Friday, 24 October 2014

Conspiracy Corner: the French in Russia

A ghastly but typical Russian tragedy - the death of Total's CEO in a 'drunken snowplough' incident, straight out of a Robert Harris novel.  But what was he doing there in the first place?

Total is a pretty good company in my experience - far superior to unlamented, scandal-ridden Elf-Aquitaine which it gobbled up in 2000.  (One of the dodgiest business meetings I ever attended was in the horrible Elf office in La Défense:  made my excuses and left, as they say.)  But like most big French concerns, part of its identity is that of an arm of the French state, much as BAe (or in former times BP) is of HMG.  Its operations in Algeria, for example, have never really skipped a beat through decades of turmoil in that country.

Here's a basic account of Total's activities in Russia, which also cites M. de Margerie as being outspokenly opposed to sanctions over Crimea / Ukraine.  No surprises there: Total has long been a go-to company whenever Russia needed some fancy oil & gas technology, and its Russian interests are significant.  So he'd every reason to be doing the rounds in Moscow.

But here's Ambrose EP telling us that Russia is being squeezed to a devastating degree by sanctions, not least of which he reckons relate to oil & gas technology.  We seem to be playing the game, in a passive sort of way.  It is to be imagined the Americans are.

We know, however, that German industry really hates this lark, having big capital interests as well as very large export flows in Russia.  We also know that sanctions never really stopped South Africa getting oil, or Iran plodding on with its quietly expansionist plans - it just costs more, that's all.  Several of the big commodity trading houses ensure the wheels of global trade keep turning...

This is quite a significant dividing line.  USA, UK and the eastern EU countries against France and Germany ?  Note that Barroso's rebuke to Cameron was couched in terms of 'losing friends in Eastern Europe'.

EU politics are always complex: is there any hope that Hammond is equal to the task ?  Have a nice weekend !


Thursday, 23 October 2014

BBC Question Time: Lone gunman edition

Question Time!

Sorry .. yet another late night meeting. Its all go this time of year.
Don't know who's on or where its from.

Someone kindly reader will put that into the comments.

BQ suspects 
- Canadian parliament shooting and Isis
- who cares more about being seen spending money on the NHS - Lab or Con?
- That actress who dies of cancer - does it give us hope? - I dunno..didn't understand the story really.
- Tesco. What's going on? {A few years ago I asked the readers if they had really had enough of the megacorphypersupermarket or was their misfortune just a blip.. The answer, somewhat surprisingly, was a resounding YES! WE HATE THEM!}
- Ed Miliband / David Cameron cracking down on immigration. {no they aren't - but they say they are. The UKIP panic is causing a total u-turn}
{If you haven't seen what Chucka from Labour has been saying then you should. he's moved to slightly to the right of Godfrey Bloom. Which is a bit know...given his ethnic background and parentage and all.

Dimbletie - Black and white stripes

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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Big Data: Utilities Are Truly Dumb

One fine day, Aunt & Uncle Drew received a ludicrous water bill.  They challenged it immediately.  The first functionary they spoke to said, well that can't be right: pay 'x' (a more reasonable amount he nominated) for now, and we'll look into it.  So they paid 'x'.

Six months later, another bill arrived - seeking an even more astronomical amount, plus the 'arrears' from the previous bill, all in menacing red ink.  Another 'phonecall: but this time the water company people sucked audibly on their pencils and said the 'arrears' had better be cleared or there'd be trouble - have you been taking lots of baths?  So A & U demanded to speak to a supervisor, who passed them on to 'debt management', who took a more emollient line.  Since A & U are on the 'senior' side of life, they could agree a 'payment plan' which, provided they adhered to it, would cause the amount to be re-classified from 'arrears' to something less penal.  Then the matter would be looked into.

To be fair, the payment plan was set at a pretty modest monthly amount, and it defused the red-ink crisis.  But after a few weeks, with no progress towards sorting the matter, further pointed 'phonecalls were made until some genius at the other end said: maybe there's a leak !  Could you turn off everything, go and peer at the down-hole meter, and tell us what you see.  This task fell to yours truly (being slightly better able to crawl around on the pavement etc) and lo ! - with everything turned off the little dial was perceptibly turning.  Ahah said the voice on the 'phone, that sounds like a leak !

There then followed some dialogue about whose responsibility this might be etc etc which need not detain us: suffice to say they turned up, discovered the meter itself was leaking, fixed it; and negotiations are ongoing as to what should be the deemed usage during the period of the leak.

Ah yes, the period of the leak.  Can we retrospectively identify with reasonable accuracy when it started ?  Oh yes we can ! - take a butchers at this graph of the average monthly usage, drawn up on the basis of several years' worth of half-yearly bills carefully archived by A & U, plus ongoing personal readings of the meter to ensure justice is served.

Yes friends, we can indeed spot the leak.  A nasty one, I'd say, getting progressively worse until they fixed it.  All that lost water !  And not too difficult to estimate the amounts, either.

Among several points one could make about this kind of nonsense, let's think about simple, nay, trivial data mining.  A usage pattern like the one above (produced by myself using nothing more complicated than Mr Microsoft's excellent spreadsheet) could not plausibly be accounted for by extra bath-nights chez Aunt & Uncle Drew.  Given that the water companies are supposed to be on notice to improve their statistics on wastage etc, not to mention customer service, what could be simpler than an automated check for egregious outliers like this ?  Even if they can't stretch to pre-emptive data mining, couldn't the response to distressed 'phonecalls be based on simple after-the-fact analysis of no greater sophistication than the one wot I did ?  At the click of a mouse ?

Mr Tesco has been doing vastly more advanced - and proactive - stuff than this for yonks.  Ditto the banks, ditto the telecomms companies.  Why are utilities such rubbish ?