Jimmy Carr

I rarely get political on this blog – it is just asking for trouble, but today I saw that our own Prime Minister has seen fit to criticise a single person and draw scorn upon him by criticising his tax strategy.  I saw this, and thought I needed to write something.

Now, you may love or hate Mr Cameron, and you may love or hate Jimmy Carr, and indeed, you may love or hate tax strategies that enable you to minimise what you have to pay to the government. None of this is my concern, except when I perceive such a ludicrous amount of hypocrisy and unfairness – wielding the power of the Prime Minister’s office on a single person in our country is not just unsavoury, it’s completely unacceptable. Mr Cameron is entitled to his own opinions but to become the nation’s moral compass and pass instant judgement on morality in the way that he has is to live up to his ‘Flashman’ nickname.

Let’s be clear – Jimmy Carr is acting within the law. Our own definitions of morality are not the point, but acting within the law is something we should be aware of at all times in this. The law is upheld by the judiciary, and made through legislation that is debated at length by our politicians. In short, Mr Cameron, you and your peers created the very situation that Jimmy Carr and others have exploited. It is totally legal, and whilst you may say that it is unsavoury, I am pretty darned sure there are many more things we would find unsavoury about you if only we knew them.

For example, did you not say that having dealings with people running an aggressive tax scheme is something you should avoid? Did you not allocate £900M extra funds to HMRC to combat this sort of loophole? Did you not appoint a person who you knew works this kind of strategy? And did you not inherit a whole shedload of money from similar activities and investments designed to minimise the tax payable to the government? How do you deal with yourself, dear David? Here, in case you don’t recall, is your interview.

Should Jimmy Carr repay the money? No, I don’t think so. He has simply taken an option that is available to ALL people in the UK, and uses a loophole that thousands of very wealthy people use, including many of our politicians… if not this exact strategy, then one very similar.  And so would any one of us in his position.

Is it not a bigger issue to chase down the lost revenues from major corporations, such as Barclays, Vodaphone, Boots, etc, who are allowed to exploit similar loopholes and operate from overseas and who therefore cost thousands of times more money in lost revenues than you, I and Jimmy together would save?

I find this kind of bullying very unpalatable, the hypocrisy is epic and the nerve to consider yourself a moral compass entirely distasteful. However, yet again the media and the politicians will sew up the situation to their benefit and deride those who are taking perfectly legal action. One man’s morality is not another’s, clearly. Indeed, arguably, a moral man would not become a politician. Anyone recall the expense scandal? Oh yes… wasn’t that where we found out just how much immorality exists in Westminster, but were unable to remove all of the rotten apples, just a few examples?

In conclusion, I believe Jimmy Carr has done nothing wrong. He has made jokes at the expense of ‘fat cats’ and been found out to be one himself. So what. He still makes people laugh and has not acted illegally. There are many examples of similar schemes (Gary Barlow, anyone?) and many people benefit from using them, including politicians.

Of course, not everyone benefits from them… and that’s perhaps the point most would like to make. If I don’t benefit directly then it is a moral crime. If I do, I should keep quiet! If I were David Cameron, I’d be as quiet as a church mouse right now…

 

Water Shortage? In this weather?

So yet again the English weather is doing it’s best to drown all things. And yet again the water companies are telling us there is a drought – apparently despite the flooding, constant downpours and general feeling of being underwater, there is no water reaching the Aquifers – the underground reservoirs and storage spots that nature created. I have a theory that I’d like to test.

All of the water that falls on to the country is apparently the property of the water companies – that alone is incredulous of course, but there it is. The water company harvests the water and treats it to make it safe to use and fit to drink, filtering out impurities and so on. At some point in the process the harvested water goes into a large surface reservoir. At this point evaporation happens, and lots of water is taken back up in the water cycle to fal again as precipitation.

However, lots is also sent through to the country’s homes, businesses, and other buildings – billions of them. And in each of these buildings there is at least one toilet and probably a water storage cylinder or overhead tank, and these hold a gallon or two between them. Let’s assume a standard toilet holds one gallon (OK, 4 litres in metric). Let’s also assume a storage tank holds ten gallons – they probably hold more. And let’s ignore hot water systems and radiators… but say there is an average of 11 gallons per household in the UK.

So how many households are there that are storing up this valuable resource? In 2005 there were 25.5 million homes.. there are more now. We can probably assume the same number of offices and other businesses, if not more – and how many of those have more than one toilet do you think? Then there’s schools, colleges, universities and other buildings like museums, swimming baths and cinemas, shopping malls and so on – ALL of them with a water supply.

OK – let’s consider there are about 100 million buildings and each has got at least 11 gallons of water sitting in it – many will have more (anyone got two bathrooms at home?) and so this calculation is probably massively under-estimated.
So we are looking at somewhere around 1 billion gallons of water… that’s about 4 billion litres. I reckon that’s a lot.

But wait! We have not included another industry that uses massive amounts of water! Yes, the retail business! How many bottles of water are on the shelves in shops, supermarkets and garages around the country? How many bottles of water are in transit to a shop? I’d guess there’s a fair amount of water sitting doing nothing at all.
So back to the water companies – they harvest the rain, they move it to a reservoir, they don’t add it back to the aquifers and therefore anything that falls on the soil in the natural scheme of things is probably diverted well before it has time to sink into the places where it is needed.

There is a water shortage because we do not allow the water to go where nature has intended, and we divert it to places that are convenient for us – or, quite literally, conveniences for us! Anything else we stick into a bottle and sell over a counter.
Now this is not a new situation – well, apart from the water companies claiming rights over any water that falls out of the sky. In the summer of 1976 we had a drought… weeks and weeks of high pressure weather systems over the UK and the most fabulous sunshine I can remember. And yes, we had to put bathwater on the garden if we wanted to stop the grass getting scorched. And there were other hardships relating to water too – swimming baths were closed, hosepipes banned, only essential services allowed to access the precious supply. Oh – I don’t remember a huge amount of bottled water being sold either… the occasional perrier maybe.

So I suggest the water shortages in this country at the moment are a result of the aggressive behaviour of water companies, the desire for multiple bathrooms in a house, the retail market for bottled water (driven perhaps by the health and fitness industry?), the massive use of water by industry, and not at all to do with natural processes.

Woes abound – the aquifers are empty. Is there any wonder given how the water is diverted , packaged and sold…? It’s about time we took a long hard look at the way the water companies are doing things. I am all in favour of the filtering, cleaning and processing, and I accept they need to make enough money to cover the cost of this, but I don’t accept there is a need to make millions of pounds in profit by telling us there is a shortage when quite simply some of that shortage is down to the way they have got things sewn up!

So what is an alternative solution? Well, how about using dirty bathwater to flush a toilet? Yes, you *can* divert your waste water to a secondary system in your house that collects the used water (which is probably not that dirty really), filters out the scum and then stores it for use in toilets. Have you heard of ‘greywater’?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greywater

What’s the difference between tap water and bottled water? Oh – the advertising? The filters made of natural rock and the taste this gives it? Possibly. Is it water that would otherwise have reached the aquifers? Certainly. Could we do without it and just drink tap water? Absolutely. Will we? I doubt it!

I’d like to return to being able to catch the rain water that falls on my roof, and store it for use in my domestic systems such as toilets. I don’t think there would be any more stored than currently gets stored anyway in the water systems we mostly all enjoy, and there would be no need for water companies to claim ownership!
We could use it in hosepipes too – and if it really did not rain too much, we’d really not have enough to water the garden…

I’d love to find a way forward with this – it seems a vicious circle to me. The water falls, it is caught up and diverted before it can filter through to the bedrock aquifers, it is packaged up as a product and sold to us in various ways… until there isn’t anything in the reservoirs, and then we have a drought – the water companies fear they cannot supply the water to us any more, so we all have to stop using it and instead we have to allow the water companies to get their resources back so they can sell it again, and again.
I think mother nature had a better system, really.

Yes, let’s catch it, and clean it before it goes out to homes as tap water for infants, the elderly and infirm, pregnant mothers, and any other sector of society that needs it, but let’s not try to create a worry about empty aquifers and fears about global warming when quite frankly, more rain and water is falling than we can hope for, and there is enough to go around. I don’t want to see another water company official telling me the drought is a huge problem – it may be a problem for the water company, and of course it is a problem for the way we use water, but a few systematic changes to that (costing some of the precious profit, perhaps) and it could be solved.

Discuss!

Moodle search box

For one reason or another, I’ve been very much involved in setting up Moodle based sites lately. We have a project rolling out eLearning platforms to most Local Authorities in the East of England, and the foundation for these is Moodle 2.1

In the way Moodle is configured a search tool only really exists for courses if you add a list of courses to the front page of the site. It is included as part of that, so I was hunting through the code looking for ways to put the search box in other places.

It turns out to be quite simple. All you have to do is add a new HTML block to the menu bar and type in the following:

<form action="http://www.sitedomainname/search.php" method="get">Search Courses: <input type="text" name="search" size="12" alt="Search Courses" /> <input type="submit" value="go" /></form>

This creates the search box, passes the entered string to the built in Moodle searh scripts and returns the result to the main part of the page.

Very easy, very good to have. Of course, you could also add this to individual pages, courses and whatever, but with a block in the menu you can specify whether it appears only on the front page, or throughout the site. Moodle can’t get much simpler… 🙂

Busy times

Well, it’s been a busy few weeks for me, and when my head is down getting work done I tend not to write very much here.

Most recently I have been to Ahmedabad in India.

Ahmedabad is a city in Gujerat, north of Mumbai by an hour’s plane flight (about the same as London to Glasgow, then). The city is as you might expect any Indian city to be – full of colour, noise, activity and people from all walks of life. The biggest surprise came as I was being driven around – the roads are simply chaotic to anyone who is not from there! Cars, tuk-tuks, lorries, motorbikes, pedestrians, cattle, dogs all intermingle in a seemingly disordered way, with people simply driving where they want and in many cases heading the wrong way on the carriageway! Roundabouts seem optional.

However, whilst this felt amazingly dangerous, I didn’t see one mishap – not even a slight nudge. The rule seems to be if you get to the give way line first, you don’t give way. If you approach alongside a vehicle, sound your horn to get them to move left. In fact, sound it repeatedly. Eventually, they will move left, (and in doing so only just miss taking out a motorcyclist). Amazing!

My over riding memory is of a town with people who are helpful, friendly and dead keen to talk to you…

From the middle of Gujerat I returned to Heathrow and found instant order on the roads, calmness, orderly queues and absolutely no-one to talk to despite there being easily as many people around!

So what about the quality of the work the team are doing for us? Actually, I am sure it is as good as any done in the UK. There may be one or two things to fix – but all software has bugs when it is written – there may be some issues relating to scalability (in time we will see)… but no matter what we find I know that the team will fix it quickly, simply and without fuss… that’s the work ethic they have got over there. They are all keen to get things working correctly, and with the minimum amount of time spent doing it.

What we have done is manage the process with weekly Skype calls, visits to India, careful documentation, clear wire framing and being as unambiguous as we can be… then raising issues clearly and politely as we find them. If you can find a way to do those things then I’d heartily recommend outsourced work.

In the mean time, back in the UK the project which is using this revised software continues apace – lots of work with end users, training sessions, documentation, testing, more meetings, more demonstrations and more training. It’s full on (but I wouldn’t change it)!

Country Ways, Devon holidays

I had to write a little bit about the place I’ve been staying in just outside Great Torrington in Devon, called ‘Country Ways’ .

I arranged a very last minute trip to the west country to try to find a relaxing space to do some thinking and a bit of work. The Country Ways web site came up with a late availability, and I thought it looked good. I was not mistaken – this is a collection of small cottage buildings within a farm that offer the visitor a really good standard of accommodation. The units are all converted out buildings, by the look of them, and inside they are very well appointed. My residence for the last few days has been the ‘Dray’ – big enough for two people, with one double bed a bathroom (en-suite) and a modest but very comfortable living area complete with kitchen.

The ‘resort’ (if you can call it that) also has a laundry facility, a gym, pool room (the table based game, not a swimming variety!) and a whole load of open space, swings and walkways, etc.

Located between Dartmoor and Exmoor, south of Barnstaple, it is ideally located for North Devon walking and trips to some of the best coastal resorts, such as Westward Ho! and Bude, amongst many others.

The units are self catering, so bring food! There is no supermarket nearby – the closest being in Torrington which is around 8 miles away. There is no nearby petrol station either – again, you go into Torrington. This suits me, but if you are hoping for all the mod cons of living in the London area, or any urban area for that matter, you’ll be left wanting! This is Devon, and life is different here!

Just to add, last night I was able to see more stars in the night sky than I can remember ever seeing – a truly awesome sight – no light pollution, just the outer spiralling arm of our galaxy. Wow….