informed reader will know, there are actually quite a few species which migrate from salt-water to fresh water to breed, and a few which migrate from fresh water to salt-water to breed. Here are some examples:

  • salmon (of which there are several distinct species),
  • sea trout,
  • striped bass,
  • sea lamprey,
  • Allis shad,
  • Twait shad
  • freshwater els,
  • sturgeon (the source of real caviar).

Kate Ryan, the journalist who wrote this article, is not a good advertisement for Irish education.

Discriminate To Prevent Discrimination?

Posted on 3rd July 2022

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The BBC reports here on Lewis Hamilton's statement that 'Older voices' should be refused a platform to make offensive comments. I have a number of issues with Mr. Hamilton's position:

  • The whole woke attitude that people should never have to be offended. Sometimes offending someone is the only way to really get their attention. Life is offensive, but nowadays people get offended just by hearing disagreement with their opinions. Stop wasting my time with ideas based on the argument that people might be offended!
  • He seems to be suggesting that we discriminate to reduce the risk of discrimination. The hypocrisy of this position beggars belief!
  • Why has he singled out 'older' people? This is discrimination in its purest form.

I anyway do not subscribe to the cult of celebrities, and Lewis Hamilton had already demonstrated that he is not someone suited to lead public opinion, but with his latest statement I will definitely no longer take his opinions seriously.

US Supreme Court Strikes Down New York Gun Law.

Posted on 24th June 2022

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The BBC reports here on the recent decision by the US Supreme Court to overturn New York's gun control legislation, declaring it unconstitutional.

I find this very sad in the light of the recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and hard to fathom, even though the court was loaded with Republican justices during the Trump administration.

The court found that laws to restrict gun ownership breached the second amendment to the US Constitution, which states "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Interpretations vary, but a commonly held understanding is that people have the right to bear arms in the context of a well regulated militia. That does not imply that the have the right to:

  • Privately own guns,
  • Carry guns if not a member of a well regulated militia,
  • Carry guns when not engaged in the business of a well regulated militia.

There is legislation similar to that in New York in states including California and New Jersey, affecting about a quarter of Americans. All such laws are now at risk.

What will it take for America to get over their love affair with guns and put some sensible legislation in place? Other countries manage perfectly well without widespread gun ownership. My family traditionally hunted (deer, rabbits, pheasants and the like) and were able to own guns (rifles and shotguns) for hunting as long as they had licences and kept the guns secure.

No More Human Rights In Britain?

Posted on 23rd June 2022

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I am sure that I am not alone in being shocked by the UK government's decision to send illegal immigrants into Britain, many of whom are asylum seekers, to Rwanda.

The case, quite rightly, has been referred to the The European Court of Human Rights, which has blocked the deportations to Rwanda. The UK government is now seeking get around this situation by passing legislation that would allow them to ignore the court's rulings, as reported here by the BBC.

I shouldn't need to point this out, but apparently I do: The European Court of Human Rights is the only reason why many human rights exist in the UK, as this satirical sketch from 2016, starring Patrick Stewart, so aptly points out. The erosion of human rights in Britain is one of the many downsides of Brexit that I highlighted when Brexit was being discussed.

Another point to consider is that sending immigrants to Rwanda doesn't actually seem to work. As this BBC report explains, many immigrants previously sent to Rwanda by Israel are now in Europe, having been deported by Rwanda. This means that some of the people who Britain sends to could be back in Britain in a couple of years!

Victoria Bans Swastikas.

Posted on 23th June 2022

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This article on the BBC reports that Victoria, the southern state in Australia which includes Melbourne, has banned the display of the Nazi swastika.

Well, it's about time! This page on Wikipedia lists countries which have banned the swastika and other Nazi symbols and flags; I count 13. Such things have long been banned in Germany, although the rules are complicated, as explained here by DW.

Transgender Athlete Bans Spread.

Posted on 23rd June 2022

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There seems to be a bit of a bandwagon rolling at the moment regarding transgender athletes.

This article on the BBC reports that swimming's world governing body, Fina, has banned transgender athletes from competing in women's elite races if they have gone through any part of the process of male puberty.

The decision by Fina was praised by Sharron Davies, winner of a silver medal for swimming in the 1980 Olympics, and she called for other sports to follow suit, as reported here by the Daily Mail. Recently, cycling updated their own rules but were criticised for continuing to base transgender inclusion on testosterone levels and admitting they could not 'eliminate all advantages held by a transgender'.

Following hot on the heels of that decision, the International Rugby League (IRL) has decided to ban transgender players from women's international rugby league matches, as reported here by the BBC. At the moment this is a temporary ban, while the issue is further studied.

The latest development, reported here on the BBC, is that Lord Coe, the World Athletics president, has hinted the sport could also ban transgender women from elite female competitions, insisting "fairness is non-negotiable".

Some readers are probably not pleased, because they feel that we should not punish athletes for their decisions about gender identity. My position, however, is that, if they had ambitions to compete as women at the top levels of a sport, they should have taken that into account before deciding on their gender reassignment surgery. The choice is easy to state, although not so easy to make: either stay male and compete in your sport, or become female and give up your sporting ambitions. Lord Coe's position that "fairness is non-negotiable" trumps all other issues.

Shortages Of Chicken And Lettuce.

Posted on 29th May 2022

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Anyone who likes fast food will be upset by these shortages.

This article on the BBC reports that KFC in Australia has been forced to put cabbage in its burgers and wraps as the country is struggling with a shortage of lettuce. The company is now using a mixture of lettuce and cabbage, after floods destroyed lettuce crops.

Also, in a few countries, there is a shortage of chicken:

  • In New Zealand there is a shortage of chicken thighs, caused by staff shortages due to cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, according to this report on "Stuff". The shortage is expected to continue for several weeks. The husband of my niece in New Zealand eats no meat except chicken, and has been taking it very badly.
  • Malaysia is suffering from a chicken shortage, and has banned exports of chicken, which is in turn causing a shortage in Singapore and, presumably also in Thailand, as reported here on The Guardian. Malaysia's internal chicken shortage has caused it to set up stockpiles of the poultry, as reported here by The Straits Times. The root cause of the Malaysian chicken shortage is feed shortages caused, at least in part, by the Ukraine war. As a result, prices of chicken in Malaysia have gone through the roof in recent months. In many South-East-Asian countries, chicken is eaten a lot because in is the cheapest source of protein.
Round-up of Monkeypox news.

Posted on 4th June 2022

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According to this report on Gizmodo there are now over 1,000 cases of monkeypox in two dozen countries (179 in the UK alone, according to this report on the BBC). More alarming is that two distinct strains (variants) have been detected in the USA, which suggests two different sources for the infections.

The rate of spread (far higher than was detected for Covid-19, although the symptoms of monkeypox are much more obvious), the fact that it is spreading way beyond the normal geography of monkeypox and the new feature of spreading via sex all suggest that we should be worried. It is starting to look as if monkeypox could turn into a pandemic.

This report on The Atlantic says that we should have seen this outbreak coming, since the warning signs were all there five years ago: spreading to new areas (Nigeria) and spreading through sexual contact. It seems that, as usual, no-one listened to the scientists.

I am not particularly worried for myself, as I was vaccinated against smallpox as a child, which gives fairly good protection against monkeypox, but the younger generations have no such protections. I will definitely get a monkeypox vaccination when it becomes generally available.

Cryptocurrency Sell-off.

Posted on 4th June 2022

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I found this report on Devon Live rather bizarre, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I was surprised that most of the customers trying to buy Bitcoin from the "Bitcoin ATM" in the pub in Devon are middle-aged women. Secondly, I was extremely shocked that people are still investing in Bitcoin, given that there was such a large drop in prices recently.

This article on CNBC, from the 12th of May reports that over $200 billion was erased from the entire cryptocurrency market in a single day. Although the price of Bitcoin has since picked up a little (not true for some of the other cryptocurrencies), the advice from Nicholas Cawley, a strategist at DailyFX, reported here on Time, is that "The technical outlook is neutral at best and Bitcoin really needs to trade back above $40,000 before any kind of bullish outlook can be confirmed." In other words, the market may not yet have bottomed-out, and investors should really not be buying-in just yet.

I have always said that the cryptocurrency market is a bubble, pure and simple. Whilst some readers may disagree, cryptocurrency has absolutely no inherent value and is not backed by any governments (with one minor exception), companies or physical assets. It is a fad; nothing more. Investors should therefore not be surprised by major market fluctuations.

Vegetarian Humans Are Bad For Animals.

Posted on 27th February 2022

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In this article on Aeon, Nick Zangwill, a professor of philosophy and honorary research fellow at University College London, makes an interesting case that we have a duty to eat meat.

The article is certainly worth reading.

At home we now eat much less meat than we used to (vegetarian dinners about 4 times per week - more often seems to have negative effects on my health) but our reasons are for our health, not because of cruelty to animals. Neither I nor Sheryl can deal with vegan food, being too addicted to cheese.

Is Monkeypox The Next Pandemic?

Posted on 24th May 2022

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After more than two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is clearly far from over, people are understandably worried about the outbreak of monkeypox now hitting Europe and the USA. Well, there is good news and bad news.

Good News

The WHO says that monkeypox outbreaks are containable, according to this report on the BBC. This is partly based on historical data on the infectiousness of monkeypox among humans (in past outbreaks it was not very infectious to humans), and partly because the smallpox virus is similar to the monkeypox virus, so that our stocks of smallpox vaccine will offer at least partial protection.

Bad News

The current outbreak is a mutation of standard monkeypox, which is transmitted through sexual contact, according to this article on Forbes. This seems to be making it more infectious; only time well tell how much more infectious.

Smallpox was declared by the WHO to have been eradicated in 1980. Since then, no more smallpox vaccine has been made, and the vaccination campaign has ended. This means that currently 70% of the world population is no longer protected against smallpox, because they are too young or were missed in the vaccination campaign, and there are probably insufficient stocks to vaccinate all these people. It may take quite some time to make more smallpox vaccine, or to develop a new vaccine specifically for monkeypox. There is also currently no data about the effectiveness of the smallpox vaccine against this new variant of monkeypox.

What Should We Do?

There a couple of things that you can do to protect yourself:

  1. Practice safe sex;
  2. If you go to Africa be sure not to eat bushmeat.

And yes, until there is more data, you should probably worry (a little), but, currently, it seems there is little chance of lockdowns and new travel restrictions due to monkeypox.

Round-up of Covid-19 news.

Posted on 2nd June 2022

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Risk Of Infection
Covid Risk of reinfection by month

This article on The Huffington Post includes an interesting graph (shown to the right) of how one's risk of reinfection with Covid-19 increases over time (from the last infection, or presumably, from the date of one's last vaccination).

This article on Salon reports on a study which shows that vaccination against Covid-19 reduces the risk of infection by only 15%!

This article on Fortune reports on the 5th wave of Covid-19 in South Africa, which was predominantly the Omicron variant, which happened even though 97% of the population had antibody protection (either from vaccination or previous infection).

Side-Effects of Covid

One of the possible side-effects of Covid-19 is type 2 diabetes (which is why I am now diabetic). Studies (e.g. this one, published on BMJ.com) have shown that vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of serious illness from the coronavirus, and that treatment with vitamin D supplements can reduce the severity and duration of illness. This report on by Medical News Today looks into the use of vitamin D supplements for treating type 2 diabetes; although the results of studies are mixed, it suggests to me that the coronavirus may interfere with the body's vitamin D metabolism to cause type 2 diabetes.

Also on Medical News Today is this report which suggests (a causative link has not yet been proven) that Covid-19 can cause long-term (maybe even permanent) thyroid dysfunction, which could cause a wide range of knock-on health effects.

US Health Authorities Pushing For Statins To Be Added To Public Water Supplies!

Posted on 31st May 2022

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Health authorities in the USA are pushing for statins to be added to public water supplies, as mentioned in this paper on PubMed. I am shocked and horrified, as, it seems, are the authors of the paper.

Statins have some pretty bad side-effects, the worst of which is muscle damage. This report on The Express describes how, for some people, these side-effects are permanent, even after the patients stop taking the anti-cholesterol drugs.

One of the things which seriously amplifies the muscle damaging side-effects is grapefruit. The pamphlets which accompany statins advise strongly against eating grapefruit and drinking grapefruit juice. Do American health authorities plan to outlaw grapefruit (destroying a whole industry in the process), or do they plan to just let people suffer the side effects of consuming grapefruit in combination with the statins they plan to add to public water?

It's official: trans swimmer Lia Thomas does have an unfair advantage.

Posted on 31st May 2022

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This piece on The Daily Mail weighs in on the debate about transgender athletes. In it, doctors confirm that Lia Thomas has an unfair advantage over athletes who were born female, despite taking testosterone suppressants.

As I have explained previously in this thread, the advantage comes from physiological differences, rather than from hormones.

I think it may be time for people to stop worrying about the risk of transgender athletes being offended, and start worrying about real fairness in sport.

Billions of Fish Are Being Wasted.

Posted on 31st May 2022

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This report on The Guardian should concern us all. It describes how billions of fish are being wasted globally, more than ever before. The waste is at every stage, from the fishing vessels to the home, and the quantities are appalling.

Part of the problem is actually the fishing quotas designed to protect fish stocks; when the catch exceeds the quota, the excess is simply dumped overboard.

Another issue is the use of indiscriminate fishing methods (bottom trawling and very long drift nets, for example) which, in addition to the intended catch, catch fish which either have lower market value, or are simply not what the fishing vessel went out to catch; again, this bycatch is dumped back into the ocean. Bottom trawling is especially harmful, as it destroys coral reefs.

The bycatch is not only fish, but also crustaceans, dolphins, seals, whales, turtles and even seabirds, many of which are endangered and or protected species, as are many species of fish.

The seas are anyway being overfished, and it is the height of irresponsibility to catch unwanted fish and then dump them.

We are destroying our planet with global warming and pollution, and food will be in short supply in future, and we can't afford to waste such a valuable food resource.

What we urgently need is:

  1. A system of limiting catches that works to prevent waste - something better than the current system of quotas;
  2. Less indiscriminate fishing methods that are less harmful to the ocean ecosystems;
  3. A way to utilise unwanted catch, without encouraging it, for example as feedstock for salmon farms or pig farms;
  4. Better enforcement of fishing regulations, with more severe punishments for dumping fish.
Shortage Of Fertiliser.

Posted on 29th May 2022

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This article on the BBC reports on the worrying price rises for fertiliser.

The article features Rachael Sharp, who grows a mix of soybeans, corn, wheat, cotton, peanuts and oats on her farm in South Carolina. She saw fertiliser prices for her crops soar 320% last year, which is an incredible price rise. As a result she is changing what crops she grows.

The price rise of fertilisers is a direct result of sanctions against Russia, in response to their invasion of Ukraine. These price rises and shortages will inevitably trickle through to food prices, and will probably cause more food shortages as other farmers follow Rachael Sharp's example and switch to other crops.

Is This Data Privacy Ruling Correct?

Posted on 24th May 2022

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I find this decision by the UK's Privacy Watchdog, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), reported here by the BBC, to be quite bizarre. Clearview AI has been fined more than £7.5m for collecting and using public data (more than 20 billion facial photographs and names) in their facial recognition database.

Whilst I am no fan of facial recognition databases, I find it odd that a company can be punished for collecting and using publicly available data. Once something is published, protections under copyright and privacy regulations are usually very limited. For example, if you upload your photos to Facebook, you have granted Facebook (Meta) ownership of the copyright of your photos (which is why I no longer upload my photos to Facebook); the same applies to many other social media platforms.

I would not be surprised if this decision was successfully challenged.

Shortages Get Worse.

Posted on 22nd May 2022

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In the last few weeks there have been several news reports about shortages and price rises. It seems that these are things we will just have to get used to and adapt to.

War In Ukraine

The war in Ukraine, and the resulting sanctions against Russia, are already causing global shortages of several key foods, and of energy supplies, and the UN is warning that the war may cause a global food crisis, as reported here by the BBC. Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of wheat, maize, barley, rapeseed and sunflower oil (shortages of rapeseed and sunflower oil are already causing knock-on shortages of all cooking oils). Russia is also one of the world's largest exporters of fish (good luck buying caviar now!). Russia is a huge exporter of oil and gas, and Europe is struggling to rely less on Russian energy exports (and Russia has already cut off supplies of gas to Finland, to punish them for trying to join NATO, as reported here on NPR).

Here in Germany we are already seeing flour and cooking oil becoming harder to get. Energy prices are going up across the world. It seems likely that beer will eventually become more expensive (a very big deal for Germany!), as the shortage of barley starts to bite, and whisky prices are also likely to rise.

Climate Change

Global warming is also causing shortages, which must eventually lead to price rises. A recent example is described in this BBC report about a shortage of mustard, caused partly by climate change and partly by the war in Ukraine.

Over the last few years there have been many warnings that we could suffer from a worldwide coffee shortage, due to climate change. A recent article can be found here on Morgan Stanley.

Scientists are warning that the massive worldwide decline in insect populations (essential for crop pollination), caused by a mix of climate change and pesticides, will cause huge increases in food bills, as reported here on Euronews.

Economic Woes

Due to domestic economic issues, Indonesia has banned the export of palm oil, impacting global food prices, as reported here by aseanbriefing.com. Palm oil is used widely in Asia as cooking oil, and is added to many food products (see some of them in this list on The New Press). Palm oil is also used extensively in hygiene products such as soaps and shower gels.

Food Hygiene And Safety Issues

Recently there have been a number of food safety incidents and product recalls, including:

  • Chocolate, including Kinder Chocolate, as detailed in this report on Forbes;
  • Jiff Peanut Butter, as described here on NPR;
  • Baby Formula, as described here on the BBC , which is having a huge impact in the USA, where breastfeeding is relatively uncommon.
Other Issues

Real vanilla has been in short supply, gradually getting worse and pushing prices sky high, for several years, as described here by The Economist.

Changing Our Diet

This report on the BBC describes possible changes to what we eat, to adapt the the rapidly changing world. All this is in addition to a likely and essential shift to eating less meat (to save the planet and our health), and to eating less overall (to combat obesity, diabetes and heart disease).

Falklands War remains 'an open wound' in Argentina.

Posted on 2nd May 2022

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I found the remarks by the Argentinian ambassador to the UK, as reported here by the BBC, to be naïve and ill informed.

The ambassador said that the Falklands war is still an 'open wound' for the Argentinian people, as if it is not so for British people. Argentina strongly believes that the Falklands/Malvinas belong to them; the UK believes just as strongly that they belong to Britain. The clinching argument is that the people who live there consider themselves British and want to remain part of Britain. He also said that "he wants to re-engage with the UK government to discuss sovereignty"; does he really think that Britain is willing to negotiate away the ownership of the islands, ignoring the wishes of the residents, after having gone to war to defend the islands?

The ambassador's justification for his belief that the UK is ready to negotiate over the sovereignty of the Falklands is that he is "completely sure that the new generation [do not] have any idea regarding the war or that Britain has a beef with Argentina regarding the South Atlantic,". This BBC story, published on the same day, demonstrates that this is not true; the headline is "General Belgrano: The opera singer who survived the sinking of the Argentine cruiser". For those of you who are neither British nor Argentine, the General Belgrano is not the name of the opera singer, but the name of the Argentine cruiser sunk by Britain during the Falklands war (with great loss of life), and the BBC clearly feels that this piece of history requires no better introduction in the headline, because all their readers are aware of it.

The argument for the Falklands remaining British is the same as that for Gibraltar remaining British, and in contrast to the situation with Hong Kong (a former British territory abutting China) and Macau (a former Portuguese territory abutting China), where both populations were ethnically Chinese and did not, in general, identify as British/Portuguese.

Germany Is Fed Up With Paying Compensation For World War II.

Posted on 1st May 2022

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According to this report on the BBC, Germany is taking Italy to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to stop Italian courts hearing cases for compensation for Nazi war crimes during World War II, and to prevent those courts from seizing properties in Rome owned by the German government to finance any resulting compensation payments.

I can understand the German position: there was a huge war-crimes trial in Nuremberg to determine blame, and since then Germany has paid billions in compensation. Germans still feel huge guilt for WWII, but are done with paying compensation. There was an ICJ ruling in 2012 that that determined civil claims by Nazi victims could not be brought against Germany in non-German courts (a few more details about that ICJ ruling can be found here, on Euronews), but Italy is not abiding by that ruling.

Germany is the richest nation in Europe, contributing more to the EU budget than any other member, and bailing out various countries (Italy, Greece and several others) when they get into financial difficulties. I can see that flow of cash becoming much more restricted in future, if the claims for compensation don't stop. After all, even Germany is feeling the pinch due to the fallout from the Ukraine war (Germany doubled its military budget at a stroke because of the war) and the sanctions against Russia that followed.

U.S. Police Again Exceed Their Authority.

Posted on 24th April 2022

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The incident shown in this YouTube video, from 29th September 2019, is yet another example of American police officers seriously exceeding their authority.

The man arrested, Michael Franchek, and his son, both knew their rights, repeatedly stated those rights to police officers, and complied with all legal requests and orders from the police, but it did them no good. The police officers illegally entered the house without a warrant, tased Mr. Franchek without adequate cause, roughly handcuffed him and arrested him, when no crime had been committed, with no grounds for believing that a crime had been committed.

Some of the footage in the video is from police body-cams, and some was taken by Mr. Franchek's son; one of the officer's body-cams fell off during the incident because of that officer's own violence. At least it is legal to video the police in the U.S., whereas here in Germany it is against the law.

Thankfully, two of the officers have now been fired, and a civil lawsuit is also in progress. Mr. Franchek will, however have to face criminal charges in a trial on 20th May 2022, according to this report on KPCW.

All this just goes to show that one's rights are worth nothing when dealing with the police.

At least in this case, the responsibility delegated to the police seems to fairly closely match the authority that they were delegated - i.e. they were made to answer for their illegal behaviour, unlike in this case.

Why Has The BBC News App Become So Bad?

Posted on 17th April 2022

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Regular readers of this blog have probably noticed that one of my main news sources is the BBC. Just lately, however, the BBC app has become so bad as to be virtually unusable, not just on my mobile phone (not the latest model), but also on Sheryl's modern phone.

  1. There has always been a problem with the occasional articles which are not proper app content, but instead are web-pages. On the app, this means that if you work through the list of articles by opening one, and then swiping left to open the next, these web-pages will not open; you have to go back to the top-level summary list, and click the web-page item to open it. This is annoying, but I have learned to work around this limitation.
  2. There were lots of problems with the plug-in used to play video content, which necessitated many software updates, after which most of the bugs were fixed (after several months).
  3. There are, however, problems with the handling of video advertisements, which play before the actual video that you wanted to see starts, and which the BBC seems unable to repair:
  1. Often, the video player plays multiple advertisement soundtracks at once, and even if it decides to play the same advertisement many times at once, they are unsynchronised, which is really annoying,
  2. Recently there has been no advertising video, only one or more soundtracks,
  3. While you are waiting for the long (usually 20 seconds or more) advertising video to finish (no skip option) the screen usually locks.
  1. The latest bug is a performance issue, pure and simple - the summary list of articles,and the individual articles, take forever to load (10 to 15 minutes).

The BBC is a large corporation, with a large budget. The fact that they have advertisements on their App shows that they are generating revenue from the App. Why, then, do they have so many problems with the App? Their poor quality is driving readers and advertisers away, and is thus costing them money.

Round-up of Covid-19 news.

Posted on 15th April 2022

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Relaxed Regulations

Countries in the EU continue to relax Covid-related travel restrictions, as reported here on Schengen Visa Info.

Germany has done away with the requirement for infected people and their direct contacts to quarantine, as reported here by Reuters. Instead, there is now "isolation", which is only for the people infected, and only for 5 days. The country has also relaxed the mask requirement in most shops (although not on public transport), as reported by Deutsche Welle.

Immunity

The chances of achieving immunity seems to have evaporated. As new more-infectious variants emerge and take hold, which can infect even fully vaccinated and recovered people, scientists are starting to realise that Covid is here to stay, and the best we can do is to limit the severity and and number of infections.

Having said that, new research, reported here on Healthline, has shown that a combination of double or triple vaccination and infection with Covid provides fairly good protection, although not complete immunity.

Also, this Israeli study, reported by Haaretz shows that a 4th vaccine dose cuts severe illness rates by three times compared to the triple-vaccinated.

Protection

Despite all the disinformation and conspiracy theories about mask wearing, new research, reported here on The Jerusalem Post, shows that a combination of social distancing by six feet, universal mask-wearing, and increased room ventilation provides protection against infection by Covid in 98% of cases.

More worrying is that fact that the various Omicron variants are infectious before they are detectable with tests, and before symptoms are apparent, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. This makes it very difficult for people to protect themselves and others.

Treatment

A recent study has shown that sabizabulin, a new oral medication from pharmaceutical company Veru has the potential to cut the virus’s mortality rate in half for moderate and severe cases, as reported by Fortune. The study was so successful that researchers stopped the trial early.

Effects of Covid-19

This report on the New Scientist (scroll down to the 7th April entry) describes the huge increase in the risk of blood clots after a Covid infection: a 33-fold increase of lung clots within a month of being infected and a 5-fold increase in the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) within 3 months of infection. This BBC report states that a higher risk of blood clots persists for at least 6 months.

War In Ukraine Has Widespread Consequences.

Posted on 14th April 2022

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The war in Ukraine is having a wide range of consequences throughout the world, most especially in Europe.

Germany is under increasing pressure from their EU partners to stop buying Russian natural gas; Germany is the largest buyer in Europe of Russian gas (it gets about 55% of its gas supplies from Russia, and had planned to buy more once the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, now cancelled, was operational). Although the German government has not agreed, as the rest of the EU has, to stop Russian gas imports, it seems only a matter of time until they do. Once that happens, Germany is looking at energy shortages and major price rises, which are likely to result in many business closures, as reported here on The Guardian.

One of the reasons touted by Russia for the invasion was to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO (probably not the main real reason, and certainly not the only reason). Russia has long been concerned about its neighbours joining NATO, but the invasion of Ukraine seems the have backfired in this regard: Sweden and Finland, as a result of Russia's actions, now seem ready to give up their neutral status and join NATO, as reported here by The Guardian. That has already had its own consequences, with Russia reportedly moving military equipment towards its border with Finland, as reported here on "Metro". Ukraine itself is now on a fast-track to joining the EU, as reported here on Deutsche Welle, and may yet join NATO (they have offered to negotiate this option away, but those negotiations made no headway - membership of NATO is now an objective stated in Ukraine's constitution).

Ukraine, along with Russia, is one of the world's major wheat producing regions, and the war (and the sanctions against Russian) will mean less grain on world markets and higher prices. Those price hikes are on top of those already trickling through to consumers, caused by the Covid pandemic and general supply-chain issues. A significant part of the price rises that we can expect will also be due to increased energy prices, resulting from sanctions on oil purchases from Russia due to the war (the cost of transport is a significant part of the price od food and other consumer goods).

There are also direct costs to many nations from the war in Ukraine. Many governments are sending large quantities of weapons to Ukraine, and many governments, especially Germany (see here on SIPRI) are increasing their military budgets. This increased spending will have an effect on national debt and taxes throughout the western world for many years to come.

One of the most surprising aspects of Russia's invasion of Ukraine is how well the Ukrainians are defending their country. This is in part due to their fierce commitment, but also in part due to the incompetence of the previously much feared Russian military machine: broken machines, bad leadership, poor troop morale, supply-line issues, etc. While this sounds like good news, at least in the short-term, it does in fact increase the risk of nuclear war; if Russia can't achieve its aims using conventional forces, it is more likely to escalate the conflict to a nuclear one, even if only to save face.

There are also environmental impacts of the war. War is one of the most polluting human activities that there is. There will also need to be a huge rebuilding effort in Ukraine, which will cause environmental damage (concrete is now well known to cause lots of C02 pollution. Finally, the rebalancing of energy supplies, due to sanctions against Russia, will, in the near-term, lead to more use of oil and coal, with all the global warming and other environmental downsides that come with that.

We will be living with the consequences of this war for years to come.

What's good for you is bad for you, and vice versa.

Posted on 13th April 2022

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I feel thoroughly disheartened after reading this article on Womans World. Apparently, whte rice is better for us than brown rice, because brown rice contains the wrong kind of fibre/fiber (roughage to us Brits).

My partner, Sheryl has been trying valiantly to make our diet healthier, and that included a short-lived experiment with brown rice (which we gave up because we simply didn't like the taste).

The matter of which kind of rice is healthier is only one of a huge list of food and drink items where books and the Internet are full of contradictory advice. That list includes:

  • Coffee, where the advice ranges from drinking none to drinking up to 5 cups per day (apparently coffee is good for the heart, blood pressure and the prevention of cancer);
  • Meat, where advice ranges from eating none, to only low fat meat (ostrich, venison, etc.), or eating only white meat, all the while bearing in mind that you must get enough vitamin B12 (I supplement my B12 intake with marmite);
  • Butter, which was demonised because it contains lots of saturated fats, but it now seems that these are a special kind that are good for us;
  • Wine and other alcoholic drinks, where some advise avoiding it completely, and other advice suggests one, or in some cases two, glasses per day;
  • Fruit juice, where some advise that it is healthy (in moderation), while others suggest no juice, but only whole fruit, and the avoidance of fruit such as bananas, mangos, etc.;
  • For diabetics, carbohydrates such as sugar, flour, bread, potatoes and sweet-corn/maize.

The advice is changing constantly, and it is impossible to keep up.

My advice? Everything in moderation.

Video-conferencing apps may listen to you even while muted!

Posted on 13th April 2022

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This report on "The Next Web" warns people about something worrying, even though it should be obvious to people who have a modicum of technical know-how: when you are in a video-conference, muting in the app will only prevent other conference participants from hearing you. The app/service provider is able to listen to anything you say, and record it or analyse it with an AI program. That does not mean that they are eavesdropping, but it is technically possible; it reminds us all of how much trust we are placing in the likes of Zoom and Microsoft (suppliers of Teams and Skype).

I don't know about the rest of you, but I don't want someone recording or analysing my speech when I am muted. It is an invasion of privacy.

You might think that, having muted, you can safely swear about your boss, or talk about something that is not intended for public knowledge with someone else in the room with you, but this is clearly not the case.

Luckily, as the article points it, it is still possible to mute, by muting the device, not the app. For example, many headsets mute if you raise the microphone; alternatively you can use your operating system functionality to mute the microphone locally (how you do this depends on what operating system and version you have).

Bank With No Cybersecurity Gets Hacked.

Posted on 8th April 2022

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There is a reason why computer experts recommend that you have cybersecurity software and processes, as demonstrated by this story (reported here on The Register).

Apparently the Andra Pradesh Mahesh Co-Operative Urban Bank's firewall licence had expired (at least they had one, which maybe still worked, but there would have been no more updates), and they had no phishing protection, intrusion detection system or intrusion prevention system. It is therefore no surprise that they got hacked, resulting in a significant amount of money being stolen.

I feel sorry for their customers, who were probably assured that the bank had comprehensive cybersecurity systems and processes in place.

For your computer systems to be secure, you need to be paranoid. For example, if you are reading this on my web-site, your access is through 3 different firewalls. That paranoia should extend to not sharing details with your friends, family, colleagues or employer of what kind of cybersecurity you have in place (notice that I didn't tell you what and where my 3 firewalls are).

Even for securing your home computers, you need to be paranoid: at the very minimum, firewalls and antivirus programs, both regularly updated; and scan your systems regularly.

Another thing you might want to look into is your Internet modem. In the old days, when all traffic ran over IPv4, all your home systems (servers, desktops, laptops, NAS, mobile phones and Internet of Things smart devices) were hidden from public view by NAT routing in the Internet modem. Then IPv6 was introduced: older IPv6 capable Internet modems (like the Techicolor TC7200) offered no firewall protection of IPv6 devices on your home network; they were all visible and accessible to anyone on the Internet; newer Internet modems like the FritzBox 7590 have IPv6 firewalling. You can find out by reading the manufacturer's user handbook, or checking the administration interface (if it has a section to allow your IPv6 devices to be accessed from the Internet, which you would need to do for a web-server or email-server, then it has an IPv6 firewall).

Why Are US Police Not Responsible?

Posted on 8th April 2022

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This article on the BBC reports of the recent decision by prosecutors in Minneapolis to file no charges against any of the police officers involved in the fatal shooting of Amir Locke, who was killed during the execution of another of these no-knock warrants (similar to the shooting of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky).

We should all be very worried by this decision. What it means is that police officers are neither responsible nor answerable for their actions, or for any lack of action.

Responsibility and answerability are at the very core of people management. In order to safely and effectively delegate tasks to subordinates, it is essential that the appropriate levels of responsibility and answerability are delegated, along with the actual task, and that matching levels of authority are likewise delegated.

Often, in jobs other than law enforcement, the problem with such delegation is that insufficient authority to do the task is delegated. In the case of police officers, particularly in the USA, it seems that their authority far exceeds the level of responsibility and answerability that comes with that delegation of tasks; the carrying of guns by by those police officers is the most obvious evidence of the scale of the authority that they are given, but there are many other ways in which they have huge authority.

The bottom line is that, in the case of police officers, either the level of responsibility and answerability must be increased to match the level of authority, or the level of authority be decreased to match the level of responsibility and answerability (e.g. by taking away their guns).

At the root of this problem is a failure of management by the people in charge of law enforcement: senior officers and government. If the officers involved in cases like Amir Locke's and Breonna Taylor's are not considered to be responsible for the consequences of their actions, then those in charge must be held accountable, otherwise there the police force is nothing more than a bunch of armed vigilantes.

The current situation cannot be allowed to stand.

Scams Without End!

Posted on 7th April 2022

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There is a constant stream of scams trying to trick us out of our hard-earned money. Luckily, they are mostly pretty transparent.

The days of the Nigerians claiming to control funds (usually millions) that they want our help transferring out of their country, for which they need our bank account details, are thankfully now largely over.

There are still cases of people stealing money by advertising something (usually a second-hand car), then asking the potential buyer to prove that they have the money by transferring the funds to themselves via Western Union, which the scammer then collects before the buyer can do so. A friend of ours was tricked in this way. This scam is only possible because Western Union does not enforce the transferrer's security requirements, such as proof of identity and a security question. Western Union has refused to take any responsibility for these cases, and the police seem unwilling to help.

At the moment I am getting a lot of calls to tell me that I have won a prize in some competition that I never entered. The prize usually includes cash, but can also include fully paid vacations. The catch is that, in order to claim your prize, you have to subscribe to something, typically a newspaper, paid for by a direct debit from my bank account. I am surprised that such scams are apparently legal in Germany. I have to be very persistent in saying no to these scams; once or twice is never enough.

Today I experienced a new scam. I received a call from a German mobile number, in bad English (not a person, but a synthesised voice), claiming to be about an international police investigation (this was used to justify the call being in English), telling me that I should act now to avoid losing my house, and to press "1" to speak to the federal police. I know that the German police would always speak German, at least at the start of a call, and that no foreign law enforcement agency is legally allowed to cold-call residents of Germany (they would have to make any contact through the German police). I was not even slightly worried by the call; since I do not own a house, no-one can take it. Nevertheless, I can imagine that some people, on receiving such a call, would be extremely worried.

The USA Is Still In The Dark Ages for Internet!

Posted on 6th April 2022

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A friend living in the USA recently sent me a link to this article ("Nearly 1 in 4 Households Don’t Have Internet—and a Quarter Million Still Use Dial-Up"). Frankly, I was shocked.

Here in Europe we have complaints about our ISPs, but what we have is way better than what some Americans have (or don't have).

My friend has a wife who works from home, so he has to be very careful what he does online during her work hours, otherwise she can't work. As far as I can tell, their service is too slow for streaming services like Netflix. They only have IPv4, not IPv6. Their bandwidth is throttled because there are customers with more influence on the same spur of the connection.

He might be better off with a length of wet string, or maybe with carrier pigeons!

Seriously, he should perhaps look into Elon Musk's StarLink satellite-based Internet service.

Facebook Is Not A Service!

Posted on 3rd April 2022

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This report on the BBC is primarily about Facebook users who are angry that their accounts have been locked for no apparent reason. It does, however, highlight a common misunderstanding about Facebook, that it is a service for the likes of you and me.

Facebook is a service for advertisers and for customers who are willing to pay for personal data about their users. Individual users are not valued by Facebook, and the company does not consider them to have any rights other than those enforced by regulators. Users are a source of revenue, pure and simple. Everything else follows from these basic facts:

  • No effort will be expended to protect any rights that users might feel they have. Individual posts and whole accounts will therefore be blocked by the decisions of automated algorithms (because vetting the decisions using people is simply too costly).
  • Everything is a numbers game - the impact of losing a few users as a result of unfair blocking is outweighed by the constant inflow of new users.
  • Facebook is not a secure place to store your photos, contacts, resumé or other vital data (the company has never made any guarantees in this regard).

I do use Facebook, in a limited way. I post little, do not expect anything that I post to be securely stored, and will not post my photos (because their terms and conditions state that I grant them ownership of the copyright of anything that I upload). The main reason that I use it is as a source of humour. I have better sources for news, opinions, music and video trailers (as do we all!).

Have no illusions: other Social Media resources are no better.

UK Government Changes Definition Of A Heatwave.

Posted on 1st April 2022

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This article on the BBC reports about how the UK government has redefined what constitutes a heatwave, in 8 counties, raising the temperature limit by 1°C.

The rationale given by The Met Office is that the limit is based on historical temperatures, and because of global warming, high temperatures have become more normal, and declaring a heatwave should require higher temperatures. I am not buying into this explanation.

The question that needs to be asked is "What is the purpose of declaring or forecasting a heatwave?" If it is simply to mark the event in some list of temperature records, then fine; if the purpose is for the protection of health, then the rational makes no sense. People did not become more tolerant of high temperatures just because we have had more of them recently, and still need to be warned to avoid going out during the hottest times of day, to drink plenty of water (and to take water with them when they go out), to dress appropriately for the weather, to not leave their pets or children locked in cars, etc.

High temperatures have effects not only on people, but also on equipment (trains, motor vehicles, freezers, refrigerators, manufacturing equipment, computers and office air conditioning), and the temperature limits of such equipment have not magically increased simply because the government has changed its definition of what it considers a heatwave. Where is the government sponsored initiative to make such equipment more tolerant of high temperatures?

This sounds like the government using the added flexibility that it now has after Brexit, to set health related standards as it finds convenient, to avoid inconvenient and costly impacts of hot weather, such as school and office closures. I haven't read of any similar changes to the definitions of a heatwave within the EU, nor do I expect to. When will UK voters realise that their government simply doesn't care about them?

Microsoft Sneakily Reverses One Of The most Outrageous Windows 11 Changes.

Posted on 1st April 2022

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According to this report by Tech Radar,, Microsoft have sneakily backtracked on a change they introduced with Windows 11 which made it very hard to change your default browser. The original change meant that users had to separately set the default browser for each type of file that a browser might open (e.g. .htm, .html, .pl, .pdf, .aspx, to name but a few - to see a more extensive list, see here). This was a very time consuming task, and complex enough to discourage many users. The latest update allows users to change their default browser with a single click.

It should be remembered that Microsoft only introduced the ability for users to change the default browser because they were forced to by the EU. By making it much harder to make this change, Microsoft were trying to bypass the intent of the agreement that they made with the EU. I suspect that Microsoft's legal department realised that they were running the risk of the EU case against them being reopened, or maybe they were warned by the EU.

I suspect that many of you don't care much which browser you use, but sometimes there are good reasons to care:

  • I occasionally find web-sites that simply do not work with some browsers - if you find that your browser doesn't work with a site that you need to use, you will probably want to change your default browser to one that works with that site;
  • Web-site developers often need to test their work with multiple browsers, and it is common for them to use multiple virtual machines, each with a different default browser, for such testing;
  • Some browsers have much better security and privacy protection than others, and if you care about these things (as everyone should) you will probably want to change your default browser.
Time To Ban Paraquat?

Posted on 1st April 2022

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The BBC reports that "some British farmers are calling for a ban on the UK production of toxic weedkiller Paraquat, saying studies suggest it could be a factor in the onset of Parkinson's Disease."

It sounds to me like there is a case to be seriously considered, but it seems unlikely that the UK government will ban this pesticide without more conclusive research. After all, the pesticide industry is a powerful lobby group in the UK and around the world.

The very least that the government should do is to urgently consider the necessary research, so that an informed decision can be made.

Opioid-Free Treatment For Chronic Pain.

Posted on 29th March 2022

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This report on "The Brighter Side Of News" describes the development by scientists at the University of California San Diego of a treatment for chronic pain which is not based on opioids.

The treatment uses CRISPR/Cas9 methods which are normally used for gene therapy, but in this case, no changes are made to the patients' genes; instead, the treatment temporarily inactivates a protein in pain-transmitting neurons, reducing sensitivity to pain. The effects last up to 44 weeks. The treatment is administered as an injection (e.g. to the spine), rather than as a tablet.

Obviously, the new treatment needs to be tested on humans (so far it has only been tested on mice), and then go through proper formal clinical trials, so it will be a while before we can get it from our doctors, but the impact could be huge. Very many people suffer from chronic pain, e.g. in the lower back, neck and shoulders, affecting their ability to work and their enjoyment of life. At the moment, such pain is treated with over-the-counter pain killers like ibuprofen and paracetamol (neither of which are very effective against severe pain) or opioids (which are addictive, and also directly impact the ability to work and drive).

Marshmallow-Like Implant Trains Patients' Immune Systems To Fight Cancer.

Posted on 29th March 2022

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This article on New Atlas describes a study on mice in which a "marshmallow-like" scaffold loaded with the patients' own T-cells that have been programmed to fight cancer is inserted into the body.

This type of immunotherapy proved faster and more potent against the cancer in the mouse subjects than other immunotherapies.

Diabetes Drug Metformin May Damage Sperm!

Posted on 29th March 2022

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A new study, reported on "Science" has suggested that men who take Metformin, a drug prescribed for Type 2 Diabetes, may suffer from damaged sperm.

Specifically, the sperm can suffer from genetic defects affecting the sexual organs of sons, if Metformin is taken long term. The caveat of long term use of Metformin is no encouragement, since this drug is only prescribed for long term use.

The study is an observational meta-study (a study of the results of other studies), which doesn't prove a cause and effect relationship, and the results need to be confirmed by further studies. Nevertheless, the study analysed records from more than 1.1 million babies born in Denmark between 1997 and 2016, which is a large enough sample to be taken seriously.

The article describes the defects as "relatively rare", but I don't think that most people would consider 0.9% to be rare.

The scientists "cautioned men with diabetes against abruptly stopping metformin before trying to conceive", which is an entirely sensible warning.

Another aspect of the report was very worrying. Although Metformin "has been in use since the 1950s", "this is the first large study to rigorously analyze any paternally mediated impact on human birth defects". I wonder how many other drugs are in use which have not been properly studied. There are some parallels here with the Thalidomide scandal (Thalidomide was also sold under the brand-name Contergan, as a treatment for morning sickness, although it has other uses).

False Advertising By M-Net.

Posted on 14th March 2022

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On Thursday (10th March) my new fibre-optic-based Internet connection from M-Net was finally connected. There were some delays because my apartment's DSL cable (used to connect the last few feet from the fibre-optic terminal to my apartment) was not connected; once that was sorted out, I had to book a new appointment to connect my Internet.

I ordered a business package including a static IP address. This package is described on M-Net's web-site as suitable for small businesses who have their own web-site(s).

Since the installation, although the IPv4 address has remained unchanged, the IPv6 address prefix has changed 3 times in 4 days, so I called M-Net's customer service line to complain. I was informed today that only the IPv4 address is static; the IPv6 address changes every time the Internet modem is restarted, plus in between, any time that M-Net feel like changing it. There are no plans to make the IPv6 static (unless customers have a much more expensive plan); even though IPv4 is gradually being phased out in favour of IPv6.

I do not see how such a service is suitable for small businesses with their own web-sites. Sounds like false advertising to me. The option of having static IP addresses is the main reason I changed my ISP, and I feel cheated.

In case any readers in Munich are thinking of changing ISP to M-Net, you should beware; you need to be sure that you can manage with only your IPv4 address being static.

Ukraine Invasion: A Failure By The West.

Posted on 28th February 2022

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The invasion of Ukraine by Russia continues to dominate the news. The world is surprised that the Ukrainians are holding out as well as they are; personally, I expected that it would all be over within 48 hours.

According to this report on The Sun, a Chechen special forces column, including 56 tanks, was obliterated near Hostomel, north-east of Kyiv, and Magomed Tushaev, the top Chechen general leading the column was reported by Meaww as having been killed. Russia is becoming frustrated by their slow progress, and have now put their nuclear forces on special alert (here, on the BBC).

The west is sending weapons to the Ukrainians, but no soldiers (western governments are to worried that sending armed forces would escalate into all-out Europe-wide war), but some governments are supporting (even encouraging) their citizens to go to fight to defend Ukraine, as reported here on the BBC. I know a Ukrainian living in Germany who is seriously considering going back to fight for his home country; not an uncommon scenario.

Instead of sending troops, the world is concentrating on vicious and wide ranging sanctions and other non-military actions:

  • EU and UK shut airspace to Russian planes (here, on the BBC);
  • The BBC reports that, after pressure from the UK government, BP will offload its stake in Rosneft and Norwegian energy giant Equinor will start divesting from its joint ventures in Russia;
  • A number of Russian banks are now banned from the SWIFT international banking network (here, on the BBC);
  • Fifa has told Russia not to compete under the Russian national flag (here, on the BBC);
  • As a result of the sanctions, Russia has more than doubled its key interest rate to 20% after the rouble slumped by 30% against the US dollar (here, on the BBC), and Russians are queuing up to get cash from ATMs amid fears of a run on banks (here, on Mint);
  • German chancellor Olaf Scholz announced an additional $113bn for the German army (here, on the BBC);
  • Russia has been banned from the Eurovision song contest (here, on Rolling Stone).

All this begs the question: if the sanctions are proving so effective, why did the west not act with such vigour after Russian annexed Crimea? The inaction by the western nations made Russia believe that we did not care about Ukraine and what the Russians did there. If action had been taken over Crimea, the current invasion of Ukraine would perhaps not have happened.

There are parallels here with the invasion of The Falklands by Argentina. Britain, with one of the world's most skilled and experienced diplomatic corps, somehow failed to give Argentina the impression that Britain would defend the islands. It is hard to believe that Argentina got the wrong understanding by accident, so were they suckered into a war (a war which gave a major popularity boost to Margaret Thatcher's faltering government)? Were the Russians similarly suckered into invading Ukraine, by being led to believe that the west didn't care?

Michael Phelps Weighs In On Transgender Athletes.

Posted on 20th February 2022

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This report on "At The Buzzer" describes Michael Phelps' opinion about transgender athletes.

In case anyone doesn't know, Michael Phelps should be considered an expert on sports, being the most successful and most decorated Olympian of all time.

Although he points out that the issue is complicated, he is basically against them competing against cisgender athletes, and believes there should be a level playing field in sports, which is not the case when cisgender athletes are required to compete against transgender athletes.

Giving a higher priority to the acceptance of people's gender identity is what is creating this uneven playing field.

Of course, opinion is divided, as you can see from the comments on this Facebook post.

Round-up of Covid-19 news.

Posted on 13th February 2022

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Relaxed Travel Regulations

Countries are gradually accepting that the Omicron variant, despite being much more infectious, is less dangerous, at least for vaccinated people. As a result, various nations are adapting their control strategies, based on the number of Covid-19 hospital admissions, rather than the number of infections, and relaxing travel restrictions:

Long Covid

Anecdotal evidence (based on the experience of only two patients) suggests that over-the counter antihistamines, commonly used to treat allergies such as hay fever, can alleviate the symptoms of long Covid, as reported here by Science Alert. It is not clear whether this is a cure, or whether one would need to keep taking the medications to remain symptom-free.

Woman's World suggests that the herb rosemary may also help in dealing with long covid (personally, I am not a great believer in herbal remedies, but if you are suffering from long covid, it is probably worth trying).

The BBC reports that some people suffering from long covid have serious hidden lung damage.

Side-Effects of Covid-19

New Atlas reports a "massive analysis of health records has revealed recovered COVID-19 patients are at a significantly higher risk of cardiovascular complications in the year following an acute infection.

Ivermectin

Market Watch reports of the saga of falsified data behind some people's false belief that ivermectin is effective in treating Covid-19.

Round-up of Covid-19 news.

Posted on 3rd January 2022

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Tougher Travel Regulations

International travel continues to get more difficult.

The BBC reports that, from the 10th January, the UAE (United Arab Emirates) will ban citizens who have not had three doses of a vaccine against Covid-19 from travelling abroad. As of the 24th of December only 34% had received the booster jab.

Schengen Visa Info reports that all people arriving in Czechia (the Czech Republic) from other countries, irrespective of their vaccination status, must undergo a COVID-19 PCR test, starting from 27th of December.

Also on Schengen Visa Info, Norway will, from 20th of December, require arrivals from Romania, the Azores and some regions of Italy, Finland & Sweden to quarantine.

Again, on Schengen Visa Info, from the 21st of December, all arrivals in Sweden from the EU and EEA countries are required to present proof of COVID-19 vaccination, recovery from the illness within the previous six months, or negative results of a test performed in the last 72 hours before arrival.

Also on Schengen Visa Info, the EU has announced that it is limiting the validity of COVID-19 Vaccination Certificates to only 9 Months (270 days), effective from the 1st of February 2022.

Yet again, on Schengen Visa Info, “All travellers from the age of 12 years from outside the EU/Schengen need to provide a negative COVID-19 test result for travel to the Netherlands. This needs to be a NAAT/PCR test with the sample taken a maximum of 48 hours before departure or an antigen test with the sample taken a maximum of 24 hours before departure. This includes travellers with proof of vaccination or recovery”.

Other Health Regulations

DW (Deutsche Welle) reports that Germany will limit private gatherings after Christmas, to dissuade people from holding and attending large New Year's Eve celebrations. Specifically, a maximum of 10 people who have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 will be allowed to attend a private gathering. In cases when an unvaccinated person is present, only one other household will be allowed to attend. The new participation limits will apply to both indoor and outdoor celebrations. Access to restaurants remains limited to people who can provide proof of vaccination or recovery. From the 28th of December, spectators will be banned from sporting events, cultural shows, concerts and other large public events. All this is in addition to the general ban on fireworks, on both Germany and the Netherlands, announced in December.

Vaccines

The BBC reports that Israel, which has from the beginning of the pandemic been ahead of the curve, is starting to give a fourth dose of vaccine to over 60s.

The New Scientist reports that the protection against the Omicron variant provided by the Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines begins to wane within 10 weeks. This is likely to mean that everyone will need to have even more frequent boosters (Germany has already reduced the recommended interval from 6 months to 5 months, and will probably reduce it even more in the coming months).

Variants

The Delta and Omicron variants have already supplanted other variants almost everywhere, with Omicron now out-competing Delta.

The BBC reports a summary of the mix of good news and bad news about Omicron.

The BBC reports that the Omicron variant is milder than previous variants. This risk of hospitalisation if you catch Omicron is 30% to a 70% reduced (the 70% figure applies to fully vaccinated people), but there is double the chance of catching it.

Natural Immunity

The Daily Mail reports that some (a very few) people seem to be naturally immune, even without vaccination or previous infection. Obviously, scientists are very interested in this phenomenon. It would be nice to know how this immunity works, and to be able to use it as the basis of a vaccine or treatment, but that seems a long way off.

Treatments and Prevention

This report on New Atlas describes the growing scandal and disappointment surrounding molnupiravir, a drug developed by Merck and issued emergency use authorisation by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Now the FDA is calling the authorisation the "worst decision in its history". Molnupiravir’s Phase 3 data revealed a stark drop in efficacy, down to levels bordering on insignificant. There are also now questions about the drug’s safety. Luckily, there are alternative treatments.

This report on the BBC describes a trial by Australian researchers to see whether squirting a blood thinner into the nose could offer protection against Covid. The nasal spray uses the cheap drug heparin in an attempt to neutralise Covid's spike protein. The heparin in the nasal spray is not absorbed into the bloodstream, so there are no blood-thinning side-effects from using the spray. When sprayed into the nose of a Covid-infected person it appears to make them non-infectious, the researchers say.

Comments (test - under development):
dfosberry@gmx.net 29/1/2022 An, excellent summary; thanks.
dave.fosberry@gmail.com 30/1/2022 When is the next Covid-19 round-up coming?
The Perils Of Using Online Service Providers.

Posted on 21st December 2021

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A recent ransomware attack on Kronos (reported on here by the BBC) highlights the risks of using online services for business critical functions.

Kronos provide cloud-based services for workforce management and human capital management, which includes payroll services.

Due to the attack, a number of large businesses, including Sainsbury's (a large UK supermarket chain), were unable to process their payroll.

Large corporations like to outsource, including to online service providers like Kronos and Kaseya (read about the Kayeya incident here), because there are cost advantages. The downside, however, is the increased risk of loss of service. A large online or cloud-based service provider is a larger and more interesting target for hackers; why spend time and effort attacking one company, when you can with the same effort attack a service provider and impact many companies? This is why there are so many of these kinds of attack at the moment; almost all attacks target either service providers, providers of software used by many organisations or large multi-site organisations like healthcare provides and government agencies.

There are, of course, contingency measures that one can take to protect against an attack on one's service providers, although they all have a cost. For example have a fallback service provider, to whom you send the same data, whether payroll, print or backup service data. When one's primary provider is hacked, you will be ready to go with an alternative.

Round-up of Covid-19 news.

Posted on 8th December 2021

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There has been an avalanche of Covid news in the last few days, so I thought I should post another update.

Tougher Health Regulations

This update on Schengen Visa Info reports that, from January 2022, Czechia (previously known as the Czech Republic) is reducing the validity of COVID-19 vaccination certificates to only nine months. Croatia and Austria have taken similar action.

This article on the BBC reports that Italy has toughened restrictions for unvaccinated people, making many public activities off limits to anyone without a so-called Covid Super Green Pass from Monday this week.

The city of New York has mandated that all New Yorkers must be vaccinated in order to go to work, as reported here by the BBC.

Vaccines

There is very mixed data on the effectiveness of the various vaccines against the Omicron variant. The BBC reports, here, that the WHO have said that existing vaccines should still protect people who contract the Omicron variant from severe Covid cases, although laboratory tests of the new variant in South Africa suggest it can partially evade the Pfizer jab, as reported here by The Daily Mail. This report on Science.org gives similar data.

The Guardian reports, here, that following a first dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine with a second dose of either the Moderna or the Novavax immunisation yields far higher levels of neutralising antibodies and T-cells compared with two doses of the AstraZeneca jab. This CNN report describes similar results with a Johnson & Johnson booster vaccination followed by the Pfizer jab. This supports previous data on mixing vaccines brands.

This report on The Guardian gives us an idea of which people are not vaccinated in the UK.

New Variants

There is some preliminary data suggesting that the Omicron variant, although much more infectious, leads to less severe illness (here, on New Atlas) and that Omicron is rapidly displacing Delta and other variants (here, on City A.M.). If this turns out to be true, it would bear out predictions by some experts that Covid-19 will become more like the 'flu or common cold: endemic and less severe.

This article on Gloucestershire Live warns that the symptoms of the Omicron variant are different to those of other variants, and explains how to spot if you have caught it.

Social Distancing and Masks

This article on Digg reports on an interesting study on the effectiveness of social distancing and masks in preventing Covid-19 infections. The conclusion is that social distancing alone is ineffective, but that wearing a mask is much better, and wearing a mask as well as social distancing gives very high levels of protection.

The Unvaccinated

This sad, but rather unsurprising, story on the Stoke Sentinel reports on a UK woman whose baby died of Covid-19 shortly after birth, because the woman decided not to get vaccinated. That is the price of believing disinformation: Darwinism in action.

Update Your Microsoft Systems At Your Own Risk.

Posted on 5th December 2021

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This report on Forbes.com again shows how bad Microsoft are at protecting their customers.

The article contains a list of bugs, some of them repaired for some operating system versions, and some not. Importantly two of the bugs are problems resulting from applying Microsoft updates/upgrades; the recommendation is to not install certain updates, and to remove them if you already installed them.

Why does Microsoft find it so hard to keep customers' systems safe and working? I would argue that the basic design of Windows (7, 10 & 11) is inherently insecure and unreliable. This is why I use Linux (largely free from malware, higher performance, with mostly free software and updates done only if/when you agree).

UK Government Presses On With Genome Sequencing Of Babies Without Discussing The Ethical Issues.

Posted on 5th December 2021

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This article on Wired reports on the UK government's new programme to sequence the genome of babies. Initially this would be a trial programme involving just 100,000 to 200,000 babies, but would eventually be extended to include all babies born in the UK. This plan has been in the offing since an announcement in 2019 by Matt Hancock, who was at the time the UK health secretary.

The stated purpose of this genetic sequencing (identifying and treating genetic diseases) is very laudable, but experts have pointed out that such a programme could lead to a whole host of ethical concerns. Nevertheless the government is pressing ahead without discussing these. It makes me suspect that there is some other agenda behind this scheme.

The babies’ genomes will be anonymised and then added to the UK’s National Genomic Research Library, where the data can be mined by researchers and commercial health companies. That all sounds right and fine until one remembers that the UK government has previously had accidental releases of non-anonymised versions of personal health data; clearly governments can't be trusted to keep our private data secure.

Personally, I am very concerned about personal health data being mined by commercial health companies. There have already been cases where the genomes of individuals have been patented by health companies, so I am pretty certain that is what will happen with some of these babies' genomes. People are living organisms, and have a tendency to breed. Does that mean that, if my DNA has been patented by someone, I need to pay for a licence to have children, and that, if I have donated to a sperm bank, people would have to pay for a licence to use my sperm? These scenarios are not such a far stretch of the imagination, given that Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) has sued farmers found to have naturally and accidentally propagated offspring of Monsanto's patented crop lines on their land.

My personal view is that my DNA is my intellectual property, which can't be owned by someone else unless I sell it, and the legality of such a sale is itself questionable bearing in mind the rights that my living ancestors and offspring also have to parts of my DNA. Sadly, I don't expect my rights to my own DNA will be upheld by the courts, although that it yet to be fully legally tested.

Boeing Again Denies That The 737 Max Is Unsafe.

Posted on 11th May 2021

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I don't think this headline on the BBC is quite right. It should read "Boeing tries, and fails, to refute new safety concerns".

In one example of safety issues a 737 Max was on a flight from Boeing Field airport in Seattle, to deliver the aircraft to Brussels. After problems emerged, it returned to its point of departure. The article says "The aircraft landed safely shortly afterwards". Again, I think that is incorrect; just because it landed successfully does not mean it landed safely.

From a safety perspective the 737 Max is so broken as to not be worth repairing. The design was, from the outset, deeply flawed. No amount of "band-aid" will make it safe.

Boeing should bite the bullet and scrap the plane, and compensate the unfortunate airlines who bought them.

The Judge Said What?

Posted on 5th December 2021

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This article on the BBC reports on the acquittal of a coach accused of domestic violence against French Olympic judo champion Margaux Pinot.

She was badly assaulted (see the photos) and is probably lucky to have escaped with her life. Nevertheless, the man was acquitted. One of the case's three judges said there was not "enough proof of guilt". He also said "A court is never there to tell who is telling the truth and who is lying".

What? In most criminal cases, the defendant pleads not guilty, in which case the core of the role of the court is precisely what this judge said it is not: to decide who is telling the truth and who is lying.

This judge is clearly an idiot and should be fired.

Round-up of Covid-19 news.

Posted on 4th December 2021

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Tougher Health Regulations

This BBC article reports that Ireland is closing nightclubs and the hospitality sector faces tighter rules over Christmas as the government tries to curb the spread of Covid-19. Indoor events such as concerts and sports fixtures must operate at no more than 50% capacity and private home visits must involve no more than four households.

Germany is, as reported by the BBC, barring the unvaccinated from much of public life: restaurants, cinemas, leisure facilities and many shops. Angela Merkel also recently said, in a speech, that there could be a national vaccine mandate in Germany from February 2022.

This update on Schengen Visa Info describes tighter restrictions on travel to EU countries, especially for the unvaccinated.

Vaccines

Pfizers's chief executive Dr. Albert Bourla was recently speaking to the BBC (before the discovery of the Omicron variant). He said that we will probably need annual Covid jabs for years to come (as I predicted back in 2020), as with the 'flu shot.

Dr Bourla also said that Pfizer had already developed updated vaccines in response to the Beta and Delta variants, but that they had not been needed. The company is now working on an updated vaccine that will be more effective against the Omicron variant that could be ready in 100 days (which is pretty impressive).

One of the problems with Pfizers's vaccine, especially for developing nations, has always been the need for it to be stored at -70°C, but within a month or so, Pfizer says it will roll out a new formulation of the vaccine that can be stored for three months in a normal fridge, which Dr Bourla said, would make a "huge difference" for sub-Saharan African countries.

New Variants

This piece on the BBC discusses whether low rates of vaccinations could be responsible for the emergence of the new Omicron variant. The opinion seems to be that there is not yet enough evidence to prove the case, but that it seems likely. In a population of totally unvaccinated people, mutations of the coronavirus confer little advantage; in a population with high vaccination rates, virus transmission rates are greatly reduced which limits the opportunity for mutation; but in a population with low to medium vaccination rates there is plenty of opportunity for mutations to arise (because transmission rates are still high) and mutations confer advantages to the virus. So, you unvaccinated people are probably responsible for the Delta, Delta+ and Omicron variants.

Round-up of Covid-19 news.

Posted on 29th November 2021

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Tougher Health Regulations

Covid-19 continues to rampage across Europe, causing most nations to toughen their control regulations:

  • Travel restrictions have been tightened almost everywhere, and flights from some countries have been stopped;
  • Restaurants, bars and entertainment venues now require proof of vaccination or recovery in many countries (a negative test is no longer enough), and some countries, such as the Netherlands, have ordered restaurants and cafes to close;
  • Austria introduced a full national lockdown from 22nd November, and has introduced a legal requirement for its residents to be vaccinated from 1st February 2022.

In answer to those people who feel that lockdowns and vaccine mandates impinge on their rights and freedoms, the Austrian Chancellor said in a recent speech that "You don’t only have rights, you have obligations". Well said!

Vaccines

As many nations roll out booster vaccinations, this article on The Daily Beast reports on several studies which conclude that, at least in the case of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, people should have been given three doses to have full protection (in other words, the third dose should not be seen as a booster at all). This is similar to the conclusion that the Johnson & Johnson is not, after all, a one shot vaccine, but requires two doses for full protection.

Other studies have shown that you are better protected if you mix vaccination types, e.g. two shots of Pfizer and one shot of Moderna.

Treatments

New treatments continue to emerge.

This report on Euronews describes a nasal spray, currently in trials, which is very effective in preventing infection by the coronavirus.

This report on Science Alert describes a new antiviral (thapsigargin), also still undergoing trials, which is very effective against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, in all its variants.

Both of the above will take a while to pass their tests and, if they pass, to become available, but are a good sign of progress.

New Variants

The world is mainly focused on the Delta variant of Covid-19, but Delta+ is already with us, and in the last few days news has come about the Omicron variant (reported on here, by the BBC), which seems to be even more dangerous. It has a total of 50 mutations, with more than 30 of them on the spike protein. The spike protein is the part of the virus that all our current vaccines target, leading to concerns that our vaccines will be less effective against Omicron.

Europe Battens Down Against Covid-19.

Posted on 17th November 2021

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.

The information in this post is taken from the Schengen Visa Info New web-site, this report on The BBC, this report on The BBC, this report on The Financial Times, this report on Orillia Matters and other sources.

In summary, cases are rising all across Europe. Hospital beds are either full or filling up fast, and governments have realised that they need to take firm action quickly. Even the UK, which was feeling rather cocky due to falling case numbers a week ago, has experience an uptick.

Travel rules have been tightened all across Europe, with more countries being added to the red-lists of many nations, and stricter entry requirements for vaccination or tests.

Austria has imposed a lockdown for its two million unvaccinated citizens.

The Netherlands has started a nationwide lockdown, with non-essential shops being closed, and earlier closing times for all shops.

In Germany, where Covid regulations are set by each state (Lände) government, many are considering bringing in lockdowns for the unvaccinated, and FFP2 masks are again required to enter shops or use public transport (for a while, ordinary medical masks were sufficient). Many public venues, bars and restaurants will only allow people who are vaccinated or recently recovered (a recent negative test is no longer enough): the so-called 2G (geimpft or geheilt) rule instead of the 3G (geimpft, geheilt or getestet) rule.

Many nations are now encouraging their citizens to get a booster jab.

Things are likely to get much worse before they get better.

"What Are Unvaccinated People So Afraid Of?"

Posted on 17th November 2021

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Earlier this week I called my mother, who is now living with one of my sisters (in New Zealand).

My sister refuses to get the Covid-19 vaccine; my mother, thank goodness, is fully vaccinated.

We ended up talking for a while about my sister's refusal of the vaccine (which means that she has to leave her job at the end of this week). At one point she said "What Are Unvaccinated People So Afraid Of?"

The question suggests that she, and presumably other unvaccinated people, believe that vaccinated people are fully protected by the vaccines.

Well, for anyone not able to work it out for themselves, here are the answers:

Lower Risk is not Zero Risk

Although the risk of serious illness, hospitalisation or even death for vaccinated people is significantly lower, that risk is not zero.

Unvaccinated people are the main source of Covid-19 infections.

By refusing to get vaccinated, they are putting everyone, including the vaccinated, at real risk.

Some People Are Not Well-Protected By A Vaccination

Vaccination against Covid-19 is less effective in higher risk people. Such high-risk groups include:

  • Older people (like my mother);
  • People with conditions like heart disease or diabetes;
  • Immunocompromised people. These could be transplant recipients (who have to take immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of their lives), people who had had radiotherapy to treat cancer, people who have been infected with any one of a number of other viruses which suppress the immune system - HIV, Epstein-Barr virus (the cause of mononucleosis/glandular-fever/student-flu/freshers'-flu/kissing-disease), etc.

This is because vaccines work by training one's immune system to recognise and fight off infections, and compromised immune systems do this less well.

Covid-19 has Serious Consequences even for the Unvaccinated

In most countries, if you catch Covid-19, even if you have no symptoms whatsoever, you will have two weeks of mandatory quarantine. That means that you can't go to work, go shopping, or go out for a meal or drinks. Typically, any family members with whom you live will also be quarantined.

Quarantine is a major inconvenience that I can do without.

The Unvaccinated Breed New Variants

Unvaccinated people are known to be the main breeding ground amongst whom new variants evolve.

Already we have variants of the virus (e.g. Delta and Delta+) which are not only more virulent, but also not so well controlled by vaccines. It is only a matter of time before an even worse mutation evolves, that may render the existing vaccines ineffective.

By refusing to get vaccinated, they are hastening that evolution and, again, putting everyone at risk.

Political Correctness Is Ruining Sport And Comedy.

Posted on 26th December 2021

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In this article on the BBC, Maureen Lipman is quoted as saying that comedy is in danger of being "wiped out" due to fears over being cancelled. I tend to agree. I recently watched Jimmy Carr: His Dark Material on Netflix; Jimmy Carr felt it necessary to point out several times the difference between a thing itself (e.g. rape) and making a joke about it, which should be totally unnecessary. Some comedians are now afraid to make jokes about certain topics, and comedy is the worse for it. I also recently watched an interview by a CNN journalist of Trevor Noah, where he was taken to task for some of the language that he uses, because it could be interpreted as racist. Trevor Noah is clearly not anti-black; he is, after all, half black himself. The problem is clearly with the interpretation, not comedy itself; if people have an inability to properly interpret in the light of the context, they should stop watching comedy, instead of trying to stop those of us with no such limitations from watching it.

JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, has been heavily criticised a lot recently. People accuse her of being trans-phobic because she has expressed concern about the unfairness of trans athletes competing against non-trans women in sport. One of the latest developments in this sorry saga is reported here by the BBC: that two Quidditch leagues in the USA are changing their names because they do not wish to be associated with JK Rowling (QuidditchUK looks like they may follow suit). Quidditch is a game invented by the author in her Harry Potter books; the Quidditch leagues in question did not licence the use of the name "Quidditch" from JK Rowling, and any association was of their own making.

If you doubt that trans athletes competing against non-trans women can (sometimes) be unfair, you should read this article on The Daily Signal, and also here. I don't understand why this is so hard for some people to accept: the science is clear, and the examples given by The Daily Signal are also very clear. Political correctness is supposed to be about the avoidance of unwarranted offence, but in the face of irrefutable evidence, political correctness must not prevent truth being spoken. The result, as suggested by The Daily Signal, could be to drive women out of many sports.

Eddie Redmayne Tries To Sit On The Fence.

Posted on 29th November 2021

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In this BBC article, Eddie Redmayne tries very hard to sit on the fence regarding the issue of actors playing roles whose sexual identity doesn't match their own. He says it was a mistake to a play trans role in the movie "The Danish Girl", released in 2015.

Well yes, there is a lot of that kind of thing in the acting world. Cisgender actors playing trans roles and straight actors playing gay roles. What really annoys me is the Star Wars movies and spin-off TV series: how many of the alien characters were actually played by aliens?

Just in case any readers have not worked it out, I am being sarcastic. We have a word in the English language for people who play roles that are in some way different from who those people really are: actors! Even Eddie Redmayne referred to this, when he said that any actor "should be able to play any sort of part ..."

If we take this lie of reasoning to it logical conclusion we would have to have:

  • Actors only playing roles of matching ethnicity (no Indians playing Pakistanis, and no Caucasians playing native Americans, for example);
  • Actors only playing characters of matching sexuality and sexual identity;
  • Only actors who are serial killers playing the roles of serial killers;
  • Only actors with real martial arts skills playing the roles of martial arts experts;
  • Only actors who have been to space playing the roles of astronauts;
  • Only mafioso actors playing mafioso roles;
  • Only wife-beating actors playing the roles of wife beaters.

Are we going to outlaw pantomimes (an English tradition) because of the pantomime dames?

Where do we draw the line? If it is wrong for straight actors to play gay roles, how is it OK for gay actors to play straight roles (which is how most gay actors learn their trade)?

I want to see movies and TV shows in which the characters are well played and believable, which means picking the best available actor for the role. Please leave PC considerations out of the casting decisions.

People Should Pay More For Food And Water, To Pay For Dealing With Climate Change.

Posted on 16th November 2021

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This article on The Times reports that the head of Natural England has said that food and water should be taxed at a higher rate "to account for the costs of tackling climate change, waste, obesity and pollution".

This seems to me to be a no-brainer. Yes, all goods and services should be taxed to include the environmental impacts of providing them, and that means pretty much all should cost more.

Why should people who do not consume certain things subsidise those who do; why should vegetarians subsidise meat eating; why should people who don't drive or fly subsidise those who do? I say subsidise because all of us suffer the consequences of climate change and pollution, and all of us will end up paying for environmental clean-up through future taxation.

Overreach by the Australian Government.

Posted on 4th November 2021

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This story on the BBC is rather worrying.

The report is about a decision by the Australian government that Clearview AI must remove all photos taken in Australia from their facial recognition database, and stop collecting anymore such photos.

Leaving aside the arguments about the invasion of privacy posed by facial recognition, this decision seems to be extreme overreach by the Australians.

If I go to Australia, and while there take a photo of someone who is also not resident in Australia, the government there clearly believes that they have the right to decide what my photograph may be used for. I strongly disagree.

I own the copyright of all photos that I take. People in my photos also have an established legal right to constrain what I do with them. The government of the country in which I took my photos has no legal right to decide what my photos may be use for.

The help pages of this web-site include this statement:

"The copyright of all photographs on this site remains the property of the original copyright owner: either the person who took the photo, or the publisher of the photo. In most cases this means that the copyright is owned by me or by Sheryl. In addition, copyright also belongs to any people appearing in the photos.

Photos on this site are free to reuse for non-commercial purposes. To reuse for commercial purposes, or to get full resolution copies, you must license them ..."

If Clearview AI have copies of my photos in their database, that would constitute commercial use, and would be a breach of my copyright. Such a breach would be a civil legal issue between myself and Clearview AI, not a matter for the Australian government.

A US Intelligence Report Says Climate Change Will Bring Global Tension.

Posted on 22nd October 2021

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This article from the BBC describes some of the conclusions of a report by the US intelligence community. It seems to me that the US intelligence community has been a little slow in catching up.

My point is that there are already tensions between nations due to climate change and the over-use of resources, which are only going to get worse:

  • There are tensions between the USA and Mexico because the US is taking too much water from the Colorado river, because there are water shortages in the Western USA, so that most of the time there is no water flowing across the border, as reported here by The Guardian;
  • There are similar tensions between Israel, the Palestinians, and Jordan because Israel is abstracting so much water from the Jordan river, as reported here by The Conversation;
  • Ethiopia is having a huge row with Egypt and Sudan about the huge dam that Ethiopia has built, and is currently filling, on the Blue Nile, as reported here by Nature;
  • An increasing proportion of domestic water supplies are contaminated in the USA, the UK, Canada, parts of Africa and Asia, for a number of different reasons (probably the best known example was the scandal in Flint, Michigan, described here on Circle of Blue) - an overview of groundwater pollution causes and locations can be found here on Wikipedia;
  • Deforestation is one thing that is making climate change worse, and Brazil is under increasing international pressure to act against illegal logging in the Amazon forest, as described here by Reuters (it is not inconceivable that military intervention or foreign support for a coup could be used to stop Brazil from cutting down more of the Amazon);
  • Some nations continue to build coal-fired power stations, and the export coal and oil, despite the climate change that it causes (India and China are the worst offenders - see this BBC report on India's plans to continue to rely of coal for electricity generation), and international pressure is mounting; China, in particular, is notoriously unresponsive to diplomatic pressure, so a likely outcome is the imposition of carbon tax tariffs on the import of goods manufactured in countries using large amounts of coal for electricity generation, which could lead to another tariff war;
  • Overfishing of commercial fish stocks, due to illegal or unregulated fishing, is happening all around the world, especially off the coasts of Africa and South America, with the main culprits being China and the European Union (specifically Greece, Italy and Portugal), according to this report on Seafood Source, and pressure is mounting, and will get stronger, on the countries engaged in illegal fishing;
  • There is a slow but inexorable move away from fossil fuels, in an attempt to limit global warming, which runs the risk of bankrupting most of the major Middle-Eastern economies, in a region where there is already major international tension and many nations are heavily militarised, so the risk of conflict is high;
  • Some nations are likely to sink completely beneath the waves, as global temperatures rise, leading to waves of climate refugees, and other nations like the USA, Britain and Bangladesh can expect to have large displaced populations from their lower lying regions, also leading to climate refugees (probably not only internally in the effected countries); refugees always lead to international tensions.

This is only a sample of the existing international tensions, caused by or exacerbated by global warming or resource over-exploitation. Also remember that global tensions are a less grim scenario than the societal collapse being predicted by some experts (see here).

Worldwide Shortages and Price Rises.

Posted on 20th October 2021

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The information in this post is culled from this report from the BBC, this report from the BBC, this report from Reuters, this report from the BBC, this report from The Atlantic and this comedy sketch from The Late Show.

Basically, there are worldwide shortages of huge range of things, and price rises in many markets.

Due to supply chain issues, there are shortages in the USA of fish sticks (fish fingers to Brits), frozen and ready-made meals, toys, sweets/candy, wine (apparently due to a shortage of glass bottles), and Ben & Jerry's is only making a reduced selection (due to shortages of ingredients). There are also shortages of toilet paper, paper towels, bottled water (which, in the USA is usually uncarbonated, and so unrelated to the CO2 shortage), new clothes, pet food, prescription medicines and canned-food, test kits, car parts, semiconductors, ships, shipping containers and even workers (truck drivers, factory and warehouse workers).

The is a global CO2 shortage. CO2 is used to carbonate drinks and pump beer and other drinks in pubs, to promote the growth of plants in greenhouses, to stun pigs and chickens before slaughter, for packaging meats, baby foods, fresh foods and baked products (CO2 extends shelf life by preventing bacteria), to keep food fresh in transport (CO2 is used in the form of dry ice and snow), amongst other things.

Petrol Queues Empty Shelves

There is a worldwide shortage of energy supplies (oil, coal, natural gas, propane and electricity) leading price rises in the USA, Europe (including the UK) and Asia. In the case of natural gas in the USA and UK, this is partly simply due to bad planning: having insufficient stockpiles. China is especially hard hit, with a coal shortage leading to a shortage of electricity, which is having knock-on effects in the supply of manufactured goods (paper, food, textiles, toys, semiconductors chips, etc.) around the world. India is nearly as badly effected.

Shortages of semiconductor chips from countries such as China, Japan and South Korea, are causing worldwide shortages of cars, phones, computers and 5G phone network technology. It is a really bad time to buy a new computer, or to upgrade your RAM or graphics card.

Britain, hit with the double whammy of Brexit and COVID-19, is facing an acute shortage of truckers, butchers and warehouse workers that has exacerbated global supply chain problems. As a result, Brits have had a petrol (gasoline) supply crisis, run the risk of serious shortages in the shops at Christmas and are facing widespread price rises.

Although politicians and business leaders keep quoting reasons such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and Brexit for the shortages and price rises, at least some blame lies elsewhere. Over the last few decades, business has become more global, meaning longer and less robust supply chains. When everything is working, this results in cheaper goods, raw materials and fuel, but when there are other pressures on the system, as there are now, the system collapses, as we are seeing now. As an example, look at meat supply. China, Brazil, the USA, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand are all big meat exporters, and their markets are most of the planet removed from production. This is another reason to "buy local".

Manufacturing industries' love affair with JIT (Just In Time manufacturing and supply) is another factor in the current crises. Companies have embraced this approach, to reduce the costs associated with keeping parts and material in stock; stock levels have been reduced over the last two decades at retailers, finished goods manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and sources of parts and raw materials. This has resulted in lower prices to consumers, but now we are paying the price in the form of shortages. The same principle has been applied to stocks of natural gas and other fuels, with lower stock levels responsible for shortages and price rises in The UK and the USA.

Things are not looking good at the moment, and will take a year or two (or longer) to stabilise, if ever. Industry needs to look again at the balance between price and supply resilience. It is probably not an optimal time to start a new business, because the price and availability of premises, energy, ingredients, parts and labour is very unpredictable, making cash-flow planning and profit and loss analysis almost impossible.

Bad Geography Or Inability To Count?

Posted on 15th October 2021

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The BBC does it again, in this article.

The journalist (unnamed) reports that the USA is planning to expand offshore wind energy on "on both coasts and the Gulf of Mexico".

The last time that I checked, the USA had not two but three coasts: east, west and south. I believe that these words are actually quoting the Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland. There are several journalistic methods for showing that the stupidity or ignorance was that of the source, not the journalist: by putting the words in quotation marks, or inserting "[sic]" after the offending statement, for example. No such attempt was made, meaning that the BBC has decided to own the mistake.

Antibody Discovered Against COVID-19.

Posted on 15th October 2021

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Finally, some good news about the fight against the coronavirus. This piece on "City A.M." reports on the discovery in a 45 year old man of a natural antibody which is effective against most variants of the virus, including the Delta and Alpha variants.

It is possible to synthesise antibodies, so it is only a matter of time before a treatment using this antibody is available.

This Judge Presides Over Dreadful Injustices.

Posted on 15th October 2021

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I found this story on Pro Publica thoroughly shocking.

The story revolves around Judge Donna Scott Davenport, a judge in Rutherford County, Tennessee.

Judge Davenport created a process to decide whether children should be detained in the local juvenile detention center; she also happens to be the director of that detention center. This decision making process was ruled illegal by a federal judge in 2017, and it was ordered to end, although it seems that it is still being used. In 2014, among cases referred to juvenile court, Rutherford County locked up children in 48% of its cases, whereas the statewide average was 5%!

The shit has recently hit the fan, due to a case where police arrested four black girls at an elementary school in 2016. The officers handcuffed two of the girls, including the youngest, an 8-year-old. The kids were accused of watching some boys fight and not stepping in. They were charged with “criminal responsibility for conduct of another,” which is not an actual crime. All the charges were later dismissed.

Due to the recent investigations, it has emerged that Judge Davenport lied about (or at least seriously exaggerated) her experience "in law enforcement". This is relevant because such judges are elected, not appointed. Another result is that the Middle Tennessee State University has broken all ties with the judge.

I find so many things worrying about this saga. After the publicity, she seems unlikely to be re-elected, but I feel that she should be removed from her position immediately, before she ruins anyone else's life.

Brexit Is Making UK Shortages Worse.

Posted on 15th October 2021

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In this report on the BBC, the French finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, is quoted as saying that Brexit has made the supply chain crisis worse for the UK. Personally, I accept his thesis.

Most of the shortages currently being suffered by Britain, including the petrol shortage, are due to supply chain issues, rather than any real shortage of goods.

So, yet again, rather than yielding benefits to the country, Brexit is making life worse for Brits.

Political Correctness and personal pronouns.

Posted on 27th June 2021

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I was thinking recently about the ridiculousness of political correctness regarding personal pronouns.

Many transsexuals, and even some transvestites, are very picky about what personal pronouns people use about them and to them; they can get seriously offended if people don't use their chosen pronouns (he, she, they etc.).

Many of us have, or had in the past, nicknames that people used instead of our given names. I, my father and my son Brendan, have all been called "Foz" or "The Foz". Often these are not directly offensive (not, however, the case with an ex-colleague whose name was Richard Head). I know of no-one who ever chose their own nickname, but most of us know better than to be offended by, or try to change, the nicknames people use for us.

Why then, do people expect to be able to choose the personal pronouns used when people refer to them?

Personal pronouns are part of our language; the purpose of language is communication, and lack of ambiguity is an important part of that communication. If someone who identifies as a woman, still looks like a man (and I have seen a fair few transsexuals whose operations, hormone treatments, clothes and makeup are not convincing) then I reserve the right, for the purpose of avoiding ambiguity, to use whatever personal pronouns I choose when referring to them.

I feel that is the height of arrogance to insist on specific personal pronouns. You own neither the nicknames nor the pronouns that people refer to you with.

Facebook chooses to prioritise its own interests, like making more money.

Posted on 4th October 2021

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This article on the BBC is about the Facebook whistleblower: Frances Haugen.

She has been leaking Facebook internal documents, initially anonymously, but now she has revealed her identity.

She has quite a lot to say about Facebook's business ethics, or lack thereof. In one statement on CBS's "60 Minutes" programme, she said "There were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook". "Facebook over and over again chose to optimise for its own interests, like making more money."

Well Duh! As I have written before in this blog thread, the issue is with the laws and stock exchange regulations governing corporations, which constrains companies to maximise profit; company officers may be fired, fined and even barred from holding jobs as corporate officers, for choosing to prioritise other things like the environment, public decency, political stability, etc.

Many people are clamouring for companies to act more for the public good, but are shouting at the wrong target. If they want corporations to act more responsibly, the laws and regulations need to be changed to allow companies to prioritise things other than profit, and provide them with financial and legal incentives to do so.

Not a Jet!

Posted on 4th October 2021

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Pilatus PC-12

Someone else has obviously already complained about this report on the BBC.

The headline originally read "Milan plane crash: Eight dead as private jet hits building", but has now been changed to "Milan plane crash: Eight dead as private plane hits building".

Well good! Although most readers might not know anything about the model of aircraft which crashed (a Pilatus PC-12), anyone can see from the photo to the right that it is not a jet.

This is not the first time that a BBC journalist has been unable to tell the difference between a jet and a propeller plane, and that the editor has let the mistake slip by.

Widespread Shortages.

Posted on 28th September 2021

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The news contains lots of reports about shortages. This problem seems to be the nature of the world, now.

Bus With Neon Lights And Stripper Poles

The funniest story that I have seen is this one on The Hustle, describing the impact of a shortage school-bus drivers in the US, which talks about the case of a high school teacher in Boston who wanted to take his 11th graders on a field trip. No yellow school buses, were available for charter, so he ended up renting from a private company. The bus provided was equipped with neon lights and stripper poles. I am sure the students told their parents all about it. Some of the side-effects of this bus driver shortage include increased costs of the school bus service and increases in the amount of parents driving their kids to and from school (with all the associated impacts of more petrol consumption, increased pollution, more traffic congestion and more traffic accidents).

There is a worldwide shortage of semiconductor chips, making computers and accessories like graphics cards and RAM more expensive and increasing waiting times, and causing car, washing machine and smartphone manufacturers to pause manufacturing (here, on the BBC). Part of the blame can be laid at the door of the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused a dip in demand; now that demand is picking up again, the chip manufacturers do not have the capacity to meet it, having retired or mothballed chip manufacturing plants and shed staff.

There are shortages of truck drivers in the UK (here, on the BBC) and the EU (here, on Politico). In Britain there is a shortfall of about 10,000 lorry drivers, both for fuel and grocery delivery, prompting the UK government to temporarily relax visa requirements for truck drivers.

There are shortages of natural gas in the EU (here, on The Economist) and the UK (here, on the BBC).

There is a CO2 shortage in the UK (here, on the BBC).

There are enormous problems with petrol (gasoline) supply in the UK (here, on the BBC); not a shortage, as such, (there is plenty of petrol), just a delivery problem (because of the shortage of truck drivers), all being made worse by panic buying, as usual.

There are shortages of various groceries in the UK (things that are imported from the EU), and in the EU (mostly, but not only, things that are imported from the UK), due to Brexit and other causes. Things are starting to improve now, but for a while we were not able to get Branston pickle or Marmite. Last year our everyday wine (from Portugal) was not available in a local German supermarket for an extended period. Another supermarket keeps dropping items off of its stock list (the "Sensational Burger" vegan burger, hot sauce, etc.). There are regular warnings that coffee may become more expensive and harder to get. Real vanilla is very expensive and hard to find.

Various reasons are slated for these different shortages:

  • Brexit is blamed for the problem with truck drivers in the UK, and for many of the grocery shortages in the UK and the EU.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic is blamed for many shortages.
  • The natural gas shortages in the UK are blamed on a cold winter depleting stocks, but in fact some of the fault lies with inadequate contingency stocks, so we should probably blame the government.

Some of the blame lies with industry's love affair with JIT (Just In Time) manufacturing and supply; although it helps reduce costs (by reducing the amounts in stock) this system is much less robust when things go wrong. JIT is definitely partly to blame for the shortage of semiconductor chips.

One thing that occurred to me is that the current shortages in so many things are exactly what one would expect at the beginning of societal collapse (see here), with plausible explanations given for each different shortage, but all in fact symptoms of deeper and wider malaise. I am not saying that societal collapse (due to climate change or other reasons) is definitely to blame, but it is a possibility that bears consideration.

Hospital Calls Bullshit On Religious Exemption Claims.

Posted on 19th September 2021

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I like this story from Ars Technica. Unusually, everyone involved seems to understand what an exemption means and who can grant one, and the hospital in Arkansas is calling bullshit on the claims of religious exemptions.

The basis of the claims by some of hospital staff that they should be exempt from a vaccination mandate is that foetal cell lines are used in the development and testing of the Covid-19 vaccines, which is in conflict with their religious beliefs. So the Conway Regional Health System is requiring staff to sign a written declaration that they will also not take any other medicines that use foetal cell lines for development or testing.

The report lists a selection of such medicines: Tylenol (paracetamol/acetaminophen), Pepto Bismol, aspirin, Tums, Lipitor (Atorvastatin, to lower blood cholesterol), Senokot/Ex-Lax (a laxative), Motrin/Ibuprofen, Maalox (an antacid), Benadryl (an antihistamine), Sudafed (a decongestant), albuterol (which opens up airways in the lungs), Preparation H, the MMR vaccine, Claritin (for allergies), Zoloft (an antidepressant, Prilosec OTC, and azithromycin (a powerful antibiotic, listed by the WHO as an essential medicine). Remember that these are just examples, and the full list is much larger.

I am pretty sure that all of the health workers applying for religious exemption have taken more than one of these medicines in the past, and will find it difficult to give them all up. Without them, they run the risk of serious illness, permanent disability and even death.

I am also pretty sure that, if the Conway Regional Health System catches any of these staff taking any of these proscribed medicines, they will have their vaccination exemptions revoked immediately, as they should be.

Religious Exemptions.

Posted on 19th September 2021

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This story on NewsOne is sadly not so unusual.

NewsOne says, in their piece, that there " a growing trend of people who oppose COVID-19 vaccine mandates exercising their religious exemptions as a way to skirt the rules."

I can't work out who is more ignorant in this case: NewsOne, the restaurant or the family trying to skirt the rules.

A man took his family to a restaurant in New York. The waiter tells the family that he can not serve them unless they show proof of vaccination.

The key statement is by the would be customer: "... we just told you that we are religiously exempt". No proof of this claimed religious exemption was proffered.

There are only two kinds of requirement to be vaccinated: those imposed by law, whether federal law, state law or local law; and those imposed by the venue (in this case, the restaurant). There is only one party that can grant an exemption to a rule: the party who created that rule.

In Germany, the requirement to have been vaccinated, and to show proof of that vaccination is imposed by law (usually by the city of state government, not the federal government, depending on the current number of infections), but in the US these rules are usually imposed by the venue/business. In such cases, claiming that his family "are ... exempt" could only be true if the restaurant had granted an exemption.

For countries like the USA, Germany, Britain, etc. which have a separation of church and state, and where religions have no special status under the law (except, in many cases, being tax exempt as a charity) there is no way that one's church can grant an exemption to either a law or a venue's rules. Even in countries which do not have this separation, such as Iran, documentary proof of this exemption is required.

The restaurant really should have pushed back much harder.

The problem in the US seems to be that people believe that their various religions have some special legal status that they do not actually have. This has led to numerous highly publicised cases of people flouting laws against discrimination on the grounds of their religious convictions.

I do not have a requirement that people who visit my home are vaccinated against Covid-19 (nor any other disease), but I have a general expectation that they are. If a visitor tried to claim that they were exempt on the grounds of their religion, they would not get in (or if they were already in my home, they would be leaving immediately), simply because I don't tolerate being bullshitted, and will not tolerate being told that my choices are governed by someone else's religion.

Even on their death beds, some COVID-19 patients in Idaho still reject vaccination!

Posted on 12th September 2021

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The headline of this report on ABC News really says it all: even people who are at death's door due to Covid-19 still reject the vaccines.

I am sure that many of you will feel that I am being overly harsh when I say that these people deserve to die!

There are some other nuggets in the article, such as:

  • The patient who said "Don't tell me I have COVID. I don't believe in COVID".
  • Medical staff reporting that they are often afraid to ask patients whether they have been vaccinated, because of the risk of "adversarial" responses. The answer to this question is essential for working out a treatment plan, and for making an accurate prognosis!

There is so much disinformation, and so many conspiracy theories, on the subject of Covid-19 and the vaccinations that combat it, that it can be impossible to have a rational discussion on the topic.

Disinformation seems to be a modern pandemic in its own right; one for which there is no vaccine.

Do the unvaccinated feel guilty about this man dying?

Posted on 11th September 2021

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This sad story on USA Today, in which a man died of a "cardiac event" after being turned away by 43 ICUs (Intensive Care Units) which were all full due to the enormous number of Covid-19 patients, really begs the question: do the unvaccinated feel guilty about this and other deaths and severe illnesses caused by their selfishness?

Of course, we all know the answer: no they don't. They should do. This is exactly the sort of reason why they are being asked to get immunised, but they are more concerned about their "right to choose" than about other people's life and health.

Well, that "right" (to be selfish) is gradually getting eroded away. As reported here on Reuters, the US government has mandated that most federal employees be vaccinated, and the US Department Of Labor will now require companies of 100 people or more to insist that their employees either be vaccinated or tested weekly.

Other employers in the US and elsewhere are also making moves to require vaccinations. Other governments will probably follow the example set by the US.

This is only right. As I have pointed out before, the basic liberal principle is that people should have as much freedom as possible as long as it doesn't impinge on other people's freedoms. Choosing not to be vaccinated against Covid-19 clearly takes away other people's freedoms and rights (to "life, health and happiness"), as demonstrated by the case of the man turned away by 43 ICUs.

SSD Manufacturers Caught Cheating Their Customers!

Posted on 3rd September 2021

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The author of this report on Extreme Tech is livid, and rightly so.

Western Digital, Crucial, and now Samsung have been exposed cheating their customers for SSDs (Solid State Discs).

The article describes how the initial versions of the products are released, and reviewed by magazines like Extreme Tech. Then modified versions of them are released, having lower performance but the same model number. These newer lower performance SSDs are bought by customers on the basis of reviews of higher performance versions.

This is fraud, pure and simple.

One In Three Tree Species Facing Extinction!

Posted on 3rd September 2021

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This horrifying piece of news on the BBC describes a new assessment of the extinction risk faced by tree species, and concludes that a third of all species are at risk.

The risk is due to forest clearance for crops and grazing, logging, clearance for development, fire, climate change and its side-effects of extreme weather and sea level rise.

The potential proportion of risk of extinctions is much higher that for animals, and is shocking.

Trees are essential to life in so many ways, and the loss of this many species would have huge knock-on effects on all other life on our planet.

Time to take action, before it is too late!

Hacking Continues.

Posted on 26th August 2021

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Several recent stories show that hacking (and rasomware) attacks, and security vulnerabilities, are part of every day life in the modern world, and not just some passing phase. They also show that the problem is being exacerbated by a lack of the appropriate paranoia about the risks, and by general stupidity.

Earlier this year the Solarwinds hack came to light, which mainly targeted U.S. government agencies, although it went undetected for many months.

More recently there was the Kaseya attack, which affected companies around the world. Many companies were much more seriously impacted than necessary, because they were using Kaseya's backup service, meaning that the backups, which were also compromised, could not be used to recover from the hack. A friend who runs a small to medium sized company in Munich was impacted by this hack (and he is totally paranoid about cybersecurity!), and will not be using Kaseya's backup service any more (he didn't actually realise that his backups used this service, because his backups were handled by one of his service providers, who in turn used Kaseya).

Crypto-currency traders and repositories were also hit recently. There was an attack on Poly Network, in which about $600M was stolen, although bizarrely, most of the funds were later returned by the hacker. Then there was an attack on Japanese crypto-currency exchange Liquid. where the hackers stole around $100M.

There was a hack which stole data on more than 40 million of T-Mobile's U.S. customers (and people who had merely applied to be customers).

Microsoft continues to be the greatest cybersecurity risk in many people's everyday lives; Adobe is a close second. After the PrintNightmare vulnerability came to light, there is now a new security hole which would let hackers take control of your systems, without needing an administrative password. This article on Tom's Guide really says it all: "Boneheaded recent change to Windows just makes it too easy". It's like I always say, you can't trust Microsoft.

We need to accept that this problem affects everyone, and all systems, and to apply some common sense and paranoia, to reduce the risks and impacts. The problem is not going away. Security needs to be designed into systems from the ground up, not added as a bolt-on fix. Do your own backups, and store them off-site; update your systems frequently (but vet the updates before rolling them out); use firewalls which only allow essential access, and review the settings regularly; use dissimilar systems where possible (e.g. Linux servers with Windows clients); use quality malware scanners (more than one); block your users' access to dangerous web-sites; provide your users with a quarantine environment where they can open suspicious email attachments and visit suspicious web-links; control the connection of removable media/devices (USB drives, mobile phones, etc.) to company systems; and trust no-one.

Street Lamps Are Destroying Our Insects.

Posted on 26th August 2021

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This article on the BBC provides some worrying, if not totally surprising, information. Street Lamps are having a major impact on insect populations, mainly on moths and other insects which are active at night.

Insect numbers are anyway being reduced due to climate change, habitat loss and pesticides. The researchers also think street lights may deter nocturnal moths from laying eggs and increase the risk of the insects being spotted and eaten by predators such as bats. In turn, caterpillars born under streetlights, especially LED lamps, show altered feeding habits.

Insects are a vital part of our ecosystems, pollinating plants, providing food for birds and bats, and recycling waste food. Damage to insect numbers and diversity puts us, and all life on this planet, at risk.

There are things, some of them easy and cheap, that we can do to reduce the impact of street lamps on insects:

  • Only have street lamps on when needed, by using timers, motion sensors and buttons that pedestrians can use to switch on the lights for a few minutes.
  • Install lamp shades to ensure that the lights only illuminate what needs to be lit.
  • Use lights that emit colours that insects are less sensitive to; LEDs are inherently monochromatic (it requires some technological tricks to make white-light LEDs), so it would be easy to make street lamps coloured.

We need to do something, and every little helps.

Living within the planet's limits.

Posted on 4th July 2021

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The headline ("To Stop Climate Change Americans Must Cut Energy Use by 90 Percent, Live in 640 Square Feet, and Fly Only Once Every 3 Years, Says Study") is actually very misleading, in this report on "Reason".

The study described started from the premise that the technology used for energy production, transport (transportation, to some readers), etc. remains largely unchanged compared to what we currently have. They then calculated how much we would all have to tighten our belts to live within what the planet can support.

The results make grim reading. They also looked around the world to see if there are any countries currently living within these limits, which provide an adequate lifestyle for their citizens; there are none.

I think that many people already realised that saving the planet simply by consuming less resources is not viable, especially as the world population is still growing, meaning that the limited resources will have to shared by more people.

Clearly we need radically more efficient technologies to create and distribute resources: energy, food, water, transport, health care, heating and cooling (for food refrigeration and air conditioning), clothing, etc.

Huge efforts are being made in renewable energy (with results already being seen) and carbon capture, but more is needed. We need to stop creating products with built-in obsolescence (computers, cars, TVs and household appliances), curb the fashion industry that encourages us to buy new clothes without any reason, make clothes which last, and promote and enforce the right to repair our property. We need to reduce travel for work (most of which can be replaced with remote meeting technology) and for leisure, and reduce car ownership (replacing it with efficient and effective public transport). We need to demand better energy efficiency in our electrical and electronic goods. We need to make our buildings energy efficient. Plus, we need to move towards a 100% recycling economy.

The consequences of not rising to meet the challenges are horrifying: food and water shortages, rationing of energy and almost everything, luxury products (coffee, chocolate, wine, spirits, olives, truffles, etc.) being unavailable (with some crop species becoming extinct), a disastrous decline in people's health and life expectancy, collapse of the money-based economy and law and order, and wars over resource shortages. This is not a world I want to live in!

Colossal cyber-attack!

Posted on 4th July 2021

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This news report on the BBC describes a huge cyber-attack, with about 200 US companies effected so far, and the number apparently still growing.

The attack seems to be working in a similar way to the SolarWinds attack on US government agencies in 2020, whereby a software supplier (Kaseya, in the latest attack) was breached and their software compromised; the compromised software was then distributed to their customers through the standard software update process.

The latest story, also on the BBC, reports that the Swedish Coop supermarket chain has had to close hundreds of their stores, because they were unable to process customers' payments. This is a huge problem in Sweden, where almost all shop payments are electronic, and many people do not carry enough cash to pay for their groceries.

The worrying thing is that the Swedish Coop is not even a direct customer of Kaseya, but a customer of one of Kaseya's customers. This suggests that the impact could potentially grow even larger.

Children make up a growing proportion of new Covid-19 cases.

Posted on 4th July 2021

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This piece on USA Today reports on data from the USA on the increasing proportion of children amongst new infections by the coronavirus.

At the start of the pandemic, kids were just 2% of cases; now they make up 24% of new infections, despite only making up 16% of the population.

Luckily, these infections are still less severe than in adults (fewer severe infections and hospitalisations), but there is still some risk to the kids, and they are also a source of further infections in adults.

Vaccination programmes have, until now, focused on adults, and most governments have not approved any vaccines for younger children.

Given the new data, it is time to test and approve Covid-19 vaccines for younger kids, and get them vaccinated.

Karma!

Posted on 4th July 2021

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This article on Newsweek reports on the case of a woman in Missouri who was worried about the side effects of COVID-19 vaccines and chose not be vaccinated, but then caught the Delta variant and died.

There are many such cases popping up in the news from time to time, but people don't seem to be learning the lesson.

As far as I am concerned, this is karma.

You can die from eating a bad batch of food from the supermarket, drinking alcohol, crossing the street, or taking a flight on an aeroplane, but people take the risk because the benefits outweigh the risks. Vaccination against Covid-19 is the same.

Unvaccinated people are factories for Covid-19 variants.

Posted on 4th July 2021

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This story on Insider, and this one on CNN explain how unvaccinated people who are infected with Covid-19 are breeding grounds for mutated variants of the coronavirus.

By not getting vaccinated, they are not only risking their own health, but are also putting the health of all of us at risk, by creating and spreading potentially more dangerous variants of the disease. This phenomenon makes the disease much harder to control, and runs the risk of making our current vaccines ineffective.

The basic liberal principle is that people should be given as much freedom as possible without allowing them to limit the freedom of others. This principle is the justification for laws putting limits on people's exercise of their rights and freedoms (such as the various rights in the US constitution). Exercising the right to choose to not be vaccinated is impinging on the rights and freedoms of the rest of the population.

How much longer will we tolerate people choosing not to get vaccinated? I think it is time to enact legislation to limit people's freedom to make this irresponsible choice.

New Windows vulnerability affects all Windows versions.

Posted on 3rd July 2021

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This report on PCMag, and this one on Tom's Guide are about the newly discovered PrintNightmare exploit of a Windows security vulnerability.

Yes, the vulnerability is already being actively exploited, and your computers are at risk.

So, yet again, Microsoft, with their poor design and cavalier attitude to users' security, have put millions of users at risk. The potential impact is huge, because all Windows versions since Windows are vulnerable.

The vulnerable software is the Print Spooler, which is common to all Windows versions, both client and server. As yet there is no patch to close the vulnerability, but there are some things that you can do to reduce or eliminate the risk (depending on your network topology and security policies). Microsoft has released a document listing “PrintNightmare” mitigation strategies. The suggestion on Tom's Guide is to disable the Print Spooler service (which you probably can't live with) or to disable inbound remote printing through Windows’ Group Policy.

Disabling inbound remote printing means that your Windows print servers will not work; yet another reason to migrate your server functionality to Linux.

A hidden coronavirus pandemic amongst our pets!

Posted on 3rd July 2021

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This report on Gizmodo describes a study of Covid-19 infections amongst household pets of people who were themselves infected with the coronavirus.

It has been known for a while that some pets (dogs, cats and members of the weasel family) can get infections of Covid-19. Generally, these infected animals only exhibit minor symptoms, and do not infect humans (although mink, part of the weasel family, show more severe symptoms and can infect humans). What was not so clear was how often these pets were getting infected.

The new study shows that infections of pets by humans is actually fairly common.

The Gizmodo article is rather dismissive of the risk, because of the fact that cats and dogs do not infect humans. So what happens when a new variant evolves, which can make the leap from pets back to humans? This is not such a stretch of the imagination, given the constant parade of new mutant coronavirus types, and the fact that such a mutant variant first made the leap from animals to humans in the first place.

If such a variant (or even several such variants) emerges, the disease will be much harder to control, because there will be a reservoir of infections amongst unvaccinated pets. Mass culling of household pets will be very strongly resisted by pet owners, so vaccination of pets seems the only option, and we do not yet have Covid-19 vaccines for dogs and cats.

This new data suggests that the threshold for achieving herd immunity will be even tougher than previously thought; a 70% vaccination rate is simply not going to cut it.

Facebook's appalling translation service.

Posted on 27th June 2021

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I see many posts on Facebook which are written in various languages (German, French, Arabic, Afrikaans, etc), for which Facebook offers automatic translation. I am constantly appalled at how bad these translations are. On many occasions I have used the option to "rate this translation", but there is no option to explain what is wrong with it; only to say things like "I can't understand it at all".

I am quite happy to invest a little time and effort to explain to Facebook what error(s) their translation software has made, but I don't have this option. I can only assume that the company simply doesn't care about the quality of this service; I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised.

Still No Chemists At The BBC!

Posted on 26th June 2021

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This article on the BBC about recovering century-old beer from a shipwreck was interesting and amusing.

It does, however, prove that journalists who have basic chemistry knowledge are in short supply at the BBC.

The report describes how the ship which sank in 1895, "was packed with various kinds of cargo, including large containers of a chemical called tin chloride".

The is a reason why it is "called" tin chloride; because that it what it is. The use of the word "called" here suggests that it is called tin chloride, but is actually something else.

Why does it seem to be so hard for the BBC?

Some of Britain's Athletes don't want to have the Covid-19 vaccine!

Posted on 26th June 2021

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This article on the BBC reports that some of Britain's athletes do not want to receive the Covid-19 vaccine before travelling to Tokyo to compete in the Olympics. The poor hard done by babies!

Why is there even a discussion? If they want the privilege of representing their country in the Olympics, they need to get vaccinated. If they don't, they are putting themselves, staff and other competitors in Tokyo at risk; when they return home, they will be putting more people at risk. Get the vaccine, or stay home and allow someone more appreciative to take their places on the Olympic squad.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19 is still rampant across the world, and mutating into more deadly and infectious variants at an accelerating rate. Already vaccination is required to attend some social and cultural events, make many international flights and take international vacations. Vaccinations are also required for hospital workers (medical and non-medical workers) and some other professions. Given that the disease is clearly not under control, it is probably only a matter of time before vaccinations become mandatory for more people and more circumstances.

Personally, no-one is allowed into my home unless vaccinated, no matter who they are.

Are we really so worried about offending people, and restricting their "rights" that we are prepared to be put at risk by people who don't want the vaccine?

Microsoft erodes your freedoms with Windows 11!

Posted on 26th June 2021

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As many of you will have noticed, Microsoft has announced Windows 11, despite having said many times that there would be no major new versions of Windows, and that all changes would now be handled as updates to Windows 10.

Skype

One of the major changes, as described here by the BBC, is that Teams will now be bundled Windows, and that Skype will not. "Looks like Microsoft is killing off Skype,", according to Adrian Weckler, the Irish & Sunday Independent tech editor.

There are lots of apps providing voice and video calling from PCs and smart-phones, but if you want to call with an app to a real phone number, as you can with Skype, things are not so simple (I have yet to find one). I also know of no other service with the equivalent of Skype-In numbers, where you get a virtual phone number, which diverts incoming calls to your Skype device.

Other Changes

This article on Extreme Tech lists some of the other freedom-eroding changes to Windows. It reads rather like a rant, but nevertheless makes some valid points.

Here is a summary of some of the key issues:

  • A Microsoft account is needed to set up a new PC. This is not new with Windows 11, but was introduced with Windows 10 (or earlier). I find this requirement very intrusive; it requires a level of trust in Microsoft that I do not have. Once you have set up the PC, you can create a local account, and need not use your Microsoft account again.
  • An Internet connection is also needed to set up a new PC. Partly, this is needed to authenticate login with the Microsoft account, and partly to allow updates to the latest version of Windows 11, which is mandatory when setting up the PC. If you do not have an Internet connection, or you are not legally allowed to use the Internet, you are screwed.
  • Windows 11 will often force you to accepts updates. Again, this was also true with Windows 10. Sometimes you can defer updates (if you don't shut your PC down), but only for a while, and Windows will eventually decide to install anyway, causing your PC to reboot in the middle of a session, potentially losing work. The update issue is the reason why I do not run any version more recent than Windows 7 (the last version where the user had complete control over updates) on any of my PCs (and only as virtual machines running on Linux hosts).
  • Windows 11 will not run on a PC without a TPM 2.0 chip installed (and enabled). TPM is Trusted Platform Module, and is a security device. If your PC doesn't have one, there is usually no way to add one. If you have one that is not enabled, you can enable it in the BIOS.

There may be other issues that I am not yet aware of.

Apple pays patent troll $300M - Nemesis at work!

Posted on 21st March 2021

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I had to laugh when I read this story on "9 To 5 Mac".

Apple has been ordered by a federal court in Texas to pay $308.5 million to Personalized Media Communications, a non-trading company which owns dozens of patents and generates revenues through patent litigation.

PMC's original claim was rejected by the U.S. Patent office, but PMC appealed to the court, and has just won the case, although Apple plans to appeal.

I find this especially apt, because Apple has a long history of stealing or otherwise appropriating other people's intellectual property, and then suing other companies for patent infringement.

Like they say, "What goes around, comes around."

Political Correctness in Texas.

Posted on 26th June 2021

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Newspaper Clipping

A friend sent me this photos of a newspaper clipping (to the right) about a bill being put forward in the Texas legislature (the highlighting is my friend's, not mine).

Representative Terry Meza (a democrat - no surprise there) wants to repeal the states's "castle doctrine", which allows a homeowner to use lethal force to defend their home.

There have always been issues with the way the "castle doctrine" legislation was written and interpreted, with the result that there was no onus on the homeowner to use only the minimum necessary force, and a number of morally questionable deaths have resulted. It is absolutely right to put a legal responsibility on homeowners to use only proportionate and necessary force.

I do, however, find some of the other parts of the proposed legislation downright offensive. Homeowners will have a duty to flee, if someone break in, and if unable to flee, then to cooperate with the intruder.

Then there are the excuses made in the article for the thieves, and the statements that the thieves need the money more than the homeowners, and that theft can be viewed as a means to a more equitable distribution of wealth; it is unclear whether these views can be attributed to Representative Meza, or are the opinions of the journalist.

This is arrant PC nonsense. The good thing is that this bill has no chance of becoming law in Texas.

Federal Judge Dismisses Anti-Vax Suit By Medical Workers.

Posted on 13th June 2021

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This story on USA Today reports on the hearing in a Houston federal court on the law suit by medical workers at Houston Methodist Hospital.

After months of warnings, Houston Methodist had put more than 170 of its 26,000 employees on unpaid suspension Monday. They were told they would be fired it they weren't vaccinated by June 21.

In the meantime, a 117 of those staff had sued the hospital on the basis that the vaccines were experimental and potentially unsafe. I blogged about their ridiculous law suit here.

The judge dismissed their suit, saying "This claim is false, and it is also irrelevant". Good for him.

Since this hearing was in federal court, it counts as legal precedent for the whole of the USA, although I suspect that there will be an appeal, so the issue is not completely closed yet.

Time To Check If Your Email Password Has Been Compromised.

Posted on 12th June 2021

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This report on "Laptop" describes the latest release of hacked email passwords on the Internet.

The published leak is a 100GB text file comprising 8.4 billion private login entries (email address and password pairs).

The article included a link to "Have I Been Pwned?", where you can easily check whether any of your email passwords have been compromised. This is safe: all you need to do is enter your email address, and it will respond with the number of passwords in the file for that address. You are not asked for your password, and there is no way for you or anyone else, to find out what those passwords are.

I strongly recommend that everyone checks all of their email addresses.

Amazon Rolls Out Sidewalk: Automated Hacking.

Posted on 12th June 2021

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As reported here on Defender Network, Amazon Sidewalk has now been rolled out (on the 8th of June). If you didn't opt out, you already have it. More to the point, your neighbours with Amazon devices (Alexa, Echo, or a Ring Doorbell) also have it, with the option to use your WiFi is theirs is not working, unless you opted out.

"Amazon Sidewalk is a free, shared network to help customers with Amazon devices, Alexa, Echo, Ring doorbell, and security cameras, stay connected even if your wifi is weak or fails. Sidewalk automatically connects customers to the wifi of neighbors who also have Amazon devices."

This is a huge security risk for your home network, opening the door to hacking from your neighbours' networks. Any security measures are only as secure as the weakest link, so your risk is determined by how careful your neighbours have been.

Personally, I am rather paranoid about my network security. This means:

  • I will not have smart Internet-connected devices like Amazon Alexa, Echo, or a Ring doorbell on my network, nor indeed any IoT (Internet of Things) device (Internet-connected TV or refrigerator) on my network:
  • I am picky about who can connect to my WfFi.
Incentives To Get Vaccinated In The USA.

Posted on 12th June 2021

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This story on Gizmodo is only the latest of a whole array of incentives for people to get their vaccination against Covid-19.

Gizmodo reports that, in Washington State, where recreational marijuana is legal, people can get their immunisation shot at a weed shop, and will receive a free joint.

In California there is a cash vaccination lottery, with prizes currently up to $1.5M; Washington State also has a cash lottery with the chance to win $250K.

This news story on AP News summarises other incentive schemes in the USA: a free beer from Anheuser-Busch once the nation's 70% vaccination target is met; free childcare while getting shots and recovering from the side-effects; plus sports tickets and paid leave.

Canada also has a whole slew of incentive schemes to speed vaccination efforts.

All this is in stark contrast to the situation in most other countries (the EU and Taiwan are examples) where there are not enough doses of vaccines, and governments are focusing their efforts on delaying, prioritising and excuse-propagandising.

Black Fungus, Covid-19 And Diabetes.

Posted on 6th June 2021

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This report on the BBC is one of a whole series of articles about the number of cases of black fungus (mucormycosis) in patients recovering from Covid-19. This seems to be especially problematic in India.

Initially, suspicion fell on treatment with steroids (now a standard medication used in severe cases of the coronavirus), but now the spotlight is on diabetes. In India, amongst patients recovering from Covid-19 94% of those who had the fungal infection also suffered from diabetes.

The IDF (International Diabetes Federation) estimates that about 57% of those with diabetes in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka are undiagnosed, and nearly all of these are found in India.

We should, however, be cautious in interpreting these statistic. Covid-19 is now known to trigger diabetes (something which the author of the BBC article seems unaware of), so the number of cases of black fungus amongst diabetics recovering from Covid-19 will inevitably be distorted by cases of diabetes brought on by the coronavirus.

Texas Mum Opens Fire on Neighbour's Puppy, Shoots Her Own Son Instead.

Posted on 3rd June 2021

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This story on "toofab" beggars belief.

A mother in Texas opened fire on a puppy belonging to a neighbour, which she claims was rampaging, firing three shots in quick succession across a public street in the direction of two occupied houses. She could see a man and woman across the street, but not her own son (her view of him was obscured), and a ricochet hit the boy.

The woman has been charged, as is only just. I also hope that her gun licence is revoked.

This is just another example of problems with gun violence and gun accidents in the USA, but "the guns are not the problem" right?

No Chemists At The BBC?

Posted on 6th June 2021

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This report on the BBC is merely one example of a growing trend in journalism. It is not only an issue with the BBC, but with very many news publishers.

The report is about how the contribution of nitrous oxide to global warming is being overlooked.

Nitrous oxide comprises two atoms of nitrogen bound to one atom of oxygen, and the formula is N2O, not N20 as the BBC report states.

There are many examples of this kind of sloppiness published every day: CO2 instead of CO2, H2O instead of H2O.

Is it really so hard to use subscripts for the numbers in chemical formulae? Anyone who studied some chemistry at school knows how chemical formulae should be written.

Spain's Hypocrisy Over Its Enclaves In North Africa.

Posted on 6th June 2021

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This article on the BBC really highlights Spain's hypocrisy.

The report is about the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla (called Sebtah and Melilah by Morocco). These territories have been in the news a lot lately due to the influx of illegal immigration from Morocco (which requires nothing more complex than a swim along the beach).

The history of Ceuta and Melilla is summarised here, and that of Gibraltar here.

Morocco is using exactly the same arguments for the return of the two enclaves as Spain uses to make the case for the return of Gibraltar. Spain's response to Morocco is broadly the same as Britain's to Spain.

Spain's position is intolerably hypocritical.

Racism At The NFL.

Posted on 3rd June 2021

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My god, what century are the NFL (National [American] Football League) living in?

This report on the BBC describes how the NFL has finally agreed to stop using a racially biased algorithm that assumes black players have a lower level of cognitive function to calculate compensation for concussion victims, and not because they finally got a sense of morals, but because they were sued.

This kind of racial prejudice has been illegal in the USA (and virtually all western nations) for decades. Did the NFL fail to notice, or did they just think that nobody would care?

Texas Allows Concealed Gun Carrying Without A Permit.

Posted on 3rd June 2021

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Sometimes I despair of Texans! This article on the BBC reports that Texas legislators have passed a bill which would allow most people to carry concealed handguns without a permit. Current Texan rules require that people carrying handguns must have a licence, training and background checks, as in other states.

Gun violence is out of control in the USA, and getting worse all the time. At some point there will be measurable impacts on tourism and immigration, as people decide that America is simply too dangerous to visit or relocate to.

More About Transgender Athletes.

Posted on 3rd June 2021

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I found this article on the BBC interesting. It describes how Florida has banned transgender athletes from competing in women's sports. Florida joins an increasing number of states that have passed such legislation.

I found the most interesting part of the article to be the video of an interview by Stephen Sackur of Sharron Davies, an English former Olympic swimmer. She reminds us that men have, on average, a 10% performance advantage in sports, which can be as high as 20% in some sports. This advantage is enough to ensure that athletes born female have no chance of winning medals when competing against transgender athletes.

I wonder whether part of the problem is the entitled attitude that so many people have nowadays. Yes, people should have the right to have gender reassignment surgery and the associated hormone treatment, and the right to not be subject to prejudice for choosing this. The problem seems to be that they think they are entitled to make this choice with no consequences whatsoever. The changes in the law creeping across the US mean that there are consequences: they will not be able to compete in sports. This is a basic component of life: choices and consequences, one of the basic tenets of Montessori education. I don't see why people should be able to choose to change their sex, without such a reasonable consequence.

The Biggest Fines After Three Years Of GDPR.

Posted on 30th May 2021

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I found this article on the BBC interesting. It lists the 5 largest fines so far under the EU's GDPR regulations.

Some of the offences are the kind of thing I had expected; others are rather shocking. In summary:

  1. Google (€50m) in 2019, for failure to make its statements about its consumer data processing policy easily accessible to its users, and for not seeking the consent of its users to use customers' data for targeted advertising campaigns.
  2. H&M (€35.3m) in 2020 for secretly monitoring hundreds of its employees.
  3. Tim - Telecom Italia (€27.8m) because customers received a large number of unwanted (nuisance) promotional calls.
  4. British Airways (£20m) (the most shocking of the list) in 2020 directed its website users to a fraudulent site, allowing hackers to to harvest the personal data of about 400,000 people (the leaked data included login and travel booking details, names, addresses and credit card information).
  5. Marriott International Hotels (£18.4m) (also shocking) suffered a hack dating back to 2014, but not uncovered until four years later, exposing the personal details of about 300 million customers, including credit card information, passport numbers and dates of birth.

What this tells us is that companies are unable to protect the data of their customers, and that legislation like GDPR that limit the data collected and held, and puts requirements for data security on those companies regarding handling and storage are very much needed.

There is only one type of organisation that has proven to be less secure than even commercial companies in handling and storing data about us: government agencies.

Hospital Workers Sue Hospital Over Vaccine Mandate.

Posted on 30th May 2021

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The lawsuit described in this Washington Post report is laughable.

Employees of a Texas hospital are suing their employer, who has mandated vaccination of staff, with the argument that they have a right to not be "experimented on" by being given an unproven Covid-19 vaccine.

Given the number of people who have now been vaccinated against Covid-19, both in the USA and worldwide, and the vast amount of data which has been gathered on those people, the vaccines in question are far from unproven, and administering the vaccine to them is not an experiment.

Continuing to collect data about levels of protection and side-effects of these vaccines does not mean the vaccines are "experimental".

Even if it was a case of experimenting with an unproven vaccine, these people work in the health-care industry; patients have a right to be be as safe as possible from infection with the coronavirus when being treated at this hospital, which means all the staff, medical or other employees, having been immunised.

I hope the judge who hears this case throws it out.

Amazon Refuses Refund After Delivering Empty Box!

Posted on 30th May 2021

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On the surface, this story on Fstoppers is not a surprise. Amazon has a terrible reputation for customer service, and there are many stories on the Internet that suggest that the company is sometimes complicit in fraud perpetrated against their customers.

In this case Amazon delivered an empty box to customers in Alabama instead of the camera worth $7,000 that they ordered, and then refused to give the customers a refund.

The reason that I mention this case is because of the ideas that the the article mentions (some done by the customers in this case, and one not) to ensure that you can get a refund when appropriate.

Based on the article, and some common sense, my recommendations are:

  • If you are asked to sign for delivery, do not do so if there is any reason to be suspicious (based on the size, weight or damage to the package) - in such cases sign only after opening, and make the delivery company wait while you open it;
  • Weigh the package before opening it, and video this being done (this is in case the shipping company cannot provide proof of the weight);
  • Video the opening of the parcel;
  • If there is any problem with the package, immediately file a credit card dispute with your credit card company;
  • If you are asked by Amazon to review the product, do so, being clear but not profane (if you are profane, your review may be suppressed) about what the issue is;
  • Go to the Amazon web-site, click to view your orders, and click to return the order - send back exactly what you received, including any damaged packaging;
  • If you are refused a refund, post about your dissatisfaction on as many social media services as you can: Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, etc. (not much point writing a negative review on Amazon's own web-site);
  • As a last resort, be prepared to sue.

The last time that I ordered from Amazon was also not a great success. The HP printer cartridges that I ordered turned out to not be genuine HP items (not mentioned in the product listing), and therefore didn't work in my HP printer. I gave a review to Amazon when asked, stating that the products were not fit for purpose, and not as advertised. In response I got a "Thank you for your review" from Amazon, but no other action; it seems that the reviews are not checked by humans. I was at least able to return the items and to get a refund, but if the supplier hadn't been honest, I would have got no help from Amazon.

House Representative Katie Porter Calls BS on Big Pharma's Lies.

Posted on 23rd May 2021

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I strongly recommend that you spend the two minutes needed to watch this video on Twitter (remember to click to enable sound), in which congresswoman Katie Porter questions the CEO of a big pharma company (Abbvie) about their bullshit.

Pharmaceutical companies regularly claim poverty because of the "huge costs" of research and development of new drugs ($2.45 billion for Abbvie from 2013 to 2018) , but in fact this pales into insignificance compared to the biggest outgoing, stock buy-backs and shareholder dividends ($50 billion for Abbvie from 2013 to 2018).

As Katie Porter points out, the "justification" for the astronomical prices for medicines in the USA is a fairy tale. It is time for consumers and government to stop buying big pharma's bullshit.

G7 Acts Against Fossil Fuels.

Posted on 23rd May 2021

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This report on the BBC gives me some reason to be hopeful.

The G7 (the UK, the US, Canada, Japan, France, Italy and Germany) have finally decided to take action to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

Specifically, G7 environment ministers have agreed that they will deliver climate targets in line with limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5C. As part of this they have agreed to stop direct funding of coal-fired power stations in poorer nations by the end of 2021, and made a commitment to safeguarding 30% of land for nature by 2030 to boost wildlife and help soak up carbon emissions.

The problem that I have with all this is that this has taken so long to happen, and that the G7 nations are not putting their money where their mouths are. For example the British government decided (in January this year) to give the go-ahead for a new coal mine in Cumbria, as reported here by the BBC. All of the G7 nations still generate a significant proportion of the electricity from coal. Natural gas (also a fossil fuel) is being increasingly used for heating, cooking and electricity generation.

Germany uses mainly lignite (the most polluting kinds of coal) for electricity generation, and only plans to phase out coal fired power by 2038, as reported here by the World Economic Forum.

China (not part of the G7) is still building new coal-fired power stations, and they are not alone in this.

It seems like the rich nations are telling the poor nations they have to be green, while continuing to not be green themselves. I think it is time for the G7 to lead by example.

What really needs to happen is to:

  • Stop building coal mines,
  • Stop building coal-fired power stations,
  • Phase out and retire the existing coal-fired power stations,
  • Stop oil exploration, including for new shale oil and fracking production,
  • Stop the commercial use of peat for electricity production and heating/cooking,
  • Stop the promotion of natural gas.

There should be no loans or grants for the above, anywhere in the world.

The Two Options For Our Future, Depending On Whether We Protect Our Environment Or Not.

Posted on 23rd May 2021

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This article on inverse.com describes two extreme futures for the human race and our planet. Option one is what will happen if we do nothing; option two is what will happen if we pull out all the stops to save ourselves and our world.

The predictions are for the year 2100, which is not so far away.

Option one is very scary, and is not the kind of future I want for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I don't feel that I need to elaborate on this piece of future-gazing.

Female Athlete Complains Of Unfair Competition From Transgender Athletes.

Posted on 23rd May 2021

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This news report on "USA Today" contains a strong complaint by a top American athlete, Chelsea Mitchell, about unfair competition in her sport (the 55-meter dash).

She says that "time after time" she has lost to transgender athletes. "I've lost four women’s state championship titles, two all-New England awards, and numerous other spots on the podium to male runners".

One could simply conclude that this is sour grapes by Chelsea Mitchell, but I feel that she has some grounds to complain.

Compare this with the situation in Formula 1 motor racing. There are limits on the cubic capacity of the engines, the aerodynamic means used to increase grip, and a vast array of other rules to ensure that competition is fair. These rules change all the time, as new technology is introduced by the competing teams. I don't hear people complaining that these rules are discriminatory. Why is a comparable set of rules in athletics viewed by so many as discriminatory?

Eric Clapton Complains Of Covid-19 Vaccine Safety Propaganda.

Posted on 16th May 2021

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I read this report on the "Mail Online", about Eric Clapton, one of the greatest guitarists of all time, and his severe and scary side-effects from the Covid-19 vaccine.

From the description, it sounds like he had Guillain-Barre Syndrome (read more about it here), which is a rare but known side-effect of Covid-19 which attacks the body's nerves causing partial or even complete paralysis and loss of sensation. Having Guillain-Barre Syndrome as a side-effect of a vaccination (in this case with the AstraZeneca vaccine) must be even rarer than as a side-effect of a Covid-19 infection; of course, we do not know whether he actually had Covid-19 as well as the vaccination.

Eric Clapton reported that "his hands and feet became 'useless' – prompting fears he would never play [guitar] again". That would have been dreadful for him and the world.

His main complaint, described in the news article, is actually about the propaganda surrounding the safety of the vaccines.

Well, Duh! Of course there is propaganda on the subject, from all sides: from governments, vaccine manufacturers and anti-vax activists. Governments and vaccine manufacturers are trying to encourage the maximum possible number of people to get vaccinated, so that the coronavirus can be brought under control by achieving the holy grail of herd immunity. What is important is whether that propaganda was truthful or not. All the official information that I have seen has been truthful, although the same cannot be said of some information in the media, where publications and their journalists have their own agendas, and are often too ignorant about matters of medicine and public health to be useful. The usual messages are of the form that "the benefits outweigh the risks".

The real problem for members of the public is translating that into real risk evaluations for individuals: answering questions such as "given my age, my weight, and my pre-existing conditions, what are my risks of the various possible side-effects?" A large part of the problem in answering such questions is the lack of the necessary data, and it will probably take two or three more years before enough data has been accumulated to provide such answers.

Known side-effects of Covid-19 vaccines, depending on which vaccine, include:

  • Fever;
  • Soreness at the injection site;
  • Allergic reaction, very occasionally to a life-threatening degree;
  • Blood clots;
  • Changes to menstruation;
  • Based on Eric Clapton's experience, numbness and paralysis due to Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

In addition,we should not be totally surprised to see any and all symptoms which can be caused by Covid-19 also being found, albeit rarely and less severely, to be side-effects of vaccination. These include:

  • Coughs;
  • Strokes;
  • Organ failure due to blood-clots;
  • Breathing difficulties, possibly requiring supplementary oxygen or even a ventilator;
  • Type-2 diabetes;
  • Lack of energy or lethargy.

This also implies that health conditions that predispose people to higher risks from Covid-19 may also increase the risks of side-effects from Covid-19 vaccines. These health conditions include:

  • Obesity;
  • Diabetes;
  • High blood pressure;
  • Heart conditions (e.g. a history of heart attacks or arrhythmia);
  • Kidney problems.

So, in summary, yes Mr. Clapton there is lots of propaganda about the safety of Covid-19 vaccines, but most of it is basically truthful, and the real limitation is the lack of data.

Boeing Again In Trouble For Unsafe Aircraft!

Posted on 11th May 2021

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As reported here by the BBC, Boeing is again under the spotlight for safety issues with their Boeing 737 Max planes.

This time it is an electrical problem, with potential effects on many systems. What is even more of concern is that there is a suggestion that this issue may have been involved in the failed sensors used by the AOA (Angle of Attack) system which caused the crashes of 737 Max planes.

As a result of the discovery of this latest problem, more than 100 Boeing 737 Max aircraft were grounded in April, and deliveries of new aircraft were stopped.

Boeing deemed that the change to manufacturing methods that led to the electrical faults was a "very minor change, so it was not notified to regulators". Again, this is not only a failure by Boeing, but also by the FAA.

Neither Boeing nor the FAA can be trusted to ensure the safety of air travellers.

South Carolina Legalises Execution By Firing Squad.

Posted on 11th May 2021

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It seems that the USA is intent on moving further away from civilized norms.

This video report on The Young Turks seems to focus a lot of how the reporters at Fox News seem to be celebrating the reintroduction of execution by firing squad, but also thoroughly makes the case against the death penalty.

The case is simple. Innocent people get executed, because of mistakes in the legal system: 185 Innocent people have been executed in the US since the death penalty was reintroduced in the 1970s, which is 1 in every 8.3 people, or 12%! Those 185 people are only the ones that are currently known about. I would argue that even even one innocent person being executed is too many.

Much of the world has already stopped executing convicted criminals, but the US is swimming against the tide. I suppose that is what we should expect from a rogue nation.

British Airways Thinks We Need Anti-Missile Tech On Our Airliners!

Posted on 9th May 2021

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This news story on the BBC has me worried.

Apparently, British airways is in discussion with airliner manufacturers about installing anti-missile technology on its aircraft.

What has the world come to, when we need our civilian airliners protected by this sort of technology?

Admittedly, there have been a few of high profile cases in recent years where airliners were shot down by missiles. Here are a few recent examples:

There are also a number of incidents in which it is not certain that the planes were shot down, the plane survived, or where missiles were not involved (see here for a full list of shoot-down incidents).

When I started writing this post, I had no idea that there were so many shoot-down incidents. I guess that British Airways is right to investigate technology to protect against this risk.

Poisonous Fruit At My Supermarket!

Posted on 1st April 2021

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I read an interesting story on the BBC, which put something into perspective for me.

The article is about medlars, an ancient type of fruit that is almost impossible to find nowadays. "Medieval Europeans were fanatical about [medlars] that could only be eaten rotten."

As a teenager, I tasted medlars. A relative had a tree in their garden; they had been allowed to rot on the tree. I copied my father by squeezing the pulp out of the tough skin. The flesh was rather like eating stewed or baked apple.

A couple of years ago I was amazed to find medlars (called Mispel in German) at my local Edeka supermarket, and bought some. They were not ripe, and are not worth eating until they are rotten.

What I didn't know is that if medlars are eaten before becoming rotten, they can make you violently ill: they cause diarrhoea. But if you put them in a crate of sawdust or straw and forget about them for several weeks, they gradually darken and their hard, astringent flesh softens to the consistency of a baked apple; or you can just let them rot on the tree.

I can see that selling such fruit is problematic for supermarkets. Medlars are not robust enough to transport when ripe enough to eat. What concerns me is that the Edeka supermarket sold them without any health warning or instructions on how to ripen them. Sadly, I have not seen medlars in any shops since.

Environmental Groups Seem To Misunderstand Why Frequent Flyers Fly.

Posted on 1st April 2021

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I recently read an interesting article on the BBC, although it raises more questions than it answers.

Statistics show that a small number of frequent flyers do most of the flying:

  • In the UK, 70% of flights are made by 15% of the population, with 57% not flying abroad at all;
  • In the US, just 12% of people take two-thirds of flights;
  • In Canada: 22% of the population takes 73% of flights;
  • In the Netherlands: 8% of people takes 42% of flights;
  • In China: 5% of households takes 40% of flights;
  • In India: 1% of households takes 45% of flights;
  • In Indonesia: 3% of households takes 56% of flights.

Environmental groups are pushing for these frequent flyers to be penalised by higher taxes, and for frequent-flyer schemes to be cancelled. What is not clear is whether this is a simple proportional tax, or tax at at increasing rate as you fly more.

Although I agree with the principle that the polluter pays, and the current system means that everyone is penalised (by reduced quality of life) by the pollution of the few, air travel is already taxed. I do not see a need for a new tax, if the necessary incentives/disincentives can be achieved with adjustments to an existing tax.

In addition, the main problem with environmental taxes like those being proposed is that the governments levying these taxes are not constrained to spend the revenue thus raised on environmental programmes. Huge revenue is raised annually from fossil fuel production, but not a single nation is spending the this revenue on renewable energy sources, environmental clean up and energy efficient transport infrastructure.

Also, the environmental groups do not seem to understand why people fly. I have at times been a frequent flyer, having had to travel for work (i.e. not a matter of personal choice). If people flying for work are taxed more for their flights, they will, of course, pass these taxation penalties on to their employers; this will incentivise employers to send their staff on flights less often, but only slightly so, since the flight costs are usually a small part of the cost of a business trip (staff time is usually the largest cost).

There are, of course, travellers who mainly travel for pleasure. If taxation increases the costs of their flights, and if cost is an issue for them (which is often not true), they will travel less often, but the overall reduction in air travel this causes is not likely to be significant.

Someone needs to do a proper analysis of the impact of additional taxation on air travel: a modelling study which includes the number of various different types of air traveller and the cost sensitivity of their decisions to fly. Only then will we have an idea of whether the proposed additional taxation will work. Anything less than such a study is just propaganda!

The F-35 Programme Is a Failure!

Posted on 30th March 2021

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The grudging admission by Air Force chief of staff General Charles Q. Brown that the F35 programme is a failure (as reported here by Extreme Tech) is, as the article points out, not a surprise to those familiar with the F35.

The programme was originally created in response to strong demands by the Marines to be allowed to buy British Harrier Jump-Jets, after they demonstrated their effectiveness in the Falklands war, where they soundly trounced a much larger Argentinian force of A-4 Skyhawks, IAI Daggers (copies of the Mirage V), Super Etendards and Mirage III interceptors, most of which were considered to be vastly superior aircraft. The Argentinian planes outnumbered the British aircraft by six to one. You can read more about the Harrier's role and performance in the Falklands war here on "We Are The Mighty". The combat advantage of the Harriers stemmed from their ability to use vectored thrust to increase maneuverability during dog-fights. The other reason that the US Marines wanted Harriers was for their vertical take-off and landing capability.

Instead of allowing the Marines to buy Harriers (they bought 77; not as many as they needed), the US decided to start their own VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) aircraft development programme, which eventually produced the F35, which is now in service in several countries. None of the various versions of the F35 has vertical take-off capability, and only the F35-B has vertical landing (for which it sacrifices about 30% of its fuel load and has reduced turning g).

So many compromises were made during development that the F35 is best described as a "jack of all trades, master of none". The Marines didn't get an aircraft capable of vertical take-off; The navy has a plane with reduced range/endurance and reduced maneuverability; indeed, no-one got what they wanted and were promised. Its mission capable rate is 69%, below the 80% benchmark set by the military. Operating costs are very high: the F-15EX costs an estimated $20,000 per hour to fly; the F-35 costs $44,000 per hour.

The F35 was planned to replace six different in-service aircraft types: the F16, the F-15C/D, the F-15E, the F22, the F/A-18 and the few Harriers that they bought. It was also slated to replace the A-10. Plans to retire several of those aircraft types have been shelved, and the US military is now planning new aircraft programmes to fill roles that the F35 turns out to be unsuited for or simply too expensive.

Of course, all these issues with the F35 are not only problems for the US; they have sold theses dreadful planes to several allies (Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, South Korea, Singapore, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom), who are now discovering that they have been "sold a pup", and are rethinking the number that they will ultimately buy. Buying American is not always the smart choice!

Most pheasants sold in the UK for food contain toxic lead shot!

Posted on 23rd March 2021

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I was shocked to read this report on the BBC.

A small study found that 179 of 180 pheasants examined in the UK contained lead shot. Lead is toxic, and the process of cooking the meat causes the lead to leach out into the flesh of the pheasants, thus poisoning the consumers even if they don't swallow any of the lead shot.

It is not surprising that pheasants contain shot (they are raised for shooting, not as livestock), but it is surprising that the shot is lead, since the shooting organisations have signed up to a voluntary ban on lead shot.

I find the situation totally bizarre. Lead was also used for angling weights, but was banned in 1986 (see here). I cannot understand why lead shot for hunting was also not legally banned, rather than being phased out with a voluntary ban, and done decades ago.

It just proves, if any more proof was needed, that governments cannot be trusted to look after the environment and the health of their people.

Fire Will Make Chip Shortage Even Worse!

Posted on 23rd March 2021

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This article on the BBC is just the latest in a series of news reports about the shortage of chips.

Semiconductor firm Renesas suffered a fire in one of its clean rooms, causing extensive damage to one of its most advanced plants.

There were already worldwide shortages of chips, causing delays in the manufacture of vehicles, computer hardware (especially GPUs) and mobile phones, and meaning that some new products that have been announced are simply not yet available. This fire will make it very much worse.

The scale of the impact is made much worse by choices that the chip suppliers and their customers made a few years ago. The industry changed over to JIT (Just In Time) manufacturing, meaning that instead of keeping a stock of components (both at the supplier and the customers), items are manufactured based on orders and the required delivery dates. This means that there is no buffer of chip stock anywhere, and as soon as component manufacturing is interrupted, the manufacture of finished goods is also interrupted.

JIT manufacturing has major cost benefits, due to reduced stock-holding, and is fine until something goes wrong; once there is a problem, it propagates through the manufacturing chain very quickly.

Maybe the semiconductor industry is now rethinking their commitment to JIT manufacturing.

Evidence That Covid-19 Can Trigger Diabetes.

Posted on 23rd March 2021

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This new story on New Atlas reports on growing evidence that COVID-19 can trigger the onset of diabetes.

Diabetes is already known to be a factor which increases the risk from the coronavirus, making infection more severe and increasing the likelihood of hospitalisation, but now researchers are investigating a causal link of Covid-19 causing diabetes.

This doesn't surprise me. I am fairly certain that I had Covid-19 last spring, which caused a stroke. Whilst in hospital, the doctors found that I had type-2 diabetes. Of course, I have no proof, because the hospital refused to test me for the coronavirus (an antibody test) despite my repeated pleas (the Rechts der Isar hospital in Munich is such a dreadful hospital!).

Outlaw Bottom Trawling Now!

Posted on 21st March 2021

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This article on Science Alert discusses the carbon impact of bottom trawling.

It turns out that bottom trawling releases more carbon that has been stored in the the marine soil than the world's aviation industry: 1.47 billion tonnes of CO2. That's up to 20 percent of the atmospheric CO2 absorbed by the ocean each year and is "comparable to estimates of carbon loss in terrestrial soils caused by farming."

As we try to reduce carbon emissions to limit global warming, we simply cannot afford to allow this to continue.

That is in addition to the other terrible environmental impacts of bottom trawling, which destroys coral reefs (the nurseries and food sources for marine life) and other seabed ecosystems.

Bottom trawling is like harvesting terrestrial farm crops by removing the topsoil; it is complete madness, and is patently not managing the oceans as renewable resources.

Bottom trawling needs to be outlawed now, before it is too late.

Make ecocide an international crime!

Posted on 19th March 2021

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This news report on The Guardian makes the case for making ecocide into an international crime.

I heartily approve. I have said many times that people (individuals, companies and even governments) will never act in an environmentally responsible way unless non-compliance has real impact, both legal and financial. This is probably the single most useful thing that we can do do save our planet, and the sooner the better.

Microsoft Yet Again Proves They Don't Care About Security.

Posted on 19th March 2021

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The Hafnium hack of Microsoft Exchange Servers (described here by The Verge) has now affected at least 60,000 Microsoft customers around the world, including many US government agencies, and the European Banking Authority (as reported here by the BBC). The original attacks by the Chinese hacking group "Hafnium" has now been adopted by other hacking groups to target other Exchange customers.

The news article reports that Microsoft were made aware of the security vulnerability in early January, but the company didn't issue the first patches to close the security vulnerability until nearly two months later, after the attacks started. Microsoft also made a blog post which didn't explain the scope or scale of the attacks, in an apparent attempt to downplay the risks.

This lackadaisical attitude to their customers' security is par for the course for Microsoft, and shows that they really don't care about the security of their products.

Round-up of Covid-19 news.

Posted on 17th March 2021

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Mutant Virus Variants

More and more variants of the coronavirus are being discovered, as reported here by the BBC, and here by the BBC.

Vaccines and Immunity

There is a steady stream of new vaccines becoming available:

Of course, these new jabs need to be approved before they become available for the general population, but governments have shown that they can fast track these approvals, so there should only be a small delay.

The French government is now saying that just one jab is needed for people previously infected with Covid-19, as reported here by the BBC.

Do vaccines prevent transmission?

The jury is definitely still out, on this point. Some research suggests that the vaccines do help prevent transmission, but some suggests not.

This report on Reason suggests that there is strong evidence that vaccination curtails (i.e. doesn't completely prevent) virus transmission.

This report on New Atlas also suggests mRNA vaccines (i.e. the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines) prevent onward transmission.

Do the vaccines work against the new variants?

This report on Prevention states that Pfizer and Moderna are testing a third "booster" dose for their Covid-19 vaccines, to ensure protection against variants (mutant strains) of the coronavirus. The report also states that Moderna has announced that it has finished making a variant-specific vaccine to target B.1.351, and the company is ready to begin a Phase 1 clinical trial of the vaccine.

This report by the BBC says that Moderna's research shows that their vaccine appears to work against variants.

This report by the BBC states that the AstraZeneca vaccine "offers less South Africa variant protection". The company is developing a modified jab, slated to be ready by the autumn, to combat the South Africa variant.

How often will we need to get re-vaccinated?

As reported here by the Mail Online, the UK government's chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, has said that we will need re-vaccination on a yearly basis.

Side-effects of vaccines

There are understandable concerns about the side-effects of various vaccines:

  • This piece on Live Science reports on new data released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which shows that strong allergic reactions to Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine are extremely rare;
  • There have been reports from Denmark that the AstraZeneca vaccine can cause blood clots, which has caused several countries to suspend or restrict the use of this vaccine (here, on the BBC, here, on the BBC, here, on the BBC, here, on the BBC, );

The World Health Organisation (WHO), however, says that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risks, and should continue to be used, as reported here by the BBC.

Delays in Vaccination Roll-Out in Europe

As reported by the BBC continental Europe is suffering major problems in getting their populace vaccinated, only partly due to supply issues.

Germany, which prides itself on its organisational skills, is having a particularly hard time, due in part to their difficulties making their minds up about how to do things, as reported here by Politico. They offered self-test kits to all the schools and kindergartens, then backtracked. They also recently offered all kindergarten staff vaccinations, putting them ahead of many others in the queue, but what they offered was the AstraZeneca vaccine which it seems no-one wants. There seems to be no programme to pro-actively contact people when they can be given the vaccine; I am at higher than normal risk, being 65 years old and having type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure, but it seems that I need to take the initiative to register for immunisation.

Germany continues to be reactive, rather than proactive, as shown by the debacle over the AstraZeneca vaccine. Fist they limited it to under 65s, then approved it for all ages, then promoted it for kindergarten workers, then barred it for all.

Treatments

A large number of herbal treatments have been tested for use against the coronavirus, as have many pre-existing and new drugs:

  • This report on News Medical describes a study by researchers in the United States showing that a compound found in cannabis plants inhibited infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in human lung cells;
  • This report on The Times of Israel describes a study showing that aspirin may protect against COVID-19; people who take small doses of aspirin (75mg) are less likely to be infected, and recover more quickly;
  • This report on Fox13 describes a study which showed that an experimental COVID-19 pill called Molnupiravir, by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, showed promising signs of effectiveness in reducing the virus in patients;
  • This report on The Daily Mail describes a study which showed that people taking statins (used to reduce cholesterol in the bloodstream) were 50% less likely to die from Covid-19;
  • This report on the BBC describes a new study showing that the arthritis drug tocilizumab cuts deaths from Covid-19;
  • A small clinical study in Italy and China has revealed that an anticancer drug, bevacizumab, could help mitigate mortality and boost recovery from the coronavirus, as reported here on The Hindu Business Line;
  • This report by BGR describes a phase 1 trial for a new drug called EXO-C24 that was found to cure COVID-19 in 3-5 days in most volunteers who received the drug;
  • This report by BGR describes a study of the cancer drug plitidepsin, showing that it is 30 times more potent against Covid-119 than remdesivir and can work against the highly infectious new mutations;
  • This report by DW (Deutsche Welle) explains that Germany has approved the use of the REGN-COV2 monoclonal antibody to treat Covid-19 patients;
  • This report on News Medical describes a study showing that St. John's Wort and Echinacea could protect against COVID-19.

Prevention

Experts continue to recommend wearing masks, social distancing and frequent hand washing or disinfection as the best way to avoid infection. They also recommend working from home wherever possible, although for many this is not an option.

This piece on The Mirror also reports that people who wear glasses are up to three times less likely to catch Covid, according to a recent study.

Having Covid-19

It seems that men are at greater risk from Covid-19 (more likely to contract the virus, suffer from severe complications, and die from the disease) than women, according to a large study (reported on here by New Atlas).

Even more worrying is this report on the Daily Mail, which describes research by Leicester University and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showing that a third of "recovered" Covid-19 patients are readmitted to hospital within five months and one-in-eight of the Covid patients then died.

Australia sends pitiful coronavirus help to Papua New Guinea.

Posted on 17th March 2021

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This news report on the BBC shows the Australians living up to their reputation.

Papua New Guinea has a very serious outbreak of Covid-19, with the infection rate estimated at one in every three or four people. With a population of 9 million, that is over 2 million cases. Hospitals there are full. Papua New Guinea has ordered vaccine, but it is due for delivery in April, and will probably be delayed, because AstraZeneca are struggling to deliver on schedule.

The Australian government has decided to "help" by sending 8,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. This vaccine, like most, is a two dose immunisation, so they are sending enough to protect 4,000 people.

That is simply pathetic!

Are conservatives and extremists stupid, and should we do something about it?

Posted on 7th March 2021

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This video report on "The Young Turks" got me thinking.

The report covers the results of a University of Cambridge study of Americans, which shows that extreme conservatives have difficulties with cognitive tasks (i.e. they are less smart). This study joins a growing body of work on similar themes, which generally show that conservatives are less smart or have lower academic achievement. Another example is the study which showed that people in the UK who voted for Brexit had lesser academic achievement than average.

We should be cautious in interpreting this data, because the studies show statistical correlation, not a cause and effect relationship.

If, however, we accept the suggestion that being less smart makes one more likely to hold conservative or extremist views, we should be very cautious about any suggestion that we try to do something about it. That would put us on a slippery slope, potentially leading to things like:

  • Attempts to "cure" people of their conservative views;
  • Restriction of the voting rights of conservatives and extremists;
  • Job applications being refused on the basis of one's political opinions, because they are a sign of lower intelligence;
  • A whole gamut of thought control measures by governments.

That doesn't sound like the kind of society that I want to live in. We don't restrict the voting rights of people with mental disabilities, and we shouldn't even think about doing so based on people's political opinions. Even if someone's views are the result of reduced mental capabilities, those views are still valid opinions, and we shouldn't restrict their rights to express those views (within some obvious limits, like incitement to insurrection).

The other key thing to remember is that not all extremist views lie at the conservative end of the political spectrum. I could give some examples, but some readers would probably be offended.

Of course, that doesn't stop you from feeling better about yourself, knowing that your politics suggests that you are smarter than others.

Biden Likely To Back AI Weapons.

Posted on 6th March 2021

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This news piece on the BBC reports that President Biden is being pressured by the US National Security Commission to reject calls for a global ban on AI-powered autonomous weapons systems, and instead approve and fund their development. It seems likely that he will agree.

As the BBC report points out, "The most senior AI scientists on the planet have warned ... about the consequences ...". It seems that their warnings are not being taken seriously.

I have written about the risks of AI in general, and about AI weapons in particular, before. I am strongly against it/them.

If you are unconvinced, I strongly recommend that you either watch the movie "Screamers", or read the book upon which it is based ("Second Variety" by Philip K. Dick). The story is very much to the point, very plausible and thoroughly frightening.

The dangers of AI are a regular theme in science fiction, and many readers will have seen one or more of the movies or TV series that revolve around these dangers: "Avengers: Age of Ultron", the various movies in the "Terminator" franchise, "Next" (2020), "Westworld", "The Matrix" and sequels, "Blade Runner", "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Ex Machina" are just a few of the better known of this genre. I challenge anyone to watch all the above and not be worried about AI.

The important thing to remember about the risks of AI and AI weapons is that, once the human race crosses the threshold into real AI, it will be impossible to go back. Once we start an AI based war, we are basically all doomed.

Bad Journalism about Solar Power Generation in the Sahara.

Posted on 5th March 2021

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Another piece of bad science journalism appeared on "The Next Web" recently (here).

The report describes how massive solar energy farms in the Sahara would cause less energy to be reflected back into space, and thus cause local heating, adding significantly to global warming (although it would have a positive effect on the local climate in the Sahara, with the local heating increasing rainfall).

Tunisia Planned Solar Energy Farm

The article talks clearly about large farms of photoelectric panels, which do indeed reflect less energy than the sand of the desert. Sadly for the journalist, although luckily for the planet, the solar energy farms currently planned for the Sahara are not huge arrays of photoelectric cells, but are based on arrays of mirrors (which track the position of the sun in the sky) which focus sunlight on centrally positioned boilers to generate electricity, as in the artist's impression to the right, which is of the planned installation in Tunisia. The albedo (reflectivity) of such a solar energy farm is very similar to natural desert sand, and maybe even a little higher. There would therefore be little or no local heating from such a facility.

That is not to say that there shouldn't be thorough environmental impact studies for such solar energy farms in the desert, but there seems no cause for panic.

Amazonian groups sue French supermarket chain over deforestation.

Posted on 5th March 2021

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This news story on the BBC reports that indigenous amazonian groups, backed by NGOs in the US and France, are suing the French supermarket chain Casino, for deforestation in the Amazon caused by producing beef that the supermarket sells.

The litigants say that they can directly link the beef being resold by Casino with a deforested area larger than Paris, in the amazonian jungle.

This move is very much in line with the principle of "the polluter pays", and I heartily approve.

All the while that the current situation, of the environmental costs of big agriculture and industry being paid by society as a whole, continues, there will will be no strong financial motive for companies to clean up their acts.

I certainly don't see why I should pay, through higher taxes and costs of other goods, and through loss of my quality of life, for companies like Casino to maximise their profits through damage to our environment.

Let's hope that their are many more such law suits.

More Falling Birth Rates because of the Pandemic.

Posted on 5th March 2021

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After the recent report about panic in South Korea due to falling birth rates (here) comes a new report about falling birth rates in the USA, as reported by the BBC here, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

I still see this as a positive development. The world is badly overpopulated, resulting in climate change, species and habitat loss, and making pollution problems even worse. Given that the USA is, per capita, one of the worst polluters in the world, a falling population will benefit the USA and the planet as a whole.

In most countries, falling birth rates change the age mix of the population, causing problems in funding pensions and health care, but the US government does not (with some exceptions for state employees and members of congress) fund such things (you're on your own, Jack!), so not a problem for Americans.

If the US government was really worried about falling population, they could easily do more to encourage immigration (immigrants are generally younger than the average existing population, and help to fund pensions and health care), but I do see that happening.

Our Environment Under Pressure.

Posted on 23rd February 2021

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Bad news for freshwater anglers, reported here on the BBC, that freshwater fish are in catastrophic decline, with 80 species known to have gone extinct, 16 of those in the last year alone, particularly migratory species and large species. I find this particularly upsetting, having once been a keen angler.

The head of the UN, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, called on the world to stop "a senseless and suicidal war on nature", as reported here on China.org.cn. I agree.

On a slightly hopeful note, six experts have suggested charging additional taxes on international flights (and on bunker fuels – high-carbon fuels used by ships), as reported here on The Guardian. They suggest that the funds raised from these taxes go to developing countries to help them fund climate related costs. To me this seems a no brainer. The only way to reduce undesirable behaviour is to make it more expensive; the same logic as taxes on tobacco products. If the money thus raised goes to help poorer countries pay for the costs of reducing their environmental impact, and to compensate them for the economic damage caused by climate, even better. Just do it already!

The Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act

Posted on 23rd February 2021

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Mississippi Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith has co-signed a bill to prevent transgender people born male from competing against people born female, as reported here, by WLOX.

The Mississippi senate has already approved a state bill to the same effect, although it is not yet approved by the Mississippi House of Representatives.

I already stated my opinion on this matter (here). My reasoning is based on the science; whilst I support the rights of transgender people in general, in sports, females who were born male can have an unfair physical advantage.

I suspect the new bill will not become US Federal law. President Biden signed an executive order mandating that transgender women should be able to compete on female teams in school, so the Biden Administration seems to support transgender athletes.

I suspect that this debate will go on for years, and may become a party-political football.

Global Warming is worse than we thought!

Posted on 1st February 2021

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There is some bad news in this report on Popular Science. New research estimates that most of the last 12,000 years have been cooler than we previously believed. This in turn means that human activity has already caused even more warming than we previously thought.

The good news is that the new data makes the actual temperature rise due to human-caused global warming more consistent with climate models; the bad news is that we have an even larger problem to fix than we had thought.

Stampede from fossil fuels would cost UK jobs.

Posted on 29th January 2021

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I was incensed, on reading this article on the BBC.

What Larry Fink seems to be saying is that we need to go slowly on reducing carbon emissions, otherwise there could be drastic effects on on the global economy, and jobs in the UK could be lost.

This is the same half-arsed attitude to saving the environment that we constantly hear from governments and the companies who have vested interests in continuing their polluting business as usual.

Yes, of course there will be economic impact from saving our planet: companies, governments and individuals will make less money; this is inevitable; you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. The alternative, however, is for the global economy to be completely destroyed, due to environmental damage, with food and water shortages, mass unemployment, broken infrastructure, breakdowns in law and order, and so on.

There are too many people and organisations, either in power or having influence over those who are, who are still pushing the line that we can only save the planet as long as it doesn't cost money or cause any inconvenience. We need to stop accepting this bullshit.

Republicans Are Such Sore Losers!

Posted on 24th January 2021

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Yesterday there was a protest in Munich by Trump supporters, complaining about "election fraud": a motorcade with banners and blaring loudspeakers, accompanied by a very large number of police vehicles, which drove past our apartment. This is mentioned on my News Blog.

My first thought was that it is time that they got over it, and accepted that the will of the people has finally been done.

On reflection, however, I can see the reason for their disbelief.

The weird electoral college system in the USA is inherently biased in favour of the Republican Party. Add to this that every year more electoral boundaries are deliberately redrawn to favour Republicans, and Democratic voters are disenfranchised; basically, whenever they are in power in any state, the Republicans abuse their power to tilt the next election further in their favour.

Given these biases, it is actually quite amazing that the Democrats won, and understandable that Republicans are shocked that, despite them rigging the system so heavily, they lost by so much.

The election result is a testament to just how disenchanted the US electorate is with Trump and his cronies; something that the Republican Party failed to fully understand.

Round-up of Covid-19 news.

Posted on 17th January 2021

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Vaccines and Immunity

This article by the BBC reports that the Chinese vaccine, Sinovac, has been shown to be 50.4% effective in clinical trials in Brazil. 50.4% is not great, compared to the figures for the vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca, but still better than nothing.

Moderna claims that its coronavirus vaccine will provide immunity from the disease for at least one year, as reported here on Axios and here on BGR. A year or more is way better than the 4 to 6 months that experts originally estimated for the vaccines.

This piece on The New York Times reports that the Pfizer vaccine works against key Covid-19 mutations, including those found in Britain and South Africa.

A BioTech firm, IosBio - based in Sussex, England, has announced that it is developing a Covid-19 vaccine in the form of a pill, as described here by The Irish Post. The company is currently testing the immunisation pill in clinical trials.

Analysis of data about the 3.2 million recorded cases of Covid-19 in the UK to date has shown that infection provides around 5 months protection from reinfection by the coronavirus, as reported here on Cosmopolitan.

Treatments

This article on the Hindustani Times reports that the use of the diabetes drug metformin, before a diagnosis of Covid-19, is associated with a threefold decrease in mortality in Covid-19 patients with type 2 diabetes, according to a racially diverse study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Metformin is used to treat type 2 diabetes which is not severe enough to justify insulin injections (I take it myself). "The mechanisms may involve metformin's previously described anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombotic effects", since anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombotic drugs are now a standard part of the treatment protocol for the coronavirus.

A large clinical trial has begun in the UK of inhalable interferon beta, as reported here by the BBC. This treatment is intended for patients hospitalised due to Covid-19; it costs £2,000 for a course of treatment.

The BBC reports, here, that two anti-inflammatory drugs, tocilizumab and sariluma can cut deaths by a quarter in patients who are sickest with Covid. The drugs each cost around £750 to £1,000 for a course of treatment. The recommendation seems to be to administer these two drugs in addition to dexamethasone (way cheaper, at £5 for a course of treatment).

This report on BGR describes how doctors have begun experimenting with the use of stem-cell treatments for severely ill Covid-19 patients, with some success. These are not, however, proper clinical trials; such clinical trials would need to be successfully concluded before this treatment is approved and made widely available, which takes significant time.

Prevention

This report on "Eat This, Not That" mentions the research done and ongoing on the use of vitamin and mineral supplements (vitamin C, D, B6, zinc and magnesium) to prevent severe infections of Covid-19, although some of the trials have been inconclusive, and have contradictory results. There shouldn't be any surprises here: many people are at least lightly deficient in vitamins and minerals, due to poor diet and the impact of processed food. For such people, taking supplements is likely to boost their immunity - Duh!

A report from New Atlas, here, a study investigating the relationship between COVID-19 severity and the gut microbiome. The observational research suggests specific microbial patterns correlate with disease severity and those bacterial imbalances may account for some cases of “long COVID”. Again (as above), if you are healthy, you are not so likely to get severely ill from an infection.

Having Covid-19

This article by The Mirror describes 10 signs that you may have already had Covid and may therefore be protected (immune) for up to 5 months.

There have been several articles about the potential long term effects of a Covid-19 infection:

  • Mashable reports, here, and New Atlas, here, that 3 in 4 recovered Covid-19 patients (people who were hospitalised) suffer from symptoms 6 months later. These symptoms include fatigue, muscle weakness, sleeping difficulties, anxiety, depression, "chest imaging abnormalities", chronic coughs, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and cognitive dysfunction.
  • Medical News Today reports, here, that Covid-19 infection might increase the risk of long-term neurological problems, including cognitive decline and dementia.

The Future

CNBC reports, here, on the prediction by the CEO of Moderna that Covid-19 and the resulting and overwhelmed hospitals will be with us forever, and that Covid-19 will become an endemic disease, meaning it will become present in communities at all times, though likely at lower levels than it is now. This would mean the wearing of masks and social distancing will be our lives forever, and that travel will be much rarer and riskier than it used to be.

Taking a slightly less pessimistic tone is this report on "Mic", which says that Covid-19 may become nothing more than an annoying, common cold-like illness. I guess that would be after the coronavirus has killed most of the more vulnerable people, or nearly everyone has been vaccinated.

Psychological Effects of Statins and Other Medications

Posted on 24th December 2020

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I saw a very interesting report on the BBC about the psychological effects of medications.

Statins

The first part of the article focuses on the side-effects of statins (I am interested, since I was put back on statins in June), which apparently can make you bad tempered and aggressive. When discussing the report with Sheryl, she told me that I had definitely become more grumpy since starting the statins again, but luckily not as bad as some cases described in the BBC report (broken marriages, destroyed careers, and a surprising number of men who have come unnervingly close to murdering their wive). It turns out that there is quite a lot of research that shows that reductions in cholesterol levels make people and animals more aggressive.

Until now the main issue that I had with statins was having to give up grapefruit; the reason why I stopped taking them before. It seems that statins' incompatibility with grapefruit is just the thin end of the wedge.

Requip

Requip, a drug to treat (not to cure) the symptoms of Parkinson's was blamed for turning a man "into a gambler and gay sex addict, and was responsible for risky behaviours that had led to him being raped".

L-dopa

There's strong evidence that the drug L-dopa, used to treat Parkinson’s disease, increases the risk of Impulse Control Disorders (ICDs), which make it more difficult to resist temptations and urges. Some patients suddenly start taking more risks, becoming pathological gamblers, excessive shoppers, and sex pests.

Duromine

The anti-obesity drug Duromine was blamed in 2015 by a man who targeted young girls on the Internet. He used the argument that Duromine made him do it; that it reduced his ability to control his impulses.

Sedatives and Antidepressants

Every now and again, murderers try to blame sedatives or antidepressants for their offences.

Paracetamol (Acetaminophen)

Paracetamol is taken in enormous quantities around the world, not least because it is almost impossible to overdose, and it reduces fever and pain. Bizarrely, paracetamol can also make us feel better after a rejection.

A study revealed that paracetamol significantly reduces our ability to feel positive empathy. "Empathy doesn’t just determine if you’re a 'nice' person, or if you cry while you're watching sad movies. The emotion comes with many practical benefits, including more stable romantic relationships, better-adjusted children, and more successful careers – some scientists have even suggested that it's responsible for the triumph of our species."

Asthma Medications

It seems that it has been known for a while that the medications used to treat asthma are sometimes associated with behavioural changes, such as an increases in hyperactivity and the development of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) symptoms. This is in addition to a recently discovered connection between these two conditions, which means that having one increases the risk of having the other by around 50%.

Conclusion

There are a few problems around this issue.

  1. Patients often don't recognise the psychological side-effects of medications, and even if they do, they don't report them.
  2. Doctors often don't listen to patients' reports of psychological side-effects of drugs, so the problems are under-reported and usually there is no action taken to reduce or eliminate these effects.
  3. There is not much research into psychological side-effects, because they are hard to measure; researchers and the organisations who fund them prefer research into more concrete physical symptoms.

We should therefore assume that psychological side-effects might be more widespread and more severe than this report suggests. Let's hope that more research is done in this area.

Democracy under threat in the USA.

Posted on 13th January 2021

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Democracy is not well in America. Few people will not already be aware of the invasion of the Capitol in Washington DC by Trump supporters last week. This report on Rolling Stone explains that it was actually way worse than it appeared from the news coverage at the time. The protesters "erected a gallows with a noose right outside the Capitol" and some of them were captured on video chanting, "Hang Mike Pence". An Associated Press photographer was attacked as he covered the attempted coup, and another photographer was thrown to the ground by the mob. Five people died in the protests. A protester was photographed in full tactical gear and holding plastic zip ties, which were almost certainly intended to restrain hostages.

In another story, reported here by Axios, the Pennsylvania GOP refused to seat a Democrat who won in the November election, thus preventing him from voting, and removed the Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman from presiding over the chamber.

Trump's term may be almost over, but I am still worried that, in the little time that he has, he may declare martial law, thus preventing Joe Biden from taking office (which I first suggested as a possibility here, in June 2020). I hope I am wrong.

Panic because South Korea's population falls.

Posted on 13th January 2021

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As reported here, by the BBC, the government in South Korea is very worried because its population has fallen, for the first time ever.

The country already had the lowest birth rate of any country, and now they plan to introduce major financial incentives for people to have more children.

Apparently, South Korea didn't get the memo about the climate crisis, caused by our planet being overpopulated. If they had, they would hopefully understand that a small reduction in population is a good thing, for the planet as a whole, and for South Korea in particular. In a future of food and water shortages, having low and falling population will be a distinct advantage.

Unfortunately, they are more concerned about how to fund their pension and health care systems, and workers to generate tax revenue, than environmental issues. Time to get with the programme, South Korea!

Boeing pays $2.5 Billion fine, and now another 737 crashes!

Posted on 12th January 2021

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Just in case you were in any doubt that Boeing deliberately put profit ahead of air safety with the development and certification of their 737 Max, the company has just "agreed" to pay a $2.5bn fine for their conspiracy to do just that; in effect they have now admitted guilt.

To cap it all, this week came news of the crash of another Boeing 737 (this time not a 737 Max, but an older design), as reported here and here by the BBC.

Given the already massive impact of Covid-19 on the airline industry, and the fallout of the 737 Max crashes, Boeing will struggle to survive (although the US government is not likely to let them go bust).

When I next take a flight, I will certainly try very hard to ensure that I will not have to travel on a Boeing aircraft.

Brits may not want US GMO crops, but will be getting them anyway.

Posted on 12th January 2021

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I wrote in June 2020 (here) about the risks of GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) crops that the US is trying to foist on the world.

Brexit has only just fully come into effect, freeing the UK from EU food safety regulations, but already the British government is getting ready to change the UK regulations to allow the growing in Britain, and the import from the US, of such crops, as reported here by the BBC.

It didn't take them long! I am sure that the Trump administration applied their habitual blackmail to speed the deregulation process.

I am very glad that I live in the EU, and continue to be protected by their comprehensive food safety rules.

If you live in the UK, your best hope is that the new regulations there will at least insist that GMO products are clearly labeled as such, so that you can at least make your own choice (although I suspect that they will not, again due to pressure from the US).

MMR Vaccine Protects Against Covid-19?

Posted on 24th December 2020

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There was some surprising news today, here on WSB-TV.

Research in Georgia suggests that the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles) "may also provide protection from getting COVID-19 or reduce the severity of the disease".

This is surprising because vaccines usually only protect against the specific diseases for which they were developed, and although measles, mumps and rubella are all viral diseases, none are caused by a coronavirus.

Nevertheless, this is good news, if borne out by other research, and could explain why children have been less severely affected by Covid-19, since children in many countries are routinely immunised with the MMR vaccine.

Round-up of Covid-19 news.

Posted on 12th December 2020

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There has been quite a lot of news about Covid-19 in the last few weeks, much of it good news, so here is a summary.

Vaccines

Several vaccines against the corona virus have completed trials. The UK and the US have each granted emergency approval for a vaccine, and the UK immunised their first person. The European Union is not far behind. Russia began vaccinations even before trials were complete. Brazil has decided to go with the Chinese vaccine, and is preparing to begin their immunisation programme.

So far, all approved vaccines require two injections, separated by a few weeks.

No country expects to have the majority of their population vaccinated within a year, so lockdowns and travel restrictions are not likely to ease any time soon. Immunisations will be prioritised for high risk people (the elderly and front-line medical staff); if you are not at high risk, expect to wait at least a few months before you can get your injections.

Also worth noting, as reported here by BGR, for the Pfizer vaccination at least, immunisation is not recommended for certain people:

  • Children under the age of 16, because the trials so far did not include children, so we don't yet know if it is safe for them,
  • Pregnant women, again because we don't yet know if the vaccine is safe for an unborn child,
  • People who have a history of strong allergic reaction, due to a couple of strong allergic reactions amongst the test subjects.

There have also been several warnings that the vaccination (usually the second injection) can have quite strong side-effects: fever, soreness around the injection site, and generally feeling unwell for a couple of days.

I have heard from several people who are saying that they will not get the coronavirus immunisation, even if it is made mandatory, and quite a few who want to wait until there is more safety data before getting it. I don't think these people are unusual. What this may mean is that the limitations to the speed with which the general population will get inoculated have more to do with people's concerns about safety than with the logistics of giving injections to billions of people.

As reported here by The Huffington Post, there is not yet enough data for us to know how long immunity from a vaccination will last, and therefore how often we will all need to repeat the vaccination. It could be as often as every four months; in time there will be better data available to answer this vital question.

Safe Behaviour

Despite increases in the number of infections and hospitalisations in very many countries (Germany now has more daily infections than ever before), and tighter restrictions (e.g. curfews) across the world, people continue to engage in unsafe behaviour: not wearing masks, not social-distancing, going to clubs and bars, etc. I have seen several videos in Facebook in the last few days of people at dances in Australia.

One surprising development for us is that the supermarket that we use on a weekly basis has removed its shopping cart disinfection station. Sheryl now wipes down our shopping cart with pocket disinfectant wipes before we shop.

I understand that many people are getting emotionally exhausted by so many months of restrictions, and feel the need for a bit of normal life, but failure to behave sensibly is a guarantee of continuing high rates of infection, which continues to kill some at risk people.

Seriously, people, follow the rules and guidelines! It is not just your own life that you are putting at risk! If you doubt that wearing a mask helps, see this report by Forbes.

The Origin and Time-Line

A new Italian study, reported here by BGR, shows that Covid-19 was spreading in Europe "at least three weeks before China announced that a new infectious illness was found in Wuhan".

This casts further doubt that the coronavirus pandemic originated in China, and supports the significant number of anecdotal stories of people in Europe having Covid-19 in December, or even November 2019.

Treatment

There have also been some developments in treatments for Covid-19. This report on Entrepreneur describes a study on ferrets, which showed that an anti-viral drug, Molnupiravir, was able to completely stop the transmission of the coronavirus after just 24 hours of treatment.

Obviously, human trials are still needed before it can be approved for use on humans, but it could eventually add another valuable treatment option.

Also, a report by News Medical describes an extract from a novel cannabis plant (i.e. not ordinary street variety cannabis) may offer protection against infection by Covid-19.

Back to Normal Life?

The short answer is that normal life will not return any time soon, and maybe never. That is the considered opinion of Dr. Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health, as reported here by Newsweek.

So forget clubbing, vacations to tropical beach resorts, ski holidays, shows and concerts, and just generally going out for drinks or meals. That sucks, big time!

Why KitKat changed its logo.

Posted on 1st November 2020

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This piece on Yahoo-Australia caught my attention. It describes the reason behind Nestlé's temporary change of the KitKat logo to the recycling symbol.

It seems that nearly half of Australian consumers don’t know how to recycle properly. KitKat wrappers are made of soft plastic, which can be recycled, but customers don't seem to know this.

Of course, this problem is not unique to Australia; there is huge ignorance about what to recycle and how, all across the world.

Here in Germany, where the public is generally well-informed, there is also a lot of ignorance about recycling: I regularly see paper and cardboard put into the recycling bin in plastic bags; I see expanded polystyrene, which cannot be recycled, put into the plastic recycling bin; I have been told by neighbours that you can only put "bio" food waste (which means waste from organic produce) into the "bio-Müll" (compost bin); many people still put old batteries into the normal garbage; the list goes on.

Part of the problem is the poor labelling on products; yes, it says that you should recycle the packaging, but not, but not into which recycling bin. Another problem is that there is a different system of separation of recycling in different locations. This is exacerbated by the prevalence of mixed material packaging (most often paper and plastic together, often very hard to separate).

We (consumers, governments, and manufacturers) need to do better.

Belgian doctors with coronavirus asked to keep working.

Posted on 1st November 2020

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I found the decision reported in this story, published on the BBC about 5 days ago, to be utterly irresponsible.

Doctors in the Belgian city of Liège who are infected with Covid-19 have been asked to keep working. This puts patients at even greater risk of infection with the coronavirus. I just cannot imagine the thought process of whoever made this bizarre decision.

I suppose it may have one advantage: it will mean that people will be strongly discouraged from going to hospital unless they have a real emergency, reducing the load on the hospitals.

Round-up of Covid-19 news.

Posted on 24th October 2020

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It is been a while since I added to this blog thread about Covid-19. Since then there has been a steady stream of news about the coronavirus, so here is a summary.

Severity

Although many people who get infected have only mild symptoms (like, apparently, Donald Trump), there are continuing instances of more severe cases.

One example is Chris Cross, known for his late–‘70s hit “Ride Like the Wind” who had a very severe case of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare side-effect of Covid-19 which attacks the body's nerves, and left him paralysed for 10 days. He still can't move around easily, months later. You can read more here on Variety.

Many people assume that, if you have had Covid-19, getting reinfected will result in less severe symptoms. That was not the case here, on the BBC, where the second infection was much more severe than the first.

Rising Numbers of Cases

I am not going to post links to news stories about the second wave of coronavirus being suffered my many countries, because they will be out of date the instant that I post this.

Most people know the latest news about infection rates in their own country: cases are going up significantly all across Europe, the US, and India, and hospital beds are filling up with severe Covid-19 cases. The Czech Republic has it very bad right now, as has France. Lockdowns and curfews are being imposed all over. Restaurants and bars are either closed, or face restrictions (reduced opening times, limited numbers of customers, limits on alcohol sales, etc.).

It is mandatory to wear masks on public transport, in shops, and even on the street, in many places.

Things will definitely get worse before they get better.

Part of the problem is that people are getting fed up with the restrictions, and are being less careful. More people are going to the gym, to the hairdresser, going to bars, clubs and restaurants, and even going on vacation to other countries; all of these are high risk activities. People are resuming business travel. Is it any wonder that more people are getting infected?

Medication

Vaccinations

Currently there are 200 vaccines being developed, of which 44 have started human trials (according to this article on DW.com {Deutsche Welle}), and getting closer to approval. Front runners include:

  • ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 from AstraZeneca/Oxford-University vaccine,
  • CoronaVac, developed by Chinese firm Sinovac Biotech,
  • BNT162b2 from Pfizer & BioNTech,
  • mRNA-1273 from US-based Moderna,
  • Ad26.COV2-S from Johnson & Johnson,
  • Sputnik V from Gameleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology (Russia).

Despite the claims/promises by Donald Trump that a vaccine might be available in the US before the US elections, it is not realistic that any will be approved this year. Even when they are, doses still need to be manufactured, distributed and administered. Given that many vaccines require two doses to be effective, and that top-up immunisations might be needed every four months, the cost and complexity of widespread vaccination is enormous (bear in mind that the human population of our planet is over 5 billion); it is unlikely that widespread protection from the virus will be possible before the end of 2022 or later.

Treatments

Doctors seem to be getting better at treating Covid-19, probably because many have finally read the recent research. The result is that death rates from Covid-19 are falling in some countries, and recovery times are also getting lower.

They are starting to understand that, in most cases, ventilators do not help those who experience breathing difficulties, and indeed make people worse, because their issue is not with getting air into their lungs, but with absorbing oxygen (and flushing out carbon dioxide) from (and to) that air.

Several medications have been shown to help coronavirus sufferers: dexamethasone and other steroids; interferon, antibody treatments, remdesivir and other anti-virals; ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatories; and heparin and other anti-coagulants.

There has also been some useful research on diagnostic tools to determine whether people need treatment with some of the more extreme regimes, such as described here on BGR.

Prevention

Apart from the obvious techniques to avoid infection (wearing a mask, social distancing, disinfecting your groceries and staying at home), there has been new research on prevention.

Some (a small number of) people seem to be naturally immune, but it is not yet proven and at the moment it is not possible to tested for such immunity. In the future it may be possible.

People with blood type O seem to have some degree of protection from Covid-19, as described here.

Vitamin D supplements seem to offer some protection, in people who are deficient in vitamin D. Trials are under way to prove this, as described here.

The Prognosis

Things are not going to get better any time soon: not this year, and maybe not even next year.

The concept of herd immunity has been shown to be a non-starter.

Vaccinations will probably start in 2021, but most people will not be able to get one until 2022 or 2023 (the same situation as with testing for the coronavirus, which has taken ages to become widely available), so the general populace will not be protected for quite some time.

By now, pretty much everyone knows people who have had Covid-19. Many of us have heard of people (friends of friends, or distant relatives) who have died. All this will continue for the foreseeable future.

This means that our lives will continue to be affected by the coronavirus: lockdowns and quarantines, wearing masks, social distancing, working from home, disinfecting groceries, no vacations (if you have any sense), countries to which you can't travel for business, eating and drinking at home and basically no social life. Thank goodness for the Internet!

Lindsey Graham's racist denial of racism.

Posted on 13th October 2020

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The more I read and think about this report on The Guardian, the angrier I get.

I assume that Senator Graham meant the statement as a denial of racism in South Carolina, his home state, but it comes across as confirmation (as if we needed any more confirmation) that there is systemic racism in the USA.

He said that African Americans and immigrants can [safely] go anywhere in South Carolina, as long as they are conservative. The word conservative is ambiguous in this context, but from his other comments that blacks and immigrants "just have to share our values", it seems that he means politically conservative (i.e. Republican), rather than a comment on their behaviour or dress.

To paraphrase Lindsey Graham into language more suitable for the subject matter, he is saying that "everything will be fine, so long as them niggers don't get uppity". Nowadays, in America, uppity means things like "driving while black", "babysitting while black", "operating a business while black", wanting to vote, expressing an opinion to a police officer, wanting an equal wage for equal work, wanting an education, and defending your home against armed invaders who turn out to be cops. In the past, being uppity also meant riding in the front of the bus, using a toilet designated for whites, sitting in the whites-only part of a restaurant and wanting to be free. Clearly, things have improved over the years for minorities, but not by much.

Senator Graham's words are totally unacceptable; the man is a dyed in wool racist.

Boeing's "culture of concealment" to blame for 737 crashes

Posted on 27th September 2020

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As reported in this BBC article, the report on the crashes of the Boeing 737 Max is finally out, and it firmly blames both Boeing and the FAA (the US Federal Aviation Administration).

As was clear from Boeing's press releases on the subject, the aircraft manufacturer has a "culture of concealment". Given this is now established fact, why would any of us believe anything the company says in future? They have been more concerned with how things appear to the flying public than about the safety of their end customers.

The FAA also rightly comes in for heavy criticism, having failed in its duty off oversight and certification. The FAA only really has one responsibility, to ensure that aircraft are safe, and they failed to do so. In effect they colluded with Boeing's concealment of facts.

Now Boeing's reputation with airlines and the public is justly "in the toilet", as is the FAA's. There was a time when certification by the FAA was effectively simply rubber stamped by other certification authorities; those days are over, which will increase aircraft costs and delay the in-service dates of new planes.

Numbers about new Tesla battery technology don't add up.

Posted on 27th September 2020

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Journalists bemoan the poor understanding of science by the general public, and then have the hypocrisy to publish articles like this report on th BBC.

The piece is about the much anticipated presentation by Elon Musk, about Tesla's new battery technology.

It repeats figures from the presentation about the performance improvements that the new battery tech. offers. In short, the new batteries will have:

  1. 5 times more energy storage,
  2. 6 times more power,
  3. 16% more vehicle range.

Item #1 should translate directly into 5 times more range. The only reasons that it wouldn't are:

  • If the batteries are hugely heavier than the current batteries (normal matter is simply not dense enough to cause this - only neutron stars are dense enough);
  • Or if Tesla are going to significantly reduce the number of batteries in each car, to take advantage of the increased energy density, but there is no mention of such a reduction in the report;

Either the journalists at the presentation were so mesmerized by it all that they didn't challenge this inconsistency, or they did, but the author of the BBC article (James Clayton) understands so little about basic science that he ignored this glaring issue.

I expect such poor journalism from some publications, but I had higher hopes of the BBC.

The proper way to pronounce "Thunberg".

Posted on 22nd July 2020

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Greta Thunberg has been in the news again today, because she just announced that she will donate the €1M prize money from the Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity to charity. It reminded me to check on the proper way to pronounce her surname.

Having worked in Sweden for about 6 months, and having a Swedish derived surname, I was always sure that people were pronouncing her name wrongly, but no-one would believe me. Today I found out why: a Google search for "proper pronunciation of Thunberg" offers several YouTube videos, virtually all of which claim that the name is pronounced Toon-berg (examples here and here.

In this video of Greta speaking at the European Parliament, Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), she introduces herself (at exactly minute 8 of the video), pronouncing it correctly as Toon-berry.

This search on forvo.com also has the correct pronunciation.

Swedish pronunciation is hard - just use forvo.com to play the pronunciations for "sju" (seven), "Köpenhamn" (Copenhagen), "kiosk" (kiosk) and "sjuksyster" (nurse) to get an idea of how hard - but I believe it is important to pronounce people's names properly (insulting if you do not).

Political Correctness is getting out of hand!

Posted on 5th July 2020

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It really seems that political correctness is getting thoroughly out of hand!

Recently, Sheryl and I watched the movie "Rush Hour", starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. Sheryl mentioned that this film is now considered to not be politically correct, because it contains racist words and phrases (anti-Chinese and anti-black). The movie was made in 1998, and the world at the time was much more racist than it is now (and even now, the world is still very racist). The social and historical context is thus racist, and a film set against this background needs to represent this context (without condoning it). Movies that do not properly represent their social and historical context are flawed, and generally uninteresting (no-one will watch them). Lots of other kinds of context are apparently allowed to be represented (and even exaggerated) in movies (sex, violence, espionage, war, science, technology and crime, for example) without the self-appointed PC watchdogs crying foul, but racism now has to be whitewashed (and no, whitewashed is not a racist term). I am getting really fed-up with this PC nonsense!

Another example, reported here on People, is the decision by Hulu to pull an episode of the Golden Girls from their catalogue, because of a scene where the stars are wearing mud-masks; not black-face, but a beauty treatment. All this because Hulu were worried that audiences would misinterpret this scene as racist. How far are companies willing to go to guard against the ignorance and stupidity of some of their consumers?

In other PC news (here, on the BBC), Twitter and other companies are dropping the terms "master", "slave" and "blacklist" (very widely used in software) in favour of more inclusive language. I can understand dropping the use of the word "blacklist", which has racist origins, but "master" and "slave" are words that pre-date the enslavement of blacks and have meanings that accurately describe the functions and relationships of things, which are not based on racist models or analogies. The word "master" is not modelled on a white slave-owning person, and "slave" is not based on an enslaved black person.

Another aspect of political correctness is the beatification by public opinion of the victims of police violence. No matter what the history of such a victim is, once dead they are treated as a saint, and any suggestion to the contrary is met with a vicious backlash by the PC police. An example is George Floyd. There is no question that George Floyd was brutally and unjustly murdered, but he was no saint. Nevertheless, Ron Johnson, who was head of consumer products at Riot Games had to resign (as reported here by the BBC) over a meme he posted about George Floyd, which included the statements "no reason to condone his killing" and "This type of criminal lifestyle never results in good things" (about George Floyd, not the police officer who killed him). Being factually correct seems to be no protection from these kinds of backlash.

There is a well known phrase, widely quoted in several variants: "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it". How can we learn from history if our history is whitewashed and we cannot discuss the facts and implications of our history? Political correctness (among other things) is now standing in the way of our learning from our history, and thus guaranteeing that we will repeat it.

Just to be clear, no-one has beaten Covid-19!

Posted on 18th July 2020

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There has been a lot of discussion recently about the success, or failure, of various nations in dealing with Covid-19. At one extreme there is New Zealand, which has been hailed as a roaring success, because they had so few cases, and almost no recent cases (and all of those due to visitors from outside of the country). At the opposite end of the spectrum there are countries like the USA and Brazil, where the coronavirus is raging out of control. In between, there are countries such as Spain, Britain, Ireland, Australia, Sweden and many more, where the virus is surging again, after seeming to be under control, as lockdown restrictions are gradually eased. Even in Germany, where I live, the number of cases of Covid-19 have increased with the reduction of restrictions on travel and public gatherings.

This New York Times report provides an excellent summary of the global spread of the outbreak and the resulting deaths, and this search yields a graphical summary where you can select (in a pull-down menu) the country for which you want data.

So, let us look more closely at the extremes.

  1. New Zealand brought in very strict quarantine and lockdown regulations very quickly. This means that the disease is pretty much eliminated from the country, few people were infected and hardly anyone died (22 people at the time of writing). That in turn means that virtually no-one has any immunity. As soon as they open their borders, the disease will get in again, as it has done at least once in recent weeks. New Zealand may have eliminated Covid-19 from their shores, but all the while that the pandemic rages around the rest of the world, the only way they can keep it at bay is to maintain a national quarantine. For a country which is so heavily dependent upon tourism, and with a fairly high rate of immigration, that is an economic death sentence.
  2. The USA has had an incredibly high number of infections and deaths, compared to China and Europe, for example. They seem to have had no success in “flattening the curve”, and in parts of the country the infection rate is rising dramatically. Even so, the total official number of people who have caught Covid-19 is only around 3 million, which is less than 1% of the population. Research suggests that the actual number of infections could be between 5 to 10 times that (due to undetected infections because of inadequate testing), but even that means that less than 10% have had the coronavirus. Given all the recent doubts about how long immunity to the disease may last after an infection, the number of people having immunity is unarguably lower (probably significantly lower) than 10% of their population, which is nowhere near enough to provide “herd immunity”. This article on The Point describes an interesting analysis of the numbers for Mississippi, showing how unrealistic it is to reach herd immunity in that state, even in a year; the numbers for different states and even countries are obviously different, but crunching those numbers will yield basically the same conclusions, that herd immunity is 1 to 3 years away, if it is ever achievable.

The countries between the extremes have had varying degrees of success in limiting the spread of Covid-19 and the resulting deaths, due to the varying strengths of their lockdown regulations, the amount of testing, and the quality, availability and cost of their health-care systems. Also in the mix are cultural differences, such as people’s willingness to wear masks and socially distance, the general level of public and personal hygiene (and even the availability of soap and water in some places), the varying habits regarding social gatherings and the prevalence of the sharing of food and drink. Many places have been rolling back recent easings of lockdown restrictions as infections surge again (see here, on The Guardian).

The key here is that these differences, country to country, are only about the spread of infections. Limiting the spread of Covid-19 inherently limits the spread of immunity, however short-term and limited in scope that immunity may be, so success in controlling the spread has nothing to do with defeating the disease, and actually has the opposite effect.

In summary, herd immunity will not be achieved in any part of the world within the next year, for simple logistical reasons (as pointed out above, in the article about Mississippi). This is further complicated by the fact that immunity from infection may only last a few months (see this report on The Guardian), meaning that it will never become widespread enough to provide herd immunity. This is unfortunate, since herd immunity was the basis of the exit strategies of governments around the world (see here). We urgently need a new exit strategy. The best hope for immunity is a vaccine, which may be available by the end of 2020, but current expectations are that a vaccine will give only short-term protection, possibly meaning immunisations being regularly repeated (maybe every 3 to 6 months).

There may be no immunity against Covid-19, new Wuhan study suggests.

Updated on 26th June 2020

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This article on SCMP is a disgraceful piece of sensationalist journalism. It completely misrepresents the research results.

As I wrote in this post, if you are infected with Covid-19, either your body mounts an immune response, or you die of the disease.

This report, on the New York Times, paints a more balanced picture: that the immunity that you acquire from the infection "may last only two to three months, especially in people who never showed symptoms while they were infected". Immunity might last longer, for some, but in others it will not. This is in line with the many reports of patients getting infected more than once with Covid-19, typically after about two months.

Of course, this new information has several implications:

  • The whole concept of so called immunity passports (being introduced, for example, by Chile, and being considered by other nations), are not supported by science and are inherently flawed (Chile now admits this [see this Reuters report], but is going ahead with issuing them anyway!);
  • The lockdown exit strategy of almost every government in the world (except New Zealand, it seems) of building up so called herd immunity (by as many people as possible being infected) is also not supported by the latest science, and is thus not sound. Clearly a new exit strategy is needed.
  • Just because you already had Covid-19 does not mean that you can't catch it again yourself, and infect other people, so keep wearing a mask and social distancing;
  • The antibody tests that detect whether you have in the past been infected with Covid-19 are also likely to detect only infections in the last few months, because it is the levels of antibodies in your bloodstream (detected by these antibody tests) that fades over time, the research has shown;
  • Any Covid-19 vaccine that is eventually approved for human use may also only confer immunity for two to three months, so it may be necessary to have a booster shot every two months, which will have enormous cost and logistic impact on vaccination programmes;
  • Covid-19 will most probably be with us forever, like Cholera, Measles, Tuberculosis, the common cold, influenza and many more diseases, as warned about in this piece published by the World Economic Forum; we are going to have to learn to live with that, and adapt our lifestyles accordingly (less long-distance travel for business or pleasure, less promiscuity and casual sex [a condom will not protect you against Covid-19!], less close social contact like handshakes and kissing on the cheeks, improved hygiene [at home, at work, in restaurants, at hospitals, in prisons, on public transport etc.] and so on).
A drug to treat Covid-19.

Posted on 21st June 2020

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is celebrating "a remarkable British scientific achievement", a drug that has been shown to be effective in treating Covid-19, as reported by the BBC here.

The headline of this story, "Dexamethasone proves first life-saving drug", probably based on UK government a press release, is actually not true. Dexamethasone is not the first. Trials of remdesivir, a drug developed to treat ebola, have shown that it is effective in treating Covid-19, as reported here, by Ars Technica about a month ago. There have also been very hopeful animal trials of a new drug from Celltrion (it seems that this new drug does no yet have a name), as reported in this story on Fox News.

For most of us, however, the news about dexamethasone is not really relevant. Dexamethasone, a low-dose steroid medication has been shown to increase the survival rates of people with severe infections: patients on ventilators (survival rates increased by a third) and patients receiving oxygen (survival rates increased by a fifth).

The reason why it doesn't affect most of us? Dexamethasone does not seem to help people with milder symptoms of coronavirus: those who do not need help breathing. Given that around 95% patients who are infected with the coronavirus recover without even being admitted to hospital, and not all patients admitted to hospital need oxygen or a ventilator, most infections will not be helped by treatment with this drug.

There is something that worries me about this announcement. Several studies (reported, for example, here, here and here) have shown that SARS-CoV-2 (the coronavirus which causes Covid-19) is not in fact a kind of pneumonia, but a blood vessel disease. It damages the blood vessels, causing lots of small blood clots; these clots cause not only the symptoms in the lungs, but also the widespread organ damage that some patients suffer, and the side-effects such as strokes and heart attacks. As a result of these analyses.some of the researchers have recommended treatment with a combination of anti-inflammatories (e.g. steroids or ibuprofen), anti-coagulants, anti-virals (e.g. drugs like remdesivir) and antibiotics (to treat the bacterial opportunistic secondary infections that often occur with viral diseases). So, it really shouldn't come as a surprise that dexamethasone (a steroid) and remdesivir (an anti-viral) are effective treatments, but for many doctors it seems, nevertheless to be a surprise. It just confirms that many doctors are not paying attention to current research, and as a result are putting their patients at risk.

We do not want US GMO crops!

Posted on 21st June 2020

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I have previously written about GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) crops and US attempts to foist them on UK and other consumers (here, here, here and here).

If you think I am making a fuss about nothing, I recommend that you read this report on "Collective Evolution". The report is based on information provided by an ex-Monsanto employee, and is primarily about GMO potatoes, but the risks (although different in some details) apply to other GMO crops. The article makes the point well enough that I don't need to elaborate. If you are not concerned after reading it, then you are probably beyond help.

Although EU food safety regulations provide some protections, the situation in the UK after Brexit will be much worse, once the USA gets the trade deal that it wants with Britain.

Illegal sanctions by US against the ICC

Posted on 21st June 2020

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Not only is the USA the world leader in extraterritorial legislation (see my previous posts on the subject here and here), but when there are no legislative avenues open to them, they resort to blackmail!

I am referring to this article by the BBC, which reports on the sanctions that the USA has imposed on those members of the ICC (International Criminal Court) involved in the investigation of possible war crimes by members of the US military in Afghanistan. These sanctions have been imposed not only on judges, prosecutors and investigators, but on all ICC employees involved in the case, and their family members. The sanctions include blocking the assets of International Criminal Court (ICC) employees and barring them from entering the USA.

Although the USA is not a signatory to the ICC agreement, all of the EU, plus Afghanistan (where the crimes are alleged to have happened) are (see the list of signatories here). That means that the court has legal jurisdiction over the location of the alleged crimes, and also that the ICC employees are acting within the law.

Generally, war crimes are defined by the Hague Conventions and the Geneva Conventions, all of which were signed by the USA. US law even allows the prosecution of US military personnel for war crimes (see here). President Trump has, however, pardoned US troops who had been prosecuted in the US for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.

Since those presidential pardons did not convince the ICC (not surprisingly, since Donald the Hutt has no jurisdiction in The Hague or Afghanistan) he has now decided to illegally sanction members of the ICC, in the hope of halting the investigation.

A president who blackmails his friends is no friend, and should be treated accordingly (as in this, unfortunately fictional, movie scene).

More than just a few "bad cops" in Buffalo PD

Posted on 11th June 2020

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This report by the BBC shows just how difficult it will be to reform policing in the USA.

By now most people will have seen the video of the peaceful 75-year-old protester, Martin Gugino, being pushed to the ground by the police in Buffalo (if you haven't seen the video, it is in the BBC report). Mr. Gugino was seriously injured (the video shows a large pool of blood forming on the pavement from a head wound), and was taken to hospital. Once the video came out, the two officers involved were suspended.

The main point of the BBC article is that the 57 remaining officers in the Buffalo tactical unit have resigned from the tactical unit (they haven't resigned from the police force) in support of their suspended colleagues. That is despite the video evidence, which shows that Martin Gugino acted in a peaceful and non-threatening manner, and that the police brutality was totally unjustified.

This is a case where the well known rule applies: if you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. In effect, they are trying to blackmail the police department into allowing criminal police brutality. They seem to want to remain members of the police, but the world doesn't need officers like them; they should be fired.

Donald Trump: President for life?

Posted on 11th June 2020

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By now, everyone must have noticed what is going on in the USA, with the murder by police of George Floyd, the resulting "Black Lives Matter" protests, and the police responses to the protests.

There seems no question that there is something to protest about: there is an increasingly well documented history of racism, not just by police, and murders in America. It is well past time that something was done about this problem.

What is rather more questionable is the government response to the protests. By any standards, the response has been very heavy handed: police using military equipment and riot gear to police the protests, assaults on and injuries to peaceful protesters, troops deployed to protect some sites, tear gas used to clear peaceful protesters so that President Trump could have a photo-opportunity holding a bible (which he held upside down - this in the country where flying the US flag upside down is considered by most to be a crime!), curfews, and so on. Admittedly there has been some violence by protesters, and some looting; opportunist criminals and people who simply want a fight (the police excuse for the extra-judicial killings of blacks seem suitable here too: "a few bad protesters"). Most of the protesters, however, are peaceful. Donald Trump has nevertheless told local politicians and law enforcement groups that they need to "dominate the streets".

One has to ask:

  • Is this the right strategy to calm the situation? The protesters have valid issues which need to be addressed, and stronger policing does nothing to address them.
  • What could be the strategy behind such a brutal and unlikely to succeed approach?

Personally, I suspect that the strategy is to further inflame the situation, to create an excuse for the introduction of martial law in the USA. That would allow:

  • Even stronger policing, including the wider deployment of troops (either national guard or regular army units).
  • The suspension of constitutional rights.
  • The cancellation (which would be described as a deferment) of the upcoming presidential election, which Donald Trump seems set to lose, based on current opinion polls. That would make Donald Trump President for life, which is a truly horrific prospect.

I am not saying that this will definitely happen, and I dearly hope that it won't, but the risk is great enough, and the consequences so enormous, that US citizens should think seriously about what can be done to ensure that it doesn't happen.

President Trump seems to be working overtime to justify my new nickname for him: Donald the Hutt.

Covid-19: "The question is not whether you become immune, it's how long for".

Posted on 17th May 2020

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After I wrote this, about governments' lockdown exit strategies, I posted a copy on Facebook. I received a number negtive comments.

Some were about the issue of immunity: people saying that we don't currently know if our bodies have any ability to acquire immunity from infection by Covid-19. This BBC article gives a good summary of the current situation, based on expert opinions. The key take-away is the statement that "The question is not whether you become immune, it's how long for". Basically, given that there are no effective treatments for Covid-19, if your body doesn't mount an immune response to the coronavirus, you will die of the disease. The only thing that we don't yet know is how long the resulting immunity lasts, although the fact that antibody tests are now available to show whether you have had the disease shows that immunity lasts for at lest a few weeks or months, at least for many people.

There were also comments to the effect that my opinions about the exit strategy were wrong, and based on no evidence. I found this odd, because the UK government, and others, have talked about herd immunity quite a bit. In the absence of a vaccine, herd immunity can only come from being infected (and recovering, obviously). Governments are hoping that the populace develops herd immunity, and the only way to get that is for enough people to be infected, and for them to develop immunity. My opinions on the exit strategy are therefore based on published official statements and policy.

Governments around the world are gradually relaxing their lockdowns, and carefully monitoring infection rates as they do so, to maximise infection rates within the limits of their health-care systems' ability to cope, all to build up herd immunity.

Covid-19 lockdowns; what is the Exit Strategy?

Posted on 17th April 2020

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People are starting to ask "What is the Exit Strategy [from lockdown]?" and "Why is my government being so cagey about it?"

Your government is reluctant to explain their exit strategy because they believe (probable rightly) that you will be upset when you find out, so here is an explanation.

Governments want the lockdown to be as short as possible, because of the impact on the economy and their tax revenues.

The only purpose of the lockdown is to limit the rate of infection to something that a country's medical infrastructure can handle. As long as hospitals and medical services can cope, governments want the infection rate to be as high as possible. Catching Covid-19 is the only way that the population can currently get immunity, and this will remain so until an effective and safe vaccine is widely available (probably not before the end of 2021), and widespread immunity is necessary before ending the lockdown is possible (see this report on Slash-Gear about an MIT modeling study which shows that easing lockdowns too soon will result in "Disaster").

Several countries (e.g. Denmark, Austria and Germany) are beginning to gradually ease their lockdowns. They are doing this because their medical infrastructure is coping. They want to increase their rates of infection (within the limits of their medical infrastructure), to reduce the lengths of their lockdowns. If this increases their infection rates, and the resulting need for hospitalisations, by too much, they will make the lockdowns stricter; if not, they will continue gradual easing.

That, in a nutshell, is the exit strategy: maximise infection rates within manageable limits to spread immunity as fast as possible, so that lockdowns can be ended as soon as possible. This is similar to parents who deliberately expose their kids to childhood diseases like measles and chicken-pox (e.g. by sending them to "measles parties").

Covid-19 is not about to be defeated (there is no sign of a treatment or vaccine in the near future). Your government is going to manage your exposure to the disease, to ensure that you can get back to work as soon as possible. If some people die along the way, so be it.

All this might sound brutal and morally bankrupt, but no-one has a better strategy. No nation can afford to stay in lockdown until a vaccine is available.

The USA is committing economic suicide!

Posted on 7th April 2020

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A friend of mine posted this on Facebook.

It is quite a long read, but worth a look. The earlier parts put the economic stimulus package that the US has put into effect in perspective: what seems like a huge amount of money amounts to a week's lost income, to help families and businesses ride out a lockdown that has already gone on for two weeks, has been extended for another two weeks, and realistically will last several weeks beyond that.

He argues, probably correctly that this lack of support will destroy the US economy, with impacts lasting at least a decade or two.

I do not, however, agree with his later arguments that borrowing money for a larger stimulus package has no real cost, because the money would be borrowed from the borrower, and therefore wouldn't need to be paid back. This is not how things work in national finances.

There are two basic ways for governments to "borrow" money:

  1. They can borrow money by selling government debt (borrowing from individuals, companies, or other governments), or by borrowing money from the IMF or the World Bank. This sort of debt most certainly does need to be paid back.
  2. They can effectively borrow from themselves, by printing money. This has the inevitable result of devaluing their currency: the more money they print, the less value it has. In the long term, this has disastrous consequences on the economy, and on personal and corporate wealth.

This doesn't mean that neither of these measures should be taken, but the idea that they are free and without negative consequences is naive.

The Covid-19 pandemic will have huge and long lasting impacts on us all, and we should be prepared for life to be hard for a very long time. There are no easy solutions, neither medical nor economic.

Self-isolation is so tough!

Posted on 30th March 2020

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Everyone is complaining about how tough it is, being in self-isolation (except for people in Sweden, where it seems to be business as usual, as reported here by the BBC): complaints of boredom, having to spend time with their family, difficulties in getting exercise, problems with grocery shopping (because of panic buying) and so on.

But it seems that not everyone is suffering as much as most of us. One example is the King of Thailand. The Daily Mail reports (here) that he has gone into self-isolation in Bavaria (Germany) by booking out the entirety of the Grand Hotel Sonnenbichl, along with his wife and 20 concubines.

Such a hard life, although I am sure that the hotel owners and staff are happy with the situation.

The Covid-19 pandemic: what can we expect?

Posted on 30th March 2020

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Although there is quite a lot of information available about the Covid-19 coronavirus, there is also a lot of disinformation (not least from President Trump), and quite a few scams. Also the consequences of the information are not being explained by governments and health experts. So I am going to try and list some key facts, and the results on us of those facts.

There is also a useful article here on The Atlantic, on what the future holds regarding Covid-19.

Treatments

As I write this, there are no proven treatments for Covid-19. There are some rumours, but nothing yet that has been shown to work. Many scientists are busily searching for existing drugs that are effective against it, and trying to invent new drugs to treat it.

We should expect that this will take some time, partly because it is a large and complex task, and partly because the approval process for new drugs takes time, although it is reasonable to assume that this process will be fast-tracked. Therefore don’t expect an approved treatment before the end of 2020, or mid 2021 at the very earliest.

Also, if and when one or more treatments are found and approved, expect the drugs to be in short supply at first. This is true even for any existing drugs found to be effective against Covid-19, but even more so for any totally new drugs.

In the meantime, treatments are all symptomatic: treating the symptoms so that they don’t kill the patients, thus giving their bodies time to defeat the virus. This is no different to the situation with many endemic viruses such as ‘flus and colds.

An immunisation

Many scientists and drug companies are working flat out on an immunisation, and at least one has already started testing on humans. Although this sounds hopeful, the development of new vaccines is always full of false hopes and failures: shots that don’t work and immunisations that have side-effects so severe as to make them useless.

We should expect that the first approved immunisations will give only partial and/or short-term protection against the virus. We should also expect that any approval may have exclusions: parts of the population for whom the vaccine is not deemed safe (most likely the people who need it most).

As with treatments, immunisations will take time, for the same reasons, so don’t expect them to be available before mid to end of 2021.

What is all this talk about flattening the curve?

There has been lots of talk about flattening the curve, and it is the justification for the lockdowns and travel bans that have been put in place.

Basically, self-isolation is a way of slowing down the spread, so that hospitals are not overwhelmed by the numbers of patients, so that people who need to be hospitalised can be, thus increasing their survival rate. In other words, lockdowns and travel bans will reduce the proportion of infected people who die, by a small amount.

There is no justification for believing that flattening the curve will reduce the total number of people who get infected. It just means that it may take longer for you to get infected: in some isolated communities maybe 3 to 5 years instead of 3 to 6 months.

Through their strategy of flattening the curve, your government is not trying to prevent you from catching the virus; they are only deferring when you will catch it. That means that not only are your chances of survival improved, but also there is a chance that treatment or a vaccine may be available when you do catch it.

Will you catch it?

Current projections are that at least 50% of the world population will become infected with Covid-19 eventually. It could be more. So yes, expect at some point to catch it.

You might have no symptoms at all, or you might have only mild symptoms. At risk people (people with existing conditions like heart disease, cancer and diabetes, and older people) are likely to have more severe cases, and may need to be hospitalised.

How long will the lockdown last?

One of the results of successfully flattening the curve is that the danger period will be lengthened. You should therefore expect lockdowns to last 3 months or more (the lockdown in Wuhan has already lasted 3 months and is not completely over (being eased, but not over), and that lockdown was severe and very strictly enforced by Chinese authorities).

Will it come around again, and will I catch it again?

Most coronaviruses are prone to mutation. This coronavirus is already mutating. Scientists are currently tracking 8 variants around the world (see here).

What that means is that any immunity that you gain, by catching it, or by vaccination, may not be effective against a new strain resulting from mutation. Immunity from having been infected is likely to be more effective against such new strains than an immunisation.

Also, it is not yet clear how long immunity from infection lasts (see paragraph 8 in this BBC article).

Colds and ‘flus come around regularly, also due to mutations, and these viral diseases are now endemic. Expect Covid-19 to also become an endemic disease, but so far there is no factual scientific basis for believing that Covid-19 will be seasonal like colds and ‘flu (see paragraph 6 in this BBC article).

So yes, it would be reasonable to assume that Covid-19 will come around again, and that some of you will catch it again. If you have some partial immunity from a previous infection or vaccination, a second infection should be less severe (but there are no guarantees).

Will it ever be completely stamped out?

It seems unlikely that we will ever completely eradicate Covid-19.

We have only been partially successful in limiting ‘flu, and even less successful in limiting the common cold (also caused by a coronavirus). In the case of influenza, new vaccines have to be developed every year for the new strains.

There are some notable success stories with immunisation (such as smallpox – now completely eradicated), but other diseases such as polio (caused by a virus) have not been completely eradicated, and TB (caused by a bacterium) is making a comeback, with drug resistant strains.

What about the impact on the economy?

The economy has taken a huge hit all around the world (see here). Currently stock markets are about 30% down. Oil prices are down to around $20 for a barrel, due to reduced demand, due to the lockdowns and travel bans.

It currently looks like China will be the first economy to recover.

Economies will not recover until everyone can return to work and spending patterns return to normal, so not until after the lockdowns are over.

Things may not get as bad as during the great depression, but they might.

What a