Aug 062012
Proud to be a nerd. (Whoops! I mean engineer!)

I had nothing to do with MSL (the Mars Science Laboratory), and I’ve never been involved in anything so mission-critical, but I identify with those people. Science and large-system engineering are among the activities which most push the limits of Homo sapiens, distinguishing us from any other living things. I’m willing to accept that large-group arts activities, such as symphony orchestras, also qualify. But sport doesn’t. I haven’t been gripped by recent sport: not the tennis, the football, or even the Olympics, except for fascination with the opening ceremony. (And I certainly wasn’t gripped by the Jubilee, of course!) EDL, . . . . . . . . . . [Read complete post]

Jul 312012

Two UK TV programmes this week have presented problems with the new approach to sickness and disability benefits. (Channel 4 “Britain on the Sick” and BBC2 “Panorama: Disabled or Faking it?”) Both programmes used anecdotes and under-cover investigation to make their points that there are flaws with the new system. And there do appear to be flaws. But are these flaws of philosophy/policy or flaws of implementation? I think they are primarily flaws of motivation and implementation, not of philosophy. First, some statistics presented as criticism by Channel 4 about the assessments performed by Atos, the private-sector contractor used for . . . . . . . . . . [Read complete post]

Jul 282012

(I’m not interested in sport, but I found the non-commentary version of the Olympics 2012 Opening Ceremony fascinating). Any event that has Nimrod, Jerusalem, Tubular Bells, the Industrial Revolution, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, James Bond, Simon Rattle, Rowan Atkinson, Shami Chakrabarti, and the Red Arrows, has my vote! (I quite like “Abide with me”, but perhaps “Band on the run” would have been more appropriate than “Hey Jude”?) You can’t have everything, but perhaps James Dyson and Adele would have made things better. (And if Adele had given birth a few weeks early, at least there would have been plenty of . . . . . . . . . . [Read complete post]

Jul 242012

I’m puzzled about this proposal (which I’ve also seen before): Financial watchdog criticises free banking End of free banking? Free current accounts ‘should go’ so High Street banks stop mis-selling, warns top financial watchdog There appear to be 2 arguments, neither of which makes sense: 1. It will reduce mis-selling, apparently because banks will have less need to mis-sell if they have an extra source of revenue. Really?  So banks will be satisfied with this extra money, and decide “enough is enough”? Does anyone believe that? 2. It will make it easier for new banks to enter the market and . . . . . . . . . . [Read complete post]

Jul 242012

As usual when people pursue a single issue, logic fails and the plot gets lost. That is the case with what David Gauke, a Treasury minister said, and/or with the discussion that followed it: David Gauke: we shouldn’t ignore hidden economy Paying tradesmen cash in hand morally wrong, says minister Money Morals: Is it really morally wrong to pay my cleaner in cash? How ‘morally wrong’ is it to pay cash-in-hand? “David Gauke, a Treasury minister, told The Daily Telegraph that home owners who allow workmen to evade VAT or income tax were forcing others to pay more”. To show . . . . . . . . . . [Read complete post]

May 162012

The Greek economy is a tiny fraction (2%?) of that of the eurozone. The economy of the eurozone is a fraction of the global economy. The population of Greece is about 11 million, a small faction of 1% of the population of the world. Yet a democratic election in Greece is feared in financial circles across the world! The global impact of Greece exiting from the euro would be many times the size of the Greek economy. Politicians and economists want Greeks to take the rest of the world into account when they vote. But that is really a contradiction . . . . . . . . . . [Read complete post]

Mar 312012

This is a follow-up to “Is this panic-buying of petrol? No – it is typically calm and rational“. People are struggling to understand the current petrol buying pattern. There is a claim that it is the fault of Francis Maude, who spoke of filling up Jerry-cans. Others call it “insane” and “self-inflicted damage”. They are failing to see things from the drivers’ points of view. My summary: I saw unusual queues for petrol on Tuesday evening. Francis Maude’s infamous statement was published on Wednesday. It was not the cause of those queues, although it was probably the cause of some . . . . . . . . . . [Read complete post]

Mar 302012

Lots of reports talk of the current shift in petrol-purchases in the UK as “panic-buying”. Wrong! It is typically calm, rational, sensible, legal, and safe. The people who are panicking are those trying to discourage this behaviour! However, what was perhaps not so rational was the previous behaviour. Perhaps we should always try to keep our tanks topped up, just in case! From Wikipedia: Panic buying is an imprecise common use term to describe the act of people buying unusually large amounts of a product in anticipation of … a large price increase or shortage…. These goods are bought in . . . . . . . . . . [Read complete post]

Feb 212012

Yet another scare story about the dangers of alcohol: BBC: 210,000 people face alcohol death risk, warn doctors Independent: Doctors warn on alcohol deaths NHS Choices: Alcohol ‘could kill 210,000 in next 20 years’ What proportion of deaths is this? This is about 10,500 people a year. Every year, more than 500,000 people die in the UK. So this is about 2% of all deaths! (This is the lowest estimate for the proportion of deaths by alcohol that I’ve seen! Normally the figures tend to be about 3% overall, but typically 4% or more for men). What about lives saved . . . . . . . . . . [Read complete post]

Jan 212012
Public sector workers don't really pay tax!

See below for what I’m not saying here! This post is in response to people who justify the number of public sector workers by using the argument: “public sector workers pay their taxes which contribute to the public purse”. No – public sector workers do not contribute to the public purse (consolidated fund)! What is the difference between the following payment methods for a public sector worker for a given number of hours? Salary £1000, income tax £200. Salary £900, income tax £100. Salary £800, income tax £0. Essentially, no difference. They all draw £800 from the public purse. The . . . . . . . . . . [Read complete post]