Friday, 28 August 2009

A Parting Shot

I'm off on holiday tomorrow. That, in combination with a high workload in a profession renowned for inextensible deadlines, and the fact that our firm's financial year end* is today, is the reason for the dearth of posts recently. If you miss me while I'm away, pop over to my photo site. It will keep going.

Actually, that's not true. Truth is, I'm in a champagne-induced haze for reasons connected with this list and the new badge that is (as a consequence) currently being displayed proudly at the top right of this blog. Seriously, I am extremely flattered that a significant number of you have enjoyed reading this enough to actually get up and email Mr Dale, nominating me in your top ten. I honestly did not expect to figure in the list at all, and am delighted to be there. Thank you for the vote of confidence.

By way of a thank-you, here is a news report that made me laugh today. The most polluting public building has been identified - a building that (entirely on its own) consumes 1.2 megawatts of power, enough to supply a small town. It emits 12,000 tonnes of CO2 each year. Assuming an average mileage of 12,000 pa and a 110g/km CO2 figure, that is equivalent to over 5,000 cars. What would Greenpeace do to eliminate that number of cars from our roads?

So; what is this building? What does it do?

It is (wait for it) the building which houses the Met Office computer. Why do they need such a huge and powerful computer? To churn out predictions of climate change, of course.

I wonder; how would the predictions change if we stopped making them? And how would we find out?

*In case you're wondering, I've done quite nicely this year after all. Several of my partners have suffered quite badly, though, so my income will be well down this year despite my workload (and output!) staying at the same level. Such is life.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Regulation hurts

Go and read the post at Counting Cats on nannying and regulation. Now. Go on. It's that good.

I'm not just recommending this because he makes the point that every tiny regulation hurts business somehow, somewhere and needs to be looked at critically - and cynically - to decide whether it is necessary. I'm recommending it because he explains how it is part of the steady process of taking control over our lives and deciding for us what we will do, and how we will do it.

To summarise,

“When they came for the Huntsmen, I did not stand up, because I am not a Huntsman. When they came for the Smokers, I did not stand up, because I am not a Smoker. When they came for the Drinkers, I did not stand up, because I am not a Drinker. When they came for me, there was no one to stand up for me”.

Hat tip - LfaT

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

In what way is this not theft?

Met police officers are doing their it to prevent thieves from nicking stuff from cars. They're getting in first, to make sure there's nothing left to nick. Drivers who leave the car unlocked will get a terse note telling them off and explaining that anything nickable has been taken to the local cop shop.

OK, leaving your car unlocked is a bit daft. But if I were to do that, it is my problem; the risk that my stuff will not be there when I get back is one that I have to bear. I don't need plod walking around trying to increase that risk.

Now, I'm sure that if someone sues then plod will claim it is not theft because the definition of theft is:

A person shall be guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it.
and they did not act dishonestly, nor did they intend to deprive the owner of the property permanently. Which raises two immediate questions:

  1. Will this defence work for me, if I take some stuff from the next (usually unlocked) plod car that I see, provided I leave a note with my email address to let them contact me?
  2. What about the civil tort of conversion?

An Open Goal for UKIP?

I'm really quite confused by the story of the Video Recordings Act. Apparently, this is unenforceable because back when it was passed in 1984, the Government "failed to notify the European Commission about the law".

So what?

I can understand that EU law has to have primacy over national law, at least in certain areas. If the aim of the EU is to enable trade between its member states by removing barriers, it needs to harmonise minor regulations that hamper such trade. Ergo, its laws need to over-rule national laws, else it simply cannot remove legislative barriers to trade. The argument is then over the definition of the areas in which EU law takes precedence, rather than whether it does.

But this is different. It seems that we cannot pass a law at all unless we get it rubber-stamped by the EU. I'll just re-state that; our elected Government* can decide to pass a law, one that is not in any way in contravention of EU laws, it can present it to our elected MPs who by a majority approve the Bill on our behalf, it can be presented to the Sovereign who signs it into law ... but unless and until we go to Brussels and say "excuse me, we've passed a law, would you mind putting a copy in your file please?" it is not effective.


*back in 1984 we had one of those. Ah .... nostalgia...

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Telegraph Dumbs Down

The telegraph reports, this morning, that "One in Three Top Students Fail Cambridge Test". In a tone of general disgust, journalists Amy Willis and Graeme Paton report that about a third of students with a grade A in Maths A-level have not made it to Cambridge - despite the A grade.

Well, I'd be the first to agree that educational standards have dropped over the last decade or so, with grade inflation now routine. You only have to look at the questions on the exam papers to realise this - Obo did, and now the Tories are doing the same. But if the Telegraph think they have found evidence of a drop in standards, they are mistaken.

I'm guessing that neither Amy Willis nor Graeme Paton went to Cambridge to study Maths. I hope not, because the only aceptable explanation for their mistake is that they do not know what they are talking about. In Maths and the Sciences, an A grade was not enough to get into Cambridge over twenty years ago - and I speak here from direct personal experience. If you wanted to study Maths there, then the absolute minimum was an A in Maths and also Further Maths. For Maths and Sciences, the only way to be confident of a place was to have an A1 - the "1" refers to an S or a STEP result. The "Sixth Term Examination Paper" was Cambridge's own exam paper, started in (I think) the mid/late Eighties, to distinguish between good A grades and scraped A grades. S papers ("Special") were an addendum to the A level, produced by the exam boards to the same syllabus, but with harder questions - much harder, in fact!

The standard offer from most Cambridge colleges for a Science or Maths student was A1AA - i.e. straight As in A level and a 1 in either S or STEP.

And how hard was the S? Well, you came out with one of three grades - 1, 2 or U ("Unclassified"). It was quite posisble to get an A and a U, so the A1s were, roughly speaking, the top third of the A grades.

Plus ca Change... maybe the Telegraph needs some brighter journalists?

Friday, 21 August 2009

Friday Silliness

Yesterday, quite a few programmers with sufficient Twitter accounts but insufficient work decided to translate songs into programming code. I can't say that I really understood many of them at all, but I did threaten to do the same with patent claims. Fellow patent attorney @filemot thought that it would be too difficult, but I disagreed.

What I did accept, however, was that it would be impossible within 140 characters. So, this being the only alternative outlet, here is a well known nursery song, expressed in the medium of a patent claim. Enjoy...

1. A method of interrogating a mammal as to the availability of natural fibres, characterised by issuing a request to the mammal, the request comprising a first portion consisting of an address to the mammal, and comprising an onomatopoeic form suited to the mammal in question, and at least one further portion expressing the natural-fibre-related query in a natural language form.

2. A method according to claim 1, further comprising the step of receiving a response from the said mammal.

3. A method according to claim 2 wherein said response includes an indicator as to a quantity of natural fibre.

4. A method according to claim 2 or claim 3 wherein said response includes an indicator as to the units in which a quantity of natural fibre can be measured.

5. A method according to any one of claims 2 to 4 wherein said response includes an indicator as to for whom at least part of a batch of the natural fibres have been pre-allocated.

6. A method according to claim 5 wherein said response include location data for at least one pre-allocatee.

7. A method according to any one of the preceding claims in which the mammal is ovine.

8. A method according to any one of the preceding claims in which the mammal is pigmented.

9. A method of interrogating a pigmented ovine mammal substantially as herein described with reference to and/or as illustrated in the accompanying figures.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Please excuse me while I bang my head on the wall

Arlene Phillips, formerly of Strictly Come Dancing, has been appointed by the Government to be our official ‘dance champion’.

In fact, there's even more to it than just Arlene:
The Government’s “Dance Champions Group” will be chaired by Rod Aldridge, the former head of Capita, and feature Angela Rippon, the newsreader who danced into TV history on Morecambe and Wise; the Strictly star Darren Bennett; and the model and TV personality Lisa Snowdon.
I despair; I really do. We face a monumental financial crisis, Government tax receipts are falling and spending is ballooning hopelessly out of control and out of proportion to the money that is available, and now a “Dance Champions Group” is being set up and paid for.

The purpose of this is, apparently, to get us all dancing until we are fit and healthy. Which is all well and good, but misses the point. IT'S NOT THE GOVERNMENT'S JOB TO MAKE ME DANCE! Can I make that any clearer? It is the Government's job to keep me safe via an effective army, an effective police force, and an effective justice system. It is the Government's job to enable me to do my business, by providing a stable economy and an efficient transport network. It is the Government's job to alleviate real poverty by providing a safety net to catch those that would otherwise fall into destitution. It is, arguably, the Government's job to provide reasonable and necessary medical care for me when I become ill or am injured.

It is emphatically not the Government's job to hire people to nag me to do stuff that the Government may think is in my best interests but which I have chosen of my own free will not to do. Gordon's last-but-one desperate attempt to slur the Tories was to label them the "Do-nothing Party". I think that what he missed in his analysis is that a lot of us would actually prefer that to the "Get-involved-in-absolutely-bloody-everything Party".

I am reminded of Captain Blackadder's telegram to Charlie Chaplin during the fourth Blackadder series. Sick to the back teeth of endless Chaplin films being sent to cheer him up, his message read:

"Please. +++STOP+++"

The Quality of Our Legislature...

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the pefectly titled Statutory Instrument:

The Trade Marks and Trade Marks and Patents (Fees) (Amendment) Rules 2009

It appears, sadly, that the tautology is deliberate.

Monday, 10 August 2009


Leg-Iron writes of his approach to financial matters:

I'm no economist. I hear of theories on other blogs and I can't follow them at all. I have a simplistic view of my own economy. Either I have things, or I don't. Either I have money, or I don't. If I can't afford something, I don't buy it. If it's important to me I'll save up for it but I will not borrow to buy something (except the mortgage. By the time I saved enough to buy a whole house, I'd be dead). Most times, I find I didn't really need the thing I wanted after all. If I had borrowed money to buy it, then realised I didn't need it, I'd be stuck with a useless purchase and a debt on top.
No economist maybe, but sensible nonetheless.

He adds:

Interest rates are low now, so borrowing looks cheap. That will change. And you'll still owe the money.
Horribly true.

Free to Choose?

I read this post at Marmalade Sandwich yesterday, in which Young Mr Brown describes ACPO's advice to police forces to ignore - for now - the European decision that our current policy on retaining the DNA samples of the innocent is illegal. My initial reaction was that it was reasonable to give the Home Office time to work out an appropriate replacement for the current scheme, and to hedge their bets in the interim.

Then, during the day, I thought further. I realised that when the Home Office change a regulation, I am expected to implement it immediately. Yes, in theory there is a consultation period, but only a tiny minority of the new offences and regulations that spew forth from this government actually come to our attention in advance. In any case, when (as here) the change in the law arises from a new Court decision offering an interpretation of a statute, I am not just expected to comply immediately with the new interpretation - I am required always to have complied.

What is more, the State was a defendant in the European case in question. They accordingly had ample time to see which way the wind was blowing. They had ample time in which to make representations to the Court to explain what their reasonable and justifiable needs were. If the judgement does not address certain questions, then some blame must lie on the defendant that did not ask them.

So, after reflection, I have reached the same position as Young Mr Brown; that it is not right that Police Officers (however senior) should pick and choose which laws they think they should follow - precisely because I cannot pick and choose. I am tempted, however, to explain politely to any officer that stops me in the near future that I am not yet observing that law, pending a decision as to my policy response to the issues that it raises.

Our police are meant to be "citizens in uniform"; it is time for them to either accept this or stop citing it.

Quote of the Day

Found by Constantly Furious. Kenton Lewis, Head of "Widening Participation" at St George’s Medical School, London, manages to summarise perfectly the approach of the Left with:

“Treating everyone the same way is not appropriate and not equitable”
As CF points out, St Georges presumably has a Head of Admissions - whose job it is to get the best and the brightest into the School in order to study there and provide the UK with the excellent doctors that it needs. Meanwhile, we also pay for a "Head of Widening Participation", whose job is (a) to keep out those who have shown themselves to be the best and the brightest and get some others in to replace them and (b) to come up with utter rubbish such as the above.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Come on - you've all thought it.

And now, at last, someone has produced the sign:

(With thanks to Dizzy for spotting it, and a hat tip to Dick Puddlecote for drawing it to my attention)

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

And end to Spin ... ?

Dearest Gordon, Saviour of the World Banking System, is now going to bring his unique skills to the help of unspecified needy people in his constituency.

No 10 had been reluctant to confirm this for fear it might be seen as a publicity stunt.
Heaven forbid that Gordon should be grubbing around for publicity at this time. Indeed:
Downing Street confirmed the story but said details would remain private.
I am reminded of the man who made a substantial anonymous donation to a charity, and then insisted that he wanted all to know that it was him who had made it.

Sorry, after 12 years I am completely, wholly and utterly cynical about this man. This is the perfect form of spin for him; not only does he let it be known that he is doing voluntary work, he also lets it be known that he didn't want it to be known that he is doing voluntary work. What's more, as we don't know what he's doing and when, we can't even make sure he does it! Perfect!

What he hasn't realised, though, is that I don't want the PM to be doing voluntary work. It is, by all accounts, a 24/7/365 job (one of the reasons I don't want it). When the PM is not actually in Downing Street, or in touch with Downing Street, running the country like he's paid to, I want him to be resting and thinking properly so that he is better able to run the country when he gets back. Instead, he's off counting his Brownie points. As if that wasn't bad enough, while he's doing that we have to listen to the Harrying Harperson.

Come on, Gordon; you make such a fuss of "just getting on with the job". Get on with it, then.

The Ties that Bind

The comments on my last post seemed to raise many questions. Sadly, the only ones I understood fully were "Do I wear a tie?" and "Why did I choose such a silly name for this blog?". So I'll address the first one today. I might look at the other one some time.

In short, the answer is my favourite one - yes and no. To be somewhat more informative, I can elaborate this slightly to say that yes, I wear a tie at work, but no, I don't usually wear a tie at any other time. It takes something really special for me to tie up outside work - weddings, funerals, christenings, meetings with David Cameron and the like.

Those examples give a clue as to why I wear one at work. It is, quite simply, a mark of respect. Clients meet with me, and offer me the respect of paying a (frankly) exorbitant hourly fee. In return, the least I can do is (a) pay attention to their suggestions as to how I should spend my time instructions as to what they want me to do for them and (b) look a bit smart. Bluntly, they pay my wages - being smart is a way of saying thank you.

And that is why I consistently disagree with my partners who point out that many clients now visit us without suits and ties. That is, I argue, their prerogative. They, after all, are paying the piper. If they want to turn up in a clown outfit and do headstands in my conference room, then provided they hurt no-one and pay the bill then that is just fine. I will neither laugh, point, or giggle (while they're in the building, at least).

Under pressure from others, I experimented with a middle way for a while, putting on a suit and tie when I knew I would be meeting a client and not bothering on other days. The problem is that leaves you inflexible - you need at least a day's notice of any meeting. Clients absolutely love it if they hear you offer to drop in that afternoon to talk something through, and in the end I grew frustrated. Yes, there was a greater degree of comfort some days, but I grew to find the loss of spontaneity even more irritating.

And that, to my mind, is the odd thing. These days, I spend all day with a tie on and do not notice the cervical constriction that it imposes - until I arrive home. Then, suddenly, it feels uncomfortable and the tie has to come off, there and then, in the hallway.

Monday, 3 August 2009


Charlotte Gore hs written a well-reasoned piece about the defence of civil liberties. She describes meeting a dyed-in-the-wool Labour supporter who regards ID cards (etc) as part of the social contract - these are the terms of living in the UK; accept them or leave.

She summarises his argument:

‘Democratic Mandate’ gives Government the power to do whatever it wants and it’s up to us to comply or leave - very Labour.
Err .... which democratic mandate would that be, precisely?