Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Thursday, 23 December 2010

This is my idea of heaven!

The finest single malt whisky there is! 

Been out for a really cool ride today

Another Merry Christmas

Came across this and couldn't resist posting it. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Monday, 20 December 2010

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

I love my friends

Join Sir Roger Moore and stop the foie gras industry

Sir Roger Moore has teamed up with PETA once again to produce his latest film outing – an exposá of the cruel treatment suffered by ducks and geese in the foie gras industry.

Further details can be found on the PETA web site.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Saturday, 11 December 2010

University tuition fees. Good or bad?

The issue of university tuition fees has hit the headlines recently, mainly for all the wrong reasons. We've seen the violent protests, and the appalling behaviour of some of the demonstrators who have defaced the Cenotaph and urinated on the statue of Winston Churchill.

However, ignoring the mindless anarchists who have hijacked the protests for their own senseless, pointless enjoyment, the serious point is that of the funding of university tuition fees.

As reported in the press, the current annual tuition fee of £3290 is about to be raised to £6000 from 2012, with an upper tier of £9000 if the university can ensure access for poorer students.

From the student's perspective, this is obviously not a welcome change. Deciding whether you want to go to university will be as much about whether you and your family can financially subsidise such a venture, as it will be about whether university is the right choice for you, whether you have selected the right university or the right course.

There is now a formidable financial disincentive. Being faced with a maximum final bill of £27000 is enough to put anyone off applying for a university place, even those from middle class backgrounds and who are genuinely talented and / or hard working. The deterrent for those from poorer backgrounds must be greater still.

Another point worth making is that it is not just the students that benefit from graduating. Graduates with degrees in sought after courses such as the nursing, social care and health care professions will obviously benefit society as a whole.

On the other hand, is it fair to ask every family - irrespective of whether they have children, irrespective of whether their own children are going to attend university and irrespective of how financially destitute they may be - to subsidise every university student. Is it fair to ask a hard working family living in hardship, working to minimum wage, to fund a university student who may then go on to work in the investment banking sector earning a six figure salary?

The repayment terms for paying back tuition fees are very lenient. Your first repayment will be due in the April after you leave your course (the start of the new financial year). You’ll repay nine per cent of your earnings over £15,000 - but you can repay more if you want to clear your loans faster. The more you earn, the quicker you repay the loan. So, someone earning £18,000 a year (the average starting salary for a graduate-level job) will have to pay back nine per cent of £3,000 (£18,000 minus £15,000). This works out at around £5.19 a week - Directgov

If a graduate is earning less than the average national salary, they will never be subject to repaying their tuition fees at all. This will apply to many graduates. So in reality, many graduates will never have to pay back a single penny of their tuition fees.

The issue of tuition fees has polarised the population, with both sides of the debate never seeing the issue through the eyes of the other. It has resulted in a polemical debate without any clear consensus. There is never going to be any clear winner from this issue, and until each side agrees to compromise and listen to the other, then so the hostilities will continue.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Now there's no excuse for taking the car to the shops!

Web site measurements that bounce to the exit

While using Google Analytics recently, two measurements of web site traffic analysis came to my attention for their significance. These are Bounce Rate and Exit Rate.

They are quite similar, and can be confused with each other. Also confusing is when and why
you should use each of them.

The Bounce Rate represents those web site visitors who visit a web site, but then navigate away to a different web site. Rather than stay on the web site and continue to navigate their way around the site by viewing other pages, they have "bounced" away and left the site without opening any other web pages from the web site.

The formula for calculating bounce rate is:

Bounce rate = total number of visits viewing one page only / total number of visits

The Exit Rate represents those web site visitors who visit a web site, but instead of immediately bouncing away to a different web site, will navigate through some pages of the web site before exiting the web site. What is important to measure with Exit Rate is the page the user was viewing when they exited the web site.

Here are examples of both Bounce Rate and Exit Rate that hopefully explain the differences between these two measurements. John - our imaginary user - navigates to a page on a web site that tells him all about a particular bicycle. He has arrived at the web site via a search engine result listing. Clicking on the top search result link opens the page related to the bicycle he is interested in. After looking at the web page on the bicycle, he then leaves the site without visiting any other web pages from the web site. In this scenario John is said to have bounced away from the web site.

In the second scenario, John arrives at the same web site via a search engine result listing for the same bicycle. John views the web page, but rather than leave the web site, he decides to look through the web site at some of the other bicycles. He navigates to the "Find Us" page to see where they are located, and then leaves the site. In this scenario John is said to have exited the web site from the "Find Us" page.

There are several ways a user can exit a web site:
  • Using the web browser's back button to return to a previous web page from another web site
  • Entering an address (or URL) into the web browser's address bar
  • Closing the tab or web browser

Why are Bounce Rate and Exit Rate important?
The Bounce Rate is useful for determining how your landing pages are performing as compared to visitor expectations. For example, a high Bounce Rate may indicate a problem with the web page. Is there a problem with the web page? Does it error, is it slow to load, is it confusing? Does the content of the web page match the search terms entered by the user in their search engine?

What is important is to look beyond the Bounce Rate number, and apply due diligence in determining the reason(s) behind the Bounce Rate. If you're running a paid search campaign for bicycles on a car web site, you're going to need to re-evaluate your marketing strategy. In this case, there may be nothing wrong with the web page at all. It's your web strategy that is at fault.

A high Exit Rate for a specific web page may indicate a problem with a particular process. For example, many web sites contain processes, where the user is navigated through a series of web pages. For example when you make an online purchase, you will probably be asked to enter your item information, address information and payment information. When a user is navigated through a series of web pages with an endpoint or goal (in this case making a purchase), they should continue until they have completed their transaction.

If users are exiting the process before they complete their transaction, then you would want to find out which web page in the process that is causing the problem. Once the user has started to process their payment, why are they exiting before they have completed making payment? You will need to determine which page(s) have the highest Exit Rate, and determine if there is a problem with those pages. You would naturally expect to have a high Exit Rate for the last page in the process. Once the user has paid for their goods or services, they may well leave the web site and go elsewhere.

Whenever you look at Bounce Rates and Exit Rates it's important to look beyond the number itself. List the pages with the highest rates, and methodically look through them to look for possible problems. It is beyond the scope of this article to describe what those solutions may be.

When used appropriately, Bounce Rate and Exit Rate can help you maximise your web traffic, helping you to drive increased traffic to your site.

Put the fun between your legs!

Tuition fees protest...Defacing the Cenotaph, urinating on Churchill... how young thugs at student protest broke every taboo

In a grotesque insult to those who championed the very freedoms which allowed them to stage their protest, a baying rabble of masked and hooded troublemakers turned a student demonstration into anarchy yesterday.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Keep calm!

Monday, 6 December 2010

Friday, 3 December 2010

Heroes - Richard Dawkins

The latest article in my Heroes series is going to focus on Richard Dawkins. He was born on March 26th 1941 and started his academic life as an ethologist and evolutionary biologist. He came to mainstream prominence (some might say notoriety) with the publication of his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. The book is a detailed discussion of the gene centred view of evolution.

Although the idea was not unique, the book must surely take the credit for popularising the idea and bringing it to mainstream attention. Up to that point, the popular view of evolution was at the level of the organism, or to use the term used by Dawkins in his book - the vehicle. Dawkins makes a clear distinction in his book between genes, and the organisms (or vehicles) which carry them. Bodies that carry genes (including humans) only do so to help genes propagate themselves. At the level of the gene, a body's only purpose is to transmit the gene into future vehicles. Therefore the gene must act selfishly to do so.

"Dawkins coined the term "selfish gene" as a way of expressing the gene-centred view of evolution as opposed to the view focused on the organism. From the gene-centred view follows that the more two individuals are genetically related, the more sense (at the level of the genes) it makes for them to behave selflessly. Therefore the concept is especially good at explaining many forms of altruism, regardless of a common misuse of the term along the lines of a selfishness gene." The Selfish Gene

Many critics of the book took the phrase literally, and accused Dawkins of condoning selfish behaviour at the level of the individual organism, including selfish behaviour at the level of a human being. This is a popular criticism, but it is entirely without basis or merit.

"Selfish", when applied to genes, doesn't mean "selfish" at all. It means, instead, an extremely important quality for which there is no good word in the English language: "the quality of being copied by a Darwinian selection process." This is a complicated mouthful. There ought to be a better, shorter word—but "selfish" isn't it." The Science of Selfishness

The first book by Richard Dawkins that I read was The Blind Watchmaker. Two books ignited my passion for science. One was The Dragons of Eden by Carl Sagan. I mentioned this in my Heroes article on him previously. When reading The Blind Watchmaker, I was fascinated by the ideas it contained. The title of the book comes from a reference made by William Paley in his book Natural Theology. Paley argues in his book that the complexity of living organisms is proof of the existence of a divine creator. He uses the watchmaker analogy to substantiate this claim.

The watchmaker analogy is a teleological argument for the existence of God. The argument states that the complexity of life, and of living organisms is analogous to the complexity of the internal workings of a watch. A watch is a complex piece of equipment containing many moving parts which must work together in intricate detail to serve its purpose of accurately telling the time. More importantly, a watch is designed by a watchmaker. Likewise, the complexity of living organisms must also have a designer. In this case the designer will be God.

In the book, Dawkins makes extensive reference to a computer model of artificial selection (which he originally developed himself on his Apple Mac). The program uses the concept of a "biomorph". This is a mathematical organism whose shape is defined by its "genome". The genome in this case is a vector of numerical values (don't be put off by the mathematics). The "genes" that define the "genome" are allowed to change over time within certain predefined boundaries. This process is akin to the way that evolution works in real life, and so gives a fascinating insight into the workings of evolution. In the book are depictions of how the biomorphs change (evolve) over time. Starting out with a fairly rudimentary biomorph, Dawkins supplies screen shots of the biomorph over time as it gradually evolves. It amply and very clearly demonstrates how complexity can arise from simplicity.

Dawkins goes on to give many explanations for living complexity, such as the evolution of sonar in bats. His explanations are so clear, so well constructed and written, that the arguments can be easily absorbed and understood. This is something I have admired throughout all of his books. He never assumes the reader is a scientist, nor does he assume the reader is a dolt. He assumes the reader is intelligent with a keenness to learn about the topic he is writing about. He never patronises the reader for not understanding some of the basics that a scientist may already know. He will devote pages, sometimes chapters, to describing and explaining any underpinning theory on which a later chapter may rely. It is a great skill to be able to disseminate and describe so ably to the lay reader some of the complex ideas in his books. He does so without ever losing track of the discussion, or losing the reader.

You cannot possibly write about Richard Dawkins without mentioning his atheism. He is well known for his criticism of creationism and intelligent design. He was one of the founders of the Bright movement (of which I am a proud member). In his 2006 book The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that "a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that religious faith is a delusion—a fixed false belief." As of January 2010, the English language version has sold more than two million copies and has been translated into 31 languages, making it his most popular book to date.

I read this book not long after it came out. It is the most comprehensive dismantling of religion I have ever come across. He uses his skill for well constructed debate and argument to powerful effect. Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that belief in a personal god qualifies as a delusion, which he defines as a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence. He is sympathetic to Robert Pirsig's statement in Lila that "when one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion."

Richard Dawkins is a great supporter of critical thinking, of rational based decision making where evidence is fundamental. This comes through strongly in his writing. He is not afraid to tackle a subject, even supposedly sacred ones or taboo ones such as religion. He argues from fact, from science, from evidence. So when Richard Dawkins sets his sights on his intended target, you know with certainly that his arguments will be robust and based on hard evidence and science.

I admire Dawkins's writing skills, the fact that he can make complex ideas understandable to the lay reader who is sufficiently motivated to make the effort to learn about the topic. I admire his tenacity and heretical values. He is a fierce opponent who is not afraid of polemic. He does not shy away from debate or challenging long established doctrines and beliefs. His weapons of choice when debating are evidence, critical thinking and rationalism. These are traits we should all employ when discussing and debating ideas and theories.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

1/18 Scale DeLorean Time Machine Hard Drives

Looking for that perfect gift idea for the Back to the Future fan in your life? How about a 1/18 stainless steel scale model of the DeLorean time machine with a 500GB hard drive stuffed up its trunk? 

Thanks to Gavin Jennings for supplying the link.

Click here for the full article