topsy-turvy

2022 is only a few days old. Yet, it seems a lot older. The bizarre confusion of last year has followed us across the threshold of the years. What do I mean? It’s an upside down, back to front state of almost permanent upset.

Go get tested we are told. Testing will help us avoid further restrictive measure to contain this 3rd wave of COVID-19 infections. So, I walked up to the door of our local Boots the chemist and right in front of me was a notice saying they had no test kits but were waiting for the next order to arrive.

Put on a mask[1]. Don’t wear masks. Children must wear masks. Masks cause mental illness in schools. So many contradictory confused messages bouncing off the walls. Constantly senior politicians are racing to say the opposite to their colleagues. It’s possible to see a relish in the discomfort that they cause their colleagues.

Plan B or not plan B. But what is the plan? It’s clear the pandemic is far from over. Wishfull thinking does not make a threat go away.  The reality is that very large numbers of new coronavirus cases have been recorded. Their impact is being seen in the NHS and on the High Street.

A record number of job vacancies remain unfilled[2]. We are told to be prepare for a quarter of the work force being off sick. Ministers put on a brave face and say: don’t worry everything will be hunky-dory. That bright red, much reprinted “Keep Calm and Carry On” wartime motivational poster is now Government policy.

By the way, I’m not talking about the 1961 film: “Carry On Regardless[3]” but maybe I should be. Comedy farce is as British as British can be. The cast of characters in that film would probably make a better Government than the one we have in office. I shouldn’t even go down this avenue of thought. It’s too tragic.

Prime Minister Johnson is thought to be delaying decisions waiting for new data to become available. By the time official COVID-19 data is available it’s clear it’s going to be way behind the curve. Omicron’s progress over Christmas has been rapid.

As an engineer, I wish we had politicians who had just smidgen of systems engineering knowledge. Just a tiny appreciation of how control systems work can go a long way. How we respond to feedback can have a determining impact on what happened next. An approach solely based on “let’s wait and see what happens next” has a huge potential to result in undesirable outcomes.

The topsy-turvy world of tabloid media and Conservative backbench thinking is blinding Johnson. Our peculiar British fairground ride is continuing.


[1] https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/q-a-children-and-masks-related-to-covid-19

[2]https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/bulletins/jobsandvacanciesintheuk/latest

[3] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054727/

2222

As we welcome in 2022 with the hope that it will be an order of magnitude better than the last 2 years, it’s a good time to look ahead. Better that is for general wellbeing.

I’m a fan of Science Fiction. Maybe it was my years of childhood influenced by Gerry Anderson’s imagination. “Space 1999” envisioned a fully functioning moon base[1] before the 21st century had begun. It was a popular UK TV Series between 1975 and 1977. That’s me at age 15 to 17.

Now, here we are in the 2nd decade of the 21st century and space travel has a long way to go. There’s no first moon base in prospect in 2022. It maybe 50 years before imagination becomes reality. Rare examples of predictions that got the future right do exist. However, there’s a lot more cases where fanciful ideas, plausible in their day are lost in the mists of time.

As we enter 2022, I wonder what 2222 will look like. Naturally I’ll never see that day. That is unless a magical means of extending life is discovered in the next decade.

Projecting forward 200 years is mighty challenging. Before I go there let’s look back 200 years. A long time in human terms but a short time in so far as the universe is concerned. That was a time when the secrets of the Rosetta Stone were deciphered.

In the year 1822, Englishman Charles Babbage publishes a plan for a difference engine. That could be said to be the start of the computing era. He got support to build a working computer but sadly it was not completed in his lifetime.

French microbiologist Louis Pasteur was born in 1822. Today, as we struggle out of a pandemic, we have a lot to be thankful for his work.

In that year Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was on the bookshelves. Thus, the notion of a “mad scientist” conducting dangerous experiments with technology was on the streets. That could be said to be the start of the science fiction era.

Given an acceleration of technical advancement, looking 2 decades ahead the scope opens for some dramatic and transformational changes to take place. Without getting bogged down with dystopian futures that will see humanity on its knees I’ll consider some positives.

Unlike Frankenstein there will certainly be “nice” autonomous robots that work alongside humans in every setting. The extent to which these companions will be self-aware and free to do as they wish is potentially the subject of an endless debate. I think they will be constrained by some well-considered fixed laws.

Life will still be a mystery. That said, the microbiologist 200 years hence will be studying lifeforms discovered on other planets. No other intelligent life, evolved as far as humans will be communicating with Earth. That’s not to dismiss the likelihood that they are out there somewhere.

The word computing will have lost its meaning in 2222. Abstract and virtual worlds of immense capacity, performance and realism will be part of everyday life. It’ll add new dimension to physical life. It may bring us to value our physical environment much more.

Travelling through time will still be science fiction. But simulated time travel will be available to all. In 2222 it will be possible to step back into a realistic simulation of 2022. That will make history lessons a warp around experience. I’m wondering if such a high-fidelity knowledge of our past will make us better people or not. Who will be the keeper of the truth of the past?

The political world of 2222 is likely to exhibit new versions of past problems. 200 years isn’t much in human evolution so we will still be struggling with our place in the universe. Granted the knowledge of how it works will be off the scale when measure in comparison with 2022.

I’m confident that a human colony, or more than one will be up and running as industrial enterprises on the Moon. It will be there to facilitate every kind of space travel. Human will not venture much beyond the immediate vicinity of Earth. Our automatons will be spread throughout the solar system. Some to explore and some to extract valuable elements and harvest fuels.

The Earth’s population will have stabilised at about 15 billion people. There will not be much uninhabited or underpopulated land surrounding established mega cities. To compensate there will be massive parks and reserves under global governance dedicated to preserving environmental diversity.

This is just a flight of fantasy. The most remarkable changes in 2 centuries will be the ones that are impossible to predict. Today. we have taken to the smart phone and social media in a decade to the point of dependency. That’s one busy decade. Multiply that by 20 and who knows?


[1] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072564/

Meldrew – not by a long way!

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players, They have their exits and entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.

The great man is not the origin of the idea that human life can be partitioned into phases. He’s the one who captured the idea in the best poetic of language. 

It was an on the sofa conversation that brought my attention to the “Viewpoint” in the Radio Times. That tells something of my stage in life. Who reads the Radio Times anyway? I don’t as a habit. On this occasion Sue pointed out a short article by Charlie Higson titled: “Old people don’t feel old”. 

I think he hit the nail on the head with that one. The COVID pandemic has brought out the worst in parts of the British media. It’s as if anyone over the age of 60 lives in their slippers, is bent double and hardly ever goes out of the house.  Call it ageism if you like. It’s all over the place.

Yes, I do watch shows about gardening, so the stereotypes are not entirely without foundation.  But just as Charlie says, the notion that people of my age are computer illiterate or never used an App in their lives is downright insulting. After all, for good or ill, we are the generation who invented the digital era.  The silicon revolution happened on our watch. 

It’s true that I often see other mature people acting as grown-ups.  Off the peg at M&S and quoted saying sensible and wise utterances. But I’m convinced that some of that’s a front. Carved to confuse younger people to give them the impression of the possession of superior knowledge. 

I have real difficulty in thinking of myself as over 60. I guess, it’s a stubborn rejection of the images of the over 60s that I had in my head 40 years ago. The world has changed beyond recognition in that time.  The kind of jobs people do, their expectations and what was considered “normal”. 

Next time, I see an advert for retirement flats where the eligibility is for the over 60s, I will speedily pass by in abhorrence.  You will not catch me anywhere near such a place until my 90s. 

So, stop it British media. Stop putting us in the later stages of our seven ages before our time. 

*Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man

Lock-down the sequel 2

Lock-down 2.0 is only days but it already feels a lot longer. The News cycle adds more COVID-19 cases day by day. It’s too early to tell if this restraint on liberties is having the desired impact.

Wearing a mask has become so much of a habit its going to be difficult to shake when this is all over.

Mild weather is opening the opportunity to be outside. Much as this is pleasant there’s places where people naturally congregate. Being socially distanced isn’t so easy in places. My recent walk along the ridge of the North Downs was busier than it would normally be. Coming to the car park near Junction 8 of the M25 it was crowded. Since take-away coffee and a wonderful view come together it was a magnet for many people.

I’m trying to leave the car at home and go by shank’s pony. Building up lock-down legs is an investment for the winter. Getting out before the cold hits. Although, I’m reminded of being told that there’s no such thing as bad weather just bad clothes.

We all need human interaction, so it was nice to have a chance meeting with some friends while out walking. All the time we stopped and talked I was conscious of the perception that we might be doing something wrong. These strange feelings were especially crazy as we more than doubled minimum 2 meter spacing.

It’s sad to hear that there are people taking advantage of the rules and a few being crooked. I overhead of one case where a consignment of PPE was stolen. Businesses may be shut up but those with a criminal mind have found ways of profiting out of the situation.  Junk mail has risen as cyber criminals have upped their game to snare people. 

There’s a level of general public trust in the science but the politicians handling of the pandemic is poorly regarded.  Faith in the Government being stretched paper thin.  The use of incorrect and exaggerated data has contributed to this position. 

It has been said that if lockdown goes on one day beyond 2nd December then it’s curtains for PM Johnson. His own MP will turn on him with scorn and vitriol. This may happen regardless of the pandemic statistics at the time.

All Change

Disproportionate effects play a bit part in life.  It’s like the story of waiting for a bus. Nothing happens and then three turn up at once.  This week’s news is of Joe Biden’s electoral victory in the United States (US). My congratulations and best wishes to the people of the US.

For the last four years there has been a continuous drone of incoherence and self-absorption coming from Trump. It looked as if this was going to go on forever. In just a few days that unpredictable regime has been unseated even if they haven’t yet accepted the fact. Now, there’s a chance to strengthen transatlantic relations and rebuild after all the bluster, buffoonery and time wasted during the Trump era.

Joe Biden’s electoral victory means a shift of direction.  Climate change is back on the agenda.  There’s likely to be more multilateral efforts to solve common international problems. Most of all there’s the need for healing and to no longer drive wedges between peoples. 

Clearly it’s a time to be optimistic but a moment of caution is necessary.  There’s a couple of reasons for me thinking this way.

One, although over 70 million people in the US voted for change a considerable number didn’t. Where in the past, polarisation was a political tool used by the populists, the damage caused will not be fixed instantly. Considerable effort must be expended to reach out and heal wounds. So, how much time will the administration have for international relations?

Two, the ability of an administration to get things done depends not just on the Presidency in the US system of governance. The Republicans held a 53-47 majority in the US Senate chamber heading into this election. The Senate race in the State of Georgia has become pivotal.  If Democrats gain control of the Senate, this shake-up will have major implications. 

What happens next isn’t so clear. Populism gave the world Trump, and in the UK, it gave us Brexit. It’s given the UK an incompetent Government during a pandemic.  Will the changes going on in the US have powerful ripples and bring about positive changes in the UK? No one knows – yet.

Lock-down the sequel

It’s obvious? Certainly, seems obvious to me. This lock-down has a completely different feel to it from the springtime one. Then a wave of solidarity swept over us all. Back in April – May the days were getting longer. Tulips were flowering. For a while it did feel like we were are all in this together.  A great national effort to pull together and beat this ghastly virus. Then as we got into the summer a cautious clam settled. It looked, for a while as if a sense of normality had been restored.

Where did it go wrong? Such has been the general incompetence since that there’s a sourer atmosphere with this latest incarnation of a national lock-down.  No longer can we turn a blind eye to mistakes made in haste. A succession of Ministers over promising and under delivering has erased credibility and undermined public confidence.

Autumn can be colourful. If there’s an aspect of lock-down that lifts the spirit, it’s those misty mornings when the sun burns off the fog and the full glory of the leaf fall is revealed. Finding time to be outside is a plus.  At least if the weather holds. 

Wandering around there’s an air of confusion. More commercial premises are open. Traffic is way up on the springtime lock-down. Looking for a logic in what’s open and what’s not is perplexing. I can walk into a shop and buy a newspaper. A book on the other hand is an online purchase.  If I want Christmas decorations, it’s best to go to a garden centre and mingle with an older generation.

Forget a coffee and a sandwich unless I’m happy to sit in the park and eat them alfresco. Having missed the window for a haircut, I’ll come out of this lock-down as a yeti. A well-fed yeti. Supermarkets carry on with no sign of difference or special measures.

It’s an impression but I don’t think this national lock-down has the serious attention of the past one. People know that policing is focused of the attention-grabbing breaches of rules. Everyday skirting around the rules and mirror infringements have become habits.

Rules, although written simply, need a lot of interpretation. Moving to a new house is in scope. But what about the ancillary tasks like traveling to meet agents or dispose of possessions no longer needed. Even knowing that charity shops are shut-up for the duration.

The urgency displayed as a justification for this national lock-down isn’t being followed through but Ministers. I’m reminded of the advice for speakers: tell them what you are going to say, tell them and then tell them what you have said. There needs to be repetition of urgent communications. For a message to stick and be taken seriously by the public the Prime Minister must be more visible.

Common Sense

It’s “just common sense”, Government Minister says. Can there be anything more irritating than hearing that inane statement from someone in power?

Now, I admit the term “Common Sense” has been used to great effect in history. It can be said that it sparked the revolutionary war that created the States of America. Englishman Thomas Paine argued vigorously for American independence under the title Common Sense.

I don’t see modern-day politicians fired up with revolutionary fervour to fight the great evil of the coronavirus. Rather, I see a limp, lost and lazy second-hand car salesmen clinging to their jobs.

The notion of an attribute being “common” is like a schoolteacher trying too hard to be “down with the kids”. Soaking up what is though to be modern culture and showing off how in-touch they can be when in-fact the teacher is often way out of touch.

Populist politicians love nothing more than to see themselves as on the same wavelength as members of the public. If you look closely at their history and experience its often a million miles from normal. Their normal is an imagined one.

Real common sense is sound sensible judgement about everyday stuff. Naturally, we would all claim to have this quality.  However, to quote Voltaire: “Common sense is not so common.”

For something to be common it’s difficult to set a threshold. A knee-jerk reaction might be to say that something where half of people are expected to agree can be called a common belief.  Contrast that with the common things that are not so common. The Wren is one of Britain’s most common bird but how often do you see one?

Why I most object to a Minister deferring to “common sense” is the implication that considered thought, expert opinion and education are not needed. You could even ask what’s the purpose of a Minister if in the end response to COVID-19 is for the individual to make it up as the go along.

There are societies that hold the Laissez-faire way of doing things in high esteem. As a good Liberal, the sense in a policy of minimum governmental interference is clear to me. However, that doesn’t mean an abdication of responsibility when decisions have to be made. Opting for bland reassurance rather than decisive action will cost lives.

Populist politicians are the least suited to dealing with a crisis. They flit between chasing newspaper headlines and wallowing in uncertainty and indecision. When a situation turns bad, they blame the people that they were elected to serve.

Liberals are so much better because they know where to draw the line between minimum essential intervention and freedom. This is always a delicate balancing act. 

Flying, Democracy and Safety 8.

IMG_2082

Halfway through 2020. What a different kind of year than the one we’d expected. With 20-20 hindsight I’m sure we’d have approached it differently too. In that phrase, 20-20 is a reference to good vison but it could equally have been a joke on the year 2020. Now it’s July and Germany’s EU Council Presidency starts. Their theme is: “Together for Europe’s recovery” #EU2020DE[1].

It’s strange that during the years of Brexit debates those who supported it said that leaving the European Union (EU) would mean a break from competition rules to give Britain the opportunity to boost its own industries. What has happened recently has been the complete opposite. In the face of COVID-19, European Governments have been providing support to their aviation sector, but the UK has not provided similar support.

Now, UK Prime Minister Johnson repeats that the UK is ready to walk away without a deal with the EU if no agreement can be reached in what remains of the time available. At the same time, he’s “optimistic” that there’s a “good agreement” to be reached[2].

If the UK exits the mutually beneficial Withdrawal Agreement without a sound long-term deal, the effects will be felt by everyone[3]. With global tensions between many Countries and China continuing to mount, this is foolish.

Here we go again. The UK’s Conservative Government is getting more Brexity as the people of Britain are getting less Brexity. A recent European Social Survey has found support for Brexit has fallen to 35% of voters while a majority would prefer the UK to be in the EU[4].

The aviation sector hasn’t had a good week. Airbus plans to cut 15,000 jobs amid COVID-19 fallout. However, British politicians would rather talk about fishing than aviation. Yet, fishing contributes £1.4 billion to UK economy while aviation contributes £22 billion.

UK Foreign Office travel advice and the national quarantine continue to make it difficult for anyone to plan to travel. Portugal, a Country that the UK has always had excellent relationships with, has been left out in the cold.

The world’s biggest trading block is on the UK’s doorstep.  The bare-bones of a trade deal could happen but making it more difficult to trade with the EU seems unwise to say the least. Again, it has been conformed that the British membership of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) will come to an end on 31 December. Historians will look mystified at this period. Governments don’t normally work assiduously to diminish their place in the world.

[1] The programme for is now online on http://eu2020.de.

[2] LBC on Friday, 03 July 2020.

[3] https://www.ft.com/content/e4da78ae-a428-4466-9721-d3841cc0e005

[4] https://ldeg.org/en/article/2020/1366373/survey-finds-35-want-brexit-while-57-back-rejoin

Flying, Democracy and Safety 7.

flag of united kingdom
Photo by Bernadett Varga on Pexels.com

I have no problem with a Union Jack flag adorning an aeroplane. The British Airways (BA) logo and tail flag from 1982-1997 is still missed by many air travellers.  The quarter Union Jack clearly stated what it represented and said it classically, superbly and strongly[1]. This week we saw the tail flag on the UK Prime Minister’s aeroplane, and it looks wrong.  Apparently, it’s explained that the front of the aeroplane is the “flagpole”[2].  Thus, the only time the tail Union Jack flag will be correctly orientated is when the aeroplane is diving towards the ground.  It seems to me that this image doesn’t send a particularly good “national branding” message to anyone who sees it.

Now, any mention of British Airways (BA) on social media is likely to be accompanies by a derogatory comment. BA has put its staff at risk of redundancy. It’s forcing through pay cuts on staff, even though they’re a financially sound company taking advantage of the UK Government’s COVID-19 furlough scheme. On the morning of Wednesday 24 June, a UK House of Commons Transport Committee meeting took place with the star witness being the Rt. Hon. Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State, Department for Transport. When questioned about the situation it seemed the UK Government is taking the position of a passive observer.

An open UK Parliamentary petition is doing the rounds. It’s calling for the UK Government to support the British aviation industry during the COVID-19 outbreak. In total, COVID-19 could cost the UK aviation industry up to £20.1 billion in 2020[3]. So far, the UK Government has not offered sector specific help as other European Governments have done so.

Virgin Atlantic Airways is working on a do-it-yourself plan to keep flying. They have given up on sector specific UK Government support for aviation.

It looks as if the UK Government is to rip up its Coronavirus quarantine rules for some returning travellers in move that will at least help. Were it not for the #Brexit transition period, until 31 December, the UK might have been on the EU’s banned Countries list given its national COVID-19 case numbers.

Now let’s look at what remains of Brexit. It certainly is interesting to read that a senior Government Minister is concerned that few UK businesses have prepared for the UK’s exit from the EU single market and customs union[4].  It seems uncharitable to point out that they may be busy addressing other issues. It maybe because people aren’t embracing Brexit with the same enthusiasm as the die-hard supporters in the UK Government. More likely that it’s impossible to drain a swamp when you are up to your eyes in crocodiles. Big COVID-19 crocodiles.

The EU will impose customs controls and checks on goods from the UK from the start of 2021[5].  This is going to be painful for design and manufacturing in the aerospace world. The UK’s growth has already slowed after the 2016 referendum relative to other countries.  Brexit uncertainty has reduced capital investment resulting in lower productivity and output. And all of this was reported before the COVID-19 pandemic[6].

The tragic situation is that, however bad the outcome gets as the year ends, the pandemic will make it exceedingly difficult to estimate the true impact of Brexit on the economy as we go forward. Call me cynical but there’s likely to be UK Conservative Ministers and MPs betting on that situation.

[1] https://www.logodesignlove.com/british-airways-logo-evolution

[2] https://videos.metro.co.uk/video/met/2020/06/25/443726506662150015/640x360_MP4_443726506662150015.mp4

[3] https://houseofcommons.shorthandstories.com/coronavirus-impact-aviation-transport-report/

[4] https://www.cityam.com/michael-gove-concerned-at-how-few-uk-businesses-have-made-brexit-preparations/

[5] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-18/eu-says-it-won-t-ease-customs-controls-on-u-k-after-brexit

[6] https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/working-paper/2019/the-impact-of-brexit-on-uk-firms

Flying, Democracy and Safety 6.

space shuttle launch during nighttime
Photo by Edvin Richardson on Pexels.com

One of the News stories of the week was that of UK Prime Minster (PM) Johnson spending £900,000 to paint a RAF transport aircraft with Union flag colours. Red, white and blue. I imagine that money will be spent in the UK. It’s good to see that Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group in Cambridge has reduced the Carbon Dioxide (CO₂) emissions of its huge paint shop[1].

The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and decline of air traffic on European aviation has got worse in recent weeks[2].  Rebuilding it will require new measures to be put in place. Now, the aviation industry is nervous that these will be imposed in an uncoordinated way. National quarantines are an example of such measures as they are an impediment to recovery especially when they are introduced on political grounds. There’s quite a lot of that going on at the moment.

UK PM Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, were in communication last Monday[3]. There was much talk of giving the on-going UK-EU negotiations new momentum. We are told, people are searching for agreeable compromises. The real possibility of a collapse in the talks remains, with some speculation that this would be exploited to distract from criticism over the UK Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a taster of what the ratification of any new agreement might involve, a report has been published by the European Parliament (EP)[4] with recommendations on the negotiations for a new partnership with the UK.  This report does have a few mentions of civil aviation, notably:

  1. Considers that the envisaged partnership should include an ambitious and comprehensive chapter on air transport which ensures the EU’s strategic interests, and contains appropriate provisions, on market access, investment and operational and commercial flexibility (e.g. code sharing) in respect of balanced rights and obligations, and should include close cooperation in aviation safety and air traffic management;
  2. Stresses that any possible granting of some elements of the so-called ‘fifth freedom’ (freedom of the air) should be limited in scope and needs to include balanced and corresponding obligations in the interests of the EU.

Even though this has been rejected by UK Government Ministers, the EP continues to support the participation of the UK as a “third country” observer with no decision-making role in the EU’s Agencies, such as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

Also, the EP still wishes to see UK’s continued participation in the Single European Sky (SES) and technology initiatives like: Clean Sky I and II, Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR), Galileo, Copernicus and the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS).

Today, the indications are that the UK Government has rejected such technical participation. However, it does seem that one or two plans are being changed as we go. It’s reported that the UK is scaling back plans for rival to Galileo satellite system[5]. Ambition is being shaped by practicalities.

Whatever is the case, it’s certain European civil aviation will use both Galileo and EGNOS in advanced forms of navigation and surveillance. The future is being made, tested, and put into service as we speak.

[1] https://marshalladg.com/insights-news/marshalls-clean-air-unit-paints-an-even-cleaner-picture

[2] https://aviationweek.com/air-transport/airlines-lessors/pandemic-impact-european-aviation-worsening-iata-says

[3] https://www.cer.eu/insights/eu-uk-negotiations-no-need-panic-yet

[4] https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/A-9-2020-0117_EN.html

[5] https://www.ft.com/content/50c3b6dc-2d2f-4bb4-aa9b-b24493315140