Tag Archives: cappuccino

Have a Nice Day

Coffee cup face 150x150 Have a Nice DayI had a lovely email from Sabine from Germany, who sent in this picture of a cup of some hot beverage.  We love getting emails from abroad, so please keep them coming.  She wrote:

“This is Sabine from Germany. I´ve randomly goggled “I see faces” recently and I have luckily found your page.
I´d like to send you a picture – here it is.
I suggest the name ‘Have a nice day’.”
You know how when you order a cappuccino you sometimes get a funky pattern in the frothy milk, like a panda or a leaf or something… Sometimes a face will miraculously materialise when you least expect it.  What a pleasant surprise to the start of the day that must be.  Thank you Sabine!
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HS2: An Alternative Business Case

20120121 Scales coin slot face 150x150 HS2: An Alternative Business Case

Here is a picture of a couple of coin slots from a set of electronic scales.  It eats money – money, money, money.  That’s what it’s all about.  Or is it?

About two weeks ago the UK Government gave the green light to HS2 (High Speed 2), which promises to cut train journeys between London and Birmingham by a whopping 30 minutes.  Yeah, “whopping”…

Business people usually measure the success of a project in terms of profit and a business case will include a cost/benefit analysis, looking at discount rates, Net Present Values and other such nonsense.  Whilst there is some value in producing a business case for Civil Engineering projects – the only time I have ever done one was when I was at university – forecasts of inflation, interest rates and so on are never accurate beyond the short term.  After all, no-one really predicted the Great Recession.  Future usage of an asset is even more unpredictable and you can massage the figures to suit.

Why do we do things?

There’s a more fundamental question: Why do we do things?  You don’t walk that extra mile to the next coffee shop where the cappuccino is 20p cheaper, because subconsciously you value your hourly rate at more than £0.60/hr.  You walk in the opposite direction to your destination to get to the bus stop because your overall journey time is quicker than if you walked all the way.  You drive to the airport in the opposite direction to your destination because driving in the “right” direction would see you drive off the cliffs of Dover without encountering a single plane.  Spot the pattern?  We do things that inconvenience us temporarily (financially or in terms of effort) because of the perceived net gain.

In a similar vein innovation is made because we as humans are lazy; a drive for efficiency drives innovation.  We build a car because walking 30 miles would take too long.  Currency is an expression of effort – an IOU – and you can transfer effort by buying a car and getting someone else to build it for you.

But what if you had to build the car yourself and the total combined effort to design and build said car exceeded the effort and cost of walking?  Would it make sense to build it?

Breakeven Point

Looking at HS2 from this perspective, it is possible to carry out a back of envelope calculation to establish whether HS2 is worth it.

According to an article I found in the Daily Mail (excuse me while I cleanse myself in the toilet bowl) the project would create 40,000 jobs and would take 14 years to complete (just shy of 1.1 billion person-hours).  Given that the end result of all this effort yields a 30 minute saving on a single journey from London to Birmingham per passenger, the number of passengers that would need to be transported to “recuperate” or justify this time is 2.2 billion.

According to Wikipedia, Birmingham New Streetsaw a passenger volume of 25.268 million in 2009/2010.  From this we can derive what I call the Effort Breakeven Point (EBP) of 87 years.

Effort Quotient

There are a number of simplifications and assumptions in the above analysis.  For example, not all passengers passing through Birmingham New Street travelled the entire route between Birmingham and London in 2009/2010 and indeed some might not have travelled in the direction of London at all.  The assumption of a constant future passenger volume is as dubious as the figures assumed in more orthodox business cases and the calculation assumes all passengers onboard the new HS2 trains would benefit from the full 30 minutes – i.e. they would not alight at an earlier stop.

Neglecting these flaws, we can determine the number of generations it would take to reach EBP and define that as the Effort Quotient (EQ) where any value of 1.0 or less means the current generation will see a net benefit.  Assuming a generation is 25 years, the EQ is 3.48, which is extremely poor.  Despite this, as a Structural Engineer I welcome the investment.  Of course the taxpayer has to foot the bill, but I’m sure Uncle Mervyn will turn the crank and print more money so we can pay it back in the devalued money of tomorrow…  Hooray for high inflation…

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