Wednesday, December 14, 2011

e-books : How publishing is changing .....

Some time ago a comment was left on my other blog asking if I wanted to contribute to a e-book on ultra running, life strategies, emotions and stuff. While keen to keep Life Coaches and other such disseminators of common sense for a fee out of ultra running, there are things you learn about yourself and how to get hard stuff done when touching your limit, which Clive's Bob Graham Round project was.  It seems like a useful project or perspective, so I answered their questions. The Ultra running related e-book will be published in February, but they kindly sent me a copy of their 1st e-book,

The Passionate Life, 16 stories of People Who Dared to Risk. I have not read it yet, but it appears to have nothing to do with Ultra Running and more to do with a range of people the authors find interesting.

I am all for this model of book publishing, but I must admit I am more looking forward to reading the 2nd e-book than reading the 1st one.

Friday, December 9, 2011

What umberellas tell us about the Health and Safety culture

Maybe living in West Wales I treat rain as one of those common events, you put on a coat and get on with it. If you don't have a coat you get wet and accept it.

I am spellbound when I visit London and it is raining. What other regular event  gives an excuse to carry a 10 point sharp weapon at or around head height. They don't even need a license to use one in public. How many people get blinded in one eye each time it rains in London by a lack of due care and attention from the umbrella driver? If the number is zero, I would expect fudging by the Association of Umbrella Manufactures [is there one?].

Maybe I am only at risk because I don't have or use such an irresponsible item. Applying the US right wing argument for guns, if everyone had an umbrella, then no one would get a sharp spike of metal in the eye or ear.

Given the rather obvious 3rd party risk if carrying these offensive weapons, why are they legal?
What don't commuters need training and a certificate before they are allowed to carry one on a drizzly day?

"How to teach Umbrella safety to Children" looks hopeful. Even the moral-less sharks have got wind of it.

Would it be reasonable to walk around London carrying a unguarded  javalin? No, unless you are on your way to javelin training and you have the sharp bits covered. So why are such bloody dangerous items considered acceptable?

Some of it may be "sorry about your eye, but at least I did not get wet".

It says a lot about our collective attitude to risk of injury.

Monday, November 28, 2011

More people die in Hospital at weekends

Here is a case for evidence based everything. Evidence based reporting (unless you write for the DailyMash) and an evidence based response from the NHS.

The BBC article suggests that hospitals are not staffed properly at weekends, particularly with senior doctors. I have no doubt this is true, but does it tell the whole story ?

For those of us who have taken a 2 year old to A & E on the Saturday night of a rugby international, there is an alternative possibility prompted by observing the wave of the self mutilated who spill in through the door after about 9pm. Drink, drugs, sporting injuries, DIY injuries and racing dads car lead to a different profile of injury.  Are they more likely to pop their clogs than tuesday night admissions ? This is where some numbers would help on the profile of the incoming workload.

Do more old people die in hospital at weekends because someone came to visit them, found them in a state, shipped them off to hospital where they pass on ? During the week no one would have visited them, so they would have passed on at home.  Its possible, do the numbers back this up?

The BBC article is quite balanced, needs to take a few small steps more. It would be good to see the histogram at the end split out between A& E and non A & E and by age group.

Friday, November 25, 2011

I think .....

This type of comment annoys me

Environment Minister John Griffiths said: "We've got three organisations all doing an important job but I think if we could pool them together we would have greater integration, greater efficiency, and greater effectiveness," he said

Just because a minister or civil servant "thinks" something might be a good idea should not be sufficient. To me this demonstrates a lack of commitment and understanding of the importance of evidence based policy or even using the consensus of experts. John Griffiths was a solicitor before becoming an AM in 1999, so would have little current experience of the world of forestry I suspect.

No doubt John Griffith is the bastion of the evidence policy in the Welsh Assembly and gives appropriate consideration to all available evidence before drawing a conclusion, but he does not show it in the example above which is worrying.

Has you heard of the Co-operative party before, me neither Seems John Griffiths is a member. Maybe it is a good thing as it adds an other layer of confusion for voters.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Forthright feedback wearing a child's rainbow festival hat

For the 13th year out of the 15 that the Computer Science Department at Aberystwyth has run the Interview Skills weekend I wondered up to Gregynog to put the 2nd years students through their paces. Hopefully they found it useful. This year, both in terms of C.V. quality and coming across in interview, were the best for 4 or 5 years.

The top 5 issues with the C.V.'s and the interviews this year were

  • Self-starter (vomit), passionate and team worker to be removed. Tell us what you have done, give us facts about what you have done inside and outside computing,  not your opinions about yourself. Let us form the opinion of what type of person you are based on the contents of the C.V. and how you conduct yourself in interview.
  • Put it in the C.V. We had a few students who needed a good slap for not mentioning distinctive and relevant technologies which they had non-trivial experience of and could talk about in some depth. They just happened to let it slip while talking about something far less impressive.
  • Lack of stuff. Doing a Computer Science Degree, but many had no outside computing related projects or hacking around to talk about. 
  • Every student on every computing degree course in the UK and beyond does a group project. If the group project is the best example of your team working abilities, think again.
  • Look at me when you are talking to me !
All this said, it was the best year for at least the last 3 or 4. Had some good sparing sessions with a couple of students, a discussion about debugging device drivers, an explanation of quantum mechanics (lost me quite near the start, but it sounded plausible) and a range of other stuff, so quite fun.

As industrialists, we do understand that having "Ron and Ron" questioning the purpose of your existence can be a bit of a trail for some undergraduates who maybe have never been interviewed in this type of setting before. We do aim to put them under some stress and make them work a bit, but also to give honest constructive  (and we hope useful) feedback. If something was wrong, we need to be quite forthright about it. Hence I borrowed my daughters festival hat [she looks much better in it than I do, even though she has grown somewhat since the picture was taken] and put it on when delivering blunt feedback. I have no idea if this helped reduce the tension or they just thought I was crackers.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

twitterjoketrial in Westminister Skeptics

My 2nd visit to the old Monk exchange near Victoria for one of these meetings. When in London anyway .....

The twitter joke trail is well known among the more hardened UK internet users and I won't discuss the detail here, interesting as the discussion were about what happened and when, is. The big take away's for me were

  • The CPS and legal system feel at liberty  ignore experts (such as the interviewing office or security coordinator at Nottingham airport) when it suits them and can use the word "terrorism" as an excuse to suspend common sense.
  • A judge can weigh their own opinion over expert evidence, even in areas they have little knowledge.
  • The CPS can go searching a large body of unrelated law if the whim takes them and will find something to prosecute almost any action.
  • Being a knowledgeable user of the internet makes the accused more guilty because they know about the medium. If a 1st time internet twitter user had written what Paul wrote, the judge implied they would not be guilty
  • Skeptic groups do make a difference to policy
  • It is highly amusing to watch that various people in this area play the room, find out who is who and who they need to build relationships with. One gentleman introduced himself to me, found out I lived in Aberystwyth, am not active in this area and lacking in connections and walked off to  find someone else better connected, very funny indeed.
  • 20 years ago there was no twitter, boys said the same things to their girlfriends either on the phone, in letter to email which could not be searched by off duty airport security offices. We have all said similar things, just not where others can search for it. 
So in summary, the police and airport did not care, it was just process. The CPS went muck raking through out of date and inappropriate law till they found something. The judge did not take expert opinion into account during in the appeal.

I found out that Aberystwyth Skeptics exists seems to have past me by is probably shameful on my part for expecting one not to exist so I did not look, but also suggests they have not been well promoted.

I also bumped into Alec Muffet and Tom Crick which meant 2 extra pints, but was good to catch up.

I do hope Dave Allen Green had the mother of all hangovers, he looked like he should by the end of the night.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Cambrian Sleeper service?

A fun filled family holiday near Fort William has been had. On our trips to Morrisons which is next to the railway station you see the Caledonian Sleeper train parked for the day, getting washed and prepared.

It leaves Fort Bill at 7.50pm and get into London 12 hours later at 7.47am, just right for a days work in London. Lets assume you sleep for 9 hours of that time and sleep is never wasted time in my book.

The first Aberystwyth train leaves at 5.15am and gets to London at 10.15am which mean if you need into London for a full days work then you need to leave at 7.30pm the previous day and pay for overnight accommodation in London which in my experience is 2x or 3x the cost of the sleeper. 

So would it be possible for an effective sleeper service to be provided to Wales, even if the train sat in Shrewsbury for 6 hours before being split into 3, 1 north, 1 south and 1 to mid Wales. I fear not for the following reasons

  1. There is no reason for the Welsh government members to fund a service they don't use. After all, who wants to travel to London, the world of business is centered on Cardiff.
  2. Every so often Arriva would forget about the service and 2 days later someone would notice they had left a set of sleeper coaches in a siding full of people.
  3. We are too tied to cars and hotels to seek other options.
  4. The 1st time you use the service, you don't sleep much. Learning to sleep on a train takes a little perseverance.
So the Welsh Government will continue to support a service which has at best marginal utility to promote economic development and those north of the boarder will continue to have a very useful service.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Smacking your child for fun

Have a subset of Welsh Assembly Government (or are they just the Welsh Government now?) have had what the Shameless philosopher Frank Gallagher  calls a collective stroke? I read this on plans to ban child smacking in Wales only and the implications depressed me somewhat.

As a medium to discipline a child, we make a very conscious choice to not use any physical punishment. I have found myself smacking the small people for a laugh on numerous occasions, exclusively to make them laugh, much in the way they get tickled. Does it do them any harm, I guess we won't know for years, but if either them gets exposed in 2031 on a Channel 4 documentary of the underworld of S & M, I will conclude that recreational smacking does harm your child's long term development and admit my error. Granddad, who is in his 80's, has many times given them a comical spanking, since he lives in Scotland and I don't see evidence that the Scottish Parliament is in such an advanced state of confusion, he will probably be OK.

I believe that parents should have the choice on how they discipline their children. Crossing the line into abuse should be an obvious line, perhaps these representatives in Cardiff can't see that line or have so little respect for the judgement of the people they represent that they are sure they know best. Managerial-ism gone mad.

Have these 4 A.M.'s failed to notice that Wales as an entity is a economic basket case, there as serious social, educational and crime problems which should rest very heavily on the mind of each of our collective representatives and occupy their working lives.

I can see a situation if these clowns get their way where I will be giving my kids a good slapping, they will be laughing away and I will get reported for smacking my children, complete with video evidence. Without the context of them having a good laugh, you see the potential for out of line 3rd party interpretations. Worse I don't trust some of the organisations involved and the way they will interpret a new law.

Lets hope sense prevails by an other route.

So should I continue to smack my children ?

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Black Swan : Nassim Nicholas Teleb

The Black Swan is well worth a read, but if he had cut the number of pages by 1/3 it would have been a far better book. The journey is a bit random, there is too much fluff, but then the story is a complex one which is quite subtle in many respects.

So a very quick summary of the main points I got from reading it were

  • Proposing the use of a Gaussian distribution for assessing risk for real world events is ballocks.
  • The events that you need to worry about are the ones you don't worry about
  • Don't forget the positive black swans
  • Few experts have any better insight into what disaster/wonderful opportunity may arise next and when it might appear
  • Those who get predicting the future right are lucky
  • Don't worry, it won't help much
There is a lot of distance travelled in the book, many stories told which add insight, but could have benefited from being a shorter book.

New pension crisis ?

As a pension fund trustee, the regulator says I should continue to educate myself in the subject and I take this quite seriously. So last week I went to 2 events, the 1st on risk by AllanbridgeEpic advisors at the Stock Exchange (one seminar room is like the next, could have been anywhere) and the 2nd from Fund Manager Natixis at a hotel next Embankment. I have respect for both outfits in their different areas, they are run by humans (not true of all such events) and they will deal with you on a long term relationship development basis, rather than what can they sell to you today.

At both events I was the only male who was not warning a dark suit and was one of the very few who was under 50. I raise this issue with Karen, the C.E. of AllenbridgeEpic who for different reasons was not warning a dark suit and we agreed that moving forward 15 years there is a risk that the pensions industry will be very short of experienced trustee's. There will be no shortage of people to sell their services as professional trustees, but that is not the point. Trustees from the membership and the company are highly valuable, something missing from the trend of D.C. schemes moving to Group Pension Plans with insurance companies which are great for the company, but much worse for the member.

Can't predict the future, but I can see a serious lack of knowledge trustees and scheme managers in 15 years time to deal with what will be very taxing issues.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mark Williams Last Term as an M.P. ?

I quite like Mark Williams, Ceredigion M.P. He is a very personable chap and voted against university tuition fees. I am not a Liberal Democrat, but I could be !

I understand there are 100,000 people in a constituency and he does have a reputation for dealing with real problem that constituents have, so fobbing off is valid workload control mechanism. However, come 2015 there will be 2 weak areas which will leave him personally exposed I believe.

I meet him to talk about Broadband about a year ago, shame nothing visible has happened or even threatened to, despite a couple of prodding's on my part. There may be stuff he is doing around Broadband that I have not seen and between Google Alerts and keeping my ear to the ground I should have picked up an non-clandestine activity in this area. It may also be he feels powerless and that responsibility for improved communications infrastructure is Cardiff. If that is the case he needs to make it clear.

I would not tell any elected representative how to vote. M.P.'s should have access to a bigger picture and better quality information we would hope. One would hope an M.P. gets better information than I get via The Economist and the web, but I do wonder sometimes. However, I do feel it is important to raise some matters so they get a view of how a constituent thinks and I am concerned that the Tory health service plans will damage the NHS beyond repair, they are ideologically driven and poorly thought out. I have yet to meet anyone in the Health Service who thinks they are a workable solution to the NHS's problems. Those I have spoken with see it as privatization by the back door. The NHS does need change, but the argument appears to comes down on the side that the required changes are not the ones making their way through at the moment.

I emailed Mark my thoughts. To his credit he always replies with an articulate response. This time though he wrote the head and tail of the email and inserted a fairly obvious party line response of around 1000 words, a fair enough workload control measure,  I would probably do the same [its an email between Mark and myself, so it would be wrong to reproduce it here] and a pdf of curious letter from an a Conservative MP who was also a QC with his view on a 38degree web site posting. If you were taking a legal view would take it from a QC who happens to be an M.P. for the party putting forward an bill?  maybe not.. I suspect Mark is getting the sharp side of the Lib. Dem. whip to tow the line over NHS reforms, but come 2015 he will wish he kept the backbone he had for tuition fees when judged by his constituents. Shame, I really like the chap.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A viable way to get from Aberystwyth to Reading mostly by train

Though I work mostly from home and customer sites, yesterday was a day when I had to go to the office in Reading yesterday. I have previously driven when required. It takes between 3.40 and 5 hours. Now the office is less than 2 miles along the Thames from Reading station I was keen to see if I could drive a bit less of the way.

The Arriva train from Aberystwyth is a non-starter unless you go down the night before. The 1st train leaving Aberystwyth at 5.14 would get you to Reading for 10.30am 2 changes later [Shrewsbury and Newport!], add the 30 minute walk to the office and half the day has gone. Adds to my assertion that Arriva is a service unsuitable for business at this time.

I had been looking for other viable options and last week found that the 1st Great Western service from Hereford leaves at about 5.40. Gets into Reading at about 8.30 with no changes and cost 36 quid return.
Now getting to Hereford from Aberystwyth for 5.40 is non-trivial and a little anti-social to say the least, more so if you want to read to your kids the night before.
However, I managed to sleep for an hour on the train down and read half of the Economist. Coming back I wrote a 30 minute ZFS Solaris 11 features presentation for next week and read the rest of the Economist, so quite productive, a lot better than driving the whole way.

I had been looking for something to replace the Wrexham and Shropshire service since it shut back in January. Arriva from Aberystwyth is well, Arriva from Aberystwyth is not viable for business travel.
The drive to Hereford takes about 1 hour 45 and parking is easy enough. The food on the train which not quite up to W & S standards, but was fine. The train only started to fill up around Oxford and was quite empty most of the journey.

No doubt something will happen to this service in the next few month, it will be withdrawn or the price will treble, but it does look quite a viable option at the moment. I think I have also found viable and cheap accommodation within striking difference of Hereford to avoid the very, very early start.

The best part of the day was the walk along the Thames which was very pleasant. So Reading now has 2 things going for it, the other being this.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

At least it was not golf

2011 has been very busy
  • Bob Graham Round
  • Beautiful Day Festival
  • Half Man Half Biscuit gig
  • Myra away in Canada for 2 weeks holiday with sister
  • Myra's 3 day north to south of Wales cycle (left the top and bottom bits for next time)
  • That job thing!
  • Summer child care rotation (probably the most fun bit)
  • I wrote some stuff for this year
Mid life crisis now completed after 3 years of training, I am thankful it was so straight forward and at least it was something you can recover from unlike a fast bike plus associated road kill or the worst of all possible mid life crisis, golf.

There has been no shortage of things to write about, just a serious shortage of time. Expect, no demand, more frequent updates here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Remove excise duty from Guinness

[Other Stouts are available]

I watched the Panorama episode on drink(I watched it last night, not sure when it was 1st shown). It presented a strong case which points to the drinks industry having greater influence on policy than is in the best interests of the population and the cost to the NHS. If you had been keeping your eyes and ears open, this is nothing new. 4 or 5 years ago I had to take small girl into A & E on a Friday night after a Rugby International and it was an experience. Fortunately, we got pushed through quickly.

I was in what is now C.K. (used to be the CO-OP) in Aberystwyth afternoon and this isle caught my eye. 7.5% Cider (or chemicals mixed with Apple Juice maybe). So 2.79 for about 15 units (21 is weekly recommended for a male). It is clear pricing has a role to play in the problems Panorama described or are visible if you venture into any town on just about any evening.

I mentioned before only part as a joke that I have yet to see an individual causing much trouble after 6 pints of Guinness. I have only every seen Guinness slow the mind and body in every aspect other than frequency of visiting the Gents.

Our bottle of MEGA White has a similar number of units to 7 pints of Guinness ( and a lot less Iron). How about removing duty on Guinness, up the duty on these drinks to make it cost neutral and the NHS and those who really need treatment on a Saturday night might make a slight gain. Not ideal from a public health point of view, but I think far too pragmatic and to have any chance of being considered if it has even the smallest possible hint of merit.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011




Date: 19 July 2011 17:44:50 BST

To: undisclosed recipients: ;


Attension Dear Clive,

I am Mr Youssouf Kobanne, i am one of the aides to Mr Laurent Gbagbo, the president of Cote D'ivoire,

I am in charge of Finance & protocols in the government of Mr Laurent Gbagbo,the president of Cote D'ivoire,

Sir,you may be surprised of how i came across your name & contact, It is not far fetched, to be precise,I got your contact through,

My reason for contacting you is very simple, sincere, secret & profit oriented if you can maintain absolute confidentiality & secret into the whole arrangement,

You are aware of the recent and present crises going on in my country Cote D'ivoire right now because of the post election crisis between Mr Laurent Gbagbo and Mr Alassane Ouattarra,


Right now, we cannot travell outside Cote D'ivoire and our funds in various banks had been frozend,

To this end, i am contacting you so that i will direct you to where you will Get the considerable amount of USD$ been saved by me on bahalf of the government of Mr Laurent Gbagbo, i will not mention the accurate figure and the name of the banks where the funds are been kept until i get a positive response from you and your willingness to go this message for us,

The money runs into millions of Dollars, you will act as our eyes while going for this mission for us,

It is risk free business, the only impedement here is our inability to travel outside our country to collect the funds from(The banks) where it is been deposited/kept,

I used a different name to save the funds there, this is to ensure that people'e eyes are not on the funds, i did it that way in order not to raise eye brows, i did not use my name or any of the names of the serving personells in the government of Mr Laurent Gbagbo to save the money because of security reasons and coupled with our positions in government,

Declare your interest to this business to me by a return mail & let us follow this business because it is truth that i am telling you and you will see everything to be truth very soon, don't underate/commonise this business please, this is good business for us, so put good interest on it please,

Please sir, maintain adequate secrecy & confidentiality this business deserves, & ask question(s) where you deems necessary.

Don't let anybody know about this deal (This is top secret please) & you should maintain its secrecy & confidentiality it deserves.& ask me question where you are not clear,

I will mention where the funds is been kept in the bank and direct you to where and how you will collect it after hearing from you,

Contact me through my email address at (

Mr Youssouf Kobanne

So this sounds like a good deal, but my grandfather always said you can't trust a man who confuses their semi-colons with their full stops (well he did not, he was a tool maker in the ship builders in Belfast and I only meet him once when I was 4, but you get the picture).

Typically Oracle's (previously Sun's) SPAM filters have been very effective in getting rid of these types of email. Even the browsers things its spam. I tried sending it to E-Crime Wales but their spam filters thought it was SPAM and bounced it, very good indeed.

This message was created automatically by mail delivery software.

A message that you sent could not be delivered to one or more of its

recipients. This is a permanent error. The following address(es) failed:

(generated from

SMTP error from remote mail server after end of data:

host []:

553-Message filtered. Please see the FAQs section on spam

553-at for more

553 information. (#5.7.1)

and this is a harder problem. How do you detect an email that is reporting SPAM[or similar], rather than actually being SPAM.

Why did I pick E-Crime Wales? In the metrics driver world that they exist as I understand it this can be counted as a crime and a contact with the wider world and used to justify their existence which is very worthwhile in my view. I have not doubt every SPAM filter in the world already knows about this lot (well not every).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Hywel Dda Health Board waste my money

As noted in my other blog on running, I have been having some mild stomach cramps. Tests so far indicate it is nothing serious and they are mild (2 on a scale of 1-10), but my doctor thought it worthwhile to get a look into my stomach (from the throat I am glad to hear) and set about arranging an appointment with a Gastroenterology Consultant. All good, these things don't happen overnight.

Today I get a Dear Patient letter from the outpatients appointments co-ordinator that they are going to write to me again with details of an appointment. I would guess the cost of a letter that told me nothing I did not know and did not impart any useful information was probably between 3 and 5 pounds to the NHS and then do the sums.

It does beg the question of how this is allowed to happen and is there no oversight of useless work at all. Since there is no useful information on the letter, I shall put it in the bin.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What is this a picture of ?

So what is this a photo of and where was it taken ?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Arriva rant

This year, I have traveled on Arriva Wales trains maybe 8 times (if it was
more reliable I would use it a lot more). I can only think of 2 occasion when
the train between Birmingham and Machynleth has not been non-trivially late. The
early service seems to be OK, but deteriates through the day. If you
want to get to London for 6pm, leaving on the 5.45am service seems to
be wise. How does Green George cope?

It seems to now be common practise to stop a late train at Shewsbury,
making rail passenger up to an additional hour later. "You are late,
so lets do the 1 thing we can guarrantee will make you later". I must
admit to an internal Victor Meldew moment. Safety related issues which
delay a train and when the reasons are explained are fine by me, such
things happen. Little communcation and stopping a late service before
its destination I struggle with. Restrictions on ticket routing mean
you can't get the next train to Crewe or Stafford and travel ( without
buying a new ticket ) from there as the ticket issued by Arriva
explicitily requires travel via Brimingham.

The newly refusrbished rolling stock are still sheds on rails. Arriva need to focus on basics, i.e. trains
which complete their journey. I would rather travel in a open coal
truck that completed its journey according to the expected schedule
than what is curently on offer from Arriva.

I thought 3 hours contingency would be enough to get from Machynleth
to London to catch a Eurostar, but it seems not. The service is in my
recent experience now so unrealiable that it is useless for any
business use or same day connecting travel such as Eurostar or
flights. A lad infront of me in the "what the hell do we do now" queue
at Shrewsbury station missed a flight from Birmingham International airport.

I did find out that there are international conditions of travel where
on a delayed by one rail provider, if you produce evidence of such,
follow on rail proiders have to accomadate you on the next train at no
cost and Eurostar is included in this. Lesson is if one train operator
has a delayed train, a connecting operator can't charge you for a new

For the very helpful Arriva staff at Shrewsbury this was news, but
they did write me a short letter and stamp it which proved helpful with
Eurostar who were very accomadating.

I wish Arriva management had experienced the dearly departed Wrexham
and Shropshire service which I can only remember being more than a few
minutes late once. I don't see evidence of Arriva shaping up under
their new ownership, instead of granting a long franschise, its time
for WAG to point its very generous subsidy elsewhere.

Arriva virdict -> on the ground staff are great, but that is about it.

Have what seem to be routine serious delays been root caused? Are
there clusters of reasons? Have these questions been asked, but Arriva Wales management are either
ignoring the answers or not in a position to do anything about root
causes. I would be interested to know which as a lot of money has been
spent on this service.

Now Arriva Trains Wales is far too unreliable for even well planned business travel, this means more miles on the car to drive to Stafford Station.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pratchett on Assisted Death

It would have been a hard man who could watch Terry Pratchett's documentary on Assisted Death without feeling any emotion.

I though it was balanced in that it did explore the other option which was to stay alive with a Taxi driver who choose to end his days in a hospice. The big issue here is that an individual of sound mind has a choice.

A friend of mine who died 3 years ago from a lung complaint made an issue that was not discussed clearer to me. I was sitting with him in his home about 3 or 4 days before he died of natural causes in hospital. He explained he was happy with the life he had had, but that he did not care if he did not wake up the next day. His value of life had changed given the pain he was in. I suspect as an individual he would not have chosen to end his life, but he was ready to go. Maybe this is something that is lost on the pro-life campaigners, that for some people their perception of life and its value changes as they experience the pain associated with their ending or disease and the avoidance of pain, suffering and being humiliated by their disease weighs more heavily than the value of their remaining life.

As my father in law, in good health and now in his 80's, so I guess he ponders such things, stated its none of their bloody business, its should be up to me.

Once again, The Daily Mash gets it spot on

Monday, June 13, 2011

Carmarthenshire Council movie : shape of things to come

Calling the police because a pain in the arse is filming your council meetings struck me as over the top. It has got a lot of attention, here and here for example. I have to agree that both Carmarthen Council, its leaders and agents and the police have overreacted to a laughable extent.

In defense of a Council, it is where the rubber meets. Westminister can hide from many of the specifics, but closing a day centre for example which was the specific issue being considered is one which the angry mob of local people can identify with and get upset about. Hard decisions need to be made and Councils have to make and implement more than their fair share of them.
The BIG problem here is that the issue of the Day Centre closure was not debated and that is the important issue that has been missed by some of the reports and the blogger who got arrested was trying to bring attention to. This is the biggest undemocratic action of the Council and the most worrying. Would it surprise you if a planning application went in from a developer who has mates "on the Council" for a day centre redevelopment? Probably not, but if a Council can't be clear about its reasons for such a closure and accept reasoned debate, they are not functional.

However, Councilers in Wales in my experience are quite poor at dealing with rational arguments which are not aligned with their own. The do become defensive very quickly and work hard and fast to shut you out. I was a member of a Community Council for a short while and one of the reasons I left was that when members of the public tried to attend, they were shut out. Trefeurig Community Council is just the same today, as I am sure many others are.

Why the Police did not tell the Council to "get a life" is beyond me. I expect they will both look back and regret this, even if just from a publicity point of view. They were wrong to arrest and I am sure they had much better things to be doing. Will be interesting to see the response David Allan Green gets back from Dyfed Powys Police, appears they had a meeting about it!

This will also be the trigger for Council meetings in Wales being opened up. A year from now it will be common place to have video feed of the majority of Council meetings. no, sorry this is Welsh Councils were are talking about, 5 years. Unless WAG with to put the boot in as Mr Pickles has done on the other side of the Dyke.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Cognitive bias : who wants to swap with the seal

Think mature and well known footballer mentioned a number of times by name on both Have I got News for You and The News Quiz last night for something his wife would not have approved of and then being advised to go to court (I can't imagine he came up with the idea himself) to get a injunction to prevent him being named. He is now better known for being a victim of the Streisand effect. Like most people I don't care where said footballer dips his wick or with who, but the effect of technology and the way society uses it has fascinating consequences for enforcing an aspect of the law which is fundamentally broken.

True Black Swan or should his PR people have seen the use of twitter and parlimentary privilege coming?

I suspect our Rye would at this point in time prefer to swap places with Henry the seal pictured above.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Missed the point of the House of Lords

Even since I held a view on the subject, I have though that the Lords should be a bunch of old duffers drawn from a wide diversity of life paths. I thought the whole purpose of the House of Lords was to scrutinize legislation, suggest improvements and when elected representatives have got it very wrong to stop them from self harming. Having seen a lot of stuff go wrong during your life is probably the best training for scrutinizing legislation there can be. As a public, we are very bad at judging this skill and there is a big risk we will end up applying the same principles to electing Lords as electing MP's, councilers, AM's, etc. The role is different and so I assert the selection process needs to be different. Being accountable is not really the point here.

An elected 2nd house is the last thing you want and really young Clegg should see it.
There may be be reason to change the selection process, for example I see no good reason why being a Bishop in itself is qualification for the 2nd chamber, but that said in some ethical debates they may add value.

What must be avoided is career politicians who have had a career to date as a MP's researcher or case worker being part of the machine that is responsible for picking holes in laws as they are made.

Clegg, suggest you are better off leaving it alone.

Friday, May 6, 2011

An unconscious reply from Arriva Trains Wales

Hard to tell if he got the point about the Arriva Staff being unwilling to move a casualty which they fully understood to be at risk of chocking because of his position between the seats pushing his head forward and potentially leading to a blocked airway. This is not really about advanced 1st aid training or equipment on the train, its about allowing staff to do what their common sense tells them is the right thing to do.

Staff on the train 10 out of 10. Arriva management guidance 4 out of 10.

If the poor unfortunate had died from chocking, then how would a coroner view Arriva management guidelines to its staff not to move a casualty with a restricted airway?

Dr Clive King

03 May 2011

Your Case Reference: ATW-110330-BDV

Dear Dr King

Thank you for contacting us regarding the incident that took place on the last service from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth on 29th March. I was sorry to hear that a customer had become unconscious on our train and needed attention.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the assistance you provided our staff on this occasion as it was well received. It was also good of you to let us know how well you thought the conductor had dealt with the situation and a copy of your correspondence has been forwarded to her direct manager to record and to pass on.

Our train crew only receive basic first aid training and the equipment provided on board the train is very much the same. They are not required to perform more extensive aspects of first aid within their role and are advised to contact our main control in these incidents so an ambulance can be arranged to meet the train.

I do however take on board your detailed account of what could have potentially gone wrong and I have now passed your comments on to our more senior managers for consideration.

Thank you again for taking the time to write to us with your kind words regarding the conductor and thankfully this situation did not escalate to something more serious. If I can be of any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me directly.

Yours sincerely

Mark Davies

Customer Relations Advisor

Arriva Trains Wales

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Virgin Trains better for unconscious passengers

I was on the late Virgin Trains server between Preston and London on Monday night, it was quiet and the train manager had some time, so I asked him about what Virgin trains policy is for their staff to do in relation to an unconscious passenger for whatever reason.

  • Check breathing
  • Ring though a 1st class ticket from Cornwall to Inverness return on the unconscious casualties credit card [ Would it really surprise you if an office bound Virgin trains revenue director wanted to include that? ]
  • Seek any passengers who are suitably equipped to deal with said emergency. He said if a doctor or nurse does not come forward, they would ask for a 1st aid trained person.
  • Phone ambulance
  • Put passenger in recovery position
What was interesting and different from my Arriva experience last week was that he was very clear that he could move a casualty if the situation warranted it.

Are a train operators 1st aid procedures are high on the list of decision criteria for most potentially unconscious rail travelers? I think not.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Druid's Revenge

I find this blog by Paul Williams, Welsh Conservative Assembly candidate for Ynys Môn fascinating. OK, it probably has some cognitive bias, but the comments don't make it appear that the bias is that far from the mark. A quick Sunday afternoon summary of the last few months (and I am missing much out) is along the lines of

  • Ynys Mon/Anglesey county council councillers have been fighting so much between then selves that the big children in the Assembly government have got tired of telling them to stop fighting and get on with the job of delivering services to the people of the Island.
  • Big bad A.M. Carl Sergeant spent a lot for time thinking about what to do, ignored some advice by some people who had looking into the problems in some detail and then decided to appoint his friends (some of which has done a bit of infighting in their time) to do what the naughty councilors of Ynys Mon should have done in the 1st place
  • All the new commissioners are retired public servants of some sort and it is unlikely that they will all still be standing by the time Council elections come round again given their advanced age.
  • Ieuan Wyn Jones does not do or say much for the area he represents, but with a majority of over 4,000 I would be surprised if his seat is in much real danger, though Paul would like his job very much.
While a couple of Ceredigion council members appear out of their depth, a few are on the make (rather than take I want to be clear or at least as far as I know) and one cabinet member is drowning in a sea of his own incompetence, all the Ceredigion councilers do at least put their political differences aside. They may have variable quality support from a subset of council employees, but I would describe Ceredigion as a sub-optimal council rather than dysfunctional.

It is well worth reading this blog, it is a warning to all County Council politicians and those who elect them.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Avoid Arriva Wales trains as a venue for being unconcious

My late father was a diabetic, so I got a fair amount of practice in the management of a diabetic comma. He managed his illness very well, but there were occasions where he got the balance between insulin and food intake wrong. The one occasion he collapsed in public where he was assumed to be drunk by the police who were all for locking him up for being D & D, but fortunately the Ambulance Service set them right.

A lad on the seat behind me on the train back from Shrewsbury on Tuesday collapsed. No obvious smell of drink, could have been pills and potions or could have been concussion from some type of accident or diabetic comma or something else. The train manager could not wake him once he had collapsed between the seats and she made a lot of effort.

It does not really matter the cause from a 1st aid point of view. Make sure their airway is clear and put in recovery, seek help. Our poor unfortunate had his head against the side of the carriage, forcing his head forward. The possibility of doing a Hendrix is somewhat raised and if he had been sick, well, you know what could happen.

The conductor who was both most caring and intent on doing the right things, called for an ambulance to meet the train at Machynleth Station. All good. However, neither she or the driver-manager(not quite sure I understand what they are) felt that they could move our friend to release the pressure on his neck because of Arriva rules(thats my understanding at least of their conversation). So I did it and put him in the recovery position [ which he promptly moved out of, but at least his neck was not constrained ]. I figured that should he die, it would spoil my evening more than the shadow of a no-win no fee solicitor.

We can't expect all train staff to be 1st aid trained, but they could at least ask if any passengers are. If he had stopped breathing, he may not have made it to the paramedics without CPR and that would have fallen to a passenger, in this case probably me, to keep his breathing and circulation going.

So if you are going to take drugs, drink yourself into oblivion, bang your head or not manage an illness properly and wish to travel on an Arriva train while unconcious, take someone with you who knows how to handle the situation. The Arriva staff will do their very best for you, but believe they are constrained by the rules their company gives them to follow.

No idea what happened to him or the cause, but he was still breathing at Machynleth as the Paramedics took over and I got off.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dyfed Powys Police and Twitter

I had my Council Tax bill this week. Given they way they conduct business, I don't think Trefuerig Community Council should get even 30 pence of the 26.30 I am going to have to write a cheque for (unless they have changed the way they treat community members in the last 9 months).

Dyfed Powys Police Authority get 272.13. At one level, why I have to pay it puzzles me as I don't plan to commit any crime so I am not clear why I need to pay for the police, but it seems close to a reasonable figure and worth it to have P.C. Hefin Jones as our local bobby alone. I am less sure about some of this money being used for someone to sit behind a Twitter account and tweet, as they did in December, that I should take care as there is snow on the road. Good use of the council tax payers money? I can't see it. Most of the Tweets are retweets which means someone is spending a lot of time reading other web sites, am I also paying for that?

Anyway, I don't get it and the xray99 site should be investigated as wasting public money and police time.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Food security : framing the real problem

An interesting article in the Economist special report on food security a week or 2 ago. One of the inset boxes contained a short article about food waste at various levels. The developed world waste about 50% of the food produced and the developing world about 20%.

Making agriculture more efficient would be trying to solve the wrong problem. Are vested interests at work to promote the culture of increased production as the only path or is it seen as too hard to change the culture of what and how were eat to cut waste.

I tried to come up with a bias that might explain some of this, but decided I did not know enough about the subject area. Maybe that is a bias in itself?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

BCS talk : Lessons from America - Obama's Healthcare IT Programme

I attended this lecture last night at the BCS mid Wales meeting. Its was quite depressing really regarding the extent to which WAG gave failed to grasp the IT nettle, Edwina Heart was the best out of touch quote. I think this was recorded and if you are intested in Healthcare IT, it would be well worth the hour to watch.

Lessons from America - Obama's Healthcare IT Programme

Date: Monday 7 March 2011, 6.00pm - 8.00pm. The talk will start at 6.00pm and tea/coffee will be available from 5.30pm.
Venue: Computer Science Department, Aberystwyth University. We expect to be able to offer a live broadcast of this event via the internet. Details to follow when this is confirmed.
Speaker: Tom Brooks

The UK has a poor record of implementing major national IT programmes especially in the public sector. For some 20 years, various Audit Office and Parliamentary reports have been produced to describe the “failures” and some of the reasons for them. Few lessons appear to have been learnt bringing into question on the world stage the competence of IT professionals in the UK.

This presentation compares elements of the NHS IT programmes in England and Wales with the Obama healthcare IT initiative in the USA. It identifies principles that could be deployed, with advantage, in the UK.

Tom Brooks, a committee member of the BCS Mid Wales branch, has worked on national IT programmes in several parts of the world. He has supported the National Audit Office and the Audit Commission and given evidence to several Parliamentary Select Committees. In 1995, he was seconded to the Department of Health to lead the successful ‘new NHS number’ programme forEngland and Wales. He worked for 7 years for a leading US advanced systems supplier and still makes regular study tours to the USA.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Newtown Traffic : The case for a protest vote on Thursday

I am working in Prague this week and was on holiday in the Lakes last week, so I have already voted in the referendum to give the Welsh Assembly Government the ability to make laws in devolved areas without recourse to Westminister.

Certain events which are quite minor make you think if this deserves a protest vote. I am quite supportive of WAG, they have done some good work and have many good A.M.'s but on somethings you have to wonder how capable the underlying civil service really is.

Returning from the Lakes on Friday at about 2pm, we spent 90 minutes crawling through Newtown. Having a phone with Internet I looked up the Powys Highways number and found out that the design work for the new junction layout was paid for by Tesco and done by an external consultant. W.A.G. should have overseen the work. I normally travel through Newtown before 7am or after 8pm, so its the 1st time I have seen this chaos. Talking to a few people who travel that way regularly they say it has been bad for a long time, but got much worse as Tesco opened.

A quick Google search yields this, this and this, plus lots more. This is a high point though

I was told today that the Assembly’s experiences elsewhere indicates that traffic flows will improve as drivers become familiar with the new layout and that WAG does not intend therefore to make any fundamental changes immediately. I accept that flow will improve a little as drivers get used to the layout, but WAG are just not in touch with what is happening here in Newtown and are making excuses.
I understand that is a a report by an interested party, but if this really is true, then it shows a complete lack of understanding of the problem and its impact. The cost to mid-Wales in lost productivity must be in man years per week.

In the world I work in that size of mess would have resulted in the responsible person at worst being sacked and at best getting a serious roasting and moved to somewhere they can't do any damage. If W.A.G. were responsible for oversight of this, how can they

  1. have let such a scheme be implemented by Tesco
  2. To have ignored the need to short term remedial measures [if shutting Tesco till the underlying issue is resolved is the only option, then so be it, this is a trunk road after all]
  3. To only have a long term plan of a by-pass which looks to be at least 3 years away
This is not the only case where WAG has let itself down. Traffic modelling is not an exact science, but to have got it so far wrong and failed to even try to provide a short term solution (6 months is more than long enough) shows a serious weakness.

Its unfortunate that some people will think about voting no on Thursday because of serious deficiencies in WAG's Civil Service capability.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Banker Bonuses : the case for no restraint

So let us assume that a Banker get a bonus of exactly 100,ooo pounds to make the sums simple. We can quite safely assume he is earning more the 37,000 pounds for sure and almost certainly more than 150k, so they will be paying 50% income tax.

12% for class 1 national insurance contributions, but lowered to 9.4 as they are probably contacted out in terms of pensions, so lets assume 10% for easy sums. They will probably be NIC class 1, so that is 10% the employer has to pay.

They could avoid having to pay any tax by making the 100k a pension contribution which would also avoid N.I., but only for the 1st 50k.

V.A.T. is 20%. We might assume that the bonus pot is being spent on fast car or some other luxury because all bankers are flash gits (other than the ones I have meet who seem to be mostly grounded people, but I suspect this is self selecting subset).

So after tax they get 40k to spend, the government gets an other 18k in tax take from the employer and from VAT (if they spend it). Thats a total of 78k for every 100k of bonus, so apart from the way that bonuses distort the behavior, why the hell do we care?

I suspect 2 reasons
  1. Bankers have found a way of avoiding various taxes that I am not party to.
  2. Bankers are an easy media and political target.
There may be a good case that the bonus culture should not be constrained provided they do pay their tax and there is sufficient moral hazard (here is one option I can warm to) to manage the risk of systemic banking failure and the associated wider implications.

Can the 3(I guess) people who read this blog cite specific example of how paying tax on a bonus can be avoided other than the obvious 50k of pension and buying a VCT?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Time to reserect cognitive bias of the week

I have let my mild mannered battle against my seething mass of cognitive bias slide a bit. New job, starting BGR training again lost some focus on it. So lets wonder off to Wikipedia, look at the list and see if we can find a bias that I am willing to admit I been guilty of in the last few weeks.

So this week in a glass 1/2 full spirit lets look at negativity bias. So I was guilty of it this week when I had an interaction with the office of a Plaid Cymru A.M. (not the building, but the press officer). I was with an equal measure of self interest and community spirit offering to help raise some issues with B.T. I basically got back flannel from the press officer with a email which could be read at least 4 different ways, none of them positive.

I see this as a lack of understanding by the A.M. of the importance of effective Broadband to workers like myself (there is an Oracle manager lives about 5 miles as the Red Kite flies I found and an Animator works from home in the next village). Other possible explanations abound, but it is the one I drew as most likely.

I was reading this by the Druid who writes about Ynas Mon issues and the link I made was that Plaid from top to bottom just don't get business and how to promote business at any level from someone working from home to seeding a business environment for large companies.

Now these two bias views may or may not be true, thats not the point. What is the point is that my minor negative experience with 1 A.M. who has previously been only positive in their dealing with me lead me to see the rest of the party in a negative light. Short term and recent negative experiences outweigh positive and longer term interactions.

Still bloody annoyed with the A.M. and her press officer.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Why I won't become a Tory

I am a big fan of reducing the budget deficit, live within your means and keeping the markets on your side. This applies to a country or an individual in my book. So I am broadly in line with the need to cut the structural deficit over the next n years. What I don't quite get is why the Conservatives need to go the ideological next step in an effort to hack moderate sections of the population off

  • Tuition fees. The may make sense as a party policy as few students vote Tory
  • Sell the national forests. I can't get my head round how this is anything other than an attempt to get rid of voters. Lots of people will feel strongly about this.
  • Modernization of the NHS. Talking to people who work in the NHS and I know a few, the big problems they face is poor management and struggling to keep up with change. Radical structure change is the last thing they need and most view it as privatization by the back door. Claire Rayner will be coming back to haunt you Mr Cameron.
  • High speed Rail through the Chilterns. So we have a huge deficit, lets spend lots of money on a railway we don't need though countryside that our votes live in. It makes no sense to me either.
It really feels like as a party, the Conservatives think they may only have 5 years and are going for bust in the hope that 'the Ed's' will make such a mess of their economic policy that voters will have to vote Tory because Laboura are unelctable. Lib Dem's will be easy opposition in the post tuition fee's world in most seats with opponents playing the "Lib Dem's go back on their word" card.

There is no doubt they are bright people and have well thought out their strategy, but with so much broken you would think they would focus on fixing the very broken parts of the economy and society and leave the sub-optimal bits alone for now in case they upset yet more votes. Balls of steel I guess as they are willing to go places even Thatcher judged it unsafe to tread. However, I expect David will have to work very hard to be hated more Tony and Maggie.

How bloody sad must people think I am, don't answer

So article number 2 now up on the Wales@home comment site. Trains and pensions don't really give the sense of someone you want to strike a conversation u with. Article 3 in the brewing is about Fell running in Wales. Better or worse who knows.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Trainspotting and pensions

I have been a reader of the Wales@Home comment site for some time. I don't agree with the viewpoint of all the articles, but that is part of the joy of reading it. It draws articles on a very wide variety of subjects, usually with a Welsh flavor, from politics to pub and now pensions.

Not getting out enough

Nothing has annoyed me of late (at least nothing I can talk about here). Little interesting I could write about which has not been covered better elsewhere has happened in the last few weeks.

Little travel(work or running wise) since before xmas and head down at home, with kids and work has lead to little out of the ordinary that is worth writing about. I am part way through a few books and nothing in the economist has sparked great thoughts. This may be Twitter time, where anything you want to say can be condensed into 140 characters. A blog for me is a medium to organize your thoughts, set out ideas in a concrete form so at least you can question them and maybe someone else will chip in with their thoughts.

I have also written an article for a comment web site which took some time and writing a 2nd at the moment. One thing I did not grasp is how important the visuals were and a photo of yourself. I am now just about healed from my pre-xmas rock in face episode, so probably about as photogenic as I can get.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year : No Change

2010 was the year I failed to get round the Bob Graham Round. This was significant and a few hours of feeling a bit sorry for myself, a lot to eat and a good sleep, it has been nothing but a positive event. Many things changed as a result, I changed jobs and have a slightly altered outlook on life. I still get angry by people or organisations being class stupid (e.g. tuition fees, Ceredigion council failing to empty bins for 6 weeks, #twitterjoketrail, I could go on), but if you don't get angry, then indifference is the only other real option and that is far worse.

A couple of people have asked me about new year resolutions. I don't have any. My 3 main projects of home, work and BGR leave precious little time for other projects. Maybe I am learning that the important thing is to work out what to stop doing, rather than focus on new challenges. Maybe even more important for someone like me who is very goal focused and driven to achieve them, trying to do too many things at once means you don't enjoy any of them.