Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-07-25

  • Off to Church on this beautiful day! #
  • You bet it will be abused!! RT @TweetSmarter: Will it be abused? Facebook Begins Letting Publishers Contact You: #
  • RT @philo_quotes: Faith has to do with things that are not seen and hope with things that are not at hand. ~ Saint Thomas Aquinas #
  • RT @Toltecjohn: 'Or watch the things you gave your life to broken.And stoop, and build them up with worn out tools' Rudyard Kipling #
  • Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins – lived life hard and fully. A genuine example of it being better to burn out than it was to rust. RIP. #
  • via @michaelmeacher: Not prosecuting over death shows police, like bankers, are above law and can act with impunity #
  • Dunno about that – but has people with little sense of humour or proportion, though! RT @TweetSmarter: Is Twitter Sexist? #
  • #bb11 – yet another in the great list of abominations that the TV show 'Glee' will one day have to answer for… #
  • OK – signing off Twitter for rest of day whilst I get some serious work done! Phone off as well! And Facebook! TTFN! #
  • Please give these good people your support! #sheffield #
  • Quite a few of us went through this years ago with no help from FourSquare – not really news, guys. #
  • Ahhhh…the quality of UK Journalism…tabloid falls for video game hoax… #
  • Cheggers re-uses gags without credit? Big deal. I'm sure that no stand-ups have EVER used a gag they heard elsewhere… #
  • Had a weird dream about quite happily going to my own execution. That rings all sorts of alarm bells with the dream analyst part of me! #
  • Seeking freelance / contract #development #php #net #javascript work in #sheffield – what can I do for you? #
  • Having been mistaken again for a priest I either need to get ordained or stop wearing black shirts… #
  • It's depressing to see a group of twenty-somethings on a bus behave like a bunch of twelve year olds… #
  • #Sheffield #Forgemasters loan and the Tory Donor – #
  • Just gotta love those sincere birthday greetings from recruitment agencies I've never worked with! #
  • Busy day had and getting some further coding done…aided and abetted by Marvin the cat who's sleeping on my mouse! #
  • What a twat. No Yanks, no Russians, Who were we junior to?? via @paulwaugh Cameron: "We were the junior partner in 1940…fighting Nazis" #
  • Lohan – no fan but this is a circus, not justice. Polanski – that's what influence gets you. Dreadful. #
  • #East #midland #fail – 3.5 hrs on train, no buffet for most of trip. UK railway system is dreadful! #
  • Happily and smugly seated on a VERY full train from London… #
  • Woo…London approaches – better sign off and finish my reading before my meeting! #
  • On way to London – still late. Maybe if we all did the Flintstones thing and kicked the floor out and started running it would go faster? #
  • Attempts to blag complementary tea from #East #Midlands to offer slight recompense has failed. Poor show, EM trains. #
  • On train, about to leave for London. Unfortunately, train should have left 25 minutes ago… #fail #
  • And the official Big Society Website… – let's see whether they deliver what they promise…… #
  • Wee bit more bumf on 'Big Socirty' proposal… #
  • Phew – busy day clearing a few acceptance bugs prior to user testing – exciting stuff! #
  • RT @britmic: Scott Adams explains how Steve Jobs brainwashed you about iPhone4 non-issue #
  • Seeking freelance / contract #development #php #net #javascript work in #sheffield – what can I do for you? #
  • RT @Hills_Forum: 6.30pm Hillsborough Sports Arena – SDF Consultation and information on Thriving District Centres. #
  • In principle it has possibilities – will be looking at the details! Big Society – #fb #
  • Got a lot to do today – work and domestic engineering and voluntary stuff…busy, busy, busy! #

Powered by Twitter Tools

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-07-18

  • …oh, and also upset a few Apple fans earlier today. All in all a good day! 🙂 #
  • Instead have watched some Star trek, 'Batman Begins', read a chunk of 'The Name of the Rose', had a few naps. Nice….. #
  • Just realised I've done nothing work related all day – feels good, needed break! #
  • Goldman Sachs pay a $550 million fine…about 2 DAYS revenue for them. Why don't I believe this 'punishment' will bother the bastards? #fb #
  • Note to Apple Fans…we Blackberry users don't need to hold our phones like teacups, nor do we need cases to make calls. #
  • Think I'd better head out and do shopping…weather looks…grey. #
  • maybe this campaign – on HIV risks for World Cup and other travelers might have been publicised BEFORE the World Cup? #
  • On my way back home after day in Birmingham. #
  • On way to Birmingham – caught train with 2 mins to spare! Good start! #
  • NO! Blogs serve folks without attention deficit disorder! RT @TweetSmarter: Does Twitter spell the end of blogging? #
  • A reason why some workers in the public sector need to shape up or ship out…. #
  • If PM doesn't get Social media because of his reaction to Raoul Moat page, neither do I and I'm proud to say that…. #fb #
  • As a practicing Anglican I find it ridiculous that Pope refers to ordaining women bishops and child abuse with same phrase. Insane. #
  • via @worldtreeman: notion of globalism was hijacked for ends of business and profits, lets reclaim it peace, love and connection #
  • Seeking freelance / contract #development #php #net #javascript work in #sheffield – what can I do for you? #
  • Good start to the day – article approved for publication and paid for, cheque to pay in, quote sent out! #
  • …balancing the feminism / civil rights issue against the tolerance for Islam – the old 'What's Left / Nick Cohen' argument. #
  • Now this is bloody impressive – for me the interesting part is the interaction AI… #
  • Godwin's Law – As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1 #
  • RT @michaelmeacher: No to this orgy of self-obsessed memoirs, yes to a forceful ideological statement of how we now replace neoliberalism #
  • I'm expecting a lot of headaches for some left wingers with regard to French Burqa business. Challenges religious AND political orthodoxy! #
  • via @techdept – the Old Spice 'Starbucks' video clip brings Chuck Norris attitude to pasta cooking…. #
  • #sheffield library staff – if you publicise something with an email address don't treat us as weirdoes should we enter address into phone… #
  • Also, seem to be scrolling up and down more with new layout – whether that's just trying to find stuff for the first time not sure… #
  • Oooer…not at all keen on new BBC website layout….seems 'bitty'…amount of useful content on visible screen seems reduced somehow. #
  • Agreed! RT @agnt_orange: The new BBC website – too much white; I don't like it! #
  • Hopefully have a productive day today – trying to get new projects lined up! #
  • This is bloody ridiculous – Staffordshire Council suggests re-scheduling swimming lessons during Ramadan. #
  • Seeking #freelance / #contract #development #php #net #javascript work in #sheffield – what can I do for you? #
  • Seeking freelance / contract #development #php #net #javascript work in #sheffield – dm me with offers! #
  • hmmm…when I say 'draining board meeting' I meant a Board Meeting that was draining…nothing to do with sinks! #
  • Damp day with a draining board meeting…now back to the noble art of finding more work for me! #
  • Busy Monday ahead – client work, board meeting….stuff! 🙂 #
  • Started rooting for the Dutch, but they have played so dirtily that I'm glad Spain are looking like winning….. #

Powered by Twitter Tools

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-07-11

  • Sigh…perhaps why we need fewer quangos – #
  • FIFA demonstrate their fuck-wittedness yet again. Who the Hell do they think they are? #
  • RT @iaindale: Am so appalled by both BBC & Sky coverage of the Moat events I have switched off. 24 hour news at its very worst. Ghoulish. #
  • So…BBC Journos told by police to get in truck and stay out of way for their own safety. That's why they're still wandering around…. #
  • BBC News – hysterical people, hysterical journalists, nothing for sure… Suggest everyone shuts up until they have FACTS! #raoulmoat #
  • Suspected all along!! RT @britmic: hahaha #humour #ihope #
  • Woohoo! Twhirl working again – whilst Tweetdeck was good, I found it didn't 'invite me' to Tweet! #
  • Heading off for blood tests shortly – assuming they can find a vein…. 🙂 #
  • RT @Lisaansell: If someone who'll be dead within 20 years says it costs too much to deal with climate change- treat their views as suspect. #
  • RT @jackofkent you've no idea how annoying the "private sector = hideous liars v public sector=unbiased saints" thing becomes #
  • Client visit this morning and web service development this afternoon! #
  • Still having a world of pain with Twhirl…trying Tweetdeck! #
  • Anyone else finding Seesmic / Twhirl Twitter Clients a little brain-dead right now? #

Powered by Twitter Tools

Why I WON’T be re-joining the Labour Party

In the period since the General Election here in the UK I’ve seen a fair number of blog posts and Facebook notes entitled ‘Why I’m rejoining the Labour Party’  – typically by folks who were members of the Labour Party at some point in the past decade and who left when Blair and Brown didn’t live up to expectations.  But now, given the Liberal-Conservative coalition Government, these folks are keen to get back in to the Labour Party fold and ‘fight the good fight’ against the ‘auld enemy’ – a Tory Government.  (Those of us of a cynical bent and who’ve been around in left wing politics long enough to remember the 1980s can remember when the ‘auld enemy’ was actually people within the Labour Party with whom you didn’t agree…but that’s another story.)

I left the Labour Party around the time that ‘Clause 4’ disappeared from the membership cards – the start of the great re-invention of the Labour Party as New Labour.  I’d served time as a Ward Chair, Constituency Vice Chair and been a delegate to the District Labour Party here in Sheffield.  I even considered running for election as a City Councillor, and very briefly toyed with the idea of trying for a Parliamentary seat, but eventually stayed as a local party activist and school governor.  I was a member of the Party when it was distinctly un-trendy to be so; a time when the Labour Party was in opposition, stood as much chance of getting in to power as England did winning the World Cup.

Despite the fact that I was self-employed, running my own business, the old Labour Party held much appeal for me.  Even with Clause 4 – detailed here with the ‘revisions’ – I always felt I had more to gain from a Labour Government than from the Tories.  The Labour Party was good on issues that mattered heavily to me – civil liberties, for example – and whilst some of the economic policies would be personally bad for me, I could understand the underlying philosophy.  And I always regarded it highly unlikely that Labour would drag us in to wars….

I left the Labour Party after the death of John Smith – nowadays I think there are lots of people who’ve never heard of this man, which is a great shame.  I’m pretty sure that Labour would have won the 1997 election with him as leader – without the massive changes from the new Labour experiment being carried out.  Whether the party would have had such a big majority – I have no idea – but they would still have been the Labour Party I grew up with and joined.  I think reform was inevitable, but New Labour is no longer a party of the people – more a party of the chattering classes.  I’ve often considered that left to it’s own devices the New Labour experiment would eventually move the party to either a dilute form of Gramscian Marxism or the political philosophy of the Frankfurt School – neither of which I have much time for.

After leaving the Party I was broadly sympathetic to the activities of the New Labour government in most areas – but there was a certain ‘control freak’ attitude – the ‘Big Nanny’ state – obvious in policy form the very beginning, and that made me concerned for civil liberties from very early on.  After 9/11 then it became more obvious; again, I was supportive of certain policies, but not others.  Economically, I was concerned that we were seeing a subtle form of old style ‘tax and spend’ taking place, with a bloated and increasingly ineffective public sector being paid for by various ‘one off’ financial wind falls, such as selling off gold  (ultimately a £7 billion LOSS) or the 3G Phone licenses (23 billions).  Jolly japes like this earned Brown the sobriquet of the ‘Iron Chancellor’ – but it’s pretty easy to balance the books in the short term when you get nice one off payments.  Just wait until you have to keep the books balanced when things get tight….

I was also concerned by the increasing levels of surveillance and law changes that worked against our civil liberties.  We’re now the most filmed population in the world; this technology exploded under New Labour.  Anti-terror laws bought in by New Labour were used to keep people under surveillance to see whether they were using their dustbins correctly, for crying out loud.  And let’s not get started on ID cards, vetting to work with children, the Digital Economy Bill, etc.  And then there’s the whole business of illegal wars….

I honestly believe that the 2010 election, had New Labour been re-elected, would have been a further blow to civil liberties – combined with the economic crisis I could easily see these Stasi-like powers being expanded to cover all aspects of our lives.

New Labour are no longer in power but the people within the New Labour machine, the officers, the MPs, the leadership candidates, the local members – they’re still there and they are still, in most cases, the same people who have implicitly agreed to all of these assaults on our liberties.  I’m not saying that the new Coalition Government have got it right – but I’m happy to give them a try rather than vote in authoritarianism.  To the thousands of new members of the Labour Party I say this; do you support reduction of civil liberties and economic mis-management – because by joining the Party today, unless you are joining to get some change of people and policy at the top,  you are supporting the people who were in power during one of the most authoritarian decades in the UK’s history.

Think before you join or re-join.  I have; and I’m not for joining.

I was right to blame it on sunspots!

Early on in my consulting career – late 1980s, early 1990s – I did a lot of work for a public sector organisation.  I worked on a number of projects – this was in the days when IT consultants could still be generalists, applying their skills to whatever was needed – and tended to specialise on development of a few database applications that were centrally based and accessed over a (pre-Internet) wide area network, held together by leased lines, private cabling, etc.

All in all, a fantastic environment in which to hone your skills.  Actually, in many respects I was rather spoilt by this client – and by my first job out of university – they both gave me a rather distorted view of working life!  For a while we experienced some rather ‘odd’ problems on some of the applications running over the wide area network.  Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t actually ground the problems – we checked software, hardware, cabling, the works.  Eventually, and half jokingly, a colleague and I (both of us radio amateurs) decided that the problems were being some how caused by sun spots….

Unsurprisingly, this caused gales of laughter in the office, but as far as we were concerned there was an element of logic in our proposal.  We knew that sun spots and solar activity in general had an effect on the earth’s ionosphere, and that in the past bad solar storms had knocked out telephone and communication systems.  Indeed, in the pre-Internet, pre-computer days of 1859 a major solar storm had caused incredible effects, even causing telegraph wires to carry electrical currents when all the batteries were disconnected!

This information did little to convince people around the office, so we simply did what any other self respecting techie would do; turn things off and on, replace a few network cards and bridges, tighten connections and tweak software.  And the odd errors stopped, and we stopped worrying about it.

But over teh years I’ve thought about those gremlins on numerous occasions, and it now appears that we may have been right after all.  According to this article, solar storms can cause mystery glitches in communication and computer systems. 

It may be that the next time we get a big solar storm or Coronal Mass Ejection – when a massive plume of plasma and charged particles is thrown from teh sun out in to space – the impact will be much more than a few gremlins in the works.  Some have suggested that a storm similar to that of 1859 might cause massive damage to the electrical and communications systems of the world; indeed, some real pessimists have suggested that a BIG solar event might put us back in to the pre-electronics age for decades.

Let’s hope we don’t get it…

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-07-04

  • Happy July 4th to all my US friends – have a great day! #fb #
  • Delighted to see #ger take apart #arg …. at least #eng managed one goal! #
  • Debugging code and contemplating whether Russia needs any spies….. 🙂 #
  • Bets of luck to #gha tonight – happy to see #hol win! #
  • Keen to see how #labourleader candidates explain the increase in life expectancy gap during THEIR years in power… #
  • Amazing – the gap in life expectancy between rich and poor in UK GREW under New Labour. Enough said. #fb #
  • Back home (and glad to be back) after a busy day in Harrogate – productive, though! #
  • On train to Harrogate from Leeds – nice day, not too hot…yet! #
  • Busy but productive day had today – no time to Tweet! 🙂 #
  • Am trying out this #pomodoro business – seems to be working…if weird! #
  • Going to grab Wednesday by the nose and kick it's ass! 🙂 #
  • To D'Amico Catering – Minneapolis. Following someone in Sheffield, UK, FOUR TIMES is rather excessive! #
  • Good day in Harrogate – doing some late night debugging with surprising success! #
  • Perhaps it's time for Simon Burns to be given more time with his family? (poor buggers) #
  • Printing from an #ipad – love it! #
  • Off to Harrogate today – hope to have a very productive day! #
  • iPhone 4 'best Apple launch' – – Hello? Succesful launch where a smartphone couldn't get on the Internet? WTF? #fail #
  • RT @KatTansey: "The world needs for us to have courage." Robert McKee #
  • For my Scrum friends RT @ukmsdn: Blog @ericnel: Scrum Developer (.NET) Training in London 26th to 30th July #
  • Good news – Tesco's Commonside Appeal rejected – they still have one more shot, though. #
  • #dontgocapello …and other teams manage to be motivated and proud to play for their country. Keep the boss – kick a few player's arses. #
  • #dontgocapello – how is it that every other team has players in positions they're not used to but still manages to defend reasonably well… #
  • Not just ANY wasteful packaging…this is M&S wasteful packaging… #fb #
  • Shed Wars #swapwordinfilmwithshed #
  • A Shed too Far #swapwordinfilmwithshed #
  • Shed of Dreams #swapwordinfilmwithshed #
  • Phones at the FA glowing red as #eng players ring up asking whether their advertisng revenues will be hit… #
  • #eng My only thought is that very few people who wear an England jersey give a shit. #
  • #eng – Maybe manager problems, but why do we have the same problem with EVERY manager and EVERY England team? It must be something basic. #
  • As Comic Book Man might say…worst. #eng defence. ever. #
  • Why are #eng players good in premiership and f**king awful in tournaments? Money? Attitude? Disappointment at 5 star hotels? #
  • Based on the performance, #ger 4 #eng 1 is fair – the Lampard disallowed goal is an issue but NOT relevant – #eng defence more important! #

Powered by Twitter Tools

The Movie Star and the Secret Weapon…..

This blog post was originally an article I had published in an amateur radio magazine some years ago…enjoy!  Another example of how it’s often the ‘amateurs’ who deliver the goods.

How about this for a movie script; an actress flees her homeland after it is taken over by a murderous dictatorship, and settles in the United States.  Within a few years she is well known for her films, but has also invented a secret communications method for her adopted homeland.
Far fetched?  Well, I thought so too until I learnt about Hedy Lamarr and her invention of Spread Spectrum technology.  In this article I’ll tell the story of how the team of this glamorous icon of the 1940s and her musical director came up with a technology that is widely used today in cellular phones and many other communication systems.

Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on September 11, 1913 in the city of Vienna, Austria, at the time part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.  She married an industrialist called Fritz Mandl, and from him this highly intelligent young woman picked up a lot of information and gossip about the armaments industry with which he was involved in.  Unlike her husband, who became enamoured of the Nazi party, Hedwig, who’d already started doing some acting, left for London and then went on to Hollywood to take up acting.  A swift name change soon followed, and Hedy Lamarr was born.  She had starred in some rather ‘risqué’ movies, particularly ‘Ecstasy’, by the time that she and her musical arranger, George Antheil, found themselves at a dinner party one evening in 1940 thinking about the unfolding European war.

Guided Weapons

The United States, then neutral, was developing a number of weapons that depended upon radio signals for guidance.  Amongst these was a guided torpedo, which could be steered towards it’s target by a radio signal.  However, there was a problem; any radio guided missile had a weak link in that given adequate warning that such missiles were in use Nazi scientists could easily produce a radio receiver that could be used by prospective targets to detect the signals used to control the missile or torpedo and then a transmitter could be used to jam the guidance system.  Indeed, the jamming signal could be very simple; it might be enough to tune a transmitter to the signal frequency and just turn it on.  As the missile approached the target the controlling signal would be weakening with distance from the guiding plane or ship, while the jamming signal on the target would get stronger.  Eventually it would overwhelm the guidance signal with the effect that the missile would effectively become a ‘dumb’ weapon and simply carry on in a straight line past the target.

Frequency Hopping

So, what could you do?  Hedy was a smart cookie, as they say; she quickly realised that if it were possible for the guidance signal to randomly change frequency it would be difficult for the enemy to actually detect the signal in the first place, and virtually impossible for them to then transmit a jamming signal that would follow the guidance signal.  This ‘frequency hopping’ would need to be random and fairly frequent  to prevent the enemy predicting which frequency would be used next.  Changing the frequency of the transmitted signal on such a basis would be reasonably straight forward to achieve; what was more difficult, Lamarr realised, was making sure that the receiver on the missile or torpedo was able to synchronise itself with the transmitted signal so that as the transmitter changed frequency the receiver would change it’s receive frequency at the same time.  Don’t forget, by the way, that this was before the invention of the transistor; all radio communications depended upon valves, and the computer, even in it’s most rudimentary form, would not appear until 3 years later and would then occupy a whole room…not the stuff you could fit in the head of a torpedo no more than two feet in diameter.

Player piano

The composer George Antheil was a friend and colleague of Lamarr’s, and due in part to his background as a composer he imagined that one possible solution to the problem of synchronising transmitter and receiver would be to incorporate some sort of switching mechanism in to the transmitter and receiver that could read a ‘tape’ of instructions, a little like the punched paper strips read by automatic ‘player pianos’.  These machines read cards or paper tape similar to what would be later used to program computers, and as the tape was ‘read’ through the machine the holes in the tape caused musical notes to be played.  Analogously, thought Antheil, it should be possible for the tape in the transmitter to switch the transmitted frequency as it was slowly unwound through some sort of electronic switch capable of detecting holes in the tape, and similarly an identical tape in the receiver should be able to switch receiver circuits to different frequencies for signal reception.  If you had two identical tapes, unwound at the same rate, one in the transmitter and one in the receiver, you could synchronise the transmitter and receiver to stay in step with each other.  Of course, any mechanical system is prone to slippage and slight losses of synchronisation, but the principle was there. In December 1940, the concept of a communication system based upon ‘frequency hopping’  was submitted by Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil  to the National Inventors Council, a US Government organisation that was co-ordinating technical developments for the war effort.  The patent, number 2,292,387 was eventually filed on June 10th 1941 and was granted over a year later in August 1942, when the Britain, the US and the USSR were up to their necks in the series of defeats that would only be halted at El Alamein and Stalingrad.  Now would be a very good time for a secret weapon to be developed…..

The Practicalities

Unfortunately, the practicalities of setting this up would prove to be too difficult; the synchronising tapes would have had to be paper tapes, and the whole technical issue of putting fairly complex electronics and mechanics in to the small and rough environment of a bomb or torpedo was too much.  Lamarr and Antheil gave their Patent to the US Government as part of the war effort, but their creation would have to wait for almost 20 years until the invention of the transistor and other semiconductor devices allowed the construction of practical, if crude, frequency hopping equipment that was based around digital circuits that created a reproducible, but apparently random, string of random electronic impulses that could switch circuitry with no moving parts.

Practical Uses

The patent lapsed in the early 1960s, at the heart of the cold war, and the US Navy immediately put the system to use using semiconductor technology to create a frequency hopping secure communications system.  This was the start of the military use of ‘spread spectrum’ technology, the direct descendant of the Lamarr’s invention.  The technology would soon find itself used in a wide range of military communication systems, with frequency switching taking place many times a second making it difficult for an enemy to even detect a signal; a spread spectrum signal heard on a ‘normal’ radio receiver just sounds like a slightly higher than usual level of noise on the channel.    The technology was eventually de-classified in the 1980s, just in time for the technology to be used in cellular telephone systems.  To see why this technology is useful one has to consider that a lot of cellular phones are in use in the same geographical area.  It’s not really feasible for a given phone to be given it’s own frequency, as there just aren’t enough frequencies.  Instead, cellular phones can transmit on a number of frequencies and the frequency in use will ‘switch’ as the phone call is made and the user moves from one ‘cell’ on the cellular network to another.  The switching from frequency to frequency also reduces the effect of interference on the signal; an interfering signal that is strong on one frequency may be quite weak on another, and so although some of the signal may be lost there is a greater chance for the signal to ‘get through’.

In addition to the cellular phone, low level spread spectrum transmitters are used in ‘wireless’ computer networks, where data is sent from portable computers to other computers by UHF or microwave radio signals.  Again, single frequencies would not be feasible in a busy office environment or city centre, so the network adapters that allow the computers to talk to one another use spread spectrum techniques to improve reliability and data security; unless you know a lot about the network it’s quite hard to listen in and detect computer traffic on wireless networks due to the frequency hopping.

The algorithms used to control the frequency hopping in different spread spectrum systems are quite varied, depending upon the job in hand.  For example, cellular phones and wireless network cards use chips that generate a pseudo random string of pulses.  Two devices in communication will initiate the session by exchanging enough information to set the ‘start’ position for the random pulse chain.  Provided the two systems start from the same place, they’ll keep in synchrony.  Alternatively, the message to ‘change frequency’ might be actually transmitted to the receiver as part of the transmitted signal.  This approach is also used in cellular phones and wireless network cards.  Data about when to switch and what frequency to switch to is sent as a data packet.  This isn’t terribly secure as anyone with patience and the correct equipment can  log the data packets and simulate the receiver.  The ultimate in secure spread spectrum probably involves the modern equivalent of the ‘one time pad’; a CD Rom or memory chip is used at each end; these devices contain a string of totally random noise pulses from a natural source, like solar radio noise or noise from noise diodes.  A CD ROM might contain enough ‘bits’ for a few dozen messages; a copy would be made and the copy sent to the receiver site, usually under diplomatic protection.  The CD ROM would be used for communications, and then after each block of bits is used for a single message it’s never sued again.  Combined with a suitable cipher system, this sort of communication is undetectable (don’t forget that the signal sounds like an increase in local noise) and even if it is detected the cipher system ensures that no one else can read the message. 

And Finally……

And finally, what did Hedy and George get for all their cleverness?  Well, until the late 1990s, not much.  Apparently they never even received a formal thank you letter from the US Government.  But before she died in 2000,  Hedy Lamarr received an award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation recognising her contributions to modern computer technology, even though it took place 50 years before.  George Antheil died before he could get the award, but at least now the contribution of the composer and the actress to modern communications has finally been recognised.

Chasing Cars

‘Chasing Cars’ is the name of a song by the band ‘Snow Patrol’.  I quite like it – I’m a sucker for sad songs and this is a fine example of the genre.  However, it has a little bit of ‘back story’.  According to Wikipedia:

“The phrase “Chasing Cars” came from [singer Gary ] Lightbody’s father, in reference to a girl Lightbody was infatuated with, “You’re like a dog chasing a car. You’ll never catch it and you just wouldn’t know what to do with it if you did.”

That phrase has stuck with me, and I have to say that over recent months I’ve been considering more and more how much time we all spend ‘chasing cars’ in our lives.  I’m currently going through one of those times in my life of what can best be described as ‘internal reflection’ (Some unkind folks might call it ‘loafing’ or ‘contemplating my navel’; I’m not listening… 🙂 ) and I guess that some of what’s going through my head right now is a product of that.

What cars do I chase?  Well, I suppose over the years I’ve been a good starter and not so good finisher; ideas are very cheap – I was saying this to a group of start-up people recently – and what counts is implementing those ideas in a form that makes them usable.  If it’s an idea for a business, build a business that’s making money; if for a novel, a written manuscript; if for a cunning invention – a working prototype.  I’ve had a few opportunities over the years that have been very close to what most folks would have called ‘big hitting success’ but that didn’t come to fruition.  On a few occasions I’ve definitely considered that, rather than being afraid of failing, I’ve previously been much more afraid of success.

For quite a few opportunity-filled years I was, looking back on it, chasing cars; had I managed to get what I was allegedly going for I’m not sure I’d have known what to do with it.  Were the same opportunities to present themselves today, I can say two things; I’d give them a rather closer going over to make sure that I really DID want to chase ’em, and then when I’d made the decision I’d get out there yapping and barking until I caught ’em.

The trick is to know WHY you’re chasing your ideas and projects; what are you wanting to get from them?  Money? Fame? Success with women / men / small dogs?  Free food and drink at your local pub?  Or do you just want to contribute to society?  Grow spiritually? Help out folks less fortunate than yourself? Get your own back on folks who upset you at school?

Don’t let yourself chase cars in your life without being reasonably sure you’ll know what to do if you manage to catch the object of your desire; I’ve been there and it’s a bloody waste of time if you’re not sure!