Monday, May 28, 2018

Approximate Comparisons for the larger Monette mouthpiece sizes

Placed here in case anybody needs it.

This is a rough comparison of the larger Monette trumpet mouthpiece sizes.


Supposed to be equivalent to a Bach 1 1/4C but I feel it is closer to a 1 1/2C


The biggest Monette trumpet mouthpiece. Roughly the size of a current Bach 1 but the rim is semicircular with the high point in the middle.


Flatter than the 1-1 making it feel smaller and the cupis not quite as big. Something like a Bach 1X.


Very similar to a Bach 1C.
The 1-5M is the same rim but with the 1-2 cup making it feel a bit like a NY Bach 1.
The 1-5D is the same rim but with the even deeper 1-1 cup.


Like a 1-5 but with a flatter rim making it feel mid way between a Bach 1X and 1C. Not dissimilar to a Wick 2 rim.

Friday, May 25, 2018

The next retro audio craze may be CD's.

The way we listen to music has changed. Very few people have big hi-fi systems and those who do have been gravitating to vinyl over the past few years as a retro alternative to downloaded or streamed digital files. Music is also mainly listened to through earphones or headphones.

Looking at Ebay the trending price for a good quality used personal CD player is increasing week by week. This is an indication that more people are looking for higher end personal CD players. Models that could be bought for £10 last year are now selling for around £30. Top end models can cost up to £500. One thing is sure, there is definitely something going on.

A number of factors may be at play:

  • If you want better quality than online streaming and you listen through headphones then a personal CD player is the way to go.
  • The move rom earphones to larger headphones further increases the enjoy-ability of listening to CDs.
  • CD's are sufficiently retro while still having new releases.
  • There are already audiophile quality remastered discs like Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab which fit that niche high end market.
  • There is lots of material on CD that has never been released in digital format.
  • The only portable CD players available new now are pretty low end and do not give very good performance.

Its only a small trend at the moment, but watch out for personal CD players making a come back.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Why Labour won't win the next General Election

I have said it before, so I will say it again: only a third of voters are core Labour voters.

In order to win a general election the Labour Party needs to persuade a lot of floating voters and some who would be soft Tories or Lib Dems to vote Labour. This mainly means reducing what they perceive as risks. The other side will play up those risks. The media will make sure of that.

Winning an election is about the middle ground, it always is. UNLESS, the third of people who never vote actually turned out and voted. That would change the game entirely. Yet, Labour has not invested in the level of community campaigning that would be necessary to make that happen. It is all high level stuff with billboards and lots of internal meetings. So its back to trying to persuade the middle ground to vote Labour and that probably means losing next time and changing leader.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Absolute Proof that the Earth Is Round - from Amateur Radio

There seems to have been a real increase in the number of people thinking that the earth is flat, yet any radio amateur can prove that the earth is round using directional antennas and what we call "beam headings".

These are the directions from north, in degrees,  you need to point a directional antenna to get maximum signal strength at your location from a remote location.

Most people who believe the earth is flat follow the Gleason Map model. This is an azimuthal equidistant projection centred on the geographic North Pole. It is not intended to represent an actual flat earth.

From this we can see that the beam headings for:

  • London to New York is around 210 degrees
  • London to Tokyo is around 135 degrees
  • and London to Sri Lanka around 345 degrees

If we now look at a round earth model and use a great circle map (azimuthal equidistant projection) centred on London:

We can see that the approximate beam headings would be:

  • London to New York 275 degrees
  • London to Tokyo 30 degrees
  • London to Sri Lanka 87 degrees

These two sets of results are vastly different. Tokyo is in a completely different direction.

If we try pointing an antenna to a signal coming from Tokyo we find that it peaks in the direction given by the great circle map, around 30 degrees. Exactly what we would find if the earth was spherical.

How could flat-earthers get round this evidence?

They could look at this evidence and say:

Well the world IS flat, its just like a great circle map centred on London rather than the Gleason map centred on the north pole.

We can double check this by looking at a great circle map centred on Tokyo :

  • This gives a beam heading of Tokyo to London of around 220 degrees

Compared to the Gleason map which would give this result:

  • Tokyo to London is around 135 degrees

If we test it from Tokyo we find that it is, indeed, around 220 degrees.  Exactly what we would expect if the earth were round. Lets keep an open mind though. This could happen if one of the following hypotheses were correct:

1. The earth is spherical


2. Radio waves travel in a way that is different to the way we currently think they travel.

However, if radio waves travelled differently it would mean that light also travelled differently and we literally see no evidence of that. Light is just visible radio spectrum after all.

We can further prove that the earth is round by using another aspect of radio wave propagation.

If I point my antenna to Tokyo at 30 degrees from North this is known as "short path". If conditions are right I can also (or sometime only) make contact by pointing my antenna to  210 degrees, which is "long path" - going right over South America and over the pacific to Tokyo.

There is no flat earth model that would explain these experimental results. The only shape of planet that fits this is spherical.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Why I am reluctantly changing energy supplier from British Gas

I like my smart meter. I like the British Gas energy management tools. But with energy prices continuing to rise and my current fixed tarrif ending I decided to look at the alternatives.

I looked at what British Gas were offering and their best alternative was their next fixed tariff which would save me £26 over standard tariff.

So I went to where I was offered British Gas Home Energy Plus Cover at a saving of £263 next year  over what I would pay under my current tarrif! This was based on my exact energy usage last year. In excitement went to my British Gas account but it was not listed as an option to switch to. So I did some digging via Google and found it here:

It is a valid, current tariff, but listed as "Only available to selected customers".
i.e. new customers, not existing ones! were offering other suppliers with savings of over £300 so it is probably time to say goodbye to British Gas.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The perfect storm: The rise of Antisemitism in Britain.

These are my own views and I have put the forward robustly. You may not like my bluntness, but we need to talk about Antisemitism and do something about it.

However you look at it, Antisemitism is on the rise in Britain. I will look at some of the statistics later in this article. My belief is that the increase is the result of a “perfect storm” of circumstances plus the unwitting collusion of different groups with overlapping, and often contradictory, agendas. This article is based on examples of Antisemitism I have personally heard or seen over the past few years. I never used to come across anything like this, but now I am seeing evidence of Antisemitism on an almost daily basis, especially on social media.

How I got involved in this issue

I grew up in a part of Scotland where there were very few Jews. The only Jewish family I knew growing up was one of my dad’s best friends and work colleagues. I never questioned the fact that they happened to be Jewish. They were very much part of my experience of growing up and in my childish way I just felt they went to a different church. I never saw any Antisemitism during my childhood. It may have been the more recent memory of World War 2, but the idea of discriminating against people because they were Jewish just would not have been acceptable in the society I lived in.

In later life I went on to study Hebrew at university for biblical study, during which I visited synagogues and got to know more Jewish people. Many of the experts in the Hebrew and Aramaic languages are Jewish so it was natural that I would meet more people from this background. I always found the religious Jewish community to be very welcoming of anyone who was interested in studying Hebrew scripture or Talmud. Working with people from a Jewish background was an entirely life affirming experience for me. In my current work I have a little bit of contact with rabbis and synagogues and I am entirely comfortable in that setting.

The first time I ever witnessed any Antisemitism was much later in life when I was in a dispute with someone who happened to be Jewish. Although our dispute had nothing to do with him being Jewish the number of people who said things to me like “it’s because he is Jewish” was quite astounding. It was nothing to do with his ethnicity or his religion. It was just one of those disputes that happens when two people disagree. We were both to blame and it was nothing to do with me being Scottish either.

Over the past two years I have observed a rising tide of antisemitic incidents locally and nationally,  and it's not just me.

Evidence for the rise in Antisemitism

The Community Security Trust has recorded the rise in figures that they obtain from police forces around the country. They found 1,382 incidents reported during 2017, the highest figure they have ever recorded.
The rise started in 2014.

In Scotland supporters of Orange Order style unionism in Scotland have been seen giving nazi salutes in public and flying or carrying swastika flags along with the British or Ulster flags. This seems to have resulted from the Scottish Independence referendum campaign, but also their concern with immigration from Eastern Europe - which is mainly of Roman Catholics. The extreme right is growing, and with it a growing amount of Holocaust denial.

What constitutes Antisemitism

In 2016 the British Government adopted the International Definition of Antisemitism.

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of Antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.
Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.”

You can read the full definition here.

Causes of Antisemitism

There are  a number of causes I have identified, but they overlap with each other and different people will be exposed to different parts of it. This is one reason why it is difficult to stamp out. People are getting the same ideas from more than one source.

The political far right

The political right have become bolder in speaking out against Jews. They learned from their treatment of Asians that you can get away with condemning “Muslims” but not Asians or Pakistanis, because Muslim is not a race and therefore not as closely protected in law. Now we have large scale use of the word “Zionist” being used as a code word for Jew. If anyone complains about people doing this the response seems to be “it is a choice to be offended, this is an issue of free speech”. Yet, some of the same people holding out free speech as a defence have used legal threats to get links to articles critical of them removed from Google’s search index.

To bolster their idea that Jew is a chosen religion rather than a race they try to claim that European Jews are not from the middle east and therefore not semitic. They feel able to say anything about European Jews clear of any accusation of antisemitism. They also point out that the Palestinians are a semitic people and play on sympathy for Palestinians - whilst elsewhere saying that Palestinians, because they are muslims are terrorists. By their own warped definition of antisemitism this is antisemitic, but they play a game with people, drawing them in with a benign message, baiting and switching until they are agreeing with racist ideologies.

The European Jews who were mostly affected by the Holocaust were Ashkenazi Jews. The far right claim that they are not real Jews and just adopted Judaism. They can’t explain why they adopted Judaism or provide any evidence that they did. In spite of this total lack of evidence this idea has also been adopted by some conspiracy theorists as a cover for their own Antisemitism.

In reality the Ashkenazim migrated from what is now Israel and Syria to what the land we now call Germany around 1000 AD. They then moved eastward to countries where they were more welcome after the Germanic countries became hostile towards them. Any claim that they just “adopted Judaism” does not match this recorded history. There is also geneological proof of their middle eastern origins if you are interested, see a summary here.

Any viewing of far right videos, no matter how respectable they may be contains coded messages about “those we can’t mention” or “Rothschilds”. They can get away with this because up until now the law has been weak. Fortunately this is changing.

The political left

The left has always had a confusion about Judaism. Although a lot of leading left thinkers and revolutionaries have been Jews (Marx had some Jewish heritage and Trotsky was from a secular Jewish family) the former eastern bloc countries tended to continue the tsarist oppression of Jews and continued to use claims like those in the fake Protocols of the Elders of Zion to whip up anti Jewish feeling. The continued romance of some parts of the left with the former Soviet Union has tended to continue this way of thinking.

Within the current Labour Party there are now incidents of open antisemitism and the party has failed to discipline, in any meaningful way, members who are doing it. Part of this is the Left’s obsession with the Palestinian cause as a touchstone of Socialist authenticity, but it's also a reflection on the confusion in many in the party which condemns racial prejudice whilst considering Judaism to be a religion rather than a race.. I certainly think this is why Labour members and supporters spouting anti semitic views get away with it. It doesn’t feel like a racist incident to many in the party so it does not get taken seriously. Even though it goes against the core values of the Labour Party.

The Labour Party, and the left in general, needs to re-categorise Antisemitism as Racism and root it out before it does even more damage.


In the immediate aftermath of Brexit there was a recorded increase in the number of racial incidents as many people believed we were rebooting the UK to 1974. A world when Love thy Neighbour and the Black and White Minstrel Show  was on TV. Where jolly Golliwogs appeared on Jam jars and in children’s books. The toxic European referendum  created an atmosphere where open prejudice against minority groups became more acceptable.

Now that we are leaving the EU a lot of people are looking for other bogeymen to blame for the world’s ills. This is another reason why racism and Antisemitism is on the rise.

Islamist Terrorism

Which is where we come to Islamist terrorism and the situation of British muslims. Islamophobia has been on the rise too, with ordinary muslims in the UK being blamed for terrorist actions coordinated from overseas that have nothing to do with them.

People tend to blame the rise in Islamist terrorism on the United States and UK governments interventions in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. This connects into a belief that the USA is a proxy for Israel in some way so it must be “all part of a zionist conspiracy”.

The Palestine/Israel situation

Just like British Muslims being blamed for Islamic terrorism  British Jews get blamed for the actions of the Israeli government. Yet, anyone looking at this objectively would realise that there is not a single Jew living in the UK who has any say in the policies of the Israeli government. There is not even any correlation between being an Israeli citizen and supporting particular types of political policy. Israel has had left and right wing governments and is usually governed by a coalition. David Ben Gurion was leader of the Israeli Labor Party. It is hard to see how anything other than prejudice can correlate the real political spectrum in Israel with “Zionist Jews” in the UK.

Christianity: The evangelical right

Pro Israel evangelicals may appear to be friends with the Jews, but in reality they have a fairly low view of Judaism. In their eschatological scheme Jews mainly exist to die en-masse in order to fulfill biblical prophecy and bring in a thousand years when Christ will reign with his faithful. This sounds awfully like a second holocaust. Not really that friendly after all.

Christianity: The traditionalist middle

Unfortunately there are still a lot of Christians, mainly catholic and orthodox backgrounds,  who don’t read the bible much and believe that the Jews killed Jesus. Yet, anybody who has actually read the four gospels knows that he was actually killed by the Romans. Jesus was questioned by the Sanhedrin (the court of its time in Jerusalem) and this is roughly how it went:

Sanhedrin: Jesus, you have been working on the sabbath!
Jesus: Not really I was healing people which must by its nature be the work of God.
Sanhedrin: Ah ok, that basically makes sense. You haven’t done anything wrong, but we are in a difficult situation under Roman occupation and you have claimed to be a king, which just makes everything worse.

So Jesus is taken into Roman custody for sedition, is questioned by Pontius Pilate and executed - by the Romans. The claim that the Jews killed Jesus has no foundation in historical fact or in the Christian bible. It has been used historically by churches to justify campaigns against Jews in their own communities and forced conversions. Often amongst churches that were very closely connected to the state apparatus of their time. This is how it got embedded in some parts of the church and it is very hard to get rid of it even in the 21st century.

Christianity: The liberal left

The mainstream liberal churches believe that the church has to be on the side of the poor or oppressed as a first priority in any situation. So identifying who is the oppressed and who is the oppressor, or who is rich and who is poor in any situation, becomes the way of deciding which side you will take.

The Israel situation has become this simplistic choice and the churches have overwhelmingly chosen to support the Palestinian cause. This conveniently ignores all the Israeli Jews living in fear of rocket attacks and suicide bombings, or Jews living in Palestinian areas who are possibly quite poor themselves. Most mainstream churches have diluted a complex geopolitical situation down to two words “Israel Bad”. The demonisation of Israel as oppressors of the Palestinians inevitably makes it easier for people to transfer those feelings to Jews in general. The church has to be more careful about this because no matter how benign they think their message is, it can reinforce antisemitic ideas that church members are hearing from other sources. There needs to be a lot more balance in the message that is being put out by churches.

The New Atheists

The rise of the “New Atheists” in the early 2000s made criticism of religious belief more socially acceptable. It also made it easier for people to condemn Islam or Judaism or Isis and Israel as a cover for prejudice against Asians and Jews. Religion became seen as a choice rather than a more complex cultural arrangement so getting at people because of their religion became quite popular.

9/11 Truthers

Their theory seems to be that a number of financial institutions with Jewish sounding names (although they are in reality public companies) conspired with the US government to fake 9/11 as a way of making money and provoking regime changes in the middle east to reinforce Israel. In other words, American Jews were behind 9/11. This is simply a rehash of 1930’s antisemitic tropes of Jewish bankers pulling the strings behind the scenes to control world events.

There seems to be a strong correlation between people involved in the 9/11 “truth” movement, belief in this  “Zionist” conspiracy and holocaust denial. The same people who are always asking “where did the towers go” seem incapable of answering the question  “where did all the Jews go” and will often question the historicity of the holocaust.

Holocaust Denial

As the number of survivors, and the number of British soldiers who witnessed the concentration camp aftermath dwindles it becomes easier and easier to question if it all really happened. One example I saw this week was someone sharing pages from pre war and post war gazetteers showing the estimated number of Jews in Europe as the same before and after the war. Unable to understand the possibility that the losses of life had not  been fully calculated or that there might be an error or omission this was held out as categorical proof that no Jews died in the war.

The other common claim is that the Jews milk the holocaust to get away with doing bad things in Israel. Who and how? This doesn’t make any logical sense. Some of the former concentration camps are kept open by the governments of the countries they are in as a memorial to those who died in order to educate the public, not by some sort of Jewish cabal. Holocaust deniers seem to be saying is that we don’t need education, there is no objective truth and it's all down to what you choose to believe. Well, unfortunately for them we don’t have to rely on their alternative theories. You can find out all about the holocaust here.

The holocaust left a deep wound through the whole Jewish community and the whole of Europe, yet many people are choosing to deny it because this fits their simplistic view of the world.

In my own city of Edinburgh there have even been meetings with leading holocaust deniers as featured speakers where they received rousing ovations. Yes, even in liberal Scotland, the land of Robert Burns, municipal Socialism, Nicola Sturgeon and the 7:84 Theatre Company. Often the people attending these events are people who started off questioning “the official story of 9/11” which led them to a conspiracy for which they then need to find conspirators.

Conspiracy theorists

Most of the overarching conspiracy theories can be summarised like this:

Have you ever noticed that some people seem to have an easier, more successful life? Have you ever noticed that the same kind of people seem to be in charge no matter who you vote for? We can explain this. There is a secret cabal of people known as the [delete as applicable: Illuminati, Freemasons, Common Purpose, Zionists, Metropolitan Elite, Jews, Lizard People, Alien Entities, Jesuits, Muslims, Queers, Catholics, The Rothschilds] who are conspiring to take over the world and run it for their own ends. This explains every bad thing that has ever happened to you. Now that you know this you are “awake” and will “rebel”.

Rather than trying to explain the complex workings of the world its back to the same old process of finding someone to blame for your own ills. Jews are usually at the front of the queue as we have a long history of picking on them in Europe.

The media

The print and broadcast media are usually quite vigilant about antisemitism, but during the 2015 general election campaign there were two stories about Ed Milliband which seemed to me like a “nudge nudge, wink wink” reference to his Jewish heritage. These were the “Ed can’t eat a bacon sandwich” and the “Ed has two kitchens” stories. These stories seemed to be saying “Ed is not like ordinary people, he has enough money for two kitchens and doesn’t eat normal food” but for those in the know both stories had sinister antisemitic undertones. Jews don’t eat bacon and orthodox households sometimes have separate milk and meat kitchens. The message against Jews often starts with “they are not like us” and this was the subtle subtext of these stories.

We also see conflation of Israel with Jews from time to time. Most recently when Donald Trump visited Jerusalem.

The alternative media

The so called “alternative” media dances around between the soft edge of the right wing, the conspiracy theorists and the 9/11 truthers. All of these groups are a willing audience for the latest “research” into what is really going on behind the news. And guess what, a lot of it is to do with the unseen hand of “Zionism” which is out to control and subvert western democracy.

The alternative media are also very interested in free speech, but usually only when it is them speaking. A number of alternative media outlets didn’t like it when various venues cancelled a leading conspiracy theorist's speaking events last year. Apparently freedom only extends to them and not to people who disagree with them.

Social media

Undoubtedly one of the biggest factors in the rise of Antisemitism is the echo chamber effect of social media. If someone posts a link to something, even if it is not true, it gains gravitas if it has been shared by a friend whom you trust. As these things get shared and repeated they sound louder and louder in an echo chamber that reinforces those false beliefs by simple volume and repetition. This is why groups like Britain First have flourished online. All of the causes of Antisemitism I have described here are spread and amplified by social media.

Postings on conspiracy forums and Facebook groups seem to carry more weight than something someone told you down the pub. People become “leading experts” very quickly and the unsuspecting can find their opinions about Jews and others groups changing without realising. It is a slow poisoning and if you question people about why they have changed the most common response is something like “I am not against Jews per-se, its just all those bad Zionist ones”.

Misunderstanding of recent changes to the definition of Antisemitism

When the British Government adopted the International Definition of Antisemitism a number of right and left wing groups felt that this was an attempt to prevent criticism of the government of Israel. However, according to expert legal opinion published by the Campaign Against Antisemitism:

“Criticism of Israel, even in robust terms, cannot be regarded as antisemitic per se and such criticism is not captured by the Definition. However, criticisms of Israel in terms which are channels of expression for hatred towards Jewish people (such as by particular invocations of the Holocaust or Nazism) will in all likelihood be antisemitic.”

You can read this full legal opinion here.

The reason why we needed to clarify the definition of Antisemitism is that there had been new ways developed of expressing prejudice against Jews. Some of these are:

  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination (e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour).
  • Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic Antisemitism (e.g. claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

These have come about for the reasons I have given in this article and they require to be addressed. You really do need to read the whole definition. It is quite straightforward:

All of this is a perfect storm

The combination of all these factors has made questioning the rights of Jewish people possible in a way it has never been during my lifetime. There is a creeping acceptability of Antisemitism because so many people are doing it. The problem is that it is has crept in so slowly a lot of people have not realised they are doing it and many more are just going with the flow.

Why this matters

Antisemitism matters because it is a form of racial prejudice, has no basis in facts and is used to oppress a minority. This should be enough on its own, but Antisemitism is also the canary of prejudice. The history of Europe has shown us that periods of mass oppression usually start with discrimination against Jews. We have a duty to help Jewish people protect themselves and stand up when we come across antisemitic activities.

What we can do about it

The Jewish community is very good at defending itself, and I feel uneasy about trying to speak for them. At the same time I am very concerned about the spread of Antisemitism so I think it is only right and proper that all decent people remain vigilant and do what we can to counter this terrible persecution.

There are two practical things we can all do about Antisemitism:

Firstly, in our personal lives we can challenge antisemitic thinking when it comes up in conversation in real life (family, work, organisations we belong to and our social circle) or when we see it on social media.

Secondly, we can support organisations that are campaigning against Antisemitism like the Community Security Trust and the Campaign Against Antisemitism. The second of these pursues private prosecutions against people for Antisemitism and reports other cases to the Police.

At the very least, we need to start talking about Antisemitism and stop brushing it under the carpet.

And finally

After writing this article a friend referred me to a speech made by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks which talks about the mutation of the antisemitism "virus" following 9/11. He comes to similar conclusions:

"So I end where I began. The hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews. Antisemitism is only secondarily about Jews. Primarily it is about the failure of groups to accept responsibility for their own failures, and to build their own future by their own endeavours. No society that has fostered antisemitism has ever sustained liberty or human rights or religious freedom. Every society driven by hate begins by seeking to destroy its enemies, but ends by destroying itself." (Rabbi Jonathan Sacks)

Friday, January 26, 2018

The confusing acceptance of American Express Cards in the UK.

Shops that don’t accept American Express cards in the UK.

Although the number of retailers accepting American Express cards has increased, there is a confusing landscape. For example:

  • Scotrail ticket machines at railway stations do not accept the card, but London Transport do - you can register your card as an Oyster card.
  • Greggs do not accept American Express but Pret a Manger does.
  • Paperchase does not accept American Express in store, but apparently does online.
  • Lidl do not accept American Express but Aldi does.

There is also a confusing difference between very small, medium and large retailers in their acceptance of the card.

Any small retailer who uses a payment provider like izettle or Paypal can automatically accept American Express cards, usually at the same commission rates as for other cards. Apple Pay can also be used to pay via American Express, but Android Pay can’t, in the UK at least although it works in the US.

Large retailers like Marks and Spencer and Boots want to accept as many payment methods as possible and they have a large volume of transactions which translates to lower commission rates. They also view the commission charges as part of doing business and will budget a percentage of their sales to cover this and cash handling costs.

Online, most large retailers with bespoke ordering systems will have an American Express merchant account. Any online retailer that accepts Paypal can also take the card, which means that almost all of EBay is OK for American Express. Online retailers who don’t are usually those using payment processors like Worldpay who acquire merchant accounts for their customers, but do not automatically hande American Express.

Where the problems arise in the high street is medium sized retailers with bank acquired merchant accounts. They have to apply for a seperate American Express merchant account. This is a straightforward process if they already have a Visa and Mastercard account, but even if they get one setting up their point of sale terminals can be too complicated. Not only does the merchant ID have to be set up on every terminal, but the contactless system is somewhat different. If their terminal is provided by their bank there may not be sufficient technical support to do this.

Retailers who don’t accept American Express usually cite the higher commission fees as the reason. However, the differences are small and should really be covered by the cost of doing business. In the case of the payment providers like Paypal the commission rate for American Express is usually the same as for other cards anyway. One of the real reasons retailers don’t like American Express is the chargeback regime, which is much more in favour of the card holder than Visa or Mastercard.

By not accepting all cards retailers put off higher net worth individuals who have a tendency to charge most things to their card. American Express also has a high percentage of the corporate card market which means that business people want to charge their business expenses to the card.

We now have a strange situation where smaller retailers and larger retailers and almost every online retailer accept American Express, but a lot of medium sized retailers don’t.

That said, the reasons for having an American Express card are still pretty sound:
  • No chance of getting into debt as the account has to be paid in full each month.
  • No real credit involved, which is why some religions don’t like credit cards.
  • Very strong protection against fraud.
  • Easier to get refunds or chargebacks on goods and services than with a credit or debit card.
  • Good online system and mobile app for identifying spending by different card holders on the same account or separating out business expenses.
  • Ability to register card as an Oyster card then print receipts later for business expenses.
  • Good budgeting tools and mobile app spending alarms.

If you want to apply for an American Express card click here.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Some thoughts about the Calvine UFO incident.

The "Calvine UFO Incident" is one of Scotland's most celebrated UFO cases and thought to be one of the best reports of anomalous aircraft sightings in the UK.


For background I would recommend this article by Dr David Clark from which this summary is taken:

The.... incident occurred at 9pm on 4 August 1990, at Calvine, a remote hamlet on the A9 near Pitlochry in Scotland. According to the scanty details released by the MoD, two men saw a large diamond-shaped UFO hovering for about ten minutes before it disappeared upwards at great speed. During the incident military aircraft were seen making a number of low-level passes. One of the men had a camera and obtained six colour photographs showing both the UFO and at least one of the jets. The negatives were sent to the RAF Pitreavie and the Scottish Daily Record who passed them to the MoD.
The images were scrutinised by the MoD who identified the jet as a Harrier. They were also able to spot a second Harrier, but were unable to identify the large object clearly visible on the prints.....
In the event, it appears the Daily Record decided not to publish the story..... Nick Pope was the civilian opposite number of the DI55 desk officer during this period (1991-94) and he was the first to publish a brief account of the incident in his book Open Skies Closed Minds (1996). Pope described the photographs as “one of the most intriguing [UFO] cases in the MoD’s files”. He also describes how he kept an enlargement of one of the Calvine pictures on his office wall until it was taken down by his head of department.

The event came to prominence in 2009 when papers relating to it were released by the National Archive. There is no actual photograph, just a photocopy of a tracing of the photograph that was used for aircraft identification purposes:

Nick Pope did a reconstruction of the image he had seen which you can find along with a short video here.


I decided to apply my analytical skills to this case. For me this means looking at issues surrounding a story rather than the contents of the story itself. Doing this type of contextual analysis is something I learned at university (I studied Divinity) and it in the case of the Calvine UFO incident it highlights a number of issues with the story as it was originally presented.


First of all I looked at the date of the incident: 4th August 1990. This was a Saturday, an ideal time for two men to be out walking in the hills, but it also a significant historical date because only two days earlier Iraq had invaded Kuwait in what would become the first Gulf war. The US had started sending naval forces to the region on Friday 3rd August, the day before this UFO was sighted.

However, there is no independent evidence that the photo was taken on 4th August. The incident could have happened some time earlier and been misunderstood by the reporter.


The claim is that the photograph was taken at 9pm. However, when I looked up the time of sunset, the sun actually set at 9:17pm that night in Perthshire. Would there have been sufficient light to take the photograph as it has been described? The photograph described by Nick Pope is not typical of something taken around sunset in Scotland. The reconstruction (below) looks more like a typical  afternoon photograph. And another question: would two walkers have wanted to be up there knowing they had to come back down in the dark? I considered the possibility of a tourist getting caught out, but sunset in London that day was at 8:44pm so anyone from further south would have expected itt o get dark sooner.

If the time is wrong this does not bring the photograph into question but it does bring the recording of the story, and the alleged date, into question.

Identity of the known aircraft in the picture

The MoD apparently identified the aircraft as a Harrier, but did not indicate where it had come from - information that was bound to be recorded somewhere. Given that the number of Harrier's in service was finite I decided to track down as many of them as I could. This turned out to be simpler than I thought because a lot of information relating to the first Gulf war is in the public domain in the UK and US. The Harrier was mainly sold to the UK, US and Canadian military.

As far as I can tell their were seven British Naval and RAF operators of Harriers during that period. Here is a list of them and their statuses on 4th August 1990 as I understand them:

801 Naval Air Squadron, HMS Illustrious
This ship was a helicopter carrier and was not Harrier capable until 2003.

1 Sqdn (based at Wittering, Then Cottismore)
Most of their aircraft were onboard HMS Ark Royal which left Portsmouth on 3rd August to take part in an exercise called Operation TEAMWORK off the coast of Norway (see article here).

3 Sqdn - based in Germany, served in Bosnia

4 Sqdn based in Gutersloh, Germany
Was in the process of converting from Harrier GR3 to GR7 with some crew undergoing training at Dunsfold and some in Arizona (see this article here). They were not deployed to the Gulf and were not in full operation readiness until February 1991 (see this article here).

No 20 sqdn - Germany

1417 Flight - Based in Belize
No evidence that any of their aircraft were in the UK at this time.

1453 Flight - Based in Falkland Islands
This comes up in lists of Harrier deployments but the flight was actually disbanded in 1985.

Other sightings of Harriers in the UK
In addition to this Harrier's were occasionally reported by plane spotters at RAF Leuchars in Fife, which served as a refuelling stop over for RAF and friendly air forces as having its own operations. Part of the reason for this was the low flying ban which was in force in Germany at that time. 4 Squadron had regularly sent pilots to the UK to practice low flying. Most of this was around Salisbury Plain and was probably after the full conversion to GR7 aircraft:
As mentioned before, the low flying ban in Germany has caused some scrabbling around for flying of high training value. To this end, two detachments to RAF Kinloss have taken place, both successful. Pilots spend at least one night away a week somewhere in UK to take advantage of the now almost unique UK Low Flying System. Much FAC training now takes place on Salisbury Plain instead of LFAs 1, 2, 3 as in the good old days. The Dutch low flying routes are still available, but are of only limited value being totally flat and only one mile wide. (source)
Aircraft of all types came back to the UK at that time for low flying training and this included in Scotland.

There were also US operators of Harrier jets and at the time the US Air Force had bases and personnel in Scotland.

US Marine Corps
They called the Harrier the AV-8B. The AV-8B saw extensive action in the Gulf War of 1990–91. Aircraft based on USS Nassau and Tarawa, and at on-shore bases, initially flew training and support sorties, as well as practicing with coalition forces. However on 4th August 1990 The USS Tarawa was in the western Pacific and then sailed to Iraq (source). The USS Nassau was in the Philippines on that date as part of 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade and had gone there directly from the USA (source). In addition to this the US AV8-B and many of the Royal Navy's Sea Harriers had been fitted with extra fuel tanks that hung beneath the wings. These are not visible in the photocopied line drawing which edges the likelihood towards this being RAF aircraft rather than a Naval one.

Harriers on test
With new GR7 Harriers being delivered around this time it is possible that new aircraft were sent out on test from Dunsfold.If this happened it is far more likely they would have been tested over Salisbury Plain rather than flying all the way to Scotland, but this is just speculation.

I think the two first questions that needs to be answered is "why a Harrier?" and "is the date correct?".

There were no Harriers based in Scotland on 4th August 1990. However, this was only two days after Iraq had invaded Kuwait - which could explain why the Daily Record never published the story. Newspapers were full of the Kuwait invasion at that point.

We know that 4 squadron, and other squadrons based in Germany, were sending pilots and aircraft to the UK for low flying exercises at this time. Mostly round Salisbury Plain, but it is entirely possible they had sent some pilots to Leuchars for a few days. Flying over the Scottish mountains at low altitude was considered much more realistic to combat situations and there were far fewer restrictions than there are today.

Having accounted for most of the British Navy's Harriers and all of the US ones were on exercise and were then sent straight to Iraq. This leads to another question: "Who was the pilot of the Harrier?" Nobody has ever spoken out about this incident.

Identifying the "UFO"

As relates to the unidentified object in the original photo it is hard to tell from the sketch version, but there is no scale so we don't know if it is a small object close to the camera or a large one further away. Because we are comparing it to the Harrier and we know how big it is then the object seem to be very large, but it might not be. You can see this problem in the reconstructed version of the image:

Could it have been an experimental aircraft on test? This did not seem like a possibility because of the remote location until I checked out all the Scottish RAF bases of 1990. RAF Edzell, which was quite close to this location in flight terms, was home to the 17th Space Surveillance Squadron of the US Air Force which operated their Low-Altitude Space Surveillance System. It is thought that Edzell’s detection system was used for testing stealth features on aircraft as well as for detecting potential incoming missiles. However, this was out of action from June 1990 to 1993 (as far as I can find out). So nothing definitive, but it certainly can't be ruled out.

There are known diamond shaped aircraft. Here is an example found on Google Earth (source of story):

List of possible explanations

1. This is an unidentified man made aircraft, possibly secret. It might even be a smaller unmanned aircraft close to the camera. Nick Pope has been clear that he was told that it was neither Russian or American, but given the secrecy they may not have told him. In this scenario the presence of the Harrier is purely coincidental. Both might have flown through the same low flying area from different locations (Edzell and Leuchars). I would give this explanation a 50% probability.

2. Hoax. The photographer could have hoaxed the photograph. Nick Pope saw a copy of it and it seemed real to him. The MoD also analysed it and felt it was genuine. When the Daily Record did not run the story the photographer did not go elsewhere for publicity which is something a hoaxer would surely have done? I can't rule out a total hoax, but it does not seem very likely, maybe 35% probability.

3. Disinformation. I know, I know, I know. I am not a conspiracy nut, but during a war it might have been necessary to pass off some sightings as "little green men" rather than disclose their real purpose. The photographers have never come forward, but if it was government disinformation it would not have been referred for MoD investigation. I think this explanation is probably 25% probability.

4. A real anomalous aircraft or UFO. This is entirely possible and I would put it at 50% probability.

Possible further investigation

I think there are a number of possible avenues for continued investigation of this incident without needing any access to official files:

  • Identify the photographer
  • Find out if the location it was taken from was a common route for walkers
  • Identify the Harrier pilot and the aircraft's origin
  • Look at any aircraft in production from around 2000 that look like the claimed UFO
  • Identify the journalist and find out what happened (although this is now 27 years later)
  • Check any files at the Daily Record if they have them


I think this shows the value of this kind of contextual analysis in cases like this. It is possible to find out a lot about a historical mystery by looking at the historical and social context. 

Update 2022: The Mystery is Finally Solved

Dr David Clarke has conducted a full investigation into this case and concluded that it was a US secret military aircraft. Amongst other bits of information he has been able to verify is that the photographers were poachers - which explains why they were on the hill at the time, and that there may have been a D Notice preventing the Daily Record from publishing. You can read his full article here:

The aircraft photographed probably went out of service in 1994 after a hard Landing at RAF Boscombe Down (article here).

Anyone interested in other diamond shaped aircraft might like to look up the earlier Lockheed Hopeless Diamond.

Update August 2022: The original photo has been published

Click here for a newspaper article that includes the original photograph and the story of how it came to light:

The aftermath

On initially viewing the Disclosure Team video I was struck by the similarity of the mountain in one of  the location photos to the shape of the unidentified aircraft in the photo. I produced a simple video that showed what I was seeing. This caused a huge amount of interest in my twitter feed. Mainly from people who didn't know how much time I have spent trying to get to the bottom of it. The assumption seemed to be that I was a "skeptic". I'm not, I'm an evangelical Christian so I have to believe in all kinds of "woo"! I also am confident UAP's exist, although I am not too sure about the extraterrestrial hypotheses.

I subsequently made a better version of the first video and put it out on Twitter:

After discussion with the photo analyst I issued a second video:

I think there are a lot of questions about angle of view, time and date of the photo and what the white is.
It does appear to be low cloud.

One thing we can be pretty sure of is the small jet came back for a look. 
Anyone who has tried to capture fast flying jets knows that by the time you hear them they have passed you. The photographer must have seen it go past and come back round.

What do you think?

18th August 2022
It turns out that the weather data for 9pm that day and location at 9pm shows cloud at 10,000 feet and also at 2,000 to 3,000 feet. The official photo analysis has also identified the background as cloud, so this matter is now settled

It proves that I was wrong when I said that you couldn't get low cloud at 9pm! The mountain peak is 3,500 feet, by the way, so between the two cloud layers.

I don't want to be seen as the "proponent of the mountain top theory". 

Firstly, I wasn't the first to put it forward. I came to the party late as I didn't see the real photo till Monday and at least two others had noticed the same thing and put out tweets or videos before mine.

Secondly, this is about rigour, not "debunking". If there is any possibility it's a misinterpreted natural phenomenon then this needs to be examined. If it turns out there is nothing to the mountain top theory then we can discount it and move on. My second video (above) shows the alternative view to my original proposal.

Thirdly, there is evidence of unusual aircraft in that vicinity. The RAF identified the two jet aircraft at the time the incident was reported. Which is how my article actually began - identifying all the potential aircraft. 

Over the next few weeks and months, more hard data is going to come out and I am sure witnesses are going to come forward.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Alliance Trumpet Mouthpiece Comparison Chart

These are the model numbers, inside diameters and rough equivalent sizes for Alliance trumpet mouthpieces:

Alliance 1 - 17.50mm - Warburton 1XD
Alliance 2 - 17.25mm - Warburton 2C
Alliance 3 - 17.00mm - Bach 1C
Alliance 4 - 17.00mm - Bach 1X
Alliance 5 - 16.75mm - Wick 3
Alliance 6 - 16.50mm - Bach 2B
Alliance 7 - 16.50mm - Bach 2C
Alliance 8 - 16.25mm - Bach Mount Vernon 7C

I have not tried any of these, but this information does not seem to currently be on their web site so I am putting it here in case anybody is looking for it.

It does not seem like their cornet and trumpet rims match up exactly.