The Anonymous Widower

The Labour Party’s Fantasy Economics

Today, the Labour Party has added a rail fare cap to their list of give-aways to all and sundry.

In the 1970s, I was asked to do a programming job for the Chief Management Accountant of a major clearing bank, who are still trading successfully, so my work didn’t toss them down the toilet.

I programmed a system, so that the Bank could work out how much every one of their management functions would cost. The program could be run so that the Bank could see how much say a pay rise for staff would add to the cost of clearing a cheque, in all of their branches. As you can imagine costs were very variable and the reasons for some of the high costs in some branches appeared in the tabloid newspapers.

It was fascinating and three things happened.

  • I learned a tremendous amount about the way bankers and accountants look at figures, which I put to good use in Artemis
  • I learned a lot about the way bankers think.
  • But above all, I gained a good friend, which was sadly cut short by the Chief Management Accountant’s early death from cancer, We regularly celebrated our fruendship  in Mother Bunches Wine Bar.

I also decided to move my Bank Account to the Bank and by luck, I was introduced to a Bank Manager, who played a large part in my life.

  • He became Metier’s Bank Manager and helped us to be the success we were.
  • He went on to be Business Banking Director of the Bank.
  • He loaned me the money to buy my first Porsche and then introduced me to the joys of owning a Lotus.
  • But as with the Chief Management Accountant, we became firm friends and put the world to rights in many convivial lunches.

Sadly, he died a few days before C.

These two friends taught me a lot about banking.

But I remember one conversation with the Bank Manager in particular.

We were talking about lending millions of pounds to companies, with strong Chilean, Israeli and South African ownership links. He said they were always difficult and risky because of the politics and determined individuals involved, but you satisfied this risk by adding a percentage or two to the deal.

Since then I have been involved in both a small finance company and Zopa; the peer-to-peer lender, as an investor, and the same principles apply.

Just as they do when the banks are lending to countries with dodgy finances.

So what makes the Labour Party think that they any sane Banker will fund their socialist fantasies, by loaning them billions at zero or low rates?

 

June 1, 2017 Posted by | Computing, Finance, World | | 2 Comments

Protecting Your Company, Organisation Or Workgroup From Viruses, Ransomware And Other Malware

I am not a computer malware expert and since 1970, I have generally worked alone, with one or more computers , not connected by a network.

But after all the problems of the last few weeks with ransomware, I feel that one of my experiences of a few years ago, should be put into this blog.

A Daisy Demonstration

The Research Department of a major corporation were interested in using my software; Daisy to analyse data being collected in their local offices.

So I was summoned to their offices to the South West of London, so that they could have a proper demonstration.

I found something extremely sensible that I’d not seen before.

The Department had the usual corporate network, as you would expect, with logins, malware protection, but for my demonstration I used another computer.

The Lonely PC

We moved to a lonely PC sitting on a desk in the corner. It had the following characteristics.

  • Adequate power.
  • A recent version of Windows.
  • Direct connection to the Internet through a landline.
  • No connection to the main network.
  • A directly connected printer.
  • A selection of browsers.
  • Microsoft Office, but no e-mail program.

The only thing, that the computer lacked was a large screen.

Uses Of The Isolated Computer

The isolated computer was used for the following.

  • Demonstrations
  • Checking out ideas and web sites in suspect locations.
  • Testing software.

I think that after the recent ransomware attacks, emergency Internet access could probably be added to the list of uses.

Rules For Using The Computer

The Department had setup a series of rules for the use of the computer.

  • The computer could be booked by anybody in the Department.
  • Comprehensive data transfer rules using physical devices had been setup.
  • No software could be installed on computers on the main network, without full testing on the isolated computer.
  • The computer was regularly checked for any viruses or malware.
  • If any nasties were found on this computer, it was immediately restored to a pristine state.

Incidentally, whether it was for my benefit or not, it was one of the cleanest corporate computers, I’ve used for a demonstration.

Benefits

I was told that since the computer had been installed, malware problems on the network had decreased.

But how much was this down to a constantly improving and rigorously updated malware-protection system for the Department’s main network?

An Ideal System

A lot would depend on the type of company and their needs.

The system I used needed a big screen, as often a demonstration needs to be seen by several people.

I also think, that with a large screen, it could be a valuable tool in Corporate Communications.

Some might think, that this type of computer, which bypasses the corporate network, could be used by those with access for nefarious purposes.

Years ago, my software; Artemis was used to do the Project Management on Chevaline. The Ministry of Defence was worried that the Russians might use some unknown technology to read the electromagnetic radiation from the cathode-ray tube of the VDU. So I suggested they put the desk-sized computer in a shielded internal room. But what about the door, they said! I suggested that they get Chubb to put one of their best locks on the door.

A few weeks later, when a software problem struck, I went home with a complete copy of the project on a disc.

I had encoded the data using a personally-designed method that I still believe is unbreakable. But that is another story! Especially, as I’ve never signed the Official Secrets Act!

As this tale illustrates, there are ways to enforce security and holes will always appear.

 

 

 

May 18, 2017 Posted by | Computing | , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Wi-Fi Becoming A Curse?

I usually only switch wi-fi on when I need it, on my Samsung phone. And when I don’t, I switch it off immediately.

Yesterday, I forgot to switch it off and this morning as the bus went through the Angel, the phone had switched itself to an O2 advert and it was trying to get me to install fourteen copies of updated apps.

I immediately, switched wi-fi off and didn’t install any updated apps, as in fact, I only use one app and that never seems to update itself.

How many people just update all the apps, they’re asked to do and inadvertently load a piece of malware, that empties their bank account?

Remember, it is in your phone service provider’s interest that you keep updating, as this generally increases your bill.

I also have no financial details on my mobile phone. Anybody who does, deserves to lose all their money!

 

 

 

November 23, 2016 Posted by | Computing, World | , , | 6 Comments

Don’t Get A Mask To Rob A Bank – Just Buy The App

This is the title of an article in The Sunday Times.

It talks about an App called Blackshades, that can be bought for three hundred pounds, that enables a thief to seize control of a victim’s computer and steal their passwords.

Hopefully, I’m protected but it’s a frightening concept. My passwords aren’t stored on the computer, but in my Mark 1, 1947-vintage core store, which is the safest place for them.

It also says that infiltrating a smart-phone or tablet can be easier than targetting desktops, saying that many criminals set up malicious hotspots in public places.

For that reason, I only use wi-fi in trusted locations and usually have it switched off on my smart phone. I never use wi-fi that wants my e-mail address as giving it usually ensures, I’ll get marketing e-mails, which I class as spam.

I also check my bank account and credit cards every day or so, so that if I’m robbed, I know it first.

From what I can ascertain, I think that contactless payments are pretty safe, especially in London, where there are billions of transactions because of public transport.

So I use contctless wherever I can locally!

November 13, 2016 Posted by | Computing, Finance | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Evil Devices In Our Midst

I recommend that my readers, if there are any out there, read this article on the BBC, which is entitled ‘Smart’ home devices used as weapons in website attack.

It would appear that last Friday, that a company called Dyn suffered a denial of service attack. The attack and its effects is described in on Wikipedia.

The reasons behind the attack are still not clear and it could be in support for Wikileaks or in my mind just to prove it can be done.

But I doubt it will have any repercussions for the average John and Jenny, unless they want to buy something on eBay say!

To me, as someone who believes that in his day, he was a world-class programmer, I think that we haven’t seen anything like the end of evil minds working their wicked spells on the Internet.

Suppose you use an App to access your bank account or pay for your taxi on your phone.

How long before you’re sitting in a coffee shop, library or railway station, happily surfing the Internet and a message comes up on your phone, asking you to download the latest Taxi App say? Except that it won’t be!

You innocently download it and within minutes your bank account has been emptied or your credit card has been maxed out.

For that reason, I and other programmers I’ve spoken to, will never load an App that needs any financial information to my phone.

Any web site with your financial information, should only be accessed from a totally private connection.

We cannot be too careful.

When I started to use my American Express card for contactless payments, I noticed some strange payments without any recognisable name on my statement.

So I challenged them with Amex and they refunded them.

But they kept coming, until I realised that they were for a branch of a well-known store that had setup its tills wrongly.

In all this, Amex had been puzzled too and one of their security experts had talked to me. He told me that the level of fraud on contactless cards was less than they had expected, something which seems to have been confirmed by the lack of hard stories of fraud on contactless cards.

A policeman told me, that the limit of thirty pounds is not enough for the average card criminal, who like to deal in thirty thousand pounds a hit.

He also felt that as many contactless transactions are on CCTV, that intelligent criminals think they could be a Get Into Jail Quickly card.

As other more reliable payment methods like face recognition become more common, I feel that in the future, there will be no need to store any financial details on your phone, that can be hacked.

But until that happens, there will be no obvious financial details on my phone.

Certain details like passport number are hidden in the phone, in case of loss abroard.

 

 

October 23, 2016 Posted by | Computing, Finance | , , | 1 Comment

Do On-Line Advertisers Waste Their Money?

I monitor my INR using a Coagguchek device. And very good it is too!

But how many times a week do I get an on-line advert for the device? I’ve not counted, but it must be many.

Why does on-line advertising, preach to the converted?

Google needs a better algorithm!

October 22, 2016 Posted by | Computing | , , | 1 Comment

Brexit – Signalling Implications For The UK

The title of this post is that of an article on Rail Engineer.

It looks at how rail signalling will be affected by Brexit.

It is an article worth reading.

Remember that signalling is the instructions that keeps a railway functioning, just like the operating system does on your computer.

The article starts like this.

With Britain on a course to leave the EU, how might the plans for signalling (control and communications) be affected? In short, nobody really knows, but a number of factors might now change the policy that had existed hitherto. Not having to comply with EU rules on interoperability, the non-inclusion of TEN routes and the advertising of large contracts in the European Journal might all lead to a different (or modified) approach.

So will it lead to different approach?

I don’t know either, but if you read the article we have gone a long way to creating a signalling system, that is some way along the path to meeting the ultimate EU aims.

ERTMS

The article says this about ERTMS or \European Rail Transport Management System.

ERTMS, and its constituent parts of ETCS and GSM-R, has been a corner stone of European signalling policy for over two decades. Both have taken far too long to come to maturity, with ETCS Level 2 just about at a stable level and GSM-R, whilst rolled out throughout the UK, facing an obsolescence crisis within the next ten years.

ETCS or European Train Control System is not fully deployed, but in the UK, we have made some progress.

  • The Cambrian Line has been equipped as a learning exercise.
  • Significant testing has been performed on the Hertford Loop Line
  • ETCS is being installed and has been tested in the central core of Thameslink.
  • Crossrail will be using ETCS.
  • ETCS is being implemented on the Southern part of the East Coast Main Line.

GSM-R is the communication system from train to signallers.

Looking at this , shows that although the UK fully implemented a GSM-R network by January 2016, not many companies have got as far as the UK.

Surely, you need decent communications to run an efficient and safe railway.

I think it is true to say we’ve not been idle.

The article talks about alternatives and shows a few cases where an alternative approach has been taken.

  • Norwich-Ely and Crewe-Shrewsbury have been resignalled using a mofdular system.
  • Scotland has decided to go its own way in the Far North.
  • The article talks about CBTC or Commuincations-Based Train Control, which used on several systems around the world including London’s Jubilee and Northern Lines.

The article also says this about CBTC

The endless committees to discuss and agree how the standards will be implemented do not get in the way. Whilst not suitable for main line usage (at least in the foreseeable future), there could be suburban routes around cities (for example Merseyrail) that could benefit from CBTC deployment.

Could CBTC be a practical system without the bureaucracy?

But these alternatives all smell of pragmatism, where the best system is chosen for the line.

But we have one great advantage in that we have imnplemented a comprehensive digotal network covering the whole network.

This is no Internet of Things, but an Internet of Trains.

Software

As a computer programmer, I couldn’t leave this out of the signalling recipe.

You can bet your house, that somewhere there are programmers devising solutions to get round our problems.

And they will!

Conclusion

I can’t believe that other industries are not giving the same opportunities to the disruptive innovators of the UK.

Brexit might be good for us, in a surprising way!

Nothing to do with politics or immigration and all to do with innovation!

 

October 11, 2016 Posted by | Computing, Travel | , , , | 2 Comments

Will Crossrail And Its Class 345 Trains Set Mobile Connection Standards For The UK?

Search for “Class 345 trains 4G” or “Class 345 trains wi-fi” and you find reports like this on London Reconnections about the Class 345 train.

This or something like it, is said in several of these reports.

According to the accompanying press notes both free wifi and 4G services will be delivered on board, as will multiple wheelchair and luggage spaces.

It would be very embarrassing for London’s flagship multi-billion pound project, if it wasn’t correct.

So it would appear that I could board a Class 345 train at Shenfield and watch a video all the way to Heathrow or Reading.

But where does this leave Thameslink?

Their Class 700 trains have been designed without wi-fi, 4G and power-sockets as I said in By Class 700 Train To Brighton And Back.

But at least Siemens felt that the Department for Transport, who ordered the trains, were out of step with reality and  appear to have made provision to at least fit wi-fi.

This article on Rail Engineer is entitled Class 707 Breaks Cover and it describes the Class 707 train, which is a sister train to the Class 700. This is said about the two trains and wi-fi and toilets.

Thameslink (or the Department for Transport which ordered the trains) decided not to include Wi-Fi in the Class 700s, a questionable decision that has now apparently been reversed. Fortunately, Siemens had included the technology framework in the design so, hopefully, the upgrade will not require too much effort. Suffice it to say that South West Trains has included Wi-Fi in its specification for Class 707s.

Reversing the story, Thameslink Class 700s are all fitted with toilets. However, South West Trains has decided not to include toilets in its Class 707 specification given that the longest journey time is less than one hour and their inclusion would reduce the overall capacity of the trains.

So it appears that Siemens may have future-proofed the trains.

This article on the Railway Gazette describes the third fleet of the Siemens trains; the Class 717 trains for Moorgate services. This is said.

Plans for the installation of wi-fi are being discussed with the Department for Transport as part of a wider programme for the GTR fleet.

So at least something is happening.

But how close will mobile data services get to the ideal that customers want.

  • 4G everywhere from the moment you enter a station until you leave the railway at your destination station.
  • Seamless wi-fi, so you log in once and your login is valid until you leave the railway.

It will be tough ask to achieve, as it must be valid on the following services.

  • Crossrail
  • Thameslink
  • London Overground
  • London Underground
  • All train services terminating in London.

And why not all buses, trams and taxis?

On a related topic, I believe that for safety and information reasons, all bus and tram stops and railway stations must have a quality mobile signal and if it is possible wi-fi.

One life saved would make it all worthwhile.

 

October 11, 2016 Posted by | Computing, Travel | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How To Cope With Wind

I was alerted to this development by a report in The Times entitled Airport Technology Signals End Of Delays In High Winds.

This is said on the NATS web site in a page entitled Air Traffic Partners Win Innovation Award.

The accolade was in recognition of ‘Time Based Separation’, an aviation world-first introduced in March to cut delays at Heathrow.

During strong headwind conditions, aircraft fly more slowly over the ground resulting in extra time between arrivals and delays for passengers. Time Based Separation, developed by NATS and Lockheed Martin with support from Heathrow and British Airways, uses live wind data to dynamically calculate the optimal safe spacing between aircraft in order to maintain the landing rate.

Its introduction is on course to halve headwind delays at Heathrow and thereby significantly reduce the need for airlines to cancel flights. The judging panel described it as an “outstanding achievement.”

As someone who many times has landed light aircraft in high winds, and in one case where the aircraft in front had problems, this is more significant than you might think.

And it looks like the problem has been solved, by applying some clever methods in the calculation of plane separation.

It is one of those developments, that will have all sorts of different positive effects, for passengers, airlines and even local residents.

The latter could benefit, as one thing you don’t want to be under, is a large jet airliner, that has to perform a go-around, caused by a less-than-perfect approach.

May 31, 2016 Posted by | Computing, Travel | , | 1 Comment

Mutual Blogging

A reader of this blog, who used to be an old Artemis professional, is currently working on a large project, where there are a large number of sub-contractors and a difficult public relations problem with those, who live locally to the project.

They asked me, if a blog could solve some of his problems.

So here goes!

I would suggest, he starts a simple blog, probably using WordPress, as it is generally easily managed by an individual with average computer skills.

  • Only a tight group of individuals would be allowed to add posts to the blog.
  • Posts would be limited to so many a week.
  • Anybody would be allowed to comment, but under a set of behavioural rules and moderation, If the project is controversial, you don’t want the blog to become the focus of discontent.
  • I believe that with a difficult project, it could be a place for constructive discussion.
  • Hopefully, each post would generate comments and discussion, that improved the original post.
  • The blog would also point on its home page to useful sites concerned with the subject of the blog.
  • There would be a contact form.

If you were having a blog like this for say a public infrastructure project like Crossrail, it could be public, but a project like perhaps trialling a new treatment for a controversial-to-some illness like HIV-Aids, might be password-protected.

I think on balance most project blogs would be public.

If a system like WordPress is used, all of what I said is possible. And a lot more too!

North of me, they are electrifying the Gospel Oak to Barking Line and there has been a bit of controversy over noisy piling in the middle of the night.

A simple post apologising for the noise and giving locations may have eased the problems. You might even get comments to the blog from those overlooking the piling, which show the details of the engineering and the generated noise.

You can never be sure, the way that such a blog will develop.

But I’m sure it will work, to improve the smooth running of a project.

May 18, 2016 Posted by | Computing, World | , , | Leave a comment