Sunday, December 10, 2017

Snow on a Sunday

Photo: Mrs. Commuter

Here's something not seen in these parts for a long time. I've been trawling the archives and it was seven years ago that I last saw fit to write about snowfall here in beautiful Ruislip. That was the horrible winter of 2010, which began with a cold snap in the last week of November and seemed to go on right through Christmas. The worst day was Saturday 18th December when we had about six inches in a very short time and there were the amazing pictures of aircraft stuck at Heathrow unable to move or even to allow their stranded passengers to debark.

This morning we awoke to about an inch of the white stuff and with a forecast of more to come all day. As you can see, it looks pretty in our back garden but is not particularly serious. We seem to be at the edge of the storm - a family member just a few miles north of here reports four inches - but there are reports of very bad conditions in the Midlands.

And for our regular readers [Do me a favour! Ed] here is this morning's status update for the Tube. Guess what? All the exposed lines in North and West London are snookered. Ah, happy days. I wonder what tomorrow's rush hour will be like?

Saturday, December 09, 2017

The Sheer Nastiness of the Brexiteers

A chance remark by one-time leader of the Conservative Party, Iain Duncan Smith, irritated me enormously this afternoon. Speaking after the first substantive deal in the long process to extricate the UK from membership of the EU, he said "They blinked first".

This innocuous comment has a huge undertone. For Smith and his ilk, the EU is something to be beaten, to get one over on, to face down and defeat. They reason that if it's good for the EU it must be bad for Britain.  Like the economists of the late 19c, convinced that no further significant technical progress in anything was likely, they see everything as entirely static - if one country is to do better, it can only do so because someone else is doing worse.

I wonder if when Smith, say, takes his car in for a service and is quoted a flat fee, does he rub his hands with glee afterwards and think "I certainly put one over on that garage mechanic, I would happily have paid £5 more" whilst the mechanic thinks "Wow what a  mug, I charged him £3 more than Juggins down the road would have done?". Or could it be that Smith is happy for someone who knows what they are doing to fix his car and the person doing the fixing is happy to be paid for it. In other words, that both parties emerge better off from the trade?

 Britain needs a strong and peaceful Europe and they need us. We should be working closely together towards a common end - the maintenance of societies which live under law, at peace with their neighbours and creating a sustainable prosperity (although I am increasingly doubtful if this latter can be achieved given our current technologies and the increasing despoliation of the biosphere).  The  "all foreigners are only out to get us and deserve a good kicking" attitudes of some in positions of power, given what we need to achieve through the negotiations, is like someone storming out of a tennis club that they have been a member of for many years, saying how stupid and ghastly all the other members are, and then demanding the right to play on the courts anyway but without paying for them. It ain't gonna work, Iain.

Friday, December 08, 2017

A Bit of a Conundrum

The digital currency Bitcoin made headlines this week as its price soared to some $17,000, having started the year at $1,000. Fine if you own a few, baffling for those who do not. It has some real value for making micro-payments - those payments that are so small that the normal channels are far too costly to use. For example, if I bought a book from someone in France who was not a commercial seller, the price might be €3 but it would cost at least €30 to make a bank payment and there is no alternative other than mailing the cash and hoping the postman won't spot it. A payment by Bitcoin would cost nothing extra.

As the number of times I make such payments is very small (the last time was having to reimburse a French hospital a few years ago when I fell suddenly and briefly ill on holiday, but it wasn't worth claiming on insurance) I have no use for Bitcoin but continue to be baffled by why anybody would buy into it at the current price. It has no legitimate backing whatsoever, there is no protection from fraud, nothing to stop the mysterious and anonymous inventor from making a change that instantly devalues the currency and above all, it is not legal tender anywhere. It cannot be used to pay debts unless the other party agrees, whereas a legal currency must be accepted. So the only way to unload your stash is to find someone else who will take them. The moment all potential buyers shrink back, if only for a few hours of trading, the value could plummet towards zero.

Plenty of sober voices have warned of the perils of speculating in such a weakly bound commodity. History is rife with examples of people rushing in to buy objects of no discernable value with the certainty that, come what may, they will be able to sell out and make a profit. From the tulip mania in 17c Holland to the South Sea Bubble of 1720, from the Railway Mania in the 1840s to the Wall Street Crash and onto the Dotcom boom, "investors" in such cases always fail to grasp that what they are buying is only valuable as long as others are also buying and there is nothing whatsoever that says this will continue to be the case. And equally "analysts" are always drawing graphs that show lines going upwards and therefore projecting that they must continue to go upwards.

Bitcoin may founder or it may flourish - it is a great boon to criminals who can make anonymous payments with it - but what is certain is that a lot of people will get their fingers burned, and when they sit around on street corners, with a few miserable coins in a hat and placards reading "Victim of Bitcoin hype", the rest of us will stroll on, wry smiles playing about our lips.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Spot the Difference

I was very excited to receive a letter from my good friends at Barclaycard this morning. Had I won two tickets to the annual dinner and dance? Alas, no, it was yet another missive about how they are creating a "ring-fenced" bank, simultaneously telling me how important it is and that it will make not a jot of difference to my day-to-day banking experience. Included was another yawn-inducing notification:
We're making important changes to your minimum monthly payments
I glanced over the next paragraph, as one does whilst readying the left hand to scrunch the whole thing up prior to filing it in the recycling bag but my attention was arrested by the following:
See below to get an idea of how these changes affect your account
If your standard balance was £100.00 your minimum payment would've been £5.00. Based on the new calculation and the below assumptions the minimum payment for this balance would be £5.00
Clearly I am missing something here. The important changes, so vitally important that they bothered to put "would've" instead of "would have" (nice saving of an entire printed character there, give yourselves another £1m bonus all round, boys), are going to increase my minimum payment (assuming I only spent a measly £100 in a month, which quite frankly is hardly going to keep Mrs. Commuter in the style she aspires to) by a whopping 0.00%, correct to 2 sig.fig. Or, to put it another way, the important changes are not going to make any difference at all. Why couldn't (sorry, could not) they have said that? Or could not someone have had the basic sense to realise that, because there is a minimum repayment of £5,  the change (which is an increase from 2.0% to 2.25%)  only affect people whose balance is  in excess of £222.22. You see how I did that? £5 / 0.0225. An easy job for my desktop calculator.

My piece is now written, the letter is on its way to its rendezvous with a landfill site but before I lay down my pen I should note that another business communication reached me this morning. I changed car insurers recently; the jilted party has now written a sad little note asking me why I no longer love them and please would I get in touch, they promise to be nicer this time, honest. What a waste of money - I called them a month ago and told them I was going. They'll have to do a lot better if they want to win me back - a nice big box of chocs will do for a start.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Dr Commuter Advises... the England Cricket Team

Source: BBC Website

Thank you for your enquiry Jonathan. I assume it is a question although it does appear in the form of a categorical statement in the rendering reproduced above. The Ashes is, as many of us know, a series of cricket matches played between teams representing England and Australia. The side that wins the most in any one series is declared the winner of the "The Ashes" and goes on to spray large quantities of sparkling wines over one another.

In my opinion the England team can certainly win the Ashes. What they must do is to score more runs than their opposition and to take more wickets. In this way they will have a larger score of runs at the end of each game and if they take all of the wickets as well then they will be adjudged the winners and may commence to spray sparkling wine, albeit not in the same liberal quantities as they are permitted to use should they win the entire series.They will win the entire series if they manage to follow this prescription in sufficient games.

If you have any questions for Dr. Commuter,  do contact us at the usual address.