25 Jan

Washington DC 2011

Travelled to Heathrow Friday, flew Club World to Washington Dulles. Wow, wow, personal cubicle with seat/bed and wonderful service:- awesome. We booked economy and then blew all of Ann’s BA miles accumulated over the years to upgrade to Club World. Spoilt me forever, how could I fly long haul in a normal seat now? Well, given the price I’ll have to somehow!

Arrived and after the usual interminable wait for US Immigration (hey we only need 2 people working, just wait), travelled to Hamilton (Crowne Plaza) hotel on 14th and K and crashed out and slept our way thru’ the time difference quite well. Large room, nicely appointed but basic amenities all 1960s in origin, e.g. air con, bath, shower. Obviously very modern furniture, beds, carpets etc., but like in many US cities they’re slightly behind the current level of EU hotels which have been built or refurbished more recently. (I exclude London and Paris which are also often also a little tired)

On Saturday got up. Gosh it’s cold, very cold, around -6 deg Celcius, with wind chill coming in around -12 C. But it’s got space, the blocks are small, the streets are very very wide, but also there is a huge expanse of open parkland in the centre of the city next to the Potomac river. This is the National Mall and full of museums (and gosh there’s a lot of really impressive Smithsonian museums), memorials and at one end Capitol Hill and the White House off to one side. As we find the double decker bus we usually use the acquaint ourselves with cities we realise that even with thermal underwear we are not really equipped for the cold and wind. The bus is not heated and so we freeze whether on the bus or on the ground. [We therefore suggest that if you come here that you consider Tourmobile tours which have heated buses, or Gray Line or the Trolley bus tours, the converted London double deckers don’t work in this weather.]

As we tour I begin to understand this crucial capitol of the USA, of the walkable distances between the White House (which is charming and understated), the different federal buildings, Congress and also the cultural highpoints and symbols of the development of this young nation. We get out and visit the Jefferson Memorial, my favourite founding father, the Lincoln Memorial, the Great Emacipator, the Korean, and WW2 memorial. Ann is so cold that she gets a very bad headache and we retire hurt but having seen a lot.

On Sunday we have a great run of synchronicity. We walk to the bus stop near the White House and the correct route bus arrives. We arrive at the Arlington National Cemetery, and immediately board a Tourmobile bus that take around the cemetery and drops us at the Kennedy graves, the Tomb of the Unknowns, and back at the Visitors Centre just in time to immediately board our (cold) bus and move onto the shopping centre at Pentagon City, having just passed the Pentagon. I didn’t realise that the Pentagon is just over the river from DC, the White House and Capitol Hill are a heart beat away from there by plane.. suddenly I realise just how shocked the government in DC must have been on 9/11.. the plan that hit the Pentagon was seconds from taking out the legislature or executive of the USA. New York was the shocker but the hit in DC must have really been as shocking in implication for the country. My understanding of Virginia, Maryland and DC geography has improved in leaps and bounds and the cultural impact of that as well.

Shopping was fun, but the mall was smaller than Meadowhall in Sheffield or the Metro Centre in Tyne and Wear or Brent Cross in London. Again the impression I got was how much Europe has caught up with the USA in much that we view as essentially North American. We take the Metro Rail back to the hotel, and here the USA has leapfrogged the UK, having built this underground light rail so much later than ours it’s head and shoulders above London or Paris, with fast wide trains running with a pace as good as the U-Bahns and S-Bahns in Germany. Drivers need to go easy on the brakes tho’, they’ll be breaking some elderly bones if they keep jolting the trains as they decelerate. Noticeably the fare structure is unnecessarily complex, but most US government systems and tariffs seem to be so. It’s a very good metro light rail system tho’

Monday I turn up at the Transportation Research Board nice and early using the Metro Rail. It’s different than the events I am used to. It’s bigger, and very disciplined with regard to start times, speaker durations and general event etiquette. It’s also hands off with regard to food, drink, wifi, etc. Essentially if you want a drink you buy it, if you want to eat you can buy a sandwich or pay for a full meal, but it’s down to you. There is no conference organised wifi, you can use the hotel wireless in the lobby for free (as can anyone.. it’s quite poor) or if you have a room then you can use the wireless in the event rooms. It’s typical of the hands off, make your own choices mindset that applies here. I don’t mind, but it is slightly impersonal and unwelcoming, and I know it’d go down like a lead balloon at the events I organise in the EU…

The talks and presentations are good, my interest rises, I meet some old friends and colleagues (Laetitia D, Robert G, Mike B etc.). I decide that Tuesday will be a full day and go back the hotel and go out for a great meal on the Waterfront where the cold is so sharp that the fountains have become giant slushie machines full of ice mountains and yet still pumping more water around to freeze some more. I wish I understood thermodynamics, does a spray make the water freeze faster? The food is good, I have a steak so good that I suspect that I’ll have to have another before I go home.

Tuesday. Up early since I have a full schedule of sessions to attend. Starts well with a session that consists of US and international people reviewing the EU freight policies. Eerie feeling as you hear how others see us. Robert Govaers and I compare notes about how the US and EU differ, both charmed and puzzled alternately. I meet my friend Roberta W whose husband has recently passed on, she’s very upbeat and busy, but I feel deeply sad.

Washington, D.C. Flickr Set

15 Dec

Final flight for UK’s Harriers at RAF Cottesmore

So, this is it. The last day. Michael led the final flight off the Ark Royal, but today he’s not flying but on the ground. The weather is onot good, low fog and poor visibility, but this is the end of the Harriers in the UK. I’ll update the blog through the day as the news reports come in, and then mark this as a memory, to look back on in years to come.

Final flight for UK’s Harriers at RAF Cottesmore: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11996936
Struggle at the top over decision to scrap UK Harriers: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11997084
Harrier Jets Make Their Final Flights: http://bit.ly/ef2wLS

And now, the best bit for us proud parents:

Interview with Mike Carty: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12003381

10 Dec

Operation Leakspin..

Well it seems Operation Payback imploded. It made a pretty good impact at first and then as their command and control infrastructure was destroyed then they ended up aimless. Whilst I have a regard for their jolly antics it’s like smasing a window, it has an effect once but after that it’s power is lost and anyway.. stopping people using the ‘Net is not a long term strategy, altho’ not a bad one to have up your sleevem since the governments (and let’s not kid ourselves who is behind these big DDOS attacks) use them as much as leaning on private companies. Maybe Paypal and Mastercard and Visa will think twice next time before dropping customers who haven’t broken any laws and certainly haven’t been tried of such. BTW did you know Mastercard take and process money for the KKK, declared a terrorist organisation in the 19th century by a US federal judge.. and in 1999 in South Carolina..  I digress..

A much better approach is the new Operation Leakspin which is both charmingly honest, strangely sexist (Gentlemen?) and yet the right way to go. The best way to fight censorship is more free speech not less. Mind you.. I’d keep the ammo handy..

leakspin

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09 Dec

Cyberpunk is here and it’s not all shiny

This is the future that Gibson wrote of all those years about. Largely dominated by megacorps, but with fringers nipping between the gaps. Maybe it’s better, since the fringers are one step ahead for now, and although Twitter is a corporate entity, it’s going to be very hard for them to shut down clever use of their service. Some people may setup alternatives, indeed there is much talk of darknets.. but they sound more like ghettos than areas of freedom. The biggest freedom would be to break the centralised nature of DNS.. and boy would that be both liberating and (from an architecture point of view) scary.

09 Dec

I am Julian Assange

 Something bad happened. Governments around the world, and the U.S. government in particular, decided freedom of speech was no longer allowed on the internet. WikiLeaks was the target. They put massive pressure on EasyDNS.net, Paypal, VISA, Mastercard, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook and PostFinance (Switzerland) to cease business with WikiLeaks. They all caved in, choosing to side with the elites rather than holding true to the principles of freedom. Governments launched DDoS attacks on the WikiLeaks website and forced it offline, while demanding the founder be tried for treason. Others called for him to be assassinated.

fingerSomething wonderful happened. The little people recognized that their freedom was being stamped on by the governments. They grew angry. The Governments had blocked every method of donating to WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks pleaded with them to clone its site, to reproduce it in the thousands so that the Government DDoS attacks would be futile. They responded. As of now there are over 1,300 clones up and running and growing every hour. The Government DDoS attack have failed. WikiLeaks is still accessible to anybody who wants – and they have a choice of over 1,300 places to access WikiLeaks.

Something wonderful happened again. The little people decided it was not fair that the commercial companies had betrayed them. They decided to act. Just like DDoS attacks had been launched against WikiLeaks, the little people launched DDoS attacks against PayPal. Mastercard was taken offline for a day. VISA was down for hours. EasyDNS.net enjoyed only sporadic access to the internet. The Swedish government website was taken down due to the attacks. Next in line are Twitter, who are currently suppressing the #wikileaks tag from appearing in its trending topics and who have banned the account of #anon_operation – the little people that were involved in keeping twitterers updated on ‘Operation Payback.’

The government is stunned. What they thought as being smart – the taking down of WikiLeaks and finally grabbing control of the internet – has provoked a backlash from the ordinary punter who have taken the route of a Governments worst nightmare. They have self organised, loose collections of people that voluntary offer bandwidth and their computers in support of the ‘payback operation.’ The little people, instead of sitting down and being quiet, have given the proverbial middle finger to the Government and the companies that acted with gross unfairness.

operaton paybackWhat you are witnessing is the beginnings of a war. A war over the freedom of the internet. On the one hand you have the Government. They want to tell you what sites you can access, what you can read, they want to monitor you to make sure you are doing nothing that displeases them. You’ll know you are on their side if you agree that WikiLeaks should have been taken down by the Government. On the other side, are the people that want to retain the privacy and freedom currently afforded by the internet, without the sinister big-brother eye glaring down upon their every typed word.

Today it’s WikiLeaks. Tomorrow, it a complete record of everything you’ve done online stored for five years and anything the government deems against its interests, taken off-line.

So what can little old you do? You can spread the word. Make sure everybody knows about the undemocratic actions of the companies listed. Contact EasyDNS.net, Paypal, VISA, Mastercard, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook and let them know what you think of their actions. There is only one thing more they fear than the government – YOU. YOU are their business, their lifeblood. YOU are how they make money.

If you have a blog or website, repost this article. We’re giving you permission right here, right now to repost it. Or write your own. Everyone needs to get involved in spreading the word. The little people don’t expect to win this battle, but there is always the next one.

You can do more though. If you have a server, consider hosting a mirror of WikiLeaks. The more people do it, the more we’ve won. You can find instructions here.  http://213.251.145.96/mass-mirror.html

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24 Nov

End of an Era

The carrier Ark Royal is sailing from Newcastle upon Tyne on it’s last journey as a British ship on it’s way to Germany. The ship is being decommissioned as part of the UK spending cuts, on it’s 25th Anniversary. At the same time the Harrier jump jet force is being stood down, a similarly momentous end to great service in the UK services.

This affects us directly, my son is a Captain in the Royal Marines and also a Harrier pilot in the Fleet Air Arm, so as of 15th December he no longer had a role. Not that this necessarily means the end of his career or even his flying days, although I can’t see him going back to commanding amphibious infantry again. I am surprised and pleased to say that he seems to be holding up well despite the bad news.

Ann and Matthew met up with Mike and HyunMi in Newcastle over the weekend, and Ann watched as the Ark Royal sailed out of the Tyne on it’s last trip, Mike on the deck at attention. Later that afternoon Mike led the last 4 Harriers off the deck, he was the first of the last flight, his plane with a special red tailfin.

You can see it here, eve though they seemed to have changed the actual flight sequence.

http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3244315/Final-Harrier-jet-leaves-Brit-ship.html?OTC-RSS&ATTR=News

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-11830653


19 Sep

We’re having a weekend in Berlin, prior to the big INNOTRANS trade show I am attending this week (NewRail has a big trade stand) and it’s Ann’s birthday today.

I got her a Kindle and it’s awesome and I amd just going to have one for Xmas.

She has a bad cold now.. Matt has had it for a week and it’s a bad one, so that’s not nice for her.

My HTC Hero is in the dog kennel after the 2.1 upgrade rendered it useless at making phone calls, so it’s a total reinstall for it when I can calm my temper, and if it doesn’t behave it’s going on ebay and I may well go ultra old school and just have a "phone" for a while.

The OpenQuest game is going well.. I think. It’s curing me of any nostalgia for old skool adventures, I am yearning for some talkie-talkie bits, and the fragility of d100 characters in a D&D setting is appalling.. if it weren’t for hero points everyone would be on their 4-5th character. And hero points are frankly a huge fudge. Not that that means that BRP is duff.. but it’s not built for the very old skool dungeons in the first half of Savage North. Mind you, it gets a lot more roleplaying based after the first arc..

We’ve lost Paul M but we have gained an old friend of Jag’s called RIchard who is lovely and definitely a great new addition to the group (he also wargames and is a great modeller.. we must keep him..). We need more bodies tho’ to balance the ebb and flow we all have.

The big scary news is that we have put the house on the market, we have a "For Sale" sign and all that. The fact that I can barely face leaving my house, that the sheer costs of moving are crippling, and that I am torn apart at the thought of leaving all my friends is giving me nightmares. However I have to be able to manage my research team as it grows to 5-7 people, I need to integrate into the Tyne and Wear region and I need to free myself up write papers rather than project manage. If the house sells soon we’ll be in rented accomodation by Christmas, if not then we may take it off the market again in Nov and start again next April-May.

31 Jul

Amazon Kindle White not available in UK!

Amazon have failed me:

Hello Tom,

The White version of the kindle is currently only available on the Amazon.com store.

Unfortunately there will not be a white version available on the Amazon.co.uk store and you can’t order it from the
US store as you will be redirected to the UK store

Please let me apologies for any inconvenience this may cause.

Thank you for your interest in kindle.

Did I solve your problem?

Now how can Ann have a Kindle that matches her Macbook?