31 December 2009

RBS Six Nations 2010

As I can't find a calendar file to download for the RBS Six Nations 2010, I've made one myself that you are welcome to use.

It's available in several formats:

vCalendar file (.vcs)
Comma Separated Variable(.csv)
HTML file
Zip file of Time & Chaos Transportable Records (.ixl)

The start times are all shown as Greenwich Mean Time. Where a separate KO time is shown, this is the local time for matches in Paris and Rome only.

Looking forward to a great tournament, but Stade de France on a (cold?) March night could be a very tough place for England to finish their campaign.

Follow-up on 'Administrative Cruelty'

After my original post on 12th November, I've had an exchange of e-mails with the manager for Customer Services at Wiltshire County Council.

In his initial e-mail, he made a good and acceptable apology and then continued, "we have put measures in place to improve the service for those people, like you, who need to register a death. Salisbury now have a dedicated line for death enquiries which is given priority. This will ensure that Customer Services can help customers to reach the right person much more efficiently. We have also reminded Customer Service staff that, whilst there is a general agreement that calls will be returned in 24 hours (if there is nobody available at the time), in the case of death enquiries, these calls are given priority and will be returned as soon as possible. In the context of your call, it was insensitive to give you the impression that you may have to wait 24 hours as it would have almost certainly been picked up and dealt with immediately. I apologise for this."

I replied that "I think there is still some distance to go to make the process as simple as it once was.

"As a general principle, it’s good to answer the phone immediately but it’s much more important that the right service should be answering the phone. This is particularly important in the case of a death, where emotions can be raised, timescales to organise funerals can be tricky, and the process should be as seamless as possible. If the call centre had actually been able to make the appointment rather than just quiz me to establish what I knew already – that I should register the death at Salisbury – then it would have been the right service. As an alternative, technology-wise, it should be a trivial matter to arrange for the call centre to pick up calls that couldn’t be answered at Salisbury, rather than make all calls pass through the call centre...

"A Customer Services call centre has a role for people that don’t know what to do, or whose relatives didn’t die in hospital. But the bereaved are given a useful booklet at Salisbury District Hospital. It sets out the requirement very clearly. It should have the direct number for the Registration Service. Anything else, any different number, any other mandatory step in the process, is an unfair and insensitive imposition on the bereaved, and not without cost for the council tax payer. I hope that the council will make the process as simple as possible for future customers."

He then responded "I have to say that I totally agree with the points made and I know that the current process is by no means perfect.

"It is a knotty problem to untangle as the previous process of being able to ‘direct dial’ into the Registration team worked well when Customers got through but there were a lot of complaints from customers not being able to get through.

"That said, now that the Registration Team in Salisbury have released another line specifically for death enquiries, it seems to me to be a sensible next step to start making that number available to the public. This is a proposal I am going to put to the Registration Operational Managers. "

I think that's a very fair response, and would like to thank Wiltshire CC for the consideration given to the points I raised. I hope that the right decisions are made - and that I don't have a reason to use the service again. Of course, any feedback is most welcome.

12 November 2009

Administrative cruelty

What happened? My Dad died on Monday morning, about 07:15. I'd been due to start a new contract at 09:00 after a year without serious work. The hospital called at 07:10. Instead of heading to work, I drove to Salisbury, and on the way, took a phone call from the hospital, confirming what I'd expected. Arriving there, I did what was needed, including contacting my brothers before the body was removed to the mortuary.

What happened next? The medical certificate wasn't ready until Tuesday afternoon. The doctor had gone home after working the weekend, and nobody else could write up the paperwork.

And so? To register the death and arrange the funeral, I needed the medical certificate and an appointment with the Registrar of Births Marriages and Deaths in Salisbury. Knowing that the certificate should be ready, I called the number given by the Salisbury District Hospital bereavement booklet. It turned out to be a number in Trowbridge, not the local Register Office.

Guess what! The lady on the line asked me lots of questions and then concluded that I'd need to speak Salisbury Register Office to make an appointment. She wasn't empowered to do anything except pass me through. But their number was engaged. If I'd been given their number, I could use Ring Back to connect me as soon as they became free. "But we don't offer Ring Back on that number!".

So we had a little discussion about the meaning of life, and she tried again. Still engaged. And then the excruciating moment. "I could take your number and then they should get back to you within 24 hours". At this point, I thought my head would explode. I explained to the lady on the line that I would call her back in 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, and so on until I had my appointment. We talked, and at the fourth attempt, she put me through.

Finally, speaking to the Register Office, I reached someone with competence and who was actually able to help me. We arranged the appointment, and I was able to register the death that had happened 30 hours before. By the way, none of the information that I had given to Trowbridge was passed on to the Register Office. So the whole imposition of the call centre was completely pointless for the 'client'.

One of my brothers remarked that if Dad had been a Muslim, it would all have been done and dusted by sunset the previous day.

I cannot praise enough the feeling of safety and reassurance given by the staff at Salisbury Register Office. They know how to deal with real people. But I feel that the imposition of a call centre that is not empowered to do anything positive between the bereaved 'client' and the service provider is cruel, pointless, costly, negative, foul and criminal.

Now it may be that this is an interim stage in the centralisation of bookings into Trowbridge. If that happens, then there is a point to the call centre. But until it happens, it is (to repeat myself) cruel, pointless, costly, negative, foul and criminal.

I'm not a Wiltshire ratepayer. I live in Hampshire, my father lived in (East) Dorset, but Salisbury and its crematorium are in Wiltshire, and the focal point for all of the stages of the process. Wiltshire County Council have introduced a disgraceful and cruel process to stop bereaved families from meeting their statutory obligation - to register the death. Shame on you.

22 October 2009

Speed limits

Driving along the A31 from Winchester to Alton, you pass through the village of Four Marks. It made me chuckle one day when someone had added 'out of 10' at the bottom of the sign. The A31 is an old coaching and trunk road. It used to be three lanes wide for much of its length, and in Four Marks, even wider.

For obvious safety reasons, in the built-up area, the main road was restricted to 40 miles per hour. Until recently. It's now a 30 mph limit all the way through the village (it feels like two miles), even at those parts where there's a separate service road so that local traffic and pedestrians can be kept away from through traffic.

This is one of the fruits of the Village 30 initiative. Hampshire County Council quotes revised Government guidance on setting speed limits states that "villages should have comparable speed limits to similar roads in urban areas" meaning that a 30mph limit should be the norm in villages. ("Setting Local Speed Limits", Department for Transport Circular 01/2006).

Since people like to build houses, for convenience, within easy reach of main roads, many parts of the main road network in Hampshire will meet the criterion of 20 houses within 600 metres.

Yes, there are places that need 30 mph limits. In the past, these have been set in built-up areas, which have street lighting, narrower roads, pavements, etc. The safety reasons are clear and compelling. Indeed, in residential areas, the 20 mph sign is becoming a common sight.

Now the 30 limit can be anywhere that has just enough houses, 24 x 7, 365 days a year. Journey times will increase by a third (or even more where a 50 mph is reduced to a 30). 39 villages had this change in the last quarter of 2008, another 79 in 2009. For heaven's sake. Is this another attempt by Brown's nanny state to kill the countryside?

19 October 2009

Jenson Button and Ross Brawn

Congratulations to Jenson Button and Ross Brawn, and their team, on winning the Formula 1 drivers' and constructors' championships. It was a hell of an achievement, and a great story. I enjoyed this article from The Times.

Another thing that I admired was Ross Brawn - in an interview at his moment of victory, not mentioned in the newspaper - paying tribute to the members of the team who had to leave when it was downsized at the beginning of this year to save costs - but had done so much to develop the cars to a winning design.

Well done, everyone.

17 September 2009

Southampton Boat Show 2009

Wonderful day at the Southampton Boat Show yesterday. I'd never been to one before, but it was a fascinating day out. I knew that boating and yachting are big industries, and that they make a big contribution to the economy, particularly in the South and West of England. Despite that, I was still gob-smacked by the sheer range of boats, equipment and related goods and services on offer.

All of the big luxury boat suppliers seemed to be there - Sunseeker, Princess, Fairline, to name three - with boats that ranged from the lottery winner's dream up to the billionaire's mini-liner. Even at the smaller end of the market, these are seriously expensive to buy and run. I saw a Princess V62 (if I remember correctly) - beautiful boat, elegant design, tasteful bling-free interior. This has a fuel tank of 3400 litres and a range of some 300 nautical miles. But the price tag was in seven figures. Someone told me that luxury power boats typically cost up to half of their capital cost to run and fuel every year. Over 3000 litres for 300 miles suggests this may not be too much of an exaggeration.

There were huge numbers of yachts, either on dry land or in the water, and we particularly liked the Lagoon 620 catamaran, moored next to the some of the Princess boats: vast internal space in the main cabin - you could play table tennis on a full-sized table in there - and clever use of the hulls for accommodation, galley and so on.

The exhibition halls had masses of chandlery, clothing, advanced electronics, engines - just about anything the boating enthusiast could imagine.

But as a contrast to the bling palaces, the Jubilee Sailing Trust was showing people round the Lord Nelson, a three-masted sails training ship which takes 40 blind and disabled people at a time, with their buddies, on ocean trips. I think you'd learn more about yourself on one of their voyages than on one of the power boats. In fact, the cost of running one of the big luxury boats for a week could pay for a voyage for 40 blind or disabled people. Now, that's worth a thought.

I'm not a boat junkie, and never felt that I needed a boat. Not so sure now - some really impressed me. The show's last day is Sunday 20th September and if you're within reach, it's well worth a visit.

10 July 2009

Best ever road deaths figure, but rural speed limits to be cut

In April, I blogged about the UK Government's initiative to cut speed limits in order to reduce the number of road deaths. My objections were:
  • Restriction of mobility when the UK already has some of the safest roads in the world

  • The method of enforcement (24x7 cameras) and civil liberties impact - everyone's movements could be logged and traced

  • The cost of installation and ongoing enforcement, including the possibility of another failed Government IT project

  • These proposals haven't gone away - they're out to consultation. The open consultation finishes on Tuesday 14th July, so if you have an opinion, you still have a few days to respond.

    The Times reported on 25th June that Deaths on UK roads fall to record low.

    Lord Adonis, the Transport Minister, says that "Britain now jointly has the safest roads of any major nation in the world".

    I agree that every road death is unnecessary, but I disagree with the speed limit proposals. These will have a huge set-up and operating cost, and will restrict mobility outside built-up areas by increasing journey times at all times of day and night.

    Some better approaches would be

  • Harsh penalties for causing death and serious injury; killing someone with a car is manslaughter or murder, and should be treated that way

  • Better road education: males under the age of 20 seem to be particularly likely to kill themselves, their friends, and innocent third parties

  • Restrictions on new drivers during the first few months after passing the test; curfews and rules about number of passengers, P plates (showing Passed - but recently)

  • Invest in better road layouts where these are known to be unsafe

  • Enforce speed limits in known black spots; this should be far cheaper than country-wide speed restrictions
  • 08 June 2009

    Brown broke Britain

    It's time for blame to be given where it's due. I'm fed up with hearing the spin that "Gordon's done a great job for Britain." Gordon Brown has messed up almost everything he's touched.

    On the credit side, he freed the Bank of England in May 1997 to set interest rates. Sadly, quite soon after, in June 1998, he screwed up banking supervision, and that is the root cause of the current financial crisis. The Bank was, at the time, a world-renowned centre of excellence for banking supervision. Famously, a 'raised eyebrow' was all that was needed when supervisors wanted a change made. This was replaced by a rules-based supervisory regime under the Financial Services Authority which had power to penalise and set rules, but lacked the reputation and clout that had enabled the Bank to keep a tight rein. Whenever there's a published set of rules, clever people will find ways to push the envelope - which is what's happened in spades in the sub-prime loans scandal and Credit Default Swaps debacle.

    He's also messed up the UK pension system. Our defined benefits system was the best in the world before he and his mate Ed Balls got their dirty fingers into it. They axed the dividend tax credit in 1997. Very few private sector organisations can now afford to offer defined benefits pensions - thanks largely to Brown's pension grab which in March 2007 was already estimated to have taken more than £100 billion out of private sector pensions (Daily Telegraph article).

    Finally, he's saddled us with unaffordable obligations that won't go away. Public sector spending has been a diarrhea of give-aways to anyone whose acquiescence needed to be bought, much of it funded by present or future borrowing. Rather than work out a cost-benefit analysis for new initiatives, money has been sprayed into wild ideas that have been more to do with popularity or grabbing headlines than solving the needs of the country. Many Government IT projects have been a complete shambles. Pay settlements have been much more generous than those available to most private sector workers. MPs and many other public sector have defined-benefit pensions, on massively generous terms, that they will go on collecting for the next forty or fifty years.

    We'll be paying for Brown for two generations. Brown did a great job for Brown.

    22 April 2009

    Speed limit to be cut

    The Times (21 April) reports that the speed limit on many UK A roads will be cut to 50 mph under plans to reduce the number of road deaths by a third. The default limit will be reduced from 60 mph to 50 mph unless the local council gives acceptable reasons to retain the higher limit. It would become easier for councils to reduce the limit on residential roads from 30 mph to 20 mph, and average speed cameras would be introduced to enforce the new limits.

    The UK achieved huge improvements in road safety between 1990 and 1995, when the annual death rate fell from over 5000 to under 4000. It's now under 3000, and continuing to improve. This is despite a rising population and hugely increased number of vehicles using the roads. So despite the success of the current measures, our heroic Government has come up with an idea that will restrict everyone who lives outside a built-up area and uses cross-country routes. The unpopular measure can be enforced through the recruitment of thousands of new automated police officers (average speed cameras) that can issue penalties 24 x 7, regardless of the traffic and weather conditions, and into the bargain develop a database to show the vehicle movements of a majority of the population. So useful to maintain public safety.

    Of course, in revenue terms, this will be 'free'. The cameras, data network, central fines processing and recovery, repairs, replacement, surveillance database if required, signposting, etc., will cost a few billions per year. But the Government probably reckons that it can get the money back through fines - and if they don't collect enough, keep raising the fines. If all else fails, print a bit more money. Of course, we can be sure that this HM Government IT project will be a glowing success. So important when taxpayers money is involved.

    Of course, this may be just another kite-flying initiative either (a) to distract the mob from the appalling Government debt that will be revealed in today's Budget or (b) to allow the spin doctors to say "we've listened" when the whole thing is scrapped. Time will tell...

    19 April 2009

    EDF Energy AngloWelsh Cup

    After the excitement of the semi-finals, the final was one-sided. Gloucester never managed to raise their game in the way that had seen off Ospreys. They never looked as though they would win the collisions. It almost seemed as though the confidence that had allowed them to put extra firepower against Ospreys into the breakdown had evaporated against Cardiff. The half time score was 22-5 to Cardiff, and maybe they'd had one or two lucky breaks to be so far ahead. By the end, the result of 50-12 was fully justified, and they were worthy winners.

    What a shame that this competition, in this format, won't be around next year. It's a fantastic opportunity for the best teams of the two countries to test themselves against each other, and to give great entertainment and thrills to their fans.

    17 April 2009

    Greedy Times?

    The hikes in the annual subscription for The Times/Sunday Times have outstripped the rises in the cover price. Since 2001, the cover price has doubled, but the subscription rate that we pay has almost trebled.

    Annual subscription
    06/06/2000: £91
    23/05/2001: £91
    17/06/2002: £91
    4 x 12 weekly subscriptions: (add 8% for yearly rate)
    24/11/2003 - 24/10/2004: £96
    25/10/2004 - 10/09/2005: £120
    11/09/2005 - 20/08/2006: £144
    21/08/2006 - 16/07/2007: £156
    17/07/2007 - 16/06/2008: £192
    17/06/2008 - 16/05/2009: £216
    17/05/2009 - 16/04/2010: £240 (about £260 a year)

    Some cover prices gleaned from Google:
    Oct 2001: 40p weekdays, 70p Sats, £1.20 Suns - £3.70 per week
    Oct 2002: 45p weekdays, 80p Sats, £1.40 Suns - £4.45 per week
    Sep 2006: 65p weekdays, £1.30 Sats, £2 Suns - £6.55 per week
    Sep 2007: 70p weekdays, £1.40 Sats, £1.80 Suns - £6.70 per week
    Aug 2008: 80p weekdays, £1.50 Sats, £2 Suns - £7.50 per week
    Jan 2009: 90p weekdays, £1 Sats, £2 Suns - £7.50 per week

    01 April 2009

    EDFEnergy Anglo-Welsh Cup

    I've now finished catching up on recordings of the two semi-finals in this year's Anglo-Welsh Cup. Magnificent! Gloucester beat Ospreys by 17-0, with an 80 metre interception try by Balshaw at the death to seal an intense match. This showed Dean Ryan's coaching and direction of the team at its magnificent best - committing more men to the tackle area and literally blasting Ospreys off the ball. Ospreys, despite the brilliance of their attacking resources, never managed to compete against the sheer commitment shown by Tindall's team.

    Northampton stayed in touch but never led against Cardiff Blues in the other match. In the first half, their defence was awesome but they rarely left their own end of the pitch. Cardiff pressure brought a deserved try by scrum half Spice, following an early penalty, to lead 8-0 at half time. Northampton came back strongly after half time with an early try by Ansbro, created by Myler (8-5). Northampton had the lion's share of territory and possession for the remainder of the match, but were unable to break through. A penalty for Blair, with 10 minutes remaining, gave Cardiff a wider margin at 11-5, but the match remained on the knife edge until the last play. It was a strange game, with both kickers misfiring and odd tactical choices made, but the intensity of the physical confrontation was wonderful to watch.

    Sadly the future of the competition is undecided - the RFU and Premier Rugby seem unable to agree, and this excellent link with the top Welsh sides could be lost. That would be a shame. At least we still have this year's final to look forward to, on Saturday 18th April at Twickenham.

    30 March 2009

    Television retuning

    Not a good outcome. On 25th March, households that use the Rowridge transmitter on the Isle of Wight had to retune their digital TV receivers. Before the retuning, we received 119 channels. Now we have at best 79, though on the main TV the total is only 40. BBC1, BBC2 and Channel 4 have disappeared completely, ITV1 is now available with considerable pixelation on one box and not at all on the other.

    Apparently we may have to wait until 2012 for the signal to be turned up to full strength.

    Technorati profile

    Technorati Profile

    11 March 2009

    Barclaycard on the ball... and then not

    Barclaycard contacted me on Saturday morning (7th) to ask if I'd just done a transaction for £1,000 with a mortgage provider on my business credit card. No! Then did you do £2,000 with an energy utility on Friday? No! What about all the other transactions? One other was fraudulent, a Pay As You Go phone top-up - I don't have a PAYG phone. Top marks for picking up the untypical transactions, two of which weren't what I would consider as suitable items for a business account.

    The disclaimer form arrived today - and included a number to which it could be faxed after completion. And guess what - no answer (multiple times), number busy, no answer. Less than top marks for that.

    05 March 2009

    Hampshire Rugby Clubs

    The headline of this article links to a Google map with all of the Hampshire RFU member Rugby Clubs plus associate members and associate schools. It includes Channel Island clubs, and so far as I can make it, it's comprehensive; some details are elusive.

    04 March 2009

    How far to a Shell station?

    Shell now has a service station locator on its UK website that allows you to plan a journey and produce a map and list all of the Shell stations adjacent to the route. This is a good improvement - they used to allow you only to search by road or town/postcode. I wrote in 2005 to say
    It's great to give customers a route for their journey - it would be even better to show the Shell stations on the way.
    and further...
    I couldn't find any sensible way through the search facilities on your site to work out where on a trip from Hindhead to Durham and back I could fill up with Shell fuel. I know that there are some Shell service areas but I wanted to know where they are. As a driver I don't know which towns/cities/postcodes I'm passing near, so searching by these is useless.

    My suggestion: a simple table on your site would have been a big help. It only needs to show
    - number of motorway/Ax(M) road,
    - name of service area and operator
    - which junctions it lies between
    - Optimax (now V Power), etc.

    I used another website - 5 minutes away (from the motorway) - and eventually tracked down a few.
    But now the application produces a map. Hooray! But a stroke of un-genius - the list of service stations is in something that looks related to alphabetical order rather than in the order you'd encounter them on the journey. And the map print-out doesn't scale to show all the labels, so you're back to guesswork again. You can see a pdf (123 KB) of a journey plan from Hindhead to Newcastle here.

    Some progress, some still needed. Suggestion: let's have the service stations in the right order for the journey!

    05 February 2009

    Banking oblivion

    So, as expected, the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England has reduced base rates to 1%. I no longer think the Bank is independent - it's been cowed by the criticism of its role in the Northern Rock debacle.

    This will further drive retail savers away from the commercial banks; building societies have less political pressure to reduce saver and borrower rates because they're not seen as 'guilty'. It also reduces the cost of government borrowing, at least where it has a captive depositor base, such as some National Savings products, and reserve deposits at the Bank of England.

    So it's not inconceivable that this is part of a fiendish game plan by HM Government. Why? So that it can nationalise all of the banks, which will soon have little liquidity except that supplied from government schemes.

    28 January 2009

    Rotten January

    My fourth cancellation of the month - waterlogged pitch today at King's School Winchester. Others were at University of Portsmouth, Alton Women, and at Winchester for the Hampshire U14 Trials. And Petersfield's 1st XV match versus Ellingham (I was there for the Vice Presidents' lunch) was postponed for a week due to the frozen pitch.

    This has been just about the worst month since I started refereeing for Hampshire RU Referees' Society, after gaining my National Foundation Certificate on 24th January 1999. Hopefully, February will be better.

    25 January 2009

    Petersfield Colts reach cup last 16 in a great if muddy performance

    Petersfield 29, Saracens Amateurs 0. A well-contested game of Rugby, but Petersfield scrambled better in the Penn's Place mud to score three tries before half time, adding two more in the second period. Great joy.

    23 January 2009

    Matt Stevens

    What a sad story - at 26, he's admitted using a 'serious recreational drug' and is likely to be out of Rugby for the next two years. This will wreck or at least seriously delay his career. He's a big man - big enough to apologise to all of the people who've helped him up to now, to take counselling, and to own up rather than trying to pretend the allegations were false.

    He could really help others to avoid his fate by naming and shaming the people that got him on this slippery slope. But that's unlikely to happen.