Tales from the White Hart (Arthur C Clarke)

It’s been a great Christmas for reading. My brother does a fair amount of reading too and for Christmas he gave me two books. The first to be read is “Tales from the White Hart” by Arthur C Clarke. It’s a collection of short stories told in a regular pub meeting of scientists, writers and publishers. The pub is called the “White Hart” and the stories are all originally told by a character called Harry Purvis. They are re-told and narrated by one of the regulars, whose name I forget as it played little significance in the stories.

One of the stories I’d read in a previous collection, the others were all new, all imaginative and all believable to a point. That’s what I like most about science fiction – the extension of real proven scientific theories into nonsense… or at least what might be nonsense but close enough to possible there might be some truth.

Not all the stories are pure science fiction, some are clever plays on expectation and situation. Without wanting to give away too much, one story centers on scientists working at a weapons research station. Drinking in their local pub, the locals were always naturally cautious about exactly what weapons were being developed (especially remember, this is the 1950’s when the atomic bomb was at the forefront of everyone’s mind). When a lorry comes from the direction of their works towards the pub and crashes in view (though a mile or two away) everyone fears the worst. The locals decide the lorry has come from the works and the speed at which the driver ran away from his overturned lorry suggests they should all be doing the same thing. The scientists are also thinking the same thing. One decides to walk the mile and find precisely what disaster they conspired in releasing in the countryside… it’s not what would seem apparent.

That reminds me of one of my favourite short stories that Arthur C Clarke wrote called “Neutron Tide”. You can read it on this website – it’s less than 5 minutes to read.

Anyway, what Rootie Rating to give Tales from the White Hart? 4 out of 5 – there are some real gems in this book.

Star Risk – The Scoundrel worlds (Chris Bunch), Star Risk – The Doublecross Program (Chris Bunch) and Star Risk – The Dog From Hell (Chris Bunch)

Perhaps I’m going for my longest ever review title, or perhaps the first book was so good I just had to read the following three in quick succession. In the first book, Star Risk Ltd is a fledgling mercenary company out to earn a fortune and take on the universe. I loved how easy to read the books were though missed the thoroughly thought out detail contained in other Sci-Fi stories I have read.
These 3 books continue with the same easy to read style and a couple of nice twists. Our mercenaries get themselves into a couple of difficult situations but between them manage to make every situation work in their favour. A sturdy 3 out of 5 rootie rating for each one of these.

Onto something slightly different. The author, Chris Bunch, died in 2005 (it was mentioned at the beginning of one of the books). I would have thought that this was the end of the Star Risk saga but googling for him brings me to his new book “Star Risk – The Gangster Conspiracy“. Can he write from beyond the grave? Perhaps not. The cover of the new book reads:
“Chris Bunch’s The Gangster Conspiracy, A Star Risk Novel, By Dal Perry & Steve Perry”.
Perhaps he did write some before he died and it was finished but I think the series has been successful enough the publishers and/or his family are allowing it to continue, albeit written by other authors. Chris Bunch, and his creation Star Risk have become a brand it seems, long to continue in print as well as re-print.

Part of me wonders if the new story is up to the same standard (or perhaps better?). If I come across it I’ll read it and let you know. The other part of me is most impressed. I heard somewhere (so take this with pinch of salt) that most authors work is out of print within 5 years of their death. Only a small few reach the immortal status of stories that span generations. If the Gangster Conspiracy is up to scratch, Chris Bunch may be one of the few that achieves an authors immortality. Good for him.

Star Risk (Chris Bunch)

Part one of a sci fi series (I managed to buy all 4 in one go at the second hand bookshop – woohoo!) all covered in bright metallic covers with a stylised logo on the front. My first thoughts… this looks like the sort of thing I would have bought as a teenager… perhaps I shouldn’t buy it now. Still, it was in the Sci-Fi section, and there were 4 of a series so in for a penny, in for a pound (OK, more than a pound, even second hand bookshop owners have to feed their children).

It may be true you can’t judge a book by it’s cover but in this case I managed too. The story is a simply written tale that watches the creation of a mercenary/security company that manage to compete against other companies as they build their fledgling business. All highly skilled, they use a few pieces of technology to outwit their enemies. Of course, they succeed. It really is the sort of book I would have read as a teenager (I found the cover quite appropriate in that respect). I don’t think that’s a bad thing, it’s been a very simple, easy read that required little thought and was actually quite relaxing. Although I can’t rate it as highly as other books I’ve read, I’ll not rate it as poor either. Rootie Rating 3 out of 5 (Now, onto reading book number 2)

"Smart" new training centre (I just couldn't resist the pun!) and other things


Wednesday night was hospitality night for me. First, I went to Ashford to see my friend Annie Browne’s opening of her new training centre. Apple juice, nibbles, some words from the mayor and meeting people I haven’t seen in a while. All good fun! It’s a smart training setup in more ways than one; it’s a nice new professional training area, it’s also the first time I’ve seen a smartboard in use in business.

Smartboards are like great big computer screens that you can draw on. Gone are the days of looking for a piece of chalk, you can write things using just your finger. You can write things in different colours, save your notes and email them to people later. You can use it to show a PowerPoint presentation, watch a move or surf the Internet.

This may be new to me in business, but my 10 year old daughter would know exactly how to operate a smartboard. Her school started installing them 5 years ago and now every classroom has one. My 5 year old son arrives in class to move his name tag into whether he is pack lunch or school dinners. It used to be a set of cards in pockets on the wall, now he drags his named hot air balloon image on the smartboard from the ground into the cloud that equates to pack lunch or dinners. As someone who remembers the transition from chalk board to white board at school I can’t help but be impressed at the speed technology is moving on.


In my recent course at Canterbury Christchurch University, almost all the tutors used projectors and PowerPoint presentations. Smartboards haven’t quite reached them yet. Wednesday night was also the award ceremony where I and many of the others collected our certificates. More apple juice, more nibbles, some words from the Vice Chancellor and meeting people I haven’t seen in a while. More good fun! So here you have it, a photo of my “Certificate in Business”, a whole 40 credits at level 1. I confess, I’m vain enough to want a degree just to prove I could do it. In reality, I don’t need one (it wont help my career prospects!). That said, I love learning new things. The trouble is knowing what I need to learn. This course did nothing for my business knowledge but lots for my French. Perhaps I should do a course on how to operate a smart board…

3 Years of blogging

Wow! That went quick. It was just over 3 years ago I installed some blog software called “Movabletype” onto my web server to run my personal playspace. I guess blogging is a phase of life that’s still in me, though several things have been and gone. My running phase never quite restarted after “je suis tombe“. Speaking of which, The French lessons I began in January finished and I haven’t been able to get on the next ones (the teacher’s great, but the course is over subscribed again and I wasn’t quick enough to book in). I still get tears in my eyes when I read this post.

Onto happier things, someone other than me visits these pages. The server log shows that in November 2007 there were 10,208 page views. That compares to 1,599 at the end of the first year and 6,024 a the end of the second year.

Most people still look for this page on what the shortcut key is on Windows to show the desktop and minimise all the open programs (Windows key & D at the same time, at least for XP, I’ve not tried Vista enough to find out). That’s not so closely followed by people searching for “steve root”, I wonder who he is? After which, How much do books weigh? and how to know that shelf you are putting up is strong enough. I’m also not the only one to wonder “is damn a swear word?“.

Margins and markups What everyone in business needs to know.

Quick answer in words (requested from the comments)
Margin = The comparison between your selling price (100%) and your profit
Markup = The comparison between your cost price (100%) and your profit

Every time we get a new member of staff I have to teach them how to work out margins and mark ups. This page is here so I don’t have to explain it from scratch for the next new person.

Whats a mark up & whats a margin?

They are terms given to the way a business works out how much money it will make or has made on a product. Its the difference between the buying price and the selling price as a percentage.

Mark ups and margins are all about percentages. Despite learning percentages at school everyone seems to have forgotten them by the time they get to work, so lets start at the beginning:

What is a percentage?

Percentages are away of comparing different values using a ratio. I think it comes from the French phrase ”Per Cent” meaning “per hundred”
Example time
It you have a 100ml jar that is full (100ml) it is at 100% capacity and 100% of its volume. If it is only half full (50ml) it is at 50% capacity and 50% of its volume. Easy so far.
You choose where your 100% begins and thats where many people start to get confused. Lets say I wanted to put a chemical in my jar and the safe maximum level was 50ml. It I fill the jar to 50ml it is now at 100% capacity. It l over fill it to 75ml it is now at 150% of its safe capacity yet at the same time only 75% of its volume.

How do we work that out?

  1. throw away your Calculators % button. It is only there to confuse you!
  2. Start with 100 and divide it by your unit of measure that is 100%.In the above chemical jar example 100% safe capacity was 50ml So 100 / 50 = 2
  3. Multiply by the actual unit of measure you have. In the example above, our overfilled jar held 75ml so 75 * 2 = 150, which is your answer as a percentage, the chemical jar was at 150% of its safe capacity.

Now we know about percentages, let’s apply that to mark-ups and margins

To do this I first want to tell you percentages best kept secret!
100% of 1 is 1.
50% of 1 is 0.5.
So to turn a % into a decimal just move the point two places to the left
75% becomes 0.75,
62.5% becomes 0.625
(or if you get very scared by not using the calculator, just divide by 100. 100 / 100 =1 , 50 / 100 = 0.5, 75 / 100 = 0.75)

Mark ups and margins are all based around percentages.
Lets start with a mark up calculation.
You are given a buying price (50) and told to mark up by 50%

50 * 0.5 = 25 euros
Add them together 50 + 25 = 75

Lets try that with Britains most popular mark up, VAT (Value Added Tax for my friendly non British readers). VAT is (at the time of writing) 17.5% added to the selling price of many products and handed to the government to pay for part of running the country.

17.5% as a decimal is 0.175
50 * 0.175 = 8.75
Add them together 50 + 8.75 = 58.75

It gets better though, if you want to know only the total including vat you can take a shortcut. 100% = 1, 17.5% = 0.175, added together 1.175, so
50 * 1.175 = 58.75
In other words, our total including the VAT mark up is 117.5% of our starting point. Our starting point is the price without the vat (100%).

One more example then, 66 + a 50% markup in one go:
66 * 1.50 = 99.

What about taking off a markup? Lets say you’ve been given a book of retail prices including VAT and you have to load them onto a computer without VAT. It’s simple when you remember the VAT total is 117.5% because division ( key: / )is the opposite of multiplication ( key: * ). Note, on your calculator it looks like 34-dividekey.jpg.

58.75/1.175 = 50

Remove our 50% mark up
99/1.5 = 66

Be careful! This only works when you have more than 100% to begin with. Eg, you cannot do 99/.5 to find out what the 50% was, 99/.5 = 198!

So, with a mark up our starting figure (eg cost) is 100%. You can have a markup of any value, eg 300%

Now for margins

With a margin our ENDING figure is 100%. You can never have a margin equal or greater than 100%

Sometimes you’ll be given a selling price (eg recommended retail price, RRP) if you have 33% margin, what price do you put on your purchase order? (in this case, margin is our profit).

50×0.33= 16.50
Which is our profit, so 50 – 16.50 = 33.50 Our buyingprice

Again we can shortcut this to find our cost price. If we know that if 33% is our margin then 67% must be our buying price, so 50×0.67 = 33.50

What about when we have a buying price. A margin of 33% and we need to knew the selling price?
We know that if our margin is 33%, our cost must be 67% (our selling price with a margin calculation must always be 100% so 100% – 33% profit margin = 67% for the cost).
We can divide our cost price by the cost percentage to return to 100% selling price, eg:
33.50 is 67% of our 100% total, so
33.50 / 0.67 = 50

Still with me on this?

Lets try comparing some mark ups and margins and see what happens.
A sales rep once said to me “You’ll make more selling my product because the price list I give you has a 50% profit; everyone else is using 40%.”
The trouble is he was talking about profit as a mark up calculation in his book and everyone else was talking in margins.
A £75 product in his book had a profit of £25

(Using mark up: selling price = 150% of cost price, cost price = 100%, so £75 / 1.50 = £50 cost, therefore £25 profit).

A £75 product in everyone elses book had a margin of £30

(Using margin: selling price = 100%, margin = 40%, therefore £75 * 0.4 = £30 profit)

So, a 40% margin is better than a 50% mark up.

Heres one for people who arent in business.

Have you ever been tempted by the banners proclaiming “Sale prices – Well pay the 17.5% VAT”? Great! A 17.5% discount. right?
Thats what the marketing department want you to think, but as you now know, VAT is a markup calculation so to arrive at the excluding VAT price you DO NOT deduct 17.5%. Lets work out what the real discount is, assuming our 2 fictitious bargains are £100 for the Kanga and £117.50 for the Roo respectively, including VAT. Lets remove the VAT the right and wrong way.

A VAT inclusive price is 117.5% of our original price, so:
Kanga: £100 / 1.175 = £85.11
Roo: £117.50 / 1.175 = £100.00
are the correct after VAT removed prices.

Lets assume the marketing department sent the wrong poster to be printed:
“Save 17.5%, buy our Kanga and Roo today” it proclaimed.
17.5% as a decimal is 0.175 (simply move the decimal two places like we said earlier)
Kanga: £100 * 0.175 = £17.50 discount = £82.50 left to pay
Roo: £117.50 * 0.175 = £20.56 discount = £96.94 left to pay

Thats right, if the sign proclaims you save 17.5% – it’s wrong, you actually save
(working this out using the same process as above so you see how it works again):

  1. throw away your calculators % button. It is only there to confuse you!
  2. Start with 100 and divide it by your unit of measure that is 100%. In the above, 100% of the VAT inclusive price was 100 for Kanga So 100 / 100 = 1
  3. Multiply by the actual unit of measure you have. In the example above, our after VAT price is 85.11 so 85.11 * 1 = 85.11

We know 85.11% is our before VAT price, so VAT content was 100% – 85.11% = 14.89%

I guess Save 14.89%, buy our Kanga and Roo today just doesnt have the same ring on a poster.

By the way, if you’re wondering why i used $ instead of £, I wrote most of this entry on a Coach travelling through france and it was simply quicker to write on my PDA 🙂  Corrected!