October 23, 2005

Finance basics

Posted in Finance at 17:18 by graham

A loose collection of definitions and information concerning the financial world. Accuracy not guaranteed.

Securities

A security is anything that guarantees a loan. Your house is the security in your mortgage agreement. It offers security to the lender because if you don’t pay back the money they can take the house. In agreements between large financial institutions long term securities are bonds, shares (also called equity), floating rate notes, medium term notes, etc.

Bonds

A bond is a way in which governments and companies raise money. The issuer of the bond borrows money from the entity that buys the bond. A bond has a value ($10 000), a coupon (5%), and a maturity date (in 10 years). The person lending the money buys the bond (pays $10 000 to the issuer), receives the value of the coupon each year (5% of $10 000) and the value of the bond back at maturity (after 10 years).

The entity that bought the bond can sell it on to anyone at any time before it matures. There is an active market in bonds.

Government issued bonds are often used as a reference bond, and bonds issued by companies are priced in terms of these. Government bonds are very low risk (the government can always print more money), easily traded, but offer the lowest interest rates. Corporate issued bonds are issued at the rate of government bonds plus a bit, as they are more risky (the company might go bankrupt and not pay back the bond when it matures). Government bonds in the U.K. are called Gilts.

Convertible Bonds are bonds which allow the owner to convert the bond into a fixed amount of shares in the company that issued it. If the value of the shares goes above the value of the bond, the owner can convert and make a profit. If the values of the shares goes down the owner holds on to the bond and has not lost any money, and still receives the coupon.

Repo’s

Re-purchase Agreements (repos) are contracts for the sale and future re-purchase or a security. The securities are almost always government issued bills or bonds (‘bills’ covers a range of other ways money can be borrowed by large institutions, usually for a period of time shorter than a bond).

Repo’s are almost always between banks, so they are an inter-bank loan backed by a security. If the security is shares it is called a sell and buy back.

Time value of money

Money has a time value because:

  • Inflation means prices go up: £10 a hundred years ago was a lot of money !
  • Lenders need an incentive to take the risk of lending (the risk being that the borrower won’t pay back the money).

Compounding: To calculate the future value of money by working forward from the present value. FV = PV * (1 + InterestRate / 100) ^ N where N is the number of periods, i.e. years if the interest rate is yearly.

Discounting: To calculate the present value by working back from a future value. PV = FV / (1 + InterestRate / 100)^N

Ratings

Ratings agencies give opinions on the ability of companies to pay back their debt. The two main ratings agencies are Moodys and Standard and Poors.

The ratings vary by agency, but typically they are letters and go, from lowest to highest risk, AAA, AA, A, BBB, BB, B, CCC, CC, C, D. Debt between AAA and BBB is considered investment grade – beyond BBB is speculative or ‘junk’ debt. A D rating implies the company has already defaulted on that debt.

Foreign Exchange

Foreign Exchange (FX) is the selling of one currency and buying of another. Dollar, Sterling, Euro and Yen are the currencies traded the most.

Many international transactions (a UK company buying a US bond) involve an FX deal (the UK company has to turn its pounds into dollars). For this reason the money markets are amongst the most active of any financial market, and large companies (that otherwise have no banking interests) maintain a money market trading desk.

GUI design

Posted in Software at 17:15 by graham

User interface design principles

This is the basics to think about when designing a GUI, a website, any software with a user interface. See also the very good book “The Design of Everyday Things” by Donald A. Norman, ISBN 0-262-64037-6. I’m not an expert on UI design, so if you can help out please do by adding comments at the foot of the page.

Fundamental principles:

  • Consistency is next to godliness
  • Simpler is better
  • Visible complexity is bad
  • Smaller equals easier to us

How humans interact with a system

  • Form the goal and the intention
  • Specify and execute the action
  • Perceive and interpret the system state
  • Semantically evaluating the interaction outcome.

Assist the user

  • Make the system state explicit: The inner workings of software are hidden from end users who have to figure out the internal state from only a few hints.
  • Users act in cycles of action and evaluation.
  • Encourage exploration with short response times and unlimited Undo
  • Provide end-users with the sense of control.

Minimizing the load on users

  • Reduce memory and cognitive load
  • Allow a work session to be easily interrupted and resumed without any loss of work (web session timeout for ex making sure all info is on the url)
  • Preserve consistencies

Two strategies for displaying data: High density and Low density

High-density

  • Tabular arrangement: spreadsheet style
  • Hierarchical organization: tree-like hierarchy as in file system graphic representation
  • Graph: Data is represented graphically, like a chart or a diagram.

Low-density

  • Step-by-step interaction: Wizard style interface
  • Details on demand: Some optional data can be shown on user request. Use with care because users feel uncomfortable with a GUI that changes its appearance too much.
  • Disable/minimize irrelevant information. There are many ways to minimize data; for example, shading it.

Get It Done

Posted in Behaviour, Society at 17:08 by graham

This section presents a system for getting things done. It is inspired by Getting Things Done by David Allen – a valuable book which I recommend.

This system takes the e-mails in your In-box, the ideas and reminders in your head, on scraps of paper, in your notebook, your PDA, wherever, and organizes them so that none of them get lots, and the important ones get acted upon.

h2. Gather everything together

Make or buy an in-tray. Then gather those unpaid bills, scraps of paper, books, printouts, TO-DO lists, jot down the ideas from your head, and pile it all in the in-tray. Next do the same for your electronic data, using your e-mail In-box. Most likely there will already be quite a few e-mails in there. E-mail yourself with anything else you need recorded and processed.

Make two special folders in you mail client – one called @action and one @waiting. Make or buy two similar trays for the real world. Buy a sectioned / expanding file. If you haven’t already got a diary, get one.

h2. Process

Once you have everything gathered take e-mails or pieces of paper one by one and run through this diagram:

Getting things done diagram

Everything starts at stuff and ends up in one of the circles.

Calendar should be only actions with a hard date / time (meetings, appointments, birthdays). Things that you would like to get done on a particular day go into Actions.

If needed, Actions can be split by location: Calls, At Computer, Errands, At Office, At Home, Read / Review.

Look at the Calendar daily, first thing. Then look at the Actions list.

Do a Weekly Review of everything – this is whatever needs doing to keep the system up to date – get the ideas in the world onto paper. In a business context, Friday early afternoon is good for this.

Decider Protocol

Posted in Behaviour at 17:07 by graham

This section is inspired by Software for your Head, by Jim and Michele McCarthy.

Most teams have no explicitly defined, full-blooded, decision-making apparatus. Yet the quality of life of that team is determined by the choices they make. Every meeting, and each creative act, expresses a team choice. Without a clear process for making decisions the choices are often incoherent, to the point of team members not knowing exactly who decided what, when.

The Decider protocol is a decision making process. It provides a formal way for teams to achieve unanimous decisions in an efficient manner.

h2. The Decider Protocol

The proposer says, “I propose…”.

The proposer offers a concise, actionable proposal. No more than one issue is resolved per proposal. The behavior expected of the voters if the proposal is accepted is clearly specified.

The proposer says “1-2-3”, then all team members vote simultaneously in one of three ways:

  • Yes voters give a thumbs-up.
  • No voters give a thumbs-down.
  • Support-it voters show a hand flat.

Voters requiring more information must vote “no” to stop the proposal before seeking information. Passing is not allowed. A yes vote means “yes I support this proposal and I am ready to champion it”. A support-it vote can be translated as “I believe that this proposal is probably the best way for us to proceed now. I support it, though I have some reservations. I don’t believe I can lead the implementation of this proposal, but I commit not to sabotage it”. A no vote means “No, right now I can’t support this proposal”, because it is plain wrong, because some details need clearing up and looking into, or because I don’t understand it.

Once the vote is taken, the proposer counts the votes and takes a decision:

  • If the combination of “no” and “support-it” votes is too great (> 30%, as determined by the proposer), the proposer drops the proposal.
  • If any of the “no” votes states their absolute opposition to the proposal, the proposal is dead. An absolute “no” means that there is no condition that the voter can imagine that would change their vote. It is a tradition, though not mandatory, for an absolute “no” voter to make a new proposal following the death of the proposal killed by their vote.
  • If there are just a few “no” voters (outliers) the proposer uses the Resolution protocol to resolve those people’s concerns.
  • Otherwise, i.e. if everyone voted “yes” or “support-it”, the proposal passes, and becomes part of the team’s plan of record.

Voters do not state why they voted as they did.

During the proposal no-one speaks except:

  • the proposer when stating the proposal or using Resolution
  • any no-votes when using Resolution or declaring their “no” an absolute one.

Any absent team members are responsible for acquiring information about the vote, and are bound by the decision as if they voted for it. If the person would of voted “no”, they must now make a new proposal as soon as possible.

Once a proposal passes, each team member is accountable for personally carrying out behaviors specified in the Decider decision, and no member has more or less accountability than any other. Each is also accountable for insisting that the behavior is carried out by the other team members.

h2. Resolution

When there are only a few “no” votes (outliers), the team uses the Resolution protocol to attempt to bring those outliers in.

The proposer asks each outlier in turn: “What will it take to get you to endorse the proposal ?

The outlier may state at any time, but no later than in response to the above question, that his vote is an absolute “no”. The proposal is then dead.

More often, the outlier states succinctly, declaratively, and precisely what he requires to endorse the proposal. If given what he requires, the outlier promises to drop all resistance to the proposal and to provide affirmation and support for it instead.

As needed and as possible, the proposer makes an offer to the outlier. If in the judgment of the proposer the adaptations to the proposal are minor, the proposer may employ an unofficial ‘eye-check’ of the non-outliers to see if there is general acceptance to the changed proposal. If you are opposed to this implicit new proposal or require a formal re-statement and a new vote, you make make this requirement know during this interval. If the required changes are more complex, the proposer makes a new proposal, and the Decider protocol starts again.

“Yes” and “support-it” voters do not speak during Resolution.

If the outlier changes his vote to “yes” or “support-it”, then the decision to adopt the proposal is committed, and becomes part of their plan of record.

h2. Other protocols

Decider and Resolution are part of The Core. The other protocols are here: Core protocols (pdf) The authors website is here: McCarthy Technologies

Advice

Posted in Behaviour at 17:05 by graham

The best advice I have every been given was to take the highest paying job you can get until you figure out what you want to do.

The best advice I have ever heard is the now famous speech below:

Wear Sunscreen By _Mary Schmich_ from the The Chicago Tribune, June 1, 1997

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97:

Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yoursel f either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts, and recycling it for more than it’s worth .

But trust me on the sunscreen.


This speech was set to music Baz Luhrmann and performed by Quindon Tarver, and called ‘EVERYBODY’S FREE (to wear sunscreen)’.

An e-mail hoax claimed that this speech was made by Kurt Vonnegut to the MIT class of 1997. The actual commencement address was made by Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, and can be found here.

A short history of Christianity

Posted in History, Misc at 16:55 by graham

??The term ‘Christian’ was first used in Antioch in Syria around 35-40 AD to designate a new religious community there which included both Jewish and non-Jewish adherents and was marked out by it attachment to ‘Christos’, a Greek translation of the Hebrew title ‘Messiah’, used by Jews to designate their expected national savior. In this case it was applied to the prophet-teacher Jesus of Nazareth, executed in Judea, where the movement had originated, a few years earlier??

The paragraph above and all herein are sourced from The New Penguin Handbook of Living Religions, edited by John R. Hinnells, specifically from the chapter on Christianity written by Andrew Walls. It is a marvelous book, which I recommend. All miss-representations and inaccuracies are mine.

h2. Jerusalem 30-70 AD

Christianity started in Jerusalem, as a variation of Judaism. All its initial followers were Jewish by birth and followed Jewish custom. The marked difference from the rest of the Jewish faith was their following of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, know at the time to have been recently crucified. His followers claimed he had resurrected and was the Messiah, as predicted in the Hebrew Bible (called the Old Testament by Christians) – the rest of the Jewish faith held (and still holds) that the Messiah has not yet come.

The apostles, chosen during his life by Jesus as his closest followers, were the recognized leaders of the movement. Christianity fit into the framework of Jewish history and for many years the apostles confined their teaching to the Jewish.

It was written in the Jewish scriptures that one of the signs of the Age to Come would be that non-Jews (called Gentiles) would seek the salvation of God, and attempt to convert. Hence it was no surprise when Greeks from Antioch were attracted to Jesus, through the talk of Jewish believers.

The tradition method of accepting an individual into the Jewish faith required them to observe the Torah (detailed Jewish law) and (for males) to be circumcised. The followers of Jesus changed this, and simply required the individual to express faith in Jesus the Messiah. This understandably accelerated the spread of the new religion.

h2. Greece 70-500 AD

As the Greeks of Antioch were the first non-Jews to adopt this faith, and the faith now included both Jews and non-Jews, a name was required for the faith, so they became know as Christians.

The popularity of Christianity and the amount of Gentiles involved had already placed the new faith in Jerusalem on an insecure footing, and the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD to the Roman advance effectively broke the link between Christianity and Jerusalem, and the faith became predominately Hellenic.

Christianity retained its link to the land of Palestine through the use of Jewish scripture (know as the Old Testament) and the idea of Jerusalem as the land of Jesus, but most of it’s followers now had never been to Palestine, and most inhabitants of Jerusalem were not Christians.

In Greece, the term Messiah, meaningful only in a Jewish context, changed to Lord. More crucially, Christian thinking entered into the intellectual discourse of Greek philosophy. Early Christian organization had been based around a synagogue. Now, influenced by Greek civic organization, they switched to a system of locally linked hierarchies each under a bishop. The bishops were seen as the successors of the apostles, and were seen as the ones to interpret the voice of God. They consulted regularly and helped keep ‘orthodoxy’, or ‘catholicity’ – a uniform standard of Christianity.

The Christians allegiance to Christ prevented them from participating in the veneration of the Roman emperor, and they frequently refused military service. The growing numbers of Christians in the third and fourth century brought about increasing persecution from the Roman empire which, for the reasons mentioned previously, viewed them as disloyal, potentially dangerous, and outside of their control.

h2. Rome 313-500 AD

All this changed dramatically when Emperor Constantine (after whom Constantinople was named) came to power in 313 AD. He at first tolerated then favored Christianity, and by degrees it became the state religion of the Roman empire.

Number of converts grew rapidly, attracted by the idea of moral improvement, the majesty and solemnity of Christian worship, the close relationships within the church (a factor which differentiated the followers of Jesus from the other Jews from the early days was their habit of dining together), and for some the presentation of Christianity as a coherent philosophy (evolved in Greece) offering what Plato declared as the true aim of philosophy; the vision of God.

The church of the Western Roman empire adopted Latin as the language of worship, while the Eastern Empire continued to worship in Greek. After the first four ‘ecumenical’ (world-wide) bishops councils, the Western church ceased to participate. This was the first visible split, which gives us today the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic versions of Christianity.

The Kingdom of Armenia had become a Christian state a few years before the Roman Empire, as had several small Mesopotamian states. By 500AD there were also sizeable Christian communities in south India, southern Arabia, the Sudan, the Nile valley, southern Africa and the Persian empire. Christianity’s stronghold was now in Rome, but it had already spread quite widely.

h2. Barbarians 500-1100 AD

By 500AD Christianity was closely coupled with the literary, intellectual and technological prowess of the Roman Empire, and spread with it. Dedicated people preaching the faith and ordinary people going about their daily lives both served this expansion, into Eastern Africa and significantly into the North of Europe. As the Empire crumbled Christianity lived on amongst the people. Charlemagne, King of the Franks spread it by force to the Saxons, and Olav Trygvason spread it to the whole of Norway as he assumed power over it. Often whole communities adopted it when their leaders did, and Christian rules got written into local law. In parallel, official and un-official church missions and holy men continued their work.

The switch from local gods and spirits to the God of what was becoming the Christian Empire was made easier by the technological and scientific advancements it was seen to bring with it (which came from the Roman Empire), the simplicity of its spiritual universe (only one God, and clear channels for him to communicate through), and the ease with which local practices could be mapped onto Christianity, allowing the symbols to change but the beliefs to continue (for example what had been called spirits were now called saints). Teaching and scholarship spread, primarily through monasteries, where the language was Latin and the subject was the scriptures.

The newer converts saw Rome as the source of Christianity, and Rome’s connection with Peter (leader of the apostles) gave it a special spiritual significance. Rulers such as Charlemagne pressed for a view of Christendom, the whole of Western Europe, as one Christian Empire under a ‘universal’ church based in Rome. The bishop of Rome (also called the Pope) was seen as the successor of the apostle Peter and earthly representative of Christ.

In the East, the Roman Empire still existed, based in Constantinople. The spiritual leader here was still the Emperor, and the language was Greek. This was being pressed from the south by the expansion of the newfound faith of Islam. The old heartland’s of Christianity, Egypt and Syria, had already converted, and Christianity lives on to this day there as a minority faith. Eastern Christianity spread north into Russian (founding the Russian Orthodox church in Kiev in 988) as it lost ground to Islam to the south.

Islam to the south inherited much of the legacy of Greco-Roman civilization, and by now the typical Christian was a northern farmer. The Christian stronghold was Europe. It was key in establishing literary and learning habits amongst the ex-barbarians of Europe, and in uniting them (although they still fought, they now shared a common faith).

h2. Western Europe 1100-1600 AD

With all of Western Europe under rule of law based on Christianity, and with Latin as the official language of learning, Christianity was seen as territorial. From this emerged the idea of a crusade to take back the holy land. These happened with varied success, but in 1204 Western crusaders looted Constantinople, firmly dividing Eastern and Western Christianity, and setting the stage for the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire to the Turks in 1453. With that, the final vestiges of the Hellenic phase of Christianity disappeared. Ironically, at around the same time grew a renewed interest in studying the scriptures in their earlier Greek version (as opposed to the Latin translations).

The most important technological development of this period was the printing press. The wider availability of the scriptures in local languages, and the amount and extent of the corruption and manipulation that had spread in the higher levels of Christianity (which were often the higher levels of local power), brought about the Reformation period.

The Catholic, or conservative reformation, continued the view that the one and only true center of worship was the church of Rome, with the Pope at its head. The Protestant reformation held that salvation is by grace only, received through faith only, and the guide to it is the scripture only. They did not recognize Roman rule, and encouraged local, regional and national ‘Reformed’ churches. The Catholic view was a significantly softened version of the ‘three onlys’. Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-64) were originally leaders of local reform movements.

A third and more radical reform movement, the Anabaptist movement, also dates from this period. They encouraged living outside the civil community and to a strict Christian way of life (according to Christian law as opposed to civil law). They re-created the image of the persecuted Christian and identified the church with its members rather than an institution or building.

A century of conflict between Catholic and Protestant ensued (the Anabaptists were a small minority). Eventually Southern Europe settled as Catholic, with Latin as the primary language of worship, and Northern Europe as Protestant, with worship in local languages.

To the East Christianity spread to Bulgaria, Serbia and Russia, and the fall of Constantinople shifted the center of the Orthodox church to Rome.

h2. Overseas expansion 1600-1920 AD

From around 1500 Spain, Portugal, France, Holland and England all acquired vast maritime empires. With the Western people went Christianity. The territorial model of Christianity, that the leader of the nation should enforce Christian rule, that Christian law was the basis for civil law, and the memory of the crusades, encouraged the view that territorial expansion meant the expansion of God’s kingdom.

In a spirit of crusading zeal, especially early on in Spanish America, local cults were forbidden and whole populations incorporated into Christendom (by force, inducement, conviction, settlement and intermarriage). Portugal, an over-stretched small country, had much more difficulty. It was in Portugal’s failure to convert its subjugated peoples that the missionary movement was born. This was a body of people whose role was to promote and illustrate Christian teachings over the new territories, but with no power to coerce. Missionaries mostly came from Catholic Europe and relied on the monasterial orders for their support. New orders, such as the Society of Jesus (the ‘Jesuits’) sprung up.

The spreading of the faith largely out of the control of national governments, often even out of the control of Rome meant that the new territories did not develop a link between church and state. The economic and political expansion of Protestant Northern Europe (much of this expansion being avowedly non-religious) extended this divide.

North America, particularly what became the United States, was settled by a variety of peoples, each bringing their local church, making the US a Christian pluralist society, with no state church. In particular the Anabaptists moved over in large numbers, and the vision of America as a virgin continent gave rise to new, ‘primitive’ versions of Christianity, attempting to recreate older models.

The large-scale importation of Africans through the slave trade to work in the plantations of Southern North America and the Caribbean meant these new Afro-Americans adopted Christianity. The interaction with traditional African religion gave birth to new religions such as Candomble, Umbanda, Santeria and Voodoo.

During this period Europe saw a gradual decline of the Christian faith. The Enlightenment, the option of a rational world view instead of a Christian one, and the increased importance placed on the individual (which in Christian circles produced Pietism and the Evangelical revival) meant that many were no longer following Christian teachings. Rational, non-Christian, often non-religious, movements of thought emerged such as Marxism and Humanism. Religion became a private choice rather than a state imposed rule.

h2. Today – from 1920

The decline in Europe continues to this day. The Eastern church almost vanished when Russia and the whole of Eastern Europe adopted a Communist system. Since the fall of Eastern Communism Eastern Europe has adopted a Western European model of free choice, which often means a rational and non-religious view. During the same period immigration brought Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities into Europe.

In Asia, the Philippines and Korea represent the bulk of the Christian population, who with the reduction of numbers in Europe comprise a more significant proportion of world Christianity.

In North American, despite the attraction of Afro-Americans for Islam, Christianity still has a very strong grip, with the United States as one of its strong-holds.

The second stronghold of Christianity is Latin America. Latin America still largely follows the Catholic model of church and state in allegiance imposed by the Spaniards, but in recent years there has been a strong growth in Protestantism.

The third and final stronghold of Christianity is sub-saharan Africa, with a phenomenal progression of followers, their numbers doubling about every twelve years. Here Christianity has adapted and mixed with local beliefs and customs and is quite different in appearance to its European incarnation.

h2. Tomorrow

Probably a decline in North America, the center of Christianity shifting south to Latin America and Africa, with the Pacific islands playing a part. But, as they say, and to stay with the theme, God only knows !

Michael Jackson

Posted in Misc at 16:53 by graham

An unexpected page, dedicated to the world’s strange collection of Michael Jacksons.

The pop star

The one people usually think of when the name is mentioned. Yet, I doubt he can write software, he couldn’t recommend a good whiskey, and probably never saved the world. Official site

The software engineer

Author of specifcation and design methodology JSD (Jackson System Development) and of several influential books. If you studied software, you should have heard of him in college. His site

The drink writer

Author of the Malt Whiskey Companion and beer hunter. Malt Whiskey Companion Beer Hunter

The soldier

General Sir Michael Jackson (to give him his full title), former Paratrooper, former commander of NATO “peacekeeping” forces in Kosovo (KFOR), and probably something important in the second Gulf War BBC news profile from Kosovo time, seemingly before promotion More details on the time he saved the world (well, read the article !) The bad side: Seems he was implicated in the Bloody Sunday massacre.

Laws should expire

Posted in Ideas at 14:24 by graham

In England in 1388 Richard III made a law stating that all men (or only ages 10-18, versions differ) must own bows and practice archery on Sunday’s and holidays. This law was finally repealed in 1960.

An 1888 law encouraging emigration to the colonies of unemployed adults and pauper children from the overcrowded cities of England and Wales was repealed in 2004.

The Internet abounds with weird outdated laws like these. A law is valid until it is repealed. As law makers (an elected assembly) make more laws than they repeal, we get more and more laws. Only a small section of them end up being relevant to the world we live in. There is a simple solution: Laws should expire.

I propose that every law passed should include its expiry date. 1 year for emergency legislation, 5 – 10 years for most laws, with probably a cap of 20 years. Laws forming part of a country’s constitution – i.e. the major ‘basis of society’ laws such as not permitting murder – could have 50 – 100 year renewable periods.

As the laws come up for review they can be modified and updated, for example to take into account new technology and new social patterns. In the case of emergency legislation the country will of had more time to consider the issue.

Regularly updating and revising laws would make them more directly relevant to our daily lives, easier to understand by non-legal professionals, and easier to apply and enforce. There would be less need for interpretation by a judge or jury, which would mean much smaller differences in how different people are treated for the same offense.

The maximum life-span of a law could be tied to how long it has already been in force, how long it was debated for, and how many members of the assembly participated in making it. This would prevent governments rushing laws through ‘in the middle of the night’ (The U.S.A. Patriot Act being a very good example of this). If the law was only presented (or amended) a few hours before the vote, and only a few people voted, then you are not representing the people. You should not be able to make a long-term law. If the law has already been in force for some years, or most of the assembly voted on it, then that is a more representative law and should live longer.

Prawn / Shrimp garden

Posted in Ideas at 14:23 by graham

People grow vegetables or fruit in their gardens, and may keep chickens or other animals. Indoors they may have a fish tank, but it is purely ornamental. How about an indoor Shrimp Garden ? An average sized fish tank should fit a good amount of shrimp. They are aggressive towards other fish, so you would keep them on their own. There must be a business in selling a tank with shrimp seeds and feed, exactly the way people sell tomato seeds and fertilizer – and you don’t need a garden to buy the tank !

Shrimp is a term used to describe about 2000 species of small aquatic animals related to crabs, lobsters, and crayfish. The site here might help pick a variety for growing indoors. Aquarium hobbyists keep shrimp to eat algae and detritus, but those species are not the eating kind.

They are already farmed commercially (see here) so it is possible and commercially viable – although they grow them in the sea / rivers rather than in tanks. They are even farmed organically. The genus they use is Macro-brachium. I saw a mention that they take about five months to grow up to eating size. The only question remains as to whether they can grow in a small aquarium.

Has anyone heard of this being done before ? Is there a good reason why this wouldn’t work ? What about crayfish ?

Pedestrian crossing

Posted in Ideas at 14:21 by graham

In many countries, pedestrian crossings have a button you press to signal your desire to cross. After a little while this makes the traffic lights go red for the cars and lights up a green man allowing you to cross.

Often you press the button whilst some cars go past, then realize there is no more traffic, so you cross the road. The lights don’t know you have already crossed so a bit later the traffic lights go red and the cars stop and wait whilst no-one crosses. Wouldn’t it be much better if there was a button you could press just before you crossed saying that you don’t need the lights to change any more ?

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