Snippets in transit

April 15, 2014

I am about half-way through my travels.

17,000 km by air, 600 km by car and about 6 km walking so far. With my knees lacking cartilage it was 2 of the 6 km walking which were excruciating – inevitably while changing flights.

Arriving is still fun and exciting. Traveling there is a hassle. Security checks are a pain. Swollen feet are an occupational hazard. Physical discomfort is used by the airlines to get passengers to pay more for every little extra.

The fracture of Ukraine – as a consequence of badly thought through EU  expansionism – continues.

MH370 remains invisible and all evidence has been disappeared.

Voting at the Indian elections is about 35% complete. Looks like Narendra Modi and the BJP. Results on May 16th.

The UN IPCC is getting more and more ridiculous and irrelevant to anything. Global temperatures have remained constant while carbon dioxide emissions have tripled. So emissions must be reduced!! Fossil fuels are wrong but fracking is OK! ????

Sri Lanka beat India in the finals of the T-20 championship. Holland beat England.

Liverpool are getting close. My son named his new dog Shankly.

About 14,000 km and 8 days to go.


MH370: The most successful, state-sponsored hijacking ever?

April 13, 2014

It has been 5 weeks since MH370 vanished. The story is leaving the front pages. I have just spent a week in Malaysia and have been listening to much fascinating speculation (and speculation because there is no evidence). There was a growing feeling that the lack of evidence itself was intended and was critical.

A modern airliner with all it’s crew, passengers and cargo has vanished from the face of this earth. Five weeks after the event there is still no trace of anything. No debris of any kind. Even the supposed pings from the black-box are suspect and could be anything and even these are now fading.

All this in an age where satellite images have a resolution of better than 1m; where communications between anybody to anybody anywhere in the world can be – and are – routinely tapped by the NSA and it’s counterparts in Germany, the UK, Russia, China and even Australia; and where computers with communication facilities can be hacked into by all security agencies and especially when such computer hardware or software are pre-enabled for such hacking. It has become apparent that auto-pilots and flight computers fitted on Boeing aircraft have the capability of being programmed remotely and the auto-pilot can be switched into an “uninterruptible” mode.

This was no accident!

The most parsimonious explanation is that this vanishing trick was the deliberate and intended result of an operation which was spectacularly and successfully implemented.

Who then and why?

There were 20 Chinese software experts on board. They had been working for Freescale Technology in Texas on technology which could convert ordinary aircraft into “stealth” aircraft. Patents had been applied for but have not yet been granted. MH 370 was carrying a “large” package as a Chinese diplomatic package and was therefore not subject to any search or security procedures. The speculative, uncorroborated but plausible and most parsimonious explanation becomes:

  1. The Chinese software engineers “stole” technology on behalf of the Chinese government from Freescale.
  2. Freescale was slow in picking up the theft and alerting the authorities.
  3. US intelligence and security agencies were unable to prevent the engineers and their package from reaching Malaysia.
  4. They were also unable to prevent the engineers boarding MH370 bound for Beijing or the precious cargo from being loaded as diplomatic cargo.
  5. The operational arm of a US Security Agency took the decision – without recourse to their political masters – to prevent the engineers and their cargo from reaching Beijing, at any cost.
  6. Since collateral damage would be high it was imperative that all evidence be obliterated.
  7. With the probable assistance of Boeing, and soon after take-off, the in-flight computer was remotely re-programmed.
  8. The auto-pilot was remotely put into uninterruptible mode.
  9. The Malaysian military was “persuaded” – without the knowledge of their political masters – to ignore the plane’s turn-back and flight westwards over Malaysia for a few critical hours.
  10. The passengers and crew were all “executed” by the excursion up to 45,000 feet implemented by the autopilot.
  11. The remainder of the flight path was to get the plane and it’s cargo into an as inaccessible a location as possible.
  12. The aircraft was allowed to run out of fuel such that the auto-pilot made as soft a  ditching as possible in as remote a place as possible. This increased the probability of the plane sinking intact with little or no debris.
  13. The location was deliberately chosen to be over deep ocean so that any black-box evidence would be almost impossible to come by.

I am becoming convinced that this was all deliberate and a highly successful operation with a very high level of collateral damage – 239 dead.

Who should be blamed? The Chinese government for its industrial espionage which provoked the over-kill response? The US Agency which carried out the action to protect sensitive technology? Freescale for being lax? The political establishments in China and the US which exercise little oversight or control over their intelligence and security agencies?

“Collateral damage” has become the euphemism to use as a cloak whenever the ends are used to justify the means and where the means always lead to the death of many innocents.

“Climate policy” has degenerated into ritualistic actions with no measurable objectives

April 5, 2014

I met some old friends yesterday and we were discussing development in SE Asia and  the diversion of resources from real actions with real objectives into “faith-based” actions where there were no objectives or where the objectives were not measurable.

There was no disagreement that any government policy to be characterised as policy needed proposed actions to be first tied to results and second to results which could be measured. There was no dissension from the proposition that any policy where the results could not be measured was a fundamental waste of resources.

The discussion got a little more heated when I challenged the gathering to name a single  “climate policy” action – whether proposed by any government or any environmental group or any UN organisation – which had a result on climate which was measurable. Carbon taxes, carbon footprint, renewable energy, shifting from fossil fuels and carbon emissions were all mentioned. But in not a single case could anybody find any measurable climate objective. The only measurements that were possible – and which were often quoted – were of the actions themselves – but never were any of the objectives measurable or even definable.

It soon became apparent that many governments set targets for how much energy would be generated by renewables, for example, and that this could be measured but in not a single case could a climatic effect to be achieved even defined – let alone measured.  I was the same in every case. The input could be measured but the output – the effect of the action on climate – could not be defined or measured. It was always taking actions for the sake of taking actions in the belief that there was a climate benefit. But the climate benefit was always undefinable and unmeasurable. Measuring inputs with no measurable objectives do not a policy make.

Every policy was based on the “faith”  that it would be good for climate but the benefit was unknowable and unmeasurable.

There is not a single climate policy proposed by the IPCC or by any government in the world  which has a definable and measurable climate benefit.

Hopes and faith are insufficient to convert religious rituals into rational policy.

MH370: The mystery may be that we think there is a mystery

April 3, 2014

I had dinner this evening with a varied group here in Kuala Lumpur.

I was rather struck by the reminder that a great deal of finding solutions lies in the framing of the problem.

Three were from the UK with peripheral connections to the airline industry who had just arrived from the Philippines. A couple were retired but knowledgable Australians and our hosts were our friends who were well respected Malaysian industrialists.

Inevitably the talk turned to MH370 and the mystery of its disappearance. Perhaps the problem lay in assuming that the disappearance was a mystery!

Of course this is all speculation but within this group some ” conclusions” were felt to be justified. It is almost impossible to avoid a conspiracy theory at some level since without some form of conspiracy, such a disappearance and such a long delay for the alarm to be raised should have been impossible.

  1. A “simple” catastrophic event followed by 7 hours of flying to nowhere makes little sense.
  2. A hijack “gone right” makes more sense than a hijack “gone wrong”.
  3. We should assume that what was achieved – the complete disappearance of aircraft and crew – was what was intended.
  4. The 239 passengers and crew perished a long time ago, and probably when the plane went up to 45,000 feet.
  5. The objective was to prevent certain cargo and/or certain passengers from completing their journey.
  6. The rest of the deaths were collateral damage.
  7. Whether the aircraft continues under a false identity or has been crashed into the ocean is irrelevant since the aircraft was irrelevant.
  8. If certain key passengers or the cargo were to be the target then the hijacking was probably state sponsored.
  9. The time delay between last contact and an alarm being raised (about 5 or 6 hours)  is suggestive that the Malaysian and some other governments were aware that something was up.

And now I cannot get it out of my head that the mystery lies in unravelling who wanted the plane, passengers, crew and cargo NOT to reach their destination – to vanish from the face of the earth.

All of this may be speculation but I am convinced that many Sate Governments  know a great deal more than they are letting on and that one or more of them know precisely what has transpired.

A hijacking gone right?


MH370: The altitude excursion which could have rendered most unconscious

April 1, 2014

I just came across this graphic from malaysiakini. I hadn’t seen the altitude presented graphically before.

The altitude excursion about 1 hour into the flight up to 45,000 feet could have rendered everybody on board unconscious. If it was done deliberately or otherwise is still the burning question.

MH370 altitude excursion

Graphic from Malaysiakini

Off on a break

April 1, 2014

Spring has sprung and we have shifted to summer time.

I have a month left to change to summer tyres.

Taking a break for most of April.

Places to go, people to meet, things to do.

Blogging will be very light – at best.

Lufthansa pilots are going on strike tomorrow for 3 days which may well affect some travel plans.

But the planned itinerary is:

itinerary 0


itinerary 1


itinerary 2


itinerary 3


itinerary 4

And then back home in good time for summer (and to cut the grass).

Itinerary 5

April Fool – Scottish theme in UK papers and IPCC gets its timing wrong (again)

April 1, 2014

I opened my gmail today to Google’s “Shelfie” April Fool prank. A little heavy handed I thought.

Google maps has a Pokemon prank.

The IPCC April Fool Report was released one day early and some gullible people are taking it seriously. (Of course the IPCC is probably the longest running and most expensive joke in recorded history).

UK papers have a Scottish theme with stories about an independent Scotland driving on the right, replacing the Queen’s head with Alex Salmond’s on coins and how the Union Jack would expunge the cross of St. Andrew.

Elsewhere there are also stories about apps for snoring – but in these days even the most ridiculous app could make you a fortune.

I am sure there are many more stories and pranks – but few to match the IPCC.

Do send in your favourites.

US Ambassador to India apparently sacked

March 31, 2014

It seems the US Ambassador to India, Nancy J Powell,  has been forced to resign by the Obama Administration (read John Kerry’s State Department) after just 2 years in her position. The story doing the rounds is that she earned the displeasure of her bosses for

  1. totally misjudging and underestimating the Indian reaction to the diplomat Khobragade’s prosecution in New York,
  2. misjudging the political developments and therefore not patching up and developing a proper relationship with Narendra Modi who is likely to be the next Prime Minister of India after the imminent general election, and
  3. being “missing from the action” by going off on long trekking excursions.

The thinking is that Washington wants to “reboot” the US/India relationship which is currently “frozen” and that requires a new, more politically savvy person – though Nancy Powell was herself a career diplomat. During her 37 year career, Powell, has served as US ambassador to Uganda, Ghana, Pakistan, Nepal and India. Also if Narendra Modi does become the next Prime Minister, Nancy Powell continuing as Ambassador would not be possible. It would be better therefore if she was already out of the way and did not present a potential liability.

These at least are the reasons which can openly be deduced. However there has also been an involvement of the US Embassy consular staff in support of getting US visas for the family of the maid who Devayani Khobragade was accused of mistreating. Apparently members of the maid’s family worked for some consular officials in India and the whole prosecution may have been engineered by US consular officials breaking many of their internal rules – and the buck for that stops with Nancy Powell.

IndiaToday: It was a series of diplomatic cables sent on behalf of US ambassador Nancy Powell that led to her being forced to resign by the US State Department, which didn’t want to be saddled with the Nancy legacy for doing business with a new government in New Delhi.

 Top diplomatic sources said that Powell authorised cables during diplomat Devyani Khobragade arrest row described the Indian position as weak and that it will not escalate the matter as the country was in an election mode, the reverse happened because of elections round the corner there was an unprecedented Indian anger and response which dipped the relationship to an all time low.

Earlier too Powell was blamed for not advising the Washington to do business with Narendra Modi and the US only courted Narendra Modi recently after the intervention of the US State Department.

The envoy was also blamed for being on frequent trekking tours and even the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi had informed the interlocutors in Washington that her conduct was not helpful to the relationship.

The Obama Administration has said  - as they had to – that they had no differences with Powell and that her retirement was a planned event.

MH370: It may be the “best available” but is the evidence really “overwhelming”?

March 31, 2014

It does not add to the confidence when the story keeps changing. Tha last reported words from the cockpit were not “All right, good night” from the co-pilot but ” Goodnight. Malaysian three seven zero”  and it is not yet finalised as to who spoke the words.

I noticed today that Tony Abbott was quoted as saying that

“The accumulation of evidence is that the aircraft has been lost and it has been lost somewhere in the south of the Indian Ocean,” he told reporters at the Perth military base coordinating the search.

“That’s the absolutely overwhelming wave of evidence and I think that Prime Minister Najib Razak was perfectly entitled to come to that conclusion, and I think once that conclusion had been arrived at, it was his duty to make that conclusion public.”

But as far as I am aware the evidence of its location south west of Perth in the Indian Ocean is entirely – and solely – based on the analysis of routine communication signals between the ACARS system on the plane and Inmarsat’s satellite.

Slate: On the morning of Saturday, March 8, MH370 replied seven times to these pings, saying, in effect, “Yes, I’m here.” The line was open for the plane to communicate with the outside world. But the system that generates the messages themselves, called ACARS, had been shut off. So nothing else was communicated between the satellite and the plane.

…. When Inmarsat pinged it at 8:11 a.m. and received MH370’s reply, the amount of time it took the plane to respond allowed investigators to calculate its distance from the satellite. This did not correspond to a specific location but to an arc of possible locations across Central Asia in the north and the Indian Ocean to the south. … 

Could analysis of the six earlier pings narrow down the route that the plane had taken? ……  The first ping coincided more or less with the time when MH370 slipped out of range of Malaysia’s military radar. So we have a starting point. By knowing the interval to the next ping, and by estimating the plane’s speed, we can arrive at a distance traveled during that time. Given the radius of the next arc, it’s a simple matter to calculate a route by angling the distance traveled to meet up with that arc.

When the NTSB ran the numbers, the resulting plot showed the plane winding up in a remote part of the Indian Ocean, and that’s where searchers began focusing their efforts. …… Though the NTSB’s process worked for generating a likely path to the south, it could also be used just as effectively to create a path to the north. The satellite data itself is ambiguous—it provides no clues about which direction the plane is moving. 

….. the clever engineers at Inmarsat managed to squeeze one more drop from the thimbleful of data contained in those pings. …….. 

“This is an old satellite,” Exner said. “When satellites start to run out of hydrazine, you can’t keep them exactly geostationary.” Instead of keeping perfectly still above a certain spot, the satellite begins to slowly wobble. Over the course of the day, it makes a narrow figure eight around a central spot located on the Earth’s equator.

“It’s a small effect,” Exner says, “And normally you’d overlook it.” But in the hunt to overcome the symmetry of the ping data, Inmarsat likely realized that it could use the wobble of the satellite to its advantage. The satellite itself, depending on where it is in its orbit, will have a different relative motion compared to a northbound and a southbound plane. That relative motion can be detected as a Doppler effect. ….. The effect was subtle and difficult to tease out of the data, but when Inmarsat ran simulations, it found that the amount of Doppler effect observed in the MH370 data matched the predictions for the southern route and not the northern one. Comparisons with other flights whose location and speed were known supported that conclusion ….

Numbers don’t lie. But any analysis requires assumptions to be made and the results of mathematical analysis are only as good as the assumptions made. The analysis is based on the satellite’s wobble. Somewhere in the analysis Inmarsat also had to take account of the history of how ACARS systems on Malaysian Airlines flights had communicated with their wobbling satellite. That suggests that there is variation in how systems on different aircraft react. There is no reason to suspect that the assumptions made in this case were in error but there must be a quite substantial error band.

But apart from these signals and their analysis there is no corroborating evidence of any kind. No debris so far. No black box signal. The only “eye-witness” accounts of “something”, were off the Vietnam coast and over the southern part of the Maldives!

I suppose Tony Abbott was just supporting the Malaysian PM.

It is one piece of evidence and it may be the best evidence available, but I am far from certain that the evidence available is as yet “overwhelming”. I suppose that only finding debris from the aircraft could provide that.

Dutch beat England AT CRICKET!

March 31, 2014

In the cricketing world this must be the equivalent of a magnitude 9 earthquake or of Jamiaca beating Canada at ice hockey.

Except that this happened 5 years ago as well.

Cricket has in fact been played in the Netherlands for over 150 years – mainly by expats. Their first recorded match as a national team was in 1881. A number of Dutch cricketers have also played at the first class level in England, Australia and India.There is even a Dutch women’s team.


England ended their winter of discontent on a new low as they were beaten by minnows Netherlands at the World Twenty20 in Chittagong.

With neither side able to reach the semi-finals, the Dutch raced to 84-1 in 11 overs before Ravi Bopara’s stint of 1-15 limited them to 133-5.

In reply, England were all out for just 88 as Bopara top-scored with 18.

England’s 45-run loss echoed the four-wicket reverse they suffered at the hands of the Dutch at Lord’s in 2009.



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