The Spacecraft Soon Arriving at Planet Nine…

New Horizons

In July of 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft will arrive in the vicinity of Pluto. It will make the first flyby of Pluto, the last of the classic nine planets of the Solar System to be visited by a spacecraft. Below is an artist’s impression of the unmanned craft.

Until 1962, all eight planets had only been viewed through earth-based telescopes. With the dawn of the space age, unmanned probes were dispatched to those distant worlds; gradually they gave up their secrets, and Pluto will be the final one.

1962 – Venus

In December of 1962, the American Mariner 2 spacecraft made a flyby of Earth’s closest neighbour, Venus. The cloud-covered planet was further visited by several U.S. and Soviet craft, including a short-lived landing craft in 1967. The harsh surface conditions (a runaway “greenhouse” effect) presents a challenge to any lander.

1965 – Mars

Mars has in recent years received several American landers and rovers, but its first successful visitor was the Mariner 4 spacecraft in July 1965. The crude images returned showed none of the famous “canals” that had been mistakenly observed from Earth (an optical illusion) but more significantly showed a cratered surface not unlike the Moon. Later craft showed apparent river channels and other features from early Martian history that suggested the former presence of water, and a possibility of past or even present Martian life.

1973 – Jupiter

In December of that year, a spacecraft from Earth, the American Pioneer 10, made a flyby of the largest planet in the Solar System, Jupiter. Pioneer 10 was aptly named, and paved the way for the heavier and more famous Voyager spacecraft, launched in 1977, both of which visited the planet.

The Jovian system has since been visited by more spacecraft, including the Galileo craft which went into orbit around the planet. It was thus able to witness the demise of the Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 as it crashed into the planet in 1994, and was able to launch the first probe into the atmosphere of the gas giant.

The use of the gravity assist technique to increase the speed of a spacecraft as it travels to more distant worlds,has ensured that Jupiter has received several passing visitors.

1974 – Mercury

The closest planet to the Sun, Mercury, was first visited by yet another U.S. spacecraft in the Mariner series, number 10. Once again, it revealed a cratered world.

The old notion that one, similar to the Moon, Mercury kept one face pointing at its parent, is not the case (which spoiled a few science fiction stories).

1979 – Saturn

In September 1979, two years after the Voyager craft had been launched, the earlier Pioneer 11 spacecraft flew past Saturn, the ringed planet, returning the first close-up images of this beautiful world. The craft had earlier visited Jupiter along with its sister Pioneer 10.

Since 1979, the Saturnian system has been visited by several craft, the Voyager probes and the Cassini spacecraft which landed a probe on the largest moon, Titan.

1986 – Uranus

In January 1986, the Voyager 2 probe became the first, and so far only, probe to fly by the seventh planet. The triumph of this feat of unmanned engineering, after a 9 year voyage, was to be marred a couple of days later by the Challenger accident.

1989 – Neptune

The Voyager 2 probe’s final planetary encounter (though it is still working as of 2015) was with the blue gas giant, Neptune, in 1989. The eighth planet has yet to receive any further visitors.

2015 – Pluto

Pluto was “demoted” from the club of planets in 2006; it is now a minor planet, along with the larger dwarf planet Eris, and others.

If all goes to plan, in July, humans will finally be able to view this most distant rocky world and its largest moon, Charon.

The digital images, broadcast back to Earth at the speed of light, will take over four hours to make the journey; compare that with the second and a bit that it takes a light from the Moon to reach us, and the 8 minutes that is required for light from the Sun to reach us.

Leading from Behind – Some Bands Named for a Man at the Back

In the jazz and swing era, the instance of the naming of a band by someone other than the front person was quite common, but in the rock and pop era, this is quite unusual.

Here are a few exceptions:-

Fat Larry’s Band

Known in most territories for their single big 1982 hit, if you view the video of “Zoom” below you’re probably not going to be surprised to learn that Fat Larry was not the singer but was in fact that large chap on the drums. Sadly, and perhaps (again) not surprisingly Larry passed away just five years after this record hit the top.

The Dave Clark Five

It remains fairly unusual for a pop or rock drummer to be a band’s leader (Phil Collins and Don Henley being notable exceptions) but drummer Dave Clark (also the manager and executive producer) didn’t sing on those sixties hits such as “Glad All Over” and “Bits and Pieces”; here they are with the latter song in 1964:-

Manfred Mann

Keyboard player Manfred is not the singer of either the band’s sixties era or the later “Earth Band” who hit the charts in the 70s with a Springsteen cover. You can see the chirpy Paul Jones singing below:-

Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes

This one is something of an exception; Harold was the original singer of this “Philly sound” vocal group, but he stepped back to let Teddy Pendergrass sing on their biggest hits, notably “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” and “Don’t Leave Me This Way”.

Here are the band performing in matching blue suits (of course) on Soul Train. Teddy is handling the miming of lead vocals, and Harold is to his right. The “Dad dancing” part is at 1.57

Sadly in 1982 Teddy was badly injured in a car crash that left him a quadraplegic. He performed at 1985’s Live Aid concert in a wheelchair, and passed away in 2010.

The Spencer Davis Group

Spencer was  the guitarist. The band featured Steve Winwood who sang on their hits “Keep on Running”, “Gimme Some Lovin” and “I’m a Man” before leaving to form Traffic. Here they are in 1965:-

Fleetwood Mac

The decision by lead guitarist and singer Peter Green to name his blues band after his drummer and bass player has left a legacy that has endured for almost a half century.

In this clip of “Oh Well” you can see the beardless Mick Fleetwood on drums and bassist John McVie at the extreme left, slightly in the shadows.

Also mentioned:-

  • Van Halen
  • Santana (Carlos rarely sings)
  • Mike and the Mechanics

Sadly there was no Herman in the Hermits.

999, 101 and Directory Enquiries Confusion

We suspect that most people have read, seen or heard news stories about absurd calls to the 999 emergency service. It’s always an enjoyable read; one can smugly chuckle at the antics of the callers as they attempt to obtain help for their predicament from understandably unsympathetic and in some cases exasperated 999 operators.

Recently, however, it has come to our attention that:-

In the light of this disturbing information, we thought that we would help to clarify the correct usage of these numbers.

  1. If you need to report a genuine emergency, dial 999.
  2. If you need to speak to the police about a non-emergency matter, dial 101.
  3. If you need medical help fast but it’s not a 999 emergency, or you think you need to go to A & E or need another NHS urgent care service, you don’t know who to call or you don’t have a GP to call, or you need health information or reassurance about what to do next, dial 111.
    For more information on the 111 number please visit the 111 website.
  4. If you need a directory enquiries service, please call 118 365 (remember “118, every day”). It’s only 51p, Other (usually much more expensive) services are available.

Bitcoin – A Guide for Regular People

About Bitcoin

Bitcoin is often referred to as a decentralized virtual currency. It is controlled by no government or central bank, is not debt-based, has a limited supply, and it has no central server.

Bitcoin is actually an online payment system. You can use it to pay for goods or services, and it can be used to receive payments. Unlike most other payment systems, transactions are not conducted in physical traditional currencies, but in bitcoins.

For more information see the bitcoin project website.

The Bitcoin Protocol, the Blockchain, Mining, Controversies, Price Fluctuations

These aspects of bitcoin are beyond the scope of this article, We will purely consider the use of bitcoin as an online payment system.

For more technical information, visit The Bitcoin Wiki.

Why Pay Using Bitcoin?

There are a variety of reason why you may choose to use bitcoin to pay for goods or services.

  • Potential to purchase anonymously (see below)
  • Some goods or services are only available to purchasers using bitcoin
  • Some goods or services are not available to other online payment mechanisms (such as Paypal)
  • Reluctance to use debit or credit cards online
  • No mandatory processing fees

Plus of course the desire to use this relatively new payment mechanism.

Bitcoin Addresses

One of the hardest concepts to grasp in bitcoin is the nature of bitcoin addresses. You will notice when you acquire a wallet (see below) that it generates one or more addresses to enable bitcoins to be sent to you. These addresses are actually a single use token. Each new transaction should use a new address.

Getting Started

In order to pay with bitcoins you need to:-

  1. Select a wallet to store your bitcoins
  2. Buy some bitcoins (or portions thereof)

Bitcoin Wallet

A wallet is a secure software mechanism to hold the data items that represent your bitcoins. The wallet software is also used to send bitcoins to a bitcoin address.

1. Desktop Wallets

A desktop wallet is a program that resides on your PC or laptop. Whilst this reduces the risk of an online security breach, it does require that you:-

  1. Properly secure access to your PC or laptop
  2. Protect the PC or laptop from online threats (using a firewall and antivirus program)
  3. Make regular backups of your wallet data

For my tests I used the Bitcoin core application which also acts as a wallet. The program needs to download the entire bitcoin blockchain when it is first run. If you don’t allow it to start with your PC, any subsequent use will require the program to download the latest transactions before it can operate.

Other and more sophisticated desktop wallets are available. A guide to desktop and other wallets is available on bitcoin.org.

A screenshot of the program is shown below.

The Bitcoin core application is use as a wallet

2. Web Based Wallets

In many ways a more practical approach than a desktop wallet is the use of a web-based facility.

For my tests I used the Blockchain web based wallet. A screenshot is shown below. Note the display of transactions, and the options available to take your own backup (and the sound advice to do so).

The disadvantage with a web-based wallet is that all your bitcoins are stored on a remote system. The demise of Mt. Gox in 2013, and loss of $450 million worth of bitcoin undermined faith in the currency.

3. Mobile Wallets

A mobile bitcoin wallet is an app which, unlike a desktop wallet, does not keep a copy of the entire blockchain on the mobile device. It communicates with a server, operating in a similar way to the use of a web-based wallet, but via a user interface designed for phones or tablets.

Unfortunately Apple has in the past chosen to remove wallet apps from its store; however at the present time (October 2014) mobile wallets are available for Android, Blackberry and IOS.

I used the Blockchain Android app; the IOS version is also available. No Windows Phone wallets are currently available.

The screenshot below, taken during the post-installation setup procedure, shows an annoying problem with the current version; the mandatory checkbox is almost completely hidden by an un-necessary rectangle!

Once the above difficulty had been overcome, the screenshot below shows the application in operation:-

I also tested an IOS wallet, on an iPhone 4S:-

Buying Bitcoins

I used a bitcoin exchange in order to buy some coin.

Most exchanges will not accept credit card or Paypal due to the level of consumer protection.

I chose Bittylicious which easily allowed me to transfer the funds via my online bank account.

A novel means to obtain bitcoin is a bitcoin ATM. The one featured in this link converts cash into bitcoin; a further aid to anonymity (see below).

Purchasing with Bitcoin

For my first bitcoin purchase I chose an item with a recognised fixed value in the real world; a £5 Amazon gift voucher, purchased through the site pock.io which facilitates the purchase of many popular gift cards.

For my purchase, I registered with the site. I used Google Chrome as my web browser, and when I had selected the item, clicked the “buy with bitcoin” button, Chrome asked for permission to use my desktop wallet. When granted, the wallet assembled the transaction, allowing me to actually pay.

A bitcoin transaction has to be confirmed (technical: mined to a level of blocks deep); my wallet recommends 6 confirmations. In practice that means that it took about 20-30 minutes before my purchased gift card code was available to me. (Some retailers may choose to not wait until the transaction is sufficiently confirmed, and run the small risk of loss due to an attempted double spend).

The screen below shows the completed purchase summary. Note that the price in bitcoin was computed by the site. As you can see, on 6th October 2014 a full bitcoin is trading for a little over £200.

Anonymity with Bitcoin

Part of the attraction of bitcoin, and part of its notoriety, is the potential to undertake anonymous transactions online using the system. But how anonymous are users?

Bitcoin is built around the blockchain, a public and permanent record of each transaction. Those transactions only show the addresses used and the balance, but the record is public. This is one reason to change address for each transaction.

Also, the IP addresses used could be logged; so use a VPN or TOR if you wish to be anonymous.

Read here for more information on anonymity.

Similar Systems

Bitcoin is the most famous digital currency, but it has rivals such as Litecoin, Darkcoin and Dogecoin.

Changing the World

So that is bitcoin, briefly explained and demonstrated. Will it (or the similar networks) change the world as we know it? Will everyone be using it by 2020?

Probably not, but it’s useful to be informed. The problems with bitcoin include:-

  • Volatility of the currency. It peaked at $1000 in late 2013 but is now around a third of that value.
  • Lack of government protection – there is no deposit safety scheme, as there is for example in the UK.
  • Transaction verification is slow.
  • Risk of loss if you lose your physical wallet or the password.

I plan to keep using it as a purchase mechanism but will probably hold bitcoins only in small chunks of about 0.5 bitcoin, which as of today is about £100. I have no plans to enter the volatile world of bitcoin trading.

UK V.E.D. (“Car Tax” / “Road Tax”) Abolished

Well, not really.

But as of one minute ago you no longer need to display the evidence of your recent expensive contribution to the UK Government’s wasted spending on [insert your favourite hated item here]. When you next renew the tax, you will not receive a disc.

So, drivers of the United Kingdom, enjoy your greater windscreen space.

Unfortunately you still have to pay.

UK Telephone Dial Codes Changes from October 1st 2014

Two significant changes are about to affect many people in the United Kingdom from 1st October 2014.

  1. The traditional car tax disc (or VED disc) is abolished from that date.
  2. The UK will undergo another telephone dial code change.

Well, sort of. Not really.

You may remember the code changes a few years ago, when ‘1’ was inserted into many codes, some codes were totally changed, and London gained two area codes.

In October 2014 no area dial codes are really changing, but in just a few areas of the UK, landline users will no longer be able to call a number in that same area, without using the area code..

Incredibly in this era of almost univeral mobile phone ownership, you may still spot a local business that lists their telephone number without an area code. This is particularly irritating if you live at the edge of the area covered by your local code (plumbers vans seem to be the most common examples for some reason).

Of course, mobile phone users have always been required to dial a full telephone number, including the UK area code. From October 1st 2014, local landline telephone users in the areas listed below will need to do so as well.

The cost of that local call will be unchanged.

The areas affected are:-

Area Dialling code
Aberdeen 01224
Bradford 01274
Brighton 01273
Middlesbrough 01642
Milton Keynes 01908

For more information, visit the Ofcom site.

Finding People Who Are Not Listed in the Telephone Directory

Our telephone numbers data is updated each night (6 nights per week). In that data, about 75% of the people have exercised their right to not be listed in the telephone directory.

Until recently, the strict regulation of this data (the UK has an over-regulation fetish) meant that we were prevented from giving any information about those people,  to our users of ukphonebook.com. In other words, we were not even allowed to say (in effect)

I’m sorry, that number is ex-directory

…which is the usual response from one of the 118 services (such as 118365) when queried about an unlisted person.

We were only permitted to say

No records found

…which in the case of an unlisted person was incorrect, unhelpful, misleading,and utterly ridiculous.

However we are now permitted to report if a person is unlisted (or ex-directory). We give extra information in the summary shown when your search results are displayed.

A typical report is:-

We found 1 result, which is ex-directory and cannot be displayed

If you visit ukphonebook.com you may search the telephone directory for free, and if the person you seek is not listed you will now be informed.

The right to privacy of that person is respected; we do not give any information about that person, other than the fact that she or he is unlisted. It should at this point be stressed that we do not of course reveal their telephone number (and we don’t know the unlisted telephone numbers anyway).

If the person is not listed at all in the telephone data, you may search the electoral roll data. Purchase one of our competitively priced credit packages to be able to search for people on the latest UK electoral roll data, and use our many other services.

TOR – Fears and Facts

Introduction

TOR (The Onion Router) is a free, easy-to-use system which allows users to access the Internet anonymously.

It consists of a network of computers (relay servers and exit nodes) which work together to provide anonymity to users.

You can find more details, and download the software at The Tor Project

How it Works

The software manifests itself as a proxy server through which a preconfigured browser (the “Tor Browser”) communicates with the Internet. A typical event may be:-

  1. The user clicks a link to access a web page.
  2. The message requesting the web page goes from that user’s computer into the TOR network.
  3. It is passed through several TOR relay servers, and each time the IP address from which it originated is encrypted.
  4. Finally, the request leaves the TOR network via a TOR exit node and goes to the website. That website can only “see” only the IP address of the TOR exit node, not the user’s real IP address; that’s the point of using TOR.
  5. The website responds with a web page and associated images etc, all sent back through the TOR network.
  6. The TOR network sends the page through several TOR relays and eventually back to the user’s computer. The website never knows to where it has really gone. That’s the point of using TOR.

Controversy and Benefits

TOR has had a “bad press” due to its association with the Dark Net and Deep Network in order to obtain illegal pornography, weapons or narcotics.

However TOR is also a simple means for anyone living under an oppressive regime to anonymously access the Internet without fear of intimidation, persecution or prosecution.

Fears and Questions

Am I really anonymous?

Yes, but there is a lot of work being undertaken to “crack” TOR, or at least to provide the real IP addresses of some users of TOR, you should be aware.

So, should I use it?

Always ensure that your TOR software is up to date. TOR will fix any identified vulnerabilities.

If I’m using it, will other TOR users (perhaps doing highly illegal things) be able to access the Internet using my IP address?

No. You would have to create a TOR exit node. Your IP address will only send and receive your web use, and the websites won’t know who you are.

Who’s trying to crack TOR?

The FBI were reported to have staged an attack in 2013 using a vulnerability in an older version of the Firefox browser used by TOR. The Russian Government has recently offered a large fee for the breaking of TOR, and the U.S. Government are reported to be spending large sums in this effort.

Well, if I’m not doing anything illegal, I’ve nothing to worry about.

That’s one view, perhaps relevant to a liberal Western democracy but not to a web user in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, for example. You may have your own reasons for wishing to be anonymous.

Can I use TOR to download movies or music?

In theory yes, but in practice this is highly discouraged by TOR relay providers, largely due to the huge bandwidth needs of such traffic.

How else can I be anonymous?

You could use an anonymous VPN. This does contravene one of the popular principles of the Internet, you have to pay money to do so, but it can be as low as a few dollars per month.

I want to help TOR. Can I create a relay or exit node?

A TOR exit node provider needs to be prepared to deal with possible legal actions, or action from their ISP.

You could host a TOR relay on your own bandwidth; the encryption that happens as the traffic passes through your relay should ensure that your IP address is not revealed. If you have spare bandwidth and a love of TOR, consider doing so.

Websites Blocking or Limiting TOR Users

It is very easy for a website to “know” that the person using it is doing so via TOR.That site may then choose to totally block use, or to restrict activity.

I would stress once again at this point that in the situation above, the website does not know that person’s real IP address; that’s the point of using TOR.

Perhaps the most famous example of a website that restricts TOR users is Wikipedia, which prevents edits when using the Onion Router.

TOR Exit Node List

The TOR network publishes a list of IP addresses of its exit nodes; this list is updated regularly. All TOR traffic appears to originate from the exit nodes; the real IP addresses are of course, hidden; that’s the point of using TOR.

To use obtain the list of exit nodes, this example URL shows that exit nodes that are able to communicate with the IP address 1.1.1.1 on port 80. Substitute your website’s address and relevant port.

https://check.torproject.org/cgi-bin/TorBulkExitList.py?ip=1.1.1.1&port=80

If the IP address making the request is in the above list, the request has been routed through TOR.

High Quality Mapping

Later this year, our Corporate ukphonebook service will be augnmented to include very high resolution mapping data from Ordnance Survey.

When viewing Ordnance Survey maps currently, the maximum zoom is illustrated below by the area around Exeter St. David’s Station:-

The forthcoming facility will include the higher resolution and higher quality mapping data as again illustrated by the area around one of Exeter’s railway stations.

Finally, we will offer the highest quality mapping, shown by this “zoomed in” view of the area to the north of the station, shown in the views above.

Keep watching for updates.

Quadcopter Videos

I considered buying a remote controlled helipcopter with a video camera, or more accurately, a quadcopter, which as its name suggests, has 4 rotors.

For less than £1000 it is possible to buy a quadcopter fitted with a full HD video camera. It is also possible to configure a copter with a realtime first-person view (FPV) transmitted to the pilot’s controller or even to goggles worn by the ground based pilot.

A typical machine is shown below.

Quadcopter with HD video camera

For the moment, however, I’m content to watch the shared experiences of other pilots.

The increasing popularity of these devices has resulted in a large number of videos being uploaded to video sharing websites. Whilst many clips are uninspiring in terms of content and/or quality, there are some excellent uploads, demonstrating considerable piloting skills and confidence, and some excellent camera work.

Here are a few of the best I’ve found.
Most of these videos were created at 1080p (i.e. full high definition), and I recommend viewing at that size if possible.

Incidentally, many of these videos do not have useful search keywords in their title or description, making the task of finding these videos quite tricky.

The phrase “DJI Pantom” (a popular model) worked well for my searches, when “quadcopter” or “uav” failed.

New York, New York, United States of America

Some superb video around Central Park, Lower Manhatten and other areas of the Big Apple.

You can view the video below, or use this link if you prefer to watch in YouTube

Cycle Race and Some Over-Water Filming, Wales, United Kingdom

This is a compilation of some great footage. I love the cycle race start at about 1.12.

You can view the video below, or use this link if you prefer to watch in YouTube

Agulha do Diablo (Devil’s Needle), Brazil

Some stunning mountainside footage. There’s more to Brazil than beaches and soccer.

You can view the video below, or use this link if you prefer to watch in YouTube

Bixby Creek Bridge, California, United States of America

Flying around a bridge in a dramatic landscape in sunny California.

You can view the video below, or use this link if you prefer to watch in YouTube

Powerboat Race, Florida, United States of America

This appears to be a commercial production, with some very slick editing, but it shows the view from quadcopters chasing and racing powerboats; what more can you say?

You can view the video below, or use this link if you prefer to watch in YouTube

Battersea Power Station, London, United Kingdom

It sounds un-glamorous, but look at the great video that the copter is able to capture.

You can view the video below, or use this link if you prefer to watch in YouTube

Weymouth Harbour, Dorset, United Kingdom

The pilot flies around the fort at the entrance, enters Dorset’s prettiest harbour, and files under the harbour bridge at about 2.45 (video time).

You can view the video below, or use this link if you prefer to watch in YouTube

Puerto de Alcudia Beach, Mallorca

Fans of the hot beaches and blue seas of the Balearic Islands may appreciate this flight around the beaches of Puerto de Alcudia.

Click on the image to view the video in YouTube.


Grimsby and Cleethorpes, United Kingdom

This video does not feature 1080p, but do enjoy the 720p footage of a flight which includes Cleethorpes pier, the fort in the Humber, and the famous tower at Grimsby docks.

You can view the video below, or or use this link if you prefer to watch in YouTube