Saturday, 30 May 2009

I haz iPhone!

So... what are the must-have apps? I've already installed a free twitter client, Google Earth and Shazam. What else should I get?

(apart from BabyGrand, of course...)

Friday, 29 May 2009

Let me get this right...

I've been trying to work this one out all week. I'm still having a problem.

So, it seems that the MPs expenses scandal was not because some MPs are shameless and/or fraudulent, it was all the fault of the first-past-the-post manner in which they were elected? Sorry, I don't understand that one.

OK, I'll try again. If, in future, we adopt a new electoral system which the voters have more difficulty understanding, then the MPs we elect will be more trustworthy? No ... sorry .... I still don't follow.

Maybe, somewhere in the process of transferring a single vote to a second preference candidate, some of the trustworthiness and probity of the voter is also magically transferred to the second preference candidate? Well, it sounds more feasible than the first two, I have to say.

Or, is it that the rats have finally realised that the New Labour ship is sinking fast and have latched onto the nearest bit of driftwood that might just keep them in some form of power after the electorate have firmly ordered them out of office? Now we're getting somewhere...

If we really want to clean up Parliamentary expenses, why can't we just publish all MPs' expense claims? Then, the fear of public ridicule will weed out unreasonable claims. Such a system would also be self-correcting (as public attitudes shifted) and self-policing. Oh - hang on - I'm agreeing with David Cameron again. Oh well.

A rational dislike is not a phobia

Young Master Brown, a regular commenter here, has posted a summary of his concerns as to the definition of homophobia. I found myself in such agreement that my comment ended up longer than most of my blog posts.

Go and have a read. His comments are coherent, even if mine are only to my usual standard.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

No, Rowan

I hear that the Archbishop has said that:
"The continuing systematic humiliation of politicians itself threatens to carry a heavy price in terms of our ability to salvage some confidence in our democracy."
No, Rowan, it was the evident abuse and, in some cases, outright venality that has exacted a heavy price. We are simply in the process of discovering just how heavy that price has been. What you see as damaging to our confidence in democracy is actually the communication to our politicians of the strength of our disapproval.

You are, effectively, calling for the abuses to be kept quiet for the greater good. That was Martin's approach, and the people have made it quite clear what they think of that. We need to keep the revelations going, expose absolutely everything, and start again with an open system of expenses in which honesty is enforced by sunlight, not the Fees Office.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

What am I?

Bored, a long way from home, and with my sleep patterns up the creek, I've done the "Political Spectrum" test .... again. Anyway, here for your delectation or disgust are the results.

Politically, I am apparently a right moderate social libertarian:

Right: 3.79, Libertarian: 1.71

As regards foreign policy, I score -1.42 which puts me on the "non-interventionist" side:

And culturally, I seem to be pretty well perfectly balanced, with a score of -0.07:

With thanks, of course, to the Political Spectrum Quiz

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Elliott Morley

Right, so he claimed £16,000 for a mortgage he had already paid off. It strikes me that there are two possibilities here.

The first is that he genuinely forgot, or didn't notice, that he had paid his mortgage off. Some people might be sceptical about that; I couldn't possibly comment. But let's be generous - he does claim it was accidental. If so, I can't help wonder why someone who is daft enough not to notice a fairly significant change in their personal circumstances is a Minister in Her Majesty's Government?

The second possibility is that he knew damn well that there was no mortgage but claimed it anyway. In which case he would be advised to turn himself in at the nearest police station.

Thoughts on MP's expenses

There really is no need for me to say much. Blue Eyes said what I was thinking. Twice. I only have one thing to add, which is that yesterday Gordon emphasised "the importance of transparency" and said that "every MP has a duty to restore confidence" (link here at 12:07). If every MP has this duty, then that includes him. If that duty is to restore confidence in the political system as a whole, then that includes injecting some democracy into the system.

Call a General Election, Gordon. Restore some confidence by giving us a PM who has a mandate. Now.

He won't, of course. He can talk about transparency, but decline Cameron's call to publish all expense claims immediately. He can talk about leadership, but his idea of leading is to say that the Commons must decide. He can talk about confidence in the political system, but only after elbowing his way to the top without acquiring any democratic mandate on the way.

The problem is not the system, Gordon. It's you.

Reasons for not having an iPhone, No. 63

Quite simply, there are some things you just don't want to know first thing in the morning:

Friday, 8 May 2009

Rules & Procedures are not enough

Blue Eyes recently wrote a post calling for responsibility on the part of professionals in the public service, reminding them of the tort of negligence. Like me, he does not like to see the retreat behind the mantra of "procedures were followed" that so often precedes a shirking of responsibility. Stuart Sharpe picked it up, and we had a good debate there around the pros and cons of the law of negligence. I now want to add this story, to illustrate that it is not enough to put procedures in place. You have to exercise the faculty of critical thought as well.

Of all tasks, the one that probably has the most rigid procedures is flying. I learnt to fly when I was younger, all at Her Majesty's expense (thank you, Ma'am). An essential skill for any putative pilot is that of rote learning, as there will be innumerable procedures that must be learnt and followed to the letter. They cover all possibilities, such as how to check the aircaft prior to each flight, a pre-take-off checklist, a during-take-off checklist, and after-take-off checklist, and so on. There is even a list of stuff to do when there is nothing else to do (basically, look out of all the windows and peek at the major warning lights).

Of greatest importance are the emergency checklists, from "fire in the cockpit" to mere "radio failure". I did have to use the latter once after an electrical fault; fortunately I never needed the former. Actually, the "fire in the cockpit" drill is rarely used; as my instructor explained, he wasn't paid enough to stay in a burning cockpit and would therefore move straight on to the "abandon the aircraft" checklist. Anyway, these emergency checklists are learnt by rote by all - even civil private pilots, who are often derided by RAF jocks for walking round their aircraft, printed checklist in hand, unable to recall the list perfectly from memory.

This story is one that I read in an accident investigation report. These are circulated around all pilots so that they can learn the easy way, after someone else has learnt the hard way. This story concerns an inexperienced civil private pilot, who was flying cross-country with a friend in a borrowed aircraft. She noticed a distinct smell of burning in the cockpit, and immediately reported this to ATC, informing them that she intended to carry out a forced landing in view of the danger. Now, if you are a civil pilot with (probably) no parachute, and you are in control of an aircraft that is on fire, this is a very good idea. Also a good idea is to shut the engine down quickly and isolate the fuel system. Most fires in aircraft come from the engine, probably due to the very high temperatures that are present, and the large amounts of highly flammable liquid that is pumped into them. Electrical fires also happen, and are more rare but more likely to be in the cockpit.

To distinguish between these possibilities, there is a cunning trick that a pilot can use to see where the fire is. I remember being taught it by an RAF instructor; it involves looking for bright red hot flamey things. If you can see those, they often indicate the location of the fire with eery accuracy. If they are coming out of the engine bay in front of you and licking past the windows on the outside, then the fire is in the engine. If they are visible though the dashboard, inside the aircraft, then the fire is in the cockpit and probably not to do with the engine. If you can't see any hot red flamey things then the problem is probably something different.

We don't know if she did this check. All we know is, she shut down the engine and carried out a deadstick forced landing in a field - entirely correct procedure for an engine fire, although quite challenging in practice. With no engine, the approach to the landing is steeper, and you only get one chance to get it right. Even a practice forced landing is quite stressful, and when you get it right there is quite a feeling of achievement. In a real forced landing, I understand, that feeling of elation is usually ruined by an angry farmer pointing at the damage to his crops. Especially if your aircraft blows up just after you run away from it.

The accident investigation, however, revealed that the cause of the smell was a blown fuse. In the process of blowing, it had overheated a bit and singed the plastic cover of the fuse box. Hence the smell. Had she realised this, she could easily have carried on to her destination with no danger - the circuit concerned was a minor one. Instead, she followed her procedures blindly and to the letter. Examination of the aircraft showed that she had correctly shut down the engine as required in the "engine fire" checklist, and and shut off the fuel supply correctly. Sadly, she was following the wrong checklist entirely, purely because, probably in a state of mild panic, she did not stop and think.

So; why was there a full accident investigation report for me to read? Because she cocked up the forced landing, hit an obstacle, and died.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

A Picture Tells a Thousand Words

Something very odd is happening.

Either the BBC has turned against its master, or its news website has been hacked, or Gordon's minders have let him down - and done so big-time. Either way, take a look at the picture in this BBC News report.

In case they swap it, here is a snapshot.

Hat Tip: Blue Eyes

Sunday, 3 May 2009

True or False?

I'm reading "Professor Stewart's Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities" at the moment, and enjoying it hugely. I'd recommend it to anyone who doesn't hate maths, which I appreciate is a fairly small group. But there you are.

Anyway, I'm going to offer this one as a taster. Not especially mathematical, so it may have a wider appeal. And I enjoyed it.

The question is whether the following sentence is true or false:

"Thare are five mistukes im this centence."

Answers in the comments, please. I'll leave it for a while and post the answer in due course.