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Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Happy Tau (6.28) day

Now here is a campaign of which I approve: the outdated and outmoded pi deserves to be replaced by the intrinsically more useful tau (= 2 * pi).

Why is that you ask, because pi is the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle and the area is pi*(radius)^2, which is pretty straightforward.

Maybe, but the area formula (tau/2)*(radius)^2 shows us that the area of a circle is the sum of a series of infinitessimally sectors (ie. very thin triangles).  The tau form of the formula is much more like all those other quadratic formulae for energy (1/2*m*v^2), distance (1/2*a*t^2), etc etc, because what is really going wrong is that pi is only half the value it needs to be. The circuumference of a circle is pi*diameter but that is 2*pi*radius, or tau*radius.

As Leonnard Euler would have told us exp(i*tau)=1, which is just too cool for words.

Monday, 27 June 2011

The economic case for HS2

Today we see the opening of the M74 extension in Glasgow built at a cost of £657m, which works out at £131m per mile or £75,000 a yard.

In July this will be trumped by the even more costly A3 tunnel at Hindhead in Surrey. A four-mile section of dual carriageway is being added, but the vast bulk of the £371m cost is concentrated on the 1.2 mile (1.9km) tunnel. It is the longest subterranean road in the UK, costing around £300m, equivalent to £170,000 per yard.

The HS2 by comparison is estimated to cost £390 billion and will have an overall length of about 300 miles. I make that £56,818 per yard, running up the spine of the country, not in some sleepy Surrey backwater or in the world capital of cocaine consumption.

An NHS campaign I wouldn't support.

There was a debate on the radio this morning between a doctor brought in by the BBC to rubbish any thing the government does on behalf of the clinicians (Dr. Mark Porter, who chairs the consultants committee of the BMA) and a patients' advocate (Dr Mike Smith of the Patients Association).

At issue was whether the government should be closing hospitals or services in hospitals to improve clinical standards. One such service under threat of closure nearby is a paediatric cardiology unit, where there has been loud local support for the retention of the unit based in a South Coast town. It is one of eleven in the country and the government proposes to reduce the number to seven.

This is bad say the protesters. It is just government penny pinching and a closure would mean that little Jimmy would be further from home at a very traumatic time.

All very emotional stuff, but it seems to put Mum & Dad's inconvenience ahead of the youngsters chance of survival, because those willing to give this more than superficial consideration will remember the reports of excess deaths in the paediatric cardiology units at Bristol Royal Infirmary and the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

What has the bad performance at those hospitals got to do with another unit that has not had the same number of excess deaths? To put it frankly, the hospitals that failed probably did so because the surgical teams did not have enough experience, and that was a direct result of the fact that they didn't have enough "business" to maintain a suitably experienced workforce, and the same was likely to happen elsewhere. Some procedures were carried out less frequently than once a year in some units. I wouldn't send a pet rabbit to a vet for a procedure that he carried out less than once a year. Reducing the number of specialist centres increases the volume of specialist work in each centre and gives the staff more experience.

So, Mum & Dad, I am sorry about your little one, and it will be tough if you have to travel hundreds of miles a week to visit them, or if you have to stay in a hotel to be close by when they need you, but you have to understand, this probably really is for the best.

Does more competition in the NHS save lives?

Yes it does, according to this report from the LSE.  Not exactly a hotbed of free-market thinking, but here is what they conclude in their (peer-reviewed) report::

"Using AMI mortality as a quality indicator, we find that mortality fell more quickly (i.e. quality improved) for patients living in more competitive markets after the introduction of hospital competition in January 2006. Our results suggest that hospital competition in markets with fixed prices can lead to improvements in clinical quality."

Thursday, 23 June 2011

If you want Laura Robson to win tomorrow

... grunt just as Sharapova goes to hit the ball.

2 problems solved for the price of 1 (part # 95)

Why do we pay vast amounts to keep criminals locked up when there are certain classes of convicted felon who could be dealt with much more effectively by flying them to Somalia and handing them over to a gangster who will be able to look after them until an appropriate ransom has been extracted.  This has the advantage of keeping the pirates off the high seas as well as reintroducing the gangster into civilised society by negotiating his own ransom.

Just an idea, needs some fleshing out.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Evening all

Fifa vice-president Jack Warner has resigned, world football's governing body has confirmed.

"As a consequence of Mr Warner's resignation, all ethics committee procedures against him have been closed and the presumption of innocence is maintained," said a FIFA statement.

Funny that. I thought only the British police could resign and thereby walk away from an inquiry into their conduct. Perhaps he was Dixon of Dock Green after all.

2 problems for the price of 1 (a continuing series)

On the basis that the most effective time to kick your opponent is when he is down, I suggest that one of the pre-conditions for a Greek bail out is that they renounce any claims to the Elgin marbles.

Just something that we slip in as a small negotiating point and not something that they are likely or able to resist. More like a privatisation really.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Why bother voting Conservative?

Frankly, if the government carries this measure into legislation, nobody should bother.

"Discussions have begun at the Treasury over the move which would see the axing of tax relief currently paid out on pension contributions by people who pay income tax at the higher rates of 40 per cent and 50 per cent.
The money saved could go towards cutting the budget deficit or – in what would be a more politically popular decision – be used to provide a significant increase to the value of the basic state pension."

Income tax is a tax on income.  Sounds easy enough but you have to shout it really hard for some politicians to understand.  If a person doesn't receive an amount of income then they shouldn't be taxed on it.  If a person diverts 10% of their gross income into their employer's pension fund then they have effectively reduced their income for the year.  Sure enough they have also acquired the right to a future amount of income, but that right doesn't actually crystallise until retirement and the amounts actually received are fully taxable as they arise anyway (as income geddit), so why impose any earlier tax?

The end of Little Britain

Of all the programmes I most enjoy not watching on TV, Little Britain has always struck me as the most unpleasant, always striving for the lowest possible taste.  Today's piece of good news is that this piece of ordure will be made no longer. Read the comments./  I am not alon in my thinking here.

That it was ever made at all was testament to the BBC process of thought crime morality - certain people people commit PC hate crimes against other categories of people, so we will create stereotypes of those social traits, objectify and lampoon them with vileness and vulgarity that would be hard to pass of as entertainment without the critical subtext.

Well finally the BBC has realised that repetition of the same dozen non-jokes in different circumstances does not make a sketch show, and after their US venture bombed, the show ran out of jokes and their airline skit ran out of gags before the end of the first show, so perhaps we will no longer be offered endless repeats of Little Britain as either social commentary or high comedy.

Next: Why Gervais was better as a pot of fromage frais.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Spending other people's money is easy.

Why does the BBC pay its executives so much?  It must be for their skill, talent and judgement.

A few years ago they were lambasted for giving an £18m contract to Jonathan Ross, and the public were told that this was a contract running over several years and it was for more than Mr Ross, but it was never clear what was actually bought with that money. Now we hear that they have paid £22 million for the format of a Saturday night singing contest with judges.  So that's £22 million over 2 years before they actually spend a penny on making the programme. Apparently the big idea behind this show is that the singers are behind a curtain.  Obviously this doesn't work on radio because you can't see the curatin on the radio.

Now I am not much of a TV producer, but I think I could have come up with the same concept for a lot less money.  Saturday night talent contest with judges?  I think I have seen something like that before.  Bearing mind that the TV License is in reality a tax paid into the Consolidated Fund (collected by the BBC as agent for the government and then disburse to the BBC and Channel 4 after DCMS takes a cut and the Treasury adds a large dollop of cash for licenses for the over-70's), then tax payers should expect more skill, talent and judgement from those on the government payroll.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Something to look forward to this summer

The wailing and gnashing of teeth from overpaid and unpressured public sector workers as they tell the rest of the world why they deserve to be able to stop working 6 years earlier than the rest of the world.

Followed by the response "It's people like you and attitudes like yours that caused all the problems in Greece".

Thursday, 16 June 2011

New (Labour) Math

Frank Dobson in Today's Guardian:

"When Labour came to power the NHS was performing 5.7 million operations. In 2009/10 the figure was 9.7 million, an increase of 58%"

Now I don't know whether the claim about the number of operations is true, but what I do know is that it isn't a 58% increase.  What I also know is that 5.7 million is 58% of 9.7 million, but what that tells me is that a former Labour cabinet minister is functionally innumerate, being unable to perform the simplest of calculations.

Another reason to keep these people, with their scant grasp of reality, out of office. Machiavelli probably didn't say, "if you can't add up, you can't govern", but perhaps he should have.

Happy Birthday Big Blue

Keep THINKing.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

So incompetent it defies belief

So the US decided to ship dollars to Iraq by the plane load as you do. Up to $2.4 billion per plane load, a total of $12 billion dollars, mostly in shrink wrapped bundles of $100 bills.

Now, why am I not surprised that $6.6 billion of that money has not been accounted for?  Inquiries are under way and of course we get the usual public sector murmuring, foot shuffling, "desperate times" etc, but basically this is nothing more than grade A bumbling incompetence.  Glad I am not a US tax payer.

Do as I say, not as I do

Yesterday, listeners to the Today Programme had to put up with John Humphreys haranguing the Chairman of Southern Cross, the troubled care home provider.  This was never going to be good news for the nursing home magnate, who was introduced as the unacceptable face of capitalism, a standard BBC epithet for the private sector.

The main course of the other Welsh windbag's attack was that Southern Cross had erred in selling and leasing back many of its care homes.  The businessman gave sensible replies to the effect that it wasn't in their businesses interest as a service provider to have its resources tied up in assets, to have large corporate debt facilities that would have to be refinanced en bloc when the operating margins of the business (93% occupancy good, 85% occupancy bad) meant that they needed to have flexibility in their asset base.

All of this was of course lost on the Cambrian fool who continued to spout his Socialist mantra and suing from the union hymn sheet, but it will come as no surprise that later in the day, the BBC announced that they very property from which the Today programme is broadcast is being put up for sale on a sale and partial leaseback running for the next 4 years giving the BBC operations the flexibility in relocation.

The BBC currently owns 585,000sq metres of property in Britain across 483 locations and wants to cut its property holdings by 30 per cent. Richard Deverell, W12 programme director, said: 'Television Centre has played an extraordinary and central role in the history of the BBC, which will not be forgotten. Our primary aim of the sale is to maximise the value to the BBC and licence fee-payer whilst ensuring the teams and operations based there are successfully relocated.'

Spot the difference.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

And now for some good news

If you get your house in order, signal your good intentions and helpful nature real investment will follow. BMW has announced a plan to invest £500m in UK car production over the next three years.