Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Clueless security

Security search

I’ve often wondered about some of the silly stories told by those who have to deal with security on a regular basis, and whether or not they’re being exaggerated.

I’m not wondering quite as much now.

I’ve spent a week or so wandering in and out of an establishment where (serious) security is in place, mainly to stop weapons being carried into the building. Physical searches are rare, with metal detectors being in use, both walk-through, and hand-held. Those of us with passes don’t have to be checked – unless we meet untrained staff.

At the end of the first week I was entering as usual, showing my privileged pass, but a confused guard couldn’t understand it, and redirected me to the metal detectors. Since I knew quite a few items I was carrying would trigger the detectors, I declared them, unfortunately, this meant having to empty my pockets, which was bad news since most of it was a tight fit, and one item got stuck. This took so long to get free, the second guard woke up and asked where I was headed, and rechecked my pass. He told me I should have gone through the other door, and told me just to go there. I agreed, but pointed at the first guard who had sent me to the detectors,  and he shook his head and just waved me through the arch, with all my stuff in hand. This set the detector off, but at least he expected it, and made sure I wasn’t detained.

A bit silly, and down to one member of the security staff who was probably not properly trained to recognise the various types of pass, so not their fault, but their employer.

Whenever I have a security hiccup, I always think of the shocked look on the face of one security guard in a large semiconductor plant. Unusually, we were carefully searched  just before we left the factory. When he spotted a very small laptop in my case, he almost had kittens and asked if had been seen when I arrived (I had no idea, but security should have seen since my case was checked). He asked me to leave quickly and quietly, otherwise he’s lose his job!

February 2, 2014 Posted by | Surveillance | , | Leave a comment

A safe seat

I’ve been waiting patiently for the first grass-cutting of the year to take place in a particular roadside garden in Shettleston – and it finally happened this week.

I pass this garden on an almost daily basis, on my way to the shops, and when the owners decided to add a seat to their garden a while ago, it was clear they had been reading/listening to the various news reports casting aspersions on the behaviour of their neighbours (the media loves to portray the east end of Glasgow as some sort of Hell on Earth), and decided to take some precautions to make sure their nice new seat stayed where they put it:

Chained seat

I really like this scene, and having to pass it on an almost daily basis means I get to start most days with a smile.

June 2, 2013 Posted by | Civilian | , , | 1 Comment

Smart meters – maybe not so smart

You may already have read about ‘smart metering technology’ being installed in all homes across the UK from 2014 onwards, with every home expected to have smart metering installed by 2019. This might slip if funding is not readily available, but that seems to be the current timescale.

Smart metering allows two-way information exchange between energy users and suppliers, providing real-time (almost) information about supply and demand at the individual user level, allowing the level of that supply and demand to be accurately determined on a moment-to-moment basis. According to the Government, smart metering will slash unnecessary energy use, reduce emissions, and cut consumers’ energy bills.

But, it seems there’s a problem, and nobody’s telling us about it.

Researchers have found that the meters can monitor users’ consumption at intervals of only 2 seconds, which is far too frequent for their intended purpose.

Worse, this rapid high-resolution sampling makes it possible to analyse the consumption and identify what equipment is being used in the users’ home – and this can lead to an invasion of privacy as it reveals people’s habits, preferences, and even whether or not the home is occupied. I found the explanation of this (and the weakness which was used to exploit it) particularly interesting, since a similar discussion I took part in about five years ago concluded that this could not be done. However, technology and analytical techniques have moved on, and I have to say I am impressed with what can be done  now, and the level of detail that a ‘simple’ consumption monitoring exercise can provide.

It has to be said that a simple change to the metering could also defeat quite a lot of this – if the manufacturers were to incorporate such a thing, which would degrade the operation of the device (without affecting its claimed purpose), so I doubt they will.

They also found they could send false detail to the supplier – in other words, users could falsify their consumption.

Particularly worrying was their finding that all security techniques which were supposed to be in place were not, or could be easily circumvented – and the data being sent to and from the smart meter was not encrypted, so anyone with reasonable skills could intercept it.

We currently lack any robust privacy and data requirements in the UK for this technology.

Professor in security engineering at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory (Ross Anderson) has said that the Government’s smart meter plans are “set to become another public sector IT disaster”.

Technically, it does not take the greatest leap in imagination to see how such insecure devices could become a disaster  if hackers were able to break into a ‘head-end’ hub where smart metering data may be collated, and from where they could cut the supply of energy across  millions of households. Deploying these meter across the World – once developed, the same technology is mass-produced, and standardised – would see hundreds of millions of the devices installed in Europe (and North America apparently) with each having a remotely controlled ‘Off switch’, remote software updating, each becomes a rather alarming point of vulnerability in every home.

Anderson and Fuloria’s paper on the vulnerabilities of smart meter technology (6-page / 119KB PDF)

There is also a video presentation (but it’s hard going, as the guys are not used to speaking in public, but the slides speak for them):

January 8, 2012 Posted by | Civilian, Surveillance | , , , , , | 1 Comment

‘Mug’ shots sold to ID Card holders for £30 each

Blank card in handI find the irony of ID Card fans being charged £30 for the privilege of owning a reminder of their folly to be rather sweet.

The disgraceful ID Card scheme, the National Identity Register, and the lies we were told as the scheme changed from being voluntary to compulsory by a series of stealthy changes will come to an end within 100 days, as the new Home Secretary Theresa May has announced that legislation to remove the related laws forced through by the outgoing Government will be the first to be put before Parliament by the new government.

ID Cards – 100 day death sentence | PublicTechnology.net

15,000 people foolish enough to hand over £30 at the Manchester rollout of this con will not receive a refund, however Ms May said they would at least have a “souvenir” of the scheme.

Can you believe that the utter plonker who was originally responsible for this scheme, an obscure politician named David Blunkett who was going to make us all carry one if his cards, and who managed to get thrown out of his Government job not once, but twice, after making repeated gaffes that his bosses tried to ignore and gloss over, went to the papers and tried to recreate himself in some way, by threatening to sue the Government for the £30 he paid for his ID Card.

I might sue over scrapped ID card, says Blunkett – UK Politics, UK – The Independent

What a cheek! He should have been standing up and proclaiming his utter joy at having been granted the privilege of owning one of the ID Cards for a mere £30. They will be rare collectors’ items in future. I’m not sure of the ultimate number, I have seen claims of between 7,000 and 50,000 ID Cards being issued, despite Blunkett’s Labour Party being aware that every other party was going to scrap them after the General Election. The cost of the scheme was said to be £250 million over the eight years it was being pushed through regardless, against all opposition objections, with 15,000 paying £30 for each card worth £16,667 – which surely has to be a bargain. If the number was 50,000 then the cost of each card was a mere £5,000 – still a bargain at £30,  but who will ever know the truth?

Maybe David Blunkett should still be sued for the cost of the disgraced and scrapped ID Card scheme – paying off the bill might keep us safe from his demented publicity stunts.

I’m certainly not wasting my time hunting down the real numbers, so if the above – taken from various reports in the news – are wrong, don’t bother letting me know. I don’t care now that the billions – at least £5 billion, and no doubt many times more if the project had been allowed to continue – have been saved, especially given the dire financial straits the country was shown to be in after the General Election.

It was embarrassing to watch the previous Government ride roughshod over any protests against the scheme, and attempt to have this pointless scheme set in place before it lost office, as if it was intent on having it installed deeply enough to ensure that any following administration would not be able to afford to cancel and withdraw it, since every single other political party had announced its intention to do away with the scheme in their post-election manifestos.

I could have a laugh at the expense of those who supported these useless cards, but it’s perhaps better to let them speak for themselves, and how ridiculous their claims are (or were), remembering that there is no evidence to support the claimed anti-terrorism claims made for the ID Card, and that they did not replace ANY of the alternative forms of identification we already have available, which would still all continue to be needed, meaning this cards/system would still have been additional to what we already have, and more importantly, subscribe to voluntarily when we want or need the services they apply to:

BBC News – ‘Why I love my ID card’ (Seriously, this makes for truly sad reading if the writer believe all he has written.)

Civil service warning

While I’m not too interested in the words of fanatics, extremists, or those with their own agenda, I have had a look around some of the follow up stories that have appeared around the web since the news of the current ID Card scheme cancellation was confirmed, and some of it may just carry the worrying ring of truth.

There are claims that the bureaucrats and pen-pushers at Westminster are not too happy about the loss of the scheme, and that they had been rubbing their hands in joy at the prospect of having a database where everyone’s details were centralised, and of forcing people to carry a card that linked them to it. And it’s not hard to see how people who’s lives revolve around making rules and having people follow them would adore to have such a system in place.

I think it might be well worth watching the small print that related to the people of the bureaucratic Government services over the next few years, just in case they decide to use their skills to learn from the current ID Card and database fiasco, and use the next five years to form a new plan to introduce something similar once the current interest dies down, and they can come up with the reheated dregs under a new name.

BBC News – The nine lives of ID cards

Maybe they will come up with something ‘new’, like an Entitlement Card (and of course, a database containing details of the entire UK population to back it up).

Maybe you won’t be granted access to any Government related services if you don’t have one, so it won’t be compulsory, unless you want access even to your local council, or maybe even to prove you are entitled to have your bin emptied.

The story may be little more than ‘smoke and mirrors’, but where pen-pushers and Jobsworth’s are concerned, I never discount anything, no matter how unbelievable, fantastic, or unlikely it may sound, and this has a little more than just the smell of possibility to me, and thoughts of how kids behave when you take one of the favourite toys away from them. They don’t let go willingly, or forget.

ID Cards can still be had

If you’re really upset at not being tagged with a UK ID Card then you may wish to follow the link below, and keep one of their offering in you handbag or wallet. You could even fine yourself $1,000 any time you leave home without it, or forget it, and you could even lock yourself  indoors for 24 hours, just to simulate the feeling of being lifted by the police in a spot check to make sure you had your card with you.

It will probably be as secure as the UK ID Card, which I have seen newspaper articles which claim could be cracked in as little as 10 minutes, and new work suggests that biometrics are far from infallible.

Fluxcard Fake ID | Effective Fake ID Cards | Holograms and UV Fake IDs Features | Order Fake ID Online

June 15, 2010 Posted by | Civilian, Surveillance | , , , | Leave a comment

The National Identity Register, ID Cards, and an election

While I don’t want to be accused of telling anyone how they should vote in a general election – as if anyone would listen to me anyway – I’m still not gagged, so that doesn’t preclude my observations regarding interesting things that might influence them.

I was going to precede this information with some introductory blurb, reflecting on the intriguing distribution of voting in general election in Scotland, but that would have infringed on the opening premise, so all I can do is quote the following, and suggest that most folk are not aware of the true implications of the ID Card, and more importantly, The National Identity Register, which is generally ignored, but much more sinister.

You may be perfectly happy to hand all your personal identification data over to the current Government which is power, but don’t forget, that will inevitably change one day, and has been seen in recent years, the principles of those in power do not necessarily stay the same.

It seems that every political party, except Labour (which has poured and will continue to pour ridiculous amounts of money into it), sees no future for ID Cards, the National Identity Register, and related projects.

If it’s so good, why does nobody else want it? They should all be beating a path to its door!

The issue has been fudged since it first appeared around 2002, and even now, it remains unclear just whose best interest it is in. Don’t forget, most of the reasons put forward by the Home Office can be shown to be ‘smoke and mirrors’, based on assumptions, not facts.

As of 26th April, opposition parties’ 2010 manifesto commitments on the National Identity Scheme stand as follows:

  • The Conservatives (standing 631 candidates) will “scrap ID cards, the National Identity Register and the ContactPoint database”;
  • The Liberal Democrats (631 candidates) will “scrap intrusive Identity Cards and have more police instead”. They also intend to “scrap plans for expensive, unnecessary new passports with additional biometric data”;
  • The UK Independence Party (543 candidates) will “abolish ID cards” which involve “harvesting large amounts of highly sensitive personal data” and are “an ingredient in an increasingly intrusive surveillance society”;
  • The Green Party (315 candidates) oppose ID cards and “also have grave concerns over the development of a national dataset, including detailed biometric data, which has potential for the infringement of civil liberties”;
  • The British National Party (270 candidates) will “halt all moves to introduce ID cards as an undesirable manifestation of the surveillance society”;
  • The Scottish National Party (59 candidates) would “cut the projects that the country doesn’t need and can no longer afford such as Trident, ID cards and deep storage nuclear dumps”;
  • Plaid Cymru (40 candidates) will “continue to oppose legislation to make possible secret inquests, Internet monitoring, wasteful ID cards, the national DNA identity register and longer pre-charge periods of detention for suspects”;
  • The Scottish Green Party (20 candidates) will not have ID cards which “are an unnecessary invasion of our privacy and will do nothing to prevent crime and terrorism”;
  • The Social Democratic and Labour Party (18 candidates) will “continue to point to the savings possible by scrapping spending catastrophes of the current government such as the £5bn ID cards”;
  • The Democratic Unionist Party (16 candidates) says “plans to introduce ID cards should be scrapped”;
  • The Pirate Party (10 candidates) “strongly oppose compulsory ID cards, and pledge that we will never introduce them”;
  • The Respect Party (11 candidates) succinctly states: “No ID cards”;
  • The Alliance for Green Socialism (6 candidates) will “scrap ID cards and databases of personal information”;
  • The Communist Party of Great Britain (6 candidates) calls for “an end to prolonged detention without charge, house arrest and plans for ID cards and full restoration of the rights of assembly, protest and free speech”;
  • The Liberal Party (5 candidates) “oppose the introduction of ID Cards and the ‘Database’ State”;
  • The Libertarian Party (4 candidates) will “immediately scrap the compulsory National ID card scheme”

From 2012 under a Labour administration, everyone needing a passport will be forced to enrol on a centralised ID database and be fingerprinted – and have to pay for the privilege of having their identity ‘managed’ by the state for the rest of their life. Labour’s manifesto pledge that “in the next Parliament ID cards and the ID scheme will be self-financing” is nonsense. The billions the scheme will cost have to come from somewhere, and it is the public who will pay.

Source: stop the database state » NO2ID

A centralised database is not even needed for proof

Although it’s only a local scheme in Wiltshire, and very new as I write, a scheme whereby young people can prove they are over 18 in order to gain entry to premises where proof of age is required appears to be making a successful start.

The interesting aspect of this scheme is that it provides its proof-of-age without having to refer to a centralised database, and relies on data encoded on a card, in this case fingerprint data. However, it does not contain any personal data, nor does it contain the fingerprint, which means if it is lost or stolen, it is useless to anyone else. And, as there is no need for it to refer to, or be linked to a central database holding the person’s details, there are no security implications resulting from its loss or theft.

See: touch2id – database free id for 18-25s

May 1, 2010 Posted by | Surveillance | , , , | Leave a comment

Personal data trade

EyeballsTwo items (make that three, as a third arrived as I wrote) landed on my desk this morning with regard to the current cavalier attitude taken by those who are support to be safeguarding our personal data.

The first related to The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which uncovered 17,500 requests for private information made to a private investigator by 400 journalists. Information handed over included ex-directory addresses and contact details for security service personnel and celebrities. Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said he had highlighted the problem regarding the trade of such information back in 2006, in a report What Price Privacy Now? but no action had been taken by the authorities. He suggested that the courts were could not be bothered levying even the trivial fines at its disposal, that parliament let everyone down by not providing appropriate legislations, and the the newspapers, who do not take the matter seriously. According to Guardian, he said, even if a fine was issued, it could be written off as a business expense.

The ICO’s Motorman investigation into the activities of a private investigator uncovered 17,500 requests for private information on behalf of 400 journalists working for some of the UK’s biggest papers, including the News of the World, whose royal reporter Clive Goodman was later found guilty of hacking into people’s mobile phones to find stories.

What Price Privacy Now? Report by the ICO in 2006.

The second item seems to indicate a more informed and responsible plan regarding personal date by the Scottish government, which plans to reduce the amount of personal information held by large public databases and curb the collection and use of personal data by public authorities. A consultation on its plans has just begun, and it has the backing of the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), and proposes a set of Identity Management and Privacy Principles with which public bodies will have to comply. The principles move the Scottish Government away from the trend of building very large public databases of personal information.

Scottish finance secretary John Swinney commented that the principles guiding the plan were aimed at all who have a responsibility for protecting personal information, not only those those in the public sector dealing with the public, but those involved in designing and operating the systems concerned, and added that recent incidents where such principles had failed, and that it people had to be confident that their data was secure, and their privacy safeguarded.

The guidelines stipulate that privacy impact assessments must be carried out in relation to new Scottish Government plans and that any body gathering personal data must explain why they are doing so and how it will be used.

“The ICO welcomes this initiative of the Scottish Government,” said Ken Macdonald, Assistant Information Commissioner for Scotland. “At the ICO we urge all public bodies to ensure that data protection is treated as an important part of corporate governance. Safeguarding personal information must be embedded in organisational culture and no public body should be taking risks with Scottish individuals’ personal details.”

A third item arrived as I was writing the above, so this one is just direct quote, but is important as it shows how we have been consistently lied to regarding the non-compulsory aspect of the ID Card:

Already the Home Office is devising ways of making use of the ID card integral to gaining employment, an extremely sinister development.

Last week, The Register published an important story, through a freedom of information request, they discovered that the Criminal Records Bureau is considering requiring ID card and fingerprint data in an attempt to improve the accuracy of CRB checks. This would force people to get ID cards in order to get a job. As Phil Both of No2ID says, “This is entirely consistent with the various forms of coercion strategy they’ve been working on to create artificial ‘volunteers’ for ID cards.”

You have to acknowledge the cunning of the Home Office and CRB. As the Register reports the CRB is palpably dysfunctional. “In the 12 months to the end of March 2009, identity errors at the CRB more than doubled compared to the previous year. More than half of the 1,570 mistakes were made in just one month.” The government’s solution to this disaster, which by the way has not received nearly enough publicity, is to marry the CRB with the ID card, which the Home Office desperately wants to make compulsory.

Full article: ID cards: A new layer of compulsion | Henry Porter | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

The ID Card may not be compulsory, but it would seem that before it is booted out of office, the government that thought it up, and is the only champion of this lever towards a National Identity Database, will do all it can to install it everywhere it can, to the extend that it may not be compulsory, but is necessary for anyone that want to live in this country, and interact with any government related service.

I only hope my reference to country excludes Scotland, and the Scottish government is opposed to this abhorrent device.

September 4, 2009 Posted by | Surveillance | , , , , | 1 Comment

Lies, security breaches, and data misuse

EyeballsIt’s been an interesting week in the land of secrecy, security, surveillance, and shall we say lack of truth.

As one who has worked with corporate databases, I always find it hard not to fall about and roll on the floor laughing whenever I hear government ministers, officials, and other spokespersons issue assurances that they will make sure the NID (national identity database) and ID Card scheme are secure, that the data cannot be hacked, and there will be no way for anyone to access the data if they are not supposed to.

Quietly announced by Computer Weekly (as media attention focused on other government problems, and largely missed or ignored the story) nine staff have been sacked from their local authority jobs for snooping on personal records of celebrities and personal acquaintances held on the core database of the government’s National Identity Scheme. They are among 34 council workers who illegally accessed the Customer Information System (CIS) database, which holds the biographical data of the population that will underpin the government’s multi-billion-pound programme. Here is the list published of councils involved in breaching the core ID Card database.

So much for those assurances then, ministers have repeatedly insisted that security will be absolute and that severe penalties will deter anyone tempted to read files illegally – and two of those breaches were in Glasgow, so it’s not a problem “down south”.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that this story relates only to the results obtained from a sample checks on the system, and not a full audit. With this number arising from only a sampling exercise, it doesn’t take the greatest imagination in the world to see that the supposed absolute security we have been promised is nothing more than a figment of the government’s imagination, or simply a lie, if one wishes to be blunt and honest.

At the same time, there was another story – which could be read together with the above to see how data could be misused, or used without proper authority and checks in place – when it was revealed that requests by police and other officials for information on people’s phone calls and emails ran to an average of 1,381 a day last year, according to a report released recently by the interception of communications commissioner, Sir Paul Kennedy. A total of 504,073 surveillance requests to telephone and internet companies were made in 2008, the equivalent of one in 78 adults being targeted. The figure was slightly lower than in 2007, but higher than in 2006, when Kennedy issued his first report covering 253,557 requests registered in the 38 weeks after he took up his position in mid-April of that year. The 2008 figure shows a rise estimated at about 45%, if the 2006 figure is projected at a constant rate over a full year.

The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Chris Huhne, probably summed this up when he said the figures “beggared belief” and showed that Britain had sleepwalked into a surveillance state.

While there are serious cases where such methods need to be used, and information sought on individuals, it is now a matter of record both in the press and through investigative television documentaries that councils are using these powers to spy on people accused of allowing their dogs to foul pavements, or of leaving bins out too early for collection.

I rather liked his observation that Orwell’s 1984 was not a blueprint, but a warning.

August 13, 2009 Posted by | Surveillance | , , , | Leave a comment

Guaranteed data security?

Chain link fenceI’ve often struggled with the securing of passwords and data, both at the personal level, and at the level of the business networks I look after.

My own data is pretty secure, as I have not problem in keeping lists of password and accounts secret and secure, and following the simple not do pass any of them on to anyone – EVER. Same goes for any source that ever contacts me by any means possible. This never happen with a legitimate party, so these are disconnected, deleted, or ignored if they ever appear. Their mere existence is enough to warn that they are bogus, and phishing for the unwary.

Business systems are easier in some respects, as I’m the only person with top-level access, and control everone else’s access,  but it does have the responsibility problem, as I’m the only one that can maintain the systems concerned, but, there’s a surprising advantage that comes with that problem. Since no-one else accesses the systems, and only I allow all user access, there are no problems caused by unauthorised tampering, so barring system implosion, things actually work surprisingly well and smoothly. And anything unauthorised sticks out a mile, like the proverbial sore thumb.

That said, as systems grow, there is a need to act more responsibly, and while I’m not giving away any of my own solutions, the points in the following article is worth giving consideration:

When I’m dead, how will my loved ones break my password? Tales from the encrypt: If you care about the integrity of your data, it’s time to investigate solutions for accessing and securing it – and not just for the here and now.

(Considering how simple it is to secure things, you have to wonder how those charged and entrusted with handling and managing really sensitive data don’t appear to be able to do it. Maybe if they were simply fired whenever they were found to have failed, natural selection would make things better).

June 30, 2009 Posted by | Surveillance | , , , | Leave a comment

Wartime snap goes public after 65 years

troopsSomething I often wonder about in recent times is how the plethora of imaging devices now in the hands of the public would be dealt with if some circumstance meant we were ever to descend into a time of war similar to that of World War II.

A couple of things brought this to mind again, firstly when I read that are actually countries around the world that outlaw the ownership of GPS (Global Positioning Sytem) receivers, and phones that incorporate this feature either have to be crippled to disable the feature, or  country specific model has to be produced without it. Apparently one such country is Egypt, and it’s the military that pulls that particular string. If you’re rich though, you just smuggle the latest fully functional phones in, so nothing new there.

More relevant was the story of a photograph taken in 1942, of a 19 year old WAAF wireless operator  (at the nearby Tain range) while a British propaganda film was being made in Portmahomack. The film, Before the Raid, was produced  for the Ministry of Information and released in cinemas in 1943.  The film shows a Norwegian village under occupation, and was directed by Prague-born Jew Jiri Weiss, who had been forced to leave what was then Czechoslovakia when the Germans took over in 1938. Locals played the part of extras, had to sign confidentiality agreements, and were sworn to secrecy. Shooting the filming in such a remote location meant the area could be controlled, and reduced the possibility of alarm being caused by someone not involved catching sight of German troops apparently carrying out operations in the area.

The picture shows the uniformed operator relaxing in a seaside port with a fisherman and a German soldier in uniform.

One difficulty concerned the developing and printing of the photograph. Had it been dropped off at the local chemist for processing, it would undoubtedly have been reported to the police. It seems this problem was overcome when the film was passed to a friend who worked in aerial reconnaissance.

Had it been discovered by the authorities at the time, all those involved would almost certainly have been charged under secrecy law then in place.

As an example of what could happen, when the film was later shown in Portmahomack, a local soldier in the audience was startled by the appearance of familiar faces, andbegan shouting “They’re not Norwegians, that’s so-and-so from the Port”, which led to the arrival of the military police and his removal from the cinema.

BBC video report of the story.

December 8, 2008 Posted by | World War II | , , , | Leave a comment

Dark Sky Parks

Dark Sky Scotland

Dark Sky Scotland

Dark skies and light pollution have been mentioned here before. and it looks as if the issue is being taken seriously, not only here, but across Europe. This is particularly significant at the moment, since in 2009 the world will celebrate the International Year of Astronomy to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s use of a telescope to study the night sky. 2009 is also the anniversary of many other important dates in the history of science, such as the publishing of Kepler’s Astronomia Nova, Huygens’ Systema Saturnium, and the first moon landing.

Dark Sky Scotland has local features on the campaign to cut unnecessary light pollution, and observation events which are held around the country.

The most interesting of the current activities is the work underway to establish Dark Sky Discovery sites and create the first Dark Sky park in Europe in Scotland. Astronomers from the Dark Sky Scotland programme, based at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh are working with Forestry Commission Scotland and the John Muir Trust to help communities and outdoor learning providers find the best local spots for stargazing. America has two such areas, and Canada has one, but Europe has yet to have such an area internationally recognised, and some of Scotland’s more remote areas, well away from towns, cities and population centres are uniquely suited to such a venture.

While there is a definite move on some developers and authorities to use lighting fixtures and features that minimise light spillage and pollution, not to mention more efficient use of energy by doing so, there still seems to be a die-hard core that loves to use inefficient floodlighting that throws as much light skyward as on the subject structure, and although they may be small, many private homeowners seem to be hypnotised by a fashion for installing numerous uplighters in the ground along the perimeters of their paths and driveways. These shine straight up into the sky, and throw no light on the ground or path they outline, and would seem to be for little more than vanity or one-upmanship. It would be nice to see a by-law consigning them to the skip, or obliging owners to point them parallel to, or down towards the ground. Better still, use downlighters to light the actual path, rather than the sky.

Our local tennis court had some of the most recent floodlighting installed a few years ago, and was in use into the early, but completely dark, evening only a few weeks ago. The remarkable thing is not seeing folk playing tennis outdoors at 9 pm in November, but the fact that the fixtures  used throw light only on the courts, and not outside, and from the street outside, there is almost no overspill of light, and almost no direct sight of the light sources themselves. It can be done.

December 5, 2008 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rothesay pier fence farce trundles on

The farcical story of the fence on Rothesay’s pier has now swung all the way from legal necessity demanded by current legislation relating to shipping and anti-terrorism measures, all the way to being completely unnecessary – other than as a temporary erection when the occasional cruise ship visits the Isle of Bute.

In between it has involved definite statements from councillors claiming the fence is a requirement, is not a requirements, is never going to happen, and was always going to happen.

Whatever else, they’re going to be able to claim they made the correct statement – even if it was just the luck of the draw as a result of multiple choice.

Reading back issues of The Buteman will even show that while it may not have descended to the level of name-calling, it may as well have given the acrimonious exchanges and back-pedalling that have arisen latterly.

This week has seen Alan Reid, Westminster MP for Argyle and Bute visit the offices of the local newspaper.

Last week, Councillor Robert Macintyre had harsh words for the island’s MP, who, he said, was guilty of making “ill-founded” and “unhelpful” comments on the subject of the fence.

Mr Reid provided the newspaper with a reply he had received from Jim Fitzpatrick MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, which stated that the only fencing that the Department for Transport requires at Rothesay Pier is temporary fencing during the occasional visit from a cruise ship. He went on to say, “Jim Fitzpatrick’s letter shows that all the talk from the council about the Westminster Government requiring a two or three metre high permanent fences at Rothesay Pier was complete nonsense. A three foot fence to stop people falling into the water makes sense, but higher permanent fencing is not a Department of Transport requirement. The council were aware of this in July and said then that no permanent fencing would be put up, so I don’t understand why they’ve done a U-turn since then and now want to build a two metre high fence on part of the pier.”

I’m tempted to add a comment, but I’d better not, and will just sit quietly and await the next act.

No, on second thought I will add a short comment -this is really sad.

October 31, 2008 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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