The 2015 Budget: In household terms

When George Osborne announced the Budget today, like his predecessors, he used some big numbers, generally millions and billions. There were lots of zeros being bandied about.

I find the Budget more relevant to people if instead of using such huge numbers, all financial amounts are quoted as pounds per household. It allows us to understand, on average, how much of our tax contribution is being spent on things.

So, without further ado, here’s the Budget in layman’s terms, all financials quoted as £/household.

The government will earn the following from the sale of organisations:

A further £467.09 is expected from the sale of the Income Contingency Repayment student loans book.

To prevent individual departments paying different amounts to either build their own data centres or outsource this service, the government will create a joint venture to host departments’ non–cloud based servers, which could save up to £3.89. (It is not clear whether this is a one-off saving or an annualised amount.)

A programme to benchmark public sector performance will deliver annual savings of £11.67.

The Skills Investment Fund will see additional funding of £0.15, as will the Video Games Prototype Fund, and the government will invest £23.35 on freeing up the 700 MHz spectrum for 4G use, and £0.77 on seismic surveys to boost offshore exploration in under-explored areas of the continental shelf.

More locally, it will spend:

The government will spend £2.59 in each of the next six years funding cutting-edge scientific research, and £3.89 on exploring driverless cars. It will provide £0.05 to help vulnerable individuals cut their energy bills.

An overall investment package of £48.66 has been committed for mental health. As part of this, £0.58 will be invested in each of the next five years to give care to women suffering from mental health issues during the perinatal or antenatal period, and £0.07 annually to significantly enhance current mental health and support services to the most vulnerable veterans in the community, and the same again to expand mental health services for Armed Forces veterans.

£0.09 will be provided to improve counter-terrorism at the border.

Is that better?

Pi Day 2015

Shortly before 9:27 this morning, it will be 3/14/15 9:26:53. The significance of this moment is, at best, questionable.

Let’s break it down.

The year (AD 2015) is calculated from the birthday of Jesus of Nazareth. However, more recent estimates suggest that he/He was born between 8 BC and 4 BC, as his birth is known to have preceded Herod’s death in 4 BC. So, we should have been celebrating the Millennium somewhere between 1992 and 1996, and the momentous second on which this post is based actually took place between four and eight years ago. So this puts a big question mark over the 15. The fact that we’re ignoring the century (20) is another convenient aside.

The Gregorian calendar was introduced on 24 February, 1582, making it 433 years and 18 days old. It succeeded the ten month Julian calendar, which was slightly inaccurate in its year length. There doesn’t seem to be any logic for there being twelve months (although it’s nice that they divide into quarters, thirds and halves), nor is there any real logic for the first day of the year falling on 1 January. It’s always struck me as odd that it didn’t fall on one of the equinoxes, or else a solstice, given that these dates have a natural beauty. This puts pay to the 3 and the 14.

Now to the time. It’s claimed that the Egyptians were responsible for dividing the day into two twelve-hour chunks, while the Babylonians can claim rights to the 60s used for seconds and minutes. Both are thought to be arbitrary units, chosen more for their mathematical beauty than their worldly significance. So, the 9, 26 and 53 are pretty arbitrary too.

That the UK orders its dates as DD/MM as opposed to MM/DD means that the significance of “International” Pi Day is quashed entirely in the UK, and indeed much of the non-American world. (Much better, I feel, to celebrate it on 22 July, or 22/7.)

So the US will start celebrating the event in just under five hours’ time using Eastern Daylight Time (and will repeat the celebrations at each of three hours thereafter in CDT, MDT and PDT). (Hawaii’s HST will have to wait a further three hours. The islands stopped bothering with daylight saving in 1945.) Daylight time was a concept first proposed by New Zealand’s George Vernon Hudson in 1895, making the rationale for the specific hour of celebration somewhat random.

Happy [International] Pi Day, everyone. #PiDay2015

One in 20 million

I am one in 20 million. I genuinely believe I am.

Out of all of the people in the world, I would argue that I’m in the top 0.2% of people when it comes to Excel prowess. That equates to being one of the top 112,000 people in the UK, assuming equal global representation. Old Trafford plus White Hart Lane. A safe bet, I reckon. It becomes even more realistic if you consider that only around 50% of the UK’s 28m workers are office workers, so the majority of the rest will not even feature.

And out of all the people in the UK, I reckon I’m in the top 0.5% of people when it comes to proofreading prowess. Just look at a YouTube comments board and you’d struggle to argue.

Finally, I reckon I’m in the top 0.5% of people when it comes to unicycling prowess. An estimated one million Americans can unicycle, or 0.32%. So 0.5% is probably quite conservative, given that Americans are probably more likely than most to unicycle, and given that I might even be better than the odd one or two.

So assuming the three skills are not correlated (there may actually be some correlation between Excel and unicycling), if you’re looking for an Excel-trained proofreading unicyclist, I’m a better choice than the next person, and the next 19,999,998 people after that.

This isn’t arrogance, by the way. It’s intended to highlight that every one of us can identify certain skills that we’re better than most at. And when we combine those skills, we’re on top of the world.

(My ability to find the butter in the fridge, my cooking prowess and my creative artistic ability probably also combine to make me one in 20 million. But at the lower end of the spectrum.)

So find those skills. Hone them. And make sure people know how good you are at them.

(Oh, and as an aside, make at least one of those skills fun, and also choose one that can make you some money. If all three fall into both categories, you’re golden. I made 10 Deutsche Marks juggling in Köln (spelt thus to avoid aftershave gibes) in 1993. Not enough to pay the mortgage. But a fun experience nonetheless.)

My aeroplane conundrum

A good while back, I had an interesting discussion with my dad. (I’ve had interesting discussions with him since. But they are not the subject of this post.)

I wondered why it is not significantly quicker to fly from London to New York than it is to fly from New York to London. He thought I was an idiot. (He may still think I’m an idiot. But that is not the subject of this post.)

My rationale was this. After take-off from Heathrow, the plane is, by definition, airborne. It is not in contact with the ground. Yet Earth is spinning beneath you, something that will be yet more apparent from Virgin’s new glass-bottomed plane. And it’s spinning from west to east.

Above LHR, Earth is rotating beneath you at a rate of 1,037 km/h, and 1,263 km/h above JFK. (That’s 790 mph to you New Yorkers.)

So let’s take the average of these two: 1,150 km/h. In an hour of westbound flight across the Atlantic, you will fly approximately 880 km (the rough speed of a commercial jet), but cover 2,030 km because of that spinning Earth. So you should be there in 2h 45m. Allowing for the time difference, you’ll arrive 2h 15m earlier than you set off. Like Phil Collins, but without Concorde.

Eastbound, your progress will be hampered as the earth spins in the same direction as the plane travels, and the journey back to London will take a staggering 20h 39m. More than a day wasted, once you’ve factored in the time difference. (The Gulf Stream will help a little, I guess.)

Why is it not so? Is it simply because the air is moving too? Or is something more complex—or indeed more simple—at play?

(I read recently that the reason for which a bumblebee doesn’t slam to the back of a plane/car is as yet unexplained by science. I have no idea whether that’s true. But maybe the same force is at play here.)

Clint Eastwood: separating the embarrassment from the facts

I just watched the speech that Clint Eastwood made at the RNC yesterday.

Yes it was embarrassing. Deeply embarrassing. To everyone save the 20,000 people at the Times Forum in Tampa. But if we leave that aside for one moment, let’s analyse the substance of his speech. Don’t worry, I won’t be long. There was only one section that contained anything barely resembling a fact.

There’s 23 million unemployed people in this country. Now that is something to cry for, because that is a disgrace, a national disgrace, and this administration hasn’t done enough to cure that.

Post-war, the US unemployment rate was at its highest (10.8%) in November/December 1982, 22 months into President Reagan’s Republican administration.

Other recent local highs occurred in June 1992 (7.8%, six months from the end of George H. W. Bush’s Republican presidency) and June 2003 (6.3%, two and a half years into his Republican son’s first term).

Obama inherited an unemployment rate of 7.8% in January 2009. This peaked at 10.0% that November, and is now hovering around the 8.3% rate.

So while Clint’s first sentence is accurate, the context thereafter is bullshit.

One other snippet of note:

I never thought it was a good idea for attorneys to be president anyway. I think attorneys are so busy, always taught to argue and weigh everything and weigh both sides.

No further questions, your honour.

Full medal analysis: London 2012

And here is the eagerly anticipated analysis of the medals won in London’s 2012 Olympic Games. It comes after a similar analysis following Beijing’s Games in 2008.

The USA topped the table with 46 golds, 29 silvers and 29 bronzes (104), followed by China (38G, 27S, 32B (88)) and Great Britain (29G, 17S, 19B (65)). Russia, South Korea, Germany, France, Italy and Hungary occupied the next spots, with Australia rounding out the top ten (7G, 16S, 12B (35)).

In Beijing, Russia took third place with 23 golds to Great Britain’s 19.

If medal winning was entirely random across the globe, then Great Britain would expect to win 8.6 medals (compared to the 65 it won), the USA 43 (it won 104) and China 185 (it won only 88).

If, as is the case for NBC, a medal is a medal is a medal, then Russia would replace Great Britain in third spot, with 82 medals over Great Britain’s 65, and Germany (44) would hop past South Korea (28) and France (34). Indeed Australia would leap to seventh. So let’s not do that, shall we?

In total, 85 of the 204 participating nations went home with a medal.

If you allow for countries’ populations, then Grenada won by a country mile, with 95 medals per 10m population, followed by Jamaica (44), Trinidad & Tobago (30), New Zealand (29), the Bahamas (28) and Slovenia (19). Great Britain came 23rd (10.4), USA 49th (3.3) and China 74th of the 85 medalling countries with 0.65. (Chinese Taipei, in 69th, beat China with 0.86, as did Hong Kong (62nd with 1.4).) India bring up the rear (of the medal-winning nations), with 0.04 medals per 10m population.

Top spot in 2008 went to the Bahamas with 60 medals per 10m population.

Looking solely at the larger nations (populations over 10m), Australia in 2012 was the most successful nation (15 medals per 10m), followed by Cuba (12.4), the Netherlands (12.0) and Great Britain (10.4).

If Yorkshire were a country, and medals won by teams with one or more people from Yorkshire counted for the county, then it would be eighth in the actual medals table (9G, 1S, 2B), ahead of Italy, Hungary and Australia. It won 30 medals per 10m population, fourth on this ranking, behind Trinidad & Tobago.

In sitting down sports, Great Britain romped home (18G, 9S, 7B), ahead of Germany (8G, 8S, 5B), Australia (5G, 7S, 5B), New Zealand (5G, 2S, 5B) and France (3G, 4S, 1B). We fare less well in sports that require standing up.

In purely men’s events, Great Britain tied both China and the USA on golds (17 apiece), and leapfrogged China into second place, taking 17G, 9S, 13B to China’s 17G, 8S, 11B. In women’s events, Great Britain drop to fourth (9G, 6S, 5B) below Russia (12G, 17S, 15B). In mixed events, we top the table (3G, 2S, 1B) over Germany (2G, 1S, 1B), China (1G, 1S) and Switzerland/Belarus (1G).

And of the countries boasting medals in the double figures, Kazakhstan had the highest gold percentage (54%) followed by Hungary (47%), South Korea (46%), New Zealand (46%) and Great Britain (45%). The USA (44%) and China (43%) came next, but Canada converted a mere 6% of its medals to gold (that’s one out of 18 medals). Since Belarus were stripped of their women’s shot put gold, their percentage drops to 17%.

[Click through for a full-size version.]

Date-related buggery-bollocks

A couple of years ago, some idiot proclaimed that October 2010 was the first month in 100 years that contained five Fridays, five Saturdays and five Sundays. Everyone swooned.

A few months later, people swooned similarly at proclamations that January 2011 contained five Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays.

It was all bollocks, of course.

And yesterday, The Illuminati (spoof account) tweeted:

Friday the 13th occurs 3 times this year, each 13 weeks apart from the other. This won’t happen again for 666 years. Happy Friday the 13th.

The numbers made the assertion more believable. But some relatively basic analysis proved it not to be the case. But that didn’t stop 12,900 people retweeting the “fact”, nor 2,132 people adding it as a favourite.

The initial sentence is correct. There were indeed three Friday 13ths this year. And occurring in January, April and July, they were 13 weeks apart from one another.

But its rarity is overstated.

In 2678, 666 years from now, there will be only two Friday 13ths, in September and December. They will indeed be 13 weeks apart, but there are years long before then sharing in that property. 2018 will also have two, 13 weeks apart, in April and July.

If you’re looking for the next year with three, 13 weeks apart, then that will occur in 28 years, in 2040: January, April and July again.

With Twitter, it’s much easier to accept and swoon (and retweet) than to query.

(Thanks to Alan for questioning the original post.)

Government finances should be reported in GBP per household

With immediate effect, all government expenditure and savings should be quoted in GBP per British household. With 23.54 million households in the UK, all financial amounts should simply be divided by this figure for reporting purposes.

Today’s news:

Suddenly, the news becomes more accessible, more intelligible, more relevant and more open to meaningful discourse.

Are electric cars really good for the environment?

I’ve long wondered whether electric cars are more fuel efficient than petrol cars. Below is my analysis.

The G-Wiz is probably the best-known of our all-electric vehicles. Its maximum range is 48 miles, requiring 9.66kWh of electricity, or 4.96 miles per kWh. This, I’m guessing, is in its most fuel efficient mode.

Coal-based energy production emits 950g of CO2 per kWh. So at maximum efficiency, a G-Wiz powered by coal-produced electricity emits 191g of CO2 for each mile driven.

Now take my Mazda 3, offering roughly 39 miles per gallon of petrol. Under the ‘perfect’ fuel/air mixture, petrol burning produces 2.36kg of CO2 per litre, or 10.73kg per gallon. This equates to 275g of CO2 for each mile driven, 44% less carbon efficient than a coal-sourced electric car.

A petrol car that can achieve 56mpg will have the same carbon production as a G-Wiz, assuming the G-Wiz’s energy is sourced from coal.

Electric cars are not in themselves environmentally friendly. But they give us options for fuel production that petrol cars don’t afford us. Once you have a petrol car, driving it will result in a pretty constant impact on the environment. With electric cars, we have the future choice, policy allowing, of sourcing our energy cleanly, therefore reducing the emissions for which an electric car is responsible.

But don’t assume that driving an electric car makes your journey environmentally friendly by default. Because it doesn’t.

The price of a cyclist’s life

An interesting question was posed by Paul Clarke on Thursday on Twitter: what is the acceptable number of cyclist deaths in London per annum? I believe it was in response to cyclists calling for safety improvements following the death of a cyclist on Bishopsgate that same day.

It brought to mind a similar question I’d posed earlier: what would be an acceptable bonus for the CEO of a UK bank? In both cases, anything positive causes some degree of outcry.

But more importantly, it brought me back to an argument I’ve discussed many a time. What is the acceptable cost of safety?

Some people I speak to believe every accident is preventable and should be prevented. This, to me, is a ludicrous statement. Just as no IT system can guarantee 100% uptime, no mode of transport can guarantee that accidents will never happen.

Safety in any mode of transport can be improved. But with improvement comes cost. For many modes of transport, that cost is passed on to the customer directly.

The Boeing 747 has 0.71 crashes involving one or more deaths for every million flights (across all of its 19m flights). (As an side, the Airbus 320 range is the safest of the big players—those with over 10m flights—with only 0.10 such crashes per million flights.)

That 0.71 can be reduced. Further security checks can be introduced at airports to reduce the incidence of bombs and hijackers on board. A worldwide ban could be introduced on flying through turbulent air. The entirety of each aircraft could be checked thoroughly before each flight, and any parts showing the slightest degradation could prompt their immediate replacement.

In reducing that figure to 0.35, say, the cost of a return ticket from London to New York might increase from £400 to £4,000. A further reduction to 0.18 might increase it further to £40,000. These numbers are made up, but the order of magnitude increases are probably not far off the mark.

Those people calling for the safety improvements might cut back on their transatlantic jaunts when they hear of the associated cost hike. Indeed transatlantic flight would disappear overnight—one way of guaranteeing 100% safety, I guess.

When airlines talk of safety being of the utmost importance, they generally mean this within certain market constraints.

The cost of cycling is different. Instead of cyclists paying directly for their journeys, everyone pays for their facilities through taxation. Assuming 500,000 cyclists (there are 480,000 daily journeys, apparently), and ignoring the cost of the original road construction, the Cycle Superhighways would have cost each cyclist approximately £120. I’m guessing that they would not have been willing to pay for this, nor would they be willing to pay directly to implement further safety improvements.

If it costs more per death saved than it would cost the NHS to save a life, should the money be diverted instead to the NHS? (A reminder of the trolley problem: should you actively sacrifice someone’s life if you know it will save five other people’s lives?)

Sixteen cyclists were killed on London’s roads in 2011. The highest such figure was 33 in 1989, the lowest: eight in 2004. What is an acceptable number? And what is the acceptable cost of achieving that?

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