Panic, it’s a cosmic crisis!!!

Screenshot_2020-04-22 ftse 250 - Google Search

Or is it? There is no doubt that the impact of COVID-19 on peoples’ health and the hard working members of health care teams is extremely significant and something to be viewed with compassion and regret. However I’ve been thinking about the impact on businesses and economic indicators (Jan ‘20 to today)

  • FTSE 100 – down by 24%
  • FTSE 250 – down by 28%
  • Brent Crude – down by 74%
  • Unemployment up by millions in the `UK
  • People accessing foodbanks up by 80%
  • Business insolvencies accelerating

And this is after just over four weeks of “lock down” measures in the UK. I’d love to be corrected by someone more experienced in business and economics but the above speaks to me. It suggests to me one of two underlying issues.

1. That businesses in the UK (and with similar figures in the US and Japan, by extension much of the capitalist world) have been on a very weak footing. That the financial sustainability of very many businesses has been recklessly weak. You’ve not been able to sell your product or service for four weeks, just 20 working days and now your business is only worth 70-80% of what it was before. Really? Is the business model for so many firms so ‘hand to mouth’ that a disruption of four weeks is enough to cause this.

2. That market indicators are led by hype, but that this exaggerated negativity then leads to real failure. That the attitudes of those who drive the markets are like that of a manic depressive but worse than this. The negativity which starts as only an idea then morphs into reality and becomes a self fulfilling prophesy, but a prophesy based on weakly justified sentiment and not fact.

I see many articles from the hand-wringing journalists of the Guardian saying that ‘This should be the trigger for real social change, better wages and welfare.’ In my view this is a worthy aim, but unrealistic. More critical surely is the above. If our economic activity is to generate the wealth from which taxes can be drawn then shouldn’t we be looking instead to build rather better foundations upon which to build such a future. Aspirations are great, no I’d say essential, but you need to be able to fund them.

Time for a 21st century thermostat

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It’s ironic, a good friend and I discussed the idea of a wifi enabled thermostat around this time last year.  Just after this the Nest came to the US.  Now today in the UK there are a number of offerings.   Interestingly the cheapest I’ve found so far is the Nest at £179.  My market research told me that the price people were prepared to pay was in the £50-100 bracket.  This is what stopped our project, as we could make very little margin on this.  I’m still keen to have one myself and probably would pay up to £150 for one even though the savings would take a few years to recoup this, I’d be happy to have improved convenience.  My question today is, have you – my wide and varied readership – come across (UK available) offerings in addition to those I list below which meet my spec.

  • Totally wireless thermostat (wireless link to boiler, router and battery powered)
  • Work with a Worcester boiler.
  • Controlled via an interface which could be accessed on an Android phone, Mac or PC (web access I’d guess)
  • Good, clear simple programming that worked on a 7 day basis, with four periods per day and the option of a timed holiday over ride (i.e. the standard programme would not be lost but could be re-activated after getting home – automatically on a set day – ideally with an independently programmable option for the day of return itself.
  • Smart – learns the response of the house to the heating and also adjusts depending on the weather via data it can gather from the web (after all, it is linked to the web, so this should be possible)
  • <£150

Systems I’ve come across so far are

  1. Nest – but this is auto learning, not programmable.  It also seemed to be based on US fast response hot air heating systems and I cannot see this working with a UK gas to water CH system that takes two hours to get the house to temperature in the winter. £179
  2. Hive – this seems to be programmable to meet my spec, has the totally wireless thermostat but is in no way ‘clever’ £200
  3. Tado – works by tracking where your smart phone is. I cannot see how this would work with a household of three people and cannot see how it would know for people who regularly are close to home but don’t intend to go home, that this was your plan.  It has it’s audience, but I don’t think I’m one of them.
  4. Evohome (Honeywell) – I think this meets all my technical requirements (not 100% sure if the thermostat is battery powered though) but at a cost of £337 plus installation, well outside my limit.
  5. Inspire – not ‘clever’, battery powered but not wirelessly linked to the boiler – £125 (inside budget)
  6. Heatmiser – research ongoing – does not appear to be fully wireless – wide range at range of prices.
  7. ???  What else is out there dear reader?

 

The McLab burger – a solution to the wrong problem.

So today we learn that we are now able to synthesize enough muscle fibre in the lab to make a beef burger.  A great advance?  Probably, but the right answer to the wrong question surely.  The population of the world is growing and increased wealth and aspiration in places such as China means more people are eating more meat.  Read the press reports and you find instead the real issue, as highlighted by Prof Tara Garnett, the true issue is not population growth or land use it is inequality.  Whilst we have one billion people going to bed hungry each day, we have 1.4 billion people who are obese.  The problem is not a technological one, it is a social  / political one.  Food needs to be more fairly distributed.   I cannot give you a ready answer to this question, but this is the question that should be being addressed.  I am reminded again of the Reith Lectures in 2010 by Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society.  We have the technological means to resolve the  key issues facing our planet – famine, disease, water, food availability and climate change – the challenge is gaining the political momentum to implement them.  Our challenge with food is fair distribution, not new ways to make tasteless processed protein.  If we wanted that, ICI and RHM  brought Quorn to the market in 1985.

Potholes

Each day I cycle into work.  It’s bad enough that our local roads are in such a poor state, but I understand that ‘times are hard’ and there is too little public money to meet all our community needs but….  If you are going to repair the road, surely in a time of austerity it should be done in a cost effective manner?

What follows is my e-comment to Lancashire Country Council – let’s see what they have to say for themselves!

I am writing to complain about the standard of pot hole repair carried out during the last month in <our local town>. The quality of the repairs are so poor they are unlikely to last even six months. Such an approach is a simple waste of local community taxes as the repair will need to be replaced annually for the foreseeable future. To made a poor quality repair several times rather than a to repair to a good standard just once is clearly poor practice and offers poor value of money to local tax payers.

I would like to suggest that you define a standard of repair, to apply both to your own staff and to utility companies who dig up and make good the local roads. It is clear that either (i) you do not have such a standard or (ii) if you do then the standard is either grossly inadequate or poorly policed.

I await your reply with interest

2012 UK rainfall data – a wake up call to those in Government

You could look at 2012 and smile when you think back to the hosepipe bans at the start of the year, and then the tension as we wait now to find out whether it was the wettest year on record or not – in the end it has gained the No. 2 slot.  It’s good sport to smile at the water authorities – but look closer at the data and I think the message is rather different.

Four of the five wettest years on record have been in the last 10 years – something is clearly happening to our climate.  This makes me reflect on a book I have recently finished, “Why the West Rules, for now…” by US Historian Ian Morris.  I would need to read more widely to hear different views on the ‘patterns of history’ to truely put his thesis into context  but a couple of things struck me.  (1) The world has in the past often hit ceilings of development, which it has taken a breakthrough to pass – the most recent being the limit we could pass thanks to harnessing the power of coal in the industrial revolution   (2) One of the ‘5 reasons’ common behind the fall of empires has been climate change.

That the climate is changing now – at very least in it’s stability / the presence of more ‘extreme’ and less humdrum weather – is not a new thing.  My school education in history was poor verging on pointless, but life has shown me the value of understanding events of the past to better understand and manage events of the present. If (as an individual or as a society) we do not learn from the mistakes of the past, we are destined to repeat those mistakes.  Are we about to hit another ceiling?  If we do it is likely to cause our ‘social development’ to fall back dramatically for a a few 10’s-100’s years. (or so history suggests – we don’t just bump along such ceilings, we tend to rebound backwards to a lower state of development caused by the challenge that sustains the ceiling)

History shows us that a change in world climate is a significant matter – it is not just a matter or buying a new raincoat and choosing to holiday in different destinations to those we went to in the past, it is a whole lot more significant than that.  The ability of certain countries to grow their traditional crops will change.  Places which were good for agriculture will shift from one country or continent to another – and with the shift in food production we are likely to see a shift in population – migration.  Again history shows us that significant levels of migration are another of the  ‘5 reasons’ common behind the fall of empires.

When we see (and in Lancashire really feel!) the rainfall data it should be telling us and our politicians that we need to adapt the way we live and the way we organise ourselves if in the next 50-100 years we are not to ‘fail’ as a nation (let us not forget the impact on the developing world too – but that’s a topic for another post).  Ian Morris suggest that what is needed is organisation on a pan-country basis – this seems reasonable, as the issues of CO2 emissions – for example – cannot be dealt with by one country or continent alone.

So, UK Government – what are you doing to – 

Smooth out the weird weather by better capturing the excess rainfall of the wet season for distribution and use in the dry periods?

Encourage people to become less dependent on unnecessary travel – why do so many people drive for an hour to get to work, rather than live where they work, or (in our increasingly interconnected world) work from home?

… as but two examples?

But remember that as individuals we all have responsibilities too – 

Could you install a water butt (or two) to make better use of rain water?

Could you cycle to work rather than drive?

Could a small car take the place of your 4×4 status symbol?

Could you turn your thermostat down from 20 to 18 Celcius

Could you eat one non-meat meal a week?

Finally…

I’m not a fan of the EU – but it seems that pan-national organisations are going to be needed.  I wonder, could they spend more time preparing Europe for changes in climate / society and less time measuring and then defining the maximum arc allowed in the shape of imported banana’s or paying subsidies for southern European farmers to claim set aside on car parks?