17 Apr

Biddulph Grange Gardens





Biddulph Grange Gardens, a set on Flickr.

Amazing Victorian garden created by Darwin contemporary James Bateman as an extension of his beliefs and scientific interests. His plant collection comes from all over the world – a visit takes you on a global journey from an Italian terrace to an Egyptian pyramid, via a Himalayan glen and Chinese-inspired garden. Discover the fabulous collection of rhododendrons, dahlia walk and oldest surviving golden larch in Britain, brought from China by the great plant hunter Robert Fortune. Explore the Geological Gallery: as you travel through time the biblical story of creation unfolds against a backdrop of science. A garden for all seasons.
http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-biddulphgrangegarden

24 Feb

Is this 1984?

Is this 1984?

Image by tzunder via Flickr

If I had shown you this photo in German and black and white and said it was a Nazi or Stasi poster, or in Russian and on the Soviet Metro you’d say "oh how terrible".. Big Brother is watching you.. but this was Barnsley bus station last week or so.. What has it come to, that Britons accept the degree of surveillance that we would regard as oppressive if done in a different language?

There is very little evidence that CCTV reduces crime, so to what extent have we allowed the emergence of a public-private surveillance culture and what is the effect on us as the watched?

Professor Martin Gill, Professor of Criminology in the Department of Criminology, University of Leicester, led the evaluation of a Home Office study in 2005. He said:

“For supporters of CCTV these findings are disappointing.

“For the most part CCTV did not produce reductions in crime and it did not make people feel safer. Following the introduction of CCTV, support for its use decreased, not so much because there was a concern about intrusions of privacy but because they did not see cameras as effective. One scheme was very effective in tackling vehicle crime, and there were other successes, not least in bringing more offences to the attention of the police. Overall, areas have encountered real difficulties in using CCTV to good effect.”

Source: http://www2.le.ac.uk/ebulletin/news/press-releases/2000-2009/2005/02/nparticle-jtt-p6b-76c

A 2009 Scottish Government report said:

Summary of key points from the literature review:

    * Very little evaluative research into the effectiveness of CCTV has been conducted since the year 2000.
    * There is minimal evidence to suggest that CCTV effectively deters crime, and in cases where crime does appear to be deterred, this effect is generally short-lived.
    * Key researchers have recently suggested that media coverage of CCTV installation may impact the extent to which CCTV will have any deterrent effect on crime.
    * Recent research has resulted in evidence consistent with the repeated finding that CCTV may be more effective in deterring crime in smaller and less complex areas than large city centres.
    * The opinions of convicted offenders largely suggest that cameras are not perceived as a threat, particularly in situations fuelled with alcohol.
    * The reality of crime displacement remains inconclusive.
    * There is some evidence of a diffusion of benefits in terms of crime reduction to surrounding areas following CCTV installation but, like deterrence, these effects appear to diminish with time.
    * There is some evidence to suggest that crime displacement may occur on a small scale, within the local ( CCTV targeted) area itself.
    * Evidence from intervention studies incorporating an additional outcome measure to recorded crime statistics suggests that CCTV may be more effective in terms of increased crime detection than it is in terms of deterrence, particularly in the case of violent crime.
    * Full realisation of the potential benefits of increased crime detection depends on a wide range of factors beyond the quality of the CCTV system itself.
    * The police largely view CCTV as a useful time saving tool that supports their work in a variety of ways.
    * Estimations of potential economic savings generated by CCTV are considerably high however, such estimations have not yet been balanced out against the cost of installing CCTV, preventing a true picture of its economic benefits.
    * The findings of psychological experiments suggest that evidence captured on CCTV may lead to the most successful and reliable outcome, in terms of securing a conviction, when circulated in the media, through provoking identification by members of the public familiar with the offender.
    * The extent to which CCTV improves public feelings of safety remains unclear due to conflicting results of prior- and post-intervention surveys.
    * Anecdotal evidence suggests there are many additional benefits of CCTV that go beyond any impact it may have on crime.

Source: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2009/12/03151641/1

What do you think?

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29 Jan

Washington DC continued

Well, I came back from Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting 90 (TRB) and we watched Black Swan with Natalie Portman. Very intense film, quite scary and very good. Upset both of us quite  bit and we had a long and good talk about sad things, sometimes you just need to have sad moments and reaffirm our mutual love and care for each other and the kids, both with us and gone.

Wednesday. Another day at TRB, and the snow starting to fall, although preceded by rain, which has a role to play later. Dewan and I did our poster session, and I had some good chats with other researchers, most of whom were also posters! TRB is very odd about presentations and posters. At most scientific and engineering conferences being a poster means you’re not quite as good as a conference presentation. TRB has a different criteria. At TRB presentations are for topical issues, and usually don’t have an academic peer reviewed journal associated with them (as I can confirm having spent quite a while on the TRB site trying to find them); poster sessions are for complex pieces of research that are better suited for one-to-one explanation. Most of the peer reviewed papers for publication in the Transportation Research Record come from the poster sessions, not the conference sessions. I got this from several senior members of various committees, one of whom at a get together shortly afterwards..

As we did the poster and I was talking to a lovely lady from IFSTTAR about research consortia and Talleyrand I noticed that the rain had become heavy snow. I got a text from Ann saying that "all sorts of snow and gridlock had broken out in the centre of Downtown" and she’d not be joining me for dinner. I then went to a session on City Logistics where the delightful Laetitia DaBlanc and the charming Robert Govaers were presenting, along with a guy from Chicago whose name I’ve forgotten since the record here only shows the first author, but I enjoyed the presentation and the use of SODA etc. [Ok, this is a reminder for me..] Then I left and discovered that D.C. is even more susceptible to snow than the UK! Ok.. it was quite a bit of snow.. but it was melting even as it fell, but in short, the buses stopped at 9pm, I ended waiting for a train for 45 minutes, 400,000 people lost their power, and the next day no-one came to work, the buses were on weekend schedules and everyone you talked to said how awful it had been. Now what do I know? What it reminded me of was the hysteria in the UK when some serious big cold snow came and we stopped as we tried to cope. This was slushy and not very deep snow, and the world ended. I am not criticising the DC people/systems.. just reminding UK people that lots of other countries have problems when it snows as well!

Ignoring all this I went the Lebanese Taverna and had a very pleasant hour and a bit chatting with Roberta W and 4 of her friends (most senior TRB people) about this and that and the other, especially to Mary from Canada about all and everything. Then off home through the world-ending snowstorm (pah!)..

Thursday was Washington Monument and Vietnam War memorial day. Washington Monument is a 500ft obelisk in the centre of the National Mall. Slowly built to honour George Washington, interrupted by the Civil War, it’s a perfectly fine piece of pointy phallic Egyptian like construction. The views, however, are excellent, the city is laid out perfectly at your feet. It’s free and I have to say is compulsory to my mind, maybe after you’ve seen the rest from the ground or maybe before, it works both ways in my mind. The Vietnam War memorial is the long black wall with every dead or missing combatant engraved on it. It’s understated, poignant and again carefully aligned with the Washington Monument. There are also 2 bronze statues, one to the soliders and one to the women who served. Then off to Union Stations which is a great shopping place as well as the terminus/hub for Amtrak. Nice food at Thunder grill and a great chair massage later.

Friday we went to the Smithsonian Museum of American History and did the Americans at War exhibition which was well done, interactive for kids, quite even handed and used up all our time. We Brits got a fair hearing in the War of Independence, and 1812 War. The Civil War section was very good, as was the WW2 one and the Vietnam one. The genocidal wars against the Native Americans were not detailed, altho they did talk of the Trail of Tears when the USA ethnically cleansed the Cherokee people from their lands in the East and the Spanish-American Wars were missing. Vietnam was done well, but no mention of the Vietnamese view of things, and Iraq and Afghanistan were tokenistic.. but since they’re not really history yet it’d be difficult to do much more at this stage. Didn’t really do the rest of the Museum so can’t comment. That night we went to Ollies Trolley which is a greasy burger joint full of old fairground antiques/junk that makes wonderful burgers and we enjoyed a guilty feast. Read lots more of Life by Keith Richards on the Kindle and slept like a log.. Ann slept badly. I dreamt I was in some kind of Midsomer Murder thing set in semi-rural Yorkshire with rain and grime and abandoned houses, with Mick Jagger as the detective.. useless I might add.. Huge laugh.

Now we are going to have a late breakfast, pack and fly home.. ooh goodie.. Club World again..

 

Washington, D.C. Flickr Set

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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