Monday, January 28, 2008

In Which Stan's Head Explodes

The bits of Africa that aren't being blown-up are dying of hunger and preventable disease.

There are people in this country that are living on the streets and children are suffering. Meanwhile billions are being won and lost in the Devil's Casino that is the Stock Market.

Take your choice of ecological crisis. We're all doomed.

But the Daily Mail newspaper is on the case. They have started a petition to stop the plan to mint a new 50p piece that doesn't have the representation of Britannia on it.

Get a grip, you simpleminded, rabble-rousing flag-wavers. Remove your head from your fundament, find an issue that actually matters and then maybe people would think about signing one of your sleazy petitions, if they could bear to pick up your execrable rag without vomiting.
Phew! Feel better for that.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Drowning in the Black Scholes

As a one-time Mathematician and keen observer of Financial madness, I very much enjoyed reading an article that brought the two together.

Financial derivatives traded on capital markets can be really quite complex, but in fact the ones cack-handedly traded by the French rogue-trader were about as simple as they come.

When you read "Derivative", think "Health Insurance". With Health Insurance it is money down the drain if you "win" (i.e don't get sick) and a considerable comfort if you "lose". This consolation-prize approach is known as "Hedging". You can hedge a little of the risk, or all of the risk, or in the case of our "crazy frog", you can over-hedge for reasons not yet known and end up losing billions.

So how much should insurance companies charge for "Health Insurance" ? If the price is too high you'd be better off taking the risk of getting sick and insurance companies would never sell any policies.

There's some heavy-duty Nobel Prize-winning Mathematics called the Black-Scholes equations that put values on such things. I find the languages of these equations surprising : who would have predicted that chemistry terms such as "Brownian motion" and "Diffusion" would make an appearance in a Financial problem ?

Bizarrely enough this is because the equations turn out to be a special case of something more general in Mathematics called Heat Equations which were originally used to model the flow of heat in two objects of different temperature placed next to each other. Or,as Albert Einstein put it in his 1905 paper : "Über die von der molekularkinetischen Theorie der Wärme geforderte Bewegung von in ruhenden Flüssigkeiten suspendierten Teilchen." Quite.

The important thing to remember here is that no matter how many Maths PhDs and computers the traders throw at the Financial Markets, they will never quite be able to reduce them to the predictability of two bits of hot metal.

Humans are involved in Financial Markets, and some of these are quite, quite mad.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Google News

If you look down the right column of this blog you will see the link called "View My Stats". A couple of extra clicks will take you to some of the basic details as to who is visiting and how in the heck they managed to find my unfashionable corner of CyberSpace.

Stealing the idea pretty well completely from Arctic Fox, here are some examples of how some of the last 100 visitors to this blog came to be here :-

(1) A Google User - Search String = "iain diack"
I'm glad Radio Free Stan is now recognised as a reference source for those looking for information on obscure (but heroic) Scottish footballers

(2) Another Google User - Search String = "wibbly wobbly timey wimey"
A reference to the Doctor Who "Blink" episode which I raved about blooming ages ago - still gets me more hits than nearly anything else. I blame repeats on Digital TV.

(3) Yet Another Google User - Search String = "she is ... than the ... among which she"
Someone still trying to solve an Araucaria "Mona Lisa" crossword from last month. The phrase you are looking for is : "She is older than the rocks among which she sits". And using Google to solve crosswords is cheating - tut tut.

(4) Oh no, not another Google User - Search String = "english poetry dead"
You would hope not.

(5) Here comes another Google User - Search String = "definition of a stan in hip hop culture"
I can only think they are wondering why the Eminem track "Stan" is so-called. Think it's just a name, homeboy.

(6) Last of the Google Users - Search String = "erotic radio for man"
Remember that posting I did that used as many dodgy words as I could think of for no good reason to see if I could bump up my number of visitors ? It worked.

Really not sure how you could do Erotic Radio, and even less idea how to make it appeal to the people on the Isle of Man. Why am I reminded me of the Scissor Sisters track "T*ts on the Radio" ?

So, in conclusion - everyone seems to use Google to the exclusion of all other search engines, and hardly anyone who finds their way here ever find what they are looking for.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


I am pleased to report that my application to become a Magistrate has continued to the next step - I have a first interview in three weeks time.

To accept the interview, I was expecting to have to sign some sort of parchment scroll with a shield on it in blood. In fact it was just a "delete as applicable" at the bottom of the letter.

Thanks to those of the readers who are my referees - you may be getting scary official-looking letters through your doors soon.

I'm doing some swotting-up and have found out that should I be successful I need to make the following oath.

(Clears Throat)
"I, Stanley Gamla, swear that I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth the Second, in the office of Justice of the Peace and I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of the Realm without fear or favour, affection or ill will."

Hmm. Which made me wonder if it is even possible to be a servant of the Crown and yet be quite as anti-Monarchist as I am.

The Crown invented the idea of lay magistrates in the year 1195. In that year Richard 1 commissioned certain knights to preserve the peace in unruly areas. They were responsible to the King for ensuring that the law was upheld; they preserved the 'King's Peace' and were known as Keepers of the Peace.

I can just imagine these 12th Century Magistrates - obviously the baddest-asses among King Richard's knights. I'm guessing their ideas for "perserving the peace" did not involve ASBOs and Community Service. I'm guessing the only kind of "suspended sentence" they imposed was by suspending wrong-'uns by the neck from the nearest tree.

The Crown invented the idea of magistrates and even in our more sedate Constitutional Monarchy, the whole legal system is, at least in theory, subordinate to the Crown. I really should not have been so surprised - the signs are all around. "Crown Court". "Queen's Counsel". D'oh !

That said, the Prime Minister himself is a servant of the Crown, but we know what kind of mayhem would ensue if she ever, ever interferred even slightly in his decisions.

So, if I ever get to that stage, I would be happy to take that Oath. But maybe I'll mumble the bit about the Queen and be very, very clear on the bit about treating people fairly.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Iain Diack : Man of the Day

Today, I watched the football scores on the Sky Sports News Channel from an exercise bike with an integrated TV screen.

There is no part of that last sentence that our grandparents would have understood, least of all why someone would want to spend their leisure time that way.

Peterhead were beating Berwick Rangers 8-1. I had watched the score pile up and wondered if Peterhead could make it into double-figures. Then it became 8-2 and I gave out a whoop that got me stared at by all the people in the gym who weren't listening to mp3 players (not many in other words).

I had in mind a rain-soaked, muddy pitch with the wind blowing cruelly off the sea. I imagined a few dozen fans (590 officially) huddled together for warmth - one or two of whom had made the trip up from Berwick to see their team get humped. I imagined the Berwick goalie - worn-out from picking the ball out the back of the net.

And yet someone in the Berwick team had been able to summon the motivation to turn a seven-goal losing margin into a six-goal losing margin. Good man !

The hero concerned is Iain Diack who I would like to nominate for a Knighthood - for his services to Hope. Despite being only 26 he has played for Stenhousemuir, Albion Rovers, East Stirling, Morton and Arbroath.

The final score was 9-2.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Back in the mid-to-late 20th Century, I was involved in the early days of setting up a telecom company. My bit was getting the billing systems going, but I had the pleasure of being dragged into just about every other meeting going, because Biling is one of those issues that affects everything in a telecom company.

I remember sitting in one meeting and being told that most things to do with the Launch would be specified by "The Creatives" who were coming in during the next week from the advertising agency. I was pretty upset with the implication that I and everyone else in the room was as creative as a wet stick.

Well, they came in - sold us a load of garbage about a Russian Glasnost theme and recipes for Borscht and advised us to change the shade of purple we used in our literature.

Total garbage - the campaign flopped big-style and there was never any question of "The Creatives" being held to account. I was going to attach a link to the adverts to show you just how bad they were but there is no trace of them on any of the UK Adverts websites. That bad.

I'm enjoying the EMI saga, where a talented hard-nosed financial guy is shaking his head at the ruination caused by clueless mee-djah types and primadonna "talent", and trying to use business methods to sort out the trouble. I predict he'll fail - no "Creative" is ever going to respect him, no matter how many companies he's turned around. I heard an interview with him where he described his turnaround of Odeon Cinemas as "persuading them that they were in the popcorn business rather than the movie business". I'm sure that kind of attitude is not going to endear himself to the artistes.

Contrast with the football world wheer we have the Newcastle United saga, where a bunch of primadonna "talent" have been so Butt-lazy for so long that they have made the team practically unmanageable. Thankfully in this case the board have brought in Kevin Keegan, who the players must respect even based on his achievements as a player, never mind his achievements as a manager. The fact that he's a hero to the fans and loves Newcastle is no small advantage either. Good luck to him.

Not sure what my overall point is exactly. I hate the fact that people split the world into creative and non-creative, I hate the fact that "creatives" tend not to respect talent outside their area of expertise, and I hate the fact that getting "creatives" to work together is so difficult. Would the world be better off without them, and we just had "people with talent" rather than "creatives" ?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Flying Doctors

There's this Polish doctor who commutes 13 hours to provide out-of-hours support for the National Health Service in Aberdeen.

He claims to be in a fit state to work, but I have personal experience that would suggest otherwise.

My weekly long-distance commutes aren't up to these standards, but are still pretty gruelling. Among my least favourite Mondays of recent time are the following :-

* Drive Glasgow to Crewe (240 miles, 4 hours)
* Drive Glasgow to Edinburgh, flight to Frankfurt
* Drive Manchester to St.Albans (180 miles, 3 hours), train to London
* Fly Manchester to Munich, then onto Bratislava

Like the Polish GP, I need to be up very early to make these journeys. Combined with travel stress, I usually arrive at my workplace in a state I can only compare to child-related sleep-deprivation. Then my work starts.

During Mondays I'm usually cranky, liable to defer decisions and procrastinate, and generally feel like I'm wading through treacle.

I remember very clearly waking from a nap at Heathrow and not knowing whether it was Monday morning and I was waiting for the flight to Brussels, or whether it was Friday night and I was waiting for the shuttle back home to Glasgow.

The thing about my work is that no-one is likely to die because I'm a Monday-morning zombie. The work of a GP is hard enough, but what has gone wrong with the NHS when we need to import a sleepy doctor whose second language is English every second Monday and export him every second Friday?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Body Cheque

Identity Theft has reached new heights in New York where two blokes decided to cash their recently-dead friend's final Social Security cheque at a check-cashing store in Manhattan.

The store quite reasonably insisted that the gentleman whose name was on the cheque should be physically present.

So, they went back and got the corpse, dressed it up (inexpertly) and wheeled it through Manhattan on a red office chair.

Unfortunately their route took them past the Empanada Mama diner where Detective Travis L. Rapp (great name !) was having lunch. He arrested the pair as they were attempting to manhandle the stiff, pale very-dead body into the store.

It's not known whether they were intending to take the corpse down to the polling station afterwards.

A prosperous ripe old age awaits us...

...well at least some us.

This one is tad political so I thought I'd post it here rather than chez moi. It's a bit shoot from the hip but then again, when don't I?

I had the misfortune to catch Woman's Hour on Radio 4 this morning. Normally I would not say misfortune as there is usually a cacophony of common sense pouring forth from the wireless, but today common sense was replaced by the sickeningly obvious observations of an overeducated (one can assume overdressed also just as a corollary) individual. The mindblowingly banal facts were:

  • As a nation, we are living longer
  • People do not save enough for retirement
  • Nursing homes should provide a comfortable environment in which to grow old and wither
  • Old people add value to society
So far, you cannot disagree. However if you go into the economics of this wonderful Utopian twilight, it kind of breaks down. The guest asked a rhetorical question: "We need to dig into our pockets to pay for this so do we need to increase taxes in order to provide an adequate level of care for the elderly?"

"Sign me up" shouted an infuriated Kenny, "after all, I'm already taxed so much that I can barely afford to make my own pension contributions let alone save for my retirement."

If you assume you're a top rate income tax payer, you've never even seen 40% of your money when your payslip reaches you. It has disappeared in tax and national insurance. Now you can subtract another 5% or so as a pension contribution. We're advised to be saving up to 20% of our earnings towards retirement (for the purposes of this, I'm going to say 15%). So, wow, the nouveau riche yuppy generation see probably 40% of their take-home pay.

Let's take numbers that are easy to calculate and then we can scale it upwards later. We will also assume that we're paying top rate income tax. So we'll assume a salary of £40k.

Salary per month (gross): £3333
Tax: £1333
NI (assumi9ng it still is 7.5%): £250
Pension contribution: £165
Savings towards retirement: £500


Net pay: £1085

Now comes the crux of it all. Our hypothetical "save for my old age" yuppie/dinky who is earning enough to pay top rate income tax has a whopping £1085 per month with which to house, clothe and feed themselves. Not to mention pay insurances, travel expenses etc.

Seeing we are analyzing Dr Sensible's finances here, he can have a mortgage up to 3.5 times his salary so £140k. Hmm, you'll be lucky to find a two-up, two-down for that in most places you might consider living. I've no idea what the repayments on this would be, but I'm guessing a minimum of £600 a month. So we're now down to £485 available cash per month.

Dr Sensible doesn't like wasting money on cars so he has bought a car that costs him £100 per month in loan repayments. Ouch! £385 and falling.

Now we have utility bills and poll-tax.

Well done. Even Dr Sensible has blown his salary before he gets into his never-never car on payday to drive home to his sparsely populated fridge.

Now scale these numbers down to what the average worker earns (let's assume it's £15k). Okay, you wouldn't be paying top-rate tax, but do the maths and it's even more horrendous for the average worker while they are working. Hey, but don't we have a sweet retirement to look foward to, should we be fortunate enough to see it? After all Dr Sensible must have tens of thousands of pounds in savings, pension funds and equity in house. He surely must be in for a nice nursing home, the odd trip to the seaside etc.

Wrong Dr Sensible -- you need to be means-tested. Look at all that equity ties up in your house and all your savings. You don't need government assistance at all -- you should pay this out of your own pocket. When it runs out, we'll tap into state resources but you'll have to move to a state nursing home in Slough. We've calculated that it will be in about 12 months, 24 if we can sell your house.

Can you see the absurdity of this? We hike up taxes for whose benefit? Dr Sensible doesn't get any real benefit or reward for being a paragon of prudence. Working people don't benefit. More private money is whisked into public coffers ripped from paying pensioners and over-taxed workers.

In a fair society, those that could afford to pay privately should have the choice of doing so or not in exactly the same way that people have a choice as to whether they use the NHS or BUPA.

So Mrs Daddy's-So-Incredibly-Rich-I-Can-Afford-Ideals, I would ask that you kindly vacate the seat, get out of broadcasting house and return to Eton or Oxford for a refresher in GCSE Basic Logic and its Application in the Real World. Come back when you can cut taxes and provide the levels of public service we as tax-payers can expect. If you can't balance it, your fundamental economic policy is flawed. Sadly I've covered only one part of a multi-trillion pound budget. I shudder to think about what other warty gremlins lie beneath.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Blimey, what a fuss

Blasphemy to me is a potential minor social faux-pas. To Mrs. Stan it's genuinely offensive, and to a sizable number of Muslims, it's justification for killing the infidel. So it's certainly worth knowing your audience before you indulge.

There is a law in this country against blasphemy - Mary Whitehouse tried to use it and Muslims tried to use it against Salman Rushdie. Both failed.

In reality, the last man to do time for blasphemy was John William Gott. In 1922 he was sentenced to nine months' hard labour for comparing Jesus with a circus clown (presumably unfavourably). In Scotland, there has not been a public prosecution since 1843.

The law serves only to protect the established church, so if you're a Methodist, a Catholic or a Jedi - I'm afraid you're fair game.

Help is at hand though, in the shape of Dr. Evan Harris MP who is trying to have the blasphemy laws abolished.

Seems fair to me - blasphemy should something that parents (optionally) deal with. Calling the police shouldn't be an option.

I'm sure that the only reason the Church of England is opposing the removal of this redundant and obsolete law is that they're worried that people might get a taste for removing the redundant and the obsolete from British life.

For example, the Church of England, the Monarchy ...

Monday, January 07, 2008

Clarkson; You Pillock

I'm looking for an emoticon like ;-) which conveys the idea that you are pointing at someone and laughing.

I need this to concisely describe my joy that Jeremy Clarkson got his come-uppance.

He gave his full bank details in his newspaper column to demonstrate that there was no possible danger from the recent Data Protection incidents.

For a guy who's got his date of birth on wikipedia and never mind his mother's maiden name - we know more than we need to know about his family from his appearance on the BBC show "Who Do you Think You Are"

Whoops ! Someone set up a Direct Debit on his account to Diabetes UK and he's £500 poorer, but a lot wiser (you would hope). Diabetes UK are £500 to the good, so it's win-win.

Too cynical to suggest that he set it all up to get a shed-load of publicity for an investment of only £500?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Thought for the day

"Everything will be okay in the end.

If it's not okay, then it's not the end"

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Stan's Email Project

I was wondering to myself what would happen if the password to one of my email accounts ever became public knowledge. How could people use that information ?

Only one way to find out :

I have set up a Yahoo account "" with a password of "stockholm".

Use it any way you want - send an email you've always wanted to, but never dared to. Use it to sign up with a website. Or just see what someone else is using it for.

Of course, don't use it to threaten any world leaders or obtain goods through fraudulent means. And don't delete anything.

I'll report back in a month.

UPDATE 6th Jan 2008

Only 24 hours after creating and posting this email address on this blog (and nowhere else), I already have won the Irish Lottery and have two separate banks in West Africa working to remit a shedload of money to me. What a goldmine !

Thursday, January 03, 2008


Sometimes I find it hard to talk to people who aren't football fans.

I went to last night's turgid, frozen match between Bolton and Derby with Bolton's smallest ever Premier League crowd.

Reasons why Bolton fans may not have turned up :-

* It was freezing.
* It was the first day back at work for most people.
* It was a night match.
* It was on Sky.
* Derby are unglamorous opponents.
* Purse strings are tight because of the recent festivities.

But 17,000 people who knew it was cold, who knew that Derby would not be Brazil-in-disguise and who knew that Bolton would not be at their best still dragged themselves along.

But their committment was as nothing compared to that of the couple of hundred Derby fans who made the trip over.

Reasons why Derby fans may not have turned up :-

* As per Bolton's reasons, except more so.
* Their team have won once out of 21 games and are definitely getting relegated this season

But a few hundred Derby fans did make the trip and they out-sang Bolton, singing that Derby are the greatest football team. Even after the Bolton goal went in, they were still singing, and when their defeated defenders and goalkeeping were arguing their way off the pitch, they were still singing.

Football fans, true football fans, never stop believing. Every set-back is a temporary blip and they believe in the long-run that their team will prevail. To a Derby fan, this season has been a wonderful adventure that they will learn from. Next year they will take their parachute payment when they fall and come back in two years time and win the Premiership. Meanwhile, they're going to scare the carp out of a few teams and never give up the fight. Some may even even believe that Derby will escape relegation this year, but these people have crossed the thin line between Belief and Delusion.

I like to be around people who believe that defeat can lead to strength and that lost causes are worth fighting and who never stop believing. These people are worth a dozen whiners who lose heart when things turn slighly downwards.

Like I say, sometimes I find it hard to talk to people who aren't football fans.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Children in Danger !!

Although I'm a confirmed reader of the left-ish "Guardian" newspaper, for the last several Mondays of 2007 I commuted down to London by Virgin Trains. And on Virgin Trains, for reasons passing all understanding, the oh-so-right "Telegraph" was the only newspaper on sale. They did also have something called a "Daily Mail", but I would hesitate to use that even to wipe up drink spills.

"The Telegraph" 'reports' today that young children will effectively be groomed on the Internet by junk food companies because they are now banned from advertising on kids' TV.

I say 'reports' in inverted commas, because all they are doing is playing to parental fears by using the language of sexual abuse (SERIOUS) for a piece of direct marketing (ANNOYING).

It's a scam "The Telegraph" run with a number of different issues.

(1) Find an issue that their people worry about (Property prices, Child Welfare, School Places, Immigration, Crime, "Standards" ...)
(2) Find a group that their people dislike (too many to list)
(3) Write a story combining (1) & (2), using provocative language and (for extra credit) blaming Gordon Brown.

The point "The Telegraph" is missing here is that the Internet is not nearly as dangerous as TV.

No, Really.

You actually have to make an effort to find the bad stuff on the Internet. With TV all you need do is leave the box running - in some homes I'm sure ITV1 is on for eight hours at a stretch. No kid is going to stay tuned to a Mc-ToadBurger freebie website for hours - there are just too many other things going on on-line just now.

What a great time to be a kid with a computer ! Could the Telegraph readers PLEASE take a breath and wonder if, perhaps, they aren't being a little hysterical.

And the threat of using Chat is even less threatening. Their kids know that when Ronald McDonald sends them a message, he's going to get to the big Iggy and they will go back to chatting with their real m8s.