Thursday, 30 April 2015

Microsoft - getting in the game


Are Microsoft getting their act together? Recent evidence suggests they are improving. They have moved on from their old, increasingly odd and ineffective, boss Steve Balmer. The new bloke Satya Nadella has started off by improving the phones and their software. There is still someway to go. Also the new surface laptop/tablet hybrids are much improved. There are signs that Microsoft is acknowledging some of Windows disastrous design flaws and finally this great opening up the system idea:-

"Microsoft is making it easier for apps written for rivals Google including Android and Apples iOS systems to work on Windows phones, in a bid to attract users to its unpopular mobile devices, the company's operating systems chief said on Wednesday.

The move marks a radical shift in strategy for the world's biggest software company, which still dominates the personal computer market but has failed to get any real traction on tablets and phones, partly because of a lack of apps."

Source: Reuters

It may just get them into the phone/ tablet game.


Wednesday, 29 April 2015

DARPA - Robocop Returns

The paragraphs below are part of an article from Extreme Tech. DARPA is the USA's Defence Advance Research Projects Agency.

A compelling encore to inventing the Internet appears more elusive for DARPA with each passing day. But what if they could put the Internet in your brain? That might turn some heads. Before anyone gets around to that, it would seem prudent to try to put just a single idea into a mind — a single memory, skill, or replay of some notable event. With a news release announced yesterday, DARPA intends to do just that.

The solicitation is for a two-year research program to develop what they are calling RAM Replay, or implants for ‘Restoring Active Memory’. This concept has not been hatched in full form out of thin air, but rather builds on a succession of recent projects to build an interface that is active at the level of the conscious mind — a cognitive implant, if you will. Just this February DARPA sponsored a meeting in the Silicon Valley area where they discussed futuristic conceptions for what they call a cortical modem.

In its rawest form, they imagine such a cortical modem might be a $10 device the size of a couple of coins. It would enable a visual impression to be perceived by appropriate stimulation of the visual cortex. That’s a tall order, but perhaps a bit more modest then their previous REMIND (Restorative Encoding Memory Integration Neural Device) project, which would be nothing short of a full-blown memory prosthesis that jacks into the hippocampus.

The rest of the article is here



Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A Tortoises' Tale

A 109-year-old tortoise has been reunited with his owner, almost a year after going on the run. Toby escaped from Wendy Stokes’s garden in Kent in May last year when the gate was left open. Spotted by a passerby on a nearby road, he was taken to a rescue centre, and rehomed in Margate. But then Toby’s new owners made out the name “Stokes” in faded white paint on his shell – and set about ringing every Stokes in Kent until they found Wendy, 74. “I went all goosey when they told me,” she said. “I had really given up on him.”

Source: The Week

Monday, 27 April 2015

Poets Corner - Macavity - The Mystery Cat

By T S Elliot

For he's the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He's the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad's despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime--Macavity's not there! Macavity, Macavity, there's no on like Macavity,

He's broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime--Macavity's not there!
You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air--
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity's not there!

Macavity's a ginger cat, he's very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly doomed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he's half asleep, he's always wide awake.

Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macavity,
For he's a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square--
But when a crime's discovered, then Macavity's not there!

He's outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard's.
And when the larder's looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke's been stifled,
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair--
Ay, there's the wonder of the thing! Macavity's not there!

And when the Foreign Office finds a Treaty's gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scap of paper in the hall or on the stair--
But it's useless of investigate--Macavity's not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
"It must have been Macavity!"--but he's a mile away.
You'll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs,
Or engaged in doing complicated long division sums.

Macavity, Macavity, there's no one like Macacity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibit, or one or two to spare:
And whatever time the deed took place--MACAVITY WASN'T THERE!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Five smaller parties fighting for your vote

Below is an article from The Week magazine. The number of political parties registered has massively grown since the last election. The breakdown of the two party system continues a pace. It will herald the end of first past the post, the House of Lords as we know it and the UK as we know it:-

A look at the parties campaigning for unicorns, a Minister for Men and the legalisation of cannabis.

In the closest general election in a generation, smaller parties on all sides of the political spectrum are fighting to get their voices heard.

Here are just some of the lesser-known parties standing in next month's election and their manifestos:

Pirate party

The Pirate movement first started in Sweden in 2006, launching three years later in Britain. It is fighting to strengthen civil liberties, protect internet freedom, increase transparency and promote free speech.

It launched what it's calling Britain's first crowd-sourced manifesto, which it assembled on Reddit. Its policies include removing CCTV from public places, the publication of all government documents and scrapping university tuition fees. "Although the Pirate party’s membership is small, my online life tells me these are indeed the political worries of a generation," Channel 4 News editor Paul Mason writes in The Guardian.

The Pirate party will be fielding six candidates across the UK.

Justice for Men and Boys (and the Women Who Love Them)

The anti-feminist party was founded by former Tory consultant and author of Feminism: The Ugly Truth, Mike Buchanan. He argues that men are under-represented in politics, compares feminism to Nazism and regularly hands out "lying feminist of the month" awards to women's rights campaigners.

Its manifesto promises to limit women's access to abortions, criminalise male circumcision, create a Minister for Men and Equalities and stop "subsidising sperm banks for single women and lesbians" so as not to "encourage" fatherless families. "I guess our target demographic is more men than women," concedes the party's leader.

Justice for Men and Boys is fielding three candidates in adjacent constituencies near Nottingham.

Monster Raving Loony party

Set up in 1983, it's often referred to as the longest-running joke in British politics. The Monster Raving Loony Party famously elected a cat as its co-leader and wants to make unicorns a protected species. Jokes aside, they argue that they serve a vital democratic function by allowing people to cast a genuine protest vote.

They haven't yet published their full manifesto, fearing the other parties will steal their policies. But the Loony party says it will reduce national debt by selling castles back to the French, will deliver a three-way referendum on the EU (In, Out, or Shake It All About) and will cancel stamp duty ("stamps are expensive enough so we shouldn't have to pay duty on them"). However, "beneath the gags, the party is disappointingly sane", writes Tom Rowley in the Daily Telegraph.

The Loony party is fielding 15 candidates across the UK.

Liberty GB

The far-right party was founded in 2013 by Paul Weston, a former Ukip and British Freedom Party member who was arrested last year on suspicion of religious or racial harassment.

He has branded the entire religion of Islam "savage, backward, and intolerant", but denies being an Islamophobe - instead calling himself an "Islamo-realist".

In its manifesto the party pledges to halt all immigration into the UK for the next five years, evict all foreigners from council homes, ban all Muslims from holding public office and repeal the Human Rights Act.

Liberty GB will be fielding three candidates across the UK.

Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol (Cista)

Founded earlier this year, Cista is fighting for a review of Britain's cannabis laws. It was set up by Paul Birch, the co-founder of social media company Bebo, who is personally bankrolling all of the candidates and is a regular cannabis user. He would prefer his children took cannabis over a glass of wine, he recently told the BBC.

Its manifesto pledges to convene a Royal Commission to undertake a fundamental review of Britain's drugs policy and hold a Global Medicinal Cannabis Summit in London in 2015. It argues that its proposals will "do less harm, reduce human suffering and minimise the damage caused to the victims of drug-related crime and consumers of drugs".

Cista is fielding 32 candidates in London, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Read more:



Saturday, 25 April 2015

The problem with Apps

I have used an app called BlogPress for years. It was really easy to use, the UI being great and linked in to other things like Facebook and Twitter easily.

Then after an update in early April it stopped working. It's unusable.

I asked the company, Blogpress, in several ways what was going on. I asked if they would at least update us or give us some information.


Three things annoy me about this.

1) I paid a couple of quid for the app.

2) It was really useful and convenient and it's suddenly gone.

3) I am powerless to address the issue.

Thanks BlogPress for being great for a few years, but no thanks for being useless when things went wrong.

I have moved to a new blog app called Blogsy. It's a bit more complicated but seems good so far.



Friday, 24 April 2015

Election 2015: how the IFS rates each party's policies

See below for a briefing by The Week on the IFS report (bear in mind who the IFS are and where they are coming from).

The electorate has been given an "incomplete picture" of what they can expect from the four main political parties after the general election, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said.
After analysing the public finance plans of the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Scottish National Party, the IFS said all of the parties "could have done better" at explaining their fiscal ambitions to the public.
All four parties' plans imply further austerity over the next parliament, says the IFS – even SNP, which has promised to demand an "end to austerity" in its manifesto. Nevertheless, the difference in plans between the Conservatives and the SNP are described as "substantial".
All four have also said they will reduce borrowing, but none of them have managed to be "completely specific" about how much they want to reduce it by or how they plan to do it. The IFS has therefore had to make some assumptions about each party's aims based on other policies and pledges published.
Borrowing has reduced from a peak of 10.2 per cent of national income in 2009/10 to five per cent in 2014/15, said the IFS, but "whoever forms the next government still faces the task of finishing the job of reducing borrowing back to sustainable levels".
Here are the four parties' plans to achieve this:
Debt: As a share of national income, debt could be reduced from 80 per cent in 2014/15 to 72 per cent by 2019/20 under the Conservatives. This is more than all of the other three parties.
Borrowing: The Conservatives' tax and spending plans imply a reduction in borrowing from five per cent of national income in 2014/15 to a surplus of 0.2 per cent from 2018/19. This marks a 5.2 per cent reduction.
Public spending: Spending as a share of national income could be cut by 4.6 per cent by 2019/20, taking spending back to around the same share of national income as last seen in 2000/01.
How would they do it?
The Conservatives "need to spell out substantially more detail of how they will deliver the overall fiscal targets they have set themselves", says the IFS. Despite offering tax giveaways and protection for aid, NHS and education spending, the Tories plan to raise money through a tax avoidance crackdown and cuts to benefits.
Total departmental spending would therefore need to be cut by 7.1 per cent between 2014/15 and 2018/19. This is a slightly slower rate compared to the previous parliament but it would mean that unprotected departments – such as defence, transport, law and order, and social care – could face a further 17.9 per cent cuts over the next three years on top of the 18.1 per cent cuts experienced over the last five years.
Debt: As a share of national income, debt could be reduced from 80 per cent to 77 per cent by 2019/20 under Labour. This would amount to about £90bn more debt under a Labour government than under a Tory government by the end of the next parliament.
Borrowing: The party's "vague" ambition to "balance the current budget" implies a 3.6 per cent reduction by 2018/19, bringing it to 1.4 per cent of national income.
Public spending: Spending as a share of national income could be cut by 2.4 per cent by 2019/20, the smallest reduction of all the parties.
How would they do it?
Labour might need only "relatively small cuts" to departments (other than the protected areas of aid, NHS and education) on top of the cuts already in place for 2015/16 to achieve its aims. However, IFS notes that the party's pledge to "get a surplus on the current budget" is "vague". The Labour Party has also provided "disappointingly little" information on exactly how much they would borrow if they were in government after the next election.
Liberal Democrats
Debt: As a share of national income, debt could be reduced from 80 per cent to 75 per cent by 2019/20 under the Lib Dems.
Borrowing: The Liberal Democrats have said they are aiming for a borrowing reduction of 3.9 per cent by 2017/18 (rather than 2018/19).
Public spending: Spending as a share of national income could be cut by 2.8 per cent by 2019/20.
How would they do it?
The Liberal Democrats are positioning themselves between Labour and the Conservatives, but have "failed to spell out details of how they would achieve much of their tightening". The party claims it can raise £10bn from reducing tax avoidance and evasion by the end of parliament – twice as much as the Conservatives and a third more than Labour. They are also relying on £12bn of cuts to departmental spending.
Debt: As a share of national income, debt could be reduced from 80 per cent to 78 per cent by 2019/20 under SNP.
Borrowing: The SNP's tax and spending plans imply a borrowing reduction of 3.6 per cent of national income, but this would not be completed until 2019/20 (rather than 2018/19).
Public spending: Spending as a share of national income could be cut by 3.1 per cent by 2019/20.
How would they do it?
The SNP's stated plans "do not necessarily match their anti-austerity rhetoric", says the IFS. Its manifesto implies that the party would actually oversee a bigger cut to spending by 2019/20 than Labour. It will cut less to begin with, but the period of austerity would be longer than the other three parties. The party's tax take-aways offsets its tax giveaways, while benefits would increase. Therefore, total departmental spending in real terms would be broadly frozen between 2014/15 and 2019/20. The IFS says this would mean departmental spending outside of the NHS and aid could therefore face cuts of 4.3 per cent. 

Read more:

We haven't a clue - GE 2015

Polling organisation/clientSample sizeConLabLDUKIPGreenOthersLead
22–23 AprYouGov/The Sun1,83433%35%8%13%6%6%2%
22–23 AprSurvation/Daily Mirror1,20533%29%10%18%4%6%4%
21–23 AprPanelbase1,01231%34%7%17%4%7%3%
21–22 AprComRes/ITV News, Daily Mail1,00336%32%8%10%5%9%4%
21–22 AprYouGov/The Sun2,06033%34%7%14%5%6%1%
20–21 AprYouGov/The Sun1,79935%34%7%13%5%6%1%
19–20 AprYouGov/The Sun2,07834%35%7%13%5%6%1%
16–20 AprTNS1,19932%34%8%15%5%6%2%
18–19 AprYouGov/The Sun1,67534%35%8%13%5%6%1%
17–19 AprLord Ashcroft1,00234%30%10%13%4%9%4%
17–19 AprPopulus2,04832%34%9%15%4%6%2%
17–19 AprICM/The Guardian1,00334%32%10%11%5%8%2%
17–18 AprYouGov/Sunday Times1,78033%36%8%13%5%5%3%
16–17 AprOpinium/The Observer1,95536%32%8%13%5%6%4%
16–17 AprYouGov/The Sun1,71334%34%9%14%5%5%Tied
16–17 AprSurvation/Daily Mirror1,31434%33%7%17%3%6%1%
16 AprFive-way Opposition Leaders' Debate held on BBC One
Judging by the above national opinion polls it really is too close to call. Add into the mix the chaos caused by the SNP, UKIP, constituency bias etc and we have little clue as to the details of the outcome other than the general one - a hung Parliament of some sort is likely.

The next 12 months could see yet another general election, the Grexit, another Scottish referendum (certainly way more devolvement), a fractious Parliament and the regions starting to get a voice too. The centre, i.e. The Westminster and Whitehall way of doing things is under threat. Not necessarily a bad thing but it may make it harder to deal with increasing international headwinds.