Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Lead Pipes are good for you expert claims

I went into an Aberystwyth Plumbers merchants this afternoon to get some bits to replace a boiler filter. As we are in the quite period for the trade, only one of the lads was serving which is fair enough. I waited while the chap (hard to tell age for reasons I am about to explain, but looked about 60) being served tried to find a solution to a lead pipe which had cracked as a result of the recent frost and thaw. As I understand it the joint had split and he wanted to cut the lead back an inch and put a new fitting. The branch manager who drew the short straw to work today suggested that maybe the lead pipe was better replaced on account of its well known health problems and commented that there is not much call for lead fittings these days as the vast majority of customers replace it with blue plastic rather than slowly poison themselves or there customers.

The customer then started off with "thats rubbish, I have always drunk water from lead pipes, never did me any harm. 1/2 the pipes in Aberystwyth are lead. Its all modern rubbish it needs replacing". While the manager went off shaking his head to check if he had an other lead fitting, the customer said to me by way of justification "When I was a child I used to play in an Asbestos shed. Don't want to spend time replacing a lead pipe that goes under a wall". I made a comment that lead fillings went out of fashion some time ago.

Personally, I would take the branch managers advice and replace the pipe with nice blue plastic, but I guess if you have had lead pipes for long enough then you won't be able to remember what you went into the plumbers merchants for in the 1st place.

Did make me think what a challenge working in public health must be.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Has the internet replaced drugs?

I watched part of Festivals Britannia last night. Having been to a fair range myself from small folk festivals, middle sized & middle class festivals on a race course sponsored by Waitrose, Glastonbury, Donnington, Knebworth and a fair range between over the last 20 years, I guess I am an interested party. My 1st festival had Metallica as 3rd on the bill, probably about 1988. 3 years later I found I still enjoyed the music and the event, but disliked a subset of the people and took a long break to about 1999 and Glastonbury. Now we might do 2 small (10,000-ish) festivals with Beautiful Days being the main stay. We like the whole feel of how its run, the atmosphere and that it really works for small children, even if it tips down with rain.

One aspect of Festivals Britannia was how festivals nurtured the seeds of change among the young and disaffected. Being 42 and growing more disaffected by the day, I also have 2 small people to fund sufficiently so that they avoid a life of debt, I won't be going out and protesting on the streets. I currently also feeling quite apathetic about trying to engage with local political actors about simple improvements included Broadband, a reasonable level of clearing snow from road and getting bins emptied when they say they will. I know if I try to engage constructively I will either be ignored silently or with political sleaze. (note here I feel that my elected AM and MP do actually engage with me, no slight on Elin or Mark). I feel complete distrust of the police, a change in the last 6 months. I feel let down by the elected and the unelected of at all levels from Community Council to Westminister. For someone 20 years younger, I can see why they protest and why they are angry. The Internet is now the catalyst for sowing the seeds of change rather than music (I may just be out of touch on this, but other than the King Blues and Mr Bragg, I don't see any other musical involvement in the student debt protests).

This change is probably a good thing as festivals should just be about having fun.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

4 days in Dublin

This is probably my 10th visit to Dublin in 14 years. It is probably also the visit where I have paid most attention to get some insight into the nature of politics here. I have spent more time reading the paper and talking to people about politics. So here are some random quotes from people I have spoken to

  • One of the main qualities of a politician here is to attend all the funerals in their constituency
  • Some of the ministers that Ireland sends to the EU are so 2 faces they considered that Peter Mandleson was the only UK politician they could learn a trick from
  • The population of the Irish Republic consider being corrupt a necessary attribute in a politician
  • One representative said something along the lines of "who cares about a budget deficit when they are potholes in the road in Cork"
I have a few books it has been suggested I read on Irish politics, but it has been a fascinating insight just by tuning in a little more into what is going on here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Initial reflection on the Irish financial crisis

I am over in Dublin teaching a course in problem solving, decision making and risk management for various test groups in Oracle. Clearly the financial crisis in Ireland is a big deal, but the flavor of the people I have spoken to and the papers I have read so far demonstrate a high degree of being resigned to things being tighter than tight for a few years. The people I spoke to so far work in Oracle engineering, so in employment terms they are more effected by the global economy than local issues, which may have distorted my perspective a little.

The Hotel I am staying in however had no hint of recession. In addition to paying guests, it also hosts xmas parties. I got up yesterday at 5.30am to get the ferry over. So I went to bed about 10pm. At 10.30pm I was woken by a Van Halan cross Gun & Roses covers band playing to one the the parties a few floors below. I wondered down to the reception and the guy said "you don't have your happy face on, let me put you in an other room now" before I even opened my mouth.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pensions and Dendrograms

I was invited to be on the panel at a Pensions conference yesterday. The event is run by SPS Conferences who run a series of events for pension funds trustee's. It was very nice, if somewhat surprising, to be asked to be on the panel. The event was titled "Investment Strategies for Pension Funds". Most of those attending were either trustees or worked for large defined benefit (final salary) pension schemes who have many multiples of money more under management then the Sun Scheme. E.g. I was on the panel with the head of Pensions at Mersyside Council who have in the region of 15 billion under management.

It was interesting the type of people that these sort of pension funds attract. Which all jolly nice folks, I saw no evidence of any dynamism from either speakers or those attending. I guess that is the personality profile that you really want from your D.B. pension trustee or manager.

Over here in the Defined Contribution world where all the investment risk is on the member, our remit is to set default, ensure good governance and make the life of our investment and scheme managers a misery if they don't shape up. Its a very different role.

The day did reinforce my now deep held belief that Defined Contribution (money purchase) schemes of any sort are inappropriate pension vehicles for most workers. The investment risk is on the individual. They can't manage the risk because they don't know enough. The industry is not geared up to give good quality affordable advice and few trust the financial advice industry, so they do nothing, take whatever the default is.

My fellow panel member made the very good point that many of his members were manual/blue collar workers and they had no clue about pensions. For them some type of final salary scheme was right. It is what D.B. was defined for. It was not designed to de-risk the future of M.P. and company executives.

There is a desperate need to be able to provide pensions which offload the investment risk to those who know how to take it (pension providers, investment banks) and let the member just concentrate on putting enough money in and this need to be wider than the public services.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Confidence in the Law

The following 3 events
  • #twitterjoketrail where Paul Chambers tweeted a comment out of frustration to his soon to be girlfriend which resulted in his conviction until an obscure law.
  • The locking up of Stephen Gough for walking in Scotland as nature intended.
  • The death of Ian Tomlinson and subsequent lack of trial of the police man who can be seen to beat
are worrying for reasons beyond their legal mis-management.

The 2nd two are more complex in that Stephen Gough is putting himself forward as a marter and Ian Tomlinson appears to have been not that far from his grave. It does not excuse the mess that has resulted in the prosecutions or lack of them. Why is Stephen Gough being kept in prison. A clear case of wasting public money by the Scottish legal system. Babies come into this world with nothing on, so provided he is not exposing himself for sexual gratification, so what.

The Paul Chambers has no case to answer unless common sense is being set aside.

These cases make a joke of the legal system and what is even more worrying is that it builds distrust of the police, CPS and courts. That is the real crime that the non-criminal class cease to trust that the rule of law is being applied properly, fairly and with common sense.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Computer Science Industrial Year Skills Weekend No. 14

At least I think it is year 14 at Gregynog, a country house owned by the University of Wales near Newtown, where 2nd year students go through the mill with a view to improving their chances at interview. I think I have missed 2 weekends in that time.

For the last few years I have not interviewed, but lead workshops on goal setting and this year was the same, though I did join some interviewers to give a grilling during some of the free time I had.

I get a lot out of these weekends, mainly in terms of hearing about new technology. I work at the bleeding edge of technology, rather than the leading edge. When the stuff I work on does not perform, the company concerned bleeds. So I heard about a pile of technology I had not stumbled across before such as DBUS, Launchpad and Lua.

In terms of the students, I make the following general observations

  • They were far more interesting then the story their C.V.'s sold
  • They really were not confortable in building short term transient social relationships (which is what an interview is). In fact my 4 & 6 years olds are better at it.
In contrast to previous years, Aberystwyth Comp Sci now have a very switched on Career's person. What a great resource. Someone who has some industrial experience and a large slab of drive. C.V.'s were 95% very poor and in fairness to Caroline where only started in September. Most of the Student C.V.'s were produced by the students when they were in their 1st year. I had enough of reading about how good "team players" they were or how "highly motivated" they were. I will be the judge of that, just tell me what you have done on your C.V., not what you think I think you should think of yourself !
The weekend is all about learning and I also observe that as invited Industrialists we forget just how much we have learned in time between our 2nd year in University and today. The students are very much work in progress, though a bit of a wake up call was due in most cases. Perhaps awake up call the Industrialists (Clive included) got when they were of a similar age.

For next year I need to go back to interviewing for a change. My reputation has the hardest interviewer has been surpassed by Bryn.

Well Done Ceredigion Council

Congratulations to Ceredigion Council who have no problem in chasing me for Council Tax, so they know where I live and that there is a house there. However, they appear incapable of producing a complete list of properties from which they collect refuse and to communicate changes to these residents.

It is only a good thing that Ceredigion Council are moving to bi-weekly collections with improved recycling. However, if they can't communicate their plans to the households it effects which by all accounts is a simple task, you have to wonder what else they can't get right.

Each household should have got at least 2 sets of leaflets, a food bin and some recycling bags. We got zilch because were are not on a list which out of 6 house in our area , only 4 were on the list referenced by the chap I spoke to who works for the Council.

This is about as simple a task as a council could have. They had time to plan, so there is little to excuse. The chap on the phone was as helpful as could be, its not his fault and he did mention that we were far from the only ones to have this problem.

I trust someone in Ceredigion Council management is having to consider an alternative career path, but that would require competence in leadership to identify the waste of space.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

An excuse for a visit!

In June 2009 I was giving a talk in Newcastle and had spent the previous day working in Manchester. Hence this gave me the chance to visit Nine Standards Rigg which is on the watershed between Yorkshire and Cumbria. As a side effect of visiting piles of stones placed in a formation, I had a run and learned a bit about hand gliding. You never know what visiting these places will turn up.

So lets have a think about some other places in the UK I fancy visiting. Many are influenced by reading blogs on fell running, seen something interesting on a map, read about, drove past but not had time to stop, someone else mentioned it and just sounds like fun places to go for a run or a beer.
  • Lord Hereford's Knob. A hill which has been "on the list" for a while as I have driven past it 100's of times, but the rather daft Half Man Half Biscuit song has brought it to the fore.
  • Mother Shipton Inn in Knaresbrough, North Yorkshire for a beer. Has Guy Fawkes Table inside.
  • Winter Hill. I read blogs of lots of folk who use it as a training ground. Enough said.
  • Star Inn in Dylife. I drove past it last week or so while proving my wife plus friend some bike training support. Highest pub in Wales and its like the moon up there. Also provides an excuse to explore the surrounding area which looks very interesting and dramatic.
  • Giant's Causeway. With a large slab of my ancestry from northern Ireland, it is curious I have yet to find an excuse. Seen similar feature on the West coast of scotland, but this looks the best. Exercise the latent geologist in me.
  • Knoydart. Very wet and very remote. 3 Munro's to do there. Access is a long walk in or by boat. Been on the bounds to the north and east, but not ventured in. Be great to stay in Inverie.
  • St Kilda. A bit more of a trek and probably not the destination for a family holiday.
  • Hebden Bridge. I hear vague references to it being posh and querky, but I don't understand them, so probably time to get informed.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

When does a work colleague become a friend?

Some context is needed for why I am asking this question.

Last month, someone I worked with over a number of years decided he did not want to continue in this world and ended his life.

I probably had not spoken to him for 6 months. We meet or spoke when work needs brought us together. There was always a warmth in our greeting and a laugh. Over the years he got some of the really hard accounts to manage and he had the vision to ask for the type of help I can offer. In 1998 he dealt with the only complaint by a customer against me where I offered to visit them on a saturday morning (at that time I worked mon-fri in Camberly in the Solution Centre, so it was not a matter of popping in) to have a look at a long running issue. He dealt with this curved ball with a mix of professionalism and "I have this idiot who has complained you offered to help them above and beyond and the clown has complained about it".

I have no insight into why he decided he did not want to go on and when I read an email about him I 1st thought "its a common name, there most be an other ...... ......". Sadly not.

So my answer to when a work colleague becomes is friend is when you look forward to your interaction with them and their company when the job brings you together. Sun Microsystems was a very rich place according to this definition.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ginger Rodent

I thought that calling Danny Alexander a Ginger Rodent was quite funny. Not because the Right Honorable member for the Highlands is in any way similar to a red squirrel, but because it was so obvious that Harriet Harman would end up issuing some sort of apology.

I would be quite happy to call Danny Alexander stuff far worse than a Ginger Rodent to his face, but the situation would be a long the lines of :-
  1. We knew each other well
  2. Had a beer or two
  3. We got on well
  4. We both knew the other would take a joke
Beer, Danny Alexander and Clive are 3 thing which will never go together. Harman's remark does demonstrate how relatively easy being in opposition is. You just need to disagree and fling mud of various sorts until you find something that sticks.

Having some sort of ministerial responsibility means having to make hard choices in situations that don't have a right answer. Look at Plaid's Elin Jones and the Bovine TB/Badger mess or Vince Cable and Tuition Fees. Both good people trying to solve intractable problems and getting it in the shorts from all directions. Opposition does not need to have a fully costed and risk adjusted alternative, they just need sound bites which have a veneer of principled justification.

I am afraid that the "Ginger Rodent" gag only demonstrated how hard constructive criticism in opposition really is, even at a Labour party rally.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mid Wales BCS sub Branch AGM and lecture

Trotted along to the mid-Wales BCS sub branch A.G.M. and lecture last night. AGM was a formality and as such appropriately boring, but at least lasted only 10 minutes.

Of much more interest was a talk by Prof. Dave Barnes on the work done by his Space Robotics Group. It some time since I was involved with making some of Dave's PhD student's code run faster as it took 6 weeks on a 20 way machine to run (we cut it in half by using Sun Studio rather than gcc and adding the -fast flag), so I really had little idea what he was doing. Well worth a read of his web pages. What really stuck me was the interdisciplinary nature of the work he does bringing together robotics, vision analysis, materials science are the ones which come to mind.

Using Clarach beach as a testing ground for some of the mobile robots is a little curious, but makes sense.

Bottom line is that Aberystwyth is a serious player (not quite NASA yet) in european space robotics.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Marshall and Global Financial Capital

I don't know if it is this Global Financial Capital who ring me up twice a week, knows my name, confirm my address, tell me they will give me financial review and they they will send me something in the post.

It takes about 30 seconds to talk through to the room with my guitar amp in, turn it on, let it warm up a little and start generate some feedback which I generously let my caller enjoy as the phone sits by the amp for a few minutes.

I would have thought that after 6 attempts and 6 doses of feedback, they would have noted that I was probably not going to be a client and black list me (if only). Shame the Telephone Preference Service does not work for oversea's callers. The TPS works quite well for the UK, but obviously ignored from India.

The call might be a scam, it might be a legitimate product, but anyone who cold calls me is going to get the same gift of feedback.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Blackrock Fund Managers and Amnesty International

Blackrock are one of the worlds largest fund managers. If you are a member of the Sun Microsystems Pension Scheme then they are one half of the current default choice and run one of the two diversified growth funds in the pension scheme. They manage around 190 billion bucks worldwide, though regretably only a small fraction is managed on behalf of Sun Microsystems Pension Scheme members.

Amnesty International stand up for humanity and human rights. They are a non-profit organisation and have had a very worthwhile stab at being a pain in the arse to governments who mistreated their citizens.

I was reading the Blackrock report for the Sun Microsystems pension scheme this evening, like a good little trustee, and it appears that Blackrock and Amnesty meet.

We met with Amnesty International to discuss a number of their initiatives in relation to UK companies and how BlackRock engages on social, ethical and environmental matters, particularly human rights.

We can be cynical and suggest that for Blackrock this is just P.R., which is probably their main motivation, but at least they are doing it. I can't see that such a meeting would have occurred 5 years ago. Blackrock are very much risk driven and it may be that want to avoid/influence companies which are at risk of becoming a media liability.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Off into the sunset

A few weeks after the rather daft drink in public places ban was introduced in 2005 for significant parts of Aberystwyth, I was walking through a park in Copenhagen. The park was full of people having a good time with friends and family, sharing a bottle of wine or a few beers in a very relaxed atmosphere. I though how very bloody sad it was that this scene could not now happen in Aberystwyth.

When I run along the sea front (don't do it very often) in June and see students who are about to end their time in Aberystwyth, sharing a few tins and a magnificent sunset, it is comforting. So many people who have been students in Aberystwyth recall this experience as one of their finest, a defining moment of the Aberystwyth experience which they will cherish or at least very positively remember.

Congratulations to the dunderheads in Dyfed Powys Police(it does have many officers who are not dunderheads) who have decided that because a subset of the population need to be brought to heal (the article quotes homeless drunks and vagrants), they can't do with without effecting everyone else.

I doubt it is going to make much difference to me. My infrequent drinking tends to be limited to a beer once or twice a week at home, a trip to the Druid every few weeks and the odd beer when I am away with work. However, I would like the choice to be able to share a sunset and a beer with friends.

Aberystwyth, working hard to be a retarded backwater.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I will bloody haunt you

I have long held bias against Agony Aunts. No doubt some people find them useful, but I don't buy or read the types of papers in which they have columns.

So news of the death of Claire Rayner passed by with little note in my mind. She was someone who I was conscious existed and broadly what she did, but little detail. Her position in the media missed me completely. I was also unaware of her campaign work to improve the NHS.

I paid little attention until I heard what she wanted her last words to be

"Tell David Cameron that if he screws up my beloved NHS I'll come back and bloody haunt him."

I very much hope she can rest in peace, though I suspect every so often when D.C. is reading through proposed at cuts/changes to the NHS, he will feel a cold draft, a tap on his shoulder and turn round and no one is there. He will return to his desk and try to ignore the very faint whispers of the departed spirits of Claire Rayner and Aneurin Bevan : "its not yours to screw up".

I wonder if Vince Cable hears the voices of departed Professors at night?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The start and end of my career as a Concert Promotoer

I won't be any danger to the Mean Fiddler as a concert arranger and promoter, but there is a 1st (and possibly last) time for many things and I think this one could be judged as a successes.

Lets be clear what I mean by a concert arranger and promoter and exactly what I did
  1. Answer an email from an act asking if I could arrange a gig in the Aberystwyth area
  2. Go to the Druid and get Lewis the landlord to put the night in the diary
  3. Put some posters up the act sent me and get some other people to put some posters up
  4. Get some willing and capable hands to sort out the P.A. and the support act.
  5. Hassle some people to come along
  6. Email a Cambrian News journalist some details
So in short I did bugger all.

So Attila the Stockbroker on his 30th anniversary tour appears to have gone well from the feedback from the people who went along, the landlord who got a lot more business in a Thursday night and John (AKA Attila) and his tour manager (wife, Robina).

He played in Cardigan starting at 7pm for an hour. On trying to leave it appears his car (and about 30 others) were flooded by the incoming tide! Only in mid-Wales would this happen. It seems to be a known issue around equinox tides from a quick search on Google, so why did it catch out a Poet and 30 people who came to see him on Thursday night? I expect a poem about the ritual drowning cars in Cardigan at the equinox to join his cerebral rants on particular sleeping bags, asylum seeking Darlek's, his wife's nose and a fit and appropriate ending for our dear ex-leader Maggie.

He got to Goginan maybe 20 minutes later than planned, which turned out not to be a problem. The support band (guitar and fiddle) played on a bit longer and were very good indeed.

There were a few things I did not expect to come along with the role of promoter including some running repairs to the electrics of John and Robina's car as a result of it getting wet in salt water and not being able to turn the head lights off.

My most lasting memory of the evening will be the poem about his step father, the type of man he was and how long it took for them to say they loved each other. Without being crass in any way, he delivered a most moving poem which was his last of the evening which had a tear in most peoples eye.

While our politics may overlap in places, there is probably a lot we don't agree on (and much we probably do), but if you want your thoughts provoked, I recommend a night out with 3 things
  • An open mind
  • Attila the Stockbroker after 6 pints
  • A few pints yourself

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Welsh version of the Nobel prize

Lots of talk about Wales and the need for innovation and entrepreneurialism. Much of it sensible. I was driving home from meeting a friend for lunch who brain dumped all he knew about P.R. and was listening to a Radio4 news article about the Nobel Prize for Physics . This is serious basic science with the potential for important commercial application which means jobs, money, progress.

So how about a Welsh version of the noble prize for both basic science and innovation where the majority of the work was done in Wales. Can't think of any great Welsh scientists off the top of my head, sure there are many which can be found via Google to name the award after.

However, this is Wales, so we would end up with the Thomas Award for the study of Welsh Literature and an Award for innovation in tourism in an area where no one wants to go.

Graphene – the perfect atomic lattice

A thin flake of ordinary carbon, just one atom thick, lies behind this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics. Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov have shown that carbon in such a flat form has exceptional properties that originate from the remarkable world of quantum physics.

Graphene is a form of carbon. As a material it is completely new – not only the thinnest ever but also the strongest. As a conductor of electricity it performs as well as copper. As a conductor of heat it outperforms all other known materials. It is almost completely transparent, yet so dense that not even helium, the smallest gas atom, can pass through it. Carbon, the basis of all known life on earth, has surprised us once again.

Geim and Novoselov extracted the graphene from a piece of graphite such as is found in ordinary pencils. Using regular adhesive tape they managed to obtain a flake of carbon with a thickness of just one atom. This at a time when many believed it was impossible for such thin crystalline materials to be stable.

However, with graphene, physicists can now study a new class of two-dimensional materials with unique properties. Graphene makes experiments possible that give new twists to the phenomena in quantum physics. Also a vast variety of practical applications now appear possible including the creation of new materials and the manufacture of innovative electronics. Graphene transistors are predicted to be substantially faster than today’s silicon transistors and result in more efficient computers.

Since it is practically transparent and a good conductor, graphene is suitable for producing transparent touch screens, light panels, and maybe even solar cells.

When mixed into plastics, graphene can turn them into conductors of electricity while making them more heat resistant and mechanically robust. This resilience can be utilised in new super strong materials, which are also thin, elastic and lightweight. In the future, satellites, airplanes, and cars could be manufactured out of the new composite materials.

This year’s Laureates have been working together for a long time now. Konstantin Novoselov, 36, first worked with Andre Geim, 51, as a PhD-student in the Netherlands. He subsequently followed Geim to the United Kingdom. Both of them originally studied and began their careers as physicists in Russia. Now they are both professors at the University of Manchester.

Playfulness is one of their hallmarks, one always learns something in the process and, who knows, you may even hit the jackpot. Like now when they, with graphene, write themselves into the annals of science.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Half Man Half Stockbroker

Life does bring some curious and random requests my way. Recent among them was a email from a chap called John to organise a gig in the Aberystwyth area for his 30th anniversary tour. Suitably warned that I was far from a professional gig organiser, he is playing in the Druid Inn in Goginan on Thursday night (7th of October).

Bring your friends and your enemies provided they are happy to put money in the bucket.

John is also playing in Cardigan earlier in the evening (7pm), but expect more beer to flow in The Druid.

During our email exchange to set up the event, I was introduced to both the south Wales mountain Lord Hereford's Knob and the Liverpool based band Half Man Half Biscuit

Its been excellent value already !

Medium speed rail

I read this article about high speed rail. As someone who travels on trains quite a bit, when they are on time they are fast enough. There are a few exception such as Wrexham and Shrophire which are slow (they are shafted and given poor route and timetable, thank you Mr Virgin and the pressure on the rail regulator). Arriva from mid-Wales also is much slower than it needs to be, but there are some plans for improvement, lets hope they pan out.

A much smaller scale upgrade of key parts of the whole network making better use of what is already in place rather than a dash for speed and 250mph trains.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A review of a review of William Orbit's "Pieces in a Modern Style"

I have quite liked some of William Orbit's previous work in spite of thinking of myself as a long term folk/rock/punk/dub head.

I loved this review of Orbit's recent album Pieces in a Modern Style on iTunes by "The Illustrator".
If you ever want that feeling of being in a lift, in the comfort of your own home, then put your ipod on, get into a wardrobe and play this album.
It was enough to put me off buying it for now, despite Optical Illusions being the background turn to having an out of mind few hours during the Highland Fling Race in 2009.

Quite taken with Flaws by Bombay Bicycle Club at the moment.

Daft me, I have just downloaded the 2011 entry form for the Highland Fling with a view to entering.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A very rare feeling

It is rare I feel sorry for a Tory M.P., but William Hague does seem to have been getting a rough ride from the media (print or blog). I don't care if he is straight, gay, having a experiment during his mid life crisis, provided he is effective in representing the nations interests abroad. If actions or events impact on that the Mr C. should consider Bill's suitability for the position of Foreign Secretary further.

Mis-carriages are a 1 in 4 event, but very distressing for a couple at the time and the aftermath. Once a full on little person does arrive, the memory remains, but it ceases to be distressing. Been there, have much sympathy on a personal level for something that is only the business of the couple and the friends and family they wish to share it with.

This just adds weight to my evolving case that the UK is not a democracy (really Clive) and that media reform needs to precede political reform.

The rest of us(media, bloggers, etc) should just **** off and spend our time drawing attention to the wide and deep cesspit of the wrong and suboptimal and the many great and hopeful aspects which makes up 21st century UK.

The offence of wasting public money

My new found liking for lycra while running may be the start of a slippery slope, but I choose to ware clothes in public. I have yet to feel the need to strip off and run the way nature intended. I shall admit to stripping off once in the open air and going for a very quick swim while running one of the more remote parts of the Ceredigion Coast Path a few months ago. If there was any one around, I would have kept running and skipped the dip.

There are many of gods creatures on this earth that I don't want to see naked, but it does not offend me. Provided someone is not "getting the horn" by being naked I am hugely indifferent to it. For me the boundary on nakedness in public is if the person chooses to be naked for reasons of sexual gratification, then it becomes a problem.

It would appear that Stephen Gough does not get "the horn" while being naked. Indeed, with snow on the ground it is doubtful anyone would be able to see enough to be offended.

What does offend me is that I am paying for this man to be kept in prison. I am paying for his time in court and for the time for the police to rearrest him. As a society the prison place is being used for someone who has hurt no one which could be used for someone like a mugger who really has hurt an other person, so there is an opportunity cost to keeping the naked rambler in prison. Babies turn up on with world with no clothes on, while I don't wish to look at Mr Gough, he should not be in prison.

The use of contempt of court judgment is a mis-use of public money and both the CPS and the judge/sheriff should be held accountable for this misuse of public money. I have seen estimates of over 200k and that was over 6 months ago. Time for the judges in this case to wake up. I am sure they see addicts who would say anything to stay out of jail so they can get their next fix, at the expense of their next victim of a burglary or mugging. There are areas not far from the court where you can't walk through at night. The judgements are the real problem, not walking the length of the UK in socks, boots and a sun hat.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

RAF Cosford Cold War Museum and C.N.D.

I have often stood at the train station at Cosford waiting to go to London at 6.17am and thought "I must make some time to take the kids to the Cold War Museum".

The Cold War Museum is the 1st place in my life I have ever actively wanted to pay for parking. They don't charge for entry, but they do charge for parking which I thought was very reasonable indeed.

I would really recommend it as a day out for any age. Aircraft that I had only heard about were on display and it really kept a 4 and 6 year olds interest, got them asking lots of questions and was a fun day. Even on a bank holiday weekend it was not heaving.

While this has been funded in part by the RAF, one of the exhibitions about the Cuban Missile Crisis makes it clear how lucky was are to be here at all and more significant why a civilian head of state has the ultimate decision on the use of weapons. The exhibition made it very clear that the U.S. military were spoiling for a fight and would have started bombing if given the chance. Made we wonder how many people would join C.N.D. if they had an enrollment campaign outside this exhibition.

Sir Humphrey: With Trident we could obliterate the whole of Eastern Europe.
Jim Hacker: I don't want to obliterate the whole of Eastern Europe.
Sir Humphrey: It's a deterrent.
Jim Hacker: It's a bluff. I probably wouldn't use it.
Sir Humphrey: Yes, but they don't know that you probably wouldn't.
Jim Hacker: They probably do.
Sir Humphrey: Yes, they probably know that you probably wouldn't. But they can't certainly know.
Jim Hacker: They probably certainly know that I probably wouldn't.
Sir Humphrey: Yes, but even though they probably certainly know that you probably wouldn't, they don't certainly know that, although you probably wouldn't, there is no probability that you certainly would.

It did make me think that an M.P. who wants to vote on the Trident replacement should visit the Cold War Museum. In part to get a sense of the history of M.A.D., but also to see how relatively small some of the bombs which carried 1970's nuclear warheads and ask the question "why do we need such big and expensive submarines to deliver such small warheads". The decision to have a nuclear deterrent or not and what form it takes are 2 very different questions which should be considered in isolation. History can't give us a definitive answer to the 1st question, but it does help with the 2nd.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Beautiful Days Festival Year 8

Some pictures from the annual King pilgrimage to Escot Park in Devon.

Some of the bands in no particular order which I think are worthy of mention
  • The Strange World of Arthur Brown : probably the best act of the weekend for me. Made my life one step closer to complete. Far, far better than I expected. Beauty and theater in one stage, go see him. In no way is he a past it old bloke.
  • Levellers : no idea after the 60th or so time I have seen them play. I enjoyed the set, even though it was tipping it down with rain.
  • James : great act, very poor set list. Apart from the last 3 songs, very disappointing
  • Ned's Atomic Dustbin : Like the music, knew none of the songs.
  • The Alarm : class as ever
  • The Wallers : again, my life is one step closer to complete
  • Dreadzone : class as ever
  • 3 Daft Monkeys : lots of new stuff which sounded very good.
  • Interview by John Rob of Penny Rimbaud of Crass (or was it the other way round) who spend some time talking about Wally Hope. It was very interesting how Crass became his vehicle to get some element of revenge, but also to promote some of his ideals. It was very interesting to hear him talk about aspects of his life and ideals, how he has tried to live by them and the admission he has not been perfect. While I may not align myself with the Crass view of the world, some of its underlying principles were interesting and worth thinking on. Agree or disagree, its good to have something to stimulate examining your values and beliefs.
  • Port Izzac's Fishermans Friends : very good for the 1st slot on a Sunday (2 under 5's and the need to run on a saterday morning very much limited beer consuption). Usual joke about sucking a fishermans friend, but they did some really good traditional sea based songs in a interesting style.
  • The Wirzzels : 79 year old drummer, drum and bass verison of Combine Harvester in a saturaday afternoon slot. Very good value and good fun. I had seen them at Glastonbury about 10 years ago and they were seemed old then, so it was not a step towards my life being more complete, but it was fun to watch.
  • Myra gave very good reports of Bellowhead and Seth Lakeman.
Weather was OK, but it did tip down on sunday night. Though none of the mud baths of previous years.

Rush, rush, rush. I was in Sweden the week before, Myra did just about all the packing and we ended up bringing the wrong set of tent poles. I was musing on how to sleep 2 adults and 2 children in a VW Transports and mentioned this to the chap parked next to us, who produced a tent out of his van which he kept as a spare and let us use it. That is what I will really remember about this festival, the really good nature and general kindness.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Why living in Wales is great training for global business

Born near Aberystwyth to Irish parants, with school friends and other peers who all had English speaking parants, it is a high probability you will grow up to be English speaking. Lets set aside the merits or otherwise of learning to speak Welsh if you live in Wales for the purpose of this discussion. Welsh language education in Dyfed in the late 1970's and early 1980's was dire unless you were already Welsh speaking. Arguments on both sides, but in the end it is a personal choice and some people have more apptitude, need and opportunity than others.

Communicating in your own language with others who 1st language is the same as your is always more efficient for the parties involved. I am in Sweden at the moment, working with people who's 1st language is not English. When I am out of the room, they all talk Swedish, when I return, it reverts back to English. No point flying in someone to solve your problems if they don't understand what you are talking about. It works well and this is an unwritten protocol which occurs across most countries for business.

I have to admit that during my 37 years living in Wales, the principle of being able to choose your language for a minority has been more important than the other parties who want or need to be part of the conversation understanding what is being said. I just zone out to it and go do something else. I have found a couple of instances this week where I have wondered into a conversation, my very gracious hosts have recognised my presence, made an apology for speaking Swedish and carried on in English. I had already zoned out and not even noticed, years of living in Wales made it an unconcious reaction.

Some may say I should learn to speak the language of my hosts. So in the last 14 years, I would have had to learn German, French, Spanish, Italian, Africance, Hindi, Norwegian, Swedish, American English (the hardest of all), Hungarian, Polish, Arabic, Czech, typically at a notice of less than 48 hours.

I am very positive about the Welsh language and I am making some progress in learning it. After spending a week in a culture where every effort is made to welcome visitors(short or long term), I do question if the cause of the Welsh language is being damaged by a minority being less accepting of the need of non Welsh speakers to be part of their conversation.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Welsh Rail Travel treated in isolation

This document by TRACC on a strategy for Railways over the next 5 years is quite amusing in that it treats Wales in travel isolation. While being able to travel by train in Wales is important, they seem to have neglected that when making the choice of the medium of travel within the UK, trains do need to connect. So if you want to travel to London (A common designation for Rail travellers from Mid Wales I believe), at some point you need to change trains. No account of this is taken in the report and it is of strategic importance.

While there are discussions in the report of electrification, CCTV, etc, there is no consideration I could see in the 15 minutes I spent scanning it (I could have missed something) about using improved rail travel to help promote business and making it practical for people with jobs which require travel to obscure places (like London) to get to such places for a reasonable time.

A 1st train getting to Shrewsbury at 7.14 is not a lot of use if you have a meeting in London at 9.30am. Wales won't prosper if those doing strategic planning ignore the bit of land to the east.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wales@home : sorry, I haven't a clue !

One of the sites I follow on a regular basis is Wales@home. It contains informed short articles, some of which are reprints of speeches or presented papers and some are written specifically for the site. They are all good, the vast majority are about Wales. The writers for the site are typically political types (A.M., various advisors) or journalists. The site appears to have been the idea of Duncan Higgit and a very fine idea it is to. I don't agree with much of what is written, but that is only goodness as it makes you think and often change your mind.

Duncan Higgit wrote part of an article (probably just a view) about the Afghan War and Wikileaks. What this did illustrate to me is that both the authors and most of those who left comments thought they knew the effect (good or bad) that Wikileaks will have.

I work on what are quite complex computer systems. The points of failure are quite obvious, and most parties that are effected will have a voice. While the diagnosis of problems can be highly non-trivial, you either know that you have fixed an issue very quickly or in 2 times the mean time between occurrences. My working life is a battle against cognitive bias, my own and that of others. We are not designed to deal with systems of this complexity, so we delete, distort and generalise, find pet causes and then look for details to support our pet cause. Here are documented many cognitive bais traits which I see (in myself and others) in my working life on a daily basis. Other than a degree of self awareness, there are tools like Kepner Tragoe rational process which help a great deal.

What Duncan's article and the comments made me grasp was that the Political class and Journalists are born more immune to the ravages of bias that effect us mortals. They work in a hugely more complex social system where the voice of many of the agents involved is not heard, the system itself is continually changing in subtle ways and the parties involved can't even agree on the problems that need solves, their priority and often don't involve experts. The experts don't fully understand their part of the part of the eco-system (think economic forecasts if you want an example). They have limited information about the subject areas, but can make informed correct decisions every time.

While my comments are somewhat opaque, I still stand by them.
  1. We can't know the long terms future of Wikipedia and its legacy can't be known in advance. Good or bad, we don't know yet.
  2. We can't know what impact the document leaking will have in aggregate
  3. Wikipedia's morals can only be judged right and wrong in reference to your ideology
  4. Duncan would be a fun chap to have a beer with
A gross generalisation I grant, but I think here lies a significant difference between the types of people involved in the discussion I mentioned above on the Wales@home site. I am dam sure I can't know the future, I struggle bringing some type of order to the chaos of much more constrained environments in the present. What do the Political class and Journalists know that I don't or are they just far better at putting forward credible arguments today which stand no better chance of being right when judged by history ?

I guess I have an advantage in that history won't be bothered to judge what I think.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hugh Munro was a hard nut

I watched the BBC 4 programme on Hugh Munro and his legacy of a list where he did not manage the last three. What struck me was that during the time Munro (or A. E. Robertson) was climbing all of Scotland's 3000ft+ peaks, transport was a different scale of challenge than today.

Scotland is quite big, the roads are variable, so even today it takes some effort to travel between some of the more remote hills. When we today think of a long walk in from the road to something like Seana Bhràigh which has a 8 mile walk in we think of it was remote. How long must the walk in's in Munro's day been? Less roads, no cars, all travel by train, horse, bike or foot. The West Highland railway was opened in 1894, so the train would have been some some use in some areas. No Gore-tex, no light weight ice gear, GPS or even accurate maps. I expect he had more than 24 days holiday a year to explore, so did not have to try to get as many done in a day as he could.

I have done about 90 of the peaks over the last 20 years. I do a few a year and the vague goal of doing them all before I get put in my box is an excuse to explore and experience wild Scotland. How much better Munro must have got to know Scotland, not just the mountains, but the bits between.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Learn a language?

I was sent this by a Dutch Engineer I am working with. We had a misunderstanding in terminology and a good laugh about it.

A foreign diplomat, looking for directions, pulls up at a bus stop where two Americans are waiting.

“Entschuldigung, koennen Sie Deutsch sprechen?” he asks. The two Americans just stare at him.

“Excusez-moi, parlez vous Francais?” he tries. The two continue to stare.

“Parlare Italiano?” No response.

“Hablan ustedes Espanol?” Still nothing.

The diplomat drives off, extremely disgusted. The first American turns to the second and says, “You know, maybe we should learn a foreign language.”

“Why?” says the other. “That guy knew four languages, and it didn’t do him any good.”

Some links I found interesting or important : From Iran to Wigan to Newport

  • Protest can be a very positive force - here is an example using Pink Floyd the Wall. Significant enough to get a segment on the Today Program.
  • An very worrying example from 2 years ago of Police overuse of force against a serving soldier who it appears they mistook for someone else.
  • I was in Newport waiting for a train 2 weeks ago and saw the Dragons being unloaded. I suspect I am not capable of understanding why the need to damage this objects exists, but it does. Newport centre is not the most upbeat of places and something like the Dragons does improve the feel.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Office of Chief Executive

What is a Chief Executive? Lets try

The responsibility of the chief executive officer is to align the company, internally and externally, with their strategic vision. The core duty of a CEO is to facilitate business outside of the company while guiding employees and other executive officers towards a central objective. The size and sector of the company will dictate the secondary responsibilities.

Here are a few situations where I feel it is reasonable and right for the incumbent to call themselves or to be called Chief Executive or Chief Executive Officer.

  • The employed head of a FTSE quoted company.
  • The employed leader of a Regional Council. For Ceredigion, this is Bronwen Morgan
  • The employed most senior executive director of a national or international charity. In the case of the Citizens Advice Bureau this is now Gillian Guy.
  • no doubt there are other cases where the title is most appropriate.
However, I have noticed a trend for small charities (or local branches) to make give their most senior employed member of staff the title of Chief Executive. This is no doubt very good for the incumbents moral initially. Longer term, I have only seen it be destructive to staff and volunteer moral and service delivery.

The reason for having a title is to create an impression of gravitas and authority on 1st meeting. In the IT business the same happens, we have a mix of senior/principle/executive/consultant/director/manager/officer/engineer/staff/vice/architect/president (though the most impressive job title I ever saw was Rabble Rouser). Its a game which also applies in within large companies where "there person I report to is more important than the person you report to" game is played to remove(or in put in place depending on your disposition) roadblocks. Indeed, how seriously some groups take previously unknown individuals is inversely proportional to how many lines of reporting are between them and the boss. You see this play out in many organisations I visit.

For small charities I have seen a trend for boards of directors or trustee's (same thing) to suggest the most senior staff member is titled "Chief Executive". This probably does impress in some situations such as meeting government and when meeting other charities, it levels the playing field of every one else at the table has the title of C.E. When I was acting chair of Aberystwyth C.A.B. (great title, it means people sit on you and you have a personal financial responsibility if it goes bust) I went to a meeting (I was wondering round meditating on how to keep the place open) and meet a number of people who were the most senior member of staff in a Bureau no larger than ours and while our most senior employed staff member was titled "Bureau Manager", the equivalent post in some other C.A.B. centers was "Chief Executive".
I got a chance to talk to a few rank and file members who deliver the actual service and their comments were that it was OK when the manager became the C.E. for a few months, but then they started becoming inaccessible and treated people differently.

I was involved for a number of years with a charity as a volunteer. The previous most senior member of staff had the title "Project Leader" which very well described what he did. He was very approachable and the team spirit which included volunteers was inspirational. The "Project Leader" left (very sadly indeed) and a business manager was promoted to "Chief Executive" to run the charity. From my point of view as a volunteer it was fine to start with, little changed. Over the next year the C.E. became less approachable, and the staff had the same experience. The charity became a mediocre run business rather than a team of people all pushing in the same direction with enthusiasm. Given that the charity employes less than 10 people full time, it makes little sense for staff or volunteers to have to make an appointment to discuss matters with the decision maker. The decision maker will then miss opportunities and lack information about what is happening. Staff moral also drops through the floor and good staff leave.

As an example, I am an examiner for one of the I.S.E.B. exams. I get paid for this, but my contract with Sun and now Oracle means I can't take the money. However, I can donate it to a charity. I was unable to meet with the charity's C.E. to arrange for I.S.E.B. to be invoiced (we are talking about 1400 quid a year, so worth 10 minutes of most small charities C.E. time). Such was the difficulty in getting an audience, I ended up talking to the Aberystwyth C.A.B. manager who set the wheels in motion and it just happened with no hassle or need to make an appointment. While my 2nd choice in terms of where I wanted to the money to go, with hind sight I am now pleased it did.

It would take a strong character not to be changed by being given the title of Chief Executive, so in my view over time, it is bound to create a division and alienation between the C.E. and staff and volunteers. The responsibility for this lies with the board of directors/trustees in each instance. A simple fix for this would be to prohibit any government funding for organisations of less than 100 people which have the a member of staff titled "Chief Executive". Important? It probably is a small part of the reason that David Camerons "Big Society" is going to be a rock pushed up a steep hill.

Personally, my decision to give(money,time,expertise) to a small charity in future will be influenced in some part by the title of their most senior employed member of staff. Why? Because I know it has a significant effect on the ability of the charity to engage with its staff and volunteers, keep them happy and delivery an effective service over the long run.

Friday, July 23, 2010

IT NOW - less useful content than The Sun

IT NOW is the British Computer Society "The magazine for the IT Professional". I am a member (fellow) of the BCS, part of the degree scheme accreditation panel and an examiner for ISEB. Thus assume I am broadly a supporter of the BCS as a body.

IT NOW has less useful content for the computer professional than toilet role. Every month it arrives, I feel duty bound to at least flick through it and each month is has zero useful content. It is worse, they wasted my time when I could have been reading something that has content. They do pick some current and useful topics, but it contains so little depth or insight, that you feel it is being written by a failed marketing droid who just can't be bothered. They do however have lots of nice picture of people in smart clothes smiling or pretending to get on with each other. It does not have to have deep technical content, just some insight into the topics it covers by people who actually know what they are talking about.

On monday I intend to contact the BCS and ask for them to stop sending IT NOW until it stops becoming a waste of shiny paper which probably means a dramatic change to the editorial team.

I like the police

As a general rule and in principle, I like the police. They have a very difficult job clearing up after the mess society in general has left. If you wonder why your average police man is about as friendly as a despondent Jack Russel Terrier, they have had some bad experiences with "their customers" and regrettably apply the principle universally to us all.

I don't like being disturbed when sleeping in my car for a few hours when I have spent the 1st part of the night running over some hills as part of my BGR training. The statements that "anything could be happening" is rather strange justification for being curious. On the flip side we have a very good local officer Hefin who gets the big picture and the difference between people who want to see the Police as a service to work with and those who see the Police as stopping them doing whatever they want.

There does need to be a prosecution by the pushing Police Officer over the death of Ian Tomlinson for ordinary people to have trust that Police misconduct will not be covered up. The outcome of such as case is up to the jury, but that a case must be brought against the officer in question is very obvious. Other members of society have been before a jury by now, the Police can't be left off when appearing to step so far out of line. If the case finds the officer innocent, then its is an end of the matter.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

low flying and hearing loss : correlation != causation

This Plaid article discussing Elfyn Llwyd MP comes across as looking for something to complain about.

Which is more probable to cause long term hearing loss in young people in north Wales in 2010?


or a Eurofighter
I have no doubt at all that low flying aircraft can cause hearing loss in the passive bystander, but to imply (as the article does) that it is responsible for the hearing loss of a specific group of children, but leaving a little wriggle room, is just poor politics. Is this an example of using an issue to promote a wider cause? Maybe!

I would expect better than this from any M.P., no matter what party they came from. Nadin Dorris is an obvious exception where I would expect even less sense.

Commenting, Mr Llwyd said:

“We must have an urgent rethink of this situation. More jets than ever before are now being trained and in no way are the people of north and mid Wales being compensated for this.

“In my constituency, a high percentage of those living in Dinas Mawddwy and Llanuwchllyn who were children in primary schools there, now have problems with hearing.

“Research by German Professor Isling proved beyond doubt that when jets fly at low altitudes, it does indeed have a detrimental effect upon an individual’s hearing.

Naughty W.A.G. pays it servants more

Now this is a bit naughty. Most of us in the private sector have not seen any pay rise for a number of years and the public sector is about to have the skin taken from its bones, suggests this was not well thought out. Even if the pay rise was agreed in advance of the pay freeze, it was obvious such as freeze was on its way and W.A.G. should have been able to assess the future well enough to know that this was inappropriate. This is an interesting quote

The strategy says the Assembly must aim at being an employer of choice and “be able to recruit and retain staff with the skills required to deliver best services”.

I have dealt with W.A.G. staff who are great, cleaver and focused on advancing Wales and quite a few who are clearly only holding out for their pensions. If pay is the issue, then mean quality and output (as measured by success of the Welsh economy and society) needs to rise.

Naughty is maybe the wrong word, but the right word is somewhere between irresponsible and thoughtless.

Friday, July 16, 2010

ECrime Wales Conference

Mention Celtic Manor and depending on your outlook on life it is probably famous for one of 2 things
  1. The venue for next years Golf Rider cup
  2. The venue from which Andy Powell commandeered a golf bugger for a trip down the M4
I had not been there before and while a very good venue for the event, as a place it feels false and superficial. It was the type of place I hate on principle.

The Master of Ceremonies was Jamie Owen, who I had a chat with at the break about the welsh coast with reference to last weekends little outing and how those who live in Wales often don 't visit their local coast line. He was a very good M.C. it has to be said and while he may have earned it, I am sure I could find a very good home for his fee.

Most of the talks were excellent (other than the advertising pitch about Verizons Clould computing services). Lots of sensible people giving big picture sensible stuff. The top 3 speakers I thought in particular order were
  • Robert Hayes from Microsoft
  • Richard Hollis from Orthus
  • RIchard Cox from the Spamhaus project
Richard Cox was perhaps the most interesting in that he was able to articulate specific gaps in legislation which would bring real improvements in fighting ecrime.

I did feel like asking the question to one of the panel sessions alone the lines "To what extent would we reduce my risk of being a ecrime target by banning Microsoft products from our organisations". It would be a very fair question, but not from someone with a badge that said Oracle. Also I doubt you would get an informed or straight answer. To Microsoft's credit they do appear to be taking security very seriously, both commercial and retail. Interesting that Robert Hayes from Microsoft suggests moving your Windows systems to 64 bit would result in a improved security profile.

I don't play in the security world a great deal or do "windows", so there was a lot to learn from the day.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Badger cull in Wales : doing something ends up in the right thing being done ?

I was out running one evening in the hills to the east of Llandinam in mid Wales and came across a Badger which in day light (about 8pm in June) is unusual, but it was quite a remote area. We looked at each other for about 20 seconds and then went our separate ways. I have seen lots of Badgers, mostly at night, but never been that close to one and had time to share (we wondered what each other were and if we posed a threat to each other and how we should react). I wonder what its view on the cull of Badgers in Wales was?

I have tried to read as much of the science as I can find. What I did find was inconclusive either way. It gave little force to any argument about a cull or vaccination or do nothing or do something else. What is clear is that it is costing a lot of money. What I don't understand is if there is the potential for TB as carried by Badgers to jump to Humans. There is no right and wrong decisions, just a set of tradeoffs where many parameters are either ill-understood, or qualitative.

I think we are seeing a strange kind of democracy at work here. Elin Jones via the Welsh Assembly Government does something "orders a cull", the Badger Trust use that rather hard to aim democratic tool called "legal review" which exposes possible flaws in the original plan (or just perhaps the implementation), judge says STOP and we go round the loop again with a new plan being put forward, attempts made to chop it down ........

What is worrying is the time taken for "something" to happen. Once round the loop takes at least a year. If this became a threat to human health (maybe it is, I don't know, thats what comments are for) and Murdocks Empire started calling for a Badger cull, the UK would be near Badger free in a couple of weeks.

We should be positive about what Elin Jones and W.A.G. are trying to achieve in terms of reducing the incidence of TB in cattle, they are doing something. I am not a Badger lover myself, but there is credit due to the Badger Trust and friends for questioning both the tactics and strategy. Their currency is a healthy badger population, in contrast W.A.G. is driven by the great British Pound. As a society we need a more timely method of deciding how to overcome these sorts of challenges where head and heart are at conflict and the science is partial, rather than legal challenge. It expensive and time wasting, but at least in its own way it is democratic.

Why Silicon Valley is not in south Wales

This is worth watching if you are thinking about why the UK (and Wales) has not got past the qualifiers in terms of developing technology.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Most of Ceredigion Coast Path in a day

I feel this has wider interest than just for runners, so putting a link here to saturdays run from Aberystwyth to Aberport along the Ceredigion Coast past. Absolutely magical (except New Quay)

Friday, July 9, 2010


I went to a seminar on using Bonds in pension funds yesterday in London run by SPS as part of my training as required by the Pension Fund regulator. I can say with some certainty I was the most informally dressed individual in the room and I thought I had dressed up for the day.

At the start I knew 1 thing about Bonds (or fixed interest) which is that I knew nothing about Bonds.

At the end of the day I learned quite a lot about Bonds, the most significant of which were
  • If you play with fixed interest, you better have a solid grasp of macro-economics
  • Forget shares, this is where the big children play
I was expecting to feel out-gunned in the discussions over lunch and coffee, but that was not the case. Maybe I have learned something in my 3 years as a Sun Microsystems Pension fund trustee. What I did find surprising (actually no it is not) was the absolute and vindictive hatred that professional investors and trustees have for Independent Financial Advisors or bank tied advisors and the consensus was that an individual investor had a higher probably of making money by not doing what they suggest.

The editor of the Sun may have a small penis

I spent yesterday at a pensions trustee seminar in London. I travelled to London on the train and in the cafe opposite Marylebone station I had scrambled egg on toast for breakfast. Someone had left a copy of the Sun on behind on the table, so I had a quick flick through it, though it proved a depressing experience regarding the quality of journalism.

Raoul Moat is a very serious subject, but a short article about the possible below average size of Mr. Moat penis was an archetypal Sun article and suggests the editor needs to get a grip himself (or maybe he already has).

While on the surface it is a trivial article written on a rag, it does reinforce to me the concerns about the expanding media empire of the Sun's owner.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Book review : Completing the Eurozone rescue

This EBOOK from here is well worth a read if you want to get some idea of either
  1. where the euro might go next
  2. what needs to be done to fix the current euro predicament
It raises many questions about the way the EU is run, but that have been raised before, this just brings them into shape and urgent focus.

Very insightful. Here is the summary
The Eurozone’s life-threatening crisis in May 2010 was halted when Eurozone leaders and the ECB to strong measures in May. But these were palliatives not a cure.
The crisis is not over, according to the dozen world-renowned economists whose views are contained in this eBook. The Eurozone rescue needs to be completed. More needs to be done.
The Eurozone ‘ship’ is holed below the waterline. The ECB actions are keeping it afloat for now, but this is accomplished by something akin to bailing the water as fast as it leaks in. European leaders must very soon find a way to fix the hole.
This eBook that gathers the thinking of a dozen world-class economists on what they need to do on banking-sector clean up, fiscal discipline, structural policies, and more.
summary, there is a big hole in the EURO boat and it is in no single nations interest to fix it.

Good idea to know have a understanding of the between monetary policy and fiscal policy before starting to read this ebook.

Welsh Rural Broadband event

For those who don't get Broadband in rural Wales, this event in Buith Wells might be of interest.
Not sure a grand will make much impact on BT's will to replace lengths of cable.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bias : No Parks in the World have Statues to Committees

I am reading a book on how Hedge Funds work (or don't) and it discusses as part of making investment decisions are made about running committees and comes up with these manifestations of the groupthink disease.

  • Collective rationalisations of shared illusions generally believed.
  • Crude, negative stereotypes of out-groups
  • Shared belief in the group's inherent morality
  • Illusions of invulnerability to a risky course of action
  • Illusions of unanimity and suppression of personal doubts
  • Subtle group pressure on dissenters
  • Self-appointed mindguards who protect the group from thoughts that might damage their confidence
  • Docility fostered by charismatic, previously successful leadership
  • Free-floating conversations in group meetings
  • Lack of standard risk analysis using methodical procedures
The only defence is awareness.

I am on a very multi-national conf call while writing this and making a real pain in the arse of myself by questioning some assumptions which are making some people quite uncomfortable. All I am doing is suggesting that a plan might fail :-) The more open I am about the ways it might fail the less chance it has of failing.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Bible according to Rupert Murdoch

I copied this poem from here

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was Gotcha! And
the Lord Rupert said let there be a Royal Family, and let enormous
quantities of trivia and drivel be written about them, yea even unto
the point where a mentally subnormal yak couldn't possibly find it
interesting any more, and let babies be born unto this Royal Family,
and let the huge swathes of nauseating sludge written about them
surpass even that written about their parents, even though these
babies and their parents are about as interesting as a wet afternoon
on the terraces at Selhurst Park.
And the Lord Rupert said let there be soap operas, and let each
of these soap operas be so mind-numbingly moronic as to make a
wet afternoon at Selhurst Park seem a truly uplifting experience,
and let entire forests and the ecological balance of several continents
be destroyed in the endless vistas of retarded outpourings about
these unspeakable transmissions.
And let there be enormous breasts, and endless bonking, and
hours and days and weeks and months and years of chauvinistic
right-wing propaganda so that the brain-dead prats who like the
bonking and the soap operas and the breasts and the royal stories
get the politics as well.
And let any journalist who tries to stand up to the proprietor and
editor in the name of truth, and intelligence, and integrity, and
journalistic standards, be summarily dismissed, and cast forever
into a bottomless pit of decomposing chimpanzee smegma, and let
those journalists who suffer this fate rejoice at the great career move
they have just made.
And the Lord Rupert looked at his work, and even he saw that
it was a load of crap, but this was the enterprise culture and it sold
millions so it was good. And on the same basis he decided to take
over the television too, and the earth itself wept, and little robins
vomited, and cuddly furry animals threw themselves under trains,
and the whole thing was filmed by Sky Channel for a horror nature
programme, and the most awful thing of all was that this was just
the beginning...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Apollo 13 : what really happened and its implications for education

You may have seen the film, I was even privileged enough to hear Gene Kranz (4000 people in a room and you could have heard a pin drop), but what about the mechanics of problem solving used by the NASA engineers at the time. This pdf is worth a read to find out more.

I have been using and teaching the process described in the pdf above for 12 years now. It has been life changing.

This and this are also worth a read. Reassuring that they involve Nuclear power plants and things going wrong!

For children to leave school without being fluent in these skills is a travesty and I ask myself why the various Secretary of State's for Education (or derivative there of) have not made getting fluent in this type of problem solving, core to the school 6th form curriculum. Answer I think is that few members of the political class see problem solving, decision making and risk management as important(do they want the great unwashed to be able to do it for themselves, a cynic might suggest so). Teachers don't see it is important as they don't have the business background.

I deal with people on a regular basis who have good degree's from Oxford and Cambridge being paid by banks at least 2x my salary, but when confronted by a set of problems, attack them with a complete lack of structure, rigour and direction which end up costing their company money and reputation.

Thank you Mr. Sun for training me to become a KT Programme Leader in 1998, it changed my life.