Archive for the Posts that are far longer than I first intended Category

Didn’t the BBC Used to Do Research?

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Mining, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Rantings with tags , , , on May 28, 2014 by awickerman

Someone at the BBC has managed to read the ONS report on jobs and is surprised that Westminster has the highest number of mining workers in the country.

Alas clearly that reading left them too knacked to fire up Google as that would have very rapidly revealed that BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Anglo-American all have major offices and/or their headquarters in Westminster. But then that would have taken literally seconds of work, and those companies are only the first, second and fifth biggest mining companies in the world, so perhaps I’m just expecting too much.

In fairness on Spelthorne being the biggest by % mining community in the UK it was indeed the gravel pits. But as the writer then goes on to doubt the statistics, despite them being correct and him having quite clearly put bugger all effort in, he must then lose any credit he has gained.

Is it unreasonable to ask people to put just a little bit of work into this sort of thing, particularly when your calling it “Small data, curious numbers in the news”? Surely explaining it would help meet the BBC ‘Inform, Educate and Entertain’ mission. But then inform and educate are such hard work compared to just making a half arsed effort at entertain, so perhaps I am just being unrealistic.

Heroes of planning

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Tenuous Link of the Day with tags , , , on April 7, 2014 by awickerman

The Royal Town Planning Institute is celebrating, if that is indeed the correct word, it’s centenary and decided to hand out some honorary lifetime memberships. OK technically they did so at the start of the year and it’s taken me this long to get round to it, but to be honest if you want cutting edge analysis you are at the wrong blog.

Anyway, to the point. Given the lamentable level of house building and the ongoing existential question over the future of Britain’s high streets who did they pick? One of the pioneers of the New Towns perhaps or a prolific developer maybe. Surely it would be people who have really improved Britain’s towns and cities through innovative planning and developments.

Of course not, these are Britain’s planners. They picked a selection of tree huggers and unrelated wastrels. To quote the RTPI’s favourites;

Sir Malcolm Grant, Chairman of NHS England; The Lord Deben, Chair of the UK’s independent Committee on Climate Change and a former Secretary of State for the Environment; Professor Susan Owens OBE Professor of Environment and Policy, University of Cambridge and Naison Mutizwa-Mangiza, Chief of the Policy Analysis Branch of UN-HABITAT and Editor-in-Chief of the Global Report on Human Settlements.

Malcolm Grant is a lawyer who has served as UCL provost and at no point ever done any building or planning, The Lord Deben is better known as the notorious god-bothering, tree hugger John Gummer, Susan Owens does a great deal of work on Environmental Governance which just sounds awful while Naison Mutziwa-Mangiza may well do excellent work at UN-HABITAT, I just can’t find out what on earth UN-HABITAT does, beyond publish reports that no-one reads (apart from Professor Owens and her students. Maybe even they don’t bother, who can tell?)

This I think clearly demonstrates one of the key problems with the British planning system, the planners themselves. They admire environmentalists, lawyers and report writers, not people who actually get things planned and built. This I feel explains why so many of them view a scheme blocked as a bigger achievement than helping a scheme go ahead.

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.

Undoing their own bad work

Posted in Almost Beyond Words, Engineering, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Rantings with tags , , , , on September 9, 2012 by awickerman

Hidden amongst the government’s planning changes was a small section on how this would help making digging holes in the ground cheaper;

Internet providers have also been told that they will “face less cost and bureaucracy in laying cables in streets”

Leaving aside whether or not such simplification will ever happen (hint: it never has before) one of the main sources of cost and bureaucracy for new street works is a new government scheme launched in London this very July. Under the scheme people digging up roads can be charged up to £2,500 a day in ‘lane rental’ to dig up the road, indeed even if you ignore that ‘up to’ number the DfT’s own Q&A section on the subject freely boasts that this scheme will increase the cost of streetworks;

Q36: How would it help?

A well-designed charging system would also include exemptions or discounts from the daily charge when works are completed at less busy times. So by spending a bit more say on overtime to get the job done at evenings or weekends – utilities and others carrying out works could avoid having to pay the charges.

So it’s pretty clear this scheme was quite explicitly designed to make work happen at more expensive times and, as with all such schemes, will almost certainly involve lots of paperwork proving why each job is allowed to avoid the charge.

Thus barely three months after increasing the costs and bureaucracy of installing cables in the road, the government is pledging to reduce those costs “once officials have found a way to simplify current permit schemes.”

Maybe they should of thought of that before introducing further complications into a system that the previous government had already made stupidly over-complicated and expensive. But then that would be joined up government by competent people, so no chance of that then.

Why I Rarely Post

Posted in Engineering, Irregular Features, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Tenuous Link of the Day with tags , , , on March 22, 2012 by awickerman

Saw this job advert – a trainee asbestos surveyor – and was somewhat surprised at how little it pays (15-17k) for someone with an engineering degree working in Kent/London. Especially given the many, many opportunities for engineers on such low profile jobs as Crossrail and High Speed 2. And the fact that if you do really well, get trained up and get a few years of fibrey death experience you might get up to 25k (or might get barely more than a trainee).

Sadly I ended up poking around the Office of National Statistics trying to find out what a typical engineering degree actually pays, which I soon realised was far, far too much research for a blog read by up to several people. Of course I could just rely on one of those self-selecting salary surveys. Equally I could use tarot cards or astrology, which I suspect would be about as accurate. While I’m sure the answer is somewhere, I’m equally sure I can think of better things to do with my time. Hence why I rarely post; I like to try and check the facts are correct, even if the wild accusations aren’t, but I no longer think it’s really worth the time.

A self contained mystery

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Engineering, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Rantings, The Railways, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , on October 11, 2011 by awickerman

Rick Haythornthwaite, the chairman of Network Rail, has decided not to seek re-election (i.e. as a well known Labour placeman he probably correctly thinks a Conservative-Liberal government wont ‘elect’ him). As he was leaving he decided to share this wisdom with the public;

“We know that many of the public view the leadership of the industry with confusion, suspicion or disdain. They don’t trust us and therefore are resistant to changes we want to make.”

But why? Why on earth would the public distrust a leadership that includes men like Rick? I mean yes he was picked solely due to being close to New Labour, his last real private sector job went badly, his previous government job was on cutting Health and Safety rules (he didn’t)  and he had absolutely zero experience of the railways, but is that any reason not to trust his wise leadership? Or men like chief executive David Higgins, a man who was Chief Executive of the ODA and was in charge while the final bill for London 2012 skyrocketed and then took his zero rail experience (but his vast knowledge of spiralling budgets) to Network Rail.  And the disdain surely can’t be because of the huge sums they earn for incompetence, so how on earth can we explain Ricks’s problem? Luckily Rick gives us the answer in the same article;

“I believe we have the chance to leverage a newfound appetite for change among the public, born of crisis, to galvanise a shift from a fragmented to a connected Britain.”

Breaking that down ‘leverage an appetite’ means pushing through expensive schemes that would normally be rejected as a waste of time and money, ‘born of a crisis’ means doing expensive schemes quickly so no-one has a chance to stop them, ‘galvanise a shift’ means push through expensive schemes in the face of entirely accurate opposition and ‘connected Britain’ means High Speed 2 and dozens of other very expensive schemes. To those who are spotting a common theme – well done.

In summary anyone who speaks such utter tripe will be untrusted and disdained and damned if I know why he’s surprised at that.

Ohh and “resistant to changes we want to make” is not only referring to High Speed 2, it’s also code for ‘we want bring back the massive bonuses that we got regardless of how bad things went’, something most people are quite rightly resistant of.

Fun places to work #3

Posted in Engineering, Irregular Features, Mining, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , on September 21, 2011 by awickerman

The intermittent ‘Places I have absolutely no intention of working at’ continues and this time takes us to Africa and the sun blessed paradise of Zimbabwe. In particular the wonderful town of Zvishavane, whose name is derived from the ancient Shona word for “Hills full of deadly fibrous silica minerals” (This fact may not be technically true.)

An Asbestos Mine in Zimbabwe. I think that covers it really
If this looks familiar, well done. Most asbestos mines do look somewhat similar when viewed from above.

Being in the people’s paradise of Zimbabwe means there are a few twists to the usual logical contortions one finds at Asbestos mines. For starters the entire place is embroiled in an argument about who owns it, the government having taken it from it’s legal owner in one of those dramatic seizures the Mugabe government is justly famous for. Unusually in this case it wasn’t white farmers suffering but black industrialist, however the general thrust is similar. As you would expect it’s gone badly, almost as if government cronies know nothing about real work; production has collapsed and most of the workers have been sacked, so it’s not a pretty sight.

Following the typical pattern the locals are quite keen on Asbestos and have even roped in school children to look endearing and try and get the place churning our fibrey death again. However with a fairly racist empowered Minister of Mines in charge turning away offers of support on the grounds the investors are white and driving the rest away with barking mad mining laws I predict this situation isn’t going to change any time soon.

Now you might argue this is a good thing, after all most people do agree Asbestos isn’t good for you so while it’s a shame for the miners in the short term in the long term at least they wont die of a horrific Asbestos induced disease. There is but one flaw in that way of thinking, most of the locals are going to die of AIDS or Tuberculous before they get a chance to develop a long term Asbestos disease. Besides Zimbabwe has been importing vast quantities of Asbestos from Brazil and Russia in the intervening time, so I can imagine the locals thinking it might as well be local Asbestos being used as opposed to foreign imports.

On this basis I think I can safely say Zvishavane tops the previous efforts, yes its name might not be as amusing but the combination of AIDS, TB, Asbestos and Zanu-PF make it by far a less fun place to work.

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