Category Archives: Uncategorized

Twitter

I’m on twitter now!

http://twitter.com/robin_bruce

I seem mostly to be writing about reconfigurable computing stuff. I’m going to leave the reporting on the end of the financial world stuff to others now, it’s no big secret now.

Credibility

A few people have engaged me recently on my fairly apocalyptic views regarding the economy. A common criticism I’m getting is that I couldn’t possibly know better than the people in Government, because being in Government gives Brown et al access to much better information and analysis than I see.  So I give you someone with more credibility: Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the IMF. Few people have been in a better position to learn about the state of the world economy and of the nature of the economic crisis than him. Since he resigned from the IMF he has been in a position to give his honest opinion on things. To see the opinions of someone with far greater credibility than me and a deeper understanding of the crisis, read this.

Physics

I had a genuinely incredible physics teacher when I was at high school. Rothwell Whitney Glen. If you grow up on the North side of the Clyde and you’ve got a name like Rothwell Whitney Glen, and if you’re not very tall, you grow up fairly hard.

He would angrily demand the best from all his pupils and he was well known as the strictest teacher in the school. He would occasionally be called on to go to other classes to restore order. R W Glen was the most feared teacher in the school, though he never once sent anyone to the school office or handed out punishment exercises in my time. He was also the most popular teacher among his pupils.

At a time when I was truanting, and at threat of being expelled, I would still show up at the school for most of his classes, even though I was being marked absent for the day. Because of him, and a few other teachers I managed to get together the qualifications to go to university. I studied Electrical Enginerering because my physics teaching had been so inspirational. Today I googled Mr Glen for the first time, and found that there are others that think the guy was as great as I did.

I hear that he has long been involved in setting the syllabus for physics in Scotland. I don’t know if that’s still true, but certainly when I look at the syllabus for electricty in Standard Grade physics, it contains all of things I would expect to see, circuit theory, the things that the future builders of this world need to know. Contrast this with the current, politicised, GCSE syllabus that unfortunate pupils in England must learn at the same age.

It’s an outrage.

Here are my favourite quotes from the current furore about this physics qualification:

The GCSE physics paper had replaced the testing of physics concepts with questions about the advantages and drawbacks of CCTV, mobile phones and the internet.

Boyle’s law, the use of a capacitor as a timing device and detailed consideration of the optics of the eye and the projector were also removed. The content that was added tended to be concerned with the social implications of technological applications, rather than physics concepts.
Update: I found this. The bold Rothwell himself writing about Physics teaching in Scotland!

Gilt Strike

Four months ago I warned that we were heading for a gilt strike and perhaps the printing of money.

Four months later we have the printing of money, and today we have the beginnings of the gilt strike, as indicated by this article:

For background on understanding the numbers, try this.

This is what I wrote back near the beginning of December:

Gordon Brown says that experts agree the “fiscal stimulus” plan is a good idea. They do not. This isn’t a complex idea, and basic logic shows it’s a stupid idea. There are two things wrong with it.

Firstly, the government has to borrow money from other nations to get the money for the “stimulus”. The government borrows money twice a week these days, a few billion each week. They do it on Thursdays, and sometimes on Tuesdays. They put their cap out, and foreign nations, companies, individuals and the National Savings come along and buy “gilts” (IOUs from the government). It’s all very interesting and you can actually see the results of the process in the reports here. The problem is that all the foreign nations and companies are finding themselves fairly short of cash these days, and it’s going to be a struggle to continue to borrow money at even last year’s rate. Worse, the government is now vastly increasing the amount of money it borrows via these auctions in order to pay for the “fiscal stimulus”. It makes it tremendously likely that the foreign nations will soon say “Well, actually we’re not going to lend you any more money, you can just pay us back the money you already owe us”. This event would be called a “gilt strike”. It last happened in 1976, and it was a very big deal. We had to go cap in hand to the International Monetary Fund, and it led to the famous Winter of Discontent. If the Gilt Strike happened (and I believe it shall) then we would struggle to pay off our debt to the other nations. At present some of the money we borrow goes to pay off the countries we already owe money to. If we couldn’t borrow money we would have two choices, both of them horrific. One would be to literally print money to pay off the debts. This would make the pound fall in value. Dramatically. Most likely it would result in the kind of hyper-inflationary spiral that has taken Zimbabwe from being one of the most developed nations in Africa to being a land of horrors. It was also the setup for the emergence of the Nazi party in Weimar Germany.

The other option is “Sovereign Default”. We basically just refuse to pay the debt. To put this into perspective, the last time the country defaulted on its sovereign debt was in the 14th Century, when Edward III defaulted on his debt to the Peruzzis of Florence. The resulting geopolitical fallout from that one ended in the Hundred Years’ War with France.

Assuming for a moment then that we could somehow borrow all of the money the government proposes to borrow without destroying our currency and our reputation in the eyes of the world, there remains another problem: The fiscal stimulus has the potential to twist our country out of all recognition with the perverse incentives it introduces. Remember always that every penny spent now has to be paid back in future, with interest, by those who work. The government is proposing taking money from people who work, and doing a range of stupid things with it. They want to give it to banks who have already shown they don’t know how to manage risk. They want to give it people who bought houses they can’t afford. They want to build bridges, roads and runways without planning them properly. They want to encourage people to buy things they can’t afford and don’t need. This money will need paid back in the future, that must be remembered. There will be hardworking people who can’t afford rent and necessities in the future, so that the irresponsible can pay mortgages and have luxuries now.

The government can’t seem to see past today’s headlines about mortgage availability, house prices and high street bankrupticies. These are nothing in comparison to the fallout the gilt strike and subsequent sovereign debt crisis will bring. This situation becomes increasingly likely every day that passes with the government borrowing more money than it can afford to pay back

I believe that our Prime Minister is deluding himself about the scale of the problem and about his ability to control it. Yesterday in the House of Commons he accidently said that he and his government had “saved the world”. I don’t think this is funny. I think it’s a Freudian slip that shows his true state of mind.

The Four Poster Bed

When I moved into the room I rent in my shared flat in London back in October, I looked at the four poster bed and I made myself a solemn promise that I would never use it as a glorified clothes horse. I promised myself.

I Take It All Back

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This’ll Fix Things

Often I think that we need a new political party founded on principles of rationalism. That thought grows louder when I see things like this:

Greedhead Carol Vorderman is to head a maths task force for David Cameron.

She got a third class degree in engineering, then never entered the field. She instead chose to dress up nice and flog unpayable debt to the vulnerable.  Truly the inspiration to lead our nation to another golden age of science and engineering.

Update: This just gets weirder.