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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Ganesh Sittampalam's LiveJournal:

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    Thursday, June 12th, 2014
    9:53 pm
    Car insurance competition ruling
    As reported in the news, the Competition and Markets Authority has issued a provisional determination aimed at improving competition in the car insurance market

    Two things struck me about the news story which was why I went to read the actual determination.

    1. They're planning on stopping price comparison websites insisting that insurers provide their lowest prices on the website

    2. They're planning on capping the cost of the temporary replacement cars people get following an accident in which they weren't at fault


    1. seemed really bad in terms of consumer inconvenience, as if the proposal goes through we'll need to visit multiple price comparison sites to be sure of getting a good deal. However it does seem that there's a significant competitive problem in the market - price comparison websites are typcially getting a cut of about £50 on an insurance sale, which is quite a big chunk of a year's premium. In one case one site (MoneySupermarket) wanted to cut their commission in exchange for a matched cut in premium by the insurer on their site (I think the proposed cut was £10-15 x 2) but were unable to do so because the insurer would have had to offer the same resulting premium on another site, who were not offering to lower their commission.

    So it seems this change will create some inconvenience but will be worthwhile overall - I hadn't realised how much we are (indirectly) paying for the price comparison sites.

    2. also seemed rather strange as people are legally entitled to spend what they reasonably need to in order to put themselves in the same position as if the accident hadn't happened - i.e. hire an appropriate replacement car - but if they spend more than they need to then the other insurer wouldn't have to pay the extra. So on the face of it the proposal seemed to be at odds with the law.

    It turns out that the proposal won't restrict how much individuals can claim directly if they arrange their own car hire etc. What it will restrict is the amount that claims management companies can charge if they follow their standard model of taking over the claim for the individual. It seems they have generally then been overcharging the insurers, leading to a lot of disagreements between the claims management companies and the insurers which themselves cost money to sort out.

    The idea also seems quite neat in that it will provide an incentive for insurers to admit liability as quickly as possible - the claims management companies will be able to charge more if liability is left in doubt for several days.
    Saturday, May 7th, 2011
    10:23 pm
    Scottish election
     It's interesting - and could well turn out very significant for the future of the UK - that in a "proportional" system the SNP got 53% of the seats with 45% of the vote.

    The main reason for this is that a lot of "top-up" votes went to lots of small parties, none of which got enough to win a seat. For example, in Central Scotland, 12% of the votes went to minor parties. Also, the proportionality is within each of a number of relatively small regions, rather than across the whole of Scotland.

    Then, the d'Hondt system for distributing seats proportionally tends to favour larger parties: it keeps the ratio between actual seats and ideal seats as close to 1 as possible, rather than keeping the absolute magnitude of the difference close to 0. In Central Scotland, the last seat was distributed to the SNP, leaving them with 56% of the seats compared to 46% of the votes, a ratio of 1.21. If it had gone to Labour, it would have had 44% of the seats compared to 35% of the votes, but a ratio of 1.24.
    Saturday, April 23rd, 2011
    11:46 pm
    Easter grumble
    My watch strap broke this evening.  Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. That means that by law, all large shops must be closed, so I guess I can't easily replace it until Monday. A very minor annoyance, but one that will be repeated up and down the country to a greater or lesser extent for millions of people.

    Apparently about 1.5 million people - 2% of the population - are likely to attend the Church of England tomorrow. To the vast majority of the country, Easter is about chocolate, not religion. (I don't much like chocolate either, but I'll make an exception for the nice bar of marzipan chocolate waiting downstairs :-) ) So why are we still stuck with this archaic restriction? The same applies to Christmas Day, but one can at least make the argument that Christmas is a cultural celebration where people are very likely to want to spend all day at home with their families. I don't think the same is true of Easter; it's just another bank holiday weekend.

    The current Easter arrangements cause other problems too. The continually moving date is disruptive for school and university terms which can't run to a standard pattern, and the earlier it falls the less likely it is to be nice weather. The Easter Act would solve that but still hasn't been brought into force.

    I didn't write this post just to be an advert, but if you agree and would like this to be fixed, along with rather more major issues like faith schools and bishops in the House of Lords, join the National Secular Society or the British Humanist Association so that your opinion is heard.

    EDIT: I realised my figures for church attendance above are just based on the CofE - originally this post said that they were for church in general. I can't find any good stats on total Easter church attendance, but I found these statistics on general church attendance, taking the very rough-and-ready approach of extrapolating from them gives about 5.2 million - 7% of the population.
    Monday, May 10th, 2010
    10:11 pm
    More on PR
     
     
    Lots of people have been complaining about this distribution of seats:
    PartyVotesSeats
    X41,0870
    Y33,6331
    Z27,9371


    What about this one? 
    PartyVotesSeats
    A917,8320
    B563,7430
    C491,3866
    D285,6161
    E171,9425
    F168,2168
    G165,3943
    H110,9703
    I42,7621
     
     
     

     
     
     
    Saturday, May 8th, 2010
    5:26 pm
    West Lothian Question
    The Tories have an absolute majority of English seats. How long before this becomes an issue? 
    4:02 pm
    "take back parliament"
    I don't get it. In 2005, the LDs got 22% of the vote, 9.6% of the seats and no significant influence on the government of the country. This time they've got 23% of the vote, 8.7% of the seats, and a huge influence on the government of the country. Why are people protesting now and not then?
    Sunday, December 6th, 2009
    10:31 am
    Canon scanner grumbles
    We have a CanoScan 4400F. Recently I've been trying to scan lots of pieces of paper into PDF format so I can dispose of the originals.

    Annoyingly, the scanner is completely unsupported under Linux, so I'm having to do this all with Windows. After looking around at the free options for a while, I settled on using the bundled "CanoScan Toolbox" software which mostly works quite well and integrates with buttons on the scanner so I don't have to change focus on my PC to the application to tell it to scan the next page.

    In the process of using it heavily, I have discovered that

    1. it leaks virtual memory, so you have to restart it every 100-200 pages or it hits the 2GB limit! Naturally you discover this when it has a whole lot of pages you just scanned sitting in memory which you now can't save.

    2. it seems to use a quadratic time algorithm for writing PDF files to disk.


    So all in all it's not going too badly, as long as I only scan long things in batches of 50 pages or so and remember to restart it every so often. It's a shame that stupid things like this spoil what's generally a reasonably usable piece of software.
    Wednesday, July 29th, 2009
    8:04 am
    Act of God
    I blame this on this.
    Sunday, April 6th, 2008
    10:18 pm
    Olympic torch
    I went to one of the torch protests earlier, here. The torch route was along Great Russell St, so the idea was that the protest would be at the end of Bedford Place. The police had placed their cordon about 5 or 10 metres down the road, though, which would have significantly restricted the view of the route - in sharp contrast to the fact that people who were displaying Chinese flags etc or no obvious protest material at all were allowed to "line the route" wherever they wanted. I decided to go and do this, as I wasn't carrying any flags or anything, so I ended up on Great Russell St just opposite Bedford Place. In the end the police did move the cordon to the end of Bedford Place, which was good; it should have been there in the first place.

    As far as I can tell from the torch route they were supposed to be on foot at that point, but in the end it came through on a bus and I'm not even sure which of the many buses and coaches that passed had it.

    I think it's a shame that the headlines are dominated by a few incidents of (very minor) violence, rather than the sheer numbers of the protestors who I think did succeed in turning the torch route into a tunnel of shame, at least where I was and probably in several other places.
    Sunday, March 23rd, 2008
    3:41 pm
    Wednesday, December 19th, 2007
    7:22 pm
    Friday, November 30th, 2007
    6:44 pm
    Sunday, May 27th, 2007
    7:24 pm
    Sunday, September 24th, 2006
    7:51 pm
    patch-based versus tree-based merging
    I don't normally post about deeply technical things I've been working on, but I've been thinking about this for a few days now and wanted somewhere public to record my conclusions.

    Some stuff about a fundamental difference between darcs and other distributed version control systemsCollapse )

    I'm happy to discuss this further with anyone interested, either on #revctrl or #darcs on freenode, or in the comments of this post. However, they are just my current tentative conclusions after some investigation, so please don't take them as gospel truth or flame me too hard for being wrong :-)
    Tuesday, February 21st, 2006
    9:59 pm
    Compare and contrast
    Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (written in impenetrable legalese, but explained, amongst other places, here)
    vs
    Enabling Act

    I don't _think_ the government is trying to pull off a coup, but it's getting to the point where nothing they do would surprise me.
    Wednesday, November 30th, 2005
    11:33 pm
    Monday, April 11th, 2005
    3:12 am
    Labour and postal voting
    Since my last post seemed to be met with some disbelief, I thought I'd catalogue the reasons behind my claims.

    Why I think Labour rig electionsCollapse )
    Tuesday, April 5th, 2005
    12:26 am
    Poster
    In view of this story, I intend to put up a poster along the lines of this (postscript version) in my window.

    Any coments on how it could be improved would be gratefully received. Note that it's for printing on an A4 B&W printer, though I might use something a bit more colourful than a white background.

    I'd like to put more information really, but there's no room if I want decent sized text. I guess I could make a website and put the URL on the poster.
    Tuesday, March 29th, 2005
    1:49 am
    Stupid legislation
    I'm sure many people have already picked over the Terrorism Act 2000 in much detail, but I only just now noticed how stupid some of it is.

    I was reading this news story. A has been charged with having B's name and address, which apparently is a crime because B is a soldier and A has a Muslim name (OK, the "A having a Muslim name" bit isn't mentioned in the charge, but the rest is..)

    It seemed like a bit of a sweeping offence, so I went to consult the relevant section, and indeed possessing any information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism is a crime. Eeek! I'd better destroy any records I have of the address of my friend in the RAF, then. Oh, wait, clause (3): "It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to prove that he had a reasonable excuse for his action or possession." So as long as I'm happy with being considered guilty until I can prove myself innocent, I'm probably OK. Great.

    Actually, I'd better be careful about having any information at all. After all, if I have a record of where the nearest supermarket is, a terrorist might be able to use that to get some food, which would certainly be useful to him or her.

    Scrolling on down to sections 59-61, yet more stupidity. The section essentially says "It's a crime to incite someone to do something outside the UK if it would be one of a certain set of crimes in the UK." Obviously they then thought that this might get the Armed Forces etc in trouble, so they added clause (5): "Nothing in this section imposes criminal liability on any person acting on behalf of, or holding office under, the Crown." So anyone who holds office under the Crown can do what they like in terms of incitement, whether or not they are acting on behalf of HMG at the time.

    I'd love to know what idiot wrote this law.
    Thursday, December 9th, 2004
    2:06 pm
    Vote buying
    A pet bugbear of mine...

    The UK does not have a secret ballot. If you want to prove to me that you have voted in a particular way, you just need to apply for a postal vote, and fill it in and post it with me watching. Since some time in the late 1990s or early 2000s anyone can get a postal vote on demand.

    This is particularly bad because it can lead to coercion. There were some reports in the recent European elections of low-paid employees in some factory being told to bring their ballots in to work and fill them in there, on pain of losing their jobs. In days gone by when landlords could throw out tenants on a whim, it was routine for them to control the votes of their tenants - which is what led to the 1872 Reform Act.

    This also leads me to wonder how much it would cost to buy an election. So...

    [If you can't vote in the next general election for whatever reason, answer as if you can (and have at least some stake in the outcome of the vote).]

    Poll #400238 How much is your vote worth?

    For how much would you sell your vote in the next UK general election?

    1p
    0(0.0%)
    2p-5p
    0(0.0%)
    6p-10p
    0(0.0%)
    11p-20p
    0(0.0%)
    11p-20p
    0(0.0%)
    21p-50p
    0(0.0%)
    51p-£1
    0(0.0%)
    £1.01-£5
    0(0.0%)
    £5.01-£10
    1(4.8%)
    £10.01-£20
    1(4.8%)
    £20.01-£50
    1(4.8%)
    £50.01-£100
    0(0.0%)
    £100.01-£200
    2(9.5%)
    £200.01-£500
    5(23.8%)
    £500.01-£1000
    3(14.3%)
    >£1000
    8(38.1%)


    And no, the votes in this poll aren't secret either :-)

    Edits:

    I know there are two 11p-20p options. Pick whichever one you like :-)

    I am asking the question solely for purposes of research and this should not be treated as an attempt to buy your vote, nor will or should your answers be treated as an offer to sell your vote.
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