Monday, December 31, 2007

Year end review

It's the last post of the year. So it is traditional to wrap up with a brief summary of what has been accomplished this year, and what I look forward to next year. And I clearly like tradition.

This was not the year that I started writing blogs, I've had a web presence for a long time, but this is the year that I started reading them. And it is the year in which I finally started a regular routine - once a day every day.

But that is only one of the rules. And even though I noted with irony that the rules only developed to match what I was actually producing, they exist to make life easiest for you the consumer, not for me the producer.

But blogs are rated by all sorts of metrics, and my rules don't count. There is no official guide to the blogosphere. This year I tried to write one objectively. Next year it's personal.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Free Willy

On reflection, I think the zoo arguments more or less balance out. The Pi view that animals are safe and protected versus the alternative view that zoos are inherently bad. So spacious well-managed zoos might be ok in principle, but they will still be stressful for the inmates due to the unvalidated visitors - they cause the taunting, provocation and general pushing at territorial boundaries that disrupt any peaceful existence.

But even for the best zoos I'd still draw the line before whales and other sentient beings. They should be free and exempt from zoological restriction.

Yet we still encourage the confinement of apes in small enclosures, taunt them, provoke them, laugh at them, deprive them of normal social contacts, restrict their exercise, give them artificial diets and generally create the complete antithesis of the natural environment in which they are evolved to thrive.

Of course I refer to The Human Zoo. Thank you Desmond Morris.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Splitting Heirs

When a single powerful family decides to take absolute power, appropriate much of the nation's wealth and create a feudal system to support its cronies and control the populace, then it is typical to use the language of religion to control the masses and legitimise any brutality.

For example, the king of Nepal has long been considered by some to be an incarnation of the Lord Vishnu, and hence exempt from normal human laws. The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt used similar myths to ensure subservience. Obviously no-one in the western world today would accept a line that a particular family was chosen by God to control huge swathes of land forever, that would surely be ridiculous.

Some actions of Nepal's royal family have been quite strange. For example only a few years ago the crown prince gunned down his father, so he was technically the divine ruler, until he shot himself too. But the people have finally opened their eyes. Today I learned that parliament has voted by a majority of 270 to 3 to abolish the monarchy. The current king will not be tortured and executed, he will just have to pay his taxes like everyone else.

Meanwhile in the UK we still encourage the caste system. Madness.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Life of Pi

Yesterday's senseless killing has been overtaken by a far more significant one.

Many years ago I read a prizewinning novel, and amongst the opening rambles before the story really got going was a general discussion about the ethics of keeping large animals in zoos. As the child of a zookeeper the narrator was obviously on the positive side, and the main point of that little justification is worth trying to remember...

If the gates of an enclosure are left open, the animal may go for a quick wander outside, but will invariably wander back. Why? Because the enclosure is its territory. It has well defended boundaries, plentiful food, shelter and protection. Unless searching for a mate, most animals could not ask for more.

Those are my recollections, but that was recalling a work of fiction that I last looked at many years ago. The narrator Pi might have been deluded anyway, he claimed to have been stuck on a small boat with a fully grown tiger. Was there any evidence for his story? And if there is none, what can we learn from his delusion? Could a delusion justify the killing?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Fierce Creatures

As I write this, the police are still investigating the incident at San Francisco zoo where a Siberian tiger called Tatiana killed one man and severely injured two others.

The article suggests that she may have been "provoked". Obvious enough, though I'd go so far as to say that for any stranger to violate the animal's "territory" in any way is natural and understandable provocation. In a zoo that territory is very clearly defined.

No suggestion of common motive, but a completely different story springs to mind from last year. A man jumped into a lion's enclosure at Kiev zoo apparently shouting out "God will save me, if He exists". You can guess what happened next.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The war on x

mas. On behalf of every true conservative in this land.

We have had enough of these foreigners. We have had a tradition in this country for hundreds, no thousands, of years.

But recently a bunch of immigrants have come in and hijacked those glorious ancient traditions. Bloody aliens, bringing their weird eastern practices. They have no real relevance to this island. They don't belong here.

I wouldn't mind if they were doing their own thing, keeping their own rituals and not interfering with our great traditions. But they won't rest with that. They want to hijack our ancient festival and gloss over the real meaning of it.

Enough is enough.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Festive Break

It's the season of goodwill and being nice, so I'll save the usual common sense until tomorrow.

For today, as Noddy Holder put it so succintly, Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 24, 2007

I do it for you

A prominent archaeologist has criticised this blog, or more particularly he criticised one of the posts in this blog, for being too short, and also for having too many links. His points were accurate so the criticism was accurate.

But am I sorry? Not completely.

For anyone with multiple thoughts swimming around their brains, it is surely much easier to write long and variable rather than short and consistent. It's actually difficult to keep to my self-imposed limits. It's difficult to make every word matter. But I do it for you. So that you could completely read each new post in thirty seconds.

But I hope you spend a lot longer than that on each one. Not because I have advertisers to feed, but because there is (I think) always a lot more depth than may first appear. You will only get the nuance of a highlighted word or phrase by following through the link, unless you can visualise the entirety of this site. If you can visualise the entirety of this site, then there is no need to.

Basically, each one is independent, yet intrinsically and multiply linked to every other one. The posts are like the resource footprints of our lives. I did say this blog was holistic :)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Another Knight's Tale

A couple of days ago I mentioned a splendid film. Apart from the great soundtrack, there was something else that ties that movie to this blog...

Totally unjustified in real history but somehow perfectly fit within that fictional story was the character of Geoffrey Chaucer. I had mentioned him before in my first note about language. And that was not even the first time that I mentioned A Knight's Tale...

Back one March many years ago, I went on a little day trip to Canterbury with a couple of friends from school days. At the time I was employed by a large management consultancy company, but I was contemplating an offer from a senior client to leave the corporation and do some independent consulting work.

A few days later I handed in my resignation letter to the company. This was the letter.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

This Blog is Not Yet Rated

Superb, my name was quoted in one of the official ScienceBlogs ... while flicking through Living the Scientific Life I was given the idea to evaluate this one.

Although it could be argued that there are some serious themes, I hope the tone here is fairly light and playful. More than that, I try to never use any vulgar language. Not because it offends me, but because I don't want to get blacklisted by anyone who is trying to prevent corruption of sensitive minds.

So why on earth does this site get a rating of NC-17? I'm not living in America, but I'm fairly sure that rating implies a level of depravity and lewdness that is even unsuitable for most high school students? The rating site gave this explanation:

This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:
  • death (13x)
  • dangerous (9x)
  • sex (6x)
  • hell (5x)
  • crap (4x)
  • dead (3x)
  • murder (2x)
  • bitch (1x)

What! So kids shouldn't learn about death? Aren't loose roof tiles dangerous? Could web site design vary by sex? Could killing a whale possibly be like murder? Is satire dead?

Americans should be very worried if their actual movie ratings are so senseless.

Finally, irony. Only the last word, used just once, could really be considered rude. And remarkably it is the very last word of my very first post. And why did I quote it. Not to shock, but merely to publicise my friend's site ... thanks a lot Deirdré :/

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Knight's Tale

I watched a film today. A film that got terrible reviews, a cheesy anachronistic corny Brit-flick. But I absolutely loved it.

Now I don't usually just post reviews here. But I think the amateur psycho-analysts of this world (including me) may wonder why this sort of film appeals to me.

Because I don't really like fantasies, other world stuff. Lord of the Rings was execrable. Even Star Wars was good but not great. And I don't really like real history stuff - educational but tedious. But when I recall my all-time favourites in fiction, they seem to involve the fantastical distortion of real history.

In film - Highlander. In television - Edmund Blackadder. In books - Dirk Gently.

On reflection, each features someone who is basically an alien, but in time not in space. On more reflection, that's surely just coincidence...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wasted Talents

When comparing the composition of blog sites to basic chemistry, I suggested that the ideal would be something like DNA - a limited number of threads, perhaps just two, but intrinsically linked together and able to produce the most complex developments from the most basic patterns.

One example of this was the wholy book. It has sold thousands of copies, it should have sold billions.

But I have just been reminded of a second example. One that, like this blog, only a handful of people will have read. I refer to the epic that was Wasted. A terse detective story in the style of Philip Marlowe, and yet also somehow a dense historical allusion in the style of Christopher Marlowe. Hidden crossword clues and cipher codes. Online components tied in with real books and papers. Virtual worlds and real treasures. A work of genius.

It was an example of an armchair treasure hunt organised annually by employees of a large IT service provider. In their spare time. If only they made systems that good.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dragons Disgrace

I might be considered slightly entrepreneurial in two possible areas: I have original ideas that might be worth something, and I run my own marketing consultancy business. However those two areas are not well integrated.

Related to that subject is one reality show that I confess to watching. The BBC's Dragons' Den sees budding entrepreneurs pitch their ideas in front of five millionaires. What should happen is that either the idea is laughed out of court or the "dragons" compete for a stake in the promising business.

Sometimes we get a decent match, the inventor with the good idea gets the assistance and buy-in of a successful businessman who has the contacts, incentive and cash injection to grow the startup company. But what we see more often is that the dragons are looking for free money - they will only commit if the startup already has the patents, the contracts, the business plan that will guarantee a return. Of course that's what any investor would choose, but to me that is not the spirit of the programme.

However the very best ideas do not see just one or two dragons interested, all five of them can see obvious loot and an obvious victim in front of them. So instead of competing for investment, they collude. They abuse their monopoly position and come to an agreement that gives all of them the maximum (equal) stake - which is obviously the one that leaves the victim with the minimum stake. You could argue that the victim has some choice, he could walk away with no deal at all, but the reason he is in there is because he is to some extent desperate for cash, and the whole environment is stacked with five against one.

Like buyers in the open market, the dragons should be competing against each other for the best deal. We did see this in some of the earlier programmes. But like all bastard cartels, they have learned that it is better to collude than to compete.

I don't blame the dragons in the sense that is normal profit-maximising behaviour. But ethically it is disgraceful. That is why we have anti-monopoly laws in the world outside the den, and the BBC producers need to change the rules (for example to allow a maximum of two investors per product) to bash the bullies and stop the sleaze.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Roger Ramjet's proton pills and other dodgy potions

The last post was a simple demonstration of how great the English language sounds when spoken in iambic heptameter. Strange that it was football that tied it all together.

But sport is not the only medicine. Remember a recent post where apart from a laugh at homeopathy, I specifically linked to the wonderdrug called Paracetamoxyfrusebendroneomycin

Bringing in a totally different subject, the final conclusion of a recent scientific study about the effectiveness of face creams was that pricey skin creams don't do much more than cheaper drug store brands. They moisturize. ... If you're happy to smear lard on your face, that would work just as well.

In other words:
cheap old lard is just as good as pricey skincare lotions

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Super Sundays Are Holistic ...

According to Sky Sports, today was "Grand Slam Super Sunday" as all four top teams played each other. There was a big game in Scotland too - the mighty Glasgow Celtic Football Club were humbled 3-2 by little Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

A few years ago, a similar result spurred the classic headline:

Super Caley go ballistic, Celtic are atrocious

Today my local Premiership club is West Ham United. I remember that at the time of the Scottish headline the Hammers had a couple of talented young midfield players who seemed to be destined for glory. They haven't quite lived up to their promise, but tying it all back to the start of this post, today these two guys play for the big four. Back then I was just waiting for one of them to get three goals, the headline was waiting in my head:

Super Carrick scores a hat-trick Cole is so precocious.

I could have used an easier variant any time, methinks still better than most tabloid headlines...

Super Cole he is fantastic Carrick is precocious.

Unfortunately some kids never quite live up to that early potential...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Like Pinocchio

When departing from the serious topics of work and science, I hope this blog tries to cover both high and low culture. From fairly deep books about existential philosophy and classic middle English literature through football and cricket and rock music and beyond. But today I will plumb the deepest darkest depths.

I do not watch X Factor. Honestly. I don't even read the publications that are constantly promoting it. But while I sit reading other stuff or tapping away at this computer, my wife watches it. So I heard today's final result.

So I knew that in the three-way final was a stereotypical young pop singer, a cheesy brother-sister duo and a ballsy Welsh balladeeer who was generally acknowledged to be the one with the biggest future. The winner is contractually obliged to take up the "million dollar contract". His career is going to be micro-managed, every step requiring the prior approval of Simon Cowell. I thought that the young Scottish singer and the cheesy pop duo needed that win.

But for anyone with talent and confidence and ambition, the best thing is to get to the final but not win. You get all the exposure but none of the strings.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Swings and Systems

It is not easy to find a stable solution. In the efforts to get things right, many processes swing too far one way then the other. In the theoretical world of control theory from college days, there are mathematical equations for this, and consequently the optimal solutions can be calculated. In the real world, we tend to swing well past the ideal point before we realise that we have passed it.

When choosing the England football manager after the honest long-ball bluntness of Graham Taylor, we got the urbane christmas trees of Terry Venables. After the enthusing Kevin Keegan, we got the suave Sven Goran Ericsson. After the smooth Swede, back to anyone English, even if under-qualified. Then back to experienced foreigner.

It is the same when developing any major new projects. Wherever you start, you will not spiral in towards perfection, instead you will oscillate. If you start with an outdated homegrown development that is becoming too complex, you will buy in a simple standard product. When that product becomes too inflexible for business requirements, then you will go back to big global development. When the global solution becomes too remote for individual market needs, then you will develop something local. When you have too many locally developed solutions, then you will go back to a central universal product.

Those principles apply everywhere. Not because any of the global corporations where I have worked have taken fundamentally wrong decisions, but because there is an inevitable evolution of business requirement and technological capability.

Wait long enough, your best decision will look odd enough.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Spin

Not tabloid lies, a different type of spin.

The Sri Lankan offspinner Muttiah Muralitharan just claimed the world record number of test wickets from the legendary Shane Warne.

Unfortunately, there have been some in the media, including some well-known ex-cricketers, who have sounded less than gracious. There is continual insinuation about his action, that he should be banned for throwing rather than bowling. I accept that he is a freak of nature, but a rubber-wristed double-jointed glorious freak whose action has been certified by the ICC and who lights up the ground.

However, unless we are talking about English wicketkeepers, there is always a catch. The number of test wickets is not a measure that is proportional to greatness. Unlike the number of runs scored, taking wickets is a zero-sum game. If you take more wickets, then your bowling colleagues have probably taken less.

Most of you are paid to work in corporations not in sporting teams. But I suggest you support a team that is stronger in batting than in bowling.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Shakespeare Consultantspeak

This blog evaluates the fundamental interconnectness of everything. I search for links. Between statistics and psychology. Between evolution and economics. Between modern management consultancy and classic English literature.

A recent scientific article pointed out William Shakespeare's habit of using nouns to perform other functions and examined the listener responses to these phrases.

Put academically: While the Shakespearian functional shift was semantically integrated with ease, it triggered a syntactic re-evaluation process likely to raise attention and give more weight to the sentence as a whole.

Put simply: the academics showed that using nouns in this unusual way actually helped with recognition and understanding.

And then I thought - that is exactly what management consultants are always criticised for doing. By the likes of John Humphrys. By those who moan to the BBC about how the word "impact" should forever be a thing not an action.

So while I agree that grammar sets rules, I may decline to follow them.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Prayer for the Living

Nothing original today. It seems that my thoughts have already been divinely revealed to the meme machine:

Let us take responsibility for our own actions, inactions, strengths and frailties and not project them onto ghosts, spirits, stars, portents and gods unseen.

Let us have the courage to accept that one person's faith is another person's bloody-minded pig-headed refusal to accept the obvious.

Let us have the courage to accept that the person at the front of all crowds, including this one, doesn't know all the answers.

Let us have the wisdom to accept that if our ancestors had fared differently in wars our communities would be holding different absurdities up as sacred truths, and the willingness to accept those absurdities would be seen as the badge of social trustworthiness or even the right to be allowed to draw breath.

Let us accept that the difference between a prophet and a madman is not what they say but whether the crowd accepts the story and tells their children to believe it.

Let us have the courage to accept that wanting to believe in something with every fibre of our being does not and cannot make it true.

Truth needs no help, no believers, no bowed heads and no amens.

But it does need thanks to Martin Willett.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Retain or conquer

If we keep a record of the person who makes a sale, then as a retailer it should not be very difficult to determine a "conquest" rate. Now of course all wise marketers must know exactly how this is calculated, that is how they can confidently make blanket statements such as "Acquiring a customer costs 5 to 10 times more than retaining one".

Obviously client confidentiality rules so I will never publish any practically used rules here, let alone any actual results. However, there are general issues that are known to everybody in the marketing world. So let us assume that we are selling sofas from manufacturer X.

We could define a sofa conquest as a sale to someone who has never bought one from X before. But what if they have earlier bought armchairs from X. Footstools? Table lamps? OK, so we could record as conquest anyone with any relationship with X.

Some buyers collect sofas then sell them on, so at any time they have a few extra in the warehouse, how would we treat them differently to people who always dispose of a sofa before picking up the new one?

Equally, there are people who regularly buy from X, but who also buy from Y and Z, maybe more often. However they are still loyal to X aren't they?

And it gets more interesting if, whenever we record a sofa sale, we keep a separate record of the person choosing the sofa, the name on the credit card, the person who will be signing for delivery … so which of these people do we include when determining conquest rates? Do we have separate rates for all of the different permutations?

Perhaps it would help if the government kept a record of everybody buying a sofa. Then all we would need to do is to get hold of the government data and match up our purchase records with government records. So surely ID cards will solve everything…

Sunday, December 09, 2007

666 is a good score

Some numerology. According to the legendary QI, Revelation 13:18 may refer to a slightly different number.

Various estimates quoted ranged from 216 to 616 to 665, the neighbour of the beast.

Having won the 20-20 World Cup, in which Yuvraj Singh scored 6 6's in an over, India are currently playing a test series against Pakistan. They are playing splendidly. Just look at the first innings scores. In the first test match, which they won comfortably, the score was 276. That looks a bit like 216. In the next , they scored 616. And today they scored 626.

Going up at 10 per match, by the time of the deciding match against Australia, I predict a first innings score of 666. That'll show 'em.

Although what's more likely is that, like England, we'll get soundly thrashed there.

Saturday, December 08, 2007


For reasons that I explained earlier, primarily simplicity and speed, there are very few pictures on this site. In particular, there is no picture of me.

One day, more than twenty years ago, my school organised a trek to Jumnotiri. At an altitude of perhaps 3000m we passed through a small village. Using that word is being generous, it was a couple of houses and a chai shop. But the place had a basic little signpost, and I had a basic little camera …

Compared to London or New York or Delhi or Grantham or Cheam or virtually anywhere you have heard of, Rana is very small and insignificant. Few people know that Rana exists, even fewer know where to find it. Only a few people ever visit. Rana is fairly clean and unpolluted. Rana is close to the source of famous Hindu springs. Some consider the area to have a deep spiritual aura. Some consider it to be dangerous.

In summary, Rana is not well known, there is not much there, but the views from there can be amazing :)

Friday, December 07, 2007

Does a bee care?

As I briefly mentioned the United States yesterday, another quick word about US politics before the moralising gets too demoralising. Most of it is sickening. But one statement was almost funny. "It's scientifically impossible for the bumblebee to fly ... But the bumblebee, being unaware of these scientific facts, flies anyway."

Obviously it is not scientifically impossible, but equally obviously, nobody ever claimed that it was.

It would be easy to dismiss this proposition as a harmless urban myth, except that such statements are deliberately used by those who delight in defeatism, those who want to retreat from evidence-based development into a mythical fairytale bronze age theocracy.

Oh well. According to another idiot, Freedom Requires Religion, so I'd better convert to Islam, that's a religion, so that will increase my freedom.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Lethal Weapons

Another gunman has gone on the rampage in the US. Another renewed call from some quarters to tighten gun laws.

I don't write here to expound my general political leanings. I do sometimes write here to make rarely heard (but obvious) political points.

So I suggest that these mass shootings do not really encourage more gun control. In fact I have some sympathy with the right wing NRA view that having "everybody" armed might have restricted the number killed yesterday from eight to perhaps four.

But it is madness to relax gun control. Not because of these isolated major news stories, but because of the intrinsic variability of human behaviour. There are always people who react badly to little incidents. From cutting them up in traffic, to looking at their girlfriends, to just not showing enough "respect", some lunatics react unpredictably and violently. Imagine if more of them were allowed to have guns.

So the thing that warrants even tougher control is that slow drip of unnecessary murders in areas where everybody has a gun, not these rare major incidents.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Hannibal Lecture

I maintain that this blog is holistic - however, all roads lead to roam. So prompted by a recent comment about animal rights, this note is going to return to the theme started in the horrific accident.

Obviously I am not a cannibal. In fact, I share with the rest of humanity an instinctive, almost inexplicable, disgust at the very idea.

However, back to other animals, I said before that we should be perfectly happy to eat animal protein if it were harvested and eaten safely. This could basically be like farming animal cells instead of farming plant cells. But if we were growing cells that were unconnected to any nervous system, let alone to any seat of consciousness, then would there be any moral issue if the DNA in those cells had been derived from humans instead of from sheep?

I think that only religious fundamentalists and those who want a regression to a hunter-gatherer society should answer yes to that.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Common Sense Rules

In complete disregard to rule number 6, time for a current benchmark score. The links are often to the "exceptions that prove the rules".

1. Frequency. 9/10. Well actually it's 146 out of 159, but marks out of ten.

2. Topicality. 6/10. I still think the majority of posts start from new events, but only just. This is relatively a weak area.

3. Length. 8/10. Including labels and titles, so far we have 29168 words in 146 posts, average less than 200 words per day. As even the shortest post is about 80 words, that's pretty consistent.

4. Usability. 9/10. I think this fails where you a forced to follow a link to get the main point of the note. But that has only happened a couple of times.

5. Multimedia. 9/10. I've resisted. If you want music and video, then watch MTV.

6. Common Theme. 8/10. Well a few personal diversions, but generally I think it's been consistent and holistic.

7. Cohesiveness. 8/10. Actually, I've probably gone too far with the internal links. It's become a web not a path.

8. No Advertising. 9/10. I lost a mark for the intrinsic self-promotion. But no other compromises.

9. No Pictures. 8/10. Perhaps this rule should be broken more often. I'm pleased with those that have been inserted, they were small and monochrome, but original drawings take a lot of time.

10. Title. 7/10. We need more silly puns. But I guess that most people don't get them anyway.

That's 81%. I'd love to know if there is any blog anywhere on the planet that would score higher. But then again, I did make up the rules :)

Monday, December 03, 2007


No surprise, the teacher apologised. She did a number two. Fair enough. I'd be scared of causing offence too - if I lived in a place with lunatic nutters who think that their own religion is so pathetic that it can't take any criticism or mockery. Oh hell, I do live somewhere like that.

Because I am not so offended by the fundamentalist madmen who are orchestrating demonstrations in poverty-stricken Sudan, I'd expect nothing less of them. I am more offended by those in the west who say that the reason that she should be pardoned is because it was the children who named the bear, not her. Implication - it would be ok to imprison/lash/execute her if it had been her own decision.

At least we don't have blasphemy laws in the UK, we can mock bronze age superstitions without fear of reprisal here? Or maybe not.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

A spire

Yesterday we saw a summary of the blogosphere. Today, the top ten ways that we try to fit within it.

1. Frequency. One post per day, no more, no less.
2. Topicality. The stimulus should have happened within the last 24 hours.
3. Length. About 100-200 words. That's only 3-4 paragraphs of 3-4 lines each.
4. Usability. The whole thing should be able to be skimmed through in a few seconds or analysed carefully for subtexts. Every link should be optional, not an integral part of the post.
5. Multimedia. Those files are big and slow to load. Worse, it tends to run at its own speed, it is harder to skim through or linger over.
6. Subject. There should be a developing theme, not just a random personal opinion.
7. Cohesiveness. Although independent in itself, each post should connect with others in the blog.
8. Advertising. No.
9. Pictures. As with words, should be original, and the minimum needed to get the point across. A small monochrome bitmap will often perform better than a large cluttered one.
10. Title. Include a stupid unnecessary pun.

OK, number 10 was a joke. And of course these are common sense rules, not yours.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Simple Chemistry for blogs

There hasn't been a picture for a while. What there has been is an attempted return to the guiding principles developed at the dawn of blogtime - simplicity, speed, conciseness. But I said recently that I delight in diversity...

... although I just drew this picture, everyone should remember these images from basic school science classes. So let us visualise each blog post as an atom.

A is for Air. These are the random blogs that I may like to read but only if I like the blogger. There are all sorts of subjects mixed together, almost nothing connecting them.

B is for Boron (or any other metal, but that one seems appropriate). This would be a very structured homologous blog. All posts basically cover the same subject area.

C is for Common Sense. Actually it is for any blog like this with lots of very long threads, all twisting and merging and diverging. Those that have more internal cross-links tend to have greater structural strength. This one is definitely less like Polythene and more like Nylon.

D is for DNA. The ideal. Only a couple of threads, but they match together almost perfectly. And the replicating pattern seems to take on a life of its own. See, I told you this blog was holistic :)

Friday, November 30, 2007


So the teacher did not get lashed, but instead was sentenced to what today's headlines describe as "15 days in hell", though others claim that was not enough When she gets out and gets home, what will she say? Three possibilities:

1. I have realised the true error of my ways and converted. I now accept that xxxxx (whoever) is the one true messenger of god. All other supposed messengers were deluded.

2. I apologise sincerely. I did not mean to cause offence. I fully respect all those ancient laws. Islam is a religion of peace and understanding, and I did not understand.

3. What a bunch of fascist cowards. Is their religion really so pathetic that it can't take a bit of criticism? Or a joke. Are punishment and suppression their only responses to dissenting views?

I wish her well, but I predict she'll do a number 2.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sorry Brian!

We could discuss the news. But I'll stay personal today.

I used to have a pet snail called Brian. Well, he was not really a pet, but I did see him a few times sliding across my patio.

Maybe giving him that name was a mistake. But I can honestly say that I named him after the main character of the Magic Roundabout and not after the supposed prophet. I appreciate that some people may believe that Brian was a divine messenger whose every word should be obeyed. I used to think those people were gullible fools, but I realise now that only they know the true meaning of life.

Apology done. Now I'm off to get lashed.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Going for Gold

Original content is more important than original style here. But I regularly refer to the form that I consider to be ideal for a daily blog. This entire site is an attempt to demonstrate that. I often say what it is. But here is what it is not...

This is not a document of my daily routine. This is not a personal message to anybody. This is not a place where I just post links that I find interesting or entertaining. This is not a place where I develop long and complicated arguments. This is not a place where I review books that I have read or films that I have seen. There are (I hope) only very few exceptions.

But, here's the rub, even though I strive for that ideal, I am thankful that you do not. The blogosphere would be rubbish if every single one was like this one. I want you to follow different rules to me. I want you to carry both very long and very short articles. I want to read about your life. I want to see your pictures. I want to look at all of the links where you point me. I want you to post more than once per day.

So even though this blog strives for perfection, I am so glad that others do not aim for it in the same way. Delight in diversity.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Brian May Not Like This

Two recent news stories about the sea have been the resumption of whaling and the wastage of cod. Both were referenced in last Tuesday's musing/raving by a well known astronomer, physicist, guitar-maker, animal-rights activist and rock legend.

I share his disgust regarding the slaughter of whales. There is no scientific research that justifies it. Whales seem to have an intelligence, a compassion and a "conscience" that corresponds to that shown in many human societies. The care and attention that they show for society members, as with humans, goes way beyond personal survival. Weaker animals who would never survive alone are nurtured and defended by others. Youngsters are taught, praised and punished. They develop customs over time and over generations. And those who have lost family members can behave with what appears to be genuine grief.

But cod are completely different. There are various technical definitions of pain, but I would expect extreme stimulation of nerves to elicit withdrawal responses in any animal. Yet fish generally do not care for their colleagues or even for their offspring, although those species that have survived evolution tend to be those who tend not to eat their own, whether by migration or instinct. An individual fish seems to have little objective in life except to reproduce.

Dr Brian May remains an icon, my all time guitar hero. I am sure he knows the difference between a fish and a whale. Only an ignoramus could confuse the two.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Big Title

Why did I name all this Common Sense in the first place? Because I maintain that even the most complicated developments usually follow very basic statistical rules, and it is only ignorance, delusion, cowardice or psychotic denial that fuel nonsensical models of reality. But although the phrase may have been original and accurate in 1776, today it has been over-used to the point where it is losing impact. So what else could I have called this?

Rana's Gently Holistic Detection Agency - accurate, and it reflects the "fundamental interconnectedness" of everything here, but it's possibly too derivative and too personal

I Don't Believe in Ghosts - well that would have been the unusual title for my newspaper column or book if I had been a famous footballer

Uncommon Sense - nice, but it seems that many others already think they own the phrase.

Simple Answers to Complicated Questions - I like that, it is what we strive for, and it also echoes Darwin's Dangerous Idea

Hmm, I'm ok for now, but it's never too late to change ...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Maradona and Statto

I usually play football twice per week. One of those games involves a group of us who have been playing at the same time each week for nearly a decade. The sides vary, but we have records of the match results, and also on how often each player wins. But in today's lesson on how stats can mislead, a reminder that win ratio does not correlate to talent or ability.

It should be obvious, but to help understand why, assume that one player (for the sake of argument let's call him X) is much better than everyone else. Fair enough, X would be expected to have a decent win ratio. But look at the effect on everyone else.

When we are choosing sides before the games, we make a conscious decision to balance them. And if we have said that X should expect a high win ratio, then those players who are almost as good will naturally have a correspondingly low win ratio. Yet we have just implied that they are amongst the best players that we have!

Common sense? Or just an excuse for poor results?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Stay indoors and shut the windows

This week the government recommended that a small village to the west of London should be erased and the volume of air traffic at Heathrow should be nearly doubled. Now I am not trying to speak for a thousand residents of Sipson. But I am trying to speak for a million people who live under the flight path.

The Baa-brigade say that planes are getting quieter. True, but a big plane is still bloody loud. And the number of those planes is increasing. And they want to scrap the runway alternation agreement that spares people from being under the landing path for half the day.

But are the current noise guidelines really acceptable? Should we really aim for a city where so many people do not open their windows or relax in the gardens? The standard of air pollution required today is not the same as 50 years ago thanks to the clean air act. It did not freeze the regulation at "this is today's level, don't get worse". It tried to make lives better. Where is the equivalent for noise?

It's obvious, but the electorate needs to evaluate "quality of life" as well as the simple claims of national GDP effects. Sorry, does that sound too green? Then let us build a new hub somewhere else.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Should people be persecuted for what they write?

What triggered this? The Forum is angry about a "feminist writer". Critics say she called for the Koran to be changed to give women greater rights. Shocking isn't it.

The BBC seems to neither condemn nor condone the unruly behaviour. The article merely asks the question that titles this note.

I am not writing an answer. But if you suggest that certain thousand-year-old middle-eastern dictates should have no place in the modern world, then perhaps you should be persecuted too.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Moving Information

In terms of effort, what is the difference between tactical marketing and loyalty marketing?

When someone is asked to produce a file for a one-off purpose, then the quote returned is often just as small as anyone visualising the information movement would imagine. That is, you pull the data from here, you match it against this, you split it like this, then you move it to there. Easy.

Yet when asked to produce the same file, but supplied regularly, that is often not just a little harder, but sometimes orders of magnitude more difficult. Because the supplier is not being asked to produce a particular product, but instead asked to produce a process. It is the difference between asking for a widget or asking for a widget factory.

But increasingly, as the lost customer data proves, even the one-off request is going to need a full process. The world is going to slow down.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Calm Down

Each note relates to the one before. I predicted the bandwagon but not the subject. I should call this thing anti-hysteria rather than common-sense. As with the little notes about urban myths, this is just a case of trying to stay rational in the face of mass delusion.

Of course everybody in the UK has heard of the missing 25 million customer records. It is undoubtedly a very serious and possibly criminal offence.

And as a practitioner of interactive marketing, CRM, one to one marketing, Pepper's Ghosting, whatever we call it, I must know the confines of our national data protection laws and work within them every single day.

But is it cause for mass hysteria? Looking at any individual customer record, was there really anything there that no-one else would ever know? Did the files contain the passwords and PINs to access your bank accounts?

No. Somebody could try to imitate you, but they cannot take anything from you unless some organisation further down the chain screws up badly. We need to watch the banks here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Fuelling national hysteria

As I've just written on speed cameras, I may as well get this out of the way before the tabloids start encouraging the selfish bastards to start blockading roads again. So time to spell out the same basic economics.

Yes, taxes make up a large proportion of fuel price. But if we are to reduce tax, then we have a choice between lowering tax most for those who earn the least, or lowering tax most for those who generally drive the most expensive vehicles.

Taxing fuel rather than other things has other secondary effects such as discouraging urban sprawl and encouraging high street rather than mall shops, reducing traffic congestion while encouraging walking and cycling. Sorry about that.

There are winners and losers in every choice. But we should choose wisely.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Life on Earth

The BBC have been looking for a successor to the legendary Sir David Attenborough as he gradually slides towards retirement, while one of the cable documentary channels has been playing his classic series back to back all weekend.

Now it would be sacrilege to criticise him, many feel that he is a national treasure and candidate for greatest living Englishman. And for once I agree with the many. But I never write here to echo them. For I have a criticism. Not of the man himself, of course.

However, I was struck by the tone of some of those early programmes. It was all done with courage, enthusiasm and knowledge. But they had little sense of history or of future - they seemed struck by the wonder of now. The tone often seemed to be to describe how "ideally" adapted all these amazing organisms seemed to be. The wing on a sycamore seed was "perfect" to carry it far from the tree. The teeth of carnivores were "perfect" for tearing flesh and bone.

But that is not quite true. All the evidence around us is of organisms that are barely better than competitors. There are some genetic patterns that are replicating well and others that are not. Within us, within nature, there are countless examples of things that do not work very well, that could work better. Some "species" are always doing a good job of dying out regardless of human intervention.

I still think diversity is good. But remember there is no "ideal" in nature.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Speed Cameras

It is an easy topic. There are very obvious rants here. Everybody seems to feel so strongly about this.

Half of you seem to hold the top gear view. Speed cameras are evil. The maximum safe speed is rarely the set limit. It is not necessarily safe to drive at 54 and dangerous to drive at 58 down an open dual carriageway. It is the arbitrary application of the offence (this law does not apply to foreign drivers, unlicensed cabs, fleet operators, diplomats, joyriders) and the disproportionate penalty (a quarter of your license). Worst of all, they always seem to be set up just so that they can get the maximum revenue instead of really to save lives.

And half of you seem to hold the green view. Speed is dangerous. It is unarguable that hitting an animal at 40 is more likely to kill it than hitting one at 30. So the cameras are a necessary evil. And if you don't want to lose your license, then just obey the laws.

But as usual, the reason why I write here, I think you are all wrong! Well actually all the points above are true, so maybe you are all correct ...

Because even though I broadly subscribe to top gear, I think the authorities should have the courage to admit (even encourage) the revenue raising functions. The money should go to those who most need it.

The faster that you speed, the more environmental damage caused, the more you should pay. I say fair enough. It is only going above a different speed that it is dangerous, dependent on the pictorial or witness evidence of traffic and pedestrian and weather conditions. That different limit could be higher, could be lower. But it depends on the conditions, and points should only be taken if driving is shown to be dangerous.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Apples and Pairs

Within the last week, two friends have gone to New York from London, and each of them received a copy of my dual map.

The reaction of others to that little piece of artwork always seems really positive (unlike to much of the other material here). But although it is either obvious or perceptive to spot the similarities and it requires either local knowledge or research to match the particular areas, we should ask the same question for any disparate alignment - is each of the models just following a blind pattern based on simple evolutionary rules, or is it really a striking coincidence?

You know the answer. So the map was common sense. It has faults, but I'm still proud of it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Nature should know better

There appears to be a regular stream of articles about the latest "hybrid species" to be discovered. Even reputable science journals seem to regularly dig them out with continual expressions of surprise.

Interspecies hybrids are usually sterile. Because chromosome pairs need to be reasonably close to align and transfer DNA. But the key word is usually it is not always. For those who insist on species-ism, new ones are continually being formed in front of our very eyes. It is evolution in action right now.

A species is only a group of organisms that tends to interbreed at a point in time. There may well be an ideal mate for each animal, but if the first choice is not available, then some do "choose" to mate across our specious divides. There are some weird individuals around :)

OK, it is probably useful to think in terms of species if you are categorising the diversity of life at this moment. But when looking through the eons of history then that model of nature is not so useful, it is more instructive to think of the transmission of molecular patterns rather than species.

Thirty years after the the publication of The Eternal Gene, surely Nature should know better.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I am not referring to promotions in the sense of variable marketing offers, I maintain that those are basically worthless.

However the other sense of the word refers to the improvement in responsibility and salary that appears to be the periodic objective of the typical manager in a large corporation.

There is usually significant competition for promotions within the management tiers of the organisation. I have no comment on specific cases, but these are eventually resolved by some combination of past performance results and future performance potential, external directive laws and internal directive guidelines, justified personal loyalties and unjustified personal prejudices.

As a consultant running my own business, the whole concept is irrelevant to me. A good performance may result in a new contract for a new piece of work. A poor performance means no pay. That's it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


I don't usually post links here ... usually I attempt original thought. However, today's newspaper has something that is just so funny, such a magnificent ridiculous spoof article that I can't take anything seriously at the moment:

An apology for homeopathy

Again, I apologise for using a link, but I'm still laughing. The only thing that can possibly compare is this. No apologies for this link, it has to be played, but it is sheer genius:


Monday, November 12, 2007

Not Rocket Science

Jet exhausts get very hot. We need turbines in the exhaust to power the compressors. How would you stop the turbine blades from melting?

That was the strange question that greeted my eighteen year old self in the interview for college. I can't remember exactly what I answered, but it was enough to get me in the door.

There were two tutors doing the questioning. The professor was my main tutor through the course and after a long career as an expert in thermodynamics he finally retired this year. The young research fellow, after a year of continually stressing the importance of our department, left to pick up big City bonuses. I have learned that sort of thing happens a lot in business.

And why did they ask that question? After so many years, Rolls-Royce Aeronautics are still sponsoring the Engineering fellowship at my college.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Flight of the Phoenix

We watched a movie this weekend. To be more precise, one of the freeview TV channels finally showed the 2004 remake of the classic 1965 film. The plot is familiar, a group of survivors crash land in the desert and build a new plane out of the wreckage.

And while watching, I asked myself: could I do that?

Now I don't think that I would survive many days in searing heat and biting cold with minimal food or water. However, given time and tools and materials, I think I could build a working flying machine.

After all, it's not rocket science.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Who hid the elephant?

A few days ago I said that a good magician must be a good actor. Today I discover there is a film in production about a great magician.

Yet many historians do not rate Harry Houdini very highly for magical technique, though they concede his skill as an escape artist. They seem to have a mental image of the ideal magician as someone who must be tall, elegant, debonair, eloquent.

Eric Weiss was not like that at all. He was short and bowlegged and awkward and he spoke with a jarring accent. Yet I rate him the very best.

Because he really pushed the boundaries of what the human body could do and what the human mind could comprehend. His illusions often involved genuine danger. His escapes included real police shackles and real prison cells.

And unlike many who exploited the bereaved and vulnerable, he bravely spoke out against the cheats and fraudsters who claimed supernatural powers. He knew that they were all just evil vultures. They still are.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Tort for the Day

Yesterday I noted that my drive home often spans the 6:30 pm comedy slot on Radio 4. On this special day, it is worth noting that my morning drive also spans a comedy slot. 7:45 am.

Staying holistic, the Agency has many of the qualities of the mighty religious tomes. It is full of strange imagery and weird anecdotes that could easily be quoted out of context to justify almost anything. It suggests how life started and how it could end. It has an elusive "hero" whose background is mysterious but whose achievements are legendary.

However it just missed out. To become a great sacred text rather than a great novel, the book needed only two more sentences within it:

1. Everything contained herein is true - it is divine revelation and absolutely not a work of fiction

2. Thou shalt propagate this message - attempts to resist or mock are blasphemy and will not be tolerated

And then find some monks or monkeys who would fall for those lines. If only DNA had included those instructions …

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Wholy Book

My drive home from the client often spans the 6:30 to 7 "comedy" slot on BBC Radio 4. For the last six weeks, concluding yesterday, they have been playing the adaptation of, in my opinion, the finest novel ever written.

But the adaptation did not really work for me. The hero sounded more like a Harry Enfield character than the mysterious East-European that I remembered from the book.

The book is inexplicable anyway. It is a murder mystery, a ghost story, an exercise in philosophy, an English textbook, a discussion of religion, an historical novel, a magical tour. It covers the history of the world from the primordial slime of 4 billion years ago through Coleridge and Bach to quantum physics.

But I hope the novel is just a tiny bit like this blog. It is about detection. It is about finding incredibly simple answers to incredibly complicated questions. It is about a thousand different subjects. But somehow they all tie together. Just like the methods used inside it, the book itself is holistic.

However, unlike Dirk Gently, this blog is not going to save all life on this planet. And if it were to, I would invoice a lot more than he did :)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Why Germany Lost the War

Shock Horror Exception - one of those circulating email pictures is posted here …

And though I just received the email, and was pleased to receive it, this joke has probably been circulating in one form or another for about sixty years.

Excuses. Firstly, it has been a very long time, months, since the last image posted here. Secondly, maybe it's more effective distribution to be viewed on a site like this rather than individually sent out to lots of people. Thirdly, I can see there might be generic socio-political points to be drawn from it. Fourthly, it just tickled me.

And the value added, what I think it needs is a conclusion…

so I suggest that Stone beats Scissors … Fight the Power :)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Language of IT

As should be perfectly clear from much of the material here, I do not abide by many of the common distinctions between the business world and the world of information technology.

Many in the business do not delve into the information technology that supports us, perhaps because they think that they cannot understand the language. There may be a lot of data to absorb, but the principles are all common sense.

But as with natural languages, things that initially appear incomprehensible can usually be explained very simply - not by a thorough memorisation of extensive vocabulary, but simply by recognising how the language is built up - the basic components of grammar and a general understanding of how things evolve.

There may appear to be major differences. For example, in our daily interactions, someone who knows the vocabulary and syntax of more than three or four languages is quite unusual in the English speaking world.

But for those who work in computing, it is quite normal to be able to write fluently in far more than that. However the non-technologist would counter: compared to German or French or Russian, the language of computing is usually exceedingly simple, with very limited vocabulary and very few rules of syntax …

… and that is exactly why everyone should be able to understand it.

Monday, November 05, 2007

It's a kind of magic

I like magic. Depending upon the scale of the illusion, a good magician is a good actor or a good director.

The actual mechanics of tricks are usually fairly obvious to anyone who thinks through them like an engineer. They rely on science and common sense. I am not going to explode the Magic Circle if I say that various combinations of sleight of hand, drapes, mirrors and misdirection account for most illusions. But we do not need to dissect every one in detail, because instead we can just enjoy the show.

Those who claim that their magic is powered by supernatural or paranormal ability are not magicians. They are cheats, liars, fraudsters, and worse. Those who claim to communicate individually with your dead relatives are not only liars but evil vultures.

But an honest magician is just putting on an act. And the good magician, like the good actor, can make you briefly forget about reality … or make you think that the marketing message was really targeted just for you.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Size matters

At one time, every large human group was a small human group. What are factors that could have made it grow faster than other groups?

While in a minority in a region, it could encourage isolation from competing ideas. Within families, the group could discourage contraception and encourage large numbers. It could encourage conversion into the group.

It could discourage dissent. Alternative groups could be suppressed by removing competing ideas or by removing competing individuals.

But total numbers in the group will not rise if people leave at the same rate that they are joining. So it could be made difficult to leave the group. Once any group has taken control of land and business, there will inevitably be social pressure on others to conform. Or penalties for leaving the group could be made even more explicit.

Many of these factors could apply to any group that is growing. But does the fact that something is growing mean that we should encourage it?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Common Sense

Yesterday I got a comment from another blog with a similar name to this. It was no surprise to discover that there are plenty of other publications out there already called this. This blog is honoured to claim direct spiritual ancestors since at least 1776.

On the back of empirical evidence, any scientist knows that even apparently crazy theories should be reduced to common sense, it just takes an acceptance of statistics. I believe that everything here is eventually obvious (these posts should be generic discoveries not personal pictures) unless you prefer to ignore the data or prefer to fall back to narrow minded anecdotal or religious arguments.

But to explain concisely why I do this, I will conclude by quoting the complete (two line) eponymous poem by the late great Ogden Nash:

Why did the Lord give us this agility
If not to evade responsibility?

Friday, November 02, 2007


This is a blog for common sense (and for unnecessary puns) - not for discussion of metaphysics or formal philosophy.

In a detective story, the initial diagnosis may look like it is causing a paradox. But once you have watched or read through to the end, it is always the case that there was no paradox, just an incorrect deduction.

In my example yesterday, we had two conclusions, one drawn from each line of data. Those two were fair enough. But it was then just lazy or presumptuous to draw another conclusion from those two conclusions, instead of from the data.

So once we understand the data then there is no paradox.

That only leaves quantum theory ...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Touching the Data

This note is not really new material for those who work with me, it is one of those examples that I have been dredging out for year after year. But as I've just mentioned the reverend Simpson, and as this blog is holistic, it seems appropriate to head back to the analysis and evaluation of marketing activity.

If programme 1 performs better than programme 2 in a first phase, with a significantly higher response rate, and if programme 1 also performs better than programme 2 in a second phase, - then that does NOT necessarily mean that programme 1 has performed better than programme 2 overall. Even if programme 1 "wins" subsequent phases.

Nothing to do with creative or external factors, just really simple maths. Hence common sense.

But most people seem to understand this better when related to football than to marketing. With my invented numbers:


I just need to recognise, manage and control this effect in real campaigns every single day.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Touching the Cloth

Joe Simpson was the climber who shattered his legs when he was dropped down a crevasse descending a peak in the Peruvian Andes. His story was the subject of the film Touching the Void. It was a miracle that he survived the fall, a miracle that he dragged himself out of the ravine, a miracle that he crawled all the way down the mountain, a miracle that he was able to walk again. But there he was on TV this weekend, describing how he had resumed climbing and even ascended the Eiger.

A man of the cloth is a term used for someone who is considered to be close to God, or at least someone who helps the rest of us to get closer to Him.

Mr Simpson was invited onto Desert Island Discs recently. I listened. The interviewer grilled him about those times when he was very close to fading out, when he genuinely thought he was about to die - did he ever think of God or a possible afterlife at those times? No, he replied. Never. Even faced with imminent death, the idea of such a crazy Thing did not even cross his mind.

In addition to your chosen records, the programme lets you take a little reading material onto the desert island. It assumes that everyone will take the Bible, and so many people wanted the complete works of Shakespeare that they started allowing that too. So two hefty books for free, and one more of your choice. Joe took the Shakespeare, but politely declined to take the Bible. Even as toilet paper.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Pleasure of Hope

The title here is the opening sequence to a classic album by Pendragon. Another of the best albums ever recorded is the only release by a band that the genius Jim Steinman christened as Pandora's Box, so obviously hope was a main theme in there as well.

But though those are two of my all time favourites, neither of them are very well known, neither would appear on the top ten list for most people. However, when it comes to films, perhaps my taste is more universal. The Shawshank Redemption is a favourite for many others too.

But there is one little thing wrong with the movie. They bastardised the end. It is not just me who thinks that the main theme of the story was the title of this post, Stephen King himself sub-titled the original book with a similar sentiment. So the correct place to end the film would have been with Morgan Freeman on the bus. I hope that I will make it across the border. I hope that my friend is there. I hope.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Animal Ethics

I had an assortment of curries for lunch, and this was followed by a discussion about the ethics of eating animals. So the predicted tangential point.

In common with most other chimps, humans tend to be omnivores. I enjoyed my lamb, and I have already stated that I hope that it was killed with its pain minimised according to scientific knowledge rather than religious barbarism.

Generally, given equal price, convenience and availability, we tend to prefer to eat "wild" animals rather than factory farmed ones. There are good health reasons for this.

But farming has made our ethical choice easier in one respect. What three thousand years of selective breeding has done is to gradually remove much of the "life" out of farm animals. I don't mean life in its strict biological sense of replicating DNA, in that sense farming is the best thing that ever happened to the genes for chickens, cows and goats. I do mean the "zest for life", the spirit, the aggressiveness, the unpredictability and the fight to survive that characterises wild animals.

Perhaps one day, as DNA suggested, we will end up with a pig that wants to be eaten. If that happens, it would be a pleasure to oblige.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Mean Time

I left the last post saying it was ridiculous to give everyone stress and jetlag twice a year, but left it fairly equivocal on when we should we fix our zone - in October or in March.

However, generally lights are on for longer in the evening than the morning. On average we surely spend more waking hours before work than after work. It's the same for entertainment - the afternoon kickoffs today will all need expensive floodlights next week. So in terms of energy usage and carbon footprints and global warming and best aligning daylight with peaks in human activity, we should keep brighter evenings.

Some people in the highlands say it wouldn't get light until 9 am there in midwinter - well do they all really prefer it to get dark every day at 3 pm? Anyway, they can have their own time zone if they really want one, but whatever they choose is not going to increase their daylight. Obviously.

So finally, I have no great prejudice either way so long as it is fixed as soon as possible. But as a positive suggestion, the UK should stay on BST all year - call it British Standard Time and leave it there.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Saving Time

It's that time of the year, so (for once I hope) a very predictable post.

The "clocks" are going back this weekend. By the "clocks" I mean every single thing that reports time in your home, your car, your office, your train station, your airport, your radio and TV broadcasters. Today there may be clocks on your central heating system, your cooker, your fridge, your radio, your DVD player - you know the list, a few may reset automatically, but don't forget the spare watch in the bedroom drawer.

Only an idiot thinks we gain daylight by doing this. On top of the time wasted to change clocks, clearly whatever you save in the morning you lose exactly the same amount in the evening. Obviously. Everyone knows that. Except idiots.

The time taken to change clocks (and timetables) is a non-productive drain on society. Perhaps it was only a minor inconvenience when every home had just one clock in the hall that needed to be regularly synchronised with BBC chimes anyway. Today it is lunacy.

Changing time is a significant cost for every local business, and it is an enormous cost for every global business. Jet-lag is a real drain too. We force the whole country to endure an hour's jet-lag twice a year. Ridiculous.

Some people prefer brighter mornings. Some people prefer brighter afternoons. Don't try to justify clocking with bullshit about getting closer to nature. The cockerel doesn't suddenly decide to crow sixty minutes earlier. Cows don't realise when it's GMT and trudge down for milking accordingly. Crops ripen according to the sun, not the clock.

I would prefer to stay on BST. Others would prefer to stay on GMT. But, as often stated, this is a blog for common sense and not for personal preference. We can adjust to either time zone. Just leave the damn thing alone.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Bleeding Edge

There are plenty of people who are critical of academics and futurologists and towers of ivory. Despite what you may believe, I would support that criticism. The writers that I most respect have backed up their words with actions. George Orwell really did spend time down and out in Paris and London.

But I genuinely do work developing strange new mixtures of technology, statistics and psychology that together form the essence of this blog. I have been selling these ideas since my college thesis, and have been doing my best to implement them in real business applications ever since.

Even where I veer onto the more global and more controversial stuff, the really big issues that are destroying our world, I still sometimes stick my neck in where it hurts. Even if you are not a professional journalist, a broad subject does sometimes require unpleasant research.

So it is true that I did not volunteer to risk my life fighting in the Spanish Civil War. But I really have endured the Alpha Course. Sometimes we have to suffer for our art.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


The word is often misused, but this blog has broader ambitions than pointing out minor semantic errors.

Before my diversion into the future of customer relationship marketing, I almost did a typical diary post … I went to x show, it got x stars from me etc. But this blog is broader than that too.

I said that most of the reviews that you see elsewhere are only the the gushing sycophantic praise of professional critics who long to get quoted on billboards and invited for celebrity interviews.

If any magazine really gave honest reviews to the 50% of releases that are below average, then it would be highly unlikely to get the next exclusive interview with the famous cover star. That applies as much to the criticism of strikers' performance on Football Focus as to product reviews or film reviews in any glossy publication.

And the same thing goes for any articles that do not criticise those who advertise around there. Be careful whose opinions you trust.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Patent 1863-326

So now, as this blog is holistic, time to bring the last few notes together.

Pepper's Ghost is an illusion. According to the specifics of the patent, it documents the precise angle of semi-reflective surface needed to create the false image for various customer locations, although the term later developed a more generic usage. I had thought that it was a commonplace expression now, but I suppose that not everybody reads books about the history of magic and deception.

So in marketing, I refer to Pepper's Ghost as the illusion of 1 to 1 communication. It is a derivation of the original CRM vision, so it honours the creator, but the personal relationship required for message customisation does not exist - except in the mind of the customer. The personalisation is only an illusion. The customer only needs to "believe" that the marketing has been tailored to her.

To achieve this effect, we are back at the intersection of science, technology, psychology and statistics. That is the core of this site. And that is how mass marketing must work in the real world of incomplete information.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Peters Principle

To explain any ghost story, you need a little diversion into real life.

It is strange to think that only fifteen years ago there was no such thing as customer relationship marketing as we know it today. CRM was only practiced by the local grocer who genuinely knew each customer individually. Like all great ideas, and also maybe some of the ideas here, the advantages are blatantly obvious in retrospect. It just needed the technological and social environment to catch up. And it needed a champion.

I was very impressed when I met Don Peppers. As a real business leader, in search of excellence in terms of vision, commitment and eloquence, I can only compare him to Tom Peters. His ideas immediately seemed common sense to me - the measurability and statistics, the information requirements and rules engines, the technology and the simplicity, the implicit feedback loops and control theory - it fit me well.

So for the last decade of my working life, I have been explaining these principles to senior business managers, and also making them work in real world systems. I have not seen many people who seem to understand both the core message and also the IT enablers.

And in at least one little area, in terms of explaining and implementing the CRM vision, I think that I go further than those original 1 to 1 manuals. I needed a new phrase to summarise this idea, I called it Pepper's Ghost ...