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

Saturday, 9 September 2017

emergency department success

What is the most important result -- outcome -- preferably measurable -- from the ED, Emergency Department, of a major public hospital? Why does that ED exist at all? What -- if it failed -- would mean that the entire ED was failing... that ED was "not a success" ?

I asked my wife. Feel free, reader, to ask yourself that same question. Take a short break for thinking. Then read on...


The most important result for a hospital Emergency Department is, that as many patients as possible come out "cured".

If the ED were not "curing" -- fixing, repairing, keeping alive and passing on for further treatment -- then why would that ED exist? Filling a bit of spare space in a large building? Providing a coffee service for idle ambulance drivers? Providing storage space for unused hospital equipment?

Don't be ridiculous.

The Emergency Department of a major public hospital exists *solely* in order to keep people alive, to deal rapidly and effectively with people who would otherwise die, to keep them alive -- and perhaps even improve their state of health -- until the patient's medical emergency has been stabilised. Either the patient is dead, or they are medically ready to be passed on to a less emergency oriented department of the hospital. For further -- non-emergency -- care.

It would be "nice" if the emergency patient were able to walk out of ED and directly back to a medically healthy life. But really, that is *not* the key aim of ED. ED exists to keep a patient alive and to stabilise their condition so that the patient can be sent elsewhere for further treatment.

 All of that is absolutely wrong.

Wrong, that is, if you believe Paul Murray's report in The West on 9th Sep (Public service in crosshairs). He quotes from a Service Priority Review from Public Sector Commissioner Mal Wauchope.

"There does not appear to be evidence that outcomes ... are better in WA than in other Australian jurisdictions..." Okay, does not sound good. The quote continues, "... despite the higher cost of many service areas."

Hang on! What does *cost* have to do with ED outcomes? Isn't ED about *keeping people alive*?! If we want to keep people *alive* then cost is ... just... cost. Either we want to keep people alive -- or we do not.

If we do want to keep people alive then the important result -- the vital outcome -- is that we keep people alive!

Yes, money is (in practical terms) limited. Cost cannot be ignored. But the important measure of ED *success* is: How many people -- how many incoming emergency patients -- are kept alive and successfully passed on -- by the Emergency Department.

If we are not satisfied with that *sensible* measure of success then we have several options. More resources. More staff. Better processes. Better equipment. Any of these may require extra money. If we are not willing or not able to provide extra money -- we may have to adjust our measure of acceptable ED success. Perhaps drop a target that 80% of patients survive, to 70%. Count 70% of patients being "cured" as a sign of the success of ED. We can still plan for a future of 80% or more... Meanwhile we accept that the higher rate of success is dependent on currently unavailable ... resources.


But then the report gets even worse.

"... only 65% of emergency department patients were seen on time". Good grief. Even worse, this report considers that this is even worse because it is "compared with 74% nationally." So?! Or even, WTF?!

So, nationally, 74% of ED patients were "seen on time". How many of these patients actually *lived*? Any?

How many of WA's ED patients survived the extra delay? Yes, delays in emergency treatment seem very likely to reduce the odds of surviving the ED experience. But did they??

What if 74% of ED patients are seen "on time" -- within an arbitrary time set by a politician -- and 99% of those patients die in ED? Is that "success"? Not by any sane measure.

What if "only" 65% of ED patients are seen "on time" -- yet 99% of those patients live to see another day? Live to get further treatment? Sounds like success to me.

[ I'll add a small example below. But, not to interrupt the flow: ]

Okay, I admit it, I have recently come through ED. I am really -- really -- pleased that I came out alive. Would I have exchanged treatment "on time" but sent out dead, for treatment which sent me out alive? No way.

ED *success* is measured by the percentages of patients who come in as an emergency -- and come out alive.

Forget the time. Forget the cost. Yes, remember that time and cost will affect that survival rate. But...

The only *sane* measure of ED success is, the number of emergency patients who actually survive the experience.

Get real. Measure real success. Accept some level that will be counted as, "as much success as we are currently able and willing to achieve." Then worry about whether or not we want to improve ED -- through cost, resources, people, whatever -- in order to -- over time, as and when we can -- in order to raise the level of real success that we really expect... demand... is to be achieved.

Why does the Emergency Department exist at all? To keep emergency patients alive so that they can be passed on -- alive -- for further, less urgent treatment.

Number of live exits from ED, that is the only sane measure of ED success. Accountants may measure cost. Politicians may measure time. The ED patient measures only continuing life. That "life after ED" is the one and only *sane* measure of ED success.

So set a real -- relevant to ED -- measure of success. Then measure it.

Look for ways to ensure that the "required" level of that measure of success.. is met. How? That is the real challenge. The rest is simply the means by which we attempt to reach that required level of actual ED success.

Ask the question, What level of actual success do we demand -- with the underlying question of, How will we provide the resources which will allow us to achieve that *real* success. "Real" success. Which delivers the results which ED actually exists to provide.

=== And here's a simple example. Of "time" being used -- wrongly -- as a measure of success:

I worked on a contract to provide IT support services to a major government utility. One measure of success was, that 90% of calls for help would get a help desk response within five minutes. (The numbers are from old memory, they may not have been 90% and 5 minutes. That is not relevant.)

The help desk was required -- with contract payment dependent on meeting the measure -- the help desk was required to: Respond to 90% of calls for help within five minutes.

So how did the help desk ensure that this target was met?

One person at the help desk had a very specific task: For every call that came to the help desk, that help desk employee would *call back* within five minutes. Absolute "success" against the required measure!

Of course the call-back was, essentially, useless.

Yes, we have received your call. No, we are not acting to resolve your problem. This is a call-back in order to satisfy the meaningless requirement of the contract. As far as solving your actual problem -- useless.

Was each caller entirely satisfied with this  call-back? Would they, perhaps, have preferred to have had their problem actually fixed? The answer is obvious...

By setting a meaningless measure of success -- the contact ensured that "success" was meaningless. Tick... done... useless.

And that is the situation with Wauchope's measure of the "success" of ED: it is... well... *not* ticked... *not* done... absolutely useless. Yet it does take attention away from any sane measure of success.

What is the actual purpose of ED?

Identify that. Set a target. Then measure that target.

Only then can we claim that we know the level of "success" of our hospital Emergency Departments.

Get real.


Oh, btw: My own treatment in ED was brilliant! Every single person was brilliant, dedicated, caring, experienced, expert. Well, as far as I can remember, anyway. I was unconscious for a lot of the process :-)

Best of all -- my personal measure of success: I came out alive.

Thank you.

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

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

"I have an above average QI." … per Ginger Meggs

Especially Online: be Scam Aware

My sister sent me an email. About a website -- or a person -- or possibly a set of professional... sales people? -- offering a miraculous cure. No endorsed value. Just in an area which is of interest to me.

I went to the website. Looked -- rather quickly -- and replied to my sister:

Am I too cynical? Nope, don't think so :-)  There are plenty of scams on the internet... this looks like one of them. Thanks for sending it though -- I appreciate the thought -- and I appreciate the opportunity to see something that I would otherwise have missed. It's just as important to look at "the other" side, even if only a snippet is useful.

And I do enjoy a good debate :-) If I sound offensive -- below -- it's directed entirely at the author of what looks like a scam. And I would be happy to get hold of "real" evidence of his success. If any exists...

1. The name "the truth about..." [and I don't dignify it with, about what] is a warning. It indicates an absolute refusal to consider any other point of view. Or to allow customers to consider any other points of view.

2. Eleven years surviving xxxx? Pish & tosh... If all I had were my own xxxx -- and there is no sign of that spreading -- I would already have had it chopped out. And have the chance to live a very lot longer. The web-advertised part is not as easy to remove, but... it can be chopped out, plus a bit extra for extra caution, the body will live on.

3. To cut out enough brain [that's my own "area of concern"] to give a similar margin of safety -- I would be, well, severely affected. The brain is far too central to life. My right parietal lobe is (I think) part of vision, I could go blind. Chop the wrong way, I could be paralysed. Another misplaced snip and my brain could stop reminding me to breathe... etc. My cancer is -- almost invisibly -- attacking all of those areas of the brain. All the efforts to build or restore a healthy body... too bad... it's the *brain* that needs to heal. And the brain is very bad at self-healing.

4. Back to the website. What is his general approach? No hint whatsoever... A sure sign of a scam. Or, at the very best, a sign of a money-making operation. A strong indicator of weak ethics, no moral value, *self* centred aims. I prefer my "cures" to come from people who care about *me* :-)  Who care enough to say, this is what we will be trying... people who are willing to admit that there may be a cash (or other) cost.

5. What is he offering? A "free" Part One. Known as a loss leader... give this away so that customers will come back -- and pay for -- more. You can bet that Part One looks really good but is very limited. Perhaps a well written process to *begin* the building of a positive *attitude* ? Or a very small -- easy to follow -- placebo-value change to diet? (Eat less fat! That's always good, positive -- and will immediately make you feel ... different. Which you will be convinced means, better.)

6. Then there will be Parts 2 to 10 -- at a substantial "discount". Followed by as many Parts as you can afford... All accompanied by literature which aims to convince you that, yes, you are feeling better. Or -- at least -- that you would feel worse if not for all the money spent on all those Parts. People are predisposed to convince themselves that their own decisions and actions must be right, so they convince themselves that their self-chosen actions must really be good for them :-)  (I've drunk wine every day for 50 years and look at me now! It *must* be good for me!)

Enough... Read anything. But... Be scam aware!

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

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

"I have an above average QI." … per Ginger Meggs

Friday, 25 August 2017

Old wives and tax

According to the managing director of a law firm -- possibly a law firm which specialises in tax law -- there are some old wives' tales about what can and cannot be claimed as a tax deduction. Claimed deductions include some that are deliberately false -- and some that are more innocent mistakes.

What?! There are people who make innocent mistakes when completing their tax returns? Are there really people who don't clearly understand every one of the thousands of rules and regulations regarding what can and cannot be claimed? Goodness.

Well, that could explain why there are law firms which make a good living entirely on their claimed knowledge of tax laws. Because no-one else will claim to know all the ins and outs of tax laws. Large corporations employ tax law experts. Individual taxpayers have no hope at all.

Our tax laws are incredibly complex. Yet we -- each and every person who earns or could earn anything at all -- is expected to complete an accurate and honest tax return. Each and every year.

Unless we convince the tax office that we will never again earn enough to be liable for tax. And it takes a good knowledge of tax law to gain that happy status.

What is the reason for the complexity of tax laws? After all, we earn money and the government expects to gets its share of whatever we earn. That sounds simple enough.

A lot of the complexity is due to tax deductions. Deductions are the cause of many "innocent mistakes" and "deliberately false" claims. Why is that?

Because the rules for allowable deductions are complex. And because they continually change.

Old wives' tales may have been spot on last year. That does not mean that they will be correct this year. By next year, the old wives' tales will be just that: old wives' tales.

Why are there so many -- and such complicated -- rules for tax deductions?

Because the government wants to reward inefficient businesses.

*In* efficient? Yes.

You pay tax on your earnings -- less the cost of the earning. So the more it costs to earn a dollar, the less tax you pay. The more it costs -- the less efficient your earning -- the smaller the share demanded by the government. If you can reduce the cost of running your business -- the government will charge you more in tax.

Tax deductions are a way in which the government rewards bad business.

That's why everyone is encouraged to increase tax deductions. Encouraged to decrease the efficiency of their efforts to earn. Because will be rewarded by government for being bad at business.

To encourage better business, income tax should be a tax on income. Purely on income. With no rewards for slipshod business processes.

Here is a better -- and simpler -- approach to income tax:

Earn money, pay income tax.

If it costs you a lot to earn the money -- improve your business efficiency.

If you can't improve efficiency -- charge more for your product. Or accept a smaller profit margin. Or learn some basic facts about operating a business.

If you can't charge more -- you are in a failing business. No-one wants your goods or services. Try another business -- one that is in demand.

For every dollar that comes in you pay, for example, ten cents to the government. Simple! No need for tax lawyers. No need for specialist tax accountants. No need for high risk tax avoidance schemes. Old wives will save thousands each year because they will not need to emply a tax accountant.

And Australian business will be more efficient.

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

"Wow, I never thought of it like that before." … Joan D. Vinge