Archive of Postings for February 2013


Petrol Price Poker

PokerGameIt’s the petrol producers and wholesalers versus the Chancellor - in a game where the public has to pay-up no matter who wins. With the UK Budget just weeks away the politicians are getting nervous about the planned rise in fuel taxes. So next week a Commons motion calling for the cancellation of the next 3p per litre rise in fuel duty is expected. Not proposed for the effects of a high fuel price on the national economy or on the general public - but to try to save their own seats at the next election.

This has come to the top of the MPs agenda after the average cost of petrol increased to 138.32p a litre - some 6.24p more than at the start of January. So this now puts the average gas price at 628.82p per imperial gallon - for those who are dead against metric measurements or who remember the 1960s. Back then petrol was around 28p per gallon - and that’s when many of today’s Grandads started driving.

But there is no way to go back in time - even if just to fill-up the car. Or is there?

According to various online sources the cost of petrol in some Gulf states is around those 1960s prices even today. So the extra 600p per UK gallon looks to have been added - by the efforts of suppliers and various Governments - gradually over the years. Both are still involved in a price escalation process - with each trying to increase their take while passing the responsibility to the other. Recent price hikes by the suppliers mean that the Chancellor now has a stark choice between upping taxes and loosing votes or scrapping the tax and loosing money. Now this poker game between the suppliers and the Government has been going on for years but we do now seem to be reaching the point where the average citizen just cannot be squeezed any further.

Is there any chance that either side will make a big cut in their take and send petrol prices down to the level of our Asian competitors? Now that really would boost the UK economy - but the odds of it happening are millions or even billions to one ...

tags: petrol, gasoline, price, profit, taxation, greed, profits, debt



Pointless Award for February ... DAB Radio

Pointless3A bit of a sleeper this one - since at first glance DAB seems to be a logical radio development and technical progress. But you only have to dig at little bit deeper to see just how much of a pointless exercise the building of a DAB transmitter network has become. Not only are the technical standards already superseded but the negative effects of phasing out FM have been vastly under estimated.

Almost everyone with a radio can currently get FM - so stopping DAB would render next-to-nothing obsolete. However stopping FM in favour of DAB would end radio reception on a huge volume of equipment - everything from car radios through home stereos to smartphones. It has been argued that the buying of FM replacements would be a boost to the economy - but that’s only true if the average person suddenly receives enough extra income to pay for all the new kit required. The alternative case that kit will be bought over time, as and when it needs replacement, removes any benefit of a FM to DAB switch-over. It also ignores the fact that the kit bought as and when could be just as easily be new but FM based.

The recent Grandad survey found 12 FM receivers in just one household. Replacing all of that kit would be unacceptable financially - and the electronic waste generated considerable. For what? Fans of DAB stations, like 6 Music for example, would still be able to receive them via other digital methods - even if the plug was pulled on the existing DAB transmitters. And why not simply switch any popular DAB-only stations to FM - if it was felt that they really had to be broadcast.

LogoDAB1The more you look the more you find - FM is the national emergency band, excessive DAB compression gives poor quality sound, other countries are scrapping DAB schemes, sales of dedicated radios are continuing to fall, other digital transmission methods are cheaper to set-up and receive, Internet radio is a free service for existing broadband users, etc, etc.

So a truly worthy Pointless winner this month ...

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



Feedback on ...

Battles Ahead - we missed out the 600th anniversary of the Agincourt (25-Oct-2015) - and apparently plans are already well advanced for re-enactments and commemorations; see the Azincourt2015 web site. Sorry for missing this great opportunity to remind the French of their ancient defeat ...

Thinking Outside the Tank - A think-tank has just come up with an idea that aims to resolve two problems in one plan. Care for the elderly could be improved by transferring the responsibility for their care to the prison service. The elderly would simply be admitted into the current prison system. That way the elderly would get free accommodation with trained staff on-call 24 hours per day. An officer would check their private, secure room every twenty minutes bringing meals and snacks and each elderly person would have a PC, TV, radio, daily phone calls, access to library, education and gym facilities. They would, of course, get free optical, dental and medical treatment plus pocket money.

To cope with the expected high demand from the elderly the bulk of existing prison occupants would be classified as low-risk and moved to the vacated spaces in the care homes. There they would become the responsibility of the local authority and have to make do with cold meals in front of a shared TV. Obviously they would be treated the same as existing residents and so charged an average of 800 per week for the length of their stay. This charge would be repaid out of their current and future benefits payments, wages and savings or by the sale of their assets. This change is expected to reduce the amount of re-offending significantly.

For once this is a think tank plan that may actually get public support ...

tags: battle, re-enactment, France, care, crime, punishment



Smart Phones .. Smart Cameras

It’s hardly breaking news - but the cameras in smart phones are just getting better and better. And as a result there are increasing numbers of blog entries along the lines of ... wedding photography using an iPhone or photo journalist uses smartphone to record trip around south-east asia.

So this is just to remind all those marketing types that there is a big seniors market out there - and we would be very happy to test and report back on the fine features of your latest products.

IMAG0023_700click image to download original

So far Grandad Camera Reviews have only been able to test a basic 2011 HTC Wildfire S (sample above). But now testers are eager to get to work on the latest smarter and better products from Apple, Sony, Samsung, etc.

tags: camera, phone, smart, images, wi-fi, GPS, geo-tagged, review



Top Kia

Tonight the BBC stopped just short of renaming its comedy motoring show - from Top Gear to Top Kia - after it took every opportunity to promote the brand ... but there is still time; the series hasn’t finished yet!

tags: product, placement, public, service, broadcaster



Vikki, Rikki, Emma and Sonia

... were four of the UK’s contestants in that annual multi-cultural highlight - the Eurovision Song Contest. They represented Britain in 1985, 1987, 1990 and 1993 respectively; but with mixed success.

Eurovis1Few will now remember Patricia Bredin, the first UK entrant, - or Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson the next. That was back in the 1950’s - days of low-res, black-and-white images and vinyl records. But these were the beginnings of this annual celebration of  European popular culture.

Jumping forward to the 21st century we should have some more familiar singers and songs. But instead we have the very easily forgotten contributions by Jemini (last in 2003), Scooch (nearly last in 2007), X Factor runner-up Andy Abraham (last in 2008) and Josh Dubovie with that Stock and Waterman classic “That Sounds Good To Me” (last in 2010). Last year the UK representative was one of the few who should have remembered Patricia Bredin - that evergreen 76 year old  Engelbert Humperdinck. However the apparent plan to go for the seniors vote failed miserably so leaving him in next to last place.

The 58th edition of the Eurovision contest is from 14th to 18th May 2013 - but first we need a song. And it’s just four weeks until the UK entry is due to be confirmed. Yet the BBC is surprisingly vague about what the songs are or how a choice will be made. On Wednesday they said - “.. our plans for 2013 are taking shape and we'll let you know more as soon as we can ..”. [But then the BBC always gets gets a place in the final no matter how bad the song selected]. Meanwhile other countries have had their national selection contests and had their winning entries commercially available for months - many with videos on YouTube [including this Swiss entry featuring the Salvation Army].

Without knowing the artist or the song it ought to be hard to guess how Britain will perform this year. But there are already signs that another blow to national pride is coming up, no matter who draws the short straw next month. So if you are going to be betting then either check out the competition very carefully or simply place your money on the UK being 20th or worse ....

tags: song, contest, BBC, UK, Eurovision, humiliation, tactical, voting




Bombardier_Myall_DaveBrewers Wells and Young’s are spending big on advertising their Bombardier beer. Most of their 5 million budget going on TV ads featuring Rik Mayall as a stereotypical, over-the-top British army officer from the Napoleonic period. These ads are appearing on the Dave digital TV channel five days a week for a full year.

A nice little earner for Dave - and significant revenue for the BBC. But how come the UK’s public service broadcaster is involved in advertising on commercial channels?

Because Dave is 50% owned by the BBC through UKTV. They own Dave - along with Alibi, Blighty, Eden, Gold, Good Food, Home, Really, Watch and Yesterday (and all their +1 and HD channel variations). This probably explains why there is so much BBC content on these digital channels - and perhaps why the BBC was so keen to promote digital TV. Certainly the move to digital enabled these channels to reach a much bigger audience than was possible via satellite or cable alone.

The big temptation here is, of course, for the licence-fee part of the BBC to pay for creating new programmes (so taking the financial risks) and for the commercial part of the BBC to buy only the successes. Leaving the others as repeats on the BBC.

Safeguards are, or should be, in place to stop any cross-subsidies of commercial programmes by licence fee payers. But one day someone may well bend the rules  .. and they may even get caught. Then the BBC may well become a candidate for break-up like the banks.

tags: Bombardier, Mayall, Dave, BBC, tv, commercial, advertising, beer



Battles Ahead

With both tourism and politics in mind, some anniversaries of battles are going to be high on the agenda over the next few years.

The big ones at the planning stage already are - 100 years from the start of World War One (28-Jul-2014), 200 years after Waterloo (18-Jun-2015), 500 years after Flodden Field (9-Sep-2013) and 700 years after Bannockburn (24 Jun 2014).

In Scotland the tourism machine started some time ago - “.. clan chiefs and clans are to come together in 2014 to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn with a re-enactment weekend near Stirling organised by the National Trust for Scotland. New-Bruce120A clan village will be set up and the town will be bright with tartan ..” and “Here in 1314, in one of the defining moments in Scottish history, King Robert the Bruce routed the English forces of King Edward II to win a much-longed-for freedom for the Scots” (NTfS)

These, and other, plans have, no doubt, some serious historic intent but all are in danger of being changed into something else. Nationalists in Scotland want stories of Bannockburn to boost their voting support while in England the victories over Scotland and France are more a boost for the national ego. But the first World War remembrance may take the edge off the popular appeal of mass face-painting and battle re-enactments. And refurbishing the statue of The Brus may not have a result that appeals to everyone ...

tags: battle, re-enactment, tourism, politics, Scotland, England, France, Germany



London to Birmingham and Beyond ...

In 1833 the new London and Birmingham Railway Company commissioned Robert Stephenson to build a 112-mile (180 km) line from Euston Station in London to Curzon Street Station in Birmingham. It opened in 1838.


One hundred and eighty years later developers are asking parliament to approve the construction of a new railway from London Euston to Birmingham Curzon Street - a 140 mile high speed line named HS2. If things go to their plans then ground works should start in 2017 with the first high speed trains running in 2026.

Leaving aside the fact that Stephenson’s project was built - by hand - in just five years, the real question is the suitability of high speed rail transport this far into the future.

Back in 1833 this inter-city railway line was the bleeding edge of transport developments. The alternatives were a stage coach, a horse or simply to walk. Railways made massive improvements  - in speed, in volume and in cost. But by the time the railways were nationalised in 1948 road transport was already making a major impact on passenger and freight revenues - plus the whole rail network was in need of massive upgrades. By 1963 the government had decided to scrap large chunks of the network - plus all the steam locomotives. Services disappeared in large areas of the country and thousands of miles of tracks were taken up and melted down.

Today, despite expensive projects to improve rail services (including upgrading the existing London-Birmingham and West Coast mainlines), a smaller percentage of the passenger and freight traffic goes by rail than it did in the 1960’s. So will the new HS2 line justify its 16,800 million basic cost?

Well that figure is just for the Euston to Birmingham bit - it does not include a link to Heathrow or the lines north of Birmingham. The expanded HS2 project (costing 34,500 million) could generate benefits of 47,000 million and fare revenues of up to 34,000 million - according to the developers. And you don’t need to a financial expert to spot some problems with these numbers.

The most obvious point is that the expected fare revenues are less than the estimated project cost. But it’s much worse than that. These benefits and revenues are over a 60 year life for the line. The project costs quoted only cover the first twenty years.

Taking Eurostar has a guide - they have been running HS1 trains since 1994 and made a loss for at least 15 of their operating years. These losses had accumulated up to 2,500 million by 2010. The company only survived because it was backed by the UK Government, SNCF (French Railways) and SNCB (Belgium Railways). If Deutsche Bahn go ahead with their proposed services to St Pancras - due this year - then Eurostar could be in the red again. So when estimating net fare revenues we could be optimistic at guessing break-even  - or be more realistic and project losses of thousands of millions; based upon Eurostar’s known results.

And there are plenty of other issues. For example, the London terminus is proposed as Euston - whereas the existing HS1 line terminates at St Pancras. Considering the massive rebuilding works recently completed at St Pancras why rebuild / extend Euston? Part of the justification for choosing the London-Birmingham route is because it is highly loaded. Years of building work at Euston will not only add millions to the project costs but will also impact existing passengers. And by not linking into St Pancras there will be no direct interchange with the existing European services. The detailed plans show that connecting tracks to St Pancras will be built - but not used for normal services!  It’s the same at the opposite end of the route, where building a new terminus at Birmingham will delay anyone wanting connections to the rest of the country. [If the line ever gets as far as Leeds then another new terminus will be built - a taxi ride away from the existing station].

One way of cutting through the complex arguments for and against is to follow the money trail. And the only certain benefit of the HS2 project is that it will provide around 2,000 million per annum for 20 years to the engineering companies involved. So it looks like the project go-ahead will be dependent upon the UK government finding ways of raising that sort of money. But neither the current nor the previous government have been able bring their excessive spending levels down to what we, the tax payers, can afford. So going ahead with the project would probably mean borrowing even more money that can never be repaid.

If, however, my predictions are totally wrong and the HS2 scheme is going to provide an efficient,  successful transport solution then there should be a queue of commercial investors ready to back it - and no government money will be needed. Either way tickets will probably cost 1 per mile (plus inflation) when the eventually go on sale.

Finally  - are we really planning to have railways as the transport system that can to take us to 2073 and beyond? Surely everyone will be using something more Buck Rogers by then!


tags: railway, hst, tgv, high speed, victorian, transport, big spender


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