Thursday, 17 February 2011

The future price of electricity

I got my electricity bill last week, and I noticed a nifty new feature that's been added to it: a predicted electricity cost for the next year. And very interesting that prediction is, too.

Here is my annual expenditure on electricity for the last few years (the numbers are ridiculously low for several related reasons that I won't go into here):

electricity prices
2003: £45.36
2004: £33.14
2005: £38.26
2006: £51.04
2007: £55.71
2008: £48.74
2009: £48.30
2010: £56.16

The graph shows a noisy but nevertheless upward trend, consistent with inflation more than with any increased usage on my part.

What do you think my electricity company's prediction for my 2011 bill is? A prediction that I am assured is based on "actual readings", according to my account. £60? Maybe as much £70? No. It is £488.77.

So, what does npower know about short term electricity price inflation that I don't?

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The price of pears

Tesco pears, but not exactly the ones I bought
I bought a bag of conference pears (lovely and crunchy) at Tesco last night, for £1. As I opened them today, I thought, "£1, that's quite cheap, how much is that per pear?" I counted them, and there were eight.

Without conscious decision, the calculation flashed through my head as follows: "Eight for a pound; that's half a crown each", then a slight pause before the next step: "so that's 12-and-a-half pence each."

half a crown: big money!
Half a crown? What's that, I hear you youngsters say. Well, back in the dim and distant past, we didn't have this new-fangled dumbed-down decimal currency. We had proper pounds, shillings and pence. 12 pence to the shilling, 20 shillings to the pound; 12 times tables; the lot. How long in the past? Well, we went decimal on 15 February 1971. (I remember the excitement of getting shiny "new pence" in my change on the bus to school.) That's 40 years ago to the day.

40 years: oh dear, and I still think in old money! (Not all the time, I hasten to add. It's just that "eight half crowns to the pound" was so well drummed in that it's still the natural association. Then there's always 6/8d.) But, to the day: wow.

Never mind that. What about half a crown for a single pear! Outrageous! (OTOH, 12.5p is really cheap...)

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Computer Science meets King's Cross

Platform 9 3/4, from
I haven't been to London for a while, but I was there last week to give a talk. As I got off my train at King's Cross, I thought I heard an announcement: "The train currently standing at platform zero is the...". What? Platform 0? I listened to check I wasn't hallucinating, and there it was again: "Platform zero for the ..."

Now, I know King's Cross quite well, I thought. It has eight platforms on the main concourse, and also platforms 9 to 11 hidden away in their own private little siding. (Forget finding platform 9-and-3/4s: I've know people fail to find the real but well-hidden platform nine!) But platform 0? Srsly? Only computer scientists start counting from 0!

Platform 0, cropped from
So when I got onto the main concourse, I checked, and sure enough, there were signs to platform 0. When I got back in Google-range, I consulted that fount of all knowledge, wikipedia. Yes, there is now a platform 0, as part of the refurbishment scheme. On the one hand, it seems a shame they've gone with platform 0, since that means platform 9-and-3/4 is still a "mistake" (there are tracks, not platform, between 9 and 10). But on the other hand: platform 0. Cool.

So I was disappointed to discover that once the refurbishment is completed, the platforms will be renumbered, starting from the much more unimaginative 1. (Presumably resulting in hilarity for all concerned as the zombified commuters, with the current numbering scheme hardwired in their cortexes, start making off-by-one errors, and end up scattered all over the country.)