Hc svnt dracones

I go all vapist!

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That’s right, I changed from a dirty smelly smoker to a vapist. I’ve now been without tobacco for four days (Ed: At time of writing. It’s been four months now!). That’s not why I’m writing this, though.

We can usually rely on the BBC as being pretty well clued in and factual. This graphic is not.



All three items of the list are inaccurate!

1. An atomiser is a specific type of nozzle, most sprays use them. e-cigarettes do not.

2. “Liquid nicotine” is named in the same way that “liquid salt” is seawater, except seawater contains more salt than the fluid used in these devices. The “coil” is also wrapped around a wick, which uses capillary action to draw up the liquid.

3. The “smoke” produced is not water vapour, and in fact contains very little water vapour. Also, very few of them have an LED on the tip.

If it’s not water vapour and nicotine, what is it?

Approximately 38% glycerine (vegetable sourced) and 60% propylene glycol. The remaining 2% is largely essential oils of things like vanilla for flavour. There’s a tiny amount of nicotine, but it’s very small (it doesn’t need to be great).

So what is this propylene glycol? Its a close relation to ethylene glycol, often used as antifreeze and tastes very similar – it’s quite sweet tasting. However, its chemical properties are vastly different. Ethylene glycol is quite toxic and used as rat poison! Propylene glycol is a common food ingredient, found naturally in biological systems and metabolised via glycolysis (some sugars are metabolised to glycols in a stage of their metabolism, this skips the sugar step) which the body can use as energy. It’s a slippery, oily substance which boils at just over 150 celsius. Due to this, my PC uses it in the liquid cooling loop.

From this knowledge, we can make a sound estimate as to their safety. Compared to tobacco, they’re leaps and bounds less harmful (but this isn’t difficult!) and the most harmful material in there is the vegetable glycerine, which can carbonise on the heating element. The nicotine? A fairly mild plant alkaloid similar to caffeine, but several times more addictive.

Written by Hat

November 10th, 2014 at 9:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Get off the road, you don’t even pay road tax!

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As a cyclist, riding this thing, there are a plethora of regulations in the Highway Code.IMG_20140330_151258

There are a few which are poorly understood.

1. You must not cycle on the pavement (“sidewalk” for folk in the Thirteen Colonies)

2. You must use a type-approved light after dark.

3. You are not a type vehicle subject to Vehicle Excise Duty.

That’s really about it.

The first is obvious.

The second is a bit more…nuanced. Until recently, the only approved lights were incandescent bulbs, under a section meant to outlaw the use of candles, gas mantles and other enclosed combustion lamps, so LEDs were not sufficient (albeit allowed as supplementary lighting).

All this only applies after sunset and you can be given a fixed penalty notice for breaching these conditions! The maximum fixed penalty is £30.

You must use at least one white or yellow front light, and at least one red rear light. You must also have white and red retroreflective panels. The lights intended to be the legally sufficient lights before 2005 had to bear a British Standard “kitemark”. Optional extra lights do not need any marking (but cannot be red in front, cannot be white or yellow at back, and cannot be blue in any case, same as any other road vehicle).

The lights can be flashing – between 60 and 240 flashes per minute. It is strongly recommended, even by the Highway Code, that a steady beam is used when cycling outside street-light areas. (It is not legally required, however, just a very good idea.)

The lights must be fitted centrally or on the offside (the side towards the middle of the road). Other lights can be fitted anywhere. The lights must not be negligently positioned so as to dazzle other road users, so don’t face them up! If a car hits you and your lights are positioned badly, you are legally liable for the damage to the car since you caused the accident! The car driver will likely not be liable for damage or harm to you or your equipment.

If the lights are not capable of a steady output, they must emit at least 4 candela. If they are capable of a steady output (even if they’re not being used as such) , prior to

A cycle has no legal requirement for lights, so there are no “regulatory fixed lights” on a bicycle – This means the clauses requiring lights when in conditions of seriously reduced visibility do not apply: This doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea!

In short: If you have front and rear lights which aren’t hopelessly dim, you’re legal due to the 2005 change in the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations to permit European standards.

Moving on, point three is that you do not pay Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), however you still have a legal right to use the public highway. Some car drivers are not legally educated and think that you shouldn’t be on the road as you don’t pay “road tax” – “Road tax” does not exist. Some car drivers, such as that stupid bint who deliberately hit a cyclist in Norfolk, will even go out of their way to try to cause an accident. If they do, they are legally liable and could be guilty of all manner of offences, the most serious carrying a 25 year jail term. That dumb idiot in the link? £667 out of pocket and seven points on her licence. She also lost her job and was “cyber bullied”, that is, bombarded with protests from law-abiding citizens at her bloody idiocy and wilful disregard for the life and limb of anyone else.

Roads are paid for out of general taxation, VED is just part of general taxation. Claiming that cyclists shouldn’t be on the road because they don’t pay “road tax” on motor vehicles is, in the words of the Cambridge Cycle Campaign,

"Arguing that cyclists therefore have less right to use the roads is like arguing that smokers should take precedence for medical treatment, because non-smokers don’t buy cigarettes and therefore ‘don’t pay hospital tax"

Tobacco duty also contributes to general taxation, it doesn’t go straight to the NHS.

The last “road tax” was abolished by… Winston Churchill in 1926 during his stint as Chancellor.

A campaign “I Pay Road Tax” was begun by a cycling journalist in 2009 to challenge the use of the term “road tax” and has been supported by the president of The AA.

The title of this post? Some diesel sniffing trucker who cut me the fuck up yelled it out the window of his dirty cab as he went past.

Written by Hat

April 5th, 2014 at 7:17 pm

Posted in Fun,Informational,Legal

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Currency Union and Parliamentary Sovereignty

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Alex Salmond’s promises seem to be evaporating faster than he can make excuses for them. Today, the Chancellor outright stated that there will be no currency union between the UK and any independent Scotland. He also has support from all three major Westminster parties. It’s pretty clear that Westminster thinks its a terrible idea.

It isn’t.

It’s a one-sided idea.

Salmond has been giving the Scottish public one story while privately he knows another. His chances of entering the European Union, and all the benefits that brings, rely on every single European Member State voting unanimously to amend the treaties binding them, the very backbone of the European Union. Those odds are very small, if they exist at all. In nations like Ireland, it would require the passing of a referendum. Yet Salmond promises it will happen..

He also knows that North Sea oil and gas are a resource of the past and will only continue to dwindle. His publically stated figures for offshore production vary from 25% to 70% more than the oil industry’s own estimates: I’d sooner trust the industry than a politician with his political life on the line.

So why is he so adamant on using London’s money while decrying London as the root of all evil?

In a currency union, the two countries would have to underwrite each other’s loans, support each other’s banks, agree on interest rates and so on. Alex Salmond’s independent Scotland basically gets a blank cheque underwritten by the British taxpayer. When his economics turn out like independent forecasts predict (anything from “unaffordable” to “catastrophic”), he gets to have London bail him out. Now is it obvious why Alex Salmond likes the idea so much? It’s a safety net for when his high-spending policies turn into economic “difficulty”.

Westminster would have no choice but to bail Scotland out, otherwise the mere presence of the currency union would act to strongly harm the British economy. It’s exactly why Germany had to bail Greece out so heavily, Greece just couldn’t be allowed to fail.

A report and analysis by the Treasury (PDF) has four major points to make:

  • There is no rule, precedent, tradition or principle requiring, obliging or even hinting that it would be a good idea to form a currency union with a departing state.
  • An independent Scotland would be more exposed to risks from volatile industries like finance and energy than the rest of the UK.
  • Nations with direct control over monetary policy can better cope with economic difficulty, and better take advantage of economic success.
  • The Eurozone crisis has underlined that a shared fiscal policy and financial guidelines are easily flouted, rarely observed, difficult to enforce and do not result in stability.

The British Parliament, therefore, has no intention whatsoever of handing over the keys to the Bank of England to a foreign country.

It’s such an obviously bad idea that it has Ed Balls actually agreeing with George Osborne! The CEO of my employer posted on an internal blog that these two agreeing was in fact “perverse”.


"Alex Salmond is saying to people that you can have independence and keep the pound and the Bank of England – that is not going to happen.

"It would be bad for Scotland, it would place an unacceptable burden on the UK taxpayer, it would repeat the mistakes of the euro area, in fact, worse.

"It won’t happen, I wouldn’t recommend it. Scotland will not keep the pound if Scotland chooses independence."

Even worse for Alex Salmond, the Treasury’s permanent Secretary (who sort of knows his stuff) has given civil service advice (PDF) to the Government. It isn’t pretty for the Scottish National Party.

"Currency unions between sovereign states are fraught with difficulty. They require extraordinary commitment, and a genuine desire to see closer union between the peoples involved."

Does this Scottish government seem to have that “genuine desire”? Exactly the opposite. Salmond’s party wants to distance Scotland from the UK, not forge any form of “closer union” – You can’t have a closer union while destroying that same union!

"The Scottish Government is still leaving the option open of moving to a different currency option in the longer term. Successful currency unions are based on the near universal belief that they are irreversible. Imagine what would have happened to Greece two years ago if they had said they were contemplating reverting to the Drachma."

We can imagine, and it isn’t pretty. Euro-based financial markets would be closed, investors would flee in terror and the Greeks would have no way whatsoever to pay their debts. As a state, Greece would have failed exactly like Zimbabwe did in the 2000s.

"If you follow Treasury advice and this week rule out a currency union in the event of Scottish independence, you can expect the Scottish Government to threaten not to take on its share of the United Kingdom’s debt. I do not believe this is a credible threat."

If the Scottish Government were to do such a thing, it would be viewed by the markets and credit ratings agencies as a debt default and its ability to borrow on the financial markets would end up in ruins.

As the oldest Parliamentary democracy, Britain is the origin of the doctrine of Parliamentary Sovereignty. This means that Parliament can do whatever it wants to do and can pass any law it chooses.

This is why the Tories aren’t too keen on the Human Rights Act, as it restricts what Parliament can do and goes against this doctrine. Indeed, no real “Bill of Rights” can be compatible with Parliamentary Sovereignty, as such laws attempt to restrict the government, while the doctrine states that the government cannot be restricted. It’s why Britain has no written constitution and is very sceptical about European attempts to obtain one.

A currency union would undermine this same doctrine. Parliament would have to hand over influence on interest rates, loans, creditworthiness, banks and all the related laws and regulations regarding all of the preceding – I’m sure Holyrood would relish the opportunity to have power over one of Europe’s biggest economies. The Tories have taken enough beating from their party extremists about handing over sovereignty to Europe, handing over enormously more than that to Scotland is unthinkable.

Personally, I’m more ambivalent about the wider principle of Scottish independence. I support the idea of self-determination, and I believe Scotland takes more than it gives to the Union (Alex Salmond apparently believes so too, he wants so much to keep the bits that benefit Scotland), such that it would benefit England if Scotland were to go its own way. I’m much more sceptical about Alex Salmond’s ability to deliver on what he’s promoiing.

Written by Hat

February 13th, 2014 at 5:39 pm

United Religion

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Make whatever you like out of this. As a Humanist and part-time Discordian, I take it to mean that humans are inherently good and benevolent towards their fellows.

Lay not on any soul a load you would not wish laid upon you, and desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself.
Words of Baha’u’llah, Gleanings

Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
Udana-Varga 5.18

Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself
Analects of Confucius, 15.23

In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
Words of Jesus, Matthew 7:12 (from Leviticus 19:18, which reads “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.”)

WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH THAT, IF IT IS WHAT YOU WANT TO DO? "But nobody Wants it! Everybody hates it." OH. WELL, THEN STOP.
Principia Discordia

A humanist makes their ethical decisions based on reason, empathy, and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals.
The British Humanist Association

This is the sum of duty: Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.
Mahabharata 5:1517

Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.
Words of The Prophet Muhammad, Hadith

One should treat all creatures on Earth as one would like to be treated himself.
Words of Mahavira, Sutrakritanga

When he went before Hillel, he said to him, ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.’
Words of Hillel, Talmud, Shabbat 31a, commenting on Leviticus 19:18 “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.”

Native American Spirituality
We are as much alive as we keep the Earth alive
Words of Chief Dan George

We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent existence of which we are a part
Unitarian Principle

I am a stranger to no one; and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all.
Works of Guru Granth Sahib, page 1299.

Regard your neighbour’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbour’s loss as your own loss.
T’ai Shang Kan Ying P’ien, 213-218

Do not do unto others whatever would injure yourself.
Shayast-na-Shayast 13.29 (Leviticus re-phrases many other parts of Shayast-na-Shayast, this is Lev. 19:18 and is just one of them)


We can sum this all up with the word “benevolence”. I wonder when our worldly religions will start seeing this as their goal to be aimed for and achieved, not an advertising ploy to put on a good public facing image.

Written by Hat

February 7th, 2014 at 10:28 pm

Posted in Religion

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On Conservative Amorality

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The Tory party has frequently portrayed itself as “the conscience of the nation”, something I’m rather pleased to be able to demolish today, though I wish it hadn’t come to this.

A few years ago, the major internet service providers (ISPs) were threatened with legislation by the Labour government if they didn’t take action to block child pornography. We were assured that the system would only ever be used to block access to child pornography.

Two years ago, the High Court decided that the system, as it was already in place, could be equally used to protect the income of private business, so The Pirate Bay and other filesharing search engines were blocked. The promise the Government had made was broken.

Nowadays, Cameron’s band have pushed the major ISPs so far that they now are forced to censor out completely legal content. Gambling, adult content, religion, tobacco, alcohol, dating, hate speech, self harm, and charities and services aimed at proving support to vulnerable children relating to alcohol, self harm, and so on.

I’m not even joking. They’re working on a “whitelist" so that specifically approved services are permitted. – They know there’s a problem and  they have no intention of fixing it properly, just making it appear on the surface to be “we’re working on it”.

They’re not even trying to hide the fact that they’re endangering the most vulnerable children by restricting access to avenues of support. The Tories plain do not care, and Labour support this also, they’re completely amoral: They get there way, and if a few 13 year old girls avoidably commit suicide as a result… then who cares? It’s the price that Whitehall has to pay in order to achieve its real goals: Control, restriction and oppression.

It’s morally reprehensible and, as the father of two small children and an IT professional, I will do everything in my power to ensure the Tory Kiddie Killer net-censor is absent from my household. If, when she gets older, little Daniella feels her only avenue of support is a charity’s website (we were all teenagers once, they’re not entirely rational) from the safety and privacy of her own room on her own laptop or tablet, it absolutely will not be made unavailable to her by some Tory internet censor.

That’s my promise as a father. It’s also my big “fuck you” to Cameron and his cronies.

Written by Hat

February 2nd, 2014 at 8:20 pm

Posted in Culture,IT,Politics

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What would happen if gravity stopped working?

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It’s amazing what comes from the minds of children. If gravity stopped working, we’d all float away, right?

Not so fast: We wouldn’t. We’d all die, really, really quickly.

The atmosphere is held here by gravity, so the bottom of it is squished by the top, it’s compressed, and so denser. Dense enough for us to breathe.

When gravity is turned off, the pressure of the bottom of the atmosphere, here near sea level, pushes the rest of the atmosphere up. Ever seen the demonstration of a low grade vacuum resulting in the air around it crushing a can? That sort of force is pushing all the air away from Earth.

It wouldn’t be instant, I don’t even know how you’d begin to estimate this, but I guess it’d take a few days before air at sea level is too rarefied to breathe. We can capture and store air really well, it’s what tyres do! So you get your air compressor out as soon as gravity goes off, and you fill everything you can with compressed air. Years of it. You need about 600 grams of oxygen per day (300 ml a minute) and one cubic metre of air will keep you going for 2 hours.

(see: http://members.shaw.ca/tfrisen/how_much_oxygen_for_a_person.htm )

So we compress the air to about 120 PSI, which is what an air compressor you’re likely to keep in your car is capable of, and is about 8 atmospheres. We’re in physics experiment land, so let’s fill a house with it. We get about 300 cubic metres. This is, at 1 atmosphere, 2,400 cubic metres of air, so you have 200 days of air. That’ll last you long enough to see what’s going to happen, at least.

Immediately, you don’t feel as heavy. In fact, you can fly. Just flapping your arms is good, you’ll take five or ten minutes of intense flapping to get to speed, but you’ll be able to fly about as fast as a house sparrow. You can easily fly back down again, so that’s a good idea. You’ll get the hang of it.

So you spend six hours flying around and the sun goes down. Earth is still rotating, and you’re rotating with it, that doesn’t change, you don’t suddenly get flung off. It’ll be snowing, no matter where you are (unless you’re in a dry area like a hot or cold desert). The reduced pressure is already lowering temperatures globally.

Without a gravitational bind to the Sun, Earth is very literally flying off on a tangent. So is the Moon. Earth is going at 30 km/s tangentially to the Sun, the Moon about 1 km/s tangentially to Earth. The Moon will drift away, and Earth will fly through the solar system (as will every other planet), but always away from the Sun.

If we know the length of tangent C, then its distance outside the circle is given by B, where the radius of the circle is A, according to C^2 = B(0.5xAxB)

After a day, the Earth has travelled 2,500,000 km. Solving, as we know A is 150,000,000 km, we get:

2,500,000^2 = B(0.5×150,000,000xB)

= B(750,000B)

= 150,000,000B

B = 6,250,000,000,000 / 150,000,000

B = 41,667 km.

So Earth got just 41,700 km further away from the Sun in one day. I used a lot of rounding there, but it’s correct enough, we’re about 5% either way from the “true” value, but that’d also depend on the time of year, as Earth is not always the same distance from the Sun.

A week later, and the atmosphere is about what you’d find at the top of Everest. You can’t breathe it for long without suffering hyopxia, and it results in temperatures around –80C at night, and about normal in daytime. We’re now 292,000km further away from the sun, but this is small, less than Earth’s orbital eccentricity adds per year.

If we go four weeks later, the atmosphere is almost a vacuum and we’re 1,1700,000 km further away from the Sun, but still, this is less than the difference between its furthest point (June) and closest (December). Daytime is scorching at 150 C, but night is frigid, it drops to less than –100C. The Moon is still around, though in the same point of the sky and showing the same phase constantly. It is travelling with us, and only gets 86,400 km further away per day. After 28 days, it is 2.4 million kilometers further away, over six times it’s current distance. It’ll be only just visible as a disc.

As the atmospheric pressure is so low, the oceans are now boiling away. Water boils as low as 30C.

If you haven’t died of cold, heat or thirst by now, congratulations. Everything else on Earth probably has. Heat is still around, geothermal in origin, but water just sublimates straight to steam and escapes. This is Earth’s ultimate fate – it will boil off all its water after first freezing it.

At day 200, when you’re finally out of oxygen, Earth has travelled just 8 million kilometers further from the Sun (not far enough to really change anything, if gravity were still working), the atmosphere is long gone, water on the Sun-facing side sublimates instantly due to the lack of any atmosphere, resulting in steam geysers from what little water is left.

It’s the atmosphere leaving which is the big killer.

Science has this weird way of having to conform to evidence, observation and proof. Each branch of science has its own major theory, the “all-encompassing” theory which unites that branch of science. Biology and Medicine has Evolution, widely considered the strongest theory Science has. Chemistry has Molecular Orbital theory, VSEPR (Google it) theory, both of which are well understood and work very well. We get to physics… which has the Standard Model of quantum physics and General Relativity.

General Relativity describes how gravity works, does so precisely and has resisted every attempt to find observations which it cannot explain, but is widely regarded as weak and incomplete. While it works fantastically well, it has no means of explaining why gravity exists. The Standard Model has the Higgs Boson to give particles mass which was detected at the Large Hadron Collider in 2013, but this was a bad result for physicists: They expected it, it didn’t teach them anything new. They still have no idea how to introduce gravity to the Standard Model. Higgs gives mass to particles, but why does mass cause gravity? Nobody knows.

Science can tell us how a bacterium will evolve resistance to an antibiotic (MRSA will eventually kill off all Creationists, as they think methicillin should still work, since staph. aureus cannot evolve resistance if evolution doesn’t exist!), it can tell us how to synthesise a food additive which tastes sweet, but doesn’t undergo any metabolism and passes straight through (like sodium cyclamate), it can even tell us how electrons can jump past a barrier too high for them just by being close to it, and we can make mass market computer parts based on that (flash memory).

It can’t tell us why mass has gravity. So it’s okay if you died on day 200, science still can’t tell us how gravity works.

Written by Hat

January 31st, 2014 at 10:37 pm

Posted in Science

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How To Watch TV

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In news lately was Tory MP Mike Weatherley, former entertainment industry executive, now the Prime Minister’s Intellectual Property Advisor.

He believes that if you watch TV via BitTorrent instead of iPlayer, you should be tossed into jail. If you listen to music by downloading it instead of, say, Spotify, you should be deprived of your freedom and become a burden on the taxpayer.

The Tory Party is so far detached from you and me that they think that watching or listening to the same content, on the same equipment, same screen, same speakers, same headphones, same cost, same price, but doing so “the wrong way” is grounds to slam you in prison.

Oh, and if you’re merely suspected of doing so, maybe by by that neighbour who’s cat keeps shitting in your flowerbed, your Internet should be disconnected and you should be put on a blacklist.

Why do foreigners keep calling us a Nanny State? Why do the Tories keep being called the Nasty Party?

Written by Hat

January 24th, 2014 at 11:35 pm

Posted in IT,News,Politics

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Hattix vs Health Food!

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On the old blog, I often went through the ingredients lists of various foods, or its advertising claims. This time, it’s Heinz Weight Watchers in the firing line.


This had better be the absolute messiah of “good for you”, and even if it is, then it had better not be engaging in deceptive advertising: Good quality fodder wouldn’t need to lie to you or mislead you.

Let’s see what it has to say for itself.


“Steaming technology”… Really? STEAMING TECHNOLOGY? Dudes, you put some fucking water in there and then the microwave boils it. That’s sort of what microwaves do to everything that goes in them.

We’ll deal with the “Low Fat” and “Low Sugar” claims in a bit. Note how it’s arranged like a checklist, as though artificial colours and flavours are a bad thing. Arsenic is a natural flavour. Cupric sulphate is a natural colour. I wouldn’t like to ingest either. No artificial preservatives either, other than freezing the hell out of it in a perfectly natural kitchen freezer applicance, taken from the freezer tree. Freezing causes real chemical changes in food, which Heinz doesn’t seem to know about… Or doesn’t want you to know about.

Thankfully, the Titanic was okay because it hit a natural iceberg.

“No Added MSG” is an even more shaky claim. MSG is monosodium glutamate, or alternately glutamic acid. It’s an amino acid, one of the building blocks of life, the raw material from which your body’s organs and muscles are made. It’s so flexible as a building block of life that it is very desirable as food. To that end we have taste receptors specifically for it! They detect the “savoury” or “umami” taste, which is widely experienced as pleasant. Your body is telling you this stuff is good for you, and it absolutely is. It’s found in very high levels in both Japanese and Mediterranean diets, both linked to long life expectancy.

So we know the food is not linked to a long life. Thanks, Heinz. We love you too. Fuckers.

What actually is in this thing then?


In general, a whole concoction of vegetables mechanically chopped and tossed in there with pre-cooked rice. Two things ring hilarity bells: Soya Sauce (not soy sauce, that’s too common, albeit the exact same stuff) and Yeast Extract. What’s in these? MSG. Lots and lots of MSG. That’s why Heinz said “no added  MSG”. This stuff is loaded in it. Not that that’s a bad thing, Heinz just wants you to think it is, and then hide that it’s loaded to the gills with the stuff. It’s added for taste more than anything, as we saw a few paragraphs up, your body loves this stuff.

What next, Heinz? “No Added Vitamins” or “100% Mineral Free”? Maybe “Now 100% Rat Poison Free”?

Eventually, what’s it give you in raw numbers?


Not a lot, and what it does give you is all the wrong stuff. 18.6 g of protein (this is good), 36.1 g of carbohydrate (carbs, this is not good) and just 4.2 g of fat (this is not good either). Of those carbs, 11.9 grams of it are straight up sugar, that’s two and half teaspoons! (1 tsp = 5 g)

The nutrition balance is completely out of whack.  It doesn’t have enough fat, has far too much sugar and carbohydrate and way too much protein. It’s food for body builders, essentially. They don’t want fat, as this is fuel, not definition, they want a lot of protein and a lot of carbohydrate, since this doesn’t store as body fuel very well and is more immediately available for strenuous activity like weight lifting or running…

Except there isn’t much of it. 266 calories. Even if you’re slimming, to a budget of 1500 calories (note: they use the male GDA, not the lower female GDA, as they’re not required to!), this isn’t even a main meal. It’s not even half of one. It has just 13% of your daily calories, but a cool 28% of your daily salt.

Not good for you, but probably better than whatever else its target market would otherwise be eating.

Written by Hat

January 24th, 2014 at 9:49 pm

On Curious Design Decisions

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So by now most people who wanted an Xbox One or Playstation 4 probably have one, or wrapped away. This isn’t a post about their relative merits, though some comparison is unavoidable.

It’s a post about the design decisions made to get Microsoft and Sony’s hardware where it is today, and how they’ve both more or less made the same console.

They both have the same eight core AMD Jaguar CPU, which is actually a pair of quad-core Kabini modules, Kabini is AMD’s “Mobile Internet Device” CPU, meant for things like tablets or ultra-light laptops. It’s about a third of the performance of Intel’s lowest Pentium, the 2020M, indeed all four cores of the Kabini are half the speed of the 2020M’s two cores at video encoding. AMD’s Kabini reference platform scored double what a Nexus 5 did at 3DMark Ice Storm… The Nexus 5 is a phone! This raises a very curious question, but to ask it, we need to first qualify why it needs asking.

Games are very, very hard to multithread, that is, it’s very hard to make them appreciably faster by using more than one CPU core. What games do is “offload” things that can be done independently, like physics, sound, animation, scene assembly to separate threads and then, when the frame is ready to be presented (rendered by the video card), the main thread collects all the work up and sends it off. This means the main thread will be either busy itself or waiting for a worker thread at all times before the present-to-GPU time.

What this all means is that per-thread performance needs to be as high as possible. If we have 16 threads, but 14 of them take very little time to do at all, then we’ve still finished the main thread earlier, by how long all fourteen of those threads took combined. This can be a sizable gain to get those tasks off the main thread and into their own threads. However, if they’re so lightweight, they can likely all go on just one CPU core and still be finished before they need to be ready to present their work. Adding CPU cores to this model won’t give us any benefit in terms of game performance: We’re still stuck waiting for whichever thread is slowest.

This is why the choice of going with AMD’s Jaguar is a bit weird: It has very poor per-thread performance. It beats ARM’s A15 and Intel’s Atom, but gets trounced by even low end laptop CPUs, it exists in a middle-ground, where it’s not fast enough for laptops or PCs, but too fast and uses too much power for smartphones. Intensive games, however, need fast CPUs so they’re not waiting for threads to complete.

Are lightweight, slow CPUs like Jaguar “fast enough”, then? The answer has to be “maybe”. Per core, Jaguar is actually slower than the “Power Processor Element” in the previous generation, PS3 had one of them, Xbox 360 had three of them.

The PPE ran at 3.2 GHz and could do eight single precision operations per cycle, combined with a single vector FMA (fused-multiply-add), this let it do 26 billion floating point operations per second (GFLOPS).

Microsoft runs Jaguar at 1.75 GHz, Sony runs it at 1.6 GHz. Kabini/Jaguar can do – flat out – 8 floating point operations per clock. So Microsoft has 14 GFLOPS per core, Sony has 12.8 GFLOPS per core. That’s half the CPU power of the previous generation, and the PPEs were considered weak even for their day. Of course, both consoles have eight of them, but as we saw above single core performance is still crucially important.

Why, then, is Kabini/Jaguar so slow? It’s slow because it’s meant to be small and light. On bulk 45nm silicon, a full Kabini core is just 3.6 square millimetres. Kabini is a derivation of AMD’s successful K8 (Athlon64) which in turn was heavily based on AMD’s K7 (Athlon), which first sampled in 1998. Both K8 and K7 are triple-issue CPUs, their front end decoding units can take in and dispatch three instructions at once. K8 and K7 have three ALUs (general purpose operation units) and three FPUS (floating point units). Kabini has but two of each so clock for clock, a Kabini core is unavoidably slower than AMD’s fifteen year old Athlon.

So why then, would both Sony and Microsoft voluntarily cripple their CPU performance? There are a number of reasons:

1. No alternative.

2. CPU performance is fast enough.

3. Thermal budget

Now point 1 is quite salient: Intel has NEVER produced truly custom silicon for anyone. Xbox got a weird hybrid of Celeron and Pentium-III, but it was all the same Coppermine silicon simply with different switches flipped than Intel was selling itself. Intel wasn’t about to make a custom CPU for either MS or Sony. Intel also did not have a high performance GPU.

Point 2 is more controversial. We know that CPUs are not fast enough, as we can still see games like BF4, Crysis2 and so on get faster as CPUs get faster. However, neither Microsoft nor Sony are making a loss on their hardware this time around. They’re not quite selling at cost, but the margins above cost are negligible – estimated at $15 for the PS4 and $25 for the Xbox One – merely enough to make a small price cut if needed. This means costs have to be cut, and cut heavily. The discrete GPU of the previous generation was the first cut. Neither console has a discrete GPU…

We could argue, however, that both consoles have a discrete GPU, but don’t have a discrete CPU. The CPU is weaker and less important than the GPU in both consoles.

The PS4 is capable of pushing 176 GB/s from main memory, the Xbox One 68.3 GB/s. The Xbox One uniquely features 32 MB of embedded SRAM, which is capable of 192 GB/s – this is used as a shared L3 cache between CPU and GPU.

GPUs are not that dissimilar. PS4 contains 20 AMD GCN cores, Xbox One contains 14. Both consoles have two of them permanently disabled, so exposing 18 and 12 respectively. This means the PS4 has a mainstream PC level video subsystem, while the Xbox One has an entry-level discrete graphics class video subsystem, simply because the PS4 has so much faster memory to keep the GPU fed.

Both, however, are coupling those video capabilities with ultralight laptop CPUs.




Written by Hat

December 14th, 2013 at 8:58 am

Posted in Economics,Fun,Informational,IT

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Go Scotland! Wait… what?

without comments

A 649-page "White Paper" was released by the Scottish National Party, detailing their plans for an independent Scotland.

In it, its core premises revolve around vastly increased public spending. The Universal Credit would be abolished and the "spare room subsidy" or "bedroom tax" housing benefit cap would also be abolished, allowing small families to occupy vast houses on the taxpayer’s wallet. These are not great expenses, it’d cost about £125 million a year for both.

To pay for this spending going forwards, the SNP propose an "Oil Fund", investing the profits of North Sea petroleum as Norway did, as this would be upwards of 10% of annual income. 90% of North Sea oil is in waters which would be Scottish after independence. The "Oil Fund" would have been sensible 40 years ago, but North Sea oil is nearly exhausted and will decline sharply after 2020, the money would be needed on a much shorter scale to satisfy SNP’s spending. (Tony Mackay, "Prospects for Gas Demand and Supply in the EU, 2010-20")

How would Scotland pay for the SNP’s promises? A million new skilled taxpayers? Well, immigration isn’t really touched on (having just voted for independence, are the Scots really going to be keen on immigrants?) but it’s unlikely Scotland would try to attract the best of the international labour market.

An independent Scotland assumes it would continue to be business as usual with a currency union with the UK, and continue to observe the Bank of England’s policies, and use the Pound Sterling. This is foolish, as Scotland would necessarily inherit a portion of the UK’s public debt, weakening its ability to pay that debt: It cannot raise interest rates to run the inflation engine. Scotland would also reject a portion of public debt if it could not keep the pound, this appears to be its bargaining chip. Right. Like Westminster is stupid. An independent Scotland absolutely would not be able to dump its existing debt on the UK.

Sir John Major, former Prime Minister (who should know a bit or two), completely writes off the idea of a currency union as It “would require the UK to underwrite Scottish debts”

That other big currency union, the Euro, survives because of a strong political bond and commitment among its members. Scottish independence is a move in the opposite direction and a currency union with Scotland would be risky in the extreme for the rest of the UK – which is Scotland’s trading partner for 70% of Scottish exports. The First Minister of Wales is already on record stating he would oppose a currency union, Westminster is unlikely to be more accomodating. The arrangement would be inherently fragile, as citizens of the UK would be uneasy bankrolling Scotland (as Germany did with Greece) to preserve their own currency. This would damage investor confidence on Scottish government bonds even if Scotland’s economy did somehow perform as the SNP is assuming it will and see eight quarters of record growth. (Armstrong and Ebell, "Scotland’s Currency Options")

Not only does a currency union dilute Scottish independence, it exposes the UK to financial risk it need not be exposed to.

Scotland is proposing that the single-tier pension will begin at 1% higher than the rest of the UK, then rise by the no less than 2.5% per year, or inflation, or average earnings for five years longer than in the UK, and it will keep the retirement age lower, it has only hinted about a future rise to 67. Scotland proposes it will maintain a single UK Pension Protection Fund, yet an independent Scottish Pensions Regulator – Without Scotland buying its share of the Fund (which is eminently unaffordable, even neglecting the SNP’s commitment to very high public spending), it is unclear how this could be done. Would Westminster really tolerate some northern upstart toying with its Pension Protection Fund?

The SNP makes it very clear: The Trident system, the UK’s submarine based nuclear deterrent, would be repatriated immediately. That’s fine, and the UK can rebase them (at some expense) in Plymouth or similar. What is not so obvious is that Britain has NEVER permitted any foreign power to build its warships. With BAE supporting thousands of jobs on the Clyde, Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael has gone on record saying it would be "difficult to see" how the work would "go to Scotland": Defence spending is significantly intended to boost local economies, Westminster would not tolerate what is effectively British economic aid going to Scotland. It would be politically and economically impossible.

Alex Salmond has repeatedly stated that Scotland would negotiate entry into the EU from within the EU, he believes the EU will bend rules because Scotland is a special case. The EU does not see it this way: Were Scotland to leave the UK, it would not be an EU member. It would not get the opt-outs that a nation the clout of Britain was able to negotiate. The SNP reads article 48 of the Treaty to think Scotland would be admitted via a procedure permitting amendments to the Treaty by unanimous consent of its member states. Spain has already stated that it would not support such a move as it would stir up the already restive region of Catalonia. Spain uses the lack of EU membership to deter Catalonia from even holding the referendum! Were Scotland to become an EU member under Article 48, Spain would absolutely lose Catalonia. Spain would never allow that.

The white paper dismisses Article 49 (procedure to admit new candidate states), however there is no other means of gaining. Article 48 would not be permitted, Spain would veto it instantly, Germany is unlikely to support it and the UK would likely be more ambivalent.

Scotland would have to apply as normal via Article 49. It would have to adopt the Euro: It lacks the economic clout that Denmark and Britain used to secure exceptions. The exceptions Britain negotiated would not be inherited by Scotland either, and let’s face it, Germany does not want any economically uncertain new members. Merkel is pissed off enough with the Hellenistics.

If Scotland really wants to be independent on its merits, rather than pure ideology (that’s cool too), it needs to better research those merits, as it seems the SNP wants to drag a blind Scotland head-first into something it hasn’t mapped beforehand, doesn’t have the money to deliver and has core precepts involving “Assuming Westminster is very stupid” and “if the EU is really, really dumb”.

Written by Hat

November 28th, 2013 at 9:37 pm

Posted in Politics

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