Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Flying Car Rises

I have spoken before about an abortive attempt to make a flying car. Well, a plucky band of Slovakian designers, engineers and enthusiasts have not let that failed attempt dissuade them. They have created the AeroMobil:

AeroMobil Flying Car

From roadster to flying machine in three minutes, told in the Financial Times‘s Weekend Magazine.

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St. Georges Day

Today is St. Georges Day, the day of the patron saint of England.

St George

We all know about the growing movement in Scotland to get its independence. This is perhaps part of a gradual decline in a shared British identity and a resurgence in individual English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish identities.

I think a separate English identity has been slower in asserting itself than the other countries*, but it has been growing for many years now.

Just as the Scots and Welsh have separate national anthems (apart from God Save The Queen), many have throught about an English one. But what are the contenders?

Jerusalem

A beautiful song, with words by William Blake and set to Sir Hubert Parry‘s music. Unfortunately it’s named after a city in Israel, and haven’t all our dark Satanic mills moved to China now? It’s hard to get worked up about dark Satanic call centres and office blocks.

Land of Hope and Glory

Again, a lovely song. But its references to ‘Thine Empire shall be strong’, and ‘Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set’ are a little anachronistic and might upset many of our international colleagues.

A Song of Patriotic Prejudice

The funniest of the offerings, Flanders and Swann‘s comic song. It’s a little politically incorrect for this day and age, but a great deal of fun.

Anyway, Happy St. Georges Day.

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General Election: Sock Puppet Edition

Conservative Chairman, Grant Shapps, has been accused of using sock puppets to advance his career.

Intent on getting to the bottom of this, this Blog tracked Mr. Shapps down for his side of the story:

Grant Shapps Sooty

Steven Clarke’s Blog (SCB): So what’s the truth behind the accusation that you’ve been using sock puppets to write nice things about yourself on Wikipedia, and nasty things about your rivals?

Grant Shapps (GS): There’s absolutely no truth to the rumour, is there Sooty?

Sooty:

GS: See, no truth at all.

SCB: No truth? No sock puppets?

Sooty:

SCB: Alright Sooty, I’ll take your word for it. So Wikipedia was wrong to cancel the account of contributer who’s been making so many changes to your account. They’re legitmate, and nothing to do with you?

GS: Absolutely. I have nothing whatsoever to do with sock puppets. Isn’t that right Sweep?

Sweep: Squeeaaaak-squeeeeeeeak-squeak-squeak

So there you go. Grant Shapps has nothing to do with sock puppets*.

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P.S. Wikipedia defines a sock puppet as a fake online account intended to deceive.

A contributer, called Contribsx , has been blocked from the popular online encyclopedia because he is believed either to be Mr. Shapps or under his direct command, and has been removing potentially embarrassing items written on Mr Shapp’s page and adding them to rivals in his own and other parties.

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General Election: Balancing The Budget Edition

Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne is dead keen on balancing the budget.

For the past 5 years, he has been standing in the middle of his office at 11 Downing Street with the red Budget Box perched atop his head, trying to get it to balance.

George Osborne Balancing Budget

It’s taken poor George longer than he thought. There have been times when he’s thought he’s finally got it in a perfect equipoise, only for it to overreach and fall off.

Sometimes, there aren’t as many tax receipts as he’d like, tilting it to the right. At other times, the bills for government spending are a bit heftier than expected, tilting it to the left

The pressure is on, as he has promised to balance the budget by 2018. His detractors worry that all the time spent campaigning over the last few weeks has distracted George from this vital task. But no worry, for campaigning purposes he has been replaced by a cassette player that repeats ‘long-term economic plan’ incessantly.

Ghetto Blaster

Long-term economic plan … Long-term economic plan … Long-term economic plan …

The election campaign hasn’t been kind to George. With both main parties neck and neck in the polls, politicians have resorted the traditional electoral ploy of trying to bribe the electorate with its own money.

The Tories have decided to shower money left, right and centre to get that elusive majority. Discounted council houses. Discounted shares. A cut in income tax to show it pays to work hard.  And even if you don’t work hard, a cut in inheritance tax to show it pays to have elderly, wealthy relatives.

Balancing the budget has seen taxes rise, benefits cut, and public services reduced – proving that this act has been a pain in the neck for the great British public as well as for Mr. Osborne.

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P.S. I can’t take the credit for the joke about the Treasury minister balancing the budget on his head. It can be found in Roald Dahl‘s Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator – sequel to the more famous Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It is contained in one of the funniest chapters committed to print.

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General Election: Manifestos Editions

Manifesto

The two main parties have released their Manifestos, outlining what they set out to do if they win power. Bearing in mind that either is likely to govern in a coalition with smaller parties, and so will have to make compromises; it’s still a good indicator of the choice before the electorate.

In a spirit of public-spiritedness, I am presenting the manifestos here for your perusal. I may well present the manifestos of the smaller parties at another point in time.

Conservatives

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Labour

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I can’t say I have any great enthusiasm for any party’s offering. I will read the manifestos much as a women reads the Kama Sutra – in order to choose which way to get screwed. But oh well. At least I’ll get a say.

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The A – Z Of Music: S

Passing over many excellent choices, I’ve decided to try another genre – also an S, ska.

This is a great song, Ghost Town by The Specials. Its very much of its era, redolent of the mass unemployment and racial unrest of early 80s Britain.

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People Respond To Incentives

I remember sitting in a bible study where one member, an elderly ex-Lord Mayor*, said that if there was one thing that would make the world a better place, it would be that everyone followed the Ten Commandments.

My bible study group

The elderly, ex-Lord Mayor holds forth at bible study

Now, it’s hard to disagree with many of the commandments. I disapprove on the whole of people going around killing each other, stealing, lying and all that sort of thing; although I’d be rather flattered if anyone coveted my ass.

I think he wanted the commandments to be drummed into everyone’s ear at school, and then for people to be constantly exhorted to behave better. It’s a nice thought, but I’d doubt it’d work. People tend not to like being told what to do.

There is another school of thought out there. I have recently been re-reading Steven Landsburg‘s The Armchair Economist: Economics and Everday Life.

Armchair EconomistThe first sentence goes:

Most of economics can be summarized in four words: “People respond to incentives.” The rest is commentary.

And in economics, incentives tend to work through the price system.

There has recently been an experiment** comparing these two approaches – (i) appealing to morality to change behaviour (called moral suasion), and (ii) using economic incentives. It had nothing to do with any of the commandments, but to do with discouraging people using electricity during peak hours***.

691 households in Japan were assigned into three groups, and their electricity consumption was monitored each day over a period of peak-demand:

  1. One group was told that it was important to save electricity, and would receive day-ahead and same-day messages asking them to, please, reduce their electricity consumption. (Moral suasion).
  2. A second group were also given messages, but they were told that electricity prices would be between 2-4 times higher during off-peak hours. (Economic incentives).
  3. A third group had smart meters installed, but received no messages. (Control group).

Guess which method worked best?

Electricity ExperimentThe blue line (moral suasion) is lower than the green line (control group) – so asking people to behave differently has some effect. But clearly the red line (economic incentive) is lowest of all. When people have to pay more for doing something, they do less of it.

God had a hard time with the stiff-necked Israelites, and wasn’t averse to using incentives himself. Pretty big ones. A plague here. Dropping some manna from Heaven there. But they were a little too irregular to have any real effect. Maybe he should have used some economics?

Ten Commandments

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