Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Always something new on the web...

Here I am, testing out as an on-line word processing site which happens to include a post-to-blog option.

The editing looks at least as good as , and the fact that I can write stuff with a view to never publishing it makes it more suitable for work-related documents that I can access from my desk and my untrusted-on-LAN notebook.

It complements my other new registration,, rather nicely.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"Poison Parents" or "victims of circumstantial evidence"?

I see from that the frequency of "Diabetes Insipidus" is - in the US, at least - about 1 in 25,000. Of these some 30% are idiopathic, in other words of no known cause.

So the appeal of Ian and Angela Gay against their conviction for poisoning a child by force-feeding him with at least four and a half teaspoons of salt on the grounds that according to a professor of neuro-endocrinology diabetes insipidus is a more likely cause has to be at least plausible:
Albeit improbable, it's still more likely than the even more outlandish diagnosis of salt poisoning.
And with Tony Blair trying to reduce the burden of proof these things are likely to happen more often than in the past.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

CYA and barriers to innovation

My google alert on Advanced Transport Systems Ltd threw up this submission by them to a UK parliamentary committee.

I was struck by a couple of counter-intuitive points
if passenger km delivered by light rail are divided by primary energy used, then light rail is actually less energy efficient that the average car.
It is routine for transport schemes to be returned many times for additional consultancy studies. The cost of preparing major bids taking full account of regulatory and legal issues has also become a major barrier. These costs fund consultants, lawyers, etc at high fee rates and only contribute in the most marginal way to improved transport. It has been speculated, Jakes (2003), that in the area of transport "there are probably a few hundred consultants for every designer"". This balance is more likely to impede progress than to advance it. The principal barriers to the efficient delivery and construction of new transport systems have been erected by over diligent legislation.
In humans, there is a shortening over time of telomeres on the end of replicated DNA. We don't know exactly what part this plays in ageing, but there is a strong association. I wonder if the spread of CYA legislation and regulation plays a similar role in the senescence of societies.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

They're learning, but too late?

European Telcos are joining the European Telecommunications Standards Institute to get it to change its standardisation rules to discourage participants from sneakily embedding their own patented technology in standards and then charging users exorbitant fees.

My argument with software patents has always been that they are in fact extraordinarily anti-corporate. The beneficiaries will be lawyers, companies that purely write software patents, and large software companies that can afford to invest some of their monopoly profits in tightening their stranglehold on the market. The losers will of course be ordinary software developers and anyone who uses software. By definition all non-software companies come into the last group, but by the time they realise how they've lost surety of title to their entire software investment, the bad decisions will be embedded in law and treaty, all neatly done without any public policy discussion since officially the policy never changed.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Sense from the Vatican

Nice to see the Vatican's chief astronomer, the Rev. George Coyne commenting that intelligent design "isn't science, even though it pretends to be."

I don't even have a problem with Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn stating
it should not be seen as "an offense to Darwin's dignity" for people to offer criticisms of evolutionary theory. "The theory of evolution is a scientific theory," he said. "What I call evolutionism is an ideological view that says evolution can explain everything in the whole development of the cosmos, from the Big Bang to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony."
I'd agree that "evolutionism" exists - though I'd call it an attitude, rather than an ideology - and that as such it's not a scientific theory. In fact, as a card-carrying evolutionist this is just the kind of well-adapted analysis that I would hope for from such a highly-evolved religion as my former Church.

How to check up on a UK charity

I'm all in favour of charities. I'm also in favour of favouring the better run ones, in the interest of both their official beneficiaries and the credibility of the sector as a whole.

So here's where you can check the accounts of UK charities - see if their accounts are up-to-date, and work out their ratio of charitable expenditure to costs of raising funds.

PRT - a slow swell coming to shore?

I dislike urban driving whether as a driver, a passenger, a cyclist, a pedestrian or even as a resident; so I'm all in favour of Personal Rapid Transport, even if it doesn't yet exist.

I particularly like ULTRA, as a techie it seems to me that solving public transport problems by building a packet-switched solution over well-understood technologies is a highly realistic approach and could be a real winner.

I've had a google alert on ATS Ltd for some years, but it's only just got round to letting me know that they've struck a deal with BAA and Arup to implement ULTRA at Heathrow,
Heathrow has ordered 18 of the pods for a year-long test on two miles of track starting in 2008. At first they will be used to link a car park on the perimeter of the airport to Terminal One[... ] the one-year trial could merely be a taster of a far more radical scheme, which could be in place by 2012 if all goes well with the Terminal One experiment[... ] Taking in the new terminal five and all car parks, the scheme will need 30 miles of track and up to 500 capsules.

According to Arup the "The BAA contract is the first commitment in the world to a PRT system". Good for them. I think it will work, and be the start of something that makes our cities far more civilised. I certainly hope so.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Life imitates art - sadly.

I thought I was taking the mick when I wrote this entry this time last year.

I've got far more important - to me - stuff to be writing about, but something is really wrong. It is madness to be going in this direction. And if the USA goes there now, we shall too, eventually.