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'