Sunday, December 11, 2016

2 years

2 years is a long time to be out of the blogging world.  No real excuses other than the fact that I have been terribly busy and a lot has gone on.

I have no intention of catching up today.  Maybe I will fill in the gaps when I feel ready to write about it.  But I have made one recent change which has been on my mind for years.  Anyone who reads my blog (which is very few) will note that I am very into my philosophy and have written about it for some time.  So what is my ground breaking news?  Simply that I have finally decided to become a Vegetarian.  Wow.  There you go, said it.

So what's the big deal?  Well, the truth is that I have pondered this for years and years.  I am a lover of animals and I know the reality that lies behind the scenes when it comes to animal care when they are alive and a fair idea of what it is like at the end of their short lives.  That is not to say that all animals are mistreated, I am sure many are well treated during their lives.  But I know deep down that however humane the dispatch process is, it cannot be good even when done well.  But perhaps this is the wrong debate.  This is a matter of belief and not fact.  My issue is that I have opted all these years to go against what I thought I knew and believed and ate meat.  So this is no revelation for me, no new event has occurred, no new piece of information has come to light and no pressure has been applied from anywhere.  This is simply acting on something I already believed in.

So, the next question I suspect that needs to be addressed is one of the standard ones.  'But are you a Veggie or a Vegan?'  For now, I am a Veggie.  I will not be eating meat nor fish.  And yes, I know, animal products will be consumed, worn etc etc.  I know.  Some products are tested on animals.  I get it, I really do.  But I think it is a fallacy that one has to be all or nothing,  If I take the argument that the dye used in my clothing was tested on animals so therefore I am a hypocrite for just not eating meat as other things in my existence cause animal suffering then I should what?  Accept this argument and continue to eat meat?  That would be an absurd position. 

It is hard to find that line, it really is.  I have shifted mine and now I do not eat flesh of animals.  But the Vegan may argue no animal products.  This is of course fine, but I suspect hard work.  And indeed, even that line, is just that, a line.  It is not the end.   Every Vegan may not consume or use anything other than products free from animals.  So no eggs, no milk, no wine with fish bits used to clear it and so on.  But I have no doubt that while direct impacts are avoided, the indirect ones are not.  They companies who products they do use are probably employing people who are not Vegans thus helping to employ people to spend that money on animal products.  Its impossible to step out of the world completely, so all you can do is try and draw a line.

I look at it like this.  Animals are bred, grown and slaughtered for a variety of reasons.  The main one being meat.  So that is the target to start with.  Cut out eating flesh and it makes a difference.  Who to?  I have to accept, mostly me.  The amount of cows that will suddenly survive that would not otherwise is nil.  I simply do not consume enough meat.  However, I am probably not alone in my change and therefore, whilst I am not part of a movement, I suspect the numbers will grow and my change will add to that.

I do not have time to work out a product range that has zero current or historic impact on animal suffering and I am not about to become Buddhist.  I will not get to a 0 suffering foot print just as I will not get to a zero carbon footprint.   I will not get to a zero waste position either.  I refuse to shit in a hole period.  But I do now not eat meat or fish, I do run a much smaller car than I used to (tiny to be honest), I run low energy lights, I do not run water when I clean my teeth and I recycle a lot.

I will not be existing on the planet with no impact.  But I can look at my impact and try and take out the worst excesses.  This change in itself is positive.  I will not be preaching on any of these things, they are personal and to do with how I want to live my life.  If you want to be a meat eating, water wasting, gas guzzling person then fine.  We live in a free world and everyone has to make their own decisions.

I've made mine.  And I am happy with it.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Einstein was wrong

Einsteins theories have been robust and well proven over time.  The man's insight into how the universe works was incredible.   But breaking experimental evidence has now shown that some of his theories may be wrong.

Yesterday around 18:00 the trains at the station were suffering from signal failures a the station.  No real explanation was given but a hint was provided in the form of the announcement that trains today (the next morning) would be impacted due to the hot weather.  Fair enough.

Last night there was an incredible storm.  Thunder and lightning.  This morning came the announcement that there are signalling issues at the station caused by the bad weather last night.

What more evidence do you require.  Effect: Signal failures yesterday at the station.  Cause: storms last night.

Sorry Einstein.  You were wrong all along.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013


And she was like '...' and I was like "...." and she said "...." and I was like "....."

20 minutes. 1 tube carriage.  10 American teenagers.  1200 uses of the word 'like'

USA.  Stands for:

Ubiquitous Simile Abuse

Agile Government

As my work on the latest review comes to an end I find myself having been exposed to some interesting projects around government at varying stages of delivering agile solutions.  There are some key findings worth musing over from the experiences of the various leads.

1) Development can be agile but be aware the organisation it is being carried out in is not.  Be aware that government is not agile and nor are its ingrained processes and scrutiny and approvals.  This will improve but not in a short enough time.

2) Costs will not be significantly lower due to agile.  It will improve outcomes but don't expect huge discounts.  Rework and acceptable failure will inevitably swallow cost as will 1) above and delays.

3) Agile purism is naive in government.  If the purists take over then projects will fail.  Keep it real.

4) You cannot use agile as an excuse for not doing normal things like design.  Preparation is even more important in agile than in other methods.  Drop good prep at your peril.  Agile means flexibility on what you deliver for the business.  NOT how you deliver it.  By all means thin out on upfront requirement capture.   But that is not an excuse for dropping best practice in technology terms.

5) Do not hire developers until you are ready.  You will waste money that way.

The future of agile in government is a hybrid.  It will not work in a purist way as it relies a lot on trust rather than business cases and approvals and the two concepts do not sit well together.  Tax payer's money must be accounted for period.  This imposes structures and processes that do not align well with the agile approach.  A happy medium will be found.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Agile Fragile

Having had my technology fad immunisation jab at an early age I am immune to the worst effects of new technology trends.  Agile is a disease that has taken hold in Government.  Like myxomatosis, it was introduced with good intentions to control the population of poor quality IT projects and SIs.  But like Myxy it has some terrible consequences in that the disease used to cure the ill has had terrible side effects.

A new breed of IT person now marches around government.  Its Agile Man.  Confidently armed with the 12 principles it is an approach which has its own manifesto.

This should raise alarm bells.  Agile is like a religion, it has its 12 commandments and its supporters do not question them.  They have faith.  Faith that following the agile path will lead to IT salvation.  They have organised their religion in the form of Cabinet Office's GDS which as far as we can tell is similar to the inquisition.  Sending people in to villages around the country to ensure that the commandments are followed and any signs of heresy squashed.

The other parallel to religion is that the leaders are unable to answer or tolerate questioning on the subject.  Why does our god allow bad things to happen?  Always results in some complex answer that it is our fault and not gods.  Same with agile.  If agile projects go wrong its not because agile has faults or flaws, its because we did not properly follow agile.

Agile will rise like a religion and it will fade like a religion.  There will always be the faithful but in the end, rational answers will not be forthcoming and those who look at it for what it is will get fed up with the inability to have a rational debate and a set of answers with the religious leaders and go find something else to do.

The final parallel is recruitment.  You cannot get a job now unless you are agile thinking.  The need to suspend rational thinking and join the faith is an entry criteria.  If you find yourself inside an organisation and are not agile, you will be sidelined and a new drone found to replace you.

Of course, I jest.  Sort of.  There are clear parallels to be drawn here.  Agile has many positive things going for it and as a tool, if wielded well could achieve some great results.  But blindly applied to every job, especially by those who do not understand it and you will find yourself trying to shoe a horse in a watchmakers workshop with a Hilti gun.  Not much fun for anyone, least of all the horse.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tech forecast

It is sometimes fun to have a go at forecasting the future especially in technology.  So here is my latest.

The days of the internet in the form we see it today is dead.  Why?  Because of security.  The internet is all but insecurable in its current form and we need to go back to basics.  What will the future be?

It will be client server.  and here is why.

Client server works.  The main reason why it was abandoned for the www was simple.  There were a number of different reasons:

  1. The distribution of software was physical.  CD or disk.  Too hard for mass market.
  2. The variations of OS and capabilities meant that there were too many variations to test or versions to create.
  3. The networks for which client server worked were not fast enough or reliable enough
  4. The cost of production was too high
So we invented the web which did some basic things.  But not content with basic things the www has grown and the complexity with it.  The costs of basic transactions to implement on the web has grown and grown.  But all the original reasons to move to www and away from client server?

  1. Software distribution is now trivial.  There are a few main OS variations and all have software distribution capability.  Problem sorted.
  2. The standardisation of things like Java and .net mean that applications can now be programmed for fewer variations (two would do).  Or pick a camp.  Given the complexity now of browser testing going back to two variations would seem simpler.
  3. The internet and connectivity is reliable and fast in a vast majority of places.  Enough for client server.
  4. With the cost of web transactions now, the cost of producing applications is probably not that much higher than the web.
Client server would be easier to secure.  Period.

The justification for the www is diminishing, at least for transactions.  Yes, SAAS is still a good way to go but is still leaving the clients exposed to some serious security cracks that papering over simply will not do for much longer.  Either the www gets more serious on security or its back to client server.


I own multiple Macs.  They are great.  I have no regrets to date.  But maybe the first regret is starting to form.   I was just sent a visio diagram which I need to view.  I do not have a copy of Visio on my Mac so went hunting for a visio .vsd viewer.  And found some.  They vary in capability and range from free to quite high prices.  So far so good.

I downloaded 3 without reading the specs.  Each one refused to install after downloading with a message that said 'Only works on Mac 10.8.  I have Snow Leopard which is 10.6.  Here we go.  Prepare for rant mode.  Engage.

Where should I start.  Snow Leopard is only 4 years old (2009).  It works really well and my Mac has been stable and fast and has had no problems.  Or none that are OS related.  Why are apps now drawing the line at 10.8?   Macs are different to Windows type machines.  They are reliable and the OS is excellent.  They last for years and years and years and this is the reward for paying a little more in the first place.  My Mac has now outlasted 3 generations of Windows machines some of my friends have had.

What is the point in taking one of the best benefits from a Mac and building in obsolescence in this way?  After only 4 years.

I know, I could go an pay some money and spend a few hours upgrading my machine to 10.8 yer yer yer.  But why should I.  Just to give Apple a little more money when the product they have sold me works very well.

Imagine if this was done in the car world!  Your 4 year old car will no longer work after next week unless you pay Ford more money and take it to the garage for an upgrade.

Its a trend which we are all too familiar with.  It is no longer viable to just sell something where the price you pay reflects the quality.  Now you have to provide an ongoing revenue stream for these organisations.  They have to do this because otherwise nobody would buy their upgrade products because ... of yes, there is no need for them.  So the easiest way to get more money from your client base is to sell them pointless upgrades and force them to spend money or lose the right to use what they already have paid for.  This sucks as they would say in the US.
Rant over.  Disengage.

Phew.  I need a coffee after that.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013


The truth is hard to come by I suspect when it comes to the press and articles in newspapers, magazines and online media.  The reality of the press only really comes to light when one reads a story about a subject that one knows about.  I have probably ready 5 stories that I know about well enough to be able to say that what is written is biased and misrepresentative, a misunderstanding of the truth or just plain wrong.

What I noted is that the score is 100%.  Of all the things I have read that I have background information on the writing has been wrong 100% of the time.

One article came my way this week on Ekman.  I am a big fan of Paul Ekman and his work.  His work on the FACS (Facial Action Coding System) is fascinating as are his books.  The article was claiming that the use of his approach to the detection of deceit is unscientific and does not work.  Sadly none of this is true.  Or is true but for the wrong reasons.

The article was right.  The method does fail to reliably detect deceit.  That is because the method makes no real claim to deceit detection.  FACS and his methods are focused on emotions not deceit.  When one seeks to deceive one does trigger many emotions.  It is the emotional leakage that the method seeks to identify.  And it does so scientifically.  And it works.  But it is really hard to master.  

So let's be clear.  The method identifies emotions, not deceit.  If someone at an airport displays detectable emotional leakage it is not necessarily deceit.  There are many reasons for emotional leakage many of which are nothing to do with deceit.  One can be stressed, scared of authority, nervous about meeting someone etc etc.  All of which will trigger emotional leakage.  

You can detect emotional leakage but Ekman is clear that to translate this into deceit requires a lot more than just facial movements.

The article is therefore making an over claim that the scientist behind the method did not make in the first place and then states that it is unreliable.

Friday, November 15, 2013

22 hours

Latest news flash from the scientists with more time on their hands than most.

Men who walk 22 hours a week reduce the chances of a stroke by 2/3rds.  What a great statistic.  That's 3 hours a day walking.  For one hour a day the risk only drops by 1/3rd.

My gut feel says that there is a lot more behind this stat than meets the eye.  In summary, exercise is better than no exercise.  Some exercise is better than others.

Personally, I wish I had 3 hours a day to go walking.

These types of statistic fascinate me.  I am very interested in the philosophy of numbers, probability, causality and this stat strikes at the heart of that.  What is this telling us.

On the surface we might judge that it is telling us that if we walk 3 hours a day we are less likely to have a stroke by 2/3rds.  But if that were true it could only be true if I were going to have a stroke in the first place.  If I was never going to have a stroke then the walk will have made no difference.

What is more likely is that when compared to a set of men who did not walk against a set of men who did walk then the ones who walked had less strokes than the ones who did.  One assumes though that the pool of people observed was very large to avoid other factors of culture, age, gender, location etc that might make this truth be caused by other things than the walk.

It may be the case that men who take their health seriously and walk also do other things that mean they are less likely to stroke.  I also suspect that men who take their health seriously at this stage of their life have probably done a good job earlier.

There is another theory that the sample pool is already biased.  The system does not count the numbers of men who did not make it to that age due to earlier deaths for other reasons.

Interpreting statistics with such specificity is a strange thing to do.  Where evidence is based upon some difficult and complex studies with lots of caveats the safest thing to do is to stick with the general advice.  Exercise is better than no exercise, some exercise is better than others.  Take advice for your particular circumstances.

The other factor in this little story is the issue of the conditional.  If you walk for 3 hours then your chances of a stroke reduces by 2/3rds.

But that does not logically mean that if you want to drop your stroke probability by 2/3rds you should walk 3 hours.  A counterfactual is true only when the if then statement occurs.

If a then b is true when a and b are true.  All other combinations of a and b are false.  What this says is that while we can tell truth from a counterfactual condition we cannot interpret any other state from this.  Only that if a is true then b will be true.  We cannot say that if a is not true then b is not true.  That is important.

New policies

This blog is not for public consumption albeit it is public.  But I do not write here for the benefit of others but to record thoughts over time.  Most of my blog entries are focused on issues I see throughout the day or think about during the night when insomnia kicks in.

I have also got a blog entitled 'would the world be better if' where I record some ideas about 'policies' or things that if implemented might make a change.

I have added two further ones today which I will also cover here

The first is rental and the second is loans.  Both of these cover a set of real experiences I have had.

New legislation should be put in to cover the following

1) If a person is renting a property and has a deposit in deposit protection scheme then the deposit should be deemed to be ok for a new property rental if the tenant wants to move.  This would negate the trapping of tenants into rents which they cannot get out of due to not having deposit money for a new property.  This occurs due to the return of deposits from an old rental agreement taking time (even when done under the new agreement) and new rental agreements needing deposits prior to moving in.
2) Understand the risk that the old deposit may get used to cover issues in the old property it would put the condition that any short falls in deposits caused by these events would be made up or the rental agreement (new) terminated.
3) landlords are not allowed to demand more than normal rent up front.  I.e. you only can ask for the month ahead (as per normal payments) not 2 or 3 months rent in advance.

This should help a lot of people without any major inconvenience to anyone in the market

This is a real problem I have experienced and a friend has experienced.  The banking sector is in such a mess that stupid decisions are being made along the lines of:

a) Person has a debt of x at percentage interest % very high
b) Person x goes to the bank and shows that they have been making repayments in full on time
c) Person x asks bank to take out a loan to reduce the cost of debt advertised at 2/3rds % very high
d) Bank says no, you cannot afford a loan at that rate and you must stay with your more expensive debt

This has happened now both scenarios where the new loan request is with both a new bank and with the old bank holding the current expensive debt.

So, new law.

If a person with debt of any form who can demonstrate a good repayment history comes to any organisation offering a loan of any form at a lower % rate then it will be illegal to refuse that debt on the grounds of affordability.

I.e. if a you have a loan of £10,000 at 17% and the bank offers loans at 12% for the same amount that bank cannot refuse you the cheaper loan.  This should apply to mortgages, loans, credit cards etc.  
The only condition is that the loan is used to shut down the old loan and not as well as.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Recession clouds lifting?

The news seems to be positive.  The recession is lifting according to press.  The benefits of this are hard to see on the ground.  In the last recession I was lucky enough to be isolated from the effects.  Not so this time with the government cuts directly impacting my revenue and business growth potential.  That is not a complaint, just a reality.  Cuts happen.

It did encourage me to diversify and start up in the private sector and that has got me through to some extent albeit things are tight.  Outside of business the costs of living keep rising.  In order to maintain the business I have had to cut back in the business and that means minimising personal pay for everyone including and starting with myself.

It has enabled me to see the real costs of things and also see what it must be like for those who may not have the opportunity to grow back their business or get a job when things start to improve.  The cost of rents is still growing and even those who say people should move out of expensive rents need to remember that deposits are needed to move.  You do not get back your deposit before you have to pay a new one for a new property.  In essence, it is very easy to get locked into a rent position and have to accept increased rents each year to the tune of minimum 5%.  With energy prices going up at double inflation and the trains likewise I see no let up for those at the poorer end of society.

Work is no longer a route out of poverty is probably one of the scariest statements I have heard in my life.  Take away this incentive, the opportunity and the ability to improve one's life and what is the bottom end of society left with.  Hope is all many people have in difficult times.  Banks ae still not lending, house prices are rising and demand still outstrips supply.

Energy companies are moaning and investors are being heard to say that the energy companies should be left alone for the market to sort itself out.  Really?  The market has not done a good job so far.  Energy supply is simply not keeping up with demand.  So costs rise.  Simples.  The market is operating in that respect but there is a different angle.  A correctly operating market is a financial thing and not a social thing.  It is a point I have made on a number of occasions.  Not everything can and should be boiled down to money.

If markets are taken to the extreme then it will be fine for some people to not be able to afford energy.  Or water?  Or food?  If the supply of a commodity is limited then the price will go up.  If the prices go up enough then it will become a luxury and some people will not have any.  Market operating fine.  Really?

So the question is not whether the market is operating correctly it surely should be whether a critical commodity like water, food or energy should be subject to market conditions.  It can only lead to subsidies.  People at the bottom end of society with no heating in winter due to affordability issues will have to be subsidised which of course means subsidising the energy companies.  At this point the market has failed society.

How far does it have to go before this is dealt with?  How many old people or poor people have to have 1 heater in 1 room before the multi millionaires running the cabinet do something.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Question mark?

I wonder if the use of the question mark after the chairman's response was correct.  or was he asking Andrew Parker if Hazel Blears is one of those threats?

ANDREW PARKER: ... The work we do is addressing directly threats to this country, to our way of life, to this country and to people who live here; and the work we do is proportionately judged against the necessity of protecting against those threats. 

CHAIRMAN: Hazel Blears?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Banking on Rent

There are many alarming headlines at the moment.  Most will be over dramatic but often there is no smoke without fire.  I have often talked about the widening gap between rich and poor.  It seems that despite the seeds of recovery starting to show, the gap continues to widen.

London property prices continue to grow at unsustainable rates.
Rents increase at incredible rates
Energy prices are growing at incredible rates
Food prices continue to rise
Transport costs continue to rise (albeit a minor blip reduction in petrol short term)

The news that going to work is not enough to lift many people out of poverty.  This is no surprise given the above.  Given that the poorest people will be in rented accommodation it is no surprise that, as a proportion of income, rent, energy and transport will be a major driver to poverty.

If we now look at reality (not something banks are good at) why can't banks, as a means to assess ability to pay a mortgage use current rental prices as an indicator.  If you are paying £1800 rent a month and have done for say 3 years then is it not ludicrous that you could not get a mortgage that results in the same payment level on the grounds that the person (people) do not earn enough money.

Banks need to change the way they assess for affordability.  Its all well and good saying that a person cannot afford repayments and rejecting a mortgage application but if it results in the person paying greater amounts or even equivalent on dead payments to a landlord then something has gone wrong.  With banks advertising that they are their to help, what IFA would advise you to give rent money to a landlord resulting in no asset over paying the same amount to pay for your own asset.

But asking whether financial advice from a bank is worthwhile may be pointless given how much they struggle to run their own businesses.

Friday, September 13, 2013

If Jesus were alive today ...

If Jesus was alive today would he have 12 followers on twitter?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Physics of building

Walking through the city of London can leave one with little doubt about how far we have come where building is concerned.  The building sites in the city do not appear to be much bigger than the buildings they contain, the roads are not filled with trucks carrying building materials or disposing of the old building also taken down in its own footprint.

The skyscrapers that are emerging are impressive.  The concrete and steel structures all go up the same way.  Led by the central concrete core which is put up first, followed a few floors behind by the steel, then a few floors behind by the glass.  Its a slick operation.  Being built of glass means you can see the structure underneath as it goes up and indeed once up.

The strange thing about most of the buildings is that the steel used at the top of the building is the same as the steel at the bottom of the building.  I you take a 30 story building the weight at the base must be fairly significant as it carries all 30 floors.  But the beams at the top only need to carry the roof and the last floor.  Yet the steel structure appears uniform and the thickness of the steel uniform too.  Either I do not understand the physics or the steel used at the top is 30 times too strong for what is needed.

The only explanation I can come up with is to do with other properties of the structure.  It may just be that to create rigidity against lateral motion steel needs to be of a certain thickness and strength.  Therefore what I witness in the structure represents the strength needed for lateral strength (which may be uniform across the height of the building and not the compression strength which is needed most at the base.

More research required.

Thursday, June 06, 2013


As you may or may not know I am/was a collector of deact WWII weapons.  A great investment over the years and I can certainly recommend such approaches to investment.  Firstly, the acquisition of such items is a good hobby.  Learning the subject and finding that undervalued item is much the same as those who trade in stocks and shares.  And like stocks and shares demand and supply and future performance is everything.  But such a collection is a joy to own and display.

Now times are hard I have liquidated the collection (nearly all of it) for about a 25% return.  No exact calculations here but the basics are clear that any normal safe investment (i.e. not stocks) would have returned less and certainly provided less pleasure.  But this was primarily a hobby rather than an investment so it is with some sadness that I see the collection go.

So what next?  Well, the guns were fun but they were large and hard to transport etc.  So I have been looking around at what to put some money into next.  There are a wide range of antiques and collectibles that I could pick and it is important to understand this market.  It follows much the same rules regardless of the type.

1) The value goes up and down in cycles but on the whole it trends upwards.  The demand drives the price but also the supply.  Get a small supply and a large demand and you have high value.  The good thing about antiques is by definition no more can be made.  What is in the world now is all there can ever be.
2) Quality is everything.  Condition is important.  Take china.  Chips and cracks in a 1930s piece of china will make it all but worthless in most conditions.  A cracked an repaired medieval piece still has value.  Again, application of rule 1 (supply and demand) simply means that if something is rare and valuable then owning a damaged rare and valuable thing is still better than nothing.  So value is maintained to some extent despite condition.
3) Names Names Names.  Brand is not a modern thing.  In years of old there was top quality brands and cheap rubbish.  Not surprisingly cheap rubbish in years of old still has low value and top end design and brand retains value.  A rolex will hold its value but a Casio won't.   In 100 years time a Casio still be worth very little even if there is only one left in the world.
4) Age is no guarantee of value.  There are items that are thousands of years old but are worth less than a 50 year old piece of glass.  So hunting for things based purely on age is not a good plan.
5) Nobody buys what they lived with.  By this I mean you need to focus on your market.  What will be in demand?  This depends upon age of the buyer.  As a rule, nobody is interested in buying back stuff they used to own.  So if you were an adult in the 70s then you are very unlikely to buy stuff that you used to use every day.  It loses its appeal.  So items in any period are only attractive to the generation that follows.  So work out a few easy calcs.   People who will start to buy 20th Century stuff will be in their 20s (earliest really as they get their first home and start to have discretionary spend).  So any items of interest must be around 30 to 40 years old to start to have appeal.  The trend has been for 60s, then 70s and so it is not difficult to see that the 80s will be next.  80s items are clearly easier to come by and low in value (low demand, high supply).  Getting quality iconic 80s items is a good bet.
6) Eternal appeal.  Some things will always have a following and be less subject to trend.  The top end of the antiques market is always in play.  Those with money love unique special expensive and rare.  There is never a shortage of people with money.   So some things will always have a healthy market.  Beatles memorabilia is likely to come and go as the people who remember the Beatles drops.  The top end (John Lennon's signed underpants etc) are always going to be top end but the rest will probably not gain significantly in value.

So what to collect?  Well there are other considerations on top of the rules above.  The first is longevity.  By this I mean that for something to hold its value it must be in good condition and so you need to consider how you will store it and display it without risking lowering the value through damage.  Picking robust items is key unless you have some serious storage and display capabilities.  The size of items also plays a part.  If the collection requires thousands of items then collecting antique wardrobes is probably not a good way forward.  Number is of course important.  Do you try for high numbers of low value items or fewer higher value?  My gut feel is buy things that are as undervalued at the time as possible and worth as much as possible.  Yes, on a downward cycle the drops will be more painful but if you time right the ups will maximise your pay back.

China:  There is a lot of cheap china around at the moment.  Trend is for Clarice Cliff and a few other names.  But these may trend down as the quality of the item is not the same as its reputation.  People are collecting items because of the name and names come and go.  On the other hand top end worcester will always be collected due to its quality of painting and the fact it is basically art on china.

Silver and Gold:  This is tied to the markets in terms of price.  It is hard to make 'finds' in this area as everyone is out there hunting.  Coming across gold and silver of any value is almost impossible.  It is marked and even if people do not know the dates etc they recognise that a hall mark means gold and silver.  Its one area where the TV has educated the general population.

Jewels:  Finding jewellery is also hard for the reasons above.  Top jewels tend to be mounted on precious metal and this is generally marked.  Without a lot of practice and knowledge and tools it is hard to identify stones.  Its a number game.  You have to buy up a lot of tat to make a find.  Lots of specialists out there looking.

Furniture:  Top end always holds value in the long run.  Bottom end 100 year old Ikea equivalent is not going to be valuable ever.  Too poor quality.  It takes up a lot of room.  That said, if you are going to put furniture in your house then buy antiques.  It is better quality than you will buy new unless you are paying premium new furniture costing thousands and thousands.  When you can pick up antique pieces at less than Ikea prices why would you buy chip board over teak or mahogany or oak etc.

Watches:  A great are to look at. Car boot sales are full of watches and the general population does not understand the valuable brands beyond a few (Rolex etc) and they never make it to the tables.  But lots of others do and so this is an area where finds can be big.  You can also buy from traders and there is a lot of documentation on them.  There is a watch to collect for every budget.  They are repairable and small to store.

My selection is none of the above.  I am going for Pewter.  Why?  Well there is a nice range of items in value and because it is out of fashion it is all pretty cheap at the moment (top end is still high value).  It is relatively easy to store, does not degrade if looked after correctly.  It is attractive in its own right and there is a range of brands and quality.  The key for me is that very very few people understand the markings.  Gold and silver are well documented and straight forward to identify.  Pewter is not.  This means that a 200 year old piece can be found next to a 30 year old piece.  One worth £2 and one worth £200.  Yet nobody could tell if you are not in the know.

What is also incredible is that you can pick up a mid 19th Century piece of Pewter for a few pounds still.  Real antique, nice to display.  So this approach provides a double opportunity.  The first is that there are still finds to be had relatively commonly each month out there in house clearance and car boots etc.    This means that you get instant return.  Buying £100 value items for £5 gets you an immediate buzz and return.  Those items then continue to rise (albeit in cycles).  We are also on a deep down cycle in pewter at the moment in the lower end of the market meaning that even identified and correctly valued items are likely to rise as the cycle moves on.

My first item I picked up last week was a 1857 tankard with lid at a car boot.  Paid £18, probably worth £80 to £120.  I picked up a French bowl for £35 at a shop, probably worth £50-£80.

Its a good start.  There is are lots and lots and lots and lots of dull 20th Century tankards out there.  Gzillions of them.  They help hide the real items nicely

Tuesday, June 04, 2013


One of the nice things about a private blog is that you do not need to worry about what your audience thinks because the blog is not for them.  A nice record of views and state of mind over time.  Although I rarely share anything really personal on the blog I think looking back it is a fair reflection of me.

Having views is of course important.  But equally important is to be able to at least back up ones views.  It matters not that it is right or wrong (who am I to judge) but that a view expressed has been at least tested in one's own mind.  Otherwise it is nothing more than a random selection of a position which is not much better than using a magic 8 ball (can you still buy them?).

I hear there is a protest coming in London.  The protest is going to be carried out by 'veterans' (ex forces I assume) who will be protesting in favour of the death penalty for people who kill soldiers.  Its going to be a riot!  Literally.  It is an open and admitted reaction to the murder of the soldier by those two nut cases a week or so ago.  And nut bags they are.  Period.

There are numerous reasons why I think this is a bad idea.

The first is that although the protest is about 'death penalty for people who kill soldiers' it is clear that in this instance they do not mean 'apart from the two nut bags who just killed a soldier'.  There are some clear issues with this.  The first and obvious one is that the two in question are muslims.  So why now and why these two?  Is this a set of veterans who have reached the end of their tether on solider murders?  I doubt it.  I suspect there are lots of soldiers murdered over the years both intentionally as their role as soldier and of course just people murdered who happened to be soldiers (spouses etc).
So there is a consistency issue here. Who should be put to death?  And this is the crux in my mind.  The clear cut single incident that has occurred cannot be easily put into generality.  In justice there is no black and white.

Let's explore this problem.  Why soldiers specifically?  Because their role puts them at higher risk than other people?  The stats I suspect do not support this.  The numbers of soldiers murdered off duty in this way I suspect are few and far between.  But if it is their role we should therefore include any role in society who are murdered because of their role who are at greater risk.  So we need to include the police force, MPs and Lords, Cabinet Ministers, permanent secretaries.  Then we have MI5 and MI6.  Clearly ambulance men and women and fireman who are regularly targeted by criminals (for drugs for example).

Secondly does it have to be murder?  What about attempted murder?  If you paralyse a soldier for the rest of his life ruining it and leaving him/her in a vegetative state should the punishment be death?  Many soldiers may consider such existence worse than death.

But then we need to look at the mode of murder.  If I stab a soldier I should be put to death but if I bomb the MOD killing soldiers and civilians alike do I get put to death?  What if I bomb the MOD only killing the civilian staff but not any soldiers?  What then?  Are those people's lives less worthy as they work with soldiers who are targeted?

Finally, the real issue of course is one I have covered many times.  The issue of infallibility of the process.  The justice system is fallible.  Mistakes happen and now, when they do, the state can apologise and compensate.  But you cannot compensate the dead.  Yes, it is clear cut with the two killers.  They have witnesses seeing them do it and there is no denial.  But have they been brain washed or do we say that these are clear thinking men.  Are they mentally ill?  Possibly.  What right minded person carries out such brutal acts.

Maybe they do deserve the death penalty.  But deserving such a fate in theory is a long way from being able to put in place a fully capable justice system that does not muck up.  Having met many lawyers now and seen the issues of access to justice and the mistakes made I can honestly say that it scares me that my fate (life or death) may one day be in the hands of some of the lawyers I have met.

So protest away, but be warned, the BNP, English Defence league, the anti-fascists will all be there kidnapping your cause and drowning out your message.  You are handing two lunatics credibility as terrorists, you are providing publicity for people who should be made to disappear for the rest of their lives into insignificance where they belong.  Don't give these people another 15 minutes of fame.

Infinity and beyond


In my last blog on More Monty I explored a few ideas around the meaning of probability and what that problem was telling us.  In doing so I used a few examples of infinity.  These on the surface look ok in their simplified manner and made the point well.  But the treatment of infinities is hard.  Firstly, it seems to be recognised that infinity is a concept and not a number and therefore the application of standard operators is not logical and leads one to some difficult situations.  I picked my words carefully in the last blog to avoid such issues.

But infinities are hard to deal with and it seems even more complicated in what they mean when it comes to probability.  For example, if there were infinite amount of doors (Monty Hall problem) then what would be the odds of picking the right door?

On the surface one would say 1/infinity.  Makes sense.  If you had 3 doors the odds would be 1/3.  4 doors 1/4 and so on.  But 1/infinity?  Its a number as close to 0 as can be without being 0.  But of course while we understand this concept it is also at the same time nonsense.  If we then start to look at infinities in probability then it would appear to get more tenuous.

If use of infinity with numerical operators in nonsense then calculation of odds with infinities is also nonsense.  1-infinity?  So the calculation of odds must also be nonsensical using infinities.  So how do we calculate odds in what could be an infinite universe?  It again may tell us something about probability.  Probability is inductive reasoning.  It tells us the outcome of past events and if we use that knowledge we can start to reduce randomness that would otherwise apply.

Back to dice.  If we have a 6 sided dice and roll it over a large sample range we would (assuming a perfect dice and proper rolling) get a relatively even spread of outcomes for each number on the dice.   True randomness will ensure that the outcome over a big enough period is even.  So we can use this knowledge how?  Well, an obvious statement is that when predicting the outcome of the dice we have one important piece of knowledge.  We know that we need to pick 1 to 6.  Obvious right but often overlooked.  If we had a random sized dice and we did not know its size then we would have a difficulty performing any form of reliable prediction using inductive reasoning.  Our performance outcome at a normal 6 sided dice will be on average 1/6 at picking the next number.  If the dice has random numbers then how would we perform?  How would one even calculate the odds?

The problem demonstrates that probability is all to do with knowledge.  For a better than random outcome from a random event we need to have some form of knowledge to reduce the odds from random to something better than random.  The odds of picking the next number on an x sided dice is not 1/x.  It is 1/x IF we know x.  Why?  Inductive reasoning is about patterns.  We look for past patterns with a view to improving out chances of avoiding randomness and uncertainty.  It is this reduction in uncertainty which has enabled us to evolve and survive as a race.  Inductive reasoning is not of course reliable and is a fallacy but in human evolution, while not perfect, has given us an edge over other species and indeed other members of our race in early days which no doubt enable evolution to lead us to where we are now. All humans reason using inductive reasoning with a view to reducing uncertainty.  Inductive reasoning over randomness is enough of an edge.

So what about infinities then?  The issue seems to be that odds are only calculable if we somehow have limits.  The dice shows this.  We can perform better than total uncertainty if we have a limit (knowledge of the number of sides of the dice and numbers on it).  Unbounded odds are simply not calculable and therefore performance will be random.  Probability is therefore a peculiar thing.  We can talk about the odds of a number 1 being rolled on a 6 sided dice as if it were linked to reality.  It is of course in a peculiar way.  It is simply saying that randomness dictates that if you know that it has 6 sides then you can have better chances of guessing the next number than if you did not know it had six sides.  These two concepts are key.  In infinite options there can be no meaningful calculation of odds.  Only when knowledge of boundaries (which infinity does not have in terms of upper limits) can probability become useful.

This might go some way to helping understand whether the universe is deterministic or not.  If determinism is true then all events are predictable (in theory) even if not in practice.  Therefore the probability of any event happening is finite and 1.  The debate is whether this in itself removes things like freewill.  If whatever event x is about to happen with a probability of 1 (determinism states it could not be otherwise) then we can see that to find this useful we would need two conditions to be true.  The first is that the event is certain (1/1) and the second is that we have knowledge of the boundaries to make any prediction better than random.  Of course this is where the irony kicks in.  If everything that occurs has a probability of 1/1 then we live in a world which is entirely predictable but at the same time due to its potentially infinite size and potential events totally unknowable.  So even certainty is useless in an unbounded universe even when determinism kicks in.  We have better chances with enormous but bounded odds and some knowledge than we do with certain outcomes and no knowledge.

More Monty

Monty Hall rises again.  It has been some time since I have taken an interest in the Mont Hall problem.  I have no intention of reiterating the original problem as I have done this in the past and anyone interested can look it up.  It has been a problem that has bothered me for a long time.  It nags at the back of my mind regularly.  I spent a day or so of my mental CPU cycles I had spare taking a fresh look.

But this time, I am not so interested in the maths.  I have the spreadsheet produced by a friend of mine (spreadsheet and maths genius) Dan and it shows quite clearly the reality.  So if the maths is right (and it is) what is that itch in my brain?  It's this.  What does it mean?  If the maths is right, what is the maths telling us?  Is the surprise and debate in the maths world valid or is this in fact maths slight of hand?  After all, maths produces a model of the world where the emphasis is on 'a' but maybe not the and its claim to truth is not always justified.  It can be right (mathematically) but not necessarily be reality.  Of course, this gets trickier when we deal with probability like in the Monty Hall problem as probability and what it represents is not always clear and the subject of much philosophical discussion.

The standard 3 door Monty Hall problem has a clear result.  If you select a door at random, then Monty opens a door without a car behind it (it matters not what is behind it) then if you switch your choice of door from the original the outcome is that you will win 66.666.% of the time vs 33.333.% if you stick.  Note that I chose my words careful.  The outcome 'IS'…. 

I ran some other stats on the model.  Not surprisingly if you randomly select a door after Monty has opened one then the outcome IS 50/50 as to whether you pick the right door.   Therefore, the difference between the performance of switching and a random selection of the final 2 doors must be explained.  I noted one important point.  The decision to change door in the original Monty problem was not random.  This was worth exploring.  If you made the decision itself a random choice (I.e. Whether to change or not) the outcome turns out no better than random selection.  I.e. 50/50.  So the performance improvement rests on the decision and therefore must be linked to knowledge.

The key here is that if you KNOW the maths behind this problem then you would switch.  If you did not then your decision would essentially be random.  The performance improvement simply comes from the application of knowledge of Monty Hall problem.  So is the maths itself telling us much? 

To make the problem more obvious lets increase the size of the problem.  Infinite Monty Hall version.  Now there are infinite doors.  Contestant selects one.  The odds of a correct door are therefore 1/infinity.  All we can say about this concept is that the number is very small but not 0.  Monty now opens all the doors apart from one leaving two doors only as per the original problem.  The remaining door now has odds of infinity-1/infinity.  This again is incalculable as infinity is a concept but the number is very large but not 1.

So in summary, the odds of the original door are as close to being 0 as possible without being 0 and the other door as close to 1 (certainty) as possible without being 1.  If you knew  the Monty Hall problem then you would select the highest odds door.  Given this rather extreme view of the problem it is clear that the mathematicians should not be surprised at all that if one is in possession of knowledge (any) about the outcome of an otherwise random event that your success rate will be improved.  That's all Monty Halls shows us in my view.  It is a complex way of stating a rather obvious statement.  You could use dice to show the same thing.  If you know a dice has 2 sixes printed on it then you would do better picking 6 each time.  If you did not know this then you would probably still perform the same as a random selection.

This ramble through the world of numbers raised some other interesting explanatory issues with the maths.  The first is the concept of random selection of a number.  If an event has two outcomes then you have two events going on.  The first is the random selection of two outcomes (in the mind or on computer).  The second is the random outcome itself.   The two random events (not one as is normally discussed) is why the explanation above works.

And that's the itch scratched.  How could the Monty Hall maths change reality, how did the knowledge of the doors alter a physical reality outcome.  It did not and that's because I was missing the fact that there are two events being measured.  The physical reality of the odds of the car behind the door (thanks to the maths guys and Dan for sorting this) and the event of selection.  The knowledge changed the selection from random to informed and that increased the success rate.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Brain drain vs gain drain

Following on from my last blog on poverty and the issues of globalisation I had a thought (lightbulb on).  I have been reading and studying Animal Farm which is an allegory for Russian history from the revolution onwards.  Its a great book and well worth revisiting (you can read it in a day easily).

One of the challenges that the early communists had was the brain drain.  With a system that is designed for the greater good one has to consider how to prevent the exodus of people who are not as concerned with the common good and would seek to exit the system to follow a more gainful existence where individual rewards would be greater.  To prevent this exodus the communists had to close the borders and this is what you will see today.  The challenge for the communists is that the descent into difficulties is relatively rapid and boders must be controlled quickly if the system is to survive.  Ultimately communism in a mixed world of capitalism and communist philosophies is hard to make work.

So what about the capitalist world?  Are there any similarities?  It strikes me that the answer is yes.  Whereas the communists had to close the borders to prevent intellectual drain it appears that the capitalist position is somewhat similar except that it is now an issue of wealth drain.  Money moves to places outside of the controllable system.  Individuals and businesses are free to move taking with them the wealth of the nation.  The difficulty of course is that stopping this may be impossible.


The article I saw on the paper lying next to me on the train makes disturbing reading.  Breadline headline in Metro.  Sigh.

With no real sign of let up on the economic front and clear bad news from Europe in terms of figures regarding employment (especially the young), the drag that this will have on the UK economy and reductions in government spending to a level which is all but rendering it ineffective I am starting to struggle to see how this is going to get better before it gets worse.  This is not about my normal levels of pessimism.  This is about sleepwalking into a very nasty situation.

Globalisation is good in many ways.  It allows trade across borders and exports.  But this has been a double edged sword for much of the wealth generated by such corporate expansion has not benefited the UK.  With a globally competitive market we have global tax competition.  The ability to trade has been opened to all but the rules governing such trade have not been robust enough.  Obviously to prevent such cross border exodus of capital and wealth requires international level cooperation which at the moment is simply not present.  Attempts in the EU to level the playing field have of course been scuppered with the politics of in/out being the regular headline.  If it cannot be achieved in the EU, what hope globally.

It is not hard to see where this is all heading.   The trend is for more open markets, less regulation and lower levels of controls.  A 'let nature take its course' approach to capitalism.  The trick of course is consistency.  It is fine to let nature take its course provided you are not putting controls in place at the bottom end around.  One such control is of course limits on benefits.  They have a good point.

It cannot be right that someone who gets up to work every day sees the guy across the road earning the same money in benefits without working.  These deep seated cultural issues will not be solved in my generation.  But without any controls on the market, spending on welfare needs to be raised.  This is simply because without controls, costs are spiralling for those at the bottom end of society (economically) and this is one of the absolute vs relative debates.

Yes, inflation may be at x% a year.  But this is a complex calculation.  People have much simpler local issues.  Rent is rising at a fast rate and so is energy and food.  Yes, prices may be inflating at say 5% (for these listed areas) but if that 5% is actually 20% of your available funds which is the true inflation figure.  I have always pointed out, tax at 40% is fine if you are earning £1million pounds because you will have lots and lots of money left.  If you earn £20,000 then the absolute amount is significant.  £10 to someone with £600K is nothing.  £10 is everything.  Working out inflation based upon a national position is one thing.  But it needs to be looked at in terms of the individual or family.

The trend is such that in the next 5 years there will be a crunch point.  Government will need to intervene.  It will not longer be good enough to say that inflation is at 3% if the 3% is applied to costs which are already 70% of many people's earnings.  Rents continue to rise.  Wages remain static to low in growth and this is only relevant if you have a job.  Tax credits continue to subsidise low wages for business who can then make bigger profits to go abroad to avoid tax.

Exaggeration maybe, but it is not a sustainable model.

Globalised economies are great if there are globalised controls to underpin it.  There are not and there lies the rub as they say.

Land Rover news

The new series 3 is performing well.  The mini roundabouts of Kent are proving a challenge as Otly has the turning circle of a routemaster bus and no power steering so at slow speeds the steering  makes for a great workout.

I have found a local garage that is a Land Rover specialist and so when better times emerge I will take it down for a checkover and some work.  I am no mechanic but I can guess that the two points where the body work is connected to the chassis are important.  And so the lack of connection due to rust is probably important too.  It past an MOT!!  Hmm.

Anyway, there are various bits that need doing and so I am looking forward to getting greasy again and doing some DIY.  There are a few holes (welding) that will need sorting.  That can wait til the garage.  But the door lock needs sorting (I have a spare) and I need to tidy some of the wiring which falls out of various places when I hit a serious bump.

In some respects I am scared to look but I think it better to know about problems than not.  I suspect the exhaust may be blowing too.  Hard to tell as I have no frame of reference with which to judge what noise it should be making.

The oil pressure gauge is not working (should be easy to solve) and there are various other bits and bobs that need addressing.  Oil of course plays a major part in a Land Rover's life.  As fast as you put it in, it tries to get rid of it.  I need to remember the age of the car and that in the good old days they really did need to be maintained.

The really good news is that the village I currently reside in has its own motor factors shop (strange as there are only 5 shops in the village).  But hey ho, looks like I will be getting to know them well.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

4G 3G 2G 0G

Sitting on the train today my frustration at connectivity peaked.  I was simply trying to register for one of the Land Rover forums to ask a few questions of the experts.  Sadly I rely upon one of these new EE 4G wireless gadgets.  When it works, it works great and I would not be without it.  But it has one unbelievably frustrating 'feature'.

The device allows one to connect to it via standard wireless network connection.  It is then connected to either 4,3,2G depending upon the situation.  The issue is that this hop clearly causes some issues.  It is itself a web server and has the admin pages accessed via a web page.  It has a useful signal strength (and type) home page.

The issue is this.  If you call a web page or submit a web form and it cannot service the request (loss of signal etc) the device responds back with its own web admin page.  When it does this and you hit the back button when signal returns (or worse it fails but shows full 3G signal quite often) your web form is blank and you have to start again.

The problem is so bad that when writing my blogs, before I hit submit I take a copy of the main text otherwise I lose the content if the submission fails.  But for forms (such as registration forms) this is not possible.  I suspect that by responding to a submission with a web page the browser assumes success.  I have no idea.  But it is deeply deeply frustrating.

I have now completed the forum registration 10 box form 3 times.  I give up.  Thanks EE. (Ctrl A, Ctrl C, Publish)

Update:  I hit submit and it did it again.  Up came the admin page showing full 3G signal.  Had to reload the whole blog site and start again.  Nice!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Series 3

My new pride and joy.  Sadly I had to sell my TD5 SWB landrover.  Sad day.  But needs must and every cloud has a silver lining.

Meet  Otley.  Series 3.  It has none of the comfort of my old TD5.  It leaks, it smells of petrol and the driving experience is a cross between trying to control a falling bolder and driving a bouncy castle.

Lots of fun

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Evenin' all

It is not often that I have direct experience of the police but I was unlucky enough this weekend to meet one with a speed camera and who was kind enough to point it at my landrover.  Sadly for me my eagerness to get to my destination was recorded for prosperity and I was the proud owner of another 3 points for my license.

Hands up, I was guilty.  Unlucky, not concentrating, but never the less guilty.  The officer waived me over and gave me the standard (but slightly patronising) speech and caution.  What was interesting after that was the process the poor bloke had to go through.  It took over 20 mins to complete the forms and tap the right things into his computer.  The outcome was that I had to take my driving license into a police station with the insurance cert and pay the fine.

All that effort and yet

1) Why do I have to prove insurance when they can clearly see on the computer that the car is insured (the database is online now and is used by DVLA).
2) No useful instructions were on the form at all as to what to do and when
3) No payment information was provided on the form beyond the fact you had to pay at the police station

So off I trot today to the Belgravia police station (near where I am working).  I wait in the reception while a lady discusses her latest online hacking event that she had experienced while the perplexed police constable attempted to understand what the lady wanted her to do.  40 minutes later, after she finally got the lady sorted it was my turn.  She looked at the speeding form (not issued by the Met) like I handed over a demand for blue bananas.

I was invited to the back office counter (for a private chat as by then 2 guys on bail turned up with massive fighting dogs).  The poor police lady did not know whether she could take payment by card, she did not recognise the form presented to her nor what to do with it.  She had no idea either why I had to bring my insurance cert.  Another form was completed (A4 in small print) which took over 30 mins to complete while all the other people in reception had to wait. 

It is staggering that each police force has a different form for speeding.  It is staggering that the process is and could be different when the issuing of a fine can occur anywhere.  It is even more staggering that the form at the police station basically copied out the data already on the form issued at the scene.  It is beyond belief that she did not know how to or whether she could take card payments.

I was polite and I was sympathetic.  But I was shocked at what we put these poor people through.  It wasted over 1 hour of form filling and nonsense for this ticket.

I can spot some easy changes.

1) The police should complete the form online into their computers accessible by any police force.
2) If guilt is admitted at the scene the police should simply take online payment there and then.
3) If a person's license is on them then they should be taken on the spot and sent off when back at the station.
4) If ID is not provided then license and the fine reference should be taken to a police station and simply handed in.

It cannot be beyond the wit of man to simplify the process.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Spock wisdom

Spock: Don't grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many, outweigh...
Kirk: The needs of the few.
Spock: Or the one.

A moving scene for all those Star Trek fans if ever there was one.  But for such a logical creature who embraces pure reason and rationality it is a strange choice of views.   Essentially Spock is espousing a consequentialist view.  I.e. that an act or deed is measured on the outcomes and in this case a utilitarianism angle based upon pure numerical outcome.  Exchanging one life for many.  John Stuart Mill defended the utilitarian view of ethics in his book of the same name.

But it is a difficult position to defend traditionally and largely remains an unsupported theory.  The issue at hand is of course one of right and wrong.  Is an act or thought right if the benefit to many outweighs the benefit of the minority.  I.e. one goes with the option that produces the most happiness or best outcome for the majority.

It is clear to see where this can work (democracy is one obvious area) and of course it does not.  One obvious outcome of utilitarianism is perhaps the fact that we should kill innocent healthy people to take their organs to save the lives of say 10 ill people.  Nobody would consider that right to take an innocent life to save 10 or we would have regular snatch squads on our street and donor cards would bring a new level of meaning.

Its a big subject to discuss but the reason why I raise this is actually the Spock scenario here differs slightly from the standard objections.  In Spock's case he is giving his life to save others (courageous at some level but do not forget he would die anyway if he had not saved the ship).  This changes the argument.  It is clearly seen as right to take a utilitarian position provided the only down side is then taken by the person making the decision.

The next question is of course the one of proximity.  Spock gives his life to save those around him.  But even Spock's reason prevented him from say giving his life to provide organs for dying people.  What is the difference.  Proximity in time and space to the people who will benefit clearly makes a difference.

The act undertaken by Spock was not a random sacrifice to save random strangers lives but his friends and colleagues.  He had not, half way through the film, nipped out to the medical centre to be cut up and have the organs transported back to vulcan to save 10 people's lives.  But what is the difference?

Clearly we are more prepared to sacrifice (even if not our lives) for the people we know and care about than strangers.  Out of sight, out of mind.  Its a purely emotion position and not one backed by reason or logic.  Spock's final act then being an emotionally driven one.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

What a question!

And the winner for the best question I have seen on an application form goes to.....

Jobserver (Capita's job application)

"Do you live full time in a gender other than the one you were assigned at birth?"

Well, no I don't is the answer.  But what a great question.  Terribly invasive. As if asking in this exceptionally well crafted way somehow mitigates the invasive nature of such a question.

I do not recall that gender was assigned.  Who did the assigning?  Maybe this is the new responsibility of the HR department for all their corporate employees.  Gender assignation of the yet to be born.  

The thing about such statements is that you can just imagine how long a debate was held and how much money was spent in the writing of that line.  

Note a few things

1) Gender is now assigned at birth.
2) Do you 'live ... in' a gender.
3) 'full time'

Its interesting that you can live part time in a gender other than the one you were assigned at birth.  I understand what they are saying.  What is the motivation of this full time part?   Hard to say.  What if I only lived in another gender part time but that time was office hours?  It would appear that part time gender differences are of no concern to them.  How long constitutes part time as opposed to full time?

Great question.

Friday, April 26, 2013

It's a question of capital

Here's a question that I have been considering for some time.

Capitalism unchecked can lead to some unpleasant side effects.  It is often said that it is easy to make money if you already have it.  This is true.  The principle is sound.  If you have money, you can invest it and that (if done wisely) makes you more money.  If you have no money, you cannot invest it.   If not, you somehow have to generate it.  This is much much much much harder to do.

We have the divide.  Those that have and those that have not.  This blog is not a judgement on the people who have.  

The gap between the haves and have nots is growing.  The welfare net stops those at the bottom from falling too far but that is not really the gap.  There is obviously a set of people for whom life is hard at the bottom but there appears to be a group (I cannot say how big) that sits above that line but still has not enough capital to generate the incomes through wise investment that the haves can.

The question is, given that the gap is growing and the proportion of wealth the haves have vs the have nots the is growing (and accelerating) when and how will the situation become so bad that redistribution will need to occur.

Redistribution is a horrible term and almost impossible to do fairly.  The issue is made worse from globalisation when the haves can move money out of the country (I am not talking tax avoidance here) away from such activity.

The housing situation is a clear indication of this principle.  Those in possession of property will do ok as interest levels are low and provided you can pay the mortgage property prices will continue to rise.  Those renting have a different outlook.  The rent paid to the haves (owners of assets) will be all but prevented from change as the vast majority will simply not be able to afford the deposits.

This is a bleak model I understand.  But at some point things will need to be adjusted and at the moment I see no policies in place from this government nor the opposition to effectively address the balance.

Reports in - why bother

New reports in.....  headline news ...   People are not spending much.  No shit!  How much did they pay that bunch of researchers to look into that difficult conundrum.  The report goes on to say that people are focusing their money on their bills and not spending much on holidays and treats.

Anger rises within me.  Grrr.

This of course should be no surprise to anyone.  The idea that the majority of people are able to budget, assess risk and manage their finances against a policy they set themselves when times are hard is maybe a skill our banking sector should have learnt.   Interestingly maybe that is one of the issues.   Its not that the decision makers in banking get so much money for their work (I am not against rewards for good performance but clearly that is not the case here) its that the effect of having so much money makes these decision makers immune to the issues the rest of us face.

Electricity and gas (generally utility bills) are rising, rents continue to rise, mortgages are still hard to come by and even if you can get one the deposits are high and the price of housing still silly.  So no surprise that there is less discretionary spending money around.

It would be nice if there were some reports about what can be done and not just stating the obvious.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Tech wreck

They sometimes that things go wrong in threes.  Not sure about the truth of such statements because I seem to have an ongoing stream of tech based niggles.  This week so far

1) My (rather excellent) 4G wireless hotspot gadget is winding me up. It regularly shows its own web page (which comes up when it cannot get a connection) which shows the connection type and strength.  Every single time this comes up it is good enough to show a strong connection on 3G or 4G.

2) My precious, my MAC pro has hit a massive slow down on back ups rendering back ups useless (does about 300K an hour).  A quick disk utility check shows errors on hard disk and states a) you should run the repair which can only be done by CD boot up using a CD I no longer have and to back up the machine before this (which is impossible as the corruption is preventing back up).

What lucky event will I face next.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Life on board

My lifestyle change has been significant lately.  My move onto my ship has been eye opening and at the same time a lot of fun.  I have been writing about the restoration of my ship elsewhere for a long time but I thought it worth noting what it is like trying to live on board a ship.

Firstly, the ship itself is very large but as it is undergoing restoration my world is a small section of 4 cabins.  There is no heating or running hot water (kettle and commercial tea urn is all there is).  I have a toilet and sink and running (very very) cold water.  The cabins are below deck and have no portholes (to be fitted later) and so every day is night.

WIthout heating, the temperature of the cabins hit 2 degrees C last week.   With a small fan heater I can raise one of the rooms to a balmy 20 degrees while it is on but I cannot keep it on at night due to the noise.  So the temperature plummets.

This sounds horrific but in fact it is not.  Its hard, admittedly, but not has hard going as you might imagine.  You have to change the way you live and when you do, it shows how wasteful we all are.

Without heating you do a few things

1) Wear more clothes indoors.  Body warmers are the best invention ever as they are no bulky and keep you nicely warm.
2) All water from the sink exits to the bucket.  This is then emptied down the loo.  So what?  Well, my water consumption is mega low.  I do not leave the tap running.  Massively more efficient.
3) 16 amps of power is all I have.  So I have to use low energy bulbs and cannot have everything switched on.  You get used to ensuring that heater is off before kettle goes on etc.

Ok, so I shower at the gym every morning but even with that the lifestyle is quite green.  Maybe there are some clues to the way ahead for all of us.   With energy and water bills rising maybe its time we all changed some habits.  Yes, its inconvenient, yes it can be slightly uncomfortable at times.  But the savings are there to be had.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Welcome back

It has been some considerable time since I have written anything.  Pressure of work and life has generally all but stopped my thought processes outside of the basics.  I cannot believe that I started this blog back in 2005.  Wow.  I am not sure I have managed to keep any interest going that long.

I have enjoyed going back and reviewing some earlier writing.  I started this to try and improve the way I wrote.  It worked.  My writing is now much clearer even if that outcome is not evident on this blog.  I now write a work blog and that is where some of my better work appears.

My commuting now provides more thinking time.  Some new things to talk about.   Welcome back.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Sometimes the obvious springs to mind

I was reading this over coffee this morning.  Another interesting review of some tech shares.  Nokia/Research in motion update.

Sometimes you get a thought and then you think that was obvious.  I always knew that a trade in a stock was generally a zero sum game.  For someone to make a win on a stock it is likely that someone else has to lose.  Not always as you could theoretically get an only upward price movement but in the end that never happens (it depends I suppose over the length of time you measure).

But that was not the thought.  The thought was that the sum total of all stock value must vary.  Take the 'pot' of cash that is currently invested in stocks.  Crudely if the pot is £x gzillion then on the whole that pot moves in an around stocks in the market, or is exited or goes against charges and taxes.

Obvious (perhaps wrong, I don't know) but stock trading appears to be one about the stocks and their value and future rather than taking a perspective about the money itself.  I am not really explaining this well.  Rather than looking at the stock and the underlying company, look at the money and where and how it is invested.  After all, people make investment decisions on stock based upon risk and upside etc.  The stock is secondary consideration, people are making decisions about money, not stock.

So I may go look at the money.  See what I can find.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The rise of the robot?

I was stood in Sainsburys in a queue for the self-service check-out and started to recall a debate that went on years ago when I was doing my degree in AI.  At the time the technology that was available started to get powerful enough to do some impressive things.  At the time, I had a brand new Intel 386 based PC.  Wow, such power.

The debate at the time was that if we got AI right we would eventually take over the world.  The rise of the computer would lead to world wide take over and mass unemployment as the machines took over.  This debate dies out as the output from the IT world was very disappointing and the average PC AI programme would struggle to do even basic tasks.  The debate died away.

18 years on the debate may now have some legs.  Standing in the queue at Sainsburys I realised that the computers at the front of the shop (which I was still queuing for) were run by one person.  A set of checkouts that would previously have kept 12 staff employed for nearly 12 hours per day or more (shift work even more people)  is now run by one person.  The same goes for all supermarkets these days and B&Q and many many many more shops.  

I realised that this is not an uncommon position.  Although we never saw a computer led revolution we have certainly had the silicon world creep up on us and smack us in the back of the head.  Not a knock out blow.  Yet.  

But is this a bad thing?  Hard to say.  The argument against the fear of computer led unemployment was always that these people pushed out of these jobs would do other things.  Like service industry or the public sector?  But even these industries (if you can call them that) are suffering.  Public sector automation has enabled large levels of staff reduction (or will do over the coming years) and in the banking industry we have seen menial tasks being replaced by online banking and automatic paying in machines etc.

There is no doubt that automation is of some benefit.  The banking is easier (who wants to queue) but supermarkets?  I noted that the queue for the 'tills' was as long as ever.  Now each person has to do what two people used to do.  Beep the product through the till and pack.  So surprise surprise the process is not better for the customer, just cheaper for the supermarket.

The time it took from 18 years ago to start to notice clear examples of job losses shows how slow the process is but the process is there.  We also will suffer acceleration and this is unlikely to be a linear effect.  As technology gets more powerful it gets more capable.  And technology is getting significantly more powerful every year.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Who buys wins

I read with interest a great post at . Its well worth a read.

What it outlines well is that the cycle of in-house -> outsource -> in-house has taken us full circle.  I suspect that this cycle is more focused on 'different is better' approach to change and the timescales around which this occurs is so long that few involved may remember the issues and the reasons of moving in the first place.

It is true that the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence.  And sometimes its full of dog crap.  So take care where you move to.

But is there a different angle on this?  The debate about who does IT is interesting.  What does not appear to have been looked at is who buys IT.  So let's take a look at that.

IT is complicated.  Few really understand how it all works (and I do mean properly actually works) and of those who do, fewer understand the business and customer they have to support.  Its a horrible dilema and one that is certainly part of the issue.   The result is that if you have inhouse or outsource IT they are still IT.  And maybe there is the clue to a possible change.

The key question is do we really need the IT department?  When all of the models outlined in the blog link above are in place there is a strong case of an IT department.  You need somebody in the know to 'buy' your IT for you because you bought just that, IT.   But in the world of SAAS things have changed.  A commitment to a whole SAAS world fundamentally removes the T from IT.  And if you do that, the business case buy it themselves.

A minor change of strategy in Gov would greatly enable the migration to cloud.  Its a simple rule.  The business is allowed, without reference to the IT department to procure whatever SAAS it wants but with a few conditions.  NO BESPOKING.

Over time the remaining 'IT' managed by the IT department (inhouse or outsourced) will slowly evaporate as the business is able to procure its tools for itself.  Remove the IT department and you remove one of the major blockers to cloud.  Self interest.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Can't is not the same as won't

To complete my triptic of pieces today I turn my guns on the dreaded customer service.

'Sorry Sir we can't do that' is a phrase I am starting to hear lately especially in call centres.  What they mean, and I point out every time I hear it is simply that they are mixing up 'can't' with 'won't'.  Won't of course sounds bad, can't implies some level of helplessness that will engender sympathy with the customer.

So all you companies out there start to think about a few things

1) Your customers are not all stupid so stop treating them like it
2) If you won't do something (normally because it is outside of your 'policy') be upfront about it.  Use won't do it.  We know you CAN do these things because they are not physically impossible.  You can't walk on water, you can't predict the lotto numbers but you WON'T send me a replacement if you miss-supply me something, not CANT.

Taking stock

I may not be alone in wondering whether there is a link between those companies struggling in the current economic climate and a totally incompetent set of stock control processes.

My list of shame to date

PC World

What's the crime?  Simple.  'sorry sir, we do not have that in stock'.  Hopeless.  They are all guilty.  Currys  being the worst with PC World a close second (although they are owned by the same company I undersand, so maybe not a surprise).  I have now been to each of these stores where:

On more than one occasion, a large % of one type of goods on display were simply not in stock.  In PC world it was laptops (they only had three in stock with over 15 on display) and Currys for there freeview TV recorders where they had none but the most expensive of an entire shelf of product available.

HMV ran out of 3 of the top 5 games ahead of XMAS.

What are these management teams thinking?  The Halfords store not only did not have any in stock but also had no knowledge or way of knowing if and when the stock would be in place.

Its a simple proposition in a world where commercial rents are high, overheads of running shops is high and the competition online is high.  Basic rules

1) If you run a shop, make sure you have each item you sell in stock on the shelves or in the warehouse.
2) If you sell the last but one product (or earlier for high turnover products) then ensure that the stock is replenished the next day.  All your shops are 100% computerised so it cannot be a surprise.
3) If you do accidentally run out of stock make sure you know when the replacements is coming and make sure the answer is the next day.

Or, just go out of business and save us all the journey by letting us just go online to purchase from your competition.

I don't go back to a shop that fails so badly on stock control.

Driving up education standards

There is no doubt at all that there are two problems which society faces.

1) That keeping young people in education is hard.  But the benefits are clear.  Especially when there are few jobs for the young.

2) That car insurance is going up and up and up and especially for young people.

It is interesting that given that nearly everybody learns to drive, the one thing that is not part of the curriculum is driving.  Why is that?

Why would you not offer all A Level students free driving lessons as part of the course.  In the last year of A Levels you would be given free weekly driving lessons.  By doing it for free then more lessons (and perhaps go beyond minimum driving standards for the test) could be undertaken by the student leaving them more experienced.  Thus reducing the number of accidents, thus reducing the insurance costs.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


I heard the news that police are considering the use of rubber bullets and potentially considering lethal rounds in the case of rioters who are instigating arson attacks.

I had said it before and I will say it again.  If a 2 year trial looking at evidence with an intelligent judge, intelligent lawyers and a fair jury is not deemed to be reliable enough to support capital punishment then how do we expect a policement in the heat of a riot to make sensible judgements as to who is either going to commit a crime with potentially fatal consequences or has just done so.  At what point does the policemen decide to kill?

Even the Stokewell incident should prove that with survellance and intelligence and undercover support there is still room to shoot the innocent guy.

The other (almost commical notion) was that police with rubber bullets would be allowed to shoot at children and aim for the belt buckle.  Again, in the heat of a riot one has to wonder whether the accuracy will be there to enable them to reliably hit.  The consequences of a miss are fatal (probably more so on a child).

Take that 'police permitted to shoot rubber bullets and lethal rounds at rioters' headline and then imagine it in a Syrian newspaper about their government.  Shock horror, human rights, etc etc.   On man's rioter is another man's protestor.

Monday, December 19, 2011


I was disappointed to hear that the FSA has now woken up and come up with some new regulations.  The idea is simple, start getting the banks to do rigorous checks on income and loan amounts and only lend x times salary.

My heart sank.  This was not the reason we had a banking crisis.  But now even more people will be locked out of the housing market.  Finally some intelligence from radio 4 this morning.  Pointing out what we all knew.  The bank will happily tell you no for a mortgage and then you will find yourself paying more for rent.  It is just not going to work.

One interviewee pointed out rightly that if you pay into a mortgage then at the end you have an asset.  Even if the property price does not rise significantly.  You still have the asset.  But in rent of course, while it may be a little cheaper than the mortgage at the end of the 25 years (equiv to mortgage) you have zip.  And the difference between the mortgage payment and the rent even if saved and invested would not return anything like the bulk of the asset you have in the mortgage.

I wonder how long this will last.  The pressure in the pressure cooker just got turned up.  There seems to be a trend of utter denial going on out there.  Less of a bubble about to burst, more perhaps that the floor underneath us is about to collapse.