‘Oumuamua – Close, but no cigar


The news is full of images of a mysterious cigar shaped object from another star system. The information is minimal; just enough to hint that this could be some kind of alien spacecraft. It is cylindrical, we’re told, rotating and may be composed of metal. Fantastic! So is this it?

My first reaction was to go straight to the NASA website to get the hard facts but I was disappointed to find that the last reference to ‘Oumuamua was back in November and the page no longer exists. Forty years ago I would have considered this material for a good old conspiracy theory especially when, on Monday, The Independent reported “Nasa to hold major announcement after artificial intelligence makes planet-hunting breakthrough

Few things are certain in this world but one is that the media will sensationalise any story with a hint of the extraterritorial. However, equally certain is that, when one day, the first alien craft is detected, Professor Brian Cox and legions of his boring, stable, “know it all” colleagues will be on the telly scoffing at the speculation and claiming that this is probably just another asteroid (albeit with the words Red Dwarf painted across the side).

So, at the moment, nobody knows and maybe there’s still a chance for something fantastic? It’s fun to speculate.

But how do we find out what in blue blazes is going on? Wikipedia saves the day. The Wikipedia entry is fairly extensive though dreadfully technical and dreary so I have taken the liberty of précising it here. Though we should not give up hope just yet, it does sound as if the information in the mainstream media is over stated. The cigar shape and its rotation are not known through observation but inferred from its variable luminosity. The widely distributed image of ʻOumuamua is an artist’s impression and very little is known of its actual appearance.

Possible origin

Possible origin

Wikipedia tells us this; ‘Oumuamua is the first known interstellar object to pass through the Solar System. It was discovered on 19 October 2017 using a facility known as Pan-STARRS which consists of two 1.8 m telescopes located linked to a computing facility that continually surveys the sky for moving or variable objects. It was discovered 40 days after its closest approach to the Sun at about 33,000,000 km from Earth (about 85 times as far away as the Moon). It is moving so fast relative to the Sun that there is no chance it originated in the Solar System and it will not be captured into orbit and so will eventually leave the Solar System.

Its origin are unknown but its trajectory makes it appear to have come from roughly the direction of the star Vega in the constellation Lyra (not to be confused with the pop star Suzanne Vega who lives in the USA). It is heading away from the Sun, towards Pegasus. It would have taken ʻOumuamua 600,000 years to reach the Solar System from Vega but Vega was not in the same part of the sky back then. It has been speculated that the object may have been ejected from a stellar system in the Carina Nebula some 45 million years ago.

It entered the solar system from above, what is known as, the ecliptic which is the plane that most of the planets orbit around so it could not have had an encounter with any of the Sun’s planets. It is highly elongated and shows no sign of the gaseous envelope, known as a coma, formed when a comet passes close to the Sun . So it’s not a comet. It may be composed of dense metal-rich rock that has been reddened by millions of years of exposure to cosmic rays. According to one hypothesis, ʻOumuamua could be a fragment from a tidally disrupted planet.

So, just another lifeless lump of rock then?

Well, don’t be too despondent. Many of these assertions are inferences from fairly minimal observations. We don’t actually know that before it was detected it hadn’t been maneuvering all over the place and, as yet, there are no images of it other than vague dots. Though examination by SETI‘s radio telescope detected no unusual radio emissions more detailed observations are planned and others are speculating about sending a probe. ʻOumuamua is moving too fast for any existing craft to catch it but the Initiative for Interstellar Studies (i4is) thinks there may be several options for sending a spacecraft within 5 to 10 years by using slingshot effects encountered when approaching other planets or the sun.

One thing I believe this story has done for us is to make us pay attention. We tend to think that when First Contact occurs then the first we know about it will be when a flying saucer lands on the White House lawn. In fact, most probably, the first we’ll know about it will be a report such as this.

The Wikipedia entry ends with the statement that astronomers estimate that interstellar objects similar to ʻOumuamua pass inside the orbit of Earth several times per year which, if true, makes you wonder why the bloody hell nobody thought to look at one before.


Bitcoin – is it worth anything?



If you had bought $400 worth of bitcoin in 2012, it would be worth over a million dollars today! Bollocks! All this time I’d dismissed it as a worthless fad. It may still be a fad but some have made a pretty penny. Recently I heard one economist say that the price was probably heading for a fall but it could still double before that happens. So should we buy bitcoin?

I’m not really concerned here with the technicalities but for those who don’t know, Bitcoin is a virtual cryptocurrency with an infrastructure distributed globally over numerous computers. The total quantity of bitcoin is capped, there is no central control and payments are anonymous.

Since the technology is well understood anybody can create a cryptocurrency and competing cryptocurrencies do exist. There are around 40 of the  but what I’m interested in is: are they worth anything?

Since the global financial crisis I have pondered the nature of money and wondered why a dollar or a pound has any value at all. In days gone by, a pound was worth a fixed amount of gold. The Bank of England promised to pay in gold for each pound note in circulation. The pound was a promissory note; an IOU. However, the Western world came off the gold standard in 1971 and, since then, most currencies float freely. They are, what are known as, “fiat money” without intrinsic value, established as money by government regulation.

So now, when we ask why the pound is worth anything, the answer is more tricky. One reason for sterling having value to me is that other people believe is has value. If the vast majority of British people accept sterling as payment for debt then having a few pounds in your pocket is useful irrespective of the rational. Broad acceptance endows a currency with value. In countries which have experienced hyper-inflation the currency loses credibility and is not accepted for transactions. People resort to other payment methods. The Zimbabwe currency became so worthless that the whole country switched to using the U.S. dollar.

The pound is broadly accepted and backed by the British government. Bitcoin is starting to gain acceptance but the lack of official endorsement deterred me.

Built to impress

Built to impress

But does the phrase “backed by the British government” have any meaning? I’d argue that it does. Whether we like it or not the British government can force acceptance by demanding that certain transactions are denominated in sterling. Tax for example. By demanding payment of tax in sterling the British government creates demand and therefore acceptance.

I heard one “expert” claimed that Bitcoin was not a currency but a commodity like gold. The analogy with gold is interesting. Like tin or copper, gold has intrinsic value in that it can be used to manufacturer electronics or jewelry. Bitcoin has no intrinsic value but, like gold, bitcoin have a defined quantity (at least on planet Earth) and that is a useful feature for a currency. What really makes gold similar to bitcoin is that gold has traditionally played a role as a store of value irrespective of its intrinsic value. Gold has a sort of de facto acceptance based on tradition.

The role of money is far more complex and subtle than is commonly understood. One economist said to me recently that money isn’t money if it does not move. By this he meant that if the government took 2 billion pounds in cash, buried it in a hole in the ground and forgot about it then, after an initial revaluation of remaining currency, it would cease to have any influence on economics. Having been taken out of circulation it would no longer serve the purpose of money.

An accountant friend once explained to me that the price of an asset is not dependent on the quantity of that asset but on the quantity in the market. For example, London house prices are usually over a million pounds but if all the houses in London suddenly came onto the market at the same time then the house prices would plummet. It is similar with money. Money must circulate. It must be in the market. That is its role which is why there is far less physical, and even electronic money, (M0) in circulation than the market value of all the assets. It’s a bit hard to get your head around. Perhaps money is no more than an economic lubricant?


Big Money

Traditional currencies shed light on the nature of money. Some form of money based on sea shells appears to have been found on almost every continent. The people of Micronesia used large 12ft stone donuts known as Rai. It did not matter that these stones could not physically circulate easily. Records were kept of who owned various fractions of the Rai, and most interestingly, when a Rai was being moved to a new location and was lost at sea the wise people of Micronesia realised that the physical presence of the object was irrelevant. The ownership of the various fractions of the object continued. In effect, their money was not the Rai itself, but the records of the ownership of the Rai. Their money was simply accounts of worthless assets – Sounds a bit like bitcoin. So in a very real sense money need have no intrinsic value at all. It merely requires common acceptance or demand.

One aspect that put me off bitcoin was that it was just a bunch of computers some of which were probably sitting in some geek’s bedroom. Surely that must make it worthless?

But let’s do a thought experiment: The computer gaming market was said to be worth more than $25 billion in 2014. Many games such as Warcraft place the player in a virtual world were it is possible to buy and sell items. In some of these games it is possible to cheat by paying real money to increase your points in the game or to add new features. What we have in effect is a virtual currency within the game. Now suppose that you earned a lot of this virtual currency and then the manufacturers discontinued Warcraft and brought out something else. They aught to allow you to transfer that money to the new game. Now suppose that the makers of games worldwide decided that supporting payment software was too expensive so they outsourced this to a software service supplier who supported various game makers. Many computer games would be able to use the same virtual currency.

The question is: Would the currency have value?

Well it would have value to game players as they could use it to purchase assets within the games; swords, castles and whatnot. Because of this demand it might also have value for people who did not play the game.

Take another leap of faith with me here and imagine that the currency could be withdrawn. A payment made to your bank account in your local currency. The exchange rate floating like any other currency.

Say I registered an account and did not play the game but a friend on the other side of the world owed me money. He could play the game and give me some virtual currency. He could pay dollars into the game in New York and I could withdraw sterling in London.

Now suppose that everyone in the world suddenly grew bored with computer games and stopped playing. What would be left would be a payment infrastructure. It would still be possible to buy and sell the virtual currency but answer me this? Is the currency worth anything?

It seems to me that this is pretty close to the situation we have with bitcoin? If the price of bitcoin were pegged to the dollar then it would be seen as a very clever, robust and anonymous payment system. The fact that it floats might, perhaps, make it a currency.

The drivers for bitcoin value are acceptability and demand. As with all currencies and assets, part of the demand is speculation. People think the price will rise, so they buy bitcoin and the demand forces the price up. The demand for bitcoin may have been accentuated by irrational speculation which has gone unchecked because of an inability to short sell. Short selling is controversial but is claimed to play an important role in capital markets for a variety of reasons, “including more efficient price discovery, mitigating price bubbles, increasing market liquidity, facilitating hedging and other risk management activities”. Well brokers are now starting to offer this facility so it’s possible that the bitcoin bubble may soon burst. Perhaps it’s time to sell?

On the other hand, there is another demand for bitcoin and that is for anonymous transactions. i.e crime. According to Forbes the cost of world wide cyber crime alone could reach $2 Trillion by 2019! That’s almost the total GDP of the United Kingdom. That a lot of demand! Perhaps it’s time to buy?

The London Crablogger



Up The Smoke again last week. Incessant tannoy announcement on the trains and in the stations stopping the population reading or even thinking for themselves. Even the soviets didn’t think to just shout instructions at people all day.

Passed through St. Pancras Station. I say station but this fantastic old building has been converted into a shopping mall for tourists. If you hunt around a bit you can still find the trains. If you try really hard and walk for miles, right at the back where nobody goes, you can find the public toilets and if you walk down a dark corridor next to the toilets you can find…guess what? The Station Reception. Really! The wankers who designed St. Pancras Station put the reception, underground at the back behind the toilets! Don’t accuse me of cynicism! Could the designers have been more cynical? According to Wikipedia the “fit-out works” were designed by Chapman Taylor. And, again according to Wikipedia, Chapman Taylor are a practice of global architects and “masterplanners”. Yes, it actually says that: Masterplanners! Their master plan was obviously to stop any of the thousands of people who use the station from finding the fucking reception!

But the spirit of the age is optimism. People say to me: “its all good” and I bite my tongue but think: “No it bloody isn’t”. As I weaved my way between thousands of tourists looking for the entrance to the underground I overheard an American say “Hey, I LIKE this!” Well, why would she not like it? Hundreds of shops selling the same stuff available everywhere that she had been programmed to crave by the endless onslaught of the global marketing machine. Just don’t let her find reception and get her out of the building before she needs the “rest room”.

On arriving back at Brighton, I caught the number 6 bus which stopped at the lights on the corner of Queens Road and North Road. There before me was a gigantic TV screen pinned to the wall of the Credit Union building. We waited a few minutes while me and my fellow passengers were reprogrammed and the bus moved off. I wonder if the lights are synchronized with the TV screen? If they’re not then there’s an innovation waiting to happen.

St. Pancras Reception

St. Pancras Reception

I am reminded of an episode of the fantastic old Thunderbirds TV program entitled “Path of Destruction”. In this episode, a gigantic machine named The Crablogger went on a murderous rampage destroying everything in its path. The Crablogger was a gigantic nuclear powered, wood processing plant with two huge claws at the front which ripped up trees and pushed them into its gaping maw. Inside, the wood was reduced to wood pulp for collection by automated trucks.

In many ways London has been turned into a mutant version of the Crablogger. On first glance it has no giant claws, but they exist nonetheless. The claws are operated remotely through a series of contracts and business relationships. As Sue Perkins found out on Saturday night’s episode of Mekong River. The claws are chain saws and one of the places they operate is the Mekong Delta.



England has been infected by the American dream. We live in a land of feverish delusion. The corporations dangle the latest iPhone in front of us and we run like rats in a wheel never stopping to join the dots. We don’t associate the purchase of yet another mundane, but gorgeously presented, product at St. Pancras Station with ecological destruction. We watch Sue Perkins and we cry shame for the poor villagers of the Mekong Delta. It’s a form of racism. A Vietnamese villager is a sad and powerless victim but a pasty faced Englishman protesting yet more building in England is a NIMBY. “London needs another airport” we are programmed to think because by the year 2020 there will be more people flying than the airport can cope with. What bollocks! If the airport can’t cope then they wont bloody well fly….but people want to fly everyone whines. Yes, they do. And they also want a sustainable and pleasant environment but there’s no profit in that.

Western Road

Western Road

The corporations want us to do nothing but produce and consume and the Left don’t care as long as it doesn’t cause offense. So we now work, shop and trip over each other trying to “call out” offense before someone points the finger at us. Some twat on the radio today said that, while he wasn’t religious, he thought that this year’s advent calendar featuring a sausage roll from Greggs bakery might cause offense! Jesus! You couldn’t make it up!

On my bus ride home I noticed that this year’s Christmas decorations have been appropriately sanitized by the local thought police. As a non-religious person I can confirm that barely a trace of Christianity can be discerned in the illuminated messages along Western Road.

On University Challenge old Horse Face featured a question about a quote from a gentleman named A. J. P. Taylor: “Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman…

In the 21st Century, the traditional English virtue of irreverence is misrepresented as hate by humorless bigots oblivious of just how tiresome is their own intolerance. We now settle for paltry “choice” masquerading as liberty.

And now I have morphed into the curmudgeonly grandfather in the film Hope And Glory. Detesting the modernisation of the 1940s he glowered at an electrical pylon and declared “curse you, volt, watt and amp” – A rational response to an irrational period of history.

The Francesinha of Porto

Sunshine in Portugal this week. The flight out packed; each human desperate to maximise their space in the overhead locker to avoid a 5 minute wait for luggage on arrival. Porto airport subdued and easy to navigate. As I watched the baggage carousel, the sunlight flooded across the runway and gold light poured through the glass brick walls of the arrival hall. Well worth the wait I thought.

The taxi took off at speed almost drifting around every curve. Portuguese drivers, like many Europeans, are maniacs. The lines in the middle of the road are not standards but guidelines. Bends are for swerving around; roundabouts for blocking other cars, other cars for cutting up and driving, in general, is for fun which is why the majority of the men and half the women in Porto are taxi drivers. Their cars are parked all over the downtown area often with two miles tailbacks behind them. If you ask them to take you anywhere, even if you give them a printed address and map, they wont take you because it’s not in their GPS.

After work one day, the Uber driver who returned me to my hotel explained that he works for a company. “We”, he explained, own a number of cars. “We” turned out to be what is usually referred to as “somebody else”. This somebody else signed up to Uber and then leant the cars out to this driver and his mates. They do the driving and “We” collects the dosh. The drivers are then paid a cut. To add insult to injury the drivers are responsible for any damage to the car. So, while the Uber model seems like a great way to enable the individual it seems that, as usual, it merely facilitates those with capital to exploit those without.

Dom Luís I Bridge

Dom Luís I Bridge

Porto is really two cities. To the north is Porto and to the south, Gaia. The river Douro divides the two and runs through a deep ravine crossed by several magnificent bridges. The Dom Luís I Bridge was designed by Théophile Seyrig, a disciple of Gustave Eiffel, and should really be termed the snogging bridge since any young couple to stray within half a mile seem to settle into each other’s fond embrace. The British need half a bottle of vodka. The Portuguese need a bridge. Each to his own.

The town has a strangely English feel possibly due to defunct red telephone boxes and a beautiful Mini Cooper parked on the main drag. In the area down by the river little restaurants from previous decades, like English pubs baked and shrunken in the Iberian sun. Red leather stools and faded pictures of times gone by. Picture menus and foreign bank notes stuck to walls. One evening I felt like I’d time slipped back to the 1970s and sat waiting for my dad to come stumbling in, three sheets to the wind and stinking of Pall Malls and Long Life.

In the office I observed the excellent Business Analytics software named Power BI by Microsoft used for the visualisation of complex data sets and which will even work on raw CVS files. It seems to me that this type of software is delivering computing power directly into the hands of the business allowing the tech savvy user to interrogate data without having to jump through the bureaucratic hoops set by traditional IT departments. With this new power come the risk that the inexperienced user will use perfectly good data to generate absurd conclusions.

The Portuguese language was strange to my ears and had a certain Slavic sound to it. At lunch time we visited restaurants with set menus for the office trade where I was educated on how Portugal maintained independence from Spain through some very trying times. The Portuguese and the English, the oldest alliance in history and still intact.

The food is generally excellent. Delicious steaks. Good wine. For 10 Euros you can get soup, a delicious chicken and potatoes, a glass or two of chilled white wine, an almond tart and an expresso. But there’s a but. The Portuguese are idiosyncratic. Many of my evening meals came with giant potato crisps rather than chips and the famous traditional dish of Porto is something to behold! The traditional dish is the sort of meal a Scouser might rustle up after arriving home from the pub and finding the fridge full of leftovers. Presented with all the enthusiasm and pride of Le Cordon Bleu, it remains a sausage sandwich smothered with melted cheese, topped with a fried egg, covered with gravy then sprinkled with chips. Delicious if you’ve just drunk 7 pints of lager but otherwise rather filling.

The name of this oddity is Francesinha which, according to my new Portuguese friends, means little French girl. A name that requires the suspension of disbelief since the name has so little similarities with the thing itself. In fact, if one were build an entity-relationship data set of the entire cosmos positioning each “thing” or concept or idea near or far from its neighbour dependent on similarity. If one were to then visualise this model using tools such as Power BI then the overall shape of the model would be entirely dictated by the necessity to place the word Francesinha and the culinary abomination of Porto at extreme polar opposites. The entire cosmos would be bent out of whack by this one necessity. Since this is, indeed, the universe in which we live, this may explain a lot.

Discard your bucket list and rely on serendipity

Rainbow Mountains in Peru

Rainbow Mountains in Peru

When I first went “travelling” I remember planning it and thinking: I’ll see the Taj Mahal, Ayers Rock (Uluru), Carnival in Rio, etc etc etc. A bucket list. It seemed a good idea at the time. Since then legions of cheap air fares and general affluence have opened up every corner of the world to Johnny Tourist and even Barak O’bloody’bama has a bucket list. In the media a bucket list is a standard piece of filler for the travel section of newspapers and today a friend re-posted pictures of the amazing rainbow mountains in Peru originally posted by “Bucket List Travels”. They look fantastic.

But really? REALLY!? Are we really all supposed to visit these bloody place before we die? There are 7 billion of us for God’s sake! OK, not all of us are affluent enough to take these holidays but The World Bank reports that the total number of tourism arrivals for 2016 was 1.2 billion!

International tourism, number of arrivals

International tourism, number of arrivals

The number of tourist attractions is minuscule by comparison. On a recent Sunday in Sussex, in preparation for a Sunday walk with The Ramblers, I boarded a bus and found it stuffed full of Germans! But of course. Think about it: Tourists visit the places sold to them by the tourist industry and in England this means Stonehenge, Buckingham Palace and The Seven Sisters in Sussex.

There are far too many tourists clogging up every beautiful place on Earth. The New Zealanders are cottoning on to this as are Berliners. Tourism is wrecking every unique and beautiful place on earth. From the beaches of Thailand to the streets of London.

The counter argument is to present mass tourism as a reaction against elitism and to question why the masses should be prevented from experiencing the wonders of the Earth. The answer is not that they should be “prevented” but that the tourist industry is not some altruistic charity bringing culture to the masses. It is, like all unregulated capitalist enterprise, a voracious profit seeking machine with little interest in culture or sustainability. It is driving ambivalent couch potatoes to destinations they only want to see to say they have.

Why should we allow corporations to commandeer public space for profit? Why should we stay silent while communities are eroded by legions of disinterested “consumers”? It’s not just me that’s irritated by tourism. An excellent video posted recently shows a Nepalese woman chasing a tourist down a mountain path and throwing rocks at her for whining about the price of a cup of tea. Good for her. Perhaps we should all throw rocks at tourists.

When so many people visit Thai beaches or Borough market the experience changes. It’s the tourist equivalent of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. You can’t be alone and serene on a gorgeous Thai beach if surrounded by five thousand beefy faced, pot bellied, jug eared Europeans like yourself. You can’t experience the authentic ambiance and irreverent banter of a working fish market when most of the wholesale vendors have been driven out by the tourist trade.

I visited Rome with a friend and she told me “I only want to see the Sistine Chapel, I’m not interested in anything else”. Then why come? On arrival at said Chapel, after being told numerous times that all photography was banned, a surly American stood videoing, his face pressed to the viewfinder while he growled “Don’t touch me, don’t you touch me” at the attendance asking him to stop. The rest of the Italian holiday we meandered from one objective to another with no real enthusiasm other than getting these things out of the way. Ticking them off the bucket list.

Part of the problem is over population. Scientists refer to the current ecological era as the Anthropocene because mankind is the dominant factor affecting the planet. They also believe that human activity is causing the sixth great extinction event in the Earth’s history.

But the scourge of tourism is also a lack of imagination. It’s reliance on someone else to sell you an experience. Let me make a suggestion: If you you’re visiting Italy and you’re not interested in history or religion then don’t visit the Sistine Chapel. It’s not obligatory. There’s no shame in it. And there’s no shame in having interests outside of the agenda sold you by the travel agent. Consider what you’re interested in and research that. Italy has plenty to offer the keen horticulturalist (Cervara garde) and the car fanatic (The Alfa Romeo Museum ) as it does the religious nut.

During my original around the world trip I stopped in Hong Kong. When grilled about this by a friend he asked: did you see this and did you see that? And I answered no and he said, it doesn’t sound like you saw much at all.

But I did. On my first night I headed straight for Ned Kelly’s Last Stand and ate my first western food in three months (gammon and mash). I then got drunk as a skunk. I woke in in a tiny hotel room in Chungking Mansions where the occupant of the top bunk got frozen feet while the occupant of the bottom bunk sweltered in the heat. I weaved my way through the crowded streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, I argued with theatrically rude camera salesmen. I saw taxi doors that closed themselves and I visited a former colleague in hospital. I drank in absurd English pubs from the 50s and watched equally absurd British ex-pats talking of slacks and Bass (pronounced Baaaaasss) beer and I crossed from Kowloon to Victoria on the Star Ferry. I can still feel the tropical air and the salt spray now. It was wonderful and I planned none of it.

Do yourself and everyone else a favor. Discard your bucket list and let serendipity be your guide.

Population Matters

Population Matters

Friends, Romans, Countrymen – don’t consume stories, listen to them

Religious Consumption

Religious Consumption

Sunday morning I listened to Broadcasting House on BBC Radio 4 and heard how technology is affecting radio and TV. The presenter referred to how we “consume” radio.

I am not about to give a lecture on lexicography but the adoption of the word “consume” for every social interaction is part of a commercialisation of society which we are only now beginning to understand. Starting under Thatcher and continuing under Blair a political vocabulary was deliberately adopted to encourage us to view society as nothing more than a system of commercial transactions. It is responsible for a change in mind set, a coarsening of discourse and an emphasis on materialism.

Building societies morphed into banks, the borrowers changed from members to customers and the building market was opened to dubious practices including a flood of foreign money which helped drive property prices to obscene levels.

Football clubs became Plcs, the supporters became customers and were milked for money for branded shirts. The new PLCs then abandoned their traditional supporters for the much larger TV market.

Railways were privatised and passengers became customers. The emphasis moved from transportation to sales. The trains are newer, the stations packed full of shops but the seating is worse.

Even airports morphed into enormous shopping malls. As a frequent flyer I am continually irritated as I clear security and am deposited in the middle of a perfume section of some department store.

Humans are amazing animals. We live in complex social groups and each person plays many roles. We’re friends, brothers, mothers, lovers, teachers, neighbors, locals and strangers…..at least we were at the time of writing. We are also passengers, football supporters and club members.

So, friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. The essence of radio is storytelling which existed millennia before double entry book keeping and we do not consume stories. We listen to them.

One leg and half an inch of carpet

London Bridge

London Bridge

London last night. A birthday bash in a boozer near London Bridge. On entering the pub my heart sank. Rows and rows of young automata sitting on stools gazing up being “entertained at” by a TV screen showing football. No conversation. No shenanigans on the terraces. Just sit on your stool and drink your beer.

However, a brief word with the barman, a door appeared where no door had been and I was escorted up stairs to drink excellent pints of Harvey’s and talk of Ebbsfleet, Canterbury, SQL, medical conditions, Europe, Christmas and football (Charlton 4, Northampton 1).

Half an inch of carpet


Returning home I noted how dismal were the seats compared to a recent trip to Oslo. British trains are becoming progressively more uncomfortable. Last night was a ghastly experience. The train lurched about and I was shaken around like a cat in a tumble dryer. The new trains and stations are very smart of course. The robotic doors, illuminated displays and automated announcements more reminiscent of Hollywood Science Fiction than Stephenson’s Rocket but the ride quality is crap! One impetus for this deterioration is the alliance betwen corporate greed and left wing iresponsibiity. A sort of metropolitican arrogance. The corporations want an endless supply of cheap labour and the left persue a doctrine that anything other than an ever expanding population equals facism.  So when a business wants more office space they ignore the residents of Rotherham or Blackburn or Weymouth who sit idle outside betting shops and they build The Shard bang in the middle of London. Business gets cheap labour, close to other busineses and the London Left get to boast about London’s GDP and call themselevs a World City. Meanwhile the rail links have to cope with another 3000 passengers!

Make the trains hold more people but keep the price down. Consequently new trains on the Brighton line have fewer seats and more room for standing. The seats remaining have only half an inch of carpet to sit on and the seats next to the window only suitable for one legged passengers as a metal box runs the entire length of the carriage where one’s other leg would normally rest.



Bollocks to the passengers, it’s only an hour and fifteen! So what if many of them are approaching retirement and their knees are giving out, many more will be too young to remember comfortable rail travel.

It’s not all the fault of efficiency of course. Safety plays its part. On London Bridge enormous bollards have been placed to prevent Johnny Terrorist driving vehicles along the pavement. Considering the times we live in it’s a good idea but having been part of the vast lemming like horde who crosses the bridge every day this constriction must be infuriating to commuters. While I type BBC Radio 4 is banging on about terrorism’s effect on air travel. The twin evils of our time, efficiency and terrorism. The corporations force us into uncomfortable, restricted spaces and the terrorists pounce.

Of course terrorism is not really a problem. Incidents have actually declined in Western Europe since the 1970s and far more people die on the roads than in terrorist attacks. 1,713 on British roads in 2016.

Perhaps corporate efficiency and terrorism are conspiring to protect the planet? Perhaps the fear of terrorism and the abhorrence of Southern Rail will deter us from travelling and thereby reduce our carbon emissions?

Mad World – P300 shortcut to the subconcious

An article in The Economist this week reports on scientific work on a specific signal in the human brain named P300. It seems that P300 activates when we recognise something and can be detected electronically before we’re consciously aware we’ve recognised whatever it is. You will be aware of course that the brain takes a few fractions of a second to assemble all the sensory signals and knowledge into a coherent model of reality and this is what we call consciousness. It has been shown by Johnny Scientist that this consciousness runs a few fractions of a second behind reality.

So what this lot of loons have worked out is that they can attach an electrode to your head and detect a signal quicker than you can become aware of it yourself. Who’s doing this? You ask. Well it’s Andy McKinley, head of brain stimulation at the American Air Force’s Human Effectiveness Directorate at Wright-Patterson air base in Ohio. Yes, old Whacky McKinley again. He’s been tasked with weaponing this phenomena and is looking at the way soldiers recognise targets.

Now all this is fascinating and no doubt infinite good will come of it……NOT! My prediction is that they’ll embed this technology in a soldier’s helmet and as he’s sitting in his bunker stressed as hell scouring the battlefield for enemy activity. He’ll be watching and waiting and he’ll see a little movement and be just of the verge of thinking,….”is that……that looks like…..hey, sarge I think that’s a…….” – and a loud siren will sound and cause him to yell…YES, YES, I know, I was about to fucking shoot if you give me a chance!

And of course this is progress.