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 http://www.xkcd.com/ 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 http://www.xkcd.com/21 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.