damerell: (trains)
2017-05-23 06:21 pm

Costs of rail privatisation

I've been meaning to write this for a while, but I just got blocked on Twitter by the editor of Rail magazine for pointing it out (!), so now seems like a good time. If there is some reason I am laughably wrong, now's the time to point it out.

Fairly often, when renationalisation of the railways is discussed, a neat little pie chart turns up showing some small percentage of income goes on TOC profits (here is an example: http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/static/images/structure/css/fact-about-fare-2014.jpg - this one discusses fare income, but as far as I can make out from http://www.orr.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/24149/uk-rail-industry-financial-information-2015-16.pdf today's figure of 1.9% does reflect the distribution of all income. I don't know why Network Rail can't replace their pie chart with one based on more recent figures...)

As far as I know this is true, but what pops up next is the assertion that only that small percentage is to be saved by renationalising the railways. That seems to be totally untrue, as a bit of a peek at the other slices of the pie chart will reveal.

First of all, there's a much bigger chunk (11% in 2014, 7% now) marked "leasing trains". Do the rolling stock companies (ROSCOs), which were of course created out of British Rail, make a profit? You bet they do. Their surplus is about 20%, so there's another 1.4% right there.

Secondly, there's "interest payments and other costs". There was a bit here about how the TOCs are probably hiding some profits via (say) borrowing money from associated companies in countries with less corporation tax, but as far as I can make out all the interest payments are made by Network Rail. There is a pretence that Network Rail is not just a bit of the government, and that compels it to borrow money at a higher interest rate than the government would.

(However, the ROSCOs may well be posting an artificially low surplus, either through such tax avoidance or via the private equity practice of buying an asset with a loan secured on that asset. That would represent yet more profit that doesn't show up on the pie chart.)

Then we have staffing costs (25% of the pie chart). Fragmenting the railway has added untold layers of bureaucracy; the ROSCOs have staff to deal with leasing the trains to the TOCs and the TOCs have staff to deal with leasing the trains from the ROSCOs. The TOCs have staff to deal with Network Rail and Network Rail has staff to deal with the TOCs - a lot, because a train cannot simply be delayed now without a careful apportioning of the costs arising from that delay. A vast management tree is essentially duplicated across 20-odd TOCs (yes, it would be a bit bigger in a company the size of BR, but there wouldn't be 20 of it). It's hard to obtain any decent estimate of this (I would be intrigued to see figures on the relative number of officebound staff employed by BR and the current system, but I suspect they are well hidden) but it's hard to suppose it's too small a proportion of that 25% to show up.

So I think two things are true; the proportion of the railways' income that is lost to the structures of privatisation certainly is not 1.9% - it must be at least as high as 3.3% if we add the ROSCOs' profits in - and there is every reason to suppose it is considerably higher, even if it is hard to know exactly how much.
damerell: NetHack. (Default)
2017-05-17 11:07 pm

Worldcon travel

I've finally got around to looking at travel for the Worldcon. What I wrote here before is moot because it turns out the Travem√ľnde-Helsinki ferry is much cheaper than I expected (you can get a berth in a cabin with 3 strangers), so I'm taking that.
damerell: (dating)
2017-05-06 04:01 am

(no subject)

This seems to be a theme at the moment, so here's H. Rider Haggard, "Dawn", 1884:

"But his glance did not stop at the raven, for a yard or two beyond it he caught sight of a white skirt, and his eyes, travelling upwards, saw first a rounded waist, and then a bust and pair of shoulders such as few women can boast, and at last, another pair of eyes; and he then and there fell utterly and irretrievably in love."

All else aside, is her face just an otherwise featureless mask, or do her eyes protrude on stalks from her neck-stump? That would put me off falling utterly and irretrievably in love at first sight.

(Also, I had to read it twice to realise it's "another pair of eyes" in addition to his well-travelled ones, not in addition to a spare pair she keeps on her shoulders or something, but I think that's just me.)
damerell: NetHack. (Default)
2017-05-01 05:00 pm

(no subject)

I've recently read Sam Stone's _Zombies at Tiffany's_, which is basically a harmless light [1] novella with zombies, a certain amount of steampunk to provide the heroine with a portable machinegun for zombie murder, and any number of anachronisms in speech, set during the American Civil War. I did wonder about this, though:

"Martin had discovered a way to boil a kettle by generating power from steam. He used a mini boiler fire in which he burned a piece of coal. This created steam that in turn ran a small engine, 'not unlike trains', Martin had explained, and it warmed the water."

Martin is certainly ingenious but I think there may be some optimisation work possible.

[1] Very light; "now they discover the secret hidden airship chamber on the top floor of Tiffany's and they escape" light, a plot twist worth of Fanthorpe in a hurry.
damerell: NetHack. (normal)
2017-04-26 03:49 pm

Robin Hobb

I've been chewing through quite a lot of Robin Hobb lately, and have come to the Farseer trilogy, which was her first. I was pretty amused when I read this:

"A very faint scent of her clung to my shirt from her brief embrace, and I agonised over whether to wear the shirt that day, to carry the scent with me, or to set it aside in my clothing chest, to preserve it."

I laughed because in the last chapter a weasel vomited on his shirt. (This is a bit unfair - on careful review, he does spend a sentence changing clothes "hastily", but wouldn't he still be a bit weasel-vomity?)

More seriously, it's not as good as her other stuff. The youngest prince forms a murderous plot, they thwart it, inexplicably they decide he's learned his lesson, rinse and repeat. The protagonist has trained as an assassin, so after a few rounds of this, really, you had one job, Mr Protag. Kindly stab him up so we can get on with the zombies^W Forged ones.

I have not agreed to the new Livejournal TOS (they do it with javascript) but I suspect this is my last crosspost.
damerell: NetHack. (normal)
2017-03-15 05:02 pm


Dear Lazyweb, if you live in Cambridge and go to an optician, who is it and are they annoying? Thanks.
damerell: (music)
2016-11-24 08:09 pm

It's my birthday, precious

It's my birthday on Sunday and I'll be in London. I'm going to see _Pretentious Moi?_ [1] at Nambucca in London on Saturday and in the Pembury Tavern in Hackney from about 3pm on Sunday.

[1] Some of their stuff is on Youtube, Soundclod, etc. They're "modern trad", if one can use such an expression.
damerell: (POWDER)
2016-11-22 02:28 pm

I fought the Crawl, part the third

I realise about three of you care about Crawl victory posts, so I'm going to set up a custom fiends group to filter these. Let me know if you'd like to be on it.

Demigod fighter )
damerell: (POWDER)
2016-09-30 08:45 pm

I fought the Crawl, redux

Hooray, won again! 2 from 39 games. Whoops, knew I'd forgotten something )
damerell: (POWDER)
2016-08-27 04:52 pm

So I fought the Crawl

I've been playing Crawl recently, which is a roguelike - like NetHack but worse.
And I won... )
damerell: NetHack. (Default)
2015-12-03 04:21 pm

David tries to break The Martian

I thought I'd found a bug in The Martian but [personal profile] davidgillon pointed out I hadn't. This is preserved for curiosity's sake.

Spoilers for the book, and probably for the movie )
damerell: NetHack. (Default)
2015-11-12 05:36 pm

It's my birthday!

I will be 0x28 years old on the 27th November. Queen Edith (Cambridge pub) from about 19:30, anyone? Be there or be elsewhere.
damerell: (food)
2015-09-28 06:42 pm

Coffee machine (thrilling stuff, I know)

We have a coffee machine at work which produces cheap and nasty coffee, which at least isn't expensive and nasty, but compares badly with the cafe which does cheap and nice coffee but closes at 4 pm.

The machine has a light sensor to see if you've put a mug in it, but I can't actually put my mug in in a position that trips the sensor. There's an obvious failure mode in that I forget to put my hand over the sensor and a paper cup drops down.

A less obvious mode is that I put my hand over the sensor but don't put my mug in. :-(
damerell: NetHack. (Default)
2015-06-18 07:52 pm

An open letter to spiders

Dear spiders,

I fear I must refer you to the stipulations of our de facto treaty. I, the human party, have refrained from killing you or purposefully disturbing your webs, even if you are creepy and have too many legs. However, given the recent intrusion by fat black houseflies, I should like to enquire as to why you are not carrying out your obligations under the treaty by catching and eating them.


damerell: NetHack. (normal)
2015-05-29 01:25 am

San Andreas

We just got back from _San Andreas_, which is perfectly satisfactory if you were expecting a cheesy disaster movie with lavish effects, which I was.


This might be a spoiler for the romantic subplot if you have never in your entire life read TV Tropes )
damerell: NetHack. (Default)
2015-05-07 02:17 pm

On a cusp of indecision

So, I haven't voted yet, having three options that are each, in their own way, plausible. I will vote, I always do (although I think the "if you don't vote you can't complain" argument is entirely fatuous), but one of two of these three options is going to win anyway - if I can't decide between them, there isn't an argument for picking at random just to avoid getting the stinking Tory or the 'kipper.

I might vote for Julian Huppert, the incumbent, a Lib Dem; for Daniel Zeichner, Labour, who also might win; for Rupert Read, a Green.

Considered as individuals, Huppert is comfortably ahead: he's an excellent constituency MP, he's been about as bolshie as a Lib Dem MP in this dire coalition can be, he actually understands science, he's opposed to the erosion of civil liberties, he asks serious questions in Parliament and doesn't behave like a chimpanzee, he's one of the few candidates who won't hide if I wear an Open Rights Group t-shirt and assume an earnest expression. Plus, he rides a bicycle (and doesn't wear a magic plastic hat).

Zeichner is a bit of a cipher but basically appears to toe the party line.

Read has a habit of coming out with actively awful things.

Considered in terms of the overall election outcome, Zeichner is ahead. He'd, obviously, support Miliband as PM, and Miliband's not a stinking Tory.

Read won't win so voting for him is somewhere between Zeichner and Huppert.

Huppert's behind, since he might support Cameron as PM and almost certainly would not support Miliband. Ironically, it's a Lib Dem leaflet (a false-flag blue one for Tory voters) that put me on this cusp of indecision rather than voting for Huppert because he's personally good.

Considered in terms of parties, I prefer the Green Party - indeed, I'm _in_ the Green Party - and thanks to our insane electoral system, to get a Green MP in the future we probably have to vote for one now just to signal to each other that we exist.

The Lib Dems are generally OK, notwithstanding the Faustian pact with the Tories; strong on civil liberties, and also want to change the insane electoral system.

Labour are... well, New Labour were practically crypto-Thatcherites and Old Labour aren't on the ballot. I don't expect them to be any better on civil liberties, and in the runup to the election they've been coming out with a lot of sub-Tory crap about immigration and "hard-working families". They're bottom of this list - they're better than the Tories, but that's a pretty low bar.

Maybe I'll take a d12 into the booth... and if you can get to it before I'm there, I'm actively soliciting anything that might tip the balance.
damerell: NetHack. (Default)
2015-04-11 04:19 am

Obligatory Hugo post

The rules permitted a contestant to submit any number of entries as long as each was written on a Skyway Soap wrapper or reasonable facsimile.

I considered photographing one and turning out facsimiles by the gross, but Dad advised me not to. "It is within the rules, Kip, but I've never yet known a skunk to be welcome at a picnic."

-- Robert A. Heinlein, "Have Space Suit - Will Travel", 1958

I've done some brief analysis on the Puppy slates. The Rabid Puppies, who enjoyed more success, can come first.

Their slate contains 65 people's names. Of those names, 10 belong to women. This is fully twice the number of those names that are "John C Wright". It even exceeds the 7 names associated with Castalia House, a publisher with an impressive roster of ten authors (one of whom is female and has an equally impressive catalogue of one book from them, not on the slate), and which coincidentally happens to be run by the organiser of the slate, universal bigot Theodore Beale.

The Sad Puppies manage 52 names. A whole 9 of those are women, with women allowed nominations in a full one (short story) of the four fiction categories that come first on the Hugo list. That half of humanity has done well, also, to garner a full three times the nominations allocated to Castalia House. It only just fails to be twice the 5 nominations for men for work for Baen Books, who - oh, happy chance - publish the organiser of this slate, Brad Torgerson.

I mention this not because you will be surprised, but because Torgerson has been making some soothing noises about how they had all kinds of diverse people on the ballot, etc, and chose purely on the basis of merit. I mention that not because you will be surprised that he is lying, but because it might be useful to have an exact count that demonstrates that's a giant porkie.
damerell: NetHack. (Default)
2015-03-07 05:32 pm

(no subject)

I wrote a short SF story: http://archiveofourown.org/works/3498752

You might like it; you might also think it's complete bobbins. Who knows?
damerell: NetHack. (normal)
2015-02-05 06:03 pm

Letter meme

Don't ask me for a letter, my alphabet has crashed. But here we go.

Cut for uncontrollable verbosity )