Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Think Twice

Blue Eyes posted a wonderful quote by Douglas Bader a few days ago:
Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the obedience of fools
DB has always been a hero of mine, but I had not heard that quote before. I like it, and I was planning to try and observe it a little more closely. Then, though, I realised that it was uttered by a man who decided not to obey a rule and who, as a direct result, lost two legs in a flying accident.

So maybe the quote itself needs to be classed as a rule?

Monday, 28 June 2010

The Great Repeal Bill is getting urgent

Hat tip @paulwaugh, citing the British Journal of Photography:
A photojournalist, Jules Mattsson was detained under anti-terrorism laws after he took images of an Armed Forces Day parade in Romford's city centre
Yes, that will help the armed forces' PR efforts bear fruit. What a wonderful sideshow that must have made to the parade. [/sarcasm]

I really must get out with my camera more often. This rubbish has to be challenged.

Thanks, Blue

For the perfect Monday morning lift:

(Well, the perfect Monday morning lift for true blues, at least...)

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Open to Learning

Everyone who drives should spend time in an open-topped car.

There are the positive reasons for it, of course - principally that is is more fun. Yes, you will need more sunscreen, but the morning breeze will wake you up and the sunlight will kill any trace of SADness that might be lingering from the winter. Oddly, the thing I like least of the classic reasons for an open car is the "wind in your hair" feeling - I can't stand the feeling that a little demon is flying just above me, grabbing clumps of hair and yanking them this way and that. But regular trimming and a nondescript cap puts paid to that.

My reason for recommending it, though, is a different one. Most modern cars hide the reality of driving from the driver and the passengers. Mercedes' range of plain saloons are the worst for this; with soft suspension, a muffled engine, plenty of soundproofing, comfy seats, and powerful aircon & heaters the aim is clearly to re-create a pleasant living-room in which you can be wafted gently between A and B (or, for a Mercedes driver, between M & S).

Now, this is not a bad thing (as such). We don't want to suffer in order to travel; we want to arrive fresh and ready to enjoy whatever varied delights B is able to offer. It is to the credit of the car manufacturers that they have made great advances over the decades in making their wares both easier to operate and more comfortable to use. However, it has an adverse effect; people simply do not realise what is going on underneath them. They prod and poke the levers, pedals, switches and buttons and, magically, things happen which propel them toward their chosen destination. The car tells them which way to go, and will happily intervene to keep them on the tarmac. Everything is easy, everything is safe.

Driving an open sports car reveals that things are not so simple. Merge onto a busy motorway, and the juggernaut's wheelnuts are spinning past your head at an alarming speed, alarmingly close. Go under a motorway bridge and there is a bang as the airflow is disrupted and the sound of the other cars is reflected. That bridge support looks much closer without a roof, too.

Leave the motorway for a country road, and you will start to hear the tyres holding on in the bends. You will hear the tyre noise change as the road surface changes and the rubber finds it harder to maintain its purchase.

Finally, try an emergency stop - a real one, the sort where you worry you're going to break the brake pedal and dent the cabin floor. While you do that, listen out - the tyres will be audibly doing their utmost to stop you, and the hard suspension will echo the strenuousness of their task.

This is not to say that open cars do not cosset the driver; my own has the full complement of ABS, stability control, multiple airbags, roll-over protection, side impact bars, and so on. There is even a wind deflector, offered in a vain attempt to reduce the cabin noise. The difference is that it is possible to see just how cosseted you are.

And if you can't get an open car, then at least wind the windows down once in a while!

Friday, 25 June 2010

Parish Notice

Yes, the layout & style have changed. No, you do not need to visit the optician (unless you think it still looks the same).

I finally became tired of embedded videos & linked images not fitting, and long tracts of text extending down into the basement. At about the same time, Blogger added a template designer allowing web design tyros like me to play around and change stuff. So I played around. And I changed stuff.

There might be further changes, or there might not. If it looks better, or worse, or unreadable on your chosen browser & platform then do let me know.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Boris: Watch this. Now

I want this on the tube. Immediately. Just imagine the time savings at places like Holborn.

Come on, Boris. You can do it. You know you want to.

(Hat Tip: CTA Tattler)

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Yes, but...

Angryteen has put forward an evidence-based argument against gun control. As you know, I am quite sympathetic to such arguments. As a former RAFVR marksman and winner of various trophies for my alma mater who has nevertheless managed to avoid falling into a spiral of gun and gang crime, I don't regard firearms as either unnecessary or intrinsically immoral.

However, I have to admit that I began to doubt that one day a few weeks ago. That day was hard work, and it ended with a particularly long and difficult journey via the M25 in that blistering heat that we typically see for one day a year, the day on which the car's aircon suddenly dies.

Just to make the day perfect, the journey was punctuated by an endless series of lane-hogging, finger-wagging, lane-straddling pondlife who had somehow acquired driving licenses despite not being capable of operating an indicator stalk or, indeed, an accelerator pedal - 98% of whom now owe their lives to the fact that I did not have a loaded handgun with me.

The Exciting Life of a Patent Attorney

There is an excellent blog for us patent attorneys, called IpKat. It is run by Jeremy Philips, and alerts us to new developments in the world of IP law.

Yesterday, he reported on a patent case involving cartons for sandwiches. It attracted this comment, which I just have to bring to a wider audience:
If you want to review the patent in question it is GB 2 397 573 and not '593 as cited in the judgement om bailii.

Coincidently, I was eating an M&S Chicken Triple sandwich from a
GB0417488.4* sandwich box as I discovered the above error.

Can life be any more exciting than that?

*this is a reference to a UK patent application number...

Friday, 18 June 2010

Dizzyingly Good

Dizzy is sceptical of the prospects for a radical shake-up of Health & Safety laws. This is a serious and important topic, which merits proper thought and discussion. However, I'm going to link to him purely because I like this wonderful piece of prose:
Here's the funny thing about "elf' and safety", half the time the stories are not because of legislation that deems the mundane a risk but rather over-zealous Council officers and pathetically scared facilities managers worrying about a vexatious lawsuit to the point that common sense doesn't just leave the room but actually runs up a mountain, finds a cave and refuses to come out until someone checks that the grass verges it needs to walk on have been freshly cut lest they cause it to have a terrible bout of hay fever.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

More Meddling

Rules do not solve things. They just make more problems. So I'm not overjoyed to hear about the new rules for stopping banks from ever doing silly stuff by, err, not letting them lend us more than 75% of the value of our homes. Apparently, we need to limit loans to 75% because:
The collapse of Northern Rock was widely attributed to its policy of lending customers up to 125 per cent of the value of their homes – despite the inability of many to repay the loans.
Hmmm. Let's look at that sentence. Two adverse factors are listed:
its policy of lending customers up to 125 per cent of the value of their homes
the inability of many to repay the loans.
I wonder which one might have been the problem? Let's try a thought experiment to see if we can find out. Let's just correct one at a time and see how much that helps. So, all of you, would Northern Rock still have gone under if it had:
Lent customers up to 125 per cent of the value of their homes, provided that they were clearly able to repay the loan
or if it had:
Lent customers up to 75 per cent of the value of their homes – despite their inability to repay the loans
I'm thinking that the main problem was perhaps that the customers couldn't pay off the loan? Maybe?

I speak as someone who has in the past borrowed 90% of the house value. Indeed, the lowest I have ever borrowed was for my current house, and was 75.24%. The 90% loans didn't get me into trouble, even during two periods of declining house values, because I made sure I could afford them first. I did this by at no point ever taking the maximum loan that the building society was willing to lend me. Each time I have moved, I have looked at that figure (and the associated repayments), turned a pale shade of white, and re-done my sums based on about a half of that amount. If that meant choosing somewhere cheaper, then so be it.

It's not the value of the loan compared to the house that is the problem. It's the value of the loan compared to the income. Duh.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Be careful who you screw, George

Blue Eyes is pleased that Dave & George plan to cut the deficit, but is naturally worried that he's the one in the firing line rather than those that benefited from Labour’s fiscal disaster. He wants the quangistos, the regulators, the interfering busybodies and the non-job wasters out first, before his taxes go up.

In his words:
I have never claimed a benefit or a handout. I have repaid my student loan. I am not in debt. I pay my own way. I do not depend on anyone. I save a good chunk of my salary. I create wealth and export services. I pay my taxes. I expect and receive little from the state in return. So basically, George, I am asking: why I should pay more?
Well said, Blue. There's only one part of the post that confuses me, that that's where you say:
That may sound selfish to some
No, it sounds perfectly fair to me - to suggest that those whose jobs are a pointless waste of money should be sacked so that they can go and do something useful instead. Indeed, it opens up the potential for a bright future for us all; if all those who are able to do useful work actually do so, then we will have the basis for a sustainable recovery with both low tax rates and high tax yields that enable us to care for those that genuinely cannot.

Such a future would be fair. It would provide for all of us. It would, one might say, be a future fair for all. Now, where have I heard that before?

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Road Safety - not as clear-cut...?

I love counter-intuitive findings. This one has been around for a while though, with only the more thoughtful people realising it:
The trouble with cars these days is that they’re too safe.
Too safe? Yes, indeed.
We need more dangerous cars. A spear mounted on the steering wheel, pointing at the driver’s heart, would do nicely. Cheese wire instead of seat belts would work too. Of course, these innovations would skewer and slice the typical crash-test dummy, but drivers aren’t crash-test dummies. Give them the right incentive and they will drive more carefully, to the benefit of the cyclists and pedestrians.
Do read the whole article; Harford makes the point which I have been trying to make for years, that road safety is a balance of conflicting interests. Safer cars can mean fewer fatalities, or it can mean cars go faster for the same number of fatalities, both of which are good (albeit in rather different ways).

And for those who think that road safety is a simple issue and that the obvious measure will obviously help in the obvious way? Well, consider the findings of:
Sam Peltzman, who in 1975 published a paper demonstrating that drivers did indeed drive more dangerously after mandatory seatbelt laws were passed in the US. He argued that despite technological evidence showing that seatbelts save lives in a given accident, there was no evidence that the seatbelt laws had reduced driver fatalities. In other words, drivers take advantage of seatbelts to drive more dangerously rather than to live longer. More compellingly, Peltzman detected a rise in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities when seatbelt laws were passed.