Political integrity (again)

October 8, 2016

Politicians wonder why people are cynical about their motivations and actions.
Financial Times on Friday 6th October: “Britain’s shale gas industry has won a big victory after the government overturned local council objections to a fracking scheme in Lancashire.”
Amber Rudd (then Energy Minister), May 2015: “We need to make decisions on energy more democratic and give our communities a direct say… In future, I want planning decisions… to be made by local people – not by politicians in Westminster.”
Ah, but then she was talking about the lowest cost form of renewable energy, wind, not a good CO2 emitting, environmentally iffy form of fossil fuel.
Local democracy matters when they think it will agree with what they want and…
The integrity of politicians. Sigh.


Windows 10 time (at last)

July 9, 2016

Having put it off for 11 months Windows 10 day finally arrived for my under-desk system. I’d been a bit wary because it started life with XP then upgraded to Win 7 and about the only original component is the box that all the bits are in. But it went OK with the only glitch I’ve seen so far being that my rather vintage (but good for me) Memeo backup software no longer works.

Unfortunately the supported update is priced in dollars ($49.99) and will now cost me over £4 more than it would have done pre June 23rd!

I’m exploring my options

Update after a little while, because not everything is immediately apparent.

First problem I noticed was that I had lost sound. However this was quickly resolved by deleting the sound card from device manager, rebooting and allowing it to be rediscovered, with a check for updated drivers.

Secondly I realised that my SugarSync backup and synchronisation was no longer working. That this should have failed without giving me any warning is not good. I only realised when I saw that a document I knew I had updated on this computer had not been synced to my laptop. I have raised a report with SugarSync to see what they say, rather than simply trying something like reinstalling the client.

This is the second problematic issue I have had with SugarSync this year and may cause me to rethink my use of it. Which is a shame because I don’t know of any other service that so smoothly meets my requirement to maintain file sync and provide cloud backup across two very differently structured systems.

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. Seriously, Dave.

October 24, 2015

I am deeply concerned about the UK government’s recent actions on climate change / renewable energy related policy. In the Queen’s Speech they said “Man-made climate change is one of the most serious threats this country and the world faces” … “We are leading the way in clean technology and innovation, creating new jobs and helping to power our economic recovery”.

Fine words and yet a range of recent actions suggest that their priorities are quite different, to the extent that concern has been expressed by people such as the UN’s chief environment scientist and ex US Vice President Al Gore (whilst being politically careful with his words).

I believe that what they are doing is so wrong that I wanted to do something, so in the best tradition I decided I’d write to the Prime Minister; and the Chancellor; and the Energy and Climate Change Secretary. I was discussing this with a neighbour and they said they’d be keen to sign the letters as well. This started a ball rolling and earlier this week the letters were sent with 12 signatures, representing 6 households on this street.

I don’t have much faith that this will change government policy, but I’m sure it won’t do any harm. Plus I have sought the support of my MP (Greg Mulholland) and Labour’s shadow Energy and Climate Change secretary (Lisa Nandy). We shall see what happens.

However in the best campaigning style, I thought I’d put it out here as well in case anyone else wants to support us and below are links to depersonalised versions of the 3 letters that I wrote. I will be delighted it anyone wanted to download and use them themselves. The more the merrier!

Here are links to the letter (.doc format) – PM version : Chancellor version : Energy and Climate Change Secretary version

As an example, this is the first version of the letter that I wrote, to PM David Cameron – the man who once committed the lead “the greenest government ever”. Judge the politician by how his actions match to his words!!

Rt Hon David Cameron MP, Prime Minister

10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AA

21st October 2015

Dear Prime Minister,

We are writing to express our concern at a number of actions of your government which, taken together, strongly suggest that you are taking a policy direction which is against the long term good of UK citizens and business – and our planet.

We are referring to the range of actions that you have taken which will work to the detriment of the UK’s climate and to our (until now) growing and successful renewable energy businesses: ones which can only grow in importance in the coming years.

The actions we are referring to include:

  • Drastic changes to solar energy subsidies which pull the rug out from under a British green success
  • Cancellation of the climate change levy exemption for zero carbon energy
  • Cancellation of onshore wind support via the renewable obligation
  • Cancellation of our commitment to zero carbon homes
  • Withdrawal of this month’s Contract for Difference auction,
  • Cancellation of the Green Deal, reducing home insulation activity by 80%
  • Sale of the Green Investment Bank
  • And even removing the road fund tax penalties for running a “gas guzzler”

You concluded your speech to your party conference with the tune “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” and yet from this perspective it seems this is what your government is resolutely not doing.

In the past few days we have seen the head of the IMF and the governor of the Bank of England being very clear about the costs of not addressing climate change and the CEO of Aviva has blogged about how these costs are already impacting his business.

Last month the director-general of the CBI expressed his concern about the impact of your policy changes on the UK’s renewable industries, a warning which is already being realised with the folding of 4 solar businesses in the last 2 weeks and, local to us, a world leading carbon capture project being abandoned (a technology which surely will be pivotal in the coming years).

You are leading a government which has to make some hard decisions, balancing the need to cut our deficit against longer term imperatives, and have shown you will do this eg:

  • You are cutting corporation tax, reducing short term income, because you believe that this will draw business investment which will lead to a net benefit
  • You have committed very large guarantees to new nuclear generation capacity because you believe it is essential for our long term energy security
  • Within a constrained budget you are compromising funding for our conventional armed forces because you believe it is imperative to maintain Britain’s nuclear deterrent, whilst hoping it will never be used

and yet

  • You are taking actions which undermine the UK’s nascent low carbon industries, that you know will be of globally strategic importance in this century, because…. ???

Actions, not words, are the measure of a person and a government. When you first became Prime Minister you said you would lead the greenest government ever. Five years on the case for this has grown substantially, yet you now appear to be actively driving in the opposite direction.

Please show us that we are wrong, that you are committed to the UK’s leadership in the 21st century’s critical growth industry, not by providing fine words but by actions. To start:

  • Revisit your plans for solar subsidies, giving the industry a realistic 5 year timeline to adapt to level competition with carbon based generation
  • Reassess the support for carbon capture and storage to allow us to grasp the opportunity for the UK to become a world leader
  • Symbolically, utilise the VW diesel controversy to revisit the budget proposals for road fund licence changes to ensure that the tax discourages running “gas guzzlers” and other environmentally damaging vehicles

Other great world powers are moving. Do not leave your legacy as the leader of the government that denied the UK the opportunity to play our proper part on this global stage.

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.

Yours very sincerely

(6 households on our street)


An update a few days later, as this story develops.

Firstly BBC news published a story which brings together the concerns driving our letter above in a very good summary Government energy policies ‘will increase CO2 emissions’

Then, just a couple of days later, another story broke Energy minister expects UK to miss renewables target, leaked letter shows

The astonishing thing, to me, is the way that the government are continuing to “talk the talk” and yet their actions make it clear that they do not believe this and are actively doing the opposite. Why? And do they think we will not notice?

Climate scepticism 2: who pays the piper?

October 21, 2015

A spin off from the post I just published Antarctica once had forests: so why should I worry about climate change ?

That discussion on Facebook had a number of threads, one of which included a “Republican” response. Within this a Richard posted this graphic and comments:

Richard Smith climate change in FY2011 budget

“You guys just want a doomsday to talk about

“And people are getting rich off it. It’s like religious people talking about revelations”

The argument that the climate change community have, in effect, created an industry to keep them in income is one that I’ve heard quite a few times from the sceptical side of the fence. Oddly, they never seem to question who might have a vested interest in the climate scepticism industry.

So I did a few minutes research and posted this response:

“Richard, you are so right to point out the importance of money in the way this issue gets discussed and publicised. The total of the Climate Change FY 2011 budget you list above was equal to 22 days worth of Exxon-Mobil’s PROFITS that year. Just that one company. Just profits.

“In 2011 9 of the top 12 companies in the Forbes Global 500 were petro-chemical.

“If you think the scientists are in it for the money, consider who’s funding the ‘sceptics’ “

Antarctica once had forests: so why should I worry about climate change ?

October 21, 2015

I was recently drawn into a discussion on Facebook with someone whom, I presume, is a climate change sceptic. Because it addressed a not uncommon argument I thought I’d bring it out and share it here.

The discussion was prompted by a friend sharing this picture:

daily kos republicans on climate change picture

This prompted a response from someone called Peter:

“Interesting and funny but possibly not idiocy and possibly untrue: as a student of geology we were always told to look at the evidence in the rocks. 100m years ago there was an episode of global warming too and Antarctica was in fact covered in forests. This is borne out by the fossils you can find in Antarctica.That was not as a result of man’s interference in the ecosystem but an effect of nature so it might be unwise to assume that we are affecting the climate in the way the “climate change industry ” is trying to make us think. Have a look at this article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12378934

Of course his facts are correct, but I believe the analysis is flawed so I provided the following reply:

“Peter, I think you have slightly missed the point. Climate change concern is not about global CO2 levels being unchanging over eons, but the risks to our current environment caused by human activity driven change at a rate never ever experienced before in the planet’s history.

“100M years ago CO2 levels were probably around 5x what they are now and at earlier times they were much higher. Indeed these were the levels that allowed the laying down of the carbon resources we have been exploiting rapidly over the last 150 years or so. The CO2 levels we have had over the last million years or so are the ones which have supported the climate which has allowed the successful rise of the human race. We are now carrying out an irreversible experiment to see whether that success can be sustained under the global environmental impact of a totally unprecedented rate of CO2 level change.

“Am I certain it’s us? The carbon resources we are exploiting were laid down over, say, 100M years. We have extracted, say, 10% of that and returned it to the atmosphere in 100 years: we are pushing it back at a rate of 100,000 times the rate it was laid down. And you doubt that will have an effect? It does not matter if my numbers are 100x out, you cannot expect to drive change into an ecosystem at that rate without effect.

“So let me flip your question. Given this, how do you prove to me that we can sustain what we are doing and it will have no problematic impact?”

So far he has not replied.

Cross Country journeys: pleasure with pain. Thanks for the reminder, Simon Calder!

June 19, 2015

On Saturday 13th June the Independent’s excellent travel editor, Simon Calder, published an article on one of the UK’s longest and potentially best rail journeys “The 6.32 from Dundee: All aboard the Anglo-Scottish seaside special“. It brought back mixed memories because last summer we took a large part of this trip, from Leeds to St Erth (for St Ives), the last stop before the end of the line at Penzance – the longest rail journey I’ve made in the UK.

Because of our experience I wrote to him about it. Here’s what I said:

Dear Mr Calder

Your column on the Dundee – Penzance train journey in last Saturday’s Independent brought back mixed memories of travelling much of it last summer. As you describe, a great rail journey, but oh dear, the service provided by Cross Country…

My wife and I decided to take a week in St Ives as our first child free summer holiday and, given that we were staying in the town, thought it would be a great idea to travel down by train (Leeds – St Erth, then to St Ives), on the direct service that goes on to Penzance (and, I suspect, started back in Scotland). To make the most of it we advance booked first class, looking forward to the comfort and service. Comfort: yes. Service: no.

Luckily we bought coffees on Leeds station before boarding a bit after 8am. Service was a single trolley, which started at the back of the 125 and progressed forwards, reaching us about 2 hours into the journey, with no hot drinks or food (other than snacks). To compound this the Cross Country 125 had no buffet car, so there was no option for us, or anyone, to go and get refreshment.

We were advised that a new trolley would be joining at Birmingham and were recommended that we should go and find it as soon as the train set off because it would again head for the other end of the train first. This we did, grabbing sandwiches to hold for lunch but I don’t know how many other passengers fared. The train left Birmingham pretty much full and the trolley finally got to us some hours later for its second and final visit in our 7 hour journey.

The train was woefully under-served yet Cross Country knew what the demand would be – most people, like us, were on advance booked tickets so they have no excuse for not being prepared. I’m surprised there was not some kind of riot and I feel sorry for the trolley person who had to face a large number of rightly unhappy people.

In summary a great rail journey which was nearly ruined by the operator (and only wasn’t because of our initiative).

And just as a contrast, we returned (thankfully) via London. Great Western first class was OK and then the lamented East Coast provided more service in the first 30 minutes out of Kings Cross than Cross Country had done in the entire 7 hour journey.

We learned our lesson and will be prepared if we ever do it again.



UKIP and voting alternatives

May 25, 2014

Contemplating this week’s polls I’m wondering whether David Cameron is now wishing he had supported the Alternative Vote because surely that would have made a Conservative government much more likely at next year’s general election !

Savaged by the myth of low German car depreciation

May 24, 2014

3 years ago I was looking for a new automatic family car that would return good economy. I’d previously had a Toyota Prius so the new model was an obvious candidate, but Mercedes had just released their 7 speed automatic, promising manual-matching economy. I looked, liked what I saw and went for it, justifying the extra cost on the basis I could spend the same per month over 4 years instead of 3 and down the line the Mercedes would hold value much better. When it came to trade in time I’d have a more valuable car to justify the extra outlay.

Now is the time I’m thinking about change, considering my options, looked at webuyanycar to get a value check. £13.305, which feels pretty grim. That’s 58% depreciation in 3 years. So what if I’d saved my money & bought the Prius ? Value now £13,000. Sh*t!! That’s less than 50% depreciation. Or to put it more brutally, £5,700 of the £6,000 extra I’d paid wiped out.

To rub it in even further I checked the value of my wife’s Renault Modus, purchased around the same time. 55% depreciation from what we paid.

Make no mistake, the Mercedes (C220 Cdi Estate) is a great car, unquestionably a better car than the Prius. But what the heck has happened to the promise of German quality and low depreciation. Worse than a Renault Modus. Come off it!! If I’d known then what I know now…

The real Apple rip off that PCPro missed in “the great iPhone rip off”

March 30, 2014

The April 2014 PCPro magazine carried a well researched and informative article called “the Great iPhone rip off” comparing the price of the iPhone and its competition. But I believe they overlooked the biggest Apple rip off of the lot, an astonishing scam that I can’t believe they have been able to get away with it.  I’m referring, of course, to the lightening – legacy adapters.

£25 for a little cable??? Shockingly I saw an article on a tech web site a while ago defending this price because it has to include a DAC. I can buy an entire MP3 player from Argos which includes battery, charger, USB power & data connectivity, amplifier and even headphones as well as the necessary DAC for £9.99: so how can Apple claim that including a DAC justifies that price.

Plus, of course, it was Apple’s decision to need the DAC. All the devices with the lightening connector already include a DAC (to feed their headphone socket), so Apple could have made the connector 1mm (or less) wider and included a pair of analogue contacts.  Immediately a “dumb” cable could have provided full compatibility to all existing external devices.

Which leads to the worst bit of this.  In doing this Apple deliberately chose to tax their existing customers, people already bought into their ecosystem.  If you never had an older iPhone/Pod/Pad you never had a dock with the old connector so would not need the adapter.  But if you’d already bought Apple products and had accessories then you needed the adapter.

So Apple made a conscious decision to design the lighting adapter in a way which required their existing customers to buy a ridiculously overpriced  adapter in order to continue using surrounding kit.  I cannot believe that they got away without a mountain of negative publicity.

And then, to absolutely prove this was their intent, they made the update to iOS7 to stop charging through the £2 adapters that people had bought who chose to abandon listening to music through their docks rather than pay the Apple tax.

Surely this is the definitive Apple rip off story. Why would anyone want to commit to a company which treats its loyal customers so cynically ?

The joy of Avios (or why I’m saying adios Avios !)

January 19, 2013

For many years I’ve been a low key collector of British Midland points, mostly collected via “double dipping” on points when I stay at Hilton hotels. A couple of years ago I realised that I’d accumulated enough to help substantially with summer holiday flights to the US, which were booked with ease via Star Alliance partners.

Then we had the BA take over of bmi and, as recommended, I transferred my points to BA’s Avios. Looking ahead to next summer, we are planning a holiday trip to Turkey so I thought I’d have a look at whether I could make use of my Avios. Sure enough, I’d got enough to get us 3 flights to Istanbul.

So on Jan 6th I went to the site and had a look. I might not have been totally surprised to find no availability on the specific day I wanted: but none anywhere in the first whole month of the school summer holiday ?

LON-IST no availability Jul 13

I could have understood if I wanted to fly on a particular, popular day. But no availability in an entire month, over 7 months away. These are supposed to be airline frequent flyer points. Come on !

Compared to my previous experience with bmi Diamond Club points and Star Alliance, to call this a poor start would be generous.

But, OK, I’ve got the points, let’s try another thought. This flight was going to be the start of the holiday, the most cost effective route for us was with BA from Heathrow so I could use some points to start the journey in style – buy the economy flight & use the points to upgrade. But here I found another drawback. The flights I wanted to buy were £148 each:

LHR-IST book economy

So I then went and took the economy + upgrade with points option and magically the economy flights are now more than double, £351 each !!!!

LHR-IST econ plus Avios upgrade

I think not.

Avios, I tried, you have failed.

So I’ve done what seems the only sensible thing, gone back to hilton.com and changed my double dip option to Hilton + Hilton.