Both sides of the story

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-29879865

This is a truly horrific and very sad episode that has been told to us. But am I the only one who feels sad for both sides of this terrible story?

Yes, this boy acted horrifically. More horrific than can possibly be written down because there are no words to properly articulate it – it’s true. And yes it was cowardly, and wicked, and evil. All of those things, and more.

When you were young, did you ever think about what you wanted to be when you grew up? We all did that, right? I wanted to be an Astronaut, and a Scientist, and an Engineer. I pretended to be these things on the playground. You maybe wanted to be like that too, or be a famous singer, or a great speaker, or a racing car driver. We all had aspirations even as young children.
What do you think this person’s aspirations were? Do you think he ever said to himself, when he was a young boy:

“When I grow up, I want to be a coward and a murderer”

No, I think it’s fair to say he almost certainly didn’t think like that. So somewhere along the line, between the time when he was just an innocent boy and when he started to develop and became an adolescent, something went wrong for him. And now this is the _78717633_annmaguireresult; an innocent teacher who died in horrific circumstances and left behind a family that will never recover. And a young boy who will be forever brandished a wicked murderer and spend many decades – the entirety of his youth – and perhaps even the entirety of his life, in jail.

I feel sorry for the victims first, of course. But I keep some sorrow for a young boy who probably had innocent aspirations for life, the same as you and me, and then something went horribly wrong.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-29879865

 

The Correct Pronunciation of “Geocache”

I’ve often been told that I pronounce the word “geocache” incorrectly.  Everyone else I have come into contact with pronounces it ‘geo-cash’.  The same pronunciation is used for the word cache on its own; everyone else seems to pronounce it ‘cash’.
Personally, I pronounce the word “cache” as ‘cay-shh‘.  And that’s because I’m right and all of you are plain WRONG.  Here’s why:

In english, words that end with an e and and have a letter ‘a’ in them are pronounced with the ‘a’ pronounced like a capital ‘A’.  Here is a link to more info.  Here are some examples:

Late
Blame
Same
Tape
Cape
Cave
Cable
Case
Came
Cane

There are a few exceptions, but only for words that did not originate in English.  A good example of this is:

Cafe.

Here we pronounce it ‘ca-ff-ey‘.  That’s because the correct French pronunciation is ‘ca-ff-ey‘.  So cafe is an exception only because it’s not an English word.

So what about ‘cache‘ then, is that not a French word too? Yes it is.  But the correct French pronunciation is ‘ca-sh-ee‘, not ‘cash’.

Conclusion

  • If you’re going to use the correct French pronunciation of the word, please change your current pronunciation ‘cash’ to ‘ca-sh-ee’ or stop telling me I pronounce it wrong.
  • If you’re not going to use the correct French pronunciation, and instead treat it as an English word, then please change your current pronunciation ‘cash’ to the correct English pronunciation ‘cay-shh’ or stop telling me I pronounce it wrong.
  • If you continue to use ‘cash’ as your pronunciation then you’re just plain wrong whether you consider French or English pronunciation.  You’re in no man’s land!

 

Is Ebay worth it?

Recently I decided to sell my Xbox 360 console on Ebay.  I never use it, so it just sits there gathering dust and taking up precious space.  Meanwhile, its resale value is constantly dwindling.  In a few years a used Xbox 360 console will probably be equivalent to junk, such is the state of our throw away society.  You’d have to pay someone to take it off your hands, so that it can be shipped to China and placed on a landfill site.
So getting rid of it now, while it can still pay me back some cash, makes perfect sense.

This is the problem that Ebay tries to solve for us.  Using its extensive community of users, and coupled to its Paypal monopoly, it allows us to convert unwanted used items from door stoppers into hard cash.  The reason this makes business sense for them is that they charge sellers a percentage of each sale.  And with millions of transactions every single day, Ebay make a handsome profit indeed.

So what does this mean for a simple games console sale? Here’s how my transaction worked out:

I placed my used Xbox console on Ebay as an auction but with a “Buy It Now” price of £50.  The item was snapped up quickly using the Buy it Now option, and the buyer immediately paid me £60 using Paypal.  £50 to cover the item, and £10 to cover the postage.  Ebay sellers are forced to offer Paypal as a payment option, so we have no choice but to use it.

Paypal Fees

Paypal take 3.4% plus £0.20 of all money received.  So even though only £50 applies to my sale of the Xbox (the £10 is going straight back out on postage), the 3.4% + £0.20 cost applies to the full £60 received.  The £10 I charged for postage is literally what it costs me to send the package, so the extra charge here has to come out of my sale cost.  So, so far I am down from £50 to:

paypal

Ebay Fees

Ebay charge me a listing fee of £0.50, plus 10% of my item’s final value, plus 10% of my item’s postage cost.  I don’t really understand the latter; the postage costs are not a profit for me – so the 10% charged here has to come out of my item sale cost! This works out as follows:

Ebay

The Bottom Line

So all of a sudden, a transaction for which I expected to receive £50 has now turned into £41.26.  Percentage wise, Ebay have effectively received 17.5% of my item sale price.  It’s like paying VAT, except in this case the seller pays it!

So on the one hand, I’ve generated £41.26 of useful cash from an item which was effectively useless, and becoming more and more worthless with each passing day.  On another hand, Ebay have charged me £8.74 for the privilege of using their service to sell my item, and I’m therefore £8.74 down on what my item was actually worth.  If I’d tried to sell it on gumtree or something else instead, I’d potentially be a lot better off.

In the past I’ve sold items on Ebay that had final sale values in the thousands of pounds.  When you’re dealing with numbers like that, the amount that Ebay takes off you starts to get really big.  Sell an item for £1000 and you’re probably looking at giving ~£200 of it straight to Ebay/Paypal.  That’s tough to swallow! But at the end of the day, Ebay have engineered a monopoly on the used sales market.  For some transactions, especially niche items, they’re effectively the only game in town if you want to shift your gear.  So I’ll probably continue to allow them to rip me off, and in so doing I’ll perpetuate the madness.

 

Sorry

These silly analogies really bug me. People all jump on the band-wagon and say things like “wow that’s really clever” and “so true”. But is this analogy really all that clever? Is it really all that true?

The moral of this analogy is basically that if you ever do something wrong in life, and hurt somebody in the process, you shouldn’t bother to say sorry because apologies don’t matter.  They don’t fix anything.

But I think a genuine apology does matter. And more than that, I think in many cases it can repair a broken relationship. An admission of your own wrong-doing, an acknowledgement of the hurt you caused, and a promise to put it right, is a powerful thing.
Of course, it is easy to imagine some wrong-doing for which an apology (even a genuine one) is not enough.  Sometimes, as a result of the wrong-doing, trust is broken in the relationship.  Once trust has been broken, the road to recovery is long.  And uphill.  And riddled with swamp.  And sometimes, the road isn’t even open in the first place.  Yes, I know; another analogy.

Does this mean you shouldn’t bother with your apology? That ‘sorry’ doesn’t matter? No!

The apology in these cases is just the first step on a long road towards earning back trust.  Sometimes, regardless of the apology, the opportunity to earn back trust and fix what you did is simply not open to you, and nor will it ever be.  These are the cases where the plate stays broken.  It doesn’t stay broken because apologies don’t matter, though.  It stays broken because it’s not possible to earn back the trust, or because the victim of your behaviour doesn’t want you to earn back the trust.  Even in these cases, an apology is not useless.  Surely it can only help to show someone that you take responsibility (or at least a share of the responsibility), and that you admit what you did wrong? Even if the plate is destined to stay broken forever, the apology at least offers some closure.

These silly analogies bug me.

It won’t be a second!

I can’t help but notice, recently, the number of times I encounter someone who will say to me “it won’t be a second, ok?” or “I won’t be a second, now” or some other slight variation upon the same theme.

I was at KFC the other day ordering a quick takeaway.  After finally getting through the operator’s strict fast food script, I finally managed to communicate my order to him.  He took my money, gave me change, and then announced “It won’t be a second, now” before disappearing off to work on his orders.
I stood there, change in hand, and considered what I had just been told.

I have just been told that my order won’t take a second.  But that’s all I’ve been told.  So either my meal will arrive in <1 second, or it’ll arrive in >1 second.  But what I know for sure is, it won’t arrive in exactly 1 second.  More than 1 second has passed in the time it took me to consider what the statement meant, and my meal hasn’t arrived.  With that possibility already spent, I can now say with certainty that my meal will arrive at some time greater than one second.

If the operator delivered my meal to me in 5 billion years time, he will still have kept his promise.

What is your profession?

Cause for Complaint

I have had cause, recently, to excogitate what constitutes a true ‘profession’.  This cause of mine was instigated by what I consider to be a widespread hijacking of the term within our society.  And we’re not just talking semantics here; it’s not only the meaning of the term that is being misused, but also the spirit of it as well.  I really would go as far as to call it an insult.

Snooker!

Consider, for example, a snooker player.  I pick on snooker for this example only because the 2014 World Championship series happens to be in play at the moment so it is at the forefront of my mind.  I do love a good snooker match.
I was watching the Championship earlier this evening, and the commentator remarked that “Trump” (one of the players) was at the very peak of his profession.

I almost spat out my tea.

Does snooker really qualify as a profession? Seriously? I beg to differ! But let’s check out my trusty Oxford English before we go any further with this argument.  There are three definitions for the word in my dictionary, but the only one that applies to us is the first – as follows:

“1. A paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification.”

Well, Judd Trump ticks the first box for sure – he earns a healthy living playing snooker, and I’m almost certainly safe to presume that his pay packet (in terms of match win earnings) dwarfs my annual salary as an electronics engineer.  I go to work and solve problems for a living, contributing directly to the betterment of our society, and Judd hits some balls around a table.  Can you begin to see what I think is wrong with this picture?

Even though Judd ticks the first box, I still don’t think he qualifies.  Not by a long shot (sorry, I had to slip that in there).  After all, everyone has a paid occupation.  But you wouldn’t call every paid occupation a profession, would you?

Shipwrecked

Let’s imagine we were shipwrecked on a desert island, a thousand miles from civilisation.  Nobody knows where we are.  A self-proclaimed leader of the pack gathers us together and asks us, one at a time, “What is your profession?”

“I’m an Engineer”, I say.  “I solve problems for a living.  And see that smashed radio over there? I reckon I might be able to do something with it.  Maybe send a call for help.”

Fantastic! Who else?

“I’m a Nurse”, someone else claims proudly.  “I save lives for a living.  I care for people.  I can help that poor girl with a broken leg, and I can stop the wound from becoming infected.”

Brilliant! Our plight is diminished in your presence!

“I’m a builder”, says another volunteer.  “I create for a living.  I can build us shelter – protect us from the sun, and keep us safe from predators.  I will turn this barren land into a temporary home.”

Excellent – please get to work right away and you will have whatever support you need!

“I’m a snooker player”, says a useless contributor.  “I hit balls around a table for a living.  I’m the best in my field.  I’m the World number one.”

Useless job = no profession

In the case of this Snooker Player, he is worse than useless.  Worse, in this context, because now the rest of the group are going to have to feed him, home him, and protect him.  They are going to share their very limited resources with a member of the group who is incapable of bringing any tangible benefit to their table.
Perhaps he can contribute to someone else’s input – become a labour man for the builder, for example – and in so doing he will at least spare himself the shame of becoming a net-loss to the group’s plight; a negative draw on their micro-society.

So what does constitute a profession?

Quite simply, I think a profession has to be something that contributes directly to society.  That includes the builder who makes a career out of creating.  It doesn’t include the labourer who carries the bricks, because the labourer is only an indirect contributor to what the builder already brings to the table.
It’s the same with our snooker player, or football player, or formula 1 driver.  We are fortunate, within our developed society, that we can afford the resources to create entire occupations around the entertainment business.  Thanks to our rich society people who enjoy these activities are afforded the opportunity to choose it as their occupation, and rightly or wrongly some of the luckier ones earn a fortune in the process.  Earning a fortune is their right, but calling their job a profession is not.

Go and find something useful to do with your life.  Something that contributes positively and directly to our society.  Then I will say you have a profession.  Until then, all you’re doing is hitting balls around a table for ridiculous amounts of money.

…but I’m not bitter!

 

 

Super Moon Sunday

Those of us who are fortunate enough to have been born in a developed country are blessed with learning opportunities that no society on Earth has ever enjoyed before.  The information age has made it possible for rational human beings all over the developed world to discover and learn about any subject of their choosing.  The amount that we learn, and what we do with that information, is limited by just two things:

  1. Our imagination.
  2. Our will to persevere.

Blessed as we are with this web of information and opportunity for learning, it is easy for most of us to ridicule the ignorance (I would rather call it stupidity) of the Flat Earth Society  who, in spite of all the available information and evidence, still choose to peddle the ridiculous idea that the Earth is in fact flat.

So, we can set ourselves up on a pedestal, right? We’re better than those flat earth ignoramuses because we take pride in our learning opportunities and we delight in the power of evidence based discovery.

Well… not quite.  It’s surprising how many other elementary science based misconceptions are in regular use among our rational society.  People like you and me; people you work with, go to school with, your neighbours, your close friends, your spouses and children – any of these can potentially be guilty of them.  They seem to slip under the radar in terms of ridicule, but I think some of them give the flat earthers a run for their money.  In honour of Super Moon Sunday 2013 , try these common Moon based misconceptions on for size.  Some of them will make you cringe!

http://moon.nasa.gov/moonmisconceptions.cfm

Thank you to http://www.rogerhighfield.com/ for the link.

The HEINZ Weight Watchers SWIZZ

HEINZ Beef in Peppercorn Sauce Packaging

So, picture the scene;  you’ve been up since 6am, you’ve suffered the dreary commute into work, you’ve slaved away all morning without stop, and you’re looking forward to sitting down for five minutes peace with a nice bite to eat.  You’ve brought along a HEINZ beef in peppercorn sauce ready-meal, and it sounds delicious.  A nice hot meal cures all evils, doesn’t it? You’ll wolf it down, have a nice cup of tea, and be fighting-fit for the afternoon session.

You pick up your ready-meal, ready to go in the microwave, and look at the front:

Packaging Description

mmmmmm, yes I most certainly will enjoy!  Lovely!

Imagine your disappointment, then, when you find that your piping hot meal is rather less than as described? “Beef in Peppercorn Sauce”, it said. “…with potatoes and a mix of sweetcorn and peppers”.  So, in my mind, I am expecting the following:

Beef in the majority, then slightly less Peppercorn Sauce, then slightly less potatoes, and then finally sweetcorn and peppers in the minority.  

Is this an unfair expectation? A presumption? I think not! That’s how I rationalise their description in my mind, and I’m sure it’s how you do it too.  But you sit down with their meal and find that actually, you’ve just eaten a potato & vegetable dinner with peppercorn sauce.  Was there even any beef at all? If there was, it was lost in the melee of potato and vegetables!

This, is what my Grandfather would have called, a “swizz“.  And there’s nothing quite like a lunch-time swizz to darken your mood for the rest of the day; a plight to which I’m sure most people can relate.  Ever opened up a packet of crisps only to find 7 crisps inside and the majority of the packet a wide open space? That’s what we’re talking about here.  A swizz!

So, let’s get to the bottom of this then shall we? Exactly how much beef is in a “Beef in Peppercorn Sauce” ready meal from HEINZ? I happened to have another of these meals in the freezer at home so I decided to find out.  Here’s what I did:

First, let’s take a look at the opened meal:

Suspicious meal

It looks rather delicious I’m sure you’ll agree.  But suspicious as well! Where is all the beef? I think I can just about see one lonely piece sticking out at the bottom right corner there.  But that’s it.  No more beef to be seen anywhere.  Well… perhaps all the beef is on the bottom?

Alright then, so let’s microwave it and separate everything out:

 

 

.

Potatoes

Separated PotatoesSo, here’s the separated out potatoes.  That’s quite a lot!

Since most of them were on the top I managed to separate them out quite cleanly.  There were a couple at the bottom that have a little bit of sauce on them, but small enough to be negligible.   I weighed this little lot in at 125 grams.

 

 

 

.

Sweetcorn & Peppers

Separated VegetablesNext up we have the sweetcorn & peppers.  These were very easy to separate as they were in a completely separated compartment of their own.  This little lot weighed in at 100 grams.

 

 

 

 

 

.

Peppercorn Sauce

Separated Peppercorn Sauce

Separating the peppercorn sauce was a little bit more tricky, mainly because of the beef – we’ll get onto that in just a moment.  The Peppercorn sauce consists of the creamy sauce itself, a couple of mushroom slices, and some other bits and pieces that I wasn’t able to make out, but which were certainly not beef.  I did a pretty good job of separating the sauce from the rest of the meal, and I got the vast majority of it out.  This lot weighed in at 135 grams.

 

 

.

The Beef!

The separated beef... what little there is of it!Finally, we get onto the beef! The beef was the most difficult of all to separate, mainly because there was hardly any of it to fish out! After I did get it all out, a lot of it had a significant amount of sauce on it and I felt that this would manifest itself as an unacceptable error in the weight measurement.  So, what to do? Well – quite simple really! We weigh it as it is with all the sauce still on it, then we wash it and weight it again.  All the sauce will have been washed away and we’ll be left with the beef itself.  The second measurement is the amount of actual beef in the ready-meal, and this measurement subtracted from the first gives us the amount of sauce that was washed off, which we can add to the peppercorn sauce total. I already accounted for this in my quoted peppercorn sauce measurement so the 135 grams quoted previously is the total amount of peppercorn sauce in the meal.
How much beef is there? A measly 25 grams!!!

PERCENTAGES

So how does all this work out in terms of percentages? Well, we have:

  • 25 grams of beef
  • 135 grams of peppercorn sauce
  • 125 grams of potatoes
  • 100 grams of vegetables (sweetcorn & peppers)

That little lot all told gives us 385 grams worth of meal.  So the percentages, broken down and listed in descending order, are:

  • Peppercorn Sauce 35%
  • Potatoes 32.5%
  • Vegetables 26%
  • Beef 6.5%

So, by my reckoning, the meal should actually be titled:

Creamy Peppercorn Sauce and Potato Chunks.
…with sweetcorn and peppers and small traces of beef.

So thank you for that HEINZ.  I’m fortunate enough that I don’t need to lose any weight, but if I ever do your weight-watcher meals will be just the ticket! Diet by lack of content – fantastic idea!

In closing, I think I should be fair to HEINZ and admit that the meal was actually rather tasty – I enjoyed it! All they need to do is add a lot more beef in it, or otherwise change its title. By the way, I love the “even more” quote underneath the package title! Even more what? More potato? More sauce? More vegetables? Surely not more beef?!