Everything else

Is WannaCry Ransomware or Mayhemware?

WannaCry impacted a large number of computers world-wide, it appeared to exploit random Windows computers world-wide in a cascade fashion.  Exploiting the human element along with some known, though not patched, vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows code (SMB).  The question of should Microsoft have patched the code or more importantly, why they didn’t, is something that I’m guessing history will understand.  As is the question about how extensive Microsoft has been exploited by the NSA and others for use in times of war or other state/syndicate needs.

However, despite the widespread distribution of the WannaCry malware, it appears that the authors have not collected their bounty in Bitcoins.  This could be because it was more successful than expected, or that it was just not their intent.  I can’t help feeling that this was mayhemware and not malware – something designed to cause disruption to perhaps test the potential to expose the risks posed by the NSA code.

Either way it is a wake up call to CISO’s and cyber security professionals all over the world – the old way of protecting the ‘edge’ of the network is dead.  Everything needs to be untrusted and managed as levels of managed risk – people included.

 

28th June 2017 Update: NotPetya is running rampant too.  It appears to use a tweaked version of the open-source Minikatz code combined with the NSA leaked EternalBlue SMB exploit used by WannaCry.  The key difference with WannaCry appears to be the use of the ‘administrator’ credentials to gain access to more vital areas of the hard disk’s file structure improving the potency of the encryption and rendering devices unusable unless decrypted with the paid for key.

As to defence – keep patched, keep people trained and informed and prepare support teams to react quickly with authority.

ICO fine lawyer £1000 for keeping personal information on their home computer

As a lawyer suffers an ICO fine of £1000 for keeping personal information on their home computer, we all need to think again about how home working, BYOD and pervasive computing is going to work.  With over 725 unencrypted documents from 250 people (including vulnerable adults), this is likely to be just the tip of an iceberg that will require everyone to think a little more about how they keep their data (and the information within) safe.

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An architect is only as good as the builder

Just a little bit of humour, I know this has done the rounds on various internet sites, but remember all, no matter how good an architect you are, you are always limited by the builders that interpret your plans.

Tech Innovation: Mayflower Autonomous Ship

Just once in a while you see an idea and think “that’s just impossible, improbable and expensive”.  Then you think, but how cool would that be.  Think of the engineering, the skills required, the innovation and then think of the potential.

mayflower-autonomous-ship

Here is just one:  the Mayflower Autonomous Ship.  A Plymouth to Plymouth (UK-US) sailing of an autonomous ship.  I would argue this is more difficult technical proposition than an automated plane (see BAE systems for that) as most of the technology does not exist in a connected way and the numbers and complexities of the environments sensed around it are far more complex.

What amazing potential this technology has – water taxi’s automated, automated harbour entry systems, and a world connected shipping system. Those interconnected systems and sensors could publish weather, barometric, temperature, current, density and more from all around the world.  All live, all part of the internet of things.

They have launched a crowd funding campaign to get things off the ground, which with a rather modest ambition of 100K looks like they are getting close.  So I urge any like-minded innovators in technology, to go look at their site and help out where you can.

Trust overt or covert challenge?

Is it better to trust someone that you can see openly challenging you or is it better to trust those that hide the same actions?

It’s quite a simple question with some very interesting observations.  I’ve seen a range of approaches and it’s fascinating to see how many people are trapped trusting those who are covertly campaigning against them.  They seem to do this because they fear challenge and don’t observe or recognize the covert action.  They can not or do not see how people can be manipulated to ensure that the perpetrator is not obviously the instigator and how deflection is the gift of a deceiver.

Perhaps this is the accepted nature of politics; but it does not have to be so.  It is perpetuated by the thirst for power or influence; and the perceived need to prevent challenge, to prevent criticism and a very real fear of failure.

But I have had the privilege of working with some very intellectual and very wise Continue reading

It is easy to be deceived in business – are you trapped in a bubble of unreality?

Just a muse today:  I do seem to be meeting a stream of false prophets at the moment.  People dedicated to saying ‘yes’ to whatever you say, people dedicated to making you think that you are right and that the world is amazing because of you.  Often with scant regard for the real world their goal is to elevate you into a bubble of unreality.  From this position you can do no harm to them (but also no good for you).

Some of these false prophets think they are politicians – spending their lives spinning yarns to the point of disbelief; some are light-hearted and are interested in you; but many are using this as a deception to cover their own troubles and limitations and to defraud you of the opportunity to help the real world (and yourself).

In business it is so easy to be enticed into these good news messages.  Seriously good managers are able to spot and mitigate against these people, but others suck it up and pat themselves on the back and worship these people as idols.

So my tip for the day: Take a step back and think about your business environment. Is it all as rosy or bad as you think? And what incentivises your team: your customer, the future, innovation; or is it padding nests, personal agenda or political ambition.

Cloud First Strategy: being an intelligent customer

The Cloud First Strategy

Part 4 – Being an intelligent customer

It’s a long time since IT underwent any real structural change.  Like many other administrative parts of the business, they are formed into a self contained unit based on one of a number of very similar organisational building blocks.  It’s like looking through a book of 1980’s housing plans – all very similar, all designed without the context of whats around them and all without concern for a sustainable future.

These copybook IT structures work for the old powerhouses of IT demand but are distant from the dreams of dynamic and flexible digital businesses.

Poor quality, low value

bitternessThe jokes about poor quality, low value, cheap IT provided by in-house teams are a result of a culture of pushing down price at the expense of quality and value; and the business often reduces budgets in line with their perception of the service.  It is a self fulfilling prophecy that IT seems to be determined to perpetuate.

Moving the culture

The difficulty now is that people spend more of their lives in the digital world.  They know how to use the digital world, they know how it works for them and they know what would help them.  Long gone are the days where IT knows best.

Imagine just the simple things – you want to get hold of someone.  Depending on how close you fit into the ‘digital native’ stereotype, the chances are you would send a message – text, Facebook, Skype, iMessage.  Your conversation would be disconnected and you would pop-in and out of interacting with it.

In business through we still seem to assume that the telephone, face to face meetings and email is the only answer.  We do this partly because we like to divide work and personal life and clear separation helps, but also because there is a control culture coming from IT inspired by the cost/value/quality argument and the need for a quantitive evidential trail.

The legend goes that to control cost you must actively manage the value and quality; and if you own all the knowledge no one can question you through fear of being shot down by an evidential trail of ‘I told you so’.

This culture of fear, accountability and control appear in the digital world, but they are self and peer managed.  Knowledge loosing it’s power.  Freedom of expression, innovation and sharing become the seat of power.  Look at the power of WikiLeaks: highly valuable and classified information became worthless overnight.

The requirement to share as part of the digital business world is a great threat to the old power bases within IT (and other parts of the organisation).  Traditionally these power bases have relied upon their knowledge being locked away into a ‘dark art’.

However, there is no place for this in digital business.  Everything-As-A-Service is the enabler to change the culture of old traditional locked-in IT.  Those services with dark art documentation (or lack of) and even more dark art maintenance (with overtime) are moved into the cloud.  Provided by professionals, documented by professionals, managed by professionals.

The opportunity of change

Changing the profile of the in-house team is also an opportunity to reinforce this cultural change.  A move is required from hands-on to a shared knowledge model.  The move is often called the ‘intelligent customer’.

Despite moving into a world that embraces revolutionary change, everything-as-a-service also requires a level of interpretation.  Not only to allow the business to choose wisely, but also to manage the supplier base and support business change.  The focus shifts to the relationships, to better understanding the business and to ensuring that sustainable business can be created in the digital world.

org chat for service led it

The example organisation chart for everything-as-a-service appears to remove ops, help desk and many of the traditional part of IT; but they do still exist.  They are provided by 3rd parties under the guidance and support of the in house team.

The in-house team guides and steers the direction of the suppliers to best meet the needs of the business.  They introduce targets for suppliers that are mutually beneficial, achievable and allow the business to flex and change.  They create an atmosphere of IT being guided by the business and not the technology.

This is stepping back from the coal face and focusing on what actually matters:  making business work in the digital world.

Know what to keep and what to move

Be caution though, poor quality managers often move the difficult things to 3rd parties.  They do this because it’s easier than attempting to solve the problem themselves (often the motivation behind outsourcing).

The foundation of everything-as-a-service is based on moving out the commodity IT elements but keeping the highest institutional value items.  This is where IT add their real value to the business.

By moving the commodity elements of the IT service to 3rd parties, the shackles of old IT are gone and IT is released to work with the business for the business.

Simple rule of thumb:  if it’s a commodity IT element, then get a 3rd party to do it; if it is requires high levels of organisational or customer knowledge then it’s going to be better done with in-house teams.

Key targets when moving to create an intelligent customer function:

Culture
* Move from fear, blame and power led cultures
* Knowledge is something to be shared not hidden
* The business knows how to do business, so let IT facilitate business needs
* No fear of failure, innovation or sharing

Working practice
* Customer first
* Taking ownership, listening and spending time understanding
* Embrace change and innovation

Cost vs Value
* Understand the impact of low cost on quality and value
* Let the business choose and let them be honestly informed
* Create a clear and open cost model with no hidden costs and no fake savings

 

 

Cloud First Strategy: Read the next article Part 5 – How to measure success, go to the  INDEX or go back to  Part 3 – Moving from legacy support to supplier management

Innovation is difficult, but game changing.

At times of corporate difficulty, it’s often the innovation and the speculative research that is first to be dropped. Yet, it is this very innovation that businesses need to survive and evolve beyond their situation.

We all know innovation is difficult, often consuming more effort and resources than available and often returning no results or dead ends. But the occasional flash of brilliance creates a game changing and lucrative shift if adopted timely and wholeheartedly.

We all know that innovation is not always successful. Painful lessons must be taken from the likes of Nokia.  A brilliant innovative and leading edge company that was over taken, not by a feat of technical genius, but by marketing innovation. With it’s focus on technology, Nokia sleep walked into technical dead ends, whilst the market just walked away into flashy packaging and branding.

So innovation doesn’t just have to be a product. It could be a business process; it could be new people; or a new way of working. Each could be the differentiator that pushed a business beyond its competition.

Innovation does usually equate to risk, either through change or divergence, so it’s not easy to capitalise on innovation.  It takes clear vision, entrepreneurial spirit and luck.

Take Amstrad as the example.  In it’s day Sir Alan Sugar took the business to dizzying heights through the home computer boom.  His engineers found a product that he could market and sell with great profit.  The business grew throughout the 80’s.

Sir Alan Sugar struck lucky through his early products, but this was just luck.  Stuck like Nokia, he continued to seek that spark of differentiation from his engineers; but with his competitor’s focus shifting to price the market moved on.

So it takes a little luck to be successfully innovative.  It takes good clear vision to deliver upon that innovation.  It’s takes entrepreneurial spirit to deliver them both.

Great picture taken by my 11 yr old daughter Hattie at the Eden Project yesterday #edenphotocomp

Yet another amazing day out at the Eden Project in Cornwall.  So much to see at the moment and some completely scary dinosaurs.  All mine got the bravery stamp :).   Hattie had some fun with the phone though and took a million pictures, her favourite is this lovely green lizard that walked past her!

Eden Project Chair Eden Project You Are Here  eden project med dome

PLYMOUTH UNIVERSITY NAMED RUNNER-UP IN NATIONAL IT INNOVATION AWARDS

A project to enhance the internet connections across Plymouth University’s campus has earned recognition from judges at a national awards ceremony.

The major upgrade, part of a programme of investment in state-of-the-art technology, included an overhaul of the wired and wireless networks in more than 1,700 student rooms and other communal areas.

Real IT Awards

The project has now been named runner-up in the Best Use of Cloud category in the Real IT Awards, which aim to recognise outstanding IT innovation across the private and public sector.

Plymouth was the only educational institution on the awards shortlist, with other nominees including multi-national giants such as Volkswagen, E.ON, GlaxoSmithKline and Pepsi, as well as Government departments and public sector bodies.

Adrian Hollister, Head of Strategy and Architecture in Plymouth University’s Technology and Information Services Directorate, said: “When we saw the calibre of the other nominees, we realised that just being on the awards shortlist was a major achievement in itself, and a vindication of all our hard work on this project. Our students expect to be able to access internet services wherever they are on campus, and it is vital we do not rest on our laurels and remain in a position to meet those expectations. Enabling them to stay connected is a key part of their academic and personal development.”

The four-week upgrade was carried out by leading technology service company CAE, and involved providing a 600Mbit Wireless N service and a 100Mbit wired service, giving students full access to the University’s suite of online resources on all their desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile devices. It enables families and friends to access the internet anywhere on campus during visits.

The upgraded service also includes a commitment to enhancing student employability by recruiting ambassadors for the service, who will become the first point of contact and providing out of hours help if required.

John Wright, the University’s Chief Information Officer, added: “This praise is due recognition for our outstanding technology team, who are consistently pushing the boundaries to keep the University ahead of the game. Through constant innovation, we have created an environment where students and staff can stay connected, and the new high performance wireless network has enabled us to achieve our ambition of supporting learning and leisure for all.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

The wireless upgrade involved the installation of 400 sector-leading Cisco Meraki wireless access points in halls, which have fast data throughput of 600 megabits per second. These devices are connected to the network using 12. 5km of high-tech cabling – CAT7 is the latest standard of cabling and is designed to work the next generation of technology and last around 20 years. An additional 8 Cisco Meraki wireless access points have been installed throughout the student village to provide students with WiFi access in popular outdoor areas including North Hill.

For more information about this press release, contact Plymouth University Press & PR Officer Alan Williams on 01752 588004 or email alan.williams@plymouth.ac.uk.

About Plymouth University

Consistently ranked as one of the leading universities in the UK, and awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2012, Plymouth has a strong record of excellence, enterprise and innovation across its teaching and research activities. Distinguished by its long-term engagement with business and the community, the University enjoys outstanding links with employers and plays a key role in civic and regional leadership. It is the only university in the world to have been awarded the Social Enterprise Mark in recognition of its work in support of the sector.

With around 30,000 students, including those studying higher education at its partner colleges throughout the South West, the University is one of largest in the UK. It enjoys a high rate of graduate employment and has recently invested more than £150 million in its estate and facilities to enhance the student experience and support world-class research.

Plymouth has embedded sustainability across its operations, and is the overall best performing university in the People & Planet Green League. It is the first modern university to found a medical and dental school – the Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry – and is the leading provider of Higher Education in Cornwall. For more information, please visit www.plymouth.ac.uk

Bodge after bodge – amateur hour

The electrics in the new house scare me slightly.  Just replacing bulbs with energy efficient LED and CFL bulbs has revealed a whole bunch of hidden problems.  The electric shock off the porch light was interesting, though I couldn’t feel my arm for an hour (lighting circuit power was turned off); but the second kitchen lights are type of what I can expect here and what needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

Placed directly on top of a 12V halogen bulb this component is toast.  I am surprised that there was not a fire or at least a loud bang.  Previous owners of the house seemed to have continued on oblivious to their bodges though.  Let’s hope I can get around to fixing it all before one of the bodges comes to bite me.

Lightbulb shortage threatens civil unrest in Brightwalton

Theft of lightbulbs in Brightwalton village occur unabated as neighbours go around stealing others people external lights. Why this phenomenon is occurring is a mystery, though speculation is that old wannabe middle class nimbys are looking for nocturnal pleasures. Others say that it’s part of a fantasy jacuzzi cult. Who knows…

Satsuma Toilet Roll Fire Lighter

So with the festive time of year approaching fast and the numbers of satsumas and clementines filling the shelves, most people love to sock up on this fruit.  So this is a neat little tip that combines the waste skin from these fruits and turns them into a fairly good fire lighter.  What you need is a toilet roll tube, lots of skin and a bit of time.  Start with the tube on it’s end and slowly pack it with the skins.  Each new layer must dry completely before adding the next, so you may need to do several of these at the same time.  Once full, leave to completely dry – south facing window should be enough, even in winter.

What you end up with is a solid tube of orange peel which is very flammable and burns for enough time to get a good wood fire going.  Smells nice too when burning!

1st world middle class petitions – locals with no lives

Doesn’t seem like two years ago, but to the day, my middle class NIMBY neighbour knocked on the door and ask me to sign a petition.  The middle classing revolting?  No, it was a petition against the white van parked on the opposite side of the road to their house.  What a first world problem, how trivial and pathetic.  The neighbour opposite works at least 5 day a week gardening and these NIMBY’s were out there to seek to stop him working.  After making him redundant unable to continue his business, I can only assume that a petition would follow complaining that the poor chap was now on benefits and eating into the tax they pay (or perhaps largely avoid paying).

I do wish that the energies of these people could be used for something good for once and not to try and keep their social status (as the van was surely reducing the price of their tiny middle class house and the oiks living opposite must surely belong in another village [sic]).  Why these sorts of people go to a small community I’ve no idea.  They contribute nothing positive and spend their lives disrupting others to keep their old fashioned middle class ways.  Perhaps a ‘secondment’ to a 3rd world country would put their trivial lives into perspective.

Good creative work from Katy Hollister

Katy Hollister has completed some work at Oxford University as part of her arts programme and we finally have some of the results back. I like the thinking and style of the mirror, so I’ve attached a picture below.  Wonder what she would be capable of given the best and most creative environments available from some schools out there.

20130606-212814.jpg

Planning progress in Brightwalton

Planning is progressing for the changes to our family home in Brightwalton. There were a couple of objections, but most were boiler plate from the same person; so I hope they are all counted as a single issue. We are one of four original bungalows. At one end of the row we have a house that has been converted to a massive house. We are at the other end but the the house next door to us is in effect three stories high from our ground level so they won’t be impacted by any change.

We knew it was always going to be difficult to get planning in Brightwalton especially as were told a member of the parish council next door who has a propensity to complain about any change and anything modern. So surprise surprise, the parish councillor and the parish council were objectors with almost word for word the same points. Loss of objectivity I think there, especially as other parish councillors get their planning approved immediately. The old boys club is alive and well in what some would describe as a horridly corrupt quango.

It’s amazing to see how many people are stuck in the past – locked in the cycle of remembering better times. If they were being honest with themselves they would recognise that the past was not better, just different. There also seem to be groups that move to villages to die and are happy to watch the villages die around them. Personally I prefer change. It’s invigorating, an opportunity to do things better, and an opportunity to clear out the cobwebs from our collective failed past.

Good news is that the planning people and vast majority in the village approve of the plans. Let’s hope we can get this approved soon and start the building works… time to read a bit more on sustainable housing and building techniques.

Just some random words without meaning

This is an example of how to type and what to do when you are trying to look busy. There is nothing else to do at the moment, but to show how these things are allowed to develop, but you never know what happens when you just start typing stuff into the computer. Some times there are examples of how things can just be written without thinking about stuff. I would like to think that I can type fast and well without looking at the screen, but it just doesn’t happen too quickly.

This is another paragraph of text and looks to fill up with page with some more text. Nothing much to say, but at least it adds to the material and makes it look like there is more here than meets the eye. Who knows what the heck they are thinking about when they read this. Who knows who they are exactly. Perhaps they are just kids, browsing the web with nothing else to do. Perhaps they are old people, sat a home with a laptop on their knee browsing the web with slight fear and a bit of wonder. Perhaps though they have just hit this page because a search engine has pointed them in this direction.

Do I care though who’s looking at this junk page? Not really. It just marks words on a web site in no real order and with no real intention. No political stuff in this blog entry, no real meaning either. Just some words, some sentences and nothing in any real order. I would like to think it makes sense, but I know it won’t.

So what am I writing about? Nothing, just nothing. Well OK, not nothing, but nothing of any meaning or purpose. Well OK perhaps a purpose, the purpose is of course to add some text to a web blog entry because, well, because I can. Perhaps I can add some odd stuff to the page. Let’s see how it goes. I’ve a yellow Ethernet cable at the moment. Yellow because the other ones have slowly been taken at work. Taken by people I’m guessing who have forgotten theirs and need one badly. Yellow it seems is a deterrent. Not quite as good as the bright pink one I used to have, but that’s gone beyond the end of it’s standard working life and had to be ditched.

There must be a market out there for a personalised Ethernet cable. Perhaps name printing or some ‘don’t nick me’ stripes on the cable to show personalisation, and personalisation generally stops people in your own office ‘borrowing’ it. Mind you, what the heck would you do if you noticed your personalised Ethernet cable on your boss’s desk. Would you burst into the office and claim back your item? Perhaps you could stay late and sneak into the office and reposes your precious Ethernet cable – of course they may have taken it home, so now is clearly the time to get it back. Time to take some lessons in tact and perhaps dish out a lesson in humility to the boss. In I charge. ‘Sorry I just borrowed it’ came from the office before a potentially nasty confrontation. Perhaps the look on my face was enough to show I meant business. Perhaps though it was angry body language. Who cares, I have my cable back. For now.

See, I thought this ramble would go somewhere. Though perhaps not where it was originally intended. Or who knows, perhaps through some divine power, or perhaps through some unknown entity writing through my fingers into the keyboard the story formed? Or perhaps it’s just a bunch of junk put together by my own mad scrambled mind.

That Ethernet cable is bothering me again now. Why are they always too long or too short? They either take up too much space in your bag, or they are just not enough to reach from the nearest socket to where you want to work. Perhaps it’s a great cable conspiracy or perhaps the health and safety loonies in organisations make the sockets accessible only to placed you don’t want to work. I like the thought of a great covert body of health and safety executives planning world wide conspiracies to increase the sales of Ethernet cables, where they own a 60% stake. But more likely this ramble is just searching for another paragraph ending.

Perhaps then what I should be seeking is just the end of this random assortment of words 🙂

Have a great Christmas break people and a great year ahead.

Katy’s Hot Cross Bun & Butter Pudding Recipe

It’s the time of year where we brits buy loads of Hot Cross Buns and a good deal of them go stale. Whilst you can still toast them, there is also an alternative to a Bread and Butter Pudding that my eldest came up with – Hot Cross Bun and Butter Pudding. So here is the recipe that takes at most 10 minutes to prepare and a further 40 minutes to stand and cook.

What you need:

100g of English Butter

550g of Hot Cross Buns – about 8 of the standard supermarket baked buns

A good handful or two of Sultanas or Raisins

6 medium Free Range English eggs

900ml of Organic Whole Milk (1.5 pints) – you can always replace some of this with cream if you wish

6 table spoons of golden sugar

What you need to do:

  1. Grease a 2 litre oven proof dish – we use a lasagne type dish

  2. Cut the Hot Cross Buns into thirds and butter both sides. You may need to warm the butter slightly. Use all the butter up, so be generous – this is not a dish for the health conscious.

  3. Put the buttered Hot Cross Bun slices into the dish. You want some poking up to get crispy when cooking, so a good jagged pattern works well.

  4. Sprinkle with your Sultanas or Raisins.

 

  1. In a mixing bowl add the milk, eggs and sugar. Give it a good mix up – the egg yolks should be well dispersed.

  2. Pour onto into your oven dish over your buttered hot cross buns. Spread evenly and ensure that the sugar is even distributed as well.

  3. Now the easiest bit – put the oven onto 180 degrees C or 160 for a fan oven. Don’t put it in the oven yet, leave it all for 10 mins at least. Bit longer if you have time.

  4. Sprinkle the top with a bit of extra sugar and put in the oven. Takes about 30 mins in ours but might take up to 40 mins. It should be crispy on top and the custard set.

You should end up with something that looks and tastes fantastic!

First snow of the season hits Brightwalton

Well it didn't last long and it quickly melted, but the first bits of this seasons snow landed on Brightwalton today.

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I miss not hearing the rain at night

One thing I remember from a kid was hearing the rain at night and the wind whistling through the edges of the windows. It was somewhat exciting, almost imparting it's energy to my enthusiasm. With the advent of double glazing though not only do we not get ice on the inside of the windows (how exciting that was as a kid) but we seem to have lost the nightly sound show. But this is not all bad though, at least we are warm at night and the noise of traffic has gone away. If I ever get around to designing and building my own home I am going to have a room or two that deliberately allows the sound of the rain to come through.

Time for a completely secular BBC – rant

The BBC's whole channel coverage of a minority religious leader is a step too far. I don't want to stop anyone supporting their faith, but I don't need the BBC – something I help to pay for – pushing religion down my throat. We are a multi-cultural society. We all have different views and opinions. I hope that we are all aiming towards complete tolerance in our society and in such a society there is no room for state owned broadcasters to force a moral religious views upon us. The recent commentary on the BBC of the Papal visit discussed over and over again how wonderful this one man is, how he represents all things good and how his faith is the cornerstone of society for 'many' people in the UK. If they needed to cover it, they could have done so in a more matter of fact way – there was no need to hype everything up, create celebrity and certainly no need to over indulge such a minority figure.

There are many other faith groups out there and many other religions – none of which seem to get the same 'how wonderful this is' approach by the BBC. In just one example, the Dalai Lama visited the UK in 2008 – there were a few news events but mostly covering the 'free Tibet' message. No whole TV channels blocked out to it, not 24×7 news coverage, no news reporters buying their stairway.

I think it is about time that either the BBC drop coverage (other than news items) of religious events; or they dedicate a channel to the subject (at least then people could choose to watch or not watch it).

OK rant over. For more see Paul Owens blog.

Don’t buy Abbey Santander ‘peace of mind’ – it’s anything but

If, like me, you've pulled your hair out trying to get anything useful from the bleedin' awful Abbey / Santander 'peace of mind' insurance service you may like me want to complain by email their exec team. Not too difficult to work out their email address (firstname.lastname@santander.com). Of course, they didn't reply or do anything about it, but it made me feel better when they dropped me in a smoking pile of the stuff.

So complaints to Abbey / Santander Insurance are generally ignored by them using the ole' "it's nothing to do with us as we sold you someone else's insurance you need to contact them" routine; and, of course, those third parties regulate themselves with their own "I don't give a stuff about you" mentality. These companies should be made accountable for their near scam activities and certainly they should not be able to claim the words "peace of mind" in relation to their insurance services.

My 2p worth – don't buy Abbey Santander Insurance – they've got it horribly wrong and offer terrible value.

Sunny walk to Wayland Smithy

Had a great walk to Wayland Smithy today with the dogs and family. It's such a great walk from the White Horse hill especially on such a nice dry afternoon. Wind is a bit chilly though. You can find more about Wayland Smithy from Wikipedia or from the National Trust site. Don't forget if your a National Trust member your parking is free.

Allergic reaction to the MMR?

My youngest seems to have had a reaction to the MMR – covered from head to toe in what look like measles or perhaps allergy spots and bright red cheeks. Decided to call NHS direct this morning, who answered very promptly, but they didn't seem too interested – suggesting that it was likely to be an allergic reaction to the MRR jab. Given the side effects reported to the jab and the whole host of other things it could be I would have hoped for a more comprehensive check. We were not asked for example to check the spots with a glass etc. So it's off to the pharmacist as recommended by NHS direct to see what they recommend to reduce the allergic reaction. I hope this advise is good and appropriate.

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If you need to contact NHS Direct you can find their web site here. Other good resources include the BBC (for example measles and allergy).

Charnwood Multifuel stove – broken door glass

The darn glass has cracked in my Charnwood multifuel stove. It started with a little crack and soon developed to a full blown glass falling out of the door sized crack. This is a right pain as the old screws holding the fixing plates in place are just stubs of their former glory. So I've let the stove go out and cool right down. Taken all the glass out and have had to drill the four screws out and re-tap them. Only managed to do two of them today, but that's enough to get the new glass back in with one of the two screws in each of the glazing bars. It's a good enough hold for the moment and I'll have to work out how to safely drill the other two without breaking the cast iron doors.

Interesting though the price of new glass: the two local fireplace shops in and around Newbury stock glass at over £96 for just one door; Charnwood themselves are cheaper even including delivery; but I ended up searching the web and got the glass and the gasket for £20. It's a wonder these local shops get any business – if their stove prices are the same as their glass prices it won't be too long before all of their potential customers look in their showroom, get a price and then compare it to web prices.

My other gripe for today is why is the price of wood and coal 50% more in West Berkshire than in Somerset or Devon – even from the same branded shops?

Event Aid: Could you do something amazing in 2010?

Event Aid: Could you do something amazing in 2010?

It was a warm weekend in May, the weather was kind as 40 people started their challenge event and climbed into the minibuses. These were 40 people, some who had never met before, who were about to take on a very challenging task. Yes they were about to attempt to climb the 3 highest mountains in the UK. That's one in Wales, then one in England and finally one in Scotland. They only had 24 hours to complete this feat, but amazingly through hardwork, teamwork and determination they all JUST did it.

This was a team of people raising money for their favourite charity. So far this team alone have raised nearly £30,000.

The 3 Peaks challenge is one of the hardest but most rewarding challenge events you can take part it and during 2009, over 100 people took part in the challenge to support local Oxfordshire charities. Teams came from Helen & Douglas House, Sobell House Hospice, Age Concern, SpecialEffect and Rosy to name a few.

If you would like to get a team together or maybe do it on your own and join in with another team, then please get in contact. Maybe get a group of friends together, your family or mates from work.

You will be fully supported with training walks, guides, insurance and full support from the Event Aid team.

If the 3 Peaks is not for you, maybe running a marathon in Rome? Maybe a Karting endurance event? maybe one of the many challenge walks we organise for local Oxfordshire charities may be your thing! Whatever you do in 2010, do something amazing for your local community and join in a challenge event.

Contact Teresa@eventaid.org or see our website www.eventaid.org

Newbury Carnival, Farmers Market and a great time

Spent most of the day in Newbury today, first off was our monthly Green Party meeting at the Farmers Market. It's great to see so many friends and discuss issues over coffee with them. This week Pam started to take down a few more signatures for our More Renewables in West Berkshire campaign – something initiated by the barmy rejection of any wind, solar, hydro or any other renewable energy system in Berkshire and specifically in the towns of Newbury, Hungerford and Thatcham. After an hour we had a good few pages of additional signatures and promoted the Green Party to all those that were interested. It's amazing the number of normally Liberal Democrat voters who told us that they had voted Green in the last elections and it's great to see the number of people who now recognise the faces Pam Cooper and Adrian Hollister. No wonder the Lib Dems are in a bit of a panic around here.

From 14:00 the Carnival went through the Newbury Town and the whole family got around to watch. It's great to see a real town carnival again, something that I can't remember seeing since my childhood. Apart from the odd very commercially orientated float and a bizarre small open topped car with what appeared to be the carnival queen in (??), most were just brilliant. Wouldn't it be great if all the schools attended in different floats (or shared floats). As a parent it looked to me that there are some great schools out there who went all our with effort and great skill – I've got to commend the head teachers who entered their schools – what a great way to show your school off to prospective parents and other jealous heads.

My pick of Newbury's farmer's market this month has to be Stark House Farms bacon. I know they have been recommended by me many times in the past, but my bacon sarnies tonight with a bit of UK sourced brown sauce were/are just wonderful wonderful wonderful.