Feb. 6th, 2015 08:11 am
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Just over 50 years ago, there was an election, the first one that I was around for (if not eligible to vote). One party other than Conservative or Labour won 9 seats, 1.4% of the total (and that includes Northern Ireland). It was thus almost certain that either Labour or the Conservatives would win a majority. It was pretty much the zenith of the two-party system.

In May, we'll have an election. The current forecast is that nine parties other than Conservative or Labour will win a total of 86 seats, 13.2% of the total. It will thus be very difficult for either the Conservatives or Labour to win a majority. We are in for interesting times, politically speaking.
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The Economist, who should know better, present as a problem here the statistics that 75% of deaths from non-communicable diseases, and 80% of premature deaths, occur in developing countries. But the population of the OECD countries plus Russia is only about 1.4 billion, so 80% of the world's population live in developing countries (unless they're using a radical new definition of "developing country" that excludes countries like Brazil, India and/or China), and thus the developing countries must be doing rather better than the developed countries as far as non-communicable diseases are concerned.

It's nearly as bad as the time the WHO set an objective to reduce the proportion of deaths due to non-communicable diseases. Which can of course also be expressed as setting an objective to increase the proportion of deaths caused by communicable diseases, violence, accidents or suicide. Since that's pretty much all the ways to die that there are, the two statements are equivalent to each other.


Dec. 22nd, 2014 06:34 pm
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Yes, well, having animals at home does cut down on the amount of travelling. In 2014 I spent at least one night away from home in:

  • Glasgow

  • London

  • Nottingham

  • Hadfield

  • Chester


Dec. 20th, 2014 08:51 pm
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Re-reading Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold, and Miles Vorkosigan has just purchased as gifts ear-ring-sized replicas of a few planets, which are apparently "displayed under various levels of magnification, where they proved to be perfectly-mapped replicas of the worlds they represented, right down to the one-metre scale.” A quick calculation suggests that if they're 2cm across, then those one-metre scale objects are less than 2 nanometres across. Never mind "magnification", it would need a high-power electron microscope to see them, which it seems unlikely that the recipients of gifts will have available (although I suppose that in this case one of the recipients is the Emperor of Barrayar, and can presumably get as many electron microscopes as he wants).


Dec. 19th, 2014 11:17 am
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For the benefit of the EU, here's how taxing things that are both sold and delivered over the Internet works.

Can we tax them based on the location of the vendor? No, because vendors will simply relocate to a jurisdiction that doesn't tax such transactions (e.g. Amazon in Luxembourg).

Can we tax them based on the location of the purchaser? No, because we never discover the purchaser's location during the process of sale and delivery.

Can we tax them based on the location of the purchaser's IP address? No, because the purchaser can choose to use a proxy or VPN in a jurisdiction that doesn't tax such transactions.

Can we tax them based on the location of the purchaser's payment account? No, because the purchaser can open an account in a jurisdiction that doesn't tax such transactions.

Can we tax them based on the purchaser's self-declared location? No, because the purchaser can lie.

Is there any other way to determine the purchaser's location? Not as far as I know.

Can we harmonise tax rates for any of the above across 194 different countries? Ha ha ha ha ha.

Therefore, such transactions can't be taxed at all, and the EU should simply give up trying, and only tax things that can be unambiguously located within a single taxation jurisdiction.


Nov. 28th, 2014 12:48 pm
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So does the VATMOSS craziness mean that while I'm on one of my occasional tax-avoidance day-trips to buy cigarettes and wine in Belgium and France respectively, I can also pop over the border into Luxembourg, connect to a local wireless data network, and stock up on ebooks at 3% VAT instead of 20%? Even while still using my UK credit card and PayPal account? If not then why not -- it will be my right to pay the Luxembourg rate of VAT when buying ebooks in Luxembourg, and will be the retailer's duty to charge me that rate and no more. But if so then what's to stop me from getting an account with a Luxembourgeois VPN provider and doing the same without bothering to go to the effort of actually visiting Luxembourg?

It's high time that we had global agreement that electronic sales work like physical sales, with the regulations and tax rates of the country where the retailer is based applying to the sale, and with territorial rights based only on the retailer's location. Because in fact it's impossible to know where the customer is physically located at the time of the sale. Yes, this gives lots of oppurtunities for tax avoidance, which suggests that perhaps we should just give up trying to levy sales taxes on electronically delivered goods altogether, and replace them with taxes on things that can be unambiguously located geographically.
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Everyone is trying to sell "natural language" calendar programs, that let you enter new appointments and reminders more naturally. And that's great, but all the examples they use to sell them are completely noddy ones like "10am next Monday", because doing it properly is very, very difficult. If you want to sell me your program, show me it can cope with these (most of which are real-life examples, not especially made up to be awkward):

  • Every month on the Wednesday after the second Monday that's not a bank holiday, but a week earlier in December

  • On the first Thursday of every month, and also on the last Thursday before Christmas Eve

  • On the Saturday before the first Sunday in December

  • On the Saturday closest to the spring equinox

  • Two weeks before the clocks go forward

  • On the Saturday of the August bank holiday weekend

  • Forty-seven days before the Sunday after the first ecclesiastical (western rite) full moon after the 21st of March (that one is Ash Wednesday, in case you were wondering)

  • Ten working days before Mary's birthday

  • Ten Irish working days before Declan's birthday

  • Three days before the HMRC self assessment deadline

  • On the last working day of the month

  • On the first and third Thursdays of the month, and also on the fifth Thursday if there is one

  • A week before the last posting date for Christmas for Australia

In other words, don't just do the easy bit and leave me to do the hard stuff -- that's not what software is supposed to be for.
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We took Jodie to the beach this afternoon, since it was nice and sunny, low tide, and after the closed season for dogs on (some of) the beach.

Cut for a video, and big photos )
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Here's a panorama taken from Milo's field, with our house in the middle.

Cut for excessively wide photo )
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Thanks to my new iPhone 6, here's a slow-motion video of Jodie in action. Note the wildly flapping tongue and ears.

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Interestingly, a UK Parliament without Scottish MPs since 1997 would have looked rather more liberal-minded than the one we ended up with in this timeline: https://www.mysociety.org/2014/09/10/parliament-without-scottish-mps-how-would-it-have-looked-different-since-1997/

I suspect this is mostly because there would have been smaller Labour majorities without Scotland, and so Labour backbench rebellions between 1997 and 2010 would have been more likely to succeed.
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This is the best graph ever produced of first-time buyer mortgage affordability in the UK. The only thing lacking would be some indication of how the average first-time buyer mortgage compares to the average house price.

One Year On

Aug. 1st, 2014 04:34 pm
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A year ago yesterday we completed on the purchase of the new house. A year ago tomorrow we moved in. On the day in between, I came down for the day to sort a few things out and receive some deliveries. And I took some photos. Today, at the same time of day with the same lenses on the same camera and in similar weather, I took some more photos from the same angles (as far as I could reproduce them).

Cut for 20 large photos )
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I have decided that any day where turning your horse out in the morning ends with you rolling around on the wet grass clutching your groin while the horse runs off into the field on his own is a bad day.

(Jonnie got a bit frisky and decided to jump in the air and kick his feet out in all directions. Luckily, he only caught me a glancing blow a few inches too high to be really painful.)
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You've probably seen the potato salad Kickstarter already. But he seems to have a bit of a problem, which is an object lesson in why you should pick your crowdfunding rewards carefully. 720 people have now contributed enough to have the right to each pick an additional (appropriate) ingredient for the potato salad, which is thus going to be the most complicated single recipe ever cooked.
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I've not added any more species for a while, so here goes. Subtracting one, because I see I've counted Green Woodpecker twice:

41. House Martin
42. Jay
43. Large White
44. Green-Veined White*
45. Common Blue
46. Wall (the butterfly, not the structure)
47. Speckled Wood
48. Meadow Brown
49. Common Toad
50. Common Lizard*
51. Yellowhammer*
52. Fox (took a surprisingly long time to see one of those)
53. Collared Dove*
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Been a while since I updated, so here goes (mostly corvids):

36. Swallow (one swallow doesn't make a summer, but we have two)
37. Red Admiral
38. Jackdaw*
39. Rook* (there are two of them on the patio right now, going for the peanuts in the bird feeder)
40. Carrion crow
41. Skylark
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Now that lots of people are revoking potentially compromised SSL certificates, it's quite important to check that your web browser is picking up certificate revocations. Try loading this URL: https://www.cloudflarechallenge.com/heartbleed

If you don't get a warning about the certificate being revoked or invalid, you should Google for your browser's name and "enable certificate revocation" and look for instructions on enabling it.

Full Moon

Apr. 14th, 2014 09:37 pm
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Full Moon tonight, with Mars in opposition just above it. Here they are rising through the treeline on the opposite side of the valley.

Cut for a big picture )
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The "Heartbleed" SSL vunerability released last night (UK time) is a bad one, to the extent that I recommend being careful when accessing sensitive websites (webmail, online banking, etc.) for the next month or so, especially when you're on an untrusted network (e.g. someone else's wifi). If you know how, it's worth checking the SSL certificate details and being suspicious of any certificate issued before today's date.