I’ve just bought an aeroplane!

MW6 powering up ready for take offI really can’t believe it, but I’ve just bought an aeroplane. As long as I can remember I’ve wanted to fly. As a teenager I was passionate about flying and could bore you with everything you didn’t want to know about aeroplanes, particularly RAF ones, in fact I knew everything from the early days of Sir George Cayley to the present day, the present day being about 1969. In 1970 I won a flying scholarship through the air cadets and got my PPL. Unfortunately I’ve been unable to afford keeping my licence current, and so put it to one side and concentrated on my wife and family. About 13 years ago, I picked up a copy of ‘Flyer’ magazine and all my previous dreams came flooding back. I rejoined the Popular Flying Association and got involved with a group of builders and flyers of aeroplanes designed by a chap called Mike Whittaker. They called themselves the MW Club. Anyway, it was at their annual fly-in this year at Cheddar that a friend had decided to sell his beautifully made MW6. I was the first to offer to buy and the deal has been struck. I’m so excited I can’t believe it. I feel like a little boy. I looked up at someone paragliding this evening and instead of thinking, “I wish I could do that”, I thought, “I’ll be up there soon too”.

Just a few problems to solve first. How do I get it down from Doncaster. I need a car with a towing bracket. (You aren’t allowed to put a towing bracket on a Ford KA.) Second, where do I keep it, and finally where do I go to get my licence back. I was marvelling at what good value the aeroplane was. But it might be more expensive after all as I need a new car as well!

Gadgets galore

Although 52 years old, I seem to be addicted to electronic gadgets. So each birthday and each Christmas I’m looking at saving up for a “something or other” which will be some electronic device. When I was a teenager, it was a hi-fi system, and being in the days of exclusively analogue electronics, we talked about wow and flutter, total harmonic distortion, signal to noise ratio and the like. Unfortunatley I was unable to afford the decent stuff and had to put up with very definately ‘low-fi’ equipment. I just tried to ignore the hiss and the hum from the rather low spec amplifier and speakers. 2 years ago I was saving up for an iRiver MP3 player. Actually I wanted the iRiver because (just to show my geek credibility) I wanted to play Ogg Vorbis files as well as MP3.

Now being digital and solid state, wow and flutter must be pretty well zero. THD is so insignificant, they can’t even measure it and signal to noise ratio is so high that 1970’s hi-fi manufacturers would not believe the figure. This device, which is smaller than a Pritt Stick also contains a radio of unbelievable quality. So it performs all the functions of a 1960’s juke box/radiogram, but doesn’t take up any of the living room. The sound is absolutely fantastic and it records really clearly as well. The only thing is, that the plastic navigation knob has snapped off and it can’t be used properly any more. What a disaster. Update: After emailing iRiver support and asking where I could buy a new switch they asked me to return it to them for repair. What a great company. Well done iRiver.

My phone is a Nokia 9210. This wonderful device allows me to log on to my server from the top of a mountain and fix problems. It also lets me download emails, tells me when to get up and it can send and receive faxes. It will display word documents, excel files, and basically do most office tasks. It is also a phone. But it is a bit of a brick. And now the buttons aren’t working properly and so its getting a bit unreliable. What a shame.

My camera is a Minolta Z3. Again a marvel of technology, there’s nothing wrong with this camera at all. 12x optical zoom, 4M images, and as whole host of clever features. Only trouble is that it can’t seem to focus in the dark, over exposes sunny shots when on automatic and can’t seem to photograph purple, the colours always come out blue. How frustrating.

My son James has just bought a Sony Ericsson K750i. What an astonishing phone. It will just fit into a box of Swan Vestas and can do everything above really well except word documents and faxes and its only got a 4x zoom. How much smaller can technology get. That’s 3 brilliant gadgets in one tiny bar of chocolate. How wonderful!

Software Patents

I’ve been sending out a number of emails to my MEPs about software patents, there are 8 MEPs who represent me in the South East. I’m disgusted to discover that only 2 MEPs could be bothered to reply. My local MP, Andrew Smith, always replies to my letters and has also rung up to make sure he was covering the issue properly.

UPDATE Software patents were thrown out by the European Parliament MEPs on Wednesday and you can read all about it here

ID Cards

Now the Labour party has won the election, they are determined to carry on headlong into implementing their stupid policy of issuing ID cards. Not only are they going to be foisted onto us whether we want them or not, but they are also going to charge us £93 pounds each. (Actually a lot more than this, as mentioned later)

I predict that this will be another Governmental IT disaster, but unfortunately several billions of pounds will be wasted before the project is abandoned. Frankly I don’t care whether we have ID cards or not from a personal privacy point of view. I already know that too many people have my private information. What concerns me is the Government’s obsession with the idea that this will solve ‘idenity theft’, and their total ignorance of the technical problems. It will in fact make identity theft more dangerous.

Lets look at the scenario. Someone steals your identity. Now the Government ministers think this is impossible. (Its not. But then what do you expect when we have self confessed technophobes running the country. As they don’t understand the technology, they are insisting that we have it, when all the experts around them are telling them it won’t work. I assume ‘not listening to anybody at all’ was tucked away in the manifesto somewhere.)

Sorry, I digress. someone has stolen your identity. (I’ll explain how later). You have overnight lost all your money, probably your job and shortly your marriage when your wife finds herself thrown out of your home.

You go to the bank and find all your bank card no longer works. That was easy, your thief just got your bank cards changed to a new number and posted to a new address, using the ID that they now control. You protest. “Sorry sir, we don’t use a statement from the electricty board and your birth certificate to prove who you are any more, they were too easy to forge, just your ID card suffices. I’m afraid we have no record of you on your system. In fact sir, would you mind taking a seat.”

This is so that they bank can ring the police because they have just discovered that your ID card brings up no records so you are clearly an illegal immigrant.

After protesting your innocence, you manage to get police bail, and go home to find a ‘For Sale’ sign outside your house with a police car, and your wife and family out on the pavement. Your wife is under arrest for hitting the policeman who was involved in evicting the ‘squatters’ from your house. The ‘squatters’ are you and your family.

The authorities won’t believe your story because your ID card doesn’t show up on the National Database anymore. OK I’ll leave how this is achieved until later. Lets look at the technical aspects.

The government set up a pilot study by the UKPS, The UK Passport Service, to see how users would react to being scanned and fingerprinted. Apart from user reaction, they also found out that fingerprinting only validated 81%, facial scans were 69% and iris scans were 96%. They didn’t seem to understand that unless one of the biometric tests provides 100% validation then the whole system doesn’t work. Did you get that Labour Government THE ID CARD TECHNOLOGY DOESN’T WORK. What is the reaction to this unsurmountable problem; they are pressing on with it through parliament. What bit of “The ID Card technology doesn’t work” don’t you understand, Charles Clarke? Apparently there were 6 people of whom no biometric test worked at all. What do we do with these ‘misfits’?

Added to that, the LSE has just produce a report stating that they have miscalculated the cost of the cards and they are £300 not £93.

Leukocytapheresis

I have been a bit under the weather of late. To be specific, I’ve been ill since Christmas. I won’t go into details but I have a disease called Ulcerative Colitis. If you are interested you can look it up on Google. Anyway, a Japanese company called Asahi Medical, have developed a new treatment for UC using something called the “Cellsorbaâ„¢ Leukocytapheresis column”. Several thousand Japanese patients have had this treatment and you can now get it as a matter of course if you are Japanese and live in Japan on the Japanese Health Service. No so almost everywhere else on the planet. As a result, Asahi Medical are offering trials to various hospitals throughout Europe to try and get it accepted more widely as a treatment for UC.

Living in Oxford, I’m treated in the UC Clinic in the John Radcliffe Hospital. They have been offered a trial and I became the first person in the UK to try this new treatment. Due to Doctor – patient confidentiality, they can’t tell you who I am, but of course blogs are causing all sorts of confidentiality problems. Look what Apple does. One of the things that the Internet has done is to make medical experts of all of us. You can hear about a disease, look it up on the net, and become an expert in just a few minutes. So obviously I wanted to look up exactly what Leukocytapheresis was and what happened when you had it done.

Guess what, the Internet failed me. It’s full of reports on case studies about various trials, not a single one really explains what happens to the patient. Now I know you are not really interested in this, but after all that preamble, this blog is going to tell you exactlywhat happens. Incidentally, If I’d only gone to Asahi Medical’s website I could have found out quite a bit – see here.

Basically, the doctors think that UC is caused by the white blood cells (Leukocytes) attacking the colon. So the idea behind this new treatment is to take your blood out of one arm, put it through a filter which filters out these cells, and then put it back in via the other arm. The machine they use for this is similar to the machine they use for dialysis for kidney patients except you don’t have to have the treatment for so long.

Now the thought does cross your mind, why have you got all these white blood cells in the first place if they cause so much trouble. Well of course, you don’t mention this to the doctor because clearly there is a reason and you don’t want to look a total idiot asking such a stupid question. So after asking the question, I discovered that apparently, these are the cells that ‘protect‘ you from other illnesses, viruses, etc. They (the Leukocytes) just think that the colon is an infection and should be got rid of. Same sort of problem as when you have a organ transplant. So by filtering them out, they can’t attack the colon so it gets better but you are now left open to all sorts of other diseases that happen to be floating around. Brilliant.

Anyway, the ‘treatment’ consists of 5 weekly sessions where you have about an hour or so of this blood sucking process. Look at the diagram on the Ashi Medical page and you will see the general layout.

Here’s an image of me going through it. You can see the cellsorba column near the centre of the picture full of my .. er .. well blood actually!
Leukocytapheresis in progress So, what’s it actually like. Well the worst bit is the putting in of the needles, you obviously have one in each arm and the are about 1mm in diameter, so not the sort used for a quick blood test. They are incredibly sharp so if the doctor puts it in quickly, then there’s the tiniest of pricking, however if he dithers about its more uncomfortable (ok, it really HURTS!).

After that, you just have to lie there for an hour or so while your blood is pumped out of one arm, through the machine and into the other arm. As the blood is returned (minus your white blood cells) it’s quite cold so they cover you up to warm you up a bit. Hence you can’t see the tubes coming out of one arm and into the other in the photo.

One thing that astonished me was the design of the machine. It’s a general purpose machine so that it can do all sorts of ‘blood pumping’ operations including dialysis and leucocytapheresis. The display shows the various pressures and can log them, but the doctors tend to write them down on a notepad every few minutes. They can if they wish get the machine to display the log of all the pressures and how they have varied through the proceedure. I would have expected a usb or serial or RJ45 ethernet connection so that this can be downloaded. However there’s no such facility! You have to copy the readings off the screen!

Lets ignore the machine design deficiencies; how effective is the treatment. Well, it didn’t have a huge impact to begin with for me. Frankly, I started referring to the ‘placebo’. Usually with clinical trials, some of the patients have a ‘pretend’ treatment which has no effect so that the results with the real treatment should show a definite improvement. However, after the 5 treatments, I’m definitely better than I was at the beginning but unfortunately not completely better. The down side is where do we go from here?

The Sadness of Democracy

Here in the UK, we are all expecting Tony Blair to announce a general Election for May 5th 2005. The main parties have been putting out their plans for what they will do if elected for the last few weeks and one Mori poll puts both Labour and the Tories neck and neck at 37%, with the Liberals at 20%. I’ve experienced this situation many times over the last 50 years and its producing a bit of a yawn for most of the population.

In January, Iraq held their first election and the turnout was 80% in some places and 60 odd percent overall. People were warned by the terrorists that if they voted they would be shot or blown up. So in the face of this intimidation, most of the population went out and voted. Now here comes the sadness. Yesterday the new Iraq parliament had to choose a new speaker for their parliament and they spent the whole time arguing and fighting over who it should be. In the end the process had to be abandoned and the press asked to leave the building. As one Iraq MP said “Is this what the people of Iraq risked their lives for?”

In Zimbabwe, they are holding their election. The intimidation that has gone on over the last few years beggars belief. Those who voted for the opposition have been denied food. Some brave souls are going to vote for the opposition this time but many have been foreced to flee the country and are not allowed to vote.

So we return to the apathetic UK who will probably struggle to achieve a 60% turnout to vote for politicians who’s main interest is in having power and making a mark on history than it is on making the right and brave decisions. In every area that I do know about I know that the politicians are making the WRONG decisions, so what decisions are they making in the areas I don’t know about. We seem to vote in people who don’t know anything about anything but have an opinion about everything. So consequently I feel really sad about politics in the UK. We have a brilliant local MP who works really hard for his local constituency, but I disagree with a passion for most of the policies of his party. I also disagree with the other party’s plans. Why are politicians so fixated with “We must give the population a choice!”. A choice of healthcare, a choice of education. I don’t want a choice, I just want a school or hospital that works.

DIY or ‘get a man in’

I’ve been ‘upgrading’ the kitchen in our home for the last year to improve the house as we want to move and frankly the kitchen was terrible. Anyway last year we improved the aesthetics no end with some cupboards and a new worktop from B&Q and this year I’m tackling the other side which includes the sink and cooker. We’ve needed a new cooker for ages as its falling to bits. (And I really mean falling to bits – panels coming loose doors falling off!)

Anyway, this part of the project involves joining the worktop as a right-angle, and producing a mason’s mitre so that its a seemless join. I was rather surprised that all my friends, who are not at all ‘chicken’ when it comes to DIY have elected to pay someone else to come and do the cutting of the worktop to the right size with the special jig. Well after adding it all up, I needed to spend about £10 less than getting a man in and I ended up with some nice new power tools and also a jig! So I decided to go DIY.

I now know why this was a bad idea! My son Jonathan came home to help, thank goodness; I had deluded myself that I would be able to do it on my own. The worktops are so heavy its impossible to pick one up on your own. Anyway, we got on OK with the sink bit, cutting out the hole by using the old worktop as a guide. We then came to the cutting out the mitre part and half way through discovered that the router (which I bought 2 years ago so didn’t come into the financial calculations) wouldn’t go down far enough to go all the way through the worktop.

So we were a bit stuck. Quick trip out in the car to the toolshop; “Oh you can’t do that job with a 1/4″ router, you need a 1/2″ one. we do them for £189.00!!! Fantastic! So off to B&Q to see of they do a long router bit for a 1/4″ router. No chance. Their cheapest 1/2″ router was £89.00. That’s what I had already spent on all the bits so far. So we travel Oxford in search of a cheaper 1/2” router. B&Q do one for £50 but they were out of stock. We finally bought a PBX one for £60 in Homebase. So we were back on track, or so we thought. After setting this new router up, it wobbles about. What a load of junk. The net result is that we couldn’t cut the mitre accurately so now it doesn’t fit properly. What a nightmare. The only thing I can do is use loads of filler. The truth is that you won’t particularly notice unless you know what you are looking for but after all this effort I’m very irritated. So as soon as I can its back to Homebase with this clearly badly manufactured router. I hope I can get my money back and I’ll find a better quality one to buy. – Update – Homebase were fantastic, they gave me my money back without question

This whole episode is compounded by the fact that I am ill at the moment, with a disease which requires me currently to be on a heavy dose of steroids to bring it back under control. Thes steriods are giving me the mother of all headaches, which is not helping!

On a brighter note, I’ve just upgraded to WordPress 1.5 and put a nice image at the top. Can you believe this is just 5 minutes from the centre of Oxford. It was taken last Saturday as Bridget and I went for a walk around Port Meadow. As I write this, I have’t worked out how to move the ‘Chris Sheppard’ bit to the bottom right hand corner.

Anyway, while we were in the heat of all the disasters, ‘getting a man in’ sounded like a great idea, but on reflection, I appreciate the experience. Once it is is finished, I’ll write it up properly so that there’s a decent tutorial on the Internet for doing this amazing mason’s mitre.

Christianity and the BBC

There seems to be a popular trend in the UK at the moment amongst the ‘politically correct’ to out do one another to squeeze Christianity out of society. It is all dressed up as ‘so as not to offend Muslims’ but in reality it is a determined attempt to remove any vestage of Christianity from our lives. And this is despite the fact that our culture whether it is the law, health service, political parties, education system or whatever, is based on Christian values and heritage. Not remove it overnight but bit by bit. Mr David Flavell, of Northumberland wrote to the Independent recently and I hope he doesn’t mind if I reproduce his letter here:

“I am not surprised that the atheist Richard Newson is happy to let Songs of Praise remain on the schedules. It is made to be completely anodyne. My guess is that he would be upset by a real Christian programme telling him that he is a sinner who needs to be saved, but he is never goingto see that because the BBC keeps to its restrictive religious guidelines.
Either we have complete freedom of speech where there is Jerry Springer – The Opera on BBC1 and a preacher calling the nation to repentance on BBC2, or we have a level playing field where Christians are not allowed to proselytise and athiests are not allowed to denigrate Jesus.
What is totally unacceptable is that the BBC gags Christians from saying what they really believe, whilst giving atheists free rein to peddle whatever filth they like. The BBC is not just blasphemous, it is hopelessly biased against Christianity.”

Iraq

I’m a bit embarrassed by the moaning I’ve been doing in previous entries. Our life in the UK is fantastic compared to the life so many people have to lead in the rest of the world. From the end of November and the first few days of December, I’ve been reading an Iraq blog which has been organised by the BBC and gives the most amazing insight into what is really happening in Iraq.

This is no edited summary, but the news as seen by several Iraq citizens, an American officer in the coalition forces and a British contract worker. The frustrations, and fears we experienceare not in the same league as these brave people.

Unfortunately, The blog was only running for 10 days, it was supposed to take a snapshot of life at the begining of December. They will run it again later in January. I wish they had just left it alone. It was essential reading each day for me. It changed just about all my preconceptions about the US military and the iraq people themselves.

The Royal Mail

The government has this morning announced a website where people can write about what they like about being British.

Frankly its all about where you live. This year has been particularly bad for the postal service. Our local Oxford postmen/women went on strike for several weeks in the spring. Not nationally, just here, having an unauthorised strike. Obviously post didn’t get through. However, When I went to tax my car at the post office, they wouldn’t tax my car because I could only offer a faxed copy of my motor insurance certificate. I couldn’t give them the real one because the post was on strike. Even though the post office was in Oxford and that’s where the strike was, they wouldn’t accept the strike as a valid reason because they hadn’t been informed of the strike – and they would not be because they are only informed of official strikes.

This morning, my wife heard the post come through the letter box. She went to pick it up and included in the post was a card saying that a letter could not be delivered because it had to be signed for. The guy never rang the bell. In fact he probably wrote out the card before he arrived at the house. I don’t know what this letter is, its obviously an important document. It might be critically important that we got it today. We won’t know until tomorrow, when I can waste more time going out of my way to make a special visit to the sorting office to pick up the mail.

There’s a note in the sorting office stuck on the inside of the window which says something to the effect that they will call the police if any customer is abusive to the staff. I hope I’ve calmed down by tomorrow!

And then there’s our 2 nearest local sub postoffices that have been forcibly closed down this year because they are ‘uneconomic’. The trouble is they provide an essential public service, so they should not have to be economic, they provide a focal point for a community. Who is the jerk of a politician who is responsible for privatising the post offices. It now takes 30 minutes to walk to the post office. plus the time you are there. It’s only slightly quicker by car but you have to pay 50p for the car park.

Yes, there’s no doubt about it, I’m proud to be British.