How much are blood donors actually needed?

I've been trying to book an appointment to give blood, and it's proving hard enough that I'm thinking of just giving up. It seems to me that either the country already has comfortably enough blood donations relative to demand, or the the blood service is underfunded/badly run and unable to actually collect enough blood to supply the demand despite there being plenty of available donors.

Near my workplace is by far the most convenient way for me to give. No appointments available at all for 2 months, and no appointments I can actually make it to for 4-5 months.

Near my home, I'd have to work from home for a day or have a day off, plus it's a longer journey time to the donation location. One appointment in 3 weeks that I can't make, otherwise nothing for 6 weeks.

There's also a permanent donor centre I could perhaps visit on my way home (and get home late). Unfortunately it only advertises appointments 3 months or so out, and all of the late slots for that entire time period are taken.

Overall it seems to me that for any appointment I might plausibly book, if I don't do so then someone else will always take it instead. And plenty of people must be having a similar experience, which means that if the blood service wanted to increase donations, they just need to put on more donation sessions.

I could also just turn up without an appointment which would probably be ideal for the blood service, as if someone misses a booked appointment then they can fill the gap with me. But it could mean quite a big wait, so I'm not too keen on that.

If I had one of the blood types that they're proportionately more short of, I might make more effort, though I think they should then reserve more appointments for those types. I am also ethnically South Asian which they say they want, but it's not really clear why that would be important in itself.

If I do give up I'll see if the situation seems to have changed in a few years.

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.

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.

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.

More on PR

Lots of people have been complaining about this distribution of seats:

What about this one? 


"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?

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.

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.