Thursday, 30 December 2010

The dangers of Public Ownership.

Listening to reports of the water crisis in Northern Ireland, I was surprised that the local water company is still publicly owned. There may be a connection. A privately owned company would try harder to avoid annoying its customers.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

American Secrets

When confidential messages from ambassadors began to be leaked I was annoyed, fearing that diplomats would in future be afraid to write that they thought.

I still have that fear, but as American manoeuvres against Wiki-Leaks continue, I begin to feel that the Americans brought the trouble on themselves and are trying to blame others for their own negligence.

I've just read an account of Bradley Manning's imprisonment. That seems outrageously severe treatment for a junior employee who is hardly more than a boy and has not yet been tried for any crime. He is indeed a naughty boy who deserves to have someone put him over their knee and spank his bottom, but to give a young lad access to gigabytes of confidential information was asking for trouble. Most of the blame should be taken by the officials who decided on such lax security, and by the supreme official who appointed the others, President Obama.

What about a presidential resignation ?

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Criminals in Power

I notice that charges have been laid against the Prime Minister of Kosovo for gruesome crimes committed a decade or so ago.

Many criminals are in power, yet only a few are charged.

I eagerly await the charging of the leaders of Sinn Fein with atrocities committed by the IRA under their command.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Celebrating the trivial.

'Trivial' is derived from the trivium

Mediaeval education, following later Roman practice, centred on the seven liberal arts, which comprised three basic subjects, Grammar, Rhetoric and Dialectic, which were known as the trivium, and the four mathematical studies recommenced by Plato, Number, Geometry, Astronomy and Harmony, which were called the quadrivium.

'Dialectic' meant what we should call 'Logic', an important subject which most people find very difficult, so it's a pity that 'trivial' is used as a term of abuse. I may try to rehabilitate it.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Dealing with the American Government.

Confidential messages leaked from the US State Department include a request from the then British Prime Minister that the US Government abandon extradition proceedings against a computer hacker, Gary Mackinnon, whose misdeeds were perpetrated in Britain, which is not within the jurisdiction of the US Government. I gather the Prime Minister's request was refused.

I recommend hard bargaining.

We do a lot to help the Americans, most conspicuously by providing military support for their actions in Afghanistan - support that costs lives as well as a great deal of money. The Afghan campaign was to deal with an American problem when Afghanistan was sheltering terrorists who attacked targets in America. (Note that there was no international invasion of America when it sheltered Irish terrorist who tried to kill the entire British cabinet).

We should insist on getting something in return, indeed on getting lots of things in return.

Many people object to airport scanners that show them naked. America should exempt British passport holders from those.

We should also insist on security of communications with the US Government. As the Americans seem unable to secure electronic communication, I suggest that the President report daily to the British Embassy in Washington so that our ambassador can deliver the opinions of the British Government orally.

We should also tell them that if they want to be forgiven for publishing the request to abandon those extradition proceedings, they'd better do as they were asked and abandon them.

Of course they may decide that all that's to high a price to pay for British troops in Afghanistan. In that case we can withdraw them with immediate effect, both saving lives and reducing the budget deficit.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Loan Me a Lend

It's quite common to hear 'borrow' confused with 'lend', but I was surprised when this morning's Radio 4 News programme claimed that various countries had 'loaned' a vast sum to Ireland. Surely they are aware of the verb to lend.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Diminishing Bookshops

I used to enjoy browsing round bookshops, but find Leicester's are gradually fading away. Of two moderate sized second hand shops that I used to frequent in the 1990, one has closed completely, and the others has shrunk to a market stall open for just a few days each week.

Last time I entered the larger of our two branches of Waterstone's, I notices that a chunk of the ground floor is now devoted to cards, and the top floor is entirely given over to a café.

The University used to have two moderate sized bookshops, one for Maths and Science, and one for everything else. Both those have closed, to be replaced by one little cubby hole. When I looked around that to find what today's Maths Students are taught, I couldn't find a single text book on Analysis.


Sunday, 7 November 2010

A Strange Offer

A leaflet recently dropped through my letterbox advertised the services of an astrologer and palm reader, who ambitiously offered to solve 'any problems' 'within 18 days', and to predict 'the past - present - future'

I wonder what he'd charge for 'predicting' yesterday's weather ?

Friday, 5 November 2010

Politicians’ Promises

It is unwise for politicians to make definite promises, because circumstances can change rapidly. However they still do it quite frequently.

How binding should such promises be? Where lection promises are concerned, I distinguish winners from losers.

I don’t think losers should be bound at all. Their policies having been rejected by the electorate, they should be free to think of something else.

On the other hand a winner had better have a very good reason for breaking a promise, and would usually deserve a black mark even then.

It is still hard to apply those rules to Britain today.

Labour definitely lost the recent General election, so that leaves them free to change any policy they wish.

The Conservatives won, but only up to a point. As they had to form a coalition, they can be expected to make some concessions to their partners, and therefore not to carry our the full programme on which they fought the election.

The Liberal Democrats are in a particularly odd position. They lost the election badly, coming third and losing seats too. That would let them off all election promises, were it not that they have joined the government. As it is, joining a coalition and making the necessary compromises is arguably just the sort of policy revision one expects of a loser. They can therefore be expected to obtain changes to some Government policies that go some way towards meeting some of their promises, but on matters where they disagree with the Conservatives it would be quite unreasonable to expect them to get all or even most of their policies implemented.

Currently being debated is the Liberal Democrats’ election promise to abolish university tuition fees. The fees were introduced by a Labour Government, and supported by the Conservatives. The proposal to increase them came from an enquiry set up by the recently departed Labour government, so it is not a matter on which Liberal Democrats are likely to be able to make much difference. I forgive them for breaking that promise.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

"Mummy is in Heaven, Living with the Angels"

I noticed that headline on the front page of a newspaper someone was reading on the bus today.

I don't know anything else about the circumstances, but the headlined comment is the sort of thing some people might say in the hope of reassuring children whose mother has died.

How reassuring would it be ?

A thoughtful child might wonder why its mother should be living it up (or should I say 'dying it up') in a celestial holiday camp, instead of looking after her children. To accuse her of such negligence is close to libel.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

"Adequate is not Enough"

I heard that absurd assertion this morning in a Radio Four discussion of police forces.

I assume it arises from some official definition of 'adequate' as roughly equivalent to 'In no respect so appallingly bad as to justify it's being shut down immediately'

That is not what I mean by 'adequate'.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Another Fiddle with Pensions

I'm suspicious of the Government's new plans for Old Age Pensions.

A substantial increase in the basic pensions is said by ministers to be cost free.

What I suspect is to happen is that the additional pension payments based on National Insurance Contributions will be abolished. Under the present system, people who contract into the state system can get a state pension around double the basic pension. I suspect those extra pension payments will be abolished, leaving many people considerably worse off.

Friday, 15 October 2010

The Strange Diction of Milliband Minor

The Leader of the Opposition speaks oddly. Not only does he lisp and sound as if he had a permanent cold, but there is about him the air of a truculent schoolboy, determined to assert himself, but unsure how to do it.

I fear he's a mistake.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Leicester Closed for a Riot

I had to forgo my usual city centre shopping today, because much of the City centre was closed so that an organisation called the 'EDL' could hold a so-called 'demonstration', and another group called 'The Anti-Fascist League' could have what they called a 'counter-demonstration.

I'm puzzled by the supposed right to 'demonstrate' in the street.

I consider the primary function of roads is to provide people with a way of getting around, and in the case of City centre roads, to get to shops.

People wishing to have a meeting could rent a hall, and do it there.

It is bad enough to allow one group of people to obstruct access to the shopping centre, but to allow another to hold a rival gathering nearby verges on lunacy. If there must be demonstration and counter demonstration in the street, let them be on different days.

In my teens I enjoyed History, and one of my heroes was Napoleon, because he got his troops to fire on the Paris mob. We may have something to learn from him.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Quantising Coffee.

It always strikes me as odd when someone asks for 'a coffee'

It would usually suffice to ask just for coffee, and if quantity needs to be specified one needs units, as in 'a pot of coffee', or 'a large cup of coffee'.

Coffee is a fluid, to be measured not counted, unless we invoke the quantum theory according to which everything may be counted provided the quantities are small enough.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

A Triumph for Oxford

In the recent election for leader of the Labour Party, Oxford graduates took the first three places, leaving the fourth and fifth places for Cambridge graduates.

Each of the two largest parties is now led by an Oxford man, leaving Cambridge with just the leadership of the Liberal Democrats.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Muddle for Free

Sometimes something may be free; when it is we get it for nothing, but we do not get it for free.

Is there some lust for circumlocution that impels some people to insert redundant words ?

Monday, 20 September 2010

Tangled Black Leads

I wish that fewer computer accessories had black leads. I'm often confused by the tangle on my desk.

Take the seven colours Newton saw in the rainbow, add black, brown and grey, and we get ten - I have a special job for white.

Leads connecting something to the computer could be in one of the ten colours, and the power lead for each device could use alternate stripes of the device's colour and white.

Useful categories could include the computer itself, the monitor, the mouse, the keyboard, the cable modem and network cables, external memory devices (including USB hubs), loudspeakers, microphones, printers and scanners are often combined and could share a colour, and that leaves one colour spare for other things. If desperate we could add pink as an eleventh colour.

It is too much to hope for such order, but it would help if manufacturers would just choose a colour at random from a large palette for each type of device they make.

Monday, 13 September 2010

One Hundred Years of Relativity.

Browsing the library today I spotted a book with that title, and reflected that the Theory of Relativity has now been around for rather more than 100 years, yet I suspect it has yet to appear in school courses in Physics. I wish the writers of syllabuses would try harder to keep up.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Elastic Theology

Radio 4 recently broadcast an interview with some A Level students at a Catholic school. One boy said:

"The thing about being a Catholic is you can pick and choose what things you believe, provided you worship God"

I hope he gets a chance to tell the Pope that!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Casket or Coffin

Recently I came a across a reference to someone carrying the casket at a funeral.

'Casket' made me visualise a dainty little box suitable for storing cuff-links or rings. Do people usually carry the jewellery of the deceased in state at a funeral? Then I thought the casket might contain the ashes, but it's unusual to have the cremation before the funeral.

I suppose one could bury a pet hamster in a casket, but a human needs more space. I hope I get a coffin!!!

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Changing Directory in a Windows Command Box

I've found that with a Vista machine the cd command in a command box won't change directory from one drive to another, so If I open a command box on Drive C - where the command prompt in accessories always opens it, I can't get to any folder on drive D, though cd D:\ does not produce an error signal. It does provoke an error signal if I try to move to a non-existent folder on drive D, but not if I try to move to a folder that is there, so there seems to be a sort of unconscious awareness of drive D

The only way I can open a command box that can get at Drive D is to go to drive D and run a batch file from there, and then that command box can't (consciously?) see Drive C.

I wonder what proportion of Windows users know what a batch file is ?

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Unalarming Alarms

Today I made one of my rare visits to the Library - these days it seems to have very few books that I want to read. I borrowed two not preposterously out of date books about JavaScript and Perl.

As soon as I went into a shop, the shoplifter alarm went off, and it did so again as I left. I remembered that that often happens when one takes library books into a shop. No one appeared to take any interest in the alarm; I suppose they are used to false alarms.

I wonder why they bother with the alarm systems.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Jam and Cable Modems

I've just looked at the last three months statistics for this blog and find that the most popular subject was making jam with brown sugar, and the runner up was cable modems.

About 13% of 'hits' were on the page about jam making, and 8% were one one or the other of the pages about cable modems.

I'm not sure what, if anything, to make of that, so I'll leave it my readers to make suggestions.

Monday, 23 August 2010


A week or so ago I saw something most unusual - a cyclist using a cycle path.

I don't mean that cyclists shun cycle paths where they are available, just that the roads with cycle paths are not the ones cyclists normally use.

When I see cyclists it is usually just after a near miss, when they cycle past me on the pavement, having provided no audible signal of their approach. Can't cyclists use bells ? or don't today's cycles have them ?

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Fruit on the Isaac Newton tree.

After waiting for 15 years, I have at last a moderate crop of fruit on my Isaac Newton tree.

The variety is actually Flower of Kent, but the tree itself is a clone of the one underneath which Isaac Newton is said to have been inspired to hypothesise universal gravitation. So far as I know Flower of Kent is only grown by people wanting a clone of Newton's famous tree.

I have cooked a few apples that fell off and approve the flavour, very fruity and even sharper than Bramley. They cook well to a dense pulp, which was delicious when sweetened with soft brown sugar.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

A Treacherous Percentage

I try to avoid television advertisements, devoting advertising breaks to calls of nature and minor domestic tasks, but every so often I catch something about some concoction that is supposed to 'kill 99.9% of germs'.

I once read that bacteria can reproduce every half hour. At that rate of reproduction, a colony of bacteria diminished by 99.9% would be restored to its original strength in only five hours. The statistically impressive slaughter may amount to less than naive users might hope.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Action or Inaction

In the course of a recent broadcast discussion of a new curriculum for Scottish schools, someone I took to be a representative of a teachers' union mentioned a possibility of what he called 'industrial action'. I think he meant a strike.

Schools are not industrial, and striking consists of abstaining from work, so 'non-industrial inaction' would be a much better term.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Our Versatile Post Office

Twice recently I've had letters from the Post Office asking me to let it arrange life insurance for me.

The Post Office is an organisation owned by the government, and originally set up by past governments which gave it a monopoly of postal services in the hope of making it easier for government officials to spy on our mail. The Post Office still retains a monopoly on delivering mail cheaply.

Whatever is it doing dabbling in the Insurance market? I doubt if it has any relevant expertise.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Mr. S. Hughes

As he's Vice-Chairman of the Liberal Democrat Party, I'm surprised how luke-warm he sounds when discussing the coalition.

I've long had reservations about Hughes. There is a humourless moral earnestness about him, and there is something strange about a gay man being swept into parliament on a wave of homophobia, even though he did not create it.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Mr. Blair's Generosity

I can't resist the temptation to contribute to the speculation about Mr. Blair's donation of his royalties to The British Legion.

Most commentators seem to have overlooked the possibility that he cares about the plight of disabled ex-servicemen, but there might still be other thoughts at the back of his mind.

If I were in his position I should expect my donation to set a precedent which might make it hard for other writers of memoirs to keep their royalties, and I gather that Mr. G. Brown's memoirs are on the way. How amusing if Brown wanted to keep his royalties but felt constrained to give them away.

Monday, 16 August 2010

The Unpleasantly Tribal Mr. Burnham

Mr. A Burnham, a lagging candidate for the Labour Leadership, has just denounced Mr. A. Milburn for agreeing to advise the Government on social mobility. His proffered reason seemed to be on the lines 'we are the Labour gang, so we don't talk to people in other gangs."

As the Labour party led the attack on the grammar schools which used to be one of the principal engines of social mobility, it is understandable that party members should be sensitive about social mobility, but I wish they could expiate their guilt less destructively.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

A Confession from a Variably Energetic Blogger.

During the last year or so I've noticed that I seem to alternate between extreme laziness and at least moderate activity.

For a day or two, apart from a little reading which I rarely neglect, I'll do little but potter around the web, then there'll be a period when I blog, bring my web site up to date, garden and make jam. Then I lapse back into idleness.

That explains why contributions to this blog come in clusters.

Monday, 9 August 2010

David Cameron

Ever since he became Conservative leader I've felt uneasy about Cameron.

As opposition leader he seemed unnecessarily strident. When he shouted at the then prime minister in the house of commons, I sometimes felt for Gordon Brown a sympathy that I suspect Brown did not deserve. I should have liked more humour and subtlety, and less self righteous ranting.

Recently I've detected a worrying impulsiveness. His remark about Pakistan's hospitality to terrorists may have been carefully calculated as part of some cunning plan, but it sounded as if it just popped out, and I see no excuse for his recent declaration that no one should even examine the merits of free milk for nursery school children. Demanding cuts, and then objecting when people discuss the possibilities is absurd.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Surprised by a Network

Ever since I bought a new PC last year I've been plucking up courage to network it to my laptop. I even bought a special cable. Yet I held back, fearing that something I did to the IP settings would disable Internet access.

Then I recalled that people say that wireless router automatically sets up a network, so I created on each computer a folder that is shared, and discovered that each computer could see the other computer's folder.

There's only one shared folder on each computer. I use them only for transferring files from one machine to the other, so most of the time both are empty, because as soon as I put something in to the special folder on one machine, I remove it into the bowels of the other machine. Thus any miscreant who somehow penetrated the network would probably see just two empty folder, and if they did find anything it would probably just be a revised chapter of my Philosophy notes, which are available to all on my website.

No longer need I swap flash drives every time I want to move a file from one machine to the other.

I love it when an apparent problem just dissolves.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

A Sign of Rising Inflation

The Government has just stopped selling Index Linked Savings Certificates. That suggests politicians may expect inflation to rise. Indeed they may plan for high inflation as a way of reducing the National Debt.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Megabyte Megalomaniacs

Twice recently I've received by email huge files, containing very little information.

Both were posters in jpeg format

Posters usually contain sufficiently few colours to permit storage in gif format, which will not corrupt text. However any picture format is poor for material containing text.

One of the emails suggested I print the poster. As it was in graphics format that would have involved a vast consumption of ink to print the background colour.

I suppose the offenders think they are being clever, but they strike me as pathetic, silly and inconsiderate.

I wish that, if people must make posters, they would just put them on a website, preferably as html files, and give people a link.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The Ill-managed Demise of Mr. Raoul Moat

Mr. Moat was armed, had already shot three people, and threatened to shoot more. After a search that lasted nearly a week, armed Police cornered him.

They then spent about six hours trying to persuade him to give himself up, providing him with food and drink to fortify him for a prolonged stalemate, thus increasing the Police overtime. Finally they shot him with a new sort of taser, not yet approved for use, and he shot himself with a more serious weapon.

Such time wasting could be avoided if, as soon as they have a fugitive surrounded, the police said 'You have 30 seconds to surrender, and then we shoot'. Feeding the offender is ridiculous, unless the food contains a sleeping drug.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Choose your Strawberry Seller carefully.

In the market yesterday I bought four 400g punnets of strawberries for a total of £2-00 - I plan to make jam. A little later I noticed that Sainsbury had a special offer - 400g punnets of strawberries reduced from £3-99 to £1-99, so still almost four times as expensive as those in the market.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Hidden Numbers

I recently bought a new washing machine. When I decided to activate the manufacturer's five year parts guarantee I needed the serial number, which is hidden away on the back of the machine, and so accessible only with great effort.

That reminded me of the time I needed a spare part for my cooker, and found that the model number and serial number, while on the front, were at the very bottom, so the only way I could read them was to lie flat on the kitchen floor and peer through a magnifying glass.

Does anyone check such things before equipment is put on sale ?

Monday, 21 June 2010

Keynes as Prophet

It is strange that people should still cite Keynes as an authority, 65 years after his death and 74 years after the publication of his General Theory.

Indeed, to anyone who considers Economics to be some sort of science, it should seem odd that its practitioners need to appeal to any prophet at all.

Scientific theories rest on their ability to survive  tests and provide a coherent account of phenomena. There is a dynamic interplay between theory and experience. We need not look back at observations made seventy years ago, because a useful theory will be used and tested all the time.

Recent appeals to Keynes supposed authority have not even been accurate.

Keynes famously advocated government deficits as a remedy for economic recessions, and opposed attempts to balance budgets during the recession of the 1930’s. He has recently been cited by people who oppose a reduction in our budget deficit. Yet there is this time no proposal to balance the budget.

The appeal of Keynes is his support for wishful thinking. Reduction in government expenditure and increases in taxes are disagreeable, so it is pleasant to have an ideology that tells us we needn’t bother. People who are usually hostile to what they call laissez faire seem willing to make an exception for the belief that the budget deficit will sort itself out without our doing much about it.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Demonstrations and Riots

The difference is of degree rather than kind, and it is easy for one to turn into the other.

There is something odd about a crowd of supposedly peaceful people marching on a line of soldiers or police. Do they really expect to be allowed through, do they intend to fight their way through, or are they just pretending ?

I have reservations about applying ‘peaceful’ to any large gathering of people that blocks streets or obstructs access to public buildings. Even if no force is actually used, force is implicit in such demonstrations, because such demonstrators are creating a physical obstacle to other people’s access.

Such demonstrations are justifiable only as part of an attempt to remove the government, or to change government policy, by non constitutional means. That is only justifiable if there are no constitutional means for achieving the same ends because the government is a tyranny.

Police and troops defending a constitutional government against coercion by a large group of people are justified in firing, whether or not members of the crowd fire first.

Soldiers defending a tyranny are likely to fire, because that is what the servants of  tyrannies do.

In neither case is it sensible to be shocked or outraged by the event. It is indeed reasonable to be outraged by the existence of a tyranny, but having recognised it for what it is, there seems little room for further indignation because it behaves as we should expect.

Those observations were prompted by the recent discussion of the so called ‘Bloody Sunday’ shootings of 1972.

It appears that soldiers fired without being given orders to do so. That is a serious failure of discipline. The deaths seem to have been counter productive, that is a good reason for the soldiers having not been ordered to fire. Therefore the soldiers should not have fired. However that does not show that those who died were innocent victims. The good reason for not shooting them is that their deaths were very inconvenient. The fuss and bother on the part of friends and families is quite unjustified.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Isaac Newton Apples at last

My Isaac Newton tree, a specially grafted clone of the tree that grew in the garden of Woolsthorpe Rectory in Newton's day, has at last set fruit.

I've had the tree for at least 15 years and it didn't flower at all until two years ago, and then only sparsely, but this year there were lots of flowers, and today I spotted several tiny apples.

Incidentally the variety is Flower of Kent, though I think the only ones grown are the clones of the Woolsthorpe tree.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Economies in Education

I’m sorry the government has, as they put it, ‘ring fenced’ expenditure on schools, because there is a great deal of waste there. The waste is trying to teach bored and inattentive children, whose disruptive behaviour impedes the learning of others.

As a remedy I propose lowering the school leaving age to 13. By that age most children have learnt to read and write, and any who haven’t could be sent to special remedial literacy classes, with the incentive of being allowed to leave school only when they reach some minimum standard.

I do not believe many children would leave school at 13; the principal benefit of their departure would be an improvement in the achievements of those still at school.

Child benefit should not be paid for early leavers who would therefore need an occupation. I suggest domestic service. Food, clothes, accommodation and a little pocket money would be sufficient remuneration. To keep them out of mischief they could work long hours. I propose legislation to abolish the minimum wage and to set a maximum working week (for children) of 65 hours, which would allow a 10 hour day with one half day off per week. By the end of a day’s work they should be too tired to do much more than watch an hour of television before staggering off to bed.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Pricing a Duchess

The recent attempt by the Duchess of York to sell access to her former husband made me wish she’d left the Duke out of it and just sold herself.

True, the physical attributes that once captivated a young prince are no longer what they were, but I imagine she is still not entirely unattractive to those who like that sort of thing.

The considerably less youthful Patricia Hewitt recently put herself on the market at £3000 per day on the strength of being a Privy Councillor. A duchess should be able to beat that, even if her customers  only pay for the pleasure of boasting about it afterwards.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

A Public Spirited Proposal

A substantial proportion of Government expenditure consists in paying unfunded index linked pensions to retired employees of central and local government.

As a recipient of such a pension I sometimes feel just a little guilty.

I therefore propose a 10% cut in all such pensions, accompanied by a doubling of the pension contributions paid by all working in jobs that entitle them to such pensions.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

A new way of making money.

I've just noticed a story about people being paid to give up smoking.

What are the chances of my being paid for not taking up smoking ?

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Electoral Statistics

The first General Election in my lifetime was in 1945. I was nearly seven years old at the time and so remember it well, though at the time I didn’t understand many of the details.

I remember being told that our bit of Leicester was part of the Melton constituency and that our MP was Anthony Nutting. I also remember that Winston Churchill, at the time considered that national saviour, was defeated as Prime Minister in favour of someone I‘d never heard of, but that Churchill was still a member of Parliament.

I later discovered that 1945 was a spectacular defeat for the Conservatives, who received only 39.7% of the total vote. A humiliation indeed !!

In the recent General Election the Conservatives won, or at least came nearer to winning than anyone else. They received 36.2 % of the total vote, so they’ve lost another 3.5% in the 65 years since 1945, yet they still seem to feel hard done by because they have no overall majority in the Commons. That is because they compare this election with the last, in which 35.3% of the vote gave Labour a working majority.

Funny things, British General Elections.

(I’ve taken percentages from the BBC web site. Wikipedia gives different figures but their percentages for 1945 don’t add up to 100. I wonder if they have a well paid vacancy for a statistical consultant ?)

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Ugly Agitators

From time to time one comes upon groups of people waving placards in the street, shouting slogans, distributing leaflets, or manning little stalls selling propaganda. It has often struck me how ugly they are.

It's partly the expressions on their faces, angry scowls and staring eyes that look as if they could never twinkle, but it's more than that.

Their faces would be ugly whatever expression they assumed. If they tried to smile, all they'd be able to manage would be a rictus grin.

Perhaps evolutionary psychologists will offer an explanation one day, but whatever the explanation, the noisily self righteous are an ugly lot.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Still Bored by Dr. Who

I hoped this year's Dr. Who might be better than the last round, but not so

Instead of a mystery building up slowly and being unravelled step by step, we are told who the enemies are at the beginning, and most of the rest is fighting.

I may not watch any more.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Vain Repetition

I missed the first two televised debates between the leaders of the three main parties, so when I watched last night's debate it was my  first experience of such a performance.

Although by no means riveted, I managed to stop my mind wandering for more than the odd minute or two during the debate itself, but was infuriated when the BBC news broadcast immediately following the debate consisted mainly of extracts from that debate.  Even though the clips were accompanied by an electronic measure of audience reaction called 'the worm', I had to turn off the news.

This worm had turned (off) !!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

It's Getting Harder to Navigate Google

At one time every page in Google had a link to my Google Accounts page. Now there is none, making it very hard to get from one Google facility to another. I seem to have the choice of lots of 'back' arrows, or logging out and logging in again.


Monday, 26 April 2010

Abolish the Hectare

A few decades ago Great Britain changed its system of measurement to conform to European standards. I approved of that change, but think it should have been accompanied by a change in European measurements to make them conform to the standards of scientific measurement.

There is a general rule that the ratio between named units for the same quantity should be powers of a thousand.

Thus units of distance are ...micrometeres, millimetres, metres, kilometres..,

The units of area should therefore be square metres, thousands of square metres, square kilometres. Instead of those units people still use ares (1 are = 100 square metres), and hectares (1 hectare = 100 ares = 10 000 square metres).

Abolish those absurd units at once !!!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Tediously Long Addresses

These days I rarely use the post, and when I do it is often to enclose a payment in a pre-addressed envelope, but on the rare occasions I need to write an address on an envelope I’m often irritated by its length.

How long need addresses be?

The total population of the world is less than 7 billion = 7*109

233 > 8*109 , so by using 33 digit binary numbers it would be possible to give everyone a unique identifier, and have lots of numbers left over. 5 bytes = 40 bits so five character identifiers should be enough with lots to spare.

Using a little more space we could include some information, like date of birth, gender and country of origin.

Suppose we allocate a unique code to every day in a thousand year period starting with 1st January 1800 (it might make record keeping easier to have a way of referring to people‘s ancestors). There would be about 365 250 days in such an interval. As 219 > 500 000, 19 bits would suffice.

I believe there are about 170 countries in the world, 28 = 256, so 8 bits would suffice for country, 3 bits would suffice for gender even allowing for ambiguous cases and changes of gender.

Annual births for the whole world total around 1.4*108, so daily births must be around 400 000. Since 220 > 1000 000, 20 bits should be ample to distinguish people born in the same country on the same day.

Unique identifiers would therefore need at most 20 + 19 + 8 + 3 = 50 bits.

7 bytes contain 56 bits and should be more than ample to include identifiers for every person, every building, and every institution on the planet.

Alternatively consider every postal package to be addressed to a particular place on the earth’s surface.

The surface area of the earth, including the surface of the oceans, is about 5*1014 square metres, and 250 > 1015 so providing a unique identifier for each metre square would require no more than 50 bits; 7 bytes would be plenty, even allowing for different addresses for different floors of the same building. I assume that the density of occupation of a building does not exceed one person per square metre.

So two quite different approaches both suggest 7 bytes as ample for addresses.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Let's Meet Down Without!

In previous blogs where I've deplored the systematic wasting of words, I've considered well established usages such as those irritating superfluous 'do's'

'Meet up with' on the other hand, appeared quite recently, probably within the last twenty years and certainly in my lifetime.

Some people are very clumsy with words, so it is not surprising that someone somewhere should have said 'meet up with', but I'm puzzled that so many others should have adopted such an abomination instead of recoiling in horror.

Are they trying to say something that is not said by 'meet'?

To say 'meet up' suggests that one is excluding meeting in other directions. What would it be like to meet down, or sideways, and if those are possible, why does no-one do them ? What possibility is 'with' supposed to exclude ?

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

There is No Such Thing as a Hung Parliament

I assume 'hung Parliament' was inspired by 'hung jury', referring to a jury unable to reach a verdict because there is neither a majority for conviction, nor a majority for aquittal.

I do not believe the House of Commons would ever be unable to reach a decision because, in the event of a tied vote, the chairman (the Speaker or a deputy) would have a casting vote.

People use the offending phrase to refer to the possibility that there might be no single party with a majority, which is quite another matter. The absence of a single majority would not prevent decisions being made. Coalition governments are possible, and minority governments can survive for quite a while if they are careful. On the other hand even a nominal parliamentary majority does not prevent the government being defeated from time to time.

However, even when a government does not get its own way, that is never the result of a tied vote. Parliament is never 'hung'

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The Clarity of Standard Form

Discussions of very large, or very small, magnitudes are obscured by a plethora of prefixes.

I've never had difficulty with mega, or micro, and as computer storage capacities have expanded I've gradually become accustoned first to 'giga' and then to 'tera' but how many readers can confidently, without looking them up, identify 'femto', 'exa', 'peta' or 'atto' ? Incidentally, the last letter of each may be a clue.

None of those is needed. We can use Standard Index Form, or 'Standard Form' for those who like to save words.
Instead of saying the length of a year is 31 megaseconds, say 3.1*107. Instead of longing for a hard drive with capacity 4 exabytes, measure your aspirations by 4*1018

Saturday, 20 March 2010

A Jolly Song

Priests are professional pontificaters, and especially like criticizing other people's sexual behaviour, which makes it especially irritating when they cover up the indiscretions of their colleagues.

I quite like this protest song.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Convincing or Persuading

Some people speak as if they were unaware of the difference, claiming to convince people to do things.

One may convince someone that something is the case, but one cannot connvince anyone to do anything. Getting someone to do something is persuasion.

Conviction is a state of belief and to convince someone of something is to induce in them a firm belief in whatever it is.

On the other hand, persuasion is a process of getting someone to agree to do something.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

One Folly Leads To Another

Recent news reports tell of several people foolishly eating plant food and subsequently needing medical attention. Two young men died.

That has provoked calls for a ban on sales of the plant food in question.

It saddens me that many people are stupid enough to suppose that unfortunate events can be prevented by legislation. How long will it be before someone tries to pass a law specifying that all things must be bright and beautiful ?

It is risky to eat, drink, or inhale anything not normally used for the purpose, and the wise check carefully before doing so. Now and again foolhardy people take a risk, and sometimes some of them will suffer unpleasant consequences. When they do, their fate will be a useful lesson to the rest of us.

Legislation cannot prevent stupidity though it may guide it into different channels.

The particular stupidity that has provoked this comment would be less likely if we had less legislation. The foolish youths who died had been seeking what is called a ‘legal high’, and may well have done so because more popular ‘highs’ are not legal. Just legalise marihuana, and few would resort to plant food.

Friday, 12 March 2010

A Slim Chance of Immortality ?

When I read the free newspaper on the bus this morning, I noticed a remarkable claim for the contraceptive pill:
"Women who take the contraceptive are 12% less likely to die compared with those who have never taken it."

Assuming that all non users of the pill eventually die,  the probability of death in their case is 1.

That gives the probability of a pill taker dying as 0.88, with probability of immortality 0.12

Friday, 26 February 2010

Public Key Encryption

I now understand the process, and realise it is very simple.

Several years ago I was baffled by the turgid prose of a document about 100 pages long that failed to explain it.

Yesterday I heard a brief and lucid explanation by a fellow member of the Leicester U3A Science and Technology group.

His text is available for inspection on the group web site.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Initiative Overload

I heard that wonderful phrase for the first time this morning, in the Radio Four news programme.

It was offered as an explanation of disappointingly slow improvements in educational standards, and well sums up some of my own experiences as a college lecturer.

I recall time that might have been used to prepare for classes or mark students' work, being used instead preparing for and attending meetings from which nothing of significance ever emerged.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Mincemeat Pudding

I made my own mincemeat for last Christmas and afterwards found I had a surplus, so I tried this odd recipe from an old cookery book.

1 lb mincemeat
1/2 pint stout
1 beaten egg
4 tablespoonfuls  flour
4 tablespoonfuls breadcrumbs

Mix stout, mincemeat and egg in a bowl.

Then gradually sir in the flour, followed by the breadcrumbs - I used a simple non-rotary whisk.

That produces a brown liquid of unappetising appearance. Don't be discouraged. Pour it into a buttered basin, then steam for 2 1/2 hours. I put it in a colander over a saucepan of boiling water, using my largest saucepan, and putting the lid on.

The pudding solidifies, but has quite a soft texture. It tastes a little like Christmas pudding, but is much lighter and would would make a good substitute for that.

I ate mine with custard made with custard powder, but imaginative readers will be able to think of alternatives.

I used Guinness the stringency of which balanced the sweetness of the mincemeat. With a sweeter stout the pudding would have been too sweet.

Monday, 15 February 2010

The Alternative Vote

Recent discussion of of various ways of voting has missed one point that I consider important: How much information can voters supply when they vote.

Under the prevailing system where we vote for just one candidate the number of valid ways of filling in a ballot paper equals the number of candidates.

Using the Alternative vote, where one may order as many candidates as one chooses, the number of valid submissions equals the factorial of the number of candidates.

So if there are 4 candidates for a seat, the present system allows to say one of just 4 things, whereas the Alternative vote would allow any of 24.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Crying Wolf

Iran's nuclear fuel programme and the genesis of the Iraq war are two topics that are never out of the news for long.

There is a link.

Possibly there will come a time when we shall need to make war on Iran, but if there is we'll never be quite sure that the politicians who tell us so are telling the truth.

They cried wolf over Iraq, so for all we know they may do so again.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

A Monthly Anniversary

In this morning's Radio 4 news programme, a commentator said that today is the 'monthly anniversary' of the Haiti earthquake.

I wonder how they recruit the people who compose such stuff.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

A Gastronomic Discovery

At last I know what gefilte fish is. It's a doughnut shaped fried fishcake.

I made the discovery at this afternoon's meeting of the Leicester U3A, which heard a talk on Jewish cookery.

After the talk we were able to taste samples of some of the dishes. I found the gefilte fish quite palatable, but a little too sweet for my taste.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Signs of Spring

At last the days are getting longer!

I find that short days make me very lazy, so that I potter about on my computer doing nothing in particular. However today I managed to do something in particular. More than a month late I made the new year's revisions to my website !!

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Verbs Transitive and Intransitive

It makes me cringe when restaurant waiters  say ‘Enjoy!’ with no reference to the object, though when I feel charitable I reflect that they may just have been abbreviating ’Enjoy your meal!’

However there is no charitable interpretation of injunctions such as  ’X is hurting’ said by people who mean that X is suffering.

I recently heard President Obama say that he knew people were hurting. 'Whom are they hurting, and why?' I should have liked to ask him. I suspect he wouldn’t have understood the question.

Thursday, 28 January 2010


A lawyer pleading for leniency for a 14 year old rapist urged that he was 'very immature'.

I recall that when I was at Cambridge someone, I'm not sure whether it was Noel Annan or Richard Braithwaite, used to say "When I say someone is immature, I just mean his testicles have not descended".

In that sense the word can hardly apply to a rapist.

For some reminiscences about Cambridge dons of the late 1950's see this page of my web site.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Programmers' Liability

One of today's news items concerned a number of errors in tax codes fllowing the introduction of new software.

We often hear of computer systems malfunctioning at great cost. I wonder if it might help if third parties were allowed to sue those who create the systems.

Those who produce commercial software could be treated in the same way.

I suggest  that both those who produce software for sale, and those who use it, should be liable for its malfunction. That would stimulate the production and use of open source software, where users can legally correct any errors they detect.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Make Your Jam with Brown Sugar

For many years I've used brown sugar in my marmalade, but only very recently did I think of using it for jam too.

I spotted apricots in the market at 2 pounds for 1 pound sterling. So I bought two pounds and made them into jam, using light moist brown sugar. The flavour is subtly richer than that of jam made with white sugar.

Incidentally, don't use dark brown sugar. I once used that for marmalade and found the flavour of treacle overpowering.

Many who write cookery books have not realised that when one makes jam with fruit with stones, there is no need to stone the fruit before cooking. Once the fruit is cooked and the sugar has been added the stones will float and can be removed while one removes the scum and waits for the jam to reach its setting point.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Annual Letters

A few weeks ago I posted on my website a Christmas card and an annual letter, emailing links to various of my friends and acquaintance.

There were nearly 50 visits to the Christmas card, but only 2 to the annual letter.

That suggests that few were sufficiently interested in an annual letter to click a mouse button to see one. I wonder how many of the letters other people print and send by post are read attentively to the very end.

It does not follow that annual letters are useless. I found that writing mine helped me form a mental picture of my year, so I might write another at the end of this year, but if I do I shall write for my own benefit, not for anyone else's.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

An easily made pudding

(1) Take 500 grams of mixed dried fruit, often sold as dried fruit salad and consisting of prunes, apricots pears and possibly apples, and put it in a saucepan.

(2) Add a lemon cut into 4 or 5 thick slices, with one clove stuck in each slice

(3) Sprinkle over the fruit a quarter of a teaspoon full of ground cinnamon and 5 rounded dessertspoonfuls of brown suger.

(4) Add a whole bottle of red wine.

(5) Heat gently till it boils - when I did it that took about half an hour. Keep it simmering gently, with the lid on, for about an hour, then leave to cool.

Eat either on its own, or with ice cream, cream or yoghurt.

The slices of lemon are also edible, be if you do eat one, remove the clove first.

Many years ago I used to do something on those lines with just prunes. I was reminded of it when someone mentioned using dried fruit salad , and when I tried it I found I liked that even more.