Sunday, December 14, 2008

Windows Password Strangeness

I just changed my Windows password and discovered something really, really odd.

I can lock the screen and then unlock it using the new password without problem.

I can also reboot the computer and log on successfully.

But... if I put the computer into standby and then wake it up again, I can't log in.

I began to question my sanity...  did I change the password to what I thought I had?  Perhaps I didn't change it at all?!

Having to do a hard reboot to get back into my computer whenever it goes into Standby is not a particularly useful characteristic of a portable computer.

What was going on?!

And then a possibility dawned on me...   I had included a punctuation mark in my new password (the double-speech-mark symbol, "). 

Hmmm.... what if something really weird was going on with keyboard mapping?

In the UK, the " symbol is accessed by pressing Shift-2 on the keyboard.  But on US keyboards, you have to press Shift and one of the buttons near the Enter key (the key marked @ on UK keyboards).

So I gave it a try... and guess what...?  It worked!

So, I have to use Shift-2 when logging on from cold and after locking the screen but need to use Shift-@ if I've returned from standby.

How mind-bogglingly odd.

(And yes... I have changed my password to something new now)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

"The Politics Slot"

My blood pressure had the misfortune of catching Channel 4's "The Politics Slot" this evening. A Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Labour, Toby Perkins, attempted to show how good the government had been for his local area, Chesterfield.

I could only bring my anger levels back under control by writing him a stern email:

Dear Toby,

I happened to catch your broadcast on Channel 4 just now. I wanted
you to know how profoundly depressing I found it. In the space of
barely two minutes you managed to highlight so much that is wrong with
our current government.


* Somehow you think it is admirable to state that unemployment is
never a price worth paying. You would have more credibility if you
accepted that there are tradeoffs in public policy. If the
alternatives are worse, as they tragically sometimes can be, then even
something as unpalatable as increasing unemployment can be the lesser
of two evils. You patronise your audience by pretending otherwise.

* Your claim that the Labour government paid for the community project
you showed was deeply unpleasant. The Labour government did not pay
for it; the current and future taxpayers of this country paid for it.
If you're going to claim credit for this project, at least be honest:
the government's primary act was to take money away from individuals
who would have been free to spend it as they chose so that you could
spend it as you chose. There is nothing particularly admirable about

I respect those who seek to make a positive impact on their
communities and I wish you good luck in your efforts to make a
difference to Chesterfield. But I'm sure you'll understand that, on
the basis of your broadcast, I can't yet wish you success in your
Parliamentary ambitions.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Brown.

London, E1W.

I feel better now. But I can't help thinking I should have written it in green ink.

[UPDATE 2008-12-04 Toby was good enough to respond to this email, and with some humour. See the comments section]

Monday, December 01, 2008

Something for Phil, Tel and Stu to think about

In the UK, it is illegal for large shops to trade for more than six hours on Sundays.

Clearly, those who don't want to shop or work on Sundays should be free not to.  But, equally, it is wrong to prevent those who want to from doing so.

It occurred to me over lunch yesterday that now is the perfect time for the large retailers to force a change to the law.

Imagine the situation:

If Phil, Tel and Stu were to open their stores for a full day on Sunday, what would happen?

Would we really have the spectacle of the state prosecuting companies who were doing what they could to increase employment, offer additional opportunities for their staff to earn money in these DifficultTimes* and provide additional opportunities for consumers to help keep the economy Moving Forward**?

The only face-saving way out of it for the government would be to accept the economic argument and repeal the ban.

So, go on, guys.... do it!




* Trademark of HM Government.

** What does it mean for an economy to "move", never mind move forward?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Credit where it's due...

I am proud to announce that my council, Tower Hamlets has come out bottom of a recycling league table.

Good for them.  I hope they don't succumb to pressure and increase their spending in this area.

I've never understood why we should spend effort processing waste into products that have a lower value than the resources consumed performing the recycling.  

For all their faults, I'm glad that Tower Hamlets appear to share my reasoning.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Psychopaths take over the tube

And no, I'm not talking about the RMT.

What on earth have the morons at London Underground done with Bank/Monument?

Until this morning, my trip to and from work was completely unaffected by the escalator works at Bank.

On the way there, I would take the DLR to Bank and then take two escalators up to the Waterloo and City Line.   On the way back, I would avoid the W&C as there was no easy way back down to the DLR.  Instead, I would take the District line from Blackfriars to Monument, take the escalators down to the Northern Line and then follow the handily placed stairs straight down to the DLR. Completely painless.

Imagine my outrage when I alighted at Monument this evening.  I was prevented - by Tube staff, backed up by a menacing police presence in the background - from taking the short stroll from the District platforms to the Northern Line.

Instead, I was forced to leave Monument, walk to Bank and then re-enter the system. I thought the queues to enter Bank were bad until I reached the Northern Line platform, where I had to queue to get on to the platform.

Of course, I was at the wrong end now so had to walk two-thirds of the full length to reach the DLR stairs.

What an utter farce.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Arbitrage Opportunities

So, interest rates may soon drop to 0%.

This creates an interesting opportunity.

Let's imagine two people:

Person A: Has a mortgage at a fixed rate of interest (say 6%)

Person B: Has some money to save.

If the savings rates on offer are low - say 2% - it would benefit person B to lend the money to person A instead.

Person A could offset this money against their mortgage and avoid paying the 6% interest charge on that money.  They could, therefore, afford to pay person B a competitive rate of interest - perhaps 4% - and still come out ahead.   One might imagine that there could be lots of people like Person "A" out there (mentioning no names...). I'm sure they'd be interested in such a scheme.

There are three problems, all of them solvable:

1) Person B is likely to be liable for tax on this income so interest rates may have to fall quite far for it to be an attractive deal

2) Person B will worry about the possibility of default by Person A

3) Persons A and B have to find each other.

Problems 2) and 3) could be solved by the introduction of some sort of intermediary. Let's call it a bank.

The bank will wrap up the default risk with their fee for providing the matching service and other administration and capture it as a spread between the rate they'd pay to person B and the rate they'd expect from person A.

So this idea would actually only work if rates fell so far that unsecured bank *lending* rates fell below 6%.

Does anybody see that happening any time soon?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Please return item to the bagging area, revisited

Dan broke the bad news last week that these satanic machines have spread around the world.

If you recall, my voyage into hell began when I tried to use a supermarket self-checkout machine and couldn't get the thing to stop shouting at me.

After my most recent battle, I decided to do something very unusual: make eye contact with and speak to another person in a busy shop in London.

No. I hadn't gone out of my mind... this person worked there.  But still.

I asked why the machine was so demonstrably rubbish and he made a useful observation: the machine takes some time to register that an item has been placed in the bagging area. 

This means that if you want to remove a bag, you have to wait for the item to be registered and then remove the bag.

I tried his idea and, sure enough, if I waited a second or so, the item would be registered. Then, if I lifted off the bag, it would still shout at me but one of the options was to tell it that I had lifted off the bag.


I think I also understand why the machines work in this way.  The question is... is there a better way?

Consider the design meeting.

Requirement: "All our customers are thieves so we need to be able to detect if somebody places an item in the bagging area if they haven't scanned."

Now... an "obvious" solution to this is to put in a sensor that reacts when an item is placed in the bagging area.  If an item is registered without a preceding scan operation then something dodgy is going on.

So far, so good.

But there's a problem: different customers will scan in different ways.

Sure... some of them will "scan, bag, scan, bag, ..." and this detection mechanism will work.

But some of them will pick up three items, scan all three and then put two of them in the bagging area and hold on to the other one because they know it's fragile and they want to put it in last... and then they'll scan two items and put both in together at the same time.... (you get the idea).

This means that it would be impossible to tell whether somebody had placed an unscanned item into one of these batches and the requirement could not be met.

Now, the solution they chose to employ was simple and cheap. They simply enforced the "scan, bag, scan, bag, ..." approach in the most clunky way possible.

However, it's interesting to think about what else they could have done.

One user-friendly idea could have been to add a set of scales to the side of the machine where the unscanned items are kept prior to scanning.

If the total weight of the "to be scanned" items equals the total weight of the "scanned" items at the end of the process then they would know there had been no skulduggery.  (I can immediately think of a few problems with this approach, however...)

Either way, I still hate those machines.

Friday, October 10, 2008

My faith in the Economist is restored!

I wrote last week that the Economist had cancelled my subscription without warning.

Well, they're back in my good books now. Their PR people saw my posting and somebody from The Economist has just been in touch to sort it out.

An economic illiteracy crisis in East London has just been averted!

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Economist May have lost a subscriber

I switched bank a few months ago. The new bank (First Direct) contacted all the companies that I have a Direct Debit with and told them to move the mandate from my old bank to the new one.

They all did it.

Apart from one:

The Economist.

They seem to have cancelled the old Direct Debit but not bothered to set up the new one.

Worse, rather than contacting me immediately when the last payment failed to go through, they cancelled my subscription and sent me a letter instead.

Which means this week's copy hasn't been delivered.


Friday, August 29, 2008

Balance on Channel 4 News

So, McCain announces his running mate.

Channel 4 News leads with the Democrats' line on the announcement ("inexperienced candidate a heartbeat from power...") and Obama's attack on McCain in his speech last night.

They later introduced the Governor of Alaska as a former beauty queen.

We know how much Channel 4 News (and the BBC, of course) want Obama to win but can't they at least pretend to be balanced?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Is the economy even *worse* than it looks?

Passing through Bank yesterday evening, I would guess that over 80% of the advert slots in the corridors between the DLR and Central platforms contained TfL adverts, rather than paid-for ones.

Surely the advertising market can't have gone so bad, so quickly?  I've only been out of the country for a week!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Faster Payments


I'm in the process of moving my money resting in various accounts to First Direct in preparation for switching to an offset mortgage.

I transferred a chunk of money just now from Barclays. I then switched to my First Direct account and the money was already in it.

It took less than a second.

Seriously impressive.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I think they're trying to tell me something

First they closed off the Wapping-> East London Line -> Jubilee -> Waterloo route to work.

Then they forced me to use Bank rather than Tower Hill/Gateway to get from the DLR to the District Line.

And now they're closing Blackfriars too!

So, as of March next year, my only viable route to the office will be Limehouse -> DLR -> Bank -> W&C -> Waterloo.


Sunday, August 03, 2008

"Please return item to the bagging area"

Arghhh!  Who designed the self-check-out machines that have proliferated of late?

Regardless of the store, the self-checkout machines have exactly the same design so somebody, somewhere, is making a lot of money selling them.

I can only assume the manufacturer has a rock-solid patent that is keeping rivals from competing and protects their sordid little monopoly. How else could they get away with failing to fix gaping defects in the user interface that have persisted since they first appeared several years ago?

"Item removed from bagging area"

... yes. I know. The bag was full.

"Please return item to the bagging area"

... WHY?!!!  WHY SHOULD I?????

"Unexpected item in the bagging area"

... YOU JUST TOLD ME TO!!!!!   I want to cry now :-(

Useless, useless, stupid, stupid machines.


I see I'm not the only one who hates them...  (the date on that post also shows that the user interface stupidity has persisted for at least a year.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

New Nightbuses...

I was in Norwich today visiting a customer and thought I'd take a different route home from Liverpool Street this evening.

I walked down some back streets and picked up a 15 bus from Aldgate.

When I alighted on Commercial Road, I noticed that the bus stop was reporting a bus route I hadn't heard of before, the N550.

For those who don't live in London, the "N" is important: it implies a night bus and is therefore a useful backup if you stay out too late to get the tube and can't (or won't, in my case) get a cab.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I walked down Butcher Row and noticed a bus stop advertising a second night bus, the N551!

Two new routes in one day?  What gives?

There was nothing obvious on TfL's website but I did find something in Google. It appears that the N50 (an unreliable but useful) service is being split into the two routes above and that, wonder of wonders, one of them (the N551) will travel down the Highway, meaning it will stop outside the flat. Hurrah!

Click here and search forward for "New night route"

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Monday, July 07, 2008


I was speaking to a colleague in Germany last week and he pointed out that I had blogged about the nightmare of getting a new kitchen put in... and showed lots of the "before" pictures.

But I never showed the "after" pictures.

So here they are!  (only a year late)... and before decoration.


Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Foreign Exchange Market

I did quite a bit of work last year on a solution for a client who had an ever-increasing number of foreign-exchange orders that were threatening to swamp an infrastructure that was built for a world where the volumes were smaller and each order was larger.

The basic idea (there was more to it than this...) was to utilise CEP (Complex Event Processing) techniques to monitor the order flow and look for opportunities to aggregate similar, small orders into smaller numbers of large ones.

When I was producing the explanatory materials and sales decks, I included a worked example of how the foreign exchange market works. I had to piece it together and validate it by speaking to colleagues who specialise in this area and by getting a couple of clients to give me their comments.

Interestingly, I stumbled upon a rather detailed US government web site today. It describes the market in great detail. Knowing about this material last year would have saved me a lot of time...

US Government Primer on the FX market

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Words with two opposites

I'm sure this is the sort of thing that most people do when they first learn to speak, rather than decades later. But I realised yesterday that I couldn't think of any words that had more than one opposite meaning.

That is: "good" has one opposite. Namely, "bad".

Likewise, the one opposite of "on" is "off".

Therefore, I was delighted this evening to realise that "lost" has two opposites: "won" and "found".


Now I think about it, I'm sure there are thousands of others. Presumably all one has to do is analyse every heteronym in the language.

Still... I enjoyed my victory.


(Now I think about it, it's not obvious that "on" only has one opposite. Presumably "under" is also valid. I suppose I should be pleased to have found another. But I'm actually a little irritated that it's so easy to find them)

Friday, May 30, 2008

Airline Cashflow Crisis

I've been waiting almost ten weeks for a refund from an airline, which had originally promised to do it in six weeks (which I thought was bad enough).

So what do we think the reason is? Cashflow crisis, incompetence or cynicism bordering on banditry?

I hesitate to name them as I'm sure there are probably laws against accusing companies of being insolvent but one really does wonder how difficult it is to process a refund.

Passport Control

I flew back to London City Airport from Dublin yesterday.

I didn't have to go through passport control.

Is that normal?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Narrow Platforms

The platforms at Limehouse DLR Station were narrowed rather severely a few weeks ago by having scaffolding and wooden planks positioned along the length. I would say that the depth has been reduced by at least 50cm - possibly more.

The work appears to be temporary and, as both platforms have been similarly mutilated, I'm guessing it's something to do with the three-car project rather than the bridge to the c2c station but the narrowing is noticeable and borders on dangerous at peak periods.

Surely this isn't just being done to create storage space?  Anybody know?

I knew it

Walking back from the cinema at West India Quay last night, I looked up at the DLR viaduct and something didn't seem right.  There were huge numbers of workers in high-visibility vests scurrying around, pulling ropes and driving machinery.

There was still about ten hours left until the system had to be open again but something didn't seem right... I said something like: "looks like we'll be walking tomorrow".

And so it has turned out...

I thought they would over-run because of the weather (it was pouring down) but, if the first comment above is to be believed, the problem was actually with one of the bridges.

If so, why didn't they bother to email those on their mailing list once they realised so we could make alternative plans?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

This is a big deal

If I understand this correctly, one of the major ratings agencies incorrectly rated some instruments in 2006. This is surely an open goal for anybody wanting to blame any subsequent losses on someone else.

I really wouldn't want to be Moody's or their insurers right now...

(Question: who can say they knew what a CPDO was before they heard about this story?)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Radio 4's Today Programme... still embarrassingly ill-informed

I don't know why I insist on listening to the Today programme. It's not healthy to get so stressed so early in the morning by their one-sided reports, determination to follow their own agenda and insistence on persisting with the "socialist homily of the day" slot at 7:45.

This morning's show was a classic, though.

Evan Davies's failure to understand the difference between "volume" and "mass" during a discussion on alcohol (8mg vs 10ml in a unit) was minor enough but still amusing.

But the best part was James Naughtie's embarrassment of an invterview with the boss of Glaxo SmithKline.

He was determined to throw some mud about Seroxat, seemingly thinking that vague questions, unsupported assertions and sheer aggression could substitute actually having a clue about the topic or having been briefed.

I thought Jean-Pierre Garnier humoured him more than was necessary before tearing him apart. You could sense Naughtie floundering at the end and it made for a most satisfying experience.

Being reminded that even the most "respected" members of the press are really just a bunch of cowboys is still somewhat disconcerting, however.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Old Street

My brother was down this weekend (primarily to attend a party being held by a theatre company who had recently performed a play he wrote).

Rather than go into town or stay local, as usual, I thought his arrival would be a good excuse to go somewhere different for a change.

So we went to Old Street. Now, I know this area has passed through "scary", "fashionable" and "mainstream" on its journey to "unremarkable" but I have managed to avoid going out there until now so it was new to me.

We went to an enjoyably idiosyncratic bar and had a great night.  Perhaps we'll go there again sometime.  Probably in 2011 or something, knowing how long it takes me to change my habits.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Spoke too soon :-(

I was too trusting.

Virgin decided that a seven hour delay was insufficient. So they cancelled... sorry, "renamed" VS15 to VS115 and "rescheduled" it to tomorrow afternoon.   Nice.

There's a minor problem. I am only supposed to be there until Wednesday lunchtime.

When I looked ahead to another day in transit, I realised it made no sense to continue.... I just wouldn't get any value from the conference now.  I'd be a zombie all day on Tuesday and then it would be time to go home again on Wednesday.

What a complete waste of time (and money) and a big disappointment.... the conference I'm missing out on is one of IBM's best.

I am not happy.

Gatwick Misery

I think this extract from Virgin's "Flight Tracker" page says it all:


Flight number: VS 015

Departure date: 06 Apr 2008

Route: London (LGW) to Orlando (MCO)

Scheduled departure time: 06 Apr 12:45

Estimated departure time: 06 Apr 19:45

Scheduled arrival time: 06 Apr 16:55

Estimated arrival time: 06 Apr 23:37


Were it not for the fact that I am committed to present at this conference, I think I'd probably cancel my reservation and go home.

[UPDATE 17:09.... A small crumb of comfort.  I queued up at the information desk and begged to be upgraded. 10,000 miles lighter, I'm now in one of the best seats in Premium Economy (75H). Not Upper Class but better than nothing!]

Friday, April 04, 2008

DLR Goody Bag

I returned home from Vienna this evening and amongst my mail was a bag with a TfL roundel on the franking strip. What could it be?!

Imagine my delight when I opened it to find:

  • Three DLR wristwatches
  • Two DLR "new look" carriage cardboard models with jelly beans inside!
  • Three copies of "Celebrating 20 years" [of the DLR]
  • Three copies of the "Introducing the new DLR Langdon Park station" CD Rom.


Many thanks to David Sanders at DLR and The Londonist for tipping me off.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Getting from the DLR to the District Line at Bank

So, those wacky pranksters at TfL have decided that getting from the DLR to the District Line at Bank is an unnecessary luxury in these times of austerity. Which is, presumably, why they've decided to ban such things for a year.

The proposed alternatives are laughable:

Travel from Limehouse to Canning Town to pick up the Jubilee?  Go to Mile End to get the District? Quite apart from how far I'd have to go out of my way, are they really suggesting I pay to enter zone 3 in order to get from zone 2 to zone 1?

The most obvious route for me would be simply to leave Bank and walk down to Cannon Street.

Except... that would be two journeys.

So I wrote to them.

It turns out that they're going to make an exception and charge people who leave at Bank and re-enter at Cannon Street within thirty minutes as if they'd only done one journey.

I'm almost tempted deliberately walk really slowly and get a coffee to make the most of my hard-fought-for new rights.

Here's the answer they sent:

Dear Mr Brown

Thanks for your email about pay as you go charges during the current interchange arrangements at Bank.

I'm sorry for the inconvenience these arrangements will cause.

I can confirm that you will be able to touch out at Bank and touch in at Cannon Street without being charged for two journeys. This will be considered as a continuous journey providing you do so within a period of 30 minutes.

I hope this clarifies the position for you and please contact me again if I can be of any help in the future.

Kind regards

[Name removed]

Customer Service Advisor
Central Line

Of course, "London Connections" have a nice diagram that suggests some routes might be open.... (don;t tell anyone though...)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Flying from Heathrow...

I'm on my way to Vienna for training.  I had really wanted to fly from London City Airport but there were no flights that worked.

So, instead, I'm flying out from Heathrow :-(

I considered flying BA but, because Austrian Airlines can at least bring me back to City Airport, I decided to fly out with them as well.

An unintentionally inspired decision!

I am in Terminal 2.  No queues at check-in and minimal queue at security.  And at least the possibility that my bags will arrive.

It wasn't all good, however. I've just had the most strange "fish pie" from the air-side Wetherspoon's.  I'm not sure why I went there as I didn't have a drink.

Either way, I'd love to know if anybody could identify the fish I ate. There were two main fish-like elements to the pie: red cubes and orange cubes.

I'm guessing the red pieces were Salmon but I have absolutely no idea what the orange pieces were. They didn't taste smoked (well, they didn't taste of anything, really) so what on earth could they have been?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Big Bridge News

For those who like bridges and cranes and railways, tomorrow is your lucky day!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

North Woolwich Satellite Dish Breeding Farm

I thought I'd visit scary South East London on Tuesday so took the DLR to King George IV so I could take the Woolwich Ferry over the river... I'd never done it before.

Before I got on the ferry, I had a walk around the riverfront.

I stumbled upon what I can only describe as a factory farm where they grow satellite dishes.

There were big ones, small ones, baby ones, portable ones, oddly shaped freakish ones. Most bizarre.

The name of the site was particularly funny. Apparently it's a "Teleport". One shudders to think what goes on there.

There's a small glimpse of it in this photo... but the real thing is much scarier....

Saturday, March 01, 2008

New London Architecture

Ian linked to the website of "New London Architecture" the other week.

I was in the area the afternoon so popped around.

What a fantastic place!

The centrepiece of the venue is a massive map of Central London with 3-D models of the buildings. There is a small photograph of it here. One could spend hours looking at it.

I spent some time in the book shop and stumbled upon the reference section. They have a collection of periodicals from organisations such as the Institution of Civil Engineers. 

One of the magazines I flipped through was a special edition about the building of the high-speed link between St. Pancras and the Channel Tunnel. More technical detail than you could ever wish for (if that sort of thing rocks your boat...). They're not available to purchase, sadly.

Naturally, the first thing I did when I arrived home was try to find the issue on the web instead.

And here it is!

The individual articles are provided as separate PDFs but it's well worth browsing through.

If you've ever wanted to know about ventilation shafts, the building of the new Thameslink Station under St. Pancras or the cost of the project then look no further!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"You are not, nor have ever been, on record as a criminal suspect"

It's official!  The US Department of Homeland Security doesn't think I'm a criminal.

My last two trips to the United States have been marred by delays when passing through Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

On both occasions, the agent spent a long time studying his computer screen and my passport before calling for an "escort" and having me taken to a room for further screening.

This screening consisted of my being forced to wait for nearly an hour until my name was called and I was told I was free to go - with no explanation for why I was kept.

Speaking to some colleagues on a discussion forum at work, it transpired I was not the only person this had happened to.  There were various theories on why it happened and how to stop it from happening again.  The most obvious approach - stop going to America - had simplicity on its side but was likely to be somewhat career limiting for somebody who works in the IT industry.

The next best alternative was to try reasoning with the system. But how?

After much digging, I stumbled upon the "Traveler Redress Inquiry Program" (TRIP).

I filled out an online form, printed it out, attached photocopies of the documents they asked for and sent it off.  And promptly forgot all about it.

I don't even recall when I sent it - it was many months ago, though.

I returned home from work today to find a letter from the Department of Homeland Security. It appears that they have investigated my case and, although they cannot guarantee I'll never be stopped again (the stopping appears to be a result of their matching algorithms), I will be permitted to show this letter to the agent and ask that they read it.  No guarantees, of course... but at least it's something.

I'll be in Orlando with work at the start of April so I guess I'll soon get a chance to try it out!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Explaining CDOs and the subprime mess

The ongoing Northern Rock disaster and a note from a colleague reminded me that very few people have any idea what is behind a lot of this mess.

One of the best descriptions I've seen was on a mathematics blog (one with an enjoyably low opinion of engineers who opine on matters economic).

However, my colleague has gone one better. He discovered a presentation that explains it all. Well, not quite everything. And it's not quite accurate in all respects. Or, indeed, in many. Still quite fun though.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Exploding Crème brûlée with Bubblegum Ice-cream

I can't decide if the dessert I enjoyed last night was the best in ages or a candidate for "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares"

I was staying at the De Vere St. David's Park near Chester with colleagues and had the strangest dessert I've had in ages.

The crème brûlée had the customary caramelised sugar on top.  On top of that, however, was an extra coating: crystals of the exploding candy that used to be so popular when I was a kid (imagine a sensation of your teeth exploding).

On the side was a lump of purple ice-cream that tasted exactly like Hubba Bubba - sitting on a sticky brown square of goo that had almost exactly the consistency of a chunk of chewing gum.

The whole dessert was monumentally childish and I can't decide if it was horrific or a work of utter genius.

I'm inclined to think the latter...!

How do we help the wilfully ignorant to understand?

Tim Worstall makes an interesting point today about Caroline Lucas's failure to understand that the whole purpose of tradeable emissions permits is that it allows those who find it difficult to reduce their emissions to pay those who find it easier to do it on their behalf.

That is: if it's going to cost me £100 to reduce my emissions by some amount but somebody else can do it for a tenner (and they wouldn't otherwise have done it), then surely it's better for me to pay them instead?  We get the same reduction and I'm left with some money to invest back into my business or whatever!

The problem is that the environmentalists just see this as me shirking my responsibility and getting away without paying the "full cost" of my evil behaviour.

This is, of course, ludicrous nonsense but the argument seems to appeal to some people.

So why not turn the argument around to help them understand?

Rather than focus on the cost of a unit emission reduction, why not focus on how far emissions can be reduced for a unit cost?

Going back to my example: for £100, I could reduce my emissions by some amount if I do it myself. Or, I could pay my cleverer friend £100 and they could reduce their emissions by ten times as much - for the same price!

Now, I'm clearly not suggesting people should be forced to buy permits for emissions they're not making (which would be the consequence of forcing me to actually pay that £100 to my friend) but surely it's obvious that the system that allows more to be done with less is the preferable one.

Friday, February 01, 2008

"Listen to the music then turn it off..."

... hmmm....  I don't know what they mean.

Surely I can't have been the only person who thought the only part of "Grandstand" worth enduring was the theme tune?

It would seem not :-)

(courtesy of b3ta, of course).


Thursday, January 24, 2008

IBM Acquires AptSoft

I have been increasingly interested in the topic of Complex Event Processing of late so was delighted to see the news that we have just bought AptSoft.

Opher also seems pleased.

Can't wait to get my hands on it and to have a play.

Monday, January 21, 2008


Like half the world, I popped over to the Inns of Court and the Royal Courts of Justice on Saturday afternoon to see what all of the fuss was about.

I can't believe I hadn't been there before.  If I'd known I could continue an Oxbridge-esque existence, in London, as a grown-up, I'd have forgotten about messing arount in IT and become a lawyer.   What wonderfully pleasant places the Inner and Middle Temples are.

I actually spent most of the afternoon in the Royal Courts of Justice.  I've long said that I'd like to watch a trial one day (but never got round to doing it) so sitting through a mock assault trial in one of the real courtrooms sounded like a good idea.

Sitting at the back of court four for two hours made me realise several things

  • The noise of people moving in their chairs (or on their benches) makes for an extraordinarily annoying experience. The courtroom was never quiet, with constant creaking and banging and scraping.
  • You can't really hear very much from the back, anyway
  • Witnesses seem to delight in being inarticulate and incoherent
  • Court cases seem to be rather dull :-(

I enjoyed the experience, however, and thought the event was excellent.

One observation jumped out at me: cross-examination is actually rather difficult.  Formulating a list of questions designed to draw useful details out of a potentially unwilling witness, in front of an audience, whilst never being completely sure where the conversation will lead is not an easy skill to master.

In many ways, it is rather similar to the skills required of a successful salesperson when meeting a new prospect for the first time. Questioning models designed to draw information out of clients, assimilate the learned information, use this information to influence future questioning, whilst avoiding going round in circles is really hard and I had missed the parallels until now.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Drinks in the City

I met up with a friend for drinks after work this evening.

We managed to stumble upon a remarkably pleasant street a short stroll from Bank Station; a most unexpected event. Nice places near Bank? Impossible!

I think I'll be wandering along Watling Street and drinking at Williamson's Tavern again. Most pleasant.