Andalucia Steve the dream


Rockets on the Blockchain

The time has come for missile accountability.

OH-58 firing Hellfire missile during Operation BrownThe recent stories of the Hellfire Missiles turning up on a Serbian passenger airliner and of Cuba returning a missing, albeit dummy Hellfire Missile to the US got me thinking. Governments and arms manufacturers are far too murky in the ownership and movements of weapons and ammunition.

Now there may be some excuse for hiding munitions for reasons of security, but consider this. The argument for nuclear weapons goes along the lines of, "if the other side know we've got them they won't attack us". So point one, it should be a positive boon to promote and publicize a nations armory to scare the pants off the enemy. This is why nearly every country from Russian to North Korea, from Spain to Japan has military parades.

The nuclear non-proliferation treaty was introduced " to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament" which is a worthy aim. This involves weapons inspection and monitoring - point 2, what gets measured gets managed. So why not, given that we have the technology, extend the measuring a monitoring of weapons of mass destruction to weapons that are not massively destructive but can nonetheless make a right mess of a city block?

Initially I can see arms manufactures poo pooing this idea, since arms sales has always been a bit cloak and dagger. However I really think that cleaning up the arms industry and making it more accountable may actually grow their profits.

Lets sketch a scenario as to how this might work, using our $110,000 Hellfire missile as an example. Suppose we legislate such that each missile manufactured has to be given a unique identity number that has an entry on a blockchain specially created for the purpose. When the missile is sold or resold, the transaction is noted on the blockchain so at any time we know who is responsible for the missile. Now suppose we have a means of determining where the missile eventually detonates so this too is recorded on the blockchain. There are a number of ways to do this. I'm sure the technology used to launch the missile records this data anyway, but if not it would be trivial (compared with the cost of the missile) to build in the functionality to transmit the GPS location of the point of the explosion. We then have cradle-to-grave tracking for the life and death of the missile.

Lets consider some of the implications of this. Firstly, because the damage caused by the missile is tied by the blockchain to the current owner, countries and arms dealers will be far less likely to engage in sales to nations with arms embargoes as the identity of the seller will be clear. The manufacturer can point to the blockchain and say nothing to do with us - this missile was sold illegally. Also the owner of the target, be it a country or even a surviving individual (perhaps the absentee owner of a destroyed building) will have redress. The blockchain will allow a victim to see who owned the missile and should the action be illegal, make a claim for damages. If however the weapon is used legally, the owner can use the blockchain to easily get an ROI on each missile. This could play a big part in reducing a nation's arms budget - costing death and destruction against initial outlay to identify the most profitable weapons.

This may at first seem an extreme departure from the haphazard way warfare has been conducted in the past - call it the 'lob it and see' approach. When one thinks about it though, many countries track livestock to counter foot and mouth and BSE, so it seems perverse NOT to track an object such as a missile that costs hundreds of thousands of times more and is capable of wreaking such extensive damage.

My example uses a missile, as these are weighty easily identifiable objects. In the future though similar blockchains could be set up for a whole manner of different types of armament, perhaps one day to the level of individual bullets.

For the arms manufacturers, selling accountability opens up a whole new industry for them. In a way it justifies the sale of weapons in peacetime. They can make the claim that they are being responsible, providing an audit trail that protects innocent civilians from the misuse of their products. The Internet of Things, of which this is really a part, is being described as the next big thing, and security is central to the platform. If we can persuade weapons manufactures that to be early adopters of this technology can not only increase their profits but sanitize and improve the image of their industry, we just may make the world a safer place at the same time!


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How will Brexit affect Expats

Excellent piece on Brexit not least becasue I was in it..

Here I am getting my fizzog on the gogglebox re the Brexit debate on Skynews this afternoon. If you don't want to watch the whole thing I'm on a 7:06...

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Amazon's Mechanical Turk Sucks Unless You're a Yank!

The online retailing giant moves its own money about the world but not mine!

Jeff Bezos 2005Work has been on the scarce side recently, so scarce infact that I turned to Amazon's Mechanical Turk website with a view to making a little cash in time for Christmas.

In case you are not aware, Mechanical Turk is a website that offers work that humans can do that computers can't. It could be tagging items in an image or reviewing a website, taking a survey etc. The jobs don't pay very well. One afternoon, after four hours slaving away in front of my computer I'd made on average $0.56 per hour! It is regarded by many as an online sweatshop, though there is an argument that if you're smart and can figure out which of the higher paying jobs require less time, you can earn $10-$20 dollars a day, which is a living in a third world country. Again on the positive side there are no job interviews, you just grab a job and do it.

So I jumped right in and started working away on these tasks, some of which are incredibly mind numbing. After about ten days I'd earned $30, which I had set myself as the target of my first money transfer.

I had scanned through the instructions before I started working and read that I could either transfer the cash to my bank, or have it transferred to my Amazon gift certificate balance. I wanted to do the former, but when I went to do it, the only option was to have the money in gift certificates. I went through the small print, and sure enough, because I don't live in America (I'm a Brit living in Spain), a bank transfer was not available to me.

So I transferred the money in to gift certificates. Went to - $30 in my gift certificate balance - great!

Then I went to buy something on, got to the check out - no gift certificate balance! Despite appearing as one company and having a single login/password for each international website, after reading the small print, Amazon gift certificates can not be transferred between one of their websites to another. Not impressed. I tried to order something from the US website and the postage was horrendous, so I may try and do a deal with a friend in America to buy something for them in exchange for the cash. It shouldn't be that difficult.

But it doesn't stop there. During my time on Mturk it dawned on my there was money to be made here as an employer. After a few days an idea struck me that I could distribute across multiple workers and sell on (I won't share the idea because it is still possible I'll go ahead with it). So I tried to sign up as a Mechanical Turk employer, rather than an employee. It turns out that... NO - IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO EMPLOY PEOPLE ON MECHANICAL TURK UNLESS YOU ARE AN AMERICAN CITIZEN.

Did you see what I just did there? I went into bold caps. That's because I'm getting angry, or as us Londoners say, "I'm getting the right hump"!

Number 21 on Forbes list of billionaires, Bezos has become one of the richest blokes on the planet by using online globalization to his advantage. Amazon has been criticized for its use of dubious sales practices, sidestepping sales taxes in the US and abroad, and more recently in 2012 being under investigation by the UK tax authorities for paying zero corporation tax on sales of £7 billion by hiving off its profit to another EU country with a lower taxation rate. Yet on Mturk, you cannot take advantage of a global workforce unless you are a yank, you cannot move money around and you can't move your gift balance.

 Times don't change. As ever there is a rule for the rich and a different one for the poor.



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Wine goes up but inflation the lowest since records began.

Is Spain’s inflation rate really as low as they say?

Market leading cardbordeuxI’ve long been suspicious of the published inflation.

I knew a lady in the UK who, one Friday in the month left her desk at the Department of Employment with a clipboard and a list of products that she gathered prices to compile the Retail Prices Index (RPI).  She told me she had been doing this for over thirty years and that she was sure the game was rigged. Products that started to rise in value would leave the list and products falling in value would suddenly be added to it and monitored.

I naturally felt some suspicion when I learned this week that the inflation rate in Spain has fallen to its lowest level in 52 years, in fact since the recording of the figure began.

Now if you talk to people in Spain about prices, you could forgiven for thinking this is a downright lie as nothing in our experience seems to ever get cheaper. Electricity has been creeping up every year, culminating in an announcement just before Christmas 2013 that the price of electricity would be going up more than 11% from the 1st of January making that a 119% increase in ten years. In the event a vast public outcry, spearheaded by the campaign #APAGÓN30D forced the government to step in and insist that this level of increase will not take place but instead a 4% increase will be levied – still far above the current rate of inflation.

The price of gas bottles which are widely used in Spain, is seasonally adjusted, but any fall in price is usually countered with a greater rise. When I arrived in Spain just over ten years ago a gas bottle was under seven euros. The last one I bought cost a staggering 17.50€

When you look at the figures that go in to making up the index, weightings are used so that the various sectors, transport, housing, clothing etc compete with each other to make a contribution. As you can see in the press release, all the sectors in which pricing has fallen have an increased weighting in the latest figures. There is no explanation as to why the weighting change, so one must assume it is the means by which the figures can be massaged by the government to give the best picture possible.

One benchmark I consider significant changed this week. A carton of Don Simon red wine, (for years known as the 95cnet carton) rose from it’s previous figure of 1,10€ to 1,20€ in Mercadona, the leading Spanish owned supermarket chain. Don Simon is probably the most quaffed wine in Spain having a huge market share. I’ve even seen Don Simon home delivery trucks pumping wine into the plastic bottles of eager housewives, such is their presence the market here. Why Don Simon’s price should shoot up 10 centimos during the lowest inflationary period in Spain’s history is beyond me, but it’s yet another sign that makes me suspect Spain’s inflation rate isn’t anywhere near as low as is stated!


Mercadona till receipts

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Why Privacy Matters

Excelent Ted Talk About the War in Online Privacy Going on Before Our Eyes

Alessandro AcquistiAn engaging talk by Alessandro Acquisti about the nature of internet privacy and its possible impact on all our lives. I was particularly struck with the concept that advertisers now have the technology to get the images of our most closest friends on say, Facebook, morf them together and construct an advert that would be present by an avatar resembling them. Spooky!

Folowing on from what Richard Stallman was saying in another video I posted the other day, is it worth being on Google Plus and Facebook, or is the risk to our privacy too great. I know a lot of people have taken to adblocker programmes that minimise the damage, but if we all did that, Google and the like would have to end providing services that are essentially free because of the adverts we consume.

Personally I think moving towards paid for services without advertising and without more privacy may be the future, at least for a concerned section of the population.

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Stallman on Privacy

Richard Stallman interviewed about privacy, NSA and why he doesn't have a phone

Interview with Richard Stallman the creator of the free software foundation. He gives his views on Assange, Snowdon, big brother and why he doesn't have a mobile phone. The great thing about Stallman is he saw this coming. He's had this position for ten or fifteen years and has been largely ignored. Now all he has been saying has been completely vindicated.

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Urban decline

How capitalism is an atractor for conglomeration

Several years ago I was living in a town called Cehegin in Murcia, in Spain, about an hours drive inland from the south coast.

My neighbours son was the local vet and over a few beers one day he explained to me that he didn't just work in town, but he had a very wide network of farms that he visited.
The farmers paid into a sort of insurance fund and he would vaccinate herd and inspect sick animals etc. He catchment area extended to the mountains of Albacete. I'd probably had too much beer, because when he asked me if I wanted to go with him on his rounds one day, I accepted. A few days later on one freezing cold morning I was getting into his car a 6am.

Well we drove and drove. As the altitude increased, so the temperature decreased. People think of Spain as a warm country. Don't believe a word of it. Winters here have been know to go down to minus 36 centigrade!

We passed a frozen waterfall and I noticed my companion was sporting a colourful woollen hat whereas I was stupidly bareheaded.

Eventually we arrived at the first farm. Antonio the vet greeted the farmer and was soon in an enclosure doing unmentionable things so yelping goats.

Old farmhouseThe farmer took me to oneside and, with my limited Spanish, seemed to be offering me his farm for sale. The buildings including the sheds and animal enclosures must have totalled about five hundred square meters. Goodness knows how much land would have been included because he gestured as far as the eye could see. His asking price was 6000 euros.

I was quite taken aback. It was a beautiful spot. The farmhouse was old but liveable.

When Antonio and I were back in the car I mentioned the farmer's offer. He chuckled and explained, that the farmer is one of the last people left in what was previously a huge goat herding region. None of the children wanted to herd goats as there was no money in it so over the years they drifted off to Madrid, Barcelona or maybe abroad to find work.

Soon the town has so few people, there is no money to pay for services and everything collapses. We drove past the town, which was on the other side of the river so we couldn't enter, but all was still. It had long since been abandoned. The farmer had to drive twenty miles to the next town for everything he needed, which was crippling any profit he had from the goat farm. He just wanted out.

Today we're looking at a similar situation in Detroit, the largest American city ever to file for bankruptcy. Detroit's population has declined from 1.85 million in the 1950's to just 700k today. Deeply underfunded schools are being shutdown. People are leaving in droves.

The cause is the same in both cases. An economic activity becomes uneconomic. Goat herding in Albacete, building cars in Detroit.

The thing about capitalism is that it takes care of money but not the people who generate it. As long as we leave the care of people to market forces, we're really saying that people are an expendable resource that can be disposed of when no longer needed.

My take on this is that profit is the expendable resource that should be used to take care of people. Today there is more profit than ever before in human history thanks to the automation afford by machines, computers and robotics. Instead of the fruits of those developments going to the benefit of mankind they are sequested by a tiny minority - the rich 1% whose only purpose in life seems to be to make more money and make the rest of us continually poorer.

Unless we start to reorganise the worlds wealth, I do fear towns and cities across the globe will gradually disappear and be replaced by one big city - the only place left to work.

Gravatar #Andalucia evangelist, social marketer, musician, guitar technician, reformed estate agent, recovering programmer, political disruptor - yup that's me!
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Censorship has returned

France debate on the limits of art

"I'm not an activist.  My job is to show, not to judge ".

The phrase reads a sign at the entrance of the exhibition "Fantôme Foyer" (ghost house) and is of photographer Ahlam Shibli, which Jeu de Paume gallery currently devotes a retrospective.
The text, which begins with the title "Avertissement" (warning), was withdrawn after protests sounded.

The museum had to close partially due to pump alarms and principal received death threats.

The retrospective of the photographer Palestinian, opened in late May, meets six series, including the controversial "Death": 68 photographs of Palestinian guerrillas who gave their lives in their fight against Israel.

Shibli photographed posters on the walls of Nablus, the largest city in the West Bank and where several Palestinian refugee camps.

With "Death", the photographer wanted to show as dead guerrillas are still alive in the open and in memory of the population.

The series has already been shown in other museums, the MACBA in Barcelona last.

But only in Paris has sparked protests.

In a letter to the Minister of Culture, Aurélie Pilippetti, the board of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF) accused the museum of "exalting terrorism".

The council criticized especially text accompanying the work, in which the artist uses the term "martyrs" to qualify the suicide bombers.

Since then, at the entrance of the exhibition can be the sign that the photographer explains that snapshots in color and black and white are not used for advertising or glorifying terrorism.

However, there have been threats against the museum and the principal.

In mid-June, the France-Israel held a demonstration outside the center and demanded the closure of the exhibition, scheduled for September 1.

"Censorship is back," headlined the French press when the facebook profile of the Jeu de Paume gallery was closed as early as March.

The museum published there one black and white photo on the occasion of the exhibition "Laure Albin Guillot (1879-1962), l'enjeu classique".

In the picture you see a naked woman.

Only sex was covered with a white towel.

According to the museum, the facebook page was closed 24 hours.

Later, the woman's chest was covered with a black stripe.

The ban on publishing nude photos form part of the rules of the American social network.

"I do not distinguish between a work of art and a pornographic image is not only dubious, but especially a dangerous mix," then reacted the gallery.

In fall 2012, the Paris Institute of the Arab World (IMA) withdrew a video installation by Moroccan artist Mounir Fatmi on which was the writer Salman Rushdie sleeping with a clock in the background.

The artist wanted to show her the silence of Arab intellectuals after the "fatwa" against British-Indian author, on whose head the Iranian revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, offered a million dollars.

Meanwhile, the reward is USD 3.3 million.

As explained at the time the artist to the media, climate generated after the movie "Innocence of Muslims", which sparked strong protests in several Arab countries, had led to self-censorship of the museum.

Only a week before, had to withdraw Fatmi cultural festival "Le Printemps de Septembre" in Toulouse, his installation "Technologica" under pressure from the Muslim community.

Due to a technical problem, the verses of the Quran could not be projected onto a facade, but on the floor, and a woman walked over it without realizing it.

"The thing that baffles me is that happens in France and in the Maghreb or in Saudi Arabia," said the artist.

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Gravatar #Andalucia evangelist, social marketer, musician, guitar technician, reformed estate agent, recovering programmer, political disruptor - yup that's me!
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How to become a king

You don't have to be born to rule

wikimedia image of Josiah HarlanWho has not wanted to be king? Not a king now, of course, our monarchies deliquescent and dull, but the brave monarch of a remote and fabulous realm earned by the force of courage and lust for adventure horizons. A king of those who made themselves wielding the gun in wild places that challenge the imagination, leaving the burden of everyday life, affection and security.

Among the handful of brave men who sought the kingdom of their dreams and were crowned with his own hands on thrones of jungle, mountain or desert stand, of course, James Brooke, who became the White Rajah of Sarawak, and Charles de Mayrena, which was proclaimed king of the sedang in the jungles of Indochina. Less well known, there were minor adventures and achievements of the Quaker and freemason Josiah Harlan, who left Pennsylvania with only bare hands in 1823 to conquer the dangerous lands of Afghanistan and become ruler of the principality of Gohr, in the Hindu Kush. Harlan got there on the back of an elephant: these were different times.

At the origin of his incredible adventures are a broken heart

The amazing adventures of Harlan, obsessed with Alexander the Great, was one of the elements that inspired his famous Rudyard Kipling story The man who would be king, based on John Huston film with Sean Connery and Michael Caine. "We leave here to be kings" Dravot and Peachey said the narrator of the story. Armed with ambition and 20 rifles, met their fate in Kafiristan to lose the throne, then respectively life and sanity. Harlan, who said that a sharp sword and a bold heart  supersede the laws of inheritance, could not keep his kingdom but survived to return to the U.S. and live new adventures.

During the Civil War, he organized his own regiment of cavalry, Harlan's Light Cavalry, to fight the Confederates, the same man who had led armies in Afghanistan, served as military adviser Ranjit Singh, the Lion of Lahore, and adopted the code Pashtuns of honor!

Harlan's life, told in detail by Ben Macintyre in his splendid biography Josiah the Great (HarperCollins, 2004), gave a glimpse of the most outrageous adventurer and explored a romantics twist. Could you ask for more? Scion of a family of pious and wealthy Philadelphia Quakers, Harlan (1799) embarked as a sailor bound for Eastern ports leading into the heart of his beloved Elizabeth Swaim, with whom he planned to marry.

In Calcutta he got a letter informing him that the fickle girl had married another. In a fit, our man decided to never return to the U.S. and gave the search for adventure, fame and fortune.

Harlan moved to northern India and entered the service of the exiled Afghan king Shah Shujah, who conspired to regain his throne. Thus, the U.S. was involved in the dangerous great game of European powers for control of Central Asia. At the same time, was placed in a position to take advantage of quarrels to gain personal power and, who knows, catch a title. "There are realms available, requiring only initiative, energy and luck" wrote Harlan, who added a phrase to remember: "Each in his own estimation is a king".

He left Kabul to destabilize the reigning Dost Mohammed and prepare the invasion at the head of a small army of hustlers and desperados. If getting the return of their King this would make me the vizier and then we would see. In this  Harlan's ambition amaze you almost as much as his courage. In the march towards Kabul, dressed dervish, had to deal with bandits, tribes cruel quicksand and even a riot. Dost Mohammed was unimpressed and saw Harlan as only as an unlikely tourist. After many vicissitudes, the U.S. concluded that a revolt was impossible and returned to India.

He then moved to Punjab to get the service of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The American Medical hypochondriac made the debauched eyed maharaja general in his army, and was appointed governor of Gujrat. It was then that he became involved in the war between Afghan and Sikh and decided to ally with Dost Mohammed, who had tried to depose before. The emir of Kabul, who was cruel but not spiteful, made him commander of his troops. After the victory over the Sikhs at Jamrud, presented him with a gold-plated sword and charged a punitive expedition against the infamous Murad Beg, khan Kumduz an Uzbek slavery of the worst kind.

He led an army of 4,000 Afghans, the U.S. went to the great opportunity of his life riding on elephant. Harlan rode the beast through the Hindu-Kush and during their journey through the Hazarajat in 1839, sufficiently impressed Prince of Ghor (or Goree or Gawr) that he proposed that he transferred sovereignty to Harlan who assumed security of the kingdom. He wrote a paper in which Harlan undertook to create, prepare and command an army and in return he and his heirs claimed the crown.

The adventurer had his dream fulfilled.  He returned to Kabul Ghor thinking to settle in and then it all fell apart: the British had invaded Afghanistan. And they did not suffer fools gladly: Harlan was a type that had become doubtful through Afghanistan, so he left the country with paper declaring him king still in the pocket. The America returned to his homeland, but not before passing by Russia where surely intrigued to see if the Tsar helped him settle in his throne. In 1841 he was in Philadelphia where he asked to be called modest overall and King Josiah Harlan.

In October 1871, planning to sail for China to provide military services to the emperor, Harlan Sahib slumped dead on a street in San Francisco. They say in Ghor found only a crown but also a young Hazara  and his unrequited love for Eliza Swaim. Maybe that was so eager to return. We know what it takes to win a kingdom, but it is sometimes more difficult to conquer a heart.

Gravatar #Andalucia evangelist, social marketer, musician, guitar technician, reformed estate agent, recovering programmer, political disruptor - yup that's me!
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What's the opposite of a Baby Boom?

Recent Report Shows Falling Birth Rate in Europe Due to Recession

In a press-release that got far to little coverage last week, on the 10 July, the Max Planck Institute in Germany announced a demographic research paper demonstrating that there had been a Europe-wide fall in fertility during and as a result of the 'great depression' in Europe.

(I leave you to study the stats and thumb through the graphs)

Perhaps this should come as no surprise. Sensible people are going to try an put off having children until they have money in their pockets. With European joblessness hitting 12.5% in May 2013, there has never been a worse time to procreate.

Yet here is the thing, this high unemployment figure would not be so bad had Europe been set marching on the beat of the austerity drum. A falling population means declining markets, and in fact more austerity because it is more difficult for the next generation of tax payers to provide pensions for the elderly.

Austerity isn't working - how long will it take to get that message across?

Gravatar #Andalucia evangelist, social marketer, musician, guitar technician, reformed estate agent, recovering programmer, political disruptor - yup that's me!
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