Brexit

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So Brexit has happened: the folk
Of Britain are free of the yoke
Of the Brussels Beast.
Meanwhile to the east
Mr Putin’s enjoying the joke.

NIS Again: SA’s Interconnector

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I coined the phrase ‘Numeric Incompetence Syndrome’ a while back, and yesterday an article in my local newspaper delivered another glaring example. In summary…

South Australia’s connection to the national electrical grid is to be enhanced with a new 900km interconnector to New South Wales and Victoria. The capital cost is expected to be $1.53 billion. The article states: “To cover that, households would pay $9 a year in SA and $5 in NSW.”

Assuming an average household size of 2.7 persons (as in 2016 nationally), there are about 0.65 million households in SA and 3.11 million in NSW. So the total annual amount recovered from households would be ($9 x 0.65M) + ($5 x 3.11M) = $21.4 million. Even allowing for future population growth, this comes nowhere near “covering” an investment of $1.53 billion: to amortise such a sum over a 20-year life at a discount rate of 5%pa would cost $123 million per year, before considering any maintenance costs. So that’s error No.1.

The article goes on to say, “[ElectraNet] estimates the project would deliver overall benefits of $924 million over 20 years…” but adds that “the Australian Energy Regulator … has downsized the project’s 20-year benefit to $269 million.”

Who, in their right mind, would invest $1.53 billion in something that will deliver benefits of only $924 million over 20 years?! How can any sub-editor not see that this cannot be true?! Perhaps the word “net” was omitted, but surely “overall” was inserted to make clear that the writer means gross benefits.

My stroppiness is going off the scale. Journalism is not just about regurgitating people’s press releases; it has to involve some critical thought, some fact-checking, some exercise of common sense for heaven’s sake!

I have emailed the Editor of the newspaper with a link to this post and an invitation to respond and/or to publish a correction.

Surprising Numbers

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I’ve always been fascinated by results of calculations that seem disproportionate to the point of incredibility, but are correct. I get stroppy with people who are neither fascinated by such results nor moved to question and check them. Here are four that came to my attention recently:

  • I peeled an orange and weighed the peel. It was 31% of the unpeeled fruit, so a price of $2.99/kg turns out to be $4.33/kg of the edible part.
  • I read an article whose author decried the terrible devaluation of the US dollar over the past century: “A dollar in 1919 is now worth 5 cents!” That implies an average rate of inflation of 3.04%pa. A lot of central bankers would be very happy with that.
  • Imagine a globe with a diameter of 30cm (1 foot in the old money) representing Planet Earth. The depth of the atmosphere would be 0.3mm – the thickness of a child’s finger nail.
  • Research in the USA in 1997 found that average IQ had increased by 20 points since 1932. Eleven years later, similar research in the UK found a 14 point improvement since 1947. This is called the Flynn Effect. Other research suggests a pretty steady increase of about 3 points per decade – but only up to the late 1990s, when the trend appears to have petered out and reversed.
    [When originally posted, on 19 January, I mistyped “1970s” instead of “1990s”. Sorry.]

This Year’s Stroppy

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We had some strong nominations this year, but after much internal debate the Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Twaddle goes to … drum roll … Ram Charan and Julia Yang, authors of a new book called ‘The Amazon Management System’, published by Ideapress Publishing and available… well, in most places where you’d look for a book these days. My old friend Ron Allan, who made the nomination, selected the following gem:

“Moreover, transparency of such ultra-detailed, end-to-end (cross-silo and cross-layer) real-time and inputs-oriented data and metrics makes the usual uphill battle for cross-functional collaboration much easier.”

With management advice like this, who needs saboteurs? Thanks to Ron, and congratulations to Ram and Julia.

Oh, and the picture is a visual pun on ‘Amazon’, not an intended likeness of anyone either living, dead, extinct or mythical..

Pride

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No-one is greater than Greta;
Humanity should fête her.
Tho’ belittled and trolled
She’s outspoken and bold –
If I were younger I’d date her.

Even without the photo you’d know which Greta I was talking about, wouldn’t you? Greta Thunberg has joined the small group of people for whom a single name is sufficient: Donald, Gandhi, Madonna, Mao, Meghan and the rest.

The reason I’m featured Miss Thunberg is that I heard her father interviewed on ABC radio the other day. The interviewer’s final question was “Are you proud of your daughter?” He answered “No,” having already explained that he and his wife had tried hard to dissuade Greta from becoming an activist for a cause they initially had little interest in.

It made me think about the word ‘proud’ and its derivatives. I remember as a child being told that I should be proud of my school uniform, and wondering why, since I’d had no hand in its design or manufacture. Moreover, I knew that pride came before a fall and in Religious Instruction I’d been taught that pride was altogether a Bad Thing. Even without knowing what ‘contumely’ meant, I got that Hamlet was not keen on proud men.

Of course it’s natural to feel pride in one’s own achievements – coming top of the class, winning a prize, scoring a goal – even though prophets, psalmists, apostles and Shakespeare are united in disapproval. But how can one possibly be proud of something that one has made no contribution to? How can I be proud that a person or persons unknown have won a match, or confronted a terrorist, or put out a fire?

I suppose a parent can feel pride in having brought up a child who does something good, and perhaps that’s what the ABC’s interviewer had in mind. But evidently Mr Thunberg believes that Greta did it all by herself; indeed, she did it despite her parents’ efforts to stop her. Good for him for giving an honest answer.

Or perhaps ‘proud’ and ‘pride’ are ambiguous words that mean different things to different people. ‘Respect’ is certainly such a word, and I’ve made a mental note to post something about that too.

While we’re on the subject of language, don’t forget that the announcement of this year’s Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Twaddle (aka ‘the Stroppy’) will be made on 17 January. Get your nomination in now! Deadline: 2359 hours GMT, Thursday 16 January.

The River of Humanity

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Commuters cry, “Beware! Beware!
“The human mass at Station Square!
“The shuffling feet
“Where two lines meet
“And sullen souls despair!”

If you’ve spent time in Georgia’s capital city Tbilisi (formerly known as Tiflis) you’ll probably recognise the reference. Tbilisi has two metro lines that meet at Station Square station. Here at rush hour there can be a traffic jam of human flesh as streams of passengers squeeze past and through one another to change lines or escape into the open air. The photo alongside does scant justice to the crush that I was in a few days ago.

I confess to getting a kick out of commuting by metro or subway or underground. I feel part of something: The River of Humanity. A participant, not a spectator. My body is a tiny, tiny fragment, but the river is nevertheless changed by my being there.

There’s probably something Freudian about it too. One plunges into a dark hole, trusting that the millions of tons of rock and soil above one’s head will stay in place; then, in a re-enactment of nativity, one bursts forth into a sunlit world where oxygen and coffee shops abound and all is easeful.

Here in Tbilisi’s metro I am struck by the tolerance and mutual respect I feel around me. Several people (myself included) missed a train the other day by waiting for a lady to manoeuvre her pushchair into a crowded carriage. No-one pushed ahead, no-one complained.

And when another lady forced her way along the wall of a hugely crowded tunnel, against the flow, shouting what sounded like “Why! Why! Why!” people smiled good-naturedly. She had her reasons. Beggars position themselves along the same wall, obstructing the flow, and they are accepted as just a few more water molecules in the river, albeit static ones.

I’d like to say that by being part of The Human River twice a day I’m gaining a better understanding of my fellow-humans. But – and now we get to the stroppy bit – I do not understand why some people are attracted to substances and activities that they know are designed to enslave them by way of addiction. Why, why, why?!

The ads reproduced here are all from today’s online edition of the Sydney Morning Herald.

AddictGame3

Travel and Terrorism

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First, I offer a big apology to my fans, for not having posted for such a long time. In inadequate recompense I give you this link to a brilliant article by Waleed Aly in the Sydney Morning Herald. Waleed is a writer and broadcaster, and one of the most thoughtful and articulate blokes in Australia today.

The article is about Brexit, which makes me stroppier than almost anything outside the Middle East. But I’ve written so much and so often about Brexit, and none of it seems to have touched the hearts and minds of the decision-makers who matter, so now I’m going to push other people’s views and analysis with which I agree. Certainly Waleed expresses what I think better than I can.

But all that has nothing to do with either travel or terrorism. I’m in the UK at the moment, having travelled from Adelaide via Dubai – not my favourite transit hub, I have to say. On the way I was moved to compose the following limerick, which I throw to you, my readers, much as a rock star might throw an item of clothing into the audience…

While waiting in airport queues,
Then taking off watch, belt and shoes,
I imagine Osama
Bin Laden (the charmer)
Laughing – he didn’t lose!