Archive of Postings for December 2012


Making Choices

Making a choice on a single issue is just a matter of making a decision for or against. But in the real world many things cannot be reduced to a single issue. Then reaching decisions becomes more involved and subject to mistakes or, more likely, simply missing some of the possible outcomes.

Take this simple example based on the proposed vote for independence in Scotland. Despite the politicians boiling this complex issue down to a single question - yes or no to independence - there are a range of possible results. The most obvious cause being geographic differences. What needs to happen if, for example, Shetland votes for independence but the rest of Scotland does not? Should the Shetland vote be ignored? If it is ignored how can the vote claim to represent the people’s democratic view?

Assuming that voting can reflect regional aspirations then there needs to be a logical way to identify the outcome for each of the possible result combinations. And here is one possible way - a table  with just 2 simple statements and their 4 possible results - each indicated by Y (yes) or N (no) in one of the columns.







Mainland Votes for Independence?






Shetland Votes for Independence?









Mainland separates from UK






Shetland separates from UK





Shetland separates from Scotland

Just briefly listing each possible result means that all the possible outcomes can be addressed. And, surprisingly perhaps, Shetland would need to address its status in 3 of the 4 possible combinations. Two of the results are clear - but the third is ambiguous. Why? Because a vote for independence could either be taken to mean full independence or as agreeing to remaining united with the mainland. [Hopefully this particular issue has already been resolved between Lerwick and Holyrood - and also with Kirkwall, Stornoway, etc.]

A clearer or briefer way to set out questions and their outcomes would be hard to find - imho.

tags: logic, decisions, Scotland, independence, 2014



Radio Grandad

Greetings, pop pickers .. Radio Grandad is now on-air .. and already reaching 100% of its target audience. But then coverage is limited to a few metres of indoors airspace.

Smashie_and_NiceyHow? It’s all thanks to the Keene USB FM Transmitter that just arrived as an early Christmas present. This neat little gadget substitutes for a PC speaker - but sends sounds out as radio signals in the FM band. The supplied software is basic and takes a few minutes to sort out (and will probably need a PC reboot) but it does seem to work smoothly (so far). You simply need to pick an unused frequency, say 90.8mhz, for the usb dongle. Then tune in your radios into the same frequency to pickup whatever is being played on your PC. Winamp works fine for playing selected mp3 tracks / playlists. It also means that you can enqueue songs to the end of the current playlist for as long as you want. However you can get even smarter by upgrading to some DJ or radio station software - if you fancy emulating Smashie and Nicey.

Finally, this gadget means that all your domestic FM receivers can still be used in the unlikely event of DAB radio being forced upon us. Also your pre-digital hi-fi can now act as an Internet radio via a PC or laptop.

tags: gadget, radio, FM



Pointless Award for December Goes To ... Pennies

Pointless3Countries such as New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands, Norway, Finland and Sweden have all now gone penny-free without public outcry or any noticeable effect on inflation. Yet this Christmas, in Britain, millions of pennies will be shunted from pocket and purse to shop and bank - with increasing costs and declining value. It must be something in the British psyche that creates this need to cling to the past. But surely it is time for us to stop making any more - and for the banks to move to a collection-only service.

It would need a change in the law, no doubt, to allow shops and shoppers to simply round totals to the nearest 5p - if paying in cash. And to allow the banks to stop issuing 1p and 2p coins. But apart from that there would be little change (ouch!). Any payments via debit / credit cards or by cheque, through government transfer, etc would stay just the same. In fact anything not involving coins would remain totally unchanged. You would think that it would be better for the Government to look to saving money this way rather than through making real people redundant. But, as yet, there are not even any tentative proposals to take action on this recurring waste.

So this month’s Pointless Award goes jointly to Great Britain’s 1p and 2p coins. Congratulations to the worthy winners! And commiserations to the runners-up - but then there’s always next month.

[There is no connection between this award and a BBC quiz programme!]

tags: government, inefficiency, waste, money



Obsolete Technology ...

Unlike some stereotypes, plenty of seniors are keen to put the latest tech to the test. Not weird gadgets like the “Higgs' Gravity Assisted Cork Remover ..” or the “Stirr Automatic Sauce Stirrer” shamelessly plugged by Stephen Fry as Gadget Man on Channel 4. No - more relevant things like, say, the latest audio visual kit or computer gizmo.

AssortedENGTapeFormatsThe trouble is - seniors who have been tech fans since their teens now have stacks of outdated junk - almost all electronics based - worth nothing more than its scrap metal content. Anyone who gets the time to go back through their boxes of “old stuff” will surely find obsolete technology for playing audio cassettes, mini-discs, VHS tapes or even floppy discs. A few might even find some beta-max, 8 track cassette, U-matic, VHS-C, Hi8, DV and open reel tapes / kit there as well. And even those who didn’t keep the stuff will remember buying it.

But the pace of change seems to be unabated. Take the 12cm optical disc launched as the audio CD around 1981 [ABBA and Billy Joel being some of the first artists with CD albums]. During the decades since there has been a series of improvements - recordables, rewritables, DVDs, Blu-rays etc. Now the latest optical drives on PCs / laptops need to support long lists of formats - BD-ROM, BD-RE SL/DL, BD-R SL/DL, BD-R LTH, DVD-ROM SL, DVD-ROM DL, DVD-R/+R, DVD-R DL / DVD+R DL, DVD-RW/ DVD+RW, CD-ROM, CD-R, CD-RW, etc. But despite the enormous quantities of hardware and software out there, and efforts to maintain backwards compatibility, it looks like 12cm optical drives are being phased out as well. Instead we will have downloads, streaming or simply flash memory. So another vast user base of technology heads towards the scrap heap. Joining countless millions of VHS tapes and CRT TVs in rubbish dumps world wide.

Perhaps avidly buying the latest gadgets was not the best long term strategy for protecting future generations ...

tags: obsolescence, VHS, CD, DVD, home, entertainment



We know what’s best for you ...

Radio_d_loveIn July 2010 Ed Vaizey [UK Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries] launched a Digital Radio Action Plan. It was much the same as the previous Labour government’s aim of the switching over from FM (and AM) transmission to DAB digital radio by 2015. It was subject to 50% of listening being via digital radio by 2013 and national DAB coverage being comparable to FM. The plan is backed - or rather promoted - by radio makers and the BBC. That is why your local supermarket / electrical retailer has been offering so many DAB radios on their shelves - often to the complete exclusion of any FM only sets.

In July 2012 the UK Government (Ed Vaizey still!), the BBC and commercial operators agreed to commit up to 21 million of new investment in DAB radio infrastructure. Additionally promising a decision on the FM to DAB radio switch-over during 2013. To help this along some DAB promoters include the listening figures for Internet access in their totals - even though most Internet stations are based overseas. And clearly Internet listeners are not using a DAB radio or relying on a radio transmitter - so are not a factor in UK DAB take-up. Some promoters even include stats for radio stations broadcast on the Freeview channels - which  again are not a factor when measuring actual DAB radio take-up.

Producing programmes for distribution over multiple platforms (AM, FM, DAB, Freeview, Freesat, Internet, etc) ought to be more expensive. So the BBC might save some money by dropping the AM (MW and LW) and, later, FM platforms. But sadly the plan to use DAB radio as the way forward looks full of flaws - and it is more likely that their number of stations is the real problem. Still the BBC seems set on another advertising campaign aimed at us ditching our present FM receivers and buying DAB (see image link - and yes it is genuine!). Time to do a survey of your home radio receivers - and put off buying Granny that new DAB radio.

tags: radio, obsolescence, AM, MW, LW, FM, DAB, home, entertainment



Don’t Panic ...

The world will NOT end next week. At least according to a little known group called the Dozonians. Their spokesperson Denzil issued a statement to mark the Dozon High Solstice that occurs today - the special date of 12.12.12. The statement reaffirmed their view that the number 12 was mystical and that a high solstice was a time of happiness that would last 12 days. Worldwide disasters would not be possible during these 12 days - so the predictions based on the Mayan calendar must be wrong. However there was a warning that next year - 2013 - would not be as happy since 13 is the generally unhappy anti-doz. [no links on the temporal plane as yet]

tags: futurology, predictions



Britain still stuck in Imperial ways

Metrication-uk-logoI know politicians can be a bit slow at getting jobs done - but in this case the time to implement the House of Commons Select Committee’s unanimous recommendation is 150 years and still with no end in sight. It took around a 100 years for the Government to actually make a serious start; back in the 1960’s. However a quango was eventually set-up with a multi-phased plan. The final phase being targeted for completion by 1975. Brief historical background over. Now, some 37 years on, road distances are still measured, by Government agencies, in miles and yards. This means that speed restrictions - and their enforcement - have to operate in miles per hour and UK vehicles need to have speedo’s marked in miles.
Looking forward, 2013 will be another year where Britain is unable to go back to its former Imperial weights & measures - but is apparently unwilling to move forward to kilometres and metres. Why?  Few of us know what a perch, hundredweight, chain or gill is in metric and even those that do have no good case for restoration. And, for decades, the British have happily driven vehicles around Europe without being phased by road signs in kilometres. There have been many excuses for not finishing the metric switch-over - ranging from cost through to emotional attachment. But they are just excuses, not reasons. And worst of all our Australian cousins started the same process later than the UK but still finished it many, many years ago! Link ...

tags: government, inefficiency, waste



Scotland Handed Get-out-of-jail-free Card

Chance1The impact of a Yes vote for Scottish independence in 2014 seems to have gained much more importance than even the SNP expected. The current state of EU politics means that breakaway countries are bad news for Brussels. A Yes vote would incur the wrath of Gollum and his followers - especially from Spain. Scotland would have to go to back of the EU membership waiting list as punishment. A decade ago this would have been a setback for Scotland. But the situation has changed now that EU membership means austerity rather than prosperity. By not offering automatic membership to an independent Scotland the reborn nation has been offered the quickest - and cheapest - way yet of escaping from the EU. Link ...

tags: government, devolution, Britain, Europe, separation, England, Scotland


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