Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Dr. Commuter Helps Out ... the BBC

This is one of those questions that keeps on coming up, especially at this time of the year with so many unwanted or unsuitable Christmas presents being given. I can give a totally unequivocal and direct answer to this one - NO.

If you have any questions for Dr. Commuter, do please let us know at the usual address.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

What Every Man Wants For Xmas

Any bloke would be pleased to receive a decent pocket-knife for Christmas. So you can imagine I was well chuffed when Mrs C. handed over the following piece of hardware:

Ignore the pencil, that's only there to show the scale. What you may not realise is that this apparently keen piece of kit, with its embossed handle and serrated edge (perfect for scaling fish or something) is actually made of chocolate. Quite delicious, in fact, and we finished it off whilst watching Rowan Atkinson (as Maigret) sleep-walking his way through "Montmartre" (or a studio looking something like it) on TV. Seems like a good way to see in the festive season to me.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Red and the Blue

The decision by the Government to scrap our EU-compliant passport design in favour of the traditional British blue is a slap in the face for those who decry our glorious national history. At last we can say goodbye to the jackbooted symbol of Euro-bureaucrat oppression and the hated red covers that had every true-blue Englishman spitting with rage each time they had to be produced. No more, my friends, no more. Henceforth at airports we shall bound like gazelles over the queues of swarthy, unshaven foreigners as they frantically hold aloft their red  badges of shame. We shall merely gesture to the slight bulge in our pockets. "British, old chap. That's all you need to know" and surely the gates will open, the officials will touch their peaked caps in deference and customs men politely usher us down the "No questions asked" aisle and out into the bright air of freedom.

But why stop there? Why do we have to produce a passport at all? It should be enough to say, loud and clear at the frontier "Look here my good man, I'm a subject of Queen Victoria Elizabeth". And any insolence will be rewarded by either a sound thrashing with a bullwhip or a letter to the Times. And why, when we leave these hallowed shores, should we Brits have to pay foreign taxes that only go straight into the pockets of some greasy, sweating overweight man in a smoke-filled cafe? Duty-free at at all times should be the watchword, nay, our birthright. We should have the right to demand the lowering of all foreign flags as we go by, and hats to be doffed in our presence. For we are a proud nation (©N Farage) and what is the point in being proud if you can't get proper respect from the lesser breeds?

I see a bright future dawning, my friends. I can also see an unmarked ambulance arriving outside and two men in white coats consulting clipboards. I wonder what they can possibly want with me?

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Bit of a Problem

You've got to laugh. Only a few days ago and Bitcoin was being launched on the Chicago Futures market with a rocketing price. All the people making money from dealing in it predicted that it could only go up and people should buy, buy,buy. This column, in the company of bankers and economists around the world, thought otherwise and warned of the perils.

Today, thanks to the BBC website, things don't look so rosy for the "investors" who may have been stupid enough to buy recently.

Predictably some are scoffing at the downturn on the grounds that the price is still way above what it was at the start of the year. True enough but not the point. Anyone who has bought recently is now nursing a whopping loss. If those people decide to cut their losses and sell, then to whom are they going to sell? Not to those waiting for the price to drop just a little more. Not to those who can no longer afford to buy any more. And not to those who like drawing graphs by extending trend lines as a means to make financial decisions. And if there are not enough optimists to outweigh all these non-buyers then the price will plunge on downward until sentiment changes.

There is no science in any of this, other than the social psychology of mob behaviour. Humans hate to stand out from crowds and are always worried that they are missing out on something that everyone else knows about. Buying Bitcoin seemed a one-way bet for so long because everyone else was doing it. Now it looks just another oversold speculation in which the ordinary bloke, who always comes in late to such things, has got his fingers burned once again.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Shock! Taxi firm "operates taxis" say Judges

This amazing headline will have lawyers scratching their wigs in bafflement as they haul down musty old books and pore over long dead court cases to determine if anything more blindingly obvious has ever been the subject of a prolonged judicial review. The top judges in Europe have decided that if you book a taxi using an app then the people you make the booking with are running a taxi service. Naturally the decision is contested by the lawyers for said taxi firm. Just as naturally they are American. These guys would go to court claiming copyright over the use of the word "copyright" if they thought they could get away with it.

And in other news ....
  • Sky is that bit of stuff over our heads, say boffins
  • Football ruled eligible as a "sport" by Dept of Culture
  • Supermarkets are retailers of food, not packaging and price information intermediaries, a tribunal rules.
  • A kiss is still a kiss (Sam)

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Having a Lark

The news that Britain's newest and biggest ever warship, the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth, has a leak requiring repairs is no real surprise to those of us who know everything we need to know about the navy from a certain much-loved BBC Radio series ....

Jaunty music. Sounds of sea slapping against a harbour wall, gulls wheeling and the hum of the bridge on a naval vessel.

Commander Murray: Are we ready to sail Lieutenant Phillips?
Phillips: I should jolly well say so sir. CPO Pertwee, start the old engine thingy will you?
Pertwee: Engines starting sir. into voicetube Start it up down there.
Engine room voice: Start it yourself, it's our tea break.
Pertwee: Just a few moments sir.
Murray: I say, isn't that the Admiral standing there on the dock with Captain Povey?
Phillips:  Must be coming to see us off. We mustn't make a mess of this one. And there's Wren Chasen. Ding-dong.
Murray: Put those binoculars down.  Chief, we really must get under way.
Pertwee: Getting underway right away sir. into voicetube  Come on, put those cards down and fire her up, we need to get out and back before the pubs close.
Awful grinding sound from below
Murray: Ah, chief?
Pertwee: Yessir?
Murray: That noise - is it significant at all, in any way?
Pertwee: Nothing to worry about sir, a little bit of a leak that's all. Lt Phillips checked it all out.
Phillips: I did? Oh yes, I did. Everything definitely tickety boo sir.
Pertwee: And there certainly wasn't any bits of metal missing from the anti-leakage bulkhead, sir.
Phillips: Absolutely not.
Pertwee: So we couldn't possibly have sold them in Portsmouth market.
Phillips: No, it was in Gosport.
Pertwee: Sshh.
Engine room: Chief, I've got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that the engines are started. The bad news is we seem to be taking in a bit of water.
Pertwee: Engines ready sir.
Murray: About time. Lieutenant Phillips, you have the helm.
Phillips: Oh crikey. Right.  Erm, let's see. Ah, left hand down a bit.

Pertwee: Left hand down it is sir.
Murray: I may be a bit wrong about this chaps, but aren't we a bit lower in the sea than we were before?
Pertwee: Oh crikey we're sinking!
Phillips: Oh lumme.
A glug-glug sound effect followed by the gentle sound of the sea.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Snow on a Sunday

Photo: Mrs. Commuter

Here's something not seen in these parts for a long time. I've been trawling the archives and it was seven years ago that I last saw fit to write about snowfall here in beautiful Ruislip. That was the horrible winter of 2010, which began with a cold snap in the last week of November and seemed to go on right through Christmas. The worst day was Saturday 18th December when we had about six inches in a very short time and there were the amazing pictures of aircraft stuck at Heathrow unable to move or even to allow their stranded passengers to debark.

This morning we awoke to about an inch of the white stuff and with a forecast of more to come all day. As you can see, it looks pretty in our back garden but is not particularly serious. We seem to be at the edge of the storm - a family member just a few miles north of here reports four inches - but there are reports of very bad conditions in the Midlands.

And for our regular readers [Do me a favour! Ed] here is this morning's status update for the Tube. Guess what? All the exposed lines in North and West London are snookered. Ah, happy days. I wonder what tomorrow's rush hour will be like?

Saturday, December 09, 2017

The Sheer Nastiness of the Brexiteers

A chance remark by one-time leader of the Conservative Party, Iain Duncan Smith, irritated me enormously this afternoon. Speaking after the first substantive deal in the long process to extricate the UK from membership of the EU, he said "They blinked first".

This innocuous comment has a huge undertone. For Smith and his ilk, the EU is something to be beaten, to get one over on, to face down and defeat. They reason that if it's good for the EU it must be bad for Britain.  Like the economists of the late 19c, convinced that no further significant technical progress in anything was likely, they see everything as entirely static - if one country is to do better, it can only do so because someone else is doing worse.

I wonder if when Smith, say, takes his car in for a service and is quoted a flat fee, does he rub his hands with glee afterwards and think "I certainly put one over on that garage mechanic, I would happily have paid £5 more" whilst the mechanic thinks "Wow what a  mug, I charged him £3 more than Juggins down the road would have done?". Or could it be that Smith is happy for someone who knows what they are doing to fix his car and the person doing the fixing is happy to be paid for it. In other words, that both parties emerge better off from the trade?

 Britain needs a strong and peaceful Europe and they need us. We should be working closely together towards a common end - the maintenance of societies which live under law, at peace with their neighbours and creating a sustainable prosperity (although I am increasingly doubtful if this latter can be achieved given our current technologies and the increasing despoliation of the biosphere).  The  "all foreigners are only out to get us and deserve a good kicking" attitudes of some in positions of power, given what we need to achieve through the negotiations, is like someone storming out of a tennis club that they have been a member of for many years, saying how stupid and ghastly all the other members are, and then demanding the right to play on the courts anyway but without paying for them. It ain't gonna work, Iain.

Friday, December 08, 2017

A Bit of a Conundrum

The digital currency Bitcoin made headlines this week as its price soared to some $17,000, having started the year at $1,000. Fine if you own a few, baffling for those who do not. It has some real value for making micro-payments - those payments that are so small that the normal channels are far too costly to use. For example, if I bought a book from someone in France who was not a commercial seller, the price might be €3 but it would cost at least €30 to make a bank payment and there is no alternative other than mailing the cash and hoping the postman won't spot it. A payment by Bitcoin would cost nothing extra.

As the number of times I make such payments is very small (the last time was having to reimburse a French hospital a few years ago when I fell suddenly and briefly ill on holiday, but it wasn't worth claiming on insurance) I have no use for Bitcoin but continue to be baffled by why anybody would buy into it at the current price. It has no legitimate backing whatsoever, there is no protection from fraud, nothing to stop the mysterious and anonymous inventor from making a change that instantly devalues the currency and above all, it is not legal tender anywhere. It cannot be used to pay debts unless the other party agrees, whereas a legal currency must be accepted. So the only way to unload your stash is to find someone else who will take them. The moment all potential buyers shrink back, if only for a few hours of trading, the value could plummet towards zero.

Plenty of sober voices have warned of the perils of speculating in such a weakly bound commodity. History is rife with examples of people rushing in to buy objects of no discernable value with the certainty that, come what may, they will be able to sell out and make a profit. From the tulip mania in 17c Holland to the South Sea Bubble of 1720, from the Railway Mania in the 1840s to the Wall Street Crash and onto the Dotcom boom, "investors" in such cases always fail to grasp that what they are buying is only valuable as long as others are also buying and there is nothing whatsoever that says this will continue to be the case. And equally "analysts" are always drawing graphs that show lines going upwards and therefore projecting that they must continue to go upwards.

Bitcoin may founder or it may flourish - it is a great boon to criminals who can make anonymous payments with it - but what is certain is that a lot of people will get their fingers burned, and when they sit around on street corners, with a few miserable coins in a hat and placards reading "Victim of Bitcoin hype", the rest of us will stroll on, wry smiles playing about our lips.