Violent Deaths in 2014

UKRAINE-RUSSIA-CRISISFrom the comfort and safety of my home in England it is easy to ignore the fact that across the world there are 44 violent conflicts going on right now. Some have been rumbling on for decades, for example the Korean conflict started in 1948 and has claimed the lives of more than 4.5 million people but no one is recorded as being killed there 2014.

However this year we added 2 new violent conflicts to the list; The Libyan civil war has claimed at least 2,295 lives in 2014 and the war in Ukraine has killed over 4,132 people.

More than half of the Earths surface is officially at war as I write this and on average one person dies violently in conflict every 4 minutes of every hour of every day of the year.

In total at least 118,959 people have died violently in conflict so far this year.

From the relative safety and comfort of your office or home, while you plan your Christmas break with family and friends, spare a thought for those who simply want to live long enough to see 2015.

If you want to learn more about the on going conflicts around the world The Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research is a great place to start.

Enjoy your Christmas.



The Strange Story of Hoovers and the AK47

It has been a strange and disturbing few weeks in the world but between the lines there is a story sometimes amusing and at the same time disturbing. This is a story that highlights the extreme cultural differences between middle aged English Man and middle aged American Man.

140822dysonhoover_0Mild mannered, middle class, BMW and power washer owning suburban English man reacted badly to the following headline; EU ban on high-power vacuum cleaners comes into force, hitting five of the seven best-rated products.

The EU directive is tied up in the member countries commitment to clean up our environment and although the headline is shocking it hides the true message. Manufacturers have to design better, more efficient products. A bit like changes in the rules for Formula 1 cars mean they dont use massive petrol guzzling V8 engines. Natural evolution and great design has evolved the small, ultra high revving frugal but ultimately powerful engines that carry the cars round the tracks of the world at amazing speed. Vacuum cleaners need to go the same way. This change in the law will force manufacturers to make fester, leaner and more efficient cleaners.

Unashamedly riotous and provocative headlines prompted a veritable rush on the shops to buy the last remaining stocks of high powered vacuum cleaners, rumor has it that the 2,200 watt Miele s8330 is selling for more on ebay now than you could buy them in the shops a month ago, I should have stocked up!

140718104131-kalashnikov-620xaWhile this story played out in England the middle aged American man was suffering an equally terrible, but much more disturbing loss as UN sanctions placed on Russia began to bite. Intended or not by Obama and his administration the ban on imports of some Russian goods came to a head when Americans realized their beloved AK47 assault rifle was made in Russia and was now a victim of the war in Ukraine. It was announced that there will be no more imports of Russian made arms to America [the hypocrisy of this will become apparent soon] and so a rush began on the gun shops of every American town as the last of these iconic machine guns was snapped up.

And now for the hypocrisy. While America has used sanctions to ban the import of Russian made weapons the Europeans have continued to supply Russia with weapons ranging from hand guns to war ships.

On the 23rd July, just a month ago, the Guardian reported “UK arms export licenses for Russia still in place despite claims of embargo”

More than 200 licences to sell British weapons to Russia, including missile-launching equipment, are still in place despite David Cameron’s claim in the Commons on Monday that the government had imposed an absolute arms embargo against the country, according to a report by a cross-party group of MPs released on Wednesday.

A large number of British weapons and military components which the MPs say are still approved for Russia are contained in a hard-hitting report by four Commons committees scrutinising arms export controls.

Existing arms export licences for Russia cover equipment for launching and controlling missiles, components for military helicopters and surface-launched rockets, small arms ammunition, sniper rifles, body armour, and military communications equipment, the committee says. They also include licences for night sights for weapons, components for operating military aircraft in confined spaces, and surface-to-surface missiles.

The French also have two battle ships on their way to Russia, the orders were not cancelled as that would make 1,000 French men and women unemployed.

Like I said, a strange and disturbing few weeks in the world.

Destination Guide: Climb Briancon.

DSC_9043The Area

Briancon is located in the Haute Alpes, just 20 minutes from the Italian border. 100km to the west by the Col du Lautaret is Grenoble and to the east is Turin via the Col du Montgenevre.

Briancon sits at the top of the Durance valley, the old town is 1500m above sea level and is reputed to be the highest city in Europe. The city is a French national monument and a UNESCO site of world heritage. To discover more about the old town of Briancon follow this link.

From a climbing point of view Briancon and its environs has it all. This destination guide covers the area immediately around Briancon in the north and works its way south via L’Argentiere La Bessee, La Roche de Rame, Fressinieres, Saint Crepin, Mont Dauphine, Guillestre, Queyras, Vallouise and Ailefroide. The extended area would also cover Guisaine, Claree and Embrun but I have not discussed these here as I have not climbed them.

The Climbing

A few facts about climbing in and around Briancon.

  • There are over 300 days of sunshine a year.
  • There are six different types of rock, Limestone, conglomerate, gabbro, quartzite, granite and gneiss.
  • There are thousands of bolted sports routes.
  • There is a fantastic spread of grades allowing progression from the easiest 3’s to 8’s and 9’s.
  • There is no shortage of routes that can be trad climbed.

20 years ago Ailefroide had 4 developed crags, now it has twenty five crags and over 270 bolted routes, mostly single pitch, but also many multi pitch routes including the Riviere Kwai at 500m long, 14 pitches 5c+ max.

The story of Ailefroide is reflected across the whole valley in both positive and negative ways. Many areas have been developed under the FFME and the locally infamous JJ Roland and his son Yann but at the expense of some classic routes that seem almost forgotten.

The benefits are clear for the climber either way. If you want a dedicated climbing area it has been developed for you in Ailefroide but it gets busy, very busy in the peak months of July and August and as thats when most climbers are visiting the area I would recommend you based yourself in Briancon and searched out some of the quieter classic crags of the area.

Nearest to Briancon is La Croix de Toulouse, just a ten minute walk from the city you are presented with a sheer face of 500m of limestone with six fantastic multi pitch routes. My favorite is Vent d’Est [The East Wind], ten pitches, 5+ max and just the right amount of exposure. You will need some trad gear as, although there are some bolts you will be a lot more comfortable with a few friends.

One of the crags that has suffered at the development of Ailefroide, in that it has been neglected, is the Falaise des Salettes with 30 routes from 4 to 6b+, it is a bit ‘rusty’ in places. Good adventure climbing.

DSC_8710Also on La Croix de Toulouse is a Via Ferrata, mid difficulty and about 500m of climbing, mostly vertical.

There are another ten crags within ten minutes drive from Briancon offering North, south, east and west facing, single pitch, multi pitch, limestone, quartzite and granite and some 400 routes of all difficulties.

Why would you go any further? Well going south, and ignoring Ailefroide, you have to try the big face at Fournel with its stunning features and massive roof some 100m above the first pitches. and if the south facing rock gets to much you can cross the valley to the north facing crag with its 20+ single pitch routes from 4 to 6b+.

Continuing south and stopping off at St Crepin or Champcella for cosy, quite crags, mostly single pitch to Mt Dauphin and its acres of conglomerate.

From there turn east to Giillestre and then north east into Queyras before returning via the Col de L’Izoard to Briancon. The entire grand tour is around 40 miles of driving allowing hours of time for climbing.

Nearly all crags are no more than ten minutes walk from the nearest parking although you can find some much longer hikes if you want to search them out.


When to go

You can climb in and around Briancon all year round, even in the depths of winter through mid January to mid March when the night time temperatures can be minus 20 there are crags that stay dry and clear of snow and ice. Alternatively there are glaciers and mountains up to 4000m for mixed route climbing or ice climbing in many crags and frozen waterfalls.

The main attraction has to be the eight or nine months of the year when the weather is perfect for climbing in shorts and t-shirt.

To be fair, it can be damp on some routes in April and May due to snow melt from thousands of feet above but even then there are too many routes available for a few weeks holiday. In fact I doubt there is anyone who has climbed all the routes available.

At the height of summer it can be just to hot to be climbing in the direct sun but there are always shady west and north facing crags available.

How to get there

The two main ways of reaching Briancon are to drive or fly. Flights by BA or Ryan Air from Gatwick or Stansted usually come in to Turin to the east of Briancon where there is a train and bus service to connect to Briancon or fly in to Grenoble and bus it to Briancon. Once here you will need a car which can be hired locally or from the airport you land at from about €25 a day but if you can get three or four people together then it may be economical to drive.

From Calais it is about 12 hours drive, 700km and usually under €100 in tolls depending on the time of day you are traveling.

Where to stay

I am writing this with a view to proposing you base yourself in Briancon. Many will tell you to drive direct to Ailefroide and stay there but my experience is, although its nice to sleep under the stars, you will be pestered by mosquitoes and climbers who choose to camp their, find they don’t leave the valley and never get to climb the conglomerate at Mont Dauphine or the limestone in the Fournel.

The benefits of Ailefroide are clear, it has been exclusively developed for climbers and has extensive camping, two hotels, fast [for France] food, small supermarket and even a shop or two selling gear. Be warned however as I write this in the first week of June nothing is open yet. and it will all close by the end of September.

You may choose Ailefroide but outside of its narrow season or if you want to experience a greater variety of crags head up to the top of the valley and find a bed in Briancon. Accommodation in the old town varies from a serviced apartment at the Spirit Bar to an entire house that can sleep 18 people [bring the entire climbing club]. The night life in the Old Town of Briancon is buzzing all through the summer months with lively bars, good restaurants and decent coffee houses. In June Briancon hosts the lead climbing championships and in late summer, look out for the Urban climbing festival where the city ramparts are a challenge to any daring free climber. There are many festivals in the adjoining parks and in July Briancon holds a medieval festival which is great fun.

Where to eat

Out of season this part of France is very quiet and it is not unusual to find everything closed. Having said that most every village has a bakery and from seven every morning fresh bread and pastry is available. Equally every village has a bar of some sort and they will usually be open throughout most of the day except Sunday and Mondays, this is an old fashioned but very friendly community.

Out of season evenings can be very lonely but you can use that time to plan the next days climbing.

In season all the bars and restaurants will be open and evening meals are easy.

In Briancon I can recommend the Central Bar as at the time of writing Maria and Ash were open nearly all the time and offer a Sandwich and a drink for €5, fantastic value and very tasty. They also show British TV and selected sports events.

Which guide to buy

“Escalade en Brianconnais – Haut Val Durance – Queyras”. Can be bought locally for around 30 Euro and is a comprehensive guide to sports climbing and some of the via ferratas in the area, see below. Also available from the tourist information office is the comprehensive guide to the local via ferratas.

Local shopping

I can recommend AlpiMat on the lower industrial area of Briancon who sell the above mentioned guide as well as a wallet emptying selection of other guides and a fantastic collection of climbing gear. There are various other climbing shops dotted around.

Other activities

In and around Briancon you can also paddle, cycle, VTT, parapont or in the winter, ski and snowboard. There is canyoning, hiking and if you have a few hours at the end of the day I can recommend you explore the battlements of Briancon and its surrounding fortifications.

More Information

For more information please visit my profile on UKC – MaranaF – or our classified listing for accommodation – Climb Briancon.

Web Site Marketing and SEO.

seo, web, google-marketingMy name is Stephen Spencer and I am a problem solver.

I have been involved in web site design and development since its inception. The first site I designed was in 1993 for my employers at the time; Since then I have designed more sites than I can remember.

Web site marketing is not just SEO, it rarely stops in the header or with the submission of a link map to Google. It is not just “on the page”. Off page marketing is critical and even off line promotion of brand plays its part.

If your company has a brand then SEO is a minor problem, you can rely to some extent on your customers searching for you by brand or even coming directly to your site. For the rest of us we have to rely on the Internets universal portal; Google.

Getting your web site on the first page of results on Google relies on perfect management of many factors but most importantly we need to know what your product is. From that we can generate a plan to market your web site.

To ensure your web site gets the attention it deserves we need to work together.

I am without doubt technically literate, a rapid adopter of new technology, a fast learner, definitely mature, reliable and trustworthy. I have many years experience working with clients of all types and all the associated obligations of account management and reporting. We will not only get your web site noticed but you will know how we got there.

I am a member of the NUJ and a card carrying journalist, I do great copy. I understand completely how the internet works and how to use it to get our products noticed.

I am English, I speak French, a bit of Spanish, HTML, CSS, some JavaScript and PHP as well as understanding SQL, Server management, Google Analytics, reCaptcha, PPC, SEO, affiliated partners and many of the other technologies that are utilized in our internet. For the things I don’t understand I have great contacts.

I am currently working on my blog site at and I am developing a sports social media site at . Both of these sites are for my own entertainment, no clients involved.

I want to work with you. Call me on +44 7522 395 66 or in France + 33 7 62 41 16 82 or email me and tell me what our challenge is.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Stephen Spencer

An MH370 in a Hay Stack

needle-in-a-haystackIn Malaysia they have just announced that the search for the lost triple seven flight number MH370 now covers 2.24 million square miles.

At the same time relatives of those we assume died on the lost aircraft are threatening hunger strikes as a protest at the apparent lack of effort going in to the search.

Well I did some research and some checking and this is what I discovered.

  • The area of the Earths surface is about 190 million nautical miles square.
  • The area occupied by a triple seven is 0.0003 nautical miles square.
  • The search area is 2.24 million nautical miles square [1.18% of the Earths surface]
  • That’s just 1,500 miles by 1,500 miles.


  • Boeing only built 1,178 777s
  • If you filled the search area with 777s wing to wing you could fit 7,470,000,000 aircraft in.
  • If you spread the 1,178 Boeing 777 aircraft evenly across the search area about 900 of them would be under water.
  • If you spread the remaining 278 aircraft out on the land in the search area there would be about 100 miles between each aircraft.

So next time you think it should be easy to find a jumbo jet think about it like this [in football pitch clichés];

  • That is about the same as trying to find a buried match box, on a football pitch, with a blind fold on.

No win – win possible in Crimea

As the news streams in from multiple sources all over the Ukraine, Russia, the US, Britain, Europe I can not help but feel despair.

The Ukraine is a buffer country with significant strategic significance to the East and the West, clearly if it wasn’t they would not be taking any notice of what was going on, like they are ignoring Venezuela.

Vested interests, massive financial deals and energy infrastructure will bias the decisions of the few who can have influence over the events to come while the lives of the 88 who died in Kiev are forgotten.

I do not expect to see war break out, I do not expect many more people will die in this upheaval. I do expect a political solution where the Russians set up a puppet government in Crimea and Europe and the Western allies pour financial support, UN peace keepers and a puppet government in to Ukraine.

I do expect it to paper over the problems for about five years, then all hell will break loose.


You may be becoming aware of the troubles in Ukraine? This started to hit the news in December, a protest about politics and corruption, a fight between the people and the ruling parties. It is possible that the problems will disperse and sense will prevail. However I fear Kiev could just as easily become the battlefield for Russia and the US. There could easily become an east west divide, even a wall in Kiev like Berlin had.Why should you care? Well the guys who write some of our software live in Kiev and although I have been in touch with them as recently as Monday I can no longer get hold of them. When I last spoke to them they said work was impossible due to the ‘war’ going on in the streets outside their offices.

I wish them and the whole of Ukraine the best. I hope they are ok.

If you want to catch up on the news from Ukraine I have a Flipboard Magazine where I have started curating the news

Putin closes down Russia’s state news agency

Russia’s president has abolished the country’s state-owned Ria Novosti news agency with no explanation issued to its staff.

Vladimir Putin announced the surprise move on Monday through a decree published on his website, saying the organisation would be replaced by a news agency called “Rossiya Segodnya” (Russia Today).

The new company will focus on “coverage abroad of Russian state policy and public life” with multilingual services as a way of “raising efficiency of state media resources,” the document published on the Kremlin website said.

Putin named Dmitry Kiselyov, a controversial figure often accused of being a propaganda mouthpiece and known for openly anti-gay, anti-American, and anti-opposition views, as the head of Russia Today.

“Restoring a fair attitude towards Russia as an important country in the world and one with good intentions – that is the mission of the new structure that I will head,” Kiselyov told the state TV broadcaster Rossiya 24.

“When this news first appeared, everyone thought it was a joke,” Russian protest leader and widely-followed blogger Alexei Navalny wrote on his Live Journal page. “But no.”

The dissolved agency

The news reportedly came as a shock to the staff of RIA Novosti with one employee, who asked not to be named, saying they found out from the Kremlin’s website.

No explanation was given, with an internal email merely warning that a “liquidation committee” would be formed and asked that everyone remained calm.

“The move is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia’s news landscape which appear to point towards a tightening of state control in the already heavily-regulated media sector,” RIA said in an English-language article about Putin’s step.

The agency was one of the biggest in the world and was also an official sponsor of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi next February.

It also recently became known for its detailed live reporting from Russia’s most high-profile trials.

RIA Novosti traced its roots to 1941 when the Soviet Information Bureau was established by communist rulers.

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The Other Questions Raised by Seymour Hersh’s Syria Scoop

“Obama did not tell the whole story” on Bashar al-Assad’s alleged involvement in a chemical weapons strike in Syria last August, begins Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh’s latest piece. The investigation, published at the London Review of Books this weekend, argues that the Obama administration “cherry-picked intelligence” in order to make the case for a military strike against Syria, omitting indications that Syrian rebels were also capable of obtaining Sarin gas. Hersh is one of the country’s best-respected investigative journalists, with an unparalleled track record of breaking big news. But while his latest work, called “Whose Sarin?” has gained substantial attention for the claims it contains, not everyone is convinced that Hersh got the story completely right this time.

According to multiple reports, Hersh first took “Whose Sarin?” to The New Yorker and The Washington Post, both of whom passed. While The New Yorker (where Hersh, a freelancer, regularly publishes his biggest scoops) did not comment on their reasons for not publishing the story, the Post reportedly rejected the piece because it didn’t meet the paper’s sourcing standards. The London Review of Books, apparently in response to questions about the piece’s provenance, told the Huffington Post that Hersh’s work was fact-checked by a former New Yorker fact checker before publication. Hersh’s story relies on anonymous sources, which is how Hersh tends to work, as do most reporters who deal with the world of foreign intelligence. It’s produced some of his best reporting.

Speaking to Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! on Monday, Hersh argued that the “mainstream press” was already sold on the Obama administration’s narrative, that “Bashar did it.” Hersh added: “This is why creepy troublemakers like me stay in business.” He responded to questions about the Post’s decision to drop his story in a similar manner: “Why did I think a mainstream press paper would want to go so hard against, you know, from a freelancer?” Hersh told Goodman, adding, “It was silly of me. I should have just gone to the London Review very quickly. My mistake.”

At least a few Syria experts are critical of Hersh’s conclusions at the LRB, including Eliot Higgins, a noted weapons expert who goes by the pseudonym Brown Moses on Twitter:

Dan Kaszeta, another security expert, while not dismissing Hersh’s reporting outright, suggests that it is incomplete and out of date.

For what it’s worth, the White House has also denied Hersh’s allegations: Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence, told The Hill that “the intelligence clearly indicated that the Assad regime and only the Assad regime could have been responsible for the 21 August chemical weapons attack,” adding that “the suggestion that there was an effort to suppress intelligence about a nonexistent alternative explanation is simply false.”

When it come to investigative reporting, few have built up a stronger track record than Hersh, but recent comments by him about other members of the media have probably undermined a bit of that goodwill. Back in September, Hersh stated flatly in an interview with The Guardian, that the official story of Osama bin Laden’s death at the hand of U.S. Navy Seals is a fraud, saying, “Nothing’s been done about that story, it’s one big lie, not one word of it is true.” His solution was for media outlets to fire all their editors, except the “ones that you can’t control.” Perhaps one of those editors would have published his sarin story a little faster.

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