Monday, December 27, 2010

Rationing Health

The Beeb pointed me to this website about the different ways of controlling healthcare spending in the UK, South Africa, India, Zambia.

It is aimed at a US audience. Pertinently it asks ...

Who lives? Who decides?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Does the NHS need this?

... and for that matter does the public need this?

Our new government is to do away with Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities. "Government to press ahead with radical NHS reform plans". More bureaucratic upset and confusion in the NHS. Haven't we had enough of "radical NHS reform plans"?

And who is going to replace the PCTs and the SHAs?

Of course, it's obvious ... the GPs!


What the fuck?

The CIA has set up a Wikileaks Task Force!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Don Van Vliet

Don Van Vliet died on Friday last.

The art of the disposessed?

Don Van Vliet, known under his musical pseudonym as "Captain Beefheart", has been a hero of mine, (along with Frank Zappa - a close friend and collabarator), since the tender age of 14 years. Just as Punk was emerging, with the Damned, the Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks, the Clash, Siousie and the Banshees etc, my school colleagues were into Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull etc etc. In 1976-77 only a very few of us turned on to punk. But even then I couldn't turn them on to Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa.

The few obituaries I have seen (Rolling Stone, Guardian) emphasise his music and not his visual art.

His drawings and paintings, many done after his "retirement" from music, are as significant as the music. And the words to the music are poetry.

I was fortunate to see him perform at Wakefield Town Hall (of all places!) on his last UK tour in the early '80s (around the time of the "Doc at the Radar Station" album). I am fortunate to have three original paintings.

I am listening to Trout Mask Replica now. My children, my neighbours' children dance to Bat Chain Puller ... and I look at the paintings on my wall.

What should I quote?

The poet Ian McKellen recently chose "Moonlight in Vermont" on the BBC's eternal Desert Island Disks.

Obviously I cannot choose an instrumental ... I could give you Ant Man Bee, Ella Guru, Bat Chain Puller but I'll give you two less famous ditties ...


I walk, I talk
but nobody cares

I walk, I talk
but nobody hears

I walk, I talk
but nobody's there

And if they are
they give me
the parachoke stare

I walk
I don't know where

Everywhere I go I get
the parachoke stare


Apes Ma, Apes Ma

Your cage's too dirty Apes Ma

Remember when you were young Apes Ma
You used to break out of your cage
You know you're not strong enough to do that anymore

And Apes Ma
The little girl that named you years ago has died now
And you're older Apes Ma

Remember when your name was in the paper Apes Ma

Apes Ma, Apes Ma
You're eating too much
You're going to the bathroom too much, Apes Ma

And Apes Ma
Your cage isn't getting any bigger, Apes Ma

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Assange granted bail

Julian Assange, founder of Wikipedia, has been granted bail!

Congratulations to all!


A long time since I blogged anything about leukaemia and medicine.

However, I have been pointed (thanks Andy - didn't realise until today you had commented way back when!) to this report on the Beeb about research just published in The Lancet regarding the highly successful use of Mitoxantrone in the treatment of relapsed childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. So successful in fact that the trial abandoned use of the traditional medication, Idarubicin - "Randomisation was stopped in December, 2007 because of differences in progression-free and overall survival between the two groups".

And seemingly the drug is cheap as well!

Cá Kho Tra

My friend and erstwhile employer, Morais, took me for a business lunch with a client last week to the end of the road at the fishing village of Sta Catarina. We were both on the look out for fresh fish and, in my case, fresh tuna (I had been eyeing not so fresh albacore on the city market for a week!). And I found one!

Why was I looking for fresh tuna? Because I had come across this simple but fascinating recipe from Vietnam in Alan Davidson’s Seafood of South-East Asia:

“This dish is best made with tunny, but other fish with a relatively high fat content, for example Spanish mackerel, may be used. One effect of the tea is to balance the fat. The tea itself may be ordinary black tea if lotus tea (that is to say, tea containing the little white glands from lotus flowers) is not available.

800 grams tunny, in steaks

cooking oil

lotus tea

100 grams pork, diced (optional)

1 small onion, sliced

1 ½ soupspoonfuls nuoc nam (fish sauce)

½ teaspoonful black pepper

1 ½ soupspoonfuls sugar

Heat the oil and cook the tunny steaks in it until they are beginning to turn brown. Reserve them. Meanwhile make a pot of quite strong tea.

Put the fish and pork in a roomy casserole, pour the tea over them, add all the other ingredients and let the whole mixture simmer over a low flame for 40 minutes (or longer if the steaks are very thick).”

I used one tuna steak of perhaps 1 ½ cm thick and black tea – other ingredients as above. The Nuoc Nam is I think essential. If you’ve gone to the expense of buying good tuna, buy good rice to accompany.


Morais asked me for the recipe today so here it is!

Good luck and Bon Appetit!

Aphorisms XI

A long time since I posted an aphorism - I'm not changing the header but here's a good one from an 1897 letter by perhaps the Master of Aphorisms, Oscar Wilde.

“I would sooner have fifty unnatural vices than one unnatural virtue. It is unnatural virtue that makes the world, for those who suffer, such a premature hell.”

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Julian Assange update

Julian Assange has been refused bail and will remain in custody until 14 December. Beeb here.

Wikileaks, Bahnhof, Switch

Seemingly Bahnhof as yet has received no threats of legal action - a bit of a surprise given Sweden's efforts to "get" Julian Assange of Wikileaks over previously dismissed sex offence accusations and Sweden's equivalent of the MPAA's former efforts to "sting" Bahnhof over file-sharing (see previous posts).

The Swiss Internet company Switch is also resisting pressure ...

From the Guardian:

"WikiLeaks site's Swiss registrar dismisses pressure to take it offline

Swiss registrar Switch says there is 'no reason' why WikiLeaks should be forced off internet, despite French and US demands

WikiLeaks has been fighting to stay online since releasing a cache of sensitive diplomatic cables to five international media organisations.

WikiLeaks received a boost tonight when Switzerland rejected growing international calls to force the site off the internet.

The whistleblowers site, which has been publishing leaked US embassy cables, was forced to switch domain names to yesterday after the US host of its main website,, pulled the plug following mounting political pressure.

The site's new Swiss registrar, Switch, today said there was "no reason" why it should be forced offline, despite demands from France and the US. Switch is a non-profit registrar set up by the Swiss government for all 1.5 million Swiss .ch domain names.

The reassurances come just hours after eBay-owned PayPal, the primary donation channel to WikiLeaks, terminated its links with the site, citing "illegal activity". France yesterday added to US calls for all companies and organisations to terminate their relationship with WikiLeaks following the release of 250,000 secret US diplomatic cables.

The Swiss Pirate Party, which registered the domain name earlier this year on behalf of the site, said Switch had reassured the party that it would not block the site.

An email sent by Denis Simonet, president of the Swiss Pirate Party, to international members of the liberal political group said: "Some minutes ago I got good news: Switch, the registrar for .ch domains, told us that there is no reason to block"

Laurence Kaye, leader of the UK-based Pirate Party, tonight told the Guardian: "International Pirate Parties now have an integral role in allowing access to WikiLeaks. I wish some of our other politicians had the same guts.

"We support the WikiLeaks project as access to information is the prerequisite for an informed and engaged democracy."

Julian Assange

Julian Assange handed himself in to London police at 0930 this morning and is expected to appear in a magistrate's court later.

Meanwhile hackers (Operation Payback) brought down the website of PostFinance on Monday night and are threatening to the same to PayPal - what about Mastercard? However, as I write the PostFinance website is back up.

Wikileaks Donations

Yesterday I wondered on how Wikileaks would continue to receive donations since PayPal shut its account down (and now its Swiss bank Post Finance and Mastercard - see here).

Here's how.

In other news it seems that Julian Assange is going to turn himself in today, will appear in court and apply for bail.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wikileaks - technical

Various bits and pieces about how Wikileaks is getting past Amazon and EveryDNS blocks and how you can help (if you have a server).

The list of Wikileak mirrors is here. And how to set up a Wikileaks mirror is here.

From the Guardian we have an explanation of the Wikileak IP trail.

Would like to know how the Paypal donation block is going to be got around.

Wikileaks and censoring the US Government

From the Juan Cole post I cited earlier:

"The Obama administration is forbidding government employees to call up the wikileaks documents on government computers, including those at the Library of Congress and on military bases. That policy is just plain stupid, and unworthy of Obama’s renowned intellect. I don’t want my intelligence analysts not knowing about the fall-out from the wikileaks cables!"

I confirmed this with a US government source in the International Broadcasting Bureau (the USG's media bureau - Voice of America, Radio Marti etc etc) this morning:

I believe there is an Executive Order prohibiting any unauthorized USG computer from accessing Wikileaks. That would cover VOA reporters too."

Shooting yourself in the foot?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Wikileaks update

The weekend seems to have been relatively quiet on the Wikileaks front.

Only two real breaking stories but some interesting commentary and background.

The breaking stories are that the latest release of US State Dept. cables includes one requesting an inventory of strategic points of interest to the US in each country where it is represented.

In this story the lawyers of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange claim they are being hassled by the security services.

Some interesting background and commentary:

First up is Swedish ISP Bahnhof's role in keeping Wikileaks online (from CNN! and pointed out to me by friends at Bahnhof who are also the technical contact for the São Tomé e Príncipe domain).

Then we have Marc Ambinder in the US National Journal questioning the IT systems that allowed how US military private Bradley Manning had access (in Iraq at the time) to so much classified material.

You can no longer donate to Wikileaks using Paypal.

Finally, extremely well-argued commentary from Juan Cole (which I don't entirely agree with) on Informed Comment.

EveryDNS and Wikileaks Part II

The Beeb has picked up on the story of Wikileaks being thrown off the EveryDNS service. So Wikileaks relocated to a server at IP address or http:/ (in Switzerland). Meanwhile a whole bunch of Wikileak mirrors have cropped up - list available at

Ironically, and to quote from the BBC,

"One web expert explained that Wikileaks had managed to re-establish web access via a different address,

"Users visiting the website appear to be directed via a Swedish website on to a server in France which is now hosting their main website," explained Sebastien Lahtinen, director of web hosting firm NetConnex.

In a surprising twist, the .ch address is also hosted by EveryDNS.

"It seems a strange choice given that they pulled the plug on the .org address just a few hours ago," said Paul Mutton, a security analyst at internet services firm Netcraft. "It could be that Wikileaks is quite happy to play a cat and mouse game with them," he added."

EveryDNS and Wikileaks

So here is the EveryDNS press release on its suspension of Wikileaks ...

"All systems are functioning normally. provided domain name system (DNS) services to the domain name until 10PM EST, December 2, 2010, when such services were terminated. As with other users of the network, this service was provided for free. The termination of services was effected pursuant to, and in accordance with, the Acceptable Use Policy.

More specifically, the services were terminated for violation of the provision which states that "Member shall not interfere with another Member's use and enjoyment of the Service or another entity's use and enjoyment of similar services." The interference at issues arises from the fact that has become the target of multiple distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks. These attacks have, and future attacks would, threaten the stability of the infrastructure, which enables access to almost 500,000 other websites.

Thus, last night, at approximately 10PM EST, December 1, 2010 a 24 hour termination notification email was sent to the email address associated with the account. In addition to this email, notices were sent to Wikileaks via Twitter and the chat function available through the website. Any downtime of the website has resulted from its failure to use another hosted DNS service provider."

Amazon and Wikileaks

So we are told here by Amazon why they took down Wikileaks - of course not political pressure!

Bahnhof and Wikileaks

Wikileaks principal host was on servers. Amazon stopped hosting earlier this week. But Wikileaks had back-up servers including at Bahnhof one of Sweden's largest ISPs and a partner in São Tomé's national domain holder. Wikileaks used the firm everydns ( to provide DNS services (i.e. resolving web addresses to IP addresses).

I am in formed that everydns has stopped providing DNS services for them early Friday morning due to Denial-of-Service attacks and hence Wikileaks is offline.

I also noted this morning that the UK Guardian newspaper's Wikileaks blog was offline but seems to be back up now ...

I am assured that they will switch dns-provider.


Strange I cannot find anything on the Siemens website about Stuxnet.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Stuxnet again

Reading the heavily technical Symantec report on Stuxnet. It gets stranger and stranger ...

From what I understand first the Siemens PLC needs to be infected via Siemens proprietary Step 7 Windows-based software. Then the PLC needs to connect to "Command and Control" servers via an Internet link. Only then can a programmer change the code in the PLC. Symantec has monitored infections through connections to these Command and Control servers.

The apparent sudden cessation of Iranian infections in August is probably due, according to Symantec, to the Iranians shutting down Internet connections between PLCs and the C & C servers, rather than a real end to infections.

What I haven't fathomed yet is why/how come Iran bought so heavily into Siemens PLC and Step 7 technology and why other countries with the same Siemens PLCs have not been so affected ... is Siemens marketshare so much smaller? ... surely other countries are just as prone to IT security lapses as Iran? ... was Siemens part of the story? ... is there something in Symantec's technical discussion missing e.g. deliberate geographical targetting?

More as I read more ...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Wikileak Saudi-Iran Cable

As we said yesterday, Iran claims this is CIA disinformation:

See paragraphs 10 and 11:

DE RUEHRH #0649/01 1110847
O 200847Z APR 08
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 RIYADH 000649




E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/19/2018

Classified By: CDA Michael Gfoeller, Reasons 1.4 (b,d)

1. (S) Summary: US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and
General David Petraeus met with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abd
al-Aziz, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, General
Presidency of Intelligence Chief Prince Muqrin bin Abd
al-Aziz, and Interior Minister Nayif bin Abd al-Aziz during
their April 14-15 visit to Riyadh. The Saudi King and senior
Princes reviewed Saudi policy toward Iraq in detail, all
making essentially the same points. They said that the
Kingdom will not send an ambassador to Baghdad or open an
embassy until the King and senior Saudi officials are
satisfied that the security situation has improved and the
Iraqi government has implemented policies that benefit all
Iraqis, reinforce Iraq's Arab identity, and resist Iranian
influence. The Saudis evinced somewhat greater flexibility
regarding the issues of economic and humanitarian assistance
for Iraq and debt forgiveness. In a conversation with the
Charge' on April 17, Saudi Ambassador to the US Adel
al-Jubeir indicated that the King had been very impressed by
the visit of Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus, and
al-Jubeir hinted that the Saudi government might announce
changes to its Iraq policy before the President's visit to
Riyadh in mid-May. End Summary.

Positive Signs in Iraq

2. (S) In all their meetings with the Saudi royals, both
Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus conveyed the progress
in Iraq and confirmed the negative role Iran is playing in
Iraq. They characterized the recent ISF-led operations in
Basra and Baghdad as having a striking effect against the
Shia militias, most importantly turning Iraqi public opinion
away from the militias. While Prime Minister Nuri
al-Maliki's decision to take action against the militias was
described as hasty and not well-planned, Ambassador Crocker
and General Petraeus emphasized that any tactical shortfalls
were overshadowed by the greater positive effect of unifying
Iraq and demonstrating the GOI's, and most specifically
al-Maliki's, determined resolve to take on the Shia militias,
especially Jaysh al-Madhi. Concurrently, these operations
unequivocally demonstrated Iran's subversive activities in
Iraq and its broader regional ambitions. Throughout all
their discussions, Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus
stressed the importance and urgent need for the Saudis to
join us in supporting Iraq.

The Saudi Embassy Issue

3. (S) King Abdullah, the Foreign Minister, and Prince
Muqrin all stated that the Saudi government would not send an
ambassador to Baghdad or open an embassy there in the near
future, citing both security and political grounds in support
of this position. The Foreign Minister stated that he had
considered dispatching an ambassador and had sent Saudi
diplomats to Baghdad to identify a site for the Saudi
embassy. However, he said. "the King simply forbade us to go
any farther." King Abdullah confirmed this account in a
separate meeting with Ambassador Crocker and General
Petraeus. The King asserted that the security situation in
Baghdad was too dangerous for him to risk sending a Saudi
ambassador there. "He would immediately become a target for
the terrorists and the militias," he said.

4. (S) The King also rejected the suggestion that by sending
a Saudi ambassador to Baghdad he could give essential
political support to the Iraqi government as it struggles to
resist Iranian influence and subversion. He expressed
lingering doubt on the Iraqi government's willingness to
resist Iran. He also repeated his frequently voiced doubts
about Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki himself by alluding to
his "Iranian connections." The Saudi monarch stated that he
does not trust al-Maliki because the Iraqi Prime Minister had
"lied" to him in the past by promising to take certain
actions and then failing to do so. The King did not say
precisely what these allegedly broken promises might have
been. He repeated his oft heard view that al-Maliki rules
Iraq on behalf of his Shiite sect instead of all Iraqis.

5. (S) However, in a potentially significant move, the King
did not reject the idea of dispatching a Saudi ambassador to
Baghdad completely. Instead, he said that he would consider

RIYADH 00000649 002 OF 003

doing so after the Iraqi provincial elections are held in the
autumn. The conduct of these elections would indicate
whether or not the Iraqi government is truly interested in
ruling on behalf of all Iraqis or merely in support of the
Shia, King Abdullah asserted.

Grudging Acknowledgment of Change in Iraq

6. (S) The Foreign Minister signaled another potential
softening in Saudi policy by saying that the Kingdom's
problem was not with al-Maliki as a person but rather with
the conduct of the Iraqi government. The King himself
admitted that the Iraqi government's performance has improved
in recent months and grudgingly accepted the point that
al-Maliki and his security forces have indeed been fighting
extremists, specifically Shia extremists in both Basra and
Baghdad and Sunni extremists and Al Qaeda in Mosul. However,
the King and the senior Princes argued that more time would
be required to judge whether the recent change in Iraqi
behavior was lasting and sincere. The King suggested that
much of the Iraqi government's improved performance is
attributable to US prodding rather than change in Iraqi

7. (S) The Foreign Minister also suggested that the USG
should prod Ayatollah Sistani to speak out in favor of a
unified Iraq and national reconciliation among different
Iraqi sects and groups. "You have paid a heavy price in
blood and treasure, and Sistani and his people have benefited
directly. You have every right to ask this of him," Prince
Saud al-Faisal said.

Possible Saudi Economic Assistance

8. (S) The King, Prince Muqrin, and the Foreign Minister all
suggested that the Saudi government might be willing to
consider the provision of economic and humanitarian
assistance to Iraq. Prince Muqrin asked Ambassador Crocker
and General Petraeus to send him a list of the kinds of
assistance that the US government would like to see the
Kingdom provide Iraq. Al-Jubeir later told the Charge' that
this assistance would be separate from the USD 1 billion in
aid that the Saudi government had promised at the Madrid
Conference but still not delivered due to security worries.
He said that the Madrid commitment consisted of $500 million
in trade credits and $500 million in project assistance with
strict conditionally, along the lines of what the World Bank
would require. Al-Jubeir added that the assistance the Saudi
government might provide via Prince Muqrin would initially be
in the range of $75-$300 million.

Possible Debt Relief

9. (S) The King noted that Saudi debt relief for Iraq "will
come at some point," although he did not say when. Al-Jubeir
told the Charge' that debt relief is a real possibility. He
also noted that the Saudi government might make changes to
its Iraq policy, perhaps including both assistance and debt
relief, prior to the President's visit to Riyadh.

The Need to Resist Iran

10. (S) The King, Foreign Minister, Prince Muqrin, and
Prince Nayif all agreed that the Kingdom needs to cooperate
with the US on resisting and rolling back Iranian influence
and subversion in Iraq. The King was particularly adamant on
this point, and it was echoed by the senior princes as well.
Al-Jubeir recalled the King's frequent exhortations to the US
to attack Iran and so put an end to its nuclear weapons
program. "He told you to cut off the head of the snake," he
recalled to the Charge', adding that working with the US to
roll back Iranian influence in Iraq is a strategic priority
for the King and his government.

11. (S) The Foreign Minister, on the other hand, called
instead for much more severe US and international sanctions
on Iran, including a travel ban and further restrictions on
bank lending. Prince Muqrin echoed these views, emphasizing
that some sanctions could be implemented without UN approval.
The Foreign Minister also stated that the use of military
pressure against Iran should not be ruled out.

RIYADH 00000649 003 OF 003

12. (S) Comment: Saudi attitudes toward Iraq, from the King
on down, remain marked by skepticism and suspicion. That
said, the Saudis have noticed recent events in Iraq and are
eager to work with the US to resist and reverse Iranian
encroachment in Iraq. The King was impressed by Ambassador
Crocker's and General Petraeus' visit, as were the Foreign
Minister, GPI Chief, and Interior Minister. Cautious as ever,
the Saudis may nevertheless be willing to consider new
measures in the areas of assistance and debt relief, although
further discussions will be required to make these ideas a
reality. End Comment.
13. (U) This cable was reviewed and cleared by Ambassador
Crocker and General Petraeus.

A Digital Defeat

Win one, lose one.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Stranger and stranger ...

So Iran denied that Stuxnet affected its nuclear power plants ... and now President Ahmadinejad says it did. According to the Symantec report about Stuxnet I cited yesterday, most of the Stuxnet attacks were targetted at Iran but abruptly ceased in August ... but Stuxnet infections continued in other parts of the world principally the US.

Now Iran is claiming that the Wikileak US State Department cables claiming that Arab states wanted the US to finish off Iran's nuclear capabilities are in fact CIA fabrications!

Meanwhile an Iranian physicist is assasinated and another wounded in separate attacks in Tehran.

So get your fill of conspiracies ... I'm sure there are more to come!

Monday, November 29, 2010


Amidst all the news of Wikileak exposure of US government documents (and I'd be much interested how all this data was obtained - the Guardian says it comes down to one lowly US army private - I cannot believe one lowly private leaked so many documents! ), much has been made in the last couple of weeks of the Stuxnet v¡rus which targets industrial control systems through Siemens Programmable Logic Controllers and its Windows Step 7 control software.

Conspiracy theories abound.The principal one being that the virus is an attempt by an unnamed government to subvert Iran's nuclear program which has backfired to lead other governments to get worried about their own industrial control systems - anything from power stations, electrical grids, water purification and distribution, factory automation etc etc.

I am sceptical but also surprised for a variety of reasons:

1. News of the Stuxnet virus has been around several months. Only now is the press picking up on it saying it is an attempt to subvert the timing on Iran's nuclear centrifuges.

2. It is only aimed at Siemens PLCs.

3. What the hell is Siemens doing exporting PLCs for use in Iranian nuclear centrifuges? I will admit that a bog standard PLC is hardly rocket science and could control the timing of many industrial processes. However, I thought there were export limitations on technologies that could be used in "rogue" nuclear states such as Iran and North Korea.

4. The Iranians deny that any of their nuclear powerplants have been infected by Stuxnet. So would the USA.

5. PLC software from my limited experience would seem to be very easy to hack. I have only very limited experience but in a previous job a one megawatt powerplant was controlled by simple GEFanuc PLC hard and software, the latter written in a generic form of Basic called MegaBasic.

6. Why would you use a Windows-based program to control your nuclear powerplant?

7. And leading on from 5) and 6) why hasn't PLC software been targeted before? I cannot quite believe that Stuxnet is the first given the importance of PLCs in the functioning of the modern world.

Complete technical report here.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Viktor Bout - Congratulations Alex

Alex Harrowell, the Yorkshire Ranter, has been interviewed by Radio Free Europe about the role of the blogosphere in the demise of Viktor Bout.

My Face, Your Face

Facebook wants to copyright the word "face".

To quote the Beeb (ok I don't have too much faith there ...) "If granted, the trademark will only apply to online sites and services used to exchange messages. It could limit the use of the word in other social networks and services, such as Apple's Facetime, lawyers said."

What about that trendy magazine "The Face"?

Should I rename this blog? My Face, Kezia's Face, The Face of My Family?

For that matter should I copyright My Face?

Monday, November 22, 2010

John Lydon

I read today that John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten of Sex Pistols fame, and a key role model of my formative years, came down with meningitis at the age of seven and endured many months of agonising treatment - agonising both for himself and his parents. And later to have a deep impact on his personal development!

How is Kezia going to turn out?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Viktor Bout

Viktor Bout, an infamous reputed (until found guilty) international arms-trader, reportedly selling to everyone from the Taleban to the Americans, was arrested in Thailand last year in a sting operation set up by the FBI to supply arms to the Colombian FARC rebel movement.

However, his extradition from Thailand to the US proved problematic ... until this.

My friends Alex Harrowell, Kathryn Cramer, above all Douglas Farah and many others in the blogosphere played various roles in his downfall.

Except is this really his downfall? The story has not finished yet ... much much more to unfold!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Digital Victory

Good to see this story where the music label The Ministry of Sound has backed down from prosecuting filesharers after ISP British Telcomm had deleted 80% of the data that The Ministry of Sound was seeking to obtain. BT says it held onto the data for 90 days according to policy before deletion. This follows upon a massive data leak at The Ministry of Sound's lawyers ACS: Law that saw the confidential details of ISP customers, previously released to the legal firm by court order, published online after a denial of service attack on the firm's website.

Don'cha just luv it!

Monday, October 11, 2010

We Are All Africans

Thanks to BoingBoing I learn about Richard Dawkin's T-shirt ...

On the front:

"We Are All Africans"

On the back:

"The Bible says modern people are the result of incestuous relations Cain and his brothers had with their sisters.

Science says we are all descendants of Africans. I believe science

Will someone buy me (and my kids!) one.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

MS FOIA Software

Alex, the Yorkshire Ranter (see link right), wrote back to me regarding the MS Public Records Tracker software and I rather enjoyed this part of his response ...

"Obviously it would be better if it was an open-source project written in Python by Brazilian anarchist orphans, providing an extensive Web service API so you could hook WhatDoTheyKnow directly up to it. And a pony. But then you'd need to beat most of the organisations involved out flat with a 2x4 cluebat to get them to install it."

Monday, October 4, 2010

Freedom of Information has a price

Public Records Tracker TM FOIA State Gov Software ...

“is built on the proven, reliable Microsoft technology foundation of Dynamics CRM. Public Records Tracker powered by Dynamics CRM is the first SaaS (Software as a Service) solution which is specifically designed to help enable a government agency, (federal, state or local) to manage citizen requests for records from start to finish.”

“This product can really help government organizations at the state, local, and federal levels manage, track, and respond to Public Records Act and Freedom of Information Act requests in a timely and responsive manner.”

- Curt Kolcun, Vice President
Microsoft US Public Sector

“Key Features:

• Track all communication and activities between agency and requestor
• Audit capabilities to track dates of correspondence
• Prioritize and/or escalate a request based on predefined criteria
• Connect all relevant emails and documents associated with a records request
• Provide standard responses to common PRA requests automatically
• Auto alerts to notify when a records request is approaching the mandatory due date
• Workflow that will allow requests to be automatically routed to the appropriate staff
• Estimate and track fees associated with fulfilling a records request
• Key word search to find information quickly and easily
• Ability to receive and respond to requests using email, fax, mail and the web
• Ability to view all records requests and the status from a single application
• Provide key FOIA compliance reports”

USD 125.00 per month.

Oh ... almost forgot! Look at the security guarantees!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Remember ...

She says:

Remember you have a daughter.

He says:

Remember Kezia has a father.

Letters to my Daughter

"The horses whinnied as he touched their fetlocks, and the kine were shaken with bellows of their breath, and he touched their new horns. The little mice of the fields fled about him, and he gave them his unchanged position, and the night birds murmured above, and he moved not, and the creeping things he had not numbered or known, looked at him from a million eyes, and his eyes were there also, and the things in the trees made walking and running on the branches, and he spoke not.

Whom should he disappoint now?

And everything and its shape became clear in the dark, by tens and tens they ranged, and lifted their lids and looked at him; in the air and in the trees and on the earth and from under the earth, and regarded him long, and he forebode to hide his face. They seemed close ranged, and now they seemed far ranged, and they moved now near, now far, as a wave comes and goes, and they lifted their lids and regraded him, and spoke not in their many tongues, and they went a far way, and there was a little rest, and they came close, and there was none. Closing in about him nearer, and swinging out wide and from him far, and came in near and near, and as a wave, closed over him, and he drowned, and arose while he might yet go.

And whom should he disappoint?"

Dear Kezia

That is from Djuna Barnes Ryder published in 1928. Poignant and poetic.

Whom should I disappoint now?

The four of us - myself, Nanda, Jaime and, more than us all, yourself have been through five years of hell, although much of the early days I hope you cannot remember.

When you were two years old, they stuck needles into you left, right and centre multiple times! You cried and screamed and shouted.

Myself, Nanda and a nurse forcefully held you down as the doctor tried to find a vein to take a blood sample. And then being told you have leukaemia. And having to tell Nanda who broke out in sobs.

Whom should I disappoint now?

And explaining to Nanda you would both have to stay in England.

Whom should I disappoint now?

And for four years I only saw you for a few weeks, an absent father – I’m sorry.

Now five years later, you’re back in Sao Tome … but after a year of acrimony between your mother and myself, unhappiness for all of us, once again we are separated. I won’t place blame – needless to say you and Jaime are not - but myself and Nanda and circumstances are.

Nanda has taken you from here in Capela, our home in the uplands, to a house in lowland Sao Marcal, near a swamp. From health to sickness. I really hope not.

Whom should I disappoint now?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Jaime's Birthday

... was last Friday.

Friday, June 25, 2010


"Cream ranges in richness from British "top of the bottle", which contains barely more fat than milk itself ..."

So begins Alan Davidson's entry on cream in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food (a tome that every gastronome worth their salt should possess).

However, I must take Mr Davidson up on this, as I am sure, would many others who grew up in post-war Britain. The "top of the bottle" has been an integral part of generations of childhood culture and stretches further into the realms of food marketing etc.

In the early hours of the morning, well before we had arisen, the milkman in his small electric-powered milk cart, collect the previous day's empties, read Mum's note and deposit two, three, four glass pint bottles of fresh milk with shiny silver or gold foil tops (depending on the fat content) on the doorstep.

On awaking I or my brother would collect them and vie for the "top of of the bottle" cream on our breakfast cornflakes.

Except someone would often get there before us ... the local Blue Tits!

A small brightly-coloured bird, enchanting to children, that over the decades of home milk deliveries learned to associate shiny bottle tops with a free and hearty breakfast!

I cannot recall whether deliveries to your doorstep by the local milkman from the local dairy are still, at least in some places, a part of British culture. I suspect not in this day and age of popping out for a tetrapacked litre of semi-skimmed. I also suspect that home deliveries of the weekly groceries, the daily newspaper (and the much awaited weekly Beano or Dandy) popped through the letter box in time for Dad's breakfast (or sitting on the loo for yonks as I'm getting ready for school) etc are rare in the current age.

However, during our leukaemia soujorn in Rochdale, a fish van would pass up the Rooley Moor Road once a week ... so all might not be lost.

Friday, June 11, 2010

100 degrees Celsius or Try Telling My Wife

"Count Rumford has taken much pain to impress on the minds of those who exercise the culinary art, the following simple, but practical, important fact, namely; that when water begins only to be agitated by the heat of the fire, it is incapable of being made hotter, and that the violent ebullition is nothing more than an unprofitable dissipation of water, in the form of steam, and a considerable waste of fuel ... it is not by the bubbling up, or violent boiling, as it is called, of the water that culinary operations are expedited."

Quoted from Culinary Chemistry, 1821 in Alan Davidson's North Atlantic Seafood.

I might also try and tell Nanda to soak kidney beans overnight!

Monday, June 7, 2010

International Children's Day 2010

June 1 is International Children's Day (which I think I blogged about previously). Not celebrated in the UK, this year Kezia and Jaime had the opportunity to participate in the festivities here for the first time in several years and they both went with Nanda to the party at Kezia's school, Arco Iris. Jaime's budding talent as a photographer are demonstrated above. An additional shot (ahem ... not shown) depicts Kezia's teacher Paulina's bum!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Eu não quero mulher, mulher só tras problemas ....

"Eu não quero mulher, mulher só tras problemas ..."

... loosely translates as "I don't want a woman, women just bring problems".

This was the title of a popular song by a local artist, Pépé Lima, a few years back. It went on "she just wants a car, gasoline, a house ..." etc etc.

It caused quite alot of polemic at the time, widely condemned by the female half of Santomense society as misogynist, anti-feminist ... but all the same I have some sympathy as that is the way this society often functions, even though there are two sides to to the stories of the sexes.

Anyway, Kezia heard it on the radio the other day and began singing along ... except she made a few changes ... "I don't want a man, men just bring problems ..."

A budding feminist? At the age of six?

I should be proud!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Happy Birthday

Kezia was six years old yesterday. Jaime is still perfecting his photography ... but here's two!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Diaghilev, NGOs and Independent Consultants

My blind maternal grandfather introduced me to Stravinky's Firebird Suite at the tender age of eight when I and my brother were offloaded to grandparents whilst my mother underwent a hysterecomy in 1970.

I was so enchanted that I waved my arms about, conducting the orchestra on old '78s and my grandfather somehow sensed my wild gesticulations.

Much much later I read about Serge Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes. Diaghilev had commissioned the Firebird Suite and his Ballets Russes stormed Paris in 1909 as I was getting into "punk" and "goth" music, hairstyles, fashion (Vivienne Westwood) etc. in 1976.

Diaghilev was bringing "punk" to Paris and, later the rest of Europe and the Americas. The storm created by the Firebird Suite ballet, Stravinksy's Le Sacre du Printemps and Debussy's L'apres-midi d'un faune caused uproar with Nijinsky's simulated on-stage masturbation caused uproar

"His fetishistic handling of the nymphs's veil, leading to gestures suggestive of masturbation and of orgasm, upset those in the audience who were not prepared for such an alarmingly disturbing display".

Diaghilev introduced to or promoted in Europe a wide range of artists, musicians, dancers, designers etc at the beginning of the 20th century - Nijinsky, Pavlova, Lautrec, Stravinsky, Debussy, Satie, Bakst, Ravel, Chanel, Sert, Picasso, Cocteau ... the list goes on and on.

But in 1909 with the unexpected death of his Russian patron, his Russian subsidies evaporated. "The problem was money".

"To realise his dreams Diaghilev bargained, lied, broke promises, stormed, bullied, cajoled, charmed, and mesmerized. He guaranteed money he did not have, then scurried about to raise the money he had guaranteed. He told Astruc the money would come from Russia and told the Russians it would come from France.

The magician had done it all with mirrors".

In much the same way the renaissance of popular culture in the UK from the late 1970s has been financed in the same way. Goth Leeds, "Madchester's" cultural scene (the Hacienda etc) has burgeoned under the inspiration of individual entrepeneurs - bargaining, lieing, breaking promises, storming, bullying, cajoling, charming, and mesmerizing.

In much the same way a third world non-governmental organisation or independent consultant seems to have to bargain, lie, break promises, storm, bully, cajole, charm and mesmerize international organisations, international NGOs, national governments, other national NGOs, private companies, both foreign and national, individuals, both foreign and national etc etc.

It seems that half the time is spent looking for work, with a quarter doing the work and another quarter producing a report.

I wish I could be a Diaghilev, but know I cannot.

"The magician had done it all with mirrors".

Quotes taken from "Misia - The Life of Misia Sert" by Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale 1980.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Lucia, although I have never met her (but Nanda, Kezia and Jaime met her on many occasions), has been a constant source of inspiration and support. Now she's doing great at the University of Manchester!

Look her up on her new blog

Monday, March 15, 2010

Child from Everywhere

Caroline Irby's Child from Everywhere project published in The Observer and shown on the UK Channel 4 TV channel last year in which she interviewed children from every country in the world resident in the UK is now going to be an exhibition and a book.

Here's her email to me:

Yes, your Jaime will be in it! It goes to print next week, out 1st May. I'm excited. Here's a link to the book, and the exhib (which will feature only 14 kids, not Jaime, but the films I made for Ch 4 will be shown so he'll be there somehow).

Sorry you're having a tough time... nothing is permanent, I hope good things are round the corner.

If you happen to be in the UK 6th May, come to the exhib opening at the Museum of Childhood, 6-8pm.



Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Comment Spam

Although I have not been posting recently, I notice my comments are being spammed rotten ... so I may turn on comment moderation.

Those of my readers who have my email address (or send me a message) so can always keep in touch ... altho' it's funny how "being survivors" involves losing touch.

Kezia, Jaime and Nanda are fine!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Quacktitioner, Nurse Practitioner and GP Guide to the Diagnosis of Childhood Leukaemia

This little Piggy went to market
This little Pigggy went to town
This little Piggy ate roast beef
This little Piggy ate none
And this little Piggy ate none
And this little Piggy went wee wee wee ... all the way home!

[Tickle the sole of the foot]

Jaime reminded me of this nursery rhyme last night ... I was amazed that he remembered it after all these years.

One of Kezia's first symptoms of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia was ambulatory (i.e. walking) difficulties.

Given my recent Internet difficulties, I haven't been able to follow my favourite blogs regularly but yesterday I noticed that Dr Crippen has been commenting on the Department of Health's criticism of GPs' failure to diagnose cancer. Jaime's advice may be of use in the diagnosis of paedatric leukaemia.

Another useful ditty may be the following ...

Round and Round the Garden
Like a Teddy Bear
One Step
Two Steps
Tickle you under there.

I.e. Circle the palm of the hand, step up the arm and tickle under the armpit.

But, of course, NICE will have to decide whether such diagnostic tools have a place in modern medical practice.

Come to think of it Jaime's recommendations could be diagnostic tools for a whole range of complaints - will someone recommend such to NICE?

Neither I nor Jaime are medical practitioners but we would love to hear your opinions!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Freedom of Information - Portuguese Education

When Jaime returned to school after New Year, the results of all students had been posted for all to see. Only a week later were we requested to attend a parents' meeting where we were given an individual report on his progress. I objected to the public issuing of Jaime's results especially as it occurred before we had seen his individual report.

The next day I spoke to the school director about this and was informed that as the school is affiliated to the Portuguese Ministry of Education, it has to follow their rules and regulations which, in this case requires them to publish in the open the results of all students.