Thursday, 30 June 2011

EOn Maths - A Cunning Plan

I handle my parents' energy bills for them because they are not interweb savvy and the best deals are only available online. I take and upload monthly readings and search quarterly on price comparison websites for the best overall supplier using the previous twelve months consumption figures.
At the start of June this year, their current tariff, EOn dual fuel FixOnline v6, was coming to an end and massive price increases were predicted. A fixed or capped deal was the best option. So I found that the EON Age UKdual fuel fix offered the best value.
The latest quarterly bill pinged online on 25 June. As a result of the slightly higher price per unit and the end of the 19.8% online discount (someone put the decimal point in the wrong place there!), the annual estimated bill for the next year increased to about £1,200. So one would expect that the monthly direct debit would be about £100 or even less, given that the latest bill was only £.69 in debit and the next quarter would be another credit-builder. Autumn-Winter debits, Spring-Summer credits, result balance.
However, according to EOn, the monthly direct debit amount would increase to £115 from 2 August. When I did "Ten A Day" mental arithmetic before lessons started at school aged seven, 12 x 115 was 1,380.(Look no fingers!).  Therefore my parents would pay an extra £180 that would be refunded after the next Annual Review.
As I don't agree to forced loans at nil interest, I phone EON Customer Service to suggest a compromise amount of £95. In previous years, EOn have been very customer focused and have agreed more sensible direct debit amounts where necessary. Not so today: a "zero tolerance" scheme of no compromise had been put in place a month earlier. If the computer said No or £115, that was the only answer. That's the way to motivate high calibre staff in the call centre.  Apparently, the increase was for my parents' benefit so they wouldn't get into large amounts of debit  in winter. I explained that the idea of quarterly direct debits was to spread the cost over the year so that at the end of twelve months the account would be in balance. Not so, according to the EON rep who informed me that EOn wanted to set the direct debit so that the high demand quarters were always in balance. A bit like a quarterly bill then, you pay for what is actually consumed.

I asked if I could speak to somebody who could make a decision to overrule the computer. That was impossible; there were three options: accept the increase, change to higher price quarterly billing or find another supplier. ie Take It Or Leave It as they say in the adverts.  There's no such thing as customer loyalty in a market (this is the price) where churn or turnover of old and new customers is priced in.
Given no choice I accepted the revised direct debit with the proviso that I would demand immediate repayment of monthly balances after I uploaded meter readings. And then I checked the small print on the bill:

Now, I changed the tariff to Age UK Dual Fuel Fixed on 13 June 2011 and it turns out that the next Annual Review date is April 2012. So the number of months left is just about ten. That explains the crooked direct debit maths. £1,200 / 10ish = £115.
I bet there is a cunning finance acoountant scumoid rodent in EOn who was licking his lips when he came up with that plan to increase EON's cashflow and ensure that the two coldest quarters are paid off pdq. As I said to the EON minion, Heads you win, Tails I lose. Of course, the fact that my parents have bought electricity from EOn since it was Powergen and EMEB before privatisation counts for naught. Computer says new tariff started 13 June 2011 so calculations must start from then.

Update Saturday 2 July 2011: Reader, I transferred the dual fuel contract this morning to EDF Fixed to April 2014. My parents ought to save another £50 per year. Just keep checking your annual consumption figures (on every bill now) into USwitch every week to see if a better tariff turns up.

Update Wednesday 6 July 2011: Possible cartel behaviour to be investigated by Ofgem.

What's This Bird?

This was spotted in the birdbath this morning. Is it a juvenile Missel Thrush? I'm puzzled by the creamy white band from head to breast.

This Chinook I spotted near my house on 9 June is easy to recognise in comparison.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Bliar's Address Book Hacked

Might be interesting to know God's phone number. Daily Telegraph article.

We Can But Dream - Nimrod

I'm not going to rehash the Nimrod MRA4 saga except to say that the aircraft was flawed (but repairable, given an additional few layers of £50 notes epoxyed to the aiframes) and its lifetime costs unrealistic - which company would tool-up to support only nine aircraft for forty years and not think kerrr-chingggg!

The opportunity ought to have been taken in the 1990's to design and build an entirely new, purpose-designed aircraft for the roles required. If Portillo, the Defence Minister wot signed the contract, had taken an interest in aircraft instead of choo-choos, he would have known that every scheme cooked up by Air Force and manufacturers the world over to "modify" an existing type in order to save money, doesn't. Redesign leads to retooling leads to a creeping realisation that for an extra x lbs of airframe, y capabaility is possible. And of course, x lb airframe costs £ z000. The end result is about 95% different but which will still become obsolete at about the same time the manufacturer's order book tapers off.

My dream would have been to start with a clean sheet of paper or monitor screen. Add to that the requirements of the roles such as: full-spectrum sensor suite, long range, capacious weapons bay, roomy cabin for sensor operators and we have the beginnings of an aircraft.

But why bother with the conventional fuselage, wing and tail layout? Wouldn't a blended wing body design  offer more room, greater structural strength, less drag? Imagine the Avro Vulcan or Armstrong Whitworth AW52 and bring them sixty years up to date as something like the Boeing X-48.

Look at the internal volume offered by a blended wing aircraft:

(With acknowledgement to Flight International)

Plenty of space for even the Nimrod's famous old 48'6" long weapons bay ( because the underfuselage trough fairing fitted to streamline the nose mounted search radar to the rotation point where the rear fuselage tapers upwards was long enough, that's why) that usually carried two sets of Lindholme ASR gear and sometimes a mail pannier. How often Nimrods actually carried nine Stingray torpedoes and twenty-four Mark XI depth charges is moot and as they were only certified to carry four thousand-pounders during Operation Corporate, I wonder what the maximum 20,000lb payload would consist of.  As a long range bomber, the new aircraft could also accommodate Storm Shadows and Paveways internally with AAMs on external pylons for self defence.

One additional advantage of the BWB design would be that each crew member could be provided with an ejection seat with exit through roof hatches.

The aircraft structure would be composite and the engines, radars, ESM and avionics would be as per Nimrod MRA4.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

A Cunning Financial Plan

Nickie Clegg is parading a brilliant idea about the taxpayers' £64 billion stake in RBS and Lloyds Group banks. Basically, everyone on the electoral roll would get "free" shares that they could sell and get the difference between the selling price less stockbroker's commission and fixed floor prices which would be remitted to HMG. They could buy Liberal Democrat memberships or Spanish cucumber farms.

Popular Nickie (12%) said, "Psychologically it is immensely important that the British people feel they have not just been overlooked and ignored.

"Their money has been used to the tune of billions to keep the British banking system on a life-support machine and they have absolutely no say at all in what happens when normality is restored.

"I think, in a sense, as a society we are condemned to take an interest in our banking system."

Did I write brilliant idea? Sorry, I meant absolutely sterling crap! There's 46 million people on the electoral roll, many dead or living in Bangladesh or Nigeria. A computer system would have to be set up (there's £10 billion gone to IT contractors) to administer everything : it would become a quasi- national ID. 90% of the shares would be given to people who would prefer lager, fags or mobile top-ups. The "financial investment community" would be able to buy up the shares very cheaply from such folk with the offer of glittery things. Just like how our friendly Russion billionaires became billionaires.

A word in your shell-like, Nickie, the British people feel they have not just been overlooked and ignored because LibDem tossers like you are in a "government" dedicated to pissing our hard-earned cash away on the EU and foreign aid. We know that Labour spent too much and that cuts are necessary but the cuts proposed are of things that we the electorate think are worthwhile. Public libraries, armed forces not limited to "boots on the ground". We don't want to pay windmill taxes on our electricity and gas.

I suggest that the taxpayers' shareholdings in the banks are converted into a national endowment to fund the stupid Department for International Development. All dividends will be paid directly to it up to a capped limit of 0.7% of GDP. The Treasury will not need to borrow more money every year for DfID's budget and the foreign aid leeches will learn how their 4x4s are paid for.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Daily Mail Subs Having A Laugh?

Note the headline for the second story:  Bags of support (!)

snigger, snort. I'm sure it was inadvertent.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

International Aid Isn't Rocket Science

I thought the UK only gave aid to two developing countries with space programmes, India and Pakistan. It turns out that that millionaire Andrew Mitchell  MP's Department for International Development gives £250 million  per year to Nigeria. Nigeria spends about £25 million per annum on its space agency, NASRDA,  part of the Federal Ministry of Science, Technology (and soon to be Innovation). NASRDA was established in 1999 by Act of Parliament. In 2001 Nigeria adopted a National Space Policy.

The Agency is headquartered on Airport Road, Abuja and started with 15 post-graduate students sent in 2001 to Surrey Satellite Technology in Guildford for two years for training. In 2004 a contract was signed with China for the construction and launching of the £230 million NigComSat1 which sadly failed in late 2008. Still, a replacement NigComSat1R will be lauched from Russia later this year. In addition, NigeriaSat1 was launched in 2003 and will be replaced by NigeriaSat2 this year. Going into orbit at the same time is NigeriaSat-X, the first satellite designed and built by Nigerian scientists supervised by SSTL.

The BBC is in favour of the Nigerian Space Programme, of course.

£25 million per year in a country where 100 million people live on £1 a day. The actual budget proposed for 2011 is Naira 6, 383,991,333 and currently one gets about N250 to £1.  How one finds the actual amount is almost a space journey in itself. Here's the budget for 2011. At first glance it appears that only about £7 million is allocated to NASRDA Abuja  until one realises that there are six other branches as well.  And then NIGCOMSAT Ltd is also part of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology. They're trying to cooperate.

The UK spends about £220 million per year on our space programme headquartered in Swindon. Nigeria hopes to put a Nigerian astronaut in orbit in 2015. So is this one that The Register reported  was stuck on Soyuz for fourteen years waiting for a return flight is a 419 scam?

One other thing that puzzles me: Why doesn't NASRDA have a interwebsite except this one? This one doesn't open.

Monday, 13 June 2011

A Myth Nailed

There was a 1942 Anglo-American Agreement that made the UK concentrate on producing military aircraft during the war while the US was able to continue building Douglas DC-3s, Douglas DC-4s and Lockheed Constellations and thereby dominate the postwar civil aviation industry.

Actually, an agreement was signed between General Arnold Chief of the USAAC and Air Chief Marshal Portal, Chief of the Air Staff on 13 January 1942 which allocated that year's American aircraft production of various categories between the two countries. This was repeated throughout the war by the Munitions Assignments Committee (Air) of the combined Munitions Assignments Board set up as a result of the Arcadia or First Washington Conference in Washington between 22 December 1941 and 14 January 1942.

The RAF opted to obtain specialised transport aircraft from America because nothing was available from the British aircraft industry. DC-2s ,3s and Lockheed 14 and 18s operated by British Airways and KLM, for example,had proved their superiority over contemporary British models before the war. The production lines for the Bristol Bombay and Handley-Page Harrow  bomber transports had closed as they were interim types ordered to train new entrants to the expanding aircraft industry.  De Havilland types were unsuited for anything except training and communications work. Former Imperial Airways types such as Short Empire flying boats, HP42s and A W Ensigns were as inadequate for military use as they had been for competitive airline operation, something highlighted by the 1938 Cadman Committee. A result of that Committee was the Fairey FC1 four-engined medium range landplane theprototype of which was never completed due to the war and poor workmanship. As the war progressed, obsolescent bombers like the Whitley, Wellington, Stirling and Albemarle were converted as stop-gap paratroop carriers and transports to make up for the shortage of DC-3/C-47 Dakotas.

Unfortunately, the realism of the Arnold-Portal Agreement only lasted until 23 December 1942 when the Brabazon Committee on post war civil aviation in the Empire was set up. As a result of its work specifications for no less than seven different aircraft types were issued to an industry with little experience of civil aircraft. Only the Vickers Viscount and de Havilland Dove were production successes. If only the Labour government had taken the opportunity in 1946 to nationalise and rationalise the aircraft and aero-engine industry which had been artificially expanded by wartime military contracts then the £tens of millions wasted on subsidies and dead-end development could have been concentrated on scarce dollars for DC-4s and Connies to equip BOAC with competitive types and more design and development funding for a smaller range of new types - just imagine if Avro and Handley-Page had been able to assist de Havillands with tthe Comet.
Photo thanks RuthAS

And more evidence for there being no Anglo-American agreement to prevent Britain building transport aircraft was the Avro York which first flew in July 1942 and was only produced in limited quantities to allow Avro to concentrate on building Lancasters (the best examples of which were constructed under sub-contract by Armstong Whitworth).

That Martin Bell Poem

Indifferent to the people's warning,
The parties headed for a fall,
Tory, Labour and Lib Dem,
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them,
But miss them not at all.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

UK To Pay £15 million to Spain For German Cucumber Error

Reason for leaving the EU number 2011: German food scientists claim the e-Coli could be due to Spanish cucumbers so Spanish vegetable market collapses. EU proposes £134 million compensation package to Spain, payable from EU funds not just Germany.As the UK contributes over 10% of the EU budget, that's Gute Nacht Wien to the equivalent of  about 15 hours worth of international aid spending. It's only borrowed money after all.

Royal Marines On Standby To Evacuate Stranded British Civilians From Yemen

Like it says on the tin, Per Mare, Per Terram.

Well, there's another Arab "country" gone down the pan because there is no such thing as a gold watch and retirement pension for Muslim leaders. They're either killed, exiled, jailed or, if they're really lucky, they die in office.

But what are British citizens still doing in that dreadful place after all the warnings? The UK did the best thing in 1967 by leaving the glorified coal bunker to its own tribal rivalries after avenging the murders by rogue South Arabian Army and local police of British soldiers on 20 June. Rogue local police, eh? Do our leaders ever learn?

Why don't we implement a new policy whereby we accept that British residents of the next Aidistan or Iedistan or wherever went there of their own free will and instead of sending in the Royal Marines or Royal Air Force to get them back to Tory-run Britain, the Department for International Development takes the lead in extracting the aid-workers, oil-drillers and daft wives of waiters. Sir John Major thinks international aid spending should make us proud so let's see how the offer of a women's chicken marketing cooperative fare againt qat crazed loons with AKMs and RPGs.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Non-Party Elections

I believe in universal suffrage, one person, one vote.

The advantage of universal suffrage is the wisdom of crowds which can produce a smarter answer than the smartest members of the crowds. In theory, by including roadsweepers and picker-packers (although ,f course, obs are not a foolproof indication of intelligence), a better House of Commons would be elected than if only picked by PPE graduates, lawyers, doctors and rocket scientists.

In practice elections are marred by the tribal politics of political parties. People don't necessarily vote  acording to their values and beliefs but because they dislike a particular party. In addition, people's opinions don't necessarily fit perfectly into the policy pigeonholes of parties.  It is quite possible for someone to be interventionist on foreign affairs and conservative on tax. Finally, political parties can promise one thing in their election manifestos but are under no obligation to fulfill their promise in power.

Instead, I propose that voters do not vote for candidates or parties at elections but express their opinions on a test paper like this one, for example. The actual questions would be prepared after consultation by the Eectoral Cmmission. Candidates, who could belong to political parties would take the same text.

The test paper ballot forms could be read electronical like multiple choice exam papers, probably with the same equipment for economy. The winning candidates would be those whose orientation most closely matched the overall orientations of their constituencies. This would encourage prospective parliamentary candidates to really get to know their constituents and tailor their message to them. Say constituency A  favours policy X: a candidate for party 1 would have to amend their party's policy Y to increase their chance of winning the seat. Other candidates for other seats might  find policy Z was the most popular. They could sit in the House of Commons according to their parties, but of course they would have to take into account their electors' opinions if they wanted to be re-elected. The pernicious power of the Party Whips would be weakened.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Referism- Multiple or Weighted Votes

I've posted before about Referism, Richard North's excellent idea to return power to the individual from the politicians. I'm in favour of it but .... today's post proposes a system of weighted votes intended to balance out the wishes of those who benefit from government expenditure in favour of those who pay most in.

Dr North proposes that voters would have up to ten votes, depending on their marital status, children, payment of income tax, business ownership, education, voluntary work, age etc. Presumably, this would ensure that proponents of big government, tax and spend, progressive taxation as a tool for economic redistribution would be dwarfed by small businessmen and women eager to pare away every last penny of public expenditure to the minimum. Unfortunately, I can think of at least a dozen people off the top of my head who would qualify for ten votes who depend solely on contract work from the Civil Service for their livelihoods. I, on the other hand, in my present circumstances, would be stuck with one vote. And I consider that government spending ought to be reduced and spent more wisely.

Better than giving extra votes is a requirement that prospective voters are able to demonstrate a basic understanding of public finances and the concept of difficult choices. A quick, thirty question multiple choice paper marked by computer would soon separate fiscal realists from Cameroon "I'm borrowing money for foreign aid 'cos of Sir Bob" on the one hand and "free market" capitalist skinflints who object to paying for streetlights they don't actually use on the other. The questions would be set at a commonsense level that anyone who kept abreast of current affairs could pass without preparation, but training courses in English, Welsh and BSL only plus internet pages would be available for those uncertain to brush up their civics. Better decisions are made when better information is available.

We would therefore retain the one-person-one-vote system demanded by the Chartists that works simply enough.  Adopting a multiple or weighted vote system would be too difficult for local authorities to administer (my annual registration form for the electoral roll was received but not inputted onto the system a few years ago, causing me to lose my right to vote in the Council election that year despite my circumstances being the same as the previous year when I was on the roll) and to open to gerrymandering, fraud and fixing. As Josef Stalin said "It's not how many votes that counts, it's who counts the votes."

Friday, 3 June 2011

No S**t, Sherlock!

According to the Daily Mail today:

"Sacked banker with 'bomb' strapped to his leg who sparked three-hour high street siege "had some kind of grudge""

No flowers and chocolate. Simples.

What next? "Hikers advised not to follow bears with loo rolls and newspapers in woods "for at least five minutes"?"

Q & A

Q: Is e-Coli a computer virus and can I catch it off the internet?

A: No and No. Wash your hands with soap and water.

Q: I've read that 70% of the patients infected with the new strain of e-Coli are female. Why was it initially assumed that cucumbers were the cause?

A: I blame Dr Google for the theory.  Search for women and vegetables. Not at work though. Wash your hands with soap and water. And apply strong mind bleach.