The joule in the crown

An excellent piece from the generally excellent Metric Views on food energy content labelling. A calorie is a nonsense unit that means nothing; a joule is a real unit that makes sense.

One of the things that I very much like about moving to Australia is that, for all its stereotyping as backward, the country has almost completely moved over to sane units of measurement. People talk about their weight in kilos, they drive kilometres, energy on drinks cans is stated in joules. Stupid measurements are a thing of the past, rather than having been retained to appease fogeys and xenophobic bigots.

For all my disapproval of democracy, I’d certainly vote for any party that promised to finish and enforce metrication in the UK. Particularly if the enforcement was on pain of death (wouldn’t it have been lovely had the Metric Martyrs [*] actually been burned at the stake?)

[*] or “swindlers who refused to display their goods’ correct prices”, as they should more accurately be called.

We love Admiral Scrumptious

Lord Adonis‘s retort to Boris on the Tube Lines PPP arbitration is quite superb:

Under devolution, it is for the Mayor and TfL to deliver the Tube upgrades within their generous budget – not for me to bail them out if they fail to do so.

If Boris wants me to take charge of TfL then he should say, and I would start with more sensible priorities like not cancelling the Western congestion charge zone and not replacing a modern bus fleet needlessly – both of which are costing Londoners hundreds of millions of pounds which could be spent on upgrading the Tube.

At some point, I’m going to post on why Tube PPP was a Good Thing (at least, given 2000s capital market conditions – it’s possible that credit availability over the next 10 years will mean that PPP/PFI is no longer as good an idea as it was during the Blair years). It boils down to “the government is committed to paying the money whether it wants to or not, rather than buggering about with the budget year-on-year as happened from 1945-1997”.

(yes, this kind of long-term commitment sacrifices democratic decisionmaking in favour of efficiency. As regular readers will hopefully have picked up, this blog has no moral attachment to the concept of democracy, or “rule by a mob of ignorant idiots”; the only reason I’m not actively opposed to it is the empirical one that other means of governance generally seem to turn out even worse.)

Being shouted at is your goddamn job

I never shout at customer services people. Literally never. Occasionally I mute the phone and scream; on very rare occasions I excuse myself from the physical situation and scream; but I’ve never shouted at a customer services person of any kind and hope never to do so.

In most cases, this is because they don’t deserve it. We’re all fully aware that customer services people are hired to follow rules, that rules are laid down by managers, and that managers are frequently useless idiots (I defy anyone to quibble with that proposition).

If someone’s enforcing a stupid rule which is actually a rule laid down by management, they admit that it’s a rule laid down by management that they have no authority to do anything about, and they don’t BACAI, then being anything other than civil and polite with them is morally wrong. We all have to eat, and anyone drawing parallels between Boncentration Bamp guards and junior call centre bods is a knobend.

However, the situation becomes slightly different when you’re dealing with someone who actually thinks they’re a force for good, rather than merely enforcing a stupid rule that they’re too stupid to understand is a stupid rule. This encompasses about half of the people wearing uniforms in airports who don’t have advanced training in flying aeroplanes, firing guns or spying, as well as the vast majority of security guards and PCSOs elsewhere. In fact, it’s pretty much solely confined to occupations where you can wear a uniform and exercise power over people despite knowing fuck-all and having fuck-all skills (the other 50% of people in such jobs fall into the first category, of knowing how pointless and stupid the role is but needing to get paid. They deserve nothing but respect and sympathy).

I’m not rude to these people, except in abstract. Not because they don’t deserve it – they do, and if everyone treated them with the lack of respect that they deserved, uniformed-muppet-interaction situations like airports would become much less unpleasant. I remain polite to them at all times partly because I believe that publicly losing one’s temper generally loses one the argument, and partly because there are lots of them and have the right to kick me out of their mall/airport (and in the event that the only way to resolve the dispute is to call the real police then “being in the right, completely calm and that’s backed up by the CCTV footage” is a helpful way of ensuring that you win in the longer term [*]).

However, that’s solely a personal, pragmatic decision. I don’t hold anything whatsoever morally against people who react to the latter group in the manner they’ve entirely provoked.

And hence, the title of this post. Nobody should be spat at or subjected to physical violence as part of their job, unless they’re in a punk band or a boxing match. But if you take the point of your job as “being an arsehole”, then “having people be rude to you” ought to be a part of your job description, not something which is oh-so-terrible-and-traumatic from which you deserve legal protection. And on that basis, as long as the reaction remains verbal rather than spit- or punch-based, I’m 100% in favour (standing offer to all readers: provide evidence of a public servant’s arsehole-y ness, and evidence that you’ve verbally abused said arsehole, and I’ll buy you a drink).

I’m aware of claims that people in customer services roles who react in the former manner, by apologetically following the rules, are also subjected to abuse. I simply don’t believe it – every customer services person I’ve ever seen abused was one who followed the rules gleefully, rather than empathetically. I’ve never seen a customer services person who actually appeared to understand and care about a customer’s problem get into any trouble whatsoever [**] [***].

[*] the one interaction with arsehole-ish authority that I’m still grumpy about giving up on was Christmas Eve a year and a bit ago – a South West Trains ticket inspector demanded a penalty fare despite the fact that I had a valid ticket, and I was barely-on-time for a family dinner – if I’d had nothing better to do, I’d have happily called the police myself and calmly noted that a burly man was holding me under false arrest.

[**] this is the difference between “you should have been here 30 minutes before your flight” and “I’m sorry, but the management has said I can’t let people on within 30 minutes of the flight. No, I don’t understand the rule either, I know you don’t have any luggage and you could easily make it to the gate, but I’m not allowed to let you on. Here’s a complaints form, please write to the management and ask them why they enforce this policy and if they could change it”. I’ve seen both done; the first makes people boil, the second deflects any boiling to the people whose fault the boiling actually is.

[***] before posting counter-examples from personal work experience, I recommend thinking very carefully about whether they reflect primarily on my argument or your skillset.

Disappointing bureaucrats

In general, the New South Wales drivers theory test is a Bumper Book of Common Sense. However, I’m disappointed by question FD035:

FD035 – Fatigue and Defensive Driving RUH
You are driving an older relative for an appointment and are running late. They ask you to go faster to get there on time. You should –
a) Choose a safe speed and say you will not go any faster
b) Take the advice of a more experience driver and go faster where you can.
c) Drop them off at the train station.

According to the Bumper Book of Common Sense, a) is the only permissible answer.

This is bad and wrong. When some silly old sod is hassling a kid (since 95%+ of Australians learn to drive in their teens) to drive dangerously, “here’s the train station, now piss off” is clearly the most appropriate response…

Back to the coal face

Holiday over; new life commencing. As the twitter updates might testify, I now have an Australian flat, bank account, enormous selection of IKEA furniture, etc (not quite a driving licence yet, due to bureaucratic stupidity, but it’s on the cards).

This should (both in the moral sense and in the predictive sense) mean a return to regular blogging rather than microblogging via Twitter updates. I also need to redesign the site to be a bit more professional-showcase-y (not affecting the core blog writing, don’t worry – although some of the more business/economics-y stuff might end up shifted to another ‘professional’ blog, if I get around to it and can make WordPress work the way I want it to.

But basically, hello again. Also, anyone know any good Australian business/economics/generally worthwhile blogs?

What I’ve been up to, week ending 2010-03-07

  • Shocked by the price of books in Australia – UK-published paperbacks with gbp8.99 printed on the back go here for $25, over 2x as much #
  • …possibly this explains certain highly unfair local stereotypes about learning / culture…? #
  • Reading UK blogs for the first time in several weeks, people seem to be seriously considering the prospect of a Labour win – wow, also WTF? #
  • Separately – there is nothing I find more bizarre than the attitude of *anyone* who believes Argentina has a claim to the Falklands #
  • They've been British as long as Argentina has existed – and (unlike Argentina) the settlement didn't involve whites slaughtering natives #
  • Having had an annoying call with my bank, I'm in need of some #ebz therapy #
  • OBVIOUS -> (via @adambienkov) – although I really need to start fretting about my new hometown's transport policy #
  • More than I would -> RT @pressgazette Lebedev will pay £1 for the Independent, claims report #
  • GEEKQUESTION: anyone know a good way to access iPlayer from Oz? I'm guessing a UK-based proxy server, but any other subterfuge would suffice #
  • It's pleasant to be job-hunting in a country where the main economic qn is "are we being foolish to think everything's peachy"? (real quote) #
  • Banks still annoying. "No, we can't give you a receipt for the large foreign money transfer you've just done, just trust us" – hmm. #
  • RT @nauiokaspark: Inside the Excruciatingly Slow Death of Internet Explorer 6 | Popular Science (via @felixsalmon) #
  • When I left PwC (not the world's ropiest shop) in October 2008 my laptop was still running on IE6, and IE7 broke some internal software… #
  • No -> RT @DaveHill Has stop-and-search really reduced knife crime in London? #shortanswerstosimplequestions #
  • Did touristy things yesterday morning. Internetted this morning. #ebz #
  • Ryanair often gets into trouble w/the ASA for lying. Now Easyjet is in trouble w/the ASA for saying truth about Ryanair #
  • If Easyjet ran an ad saying "Ryanair are scum and everyone who works for them should be boiled alive", that would still be too moderate #
  • Meanwhile, it may be time to boycott Apple for being evil fair-competition-hating, court-abusing bastards: #
  • Off to (allegedly) collect keys to new flat. Will be either delighted or very pissed off in 90 minutes' time #
  • Am very delighted. Hurrah! I've never had a swimming pool before, or a balcony… #
  • Shame, I was hoping he'd outlast Mrs T: #
  • #ebz I'm sure it's not been 24 hours, but OK… #
  • A gentleman named Ben is bringing furniture tomorrow. Then we'll have furniture. This will RULE. #
  • Glad I'm not in the UK for Jon Venables circus. "Kid does bad thing, is punished, is released; 9 years later does unspecified thing" – and? #
  • Off to #ikea – if I don't return, I've probably been arrested for Ikea Rage. #
  • Survived IKEA, $800, one slightly scratched car and two slightly traumatised us later. FULLY FURNISHED HOUSE WOO! #
  • Damn, it's nice to have my own room. I can stay on the Internet until 0100 and listen to Canadian indie without anyone complaining #
  • #ebz Yes, I'll get up shortly and do something useful with my Saturday… #
  • Icelanders opt for arrogant stupidity and failing to face up to their own guilt. Unsurprising; most people generally opt for the same #
  • Iceland's a democracy; the people voted for deregulation and supported the boom. They are to blame (unlike 3rd-world debtors) #icesave #
  • For background, the Iceland saga up to January 2010 as morality play – time to write the next act… #icesave #
  • CROWDSOURCING: which of these cables do I need to use to plug in an 18-month-old MacBook Air to a TV: Mini DVI or Mini DisplayPort? #
  • Airport/customs docs remarkably addictive. Dunno know why "jobsworths try to ruin people's holidays/lives and usually succeed" so gripping #
  • Specific msg from Aus docusoap Air Ways is that Tiger combine operational skills of Aeroflot with customer service of Ryanair. WILL AVOID #
  • #ebz Sunday night, 1AM, no job yet, of course I'm on t'Internet #
  • As usual, David Mitchell is right: BBC *is* one of the things the UK does best, and Tories *do* plan to cripple it #
  • Don't see a problem with VAT on food tho'. This isn't the 1930s; anyone, no matter how poor, can afford to eat, and most eat too much anyway #
  • Reading the comments on the Mitchell piece. Some ppl suggesting HBO matches up to BBC. Rubbish: the Wire excellent; everything else shit #
  • Oz TV has some half-decent docs & talk shows, but *absolutely all* good drama is either BBC or Scandinavian state TV #
  • …although probably as a result, a much better range of movies shown on free-to-air TV. #
  • In "utterly terrifying" news – a wholly sensible and excellent Jeremy Clarkson column: #

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What I’ve been up to, week ending 2010-02-28

  • #ebz Melbourne is cloudy, and daytime TV here is unspeakably bad. Hence: #
  • Sydney is awesome, in the "excellent" sense of the word. Sydney rents are awesome, in the "inspiring terror and fear" sense of the word #
  • Flat-hunting is rubbish. New area exploring is fun. At least we get to combine the two here. #

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What I’ve been up to, week ending 2010-02-21

  • Wow, Perth is like all of the best aspects of western civilisation combined. #thishappenswhenyouspendamonthinAsia #
  • Western Australia features quite astounding amounts of nothing at all. Pretty nothing at all, mind. #
  • Internet connection too poor for full-scale review of 8-hour wine tour. Short review: DRINK! Bonzer. #
  • Off to see how Perth celebrates Carnival Brazilian-style. Arriba, etc. #
  • On a borrowed computer using IE6. Wow, IE6 is rubbish. #
  • I wonder if racists (sorry, "profiling advocates") will be adding "middle-aged anti-tax white men" to the no-fly list? #
  • It's depressing when you realise there's no option but to agree with George Galloway: #
  • #ebz Perth has good Internet, even if it has poor browsers… #

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What I’ve been up to, week ending 2010-02-14

  • Bali is nice. Just spent 2 hours bodysurfing. Possibly a real board may be called for tomorrow. Now – COCKTAILS! #
  • As @TheBuddhaSmiled says, the hotel is pretty dire: there aren't any pellets in the automatic bug-killer, and wifi only works in the bar #
  • Also, the bar and massage service in the pool doesn't stay open 24 hours. And the hot tub doesn't have a jacuzzi #
  • Excellent temple of thieving monkeys, who successfully removed one friend's glasses and one friend's hairclip #bali #
  • Apparently, swimming, drinking beer and taking underwater photos until 3AM, although excellent fun, makes mornings slightly slow #
  • Luckily #ebz is helping ease me into normality #
  • Slightly sunburned. Unrelatedly, have almost removed my beard, via various ludicrous styles I wouldn't try if not on holiday #
  • Balinese traditional music is pretty awful. Unlike Khmer pop music, which is unimaginably excellent #
  • No sympathy for Iraqi grumpiness about US throwing out Blackwater prosecutions – due process infinitely more important than revenge #
  • From this, we can conclude Jonathan Mendel is a prat – it's PR to get kids into science, not a sodding thesis #
  • #ebz Yes, I'll stop buggering about on the computer and get in the pool shortly #
  • Not being at all cultural. Hell, I've been to India and SE Asia, surely Balinese culture is just a blend of the two, right? #
  • Last night was this: – about as excellent as anything gets #
  • FACT: even if someone runs you a bath of rose petals, it neither turns you into nor allows you to go to bed with Mena Suvari #
  • #ebz yes, this again #
  • Based on a study of Balinese monkeys, socialism leads to cuteness and excellence and private enterprise leads to meanness and thieving #
  • (subsidised monkeys in govt monkey park well behaved and sweet; free-enterprise monkeys at tourist sites hit people and steal their things) #
  • #ebz it may be 35 degree sunshine, but that isn't going to stop me playing silly online games #

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What I’ve been up to, week ending 2010-02-07

  • Trying to find things to do in Siem Reap that don't involve drinking or going to Angkor Wat is surprisingly tricky… #
  • #ebz yup, more of the same #
  • Angkor Wat is an amazing feat of art and engineering. However, I now entirely understand the meaning of the phrase "templed out" #
  • Waiting for a bus to more or less nowhere. Hurrah! #
  • #ebz …and while waiting for a buss, one plays EBZ #
  • Wow, Pnomh Penh is DARK. In an "absence of visible light" sense rather than a metaphorical sense, although perhaps the metaphor fits #
  • For all its darkness, Pnomh Penh is quite a fun place to go out, in a nice-food-and-cocktails kinda way. Can't speak for ropier sorts of fun #
  • #ebz wherever there's good wifi, I'm playing this. The Jockey Hotel in PP has good wifi #
  • Killing fields were, erm, intense. Unsurprisingly. Now intend to drink enough that we don't think about them too much. #
  • FCC at Phnom Penh is proper excellent – @antonvowl is a correct man. Londoners: lobby your FCC to be more like the Cambodian one #
  • Young Tory makes inept comment; dickheads get offended: – he needs slated for his beliefs, not WWII-era PC nonsense #
  • I hate the way that, even though I'm logged in as me, Google defaults to the homepage of whatever country I'm in. No, I don't speak Khmer… #
  • KL is OK. Staying in soulless airport hotel, but oddly it's surrounded by fun plastic seat bar-restaurants solely frequented by locals #

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