Sunday, December 23, 2012

Satalite Broadband and the Welsh Government Funding

Back in August we had a grant from the capital cost of Satallite Broadband. After a couple of months reflection, I conclude it is of lower utility than an 0.5 MB broadband line unless you only watch films and read email.

We are tied into a 1 year contract we can't get out of for a service that yes we use, but does not in any take the place of a decent broadband service. Lets be clear about what is wrong with it

  1. It does not tend to work at all on a Saturday morning or Sunday evening. For those with an on-call obligation or work to do at the weekend, it is worse than useless (worse because it prevents something better being put in place).
  2. The high latency prevents use of VPN and web browing is very slow where there are multiple components of web page. True that Satspeed turbo makes  a difference, as does tcp buffer and ack tuning, but a 8MB satallite line is slower than a 700k fixed line for normal use.
so you have to ask why the Welsh Government offer grants for this. I suspect there are 2 elements

  1. It does the job for some people who can't even get 0.5MB. It certainly does not replace a 1 MB fixed line.
  2.  It ticks the box that those with poor or no provision have something to make life easier for BT and the people who present statistics.
There are simple improvements that could be made. Other than Google there was no help to find out what options were available. There might have been options open for Broadband over wireless for example where I live, but I could not find it and I suspect I am more skilled at Google searches than most and have a better network of contacts than most. The office that gives out grants needs to be more hands on in offering advice, EU directive or no EU directive.

It is time there was an open minded examination of giving grants for Satallite Broadband by the Welsh Government. However the office that the relevant minister refered my A.M. to do not answer the phone in December !


Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Defence of the Realm : The Authorized History of MI5

If you happened across this blog maybe 2 years ago, you may have noticed that I was reading a book about the history of MI5 I got as an christmas present in 2009. Great news, I have just finished it. That does not mean that it is the only book I have read since the start of 2010, but this one has been read in fits and starts over that time as the mood took me. Sometimes it would be a few months between moods.

It is a longer book, 1000 pages, but quite easy to read. There is just a lot of it. It covers the period from the formation in 1909 to 2008. Obviously there is much left out for operational reasons as they discuss more recent events. The perspective on the Cambridge five is facinating as is the perspective on the Soviet lack of competance at handling their agents.

Would I read it again? Yes, becaues it more a history book with the thread of the timeline of MI5 used as the context around which other events are discussed and that is what makes it interesting, not what you learn about spooks themselves or their methods which would make a very dull book.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Collusion after 6 weeks : scary

A mattress from Argos [or not as the case may be] : simple lessons in customer service

Our mattress is starting to make funny noises when you turn over in the night. The double mattress in the spare room is worse, so we decide to get ourselves a new mattress and inflict our noisy mattress on visitors or for when I need to get up at silly o'clock to travel somewhere. How hard can it be to get a new mattress in Aberystwyth? Umm, yes. The only realitic option we found was to order it via Internet. Myra found one which sounded OK on the Argos web site, so ordered it on the 30th of September. The timeline is as follows. We expect to have to wait 2 or 3 weeks for delivery and were OK with that. Some dates are approximate

  • 30th September Order Mattress
  • around 20 October courier calls to arrange delivery sometime between 8 and 6. Thats OK, I was working from home anyway
  • around 22/11/12, damaged mattress delivered
  • around 23/11/12  : reported to customer service who arrange for replacement. E.T.A. 3 weeks later
  • 7/11/12 van arrives to pick up mattress, does not deliver new one. Customer service claim order was cancelled (wish I had) and money had been returned (it had not). We can order a new matress and that will take an other 3 weeks.
  • 8/11/12 Clive finds email address of Argos C.E. via 30 seconds with Google
  • 9/11/12 Get call from nice chap in Argos Directors Office saying he will sort out new mattress for following week plus some compensation for the hassle
  • Following week, call from courior that it will be delivered on 27th. We refuse delivery on the 27th as commitment  was for that week. So Courior put order on hold, said they would contact Argos for guidance, but seems they never did
  • 29/11/12 Email again. Director Office left phone number in Voice Mail and when I called back multiple time there was no answer.
  • Eventually got hold of the chap trying to deal with this issue called Lee. Very nice man, but seems to have the infleunce of a road sweaper when it comes to getting a matress ordered 2 months earlier delivered.
  • Courier calls and tries to arrange a delivery for the 19th of December. We refused because a) we probably won't be in that day b) its 10 weeks after we 1st ordered it. They said if we don't accept delivery that day (and we had to be in all day), then it would be middle of January before next delivery. Seems manufacturer will not make the mattress until there is a accepted and committed delivery date.
  • Lee from Directors office calls back, can't get earlier delivery, we will have to accept either 19th December or January
  • 4/12 I cancel order and ask for money to be refunded into account
  • Seems Argos are still in the banking stone age, 5 days later I get a cheque, so an other 10 days delay before we can use the money to by a new matress from somewhere like
Argos are now on the naughtly step till 2015.

Lessons for customer service

  • If you leave a customer a number via voicemail, make sure the phone gets answered.
  • This was not a technically challenging situation. If the directors office can't sort such a straighforward issue out once they are aware of it, then the company is in a very bad way.
  • Argos blame manufaturer, manufacturer blame Argos, Courier blames Argos and manufacturer. As a customer I should have no idea of the business model in place and certainly the various parties should not be blaming each other.
  • If the directors office has no influence over a manufacture, then they need to find a new partner.
  • A courier can not expect a customer to be in all day for their convience. Anytime between 8 and 6 is not good enough. Kids to take to school, etc. Quite amazing that Argos tolerates and even supports it. We had already sorted out someone staying in all day twice.
  • If you say you are going to compensate, then actually do it. Don't just forget. It is shambolic and insulting. We don't care abotu compensation, but it is an other let down.
  • An easy solution would be for someone in the Director's Office to order a similar mattress on their credit card from somewhere like, have it delivered to us and expense it. Appears Directors Office staff can't do that, so what is the point of a Director's Office when they are powerless to resolve a situation.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Gregynog : year 14

Gregynog is a country house owned by the University of Wales. It is near Newtown and is on the whole a nice place to be.

The Computer Science Department at Aberystwyth have run career skills events there for at least the last 15 years. I have missed 2 and I think they started when I worked for SGI/Cray. The aim of the weekend is to equip the students for interviews for an industrial year between their 2nd and 3rd years. So what were my overall impressions?

  • C.V. were much better than last year. Still some sloppy wording/typo's, still some people who had done "stuff" but not put in the CV. Still some students who had little content to put in beyond their course and school experience which was disappointing, but on the whole students seems to be taking this work thing much more seriosuly than a few years ago and were interesting people with a lot to say.
  • The students we spoke to today came across better than those of the past few years. There were no lemons this year. They were all interesting in their own way. For many this is their 1st experience of being interviewed, so is a little scary, so we do try to be sympathetic, but if at some point they don't feel uncomfortable, the mock interview was not challenging enough
  • Standards of dress was head and shoulders above previous years, students just took it seriously and far more this year dressed up as if they were in a real interview.
  • General behaviour standard was just better, there were not idiots, no one who was obstructive to interview and we encountered not a hint of arrogance which was so nice. Some students did drink a fair amount on saturday night, but did not make a pain of themsleves. Though congradulations to the student who got so drunk on Friday night he was asleep on a sofa at 10am on Saturday morning, you are an example to us all, not sure an example of what.
The high points for me this year were being given a singing lesson as a group and being analysed for my psychological type according to the work of Jung.

This weekend is a solid example of best practise in higher education and something that other insituations (or even departments in Aberystwyth) could embrase to the benefit of students from any subject.

Couple of changes I did suggest is that the students do need to see an example of how to conduct one's self in an interview and get some help in how to set personal goals. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

At what age does prejudice start ?

Prejudice based on colour, class, disability, gender, looks, etc. At what age does it start?

Have a think about the prejudices you have today, the ones you inherited, the ones you suppress. I have them, I suppress them and feel they are wrong, but the programming is deep and goes back a long way, they are hard to recode. Think back to the age at which you acquired them, the times since then they were reinforced by adults.

To date, I have not seen such prejudice surface in the kids, they are young and it is refreshing to see them deal with everyone on equal terms. No doubt they will be exposed to some of my prejudices against politicians, estate agents, council officials and I very much hope they will be saved from exposure to the prejudices that I was exposed to in my formative years ( 8-18) around sexuality, race and class, which I have tried to exorcise from my being in my own falible way.

To me this is evidence that prejudice is environmental, not inevitable and it is our responsibilityas to what goes into that environment.

The next 5 years will be interesting to observe.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Who is at the centre of on line cookies

Having had Satallite broadband for 2 weeks now, I have become somewhat more aware of web browsing latency and I came across Firefox Collision. The image below is after about 10 days of browsing, visiting sites like Amazon, ebay, bbc, blogspot, typepad, etc all.

So who is at the centre of the part of the web in the lower right hand middle? A little more about them here.

Cookies are typically small, so I doubt they are soaking up much of my bandwidth, but I am paying a latency penalty as these cookies are downloaded, I have to wait as the packets do the 160,000 mile round trip (or there abouts).

Next step in the quest to improve latency is to block these people out. Seems there is a firefox plugin on the way, but will look for something else.

Some of the suggestions from googling "firefox speedup" have made a bit more improvement in browser performance. Had to get a accurate handle on which ones when you do them all at once and Firefox performance is highly subjective.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Satallite of love

Nothing to do with Lou Reed, but I really like our new place. Apart from the long term potential for salt damage and being face on to the prevailing wind, there is much to like. However, Broadband speed is beyond poor. So we now have in place 2 of the 3 elements which makes it viable to live and work from home in 2012.

  • 0.5 MB ADSL from our friends at B.T. Yes, you did say we would get 3MB and you have said sorry for being a little off the mark. And we know the money that you are getting from WAG for super fast broadband will make zero, zilch difference to the speed of our broadband. This does home phone and VPN sunray connection. Sunray is fine over this once it is logged in.
  • 0.5 MB ADSL business line from our friends at B.T. if they can ever get it working. Only been 4 weeks now. Will do voice and Vodafone Suresignal over this, plus a backup for vpn (not highly available as it is over the same pair of wires)
  • 8MB over Broadbandwherever Satalite Broadband which we have had for 2 weeks now used my the boss and myself for email, web, etc. 20 notes a month plus 600 quid for install which Welsh Assembly Government paid for. 
 So we can manage. The Satalite can't do vpn, so in effect it is not usable for real business use. I can't understand why WAG pay up for it, rather than hold B.T.'s toes to the fire.

What I have learend about Satallite is
  1. Don't even think of using it on Saturday morning, it never works
  2. Open up your TCP buffers. On OSX this was easy to find via Google, but well worth it
    • kern.ipc.maxsockbuf=16777216
    • net.inet.tcp.sendspace=1048576
    • net.inet.tcp.recvspace=1048576
  3. Install the satspeed plugin for firefox (and move to firefox from Chrome et al).
The last one makes a big difference.

Our next step is once the fast roll out happens sometime in the next 3 years is to find someone who gets fast broadband from B.T., offer to pay for their boardband and set up a wireless link (will need line of sight). So if you live in south Aberaeron, can see Aberystwyth from your house and want your Broadband paid for, give us a shout. Assumes fast broadband makes it to Aberaeron.

Meeting a candidate for the position of Police Commisioner

My 1st impressions were  very disappointing on meeting Christopher Salmon, the Conservative candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner for Dyfed Powys. My illusion was shattered that I would be meeting a character similar to Commissioner Gordon from the late 1960's Batman series that Andrew (currently 6) has been watching.  Maybe Christopher will evolve into that sort of character, if elected, and get a red telephone.

Actually I was very impressed by the man. He gets that there are problems in the way the police and public interact and appears to have a balanced view of both sides, being pro-police and pro-public while understanding the police have a very hard job to do and some members of the pubic can be real >insert appropriate phrase here<.

He seems to be modest, approachable, unassuming, interested in your story and perspective. Clearly the Commissioner role is political, but I am not convinced it needs to be party political role, indeed it is clear that no one really understands nationally how this role will fill out. Christopher  came across as liberal rural Conservative. One of my criticisms of the majority of local(and possibly national) politicians is their lack of experience of the wider world, not having been out and about. In my book, someone who has been an officer in the British Army in Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq qualifies as having been out and about.

If he had stood as an independent candidate, I would be voting for him without a 2nd thought. The Thatcher legacy of the 1980's still seriously colours my voting judgement. That said Gordon and Tony had a similar impact for different reasons on my attitude to voting Labour, they were no less arrogant in their own way.

I have not meet the competition for the post of Commissioner, but by web footprint they seem to be a far more political individual and   does not seem to have a great track record of achievement. Her background as a Council Development Officer does not count as "having been out and about".

I know I have said for many years I would rather die in a ditch than vote Conservative. It might well be the ditch for me next month. So I hope Christopher gets the red phone, but the big difference with his late 60's parody  counterpart is that he would get to decide who the bat-person at the other end of the phone is.

To balance things out in party terms, I meet Paul James on Thursday who by reputation and word on the street is one of the hardest working and best liked councilors by those he represents. Nice chap.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Why improving broadband in Welsh urban areas may not be that important

I have a conjecture (view supported by weak evidence) that improving Broadband in Welsh urban areas will improve the lot of existing businesses, but have a marginal effect in promoting new business.

Why? Because the majority of those who are capable of building a business and also choose to move to Wales will want to live in a rural area.

Of course there will be exceptions, you might know of them who are want to live in a urban area outside Cardiff and have built up a significant business, but I expect they are in the minority or they would move to a rural area if they had the chance.

This conjecture was sparked by this article by BT's Ann Beynon. As you see from the comments of a jet lagged Mr Angry of Llanfarian who was struggling to get the hang of a new Andriod tablet, I don't agree with her prognosis and responded in Walesathome troll mode [B.T.W. Waleshome has been archived here]. The IWA audience seems to be drawn from a less vocal and opinionated subset of the Welsh population than Wales@home  comment commentators.

In fairness to Ann who has a job to do as BT Director in Wales and the article is clearly part of that agenda and aimed at the politicians not the peasants. Given who her husband is I am sure she is very pro-Wales and keen to talk up its prospects for business.

I use the word conjecture because, unlike a politician, I know it is a conjecture, the evidence I have is weak and I only see bits of the picture, so could be wrong. Lets at least get some external opinions, though I am not an experienced pollster so excuse the form of the questions.

If you are still with us, please have a stab at filling in this survey.

While I say entrepreneurs, anyone who works in a wealth creating business is interesting.

If you work in the public sector or voluntary sector, thank you, you do stuff that the private sector is crap at and will always be. Talk to someone like my US co-worker who had a heart attack. He was charged $20 a puff (yes, they charge for each puff) of gas and air by the ambulance, then explain to people why the heath service reforms are a huge jump in the wrong direction. Just please don't fill in this survey.

If we get a significant or even interesting number of results, then of course I shall write them up here.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Going ex-directory

When we moved house, we also had to move phone numbers. We decided to become ex-directory. I previously though it was only for snobs. The single reason we made this choice was to avoid being disturbed by callers external from the UK wanting to scam us via a survey or fix our Windows computer (hint, we don't have any) it was getting to the point that we were being disturbed once a day on average. Even our 80 year old neighbors who would not have known how to switch on a computer were getting a call a day to tell them that they were apparently generating viruses and they never knew !

The telephone preference service which worked well 2 or 3 years ago is now ignored, even by Uk based companies.

Its not a big deal now being ex-directory, anyone who really wants to get in touch can find us via email or twitter or Linkedin or ....

However, this is an infrastructure failure. These calls should get blocked once they are reported and it should not be too hard to identify candidates via these computer type things and their dialing patterns, investigate and shut them down. B.T.  is your responsibility to address.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Virgin, 1st Group and the G4S effect

Watching this a couple of thing struck me.

Against Virgin getting a review

  • Virgin shafted Wrexham and Shropshire. If they were for really for fair and open competition, they would not have demanded an enforcement of the bar on W&S stopping at Wolverhampton.
  • The trains out of Euston have too many 1st class carriages, so a large number of people end up standing in cattle class if you can't see that, you probably should be doing something else. 
  • The sleeper service to Scotland is just great. I know it is run as Scotrail, but if this could be expanded it would make be great for some of us.
and why is does need a proper review.

  • 1st Group have walked away from the tail end of contract twice before. They either they should be barred from further work or have to commit to a contract they can't walk away from without putting serious collateral up 1st.
  • What will the effect of West Coast coming to Shrewsbury be on the trains in Wales
  • The G4S effect. We should have learned by now that putting responsibility in the hands of 1 private sector supplier is a highly irresponsible act for a government. I guess that more than 60% of rail services outside London commuter trains will  be 1st group. This alone should exclude them from the West Coast.
I have little sympathy with Branson, some of their train managers behaved like thugs in a tie. However, the process has been far from transparent and the government is talking a huge gamble on our behalf
that 1st group will not repeat their past form and walk away from the last 3 years and paying 3 billion pounds. 

I don't suspect backhanders, unlike the health bill, I just suspect bad governance.

At least it is not Arriva taking it over.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

View from our living room

Reminder to self, that bit of fence needs sorting out.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Beautiful Days : year 10

I got a small insight into what it was like at the Somme from the grounds of a Escot Park country house on Friday. 10,000 people plus lots of rain equals lot of mud. By Sunday it had dried up a huge amount. Bit (or even a bit more than a bit) of mud on the 1st day is fun, a weekend of mud is not.

Year 10 of the festival, and I have yet to miss one. One of the better years in terms of line ups.

Best experiences of the festival in approximate order for me were

  1. Folk in a Box : just magical. Me and the kids in a box with a guy playing and singing an beautiful folk song.
  2. Toot and the Maytels : class reggie from a band with a combined age of over 350. Where does he get his energy from?
  3. Mad Dog Macre : 2nd act on the main stage on Friday. Lively and fun
  4. Public Image Ltd : I have seen John live, tick. The sound they make is big, though I think the music is aimed at a target audience who are really off their heada [which I was not]. 
  5. Dreadzone : much fun, but missing Earl 16.
  6. Cube Theatre's Pinocchio  in the Theatre tent
  7. Billy Bragg : 100 years of Woodt Guthry. A bit of my music history education filled in. Good fun and good tunes as well. 
As previous years, I exclude the Levellers as I have seen them 70 odd time and I have thus lost perspective of how good they are relative to past performance or other acts, so I don't think about it.
I missed most of Bellowhead [sent back to get stuff from the van], though what I saw was very good.

Found myself more relaxed than previous years, maybe down to having moved house.

Roll on year 11.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Does the PBSA harm Welsh Broadband Infrastructure ?

Being a private sector thing, this was a new one on me.

The PSBA network (Public Sector Broadband Aggregation) is a Welsh Assembly Government led collaborative national communications service that, in conjunction with other major Welsh public sector organisations, has created a national information & communications platform to enable greater efficiency and collaborative potential, helping to support the delivery of improved services for the people of Wales.

So this the P.B.S.A. a good or bad thing? So far my answer is I don't know. I suspect that

  1. It costs a lot
  2. It improves the efficiency of those who use it
  3. It is more secure than a Internet based service
but does it have a negative impact on the private sector business and consumer provision? Those who are able it use it get a very good service, and so is there then a mindset among decision makes in the public sector that network infrastructure is actually very good ? I don't know. I understand that the Welsh Government are not part of the network, they have their own. Interested if anyone has views on the external impact that these 2 networks have on infrastructure in Wales.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ceredigion *probably* won't do that well from the 400 million Broadband investment

I am really positive about the announcement by the Welsh Government regarding the roll out of super fast broadband.

However, for those who live in rural Powys or Ceredigion, take the following and put them together.

a) This report from the house of Lords
b) This table of effects of distance of the last section of copper from the exchange
 c) This table of population density in Wales

If you put these 3 together with the 96%, this means that a finger in the air guess of 65% of Ceredigion households won't get faster broadband by 2015. To meet their targets B.T. and the Welsh Government can ignore the hard to provide parts of Powys and Ceredigion. If you have bad provision now, it is highly probable it will still be bad in 2015 and that means most farms.

As an aside, the Welsh Government really do need to get out more if they think this investment will allow Wales to overtake other countries in terms of speed and coverage.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dial M for Murdoch

About 2009, I stood outside the News International building at Waping, waiting for my contact to collect me. It occurred to me on the train journey down that is was the 1st on-site customer visit where I felt I was doing something wrong or immoral by helping the business of this customer function. I had visited various banks, spooks and even the Bomb factory in the previous years without even an uncomfortable twitch. What was different standing outside Waping was that I believed that with News International controlling so much of the UK media that we could not live in a democracy until its influence was significantly reduced.

Important to say that all the people I meet on the I.T. side were very nice. They had a serious problem which as I remember took less than 2 hours including lunch to root cause [Java circularity error, pstack, mdb and google are your friends] and I was out of there.

Dial M for Murdoch is probably bias. Even so, this is a must read and I think will continue to be to remind us of the historical perspective of how did a democracy let one man have much power as to be able to influence the outcome of elections and for the culture of a company to be so out of control.

Still, the episode brought us useful terms like "willful blindness" and demonstrated that you need a number of people like Tom Watson in parliament who are single minded enough to keep digging even when they are being bullied by a company like N.I.

I was shocked by the contents of the book and how it was allowed to go on so long, willful blindness was something that those who bought The Sun, The Time or Sky were also guilty of, if you paid Murdoch were guilty of, you were part of the problem. Now that is uncomfortable, but at least you can probably say you did not help them solve an I.T. problem critical to a product roll out, I admit I was guilty of willful curiosity.

Most of the events have been on the news, but the background this book brings is facinating. Do read the book.

Friday, June 29, 2012

IEEE Software Expert Conference

I don't claim to be a software expert, but I have dabbled, so it was very nice indeed to be invited to be part of an Expert panel for an hour of questions, answers and banter.

The other 3 panel members were Prof. Les Hatton (he of Kingston University and Safer C fame), Paul Goodman from Shell and Mike Andrews from Microsoft. All had written columns in the Impact section of IEEE software. I was drafted in at a late stage when a potential panel member from Tom-Tom had (for very good reasons) to drop out. The panel was chaired by Michiel van Genuchten who set the stage and asked some very probing questions. It was good fun.

I really enjoyed Diomidis Spinellis talk on Theory Meets Reality: Managing IT Systems at the Greek Ministry of Finance. If you think you have it hard, imaging being drafted into the Greek Treasury in 2009. I spoke to Dimonidis after the event, he was a nice guy, very modest and pragmatic. Not sure how deep his sins were to deserve 2 year of that though.

A couple of talks mentioned or were about technical debt which I think is one of the area's current buzz words.

With a 5am start and getting home at midnight, it was a long day, but well worth it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dail's hole and the fence

King family went for a walk in the Dinorwig Slate quarries. I spent many happy days there gibbering my way up route from V.S. to E4 (old money that is) 20 years ago. I have not been there other than running through on a fell race for maybe 10 years now.

The sight of the fence around Dail's hole  filled me with sadness. It had a surreal character all of its own in certain weathers and actually one of the safer bits of the quarry. Seems to have been shut because it was popular, not because it was especially dangerous.. Once of the hardest route I ever did is in the quarry (The Chiselling E4 6B) is in that quarry and no longer accessible. I wonder if the tube is still there?

By the way Jeremy Stocks, I still have your Slate guide book which was published in about 1992. Happy Days.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Advice from politicians : regulate or ignore?

The Cameron and Maude show's advice to fill up tanks/cans with fuel may or may not have been good, but should they have been giving advice at all and should we listen?

As a pension trustee of the Sun Microsystems Pension scheme (nearly wound up now) I could not give advice as I noted here. There are good reasons for this and I feel many of the reasons also extend to politicians, certainly in the public context. Useful advice is nearly always situation and individual dependent, unless it is common sense and there is good reason why a politician, who may or may not have more common sense than the average voter, will suffer from politics and the media conspiring to corrupt the message.

We get the politicians we deserve, the recent fuel fun suggests they are badly placed to offer advice. What they may be well placed to do is to provide information, though will party political objectives and fear of the media corrupting the intent and detail then determine the information they choose to make available and we the public are then making decisions on very partial information.

There is a good case for M.P.'s and A.M.'s to give advice in a 1 to 1 surgery settings. I hear good thing from people who have visited Mark or Elin and the advice they got from both of them. I expect the same may go for local councilors, but my experience suggests the gene pool is somewhat more diverse.

Like the spawn of satan, the Independent Financial Adviser, it is very hard for us to know the quality of advice until it is tested by the passing years and a performance review, but then it is too late. Years of layering additional regulation (a natural selection) have rendered the IFA industry and its gene pool near useless when it comes macro planning of an investment portfolio, but is geared up to advise you on which fund to buy with 5k you have spare. There are exceptions, but it is an industry that needs top to bottom reform.

A subset of the population seems to want politicians to replace a God figure in terms of showing them the way to lead particular aspects  their lives. They really are looking in the wrong place for life guidance if they think Carmeron, Milband, Osborune, Clegg and Balls can guide them through any aspect of their life. Most people would agree, but then why queue at the pumps when you don't need fuel? Politicians should be decision makers, not life coaches.

So making politicians libel for the consequences of advice they give would be a good thing, no matter if the are a P.M. a minister, opposition or in government. Better would be self regulation, meaning ignore what they say, and we have only ourselves to blame if we take advice from a politician in a general context.

Disclosure 1 : I did queue at the pumps last week, but only because there was a queue. The tank of the car was near empty, so will claim my behavior did not change.

Disclosure 2 : I do keep 5 gallons of diesel in the shed. I live a good 80 miles from the nearest 24 hour fuel station and for work or family illness may need to travel at short notice outside opening hours. I have done this for the well over the last 10 years incase the car fuel tank was empty and I had an urgent need to travel. More allowing for my behavior and situation than anything else.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Aberystwyth, last home of the temperance movement ....

I had 90 minute to spend between exiting the dentist and the start of a physio appointment. Have laptop, so a great chance to get some work done. Coffee and wifi, obvious they go together? Well not in Aberystwyth.

I can't say that I surveyed all establishments that sell coffee in Aberystwyth this morning, but probably most of them and none had wifi on offer. As for Aberystwyth being a economic backwater and poorly equipped for 2012, this is one simple indicator, but very telling.

I object to going to a pub in the morning (or during the day, unless for food or it is the 24th of December).
needs must, so I sat in "Spoons" for a bit over an hour working away, being quite productive.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sadly a mostly fair description of Aberystwyth

I was sitting in Aberystwyth Arts Centre last Saturday morning having a ritual tea and cake post small boy football and during small girl modern dance and flicked through the program of what is on and came across this.

In 2011 Aberystwyth was besieged by news' film crews and journalists all hunting down one story - the day the traffic wardens disappeared. As England was thrown into uproar by
riots the biggest local news was the number of dolphins in Cardigan Bay.
What is it like to live in a town where the tiniest news is distorted out of proportion and where gossip is more prominent than global headlines?

Its not the whole story of Aberystwyth, but it is a fair summary of the scope of news in Aberystwyth.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Why wind farms on Plynlimon don't matter

I went to an interesting, for all sorts of reasons, debate "wind power - benefit or burden" debate organized by Cambrian Mountain Society, so obviously it would have a bias against. My main take away's were

  • Wind power as planned will provide around 0.5% of the Welsh target for renewable energy
  • If you want a credible debate don't put a militant on your panel
  • The panel as a whole lost credibility when one otherwise sensible gentleman suggested the question of "what instead" need not be asked to reject something (windpower in this case).
  • Tourism will take a huge hit if these proposed schemes go in and 1000's of jobs will be lost from the mid Wales area for the benefit of a few.
  • The subsidy needs to be fixed at a much lower level based on the contribution.
  • Panel members need to get their science right i.e. Clean Gas is not neutral in any respect, even if a Q.C. says it.
  • Ceredigion Council don't have a clue, like in so many areas[energy, planning, broadband, transport, schools] (they are on the ball in some, provided it is not strategic)
  • Tann 8 is a fundamentally flawed strategy which consciously does not consider visual or economic impact and needs review before any further applications are considered.
  • The wind power direction won't change from Cardiff because current ministers would loose face.
  • Some interesting points of Welsh History came up I need to follow up
There were some accusations of intimidation flying around regarding an other planning application by the coast further south by the land owner.

I am against the proposed wind farm on Plynlimon on visual impact grounds and that Wind Power needs huge scale to deliver much useful energy. I do think micro-generation has a place, but don't really understand it well enough.

What I did come away with was that for reasons of geography, it all does not matter. Most voters in Wales  are in south Wales and will keep the Welsh Labour Party in power in the Assembly Government for many years to come. This has a logical conclusion independence for Wales is a bad idea as the current Welsh Labour Party has proved themselves incapable of effective strategic decision making(examples abound). The party with the balance of power won't change for at least 15 years without a choir boy abuse type scandal. So I  came away thinking that reversing devolution would be in the best interests of Wales and the Welsh people, a view that has been brewing for some time. Sad really, it should have been a great opportunity.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

India 9 years on

I visited Bangalore in early 2003. I must admit I can't remember that many specifics from 2003, but here is a list of what struck me on a 10 day work visit

  • The traffic. Almost literally. Never have I had such an adventure crossing the road. I managed to unconsciously subdue my regard for personal safety, in order to be able to cross the 3 roads between the hotel and the office, to the extent that on my return to London I nearly got run over by a black cab. London traffic is far faster and less inclined to avoid you.
  • Check each water bottle provided by the hotel that the seal is in-tact. I forgot to check only once and 6 hours later, well, the world fell out of my arse. probably only 3 on a scale of 1-10, so can't grumble really. You get the picture and nuff said. 
  • I felt no concern for my personal safety, excluding being run over. Walking back from the other hotel some of my co-workers were staying at, even on my own at near midnight I felt no concern for my personal safety.
  • There seemed to be less general bureaucracy in the airport, though still was a lot.
  • I still have no idea what Indian rules of the road are, but they must involve using the horn a lot and there is a fine of leaving more than a few mm of gap in any direction between stationary cars, mopeds or bikes.
  • The level of pollution after a couple of days got me down and Bangalore is meant to be one of the better Indian cities.
  • Everyone I meet was friendly, polite and nice.
Glad to be home, but I am sure given a few weeks, I will miss aspects of the place just as happened in 1995 and 2003. 1 aspect of the trip I won't miss though.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Evidance based and Skeptic about NHS reforms

I must admit I had not a paid a huge amount of attention to the proposed (actually already occurring) NHS reforms. I attended a Westminister Skeptics meeting along with Chris (I was in London that evening anyway) and now I am scared. These are not reforms, the NHS will cease to exist.

The Speaker was Prof Colin Leys and he presented an evidence based case against the NHS reforms. My short summary is

  • The UK has the best clinical outcomes in the world
  • For those outcomes it gives the best value for money
  • MONITOR will be unaccountable to anyone
  • The scope for corporate fraud will vastly outweigh the savings
  • Top up fees will become normal
  • EU competition laws mean there is no going back as the cost of compensating companies involved for lost earnings would be prohibitive.
  • The NHS will cease to exist as a legal body
  • Medical training in the Uk will fall apart
  • Where England goes the other devolved parts of the UK will have to follow.
Why? Why is Andrew Lansley bulldozing through  a set of reforms for which there is no electoral mandate, will provide worse patient care and cost more and may make both the Lib-Dems and Tories unelectable in 2015? The 3 of us sitting at a table during the break could only come up with 2 possible underlying reasons
  • Ideology
  • Someone is getting a back hander