James Miller


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Super Casino


It's funny but this morning as I drove out of Cambridge, I thought it would be a silly decision to put the new Super Casino either in the Dome or at Blackpool. The Dome I could understand, as it is a superb position, close to the best city in the world.

But Blackpool. The place is virtually derelict, has only a few direct train links to London, no proper flights from Europe and no other attractions of note.

So I wasn't surprised that Manchester got the vote, as it is second to London in terms of facilities in the list.

So good luck to them!

But I won't be going to gamble. I spent time at Las Vegas and all I do is explore the hinterland and see the shows. I've never put a bean into a fruit machine and don't intend to start now.

At least with the Super Casino, the idiots who do will help pay the taxes.

Picked-On Motorists


David Aaronovitch makes some interesting points in The Times and I suspect he's had quite a few of the motoring lobby sending you e-mails that criticise and worse.

In my view, somehow we've got to get a middle way that works.

I am against black boxes in cars for road pricing for two main reasons.

In the first place, as someone who has made a lot of money from computers, I don't believe that the technology can be made to work. Reliability must be absolutely 100% and unless administration is done over the Internet, the database would be a nightmare to keep up-to-date and police. There is also the fact as his newspaper pointed out a few days ago, that there are millions of vehicles out there, that are not in the system.

But my main problem about black boxes, is that there are millions of people in this country, who just don't budget. And how can you budget for something you don't know what it will cost. So if they got a bill at the end of the month for say £150 for road usage, they would be unable to pay it. It wouldn't bother me or probably you, but my son and his daughter-in-law live on a hand to mouth basis and would be unable to cope with the system. And they are reasonably intelligent.

On the other hand, I'm a great believer in schemes such as the London Congestion Charge.

If you take my nearest city, which is Cambridge, such a system would work well there, especially as the city has a very good Park and Ride. So to roll out standard charging systems for all our major cities would be a much more feasible approach. If the legislation was easier, I suspect that these systems would mushroom very quickly. (As an aside here Cambridge runs its Park and Ride buses through the city from car park to car park, which improves the system no end. The Norwich Park and Ride is a complete waste of space.)

I have also believed that we should put road tax on fuel duties and have a vehicle ownership charge of say £20, every time you buy a vehicle. To cut insurance problems, I would also put basic insurance on fuel as they do it in Australia. The effect of this would be to cut motoring offences and especially the serious ones considerably. It would also mean, I would have a second car on our stud. Occasionally we need a 4x4, but I can't justify the road tax. So an old Discovery would foot the bill to do perhaps 500 miles a year.

But we must also be more innovative in our use of technology and transport. I've worked at home since 1972 and have created two world-class businesses in that time. If twenty percent of us worked at home, this would cut a lot of road usage, cut carbon emissions and generally give people a better life.

As an afterthought, why not do what Singapore did and subsidise taxis. It would certainly help here in rural Suffolk, where buses are usually empty and cost us heavy subsidies.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Full-Up Prisons


It always amazes me that we don't take a holistic view to the justice, crime, the environment and taxation.

For instance, if we abolished Road Tax and put this on fuel, with perhaps a charge of say £20 to register a car and record a change of ownership, you would cut out a lot of motor-related crime. You could also put the minimum insurance onto fuel as they do in Australia.

The TV licence is another that could be changed so that it goes on general taxation such as Income Tax. Only those without a TV would get a once a year refund.

There are other examples, where by changing the taxation system, we actually eliminate crimes.

Surely this is a better way, than just locking people up for ever.

Sunday, January 28, 2007



There were a pair of buzzards (I think) circling our woods just behind the stud this morning. I've seen the odd one, but not a pair before.

An Alternative Investment To Buy To Let


At present "buy-to-let" is very much the rage of those with money as an investment. The concept generally works fine, even if you get problems with tenants and in some cases letting agents, who promise some things and do others. It has now been refined further, so that it is now possible to invest in hotel rooms.

Taking the latter, for an investment of about £350,000 in one room in a five star hotel, you can get a return of about six percent, with of course the hoped for capital appreciation.

But given the current state of prisons, or rather the lack of them, it strikes me that a similar concept could be used to build prisons. Given the current Government's policy of locking everyone up, it would be an absolutely gold-plated investment. According to Government figures from 2004 build costs of a prison place are just above £100,000 and it costs £40,000 a year to keep someone in jail. I would think that the £350,000 for the hotel room and the £100,000 for the cell also include all of the other costs like security, facilities and the cost of land.

With the luxurious hotel, you get half of the money from people who rent the room, with the rest going to the management company who keep the guests to the standard they deserve.

It is when you look at the costs of prison, that the numbers just do not stack up.

The six percent return means that the investor would probably be happy with a guaranteed £6,000, leaving £34,000 a year for the care, welfare and keep of each prisoner. The prison authorities get nearly twice the money the five star hotel needs for each guest. And the hotel makes a profit too!

So why do we as taxpayers get such a poor return in terms of recidivism, when prisons do such a bad job in reforming those that are outside society?

Friday, January 26, 2007

The End of Gillespie Road?


I went through Gillespie Road Underground Station yesterday. Most people know it as Arsenal and it was called that as it was close to the new Arsenal Stadium at Highbury.

Now that Arsenal have moved, it should revert to it's original name. In fact there is an on-line petition, which will be sent to Ken Livingstone in due course.

But yesterday, as I went through, I noticed that the tiles saying Gillespie Road has been removed.

Perhaps the petition is all in vain?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Men's Mental Health Problems


We may think that it is men that have problems, about bottling things up. On the other hand, I've known several people, both men and women, who've been unable to come to terms with things like serious illness or the death of a loved one.

So we should improve the services for all.

But also it behoves us all, to offer that shoulder and help to anyone we know, who's having a hard time. Sometimes, that offer even if it's never taken up, is invaluable, as it tells the person involved that at least you care.



Your class is defined by your prejudices.

There are those like Jade Goody, who show their true class on Big Brother. There are others like David Attenborough, who appeal to everybody and are thus classless.

We should all aspire to be the latter.

I like to think I'm reasonably classless, but is it for me to judge?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Why We Must Have Goal Line Technology


On Saturday Ipswich beat Colchester 3-2. Not a bad result as Ipswich won.

But let's look at what really happened.

According to pictures, Billy Clarke scored a perfectly good goal for Ipswich, but it wasn't given by the referee, despite the fact it was probably six inches over the line. Whilst the Ipswich players were protesting, Colchester got the ball up the other end of the pitch and scored.

Now instead of being one-up, Ipswich were one-down.

As it happened, Ipswich then scored three goals to win the match.

Now if there had been goal line technology, there would not have been any chance of a severe injustice.



There can be no exception to this law.

Once you allow any special group different rules, then every group be, they sane, mad or just crackers, will want to have its own special rules.

But with adoption, the most important thing is that the child is adopted by a suitable person or couple. If that couple happen to be different, but compatible with the child, then so be it.

Saturday, January 20, 2007



For Christmas, Celia received an MP3 player from our son, Henry.

It had been bought in Currys and unfortunately it had a serious problem with draining batteries.

So she took the player together with an e-mailed copy of the receipt into Currys in Newmarket. The charming manager said of course they'd change it and when he saw that they'd reduced the price by five pounds since Henry had bought it, they returned that sum to Henry's credit card.

Now that is what you call service.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Doctors Serve Their Own Interests, Not The Patient’s


It is interesting who said that.

It was not some quack or chatlatan, but Dame Elizabeth Butler-Schloss, when she commented on the Shipman Enquiry.

She has an incisive mind and her decision to sit without a jury in the Diana and Dodie Inquest is absolutely correct, as she attempts to lay the case of a drunk driver and his bad driving to rest.

Whether it will satisfy those who believe all the conspiracy theorists, is highly unlikely.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Where Are The Prisoners?


Every day we get some other Home Office cock-up about where prisoners are, how many of escaped, what they have done etc.

Here's a few thoughts.

There are about 100,000 people in prison in the UK and they are stored in about 135 prisons. I deliberately chose stored as nothing positive in either punishment or retraining is done with many of them, so that they might think about behaving when they are released back into society.

Let's also assume that the average time anyone spends in prison is six months. That may be rather low, but for the purpose of this analysis it is better to err on the low than the high side.

So that means we have 200,000 movements into the prisons every year and 200,000 out. If you add in the fact that each of those prisoners will move once, that gives 600,000 movements or an average of about 4,500 per prison per year.

To get an idea of how big or small this number is, easyJet carried 2.3 million passengers in January 2006. I would suspect that an airline passenger is about as complicated to manage as a prisoner when it comes to a database.

So when governments say they have trouble with databases, they must be talking to the wrong people. When did any reputable airline have troubles with the larger numbers it handles?

So if we go back to our prisoner database, we are talking about 4,500 per prison per year or about 18 on the average working day. In other words even if an individual prison has a lot more movements than 18 per day, the data entry requirements are well within the capabilities of one operator working part time on one PC connected to the Internet. Or an Internet like network. (Government spends fortunes on secure networks, whereas airlines and banks who handle just as sensitive data rely on the Internet with extra security. I suspect they are right.)

So there is no excuse for not creating a central database with details of everyone in UK prisons. I have lots of experience in this area and one that was fit for purpose could be created by two or three experts in a few months. Costs would be a few thousand for the central database computer and perhaps a quarter of a million for creating and loading the system. i.e. It would be peanuts compared to a system designed by one of the Governments preferred suppliers who copper-bottom and gold-plate everything and still get it wrong.

As a better idea, why not get two individual groups to create the system independently? Then choose the best and give that company a bonus of say £100,000 and the contract to run it for some years. No-one ever puts competition into computer contracts, which is one reason why they fail. You also know that the longer it takes the more money you make.

I would create a web based reporting system for the database, which could be examined by anybody who can work a browser, who has access to the system. I've done this in the past and it works spectacularly as senior managers no longer ask their subordinates to do the work they should be doing themselves. Perhaps though it is not a good idea as civil servants are in the job creation, rather than the job reduction business.

But also why not desensitise some of the database and allow the public to access it through the Internet? So therefore if you wanted to know how many were in jail for not paying council tax or murder, it would then be obvious. You would have to make sure that an individual was not identified, but that is a simple matter if a computer system is properly designed.

Will it happen?


Friday, January 12, 2007

Tories in the North


The North gets so much subsidy compared to London, the South and East Anglia, that it is unlikely that they will ever vote for any party, that might threaten their gravy-train.

That is also why Gordon Brown doesn't want to upset them, by taking the correct step of taxing energy use. After all he reduced VAT on electricity as a bribe, when climate change indicated he shown have raised it significantly.

Independence for South of the Wash to the Severn!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Today's 5 Live Phone In On Religion


What a waste of time.

I'm middle-aged, middle-class and as I get nearer to my ultimate end, I realise that there is nothing to follow except dust and ashes. If I'm lucky these might be used to fertilise a nice tree.

All of my friends, don't care one way or other about homosexuality and believe that if you want to behave that way then that is your affair.

So why do those people who still cling to the fantasy of religion want to impose their belief on others and waste valuable radio time? I only impose one belief on everyone and that is do as you want, so long as it is morally acceptable to a substantial majority.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Ryanair and Energy


Early Saturday morning we flew into Gatwick from the Gambia at about 2:30 after an enjoyable break.

The interesting thing to note as one approaches England at that hour is how much electricity is wasted lighting empty roads and streets.

Curiously, I looked up how much is wasted on Wikipedia.

If you take an average UK city or town of say 100,000 inhabitants (Cambridge, Ipswich, Colchester etc.), it will have about 18,000 street lights, which will all burn for about 4,000 per year. This uses about 11 billion watt hours of electricity and results in the emitting of 3,700 tonnes of CO2.

This level of usage is easily dropped if you use such things as electronic balances, lights that light the ground rather than the sky and LED bulbs. You can also reduce light levels to something that is more appropriate as in many cases there is just too much light in the wrong places. As about half of the hours when lights are switched on are between midnight and six in the morning, you can also reduce levels in these hours. The latter is very easy if you have the electronic balances, which can be remotely controlled.

If you make changes which give a quick return on energy saved, it would be easily possibly to cut our mythical town's emissions to 1,500 tonnes of CO2 with no reduction in safety.

How does our flight to and from Gambia compare?

According to Climate Care that works out at 1.23 tonnes for the return trip for one person. We probably do another three shorter trips that probably make up out usage through air transport to about 2 tonnes of CO2. These are probably conservative figures when compared to a modern airline like Ryanair.

So sorting the street lights out in a town would actually produce enough carbon offset for the flights of 1,100 of the towns residents. This may not seem much, but bear in mind that most people don't fly as much as my wife and I. We're just the average middle-class middle-aged couple.

But sorting street lights would be a very visible way of showing us all how to save energy.