Accessories to accessory crime

There are many annoying things about the mobile phone companies – roaming charges, poor coverage, high charges etc etc. But one of the most annoying things has been their tacit collusion in mobile phone crime.

The motive for collusion is clear – when a mobile is stolen, it is replaced with a new phone and a new user (the person taking the stolen phone) has access to the means to make calls. Muggings rose rapidly with the rise of the mobile, but fell only when there was effort to make it more difficult – both by policing initiatives in 2002 and by enabling the barring of stolen phones from 2002.

But it still seems to be going on… Continue reading “Accessories to accessory crime”

What you can’t smell can harm you…

One thing always strikes me when I go for a walk on the hills: the first time you come to a road or see a car after being on the fells, the smell of the exhaust is really strong and unpleasant. Yet in London and most cities we are immersed in this smell 100s of times over. But we don’t smell the air as there is no clean air to create the contrast, which is what our olefactory senses are really picking up. In London, what must be a disgusting ‘baseline’ of traffic smell is just tuned out by our brains. But that deprives us of a health warning signal.

The pollution levels (NOx pictured) are soaring in the summer heat, the big pink blob over London on 18 July – and it has been awful. What would it take for there to be a partial ban on cars in London on high risk days? Could the congestion charge be increased to £20 on a bad day?

Flooding – ready for the apocalypse? Not really.

Given the hot dry weather, one’s thoughts inevitably turn to flooding. The picture to the left is from an excellent amateur flood mapping site. Exploiting Google Maps, the application allows the user to display the approximate impact of sea-level rise up to 7 metres (about what would happen if the Greenland ice shelf melted). The application desinger, Alex Tingle, explains how it was done and the caveats. For a given level of sea-level rise, the impact will be greater than just the new contour of the coastline – storm surges and high tides doing more damage. So what is the investment thinking given this threat?  Continue reading “Flooding – ready for the apocalypse? Not really.”

Changing lightbulbs

Went to the Parliamentary Group for Energy Studies reception last night. Many interesting conversations and one amusing joke. John Healey, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, attributed the following to his 11-year old son:

Q. How many nuclear engineers does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. Seven. One to install the new bulb, and six to manage the old bulb for the next 10,000 years.

He said a lot more about the Energy Review, but with great professional skill, I can only remember the joke. Interesting views from energy companies on whether the Energy Review does enough to initiate a nuclear new-build programme, tending to confirm my hunch that the new planning, licensing and waste commitments wouldn’t be enough.

Personal carbon trading

The Guardian reports on “Swipe-card plan to ration consumers’ carbon use” – it looks like the idea of a personal carbon trading scheme is in the air again, following a ministerial speech. Each of us would be given an allowance of carbon emissions, our use of carbon would be recorded and if we over-used our budget, then we would buy carbon from those who had under-used their budget. In 2005, the Tyndall Centre published a report on Domestic Tradable Quotas that underpins the excitement (Click graphic on the left)

Let us be clear: however robust this is in theory (and it has much to recommend it in theory) this is a non-starter. The reason it is “easy to dismiss the idea as too complex administratively or too much of a burden for citizens” is for the good reason that this is, in fact, true and an understatement. As soon as this becomes mandatory, which it would be in the system envisaged, a truly enormous system of transactions, monitoring and verification would be necessary. The question is not whether it could be done (it probably could given unlimited resources and a suitably compliant population). The question is whether the costs and complexity are justified compared to the alternatives, of which there are many simpler and cheaper approaches available.

However, this does not mean that nothing can be done to personalise the carbon footprint: Continue reading “Personal carbon trading”

Peak Oil by 2010 – a long bet on a tall story

I have asked Jeremy Leggett, now CEO of Solar Century and author of Half gone: oil, gas, hot air and the global energy crisis to back his prediction that the world will reach ‘Peak Oil’ by 2010 (ie. oil production will start to fall after that date). I regard this as very unlikely, but he seems to mean it. Over dinner some months ago, we agreed to bet on it.

My prediction and outline arguments are lodged with the Long Bets Foundation, (see post below) and are awaiting a challenge through a bet. Long Bets promotes ‘predictions with acountability’, by having people bet on their predictions – their reputations mainly, but also money that goes to charity. Obviously, I can win this in 2011. To prove a real peak requires many years – there was a false peak in 1979 that wasn’t surpassed until 1994 (see chart), but we have agreed a protocol for settling a bet.

Policy betting – the wisdom of crowds

“Why the many are smarter than the few” is the subtitle of James Surowiecki’s excellent book, The Wisdom of Crowds (buy). The idea is that the accumulated wisdom of many people, each making of a small contribution of knowledge can give better results than the world’s greatest expert – providing their knowledge can be aggregated and they have diverse perspectives, they act independently and are gereally decentralised. Betting markets capture some of these ideas are establishing in politics, showbusiness, technology, global risks, formation of a Palestinian state and Atlantic storms… (see real time odds from NewsFutures below)

The idea was most famously tried by the Pentagon in a truly inspired effort to think about geopolitical futures in an uncertain world – but its Policy Analysis Market was spiked by politicians concerned about “betting on terrorism”.

My favourite is the Long Bets Foundation. This is not quite a betting market, but it does allow a bet on whether “by 2020 bioterror or bioerror will lead to more than one million casualties in a single event” (see here) or “whether by 2050, we will receive intelligent signals from outside our solar system“(here). There is a fascinating list of predictions and predictions that have become bets.

I mention this by way of introduction to my next post – my own Long Bet on Peak Oil.

Natwest 3 – pour encourager les autres

Am I alone in feeling little sympathy for these guys?
Fact: there was a massive fraud at Enron
Fact: a lot of ordinary people were fleeced and hurt
Fact: many financial institutions facilitated the fraud
Fact: the FBI has a plausible case (see indictment & complaint)

There is something nauseating about the media campaign to protect them. If they stride the globe profiting from international capital markets and transactions, they can hardly go all Little-England when it comes to accountablity. That you might end up in a US maximum security prison, sends good signal to actual and potential white collar criminals.

Pleasing reversal of the week

The Home Office finally put a stop to its plans for police force mergers (The Times). The mixture of big-gesture, tidying-up and map-redrawing instincts that were driving this (with the flimsiest evidence base as a cover) were thwarted the moment value-for-money became a consideration. The ambition for reform has been steadily watered down from the bullish imposition ‘strategic forces’ (see Home Office statement 11 Nov 2005) to agreeing just to voluntary mergers, then abandoning even that. The whole reversal can be charted on what is surely a soon-to-be-removed Home Office page.

But why be against force mergers? Continue reading “Pleasing reversal of the week”

In praise of Zinédine Zidane

Legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly famously said of football: “it’s not a matter of life and death… it’s more important than that“.

And I think this sense of perspective might be the way to appreciate the genius of Zinédine Zidane in his inspired decking of Italy’s Marco Materazzi. According to the Times, forensic lip-readers have declared that he called Zidane: “the son of a terrorist whore” before adding “so just f*** off”. Other top lip-readers have inferred similar insults.

The big story is that Zidane was reacting to something more important than football. As an ethnic Algerian and muslim (with sick mother) who has done more than most to moderate and integrate his community this is a vile and calculated racist insult. For someone of integrity, the need to mount a visceral response is more pressing than the constraints of football rules. Football commentators were bewildered by his violent gesture, but they were thinking about football and not about life.

While FIFA is covering itself in anti-racism initiatives, the I consider Materazzi’s offence to be a professional foul of the very worst kind – but excused because it was verbal. Zidane corrected that injustice in the real world by making an immense sacrifice in the foootball world. FIFA promises to investigate