bbtmn

Songs I haven’t listened to in ages: Pigs on the Wing

Sunday 24th July 2016

How great is the full version of Pigs on the Wing?

The two parts of this song have always been my favourite part of Animals because I think they’re lovely little songs (and, lets face it, the brightest parts on what is thematically quite a grim album). I love this version because a) great solo and b) makes it easier to listen to both parts without having to sit through all of Animals

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Brexit predictions

Wednesday 29th June 2016

So Leave won it. Probably fair to say it’s not the result anyone expected, but there we are.

As I write, the pound has slumped, markets hugely down, and both main parties are looking for new leaders1.

I called the result completely wrong, but here’s my stab at predicting what will happen next:

  • There will be a recession this year. There would probably have been a recession in the next year or so anyway, but the referendum means it will happen sooner.
  • The £ and markets will recover. The current turmoil is due to uncertainty as much as anything else; once we know what Brexit looks like, things will improve as people gain confidence again.
  • We will leave the EU. Despite the result this isn’t actually a given, but I think politically it would be very difficult not to leave, given the result. That being said…
  • The UK will join/stay in the European Economic Area. This keeps us in the single market, and will retain the freedom of UK nationals to live and work in the EU (and vice-versa). This point is too important to the UK economy that I can’t imagine a scenario in which some variant of this doesn’t happen. This will mean that despite the illusion of change, things will essentially stay the same2.
  • Boris won’t be PM. I’m not sure about this – at the moment he’s the frontrunner – but I think he has too many enemies amongst the Tory party. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if he does become leader, because the party is currently going about things in a pretty grown-up way. In stark contrast to…
  • Labour. I think we’re witnessing the death throes of the Labour party. The Parliamentary party will force a leadership election, Corbyn will stay on the ballot and will win – again – with the membership. I think at this point Labour has to split, with the grown-ups leaving to create a modern left-wing party (think New Labour without the baggage). This will leave the lunatics free to do what they want with Labour, and pave the way for the party to fizzle into insignificance.
  • There will be another General Election before 2020, but not in 2016. Labour (or their successor) needs to sort themselves out before they vote for that.
  • Nicola Sturgeon will pretend to call for a second Scottish referendum, without ever really asking for it. She knows she’d lose, and that even if she wins establishing an independant Scotland would be an impossible task.

I guarantee I’ll be wrong about half of this (I’m less certain about the party political stuff), but thought I’d put it out there anyway.


  1. Corbyn hasn’t technically left Labour yet, but it must happen soon []
  2. Hurrah for modern politics! []

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Everyone goes crazy over such and such and such

Monday 25th January 2016

I’ve been blogging – on and (mainly) off, in one place or another – since about 2004. In fact this very blog was started in 2007, so coming up for 9 years now(!). Reading through some of the early scribbles (and please don’t take that as a cue to trawl the archives, they’re awful), I see posts about religion, ramblings about motorsport, many many entries about procrastination, and song lyrics shoehorned in as blog titles.

So it’s still very me; at a basic level those are all things that I’d probably write about now. Sure, now I’m procrastinating on chartership reports instead of exam revision and the lyrics are from songs released in the last decade rather than the 60s, but the basic concept is pretty similar.

It’s still me, but not quite the same.

Reading through those old posts is a brilliant – if actually quite horrifying – experience. Seeing my thoughts from way back when, the general theme is “shit, I wrote that?!”. Call it the arrogance of youth or whatever; reading them with older eyes I just realise how I sounded. It also brings back a flood of memories. Of what was going on in my life when I wrote the blog, what I was feeling, and generally what got under my skin. I’m glad to say that those things have changed, at least.

I’m in the back half of my 20s now. Whilst in broad brush strokes I’m the same as ever, reading back those old blogs makes me realise that I’m a very different person. In terms of how I think and how I approach life, I’m just different. More comfortable with who I am, probably; and because of that more confident, less eager to prove myself. I have no idea if that translates into how other people see me; a lot of the people I see most often now are people I didn’t know back when I wrote this regularly, so they have no baseline for comparison.

None of this is to say that I think I’ve grown up to be amazing. I’m comfortable with who I am, but I acknowledge I can be a dick sometimes. The thing is that everyone is a dick sometimes; the trick is to ignore the people who act that way more often than not.

The odd thing is that I almost feel like I can pinpoint the time when I changed; a certain moment when a switch was flicked and I became comfortable with who I am. Which is almost certainly bullshit. People don’t work like that, we change gradually in response to many things.

I don’t apologise for not blogging. I try to write every now and then, get bored and then go do something more exciting. I won’t promise that I’ll try and write regularly or whatever because I can almost guarantee that won’t happen. Probably best to say that I’ll write whenever I feel I want to record something.

And on that note, I’m off to the pub. See ya in another year (or so)!

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October

Saturday 18th October 2014

9 posts in 2012. 2 posts in 2013. May as well have at least have one this year, even if it is wholly as a point of reference for myself.

This song’s been stuck in my head for the last week or so; found this version a couple of days ago and it’s really not helped:

I’m basically putting this here so that I can find it in future without messing around searching on YouTube. And hey, perhaps one of the three or so people who may read this will enjoy it!

I might write something longer at some point. I probably won’t. I also possibly might migrate this over to another url at some point, but again I probably won’t. I like the idea of writing something every now and again, but… effort. We’ll see, I guess.

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Stimulus

Tuesday 21st May 2013

There’s an argument made that the reason the UK’s economy is struggling is because the government is cutting spending. This line of logic originates with the work of John Maynard Keynes, who theorised that economic output is influenced by the total amount of spending in the economy, called aggregate demand. He argued that aggregate demand drops in recessions, and that when this happens the government should provide fiscal stimulus to make up the shortfall.

A key signal of aggregate demand is the unemployment level: higher unemployment, lower aggregate demand. In other words: in a recession lots of people lose their jobs, and so there is less spending in the economy, therefore the government should spend more money to make up the difference.

It’s an interesting idea and it might even be true. However, it is argued that this is the situation that Britain is in now, and so more fiscal stimulus is needed to help the recovery. But that doesn’t really stack up.

The signal for aggregate demand is unemployment, and one of the curious things in Britain throughout the downturn is that unemployment hasn’t actually risen that much, compared to the change in economic output. In fact, the drop in labour productivity during the downturn has had a lot of economists somewhat puzzled.

So if unemployment hasn’t risen, there can’t be a problem with aggregate demand. Fiscal stimulus solves aggregate demand. So why do we want more fiscal stimulus?

In fact, you could possibly argue the opposite. Yes, there have been real cuts in government spending, but actually they haven’t been that significant. The British government is still spending a historically high amount, and still has one of the largest deficits in the world. So the government has been providing fiscal stimulus, and that’s why unemployment didn’t rise as much. It might be true, I have no idea. It’s an interesting idea though, and if it is true it surely vindicates a lot of the Keynesian viewpoint.

So why is no-one making this argument?

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Not so High Speed 2

Sunday 3rd February 2013

The other day the Government announced a provisional route for High Speed 2. Now they’ll consult, and announce the final route at some point in the future. The first phase – the section between London and Birmingham – is due to start construction in 2017, and due to be completed by 2026.

In May 1961, President Kennedy announced that he wanted America to do something radical, something that no-one had ever done before. He announced that by the end of the decade, America would put a man on the Moon. You probably know how that turned out.

Getting to the Moon required lots of research, and working at the cutting edge of technology. High speed rail isn’t new technology, it’s been around for decades. Yet we’re saying that it’ll take longer to build a couple of hundred miles of rail line than it took to figure out how to complete a round trip of almost a million miles, using new technology, in the sixties.

Final cost of the Apollo project: $25 billion in 1970, or about £80 billion in present money. Projected cost of HS2: £32 billion.

Does it really sound reasonable that the entire Moon landing programme should cost about 2.5 times more than a high-speed rail link? I think not.

It’s a good idea to build a high-speed rail link. In fact we probably should’ve done it before now, and we should probably be at the stage of having a high-speed network, as in other developed countries. But it baffles me that it’s going to take so long, and cost so much.

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Well played, sir

Friday 2nd November 2012

So you’re a Republican Governor. You’ve been in the role since 2009, and coming up to the end of your first term. You’re the first Republican to win a statewide election in your state in over a decade, and during your time as governor you’ve built up a formidable reputation. Although people told you that you should, you elected not to stand for the Republican Presidential nomination. So some other guy gets nominated, and obviously as the election nears you play your part. Talk him up, talk down the other guy. All standard stuff.

And then a fucking big storm hits your state. And then you do this.

Governor Christie, well played.

You can see the logic. This guy is good. He’s done a good job as Governor of New Jersey, and had he stood I think he would’ve had a very good chance of getting the nomination. So why didn’t he stand? Well, if your assessment that the incumbent is likely to win, you might not want to stand against him. Because if you do, and lose, then that’s it, that’s your shot. Surely better not to run, to try in 4 years against the next Democratic nominee, who won’t have the advantage of incumbency. As a bonus, you can spin it as loyalty to the people who elected you as governor, and by distancing yourself from the election now, you also distance yourself from the nutters that currently comprise the GOP.

I kinda hope this is right. Christie seems to have done a good job as Governor; he’s done sensible stuff, and has actively tried to work with the other party. He would be a substantially better President than either of the numpties that are currently on offer (although I realise that isn’t saying much).

Of course, all this is skewered if Romney wins next week. On the subject of that… I think I’m right in saying that in the UK, most people would see Obama as the better candidate. In fact I think I saw a thing in the news recently about the results of a survey carried out which said that, if they had a vote, something like 75% of Britons would vote for Obama. I’m not sure why, because Obama has been a fairly mediocre President. Sure, he’s been better than Bush Jnr, but I don’t think that’s really an acceptable benchmark. So I’m biased towards Romney purely because he’s The Other Guy.

But would he do a good job? During the campaign Romney has been chameleonic, blending himself to fit in with the views of whoever’s nearby, to try to win their vote. That’s probably logical. I think he’s generally a moderate candidate, and he’s had to at least appear more hardline to win the support of the whackjobs in his party in order to secure the nomination. My instinct is that he’d probably be marginally better than Obama as a president, but it’s really hard to tell because he’s currently saying anything to win votes. So of the two, if I had a vote, I’d pick Romney over Obama; I’d prefer to take a chance on someone who’s unknown, rather than stick with someone who we know has done a bad job. But the choice is kinda like picking which limb you’d like to cut off; there’s no good answer, only a least bad one.

But we need Obama to win so Christie can stand in 2016, so that America can have a decent President for the first time since Clinton left office… Obama for President!

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Obamacare

Thursday 28th June 2012

A little while ago the US Supreme Court upheld President Obama’s healthcare reforms, officially named the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but called Obamacare by everyone else. The latter takes less time to type, so that’s what I’m gonna call it for the rest of this post… Anyway, rather predictably the reaction seems to be fairly mixed. One group thinks judging the individual mandate (I’ll come to it in a minute) constitutional is a grave mistake and, ahem, “un-American”. The other group seems to largely think that the first group is nutty, and that Obamacare is a Very Good Thing Indeed. My reaction was to realise that I don’t really know what Obamacare is all about, and to try to find out.

So I’ve spent a little bit of time doing that. I’m still not entirely sure I’ve got all of it, so I might’ve missed things out or misunderstood them, but from what I can ascertain here are some of the key features of the reforms.

Firstly, they’ve introduced an individual health insurance mandate. This says that individuals who do not receive public health insurance (Medicare or Medicaid) or private insurance through their employer, must purchase an approved private insurance policy, or otherwise pay a penalty. This is the basis of the question of constitutionality; because it essentially requires individuals to purchase a service from a private company, whether they want to or not. I kind of have some sympathy with this; it is a restriction of freedom, even if it is relatively trivial in comparison to other types of restrictions. I believe that the motivation for introducing this change is that uninsured patients cost more money, because they don’t get problems looked at until they’re severe enough to take them to A&E, where (presumably) someone else picks up the tab.

So that is a trade-off between individual liberty and overall utility. Personally, I can see both sides of that argument, and I think that either opinion is a respectable one to hold. As it turns out, I think that the Supreme Court ruled that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, but that the penalty you must pay if you don’t want to have insurance is actually a kind of tax, and it is constitutional for the government to impose such a tax. Interesting argument. Mostly I reckon that this basically highlights one of the key problems with having a constitution, but that’s something for another day.

Another effect of the reforms is to impose more stringent restrictions on the providers of health insurance. Insurers can no longer stop offering coverage to people who get sick. Insurers are also required to offer the same rates to applicants of the same age or who live in the same location. So they can’t hike up someone’s rates because they have a history of poor health, or are recovering from illness.

I can understand why some people might be upset at these changes. Insurers might end up losing money on some policies, and people who are always healthy might have to pay more for their policy to subsidise the loss-leading policies of people who are ill. But really, these are pretty poor arguments. If you get ill, that’s a shitty situation in itself. Being ill and then being told you have to pay more insurance – or that it’s being dropped entirely – is a bit of a kick in the teeth. It seems to me to be a good thing to try to stop that from happening.

Another restriction has been the banning of coverage caps. Previously, many (most? all?) insurance policies had clauses which capped the amount they’d pay out for healthcare, either on an annual or a lifetime basis. So someone might get ill, have a load of expensive healthcare, and then get to a point where they’d reach their coverage cap and their insurance provider would stop paying for treatment. Again, this seems to be a pretty shitty practice, so it’s probably good that they’ve banned it.

The reforms also see changes to Medicare and Medicaid, as well as the introduction of subsidies to help people pay for private insurance. Medicare and Medicaid are publicly-funded health insurance schemes, for the elderly and the poor. They’ve been expanded, so more people can access them. Subsidies are for those who earn too much to qualify for public health insurance, but earn less than a certain threshold. Taxes on high earners (over $500,000pa) have been raised to help fund these programmes. I suppose this makes sense; if you’re gonna mandate that people have health insurance, at least help them out a little. But it does highlight one of the problems of the scheme, which I’ll come back to later on.

The American right think this is all a terrible idea, and keep banging on about “socialised healthcare” and mentioning communism. From what I can gather, it isn’t socialised medicine at all. It’s an expansion of socialised healthcare insurance with the expansion of the base for Medicare and Medicaid, but it’s an expansion of private health insurance too. One of the problems with the scheme – the thing they’ve used to try to get it reversed in the courts – is that it requires people to pay money for private health insurance whether they want to or not. You can’t get upset about that whilst also claiming that the plans introduce communism into American healthcare. The two positions are contradictory.

The scheme is an expansion of health insurance to try to get 100% coverage; it’s also an attempt to try to ensure better healthcare by reining in some of the weird behaviours of private insurers (coverage caps etc). Judged purely on the basis of “how to make a good healthcare system”, it actually seems like a fairly decent idea. We know that public health insurance with private health provision can work well; that’s what they have in much of Europe, and those systems generally outperform other forms of healthcare system. It seems like the reforms fix some of what is wrong with American medicine – the lack of access – to try to move it closer to those types of European health systems. This seems to me to be a good idea.

What I find fascinating is that so many people in Britain are so supportive of these plans. The British Government is trying to introduce a health system that is sort of a hybrid between socialised medicine (i.e. provided by the state, what we have now, doesn’t work very well) and what Obama has just introduced. If the British Government went the whole hog and introduced the changes that Obama is making, there would be uproar. Why are these changes good in America, but bad in Britain?

Some other thoughts. These changes might make the health system better, but they’re also likely to cost a lot of money. The increased taxation (on individuals, and on business) will reduce economic growth, as will the imposition of more regulation on employers and individuals. I also don’t really understand why the government has increased taxes on medical supplies; ostensibly it must be to pay for these changes, but the cost will surely get transferred back to those who pay for treatment. To put it another way, the tax they’ve introduced to pay for more medical treatment will increase the cost of medical treatment. Doesn’t seem clever to me.

In the past few years, the key problem that’s faced every government has been how to deal with the economy; that’s what every world leader should be laser-focussed on. Instead, Obama spent a lot of time and effort trying to pass these reforms. But not only did he get distracted by them, the changes he’s made have actively made it harder for the economy to recover. Now, the reforms might be great; they might make healthcare in America much better, and perhaps that justifies it all. But the fact that he let this distract him from the economy – the major concern of our time, and most likely the fundamental issue of his presidency – surely calls his judgement into question.

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France in June…

Tuesday 19th June 2012

So yesterday I got back home after two and a half weeks in France. Went out for a weekend at the start of the month with work, and decided to stay out afterwards to visit Paris:

Champs-Élysées

After a week there, got the TGV back west to go back to work. Race week at Le Mans:

Le Mans pitlane at night

All in all, the last couple of weeks have been pretty good…

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Breaking Windows

Thursday 7th June 2012

Sometime this year (I think), Microsoft will release Windows 8. I’ve just been reading an article from the Windows 8 development blog, about how the design team has changed the user interface for the new release. It’s interesting reading; mostly because the design for the Windows 8 UI currently seems to be a complete mess, so it’s interesting to see the justification.

Here is basically what they’re doing. They’ve noticed that touchscreen tablets and phones are quite popular, so they’re trying to build more touch capability into Windows. Except they’ve done more than that; they’ve designed this new interface – Metro UI – specifically for touchscreen devices. And to be fair, it basically looks great; a tablet with that UI could easily be as good as the iPad, if it had the right hardware. But they’ve made Metro the default UI, for everything. If you have a desktop PC with one (or more) big non-touchscreen monitor, then if you upgrade to Windows 8 you’ll be presented with the same interface as if you’re using a Win8 touchscreen tablet. You’ll have to click an icon to get back to the desktop, and even then the new UI replaces the start menu. So if you want to launch a program, you’ll press the start button and the new interface will open in fullscreen.

I’ve not used the latest version of Windows 8, so it might be better now. But when they released the first beta version to the public a few months ago, I installed it onto a non-touch laptop. My thought was that it’s pretty much unusable. It’s perfectly stable, don’t get me wrong. But they’ve moved everything around, hidden basic stuff (e.g. turning the computer off), and basically messed it up. I think that if I bought a new computer that came with Win 8, it wouldn’t take me long before I gave up and “downgraded” to Win 7 (quotes because it just isn’t a downgrade; Windows 7 is a great OS, much better than 8).

I genuinely don’t understand why Microsoft are going down this route. No-one needs or wants a tablet that can do everything a desktop can, and using an interface developed for touchscreens on a non-touch PC is inherently annoying. And also, touch isn’t always useful; do you really want to be reaching across your desk to touch your display?

I can understand an argument for there being a degree of interoperability; for the two types of system to be able to talk to each other, and easily share files. That’s pretty much a given. But different types of machines – touch versus non-touch, mobile vs non-mobile – really place different requirements for the UI.

Microsoft seem to think touch is the future. I think they’re right, for some cases. I think tablet computers like the iPad (although actually, at the moment it’s just the iPad) could work really well as main computers for a large number of people. I use my iPad a lot (right now, for instance!), and there are really only specific instances where I actually need to use a proper computer. I think Microsoft think that too, hence why they’ve put so much emphasis on Metro.

But, if that’s the case, then people will be using devices that look very different to the computer they use today. And as I’ve mentioned, those devices are designed to be used in very different ways, so the UIs need to be designed differently to cater for that. The backend of a tablet and PC OS might look similar, but there’s no need to require the same interface on both. That is, Microsoft could design one version of Windows, but with two very different interfaces, depending on the device it’s installed on; the difference being that you only install and use one type of interface, rather than having both and flitting between the two. That’d be a bit messy (they should start their tablet/mobile OS afresh, like Apple did with iOS… and like Microsoft have already done with Windows Phone), but it’d possibly be a cost-effective way to provide software to various classes of device, and maintain interoperability between the two.

As it is, Windows 8 is basically a complete mess. If they release it like this, I reckon it’ll get a terrible reception, even worse than Vista got (Vista was actually a pretty decent OS, the problems were mostly not Microsoft’s fault). If that happens, I can only guess as to what’ll happen to Microsoft. Bad things, probably.

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