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A green (white in winter) and pleasant land. Probaly.

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World Snooker Championship + top 10 favourite players

The 2013 World Championship is underway. I'm particularly intrigued as to how Ronnie O'Sullivan will fare after his sabbatical from the sport, but if anyone can come back "rusty" and put in a fine performance, it would have to be him.

I have the players as most likely to win the tournament as Neil Robertson, Mark Selby and Mark Allen. I think Judd Trump has been going into his shell a bit recently so he has slipped from my list of pre-tournament favourites.

In last year's blogs I commented on who I regarded as the greatest player of all time, concluding that it was between Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O'Sullivan (I think Hendry has the edge as things currently stand, but O'Sullivan still has time to change that, if he can pick up some more ranking titles in the next 5 years or so).

My top 10 all-time favourite players are:

[b]#1- Jimmy White[/b]- found his all-out attacking style very entertaining in the early to mid 1990s in particular, shame he never won any of his world finals.
[b]#2- Judd Trump[/b]- entertained me a lot during the 2011 World Championship, though if he keeps going into his shell (as he has in some recent matches) he might slip a few places on the list.
[b]#3- Steve Davis[/b]- marvellous ambassador for the sport
[b]#4- Stephen Hendry[/b]- admirable for his achievements, and entertained me with his attack-minded approach and desire to clear the table at every opportunity
[b]#5- Ronnie O'Sullivan[/b]- a genius on the table, especially at break-building, the best "A" game that I've ever seen. I don't think he's quite as attacking as Jimmy White/Alex Higgins these days, but certainly up there with Hendry. Marred by attitude and off-table antics, but nothing like as bad for this as Alex Higgins.
[b]#6- Mark Williams[/b]- for his laid-back attitude and ability to pull off spectacular long pots, always remembered for the black-ball final between him and Hendry in the 1998 Masters
[b]#7- Mark Selby[/b]- involved in a lot of great matches, sometimes pulls off great shots
[b]#8- Paul Hunter[/b]- sadly died of cancer at age 27, another attacking player, involved in some great matches in the Masters in particular
[b]#9- Peter Ebdon[/b]- No, I haven't taken leave of my senses! He can certainly be dull to watch when he plays very slowly, but he has an unorthodox shot selection and intensity which, for me, has made him entertaining to watch in the past when playing relatively fluently, as he did when he won the 2002 World Championship.
[b]#10- Dennis Taylor[/b]- for his role in that 1985 black-ball final, and as a pundit and commentator

[b]Alex Higgins[/b]- almost as entertaining as Jimmy White but his off-table antics kept him out of my Top 10
[b]John Higgins[/b]- involved in numerous exciting matches (e.g. 2006 Masters vs. Ronnie O'Sullivan)
[b]John Virgo[/b]- I'm a fan of his commentary, but don't remember him as a snooker player

Victorian and 1950s family values- not what they're made out to be?

I quite often read about how society is becoming broken due to the decline of traditional family values since the 1950s. I often read about how the 1950s were a golden era where people loved and cared for one another, families functioned as a strong unit and, since mothers generally stayed at home and raised children, children got more frequent parental care than they often do today.

For sake of balance, I refer readers to a couple of opinion pieces on the internet which paint the 1950s in a rather less positive light:

Yes, I admit, they're probably somewhat biased towards the negative, but no more so than many "today's society is broken" type comments are biased towards the positive.

When I look into this topic I see a lot of evidence to suggest that the 1950s "family values" were actually a relatively recent construct that evolved primarily during the Victorian era and, following the two World Wars, peaked in the 1950s. They involved a narrowing of the definition of "family", focusing mainly on parents/children/siblings/grandparents, whereas earlier cultures were often more inclusive of extended blood relatives and close friends. They were tied in with a heightened fear of sexuality (especially homosexuality) which led to a significant decline in the extent to which people made very close friendships.

With all of this in mind, the 1950s family values really aren't what they are often made out to be. The key concepts of loving and caring for and supporting others may often be associated with "family values" but they were also around long before the 1950s- indeed they were written about extensively in the Christian Bible and other texts from the first few centuries AD.


There's usually a clash of "rights" when it comes to people being slow, say, at the front of a queue in a supermarket. There's the right of the people at the front to be leisurely and not be in a rush, vs. the right of the people behind to be able to progress in the queue without being heavily delayed.

The need for consideration towards others works both ways and both sides can be guilty of being inconsiderate. We know about the impatient people who put pressure on those in front of them to hurry up, but there are also the dawdlers who feel that others should just let them take as much time as they like and have infinite reserves of patience and allow an infinite amount of extra time for their day-to-day activities- some of whom get a boost from watching others get annoyed in the queue behind them.

I think all too often, the "dawdlers" get the benefit of too many doubts. There's a perception that people just need to slow down, be more relaxed, allow more time for everything and be more patient, and then it will be better for everyone, and thus that "dawdlers" are well within their rights. However, there's a difference between being slower because you aren't in as much of a hurry, vs. being slower because people dawdle more in front of you- the latter is a recipe for [i]more [/i]frustration and impatience, not less. There should be limits as to how much extra time people should be required to allow, and how much inconvenience and discomfort it is OK to subject them to.

This issue is relevant to some motoring-related discussions that I've been involved in on this forum (the belief that people should be entitled to drive as slowly as they like, fuelled by the war against speed) and a similar argument can be put forward for the slow-walking people who walk 6 abreast down an alleyway.

Personally I think that if possible, if you want to be slow it is good to occasionally let other people past. For instance if I'm walking down a pavement and someone is going for a jog, I'll step out of the way, I won't stand in his/her way and say, "stop being in such a rush!". Similar with people who want to drive very slowly- when holding up queues of 10 vehicles down a country lane it would be good to pull over once in a while instead of saying, "they should all have to bow to my right to slow everybody up". Of course, this often isn't possible in the likes of supermarket queues, in which case the only considerate thing to do is not to take a lot more time than you really have to.

Thundery wintry showers

Thundery wintry showers


December forecast

Like many forecasts, my forecast for December started off well then veered rather wide of the mark.
[quote]Changeable and generally cold, some snowfalls

During December 2012, the jet stream will be tracking from north-west to south-east over the eastern North Atlantic and Europe for most of the month, and this will enable a succession of northerly and north-easterly outbreaks to affect the British Isles. It won't be as intensely cold as December 2010 was, but it will be cold enough for snow at times, particularly over the north and east of Britain but less so in the west.

Following two cold bright days and then a milder interlude on the 3rd with some sunshine and a few showers in the west, another northerly outbreak will arrive on the 4th/5th December. A wintry mix of showery precipitation will spread southwards on the 4th, particularly affecting northern and central parts of England, though snow will mainly be confined to high ground. On the 5th most places will be cold, dry and sunny, but sleet and snow showers will affect eastern coastal counties with snow generally from Teesside northwards.

Between the 6th and 8th December another low pressure system will slide south-eastwards, and will bring an active belt of rain (preceded by a brief fall of snow in eastern Scotland and north-east England) on the 6th, which will aggravate any flooding problems left over from November's rain. The rain will clear away southwards early on the 7th, with some possible snow on its northern flank, but the wintry showers that will follow behind into eastern areas on the 7th/8th will generally produce rain/sleet at low levels and snow on hills.

Another depression will slide south-eastwards between the 9th and 12th and this low is associated with considerable uncertainty- the weather during the following week of the month will be strongly dependent on its precise track. A belt of rain and strong winds is expected, followed by another northerly/north-easterly outbreak with sunny intervals and wintry showers. Temperatures will be rather below average but not exceptionally so, and towards midmonth a north-easterly type is expected to prevail with high pressure extending from Iceland to Scandinavia. It will be generally dry and sunny in the west, while eastern areas will have some sunny intervals mixed with wintry showers, mostly falling as a sleety mix near the east coast but with snow inland.

Around the 15th-18th low pressure will start to attack from the south-west which will eventually result in milder air coming up from the south, but not before many of us see some sleet and snow on the northern flank of the weather systems. The Midlands and central and western parts of northern England will be most prone to snow, while eastern coastal areas will mostly see rain due to the winds off the comparatively warm North Sea.

The last third of the month is somewhat uncertain, as we will most likely see a burst of polar air coming down from the north around the 20th of the month, while depressions will continue to take a southerly track. Thus, a cold snap is likely shortly before Christmas, with north-eastern districts most prone to snow showers, while southern areas will be prone to belts of wintry precipitation associated with lows passing by to the south. It is hard to place much confidence on the chances of a white Christmas at this stage but the wintry spell may hang on for long enough to give some places a white Christmas, more likely the further north-east you are. A milder, changeable south to south-westerly type is expected to finally establish towards the end of the month.

Notably mild Decembers have been rare in recent years- the last one was way back in 1994 in the south, and 1988 in the north. This December won't be breaking that run, though nor will it be quite as cold as December 2010- temperatures will be about 2 to 2.5C down on the 1981-2010 average over most of the country, with a Central England Temperature of 2.4C expected. Much of northern and western Scotland and Northern Ireland and south-west England, however, will only be 1 to 2C short of average.

Rainfall during December 2012 will mostly be below the long-term average, though with considerable regional variation. Western Scotland and north-west England will have the largest shortages, of 50% or more, but some parts of eastern and southern England will have slightly above average rainfall, and heavy rainfall in the second week of the month may cause further flooding issues in south-west England. Averaged nationally the shortfall will be aruond 20-30%.

It will be a sunny December over most of northern and western Britain, with excesses of 50% or more over much of Ireland, western and northern Scotland, Wales, and western England. However, eastern and southern England, together with south-eastern Scotland, will only have slightly above-average sunshine. Averaged nationally sunshine will be about 30% above average.

The first 10 days of the forecast went pretty well in my opinion, but after that it went downhill. There was strong ensemble support for the link-up between the Siberian and Icelandic highs after the 10th which would have produced an east to north-easterly blast with sunshine and snow showers, perhaps a sleety mix near east-facing coasts and mostly dry in sheltered western areas. It would also have delayed the return of the Atlantic. However, in reality the Siberian high stayed put and the Icelandic high threw up a weak ridge down to Britain, giving a few dry cold sunny days and then a fast Atlantic breakdown.

As an aside, I remember a couple of comments talking of a fast breakdown being a case of greatest risk/greatest reward. Whenever I see that phrase it always seems that the "greatest reward" involves, at best from a snow lover's perspective, a limited area of the UK having a shot at a major snowstorm like the one that hit the south-west in February 1978 or the Midlands one on 8 December 1990, while the rest of us make do with a brief snow-to-rain event. Mid-December showed us the other side of the coin- the breakdown was so rapid that most of us just saw rain.

My forecast for around the 17th-20th fell into line with what actually happened, but then the trough in the eastern North Atlantic proved far more persistent than I had predicted (though I sensed that there was always a possibility of this- I just didn't consider it very likely). As a result there was no northerly pre-Christmas and a traditional mild west to south-westerly type increasingly became established towards the month's end.

As a result of the greater Atlantic influence, mean temperatures were a couple of degrees higher than I predicted, rainfall was markedly higher, and sunshine totals were lower, though the sunny first half more than counterbalanced the dull second half in most parts of the UK. In the end, the forecast from the 11th onwards was pretty inaccurate, though in my defence, most forecasts got heavily de-railed this month.

November 2012 forecast

The forecast ran as follows:
[quote]Changeable, near-average temperatures

November 2012 will be a changeable month with low pressure set to control the weather for most of the time. The long-range signals point to near-average temperatures and no significant cold spells during the first two-thirds of the month at least.

Low pressure centred over northern Scotland will bring a rather cool and showery theme during the first five days of the month, with the majority of the showers in western areas, but some will penetrate into eastern areas too, particularly over north-east England. On the 4th and 5th a secondary low will track over southern England and will give a spell of cloudy weather and prolonged rain from the Midlands southwards with snow on high ground. Further north, a mix of sun and showers will continue but as the wind switches around to a northerly or north-easterly direction, showers on the 5th will mostly be concentrated in eastern areas bordering the North Sea.

Between the 6th and 8th the weather is expected to turn milder and cloudier with a moist west to north-westerly airflow in occupation, and there will be some persistent rain over Scotland, Ireland, Wales and northern and western England on the 6th and 7th although south-eastern England will probably stay dry. Temperatures will generally reach highs of 10 to 13C. The 8th/9th will see low pressure become established again to the north and north-west of the country, so a band of rain will sweep south-eastwards across the country, followed by brighter, showery weather.

Towards mid-November we can expect a generally showery regime with low pressure sat to the north and north-west of the British Isles. Most of the showers will be concentrated in western areas, while there is also the possibility of some more organised belts of rain at times, particularly over southern and central parts of England. Temperatures will mostly be close to the seasonal average. After midmonth a milder, unsettled regime will take over with more frequent frontal systems and some inputs of warm tropical air, and it will become generally cloudy and wet, particularly in north-western Britain.

The last third of November is likely to feature a colder, quieter interlude, most likely during the last week of the month, which may feature some snow showers for northern and eastern counties for a time although confidence on this is low. Broadly speaking mild and unsettled weather around the 20th will give way to high pressure heading in from the west. I am not expecting any exceptional cold snowy weather like most of us saw at the end of November 2010- just an ordinary late-November cold snap.

Temperatures during November 2012 will generally be within a degree of the 1981-2010 average, with southern England up to a degree warmer than average and northern Scotland up to a degree colder. A Central England Temperature of around 7.1C is expected.

Due to the changeable nature of the weather it will generally be another wet month with rainfall excesses of 30-70% in most regions, and western and southern England plus much of Wales will generally be wettest relative to normal. Eastern Scotland will be the main exception, where rainfall will be near or slightly below average.

Sunshine totals will be well above average over much of eastern Scotland and north-east England with excesses of 20-50%, but sunshine will be near or below average elsewhere, with south Wales and south-west England probably dullest relative to the long-term average (shortages of 20-30% are possible).


After a couple of forecasts which were rather wide of the mark, I thought this one went quite well, particularly during the first and last weeks of the month. The showery north-westerly regime that I had predicted leading up to midmonth lasted just a couple of days though, and instead high pressure was the dominant theme around midmonth, though a rather cloudy high for most of us. I managed to pick out the colder interlude towards the end of the month with high pressure advancing from the west, though not the exceptional rainfall events which led to widespread flooding.

Statistically sunshine, temperature and rainfall anomalies were generally similar to what I predicted, although I won't lie- I got a bit lucky with the rainfall stats as the unsettled periods of the 1st-20th were generally less wet than I had envisaged, while the last third of the month was wetter, and the two cancelled each other out resulting in my monthly rainfall projections being near the mark.

Thundery wintry showers

Thundery wintry showers


October 2012 forecast verification

Here was my forecast for October 2012:
[quote]October 2012 will start off changeable with low pressure dominating, but high pressure over the Azores and mid-Atlantic will often influence our weather, particularly around the middle of the month.

After a showery spell during the first five days of October, with some longer outbreaks of rain on the 2nd, the weather will dry up from the west on the 5th/6th as a ridge of high pressure pushes in from the west. The night of the 6th/7th is expected to be cold, with a widespread ground frost inland. There is then some uncertainty over the track of a southerly-tracking low, but I expect wet and windy weather to sweep in from the south-west between the 8th and 10th which is likely to produce high rainfall totals in some places, with the Midlands, Wales, Northern Ireland and northern England most at risk from the heaviest and most persistent rain. Northern Scotland will stay mostly dry, while southern England will be brighter with showers once the initial rain belt moves through, where it will also become warm with highs of 17-20C in places.

High pressure sat in the mid-Atlantic will settle the weather down towards midmonth but it will still allow weak Atlantic weather systems to penetrate around its north-eastern flank. Thus, the period 11th-16th is likely to be mostly dry, particularly in southern areas, but sunshine will be variable rather than plentiful, and some belts of light rain will crop up from time to time, particularly over Scotland, Ireland and northern England.

Long-term teleconnection signals keep pressure high in the mid-Atlantic around midmonth and this high pressure will most likely start to extend its influence further east in the third week of the month, which will promise a few days of dry, brighter weather with some cool nights and widespread ground frosts.

The high pressure is then expected to pull out into the North Sea during the last third of October which will allow Atlantic weather systems to increasingly influence the weather, particularly over western areas, where some belts of heavy rain and strong to gale force winds are expected at times. Eastern England will hold onto the driest weather during this period. With southerly winds expected, temperatures will rise above the seasonal average.

October 2012 will have close to average temperatures for the most part, but the last third of the month will raise the mean slightly above average. I envisage a Central England Temperature of 11.1C, with mean temperatures set to range from 0 to 0.5C below the 1981-2010 average over much of Ireland and western Scotland to 0.5-1.0C above in eastern England.

Rainfall totals will be above normal over much of Wales, the Midlands and northern England with excesses of 20-50% likely, bolstered by a wet spell between the 8th and 10th. Conversely it will be a dry month in East Anglia and the south-east, and also in northern Scotland, with rainfall shortages of 20-40% expected. Other regions of the UK will have close to average rainfall.

Sunshine totals for October 2012 will be near or slightly above the long-term average, with an excess of around 10% taking the UK as a whole. Southern England and eastern Scotland are likely to be sunniest relative to normal with excesses of around 30%.

Forecast issued by Ian Simpson (aka TWS) on the 3rd October 2012.[/quote]

This wasn't one of my more accurate forecasts. The first week went as expected but the wet weather on the 8th-10th in reality passed away to the south with only the far south seeing any rain at all from it, and then an Atlantic-driven regime took over midmonth with a flattening of the expected mid-Atlantic high.

The weather temporarily moved into line with my forecast around the 19th-25th with an anticyclonic interlude followed by warm southerlies, but an abrupt change saw an unusually cold northerly outbreak on the 26th/27th with snow for some, and the month ended changeable with below-average temperatures. As a result, temperatures were over a degree down on what I had predicted, while sunshine totals were mostly lower over the southern two-thirds of England although similar to what I had predicted over Scotland and northern England. Rainfall totals weren't far off what I forecast.

Overall, though, after a series of forecasts which I felt were quite accurate, September and October's forecasts were rather wide of the mark and illustrate how hard long-range forecasting really is.

Thundery wintry showers

Thundery wintry showers


September 2012 Forecast Verification

[quote]High pressure will be dominant over central and northern Europe during the first half of September, which will bring plenty of warm dry sunny weather to most of southern and central Britain, although Scotland and Ireland will always be more prone to banks of cloud. During the second half of the month, low pressure will take up residence to the west of the British Isles giving us a changeable but rather warm south-westerly type.

Dry, sunny weather will dominate over most of England and Wales on the first three days but with more cloud over Scotland and Ireland. A weakening belt of cloud and drizzle will head south-eastwards over England and Wales on the 4th, with brighter weather following from the north-west, and bar a few isolated showers over western and northern Scotland, it will become dry again.

Between the 5th and 9th September, the weather over Wales, together with central, southern and eastern England, will be consistently sunny and dry, with generally warm daytime temperatures, though not exceptionally so. Most places will see highs between 21 and 24C. Scotland, Ireland and Cumbria will be prone to more cloud and some light rain, particularly on the 6th and 7th, although these areas will be dry and sunny on the 5th.

High pressure will start to pull away between the 10th and 15th which will allow a changeable south-westerly type to establish over north-western Britain. This will bring some rain belts interspersed with brighter showery weather, with the majority of the showers confined to northern and western Scotland. For most of central, southern and eastern England, though, there will be long dry sunny periods and rainfall amounts will be very small. Temperatures will continue mostly above normal, although daytime temperatures may drop a little below normal at times over western Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Around the 16th/17th we can expect a large depression, containing the remains of a tropical hurricane, to approach the British Isles, and this will herald the shift towards more unsettled conditions. A bout of wet and windy weather is expected, with gales possible in western areas. After that, the winds will be mostly southerly or south-westerly and this will bring belts of rain interspersed with brighter showery weather, with some of the showers heavy and thundery, particularly in the west and south. Temperatures will continue rather above normal except over western Scotland and Ireland. During the last week of September lowest pressure will transfer north-eastwards and give us a more "traditional" westerly type, with temperatures returning to normal, and the majority of the rain will affect north-western parts of the country, with small amounts over central, eastern and southern England.

September 2012 will be a warm month. I am predicting a Central England Temperature of 15.4C, with temperatures generally ranging from 1.5 to 2.0C above the 1981-2010 average in eastern England to 0.5-1.0C above in Ireland and western and northern Scotland.

Rainfall totals will be slightly above normal over western Scotland and Northern Ireland, but elsewhere it will be a generally dry month with rainfall shortages of 20-40%. Shortages of over 50% are expected quite widely over the eastern half of England and also in south-east Scotland.

Sunshine totals will be 10-20% below average in western and north-western Scotland, but near average over most other parts of Scotland, together with Ireland and Cumbria. Elsewhere it will be a sunny month with excesses of 10 to 30% in most places. Sunshine is likely to be 40-50% above at some places across a belt of eastern England from Northumberland down to East Anglia.

I was pleased with how the June, July and August forecasts went, but my September forecast wasn't one of my better ones. The first 10 days of the month went much as predicted, as did the change towards less settled conditions in the middle third of the month, but the weather turned out somewhat cooler than I expected after midmonth and we did not get a large depression around the 16th/17th. That prediction had been based on the likelihood of an ex-hurricane approaching the British Isles, but in reality its remnants passed by harmlessly to the north of Scotland. A second ex-hurricane then swung across the country on the 24th-26th and gave those exceptionally large rainfall totals in northern England.

It goes to show how much of a difference these depressions containing remnants of tropical storms can make to the UK's weather, and they can certainly provide forecasting headaches especially at long range.

As a result of the above, temperatures were generally a degree or two down on the values that I had forecast. Rainfall totals were looking set to be similar to what I had predicted before the big depression on the 24th/26th raised totals above average over many parts of the country, while sunshine totals were quite similar, maybe a little higher than I expected in N and W Scotland and lower in eastern England.

The saying, "you win some, you lose some" certainly applies to long-range forecasting!

August 2012 Forecast Verification

Here was the August 2012 forecast:
[quote]August will complete a full hat-trick of cool unsettled summer months, although the first third of the month will continue on from late July in the sense of offering more in the way of "summery" weather.

A slow-moving low pressure area will continue to drift eastwards across the British Isles between the 2nd and 6th of the month, but the weather will be rather brighter and warmer than we've seen during most recent low pressure spells. Frontal activity will be limited and thus the emphasis will be on sunshine and showers. Many places will be mostly dry on the 3rd with just one or two showers, but showers will be heavy and thundery over a wide area of the country on the 4th and 5th. On the 6th the heavy thundery showers will be concentrated in eastern England while other regions will have well-scattered showers and more frequent sunshine. Temperatures, at 18-22C, will be about average for the time of year.

Between the 7th and 10th August high pressure is expected to temporarily build from the south which will promise a brief dry sunny interlude, particularly for eastern and southern Britain. Ireland and western and northern Scotland will be prone to patches of cloud and light rain, but elsewhere it will be generally dry and sunny and the southern half of England will see highs between 25 and 28C. Around the 10th/11th, however, a new depression will head in off the North Atlantic and bring some rain with it, and as the fronts push against relatively warm continental air, thunderstorms are likely to break out over central and eastern parts of England.

For the middle part of the month (12th-20th) our weather will be dominated by low pressure, with a dominant high pressure system in the mid-Atlantic increasingly sending cold northerly airstreams our way. The emphasis is likely to be on sunshine and showers with thunder and near-average temperatures until midmonth. Towards the 20th, however, we will most likely see an increased emphasis on frontal rain, extensive cloud cover and below-average daytime temperatures.

The last third of the month is likely to see the high pressure in the mid-Atlantic ridge towards the British Isles and then flatten towards the Azores towards the month's end allowing westerlies in. Thus, between the 21st and 25th the weather may turn progressively more settled from the west, though rather cool with frequent northerly winds. South-western areas are most likely to experience long dry sunny periods, with northern and eastern areas most likely to be prone to cloud and cool daytime temperatures. Towards the month's end, as the westerlies set in, it will turn dull and wet in northern and western regions whereas eastern and southern England will have a brief interlude of warm dry sunny weather before unsettled westerlies establish at the end of the month.

August 2012 will be another fairly cool summer month and I am predicting a Central England Temperature of 15.9C. Mean temperatures will generally be 0.5 to 1.0C below the 1981-2010 average in all regions, with the departure from normal slightly greater by day than by night.

Rainfall in most regions will be 20-50% above normal, but locally totals will be swollen by thundery downpours in the first half. Generally speaking, central and eastern England will have the largest rainfall excesses while northern and eastern Scotland will have near average rainfall.

Sunshine will come out 10-20% below normal in most regions, with sunshine likely to be a little above normal in the first half of the month, but below normal sunshine will resume in the second half. There will be some regional variation though; Wales and south-west England are most likely to have a significant shortage (around 20-30%) whereas Northern Ireland and parts of southern England and northern Scotland may have close to average sunshine for August as a whole.

[b]Synoptic pattern and UK weather[/b]
I think I identified the pattern for the first third of the month very well, but didn't score so well on the patterns for the remaining two-thirds. For the middle third of August, the low pressure was centred further west than I expected, and consequently the weather was rather warmer (though still showery, bright in eastern areas, with occasional longer spells of rain).
I had envisaged a brief ridge of high pressure from the west around the 21st-25th before westerlies came in towards the month's end, but instead the ridge didn't materialise and we went straight into a westerly type.

[b]Temperature, sunshine and rainfall anomalies[/b]
Judging by the stats over at Philip Eden's stats (Climate-uk) it appears that I got the sunshine anomalies spot-on. For rainfall anomalies, I got the UK-wide average close to right (as most regions were indeed 20-50% above average) but fell down on predicting the regional distribution, as central and eastern England actually ended up among the driest regions, not among the wettest as predicted. Temperatures were about 0.5-1.0C higher than I had predicted due to the southerlies in the middle third of the month, but the first and last third of the month were about as warm as predicted.

Thundery wintry showers

Thundery wintry showers


Are Rules Rules?

I've stated recently that I'm not a big fan of the phrase, "rules are rules".

Firstly, what does the phrase mean? It's often not entirely clear, but in general there are two main interpretations:

Definition 1. "Rules must always be obeyed and infringements must always be punished"

For example,
[i]X is prohibited.[/i]
[i]People who do X should therefore be punished for disobedience. If you allow people to get away with breaking rules you'll end up with anarchy.[/i]
[i]If people want to have the prohibition on X removed, they should campaign to get the rules amended.[/i]

One significant problem with the above is that when we campaign to get the rules amended, we often run up against the following "rules are rules" argument instead:

Definition 2. "The rules should be the way they are because they're the way they are".

For example,
[i]X is prohibited.[/i]
[i]People shouldn't do things that are prohibited.[/i]
[i]Therefore, people shouldn't do X.[/i]
[i]Therefore, X should be prohibited.[/i]
[i]There is no good reason to relax the prohibition on X, because everyone knows what the rules say, and if everyone obeyed them, there wouldn't be a problem. If we relax the prohibition on X then we'll end up with anarchy as if you give people an inch they'll take a mile.[/i]

Definition 2 amounts to a circular argument and is commonly used to prevent discussion on the correctness of a rule, the way it is interpreted and enforced, or whether or not it should have some discretionary flexibility.

I am a particularly big opponent of Definition 2, but there are cases where I would support Definition 1. Rules are a [i]normative[/i] thing, where we set up codes of behaviour that are considered acceptable, but prohibit behaviour that we consider unacceptable. Up to a point, we do need such cast-iron rules to help discourage irresponsible behaviour, be it subjecting others to pain, gaining an unfair advantage in sporting competitions for example, and it is generally a bad idea in those situations to allow exceptions.

However, because of the normative nature of rules, "rules are rules" is also a common argument for justifying ganging up against individuals or groups for being different (and is remarkably neglected in articles relating to bullying, racism and the like).

A peer group can set up rules of conduct like, "be heterosexual or be ostracised", and then justify ostracising homosexuals on the basis, "their homosexuality violates our rules, the rules are the rules, and so homosexuals should be ostracised by us"- they see it as equivalent to, say, being fined for stealing from a shop. As far as the group is concerned, it doesn't matter what you or I think regarding homosexuality, what matters is that the group doesn't tolerate homosexuality, it sets up rules accordingly, and "rules are rules".

Another point regards civil disobedience, in situations where people know that campaigning for the rules to be changed gets you nowhere. Was it right for the Jews to be executed by the Nazis for disobeying Nazi rules? An extreme case, but the point is clear.

I won't deny that I am no stranger to what I consider "civil disobedience". This has often included, when being ostracised for being different to the norms of a peer group, refusing to change to fit in with their behaviour. It has also included disobeying rules that prohibit behaviour to legislate for a a minority who abuse it (as campaigning for change to such rules usually fails to get beyond the arguments "rules are rules" and "the majority have to spoil it for the majority"). The danger with attempting civil disobedience though is that you can inadvertently end up behaving irresponsibly, by recognising that a rule is over-restrictive but deviating from it too far.

Overall, my objection to "rules are rules" is that morally speaking it only works (by definiton 1) if the rules are sound to begin with, and it is a way of preventing debate on the soundness of the rules.

July 2012 Forecast- Month Ahead Validation

Here's a recap on my month-ahead forecast for July:
[quote]With pressure often high in the Arctic and low pressure systems taking a relatively southerly track, it will be another cool cloudy wet month, though probably not as cloudy or wet as June was.

July has commenced cloudy and wet, but as we head through the first week the emphasis will shift towards sunny intervals mixed with slow-moving thundery downpours. The 3rd July will have an area of cloud and persistent rain moving through Wales and most of the southern half of England, while northern England, Ireland and Scotland will be bright with showers. Between the 4th and 7th July slow-moving showers will be heavy and thundery, particularly in north-east England on the 4th, though not quite as severe as some places experienced back on the 28th June. South-eastern Britain will see relatively few showers and a fair amount of sunshine in between. Another exception will be northern Scotland which will be rather grey and cool with rain at times. Temperatures will range between 18 and 22C for most parts of the country, not far from the seasonal norm. Sunshine amounts for the first week will probably be close to or just below average, while rainfall will vary widely, though mostly above normal away from south-east England.

During the second week of July the low pressure area will drift out into the North Sea, allowing a chilly north to north-easterly airflow to dominate over the British Isles, with temperatures below normal everywhere. Under the influence of the low, most of central and southern England will see further showers and an increasing chance of longer spells of rain, and the period will thus be considerably wetter and cloudier than average in those areas. Northern and western areas, closer to the high pressure, will turn drier during the second week, with sunshine and rainfall amounts consequently close to normal in the west (perhaps above normal in western Scotland), but much below normal in the east.

There are signs that towards the third week, the low pressure to the south-east will weaken and this will allow highest pressure to transfer southwards towards the Azores. As a result, we will start to see a north-south split across the UK; most of Scotland and northern England will be cloudy and quite cool with some rain at times, particularly in the west, but southern areas will see some drier, brighter and warmer interludes due to being close to a ridging Azores High. Temperatures and sunshine amounts will probably only be close to average though.

Any particularly warm, sunny weather is likely to be reserved for the last third of July. The general emphasis is likely to remain on changeable conditions with low pressure systems tracking across at intervals, but one or two interludes of warm, drier and possibly sunnier weather are likely, most especially over southern parts of the British Isles. On the whole, the last third of July is likely to be statistically near-average for temperatures, rainfall and sunshine, though with the east drier and sunnier relative to normal than the west.

July 2012 is likely to be another fairly cool summer month, with a Central England Temperature of 16.0C. Temperatures are likely to range from 1.0-1.5C below the 1981-2010 average in northern Scotland, to around 0.5C below in most other parts of the British Isles.

It will be another wet month; the first half will be particularly wet in north-east England, while the second half will be wet in the north-west, but not generally as wet as June. Rainfall is expected to range from 40-80% above normal over much of Scotland and north-east England to just 0-20% above in south-east England.

Sunshine will range from near normal in southern England to 30-40% below in north-east Scotland, while other regions will generally have a small shortage of around 10-20%.

I feel that this was certainly one of my better forecasts, with most of the right weather patterns correctly identified- in particular the suggestion of one or two warm dry sunny interludes towards the south in the last third of the month did indeed materialise. However, I somewhat overestimated sunshine amounts during the first week- the low pressure ended up further south than I expected and as a result the weather ended up exceptionally cloudy in most regions rather than just the northern half of Scotland as predicted.

Snooker Blog Part 2 Of 2

In this second part I'll present some questions that I occasionally get asked, and provide some answers.

[b]Q: Do you think Barry Hearn is doing a good job for the sport?[/b]
A. On balance yes, I think the vast majority of his ideas (e.g. expanding the number of tournaments, experimenting with different formats, promoting snooker overseas and making the ranking system more of a running thing) are all good for promoting the game and increasing interest. Snooker as a televised sport was becoming rather stale under the previous owners.
I will add one caveat though, I sometimes have a concern about Hearn taking things too far from one extreme to the other, particularly in the interests of maximising his own revenues. The schedule of 27 tournaments over 50 weeks, when considering the amount of overseas travel, is very punishing and I would like to see a shift to a rankings system that encourages players to play in most, but not all, of the events.

[b]Q: Do you think Judd Trump should shift to a more percentage-based shot selection instead of taking large risks?[/b]
A. Toning down his attacking instincts will make it easier for him to grind out wins when not playing well, thus boosting his consistency. However, despite it objectively being better for results, I hope he doesn't do this significantly until much later in his career, as it will make him stand out less from the other players. I feel that the game has lacked a real all-out attacker a la Jimmy White since Ray Reardon persuaded Ronnie O'Sullivan to refine his attacking game back in 2004/05, and I would really like Trump to carry the flag for that style of play and win a few world titles with it.
On the other hand, I wouldn't object to Trump improving his temperament and tactical play- those would improve his results without necessarily making him any less different or entertaining to watch.

[b]Q. Why do players decline as they get older?[/b]
A. During their 40s and 50s the aging process makes it harder to keep the concentration levels up, but I think the main problems lie elsewhere. It can be hard to maintain motivation levels after a while, and if a player suffers a crisis of form it is hard to recover confidence from the fear of missing and the fear of going into a long-term decline.
The early decline of Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry was partly due to a drop in consistency and confidence past age 30 but mainly down to improved opposition- Hendry's game was still generally strong until the 2005/06 season (age 36-37), and Davis's until 1998/99 (age 40-41).
Ronnie O'Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams are currently in that precarious "35-40" age bracket- it will be interesting to see if Higgins and Williams can recover the form they showed about 1-2 years ago.

[b]Q. Should successful players tone down their attacking instincts when they get into their 30s/40s?[/b]
A. This is related to the Judd Trump question, and it really depends on whether they are happy to grind out wins when not playing well. Playing a more conservative game is better for grinding out results when not playing well, and thus may help to prolong longevity within the top 32, but it doesn't necessarily help to win major tournaments- players tend not to be in contention for victories unless their potting and break-building are holding up well.
Thus, I don't think it's fair to criticise Steve Davis for doing this, or to criticise Stephen Hendry or Jimmy White for refusing to back down on their aggressive shot selections- consistency of results isn't everything, it really depends on the player's mentality and priorities.

[b]Q: You were a Jimmy White fan in the 1990s; how on earth did you also end up wanting Stephen Hendry to do well?[/b]
A. I'm a little unconventional in that in fierce sporting rivalries, supporting one player doesn't necessarily cause me to hate the other- it often has the opposite effect due to the fact that it takes two players to make a great rivalry.
During the days of the Stephen Hendry vs. Jimmy White rivalry, I strongly wanted Jimmy to win their important matches, mainly because I found his playting style the more entertaining of the two, but I also developed an appreciation for Hendry's more "refined" attacking style and for what he was achieving- the result was that I became a fan of both players. It's similar to the way that I became a fan of Ayrton Senna (Formula One) and Garry Kasparov (chess) in spite of wanting Nigel Mansell and Nigel Short, respectively, to beat them.
I particularly enjoyed the subsequent Hendry-O'Sullivan rivalry because, as a supporter of both players, I ended up as a neutral, and thus could enjoy their matches to the full.

[b]Q: How could you possibly dismiss the great 1985 world championship final?[/b]
A. I did, in fairness, downplay it too much in my previous blog entry. It was indeed a great final, arguably the greatest World Championship final of all time, I just feel that in terms of match quality it was an inferior relative of the 1998 Masters "re-spotted black" final, and (understandably) gets the more recognition of the two because it decided the World Championship rather than the relatively unimportant Masters.

Some Snooker Stats

I follow snooker very closely and have done since the late 1990s (basically ever since Stephen Hendry stopped winning everything in sight), though I'm sometimes afraid to admit it due to the "boring" reputation that televised snooker has.

[b]Favourite snooker players[/b]
It has to be Jimmy White and more recently Judd Trump for their all-out attacking styles and spectacular shots. Other favourites over the years have been Ronnie O'Sullivan, Stephen Hendry, Mark Williams and Steve Davis. Ronnie O'Sullivan blows hot and cold- there are periods when I want to see him win, and other times when I want him to lose. Over the years I've followed Stephen Hendry's matches more closely than those of any other player, and he has featured in most of my favourite matches, but I was nonetheless rooting for Jimmy White in those 1990s world championship finals.

[b]Best snooker players of all time[/b] [b]in terms of ability[/b]
For me it's between Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O'Sullivan. Ronnie has the best "A" game that I've ever seen (Stephen's potting and break-building were similarly good but his safety play less so) but has so far lacked the consistency that Stephen Hendry showed in the 1990s.
John Higgins is arguably the greatest all-round player, but in my view potting and break-building count for more than safety.

[b]Best World Championship[/b]
For me that would be the 2002 World Championship. There were many entertaining matches, and in particular Stephen Hendry's matches with Ken Doherty and Ronnie O'Sullivan were classics, while Peter Ebdon's determination produced an enthralling match with Matthew Stevens, in which he almost lost but potted a very difficult pink down the cushion to stay in the match. Then the final produced a "twist in the tale", as Hendry could not perform as consistently well in the final as in earlier matches and Peter Ebdon came out a deserving winner in a tense deciding frame. Ebdon is most often associated with tedious slow grinding play these days but I used to find him quite entertaining to watch when he got a bit of fluency going.

[b]Best finals[/b]
For me it's a close-run thing between the 1998 Benson and Hedges Masters final (Stephen Hendry vs Mark Williams, which went to a re-spotted black in the deciding frame) and the 2006 Masters final between Ronnie O'Sullivan and John Higgins (which was also won on the black in the deciding frame). The 2006 final was the higher-quality encounter, whereas the 1998 one ranked more highly for drama and tension. Both finals had a combination of high breaks, good potting, good safety duels on the colours, and unexpected misses under pressure.
In my opinion no World Championship final has quite ranked up there with those. The 1992 and 1994 ones (between Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White) were very entertaining, but spoilt by Jimmy bottling it at critical moments. The 1985 final was before my time, but doesn't look like it was particularly enthralling until the closing stages of the deciding frame.

There Is More To The Weather Than Whether It's Settled Or Unsettled

As time goes on I am fearing that the Model Output Discussion is going to degenerate into the usual summer fare, where the UK's weather is over-simplistically divided into two types: "settled" aka "good", and "unsettled" aka "bad".

The main problem is that the desire for "settled" weather, for most people, is tied in with images of clear blue skies, warm sunshine by day, and evenings spent in the garden with the barbeque going. Of course, high pressure can bring such weather, and many of us will have memories of that phenomenal spell at the back end of March this year.
But in fact we only need to think back to the last third of July 2011 for an illustration of how we can be "bitten" by being too simplistic about this association. The forecast models showed a fairly sustained settled period with high pressure close by to the west, and the model output thread was buzzing with posts insisting that we were in for a lot of barbeque-type weather. In reality, though, for many of us the spell turned out dry and cloudy with a chilly northerly wind which left those BBQs gathering dust indoors.

The problem is that for high pressure to bring us "BBQ weather", it really has to be in the right place. Here's one synoptic chart:
Let's be brutally honest, how many people would look at a chart like that and not think, "sustained settled spell- barbeque here we come"? In fact May 1991 was one of the dullest Mays on record as well as one of the driest and most settled.
Another stark counterexample occurred during June 1988. This was an often-forgotten warm sunny month across much of Scotland (leading into that infamous washout July) but also an often-forgotten dry cloudy one across most parts of England, characterised by high pressure in the wrong place:

Also, you don't actually need a sustained strong area of high pressure to bring this sort of "barbeque weather". The last week of June 2010, for instance, had a lot of this type of weather, but was only weakly anticyclonic:
And on relatively rare occasions, you don't even need any high pressure at all. I remember that in Tyneside (where in some summers, like last year's, we struggle to justify getting the BBQ out at all) I had a nice BBQ on the evening of the 4th July 1999:
...and how many people would see a chart like that and think, "oh dear, dull wet unsettled dross"? That spell in early July 1999 turned out generally warm and sunny but with sharp thundery downpours, so as long as you timed your BBQ well you were okay.

In fact it isn't all that unusual for the most "settled" spell of a month to end up being the cloudiest, if the unsettled weather is mainly bright and showery and the settled weather has high pressure in the wrong place. The dullest spell of this April so far was the relatively quiet one over Easter when high pressure (in the wrong place) ridged across from the west. It can even happen, more rarely, during a generally dull unsettled month (the dullest spell of August 2008, for many of us, was actually the relatively warm settled one near the end).

Some of it probably stems from how we were brought up. I know that when I was at school, we were taught, "high pressure is settled (good) weather, low pressure is unsettled (bad) weather".

I realise that, as a big fan of convective type weather, I am always going to be less enthusiastic than most others about sustained spells of high pressure (which have a habit of being convection-free). However, that consideration shouldn't affect the above analysis- I've deliberately looked at it from a "hoping for warm dry sunny BBQ weather" perspective, and shown how flawed/over-simplistic it is even from that perspective.

A Journey Is Not Just A Means To An End

In many walks of life, a journey doesn’t just have to be a means to an end- it can also be about incorporating enjoyment along the way. We see this in sports (referenced in my previous blog) where many fans like to be entertained with end-to-end football matches that end 4-3, in preference to the mechanical grinding out of 1-0 wins.

We’ve all heard about the major downsides of cars, but they’ve also given society many benefits. The thing is, though, the main advantages of cars are social and recreational, not the simple “getting from A to B”. For example, the freedom to travel where you want, when you want, and increased ability for “spontaneous” type journeys, and for some of us, increased scope to actually derive pleasure from the journey- we aren’t just getting from A to B, we’re also incorporating enjoyment en route to B. This also benefits the tourism and leisure industries (due to more frequent leisure trips) and adds to the car industry, e.g. the market for “sports suspensions” as seen on the likes of the Ford Focus Zetec. There are, as with many recreational freedoms, a minority who drive recklessly with disregard for other road users, but that's what road traffic rules are supposed to be for, to criminalise and punish those who take unacceptably large risks.

The problem with cars is rather that as a society we’ve become too dependent on them. Far too many of us feel we “have” to drive, particularly for business-related trips. What we really need is to reduce our reliance on the car, to make it more feasible for people to use alternative forms of transport for their business-related journeys, to give people an alternative, while allowing those who enjoy driving to continue to do so. The private car can serve as an excellent recreational tool to help assist with spontaneous and leisure trips, but should not be an absolute neccessity for getting around.

But that’s not what we’re seeing- instead we’re seeing a blanket policy of reducing speed limits and putting speed bumps everywhere, and timing traffic lights to cause maximum disruption, all with the aim of taking the glamour out of driving and instilling into society that driving should be purely about getting from A to B. The main underlying reasons for this are the philosophy that it is unacceptable to enjoy ourselves unless the associated risks are literally zero (on the basis "business and safety are essential but enjoyment is not") and also our culture of legislating for idiots- the same as why many people condemn the enjoyment of extreme weather, or want to see spiralling restrictions on things like fireworks, alcohol and horse racing. I despise this philosophy, especially when I see it being used to erode our freedoms via small, almost imperceptible measures.

Now to address some misconceptions. Traffic restrictions only improve overall local quality of life significantly if they are selective (i.e. keeping traffic out of certain areas, like city centres and communal “home zones”), and only improve traffic flows in certain circumstances (e.g. part-time restrictions on busy routes at peak times). They should be applied selectively where appropriate, but not “wholesale”. It will not improve overall quality of life if we end up with towns crammed full of traffic doing 15-20mph, and cars restricted to 30-40mph around country lanes (consider slower bus journeys and cyclists being inconvenienced by speed bumps for example). It may well be safer, but let's look at it this way: many campaigners realise that it is worth benefitting the social and recreational aspects of walking and cycling even if it means a small increase in risk. Why not road transport too? I think that inconsistency stems, again, from the agenda of taking the glamour out of driving.

Reducing speed limits does not make it harder to drive recklessly for fun; it makes it harder to enjoy driving while keeping within the speed limit (which is part of the idea; the further we go down this route, the easier it is to convince people that we need to outlaw enjoyment of driving to curb speeding- we really need to be vigilant in watching out for this sort of manipulation of public opinion).

Reducing speed limits probably won't address the "people are always impatient and in a rush" problem; if anything longer journey times, and ever-decreasing ability to enjoy driving, may well make some people more impatient. If we make the general public slow down but maintain a high level of "in for a penny, in for a pound" type speeding then we will continue to see plenty of deaths regardless of how low the speed limits are. Hence many councils prefer to put loads of speed bumps down to legislate for this reckless minority, but this falls into the following trap: "a few idiots abuse A so we restrict A, then they move over to abusing B so we restrict B" and so on. Most people would never accept policies putting speed bumps on 100 roads, but fail to watch out for the "put humps on 1 road and slowly rinse and repeat for the other 99 roads" way of achieving the same result (there is a moral there about accepting the slow, almost imperceptible, erosion of our freedoms).

The main problem with speed is inappropriate speed for the conditions, and “targeted” policies aiming to address this directly, plus a more graduated, training-oriented system for new drivers, will probably save a fair number of lives. What I would prefer to see is relatively lenient but strictly enforced speed restrictions, and greater enforcement of the “driving at inappropriate speed for the conditions” law. That's why I used to suggest more generous tolerances, but now that we've achieved relatively high compliance rates with existing speed limits, it may well be better to keep enforcing speed limits strictly but raise some of them. As long as we enforce the limits strictly and apply "driving too fast/slow for conditions" more often, I doubt that accidents will increase significantly if we raise the motorway speed limit to 80mph, raise some suburban routes from 30mph to 40mph, raise some 20mph zones (other than in designated traffic-restricted areas such as "home zones") back to 30mph, and raise some of the 40mph country lanes to 50mph.

Regarding the rising cost of petrol, if it was combined with policies aiming to make our society less reliant on cars and petrol (particularly for business purposes), I would be in favour of it, as it is one tool that will certainly help push us towards more sustainable energy use. However, since we're doing very little of those, we're all suffering- it's mainly recreational trips and the tourist/leisure industries that are suffering, but businesses are also being hit by the fuel prices which they then transfer down to the customer. Ultimately, New Labour's emphasis on investing in "taking the glamour out of driving" has resulted in minimal investment in making us less dependent on petrol as a nation.

Ultimately it is important to recognise that a journey is not just a means of getting from A to B, and that the ability to incorporate enjoyment en route does add a lot to people's overall quality of life, and I think you can say the same of life as a whole.

The "all Out Attackers" Vs "all Rounders" In Sports

Having kept a close eye on the recent snooker tournaments and been thoroughly entertained by the all-out attacking style of Judd Trump, I've been seeing a fair number of comments flying around like, "he needs to tone down his attacking instincts, play more safety, mature into an all-rounder". This is a common situation in sports- we had the same sort of thing when Blackpool were fighting in the football Premier League with attacking football, and Alan Hansen in particular saying exactly the same thing about Blackpool for instance.

It is always a tricky topic because we know that in general an "all-round" game is, for most people, the best way of getting results, as it maintains consistency (you win when you're playing well and you don't get hammered when you are not playing well- whereas with all-out attack, the wins are brilliant but the losses can be very embarrassing). Of course, even the "all-out attackers", to have any success, have to have some sort of defensive basis, it is a question of competitors focusing mostly on attack with a modest amount of defence vs. putting comparable emphasis on both.

The problem is that if Judd Trump was to "mature" into an all-rounder and put a lot more emphasis on safety play instead of going for risky shots, I (and many others) would find him a lot less entertaining to watch, and he wouldn't stand out from the other players. After all, part of what made Jimmy White so entertaining in the early to mid 1990s was the "edge of seat" effect of him sometimes going for shots that an "all-rounder" would turn down, sometimes giving brilliant success and at other times giving embarrassing misses. While it would certainly make his results more consistent, it's debatable whether it would make him win many more tournaments (it doesn't seem to have worked that way for Shaun Murphy after he toned down his all-out attacking style that he won the title with in 2005). Snooker would probably be worse off if he was to do this, because even if he won more events, it would be offset by the audience being less keen on him winning them. Similarly if Blackpool had toned down their attacking instincts last season, they would surely have become more consistent, but they would have lost a lot of fans, and if this had meant losing a lot of games 1-0 rather than 3-1, they would still have been relegated.

On the other hand, while I don't like the "play safe more" advice these attackers get, I think they often can put a greater emphasis on defence without compromising their attacking play, simply by making sure that when they feel a need to play defence, they aim to defend well, rather than just putting a quick defensive move in. For instance Judd Trump is capable of putting more thought and effort into playing a telling safety when he feels a need to play a safety-shot (I have to say, I've often thought the same of Stephen Hendry).

The same issue also used to crop up in Formula One, when the likes of Jean Alesi, and Mika Hakkinen (prior to his 1995 crash at Adelaide) were all-out attackers but sometimes went overboard, prompting calls that they needed to "mature" into more all-round competitors; Juan-Pablo Montoya was a more recent one. These days such competitors have largely been lost from Formula One because when optimistic moves don't come off, not only do they lose positions but they also get a string of drive-through penalties, as noted a couple of blogs earlier. Some competitive sports/games don't have any scope for non-"all-rounders" at the highest levels- e.g. in grandmaster chess there is strong homogeneity in playing style at the highest levels, because computer-assisted preperation and strong defensive play means that any sort of "all-out attack" backfires more often than not.

As readers of this piece might have guessed, I tend to aspire towards the "all-out attack" approach when I play competitive sports and games- this is a major reason why I don't aspire to be a chess grandmaster as I know that, at the level I currently play, I can get away with using that sort of approach, and thus end up with a long list of entertaining, albeit sometimes error-strewn, chess games that I will want to look back through again and again, rather than numerous uneventful wars of attrition ending mostly in draws with a few victories here and there.

Thundery wintry showers

Thundery wintry showers


Copyrights Revisited

Firstly, a reminder of what copyrights are for: they are to give content creators some control over the use and distribution of their work, typically to protect ownership and/or financial revenues and thus give them an incentive to continue producing. There is a balancing act to strike between copyrights and "fair use", because too much copying can erode revenue margins (and in some cases produce plagiarism) while too much protectiveness over copyrights can stifle spread of information and result in consumers having to pay more for less.

Firstly, copyright infringement is not the same as theft (because the copyright owner and/or seller is not deprived of a physical unit). The reason why it's important to recognise this is that the "copying is theft" propaganda serves as a way of campaigning for ever-tightening copyright laws. Consider the following argument, which crops up regularly on gaming forums:[list]
[*][i]You think that some aspect of copyright law is weighted too far in favour of the copyright holder?[/i]
[*][i]Well, all copyright infringement is theft, and all theft is wrong, so therefore all copyright infringement is wrong.[/i]
[*][i]Thus if you maintain that belief you are condoning the theft of people's work and you should be shot.[/i]
The reason why copyright infringement is not a black-and-white issue is because of its wide-ranging definition. I'm sure most of us will agree that counterfeiting is morally wrong (where people make copies of other people's work and sell them) as is plagiarism (making copies of someone else's work and then passing them off as one's own work). Those are the two infringing activities that are the most similar to outright theft.

The illegal downloading scene is rather more controversial. In this case, the potential revenue losses due to the copying have to be offset against the potential long-term gains due to increased product, industry and brand exposure, the social benefits of being able to "share" and increased consumer welfare. The overall effects of the file-sharing scene are dubious, as while it's unlikely that a large percentage of the illicit copies translate to lost sales, even a 10% erosion of sales margins could put the smaller, more marginal companies out of business. However, the online file-sharing does have some uses that can be more beneficial than harmful, e.g. distribution of non-commercial products, products that are no longer sold, and people who download using a "try before you buy" mentality. The problems stem from those who "leak" private information as well as those who use them as a reliable means of getting commercial products for free that they would otherwise have paid for.

We then move into "casual copying"- e.g. purchasing a music CD then burning it to a couple of computers and playing it in a car's MP3 player. This form of copying has traditionally been the main target of most copy protection over the years, and in some circles is vilified/accepted as "wrong" more than the illegal downloading scene. Because such copying occurs in relative moderation, I have greater doubts that such copying actually results in lost sales. The exception is when it occurs en-masse- I think making 16 copies of a product, then heading into a school and distributing them to 16 of your friends, for instance, is a morally dubious act. There are other ways of generating the same kind of benefits, such as providing "built-in" rights (e.g. the console games that allow split-screen multiplayer, while regular sales and product "bundles", of the "5 for the price of 1 or 2" variety, have similar benefits). The UK coalition government is currently looking into ways of legalising some forms of "casual copying".

But there are areas where it begins to get silly. For instance, could you imagine a world where playing 3-player games of Scrabble was considered "piracy" unless each player had his/her own copy of Scrabble, and where playing 3 player Scrabble with one copy of the game was perceived as "stealing" the equivalent of 2 copies of Scrabble? Computer gaming has trended in that sort of direction recently. In many circumstances, singing "Happy Birthday" at a party would be considered a "public performance" and would thus infringe the copyrights of Time Warmer.

The issue also crops up with game mods. Of course, it is unethical to use other modders' assets in your own mods and pass them off as your own, thus plagiarising them. But there are more controversial ones, e.g. a recent furore over the Minecraft "Technic pack" suggests that, for instance, it is illegal to produce installers for "mod packs" to help make installing multiple mods more convenient (a modder might want his or her mod distributed exclusively through an ad-supported site to make money, or control the distribution on the basis "the law says that I can, and the law is the law"). A similar issue arises when modders refuse to allow any of their assets to be used in other projects whenever they are asked for permission- that of the modders' legal right to "sit on" their assets vs. hindering the mod community as a whole by doing so.
Then it starts to get ridiculous, e.g. if you download a mod that includes assets that are used without permission, [i]you[/i] are technically infringing copyrights (and thus, according to some, "stealing" modders' work), which strikes me as absurd (how can you ever be sure that all the assets within someone else's mod are used with permission?). A similar issue arose with the "Risen 3D" port for Doom, which temporarily became illegal as it infringed the GPL- suddenly all those who used that source port were classified as software pirates, despite having no way of knowing that it had become illegal unless they'd specifically researched it on the internet.

So no, copyright isn't a black-and-white issue.

My Proposals For F1 Penalty Systems For 2012

I've been quite a big critic of the F1 penalties for wheel-to-wheel incidents this year, although having recently seen the "Senna" movie, we are still in a much better position than we were a couple of decades ago, when inconsistency was rife, relatively minimal penalties like drive-throughs didn't exist and some drivers got away with a lot while others got banned for multiple races.

While the introduction of lesser penalties such as drive-throughs and time penalties are a positive thing, I think they've led to the rulemakers feeling compelled to give out penalties for the slightest infringements. I think this fails to acknowledge the fact that, if drivers are racing wheel to wheel and have to make split second decisions, there will always be the occasional misjudgement, and that while dangerous driving is unacceptable, a modest amount of controversial collisions helps to increase interest in the sport by generating talking points. There is also a lot of "penalising by result" going on, i.e. if you try a risky pass that might cause an accident if the other driver doesn't get out of the way, you get a drive-through if the driver refuses to give way, but nothing if he does.

The latest Hamilton-Massa incident, where Massa got a drive-through because "he could have avoided the collision by giving way", used to be known as a classic example of a "racing incident", even though Massa was primarily responsible for the collision, because traditionally if the other driver isn't fully alongside you, you aren't obliged to give way. The current drive-through regime appears to have led to a subtle change in that code of racing ethics. I wouldn't mind so much if it was just a one-off change, but in reality we are seeing a slow incremental tightening of the rules regarding what racing ethics are and aren't acceptable.

Thus, my proposals are as follows:

1. Dangerous and/or deliberate causing of collisions- grid drop for the next race, ranging from 5 place drop to starting from last place, open to stewards' discretion depending on the extent to which the incident was dangerous and/or deliberate.

2. Inadvertantly causing a collision without mitigating circumstances (e.g. not trying a pass and not slippery conditions)- drive through, plus one "penalty point" against driver's name.

3. Contributing to collision or inadvertantly causing one while trying a bold pass or during slippery conditions- stewards to take no action, but give one "penalty point" against driver's name.

4. If accident was not easily avoidable, no action and no penalty points.

5. More than a certain number of "penalty points" within a season- 5 place grid drop for the next race. I would suggest a total of 3 or 4. After a grid drop the counter is then reset to 0 and the process rinses and repeats to the end of the season.

The idea of this is to allow "racing incidents" to happen without resulting in a long series of drive-throughs, but to also ensure that drivers who get involved in a disproportionate number of them, in which they are at least partly to blame, face punishment after an accumulation of them. For instance, under my proposals, Lewis Hamilton might well have seen out the 2011 season with just one or two drive-throughs, but he would have amassed enough penalty points for two, maybe even three, 5 place grid drops. Michael Schumacher would probably only have seen one 5 place grid drop while the likes of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button would probably have seen out the season without any penalties at all.

I have no objections with the penalties for things like speeding in the pitlane and ignoring flags though.

Pc Gaming And Digital Distribution

This blog article will explore the future of PC gaming using DRM on the one hand, and online extras/support on the other, and how things may pan out if we see numerous competitors such as "Origin" compete (if that's the right word for it, as we will see below) with Valve Software's "Steam".

As many will already know, I am a strong opponent of forcing Digital Rights Management (DRM) on consumers because of the vast potential for abuse (as DRM basically gives the DRM owner scope to set whatever restrictions that he/she wants). On the other hand, I support the use of account-based activation to access online extras, as it's a good way of rewarding paying customers and creating a difference between a pirated copy and a legitimate copy.

I've been using Valve Software's "Steam" quite a lot recently, which is an interesting case in that it follows both models (it uses DRM but is also pretty good on the "rewarding paying customers with online extras" front) and as of November 2011, in my experience the benefits have at least counterbalanced the reservations about the DRM. For instance, the "you can't play 2-4 multiplayer with 1 copy of the game" issue pales into insignificance when I pick up the games for 2-4 times less than the retail price due to taking advantage of Steam's offers and "5 for the price of 2" type "game packs". But the main subject of this blog is, would it be better for PC gaming if we were to have Steam as a near-monopoly on clients and digital distribution or better to have a lot of competition? There are those who say competition is better, while there are others who are dead against it because they want all their DRM-authenticated titles on one platform. I actually think both sides have a case, and will outline two relevant scenarios below.

1. If gamers get a free choice as to which client they use for their games, with at worst a one-time activation on the developer's own service, then I think it will certainly be a good thing. PC gamers will have a choice as to whether they use multiple clients for their games or are happy to stick everything on the one client. Competitors would have to become good in order to get many PC gamers to flock over to them and away from Steam, and if they succeeded, they could offer benefits that Steam doesn't currently have, prompting Steam to improve. Gamers will get a better all-round experience.

2. If we get the competitors selling titles exclusively on their own systems and making the games exclusive to their own clents, then I think it will actually be a bad thing. The likely scenario there is gamers getting no more choice (as each game is tied to the developer's own client), having to use lots of different clients just to play their games. The more powerful companies (such as EA with Origin) could well take a lot of market share away from Steam by forcing essentially inferior imitations of Steam onto their customers. Valve has opted not to heavily abuse the control that Steamworks DRM gives them, but if competing companies choose to abuse the control that the DRM gives them, and manage to eat heavily into Steam's dominance by doing so, it may well make Valve feel they have to use bully-boy tactics to avoid losing a lot of custom- so even Steam ends up an inferior version of what it is now.

In my view, it would be most ideal if these services only required account-based activation in order to access online facilities, and not to install and play the game (going back to my first paragraph). Then, companies wouldn't be able to force people to use their clients with DRM, so it would be harder to "push" the second of the two scenarios. Companies would have to seriously consider both making their online facilities as good as possible and offering access to patches and DLC via alternative clients including Steam, so as to encourage gamers to buy their products for the online extras instead of pirating them, all of which would "push" the first of the two scenarios. I don't really see that happening though, because of the "copying is theft" mantra, the desire to "push" clients on consumers, move away from gamers "buying" games and towards "renting" them, and scupper the used games market, all of which companies address with DRM- although if Good Old Games.com (a DRM-free digital distribution outlet) gets more successful, you never know!

I'm not at all sure which direction the PC gaming industry will go when it comes to clients, digital distribution and DRM, but it is unlikely to be my problem anytime soon, as a large majority of the PC games I get are produced by Valve, Bethesda or id Software (now taken over by Bethesda's parent company incidentally), and the latter two seem quite happy to either use no DRM at all or use Steam.

Thundery wintry showers

Thundery wintry showers


Monogamy Revisited

Some may have wondered what on Earth I was blithering on about in the monogamy thread and some other related ones.

I don't have a problem with the demand for [i]sexual[/i] monogamy (except when it's thrust upon people who consent to having "open" relationships). My opinion on polygamous/polymorous relationships has changed a fair bit since posting in the "Monogamy" thread, as there is strong evidence that they are eminently workable in cultures that don't frown upon them. However, at the same time, I think especially in the current cultural climate it's fair to call violating an agreement on sexual monogamy "cheating".

Where I have a problem is with the demand for [i]emotional[/i] monogamy- expressed in simple terms, "I don't want you loving anyone but me". Emotional monogamy isn't actually as simple as that, because it normally excludes love for family members (because "family is different") and often excludes female-on-female friendships ("best girlfriends" etc). The effect of "emotional monogamy" is to forbid heterosexual men from bonding emotionally with anyone other than family, prohibiting opposite-sex friendships and also prohibiting male-on-male friendships that aren't restricted to purely social bonding. The main basis behind this is the stereotype "heterosexual men don't show emotion unless there's a sexual motive" as well as a legacy of the fear of homosexuality that prevailed in the early 20th century. (It's ironic, as it's usually women and homosexuals who get a raw deal with these traditional values of patriarchal origin- but heterosexual men get a raw deal too if they choose to deviate from the archetypal, macho, emotionally-stunted male gender role).

I have particularly serious concerns over the concept of "emotional cheating", defined as feeling closer to an opposite-sex friend than to one's partner, or confiding in an opposite-sex friend about problems that are occurring within one's partnership. (Maybe it's primarily a US thing?) Yes, sometimes people do use emotional manipulation to break apart partnerships, but by no means is this confined to opposite-sex friends (family members are just as capable) and what happens when a partnership becomes unstable or abusive? By those definitions of "emotional cheating" any platonic opposite-sex friend becomes a sitting duck waiting to be scapegoated for the problems within the partnership.

I may have been unlucky with friendships over the years, but there's surely other men out there who would love to be able to express emotion freely with others, in the way that women can, but are frightened to because of the risk of getting in serious trouble for "emotionally cheating" on someone or, worse still, having their affection misinterpreted as attempted molestation. In my opinion we should all be allowed to love and care for one another. By all means people should continue to have partnerships and deal with genuine third-party attempts to undermine them, but society would be a lot better off if people (especially men) felt able to care generally for others rather than just members of their families.

Sustainability- A Brief Final Summary

The other two posts are a bit in-depth, so here is an overall summary of my views- extending to sustainability generally and not just sustainable transport.

In short, I am 100% behind the concept of sustainability, but the key is that in order to be sustainable, we have to make some sacrifices and determine what is "necessary" and what isn't- and this is wherein my main objection to conventional "sustainability" policies lies.

I think of "unnecessary waste" as primarily practices that we can easily replace at little or no cost to anybody, e.g. leaving appliances on unattended, arranging meetings that involve making 4 business journeys when we could achieve the same thing using only 2, etc. I believe that restraining energy use should target those sort of practices- the ones that have little or no irreplaceable economic or recreational value- as the ones we need to abolish.

Conventional sustainability policies, for me, involve too much use of the viewpoint that recreational/social use of energy constitutes "selfish, unnecessary waste" and that business-related use of energy is okay because "we all need to work". I believe that this approach risks squeezing most of the "fun" aspects out of modern Western society. Recreational car use is of course the primary target, but the argument can be applied to a range of other recreational activities that consume resources, ranging from eating pies and burgers to playing computer games. I think it's imperative that we see human pleasure as something we need to help preserve within a sustainable society as far as possible, as well as economic productivity and mobility- I don't fancy living in a "functional" sustainable environment where we have limited scope to enjoy ourselves. Instead we must seize the opportunity to create a sustainable [i]and happy[/i] life for future generations- we may well only get one opportunity for it after all.

Thus, for those of you who have seen Parts 1 and 2 that relate mostly to transport, a lot of the common themes there also extend across my general views on sustainability.

The Police Show Their Lighter Side


Police in Surrey, who were on patrol, decided to join in a snowball fight! Just thought that with the stick that a lot of police get (some deserved, some not) that it would be worth showing that not all police are averse to having a bit of fun.

Sustainable Towns And Transport Proposals Part 2

Here's my sustainability manifesto, continued over from Part 1.

[b]3. Some general urban planning ideas.[/b]
I am in favour of "filtered permeability" in city centres and around "home zones", the idea being a high density of pedestrian routes, a moderate density of cycle routes and a low density of roads. The idea is similar, to combine it with a decent network of relatively high-speed roads outside of those areas, thus helping to filter traffic outside of these areas which prioritise walking and cycling.

I don't agree with dense residential zoning. I believe that, again, this is primarily about discouraging social-recreational car use by minimising the overall amount of road space, and not about improving the environment for residents. Not many people like living in concrete monstrosities, right next to busy roads, without much green space, and not many people like travelling on crowded buses (high population density + low car use = crowding on public transport).

I believe that the goal of encouraging a balanced, sustainable transport system at a high level is to design environments for everyone, not design them around cars, and not go to the other extreme and design them with the aim of discouraging social-recreational car use. There should be pedestrian/cycle-friendly zones plus a good network for vehicles that is kept separate from said zones.

[b]4. Improving road safety. [/b]

One thing that consistently came out of the recent discussions on road safety is that getting road users to adapt to the specific circumstances is paramount, and that "speed kills" is too simplistic, with a more accurate phrase being "inappropriate speed in the wrong place at the wrong time kills". The problem with low, absolutely-enforced speed limits is that it encourages drivers to drive relative to an arbitrary number, rather than the prevailing conditions, but on the other hand we certainly do need to have speed limits and other restrictions to filter out the reckless excesses. I think we either need relatively low speed limits and generous (but consistent, and strictly enforced) tolerances, or relatively high limits, absolute enforcement, and more in the way of discretionary application of "driving too fast for the conditions". In general we should aim to define road traffic laws such that the responsible majority obey them voluntarily, and enforcement can be directed at the minority of offenders.

I don't believe that we need a "harder" driving test, just more focus on training and hazard perception and less on rigid conformity to a set style of driving (which many people generally disregard as soon as they've passed the test anyway). A lot of accidents arise, not because drivers don't have the necessary knowledge, but they fail to apply it in a particular situation- in essence momentary lapses. While I don't agree with "full retests every 5 years", it might be reasonable for drivers to be requested or even required to take refresher courses once in a while to brush up on essentials of hazard perception and courtesy to other road users that may have been lost over time.

We also need to be aware that ultra-slow driving is potentially as dangerous as ultra-fast driving. I know people say "those stuck behind a slow driver should just be patient and allow extra time for their journeys", just as I might be told, waiting in a queue at a restaurant, that I should be patient waiting 20 minutes for someone to finish chatting to the waitress. But people do have deadlines to meet, sometimes they genuinely are in a hurry, and it can also be frustrating to have a pleasurable trip out spoiled by someone doing 40% less than the speed limit. Frustration and road rage result. The people who wish to drive slowly should pull out of the way once in a while to let queues of cars past (my dad often does this when there are queues behind him for instance).

Regarding the "pleasure driving" issue, bear in mind that a lot of reckless driving among 17-19 year olds arises because they feel "I know it's possible to drive in the manner I want and enjoy it in a safe and considerate manner, irrespective of what I was told when I learned to drive, but how far can I go in testing the limits of safety?". This is, of course, a dangerous situation, as inexperience inevitably results in lives being put at risk during the "testing the limits" phase. This is where my proposal on redefining road traffic laws to encourage higher compliance rates come in- then, hopefully, more in the way of young drivers may feel compelled to comply with road traffic laws, and thus make the laws more effective at guiding them away from the excesses of reckless thrill seeking. (The main alternative is to implement a thousand incremental measures to legislate for idiots by restricting everybody, which is the normal way of addressing irresponsible thrill seeking these days, but as with most subject areas it isn't guaranteed to be significantly more effective at improving safety and will hurt freedoms many times more).

Onto pedestrians, and I think the "war against speed" encourages a mentality that pedestrians are OK running out in front of cars because if they do, the onus is on the driver to slow down in time, and if the driver doesn't, then we chop another 10mph off the speed limit. We need to go back to emphasising that pedestrians and cyclists have to be considerate of drivers as well, it shouldn't be a "one way street".

Of course, as I've mentioned (controversially) in some threads, many of today's prevailing "road safety initiatives" are really about discouraging car use, which is addressed in sections 1-3. I would also like to mention that discouraging car use is likely to lead to increased frustration and road rage among car drivers, and that traffic calming doesn't improve safety by the amount that a simple reduction in speeds would, because you have to offset that against the increased hazards associated with the calming. Most of these car-deterrent measures probably do improve safety overall, but not by a large amount when the offsets are taken into account. And, as someone partially sighted, I can vouch for the fact that sometimes shared space and traffic calming actually makes walking more stressful (due to having to take more hazards into account and compensate more for being partially sighted), and as a pedestrian I don't want that for the sake of a 1% improvement in safety.

So, in summary, these are my proposals on how I think we should be aiming for a more sustainable, balanced transport system with some connected ideas on urban planning.

Sustainable Towns And Transport Proposals Part 1

Here I'm going to put my neck on the line and suggest a series of proposals that will be rather controversial, as many of them contradict conventional ways of thinking. But I strongly believe that they should be challenged, since although many of their aims are good, they seek to achieve said aims in unnecessarily negative ways.

[b]1. Encourage a more sustainable/balanced transport system by aiming to turn cars into more of a recreational thing, promoting the use of alternatives for point-to-point journeys.[/b]

This certainly goes against conventional thinking, but think about it, the advantages of private transport aren't the "getting from A to B" but mainly the spontaneity and the sense of freedom, and certain social benefits, such as taking people for trips out and going to visit people. The only reasons why a lot of people "need" to drive for work is because there aren't enough initiatives for alternatives, including working from home, pooling schemes (think of how workplaces could implement voluntary schemes similar to the school buses that are used in some secondary schools for instance, and the European Union's recent sustainability manifesto has various interesting ideas on how smaller-scale forms of public transport can be developed). Some people enjoy driving, but others find it a chore but feel that they "have" to drive. It surely, thus, makes sense to try to reduce overall car use by removing the drivers who find it a chore, reducing car use without negating its benefits, and thus making it better for everyone. This approach also encourages an emphasis on improving alternatives to the car, a positive approach aimed at giving a sustainable transport system at a high level.

At the same time we can promote initiatives for cleaner vehicles, while discouraging excessive consumption through taxes on fuel consumption, and compensate the traditionally disadvantaged groups, e.g. with fuel tax breaks for people registered as living in rural areas. I consider this to be compatible with the European Union's ambitious proposal of phasing out petrol-driven cars in cities by 2050.

In contrast, today's mainstream policies of traffic calming, reducing speed limits etc. will have the opposite effect- they will negate the main advantages of cars, phase out social-recreational car use, and leave us in a situation where people continue to drive but everybody sees it as a chore, and if they do achieve a sustainable, balanced transport system (which is by no means certain) it will be based on the lowest common denominator.

[b]2. Ideas for promoting walking and cycling.[/b]
I am in favour of segregated cycle facilities provided that they are thoughtfully laid out rather than just bunged in to be "seen to be doing something" (as haphazard segregated facilities don't really succeed in encouraging cycling and actually cause more accidents). Environmentalists usually dismiss this idea as "giving in to motorists" but it's not about that, it's about giving them an alternative. I agree with the Highway Code's stance that use of segregated cycle facilities should be encouoraged but not made compulsory, i.e. cyclists should still be allowed to use the roads if they wish. I also think dedicated cycle lanes, rather than shared cycle/pedestrian lanes, are more effective and less likely to lead to increases in accidents. At the same time, we should encourage more respect between drivers and cyclists who are using the roads together.

I am in favour of [i]selective[/i] use of "home zones" with low speed limits, cobbled streets etc, the aim being to create communal areas where people can congregate without being subjected to heavy traffic, play out in the streets etc. The idea is that, when combined with a network of relatively high-speed roads around towns, "through-traffic" is directed, through a carrot-and-stick mechanism, out of those areas and into the high-speed roads.

In contrast the wholesale application of low speed limits and traffic calming will largely lose that benefit as using major routes won't be significantly more attractive to drivers than taking shortcuts through "home zones". Instead, in my opinion, that agenda (such as the blanket 20mph limits in Norwich) is mainly about discouraging social-recreational car use, and will have numerous negative side-effects such as longer bus journeys and potential for increased traffic volumes (due to increased journey times).

The blog will get too long if I go onto sections 3 and 4 here, these will be urban planning and road safety respectively, and will be covered in the next blog.

The Desire For Extreme Weather

I've been seeing a few comments floating around recently about how we shouldn't hope for thunder and lightning because of the problems that it causes and that we shouldn't discuss looking for the "best" storm, instead using the traditional terminology of "worst", and also that we "need" rain but we don't "need" thunder and lightning.

Rather than going into an in-depth analysis, how about the following question: why don't people get pulled up for hoping for the "best" heatwave or prolonged dry spell? After all, the European heatwave of August 2003 caused well over 10,000 excess deaths, and the 1995 summer drought caused myriad problems as well, and we don't "need" heat and dryness in order to fulfil the mundane bare essentials of survival. Actually, let's take that further, we don't even "need" more than 1000 hours of sunshine per year in order to survive, using that rather political, economic and mundane definition of "need". I rather think it's because it's considered "normal" for people to want hot dry sunny weather, and "different" for people to want thunderstorms, and "normal" behaviour tends to be exempted from that kind of scrutiny. Also, I sometimes cynically detect hypocritical stances of "it's alright to hope for extreme weather but only as long as I want it".

True, most of the people wishing for heatwaves aren't after something as extreme as an August 2003 in France, but then again most of the people wishing for thunderstorms aren't after something as extreme as the catastrophe that recently hit Alabama. It's fair to say that there's a tradeoff between exciting weather and associated danger, and that some of us have higher thresholds than others, and that "careful what you're wishing for" may apply to some of those hoping for ultra-extreme events and not thinking of the magnitude of the consequences, but I tend to object to any significant advance on that.

Small Incremental Change Is Easier To Accept Than Large Changes All At Once

My piece of insight for the day: when it comes to the erosion of our freedoms, watch for the "small incremental measures add up" problem. When deciding to curb a freedom, no matter how small, before thinking, "well this loss of freedom is a small price to pay for 'doing something'", we need to think, "are our arguments for this measure case-specific, or can they be used as arguments for curbing most other freedoms?".

Why? Well, typically, we don't accept an "all in one go" curb on 100 activities to legislate for idiots, but we do accept a curb on any one of those activities because it seems like just a small price to pay, and then rinse and repeat individually for the other 99, thus unwittingly achieving the same result as an "all in one go" curb. It just takes longer to get there, that's all, but most of us fail to recognise this.

Arguments like "you don't need Freedom X to be able to enjoy yourself or survive, so what's wrong with banning X?", "X is non-essential so we have no right to complain about its disposal" and of course "prohibition is necessary because that's life" are common arguments with huge "slippery slope potential". The biggest one, though, is probably the rejection of alternatives because they aren't flawless (e.g. "you can't always tell if something's being abused") while not subjecting prohibition to the same "it has to be flawless" requirement on the basis that it's a "necessary evil". Since there rarely is a flawless way of dealing with misbehaviour, this double standard can be used as a basis for prohibiting almost anything. However, if we can show that a particular act of prohibition is probably less flawed than the alternatives, then OK, we do have a good case-specific argument that doesn't lend itself to a slippery slope of incremental curbs on our freedoms.