Archive for the Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes Category

Not Trusting Belgians

Posted in Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes, Irregular Features with tags , , , , , on May 23, 2014 by awickerman

The new NATO HQ, which is probably going to be late and over-budget, has reached the fit-out stage where the various nations put in the various computers, desks and doors to make the building actually usable. Most nations have decided to trust the Belgians to fit out their national areas for them, that way they can get a bulk discount from the main contractor and save a few quid.

Britain has decided not to trust the Belgians and the British section will be fitted out separately, along with “Three other NATO nations”. Obviously one of those was the US, but while I can find many, many documents confirming that four NATO countries have opted not to trust Belgians I cannot find out who the other two are.

If I had to guess I would say France and Germany, but that is just a guess. In fairness I cannot think of any plausible reason why I would ever need to know, but nevertheless I would like to. Alas I suspect I never will.

Female Engineers and Lying at Interview

Posted in Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes, Engineering, Irregular Features, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Tenuous Link of the Day with tags , , , , on April 1, 2014 by awickerman

Lured in by the bewitching headline that 1 in 10 of the population had named a Brunel when asked to name a famous female living engineer or scientist. One can only assume they felt the same confusion I did as frankly it’s a struggle; I could name plenty of female engineers, I just don’t think anyone has heard of them so I wouldn’t call them famous.

Resolving to solve this mystery I tracked down the organisation behind this poll, hoping to find the actual source data. Alas the depressingly 1990s name ScienceGrrl has decided not to release that information, perhaps because they too are struggling with a famous living female engineer but don’t want to admit it.

Now to the point of this post, this article by one of their directors. It begins by her complaining about how she had to lie about pretending to be interested in Lego to get her first engineering job, she then glosses over the part about how she didn’t last long in the real world and ran off to the fluffy world of non-profit development work and research before ending on what she would like to have said at interview, a bundle of content-free buzzword heavy fluff about impacting on disadvantaged communities and working respectfully. She even talked about shifting goalposts, frankly I was left feeling slightly ill. Perhaps this explains why I drew two completely contradictory conclusions;

1. It was a good thing she did lie at interview, because if she had spouted that bilge at me I’d have never hired her. Engineering is about many things, but buzzwords, fluff and waffling like an architect are never helpful.

2. It was a terrible mistake she did lie at interview, had she said the “truth” hopefully the interviewer would have stopped it there and kindly explained she was in the wrong industry. I like to imagine they would have gone on to suggest she stop wasting everyone’s time and just go work in a fluffy job, much like the ones she has now. Alas her poor first employer was woefully misled into thinking she was a proper engineer who liked Lego and not a naive, idealistic buzzword spouter (her words not mine, well the first two anyway)

On the subject of the actual problem, the lack of women in engineering and science, I really can’t help. I would read their doubtless thrilling report on the subject, but frankly it starts with ‘Gender Lenses’ and just goes down hill from there. It does appear to be a long list of ‘Anyway, the point is we need more money’, as these reports always are, mixed in with baffling contradictions about how girl’s “STEM needs” are the same, but also different. However maybe I’m just not using my Gender Lenses correctly and it will all make sense if I squint a bit and knock down the diversity stereotypes.  Or not.

A Striking Matter

Posted in Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Tenuous Link of the Day, The Railways, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2011 by awickerman

After Vince Cable’s subtle and well judged speech to the GMB two points spring to mind, the first general and the second very rail parochial;

1. Of course strikes are at an all time low; there are barely any trade union members left outside of the public sector. It’s at 14% of the private sector workforce and 56% of the public sector, and bear in mind for these purposes I’m fairly sure the rail industry counts as ‘private’ as part of the whole ‘Ignore Network Rails debts from the national debt total’ scam (NR is technically a private company limited by guarantee after all). And if NR are off the books I’m sure a host of other organisations are as well, if Labour left us nothing they left us lots of thoroughly cooked books.

2. If anyone is serious about implementing the McNulty Study on lowering the costs of the railways the will need those new laws. Amongst the other recommendations was one to stop the constant trend for above inflation pay raises for train staff regardless of ability or performance, which they have very successfully gained through blackmail and extortion, exploiting a monopoly position that would be illegal for a company to have, legitimate strike action;

You can't help but see this graph and be grudgingly impressed with Bob Crow

You may hate Bob Crow, but you cannot deny the ugly hypocrite is damned effective for his members.

So what was the RMT reaction to this idea that future pay rises be in proportion to average earnings and linked to efficiency improvements? Well the report came out on the 31st of May, and had been leaked fairly thoroughly before hand and the weekend before the RMT was organising a strike on the Heathrow Express saying the above inflation 4.5% pay rise linked to performance improvements was “too low” and “loaded with strings”. Ohh and demanding the same Olympic blackmail payments they’ve bullied out of the rest of the railways under threat of a summer of strikes all summer. Not exactly embracing the findings is it?

Frankly a strike law that requires at least half of the RMT to turn up to vote is the only way to stop them, given the number of dogs and dead men on the RMTs books I doubt they’ve even got enough real members to reach a 50% quorum. Besides if Bob is right and his members are all solidly behind his regular strikes then it shouldn’t be a problem, all his members have to  do is be bothered to vote for a change rather than not bother as they normally do. Then again the RMT came out against AV, probably requiring something to have the support of at least 50% of the electorate was felt to set a dangerous precedent for their own strike ballots.

But of course there is bugger all chance of this happening. For some reasons a group of rich industrialist abusing a monopoly position to gouge the population is rightly illegal, but a group of rich train drivers doing the same is a vital social democratic right. Prizes will be awarded if anyone can explain why.

Someone is lying, but who?

Posted in Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes, Engineering with tags , , , , , on May 13, 2011 by awickerman

The railways have got pretty paranoid about electrification recently, back when I did my first batch of training on track access the whole group was taken out to go and play around Waterloo station while being taught the correct way to cross live tracks, now Network Rail are pushing the line that nobody can cross live third rail tracks outside of an emergency. Which brings us neatly to this story;

Station manager sacked for averting death and disaster

The man’s story is that he rang the signal box, told them to turn the power off, got it confirmed it was off and then went onto the track to remove a shopping trolley. Then someone in management noticed he’d been ambling around the track and sacked him for a gross misconduct.

Now either he’s lying (and frankly the details of the story change depending on which version you read, the BBC account is far less clear cut and makes him look a lot worse) or someone at the signal box should be sacked not him. Simply if he did declare an emergency to the signal box and was then told the power was off then the signaller should be sacked (or, as the signaller doesn’t normally control the power, then the local electrical engineer who ballsed up). However if he didn’t actually declare an emergency properly or get it confirmed the power was off then this is just a pile of twisted facts and selective reporting serving as after-the-event justification and he’s a lying bugger who deserves it.

However this does bring us to why I stopped posting. Frankly I just don’t know enough about what the hell happened to make any useful comment beyond “What’s being reported is rubbish”. The truth is known, I suspect it came out at the appeal to the disciplinary that sacked him, but I doubt that it will come out. So all that’s left is a vague story on which all you can do is make an arbitrary decision and rant about it, and what’s the point in that?

Anti-NIMBYism?

Posted in Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes, Almost Beyond Words, Engineering, Even Stevie Wonder Saw That Coming, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Rantings, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2011 by awickerman

Those of you with long memories, and a deep held fascination with ugly concrete buildings, may remember the grippingly exciting story of Preston Bus Station, the one that looks like this;

That someone even thought about listing this makes me weep. And then hope in all these budget cuts that most of them have been sacked. Alas I fear such cockroaches tend to survive.

With the monstrosity finally declared ‘Not listed’ (hopefully due to the fact that someone on the panel had a working set of eyes) the structure was promptly marked for demolition as part of a large shopping centre scheme by Lend Lease, the people who gifted the world Bluewater and so on. After a great deal of faffing about that took most of the year (the original application went in back in 2008, which prompted all those efforts to get the concrete horror bus station listed in the first place) the planning inspector finally produced a tome which said ‘It’ll all be fine, apart from local traffic in Preston which may go up a bit.’

This was a bitter disappointment to Blackburn with Darwen Council, who had claimed because of all the shoppers going to Preston there would be social unrest, extremism, death and terrorism and said as such to the planning inspector. Sadly I’m only making up the last two, the local council genuinely said that shoppers going to Preston not Blackburn would cause unrest and extremism. In case you couldn’t guess the Blackburn and Darwen council leader at the time was Labour. I know, I was shocked too, a Labour politician using an unconvincing threat of terrorism to justify their own agenda? Whatever next?

However back to the point, as planning law says government shouldn’t approve a scheme that increases traffic in town centres the scheme should have been cancelled by Eric Pickles, he however didn’t. Perhaps he thought £700 million of investment in a historically depressed region during a recession was worth some traffic, or perhaps he just wants the people of Preston to choke on exhaust fumes, who knows? Either way it had happened and Blackburn council, complete with new Conservative leader,  said it was ‘extremely unlikely’ to appeal and piss yet more money up the wall for no good reason.

However to the great surprise of no-one, least of all anyone who’s lived in the UK for the last decade or so, the politicians have proven to be untrustworthy bastards. Yes Blackburn council will be appealing against Eric Pickles decision on the grounds of the traffic impact on Preston (well after the inspector called Labour’s claims about lack of shopping causing terrorism ‘tenuous’ the Blackburn Conservatives had to find something else to whine about). That Preston council is happy with the traffic impact is, surprisingly, irrelevant.

Thus I commend this to you as an example of anti-NIMBYism, or IIMBYism as it may soon be called, the complaint from Blackburn basically being that the shopping centre Isn’t In My Back Yard.

The Mystery of South Crofty

Posted in Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes, Mining, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Rantings with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2011 by awickerman

South Crofty, the mine so good that no-one ever asks difficult questions about whether or not there was ever a North Crofty. Yes it’s back in the news as the PR monkeys there have found another metal they can claim to be mining; Indium. And this time the mine will re-open and employ hundreds ‘within two years’.

But this isn’t the first time that Baseresult (or Western United Mines as they prefer to be called these days) have said they’ll be ‘open soon’. They said the same in 2001 when they brought the place, then again in 2003 they said after but a year’s worth of pumping out water they’d be good, come 2006 it was two and a half years. By 2007 a cunning name change and the involvement of Galena Asset Management (or as it’s also known Trafigura, a company with a… mixed background in such fields as Iraqi oil for food, unconventional Ivory Coast waste management and blowing up bits of Norway) had produced Western United Mines who would be ready in two years by 2009. By the time 2009 rolled around they’d cut that figure to but a mere 12-18 months and found Indium (presumably they subsequently lost it, but have just found it again so they can re-announce it). It was in 2010 when they first discovered the ‘Announce metal find’ wheeze and declared they’d found gold, which again they’d already known about but decided to re-announce as a PR trick.

In amongst all this has been ongoing mysteries over planning, pumping out the flooded mine, quite what happened to all that pumped out water, re-development plans, threats of compulsory purchase, EU ‘Objective One’ funding and the constant tension between the nostalgic locals who’d quite like a tin mine to re-open and all the second home owners who really, really wouldn’t.

About the only think I can say for sure is that it’s worked out well for the two chaps who founded Baseresult; Kevin Williams and David Stone. They were there in 2001 and they’re still there now.

At various points I’ve been convinced it’s a property deal based around re-developing the site into housing under cover of the mine, a cunning scheme to dump hi-risk waste into the old mine workings (not helped by a previous PR stunt  where the mine owners proposed using the site to store fly ash from power stations) or a bunch of deluded Cornishmen pursuing a dream in the face of all logic. Honestly it’s probably been a little of all of that at some point, though what it is now I’ve no idea.

However I will predict this; in two years time it will still be about two years away from full production, the fundamentals are just too unfavourable. Still it gives some old Cornish miners something to do and keeps the BBC website supplied with stories, so it’s not a complete waste of time.

How do you run out of Sand?

Posted in Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes, Engineering, Tunnels with tags , , , , , , on February 10, 2011 by awickerman

In yet another triumph of reporting old news I can now reveal India is running short of sand. This problem has been going on for quite some time, at least as far back as February 2010 in fact, but has only recently come to my attention as it has finally affected something important; tunnels.

Yes part of the latest attempt to provide fresh clean water to Bombay has been held up due to a lack of sand. As to how the question ‘How do you run out of sand’ there doesn’t appear to be a clear answer. It looks like a combination of (presumably) well intentioned environmental legislation and a vicious sand tax. In any event there’s a lot less sand about the place, production is down 95%, and prices are up six fold to 12,000 rupee per brass. (Why they use the word brass instead of 100 cubic feet is a good question. As is the question of why they still use cubic feet. But those are good questions for another time.).

One of the few points everyone agrees on is that there is no physical shortage of sand, it’s just people aren’t allowed to get at it/have to pay too much to get it. Indeed the last attempt to auction off new sand mining sites flopped because the licences were too expensive. I confess to being a little unsure over this entire affair. Certainly you can’t imagine this happening in China, they’d just shoot the judges and environmentalists and then order everyone back to the sand mines. That the Indian courts feel they can bring the entire construction industry to a standstill on environmental reasons is certainly a very ‘Western’ thing to do, I’m just not sure it’s a good thing.

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