Thursday, 6 January 2022

Google Maps and catching criminals

The BBC had an interesting article about a Mafia boss who was supposedly caught in Spain by being seen in a Google Maps photo.

This article raises a few questions about privacy, Google and law enforcement. As well as the power of computing available to the law enforcement and security services.

There are two possibilities for how the authorities captured the mafia boss:

  1. They managed to identify him from the Google Maps image as proposed by the article.
  2. They actually identified him via an informant but they are using the Google Maps idea to protect their source (a credible alternative that creates plausible deniability).
I have some questions about possibility 1 and some reasoning that I hope it correct and that you can follow.
  • Google censors faces and so law enforcement must have had access to the uncensored data - you cannot just say oh its an old guy wearing clothes that could be this mafia boss who escaped 10 years ago.
  • If that is true then are Google routinely handing over data that they collect to the authorities?
  • If they are then to which authorities?
  • Given the amount of data that Google are collecting worldwide for all of their mapping services how did they find this needle in a very large haystack?
  • Do they have massive storage and computing power available to fun face recognition on all of the Google Maps data to identify suspects?
  • Even if they have the power to run the search over all the data they will be limited on how many of these searches they can carry out.
  • Why was this specific criminal identified and targeted for a search?
  • If they were not targeted then they must have the computer resources to carry out a face recognition search from all of the outstanding criminal mugshots against all of the Google Maps data.
  • That is a whole scale of computing power beyond what we consider law enforcement of being capable of doing.
  • Those are resources only available to the security forces and still that is more than you would expect that they have.
  • If they are letting law enforcement use that resource then the actual power for search controlled by the security forces must be even better.
  • That means that they can know where EVERYONE is at any time and privacy is more than over.
All of this makes it more likely that possibility 2 is the reality. The security services are good but if they were as good as this article suggests then there would never have been a January the 6th attack on the Capitol and there would be no doubt that various politicians are Putin assets. It would be impossible for Russia to infiltrate anywhere. 

Monday, 15 March 2021

A Mothers Day boomer and the Demon EU

 I phoned my mum for mothers day and the discussion moved to sending post to my son who is living in Spain. I said that I have lost one package sent to him already and I have also had one parcel from Spain rejected by a UK courier because it couldn't clear customs. I blamed Brexit. Mum being the Brexiteer that she is said it will all sort itself out "We traded with them before we were in the EU". When I suggested that this will NEVER sort itself out as we will always need this paperwork she then went on with "We never should have joined" 

My blood was by now boiling and luckily we said our farewells because she is a complete fucking moron whose mindset is sending the UK back into the dark ages. The final result will be an extremist, authoritarian, facist, racist government. Am I exaggerating? I wish that I was. Check out the list of signs of fascism and you can tick off most of them in the British public and the current British government. Just check the new Policing Bill, but that is the tip of a very fascist iceberg and is evidence that the descent into a failed democracy is speeding up.

But stepping back to be a bit more reasoned does her argument make any sense? 

The reason for the delays and the rejection at customs are the new forms that have to be filled in. 

For example if your product contains ANY COMPONENT of animal origin then it requires a vet certificate to be imported into the EU. That is because it could have come from another country without the correct quality control and supervision and just be passing through the UK and then on to the EU. While the UK was within the EU the boundary was anything coming into the country. Now the boundaries are between the UK and the EU. This is a massive amount of paperwork. It even applies to a packet of crisps if it contains cheese powder. Basically this means nobody from the UK can take any food to the EU unless they are a commercial supplier because individuals cannot complete all that paperwork. 

For commercial suppliers there is a massive burden of form filling that makes exporting much more expensive. Sure there are no tariffs or taxes but the cost in time and manpower of completing the forms makes this hidden cost enormous. Will this ever get better? Yes it will get automated and more efficient as we get more familiar but will this extra burden and paperwork always be there? Yes it will and that means extra cost.

That is why we joined. To get rid of all this paperwork and to create a simple transparent and seamless trade union. That is the entire point of the EU. That is why there are regulations on weights and measures, on quality and standards. The British Conservatives joined precisely for these reasons as it allowed their chums in business access to a bigger market. The only reason that they got in a huff when these rules were extended to cover workers rights. This is to make sure that workers are not exploited in one member country to produce goods more cheaply for the entire market. That would mean that you could have a sweat-shop nation. Business like this as labour is a major cost but at the time the EU has a pre-dominance of social democrats as premiers and so they brought in Labour protections as well as goods protections.

This meant that the Conservatives became less happy about the EU and Labour became more supportive except the far-left who never liked all this free trade thing (they think that living in a cave making your own stone-ground bread is a wonderful thing). 

This shows that some of the wrinkles will be smoothed out over time but it cannot get better until we rejoin and ditch the burden of all of this unnecessary paperwork. It is certainly going to be much worse for anyone travelling to the EU as an individual until we rejoin.

What about saying that we traded before the same as the argument that musicians toured before given by that brilliant economist Roger Daltry. Try a thought experiment about transport. Before we invented cars did people travel around? Yes they certainly did. We have shells from the Mediterranean in UK archaeological sites. But do you want to go back to walking/riding from one end of the country to the other? 

No I didn't think so either. Yes you could do things in the past but the reason that we joined was because that was better. Cars are better than walking and horses. We should never want to go back to something that is worse. 

But that is what 52% of the voters chose in the EU referendum. They chose to ditch the car and start walking and riding again. Why did anyone do this? Well because the liars in the Leave campaign said that we could keep the car and get a turbo-charger and get the money back that we paid for the car. This is an obvious lie to anyone who thinks about it. There are no free cars and no free turbo-chargers. 

What they did was disguise the lies by making it about immigration. That is a dangerous genie to use. This is what Hitler used and once you activate the hate of other you divide your country and create a very nasty place. I work a lot with immigrants or children of immigrants and they are the best people I know. I am married to an immigrant which is why my son is in Spain. To play on immigration is to play on a fundamental genetic concept of superiority of some to others. It is to embody the idea of a selfish gene. This is what keeps the Royal Family and aristocracy in place. We have special blood/genes compared to the rest of you. Implicit in this argument is that immigrants are genetically different they are lesser people. 

Sorry to break it to you but as someone who works in genetics they are no different. Where they come from is an accident of geography. It was an accident that Boris Johnson was born in the US because his parents were there at the time. It was an accident that Donald Trump's great grandfather went to the US to escape conscription to the German army and so the family became established there. Immigration is meaningless, as meaningless as nationality and passports. They are inventions of wars and dictatorial governments. 

There is also no reason to have any special families or to believe that inherited wealth and power does anything useful for mankind. That means that a very high inheritance tax would level out the accidents of birth and we should all be Republics.

After looking at all this reason was I right to argue with my mum on Mothers Day?

Yes completely. Because this is a fight for the soul and future of a country and by extension to humanity. If we cannot get it into our thick heads that our differences are trivial to what we have in common, then humanity has no future. We either learn to work together or we all die fighting one another. We have all the resources, knowledge and technology that we need to create a utopia but we lack the political will. 

While lying politicians divide us for their own self-interest then nothing will change. When people and nations work together in unions (not perfect by far) then there can be change. 

Friday, 27 March 2020

The hydroxy-chloroquine paper for Covid-19

There has been a lot of attention given to a paper on the use of hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for Covid-19, especially after it was tweeted about by US President Donald Trump. As a researcher who has worked in Malaria and also Viral Research and as someone who carries out statistical analysis I was skeptical about the paper.

I downloaded the paper and the accompanying data in order to carry out my own analysis. As many people have already pointed out the study is a particularly poor design and does not meet even its own power requirements of 48 participants. It is not a randomised trial and it introduces confounding variables such a participant age, and it is not blinded so the placebo effect is also an issue. Elizabeth Bik also pointed out that the final measure is unreliable and patients go from being negative to positive because of a dubious threshold.

My main concern is the very large number of non-determined data-points in the dataset. I copied the dataset into SPSS as a binary set replacing the significant test measures with positive and the negative test results as negative. Non-determined values were marked as missing values as were undeterminable values such as time since symptoms developed for someone who was unsymptomatic.

I then carried out the Fishers Exact Tests for those taking the hydroxychloroquine and those left untreated for days 1 to 6. I could not reproduce ANY of the reported p-values. The results from my analysis are given below, but the key point is that there is no significant effect of hydroxychloroquine on the virus except for day 6 and by then because some of the participants had experienced symptoms for up to 10 days already you would have expected them to recover from the virus anyway. I sent my results to the corresponding author. My view as an editor for another journal is that if it had been soundly peer reviewed and the quality of its statistics assessed then it would never have been published.

This does not mean that hydroxychloroquine is definitely not a potential treatment. It may prove to be a treatment in a future study but this particular study presents no evidence that it is an effective treatment for Covid-19.


Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Why I hate Fast Track Reclaim

If there is one company in the world that I truly hate and that i would tell everyone that I know to avoid like the plague it is Fast Track Reclaim (FTR).

What do they do?
They are there to get your overpaid payment protection insurance (PPI).

I was pretty sure that I never had PPI but on the off chance I filled in the online form for FTR to check if I had had PPI. I did not pay much attention to the charge level of 30% that they charge and that they notified me about in the first call. To start this process you have to sign a letter of authority but as all their literature says we will do the check for free and only ask for payment if we are successful I did not pay particular attention when signing the letter.


They did find that I had PPI with NatWest Bank and they called me to ask for the details so that they could send off my claim. I answered the questions and they posted the completed form to me asking me to return it so that they could make my claim. Now me thinking much more carefully now looked over the form for the fees and could not find any and so that was when I figured out that they sail close to the wind. It just says if they are successful in the PPI claim then they will charge a percentage fee. But there was no percentage. If I do not see a fee I am not signing. I then ignored their daily phone calls.


I just thought that they were (they are) pushy and definitely stretching what is legal to the limits. What I had not read was clause 1.5 of the letter of authority.
1.5 If you do not return the Lender Questionnaire by post but complete it over the phone you will still be bound by the terms of this agreement.
This is a contract where in the ABSENCE of you doing anything the contract becomes active, because FTR know that many clients like me will become suspicious when they send out the questionnaire and it does not contain the fee schedule.

Because that fee schedule is hidden in the letter of authority and their fee is 30% in my version of the letter (the government actually legislated against this level of fees but the legislation only applies to after July 2018). Not only are their fees extortionate but they apply to the full sum before tax. So once the tax is removed they will be over 40% and all they did was send a letter to the bank on your behalf.

I was surprised when NatWest contacted me about my PPI as I thought not returning the questionnaire had ended the matter. they asked me to fill in the details over the phone - the same details that FTR had supposedly sent from my questionnaire. NatWest then sent a letter (a day after the legal deadline but dated before) to say that I had a claim and saying what the payment would be. Then to my surprise I got a bill from FTR asking for 40.5% of the payment as their fee even before I had anything from NatWest. I was very angry and followed their complaints procedure saying that I was not correctly informed. They said we did tell you in the letter of authority and on the phone. They were right yes they did. So I complained again suggesting that clause 1.5 flies extremely close to being an unfair contract term. Which it does. While the contract is specific there is a question in equity about that clause and whether it is fair to impose the terms for an inaction.

FTR operate at the limits of what is legal. They grab as much as they can within the current system and as the government regulates them and legislates against their practices they move just enough to continue gouging clients. I made a mistake but I hope people learn from my experience.

  1. NEVER deal with FTR or any other PPI company.
  2. Use the online tools now available for finding if you had PPI and drive companies like FTR out of business.
  3. If you do decide to use one of these companies read everything and listen to everything. Watch out for clauses like clause 1.5.
  4. If you do use FTR then make sure you never go over the questionnaire with them online OR if you do cancel their services in writing as soon as you have.
  5. Just send the letter to the bank yourself when you (or FTR have done the search to find the PPI)- the template is on the Money Saving Expert website. 

Meanwhile I am going to send all of my interactions with FTR to the legal ombudsman in the slight hope that someone might do something about these companies. I am looking forward to the government legislation meaning that we can sue the PPI reclaims people for mis-selling us PPI reclaims.

Friday, 20 April 2018

The golden rule

The first point is that I am not a Christian, the second is that I am not a Marxist or really even a socialist. I am a rational humanist but not quite from the same view as Steven Pinker. I am a Liberal, a moderate a fence sitter and someone who moves with the shifts of contingency. I would say most that I am a pragmatist. I take ideas from when and where they are needed to fit the current situation. I understand that complexity makes long term inflexible beliefs dangerous and often counter-productive. I do not believe in straight-jackets of a particular political/social/economic belief system. However there are one or two fundamentals that we should apply.

The golden rule from Christianity is "do as you would be done by". All other religions have equivalent versions of the basic idea that we should all be nice to one another and behave in ways that we would expect others to behave towards us. This is part of the basis on which we construct human society.

There are those that argued and continue to argue that society is not actually fundamental and who use the arguments of evolutionary science to dispute that society is necessary. These people are an not just ignorant they are an abomination. Their arguments have long been refuted by Axelrod and his work on cooperation and the experiments based on the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma.

You may think that abomination is too strong a word to apply to them but it is not. These are the hawks and defectors in game theory. Why are they so dangerous? They are so dangerous because they not only pursue an egoistical view of the world where only their self-interest is served, they also undermine trust in general and between everyone else. They are a cancer in a social world and only ostracism is a fitting punishment for them. If they remain part of society then they are parasites taking from the majority doves. They are even deceitful enough to try and convince they population that hawks out-number doves but this can never be the case. Tit-for-tat proves this. Defection is the exception and not the rule.

The difficulty is that most of our politicians, media moguls and financiers are these abominations and this has undermined trust in society so severely that we are now staggering from one crisis to another. I agree with Pinker that the world is significantly better now than at any time in the past. Where I disagree is that we are orders of magnitude worse off than where we should be because of these parasites in our midst.

I was reading Marx and Marxism by Gregory Claeys when it became clear to me how we have strayed from the golden rule. It comes from his definition of what a socialist wants.

Socialists seek to reorganize society to satisfy the needs of the majority without the poverty, inequality, competition and waste associated with capitalism. Like many of their Utopian predecessors they imagine ways of belonging to groups and of relating to other people which are more generous, kind and peaceful, and which minimize or abolish exploitation and oppression. They embrace values like friendship, trust, harmony, fraternity, unity, and solidarity, which seems to be waning in modern society, but which might be recaptured or created anew. p28
Who can argue that they think that generosity, kindness and peace are what we want to aim for in the future or that oppression and exploitation are to be avoided? Who will argue that friendship, trust, harmony and solidarity are bad things? If you are against this then you are opposed to the golden rule to do to others as you would have other do to you.

That is what these abominations try to argue and they have sown their seeds of mistrust, deceit, inequality and exploitation for the last 50-60 years as they seek to roll back the post-war settlements. These are the neo-cons where con is the most appropriate word, they are deceivers. Sometimes they try to hide by using the term neo-liberals but they are not liberals. Liberals did not believe in unconstrained capitalism, they believed that there had to be a communal input even if there was to be as much personal freedom as possible. Look at the social housing of Cadbury's and all of the philanthropy of people like Carnegie etc. For them philanthropy was part of the business and not just an add on. Even Ford understood that he needed to pay his workers enough that they could become customers. Compare this to someone like Larry Ellison who is a philanthropist at gun-point.

There is a golden rule and that is that society does exist and it does so because most of us believe in being nice to one another. Society does not triumph over the individual as we still do have individual needs. Instead they are locked together in the same way as waves and particles are locked together in physics. There is a complementary duality between the rights of the individual and the communal benefits that we all derive from society. Those that deny society are unnatural and wrong they are liars.

I find it very hard to reconcile this golden rule with the behaviour of the current politicians in both the US and the UK. Brexit is the child of these abominations and Trump is these abominations personified. Both the UK Conservative party and the US Republican party have allowed these abominations to dominate and until they can cleanse themselves they deserve to have no future part to play in government.

We can have another Utopia when we cut out these cancerous individuals. That does not mean the Leninist and Trotskyist view that violence is the answer. It is simpler than that we just need to ignore them, not vote for them or buy from them. Democracy means that in the end they depend on the community through capitalism as we are their consumers. We are their voters and we create their success. If we deny them this then they will wither and fail we just have to see past their deceptions and false promises.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Roger Stone

Read Jon Ronson - The Elephant in the Room

Alex Jones is paranoid.

Stone was introduced to Jones by Reeves - the grandson of the original superman
Stone had a business with Mannafort and they also worked with Lee Atwater.

Stone worked for Savimbi in Angola
Bob Dole

Stone knew Roger Ailes

Except Stone is part of the establishment - he was Nixon's Counsel.

They have a cult mentality - they will kill the GOP
This is a coup - they do not want to win hearts.

Alex Jones hijacked the Young Turks
Stone and Jones brought up Clinton rape accusations to the debates.

Manages media - creates false flag confrontations


This is a slightly puzzling book 

p22 the author is partially wrong. Hierarchies do work and Herbert Simon showed why, but this was not because of top down control. They can be non-directed and spontaneously arise.

p25 gatekeepers to the rich and powerful. Is this a good idea?

p27 - why did the author write the book?

  • potentially undermines her credibility.
  • makes people wary in talking to her.
  • obvious that she is a Soros fan.
p32 "Money is mostly created by banks offering loans" regulated by central banks interest rates and asset purchases (Gold etc.) At the minute with QE $17 trillion has been pumped into the markets and created huge asset bubble such as BitCoin. The intention was for the money to be used for investment and to kickstart growth but this has failed. It has remained in the markets and the banks and not been distributed to the wider economy. This is going to result in a very serious and drastic need for realignment. 

Fundamentally commodities are more important than other markets because we cannot live without them. We depend on them for:
  • Shelter
  • Warmth 
  • Food
As Apple share price rises the return per share has fallen because this is pure speculation and not investment. 

p53 power of the central banks is greater than the politicians. Brexit proves this wrong. You can get a populist vote in ignorance of how the central banks work and this can create a suicidal economic policy.