R.I.P. – Dr Norman K Powell, ex-MBS

I’ve had several people ask about the passing of my friend and dissertation tutor Dr Norman Powell.

Norman passed on September 7th, at the end a short Hospice Stay in Carlisle, Cumbria.

Please contact me directly for details, information on passing condolences to Hilda, or to remember Norman.

Meeting nearly 30 years ago at the Manchester Business School when I earned my MBA in Production Management, Norman was always interest in my pursuits as we worked on projects over the years.

May he rest in peace.


Change in Focus – Life Tools and Best of What I’ve Found

I have been considering erasing Randomhold, as many types of discussions can end up in bad place – a polarizing squabble – which is not where I would like to take sharing & learning by blog.

Instead Randomhold will pick up on the Life Tools Series and add similar series for other areas where I have learned something worth sharing, found a solution worth making known, or simply want to cheer on my fellows in their efforts.

More when we hit the winter months…

Echo Chamber

Doing opinion pieces is like setting off firecrackers in an Echo Chamber – chances are your ears will end up hurting.

In respect of the wide range of varying opinions I’ve drafted and left unpublished several dozen posts, and am current deciding if they will ever publish.



Planning a Quiet November as it is NaNoWriMo Time

NaNoWriMo Logo

NaNoWriMo Logo

Random Hold is planning a quiet November. I have some posts prepared and will use this time to repost updated versions of some of the most popular posts.

Taking a second year stab at doing some larger scale writing, by doing the NaNoWriMo project (National Novel Writing Month)

From their website:

What is NaNoWriMo?

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

As you spend November writing, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world, other National Novel Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel. Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.

In 2007, we had over 100,000 participants. More than 15,000 of them crossed the 50k finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.

So, to recap:

What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month’s time.

Who: You! We can’t do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let’s write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.

Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era’s most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.

When: You can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster and browse the forums. Writing begins November 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight. Once your novel has been verified by our web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.

Still confused? Just visit the How NaNoWriMo Works page!

The project URL is at: http://www.nanowrimo.org/

My NaNoWriMo name is “StevenW” and you should be able to follow my progress at: http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/user/457910

If you want to have a go yourself, please add me as one of your writing buddies!


Book Recommendation – Hard Thinking


“Hard Thinking – The Fusion of Politics and Science” by Herbert Meyer

“Herbert E. Meyer argues that as we move into the twenty-first century our survival requires that we fuse the two cultures; that we transform politics itself from the struggle for power to the quest for knowledge about how we can best organize and manage our public affairs.”

— from the Author’s Website

Every scientist interested in public affairs should read this book. So should every politician.”

— Dr. Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine and
Founding Director of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies

“Delightful! To infuse the spirit, the methods, and the fundamental good will of science into politics would indeed be a giant stop forward.”

— Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University

This Small Book is huge in its implications and the challenge it issues. Setting aside emotional thinking in favor of the rigors of a scientist is clearly explained my Mr Meyer in clear & easy to understand language.



Are we at risk from Pneumatically Inflated Packaging?

Are We At Risk from Pneumatically Inflated Packaging?

Whether through casual, unintentional contamination, or through purposeful vector exploitation, are we at risk from Pneumatic Packaging products?

When products are shipped to us most will contain added packaging. Foam Beans/Peanuts, Bubble Wrap or Inflated Air Pillows dominate ad hoc packaging and are commonly received by many households several times a month.

What happens to this packaging? In some cases we hold them to reuse, though commonly we will dispose of excess. Foam Beans/Peanuts may be the biodegradable type that “melt” in water. Bubble wrap gets rolled up and thrown out, with the bubbles sometimes being popped – specially if kids or the young at heart have a chance.

But larger scale Pneumatic Packaging products – air bags, air pillows – are almost always popped before disposal, and through this popping transfer a significant volume of gas from one place to another.

The technology is attractive to shippers – a machine inflates a rolled plastic pillow chain, sealing it into the familiar linked air pillows, at the shipper’s packaging site. A typical machine, like the Sealed Air Corporation’s Cyclone http://www.sealedair.com/products/protective/air/fillair_cyclone.html is a very efficient method of producing packaging in the shipping room.

The Pneumatic Packaging systems get away from bringing in and handling large-volume low-weight packaging materials, they use inexpensive materials and they create large volumes of conforming impact resistant packaging using a small amount of electricity and no cost air.

It is that “no cost air” that has potential inadvertent vectorization or exploitation as a delivery system.

The substitution of a prepared filler gas appears to be an easy exploit, and would allow delivery of significant volumes of gas or gas borne hazard.

As people are unalarmed if they receive a package with leaking or a flat pillow or two in the packaging, it is entirely feasible to prepare the packaging to “leak” the contents of one or more pillows when the package is opened, or to slowly outgas from inflation until exhausted on a continuous basis.

In the inflated form the perm-rate (through skin leakage) is fairly low, as many examples of Pneumatic Packaging products can maintain pressure for months, if not years.

A binary component delivery could be as simple as boxing packaging filled with the two components in the same box. Various release mechanisms could supplement the ad hoc end-user bursting the packaging for disposal.

Vector delivery could range from exceptionally fast acting products, such as explosive or contact agents, to delayed action products including some potential for biohazard delivery.

As it is not presently possible to specify no Pneumatic Packaging, and given the risk of vectorization of other packaging, the personal response to disposal of Pneumatic Packaging may be limited to incineration on an ad hoc casual basis.

If vectorization has been exploited it can be expected that most shippers will suspend the product usage, being otherwise faced with consumers returning the packaging rather than risking exposure to the contents.

Don’t Depend on a Calculator

Don’t Depend on a Calculator

One of the great weakness that is an unintended consequence of computing technology is the reliance on Computers and Calculators to do our basic math.

Given a series of calculations it isn’t uncommon to see someone type them into Google if at their computer, or pound out the most basic math on a Calculator.

So dependent are many of us that we fail to recognize an entry error or a formula error’s wildly incorrect result. Why? Without having a mental concept of the math we have no clue what the result should be.

There is an alternative to this dependency on fragile “black box” electronic math aids that would serve us well in a time of need.

Several times I have seen simple back-up charts save the day.

In the early 1980s on a Field Artillery range in Europe a newly introduced targeting computer was not giving the results needed. Whether the machine was at fault or the training had lead to operational errors mattered less than that it simply was not possible to use the system to put down fire where ordered.

The crew had all but given up when a Warrant Officer walked over, surveyed the situation, left only to reappear with a Wizard Wheel device that he had saved from his early career. The Wizard Wheel effectively replaced the fancy black box’s failed math with solid predetermined usable math.

Ten years later while working with medium cranes an instructor at a large safety seminar illustrated a precise set of formula to size the cribbing needed under a crane’s outriggers to support the device in operation.

During a break the presenter mentioned that the complex math, a series of complex calculation that were seldom properly worked out in the field. These field math errors had resulted in losses of equipment and life.

With literally a “back of napkin” set of calculations I was able to show him how to skip all the complex math and arrive at a simple logic tree with single simple math function that would approximate the cribbing size with a 2 to 6% additional safety factor. Instead of the risk of asking an operator to do six- to-seven math calculations without error, the operator had to make the same simple soil evaluation and pick a set multiplier for a single decision, soil type, to apply in order to get a one-step result.

The three principles of independence from Machine Calculations I have been alluding to are:

1). Doing Mental Math

2). Using a Nomographic Aid, like a Wizard Wheel, where the math is basically charted out ahead.

3). Reducing the Math from overly complex and needlessly over precise to simple rules of thumb calculations, a sort of math heuristics.

A quick pro & cons of each technique:

Doing Mental Math

Doing Mental Math should be part & parcel of every math calculation you every do, specially if it affects someone’s well-being. As a family we drill on mental math as a challenge, from the simple to complex ideas like magic numbers (a special form of prime numbers). We do this to work at maintaining mental agility, to be comfortable competitive, and to prepare our children by being able to recognize when “black box” solutions give the wrong answers.

At a minimum doing a quick Mental Calculation will help “bracket” a computerized calculation. I stress that you have to know roughly what a calculation will return to be able to judge if the result appears sensible.

The downside to spending a lot of time on Mental Math is basically not letting it become a distraction from the core tasks at hand. If doing mental math personally reduces your situational awareness significantly, you may have to triage mental math in favor of situational safety.

Using a Nomographic Aid

Confession time – I love Nomograms. A Nomographic Aid is a mechanical device that by rote develops the answer for a calculation from the raw inputs. Some that a reader may be familiar with, or at least have seen in action are Slide Rules, a pilot’s E6B Flight Computer, or a tradesman’s Wizard -Wheel of some type.

What a Nomographic Aid does is to allow a person to “set up” the calculations inputs and directly read the result. “The Math is Hard Coded” in the device.

On the plus side a Nomographic Aid can help you quickly get results, specially when the actual calculations would be labor intensive to do longhand.

On the downside you have to trust that the Aid was done right, perhaps applying some Mental Math to the situation. Additionally some Nomographic Aids are not intuitive and require training or practice to safely use.

Reducing the Math to simple Rules of Thumb

Don’t do a whole series of calculations, with a result giving a level of unusable precision, when a simple Rule of Thumb could give you workable results in a single step. In my example above, there was no need to calculate the surface area of crane cribbing to the square inch when doing so added huge risks of error, and the field materials never provide for such fine precision.

By carefully developing “quick math” Rules of Thumb it is possible to reduce the risk of errors and speed up unaided calculation time.

Of course a Rule of Thumb is only suited to repetitive calculations as it is developed from experience gained from working with a known condition.

There is a level of risk if the Rule of Thumb contains an error, or it it applies to only a limited range of values. It is also important to understand what the full calculation includes to be able to do some Mental Calculations to back-check the Rule of Thumb. A Rule of Thumb calculation also usually incorporates a higher safety margin than full calculations could give, which may be an important consideration in a situation of limited resources or improvisation.


Making Math Simple reduces risk of calculation errors, reduces our dependence on machine calculations and is immensely satisfying to the individual. Where possible do the math in your head, use a calculation aid, and look for simple Rules of Thumb. Practice enough mental math to be able to recognize whether assisted calculations are giving results “in the ball park.” Use a slide-rule, wizard wheel or nomogram graph when available. Cut past all the “roughage” and recognize that there often is a simple Rule of Thumb you can use.

The Ten Cannots

The “Ten Cannots” was written by Rev. William J. H. Boetcker (1873-1962), originally published in 1916 as a pamphlet attributed to Rev. Boetcker, a Presbyterian minister and political conservative.

Sometime after Boetcker’s pamphlet was published, his sayings were attributed to Lincoln.

  • You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
  • You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
  • You cannot help little men by tearing down big men.
  • You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
  • You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
  • You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.
  • You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
  • You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.
  • You cannot build character and courage by destroying men’s initiative and independence.
  • And you cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.

Simpler guiding words cannot be more readily found.


Absolute page-turner with huge lessons.

VERY thought provoking novel that reads WAY too close to being a scenario the world could actually face.

Absolute page-turner with huge lessons.

Minor objections, gratuitous rough language, two or three minor editing errors (I am picky about that sort of thing, specially with a Lulu published book which can be updated almost instantly), and some Canadian-Speak an American reader might not know (like “Hydro” being the Canadian terms for all Electrical Plant power).

Andromeda Strain meets Patriots with more.



“Another Place to Die” by Sam North

“Product Description
Another Place to Die is a vivid account of individuals caught up in a worldwide flu pandemic. Set in Vancouver, Canada, this is a terrifying and realistic scenario of people facing the horror of a killer virus that will kill millions. Everything your Government said would protect you is a lie. Make a choice. Escape to a safe place or tough it out. As martial law is declared and soldiers have orders to shoot anyone breaking curfew, normal life begins to break down. Mass burial pits are being dug. Everyone is afraid of each other. The Pandemic is coming. Where will you go? Where exactly is safe? Another Place To Die is an essential survival manual everyone should read.”




Our Madness Today Foretold

American Author Garet Garrett was commenting on the Bi-Metal US Treasury debacle of the late 19th Century in his 1922 novel “The Driver.”

His words were a scorn for political ideas and ideals which somehow imagined to replace reality with their newly defined declaration of substance.

It was a systemic insanity to his eyes & mind, a madness which we find griping ourselves now, as we imagine some populistic declaration of redistribution of wealth and re-segmentation of the measure of wealth, that being currency, will somehow positively affect our economy.

“You may define a mass delusion you cannot explain it really. It is a malady of the imagination incurable by reason that apparently must run its course.”

“They had not the notion why or how they were mad because they unable to realize that they were mad at all. “

“I have recently turned over the pages of the newspapers and periodicals of that time to verify recollection that events as they occurred were with no awareness of their significance. And it so Intelligence was in suspense. The faculty judgment slept as in a dream the imagination loose inventing fears and phantasies.”

Yes, he recognized that economic policy not based in cold hard fact and sound understanding of the functions were faire tales of the worst sort – much like our presently fantasies of “Green Shoots” and “[self]-stimulus money.”

Profoundly he rings forth with several truisms:

“Money is not a thing either true or untrue. It is merely a token of other things which are useful and enjoyable.”

“Naive trust in the power of words to command reality is found in all mass delusions.”

And goes on to mock the inane notion that government can simply “say it is so, and it will be so” as if in a children’s story:

“[Adherents of the Popular Socialism of the Day] were laughed at for thinking that prosperity could be created by phrases written in the form of law. Congress thought the same thing.”

We are caught in a madness. A madness being defended by a government willing to work to suppress the open statement of knowledge that it is “all made up.” It would be as if every person watching the naked emperor in the children’s story had their mouths taped up, or preferably to the machinery in action now, that they would never had even had a voice.

Garrett also notes that the populist “Madness” must simply run its course. Perhaps a solution can be found, maybe even in accidental “unintended consequences” of otherwise unsound actions, but more likely by the population slowly coming to – regaining awareness – of the folly trying to steal from yourself is.

Recommended book, “The Driver” (the Mises.org reprint is said to be the best of the lot) and an unavoidable future as the “great experiment” runs it course.