About phenweb

Philip G Henley spent nearly eighteen years in the Royal Air Force before entering the civilian corporate world. He specialised in IT and then Programmes and Projects before most recently working as an IT Director for a large UK Service Company. He has recently turned to writing and ‘To The Survivors’ is his second book in a very different style and genre to his first story, which was a spy thriller called ‘An Agent’s Demise. Phil has lots of other interests to go with his writing including appalling golf where he has managed to come bottom of his Golf Society’s rankings for eleven straight years, and he shows no sign of breaking that record! Philip lives with his wife Lisa, and their two adult children, in Hampshire in the UK. He is currently finishing a third novel called ‘The Persuasive Man’ and has started a sequel to ‘An Agent’s Demise’, a collection of short stories, a Sci-Fi space book and a story about revolution. For all these and other projects please see www.books.phenweb.com. Philip likes getting reviews, good, preferably, but he is grateful to anyone who takes the time to read and then comment about his stories.

One Morning In The Office Take 8

@realDonaldTrump

“Sir, you asked for the preprepared national Emergency speeches.”

Thanks, “I’ll rehearse them now – want them to sound punchy.”

“It’s a national emergency. The USA is being attacked I tell you. It’s whole way of life is under threat and the wall is the only thing that will stop it…”

“Thought I had done that one.”

“You have Mr President.”

“OK…

  1. The whole country is being attacked I tell you a cabal of federal investigators is destroying the nation and needs to be stopped I have ordered the National Guard to deploy to Quantico to prevent the FBI invading Washington
  2. The whole country is being attacked I tell you. Swarms of Iranian troops are at this moment tunnelling from Persia into our territory and our only option is to build a wall across the Atlantic to prevent them getting in – I’ll only need another $500bn
  3. The whole country is being attacked by the vicious press I tell you. I have therefore declared a state of emergency and instructed a new Executive Branch Department reporting directly to me to don their new black uniforms and patrol the offices of all media outlets especially CNN and NYT to ensure that this propaganda is not spread. The alleged ‘journalists’ and their families will be sent for special training in brand new labour camps I am ordering constructed next to suitable rail yards. Thus improving job prospects for hard working Americans everywhere
  4. The whole country is under attack from conspiracy elements inside our major democratic institutions who are refusing to pass the laws this nation needs. I have therefore disbanded Congress and the Senate and ensured our representatives safety by getting them to join the alleged journalists. This will save America Billions”
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The Longer View

The media (social and mainstream) would lead most people to believe that the world has never been so dangerous or that governments have never been so incompetent or evil. Whether its the latest news on Brexit, Trump’s Tweets, Putin’s evil intent or the chaos that is Syria and Yemen. There appears to be a tendency to ignore even recent history.

It seems apt that I take a personal perspective. This year marks the 40th year (in August) since I entered full time employment. I left school at 17 (Much to my parents annoyance) half way through my A Levels. It was unusual then to even take A Levels. University was for less that 20% of the population. I was in the vast majority. The UK was a very different place. A Labour Government was in charge under Jim Callaghan as Prime Minister and his infamous ‘Winter of Discontent’ was to follow that winter.

I had dreams of being a rock star (don’t laugh) instead I became an Electronics Technician earning (via a weekly brown envelope holding the cash) £29 per week equivalent to about £160 in today’s inflation affected money. The inflation rate was 7.8%. It would rise higher along with interest rates.

The UK was known as the sick man of Europe which was the trading block known as the EEC or Common Market as it was commonly known. The UK had joined the EEC with Denmark and Ireland in 1973 – there was no referendum. It did have a referendum to remain in 1975.

The troubles were 10 years old in Northern Ireland and that year 82 deaths were attributed to the conflict. The next year would be worse. The UK was still supporting the new Oman regime but elsewhere was not directly militarily involved, except of course the day to day cold war with the Soviet Union. To give some context to Middle East troubles including Oman this is a handy reference – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_modern_conflicts_in_the_Middle_East

Jimmy Carter was US President having beaten Gerald Ford in 1976. Ford of course had become President after Nixon resigned in August 1974. (pence for Trump?) The Iranian revolution would follow in 1979 with all the troubles that caused Carter. Brezhnev was the leader of the Soviet Union and would be until Nov 1982. He would be in charge when the Soviet Union entered Afghanistan in 1979 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet%E2%80%93Afghan_War.

It took the Soviet Union nearly 10 years to ‘get out’ of Afghanistan. The US supported the Mujahideen including Bin Laden with advisors and weapons. The US Ambassador to Afghanistan was murdered in 1979 initially blamed on a communist group. The US, UK and others still have troops there since the October 2001 invasion and in Iraq since March 2003. How long will it be until we completely leave both countries.

In 1978, Germany was split East and West with Berlin a split city in the East. Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, were still joined. Solidarity in Poland was still a couple of years off. The KGB was the security apparatus of the Soviet Union supporting the vassal states in the Warsaw Pact.  A Bulgarian exile Georgi Markov was murdered on a London Street by a poisoned umbrella pellet in Sept 1978. Odd murders by security services are not new.

The World Wide Web would not be invented until 1989 and have little relevance until the late 1990s. There were 16 million users world wide in 1995 when I was a military officer on an Exchange post in the USA. Now there are over 4 Billion. The Internet of course existed in Military and scientific fields before that.

Writing this is has reminded me how much has changed personally and how little has changed world wide. Yes, names have changed and regimes have changed, but global politics is as messy as ever. We still have Middle East conflict. US Presidential politics and rows about Europe. We can add in the mix a rising China and risk of trade wars, climate changes and the risks from population growth. Despite the current issues it still feels a better world than watching uncollected rubbish pile on the streets whilst walking to work because of yet another strike.

One Morning In The Office Take 7

"Welcome back Mr President."
"Good to be back, Air Force One's bed is too small."
"Compared to?"
"All my other beds and the hotels, even the UK Ambassador's residence was bigger."
"Do yo want me to get a bigger bed in Air Force One?"
"I've already told them to do it. The idiots claim they'll have to redesign the 747 or use that big Airbus thing they fly wings in"
"That would please the Europeans but haven't we imposed tariffs on them?"
"Yeah, still if they want me to have it they can pay for it like the wall."
"Sir, the Mexicans aren't paying for the wall. In fact no one is paying for the wall."
"We're getting if for free?"
"No Sir. We have claimed to have built the walls that were put up in 2006 and California has added a few miles to the fences they put up years ago..."
"Zzzzzzz"
"Sir!" "Sorry I dozed off. Jet lag."
"Sir, what I wanted to ask is, what statement do you want me to put out about your meeting with Vlad."
"Did you check the thes, thees, tess, that dictionary thing?"
"The Thesaurus? Yes Sir.
"And?"
"Sir, Would, Would Not, Could, Could not, Should and Should not all have different meanings."
"You're sure?"
"I have it here if you want to read it?"
"Not fake news?"
"No, Sir."
"What about wouldn't and would?"
"They are opposites Sir."
"Damn, what now?"
"You'll have to apologise Sir or say you made a mistake."
"Out of context?"
"It's recorded Sir."
"Damn.... Still I can re-tweet something else afterwards, get the press running around in circles again."
"Even Fox were concerned."
"Give them another interview like we did with that British paper, that went well."
"You mean directly contradict what you said on audio and video after the event."
"Just like with Vlad. Anything from him?"
"Only the note about the extra service in the Helsinki hotel."
"What extra services?"
"The same as the Moscow hotel, it's on your preference list for that chain. The Secret Service would not let them in."
"Who told them to do that. I needed some relaxation these summits are hard."
"Remember Sir it was not a summit just a meeting to improve relations."
"Great success."
"With whom Sir?"
"All my meetings were a success."
"NATO, the UK, Germany, the EU?"
"All went perfectly. They all agreed to do what I told them."
"I'm not sure they think that."
"They don't matter. I've won the war in Syria, kicked out those Irises..."
"ISIS, Sir, Irises are flowers."
"You sure? Anyway, wall is going up, got the tax cuts done my poll ratings are up..."
"Actually they are not up."
"...Economy is great I did it all."
"Of course you did Sir."
"Who says different?"
"No one would dare Sir."
"You been watching that fake news again."
"No Sir. I read the Intelligence service brief and the report from the Federal Reserve. Mr Mueller is still investigating."
"Fake News, Fake News, Fake News. Vlad and Xi are happy."
"Actually Xi is not happy about the new sanctions."
"Why not." "He wants a bigger cut. So does Kim."
"Nice fella', A bit short. No dice, it's my deal take it or leave it. I got NATO to increase spending by buying American weapons."
"I don't think they actually agreed to that."
"I did. I tweeted that so it must be true."
"Yes Sir. There's another problem with one of your former er... acquaintances."
"Which one?"
"Karen McDougal, she was a Playboy Model."
"Which one?"
"Sir? Cohen had a tape of you and he discussing a payment to her?"
"A tape?"
"Yes Sir and the FBI have it now."
"Check that Thesaurus thing again on would and wouldn't."
"Yes Sir, anything else? I have to go and testify to the Grand Jury again."
"Yeah, more important things, can't Boeing build a bigger bed?" "Sir????"

The Modern Dictator?

Human beings seem to have a fascination with the strong man form of government. Sometimes this is masked by the appearance of democratic election but in most cases this gives way to pure dictatorship. We seem to be going through a period of such leaders now.

In the 1930s many of the great powers of the world had dictatorial leaders. In the intervening period the form of government has continued albeit the leaders have tended to be of smaller countries in terms of world power. That is not to underestimate the damage they have caused to their own countries and their neighbours. Although Putin appears below his leadership has changed a virtually collapsed Russia back into a global power

Now we appear to have entered an era of great dictators once more and a worrying trend in the behaviour of others. Turkish democracy on the surface appears robust with a near 90% turnout in the recent election. But the result of the election was to allow President Erdoğan to claim additional powers.

Combine this with further limitations on opposition leaders, the free press and total biased control of the state media and you have the trappings of a one party, one leader state. Throw in the hate for a minority group (the Kurds) that a German citizen in 1938 might recognise. Including direct military intervention across an international border.

At the start of WWII the dictators appeared to support each other Mussolini, Franco, Stalin and Hitler in Europe with Hirohito in Japan.  The USA was isolationist and the Smoot-Hawley Act not only worsened and extended the Great Depression in the USA it also angered its nearest neighbours and allies. Another lesson from history seemingly ignored by the current US President.  I am not claiming that the current 45th President of the United States of America is a fascist dictator he just seems to prefer their company and seems unconcerned with angering his allies.

There seems to be several common traits on the path to dictatorship.

  1. Limit and ridicule free press
  2. Ridicule then imprison opposition
  3. Appoint cronies to all independent roles
  4. Blame outsiders (Terrorists, immigrants, minorities, trade, stealing jobs)
  5. Take more powers centrally to help control the situation
  6. Appeal to lowest common denominator in electoral support
  7. Rig election
  8. Take more powers centrally
  9. Remove opposition and free press completely (Assassination, imprisonment)
  10. Use military force against outside opponents or threaten such
  11. Award oneself numerous medals and awards

 

Not Too Much – Out Today

Alex has everything. He’s one of the most eligible bachelors in the world. He’s chased by the Paparazzi and once went out with a communist. Now he hides from publicity whilst trying to find a soul mate.

Victoria is a struggling waitress in a London restaurant. She shares a flat with Sophie an aspiring actress whilst trying not to give up a dream of making a success.

They meet and try to make it work in this contemporary romance

One Morning In The Office Take 6

One Morning In The Office

@realdonaldtrump

"Who the hell are you?"
"I'm the cleaner Mr. President."
"Where is everyone?"
"Who, Sir?"
"Sean, Reince, Michael, even that Comey fella?"
"I'm not sure I am the right one to ask?"
"You're part of my staff aren't you, you should know."
"Actually my Great Leader pays for me to be here."
"So I can't fire you."
"You could but Mr. Putin would not be happy."
"Vlad sent you, to be my cleaner?"
"No, it was agreed at the meeting. I'm a Russian orphan you have helped into the country."
"But your nearly 60?"
"Both my parents are dead."
"I think that qualifies then. So where is every one?"
"Who Sir?
"Sean and the rest of them?"
"You fired them Sir."
"I'm good at that had a TV show did you watch it?"
"I preferred the British version."
"There's a British version?"
"Yes a Mr. Sugar runs it."
"You're making it up."
"No Sir it's on the BBC and Cable."
"Not Fox?"
"No. Look, should I get someone for you to talk to? Our Great Leader will want me to report back on something not just our chat."
"Is there anyone else?"
"Your new Communications Director."
"Remind me..."
"Anthony Scaramucci."
"Er..."
"I'll go get him Sir. Your new chief of staff will be over soon too."
"Who's that?"
"John Kelly, he's a general."
"I thought I fired the general."
"This is a different one."
"I have more than one?"
"You have many generals. Mr President, but it's a state secret how many."
"I'm the President you can tell me."
"I mean a Russian State Secret- I would have to ask our other Great Leader."
"Don't bother Vlad."
"I think Xi has the latest count."
"Good man Xi. So where is Anthony Scara, Scar erm..."
"He's sorting out the lot Sir."
"The what?"
"He's offering a special opening day sale, using the White House lawn; nice balloons."
"Selling what?"
"American cars I believe. He's got a latino couple in at the moment trying to get them to take the limo' with all the trimmings."
"Has he checked their immigration status?"
"I'm sure he will, after he has the money."
"Good man."
"Was there anything else Mr. President only I need to see my doctor?"
"No as long as you have finished tidying up. You get health care with this role?"
"No Mr. President but thanks to you I still have ObamaCare."
"What!"

http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-na-pol-trump-firings-resignations/

 

 

 

 

IT, Mathematics and Money

Although I would love to be a full time writer and earn enough to have that career, reality means that I earn a living plying a different role. Since leaving the armed forces most of that time has been spent in or around the IT industry. Sometimes that is for companies delivering support services for non-IT related government and private contracts. This article is in no way about my current company and I generalise for effect.

So what has this article got to do with that?

Let’s take a step back. How often have you heard otherwise intelligent people state that they do not understand mathematics. They did not do well at it in school and claim not to understand it now. Despite that alleged failing these same people hold down jobs and supposedly manage budgets sometimes of of hundreds of millions of pound or dollars. Many politicians suffer from this trait and their inability to add up neatly explains why tax income is exceeded by government expenditure. They do not explain this fallacy because they need to promise the electorate better services, higher wages, more infrastructure, etc. whilst reducing tax. Two plus two does not equal five. This promise inflicts, or infects, all political parties resulting in endlessly borrowing on all our grandchildren’s future. I have ranted about this before, the question is why is this simple piece of mathematics so hard for the population to grasp? This brings me back to that statement about not understanding mathematics, often explained with a silly smile and a shrug.

I get the same response about IT. There seems to be a culture of ignorance about IT in the same way as mathematics. In other words many, very clever, senior people don’t understand or do not want to understand IT. I have seen this across industries and from CEOs to numerate finance directors and operations directors. One mention of a network issue or a software problem and eyes glaze over. Now these folks fundamentally understand complex business operations or financial wheeling and dealing. I appreciate that IT, like other fields, is full of technical jargon and complexity. I do not expect a non-expert to understand the details of network routing and firewall configuration or the impact of a failure to replicate a database between clusters in multiple data centres. What I do expect is that sufficient time is allocated to discuss with non-technical jargon the impact of such issues. As a manager next time you check a business agenda, see where IT is, if at all.

I strongly believe that here we have a root cause of why so many major IT projects go wrong. Whether it’s a major update to a legacy system in a government department (take your pick from HMRC, NHS, DWP) or a failure sometimes in public of a major private company, BA is a recent example. In all these cases I am certain risks or issues where known, briefed in IT departments and probably ignored by senior management because it would mean cost, delay or change from sometimes impossible requirements. The old axiom of do it right first time is often ignored by reducing budget, resources and changing requirements. Meanwhile those in charge seem to have little if any understanding of the fundamentals they are changing. Compare this approach with other professions.

If a surgeon gives a long diagnosis and prognosis of a particular issue you may not understand it but you would not tell him to deliver the surgery in 60% of the time at 75% of the costs and by the way do it with two fewer nurses and use a cleaner as the anesthetist because we can do that bit without that expertise. Yet the number of times I have seen senior management claim this is all possible, if only the project or programme manager would get a grip. There is then equal surprise when the task is delayed, fails or causes some other major issue. Short cuts on patching regime, welcome to WannaCry. Short cuts on refresh policy welcome to system failure. Shortcuts on data centre configuration don’t be surprised when BCP does not work.

Clearly IT, like every business support service, needs to work to a budget but I have heard senior executives demand reductions in budget year on year regardless of the system requirements, status of hardware or software. This leaves security and service risks which again get ignored by clients and supplier alike. That is until disaster strikes or the project is so far over budget and behind schedule it cannot be recovered without exposing massive embarrassment. Try and raise this in a non-IT meeting and see how far you get. By the time you get traction it’s already too late.

So how can this be fixed? Better training? For whom? More respect for IT? Again how? Simpler explanations? They have a place but back to the surgeon. I do not claim that IT is as complex as brain surgery but some networks I have seen look more like a neutron cluster than a controlled design. This is due to company changes and just endless bolting on of additional bits to keep it working. Look at the bloat in our core office applications. Some of this code is new features but most is error checking and correcting code rather than core fixes. It’s cheaper that way and Moore’s law has given the raw horsepower to cope.  We now have massively inefficient code, applications, management systems and networks. This should go against every engineering tenet for simplicity of design. It will cost to fix this and until disaster strikes no one will care.

That major data leak, failure of data centre or never-ending non-delivering project will be blamed on the IT team, not the executives who ignored the warnings in that briefing they did not bother to read or understand. I wish it was not so but I fear this will only get worse with the Internet of things. Router config’ anyone?