13/10/03

Why are property prices so low in other countries?

I have been looking at a TV programme called "A place in the sun" where a girl (it used to be Amanda Lamb of the Scottish Widows ads) looks for properties abroad for people who want to emigrate or have a holiday home.

She often goes to countries which have a good standard of living, but the houses are extremely cheap compared with England.

For instance, once she was in Florida not a long way from Disneyland and showed several ranch style houses with several bedrooms, swimming pool, double garages, conservatory and lots of space around which were all in the 120,000 to 150,000 range. The room sizes were enormous by English standards. Some were new and given that the price has to include profit and sale fees, how are they so cheap? The material costs must be more than that. Certainly in England the material costs would be at least that much.

I realise that in England the demand and scarcity of land pushes up the price and low interest rates mean people can get a large mortgage sum, but I'm still surprised.

Other countries with similar good value include Australia and the Canary Islands.


27/10/03

Wind power generator - are they efficient and will they ruin the views?

The land areas required to meet the very small target for wind power generation are huge. The wind generators have to be spread out at distances of several hundred metres and will be 150 metres high, generally white. They will usually be on ridges or on windy coastlines, often in areas of scenic beauty.

There is already a sizable body of opinion fighting against the plans. The generators make a whooshing noise as they rotate and when there are several thousand of them the noise can be heard miles away. There is gearbox whine too. They stand out against the hillside or horizon and the constantly rotating blades are almost giddy-making. In addition to the actual generators, there has to be a track to each suitable for heavy articulated lorries with replacement parts and an underground cable to take away the power.

At present I think wind generation is only 0.1% of our power requirements and to boost that to 2% or 3% would be such a big increase I can't see it happening because of the irate public opinion.

Experts say it is not an efficient way to produce electricity yet even though the new machines are big and development has been extensive over recent years. Siting them out at sea is more efficient from the operational point of view but much more expensive.

Conventional power stations have to cover the load generated by all natural sources in case the generation is low at the time (say a cold, still winter night at ebb tide). As soon as power generation from all natural sources approaches 4% a whole conventional power station is effectively on standby or all of them are working below capacity which is not cost effective.

Perhaps one solution would be to take over one or more entire uninhabited islands off the west coast of Scotland and cover them completely with wind generators and also build wave and tidal power stations around the islands to maximise use of power lines to the grid.


25/11/03

England win the William Webb Ellis trophy at the rugby World Cup

England beat Australia 20 - 17 in the World Cup final in Sydney on Saturday 22nd November.

Australia was on a roll having improved during the tournament and beaten New Zealand in their semi-final. England had beaten France fairly easily in their semi-final, but had often played below their best. England tended to make a slow start, then powered ahead in the second half of previous matches.

In the final England was ahead at half-time 14 - 5, but conceded three penalty goals in the second half and didn't score themselves.

The reason was because the referee started penalising our front row at the set-piece scrums. England had a heavy experienced front row but Australia's men were under-powered and less experienced. The result was that in the first half we were pushing them off the ball and the scrum was breaking up. Normally the weaker side is punished, but not by Andre Watson the referee.

Northern hemisphere players and refs accept that scrums should be contested, in other words you push hard and if the other team buckles, either they are penalised for breaking up or you get the benefit of the next scrum because you were moving forward.

Southern hemisphere players and refs adopt the rugby league approach where the scrum is just an uncontested means of re-starting the game. Crooked put-ins are common and front row men have become light-weight and more mobile.

The ref may have thought the scrums would become dangerous in the second half or he just adopted the southern hemisphere interpretation more rigidly, but the result was England's front row was confused, didn't dominate scrums as they had in the first half and conceded penalties. One penalty was just before full-time and Australia converted it to bring the scores to 14 - 14.

Woodman, our prop who was penalised, admitted he had pulled out because he thought they had gone (ie forward) before the engagement (when the ref says "engage"). Basically he was confused about how the ref wanted the scrums to work in the second half.

In extra time we got a penalty in the first ten minutes, and then they got one in the second ten minutes. We set up a ruck in their half near the end of the second ten minutes and Dawson thought we were just too far away for a drop kick and he managed to dart forward about ten yards while their defence was spread wide to stop our backs.

Another ruck was won, he passed the ball to Jonny Wilkinson who had gone to his left and had to use his weaker right foot to get a drop-goal twenty seconds before the match would have gone into another session of extra time with a sudden-death first-score-wins rule. If a second period of extra time had been needed and also drawn, then drop-kicks by five players in turn with five attempts each from widening distances from the centre would have decided the match.

I'm glad we scored a try because there was criticism that we won the game against France with kicks by Jonny Wilkinson. The try was a classic. Matt Dawson passed the ball to Dallaglio who ran the ball away from the scrum, passed to Jonny Wilkinson who timed a perfect pass to Jason Robinson who accelerated to the corner, dived early, slid over the line and wasn't touched until he was over the line. Scrum half, flanker, back and winger.

At full time it when it was 14 - 14 both sides had one try and three penalties. Australia's try was very early in the match when Stephen Larkham kicked high for the winger Lote Tuqiri to jump and catch it right on the line. Jason Robinson was there but being at least a foot shorter than Tuqiri didn't stand a chance.


01/12/03

Hand-held mobile phones banned from use in vehicles

Today a law came into effect banning the use of mobile phones in cars if hand-held. Vehicles must be stationary with the engine turned off, or phones in a cradle with a headset must be used.

It always amazes me how many of our new laws don't seem to be properly thought through. I support the banning of mobile phone use in vehicles, but why only if hand-held?

Apparently studies have shown that just talking to someone makes a driver four times as likely to have an accident. It isn't the same as talking to another person in the car. The person on the other end of the phone has no comprehension of the traffic conditions and won't unconsciously pause when there is a difficult driving situation and the driver doesn't feel able to say "hang on a minute".

Phones held in a cradle and connected to the person by a headset can still be used. So instead of holding the phone next to the steering wheel and tapping in the numbers while still looking at the road and the phone at the same time, now drivers will be leaning down to a phone cradle below the radio or near the handbrake and trying to tap in numbers while taking their eyes off the road.

A very common use of mobile phones is when caught up in a motorway crawl when someone is going to be late picking up little Johnny from school. You cannot stop on the hard shoulder to make a call, neither is it a good idea to turn off the engine to make a call if the traffic has stopped as vehicles behind will soon hoot if it starts again. People will still be tempted to use hand-held phones in this situation as it will seem that there is no alternative and delays can often last for hours with no escape route.


01/12/03

Violence in muslim countries

Violence is increasing right across all muslim countries, not just in Afghanistan and Iraq which western nations are trying to police. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, Palestine, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, to name just a few.

As a gross generalisation, western democracies have substituted financial greed for religious fanaticism. Muslim countries seem locked in the kind of environment we had in our middle ages. The trouble-makers seem to have no desire for material wealth, nor to have a mixed community of many cultures and religions.

About fifty years ago it was considered that the next world war would be between the west and the muslim nations. It seems to have started, not between nations, but between terrorists and any nation, even muslim ones.

I can't think of any solutions other than to leave them entirely alone to work through their violence, barbaric legal systems and punishments and hope that trade eventually causes peace to dominate violence.

Although muslim terrorists seem to be religious fanatics, we in the western world seem to have forgotten one of the principal christian teachings which is to turn the other cheek. The logic of this, I suppose, is that if you don't react when you are hit, you may get hit a few more times but the aggressor eventually gives up because he finds he is getting nowhere.

Bush and Blair have definitely not followed this biblical advice and seem to have roused the terrorists to further action.

horse