Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Digital flight ban, Bank plays my cards close to its chest

Last push on the Quekett Bulletin and have done the bulk of the work, just a day or two more work to do. It will have to wait a week as I travel to Spain tomorrow.

Seeing as I'm flying, the news today is particularly of interest. Earlier today, the US banned the carriage of electronic devices large than a smartphone in cabin baggage for airline passengers from 10 airports in north Africa and the Middle East, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia. This was followed by the UK, which instigated a similar ban.

The devices have to be placed in the checked baggage in the hold, creating , as stated on the BBC, new opportunities for thieves!

The fear is that cavities in laptops and other digital devices could be used to hide explosives.

As well as striking the fear of work withdrawal in executives from the restricted countries on long haul flights, there have also been the first cries of anguish from parents whose children cannot be digitally sedated.

Now unsure whether I should take the additional charger for my phone

The other frustrating thing today was trying to ensure that my cards would not be blocked whilst away. The bank advises going online and registering your trip. This is what I did. When I then tried to check on my entry, it looked as if it had not been submitted. So I tried a further two times before initiating the online chat help. They could not help me apart from passing me on to the security section, who I should call. Phoned the number and got through to the fraud section. After a long wait in the queue, it turned out I should be talking to customer services and they passed me on. I then had to go through the same security checks as online, for someone to acess my account and enter exactly the same information that I did, with no absolute guarantee that the card would not be blocked anyway.

Over an hour later, both cards allegedly registered for travel abroad, I also had the two phone numbers to use in a blocked card emergency.

Brexit preparations had not only given me a worse exchange rate for Pounds to Euros. The price pressures of additional fuel costs and other food and commodity prices is gradually creeping up the list of main worries for UK consumers.

Some good news for space science as President Trump signs legislation funding NASA for the coming year. NASA will continue its efforts to eventually send humans to Mars, and the legislation "amends current law by adding human exploration of Mars as one of the goals and objectives of NASA and directs NASA to manage human space flight programs to enable humans to explore Mars and other destinations," according to a statement from Ted Cruz of Texas.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Milk Chocolate and Old News Confirmed re Brexit and Wiretapping

As Jane says, the "Saga of the Fruit Pastilles" continues, this time using milk chocolate. The mental battle is now on to retain enough of these to use as a gift later in the week.

Visited textile artist Heidi Lichterman this morning. In-between discovering her magical chocolate saucepan and finalising the new website (going live next month), we had fun expanding our vocabulary of descriptive colours and shades for her beautiful silk scarves.

Prime Mister Theresa May has been letting us know that she would be initiating Article 50 at the end of the month. It was therefore a total surprise and therefore eminently newsworthy, when she declared that she would invoke Article 50 on the 29th March, 2017. Not sure I can stand the tension until the fateful surprise announcement next week.

The other anticlimax of the day was FBI Director Comey appearing in front of the House Intelligence Committee and a) confirming that the FBI was indeed investigating possible links between the Trump campaign team and the Russians and b) That there was no evidence that  former president, Barak Obama ordered, or even could order, a wiretap of Trump Tower or the current President Trump. This was underlined by National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers who also confirmed that accusing the British intelligence Service at GCHQ was not actually a constructive move, apart from being factually false.

It is a very effective distraction from the actual progress of the Government with its healthcare bill reforms and proposed budget. In the meantime, Trump goes to Kentucky to relive his campaign and bask in the reassuring warmth of supporters, ignoring the heat in the White House kitchen.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Chocolate coated sweets, Brexit ignites common sense.

Chocolate coated pastilles might make better gifts; Big guns speak out against hard Brexit rhetoric, Public sees breakup of UK more likely with Brexit.

Pastille mix set and fairly firm, sliced beautifully, and could be cut into cubes. When covered n granulated sugar, they looked and tasted delicious, if slightly soft.

However, if I wanted to give them as a gift, there was a problem. The sugar coating gradually took on moisture during the day. Therefore, in between cooking lunch, I tried covering some slightly thinner rectangles in chocolate. This transformed the sweets into a totally different taste experience, as well as making them longer lasting and more transportable.

It's good to see a continued call for some common sense in Brexit negotiations with former Prime Minister John Major pointing out the lack of substance and predominance of bluster by the Brexiteers. Liberal leader Tim Fallon invited the more rational Tories to come over and vote with them. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair recommended Labour to be prepared to offer voters the option of staying in a reformed European Union if the Government fails in the Brexit negotiations of “unparalleled complexity”.

Ironically, public opinion is definitely taking a greater interest in what is happening in the rest of Europe, with the Dutch election just past and the French presidential elections heating up, to be followed by German elections later. As noted in the Guardian, it has taken Brexit to see that Europe does have a big impact on us in the UK.

A survey by Opinion reveals that 54% of Britons think that a breakup of the union is more likely to lead to a breakup of the UK. The figure rises to 65% in Scotland.

US rumblings at a low point today, awaiting the questioning of the security agencies this coming week.


Saturday, 18 March 2017

Pastilles, Pectin, Sweets and Trump's Testy Tweets


Making better fruit pastilles, the importance of pectin, President Trumps mixed message tweets and plans for The Wall

Yesterday's orange pastille mix was too soft, so converted it to marmalade. It turned out I needed more pectin. I therefore set up a new mix with peaches, sugar, lemon juice and 30g pectin in solution (most of the bottle of liquid). This time it set much better on cooling. See what tomorrow brings.

But what is pectin? Pectin is found in the plant cell walls, helping give them stiffness. We probably eat about 1g or pectin in every 100g of vegetable and fruit in our diet. Although it is made up of chains of sugars, mainly D-galacturonic acid, it is more a type of dietary fibre than a nutrient for us humans. However, it does have health properties, aiding the passage of food though our guts, reducing sugar uptake and binding cholesterol. Because it can be used to make gels and give food a better texture, pectin is used in a variety of processed products - including jams and sweets.

Unripe apples and the peel of citrus fruits are particularly rich in pectin. and used for its commercial extraction. In contrast, soft fruits like strawberries are low in pectin. This is important in jam making as it is the pectin that makes jam set. Whilst commercial fruit pastilles are made using animal derived gelatin, they can also be made using plant based pectin, as I've been trying to do.

President Trump's tweets continue to sow confusion about US policy. Examples include his response to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit:
"Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel..."
immediately followed by:
"Nevertheless, Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!"
The latter statement appears to be a misunderstanding of the role of NATO, it is not a paid service provided by the US,
Worrying too, that whilst U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is trying to bring China on board in having an influence on North Korea, POTUS tweets:
"North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been "playing" the United States for years. China has done little to help".

However, the much proclaimed wall between the US and Mexico is in the pre-solicitation stage. The specifications have been set, for example the walls height at 9 m (30 feet) height and minimum requirements for aesthetics, at least on the US side. As part of the process, a selected list of contenders will  asked to build demonstration sections of the wall to illustrate their designs and proposals. Not sure if the Mexicans, designated payees, have any say in the selection process.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Wetherspoons, GCHQ and US 'Fake News' sources, Brexit and the Union


Wetherspoons in Huntingdon; Chilly response from UK/GCHQ to US wire-tap claim; Best news sources; Brexit more important than Union.

A bit of website work in the morning before setting off for Huntingdon, with the aim of bagging a table at Wetherspoons for this weeks HBN meet. Up to now, I'd taken the statement that the Wetherspoon Ordering app only worked on i-phones as gospel. Being there early, I enjoyed finding out that the app certainly worked on my android phone and promptly placed an order for a tandoori chicken starter and diet Pepsi. They arrived at the same time as the first HBNers. We had a lively lunch with two large tables drawn together and conversation bouncing back and forth. I was pleased to hear that the transcription of an interview I'd conducted for a company was useful and the source of future blog articles.

It was a chilly, blustery grey day and, coming over the bridge back to the car park on the Godmanchester side of the river, the ruin by the riverbank facing imminent destruction caught my eye. The wind was so strong that the pedestrian bridge was actually wallowing up and down slightly.

I bought some oranges, lemons and liquid pectin on the way home. After dinner, I used them to make some orange fruit pastels.  They have set and need to stand further overnight.

In the absence of finding any evidence of wiretapping of Trump by the US agencies, his spokesman Sean Spicer claimed that Obama had sidestepped them and actually had GCHQ do the dirty deed. This generated a sharp response from the UK government and an unprecedented statement by GCHQ itself that this was not the case and - please DO NOT MENTION IT AGAIN. This was obviously respected by the White House, because, when asked about this issue at the Merkel -Trump press meeting, President Trump stated that they had not themselves claimed that GCHQ was responsible for the wiretap, rather that they were merely quoting a very talented lawyer on Fox News.

Perhaps this is a sign that the expensive public FBI and CIA can be scrapped and replaced by an independent commercial organisation, Fox News. Blindingly obvious in retrospect. After all, according to POTUS, news agencies generally spew out 'Fake News', so where better to get your own fake news from?!

It looked like an uncomfortable meeting between Merkel and Trump, for example the ignored offer of a handshake by Merkel, but at least she is the pragmatic realistic one. She did comment that it was better to talk with one-another rather than about one another.

According to a Telegraph survey, sixty percent of respondents polled thought that Brexit was more important than  keeping the UK together. Now I can quite believe that - you can be for or against Brexit and regard it as an important issue.

The follow on claim that "the majority of people would still vote for Brexit, even if they knew it could trigger Scotland's independence" bears closer scrutiny. According to the article's charts, 50.5% would still vote for Brexit. The percentage seems to reflect the Brexit voters anyway, i.e. those who are predominantly from England, so maybe national self-interest dominates. Perhaps the source of the survey, the ORB, will reveal more detail in the near future. The Telegraph article can be found here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/03/17/brexit-important-keeping-uk-together-public-say-poll-telegraph/

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Inspirational Women, SNP Powderkeg lit, Slasher Trump Budget

Author Ruth Moulder at Histon Library Library evening talk on Inspirational Women
A day of visits, talk of inspirational women, Brexit news squeezed by other political turmoil, no evidence for Trump wiretapping followed by slasher budget.

A morning visit to a prospective client in Cambridge again impressed me with the fact that there are still many people who are just daunted by technology and need assistance and reassurance. A fascinating afternoon with the prospective speaker/interviewee for April's Milton Local History Group meeting.

Today's highlight was the evening talk by author Ruth Moulder at Histon Library. We arrived early at a library in the dark as the volunteers and staff arrived. There was a good-natured melee revealing the complexities of entering after hours - without initiating the alarm and inadvertently expanding the audience with the men and women in blue. We all mucked in to move heavy book shelves on wheels out of the way and create a cozy seating corner amongst the books. Ruth's book "These Wonderful Lives" arose from a need to provide stories of inspirational women for children. I really liked the way she used the theme as the topic for the evening's talk with the book playing a secondary part. It generated a lot of lively discussion afterwards.

Best quote of the day today by Michael Portillo on tonight's "'Allo 'Allo" themed intro to 'Question Time' with his toast "May you have 'A Piness for all of your life". It could be his most memorable epitaph.

The Queen's assent to the Article 50 Bill today disappeared in a smorgasbord of other political tit-bits. These included the stab in the back (or not) of the Chancellor by the Prime Minister, the latter also lighting the blue touchpaper under the SNP powderkeg by rejecting Nicola Sturgeon's call for a second independence vote. Then there was the fining of the Conservatives to the tune of £70,000 for breaking election expenses rules.

Across the pond and after last night's blow to POTUS's travel ban in Hawaii, a second federal judge in Maryland ruled against it, forbidding the core provision of the travel ban from going into effect.  The combined House and Senate Intelligence Committee stated that they had not seen any evidence that Trump or Trump Towers had been tapped. President Trump's budget is released and it plans cuts to funding for all departments (including infrastructure, which was promised an increase) by between 11.7% for the Department of the Interior to 31.4% for the Environmental Protection Agency. Defence was the only exception. It looks like the less well off and the environment are due to suffer.

Across the Channel, some reassuring news as the far right does not win in the Dutch elections. However, the tension increases between Turkey and the EU with wild accusations still emanating from the former.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

A14 Artwork, Hard Brexit and US Travel Ban Flaws


Trip to St Ives and A14 artwork under threat; David Davis admits no economic assessment of hard Brexit made since he became Brexit Secretary; Trump travel ban II blocked.

Business trip in the morning to St Ives. The A14 roadworks now begun in earnest and leading to traffic queues and speed restrictions. Until now, there has been an isolated small farm building just beyond the Swavesey/Service station turnoff travelling West. The building was notable for the graffiti which a couple of years ago proclaimed "You are now leaving the future", then more recently "The Future". Today it looked vulnerable as it stood exposed amidst the earth clearance taking place.

This evening consisted of two meetings, the Milton Patient Participation group at the Surgery and then the monthly meeting of the Milton Photographic Club at the church hall. The latter was a show and tell. These are always interesting, not only because of the different images and perspectives of the group's photographers, but for the unexpected tips you gain.

Today I came away with the insight that if you photograph a red object on a blue background, you reveal more detail in the red object, rather than saturating it out. I'll have to play a bit to see if this really a function of he contrast when capturing the raw image, or whether the combination works best with the automatic adjustments for exposure made by the camera software.

Today there was the astonishing revelation by Brexit Secretary David Davis to the Brexit Select Committee. There had been no costings since the referendum of the consequences of a Hard Brexit with no deal. This was rather surprising since he had been asking his Cabinet colleagues to at least prepare for the possibility of a hard Brexit, however undesirable it might be.

The revelation was buried by the major u-turn by the Chancellor on changes to National Insurance Contributions by sole traders and businesses.

News hot off the press as I write on Trump's second travel ban. It has been blocked by a Hawaiian federal Judge and the ruling applies nationwide. CNN states 'US District Court judge Derrick Watson concluded that the new executive order still failed to pass legal muster'. He was rather scathing:

"The illogic of the Government's contentions is palpable. The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed,"

"Equally flawed is the notion that the Executive Order cannot be found to have targeted Islam because it applies to all individuals in the six referenced countries. It is undisputed, using the primary source upon which the Government itself relies, that these six countries have overwhelmingly Muslim populations that range from 90.7% to 99.8%."

"It would therefore be no paradigmatic leap to conclude that targeting these countries likewise targets Islam." "Certainly, it would be inappropriate to conclude, as the Government does, that it does not."

Other good news, the far-right takes a knock in the Netherlands elections.