Raspberry Pi Beta Boards Raise Over £16,000 in ebay auctions

The Raspberry Pi Beta Board auctions have now finished, raising a total of £16,336 for the Raspberry Pi Charity.

  • The lowest winning bid was £930 for board 9
  • The highest winning bid was £3,500 for board 1

You can view the full spreadsheet here.

How to locate a previously submitted P60 or P45 on the HMRC Employers Portal

It always takes me a while to find the list of previously submitted documents on HMRC’s employers portal. So here are the steps for future reference:

  • Login to HMRC Online Services – https://online.hmrc.gov.uk/
  • On the services home page, click through to PAYE for Employers.
  • Click File PAYE return and forms online in the top right hand box.
  • Click Change Tax Year and then select the relevant tax year, e.g. 2010/2011.
  • Click Employee List from the left hand menu if you are not already on that page.
  • Click on the relevant employee name from the list.
  • Click View or Print submitted forms from the bottom of the page.
  • Click on the form you wish to download, and then download it from the following page.

And that’s it! Only 8 clicks 🙂


The Obama Apollo Project

Although I’m fundamentally a capitalist, and a strong believer in the power of free markets to allocate capital effectively, I’m not an absolute market libertarian. So whilst I’m convinced that an economy based on competition and creative destruction is far more able to generate productivity growth and technological advance than one that’s centrally planned, I do recognise that there are certain areas of industry that are often neglected or even avoided by the private sector.

Companies are bound by their shareholders to seek a profit, and so they are less inclined to invest in areas of ambitious scientific research where returns are neither immediate nor guaranteed, or in blue sky projects where the route to profit is not even apparent. It is in these areas, where the private sector is unwilling or unable to invest, that a government can in a way that’s beneficial to the long term success of an economy.

Although there have no doubt been many failures, there are numerous examples of government-led research projects that have changed society for the better, e.g.

  • The Internet (US Government – DARPA)
  • Moon Landings (US Government – Apollo Program)
  • Radar (British Air Ministry in World War 2)
  • GPS (US Government – Department of Defense)

It’s because of this, that I’m optimistic that if (when?) Barack Obama becomes President he is going to support a government-led, apollo-like, energy project to rapidly accelerate the world’s transition to renewable fuels, whilst turbo charging the economy and weaning us off our dependancy for cheap credit at the same time. And I’m optimistic that it could succeed.

According to Time Magazine:

He wants to launch an “Apollo project” to build a new alternative-energy economy. His rationale for doing so includes some hard truths about the current economic mess: “The engine of economic growth for the past 20 years is not going to be there for the next 20. That was consumer spending. Basically, we turbocharged this economy based on cheap credit.” But the days of easy credit are over, Obama said, “because there is too much deleveraging taking place, too much debt.” A new economic turbocharger is going to have to be found, and “there is no better potential driver that pervades all aspects of our economy than a new energy economy … That’s going to be my No. 1 priority when I get into office.”

If Obama really does make it his number one priority when he gets into office, and he has the electoral mandate behind him, then that political will could make a huge impact.

The New Apollo Program from the Apollo Alliance

The idea for a new Apollo program to build a new energy economy has been around since the Apollo Alliance was founded in 2004. According to their website, the program calls for investing $500 billion over 10 years on steps to:

  • Generate clean power (25% from renewable sources by 2025)
  • Improve energy conservation and efficiency
  • Cut energy bills
  • Improve US technological and industrial capabilities
  • Create 5 million green-collar jobs

These are pretty ambitious targets, particularly as they want to cut energy bills at the same time as raising the amount of power from renewable sources, but so was putting a man on the moon!

So how much is $50 billion a year?

10 Years, $500 Billion, 5 Million Jobs
The program would generate and invest $500 billion over 10 years. An annual investment of about $50 billion a year, the Alliance notes, is a smaller share of the gross domestic product than what was spent on the Apollo space program, about one-third of current spending in Iraq, and roughly half of what was just lent by the federal government to insurance giant AIG.

Could it be that by backing this project, Obama has the answers to see us out of the financial crisis and solve global warming simultaneously? If we can put a man on the moon, we can certainly hope so.


– Time.com: Why Barack Obama is Winning

– Apollo Alliance: The New Apollo Program

Runaway Inflation

The Bank of England released it’s quarterly inflation report today, and it paints a pretty gloomy picture. Inflation is set to exceed 3% for most of the rest of the year, obliging the Bank of England’s governor, Mervyn King, to write a series of explanatory letters to the Chancellor.

As part of their report, The Bank release a fan chart which projects the likely probabilities of a given inflation rate in future years. I thought it would be interesting to look back a few years and to see how accurate their projections were.

Thanks to the emergence of China as the world’s biggest manufacturer of goods, inflation was kept at bay during the late 90s and early 2000s, but at the beginning of 2005 it began to move upwards. The Bank’s central projection showed inflation rising above 2% during 2005 but falling back to below 2% in 2006.

Sure enough, it did do this. The Bank then projected a couple more blips above 2% before falling back to it’s 2% target in 2007…

Unfortunately, this time the Bank got it wrong, and rather than blip above 2%, inflation soared to 3%. The Bank thought this was only a temporary problem, and predicted that inflation would fall back to 2% by 2008.

Inflation did have a brief drop below 2% during 2007, but it now seems that’s its back well on its way toward 3% and beyond…

Army use Xbox-like controller to fly Desert Hawk 3 UAV

In November last year, I saw an advert in which the British Army appeared to use an Xbox controller to fly a miniature UAV. A few people commented on my blog on whether they thought this was real or not, so I decided to find out for certain by sending a Freedom of Information Act request to the Army.

Today I received a reply from the Army Recruiting and Training Division. You can see my original post for the full response, but in summary it confirmed the following points:

  • The UAV shown in the advert is a Desert Hawk 3, which is currently deployed in Iraq
  • The plane uses an XBOX-like controller, but it is not exactly the same. Specifically, it does not have any Microsoft branding nor a wired headset port.
  • The advert was specifically designed to show people that (gaming?) skills developed prior to joining the Army can come in useful during current operations.

I’m actually pretty satisfied with their response. To be honest, after receiving a somewhat negative answer from the press office when I first enquired I was expecting more of a fight before they gave anything away.

Desert Hawk 3 Facts

Length: 36 in./91 cm.
Wingspan: 54 in./137 cm.
Wing area: 504 sq. in./1283 cm.
Empty weight: 6.5 lbs./3 kg.
Payload growth: Up to 2.0 lbs./ 1 kg. or 288 cu. in./ 732 cu. m. 
Endurance: 90+ min.
Portability: Backpack or small suitcase 
Operational range: Up to 15 km./9.3 mi. depending onfrequency and configuration

Free our data!

The Guardian have been running a campaign for the past 2 years to free public information that tax payers have paid to collect but the government currently charges for. Coincidentally, this is nearly as long as Fubra has been interested in making such data available for free.

Free House Prices

We launched our first free data service back in January 2005 with a house price information service called OurProperty.co.uk. A month earlier, the Land Registry had announced that they were going to be selling all the price paid data that they collect in bulk. I spotted this and gave my business partner Brendan a call. Together we agreed that we would buy all the data, but rather than resell it on (as the Land Registry had expected us to do), we would give it away to users for free, and make a little money from advertising.

We were the first site to commit to giving this data away for free forever, and this decision went down incredibly well with our users. Within a week we had 100,000 nosey neighbours signed up to the site. Seeing it’s success, a host of other sites soon joined in the free data party.

Free Petrol Prices

Later that year we spotted another opportunity to give away some data. The AA’s petrolbusters site had closed down, and there was a gap in the market for a petrol price information site. Brendan made a few calls to find a supplier for the data, and within week or two we had launched PetrolPrices.com.

We linked these 2 sites together with a single login (which we call the Fubra Passport), and in the 3 years we have been running them they have grown to have almost 2.5 million subscribers. People love our regular house and petrol price alerts, so they can see what’s going on near them, but this is just the start.

Free our data

If the government were to make more data available we would literally jump at the chance to build more services for our users. I’ve suggested some of my ideas for re-using Land registry data to Charles Arthur and Michael Cross at the Guardian and they published these today:

  • A property metadata service, calculating building and land area for all UK properties. Would allow people to know the price per sqm that properties were on sale for.
  • A land use timeline, showing building growth through time overlaid on a map.
  • Identifying building plots for self-builders by finding properties with large gardens within a local development plan.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. It took me about 5 minutes to come up with these ideas, but I’m sure if I sat down with the rest of my team for just an hour we could think of hundreds more. The point is that there are an infinite number of innovative uses for our data that are just waiting to be built, but they will only be realised if the data is made free and open. These ideas will create new businesses, new jobs, and therefore boost our economy.

That is why we must commend Charles and Michael (and the Guardian) for pursing this issue. I’m confident that with continued effort, the dream of free data will become a reality.

2008… the year of the Electric Car?

Let’s face it, cars aren’t going to go away. As a means of private transport they are extremely popular for their convenience, comfort and the personal freedom they offer their owners, so anyone who suggests that we should all give them up and use public transport instead is mad. However, there is no denying that they do pose a problem. And that is that, collectively, cars account for 12% of all CO2 emissions in the EU and thus they are one of our biggest sources of carbon pollution.

So how can we keep our beloved cars, without contributing to global warming? For me the answer lies with Electric Vehicles that are recharged from a renewable energy source. You may think that this vision is still 10 years or so away, but you’d be wrong.

Electric cars are here now, albeit for fringe users, but within the few years the mix of economics and technology might just be right for the average motorist to join in too. In this post I’ll be examining what is current available, plus what’ll be around in the near future and how the cost of running an electric vehicle compares to it’s gas guzzling cousins.

Cost Comparison

Car Capacity Range EPM

eMPG Cost per Mile
Reva G Wiz 9.6 KWh 48 miles 0.2 KWh/m 218.5 0.99p
Mitsubishi i-ev 20 KWh 100 miles 0.2 KWh/m 218.5 0.99p
Phoenix Motors SUV 35 KWh 100 miles 0.35 KWh/m 124.9 1.73p
Tesla Roadster 53 KWh 250 miles 0.212 KWh/m 206 1.05p
Lightning Car ? ? ? ? ?

  • A UK imperial gallon of petrol contains about 43.7 kWh of energy
  • A litre of petrol contains 9.6 KWh of energy @ 100% conversion efficiency
  • Equivalent Miles per Gallon (eMPG) = 43.7 (kwh/gallon) / energy per mile
  • Energy per mile (EPM) in kwh/mile = Capacity (kwh) / Range (miles)
  • Cost per mile = EPM * price per kilowatt hour
  • Price per Kilowatt hour = 4.95 pence (off peak, green energy)

Reva G Wiz
Reva G Wiz
Mitsubishi i-EV
Mitsubishi i-EV
Phoenix Motors SUV
Phoenix Motors SUV
Tesla Roadster
Tesla Roadster
Lightning Sports Car
Lightning Sports Car

2500 litres of biofuel a year tax free

I don’t know how it evaded my attention at the time, but somehow it did. Back in June, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs simplified rules for producers and users of biodiesel such that if you produce (or use) less than 2500 litres per year you are exempt from fuel duty, and from the requirement to fill out monthly returns.

This translates to a potential tax saving of £708.75 (28.35p duty per litre x 2500), and makes using vegetable oil as a diesel substitute a whole lot more attractive.

Vegetable Oil as a Biofuel

My friend Jake is currently trying out a blend of 20% vegetable oil, 80% diesel in his unmodified VW Polo and has so far driven 600 miles with no side effects!

Since Vegetable oil is about £0.55 per litre (compared to over £1 a litre for diesel), even this 1:4 mix is saving him around £4 per tank.

Do we need a house price crash?

I just got an e-mail from Newsnight; it seems tonight they will be debating whether we need a house price crash in the United Kingdom.

I think the answer to that is:

  • Yes, if we want young people to be able to afford to buy a home.
  • Yes, if the people stuck in rabbit-hutch sized flats want to buy a bigger home.
  • Yes, if we want our economy to be based on producing something other than buy-to-let investors.
  • But crash is quite a harsh word. I think correction is more pertinent. We need the market to return to a state of sanity, where a professional such a policeman or a nurse can afford (on their own salary without government help) something bigger than a 1 bedroom flat.

    To fix things in the longer term…

    We should loosen planning laws to allow the market to create enough supply to meet demand. There is plenty of land available; only 8% of the UK is urban, half that of the Netherlands, and lower than Belgium, West Germany and Denmark.

    We should encourage larger family homes with gardens to be built. Only 2% of the population aspires to live in a flat, and yet half of new homes built are now flats. Houses with gardens are better for bio-diversity than even an open green field.

    Britain has the smallest and oldest houses in Europe, and despite advances in technology recent new builds are even smaller.

    We should scrap shared equity schemes that matters worse by effectively propping up the market with tax payers money. If people stopped buying because they couldn’t afford to, then developers would be forced to lower prices.

    The Bank of England should target money supply growth when they target inflation.

    Banks should not be allowed to lend more than three and a half times income.