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).