Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Leveson guess work.

The Leveson report is due to be released at 13:30 on the 29th of December, already the interested parties are having their say. The various fractions of the press have been laying in for weeks, it started with claims that Celebrities had hijacked the inquiry away from other less well no victims of press intrusion and criminality. The Celebrities hijacked the process via media coverage.  In the end, as several people have pointed out what the inquiry was looking at where already criminal acts and so cannot really be made illegal again. The problem is that this kind of thing doesn't go on in isolation, people knew and said nothing and if they had said anything it would have been to the management not to the police. If the members of the press aren't prepared to investigate themselves are they fit to investigate anyone else? How dare they hold others to account while burying their colleagues dirt!  

Cheque Cheque and double Cheque.  

The press has also claimed that they often go to great lengths to validate a story, if that's the case every story that was published, based on this illegally gained information, must have been checked by editors and lawyers who would have known that illegal methods were used, which makes them conspirator after the fact.  
There is of course the legitimate public interest defence, which can be used, this is valuable to us all in a wide set of circumstances, but to test it the Police and CPS have to have first charged you, you then have to go through the trial process where your defence is tested and 12 people get to decide whether or not what you do was in the public interest and was needed. The members of the Press seem to think that this is beneath their dignity, that want a predefined list, they want an absolute guarantee they can't be found guilty. None of us is getting that but doing the right thing is not without risk but it seems journalists want it to be. You have to wonder how many of the UK's journalists would dare to say boo in countries where nosey journalists turn up dead on a regular basis.  
It says something about the attitude to arrest, charge and trial that they want to avoid it at all cost. They have spent so much time ignoring the concept of innocent until proven guilty, when applied to others, that they know they will be tarred with the brush that they created. For most people this would be a cause for introspection, not very likely though. In fact the current actions of journalists seem more akin to a child throwing its toys, from its pram, in a fit of pique.

Court for all 

There are civil remedies to libel by papers but to access them you have to be well off or have such a clear cut case that you can persuade a lawyer to do no fix no fee. Even when a result is achieved the damages are likely to be so small that the paper may still make a profit if the defaming article sold enough extra copies, which is unacceptable. The cost to a paper of libel should at the very very least wipe out any profit made from the story.  
The Press is composed of corporate entities, they do not have rights only people have rights, any rights that the Press seems to enjoy are actually privileges given to it by HMG, which is the same organisation which granted them the right to incorporate in the first place. The license, under which all corporations operate, is granted solely for Consequentialist reasons, there is no deontological right for any company to exist.

 Triumph of style over content.  

One thing has become clear to me whilst looking at this, journalists are obsessed with the “quality of the writing”, it seems at the expensive of everything else, their main reason for going into journalism doesn't seem to be for the public good but simply to get their pros printed and distributed to as many people as possible. That they have to check facts and contain content which gives more than a grammatically correct sentence, seems to be more of an inconvenience than the heart and soul of journalism, as it should be.

People obsessed with grammar and spelling have been brainwashed by their education, into believing that spelling, grammar etc. are the be all and end all of language. This is due to the fact that that is what teachers give marks for. Never in the history of mankind has an English teacher on reading a story that was grammatically perfect and with evidence of use of a thesaurus ever, pointed out that they had asked for an interesting story.  

It is not what you know but who you know.  

Even the most reviled papers have on occasions done good, for instance there was the risk taken by the Daily Mail and its campaign to bring the killers of Stephen Lawrence to justice. A good case of powerful public interest motives. Well perhaps. As Stephens dad says the paper ignored the issue until Paul Dare found out that he knew Stephen and his dad and had worked painting and decorating Dacre's home. This was very lucky for the inquiry but how many of us can be lucky enough to have a connection to someone in an editorial position at a national paper. Is it reasonable to rely on a chance meeting to reveal the “institutional racism” of a police force?
Some of the failings of the press cannot be fixed by legislation in all cases simply because that failings of the press are down to the lack of interest and therefore lack of financial payback for the corporations which run papers. Making money is the primary goal of all companies and if you going to get them to make less mistakes by forcing them to make more checks the only way to do it is by hitting them in the wallet, which is what the papers care about, publishing a libelous story has to be so expensive that the papers will make a far greater effort to detect them and avoid them. No voluntary scheme will do this, they will always set the penalty as one that can be afforded. What that means is that the punishment cannot be dished out or set anywhere other than by a government and court.

Some organisations will opt out of any voluntary organisation as several opt out of the PCC, how to deal with them? Only by allowing the government to make the regulations devised by a voluntary body mandatory and providing a mechanism for assessing alleged breached by these non compliant papers.


Are Journalists Professionals?

What is a professional journalist or more importantly what did they profess to do? Doctors traditional professed the hypocratic oath and it is this kind of oath that used to define all professions, it is a term that has become sadly misused now, to where professional means “wears a suit”, what it used to mean was that they put the oath before the interests of their employer and their own personal interest, I do not the journalists have ever done that.  
The GMC is used to regulate doctors and that is deemed independent of government why can't such a model be used in journalism? If the General Journalist Council regulated who could be a journalist would they have struck of Paul Mullen before the story broke, would other journalists have grassed him up for bringing the profession into disrepute.  

So what do I propose?  

The introduction of criminal corporate libel, which would have punitive levels of damages. 

That the editor should be criminally responsible if stories are run with illegally gathered information, because they either knew or were derelict in their supervision. 

That a body similar to the GMC is set up to regulate who can be a journalist and have their work appear corporate papers, whilst allowing anyone to publish themselves for money.


For something sensible about what Freedom of The press actually means and why it has nothing to do with papers please read David Allen Green in the New Statesmen me being able to say this here is an example of it, several journalist have cut my comments, in a similar vein, on their august journalist.

Keep in mind that for every Woodward and Bernstein there are 20 Kelvin MacKenzie and while we want to keep and encourage the former we need less of the latter because they just abuse a valuable freedom. #JFT96

Friday, 23 November 2012

The dangers of a fixed phase relationship.

By Iridescent
While I was walking home today, I notice that 2 cars were parked with their hazard warning lights flashing away and they had a fixed phase relationship. What that means is that the second flashed at the same amount of time after the first every time. This was between vehicles of two different marques.
Now while this might not seem a big point it is very new. In the past electromechanical system were used and this had a lot of varied depending on the actual specification of the devices, plus the the voltage and current from the battery and the temperature, on top of this was the different designs used by different manufacturers.
While it's unlikely that the lack of natural variation in indicator lights will cause any big problems, it is indicative of the grown synchronisation of all things. Somewhere, buried deep in the car, was a crystal whose vibrations were being counted and that crystal was very very predictable, it and its ilk are buried in good everywhere from Quartz Watches, to computers and washing machines. All counting time in very accurate nanoseconds.
Soon we will all these devices will be networked and to make things simple that will all be synchronised via the Network Time Protocol to one of a few Stratum 0 time servers which are calibrated by state of the art atomic clocks and synced with each other. Since the 60s they have been keeping Coordinated Universal Time, which is as near as damn it good old GMT, or as NASA refers to it "Zulu time".
So what harm could this possibly do?
Already the national grid has to predict when everyone will switch the kettle on during major TV events, what happens when all the kettles switch themselves on, not just over 5 minutes but over 5 microseconds. The cumulative surge voltage would be amazing put an enormous spike in the power demands of the county.
The world we live in is becoming more and more synchronised with finer and finer precision and that may cause problems, in the same way as people walking over London Millennium Footbridge did.
The Tacoma Narrows Bridge had a not unrelated problem once it started swinging at it resonate frequency, the oscillation just got bigger and bigger till the bridge destroyed itself.
A world of lots of interconnected devices has the potential to form a similar system causing power spike or message storms that become more and more synchronised and bigger and bigger till something blows up.
It is possible to stop this happening with the bridges but it is also possible for a new mode of excitation and reinforcement to come into play as happened with the London Millennium Bridge or one that the designers forgot to take into account, in that case synchronous lateral excitement. Bridges are have always been designed even when man was using rules of thumb they were created could be observed and if need a new rule added. The Internet has no such designer and no such design. Is it possible to test a whole global system for positive feedback between previous unrelated events and involving lots of different devices. I doubt it, we can avoid the problem by not syncing things that do not need syncing or by adding a bit of random noise to those devices which don't need timings to the millisecond. It will annoy the hell out of me and my fellow borderline OCD Geeks that our kettles doesn't switch on at the time we specify, down to the millisecond but it might just be worth it.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

A Moon with a view.

One of the main reasons that nobody has returned to the Moon is the lack of things to do there beyond studying the Moon. It was for the most part easier to do investigations from Earth or from orbit. However this is not without its problems, while the lack of gravity has it uses it also has it's handicaps. In the case of manned vehicles it means that they are very noisy as no gravity means no convention to move the hot exhaled air away from your mouth, so if you lay asleep you would literally suffocate on your own exhaled breath.
Being in a hard vacuum makes cooling things down very difficult as the vacuum of space has the same effect as the vacuum in a Thermos flask, only it is a far harder vacuum.
In orbit you are moving very fast as are lots of other things, often in different directions, so it is perfectly possible if not likely you will hit these things on a regular basis, plus if you want to give a patch of sky a good hard stare then you have to slew then you have to make sure the Earth doesn't get in the way.
For radio astronomers there is the neighbourhood it is very noisy with signals from mobile phones and WiFi to radars popping up all the time, from earth.
The moon however provides a good place to look from, sure it moves, but not as fast as a Low earth Orbit Satellite. The moon rotates slowly once every 28 days meaning that for 10+ days in a row and a particular point in the Sky is visible. Though you have to cope with a 14 day lunar night so you need some pretty big batteries or other regenerate power source.
The weather is the same day in and day out, with the odd burst of brain melting radiation from the occasional Coronal Mass Ejection or Solar Proton Event, which do not have to be handled if you in LEO as you're still protected by the Earth's magnetic field.
With a firm base to anchor to heat can be dumped into the ground far quicker than being radiated into space and there there are no consumables that can run out as you do not need any reaction rockets, you also do not need flywheels to maintain your orientation.
The reason for holding back was there was no rocket big enough to get a lander and telescope there. Well hopefully NASA new system called the Space Launch System will solve that problem.
With the various private crew launch vehicles being built, it really does not need to be man rated but what it does need is the design of a specific lunar transfer module, the speed out there is not important so you transfer can be with ion motors, though something a bit meatier will be needed for landing but it could be done and it should be done.
With a decent telescope you could even do some nice earth observation on the near side whilst on the far side yours as shielded from Earth with its noise as you can be. Then all you need is an orbiting communications satellite to store and forward data.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Something in the air

Bell Eagle Eye
Some of you may remember when Merseyside Police crashed their UAV/Drone into the Mersey and on collecting the insurance, decided not to buy another, citing amongst other things the lack of all-weather capabilities and the expense of needing trained operators on any job. The drone in question was a small Quadrotor, similar to this Aeryon Scout.
First I'll clear up the difference between a remote control aircraft and a UAV. In a remote control system, the pilot operates with direct control of the systems, if they push the stick left then the flaps on the wing move in the direction indicated and in direct proportion to the user's movement of the stick. The pilot observers the aircraft from a distance and adjusts to what they see.
In a UAV the vehicle is flown by an autopilot and the human tells the autopilot what to do. The human operator gets their situational awareness from a display on a control panel, which is driven by signals sent from instruments on the UAV. This often includes the traditional pilot's view from either a camera mounted in the nose or produced synthetically from data sent back by the UAV.
Some people get very uptight about UAVs in a way that they do not get uptight about the police helicopter. In part, this is because as the UAV is unmanned they believe there is no one to stop it crashing if the communications links go down. The reality is that most crashes of Helicopters are caused by pilot error, something which a UAV is far less likely to suffer from. The vehicles are smaller and lighter so in the event of a crash they do less damage. There is also less to go wrong, which translates into less crashes. Yes they will inevitably crash but probably at a lower rate than crewed helicopters.
The bad weather issues can be dealt with by using bigger vehicles Like the Schiebel Camcopter S-100, which is a tenth of a price of the price of the EC135 that is the current Merseyside Police Helicopter. In my opinion, UAVs in the UK will be acquired to serve Fire/Police/SAR in a common pool carrying a sensor suite similar to the EC135, with a common control room that would operate all of a region's UAV assets on a priority basis. There would be pilots and dedicated observer staff in the control room, who will interact with the people on the ground, as the current airborne observers do. Additionally the ability to forward video to mobile devices like pads and will allow someone, at the scene, control of the optical systems.
A tilt rotor or compound helicopter will be needed for fast transit, from one job to the next. Something like Bell Eagle Eye would be more useful if it hadn't been cancelled.
The price of small microdrones is likely to drop perhaps to such a level that individual police cars and fire engines can carry small/micro drones and call on the services of the flight control centres to pilot them remotely, reducing the need for special training for those carrying the devices.
Beyond these Camera drones, the police may end up using Stratellites for communications but then so may the rest of us.

Also, see http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/uav