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A massive shock

I saw the post woman this lunchtime. She handed me the newspaper and two envelopes. One envelope was the Banque Postale trying to convince me of the utility of their loans.
The other...

Taxman he want dem coins
Taxman, he want dem coins.

I promptly wet myself, threw up, threw random things, screamed, pulled my t-shirt up over my head and ran around with my arms in the air..., wait, that would require too much of an emotion response. Instead I muttered something not entirely polite, put the kettle on, signed on to my tax account, and fired off a message through their portal to say, more politely, "what the hell is this, I pay by direct debit" along with a photo of the part of my bank statement where it has been debited.

But I was uneasy. So I phoned. The system doesn't seem capable of maintaining a queue so it says all the lines are busy, call back later. So I did, right away. ☺ Took three tries before getting to somebody.
After explaining what had happened, she said that there was no record of any direct debit on my account. I should contact another number to deal with payments like that. An 0809 number, which I hope wasn't a surcharged one (it didn't list any call price).

I called, and went around a kafkaesque automatic system until I became somewhat miffed.

Back to the first number, the central tax place up in Rennes. Spoke to a different woman who, when I told her the number I was given, you could almost hear the exasperation as she quietly told me that it was just a machine.

This second woman had a better functioning brain. Lots of clacking key noises later, she said that there was indeed no direct debit on my account. However the one that I had been paying was my mother's account. Following her death, it needs to be transferred over, it's not automatic.
(but, I thought to myself, the transfer of who has to pay tax on the place was automatic enough...)

She told me to wait about 10 days for the local tax office to get back to me regarding this, and she assured me not to worry - that tax has been paid, they just need to sort out who, how, and where.
She gave me the local tax office's number, and her direct number in case I need to follow up on anything or there's a problem.


You know, I have a suspicion that what caused this was the now-necessary declaration of who owns what property (I wonder how many Brits that'll catch out?).
Also, slightly amusingly, my name is given in its current form on the address part of the document, and on the reverse indicating who the legal owner of this place is, it's using my birth name. France is a bit weird about stuff like that. For me, as a guy, it was a simple change of my middle name that I never use for reasons I won't go in to.
For mom, on her French driving licence, it had her maiden name. Which, as a widow, is obligatory in France. It's not obligatory in the UK, so her driving licence identity didn't exactly match any of the other documents. She didn't live long enough to undergo any sort of control by the rozzers - it might have been an interesting discussion.

My French residency permit, by the way, is in my current name as that's the name that I entered, and that's the name that matches my passport. As a former long-time resident with a handful of ex-EU rights, they were neither interested in, nor allowed to ask, about my income, medical coverage, birth certificate, etc etc.


How the right wing thinks

So, the news articles in this morning's online version of The Daily Wail:
  • Princess of Wales pulls a mischievous face as she's searched by prison guard on royal visit to HMP High Down.
  • Putin warns Britain of 'serious consequences' and says Rishi Sunak 'doesn't understand' the risks
  • Meghan Markle jets off to Dusseldorf to join Harry for Invictus Games
  • Fears MORE councils will go bust amid huge debt levels... so is YOUR town hall about to fail?
  • Viewer fury as Antiques Roadshow expert suggests two guests should consider repatriating artefacts that were given as gifts
  • EastEnders star [blah blah]
  • My Mum, Your Dad [blah blah]
  • Clumsy Kate strikes again! [blah blah]
  • Travel insurance expert [blah blah]
  • England's best and worst motorways [blah blah]

Conspicuously absent - entire hamlets in Morocco wiped out, loads more dead in Libya after dam failures led to unprecedented flooding, tin pot despot meets his new BFF Putin, and pretty much anything else to do with the situation in Ukraine.
But I did catch a Meghan article in third place.

I suppose from a right wing Wail perspective, there's nothing to be gained from a bunch of dead arabs, right? Much better to be concerned about some random bloke suddenly leaving the cast of EastEnders because... seriously, who actually gives a fbeep?


On a slightly lighter note, the Guardian reports that Americans are so enamoured with laxatives that there's a national shortage.
Now try to get that image out of your head. If it helps, picture Taylor Swift puckerface. Or maybe Trump, perhaps that explains his extreme Kubrick stare on his wanted, I mean inmate, I mean police photo? He wasn't visually signalling a fury greater than the entire Greek pantheon, he just needed to take a dump...

Now try to get that image out of your head.

You're welcome.


Oh, and by the way, with respect to the Antiques Roadshow audience, that the artefacts were a gift shouldn't matter. Not only is it morally correct to give artefacts back to their rightful owners, but there is actually a crime "Handling stolen goods", but it is an interpretive mess as to whether or not the people in possession of the goods knew they were, or were acting dishonestly. How they came to be in possession doesn't matter.

Which reminds me, a nice dose of schadenfreude hearing the British Museum bemoaning something like 2,000 objects are missing, presumed stolen (which is sort of admitting to a massive failure of what a museum is supposed to do with artefacts - like "you had one job"...).

These artefacts have likely passed into private hands and will never be seen again - not that many of the stolen were actually ever seen, having apparently been dumped into a drawer without ever having been catalogued. What the hell?

Not only that, but it's also worth considering exactly how empty the museum would be if they, you know, gave other country's historical treasures back to them.

Of course, later this year George Osborne (chair of the trustees and former Chancellor) is expected to lay out a billion-pound project to refurbish and reform the museum, under some guise of net zero carbon. Schools and hospitals are crumbling, and he'd like to take a billion of taxpayer quid to tart up the museum. Sure, it's important, but so are schools and hospitals and...


Once upon a time

On Sunday, I popped over to a local town for their "Once upon a time" exposition taking place in town. It hasn't been held for quite a while, so it was greeted with great enthusiasm, a lot of people turning up. And a lot of people turning out.

The theme was "turn of the century", or more specifically the 1900s.

My first thought, upon entering and seeing the woman and her kids in the tea shop dressed in black and white dresses was "Oh my God, I'm in an Amish cosplay".
That was followed up with "Oh my God, those children at school in 1900 would have had no idea what's coming".

I watched a marriage, held upon a stage where the adults were trying to remain calm about a little girl actress playing around right at the edge (with like a five foot drop down to squat metal railings). Somebody would quietly take her hand and drag her away and she'd defiantly walk back... and had to be grabbed more than once so she didn't walk right off the edge.
In the midst of all of this, the man playing the priest (reading his lines from pieces of paper) asked if anybody had any objection to the marriage, and an old lady (not reading any lines) gave a very long speech about why this man wasn't good enough for that woman. Judging by the actor-priests reaction, she went totally off script, skewered the husband to be through the heart multiple times, and got cheers from the audience.
I'm telling you - don't mess with grannies.

Some schoolgirls
Some schoolgirls.
It was interesting noting that in 1900, children wore uniforms to school. Okay, it was pretty much a shapeless black dress over top of either another black dress. Boys too, it seems, though it might have been the outer dress over shorts? The girls wore white bonnets, the boys a black beanie hat. Everybody wore boots.

It was interesting given that Macron is considering the idea of introducing school uniforms in France. Which, given that apparently this means "something like jeans and a t-shirt" implies that he has no idea what school uniforms are supposed to look like.
For my part, I wasn't really bothered. Coming from a country where such things are normal, it doesn't seem such a big deal. There might be a benefit to having a uniform to help foster a collective identity (which might be useful in these days where that is often missing) as well as equality of clothing so the kids with richer parents don't get to flaunt their designer whatevers. Indeed, it seems to me that the people most vocal against school uniforms are often the parents of the children who do want to wear expensive stuff and mock the ones that turn up wearing less expensive clothing. Because, god forbid, anybody go to school to learn stuff these days. You know, other than "look up, look for the cracks".

I would have liked to see the firemen, but that was at 3.30pm and I wasn't going to hang around for four hours. So instead I came back home. Just in time too, the sky turned black and it chucked it down. I wonder if/how many people carried on with the festivities?

The firemen are there
The firemen are there.

Anyway, the firemen's skit is quite funny. It's a cute woman, usually dressed as a nun, inside some sort of structure that is on fire. The fireman turn up with a hand-pushed wagon full of water, and a manual pump (amazing it still works). First course of action, break out the bottles of wine, even though it's clear that more wine is not what these guys are needing. Then they get the fire hoses sorted out, up to pressure, and they tend to let rip... over each other, random children in the audience (if you're anywhere near the front rows, expect to get soaked). Next, a ladder goes up and they rescue the woman. And a fight breaks out as they're arguing over who gets to chat her up. At this point the story usually ends with somebody totally unexpected, like a female fireman or a granny in a fire hat, winking as she takes the woman's hand and they skip away... and the structure having burnt to the ground, the fireman having no clue what just happened and a little too drunk to care.

In the picture above, you can see the firemen have turned up with their wagon. In the doorway of the the green place (with a sign saying "Banque") is a nun. The French maid woman in black is carrying a crate of wine. That schoolgirl gets around. And worth noting on the far right, two rozzers in case of problems. There was actually a low-key but obvious police presence. Which the guy next to me was streaming in TikTok while shouting in something that sounded "Eastern European".

Below, a look at the wagon. With a little girl sitting on top. Will she be the one directing things? And, yup, there's a female fireman. I think we can see how this is going to go.

The firemen are here
The firemen are here.


Deadly cake

Here's a photo of the confetti cake from Picard.
This part weighs about 300g. It is alternate layers of cake (not so much of that) and bucketloads of cream (lots of that). Around the outside, the confetti, otherwise known to us as "hundreds and thousands".

Let them eat cake!
Let them eat cake!

Don't ask: How many calories is that?

Do ask: Would you like some whipped cream with your cream?


Hollywood science

The other night, I watched Heart of Stone on Netflix. Some enjoyable crap about a female secret agent working for a super secret organisation that has a Quantum Computer that's so powerful it can analyse billions of pieces of information to determine patterns that can actually let it predict the future (to a degree, but this organisation's main schtick is stopping things before they happen).

Oh my. Where do we start on the many technical inaccuracies here? Okay, it's a film, it's supposed to be enjoyable and all, and to a large degree it was (there's something oddly satisfying about watching a pretty woman kicking arse), but in the back of my mind...

If you've not watched this film, this is the last article in today's blog entry, so you don't need to read any further. There may be some spoilers along the way (though I've not looked to see how much is given away in the trailers).


Last warning - if you have Netflix you can watch Gal Gadot beating everybody up and then come back and read this. I'll wait.


Okay then... Let's see. This Quantum Computer, that manages to make on-the-fly plans with utterly ludicrous amount of precision (including feeding through to special glasses paths to follow and thermal images of people - where are the sensors for that?) is able to give a thermal overview of the people on the airship that it lives in, but apparently isn't able to realise that something is wrong because one talented hacker waltzed in... and there was no failsafe, no backup, no running the airship on an autonomous system.

It's a tube, with a sort of glowy orange thing inside. That can apparently be removed and inserted, just like that. Indeed one might say it was specifically designed to be replaceable...despite it not only being the only one if its sort in the world, but also highly dangerous to boot.

It got inserted into a different machine elsewhere. With, apparently, no compatibility problems whatsoever, especially given that this is a one-of-a-kind device. I mean, the hacker, how did she even put together the code for this, know the system architecture, and... wait, it's just a processor. Processors aren't magic, they're just really fast calculators. Everything else is smoke and mirrors and bluffing.
Like this sentence. Or 76, 105, 107, 101, 32, 116, 104, 105, 115, 32, 115, 101, 110, 116, 101, 110, 99, 101, 46 to a computer. Those numbers represent the letters in something called ASCII. The letters you see on screen? Just manipulating little bits of memory that are interpreted by the graphics system to be colours. They could be a bit of the letter 'A', or a bit of a bare nipple, the machine doesn't care. It's just a splotch of colour on the screen.
So, these letters in this language have meaning to me. I wrote them, and they appear in front of your eyeballs and hopefully have the same meaning to you. But the bit in between? The servers, modems, wires, and phone systems? It's all just pushing around numbers that represent these words. Clever illusions give us web pages, porno videos, football live streams and Evanescence on a gothic rock station. But, really, it's just a really insanely fast (and complicated) calculator.
As for a quantum processor? Well, that image on the screen could be boobies or a cupcake... That music could be AC/DC or Prefab Sprout... you won't know until you observe it, at which point it would have to assume a state. Or just get knotted up with quantum entanglement and end up as a mammary gland slathered in Nutella listening to Bob Dylan. <shrug>

Which is why they keep it in a solar powered airship that's floating extremely high in the atmosphere (higher than planes could go). When the hacker brings it down lower, it's someplace over - where was it, Namibia?
Because nothing says "security" quite like a flying solid-panelled transparent airship with no security and no automatic self destruct wandering around the world high in the air. I mean, cool visuals but really rather stupid given that one could bury it deep underground with a freaking tank aimed at the only way in. Guys with missile launchers. Superglue the damn thing to the trigger of a nuke. Touch the fancy AI computer, kabluey.
Want to break into that, huh?

Oh, and the airship floats by way of a thin chamber between the massively empty inside and the outside that is, get this, filled with hydrogen. The hacker even warns her boss not to use his gun or the whole thing will blow up.
Of course it is very shortly afterwards blown up. The bad guy pushing his trigger button close enough to the airship that the spy woman is able to do a running leap to grab on to a rope dangling from the helicopter. Why they all didn't die in wreckage is a mystery (though, granted, it would have been a bit of a downer ending, I suppose).

The guy controlling the fancy computer doesn't have a terminal, or a keyboard. It's all sort of floating holograms that respond to his body movements. Just like in <name a half dozen other movies and a couple of Eurovision songs that did the same thing>.

But the one that really annoyed me? A pop snapper. Only it wasn't. It was a tracer. But not just any tracer, one that magically could be tracked inside buildings and all around the world.
It's stupid crap like that that helps the more clueless believe rubbish about tiny little transmitters for tracking people put into the vaccines. Antennas don't work like that. Radio transmitters don't work like that. Batteries don't work like that.

I mean, think about it. The practical radio experience that a lot of people have during Covid is of having their phones pinging others using Bluetooth. Which took a drain on the battery. And that's just about ten metres (less within buildings). While the power dumped into an antenna does not depend upon the frequency (1W at LW is the same as 1W at UHF), there are three aspects of critical importance. The first is range. AM (MW/LW) transmitters have a vast range, and they are intended to do so, which means they need to use huge amounts of power to get that range. Higher frequencies don't travel as far, which means that they don't need as much power. For example the Hog's Back transmitter that used to carry The Eagle (Guildford) was 3kW, while the Radio 4 transmitter at Droitwich is 500kW. The Guildford one covers the area around Guildford (easily reaching Aldershot), while Radio 4 LW could be received here in southern Brittany, and can make it as far at Italy and some parts of Spain (depends upon the weather).
The second is propagation waste. Long Wave bounces off the ionosphere, but a fair amount of the transmitted power gets dumped into the ground, clouds, buildings... this is true for all transmitters, but if your WiFi only has to make it through a wall, or the Guildford transmitter only has to make a 30 mile radius, there will be fewer losses overall than one bouncing off the top of the atmosphere and travelling hundreds of miles.
The final thing is that antenna efficiency is actually really poor. Like under 1% in many cases. So if the BBC dump 500kW into their big piece of wire, they won't be getting 500kW out in EMRP.

And, there you have it. A tiny hidden antenna with really low power is fine in an ESP32. If you want to cover an urban area, you'll need a bigger transmitter and a good couple of kilowatts. And if you want to cover a large chunk of western Europe, you'll need half a megawatt and 180 metres of cable (590ft) slung up on masts 213 metres (700ft) apart.

Now, this tiny little transmitter that's so small it can be invisible in vaccine? Would have neither the power capacity or the antenna to make it through your skin, never mind allow you to be trackable wherever.

But as long as movies keep showing these unfeasibly tiny gizmos doing patently ridiculous feats, people will keep believing in nonsense.



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C Ferrls, 12th September 2023, 20:59
R4 LW tx is due to be switched off - cutting of many people abroad and the shipping wx forecast.
Anon, 12th September 2023, 23:02
Many many years ago we used to buy the Daily Hate-Mail on a Saturday for the TV guide. If memory serves, Ceefax and Oracle (later Teletext Ltd) would only give you listings for today and tomorrow, not for the full week. 
Then along came Freeview with its 7-day EPG. No more Daily Fail. 
(I have Freesat HD here. Originally because the terrestrial signal was poor, but the BBC and other operators have bumped up the transmitter power so you can pull in a DVB-T signal on a piece of wet string. However the picture quality on Freesat, especially on the HD channels, is noticably better than on Freeview - Freesat has more bandwidth, simple as that.)
David Pilling, 13th September 2023, 01:24
I watched the Antiques Roadshow, and it was a bit odd how the presenter came out with "would you be happy to send these back", to which the keepers enthusiastically agreed they would. Without explaining why they might be the subject of calls for repatriation. Then he valued them - but if they belong to someone else the value would be zero. 
Did Fiona Bruce once do "Police 5", future can be a cross with AR - "tonight we have a fine brass mantle clock", "if you think it might belong to you, give us a call". 
David Pilling, 13th September 2023, 01:26
At the moment Bob and Fiona think it is worth 10 grand, but if you can prove it is yours they'll be going down for a 5 stretch. 
J.G.Harston, 13th September 2023, 15:59
Meghan *MARKLE*? So, the divorce has gone through then?
Rick, 13th September 2023, 17:26
I've commented on this before - they always refer to her as Markle, possibly because their readers would froth at the mouth over calling her Meghan Windsor. 
Yes, it's racist. 
Yes, it's pretty much making her point clear. 
Rick, 13th September 2023, 17:29
When I was younger, I used to pick up the Mail on Sunday as the supplement was often interesting. 
For the TV, I took the superior option, the "ra-dee-o-tim-eez" ('o' like in hOt). 

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