Thursday, 29 May 2008

How much work do we each do?

I was pondering just now on road haulage. Lorry drivers are in the news a lot at the moment, and I was thinking about how lorries are quite a limited and old-fashioned approach to the problem of moving things around, as each of them can carry only a trifling proportion* of the freight that needs to be shifted (1,810,000,000 tonnes in 2006, just within the UK; if you were faced with a really big warehouse holding 1.8 billion tonnes of stuff and were asked to move it all, would you ever say "You know, I reckon about half a million trucks, each with its own driver, will be the best way to do that"?).

Anyway, given that we can best understand things if we quantify them, I thought I'd work out what proportion of all this freight each lorry moved on average. So using government figures I calculated:

effort = 100 * (amount of stuff moved / number of vehicles used to move it) / amount of stuff moved

which simplifies to:

effort = 100 * (1 / number of vehicles)

which told me that each lorry moves just 0.0002% of the freight. This presumably is why there is such a staggering number of them these days, either clogging motorways by overtaking one another at microscopic speed differentials, or clogging the A36 when I'm trying to get to work. Anyway, before I could do anything useful with this train of thought, I got distracted and realized we could generalize the approach like so:

effort = 100 * (1 / number of workers)

and started doing this with other professions where statistics on the amount of work and the number of workers are easily available. So here's what I've got so far, using the numbers of teachers, police officers, fishermen and GPs on the one hand and the numbers of school children taught, crimes committed, fish caught and people who might get sick on the other :

Teachers: each teaches 0.0001% of the children
Police officers: each investigates 0.0008% of the crimes**
Fishermen: each catches 0.0077% of the fish
GPs: each looks after 0.0029% of the people

Make of this what you will, but there does seem to be a case for paying teachers 8 times less than police officers, even before we factor in the relative danger :o). Oh, and well done you fishermen.

Any suggestions for other professions?

* Compared to, say, trains
** Or, alternatively, polices 0.0008% of the population if you prefer

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Road Injury Severity Map of England

Here's something curious. Using the Department for Transport's road accident statistics for 2006, I calculated road accident severity figures for each county in England. The DfT's accident figures include a Killed-and-Seriously-Injured (KSI) statistic, which is the count of the most serious road injuries: those leading to... well, death or serious injury. For each county, I divided the number of road accidents with a KSI outcome by the total number of recorded accidents. The reasoning was that the higher this ratio is, the more severe the outcomes of that county's road collisions tend to be and, in one sense, the more dangerous that county's roads are.

The statistics I computed gave figures ranging from just 5.6% of road accidents having KSI outcomes (in Plymouth, where it seems most road accidents tend to end okay) to 23.7% (in North Yorkshire, where almost one-quarter of all road accidents lead to someone being killed or seriously injured). I then normalized these values to lie on a scale from 1 to 100, converted these into saturation levels of the colour red and filled in the counties on a map. Yes, it took a few hours.

The map reveals a few points of interest:

* We have to work in call centres, but at least we don't get squashed too badly - Former heavy industrial areas around Manchester, Merseyside, the West Midlands and the Potteries stand out as having quite low accident severities.

* Leafy suburbs, dead bodies - the affluent south-western corner of Greater London suffers quite a lot of serious road accidents. It's so tempting to make a link to all the SUVs...

* Mad Crazy Viking Berserkers - North Yorkshire and the East Riding. One in four road accidents in North Yorkshire has a serious outcome. My father lives there. I'd like him to move away now.

* Wiltshire and Northamptonshire are really dangerous - I live in Wiltshire! Can everybody take more care please?

* Odd pockets of safety - Plymouth wins here, but there are other counties that stand out from their neighbours: Surrey, Rotherham, Newham in London.

Sadly, these statistics aren't broken down by county for Wales and Scotland. However, overall Wales is at a similar level to Southampton and Coventry, with just under 11% of road accidents having a KSI outcome. Scotland is somewhat worse, and with 17% of all road accidents ending in death or serious injury is similar to Essex and East Sussex.

My hope in doing this was that novel insights might reveal themselves if I looked at the accident data in a new way. I wondered if there would be a North/South split, or patterns that follow motorways. Perhaps the most striking thing to emerge here is the suggestion of more serious road accidents in rural areas. (Most notably, wherever there is a city that has separate figures from the county that surrounds it -- Reading in Berkshire, Leicester in Leicestershire, Poole in Dorset -- the city always has a lower accident severity score than the surrounding county.) This seems on the face of it to support the idea that higher levels of road crowding and reduced speeds are good for reducing the severity of road accidents, although we must also consider other factors specific to rural areas such as twistier roads which give poorer visibility, and possibly higher levels of drink-driving. But then we have to explain why Devon and Cornwall -- perhaps the most rural and twisty-roaded counties -- aren't particularly bad.

Like all good data explorations, this raises more questions than it answers, but I think it shows the value of looking at data in novel ways.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Drinking and driving

During a commercial break on television last night I saw two adverts in quick succession. One was for vodka. Vodka is great stuff, but the advertising can't tell me this. It has carefully to ensure that no images or messages are used which might make me see it as enjoyable, because this could make me, as a blubber-minded member of the public, use it irresponsibly. And in case there's any lingering doubt about how much I'm not supposed to enjoy the vodka, the advert is plastered with the slogan "Drink responsibly" and points me to a website where I can learn how to drink less.

This advert was followed by one from Renault, selling a car which plops out noxious pollutants, is built to exceed the legal speed limit and is quite capable of killing innocent people. It was marketed with lots of exciting images of the car being driven wildly and ended with the slogan "Serious Fun". You can watch it, if you like.

Isn't there an inconsistency here? Alcohol: most people people enjoy it but it can cause harm if abused = constant warnings and can't be marketed as making your life more fun. Cars: although some people enjoy them, they cause harm when used normally = no warnings, and the marketing can promise sex and fun in return for using the product.

Surely the time has come for car companies to go where the drink companies have gone? Renault could have an advert which focuses solely on some minor aspect of the product's design -- the shape of the gearstick, for example, with resolutely no mention of how people might feel when driving the car. It would then display warnings like "Please enjoy the Twingo responsibly". Naturally oil companies should carry similar exhortations in their commercials too. And of course, both types of advertiser should direct consumers to websites where they can be helped to spend less money on the the products of the people paying for the adverts. Just a thought.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Fuel Prices

Those of us working in transport know that, despite what the public feel, the real cost of motoring is really much lower than it used to be. The Guardian today have an analysis of what fuel really costs, which shows this pretty clearly (and fuel is only one part of the falling cost).

If, like me, your memory extends back as far as the 1970s, you should know all this to be true. Look at car ownership and use prior to... ooh, let's say 1987: a typical person owned a second-hand car and used it fairly infrequently, and the cost was a major factor in this behavioural pattern. Today the same typical person has a brand new black pickup truck and uses it to go everywhere. (Okay, I know not everybody has a black pickup truck, but it does sometimes feel that way. I can't express how much I loathe those ridiculous Nissan and Mitsubishi pickup trucks and the morons who buy them.)*

Sure, part of this is the greater availability of credit, but still: go back 20 years and there was no way the average British working person could have afforded to drive in the manner they do now. And what's the cost of public transport done whilst the cost of motoring has fallen? Yes, you've guessed it...

* Edit: Is anybody else annoyed by the names these moronmobiles have? What sort of inadequate feels the need to drive a vehicle with 'Warrior' or 'Outlaw' slapped on the side? My suggestion: everybody who drives round with 'Warrior' written on their vehicle should be pressed into the army and sent off to Afghanistan, everybody with 'Outlaw' can be lynched and everybody with 'Animal' gets sent to a zoo.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Kitten in a basket

Kitten in a basket, originally uploaded by drianwalker.

Monster loves this basket, even though (a) it's clearly too small for him and (b) there's a larger basket right next to it.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Fashion non-victims?

Well, here's a surprising thing. It seems I inspired the design of this hat:

They could at least have given me a citation! Bloody fashion designers...