May 9 2006

 

Soft touch

Thanks to the wonders of the Freedom of Information Act I can bring you at least part of the story of Redpas Ltd.
Old Grumpy first came across this company in December 2004 when its request for grants came before the county council's Cabinet.
The report to Cabinet stated: "This company manufactures specialist foam toys and provides specialist printing and cutting services. The business has recently moved into one of the new County Council industrial units at Withybush."
You may gain the impression from this that here we had a well-established company about to relocate in Pembrokeshire but, when I checked on Companies House website, I found it had only been incorporated six months earlier and had never produced any accounts (still hasn't and probably never will (see below)).
What also caught my eye was that the managing director was call Ramjam Delelah Funkieboogaloo Smythe.
My first thought was to blame his parents for landing him with such an unpronounceable moniker, but I later learned that he had changed his name by deed poll to impress his girlfriend.
Anyway, Funkieboogaloo was offering 14 jobs and the cabinet agreed to a capital grant of £25,000 and a further £10,000 towards a £40,000 marketing campaign.
There was also mention in the report of Regional Selective Assistance (RSA) from the Welsh Assembly to help towards the total capital costs of £364,000.
Unfortunately, the next time I heard about Funkieboogaloo was when I saw his name in the Western Telegraph's public notices section under the heading "Redpas Ltd - in liquidation".
Recently, in order to find out how much of this grant money had been paid out, I made FoI requests to both the Welsh Assembly and the county council
The Assembly replied, promptly, that a grant of £100,000 had been agreed in July 2004 (just a month after the company was set up) and "A first grant instalment of £80,000 was paid to Redpas Limited on 7th February 2005, at which time the company had defrayed £308,000 of the capital cost and created 8 full-time jobs and 1 part-time job."
Unfortunately, the full-time jobs turned out to be temporary because WA also tell me: "Liquidators for Redpas Ltd were appointed on 9th February 2006. The Welsh Assembly Government immediately lodged a claim for the repayment of grant with the insolvency practitioner handling the case, PKF (UK) LLP, and currently awaits a final report to the creditors."
I still await a reply from the county council.
I will update you when it is to hand.
By the way, struggling door-to-door salesmen can find the names and addresses of Cabinet members on the county council's website.

 

Raise the drawbridge

Last Tuesday, I toddled along to Milford Haven Comp for the public meeting on the proposed changes to the NHS.
Entirely predictably; repeating the pattern set at all previous meetings, there was virtually unanimous rejection of the two options put forward by the Project Board.
Instead, those present voted en masse for a third option that would see services at Withybush upgraded.
The Project Board road show has since been to Pembroke and Neyland where it met an identical response.
Although Chris Martin and his fellow board members are trying to put a brave face on things, they must know that their plans are dead in the water, especially as our two local AMs have now nailed their colours firmly to the third-option mast.
What puzzles Old Grumpy is how these proposals got so far down the line without someone realising that the people of Pembrokeshire simply wouldn't accept them.
Which brings me on to my favourite subject: the lack of democracy inside Pembrokshire County Council (PCC).
As it happens, PCC has two representatives on the Local Health Board: Cllrs Sian James and David Wildman.
Now, you might ask, what say did you have in choosing these two representatives?
The answer: none.
That is because they were appointed by the Leader under the powers delegated to him by the council's constitution.
So how can they be said to represent your interests when neither you or your elected representative (unless you live in Cilgerran) had any input into their appointment?
Search me!
And what are their views on health matters?
No idea!
My attention has been drawn to a series of "stakeholder meetings", held at the National Botanic Gardens early in January, where these proposals were on the agenda.
Listed among those invited to attend are the Leader and Chief Executive of Pembrokeshire County Council and representatives Local Health Boards including, presumably, Cllrs James and Wildman.
Did any of them attend, and, if so, did they make it clear to the powers that be that these proposals wouldn't wash?
Or, having seen which way the wind is blowing at the latest series of public meetings, are they trying to elbow their way on to the bandwagon.
Mind you, had they gone to these stakeholder meetings they might have thought they had wandered into an existentialists convention because Old Grumpy reads that they were structured around "a series of conversations based around the following questions", three of which were:
1. What does your presence in this room denote in relation to the acute services challenges in the Mid and West region?
And if you thought that was too easy:
2. What is the significance of the chairs, those that are full and those that are empty?
And:
5. What are the bridges we are crossing on our journey and where are the drawbridges firmly pulled up?
Well, at least they now know the answer to this last one!

Anniversary Waltz

The biologist Lewis Walport claims that all scientific truth is counter-intuitive.
If common sense was all that was required to to unravel the secrets of the universe, he argues, there would be no place for geniuses like Newton, Darwin and Einstein.
And, as we know, for many centuries common sense led some extremely intelligent people to believe that the sun went round the earth.
Nor is it easy to see how common sense allows for electromagnetic waves; transmitted from many hundreds of miles away, to reappear as a moving picture on a screen in your living room.
Nowhere is common sense a poorer guide to the truth than in the field of mathematical probability - hence the popularity of lotteries and betting shops.
A few weeks ago I attended a ninetieth birthday party at Haverfordwest Cricket Club.
I well remember the date: 21 April, because it was Grumpette's birthday, too.
Also, that same day, the wife of Grumpette's nephew had given birth to a baby boy, and, of course a famous old lady in London was celebrating her 80th.
Naturally, the conversation turned to this series of "unusual" coincidences.
The first thing to say is that there is nothing even in the slightest unusual in any of this because, in a population of 60 million and only 365 available birthdays (leap years excluded), each of us is likely to share a birthday with 164,383 other UK citizens.
Anyway, I couldn't resist introducing what statisticians call the "birthday paradox" into to the conversation.
I was first made aware of this question, which asks how many people have to be in a room before there is a 50% chance of two of them sharing the same birthday, by my mathematically-minded daughter.
Now common sense tells you, quite rightly, that, to be absolutely 100% certain that two people share the same birthday, there need to be 366 people present.
Common sense then tells you that, as 50% is half of 100%, the answer to the "birthday paradox" must be 366/2.
"One-hundred-and-eighty three" says I.
"Wrong" says my daughter, "It's only 23".
"Rubbish!" says I, whereupon she took up pencil and paper and proved it.
At least I could follow her proof.
Well, the third time she took me through it, anyway.
Having children cleverer than yourself is all well and good, but it is not without its downside.
I will not bore you with the maths, but if you type "birthday paradox" into Google you will find the maths explained..
So, if you can persuade someone to bet you tenner that no two players in the starting line-up for a rugby match have the same birthday, you will, more often than not, be on a winner.
Much better odds than you get with Lotto.

Fiddling the figures

Last week, I wrote of my failed attempt to have the membership of overview and scrutiny committees increased from 12 to 13.
Naturally, the Pembrokeshire Independent Group voted down this proposal.
As I pointed out (Numbers' game), soon after the last election, when the Leader proposed an increase from 10-12, it was said that it "would strengthen the overview and scrutiny process within the authority", while my modest suggestion of an increase from 12-13 was rejected by IPG on the grounds that it would make the committees "unwieldy".
George Orwell would have understood!
As can be seen from the table below, because of the arcane arithmetic of the political balance rules, as well as strengthening the the overview and scrutiny committee process, the increase from 10 to 12 also strengthened the IPG's grip on these committees, whereas the increase from 12 to 13 would be to the benefit of the Labour Group.
Entirely coincidental, of course, that the Indies supported the one and not the other.

 PARTY (No of seats on council)  Percent of total (60)  No of seats out of 10  Rounded up/down  No of seats out of 12  Rounded up/down  No of seats out of 13  Rounded up/down
PIG (38)  63.333  6.33  6  7.59  8  8.23  8
 Lab (12)  20  2  2  2.4  2  2.6  3
 PC (5)  8.33  0.833  1  .999  1  1.08  1
 LD (3)  5  0.5  1  0.6  1  0.65  1
 Others (2)  3.33  0.33  0  0.39  0  0.43  0

I don't suppose for a moment that the Leader is familiar with the intricacies of these rules, but he knows a man who is.
It strikes Old Grumpy that any political system that freely allows the Leader to manipulate the constitution to his own party's advantage is little better than that of the average banana republic
As can be seen from the above table, even if the committees were increased from 12 to 13, Old Grumpy, as one of the two "others", still wouldn't qualify for a seat.
There is a basic unfairness here because the Independents have 33 seats on the four committees (for reasons that need not concern us here, they have nine on the education Committee) and, because of the rule that debars the nine Cabinet members from scrutiny committees, only 29 members who qualify to sit in them.
That means that four IPG members have two seats, while the two "others", four Labour members and one Plaid member have no seats at all.
As the role of scrutiny committees is to monitor the Executive (Cabinet), which is drawn wholly from the IPG, it seems somehow wrong in principle that they should be dominated by members from the same ruling group.

Twisted logic

There can be few more annoying things in this world than the way the telephone cord entwines around itself causing the instrument to fall off the table whenever you grab the the receiver in a hurry.
Being naturally curious, Old Grumpy was eager to seek an explanation for this strange phenomena and, until recently, I had thought Grumpette's left-handedness was the most likely cause.
Telephones are designed to be picked up in the left hand.
This is fine for most of us because that leaves the right hand free to jot down any notes.
Clearly, if you pick the phone up in the left hand and put it down with the left hand, no torsion is transferred to the cable.
However, if you transfer the telephone into the right hand in order to use a pen, and then replace it with the right hand you automatically put a twist in the flex (try it!).
My explanation seemed to fit all the empirical evidence but, while surfing the Web looking for something entirely unconnected (geddit?), I came across the following which would seem to indicate that my hypothesis is far and away too simplistic.

"If you've ever wondered how phone cords can get tangled, the paper "Tendril Perversion in Intrinsically Curved Rods" by McMillen and Goriely will help you.

T. McMillen and A. Goriely
Program in Applied Mathematics and Department of Mathematics, University of Arizona, Building #89, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA

Summary.

A straight elastic rod with intrinsic curvature under varying tension can undergo an instability and bifurcate to a filament made out of two helices with opposite handedness.
This inversion of handedness, known as perversion, appears in a wide range of biological and physical systems and is investigated here within the framework of thin elastic rods described by the static Kirchhoff equations.
In this context, a perversion is represented by a heteroclinic orbit joining asymptotically two fixed points representing helices with opposite torsion.
A center manifold reduction and a normal form transformation for a triple zero eigenvalue reduce the dynamics to a third-order reversible dynamical system
The analysis of this reduced system reveals that the heteroclinic connection representing the physical solution results from the collapse of pairs of symmetric homoclinic orbits.
1. Introduction
In nature, long thin filamentary structures are observed from the microscopic chains of molecules to the macroscopic braided magnetic flux tubes in solar flares.
The central problem in the study of filaments is to understand the possible changes of configurations and the dynamics involved in the changes.
Filaments at all sizes seem to follow universal configuration changes triggered by generic instabilities. "


Sorry, but I only had space to print the summary.
For the complete paper go to http://www.mathpuzzle.com/
Now, these boffins from the University of Arizona are no doubt extremely clever chaps, but on the Occam's Razor principle (the simpler of two explanations is usually the best) I have not yet abandoned my own theory.
What would be conclusive, I think, is to find out if households made up of all right-handed people also suffer tangled telephone cords.
Please e-mail your observations.

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