An open letter to Latchmere Leisure Centre

To whom it may concern.

My daughter is enrolled in the Level 1 group swimming lessons, attending each and every Saturday at 11.30am. You know this, as you collect £29 per month from my bank account by way of payment for the service offered.

Each week, the learning pool is cordoned off into either two or three areas, and one teacher is responsible for teaching around six to eight children in each area. Without fail, there is a Reception class and a Level 1 class underway during this half-hour slot.

Today, there was but one teacher. No one poolside seemed to know what was going on. And that teacher had no option but to attempt to run a class with 13 children of varying swimming competence. She did an admirable job under the circumstances.

I spoke to a representative at reception in an attempt to secure a more acceptable arrangement. The lady at reception did all she could by speaking to various people on her walkie-talkie, but resource was not forthcoming. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that apparently there is no Swimming Coordinator on Saturdays, despite swimming taking place, swimming that clearly needs coordinating.

As I understand from a subsequent conversation with a poor lady that had the decency to speak to me poolside, the instructor who usually takes the Level 1 class confirmed his inability to take this week’s class a week ago. In the intervening period, it seems nothing was done to arrange for an alternative instructor to take the class.

I have a number of issues, in descending order of seriousness:

Please can you confirm what steps you will take to avoid this situation from happening again. And please confirm how best to secure my refund for the above lesson. (A free lesson, which was offered to me poolside, is of no use to me, as Saturdays are the only time I am available.)



Peppa Pig World: A review

Yesterday morning, as the clouds threatened to unleash their wrath and the forecast looked iffy at best, we decided to embark on a trip to Peppa Pig World. And we had a blast. Below is a summary of our experience.

First, booking. It was easy, but I couldn’t help feel that I’d been conned. At the gate, the Family of Three ticket price would have been £60.50. (Anyone over a metre tall and under 60 years of age pays the full price—odd combination of units.) But by booking online, you can get it for £56. Add this to your basket, and it shows a price of £57, owing to the £1 “booking and admin fee”. I opted to print the tickets myself, so I’m unsure exactly what this covered, and would argue that the cost of booking and administration would have been higher had I bought my tickets at the gate. Although only £1, it left me with a slightly sour taste in my mouth.

It was a 1h50m journey from south-west London, and while the signposting near the park was inconsistent, we made it in the end. I found it fascinating that while there were no parking attendants nor parking place markers, everything was so orderly. People could park where they wanted in the huge tarmacked space, yet everything was in neat rows, each two cars deep. Marvellous.

Now the ticket gives you full access to the entirety of the Paulton’s Family Theme Park. But we only ventured into Peppa Pig World.

And it was ace. We went to Peppa Pig’s house, interrupting them eating dinner, took advantage of a photo opportunity at Madame Gazelle’s school, and went on a slew of rides, including Grandpa Pig’s train (it’s not a toy!), Miss Rabbit’s helicopter ride and Miss Rabbit’s balloon ride, while my wife took our daughter on George’s dinosaur ride. And I took her on the windy castle ride, where we rode clouds around a tall castle, for a little longer than I would have liked.

The iffy weather held off, but I expect that it helped reduce the queue lengths—our longest wait was probably 15 minutes for the helicopter ride. Most rides involved a sub-five-minute wait.

There was lots of other stuff to be done, including themed playgrounds, more train rides, boat rides, log flumes and penguin feeding, all within the Peppa Pig area.

Overall, it was fabulous. The theming was lovely: cute but not so overbearing as to make you want to shoot yourself. The place was clean and tidy, yet had a profoundly British feel to it—some of the staff were clearly miserable as sin, something that you wouldn’t see at Disney World.

Lastly, I looked for the hog roast, but couldn’t find one for love nor money.

The Marshmallow Experiment

Today, our household undertook the Marshmallow Experiment. Here’s the premise.

You equip a room with a table and chair, nothing else that would be of distraction to a child. You sit a child at the table and present him or her with a plate containing a single marshmallow.

You inform said child that you will leave the room. And that if, upon returning to the room in a little while, the marshmallow remains uneaten, the child will receive a second mallow of the marsh variety. If they choose to instead eat the marshmallow, no second marshmallow will be forthcoming.

You leave the room, closing the door behind you, returning ten minutes later.

We undertook the experiment with our daughter. Upon leaving the room, we settled to watch the video monitor. It was fascinating.

Ten minutes is a long time, especially if you’re a kid. (She’s experienced less than quarter of a million of them in her life thus far.) And especially if there are no distractions besides the marshmallow.

Yet she was astounding. She cradled it. She sniffed it. A lot. She commented as to how yummy it would be. By way of distraction, she even named the coloured stripes adorning the edge of the plate. (Pink, blue, pink, blue, etc.)

Ten minutes later, we went back in the room. And the pink marshmallow was still gloriously intact.

The premise behind the experiment is deferred gratification: the ability to wait to obtain something that one wants. But watching the monitor, I think that in our experience, our daughter was more interested in succeeding than she was in getting a second marshmallow. Indeed after the experiment, she declined a second marshmallow.

She was delighted to have succeeded, showing abounding pride at the fact.

It’s an interesting experiment. I urge you to give it a go.

An analysis of the 7,466 Premier League games

Between the 1992/3 season when the Premiership began and the end of the 2010/11 season, the biggest goal difference in the Manchester derby was five, United beating City 5–0 in the 1994/5 season. The biggest away victory in the fixture was United’s 3–0 win that same season. Not a good year if you were a City fan. The former record was equalled today, with City’s 6–1 drubbing of United at Old Trafford; the latter was shattered.

Across all 7,466 Premiership/Premier League games, only 2.3% have seen seven or more goals. (Portsmouth’s 7–4 win over Reading in 2007/8 holds the single game goal record, btw.)

If we ignore the home/away victor, 1–0 has been the most common scoreline (18.52% of games), followed by 2–1 (14.91%), 2–0 (12.63%), 1–1 (12.22%) and 0–0 (8.68%).

Two is the most likely number of goals (24.85% of games seeing this many goals), followed by three (20.80%), one (18.52%), four (14.26%) and zero (8.68%).

If you want to see lots of goals from your team while they’re at home, buy a Man Utd season ticket, with an average of 2.21 goals scored, 4.34 goals per season more than their closest rivals, Arsenal. (Steer clear of Wigan Athletic, with 1.06 goals scored by themselves per home game.) If you want to follow a team around the country, choose Man Utd, with 1.74 away goals per game. Of the current Premier League crop, don’t follow Norwich around, at 0.68 away goals per game.

If you just want to see goals, irrespective of who scores them, follow QPR, with 3.01 goals seen per game. Steer clear of Stoke City, with only 2.30.

Fabulous dataset, btw. Took a little compiling.

The BBC’s odd reporting of HMRC’s rebates

The other day, HMRC announced that it had got some self assessment calculations wrong a few years back, and that some people were in for a rebate while others owed money.

Bizarrely to me, the BBC decided to report these things separately.

About six million people are set to receive tax rebates averaging £400, while another million will learn they have underpaid their tax by about £600.

So as a citizen, my immediate reaction is to figure out that I’m more likely to be in the rebate bucket, and, if I’m somewhere in the middle, I might receive a rebate of £400.

Surely it would be better to say that while there will be some winners and some losers, the average will be a rebate of £257.


The BBC’s inconsistent approach to commercialism

I genuinely don’t understand the BBC’s implementation against its policy to remain unbiased towards (or indeed against) private sector organisations.

I understand the ethos. They must not be seen to subjectively favour one organisation over another, one product over another—or indeed to criticise products or organisations in a similarly subjective way. But the reality is very different.

Radio 1 DJs wax lyrical about their Twitter accounts and their Facebook pages. These have become of greater importance than the DJs’ respective pages on the domain.

A couple weeks ago*, right on cue, Chris Moyles and his crew waxed lyrical about their Twitter and Facebook offerings, no holds barred. They then announced a competition amongst the posse (to coin Steve Wright in the afternoon). The posse member that created the video that attracted the greatest number of views during their two-week off-air period would win.

The videos, once created, would be hosted on the BBC website. Moyles argued that this would be rubbish, as “people with specific types of phones” would not be able to access them because they used a certain type of technology. He was alluding to iPhone users, as the BBC uses Flash as the basis for its video content, and Steve Jobs didn’t like Adobe. Reluctantly, Aled (the producer) revealed that they were talking about Flash content.

But then Aled then waxed lyrical about an app. that could be downloaded to (un)said iPhone called Skyfire (full name Skyfire VideoQ™) that converted Flash video into a format that could be accessed by the iPhone. Cost: £2.49.

I genuinely don’t understand why Apple’s product is unmentionable, along with that of Adobe (despite the reluctant reveal). Yet those of Skyfire, Twitter and Facebook are considered common currency.

Every week, Mark Kermode gives a subjective critique of the latest film offerings, pushing people towards some films (made by some film makers) and pushing them away from others (made by other film makers). Is this not the artistic equivalent of Moyles?

Is it genuinely down to ignorance? Or is it a subjective call, based on Apple’s products costing a pretty penny? Whatever it is, the policy is being implemented inconsistently and this is a cause for concern.

For me, I’d like the BBC to acknowledge the existence of brands, products, services, organisations. And I’d like them to refer to these things in their communication to us, the general public. Yes there should be some balance. And yes there should be processes in place to ensure that those talking about these things weren’t getting backhanders for talking about them.

YouTube is the video channel of choice for a huge swathe of the market. Facebook and Twitter are similarly dominant. iPhones, iPads, Samsung, HTC, they all share the market.

I’d much rather be presented with a balanced picture of the services and products that contribute to our lives, than to be shielded from commercialism on the basis that such exposure might be biased.

* Although an Americanism, I simply *adore* the use of “couple” without the accompanying “of”.

How to report exam pass percentage increases

When the GCSE and A-level results came out back in August, I got to thinking about how increases in percentages should be measured. There was the usual mathematical heathenry, with people talking of percentage increases when they meant percentage point increases. But that’s another story.

Even when percentage points are reported responsibly, they’re open to misinterpretation. Not all five point increases are as easy to achieve. If 25% of grades are an A, then it’s arguably easier to achieve a five point increase than if your current percentage is 90%.

And even percentage increases can be confusing. A 20% increase on the 25% takes you to 25%. But a 20% increase is not possible on the 90%.

Maybe comparisons would be best achieved if increases were reported as the percentage of fails that are now successes, or in other words, penetration into the failures. So an increase from 20% passes to 25% would be reported as 6.25% penetration into the fails, as would an increase from 90% to 90.625%. Arguably, each is equally difficult to achieve.

Or else, maybe it should be reported as the percentage penetration into the failures, divided by the prior pass rate. So 20% to 25% would be reported as a 31.25% weighted penetration (stop it), as would an increase from 90% to 92.8%. This latter coefficient takes into account the difficulty of getting people to pass. At 90%, it’s arguably easier to convert the failures than if the pass rate was at 20%.

Although while mathematically these quotients might be a better representation of the truth, explaining them to the masses might be tricky.

This is what I think about of a Friday night.

Not all racial mixes are equal

George Alagiah wrote an interesting article on the BBC News site about the increased racial mix in the UK and, specifically, the increase of interracial relationships and the offspring thereof.

I have two issues with the article:

First, George uses the adjective “mixed-race” in reference to both relationships and people. In reference to people, that’s fine. It means people whose parents’ races are different from one another.

In reference to relationships, it’s not. He means interracial relationships. The term mixed-race relationship conjures up thoughts of a relationship between two mixed-race people, as opposed to a relationship between people of differing race.

But there is a much more important issue with the article. Below is an extract from the article that encapsulates the issue fully.

Mixed-race children make up one of the fastest growing ethnic minorities in the UK

Mixed-race people are not a race in themselves. They make up a multitude of races. A black–white mixed-race child has nothing in common racially with a Chinese–Indian child. Yet the article lumps them together as members of the same race.

I find this insulting. Instead of enhancing their sense of identity, my view is that it dilutes it. Your thoughts?

The British weather: stop fucking whinging

I am royally fucked off with people whinging about the quality of the British summers. So I did some analysis.

I analysed the mean temperature at the Hadley Centre in Exeter. Every day from 1 January 1772 through 30 September 2011. 87,566 data points in total. I removed 29 February data to allow easier cross-year comparisons. And here are the results.

Thus far this year, the 2011 average daily temperature has been higher than the 238-year average on 152 (55.7%) of the 273 days of the year so far. Where the temperature was higher, it was higher by an average of 2.72C. Where it was lower, it was so by 1.40C. And so across all 273 days, the average daily temperature in 2011 was, on average, 0.95C higher than the historic average for that day.

If we limit the comparisons to the last 50 years, it’s much closer. Temperatures on 137 days of the days thus far have exceeded the average, those on the other 136 have been lower. But even taking that into account, the average temperature across all days has exceeded the average by an average of 0.58C.

If we limit analysis to summer months (which I’ve classified as April through September), then against the average we have been hotter this year on 50.8% of days (47.0% of those in the last 50 years). But across all days, our average daily temperature this year has exceeded the day’s average by an average of 0.73C (0.50C in the last 50 years).

So please. Stop fucking whinging.

Much credit to the Met Office for its lush dataset.