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313 - Snippets

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This page is currently a collection point for stuff I'd like to explore further. So for example the content now in Essays 314, 315319 320 and 324 started here. This is likely to become a habit, to collect the little items to form a page of nibbles, each marked with the same icon, which I changed (Dec 2021) from the symbol top left, which I actually prefer, to the simple scissors icon simply because it shows up better in the list of pages, as demonstrated, also to the left. As you can see there, I have been doing just the same with pages about covid. Perhaps I should draw my own such icon.



Where are we going to with Brexit? The supposed deadlines have all gone and yet negotiations continue. The last three issues unresolved as at Dec 3rd are:

•  the level playing field  – which is about subsidies, standards and state aid, all of which the Tory hard-liners have been looking to as routes to have whatever they want; What I've seen so far for farming looks very sensible. One of the underlying issues here is that idea of control; I have no issue with us conforming to or exceeding EU standards and I'd think any business would opt to comply with whichever they think the higher standard; as regulations drift apart, it is unlikely there will be differences that cause the higher standard to be unacceptable in the alternative market. How that affects the wonderfully vague future agreements with other places (like the US and China) is largely irrelevant  since we don't have any negotiations. I am concerned for the future quality of food, for example the very much lower standards that the Americans accept.

•  the fisheries – where the argument devolves to who owns specific species in North Sea waters and how any balancing is done, how quotas are agreed and regulated. The idea that the UK in any sense owns the waters seems to have become irrelevant;  and

•  how we settle disputes – a touchy point, since the UK really does not want to permit the ECJ to have any rule over UK.gov. Yet this system, whatever it is, needs to be robust, independent and in that sense reliably so.


https://www.theguardian.com/money/2011/jul/02/dilnot-funding-old-age   Dilnot report to read  but this explains what one needs to know beforehand. Of course, it went nowhere; it is just one of those opportunities that UK.gov won't get around to sorting out. And of course Covid simply underlines that nothing was done. The 10 recommendations. What went wrong.


Writing about over-dispersion, that proportion of a population with 80% of an attribute, I can't help but wonder if this measure of dispersion could be applied to wealth, identifying the proportion of people that have 80% (or 90%, the other measure used) of the wealth in a population such as a business, a city, a region or a nation. For that to have meaning, one has to recognise the meaning of the value k is given. To date, being told that 90% of the UK wealth belongs to some very small percentage of the population is a simple way of expressing this, so until we have ways of identifying consequences, particularly consequences of changing that position, knowing k is not helpful. I tried to look this up; I found 1% own 24% of UK wealth, as much as the poorest 55%. Here and here. I may research this further. ONS here I come....  

dispersion of wealth UK

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/personalandhouseholdfinances/incomeandwealth/bulletins/wealthingreatbritainwave5/2014to2016   top 10% has 54% of all wealth and more than 5 times the median. Top 1% has more than 12x the median. D&C around 75th percentile. CRS in top 3%.


We now have not just one but three COVID-19 vaccines shown to work with at least 60% efficacy – enough to make a significant difference to the course of the pandemic once they’re rolled out. But could even more effective vaccines be found?

While each of the three proven vaccine takes a slightly different approach, they all work by targeting the same part of the coronavirus, known as the “spike protein”. But researchers have found that we actually make the most antibodies in response to another part of the virus – the N protein. And new research suggests future vaccines that focus on this different protein might be effective for longer and even help protect against other diseases.

There’s more good news in the form of research showing efforts to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 could actually reduce global warming even in the next 20 years. And we take a look at the evidence for how puberty blocking drugs, the subject of a recent court ruling, are known to affect the body.

From email from The Conversation, 20201210; target article link below.  A good read.



Written by me in a FaceBook response:

The Cummings Effect, as I think of it, excuses all behaviour that ought to have consequences but somehow doesn't. Because it doesn't, there is a secondary effect, the Cummings Corollary: getting away with things shows your worth; the more you manage to get away with, the more (obviously) important you are. 


International Energy Report 2020 summary here. More required reading; it is only seven pages of summary.

With sharp cost reductions over the past decade, solar PV is consistently cheaper than new coal- or gas- fired power plants in most countries, and solar projects now offer some of the lowest cost electricity ever seen.    Hydropower remains the largest renewable source of electricity, but solar is the main driver of growth as it sets new records for deployment each year after 2022, followed by onshore and offshore wind.    Electricity grids could prove to be the weak link in the transformation of the power sector, with implications for the reliability and security of electricity supply.   In the absence of a larger shift in policies, it is still too early to foresee a rapid decline in oil demand.  Natural gas fares better than other fossil fuels, but different policy contexts produce strong variations.   Reaching net zero globally by 2050, as in the NZE2050, would demand a set of dramatic additional actions over the next ten years.

My take on this; we're all involved, we all have to do quite a lot and even then we're rather likely to see most of another 2ºC rise worldwide. As money moves away from fossil fuels, unevenly, very large energy businesses must adapt very quickly. The comments elsewhere (319) by me on whether the infrastructure can cope are found here too (no, it clearly can't).

A thought: is it possible to estimate how much energy is required to, for example, make a wind turbine, and how does that cost when applied to the large numbers of turbines the UK is contemplating? Like, do we have the resource? How would we carbon tax that construction?


A question often asked on Quora is about 'average running' times. Here's what Runner's World has to say:

Sure, you've been training to run a faster 5K at your Saturday morning parkrun, but are you faster than the average runner? To find out more, we took a look at recent data collated by RunRepeat, who analysed 107.9 million race results, from over 70 thousand events in 209 countries between 1986 and 2018 and asked them to share the UK specific data with Runner's World. 

The average 5K finish time in the UK is 00:33:54. For male runners, the average finish time is 00:29:08 and for female runners, the average finish time is 00:38:12. 

What is the average 10K finish time in the UK? Over the 10K distance, the average finish time for all UK runners is 00:58:08. For male runners in the UK, the average 10K finish time is 00:53:38 and for female runners in the UK, the average 10K finish time is 01:03:18. 

Over the past ten years, race participation got more popular, with a 164% growth in the UK alone. Yet unsurprisingly, as the fields got larger, the average pace got slower. In the 5K distance, the average pace got 00:02:57 slower, and in the 10K distance, the average pace got 00:02:51 slower. 

As I have written before, this is the average time for the (very) restricted population of those that run, those that have offered themselves to be measured against the clock. [Timed run, not a race; the difference is subtle but important.] It is not at all easy to estimate how many runners there might be, but there were around 10,000 (not)parkrunners in the UK last week and there were 5 million registered parkrunners worldwide in 2018. Source. (Not) park run because we're not to do it, so people post their best time from the week, measured by themselves. 11,000 people have a new parkrun barcode since March 2020. There are almost 53,000 males registered with runbritain, 64,000 in total. These are, generally, what one would describe as club runners. I looked at our last published parkrun result from March 2020 and 150/250 were unregistered. A very small sample, but that might suggest the 64,000 registered runbritain numbers would increase to beyond 100,000 runners in total. In a population of 67 million, that is paltry. In the last parkrun I did myself, only 37/250 were affiliated, suggesting that the running population for the nation might be nearer half a million. The number of women registered is very small, but the number at parkrun is large, much nearer half. Of the 250 in parkrun #155 at Blackpool, 130 were male, 110 female, 30 were not known or unregistered, total 270 and numbers counted fast by me, so a little unreliable. But at least 40% were female on a date in February. One might say that the biggest estimate of the running population is around half a million, and it could be twice that. Even so, that is at best around the 1% level in the population, when one might expect a reasonable target to be more like 5-10%.

I found a site exploring how many might run a mile, here. Self-reporting said 60% thought they could (28% said they could not, 12% would be slower than 4mph). Draw the line at 5mph and we're down to 43%. And that, of course, assumes that the sample used was valid for the population you're thinking of extrapolating to. This was Americans, whose nation admits that around 1% can run and is quite possibly data transferable to Britain or even to Europe.

RunRepeat has some interesting data. While not explaining who their population is (that is, to whom it applies), they say 35 mins is 'average' for 5km, 64 mins for 10km, 2:03 for the Half and 4:30 for the marathon. Gender adjustment to make. The old fit git tapers rapidly at distance according to these figures, somewhere in the top 20% for both 5km and 10km – though I'm assuming this is when I have prepared for race conditions. I used to expect to be (only just) in the top 4% of a race.


I note that the idea of the 15 minute city is spreading slowly. My article was, it would appear, early. The spread of pedestrianised spaces causes binary response, extremely for or extremely against; the viable issue is the lack of consultation, but at heart the decision is between improving the street space for those who live there or for those who wish to traffic that space (at some speed). This reduces to acceptance or denial of the use of the car, or, if you like, right of access to tarmac, 'right to road'. If we were to accept that all rat-runs were to be closed and that therefore all routes—up to the point at which you enter a 20 mph zone because you're within the odd hundred metres of your target—were on more 'major' roads, those designated as thoroughfares perhaps, then we'd also be accepting of traffic loads. These loads would be permitted because the aim is to persuade you to not use the car, to restrict the car to 'permitted' spaces only, so as to (dramatically) change the way we view that form of transport. This has possibilities, but in turn demands that there be sufficient parking space. And perhaps it implies prodigious provision of (cheap, even free) public transport. In a C-19 world public transit is failed (scary, unused, crowded, unsafe, empty; conflicting ideas) and in a pollution-sensitive world we need to do everything we can to encourage localised (15-minute) transport, which could be to walk, to cycle, to use public transport or publicly (public-ally) available transport. That also presumes a load of other infrastructure that moves stuff (people included) between hubs and it does nothing at all to preserve business and leisure in any version of countryside. For example, I don't see any form of public transport taking me to or from a walking route in the hills. Matters of socialisation and leisure seem to conflict with this ideal.


Trump has Covid.   Consigned to ignorable history. At least we can stop caring at all.

Trustable Reporting. News broke 01Oct and by 09Oct is declared clear. But no-one close to the resident is admitting this must have started earlier to finish to quickly and the spread within the staff is widely reported. I wonder if this will ever be adequately explained. If not, it will simply be added to the nest of lies and half-truths. This is disinformation; we are being dissed. Melania's position.


I found the CDC biohazard 4-point scale, which puts SARS-CoV-2 at level 3. I found a 5-point scale in the Telegraph which says it is quoting the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) - this is the JBC' five-point alert level. 

  • Level 1: Covid-19 is not known to be present in the UK
  • Level 2: Covid-19 is present in the UK, but the number of cases and transmission is low
  • Level 3: a Covid-19 epidemic is in general circulation
  • Level 4: a Covid-19 epidemic is in general circulation; transmission is high or rising exponentially
  • Level 5: as level 4 and there is a material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed.

This is the Telegraph's interpretation of that same list of biosecurity alert level:

Level one (green) For our lives to return to normal, we would need no transmission of infections in England. This situation is currently only foreseen in the event of a successful vaccine being administered across the country. Oxford University hopes to have a vaccine ready by as early as September. Likely response: No venue closures; clinically vulnerable able to leave homes.   

Level two The Government would need to be confident that virus transmission was at minimal levels. Likely response: Shops and restaurants could be allowed to open with social distancing measures. Supermarkets have already successfully implemented social distancing and restaurants are considering ways to space out tables. Clinically vulnerable people are likely to be advised to remain indoors.

Level three (orange) The number of new infections would not be increasing significantly. The reproduction rate, or R number, would be below one, meaning that each infected person is transmitting the infection to less than one other, on average. Likely response: Partial lockdown, although with significant relaxations compared to level four.

Level four    The virus is not contained, with the R number above one in at least some areas. However, as is the situation now, hospitals would be able to cope with the levels of admissions.  Likely response: Nationwide lockdown imposed by the Government, with the vulnerable shielded and those who can work from home asked to do so. During the UK lockdown, Britain was at this level.    

Level five (red)  Infection spreading at a highly dangerous rate, with the R number significantly above one. The NHS would be overwhelmed with patients, with many hospitals over capacity. This is the situation the Government has managed to avoid so far with it's 'Protect the NHS' strategy. Likely response: Nightingale hospitals re-opened to provide more beds with ventilators; offices and factories shut.  


Also from The Conversation:    link to connected article

An average car weighs about 1.5 tonnes. Now imagine a hundred of them: 150 tonnes. That’s how much human-made material there is for every person alive today.

That’s one of the interesting findings in a new scientific study which calculates that there is a total of 1.2 trillion tonnes of “anthropogenic mass” in the world today – houses, roads, cars and so on. That’s almost exactly the same as the combined weight of every single living organism on Earth. In fact, the researchers say that 2020 is the year when the weight of human-made materials will finally catch up with declining global biomass. “Future geologists” Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams say this is more evidence that the planet is rapidly entering the Anthropocene.

We also look at how men deported from the UK to Jamaica are being set up for failure, and the dilemma Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal poses for the previously arch Remainer Keir Starmer.

Working with researchers and academics, our team of editors are too glad to be adding to the weight of human-made knowledge in the world, but while our content will always be free, it isn’t free to create. The Conversation is an educational charity funded by its university members and by the generous donations of readers like you – if you value our work, please consider making a donation today. And if you have already donated, thank you very much.

I wonder if we care, until this turns into a measure of something we subsequently deem to be important  Which means that the question then becomes "How might this be important and, if it is significant, how should we modify our behaviour in response?" Essay topic, but not for me; my reaction today 20201210 is to shrug. But then I feel that way about a lot of effort that others devote to things, such as painting and poetry.


Money Laundering in Britain

I read about Britain being something of a centre for money-laundering [1] at the time it was published (July 2019) and, stupidly, thought not much more about it. This article explains what it is that has turned Britain into a place quite perfect for rendering any ill-gotten gains 'clean'. Do read it for yourself, but here's a short version.

Back in 2011, the business secretary, Vince Cable (the same who was subsequently Liberal party leader) decided to reform, to 'open up', Companies House. As a result of this so-called reform, anyone, anywhere with an internet connection, could set up a UK company on the very cheap – and no-one would check any part of the information. Indeed, one of the very few prosecuted cases was that of one of the very few people who has tried to alert the authorities to the problem. Companies house simply doesn't have the resources to do any checking, but then that is the fault of their funding and remit. Do read it for yourself.

I've crossed a rubicon of sorts and no longer give trust to any part of the machinery of national government but the ONS. What is described in source [2] pads out the story a little more. In 2019 I shrugged and moved on, thinking that the authorities would read, react and fix this. Now, my thinking is rather the reverse and I wonder instead quite who is supplying whom with rewards for continuing to turn a blind eye.  Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?, as Juvenal put it, but I want something stronger, since I want the government not just held to account, I want the deceits stopped at source – as many as are found.

I find this situation coupled, in my mind, with the position of "the most expensive MP", Robert Halfon in his repeated campaigns to prevent any increase in fuel duty. Not least the proposal for feebates [4,5]. See bonus malus.  I wonder who benefits from his campaigns, and therefore who funds them;  I wonder how Halfon himself benefits, since I simply cannot believe he does this only out of conviction. Such is my jaundiced view of the nation state.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/05/how-britain-can-help-you-get-away-with-stealing-millions-a-five-step-guide

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/sep/10/uk-corrupt-nation-earth-brexit-money-laundering

[3] https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/the-budget-puts-petrol-in-the-tories-political-tank if you can see it. try here instead https://capx.co/can-the-tories-win-over-the-workers/

[4] https://bettertransport.org.uk/sites/default/files/research-files/Feebates_report.pdf and 

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/sep/04/treasury-raise-fuel-duty-chancellors-freeze and 

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/sep/09/petrol-and-diesel-cars-could-cost-up-to-1500-more-under-proposals


Solar Panel Update

I discovered, today, that the stoppage of the Feed-in Tariff scheme (FIT) back in March 2019 has been replaced with the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) as of January 2020. If this was announced in Jan 2019, as described, it was done very quietly. I rang my supplier about the whole issue of giving away electricity to the grid for no return and enquired of several other sources, but nothing came back with any positives. I only found others like me frustrated at the situation. I certainly did not find news such as at [7], or I would have reacted immediately.          

I wait to see if my application is acceptable and will report back. The legislation demands that suppliers pay something, but does not stipulate a rate. The only good news is that one may 'sell' surplus power to someone different from who it is that one buys it. So if I buy from EDF, say, I may apply to sell to E.ON – with good reason, since EDF buys at 3.5p while E.ON does so at 5.5p per KWh. One innocently assumes they are buying the same thing, measured the same way. [8] shows a table. My previous attempt at solar panels yielded 50% of I think 9p per unit via the FIT scheme, right between these figures — and I recovered perhaps as much as £700 in a year, though most of that was realistically subsidy. We will see and I shall report. As yet I am not even certain that our meters record what we export, and though one of the smart-meter gadgets (the IHD, in-home display) does show that we're exporting, it doesn't record running totals. I really cannot be bothered to argue, since my opinion is of no value: it is only the official attitude that counts, so if I do the work that shows me what we've exported, or even succeeded in not buying, that figure will only serve to annoy me. When and if there is a return for supplying the grid has little to do with what I want. I am happy that the system has been returned to something approximating fairness (something is better than nothing); I am unhappy that I've missed the whole summer's gain for no return and I am at the same time happy at the prospect of not having to try so hard to use energy when we are generating. I have been cultivating the habit of running around the house turning stuff on (and off a little later) so as to use excess power rather than give it away.

 DJS  20201007. Nothing to add 1112.

[7] https://www.energylivenews.com/2019/10/23/smart-export-guarantee-seg-to-replace-feed-in-tariff-fit-payments/

[8] https://www.solar-trade.org.uk/seg/


From The Conversation, 20201203 "Spotting liars is hard"

Most people lie occasionally. The lies are often trivial and essentially inconsequential – such as pretending to like a tasteless gift. But in other contexts, deception is more serious and can have harmful effects on criminal justice. From a societal perspective, such lying is better detected than ignored and tolerated.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to detect lies accurately. Lie detectors, such as polygraphs, which work by measuring the level of anxiety in a subject while they answer questions, are considered “theoretically weak” and of dubious reliability. This is because, as any traveller who has been questioned by customs officials knows, it’s possible to be anxious without being guilty.

We have developed a new approach to spot liars based on interviewing technique and psychological manipulation, with results just published in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition. 

Our technique is part of a new generation of cognitive-based lie-detection methods that are being increasingly researched and developed. These approaches postulate that the mental and strategic processes adopted by truth-tellers during interviews differ significantly from those of liars. By using specific techniques, these differences can be amplified and detected. 

One such approach is the Asymmetric Information Management (AIM) technique. At its core, it is designed to provide suspects with a clear means to demonstrate their innocence or guilt to investigators by providing detailed information. Small details are the lifeblood of forensic investigations and can provide investigators with facts to check and witnesses to question. Importantly, longer, more detailed statements typically contain more clues to a deception than short statements.

Essentially, the AIM method involves informing suspects of these facts. Specifically, interviewers make it clear to interviewees that if they provide longer, more detailed statements about the event of interest, then the investigator will be better able to detect if they are telling the truth or lying. For truth-tellers, this is good news. For liars, this is less good news.

Indeed, research shows that when suspects are provided with these instructions, they behave differently depending on whether they are telling the truth or not. Truth-tellers typically seek to demonstrate their innocence and commonly provide more detailed information in response to such instructions. 

In contrast, liars wish to conceal their guilt. This means they are more likely to strategically withhold information in response to the AIM instructions. Their (totally correct) assumption here is that providing more information will make it easier for the investigator to detect their lie, so instead, they provide less information.

Liars tend to withhold information. Photographee.eu/Shutterstock

This asymmetry in responses from liars and truth-tellers - from which the AIM technique derives its name - suggests two conclusions. When using the AIM instructions, if the investigator is presented with a potential suspect who is providing lots of detailed information, they are likely to be telling the truth. In contrast, if the potential suspect is lying then the investigator would typically be presented with shorter statements.

The experiment

But how effective is this approach? Preliminary research on the AIM technique has been promising. For our study, we recruited 104 people who were sent on one of two covert missions to different locations in a university to retrieve and/or deposit intelligence material. 

All interviewees were then told there had been a data breach in their absence. They were, therefore, a suspect and faced an interview with an independent analyst. Half were told to tell the truth about their mission to convince the interviewer of their innocence. The other half were told that they could not disclose any information about their mission, and that they should come up with a cover story about where they had been at the time and place of the breach to convince the analyst of their innocence. 

They were then interviewed, and the AIM technique was used in half of the cases. We found that when the AIM technique was used, it was easier for the interviewer to spot liars. In fact, lie-detection accuracy rates increased from 48% (no AIM) to 81% – with truth-tellers providing more information. 

Research is also exploring methods for enhancing the AIM technique using cues which may support truth-tellers to provide even more information. Recalling information can be difficult, and truth-tellers often struggle with their recall.

Memory tools known as “mnemonics” may be able to enhance this process. For example, if a witness of a robbery has provided an initial statement and cannot recall additional information, investigators could use a “change perspective” mnemonic – asking the witness to think about the events from the perspective of someone else (“what would a police officer have seen if they were there”). This can elicit new - previously unreported - information from memory. 

If this is the case, our new technique could become even more accurate at being able to detect verbal differences between truth-tellers and liars.

Either way, our method is an ethical, non-accusatory and information-gathering approach to interviewing. The AIM instructions are simple to understand, easy to implement and appear promising. While initially tested for use in police suspect interviews, such instructions could be implemented in a variety of settings, such as insurance-claim settings.


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