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Thursday, 26 December 2013

UK Home Ownership, House Prices and Wages: Prices Rising, Ownership Falling

The price of a home has been rising faster than wages. Ownership levels are dropping.



The chart above shows that house prices for first-time buyers have massively inflated between 1969 and 2012. Not only have prices increased, but they have become more unaffordable. In 1969 the average home cost just over £4,000, against an average buyers' wage of £1,600 (price: 2.5 times income). By 2012, the price had increased to almost £182,000 against a buyers' wage of just under £45,000 (price: 4 times income). The following graph shows the same data between 1978-2012, adjusted for inflation using 2012 as the basis.

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Tuesday, 24 December 2013 Is it just me, or does the quality of writing in Reddit comments tend to be a bit dull?

These days it's not as bad as it was, but go back a few years – roughly 2008 - and it was oddly flat, almost like it was written by machine, or people were running their comments through a special boring filter.

I figured out how to make such a filter, once. It's a combination of an automated or semi-automated thesaurus and a table of word frequencies – just change all words to their most often-used versions, dropping the writing down the Fleisher-Kincaid levels.

It would be a good disguise if you didn't want to be identified by your writing style and choice of words (especially if a tool to analyse and match the surrounding comments' style was added to the filter) but it's very dull to read. Such a filter is probably also useful for taking out any accidental subtext – but it has the possible side-effect of sensitising regular readers to subtext when they see it again.

For a while I spent so much time reading that flat style of writing that it got stuck in my brain and even I started thinking and writing the same way. It wasn't a very nice experience.

How an entire website of supposedly different and unconnected people all came to write in the same style, I can only guess.

As I mentioned earlier, it's better now than it was, but it's still a bit odd. From time to time, I dip into Reddit and try to stir things up a bit in whatever way I can.

One such attempt was the brief novelty account, Translated-to-Sci-Fi (note: may not be suitable for children or viewing at work).* My method for this account was to get very drunk, and then pick whatever caught my eye on the front pages and weave some sort of fragment of fiction from it in the genre of Sci-Fi. It was quite fun, I might do it again some time.

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Thursday, 19 December 2013

How an Ageing Population Affects Voting Power in the UK

Younger age groups have less voting power and will have even less in future.



The most obvious feature of this dataset is that voting turnout amongst the 18-34 group has been in decline since 1983, though it did start to pick up again for the 25-34 year olds in 2005 and for the 18-24 year olds in 2010. Turnout amongst the older age groups has remained consistently higher since 1997, and the difference is particularly noticeable in the 2001 and 2005 general elections.

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Monday, 16 December 2013

The Top 100 Names for Children Born in England and Wales 2012

There were over 28,000 different boys' names and over 36,000 different girls' names spread over 729,674 births. The top 10 names account for 13% of all names. The names are listed in order of popularity (most popular to least popular).



Boys

Harry
Oliver
Jack
Charlie
Jacob
Thomas
Alfie
Riley
William

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Thursday, 05 December 2013

Are There too Many Immigrants in the UK? The Facts and Figures on Immigration

In a 2012 Ipsos MORI poll, 70% of respondents strongly agreed or tended to agree with the statement, "there are too many immigrants in Britain."

This is the highest level of agreement in the 10 polls in this series available from Ipsos MORI, covering 1989 to 2012.



The details of the 2012 poll can be seen below:

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Thursday, 28 November 2013

Statistics: Inflation Across Europe 2005-2012

HICP / CPI Inflation figures for 27 EU countries 2005-2012

The graph below shows cumulative inflation levels for each of the EU countries available from the Office for National Statistics. The inflation index used is the HICP - the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (CPI in the UK).



The group of countries experiencing higher inflation over this period mainly consists of EU countries that have not joined the single currency - Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania. The exception in this group is the newest addition to the Eurozone, Estonia, which adopted the Euro in 2011.

The following graph shows the same data with an adjusted scale on the Y-axis to show the lower-inflation group of countries in greater detail.

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Tuesday, 22 October 2013
I usually enjoy writing. Or I used to, anyway. A long time ago, I wanted to be a writer of some sort, perhaps a journalist. In retrospect, the old version of me would have been very ill-suited to it some ways – possibly I still am.

I've noticed something interesting about writing. It's something that hadn't really occurred to me until a few years ago. Unless a writer only ever creates rather dry articles such as the previous one, then they will, slowly but surely, reveal what sort of person they are, how they think, what they feel, what their strengths and weaknesses are.

As you might gather from some of my other work here, privacy is something I value highly, though that is probably true of almost everyone.

There's the sticking point. There might be some things I value more than my own privacy (though it's never an easy trade), but what right do I have to take it from others?* People's characters and views are probably mostly formed by their experiences, and their experiences are mostly created by the people around them – the people they spend, or have spent, most time with.

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Sunday, 20 October 2013

1,000 to 1,500 Jobs to be Lost at Middlesbrough Council

Exciting Times: Up to half of council's employees to be sacked due to budget savings - consultation to be opened.

The Northern Echo and Evening Gazette report that Middlesbrough must save an additional £11M on top of previous cost-saving estimates, which may result in the loss of up to 1,500 employees - over half the number of people currently working at the council (2,500).

In a subsequent article, the Northern Echo reports that 600 jobs have already been lost since 2010.

Looking at the Council's own 'employment details' figures published on their website, we can see that they have indeed reduced their headcount by 554. However, measured in terms of full-time jobs, the number of people employed has actually only reduced by 227 (Note: figures don't include school staff.)


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Monday, 07 October 2013
The lengths I go to protect my - and other people's - privacy

In the light of the Guardian's Prism coverage, I've been making some changes.

I've long suspected that the level of surveillance was something like that, but it's one thing to suspect, and another to see the evidence.

Combined with general hacking, PI snooping and press intrusions into privacy, I sometimes feel we might as well all walk around naked. Look, should I just save everyone some time and hand over my entire life history to some random journalist or government official? Maybe you'd like some measurements and naked pics while I'm at it?


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Saturday, 29 December 2012

How to Switch Off Autorun on Windows XP

Windows XP will automatically open or run the contents of CDs and USB sticks when loaded or inserted. Here's an easy way to prevent it.











To disable autorun [current user, all devices]: click here

To disable autorun [current user, removable devices]: click here


To disable autorun [all users, all devices]: click here

To disable autorun [all users, removable devices]: click here

The links above will download Windows .reg files which if allowed to execute will modify your Windows registry settings. Please note that these files have only been tested on Windows XP Home Edition, but they should work okay for Win XP Pro. Obviously, you proceed at your own risk etc. but quite a few people have already used these links (as provided in my earlier guide to Windows XP security and so far no-one's emailed or commented to accuse me of blowing up their computer. You should check the contents of the files with a text editor such as notepad to ensure they don't contain anything malicious, but if you've found this page by searching for information about disabling Windows' autorun feature, then I doubt I need to tell you that. If you're looking for information on how to disable autorun in other versions of Windows (or information on additional settings for these registry keys), then this Microsoft article should prove useful.

The .reg files I've provided above will add or modifiy the following registry keys:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\policies\Explorer\NoDriveTypeAutoRun
- for the current user, or:-
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer\NoDriveTypeAutoRun
- for all users.

The NoDriveTypeAutoRun key will be set to the value of 04 (hex 04) or 255 (hex FF) depending on whether you want only USB sticks (04) or all removable devices (FF) prevented from auto-running.

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Monday, 24 December 2012
While wandering the BBC blogs, I came upon this article by Rory Cellan-Jones.

It reminded me of something that's been bothering me for some time. What a strange, backward step it is to have to write 'apps' (programs) for different devices just to use a website.

The great thing about the internet is that it has standardised a formatting language (HTML/CSS), a transmission protocol (TCP/IP) and various programming languages (but mainly Javascript) so that any computer-like device can download a webpage and display it in exactly the same way as any other computer-like device.

Yet the arrival of mobile internet has somehow caused the rise of the 'app'. Instead of concentrating on making webpages that function correctly on all devices, suddenly we have programmers writing native code for lots of different devices. You could argue that at least it's creating jobs for programmers. True, but I'd argue it's time and resources that could be better spent elsewhere.

The argument in favour of mobile apps goes, as far as I can tell, that the processors in mobile phones are still quite weak compared to proper computers, and therefore it helps to use native code to speed things up. That might be understandable when it comes to things that need a lot of computing power, like iplayer, but it really doesn't explain why every other website has to have a mobile app just to render some text and pictures.

From a security point of view, the last thing you should want to do is install programs willy-nilly, yet websites are increasingly pushing mobile users towards the idea that this is a normal state of affairs.

If your website is too slow on a mobile device, I can't help suspecting that the underlying HTML/CSS and code that powers your website has become far more complex than is actually required - or someone's mobile's web browser isn't very good.

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Friday, 23 November 2012
How Javascript and cookies can compromise your security and privacy on the web.

The main thing about a computer, the thing that really defines it and makes it a computer, is that it's programmable. Not programmable in the limited sense that it will remember which TV programs to record while you're out, but in the true sense of programmable – your computer is constantly following a list of instructions, and it will absolutely follow them.

This is the great strength of true computers. Unfortunately, in the modern interconnected world, it is sometimes their great weakness.

Javascript

The internet , as you know, is made up of websites and webpages. The pages you browse to are displayed on your screen by a web browser, such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome or Safari. Generally speaking, the information sent to your browser from the web is quite simple – it's just text and pictures, and some simple instructions* on where to put them. That's basic HTML, the language the web is written in. Basic HTML can't do calculations, it can't run computer games in your browser, it can't really command your computer to do something in the way a programming language can. It just tells your browser what text and pictures to display, and where to put them, and nothing much more than that.

The nice thing about this way of doing things is that it's relatively safe from a security point of view*. If your web browser can only display things or play sounds, then it's not so likely that information sent from the internet can take over your computer.

As the internet evolved, it quickly became desirable to add a bit more cleverness to the way web pages worked. It's impossible to run a shopping or banking website without a program being run somewhere to keep track of things and provide the 'brains' needed for dynamic content. It's at this point that programming languages have to be used, because basic HTML can't do that sort of thing. So the web very quickly evolved to make use of programming languages.

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Saturday, 03 November 2012
What do you mean it's been six months? I just rested my eyes on Reddit for five minutes...

Regular readers will notice I haven't written anything for a while. I've been a bit busy. With things... and stuff.

As a result, I haven't had time to write for the website or do the sort of research I like to do before I write anything. I've only had time to watch the news now and again, and a smattering of the BBC's political programmes - perhaps 5-10 hours per week of news and political analysis at most. So, from this blissful position of dangerous ignorance of what's really going on in the world, and without further ado, it's catch-up time!

UK News

Everyone's talking about the upcoming police elections! Full details are available in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet somewhere in a disused lavatory near you. Have fun battling to the polling station to vote on something you haven't heard much about on a freezing cold and dark evening in November.

In other words, you don't need to participate in democracy. This isn't the news you're looking for. Move along.

Economic News

The governments of the UK and EU continue to stand on the economic brakes, whilst making puzzled shrugging motions that seem to indicate, "It's bizarre, I just can't understand why our economy isn't going faster. Maybe if we continue to enact policies that damage market confidence? Nope, that didn't work. How about if we force banks to hold more capital and thus reduce lending? Weird, we seem to be going even slower now. What's that burning smell?"

Meanwhile, the US economy seems a bit odd to me. I freely admit I haven't looked into it in any great detail, but it seems vaguely gravity-defying compared to the UK's. Could it have something to do with all those Middle East economies whose currency exchange rates somehow magically stay fixed against the dollar?

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Thursday, 26 April 2012
The orange car has deployed a 16-valve engine configuration for this occasion that we've come to expect from their manufacturers - large pistons in a V8 configuration. The huge cubic capacity of this engine, combined with the symmetrically balanced layout of the pistons helps to give that amazing engine note and low-down torque that we're all so familiar with. In a radical move, they've opted for a suspension technology they're calling "leaf-spring", which they tell me completely removes the need for dampeners.

The grey car, on the other hand, has deployed an incredible 5-speed synchromeshed transmission system. Drivers have told me that the gear change is short-throw and very positive. Perhaps less exciting was their decision to stick with a familiar braking technology - drum brakes, rather than disc brakes. Sources close to the manufacturer claim this will definitely pay off in terms of higher speeds.

The blue car's manufacturers have been stressing the benefits of achieving a better power-to-weight ratio, and have managed to lighten their car by building the body of the vehicle out of plastic. They have also fitted the front and rear with a downforce-reducing technology they are calling "inverse spoilers". The manufacturers say this will significantly reduce the amount of weight on the road and "you'll see some serious performances at speeds over 80MPH".

And that brings my commentary on this event to an end.


Imagine if that was the radio commentary on a car race, and that the entire commentary for the duration of the race was like that.

This is the problem I have with a lot of economics journalism - and quite a few other types of journalism, too. The above 'commentary' may be interesting for people who know about cars (and the jokes might amuse), but surely even the biggest petrol head wants an occasional update on who's winning and which car is the fastest (or corners best, or even which is least likely to kill the driver). I'm not claiming that any of this is a brilliant metaphor for the current economic situation, of course.

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Thursday, 12 April 2012
You cannot use the Twitter website without having JavaScript enabled on your web browser. Please re-enable JavaScript and refresh this page.

This is the misleading message that Twitter will sometimes show you if you attempt to read a Twitter feed using a browser with Javascript disabled.

To work around the problem, simply add a question mark, followed by any other character, to the end of the web address. Two question marks will work just fine. For example, if the URL for the blocked twitter feed in question is:


http://twitter.com/therealjoebloggs
then changing the address to this:
http://twitter.com/therealjoebloggs??
will bring up the front page feed without having to enable Javascript.

The strange thing about this Javascript problem is that it seems to happen at random - one day a particular feed will work fine without Javascript, the next it suddenly throws up this barrier. In the interests of getting to the bottom of what causes this, I (shudder) created a Twitter account and spent half an hour playing with all the settings trying to cause the public feed to display the Javascript error message. None of the standard Twitter settings appear to be able to cause the error.* This suggests that it's either being caused by a third-party add-on to Twitter that some of the celeb accounts I've been monitoring (purely research purposes, of course) are switching on and off at random, or this is something that Twitter itself is causing to happen centrally.

If it's the latter, then it's just further evidence of how Twitter (along with other companies) appears to be determined to screw up the basic principle of internet content being universally accessible in its pursuit of money. They recently accused Google of unfairly promoting their own social network in its search results at the expense of other networks such as Twitter and Facebook. That's a bit cheeky considering Facebook's (quite successful) attempts to create a walled internet, and Twitter's attempt to do something similar by presenting an unstable interface to the internet and then effectively sealing off their links to all but the unscrupulous via 'nofollow' links and third-party URL- shorteners.

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