Sunday, 24 June 2018

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Backgammon and the world cup (and probably lots of other things as well)

There is something called the FIBS rating.

It's a weighted ratings system. A player with a low rating will see their rating rise higher if they beat a player with a high rating than they would if they won a match against a low rated player. There are other factors too. The main one being the match length. Winning a match played over a series of games, with the winner being the first to amass 21 points would yield a bigger ratings gain for the winner than a match against the same opponent that was played over 1 or 3 points.

Backgammon is more like poker than chess. It's not about pure skill. There is an element of luck too. A good player will beat a bad one most of the time, especially over a series of games. Yet perfect play will sometimes be confounded by mediocrity combined with luck. It's all about probabilities, and making the optimal play, so that you maximise your own chances of a useful throw of the dice, while doing your best to minimise your opponents options.

Meanwhile, of course, your opponent is trying to do the same thing to you.

Once you reach a certain level, and can play the best possible move every time (which no human ever does, although computers increasingly can) if you meet an opponent that is equally skilled, it becomes a matter of luck.

The human factor dictates style. For example, if an attacking option and a defensive option both present themselves, each offering some balancing factors of risk and/or reward, one player might choose the aggressive play, while another might make more conservative choices. Each may prevail. That's the game.

Watching England play against Tunisia last night, I couldn't help feel that against a better team, (and if it had been chess, rather than backgammon, England would prabably have won 4 or 5 - 1 )given the same luck, they would have struggled.

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Thursday, 7 June 2018

3 letters

One of the things I have been thinking about is "What combination of three letters has the most permutations?"

For any group of three letters, there are six different combinations. For example...


That's just an example, and it yields just one legitimate English word, CAB, unless BAC is also a word.

I've not found a group that makes words in any order.

Or five.

I've found one that makes four:

SAP - ASP - SPA - PAS (the last word is a dance step closely derived from French but it's in the dictionary)

Here are some that make three:


It would be easier if I included acronyms.

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Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Your money or your life

I call this the highwayman fallacy.

"Or" is a logical signifier.

To take the highwayman's words literally, you can either give him the money, or he will kill you, but leave you with the money.

So it should really be "Your money, or your money AND your life.

Just sayin'

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Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Living on an island...

When you look at Wirral, it's basically a rectangle, and that's how people tend to think of it. But it's a bit more complicated than that. Wallasey, on the top right corner, is almost cut off from the rest of it by the system of docks that run from the River Mersey through Birkenhead and up towards the Irish Sea. There are only 5 roads in and out.

Road 1. Leasowe Road, takes traffic from the North Coast of Wirral, Moreton, Leasowe, Meols, Hoylake, West Kirby into Wallasey Village.

Road 2. This takes traffic from the North of Birkenhead, with a lot of the stuff carried by road 1, and any traffic from the M53 into Wallasey.

Roads 3,4 and 5 all take traffic across bridges over the docks. 3 takes some of the M53's traffic and North Birkenhead. 4 takes stuff from the middle of Birkenhead. 5 Takes central Birkenhead, and anything coming up the A41 from Eastern Wirral - Tranmere, Bromborough, Rock Ferry, Bebington, etc.

Between 3 and 5, the docklands are being prepared for redevelopment. They have big plans for this area, which has been pretty much unused for the last couple of decades.

So they've been replacing the bridge over road 5. What should have taken a few months has now taken well over a year, and they're still not done. So all the traffic that would normally go through road 5 is being funneled through the other routes, mainly road 4. At rush hour, all of these routes become gridlocked. I'd like to humbly suggest that putting some kind of temporary structure in place, like a pontoon or something, might have been useful. When this work is finished, they will be replacing the bridge over road 4.

Over the last couple of weeks, there have been roadworks causing long delays on road 2. (They're putting traffic lights in) For the last couple of days, a burst water main caused the closure of road 3.

I shall leave it to your imagination as to the effects. Road 3 has now reopened, but not everyone knows about this, so people are still avoiding it.

The bridges themselves, taking roads 4 and 5 across the docks, are quite interesting. They're single leaf bascule bridges with a curved rack intersecting a flat stretch of pinion on the side of the roadway. The leaf is balanced by a counterweight, which means the bridge needs relatively little energy to move.

Picture credit: Rept0n1x 

The bridges date from the 1930's, and both the Tower Road (Road 5) and Duke Street (Road 4) will be replaced by something that involves hydraulics and pistons and what have you. There will be one left, spanning two unused sections of dock. I'm glad about that. This type (known as a rolling bascule) is actually quite rare. They're a part of our industrial heritage, and have allowed ships and cars (and trains) to traverse the docks for close to a century.

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Wednesday, 2 May 2018


There was an unfortunate painter

Who's work became fainter and fainter.

He started in black, but pigments he lacked

Until he had nothing but

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Saturday, 28 April 2018

"Selfish" and "Introvert" are not synonyms.

I'm thinking of asking my GP if I can be tested to see if I'm on the autistic spectrum. I think I probably am. But why bother? It's not like anything can be done about it.

Well, the thing is, I've done many stupid things over the years, and sometimes I've hurt other people around me. Not out of malice, but because I just didn't know how to do stuff, like relate to other people.

There is a psychic cost to such things. I feel a lot of guilt about some of the events that have occurred in my life. I don't know if being diagnosed as Aspergers would help, but it would certainly help explain.

In other news, My Dad is still waiting for a diagnosis/prognosis. It's probably Non Hodgkins Lymphoma by the looks of things. He's had that for a good few years now too. The medical opinion when he was first diagnosed was that he'd probably be dead before it killed him. For now we wait for more news.

Oh, and I've had a couple of people pass their tests. One particular sequence I'm pleased to see the end of.

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Thursday, 12 April 2018

D day

My Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer about seven years ago. He survived it at a cost.

Now his PSA levels are high again. He was called in to his local oncology department a few weeks ago for tests.

We find the results today.

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Tuesday, 3 April 2018


Well, I stuck to my guns, and refused to give in , and ultimately, prevailed.

Since then, my performance has nosedived, at least using test results as an indicator.

No instructor has a 100% success rate. There are just too many variables, not all of which are directly connected with driving. So we have both passes and fails, that come more or less randomly. Sometimes I get a run of passes, sometimes a run of fails. And sometimes, a sequence of alternating passes and fails. That's just the way of it. Just numbers and statistics and stuff. Just because I have a lot of consecutive passes, doesn't mean I'm some wunderkind instructor. A lot of consecutive fails don't mean I've somehow become worse at what I do.

Still, it's hard, when things are going well, not to feel that I'm God's gift to driving instruction, and when things don't go well, it's hard not to question myself, and wonder if I could be doing things differently.

So here are my numbers from the last 6 months... X = Pass. O = fail.

October 2017: XOXOOX (50% pass rate)
November 2017: OOO (0% pass rate)
December 2017: X (100% pass rate)
January 2018: XOOOXX (50% pass rate)
February 2018: OOOO (0% pass rate)
March 2018: OOOOOO (0% pass rate)

Ten successive fails is my worst ever run by some margin. So what's happening here?

Well, partly, it's just the luck of the draw, as I explained above. The overall pass rate nationwide is just a bit under 50%. Close enough for "Heads or Tails" to be a useful metaphor. Sometimes I will flip a lot of one or the other.

Partly, the test itself changed in early December. Perhaps I've not done enough to prepare myself or my pupils for the new aspects of the test.

Yet I find myself wondering...

I haven't become a crap instructor over the last few months. Could it be that this, or at least some of this is payback? Surely not. Such a thing would be an outrageous abuse of position, and I have to say, on the 3 or 4 tests that I sat in on in 2018, the fails were marked correctly. Yet one or two of my pupils, on tests where I didn't sit in, really struggled to understand why they'd picked up serious faults.

It wouldn't be difficult to engineer a fail. Give instructions just a second or two later than usual to make people rush. Err on the side of harsh when any borderline situations arise. Be extra authoritarian in manner to crank up the nerves, etc.

Surely not.

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Saturday, 17 March 2018

God loves the broken hearted

So says a billboard outside a church in Birkenhead.

But he hates fags if the placards are to be believed.

Well what about broken hearted fags?

God spinning, inches from the floor. Cat with buttered toast strapped to it's back.

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Wednesday, 14 February 2018


I've blogged a couple of times about an event that occurred last October.

One of my pupils was on her driving test. She was traveling along a road that split into two lanes before joining a roundabout. On every previous test I've observed, the examiner has given some kind of instruction to use the right hand lane at or before this divergence occurred, but this time, this did not happen. My pupil, having put herself in the correct lane anyway, asked for reassurance/clarification, and the examiners response was to ask if she had ever driven through the tunnel on a driving lesson. His tone was surprisingly aggressive. It seemed to me that he'd been caught napping, and had reacted defensively instead of  'fessing up and apologising and giving confirmation and reassurance that she had chosen correctly.

I appealed on the grounds that the examiner had failed to provide clear direction in good time.

There followed a protracted shenanigans because my pupil had given slightly incorrect personal details. It took a long time, and a lot of my time and attention to sort this out, but eventually, this was sorted out, and the DVSA investigated my complaint.

They found against me, after investigating the situation, an investigation that at no point involved speaking to my pupil. They just took the examiner's word for it, and because the examiner had given correct instructions at the roundabout, and because he had correctly marked her driving.

I sent my appeal up a level, because what I was complaining about was not the marking of the test, or the instruction given at the roundabout, but the lack of instruction given on approach to the roundabout.

This appeal too was rejected, on pretty much the same basis. No contact was made with my pupil. No reference was made to the point where the instruction should have been given. The DVSA instead concentrated on the (correct) instruction given at the roundabout.

At some point in all this, I'd also  realised that if she was in a right hand only lane, without being asked to be there, she should have had some kind of fault marked against her in regards to response to road signs and road markings, or possibly planning and awareness, but that no fault had been marked.

I appealed again, this time to the third and highest level. This involves senior executive staff at the highest level of the DVSA. Their response was the first to actually address the point at which my appeal was based, rather than at the roundabout, several hundred yards further ahead. My appeal was still rejected, and my pupil had still not been contacted for her side of the story.

I thought this was the end of the line.

Since I'd sat there and watched as something completely anomalous happened, I was resigned, but pretty disillusioned. Then I re-read the appeals procedure details, and I noticed something I'd forgotten. If after taking my appeal to the highest level, I was still unhappy, I could ask for my complaint to be submitted for independent assessment by an independent assessor.

He contacted me asking me to get my pupil to contact him, and I passed his request on but received no response. My pupil is not the most socially confident of people. I emailed back, explaining that for whatever reason, my pupil chose not to respond to my message. He then contacted me again, with a google map of the precise area this incident covered, and I was able to annotate the map, with a detailed description of events as I saw them.

This was acknowledged, along with an estimate of the timescale before a decision would be reached.

Today, this decision was emailed to me. The bold stuff is serious. It carries weight and expects to be acted upon. 

It's a long document, but here are the findings:

My view

  1. Turning first to the DVSA’s handling of your case, I agree that it took too long (eight working days) to query Jess’ details, particularly given the target to reply substantively within ten working days. In this time you seemingly had to chase to get the case moving. I also agree that the DVSA’s communications about this were confusing. I recommend that the DVSA reviews its practices and considers whether its customer service could be improved by an earlier check on new complaint correspondence to ensure that all the necessary information is available. This initial poor service, and the confusing claim that you had been asked for the correct details sooner, was an inauspicious start.

  1. You provided the correct details on 20 October and the complaint was referred to the driving test centre for investigation four working days later, deadlined for 31 October. This seems a long time to me but I must commend the local driving test manager for the clear priority he afforded to the case, returning comments based on a review of the documentation and conversation with the examiner the following day. I will consider the depth of the DVSA’s investigations shortly.

  1. The remainder of the correspondence unfolded as follows:

20/10/2017 3/11/2017 (day 10)
3, 6 & 13/11/2017 22/11/2017 (day 8 from most recent correspondence)
22/11/2017 7/12/2017 (day 11)
7, 8 & 13/12/2017 20/12/2017 (ICA referral on day 5 vs. target of two weeks)

  1. These intervals appear reasonable to me given the fact that further comments were obtained at every stage. The ICA referral was also timely.

  1. I have commented in the previous section that the DVSA’s responses were unconvincing. Neither of the November emails placed the examiner’s question to Jess in context. The impression given was that Jess’ query followed a timely instruction to turn right at the roundabout. Having looked carefully at your correspondence and submission to me, and the DVSA’s evidence, my view is that your account of the sequence of events is more plausible. In particular, I cannot see why a candidate already in the correct lane on the basis of an examiner’s instruction would then in effect ask whether she should embark on a different route. I therefore consider it more likely than not that the examiner’s directional instruction followed Jess’ enquiry.

  1. You have argued throughout your correspondence that the timing of the instruction represented a failure to abide by 1.27. Looking at the map in paragraph 1 along with the road views I reproduce in subsequent paragraphs I note that:

  • It is clear that the sign immediately south of Willow Close (paragraph 4) indicates that the A5027 will branch off into a right lane; it is therefore arguable that a broad instruction to follow the road ahead at all times would require the driver to branch right as the road split (and that a 1.06 infringement by Jess in following the road ahead in the right lane might have been unfair)
  • It is also noteworthy that the roundabout itself is atypical in that Gorsey Lane traffic has right of way over traffic already on the roundabout
  • I also note that the standard Highway Code advice is to stay in the left-hand lane on a dual carriageway unless overtaking or turning right [137]
  • However, the Highway Code also states: “You should follow the signs and road markings and get into the lane as directed.” [134] Arguably again, following the signs to remain on the same route in this instance would involve right lane selection.

  1. Taking all these factors into account, I think that this was an atypical scenario for a learner driver in a test to second-guess and that clear and timely instructions from the examiner were required. This drive is clearly part of an established test route, and the likelihood of the tunnel exit featuring in a test is low, but that does not obviate the examiner’s duty under 1.27 to be clear. You argue convincingly that other examiners do not allow doubt about the required exit from the roundabout and provide timely direction. On balance I think it more likely than not that the instruction to turn right arrived late on 6 October 2017 to the extent that the examiner’s compliance with section 1.27 is in doubt.

  1. You also complained about the tone in which the examiner’s query to Jess was delivered. Obviously I was not present and cannot provide an adjudication based on first-hand observation. A clear opportunity to investigate this aspect of the complaint properly was missed at each of the DVSA’s three stages. The agency focused solely on the examiner’s intention. I don’t think anyone thought that his intention was to belittle Jess or to undermine her performance. But I think that it would have represented good customer service, and investigatory practice, to have telephoned Jess to hear her account of the drive and to understand the impact on her of the examiner.

  1. The new test date was on the horizon and a call would have also reinforced the agency’s aim to ensure that avoidable stress was removed from the process. I understand that a different examiner could not be guaranteed under the DVSA’s rules. But I’m sure that a sympathetic discussion of the October drive would have been appreciated by the candidate and would have represented the high level of customer care that the DVSA aims to provide.1

  1. The record of the test did not copy well within the scanned documents referred to me but I also think it likely that the deterioration in Jess’ performance after the Gorsey Lane roundabout would have been discernible from the test record within the local investigation of the complaint. Rather than triangulating the evidence base by looking at this and talking to Jess, the same managerial assurances were trotted out in the first two DVSA responses. This was disappointing given the very serious complaint that examiner conduct had undermined a candidate’s performance.

  1. The third response did engage more directly with your arguments about lane selection but did not appear to take on board the possibility that Jess was in the right-hand lane because she had assumed that the tunnel exit would not be part of the test. This seems to me a likely scenario, particularly if parked cars in the run up to the creation of two lanes had already led her to select the right-hand lane. The DVSA’s first suggestion, that Jess may have been schooled on the route, does not to my mind give sufficient weight to the fact that she asked for directions. And I remain of the view that a call to the candidate at this stage would have clarified the impact on her of the examiner’s approach even if the DVSA remained of the view that his intervention had been acceptable.

  1. Concluding, I uphold your complaint that the examiner’s conduct of the test fell below an acceptable standard. I think that this represented unfairness to Jess that could and should have been addressed fully during the complaints process. Unfortunately I found the DVSA’s assurances complacent and unconvincing. However, I do not feel that the evidence I have reaches a sufficient threshold for me to conclude that Jess would have passed the test had the examiner’s conduct and performance been better. I therefore partially uphold the complaint and recommend that the agency apologises to Jess for the failings I’ve highlighted and makes her a consolatory payment of £65.

This concludes my involvement in your case. In the event that you remain dissatisfied it is open to you to ask an MP to refer your complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Mr Rob Behrens. His telephone helpline is 0345 015 4033.

Yours sincerely...

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Monday, 12 February 2018

Nocturnal emissions

Many months ago, I had a dream.

From the fragments I remember, I was in some kind of school hall, with a lot of children, and I was playing them a song. The song had a tune, and melody, and lyrics. I awoke to find that I remembered the music quite clearly, but that I'd forgotten everything except the vaguest sense of the words.

I've recorded it. It's both the quintessence of every melodic cliché ever, and as catchy as anything.

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Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Me Singing

Ah. My lovely shiny new bit of musical whizz-bangery has a built in effects unit that when applied to my vocals, turns my rather reedy and weak voice into a thing of beauty. In my humble opinion. I normally hate hearing it, but I'm hitting all the right notes (except the very highest one) and there's sweetness, sustain and power in there. This is just a fragment of "With or without you"

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Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Note to self (and a couple of other bits)

Happy new year to all my reader!

I want to stay off the booze this year. I've managed it so far. I celebrated the completion of our solar orbit with a glass of fizzy fruit drink.

I also want to do more musically. I got in touch with someone I used to know, and he's just got back to me. Full of enthusiasm as ever. Wants to get me gigging with his band. I feel that I'd rather just go have a jam with him just to see how things go at first. He sent me a set list. Mainly pretty safe, mainstream stuff. If I do go on to do something with this, I'd want to add quite a few new things that they might not have thought of doing.

Anyway, just as a note to myself, here are some useful settings for the multi effects unit...

1-1-1 deep long echo
1-1-2 loud and distorted 
1-1-4 slightly different deel long echo with a bit of phase
3-2-4 reverby fast echo that might be good for vocals.

The settings are in three groups of 4. In theory, there are 64 presets. In practice, since some of the buttons and pedals on this old unit don't work except through diligent and forceful application, there are fewer available. I will try to list them all here if I can be bothered.

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