Archive for August, 2007

Living lightly on the land

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

My old shoes

The heel on one of my gardening shoes fell off the other day and I considered the feasibility of repairing it. As I pondered on how best to do it, I reflected that I had worn these shoes at least once a week for thirty two years. Is this a record for a pair of shoes?

They were of course, top quality shoes when I bought them – a testament to quality before quantity – and gradually got demoted to sturdy gardening shoes as time wore on.

I find it intolerable to throw anything away unless I feel I have exhausted every last use of it.

This philosophy feels like it is diametrically opposed to current consumerist profligacy.

Enemies of reason

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

This was the title of a television programme last night which featured my favourite arrogant scientist, Richard Dawkins. His assertion was that science was under attack from ‘new age’ mumbo jumbo.

He had a little interview with Deepak Chopra which highlighted the real problem. Dawkins was trying to trip up Chopra for using the principles of quantum physics in his new age philosophy (I haven’t read any of Chopra’s work so my apologies if this is an inaccurate term). Chopra explained he used the term as a metaphor only then set about berating Dawkins for his arrogant adherence to a mechanistic viewpoint.

This is the key. The greatest strength of science is also its biggest weakness. Science can only deal with the quantifiable. It needs to do this for the duplication of experiments. This has its drawbacks as was explained last week with the example of bats.

Before the equipment was developed to measure sound frequencies beyond our own hearing and someone was curious enough to suggest a rational explanation, the bats’ method of navigation through the dark was one of esoteric speculation. Science eventually proved a previously unknown phenomenon.

Let me give you my example.

As a lottery player, you are told one day that you have won a huge sum of money. Your physiological reaction is measured via your heart rate, sweat production waves of euphoria wash over you. Using the scientific method, from an observers viewpoint, nothing has been added to the organism to produce this response, so the observer has to try and divine why this response occurred using a mechanistic model. The response is measurable, but the cause is not, so the model breaks down.

With medicine, you can administer a quantifiable cause (say a dose of heroin) and see the effects. Science likes this kind of scenario; it fits into its mechanistic model of the world.

Okay you could argue that an idea was administered to the subject. Go ahead and quantify an idea. Is that electricity, light, magnetism, sound – what? Science gets stuck in this kind of environment – look at the trouble it is currently having with consciousness.

Just to complete the scientific experiment procedure with our lottery winner, you could administer the same idea to a subject who has never played the lottery and you wouldn’t get the same reaction. This is because the subject would know the information was false. Therefore it is not the idea itself but the belief in the idea which produces the effects. How can science quantify belief?

So we have an effect caused by a thought or a belief. Anyone who has experienced the spectacular physical changes that can occur with a powerful revelation knows this to be true. If you can create these effects with a thought, it only takes a little leap to imagine that lights, magnetism or voodoo could also create these effects if the subject believes that these things have those powers.

In the programme, Dawkins kept referring to the placebo effect as if it was some kind of magic trick of little value. But surely, it is the placebo effect which needs to be studied. Why does it occur at all?

I also found it slightly odd that science embraces concepts such as string theory or an eleven dimension universe and yet doesn’t allow mystical or spiritual speculation even though science tells us we are all physically interconnected through matter.

Just for the record, I am neither anti science, nor pro ‘alternative therapies’.

Football still in the dark ages

Monday, August 20th, 2007

A controversial decision by a football referee at the weekend prompted these thoughts.

I find it astonishing that such a global business as football still relies on the fallible decisions of one man. Just one error of judgement by the referee could cost a club thirty million pounds or more, should they be relegated or miss out on a cup competition. With so much money involved you would think it was in everyone’s interest to ensure that a correct decision was made.

The other astonishing fact is that the solution is already available and in place but no-one seems willing to use it. I am of course referring to the battery of cameras recording every second of the game. This is how we know the referee at the weekend made such a hash of it; slow motion replays show no foul was committed, yet a penalty was awarded.

Here is my solution. Each team is allowed at least one call for a video review. Once they have used that call, they must abide by all the referees subsequent decisions, so any use of the review has to be carefully judged. This should not interfere too much with the flow of the game.

The call can be made by the aggrieved player. So the player who was judged to have committed a foul in the incident at the weekend can make the call because he will know best if he did or did not commit a foul (there is no point calling for a review if he knows it will show him deliberately impeding the other player). The player signals to their manager that they wish for a video review by some hand gesture. The manager then knows his player is confident of his innocence but he makes a final decision to order the review or not. His decision will be based on how critical the incident is to the winning or losing of the game. If he decides for a review, the referees decision is suspended and the fourth official makes the review.

The idea that referees do not make mistakes is idiocy and yet referees under pressure feel the need to assert their authority by sticking to their guns even if they know they made a bad decision.

So the final decision is made by the fourth official based on the video evidence. If a mistake has clearly been made the referees decision is overruled. If the fourth official cannot decide from the evidence, the original decision by the referee stands and no more video calls can be made by that team.

The time taken to make the decision is added on to the match so that a team in a winning position cannot use the video review to tactically waste time. You could even introduce some form of punishment for the side that attempts to use it as a spoiling tactic because it should be apparent from the video review that there is no controversy about a decision.

This should also go towards eliminating the practice of ‘diving’ where a player feigns contact from another player when there was none. Calls for hand ball in the penalty area and confusion about the ball crossing a line could also be cleared up with a video review.

It could even be extended to ‘off the ball’ incidents where the referee is looking away from the infringement. So a player who is assaulted by an opposing player can call for a review and if the incident is caught on camera, the opposing player can be booked or sent off.

Most grounds have large screens so the video review could be played back on them and the spectators could see for themselves what actually took place.

It is no good realising after the game that a decision was wrong, that doesn’t help anybody and only fuels resentment against officials. The time has come to drag football into the dazzling light of a technological age.

How the banks defraud us

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

It’s no wonder the banks make so much money. My brother transferred some money from his online account to my online account. He telephoned me to tell me he had just done it. Several hours later I logged onto my account to see if it was there.

It wasn’t.

I waited twenty four hours and tried again.

Still not there.

I checked with my brother that he had taken down the correct bank details before ringing my bank to ask where the money was. My bank told me it took three or four days for the transaction to complete. Three or four days!

In an age of instant electronic communications this is scandalous. The thing is though, that money is no longer in my brothers account, neither is it in mine; so where is it?

The banks have it of course, so they’re the ones earning interest on it. You multiply a few hundred pounds by several million transactions and you have a large pile of cash which does not belong to the bank but which is earning interest for them.

What a scam.

A gap in the market

Sunday, August 12th, 2007

Despite repeated warnings in the media about skin cancer from exposure to the sun, people still pay good money to have their cancer risk increased significantly by deliberately lying in special booths. The logic in this defies my reasoning. But if people are going to be so asinine why not exploit it? I have spotted a gap in the market.

Recently in the UK smoking was banned in all public places (it took the government decades to act on the scientific evidence that smoking was bad for everyone).

So if we apply the same logic as evidenced in the sun bed scenario, it should be possible to make lots of money by providing smoking booths in the high street. The customer pays good money to sit in an air tight cubicle, fully clothed, for twenty minutes while cigarette smoke is pumped in. After this time, the smoke is sucked out of the cubicle and the customer can carry on their day to day business happy in the knowledge that their blood is shot through with nicotine, their hair and clothes stink abominably and that they have increased their cancer risk by a high percentage.

Ah, the joys of unbridled capitalism.

A practical example of self sufficiency

Friday, August 10th, 2007

The money is in the bank. We have shown it can be done.

My mother died several months ago. She left a little house and some money. As a joint executor I was instrumental in all the financial arrangements. My brother organised the funeral and told me he had a solicitor lined up to do the probate. I told him to hang fire with any instruction as I wanted to shop around. My research revealed all the solicitors wanted to charge a percentage of the value of the estate. This irritated me as I guessed the ‘work’ would involve shuffling papers – the same amount of shuffling regardless of the value of the estate. I’ve written in detail about this here. A bit more digging revealed we could do the probate ourselves, so I convinced my brother to do this. Nothing really could go wrong, if a form was filled in incorrectly it would simply come back.

We did the probate ourselves in six weeks.

Next came the house. It was decided to sell it. We got an estate agent in who valued the house well below what we imagined it was worth. I realised the worst thing we could do was sell it in the condition it was in. It was agreed we would refurbish the property which we did ourselves.
When we had finished, the house looked pretty and desirable. We started to think maybe we could sell it ourselves. We got a sign, got a post and hammered our ‘for sale’ sign into the garden.

Considerable interest was shown in the property but the downside was we had to waste our time with the time wasters; an estate agent would have had to deal with all that.

In the end we got an acceptable offer and we sold the house.

As I had done my own conveyancing before when I purchased my first property, I was confident I could do the conveyancing for this property, especially as there was no chain involved and we were selling, not buying (a much easier process). This I did and today I was told completion had taken place and the money from the sale of the house was in our bank account.

So, we did it. We knew what was going on all the time, completed legal formalities in a fraction of the usual time and saved thousands of pounds in the process.

Being self sufficient has a snowball effect as well. I am more inclined to ask ‘can I do it myself?’ and my confidence in tackling something which previously would have appeared daunting, has increased dramatically.

And if I can do it, so can you.

Self employed – beware ‘creep’

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

Someone rings me up and offers me a job, let’s say a caricaturing job. The job is discussed, particularly the hours I would be working, and a price is verbally agreed. When the contract arrives, I vaguely look at it, sign it, and post it back.

At least that is what I used to do. Now I look at the contract as if it was the first time I had heard anything about it. Every detail is scrutinised as I am on the lookout for ‘creep’.

Creep is where the contract suddenly has an extra hour on the timings, or fifty pounds missing from the fee. Nobody has run this past you before they send the contract so when you ring them up and point out the discrepancy they behave as if it was an absent minded slip.

Funny how their ’slips’ never work in your favour.

There is a mantra in business; under promise, over deliver. That way, the client thinks you’re a cherished supplier. But If a client ‘asks’ you to over deliver, then that client, in my experience, is not worth hanging onto.

Taking the rough with the smooth

Monday, August 6th, 2007

Thinking about it, without the rough, there would be no smooth… just monotony.