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Saturday, June 22nd, 2019 at 12:45 pm - - Whipping 1 Comment »

I just had a petition to the UK Parliament rejected on 20 June that I submitted on the 23 of May.

Now you could say that it was delayed because they were busy, but I went back through the list of rejected petitions, and found that they had turned down 320 other petitions in the meantime.

This tells you that they had a hard time finding a problem with it, and in the end just made something up.

Here is the text of the petition:

Legalise party political placards on street furniture during an election

The laws in the UK against fly-posting are so restrictive that, unlike in most other countries, elections are totally invisible to people on the street. Yet during the Christmas season the councils find time to put up decorations on every lamp-post to remind us that we need to keep shopping.
More details

In most countries (throughout Europe and especially Ireland) you can really tell when an election is on because the lamp-posts, bridges and traffic railings are festooned with coloured placards and banners, often with photos of the smiling candidates.

I used to be against it, but now I can really see the point in letting people feel there is something is happening. We have gone way too far in banning these notices. Trials should be run in selected parts of the country at the next election.

And the rejection notice:

Why was this petition rejected?

It’s about something that the UK Government or Parliament is not responsible for.

We can’t accept your petition because this would be a decision for local councils and not the UK Government or Parliament.

The law doesn’t explicitly prevent political advertising in this way. It does allow local authorities to remove any “picture, letter, sign or other mark painted, ascribed or affixed on the surface of the highway, or any structure or works on or in the highway.” It is up to local authorities how they use that power.

Obviously they are wrong, because Parliament makes the laws that tell local authorities what they can and can’t do, or indeed what the heck these institutions are.

If they’re claims were right, I would not be able to find in Section 5 of The Planning (Control of Advertisements) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015:

The Deemed consent for the display of advertisements

… deemed consent is hereby granted for the display of an advertisement falling within any class specified in Part 1 of Schedule 3, subject… to the standard conditions, except that paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 does not apply in the case of any Class 13 advertisement.

What’s that mean?

The way to read UK legislation is to know it for the tangled mess that it is. There ought to be an inquiry into why it gets so bad.

Schedule 3, Part 1, Classes of advertisements which may be displayed with deemed consent says:

CLASS 13 – Advertisements relating to an election

Description: An advertisement relating specifically to a pending Parliamentary, European Parliamentary, Northern Ireland Assembly or district council election.
Conditions: The advertisement is removed within 14 days after the close of the poll in the election to which it relates.

And then Schedule 1, Standard contions says:

Paragraph 4 No advertisement may be displayed without the permission of the owner of the site or any other person with an interest in the site entitled to grant permission.

To me, that looks like election posters can be put up without the persmission of the property owner. For “property owner”, you should think of local government property (eg lamp posts), not someone’s leafy garden lawn.

Sometimes posters do get cut down, but according to the reporting it’s seen as wrong because election posters are an important part of the democratic process.

The same is true in southern Ireland, where everyone knows election posters are important and simply considers them a necessary evil.

The law passed by the Irish Parliament is in Section 19 of the the Litter Pollution Act 1997:

A prosecution shall not be brought in a case in which an offence under this section is alleged to have been committed in relation to an advertisement if… [it] relates to a presidential election, a general election or a bye-election, a referendum, or an election of representatives to the Assembly of the European Communities, unless the advertisement has been in position for 7 days or longer after the day specified in the advertisement for the meeting or the latest day upon which the poll was taken for the election, bye-election or referendum concerned.

There’s also an Election Posters FAQ.

I’ve not looked up the Statute Law on the Isle of Man, but the Department of Infrastructure does “recognise that the campaign process for elect/on candidates may include the siting of posters and banners, and will allow for these providing they do not adversely affect the safety of the Island’s residents and visitors and those putting up the election material.[link]

Oh, but it’s different in the United Kingdom, you say — even though the first regulation I quoted there was laid before the UK Parliament and applied to Northern Ireland (which is still part of the UK at the moment).

Let’s look at that Regulation in more detail. According to its explanatory memorandum:

Parity or Replicatory Measure

Equivalent Regulations have been made in England [Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007], Wales [Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) Regulations 1992] and Scotland [Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (Scotland) Regulations 1992]

So, Regulation 6 of Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007 says:

Deemed consent for the display of advertisements

… consent is granted for the display of an advertisement of any class specified in Part 1 of Schedule 3, subject to

(a) the standard conditions; and
(b) in the case of any class other than Class 12, the conditions and limitations specified in that Part in relation to that class.

So far so good.

Hit me with Class 12 from Schedule 3, Classes of advertisement for which deemed consent is granted:

Class 12 Advertisements inside buildings

Description:

12. An advertisement displayed inside a building, other than an advertisement falling within Class I in Schedule 1.

Humph.

There are no special cases for election posters listed anywhere here, or in any of the other versions of this legislation in the rest of the UK.

So, what are the consequences?

Posters on the street are the best thing for telling people of an event. Individual fliers delivered to houses take to much time, get thrown away and do not work. Online engagement is expensive and difficult and can only be undertaken successfully by experts.

There is nothing better for telling people that there is an event on or an election ballot within walking distance of their house than a sign on a lamp-post that they will walk past twenty times in a week.

I think people have to start putting up simple plain posters that there is an election on a particular date coming up at crossings and road junctions that do not state a party or candidate, but just reminds people of the date. As I said in the petition, it’s an important event, like Christmas. And just as the Council puts up gross plastic Santas that remind us to buy crap, but don’t say from which shop, they ought to have an equivalent set of decoration on every lamp-post to remind us to go vote, if they’re not going to let parties put up their own.

Update

Anti-politician posters seen in Belfast this March:

Probably quite illegal as they didn’t say what [real] party they were from.

Tuesday, June 11th, 2019 at 1:35 pm - - Whipping

Someone who works on the railways told me that his Union, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) was one of the big unions in the UK that supported Brexit.

I wanted the check why, having recalled doing some research about railway policy and the EU (reported in a blog entry from May 2016) following some crappy speech from Boris Johnson about the nasty EU using an ECJ ruling to run their freight trains on our national tracks in preference to our patriotic privatized passenger trains.

The problem is that if a factory in Hungary wants to send 5000 tonnes of cheap sausage meat to the UK, they can put this into 200 lorries and drive them all the way to their destination on our roads, causing lots of pollution, and traffic jams getting in the way, and Boris doesn’t complain. But lord help us that they might possibly put this load onto a more efficient train and expect it to get through to its destination unspoilt.

You’d think that railway unions would be in favour of legally binding international agreements to increase the guarenteed capacity of the railway. But it turns out that Brexit stupidity is not all on the Conservative Party side.

In a Press release on 21 April 2016 the RMT wrote:

The European Parliament’s decision this week to back the opening up of all rail routes across the EU to more competition for private operators was just one more reason to vote Leave on June 23, transport union RMT said today.

Under the proposals in the EU’s so-called Fourth Railway Package, train operators would have complete access to the networks of member states to operate domestic passenger services.

The European Council had already agreed that mandatory competitive tendering should be the main way of awarding public service contracts.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said that the failed Tory privatisation of rail over twenty years ago using EU directive 91/440 was now being imposed on 500 million people by EU diktat without a mandate.

“This rail package is designed to privatise railways across Europe and its proposals are remarkably similar to the McNulty report on the future of GB railways, imposing further fragmentation and attacks on workers.

“McNulty, the Tory government and the EU share the business-led mania for privatisation and agree on the need to jack up fares and attack jobs, pay and pensions to pay for it, no-one has voted for that.

“It is impossible to make changes to this privatisation juggernaut inside the undemocratic EU so the only solution is to get out by voting Leave on June 23,” he said.

None of this makes sense.

How can we believe that the EU — every other country of which runs a nationalized rail service — is going to impose privatization on the UK whose railways are already privatized?

Also, I do recall that we had a Labour Government for thirteen years post-privatization, who carried on with the private railways policy at vast expense of money and political capital, only nationalizing the trackways themselves after a series of lethal accidents and a bankruptcy when it had no alternative. Now there were serious issues as to the democracy within the Labour Party during that time, which resulted in the RMT breaking from the party in 2004. This history needs to be remembered, because it indicates that the EU is not the source of our problems.

Later that year, after the referendum, the RMT wrote in November 2016:

MEPs have a critical vote on the future of our railways taking place on 12-15 December 2016. Privatisation of rail passenger services could be imposed on all member states if new EU regulations are passed into legislation. Even though the UK is leaving the EU, regulations in the Fourth Railway Package could still apply to the UK for years to come…

The Fourth Railway Package must be stopped. Please email your MEP before 12 December to let them know that you want them to vote against the Fourth Railway Package.

Oh yeah, what was that bit about the undemocratic EU?

It’s so bad and incoherent.

A fact checking organization looked at the case in June 2016, three days before the referendum, and concluded:

The pending changes to EU rail regulation, known as the fourth railway package, don’t require member states to privatise any aspect of their rail networks. Neither do they require any member to break up its national operator.

There was an initial proposal for rail infrastructure and services to be split into separate organisations, which would have meant breaking up national operators, but the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, directly intervened and it was dropped…

The new EU regulations promote competition for the market between rail operators irrespective of ownership structure, but not privatisation. As far as renationalisation is concerned the reality is that, unless the rules are interpreted in an extreme way, they do not make it any easier or more difficult than the structure in place at the moment.

The RMT did support a No2EU party that ran in the 2009 and 2014 EU elections garnering about 0.3% of the vote in the second poll, so was quite a waste of time.

What we’re seeing is an unreasoned, illogical, incoherent, counterproductive hatred of the EU from a large union who has a lot of sway with the current Labour Party. I can’t see where it comes from, because from the point of view of railways and transport, the EU and its structures are beneficial. They bring in a semblance of order, integration, interoperability, purpose and reliability that is essential for any transport infrastructure to serve society’s needs.

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019 at 12:56 pm - - Whipping

I received a complaint about a blogpost via an intermediary from folks who have chosen not to contact me directly, even though they have my email address.

My view is that figures that are wholly undeserving of respect should be accorded maximum disrespect on the basis of maximum research and background knowledge.

However, rather than check me out on that matter, I have been accused of breaching the confidentiality of certain documents.

Due to my respect for the intermediary, I have taken the post down. However, I would like to leave in its place a clarification.

The following documents are public, by virtue of the fact that they are published on a public website by those who are authorized to publish them.

On the website entitled: Liverpool John Lennon Airport Strategic Vision to 2030 and Master Plan to 2050 the public are invited to download the following documents:

In addition, should you need them, here are links to the conflicting documents on the www.gov.uk website:

Fans of my style of blogging may enjoy a previous post from October 2014 entitled Take this job and shove it up Carl’s Bass published on the day I quit my job at a company whose millionaire CEO was at the time Mr. C. Bass.

All documents referenced in that post were public, including those sourced from court documents, although I had to know what I was looking for.

One of the chapters in that blogpost was a story about Socialcam, which Bass’s company had bought for $60million dollars.

I had gotten into a lot of trouble while I was an employee of his company for posting to an internal corporate site that the business plans I had found for it were completely ridiculous.

What made it even funnier was that the internal site I posted to was based on software by company called Qontext, which they had just acquired for $24million (see a pattern?), that was so lacking in features there was no capability for managers to flag and moderate an embarrassing post. (I was uncontactable for twenty-four hours as all hell broke loose.)

As like now, the displeasure was communicated to me via intermediaries (line managers) rather from those who felt aggrieved and who were evidently cowards.

By the time I quit the job 18 months later, the Socialcam website was riddled with uploaded porn videos, because no one was watching it any more. I had proved just too irritating to managers who preferred to wallow in their flagrant incompetence, by posting benign suggestions like:

“With all these companies you’re taking over, maybe you ought to institute an independent two-year review after any acquisition to get the best from the lessons learned, so you don’t keep doing the same embarrassing mistakes over and over again?”

Interestingly, there is a bit more to this story. Six months later I happened to strike up an email conversation with Mr Bass on a different matter following the Develop3D conference in Coventry in March 2015, during which time he found me out, and wrote:

A couple of months ago, someone showed me your post after you quit saying I did all kinds of shit to you. Struck me as odd since we’ve only met once (I think) and I can’t reconcile any of the stuff you claimed I’m responsible for with what I’ve done.

Among the stuff I wrote back, was:

I can forgive you for not getting past the title. However, nobody must have read very far into the post — given that the following page still has a lot of porn: https://socialcam.com/public

The next day the page was still up.

I couldn’t believe it.

This led me to the surreal experience of having to email hard-core porn to the CEO of a ten billion dollar American company. (The image is truncated and blurred as it’s too gross to post in full):

You just can’t get the staff!

Finally, they worked out how to take down that $60million website. No apologies or thanks given for pointing it out. No admission that maybe they should have listened to me earlier. Even if they had acknowledged me, they’d have blamed me for the tone. They don’t like my tone. I have to moderate my tone if I am to get heard.

Yeah, right. I have tried hard and found no evidence for that. The message is the problem. There is no tone that will get the message through. As I quoted the business consultant Tom Peters at the end of my rant: The situation is hopeless. Might as well go and do something interesting.

And if there is one thing that would make the world a better place, it would be for Billionaires to just get a life and go and do something interesting, instead of always trying to make more money out of causing damage to a lot of little people. Isn’t that right John?

Tuesday, February 5th, 2019 at 3:40 pm - - Whipping 1 Comment »

This is just awful. It makes things worse. We need someone to speak truth to these elites, like Rutger Bregman just did at Davos where he said: “Enough with the philanthropy bullshit, just pay your taxes, and then we can improve society.”

Cambridge University provides an intellectually stunted education. Why else would one of their graduates, who made a lot of money on financial speculation, donate a stupendous sum of money for:

  • £79m toward funding PhD scholarships
  • £21m will help fund undergraduate study
  • £1m will go towards funding access efforts for applicants from underrepresented backgrounds.

The most basic due diligence would have revealed that Cambridge (and Oxford) were put into special measures last July 2018 for not fulfilling their obligations of their Access and Participation Plan, which they are required to do in order to charge inflated fees.

The Office For Students, which authorises Cambridge’s fee hike, believes that, while they are spending tens of millions on bursaries for students from low-income households, there is no evidence that the money is actually attracting young people from such backgrounds.

In other words, they already have too much money for this, and they are wasting it.

Exactly the sort of institution a lazy billionaire would look to give his money to — ie not one mile beyond the one place he encountered during his youthful formative years.

Is this evidence he has broadened his horizons during his career? Nope!

Just remember kids, earning a billion dollars does not make you smart.

If it does anything, it makes you stupid.

I mean, if I were surrounded by people telling me I was smart, not needing to concern myself with problematic details where the devil lies, and rarely getting challenged on any of my stupid ideas, my head would be more chock full of dumb stuff than ever. No room for intelligent life.

I don’t blame billionaires for letting their minds go blunt. Staying smart is bloody hard work. What’s the point of being rich if you are going to endure that kind of pain?

No brain can function clearly under the burden of wealth, any more than it can respond to events when it is on alcohol. But unfortunately, while most drunk people now know they are unfit to drive, even when they feel confident, no one has come to terms with the fact that the super-rich are unfit to decide how to allocate wealth. It’s an inevitable a car crash.

I mean, listen to this wooden fence-post of a Vice-Chancellor:

I’m immensely grateful to David and Claudia Harding to for this extraordinary gift to the student support initiative of Cambridge University.

It will transform Cambridge’s ability to attract and retain the very best post-graduate students from across Britain and around the world.

It will also encourage greater philanthropy and support of our undergraduate students…

In October 2018, without blinking, this same Professor Toope announced a £500million target for the Student Support Initiative. So he’s got about another £400million to raise from brainless rich people and then to squander on already ineffective bursaries to fulfill overdue obligations.

At some point I’m going to get phone-banked by these clowns, because they have my address, and this is the university I graduated from. I intend to arrange to meet a representative in person, rather than vent my spleen at the hired call-centre operative they’ll have procured, because this has gone too far.

If the university had one inkling of their problem, they could attempt to convene a panel of randomly selected students from across the country from their target audience and give them the resources to probe the institution about its failings in a way that would make them squirm and then possibly do something.

But that’s not going to happen. This institution, which knows about science, and political corruption, and the future, can’t even wean itself off fossil fuel donations and investments in the face of overwhelming opinion.

Meanwhile, the same rich benefactor, who made his money with algorithmic trading, has also in the past sponsored the Winston Program for the Physics of Sustainability, whose program is notable by the complete absence of anything to do with the very near-future threat to the sustainability of organized human life on this planet.

Just take a look at titles from their Symposium last November 2018:

  • Gravitational wave detectors : precision measurement technologies and their applications
  • Atom Interferometry for Geodesy and Fundamental Physics
  • Taking inspiration from biomechanics to engineering, dragonfly drones and other bio-inspired vehicles
  • Electrical machines: from Microwatts to Gigawatts – the future challenges
  • Implantable Biomedical Microelectromechanical Systems
  • Power at the Nanoscale: Speed, Strength and Efficiency in Biological Motors

Here’s that institute’s inspiring logo, the recycled atom:

According to the institute’s description, “There will be a strong emphasis upon fundamental research that will have importance for the sustainability agenda in the long-term.”

Guess what? After eight years of this crap, the problems we face are now short-term. These guys are from the Island of Laputa without their clappers.

Another thing Mr Harding’s Winton Foundation has donated money for in Cambridge (and presumably found wholly satisfactory) is the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication in which he says:

David Harding: Statistics is an immensely powerful subject, but unfortunately it’s counter-intuitive. (Laughs.) So the normal ordinary human brain trying to do statistical analysis will come firmly and to the wrong and often the opposite conclusion to that which is the right conclusion.

And this is dangerous, tragic, and leads to a very strong shortfall in terms of optimal public policy outcomes, and often outcomes for ourselves in our own lives.

Harding, of course, has an extra-ordinary human brain, and he can see through to the really pressing issues of “Risk, Evidence, and Communication”, such as:

  • The risks of alcohol
  • Predict breast cancer tool release
  • Coffee and cancer
  • Can nine lifestyle changes change dementia risk?
  • The dangers of insecticides, poor statistics and over-enthusiastic press offices
  • Does air pollution kill 40,000 people each year in the UK?
  • How dangerous is burnt toast?

We are totally screwed.

For different reasons, the historian Malcolm Gladwell had also had it with this philanthropy universities crap going on in America and tweeted four years ago:

He followed up with a very fine podcast episode about the phenomenon, where he exposed just how utterly insatiable these institutions are, when there are just so many other places you could make a thousand times more of a difference if you thought about it.

In his interview (minute 25:00) with John Hennessy, the President of Standford University, who was just then ushering in a $750million endowment for the hundred most elite graduates chosen by a panel of wealthy professors from a set of high-flying graduate applicants, Gladwell asked:

Gladwell: How much is enough for an institution like Stanford?

Hennessy: How much is enough? Um. I think if our ambitions don’t grow, then I think you do reach a point where you have enough money, and I would hope that our ambitions for what we would want to do as an institution, both in our teaching and our research, grow

Gladwell: Hypothetically, if Bill Gates or Larry Ellison came to you and said, “I’m giving you ten billion dollars. I’m retiring and my will says everything goes to Stanford.” Would you say, “We don’t know, we don’t need it.” Or would you say, “We can put that money to good use.”

Hennessy: Well, first of all I don’t think either Gates of Ellison is going to give me ten billion dollars, unless I tell them exactly what I’m going to do with it, and how I’m going to make it a good investment. And since I know both of them I can tell you they won’t do it.

Gladwell: Could you make an argument to Ellison that if he gave you ten billion you could put it to good use?

Gladwell (narrating): Ten billion, just to put us in the ball-park, because I worry sometimes that Americans get a little jaded about big numbers. Ten billion is a few billion more than the GDP of Barbados and four billion shy of the GDP of Jamaica. Basically I’m asking what would happen if someone gave you, Stanford, the average economic output of an entire Caribbean country for a year. Tax-free, by the way. The guy who gives the ten billion gets to write it off, and every dollar Stanford earns on that ten billion, they get to keep.

Hennessy: Ten billion. I’d have to do something really dramatic for ten billion dollars. Really dramatic.

Gladwell (narrating): He thinks about it for a moment. Actually I counted. For about two seconds. Then he comes up with something really dramatic.

Hennessy: The one area where I think there is an opportunity for significant incremental funding is in the biomedical sciences. If that were an endowment, for example, so you’re throwing out about a half a billion dollars a year, I could find a way to spend half a billion dollars a year in biomedical research.

Gladwell (narrating): Ten billion! He could totally use another ten billion! At this point, I’m just curious… So I keep posing more and more far-fetched scenarios.

Gladwell: Do ever imagine that a president of Stanford might go to a funder and say, “At this point in our history the best use of your money is to give to the UC System , not Stanford?

Gladwell (narrating): The UC System is the University of California System. Ten schools: Berkeley, UCLA, San Diego, Davis, Santa Barbra, etc. Maybe the finest group of public universities in the world… In the previous episode I talked about the NYT Access index which is a ranking of the 180 universities in the US according to how good a job they do in finding, educating, and financially supporting low income students. Right now… six of the first seven spots on that list are University of California schools. Stanford has 16,000 students, the UC System has 238,000 students.

So I’m asking John Hennessy, might there ever, ever, be an instance where he might tell a would-be super-philanthropist, “Look, we’ve already got £22billion in the bank, higher than two Caribbean countries combined, and it’s earning us a couple of tax-free billions every year. Your dollar would go further at the public institutions down the street, since they educate 222,000 more students than we do, with a fraction of the endowment.

I’m not holding Hennessy to his answer. I’m not looking for him to make a solemn pledge. I’m just asking.

Hennessy: Well that would be a hard thing to do, obviously, to turn them away. And I think the other question we’d be asked is, “How can I have confidence that they’ll use my money well?” which obviously the president of Stanford is not in a position to vouch for I think.

Gladwell (narrating): Now I realize he has institutional loyalties. He’s the head of Stanford. And I must say, I liked him. But I must say, am I the only the only one who finds his answer ridiculous? Even offensive?

He’s suggesting that he can’t guarantee that the UC System, perhaps the most successful and socially progressive public university system in the world, he can’t guarantee they would use that money well?

As opposed to what? As opposed to spending $800million on a boutique graduate program for a hundred elite students a year: that kind of using money well?

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018 at 9:51 am - - Whipping

This comes from three pages at the start of Chapter 21 “What Is Money For?” from the 1926 book Today and Tomorrow by Henry Ford and Samuel Crowther.

I have photographed and transcribed it, and have nothing better to add to what he said, except to observe that not one thing has changed in a hundred years, and that you don’t find business experts talking like this in modern times — probably due to the long-term re-education process by the finance industry and their deep conflicts of interest combined with a total lack of intellect.

The most common error of confusing money and business comes about through the operations of the stock market. And especially through regarding the prices on the exchange as the “barometer of business.” People are led to conclude that business is good if there is a lively gambling upward in stocks, and bad if the gamblers happen to be forcing stock prices down.

The stock market as such has nothing to do with business. It has nothing to do with quality of the article which is manufactured, nothing to do with the output, nothing to do with the marketing, it does not even increase or decrease the amount of capital used in the business. It is just a little show on the side.

It has very little to do with dividends. A large part of trading in stocks is without reference to dividends. Except with the sober investing class, the dividend is of little consequence; at least, it is not the main objective. Some of the most “active” stocks do not pay dividends. The profits sought from stock trading have no relation to the earnings of industry by the production of goods. The price of a stock often depends wholly on how many people want to buy the shares that are for sale.

The state of the stock market may make a deal of difference to the officers and directors of a company if they are dabbling in the stocks and trying to make money out of the securities of the company instead of out of its service. These stock-market companies are of little consequence: they flicker and die out. But they do serve to convince people that the stock market has something to do with business, whereas, if not a single share of stock changed hands, it would make no difference to American business. And if every share of stock changed hands tomorrow, industry would not have a cent more or a cent less capital to work with.

The whole stock activity, therefore, is on par with organized baseball, so far as the fundamental interests of business are concerned: it is a side show, unrelated to the basic principles of business and supplying none of the necessities of business. It has only a spasmodic and accidental relation to values. If the extreme speculative element were removed, the natural buying and selling of stocks would be but a mere side line of banking.

We further hold, however, that strings on a business held by those not engaged in it are hindrances, because often it compels the business to become a money-maker instead of a commodity-maker. When the chief function of any industry is to produce dividends rather than goods for use, the emphasis is fundamentally wrong. The face of the business is bowed toward the stockholder and not toward the consumer, and this means the denial of the primary purpose of industry.

The absentee stockholder is one of the principal, though concealed, items in the unnecessary and preventable costs of living.

All this is defended, of course, by the statement that stock represents a contribution to enable industry to function. The story, however, is not so simply told. When preferred stock, for example, becomes a burden on production, the benefits of industry become private instead of public, and this cannot be defended on any terms. There comes to mind an instance where a charge of fifty dollars was added to the cost of an article to meet the demands of stockholders. In another case one hundred and twenty-five dollars per article was added for the same reason.

Industry is not money — it is made up of ideas, labour, and management, and the natural expression of these is not dividends, but utility, quality, and availability. Money is not the source of any of these qualities, though these qualities are the most frequent sources of money. Any business is better off when its money comes from the buyers of its product. Such money is not a charge on the business or on the public. Money that enters in any other way becomes a charge on the business. Its main interest is its own increase, and the public never gets through paying on the original investment.

But stock speculation is not without value — some really good men lose at it and in consequence are compelled to go to work. The stock habit takes too many men’s minds off their legitimate business. Anything that drives them back to their proper sphere is a benefit. Wealth is not increased by stock activity; at best, it only changes hands. Wealth is not created; it is but a score in a game. I was once quoted as saying that the stock market was a good thing for business. The reporter omitted my reason — “because it drives so many men back to legitimate business by breaking them.”

Friday, July 20th, 2018 at 10:54 am - - Whipping

To me, your justification for Brexit seems incoherent and illogical.

Your basic premise — in common with a lot of superficially thoughtful criticism — was that the EEC began as a treaty to regulate trade and harmonize regulations, and has then metamorphised into a superstate taking on powers and imposing new laws far beyond this remit. The people are not ready for this.

You gave as an example of super-state over-reaching powers, something from Intellectual Property law — your area of interest. The example was Copyright Extension, which you claimed — correctly — was not about harmonizing some regulation across Europe, but of extending it far beyond what anyone had before.

Really? This is your example?

But we’ll go with it.

Regulations have to change and move forwards with the times, and the point of European system is to make these changes in harmony across the whole of Europe at the same time.

Otherwise, your definition of “Regulatory Harmonization” implies that EU can only impose regulations onto the UK that had existed elsewhere in the EU prior to 1973.

Put into that context, it’s easy to see why the early years of the EEC would be mostly about harmonization of regulations, while the later years became more about drafting new regulations when those pre-1973 regulations grew out of date through processes we can call time passing. To expect otherwise is illogical, Captain.

But, on the subject of Intellectual Property, let’s look at the pragmatic situation. We all know where the policies of successive UK Governments on this issue lie. For sure, if we had not been part of the EU we would have experienced Copyright Extension and Software Patents good and hard since 1998, via a trade treaty with the US.

And good luck with lobbying our supposedly more democratic UK MPs to vote against Software Patents, as we did with European MEPs. They will either not understand it, or agree that it’s harmful but consider it something well worth selling out in order to get a better trade deal with the US. It’s give and take in the negotiations, you see, and we are a small country who don’t get to impose our will on an international super-power. Anyway, Software Developers already do well enough to make a living on the job market; we can trade them to protect our sheep farmers.

Ah, but there’s Taking Back Control.

My turn for an example.

After Brexit, the French police can Take Back Control over who is allowed to drive on the French highways. So if I cross the Channel by car, the French police can arrest me for not having a valid MoT on my car, the lack of which means it’s officially unsafe to drive and could kill someone. Bad idea.

Fortunately, there’s an international court called the ECJ to enforce the treaty/contract between the French and UK Governments that says my MoT certificate for my car issued by the UK Government is as good as the French paperwork.

Now, the French Government can only sign such an agreement to respect our MoT certificates if they have the assurance that our safety and inspection standards are up to scratch — both in terms of the quality of the regulations and in their enforcement.

We have to allow the French Government to potentially take the UK Government to court if they think the UK Government is not doing a good enough job of prosecuting cowboy garage operators who are issuing MoTs to unsafe cars that could then kill people on French motorways.

Otherwise, without the ability to seek redress in court, the French would just have to ban all cars with UK MoTs until the UK cleaned up its act.

However, in such a dispute, it is possible that the French are simply wrong and are being too picky about their standards, and are deliberately making safety requirements that just so happen disadvantage UK cars. So we’d like this matter to be considered in a Competent Court that values its reputation for impartiality — not just some ad-hoc tribunal made up of three dudes deep into conflicts of interest appointed by both sides that has to come up with an answer in 30 days or else.

And we’d like the decision to be worked out and enforced justly, without threats, organized disinformation in the Press, counter-measures and political grand-standing hanging over it — which is what happens when you don’t have a framework of functioning law that punishes such disruptive activities.

This story about the MoTs and car safety across borders generalizes to every other field of regulatory cooperation. Basically, if you plumb your toilet into the main sewerage system instead of to a hole in your back garden, you give up control over how many tampons you can flush down it. What was so important about having Control again?

And finally, you suggested a time-frame of five years. It could be bad and painful during the transition period, but we need to hold our nerves while we take back control, until it all works out.

This time-frame, quite frankly, is pulled out of someone’s arse. No basis on anything. Here’s one way to make a number. Trade treaties take about ten years to negotiate, so why not say ten years, plus another five to account for the fact that no one in the UK Government has negotiated one in 45 years. Does 15 years of chaos and closed borders feel worth it?

I mean, I’ve got an estimate for the time horizon for how long this takes to work out. But it’s not expressed in years; it’s the length of time it takes for enough of the Brexiteers to come to terms with the fact that their slogans of Sovereignty, Control and so-called Democracy (with an electoral system that does worse than if you picked 650 citizens for Parliament completely at random) are totally vacuous.

Maybe it takes one month. Maybe it’s fifty years. Nobody knows yet. How long can this society carry on with an unbroken layer of denial and mendacity at the top when the shit gets real?

I’ll check back with you in about year after it hits the fan. The gradient of the learning curve will suggest a more numerical estimate. By then there will be four-and-a-half out of the quoted five years remaining for things to get sane. My theory is that because it’ll actually be happening to us, and isn’t some foreign game like a war, the Friedman Unit trick of always quoting five years in the future from now won’t work.

The main consequence of taking Control is that we must take the Blame.

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018 at 8:18 pm - - Whipping 2 Comments »

Don’t get me wrong; innovation is an important thing, and it should be undertaken by every person in every organization at every hour of the day. There are reasonable economic theories that say it is one of the important components of productivity. And productivity can be a good thing if it means we get to do more work in less time, and spend our remaining hours doing things that really matter to us. (On the other hand, it’s not such a great deal if we end up working the same amount for the same pay, and all that happens is the boss of the company makes more money.)

Being as Innovation can be important for the public good, the Government thinks there should be more of it, and have funded an organization called InnovateUK staffed by people who have no clue and exactly zero intellectual curiosity as to what innovation is and what are the causes of innovation.

They simply treat it as a word without meaning or measure, as though it were a prayer to a nonexistent God, or a claim of piety. Is person X more innovative in his job than person Y? Well, let’s see if he has appointed himself Head of the Innovation Department in his company.

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Wednesday, January 24th, 2018 at 3:05 pm - - University, Whipping

And so, I got an FOI response to my questions about the University Enterprize Zones.

The problem with all this sort of thing is they’ve not got a single case study of the kind of accelerated high-growth incubated start-up business around which to design their support infra-structure.

And, even if they did have a realistic example to work with, the genesis story behind every successful business is almost always entirely different.

Actually, that’s not true.

The one commonality is that successful business have customers who buy stuff for money. Investment, premises and business advice comes way down the line and is not normally relevant to an inquiry into the foundational existence of the business.

The fact that’s missing here is that the United States developed its wealth of home grown industry by spending its vast bloated military budget on the purchase of yet-to-be-developed high tech products. For example, the CNC machine tool was entirely uneconomical for the first 20 years after their development at MIT with the help of a five year US Air Force investment program. (see detailed blog article).

And these UK government clowns think it’s all about nine-month turn-around accelerators administered by money-focussed technical know-nothings with no vision and no buyers for on-the-edge feasible but not yet developed products.

So, here we go again with another vision-free and customer-free University Enterprise Zone boondoggle that aims to:

  • encourage universities to engage further with business and with LEPs in driving innovation and growth at a local level
  • encourage businesses with innovation potential to engage with universities
  • address the issue that there is little or no appetite in the private sector to invest in buildings on science parks providing office, workshop and laboratory space for small firms (incubator and grow-on space)

I’ve got the application forms for from seven of our leading universities here.

The most important question on the form is:

3.2 What demand is there for the services being proposed and what evidence is there that there is a market failure that needs to be addressed?

Now, let’s do something radical and begin with the definition:

In economics, market failure is a situation in which the allocation of goods and services is not efficient, often leading to a net social welfare loss. Market failures can be viewed as scenarios where individuals’ pursuit of pure self-interest leads to results that are not efficient – that can be improved upon from the societal point of view.

An example of a Market failure is the London Housing Market where private construction is almost all targeted to the top 10% where there is the greatest profit, and totally fails to supply anything for the rest of the people who have to live and work in the city on the wages they receive.

None of these responses contain what I think fits the description of a Market failure.

Birmingham proposed to add a new mezzanine floor in Faraday Wharf, and claimed that “the space for entrepreneurs currently on the Innovation Birmingham Campus is already full… An independent demand and need study [no reference provided] undertaken as part of the business case development for the iCentrum Building identified demand amongst West Midland businesses for science park premises that provide opportunities networking with like-minded businesses and bespoke business support provision.”

Bradford proposed two buildings in the city centre, and explained that “The Digital Exchange has a current occupancy rate of 40% and has struggled to compete in the general managed workspace market.”

Doesn’t sound like a market failure to me.

Manchester listed 16 health agencies associated with their university incubator facilities, and admitted that “although many of these bodies have explicit remits to support industry engagement and wealth creation, there is currently no infrastructure to effectively leverage assets to drive and capture local business creation.”

Their evidence of a “market failure that needs to be addressed” was as follows.

Newcastle was going to build an innovative lightweight fabric and timber structure on its Science Central campus and a two storey hatchery/incubator wing onto its Centre for Innovation and Growth Hub in Durham. They claimed that their unpublished report had found evidence of “new startup companies failing to secure suitable facilities in Newcastle because of a lack of incubator space” and of “new life science companies with established connections to the city being turned away.” Durham university claimed that they are “routinely approached by external businesses seeking space on campus to be close to facilities and research teams, [but] these requests generally have to be declined due to priority allocation of space to core research and the lack of dedicated incubation space.”

Are the rents for high tech firms too high in Newcastle due to property speculators? I’d like to know.

Liverpool included pictures of the sensorless building they were going to build, and gave four clear reasons for the so-called market failures:

  • A disconnect between industry, academic research into sensors and access to facilities for R&D
  • Difficulties in bridging the sensor innovation gap / “valley of death”
  • Skill shortages in the sensor market
  • High cost of prototyping and custom development

I have no idea what any of these have to do with building a brand new building.

Nottingham promised to build an incubator facility into a new 3-storey building situated alongside the iconic Sir Colin Campbell Building. Like a lazy student repeating the terms of reference of her set essay, they wrote: “As the Government’s own reports indicate, there is little or no appetite for the private sector to invest in incubation centres given that the returns do not justify the capital outlay. There is no prospect of a commercial investor taking the risk with out proposed centre, which our financial projections show will deliver an internal rate of return [redacted] [redacted] [redacted]. The proposal is therefore clearly addressing a market failure.

Bristol was going to build a robotics hatchery in the old Hewlett Packard R&D and fabrication site. (This is the same HP company that blew $9billion on an acquisition of a crap UK company with a rip-off salesforce and no technology to speak of. We can ask whether UK Gov views Autonomy as exemplary for conning so much money out of a stupid US Corporation, or as an embarrassment.)

In the “Demand for services” section, the applicants wrote: “Locally the take-up of incubator space has been rapid. Operators SETsquared and the Bath Innovation Centre report high occupancy rates and excess demand — both are actively considering second-phase development.”

Thus, they contradicted the stated claim made in the UEZ proposal, and won funding for their project, along with Liverpool, Nottingham and Bradford.

I’m still meaning to go try out coworking in each of these places if I can find the time.

Friday, January 5th, 2018 at 5:25 pm - - Machining, Whipping 5 Comments »

Most software related to engineering and construction is woefully out of date, time wasting, and under-deployed. New on my list of examples is the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP), the de facto standard for designing and retrofitting energy efficient houses.

It comes as a massive multi-tab 7.9Mb unfriendly Excel spreadsheet. An example (rendered into PDF) looks like this.

The purpose of this software to “build up a useful interactive understanding of the design” in terms of materials, wall insulation thicknesses, windows direction facing into the sun, etc. and so forth. The results have been validated to a statistical average (but with up to a factor of 2 error), there’s a huge industry of consultants and training materials around it, and it’s trusted by the experts who seem pretty happy with its format.

The problem is that building it in the Excel platform fundamentally cripples its capability. And by being a paid-for product, not an open source program, they prevent any software developer, who is up to date with the efficient and more modern methods of production, from making improvements. (Instead these software developers end up devoting their time to perfecting a remote control light bulb and writing more lines of code than would ever be found in a Javascript-based port of the PHPP.)

Some background.

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Sunday, December 10th, 2017 at 2:51 pm - - Whipping

Page 332 of Buckminster Fuller’s 1981 book Critical Path has the following passage (rewritten for readability):

In the early 1960s I was commissioned by a Japanese patron to design one of my tetrahedronal floating cities for Tokyo Bay.

Floating cities are designed with the most buoyantly stable conformation of deep-see bell-buoys. Their omni-surface-terraced, slope-faced, tetrahedronal structuring is employed to avoid the lethal threat of precipitous falls from sheer high-rise buildings.

The tetrahedron has the most surface with the least volume of all polyhedra. As such it provides the most possible “outside” living. Its sloping external surface is adequate for all its occupants to enjoy their own private, outside, tiered-terracing, garden homes. These are most economically serviced from the common, omni-nearest-possible center of volume of all polyhedra.

In 1966 my Japanese patron died and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development commissioned me to carry out a full design and economic analysis for potential USA use. With my associates I completed the design and study as well as a scaled-down model.

The city of Baltimore was interested in acquiring the first such floating city for anchorage just offshore in Chesapeake Bay. At this time President Lyndon Johnson’s Democratic Party went out of power. President Johnson took the model with him and installed it in his LBJ Texas library. Baltimore’s politicians went out of favour with the Nixon administration, and the whole project languished.

That’s interesting, I thought, and looked for information about it at the LBJ presidential library.

I couldn’t find any record of a model, but I did get this transcript of an oral history interview with, I think, one of the White House staffers.

Liz [Carpenter] (press secretary to the formidable First Lady) and I had a fascinating afternoon. Charlie Haar, assistant secretary of HUD (under RC Weaver), who had some money for grants for new and innovative kinds of things, had given Buckminster Fuller a grant to develop a concept and model of an offshore city, floating habitation. Bucky had done the model in terms of, I think, San Antonio. Am I right? Is that on the coast? No, no, Galveston. That’s on the coast.

Haar was intrigued by it, and he thought we’d be interested in seeing it. So over we went, and there was this great model in the hall. Mr. Fuller and Secretary Haar began explaining how it worked, and Liz looked at it and she looked at it. This was the latest and most advanced, most sophisticated concept of all integrated facilities and services and shops and schools and housing and residences and everything all piled in a great bundle out at sea where it didn’t take any land, et cetera. She said it looked like a filing case, and what kind of people were going to live in a place like that? What was going to become of them if they lived in a place like that? She was shocked with Charles Haar. In fact she was going to turn the Sierra Club loose on him if he ever surfaced this proposal anywhere. People would turn into moles and be stunted if they had to live in a filing cabinet. She thought it violated everything we’d been standing for and working for.

Poor Fuller blinked, and I think that’s one of the best things that ever happened to him. Because he’s the kind of person who’s a demigod among technocrats and innovators, and everyone pays tribute to his genius. But Liz Carpenter sure didn’t. Liz just cut him down. He began talking about the mobilty of people these days and how he lived out of a suitcase and went from hotel room to hotel room. He was always making speeches and consulting here and there, and people really just need a place to bathe and lie down for a while. This kind of facility was designed for the new mobile age. Liz said, “Well, if they don’t stay home, it’s because we haven’t given them anything to stay home for.”

Charlie began getting worried that his august consultant might be offended. Liz was so direct and so irrefutable and so to the point and so insistent that they face up to the more basic question she was asking that Charlie finally sort of pulled her over under one side of the model, and I pulled Fuller over to the other side of the model to keep them away from each other. We temporized as hard as we could, and then we got Liz in an elevator and sent her down. I sort of patted Fuller on the back and said, “Now don’t you worry, and don’t you ever forget anything she said, because you know she’s right. But don’t let it get to you.” Charlie and I rolled our eyes at each other and felt that one had distinctly backfired. I think it shows her extraordinary contribution, and I couldn’t help but be glad that she’d done it.

For a bit of context, this was the era of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project disaster, which was designed by no less than the architect of the World Trade Center buildings. Public housing is hard– especially when public administrators are politically instructed to ruin everything in their power.

A clue of the personal-social dymanics between the professions is provided in an essay entitled; The Pruitt-Igoe Myth:

Even after the architects had switched to an all high-rise scheme, they faced continued pressure from the Public Housing Administration to keep costs to a bare minimum. In a 1975 study of the St. Louis Housing Authority’s expenditures on Pruitt-Igoe, political scientist Eugene Meehan analyzed the extent to which these budget constraints affected the final design. In addition to the elimination of amenities, such as children’s play areas, landscaping, and ground-floor bathrooms, the cost cutting targeted points of contact between the tenants and the living units. “The quality of the hardware was so poor that doorknobs and locks were broken on initial use. …Windowpanes were blown from inadequate frames by wind pressure. In the kitchens, cabinets were made of the thinnest plywood possible.”

…By continuing to promote architectural solutions to what are fundamentally problems of class and race, the myth conceals the complete inadequacy of contemporary public housing policy. It has quite usefully shifted the blame from the sources of housing policy and placed it on the design professions. By furthering this misconception, the myth disguises the causes of the failure of public housing, and also ensures the continued participation of the architecture profession in token and palliative efforts to address the problem of poverty in America. The myth is a mystification that benefits everyone involved, except those to whom public housing programs are supposedly directed.