Wandering in Fields of Idiots

My Blog

Poor Journalism on Nuclear Issues

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Yesterday I was directed to an article about nuclear energy which was effectively dominated by one side of the argument. As far as I am concerned this is the worst kind of journalism because it is the journalists duty to challenge contributions. Feel free to take a look:

http://www.bloomingtonalternative.com/articles/2011/11/05/10834

I decided to write to the editor, to challenge them on this article and here is my letter:

Dear Editor,

I was recently directed to read an article published in your on-line
publication titled "'Nuclear power is a hell of a way to boil water'". I
was curious as to the mission of your publication and I note the
description says "It is a mission-driven publication whose goal is to
promote and celebrate progressive social change and independent media in
Bloomington."  This confuses me because in this article I mention you
seem to have chosen to allow it to become a mouthpiece for Dr Caldicott
rather than being a piece of genuine journalism. My experience of good
journalism is that it requires one to be balanced and critical of the
inclusion of information. There seems to have been no attempt at
balanced journalism here. For example the statements implying Fukushima
is worse than Chernobyl are not challenged, only re-enforced without facts.

The statement that "No dose of radiation is safe" is blatantly
incorrect, otherwise it would not be possible to live in places like
Colorado where there is significant background radiation from the
granite rocks. If you doubt perhaps you might read this article from the
Colorado Department of Public Health:
http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/rf/riskperspect.htm or if you don't have
the time to read perhaps an infographic: http://xkcd.com/radiation/ We
are all exposed to radiation throughout our lives, as for myself I fly
20,000 miles a year, some people regularly have X-rays or Chemotherapy
which is substantially more effective. We survive, our bodies repair
damage from radiation and as far as I have read the isotopes that left
the site were relatively short lived.

No one has died as a result of Fukushima, the Fukushima plant was
designed in the 1970s and had not been upgraded to meet current
standards. How about the radiation from burning coal? This is often
overlooked but the radioactive emissions from a coal fired plant are
actually more substantial than those of an operating nuclear power
plant. In addition to this many people are killed in coal mining each
year, in 2004 over 6000 people died mining coal worldwide and 28 in the
US alone. Our world is full of natural radiation perhaps you might
review the following video which makes things very much clearer about
how much radioactivity there is in our atmosphere:
http://www.ctbto.org/specials/1945-1998-by-isao-hashimoto/

Respected journalist George Monbiot has challenged Dr Caldicott before
for example:
http://www.monbiot.com/2011/04/04/interrogation-of-helen-caldicotts-responses/
and http://www.monbiot.com/category/nuclear/ and also
http://www.monbiot.com/2011/04/04/evidence-meltdown/

I am not actively involved on any side of the energy industry, I am just
a supporter of science and balanced reason. The information I have seen
leads me to support nuclear because it is relatively clean and
relatively safe. I agree there is a concern over nuclear waste storage,
which is why I am a casual supporter of Thorium energy which was much
overlooked because it has no relationship to nuclear weapons, which was
important in the early development of nuclear energy in the US, Russia
and France. I challenge your publication to make a further article which
takes the other side of the story, one which challenges these assertions
and which contains verified facts.

Yours Sincerely,

Bob Hannent

Idea: Microsoft Xbox Reloaded

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So, this morning I was having a retro moment and wondered about the original Xbox, the classic one from 2001 which was so popular. It was build on a pseudo Windows system with an Intel processor. Then I remembered the PS2 slim which was reintroduced long after the PS3 had taken over as Sony’s flagship and how Sega have also licensed their technology to create retro clones.

If we look at the Xbox1’s original specification:

CPU: 700MHz Pentium III Coppermine
RAM: 64MB DDR1 @ 200MHz
GPU: Custom NVidia ASIC @ 233MHz
Audio: NVidia custom Surround Processor
Storage: 8GB IDE HDD
Optical: DVD-ROM
Security: Secure BIOS
Extras: 100Mbit Ethernet, Analogue Component HD, USB1.1, and other AV connectors

So, when you compare this to the CE 3100 from Intel, which is being used by set-top box vendors to build the next generation of multimedia products, you find some interesting parallels:

CPU: +800MHz Pentium-M
RAM: Up to 3GB DDR2
GPU: Intel GMA500 (PowerVR SGX 535)
Audio: Dual core 337MHz DSP processors
Storage: Flash or SATA
Optical: DVD via SATA
Security: Crypto-processor
Extras: GBit Ethernet, HDMI, USB2, and other AV connectors

So, Dear Microsoft, why not ‘Reload’ the old XBox classic as a new product and get some revenue from that old architecture? The CE range supports DirectX 9, so there should be legacy support for the graphics calls. I don’t know how the GMA 500 compares to the Xbox1’s custom ASIC but they are 8-9 years apart in development so they can’t be too different. If there are differences they might be resolved with a bucket of faster DDR2 RAM and the better CPU clock.

I would imagine an XBox Reloaded spec would look something like this:

SoC: Intel CE3100
RAM: 256MB of DDR2 @ 800MHz (a bucket extra useful for other things)
Storage: 8GB of Flash (shouldn’t need more, but can utilise USB 2 flash or HDD)
Optical: Slimline DVD-ROM
AV: HDMI, TOSLink, Composite
Networking: 100Mbit ethernet (GBit might increase power/cost)

The whole thing should be able to emulate the Xbox’s original design without much special assistance, just the addition of SATA support to the microkernel, modification of the security mechanism and replacement of the graphics drivers (the highest risk element). If there was any problem with this it might even be possible to use a microkernel bootloader or BIOS to emulate the IDE on SATA in legacy mode and possibly even map the GPU calls. I would put a bootloader on the box which booted a version of MeeGo Linux stored in Flash as an alternative media player tool and possible DVD player alternative function.

Thus you would have a decent media player, a TV browser and a most importantly of all: a very cool retro-games console capable of playing games like Halo, Project Gotham Racing, MotoGP and Splinter Cell. All for under £100 retail! I know you can get a new Xbox 360 for £160 but there is always a market for the retro and a lower end product. The return on investment could be good and it could reach new markets as a “computer for all” in developing markets!

Hardware Trojan Devices

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So, I was reading an article which described how a penetration testing company managed to get past a firewall by posting an employee a specially rigged mouse! The idea was that my embedding a micro-controller in the mouse which could be programmed to disable the virus protection on a computer and then load some Trojan vector. The real difference in this design was that it didn’t depend on a USB memory stick and autoload, it used HID keyboard commands instead.

One of the comments in The Register article made me think, the suggestion was basically this could be more than just a mouse. That had me thinking:

Why not put a 2G modem embedded in the keyboard!? Not just a dumb one, but one programmed to accept an incoming connection or create a reverse connection to the hacker. An mbed processor could act as the infection vector controller, or perhaps even one of the modems with embedded python-on-a-chip just to make it neat?

Then wow, that is a really big security risk and not that difficult to achieve. OK hackers, you have your next project, get going!

Returning to Humax

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More than a month ago now I announced my departure from Humax as their Chief Technologist. I have since been working for nice company doing some productisation work and while that has been interesting I have missed my colleagues at Humax. Recently I was called by my former Director, we had some discussions and after some careful negotiations I am returning to Humax. I am now to be a member of the development team and as part of this I will now be working more in Korea than before. It is a nice step-up for me and I hope I can input some valuable effort to the Humax development process. My departure from Humax was part of my personal development and I think it also gave a number of parties opportunities to consider approaches. This year is, so far, not only a good one for me but also I think this will be an important year for the companies I work with. The development of the YouView set-top boxes in partnership with the TV industry will be a minor revolution for the market place and Humax is well placed to take advantage of that through foresight and determination to lead the UK TV market. Furthermore I am also looking forward to working with freesat to bring their ambitions to fruition and I think that working together with them Humax can help their platform really evolve.

Here’s to the next step!

The State of Education and Authority

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Having previously worked in education and still maintaining an interest in life-long learning I find it interesting to read what people have to say about the state of modern education. Regularly I see tweets and blog posts from the likes of @Euan and @MMetcalfe about teaching and learning. Not specifically from the aforementioned people, but one thing I often hear maligned is lecturing, the process by which teaching is done from the front and experience is shared, essentially lecturing to the audience. This is in compliment to the Socratic Method, in which lecturing is used with questioning to establish a pattern of feedback to measure student understanding and pace.

Recently The London Evening Standard has been doing a series of articles about literacy in London and how it affects us. Apparently four in ten job applications are now rejected on the basis of poor grammar and spelling and I saw this in action when I was lecturing because I would mark reports that I could barely understand. I was occasionally told that I shouldn’t mark a student down because of their ability with English but I never respected that view, if you can’t communicate then you deserve a lower mark people need to be driven to success. I’ve often discussed this with friends and family, and it seems to me, and a few others, that one of the biggest problems that we are having today is discipline and respect. I don’t mean in a Victorian punishment kind of way, but in terms of the way those in authority are respected, or not as it seems now. No longer are teachers and the police given the veneration that they need to do their jobs. Parents and guardians no longer tell their children that they must respect and obey teachers and policemen.

Now, I know there have always been disruptive students, there have been since the beginning of time, but once upon a time students knew who the boss was and these days it is politically incorrect to have a boss. I am not the most disciplined person in the world, but I know who is in charge and I like to think I also know how to take some authority when needed. Learning the basics of language really takes routine and practice, boring repartition and positive re-enforcement. Sometimes children need to sit down and try, and fail, and then try again because if at first we don’t succeed… Looking from a far there is a great deal of effort going into finding ‘alternative’ ways to teach children, when actually if that effort was spent doing boring stuff then the children might learn the virtue of doing mundane tasks. Because there are virtues in learning to do mundane tasks that a person in authority requires you to do and you shouldn’t always question authority.

Of course children need to be educated in critical thought, analysis and debate, I feel this more now than I have ever done, but they must also learn about self-discipline and motivation. In school my Design and Technology (metal and woodwork) teacher, who was very much old school, insisted that we couldn’t leave the class at the end until we had correctly answered a multiplication-table question. This forced us to look it up and learn them, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to leave and we would be a little embarrassed. Some might see this as bullying, I don’t, I think it was a cleaver way of motivating us and remember this man wasn’t a maths teacher he was just a man passionate about ensuring we had the right level of numeracy, which is more than I can say about some mathematics teachers I have known.

Perhaps I am getting more conservative in my old age (;-) but I look at society and the way that the suitability of employment candidates has fallen in recent years and I think it is a shame. I want the world to thrive and I don’t want the Western states to become the new third-world. Remember that in many third world countries children can’t all go to school but a child will do as much as they can just for the chance to be educated, yet in Europe they children will happily commit crime just to avoid going to school! So, I believe parents need to take an active role in ensuring that children respect teachers and uniformed authorities, this is quite controversial in itself and then I think teachers need to start concentrating on getting the basics sorted through routine not through time-wasting creativity. I feel teachers should be inspiring through their leadership and enthusiasm, not so much through dressing up and entertaining students, after all teaching should be engaging but it doesn’t have to be entertaining. It would take years to get back into some sense of order in schools, but perhaps then students would start turning up at higher education who can actually write something which makes sense and companies wouldn’t have to do remedial education for their students.

Also, testing and exams might not be pleasant and they don’t represent everyone’s abilities, but when combined with practical work and essays I think they are effective measures of students. The idea of not being competitive at schools is ridiculous, I want people to be acknowledged as being a bit thick so they can be motivated to succeed. I wasn’t much use at sports, but discipline forced me to participate more than I would have done of my own free will and I even found some things I was good at in sports. Everyone has something they are good at, I believe this, but some people are better than others. This doesn’t have to be a Plutocracy in which success is dictated by wealth, but it doesn’t have to exclude people from doing well and it seems to me that it is unacceptable to push one group ahead because it might offend those who are less able.

That is my rant, you are welcome to it.

Futile European Revolution 29th May

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Today I saw on Facebook a campaign for “European Revolution” on 29th May 2011 seemingly started by some Greeks, I saw this and thought how stupid this is. Thus here is my response, I thought about posting it on their wall but realised they would probably just divert some of their negative energies at me causing me grief, but I trust it is safer to put it on a website that almost no one reads (mine):

Clearly a group of people with too much time on your hands. The power for real change isn’t in protesting, it is in acting in a positive way: it is about producing, it is about helping your country to recover. You are the government, the people have the power already. You blame the economic and political forces? What have you been doing that lets these forces control your lives? The answer is: Nothing. Politics is of the people, you and your families vote for the politicians. If there is corruption then you let it happen by not paying enough attention to your representatives. If the economic forces have controlled your life then you have forgotten that by earning money you, as the people, are in control. The way you spend your money determines the fate of the economy and the nation. You might think that your money is less important than the money of big business but then you are underselling your own importance. If you campaign for a positive change in spending, and if you are in the right, then you *can* make a difference.

 

Of course some will attack me for saying this, but I have seen what these protests achieve: Nothing. Because they are nothing but a forum for violence by anarchists who want to feel ‘something’ in their lives through this violence.

The Greek people in particular need to take responsibility for their national situation.  You are not victims, you are complicit in the situation.

 

Letter to Baroness Worthington

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I’ve been following the growth of interest in Thorium as a source of energy, it seems to me to be one of the best ways of producing large quantities of energy in a consistent way with a balanced ecological impact. Baroness Worthington was Raised to the House of Lords in February 2011 and as an ecological campaigner she brings something interesting to the mix. She made her maiden speech in the House recently and having seen it I thought I should send her a message sharing my views. Don’t know how it will be received by her (I used http://www.writetothem.com to do it) and if she will accept what I have to say, but without input Politicians can’t be representing the people. Bellow is my correspondence for your consideration and yes I am terrible at finishing correspondence:

Dear Baroness Worthington,

I was this morning directed to the video of your maiden speech in the House of Lords and I would like to write to you to offer my best wishes. I am a great supporter of the House of Lords because I believe it should be a neutral check and balance for the House of Commons which can sometimes be reactionary in response to short sighted pressures. I also recognise the leading position that your house can take in informing those in The Commons of opportunities they may otherwise miss.

Of particular interest to me was your mention of Thorium energy during your speech. I am purely an interested observer of the subject but having taken an interest in the subject some months ago I have done extensive reading and I am strongly of the belief that energy production from Thorium is one of the key components in achieving a sustainable balance in securing our energy supply towards the next century. But currently it seems that those that have interests in the traditional nuclear industry are not welcoming innovation in this area despite it having been proven to be viable in the 60’s. There is obviously still a need to make a commercially viable power generator using Thorium but I believe that Britain has the scientific, engineering and commercial power to make a viable business from Thorium. We already know that China and India are investing in Thorium as a key source of energy, if they are doing so then we must look to them and strive to recapture the lead in this market so that we can secure this vital component of not only our economy but also our ecology and our lifestyle. It has even been recently stated that the Pentagon in the USA is willing to independently license small scale, or portable, Thorium reactors even where the US civil regulatory authorities will not if it allows the US Department of Defence to reduce it’s dependency on oil and improve operational effectiveness.

I look forward to further growth of interest within our Government on this subject and I hope that support and investment is forthcoming.

I must say however that on the subject of Emissions Trading I am only a limited supporter. In my view companies must take responsibility for their emissions, if they are to make emissions then they cannot divest themselves of their guilt or responsibilities. They must understand that by purchasing off-sets they are not allowed to pollute but that they are being taxed in a commercial way. To me the process of Carbon Offsetting is seen by some as similar to the early Christian Church process of paying for Plenary Indulgence. You could once make a big donation to the Christian Church and as a result all your sins would be forgiven; incidentally this procedure was a core component which caused Martin Luther to break and form the Protestant Church.

One of the key aspects which I do not like about Carbon Offsetting is that in some cases I think it can be quite ineffective. We now have a subsidy on eco-lighting which puts it at a very economical price which is good, pensioners get free light bulbs (a good thing in itself) but consistently and regularly they keep getting them. My mother’s house is fully equipped with light bulbs and she always has spares but the offers keep coming. Previously when BSkyB was offering their set-top boxes to the Government Help Scheme for Digital TV was packaging their power hungry set-top boxes with two energy saving bulbs as a way of off-setting the impact (I believe this practice may now have ceased).

I believe there must be many examples of opportunities to reduce carbon emissions which are perhaps stifled because blanket trading initiatives are used instead which may have only a limited effect. For example where are the subsidies for solar water heating, when it is more effective than solar photovoltaic electricity at reducing domestic dependency on fossil fuels? Where are the low interest domestic eco-loans for home improvement which should be accessible to all income groups?

Yours sincerely,

 

Daylight Savings

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Each year for the past twenty years I recall someone mention the idea of moving the UK’s time zone to CET, or changing daylight savings or some other such tinkering with the clocks. As I have come to understand time more and more this confuses me more and more. Not that I am confused by the concept of changing a clock, I’ve done that enough that it doesn’t matter to me, but my confusion is to why we need to change a unit of measure rather than changing our attitudes. One of the arguments for changing timezones or using DST is for “safety”, the idea is that if it is too dark in the mornings people going to work or school are more at risk. It is also said that energy can be saved because people wouldn’t use so much lighting if the clocks were different.

What this fundamentally ignores is the fact that time itself is not really variable, not on a scale that matters to our daily lives anyway, in each SI day there are 86,399, 86,400 or 86,401 seconds (yes there are not exactly 24 hours in a day because the earth isn’t perfect). When people talk about fiddling with the time they are really just doing it for political reasons, to assert themselves and their own importance. If it really mattered about the time at which children went to school then schools could open earlier or later, businesses can make their own decisions about when to open and operate. I currently work at a business that opens at 08:30, but I have started at 05:00, 08:00, 09:00 and 10:00 in differing jobs. Delivery drivers, bakers, presenters and many more people get up at a time that suits their work (Shift Work). I once worked with a team that didn’t even assume a 24 hour day, they worked on a short but intensive cycle over many days, living on site and then had a long period off at home.

I imagine the counterpoint to the argument is that if schools started earlier then people would be in difficulty if their employer didn’t change the hours. But already it is difficult for people who are constrained by employers who enforce archaic working practices, changing the clocks isn’t going to make better employers and if children went to school earlier then it wouldn’t be as bad for parents worrying about getting to their 8am start at work. There is supposedly evidence that indicates that some deaths on the road, especially those of commuting school children, can be attributed to poor light levels. Well, I would point out that if the children were to leave school when it was more light (irrespective of clocks) then they would be equally likely to be outside on the streets (doing whatever children do) afterwards which wouldn’t make it much more safe.

Moving on to Pastures New

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Dear Readers,

I know I have neglected this blog and website for some time, but now is probably an opportunity to use this page to explain myself in more than 140 characters.

Four years ago I was a moderately disgruntled Senior Lecturer at Ravensbourne College, I was referred to speak to a head hunter by a friend on the basis of my broad experience and knowledge. As a result of two interviews I was able to obtain the position of Chief Technologist at Humax Electronics in the UK. Humax is one of the top five manufacturers of set-top boxes in the world and the UK’s top manufacturer of digital television recorders. This role has seen me drink a great deal, socialise a great deal and most importantly it has seen me gain a great deal of knowledge about a sector which I had very little experience of; in addition it is perhaps worth saying that as a broadcast engineer by training I had very little appreciation for this industry which I now see differently. I have a better understanding of commercial issues as a result of my work with my colleagues and most especially my boss, Graham North, who is among one of the most respected people in the business.

Now, four years have passed and it is time to move on. It is not for me to explain here the motivations for my moving on, but I have opportunities that I can follow. I hope I can reveal further details about my mysterious new employer once I have started but for now I must concentrate on doing the best for Humax until I leave.

I will miss my colleagues, I will miss my work and the opportunities that it brings to meet new and interesting people. But as one door closes another one opens and I have little doubt that I will meet many of those that I know again because this is a small business.

Yours,

Bob

Trillion Pound Horror Story

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My brother saw a link I posted about Britain’s Trillion Pound Horror Story from Channel4 and was inspired to Blog about it:

http://blog.hannent.eu/2010/11/holidays-paid-for-by-me.html

I was so concerned when I saw the original video and now I am absolutely flabbergasted that this MP believes we should be using our money (the taxes we pay) to fund holidays for those on benefits. If the old adage is that “a change is as good as a rest”, then these people don’t need a change because they already have a rest. I am sorry if this seems mean, but while my brother hasn’t had a real holiday in nine years and we (my partner and I) have to work long hours for our breaks.

I feel that we cannot continue in the way we have for the past three or more decades, and none of the governing parties are offering anything more than just squeezing everything we have (and didn’t really ask for). And while we are at it, just because the children ask for something doesn’t mean you should give it to them, so if we did ask for the extent of government involvement we shouldn’t have been given it because at the end of the day ‘the people’ are children! The government doesn’t need to tighten budgets it needs to do what any company in serious trouble would do, reduce its scope. If you aren’t successful as a company (we do call it UKPLC!) then you don’t just slim down the budgets, you should downsize!

So, where is the proposal from a serious politician to deal with the national debt and not just the budget deficit?! Where is the proposal to deal with the £4,800,000,000,000 of debt? (count those zeros!) The £77,000 that is on the head of ever man, woman and child in the UK!? I want to see some serious action, no matter what the political difficulty. I was really ashamed of the way the government dealt with Lord Young recently:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11798366

This is a man who has seen so much and has so much experience, if he says we’ve ‘never had it so good’ then I am inclined to agree. With all the social services, and this massive government debt how could the nation have anything but an easy life. Especially as the minority of the population are actually paying for the majorities lifestyles (watch the Channel4 documentary if you don’t know). The government couldn’t publicly support Lord Young because the media wouldn’t let them, the media wants to pounce on any deviation from the previous message of austerity and drama. Quoting Gary O’Donghue, Political Correspondent for the BBC:

“…his unguarded comments threatened to undermine months of carefully-honed strategy aimed at persuading the public that ministers felt your pain and that we were all in this together.”

So, driven by the journalists, the innocent man was hung out to dry because the government couldn’t admit to the public he was right. The news hounds shape the politics and the politicians are too fearful for their jobs to do what needs doing.

How can we resolve the situation? What can be done to solve the trillion pound horror story and give it an outcome that allows us to sleep well at night!?