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.