Friday 28 February 2020

Reader's Letter of The Day

From The Metro:

I may be in a minority here but I don't understand the panic about coronavirus. We are told flu kills around 20,000 a year in the UK alone. But the fact is flu attacks the already weak and simply hurries their demise.

I'm not trying to dismiss the tragedy of people dying, but can we please get a grip? Or course take precautions - the blindingly obvious 'wash your hands' - but so far hardly anyone has died after being infected with coronavirus, even in China where less than five per cent of those affected have succumbed.

Paul B, Edinburgh

Wednesday 26 February 2020

Yes, but that's the same thing, they're doing double counting.

Another failed debunking-the-debunkers attempt by Skeptical Science:
Myth: Each unit of CO2 you put into the atmosphere has less and less of a warming impact. Once the atmosphere reaches a saturation point, additional input of CO2 will not really have any major impact.

It's like putting insulation in your attic. They give a recommended amount and after that you can stack the insulation up to the roof and it's going to have no impact." (Marc Morano, as quoted by Steve Eliot)
The mistaken idea that the Greenhouse Effect is 'saturated', that adding more CO2 will have virtually noeffect, is based on a simple misunderstanding of how the Greenhouse Effect works.

The myth goes something like this:
* CO2 absorbs nearly all the Infrared (heat) radiation leaving the Earth's surface that it can absorb. True!
* Therefore adding more CO2 won't absorb much more IR radiation at the surface. True!
* Therefore adding more CO2 can't cause more warming. FALSE!!!

Here's why; it ignores the very simplest arithmetic...

The air doesn't just absorb heat, it also loses it as well! The atmosphere isn't just absorbing IR Radiation (heat) from the surface.

It is also radiating IR Radiation (heat) to Space. If these two heat flows are in balance, the atmosphere doesn't warm or cool - it stays the same.

Similarly we can change how much heat there is in the atmosphere by restricting how much heat leaves the atmosphere rather than by increasing how much is being absorbed by the atmosphere.

That's the same thing! If more warmth is absorbed then, by definition, less is radiated. You can't add the two together. It's like saying "I earn £2,000 a month and spend £2,000 a month, so each month I earn £4,000."

Daily Mail on Top Form, Nearly

From The Daily Mail:

A dog trainer who once worked for Princess Anne is suspected of murdering his wife at the cottage where Boris Johnson grew up.

John Zurick, 67, allegedly shot his estranged wife Debbie, 56, after he discovered she had a new boyfriend. He then turned the shotgun on himself, friends said yesterday.

Paramedics were called to the cottage, on the Prime Minister's family estate in Somerset, on Saturday afternoon but were unable to save Mrs Zurick...

The Zuricks bought the property, where the Prime Minister spent some of his childhood, from Mr Johnson's father Stanley for £440,000 in 2013.

Stanley Johnson owns the neighbouring 14th century farmhouse on the Nethercote estate with his wife Jennifer. A third house on the estate is owned by the Prime Minister's sister Rachel.

Yes, yes, but what would the cottage be worth now (ignoring the murder-suicide stuff)?

Tuesday 25 February 2020

"My advice for Rishi Sunak: superforecasters won’t make your Budget better"

Stephen King, HSBC's Senior Economic Adviser gloriously misses the point in yesterday's Evening Standard:

Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is presenting his first Budget on March 11.  To do so, he'll need some vaguely credible economic forecasts. Without them, the fiscal arithmetic is no more than guesswork. In the bad old days, chancellors simply looked at themselves in the mirror and came up with numbers that best suited their political purposes.  

Gordon Brown kept changing his forecasts to prove there could be "no more boom and bust", singularly failing to spot the looming global financial crisis.

In the late Eighties, Nigel Lawson persuaded himself that Britain was about to embark on a prolonged period of faster growth and lower inflation, conveniently ignoring the housing boom that led to the early-Nineties recession.

He goes on to dismiss the whole idea of forecasts - either they are wrong; politically unpalatable; or they are self-fulfilling prophecies.

And that's ultimately the problem with economic forecasting, particularly in the public realm. Some things just aren't forecast for the simple reason that, until they actually happen, it's easier to pretend otherwise.

In May 2008, midway between the failures of Northern Rock and Lehman Brothers, the Bank of England apparently regarded the risk of recession as very low — in hindsight a seemingly ridiculous conclusion.

Does he not even bother to read what he has written and look for the most basic patterns - to wit house price bubble and credit bubble => house price crash and credit crunch => recession? he gives two recent examples of exactly that. That's all you have to look out for.

To make matters even easier, these crashes happen every 18 years or so (he mentions 1990 and 2008, next one due 2025 or 2026).

The Chancellor has a choice - press on with Home-Owner-Ism and worry about the mess later, or take active steps to dampen leveraged land price speculation.

He can re-adopt 20th Century Georgism Lite (mortgage caps, rent caps etc) or he could do the decent thing and replace as many taxes as possible with Land Value Tax.

Monday 24 February 2020

Barclays' new "Confirmation of Payee" service.

Email received from Barclays today:

Hi Customer,

What's new?

I'm sure they'll tell me...

A new service called Confirmation of Payee has been designed to help protect your payments from scams, fraudsters and payments going to the wrong account.

From March, when you pay a new person or business using Faster Payments (including standing orders) or CHAPS, we'll match their account name as well as the sort code and account number to make sure you're paying the right person. If someone makes a new payment to you, their bank may do the same.
[and so on]

Your Barclays Business Team

They appear to have learned the lesson from this debacle.

You do wonder, why on earth didn't banks always check the name of the recipient? What was the point of asking for their name if they're not going to check it?

My favourite covid-19 related website

Worldometer publish lots of charts and tables here, it's updated daily on the basis of available information. For most of the graphs, you can choose linear or logarithmic scale.

The underlying info might not be 100% accurate, but let's assume that it's consistently wrong and thus a fair basis for looking at trends.

Sunday 23 February 2020

"It never rains but it pours"

The Guardian appears to be taking this expression literally.

Guardian reader's letter, May 2019:

Weather forecasts are ignoring the drought in England

Paul Brown is spot-on in his criticism of how weather forecasts and presenters ignore the continuing drought (Weatherwatch, 28 May). It is as if they are in a parallel universe where the climate emergency does not exist. Wildlife, gardeners, farmers and all who care about the environment are desperate for proper rainfall, especially in central and southern England.

Linda Lennard, St Albans

Guardian article, Feb 2020:

With every flood, public anger over the climate crisis is surging

Sometimes it has felt as if the rain might never stop. These storms have gone beyond the point of simply being storms now, each blurring into the next to create a strangely end-of-days feeling. Everything is freakishly sodden and swollen, and while the rural flood plain on which I live fortunately hasn’t flooded anything like as badly as some, the rivers are rising alarmingly.

Yet still the lashing winds and biblical downpours keep coming. Suddenly the 40 Days of Action campaign that Extinction Rebellion (XR) will launch on Ash Wednesday (26 February), encouraging people to reflect on the environmental consequences of their actions in a kind of green Lent, feels ominously well named.

So what is it chaps, wetter or drier? (Or would you always have this impression if you compare a month in Spring with one in Winter?)

Oh, surprise surprise, it's neither.

Paul Holmewood summarised rainfall charts for England and Wales 1766 to 2016, and there is no discernible trend, annual rainfall in most years was between 800mm and 1,000 mm:

If you really squint at the ten-year running average, there appears to be a slight upwards trend from the early 1900s (about 850mm) to the 2010s (about 950mm), but most years stayed within the 800mm - 1,000mm range.

As he says himself:

By far the wettest month was October 1903, when 218mm fell. The wettest month in recent years was November 2009, with 192mm.

Again, I can see no evidence of anything unusual occurring in the last decade or so. There is a suggestion, though, that very wet months were not as common prior to the 20thC. This can be better seen by looking at the number of months >150mm per decade. The latest ten years is shown for comparison:

On average, it is fair to say that it is a little bit wetter now than it used to be in the early 19thC. But above all it is the year to year variability which dominates the record, just as it always has.

As to actual 'floods', the chances are these are down to deforestation and dredging/straightening of watercourses upstream; and more urbanisation (building over large contiguous areas, especially in areas prone to flooding) and not enough dredging/straightening of rivers downstream.

Saturday 22 February 2020

[Adjective] [noun] - film titles in the 1980s

Her Indoors was watching Basic Instinct as I drifted off to sleep yesterday, and it reminded me of something that has been bugging me for the last thirty years.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, a lot of film titles were just an adjective and a noun, it was a fashion that came and went. The cleverer ones were where you didn't know what the phrase referred to until somebody told you, or you watched the film.

Here's a list of The 68 Best '80s Movies Ever Made, according to Marie Claire. I have no idea why they chose the number 68, or why they caveat it with "... Ever Made" (clearly, they're not making "'80s movies" any more, but hey.

Their list includes:

Short Circuit
Lost Boys
Steel Magnolias
Evil Dead
Raging Bull
Full Metal Jacket
(OK, that's two adjectives)
Blue Velvet
Working Girl
Weird Science
Mystic Pizza
Risky Business
Top Gun
Foot Loose
(OK, that's noun-adjective, but it's my list)
Dirty Dancing

That's one fifth of the list.

Other noteables (maybe they are on the above list and I overlooked them) are:

Rude Boy (the Clash film)
Mad Max
Blue Lagoon
Red Dawn
Black Widow
(the one with Debra Winger)
Fatal Attraction
Dangerous Liaisons
Legal Weapon

UK television joined in the fun too:
Cold Feet
Silent Witness

The trend continued into the 1990s and then fizzled out again:
Hot Shots
Basic Instinct
Cool Runnings
Broken Arrow
Indecent Proposal
American Beauty

Nowadays, most films are sequels or prequels or part of a series, so they end up with very long and  punctuation heavy film titles like The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 or Deadpool: The Musical 2, or just about any Avengers film, which are all called Avengers: [brief description of plot].

Thursday 20 February 2020

"Students hit by 14-day university lecturers strike"

One of the pictures accompanying this article didn't load properly.

Luckily, there's a description to help you imagine it:

Wednesday 19 February 2020

More wildlife fun with The Guardian

As a follow up to Bayard's beaver post (see below), I'll up the ante...

From The Guardian:

The study by University of Sussex researchers raises fears that bees and other flying pollinators may struggle in the higher and more frequent winds caused by global heating.

The bees, which usually feed on wild flowers after leaving their hives in the campus gardens, were lured into the shed with sugar water feeders. Only one bee was allowed in at a time, and their visits to artificial flowers were videoed and timed under different fan speeds, which mimicked calm and windy days.

With no wind, the bees on average took nectar from 5.45 flowers during their 90-second time trial. When wind speeds were increased, this fell to an average of 3.73 flowers. Over the course of a day, a bee’s capacity to supply its colony with food would be significantly curtailed.

Yes, bee and insect numbers have plummeted over the past few decades, as anybody who can remember scraping dead flies off the car windscreen (or in my case, watching my Dad do it, I'm not that old) will confirm. This is perhaps something we should be worried about, and maybe we could slow or reverse this trend.


a. Bees evolved quite a while ago, I'm sure they know how to handle a stiff breeze or two.

b. There's no reason to assume that 'global warming' will increase wind speeds. Wind speeds and turbulent events like tornadoes are caused by temperature differences between regions, or cold air meeting hot air, and not absolute temperature.

We are told that 'global warming' is reducing temperature differences - from Wiki: Presently, the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.

In contrast, it's bloody hot in the Sahara in the day time, but it's not subject to gale force winds from sunrise to sunset. On average, winds are stronger in Antarctica, even though it's much colder (the opposite of the claim in the article).

And apparently, there is barely any wind on the surface of Venus, which has fallen victim to 'runaway climate change' (in truth, it's that hot because atmospheric pressure at the surface is ninety-three times higher than on Earth).

Beaver Crap

The Guardian is extolling the virtues of beavers in controlling the water flow in rivers

Further down the article I found this gem, a piece of getting it arse about face worthy of a Homey:

“However, it also makes clear that those who benefit from beaver reintroduction may not always be the same people as those who bear the costs, highlighting that the reduction of flood risk in communities downstream may come at a cost of water being stored on farmland upstream.”

What he really means of course is that the people responsible for the flooding downstream, the landowners who have cleared out and straightened the rivers to stop their land flooding as it always used to, don't want all their hard work undone by a few rodents.

Tuesday 18 February 2020

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (479)

From the Evening Standard, the usual Homey bleatings re the mooted Mansion Tax:

Former Westminster council leader Nickie Aiken, now a London MP, summed up the mood in a tweet saying it would “hammer families and elderly people who’ve worked hard for years to pay their mortgages”.

The Vulcan, who somehow sees people who are sitting on massive, taxpayer-funded land price gains in the same light as proper risk-taking businessmen (and their long suffering employees), who generate the tax revenues to subsidise those Homeys, weighs in:

Former Cabinet minister John Redwood said that instead of tax rises the Government should be drawing up a list of targeted tax cuts, including stamp duty, to stimulate growth.

Why the emphasis on stamp duty? I've never heard a client moan about it affecting their business, because it quite simply doesn't, it's a minor irritant at worst.

He said: “You cannot tax people into prosperity.."

This is a tried and tested right wing mantra, and as a matter of fact, it is bollocks.

Governments, or organised societies, are there to provide "public goods", which I shall neatly restrict to the sub-set of "stuff that governments do where the benefits (to individual citizens, or the economy, or society as a whole) outweigh the cost".

So the police, education, the road network are public goods. Things like HS2 or Help To Buy Sell are just a massive slush fund for ailing corporates who donate to whichever party is in government, and these are not public goods. Don't get me started on Third World Aid payments or Tobacco Control Officers.

The spending comes first, that's what helps a nation to prosperity (up to a point and bearing in mind diminishing returns to scale). Those things have to be paid for out of taxes (unless you are happy to risk currency collapse).

Taxes don't help a nation to prosperity (to any great extent), none but the most hardened Marxist would argue that. It's the spending that helps the nation to prosperity. Taxes are just the flip side of spending. The key is to collect as much as possible from taxes which don't damage the economy (fuel duty; Land Value Tax; income tax on high incomes, which is a tax on "rent") and as little as possible from those taxes which damage the economy most (VAT; NIC; basic rate income tax; probably SDLT).

The UK, like most Western nations, collects most of its taxes in the worst possible way, so we are running to stand still. Spending on public goods, as defined, above boosts the economy, but it is financed with taxes which hold the economy back and create inequality.

Starting where we are now, with spending on public goods giving diminishing returns, increasing the bad taxes to pay for more of the same is a hiding to nowhere (agreed on that point).

But what if you keep spending constant and shift from bad taxes to good taxes; and the nation prospers as a result?

What if you start with a clean sheet? The government does just the bare bones (defence, law and order and protecting land titles)?

As Hong Kong or Singapore so ably illustrate, if you can collect the surplus that would otherwise go into higher land prices and rents and recycle that into public goods, the economy can boot strap itself from nothing to developed world status within a few decades.

It's a virtuous circle. Spending on/providing the right kind of public goods (that private landowners would never have paid for, having no incentive to do so), increases land values, meaning more tax revenues to spend on more public goods, increasing land values [etc].

Fun with numbers - follow up

Statement from my earlier post "The relative length of the height is simply N x 2 'units'."

Bayard's comment: "I can't see from where you derive that."
Easy enough, it's a bog standard quadratic/algebra slog.

You are told, for example, that the height of a right triangle is one seventh of the total perimeter.

Start off by writing "n = 7" and "N = 6" as before.

As we are looking at relative values, not absolute values, you can ascribe any value you like to the height to get the ball rolling.

It's easiest starting with height = 1. Therefore, the total length of base + hypotenuse = 6. The base is shorter than the hypotenuse, so as a first approximation, the ratios are 1 to 3-minus-a-bit to 3-plus-the-same-bit. We express these as 1; 3 - x; and 3 + x.

Applying Pythagoras, 1^2 + (3-x)^2 = (3+x)^2.

Expand those to get 1 + 9 - 6x + x^2 = 9 + 6x + x^2.

Subtract the right hand side from the left hand side, shift the -12x over, change the sign and you end up with 1 = 12x.

So you have height = 1; base = 2 11/12 and hypotenuse = 3 1/12.

Then express everything in terms of 1/12's.

Height = 12/12; base = 35/12 and hypotenuse = 37/12.

We are looking at relative not absolute values, so we can define our "unit" as 1/12 (or "x", which we now know is 1/12), and we express the relative lengths as:

Height = 12 units; base = 35 units; and hypotenuse = 37 units.
Our "unit" must come out as 1/(2N), so the height, which we somewhat arbitrarily set as 1 to start with, must come out as 2N units...

In the above example, x = 1/12 = one unit. The height = 1/(1/12) = 12 units.

The 12 will always be 2N. The "3" in (3 - x ) and in (3 + x) is simply N/2 (it must be, that's how you set up the equation).

When you square (3 - x) you get -6x (= -N, two lots of half of N). When you square (3 + x) you get +6x (=N, two lots of half of N). Subtract 6x from -6x, you get -12x, So the "12" = 2N (two lots of twice half of N).

Whatever n or N is, when you do the workings, you always end up with 2N*x = 1.

That explains why height = 2N units.

The base is 1 unit (or 1*x or 1/12) shorter and the hypotenuse is 1 unit (or 1*x or 1/12) longer than N/2 (again, by definition, that's how you set it up). Once you multiply up by 2N (to get rid of the fractions), the apparent difference is two units (or "2x" or 2/12).
Sorry to ruin the magic for you :-(

My three years on The Naughty List are over!!

As I might have mentioned three years ago, those thieves up in Liverpool caught me in a speed trap* which must have netted them £10,000's a day.

That was 17 Feb 2017. The small print crapola said I can dodge the three points by doing Adult Detention for a day, but if they catch me again within three years, it's three points without the option.

I sorely doubt whether this is ever actually enforced, but you never know, so I have been driving like a little old lady for the past three years, which takes a lot of the fun out of it. I can now revert to driving like a normal adult again.

* There were plenty of 50 mph signs in the roadworks section, and then you were back on the open motorway, with no 50 mpg signs.. I was actually pootling along at 50 mph, waiting for the national speed limit sign, but so many people were overtaking us left and right, it seemed more sensible to just go with the flow. Against the strict letter of the law, it would appear - they cunningly didn't have a national speed limit sign for another couple of miles . So I got flashed doing 61 mph - on a bloody open motorway, with the roadworks at least a mile behind us.

Monday 17 February 2020

Fun with numbers - right-angle triangles and side length ratios.

Maths problem - you are told that one side of a 'right triangle' (as the Americans call them), is a certain fraction (1/n) of the total perimeter (the length of all three sides of the triangle added together). You have to work out the length of the other sides and/or the area.

For example... you are told that one side (the height) is one-sixth of the total perimeter.

Write down "n = 6" to get started.

The term "n" is hardly used from here on in, what comes up all the time is "n-1" so we might as well treat this as a separate variable, 'modified n', for which I use capital "N".

So write down "N = 5".

The relative length of the height is simply N x 2* 'units'**.

* Note: override rule: if "N" is an odd number, see separate section below. But I think it's easier to just remember one rule which works whether "N" is odd or even.

** Note: 'units' means relative length, not absolute length.

So write down height = N x 2 = 10 units.

The total length of the other two sides = height (10) x N (5) = 50 units.

If this were an isosceles triangle, the other two sides would simply be half that, 25 units each.

In a right triangle, the hypotenuse is longer than the base, and in these problems, the hypotenuse is simply 2 units longer than the base. That's the magic here. I'll have to have a think about why, but for now, just accept that that's how this works.

(UPDATE, I've had a think and explained it (to myself, at least) and it turns out to be pretty non-magical at all. The height is always 2N units and the difference between base and hypotenuse is always 2 units because that's how you set up the equations. Still a handy trick, should you ever need it.)

So take the side length from the theoretical isosceles triangle (25 units), add 1 for hypotenuse (= 26 units) and deduct 1 for base (= 24 units).

That gives you height 10 units, base 24 units, hypotenuse 26 units, total perimeter 60 units, which you can simplify to 5-12-13. If you apply the override rule, you would have got 5-12-13 straightaway.
Override rule example, same facts as above:

n = 6, N = 5, so "N" is odd.

Height = N = 5 units.

Total length of other two sides = height x N (or N^2, if you are that way inclined) = 25 units.

In an isosceles triangle, the other two sides would be 12.5 each. This is a right triangle, so add and deduct 0.5 to find length of hypotenuse and base.

Answer = 5 - 12 - 13.

Remember, this only works if "N" is odd; the rule that height = N x 2 always works, whether "N" is odd or even!
You might be told, or able to work out, that the total perimeter is (say) 72 centimetres (or 90 yards), or whatever, you divide that by the number of units (= 1.2 centimetres/unit or = 1.5 yards/unit) and multiply up again.

So sides would be height 12 cm; base 28.8 cm, hypotenuse 31.2 cm (or 15 yards; 36 yards; 39 yards).
Area is simply base x height x 1/2.

So using above examples, area would be 12 x 28.8 x 1/2 = 172.8 sq cm (or 270 sq yards).
Presh Talwalkar, at the end of this video, reckons you can short-circuit calculating the area if you know the perimeter and "n".

The formula, if you can remember it, is...

(perimeter ^2) x (N-1) ÷ (4N^2 + 4N).

So if n = 6, N = 5 and perimeter is 72 centimetres (or 90 yards), the area is...

72 x 72 x 4 ÷ (100 + 20) = 172.8 sq cm.

90 x 90 x 4 ÷ (100 + 20) = 270 sq yards.
Here endeth.

Saturday 15 February 2020

Vandalised Wall Vandalised

From the BBC

Vandalism by Banksy has been defaced just 48 hours after it appeared.

The vandalism, featuring a young girl firing red flowers from a catapult, appeared on the side of a house in Bristol on Thursday.

Banksy confirmed he was behind the vandalism by posting a picture of the work on his Instagram page at midnight on Valentine's Day.

But new vandalism has now been daubed over the vandal's design in bright pink lettering.

Electric vehicles - not particularly energy efficient

The conclusion to my previous post, Fun with numbers - what if we all had electric cars was this:

If electricity generation goes up 40% [to charge all the cars] and half of that is gas, oil or even coal, we simply use half of that 37 bn [fuel saved] in power stations, a net saving of 19 billion litres.

We could achieve much the same reduction by simply moving to hybrid cars (as recommended by Bayard), which can achieve 80 or 90 mpg. They can do 10 - 50 miles on battery alone, so you could turn off the petrol or diesel engine while in town, thus reducing pollution where people live (Mombers' argument in favour of electric cars, about the only valid argument in favour of them IMHO). This requires absolutely no changes to our infrastructure and the shift could happen organically.

The calculations were long and complicated, even by my standards, and I had to make quite a few assumptions and go back and tweak it several times.

There's a much easier way to compare and contrast, and ultimately, I don't think I was far off:

1. It takes 0.3 litres of diesel to generate 1 kWh of electricity (from here), and approx. 10% is lost in transmission (from here).

2. So 1 litre of diesel used in a power station = 3 kWh of electricity at the socket.

3. Electric cars do 2.9 miles/kWh (from here), so 1 litre in the power station = 3 kWh in the battery, x 2.9 miles/kWh = 8.7 miles/litre = 40 miles/gallon.

4. That is not particularly impressive by modern standards, and a hybrid diesel/electric (not plug in) can easily do 80 miles/gallon (from here).

"Ah yes," cry the Greenies, "But the electricity to power the vehicles wouldn't be generated from fossil fuels, it would be generated from renewables!"

For sure, but that logic applies to all electricity, about 50% of which is generated using fossil fuels in the UK, so it's not really an argument. We could tackle that issue first (to the extent you believe it is an issue, which frankly, I don't).

So if we all shifted to diesel- or petrol/electric hybrids*, that would halve the amount of petrol and diesel used, halving the CO2 emissions from that source, which I think is the object of the exercise. And of course, private vehicle use only accounts for about one-quarter of UK CO2 emissions, which have been declining by compound 1.5% a year since the peak in 1975 anyway, and we are back to the levels of 130 years ago (from here).

* This is much more feasible than going all-electric. The cars are much cheaper than all-electric. The batteries in diesel- or petrol/electric hybrids are much smaller than in fully electric vehicles, which means that it will not be quite as difficult rustling up all the rare metals required to make them. It would require no massive infrastructure investment (more power stations or at least, existing power stations running 24/7, installing tens of million of charging points etc) and everything continues pretty much as normal.

Friday 14 February 2020

Fun with numbers - what if we all had electric cars

Qs - would we have enough electricity generating capacity if each household in the UK had one electric car? And would we have to reduce the number of miles we drive every year?

A - I don't know, but here's how I would guesstimate it.

(Feel free to pile in if you have better info, or just skip to the conclusion in my later post.)
Typical daily electricity usage per household - 9.25 kWh (from here).

Check: Total electricity generated/used in the UK per annum 335 TWh (from here), 30% of which is domestic (from here) = 100 TWh. 28 million households x 9.25 kWh x 365 days = 94 TWh.

That's (say) 16 hours a day, grid running at near full capacity.

That leaves (say) 8 hours where not much electricity is being used, in which time power stations, if they continued running at near full capacity, could generate (say) another 40% x 335 TWh = 134 TWh, = about 13 kWh per household/car per day.

A typical electric car, like a Nissan Leaf has a 40kWh battery and a 100 mile range* (from here). 40 kWh divided by 13 'spare' kWh per household per day = people can recharge their cars every three days. It would have to be staggered; if everybody plugged them in Sunday at midnight, there wouldn't be enough electricity to go round. So instead of Economy 7 electricity, which is cheaper in the night time, there would have to be a massive premium on electricity in the night from Sunday to Monday, or something.

* Check: Electric cars can do 2.9 miles/kWh (from here).

About half of all car miles are commuting, and the average journey (one way) is less than 10 miles, so most of us would be OK for commuting and a weekly shopping trip, with just one overnight charge per week (in a normal week).

Check: Total miles driven in the UK per year (car, van, taxi) = 658 billion km = 409 billion miles.(from here). 100 miles every three days (max capacity, from above) x 28 million households/cars = 340 billion miles/year, so miles driven would have to come down by about a fifth.

So ball park, yes, if we ran power stations 24 hours a day, and reduced overall miles driven (more public transport, more car sharing, work nearer home or from home, don't go on holiday by car, no driving round just for the joy of it* - a problem which solves itself), we could just about manage.

It's still a ridiculous idea, for many other reasons**, but on this narrow point***, I think the idea just about passes the feasibility test.
* Most of the miles I drive, to be honest.

** Negative impact of CO2 on climate has been exaggerated ten- or a hundred-fold; it will he hugely expensive to upgrade all the transformers and sub-stations in residential areas; there isn't enough copper for the cables or rare metals for the batteries; it will take decades to switch over; the number of people run over will increase because you don't hear them coming; and electric cars are no fun, but hey.

There's also the point that one of the many reasons why fuel duty is such an excellent tax is because it trebles the actual real cost of the fuel (a few pence per mile). Electricity only costs a few pence per mile simply because there is no tax on it (and not because it is inherently cheaper or more resource efficient), and electric cars use hardly any electricity while stationary, so the number of traffic jams might well increase.

*** Judged on its own terms, the exercise is fairly futile. Retail petrol and diesel sales are 37 bn litres/year (with another 9.5 billion litres for commercial, i.e. lorries, construction equipment, trains, tractors, who are definitely not going to go electric). So in theory we could stop burning 37 bn litres of fuel on the road.

If electricity generation goes up 40% and half of that is gas, oil or even coal, we simply use half of that 37 bn in power stations, a net saving of 19 billion litres.

We could achieve much the same reduction by simply moving to hybrid cars (as recommended by Bayard), which can achieve 80 or 90 mpg. They can do 10 - 50 miles on battery alone, so you could turn off the petrol or diesel engine while in town, thus reducing pollution where people live (Mombers' argument in favour of electric cars, about the only valid argument in favour of them IMHO). This requires absolutely no changes to our infrastructure and the shift could happen organically.

That 19 billion litres saved is only a fraction of total fossil fuel usage in the UK. 19 billion litres = 172 TWh, and current gas usage (domestic and power generation) is 869 TWh. Then there's the 9.5 billion litres of commercial diesel = 92 TWh, plus various other bits and pieces. See various charts and tables here.

I'm assuming here for simplicity that CO2 emitted per TWh is approx the same whether you are using gas, petrol, diesel or coal; whether you are using it in a car engine or in a power station to generate the electricity to run the car. On this basis, UK's CO2 emissions would come down by about one-sixth.

Interestingly, UK CO2 emissions have been dropping by a compound average of 1.5% a year since the peak in 1975 and we're already back at the level of 130 years ago (from here), so we'd achieve that one-sixth saving in ten or fifteen years anyway if this trend continues.

Thursday 13 February 2020

Short List

Fairly senior members of the UK's Royal Family who married an American divorcée and were nudged into moving abroad a couple of years later.

Wednesday 12 February 2020

How is this going to Happen?

Stupidity from Shapps via the BBC

Last week, the government sparked industry concern after bringing the date forward from 2040 to 2035 in a bid to hit zero-carbon emission targets.

But Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 5 live it would happen by 2035, "or even 2032," adding there would be consultation.

Of course, the consultation will mean that every green sockpuppet paid for by the government will file returns because they know exactly where to go, so it'll be a consultation in favour.

But aside from that, how will it even happen?

For one thing, we don't have the cars. We've got the Nissan Leaf, the Tesla, a few really expensive cars, but very few are being bought. They're also only tackling smaller cars, and for people needing a bit of offroad or towing power, they aren't there. People just don't like the range. Or the cost.

But even if someone creates a Ford Mondeo size car with decent range at a good price in 3 years, are most people going to rush out to buy them, or are they going to wait and see what problems occur? Maybe that battery won't be good in 5 years. It's not like there's huge upsides. OK, cheaper to run, but petrol's a pretty small cost of owning a new car. Plus, for a while, it's going to still be difficult to fill the car.

So for many years after, the dominant demand will still be for petrol because of charging. Over time, as it's adopted more, it might change, but by 2032, I seriously doubt we'll have seen a changeover.

And we simply don't have the power network to charge every car, and the lead time for nuclear power is far beyond a decade.

Doesn't make sense, unless the world is even more corrupt than you'd think.

From City AM:

Robert Johnson, who edits the running site, went so far as to say that those who have benefited from [Nike's apparently excellent running] shoes in previous competitive races have been guilty of "mechanical doping".

And non-Nike athletes have petitioned World Athletics as to their fairness. Responding at the beginning of February, the sports body has set a maximum sole thickness of 40mm on trainers for the first time ever.

Nike's new shoe will, somewhat conveniently, have a sole thickness of 39.5 mm. That means it can be legally worn at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics by Nike-sponsored athletes.

While rival manufacturers will look to rush out their own versions, it seems possible that, with only a few months to go until the Olympic games begin on 24 July, Nike's middle and long-distance athletes will hit the start line in Tokyo with a serious advantage.

I thought that the Olympics was a competition between different countries, not a competition between different manufacturers (like Formula One motor racing)? If I'm still right on this, why are the "non-Nike athletes" moaning? Why don't they just pop out and buy some Nike running shoes?

The only conceivable reason why not is that the Olympics won't let you use a manufacturer's equipment without the manufacturer's express permission. I accept that the Olympics is as corrupt as Hell, but that would be setting a new low.
Update - Staffordshire Man suggests that the non-Nike athletes can't use Nike shoes because they have sold their souls to a rival manufacturer/sponsor, in which case it serves them right IMHO.

Tuesday 11 February 2020

"Natwest Three banker slams 'pernicious' US-UK extradition treaty"

From City AM:

Writing in The Times today, David Bermingham, one of the so-called Natwest Three, attacked the unfairness of the extradition treaty between the UK and the US...

"It is a near statistical certainty that someone extradited to the US will end up guilty, most probably through a plea bargain rather than going to trial, because the criminal justice system in the US is so heavily geared towards this outcome. Extradition becomes, in effect, a summary conviction, without the dull necessity of examining evidence."

Bermingham also pointed to the case of Anne Sacoolas, who the US is refusing to extradite to the UK to face a charge of causing death by dangerous driving. "As the case of Ms Sacoolas shows, the US looks after its own. Maybe, just maybe, the government will finally grow a spine and realise that acting as a poodle is not the mark of a special relationship with America, but simply supine," he said.

Yesterday, former Brexit secretary David Davis writing in the Mail on Sunday said that sending Lynch to the US to face trial would "cripple the City and Britain's ability to determine its own future".

He said: "We are now looking at the bizarre prospect that a UK citizen could be tried and potentially acquitted by an English judge, where the burden of proof against him is lower, but find himself in a US prison facing a charge where the burden is higher, before the UK case has even been decided."

Under the treaty there needs to be probable cause for the US to extradite its citizens to the UK, but just reasonable suspicion for Britain to be forced to extradite its citizens in the other direction.

Amen to all that.

Like most people, I've no particular sympathy for bankers, but they make sound points.

Sunday 9 February 2020

Oops, my bad.

Friday 7 February 2020

"Experts slam business rates appeals system"

From City AM:

Property experts today said the business rate appeals system is a "time bomb" as the backlog of claims and challenges spiked. Businesses could be waiting years for their challenges to be addressed due to the backlog of appeals, experts said.

Data from HM Revenue and Customs' Valuation Office Agency (VOA) showed that in the 33 months since the new system was introduced, 352,090 properties have started the appeal process. 

It's not the appeals system that's at fault here. if they make the appeals procedures cheaper, quicker and simpler to clear the backlog, then more people will appeal, creating a new back log.

The real cause of this is the fact that Rates are based on the market rental value of each individual building, where there will always be legitimate differences of opinion on which comparatives should be used, the condition of each particular building, how spaces within that building/plot should be classified etc.

Equally stupid is the fact this 'market value' is not the total rental value, but the total rental value minus the Rates themselves, so the effective rate (about 33%) is much lower than the headline rate (about 50%).
It would be far better to proceed as follows:

1. Assess whole streets (or whole shopping centres or whole retail parks etc) at a time, using all available data from recently agreed rents and selling prices on that street (or in that shopping centre etc). Owners of vacant premises, or those let out to charities will give their own figure of what they expect in rent from a normal business tenant. If it seems reasonable, it goes into the total. If they are low-balling, the council just takes on a lease, sublets for the higher actual value and that goes into the calculation instead.

2. Work out the total rental value of all the premises on that street (with no reduction for the Rates payable, which is a circular calculation).

3. Divide that total by the total frontage of all the premises on the street to find a value per running foot of frontage. This is based on the average value of all available rental and price data, which greatly reduces the incentive for a landlord/tenant to collude to depress the headline rent (and share the Rates saving via cash in envelopes). If you value individual premises, then depressing the rent by £1 saves 50p rates. With averaging, if a landlord/tenant collude to depress the rental value by £1, that only depresses the average by a few pence.

4. The Rates assessment for each premises is then simply the frontage (the most valuable element) multiplied by the answer from 3, minus a provisional 20% for those who accept the assessment, multiplied by an arbitrary percentage (see 8). It would be payable by the owner, not the occupant (for administrative simplicity and to improve collection rates).
There would be very few appeals against that sort of system because...

5. It is largely a data gathering and maths exercise, not questions of judgment.

6.  The actual condition or size of a particular building would be pretty irrelevant, so the owner of a dilapidated building with no lift would pay the same amount per foot of frontage as the owner of a new building next door to it which has a lift. So it would act pretty much like Land Value Tax. 

7. Of course, sometimes assessments will be based on poor data or mathematically wrong. but this applies to the whole street, so instead of some occupants appealing against individual assessments, the owners of all the premises on the whole street (which might only be one or two landlords) can pool resources and do a joint appeal.

8. The 20% discount does not mean lower Rates overall, as the percentage payable would be increased accordingly. So instead of paying 40% on £10,000 (the probable actual value), you pay 50% on £8,000 (the discounted value).

9. If you win your appeal and get the assessed value reduced from £10,000 to £9,000, you pay 50% of £9,000 (appellants waive entitlement to the discount). So before putting in an appeal, you would have to be confident you can get enough real world data to push the assessed value down from £10,000 to no more than £7,500 or so, which is going to be nigh impossible in most of the few cases where the assessments appear too high...

10. ... of course, the evidence to support the lower rental value will be taken into account at the next revaluation (appellants and non-appellants alike get a lower assessment), which will tend to depress assessed values nationally, to a low but defensible figure. Again, this is not a problem as the percentage payable in Rates can be nudged up a bit to keep revenues constant.

So that's it for battery cars then?

Excellent article in the March 2020 edition of Motorsport magazine. The article which is all about engine technology and fuel is not on-line yet. But here are some highlights:-  

“From 2025, we could be seeing cars powered by two-stroke engines, using a zero-carbon fuel, which are more eco-friendly than Formula E racers…

F1 is also looking to pioneer the use of synthetic fuel made in a laboratory, rather than being drilled out of the ground and refined.

Small-scale facilities have already shown that they can filter carbon out of the air and combine it with hydrogen to form the hydrocarbon chains that make up fuel. When it’s burnt, that same carbon is then released back into the atmosphere.

If surplus renewable energy (wind farms can produce more energy than is needed on a blustery day) is used to make the fuel, the process can be made largely carbon-neutral. The chemical formula can be altered to replicate existing fuel.

But increased benefits come when the engine is designed with the fuel, allowing the use of greater compression ratios and improving efficiency. Factories to produce the fuel industrially are under construction and Symonds believes that F1 could use it within a few years – despite a higher cost. “As soon as there is enough around we should be doing it and we’re not that far away from what we need”, he says…

EU rules stipulate average carbon dioxide emissions for new cars should not exceed 95g/km. The easiest way for manufacturers to meet the target is to sell more electric cars.

However, these figures don’t take into account the emissions released when producing vehicles: several studies suggest that making an electric car produces more carbon than a conventional one.

“This will be rethought again in 2023 – hopefully in the right direction,” says Ulrich Baretzky, director of Audi Sport engine development, and the man behind the petrol and diesel engines that secured 13 wins for Audi at Le Mans.

“Then electric vehicles will be dead – or some of them. I certainly think that the internal combustion engine has a long future and I think it has a future that’s longer than a lot of politicians realise because politicians are hanging everything on electric vehicles.

“There’s nothing wrong with electric vehicles, but there are reasons why they are not the solution for everyone”.

Or Johnson’s ban of petrol and diesel engine motor vehicles is just stupid?

Winter Landscape

Thursday 6 February 2020

Good idea; good idea; bad idea

Good idea

Paul Ormerod in City AM:

Here is a great opportunity for the government to both increase the level of human capital in the economy and be seen to be delivering for the "left behind". There are already rumours that the chancellor is planning a big increase in spending on FE in the March Budget.  

Investment in university students has gone well past the point of diminishing returns. In contrast, the neglect of the FE sector offers the chance of getting a real return on increased spending.

The obvious beneficiaries will be the young people who do not go to university. With extra skills, they can earn an "FE premium". It may be modest, but being able to earn even £10 an hour instead of the minimum wage makes a big difference to the individual concerned.

Good idea

From The Daily Mail

Prince Andrew was urged by lawyers today to 'get on a plane' and answer questions from the FBI as part of a reciprocal deal that would see US spy's wife Anne Sacoolas sent to the UK where she is accused of killing teen Harry Dunn.

The demand was made in an extraordinary press conference in New York where Lisa Bloom, lawyer for alleged victims of billionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, teamed up with Dunn family lawyer Radd Seiger in an attempt to break the stalemate that has ensnared both of their cases in political red tape.

A publicity stunt, but an excellent one, even better if it works. The UK is way too keen to extradite people to the US, or let the threat hang over UK citizens' head for years and years (Gary McKinnon, Hound of Hounslow etc), funny how that doesn't apply to Prince Andrew. The US never sends anybody back, but that woman quite clearly killed somebody.

Bad idea

Also from City AM:

The [Retail Sector Council] report is expected to include several recommendations, including the proposal to raise corporation tax by two per cent to raise around £6bn a year by 2022/23.

According to Sky News, the extra revenue would be used to reduce the business rate multiplier to around 40p in the pound. Other proposals cover VAT reform and tax and property cost transparency.

Robert Hayton, head of UK business rates at real estate adviser Altus Group, said the move to increase corporate tax and reduce business rates would be an "eminently reasonable fiscally neutral solution".

The actual rental value is a fairly fixed figure and is shared between landlord and government. The tenant doesn't care how it's split.  A corporation tax change does not affect total rents as they are paid out of pre-tax profits.

Let's do a worked example and see who gains or loses from this, using premises with an actual rental value of £21,000, which is currently split into £14,000 to landlord and £7,000 to government (50% of £14,000). Under their suggestion, it would be split £15,000 to landlord and £6,000 to government (40% of £15,000).

Winner #1 - the landlord, who currently gets £14,000 less 19% corporation tax = £11.340. That would go up to £15,000 less 21% corporation tax = £11,850.

Winner # 2 - owner-occupier business with low profits (pre tax or rent) of £40,000 who owns such premises. Current net profit after Business Rates and corporation tax = £26,730. That would go up to £26,860.

Loser #1 - tenants - the higher their profits, the bigger the hit..

Loser # 2 - owner-occupier business with high profits of £100,000 (pre tax or rent) who owns such premises. Current net profit after Business Rates and corporation tax = £75,330. That would go down to £74,260.

Not huge numbers, but a marginal gain for landlords and unprofitable owner-occupier businesses, and a tax hit for tenants and profitable owner-occupier businesses.

Wednesday 5 February 2020

A classic "Car Hits House" story

From the BBC:

An elderly woman has reversed a car through the front door of a house. She wedged the vehicle into the front of the property in a village near Devizes in Wiltshire on Tuesday morning.

Firefighters took two hours to rescue her and got her out from the back of the car. She was treated at the scene by the South Western Ambulance Service. A spokesman for Devizes Fire Station said it had been "tricky" to free the trapped driver. 

A building control officer had been requested to check the building.

Most of these are tragic and/or scary (where third parties are involved), this one has some comedic value and no third parties were affected.

Tuesday 4 February 2020

Remember to stock up on cars to keep you going until 2050.

From the BBC:

A ban on selling new petrol, diesel or hybrid cars in the UK will be brought forward from 2040 to 2035 at the latest, under government plans. The change comes after experts said 2040 would be too late if the UK wants to achieve its target of emitting virtually zero carbon by 2050...

The change in plans, which will be subject to a consultation, comes after experts warned the previous target date of 2040 would still leave old conventional cars on the roads following the clean-up date of 2050.

I'm not sure if my three will last long enough to see my through until they take my licence off me. From the wording, it doesn't appear that they'll ban the sale of second hand cars in 2035, so they'll be a solid investment from about 2030 onwards. I hope I don't forget to buy another one or two in the early '30s.

Monday 3 February 2020

Coronavirus daily compound growth rate slows from 38% to 31%

According to the BBC, the latest figure for people infected (presumably for 2 February) was 17,373 (China plus other countries).

Divide that by 7,711 cases on 30 January = 2.253.

2.253^(1/3) = 1.31 = 31% daily increase.

Which is a modest improvement on the 38% daily increase observed between 20 and 30 January. At this rate, it will take another 48 days for everybody in the world to have caught it, about one week longer than my previous estimate.