2010-03-30

Tolpuddle Martyrs

I opined that unions shouldn't try and control wages, instead wages should be agreed individually between the employer and the employee. Equally, employers shouldn't club together in cartels to control wages either. Dave disagreed and said to me, 'have you never heard of the Tolpuddle Martyrs?'. I had heard of them, but confessed that I didn't know what they did. I had them confused in my mind with the Jarrow Marchers.

I'm completely against price fixing, either by employers or employees, so if this was being carried out by the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers then it had to be stopped. To send them off to Australia against their will seems a bit over the top though. Also, were the employers guilty of price fixing too? Were they sent to Australia? I doubt it.

Silent Running

I bought Silent Running off of Ebay a few days ago, and watched it on Sunday. The protagonist wasn't a laid-back hippy, he was a militant environmentalist. Of course he was wrong to murder those people. We don't know the political system he was living under, but if it was a democracy, then he should have taken part in the democratic process to try and achieve his aim.

All good films have a happy ending. So did Silent Running have a happy ending? Well I suppose there was a faint message of hope in that the forest sailed off into the sunset.

2010-03-29

Are these your gloves?

Are these your gloves?

Someone left them at my house.

2010-03-27

Abolish Libel Laws

I was listening to Marcus Brigstocke on the Now Show and he mentioned the Libel Reform campaign. I'd like to see the libel laws abolished, never mind reformed. As far as I can see they're a way for rich people to prevent freedom of speech. The veracity of people's writing isn't something the state should become the arbiter of. We've seen how counter-productive that is with the holocaust denial laws on the continent.



Anyway, even though I'd prefer it to be abolished, reform is a step in the right direction, so I've signed the petition.

2010-03-24

Bath Half Train: DfT Responds

For those patient souls following the Bath Half Marathon train debacle, here's the reply from the DfT:
Dear Mr Locke

Thanks you for your enquiry about your journey between Bradford on Avon and Bath Spa. I have forwarded your email to the Franchise manager for First Great Western, who ill arrange to reply to you in due course.

Yours sincerely,

DfT

2010-03-22

Too Few Carriages For The Bath Half Marathon

You may remember that I wrote to the Office Of Rail Regulation, asking them to fine First Great Western for the shortage of carriages to take people to the Bath Half Marathon. Here's their reply:
Dear Mr Locke

Thank you for your email of 7 March about the 10:09 train from Bradford-on-Avon to Bath Spa on 7 March which was unable to accomodate all the passengers travelling to the Bath half marathon.

The train operators provide their services under the terms of their franchise agreements with the Department for Transport (DfT). The DfT is responsible for specifying these terms, monitoring compliance and taking enforcement action where necessary. I therefore suggest you address your enquiry to edmund.cullen@dft.gsi.gov.uk.

The usual procedure for making a complaint about the service provided by a train operator is:

1. Write to the train operator concerned - presumably, in this case, First Great Western whose contact details can be found on its website at http://www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk/ContactUs.aspx.

2. If you are not satisfied with the train operator's response, contact Passenger Focus which is sponsored by the DfT to represent passenger interests and to act as Britain's rail passenger watchdog. Contact details for Passenger Focus can be found at http://www.passengerfocus.org.uk/contact-us/.

You can post this reply on your blog if you wish but you may want to wait for something more substantive from DfT/First Great Western/Passenger Focus.

Yours sincerely

Office of Rail Regulation
One Kemble Street
London
WC2B 4AN

Web:www.rail-reg.gov.uk
So I've emailed the DfT saying:
Hi, I was given your address by the Office of Rail Regulation.

Hordes of people were unable to board the 10:09 from Bradford On Avon
to Bath Spa on 7th March. The train was crowded because of the
entirely predictable Bath Half Marathon. A four carriage train should
have been put on, rather than the two that turned up.

Please would you fine the operator.

Also, please let me know if it's not okay to post your reply on my blog.

Thanks,

Tony Locke

Again, I'll let you know what the reply is...

2010-03-20

Trevor Carbin Responds

To his credit, Trevor Carbin has responded to my previous comments. Here is our dialogue in full:

1. A five-year programme to insulate every school and hospital.

Me: I believe that a decision like this is for each school or hospital individually, not something that should be dictated by central government. Furthermore, it's not right that government has a monopoly on providing state funded schools and hospitals. Please end this monopoly and give the public choice, so that standards are raised.

Trevor: We do support as much independence as possible for schools and hospitals. The assumption is that as this programme would be beneficial they would accept it and would not decline the opportunity to cut their heating bills and reduce energy use. I don't suppose it would be forced on any school/hospital which didn't want it.

Me: Schools and hospitals should be given the choice on how they spend money given to them, it shouldn't be dictated by central government. Under your scheme they can either spend the money on insulation or not at all. What if a school has already spent some of its budget on good insulation in previous years, but wanted to spend your new money on a new teacher? Why are you going stop them?

Trevor: I wouldn't describe the current state education system as a monopoly as other parties than the government are involved.

Me: It's a monopoly because only the government can provide state funded schooling. The monopoly could be ended by allowing any organization to set up a school, and they would receive state funding for each child whose parents decide to send them to that school. Please give parents the choice and end the state monopoly.

Trevor: Where there's taxpayer funding there needs to be political oversight, though preferably more at local rather than at national level.

Me: There does need to be oversight, and this would be provided by Ofsted.

Trevor: The government has been promoting choice in education but I'm not convinced it's driven up overall standards.

Me: They haven't given us choice in education, we're still stuck with the state monopoly.


2. Funding insulation and energy efficiency for a million homes, (with a £1,000 subsidy for a million more).

Me: This is a terrible idea, as it rewards the feckless householder who hasn't insulated her house, and is no help to the responsible person who has already spent their money on insulation. Please don't do this. Instead spend the money on *paying off* the nation's debts, not adding to them.

Trevor: It's not free money - the initial cost is repaid over time by the householder via their fuel bills.

Me: The problem is that we all pay, but the person who has already insulated their house doesn't benefit. This policy punishes good behaviour, and rewards bad behaviour. Please withdraw it.

Trevor: Reductions in fuel imports would benefit the national economy.

Me: Not necessarily! This is economic illiteracy! The amount saved by not importing fuels could be outweighed by the amount we gain by importing them.


3. Building 40,000 extra zero-carbon social houses.

Me: What do you mean by zero-carbon? I suspect you subscribe to the bonkers idea that every house should be self sufficient in renewable energy. Why shouldn't I buy cheap renewable electricity rather than expensively generate it myself. Self-sufficiency is a bogus aim.

Trevor: 'Zero carbon' in this sense means not requiring fossil fuels for space heating. The building standards required to achieve that pay for themselves in energy savings. Yes, total self-sufficiency is probably not practicable for most individual homes but that's not a reason for not moving towards it.

Me: Self sufficiency is not a desirable aim. How can you so lightly dismiss the principle of comparative advantage? I say again, 'Why shouldn't I buy cheap renewable electricity rather than expensively generate it myself?'


4. Buying 700 new train carriages.

Me: First the bank bail-out, then the train operator bail-out. The train operating companies should be buying new carriages *not* the taxpayer. Really, you can't get enough of perverse incentives can you?

Trevor: Again they wouldn't simply be gift-wrapped and handed over. There would have to be detailed negotiations with the companies on how the carriages were to be used and how the cost of the investment was to be repaid. Meanwhile the potential benefit for the travelling public on lines currently suffering from under-investment and overcrowding would be significant.

Me: UK rail companies are already subsidised by about £5bn / year. This should be withdrawn. I commute by train every day between Trowbridge where I live and Bath where I work. I look to a future government to be tough with these train operating companies, not to give them any more money. You say that there will be detailed negotiations. I think you're being incredibly naive. These companies will take the money and run. They're much better at negotiating than civil servants. The rail companies should be given the message that the way to make money is by serving customers better, not through government handouts.


5. Re-opening old railway lines and stations, opening new ones, and electrifying the Great Western and Midland mainlines.

Believe it or not, I don't have an opinion on this.


6. Installing energy and money saving smart meters in every home within five years.

Me: I can't believe you've been lobbied into funding the energy companies. They're *private companies* please don't give them our money, please please.... What do you mean by smart meters? Do you mean that meter readings are collected remotely so that meter readers don't have to go out in their vans and read meters? If this is cheaper, then energy companies will install them of their own accord, if not, then why do it?

Trevor: Smart meters have potential benefits both for suppliers and consumers. If the energy companies install them in their own way they would tend to maximise the former possibly at the expense of the latter. By intervening in the process the cost and energy savings for householders can be increased. The most immediate effect is that when we're made aware of the running costs of appliances we tend to waste less energy. There's also potential for more off-peak tariffs and even for switching between suppliers to get a cheaper rate.

Me: I agree with this, but it can be done through the regulator, Ofgem, mandating that all energy data that's recorded for billing is made freely available to the customer. Government doesn't have to shell out our cash to energy companies to achieve what you describe above; you've fallen prey to their lobbying. It's your job to resist big, politically well-connected companies that are trying to get a handout from government.

2010-03-14

Futura Ices, nang!

I bought some Speedo Essentials goggles and went swimming. They let in water, they were uncomfortable, they were wack. I took them back to the shop and exchanged them for Speedo Futura Ice PLUS goggles, which are the same as I used to have.

The Futura Ices don't let water in and are comfortable. In short, they're nang!

2010-03-09

Trevor Carbin's 'Just one minute' Survey


Trevor Carbin, South West Wiltshire Parliamentary Candidate for the Liberal Democrats has put out a survey leaflet. I responded thus:
Hello, I've just read your 'Trevor Carbin's 'Just one minute' Survey'. I find multiple choice surveys a bit limited so I thought I'd respond in more detail to your Green Road Out Of Recession questions:

1. A five-year programme to insulate every school and hospital.

I believe that a decision like this is for each school or hospital individually, not something that should be dictated by central government. Furthermore, it's not right that government has a monopoly on providing state funded schools and hospitals. Please end this monopoly and give the public choice, so that standards are raised.


2. Funding insulation and energy efficiency for a million homes, (with a £1,000 subsidy for a million more).

This is a terrible idea, as it rewards the feckless householder who hasn't insulated her house, and is no help to the responsible person who has already spent their money on insulation. Please don't do this. Instead spend the money on *paying off* the nation's debts, not adding to them.


3. Building 40,000 extra zero-carbon social houses.

What do you mean by zero-carbon? I suspect you subscribe to the bonkers idea that every house should be self sufficient in renewable energy. Why shouldn't I buy cheap renewable electricity rather than expensively generate it myself. Self-sufficiency is a bogus aim.


4. Buying 700 new train carriages.

First the bank bail-out, then the train operator bail-out. The train operating companies should be buying new carriages *not* the taxpayer. Really, you can't get enough of perverse incentives can you?


5. Re-opening old railway lines and stations, opening new ones, and electrifying the Great Western and Midland mainlines.

Believe it or not, I don't have an opinion on this.


6. Installing energy and money saving smart meters in every home within five years.

I can't believe you've been lobbied into funding the energy companies. They're *private companies* please don't give them our money, please please.... What do you mean by smart meters? Do you mean that meter readings are collected remotely so that meter readers don't have to go out in their vans and read meters? If this is cheaper, then energy companies will install them of their own accord, if not, then why do it?

Thank you for getting this far in my rant. I'll publish this on my blog http://blog.tlocke.org.uk/, and your reply if you decide to reply.

Regards,

Tony Locke

I'll let you know what, if anything, Trevor says in reply.

Update 2010-04-18: Trevor has replied!

Bath Half Marathon

On Sunday we went to cheer Emma on in the Bath Half Marathon.



The streets of Bath were closed to traffic, and filled with runners.







and here are the other Emma supporters. They look quite presentable in a photo don't they?

2010-03-08

What's Next?

For Christmas, my brother gave me a book edited by Max Brockman called 'What's Next?' It's a collection of essays by scientists, talking about their work and its implications.

There were a lot of interesting ideas in there. One thing that sticks in my mind is the research that shows that language affects how we perceive the world. In English there is only one word for the colour blue. In Russian there isn't a word for just blue, instead there's a word for light blue and a word for dark blue. In tests, Russian speakers can distinguish between shades of blue more quickly than English speakers.

Whoever controls language, controls how the world is perceived.

One essay was entitled, 'Why hasn't specialization lead to the Balkanization of science?' If I were asked that question, I'd say what the great David Deutsch said, that there's a competition between science getting broader (we know more and more facts) and unifying theories that explain these facts. For example Newton's laws of motion explained almost everything that moves in a few simple rules. That wasn't the answer that the author of the essay gave, which was still interesting in its own way.

2010-03-07

Snapshot


My Dad with his then girlfriend in 1957.

Inadequate Trains For Bath Half Marathon



I've emailed the Office of Rail Regulation

Hordes of people were unable to board the 10:09 from Bradford On Avon to Bath Spa. The train was crowded because of the entirely predictable Bath Half Marathon. A four carriage train should have been put on, rather than the two that turned up.

Please would you fine the operator.

I'll let you know what they say.

2010-03-05

Through A Glass, Darkly Didactic

Well, I'd read Sophie's World and Sophie's Choice. I picked up Jostein Gaarder's Through A Glass, Darkly and was enraged by the smug Christianity of it all. I don't like the fantasy genre, but give me the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant Unbeliever over nauseating angels. The whole book is drearily pedagogic. He stands over us, serving up oily syrup (is there such a thing outside similie?) and expects us to give up our reason and accept souls and angels and God.

It gradually dawned on me that Gaarder actually believes that souls enter a person when they're born, and leave when they die. Gaarder highlights the mystery of feelings and senses. This is a mystery that science hasn't yet explained. Gaarder turns this gap into an entranceway for God.

This is the standard 'God of the gaps' approach. It goes like this. Pick something that science hasn't explained yet, and attribute it to God. The problem is that science keeps moving forward, and God is in continual retreat. Examples:

Big bang
Consciousness
Life

It's a flaw of mine, but I don't like things that you're not supposed to take literally. It's okay if something has a literal truth, and then further truths on top of that. I never 'get' the deeper truths myself, but I can understand the idea. No, what I hate is this magical realism. And when it's combined with Christianity and complacent condescension it's enough to make me wretch.

To give Gaarder credit, he does handle well the parents' relationship with the dying child, and their behaviour in that situation.

Also, I feel guilty at criticising a book. It's such an achievement to write a book, I salute anyone who does.

2010-03-04

Reverse-engineering the world

I woke up and saw a chair.

You know those Amazon recommends engines on websites? Well a concern is that you never get to see new things, it just give you more of the same.

I wonder if the same thing is happening with our immediate environment (hence the chair). The steps are:
  1. Physicists experience their environment.
  2. They create theories to explain what they see.
  3. Engineers use these theories to create our environment.
  4. Physicists experience this environment...
In other words, physics is the reverse-engineering of the environment. If we create the environment, we just get our own rules back. Even worse for virtual worlds.

Is this really a problem? If so, what can be done about it?

2010-03-03

Skate Crew


Me with two of the skating crew, Janos on the left and Laura on the right.