Thursday, 10 December 2009

UKIP and Climate Change

Viscount Monckton, better known as Christopher Monckton, the journalist and author has today joined the UK Independence Party. Read the whole story here.


For a very easy to read discussion of the range of temperatures measured at one point on the earth's surface please read this.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Tata Redcar

I was going to paraphrase an excellent blog from EU referendum but I cannot do it justice. Go and read it in situ.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

A uniform climate

Go to google, switch to images, type 'weather presenter' in to the search field and then press Search Images. What do you notice about the results?

Friday, 25 September 2009

Reflecting on Sunlight

There are some beautiful pictures, here, of the solar power plant in Sanlucar la Mayor, Spain. Reading the captions, I found myself wondering whether the amount of electricity to control the plant and move the mirrors so that they tracked the sun was less than the amount the power plant produced. I figured that nobody would be stupid enough to design and build a power plant that consumed more energy than it produced. When I arrived at the tenth and final image, the caption informed me that "Andalusia is one of the sunniest, driest spots in Europe, with an average of 1,500 hours of sunshine a year". 1,500 hours is an awful lot isn't it? The problem is, do you know how many hours there are in a year? It is 8,760. That means, assuming that this plant is capable of working all the time the sun shines, that the electricity is produced for just 17.1% of the time. Assuming the electricity is only needed during daylight hours, it still only produces electricity for 34.2% of the time. What bloomin' use is that? Can you imagine anyone in the Dragon's Den having a good reception when they revealed that the device they are attempting to market only works during daylight hours and then for only the one third of those hours when the sun chose to shine? When they say that it will provide the electricity for 180,000 homes, equivalent to the needs of the city of Seville, they don't say that they only do it for an average of four hours of every day. I wouldn't want my freezer to be relying on their electricity.

Not surprisingly, the plant was built with the help of 5 million Euro from the EU's 5th Framework Programme (no, I hadn't heard of it either). The EU seems keen on projects like this as illustrated by the EU Energy Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs', comment that "These new technologies give Europe a new option to combat climate change and increase energy security while strengthening the competitiveness of the European industrial sector and creating jobs and growth,". Creating jobs and growth with four hours of electricity a day? I despair.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Today's the Day

I couldn't let this pass without comment, today in 1752 was September 14th however yesterday in 1752 was September 2nd. It was the day that the British Empire skipped eleven days in order to change to the Gregorian calendar.
It is called the Gregorian calendar after Pope Gregory XIII who described the new calendar in a Papal Bull issued on February 24th 1582. Spain, Portugal, Italy and France, amongst others, all adopted the new calendar before the end of the year. As you can see it took 170 years before Britain decided to adopt the calendar that we still use today.
Lady Day is on 25th March and was, prior to 1752, the first day of the New Year. This meant that, for example, 24th March 1700 was followed by 25th March 1701. This was the day that debts were settled and, in particular, the tax year finished. It was decided that the loss of eleven days in September 1752 would unfairly shorten the tax year so it was moved back to the 5th April which remains to this day as the end of our tax year.

Friday, 11 September 2009

I Don't Understand Polar Bears

I am having problems understanding this article in today's Daily Telegraph.
This graph shows the extent of the sea ice in the Arctic. As you can see it goes up in the winter and down in the summer. This year seems pretty consistent with the previous years this century.
This graph shows the daily mean temperature north of the 80th northern parallel, as a function of the day of year. The blue line is at what we call 0 Celsius. AS you can see there are only about 80 days of the year when the temperature gets above freezing.
This chart shows the status of the populations in 2005 and is the most recent I can find. Of the nineteen sub-populations five are declining, five are stable, two are increasing and there is insufficient data on the remaining seven.
What conclusion would you draw?

I'm Sorry

Dr. Alan Turing has long been a person I admired. Not surprising really given that he became an eminent person in the two disciplines I enjoy, namely mathematics and computing. I read Andrew Hodges biography many years ago, in fact my first cat was called Enigma after the title of that book, Alan Turing: The Enigma of Intelligence*. I have visited Bletchley Park on numerous occasions. In short I am fairly familiar with Dr. Turing's life.
Today I wake up to hear that the Prime Minister has written an article for the Daily Telegraph in which he apologises for the way Dr. Turing was treated. What nonsense is this?
I fail to see how one can say sorry for something that one has not actually had any part in. In fact Mr. Brown makes it worse by saying "we're sorry" as if he is speaking for me. He is not. I might regret the way that this country treated Dr. Turing but how can I possibly apologise for it?
This politically correct diatribe includes the phrase "his treatment was of course utterly unfair". What definition of unfair is Mr. Brown using? Not one that I can make any sense of. He was tried and found guilty of a crime. The fact that we no longer consider his actions to be criminal doesn't mean that he was treated unfairly.
Mr. Brown's apology is misguided and pointless. It is a waste of time to apologise to a man that is dead, where there are no surviving members of the family and the speaker has had no involvement in the act being apologised for. The words that sum up this folly are vacuous, illogical, misguided and a complete and utter load of bollocks waste of time.

* The version available today appears to have a shorter title, Alan Turing: The Enigma.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

A Blanket Analogy

I have not, as you might think, been lazy of late but rather I have been uninspired by what I have read in the media and in other blogs. I suspect that it is no coincidence that this is the silly season. However, I did find the discourse at the 'Watts up with That' website titled 'A simple analogy on climate modeling – looking for the red spot' very interesting, I recommend that you have a read.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The Beginning of a Backlash?

The American Physical Society on November 18, 2007, adopted the following policy:

Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth's climate. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide as well as methane, nitrous oxide and other gases. They are emitted from fossil fuel combustion and a range of industrial and agricultural processes.
The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.
Because the complexity of the climate makes accurate prediction difficult, the APS urges an enhanced effort to understand the effects of human activity on the Earth’s climate, and to provide the technological options for meeting the climate challenge in the near and longer terms. The APS also urges governments, universities, national laboratories and its membership to support policies and actions that will reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.

It is indicative of our times that a learned society, whose founding mission was "to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics", has no qualms with adopting a policy that includes the phrase "The evidence is incontrovertible". Any scientist will tell you that nothing is incontrovertible. A number of people thought that this policy was not acceptable and wrote an open letter to the APS urging the council to revise its policy on climate change, see here.

On the 22 July, 2009, the weekly journal Nature published the following letter from six APS members (one can only see the version in Nature if one subscribes)

Petitioning for a revised statement on climate change
By S. Fred Singer, Hal Lewis, Will Happer, Larry Gould, Roger Cohen & Robert H. Austin
We write in response to your issue discussing “the coming climate crunch”, including the Editorial ‘Time to act‘ (Nature 458, 10771078; 2009). We feel it is alarmist.
We are among more than 50 current and former members of the American Physical Society (APS) who have signed an open letter to the APS Council this month, calling for a reconsideration of its November 2007 policy statement on climate change (see open letter at; APS statement at The letter proposes an alternative statement, which the signatories believe to be a more accurate representation of the current scientific evidence. It requests that an objective scientific process be established, devoid of political or financial agendas, to help prevent subversion of the scientific process and the intolerance towards scientific disagreement that pervades the climate issue.
On 1 May 2009, the APS Council decided to review its current statement via a high-level subcommittee of respected senior scientists. We applaud this decision. It is the first such reappraisal by a major scientific professional society that we are aware of, and we hope it will lead to meaningful change that reflects a more balanced view of climate-change issues

That the society is reviewing the statement is wonderful news.

The Royal Society, an institution that is even more venerable than the APS, is a proponent of climate change which has prompted Rupert Wyndham to write a letter to the society's president, Lord Rees. You can read it here. Unfortunately, I don't think we will see a similar review of the Royal Society's stance.

Monday, 27 July 2009

What's in a Phrase?

You may recall that we started with global warming. Then we had anthropogenic global warming which made it all mankind's fault. This became climate change presumably because the earth had inconveniently stopped showing any warming since 2002. What will it be next? Reading 'Climate and Energy Truths: Our Common Future', a report produced by ecoAmerica, I am led to believe, see the bottom of page 6, that it will be the phrase “deteriorating atmosphere". Look out for it being used in the papers or on television. When you spot it then you will know where it came from.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Data Sharing

One aspect of the Scientific Process is data sharing. Following publication, it is expected that a scientist will share the data so that others may reproduce the work. Reproduction is a crucial step in the process of making a theory acceptable. The Committee on Science Engineering and Public Policy in the United States has the following to say on data sharing:

After publication, scientists expect that data and other research materials will be shared with qualified colleagues upon request. Indeed, a number of federal agencies, journals, and professional societies have established policies requiring the sharing of research materials. Sometimes these materials are too voluminous, unwieldy, or costly to share freely and quickly. But in those fields in which sharing is possible, a scientist who is unwilling to share research materials with qualified colleagues runs the risk of not being trusted or respected. In a profession where so much depends on interpersonal interactions, the professional isolation that can follow a loss of trust can damage a scientist's work.

Consequently, when the Met Office was approached for the raw data which underpins their climate change research it was expected that they would comply. Apart from anything else they are a public body and I, as a taxpayer, am of the opinion that that data is mine. When Steve McIntyre tried to get hold of the information he was told that he couldn't have it. What is curious is that this request was for a copy of the data that had been previously supplied to Peter Webster at Georgia Tech. If it was acceptable to supply him why was it not acceptable to send it to Steve McIntyre? Read the whole story here.

I notice that there is a petition on the Number 10 website that is asking the Prime Minister 'to Force the Climate Research Unit, or other publicly funded organisations to release the source codes used in their computer models', it can be found here.
26/07/2009 08.22

Making a Pig's Ear of it.

Because I have worn glasses since I was five years old I am very familiar with the eye-sight test. One of the aspects of the test, which hasn’t changed over the years, is the section where you wear an empty frame while the optician inserts lenses of different strengths asking questions like "Is this one clearer, or is this one?" I once suggested that I was giving contradictory answers to which the optician agreed. She added that it was her skill and experience that enabled her to identify the correct lens strength from these contradictory responses. Speaking to other opticians since, I have learnt that this is precisely the reason that the correct lens strength cannot be determined by a machine.

Doctors are similar. They listen to your description of your symptoms and then ask searching questions to determine the probable cause of your illness. The difficulty is that different illnesses have this irritating habit of presenting very similar symptoms and it is the Doctor's skill and experience that enables him to determine the underlying cause of your discomfort.

Yesterday, the swine flu hot line was launched. The hot line is manned by people who are not Doctors. They have a series of questions to ask to determine whether you have swine flu. It is an automatic process that cannot possibly replace a Doctor. There is always the possibility that someone with a different illness could be misdiagnosed. It was predicted here and it has already occurred, see here

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Lost in Space

Casting around for a book to read at the weekend I came across a book I must have picked up at a fete but I do not remember buying it. It is called ‘Science, Numbers and I’ and it is written by Isaac Asimov. It is not one of his science fiction books but a collection of, to use Mr. Asimov’s own phrase, ‘speculative essays on the known and the unknown.’
I reached Chapter 5, ‘A Matter of Scale’ where he starts by referring to representations of the Solar system designed to give a feel for the relative distances involved. You know the sort of thing, imagine the sun is a football then the earth will be a pea thirty yards away. Well, he does just that but he starts with the sun as a one foot diameter ball in the middle of Central Park, New York. Then he lists all the planets giving their diameter and distance from the sun so that Earth turns out to be 0.110 inches in diameter and positioned 107 feet away from the sun. All very interesting but I have read all this before. The bit I didn’t know, though, was where the closest star, Proxima Centauri, would be on this scale. Before you read on hazard a guess to how far away this representation of the start will be from our one foot diameter sun. It transpires that it will be 5,500 miles away or, with Central Park as the starting point, in Jerusalem. Isn’t that just amazing?

Free Publlicity

An article in today’s Daily Telegraph catches the eye, ‘Adults forget three things a day, research finds’ it states. Immediately one wonders who sponsored this research in order to get some free publicity. Well, according to the Telegraph it was carried out by Yes, apparently a website, rather than a company, carried out the research thereby handily providing a link as well as the free publicity.
Further down the article there is a list of the top 25 things that we forget including, at number 22, buying a lottery ticket. That was a surprise wasn’t it?
The question is how good can this research be? If we are talking about forgetting could it not be the case that the respondents have forgotten the thing they are most likely to forget?

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

The Tax Man Cometh

I am in the fortunate position of being a landlord. We have just changed the agents that look after the house. As well as signing a contract with the agents they required a lot of extra details. Information like who supplies the gas and electric, which telephone company is used, what is the number of the gas safety certificate was not a surprise. What was a surprise was the requirement that we supply tax reference and national insurance numbers. When we questioned it, we were told that HMRC demands this information from the agents. We can only presume that this is so that they can confirm independently that what I state on my tax return is correct. If they want to go to that trouble they can do the bloomin' tax return for me. Still, it certainly lends weight to this report.

You don't need to worry though because you are not a landlord. Well, perhaps you do according to this.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Monday, 13 July 2009

Quad Erat Demonstrandum

Steve: I see that the Tories don't approve of giving cohabiting couples the same rights as married couples.

Dave: Is that right?

Steve: Yeah, they also want to make divorce harder.

Dave: Well, that's no bad thing.

Steve: You don't think so?

Dave: No, well divorce is painful and expensive, look at Brian.

Steve: He should never have married her in the first place. He was never home, that's why Sarah started to look elsewhere.

Dave: I suppose they should have lived together.

Steve: The amount of time Brian spent on the road you wouldn't have known that they were living together.

There is a short pause while both reflect on Brian's recent history.

Dave: Steve?

Steve: Yes?

Dave: You approve of cohabiting couples getting the same rights as married ones, yeah?

Steve: Yeah.

Dave: Well how do you know when two people are cohabiting, then?

Steve: They live together.

Dave: Pete and Sandy live together but they aren't cohabiting.

Steve: Given the fact that Sandy is a lesbian everybody knows that they aren't cohabiting.

Dave: So the difference between just living together and cohabiting is whether their friends know that they are cohabiting or not.

Steve: I guess so.

Dave: But what about Mark and that Susan, she started off as a flat mate and they ended up getting married. What if they had just moved into the same bedroom in the same flat? When would they have stopped being flat mates and become a couple?

Steve: Well, they started going out last November.

Dave: Should they have got married rights last November, then?

Steve: Well not until they had been going out for a while.

Dave: So, when then.

Steve: You remember at that Karaoke evening at The Bull when Mark announced the fact that they were engaged?

Dave: Yeah.

Steve: Well, people who want to cohabit should go through a similar sort of announcement so that everybody knows what they intend to do.

Dave: You mean announce your intention in front of a group of peers, friends and relatives.

Steve: Yeah.

Dave: But the authorities don't know that you have done that. They will need to record it somewhere so that everybody can tell from which date the rights begin.

Steve: Well, there could be a person who you went to and told and the rights would start from the date that you told this official person.

Dave: So it would make sense to invite your mates and family along to this telling the official so that it became a sort of celebration of your getting together?

Steve: Yes!

Dave: So, let's put that all together. If cohabiting couples want to get the same rights as married couples then they need to invite a few friends, peers and relatives to a special place where they stand up and tell an official person that they intend to spend the rest of their life as a cohabiting couple.

Steve: That's right! It's a good idea isn't it?

Dave: Steve, you plonker, you have just re-invented marriage!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Tennis and Sex

With Andy Murray's quarter final match against Juan Carlos Ferrero due to be played later today it seems an appropriate time to respond to a question posed by Oranjepan in the comments to a blog I wrote exactly two months ago.
The question that was asked was 'Is it right that Men and women play for equal prize money when men play five sets and women three sets?' The reason that I didn't respond at the time was that although I could argue for and against I hadn't got an answer. This has been bothering me for some time but I believe I have come to a conclusion and so I am now prepared to tackle this thorny issue.
My initial response to this question has always been that is clearly inequitable. The men play more sets and, therefore, should get more prize money. One might be swayed be the argument that since the gentlemen's matches are longer on average, then they should get rewarded proportionally more.
However, a moment's reflection shows that this analysis is too simplistic. Consider going to watch a film, the ticket price is not calculated per minute. To go and see Blood: The Last Vampire costs exactly the same at our local cinema as it does to watch Public Enemies despite the fact that the latter lasts for two hours and twenty minutes which is fifty-one minutes longer than the former.
In addition, one only has to consider how people would react to the suggestion that the winner of the gentlemen's singles is a greater champion that the winner of the ladies' singles because he has played more games. Nobody would find that acceptable. They would argue that they are both the winners of their respective competitions and that it is churlish to say that one is greater that the other. One must conclude that if neither is greater than the other then they should both receive the same prize money. I am now convinced that the current state of affairs is as it should be. There is still one un-answered question, though; Given that they are rewarded with the same prize money, is there any reason why women should not play five sets?

Anyone for Tennis?

Just in case you didn't know I thought that you would be interested in how much the tennis players at Wimbledon are paid. As you can see from the following table it all depends on which round in the tournament they are eliminated.

Winner £850,000
Runner-up £425,000
Semi-Finalist Loser £212,500
Quarter-Finalist Loser £106,250
Fourth Round Loser £53,250
Third Round Loser £29,250
Second Round Loser £17,750
First Round Loser £10,750

So it would seem that Mr Murray is guaranteed at least £106,250.

Make that £212,500.

Blowing in the Wind

Last Wednesday 24th June, Lord Hunt, the energy minister, announced in a press release that 'an extra 25GW of offshore wind energy could be accommodated around the UKs shores.' It goes on to day that 'the findings, a result of the Government's Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) will enable the Crown Estate to proceed with the third round of leasing the UKs waters for offshore wind farms.' In other words the Government is encouraging private enterprise to invest in erecting what is widely quoted as 7,000 wind turbines in the sea around Great Britain.
I am not going to get into a debate about climate change here. What I want to consider is how a Government Minister can talk absolute twaddle and nobody bothers to question what has been said. Between today and the 1st January 2020 there are 3,836 days. If we are going to erect 7,000 wind turbines in that time then we need to erect 1.82 turbines on average every day, including Sundays, in order to get there. If we spend a year sorting out the leases this average goes up to over 2 per day. This is clearly impossible. What astounds me is that if I can perform this elementary calculation why hasn't anybody else? Or have I missed something?

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Health Protection

We received a missive from our daughter this morning, not from the school as one might expect, but from the Thames Valley Health Protection Unit which appears to be part of the Health Protection Agency. No, I had never heard of them before either. Anyway, this letter refers to a confirmed case of H1N1 swine flu at my daughter's school and what they intend to do about it. Whilst I have no issue with their approach what did strike me was the slightly odd use of language. For example, the letter informs that they have performed a risk assessment and identified 'a discrete cohort of close contacts'. As far as I can tell the phrase 'discrete cohort' is used by epidemiologists; it certainly isn't part of my everyday language.
Later we learn that these cohorts will be given advice on 'prophylactic antiviral medicine to take as a precautionary/preventative measure'. Quite apart from my dislike of the '/' symbol when the word 'and' or 'or' could just as easily been used, the word prophylactic means preventative thus rendering the sentence tautological.
In the penultimate paragraph we are told that 'anyone with symptoms should self isolate and limit their contact with others.' It is a bit lax on the specifying which symptoms they are referring to but even so 'self isolate' is an awful turn of phrase whereas 'isolate oneself' would have been perfectly acceptable.
In the concluding paragraph, we are reminded that in order to reduce the transmission of all viruses we should use 'good respiratory hand hygiene'. Any suggestions as to what constitutes a 'respiratory hand' is will be gratefully received.
Finally, the letter is signed by a 'Consultant in Health Protection' and no, I have never heard of one of them before either.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Of Cows and Carbon

An absolutely fascinating story here about the Xhosa in Southeast Africa. I heartily recommend getting a cup of tea, sitting comfortably and enjoying a good read.


I have felt apathetic over the past week. There is only so much railing and protesting one can do over the EU. In fact the following, which is taken from a blog by Gerald Warner at the onlne version of the Daily Telegraph, pretty well sums up what I am thinking right now:

I don’t know about you, but I am pretty close to breaking point. What is the maximum dosage of Valium that can safely be
taken? The 10-horse race for the Speaker’s chair caused a tsunami of feverish apathy to sweep over the nation. Like the
rest of the country, I find the outcome is something about which I am passionately indifferent.
Professional comedians will be concerned, however, by the competition posed by so many old lags from the slime-green
benches, while affecting a self-deprecatory mien, giving free range to their narcissism, self regard, ambition and
pomposity. John Bercow, while trying to convey the impression he was not speaking from notes, looked like Barack Obama
operating from a malfunctioning auto-cue. Now that he has won he will be able to stop pretending he is a Conservative –
unlike Dave, who will have to keep on pretending indefinitely.
This earth-shattering contest is being proclaimed (by the scoundrels on the slime-green benches) as the renaissance of
the House of Commons. Let us hope that is as untrue as everything else they tell us. A renascent House of Commons would
be the worst possible news for Britain: a decaying, moribund, marginalised Commons would be infinitely preferable. No
other institution has contributed comparably to the country’s decline.
This chamber was brought out of well-deserved obscurity to rubber-stamp the theft of Church lands by Henry VIII, creating
centuries of poverty-stricken criminality. By 1649 the pygmies had grown big enough to murder the King; in 1688 they
brought in a foreign usurper to rule over Britain; thereafter, enclosures of common land were their chief preoccupation.
The latest generation of MPs has faithfully continued the traditions of rapacious self-interest, money-grubbing at public
expense and arbitrary exercise of unreasonable power established by its predecessors.
The new European parliament, which represents all the worst features of Westminster on a much larger scale, will begin
from this year to take over Westminster’s remaining powers. We should close down the gothic slum on the Thames and try
its denizens for treason worse than that committed by anybody hanged at Tyburn. The present state of Britain suggests the
epitaph of Sir Christopher Wren is also an appropriate panegyric for this dead legislature: si monumentum requiris,
As for the tired hype of the Speaker’s election being promoted by the media, you can hear the public response if you
listen to the pulse of the nation behind the pseudo-excitement: Zzzzz…

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Not-so Smart Meters

I had a water meter installed last year and a colleague at work has just made the same change, thus the subject of metering arose this morning in conversation. I was surprised that the water companies weren’t using some sort of smart meter but are using meters that require somebody to go and read them every six months. My colleague recalled that he had seen an article that promised smart meters for all. After some searching he located it and discovered that it only covered gas and electricity. What I couldn’t get over were the figures. According to the article, presumably the value came from page 32 of this, the cost will be £9,000,000,000. The savings are reckoned to be £100,000,000. That is a payback period of 90 years!

Who in their right mind would think that that was a good idea?

Where do I Sit in the Political Spectrum?

With increasing age one’s political beliefs settle. I know that the ideal situation for me would be one where people and business are left to get on with it and the government was there as a referee to make sure that it was as fair as it can be by creating rules and regulations. The government would not run schools but set the standards which schools should met. The government would not run a health service but would ensure that all could afford health care that met minimum standards set and policed by the government. The government would concern itself with the defence of the country and consider long term problems which the short-termism of capitalism might miss. An example of this would be ensuring the countries long term ability to create electricity, energy security as it is known. You get the idea. People and business can do what they want within limits and with this freedom comes the obligation of a responsibility to make it all work.
So for whom do I vote to foster this desirable, for me, utopia? Well, I have always thought that the Conservative party was the closest I could get but I have been worried by the Blair-lite attitude of David Cameron. I feel that he is peddling a bland centrist approach that was what the country clearly wanted twelve years ago; I am not sure that this is the case now. I am even more sure that what is being offered doesn’t hold the prospect of the sort of world I would like to see. My concerns about David Cameron are confirmed by a piece written by Gerald Warner in today’s Daily Telegraph, which I would heartily recommend reading. In it he concludes:

I know there are many patriotic, Conservative-inclined voters who flinch from such honest appraisal of Cameron. The vital thing is to get rid of Labour; Cameron is better than Brown; the Tories will come round; life would be more liveable under their rule... Sorry, but that kind of self-deception can only lead to disaster. Three months into a Cameron government, with Britain absorbed into Europe, protests ignored, the same PC tyranny, the same impotence in the face of mass immigration, the whole Blair agenda continuing, such comfort-seekers would recognise their mistake - too late.

The decades-old, arrogant mantra of liberal Tory grandees regarding their betrayed voters - "They have nowhere else to go" - no longer obtains. Dave will be responsible for the dissolution of the historic Tory Party.

Whither my vote now?

Sunday, 14 June 2009


We partook of some cup cakes last night and this is part of the box from whence they came. It caused a number of sniggers in our house, I can tell you.
Surely, the people who designed the packaging and the manufacturers must have realised?

Thursday, 11 June 2009


What I don't understand is why air ambulances are paid for by charities whilst police helicopters are paid for by the police. Do you think the police would have a helicopter if they had to rely on a charity to run it?

Brussels's Dictates

The European commission is the part of the executive branch of the EU. Amongst other things it is responsible for proposing new legislation. There is one commissioner from each EU member state though they do not represent that state; in fact they are specifically charged with representing the EU as a whole. Our appointee is The Baroness Ashton of Upholland. No, I had never heard of her before either but reading her potted biography here, it is clear that she is a career politician.
Anyway, as reported in Tuesday's Daily Telegraph,

The Commission aims to create three “authorities” with their own staff, full-time president and independent budget. If there is a dispute between regulators from EU countries over how to proceed, these EU bodies can “settle the matter” by binding mediation. The European Court would have final jurisdiction. The wording would appear to reduce Britain’s Financial Services Authority (FSA) to a subservient arm of the EU apparatus, limited to “daily oversight”.

So, there you have the European Union in a nutshell. A bunch of people you never elected have taken advantage of the recent banking crisis and are going to take control of our banking, insurance and securities business. If you think I am being paranoid then look at the following comments. From a previous Daily Telegraph article:

"This is exactly what I feared would happen," said Ruth Lea, director of UK think-tank Global Vision. "The EU is taking advantage of the crisis to extend its control over the British financial system. It is very threatening because it is almost impossible to repeal anything in the EU, however damaging it proves to be."

Further on it the same article we read:

Antonio Borges, chair of the Hedge Funds Standards Board, said the blizzard of EU proposals had been hijacked by political forces and were "out of control".
"There is little intellectual foundation to what they are doing," he said. "You would have thought that since 80pc of Europe's hedge funds are in Britain, and are already regulated, that the FSA would have a big say [on hedge fund proposals], but the FSA was marginalised. The reality is that a great deal of regulatory power is going to Brussels."

But don't worry because Alistair Darling has saved us. As quoted in yesterday's Guardian

Darling said: "The thing that concerned us, which we could not live with, was a proposal whereby there might be an agreement reached by regulators at a European level that would have had domestic fiscal consequences for domestic governments. In other words, they might have been able to say to a government 'you've got to do something about a bank', therefore that government would have had to ask its taxpayers to contribute."

Which has resulted in …

a key pledge that any decisions made would not affect the fiscal responsibilities of nation states.

To put it simply, we cannot do anything about EU control over our banks, our insurance companies and our hedge funds but we have managed to stop them indirectly dictating our government spending.

Isn't wonderful being part of the EU?

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Facebook Security

I have a Facebook account like many other people. I wasn't aware how slack the security is on it, though. See this report for how Facebook avoid the issue.

Blog List

I should have added it ages ago but it took my son to remind me. Anyway, I have added a link to because I heartily recommend it. My particular favourites are 21, 138 and 571. To see these just add the number to the end of the URL so you get for example. After looking at my recommendations just keep pressing the random button.

BBC and Climate Change

I am not convinced that the climate is changing in a way that will result in catastrophic scenarios that are predicted. This is in part because I know about chaotic systems and I know about computer programmes. What I didn't realise was that the BBC does understand these things too.

The Cost of Smoking

"Smoking disease costs NHS £5bn" has been the headline repeated all over the main-stream media for the past couple of days. The report that came to this conclusion was funded by the British Heart Foundation and led by a Dr Steven Allender. Curiously, all the reports I have read state that Dr Allender is a senior researcher at the University of Oxford and that the BHF funded the report. Both of these statements are true but the one fact that is omitted* is that Dr Allender works for the BHF in the BHF funded Health Promotion Research Group. I am not suggesting anything untoward; I am just fascinated that this arrangement is not made explicit.
Anyway, the point of this diatribe is that it may cost £5bn to treat smoking related diseases but the total revenue from raised from tobacco product sales in 2007 was £9.9bn. Since I believe that people should have the freedom to choose to smoke if they so desire then I think the country comes out of it rather well and the reports of this report are remiss in not mentioning the fact that smokers more than pay for their own treatment. Incidentally, some people believe that if nobody smoked we would all live longer and cost the NHS a lot more than £5bn in treating age related diseases.

Dr Allender has a qualification I have not heard of before, to wit a Bachelor Applied Science (Human Movement) from the University of Ballarat.

* Except here

Monday, 8 June 2009

Off-site on shoring

I work in IT as a programmer. It is a job I love but work is becoming scarce and this is in part due to those very clever Indians. I don't have a problem with work being off-shored, moving production to a place where it can be done cheaply with no loss in quality is an obvious business decision and anybody who finds capitalism acceptable cannot argue with that. However, there is another aspect to off-shoring called on-site off-shoring. To give a parochial example, assume that Acme Business Solutions has a need for a team of programmers. Acme Business Solutions contracts Indian Outsourcing Ltd to supply the programmers. The key element of the contract for this example is that Acme Business Solutions insist that all the work is done on their premises due to the confidential nature of the data the programmers will be exposed to. Consequently, Indian Outsourcing Ltd move a team of Indian programmers to Acme's premises. In order for these programmers to work legally in the UK they are issued with what are known as intra-company visas.
So far, so ordinary; I would be surprised if anybody in the IT sector wasn't aware of this happening. What I wasn't aware of until I heard Radio 4's File on Four (website here, transcript here and listen again here) last night, was that intra-company visas should be used where staff have specific company knowledge or distinct skills which were not available in the UK. According to Keith Sharp, marketing director of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM*), "Government guidelines are very clear that there can be no cost advantage in bringing in an Indian IT professional on a temporary assignment as opposed to a local contractor." In other words the Indian IT worker should be paid the same as a UK based contractor. According to Ann Swain, head of the Association of Professional Staffing Companies, there are "about 35,000 IT professionals coming into the UK frankly in a market that is not short of IT professionals in the incumbent workforce".
All of which leads one to ask the question "If it is not a cost saving then why are companies doing it?"

* An Indian Chamber of Commerce that serves as an interface to the Indian software and BPO industry.

Friday, 5 June 2009


I like words. Amongst my favourites are cadence, tmesis, mellifluous and boustrophedonic.

Whilst discussing words and books with a colleague at work I mentioned the outline of a book which was recommended to me many years ago but whose title I had forgotten. I did recall, though, that it sounded the same as someone chanting the letters l, m, n, o, p. Entering the search string lmnop on Wikipedia returned a page about the very book I was after namely, Ella Minnow Pea. Even better though is the description at the top of the Wikipedia entry which describes the book as "a progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable". What a wonderful sentence.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

For Whom Should I Vote?

I know it is a bit late in the day but if you haven't voted already and you are not sure who to vote for then you might like to try these websites, votematch and euprofiler. Both sites present you with a list of statements to which you indicate how much you agree or disagree. This is followed by a second section where you say how important you consider the various topics that the statements have covered are to you. At the end they indicate which party your opinions are most closely aligned. A bit of fun that might surprise you. It certainly surprised me.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009


Pierre mentioned this. I replied that I thought this was cleverer but in searching for that article I had come across this which mentioned the Leibniz formula. Looking up the Leibniz formula in Wikipedia here led me to discover that it should really be known as the Madhava-Leibniz series and that this is an example of this.
Who would have thought that a chance remark by Pierre would have led me to discover Stigler's law?

A Horse's Tale

I knew most of this story already but I have to admit it still made me laugh out loud.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Guinness is good for you....

Guinness has 126 calories per bottle... less calories than a 16oz. glass of milk.

Is a natural semi-laxative, due to the live yeast.

Guinness is thought to be a natural aphrodisiac.

Guinness is very high in Iron, and in Ireland has been given to blood donors, post-operative stomach, and intestinal patients.

The hops used in Guinness prevent excessive calcium build-up, as in kidney stones.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Mash

If you haven't seen it and are not offended by sharp satire and naughty words, check out the daily mash:

It has brightened up many a drab working lunch in my otherwise dull existence!

I am above average

Seeing as this is Paul's blog, I guess I should start with a post about maths. That will make the old chap happy, and also make my head hurt a little. Here goes....
If I ask you what the likelihood is that the next person who speaks to you today has an above average number of legs, I imagine you may say something along the lines of "not bloody likely". However, you would be WRONG. The vast majority of us have an above average number of legs.
How so I hear you say?
Well - lets say for simplicity's sake that a desert island has 500 inhabitants. 499 of these people have 2 legs. However, a retired pirate sporting a peg leg also lives there. This makes a total of 999 legs on our fictional island.
So the average number of legs is 999/500 (legs/people) = 1.99 legs

There you have it me hearties. The moral of the story: always look at the figures! If you want a better explanation, check out asymmetric distributions:

Are you bored yet?

The Bradley Goodwin Super Amazing Guest Blog

Hello all,
So - Paul is off sunning himself or something similar that involves not being at work. Hence, I have been invited to guest blog on grasp the mettle for the rest of the week....
Well, I don't really know what I will blog about; if it will be rubbish, or if anyone will actually read it or care. So I apologise if all my posts are actually just a stream of my strange consciousness....but hey rubbish in, rubbish out as they say.
A little about me, for those who haven't had the dubious pleasure of making my acquaintance. I'm a 27 year old guy who works in the same office as Paul. My favourite things are Guinness, Haribo sweets and penguins. I also like marking things out of 10, foreign films and the band Bloc Party. I dislike spiders, mushrooms and mullets.
Introduction over, I'll blog something later whilst I'm supposed to be doing work!x

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Mathematical Aspirations

The government wants us to value science because "… it creates thousands of jobs that keep Britain at the leading edge."* To help to promote the importance of science it has created a website. It uses some examples of how science can help us do things. Which example do they use to illustrate how mathematics "is the key to our prosperity"? This one.

* Clearly, not at the leading edge of grammar.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

So Gordon Brown believes "that the keystone of any reform must be to switch from self-regulation to independent external regulation". I believe that this would be a monumental folly. What he is saying is that the very people who are charged with running our country are not responsible enough to devise a remuneration system that is perceived to be equitable and fair. The government cannot and should not create a body that is independent and whose remit is to apply rules back to parliament. This is creating an entity that is above parliament. Who will it answer to? It clearly cannot answer to parliament because it is independent.
This proposal also removes accountability. I will have no say on who serves on this independent body whereas I do have a say (too little and too infrequently but that is another story) on who serves in parliament.
The allowances saga is but a symptom of the malaise that has infected parliament for the past forty years. A self-induced illness caused by handing power to the EU which has made its existence increasingly irrelevant. Creating an independent body to oversee MPs remuneration would be yet another step along the way to complete loss of sovereignty of government.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

I Feel Dirty

It is being reported in today's Daily Telegraph that taking a shower during the day helps employees become more productive. The report states that there was a 42% increase in productivity and a 33% increase in creativity. Unfortunately, the original report, by a PR firm called Lucre, does not appear to be on the Internet so one can only speculate on how one measures an improvement in creativity. I wouldn't know where to begin. However, when it comes to productivity I expect that a measure would be along the lines of produced so many Xs in Y hours, the change in the value of X giving a value of the change in productivity. The problem is that the four businesses involved in the study are not easy ones in which to measure productivity.
Three of them, an advertising agency in Leeds called Horne, a company of designers called 3s in London and a company of lingerie designers called Simone Perele in Surrey all suffer from the problem of what product is it that one might one measure?
The fourth place is a restaurant called The Chancery in London. I suppose that the number of meals produced per hour or the average time taken to produce a meal would be a good start. Great care would have to be taken that all other factors such as the number of customers, the type of meal ordered and how many people were working in the kitchen were taken into account.
So, without further information, I feel that the above statistics are dubious to say the least. This is exacerbated by the later statement that "Employees generally felt that they had done a better job during the showering phase, with a 16 per cent increase". A 16% increase in what?
Thus, one concludes, that this is all a PR exercise but PR for whom? All is revealed in the last line of the report which states "The survey was conducted by Lucre for their client Mira Showers". Nuff said.

Mervyn King

Mervyn King is the governor of the Bank of England which makes him a civil servant. He is therefore on a final salary pension scheme. His current salary is £297,920. Having worked at the bank for twenty years he is eligible for a pension equivalent to two-thirds of his annual salary which I calculate as £198,613 but is being reported as £198,200. To support a pension of this size you need a large pot of money so it really should come as no surprise that the governor's pot is a massive £5,356,500. That is the amount of money you and I have paid to be put on one side so that this one civil servant can have a retirement where he receives from his pension in one day what a man on a median salary earns in a week.

Monday, 18 May 2009

A Sign of the Times

I am immensely grateful to the people who look after the building that I work in, for the signs that they put up. There have been a number of times when I have set off to spread rubbish around the toilet and generally make a mess. Every time I have been brought up short by the sign on the door that reminds me to Please keep this toilet clean and tidy.
Today I notice that they have gone further by erecting notices that tell me how to wash my hands and how to sneeze. I am not sure how I managed to do these things correctly in the past without being reminded. My only worry now is that I won't know what to do if I feel a sneeze coming on and I am not near the gents toilet.

Euro Quiz Answers

1) How many Members of the European Parliament (MEP) will represent the UK after these elections?
There will be 72 MEPs representing the United Kingdom. This is a reduction from the 78 we currently have.

2) What constituency are you in?
A difficult question for me to answer since I do not know where you are but the constituencies in the UK are:
South East England
South West England
West Midlands
North West England
North East England
Yorkshire and the Humber
East Midlands
East of England
Northern Ireland

3) How many MEP are elected to represent that constituency?

ConstituencySeatsPop.per Seat
South East England108m800k
South West England6*4.9m817k
West Midlands6*5.2m867k
North West England8*6.7m838k
North East England32.5m833k
Yorkshire and the Humber65.1m850k
East Midlands5*4.1m820k
East of England75.4m771k
Northern Ireland31.7m567k

* One seat less than in 2004.

Compare this with the table at Wikipedia

4) How many votes do you have?
If you are eligible to vote then you will be able to cast one vote.

5) What will you see listed on the ballot paper?
You will see the names of the parties that are fielding candidates. Unlike national and local elections you will not see the names of the candidates.

6) How do they determine who will represent you when all the votes have been counted?
The system is known as the d'Hondt method, d'Hondt being the surname of the Belgian mathematician who devised the technique. The best way to explain the method is to work through an example. Don't be put off it is really quite simple.

Click on image for larger version.

Nothing New Under the Sun

I have seen it quoted a number of times recently in various blogs, see here, here, here and here. I was thinking of using it myself but I have been trumped by no less an organ than The Sun. It is of course Oliver Cromwell's speech to the rump parliament which goes thus:

It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter'd your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

Ye sordid prostitutes, have you not defil'd this sacred place, and turn'd the Lord's temple into a den of thieves by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress'd; your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse the Augean Stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings, and which by God's help and the strength He has given me, I now come to do.

I command ye, therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. You have sat here too long for the good you do. In the name of God, go!

Apposite, definitely but do we really need another Oliver Cromwell?

Friday, 15 May 2009


There are European elections on June 4th. I wonder how well you will get on in this Euro-quiz?
1) How many Members of the European Parliament (MEP) will represent the UK after these elections?
2) What constituency are you in?
3) How many MEP are elected to represent that constituency?
4) How many votes do you have?
5) What will you see listed on the ballot paper?
6) How do they determine who will represent you when all the votes have been counted?

I look forward to seeing your answers.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Give and Take

The current rates for the national minimum wage are listed on the HMRC website as follows:

· £5.73 per hour for workers aged 22 years and older
· A development rate of £4.77 per hour for workers aged 18-21 inclusive
· £3.53 per hour for all workers under the age of 18, who are no longer of compulsory school age

These will go up in October 2009 to the following values:

· £5.80 an hour for workers aged 22 and over
· £4.83 an hour for workers aged 18 to 21
· £3.57 an hour for workers aged 16 to 17

Now that is all well and good isn't it? This modest increase of 4p, 6p or 7p per hour depending on your age shouldn't hurt anybody. That is what I thought until I read the Low Pay Commission Report 2009 on the national minimum wage which, at point 8.97, states "We estimate that in total the Government will gain around £100 million from the 2009 minimum wage upratings". Table 8.4 on the next page lists the estimated exchequer yield and savings as follows:

Income tax £38,000,000
National Insurance £20,000,000
Working tax credit £22,000,000
Child tax credit £6,000,000
Income support £3,000,000
Housing support £3,000,000
Council tax benefits £9,000,000

Quite apart from the fact that these figures add up to the nice round figure of £100,000,000 I think it shows quite nicely why the government brought in the national minimum wage in the first place. After all, every little helps.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

My Mother

My Mother was in hospital earlier this year having suffered what was initially thought to be a heart attack. Naturally, I dashed up to see her the moment I knew. It turned out that she hadn't had a heart attack and she was discharged a couple of days later. Whilst I was there I had little interaction with the nurses but those that I saw appeared to be smiling and coping. I am glad in someways that I hadn't read Militant Medical Nurse's blog, in particular her latest missive, Militant Medical Nurse: Ginny did not get her pain medication on time. Not good. I urge you to read it and encourage others to read it as well.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Some are More Equal Than Others.

Harriet Harman, the Equalities Minister, has been talking about the Equalities Bill. In particular she has been talking about the gender pay gap. In my ignorance I thought the gender pay gap referred to the difference between what a woman was paid for a job and what a man is paid for doing the same job. It seems I am wrong. This is what the Office for National Statistics has to say "The gender pay gap refers to the difference between the hourly earnings of men and women. It is determined by calculating women's overall average pay as a percentage of men's." It is that second sentence that is new to me. It is a comparison of average pay.
Let us assume that there is a computer software department that consists of
2 project leaders, one male and one female both earning £65,000;10 developers, 8 male and 2 female all earning £50,000 and2 ladies in charge of configuration management cum software building who earn £30,000. In this department the mean male wage is £51,666.66 whilst the female average is £45,000. The median wages are the same at £50,000. If a junior programmer was taken on at a wage of £25,000 the females' average would reduce to £41,666.66 and the median to £40,000.
With the median value in particular you can see that the lower value occurs because there are more women in the lower paid jobs. Is this what you thought of when you heard of the gender pay gap? Me neither.
Is it wrong that there are more women in the lower paid jobs than men or that there are more men than women in higher paid jobs? Do we need legislation to correct it? I don't know at the moment so I will go away and ponder it. Do let me know what you think.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

A Pig of a Lot of Leaflets

According to the BBC, 'Leaflets about the swine flu outbreak and how to prevent its spread are to be delivered to every UK household.' I am amazed that we apparently already know how to prevent its spread but leaving that aside, how much is this going to cost? Has anybody done a cost –benefit analysis?


It transpires that one car in seven sold in the UK is built in the UK. This means that the Government's £1,000 per car subsidy is effectively a £7,000 per UK car subsidy.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

All Round Good Egg

I asked for and received the book Bad Science by Ben Goldacre for Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I would recommend it for anyone who receives the majority of their scientific information through the main-stream media rather than having the luxury of being able to study the original scientific papers. I also visit his website which is normally updated on a Saturday with a copy of his column from Saturday’s copy of the Guardian. Unusually, his website has been updated today, Thursday and it contains a little bonus, to wit the ‘missing chapter’ from the book. So, take a look, read the chapter then go out and beg, borrow or steal a copy of the book.

P.S. I wish I was as good as him at coming up with clever titles.


It would seem that I am not the first to notice the problem with wind turbines. To be honest, I knew that I wasn't but I was surprised to come across Jonathan Leake's article from the Sunday Times a week last Sunday. For those that don't know Mr. Leake is the Environment Editor and I have gained the impression, possibly unfairly, that he is an advocate of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). This common-sense article means that I will have to look more closely at his articles in future.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Green Around the Gills

Doesn’t your heart sink when faced with headlines such as “Gordon Brown plans an environmentally friendly Budget” and “PM heralds 'green economy' Budget”? You just know that this will mean taxing everything you already consume to meet the spurious, twin objectives of making us greener and subsidising the ‘green’ economy, whatever that is. Is it my cynicism or is it years of experience that lead me to believe that this budget will leave me worse off? How come in times of recession the tax take doesn’t reduce? Why, in these difficult times, do I have to reduce my expenditure but the government doesn’t?
We are then faced with the nonsensical statement that “Electric cars are to be introduce[sic] en masse across Britain”. Since when have electrical cars been green? The electricity has to be produced somewhere. If you think that fluffy ideas like windmills will solve the problem then you don’t understand the weather or economics. Windmills don’t turn when it is not windy. As an example of this, on January 1st 2009 there was not enough wind anywhere in the whole of the UK to turn a windmill. Where is the electrical power going to come from on a day like that? The article in the Telegraph goes on to say that “the Government [is] relaxing planning rules to allow the building of more wind farms to ensure Britain hits its target to generate 15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020”. From the latest statistics I can find (Section 7.17 of the Digest of UK Energy Statistics) in 2007 we produce 4.98% of our energy requirements from renewable sources of which 27% is produced by the wind which means that the wind currently produces 1.34% of energy requirements. If wind is to be used to “ensure Britain hits its target” then it will have to produce 10.02% or a further 8.68%, of our energy requirements. The 1.34% is produced by 2,033 turbines. Even if all the new turbines have twice the capacity then we would need 6,127 new turbines. That is a rate of 1.56 turbines to be built every day between now and 1st January 2020. Just supposing that the erection of wind turbines could be achieved at that rate there is a world-wide shortage of wind turbines. It is just not going to happen is it?

Tuesday, 7 April 2009


I am overweight. My BMI is just over 30 which means I am obese. I have given up alcohol and I swim for five hours a week but, even so, I have barely lost 2 kilograms since the beginning of the year. Notwithstanding all that I found myself seething when I read that ‘Everyone aged between 40 and 74 will be called in to their GP for a 'fat test' and prescribed weight management and exercise if they are found to be overweight, under a new Government drive on obesity.’ If I want help from my GP then I will go and ask him for it.

My faith in Doctors was restored when I read the latest epistle from NHS Blog Doctor. I agree totally when he says that ‘there is no such thing as “health food”.’ I read the whole article, agreeing with every point he makes, including the one where he says “They all over-eat”. I cannot escape that fact that that statement is referring to me.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

That's Dedication

How dedicated are you about your work? I suspect that you are not as dedicated as Laura from Shakeaway in Reading. A colleague, who is a recent convert to the delights of Shakeaway, directed me to their website where I learnt that Laura, the multi-lingual manager of the shop, is so dedicated that she has a tattoo of a milk-shake on her ankle.
Now, where could I fit a discreet tattoo of a keyboard?

Any Publicity ...

Martin Salter, incumbent Labour MP for Reading West, and Anneliese Dodds, the prospective Labour Parliamentary candidate for Reading East, are pictured in the online version of the Reading Evening Post holding a sign and looking glum. This photograph accompanies a story titled ‘Our town is not pig ugly – it’s beautiful’ which is in response to this article by Tom Dyckhoff printed in the Guardian last month. Ms Dodds complains: "It seems to me from this article that the journalist concerned has never visited Reading. Far from being ‘pig ugly’, Reading is full of heritage areas, harbours a beautiful riverside and canalside [sic], and is situated right in the middle of some of the most stunning countryside in England."
I am prompted to respond with: "It seems to me from this article that the prospective politician concerned has never read 'Let's move to... Reading'." The original article is an honest, even a complimentary, resume of Reading and it's attractions. Given the time lapse between the two articles one can only presume that this is just a cynical attempt by the two Labour party members to gain some publicity. Nothing new there, then.
What confuses me most is the message that the photograph imparts. It shows two people who do not look at all happy about the fact that they are in Reading holding a sign which says 'ONE TRIP to READING'. Every time I look at that I find myself finishing that sentence with the words 'and you'll never come back!'

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Fishermen's Tale

It is not often one gets to read about Reading in a national newspaper unless one is reading the sports section. So it was with surprise that I came across this article in The Daily Telegraph about three fishermen at Southlake in Woodley. However, this story is not the hoary old fisherman’s tale of the one that got away but one of suspected terrorism, arrests and confiscation. The story in short is that three fishermen were arrested during the evening of Friday 20th March under the Air Navigation Order 2005; they were not charged but had their green light laser pens confiscated. I urge you to read the Telegraph article or the Reading Evening Post version for the full story.

My problem is that the story generates more questions than it answers. We start with an image of three people fishing in the gloom of a Friday evening when a local police officer accompanied by two Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) arrived, told them about people shining lasers into the cockpits of aircraft, took the names of the three fishermen and then confiscated the laser pens. Where did these police come from? It cannot be that they were on a patrol because the whole raison d’ĂȘtre of PCSOs is that they replace the requirement for a policeman to be on the beat. One can only conclude that the three members of the police force were sent there but sent by whom?

Then there is the follow-up; the two accounts differ they do agree that a number of police officers arrived some time later and arrested the three fishermen. That these police officers were called be in by the first three is clear to me but why they were called is not. PCSOs do not have the power of arrest but a police office does. One can only presume that they considered the three fishermen so dangerous that a larger number of bodies were required to effect the arrests. One of the three fishermen was released almost immediately, the other two were held overnight but were then released without charge. If there was no charge then why were the laser pens confiscated? Do the police have powers to remove items at will despite there being no evidence that these items were being used in an illegal fashion?

Finally, we have the statement from a ‘spokesman for the Thames Valley Police’; “Three men were arrested in Woodley on March 7 on suspicion of endangering an aircraft and were later released without charge.” I have a friend who is a pilot and he tells me that planes landing at Heathrow are at about 3,500 feet (1,066 metres) above the ground as they turn over Reading prior to their final approach. I have a problem believing that a £20 laser pen can keep the beam of light coherent over a distance of two-thirds of a mile. However, let us assume that it can, we are then asked to believe that a hand-held beam of light can be trained accurately on a target moving at around 200 mph. Even if we accept this we then have to consider how this beam of light is to enter the cockpit of the aircraft. You will recall that the cockpit is normally sited on the top of the fuselage with the windows sited in such a way that the ground immediately below an aircraft cannot be seen. Taking all this into consideration I do not see how these gentlemen, from their position at the side of a lake surrounded by trees could possibly shine a beam of laser light into the cockpit of an aeroplane.

All in all, this all seems a bit fishy (pun intended) to me. It is yet another example of how the police are drifting away from the force they were set up to be and losing public support as a consequence. This lack of support is best demonstrated by a cynical friend of mine who commented ‘I bet it was a police helicopter that flew low and slow overhead so they shone their lasers at it. I would have done the same!’

Today, 25th March

Today is the day I know as Lady Day. I am reliably informed that this is the traditional name of the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin. Lady Day is one of the four quarter days, the other days being Midsummer Day, June 24th; Michaelmas Day, September 29th and Christmas Day, December 25th. You will note that these days all fall close to either a solstice or an equinox.
Lady Day, coming as it does at the beginning of the farming year, was the traditional day for farm workers to take up new employment. Thomas Hardy reflects this in Tess of the D’Urbevilles. This significance remains to this day. If you had heard the business section of the Today programme at 6.16 am this morning then you would have heard a discussion regarding the issue some businesses have with the fact that three months rent becomes due today. It goes further than that. When we changed the calendar from Gregorian calendar to Julian in 1752, it was necessary to lose 11 days. However, it was decided that the tax year would run to 365 days, thus the end date of March 25th, Lady Day was moved eleven days later to April 5th where it remains to this day.
Finally, Lady Day used to be the first day of the year; dates would be recorded, for example, as 24th March 1657 with the following day being 25th March 1658. I am indebted to Wikipedia for furnishing the reason for this; ‘The logic of using Lady Day as the start of the year is that it reckons years A.D. from the moment of the Annunciation, which is considered to take place at the moment of the conception of Jesus at the Annunciation rather than at the moment of his birth at Christmas.’ This practice stopped and January 1st was taken as the first day of the New Year, in the manner of the Romans, when the Julian calendar was adopted in 1752.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Ada Lovelace Day

It transpires that today is Ada Lovelace Day. As a programmer I am well aware of Ada’s pioneering work in computing. Following some research I now also know that she was born on 10th December 1815 and she died on 27th November 1852. So why is today, 24th March, Ada Lovelace day?


I was only half listening to the Today programme’s business report at 6.15 a.m. this morning so I didn’t catch the name of the lady that the reporter was talking to. I think she worked for a firm that advised on investments. Even if I had millions to invest, which I do not, I would not waste any time seeking out this ladies company. It was a throw-away comment that she made at the beginning of the interview which annoyed me, it was something along the lines of ‘trillions, whatever they are.’ This is so exasperating, how can one be so ignorant?
A trillion* is 1 followed by twelve zeroes it looks like this 1,000,000,000,000. It could be referred to as 1 million million. It is an enormous number. If you shared it fairly amongst every one of the 17.1 million families in the UK they would each have over £58,000. Assuming that each family lives in an average priced home, which they don’t, and each family has a 100% mortgage, which they don’t, then this money would pay-off close to 40% of the debt.
Actually, the average household debt in the UK is approximately £59,730 (including mortgages), thus this much money would virtually clear that debt at a stroke.

* This is the American version. My feelings on the demise of the superior British system will be the subject of another blog.

Resigning the Whip

When a member of a political party resigns the whip this is often followed by a call for a by-election. There then ensues a debate, at least there is one amongst those that concern themselves with these matters, as to whether a politician is there to represent the constituency in Parliament in which case there is no need for a by-election or the MP is representing the party in which case there is a need for a by-election. In Christopher Beazley’s case the debate is slightly different.
Christopher Beazley is the Conservative MEP for the East of England and he has just resigned the whip apparently because Mr. Cameron has announced that the Conservatives will leave the European People’s Party grouping in the European Parliament. The difference here is due to the method of election that we are subjected to for European elections. If you don’t know then it is all explained at here at, where it pithily states that the voting system is ‘Proportional representation – closed list.’ Later, AboutMyVote, an Electoral Comission website, explains that to vote one ‘put[s] an X (a cross) next to the party … that you wish to vote for.’ Under the title ‘Who is Elected?’ it states that ‘The first seat that a party wins goes to the first person on its list, the second seat to the second person, and so on.’ So, you vote for a party, not an individual. With a closed list system you do not know, when you are voting, who the person is who will get a seat as a consequence of your vote.
Mr. Beazley has resigned the party whip. This means that he is no longer in the party that the people voted for. Surely, logic dictates that this man should be ejected from the European Parliament and a by-election should be held?

Monday, 23 March 2009

Think for Yourself

I was chatting to the receptionist this morning and a chance remark by her brought together some thoughts I had been mulling over triggered by two disparate articles that I had encountered over the weekend. The first article was a report on the radio about hung juries increasing, a written report is available online here. It transpires that there were 116 hung juries in 2008 compared with 52 in 2006. The increase, large though it is, means that in 2008 just 0.7% of all cases that came to court ended in a hung jury. What is more telling is one of the reasons suggested for the change which I will come to shortly.
The other article was in this morning’s Daily Telegraph. It refers to a part of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act that was passed in May 2008 and which comes into force sometime this year (if anyone could enlighten me on when, I would be interested in knowing). The part in question makes it an offence to incite hatred base on sexual orientation. I am not going to debate the pros and cons of this legislation (Rod Liddle does it better than I could here) but I do think that it is one of those abysmal pieces of legislation that tell us how to think.
The comment that the receptionist made was to follow up the use of the phrase ‘half-caste’ with the apology of ‘Oh, we are not supposed to use that phrase now are we? I don’t know what we are supposed to say instead.’ You will notice that she twice referred to ‘what we are supposed to say’. I suspect that this sort of comment is not new to you and I admit to having used it myself but it doesn’t say a lot about freedom of speech does it?
One of the reasons given for the increase in hung juries was; ‘I do think that we live in an era when people are much more nervous about being judgmental.’ Doesn’t that tie in with a society that is told how to think? Isn’t this an example of how, when faced with a situation that requires a decision, that we, as a population, are finding it increasingly difficult to come up with an answer? Are we not being taken down a road that increasingly despises individual differences?

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Punctuation is Important

My son, Andrew, told me that there is a sign at his school, an all-boys school, that states:

No boys are allowed to queue in this corridor.

One of the boys has added a comma and an underline with the result that is now states:

No, boys are allowed to queue in this corridor.

Isn’t that just the perfect example of why punctuation is important?

The Catlin Arctic Survey

Maybe you have read about this; an expedition being undertaken by three people to measure the thickness of the ice around the North Pole. To do this they will have to walk 2,000km (1,200 miles) from Point Barrow, Alaska, to the geographic North Pole; a journey that will take approximately 100 days. The three people are Ann Daniels, a member of the first all-women teams to trek to both the North and South Poles; Pen Hadow, the first explorer to trek solo and unsupported from Canada to the North Pole and Martin Hartley, a specialist polar photographer. They started on February 28th and details of their progress can be found on the BBC website, here.
What I am confused about is why in all the reports that I have read it says something to the effect that they are doing this in order to discover how quickly the sea-ice is melting and how long it might take for the ocean to become ice-free in summers. Since nobody has done this before how can they discover how quickly the sea-ice is melting? Surely all they can do is determine a baseline for future comparison. However, I am then confused because I know that the ice at the North Pole is floating and it moves. So when somebody in a few years time measures the thickness of the ice at 81°55’N, 129°52’W will they be able to compare their measurement of the thickness of the ice at that point with the one taken on this expedition and be able to come up with a meaningful conclusion?