Sunday, 18 November 2018

Nobody move or the school dinners get hurt!

Longrider has stumbled across a classic of the genre.

No point me summarising or it would spoil the punchline.

Friday, 16 November 2018

"At the end of the day it'll be fine. A little speed bump. Everyone will forget all about it."

From the BBC:

Cannabis retailers in Canada began to run low on supplies from the very first day of legalisation a month ago. How long are shortages expected to continue as the new market for recreational cannabis finds its feet?

This is a great real life experiment. It'll be interesting to see how long it takes for supply to rise to meet demand (at current prices). Part of the delay is probably down to bureaucratic stuff, but you can't set up a cannabis farm and get the stuff certified and to market overnight.

Problem is, we'll never see an article reporting that suppliers are up to volume and things are running smoothly, it's just not particularly interesting.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Evening Standard channels its inner Daily Mail

From The Evening Standard:

Mrs Muhammad was shot shortly after 7.35 am as she did the washing-up, her husband told the Evening Standard.

Scotland Yard said the woman suffered a wound to the abdomen during the attack in the £500,000 house in Newbury Park.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

What's your optimum distance from a tree?

It would be easy to write a few paragraphs listing all the plus points of trees: they clean up the air; are net oxygen releasers; somewhere for birds to nest; provide welcome shade in summer; somewhere to shelter in a sudden summer downpour etc etc. So much so that politicians love being associated with tree planting (that was rather serendipitous - I noticed that post just as I started writing this one).

Most relevant for this discussion is that they look nice (whether that is an aesthetic thing or simply because they are associated with all the Good Things listed in the bog standard opening paragraphs on trees).

From closer up and on a practical point of view, trees are a pain in the arse. They undermine foundations; soak up so much water that other plants won't grow around them; drop leaves on your lawn and in your gutters; you need to prune the overhanging branches and go and grovel to your neighbours if a storm snaps off branches into their gardens (happened to me after the Great Storm of 1987 - in south Germany - it wasn't just a UK thing); a car parked under a tree gets covered in sap, seeds, leaves and bird poo (depending on time of year).

So there must be a trade off. Trees, yes, but Not In My Back Yard - which boils down to the question posed in the title.

For example: the back gardens on my street and the one behind it are stupid long (by London standards). The neighbours behind us had two large trees in their back garden,they looked great swaying in the breeze but were far enough away not to cause any inconvenience to Yours Truly (they didn't block any sunlight to our house or shed leaves in our garden). The neighbours extended their house a couple of years ago and they chopped down the larger one, reducing the quality of the view from our back garden (I still miss the larger one).

To my mind, that's the best place for trees - in somebody else's garden, at least twenty yards from your house, or at least twenty yards up or down the road from where you park your car.

But what if everybody thought like that? We'd have no trees on urban streets and gardens at all.


Tuesday, 13 November 2018

That Brexit text in full

"Trust me, we’ve been thinking about market power and competition all wrong"

... says Ryan Bourne in City AM.

Well, no we haven't, but he makes a good point about one specific topic - that there is a difference between national and local market power/concentration:

Back in the 1950s, many UK villages and towns were served by a single grocer, butcher, and baker. These independent local stores would, in effect, be local monopolies, but had tiny share of the market for the whole country.

Today, major supermarket chains have gone from strength to strength, exploiting economies of scale and creating cost-effective distribution systems. Tesco, Sainsbury’s and others serve hundreds and thousands of locations, while engaging in cut-throat competition with each other.

As a result, at a national level the supermarket industry looks highly concentrated. The biggest four firms had 72.3 per cent of the market in 2016. But at a local level, many areas have seen huge increases in competition. They are now served by at least two supermarkets, as well as other stores, instead of the local monopolies of the past.

Or to put it another way, let's assume each town/area is served by two of the big supermarket chains. They are in competition and the consumer benefits. If the government were to force the big supermarket chains to close half their outlets, this would clearly reduce their national market share, but their remaining outlets would face less competition in all the towns/areas which are now only served by one large supermarket, and the consumer loses out.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Daily Mail on top form

Detectives find body of man in his 40s in the grounds of £1.5million home after using metal detectors to search garden

"Lies, damned lies and rent statistics"

Fine article by Ian Mulheirn, who is one the heroic few pointing out that the "lack of housing supply" explanation for high prices is a bit of a myth. Sure, selling prices have rocketed, but that's largely due to easy credit availability/low interest rates. The true measure of housing costs is of course rents. They have shot up in London/south east over the last twenty years, but that's due to higher wage differentials and not lack of supply. Overall, they'd been pretty flat.

The housing supply numbers commonly used and, until recently, the housing need numbers bandied about, have long been wrong or misleading. Given the importance of rent — the ‘price’ that tells us whether demand for housing services is outstripping the supply — using the right measure of that is particularly vital...

Unfortunately [the ONS Index of Private Housing Rental Prices] only goes back to 2005. However, combining it with the prototype index for the UK prior to 2005— albeit based on a much smaller sample —suggests that real like-for-like rents have been pretty benign since 1996, and comfortably below average household income growth.

Friday, 9 November 2018

"A Star Is Born"

From Wiki and Wiki

Jackson Maine, a protostellar cloud privately battling gravitational collapse and an alcohol and drug addiction, plays a concert in California to try and lose some excess energy through radiation. His main support is gas pressure Bobby, whose kinetic energy balances out the potential energy of Jackson's internal gravitational force.

After the show, the dust within Jackson becomes heated to temperatures of 60–100 K when he witnesses a performance by Ally, a waitress and singer-songwriter whose particles radiate at wavelengths in the far infrared where Jackson is transparent.

They spend the night speaking to each other, where Ally discloses to him that the dust is mediating his further collapse. Jackson invites Ally to his next phase of contraction. During the collapse she sings on stage with him. Jackson invites Ally to go on tour with him, and his density increases towards the center.

In Arizona, his middle region becomes optically opaque first. Ally and Jackson visit the ranch 
where his father is buried and where Jackson’s density reaches about 10−13 g /cm3, only to discover that a core region, called the First Hydrostatic Core, has formed where Jackson's collapse is essentially halted.

Angered at this betrayal, Jackson continues to increase in temperature and punches Bobby, who subsequently reveals that Jackson’s core temperature has reached about 2000 K, but the latter was too inebriated to notice.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

"Increased frequency of travel may act to decrease the chance of a global pandemic"


The high frequency of modern travel has led to concerns about a devastating pandemic since a lethal pathogen strain could spread worldwide quickly.

Many historical pandemics have arisen following pathogen evolution to a more virulent form. However, some pathogen strains invoke immune responses that provide partial cross-immunity against infection with related strains.

Here, we consider a mathematical model of successive outbreaks of two strains: a low virulence strain outbreak followed by a high virulence strain outbreak. Under these circumstances, we investigate the impacts of varying travel rates and cross-immunity on the probability that a major epidemic of the high virulence strain occurs, and the size of that outbreak.

Frequent travel between subpopulations can lead to widespread immunity to the high virulence strain, driven by exposure to the low virulence strain. As a result, major epidemics of the high virulence strain are less likely, and can potentially be smaller, with more connected subpopulations. 

Cross-immunity may be a factor contributing to the absence of a global pandemic as severe as the 1918 influenza pandemic in the century since.

Seems plausible to me. Either we have just been incredibly lucky for the past century, or there is a self-correcting mechanism that reduces the risk of pandemics.