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June 28, 2008

The End

I’ve finally come to the end of my time at Warwick. Six years at two modules a year to get a 2ii.

I suppose my “Student Record of Achievement” sums it up:
Student Record of Achievement

Those first year marks in Mathematics and Statistics show why, when I was nineteen, I took Physics and Computer Science as a degree course.

Those first year marks in Sociological Imagination & Investigation, together with those third year marks in Migration and Identity perhaps illustrate that us old buffers can have problems with exams. In the latter case I achieved a first in the essay but only just above a third in the exam! Spending about 100 hours on the essay and only sixty on the themes on which I answered examination questions, might also be a factor (In case anyone is interested I spent 275 hours on that module in total).

The marks on the other level 2&3 sociology and economics modules don’t have an exceptional range – one module just below the 2i threshold, three just above.

The three politics modules dragged me down. I found them tough going, but the experience was good for me. Politics is too important a matter to allow one’s opinions to be dominated by others. For many people the practice of politics is all about being bullied and bamboozled into believing other people’s bizarre opinions. It’s nice to develop the skills to mount an effective resistance!

December 27, 2007

Matthew Parris joins the ranks of the bigots

Writing about web page http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article3097464.ece

What’s smug and deserves to be decapitated?

Cyclists, according to Matthew Parris. He writes in today’s Times

A festive custom we could do worse than foster would be stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists.

Our crime, according to Mr. Parris, is that we chuck empty cans of hi-energy drinks into hedgerows as we pass.

I have never chucked a can of hi-energy drink into a hedgerow. Why should I have my head cut off? Why should other cyclists, who don’t litter the countryside, also face the death sentence. What about horse riders?

Isn’t the death penalty a bit much for throwing litter? I suppose if there’s capital punishment in some middle eastern countries for adultery or homosexuality, it’s not too far fetched to apply it to littering. As long as the person throwing the litter isn’t in a car, when of course, it’s only a misdemeanor.

Stringing wire across tracks is not unknown. More commonplace is aggressive driving. No doubt Mr. Parris will claim it’s not his fault if some homicidal motorist, wound up by the likes of Parris and Clarkson, decides to clip a cyclist whilst overtaking at speed.

Cyclists killed

August 23, 2007

Social construction of Intelligence

Writing about web page http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/check/player/nol/newsid_6950000/newsid_6959600?redirect=6959630.stm&news=1&bbwm=1&nbram=1&bbram=1&nbwm=1

By chance I saw a few minutes of newsnight report yesterday.
Apparently psychologists are admitting that IQ is highly dependent on culture.

Not culture in terms of the difference between say, Japanese society and British society but more between say, peasant, hunter-gatherer, early industrial, “post” industrial societies etc.

Within the UK IQ has been advancing by about three points per decade since the 1950’s. Yet our DNA is not changing. We, as a society, are creating an environment for children which equips them to achieve better IQ scores. The suspicion is that types of intelligence which IQ test don’t measure might be falling.

I’d wish the link to the Newsnight video clip would work, but with the declining technical standards at the BBC….

August 03, 2007

Campus Expansion

I’ve just sent this off to Coventry Council’s planning office. The closing date for the consultation is end of office hours today.

Dear Mr. Reid

University of Warwick. Campus Expansion. Ref: 54044

The proposed expansion of teaching and research at Warwick University is to be welcomed. What is unwelcome is the proposed 9% increase in car parking. Although this is a smaller proportion than the proposed increase in staff numbers, it will nevertheless mean that the university will have 7% more parking than recommended by the Government’s Planning Policy Guidance 13 (University of Warwick Main Campus Masterplan Transport Assessment June 2007). Traffic levels are expected to increase by 12%.

The roads around the university are already blocked at peak periods. Road development in the greenbelt between Kenilworth and Coventry is undesirable, as is the contribution of this additional traffic to global greenhouse gas emissions and to congestion elsewhere.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Surely if the university were not allowed any more car parking, staff and students would find ways of doing their business which didn’t involve such wanton use of scarce resources as single occupancy car travel. Not only are there the alternative transport options of walking, cycling, car sharing and bus use, but in this age of advanced telecommunications many of the tasks performed by administrators, researchers and students can be easily performed off campus. Perhaps lectures and seminars could also be performed in “virtual reality”.

Yours sincerely

George Riches

The University of Warwick Main Campus Masterplan Transport Assessment can be found here

July 17, 2007

Another Vista feature

Follow-up to Silly enough to buy the latest technology from George Riches: Complaints from a middle aged layabout

Iconic desktop

Right mouse click then selecting view and changing the icon size cured this occurrence of the “feature”.

July 04, 2007

Would you recommend Warwick University?

A few weeks ago I completed the Academic Satisfaction Survey. Like many such surveys there were some strange questions. Number 28, for example asked me

(to) indicate the level to which (I am) personally satisfied with (my) aware(ness) of which services are available to me and what they are for

Well, as any student of epistemology will tell you, if you are not aware of something, you won’t know that you are not aware. Or as Donald Rumsfeld famously put it, there are not only unknowns but also unknown unknowns. Then there was question 11, which asked the subject how many hours he or she spent studying outside timetabled teaching, without specifying the whether that should be per week, term or year.

Still the most important question was number 34:

Thinking about your whole university experience, with hindsight, if you were able to choose again, how likely is it that you would choose to study at Warwick?

My answer to this was “Not sure”. I’ve no doubt that I’ve learnt many things during my five years of undergraduate part-time study at Warwick, but I have found one thing rather irksome. That’s the individualised nature of the learning process. While I accept that students in higher education must direct their own learning process, I question whether isolation in private study is the only way to achieve this. Is there no room for teamwork?

Many people’s experience of paid work does involve a fair degree of teamwork. In my last job, for example, I would write technical documents which would be reviewed by my peers. The review was an important part of the work process. It was also an educative process, for both author and reviewer, in giving and taking constructive criticism as well as in understanding the points made by the other parties. It’s a pity that in my Warwick experience I’ve encountered so little teamwork, so little interaction with other students on academic matters outside the seminar room. As far as I know most mature students (if not others?) have had much the same experience.

So if I knew back in 2001/2 what I know now, one of the key criteria I would use when assessing a higher education institution would be the extent to which it offered a collaborative learning environment. If one seemed to have a better practice than Warwick, I’d go for it.

June 07, 2007

Success for cycling lobbyists!

Follow-up to Proposed new Highway Code shows contempt for cycling and safety from George Riches: Complaints from a middle aged layabout

The Government has agreed to amend the Highway Code to state that use of cycle routes, advanced stop lines, cycle boxes and toucan crossings is not compulsory. And to admit that sometimes it’s unsafe to use them.

See Department Of Transport.

CTC was the leading voice in the campaign.

May 03, 2007

From my window….

From my window

From my window, I see children playing in the streets.
I hear fireworks manifesting November’s treat.
I glance at random people walking by.
From my window, I see a whole world fly.

This is my window.
An object made out of wood and glass.
Both are destructible yet they work as an impasse,
to intruders, at last.
An interesting concept – so vast.
Where to draw the line? How to define it?
Physically? Subjectively?

From my window I see nothing.
I see a reflection of my own window on the window of the house across the road.
It all looks the same.
Beyond that wooden and glassed structure, nothing remains.
To that we shall not inquire, for it may be an intrusion of my neighbour’s privacy.

I see nothing because it’s dark.
Yet I notice random shadows in the street.
I hear a plane fly by.
What does the pilot see?
Nothing, surely.
Its dark.
Maybe he too, sees random shadows below his feet.

Back to privacy.
Surely if I pop my head over my neighbour’s fence whilst she’s sunbathing would count as an intrusion of her proprietary privacy: that is, her right to enjoy
Her life privately
Within the vicinity of her own home.
But what about the pilot, flying the plane?
He can certainly glance down, and see different things,
And see many people sunbathing, even when it rains.
Yet people don’t seem too really mind about that.

What else can my window tell me?
It plays an interesting, vital trick.
It allows sunlight in the house – an invasion of privacy?
That would be to stretch one’s imagination beyond what needs be.

More importantly, from my window, I see freedom.
I see the world beyond this glassed structure.
I see doors in houses opposite.
Opportunities that can be opened.
Flowers that blossom.
People, random.
Then I understand the value of privacy,
And the pleasure of liberty.
For liberty is really, to look outside the window in a sunny or rainy day, and fear nothing – and open the door and step outside.
Fear nothing, for your window is not an impasse, not a veil protecting your own privacy – but a sign of freedom, of perspective, of ideas.
Stand up and re-visit the windows in your house.
You’d find more than just a wooden and glassed structure: you’ll find yourself.
Demolish the house, rebuild it if you like – but you’ll notice that if there is one thing that houses can’t do without: windows.

Look at your window and think of it as an opportunity.
A bridge, a possibility.
Look at it and think: this is my window, my child, my sexual fantasy.

There is usually one way in a house, that is, through the door.
That is precisely the purpose of a door:
A medium of providing access to someone’s property. And to privacy?
It serves no more.

But windows, oh windows, they’re different.
They’re transparent.
They cement darkness with light.
Sometimes you can even stare outside without being noticed by the outsiders.
They enhance the colours in your room and,
The light in your life.

From my window, I see you, a reflection of my sight.

Extraterrestrial Law: The Legal Implications of Alien Co–Existence (co–authored with Jay Jagaysia)

“I think what we feared were the possibilities, the truth we both know” (Fox Mulder, X-Files)

Extraterrestrial intelligence has fascinated human populations from ancient Greece to modern times. Beginning with Democritus and later supported by Copernican ideology, the concept of potential contact with alien life is certainly not a novel idea. Historical interest has manifested itself through modern mediums such as conspiracy propaganda, science fiction literature, television programming, and Hollywood movies. From Star Wars to my personal favourite the X-Files (my co-author is shockingly a Star Trek enthusiast), there is no escaping the reality that the possibility of extraterrestrial contact has shaped our modern psyche. The truth is certainly out there, and until discovered, precautionary principles dictate that the best way forward is to presume in the interim that alien life does exist and that contact will eventually be made. This article proceeds on the basis that extraterrestrial contact will be made, and that alien life will be accommodating to co-existence with human life. Simply put, we will be dealing here with the friendly green aliens, not the mean ones associated with such films like Predator and War of the Worlds. If harmonious co-existence is to ever be achieved, surely legal instruments will have to be used to regulate extraterrestrial affairs. Can existing legal principles be modified to meet the needs of extraterrestrial law?

Property Law and Aliens – Space Easements, Universal Adverse Possession, and Intergalactic Nuisance:

The easement holds great promise as a legal tool to regulate rights of way in space. Convenient transportation routes take on a new meaning in space, where detours may take on a light years dimension. Black holes would no doubt represent a formidable transportation advantage to those who controlled them, allowing space ships to move quickly to distant galaxies. Assuming that express easements or easements of necessity will not be common because of obvious language differences and the vastness of space, and that the requirements of Re Ellenborough Park [1956] would remain applicable, what form would easements arising by prescription take on? What will constitute long use and acquiescence in space? Perhaps our earthly notion of years will have to be magnified to take into account the time delay in space travel. For example, instead of 12 years of continuous use being sufficient to satisfy a prescriptive easement, easements regulating humans and aliens will require the introduction of a new quantum of light years. Acquiescence requirements will also have to be modified. Space ships and planetary radar technology will surely be able to detect users across wide distances. It may be that acquiescence will be presumed on the basis that the user was not destroyed in space by the ballistic capabilities of the servient owner.

Adverse possession will certainly take on a new dimension in space. Since space represents such a vast area, there will be a strong utilitarian policy impetus to allow for legal regulation that seeks to maximise the use of property in space. If the principles of adverse possession will ever have a legal role to play in regulating alien and human behaviour in space, then the limitation period will have to be adjusted to reflect any necessary temporal enlargement. 12 years will certainly not be enough time to allow for space travel. The implications of the Land Registration Act 2002 will also have to be considered. Although at this time unclear, different languages surely must exist among alien populations, and the Register will have to be multi-lingual in order to accommodate the affected parties. With this said, if alien populations are as advanced as I personally know them to be, then they will presumably be able to speak many languages, including earthly ones. However, us primitive humans will find great difficulty in understanding alien dialect, and translations will have to be provided so that we can effectively assess our positions. A wider consideration is the potential scope of adverse possession. Can aliens and humans gain legal interests in planets or only parts of planets? This may not be very important if there is a proprietary dispute over useless Pluto, but may take on greater significance in more exciting planets, especially if they prove to be resource-rich.

The law of nuisance will probably take on a most exciting role in extraterrestrial law. Will the paradigmatic authority of Bernstein v Skyviews (1978) any longer hold any weight, or will we have to revert back to a strict interpretation of the cuius est solum maxim which holds that he who owns land owns everything reaching up to the very heavens and down to the depths of the Earth. Alien surveillance technology will no doubt be much more invasive, and there are legitimate concerns that surveillance from even long distances may infringe an owner’s right to private and home life. Extraterrestrial law may have to extend existing protections in the light of alien technology. Of perhaps greater significance will be whether the law of nuisance will be able to accommodate situations where aliens and humans live together as neighbours. The encroachment of alien life will likely bring new nuisances such as ‘green slime’ residue, foul smells, and unimaginable noise disturbances. Further, what we may describe as typical will have to be adjusted in the light of complaints brought by alien populations.

From International Law to Intergalactic Legal Principles:

We are limited, not by our abilities, but by our vision. Vision is, indeed, the art of seeing what is invisible to others. Our legal system tends to provide specific and limited responses to particular problems. Moreover, the law tends to be excessively anthropocentric. The product of these inevitabilities is two-fold. First, our legal vision is limited by our human experiences on earth. Second, and despite what natural lawyers may contend, the law is a creation of the human imagination, and is therefore utilised to govern the machinery our very own civilization.

This article invites the reader to contemplate beyond our foundations on Earth. Ask yourself this: what would happen if a human came into personal contact with an extraterrestrial being? One can only speculate the various answers to this question. However, in the US, The Extraterrestrial Expose Law 1969 makes it illegal for somebody to have contact with an extraterrestrial being. The Federal Statute states that “anyone guilty of such a contact automatically becomes a wanted criminal to be jailed for one year and fined $5,000. The N.A.S.A administrator is empowered to determine with or without a hearing that a person or object has been extraterrestrially exposed, and impose an indeterminate quarantine under armed guard, which could not be broken even by a court order”. Surely, this sounds odd. Is it in the best interest of humanity to confirm, or disconfirm, the existence of extraterrestrial life? Perhaps for the US, aliens will be the next personification of terrorism. However, remember that this article deals with friendly aliens. What will their rights be? Will we owe duties to them? How will contact with extraterrestrial life affect international/universal law?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) emphasises that the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace of the world.” By undertaking a rather straightforward literal construction, it is clear that aliens are left out of the human rights equation. Will we detain them and conduct cruel experiments on their frail little green bodies? Surely Article V, which prohibits torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, will not be of any use to the little green creature. Article IV of the UDHR provides that ‘no one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.’ Extraterrestrial beings, however, are not privileged enough to benefit from this provision: under international law, it is arguable that an alien would be considered ‘less than human.’ We all know that this form of overt discrimination, or even hierarchical categorisation, has been the cause of many catastrophes in the past. Just think about the potential for future conflict that such treatment may cause. We abuse their innocence and generosity, benefit from scientific experiments, dishonestly appropriate their futuristic space ships (would that count as theft?), only to later find out that those species are part of a wider civilization which has the ability to destroy planets and even galaxies. Thus, we ought to grant them rights – Alien Rights – so that human beings and aliens can co-exist peacefully. This may, however, cause juridical difficulties. If an alien decides to bring an ‘Alien Rights’ claim before a human court, we ought to have a judicial bench composed of a mixed panel: human and alien judges sitting alongside each other.

Once extraterrestrial contact becomes frequent, the creation of an ‘Intergalactic Court’ may prove to be the only judicial mechanism to govern disputes between civilizations in different galaxies. The court will be empowered to interpret future sources of law such as the Prevention on Inter-Galactic Genocide, The Treaty on the Protection of Space Minorities, and the Universal Intellectual Property Treaty. The formulation of such intergalactic laws will certainly pose drafting difficulties. Aliens may have a different interpretation of justice, or perhaps they don’t even strive for such a concept. An ultramodern legal profession could emerge, with intergalactic lawyers holding LL.BTs (Legum Baccalaureus Terra). Legal education will be transformed. Warwick may even have a campus on Mars.

The use of force provisions in Art 2 (4) of the UN Charter may have to be extended and modified to encompass the ‘territorial integrity or political independence of any Space State.’ Jus Cogens principles will have to adapt to the universal values of the day. Our understanding of self-defence in international law, and particularly the concept of pre-emptive strike, will have to reflect the respective technologies of the time.

How could trusts law become relevant in our relationships with aliens? Hopefully, the basic tenets of trusts law will change so that human beings will be able to hold planets on trust for the benefit of aliens, and vice versa. Furthermore, the inhabitants of a planet will be able to hold the planet on trust for the benefit of future generations. Most of the tidal effects seen on the Earth are caused by the Moon’s gravitational pull. Before somebody sells the Moon to an evil alien who plans to deprive us from our lunar benefits, there should be a general principle of international trusts law providing that our generation ought to hold the Moon on trust for the benefit of future generations.

Blaise Pascal once wrote “through space the universe encompasses and swallows me up like an atom; through thought I comprehend the world”. Although this article may seem, and quite rightly, a work of fiction, it nonetheless challenges our limited, anthropocentric vision of law. We ought to initiate a journey, beyond our planetary frontiers, to consider the extraterrestrial application and justiciability of our laws before it becomes too late.


The inspiration for this article came from a paper published by our own Gary Watt entitled “The Soul of Legal Education”, which called for greater imagination within the fabric of legal matriculation. From the student perspective, imagination can provide not only a useful tool to complement our legal studies but can also serve to breed some much needed life into law, which may help us to overcome the banality of revising legislation and memorising key decisions. In this sense, the article is intended to attempt to move in the direction intimated by Gary Watt, and to demonstrate that the scope for imagination in law, although latent, can be potentially wide reaching. Although our ideas were meant to be lightly received, there are some important material considerations resulting from our fictional analysis. It is clear that it will be extremely difficult to import existing legal principles to govern relationships in new jurisdictions between parties who share little in common. The better way forward may focus instead on Rawlsian first principles and mutual negotiation from an original position. In this way, prejudice can be removed from legal principle, and affected parties can instead work from a clean slate, so that everyone can leave the party with an equal slice of cake. Although this may always remain a pipe dream at the global level, the future prospects within Europe may be more promising. With enlargement into new areas with vastly different cultures and legal traditions, perhaps lessons can be learned from a fictional exercise which seeks to simulate the inherent difficulties of legal harmonisation across cultures, States and even space.

  • The authors would like to acknowledge Jabba the Hutt, Dana Scully and Spock for their helpful comments on earlier drafts. Any omissions or mistakes are of course our own.

April 20, 2007

Professional Closure

Writing about Ban Private Schools from flipthelid.co.uk

Comment 62 included:

In what way to doctors, lawyers and accountants have monopolies that engineers don’t?

Most members of the Bar Council, the Law Society and (I think) the Institute of Chartered Accountants spend most *of their working time on tasks where their professional body has a monopoly.

This is very different from the experience of members of the Institution of Civil Engineers the Institution of Mechanical Engineers or the Institution of Engineering and Technology

I was an associate member of the Institution of Electrical Engineering (predecessor to the IET), I couldn’t be bothered to apply for full membership and after I few years I just left. It didn’t make any difference whether I was a member or not.

A couple of examples to illustrate how a professional institution can raise the income of its members:

  • Restrict the supply of labour. Raise the level of educational qualification and experience needed for entry. This has a side effect of raising the status of the profession, by putting clear demarcations between members of the profession and less skilled people and between difference grades within the profession.
  • Stimulate the demand for labour. Claim that many tasks may only be done by your members and resist “deskilling”. Deskilling is a term used to describe the process whereby employers split a job (previous done by highly skilled people) into two parts, that which really needs a high level of skill, and the rest which can be performed by cheaper labour. By deskilling a job, the demand for high-level skills is reduced.

So an explanation for engineers being paid a lot less than lawyers doesn’t need to include such nebulous things as culture or status.

This doesn’t mean that engineers can’t get get good money, more that they have to become managers if they want to prosper. Bill Gates provides an extreme example. It’s significant that his branch of engineering is characterised by fast changing technology. I suspect that while a top manager needs no more than A-level physics to grasp the engineering issues associated with say, a major civil engineering project, keeping up-to-date with the latest software concepts might well be a far more challenging task.

Oh yeah it’s just another example where the Free Market fairy story doesn’t match reality

April 19, 2007

Proposed new Highway Code shows contempt for cycling and safety

Writing about Highway Code – written by motorists for the benefit of motorists? from Cycling to and around Warwick University

I make no apologies for copying this from here

Road safety minister Stephen Ladyman has laid the new Highway Code before Parliament. If not contested by MPs or Lords, it will be approved within 40 days.

The new Code will require cyclists to use cycle facilities ‘wherever possible’, irrespective of the consequences for their safety. Similarly cyclists will continue to be recommended to ride around the outside of roundabouts, in the place where conflict is most likely. The rule that they ‘should’ wear a cycle helmet is also retained.

70% of the 4,000 public responses to the draft Code came from cyclists, and there were as many responses from cycling organisations (41 responses) as from local authorities and road safety organisations together. Despite this, the Government has chosen to ignore completely the clear concerns expressed about the impact of the new rules on cycling safety, and the almost certain increase in counter-claims of contributory negligence that will arise when cyclists are injured.

From the outset Ladyman has refused to meet with the cycling organisations to discuss the draft document. However, there were more promising ‘leaks’ from civil servants that there would be changes. We were also told that the new Code would not be ready before 2008. Cyclists can now rightly feel aggrieved that they have been deceived and that prejudices and ignorance have ridden rough-shod over considerations about their safety.

CCN, CTC and other cycling organisations are now considering their options, but will need the support of cyclists throughout the UK to overturn this travesty, as we must. In the meantime, please encourage cyclists once more to contribute to the Cyclists’ Defence Fund and if you are likely to meet with your MP for other reasons, please make him or her aware of your concerns.

April 15, 2007

Silly enough to buy the latest technology

Follow-up to Retro Vista from George Riches: Complaints from a middle aged layabout

With 20 years professional experience with software, I should have known better.

A catalogue of the woes I’ve had with my first notebook:

  • For the first few days I focused on establishing internet and desktop-notebook connectivity. I then discovered a DVD entitled “Upgrade you Windows Vista Experience”. I ran it, expecting a few bug fixes. Instead after turning on the notebook The Windows Vista home Basic product key you typed in is invalid for activation appeared.
    Selecting “Access your computer with reduced functionality” allowed my browser to run, but no other application programs. At the bottom right-hand corner of the screen Windows Vista™ Build 6000 this copy of Windows is not genuine appeared. I tried activation by telephone – phoning 0800 018 8354. I had to enter 54 digits by touch tone before getting transferred to a robot with an American accent….... I did get it activated in the end.
  • Lotus 123 (Millennium edition) 9.0 won’t install – it works fine on XP.
  • Zonealarm won’t install
  • AVG Anti-spyware will install, but when it runs, The application failed to initialize properly (0xc0000142). Click OK to terminate the application always appears
  • It took me four hours to get DVD videos to play. When I put a video DVD into the drive, Windows Media Player cannot play this DVD because there is a problem with digital copy protection between your DVD drive, decoder and video card. Try installing an updated driver for your video card appeared. Needless to say the problem was nothing to do with the video card. After upgrading the BIOS and installing the latest audio codec driver, DVD videos (and audio CDs) do play.
  • I had to install winhlp32.exe manually
  • I can’t associate more than one program with a filetype

Perhaps a local retailer would have been better than Dell. Dell seem to have a rigid attitude to technical support. After 30 days their policy is that “all non-hardware related issues, e.g. software questions, virus removal, etc.” will only be dealt with via their chargeable software support telephone service. As I didn’t discover the problem with the audio until 44 days after delivery, that’s not very customer-friendly to me. A local retailer might have been more flexible, giving free support as long as the total time taken wasn’t excessive.

So far I’ve spent 25 hours setting up my notebook. I’ve yet to get any use or pleasure from it.

April 05, 2007

What about a British Identity?

Good that software has been added to Warwick blogs to provide spelling checking. Bad that it only understands North American.
Red lines appear under

It’s bad enough having to cope with muddled dates – 1 April 2007 being
shown as 04/01/07 – which to my mind means
4 Jan 2007 for the general public
2004 Jan 7 for those who like the consistency of the most significant number being at the left.

March 15, 2007

Retro Vista

I was silly enough to buy a new computer just as Microsoft was launching a new operating system – Windows Vista.

One of its annoyances is the removal of XP’s ability to easily associate more than one program with a single file extension. I found this feature, which Windows 98 had as well, rather useful. With htm, jpg and gif files, I think the best program for editing is not the best for viewing.

It is possible to get Vista to associate more than one program with a single file extension, but you must be prepared to either delve into the registry or buy third party software. A work-around, which reminds me of that days before Graphical User Interfaces, is to start with the program and then select the file rather than the other way around.


March 07, 2007

An Invisible Font

I spent six and a half hours yesterday finding and fixing a corrupted Windows/Fonts file.
One effect of the problem was that nothing appeared on my screen when I typed characters into Amazon’s search box. Nevertheless, what I had typed was used as a search criterion when I clicked on GO.
After about two hours of examining the page’s html I concluded that when the Style attribute of an element included “font-family: fixed;” blanks were rendered rather than visible characters.
You might have a similar problem if you can’t see one of these words fixed proportional serif sans-serif cursiv fantasy monospace in the following list:

    • fixed

    • proportional

    • serif

    • sans-serif

    • cursiv

    • fantasy

    • monospace

    I then spent another hour trying to find what was wrong with Mozilla as there was no problem with IE. I concluded it wasn’t Mozilla/Firefox’s fault – the culprit was a duff Windows/Fonts file.
    There are a mere 457 files in my version of Windows/Fonts. And deleting one often doesn’t have an impact until after a restart. Hence it took me three hours to isolate the culprit: a corrupted version of phonetic.fon

    February 09, 2007

    Road Pricing or Road Building?

    What can be done about traffic congestion?

    Some take the laid back approach. “Do nothing” is their answer. Traffic won’t increase indefinitely, some people just won’t bother making some journeys simply because they will take too long. The pace of life is too hectic anyway, they say, we need to slow down and focus on the important things in life. Take time to reflect. Relax. zzzzzzzzz

    Unfortunately traffic congestion not only delays people and puts up the price of goods and services but also causes more pollution and more crashes. Pollution from standing or stop-start traffic. Crashes due to impatient drivers taking risks when trying to make up time lost in jams. People pay with their lives for such behaviour.

    The traditional answer is to build more roads. Of course not too close to where people live, close enough for speedy access to the motorway network but far enough to keep the noise and smell away from homes. As for objectors, they will shut up if you pay them enough. Property prices and the other costs of road building may have sky-rocketed over the past few years, the government always has enough money to build more roads. After all, who would want taxes spent on health, education or pensions if they could be spent on expanding the road network instead?

    A slight variant on this idea is to build more railways. Or bus expressways. As if building these were much cheaper or less disruptive than building new roads.

    The alternative is to use the existing roads more efficiently. The capacity of the motorway network would increase fivefold if single occupancy cars were replaced by full coaches. In cities thirty cyclists take the same space as five cars. All very well in theory, but not many people are willing to switch. High fares & infrequent services are a block to greater public transport use. For buses there’s also the issue of anti-social behaviour. As for cycling, people tire of the harassment they get from drivers, while the traffic free routes are few in number and inconvenient to use.

    The more efficient and environmentally friendly modes of transport are locked in a vicious circle. The fewer travellers on public transport, the more infrequent the services. The fewer cyclists the less account drivers take of them. Hence many a “Sorry mate I didn’t see you” crash. The small number of people cycling means a weak lobby for better cycle routes.

    The vicious cycles need to be broken, people need a greater incentive to use the more efficient forms of transport. The London congestion charge shows that the world doesn’t come to an end when road charges are introduced. Buses and bicycles are taking the strain. But in a number of ways it isn’t the example to follow. The monitoring of every vehicle is sinister and must go. Vehicles don’t need to be tracked, there are other ways. Drivers could feed cards containing credits to equipment in their cars which removed the credits as the car travelled along the roads.

    The London scheme is too inflexible as well. Motorists pay the same whether they drive for two minutes or two hours. Roads only need to have a charge when they are congested. High demand, high price, low demand free. London’s scheme is not equitable either. Rich drivers don’t use the roads more than poor ones, but a pound means more to someone on the minimum wage than someone on £100,000 pa. So some way of directing the revenues to benefit low income people must be devised. Perhaps car tax could be abolished, pensions increased or taxes cut on low incomes.

    Of course there’s a massive resistance to road pricing. People love the the idea of low taxes but they also want a good health service, high pensions and free education. They want more roads which don’t cost much to provide and don’t take up any land. They want to drive as fast as they like and never crash. That’s the stuff of dreams, it’s about time people faced up to reality.

    February 01, 2007

    Cycle safely – always wear a helmet!

    Coast to Coast?

    White Line

    One wheel cycling

    White Line

    A few months ago a friend of mine caught a kerb whilst turning, came off his bicycle and broke his collar bone. He, of course, opinioned that he was wise in wearing a helmet. Exhibiting wild lateral thinking I asked why he hadn’t seen the kerb. The crash occured in the dark while cycling on an unlit country road with a feeble front light.

    January 24, 2007

    Myths people build racism on

    Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6293333.stm

    This is much more interesting than all that Big Brother Jade Goody stuff.

    It’s an example illustrating that skin colour doesn’t indicate much about people’s genetic inheritance.

    It demonstrates that where ever you stand in the nature verses nurture debate, it’s wrong to suppose that a few superficial indicators of a person’s genes say much about the rest of their genetic inheritance.

    Of course any Sociologist will tell you that what actually exists often has less impact on society than what people think exists.

    January 04, 2007

    Saddam's death: The Hypcocrisy of the United States Administration

    All in the name of progress they claim. Capital Punishment. Isn’t that what they did in 15th century Europe?

    November 23, 2006

    Careers for Computer Science Graduates

    The British Computer Society opinions that the UK isn’t producing enough computer science graduates. In response many people from the information systems side of computing complain that skills are being wasted due to ageism.

    After 20 years in the systems/network side of computing the following notions float around my head:

    • Do most people in graduate level computer jobs really need to know more about computers, or is poor inter-personal and communication skills a bigger problem?
    • Feminists complain that a job history of career followed by being a primary child carer followed by career just isn’t available in our society. Is this a similar issue to the non-availability of career, slow decay into a technological dead-end followed by a new career as a job narrative?
    • My tip to computer science graduates: get into labour only subcontracting, save a load of dosh, don’t worry about being on the scrap-heap at 40, just retire.
    • If the retirement age is pushed up to 68, won’t there be a flood of shelf stackers and lollypop people in their 60’s?

    November 04, 2006

    Wheelchair access

    I thought it’s a silly place to put this sign:
    White Line
    Wheelchair access

    Wheelchair access cycles will be removed

    Until I saw

    October 29, 2006

    SP 448 753

    Where I was this morning:
    SP 448 753

    October 25, 2006

    Three ways to detect a phisherman

    There are plenty of forged emails about.
    Are the explanations of how to detect them clear enough for the average user?
    Of do they just increase fear uncertainly & doubt?

    Three ways I use to detect a forgery

    1. (a bit obvious) do you have an account with the organisation concerned?
    2. is the English rather crap (hackers aren’t very literate, even in their mother tongue)?
    3. (a dead give away) is the real address of the link nothing like the one it looks like? E.g https://www.halifax-online.co.uk/_mem_bin/formslogins.asp
      is nothing like

    (use left right-click on a link to find the “properties” and thus the real address)

    March 31, 2006

    Flat Tax (published – Warwick Economics Journal)

    Economic Holy Grail or Potential Failure in Disguise?

    The flat tax is, to most fiscal conservatives, the Holy Grail of public policy and the future. The simplicity of such a system is undeniable: one low income tax rate that would be paid by all but the poorest wage earners. In such an economic ‘nirvana’ there would be no loopholes for the rich to exploit and certainly no graduated rates of taxation that would take a higher percentage of income from those that work hard to earn more. Ultimately, the minimalism of such a system lies at the heart of its desirability and stands in stark contrasts to the complex and multifarious maze that is today’s tax regulations.

    The Epic Adventures of the Flat Tax

    Under the current Labour Party, the government handbook on tax regulations has roughly doubled in volume since 1997. In France, the current taxation system offers a bewildering, yet humorous, 560 different types of tax breaks – ranging from a special exemption for journalists to a deduction for taxpayers who happen to employ household help. Clearly, in the face of such profound complexities and inefficiencies, is it not time for the western world to wake up to the golden opportunity of the flat tax?

    In fact, the governments of the west should look eastwards for a clear example of the potentials of a single universal tax rate. In 2004, in an attempt to create an investor-friendly economic environment, Slovakia simply swept away its 21 categories of personal income taxes, five tax brackets, and scores of exemptions and deductions, replacing them instead with a flat 19% rate. In turn, the country has secured a $1.3 billion investment in 2005 by Hyundai Corp., the Korean automakers – which is now building a factory for its Kia brand cars in the Slovak city of Zilina. Even more impressive, the total foreign direct investment in Slovakia last year was $13.6 billion which constitutes a massive six-fold increase since 1998.

    Yet, the beauty of the flat tax extends far beyond the mere ability to attract sizeable foreign investments, rather, it includes a whole foray of benefits that would advantage any country – developed or developing.

    The US tax code is currently some 9 million words long and contains innumerable loopholes, deductions, and exemptions that create inefficiencies in tax collection. It is argued by proponents of the flat-tax that the system in its current form actually stifles economic growth by distorting economic incentives and allowing, indeed in some ways encouraging, tax evasion. However, if a flat tax was to be installed in the United States of America, then the transparency that would naturally ensue would guarantee a huge reduction in the incentives for the wealthy to create tax shelters.

    Further, a flat tax system would actually result in higher revenues for the government involved. The simplification of the tax code would remove certain loopholes that are currently frequently used by corporations and the rich to pay fewer taxes. Again, western governments need only look over to the Russian Federation to see how this could take effect. Russia, after its introduction of a 13% flat tax rate, saw real tax revenues from ‘Personal Income Tax’ rise by 25.2% in the first year of its new system, followed by a 24.6% increase in the second year and a 15.2% increase in the third year.
    It is also argued that the government’s cost of processing tax – a cost which is often unknown or ignored by the population at large – would become significantly smaller with a flat tax since the relevant tax bodies could be abolished or enormously downsized. Germany, for example, spends 3.7 billion euros or 0.14% of its GDP a year on tax collection and processing – a sum that could otherwise be used to build schools and hospital.

    However, there is, understandably, no guarantee that flat taxes would work as well in Western Europe as they have in the countries to the east. In the former Soviet bloc, most of the countries that have enacted flat taxes gained an increase in revenue as people who had been previously working in the shadow economy began reporting their income and finally paying their taxes. The former tax dodgers simply figured that with rates so low, there was no longer any point in running the risk of breaking the law. However, unlike their compatriots behind the Iron Curtain, relatively few Western Europeans and Americans work in the shadow economy.

    Critics of a single flat taxation rate have also claimed that making the income tax flat would actually make the overall tax structure regressive – in that lower-income people will pay a higher proportion of their income in total taxes compared with the affluent.

    Still, in spite of such criticisms, a flat or streamlined tax code would go a long way towards restoring the public’s trust in the tax system – a trust that has long since been lost in the face of a multiplicity of loopholes and mounds of bureaucratic red-tape.

    Ultimately, the simplicity of the flat tax may remain but a dream for some time, but, the realities of its incredible potential will continue to remain a force for its future implementation.

    March 27, 2006

    Zimbabwe, Pensions and Governance

    Yesterday’s Times had an article on the deteriorating condition in Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe. There are poorer countries in the world, but with GDP growth at -13.6% in 2003, -8.2% in 2004 and -4% in 2005, Zimbabwe seems a textbook example of how to reverse progress.

    IN ONE hand Frank Wiggill holds his monthly pension statement and in the other a 500 gram packet of salt. It is the only thing in the supermarket that his pension will buy, unless he prefers to splash out on two eggs.

    When Wiggill retired after 38 years as an engine driver on the Zimbabwean railways, he looked forward to enjoying his twilight years in comfort. Instead he and his wife Jeanette depend on monthly food parcels from well-wishers and handouts from their son in South Africa. The collapsing currency combined with the world’s highest inflation — estimated at more than 1,000% a year — has cut their pension to 13p a month.

    “It’s embarrassing,” said Wiggill, 79. “I worked all my life and here I am living on food parcels of milk powder and toilet paper.” His monthly pension of Z$49,000 is less than the cost of a newspaper (Z$50,000) or a loaf of bread (Z$70,000). It would take him two months to buy a pint of milk (Z$89,000) and nine months to afford the cheapest pack of four toilet rolls (Z$440,000).

    Read in full here.

    In this (pdf) paper, Daniel Kaufmann of the World Bank comments on changes in the quality of governance across 209 countries between 1998 and 2004. Governance is defined by the World Bank as “the set of traditions and institutions by which authority in a country is exercised”. Zimbabwe is one of only 3 countries that have seen a significant worsening in a) the level of civilian voice and political accountability, b) regulatory quality, c) the rule of law and d) the control of corruption. It’s mismanagement on a gross scale with no sign of reversal.