Old Timmy’s Almanac 2018

It’s that time of year when I wipe the Christmas pudding from my crystal ball, stare hard into the tea leaves and look up at the stars, to bring you the predictions that will shape 2018. Old Timmy’s Almanac will guide your way through the darkness. Or not.

January

After Storm Dylan fails to deposit much needed carrots over the Northern half of the country, storm Ermintrude arrives. Six foot high cheese-drifts appear on the M25, causing traffic to flow only a little more slowly than usual.

February

Theresa May’s government wins a vote in the House of Commons to ban beard and sandal wearing by 310 votes to 13. All 12 Liberal Democrat MPs plus Caroline Lucas vote against the measure. A newly clean-shaven Jeremy Corbyn argues that his principled decision to whip Labour MPs to abstain is simply another example of him playing the long game.

March

A snap general election is called, with polling day set for Thursday 29th March. After a campaign that sees former UKIP leader Nigel Farage being defeated in his ambition to become an MP for the 8th time, he accepts a peerage. The House of Lords votes to abolish itself before he can take his seat. In the Commons no seats change hands apart from Sheffield Hallam, which is won by the independent ‘We’re really, really sorry Nick’ candidate.

April

The Daily Mail finally finds a replacement columnist for Katie Hopkins. However after only three days working for the paper her replacement, Zebedee from the Magic Roundabout, resigns. In an interview with Graham Norton, Zebedee says that he should have listened to Dylan after all.

May

Derby County win the Championship by one point, thrashing Barnsley 8-1 in their final game. Nottingham Forest finish bottom, three points adrift of Sunderland and Birmingham. The city rejoices. Owner Mel Morris immediately sacks manager Gary Rowett for not playing in ‘The Derby County Way™’ and failing to crush the hopes of their fans during the second half of the season.

June

In a surprise move, Chris Grayling, secretary of state for transport, bans all cars that are not genuine Lotus or Caterham 7s from the roads for the entire summer. Caravan owners are seen weeping at the roadside.

Lotus and Caterham 7 ownership soars

Lotus and Caterham 7 ownership soars

July

US president Donald Trump is impeached. He immediately takes to twitter to complain that he is allergic to peaches and would prefer a banana instead. A small army of Minions led by Kevin and Bob are seen leaving the White House, bananas in hand, heading in the general direction of North East Somerset.

August

Arsene Wenger is appointed manager of Derby County. The first three games of the new season are all lost, with the worst being a 7-0 thrashing at Leicester City. Arsene Wenger says that he is content, as he is simply playing the long game.

September

A newly introduced tax on disposable coffee cups is hastily rescinded when people realise that most of the taste of their favourite high street brands comes from the cardboard the cups are made from.

October

Having lost all of their games of the new Premiership season up to this point, Derby County finally get a 9-8 win at home against Manchester United. Mel Morris immediately sacks Arsene Wenger for failing to adhere to the tenets of entertainment as set out in ‘The Derby County Way™’, page 94.

November

The eagerly anticipated John Lewis Christmas advertisement is aired for the first time. In a break with tradition, it consists solely of a cute cat holding up a sign that reads “Buy more stuff”. Sales rise 150%. Marketing gurus praise its “minimalist but honest” style.

December

Theresa May’s government calls another snap general election, with polling day set for Thursday 27th December. Vince Cable adapts the John Lewis Christmas advertisement, using a camel wearing a fedora holding up a sign that reads “Vote for Vince”. Liberal Democrats win 450 seats, with the Labour party being reduced to just two – Islington North and Bolsover. In an interview with John Humphrys, Jeremy Corbyn claims that by playing the long game at this election he will be Prime Minister by Christmas.

Why surveys should always be piloted

This morning I completed an almost incomprehensible marketing survey. Here’s an example of one of the questions.

Marketing survey

Like all of the other questions in the survey, you have to answer it to proceed to the next question. There’s a fixed range of answers that can be selected, with nowhere for me to indicate that I didn’t understand the question. Most of the questions were like this, so my best guess is that YouGov’s client will end up with statistical noise and a sprinkling of confirmation bias.

My suspicion is that the survey wasn’t piloted before release with its target audience. If it had been, simple ambiguities (does 2030 mean half past eight tonight or is it something due to happen in 14 years?) would have been picked up, questions would have been rephrased to make them comprehensible to the lay-person and the ability to answer ‘don’t know/don’t understand’ would have been provided.

But even if such changes had been made, it’s doubtful that anything insightful will result from the survey. The client would have been far better to employ a qualitative research method to explore such hypothetical questions. A good first question would be to ask for a definition of a luxury brand, rather than making the assumption that the client, YouGov and the survey’s audience all share the same perspective. As it stands they’re likely to get some nice charts with average scores to a couple of decimal places, but little insight into what consumers really think.

Say what, Nick Clegg?

A massive round of applause from me for Nick Clegg and his vetoing of the “Snooper’s Charter” – alternatively known as the Communications Data Bill. But can anyone understand this paragraph in his email to Lib Dem members?

There is always a careful balance to strike between security and individual liberty and I have always agreed that we must help our law enforcement agencies keep up with the challenge of policing in the internet age – like the technical issue of what to do when there are more mobile devices with not enough IP addresses to go round.

While it is true that there is a shortage of unallocated (as opposed to unused) IPv4 addresses, it’s not a problem which is solely restricted to mobile devices. In any event, the world is gradually moving towards the IPv6 standard, which has enough addresses for around 2^128 devices. Put another way, that’s enough for a trillion devices a second to be allocated a unique address for the next trillion years.

In any event, the technical “issue” of IPv4 addresses being shared between multiple users and devices is almost as old as the internet itself. It’s not usually all that difficult to work out who(*) was using a specific IP address at a particular point in time if usage is being logged by your internet provider. Unless, of course, someone is attempting to hide their activity by using services like TOR. The use of such technologies to obfuscate illegal activities is a far more serious issue for policing and security than any shortage of IPv4 addresses.

(*) Within limits, of course. It becomes far more difficult to pin activity down to an individual device if you have several devices connected to the internet through the same router – for example, a BT HomeHub or similar.

Say what, Aviva?

I’ve recently received a letter from Aviva about an endowment policy which is due to mature at the end of this month. It’s performed appallingly over the 20 years that I’ve held it and because of their seeming inability to acknowledge this honestly and openly,  I won’t ever buy another product from them again if I can possibly avoid doing so.

However, this phrase from their letter did make me smile:

Please note if you receive a letter confirming that we have not heard from you – please ignore this letter as we have received your completed requirements.

Say what, Aviva?

Citi – late to the party?

This morning, I read the Daily Telegraph for the first time in ages. I’d spent the previous evening away from home at a late birthday / graduation treat, courtesy of my wife. Incidentally, if anyone fancies a gastronomic evening away from it all in the heart of Derbyshire, you could do much, much worse than Fischer’s Baslow Hall. I can’t speak highly enough of the hotel, the staff and the dining experience in the restaurant – and no, this isn’t a sponsored post!

Anyway, back to the Daily Telegraph. On pages 32-33 there is an advertisement for Citi, who claim to be the world’s first global bank. It’s tied in to a Diamond Jubilee Quiz, covering notable events during the reign of Elizabeth II. I have no way of judging Citi’s claim about being the world’s first global bank – I’m not even sure what the claim means – but I do have a way of checking the claims made in their advertisement and working out how late Citi have been to the party over the last 60 years.

The first claim which initially struck me as odd was: “1977 – Citi pioneers the ATM”. A quick check reveals that both the BBC and FT credit Barclays, in 1967, as the pioneers of the ATM. (There’s also a unsubstantiated claim on Wikipedia that the first ATM appeared in a US shopping centre in 1959). So Citi were at least a decade late to that particular party.

So what about some of Citi’s other claims?

“1958 – Citi backs the commercial jetliner” – While the precise words used may make this a true statement, the first commercial jet airliner took to the skies in May 1952, according to the US Centennial of Flight Commission. Citi were therefore a minimum of 6 years late, as development work would have been underway some years before the first commercial flight.

“1995 – Citi helps fund the space shuttle program (sic)” – Again, this may be true, but NASA notes that the first space shuttle was launched on April 12th 1981 (with the programme having started many years before first launch). I think we can safely suggest that Citi were 20 or more years late to the party this time!

My birthday celebrations were a little late this year. But at least I wasn’t as late as Citi appear to be at getting to a party …

There are more questions than answers (#2)

Earlier on this year, I had a quick trawl through the search terms people had used to find this blog and published a number of the more unusual ones (with a number of tongue-firmly-in-cheek comments and answers.)

As I’m off work at the moment, I thought I’d have another quick look – and I haven’t been disappointed by the sheer creativity of things that get typed into search engines. Here are my favourites from the last few months.

Q:citpbreadthofknowledgetestexamples

A: Is your space bar not working? If you apply for BCS CITP, you will get access to a full sample test paper online which is useful, but you should also be looking through the syllabus for the test as well, to understand where you need to be doing some reading before you take the test. There are also five example questions provided by the BCS here, along with full details of how the test is assessed. You’re unlikely to find example or real questions for the test elsewhere online, as everyone who takes it has to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Q: BCS CITP why not ?

A: Yes, why not?

Q: i just finished revising and i forgot everything

A: Don’t panic. I’m sure you didn’t.

Q: dd303summerschoolbath10thJuly

A: Someone else with a broken spacebar? I went during w/c 17th July and had a great time – I hope you did too!

Q: TMA05ED209Childdevelopment

A: … and another?

Q: what do you do on roll a ten pence game?

A: Is the clue to the answer in the question?

Q: things to do with a 10 pence piece

A: Use them as money, perhaps?

Q: meaning of keep finding 10 pence pieces

A: Perhaps you have a hole in your pocket, and it’s the same 10 pence piece you keep finding? If not, I wouldn’t worry, free money is always nice to have.

Q: 10 pence wite chiken

A: Eh?

Q: Wickelgrentriplescheme

A: Time for me to stop this now, I think.

There are more questions than answers

This morning, I’ve had a quick look through the statistics that are provided by 123-reg, the company I’ve used to host my blog since October of last year. One of the reasons I moved from a free wordpress.com blog to a self-hosted wordpress.org environment was to be able to have a little more control over what I could do. One benefit of self hosting is the improved statistical information you can gather.

For example, I now know that I get more visits to the site from people using Internet Explorer than Firefox (3,642 vs 2,908 since last October), but that people using Firefox tend to view more of the content that’s hosted here (43,232 page views from Firefox vs 22,466 from Internet Explorer).

I’ve no idea why that should be (or even how knowing it enriches my life!), but it seems like an interesting piece of trivia that otherwise I’d have had no way of knowing about.

One of the more interesting data sets that gets reported are the search terms people use to arrive here in the first place. Most of them are fairly predictable (keywords like DD303, ED209, CITP all figure high in the rankings), but some of the questions that people are asking their search engines are slightly unusual and in some cases, unanswerable.

Here are some questions that have been asked in the last six months that have entertained me and I’m going to try to answer.

Q: How much is a 10 pence piece with teal on both sides?

A: 10 pence, perhaps? There is a reason for the name I chose for my blog and I will get around to explaining it at some point in the future.

Q: Open university d15 conversion course can it be done part-time in one year?

A: It would normally mean taking a minimum of DSE212, DXR222, ED209, DD303 and DD307 simultaneously, and that would hardly be part-time (60+ hours a week going on the course guidance plus two one week residential schools for DXR222 and DD303). I’d say not – but if anyone knows better …

Q: When did the new 10 pence piece come out?

A: We’re back on money again I see. I suppose the answer depends on what you mean by ‘new’. They were first issued in 1968, prior to decimalisation in 1971. The new smaller sized coins were introduced in 1992, with the older, larger coins being withdrawn in 1993. A new design for the coin appeared in 2008. Does that help?

Q: When and why was the Sun sold for 10 pence?

A: I’m genuinely intrigued by this one. I wonder if the person asking meant the sun which is currently absent in skies over Derby (predictable, as it’s a Bank Holiday today), or “The Sun”, the newspaper. Try asking News International, perhaps?

Q: What’s a good assignment mark with the Open University?

A: Define good? It depends, I suppose. Anything over 40% is a pass; anything over 85% is a distinction.

Q: How have children’s attitudes changed over time?

A: Anyone?

Q: Black 1 pence piece how much would I get?

A: Ah. This is an easy one. One penny. Have you tried dipping it in tomato sauce to clean it?

Q: What do you call a mushroom that parties?

A: A fungi – geddit?!?

Q: How is consumption used to construct goths identity?

A: I knew I should have paid more attention to the identity chapters in ED209. Goths have an identity, do they?

Q: What is a Huffty?

A: It’s the name of my car.

Q: Is anyone doing tma2 option 2 for ou?

A: I’m sure someone is.

Q: How do you make 8 ten pence pieces into 2 rows of 5?

A: I’d like to know the answer to this one myself! Anyone?

Q: What can I get for 10 pence?

A: Anything that costs 10 pence or less, perhaps?

Q: Need a white suit?

A: No, but I’d quite like one.

Q: When are you going to stop procrastinating?

A: Now. Time for me to get back to TMA02 and chapter 7 …

When is a change not a change?

When it’s to do with Open University cut off times for TMAs.

There has been a well publicised change to TMA cut off times in the works for some time now from 12 midnight to 12 noon. Clear so far. However, the following message has been posted to StudentHome this morning (my italics):

Reminder – Change to cut off time for TMAs, CMAs, and iCMAs

With effect from tomorrow, 25 December 2009, the cut off time for tutor marked assignments (TMAs) and computer marked assignments (CMAs and iCMAs) will change to 12 noon. This means that you should ensure that your assignment is submitted to arrive by noon on the cut off date. This brings the policy for all assignments into line with end of course assessments (ECAs). However, there will be a 12 hour grace period so any assignments received up until midnight on the cut off date will still be accepted. Any assignments received on or after midnight will not be accepted unless an extension has previously been agreed. No extensions are permitted for CMAs or iCMAs.

So, I read that as saying that the effective cut off time is still 12 midnight for TMAs, unless you’ve agreed an extension with your tutor beforehand. The same as it currently is. Is anyone else as bemused as me by all of this?

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