July 29, 2003

HRH The Queen: An alternative lifestyle?

I had to smile, when I read the latest report on the Queen’s interests.

She is not a fan of classical music, has bought only 20 paintings during her reign and is an avid reader of the Racing Post. When it comes to the arts, the Queen, it seems, is not a huge fan.

Therefore, the misconception of the British Royalty sitting through hours of classical music, played by the best musicians in the world is not exactly an accurate portrayal. As for buying art to add to the royal collection, one wonders as a taxpayer how one might afford such frivolous activity. Besides, is their truly examples of fine art that would complement the royal collection being produced by the leading artists of today? What is good art, something that evolves an emotion, positive or otherwise? Somehow, I do not want to be pulled into this argument on this occasion, but it does offer an interesting insight on a private person in a public life.
She prefers sweet German wine to the classic dry reds and whites of France, has been known to choose a gin and Dubonnet over a glass of fine champagne and likes nothing better than to retire to her quarters in the evening to work on a jigsaw puzzle.
Such are the tastes of Her Majesty.
The fine things in life such as fine wine and champagne are fine, but like too much of a good thing, we all enjoy our “comfort foods and drink”. Mine for example continues to be Dairylea cheese triangles (an no you can’t buy them in the US) and Ribena that you can buy in the US at a vastly inflated price, although not necessarily at the same time.
I do prefer the French Reds the goods ones to the White sweet German wines.
And avoiding the news and continual documentaries about the extended royal family present and past, should we be surprised that HRH sits doing jigsaws?
The Queen may be patron of such distinguished institutions as the Royal Shakespeare Company and the London Symphony Orchestra, but culture, at least in the traditional sense, is not one of her greatest loves. When the Queen takes her seat at the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday night for a concert to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her coronation, it will be only the second time she has been to the Proms in her reign, the first time being in 1994.
It is good to know that I have been to the Proms almost as often as the Queen has.
One might also include last year's Prom at the Palace, staged as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations. But the fact that, two nights later, she also sat through performances by the likes of Atomic Kitten, Emma Bunton and Ozzy Osbourne, only muddies the picture of what Ma'am likes and dislikes.
Muddies the picture, I am not so sure. As a private person in public life, the Queen does what she does best supporting the arts and culture, always fully briefed on who she is meeting and what they have achieved.

She has never in my recollection, turned around to a musician or artist to complain of their work, she leaves the side swipes to the Duke of Edinburgh, and who can forget Maggie Thatcher covering up the artistic tailfins on the models of the British Airways planes that replaced the Union Jack design with a paper tissue from her purse – priceless.

No if the Queen want to relax with a Libfraumilch, do an Arrows Jigsaw, bet on the horses and still support the arts in her way by offering the patronage of the monarchy although not too often, is that truly a bad thing?

Feedback always invited, please email me.

July 25, 2003

Weekend Posting.

I am furious at the BBC.

America, it would seem cannot be right for being wrong. I refer to the publication of the bodies of Saddam’s two ruthless sons. The BBC news web pages would not carry the photos circulated in the America media. Graphic yes, required as evidence yes. As distasteful as many may believe these images to be, the people of Iraq demanded them. Not unlike the need to see proof of the end of Hitler in Berlin I expect after many years of war, oppression and ethnic cleansing. On that occasion this never happened and for years after there was always speculation and secrecy surrounding his end.

Not so this week, two of the aces in the famous pack of cards have been removed off the most wanted list after fighting to the end rather than giving up to military forces.

The BBC has in the past shown worse images on the BBC News and is evidently acting as a censor on this news subject, a course of action that continues to give them the nickname of the Baghdad Broadcasting Company.

Without doubt there actions are evidence that the BBC News service is no longer the best in the world. It is a great shame that this institution previously respected across the world has fallen to such depths.

For PM Blair, I have been keeping a watching brief on the finger-pointing of blame for poor intelligence that led British forces into a war with Iraq. The latest victim, a senior civil servant who allegedly was the leak to the British media has taken his own life. PM Blair will I fear be maneuvered by the wheels in Westminster to step down in favor of a new Prime Minister. Iraq will be to Blair what the Westland Crisis was to Maggie Thatcher. Yet recent history observes that the latter continues to be a true stateswoman and a fine asset to lead the country through difficult times. Likewise I am certain the history will paint Blair in a similar light.

It is sadly the usual story of build up a British hero, then take great pride in pulling them down into the gutter.

Meanwhile, in the US PM Blair following his visit to President G.W. Bush last week is admired by the great majority of American citizens. He is seen to be a great leader, one who would take action based upon calculated risks. There is lobbying going on to present him with a Presidential Medal as thanks for his support to the US in recent years. He is most certainly not the Presidents lap-dog.

The whole finger-pointing and placing blame makes me sick.

On to other matters, postings to London Chimes has been light recently. My wife celebrated her birthday a month ago a fact that was not mentioned here but certainly not overlooked.

In the last week I quietly celebrated my third anniversary in the US, after my wife and I had returned from our summer vacation at the Jersey shore, with beautiful sandy beaches and cooling Atlantic rollers pounding the sand. My British freckles absorbed the suns rays to appear to enhance the tanning of my skin.

Locally I am slowly starting to steam over plans for an educational group wanting to build a golf course to offset an annual tax bill of fifty thousand dollars a year, with no obvious benefits for many, many years. The details are still slowly coming to the surface and I feel that I need to take some appropriate action.

Professionally, my work with the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America continues to enthrall me. I could not wait to get back to my office after my week at the shore and had keep myself in check from talking about work for a whole week! I do consider myself to be most fortunate to have a job that is truly challenging and rewarding.

Personally, I want to make a note of congratulations to my Brother and Sister-in-law in Wales on celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary this week.

Feedback always invited, please email me.

July 03, 2003

IF you use microsoft software YOU MUST READ this blog posting.

How secure are your business documents?

If you use Microsoft software, for instance MS Word, and then email the document, it is possible for the reader to ascertain the history of the document, who wrote it, how often it has been edited and so forth.
For the majority of documents emailed from one person to another, this is not a problem, but what if the document contains sensitive or confidential information, or worse written by a person with government clearance?
The British Government have just found out to their cost and this news item on the BBC web pages have brought to my attention something that I was not aware.
Professionally I do email documents outside my organization for volunteers and donors to read and respond to. The content is not sensitive, but this does raise the question of general business security.
The following text comes from the BBC News Web site and is added here as matter of interest without their express permission (I know its wrong but this is too important a topic).
The life stories of the documents we create are becoming increasingly important as the scrutiny of industries and governments gathers pace. Every time you write or edit these files you leave a trail of information revealing what you did and when you did it. Even if you turn off the change tracking options in popular word processing packages, background tasks keep a minimal log of what happened when. With the right tools it is possible to extract this data and work out the trail of authors and workers who created a document.
The UK Government was just the latest in a long line of organisations that has learned to its cost just how much information can be gleaned from innocent looking files. Earlier this year it issued a document about Iraq's concealment of weapons of mass destruction that was written using Microsoft Word. This document was found to be largely based on a journal article by Ibrahim al-Marashi, a postgraduate student at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. It yielded much more than this too because every Word document remembers who made the last few revisions to it.
Some of this information can be seen simply by right-clicking to view the properties of the downloaded document in a file listing. "This is not 007 territory," said Julian Murfitt, Managing Director of document tracking and management firm Mekon. "It can be achieved with the tools that are available already." Utility programs can get even more information from Word revision logs. The log reveals the names of four of the people who prepared the Iraq document for publication and the government Communications Information Centre that some of them work for.
It was this log that Number 10 press chief Alastair Campbell had to explain to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee in late June as part of its investigation into the Iraq dossier's history.
Nick Spenceley, founder director of computer forensics firm Inforenz, said the format of text copied into a file and the templates used to style it can also reveal its origin.
The Word version of this document has now been removed from government websites but copies of it are still available elsewhere on the net. Anyone downloading it can see that the last revision was made by MKhan, the logon identity for Murtaza Khan, a junior press officer. Dr Glen Rangwala, who discovered that the February Iraq document was copied from the journal article of Mr al-Marashi, said the government seems to have learned its lesson and now issues documents in the Adobe Portable Data Format (PDF) format.
Perhaps coincidentally, he said, many of the older Word format documents on the 10 Downing Street site have now been removed and replaced with PDF versions.
David Stevenson, Business Development Manager at Adobe, said PDF files were typically the final version of a document and did not reveal revision histories. "If you go in to the document description then you will have the basic information," he said. "What you get will depend on the authoring software used to create it." He said tools in Adobe Acrobat, which is used to create PDFs, can log who worked on a document and ensure that only people who have explicit permission can make changes. Like other sorts of files, PDFs can be signed with digital certificates that guarantee their origins. Mr Stevenson said Adobe was working on ways to use web technologies to preserve the structure and format of documents to make them easier to ship around and share.
Mr Murfitt from Mekon said many firms were now looking at installing systems that make it easier to collaborate on documents and that log who did what. He said banking and legal regulators imposed strict working practices on firms that force them to record the life histories of documents that result in new products or are involved in court cases. But, he added, other firms were putting in place document tracking systems to help teams work together. Often these systems use a single copy of a document that workers comment on, correct or annotate before a final edit. "That's where collaboration becomes really useful," he said.
BBC copy ends.

So just how secure IS the information YOU send across email and allow to be downloaded from your web page? Food for thought.

Feedback always invited, please email me.

July 02, 2003

July 2.

Yes its only two days to go to the three-day break, as the whole country stops to celebrate my Mum’s birthday. Somehow celebrating the day the Brits got their behinds tanned and was sent packing by the America in 1776 seems a hollow holiday for a Brit to celebrate.

Of course, I enjoy the day off, and the fireworks, the parades, the food and the kid’s races, but I have this disconnect that I should celebrate an event that marks the defeat of my homeland.

There is this talk radio host, Jeff Katz who more often than not I will actually turn the radio off rather than listen to in the past. Yet, recently he has noticed a couple of subjects that truly have been hilarious.

The tollbooth collectors on the Turnpike, the local motorway, have threatened to go on strike. Would they be missed, - nope. Technology is easing them out in favor of Easy Pass which you either love or loathe that credits your a credit card as you drive through the tolls without paying.

It was reported that the toll collectors can earn up to $50,000 for holding their hand out and taking your money, and they wanted a change in their working conditions. The complaints that the booths are too hot, or too cold, the exhaust fumes are overwhelming, there is stress and not real advancement and that the drivers are more often than not rude and abusive.

The futility of their claims are not in the least pathetic, you cannot truly claim that someone sets out to have a career as a toll collector. Perhaps starting off on a small parking lot, working their way to a small toll drawbridge on a upstream river, before promotion to one of the 6 lane toll bridges or even – the turnpike or express way.

I have read today that their claim has just been settled. Good I will probably congratulate them as I pass over my toll bridge tonight on my way home. I am always nice and polite, and usually get a cheery thank you apart from one guy in lane 3 who is probably the one earning $50,000 and about to have his lane changed to Easy Pass.

As one caller mentioned, given the responsibilities of the job, you expect to be hot/cold and covered in fumes, or you apply for another job. The thought of new technology being brought in to the tollbooths will actually reduce the number of jobs not enhance those already working with their hand out for their $2 or whatever.

Frankly speaking, this particular topic was one of the best belly laughs I have had from the radio for ages.

Feedback always invited, please email me.

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