4 Failed Remotes? Coincidence? I Don’t Think So!

I wouldn’t usually bother you with the domestic trivia of failed remote controls. But this is some seriously weird shit. Thought a) you might be interested b) I want it on record.

It also occurs to me that perhaps I might not be the only one experiencing the weird shit. I can’t decide whether, if I’m not, that would make it more or less weird…

Beginning August 8, 2015 about 8 pm

The remote control on the TV stopped having any effect. In hindsight, I misinterpreted this. I’ve been having ongoing problems with the Sky HD box; having to reboot it daily, sometimes twice, because it becomes locked and entirely dysfunctional.


So I assumed it was another case of frozen Skybox, rebooted the little expletive and got on with my life.

One darts session later, I went to catch Newsnight. See what they’re headlining at least. The system was ludicrously unresponsive. It took multiple keystrokes before anything would react. Took me 5 minutes just to get on to BBC2 and 3 more to get out of the TV guide.

And this was with two different controllers; the one supplied by Sky and the Multi-Controller I use for everything. So now I’m sure it’s the Skybox. Can’t possibly be two simultaneous failures of two entirely independent remote controls.

Bollocks. Have to call Sky tomorrow and get the box replaced. Goodbye to all that good shit I’ve got stored. Never Mind. Bollocks.

Right, let’s watch the first episode of Ripper Street which I downloaded from iPlayer a few days back. See if the series is going to be worth recording this year…

Want to watch it on the big screen. Enable it on the PC, pick up the remote control for the TV and try to switch the input from Skybox to PC. The TV Remote has no effect. Bollocks, must be batteries. Change batteries. No change.


I try the same thing on the Multi-Controller. I don’t usually control the TV from the MC cos it’s too many keystrokes to switch between the different devices it can control. But it’s useful to have it as a fall-back in situations like this.

It didn’t work either. WTF?

Fuck it. Watch it on my biggest monitor in HD. Up close, it’s damn near as good as the big screen.

But I still want the sound through the hifi.

Redirect the PC sound to the hifi and try to reduce the bass so I can hear the speech more clearly. I’m losing the upper ranges. Have to compensate. No biggie.

Bleedin’ amplifier has become unresponsive to its remote control. WTF? WTF? WTFFFF???


What are the odds on that being a coincidence?

By coincidence I spun round in my chair and angrily pressed the relevant amplifier remote key again. But this time, the remote control was only about 25 centimetres – 12 inches in old money – from the amplifier. And this time, it worked. I was able to do whatever I wanted with the remote at this ludicrously short distance. Not so much a “Remote Control” as a “Close Control” and rather undermining the purpose of having a detached control unit at all.

Hmmm… I wonder if any of the other “Remotes” are behaving as “Closes”.

I shit you not. ALL FOUR ARE NOW FUNCTIONING ONLY WITHIN 12-15 INCHES of the devices under their control.

First thought. Solar flux? Somehow “damping down” the infra red remote control signal. Can’t see how that would work but let’s check it out.

Not today. Today’s solar flux is running just about as average as you can get – according to the data at Solarham

So now I’m stumped. I can only speculate that some other kind of radiation or electric field – and one which is not usually present – is acting as a “damping field” and massively reducing the range of my remote controls. What kind of radiation or field could that be? Or could even do that? And how can I detect or record it?

Will check periodically to see what range I’m getting. But just as an example, I frequently use the Amplifier Remote and Multi-controller from the other end of the living room which is about 15 feet from the devices. No problem at all. Usually.

I’m open to suggestions…


Postscript: 1 oclock in the morning. About to retire for the night. Decide to record the phenomenon with the intention of tracking any changes. Check they’re all still limited to close range. They are. Set up the video. Start videoing. I don’t believe it! They’re all back to normal range! So, apart from the camera itself, nothing else in the environment has changed. But whatever was damping the control signals seems to have retreated. Am I allowed to get paranoid yet?

Wikipedia – First Among Fact Checkers

The Daily Mail’s creaming itself over being able to publish this attack on Wikipedia.

Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘This is a complete waste of money. Wikipedia is an intellectual crutch, often full of mistakes, and encouraging pupils to rely on it does not help them.

It’s rare to see a target so comprehensively missed. Not a glowing reference for his “Real Education”.

I challenge anyone to point me to a MORE trustworthy and up to date general information source than Wikipedia. You can start by pointing to one which has fewer mistakes (proportionally) and elaborate how you reach that conclusion.

You can then move on to the question of how this potential superior source identifies its errors; how it publicises that identification and how it fixes them.

And finally, you might point out how and whether we can review the history of its entries and check on the identities (pseudonymous or otherwise) of those who created them.

Wikipedia took a while to deal with its most obvious weakness – the unhindered free access to its editing tools by the ignorant or agenda-motivated. But since it sorted that out, about 10 years ago, it has become, by a distance of several light years, the first port of call for anyone wanting a reasonably objective summary of what is known about the widest range of topics arranged in one place anywhere on the internet.

It’s exceptionally useful as the “First Fact Checker”. Here’s a tip. Whenever you read some extraordinary claim about something you know little about, before you go spreading the story, why not check out what Wiki has to say about it? It will save you a lot of embarrassment.

Yes, it still has occasional errors and some rather amateurish entries. And yes, it can still be “spoofed” in small ways on topics that attract so little attention that nobody bothers to check them. But there is nowhere else on the web which has anything like the rich and vibrant support community and readership which ensures that it has at least as high an overall credibility rating as the “professional encyclopedias” (a fact acknowledged by the BBC – who used to love wiki-bashing as well – back in 2005, after research conducted by the journal Nature, which compared a range of scientific entries in Wiki and Encyclopedia Brittanica and found them broadly comparable)

Most significantly of all, Wiki keeps and publishes an ongoing assessment of its own reliability. Point me to ANY other online information source doing that.

So it’s a nod of appreciation to Leicester city council. Your pupils will gain considerably by learning how to evaluate and use Wikipedia as the best starting point for almost anything they need to research. Most important of all, they’ll learn how it never permits assertions to be made without references and it will let them go and check those references for themselves, to see whether or not the assertion is justified. THAT’S “Real Education”.

Perhaps one of the reasons tabloids like the Daily Mail love attacking Wiki is because it can so easily destroy the credibility of so much of their own bullshit.

David Anderson takes a Step In the Right Direction

With David Anderson’s report, we finally look like we may be moving in the right direction.

However, his solution to over-reach is aiming at the wrong target. Prior authorisation by his proposed new judicial body is really no more than a band-aid on the amputated limb.

The 2800 authorisations issued last year are enough to illustrate the limitation of “control by authorisation”

There is no way that serious consideration of the facts and arguments underpinning any relevant surveillance request can possibly be conducted, at that rate, by the small organisation implied by a Judicial Commission. In fact, as David Davies argued on Radio 4, it’s not credible that the Home Secretary, Theresa May, even with the resources of the Home Office, can give genuinely appropriate levels of attention to such requests at the rate of 7 a day. Especially on top of her day job.

Frankly, however, we shouldn’t really care who signs off the authorisation for any given task. All they need to authorise is that the new rules I’m about to propose are being followed to the letter. That, in short means that a new digital case file has been opened and that everything related to the case will be stored in that file and made available, on demand to the independent oversight body and/or political authorities.

What matters far more – and is absolutely vital to ensuring true democratic control of the State’s surveillance apparatus – is the complete and routine data-capture (to an immutable audit trail) of the entire surveillance decision-making process and subsequent implementation of those decisions. In other words, nobody should be watched more closely and comprehensively than the watchers themselves. Think helmet cams, body cams, discreet microphones, Smartphone and GPS location tracking, Google glass and a host of similar technologies. Think ubiquitous CCTV and Webcam coverage in all secure areas and offices.

These are the experts in surveillance. They know exactly how to ensure that everything they say and do, in the line of duty, is captured to that immutable audit trail. They know how to keep their own data safe and secure and available only to those who have legal authority to access it. (If they don’t, they have no business keeping ours) It would probably be cost neutral or slightly beneficial.

Most importantly it will facilitate precisely the democratic oversight which is needed to ensure that everything the authorities do is on the record (or is automatically a criminal offence) and available for review by whatever oversight body we determine is necessary to earn the Trust of the British People.

That body must have untrammelled authority to inspect ANY relevant data at ANY time from the moment of authorisation forward. Indeed, it must even have authority to conduct spot inspections of anything relevant to their oversight with the sole and reasonable limitation that they can watch but not impede an ongoing operation. They must also be allocated resources which permit independent and trusted expert evaluation of what they find.

The technology will allow them to rewind any operation and see for themselves what evidence justified the operation and whether the implementation of the operation was entirely necessary and proportionate. Note, I don’t even insist that it was “legal”.

What matters is that We The People would agree that it was justified. Not that a “here today gone tomorrow” politician – with a potentially hidden agenda – asserts that it was justified and demands that we trust them.

The oversight body would be empowered to disclose whatever they thought necessary to the British Public. We need to be completely confident that if they say the operation was clean and justified, but that the details need to remain secret, we would probably have agreed with them if we were in possession of all the facts.

By the same token, where they clearly uncover illicit behaviour, we must be equally confident that they are able to disclose everything we ought to know, however embarrassing for the State, that disclosure may be.

Personally I don’t trust unelected Authoritarians, even relatively tame ones like most Judges, to wield that disclosure against the elected Authoritarians and I would much prefer that Oversight body to take the form of a Standing Jury with a few dozen members selected randomly from a national pool of civic-minded volunteers.

I don’t think we should object if the Security services wanted to Vet those volunteers and weed out any that might be a threat to the necessary discipline and security that such a Jury would have to work under. But the Jury itself would be the final arbiter on any such exclusions from Jury Service.

Such an arrangement would render the process truly democratic.

We should, perhaps, have no objection to a tribunal of experienced judges being available to advise and guide the Jury on all points of law and precedent, but the Jury itself should be sovereign and make the final judgements.

With all that in place, you can perhaps see why we needn’t care so much about who authorises the actual operations.

Provided we can see, after the event, who was asked, why they were asked, why they agreed, what the consequences were and how it was handled, frankly I don’t give a give a damn what it is they actually authorise – up to and including the assassination of a fellow citizen – or even an attack on a wedding party in Pakistan. There are potential legitimate reasons for any of these activities.

But where the consequences are that extreme, nothing less than a Jury of our peers, taking an entirely uninhibited look, on our behalf, at what went on and why, will satisfy any rationally sceptical citizen that the decisions were reasonable and rationally based on reviewable evidence; or that the implementation of those decisions was carried out in the least destructive and damaging way possible in the circumstances.

To be blunt; how many of the USA Police brutality incidents we have been bombarded with for the past few decades would have survived that level of scrutiny? Or, to put it another way, how much of that brutality would we have eliminated, how many lives would we have saved, had they been under that level of scrutiny?

Yes, the American Police are a far easier target for our opprobrium than the British Security Services.
We’d rather like to keep it that way!

Religion As Child Abuse

For some years I’ve been making the case that indoctrinating kids with Religious belief constitutes one of the more serious forms of child abuse.But frankly I can’t see any obvious way to prevent it without totalitarian coercion by the State (as practised, for example, during the 20th century in both China and Russia) against all those religious parents who think they’re actually benefitting their child by passing on the indoctrination they received themselves at the same age.

The one area where the State can legitimately intervene is in the publicly funded education system where they could prohibit all religious indoctrination (such as the compulsory “act of worship” required in UK schools) and restrict them to religious education, where students could be taught about the full spectrum of religious inquiry; the history of religion, its psychology, its attempt at answering the principal philosophical questions, its successes and failures at answering those questions and its overall benefits and costs. If done properly this could only offend fanatics and would greatly reduce the negative effects of home indoctrination. Over time, it should begin to reduce recruitment.

In contrast this case shows how stupidly the authoritarian State can handle such delicate issues.

What it amounts to is an assertion, by the State, that because a 7 year old boy rejects the fairy story the school is trying to inculcate (the Christian story) and prefers the fairy story taught by his Jehova’s Witness mother, the child has been emotionally damaged and should, therefore, be taken from his mother and placed in care. That is an obscene overreach by the State.

Now we can’t reach any firm conclusions about the individual story because we certainly can’t trust the source (Daily Mail). So it’s entirely possible that the Judge is responding to a wealth of plausible evidence regarding emotional damage which may or may not be entirely focussed on the religious issue and which the Daily Mail simply isn’t bothering to report. So we’ll take it with a pinch of salt and treat it only as an example of the potential dangers of allowing the State to use its coercive powers to intervene.

But the real point is simple. Why does the mother’s indoctrination constitute abuse while the school’s indocrination doesn’t?

Christianity – Genetic Blowback?

Just a thought.

Just watched the excellent “Sex and the Church

Learned a lot. Highly recommended.

But although it explained – very well – what we know about the history of the Christian church’s embarrassing obsession with sex, it didn’t explain how or why the ideas which formed the core of the meme managed to survive past the “raised eyebrow” stage. And they are so psychotic that an explanation is required.

Clearly by the time Augustine had “clarified” the doctrine of sexual sin, the only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that a truly sinless human race – which is, ostensibly, what the Christian church would have liked to achieve – would, by virtue of complete sexual abstinence, have made themselves extinct within about a century.

Is it conceivable that no one understood that at the time? Not for me it ain’t. For me, it’s bleedin obvious that it would have been bleedin’ obvious to any sentient human hearing that proposal at any time. So how did it get past the snorts of ridicule? What on earth made so many meekly accept – at least in public – such a message as meaningful ethical guidance?

Not, of course, that they paid anything but lip service to the resultant edicts; or else there wouldn’t be so many of the buggers around today. So the first tactical error (in this context) made by the authoritarian church had the effect of making private disobedience an essential tool of survival. That’s not a good trait to encourage in a “subject.”

More significantly, if the tendencies to either disobedience or submission (to the demand for sexual abstinence) had any basis in genetic predisposition, their strategy also ensured the evolution of increasingly sceptical and disobedient Christians, whom – inevitably – learned to value autonomy over authority and, eventually, to reject authority altogether. Delicious irony?

I know. It’s a fairy story. Nice one though.

About the Indian Rape Epidemic? Take a look in the Mirror

If you haven’t seen India’s Daughter yet, put it in your diary, or (until they take it down anyway) watch it right here right now.

Meanwhile scroll down to the second paragraph under the second picture in that story. Read the first 3 sentences.

Oh Bollocks. I’ll save you the trouble. You can read the whole thing later.

Each country has its own appalling bloody tally. India has a population of 1.2 billion. A rape occurs every 20 minutes. In England and Wales, 85,000 women are raped every year.

Now, ask yourself, why have they written it like that? 1 rape every 20 minutes in India. 85000 a year in England and Wales. I asked my wife that. She responded immediately: “They’re trying to conceal something”. Quite so. Obviously we’re supposed to be horrified at the extent of the Rape epidemic in India. Every 20 Minutes.

Do the math. 85000 a year is 9.7 every HOUR. That’s just short of one rape every 6 minutes in England and Wales. Makes India look almost restrained…

And England and Wales Population is less than a twentieth of the Population of India. Which makes our Rape Rate 74 times – ie 7,400 percent – worse than the Indian Rape Rate.

Now, actually, I don’t believe that. Even though, as the article goes on to explain, Jyoti’s story dramatically increased the Rape REPORTING Rate in India, I suspect it’s still way behind the Reporting Rate in the UK. And I’m sure if the reporting rates were the same, it would definitely close the gap. But it certainly doesn’t suggest we have any reason whatsoever to believe that women in our country are any LESS likely to be raped than their sisters in India.

I’m sure both of my readers will recognise that I’ve made this same argument before, back in January 2013, but I seem to be the only one pointing out the nakedness of our Empirical patronage. If you follow that link, it has the sources which also reveal that the USA rape rate is about the same as the UK and that Sweden, of all places, reports the highest levels.

I don’t believe that either.

I suspect the Rape Rate in Sweden is amongst the lowest on the planet, so if they’re reporting the highest rates, it almost certainly means that women in Sweden are probably the most likely to report their abusers. Probably as close to 100% as we’re likely to get and that suggests the UK/USA rates are at least double what those sources suggest. Definitely no room for complacent finger wagging.

And why is the Guardian, of all outlets, aiding and abetting this distorted view of our cultural superiority?

So Journos get a bit more Protection, what about the rest of us?

The Daily Mail is crowing over its small victory but, as usual, hasn’t grasped the bigger picture.

The Authoritarian Law (RIPA), whose abuse they have reported on for years, is about to be tweaked with another Law forbidding cops from prying into Journalists’ phone records without more serious oversight than the pathetic “superintendent level authority” required for the police to carry on spying on the rest of us.

First, it’s a VERY small victory. It reputedly only even attempts to improve the protection for Journalists. Not citizens. So, at most, a few hundred of our fellow, more privileged citizens, will be “protected” by the proposed new restrictions.

But second, note the quote marks around “protected”. That’s no accident. The truth is that the Law does NOTHING to protect us from abuse of surveillance powers and never has. At most it might deter those who think they are at risk of being caught snooping, which given the fact that they are not being snooped on themselves, is a very low risk.

But, as the RIPA saga amply illustrates, the vast majority of its abusers don’t even grasp the concept of “Abuse” in this context. They have routinely justified their illicit access as “proportionate and necessary” in pursuit of their aims to pursue petty criminality, littering, illegal parking, dog fouling, fly tipping, cheating to qualify for access to favoured schools and other matters of dubious relevance to our “National Security” which RIPA was deemed necessary to protect. And what we’ve suffered here in the UK is trivial compared to the institutionalised abuse and assault on civil liberties arising from the wholly illicit USAPATRIOT Act and its associated legislation in the United States.

This kind of mission creep is rampant around the world. The USA clearly does it most egregiously and most “professionally” but while they’re among the worst offenders, there is probably no government on the planet which doesn’t routinely abuse its authority to obtain illicit access to private data for reasons which no intelligent citizen would approve.

And anyone who thinks “The Law” can protect them from this kind of abuse doesn’t begin to understand the problem. The only way to prevent such abuse is to make it technically impossible to spy without audited authority. Wot that mean?

It means that it has ALWAYS been technically possible to control access to the data they want to snoop on. It means that such control can easily be made to include a form of authentication and authorisation which ensures that all the relevant data is captured to an audit trail which cannot be tampered with by those requiring the authorised access. It means that, though we can never guarantee to prevent illicit access, we can guarantee that we can always discover it and who was responsible for it.

Laws which make something illegal and threaten sanctions are, at best, only a minor deterrent, as we see in real life every day (think War on Drugs, Fraud, Burglary, Rape etc etc as well as the routine abuses by the Authorities themselves).

Conversely, the near certainty of detection is a major deterrent.

The audit trail would, itself, contain no sensitive data and could thus be entirely publicly accessible. It would serve three functions.

First, all requests for access could be technically blocked and only permitted to proceed on receipt of a key from the audit trail. That one time access key would only be issued once the audit trail has been persuaded that the requestor was a) authorised to make such requests and b) had proved deposit of the documentary evidence required to justify the reason for access.

Second, the public audit trail presents to the world an anonymised record, in real-time, of what the authorities are doing. That public record would not, for example, reveal whose phone records they had just requested access to, but would reveal that one or more such access requests had been made in the last few seconds or minutes. Nor would it reveal who had requested access. But it would reveal at least the organisation responsible for the access request. That might be as vague as “The Home Office” or “NSA” or it might be as specific as “Precinct 99” or “East Devon County Council”. That’s a matter for negotiation.

Over the course of days, weeks, months, it would reveal the extent of surveillance activity against the citizens and the patterns of what authorities were doing what kind of snooping.

The third function of the audit trail would be, in the event of any challenge to the authorities, over a specific access session, to verify (or falsify) their claims as to why they did what they did. Remember the one time access key? That only gets issued if the authority requesting access asserts that it has documentary evidence supporting its reasons for the request and that they meet the terms of any relevant laws. They have to “prove” the existence of that evidence by lodging its digital fingerprint (a “hash” for those who aren’t yet familiar with this incredibly useful crypto tool) with the audit trail.

Come the challenge, they must present that documentary evidence to the auditors and, possibly, a court. The beauty of the Hash is that, while maintaining the complete confidentiality of the evidence, it proves unequivocally whether or not the documents they present are identical to those they claimed, at the time of the request, supported their access request. If they don’t match, or if they are found to be attempting to bypass the audit trail altogether, they are automatically committing a criminal offence.

If they do match, the auditors/court can now study the documentation to make a judgement as to whether their reason for access was legitimate or not. If not, then, once again, they’ve committed a criminal offence. If they do match, then it’s a fair cop!

None of the above is rocket science. It doesn’t require any new technology. It does require some new programming and authentication procedures but nothing dramatic, even though the effects would be.

There are two roles for the Law in this area. First – what they already do – they need to define what we democratically agree to be acceptable and unacceptable practice, with a view to enabling appropriate sanctions against those we find in breach of the law. Their second, so far absent, and more important role, is to mandate the implementation of the kind of technical protection which makes the abuses we’ve forbidden impossible to hide. No more, no less.

If the media, including the Daily Mail, could understand this issue and campaign for the introduction of such legally mandated technical protections across the planet – or at least in their own backyards – then they might actually improve the human condition, and not just protect their own interests.

Now that would be something worth crowing about.


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