Wednesday, 31st March, 2021 [Day 380]

After a beautiful day such as we had yesterday, today seemed to be equally as good. We know that this beautiful spell of weather may end fairly soon to give rise to neat Artic conditions if the weather forecasts for the forthcoming Easter weekend are to be believed. But Meg and I are enjoying the sunshine whilst we can and sauntered down to town a little later than usual as we felt some lassitude after the travelling of yesterday. Meg made straight for our usual park bench whilst I popped off to get the newspapers. When I got back, Meg was still alone but we were soon joined by our University of Birmingham friend and other close friends from church. The latter two we were particularly keen to bump into because we are booked in to quite a long Eastertide service on Saturday evening and whilst we received intimations that it would be long we are not quite sure what is the nature of the ceremonies are to be held. We will find out in a day or so in any case. I chatted away to my University of Birmingham friend about my excitement in bringing my newly acquired IBM ThinkPad into use. I have got some of my ‘easier’ statistical programs safely transferred into flash memory from whence they can be run easily (I am trying to keep quite a clear distinction between Windows programs and associated files on the hard disk of the Thinkpad whilst my own programs, Dos utilities and datafilee are kept in a portable flash memory)  As an aside, it is amazing how ridiculously cheap such flash memory is now becoming. Courtesy of Amazon, I have just purchased a little USB thumb-sized SanDisk flash memory drive for which I paid £15.00 for 128GB (actually 125,000 Mb) and, once you have done the maths, this works out at 12p per Mb. I can divulge that in my newly acquired (very old!) ThinkPad, I only have a 40Gb hard disk and about 23Gb was ‘free’ for my own uses. But my recently acquired flash memory  drive increases this memory by nearly 5½ times at what you must say is a minimal cost. SanDisk offers a five year warranty on this flash memory and I suppose you back up somehow on a really old-fashioned Hard Disk Drive (HDD) which might fail over time and not dramatically as is the case with flash memory. Just to conclude my little computing section for today – I was delighted to see that both MicroSoft Word (2007) edition and Excel (2007) edition had been left on the computer. I read in the file of my PhD recently re-discovered and was delighted to see that it read in perfectly with every bit of formatting (including line drawing and box graphics perfectly) In the late afternoon, I showed Meg a slide show of our original wedding photographs (black and white, which retain an original type of crispness as professional photographers know) and she managed to identify everyone on the phots from 52½ years ago which is astounding (not to say gratifying).

Tomorrow,if the weather continues to hold fair, it will be time for the lawns to receive their second ‘hair-cut’ of the season. I am always reminded that the very act of cutting releases a hormone which encourages grass to grow – in other words, once the cutting season starts, one has to carry on assiduously. There is still quite a lot of grass-cuttings lying around from the very first cut of the season last week but once the lawn has been cut (at the correct height this week) the mulching effect of the mower ought to dispose of this quite easily and the lawns will start to look tidy again. We are not the possessor of really fine lawn grasses and the like which can give a striped lawn effect – rather, we have a more ‘meadowy’ look which suits us fine.

The COVID-19 situation in France seems to be very rapidly worsening. President Macron is due to announce a range of sweeping measures including a night-time curfew. Major shops will be closed and the new measures will last for a month. President Macron is saying that ‘we will lose control if we do not act now‘ and France ‘is now facing a race against the clock‘ It looks as though medical facilities are on the brink of being will overwhelmed. Returning to the domestic front, there are several photos of absolutely shocking scenes of parks and public spaces having been extensively littered after the crowds had been out enjoying the sunshine yesterday. There are horrific scenes of parks in our major cities and whilst the British have never been very good on litter, the scenes confronting the authorities are horrifying. I am glad to say I haven’t seen any of that in our own local park but it is evident that the local police, if they had tried to intervene, would have been absolutely overwhelmed.



Continue Reading

Tuesday, 30th March, 2021 [Day 379]

Today was a day for which we have looked forward for a very long time i.e. the opportunity to see friends once the COVID-19 regulations are starting to ease off. Knowing that we were going to Oxfordshire later on in the morning, we did not rush around too much this morning but did go down in the car to collect our newspapers. We then carried on to Oxfordshire where we arrived within a minute of our appointed time. It turned out to be the most beautiful spring day it was possible to imagine and in fact the news was reported this evening that it had been the warmest March day since 1968 (53 years ago). We ate with our friends outside in their delightful garden and had a magnificent meal of salmon washed down with some excellent beer and wine. We had taken down a collection of wine and plants for our friends and they, in turn, collected some eggs from the hens that they keep so we can look forward to these. As you imagine when we had not seen each other for so long we talked over families, friends, ways of coping with the lockdown, quite a lot of politics and lots of other things that took our fancy. After a fantastic lunch and very happy few hours, we turned the car for home at arrived back at about 6.00pm.

Tonight, we are going to treat ourselves to some classic comedy programs. No doubt, to keep the nation’s spirits high, there is going to be a repeat of ‘Yes, Minister‘ and a classic ‘Fall and Die of Reginald Perrin‘  episode.  I think the Yes, Minister‘ episodes are particularly well crafted and there are some well-founded inside stories that most of these stories are elaborated around episodes that actually occurred. One of the ‘leakers’ was Harold Wilson’s secretary, Marcia Williams (later Lady Falkender) who met with the scriptwriters over a good lunch revealing to them some of the stories that were eventually to find their way into our our television screens.

My exploration of my recently acquired IBM ThinkPad is still proceeding apace. I am setting myself the mini-task to see how much of the accretions that computers appear to naturally acquire  such as log files and out-of-date remnants of installation routines can safely be deleted. There is always a slight reluctance to get rid of a program wholesale in case it takes out a vital component upon which another program relied. It is the case that some programs can be entwined with each ‘like a pig’s entrails’ so one has to proceed with a degreee of caution. However, with a playing-about type of machine like the, it doesn’t matter in the long run if something does go awry occasionally.

Today, whilst reminiscing with friends, we were almost inevitably starting to wonder what the shape of civil society will be once the worst ravages of the pandemic are over. Rather as disclosing agents are used in dentistry to reveal the existence of a film of plaque not immediately discernible to the human eye, so I wonder whether the COVID virus will have cruelly exposed some of the weakest points in our body politic. On the one hand, there will be individuals whose lives have been completely devoted by the virus. They might have lost relatives to it, they themselves might have suffered from the virus and may still be suffering the consequences of ‘long-COVID’ which seems to affect many organs within the body. And of course, the disruption to economic life will have been severe in the extreme for very many families. On the other hand there may be a small but significant part of the population who have quite a ‘good’ COVID. (I am reminded that in World War II there were some individuals who had quite a ‘good’ war if they happened to have a large garden so they could feed themselves, who might have been in a reserved occupation which meant that they didn’t have to join the front line of the armed services and who might have found some opportunities for self-enrichment via the ‘black market’) The argument for a good COVID runs like this. Some people might rather like the idea of only working a 2-3 working week at home (if you work 4 10-hour days you can have three ‘leisure’ days or at least non-working days). These ‘non-work days could be devoted to voluntary work, some opportunities for outdoor exercise for which one barely had the time in a past life – and, of course, some people’s social contacts have expanded enriching the lives of their friends and associates. So it makes one wonder whether in the ‘new’ normality, there might not quite a large percentage of the population who have no real desire to return to the ‘status quo ante‘ but are are actually quite happy with the opportunities that have been afforded to cut up one’s life space in a completely different way. Just a thought for the day?


Continue Reading

Monday, 29th March, 2021 [Day 378]

It was a little cloudy and overcast today but there is the promise of warmer weather to come. We had a slightly different routine today because we had decided to do some outline household jobs this morning and then take the car down to town to pick up the newspapers and also also to pop into Waitrose. There I had espied a basket full of spring bulbs and also a nice little container with a young rhubarb plants within it. The latter seems to be an odd present but I am sure that our friend in Oxfordshire can find a good use for it in a small corner of her vegetable garden (but rhubarb is best left for a year before pulling it in its second year) When we got the park, we bumped into several people who we had met in the past and who were vaguely looking out for us – being an hour later than normal might have helped us coincide with these folks in any case.The ‘upper’ seats were occupied so we had to contend with the lower seats that we used to occupy before we decided to migrate. And so, after several chats, we made for home and had a fairly light lunch as neither of us felt particularly hungry.

In the early afternoon, I had a ‘package’ delieverd two days earlier than I had been anticipating. Having dug around in my computer system, I had discovered some statistical software that I had written in my pre-Windows and pre-Mac days – evidently, I had no technology upon this would run but that had not troubled me over the years. However, the thought occurred to me that it might be possible to pick up a rather out-of-date laptop which would be sold ‘for a pittance’ on the grounds that nobody would want one in these internet days. Anyway, I trawled the web and thank that an IBM ThinkPad was on sale – the build quality of these was considered so good that it was rumoured that NASA had forbidden its employees to buy anything else but these. The keyboard alone is reckoned to be one of the finest ever made (by the cognoscenti) To cut a long story I put in a bid for this machine which was said to be in perfect working order save the battery needed replacing but the operating system was Windows XP which I always thought was particularly good and stable. My bid, which was less than 5% of its original selling price was, to my amazement, accepted and the machine loaded with Word and Excel and in in a brand new case arrived today.

Well, I have now had he chance for a little play and how pleased I am! To get me going I had indulged in a very good Windows XP book (subtitled ‘The Missing Manual – the book that should have been in the box‘) which I had possessed and disposed of before but at £3.48 for over 600 pages and incredibly well written, I was happy to replace this. Having had to update some details the BIOS (date and time settings), I fairly soon got going with the XP home page and of course all of the old memories come flooding back. I was delighted to navigate my way to the DOS prompt (which I need to recognise a pen drive and some USB-based flash memory) I had already ordered a 32GB little usb stubby flash memory unit which Amazon sold me for £6.18 which was not going to break the bank and almost acts as a small-scale external drive. Having got used to some basic navigation, I formatted my flash memory as FAT32 so it could be both read and written to in MAC and in IBM-PC machines. Then I located some of my statistical folders which were ridiculously small  by modern standards as the two folders with two quite large statistical programs within them were only about 3.5 Mb. I got these copied over to me flash memory and saw the programs running for the first time in about 20 years which was quite a pleasant surprise. As the programs run within a sort of DOS-box within Windows XP there is no Windows clutter and overload to cope with and they were blindingly fast. So a very pleasant first day of playing in my sand-pit! Whilst I was rummaging in a storage cupboard thinking that I may have some old 3½ floppies, I did discover some more software that I had written as well as several copies of my PhD that I stored on several floppies.When I wrote it in 1996-1997, I must have taken the view that hard disks were relatively unstable and so had stored it on floppy after floppy – that does explain why it does not seem in any places that I might expect in the legacy folders of my hard disk. No doubt, I will bore you with more of this in later blogs…

Continue Reading

Sunday, 28th March, 2021 [Day 377]

Today was the day in which the hour goes forward and we lose an hour of our beauty sleep. I had set the alarm to go off half and hour earlier than normal which is my normal Sunday morning pattern. Having got up, washed and dressed, I then had to turn my attention to putting forward all of the clocks and time pieces which we have in the house, of which there seem to be several. Thank goodness that things like radios and computers themselves often perform this updating without human intervention but there are still some appliances (e.g. like the clocks on our cooker and microwave) that do not and one has always to remember the instructions for that particular device. All of this got done in plenty of time and I popped down to collect the newspapers, treating myself to my weekly ration of Bach on the trusty old iPhone (used as an MP3 player) before settling down to the Andrew Marr show and breakfast upon our return. Then it was time for our daily walk to the park but there was a lot of rain ‘in the air’ as it were and we encountered  a fine drizzle. Once in the park, we met up with our University of Birmingham friend but the frequency of our visits will shortly be attenuated because shortly as a keen tennis player he will be involved in participating in his favourite sport now that participation in outdoor sports is permitted as from tomorrow. We had a very long conversation discussing our separate experiences in the use (and abuse) of statistics in the the classification of final degree results and, as we have come to expect, our philosophies of how this should best be done showed a remarkable degree of congruence. We left for home and met the husband of one of our church friends and this was the start of another long conversation, equally fascinating, on the way of life of the Anglo-Indian communities in India and Pakistan. I said I would dig out my copy of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children which explores these themes in a rich and fascinating detail. Eventually we got home and gratefully accepted some ‘Coq au vin’ which our son and daughter-in-law kindly donated to us as a Sunday lunch. After this fairly long and extensive morning, we were pleased to have a good after-lunch rest and a good read of the Sunday newspapers.

There is some more interesting COVID-19 news today. The most important headline is that, as a country, we have now inoculated some 30 million and achieved a rate of 57% (for the first jab) However, there is a big push now towards getting the second jab of the vaccine into the arms of people who received their first jab over two months ago. One only hopes that the logistics of this have been properly worked out so that when we turn up for our second jab in just over two weeks time, the supplies of vaccine are relatively forthcoming, Boris Johnson has also announced that he will be able to say more on the subject of the availability of foreign holidays on April 5th. If I had to make a guess at this stage, it would be that a trickle to flights to foreign destinations may be allowed from mid-August onwards. As Meg and I have a trip tentatively booked for Rome in late September, we are very cautiously optimistic but I still think the chances of this are only 50:50 at best.The most difficult factor in this whole equation is how far the third wave has extended in various continental countries and the rate of vaccination in this countries as well (very much behind us, of course). After tomorrow’s milestone for the gradual relaxation of the lockdown, the next critical date if going to be 12th April (only two weeks away now) This is the earliest date on which shops, hairdressers, gyms, nail salons, libraries, and outdoor attractions such as theme parks will be allowed to reopen. But no indoor mixing of different households will be allowed. We are due for a period of quite fine weather and one hopes that the population ‘en masse’ do not go mad and assume that all restrictions have now gone. There are some grounds for cautious optimism, however, as I understand that the majority of people in the country think a slow and gradual release of the lockdown is absolutely correct and although the libertarian wing of the Conservative party are pressing for much earlier end to the lockdown, it looks as though wiser counsels are prevailing. It is being said in government that we cannot have a ‘third’ lockdown and therefore it is critical that we get the current timetable absolutely correct. All that one can say is ‘So far, so good‘ and at this stage let us hope that we do not get derailed in the few weeks ahead.


Continue Reading

Saturday, 27th March, 2021 [Day 376]

After the beautiful spring-like weather of yesterday, today was both cloudier and cooler but we know we have better weather to come next week. We picked up our bulging ration of Saturday newspapers (replete with supplements) and paused by Waitrose to see what offerings they had so that we can buy some of their plants  in the next day or do to take down to Oxfordshire for our dinner date on Tuesday next. Our normal park benches were full by the time we got there so we started to unfold our little camping stool and intended to park Meg upon it – but when some of the occupants of the park benches saw our plight, we seemed to be offered a bench in no time at all. Once there, we were joined by our University of Birmingham friends and several other acquaintances stopped by a chat. Eventually we were joined by a chap we know quite well who hailed originally from Karachi and we walked some of the way home together. When the weather (and the lockdown) improves, we may well pop round to see him as we have an open invitation to partake in a nice cup of tea together. Half way up the hill, we paused to chat for another fellow church attender who we know by sight – and just then some of our church friends appeared so to finished up with a new recruit to the flower arrangers circle attached to the church. At the top of the hill, we bumped into neighbour who we know by sight and in transpires that she hails from Durban. I have seen this lady and her children on quite a few occasions because they live in big old semi in the main road and they used to have a Honda-CRV of exactly the same colour and model that we had intended to buy. So I often used to linger and have a good stare at it as there are not many Hondas around in Bromsgrove and I was trying to assess whether it was the right size (and height) for Meg to access. Our near neighbour recognised us by sight as we have walked up and down the road for a year now and my black Australian style bushman hat is quite distinctive. She was intrigued to know where we actually lived and as she wanted to get het quota of ‘exercise steps in’ (this indicates one’s generation and life-style) and so she walked round the corner to have a look at our residence. I say this because even long established residents of Bromsgrove are not aware of that particular bit of infill which is where we are located. When the weather and the lockdown further improves, we will probably extend an invite so that she and her children can have a tour of the garden and we would probably quite like exchanging some of our travel experiences. It seems extraordinary how our little circle of friends and acquaintances are slowly and gradually increasing – so much better than having one’s range of contacts decrease in these uncertain times.

This afternoon was a fairly quiet afternoon because we know that in the early evening we were going to attend our normal church service. We decided to get there five minutes earlier than our normal time because we had a wreath hanging about (literally!) since Christmas time and on the maker’s advice, we decided to place it on the grave of Tolkien’s mother who just happened to be interred in the little graveyard attached to the church. We introduced ourselves to our new parish priest and indicated that we were the people who had left him a bottle of damson gin last week. This was complete news to him so the bottle of gin must have stayed where we left it in the presbytery and then mysteriously disappeared – well, we all know that the presbyteries of Catholic Churches are dens of venality. There is plenty more where that came from so its disappearance is no problem for us.

Tonight, the clocks go forward and so we are losing an hour’s sleep – not that that will trouble me a great deal. We must say, though, that we are looking forward to next week when we may with some good weather be able to meet with friends in back gardens (ours or theirs) The COVID news is quite interesting.  Vaccinations are approaching the 30 million mark and both the infection rate and the deaths are still dropping. But, for once, Boris Johnson appears to be amazingly realistic about the way ahead. It is reported that he said there were still unanswered questions about the impact of a third coronavirus wave from Europe, as he said “bitter experience” had shown a wave like the one in Europe would hit the UK three weeks later. So I suspect that at the heart of government, there are some very real fears about new variants of COVID against which vaccines have a limited effect and a possible re-infection from the the rest of continental Europe.

Continue Reading

Friday, 26th March, 2021 [Day 375]

Today’s blog will be somewhat concerned with some technical computing issues for which I apologise in advance but I think you will understand why before I conclude. In the middle off the night (what other time is there?) I thought I would hunt around in a cupboard to see if I could locate any copies on 3½” diskettes of any of the suites of statistical software that I wrote in the 1990’s. Whilst looking for something else, I discovered one stray floppy disk with the interesting label which read ‘PhD_2.doc’ (Seems complete! Saved: 15/7/1999) This would have been saved approximately 2½ years after it was written but we are talking about things that were written about ¼ century before to put things in context and where the originals were presumed lost. My next thought was to see if I could locate a USB (external) disk drive which could read the file from my 3½” floppy and rummaging around underneath a bookcase, I did find the disk drive. I then saw if I could read the file into my present computer system (even though it was formatted as FAT32) and in this I was successful. So far, so good. Then of course problems start to mount up. My existing version of Word for the MAC refused to read a file composed under versions of Word far too long before for it to be able. But, the current version of Word did suggest I try an Apple program (TextEdit) which must have had the ability built into it to read earlier version of Word.doc documents. This I succeeded in doing more or less. The problem was that something had appeared to garble the program towards the very end when half of the references appear to be garbled in a strange way – characters were increased in font size to about 1000% or something mad. So I made a copy of the file I had and chopped out all of the extraneous bits that appeared garbled so I finished off with a file that was about 98% complete – good enough! Then my problems really seem to multiply. In my first theoretical chapter, I had made considerable use of tables constructed as boxes in which I was developed some typologies. The problem is that the lines of the boxes were written by a once-popular font called ‘MS LineDraw‘ The trouble is that Microsoft in its wisdom has decreed that using MS LineDraw is not the MicroSoft way of doing things – one is instructed only to use the ‘official’ Microsoft drawing packages and routines to draw boxes ‘ab initio‘ The trouble is that there might be thousands, not to say hundreds of thousands, of computer users all over the world who have considerable investment in DOS based programs in which box-drawing is still important. The arrogance of a large corporation like MicroSoft making users conform to ‘its’ way of doing things is mind-boggling. Now I suspected that copies of the MS LineDraw font are out there ‘in the wild’ as it were and I did manage to locate a copy of it and download it into the computer. But now although incorporated into my Fonts list, my current version of Word just refused to accept it. So I go on the web again to see if there are any other fonts functionally equivalent of MS LineDraw that I could use and, of course, I met a barrage of people with the same complaint but no apparent solution. However, one reply to a plaintiff plea for a solution suggested that an alternative font that might work is a Lotus font called ‘lotuslinedraw’. This I found and I did manage to incorporate it into my fonts and it worked (just about – only a regular font and not one that cab be emboldened but I am not complaining) So at the very end of the day, I managed to get a readable (and electronic) version of my PhD and as our University of Birmingham friend has a parallel interest in quality matters, this is something else I can press into his hand.

Whilst on the hunt for various past statistical programs, I did discover the text-based version of a DOS program called EzeStats which I had written as a self-tuition package for social science students to teach themselves/refresh some elementary (and not so elementary) statistical concepts and procedures. This I ran off as a couple of ‘landscape’ oriented pages (to simulate a computer screen) so I bound them together using my now familiar techniques to stapling and binding and pressed a copy of this into my friend’s hands as well. The whole software was actually included in another statistics textbook so it has seen the light of day but I must confess I haven’t bothered to look at it for many a long year. It is amazing to think about it of all the things you might have done in the past that now you have completely forgotten about and such is the case here!

Continue Reading

Thursday, 25th March, 2021 [Day 374]

Today’s date was one of those that sticks in one’s memory if only because it is my son’s birthday today. I remember the original day of his birth quite clearly as they happened to be short-staffed in St. Mary’s Maternity Hospital in Manchester when he was born and as they were short staffed that night I helped to deliver him. Today, though, was just a normal working day for him and so he opened his various cards and then set himself down at his computer to start his normal day’s work. We were a little delayed in our daily walk routine this morning as it is the day of our Waitrose delivery – this arrived within seconds of the end of our allocated time-slot (from 9-10) and then, of course, we have to put everything away (and wonder if we have missed out on any essentials). We knew that today having picked up our newspapers (well, The Guardian hadn’t been delivered to the newspaper so we had to pop into Waitrose for our copy) we needed to make a lightning visit to the High Street. In common with much of the population, an increasing number of everyday transactions are now done electronically but we still need a supply of cash to pay some of the people who do jobs for us. Accordingly we have to visit an ATM to replenish our cash reserves but this only happens about once a month or even less. I imagine a lot of the population are finding themselves in the same situation.

In the park, we were delighted to bump into various groups friends – church friends, park friends, friends of friends so we stood around for quite a long time chatting. One of the topics of conversation was the idea that not everybody has had an absolutely miserable lockdown. Whilst we all empathised  with the plight of those who had been stuck in a flat (particularly a high rise one), most of the park felt we had a pretty good ‘lockdown’ so far. For a start, the fact that we all had a daily walk to the park was one thing and the good company we enjoyed was another. I recall an article I had read in The Times (I think) that ‘whisper it softly’ some people are not at all displeased to be released from the treadmill of work as we used to experience it – now individuals have a judicious mix of work, exercise, voluntary work, some time helping family members and so on and they are not at all sure having experienced these new ways of filling one’s life-space, they are not at all sure that they want to go back to the way things were before the lockdown(s).

This afternoon was designated as the lawn cutting afternoon and I was pleased that the clouds had held off and the weather was fine for mowing.For the very first mow of the season, the mover has to be filled with oil (and petrol naturally), the oil filter cleaner has to be conditioned with engine oil and the height needs adjusting to the highest possible cut (to cope with the clumps of grass that has grown since last November) I was delighted that the mower actually started on only the second pull of the starting handle which bodes well for the season. Normally when I mow, I overlap the preceding row by about 1/3rd to 1/4th of the width but today, the grass was so thick that I overlapped the preceding row by about 3/4 of the width making the task so much longer. The cutting process seemed particularly arduous with the mower constantly threatening to ‘baulk’ (choke on the volume of grass) and then stop so I had to do a first cut using very small increments of grass. The first cut was both time consuming and energy-sapping so I treated myself to  a cup of tea and some chocolate biscuits before I ventured to cut the grass transversely rather than longtitudinally for its second cut. I thought I would examine the mower height again and found to my chagrin that the difficulties I had experienced in the last hour was because I had mistakenly set the mower on its lowest rather than its highest setting (normally, after the first cut I put it into the middle position of five where it stays for the rest of the season) With the height properly adjusted, I did the second cut in no time at all and then whizzed round our back lawn as well.

Before we set off for our walk this morning, I had received a very welcome telephone call from our close friends in Oxfordshire. Like us, they have been keeping an eye on both the calendar and also the weather forecast, so on the basis of this (and following the easing of some restrictions on meeting next Monday) we have a lunch date scheduled for next Tuesday. Naturally we are very much looking forward to this (and it is the first long run for our new car picked up last November as well).



Continue Reading

Wednesday, 24th March, 2021 [Day 373]

Today really did feel like the first day of spring. There was quite a lot of pale spring sunshine and many of the trees are starting to bud – and we notice that the flowering cherries and flowering hawthorne are already in full bloom. Having picked up our newspapers, we ambled towards the park where we soon met with several groups of acquaintances. As it happened, I had an old briefcase with me in which I had a couple of books I was loaning to my University of Birmingham friend. One of them was one of the finest statistics books in my collection – American in origin, it was very comprehensive (899 pages long) and explained the theory and practice of practically each statistical test you were ever likely to need and then illustrated each test with the output from the very popular MiniTab program. I found it brilliant when I used it regularly and just as brilliant now, even though I have not had occasion to consult it for years now.

As I do not have any hardware capable of running MsDOS programs (in which all of my statistical software was written), an idle thought occur to me whether there were any ancient DOS-only based laptops lying around in anybody’s bedroom cupboards gathering dust. If so, then I could give them a whirl to see if any of the suites of programs I wrote on them still work (just think of it as an old man’s whimsy) I found I could still buy very early laptops some of them with Windows on them but I suspect that there may be quite a few pre-Windows machines around if only I can locate them (and promise them a good home!) I put the call out to a couple of my former colleagues as I suspected that they had some old kit lying around but I forgot to mention that I only have Apple based technology in the house at the moment as I was happy to abandon Windows based routines for all time several years ago.

This afternoon, I popped out in the car to get some new petrol for the intended lawn mowing tomorrow (if the weather holds) I discovered that I still had the best part of a gallon of petrol hanging around since last autumn so I needed to decant it into a wide-necked jar, then a narrow-necked bottle and thence into the petrol tank of my present car. This took a certain amount of fiddling about as you can imagine before I actually hit the road. Then I measured out my remaining engine oil only to discover I did not quite have enough. So I hit the road again and popped into Halfords only to be faced with a bewildering variety of (expensive) motor oils. I managed to see an assistant to ask from some advice and she informed me who what I wanted was in the (small) gardening section. This allowed me to purchase exactly the right kind of oil that I wanted for the mower, incidentally at about one half of the price of the more expensive varieties destined for cars.

Tonight, it does appear that after a certain amount of jousting, the UK and the EU are taking about sensible means of working with each other to secure supplies of vaccine across the whole of European society. To the outside world, struggling to make do with the limited amount of vaccine made available to them, it must seem to be a terrible prospect that advanced, rich societies are fighting with each and threatening a trade war when the pandemic afflicts us all equally. Meanwhile,Boris Johnson seems to be saying rather odd things at the moment. For example, he told MPs at the 1922 Committee: “The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed my friends.” Having said that, he has immediately tried to row back on himself by saying that he regretted saying it and asking MP’s to forget what he had just said. But what so seems to odd about this remark is that the most successful vaccine by numbers inoculated, the AstraZeneca virus will be available on a non-profit basis ‘in perpetuity’ to low- and middle-income countries in the developing world. And the cost per dose does not immediate seem to indicate profit-making as the cost per dose seems to be about £3 which seems pretty good value for money.

Boris Johnson was appearing before a group of his own MP’s this evening and several little ‘gems’ emerged. First, it looks as though France might be placed on a ‘red list’ all but ruling out holidays there this summer. Secondly, it may well be that pubs will require proof of vaccination or a recent test before they will serve customers when they finally do re-open. Finally, all care staff in residential homes will be required to have had a vaccination – what this should be considered problematic I do not know as tin the past staff had to show that they had had TB and hepatitis vaccinations before they were allowed anywhere near patients!


Continue Reading

Tuesday, 23rd March, 2021 [Day 372]

Today, we were a little delayed because I had promised our University of Birmingham friend that I would scan a copy of my 1990 paper to which I referred yesterday so he could have his own copy of it. The scanner failed to work and I assumed that it had lost its drivers after the recent MacOS update so subsequently went on the web to attempt to update these. In the event, I didn’t need to because of course it is  obvious to me (now!) that the scanning sofware cannot find the scanner if you have neglected to attach it onto the USB bus (which I had!) Working against the clock, I discovered that I had missed out p. 311 (on a series numbered 309-317 (numbering derived from its position as an Appendix in a re-submitted Ba(Hons) In Public Administration) so I resolved to sort out the problem later on when I got home. When ‘later’ came, I could not find the original of p.311 but I did have two different pages numbered 314. So the error had been dormant in the original document where it had remained undiscovered for some 31 years but at least I managed to get it sorted out in so I can give my friend a copy.

Today was a mild, not quite spring-like day so we popped straight into the park so that Meg could make contact with her park acquaintances whilst I shot off on my own to collect the daily ration of newspapers. We had the normal jolly chat over a range of issues but my University of Birmingham friend wondered, after I had given him an updated copy of one of my statistical papers, whether I still had the original data set so that he could do some analysis of his own – regrettably, I had to tell him that after 31 years the data file (which would have been fed into a statistical program that we both used called Minitab) was not readily to hand! I suggested that we might make upside randomised figures but I am not sure whether even this would fit the bill.

Today is the on year to the date since the first lockdown was announced. The media has been full of ‘one year anniversary’ film clips of which the media is so fond as it gives the opportunity to recycle a lot of the footage that they have accumulated during the year. But to try to ensure that there is no celebratory atmosphere, Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer has warned of the potential dangers that are still to be faced. In his view, there will certainly be a new surge of infections and of course the interesting question is to what extent a more or less fully vaccinated population can withstand the onslaught from a resurgence of the virus which appears to be rampaging across much of Europe at the moment. A second major problem, related to the first, is the emergence of new variants of the virus which may well evade all of the efforts of the various vaccines to combat it. Of course, it is possible to ‘fine tune’ our existing vaccines to cope with these new variants (just like the ‘flu jobs, reformulated every year) but by the time they are developed, tested and ready for injection yet more variants could have arisen. And, of course, there may well be problems in the supply lines of vaccine which can cause some of the hiccups that we are experiencing at the moment. And, for good measure, he also highlighted the ‘very big job of work’ in preventing ‘lifelong’ problems related to the effect of lockdowns, such as increased deprivation and non-COVID health issues.

Believe it or not, I am not an avid follower of football but there was an obituary in The Times the other day recalling the life of a famous Leeds United footballer, Peter Lorimer. He was part of the formidable Leeds United team in late 60’s whose half-back line (Jack Charlton, Johnny Giles and Billy Bremner) were reputed to be one of the most formidable defences in the country. The point about Peter Lorimer is that he was reputed to have had the hardest shot in football and to test this out, Leeds United organised some trials so his formidable shot could be measured and it exceeded 100mph. Lorimer wss often deputed to take penalties for Leeds and when you work out that the average goalkeeper had ¼ second to respond to the penalty kick, it is easy to see why. I wonder, by the way, if any statistics were ever collected of how penalties that Peter Lorimer took were actually saved?

Our vaccination total has now exceeded 28.3 million. Meg and I are counting off the days until we receive our second dose of the jab which ought to further enhance our immune status. We have another two and half weeks to wait until our appointed time comes and in the meantime, of course, we have a lifting of some of the restrictions on the current lockdown to which to look forward and this will be on Monday next, 29th March.

Continue Reading

Monday, 22nd March, 2021 [Day 371]

Today is evidently the start of a new week and it means that there is exactly one week to go before some of the restrictions under the current lockdown are to be eased. From next Monday, it will be possible for six people or two households to get on with each other in an open space such as a garden. So we are hopeful that the weather will turn fine and sunny next week so that we can meet up with each other for extended chats not just on the pavement as we pass. We picked up our newspapers as per normal but on the way met with our University of Birmingham friend so we all walked to the park together. Once there, there was an aggregation (I hesitate to call it a crowd) of park regulars so we split into little groups discussing this and that. Although the morning started off quite fine, there seems to be a tendency for the sky to cloud over and it starts to get chillier rather than warmer as the morning wears on. At a certain point, we all realise we are getting a little cold so we all continue our journeys or strike for home. Actually, I owe our University of Birmingham friend a favour because he unintentionally did us a good turn. I had let him have sight of a paper I had written over twenty years ago which was unpublished but was quite an important piece of work because it analysed statistically the relationship between GCE O-levels, A-levels and final degree results across a couple of Business Studies degrees at the University of Winchester (and threw in some comparators from an earlier paper with a similar type of analysis done at Leicester Polytechnic some eleven years before that) Armed with the title of the paper, I used the Apple app ‘Finder‘ and located the paper in an archived folder which dated from a computer that I used to own with the brand name of Evesham. Having found the paper, written as a MicroSoft Word .doc document, my version of Word would not open it as it regarded it as too old and out-of-date! Fortunately, I have on my system a small, light ‘clone’ of Word which retains 90% of the functionality for about 10% of the size (not for nothing are Microsoft products known as ‘bloatware’) This opened it OK but could not cope with some of the clipart I used to decorate the title page but the rest of the text seemed to be there OK so I was delighted to be able to hand over a copy of the paper to our friend. At the same time, I realised where some of my archive material was that I had forgotten all about, so hence the gratitude to my friend.

In the late afternoon, after a read and a snooze, the weather seemed quite delightfully sunny so I decided to keep up a good habit and give the car a wash. The more regularly I do this, the easier the task seems to become and of course there is no ingrained dirt to have to shift. Regular readers of this blog will be relieved to know that Miggles, the local good-looking cat that has semi-adopted us turned up at the start of the proceedings to make sure that I was doing the job correctly. He then wandered off, bored with watching me and went in pursuit of mice, birds or whatever to stalk. Being unsuccessful in this venture, Miggles strode into view as I was finishing off the car to give it my efforts the nod of approval and check that I had washed the car to the relevant standard.

We seem to be in a strange place viv-a-vis the. vaccines saga. The UK is progressing very well with up to 30 million now vaccinated (which is over 50%) But the EU seems to be threatening to withhold supplies of the AstraZeneca virus manufactured in continental Europe  despite the complexity and interconnectedness of the supply chains. At the same time, there is a great loss of confidence in this vaccine after a degree of ‘bad mouthing’ by European leaders which has resulted in stocks of this vaccine not being used as some members of the European public do not wish to have this particular inoculation. But the figures show that some 12% of Europeans have received their first job whereas the comparable figure for the UK (when the figures were collected) was over three times this proportion at 40%. In the meanwhile, the Americans have concluded a large study amongst 32,000 volunteers which shows over 70% efficacy in preventing an infection in the first place and with an astonishing 100% absence of a severe form COVID once inoculated. Another very large cloud on the horizon is the increasing third wave across many European societies which may well ‘wash over’ these shores in the autumn and is rapidly putting paid to any prospects of a holiday in parts of continental Europe.

Continue Reading