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Category: Misc

The ‘other’ always needed in any classification.

Blackness Castle

2013-05-05 13.46.44

Historic Scotland Property.

Good For

Views of Forth bridges and lots of fresh air. Castle is really curious. Walking in woods along the coat to the East.

Not So Good For

If there is a cold wind then it is really exposed so would not be very pleasant. Check opening times with Historic Scotland website first.

Last Visit

Lovely visit on Sunday 5th May 2013 having tried to visit House of Binns but it wasn’t open. Lunch in the van then around castle and walk in woods.

Why The Four ONS Happiness Questions Suck

Sometimes I just can’t let go of a subject even though it is outside my power to do anything about it. In these situations my blog serves as a way for me to draw a line under it and move on.

On 25th November 2010 David Cameron gave a speech on Wellbeing at Downing Street. He was announcing the start of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) measurement of national well-being. A memorable quote from his speech is:

Now, of course, you cannot capture happiness on a spreadsheet any more than you can bottle it.

The PM’s speech wasn’t the start of his interest. He had been keen on measuring well-being when he was in opposition and I admire him for pursuing it in office. From 2011 the Office for National Statistics (ONS) started to produce publications on well-being. You can access all the ONS publications online .There was a consultation and a report. By December 2011 four questions had been settled on and some pilot studies run as part of the ONS Opinions Survey. The results of the pilot are published as “Initial investigation into Subjective Well-being data from the ONS Opinions Survey“. Around four thousand people were polled in the Opinions Survey in four separate groups. Following on from this the four questions were put to over 160,000 subjects as part of the Annual Population Survey. The results were published as “First Annual ONS Experimental Subjective Well-being Results” in July 2012. If you want to access the data behind these surveys it is available at the UK Data Archive. You have to sign up and be vetted but they gave me access so they can’t be that fussy.

As you can see from the list of publications these four questions are not the only thing the ONS are doing but they make up the major part of it. Reading the reports I can’t put my finger on how they were derived. Reading the questions I can’t believe they were asked. Looking at the results I am not surprised at all. This blog post is about why I think these are the wrong questions to be asking as part of the wrong approach to the challenge of measuring well-being.

I have spent too many evenings looking at attempts to “capture happiness on a spreadsheet”.

I just don’t get Economic Growth

I have been trying to understand Economic Growth for quite a while and I think I have reached the point where I give up. There are a lot of people on the radio who talk about how important it is and they can’t all be wrong so maybe it is me.  Here is how my logic got me to this point.

Wikipedia describes Economic Growth today as:

Economic growth is the increase in the amount of the goods and services produced by an economy over time. It is conventionally measured as the percent rate of increase in real gross domestic product, or real GDP.

If I look at the change in real GDP in my lifetime till 2010 and compare it with how I feel society and my own fortunes have changed I should get a feeling for why we need to have economic growth. I was born in 1965 so I’ll take my lifetime as a guide. This site give GDP figures for the UK for the years 1965 and 2010. This site gives an inflation converter. Between the two I can draw a table like this.

Year GDP – Billions Population Millions GDP Per Person At Today’s Value
2010 1,458.45 62.262 23,424 23,424
1965 35.888 54.034 664 8,989

UK GDP per person (inflation corrected) has increased in my lifetime by 2.6 times or 160% over 47 years which is an average growth rate of 5.5%! From the noises people make on the radio 5.5% would be a very good thing to continue. These figures may be approximate but looking at the numbers on other websites I think an increase of about 2.5x is good enough for my arguments.

Famously Bobby Kennedy said GDP:

measures everything except that which is worthwhile

I wouldn’t have expected a doubling of GDP to have made us a Utopian heaven but I would have expected great increases in our ‘real’ standard of living. If there were a linear relationship between GDP and standard of living I would expect it to have more than doubled – though how one calculates the doubling of a quality (rather than a quantity) is debatable. It is like saying one book is twice as good as another.

So what is different since 1965?

Why I don’t buy Scottish Newspapers

Yesterday we all got on our bikes to Pedal on Parliament and protest at the disproportionate cuts to the active travel budgets. Basically everyone admits that Scotland would be a better place if we built our roads so that it was safer to cycle but it is very difficult to get it prioritised over creating more motorist centric facilities. The rally also remembered those who have been killed on our roads – including two cyclists in Edinburgh this year already. Lets hope that no one we know is the third.

I was rather dreading that there would be a handful of us and it would rain but the sun shone and there was a massive turnout. Around 2,000 cyclists as confirmed by the police.

Remember This Post

I recently read a moving post on memory by Dawn Foster that set me thinking.

Dawn has epilepsy which means that 20-40 times each day she misses a few seconds of what is going on – yet nobody notices.  She finds it disturbing especially when compared to the experiences she has had with her grandmother suffering from Alzheimer’s. The thing that struck me was the phrase “I worry constantly about how much we remember.” This made me think of the suffering that even the thought that one might not remember something can create.

HTML5 Geolocation Data Sucks

I have long been excited about HTML5 having access to a geolocation data. It should make it possible to build a whole range of applications for phones and other devices that are cross platform but make use of the users location. Unfortunately reality bites when you try and actually build an application based on the technology.

I have been working with Sencha Touch and the Ext.util.Geolocation object but am having problems with accuracy. I have noted the following behaviour.

When I call for a location on iPhone (3G) and iPad (v1) I get a one with around 1.3km accuracy. Basically it places me at one of two spots about 1km apart. If I switch to the native maps app then it places my position within 10m of where I am standing – that “wow it knows where I am” accuracy . Switch back to my web app and the first call to the GeoLocation returns similar accuracy. Any subsequent calls return the old inaccurate positions.

An areligious (not “A religious”) justification for meditation

If I start to talk about how the world is and therefore how we should best live there is a danger you will dismiss what I say as either playing with ideas that have no relation to real life (philosophy) or trying to impose some mumbo jumbo from a possible imaginary deity (religion). Many people are reluctant to explore this stuff because it will either prove a complete waste of time or overturn a belief system that they have accepted since childhood.

Despite this I do need to create a narrative explanation of why you should try mindfulness meditation. The rationality at the heart of our culture requires that this comes first. Please treat what follows as a pragmatic way of viewing the world for the purpose of living the good life rather than just a set of ideas or a religious doctrine.

Things arise in dependence on conditions and when those conditions cease the things cease. This is the root of the philosophy. This is easy to accept because when we look we can see it is true. This should not be confused with “cause and effect” which is more a product of language. To have a “cause” and an “effect” we need to define one thing as being the cause and something else as being the effect which is useful when we want to use words to represent these things but involves isolating them from the rest of the universe. Drawing a line around them if you like. So we could talk about it raining because it is cloudy but this conveniently leaves out the causes of clouds and the processes within the clouds.