Standing room only?

By the year 2060, according to a survey published yesterday, the population of Britain will have risen by 25%, to 77 million. Britain’s area is 93,000 square miles, according to the Downing Street website, which yields 837 people per square mile – and bear in mind that much of Britain is unsuitable for building upon, not to mention the fact that a great deal of it is also productive farmland. And around 85% of the population live in England.

Compare that with France which, by the same year, will have a population of 72 million, but with 210,000 square miles at their disposal (though the same caveat applies), they will have a mere 343 people per square mile. I know where I’d sooner live (though by then I’ll be long gone).

Why is no-one apparently concerned about this massive UK population increase – where the hell are all these people going to live for a start? While this increase is happening, the birth rate is projected to fall (though the UK currently has the 4th highest birth rate in the EU), so the bulk of this increase will be fuelled by immigration. The question is, can this country support such a huge influx? I’m not convinced it can.

Housing stock is already under pressure, and as we saw last summer, a great deal of existing housing is built in entirely unsuitable areas, like flood plains, and other areas prone to inundation – and guess what, we’re planning to build even more housing on flood plains and, even more unforgivable to my mind, on valuable farm land. The long-term future for flood-plain housing looks pretty bleak, not to mention moist. It is surely unsustainable. Rivers can be controlled by canalisation, but who wants to see that? Hell, we may as well concrete over the entire country which, I have little doubt, will one day happen. If you doubt that, track down a map of Britain from the 50s – try second-hand book shops – and compare that to a current map – see how much of our countryside we’ve already lost under concrete. It’s not going to get any better.

The transport infrastructure is already failing. Road travel is a dismal, nerve-shredding, and slow, experience, and travel by train is positively purgatorial (don’t even think of taking luggage – modern trains have enough luggage space for perhaps 12 people per carriage!). That won’t get any better either. When I was growing up, you could travel with ease almost anywhere, by bus and train, and in my teens the thought of a car never crossed my mind – there was no need for one. Then some genius thought we could get by without most of our trains (Dr. Beeching), and more recently bus and train transport was deregulated, and the result was, and still is, a shambles in many areas, and some areas have no public transport at all.

Then there’s employment for all these additional people. Unemployment currently stands at around 1.67 million, according to the most recently available figures (June). The forecast population increase amounts to about 14 million – what are they going to do to earn a living? Unemployment will inevitably rise, probably substantially, and every one of these new people who is disabled, and thus claiming disability benefits, will fuel the ire of the witless numpties at the Daily Mail – wait ’til you see the journalistic mendacity that’s rolled out in 40-50 year’s time; their current war of lies and disinformation against disability benefit claimants will look like a church picnic.

On the dark side, how many will be potential, or actual, terrorists, or just “ordinary” criminals, of which we seem to have far too many already, especially from the former Eastern Bloc? And just how much will this play into the hands of the BNP? Which, seriously, isn’t what we need.

I don’t suppose, either, that illegal immigration has been factored into the figures, so maybe we could add another few million – after all, no-one seems to have much idea how severe a problem this is at present, and it’s sure as hell not going to improve.

The result of all this may well be a degree of unrest especially if, as happens now, we have incomers mouthing off about what a terrible place this country is – oddly, though, they never seem to be in a rush to depart these shores they so despise, though they do occasionally get the urge to blow up buses and trains, along with innocent members of the public.

I think, unless this country introduces a far more stringent immigration policy, and effective measures against illegal immigration, and thus reduces the forecast population increase, the future of this country does not look promising. We are a small island with finite space and resources, so why not let the immigrants go to other countries more able to absorb them. France, for example (more room), or Germany (a falling population, and more room). We simply cannot continue to absorb immigrants and refugees at the rate we currently are – we have neither the room nor the resources. Nor, I believe, do we have an unlimited obligation to do so. It really is that simple.

Note: All figures quoted here are from UK government websites.

Interestingly – and almost inevitably – Andrew Anthony says much the same thing in The Observer, 24 hours later, the difference being the Malthusian references and the he gets paid and has researchers to do the grunt work. His figure for the population increase is 16 million – I believe mine is more accurate. Either way, it’s a hell of a lot of people to accommodate. This, I’ve just realised, might look as if I’m sulking. I’m not, I’m actually pleased that I beat a pro to the punch.

Comments of a racist nature will be deleted and passed to the authorities…

I’m 85 you know!!

Tesco have proposed a pensioner-friendly supermarket for Newcastle. If it actually happens, the store would feature extra-wide aisles, anti-slip flooring and trolleys with locking wheels, magnifying glasses and built-in seats.

Think about that for a moment – in Tesco-land, only pensioners merit anti-slip flooring. What about the rest of us, then? I walk with a crutch everywhere except Tesco and Sainsbury’s (I use the trolley for support), because in wet weather the floors, within 20 feet or so of the entrance, are lethally slippery. Surely an environment that depends almost entirely on foot traffic should have anti-slip flooring by law? And am I the only one who finds the idea of magnifying glasses and seats just a tad patronising?

As for locking wheels, anyone dysfunctional enough not to know that a trolley will roll away if you lean on it will surely have problems with the wheel-unlocking mechanism. What’s really needed is a trolley that will go in a straight line without needing the application of brutality. By the way, a recent visit to Tesco shows that they already have trolleys with locking wheels – it’s just a pity they’re not supposed to!

As for extra-wide aisles well, that fails to fill me with confidence. Based on past experience, Tesco’s staff will simply seize the opportunity to fill them with even more crap than they do now, as here.

And finally, why do old people insist on telling you how old they are, repeatedly and loudly, as if just failing to die is some sort of achievement? (And no, I’m not a callow youth, I’m headed for codgerdom myself.)

Email – how fast do YOU reply?

According to Dr Karen Renaud, a lecturer at the University of Glasgow, who has carried out research into how fast people respond to emails (can’t she get a proper job?), and why, those of us who reply promptly to email are either driven (28%) or stressed (34%). To which there is only one appropriate response – bollocks! A not dissimilar article in yesterday’s Guardian recommended turning off your new mail signal as it’s stressful – not a good idea if your boss is trying to contact you!

Anyway, I’m one of those people who replies to emails promptly, and I’m neither driven nor stressed, but I do know several people who only check their mail once a week – these are the people that need looking at! In fact, the research showed that 38% of people were happy to leave their mail for up to a week, which beggars belief – writing a letter to these people would be just as effective.

The whole point of email, like its retarded cousin SMS (sadly, textese is spreading to email – whenever I get one like that it gets deleted unread), is that it’s a medium for rapid communication and, for me, it’s no more than fundamental courtesy to reply promptly. Many people use email as earlier generations used the phone, and you wouldn’t let a phone-call go unanswered, would you?

For me, those who take days to reply (assuming, of course, they have access to their computer), are saying that they don’t really care. When my mail arrives, it’s read immediately (and answered, if it needs a reply), unless I’m doing something I can’t stop, like typing this, in which case it can wait until I get to the end of my train of thought. It never waits for days.

Perhaps what’s really needed is research into why there’s so much utterly pointless research like this. And it really is pointless, as nothing material will result from it at all. Apart, that is, from another entry on Dr. Renaud’s C.V.

Trying to like Opera…

Sadly, there are downsides to Opera, which I’ve been using for a few days (not least its memory usage being almost 25% higher than Firefox 2.x).

You can install a spell-checking plug-in, but it has no option for checking as I type, which is what I prefer. It also turns off that function here, in WordPress which, considering how much time I spend typing here, is a pain in the butt. One reason I have abandoned the blog on my website, in favour of this one, is that there is now no need to fire up Dreamweaver – I just click the tab and type. The way round it, obviously, is to type my posts in Word, then copy and paste them which, indeed, is what I do now with posts I know are likely to run on a bit, say over 1,000 words, so it’s no real hardship, just a bloody nuisance. And the Opera Bookmarks sidebar needs 25% more width to show the same info as FF2 – bummer. It doesn’t get on well with the Guardian’s website either, for some reasons. Page transitions can be painfully slow, and often, especially using the Back button, it hangs (not my end, I’m running XP with 2 gigs of memory, which is more than ample, and an 8Mb connection which is a genuine 6Mb).

There’s another irritation, too. On my blog stats page, in FF, I just hover the cursor over the day, on the graph, to get the figures; with Opera I have to click the bloody thing every time. Why, for pity’s sake?

On the plus side, I now like Speed Dial, having initially disabled it when I first tried Opera a couple of months ago, and I’ve made it my Home page. For those, like me, who couldn’t figure this out (more opacity), there’s a how-to page here. It’s not hard (once you know!), but neither is it obvious! In Opera’s Help pages the Speed Dial page is utterly mute on the subject of making it your Home page. The downside of doing this is that your can’t use the Continue from last time setting.

I’m trying very hard to like Opera, but the more I use it the harder that gets. Take the spell-checking; in FF I just had to install the appropriate British English dictionary add-on, job done. Doing that in Opera meant I first had to install the spell-check app, and then the dictionary which, really, was no problem. What is a problem, for newbies, say, or those of a Luddite persuasion, was that the entire process was needlessly opaque and geeky.

For example, the heading on the spell-check plug-in’s download page, which could usefully have been simply “Install this first” said “Binaries:”. That would mean nothing to very many PC users, and I know from experience that when some people are confronted by the unfamiliar, their first instinct is to back off – the fact that the associated downloadable file was clearly tagged .exe would mean nothing. I can think of maybe a dozen people, off the top of my head, who would have been frightened off, or who wouldn’t have had any idea how to proceed.

OK, you may say that they should be using IE, and you’d probably be right, but that’s not really the point, is it? They’d just be put off, and whatever learning process they were involved in (knowingly or not), would fizzle, and that’s bad news. Do we really want the future of home Internet access to be limited to IE and, worse still, AOL?

You know, this is like FF3 – but nowhere near as extreme, and Opera does actually work! – in that setting it up as you want it should NOT mean rummaging around Google for answers that have been stupidly omitted. Did it not occur to anyone at Opera that Speed Dial makes an extremely useful Home page, and that people might actually want that? Apparently not, and that baffles me.

How long is a piece of string?

According to an article, in the Guardian, on alternative power solutions for cars and other vehicles, this is where that expensive petrol goes:-

27% is converted into forward motion

33% is spent cooling the engine

4% is lost as friction

36% is lost as exhaust heat

That’s 100% There’s a tiny snag, though – it leaves nothing for powering ancillary equipment. Power steering, whether belt-driven or electrically-powered, takes a percentage of the fuel. Electrics are even greedier; every time you turn something on – radio, lights, wipers, screen heater, ventilation fan, the load on the alternator increases, and so does your fuel consumption (the only freebie is the heater, which takes hot water from the engine). Actually, the load on the alternator saps engine power, which means you tread a little harder on the loud pedal to compensate – result, increased fuel consumption. Dare to turn on your aircon, and your fuel consumption soars. I once had a Ford Ka (terribly under-powered), and using the aircon jacked up the fuel consumption to – are you ready for this? – 12 mpg! It would have been cheaper to run a Cadillac!

So, those Guardian figures, depressing though they are, are hopelessly wrong and incomplete, conspicuously so, too – don’t they have sub-editors these days?

By the way, if you ever wonder why I write this sort of stuff here (apart from because I can), I have had a lot of letters published in the Guardian, and they invariably edit them – badly (I do keep them brief and to the point). One day, annoyed by this, I submitted a letter that they couldn’t possibly edit, at a mere three lines and not a superfluous word. The bastards cut it by about a third! Of course, what was left was utterly meaningless, so they added an explanatory note of their own which took up more space than my original to say exactly the same thing. I asked for an explanation, and what I got back was so rambling and meaningless I binned it so, except on very rare occasions now, I don’t bother.

I accept the need for editing letters that ramble on for hundreds of words (though the Guardian has its favourites who are allowed to ramble uncut, which pisses me off even more), but cutting a letter in which the word count barely makes double figures borders on obsession.

I, of course, recognise the peerless quality of my golden prose, and would never dream of cutting it! (Er, that’s a joke, by the way; I do edit what I write here, rigorously.)

More dietary drivel?

Eating two eggs a day could help to reduce cholesterol levels and promote weight loss, British scientists claim

I wonder if these are the same scientists who got eggs banned from the diets of many people, including me, because they raised cholesterol levels?

Anyway, it’s been accepted for a while that dietary cholesterol does far less harm than used to be thought, though I find it hard to accept that eggs – high in cholesterol – can actually reduce it.

I have to say that the report leaves a hell of a lot to be desired. For a start the research population was a mere 50 people on the egg diet, plus an undefined number not eating eggs, and any results from such a tiny group is statistically insignificant. And before you rush out to stock up on hen fruit, bear in mind that the eggs were eaten as part of a calorie-controlled diet.

And how were the eggs prepared? Does it matter? Dunno, because I can’t find the original research published anywhere legitimate, like MedLine – sorry, just sending out a press release doesn’t count, and that’s all I can find.

It is going to to be published in the European Journal of Nutrition, though. This is not to be confused with the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a high quality, peer-reviewed publication. Significantly, perhaps, the words “peer-reviewed” appear nowhere on the EJofN’s publicity, but they do accept “invited reviews,” though I’ve no idea what the implications of that are. I’d be more impressed if the research was published in the EJofCN, and subjected to the peer-review process; “invited reviews” are not the same thing at all.

Submitting it to MedLine, the BMJ, The Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine, or any of the many reputable and respected medical publications, online or in print, wouldn’t hurt either (it is a medical issue, after all), but there’s no indication that’s going to happen any time soon, if at all.

I also wonder by whom the research was funded. If it was independently-funded, that’s fine. If it was funded by anyone with links to egg production and/or marketing, that’s less than fine. Again, though, I can’t find out and, trust me, it’s not for lack of trying.

Am I going to increase my egg buying, tomorrow, to a dozen, based on this research? Nope…

Even more photography stuff…

My favourite digital photography group is somewhat exercised and the moment by the problems of a person who takes “blurry pics”. Sadly, the post is a tad incomprehensible, which makes it hard for anyone to offer anything useful, but in general, the most common cause of blurred photos is the photographer, so don’t be too hasty to send your camera off for an expensive and needless repair until you’ve proved that it really is at fault.

A thought: when posting to an online group, or a forum, seeking advice, please be very clear as to what the problem is. For example, this is what the post says (obviously, I’ve removed personal information):-

I have an E-500 my pics are blurry when i take off distance pics. when
I stand up close on the same pics it is sharp. what am I doing wrong?
What is the right setting. I use fl36 flash. Has reset it . It still do
not solve the problem

You see the difficulty? I don’t have the faintest idea what the writer is saying. If, for example, one takes a distant picture, how does one then stand “up close” to it (if, indeed, that’s what’s meant)? If it’s near enough to stand up close, then it’s not distant, and vice versa. The writer, by the way, is a native English speaker – I’d never criticise someone for whom English wasn’t their first language – that would be crass. My suspicion is that it’s camera shake, which I’ve covered here. By the way, if there is anything between you and your subject – a twig or long stalk of grass is sufficient – the camera is likely to focus on that instead of the subject, resulting in blurred pics – always check.

Flash, by the way, should counter the effects of camera shake, but using flash for distant shots, as seems to have been the case here, is utterly pointless. You see it a lot at sports events, and all it’ll do is light up the back of the head of the person 3 rows in front!

When I first got my digital SLR, an Olympus E-500, I bought a Sigma 55-200mm zoom lens (110-400mm @ 35mm). I took with it what should have been a great pic – white farm buildings, fronted by a field full of horses, and framed by the woodland from which I was shooting. The house was the focus of the shot, and came out blurred (only very slightly – I’m a fussy bugger!). My immediate assumption was a duff lens, then I suspected camera shake and, eventually, I did what I should have done in the first place and examined the image closely.

The error was perfectly obvious, and it was mine. The auto-focus on the E-500 has three points across the centre of the frame (you can tweak this, but the camera was new and I left the it on fully-auto), and the house was at the top of the frame. A row of fence-posts ran from the house to the foreground, and the post about 12 out from the house, and in the middle of the frame, was pin-sharp! As it should have been, of course, as that’s where the a-f is located.

There are several solutions to this, not least paying more attention to what I’m doing, but had I centred the house in the viewfinder, taken up first pressure on the shutter release and recomposed the shot, all would have been well (though maybe not in auto mode, which really sucks and is only of use while getting the feel of the camera). Alternatively, I could have shot in aperture priority mode, selecting an aperture small enough to put most of the pic in sharp focus, say f11 (ramping up the ISO setting if necessary).

Aperture priority is probably the best all-round option (and full-auto the worst!), which is to say you set the aperture and the camera picks the shutter speed. There are some situations where the reverse is true – shooting a moving subject needs a fast shutter speed, for example, so shutter-priority is best.

Digital cameras have a wide array of pre-programmed Mode settings, which are fun to play with, but they impart no knowledge of what’s going on to the user, and as you gain more experience you’ll find you use them less. Of course many users are perfectly happy with the pre-sets, and never have any desire to go beyond them. Fair enough, but I, and I think most people, want more control, and that often means aperture or shutter priority. After all, digital cameras – especially SLRs – are not cheap, so why not get the best out of them that you can?

A very good compromise, though, is the Program setting. This allows the camera to choose the shutter speed and aperture, but all the other parameters are under the user’s control (unlike Auto or Mode, when nothing is). I find this very good in a situation where most shots have to be taken quickly, as in birding or, perhaps, at the zoo. You need to keep an eye on the light levels, and tweak the ISO setting if necessary (mostly it won’t be unless, perhaps, you go indoors, or under trees). The ISO rating, by the way, uses the same values as the old film speeds, so a low ISO setting, say 50, will have the camera selecting a wide-ish aperture and slow shutter speed, while a high ISO, say 400, will give you a small aperture and fast shutter speed. For ultimate control, though, the choices are aperture or shutter priority, and I favour aperture priority for most situations.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I have an intention tremor and, to neutralise this, I used to shoot at ISO 400, which gives me fast shutter speeds in Program or aperture priority modes, However, the E-500 generates a little noise at this setting (noise looks as if someone has sprinkled dust all over the image – in extreme cases). It’s not really intrusive, and it’s easily removed in Photoshop, using a plug-in called NeatImage, but dropping the ISO to 320 eliminates the noise and still gives me acceptably high shutter speeds.

The ideal solution to my tremor, and intransigent camera shake in general – some people will never be able to take shake-free photos – is a tripod, but even a lightish one like my Slik Able 300 DX is a pain to carry around all day. Manfrotto do an absurdly light tripod, at a tad under 1kg including the head (the Modo 785B), but ultra-light tripods are best suited to compact cameras or light D-SLRS with a short lens. The bottom line – the lighter the tripod, the less rigid it’s likely to be under any but perfect conditions. And don’t run away with the idea that carbon-fibre tripods are always ultra-light. They can be ultra-light, especially at the expensive end of the market, but be sure to check. Even when they are lighter, the price premium for what may be a tiny weight saving is hardly worth it.

Death by Sausage, part 2…

More dietary advice nonsense:-

“People who tuck into a fry-up every day could have a 63% higher chance of developing bowel cancer, a charity warned.

Eating processed meats like sausages and bacon increases the risk while extra calories can lead to obesity, which is linked to many types of cancer, the charity World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) said.”


As far as I can tell, about 100 people a day, in the UK, are diagnosed with bowel cancer – universal fry-up eating might possibly ramp that up to 163 people. It’s never going to happen, though, because for the vast majority of people a fried breakfast is an occasional treat, maybe once a week at most, or on holiday. Last week I ate 454g of high-quality sausages – three sausages for each of 2 meals several days apart. It will be weeks before I have sausages again, as my diet is mainly vegetarian, with the occasional carnivorous treat, The increased risk of my contracting bowel cancer from this is vanishingly small. I rarely eat bacon or ham.

The current risk of getting bowel cancer, for a man are one in 18 (or 5.6%), and for a woman, one in 20. This though, is the risk over an entire lifetime – the risk of getting cancer in any one year is minute, less than 0.1% assuming a 70-year life span, not at all unusual these days, and if you consider that few people under 50 get bowel cancer, you can put a few more zeros after the decimal point.

But think back to the 50s, say, if you’re old enough, when a fried breakfast was far more commonplace than now – were people dying in conspicuous numbers of bowel cancer? I don’t know, as I can’t find any figures online, but my recollection suggests not (however reliable that is).

The operative words in all this, though, are “could have”. Not will have, or must have, but could. Interestingly vague word, could. I could get run over by a bus tomorrow, not least because there’s a bus route right outside. I could be left a million pounds in someone’s will. I could pack my rucksack and go and walk the Pennine Way again.

These are all things I could do, but the odds against even one of them happening are overwhelming. A bacon butty could give you bowel cancer, the odds against that are overwhelming, too – it’s more likely to give you heartburn. I could enjoy my wholefood veggie meal this evening, but I know I’m unlikely to, even though the buggerdly thing is good for me.

“Could” amounts to one thing – speculation – and speculation does not make for good science or sound statistics. Give me a “will” or a “probably” and I’ll sit up and take notice. Hell, I may even change my ways. Tell me could, though, and you won’t impress me at all.

Firefox 3 sucks follow-up…

Please note that Firefox is now up to v3.5.2, and the problems here and on other posts relating v3.x are now largely irrelevant except for those who have failed up upgrade.

Firefox flashed an update alert when I turned it on this morning. When I clicked on it, it turned out to be offering FF3. Three option buttons were offered, Get the new version, Later, and the most important option, NEVER!

That suggests to me that they finally realise there’s a lot of dissatisfaction with FF3, and that many people don’t want it (not before time!), but it also suggests very strongly that they couldn’t give a shit and they’ve stopped supporting FF2 (currently at v2.0.0.16).

If this is, indeed, the case (time will tell, unless there’s an announcement – ) – clicking the Check for Updates option in Help merely brings up the same FF3 offer pane – then FF2 will pretty soon become unusable through lack of security updates. Looks like it may be time to switch to Opera. A pity, that, as though Opera is very good, I prefer the layout of FF, with the tabs below the address bar, not above, which I find perverse. It’s a minor point, I suppose, and I’ll soon get used to it, but it just seems so pointless. Ah well…


Update, August 29 – er, there has been an announcement – support for FF2 ends officially in December, though it looks like it already has.


Afterthought – maybe, with the Never option, they’re testing the water and, if they get enough rejections they may continue to support FF2. And then, again, pigs might fly. If you check out Mozilla’s rejection of FF3 criticism on this blog, it’s quite clear that they don’t care one iota that many people hate FF3, and that it is quite severely dysfunctional. If you doubt that, go here and here, on this blog, and check out the criticisms on the two posts you’ll get. Go here, too, for an excellent, more techie approach to FF3 and its many defects – it really is crap!


Update: Ha! 24 hours later and it’s clear that the Never button means nothing at all in Mozilla-world, as when I turned on FF this morning there it was again – a pop-up plugging FF3. As before, I hit the Never button, but I fully expect to see the bloody thing again every sodding morning. Even if FF3 was fault free, until they lose that ‘kin stupid, pointless and vastly irritating Awesome Bar, they can shove it! The only awesome thing about it is Mozilla’s arrogance in refusing to provide an option to remove or disable it.

3 days later and still the bloody FF3 pop-up, er, pops up. I’ve disabled automatic checking for updates in the hope that it’ll solve the problem.


Spam, Spam, Spam…

No, not Monty Python, the egregious crap that pollutes your Inbox (though, really, you should take steps to prevent it ever getting that far – I favour Mailwasher).

Anyway, I mentioned, yesterday, that my email had vanished, and I wasn’t even getting Spam. Well, it’s back, and I noticed that quite a bit of it links back to Google’s Blogger.

No problem, I thought, I’ll copy the URLs and report them, so that appropriate action can be taken – hanging them by the nuts with hairy string seems about right. Not so easy, though, as there’s not way that I can see for a non-member to contact them, not without joining – not the slightest hint of a Contact Us link or button anywhere. The only breach of its ToS that Google recognises, as far as I can see, if breach of copyright, and then you have to write to the buggers, you can’t email them as a first line of contact. Their ToS don’t even mention Spam.

For comparison’s sake, I logged out of my account and had a rummage around – and initially found the same deal. However, rather more digging than is sensible – it’s 4 layers deep; this stuff should be accessible directly from your home page, guys** – I found that it is possible to report Spammers.

Armed with that information, I went back to Blogger to look for a similar location, but there’s just nothing there (if anyone knows how to report Spammers to Blogger, please let me know – I’ll post the info here).

A Spammer hosted by an ISP might be easier to deal with, but checking my ISP (Tiscali), suggests otherwise, as it brought me nothing but an offer to sell me Norton’s crap software.

I could have gone to the blog in question and complained, but I’m not going to, as I may well click through into a morass of viruses (something else that Google washes its hands of), and it’s not worth the risk.

** Or maybe making it hard to find discourages trivial complaints?