Who likes history? If you do, then I invite you to take a little journey with me…
Cast your mind back to the early 1990s.
If you were one of the 10% of the UK population that possessed a cell-phone at that time, then you may well have owned one of these – a Nokia 1610.
It was a simple device – able to make and receive telephone calls, and send and receive text (SMS) messages. I was using this model of phone back then, and at the time it was regarded as one of the top phones available.
It had a tiny screen by today’s standards, and was quite bulky. The antenna, whilst small, was still an intrusion, and would often malevolently jam the phone into my pocket.
In 1996, 27% of the UK population owned a PC (In 2017, 88% of us had a computer at home). Mine was a Packard Bell desktop system that I bought from the now-vanished Dixons.
I can’t remember how much the system cost me, but I do remember that I was entitled to a Freeserve email account, which I used for a good few years before moving over to web-based systems such as Outlook, Google or more recently Imail.
My home set-up was ludicrously simple. No passwords, or hunting for that elusive Wi-Fi router.
Just plug the Modem into the network port on the PC, plug the other end into the phone line using an adapter, and the system was ready for use.
Getting onto the internet though, was a whole different matter. This was the heady days of Dial-Up Internet.
Simply open the web browser, and hit the connect button. The auto-dialler inside the PC would dial the number for the Internet Service Provider, and once connected, you would have been treated to the squeals and squawks of the computers setting up the connection.
Once connected, the upload and download speeds were truly awful. I well remember downloading a detailed photograph. It appeared line by line, and eventually, after five minutes or so, I got bored with waiting and went downstairs to make a cup of tea. I came back twenty minutes later – and it was still not finished.
Today, with fibre broadband, images appear almost instantaneously!
The internet was pretty simple too. Basic browsers that contained a multitude of adverts, and rather unsophisticated email. Shopping online was in its infancy – eBay had only been started in 1995.
So, the interconnected world really consisted of a computer, hard wired to a modem, and the embryonic world wide web.
The only real risk attached to surfing the web, was that of unwittingly downloading malicious software (malware) or computer virus.
The first computer virus was designed in the early 1970s. It was created as part of a research programme conducted by BBN Technologies in the USA.
Researcher Bob Thomas designed the programme to be self-replicating and was targeted at DEC computers that shared the ARPANET network. This virus was called Creeper.
Bob and his team then designed a programme called Reaper which, once released into the ARPANET, hunted out the infected machines, and then killed the virus by deleting it.
Obviously, breaking into computers was seen as a target of opportunity to the less honest members of society, and viruses started appearing more frequently.
Some were just mischievous, such as the Elk Cloner virus (written by a ninth grader in a Pittsburgh High School in 1981) which upon its 50th opening would display a poem, the first line of which was “Elk Cloner: The program with a personality.”
Others were more malevolent, and were designed to either destroy records and data from the infected computer, steal personal data, record website access passwords and log keystrokes. Ransomware enables the attacker to hijack a computer, and then demand payment to unlock the machine.
The resulting loss of public confidence saw the arrival of cyber-security, specialist organisations that analysed the emerging viruses, worms, trojans and malware and wrote anti-virus software, which could be loaded onto a computer and which could then subsequently scan it for infection and quarantine any suspect viruses into a part of the disc not readily accessible by the user, or by the system.
Fast-forward to 2021.
The internet has evolved – and BOY has it developed! If you are privileged enough to live in a developed country, you may already be using fibre-optic broadband, offering speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second.
According to recent UK survey Hyperoptic offer a 1GB service for an introductory offer of £45.00 per month!
This is jaw-droppingly fast. To put it into perspective, it would have taken about 3.5 days to download a 4K film (about 2GB) using a 56kbit dial up service.
My previous broadband was copper-wire based, and the fastest speed I ever achieved for a download was 8Mb/sec – and that same 4K film would have been delivered to me in 35 minutes.
My latest broadband is totally optical and is Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) and my download speed is a minimum of 71Mb/sec – that 4K movie is now mine in about 4 minutes.
One of the major advantages of broadband, is that unlike a dial up service, the system is “always on”. The old modem has been replaced with a router, which essentially does the same job, but additionally acts as a network hub, through which multiple devices may be connected simultaneously.
Whilst is it possible to connect equipment to the router using a network cable, most routers offer Wi-Fi connection, and this allows several Wi-Fi/internet-enabled devices to connect to the internet simultaneously.
With a sufficiently fast connection, it is possible for SWMBO to watch a movie on Netflix, whilst I catch up with a friend on a video call, or listen to the internet radio.
Why am I rambling on about this?
Well, technological advances never stop, and there is much publicity about the new 5G (5th generation communications network) which will increase the speed and capacity of the internet even further.
In my previous article, “Who is Driving YOUR Car?” I explored the embryonic Intelligent Transport System, which relies on internet-enabled vehicles and sensors in the fixed transport network, communicating with each other to provide optimised traffic flows and traffic safety management.
This is only made possible with 5G communications and ultra-fast internet systems, and the Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things is the medium through which our emerging “Smart Society” will operate.
In essence, the IoT consists of items that have the capability to connect to the internet, and communicate and exchange data with other similarly enabled things. These “things” may have sensors, software and other systems to support their intended purposes.
It could be a device as simple as a smart lightbulb that is able to be activated by a smart assistant such as Alexa or Siri, or from a suitably equipped smartphone – located perhaps many miles away.
Such items are already used in intelligent Building Management and Control systems, which employ an array of interconnected sensors to monitor heat and humidity, occupancy levels, lighting, lifts (Elevators for my US readers 😁) and security within a building.
Intelligent Healthcare uses the IoT to monitor medical data such as cardiac performance and blood pressure, or blood glucose levels. This enables improved management of an individual’s medical conditions. Significant research is being conducted in this area, and there are already several emerging disciplines and specialities.
The Internet of Things is also used in industry and manufacturing, to monitor and control processes – making use of internet-enabled sensors.
We are now seeing “Smart Homes” being built, which use the same type of Wi-Fi-connected IoT devices to control home environmental systems.
I imagine that a fair percentage of you may well be protecting your property with Closed Circuit TV Cameras. It’s probable that most of these cameras will be Wi-Fi-connected to your home broadband – and from there out onto the web.
Maybe some of you will have an App on your smartphone or tablet that enables you to remotely view the camera feeds.
Smart speakers such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Homepod and Google’s Home are wirelessly connected to home networks, and are continuously monitoring their environment for their wake-up command (such as “Alexa”)
Smart doorbells enable us to see who is at the front door using integral video cameras and transmitting the footage over the internet via the home router and to an app on a smart phone.
Smart appliances, such as Samsung’s Smart Refrigerator now offer us the ability to manage our food.
An internal camera within the fridge compartment enables the user to view the contents by using a smart phone. The system will also monitor food expiry dates, without the door being opened, thus saving power.
Some models also enable groceries to be ordered via the fridge – a rather redundant feature in my opinion, as you can order your groceries online from your phone, tablet, laptop or PC.
Or, for the truly bold and adventurous – take a risk, and actually go into a shop and buy your groceries.
A large LCD screen is provided in order to display a family calendar, and if you really haven’t got enough tech in your home, it’s also fitted with a 5W Stereo sound system to play your favourite music tracks.
Poor Alexa… She may feel quite outranked by the domestic white goods!
Smart Washing machines are able to connect to the home network, and may be controlled remotely using an app, and are able to automatically sense loads, apply the correct dose of detergent, and add the optimal amount of water.
On some models, the best programme for the laundry load may be selected by filling in a few pieces of information on the app.
I’m sure it won’t be long before your garments will be fitted with a passive RFID tag, or a label barcode, and the machine will scan the items as they are loaded, and then set the correct wash programme.
Should an item that is not compatible with other items in the load be added inadvertently then the machine will inhibit the washing cycle from starting until the guilty culprit is removed.
No more business shirts stained girlie pink then!
As a society, we are all used to smart watches, and fitness trackers, (which all fall within the scope of wearable technology) and have become very complacent about the interconnectivity with our other tech.
And this is where the real problem lies…
Security MUST be one of your top priorities these days. I have removed my profile permanently from Facebook, as the platform discretely harvests everything I “like” and every comment I make. My preferences and personal data are then sold to other organisations, without my permission and regardless of the ethics involved.
Think about why Google and Facebook are free! There really isnosuch thing as a free lunch.
Most of you will already be protecting your data and PC behind an encrypted firewall, with passwords, multi-factor authentication, and PIN codes. In all probability, you will be paying for some kind of anti-virus protection which will (hopefully) prevent your data from being compromised.
The IoT makes this a lot more difficult.
The processing power inside some of the connected devices, and to an extent, their size may well prevent them from having all but the most basic of security protection – if any.
The CCTV you bought to protect your home may well be being used by the manufacturer, or a malicious hacker to access a backdoor into your router, from where it can monitor data passing up and down your comms link.
So, all of these innocent devices are hooked to the web via your router.
Lots of individuals I know never both changing the default password supplied with their devices, and will happily discuss bank details, finances, and other personal details within “earshot” of their smart speaker.
So, nasty hacker chap decides to wage an attack on his ex-employer. By harnessing the combined IoT devices of many households, and requiring all of them to connect simultaneously to the target company’s website will cause it to crash.
This is an extreme example of a Distributed Denial of Service Attack (DDoS), where innocent PCs and devices are hijacked to overload the target’s website.
Many large and respected companies have been attacked in this manner, despite having the financial clout and technical expertise to surround themselves with multiple layers of digital security.
In 2017, Google came under a sustained DDoS attack, originating from China, which, according to Google, lasted for up to six months.
In 2020, Amazon Web Services (AWB) was taken down for three days following a similar, yet more sophisticated attack.
Internet security expert Brian Krebs was attacked in 2016, when his website was assaulted by the Mirai botnet, executed by about 600,000 compromised and suborned Internet of Things – such as Internet CCTV cameras, home routers, and other simple IoT devices.
This may be the tip of the iceberg.
Cisco, the internet systems company predicted in its annual report (2018-2023) that sophisticated DDoS attacks will double from the 7.9 million in 2018 to 14.5 million in 2022.
Now the truly chilling bit…
In our increasingly technological world, we rely on the internet in so many ways – from grocery shopping to building control, from home banking to healthcare. Connected vehicles – not just cars, but ships, aircraft, tankers, trains.
As I have said, many of these devices are so simple and un-assuming, that we don’t regard them as a potential threat.
That simple fitness tracker that you wear all the time. The silly old fridge, just sitting there in your kitchen, keeping your food safe and edible. The CCTV that you use to monitor your car in the drive.
The ease and convenience with which you access your bank to pay a bill. The ability to have a video call with your dear old Mum from miles away.
And yet, in the stygian, gloomy murk of the deep, dark web, there lurk hackers, thieves, and criminals. Hackers who are willing to mount cyber-attacks from as little as 7.00 US$ per hour.
Foreign states, and terrorist organisations that are willing – and able – to hijack your IoT devices to wage an attack on society.
Imagine, if you dare – a world where the bad guys can hack into your car, and disable the brakes.
A world in which someone can access your pacemaker, and shut it down…unless you pay a ransom.
A world in which a hacker can eavesdrop on your home, and record everything that you say and do, and record everything about you?
It’s not as far-fetched and dystopian a reality as you think!
Unless you have been living on the Cook Islands for the last few months, you will have heard of Corona Virus, now known as COVID 19.
The virus is officially a global pandemic, and is now rampaging across every continent, leaving a trail of dead.
Here in the United Kingdom, we are in a state of national emergency, and state-sanctioned lockdown is in effect, with only absolutley essential journeys authorised. All retail shops except those selling essential supplies such as food, maedicines and perhaps bizzarely, alcohol are closed.
The London Underground has shut stations across its network, and passengers figures are plummeting.
Working at home has been the norm for many workers. As a result, the economy is in freefall, with the retail and hospitality sectors being worst hit. Clubs, pubs, cinemas, churches, sports centres, museums and public buildings are now all closed for the immediate future.
The aviation and maritime sectors have been quick to feel the impact of travel restrictions, and many airports are struggling as flights have become virtually non-existent, passenger traffic stagnated, and many airlines now trying to mitigate their losses by flying freight.
Whilst the global shutdown is severely damaging both our manufacturing and financial economies, we are reaping some form of benefit; pollution levels have dropped across the planet, and air quality is improving.
It’s not just transport that contributes to atmospheric pollution – industrial and manufacturing activities have fallen across the UK and Europe as countries shutdown their economies to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
This shows that it is possible to stop climate change, but the societal costs are far too high to make this acceptable.
I do believe that when the virus is contained or burnt out, we will emerge from lockdown and social distancing as a changed society.
So, what may happen?
Many firms that up until recently were resistant to their employees working remotely will have seen that some of their “trust issues” have been proved to be unfounded and that staff have been as productive, if not more productive that when working at the office.
Bearing in mind the cost of office space, many companies may find the savings realised by using smaller premises make remote working desirable.
After a major pandemic such as this one, people may be far more cautious about personal hygeine, and become much more concerned to see that public areas are properly sanitised. This could have an effect on the practice of hot desking at work.
The travelling public will probably also need to see evidence that public transport is cleaned and sanitised far more regulalrly and effectively than currently.
The lack of public trust in the health security of public transport could trigger more car use, as people seek to protect themselves with more regularised self isolating. Even car sharing could become less popular as people choose not ot sit in close proximity with another individual on their commute.
Who can really say?
If thousands more people take up remote working, there may well be more economic pain ahead for public transport operators.
Railway and air journeys that used to be undertaken for business meetings may well now be conducted using video conferencing using internet platforms such as Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams.
Will our current level of communications network provision be sufficient to accommodate this?
Individuals that were reluctant to order shopping on-line, or use home delivery services prior to COVID 19 have now been using them out of necessity, and many of these people will now be sold on the advantages, leading to further decline of England’s high streets.
Individuals that were previously regular patrons of theatre and cinema will have become adept at streaming movies and watching “live” performances from the comfort of their own homes, using YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Prime.
The question is – will they return to the cinemas and thatres with quite the same degree of regularity as they did before?
It seems that the mainstream media have been focusing on the leisure and retail industries and whilst they do report on the struggle for our manufacturing industries, they do not highlight the underlying problems.
In the UK there is evidence that our contingency planning for a “Hard Brexit” triggered our government to closely examine our logisitcal supply chains with the involvement of the retail and distirbution industries, and this has surely helped ensure that truly essential items remained on the supermarket shelves, despite the media-induced panic buying.
The other aspect to this is the lack of resilience that our manufacturers have against supply chain failures.
Whilst numerous products are proudly made here in the UK, few are totally built here. Huge numbers of manufacturers import sub-assemblies, parts and components from overseas which are used to build their product.
The world’s biggest exporter, China, is, to all intents and purposes, the birthplace of COVID19, and also its primary exporter. The subsequent lockdown of the Chinese economy led to an abundance of British manufacturers struggling to obtain the raw materials, parts, components and sub-components needed to build and sell their own products..
This may result in a baseline realignment of our logisitical networks, and maybe re-initiate inward investment.
Who knows, we may see a slow transformation back into a manufacturing economy again.
This is a bit of a mixed bag then; at more localised levels the possible resulting drop in bus and train usage could lead to more cars on the road, each contributing to climate change. On the other hand, more people at home reduces traffic of any kind on the roads.
There are so many possible futures that could result from the aftermath of CV19, which only action at government level can establish.
This could be a great opportunity for each state to re-evaluate its’s strategies for handling pandemics, and may trigger new systems to increase the robustness of manufacturing bases.
Who knows, it may even give us the required impetus to design an improved model for society that will offer progress on controlling our nemesis of irreversible climate change.
Tomorrow is the date at which the clocks go forwards by one hour, moving us instantly from Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) to British Summer Time (BST).
This has been happening every year since the Summer Time Act was passed by Parliament in 1916, whilst the Great War was raging in Europe. Placing the clocks an hour ahead gave workers an extra hour of daylight in the evening, enabling greater productivity for the war machine.
After World War One the annual changes to the clocks continued ping-ponging back and forth between BST and GMT.
World War Two started in September 1939, and by 1941 the UK was on Double Summertime (DST). This was achieved by putting the clocks forward in spring 1940 and not putting them back to GMT at the end of Autumn. In spring 1941, the clocks were advanced by an hour again – giving even more daylight to aid productivity.
This went on until autumn 1947, when the clocks went back completely to GMT.
Despite a parliamentary enquiry conducted in the late 1950s, involving 180 organisations, which concluded that there was a slight preference to remain on GMT +1 throughout the year, Britain stayed with the system
Why am I telling you all this?
Well, its because I’m in two minds about this.
Research conducted by the University of Colorado (Boulder) has shown conclusively that the fatal car accident rate spikes by 6% during the working week following the clocks being moved forward into Daylight Saving Time (DST). As the research only studied fatal accidents, it may be reasonably assumed that the underlying rate for all accidents will increase.
A further study published by Vanderbilt University’s Medical Unit shows that there is a negative impact upon health during the transition from statndard time to daylight saving time.
The cumulative effects of Daylight Saving Time can lead to increasing risks of heat attacks and ischaemic strokes
It appears that its not just the biannual one hour difference interfereing with our “body clock” or Circadian Rhythm – but the cumulative effects of this misalignment which takes up about eight months of the year.
It is the actual process of changing rather than which time reference is followed.
The European Union (EU) has voted to end Daylight Saving Time in autumn 2021. States within the EU have the choice of making their last change on the final sunday of March, or the final sunday of October, depending on whether they wish to have their standard time based on summertime or wintertime. This would naturally accommodate preferences according to geographic location.
So – moving the clocks back and forward is bad for health, and bad for accident rates.
On the other hand, there is a big argument for doing something more radical.
Lets stay on GMT+1 as our standard time.
Moving the clocks forward every spring, as we did in WW2, gives us effectively two hours more sunlight in the evening during summer, and one more hour of evening light in the winter.
Looking at this from an environmental perspective; extra light means less electrical demand for lighting in the summer, and during the winter months less demand for heat as well.
Research conducted by Cambridge University showed that an extra hour of sunlight every day during winter could save up to £485M ($604M US) annually.
A further benefit is a proportionate reduction in carbon emissions as well.
Now, lets think about trade. Disregarding Brexit, we still do a lot of trade with our neighbours in the EU. However, even the most western part of the continent is always an hour ahead of the UK, and eastern states such as Finland are two hours ahead.
This is an impediment to easy trade, so staying GMT+1 in winter, and GMT+2 in summer would keep us aligned with our european trading partners.
Tourism would also receive a big boost, with longer hours available when people are not working.
The Tourism Alliance estimated that an extra £3.5M ($435.9 US) of revenue would be generated in the UK as a result iof businesses staying open for longer. This would create an estimated 80,000 jobs.
Individuals would also gain about 235 hours of post-work daylight every year,
Now that’s got to be worth having!
What would people do with all of this extra daylight? Well., they would use the opportunity to play sports, visit parks and enjoy outdoor recreational activities.
This has a health benefit, as more people out exercising (Even if they are only walking or cycling to the pub!) means less people becoming unhealthy as a result of inactivity.
Human nature is such that we tend to stop outdoor activities when it gets dark. SImply readjusting our clocks so that “dark” coincides with “later” means we achieve more each day.
The extra hours of daylight could also reduce crime levels, as most criminals do like to do their “work” in the dark.
Well, I would like to use the old WW2 system of GMT+1/GMT+2. Ilike the idsea of an extra 235 useful hours every year. I like the idea of saving power and cutting emissions.
It does seem that on balance this could be the best option for business, the planet and us living on it.
The barmaid passed the pint of Forward Pass over the bar to me, smiling.
“Thanks” I grinned, holding my smartphone out.
Grabbing the electronic card reader, she held it to my phone, which dutifully chirped, signifying that the £3.60 had been transferred from my current account into the club’s coffers.
Taking my pint to a quiet table, I sat down, musing about the transaction.
Only two years ago, my club would only accept a card payment if the transaction value was over ten pounds. This was to cover the 2.0% transaction fee levied by the card processing company.
Not being a heavy drinker, I rarely spent over ten pounds during a post-work visit to the club, except on Friday nights, when I would meet with the “Last of the Summer Wine” crew and I would stand my round.
So, on Fridays, I would always hit the ATM at the Co-Op on the way home and withdraw enough cash to cover me for the weekend, and for coffees and snacks at work for the following week.
Two things have caused a seismic shift in how we pay for things.
In 2014 Apple introduced Apple Pay, enabling contactless payment transactions to be made using Apple smartphones. Initially, like a lot of people, I was suspicious of this as a means of payment.
However, six years of advances in security including the use of thumbprints and facial recognition technology has meant that I now feel much more comfortable with using my phone to pay for items.
Some retail outlets such as Tesco’s limit the maximum contactless transaction value to £30.00, but in many places, including department stores and garages it is still possible to pay using a smartphone or a debit card.
The other thing that initiated a quantum shift in payment methods is that the UKGovernment banned debit and credit card surcharges on January 13th 2018.
All of a sudden, retailers were no longer able to charge for the use of a debit card or credit card payment, so almost overnight the need to carry cash became far less urgent.
So, is cash being phased out as a means for paying for goods and services?
Cash has been with us for over 30,000 years, before written history – and evidence of accounting using tally sticks goes back to the later stages of the stone age.
The Ancient Roman author and scholar Pliny the Elder (AD23- AD79) writes of the best woods to use for tally sticks.
Cash is a meaningful and tangible token of worth, and is universally accepted within a society as having a standard value – as opposed to barter, where individuals trade specialist skills in exchange for goods and services.
Because of the universal acceptance of cash, both coins and notes, it is used as an instant way of paying for goods and services. It is also largely untraceable, so whilst two individuals may conclude a transaction there is no record of payment being made or received.
One of the advantages of anonymising transactions, is that it makes the use of cash attractive for the conduct of criminal activities, and in the past ransoms have been demanded to be settled in unmarked used bank notes.
Even otherwise honest members of society may unwittingly commit crimes by defrauding the government of income tax.
Tradesmen who would never steal from, or swindle their customers may routinely offer a discount for cash – meaning that such transactions never go through their books, and are therefore free of income tax or VAT.
This benefits the tradesman, as the cash received may be used for personal spending, and the buyer saves overall on the cost of the item or work.
There is, however, an indirect advantage to this, which is that the cash earned is frequently injected into the local community, either in the local shops, or pubs and clubs.
Call me a cynic, but the rapid introduction of digital banking is positively welcomed by governments globally. as all transactions will be traceable and identifiable.
Obviously, there are also advantages to a business becoming cashless. Retail premises such as pubs, clubs and restaurants may save money from not having to buy expensive sales terminals and then enjoying lower insurance premiums as a result of having no cash on the premises.
Intangible expenses such as employee time wasted in cashing up, and paying in money at the bank’s premises are immediately removed. The inadvertent acceptance of counterfeit money is also eradicated.
Losing cash forever, would, in my ‘umble opinion, be a bad thing, as the elderly, the poor and the disadvantaged would be unfairly penalised if their way of paying their way were denied to them.
The merciless march of automation and the ruthlessness of the digital economy may well change our society for ever.
The morning outside is gloomy and damp, and I am enjoying my morning cuppa.
I have just finished setting up my new bank account.
Having been with my previous bank for 36 years, I thought that it was time for a change, especially as my old bank had consistently ripped me off over decades. Some of my money has been returned with a successful PPI claim, and now I am £175.00 better off, having switched my personal current account (Thanks Martin Lewis’s Money Saving Expert!) and have kicked the holder of the sign of the black horse out of my life. Now I just have one more account to move…
So, there I was, on the phone setting up my new account, when the automated system requested whether I would like to set up voice recognition to ease access to my account.
I accepted, as I know that my voiceprint is as unique to me as my fingerprints, or my facial biometric data.
It then struck me how much of my unique personal data is in the hands and care of a commercial organisation.
This got me thinking.
I have an E-Passport, which contains all of my facial biometric data. I access some of my personal electronic devices with my thumb print, or, in the case of my new phone, through facial recognition and a pin number.
This in itself is a little spooky, but at least the choice is mine to make.
I accept that Her Majesty’s Government will assume a full duty of care if they release my data, but with commercial organisations, maybe based overseas that may be more difficult to assume.
Since the development of Facial Recognition in the mid 1969s, it has become much more prevalent, and is found all over the world, including Great Britain.
China is now using facial recognition to constantly monitor its citizens, and the collected and identifiable data is being used to prosecute individuals for even minor misdemeanours such as Jay walking. This allows “behavioural scoring” and may be used to grade and rank citizens on their perceived support of the government.
Luckily, or not, depending on your persuasion, facial recognition does have a weakness. It requires capturing a clear image of a face before the system’s algorithms can plot the data, and compare it with images held in its database.
This weakness is being exploited. In Japan, a university has designed a pair of anti-facial-recognition glasses, which, when worn, emit a sea of Infra-Red light over the wearer’s face. This disrupts image capture, and results in the camera only “seeing” a blurred image.
There is also a mask available which is designed with multi-faceted angles and patterns that disrupt the received image, again, leading to blurred images.
If you thought that the potential for a dystopian disaster ended with facial recognition technology, there is more over the horizon.
As artificial intelligence develops, we may see an integration of facial recognition with emotion recognition technology, laying wide open an interpretation of our deepest innermost workings.
Currently Emotional Recognition technology is in its infancy, and there is as yet little evidence that shows a reliable and consistent interpretation of the emotional state of an individual, but this will change as AI develops further.
So – if we cover our faces, or wear IR spectacles, we will be able to fool the cameras, and go about our daily business without the state, or, other more sinister organisations tracking our every move and emotion.
Sadly, the answer is no.
Please welcome Gait Recognition Technology!
Gait recognition is another unique human characteristic. The way we walk, hold our body, and our profile and posture are as individual as a fingerprint – and it doesn’t need to capture a facial image.
Anyone like to guess where this technology is being developed?
Whoever muttered “China”, take an extra 10 points.
Yes, a Chinese start-up called Watrix has already developed a system that can identify an individual from up to 50m (165 feet) away, regardless of whether they are facing the camera.
According to the company, the system can’t even be fooled by an individual adopting a limp, walking with splayed feet, or deliberately hunching or distorting their body as they walk.
This is made possible because the system analyses multiple features from all over an individual’s body.
Currently, due to system limitations, real-time gait analysis and confirmation of an individual’s identity is not possible.
Gait analysis requires video footage of the target, which allows the analytical software to process and store the individual’s way of walking.
Currently, video footage has to be uploaded into the system, and then analysed, a process that takes about 10 minutes to assess 60 minutes of video.
In due course, the processing requirements will improve to the point that real-time identification is possible.
According to Watrix, the system has a 94.1% accuracy rating, which is quite acceptable for commercial use.
No doubt this will also improve.
Meanwhile, governments in many societies are realising the dangers of uncontrolled use of personal data.
The EU has recently banned the use of facial recognition for three to five years to enable an assessment of the impacts of this technology and possible risk management measures that could be identified and developed
In the USA, larger cities, and even states are banning the use of Facial Recognition.
San Francisco banned it in May 2019, and later in 2019, Oakland followed suit, as did Somerville in Massachusetts, with Portland Oregon likely to follow suit.
But despite the EU-wide moratorium on the use of this technology, (and the fact that we are still, until 31st January a member of the EU) the Metropolitan Police have gone ahead with a project to use Facial Recognition.
It appears that under the EU/UK’s data protection law, GDPR, it forbids facial recognition by private companies “in a surveillance context without member states actively legislating an exemption into the law using their powers to derogate.”
It’s interesting to see that the system being used by London’s Met Police is subcontracted out to NEC, which, as far as I am aware is not only a private company, but also a foreign one.
Obviously, there are pros and cons to having some form of surveillance, and some sacrifices have to be made to ensure the safety and security of the public, but is this a bridge to far?
We have all heard almost to the point of frustration about climate change, pollution and how bad cars powered by fossil fuels are.
We are all exhorted to consider using an electric vehicle, or a hybrid so as to cut our carbon footprint, and stop climate change.
Obviously, all of this is deserving of support, and climate change is a very real threat, as is the increase in health problems as a result of the toxic gases in vehicle exhausts.
However, there is a sinister, yet little-publicised threat which may prove to be even more injurious to health and the marine environment, even if it has little impact on greenhouse gases and climate change.
Yes, you did read correctly. Tyres are in the top ten of nasty pollutants that contaminate the world with micro-particles.
Tyres. Those innocuous black things attached to the wheel rims of your car, van, motorcycle, truck or bus.
We all know that tyres wear out – as we all have to buy them now and again, if we are to stay safe and legal.
So, what happens to the worn bits of tyre? Well, they are eroded by the road surface and are released as micro-fibres, particulates that are fine enough to form as a dust on the road surface.
Subsequently, rain water washes these microfibres into the drains and sewage systems, where they ultimately make their way into the maritime environment – yes, rivers, lakes, reservoirs and oceans.
Much publicity is generated around single use plastics in the oceans, but little publicity is around related to this almost invisible pollution.
Some of the particles are small enough and light enough to be dragged up off the road surface by the aerodynamic wake of passing vehicles, and may be suspended for periods of time, allowing them to be blown by the wind over quite large distances.
It is estimated that annually 68,000 tonnes of microplastics are generated by tyre tread erosion in the UK alone, with 7,000 to 19,000 tonnes entering the surface water system. Research is currently being undertaken in the UK to deepen our understanding of the migration of tyre generated microparticles into the maritime environment.
It may not be common knowledge but tyres are not constructed from pure natural rubber, but consist of 60-70% synthetic rubber – made with our old friends, the hydrocarbons, so the emitted micro-particles are not readily biodegradable.
Unfortunately, the qualities that makes tyres suitable, such as good grip, good braking qualities, and good car handling qualities rely on the tyre gripping the road surface through friction.
Friction between the road surface and the tyre tread actually causes the erosion of the rubber, and leads to the problem. The interaction also erodes the road surface, and any road marking paint on it too – but that’s another story!
Tyre particles vary in size and composition, so it would challenge even Agatha Christie’s Poirot to identify and track how these particles behave, and where they go once they have been shed.
Such particles will be dispersed widely around roads and byways, drifted by winds and the effects of vehicle aerodynamics, washed into various drains, culverts and waterways by rain.
Once in the water system the particles will exhibit different levels of buoyancy, and some will float onwards into estuaries and ultimately into oceans, and others will sink to the bottom and become part of the estuary sediment.
It is estimated that up to 10% of tyre wear particulate matter is released as airborne particles, which will settle over land masses, thus polluting them too.
What can we, the driving public do to minimise the effects of this?
Firstly, we can modify our driving behaviour to reduce the loads that our tyres are under.
We can make efforts to accelerate and decelerate gently and progressively, we can make sure the tyres are correctly inflated and remove un-necessary loads from the vehicle. This would help.
We could operate a smaller vehicle with a smaller engine and a lower mass.
This is a pipe dream, and we all know it. Unless governments intervene to legally force the use of smaller vehicles, we won’t trade our “Executive Urban Assault Vehicles” to sit in a minicar capable of reaching only 60 miles an hour with a following wind!
On my daily commute to work, I pass Farnborough Airport. This is the home to many ecologically-unfriendly executive private jet aircraft. The main A road that passes adjacent to it has recently had a new 50 mph speed limit imposed upon it, reduced from its previous 70 mph limit.
It seems that the local council are keen to reduce emissions in the local area!
Regardless of this, vehicles still charge past me doing well excess of the new limit, and the police don’t seem to be enforcing the new limit.
Maybe we should drive less distances? Maybe we should alter our fundamental mind set to become more locally focused, and adopty a new philosophy of not commuting longer distances?
I don’t think human nature is going to fix this particular problem.
It appears that the main thrust of the ecological argument is to initiate a societal shift from driving hydro-carbon powered vehicles to electrically powered cars.
However, this only addresses a part of the problem. Even if there is a global adoption of battery driven vehicles, the problems associated with the pneumatic tyre remain.
Until we have mastered an alternative to the conventional tyre we are still in trouble.
The auto industry faces a parallel challenge. What do we use as an alternative to the conventional vehicle tyre?
Answers on a postcard please…
 Friends of the Earth Report “Reducing Household Contributions to Marine Plastic Pollution 11/2018
I parked the car, nonchalantly locking it with the keyfob, as I do every evening when I return from work.
It was a blustery, rainy late afternoon, and my journey home a relative nightmare. All of the major routes west of Heathrow Airport were in chaos. It seems that the average Brit is breathtakingly incompetent in wet conditions, despite bemoaning that its always raining here.
Either driving lunatically fast, or crawling along far too slowly, the result is multiple accidents, and long holdups. The delays were only made marginally tolerable by listening to the radio.
I decided that the solution to my grumpy mood was to pull my bicycle out of the. garage, and cycle the mile and a half to my alternate refuge, the Passfield Club.
It was only five past five when I arrived, and the place was almost deserted.
I ordered a pint of Fossil Fuel, and went at sat at a table at the far end of the room.
I was thinking about driving. Despite my journey, I knew that I was fortunate to be in a position to drive.
I have held a full licence since February 1977, almost 43 years. The car and motorcycle have become an intrinsic part of my life, and as a relatively fit man, I rarely think of the time when I too will have to hang up my car keys for the final time.
Before that time, I may have to downgrade my vehicle from the small SUV that I drive to a smaller vehicle. Maybe electric? Who knows.
I recall hearing somewhere that many older people bought an automatic car after maybe decades of driving a manual gearbox car, and subsequently had an accident as a result of confusion over the foot pedals and their location.
Also, that older drivers were as dangerous as the young due to their worsening driving abilities.
I wondered if this really was an issue, so I decided to do some research, and here is what I discovered.
According to AXA Insurance’s Technical Director David Williams drivers may face rises in insurance premiums as a result higher compensation claims being awarded following vehicle collisions and accidents.
The two age groups that will be affected most by this will be younger drivers in the 17-24 age group, and those over 75.
That surprised me a little.
Further digging revealed that there are an estimated 2.7 million drivers under the age of 25. Of that figure, 1.3 million are under 22. Combined, these groups make up about 7% of all UK drivers.
Drivers aged 17 -19 represent 1.5% of the driver population, yet they are involved in 9% of all fatal accidents in which they are the driver! Altogether, the under 25 age group are responsible for 85% of all serious injury accidents.
So where does this leave the older driver.
Bizarrely, a quick check of the stats instantly confirms that drivers in the 17-24 category have a very high accident rate comparatively speaking, with 1,912 collisions per billion vehicle miles (CPBVM) travelled. The accident rate then progressively reduces as age increases, reaching its lowest point between the ages of 66 – 70 dropping to just 367 accidents CPBVM.
So, I am, in theory, becoming statistically less likely to have an accident, due to my relentless march into decrepitude.
The accident rate rises slightly thereafter, but peaks to its highest for the 81 – 85 age group – at a massive 2,168 CPBVM.
So, in overall terms, from age 60 to 70, not a bad record.
Some of the reduction may well be inked to the fact that older drivers travel less than other adults, with about half the average mileage covered.
Demographically, the older population is forecast to expand and the number of people aged over 65 in the EU is predicted to double between 2010 and 2050.
Now a quick look at the science.
Aging brings with it several inescapable changes, including sensory, psychomotor and cognitive reductions – failing eyesight and hearing, slowing reactions, and slower and impaired judgement.
The higher reported fatality rate for older drivers is due to increasing frailty leading to death in a collision that would have potentially only injured a much younger driver.
Current UK legislation requires that driving licences are renewed when an individual reaches 70, and are valid for three years before requiring to be renewed again. This is a sensible approach.
When combined with requirements placed on medical practitioners to advise the UK Driver Vehicle Licencing Agency of any medical condition which would require the revocation of a driver’s licence.
But us oldies are fighting back!
It would appear from several studies that there is an almost compensatory mechanism at work, and older drivers are good at making sensible adjustments to their driving, and adapt their driving to reduce their exposure to higher risk driving conditions.
Many will stop driving at night, or will adjust the times of day or the days of week on which they travel.
Now – back to my original thoughts.
As an individual with no formalised forensic vehicle accident training, I accepted at face value the statement that elderly drivers should not drive cars with an automatic gearbox.
Surprisingly, my research seems to indicate the opposite, and a number of reports actually suggest that older drivers should use an automatic car.
In fact, a Dutch study was conducted by the University of Groningen using a professional driving simulator. The research placed young and older drivers in both an automatic transmission car and a car with a manual gearbox. The subjects were then required to drive several routes, including rural roads, rural roads with random varied intersections and finally a route that necessitated joining a busy motorway, overtaking vehicles and then exiting safely at a junction.
The results were interesting, in that the older drivers performed better in an automatic gearbox car than a manual.
This is possibly because the time lag induced by the age-diminished psycho-motor skills to both brake and shift down the gearbox simultaneously impaired driver performance. This was discussed as far back as 2002, where research suggested that older drivers should, in fact switch to driving an automatic car.
Interestingly, even the younger drivers in the sample also performed better when driving an automatic.
I accept that there needs to be a safe transition period, so maybe when drivers get to 65, when they are statistically at their safest, they should change to an automatic car, so that they have a few years to adapt to the differences, so that they may benefit from the additional levels of safety that a car with an automatic gearbox provides.
So, in six years, I will get my electric car, which will not only be cleaner in terms of emissions, but may even help me to stay alive a bit longer!
Lounging on the sagging brown leather sofa in the Petersfield branch of Costa Coffee, I take a swig of my coffee. Not my normal velvety creamy latte, but a black coffee. Dark and with no sweetener. Not anywhere near as satisfying, but under my new weight loss regime, essential.
A middle-aged woman walked briskly past the window, a stark contrast to the overcast day; bright floral trousers, baby-pink quilted jacket, a lurid multi coloured beanie hat, and electric blue plastic clogs.
Her flamboyant outfit sent my mind rocketing back 4 decades, to the mid 1960s.
The summer of 1967 was sunny and warm. I was eight years old, and loving my school holidays. To my boyish eyes, all of the local women were fabulously gorgeous, and there was an excitable buzz everywhere.
In the USA, the Summer of Love was happening, with over 100,000 young hippies assembling in Haight-Ashbury, a San Francisco suburb, preaching peace, happiness, self-determination, and rebellion against repression and materialism.
These flower children were hopeful and idealistic, as we all are when we are young, and want to see change.
I started to ponder things. The hippie dream was one of love and peace, with multi-ethnic communes striving to live with minimum impact on the environment – an ethos that was strong in 1967. I wondered how much of that dream has survived the intervening 52 years?
The hippie motto of “turn on, tune in and drop out” was a rallying call to disengage from contemporary middle-class values and materialism, and concentrate on expanding the mind – albeit propped up with the use of Psychedelic drugs and living in harmony – not just with each other but with the environment.
Pop culture drove some of this, with icons such as the Beatles promoting eastern religious teachings, and whilst vegetarianism had always been an option, it never had the wide promotion and uptake that it enjoyed with the hippie generation.
Hippies were generally aligned to “Make Love not War” and many thousands protested at the US’s involvement in the Vietnam war, including two demonstrations in London, leading to a number of injuries caused during confrontations with the Police.
The Hippie counter-culture was influenced by a number of global events. In January of 1968, Alexander Dubček, the First Secretary of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party introduced a series of reforms intended to give more democratic freedom and civil rights to its citizens. By August of 1968, the Soviet Union aided by other Warsaw Pact countries invaded and ruthlessly supressed the “Prague Spring.”
At about the same time, in Vietnam, the Tet Offensive began, leading to the US military commander General Westmoreland announcing that the Viet Cong could only be defeated by drafting another 200,000 men, and activating the reserves.
This not only unsettled middle-class America, but also further affected the Hippie psyche. Draft-dodging became recognised as acceptable conduct amongst the disaffected young; In my part of the globe, England, I well remember the protests in London, and seeing in later years the student riots in France, as the idealist young rebelled against the old world order.
The increasing public awareness that there could be a better way led to the normalisation of the emergent ecologic movement, and that man should go back to living in harmony with the planet.
Music of the time reflected the changing values. Donovan sang “Universal Soldier” as a protest about the Vietnam War. Barry McGuire released “Eve of Destruction” as a protest against the broken civil rights system, war, the worsening situation in the Middle East and the assassination of John F Kennedy.
At the time, this angry protest was deemed so inflammatory that several radio stations in the USA banned it, as did Radio Scotland. Even dear old Auntie Beeb placed it on a restricted playlist, meaning that it couldn’t be broadcast on general entertainment shows.
So, what of the Hippie dream now?
Well, it may not exist in quite the same form, but be under no illusions, there are still plenty of idealistic people out there.
Greenpeace still upholds ecological ideals and frequently protests robustly. More recently in the UK we have seen Extinction Rebellion protesting against the lack of state action on the climate emergency.
Highly organised and connected via social media they advocate peaceful protest against inaction by the government.
Their website suggests that protests should be occupying relevant and significant buildings, chanting at meetings, and gluing themselves to doors and infrastructure. Not quite so radical as French students setting cars ablaze, but still quite effective.
I think that pretty much everyone has heard of Greta Thunberg, the schoolgirl who protested climate change outside the Swedish parliament every Friday. Now an internationally recognised figure, and a speaker at global climate change conferences, she has captured the younger generation’s consciousness and has catalysed a global movement.
In the UK in 2019, School and University students called a strike to highlight climate change, as did youth from across the globe, from Australia to India, and the USA to Sweden. The events were co-ordinated using social media under the banner of Fridays for Future.
However, there are other equally able and motivated young people here in the UK, who don’t appear to be as well known.
Take, for example, Bella Lack. She is now 17 and has been an activist against climate change. She has over 150,000 followers on social media, and as a result of her activities, she is Youth Ambassador for the Born Free Foundation, The RSPCA, The Save the Asian Elephant and The Ivory Alliance.
Amy and Ella Meek, sisters who formed Kids Against Plastic, an organisation that is dedicated to reducing single use plastics, and educating young people in the environmental issues facing us, and highlighting the fact that young people have a voice, and can make a difference.
I believe that the Hippie Dream is still alive and kicking. Its face may have changed, but its spirit lives on in the likes of Greta, Amy, Ella and Bella.
These are the new Hippies – caring, thoughtful, and motivated to make the world a better place for all of us.
Maybe their music isn’t as good as that churned out in the 60s Summer of Love, and maybe we don’t have Woodstock or Flower Power…
It’s a cold, brisk, yet crystal clear Saturday morning, as I sit here in Costa, with my habitual Java in my hand. I have been people watching for a relaxing half hour, just chilling out, and enjoying the weekend.
The tidal ebb and flow of pedestrians on East Grinstead’s London Road pass before the window, snuggled against the cold in thick jackets and scarves. However, in the main, they appear happy, probably due to the azure blue skies, sunshine and the lack of any sort of wind.
I have been idly reviewing the week of newsworthy items, and I spotted an article that was definitely worthy of my consideration and subsequent fact-based ridicule.
It seems that the UK’s population of Vegans and Vegetarians have got their delicate knickers in a twist over the discovery that minute traces of tallow have been used by the Royal Mint in the production of the UK’s new polymer five pound notes.
Amidst the electronic squawkings in the twittersphere, it seems that a petition was raised to have the Bank of England change the manufacturing process of the notes. Predictably, the Bank of England is now “Looking into alternatives”
Now, let me try and put this into perspective.
The current working population (16 – 64 years old) of the United Kingdom is 38 million according to the Office of National Statistics. A page on the National Health Service website states that there are around 1.2 million vegetarians in the UK – about 3.5% of the adult working population. (www.nhs.uk) and less than 1% of that population are Vegan.
A quick tap on the calculator shows that the vegan population is estimated as a staggering 380,000,
The petition managed to gather 120,000 signatures, enough to be considered for parliamentary debate – but this tiny figure represents just 31% of the vegan population if considered in isolation, or 0.1% of the total vegetarian population.
Pardon me if I come across as being just a little incredulous here. But Really? Truly? 0.003% of the adult people within the UK can trigger such a furore over a matter largely unimportant for the vast majority of people, and subsequently for a major institution to commit a sudden volte-face on the issue.
I wonder how much this will cost the UK government? Any project changed mid course and without warning will incur costs, and these costs will be recovered from the taxation of working people.
Whilst I am generally very respectful of the opinions of others, and having three or four vegetarian friends for whom I have cooked meals, this is, quite frankly, ludicrous.
Engage Grumpy Old Git Mode….
I am now looking forward to seeing the next Vegan/Veggie revolts on other highly contentious issues such as banning Beer and Wine due to the brewers use of Isinglass – a clearing agent made from fish bladders. Naturally, they will all enjoy the new alcohol free world in which they will live. Or maybe pay far more for beer and wine cleared with synthetic (and possibly much more dangerous to health) substances.
Those Vegan ladies will have to stop using a great majority of perfumes due to the addition of Castoreum used in the manufacturing process. (Interestingly, castoreum is obtained from the Beaver’s castor sac).
Many plastic items, including supermarket carrier bags, and bicycle tyres use stearic acid in the production process. It is used as a “Slip agent” to prevent plastics sticking together, hence its use in banknote manufacturing.
No Vegan Parents will be able to have soft and cosy laundry, because fabric conditioners contain dihydrogenated tallow dimethyl ammonium chloride in them, in order soften the fabric’s fibres. This product is obtained from the rendered fat from cattle, horses and other livestock.
No more sugar either in their brave new world, as most sugars that have been refined use bone char during refining. Bone char is the residue collected from the ashes of burnt animal carcasses.
Protected Lovemaking? Well, that’s out too… condoms are made from latex, together with casein a product extracted from animal milk. This product is used to lubricate the condom.
Oh no! More bad news for Vegan women. No more nail varnish ladies. This is made with Guanine, known commercially as “Pearl Essence”. In reality it’s made from fish scales, and is one of the four base components of RNA and DNA, the building blocks of life.
Crayons have animal fats in them as well, and whilst thinking of children, let’s consider confectionery. Red coloured food products are tinted using the crushed bodies of the Cochineal Beetle. Glazed chocolate confectionery uses an edible shellac known as “Confectioners Glaze”. In reality, it’s extracted from female Lac Insects.
Breakfast will never be the same again in Vegan households, as a number of Orange Juice suppliers are adding Omega Three fatty oils to their products. Omega three is extracted from fish. This is a relatively new thing, and is known as “Nutraceuticals”, the addition of products essential to well being into food.
I shall never eat another bagel again either, as researching for this article revealed that a product called L-Cysteine is used in their production. This product is manufactured from bird feathers and human and pig hair. Yuk!
Toothpaste contains Glycerine another animal product.
The list is almost endless.
Man has been involved in animal husbandry, farming and cultivation for thousands of years. Homo Sapiens are biologically optimised to operate on a mixed diet, hence the provision of teeth such as incisors and canines to enable the cutting and ripping of flesh, and molars for the grinding of pretty much everything consumed. Stereoscopic vision enables man to be an effective hunter of lesser life forms.
Naturally, man has also evolved philosophically and culturally, and many now consider the taking of animal life for sustenance as unacceptable, conveniently overlooking the fact the vegetation is also living matter.
Everyone can make their own choices in terms of their ethics. If you don’t want to eat meat, that’s fine. If you make that as an ethical decision rather than a dietary one, then you should also stop wearing leather, stop riding a bike, driving a car, in fact doing most things that are an intrinsic part of living in the 21st century.
I do have some sympathy with the protestors. Regardless of the minute amounts of animal product being used, individuals are effectively being forced by the state to handle something which they find offensive and over which they have absolutely no choice.
In due course, I guess the fiver will become so devalued it will eventually become a coin, in the same way that the old pound note did. This will stop the whinging, unless of course, a way is found to make base metal out of old cat pelts.
So, at the end of the day, in our topsy-turvey world, the process of society is being driven by a loud, vocal, and possibly ill -informed minority, and political correctness means that fewer people feel able to turn round and say “Suck it up Cup Cake”.