Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Charles Cox - The Verdict Is In

It's been a long wait since we first heard that someone was to be tried for the manslaughter of Charles Cox. Charles was assaulted - we now know - in November 2007 and died in July 2009. Jeremy Aylmer was, today, acquitted of Charles' manslaughter. The accusation was that he had "pole-axed" Charles with a single punch. Mr. Aylmer's defence was that Charles had been the aggressor - an unlikely scenario but one that the jury evidently agreed with although there is a further aspect to the defence that implied that Charles did not die from the punch but from the tube that he was being fed with (which, of course, he wouldn't have needed had he not been punched).

A City trader has been cleared of killing a company vice-president in an alcohol-fuelled row over a woman.

201004281610.jpg

Jeremy Aylmer, 36, held his head in his hands after being acquitted of manslaughter at Inner London crown court. He was accused of “pole-axing” IT executive Charles Cox, 56, with a single “vicious” punch outside Floridita, in Wardour Street, in November 2007.

Mr Cox, of South Kensington, a member of the CBI and the Institute of Policy Studies, fell backwards, hitting his head on the pavement and suffering a fractured skull.

Mr Aylmer insisted the older man was the “aggressor” who pushed him, shouting “f**k off, f**k off”, causing the petroleum trader to retaliate with a punch.

Andrew Campbell-Tiech, QC, defending, suggested Mr Cox's death could have been caused by the naso-gastric tube he was being fed with. Jurors heard Mr Cox was married but separated from his wife, and worked for Hewlett Packard-owned EDS.

The full story is in today's London Evening Standard.

I believe in our justice system. But that doesn't mean that I am not incredibly saddened to see it work in this way - plainly a punch was thrown and it resulted in Charles fracturing his skull and, much later, despite the care of multiple hospitals, his death. QED.

A Bad Day In the Market

What a bad day for stocks looks like - not much green:

201004280914.jpg

Graphic from FinViz and shows sector/individual stock performance for yesterday, April 27th 2010.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Rain in London Falls Mainly On the Marathon

Yesterday's weather forecast has been updated. The BBC now think:

201004250914.jpg

Any marathon runner would take rain over shine ... once they get going. The downsides of rain are threefold:

1) A miserable wait at the start getting wet and cold

2) Fewer people on the course cheering you on

3) Slippery man hole covers and rains

But give me a day like this any time over 20+C ... But as I write this the skies are clearing and I wonder whether the forecast is wrong yet again and it will warm up, making for a tough run for those finishing in more than 4 hours.

Good luck to all those running.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hot To Trot - London Marathon, April 25th 2010

The weather for tomorrow's London Marathon is looking a little mixed. Warm in the morning and a probable shower around 3pm or 4pm. Almost everyone will long since be home by then so it could be a tough run for the middle of the pack. Here's the BBC's forecast:

201004241416.jpg

The last 5 years have seen 3 hot race days and 2 rainy ones. On a rainy day, I run about 20-30 minutes faster over the 26.1 miles than on a hot day.

Top tips for hot weather

- With the recent spell of warm weather, hopefully you've figured out how to run in such conditions and so are practiced. If not, take it gently - start slower and pace yourself

- Watch out for the Lucozade stops. The slower you are, the more sticky fluid there will be on the ground when you get to each station. It feels like running over velcro.

- Hydrate but don't over hydrate; drink before the race rather than too much during it. Too much water will slow you down, probably result in a rest stop and almost certainly lead to stomach discomfort as all the extra fluid sloshes around. And you're hot, but drinking warm water from the water marshalls won't necessarily cool you down.

- Look for the shade along the course, not that you will find much but use it when you can. The London Marathon folks are kind enough to install a few spray showers along the route - use those when you can. In Docklands, there's lots of shade from the tall buildings, but there's less wind so it tends to feel more humid

- Wear sunscreen and/or a hat. And a t-shirt to cover up your shoulders unless you've put some strong sunscreen on those. Being hot, tired and sun-burned isn't any fun at all.

If you feel dizzy, cold, damp or in any way disorientated, ask St John's Ambulance people to take a look at you - you'll seem them regularly along the course.

Elevation Profile

For those looking for a last minute elevation guide, here's one - the purple line is elevation, the green bars are my pace per mile last time round. Note that I'm not great at negative splits!


201004241428.jpg

Update: For those kind people wishing me luck, I'm not running this year - this is what I'm doing instead.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Government Requests of Google

Hard to know what to make of this. Google says that greater transparency will lead to less censorship. The UK is high in the top 10 for both requests and removals, yet neither number (1166 and 59 respectively) seems like "a lot", whatever that might mean. As google says, "We’re new at this, and we’re still learning the best way to collect and present this information. We’ll continue to improve this tool and fine-tune the types of data we display." I'd start with "here's the problem we're trying to solve", from the FAQ:

Do your statistics cover all categories of data requests from governments?

No, the statistics primarily cover requests in criminal matters. We can’t always be sure that a request necessarily relates to a criminal investigation, however, so there are likely a small number of requests that fall outside of this category. For example, we would include in the statistics an emergency request from a government public safety agency seeking information to save the life of a person who is in peril even though there is not necessarily a criminal investigation involved. As we improve our tracking, we may add more categories.   

How many of these requests did you comply with?

The “removal request” numbers represent the number of requests we have received, and the percentage we complied with in full or in part per country. The “data requests” numbers reflect the number of requests we received about the users of our services and products from government agencies like local and federal police. They don’t indicate whether we complied with a request for data in any way. When we receive a request for user information, we review it carefully and only provide information within the scope and authority of the request. We may refuse to produce information or try to narrow the request in some cases.   

201004202234.jpg

Friday, April 09, 2010

100 hours ...

201004092214.jpg

I watched Channel 4's Dispatches programme tonight. That will come as a surprise to many. Yes I have a television (since a few months ago), yes I watch television and yes I usually only watch Channel 4 news. I have no idea if the claims made are true. It sounded shocking and certainly seemed to lack transparency. But is it true? No idea. The controversy is already building though.

I can tell you that I've run a few marathons and almost always (but not absolutely always) through the ballot. In 2007, though, I vowed to run no marathon unless I won a free place. This was triggered after I entered the NY marathon via a charity place and found that the charity had to pay my entrance fee AND the cost of flights and hotels even though I PAID for those independently. I flew to NY on AirMiles and stayed in a hotel on a different kind of AirMiles and yet the charity I supported ended up paying nonetheless, so the £2,500 odd I raised was doubtless reduced. I know, though, that justgiving.com (who I have used for every run I've done) take their own cut of each donation.

Those who know me will know that I have usually raised money for Macmillan Cancer Support - a charity I hold very dear, all the more so recently. In the last few years I have raised over £20,000 through donations from friends, colleagues, suppliers and other generous people as well as giving money each month personally. The tax man has kindly topped up that amount by 28% or so.

This year I decided not to run any marathons - mostly because of an injured knee that didn't quite seem up to it - and, instead, calculated how much time it took to train for a marathon (including all training, racing, travel time and so on). The number I came up with was 100 hours.

I decided to donate my 100 hours to a charity and chose Combat Stress. So I've given them at least 100 hours of my time in the next couple of months - and I expect to increase that time once I better understand how I can help. I've said that I will do anything that they want - from standing on a street corner raising funds to working with donors, helping figure out grants, managing internal structures and so on. We're talking now about what that all means but from May 4th, I'm giving Combat Stress large chunks of my time.

Is Channel 4's story true? I have no idea; I hope not, of course. This year's London Marathon is locked and loaded and takes place in 2 weeks. 40,000+ runners will start and I want them all to experience what I've experienced - the highs and lows of a big run - and to know that they have raised good money for their chosen charity. Next year might be different if the allegations stick - or there will, at least, be a greater degree of transparency that shows everyone where the money goes.

in 2010 I will be cheering London Marathon runners on, but I will be "spending" my time with Combat Stress and hoping that the input time leads to a far greater multiplier on the output side than I could achieve through running a marathon. I haven't (yet) given up running marathons though and perhaps I'll be back.

Whether Channel 4 is right or wrong on this, I'd encourage everyone to think whether they can give 100 minutes, 100 hours, 100 days or some other substantial amount of their time to a charity of their choice. I suspect that 100 somethings of your time is more valuable than you raising the equivalent money and passing it through various channels to the charity, especially if each of the channels takes their cut.

We could maybe start a movement ... 100 hours for your chosen charity.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Integrated Streetcar

Streetcar is perhaps the finest example I've come across of an integrated solution. I say integrated in the truest sense of the word (as in the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone) - it links web technology, call centres, mobile phones and the physical world of automobiles and petrol stations in one, apparently seamless, whole.

For instance, I recently booked a car on the web just before leaving work. I estimated what time I'd get to the car's location, some 100 yards from my house but about 90 minutes travel from where I was when I booked it. I guessed wrong, by about 20 minutes, and so found out that Streetcars (as you'd imagine but likely never test) are timelocked - I'd always wondered what would happen if I tried to unlock a car "out of hours" and now I know.

Even a year ago, I would have had to wait it out, make a call or go home and rebook the car.

This time, I used the Streetcar iPhone app - no more than 4 screen touches and I'd extended my booking to include the missing 20 minutes (rounded to a half hour). The charge? An extra 97p. Before I put my iPhone back in my pocket, I had a confirmation text and the doors unlocked on demand (not quite Open Sesame but close). Simply stunning.

Later in the evening, I needed to extend my use of the car a couple of hours. The iPhone came out again, I could see no one had booked it after me, and I had the car until I needed it (at no extra cost).

This joining of web technology, a virtual connection to a physical car parked in front of me, mobile phones and what is doubtless a complex demand forecasting and pricing model behind the scenes appears, to me as a consumer, effortless. Streetcar is the Apple of car rental companies. Perhaps they prefer to call themselves a provider of personal transportation solutions. They so integrate the hardware and the software for booking, unlocking and managing the transaction that I can't help but be amazed. I realise I'm gushing.

I wondered, then, what else we might do with Streetcar. At the moment, I don't tell them in advance where I'm going, but it occurs to me that even without that knowledge we could use it to:

1) Collect traffic speed data and build a comprehensive map of speed across a city, so improving satellite navigation journey forecasts, showing the effect of roadworks or the impact of traffic policy changes (traffic light phasing for instance). Streetcars doubtless stay in their local area - one quarter of car journeys in the UK are less than a mile - but a broad enough network of cars would provide great coverage.

2) Test air pollution in the city, collecting data in the same way that speed data could be collected.

3) Attach google streetview cameras and so have near continuous up to date images (allowing for post-processing time to remove number plates and faces)

But what if I told Streetcar where I was going when I booked my journey, at least roughly? Could we then:

1) Let people reserve a place in your car for the same journey you're making? They'd pay a small fee and you'd pay less for the car? Plans change, of course, so these would have to be "standby" tickets but could it help bring about the notion of car pooling? To that point, could Streetcar faciliate car pooling across the nation using its own software to help manage cars that were not even part of its fleet, letting anyone book places on journeys (recognising the need for some kind of authentication process). Streetcar could become the biggest social network in the UK, integrating people and travel

2) Building on carrying people, perhaps it's even possible that Streetcar could move goods around cities - you want to take a car from A to B and Streetcar gives you a discount if you also take a package from C to D, both of which are within a reasonable distance of your straightline journey; again, you get a discount for carrying out this additional errand.

Now, entirely separate from all that, which is probably nonsense, and switching to government solutions (which might be no less nonsense), could Streetcar:

1) Manage the entire portfolio of government cars siting them close by to government buildings, or within existing secure car parks as needed, putting in place an online booking system, managing the fleet and ensuring that where senior people needed drivers they were available? And so reduce both the costs of running the fleet and the need for some staff to travel by taxi, train or 'plane?

2) Is such a booking and tracking system something that could help manage supply and demand for ambulances through providing better information of what was needed, where and when? I have zero knowledge on how sophisticated ambulance capacity management systems are so this may be way off base.

Funny though, despite all the Streetcar integration, the dashboard clock was still showing the time before the clocks changed. Digital clocks on multiple devices remain, it seems, as difficult a problem as government's own "change of address." A problem for another day then.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Terr-Assumptions

I enjoy reading the FT.   One of my main measures of how hard a week I've had is seeing if a pile of unread FTS is growing on the table at home.   The worst period saw it grow to 13 unread over a two week period.   I was at "3" yesterday when I started reading the paper on the tube.

An observation I've made over many years is that the FT seems to make peculiar assumptions about what its readership knows.

For instance

Anytime there is a conversation about bond yields there is an obligatory parenthetical statement that says "(which move in an inverted ratio with bond price)". It occurs to me that 99% of FT readers would know that yields fall when prices rise.

So imagine what I thought when I read an article about the Large Hadron Collider that includes this useful parethetical quote

"The protons in the LHC require 100megawatts of power ... Collided at more than 7 tera - or trillion - electronvolts. (One TeV is the energy given to an electron as it accelerates through a potential of one volt)"

I am nonethewiser. What does this mean? Is it enough to power a toaster? A house? Manchester? The big bang?