Archive for the ‘news’ Category

Syrian conflict for dummies.

Posted: September 30, 2016 in news
Tags: , , , , , , ,
Image courtesy of The Atlantic.

Image courtesy of The Atlantic.

With the recent images of the bombings of Aleppo plastered all over our screens people tend to (understandably) get very emotional about the whole thing and with emotion comes loss of focus.
I’ve been following to an extent what is going on and what is happening so here’s a “Syrian conflict for dummies” and my insight on how a sustainable solution could be reached:
There are broadly two sides in the conflict: there’s the Syrian government (led by Assad) and then there are the rebels.
Both sides are Muslim but the government side is Shiite while the rebel forces are largely Sunni. Shiite’s are a minority group within the islam world (<10%) and tend to be more “modern” in Western eyes while Sunni’s are more traditionalist islamic. This is partly due to the former believing that religious leadership is hereditary while the latter strictly observes the ancient scriptures.
The difference shows in it’s most practical sense by the fact that the rebel forces are riddled with AQ & ISIS forces.
There are of course the Kurds but these want independence rather than regime change in Syria so I am just (while I think that they’re a great ally of the West) going to leave them aside for the moment.
So the rest of the world is faced with a choice between two sides: The more modern/western government or the traditionalist/hardcore islamic rebels riddled with terrorist groups.
And here comes the twist; the USA (and Europe to some extent) has decided to support the rebels. Yes that’s right, the group containing strong elements of the organisations responsible for the many, many terror attacks across the globe in the recent decades.
Russia on the other hand has put their might behind the government forces.
Why? I’m sure that it’s not because of love for Assad but rather because Russia is seeing the bigger picture and taking a long-term view. If the rebels are allowed to win this war than Syria will turn into a failed state occupied by a number of radical islamist groups who will not only continue to fight each other but who will continue to plan and execute attacks on the rest of the world. It would be as big or even bigger mess than Libya is now.
If the rebels are defeated however then we are left with a more moderate state with not only an ideology more favourable to the western world but a state and a government which owes a huge debt to whichever countries helped it to defeat the rebels. At that time the opportunity to either replace Assad or to force him to stop committing atrocities against his own people presents itself. It’s good old-fashioned nation-building.
So as a conclusion ask yourself this; what do you want the future Syria to be like? Another radical islamist breeding ground or a country with a government which is not only respectful of its own citizens but also a country which is sympathetic to western democratic values and beliefs?

Smack that b*tch up….

Posted: December 11, 2015 in news

government meme

This started out as a Facebook rant but as it got rather long I decided that a blogpost would be a more suitable medium.

It is worrying how many new laws and legislative changes are happening in Ireland lately without people really noticing.
Take the whole discussion on parents giving their own children a little slap, It’s been part of raising kids without any issues for centuries but recently there has been a lot of discussion on the topic with certain people in the government suggesting that it should be banned by law.
And hey presto, as of midnight last night it is now against the law to discipline your own child in that manner.
How the hell did that happen?!

Apart from the speed with which this happened the actual law change is worrying. It is yet another step by the state to remove powers from the parents and the family and put them firmly under state control. There was no need for it as excessive use of physical violence against anyone, including children, is already punishable under law.

No, this legislative move is part of a larger agenda. Just look back at what else has been done recently;

The Childrens Rights referendum; promoted as improving child protection but more children have died in child care than ever before since this was passed. All it did was give the to take away rights from the family & parents and put them under state control.

-Sugar tax & alcohol minimum pricing: The state clearly thinks people are too stupid to be allowed to decide what to eat and drink and that financial punitive measures are the best way to put the dumb-asses in line.

Banning smoking in a car with children: This is an interesting one. While smoking in a car with children is insanely stupid do we require a law to enforce this? What’s wrong with education combined with social pressure?

Removal of history from the school curriculum and replacing it with “politics & society” classes; this is nothing but a cynical ploy to indoctrinate children at a young age. Especially considering that the “liberal progressive” groups such as the “Gay & Lesbian Equality Network” are given a big part in deciding the contents of these classes. Not a single centrist or conservative organisation has been approached for their input.

The most worrying aspect is that none of these new laws, legislative changes and other measures have been initiated based on majority demand. Instead we policy is now being driven by the state itself (rather than the people) or by minority lobby groups. The state is simply looking to increase its power, especially now that the power of the church and the financial industry is waning. It has ceased to be representative of or acting in the interest of the people.

And that my friends is the end of democracy….

In the run-up to the recent Irish marriage referendum I and others like me repeatedly pointed out that the proposed constitutional amendment would bring with it a whole raft subsequent legal issues affecting a wide range of areas.
We pointed out that the proposed legislation was part of a larger agenda, one of radical social change which will transform our society in ways most people could not imagine.
The response from both the government and the squealing hordes of “Yes” campaigners was that nothing was less true and that the Marriage Referendum was only about “the love between two people” and that we were making “Gra” the law. Besides the sheer idiocy of suggesting that legislating emotions is a good idea this has been proven to be purposely misleading campaigning.
Less than two weeks have passed since the referendum and already we are seeing a raft of social change legislation being proposed.
In the last week alone there has been a strong push for the repeal of the 8th amendment of the Irish constitution which would mean the removal of the equal right to life of an unborn child to that of the mother. If this is repealed it will open the door to abortions right up to full gestation.
There’s the issue of euthanasia. Nobody likes the thought of terminally ill people having to suffer without a glimmer of hope on the horizon. But we only need to look at countries which have legalised euthanasia in the past to see the “mission creep” to a state where euthanasia is being performed on children and not only on people who are terminally ill but also on people with depression who have “lost the will to live”.
Both proposals concern legislation allowing the early termination of life and even an staunch agnostic as myself can not see the benefit in this.
However one issue is even more topical than the previous two and that is the issue of trans-genderism. Our papers, news-feeds ad social media have been inundated by news about Bruce Jenner and how he is now a woman.
Bruce has had cosmetic surgery to make him look like a woman and this is being celebrated in the media as the summum of heroism.
The blanket media coverage of this is nearly so complete that one would be excused for not noticing that the Irish government is about to pass a quite drastic gender recognition bill.
While it should be perfectly acceptable for people with genuine gender issues (especially trans-sex people) to be given recognition under the law this bill goes far, far beyond that.
The original bill included sections which required that a medical opinion ( from a psychiatrist or endocrinologist) was required before people could be legally change their gender. Protest by hard-core LBGT activists has led to this being removed from the act. People can now “self recognise”. What that means is that anyone over the age of 18 can basically wake up tomorrow, shout “I’m a woman” in case of a man or “I’m a man” in case of a woman and they will be given full legal recognition of this without any qualified proof whether they are actually transgender or if they just are suffering from severe psychological issues. It’s worth noting that people identifying as a different gender after undergoing severe mental trauma is not an uncommon occurrence.
The original bill also included a section that basically stated that if you changed gender once it was for life. There was no option for flip-flopping at a later stage and “identifying” as your original gender. This section made perfect sense as legally changing your gender required a medical opinion hence a person had been diagnosed as genuinely transgender. Having removed the required medical opinion from the bill our legislators have recognised the legal loophole that would exist with allowing people to self-identify, i.e. people can be wrong. So they had no other option but to introduce open-ended legislation allowing people to *legally* change their gender as often as they wanted.
The result is a complete and utter legal quagmire.
One of the first casualties is family law. The current legislation states that if one partner in a marriage changes their gender (be it legally, via surgery or both) that the marriage would become void. After all marriage is a legal contract under law and if you change one of the parties in a contract as well as the terms and conditions such a contract would be voided.
It’s known as the “forced divorce clause”.
The marriage would also be voided because under Irish law two people of the same-sex cannot be married.
While there might still be valid legal grounds to seek to have the marriage voided it will not happen automatically anymore once this new bill passes. The other partner will possibly have to request for it to be voided or even file for divorce (which would quite likely still require a separation period).
All in all, the raft of social change legislation being foisted upon us is demolishing not only the fundamentals of our society but also of our legislation. This while at the same time being presented as simple, stand alone changes which will have no further impact than allowing people to love themselves and each other.
Unfortunately nothing is further from the truth.
samuel l equality

Note: the below blogpost pertains to the upcoming Irish constitutional referendum.

We’ve seen them all, those lovely visual messages produced by the “yes” campaign in the upcoming marriage referendum. Images of people of different and the same race, sexuality and walks of life hugging and high-fiving each other in a visual extravaganza of being “all about the love”. One would be hard pressed to object. After all who would not support equality and love?
Well as it happens it’s the “yes” side who do not support equality. Especially pertains to equality of law and equality of freedom of expression.
Take the example of the recently erected (pardon my French) mural on Georges Street in Dublin. The multi-story mural depicts two men embracing. No problem with that. The artist responsible for the mural, Joe Caslin, has publicly stated that the mural is on support of a “Yes” vote in the upcoming referendum. Again, perfectly fine and something that should be allowed. However, and here is the problem, murals like that require planning permission. Especially if they broadcast a political message supporting one side in an upcoming constitutional referendum. It’s similar to election posters, the public display of which is tightly regulated with substantial fines being levied for breaches.  It comes as no surprise then that the Planning Enforcement section of Dublin City Council has issued a statement that “the mural is under investigation and Section 152 Warning Letter has issued in relation to mural.”.
Did the “yes” side think that they were exempt of the applicable legislation?
Well apparently they do! Following the news that Dublin City Council is enforcing the existing legislation the “yes” side has started an petition demanding that the mural in question be made exempt from the applicable legislation. So clearly, one law for us and another for everyone else. Ironically, at the same time they are caterwauling about the message on the poster from the “no” campaign.
Posters which it’s worth noting are displayed legally and which are not in breach of *any* regulations. They have even gone as far as tearing down posters (posting pictures of this on Twitter).
Clear and obvious proof that a fair referendum where the electorate can cast an informed vote is not something which they desire. This is not a unique phenomenon, if we look at other countries or jurisdictions we will see that the introduction of legislation similar to the proposed constitutional amendment has across the board lead to a reduction in civil liberties and freedom of speech. The main difference in Ireland would be that if the referendum returns a majority yes vote such a reduction in civil liberties and freedom of speech would be enshrined in our constitution.
That’s why we should ask ourselves, is granting a tiny minority (gay people make up less than 3% of the population) their wishes worth the loss of civil liberties and freedom of speech for all of us?

It will be one year tomorrow since Typhoon Yolanda struck the Philippines. Obviously there will be lots of retrospectives published online and in the printed press. Most of these will outline the great work that has been done and is still ongoing. While I fully support those types of articles I’ve decided to do something different. I’m going to summarise the obstacles that we’ve encountered when responding with Disaster Tech Lab. You can read all the good stuff about our work following typhoon Yolanda here. However by summarising the obstacles we encountered, the mistakes we made i hope to make even a tiny small contribution on how disaster response and humanitarian aid could be improved.

By no means is this a study on the subject, these are simply my observations from the left-field of disaster response. Disaster Tech Lab is only a small organisation and we sometimes have an unconventional approach. We also have a task focussed rather than a process focussed approach and this occasionally conflicts with organisations who prefer to do more planning and discussion. I have also broken this into bulletpoints rather than elaborate analysis. It’s supposed to serve as a catalyst for discussion rather than a guideline.

  • Tunnel vision: While Tacloban was probably to most severely hit area by Yolanda it received too much focus by the media and the major aid organisations. Hence it became a black hole for resources. While Yolanda made its East to West path across the Philippines it also hit areas such a East Samar, North Cebu, Panay and Culion & Busuanga islands. I am fully aware that even for the large NGO’s resources are limited and it’s impossible but even considering that Tacloban received an unequal share of the aid.The cynic in me says that’s partially due to the overwhelming media focus on the area. Most of the initial aid provided to the outlying areas was provided by smaller, grassroots type organisations like ours, individuals and/or faith based organisations.
  • Logistics: We experienced several issues here. We had no pre-established logistical planning for a response to the Philippines and due to the urgency logistical arrangements had to be made up on the fly. With a damaged infra-structure and a huge influx of responders, equipment and supplies that is a recipe for disaster. A large batch of our equipment went “missing” and some is still stuck in customs (yes after 8 months and reams & reams of forms completed and submitted by us). When we switched to having volunteers bring equipment with them on their flight in as excess baggage we sometimes ran into other issues. This led to such things as panicky incoming phonecalls at 4 am from a Korean airport when one of our volunteers wasn’t allowed to check in the Goal Zero batteries he was carrying and was also not allowed to bring them as carry-on. While large NGO’s have the budget to pay for commercial airfreight or get space on other airlifts for an organisation like us, who do not have the funding for this, it remains a challenge. We have since worked to bring logistical expertise in-house and are developing logistical plans for the most likely destinations across the globe.
  • Biggest kid on the block: After so many years and so many disasters during which small grassroots type organisations and the “informal organisations” have made valuable contributions to the relief effort it still seems to be largely impossible for the larger NGO’s to recognise the increasing value these organisations bring as part of the overall relief effort. Most large NGO’s either are unaware of anything that’s not happening on their doorstep or within their direct network or they’re just flat-out not interested in working with such smaller organisations. This brings the added complication that some of the larger donors of relief supplies and equipment donate to these larger organisations expecting that their donation, to an extent, is shared amongst the the responding organisations. Instead these donations hardly ever make it past the few organisations at the top of the pyramid. Direct, validated requests by smaller organisations to larger ones for support are ignored or flat out refused. This in spite of clear evidence and report after report on the value that these smaller organisations bring to the overall relief effort. I am not going to name names but those at both sides of this divide know what I am talking about. A better cooperation and a recognition of the value of each others work and the different parts of the disaster response puzzle that each of us brings will only make future responses better.
  • Prevention is better than a cure: While we had seen this before, even during response in the USA, the disadvantaged areas are always the slowest to recover after a major disaster. While this is self-explanatory as it is you can’t repair what isn’t there in the first place. If an community doesn’t have any dependable means of communication you can’t rebuild one. If there’s no hospital to start with, and hence no trained medical personnel, then providing medical aid becomes a larger undertaking. As we worked in areas that can be described as disadvantaged we gave this challenge some deeper thought and quickly came to the conclusion that rebuilding better rather than just rebuilding after a disaster is an important step. This not only means that infra-structure and services need to be rebuilt better and more resilient but you need to teach people how to become more resilient themselves. This is not solely a question of improving skills but also a matter of mindset. As governments are struggling to respond to disasters in an efficient manner people will have to learn that recovery and rebuild efforts will require a lot of their own hands-on input. An interesting observation is that we noticed an increased dependency and expectation in the more westernised, touristy areas of the Philippines while the more remote (but significantly poorer) areas showed much more resilience and willingness to improve their own lot.
  • Trust no-one: Well actually, trust everyone but carry a big stick. During our disaster relief work following Yolanda we again learned that when you are doing relief work in far away beautiful destinations you will sometimes attract people who volunteer driven by the main desire to get an all expenses paid holiday. We encountered this again and as a result of this we have tightened up our volunteer screening procedures even more! There is no room for profiteering in this work and we have a 100% no tolerance policy on this. It is *not* representative of 99.9% of the volunteers working in this field and we won’t let that 0.1% mess things up. However as a non-profit you should never drop your guard; just because someone volunteers doesn’t make them a saint. Screen the person, screen their motivation, screen their references and use your intuition.


In the last week there was a bit of buzz about a project by Yan Wan from the University of Texas who, at the Smart America Expo, showed a WiFi enabled drone that *ding* could provide WiFi with a range of up to 5 miles! This was presented as a great step forward in disaster communications. The various articles made it seem like one of these devices would cover a 5 mile area with WiFi.

See for yourself by the viewing the video here.

Having worked in the fields of wifi and disaster response I decided to have a bit of a closer look. Was this really such a step forward and whatsmore, how was this achieved…

Firstly let’s have a look at the hardware, what components were used to build this. The aerial platform is a DJI F650 platform. It’s a nice of the shelf platform. The payload is a Ubiquiti Nanostation. Then there is some sort of servo which rotates the Nanostation. Wether or not the rotation is automatic and slaved to the location of the station the devices connects to or not isn’t clear.


The Nanostation is a widely used WiFi AP/CPE operating in the 5GHz band. I’ve used them on different occasions and we recently deployed some when working in the Philippines with Disaster Tech Lab. They’re a functional, cheap and cheerful type of device which theoretically can provide up to 150 Mbps on a point-to-point link of up to 15 km.

So in short this project has taken two of the shelf products and bolted them together.

Now for the technical bit; The Nanostation is designed to be one end of a point-to-point link and as with all point-to-point links range/distance is achieved by narrowing the antenna beam. While an omni-directional antenna will cover a 360 degree radius it’s range is limited. A directional antenna, like the one inside the Nanostation, takes the same transmission power (TX) but squeezes it into a narrow bundle. That way the range is much further but the signal radius is much smaller. Any device outside the range of the bundle will not be able to connect. Compare it to standing in a huge dark room and switching on a lightbulb versus a flashlight and you’ll get the picture. In addition the touted range of 5 miles is really not such a big deal. Most of the off the shelf WiFi point-to-point devices have a much longer range. I can recall building a link over 40 kilometers back in 2004 (I think) using homemade gear.

So going back to the implication of this aerial platform; we have a radio device with a narrow beam mounted onto what by definition is an unstable platform. Just ask anyone who has ever build a point-to-point link using masts with a lot of wind-sway how this can kill your connectivity.

Then there is the issue of backhaul; connecting two WiFi devices is great and all but it means very little without a source of internet backhaul. As this is an airborne device using a cable is a big no-no. So a form of wireless backhaul is called for. 3G/4G/LTE? All possible but it will add to the size and weight of the payload as well as require more battery power. In addition, if 3G/4G/LTE is available would that not negate the need for an airborne wifi device?  So satellite maybe? That would mean an ever bigger payload and battery drain. The last option is to consider using lots of these devices and building a WiFi mesh with one or more fixed end-points with internet connectivity. Now this would theoretically be a possibility but there are several factors to consider. using directional antennas on airborne/unstable platforms might cause dropped links. Then there is ones of the bigger drawbacks inherent to WiFi mesh networks; a drop in throughput with every hop (unless you use dual radio devices but that won’t really work here). Lastly there is the logistics and costs of building, deploying and operating a large number of these type of devices.

So considering all the above I can only conclude that it’s a case of much ado about nothing. It might look cool and get much ooh’s and aah’s from the hackathon crowd but there’s really no benefit in this product at all. The cost of the combined package comes to around $1300 (off-hand) with $1000 of that being the aerial platform. Compare that to about $150 for a length of scaffolding pipe, a roof mount kit and some clamps. The latter would also create a link with much more stability.



If you are looking at a workable application for aerial platform mounted WiFi then look at a combination of a 3G/4G/LTE backhaul device and a WiFi router with an omni directional antenna. That way you can create small bubbles of WiFi that can be flown into hard to reach areas and which are not dependent on a directional link for connectivity.

Even better rather than a means of connectivity provisioning use aerial platforms as sensor networks able to detect wifi or cellular signals transmitted by client devices (smartphones etc) pinpointing people in need.


I’ve committed to give a talk later this year on “The perfect Bugout bag”. It’s topic that I’ve discussed with regularity over the years and one that also caused a lot of controversy and heated debate on the numerous prepper, survivalist and related fora. During my deployments abroad with Disaster Tech Lab I always carry a small bag/pack with my basic essentials. A bag that would enable to me to “survive” for a few days if all my other bags were stolen or lost. So I do have a some practical experience in this area.

Traditionally discussions of what a bugout bag should contain include most, if not all, of the following:

  • Food
  • Water, water bottle & water purification
  • Knife
  • Multitool
  • Basic First Aid kit
  • Map & compass
  • Emergency Shelter
  • Matches, flint & tinder
  • Weapon (handgun or rifle)
  • Flashlight
  • Survival blanket, small sleeping bag
  • Paracord
  • Collapsible stove
  • Clothing
  • Wet-wipes
  • Insect repellent
  • Wind-up radio
  • GPS
  • Fishing kit & snares
  • Cash or gold coins

In my opinion the above list is based on an outdated principle. It assumes that any bugout situation will see one ending up in a remote wilderness situation. This is no longer true and a lot of bugout type scenarios will now take place in an urban environment. With increased instability in certain parts of the world you could find yourself having to bail out of a hotel, taxi, public transport or other urban location and having to depend on whatever is in your bugout bag for the next few days. In such an environment you will not be placing snares or fish for food, you won’t have to build a basha for shelter, or need to carry spare clothes.

You will require a whole lot of different items. Ones that provide you with access to digital communications (phone or internet), digital copies of important documents, a method to power your electronic devices. Even a way to smarten up your appearance quickly.

What you don’t want to carry is a big knife or even machete. Even a stove and cooking equipment is excess weight. Water is also less of an issue.

Basically you will need a Bigout Bag 2.0

I will be working on compiling a summary of my personal recommendations of tried and tested items that I carry in my bugout bag but as I am also very interested in finding out what other people carry. And please note, “bugout bag” is only a generic term. You might call it your grab-bag or your EDC but it basically boils down to the same.

So please, after reading it take the time to leave a comment with your opinion or experience in the area of bugout bags.