9 December 2011

Going to work ill

It's cold and flu season again which, of course, leads to the question of whether one should go to work ill or work from home (if possible) or take a sick day.  Management, obviously, want us to come in even if we will infect the rest of our co-workers and devise policies that punish us if we do take a day sick.

I posted yesterday on my Facebook wall that a number of the staff sitting near to me at work had colds and were coughing a sneezing.  I said it didn't look good, I'd probably catch it from either or both of them.  One of my friends made an interesting comment likening being in the office with people with colds to passive smoking.  Both are injurious to our health.  Both are potentially life threatening (in particular where there are other factors involved such as age, general health and conditions such as diabetes or asthma).   Both carry a risk to third parties (smoke on clothes from passive smoking, secondary infections when we come home from work or visit friends and relatives).

Why then, do we ban smoking in the office but ban not coming to the office when ill?

15 November 2011

Potential Scam call from 02070597699

Just had a call from 02070597699. Very bad background noise, caller sounded like she had a Phillipino or similar accent. Asked if I'd enterted an online competition recently for an iPhone, I've entered a few so said yes. She said that this was just a courtesy call to tell me that the competition had now closed and I'd be getting an email soon telling me what I'd won. She then went on to say that everyone who entered the contest was getting some free lottery tickets and how lucky I was. I hung up.

The phone they called me on is a mobile on Three and the only people who have that number besides myself and Three are my sister and the Telephone Preference Service. I only have the phone because my sister has a three phone and it's cheaper for me to have another phone on Three than to call her on my main phone which is on Orange.

I called the number back and asked the person who answered the name of the company, she said it is BTD European Services. I confirmed the company name and hung up.

I Googled the number and found a number of forums where people reported that this is a scam. Apparently later in the call they ask for personal details to prove ID and for bank account and sort code details.

20 July 2011

Many a true word said in jest

Not sure of the provenence of this:

Let's put the pensioners in jail and the criminals in a nursing home.

This way the pensioners would have access to showers, hobbies and walks.

They'd receive unlimited free prescriptions, dental and medical treatment, wheel chairs etc and they'd receive money instead of paying it out.

They would have constant video monitoring, so they could be helped instantly, if they fell, or needed assistance.

Bedding would be washed twice a week, and all clothing would be ironed and returned to them.

A guard would check on them every 20 minutes and bring their meals and snacks to their cell.

They would have family visits in a suite built for that purpose.

They would have access to a library, weight room, spiritual counselling, pool and education.

Simple clothing, shoes, slippers, PJ's and legal aid would be free, on request.

Private, secure rooms for all, with an exercise outdoor yard, with gardens.

Each senior could have a PC a TV radio and daily phone calls.

There would be a board of directors to hear complaints, and the guards would have a code of conduct that would be strictly adhered to.

The criminals would get cold food, be left all alone and unsupervised. Lights off at 9pm, and showers once a week. Live in a tiny room and pay £600.00 + per week and have no hope of ever getting out.

There does seem to have been a major shift in the last decade or so, an accelorating one, to move away from public sector provision of care to private sector. Care was never well paid but now it minimum wage territory.

2 June 2011

Happiness at work

BBC Breakfast are talking about a survey on what makes people happy at work. Usual stuff, apparently none of us are bothered about money but we all want regular feedback (not sure if the survey was deliberately biased, accidentally badly written or just totally fictional). I emailed int he below comment:

I think it varies from person to person, and from time to time for the same person, what makes them happy at work. It also probably depends a lot on the other pressures in their life.

For some people it's more money, for others it's a short commute. For some it's regular praise, for others it's varied and interesting work. For some it's the opportunity to meet people and work with them, for others it's the opportunity to shut themselves away in a room full of computers and only interact with people outside their immediate team by email.

Whilst much derided, more money may bring happiness as it allows you to support your family, finance activities that make you happy or support a charity or cause that is important to you. Money itself may not make you happy but what you can do with it does.

Probably too long (and too true) for them to read.

16 May 2011

Very annoyed with Virgin Media

Each week end for the last few weeks my dial up internet has been failing. Either no dial tone or get engaged tone when I dial up. My phone and Internet are both through Virgin Media so I've been calling their customer service line. Calling at the weekend, when the problem happens, is a disaster as only their Indian call centre is on duty so it's 40 minutes navigating their IVR and on hold to finally get through to someone who can't understand my accent or deal with anything that isn't in their script, who eventually says they're passing me to someone who can resolve the problem then another 30 minutes on hold when their system finally drops the call. I finally got through this morning and spoke to someone with a faint Scottish accent who could understand my Brummie accent. She called up their internet support section who said I'd have to call them direct on the premium rate number. This was 08:14 (according to the clock on BBC Breakfast). I called the nujmber they gave me only to get a recorded message to say that their office doesn't open until 08:00 (i.e. about quarter of an hour ago). I waited about 5 minutes and called back but just got the same message.

I do think that there's something seriously wrong with making a technical support line premium rate. This is something that is clearly a problem at their end, I'm calling their internet dial-up number and getting an engaged tone. This should not happen, yet they want to charge me to resolve it!

Not happy, very annoyed.

13 April 2011

Public sector workers and skills

On BBC breakfast this morning they had someone in who was talking about how public sector workers tend not to know how to sell their skills on the job market as well as private sector workers do. I emailed this in but as it's probably too long to get read on air I figured I'd post it here:

I have worked in both public and private sector over the past 15 years, everything from SME employing 50 people to big multi-national company or local council employing tens of thousands. The biggest difference I've found, in relation to skills, in comparing working in the public and private sectors is one of variety and career path.

I've found that in the private sector, in all but the smallest of companies, you are usually quite restricted in the work that you do and the skills you are expected to apply. You are also likely to have a fairly clear career path in terms of knowing where you are and what skills you need to develop to move to the next level up.

In the public sector career paths are less clear and you are typically expected to pick up a broad range of tasks and skills quite quickly and to a fairly high level. many of the consultants I've worked with have been surprised at how myself and my colleagues have switched around roles with a project and between different projects.

I think the driver here is around the restrictions on hiring. In the private sector if you know you need someone with a particular skill set for 6 months then you'll probably negotiate funding from your manager for a temporary contract, hire someone through an agency and that's it. In the public sector it can take 3-4 months to get approval for a temporary contract, another 3-4 to have the job description agreed and checked by HR and legal then 2-3 months to do the actual hiring as even if you go through an agency you usually have to advertise publicly as well for equalities reasons. Usually much quicker and easier to just grab an existing member of staff and tell them that it's now their responsibility, if they don't know how they should just look it up on the web (in their own time) or buy a book (at their own expense).

If public sector workers have difficulty explaining their skills it's probably because they have had to develop, use and discard such a variety that it's more of a question of which skills they should be talking about.

Really the biggest skill a public sector worker has is adaptability!

11 April 2011

Why I think you should vote Yes to AV

I have seen a lot of misinformation and disinformation in the media of late from those who oppose the proposed Alternative Voting (AV) system. I figured I'd post why I think the UK should switch to AV and people should vote yes in the coming referendum. First a little disclaimer...

A Little Disclaimer
Whilst I am a grassroots member of a UK political party this is by me as an individual, it has not been requested or endorsed by that or any other political party. I have been a member of various organisations that have used electoral systems similar to the proposed AV system and seen it in action, I have helped to run elections using the Single Transferable Vote system. I have read the leaflet from The Electoral Commission that has been sent to each household explaining how AV works. My view that the UK should adopt AV and the below is based on my own experiences and the information contained in that leaflet. I recommend that you read the leaflet.

I really do recommend that you read the leaflet
Seriously, it's a quick read and gives a very good explanation of the differences between the current system and the proposed AV system. If you haven't received yours yet, or maybe the hamster ate it, you can get a copy and even more information from here.

What is the current system and what is wrong with it?
The current system is called "First Past the Post". It's pretty simple really. Everyone has one vote and casts it by marking a piece of paper (usually with a cross) against the name of the person they want to vote for. After the polls have closed the papers are separated according to whose name has been marked and counted. Who ever gets the most votes wins. Simple and all well and fine and good where there's only two candidates or choices. You vote for one or the other (or you could spoil your ballot or just not bother to vote). There are a couple of really major problems with this system where there are three or more candidates (from memory there's usually around 7 or 8 in the constituency I live in) in that it often returns a candidate most people don't like (or at least would prefer someone else) and penalises minor parties.

Suppose there are 6 Candidates on the ballot. Candidate A receives 20% of the vote, candidate B gets 19.9%, candidate C 19.1%, candidate D gets 15.1% of the vote, candidate E gets 14.9% of the vote and candidate F gets 10%. Under first past the post candidate A is declared the winner. But just a sec, 80% of those who voted said they wanted someone other than candidate A. 80%! That's a lot, well over half. Also candidate B was only 0.1% of the vote behind candidate A, nearly as many people wanted them although slightly more wanted someone else (but not necessarily candidate A). OK so figures like that are uncommon and probably unlikely. What is quite common is the winning candidate polling only 30-40% of the vote and their nearest competitor being only slightly behind (i.e. marginal seats).

The current system penalises minor parties by dissuading their supporters from voting for them. When there are 6 or 7 or 8 or 10 or 15 (the maximum I've seen on one ballot) candidates then unless you think that your preferred candidate has a good chance of being in the top 3 you might think that you are throwing your vote away. You'd be right. Under the current system voting for a minor party candidate is the equivalent of writing "I am a fish" across your ballot paper. This means that a lot of people vote for a party they maybe don't like but dislike less than the other two parties in the top 3. Some candidates plays this up and and include in their election material "These parties have no chance here, don't vote for them. Vote for us else the [some party they think the voters will see as a threat] will get in." In my example above the party that candidate F belongs to might actually have quite a bit of support, maybe enough to turn that 10% into 20.1%. They don't get the votes because a lot of their supporters think they don't have a chance so vote for a different party, no-one ever knows how much support they really have because their supporters are afraid of wasting their vote and think that if they vote for the party they like that will allow the party they hate to get in.

So what's the alternative and why is it better?
The leaflet gives a much better explanation than I can but here's a summary. Same names on the ballot paper, same ballot box. This time rather than just putting an X (although you can still do that if you really want) you can now rank the candidates in order of preference. You don't have to rank them all, but you can if you want, you can just rank your top few and leave the rest unmarked. When the polls close the ballots are collected as before and sorted but this time according to who has the first preference marked on each (an X or a 1) and these are counted. If a candidate gets 50%+1 or more of the votes then they are the winner and the process stops, we have a candidate that more then half of the people who voted wanted. Quite likely there may be a candidate who has more votes than any one other candidate but less than 50% of the total vote. In that situation the candidate who got the least votes is disqualified an their votes checked for second choices. If there's no second choice then the ballots are discarded (i.e. put away, they're not thrown away) but those where there is a second choice expressed are added to the appropriate pile and to the total for those candidates. If one candidate now has 50%+1 or more of the vote then they are the winner and the process stops, if not then the candidate who now has the least votes is disqualified and their votes checked for second, third, fourth &c preferences. They will then be added to the pile (and count) for the candidate who got second preference unless that candidate has been disqualified in which case they will be added to the pile and count for the third preference and so on, papers with no valid preferences are discarded. This continues until either one candidate has 50%+1 or more of the votes or, rarely, there are no further preferences so no more transfers can be made.

The advantages of this system are that the winning candidate is almost always going to have been a high preference for over half of the voters (in my experience the winning candidate is usually one who was first or second in the first count) and it gives supporters of minority parties to express their first preference but still vote for a majority party (who they like but not as much as the minority party) as second choice so reducing the risk of the opposing majority party (who they hate) getting in.

But doesn't this mean some people get more than one vote?
No! I've heard this claim being made on TV by the 'No' campaigners. It's disinformation to scare people into thinking that AV is an attack on democracy. It isn't, if anything it promotes true democracy. Everyone still only has one vote and only one vote. It's that that one vote can be transferred to a second preference if the first preference comes last.

Might this let an extremist candidate win an election?
Possibly. Yes it is possible that a candidate from an extremist party could get in if they poll at least 50%+1 of the vote in their constituency. That is how democracy is supposed to work, the candidate who most people want to win should win. If you don't think a candidate should win then vote against them and get out and campaign against them. Get a blog, get a soap box, get active. That is how democracy should work. Also, bear in mind that an extremist can win with just 20, 30 or 40% of the vote under the current system so long as the rest of the vote is sufficiently fragmented.

5 April 2011

Splitting PDFs

Had a bit of a change today. There's a report that produced weekly at work, as a PDF file, for all our projects. Basically a highlight/checkpoint report. Problem is that there's hundreds of projects and we don't want project managers to have to go through the whole list to find the one or two pages that impact them (they just won't). We were looking to split the file by project so each project manager would only have to look at the reports for their own project. Fortunately each project is bookmarked in the PDF so we had something we could split on.

I was tasked with finding a suitable product. After looking at a few dozen I finally settled on A-PDF Split. I particularly liked the way you can control the output filenames with macros.

NitroPDF was a close second but cost a lot more, fine if you want the extra functionality (it does more than split) but we didn't need that, and didn't have such good control on the output filenames. The majority of the other products were total 'dog with three legs', many just didn't work at all or threw up loads of errors. A-PDF Split does what we need and doesn't cost much. There's also a command line version for if you need to do offline batch processing, but there's no trial version of that so I couldn't try it.

27 February 2011

Emailing councillors about missing drain grids

Emailed my local councilors (via WriteTothem):

Dear Daphne Gaved, David Osborne and David Willis,

I am writing to you about a failure of the council to deal with a dangerous situation in a timely manner.

On Wednesday 2nd February 2011 I noticed that the grids had been removed from a number of drains near my home,. specifically 2 on Medley Road near the corner with Gough Road and one on Tomey Road near the corner with Holte Road. Whilst two of these (the one on Tomey road and one of those on medley Road) had barriers around them (marked as belonging to, and presumably being put there by, Amey, the council's contractor for road maintenance and repair), one was just left open. This was logged and I was given a job reference number of 80035851110.

When there was no change by Friday (as a minimum I was hoping that someone would come and put barriers around open drain) I submitted a report to the council through the website FixMyStreet (http://www.fixmystreet.com/report/161865) on 4th February. We are now nearly 4 weeks from the initial report and the only change I have seen is that it appears that a bin sack has fallen or been put into the open drain and that the barriers around the open drain on Tomey Road keep falling over.

Could you please follow this up and at least have the issue with missing and insubstantial barriers be resolved.

Thank you


If that doesn't work my only option will be Ed Doolan.

24 January 2011

Economic Loss

Just sent this in to BBC Breakfast regarding an item they had on this morning.

If you look at the economies, such as India, that are now growing and taking work that used to be done here, the common factor seems to be training. For getting on for 40 years the Indian government has been pouring money into education and training. Indian universities now graduate more Computer Science Honours graduates each year than there are people working in the UK. Meanwhile our government is slashing education funding, raising the cost of education and cutting down or off financial support for students. Is it any wonder we're slipping behind?

Apparently a number of companies are looking for massive government investment.

2 January 2011

Relativity and all that

Just watched a documentary about galaxies. They mentioned something called Dark Energy that acts opposite to Dark Matter. Apparently Dark Energy repulsive powers will eventually overcome the attractive powers of Dark Matter and cause galaxies to move apart faster than the speed of light. This reminded me of something I've never really been able to fully get my head around.

Suppose you are standing on planet A, you can see two other planets, X and Y in opposite directions (so if you drew a straight line from X to Y it would pass through a):


X and Y start traveling away from you in opposite directions at 100kph. In the frame of reference of planet A each are traveling at 100kph in opposite directions, you might represent this as a vector of 100kph and -100kph in the X-Axis or X(100,0,0) and Y(-100,0,0). If one goes to the X frame of reference then we see A moving away at 100kph and Y at 200kph. Easy enough to model with a long straight road, two cars and a few of those speed guns the police use, maybe Top Gear will give it a go some day.

Speed (or velocity) is just distance traveled over time or increase in distance between two points (one designated as fixed in the frame of reference). So when we say that X and Y are traveling away from A at 100kph were actually saying that in the A frame of references the distance between X and A and between Y and A is increasing by 100km for every hour that elapses. In the X frame of reference The distance between X and A is increasing at 100km each hour and the distance between X and Y is increasing by 200km each hour.

Now suppose we increase the speed, in the A frame of reference, to 5.395x10^8kph. Back in the X frame of reference A is now whizzing away at 5.395X10^8kph and Y at 1.079x10^9kph. Thing is that if we increase the speed, in the A frame of reference, whilst in the X frame of reference the speed of A will increase the speed of Y will remain at 1.079x10^9kph because that is the speed of light in free space (c) and is the top speed matter can attain.

Now say we increase the speed in the the A frame of reference to c and measure the distance between our 3 planets (we'll call that T0) then measure the distance again an hour later (T1). Say at T0 the distance between A and both X and Y is 1.079x10^9km so the distance between X and Y will be 2.158x10^km:


After one hour the distance, still in the A frame of reference, from A to X would now be 2.158x10^9, same as from A to Y, whilst the distance from X to Y would be 4.316x10^9km as both gave been traveling away from A at 1.079x10^9kph:


In the X frame of reference, however, whilst A has been traveling away at 1.079x10^9 Y has also been traveling away at only 1.079x10^9kph, not at 2.158x0^9kph, as that is the maximum speed of matter. Therefore whilst the distance from X to A has increased to 2.158x10^9km to distance fro X to Y in the X frame of reference will be 3.237x10^9km:


That's what confuses me.