Lost Elegance

While all engaged in social work in military centres agree that there has been an improvement in the last two or three months, complaints are still received from some parts of the trouble caused by the thoughtless conduct of numbers of young girls whose open admiration for the recruits has been finding expression in undesirable ways.

The Times, January 29th 1915

I wish I'd written that. It has an understated elegance that perhaps is lost forever.

You Can't Fix Stupid

Stop making stuff up Forrest

Stop making stuff up Forrest

The Labour party have decided to make the NHS the rallying point for their general election campaign, (again).

Ed Milliband and Andy Burnham spent much of yesterday trying to grab headlines in a "the Tories will just let you roll over and die," kind of frenzy. 

Unfortunately for them, no one is buying their made up nonsense. There is a reason for that and it's call the Mid Staffs Hospital scandal. Thats the place where 1200 citizens needlessly died, more than died in the area during the Black Death as has been famously pointed out. Moreover, 14 other trusts were named in the Keogh report on the issue. Thanks Labour, no need to be contrite or anything, just blame it on everyone else.

There is a growing realisation across the country that the daunting scale of the NHS and our rapidly changing demographic demands a thourgh review and repositioning of the service otherwise it's just going to become clogged up and fall over itself. Back in 1978 Mr Mackay, my geography teacher, pointed out that at the then rate of growth we'd all either be working for the NHS or patients in it by 2020. If Mr Mackay back in Inverness could figure that out thirty six years ago it shouldn't be difficult for Labour to when the problems are obvious to anyone associated with the NHS. And actually, Andy Burnham knows that full well having begun to privatise some services when he was Health Secretary.

I'd like to see the backgound research Labour have done into the NHS before announcing that they'll hire for example "10,000 nurses." It won't exist except on the back of a fag packet or beer mat because these people only think in sound bites and what will hold the attention of the Twitterati for more than six minutes. If they handed in GCSE homework of this standard they'd be off to see the Head for as performance review. 

All the parties are incapable of long term strategic thinking and it is racking up problems for us in the future across a raft of foreign and domestic policy issues.

Worse, in order to control the narrative of the day they just make it up. They use isolated examples to prove a case in which tens of billions of pounds and thousands of lives might be at stake. It's unforgivable really. I don't believe these men wilfully lie but I do believe they suffer from galloping incompetence driven by an overriding desire to be everyone's friend out as far as the news editors next deadline.

I doesn't matter which party you personally support, I just find the whole "making stuff up on the hoof," terribly demoralising and an insult to the electorate but then you know what they say, "you can't fix stupid."

Newsflash for Westminster

So, we're two weeks into 2015 and you've jumped the gun. We have no tradition in this country of long election campaigns and frankly, out here we're all bored already. The only people enjoying the ridiculous stream of lies and deceit eminating from the parties are themselves, political journalists, advisors, lobbyists and related hangers on. 

Quite simply, we're not interested; come back in April.

Bloody South West Bloody Trains

05:57 at Petersfield station. Unfortunately, the thing missing in this picture is the 05:57 train which again failed to show. The 06:29 did though and boy did it tear through the station at a lick.

Shame it didn’t stop, that really would have been something of a help. Of course, as all commuters know, these bxstard train operators game the system by cancelling trains which are likely to be late so they don’t incur late arrival penalties. I genuinely hate the government for letting those mendacious thieves get away with it. 

Quantum Computing; Gamechanger

What in the devil are the boffins cooking up now?

Quantum Computing is a pretty mainstream subject in both the academic and research communities, (which I guess are really the same thing), but has yet to ping popular imagination. It will. 

Anyone laughing will be thrown out of the class

I described it to the kids thus, “Believe me kids; this thing is going to be a game changer. The way you look at me blankly when I say my first computer had 128k of memory……… had no mobiles, no internet, no switch cards, (there was something infinitely more elegant about paying a restaurant bill with a cheque), no digital photography, had to go to the television to change channels, no satellite television, no GPS … blah blah – well, your kids will do the same because they’ll be from the Quantum Age, not the old fashioned Digital Age.”

My understanding of Quantum Computing is close to that of a babbling 9 month old baby but I’m tracking it and working my way up toward being a fully functioning and coherent 24 month old toddler in computing terms. If you're the same, the introductory video above presents a starter for ten.

There are lots of resources available on the web for those who care to look but this piece by Ilyas Khan, CEO of Cambridge Quantum Computing serves as a pretty good orientation piece for us non scientists and sets the scene perfectly,

2015 - the year of Quantum Computing

Richard Feynman, the great American physicist, famously popularised the notion of Quantum Computing in 1982. In the 3 decades since that time, the prospect of a computer that captures, manipulates and controls sub-atomic particles in a manner such that data can be encoded and retrieved in ways that expand beyond ready comprehension the complexity of computational problems, and deliver results in time frames that seem more akin to science fiction than fact, has remained largely elusive. Research and development has been the domain of university labs and occasional multi-agency projects, with an obvious and understandable concentration of energy around matters of national security given the fact that quantum communications will render obsolete existing methods and devices.

That things were starting to change only gradually became apparent in the past 24 to 36 months. A startling series of engineering advances and the slow realisation that large corporations have been allocating serious resources to this sector has meant that a quantum computer is no longer seen as belonging on the pages of a science fiction novel.

The pace of change (or at least the pace at which new advances have received a public audience) has shifted rather dramatically. Time chose to adorn a cover page with a quantum computer just about a year ago and within the last quarter of 2014 Microsoft, Google, IBM and Toshiba all announced, commented on or unveiled aspects of there Quantum Computing projects.

When quantum computers emerge into common usage (and it is now only a question of when, not if), the machines will benefit from developments in quantum mechanics that span the post second world war period. From the monumental shift of understanding represented by quantum tunnelling (Brian Josephson won a Nobel prize for his work in this area and this link to an article in Physics World is very accessible ), to IBM's Bennett who is credited with the reversible gate  , or the advances represented by Shor's algorithm  and Kitaev's work on toplogical quantum computing, the past two years in particular have seen a convergence of academic work with early commercialisation.

Despite this, the vast majority of us are blissfully unaware of these developments that have been described as having an influence on human kind that will ultimately rival that of the industrial revolution. Perhaps Arkwright's machine and Stephenson's engine were equally remote from people's everyday lives when they were first unveiled.

There is no way in which the hugely diverse (and hugely competitive) work that is being done by corporate organisations and governments who are in a race, can be hidden for much longer. They are in a race not only to be first, but a race not to be left behind.

The Chinese factor looms large in this context. China has officially stated that there is simply no budget (note, not that there is no limit to a budget, but that there is simply no budget and whatever is required to be spent will be spent) and the longest and most advanced quantum communications link has been completed in China through a "pipe" that links Beijing with Shanghai. The Chinese project on Quantum Computing is not only large and well funded, but also covers much more than national security. Watch out for a great deal more news emerging from Chinese groups.

The early front runner in making actual machines is a North American effort that is funded by the private sector (Jeff Bezos, Goldman Sachs and VC firm Draper Fisher amongst others) and In-Q-Tel the investment arm of the CIA. After three years during which the company has endured the brickbats of academia for not being able to adequately and consistently display quantum speedup, D-Wave in late 2014 promised a new version of their quantum computer with a 1024 bit CPU that they claim will radically alter the landscape. Regardless however of D-Wave, the stakes are now considerably higher. Microsoft, through their effort named "Station Q" have already built an initial operating system that they have named LiquI> (pronounced liquit with the notation fashioned after the symbol for the Ket Vector). Google have gone public with their ambitious effort led by John Martinis described by Technology Review as "changing computing forever and perhaps in financial terms, the most obviously significant efforts were announced by IBM in a US$3bn effort.

Companies as diverse as Intel, Qualcomm, CISCO and Toshiba have their very futures at stake and whilst its not obvious how they are reacting, the one thing that is very clear is that they have stopped simply "observing". And finally, in perhaps the truest sign that quantum computing is no longer an academic exercise, a clutch of start ups have come into existence with more almost certainly to emerge.

2015 will be the year that Quantum Computing comes into the mainstream, and we all need to know what is happening.

Ilyas Khan (Cambridge Quantum Computing)  


Women in the Infantry; Seriously?

The Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has announced that women could be in fighting roles by 2016. That is, women could serve in the infantry forthwith. In saying, “there should be no bar to women serving in any unit,” Fallon has started a ball rolling which, helped along by the chattering lie-down-and-cry metropolitan set, will only have one conclusion; the wrong one. Now a cynic might say that Fallon has simply kicked the can down the road hoping that the coming “research phase,” into the effect of infantry training might kybosh the whole stupid idea or that he won’t be around to deal with the consequences by then anyway. Let me save them the time, bin it now.

No one would be arrogant enough to say that women are not extremely capable and when called upon, courageous operators. Anyone who has witnessed or has read of their work with the Det in Northern Ireland or recent operations in Helmand knows that. Nor would one question their commitment, loyalty or enthusiasm. The infantry though, is a different playpen.

It's a way of life, not a social experiment

The aim of the infantry is to close with and kill the enemy. Pretty simple really. That demands quite a lot though from the young men we ask to do that task. They need to be predominantly young, fit, have a touch of arrogance and self-believe in their own ability and a galloping disregard for their own mortality. The basis of the infantry is the section, a tight eight man group around which their lives revolve. Everything they do, every risk they take, every task they stick their hands up for is done for the seven blokes around them, not for anyone or anything more than that. There isn’t much glamour in the day job of the infantry. They are the Army's dogsbody's. They suffer the highest wastage and injury rate in training and in operations and unreasonable demands are placed on their physical well-being as part of their job. That’s before anyone has the temerity to start shooting at them. That is, it’s rare to find middle aged ex infanteers who don’t suffer from knee problems especially, but also hips, back and hearing complaints are very common.


Now, none of that particularly dispels the concept of women in the infantry but the fact that one of the infanteers primary jobs is to wander up to and around the battlefield carrying heavy loads simply cancels out any possibility of women joining being practical. For anyone at the MOD who hasn’t noticed their bodies are different and there is plenty of research out there to substantiate the glaringly obvious fact that they will suffer an unreasonably higher injury rate if the same demands are placed upon them as there are on men. In fact, US research suggests that “army women are more likely to be disabled than men and are approximately 67% more likely than Army men to receive a physical disability discharge for a musculoskeletal disorder.”

The day to day practicalities are somewhat glossed over too but then I don’t think anyone has asked section commanders what they think and I’m pretty sure that no one making the decisions has been a section commander. I have so let me help the titans of planning in the MOD with a few home truths, (expect to see some on all of these turning up in employment tribunals in the coming years).

US Marines in Guadalcanal; a medic checks jungle rot, (ringworm)

When in close recce, hides, OP’s or perhaps in an escape and evasion scenario is very common to urinate and defecate in plastic bags in situ. It’s not nice, pleasant  or very sophisticated but it may save your life. In other situations a call of nature may necessitate taking a pal along as sentry. In the jungle, it’s common to drop your trousers daily, bend over and have your oppo inspect your backside for leeches and other unpleasant visitors. Nothing to stop women doing any of this obviously. The point is though that you live in such close proximity you lose any embarrassment or consciousness about your body and things going wrong with it. The difference here, is that young testosterone fired men, the vast majority of whom have not had the benefit of a fluffy education which taught them the niceties of dealing with ladies, are going to be expected to live cheek by jowl with a young women and not have any blood pulsing through their veins. It’s just not going to happen.

As it happens, I very much doubt that many women would want to do the job but the cash strapped Army will anyway be directed down this time and money wasting path for precious little output. The absence of internal dissent is frankly astonishing. Senior Army officers must know this whole thing is political correctness gone mad and should have the courage to say so. Moreover, the ex military MP’s in the House of Commons are quite simply pathetic and are obviously running so scared of their own voters in next years election that they are afraid of alienating anyone.

Call me an old fashioned dinosaur, and many do, but I anyway don’t care for the concept of our girls coming back in body bags from wherever. They won’t either but this whole misguided fools errand is unchivalrous, indecent and ill considered. Women have many strengths to play to in an operational environment; we should celebrate that and allow them to exploit those strengths thereby making a serious and positive contribution to the military effort. The only thing that would change my mind on the subject is if a poll of the "guardians of the soul and spirit of the infantry," the RSM's, said otherwise.

Finally, that this is capturing the MOD’s energy and headlines after 13 years in Afghanistan is quite frankly alarming when one considers all the other things on their plate. The infantry need to be engaged in a full and detailed wash-up of recent operations and being honest about all the things that didn’t go well. They need to be considering the changing threat out there and the accelerating change in technology. For example, what do drones, for and against, mean for the infantry?; what do advances in robotics mean?; are war dogs underused?; is the infantry becoming too dependent on technology and vulnerable to cyber attack?; is the current weapons system fit for purpose?; and so on.

The first priority though, is to get on top of recruiting. They can start by kicking out the incompetents at Capita who have done so much to discourage potential new recruits from joining in a weapons-grade cluster fxck replacement for the traditional High Street recruitment office. Then, they can figure out why we rely so heavily on the Commonwealth to fill the ranks. Finally, they can address retention which will likely be a very big post operations issue. They may care to start here with my idea, its as good as it was five years ago and I’ll get there eventually.

Brand Panned

The philandering coke-head know-it-all Russell Brand has come under attack from Joe Average following his bizarre protest at RBS last Friday. Looking like he'd arrived having clung to the side of the Eurostar for three hours, Brand accosted a guy working in RBS's office who was returning from picking up lunch.

Well worth a read and the sooner Brand pushes off to join the rest of his celebrity C listers on a foreign beach the better. He looks like he sleeps in a bus shelter every night and is as funny as anthrax. Whats more, he really should stop cutting his own hair and get a professional on the job.



An open letter to Russell Brand.

Dear Russell,

Hi. I'm Jo. You may remember me. You may even have filmed me. On Friday, you staged a publicity stunt at an RBS office, inconveniencing a hundred or so people. I was the lanky slouched guy with a lot less hair than you but (I flatter myself) a slightly better beard who complained to you that you, a multimillionaire, had caused my lunch to get cold. You started going on at me about public money and bankers' bonuses, but look, Russell, anyone who knows me will tell you that my food is important to me, and I hadn't had breakfast that morning, and I'd been standing in the freezing cold for half an hour on your whim. What mattered to me at the time wasn't bonuses; it was my lunch, so I said so.

Which is a great shame, because I'd usually be well up for a proper barney with you, and the points you made do actually deserve answers. Although not — and I really can't emphasise this enough, Russell — not as much as I deserve lunch.

Before I go any further, I should stress that I don't speak for RBS. I'm not even an RBS employee, though I do currently work for them. What follows is not any sort of official statement from RBS, or even from the wider banking industry. It is merely the voice of a man whose lunch on Friday was unfairly delayed and too damn cold.

So, firstly, for the people who weren't there, let's describe the kerfuffle. I didn't see your arrival; I just got back from buying my lunch to discover the building's doors were locked, a film crew were racing around outside trying to find a good angle to point their camera through the windows, and you were in reception, poncing around like you were Russell bleeding Brand. From what I can gather, you'd gone in and security had locked the doors to stop your film crew following you. Which left us — the people who were supposed to be in the building, who had work to do — standing around in the cold.

My first question is, what were you hoping to achieve? Did you think a pack of traders might gallop through reception, laughing maniacally as they threw burning banknotes in the air, quaffing champagne, and brutally thrashing the ornamental paupers that they keep on diamante leashes — and you, Russell, would damningly catch them in the act? But that's on Tuesdays. I get it, Russell, I do: footage of being asked to leave by security is good footage. It looks like you're challenging the system and the powers that be want your voice suppressed. Or something. But all it really means, behind the manipulative media bullshit, is that you don't have an appointment. 

Of course, Russell, I have no idea whether you could get an appointment. Maybe RBS top brass would rather not talk to you. That's their call — and, you know, some of your behaviour might make them a tad wary. Reputations are very important in banking, and, reputation-wise, hanging out with a guy who was once fired for broadcasting hardcore pornography while off his head on crack is not ideal. But surely a man who can get invited onto Question Time to discuss the issues of the day with our Lords & Masters is establishment enough to talk to a mere banker. And it would be great if you could. Have you tried, Russell? Maybe you could do an interview with one of them. An expert could answer your questions and rebut your points, and you could rebut right back at them. I might even watch that. (By the way, Russell, if you do, and it makes money, I would like a cut for the idea, please. And I'm sure it would. Most things you do make money.)

But instead of doing something potentially educational, Russell, you staged a completely futile publicity stunt. You turned up and weren't allowed in. Big wow. You know what would have happened if a rabid capitalist had just turned up unannounced? They wouldn't have been allowed in either. You know what I have in my pocket? A security pass. Unauthorised people aren't allowed in. Obviously. That's not a global conspiracy, Russell; it's basic security. Breweries have security too, and that's not because they're conspiring to steal beer from the poor. And security really matters: banks are simply crawling with highly sensitive information. Letting you in because you're a celebrity and You Demand Answers could in fact see the bank hauled in front of the FCA. That would be a scandal. Turning you away is not. I'm sorry, Russell, but it's just not.

Your response to my complaint that a multimillionaire was causing my lunch to get cold was... well, frankly, it was to completely miss the point, choosing to talk about your millions instead of addressing the real issue, namely my fucking lunch. But that's a forgivable mistake. We all have our priorities, Russell, and I can understand why a man as obsessed with money as I am with food would assume that's what every conversation is about. Anyway, you said that all your money has been made privately, not through taxation. Now, that, Russell, is actually a fair point. Well done.

Although I can't help but notice that you have no qualms about appearing on the BBC in return for money raised through one of the most regressive taxes in the country, a tax which leads to crippling fines and even jail time for thousands of poor people and zero rich people. But never mind. I appreciate that it's difficult for a celeb to avoid the BBC, even if they're already a multimillionaire and can totally afford to turn the work down. Ah, the sacrifices we make to our principles for filthy lucre, eh, Russell? The condoms and hairspray won't buy themselves. Or, in my case, the pasta.

And then there is that film you're working on, isn't there, for which I understand your production company is benefitting from the Enterprise Investment Scheme, allowing the City investors funding your film to avoid tax. Was that the film you were making on Friday, Russell, when you indignantly pointed out to me that none of your money comes from the taxpayer? Perhaps it had slipped your mind. 

And, of course, you've been in a few Hollywood films now, haven't you, Russell? I take it you've heard of Hollywood Accounting? Of course you have, Russell; you produced Arthur. So you are well aware that Hollywood studios routinely cook their books to make sure their films never go into taxable profit — for instance, Return Of The Jedi has never, on paper, made a profit. Return Of The fuckingJedi, Russell. As an actor, and even more so as the producer of a (officially) loss-making film, you've taken part in that, you've benefitted from it. (While we're on the subject, I hear great things about Hollywood's catering. I hope you enjoyed it. Expensive, delicious, and served (at least when I dream about it) nice and hot.)

But still, you're broadly right. Leaving aside the money you make from one of the most regressive of the UK's taxes, and the tax exemptions your company uses to encourage rich City investors to give you more money, and the huge fees you've accepted from one of the planet's most notorious and successful tax avoidance schemes, you, Russell, have come by your riches without any effect on taxpayers. Whereas RBS got bailed out. Fair point.

Here's the thing about the bailout of RBS, Russell: it's temporary. The plan was never to bail out a bank so that it could then go bust anyway. That would be too asinine even for Gordon Brown. The idea was to buy the bank with public money, wait until it became profitable again, then resell it, as Alastair Darling clearly explained at the time. And that is still the plan, and it does appear to be on course. Not only that, but it looks as if the government will eventually sell RBS for more than they bought it for. In other words, the taxpayer will make a profit on this deal.

Of all the profligate pissing away of public money that goes on in this country, the only instance where the public are actually going to get their money back seems an odd target for your ire. What other government spending can you say that about, Russell? What other schemes do they sink taxpayers' money into and get it all back, with interest? And how many people have you met who have actually been right in the middle of working to make a profit for the taxpayer when you've interrupted them to cause their lunch to get cold?

As for bonuses, well, I'll be honest: I get an annual bonus. I'm not allowed to tell you exactly how much it is, but I will say it's four or five orders of magnitude smaller than the ones that make the headlines. It's very nice — helps pay off a bit of credit card debt (remember debt, Russell?) — but, to put it in terms you can understand, I'd need to work for several tens of thousands of years before my bonuses added up to close to what you're worth. 

But here's the key thing you need to know about bonuses, Russell: they come with conditions attached. My salary is mine to do with as I will (I like to spend a chunk of it on good hot food). My bonus my employer can take back off me under certain conditions. Again, I do not speak for RBS, so cannot say anything about the recent FX trading scandal or PPI or any of that shit. But, in general terms, bonuses have conditions attached, such as "And we'll claw back every penny if we discover you were breaking the rules." And yes, it does happen. The only bonuses that make the news are the ones that get paid. But, every year, bonuses either don't get paid or are even taken back off staff for various reasons, including misconduct. I'd've thought, Russell, that anyone who wanted bankers to be accountable would approve of the scheme.

And now, if I may, a word about your manner. 

Much as I disagree with most of your politics, I've always rather liked you. You do a good job of coming across as someone who might be fun to be around. Turns out, that's an illusion. 

Because, you see, Russell, when you accosted me, you started speaking to me with your nose about two inches from mine. That's pretty fucking aggressive, Russell. I'm sure you're aware of the effect. Putting one's face that close to someone else's and staring into their eyes is how primates square off for a fight. Regardless of our veneer of civilisation, when someone does that to us, it causes instinctive physical responses: adrenaline, nervousness... back down or lash out. (Or, apparently, in the case of the celebrity bikes you like to hang out with, swoon.) I'm sure that, like turning up with a megaphone instead of an appointment, such an aggressive invasion of personal space makes for great footage: you keep talking to someone in that chatty reasonable affable tone of yours, and they react with anger. Makes them look unreasonable. Makes it look like they're the aggressive ones. Makes it look like people get flustered in the face of your incisive argument. When in fact they're just getting flustered in the face of your face.

I've been thinking about this the last couple of days, Russell, and I can honestly say that the only other people ever to talk to me the way you did were school bullies. It's been nearly a quarter of a century since I had to deal with such bastards, so I was caught quite off my guard. Nice company you're keeping. Now I think about it, they used to ruin my lunchtimes too.

One last thing, Russell. Who did you inconvenience on Friday? Let's say that you're right, and that the likes of Fred Goodwin need to pay. OK, so how much trouble do you think Fred faced last Friday as a result of your antics? Do you think any of his food got cold, Russell? Even just his tea? I somehow doubt it. How about some of the millionaire traders you despise so much (some of whom are nearly as rich as you, Russell)? Well, no, because you got the wrong fucking building. (Might want to have a word with your researchers about that.) Which brings us back to where we came in: a bunch of admittedly fairly well paid but still quite ordinary working people, admin staff mostly, having their lives inconvenienced and, in at least one case, their lunches quite disastrously cooled, in order to accommodate the puerile self-aggrandising antics of a prancing multimillionaire. If you had any self-awareness beyond agonising over how often to straighten your fucking chest-hair, you'd be ashamed. 

It was paella, by the way. From Fernando's in Devonshire Row. I highly recommend them: their food is frankly just fantastic. 

When it's hot.

Apple iPhone 6; Did you forget to order them Vodafone?

Vodafone and Carphone Warehouse comparison for 64GB iPhone 6




I ordered an iPhone  upgrade from Vodafone a week ago, "delivery within 7 days sir." No it isn't. They haven't got any and have no clue when they will. Some quick investigation revealed that Carphone Warehouse do have 64GB iPhone 6's in space grey in stock. Thing is, how do Carphone Warehouse manage to sell them more cheaply, (and with a better data offering), on the Vodafone network than do Vodafone themselves.

That's nuts but what is even more nuts is that the Vodafone shops are full, are still selling phones they don't have to idiots like me who are too idle to shop around, and neither Vodafone nor apparently their customers care.