Friday, 12 June 2015


"I have never smoked; it is something that has never interested me, so I appreciate the efforts of the inventor of an electronic cigarette designed to really help those that wish to quit who has also devised the Stop Smoking Scheme (SSS)"  Bob Bluffield

In what is believed to be the only scheme of its kind, a Hertfordshire business owner has endorsed a way to wean cigarette smokers off their habit using a specific brand of electronic cigarette. The plan is pro-active and is believed to be one of the most effective methods available to quit smoking. The Scheme works on the premise that by reducing the nicotine levels a smoker takes in until this reaches zero, will completely remove the desire to continue smoking. The dangers of smoking are well known.Tobacco contains over 4,000 toxic chemicals, at least 19 of them cancer causing ingredients; but nicotine is the one substance that hooks smokers in the first place and creates the addictive desire to continue the habit.    

The StopSmoking Scheme (SSS) has been created to work over a period of weeks or months (depending on the individual) by reducing a smoker's dependence on nicotine by using only one specific brand of electronic cigarette recommended by the Scheme. By adhering to the Scheme's recommendations, it is believed that existing smokers that join SSS will be more likely to quit smoking for good than by using any alternative anti-smoking products currently available including other, non-recommended brands of e-Cigs, nicotine flavoured gum and patches.

It may come as no surprise to learn that the innovator of a brand of electronic cigarette, Black and White, which is recommended by the Stop Smoking Scheme, is a lifetime non-smoking entrepreneur who has never been able to understand the attractions associated with tobacco or smoking in general.
Having grown up in a family environment of regular smokers, and with many of his friends addicted to cigarettes - Tony Miceli believed that the best way to give up smoking was never to start smoking in the first place. 

However while those around him continued to smoke - and become seriously ill from the habit - he was angered at being subjected to passive smoking and felt strongly commitment to assist those around him to quit the smoking habit. At one point he even took various family members to a hypnotist in the hope of finding a cure. But did t work? Well yes - but only briefly - as within 2-3 days all had started smoking again! 

"It is not just the inherent serious health risks we are all familiar with that concerned me" he said, "but the devastating affects it can have on families. There are literally millions of poor parents around the world that are struggling to provide even basic food for their children, yet they always seem to find the means to buy cigarettes. When everyone is aware of dangers of smoking, this can no longer be acceptable. Families are being crippled financially and babies are dying because they are living within close proximity of those that smoke. It concerns me ... it really does". 

Tony considered that being a silent bystander was no longer an option. He needed to act and realised that the explosion in the popularity of electronic cigarettes provided a massive opportunity to try and make a difference by assisting those smokers who genuinely wanted to quit smoking. After racking his brain for a solution he came up with a new and positive way to get smokers to quit by linking flavoured electronic cigarettes to a stop smoking campaign that he is confident will really work. 

When he researched the e-cigarette market, he was shocked to discover that the majority of these products were actually being produced and distributed by the major tobacco companies. This, to Tony, was like waving a red flag at a bull. He was unable to equate how commercial considerations were driving the morals of the tobacco industry. "They are not content to reap unbelievable profits from selling tobacco products to smokers, but, they have turned their attention towards those that are already making an effort to quit smoking by making money out of e-cig products that are meant to discourage smoking. The tobacco giants are, of course, only interested in making vast sums of money for their shareholders, so they are promoting e-cigs as a 'cool' and desirable way to smoke (or vape as they refer to it) that is comparable to the cigarette advertising we used to see until it was banned. Instead of discouraging people from smoking, I believe this could lead ultimately to some people losing their battles to quit smoking by using high nicotine e-cigarettes as a vehicle. I also feel by promoting 'vaping' in a positive way as the tobacco companies are tending to do  could encourage those that have never smoked, to take up the habit. This, in my opinion, includes young people who may be taken in by glamorizing e-cigarettes and 'vaping' in advertising in a way that might lead youngsters to start smoking".  

Tony believes the major cigarette companies have a hidden vested interest in attracting young people that could ultimately lead them to take up smoking tobacco products once they have become hooked on vaping using electronic cigarette products that contain high levels of nicotine flavouring. "The real message they should be promoting is that smoking in any form is definitely 'un-cool'. But, instead of trying to actively encourage smokers to quit the habit, the evidence suggests they are doing quite the opposite"
"My aim in setting up Black & White is not just to encourage existing smokers to quit, but more specifically to dissuade those that have never smoked from ever starting by joining the Stop Smoking Scheme. My aim is to two-fold, to help as many existing smokers as I can to quit; and to prevent non-smokers, especially teenagers, from taking up smoking in the first place". 

The Stop Smoking Scheme will be recommending Black & White as the e-cigarette of choice specifically because it is the only low-to-no nicotine electronic cigarette. It is widely accepted that electronic cigarettes are a much safer option to tobacco smoking as none of the 4,000 known toxic substances are contained in them that is present in tobacco smoke. Unfortunately, the majority of e-cigs still contain sufficient doses of nicotine to keep users hooked. "Adding high doses of nicotine to electronic cigarettes may benefit the major tobacco companies - but it is of no benefit to anyone genuinely committed to giving up smoking. This is where the brand officially recommend by the Stop Smoking Scheme is different as it has been specifically developed as the first e-cigarette brand in the world that actively discourages users to stop smoking - entirely. 

"Our philosophy is to attract smokers to our approved brand by removing the element that gets them hooked on smoking in the first place - NICOTINE".

Wednesday, 10 June 2015


I though this article published in the 'Chronicle of Britain and Ireland' is interesting.

England 1679
"New names for old faces can now be heard mentioned in the houses of parliament with the advent of tags for adherents of different political philosophies.'Whigs' and 'Tories' - both terms of abuse - denote government supporters and opponents. Broadly, the Whigs form the court party; they back the established church and the monarchy, and their instincts are conservative. The Tories are broadly anti-government and support the Roman Catholic Duke of York

The word 'Tory' was originally used to describe a particular unpleasant type of Irish robber. A 'Whig', on the other hand, is a Scottish outlaw, covenanter and sanctimonious prig.

Political commentators go further. "A 'Tory' is a creature with a large forehead, prodigious mouth and no brains," says one pamphleteer. A 'Whig' "has principles like chaos" and "prays for the kind with more reservations than the honest man" says another.

The 'Whigs' were a major political party from 1679-1832 that held liberal principles and favoured reforms and later became the Liberal Party. In later use the term was used to refer to conservative members of the Liberal party.

The article therefore seems quite apt when considering our political parties today. It might also be considered appropriate for Labour MP Dennis Skinner to refer to the Tories in a statement he uttered in Parliament by saying - "50% of those on the benches opposite are criminals". After the Speaker had asked him to withdraw his remark, the quick-witted Member for Bolsover responded: "50% of those on the benches opposite aren't criminals".

Tuesday, 9 June 2015


A Special Report by Bob Bluffield

Those old enough to remember will recall the sensational 1968 Stanley Kubrick film, 2001: A Space Odyssey that was adapted from Arthur C Clarke's short story The Sentinel. The theme revolves around human beings encountering black monoliths that are affecting human evolution. The storyline involves two astronauts on their way to Jupiter on Discovery One, a spacecraft that is under the control of HAL 9000, a computer that has been ordered to withhold vital information about the mission from the astronauts. HAL 9000 eventually breaks down with 'acute emotional crisis' caused by being unable to come to terms with his own fallibility.  Critics have compared the artificial intelligence (AI) of HAL 9000 with the threat AI is already posing to humanity that is being deployed in computers and robots that could be programmed with a superintelligence far superior to that of our own species.

With the knowledge that scientist will be able to develop robots with artificial intelligence that can give machines the capability of reproducing themselves ad infinitum may sound fanciful, but the threat of machines so powerful they could threaten the very existence of the human race is in fact very real and might only be a few decades away. 

In a powerful book published last year, Nick Bostrom an eminent professor at Oxford Martin School, and Director of the Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology at Oxford University, argues that AI is the most important issue the human race has ever faced. In Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers,Strategies Professor Bostrom offers a compelling warning of the dangers. He states how one only has to compare cleverer human brain to the brains of animals to realise that we have capabilities that other creatures lack. In turn, animals are equipped with stronger muscles or sharper teeth and claws that we do not possess. This falls into insignificance when AI machines can be created that surpass the intelligence and strength that man and even the strongest mammals possess. Take the gorilla for example; for the species to survive gorillas depend more on us humans than on other gorillas.  In the same way, if left unchecked, the fate of the human species would depend on the actions of the machine superintelligence. Before you dismiss this as hyperbole, you should first take the time to read Professor Bostrom's book and also consider the warnings being uttered by some of the world's most respected scientists. 

One such is the distinguished theoretical physicist, Professor Stephen Hawking, who has issued a stark warning that if scientists' progress in creating thinking machines, this could lead to a shocking Doomsday situation. Despite his warning, Hawking nevertheless agrees that some forms of primitive artificial intelligence have proved useful. This includes a technology developed by the British company Swift Key (the creators of keyboard software for IPhone and Android) that has developed a system designed to predict what Hawking is thinking by suggesting words that he may want to use next. By typing in around 15-20 per cent of what he wants to say, the software predicts the rest. But, according to Hawking, this technology still comes with the familiar American electronic accent that makes the professor sound robotic. With his usual wicked sense of humour, Hawking jokes that he does not see this as a downside, because it has become his trademark and he "wouldn't change it for a more natural voice with a British accent".

The millionaire founder of Pay Pal, Space X and Tesla electric cars,  Elon Musk, describes the threat as being a real life scenario between Terminator-style robots and mankind that is  "... more dangerous than Nukes". He did not mix his words by describing the creation of artificial intelligence as ... "like summoning the demon", adding: "If I had to guess what the biggest threat to our existence is, it's probably artificial intelligence". He believes fictional depictions of AI such as the lethal computer HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey and the robotic child David in Steven Spielberg's 2001 film AI - Artificial Intelligence would be like a "puppy dog" in comparison to the power and threats we are likely to face from real, self aware AI. Musk again: "I'm increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure we don't do something very foolish".

Yet, according to Ray Kurzwell, Google's director of engineering, by 2045 artificial intelligence will be here, and 'mind uploads' will herald immortality in a world of super-human machines. He should know because Google is showing no signs of slowing in its rapid acquisition of companies including those involved at the sharp end of AI. Wikipedia states that Google has bought 'on average more than one company per week since 2010', 178 since February 2001. In the two years up to February of last year, according to CBS News it had spent 'a staggering $17 billion US on acquisitions'. It also has a secretive lab known variously as; Google X Lab, Google X or Google (x) that experiments with ambitious future technologies. There are claims too that Google is secretly working to develop robots that use artificial intelligence to "...make a large, positive impact on society". Sources within the Google hierarchy are alleged to have said the company is aiming to become "AI complete" by producing machines that are as intelligent as a human brain. The company's founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, have both expressed positive views on AI and have publicly stated their aim for Google to be "... artificially intelligent so that it understands exactly what information we are seeking so that it can be interfaced directly with our brains." Larry Page was quoted to say: "Artificial intelligence would be the ultimate version of Google. The ultimate search engine that would understand everything on the Web. It would understand exactly what you wanted, and it would give you the right thing. We're nowhere near doing that now. However, we can get incrementally closer to that, and that is basically what we work on". This will come as quite a worrying thought for most of us even though this announcement was not made recently by Page ... but 15-years ago!

And Google are not alone. In February Bloomberg Business suggested that there have been 'a dozen start ups now forming a mini-boom in AI.' The report goes on to say 'After two decades of the field suffering from scant research funding and little corporate attention, a rebirth is being spurred by interest from Google, Facebook Inc, and others, with Alibaba GroupHolding Ltd chairman Jack Ma saying that the Chinese e-commerce company will invest significantly in the area'.
Research into artificial intelligence dates back to the 1960s particularly involving its use in military equipment and ordnance as well as in security systems. If you think the theories of leading scientists on the dangers of AI are still 'pie n the sky' then consider some of the innovations that have already been introduced. These include computers that can beat human beings at chess, driverless cars, eye glasses that provide a head-up display and Samsung televisions within our homes that capture our voice commands and transmit conversations to third parties. 

Dr Stuart Armstrong of Oxford's Institute for the Future of Humanity has said that "Predicting artificial intelligence is hard" but warns "...they might be extremely alien. They might have tastes completely incomprehensible to us". This really is a frightening scenario because it implies that AI programmed machines might turn against us! A similar opinion has been shared by Professor Stephen Hawking who said AI could spell the "...end of the human race" whilst Microsoft founder Bill Gates confirmed that he is " the camp that is concerned about super intelligence". He added: "First, the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decade after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk on this and don't understand why people are not concerned". Stephen Hawking described the threat from artificial intelligence by commenting  " would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate ... humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete, and would be superseded". 

But not everyone agrees. The British creator of Cleverbot, Rollo Carpenter has said "I believe we will remain in charge of the technology for a decently long time and the potential of it to solve many of the world problems will be realised". Cleverbot software has been developed to learn from its past conversations and during the Turing test*, it deceived people into thinking they were having a conversation with another human being instead of a machine. Carpenter believes we are still a long way from developing algorithms that are needed to create full artificial intelligence but he does agree that it will be with us during the next few decades. If it is not going to destroy human lives the world's authorities must find a way of controlling it to maintain a balance, yet the worrying factor will always be of the devastation the science of AI could cause were the technology to fall into the hands of a rogue state or terrorist organisation. 

* The Turing test is a means of testing a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to or indistinguishable from that of a human.

Friday, 2 January 2015

'OVER EMPIRES AND OCEANS' - PIONEERS, AVIATORS AND ADVENTURERS - Forging the International Air Routes 1918-1939 (Published by Tattered Flag Press)

By Robert Bluffield

This is a story of pioneers, intrepid aviators, adventurers, tycoons and innovators. It is also a story of dedication and determination, for despite fixed-wing aircraft proving their value over the battlefields of the Western Front during the First World War, convincing governments and public alike that they had a role in peacetime proved far more challenging. 

The Americans, as inventors of heavier-than-air powered flight had briefly courted with a passenger airline across Tampa Bay in 1914, yet it took a further nine years for mail to be flown coast-to-coast. In 1919 a British company made the first international scheduled flight between London and Paris, but the continuation of regular services was thwarted by a less-than-enthusiastic government that allowed its generously subsidised French competition, for a short time at least, to fly cross-Channel passenger schedules unimpeded.

The British eventually realised that fast links with their Empire were vital, and followed the example of the French and Dutch who had forged air links with their cousins in North Africa and the Far East. 

Meanwhile, in South America, the Germans, forbidden under the Versailles Treaty from any major aircraft-building, were establishing cunning supremacy by forming airlines throughout South America and in China. While America awaited a transcontinental passenger service, Juan Trippe’s Pan American Airways was crossing swords with Ralph O’Neill of New York, Rio and Buenos Aires Line (NYRBA) for air supremacy between the US, Brazil, Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America, which led to the formation of arguably the world’s greatest airline.

In Russia, Igor Sikorsky had built a vast passenger-carrying aircraft, the Il’ya Muromets, and politicians debated whether giant airships or fixed-wing aircraft should rule the skies – an issue that was put firmly to bed when the mighty German airship, Hindenburg, exploded while mooring at Lakehurst in 1937.

Robert Bluffield’s highly researched and detailed account tells the dramatic stories of explorers such as Kingsford Smith, Lindbergh and Cobham, and flamboyant entrepreneurs, some well known, others forgotten, who risked fortunes and reputations to follow their dreams of reaching and ruling the skies over empires, continents and oceans. Against bewildering adversity, corruption, underhanded deals and dwindling resources, these tenacious individuals braved the elements using primitive, entirely unsuitable equipment to establish earth-shrinking aerial services that criss-crossed the great oceans and the globe’s most inhospitable territories. These are the stories of those pioneers – of AĆ©ropostale, CNAC, Air Orient, Imperial Airways, KLM, Deutsche Luft Hansa, Pan Am, SCADTA, The Condor Syndicat, Qantas and others – which had a far-reaching impact on the way the modern world would travel.