14/01/2019

Raw Recruits - 47 years on

I've just got round to watching Channel 5's Raw Recruits and realised its nearly 47 years since I started that journey as a 15-year-old and it brought back some fond and not so fond memories, and made me think about what's changed.

This isn't going to be an old man moaning about how good it was in my day, quite the reverse I think they've got quite a lot right and I was impressed with the attitudes we've seen so far. A few minor things first:

I was surprised when they went in to a lecture theatre to be sworn in, we did that at the recruiting office. I suppose those are few and far between now.

I really felt for the lass who had to leave because of shin splints. Again, we had medicals before we joined. It wouldn't have picked up the sprained ankle if it happened after the medical, but certainly the shin splints would have been from what she said. And what were her parents thinking if the first thing they said was she had to get a job rather than offering sympathy. No wonder she joined in the first place, I wish her well.

Talking of parents, what's with the father putting so much emotional pressure on his daughter? Its hard enough doing anything at that age without your parents using emotional blackmail if they don't like it. If you can't support your children, at least stay neutral.

Its nice that they have some privacy in their barrack rooms. The old 8-man oblong's we had were dreadful. There was nowhere to have a few moments and collect your thoughts.

The discipline issues are still the same - locker inspections, kit inspections, bed times, lights out - all good character building stuff.

The one big thing the army has got right is making them become soldiers before they start their trade training. I joined as potential technician and we went straight in to the classroom and then we did a week's military training every half term for 3 years, which amounted to around 18 weeks, plus the odd weekend stuff. By making them do all their military training first it reinforces the idea that they are soldiers first, tradesman second. That wasn't taken seriously enough in my time in training and throughout my career and I admit to a few lapses myself, until I got attached to the Royal Marines for the Falklands War.

Its hard to judge from such a brief insight, but I think the staff got the line between being big brother/sister and army command about right. If you've selected these kids because they have potential then its worth investing in them and bringing them along a journey. Shouting, screaming and generally making life miserable just for the sheer hell of it makes no sense. That isn't to say standards or expectations should be dropped, just that encouragement has to play an equal role.

One final point - I think I did my 1-off army swimming test about 30 times in my 18 years service :)

Looking forward to the rest of the series.


The ellusive search for mobile data killer apps goes on ...

There's a piece in this week's Economist about smart phones in which they say:
There is as yet no obvious “killer app” for 5g devices .. (paywalled)  
I was involved in bidding for one of the first 3G network licences in the mid '90s  and subsequently quite a few more. The Korean government had decided it wanted 3G networks for the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

Mobile data was going to be one of the big drivers of 3G networks and they needed a "killer app" because the Mobile Network Operators were sceptical and were still paying down huge loans to build 2G networks. Most of them would have been happy with more 2G spectrum.

In all the 3G projects I did we had a gaggle of serious management consultants looking at the problem of revenue streams from data. There was lots of talk about killer apps such as video calling, mobile health, cameras an ambulances, linking vending machines etc. For all that brain power none of them figured out it would be the Internet and people would use it in different ways, but even if they had it would have been a hard sell.

The same is going on with 5G. I have a very good friend who is quite senior in one of the mobile operator's strategy teams. We had a boys weekend last week and he says the same thing, they don't need a killer app, they need more spectrum and more efficient technology for using it.

Still, I suppose all those expensive management consultants need to justify their rates and talking of killer apps sounds sexy when you're pitching to Chairman and briefing journalists.

We lost that bid, but while we were doing it our lead technologist figured out the the CDMA radio would "breathe" and that cells would be smaller as loads increased.  We designed the network based on a 70% load which meant more cell sites. Our client wasn't happy when they found out that other bidders had used the larger unloaded cell size and so had few sites and lower Capex, which may have contributed to them losing.

A few years later we were engaged by one of the winners because they were getting all sorts of quality problems and the regulator was threatening to fine them. It turned out that as demand increased data rates at the edge decreased significantly, as predicted. The only solution was to build more sites but now they would have to build far more than they would if they'd started with a smaller cell size and it was going to cost a lot more that we'd planned for our network.

10/01/2019

The lessons that won't be learned from Saudi Arabia's new oil reserve figures

I should say before I start that I'm not an oil expert or economist, this is all basic stuff I've picked up in the past 10 years or so reading blogs by economists and oil industry engineers and books. I'm more than happy to have any misunderstandings corrected.

This isn't making major headline news but it provides some useful lessons:
Dubai (CNN Business)Saudi Arabia has opened up its vast energy reserves to independent auditors for the first time, a move that could help it revive plans to sell shares in state oil giant Aramco.
The government of Saudi Arabia said in a statement Wednesday that US energy consultancy DeGolyer & MacNaughton had concluded that its oil reserves total 268.5 billion barrels.
The estimate is slightly higher than the 266.3 billion barrel figure previously published by the Saudi government.
    Allowing an independent company to assess its reserves represents a major shift for Saudi Arabia, which has for decades closely guarded data about its oil and gas industry.
    What does that mean? As someone posted on Twitter:




    A bit of history and because there was no Internet then we'll have to rely on my memory. In the '70s there was much talk about peak oil and that the world would run out in that favourite period of forecasters, 30 years. Yet here we are, nearly 50 years later predicting another 69 years, how could they have been so wrong, especially when you consider the world is so much richer and using even more oil than forecast?

    The first thing to understand is what reserves mean. Those reserve forecasts are based on an oil price of $50 per barrel (pb), there's plenty of more oil that is known about, its just it can't be extracted profitably at $50 pb. If the price rose the reserves would increase. The oil is known about that can't be profitably extracted at a given price is referred to as a resource.

    Even in the '70s when oil prices were high, there were still resources but these were discounted. And here's the big mistake that those forecasters didn't take in to account: human ingenuity.

    Driven by competitions and a search for profits, as well as security concerns about all the oil being in the Middle East, humans set about what they've done since we came out of the trees - we started to look at ways to make live easier and cheaper (cheaper in this context doesn't just mean $ it means effort). So they worked on ways to make the existing processes cheaper, which is the flip side of prices rising. So that brought some resources in to play.

    The biggest driver has been new technology, which played two parts and here I'm a bit ignorant on the details, but these include technologies that allowed drilling round corners and long distances, extracting more from known wells, being able to operate in more inhospitable places, improving geological surveys for locating oil. All of these have both reduced costs and known resources. It doesn't matter what they were, the point is that throughout history we have used technology and human ingenuity to solve problems. As one TED talkj put it: we've done more with less for more (people).

    As I mentioned on twitter, when people talked about peak oil it would be pointed out, flippantly, that the stone age didn't end because we ran out of stone, we just found better technologies.

    So, the lesson that won't be learned is that no matter what the resource, in a market based system humans will always strive to extract it cheaper and find more of it using technology, or if they can't they'll find a substitute technology. Just remember that when you're hearing the latest scare story from someone is forecasting the end of resources, the world as we know it isn't coming to an end.

    Some post scripts:

    If you were wondering why $50 pb is used for those calculations, its because that's roughly the current cost of extracting oil using fracking, another technology advance. Its reasonable to expect that cost to come down.

    When my son was about 8 in the mid '90s we heard him crying not long after his story and he'd settled down in bed. When I went up to see him he said something like "its all right for you, you'll be dead when the earth stops spinning". It turned out that the book he'd been looking at was from the '70s had had said that oil powered the earth and that it would run out in, guess what? 30 years. He assumed the world would stop spinning.

    With reference to technology advances I started out working on radios that were driven by valve technology. Even for short term comms the radios were large, heave and power hungry. I've seen the introduction of 2G, 3G and 4G networks and did a little bit of work on the impact of 5G networks before I retired. Its not just the size of the equipment and increase in computing power that's improved but also what is referred to as spectral efficiency. That is, that amount of voice and data we can transmit using the same amount of spectrum has increased by orders of magnitude, spectrum being a scarce resource we are incentivised to improve its usage.





    30/12/2018

    Setting high expectations of disadvantaged children in education

    In the early days of blogging there was a blog called To Miss With Love. It was by a teacher in an inner city school who obviously loved her pupils, but also believed that just because they were disadvantaged there was no reason why they shouldn't succeed in school. She had high expectations and standards and, from her own telling, was quite successful. Here stories were great reading and she was widely admired, but not by the hard left.

    In modern parlance she was doxxed, she was publicly named (Katharine Birbalsingh), and she also made a speech to the Conservative Party conference in which she said the education system was broken:



    She disappeared after that and  who can blame her. As she says on her new blog:
    Before 2010 I was a normal teacher/head of department/assistant head/deputy head, just like anyone else. Then I gave a speech at the Conservative Party Conference which caused a bit of a storm. Now a lot of people hate me.
    It isn’t easy being hated. But any amount of hatred is worth tolerating in order to have our extraordinary school Michaela with our dedicated staff and delightful children
    You're probably wondering where this is going, bear with me, its an inspirational story.

    In August I was listening to a Dave Rubin podcast when he announced his next guest would be Katharine Birbalsingh, a teacher from London. My ears pricked up as I  recognised the name:



    You can find the podcast on your favourite site if you don't want to sit and watch. It really is worth an hour of your time to either watch or listen.

    She still the same inspiring leader with high expectations and now runs a Free school:
    We aim high at Michaela Community School and expect high standards of behaviour and academic effort and achievement from all of our pupils.
    I've been following her blog but not on twitter since then and recently this popped up on my Twitter feed:




    I've only been active on Twitter for a while and my comment was the biggest reaction I've received and I was rather pleased as I had expected it to be a rather controversial opinion.

    I'd like to claim it as original thought, but I don't think I'd get away with that from people who know me :) I heard it when listening to a podcast series about someone who is just as remarkable and driven as Katharine:

    Eva Moskowitz wants to fix a really big problem. There are over a million kids in New York City’s public schools. Most can’t read or do math at grade level. Many won’t graduate on time. And it’s largely poor, black and brown kids who are stuck in the lowest performing schools. Eva’s the founder and CEO of Success Academy, the subject of this season of StartUp. And she’s actually making progress. 

    Her school network is growing at lightning speed, and her students get among the highest standardized-test scores in the city, beating out schools in some of the wealthiest districts. And the education world is watching. But not everyone likes what they see. In this season, we ask how exactly Success is doing what it’s doing, and why does it have so many critics?

    Today, on the first of our six-part series about Success, we meet a mother, Sherisse, who desperately wants her son to get into Success, so that he can have opportunities she never had herself. And we go inside a Success classroom on the first day of school, to see what parents like Sherisse are clamoring for.
    Its during one of the episodes when Success is criticised for concentrating on passing the State exams when the point about being at the bottom and needing passes is made. It immediately it home as something I've grappled with when defending "teaching to the exam".

    Katharine and Eva have one thing in common, a belief that you shouldn't lower standards and expectations just because pupils are from disadvantaged backgrounds and its a lesson that for some reason seems to be resisted in many quarters. They are both strong willed and have had to fight education orthodoxy to make their point.

    Their success is measured by how well their pupils do and the down side of failing is not just their own failure but they could fail a generation of children It takes a lot of moral courage to put yourself in that position, far easier to be a sheep and follow the herd, even if it means letting down pupils.

    From what I see they've been a great success and we need more of them. I commend them both and all those like them.


    29/12/2018

    Honours for sports men and women

    A Twitter spat popped up on my time line that reminded of my irritation at sports men and women getting honours for no real reason, other than allowing politicians to revel in the reflected glory:




    I'm sure Harry and the others brought joy to many people, I know I've enjoyed Alistair Cooke's magnificent career, and I may have missed something they've all achieved outside their chosen sports, but I expect honours to be given for something beyond what they do for a living. The classic case is Sir Ian Botham, there's no doubt he was a great cricketer and he brought joy to 1000's of cricket fans and few won't be aware of his famous Headingly innings, but that wasn't why he was knighted:
     Botham has made effective use of the fame given to him by the publicity because he is actively concerned about leukaemia in children and has undertaken several long distance walks to raise money for research into the disease. These efforts have been highly successful and have realised millions of pounds for Bloodwise, of which he became president. In recognition of his services to charity, he was awarded a knighthood in the 2007 New Years Honours List.
    Lots of sports men and women have done great things and not been recognised, Boycott's 100 first class centuries was quite an achievement, as was Jason Leonard's 114 caps for England but they weren't recognised with honours. Its not the fault of those awarded with honours and I really don't wish them any malice or blame them for accepting, but it is going too far.

    I'm not sure when this trend of giving honours for sporting achievement started, but I suspect Blair or Cameron was behind because its the sort of shallow PR stunts they would pull, but I'd like to see it stopped. Great sportsman have usually got there because they've been quite selfish, in the case of Olympians often at the tax payer's expense. It should be made clear that they will only receive honours if they do something more than just make people smile or even cheer once in a while.

    Of course it goes without saying that civil servants should be getting them automatically, but that's a different story.






    Whatever the crime, rough sleeping isn't the punishment.

    Update: Because of abuse Simon has pulled the appeal and is refunding everyone. 

    It's become axiomatic that whenever Channel 4 or the Guardian run a tear jerk story to make the evil Tories look, er .... evil, there will be something in the back story that makes the subject not as sympathy evoking as claimed. It's doubly so when it involves rough sleepers, as most of them will have a mental health issue that has led to drugs and/or alcohol abuse and a trail of victims.

    Just before Christmas C4 ran a story about Steve Rowe, a veteran who was forced to live on the street. Predictably it quickly attracted attention and sympathy on social media. The veteran community was rightly incensed that a former veteran was living on the street and a gofundme appeal was launched by veteran Simon Hammerschmidt (@sjhhammerschimdt) raining £2100 very quickly There were some other gofundme appeals for Steve as well.

    It came as no surprise to me when the story started unravelling and it turned out that Steve not only had mental health and alcohol problems, but he was on the sex offenders register. Simon's response was to write to all of us who'd donated, giving us a chance to withdraw our donations with those that weren't withdrawn being donated to charities for rough sleepers. You can see Simon's message below or on his Twitter feed.

    Simon and those like him should be proud of what they did, nobody should be left on the streets, no matter what their crime, unless Parliament legislates that rough sleeping is a legitimate punishment, and we can be sure that won't happen.  Those who should be ashamed are the likes of C4 who didn't do their due diligence and be honest with their story* and those, like Jeremy Corbyn, who tried to make political capital out of the situation as they should no better.

    I don't know how much was withdrawn, but I left mine in because rough sleepers are really hard to deal with. Their mental health problems mean that they often can't be let in to shelters because of the risk to others and the same goes for housing them. Many reject offers preferring to stay on the street. Short of sectioning them and locking them up there is very little that can be done so those who do try need all the support they can get.

    We are all reluctant to give rough sleepers money when we see them because we think they'll just blow it on alcohol or drugs. I don't do it as often as I should, but my preferred way of helping is to buy them something like a Tesco's meal deal.

    *I'm giving them the benefit of doubt that they didn't do it on purpose for political reasons




    26/12/2018

    A rant: Rural and small town plebs are not the problem

    (I've no idea with what's going on with some of the formatting showing "strike" on some links, apologies those links should still work)

    A rant. Two recent articles I've read some up all that is wrong with the metropolitan elite who blame rural and small town plebs for all their problems ie Brexit, Trump and the general rise in "populism", where populism is defined as having views and opinions that differ from the metropolitan elite.

    In the first the Economist's Charlemagne correspondent writes:

    Christmas, when Europeans argue with their familes about Europe

    An annual clash between Europe’s anywheres and somewheres
    Every Christmas Stephan Beneke, a 36-year-old accountant for a global shipping firm, packs up his car in Hamburg and drives his young family back to the sleepy one-church village in Germany’s former east where he grew up. “I left Gieseritz at 18 to go to university. I couldn’t get out fast enough,” he recalls. Today he works with clients from all over Europe. Half of the pupils at his children’s pre-school are non-German. “Hamburg is a real harbour city. It’s very open,” he says. Returning to the village at Christmas, he is struck by the contrast. Those who remain tend to be older and less educated. Many work on surrounding farms. “Most people were born there. They say they don’t like Europe, don’t feel European and don’t see Europe.”
    You get the gist, all the smart people live in cities and everyone else is a thick populist and probably racist because they think a political union in Europe is wrong.

    The second is about how an award winning Der Spiegel journalist spent time in a small town in the USA and then characterised them as being hicks who voted for Trump:

    Der Spiegel journalist messed with the wrong small town






    In February 2017, my husband and I attended a concert at our local theater, and were sipping some wine in the lobby before the show started. Several people came up to us at separate times excitedly, and asked, “did you meet the German guy yet?!”
    I hadn’t, but my spider senses perked up when I heard that he worked for Der Spiegel, a magazine based in Hamburg, and that he was writing about the state of rural America in the wake of Trump’s presidency.
    I know I’m not the only rural advocate and citizen that is wary about the anthropological gaze on rural America in the wake of the 2016 elections, and has struggled with how or whether to respond to the sudden attention and questions, when before we really didn’t matter to mass media at all.
     ...
    Relotius has received accolades for his daring quest to live among us for several weeks. And yet, he reported on very little actual truth about Fergus Falls life. In 7,300 words he really only got our town’s population and average annual temperature correct, and a few other basic things, like the names of businesses and public figures, things that a child could figure out in a Google search. The rest is uninhibited fiction (even as sloppy as citing an incorrect figure of citywide 70.4% electoral support for Trump, when the actual number was 62.6%), which begs the question of why Der Spiegel even invested in Relotius’ three week trip to the U.S., whether they should demand their money back from him, and what kind of institutional breakdown led to the supposedly world-class Der Spiegel fact-checking team completely dropping the ball on this one.There are so many lies here, that my friend Jake and I had to narrow them down to top 11 most absurd lies (we couldn’t do just 10) for the purpose of this article. We’ve been working on it since the article came out in spring of 2017, but had to set it aside to attend to our lives (raising a family, managing a nonprofit organization, etc.) before coming back to it this fall, and finally wrapped things up a few weeks ago, just in time to hear today that Relotius was fired when he was exposed for fabricating many of his articles.
    This is a theme we've seen here in the UK since well before Brexit, but which has been emphasised since: if only we trusted the metropolitan elite and young folk rainbows would shine and unicorns would gambol. For me this smug metropolitan elitism was summed up by Gordon Brown's infamous "bigoted woman" response to legitimate questions from Gillian Duffy, which I commented on here.
    Wary of anecdotes and sample of one this got me thinking about my own situation and those who live around me in this rural backwater.

    I met Mrs BiND while she was teaching in forces schools in Germany. I've travelled widely, working with most of the big management and accounting consultancies and always with local people. Our social group that meets in the pub regularly includes a retired Dutch diplomat and his English born wife, a couple who ran a building company in London, a couple who've moved down from Bristol, she's a highly qualified tax accountant and still practices. We've just had a meal with a couple who are both ex-RAF, she's just retired from working in the civil service in London. Just recently two couples have moved in to the area, all four are vets and one of our neighbours is also a vet and her partner is a senior manager in an electronics company who travels internationally. We've just said farewell to a retired architect who'd practiced in London and his widow was the food editor for a woman's magazine. I could go on about the people I play bridge and golf with or those who I volunteer with at Sailability.

    Yeah, we're all country hicks down here.





    18/12/2018

    Standards at work, we can't always blame the young

    The boat's out of the water for its annual maintenance and anti-foul. I got a call from the marina last week asking if they could have the combination for the lock that chained the ladders and work platform to the cradle as they needed to move the boat. No problem.

    When I got down there on Sunday morning I found the boat but not the ladders or mains extension cables. When I eventually found them they just been abandoned with the lock and chain just lying on the floor. The mains extension cable was till plugged in at the business end. To say I was annoyed is an understatement and I had a good moan about it to the duty marina manager, although fat lot of good it will do.

    Chatting to a friend who happened to be down there he pointed out that they'd replaced all the experienced staff with you kids. He had a point and its probably not fair to blame the kids if nobody's supervising them and telling them what to do.

    A lot of years ago we had an extension built and used a builder who came highly recommended by friends. He was in his mid to late 50's and a really nice guy who we got on well with just talking to him about the job.

    When the work started he had two apprentices who did most of the heavy lifting, but he was training them and teaching the skills needed to be a competent builder. At the end of every day he wouldn't let them leave until all the tools had been cleaned, work areas tidied and materials put away safely and protected from the elements.

    That is what apprenticeships were all about, its not just the skills but building a work ethos and that's why he was well recommended and had more work then he could deal with.

    In most jobs we are our own salesman and if you can't demonstrate that ethos of conscientious work you don't just get on.

    Its no use complaining about young people if there's nobody around to teach them the basics and make them do it.

    15/12/2018

    Women with Balls: Liz Truss

    I was listening to Liz Truss on the Spectator's Women with Balls podcast while I was in the gym the other day. I first took an interest in her when she appeared on the Cato Daily podcast explaining Brexit. Anyone who is happy to appear on Cato  has to be a supporter of individual freedoms gets my vote.

    It was good to listen to a modern politician talk about individual freedoms and letting people get on with their lives and she sounded genuine on that score. She also sounded very positive on Brexit, even though she voted Remain, and didn't hide behind the result using weasel words to justify her change of heart.

    Today she made a positive  tweet in support of free markets and the individual, although I suspect the Sisterhood will be hopping mad (which in itself is a good thing :) ):




    She starting to look like one of the next generation Tories and one to watch with a keen interest I've started following her on Twitter. May winning the confidence vote might give Liz a chance to make more of an impact and Lord knows, we need some political leaders who will treat us like adults.

    When the Tory leadership election comes lets hope some of the competent younger generation like her get a look in because the old guard are so stale.



    11/12/2018

    What happens if we do remain or May's deal is bounced through?

    As the Chinese are probably observing, we live in interesting times.

    Remainers don't appear to have thought through what will happen to politics if A50 is revoked and we end up remaining in the EU or somehow May's deal is accepted. I don't think it will be yellow jacket time but there will be a very English revolution and a major shift in the political tectonic plates. Even if 20% of Leave voters change their mind that's still ~14m leave voters, many of whom will have hardened their stance.

    In 2015 UKIP received 12% (nearly 4m) of the GE vote despite Cameron spiking their guns with the promise of an In/Out referendum. Those Leave voters aren't suddenly going to become Remainers and lovers of the EU and the EU isn't going to slow Ever Closer Union, if anything it will be enhanced as the Brussels bureaucracy and the ECJ make more power grabs in the ongoing political confusion. The Eurozone and eastern blocks will continue to be a major drain on the Commission's bandwidth.

    The EU has been tearing the Conservative Party apart since the '90s and was a thorn earlier. UKIP might be in disarray now and probably can't be rescued, so we can expect another anti EU party to form, its success depending on what happens in the Conservative Party civil war that is looming. My guess is that Leavers will gain the upper hand in some sort of palace coup, but they'll be ineffective and provide their own version of the famous Monty Python People's Judean Party sketch, we've already seen the first draft. Medium term there's a lot of pragmatic young talent who I expect will become reluctant Leavers once they've overthrown the old guard, unless their's a major EU reform and an end to political union.

    UKIP was ripping the heart out of Labour in its heartlands in the North and I expect Labour to continue its slide in to becoming the party of the smug metropolitan elite as the working class leave it in droves, either by just abstaining or moving to either UKIP or UKIP 2. I'm, not convinced that the Tories could persuade them to vote Conservative in any significant numbers even if the Leavers take over, tribal loyalties run deep and that's a hard line to cross.  The Labour party will split but its hard to see Momentum losing its lock in the short to medium term. Although most unions will be pissed off that they've been bounced in to Remaining they'll continue funding it. After a couple of years Momentum will start to fragment as they realise that being in the EU and the politics of Corbyn and McDonnell are in effect mutually exclusive and they'll descend in to their own version of the Monty Python Sketch.

    The LibDem's will continue to find out that despite all the noise there really isn't a place for a pro EU party in national politics and they'll continue to search for relevance and a competent leader.

    The SNP will glory in at all the political chaos bend with whichever wind blows in the direction of independence. We can certainly expect calls for another independence referendum.

    NI is going to be interesting. As the rest of the UK grows more socially liberal they'll find it harder to be socially conservative and still be able to claim special status and fight for no hard border either on the island or in the Irish sea.

    The big problem for the current political parties, especially the pro EU element is single member constituencies and FPTP voting. Expect a rise in calls for major changes to some form of PR.

    Expect the interesting times to continue, whatever happens.