Shifting borders

Last year I blogged about a program I had written to calculate the nearest capital.

It just occurred to me that once the area being the closest to a given capital has been established, the capital can then be moved to the centre of this area, and the process can be repeated.

In this way, the countries shift gradually until they have reached an equilibrium:

In general, the resulting “countries” are more or less the same size, but obviously the shape of the coastline has interesting consequences.

Working from home, and the collapse of the metropolises



My Home Office III
Originally uploaded by TranceMist

Surprisingly, the Internet still hasn’t enabled the majority of people to work from a home office. Of course there are many freelancers who do just this, but lots of offices have many employees who are supposed to turn up every day, sit down at their computer, do their job and leave at the end of the day, in spite of the fact that they could just as easily have done their job from home.

Why is this? My impression is that most of the actual work people do can just as easily be done remotely.

One potential reason is that virtual meetings still aren’t as useful as face-to-face ones. Cameras aren’t good enough, and it isn’t easy to be looking at the same presentation or the same computer screen while talking (I’m not saying it isn’t possible, just that tools for this aren’t ubiquitous).

The other potential reason I can think of is that bosses find it hard to supervise their staff if they cannot physically sneak up on them. In theory, this could be resolved by putting a webcam in every home-worker’s office so that the boss can see what people are doing. I doubt many people would like that, but I presume some people would find it a price worth paying for avoiding the commute.

Anyway, let’s assume for now that it’s likely that a software company will one day soon release a program that makes working from home feasible and desirable, to a point where companies wouldn’t actually provide office space for most of their employees.

What would the consequences be? Many people would quickly realise that their is little point in paying astronomical rents in London, New York or one of the other global metropolises when they could do their job just as easily from a remote location where the costs of living are lower.

Soon people would start moving to cheap locations with decent weather, beautiful scenery and good food. Other things people would be looking for would include the quality of the schools, the presence of an international airport (for the rare occasions when you need to attend a face-to-face meeting or a conference), and the attractiveness of the tax system for people with foreign incomes.

Of course there would still be many good reasons for living in London or New York, but if just 20% of the current inhabitants were to leave without being replaced by a new influx, rents would collapse and whole areas would become ghost towns, and this process would make it even less attractive to live in a metropolis.

On the other hand, I imagine that areas such as the Scottish Highlands, the depopulated villages of many Mediterranean countries and the Caribbean islands would become new property hotspots.

This would be a huge difference compared to the last few decades. It seems to have become more and more attractive to live in a metropolis, probably because the disappearance of jobs for life, as well as the increase in couples where both have a career, has made it imperative to live in a place where there are plenty of job opportunities within commuting distance. However, as I’ve argued above, this might all be about to change.

Population growth in independent countries and Scotland


Two weeks ago, the Better Nation blog contained a posting by Jeff Breslin which contained the following passage:

Perhaps the saddest aspect of Ireland’s current difficulties is the number of bright young things leaving the country for better prospects abroad. One could argue that this isn’t a road that Scotland would want to go down through independence and, yet, that is precisely what is happening now. (I know this from experience as I moved to London strictly because Scotland couldn’t provide the PhD that my partner wished to study. Wales, incidentally, could).

The Irish population in 1961 was 2.8m. The population today is 4.5m.

The Norwegian population in 1961 was 3.6m. The population today is 5.0m.

The Icelandic population in 1961 was 179,000. The population today is 318,000.

The Scottish population in 1961 was 5.2m. The population today is 5.2m.

There is clearly only one stagnant, problem child in the above list and that is because there is an historic, corrosive brain drain taking place in Scotland that is damaging growth from both a population and an economic viewpoint. It is little wonder that ‘London-based parties’, to use an unfortunate phrase, are championing the continuation of the UK when it is London that is the prime beneficiary of this very brain drain.

Kids wanting to get away from it all in Sweden move to Stockholm, kids wanting to get away from it all in Norway move to Oslo and kids wanting to get away from it all in Iceland move to Reykjavik but too many kids wanting to get away from it all in Scotland move to London, and we are haemhorrhaging talent and creativity as a direct result.

I decided to have a closer look at this. Using figures from Wikipedia (look for the articles called Demographics of …), I’ve made two graphs.

The first one (top right) shows the populations of Scotland, Ireland, Denmark and Norway from 1900 to 2010. In 1900, Scotland was by far the most populous country of the four, with almost as big a population as Norway and Denmark combined. Scotland and Ireland had almost stagnant populations for the following decades, while Norway and Denmark grew rapidly. A while after Ireland became independent, the Irish population suddenly exploded, and it has now almost caught up with Denmark. Scotland seems to have experienced modest growth after the introduction of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

The other graph (on the left) adds Sweden and England, but instead of using absolute numbers, the graphs are relative to the populations in 1900.

The second graph clearly shows a difference between non-independent Scotland and pre-independence Ireland on one hand, and the independent countries (or the dominant part of the union, in the case of England) on the other.

If Scotland had experienced the same relative population growth as Denmark since the year 1900, the population in 2010 would have been around 10.1m instead of 5.2m. Would this have happened if Scotland had regained her independence under Queen Victoria, or are there other reasons why Scotland would never have been as fertile as Denmark?

Slut med pasudstedelse på konsulaterne

Man har hidtil kunnet forny sit danske pas på ambassader og konsulater i udlandet. For eksempel fornyede jeg før jul mit pas og fik første danske pas til Anna og Amaia på konsulatet i Bishopbriggs nord for Glasgow.

Desværre ser det ud til, at de nye skrappere krav til danske pas betyder, at man i de fleste lande skal til nærmeste ambassade for at forny sit pas, da der skal bruges en elektronisk fingeraftrykslæser og andet avanceret udstyr. (Her er listen over steder, der har udstyret, og her er den sorteret efter land.)

Hvis man bor i Storbritannien skal man altså til London, og det er en lang tur, hvis man bor i det nordlige Skotland. (Hidtil har man kunnet få nyt pas på alle konsulater, i Storbritannien altså Aberdeen, Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford/Leeds, Bristol , Cardiff, Dover, Dundee, Edinburgh, Gibraltar, Glasgow, Goole, Grimsby, Harwich, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Newcastle upon Tyne, Plymouth/Dartmouth, Portsmouth, Southampton, Stornoway, Whitehaven og Wick.)

Helt galt bliver det andre steder i verden. Hvis man fx bor i New Zealand, skal man nu til Australien for at forny sit pas, og hvis man bor i Alaska, Texas eller Vestaustralien, bliver rejsen til ambassaden også ganske lang.

Hvis man som mig har børn (hvis pas jo kun er gyldige i to eller fem år, afhængigt af alder), skal man altså til ambassaden ganske ofte (sammen med de relevante børn).

Gad vidst, hvad der sker, hvis ens pas bliver stjålet, mens man fx er i New Zealand? Kan konsulatet i New Zealand udstede en form for pas, der gør det muligt at komme til Australien, eller sidder man fast i New Zealand på livstid?

Man kan også ansøge om nyt pas, hvis man tilfældigvis er i Danmark:

It is already possible today – and cheaper – to get a passport from a municipality (kommune) in Denmark. All Danish citizens can apply for a passport at the Civil Service Centre (Borgerservicecenter) in any municipality. It is not necessary for you to reside in or in other way be attached to the municipality. […] You may wish to call beforehand for information on opening hours, booking of appointment etc. and inform them that you reside abroad. The processing time for an ordinary passport is approximately 10-14 days. The Civil Service Centre can issue an express passport faster than 10-14 days and an extra fee will be charged.

We recommend that you apply for a passport during your stay in Denmark well ahead of your departure, in order to receive the new passport before you leave Denmark. Another option would be to try to make an agreement with the Civil Service Centre so that they will send your new passport via courier service to your address abroad.

Problemet er jo bare, at jeg sjældent er i Danmark i mere end en uge ad gangen, og jeg kunne forestille mig, at danske statsborgere i New Zealand eller Sydamerika måske ikke kommer forbi Danmark hvert år. Hvis det var normal procedure at sende det nye pas med anbefalet post, var det jo ikke så galt, men citatet ovenfor får mig til at tro, at Borgerservice godt kunne finde på at sige nej, når man beder om at få det tilsendt. Problemet findes også på ambassaderne: “You may enquire at the mission that will be issuing your passport whether it is possible to have the new passport sent to you, but you must be aware that the old passport must be handed in for cancellation, before the new passport can be delivered to you.” Potentielt skal man altså rejse fra New Zealand til Australien to gange med få ugers mellemrum.

Jeg tror, man måske har glemt, der er mange danske statsborgere, der ikke ofte er i Danmark og heller ikke ofte er tæt på en ambassade. Og der er altså økonomisk krise i store dele af verden, så mange danskere i udlandet kan altså ikke bare købe flybilletter, som om det var slikpapir.

Jeg kan forestille mig flg. muligheder for at gøre systemet mere fleksibelt:

  • Gør det til en ret at få tilsendt sit nye pas med posten, uanset om man får dem udstedt på en ambassade eller i Danmark, og giv denne service en fast pris.
  • Giv flere konsulater udstyret til at tage fingeraftryk etc. Det ville ikke være nær så slemt, hvis jeg skulle en tur til Edinburgh eller måske Manchester i stedet for London. I det mindste burde mindst ét konsulat få udstyret i hvert land.
  • Lav en pasbus, der kører rundt i Europa. Hvis jeg vidste, den fx var i Skotland hvert år i december og juni, ville det være fint nok.
  • Indfør en form for minipas (el. id-kort) uden fingeraftryk, der er gyldige i rejser i Europa, og som kan udstedes på konsulaterne.
  • Hvis fingeraftryk i pas er et EU-krav, kunne man så ikke dele udstyret med andre lande, så man kunne blive biometrisk opmålt på et hvilket som helst paskontor i EU, men få passet udstedt i det land, man er statsborger i?

Jeg håber meget, de danske politikere hurtigt får gjort noget ved dette store problem for danskere i udlandet!

Scotland and Scandinavia superimposed

On a normal map it’s difficult to see how far north Scotland is compared to Scandinavia.

To illustrate it better, I generated two Google maps of the same latitudes, just 15 degrees apart, and then superimposed them in the Gimp.

You can see the result on the right (click on it for a larger version). It’s clear that all the cities of Scotland are on the same latitude as Denmark and southern Sweden, whereas only the far north of Scotland is as far north as southern Norway.

Aberdeen is on a similar latitude as Aalborg or Varberg, Dundee is like Viborg, Glasgow is like Horsens, and the southernmost bit of Scotland is almost exactly as far south as Gedser in Denmark.

Moving the UK to CET/CEST



Crazy Timezones
Originally uploaded by tm-tm

The UK government’s recent idea to move the UK from GMT/BST to CET/CEST and the Scottish Government’s refusal to play along is quite interesting.

Let’s have a look at various locations in the UK and compare it with a city on the same longitude but further south, Málaga:

Equinox (23/09/2011):

Location Sunrise GMT/BST Sunset GMT/BST Sunrise CE(S)T Sunset CE(S)T
Inverness 7:05 19:13 8:05 20:13
Glasgow 7:05 19:13 8:05 20:13
Belfast 7:12 19:19 8:12 20:19
London 6:49 18:56 7:49 19:56
Málaga 7:07 19:13 8:07 20:13

Obviously there’s not much difference between any of these locations, and one might argue that CEST is a better time zone at this time of the year.

Summer solstice (21/06/2011):

Location Sunrise GMT/BST Sunset GMT/BST Sunrise CE(S)T Sunset CE(S)T
Inverness 4:20 22:17 5:20 23:17
Glasgow 4:33 22:04 5:33 23:04
Belfast 4:49 22:02 5:49 23:02
London 4:44 21:19 5:44 22:19
Málaga 6:00 20:38 7:00 21:38

At all of the UK locations, the sun rises at an impossibly early time, so either time zone is feasible in the morning. In the evening, either time zone is feasible in Scotland, but I can understand if people in London would rather have brighter evenings.

Winter solstice (22/12/2011):

Location Sunrise GMT/BST Sunset GMT/BST Sunrise CE(S)T Sunset CE(S)T
Inverness 9:00 15:30 10:00 16:30
Glasgow 8:48 15:43 9:48 16:43
Belfast 8:47 15:58 9:47 16:58
London 8:05 15:52 9:05 16:52
Málaga 7:28 17:04 8:28 18:04

This is the problematic time. In London, it’s probably not a big deal whether the sun rises at 9 instead of 8, and they would enjoy having daylight until 5pm (and this tendency is even more pronounced in Málaga). However, in Northern Ireland and Scotland, it would mean not seeing the sun till around 10am in the winter, which makes for very depressing mornings.

I must therefore support the Scottish Government’s stance on this – moving to a time zone further east makes good sense the further south you are, but north of 50°N it’s not a good idea (remember also that most of the UK is further west than London).

I probably believe so more strongly because of growing up in Denmark. In Denmark, schools normally start at 8am, not at 9am like in Scotland. The effect is therefore the same as if Scotland moved to CE(S)T. And I must say that I found going to school in the winter utterly depressing, and I was very happy to move to a country where people get up later in the morning.

Nearest country

As a variation on my map of the nearest capitals, I had a quick look at determining the nearest foreign country for all parts of a country. This is best done on a per-country basis, so here’s a map of Denmark allocated into German, Swedish and Norwegian “sectors”.

I guess the main use of this would be to determine which languages to teach in schools on a regional basis.

However, I’m not sure how useful it is – I guess a large country (such as Germany) will influence a larger area than a small country (such as Luxembourg), so I guess I should build some kind of population weighting into the program, too.