Friday 26 August 2011

I hate myself sometimes

I’m very ashamed of an action I took this morning whilst alighting from my train in Thetford. The train was running late and there were a larger than normal crowd waiting to get on. The light to indicate that the doors could be opened to an age to come on. Whilst I waited and before it did so I saw this chap push to the front of the crowd and start jabbing on the button to open the door. When the door finally opened he started to get on the train before anyone had got off. Almost as a reflex action I barged into him with my shoulder knocking him back off the train. I don’t think at first he knew what had happened. I looked around and he was staring at me as if to say ‘I’ll remember you’. The actions of both of us were ill mannered and I’m certainly not proud of what I did. Rough justice isn’t justice. I get very irritated by bad manners and people’s non-consideration of others but that is no excuse for losing my temper. I shall of course beat myself up about it and sadly, as it happened in Thetford, there’s a good chance that if the individual concerned is hell-bent on revenge then he or his mates will be looking to beat me up or knife me as well. Deep joy! Now where’s that copy of the Daily Mail?

Thursday 25 August 2011

It was easy, it was cheap

Just imagine how even more exciting life would have been if we’d have had the internet in 1977. Punk with all its associated culture and spin offs would have found it a lot easier and cheaper to get its message heard. The fanzine, that important artery of communication between artiste and curious fan would have made the genre so much more accessible if it had been online. I suppose purists would dismiss this fantasy, alleging that it would have far removed punk from what it was, a disparate anarchic underground diy movement. Of course it is all pointless speculation really, but something to mull over in my dotage.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

One in a billion

Contrary to popular belief 1,000,000,000 is not a billion. It is only a thousand million. A real billion is one million multiplied by one million (million² or 1,000,000²), and is written thus: 1,000,000,000,000.
Glad we sorted that out then.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

A clause for the common good

To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”

I still like the original version of Clause IV, drafted by Sidney Webb in November 1917 and adopted by the Labour Party in 1918, and feel that it is still applicable and a desirable aim to aspire to. Our world would be a much better place is these ideals were the driving force of a democratically elected government.

Thursday 18 August 2011

Life, the universe and everything revisited

During my time as a Quaker attender I would often find great inspiration in reading 'Advices and Queries'; a set of useful paragraphs which as well as being included in 'Quaker Faith and Practice' also came as a handy little booklet. 'Advices and Queries' is an inspirational guide delivered in bite size chunks. It always amused and comforted me that there were 42 of them. HHG2G fans will be aware of the significance of this number. My favourite 'A&Q' and the one I read over and over again was No42. Apart from the last sentence no one apart from Jeremy Clarkson could possibly object to the wording. I'd like to share it with you now:

"We do not own the world, and its riches are not ours to dispose of at will. Show a loving consideration for all creatures, and seek to maintain the beauty and variety of the world. Work to ensure that our increasing power over nature is used responsibly, with reverence for life. Rejoice in the splendour of God's continuing creation."

Wednesday 17 August 2011

KPIs, smoke and mirrors

Captains of industry and latter-day politicians get very horny over KPIs or to give them their full unabbreviated title Key Performance Indicators. Unfortunately as with most management tools they are a sham. They don’t measure performance per se, rather they measure people’s ability to ‘play the game’ and to massage and manipulate figures. Those that are ‘clever’ find ways to influence outcomes. Those that either don’t care or don’t realise that it is a game rarely do so well in the measurement stakes. Sadly important decisions are made on the back of all this false data. People’s livelihoods are affected by them. It certainly happens to a degree in the company I work for and I suspect it happens in varying degrees up and down the land.
If targets are set and people don’t meet those targets it doesn’t necessarily mean they have ‘failed’ even though it might be seen as failure. It could be that:
  • people are too busy doing a really good job that they don’t have time to facilitate the generation of correct data
  • the overall data collection process is flawed
  • someone else is entering data incorrectly
  • data is being misinterpreted
  • the metrics used are not well defined and/or have not been communicated to those concerned
  • data of different standards and from different sources is being accepted as ‘like for like’
  • people concerned aren’t doing their job properly
  • any permutation of various of the above
  • Other factors that I’ve failed to consider
One of the biggest problems with data collection is inconsistency. In large organisations data will invariably arrive from a number of different sources. Different branches of the organisation will interpret what information is required each in their own little way. Even if information is gathered from electronic systems it is subject to contamination; unless you have got very basic black and white true/false type data it will be flawed. The data entry if made by humans will vary. The more sophisticated the data is the more chance it has of being incorrect. These measurements will be further corrupted where you have government departments that collect data from outside organisations. The variables of interpretation offer so much scope for erroneous answers as to render many findings pointless. KPIs can only ever be accepted as giving an approximate overview or flavour at best. They can only ever be considered as a licking your finger and holding it up to the wind type of approach. 

In my experience rarely do KPIs tell it like it really is and far too much weight is given to them when making important decisions. Essentially KPIs are just statistics and we know exactly what that means. There really is no replacement for quality, hands on, management; people who know the job and being trusted with getting it right.
One of the biggest problems with data collection is inconsistency. In large organisations data will invariably arrive from a number of different sources. Different branches of the organisation will interpret what information is required each in their own little way. Even if information is gathered from electronic systems it is subject to contamination; unless you have got very basic black and white true/false type data it will be flawed. The data entry if made by humans will vary. The more sophisticated the data is the more chance it has of being incorrect. These measurements will be further corrupted where you have government departments that collect data from outside organisations. The variables of interpretation offer so much scope for erroneous answers as to render many findings pointless. KPIs can only ever be accepted as giving an approximate overview or flavour at best. They can only ever be considered as a licking your finger and holding it up to the wind type of approach.
In my experience rarely do KPIs tell it like it really is and far too much weight is given to them when making important decisions. Essentially KPIs are just statistics and we know exactly what that means. There really is no replacement for quality, hands on, management; people who know the job and being trusted with getting it right.

Monday 15 August 2011

Okay so what rhymes with arse?

I do love the search term statistics that I get for this blog. A recent search that brought a cyber-space traveller to a particular post on my blog was: “izal medicated toilet paper poem”.

The post in question does mention Izal medicated toilet paper but no poem. Being a lover of poetry I thought I would Google “izal medicated toilet paper poem” to see what came up, and it turns out that during the war Izal employed a poet to pen morale boosting poems in a bid I guess to shit for victory. Here is one such poem that was printed on Izal toilet paper:

Hitler now screams with impatience
Our good health is proving a strain
May he and his Axis relations
Soon find them right down the drain
Stirring stuff eh?

Saturday 13 August 2011

The C word

So glad that a British crisp maker has switched to calling their crisps what they are, crisps. I can now buy Tyrrell’s Crisps with a clear conscience. I’ve often wondered whether calling crisps chips could be breaking the trade’s description act. I suspect that it doesn’t as it would seem that being well and truly rogered by the American language has the tacit approval of the ruling classes in this country. Good on you Tyrrell’s. People I urge you to buy the glorious crisps.

Friday 12 August 2011

Evening all

Blame is easy, blame is cheap. Blame doesn’t really achieve a great deal. As a society we are all to blame for the Frankenstein’s monster of a country that we have created, but rather than waste too much time on blame we need to understand how things have gone badly wrong, and set about trying to create a better life for everyone.

Since the Tories have been in power we have seen a great many people covering a wide range of socio-economic groups taking to the streets. If they’ve done nothing else the Tory cuts have managed to get a lot of people off their arses to show their disapproval as best they know how. One thing that struck me when I went on the TUC march on the 26th of March this year was how friendly and sympathetic the police en route seemed to be. I suppose it is understandable really. They were no doubt bruised by the criticism over kettling and concerned over how the cuts would affect them.

I was born into an age when Dixon of Dock Green epitomised the British bobby on the beat and we all wore rose-tinted spectacles. The police force, I suspect never was or never will be like that. Today’s police force is an entirely different animal. I think one thing that tends to get forgotten is that the police force is a public service. They exist to maintain the rule of law to the best of their ability; a rule of law that can only be maintained with the co-operation and consent of the public. The police aren’t perfect, as I’m sure that many amongst their ranks would agree they are human like the rest of us but given the tasks that are expected of them and given the resources at their disposal I think they do a pretty good job. Clearly the recent revelations about the News International/police cosy relationship, trigger-happiness episodes, continued racism and some examples of thuggery during recent disturbances don’t do anything to enhance their reputation, and need to be addressed. But policing isn’t something to be done in a vacuum. The police are as much a part of society as you or I, we need to work with them and they need to work with the population as a whole. Using them as scapegoats is neither productive or will it serve any purpose. The government are just adding to the divisions in society by blaming the police for the extent of the destruction in this week’s riots. Yesterday’s comments by Cameron and May weren’t helpful at all and are a perfect example of what is wrong with our ‘me, me, me’ society.

This BBC internet news report Riots: Police chiefs angered by Cameron criticism highlights the stupidity of the Tories and concerns that a battle weary police force are having:

A row has erupted between police chiefs and the government after David Cameron criticised the number of officers deployed to combat this week's riots.

The PM also said the wrong tactics were used - while Home Secretary Theresa May said it was her decision to cancel all police leave to boost numbers.

Sir Hugh Orde, head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said she had "no power whatsoever" to do that.

It was police, not MPs, who had restored order, he insisted
Full story here.

Thursday 11 August 2011

How to eat fish fingers

Apart from my fourteen year sojourn as a vegetarian, fish fingers have been one of my favourite comfort foods. They have been so for as long as I can remember. And, before you ask as a vegetarian I didn’t eat fish. Vegetarians don’t eat fish. If you eat fish you most certainly ain’t a vegetarian. My all time favourite comfort food is baked beans on toast by the way. But back to the matter in hand. For as long as I can remember I’ve been eating them ‘Paul’s special way’.

‘Paul’s special way’ requires that the breadcrumb coating be surgically removed totally from the fish, ideally in one piece. Once removed the coating is piled up neatly on the plate. The fish and any accompaniments are consumed with gusto. When all but the breadcrumb coating is gone it is time for the finalé, the pièce de résistance. Slowly eat the golden goodness, savouring every mouthful of scrummy scrumptiousness.

Fish finger skins – the most fun you can have with your clothes on!

I am reminded of a story my lady tells of the days when she was a social worker. One afternoon she made a visit to a client who was not originally from the UK. The woman offered my lady a cup of tea, an offer my lady was happy to accept. Along with the cup of tea the ‘host’ presented my lady with a plate of fish fingers as if they were biscuits. Clearly the poor woman had heard of the British fondness for afternoon tea but hadn’t quite got the full story. Something lost in translation obviously.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Free stuff

There is no such thing as free stuff. Someone always has to pay!

Unfortunately the internet age has fostered the idea that you can get things for free; something for nothing. People often don’t realise that when it comes to things that are obtained without payment that there is always a payback time. Costs will be recovered. Depending on the nature and situation of the ‘free stuff’ costs will be recovered by higher prices, insurance rates, rents, interest rates, taxes, some other form of levy or less choice. And one thing you can most certainly be sure of is that the less well off in society will pay proportionately more than those rich enough not to notice. Ultimately ‘free stuff’ helps with the enabling of the rich to get richer and forcing the poor to get poorer.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Frankenstein’s Britain

Listening to the radio at lunchtime one couldn’t not help but be moved by the accounts of so many unfortunate folk that have been injured, threatened and had their possessions and livelihoods ruined by the rioting in London and elsewhere. These are real people really suffering; innocent law abiding citizens. As a pacifist I could never excuse or wish to justify any violent act. But, to dismiss those who are rioting on the streets of London and other cities in England merely as gangsters, looters and thugs is to totally misunderstand what is going on in this country. When David Cameron used the term ‘Broken Britain’ in many respects he was right. Oh dear that’s twice when I’ve agreed with him lately. I suspect where we differ though is on how we perceive ‘Broken Britain’ and how we would ‘fix’ it.

For my sins I travel on public transport most weekdays. At either end of my journey from Norwich to Thetford I walk to and from both stations. Almost on a daily basis I see people whose behaviour is just so alien to my neo-polite upper working class sensibilities that I often cringe and wonder how they can be so, quite frankly, horrible, selfish and rude. The dysfunctional behaviour that is displayed by an increasing percentage of the population is both staggering and horrifying. I’m not just talking about what is increasingly and sadly being referred to as an underclass but right across the socio-economic divide. Too many people are just too bloody selfish.

It would be so easy to say that it is all Thatcher’s fault! And I fear I might have been guilty in the past of such a comment. But whilst the seeds of society’s decay were sown in the Thatcher era, “There is no such thing as society: there are individual men and women, and there are families” both Tory and Labour governments have perpetuated and allowed the decay to continue. We live in a me, me, me society where I’m alright Jack sod everyone else prevails. It would seem that in this pseudo-libertarian age it is okay for individuals to break the rules. They apply to everyone else but not me. This approach pervades all sections of society; breaking the rules is now acceptable. It doesn’t matter if it is rudeness, dropping litter, queue jumping, never switching your mobile phone off, driving whilst holding you phone to your ear, speeding, phone-hacking, awarding yourself large pay rises and bonuses, or good old fashioned looting and rioting people, right across society so many individuals just do not give a shit about anyone else or the consequences of their actions. To a certain extent we are all guilty of perpetuating this downward spiral into anarchy. But it doesn’t have to be like this. If enough people want it to change it will. Thankfully we still live in enough of a democracy to make it happen.

The big challenge is to persuade the majority that it is in everyone’s interest to try and improve social cohesion and that equality is the key to improving the society that we live in. It is easier said than done of course as so many people take a burying their head in the sand approach and will just dismiss it as liberal Guardian-reading woolliness. The bigots will call for short sharp shocks, more police and other oppressive solutions, but these are sticking plaster solutions to deal with society’s broken limbs and slashed arteries. Unless we have a society where everybody has genuine opportunities in housing, health, education and employment we will never progress. Unless we recognise that equality really does make a difference and recognise that the wealth gap between the top and the bottom of the economic scale impacts on the quality of life that we all live nothing will change. Looting is going on at both ends of the economic scale. A small minority of undereducated, undernourished under fulfilled poor kids are grabbing all the headlines with cries from the general public of “something must be done” whilst quietly company executives award themselves ridiculously high salaries and ridiculously high bonuses and at the same time making thousands redundant and paying too many others the minimum wage. Looting on a grand scale, causing hardship and ruination to so many good people, and there is simply nothing that anyone seems to want to do about it. Most rich people don’t get rich through pure luck. They get rich through exploiting a situation, people or both. We are not yet a civilised society me thinks.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs illustrates what most humans strive for in their lives. But if you take away the opportunity and the hope of ever improving the human condition from millions of people there are bound to be consequences. More equality won’t solve all this country's ills over night. In fact it’ll take a generation or two before any substantive change will be noticed. But if we make no attempt to even things up matters will just continue to get worse and worse.

These two articles, one from the Guardian and, surprisingly, one from the Telegraph that hint at some of the many complex reasons for what is going on.

Saturday 6 August 2011

My father has HD, HD has my father

People usually look at you with a blank expression if you mention HD, or Huntington’s Disease. Most people have never heard of it, unless they’ve had some experience of it; perhaps from having met someone with it, worked in a caring profession or have family members with it. I suppose because it is not as widespread as something like Alzheimer's or as well known as MS. It is a genetic disease that is passed down directly from parent to child, and it cannot skip a generation. My grandma had it and now my father has it. And for all I know it could be me next. In grandma’s day it was known as Huntington’s Chorea, the Chorea describing the erratic limb movements that are one of the symptoms and characteristics of this cruel and wasting disease. This BBC web page offers a concise but reasonable explanation of what the disease is all about. For a more detailed information go to The Huntington's Disease Association.

As children we watched grandma’s deterioration with both bemusement and amusement. One occasion amongst many that will stick in my mind for ever was at a family tea party when grandma picked up the left-over crusts from my cousins plate, popped them into her mouth, eating them instead of her intended target, the untouched sandwich on the plate in front. It is to my eternal shame that I admit that we laughed heartily at this incident. Kids can be really cruel.

Grandma died at a relatively early age. She was in her early sixties. She was lucky enough, if I might be permitted to describe it like that, to die of a heart attack. She was spared the horrors of physical deterioration and then dying through painful complications brought about by HD. I’m not sure my father is going to fare quite as well. At almost eighty my dad is now on a definite downward spiral. Wasting away. I won’t go into detail as I don’t feel that would be right but as a son that has not always been that close to his father it is still very disturbing to witness. I’m pretty sure that all my life I have been a disappointment to my father. I was never really that interested in sport, diy or outdoor pursuits. I’ve always been the arty and cerebral type. Puny but philosophical. I’m not sure dad has ever understood what makes me tick, a feeling that is mutual. That said I still feel for my dad. I witness his bewilderment and frustration. It is as if he’s strapped in to a mysterious and scary roller-coaster ride. He has no control over the journey and he’s not totally sure of the destination. Sadly as a spectator I’m pretty sure I know where that destination is.

Given that my father has HD there is a good chance that amongst me and my sisters some if not all of us could well be struck down by this horrible disease. There is a test that would determine if I have the faulty gene and therefore could potentially develop the disease. But as there is no cure or any way of delaying it I don’t see the point of having the sword of Damocles hanging over me. I prefer to get on with life rather than worry greatly about if and when the symptoms might show. Besides something else could well get me before the HD works its magic. We are all mortal and we all have to deal with that fact in our own little way.

Thursday 4 August 2011

There is no argument for a death penalty

For once I agree with David Cameron on something; there is no place in a civilised society for the death penalty. With a number of e-petitions calling for its restoration it looks as though it could well be discussed again by parliament. As well as being abhorrent and absolutely immoral it is also unjustifiable as a deterrent. Personally I don’t accept that deterrents really work and that the way to reduce crime of any sort is to address the causes. Why try to cure something when you can prevent it? Those misguided enough to support this barbaric practise only have to look to America to see that it doesn’t deter murders. Support for the death penalty is the logic of the imbecile. It is the tool of fascists and despots.

On 20th December 2007 I blogged here about how ridiculous a concept it is. This is what I wrote then:
...Daily Mail readers... ...confuse Justice with Revenge. Justice is only justice when the higher and pure moral ground is taken. State murder is just as wrong as murder by an individual. What right has any person to take the life of another? If you say ‘none’ then you are arguing against the death penalty. If you say ‘some’ or ‘plenty’ then you are saying that murder is acceptable, therefore why are you making it as a crime and one punishable by death at that?

For those of a religious disposition, who believe in a creator god, to take the life of anyone is a blasphemy. You are setting yourself up as an equal to your god. From what I know of the mainstream religions it’s not the done thing. For those of us that don’t need the crutch that is religion, but care about humanity, it would be hypocritical to preach that something is wrong and then go and do the self same thing. Legitimising it under the framework of law doesn’t make it any more justifiable, or any less abhorrent. And for those a little more intellectually challenged (Sun readers etc.), two wrongs don’t make a right!

Monday 1 August 2011

When to drink tea or coffee

There are rules in life that dictate how you behave in certain circumstances or the way you conduct yourself. These rules are unwritten. You either instinctively know what they are or you don’t. They are based on logic. Those of us that know appear to be in the minority. Many, many people struggle with this logic. Get a grip you lot! 
Being the public minded citizen that I am I from time to time impart this crucial information via this blog. Today’s public service announcement is about when to drink tea or coffee:

  • First drink of the day – this should be tea. No compromises here, tea and only tea. Ideally two cups before any other drink is even considered.
  • Breakfast – it is acceptable to drink coffee
  • Mid-morning – coffee
  • Lunch – coffee, unless you are having fish ‘n chips when it should be tea, or when having a pub lunch
  • After lunch – it’s perfectly acceptable to have a coffee after you lunch as long as it remains within the immediate post-lunch time frame
  • Mid-afternoon – tea only. Coffee at this point would be a faux pas extraordinaire!
  • Dinner – I would only ever recommend beer or a soft drink unless, again, you are having fish ‘n chips.
  • After dinner – coffee would always be the first choice
  • The rest of the evening/night – tea
  • Supper – tea, a mug of cocoa or camomile
  • If in doubt you should always drink tea as this is the default beverage
  • At any point in the day tea or coffee can be replaced by alcohol (yes I have had beer for breakfast!). The one exception is the first drink of the day which, just to recap, must be tea.
  • From lunchtime onwards it is perfectly acceptable to drink soft drinks. Fruit juice as an addition is perfectly acceptable at breakfast but does not replace coffee or tea at that meal.

There you have it an essential guide to help you keep on the straight and narrow. How have you ever managed without it?