Archive of Postings for January 2013


Scotland’s Question

LogicallySpeakingIt seems that the 2014 referendum question is going be “Should Scotland be an independent country?”.

But the view from Grandad’s Vulcan correspondent is - “Logically speaking, Jim, this does not clarify the issue that the humans seek to address”. When asked why - we were told that “For independence to have meaning it must state from what. In this case translations of earlier statements indicate to me that it should state independence from the United Kingdom.”

Thanks - but we may need more help from our Vulcan thinker to cover the options for democratic expression on the issue of independence from the governments in Brussels and in Holyrood as well ...

tags: Scotland, vote, independence, logic, extra terrestrial



Important Matters of State

A new entry in the “you couldn’t make it up” category from the Scottish Parliament yesterday -

“Motion Number: S4M-05480 Lodged By: Tavish Scott Date Lodged: 25/01/2013
Title: Frankie’s Fish and Chips Wins Multiple Awards Motion
Text: That the Parliament congratulates Frankie’s Fish and Chips, Brae in Shetland, on winning multiple awards at the 2013 National Fish and Chip Awards in London on 24 January 2013 ...”

Politicians may not have a clue about the status of an independent Scotland within the EU or even of Shetland within Scotland - but they know their local fish and chip shops ... Muckle Haddock Supper on the house for Mr Scott? [Tavish Scott is the LibDem MSP for Shetland] Link

tags: government, time, waste, inefficiency, lack of direction, nice meal



Pointless Award for January ... Weather Predictions

Pointless3Plenty to choose from this month but today’s front page headline in the Daily Express meant that in the end there was a clear winner.

And so the DailyExpress1Daily Express weather prediction stories take this month’s Pointless Award for their total lack of contribution to anything that can be remotely considered as news let alone a credible weather forecast.

For those that think the British press have plenty of other pointless content - as this same front page illustrates - then there is every chance that they will soon win an award as well.

tags: pointless, sloppy, wrong, media, weather, prediction, forecast



Problem? What Problem ...

Today there has been much media comment about Sir David Attenborough’s recent interview. One that warns of the negative effects of population growth and how he thinks the problems will come home to roost over the next 50 years or so.

Most of the bloggers are generally supportive. And the online polls were running 80-20 in favour of Sir David’s views when I checked. But one or two commentators claim they know better. For example, in the Telegraph Harry Mount states “David Attenborough is wrong – the human race has never been so successful or healthy”.

WhatproblemNow I do know a little of David Attenborough’s work but have no idea who Harry Mount is. But Mount’s article linked to some books - so a quick check over at Amazon unearthed a number of his literary works. His first book being - My Brief Career: The Trials of a Young Lawyer. This is a book that comes with some interesting reader feedback - “In the end both the story he tells and the way he tells it demonstrate that Mount wasn't actually good enough to get the job he spent a year applying for, even if he'd wanted it. He ought to have realised that in advance, but instead he's chosen to blame the system and to whinge about how boring and unfair it all is. Most gallingly, he is either nave or arrogant enough to assume that he can generalise about an entire profession having apparently met about twenty of its members.” Amazon has used copies available for 1p.

So who would I believe if pushed? Sir David - or a lawyer turned author with no obvious knowledge of world population issues and who seems to have never lived or worked in the parts of the world where it matters? Now that’s a tough choice!

The only other anti-Attenborough blogger spotted was Tom Chivers. Tom is an assistant comment editor - writing “on science, culture and anything that crosses his mind”. Tom puts out the view that Sir David  “needn't worry: the future of humanity isn't as bleak as all that.”  But again matching Sir David against an assistant comment editor is unlikely to get a price at Ladbrokes.

Two writers coming out against Attenborough’s views - and both are paid by the Telegraph. Now I wonder if that’s the real story?

tags: population growth, scarce resources, clueless commentators




SnowRoofLooking idly out of the window on this calm Saturday morning there is just a few cm. of snow - see right. Nothing special in that - but yet there is something wrong.

The solar panels on the roof opposite won’t be working. And there is no wind so local wind turbines won’t be turning. There are no other local, natural power generators - yet we must have a high demand for power. So how can solar or wind be of any real help?

Logically today’s idle window gazing shows that we, as a nation, need to have enough electricity generating capacity to cope with high demands - but without relying on any help from solar or wind. In other words neither solar nor wind generation will reduce the number of power stations that we need. Now anyone in the green movement would know this already I guess - but for the average Grandad this simple logic has not been the issue. Instead many will simply be following the easy route of - generate some electricity, reduce the utility bills and get a subsidy.

Now, and increasingly in the future, the country will have more installed equipment for generating power than before carbon targets appeared - enough power stations for peak demand plus wind farms and domestic solar panels. This represents millions of pounds worth of extra equipment and maintenance bills. So who will pay for these extra up-front and on-going costs? It can only be us ... or our grand children.

More info - How much will a wind turbine cost? and How much will a domestic PV system cost?

tags: solar, wind, power, electricity, generation, turbine



Dangerous Assumption

Last month we published a note about a simple method for making decisions. It used the planned vote on independence for Scotland has an example. Here it asked the question - “What needs to happen if, for example, Shetland votes for independence but the rest of Scotland does not?” And assumed that in the real world this issue had already been resolved. But is is always dangerous to assume that the obvious is actually correct.

PoliticianReader feedback in the local press seems to confirm that the Shetland issue is far from resolved - or even seriously discussed. No one, it seems, has set out any clear plans for what will happen for each of the possible results of the 2014 referendum. And the local politicians are apparently avoiding taking a lead.

No checks as yet on the other possible breakaway regions but the chances are that the situation is the same. There is still time for the issue to be addressed - but it could turn out to be a real mess if it is left until after the vote!

tags: Shetland, decisions, Scotland, independence, 2014



Daily Rubbish

Express2013-01-10sHaving seen weather scare stories put out repeatedly by the Daily Express - often as front page headlines - I saved this one to see if it was anywhere near to the truth.

Now 5 days later the roads are still clear, the supermarkets are still stocked-up and Britain is far from crippled. Just like on all the previous days.

In fact looking out the window at a clear blue sky, the few flakes of snow that we do have seem rather pathetic. Today there may have even been enough sun today for the neighbour’s solar panels to generate some useable power. It’s +2 degrees C up here in the “frozen” North and the worst expected in the days ahead is a -6 C overnight.

Despite the fact that the Express has a spectacular failure rate in it’s predictions, this guy Nathan Rao (surely this must be a pseudonym to avoid being lynched) has more stories today about a “Killer Freeze” and how Britain’s record low temperature of -27.2C could be broken this week. But the bigger issue is why the editor lets this rubbish get out. Since every mad story makes the entire newspaper less credible. That’s more ammunition for press regulation then ...

tags: spin, incompetence, crying wolf, sloppy journalism



Heading for the Spin Bin

The difference between making the best of what you have and making up rubbish seems to have been lost. Some of the items seen at Grandad Towers are meant to be serious but often turn out to be just laughable.

A promotion piece for a new watch - “Superdry men's Scuba watch. A diving-inspired watch with brushed stainless steel case ..... Not suitable for scuba diving.” Not the best choice for a name then.

Promotional story for a new Pioneer blu-ray drive - “Improved usability with the new utility software .. new functions that allow users to see the disc and drive status. The audio/video disc loading and Quiet Drive Mode settings can be managed by this included software. Now users can use the drive more easily and smoothly.” But no software is included with the drive and it’s not available to download from Pioneer (or anyone else).

Man1Today the UK pensions system is in the news and we hear - “Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, wants to throw out the complications [in the pension system]. So the state second pension – a top-up for wealthier workers or those in final salary schemes – will be gone. There will also be no more need for pension credit, with its baffling claims system. The married couple’s allowance – which women claim based on a partner’s contributions – also disappears”. Instead a new flat-rate pension is proposed starting in 2017. No problems so far.

But wait .. the new pension scheme will only apply to new retirees. So instead of one system that is difficult to administer the Government will have two systems - one that is just as difficult to run as it is now plus a new one. And since anyone that retires in, say, 2016 can expect to live for 10, 20 or even 30+ years - the complicated old system will be around for another generation at least. Not much chance of the promised savings on admin costs for another 5, 6 or even 7 government terms.

tags: marketing, spin, government, inefficiency, waste



Blue Tuesday

Zark1984_300A presentation with the title “Come and see what we’re building” has set social networkers buzzing about what Zark might have for us all come next Tuesday [15-Jan-2013].

Some say it is a new phone, or a tablet or, at least, reworked page layouts. But others think it could be the charge-per-message idea that was recently tested. Here there was a charge for each message sent to another user. A charge that varied according to its importance - with a message to a friend at Christmas going for $1 but one for the top man’s inbox costing $100 a time!

But surely that one must be held back for a 1st April launch date. I just can’t wait for Tuesday ...

tags: social, media, make me rich, you can trust me



Comet ISON Heading Our Way

Comet1066It is predicted - by scientists not fortune tellers - that Comet ISON might be so bright as to be visible even in daylight during November and December 2013. But even smart scientists can get comet predictions wrong so it may turn out to be much less spectacular. Just as long as the scientists have correctly calculated the comet’s path - or else it will  become a source for one of those end of the world scare stories. Link

tags: found in space



Thinking Outside the Tank

There was probably a time, not long ago, when it was Governments and civil servants that thought through the best strategies for running the country. Now the corridors of power seem congested by hordes of special advisors - and gurus from that modern miracle; the “Think Tank”.

These tanks issue hundreds of reports each year aimed at changing or reinforcing public policy. Many, if not all, get reported in the press and picked up by politicians. This is hardly surprising when both groups have representatives that one could claim are double agents. For example one tank described as "the largest, but also the most influential think tank on the right" has its reports warmly welcomed by a journalist. Hardly surprising when the journalist is a blogger who works for the same think tank. Another tank with the tag “the largest and most influential policy research institute on the centre right” (similar but not the same!) gets its creation listed as my biggest achievement in politics - by a serving Government minister.

In the 21st century it seems that the tanks out gun the ministers. They have, or at least claim, plenty of political influence. They also look to have a very incestuous relationship with government. One that results in state policy being changed / influenced by unelected groups; funded by God knows who. But rather than demanding strict controls to curtail the power of these think tanks perhaps it would be more rewarding to advise your grand children to try for a PPE degree and then hang around in Westminster bars.

tags: democracy, lack of, lumberjack song



Feedback on ...

Imperial Units - This week Conservative MP Andrew Percy said he “was pleased the Government had backed his call to improve and extend teaching of imperial measurements” as part of curriculum changes due for September 2014. But Lord Howe, a former Conservative Cabinet Minister, called for an end to the deeply confusing shambles of using a mixture of metric and imperial measures. He warned “The only solution is to complete the changeover to metric as swiftly and as cleanly as possible”.

Pointless Pennies - The Royal Canadian Mint will stop distributing pennies (1 and 2 cent coins) from 4th February 2013.

tags: government, inefficiency, waste, money



Natural Selection ?

Windmill2_260Windmills have been around for hundreds of years. The ones that were used to grind cereals stopped being economic during the 19th century. But ones used to pump artesian water for stock are still around - even though many have seen better days. They are still used - and sold - because they use a free power source (the wind) that tops up a low-tech reserve (the water tank). The whole set-up incurs some up front capital but then requires little maintenance - and is automatic. They survive because they fulfil a useful purpose.

It would be nice to have a similar system for producing electricity. Hydroelectric power looks close to ideal - but only in those regions with enough rainfall and the right geography. So not where we live. Solar panels on the roof looked good a year or two ago but it will be years before their actual results can be checked against the promises.

However we still have the wind. Surely using wind power must be well understood by now. But exactly how cost effective wind turbines are - or can be - seems clouded by emotional arguments both for and against.

Now any idea for getting a useful return on Grandad’s modest savings would be very welcome - even if it only paid the gas bills. So investing in a scheme to build a local wind turbine looks attractive. And the Government seems keen to have lots more of them around. The scheme would raise local capital and then erect what ever commercial wind turbine was most suitable for the local conditions. Hopefully being funded by locals there would by less chance of any planning objections. Looking at the expansion in sites planned by commercial operators we should be able to get a good return on what ever it costs.

Time to try and find some real figures on costs and power generation potential - plus those all important subsidies. Here is a link to a community scheme that started in 1998. More soon ...

tags: wind, power, electricity, generation, turbine, free, co-operative



Radio Survey

LogoFM1Following up on last month’s posting, Grandad’s survey of home radio receivers is now complete.

The total number of devices that can receive radio broadcasts Chez Nous is 23. Of these 12 can receive broadcasts via FM and 14 can receive radio via a digital carrier (with some receiving both). So it looks like digital is just ahead of those old fashioned FM devices. But in terms of listening time the results are very different. Here the estimate is that at least 90% of all radio listening is done via FM; mainly in the lounge, home office or car. And of the remaining 10% most is done via broadband / wi-fi.

Also the survey showed that our newest radio receivers - LED TV (Freeview radio) and Android smartphone (FM + Internet radio via wi-fi) - did not add anything to the DAB take-up count. In fact the only DAB receiver here is a combined DAB/FM portable radio. This was one of those gadgets that failed to meet our expectations - since, at first, it could not get all the expected DAB stations and now it still only gets a DAB signal when balanced on a window sill.

How does this line-up with your own home radio experience?

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



Repeat after me ..

BBC Trust?Considering that the BBC raises over 3,500 million each year through the UK licence fee alone you would think that it should be able to budget for new content on its various TV channels most, if not all, of the time. But this Christmas / New Year break showed that repeats were, again, filling most of their schedules. In fact, there were so many repeats that listing them here would be just too boring.

Instead here are a couple of examples. Mary Poppins was on TV again over the holidays - just like it was at the same time in 2011 (twice) and in 2009. And to make sure we didn’t forget the story line between times it was shown around April in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Just how many times the BBC has repeated Mary Poppins over the years is hard to work out - but with the movie being 50 years old next year it must be lots.

Now it’s not just old movies that get repeated. For example, Tim Burton’s 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland was a welcome new addition - but does did it really need to be broadcast three times over a two week period? Home TV recording has been commonplace for decades - so time-shifting programmes is not an issue. No, the reason seems to be to bulk-up the BBC’s schedules.

Or putting it the other way round - the BBC looks to have too many channels and time slots to fill; so we have repeats instead. For example, the BBC’s Climbed Every Mountain programme, the story behind the Sound of Music movie, was broadcast last Saturday and then again the following Monday (twice). And it is scheduled to be broadcast again next week; plus it’s on the BBC iPlayer. The actual 1959 film starring Julie Andrews was also rolled out over the holidays - on New Year’s Eve; in the exact same time / day slot that it had in 2010!

Obviously the Beeb is a sitting target - but the BBC claims that it only exists to serve the British public. Every licence fee payer in the UK  (that’s everyone then) can comment. In fact, we are all frequently (but discretely) encouraged to provide feedback. To quote the BBC’s governing body “At the BBC Trust it is our responsibility to get the best out of the BBC for licence fee payers. We want your views on these services and your suggestions on how they can be improved.” Link

So this is Grandad’s small feedback contribution - but you will have to judge yourself if much notice is actually taken.

tags: BBC, TV, duplication, quality of service, too many hours to fill



The Year Ahead

Sitting here in the UK and looking back it certainly seems that 2012 was an exceptional year - even though all that rain was exceptional in the wrong way. Just through the law of averages 2013 cannot be expected to be as good. So predicting worse times ahead should be a fairly safe bet. Nothing dramatic but certainly worse than 2012.New Year 2013

However this has not stopped some voicing concerns that this century’s year 13 will be bad news for most of us. And the Dozonians have joined the groups issuing such warnings. Their regular spokesperson Denzil issued a new statement to warn that the year 2013 would be bad in general and the 13th days of January, March, July and November would be worse than average. However there was also a recommendation that could help. Setting your clocks to the AM / PM format, rather than the 24 hour option, would avoid the time ever going above 12:59 - so reducing your risk of calamity. [In reality 2012 was a terrible year for so many. This is just a brief break from a world full of awful news and tragic events]

tags: futurology, predictions, frivolous, escapism


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