Thursday, December 13, 2007

So *that's* how they work

Have you ever wondered how they make Liquid Crystal Displays?  How they manage to control each pixel separately? How they do this without the millions of separate circuits somehow being visible and ruining the image?

Wonder no more.

It turns out that Indium-Tin Oxide is both electrically conductive and transparent - and so ideal for making LCD screens.

Who knew?!

(Well, not me, obviously).

Why does it always happen on the coldest days?

I arrived home last night to a cold flat. Which was odd, because the super-timer-thermostat (official name) is remote-controlled, battery-powered and rather wonderful... power cuts are not a reason for it to mess up. And I'm not sure there had been a power cut anyway.

So I opened the wardrobe (for this is where the boiler is - don't ask).  A red light was flashing.  This is not usually a good sign.

The display was also blinking: "0.6".

Now, I happen to know that, when the boiler is idle, the display reports the pressure in the heating circuit. I know this because I am boring and read the manual when the boiler (Glow Worm 30CXi) was installed earlier this year.

Normally, it reads about 1.5 - and the instructions on the front say it should be at least 1.0 in normal operation.

I suspected a leak but could see nothing obvious (in other words, the floor wasn't wet and there was nothing oozing out of any of the radiator valves).

So, I used the blue plastic knob to top up the heating circuit and the pressure rapidly rose to 1.1.

The boiler worked for the rest of the night and the flat was warm.   At bed time, the pressure had dropped to 0.9, which I thought odd. The water in the heating circuit was now warm, so I would have expected the pressure to be higher than 1.1, since the 1.1 reading was taken when cold.

I didn't top it up but fell asleep with a sense of foreboding.

Sure enough, I woke up feeling cold this morning. I jumped out of bed (something I never do unless I have an important problem to solve!) and checked the boiler.

Back to 0.6 and a flashing red light. Arghhhh.

There must be a leak.  But where?  Under the bathroom tiles? Under the new stone floor in the kitchen? I hope not. Under the laminate floor? None would be particularly desirable.

Regardless, I topped it up again and called the plumber at 9. He shared my suspicion of a leak and is coming out later.

In the meantime, I pulled some boxes out of the airing cupboard and noticed that carpet was damp.


The leak is in the airing cupboard.

I'm not sure where in the airing cupboard. But in there somewhere. So it's not as bad as it could have been.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Goodbye, Eurostar

I left work a little early today as I had some calls to make, which could be done from home.

I knew that today was the last day of Eurostar at Waterloo so I changed my route so that I could cross the main concourse before heading down to the drain.

None of the press reports have picked up on it yet but I could swear that the singer on their make-shift stage (with at least five TV cameras trained on it) was Lily Allen, attempting to sing "Waterloo Sunset".

Most odd.

Monday, November 12, 2007

When did that happen?

IBM snaps up Cognos. No, not IBM buying Cognos... I know when that happened.

Look at the first line of the report:

"IBM, the software and consulting giant..."

Now, I must admit I don't make a habit of reading news reports about my employer but that is the first time I can recall anybody describing IBM as a "software and consulting" company.  Perhaps the message is starting to get through :-)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Speed limits and the enviroment

John Redwood (yes, him) blogged today about the A13.  This is the main road from the East End to the M25 and is one that, whenever I hire a StreetCar, I seem to use more than any other.

As he says, it has the potential to be a very useful road but the planners have decided that, for large stretches of this modern dual carriageway, the speed limit should be 40mph.

As I am paranoid about getting points on my licence, I tend to obey speed limits in urban areas and so have tried various techniques to regulate my speed, which is harder than one would expect - primarily due to the fact that the road could clearly safely support speeds much higher.

The technique that works best is simply to drive in a far lower gear than necessary. The increasing engine noise works very well as an alert if one's speed begins to creep up.

As Mr Redwood pointed out in his article, this has the perverse effect of causing more fuel to be burned than is necessary, and probably results in lower air quality for nearby residents I imagine.

There is definitely scope here for the creation of a truly unholy alliance between motorists and environmentalists to campaign for a rule change of mutual benefit.  Bring it on!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

I am Alan Partridge

Apparently, I use "normative" language to promote a "positive" agenda.

The country's best talk show host, Alan Partridge, once suffered from a similar problem:

"Philip Parsons in the Times called the show moribund. Well I looked up moribund in my dictionary..."

In these more modern times, I asked google to help me understand what "normative" and "positive" meant...

And Richard Murphy, my accuser, was completely correct.

Taking the second definition, we get a sense of what he was driving at:

"Refers to value judgments as to 'what ought to be,' in contrast to positive which is about "what is."

He believes that positive language is the preserve of economists and those "on the right who buy the conventional economic model"

Again, he may well be right.

So, the question is: how are those who believe that economics does have valid points to make on political matters - and who believe that outcomes matter more than intentions - to communicate effectively with those who don't?

If the "normative" folk aren't going to switch into "positive" language, the only option is for the "positives" to move in the other direction.

So, readers, what would a sane economic argument look like if it were presented in a normative manner?  Anybody know? Anybody want to take a stab?!

Richard writes to his MEPs*

All nine of them. The mind boggles. How on earth can I have nine of them?!

Claude Moraes MEP
Charles Tannock MEP [REPLIED]
Robert Evans MEP
Gerard Batten MEP [REPLIED]
Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP
Syed Kamall MEP
Mary Honeyball MEP
Jean Lambert MEP


Saturday 10 November 2007

Dear Syed Kamall, Robert Evans, Baroness Sarah Ludford, Charles Tannock, Mary Honeyball, Jean Lambert, Gerard Batten, John Bowis OBE and Claude Moraes,

I read with astonishment today that the EU's accounts have not been signed off by its auditor for the last twelve years - and look likely to suffer the same fate again this year. This is a disgrace, and borders on the corrupt.

Please can you let me know what you are doing to ensure the EU sorts out its accounts?

Furthermore, please can you confirm that you have supported, and will continue to support, those EU workers, such as Marta Andreasen, who speak out on these matters, at great risk to their livelihood?

Yours sincerely,

Richard G Brown

Thanks to "Write To Them" for the technology and "Burning our Money" for the idea.

[UPDATE 2007-11-11 12:38: I've already had three replies! Will update the names as more replies come in. Have also updated affiliations. Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem, Green, UKIP]

optimizin ur it environment

Oh dear.

The lolcats have an alternative take on my employer's homepage...

[via b3ta - where else?]

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A million messages per second

So, we've announced WebSphere MQ Low Latency Messaging...

I've been following the development of this product inside IBM with interest. Many of my clients are in the financial markets and, hard as it may be to believe, data volumes of this magnitude are not in the world of fantasy for them.

I'm looking forward to talking to them about it!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Scratchcard players can't compare negative numbers

Good grief.

The scary thing is that this story is completely plausible:

"A LOTTERY scratchcard has been withdrawn from sale by Camelot - because players couldn't understand it.
The Cool Cash game - launched on Monday - was taken out of shops yesterday after some players failed to grasp whether or not they had won.

To qualify for a prize, users had to scratch away a window to reveal a temperature lower than the figure displayed on each card. As the game had a winter theme, the temperature was usually below freezing.

But the concept of comparing negative numbers proved too difficult for some Camelot received dozens of complaints on the first day from players who could not understand how, for example, -5 is higher than -6."

If some people are so numerically challenged that even a scratchcard proves beyond them, then that has to be an opportunity here... I just don't know what it is.

via Chicken Yoghurt

Is this true?

The BBC's Newsnight had a lighthearted piece on "Stella Artois" last night.

I stopped drinking Stella several years ago as it would reliably leave me with the most terrible headaches the next morning. They felt different to the muzziness one might ordinarily suffer from after drinking too much and I didn't like it.

However, that wasn't really the point of this posting...

One of the interviewees in the piece was an anthropologist and she made a remarkable claim. She suggested that, when offered a drink that somebody thinks contains alcohol, they will subsequently act as if it did, even if it didn't. That doesn't sound credible.  Is it?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Runaway Trains

Apparently a Docklands Light Railway train escaped from a station without a "Passenger Service Agent" onboard.

The Londonist asked what Serco could do to stop it happening again and so remove the possibility of a stranded trainload of passengers on a viaduct somewhere if a train broke down.

They needn't worry. Serco should launch a "Citizen Reserve Driver" programme and sign up thousands of Docklanders.... just think of the sheer number of geeky train passengers who would pay to be allowed to drive a DLR from time to time :-p

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Don't jump to a solution!

The fantastic "Overcoming Bias" blog has a piece on how we really shouldn't try to solve a problem until we've done as much as we can to understand the problem.

It is astonishing how difficult it is to follow this advice, even when one tries to.

I consciously try to spend most of my initial meetings with clients asking questions, developing my model of their problem and establishing what properties any solution should have. However, it's really hard... one cannot help mentally considering solutions (or solution fragments) and using them to drive the questioning.

Part of this is healthy: many clients have multiple problems or multiple priorities and so driving questioning in a direction where you have a chance of being helpful is clearly useful. However, considering potential solutions gets in the way of developing a deeper understanding of the client's problems because, as the article suggests, the human brain has a very strong tendency to hold onto a solution once it has been conceived.

I found a language to articulate this on a course a few months ago. It was based on Huthwaite's "SPIN Selling" methodology. The course was one of the most useful (and challenging) ones I've been on and was focussed pretty much exclusively on addressing the problem identified in the Overcoming Bias piece. Specifically, a structured model for questioning that allowed one to arrive naturally at the fullest possible statement of the client's problem and needs prior to moving on to solutioning.

This article was timely; it has reminded me I need to make a renewed effort to implement it!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Emotional Blackmail

I am on training at our Staines location. It is second only to Bedfont in its difficulty to visit if you live in East London. As the education was a two-day affair, I elected to stay in a hotel overnight.

It was quite an entertaining experience:

  • The internet connection didn't work. I had to be "escalated" to a "second-level" specialist before the wired connection would allow me to get online
  • Hot water came out of the tap when in the cold position. Apart from when it was lukewarm. The handyman couldn't fix it so they delivered me jugs of iced water instead. Had no other guest discovered the problem before or do they just hope nobody will complain?
  • As is common these days, the bill was slipped under my door overnight and contained a list of exciting ways to checkout on the back. Regular readers will know that I don't do queues so I thought I'd try one of them:
    • "Checkout by video". Apparently one can use the interactive feature on the TV to view the bill, enter one's address and checkout. I could view the bill, but there was no option to check out. Wonderful.
    • "Checkout by phone" (available to members of their loyalty programme only). Luckily I was a member and miracle-of-miracles my number was printed on the bill. So I logged on to (oops... I've identified the chain!). I defy anyone to figure out which link you must click on to check that the address they hold for you is correct. An utterly shocking website.
    • So I was left with no option but to queue up.

Fortunately, the queue wasn't too long and it gave me time to peruse the bill. It seems that Sheraton believe it is acceptable to add items to your bill that you haven't agreed to. This is called attempted theft anywhere else, isn't it? They had added a £1 charge for "UNICEF". As charities go, I suspect UNICEF are one of the good ones. They're almost certainly less corrupt and do more good for the world than the average UN organisation.

However, I prefer to choose where to donate my money and I like to ensure they can claim back the tax on my contribution.

Sadly, asking for a charity donation to be removed from one's bill - especially one for a quid - makes you look mean. Well, I hate being emotionally blackmailed more than I hate being frowned upon so I asked the receptionist if UNICEF would be able to claim back tax (knowing that the answer would be no). She didn't know so I asked for it to be taken off.

So, yes... I'm a coward. I couldn't bring myself to complain about the principle so I let her believe I upset that they wouldn't get enough money from this little act of involuntary altruism. Not my finest hour... but then outcomes do, after all, matter more than intentions.

However, I'm not an ogre and I've been meaning to reassess my charitable giving for some time now (I keep meaning to cancel my Amnesty membership). So does anybody have any ideas of a charity that I should divert my Amnesty donations to (with an uplift to account for my miserly behaviour this morning...)?

[EDIT 2007-10-30 13:56 - mino typos corrected]

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Roo (many, many weeks ago) asked what I thought of Tim Harford's "The Undercover Economist".

Short answer: I loved it.

I first heard about it on a "Radio Economics" PodCast, where he read the introduction and the first chapter

The rest of the book was equally enjoyable.

The introduction sticks in my mind, however, because it was really a modern reworking of "I, Pencil". That is: not one person in the world knows how to start with raw materials and end up with pencil.

Milton Friedman explained it well:

Maps of London

You can never have enough.

via Diamond Geezer (probably... this sort of stuff usually originates on his blog.... ah yes.... here)

Underground Waterways and unexpected tunnels

Overground Waterways

The underground map is interesting.... it suggests the Northern Low-level sewer heads inland east of Tower Hill to meet the mid-level sewer at Stratford via Bow.

So where does the effluent of Docklands go? (And no... the answer is not that the effluent of Docklands is recycled here; that would be too extreme. They merely recycle the effluent of Westminster)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Economics of Ant Colonies

Attentive readers (all three of them...) may have noticed my blogging has been intermittent to non-existent of late. I've been busy.

Busy learning about ants.

Well, busy working and decorating and stuff. But I did also happen to listen to a fascinating PodCast about ants. And I suppose I could have blogged during that hour had I not been listening to the recording. The pOdcASt (how do you capitalise it?) was about ant colonies and how order emerges even though there is no leader to direct things. It made me think back to my holiday in Provence in July. On holiday, I spent many, many hours on the sun lounger (under the umbrella) reading and watching the ants carry away the various crumbs we had dropped. My ant fascination was such that no fewer than two friends who were on that holiday bought me ant-related products for my recent birthday.

Anyway, the podcast was very interesting and I recommend it.

I need some investing help

Readers, I am ashamed to admit that, having failed to find a suitable investment target in August (see here), I have still not invested the money sitting in my selftrade account. Worse, I have since opened a trading account in the US and have failed to invest that money either.


I know one should not be afraid to hold cash in uncertain times but this is getting ridiculous.

If I believe that stock markets in general (in the UK and US, at least) are probably over-valued, I'm torn between spending some considerable time identifying individual stocks I regard as under-priced (like I did, by accident, with Morrison's - although not immediately...) or investing in a different asset class or using a different approach. Which? I'm not keen on anything that requires active management... so no short term shorting strategies, etc.

Perhaps I should just put it all under the bed.

Just too easy

I make a point of reading The Guardian on Saturdays as I believe it is important to read opinions with which one disagrees. Its economic illiteracy and the sheer lunacy of some of their letter writers makes my Saturday mornings highly amusing, if somewhat infuriating.

I swear they include articles whose sole intention is to push me over the edge and vow never to buy the paper again.

They went one better today and included a whole supplement. Labelled "The Green Guide", it was an uncritical, sanctimonious bucket of propaganda masquerading as journalism.

At least, that's what I thought it would be before I opened it.

Against my better judgement, however, I retrieved it from the bin (landfill-destined, naturally). It turns out my prejudices were unfounded. It was actually just a large advertising supplement, littered with adverts targetted at the credulous fools who actually believe the lies we're being fed about the environment at present.

It was gratifying to realise quite how many companies have figured out that there's good money to be made from these people. Good for them!

(And the best thing is, I get to put it in the trash for the second time!)

Monday, October 22, 2007

The housing market is doomed!

Seen from the DLR: six liveried Volkswagen Beetles parked outside Atkinson Mcleod's Leman Street Office. Why aren't they showing buyers around and chasing after sellers? The end is nigh!

(Alternative explanation 1: the estate agents were having a meeting

Alternative explanation 2: Monday early afternoon is always slow and I only noticed the cars because I normally leave work somewhat later in the day)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Alternative Routes to Work

My regular readers would find any comment on the current tube strike tiresomely predictable so I'm going to talk about something else instead.

Being unable to get the Waterloo and City line from Bank, I went to Tower Gateway this morning and caught the RV1 bus to the South Bank instead.

I had a seat for both legs of the journey (the Tower Gateway services are always less congested than the DLR's Bank services) and being above ground for the whole journey made a refreshing change.

It took twenty minutes longer than ordinary but I think I got off lightly compared to some. 

Tax "Justice", revisited

Richard Murphy was good enough to respond to my observations on the Tax "Justice" phenomenon. He addressed the three points in order and I will do the same here. As in my original post, I try to concentrate on the argument and not the person. I ask any commenters to do the same. 

"Perspective on whose money it is"

As Tim Worstall has commented, the rebuttal to my first point was eye-opening.  Murphy chose to mount a rousing defence of the concept of a state as part of his answer. I'm not sure why he did this because my point was about the mindset of those who propagate notions of "Tax Justice" but the argument was interesting, nevertheless.

The key passage is this:  (my formatting)

This system also corrects the very obvious failings of the market system. That system could not ever provide a socially optimal outcome in any society in reality because so many of the pre-conditions of it doing so do not exist. Those that do not exist include:

  • Perfect knowledge of the future;

  • Perfect knowledge of all products and services available in the market now, and their prices; ...

I could add many more, all of which are required[1] to make markets produce successful outcomes and the absence of any one of which will result in an imperfect result. The degree of imperfection cannot be predicted, but will tend towards monopoly exploitation[2]. This is why the State must intervene to protect those whom the market would otherwise both fail and exploit.[3]

Taking the highlighted points in turn, (1) is probably the most problematic. Murphy confuses sufficient conditions with necessary conditions and so has set up a straw-man (seemingly unwittingly).  Unlike Murphy, I am not a trained economist. But I am a trained mathematician; the difference between "necessary" and "sufficient" tends to be quite important.

He then makes an unsupported claim (2) about what bad things might happen in the absence of one of the sufficient conditions and then, inexplicably, claims (3) that the solution to imperfect knowledge is to create an institution which cannot hope to accumulate the missing information.

"Is poverty created - or escaped from?"

Apart from reiterating his flawed understanding of economic theory, Murphy doesn't really address the substance of my core argument (that poverty isn't created; wealth is) and so there's not much more I can write on this one

"Anyone who disagrees is greedy"

Murphy's response to this is to assert:

The first is that the whole basis of mainstream economic thinking is that greed is both acceptable and desirable. This is what the maximisation of self interest that it promotes means, at least to many who seem to simplistically buy into this economic vision.

This is, of course, a very cleverly-constructed straw-man. He chooses a narrow definition of "self-interest" and then suggests that it is my definition. 

Quite apart from the fact that it isn't my opinion, it doesn't really address the point.

When it comes to taxes, there are three cases:

  • You are unambiguously liable to a particular tax
  • You are unambiguously not liable
  • There is doubt about whether you are liable or there is a divergence between the law-as-written and the supposed intent of those who wrote it

Clearly, most (all, I hope!) of us agree that we should pay demands that fall into the first category and I'm sure not even Murphy pays demands that fall into the second. So the only point of disagreement is the third.

Now, if you do not believe government does a good job of spending money, it is illogical voluntarily to pay more than is required (and let's be clear, that's what is being asked of us; if it wasn't voluntary, there would be no debate as it would fall into the first category!) This does not make one greedy.

So, I am grateful for Murphy's response (truly - even faulty arguments can force one to clarify one's thinking) but I'm not convinced he's supported his assertions.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Political Compass Cheat Sheet

The discussions on Roo's post about the Political Compass made me think. Some of the questions are clearly ones of opinion. But others, to my mind, have a right or wrong answer.

Here are some examples:

'Controlling inflation is more important than controlling unemployment.'

I thought the lesson of the 1970s had been well and truly learned. Perhaps not.

' "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" is a fundamentally good idea. '

It might be a fundamentally nice idea. That doesn't make it a good idea.  If you truly believe that it is a good idea, you cannot simultaneously believe in the power of incentives, the tragedy of the commons, the free-rider problem or any of the other insights of economics. In other words, it is possible, strictly, to agree with the statement but to do so logically places you far outside the mainstream.  "Intent" is not the same as "outcome" and it is logically inconsistent to agree with statements you believe to have good intent if you know the outcome will be bad.

'Land shouldn't be a commodity to be bought and sold.'

Again, one may not like the idea of property or of property rights. However, to agree with this statement is to call for a complete abandonment of our economic system. That's fine; some people really do believe they know better and think the miracle of the last 500 years (humanity's discovery of how to escape from poverty) could have been achieved better in another manner.  But glibly to agree with such a statement without acknowledging its implications is of questionable rigor. 

And just in case anybody thinks I'm merely defining my opinion as the truth, here's an example where I do believe opinion comes into it:

'No broadcasting institution, however independent its content, should receive public funding.'

I have strong opinions on this one but I accept that some people genuinely do believe applying a regressive tax on the poor (as happens in the UK) to fund a broadcaster is acceptable. I find such people are immune to (my) argument and have, reluctantly, concluded that this one truly does seem to be a matter of opinion!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Should we do anything about climate change?

John Llewellyn, Senior Economic Policy Advisor at Lehman Brothers, wrote an article in today's Observer discussing whether we should act on climate change.

He seemed to conflate the question of whether it is happening with whether we should do anything about it. I don't think this is helpful.

Dear Dr Llewellyn,

I read your article on climate change in today's Observer with interest.

Your categorisation of people with an opinion on the topic was probably fair (although I didn't recognise myself in any of them!) but I can't help thinking you missed a key point: the question of whether human-caused climate change is occurring is different to the question of what, if anything, we should do about it. Crucially, the first question is one for scientists whereas the second question is one, primarily, for economists.

If we grant that climate change is occurring, it does not follow that we should do anything about it. 1% of GDP, spent every year for a hundred years is a great deal of money and the power of compounding is such that world GDP in 100 years would be materially lower than it otherwise would have been. Therefore, it is necessary to show that the negative effects of climate change are sufficient to outweigh this massive reduction in the living standards of the people of the future (compared to what they would have been). In other words, arguments based on the idea of doing something "just in case" only work if the negative consequences of doing something are also considered.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Brown

At the risk of my blogging today turning into a link fest to the Portuguese scandium monopolist, I must confess that this argument was stolen shamelessly from him.

[EDIT: Do read kyb's post in the comments. As he points out, even if climate change isn't man-caused, there may still be a case for doing something about it. I may not agree with that but it makes the need to separate the two issues crystal clear]

Tax "Justice"

A week or so ago, I commented on AccManPro that I disagreed with pretty much everything that appears on the blog. One of the commenters there asked me to expand on this and to explain why I thought the ideas being discussed were wrong. I sense that I was being baited but what the heck....

I was going to write a long piece on the ideas behind "tax justice" and the silliness intrinsic in it. However, I found it getting unnecessarily wordy so I thought I'd highlight examples instead:

1) The primary fallacy seems to be the tendency to start from the perspective that your money is the state's - and that you should be allowed to keep what is left after the state has taken what it wants. This perspective is then used to argue that arranging one's affairs to reduce tax liabilities is somehow "taking" money from others. To see why they can think this, you must put yourself in their heads. They start with the assumption that the £100 you just earned is the state's. If you pay 41% tax on it, you're allowed to keep £59 of it - they'll give you the £59, in other words. However, if you find a way to make the tax liability 40%, say, then the state would have to give you £60 back. You've just been given an extra £1. And here's where it gets screwy... they seem to be claiming that this £1 has been funded by somebody else. Yes. That truly does seem to be the thought process. The idea that the original £100 was yours to start with seems completely to escape them. Bizarre.

2) The headline on this piece on a different website related to tax justice shows the "interesting" level of economic literacy prevalent in this field. There seems to be a belief that poverty is "caused" and that, naturally, it is somebody's fault. Sorry, folks. Poverty is not "caused". It is the natural state of humanity. The story of the last five hundred years has been our discovery of how to escape it by creating wealth for ourselves and for others. It is clearly true that many, many people are doing a lot less well than we would like. However, any analysis that starts with the assertion that this is somebody else's fault is not going to lead to anything sensible.

3) Anybody who disagrees with the tax justice crowd is "greedy". See this comment to somebody upset by the impact of inheritance tax. One can argue about the merits of inheritance tax or explain why one believes a tax paid only by the stupid and the unlucky is morally justifiable but note that this isn't what happens. Instead, the ad hominem is deployed. Lovely.

I should point out that I am sure the tax justice crowd are well-meaning, pleasant people. Indeed, I am sure I could spend an enjoyable evening in the company of such people (and I am sufficiently polite in person that I'm sure they could tolerate me!). However, I don't think they would manage to persuade me that this movement is one to which I should subscribe.

I notice that Tim Worstall also sometimes links to taxresearch to take issue with them. Well worth reading.

[EDIT 2007-09-02 19:08 Corrected typo and added link to Tim Worstall]

[UPDATE 2007-09-03 17:23 Richard Murphy has responded. ]

I'm surrounded by woolly liberals.

Gah. What's wrong with some people?!

Roo admits to being a greeny 1972 Labour-type (sort of)

And kyb is almost as bad.

I need to start tracking some different bloggers :-p

This is more like it:

I can only conclude that my mission to educate the world in the correct way of economic thinking (i.e. mine!) is not yet complete.

[UPDATE: Roo is tracking people's results in one place. Seems Uncle Milt and I would have been soul-mates -]

We should ban the sun to protect lightbulb manufacturers

The EU's ridiculous attempt to make us all poor by banning cheap, safe incandescent lightbulbs and forcing us all to buy mercury-filled, harsh fluorescent lamps was bad enough.  That they then placed import tariffs on the energy-saving bulbs is beyond farce.

A commenter on "Devil's Kitchen" suggested that the reason might be because the EU's trade commissioner is an economic illiterate and suggested sending him some pointers.

So I did.

Commissioner Mandelson
DG Trade
European Commission
200 Rue de la Loi
B-1049 Brussels

Dear Commissioner,

I was bemused by recent press reports that the EU is simultaneously banning incandescent lightbulbs and placing import tariffs on low-energy replacements being sent from China.

If the Chinese wish to send us cheap goods, we should open our arms and accept the gifts with gratitude. I resent your efforts to keep the people of Europe poorer than we otherwise would be.

I am enclosing a copy of an essay, written in 1845, by French economist Frédéric Bastiat. It is as relevant today as it was then and I hope it proves illuminating.

Yours sincerely,

Richard G Brown

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

This could be my last ever visit to the US :-(

I'm in New York this week on training for work. Sadly, the venue is about twenty miles outside New York City and it's looking unlikely that I'll get the opportunity for a trip into town but the venue itself is pretty good.

However, when I arrived at Newark, I queued for about half an hour to go through the passport check and was then somewhat perturbed when the agent declined to stamp my passport and, instead, called "Escort!" and had me shipped into a separate room, where I had to wait for another half an hour until another agent entered my details on to a computer and spent five minutes typing away.

Eventually, I was told I could enter the country.

It appears that somebody with my name - or something similar to it - is on a list of baddies. I find this somewhat hard to believe... I mean do you know anybody else with "Gendal" for a middle name?!

This also happened to me when I was here in March.

I asked the agent this time what I needed to do to ensure this doesn't happen again. Apparently, there is nothing I can do and this will happen every time I visit in the future.

I think I'd rather just not come again.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Dance, Monkey. DANCE!

Alex Tabarrok has a great idea: make those who seek to exercise power over us participate in a game show so they can prove themselves before we're saddled with them.

It's interesting to speculate on how the UK's leaders and would-be-leaders would perform in the games Alex suggests.

Coase it Out: Presidential candidates have 12 hours to get a bitterly divorcing couple to divide their assets in a mutually agreeable manner.  (Bonus points are awarded if the candidate convinces the couple to stay together.)

I suspect David Cameron would do better at this than Gordon Brown. As one of Alex's commenters points out, however, giving bonus points for convincing a couple who hate each other to stay together may not be optimal. However, it would be precisely the skillset needed to bring a treaty negotiation to a close

Spot the Fraud:  Presidential candidates are provided with an economic scenario (mortgage defaults are up, hedge funds are crashing, liquidity is tight).  Three experts propose plans.  The candidate must choose one of the plans.  After the candidate chooses, the true identities of the "experts" are revealed. One is a trucker, another a scuba diver instructor and the last a distinguished economist.  Which did the candidate choose? 

My take on this is that Gordon Brown would know the right answer and David Cameron wouldn't. However, and this is the problem with Alex's scheme, that doesn't mean he would do what he knew to be the correct thing!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Something interesting in the *hardware* space? Whatever next!

I struggle to get excited about computer hardware. I work in middleware; the rest is mere detail. UNIX? Windows? RISC? Partitioning?   BORING!!!

But, then, every so often something comes along that seems genuinely interesting.

If Mark is for real (and he doesn't have a track record of just making stuff up), it would seem that it is now possible to migrate running workloads from one physcial machine to another.

I have to admit that such a thing would, indeed, be rather worthy of comment. I may even allow myself to emit a little "wow" sound.


So there. I did it. A post about hardware.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Some investment recommendations, please

Readers, it may have noticed that there is some volatility in world markets at present. Stock markets have tumbled, credit markets have seized up and many people seem to be worried.


Things have got a little cheaper and there are probably some good buying opportunities.

I will probably restrict myself to purchasing shares but could be talked into investing in a fund or buying a different asset class if it could be done easily through as I don't want to have to open up an account somewhere else.

Given that I'm employed in the IT sector and sell primarily to companies in the Financial Services Sector, my preference is to avoid increasing my exposure to them. Any other area would be considered, however.

Any ideas?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

It turns out I asked a good question!

Well, well, well.

My question about optimal locations to hold a party turns out to have been harder than I expected. As always, my super-intelligent commenters made some good observations (read the comments on the other thread).

Taking the biscuit, however, was my colleague Lee Hollingdale.  He decided that, whilst theory is nice, nothing beats a good bit of empiricism: he knocked up a program so that I could experiment for real.   Wow.

Here are the results of Lee's program.

Firstly, let's look at the "two friend" case.  The brighter dots represent points of minimum "total distance travelled". As we see, our prediction that it would be the entire line between the two friends was correct:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

 Now, if we add an extra point - along the same line, something interesting happens.  The optimal position is now just that single new point:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket


If, instead, we move the third friend to somewhere not on the line, but still close, it seems that their house is the best place to hold the party:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket


But if they move out into zone 6, it rapidly becomes clear that their house is not appropriate (quite right, too).

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket


And now, if we pretend to have loads of friends, the optimal point (and there is just one point) can be seen:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket


So, it does appear that two friends is the special case but the "hold the party at the third friend's house" result is not one I was expecting


Thanks Lee!

Monday, August 06, 2007

A mathematics challenge

Six of us were having dinner in a restaurant in on Friday evening. We had travelled from different parts of London and had travelled different decisions.  I started thinking about where we could have met to minimise the total distance we travelled.

In other words, given a set of friends and their starting points and assuming we measure straight-line distances - ignore roads and hills - there must be at least one point that requires the least total distance to be travelled in order for everybody to meet.  Furthermore, there may be more than one such point.   As an example, consider just two friends: any point on a straight line between them would be a meeting point that satisfied my requirement that the total distance travelled is miminised.

My question is: given an arbitrary number of friends and their starting points, what can we say about the set of points representing minimum total distances travelled?   In particular, will its points necessarily be connected to each other or could they be dispersed?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Intelligent Finance "Systems Update". Yeah, right.

Oh dear.

Intelligent Finance is offline (try logging on or accessing your account via phone).

They've no doubt encountered a nasty problem (who knows what it is; it could happen to anybody. The core failure probably isn't even their fault and I feel for the technicians who are, no doubt, running around at high speed desperately trying to get the site back on line).

However, it's not acceptable to describe an unexpected failure as a "systems update".

Face it, guys: you're offline and you didn't plan to be. Don't treat your customers like idiots. Tell us that there's a problem (and that you're working on it) and we'll understand. These things happen.

Persist with the "update" charade for much longer, however, and I'll be taking my business elsewhere. I don't expect my bank to mislead me.

Some honesty, please.


(I'm not the only one to notice that they're down).

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Olympic Park

We learned, via Diamond Geezer, that the site of the London Olympics in 2012 will be closed for five years from tomorrow.

This meant that today was a perfect day for a walk in the "country"! (if you ignore the weather)

So, eight of us met at Bromley-by-Bow tube at noon and walked along the various waterways that mark the rough perimeter of the southern-half of the site.

We then headed back to the real river down the Limehouse Cut and had lunch in Wapping.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Traffic Jam on the Thames

The Thames was busier than I had ever seen it before on Saturday.

Tens upon tens of boats all manoeuvring in and around Limehouse reach, including massive barges being rowed.

Rather exciting to watch, but very odd.  You can just about make out one of these strange rowing boars in the centre-left of the picture.

The reason my blogging has been light...

A fridge and wine cooler in the bedroom...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

... a hole where the kitchen used to be...


Yes... it can mean only one thing: the builders are in!

At least things are moving forward, though.... the tiling and flooring is beginning to get going now:

Not long now (allegedly).

Monday, June 11, 2007

How to be a manager when you have no power

Like many companies, the one I work for is heavily matrix-managed: somebody is responsible for worrying about a particular software product line's sales to all customers in the UK... somebody else is worried about sales of all software to financial services customers... somebody else is worried about how much revenue - across all the things we sell - we get from a single set of named customers. And so on.

In such a world, it clearly isn't possible for each of those people to own all the dedicated resources they need in order to meet their objectives; they have to rely on team-work, cooperation and in helping others see how their interests - and those of our clients - can be aligned.

I was therefore interested to read this post about being on the management board for a residential development by David Lorenzo.

I emailed him to suggest that his experiences of having responsibility without total power were not unique and he posted a response here.

Clearly, the problem of running a condo management board is different to that of running a sales organisation but, it's a nice reminder that the difficulties of running a complicated large company are sometimes similar to the problems faced by much smaller organisations.


Work starts on the new kitchen today...

Dust.... capped gas pipes.... demolished walls.... exposed wiring.... the ever-present fear that they'll ignore what I've told them and just build whatever they feel like.

I can't wait to be back in work tomorrow.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

IBM Technical Leadership Exchange

I'm on my way home from The 2007 European "Technical Leadership Exchange".

Luis was there.... As was Andrew. And so was Roo.

Being my usual useless self, I failed to find or say hello to any of them.


Regardless, I had a (mostly) excellent time.  Some useful technical sessions, some excellent "soft" sessions, good networking opportunities (even if there's something deeply wrong about drinking Champagne inside the Disney park while the children are locked outside) and some very good keynote speakers (Bruno Di Leo in particular).

I say "mostly", however, thanks to my ability to injure myself in unexpectedly exciting ways.

I'm not sure how I did it but I have managed to mess up my neck: I can barely move it and, whenever I do, I am in agony.

I've dosed myself up with paracetamol and ibuprofen, left the conference early, moved my flight forward and booked an appointment with my doctor for tomorrow.   Most annoying: there were some sessions today that I really wanted to see but there was no way I would have been able to sit through them. Pity :-(

Apart from that though, an excellent event.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The one where Richard writes to his MP

My MP voted for David Maclean's grubby attempt to exempt Members of Parliament from the Freedom of Information act. So I wrote to him:

Dear Jim Fitzpatrick,

I understand from the BBC
( that you voted to
give the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill a third reading. I was
surprised as none of the supposed justifications I have heard for this
bill are credible.

I have not felt the need to write to my MP before but your cynical,
self-serving act has outraged me in a way I didn't think possible.

I hope you are ashamed of yourself.

Yours sincerely,

Richard G Brown

He wrote back. I haven't asked for permission to report what he said so I'll just show you my reply:

Dear Jim,

Thank you for your quick response.

Although the downgrading of MPs' expenses from being covered under FoI to being available at the discretion of the speaker is worrying, my problem with this bill is somewhat deeper.

Whenever parliament imposes a new regulation or obligation on others, there are real costs: complying with the regulation can be expensive, failure to do the right thing can mean otherwise well-meaning people find themselves on the wrong side of the law and people will find ways to exploit the regulation in unintended ways, to the detriment of those forced to comply with it.

The great beauty of FoI was that it finally forced MPs to experience some of this phenomenon: silly, timewasting queries that waste researchers' time, the indignity of having one's expenses published and the need to be familiar with complicated processes in order to keep confidential correspondence private were all consequences of the FoI legislation and served to remind MPs - every day - of the knock-on costs that occur when parliament creates red tape with abandon.

I was, therefore, utterly outraged when you and others surveyed the impact of FoI on your working life and, rather than learn a lesson from it and resolve to do better when regulating in the future, chose simply to exempt yourself from it.

You may have noticed that nobody else in the country has such privilege; we cannot opt out of rules and regulations that we find inconvenient.

It was this arrogant show of hypocrisy that drove me to write to you and, although I was impressed by - and grateful for - your quick response, I continue to be dismayed by your voting for this bill.

Thanks and best regards,


Monday, May 14, 2007

Saturday, May 12, 2007

I want to move to Ukraine

Yes. I know I shouldn't have. But I seem to have found myself watching the Eurovision Song Contest.

Ukraine's entry is quite possibly the most insanely silly song I have ever seen.

Think Su Pollard meets Elton John meets Pet Shop Boys meets Dame Edna Everage.

Jaw-droppingly bizarre.

Friday, May 11, 2007

WebSphere Stuff

I was in Munich this week for some technical training on new IBM WebSphere products.

My main focus this week was on learning more about WebSphere Service Registry and Repository and WebSphere Business Services Fabric.

Many people may wonder why, in this connected age, we need to fly halfway across Europe to sit in the same room as each other to learn this stuff: why can't we do it remotely?

The reason is that a large amount of the value (and learning) comes from the spontaneous discussions over coffee, the chats over drinks and the atmosphere created in the classroom when one student's questions trigger somebody else's.   I've not yet seen this work as well when done remotely.

Munich Airport Rules

As my regular readers will know, I don't do queues.

Therefore, my entire week in Munich (of which more later) has been spent in eager anticipation of the journey home.

You see, Munich Airport have invested in the most fantastic check-in system for Lufthansa passengers.

As soon as you enter Terminal Two, there is a bank of self-check-in machines.

But these are no ordinary self-check-in machines.

There are self-check-in machines that weigh your checked backage, print a strip for you to attach and provide a conveyor belt to send your bag to the plane.

No need to queue for "fast" bag drop!!!

I've used them several times and still get excited by them.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Twitter, Dopplr and stuff

As Andy correctly points out, I signed up to Dopplr earlier this week (I am "gendal") and immediately discovered that he and I would be in Edinburgh at the same time the following day. Spooky.

We had drinks and dinner and he reminded me about all the stuff that is happening outside the world of WebSphere, the Financial Services Sector and BPM. He is a bad man. I don't get paid on Web 2.0!

However, he's not quite accurate. He did interest me in Twitter and, last night, I signed up (I am "gendal")

So now what?

Do I get charged for each text I receive? (It's turned off until I know!)

How do I tell it who I'm interested in hearing from?

I'm sure it's all obvious :-)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

SOX for Politicians

James links to a suggestion that politicians should be forced to read - and understand - any legislation they sign.

What an excellent idea!

I guess there's the minor problem that, were this rule to be applied more widely, you'd probably need to test all citizens before they're allowed to vote.  Not something I'd relish.  The cleverer someone is, the more ridiculous their political beliefs usually turn out to be. (You, dear readers, do not count, of course).

I wonder if there is any way to achieve this directly?

I suppose one could encourage the media to ask questions about bills politicians have voted for in an attempt to ridicule them.

Another option, I guess, would be to find a way to encourage bill drafters to include little nuggets that, left unamended, would make something bad happen to an MP.

But there must be some more creative ideas :-)

Cool, cool, cool, cool, cool!

I ordered some old maps of London -  and ancient plans relating to the land the flat now stands on - from the Corporation of London the other week.

My interest in old maps shows no sign of being sated though... it seems you can fly over 1843 London on Google Earth now too!

Monday, April 30, 2007

Who says Scoble isn't interesting any more?

He did link to this, after all. I can only begin to imagine the chaos something similar to this would cause in London...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

New Multimap

When did this happen? Multimap's gone all Ajax-ey!


I'm Back!

It's been some time since I last posted.

Here are some of the things I've been pondering recently:

Thought One:

  • Do (completely) blind people have higher or lower lighting bills than the partially- and fully-sighted?
    • On one hand, they have no need to turn lights on.
    • On the other hand, they would not know if the light was on and so would not know to turn it off. This could be a particular problem if visitors have been
  • The question may sound flippant but there must be scores of problems that those with sight or hearing problems must face (running taps, alarms, etc)
  • This line of thought is probably driven from my realisation that I'm less than six months away from being thirty and, hence, officially "old"

Thought Two:

  • Is it reasonable to pursue a complaint about being supplied with the incorrect service if it turns out the substitution worked out better?
  • A group of us went away to Devon last weekend and we hired a car. Nothing special - just a 1.6 Ford Focus
  • Upon collection, we signed all the paperwork and then, in what I considered to be a "bait and switch" they casually informed me the car was a diesel.
  • I protested (I don't spend good money hiring a car so that I can feel like I'm in a tractor!) but they maintained that it was all they had and that, in any case, it was "better"
  • Their assurance that the engine was the "same size" just made me more upset.
  • I asked if it was a turbodiesel and they said no.
  • However, pleasure upon pleasure, it turned out that it was a turbodiesel and that it was more than satisfactory.
  • (In other news, driving through central London on a Friday morning is hell. Driving through central London on a Monday afternon is just fine. Go figure)

Thought Three:

  • What is the difference between "Business Process Management" and "Case Management"?
  • I rather like Bruce Silver's thoughts but I'm still not entirely settled

Thought Four:

  • They changed everybody's badges at work recently (to enable a groovy new salary-sacrifice tax-efficient payment system). Problem: they printed my old "fat Richard" picture on the card.
  • They also messed up my card so that I couldn't spend my tax-free cash on it for the first two weeks
  • Question: I can calculate my losses from having to buy my lunches from post-tax income and the lost interest on the money I spent that would otherwise have been saved but what is the cost to me of having to wear a sevel-year old photo?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Gendal's Law

When internet political discussions get out of hand, it is not uncommon for one party to label their opponent a "nazi". Of course, those who can only understand their opponents' positions by assigning them malign intent are clearly unworthy of participating further and it is sufficient to accuse such people of violating Godwin's Law before declining to debate with them any further.

I believe we need to institute a similar system for those who claim to have "had the flu" when it is clear they have had nothing more than a bit of a cold.  I will call it Gendal's Law.

Influenza will consign you to bed for weeks. It will make you question your desire to continue living. It will make walking from the bed to the bathroom harder than one could possibly imagine.

A bad cold, by contrast, may lay you low for a few days. You may feel wretched. You may shiver. You may lose your appetite. You may cough. You may have a blocked nose. You may have a runny nose. You may, like me, have felt that your body has somehow forgotten how to regulate its own temperature.

But here's a clue: if you're up and running again after a few days, it wasn't flu.

I suffered from such a cold last week and, at one point, did begin to wonder if I had influenza.  A cursory search of the web for flu symptoms convinced me that I didn't have it but it did cross my mind.

However, there was no excuse for my thinking it was flu. If one needs to ask: "is it flu?" then it probably isn't.

We need to get firm on those who say they've had flu when they haven't. We need to start enforcing Gendal's law!

In the future, when such people do violate my law, I urge you to call them on it.

And yes... Dennis... that means you are the first violator of Gendal's Law!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Is this space weekend or something?

Although I'm feeling somewhat better than I was, I thought I had better stay in last night. Flicking through the channels, I stumbled upon a re-run of "Apollo 13".

This afternoon, I somehow caught the end of "Capricorn One".

And now, checking my RSS feeds, I notice that Slashdot has a piece on a Slashdot has a piece on a space junkyard.

What is going on?

Whatever.... it made for an unexpectedly interesting few hours spent in front of the TV. I've had a vague feeling for some time that the Apollo programme must have been a rather large undertaking but it was only when I typed things into Wikipedia as I watched the movie last night that I realised quite what an achievement it was.

I was particularly interested in the character of Gene Kranz. He was the flight controller featured in the movie and, it turns out, was instrumental in a lot of other places, too.

Some new things I realised this weekend:

* As a potential contractor, if the Apollo requirements had been brought to me, I'd have probably said "no bid"!  The risk those guys were happy to work with was mind-blowing.

* IBM's IMS came out of a need to track the bill of materials for the various parts of the programme.  Who knew?  I certainly didn't until now.

Yes, yes....  Surely space exploration is the kind of stuff you're supposed to read about when you're a teenager, never to think about it again.  I did go through a phase where I was interested in space but I don't think I ever reflected on what, with 1960s technology, was achieved back then.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Letters to the editor

Part 2 of an occasional series.

I read an article in the Guardian's "Money" section last week that I thought was little more than a hatchet job on concert ticket resellers. So I told them.

My letter (reproduced below) was published today.

Why ticket touts offer a valuable service

Although I can understand the frustration of those who cannot buy concert tickets at "face value" thanks to touts (New move to put the touts out of business, March 17), their anger is misdirected. The touts are performing the valuable service of ensuring tickets are allocated to those who value them most. By underpricing the tickets, the promoters have failed in this duty.

Indeed, the only part I don't understand is, if touts really are profiteering egregiously, why do promoters leave so much money on the table by underpricing their tickets? Any vendor that deliberately underpriced a service and chose, instead, to ration it by demanding displays of devotion from its customers - such as becoming a member of the fan club - is a vendor I would rather not do business with. Therefore, I buy my concert tickets from touts through eBay - at times of my choosing, in comfort and with thanks.

Richard Brown

The article about tickets touts is here

The letters page is here

Part 1 of this series, where I write to the Independent to complain about Johann Hari, ocurred earlier this year.

Friday, March 23, 2007

It has always been thus

Bobby Woolf (courtesy of Keys Botzum) shared this excellent sketch.

Think today's technology is complicated? Try to imagine how hard it was for the first users of the "book", accustomed as they were to the "scroll".

As Bobby says, bear with it; it gets funnier and funnier...

[EDIT 2007-03-27 17:20 Typo in title]

Be careful out there!

I have been using some of my downtime as an opportunity to catch up on the wider world of BPM. It's easy to get very focussed on one's own products and one's own clients and lose track of what's happening in the wider world.

So, I spent some time this morning browsing Sandy Kemsley's recent posts in my feed reader.

One post caught my attention. It wasn't actually about BPM; it was about blogging. She accused somebody of stealing her blog posts.

What I think was going on was that the guy was aggregating the RSS feeds of lots of relevant bloggers and republishing them on his site. Because Sandy publishes a full feed (which means I don't have to go to ebiqz to read her posts - they're in my reader in their entirety), her full posts were appearing on his blog.

She was upset - and said so.

The guy apologised and took down the posts. Although his blog was done in his own time, his role as a Sales VP for a vendor clearly made him visible: he has resigned from his job.

A reminder to us all of the need to be careful.

And if that were not enough, Dennis brings news of dastardly deeds in the enterprise applications world. Oracle are claiming that a unit of SAP have been engaged in "corporate theft on a grand scale". The alleged behaviour includes the logging on to Oracle's support site and downloading large numbers of documents.  Without expressing an opinion on this matter, it's a timely reminder to the rest of us that even seemingly innocuous acts (like bulk-downloading all information you may conceivably need about a problem) may, in retrospect, look suspicious.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Monkey man is dead

Feeling sorry for myself on my sick bed today, I was flicking through the paper when the face of the guy from "Monkey Business" appeared. The weird thing was that the page was the obituary page.

What a shame :-(  I used to love watching that show and he seemed like a genuinely nice person.

More information here.

I am ill :-(

I have been struck down by a really nasty cold.  Yes... I know; it sounds wimpish (and, believe me, I have tried, in vain to fit my symptoms to Pneumonia or Bronchitis or something more respectable).

I started to suffer on Monday evening: I barely slept that night - waking up every thirty minutes or so and, by the time I got up on Tuesday morning, I was coughing prodigiously and my brain was doing that weird thing where it was occasionally pretending to turn off for a second. At one point I thought: "Wow... if this doesn't get better soon, I'm going to have to quit my job - my health clearly isn't up to it!"

I had a hectic schedule planned for the next three days and decided, perhaps foolishly, to make good on the commitments I made.

So, I made my way to King's Cross (taking a taxi rather than the DLR and the tube was my nod towards the illness) and sat on a train for two hours to get to York (after stocking up on drugs at Boots).  That evening I travelled on two other trains for about four hours to get from York to a hotel in Norwich. That was an utterly miserable journey. (Although, to be fair, I suspect its misery is probably little different even if you're feeling on top form)

I had a three hour presentation and demonstration to give to some senior architects at one of my clients on Wednesday. My plan was to finish my preparation that night.

Sadly, on the walk from Norwich Station to the car park (my colleague gave me a lift to the hotel), I thought I was going to break my back due to the frequency and severity of my shivering (assuming my chattering teeth hadn't sliced off my tongue first).

By the time I made it to my hotel room, I was so cold I spent thirty minutes standing next to the radiator (turned up to full) in my suit and outdoor coat.  I was *still* feeling cold by the end of this. My room-service dinner was left pretty much untouched :-(   I can't remember the last time I lost my appetite.

I decided there was no point in trying to do further preparation and went straight to bed.

And that's when things began to get really weird.

I managed to get to sleep very quickly (which was a welcome relief, considering the difficulty I had the night before).

But, three hours later, I woke up feeling like I was being boiled alive. With hindsight, I should, perhaps, have anticipated this: the radiator was still turned up to maximum, after all (yes... I am an idiot).

However, my brain was clearly somewhat muddled.

No matter how I tried to rearrange the cover I either found myself too warm or too cold.  Even after turning down the heating, I could not find a comfortable temperature. I swung from feeling too hot to shivering.

Eventually I figured out what was going wrong: the duvet was not a normal duvet. It was a cynical corrupt duvet. Yes: the explanation for my discomfort was that the duvet was not uniform in its construction: some parts of it provided more insulation than others. The answer was to rotate it by about forty five degrees to ensure an even insulation.

However, I had reckoned without one thing. It turned out that the duvet wasn't just non-uniform, it was under the control of the hotel reception staff. I deduced this active conspiracy because, even when I rotated the duvet to compensate for its non-uniform design, I still couldn't find an acceptable temperature: the hotel staff must be actively fighting me!

I spent several minutes trying to figure out why the hotel was doing this to me and what it would take to make them stop. Do they want my money?

Fortunately (for my ongoing freedom, at least), I chose not to call them and demand they stop interfering with my duvet and decided to take it up with reception when I checked out in the morning.

In the meantime, I went to the bathroom, had a glass of water, went back to bed and promptly fell asleep.

I thought it would probably be better not to mention my discoveries to reception when I checked out...

As for my illness.... well my cough got steadily worse throughout Wednesday and my presentation went reasonably well (but far from brilliantly).

I was most grateful to discover that a colleague had been found to stand in for me at another meeting today.

This was good because I felt even worse this morning. I have spent all the day sat on the sofa, barely moving.  My one piece of activity has been to shuffle to the local shop and back for some lunch. I was coughing so hard (and my nose running so freely) when I returned that I thought I was going to die.

However, I am beginning to feel a little better now and am hoping that, if I take it easy tomorrow too, I should be ready to return to form at work on Monday.

Not a moment too soon. I hate being ill. I hate reneging on commitments I have made. And, even more, I hate sneaky amorphous, conspiratorial duvets. People, beware: are you sure your duvet isn't trying to attack you?!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Utair and Surgut

It appears that a Utair Tupolev-134 has crash landed on a return flight from Surgut in Siberia, killing five.

The story caught my attention because Utair (flying Tu-134s) are the airline I used when I visited Surgut in 2004 and 2005.

I remember joking at the time about the wisdom of flying an internal Russian airline - but being pleasantly surprised by the experience

  • Domodedovo airport was surprisingly well run: they had the best security-check arrangements of any airport I have ever visited: before the scanners, there was a large open space with plenty of seats and baskets. Passengers could sit down, take off their shoes, empty their pockets and extract their laptops before approaching the machines. This meant that a single slow person didn't cause the queue to freeze-up: people were only processed when they were ready. Utter Genius!
  • Surgut airport was also relatively efficient. On the airside, the de-icing machines were amazing: shortly before the plane was due to depart, a machine would appear out of nowhere and spray a gunky liquid over both wings of the plane. The entire operation took less than thirty seconds.  I could imagine the same scenario at Heathrow (it would involve a lengthy delay and an apology from the pilot about unavailability of equipment, no doubt).
  • The in-flight catering on the flights was outstanding. The airline had rejected the idea of trying to do "fancy" meals or to replicate familiar meals from home. Instead, they had figured out what actually worked at 30,000 feet and served that instead. The pictures don't do it justice, but the rating (8/10) is about right: in-flight catering on Utair flight

However, for all that, I was a little disquieted when I saw that Utair had recently been banned from operating in the EU due to safety concerns.

Either way, it is sad to hear that people have died and have been injured - I hope those injured make a speedy recovery.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Public Service Broadcasting courtesy of XFM

Three quarters of the adverts are government propaganda ("drive slowly!".... "wear a seatbelt!".... "insurance companies are scum but you can trust the FSA".... "private landlords are also scum".... "use the job centre!"... and on it goes).

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Who knew...? you can't trust statistics!

Don Boudreaux has a nice piece showing how two of the most widely quoted economic "statistics" of late are actually highly misleading.  Good stuff.

The difference between an abstract and an introduction

I think I knew this but I've not seen it spelled out so explicitly before.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Is JFK always that awful?

Having just had the privilege of leaving the US via the delightful Delta terminal at JFK (terminal three), I'm still unsure if I was the victim of a hidden camera stunt or if the operators of the airport truly do believe that their tin-pot, third-world sh*t-hole of an airport terminal is in some way acceptable.

Either way, a walking route from the "Air Train" that takes you past three separate piles of accumulated pigeon dirt, dead ends, across two car park entrance ramps, along a pavement narrower than the baggage trolley and along a traffic island should probably have been warning of what the inside would be like.

I did learn one useful piece of information, however: don't bother getting to JFK on time if you have an international flight: a charming man will conveniently call out destinations to those in the check-in queue and invite people (who claim to be) going to that destination to jump to the front, overtaking those who bothered to turn up early. Nice. 

To be fair to them, if I were running the airport, I'd do something similar when a flight was due to close. My technique would be to call the latecomers, request their tickets and say "next time, get here on time" before tearing up the tickets and suggesting they rebook themselves on a different airline (at their expense, naturally).

Still, the flight back wasn't too bad and the horror of the airport served to remind me how good the rest of the trip had been.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Local on the eights

The Weather Channel.

New York. (Which is absolutely Jaw-droppingly freezing, btw)

"Local On the Eights"

What on earth does that phrase mean?!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

PowerQuest ImageCenter

I've had a run of bad luck with my laptop recently (failing motherboard, dodgy screen, etc ,etc) so I've been paying extra attention to backups.

My main backup solution is the Tivoli Storage Manager service provided at work.  This runs automatically each night and backs up my work files.

However, it doesn't pick up things like my iTunes library and it wouldn't really help get me back up and running if my disk were to fail.

Therefore, I also run an intermittent full-disk copy.   This means that, were my hard disk to fail, I could swap in the image and then only have a week or so of material to reapply from TSM.

I use ImageCenter for this task. I love it. It just works.

(Except for the small problem that the disk I copy to is not SATA, but my main disk is.... in other words, I have no hope of booting from the image....  I'll fix that problem next time :-)  )

Monday, March 05, 2007

Important Scientific News

We painted the bedroom yesterday.

By the time I fell asleep, I could no longer smell paint.

When I woke up, I could.

I'm pretty sure that nobody broke in and did some extra painting while I slept.

Therefore, the bit of the brain that grows bored of odours must reset itself when one sleeps.

Who knew?!

Why my flickering lights mean the Olymics might not be *entirely* malign

I was overjoyed when I heard that London would be hosting the 2012 Olympic Games. I remember that I was working from home that day and that I deliberately walked to the shops for lunch a little earlier than normal so that I could be home in time for the announcement. Given that I have absolutely no interest in sport and will probably not watch any of the coverage when it finally happens, this is probably somewhat inconsistent.  Nevertheless, I did watch the broadcast and I was mildly excited when I heard we had won.

Since the announcement, however, I have been watching the costs grow with mounting horror. The guys at "Burning Our Money" have been doing a sterling job of keeping track of the ballooning costs and idiocies that are going on.

However, they've missed a piece of goodness: currently, a large amount of East London's power is delivered via overhead lines that travel through Stratford. These will be buried as part of the Olympic development work.

It is currently very windy in East London and my lights are flickering. I do not like it when my lights flicker. If they bury the lines, perhaps my lights will flicker less.

Students of logic will observe that this does not imply that the Olympics are a good thing.  But they will make my lights flicker a little less....

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

My theory is proved

I don't claim originality when I assert that restaurants in prominent locations are uniformly awful. However, it's not often I get to experience such stunning confirmation of the corollary.

My colleague studied her guidebook between breaks in our training class and liked the sound of a restaurant in Christiania. I booked a table and we entered the address into the SatNav.

The soothing sounds of the TomTom took us to a very dark road with a dead-end. There were no obvious signs of life and certainly no signs of a restaurant. After some driving round for parking, we gave up so I called them and they tried to direct us in.

We eventually found Spiseloppen by walking along a dirt track behind a derelict building and walking up a grafitti-covered flight of stairs.

The chances of a lost tourist stumbling upon this place were zero. Accordingly, the food, service and drink were outstanding. It was not cheap - but was worth every kroner.

I had a smoked swordfish, crayfish, salmon-in-a-crepe, asparagus and caviar for starter and medium-rare reindeer for main and enjoyed every bite.

The young couple preparing a monstrous spliff on the stairs leading to the toilets completed the contrast between the restaurant and its surroundings.

If that were not excitement enough, I made two other discoveries today:

Firstly, WebSphere Process Server's support for direct connections to WebSphere MQ (or "MQSeries", as James insists on calling it) is actually rather good (see... I did learn something this week!)

Secondly, my hotel has the cleverest lift, ever. It has doors on three sides and two buttons for each floor. Depending on which button you press, a different door opens upon arrival at your level. However, and here's the clever bit, the lift will climb to a different altitude depending on which door is to open. For example, the left hand door's level is about half a metre lower than the middle door's level. 

A clever solution to the problem of providing step- and ramp-free access to every room in the hotel when it was plainly formed from knocking two separate buildings together.

(I have yet to discover what one must do to make the third door open on any given floor....)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Interesting Financial Fact of the Day

I was listening to one of Sun's excellent Mifid PodCasts on the plane to Copenhagen. (Wow... I never thought I'd compliment Sun!)

They were interviewing Andrew Allwright from Reuters.

The conversation turned to how Reuters plan to support Mifid's requirement for post-trade transparency. He described how, today, Reuters provide information on prices by using a concatenation of an equity's symbol (e.g. "VOD" for Vodafone) and the trading venue at which the trade was made (eg. "L" for London"). Hence: VOD.L.

He explained that, when trades from other venues (e.g. those internalised by large institutions or on other trading facilities) are published, he anticipates that Reuters will make those streams available by assigning new suffices to each of the venues.  (Implicit in the conversation was that they already do that for some of the existing exchanges)

He then made a very interesting point: Reuters also provide an aggregated feed, with the "X" suffix: So "VOD.X" carries information on trades from all venues that Reuters receive feeds from.

This interested me because, when I want to check the price of William Morrison stock, I use the MRW.L symbol in Yahoo Finance.  Perhaps this means I'm not seeing a full picture?

I just tried MRW.X on Yahoo, to see if I could get figures that included all other venues where Morrison shares trade. Yahoo didn't want to play ball.

Oh well.... maybe I should try again on November 1.

"Economy Flex"

I'd forgotten how miserable it is flying in Economy. I am writing this on a flight to Copenhagen to attend some product training. SAS have a curious three-class cabin on this route: "Business", "Economy Flex" and "Economy". Given that the plane only seats about seven people (I'm flying from London City Airport), this does seem excessive.

I think Economy Flex is for passengers who have paid top dollar for full economy and "regular" Economy is for those of us who travel on dirt-cheap non-changeable, non-refundable tickets.

Either way, it means I have to pay for my food and drink.

Not impressed.

Cow Maturity Model

It appears the Capability Maturity Model has been renamed...

(I'm not sure I get the red-polka-dots reference though...)

Not enough sockets!

Diamond Geezer makes a very good point: why are there never enough sockets where you need them?

We're currently designing a new kitchen and I've specified five double sockets in addition to the ones the built-in appliances need, plus an extra double socket in the breakfast-bar/island-unit so that I can plug my laptop in.

I hope that will be enough sockets.

I've even specified that a socket is to be put inside a cupboard so that I can put my wireless router in there without any cables showing (I'm having a phone point moved to a point immediately behind the cupboard)

The problem isn't isolated to homes, though. A common complaint from conference goers is that venues have insufficient power-points... and don't get me started on airports.

Until wireless power distribution is perfected (my idea of powerful lasers in the ceiling and photovoltaic cells on the tops of devices fell flat when a friend pointed out what might happen if you put your hand in the way...), I think the answer might be for office floors to be built entirely out of power sockets. Forget tiles or carpet. Just blanket the floor in sockets.

"Side-fumbling was effectively eliminated"

I do hope this isn't what I sound like when I'm pitching my products....

HT: Vinnie

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

How to crash an in-flight entertainment system

I'm sure there are laws against this sort of thing. I'd have been too scared of the immigration police even to have tried this experiment.

Via Naquada

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Interesting People

Andy invited me along to drinks that James and Dennis had organised in Spitalfields this evening.

I was a little apprehensive about going along because my blogging has been a little light of late and I'm not closely involved in the cool stuff that is going on in parts of IBM at present.

However, knowing that Roo would be there, I figured the sheer embarrassment of IBMers (that's the collective noun, right?) present would be sufficient to give me cover.

I needn't have worried: I met several people I didn't already know, had some very interesting conversations... and the wine was stunningly good.

Now, I should admit that I usually restrict my attention to bottles in the £5 - £10 range when shopping but the atmosphere of Bedales (combined with the very reasonable corkage) encouraged me to try a £20 bottle I would not normally have considered.  Well worth trying.

So, thanks for inviting me along, Andy; I had a great time.

Private Sector vs Public Sector

My wallet was stolen when I was out on Friday.

It contained the following:

  • Barclaycard
  • American Express Credit Card
  • LloydsTSB Mastercard
  • Barclays Connect Card
  • Oyster Card (+ gold record card and photocard)
  • Driving Licence (photo card)
  • Book of first class stamps
  • £60 cash

I noticed the loss very quickly and called many of the card issuers on the way home. 

Once I arrived home, I cancelled my Oyster Card and filed a crime report (both online).

On Saturday morning, I called the DVLA to request a new driving licence. They were the only people to charge me. £19. (I was robbed twice!)

Interestingly, however, when I arrived home this evening, my new driving licence and my new Oyster card were waiting for me.

There is no sign, as yet, of my new credit or debit cards.

Poor show, private sector!

(Luckily, I deliberately don't carry all my cards around with me and so I have been surviving with my Intelligent Finance Debit Card; having only one card is curiously scary... what do I do if a machine swallows it?!)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Silicone Sealant

I knew replacing the sealant around the bath in an attempt to freshen up the bathroom would be a bad idea....

I think I've more or less made good the damage I inflicted.

Not sure it looks any better than it did before I started though.

Profiting from those who apply rules blindly

A headline in my Telegraph news feed caught my attention this evening:

Two investors in Reed Elsevier have sold their shares as a protest that the publishing giant runs arms fairs

It appears that Reed's activities fall foul of the Joseph Rowntree Trust's "ethical" rules.

Naive implementations of index trackers are susceptible when the make-up of the fund changes: everybody knows the managers will be selling the stocks that have been dropped and will be buying the stocks that have entered the index.

I wonder if anybody routinely profits from anticipating the behaviour of funds, such as this Rowntree one, that are constrained in some other way? It probably wouldn't be too hard to keep tabs on companies assumed to be "ethical" or "green" or whatever and track any news stories about them for signs that their right to claim such a designation has been forfeited.  On the assumption that some holders of such companies may be forced to sell, there has to be an opportunity in there somewhere!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Careers, critsits and kitchens

I've had a rather hectic start to the new year.

Firstly, I've started a new role in IBM. I am now a Technical Sales Specialist for IBM WebSphere, with a focus on Financial Services companies in the UK.

I had been looking for an opportunity to reduce my international travel, build longer-term relationships with clients (my previous role saw me seeing lots of clients typically for short periods of time) and specialise in an industry area.  The FSS Tech Sales role looked like a good fit. So I've now made the jump from consultancy and am furiously trying to get my head around what it is I'm supposed to be doing and how to do it :-)

One of my short term objectives upon joining the new team was to get to know as many of them as possible (both my direct colleagues and my sales counterparts). I needn't have worried: within days of starting the role, I was asked to assist with a problem a client was having.

After an unbroken stretch of about ten days, consisting of three calls a day with the client and even more with IBMers in between the client ones, I think I succeeded in my aim of getting to know a lot of people... 

I'm still keeping an eye on the situation but, so far, things appear to be moving in the right direction.

And if that's not enough excuses for failing to update my blog, there has been the extra-curricular activity of getting a kitchen designed and scheduled. Between calls with plumbers, letters to building control, requests to the management company and legal discussions to confirm paying for some of it on credit card will mean Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act* will give us some protection if the kitchen provider screws us around, I'm surprised I've had time to sleep...

* It's a fantastic piece of legislation (when viewed in isolation and when you don't worry about the chilling effect it must have overall!): if the supplier breaches the contract, the credit card company shares liability for the full purchase price even if you only paid for part of it on the credit card. The economist in me worries that the scope of this law may well be why things cost so much in Britain - the law is almost like an insurance policy... and insurance costs money - but I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth: I hope I will not need to rely on it but, when spending so much money on a new kitchen, knowing that this protection is there is comforting.