Sunday, 19 November 2017

taxis, uber, compensation and evaluation

Taxi drivers may have let service levels decline. Certainly, phoning for a taxi -- and it arriving as expected -- caused several letters to the paper. Rather, calling for a taxi and it *not* arriving as expected caused letters of complaint.

Then Uber arrived. Calling for, watching it arrive, getting in the uber -- and paying for the ride -- became much simpler. There may have been some service level complaints. Rather than having them glossed over by a taxi company, complaints were glossed over by the Uber multinational.

So what has changed?

Taxi drivers are licensed. Ultimately, the government is responsible for overall management of the taxi industry. Uber drivers are employed. Ultimately, Uber is responsible for overall management of the Uber industry. This change has been largely ignored by the public.

The major change -- amongst those who are affected -- is that there is new competition in the "taxi" industry. Uber has taken market share from traditional taxis. Owners of "taxi plates" -- essentially, the licence to operate as a taxi -- find that their taxi plates are suddenly worth a lot less.

The government has destroyed our industry, say the taxi plate owners. They allowed unregulated competition into our carefully regulated industry, they say. We want compensation for loss of value of our taxi plates, they say.

Well, fair enough, I say.

If you have bought yourself a taxi plate. Invested in a well maintained quality car. Learnt to drive well, speak English, navigate the streets. If you have tried your best to provide an efficient and perhaps friendly taxi service -- and have been spending hours a day *being* a taxi driver. If you are a self-employed small business taxi driver -- you have all my sympathy. I support your call for compensation.

If you own a taxi plate. Or several. Rent them out by the hour to other people who actually drive. Never bother to check the quality of service other than demanding to get your cut of fares on time. Then too bad. You made an investment. It was a poor investment. I hope that some of your other investments were more successful. Don't expect government compensation for the investment that you allowed to fail.

If you run a taxi call centre. Find that the public prefer the Uber model. Too bad. You failed to read the future of the market. You lose to another multinational. It was your choice to invest in this business, in this country. There is no need for the government of this country to compensate you for your poor business strategy.

In summary: Yes, offer compensation to taxi plate owners who are actual owner-operators. Not at some magic "market price" for taxi plates. Perhaps enough to allow them to become Uber drivers. People who are simply investors in the taxi industry? Sorry, that was a poor investment. No compensation.


How do we know that a taxi driver or Uber driver is "good"?

Years ago I was taking a taxi for work purposes. The driver was friendly, talkative. Mostly I ignored him, I was thinking about work. He mentioned that he had nominated for some some form of good driver award. To be evaluated by customer nominations. The driver offered me a nomination form, I waved it away. My mind was on work, not on the quality of the driver.

The driver gave me my receipt, the one used to claim the cost of the ride back from my employer. I shoved it in my pocket. When I later looked at it the driver had written "Fuck off" on the card. And no, that was not a claimable expense.

So a driver wants to be nominated as a "good" driver. If you do not nominate him as "good" -- then he will be deliberately "bad". This driver was clearly a bad driver. All he cared about was his own chance at winning a prize. I hope that he failed. Miserably.

Uber -- as I understand it -- has evaluations of both driver-by-passenger and passenger-by-driver. So there's a two-way threat: give me a good score or I will give you a bad score. And that is supposed to be useful? No, sorry, that does not give an honest evaluation. It's just quick & cheap.

The original taxi industry provided dubious motivational awards for "good" drivers. Plus a centralised place to complain about bad drivers. Uber offers a quick & dirty and largely meaningless way to evaluate the service. Both approaches have problems.

It would be nice to have an effective measure of transport-provider quality. By which I mean, a measure which will cause the overall quality of service to gradually improve. Whether it is traditional taxi or uber service.

The key factors are: Know what you really want to measure. Measure it with accuracy and no bias. Use the results to improve the service.

Dr Nick Lethbridge / Consulting Dexitroboper
Agamedes Consulting / Problems ? Solved

"Give a man an inch and he'll think he's a ruler" … Agent 86


Now much more than a clever name for a holiday journal:


Saturday, 4 November 2017

Death is for the Dying

Isn't it funny, that the people who are most against euthanasia are the same people who are not actually dying.

Gemma Tognini, writing in The West, and her family "said our goodbyes" to Gemma's Nonno. Perhaps her Nonno would have like to be conscious while these goodbyes were being said? But who cares -- he's dead now, Nonno no longer matters.

Proposed euthanasia legislation is being fiercely criticised by doctors and lawyers. By "those who operate in a place of reason free from passion". Also free from involvement. Why should these passionless, uninvolved -- apparently cold-hearted -- people be allowed to override the rights of people who actually want to die?

I'm in the position of having a 50-50 chance of dying within twelve months. I have no intention of choosing euthanasia. Partly because 12 months is ample time for me to say my own goodbyes -- while I am still conscious.

While I still care.

Yes, it's tough to still be alive when someone else has just died. Get over it -- you are still alive. Why do you want to destroy the rights of people who are already facing the ultimate end of life?

Ensure that euthanasia cannot be forced on anyone. Ensure that the legislation does not force a doctor -- or other assisting person -- to act against moral, ethical or religious views. Then pass legislation to allow euthanasia as a legal option.

Stop interfering with the rights of people who are facing  death. Fight for the right to make your own choices -- if you are ever in that situation. Hope that you will be allowed to make whatever choice suits your own --  individual -- preferences.

Drag yourself through a few months or years of pointless suffering -- if that is what you really want. Don't force your passionless self-pity and self-righteous "reason" onto the people who actually do want to die.

Dr Nick Lethbridge / Consulting Dexitroboper
Agamedes Consulting / Problems ? Solved

"Always remember, in a land of fel infused ancient elves, the peasant with a good banish spell is king." … Tehd Shoemaker


Now much more than a clever name for a holiday journal:

Friday, 6 October 2017

Liquid Laundry Detergent

I'm just about to bin the empty container from a liquid laundry detergent.

But is it really "empty" ?

The labels say, "Easy to Use Tap" and "80 Washes". Yes, it's a very easy to use tap, that's one reason I bought the product. It's also a well known & long established brand, another reason for buying.

I use this liquid detergent till the liquid stops flowing. Probably nowhere near 80 washes but that's not a problem. Amount actually used varies depending on the dirt that I see on the laundry.

The detergent stops flowing through the easy to use tap. The container is heavy plastic, I can't see inside. There is no way to see whether there is any detergent still inside. Nothing flows through the easy to use tap so the container seems to be ready to be thrown out. 

It is not empty.

First, I leave the container standing on its side between washes. This allows detergent to run down to the tap -- and be ready to flow out for the next wash. I have just gained three or four "extra" washes from the "empty" container. (Sorry, I was not actually counting.)

Then the tap stops flowing, again. Detergent has flowed down the sides of the container towards the easy to use tap. The detergent is all gone...

The detergent is not all gone.

I unscrew the tap. There is so much detergent still inside that some spills out, I need to catch it, stop it, mop up what has spilled out.

For the next few washes I can get no detergent through the easy to use tap. I bypass -- remove -- the tap and wash five more loads. Each load uses as much detergent as I would normally use.

Did I really get 80 washes from the container? I do know that I wash at least eight more loads after the easy to use tap stops working.

That adds up to at least ten percent wasted detergent -- if I depend on the easy to use tap.

That adds up to at least ten percent extra profit for the manufacturer if I throw out the final -- invisible and inaccessible -- detergent.

No wonder Choice recommends powder detergent over liquid.

My next laundry detergents will be dry powder.

Dr Nick Lethbridge / Consulting Dexitroboper
Agamedes Consulting / Problems ? Solved

"A lot of people cry when they chop onions. The trick is to not form an emotional bond." … Jimmy Carr


Now much more than a clever name for a holiday journal:

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Young girls pressured

Gender stereotypes are changing the behaviour of young girls as they feel pressure to "act a certain way". So says a report on the latest Girlguiding Annual Attitudes survey.

So what?! Isn't that what society is all about? Putting pressure on members of that society -- *all* members of that society -- to act in ways which are acceptable to that society.

The real problem is that (as I understand the brief newspaper report), the real problem is that the Girlguiding Association disagrees with the acts themselves.

"Pressure of gender stereotypes" affects the ability of girls to "say what they think".

What if girls do feel free to say what they think? What if they think, Girlguiding is brilliantly supportive, I want my sexuality to match a random letter of the alphabet, I will support my freedom with bombs and bullets rather than ballots. Weeellll... I suspect that Girlguiding is more into freedom to say what you think as long as you are thinking what they are thinking.

Every part of society is putting pressure on someone, to think, to act, to behave in a certain way. The pressure may be overt, open, stated and even enforced. Or it may be by example, with no conscious intent to influence. We all do it. We are all members of society.

Young girls are pressured. Young men are pressured. Adults are pressured. The current postal poll on SSM is bringing pressure -- in opposing directions -- on every adult -- voting -- member of our society. Pressure to agree. Pressure to agree with opposing points of view.

We will reach an agreement. An agreement to change, or to not change, or to accept different actions but not enforce active support. (That last is part of my own preference.) Then society will continue. Or continue to disagree and fracture through internal dissent.

Society uses pressure to enforce a common standard. The standard may be, "Accept this, that other people may act differently to you." Or it may be, "Do this, but in a way which does not interfere with the rights of other people."

Pressure to act -- or to not act -- is not bad. The acting -- or not acting -- is not bad. But we may have agreed that "our" society wants its members to act in a certain way. Girlguiding has recognised that girls are being pressured to behave in a certain way, a way that is different to ways Girlguiding supports. Is this good -- or bad -- for our broader society?

First, let's agree on our standards for society. Then we can apply pressure to support those standards. And -- if necessary within those standards -- we may also need to apply pressure to counter the pressure to act outside the now-accepted standards of society.

The real problem is to agree on standards which our society will accept. Only then will we be entitled to complain about pressure to act "differently".

Dr Nick Lethbridge / Consulting Dexitroboper
Agamedes Consulting / Problems ? Solved

"Wer den Daumen auf dem Beutel hat, der hat die Macht." … Otto von Bismarck eh what?!


Now much more than a clever name for a holiday journal:

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Why license Uber?

Uber has just lost its licence to operate in London. So what? Why does Uber need a licence at all?

Uber is -- as I understand the much-hyped marketing -- an opportunity for independent drivers to provide a one-on-one service to people who need transport. Uber offers freedom for individuals to offer services to other individuals.

With the Uber company simply providing the individual-to-individual connection. At a cost.

It's all about opportunity and flexibility and freedom of choice.

So what is the benefit of a government licence?

A government licence is provided to a service provider. The licence is provided only to a provider which satisfies government defined conditions. Those conditions -- if I understand the Uber situation -- include safety requirements. That is, Uber must satisfy government defined requirements which are intended to protect the Uber-using public.

We -- the public, the potential users of Uber -- *expect* that the requirements of a government issued licence will include protections for us -- the people who elected that government. Because we elected the government to manage public affairs for our own -- the electors -- benefit -- and protection.

A government licence tells us -- the public -- that an Uber driver -- the service provider -- has set up processes which will protect us from... whatever threats there are due to getting in a car with an unknown-to-us driver.

So what?!

So, Uber offers freedom. Freedom for a driver to offer a service to a passenger. Via a direct driver-to-passenger agreement.

And here is a key point: Uber offers freedom from the ridiculous restrictions of close government control.

And I'm afraid that freedom comes with responsibility.

In this case the responsibility includes, agreeing to meet... the time & place of meeting... cost & payment for the service... and safety of the individual -- but commercial -- transaction.

You want freedom to organise a trip with Uber? You (or Uber, at least) want freedom to manage a commercial transaction. That freedom comes with the *responsibility* to manage the success -- including the safety -- of that transaction.

You want freedom from government restrictions? You must accept freedom from government protections. Your freedom brings responsibility back to you. Your benefit, your risk.

Uber does not need a licence to operate. If you don't trust it -- don't use it. If you don't trust your own freedom to select a "safe" service -- select the highly regulated and government licensed taxi service.

That is the freedom of choice that is being offered by Uber.

Freedom for the *individual* to make a choice. A choice for the benefit of the individual, according to Uber. A choice without ridiculous government restrictions. Not on you, not on Uber.

There is no need for Uber to get a government licence to operate. As long as you -- the individual -- accept the risk that comes with your freedom.

Dr Nick Lethbridge / Consulting Dexitroboper
Agamedes Consulting / Problems ? Solved

"No matter where you go, there you are." ... Confucius ?


Now much more than a clever name for a holiday journal:

Friday, 22 September 2017

Minimum drink pricing

Our politicians are worried that cheap booze will encourage poor people to be alcoholics. Just like France... Spain... various other well-known countries... where cheap wine guarantees that every citizen is an alcoholic.

Maybe. I've read both yes and no.

The booze sellers disagree. Raise the price of cheap booze and we'll need to raise the price of more expensive booze, they say. Why hurt everyone just because some poor people may have a problem. Social responsibility, I would say. Take a personal hit to protect the vulnerable.

Maybe. But I'm a non-drinker.

Why do politicians believe that raising prices will reduce consumption by addicts? Do they really believe it? Are politicians able to see deeper than the rest of us? Do they see all the way down to... increased revenue for government?


I see alcoholism as an individual problem. Addictive personality? Drinking to forget? Fitting in with "friends"? Individual not society's problems. If the individual wants help -- or is willing to accept help -- it would be nice if society were to provide that help.

Alcoholism may lead to a problem for society in general -- when the alcoholic hurts other people. Violence? Theft? Dangerous driving? That is where an alcoholic may become a problem for society. That is where we already have laws, to at least deal with the offender -- alcoholic or not. Unfortunately this is normally after the damage is done.

Extra taxes are no answer.

... Treat all offenders equally. You are an alcoholic? So what. That is no excuse for breaking the law. Drunk or sober, you committed the crime. Drunk or sober, you are responsible for all of your own actions.

... Look at our laws. There are graded "punishments", from first offenders through to professional criminals. Can we do something similar before an actual crime is committed? (Maybe we already do?)

So discussing, planning, threatening, intending to commit a crime... could lead to a warning, optional counselling, compulsory counselling, treatment for your claimed alcoholism... All the useful *preventative* measures. Before your loss of control -- or deliberate malice -- hurt another person.

Graded prevention rather than all or nothing punishment.

Simple? No.

Possible? Perhaps.

Worth trying? Definitely.

Dr Nick Lethbridge / Consulting Dexitroboper
Agamedes Consulting / Problems ? Solved

"No matter where you go, there you are." ... Confucius ?


Now much more than a clever name for a holiday journal:

Friday, 15 September 2017

the meanings of words

Zoltan Kovacs writes enjoyable articles about words, and the English language. He places himself as a pedant, taking on the role of a protector of the correct use of English. Very enjoyable. Yet sometimes... not entirely correct. Or, at least, his view of "correct" is limited by his self-selected role of pedant.

He is also what I guess is an "old style" columnist. In particular: he takes the time and effort to reply to emails from readers! Thank you, Zoltan :-)

I once exchanged an email or two with Zoltan, on the role of the dictionary. We may have agreed... but from now on, all statements and opinions are my own. Therefore, by definition, correct. Other opinions may also be correct. In this post, they will not be considered...

The dictionary: 

The dictionary plays many roles. It will:

... define and "fix" the correct and current meaning of words

... provide a definition for each meaning that a word may have had in the past

... define new  and developing meanings for words, whether or not they are generally accepted, as long as that are in use, somewhere

These various sets of definitions allow us -- the users of dictionaries, the readers, speakers and writers of English, to:

... understand and use the current, correct meanings of words. What do I mean by "current"? Look it up in the dictionary.

... understand what was meant by a "past" writer. Oh wad some Power the giftie gie us... What? Wad? Giftie gie? Look them up in the dictionary. (Though a Shakespearean quote would be better. At least Shakespeare wrote in English.)

... how can we drive the Internet of Things through the Cloud? Well, first, we need to know what is meant by the Internet of Things. And by Cloud... in this context. Look it up in the dictionary... which adds a new role:

... A dictionary should define the "possible" meanings of words. At least, those meanings which are becoming accepted. Somewhere. This may at least slow down the proliferation of often conflicting meanings intended by use of an emerging word or phrase.

A few years back, our own PM (whoever it then was) used the word, "Shirtfront". I know what he meant. You know what he meant. An editor of the Australian Macquarie Dictionary wrote an article which clearly demonstrated that she had no idea of the true meaning of "shirtfront"... Different State, different code of football. If only someone had defined -- as soon as it appeared -- the intended meaning of "shirtfront"! (Interesting... Google gets it right. Good sources, I guess.)

To put all that more briefly... a dictionary has two roles to play:

1. To define the various ways in which words may be used... correctly.

2. To allow us to understand words when they are used in accepted -- though less common -- ways.


Then, today, while waiting in a busport (really) I had another revelation: A word may be used correctly in one situation. Yet be absolutely wrong in another.

That, at least, is my own attitude towards the use of words in English.

(Okay, that's a very strange sentence. Stick with me... It was a sudden thought, a workable example. I'll get back to it.)

Oh, and I'm no longer speaking about dictionaries... A related topic, yes. But now I'm writing about the "meaning" of words.

aside: An unintentional but relevant use of words... Speaking? Writing? Really I'm typing... but you know what I mean, don't you? And I don't think that it's the "wrong" use of those words. Not necessarily right, but widely accepted... and understood.

There are -- at least -- three distinct ways in which we use English:

1. communication
2. conversation
3. enjoyment

For communication we need to use words correctly. This is what we mean, this is the defined meaning, this is the meaning received.

"That, at least, is my own attitude towards the use of words in English."

Of course we may also want to communicate an incorrect meaning. One technique is to use a word which has alternate meanings... in which case we do need to know those alternate meanings. And hope that the reader does not notice that they are receiving a meaning which is valid but wrong.

Back to the use of the "correct" meaning of a word: I often spend a lot of time selecting a word which has the exact shade of meaning that I intend to convey. And then realise that my audience does not recognise the shade that I intend... and does not look up a dictionary to help them to understand. Sigh.

Secondly, we may be in a conversation. Exact and correct meaning is less important that the interplay of intellects via words and sentences. In that case it is perfectly correct to use words in unexpected ways. Accurately, understandably, not necessarily  correctly. As long as it satisfies the requirements of "conversation", flexibility of meaning is acceptable.

"Sokay, that's just my own tude tords the use of words in English."

Finally (perhaps) words may be totally misused -- and still be used correctly. Or, at least in a widely accepted-as-correct fashion. Playing with words is not wrong, it's just a pleasure. In the correct situation.

"Ats just my tude, dude. Sokay to use English as she is spoke."

Hmmm. May get a small chuckle at open-mike night at the local. Or it may get sympathy for trying too hard... or derision for a blatant attempt to appear to fit in. Different situations, different responses. Both right... and wrong.

Language is flexible. Yes, it changes over time. Both the meanings of words and the ways in which words are used.

Identify the situation. Pick the words, string them together. Hope that you get it right -- for whatever your purpose may be.

It's our language. Use it to its -- or your -- best advantage :-)

Now much more than a clever name for a holiday journal:

Dr Nick Lethbridge / Consulting Dexitroboper
Agamedes Consulting / Problems ? Solved

"Humanity had been thrown to the brink of extinction by insane men in positions of power following one another, each thinking the others knew where they were going." … Donald Keene, in Shift