Thursday, 30 June 2011

Explain that one to me again?

Sound the alarms! Man the barricades! It's a disaster! The UK is not meeting its climate change targets!

Quite the opposite, in fact - things are getting worse:
Emissions rose by 3% during 2010, says the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).
Oh no!  How awful - surely the temperature will now run away ever upwards, leaving us sweltering.  How could this have happened?
This was due to extra energy demand in cold weather
Arrgggh! All those heaters being turned on, using energy to keep people warm despite the awful winter...?

Hang on a minute... let me read that again:
This was due to extra energy demand in cold weather
Cold weather?


Can I just express sympathy for the public sector workers who will have to work longer for a smaller pension. I know how you feel. Literally.

There is just one small (but crucial) difference. I'm not demanding that money be taken from public sector workers in order to maintain my pension at the level I expected. I'm not demanding, in effect, that public sector workers should be made doubly worse off so that I in the private sector do not have to accept any pain.

So stop whining, and get back to work.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The ordeal suffered by Millie Dowler's family was, without a shadow of a doubt, appalling. I would not wish it on anyone.  They have my sympathy.

That does not mean, however, that I think we should be changing our system of justice.  It is easy to blame the defence lawyer who asked the questions.  It is easy to blame the Judge who did not stop him.  Very easy.  Too easy, in fact.  I have had a lingering feeling that the public discussion of this case was somehow very wrong, but the Beneath the Wig blog put it into words better than I have managed so far.  Go and read it; it is worth the time.

Wiggy's summary hit the nail on the head, I feel:
By all means, put reporting restrictions on trial. Put the press on trial; but don’t put justice on trial. Those details could have stayed inside that court room, where, it could be said, they belonged. But the very press who are calling for the barrister’s head on a platter and a noose around the justice system’s neck, are the very press who disseminated that information in all its gory detail for public consumption. There is such a thing as restraint. But restraint should never be forced on the team responsible for ensuring a proper, robust defence is run. Justice demands that. (my emphasis)
(Hat Tip to Tom Paine)

Friday, 17 June 2011

Another nail in the coffin of journalism

The single realisation that, when it dawned on me, spelt the end of any faith that I ever had in the mainstream media, arrived after I had been in the patent profession for a decade or so.  I was reading an article that mentioned an intellectual property subject, and which made a howling error that showed the writer to have no knowledge or understanding of IP at all.  I dismissed it, thinking something along the lines of "typical...".

Then I had a second thought.  I realised that I had dismissed the article without surprise because every single article I had read had been the same.  Not once had I read an MSM article that mentioned IP without there being a serious error or misunderstanding of some sort.  Now, IP is my specialist subject.  I have postgraduate and professional qualifications in it, and I deal with it every day.  Without being immodest, I can say that I am pretty expert in it.  Others are more expert in certain specific areas of IP, I will admit, but IP is a subject that I can honestly claim to know about and whenever I read a MSM article about it, it is wrong.

So, I realised, what about all the other articles?  The ones about subjects that I'm not an expert in?  Logically speaking, there are two classes of article, being those on a subject I know about and those on a subject I don't know about.  For the articles in the first class, I know that they all contain horrific errors and oversimplifications.  For the articles in the second class, I do not know that they do not contain horrific errors and oversimplifications because I am not qualified to assess this.

Logically, though, unless there is some link between me understanding a subject, and journalists tending to misunderstand a subject, we should infer that all articles on all subjects are sloppily written from an uninformed perspective.  That is the basis on which I have operated since that realisation.  So far, it was worked distressingly well.

Which brings me to the latest Telegraph article on the subject of the European Patent.  As ever, I approached this article with the primary aim of finding the glaring error.  This is good scientific practice, of course; if my hypothesis is that every such article will contain a serious error, then I should look for an error in each one so that I can, if possible, disprove the hypothesis by finding an article that discusses IP in an accurate and balanced manner.   Well, it didn't take long:
Currently, member states have their own patent offices. These work together as members of a non-EU body, the European Patent Organisation, which helps companies gain patents across 40 countries.
Ooops. No, the EPO and the national offices are operationally independent.  The EPO has its own offices, examiners, rules, fee structure, representatives, code of conduct, and so on.  It consists of the European Patent Office, which is controlled by the European Patent Organisation.  Yes, the Organisation has an Administrative Council that includes representatives from the national offices, but that is a policy-setting board that acts as a general oversight.  It is misleading to say that the offices "work together as members of a non-EU body [ to help ] companies gain patents across 40 countries".  They do no such thing.  The national offices do not work together to help companies obtain patents in other countries.

The European Patent Office acts as a competitor to the national patent offices.  It takes work off them by streamlining the process and allowing companies to patent their ideas across Europe at much lower cost.  That cost could be lowered still further by making savings in the utterly pointless translation scheme that was imposed on the EPO by national governments.  We (i.e. the UK) have been trying to lift this burden off the EPO since before I joined the profession 20 years ago.  This is not an EU sovereignty issue, it is a simple issue of bureaucratic efficiency.

Which leads to the other huge glaring error by the Telegraph.  In their desire to paint Cameron as a closet Euro-federalist, they have jumped on the latest UK effort to get the Community Patent off the ground to prove that he loves the EU and all its manifestations.  Which is, frankly, pathetic.

So as far as I'm concerned, the Telegraph can return to what it is good at - printing a large-format backing paper for photos of whichever female member of the Middleton family was looking prettiest the day before.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Capping Benefits

A brief exchange in the House caught my eye, on the subject of the proposed cap on State benefits:
Steven Baker (Wycombe, Conservative)
[...]In 2011-12, the pay-as-you-earn tax threshold will be just £7,475 a year. [...] the people paying tax—that is, paying tax to pay the benefits that others are in receipt of—are actually poorly paid and that a year’s pay on the national minimum wage is just £12,300? Will he join me in recognising that it is an issue of social justice that we should introduce the benefits cap?
which prompted the reply:
Iain Duncan Smith (Secretary of State, Work and Pensions, Conservative)
I agree with my hon. Friend. That point is also powerfully made by the fact that nearly half of all those who are working and paying taxes fall below the level of the cap. It is important to achieve a balance of fairness. I recognise that there are issues, and we have looked at ways in which the process of change in housing benefit can be done more carefully, for example. This is not about punishing people; it is about establishing a principle that fairness runs through the whole of the benefit system.
Note that: nearly half of those working fall below the benefits cap.  To put that differently, the benefits cap is set close to the median income for this country.  This means that at present (without the cap), it is probably possible to be on benefits, and be better off than average.  

Remember that when a leftie tells you about evil Tories who punish the poor.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Obo has a good idea... to how to tell whether a political speech has any content. And it's a cunning one.

As explained here, what you need to do is imagine the speech being delivered by one of the characters from "The Thick Of It". If you can't tell the difference, it is a spin-rich content-free zone.  Or, as we have now learnt to call it, "normal politics".

There is a message here for politicians, which Obo points out
And then politicians moan about the lack of "democratic engagement". Hint: how about you [bunch] give us something to engage with? Honestly, if you take out Ed's half-[hearted] "attack" on the Big Society, is there anything in his speech that would sound odd if it were delivered by Cameron or Clegg?
We're in a bind; Cameron won't say anything remotely interesting because he's in government, Clegg is incapable of having a sensible idea of his own (even if he wasn't in government, as he sometimes seems to think), and the Millillillibababble is, well, just incapable.

So three cheers for the Libertarian Party, who stand at the vanguard of a new... errr, oh.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Well, those of us that survived, anyway....

I do love the "we were brought up without health & safety" piece in whatever form it arrives, this time from the Filthy Engineer.  Always a good read:

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL WHO WERE BORN IN THE 1930's 1940's, 50's, 60's and even early 70's

First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us and lived in houses made of asbestos.

They took aspirin, ate blue cheese, raw egg products, loads of bacon and processed meat, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes or cervical cancer.

Then after that trauma, our baby cots were covered with bright coloured lead-based paints.

We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets or shoes, not to mention, the risks we took hitchhiking.

As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags.
We drank water from the garden hose and NOT from a bottle.

Take away food was limited to fish and chips, no pizza shops, McDonalds , KFC, Subway or Burger King.
Even though all the shops closed at 6.00pm and didn't open on the weekends, somehow we didn't starve to death!

We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this.

We could collect old drink bottles and cash them in at the corner shop and buy Toffees, Gob stoppers, Bubble Gum and some bangers to blow up frogs with.

We ate biscuits, white bread and real butter and drank soft drinks with sugar in it, but we weren't overweight because......

We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the street lights came on.
No one was able to reach us all day. And we were O.K.
We would spend hours building our go-carts out of old prams and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. We built tree houses and dens and played in river beds with matchbox cars.

We did not have Playstations, Nintendo Wii , X-boxes, no video games at all, no 999 channels on SKY ,
no video/dvd films, no mobile phones, no personal computers, no Internet or Internet chat rooms...........WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!

We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no Lawsuits from these accidents.
Only girls had pierced ears!
We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.
You could only buy Easter Eggs and Hot Cross Buns at Easter time...

We were given air guns and catapults for our 10th birthdays, we rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just yelled for them!

Mum didn't have to go to work to help dad make ends meet!
RUGBY and CRICKET had try outs and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!! Getting into the team was based on MERIT
Our teachers used to hit us with canes and gym shoes.
The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of.
They actually sided with the law!

Our parents didn't invent stupid names for their kids like 'Kiora' and 'Blade' and 'Ridge' and 'Vanilla'

We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned HOW TO

And YOU are one of them!
I especially love it because there is a lot of truth in it, yet there is a worrying logical inconsistency at its heart. Yes, we all survived the experience.  Of course we did - the "we" that point at our survival are a group defined ex post facto as "the group of people that survived".