Friday, January 29, 2010

It has sunk in

I logged into SunSolve (it is a web site where customers can search for known problems, fixes, etc) to patch a bug pathology to a bugid this evening.

It has changed, it now has Oracle at the top.

If this is the speed of change, I look forward to the ride:-)

Free WIFI brings business

I am sitting in the Habourmaster in Aberaeron with a Latte. It is a grey and windy day, but I still have a reasonable view of the water. My car is in for a 56,000 mile service which is about 3 hours, so 3 hours of quality work rewriting a course on "Situation Appraisal" and when I finish that I have some reading around Kerberos to complete. I can be nearly as productive here as I can be in the office or at home. Why? The owner has the foresight to provide free at point of use WIFI. This means an extra 5 pounds (will probably buy an other coffee) in high margin revenue during a quiet day in the winter months he would not otherwise get. Also means I might use this place for a Sunday family meal and recommend it to others. I have walked passed it many times and never though of going in.

I am surprised(OK disappointed, but maybe not that surprised then) the garage does not provide WIFI, they will make you as much tea as you can drink, but pointed me to the Habourmaster when my mobile broadband could not connect.

It is not that odd for people to work form a Cafe. This chap appears to spend 1/2 his working life in StarBucks which is a bit extreme. However, meetings, spare hours, getting car services, etc. Perhaps it is time for a law, tax break, etc (pick positive consequence) to promote that if you sell food and drink, you should provide free WIFI and tax prohibitively "for fee" WIFI.

Fair enough to set WEP key and change it on a daily basis to that if you don't use the services of the venue, you don't get to use their WIFI.

If the pub at the crossing for the Corren Ferry can provide a free and open WIFI access, then it is not beyond other business to do the same. I accept that the Tan Hill Inn gets a exception, but at least they are trying.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

mis-direction for nasty people!

I was showing my small person where her old nursery was and it seems Google maps is out by a little bit. Click on the "View larger map" and if you know the area, the label is on the wrong side of the road and about 100 meters to far north east.

View Larger Map

I am quite cool about it. The security appears good at the nursery, similar information is available elsewhere if you want to look and the real risks are typically closer to home. However, I have meet a few parents who it would upset if Google has marked it in the right place.

What should be labelled and what should not?

On Ordnance Survey maps (this was true when I last looked 10 years plus ago), this place was described as a duck pond which it very clearly is not and now it is even labelled as such.

View Larger Map

Monday, January 25, 2010

Response to "Steps to a Green Economy for Ceredigion"

So an aspirant MP produces a "Green Economy Report", it is going to be for reasons of getting elected. I have meet Penri a couple of times, nice chap, heart in the right place and certainly switched on the local, agricultural issues. He is playing the "I want to be elected game" which is fair enough, so lets suspend our normal cynical filters for a while and see what is good and what can be improved. It much easier to write a blog no one reads than to produce a document which random people and your opponents will want to pick over. The co-author Peter Midmore who is a Professor of Economics and Director of Research at Aberystwyth University’s School of Management & Business is a serious academic by reputation.

If you want the report at the time of writing, you either need to email Penri or go to the Plaid office to get a copy. I assume it will be available for download. I especially encourage you to do this if you live outside Ceredigion:-)

Lets take the steps that are set out in turn

  1. Improve home energy efficiency : A couple of should's here, but no specific's on how to facilitate the desired behavior. It has long puzzled me why there is VAT on insulation, be it loft, cavity wall or draught proofing or the work to install it. I am not convinced about the local authority unit, at least not at the stage we at. Low level best practice along the lines of if you have less than X units of insulation in your loft, add insulation until you get the the required thickness would only be complicated by a local authority unit. Funding a Citizens Advice Bureau post to advise on such things split between Cardigan and Aberystywth would be far better value if it was really felt advise was needed rather than easy access to information.
  2. Enhancing construction sector skills : I like this, but it would need to be a national policy to have the scale effects discussed. I fear that skills tend to follow demand and knowing some local tradesmen, if the demand was there, they would aquire the skills. Another case for being zero VAT rated with an significant energy saving effort and possible local job creation could be from fitting Voltage Optimisation Devices.
  3. Create growing spaces : safe one here. No one is going to disagree unless you propose to purchase their land to do it. A move back to the green crop field that my late farmer friend Dan told me horror stories about harvesting Mangles from frozen ground in Feburary. He was a farm worker in the 1940's to 1970's and then got his own place, but a garden was very important to him, indeed his last words were about the need to plant potatoes. We are never going to satisfy the need for allotment land within a town area and maybe a suitable body (council??) renting a field in agricultural use near the various towns and then sub-letting it for allotments over 5 years. After 5 years, move fields, reducing disease exposure. However, I would not be applying for the job of managing it and the various disputes between growers! Good specific suggestion pointing at the root of the problems are in or or around planning.
  4. Enhance farm incomes by exploiting bio-energy : I was out running on Sunday near Nant-Y-Moch, taking a short cut over some clear felled woodland it struck me how much biomass gets wasted, left for me to trip over and could be used as fuel. If you were next to the Drax power station, then the case for large scale bio-energy would be more clear cut, with only Hydro power stations in or near Ceredigion, would need some careful analysis. Small scale bio-fuel is a different matter, but beyond a domestic log burner and a few places (Nant-Y-Arian Forestry Centre for example) which burn wood chip, I have yet to see it put into practice. Open question because I don't know the answer is provoked by the last sentence, is it research or commercialization which is really needed?
  5. Integrate public transport provision : Where I live which is very rural used to have a bus service which stopped 3 years or so ago. Now the nearest bus service is 3 miles away. School also closed about the same time so similar distance to nearest school. This is a hard one and probably quite high hanging fruit in the carbon reduction scheme of things.
  6. Additional cycle routes : I fear an other lack of specifics. Ceredigion has a history of proposed cycle ways hitting serious opposition from landowners in their path such as the Ystwyth Trail which was delayed for a number of years. So here is a proposed route, take the spirit of getting from A to B rather than the exact line to join the existing cycle path. The opposition to such a scheme would be interesting from the land owners, but unless there is political will to fight that type of battle, then there is no point talking about this subject.
    View Rural Cycle way in a larger map
  7. Education for sustainable lifestyles : a little light on specifics maybe?

The last section of the document does highlight some of the root causes which are barriers to progress with accurate observations which are worth quoting 3 sections
  • Part of the answer is that the responsibilities for bringing about change are dispersed widely, and at different levels.
  • This abundance of decision-makers have competing and sometimes higher priority issues to confront, on different spatial scales, and it is one of the major failings of current governance that coordination and focus at the local level is rarely achieved.
  • Powers for initial action already exist, local authorities have under the Local
    Government Act 2000 the duty to promote the economic, social or
    environmental well being.
However, here is where we disagree on the fix(es).
Better local leadership on this issue would start with having a clear and ambitious vision, and be accompanied by the commitment to achieving that vision in a specific time period. It is a future role for elected representatives, particularly the MP and AM but also for elected local councillors.
I offer the view that the performance system is broken at too many levels. The balance of consequences(short term and long terms, positive and negative) and feedback do not encourage the desired behavior. I have only meet one elected representative who I would class as both evil and seriously incompetent and one other I would class as far out of his depth, but a nice chap. All the others, elected or aspirtant, that I have meet including, but not limited to, Penri, Mark, Elen, Mark, Rhodri, Paul, Dai, Peter, Hag, etc, etc are all good people doing their best in the system they operate within and they want to keep operating in.

Changing the people is tinkering at the edges, the debate really needs to be how the performance system changes (balance of consequences) to encourage the behavior from our elected representatives and public servants that we need to tackle the challenges set out in Penri's document. It would be a painful change to the status quo, so it would happen without a serious fight.

Lets be fair to Penri here, not only does it have a nice photo on the front, but it all makes sense. What is damming of the electoral eco-system he operates in (the one in which we as voters will interview him in later this year) is that he feels unable to take more risks, to be more creative and specific about the actions which will remove the road blocks he articulates very well. To quote Simon Friend far out of context It's what your votes condone.

Book review : Traders Guns & Money

If you are a member of the Sun UK pension scheme, don't fret, we have no plans to sink your money into CDO's, credit swaps or Indexed Currency Option Notes, but it is useful to know how derivatives work and why a subset should rightly be called "Weapons of Mass Destruction".

If you think that none of your savings go near derivatives, then you are probably wrong. The mortgage on your house was probably risk swapped on a Sun E25K, most active equity investments use Futures rather than buying the underlying shares, and when you buy a car, the importer has probably hedged his income on the deal via some type of currency derivative.

This book is really about risk. Market, credit, operational and liquidity risk are the main 4. It contains a number of examples such as Orange County or LTCM and the background behind why such companies failed and other banks have lost telephone number amounts having made similar amounts on the back of their punters. From Wikipedia........
The bankruptcy of Orange County, CA in 1994, the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. On December 6, 1994, Orange County declared Chapter 9 bankruptcy, from which it emerged in June 1995. The county lost about $1.6 billion through derivatives trading. Orange County was neither bankrupt nor insolvent at the time; however, because of the strategy the county employed it was unable to generate the cash flows needed to maintain services. Orange County is a good example of what happens when derivatives are used incorrectly and positions liquidated in an unplanned manner; had they not liquidated they would not have lost any money as their positions rebounded.

Are you scared now? It is quite telling that the author claims that when asked for advice on where to invest he suggests "under the bed" as the best option.

It is not a text book, but a very good place to start if, like me, you don't know much about derivatives, but would like to find out hope much scope they have to make a mess of your world which you thought was free from their influence. I also want to know something about this area so as a Pension Fund Trustee I am better equipped to spot bulls**t when interviewing fund managers or investment advisors. Remember, they are all better dressed than I am, so they must be right.

There are no guns (the things which shoot bullets) mentioned in the book, but the implications is that derivatives are Traders gun and if handled without extreme care or if they get into the wrong hands, can lead to mass destruction. The book was written pre Credit Crunch and predicted the dangers of CDO's which we are paying for now.

Well written and a serious book which is worth reading with no heavy maths. Even takes Donald Rumsfeld quotes about known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns and uses them to good effect.

Concepts I have yet to follow up on include

  • agency theory

Dairy farming and the Sun pension scheme

If you are a member of the Sun Microsystems UK pension scheme and pay into the default funds, then 1/2 your money will go into a BlackRock Diversified Growth fund. Some of that fund is invested in a couple of BlackRock internal funds to give exposure to assets such as gold, natural resources and mining.

Graham Birch who used to manage this fund has decided to become a full time farmer, rather than a full time stock picker.

My impression of Blackrock when we interviewed them was that they were very hot on risk. I guess Mr Birch will be tackling a very different set of risks as a dairy farmer in Dorest now. I do predict he will make a lot less money as a farmer than a fund manager.

Does it make any difference to your Sun pension, probably not. The current manager is rated as very good and the holdings in the DGF for each fund are in the region of 1%.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

New blog, no running.

Sun is being consumed by Oracle which in the big scheme of things I view as positive, makes this a good time to move to an outside blog. I have more things to say about politics, farming, rural development, social issues, pensions, etc which I never really felt comfortable putting on my work blog. I hope to write a bit more techie stuff as well.

I have been writing up my running here, and will continue to.

The title of the blog stems from

  1. I live in a rural part of mid-Wales which is very important to me
  2. I debug computer problems for Sun->Oracle customers and it influences your approach to life where every problems in creation becomes a exercise in establishing root cause and then applying a patch, swapping hardware or changing customer behavior. If only that could be the case.