Saturday 28 February 2015

Stone the Crows

A CaRT member of the bankside staff discovered over 200 dead crows floating in the Tinsley Canal at Sheffield. The location was close to the point where the M1 crosses both the River Don and over the Canal. There was concern and some speculation that the Crow fatalities in such significant numbers may have been as a result of an Avian Flu infection.  Avian Flu is capable of crossing over to humans.

An Ornithological Pathologist was brought in to examined the remains of all the crows and to everyone's relief she confirmed the problem was NOT Avian Flu. The cause of death appeared to be from a series of vehicular impacts. However, during analysis it was also noted that varying colours of paints appeared embedded in the bird's beaks and on their claws.

The trust then employed the service of a company specialising in paint analysis. It turned out that the analysis of the paint residue type revealed that 98% of the crows had been killed by impact with Lorry's. While only 2% were killed by cars.

The Trust then hired an Ornithological Behaviourist to determine if there was a cause for the disproportionate percentages of truck kills versus car kills. The Ornithological Behaviourist quickly concluded that when crows who are a Corvid species regularly eat road kill. They habitually have a look-out crow to warn of any approaching danger. They discovered that while all the lookout crows without exception could shout a loud clear "Kah", not a single one observed could shout "Lorry"

Friday 27 February 2015

The warm weather

The warm weather down here in the south of Spain is encouraging me to write more often. For those of you that are new visitors I run about eight different blogs on the internet. Some are open access others are closed and only available to family and friends. I write most days something or other for my boating blog (where you are reading this) I also contribute a bit of my 'fractured' prose to a for 'fun' poetry blog. Then there is my photography blog, my Dear Bill blog, as well as several boating and photography forums on farcebook that I contribute to as well.

Because we also try to travel abroad where possible to favourite places like India for extended periods. Now add into that mix a fair bit of reading of other peoples blogs all things considered this keeps me quite busy.

The surprising thing is, I used to do similar things when I was working. So when I retired, I expected that the regime would be much more relaxed, than its turned out to be. What has happened is best explained by an old network engineers explanation of network capacity.

'The capacity of any data network to carry information will be eventually compromised when the network usage expands until such time as the network is saturated.'

In other words – usage will expand until the available bandwidth is filled. No matter how we try to limit our activities, we will still fill in all available time doing the things we like to do until there is no time left.

Now I have started to compartmentalise my activities and to try where possible to allocate time and space for my various interests. I was never much good when working in work planning my working day – mainly because my workload was mostly reactive. Its proving to be the same with my self imposed discipline for blogging and photography. Now we have started to go out more – ostensibly to walk the dog. I was at one time a keen squash player so exercise used to be a significant driver. Now, the new driver is walking the dog along the beach in semi silence. Because it lets me get lost in my thoughts and encourages me to do a bit more photography. I come back refreshed and invigorated.

Thursday 26 February 2015

xray specs

Most long term readers will be aware that I have an interest in technology and research. This is a hangover from my working life in academia. The climate, environment and electronics are amongst my main interests, though as usual I have been known to go off on a tangent.

Do you remember those spoof advertisements in the comics for 'xray spectacles'. Well, a new bit of research has created the equivalent to xray specs. In a way its very much like the laser pen brought about the other popular item from scifi films on television – the ray gun!

This is a new form of 'X Ray' vision without the need to actually use xrays! Essentially two or more small robots can be deployed. The robots will then communicate with each other. They carefully plot their respective positions on the ground. You might think that there is nothing new in that. However, now the robots have the effective ability to see inside buildings for instance and plot the internal structure. At the same time the signal passing between the robots is used to map the terrain. Is also analysed to detect the tiny variations in the signal. The tiny variations can be used to plot internal structures through other structures such as external walls.

But the robots can also detect internal movement and they can also detect differences between flesh, brick and wood for instance. This technology offers many opportunities for use. Such as searching in buildings that have collapsed in an earth quake. It can also be used for security within buildings and on vehicles passing through our ports.

The technology uses everyday WiFi signals which many of us have access to, through the smartphone we carry in our pockets. The robots can also plot the location of other WiFi sources within the immediate area. Which will help with locating people trapped in buildings.

I now know who to ask next time I can't find where I put my phone! I'm also looking forward to the arrival of the ultimate form of transportation from Startrek the 'particle transporter'. Beam me up Scottie.

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Spanish News for the English (4)

The 'Spanish News for the English' is a service in support of European Multiculturalism for English Boaters considering a different type of winter break. As an alternative to the more usual ankle, leg or arm due to the inclement UK weather. Due to language difficulties and the unavailability of translation services. There may be one or two small inaccuracies in the news provided.

Dateline Denia: It seems that the local porkers have been causing a few problems down at the airport. An aircraft which was on final approach was forced to abort landing. It then had to circle over the airport until the wayward porker was flushed out and chased off the runway area. I avoided the obvious 'pigs might fly' and 'swine flew' jokes or even musing if he got the 'chop'. But apparently he was extremely 'disgruntled' at being disturbed by the security staff. 

Dateline Madrid: There are a plethora of smaller political parties in Spain that can band together to bring about significant influence to make sweeping policy changes - even if only at the local level. One such group that is gaining ground is looking to nationalise all land currently in foreign ownership. To do this they would need to negotiate a derogation of EU policy or alternatively seek a - yes no - referendum and leave the EU altogether. Whilst they would not need to directly fund the land grab. Shares being issued in the place of Euro, by the simple expedient of 'paying for the land' in Spanish government gilts.   The gilts would be subject to a period of time to mature, before they could be cashed in. They would also be subject to market forces and could also drop in value. 

Property owners would have to pay the equivalent of ground rent to the local council. This will help with funding the necessary services. Creating the intriguing situation where  Spanish nationals would be able to own land. But foreign nationals would have to give up all title to ownership of land. The graffiti is on the wall so to speak and there has been a drop in property and land ownership in Spain by Russian oligarchs. Which has fallen by almost 1% in the last year alone. 

Dateline Pago: It's market day!

Dateline Calpe: A top UK criminal fugitive from justice has been arrested on the Costa Packet after being discovered living a life of luxury under an assumed name. Due to the restrictions in the Spanish data protection act. Neither his real or fictitious name can be revealed.

Dateline Salamanca: A 20 year old American from Georgia called Benjamin Miller,
who was not subject to the Spanish data protection act. |Was gored while running with the bulls in Ciudad Rodrigo on Saturday morning. Bull running is another part of Spain's intangible cultural heritage. It was on the first day of the town’s festival. A local doctor said 'Its the the worst Goring we have seen since Herman an early German tourist in the Franco days.'

Dateline Torre de la Horadada: The Guardia Civil has confiscated 465 kilos of cocaine when they intercepted a boat. The drugs bust developed when the Guardia Civil saw the boat making what were described as strange movements. After the crew who where were wearing striped shirts and masks ignited the
Guardia Civil's slow burn suspicions. Thirteen packages of drugs which were clearly marked as 'cocaine swag' were found inside the boat. which after analysis turned out to be a 465 kilo haul of cocaine.

Dateline Alicante: Meanwhile in a non-related incident, the Alicante Local Police Canine Unit has had finally had a success since the units dog had undergone surgery. In a search which was conducted by the recently neutered dog and handler. On board a bus that was about to depart for Barcelona. The dog identified one of the passengers, a woman in her fifties. Who was subsequently found to have hidden in a body cavity 150 grams of cocaine. The Guardia Civil chief said the find though small by comparison with the 465 kilos of cocaine discovered earlier was nothing to be sniffed at.

Dateline Benidorm: Talking about dogs, we had a day out in Benidorm just to see how the other half live. Thank god we are not in the other half. We noticed that there were no hungry dogs to be seen anywhere in Benidorm. We think the dogs must feed on last nights pavement pizza's. When we were ready for something to eat, looking around we found a seafood restaurant and decided to give it a try. I had one anchovy and that’s the reason why I didn’t have two anchovies. I’m also sick of soup of the day, everywhere you go its soup of the day. It’s time for restaurants to make a decision. Instead of calling it soup of the day call it Ministroni like everyone else. I want to know what the soup of the day is from now on. 

Dateline Gandia: An English tourist who was mugged in the street offered the Guardia Civil a description of her assailant. She said he was small and squat, 5' 4'' tall, with a dark moustache, a greying goatee beard, a pair of heavy gold earrings, a pair of designer sunglasses. His dark wavy hair was long and tied back in a ponytail, he was wearing a brown leather hat and spoke with a strong Spanish accent. The Guardia Civil officer asked the tourist if she had noticed any distinguishing marks!

Dateline Málaga:
Most people will know of Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Martyr Patricio Clito Ruíz y Picasso. If only for the popular people carrier (the length of a small bus) that carries his name. Picasso and his friend Georges Braque were famous for creating the cubism period. However, a little known fact is that Pablo was also into ice sculpture but few of his works have survived. Ice sculpture is making a comeback as a popular Spanish artistic pass time. Recently we went into a restaurant where the owner had been practising the ice sculptor's art. All the drinks which were served came complete with a tribute to Picasso in the form an ice cube.

Now its time for the Spanish Quiz question of the week.
If you walked by a Spanish record store and the sign outside said their speciality was in hard to find LP records and audio tapes. But when you checked you found it was because nothing was sorted in alphabetical order. Are you being doubly short changed?

Answers please on a 10 Euro note to the usual address.

Pasta Lumbago!

Tuesday 24 February 2015

The Philistines Guide to Spain (2)

Continued from  The Philistines Guide to Spain (1)

No matter where I go to spend time in the world, I always take more than a passing interest in the environs. Currently by way of a change from spending time in India or other countries in north Africa. We have chosen to  over winter on the Costa Blanca in Spain. We came out here principally for the weather and not particularly for the culture. As a place I quite like Spain having visited for several holidays in the past. 

First of all I must admit that my idea of a holiday is not to baste myself in suntan oil, (like a half cooked chicken) on a beach. I'm more outgoing preferring to walk in the mountains or to visit places with an interesting historical perspective. Looking around the coast I soon realised that much of the 'old Spain' was fast disappearing under the 'new Spain' which consists of endless kilometres of holiday lets and whitewashed homes for British expats.

Spain is a strong hold of Catholicism and seems to have more than its fair share of festivals. The first few festivals encountered are interesting and entertaining. But if you are a devout agnostic as I am. There are only so many festivals that one can endure before you go down to the local tourist office and obtain a list of festivals. This gives you a heads up on the days to avoid the local town centres. 

Markets are the same the world over. A few village streets or an area of open land are set aside and the stall holders turn up in there transport. Offering a myriad kinds of goods. I found it quite a curious juxtaposition experience, certainly in this part of Spain. After several visits to various towns on market days. We discovered that the markets are all exactly the same. With little in the variation of stall content and even less difference the goods on offer. There are only so many leather wallets you need in a lifetime!

Walking in the mountains certainly is a good and enjoyable experience. The local tourist information office had a booklet on several mountain walks providing varying challenges. The scenery made of mountains and valleys interspersed with olive and orange groves is very enjoyable. But there are large numbers of oranges which have collected as windfalls that no one seems to be interested in. Many of the groves are obviously untended which is highlighted more so by the ones that are being tended. Its only when you raise your eyes into the distance and look towards the coast that you can see a very distinct change. The small almost insignificant towns and villages which seem to have little impact on the landscape. Have a backdrop of coastal high rise concrete to contend with. If you only visit Spain as a holiday maker. Restricted to a resort while you soak up the sun before being whisked back to the airport for your flight home. You will not notice the high price that Spain is paying for a few weeks of high rise pleasure for the tourist.

Things change in Spain at an excruciating slow pace, described as the 'mañana' or sometimes as the 'siesta' culture. But pressure is building to bring about significant political change. The meltdown in the Euro has been unkind to Spain and her people, there are very high rates of unemployment as a result.  As I travel around I can see property after property for sale. Government figures suggest that there are more than half a million empty properties in Spain. The property market is in free fall and prices have plummeted.  In a seemingly and increasing bizarre way. Young families are unable to purchase a place of their own.

Like the UK the majority of the property slump is outside of the large cities. The areas favoured by the expat British are certainly under a great deal of pressure.  We are staying in a complex, there are quite a few expats domiciled here. Many have been here for well over a decade and like us they came for the weather. But now, the 'Little Britain' enclaves are also filling with for sale signs. The tide has turned and to a point the bubble has burst. The tide turning metaphor is quite appropriate. Twenty years ago the government brought in a law that was intended to protect the coastline. It was intended for the government to buy up large tranches of land to protect the coastal regions. It's only now that this is starting to take place. It is possible that properties owned by expats which fall within the protected zone along the coastal region will find themselves with a place to live for a few years. But that they are unable to sell and can't be inherited by family members. With every likelihood that there will be no compensation.

The Spanish law over property transaction is unlike the laws in Britain. Many expats have discovered this to their downfall. There are tens of thousands of sorry stories. If you are considering moving out to Spain long term, you are going to need what has become known as 'trusted professional' help. Just like it says on the tin some professionals are not to be trusted.

'I hate to say it but it is full of sharks (not the sea variety) and conmen and knowing who to trust is practically impossible. Justin Aldridge in EyeOnSpain
So we decided to look at the apartment where we are staying. We checked the current prices of similar apartments that were for sale within the complex. What we discovered is the price we paid for our complete stay was less than one three hundredth the current price of the property. We could hire the property at this rate for the next one hundred years. Without any of the current risks associated with buying.

Monday 23 February 2015

The Philistines Guide to Spain (1)

We went out for the evening into a local tavern frequented by a large friendly group of British expats. It was recommended to us by another expat living in the same complex. Quite an enjoyable evening out and as the beer flowed all kinds of inhibitions disappeared.  Brits are a funny lot with their culture of a 'stiff-upper-lip' yet when slightly inebriated you discover their true metal. As might be expected the jokes and stories were flowing with the Brits usual irreverence for Johnnie Foreigner. Stories and jokes there were - some of the more tame examples I can recount here. Almost always done at the expense of the Spanish. So here are a couple. 

A Spaniard walks into a bar with a toad on his head. ‘What the hell is that?’ asks the barman. The toad replied ‘I don’t know – it started as a wart on my bum and grew.’
Which in the main was quite harmless bit of fun and in many ways was just reflecting the cultural differences.
A grasshopper walks into a bar. The barman looks at him and says, ‘Did you know there’s a drink named after you?’ ‘I can't believe it' says the grasshopper 'there’s a drink called Jose?'
Typically any Brits in the joke are called Dave and it would seem that all Spaniards are to be called Jose.

The conversation later changed as the expats got more into their cups. Now it revolved around the two main topic for Brits abroad. The first of which was the weather.  It gets a bit cold out here of a night, but in the main its a couple of layers warmer than in the UK. This is of course the main reason why some of the expats were out here. What is euphemistically called 'living the dream' while at the same time trying to hang on to their Brit identity. 

Then as the evening progressed the conversation became quite deep and dark. Maybe for some its starting to be more 'living the nightmare'. It seems that in the last decade things have changed around the EU, and not always for the best. Unemployment and unrest being ever more significant factor for political change. This is also to a point being reflected by political flavour changes taking place in Spain. The main concern currently is the ongoing steady devaluation of the Euro against other currencies. (we got 1.22 to the pound in mid January and now in mid February we are getting 1.35 to the pound) Which is believed to be as a result of the change in the flavour of politics in Greece.  The uncertainty is boosted by the printing of billions of Euros as quantitative easing by the central bank.  To make matters worse for the expats the upcoming elections in the UK and what might happen if UKIP get there referendum is also adding to the angst.

The second topic is property prices which included the usual lament about how the prices had fallen through the floor. There was a certain surprising under current which manifested itself.  Generally the longer people had been living here the more they wanted to sell up and move. There was no particular reason other than they seemed to be bored with the lifestyle. The more recent arrivals seemed to be quite ambivalent because they had arrived and purchased property at what they judged to be a good time. The long term ex pats now felt that they were in something of a financial trap as properties they had paid £120 grand for a decade ago were now selling for £70 grand or less. Some properties were subject to different covenants such as those in tied complexes which also made things more difficult for some. 

Now a new threat has reared it head as ISIS beheads Christian hostages on the Mediterranean beaches of north Africa. In a direct threat to introduce and encourage more acts of terrorism into the European mainland. This is concentrating political minds as acts of terrorism in France and Denmark display the vulnerability of Europe to protect its citizens. 

Europeans living close to the Mediterranean with a 2000 mile coastline in north Africa. Where ISIS is currently operating training camps and now has access to a vast arsenal of newly liberated arms in Libya. Physically close points such as Greece and Spain must now be on high alert for sea born attacks on cities and holiday locations. Attacks could be mounted similar to what happened in Mumbai. 

Its almost certain that the Blair-Bush warmongering administration has put British nationals in deeper threat than other European nationals. Many European countries have reduced the size of their armed forces due to the economic meltdown of the Eurozone and the rest of the world. This does not bode well as Europe now needs to carefully balance the watching brief on ISIS and the simmering problems being stoked by Russia in the Ukraine.
While our own preference would be to purchase a mobile home rather than a property abroad.  (We owned a properties in Tenerife and another one near Carcassonne for a few years) Based on our preference for moving around much as it is with our boat at home. Mooring up for the winter and touring abroad is still our plan of action.  But we had a look around a few estate agencies - just looking at properties on line and also looking at how the properties values have fallen through the floor. We looked at properties in and around Denia and many properties have had very significant price cuts made and the cuts are continuing. 
The big worry for the long term expat was that political and financial changes would also take place in Spain.  The circumstances of which could overtake them. Yet, in a curious way they were also in a typical British way, making the best of it. It would seem that the wartime spirit is still in their genes. As one expat confided in me, the Spanish see the typical expat as being like those who holiday in Benidorm.   He was worried that the expats could become in Spain, the equivalent of the problem that eastern Europeans are in Blighty. Especially if it was to bring terrorist inspired attacks to the Spanish mainland. 

To be continued.

Sunday 22 February 2015

Dutch Invaders

There has been much speculation in the newspapers, radio, television and various political parties about a potential invasion of humanity from Eastern Europe. Though to be perfectly honest I quite enjoy the cosmopolitan life that the people bring with them. Though I think there is need to have some form of regulation in place. But that's all grist for the political mill in the run up to the election in may. However, I do want to give a heads up about another form of invasion which is massing along the cost of mainland Europe.

This time the invasion comes in a number of different forms. As plants such as Himalayan balsam which is pretty benign invader when compared to the significantly costly Japanese Knot-weed infestation. Estimated to cost billions to eradicate and which seems to be rampant along much of the inland waterways.

Most people are aware of the problems with the North American Mink which is almost solely responsible for destroying the water voles. Voles that are so beloved of the Trust. The numbers of Mink continue to climb and the trust continues in its quest to reintroduce the voles. Which will potentially provide a light snack for the next Mink passing through. This long running disaster is being backed up by the efforts of another American invader the Signal Crayfish that are wiping out the indigenous crayfish. By the simple expedient of carrying a disease which our natural crayfish have no immunity from. Then there is the Mitten Crab which as also staked a claim to life in the UK as well as the new kid on the block the Zebra mussels.

I have been listening to a very interesting broadcast about the UK's inland waterways. It seems that there is a very serious risk of up to a further twenty alien specie. located just across the sea in Holland waiting to invade the UK waterways. David Aldrich is an expert in invasive species and he highlighted that the invaders have evolved symbiotic relationship with each other. They are in the main from the eastern part of Europe. Originating mainly from the Ponto Caspian area around the Black Sea. As canal systems have been dug joining river systems together or improved to provide transport between regions on the mainland of Europe. So the critters have used the waterways to fast track their movements into western Europe.

David Aldrich said the one specie that we did not want to arrive was the Quaggar mussel. However, the mussel had recently been found living in a river system close to Heathrow airport. This is a major economic and ecological disaster. The mussel is capable of changing the nature of waterways and of encouraging the very poisonous blue/green algal blooms. It can also cause the rampant growth of weed which will have a detrimental effect for recreational angling and boating communities. The Quaggar is in a way creating the conditions for the other potentially invasive species to thrive. One such specie is the Killer Shrimp. Which has the potential to create complete devastation of the natural life living in our inland waterways.

David Aldrich said that boats passing between various waterways where the invasive species had bee identified should have their hulls cleaned. He also added that fishermen need to clean and dry their fishing equipment. Before using them on other waterways. This raises a spectre of sections of rivers and canals being closed to boating.

However, there was a possible solution to remit the effect of the Quaggar mussel which had been tried in Holland. What he described as a toxic bullet. It is a particle that is small enough to be gathered by the filtering system of the Quaggar which would them poison the mussel. The toxic bullet is also effective on the Zebra mussel. The bullet would then break down into a harmless material after a short period of time.

Saturday 21 February 2015

Spanish News for the English (3)

The 'Spanish News for the English' is a service in support of European Multiculturalism for English Boaters considering a different type of winter break. As an alternative to the more usual ankle, leg or arm due to the inclement UK weather. Due to language difficulties and the unavailability of translation services. There may be one or two small inaccuracies in the news provided.

Dateline Denia: Had a couple of Spanish engineers visit the apartment today.  It only took a month, which I believe is the national average for mañana. Which when added to the frequent coffee breaks and the mid afternoon siesta time taken while recovering from a huge lunch and a bottle of the local beverage of choice El Vino Collapso. It has now become perfectly understandable to us, why there is this 'usual' delay. 

But I digress.

After walking in through the doors and inspecting the balcony. With the usual chatter in a Bulgarian version of Spanish which we now call Spangarian. After a lot of gesticulations and nodding they set about installing the WiFi.  First of all was a three rise set of ladders which was brought round the back of the building. The ladder was split into a two and a one section. The two section was left leaning against the balcony and the one section was carried to the front - up a flight of stairs - and in through the apartment. This single section was set up on the balcony to give access to the roof. The two section of ladder was then manhandled up onto the balcony and joined up again with the single section. (Note the single section was more than able to reach the roof)

A coffee break was then concluded and the two of them left and brought back a small dish from the van. Then they both went back to the van to fetch some tools. On each occasion one person carried the items. (I think this is a bit like when ladies like to go to the toilets in twos.) One person went up the ladder, then immediately came back down the ladder, picked up the dish and went back up the ladder. (It's like when I get to the top of the stairs at home only to be unable to remember why I went there in the first place.) Then he came back down the ladder and picked up a cordless drill. A short while later he came back down the ladder and the two of them went to the van and returned with a masonry drill. There was some drill noise and then the person returned down the ladder retrieved a screwdriver from the tool box and went back up the ladder.

A coffee break was followed by the two of them going to the van and returning with one of them carrying a spool of cable. There was another Spangarian conversation, some pointing and nodding. They both went to the van returning with a small set of steps. One went up the ladder and retrieved the drill complete with the masonry bit. They looked at a small box set into the wall of the apartment. There was another Spangarian conversation, some pointing and nodding. One went up the ladder and brought back the screw driver. The cover of the box was now removed and a hole was drilled through the back of the box to the outside of the building. The cable was unwound from the spool and threaded through the hole and fed up to the roof. The cable ran out before the dish on the roof was reached. They both went to the van and came back with a larger spool of cable. 

A coffee break was followed by the cable being fed up to the roof. The person on the roof came back down the ladder for the screwdriver retracing his steps back up the ladder.  It was at this moment that we heard the insect noise. It sounder like a very large and loud mosquito noise. We looked around but were unable to spot what must have been a megga mozzie. There was some Spangarian comments passed from the person up on the roof. We thought that maybe he had been attacked by the megga mozzie. He returned down the ladder and prepared the cable to the WiFi box which his companion had fitted to the wall. He went back up the ladder, we could hear the megga mozzie again and another Spangarian conversation broke out. Then there was a certain amount of 'left - right' as the dish was turned to get the best signal. The person on the roof returned picked up the screwdriver and went back up on the roof to tighten up the bracket holding the small dish.

It was time to test the system was working. To my surprise it worked first time. There it was an internet signal that lit up all the led lights. There was some nodding, pointing and thumbs up. Which was followed by the return of the megga mozzie. It was so loud I was looking round trying in the apartment to see where it was. When roof person suddenly pulled his mobile phone out of his pocket. The megga mozzie was his phone ring tone. I started to laugh as the absurdity of the situation dawned on me.  He smiled and nodded - The Spangarian conversation on the phone was quite animated.  Then he delivered the coup de grâce, when he pointed at the phone and said 'its the wife.' I was unable to stand up both me and the Memsahib broke out into peals of laughter. He looked on amiably and quizzical at the same time. 

It took a while as the pair of them carried items back to the van. The ladders were broken down into separate parts before being carried down the internal stairs.  They checked around, before leaving in the van. Then returning a short while later for the small set of steps that they had never used anyway. I did not see him bring the screwdriver back down off the roof. So I am expecting the duo to return one day soon. 

Dateline Alicante:  A report in Costa Bugle highlights the way that the Spanish man is changing. The modern man is now embracing many new techniques to assert his manhood as he becomes more sophisticated and enlightened. Typical of this change is the report of a mild-mannered man who was tired of being bossed around by his wife. He consulted a psychiatrist who said he needed to build his self-esteem, and gave him a book on building family relationships through assertiveness, which he read on the way home. 

Apparently the hospital report said that he had finished the book by the time he reached his house. The man stormed into the house and walked up to his wife. Pointing a finger in her face, he said, “From now on, I want you to know that I am the man of this house, and my word is law! I want you to prepare me a gourmet meal tonight, and when I’m finished eating my meal, I expect a sumptuous dessert afterwards. Then, after dinner, you’re going to draw me my bath so I can relax. And when I’m finished with my bath, guess who’s going to dress me and comb my hair?

'The funeral director' said his wife as she introduced him to a heavy skillet.

Now its time for another one in our series on understanding Spanish life.
A husband took his wife to the fairground. The wife wanted to go on the Big wheel, but her husband wasn’t happy at the idea of having a ride. So his wife went on the wheel by herself. The wheel went round and round getting faster each time. Suddenly the wife was thrown out and landed in a heap at her husband’s feet.”Are you hurt?” he asked.”Of course I’m hurt!” she replied. “Three times around and you didn’t wave once!”

Pasta Lumbago!

Friday 20 February 2015


Ah, I see its yet another day in the world of social media. A time when the PM gets himself planked by a spoof phone caller. While the rest of us wrestle with IT systems that require us to change our passwords periodically. I don't know about you but passwords and remembering a different one for different systems is a pain in the bum. 

I have tried several systems of password security over the years. Trouble was that I usually forgot the password for the password security system – which I suppose must make the password system much more secure if even I can't remember how to get at them. 

There is a website called 'SplashData' that compiles a list of the top passwords that have been found to be effective in those password guessing software programs. It seems that top ten in easy peasy passwords to try are :- 123456, password, 12345, 12345678, qwerty, 123456789, 1234, baseball, dragon and football. 

Now, I have always thought that as a pair the login and password if carefully chosen should be reasonably secure. For me, I also choose to take it to a third step of personal security by having nothing of any worth stored on-line. 

Years ago when I worked on large UNIX based systems – I put in place software that would disable user accounts outside of agreed times. Lets suppose that you work in a 9 to 5 office. One where weekends are not required. Such a system could add a whole extra level of security. Just by disabling and enabling the login process. 

The problem was that quite often the login code would have some resemblance to the users name. When accounts were being created, we would convert Joe Blogs into jblogs and if we had two Joe Blogs we would create a jblogs2. However, that was a long time ago – much more is now stored on line and security of access has gone to a whole new level of complexity. 

I started to monitor login usage. This would give me data as to when the account had last been used. There soon appeared a list of dormant user accounts – a quick check with personnel - highlighted that the accounts belonged to people who had been on short contracts or had changed employment or even retired. I then noticed that the list of ex employees still had some with infrequent use. It turned out that some employees liked to get to their old email accounts and hosted workspace. 

I needed a more secure system. I remember setting up logins that were tied to specific MAC addresses. So not only did you have a login password pair – but you could also tie the pair to a specific machine. The machine had to be inside the firewall and with few exceptions no remote logins were allowed. Today spoofing a mac address is quite a trivial thing to do. In reality – the problem at that time was the user. 

When we set up the MAC address login/password pair security. This had the effect that users in a shared office space would take the sharing to the next level by sharing their login codes and passwords to make things easier. The problem will always be the user. So we set up accounts that would time out. If the system remained in a quiescent state we would log the user out. The troops did not like this as it was set to a quarter of an hour timeout. We agreed to change this to one hour and over the following year we gradually shortened the waiting time to a quarter of an hour. No one noticed! 

One day, I was installing a bit or specialist software on a user machine – his desk drawer was open. Pinned on the front edge of the drawer was a list of various login codes and passwords for various system. Security was that he sometimes locked his drawers. Over the next few weeks, I did a little check on drawers and users roller dexes. There were dozens of similar stashes. So we introduced the notional once a year forced password change. Like we had done previously, we shortened the period and at the same time introduced a system that would not allow a password to be reused. 

I downloaded a brute force password checker and ran it against our systems. The vast majority of passwords were easy to crack. So we introduced a seeded system that would enforce a level of complexity on the users. The passwords would need to have minimum length, the password had to have a minimum of one upper and one lower case letter. We also introduced a screen that would advise the user on the strength of their password. It said that the more complex a password was the longer the period would be between enforced password changes. It was a bit of social engineering – you could choose any password that you wanted, that conformed to minimum length and the minimum upper and lower case letters. But you could never achieve the fabled on year password period. 

I ran the brute force password checker again and the number of hits was greatly reduced. So them we introduced the slow login regime. The first login would instantaneous – but if you entered a wrong password a delay in getting back to the login screen was introduced. After five wrong passwords the account was disabled. 

So what can you do about choosing a password. First of all, chose two words that can be made memorable . Lets say Piston and Tractor. You could now interchange the first two letters Tiston Practor, which gives two non dictionary words. Now you join both words together. TistonPractor, now add a number and a letter to be a space between the two non dictionary words. Say the number (4) and a lower case letter, say (a) So the password becomes Tiston4aPractor. The memorable phrase for you to remember or write down would be Piston for a Tractor. The above is what I used to use with staff by way of an example. When they were sat trying to think of their next new password. 

The security of any system is always compromised by the user!

Thursday 19 February 2015

Spanish News for the English (2)

The 'Spanish News for the English' is a service in support of European Multiculturalism for English Boaters considering a different type of winter break. As an alternative to the more usual ankle, leg or arm. Due to language difficulties and the unavailability of translation services. There may be one or two small inaccuracies in the news provided.
Dateline Spain: If anyone tells you that the Costa is unchanged in Spain. You need to have a look at this Click Here. The costa del concrete Mediterranean coastline then and now in pictures. If you want to know how bad its become, read the next couple of stories below.

Douglas Couet and Louis Wilmotte, both aged 23, two French oceanography students. Have just paddled their boat along the Med shoreline.  Douglas Couet said 'We only had our eyes to witness pollution. But we were very depressed by huge coastal urbanisation. Close to big cities, we saw a lot of plastic waste in the water. At some point we could actually realise we were getting close to a big city or to a national park, depending on the amount of plastic in the water.' La Manga in Spain is an example of human nonsense. '20km of city length, two kilometres wide, with huge buildings all along.' said Couet. 'What’s nonsense about it is that this place is used only two months in a year. They destroyed a unique lagoon with an interior sea to please people for two months.' Read the full story Click Here.

But following the economic downturn, almost half a million houses in Spain now lie empty – and planning, as witnessed by the kayakers up close, is out of control. 

The Spanish government has finally realised that the concrete sprawl is ruining the country and coast.  Spain's Socialist government, using the 1988 Ley de Costas (Coastal Law), announced a €4.47bn (£3.5bn) initiative to save the country's ravaged coastline from over development. It has started to buy up any available land to curb the developers and their multistory tower blocks along the coastline. Click Here.

Dateline Madrid: Trawling through the archives, the Spanish have revealed that they had a cunning plan for 'Armada' Pt II. After having their noses rubbed in it in 1558 and still smarting from the result. In a moment of madness, the cunning plan was dreamt up by boat club commodore 'Carlos the IV' in 1790. As he and a hundred of the boat club members decided to save on moorings charges and go constant cruising.  One or two had been spending a bit of time rediscovering areas that had already been discovered by the travel agent Capt. James T Cooke. Their plan was to sail halfway round the world and duff up the latest boatload of British migrants who had just forcibly sent there. However, when the boat club heard that the migrants had been sent to Australia (a large penal colony) as punishment for being very naughty. The club re-thought the whole scheme and decided to cultivate onions instead. Carlos IV was unavailable for comment. 

Dateline Alicante: News just in, about the local outbreak of influenza that is filling all the corridors of the local hospital.  This hopefully isn't a throwback to the previous outbreak of the Spanish Flu. Which occurred in 1918. Which along with the first world war was largely responsible for up to 100 million deaths throughout the world. 

However, there are reports that one expatriate woman from Essex who walked into her Spanish doctors surgery and said 'I'm feeling horribly sick!" The doctor who assessed her condition said 'Flu' The women said 'No I drove here.' 

Reports are also coming in that a lorry has crashed on the A7 Autopista into Alicante. Spilling it's load of decongestants which were intended for urgent delivery to the hospital. Traffic is now flowing much easier in both directions.  

So it might seem that we're one step away from a global pandemic with the whole of humanity at risk. I guess when you're number is up, unfortunately it's up. However, fortunately for me, my number is 7,552,647,829.  

Dateline Pego: Its market day!

Dateline Benidorm: Doctors appearing on the popular fly on the wall series for television. Have reported that the biggest biological threat to countries in the western world these days is the possibility of swine flu combining with bird flu. Yeah, and pigs might fly. 

Dateline Calpe: A Post Office employee in Calpe is retiring after 41 years without having a single day off work through illness. Her family and friends describe her as 'dedicated' However most of her co-workers remember her as, 'That cow who kept giving me the flu.'

Dateline Denia: In today's Costa Blanca edition of the Exchange and Mart. It was revealed that a Middle Eastern plague originating in Mecca is multiplying rapidly throughout  Western Europe. Causing considerable mayhem and misery wherever it goes. In other news, its been revealed that a new strain of flu has also been detected in Saudi Arabia.

Dateline Gibraltar: Spanish singer Juan Way was being interviewed on Gibraltar television yesterday. When he used the Spanish word 'mañana'. Juan was asked to explain what it meant. Juan revealed that the term means "Maybe the job will be done tomorrow, maybe the next day, maybe the day after that. Perhaps next week, next month or even next year.' The host turned to Richard Parry the head poncho of the C anal and River Truss, who was also a guest on the show. He asked Richard if he knew of an equivalent term in use on the inland waterways. He replied 'We don't have a word to describe that degree of urgency.'

Now its time for the Spanish Quiz question of the week. 
If a squat but handsome Spanish man was to meet a tall, willowy and very beautiful Spanish woman. (Think Bernie Eccleston) If they subsequently married and due to a genetic defect had three invisible children, one of each sex. Would it matter if none of them were much to look at.

Answers please on a 10 Euro note to the usual address.

Pasta Lumbago!

Wednesday 18 February 2015

The Toxic Watercourse.

Recently I listened to a broadcast from the BBC which highlighted a series of issues believed to be having a detrimental effect on the wildlife in and around our inland waterways. Has humans we have taken to science for producing tens of thousands of different chemicals. Many of which are used for creating everyday household products. Our knowledge has also added into the mix those chemicals used for creating drugs for fighting diseases. Then there are the agricultural pesticides and fertilisers. All of which are added together in our watercourses. Add to this the happy abandon that people have for the environment by dumping almost anything and everything into the the local canal.

To a point we understand some of the effects that chemicals can have through pharmaceutical research. What we don't know or understand is what happens when hundreds and possibly thousands of chemicals are mixed together at random in our rivers and canals. The issue is made even more complex when the contaminant chemicals are mixed in different concentrations. To all intents and purposes its a potentially toxic chemical cocktail.

Water treatment plants are usually co-located with our rivers. Contaminated water in all its forms is sent into our sewage farms where solids are first removed. The liquids are then passed into water treatment plants for further cleansing. The water leaving the water treatment plants still carries a reduced amount of the chemical cocktail that the thousands of everyday items create. What the latest research is starting to throw up is that even in diluted form the cocktail is having an effect on the food chain.

River water tends to flow downhill, at a varying speed depending on the rainfall. So river flows can change significantly. The chemicals used to create popular drugs such as antibiotic's and other drugs used as anti-depressants. Which can have a detrimental effect on the creatures living in and around the waterways. Creating problems such as breeding defects and in some cases even the ability to breed at all. A great deal of ongoing research is beginning to highlight some of the links and causes that are pointing to some of the changes in behaviour that are taking place.

Often the creatures living in our waterways also provide food sources for other wildlife such as birds. Like DDT had a significant detrimental effect upon some species of birds. So some of the chemical compounds are being found in the food web which may concentrate in those predators at the top of the food chain. The whole cause and effect of such chemical contamination is creating some concern amongst environmentalists. I can't help but wonder if there is good reason for the trust to be employing people in this capacity.

The level of contaminants in river water can vary significantly due to the dilution caused by clean rainwater entering the catchment. Large water flow can also help to remove containments by scouring the river channels. There are natural watercourses such as rivers. There are also heavily engineered watercourses, which tend to be straightened or a mixture of both. The sediment build up will vary significantly in each type. However, where sections of canal get their water feed from rivers. In particular those that have treatment plants upstream. The flow of water is restricted and contamination can build up in the sediment layers as well as concentrate in solution.

I was struck by one throw away comment in particular. The conversation revolved around the responsibility of government and its agencies to tackle these issues. One commentator said – he was worried that some management for the waterways were in the hands of various charities. It was in his opinions a problem that was outside of the capabilities of charities to manage. Especially where funds would always be at some risk. He said it was essential for the government to take the whole issue of the management of waterways in house and to provide a concerted effort in the cleaning up of the watercourses from streams through to rivers.

However, the more I reflect on the issue, the more I see a possible reason for the government not to transfer other waterways into the stewardship of the trust. I can in fact see reasons why when the economy improves the inland waterways as we know them today, might be taken back in house through necessity.

I am lucky that I have a close friend who has come to visit us here in Spain. Who is a very knowledgeable person on some aspects of the very subject. Whose PhD research was based upon river flows and the effects upon sedimentation. So I was able to ask a few questions about their experience and in some cases gained a better understanding of some of the technical terminology used.

Tuesday 17 February 2015

The Philistines Guide to Art (2)

Continued from yesterday. Click Here

Because now the painting has to go off to be cleaned and then viewed by an expert of a different kind. Using an X-ray machine, special lights, chemical analysis of pigments and a microscope he will examine the artists brush strokes. Prepare yourself for gold medal bollocks. From that analysis he can decide with certainty who did it. Either the old master of choice because its 'in the style of'' or alternatively, its someone else. The fact that someone else in antiquity produced the object round about the same time as the 'old master' and was in all fairness was also producing the goods is not enough to warrant notice. Now its just another naïve bit of crap, turned from a masterpiece into an antique by age with little value – but surely as a bit of art it has real worth.

So the cognoscenti can now gather round and chuckle or wax lyrical with another load of old bollocks. Expressing Olympic standard bollocks either in support of the appraisal or against this old artist who had forgotten to sign his masterpiece. So the value of art is in the artist and not the work itself.

Or is it?

Most of my regulars will know that I worked in a University – there were legendary stories told of various internal art installations. Generally one kept clear of the art aficionados in case it was catching. Let me give you an example or two. One story was of an art installation that was erected in an intersection of a couple of corridors. The cleaning staff who were well known within university circles as accomplished  art critics. Cleared the art away into the rubbish when tidying up that evening.  The very memorable brick wall, intended to symbolise the Berlin wall and all the political angst surrounding that. Which shortly after completion had to be removed because it was blocking a fire exit. It had a slightly shorter life span than the real thing - but I'm sure the art critics will feel it symbolised the moment that the German reunification started. Which as we all know is utter bollocks.

Then there was the installation done in a very large atrium – which consisted of washing lines of clothes hanging from various points. I over heard two art lecturers waxing lyrical about the symbolism or as I like to put it - talking complete and utter bollocks. 

I walked up – viewed it for a while from a variety of angles. Then I turned and said while stroking my chin in the way that art critics do – 'I never new my old mother was an artist'. Their faces were a picture of a different type, I then quietly walked away.

There were other art installations like the full sized models of carrion crows that were placed in the trees along the drive. No one noticed. The Pigs heads that were hung from the trees on wires. A sort of Damien Hurst installation long before Hurst 'arrived' on the art scene. At the end of the exhibition the heads were placed in a refrigerator before the art students and staff disappeared off for the summer. However, someone forgot to plug the fridge in. After the long summer break the smell was excruciating and a hundred million flies who escaped also gave their critical opinion.

One day I had a phone call from my friend and colleague on the art campus. He could hardly contain himself. He said Mick you must see this. He would not divulge the nature of the art installation. Only that it was a oncer (once in a lifetime) experience. That I really must come and see it for myself. Soon afterwards I found myself sitting in a darkened auditorium with my sniggering friend at my side. I was a bit suspicious of being 'dropped in it' so to speak.

It was performance art – which consisted of a naked young lady sitting astride a rope swing. The swing had garlands of flowers entwined round the central rope and a strategically placed posy at the bar seat - overhang. I'm not sure if the posy was intended for modesty or just for the scent. The performer was then allowed to swinging out from the stage, into the auditorium and over the top of the gathered audience. After several swings in an out, she was drawn back over the stage and the curtains then closed. The performance was over, the lights went up and a ripple of spontanious applause was led by a couple of art students.  Everyone gathered around the table with coffee and nibbles to discuss our impressions. Unusually for me I somehow kept my impressions to myself. It was a oncer I would have been very happy to have missed. 

At the end, the audience were requested to fill in a questionnaire as a critical review. I wrote that I was impressed that the lady was of the same sort of physical proportions as those ladies Rubens often portrayed. I had certainly hoped during the performance that the rope was a strong one and that I considered myself lucky that I had avoided the artiste falling into my lap. That most of all – I was very impressed by the ladies continence control in what seemed to be for her a frightening experience. I then signed my friends name at the end.

Monday 16 February 2015

The Philistines Guide to Art (1)

I have often wondered what art really is. You might suppose from reading my witterings on the blog. That I am some sort of artistic philistine. By the time you get to the end of today's topic you might well be right. So today's topic is 'The Philistines Guide to Art'. Well, to be more accurate its Michaels guide to certain types/classes/genera of art. Ones that I find it difficult to get my head around.

I can easily understand and appreciate a portrait, be it in any media such as pencil, pastel or whatever. I can make a judgement upon the quality of the portrait. Depending upon its skill in depiction, closeness to reality or its 'likeness' if I know the person or object being portrayed. Landscapes are another art form, which I am also very comfortable with. I can see skill and beauty in the artists representation of feature objects like mountains and trees. In the detail which can require exceptionally skilful manipulations of colour to represent light and shade.

I like particularly enjoy the impressionists where the detail has that 'speckled' representation and you have to stand away and sometimes even squint to see and appreciate the whole. I actually like the crude or naïve art, where someone is a less skilled artisan but has attempted to portray something or other. Maybe its because that's where my own level of skill has plateaued over the years. What I can't get my head around are what I call 'Charlatan Art'. Where the 'art' consists of broad random splashes of colour, which have seemingly have been thrown on the canvas. Then there is the Banksy art made by spray painting with a stencil. My kids were doing that on any rainy day years ago. Most of all its cubism – what the ferkle is that all about.

Then there are the old masters, where sometimes the positions assumed by the characters are so unreal. Where the art can often be dark and brooding. Covering subjects like beheading and cherubs ascending from heaven. The ganja must have been very potent back then. The old masters are the speciality for the talking of premium grade bollocks by critics. Usually taken to a stratospheric level of pomposity.

Then there is the good old Antiques Road Show – I enjoy seeing the stuff that gets appraised and to watch the reaction of people as its value is finally revealed. There are many objects I would quite happily appraise as 'could be worth taking to the nearest skip'. The appraiser sometimes asks the owner if they like the piece and quite often the owner says no. Then its revealed that the item is worth a load of dosh and suddenly the owner sees the item in a whole new light. Maybe it transforms into a new kitchen or a trip to Corfu.

Best of all is the art where someone turns up with a picture. It set up on an easel and a small crowd gathers in anticipation. A quick glance of the picture for me says whether I like it or not. I can then join in the game of hundreds and thousands and guess at its worth. But its worth is exactly the point, is it better and much more artistic if its worth more?

Some of this occasionally 'found in a skip crap' then get eulogies spouted by various 'art critics' who seem to see a different artistic reality to mine. I call this 'Talking Bollocks'. Every now and then an old discoloured painting is dragged from someone's loft. It was placed there because the subject is so brooding it was making the family feel depressed. However, its artistic worth is to be revealed on the antiques road show. The appraiser gives his or her view on the picture. With stock phrases like 'its naïve' and sometimes 'in the style of'' or the phrase everyone wants to hear 'possibly an original'. Then they wheel in another expert for his opinion, who generally says the same sort of thing. Now comes the crunch moment – the valuation is given usually as two grand or two hundred grand. The owner has an emotional moment of angst or joy and its at this point, I loose the will to live.

Continued Tomorrow. Click Here

Sunday 15 February 2015

New Adventure (8)

The Road To Ruin – Whoops, I Meant Rouen!

Wednesday 14th of January 2015.

The 'trip and stay' in Spain had been on the books for some time. However, the old dog Abbey who passed away a few months ago had not been up to such a trip. So she had unwittingly delayed our departure by about 2 years. Though it should be said I would happily give up the trip to have her back on board and in good health.

We have now started to find our way around Denia despite the best efforts of the cars satellite navigation system and the local constabulary national. We also discovered that using a map would often cut the distance of our journeys. Many of the local point to point back roads were not stored on the satnav maps. First port of call was the local Tourist Information office. On our return we were just in time to stop the local police from towing away our car. Which we had parked in what seemed to be a public car park! So a few euro's later we were on our way once more.

Though there was some confusion between us, the police officer and the erstwhile driver of the tow truck. Both insisted the charge was 600 euro's. (Unfortunately, they were about to discover we had arrived by ferry and not on the banana boat.) We were also informed that the fine also had to be paid in cash because his debit card reader was not working. After we indicated that we also wanted an itemised receipt for any money paid. There was a sudden underground, muffled, rolling noise! There was also the sudden realisation on their part of being rumbled so to speak. Suddenly there was a small error noticed in the charge being levied. The transaction was settled for a substantially and humorously tiny sum in comparison! So that was all right then – yea right!

In what seemed to be like a throwback to the days of my childhood. We were surprised by the number of perro (dogs) on the loose and walking the main roads in complete indifference to the local population. We were entranced by one scruffy looking fluff ball mutt who would only cross the road at pedestrian crossings. Though he seemed oblivious of the need to press the button – This may be a misjudgement on my part. |As in all fairness he would have a great deal of difficulty in reaching the button.

After our visit to the local Touristica Information Officio we came away with an arm full of bumph. We were given a street map and a few other bits, until I mentioned that we were staying for three months. Suddenly we were given two seven day guides and various maps of pout of town tourist places to visit. At last we had been made to feel welcome.

Saturday 14 February 2015

Left hook anyone?

It's valentines day - Did you remember?

But I digress...

When Richard Parry was appointed to the CEO role, I did wonder to myself what changes he would bring. Like everyone else and their grandmother I did a bit of searching on Google. I thought to myself, that's a pity - no third sector or charitable experience. I expected that the trustees would give him an agenda for change. As everyone knows, when there is a new boss, there comes a period often referred to as the 'honeymoon period'. A time when even the fiercest critic sits back and takes stock. Time to give the new kid on the block a bit of elbow room. However, I hoped that if nothing else - he would be a communicator.

I give the man his due, Richard Parry proved to be much more than a communicator. He became something of a 'meet and greet evangelist' for the trust. I found it a refreshing change from what had gone before. Though to be honest anything would have been an improvement. Surprisingly, boaters were much more likely to meet him on the towpath than anywhere else. The series of public meetings he subsequently held were welcome, if a bit guarded. Which in fairness might have been more of a reflection of what he needed to catch up on rather than being defensive. The public relations charm offensive had began and only time would prove or disprove an appetite for real change.

OK I admit that Richard won some grudging respect from an old curmudgeon like myself. But I always held the opinion that there would be as many internal issues within CaRT to be resolved, as there would be external ones. I was right and a few of the old gang have nobly fallen on their swords and quietly left the stage. There was some speculation that it was the stage of the 'Muppet Show' and that one or two had exited the stage via a hook appearing in from the wings. Its true there have been changes - but its my opinion - that the changes have so far have only been cosmetic, rather than real substance. Rather than changes that would create the ethos and confidence leading to a much needed change in the fortunes of the trust.

There have also been some other changes, without much in the way of an accolade. Following on from the example set by the very low key exit of Evans. I am sure there will have been internal changes that never surfaced outside of Ivory Towers. However, even Richard has to stand in the burgeoning shadow of the chair of the trustees. There can never be a real and significant change in the boaters perception of the trust. A perception of being just a wishy washy clone of BW until the chair Tony Hales walks.

Maestro can you get 'Animal' to provide us with a drum roll please! Can someone get the hook ready!  The 'Great Gonzo' is about to leave the stage!