torsdag 23 april 2015

Smartphones - worst-designed consumer product ever?

My neighbour gave me a Samsung slidephone she had for several years, and I have got another five years use out of it. Must be from around 2003, I would guess which makes it 12 years old. The software flow is a bit annoying but I can live with it.

Last week it took a trip down the toilet and after I had dried it out, it was draining the battery, so I looked at alternatives, including smartphones. For £500 you can get a Samsung S5 which will survive a dunking but it will not go in a back pocket. They are all too big, too fragile, too expensive and mostly not watertight - they should be IP67 as basic. The idea of a qwerty touch screen is madness. If you have learned to type without looking, like I am doing now, you would not be able to use it.

The manufacturers have focussed on selling ever more high-tech and totally failed to get the basic things right. Are consumers THAT stupid? Smartphones must be amongst the worst-designed consumer products ever.

In the meantime my twelve year old phone has dried out and is working fine.

lördag 18 april 2015

News from Sodor

It is 2009 since I last reported on events on the North Western Railway, home of Thomas the Tank engine. A lot has happened since then. Most important was the retirement of Sir Topham Hatt, the Fat Controller, in 2011. His successor is a former manager from the Big Railway, Naomi Toot.

When she first arrived, the engines were sulky and resentful. They were not going to be ordered around by a woman. Ms Toot took a firm-but-fair approach and did her best to avoid conflict, but when they thought she could not hear, they referred to her as "The Handbag". However, she had a habit of turning up in the shed just when she was least expected and soon found out what they were saying. She was not really bothered by the rudeness. It was just what she expected and she took it in her stride. All the engines were at least sixty years old and they had spent most of their years at a time when women were expected to stay at home and do what they were told. Ms Toot solved the problem by appointing an engineer specially to look after them, also from the Big Railway. He got on well with all the engines, and they called him Uncle Reg.

Despite this, Gordon started to misbehave. It happened soon after his eighty-eighth birthday. He started to be off-sick constantly with boiler-ache. A diesel was brought in from the Big Railway to do his work. This was Basil Brush, but he also started to misbehave soon after he arrived, breaking down two or three times a week, giving off clouds of black smoke and spilling oil all over his engine compartment. The passengers were not happy about having to complete their journeys by bus. Basil also had a huge appetite and drank expensive diesel fuel as if it was water. So Basil was put in a siding and Ms Toot decided to send Gordon away for repairs.

Pip and Emma, with their seven matching coaches in-between were brought in to take his place. They had come before as visitors from the Big Railway and got on well with the other engines. They were an HST and could go really fast on the Big Railway, but, like Basil Brush, they were also greedy for expensive oil, and screamed their heads off when starting. The Sodor railway was not suitable for such fast running so they were sent back when Gordon returned. He had been fixed up with a lot of new parts and was happier and felt better than he had for years.

Thomas was coming up for his hundredth birthday and often had to take a rest from work, as did Oliver, who was well into his seventies. Ms Toot brought in Rattler and Noddy to stand in on the branch lines to keep the services running, but nobody liked them. They looked and sounded exactly like buses and were not comfortable like Dulcie and Isabel, Oliver's auto-coaches.

The truth was that all the engines were feeling their age. They could be out of service for weeks at a time while waiting for new parts to be specially made. This was usually arranged so that it happened during the winter when the railway was quiet, but sometimes things broke unexpectedly. The local council was also making things difficult because it became illegal to give off dirty smoke, though Basil Brush, and Pip and Emma, were just as guilty.

The cost of coal was another worry, with the price going up every year. Gordon was still a big eater even after his repairs, and so were the smaller goods engines, considering the amount of work they did. Something had to be done.

Henry's facelift
Ms Toot and Uncle Reg decided to send Henry away to a factory on the continent for a complete rebuilding. It was at the beginning of the autumn. He was away for most of the winter; he had travelled by road all the way, and his journey had included boat trips across the Channel Tunnel and back on a low-loader, an undignified way for a steam engine to travel.

He was put back on the rails at Vicarstown and Duck was sent to fetch him. He looked much the same as when he had left until you looked closely. He came back, he had a new chimney, new valve gear and the coal space on his tender had been replaced by a pair of oil tanks. He had kept his green livery and number.

Duck shunted him into the shed and he went completely silent for a whole week. Then a group of people came and filled his boiler with water and started his fire, and he was sent out on tests. He came back with a smug look on his face. He was very quiet, but boasted that he was now as strong as Gordon, drank less fuel than Basil Brush and would never, ever give off black smoke from his chimney.

The other engines became resentful at his stand-offish attitude, as well as the attention he was getting. They jeered when the lights under his running board were switched on for the fitters to work on his valve gear, thinking they were there just to look flashy.

After the tests, Henry was given most of Gordon's work, which left him feeling upset and jealous. But it was not long before he was put back in the shed and stood silent with a sulky look on his face as the other engines jeered and made cat-calls. The drivers would not take him out because the steam got in the way of their view of the signals.

A couple of weeks later, Henry was fitted with smoke deflectors. How the other engines laughed. "Big-Ears", they hooted. After that there was no more trouble. He needed much less attention than any other steam engine. Ms Toot and Uncle Reg were so pleased with him that they ordered three more matching engines, brand new. Henry was re-named Prince Harry, and the two new engines were given the names Sir Topham Hatt and Duke of Cambridge, though of course this Duke was not a real Duke like the Duke of Gloucester, a familiar old visitor. Ms Toot had thought of getting a real Duke but there was no need for such a big engine, because after being rebuilt, Sir Henry could do all the work that Gordon did.

New engines
Four new engines were also obtained to replace Edward, James, Dougal and Douglas. These were of the 2-6-0 type and had the names Mickey, Minnie, Pluto and Donald.

Duck, Thomas and Oliver were replaced by Stanley, Stuart, Stephen and Stella, which were exactly the same as the Mickey Mouse quartet apart from the fact that they were 2-6-2 tanks and could work with Isobel and Dulcie, Oliver's auto coaches, as well as Biggie and Ciggie. That pleased the passengers, who liked the old coaches. The eight new engines had the same modern features as Sir Henry, which made them clean, quiet and efficient. The firemen no longer had to shovel dusty coal.

The engines, which were each painted in a different colour, were a simplified version of the similar engines built for British Railways in 1954, and turned out to be quite inexpensive (as engines go), thanks to modern computerised manufacturing methods. All of them burn ordinary diesel oil and their drivers do not have to get up in the middle of the night to raise steam as the water is kept hot automatically by an electric heating system. All the engines shared the same spare parts and would never have to be out of service for weeks, waiting for new parts to be being specially made.

A fond farewell
Gordon worked on for the rest of the summer, though only at weekends and during school holidays. His mood improved when they fitted him with a bronze plaque for his ninetieth birthday. The old heroes were given a grand send-off before being sent to their new home, a museum specially built for them, where they could be kept dry and warm. The museum has a track connecting it to the main line, so they will still be seen in service from time to time but they are now enjoying a well-earned retirement. But for everyday use, a fleet of clean and efficient new steam engines is now in charge of passenger and goods services on the North Western Railway. Since the new engines came into service, people have come from far and wide to see how they perform, and the North Western Railway is now busier than it has ever been in its history.

tisdag 27 januari 2015

Holocaust roll-call of dishonour

Whilst the Nazis must bear the brunt of the responsibility for the Holocaust, it would never have happened were it not for the co-players. The Nazis just wanted the Jews out of Germany and, once the war had begun, the countries it was occupying.

But most western countries, including Britain and the US, refused to accept Jewish refugees except under strict conditions which most potential refugees could not satisfy. As early as 1936, the British closed off the Mandate territory of Palestine as a place of refuge, in violation of the Balfour Declaration, the San Remo accords and the League of Nations treaty of 1922, in response to pressure from the Arabs.

The role of the Palestinian leadership, in particular, Haj-Amin-el-Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, cannot be over-stated. Even in 1941, the Nazis would have been satisfied with deporting the Jews of Europe to Palestine, but the Mufti travelled to Berlin and persuaded the Nazi leadership not to do that. This was the decisive move that led the Nazis to go for "the Final Solution".

Thus it was the Mufti who did more than any other single individual to bring about the death of the six million.

tisdag 20 januari 2015

Nothing to do with true Islam?

The Communities Minister Eric Pickles wrote to the Muslim Council of Great Britain urging them to weed out the extremists. The Muslim Council in response accused ministers of behaving like the far right. In response, the Prime Minister has said

"What is happening in terms of extremist terror has nothing to do with true Islam.

"Anyone frankly reading this letter who has a problem with it I think really has a problem.

"It is the most reasonable, sensible, moderate letter that Eric could possibly have written.

"All of us have a responsibility to try and confront this radicalisation and make sure we stop young people being drawn into this poisonous, fanatical death cult."

Surely the response of the Muslim Council gives the lie to the first paragraph in Cameron's response. Obviously Pickles has to be as diplomatic as possible but the mantra "nothing to do with true Islam" is beginning to ring false.

onsdag 7 januari 2015

Cut the cackle

Cut the cackle about how the muslim community and their "muslim friends" are horrified about the Paris murders and that this will add to islamophobia. How many of these commentators have got muslim friends?

If decent muslims don't like it they should renounce their death cult. But they do not.

Time for tough action. Put every single one of them all on a special register for a start.

Eleven dead in Paris terror attack

Why is there still a discussion about what constitutes terrorism?

Enough is enough. It is time for a moratorium on all Muslim immigration into Europe. All immigrant criminals should be deported to their country of origin, or their parents' country of origin if they were born in a European country. All mosques should be kept under close security observation and closed if necessary. It is time to take off the gloves and face the consequences. If it is not done now, it will have to be done later and then it will be much worse, if not too late altogether.…/Paris-Charlie-Hebdo-attack-liv…

Muslim IQ

A study here shows that Muslims tend to have a low IQ: the Muslim country mean IQ of 81 is half a standard deviation below the mean IQ of non-Muslim nations. Even in European countries, Muslims tend to have lower IQs than the rest of the population. The study appears to have been cross-checked to exclude possible other factors such as skin colour. This does not of course mean that all Muslims have a low IQ; within a population, the IQ follows a bell curve distribution, but if the mean is low, there will be fewer really bright individuals, for example, with the capacity to complete a course in higher education.

This is surprising and obviously needs to be subject to strict critical scrutiny. It might be a complete fabrication. It is, however, consistent with other studies showing a negative correlation between IQ and religious belief. The latter indicate a link to sects with simple fundamentalist doctrines, and the Wikipedia article discusses a possible association with cognitive styles. Ashkenazi Jews, on the other  hand, as a group, have a median IQ of 115, well above that of an average population. Other populations with above-average IQs are those of China and Japan.

As always, there is discussion as to whether the differences are cultural, genetic or environmental. There will in any case be an interaction between all three. The Muslim case is interesting. In a culture which discourages dissent and encourages violent action, there will, over the generations, be selection against the more reflective and intelligent. An understanding of the Islamic religious texts demands an ability to suspend reason. Factors such as religious dietary laws and other habits and practices will have an effect. Women enclosed in burkas will receive an inadequate dose of vitamin D during pregnancy, which will adversely affect the development of the child. A ban on eating pork could mean that the population suffers from dietary deficiencies - pork is a staple amongst the Chinese and Japanese. Ashkenazi Jews traditionally eat a lot of oily fish such as herring, which is a good alternative source of essential substances in the diet.

Having a high IQ does not of course make someone a good person. Everyone must be treated with respect. The strong must serve the weak. However, anyone with an IQ of less than around 80 is going to be struggling to keep up with the school curriculum in Europe, and to earn a good livelihood in a technological society. They will always be on the lowest level of the economy. This would not be so much of a problem if there were sufficient opportunities for people at that level - goodness knows, there is no shortage of things for them to do. But taxation and other economic policies hits them the hardest, and there is no serious intention of changing that.

This raises further questions about the wisdom of allowing large numbers of Muslims to settle in Europe, since they are likely to be a permanent burden on society.