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?

Tax Avoidance

This is a phrase that we are going to hear more of and every time I hear it is going to rankle. It is always used in a pejorative way, insinuating that the person or business is cheating. Yet Lord Tomlin as long ago as 1936 said in the UK House of Lords case IRC V Duke of Westminster (1936) in TC 490, (1936) AC I:

“Every man is entitled if he can put to order his affairs so as that the tax attaching under the appropriate Acts is less than it otherwise would be. If he succeeds in ordering them so as to secure this result, then, however unappreciative the Commissioner of Internal Revenue or his fellow tax payers may be of his ingenuity he cannot be compelled to pay an increased tax.”

In other words legal tax avoidance might seem unfair but it is still legal. So you can begin to imagine my surprise when I hear Mr. Cable, the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, spouting forth on the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning where he stated that it was "incongruous" and "offensive" that banks that rely on state support should avoid paying tax. I would suggest that far from being offensive this is in fact the sign of a well run bank. I would go further and propose that Mr. Cable’s comment is the one that is incongruous. Why would I want to see the government plough millions of pounds of tax-payers’ money into a bank only to see a percentage of it come back to the government as part of a tax bill. That would seem to be completely pointless.

Mr Cable's comments can be seen here.

Friday, 6 March 2009

CynicusEconomicus: The Bank of England - The Printing Presses Start Turning

Since writing the previous blog I have read the latest offering from CynicusEconomicus: The Bank of England - The Printing Presses Start Turning. This, I would suggest, should be required reading for every tax payer in this country.

The fact that the main stream media are apparently not capable of reporting the situation adequately means that there cannot be an informed debate over the BoE latest policy.

Quantitative Easing

Well, last December I did not know what this strange phrase meant but it was all explained in far too graphic detail by Cynicus Economics. The phrase is now beginning to enter common parlance and becoming a phrase to use when describing topics other than banking, see the fifteenth paragraph in this comment piece. My problem is that I didn't like the prospect of quantitative easing last December and I m no more enamoured with it today. Daniel Hannan agrees with me and I am worried.

Thursday, 5 March 2009


I have picked this story up from the excellent EU Referendum website and I thought I would pass on the bare bones of the story. It starts with a question during Prime Minister's question time where Ms Harman was deputising for Mr. Brown:

Q3. [260226] Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): Will the deputy Prime Minister confirm that the real reason for part-privatising Royal Mail stems directly from European Union postal legislation, which forced Royal Mail to divest itself of its most profitable business, thereby handingit over lock, stock and barrel to European competitors? What sense is there in that?

Ms Harman: The real reason, and the basis on which we are bringing forward the Postal Services Bill, is the analysis in the Hooper report, which we commissioned as long ago as December 2007. It made it clear that we need to take action to put Royal Mail, which, as the Prime Minister has said, is part of the fabric of our society, on a firm footing for the future. That means that we have to ensure that the pension liabilities are met. We have to ensure that the unfair regulation is tackled. We have to ensure that there is legislative underpinning of universal postal services, and also that we get into the organisation—so that, as well as meeting its pension liabilities, it can also modernise—considerable public capital investment but also private capital investment. When we bring forward that Bill to support the future of Royal Mail, I hope that the hon. Lady and all other hon. Members will support it.

If one looks at the Hooper report then we find that the reason we need to 'put Royal Mail ... on a firm footing for the future' is stated in Box 12 on page 81 where it says 'European directives require that all European postal markets must be fully open to competition by 2012.'
So why couldn't Ms Harman say so? Now you know why those back-benchers who are against this bill will quietly disappear when it comes to the vote. They, like you and me, have no choice in the matter.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Square Root Day

I have been reminded that today is one of those days when you can do mathematics with the date. In this particular instance the day and the month are the same and when multiplied together they make the year. Well, only if we consider the last two digits of the year. To be specific if we write today's date as 03/03/09 then we can see that 3 x 3 = 9. There are only nine dates that exhibit this property each century so enjoy square root day while it lasts, it's another seven years until the next one.

Monday, 2 March 2009

I have been spotted

Well, someone other than the friends that I have badgered into looking at my blog has visited. This is the strangely named Oranjepan who runs the Reading List blog. He has invited me to answer his questionnaire which I have duly done and you can see the results at the bottom of this page.

Science in the Media

Do you receive the Sunday Times? I do. In yesterday's edition the magazine contained a large piece titled "What turns women on" accompanied by a number of pictures of naked women (not in the online version) oddly adorned with words such as desire and what women want. Being a fumbling, ignorant male and desiring elucidation this was one of the articles that I had noted for reading some time later this week.
Quite separately, I subscribe to tweets from such luminaries as Stephen Fry, Maggie Philbin and Ben Goldacre. Last night I received a tweet from Ben Goldacre who is the author of an excellent book titled 'Bad Science' and writer of an equally excellent blog by the same name. The tweet pointed me to this blog. I don't think I will bother reading the Sunday Times article now. However, I do think I might read Dr Petra Boynton's blog in future.