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Mosquito (Mosquito)
Posted on Monday, December 12, 2005 - 12:11 am:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Was the state of affairs restricted to England? To London? Was the government involved? Regulations? Taxes? Utilities?

Did you anticipate the change? Without knowing it would have any bearing on your job? Or at least that it would have the effect it did?

Will states of affairs X and Y become more obvious when we know what the program was supposed to do? Vice-versa?
David Burn (Woubit)
Posted on Monday, December 12, 2005 - 7:26 am:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

By Mosquito (Mosquito) on Monday, December 12, 2005 - 12:11 am:

Was the state of affairs restricted to England? no To London? no Was the government involved? yes Regulations? yes Taxes? yes, indeed - good question :) Utilities? only indirectly

Did you anticipate the change? yes Without knowing it would have any bearing on your job? we knew that it would require us to do some work Or at least that it would have the effect it did? but we were not quite sure what the effects would be

Will states of affairs X and Y become more obvious when we know what the program was supposed to do? yes Vice-versa? no
Mosquito (Mosquito)
Posted on Monday, December 12, 2005 - 12:16 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Was the SOA restricted to Great Britain? To Europe? VAT involved? Was BT (I assume) involved in some kind of deregulation? Relevant?

Was the program supposed to change billing procedures to comply with SOA Y? Procedures for paying taxes? Paying creditors? Suppliers, etc? Procedures to allow other telephone companies to collect charges?

Had you stayed at work so late specifically to do this job? Which needed to be done because of the change in the SOA? Were there similar late jobs you had to do at various times?
David Burn (Woubit)
Posted on Tuesday, December 13, 2005 - 12:58 am:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Was the SOA restricted to Great Britain? yesish To Europe? no VAT involved? Wyes indeed - well done :) was BT (I assume correct) involved in some kind of deregulation? no Relevant?

Was the program supposed to change billing procedures to comply with SOA Y? yes Procedures for paying taxes? Paying creditors? Suppliers, etc? Procedures to allow other telephone companies to collect charges? no - just procedures for collecting VAT on phone bills

Had you stayed at work so late specifically to do this job? yesish Which needed to be done because of the change in the SOA? yes Were there similar late jobs you had to do at various times? yes
Mosquito (Mosquito)
Posted on Tuesday, December 13, 2005 - 1:08 am:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Was VAT being introduced for the first time? Or was the rate changing? (What is it now, about 130%?) Is this relevant?

Was it only business customers who were subject to the VAT? Private customers as well? Is this relevant?

Could you have done this job earlier in the day or evening, but decided to take some liquid refreshment in between? Was there some time before which you could not do the job?

These last aren't relevant either, I'll wager. :(
John Morahan (Wunderland)
Posted on Tuesday, December 13, 2005 - 7:04 am:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Start of the tax year relevant? did you avoid having to do work relating to the previous year's taxes?
David Burn (Woubit)
Posted on Tuesday, December 13, 2005 - 8:08 am:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

By John Morahan (Wunderland) on Tuesday, December 13, 2005 - 07:04 am:

Start of the tax year relevant? yes did you avoid having to do work relating to the previous year's taxes? no, but...
Mosquito (Mosquito)
Posted on Tuesday, December 13, 2005 - 4:10 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

OK, so irrelevant as to not merit an answer... :(
David Burn (Woubit)
Posted on Tuesday, December 13, 2005 - 5:47 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

By Mosquito (Mosquito) on Tuesday, December 13, 2005 - 01:08 am:

Was VAT being introduced for the first time? no - VAT was introduced in 1973 Or was the rate changing? yes, indeed :) (What is it now, about 130%? roughly) Is this relevant? very much so

Was it only business customers who were subject to the VAT? Private customers as well? nothing is certain, except death and taxes. It is not only businessmen who die. Is this relevant? again, very much so

Could you have done this job earlier in the day or evening, but decided to take some liquid refreshment in between? not really - we needed to wait until late at night, wherefore... Was there some time before which you could not do the job? ...there was, but we decided we could not start work until we had got back from the pub

These last aren't relevant either, I'll wager. on the contrary - they constitute considerable progress :)
Mosquito (Mosquito)
Posted on Wednesday, December 14, 2005 - 5:07 am:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

hmmm...so the VAT rate was changing (in which direction I wonder...) on the following day? which was... the first day of the new tax year? of a quarter? of a BT billing period?

Had you lot dealt with a change in VAT before?

Did you need to do it late because as soon as you performed the task the new rates would take effect? Was it necessary to do it before the start of the next business day?
David Burn (Woubit)
Posted on Wednesday, December 14, 2005 - 9:10 am:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

By Mosquito (Mosquito) on Wednesday, December 14, 2005 - 05:07 am:

hmmm...so the VAT rate was changing mirabile dictu :) (in which direction I wonder...the days of "no taxation without representation" are long gone, though the consequences were as deplorable then as now on the following day? as it happened which was... the first day of the new tax year? of a quarter? of a BT billing period? all of these

Had you lot dealt with a change in VAT before? we had. But the inhabitants of the city containing the pub had not dealt with a change of this (apparent) magnitude...

Did you need to do it late because as soon as you performed the task the new rates would take effect? no - we had to start at the roughly time we did for "operational reasons", which meant that we had to work at dead of night Was it necessary to do it before the start of the next business day? {yes}
Mosquito (Mosquito)
Posted on Wednesday, December 14, 2005 - 2:00 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Is the "apparent magnitude" of the change relevant? Is the "apparent magnitude" the size of the increase in VAT? The size of the increase in the phone bills? Something similar? Something different?

Did you find that beer mats were a more effective and durable input medium than the cards you were accustomed to using?

Were the "operational reasons" that no one else needed to use the computer? That no one was even using their telephones, as they (the people) were all tucked up in bed?
David Burn (Woubit)
Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2005 - 8:48 am:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

By Mosquito (Mosquito) on Wednesday, December 14, 2005 - 02:00 pm:

Is the "apparent magnitude" of the change relevant? yes Is the "apparent magnitude" the size of the increase in VAT? yes The size of the increase in the phone bills? and this also Something similar? Something different?

Did you find that beer mats were a more effective and durable input medium than the cards you were accustomed to using? no - we used beer mats to document the system changes

Were the "operational reasons" that no one else needed to use the computer? yes That no one was even using their telephones, as they (the people) were all tucked up in bed? even in Portsmouth, some people might have been using their telephones at midnight
Mosquito (Mosquito)
Posted on Friday, December 16, 2005 - 3:59 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Was there actually less work for you to do? Did the computer do its job more quickly, so that you had to do less standing around? And could move on sooner to other tasks?

If you had started this job before midnight, it would have taken longer?

Was the task one that always had to be done when the bills were going out? Only when there was some change in the rates? Only when there was a change in the VAT?
David Burn (Woubit)
Posted on Saturday, December 17, 2005 - 3:19 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

By Mosquito (Mosquito) on Friday, December 16, 2005 - 03:59 pm:

Was there actually less work for you to do? yes Did the computer do its job more quickly, so that you had to do less standing around? no And could move on sooner to other tasks?

If you had started this job before midnight, it would have taken longer? almost certainly, since it would have been more diificult

Was the task one that always had to be done when the bills were going out? no Only when there was some change in the rates? noish Only when there was a change in the VAT? no, but...
Mosquito (Mosquito)
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 3:21 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Was this task a one-off?

Did it have to be done this time because the change in the rates was so huge? Did you have to add an additional digit to the bill-printing procedure?
David Burn (Woubit)
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 3:28 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

By Mosquito (Mosquito) on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 03:21 pm:

Was this task a one-off? yes

Did it have to be done this time because the change in the rates was so huge? yope Did you have to add an additional digit to the bill-printing procedure? no
Jens Weber (Sundowner)
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 5:54 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Relevant what exactly the new tax rate was? Was it for the first time larger than 10%?
Was a reduced tax rate for communication services introduced?
VAT rate for phone talks that extend over midnight relevant?
Did something else of relevance happen at midnight of this historical day, except for the increase in VAT getting into power and the bar in the pub closing?
Did the customers benefit from the fact that you started yoru work later? did your company? did HM Revenue & Customs?
David Burn (Woubit)
Posted on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 6:01 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

By Jens Weber (Sundowner) on Monday, December 19, 2005 - 05:54 pm:

Relevant what exactly the new tax rate was? no Was it for the first time larger than 10%? The basic rate of VAT in the UK was set at 15% in 1979, and did not change until 1991, when it increased to 17.5%. But certain customers were being charged VAT at a rather higher rate than this by the telephone company...
Was a reduced tax rate for communication services introduced? no
VAT rate for phone talks that extend over midnight relevant? no, but good thinking
Did something else of relevance happen at midnight of this historical day, except for the increase in VAT getting into power and the bar in the pub closing? not that I recall. But then, I was busy.
Did the customers benefit from the fact that you started your work later? yes did your company? yes did HM Revenue & Customs? no
Mosquito (Mosquito)
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 3:10 am:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

So the rate increase applied only to certain customers? Were they receiving different types of service from the people who remained at the 15% rate?

Did this have something to do with these special customers being able to claim back some portion of the VAT at the end of the year?

Was doing it after midnight easier simply because it was the same day that the changes came in force?
David Burn (Woubit)
Posted on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 3:45 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

By Mosquito (Mosquito) on Tuesday, December 20, 2005 - 03:10 am:

So the rate increase applied only to certain customers? the rate change only applied to certain customers, yes Were they receiving different types of service from the people who remained at the 15% rate? they were indeed, but this needs further investigation

Did this have something to do with these special customers being able to claim back some portion of the VAT at the end of the year? they could claim a substantial portion of the VAT back before the end of the year...

Was doing it after midnight easier simply because it was the same day that the changes came in force? not entirely, but...
Mosquito (Mosquito)
Posted on Thursday, December 22, 2005 - 8:44 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Had many of the companies that were undergoing a rate change ceased trading at midnight (i.e. the end of the financial year)? Was it business customers only getting their rate changed? Certain business? If so, is the relevant factor the type of business, or the type of phone services they were receiving? both?

Did the change from the last day of the financial year to the first day of the next mean that some of the VAT was already claimed back? Or something along those lines?
David Burn (Woubit)
Posted on Thursday, December 22, 2005 - 8:54 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

By Mosquito (Mosquito) on Thursday, December 22, 2005 - 08:44 pm:

Had many of the companies that were undergoing a rate change ceased trading at midnight (i.e. the end of the financial year)? the people whose rates changed were not companies. And the "rate change" was not entirely in order to comply with Government regulations, but for another reason Was it business customers only getting their rate changed? no - in fact, no business customers were involved at all Certain business? no If so, is the relevant factor the type of business, or the type of phone services they were receiving? both?

Did the change from the last day of the financial year to the first day of the next mean that some of the VAT was already claimed back? Or something along those lines? the VAT that had been charged could be claimed back, and the fact that the incident occurred when it did made this easier
Haenlomal (Haenlomal)
Posted on Thursday, December 22, 2005 - 9:26 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Sorry, but what's SOA, and what's VAT?
David Burn (Woubit)
Posted on Thursday, December 22, 2005 - 9:30 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

By Haenlomal (Haenlomal) on Thursday, December 22, 2005 - 09:26 pm:

Sorry, but what's SOA, and what's VAT? I believe that SOA has been used to mean "state of affairs". VAT stands for Value Added Tax, a sorry SOA indeed under which everything in England costs 17.5% more than it ought to cost. It is also a ridiculous name, since to add to the price of something is necessarily to subtract from its value.
Mosquito (Mosquito)
Posted on Monday, December 26, 2005 - 12:07 am:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

So is it important which customers were experiencing a change in their rates? And why?
David Burn (Woubit)
Posted on Monday, December 26, 2005 - 12:17 am:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

By Mosquito (Mosquito) on Monday, December 26, 2005 - 12:07 am:

So is it important which customers were experiencing a change in their rates? yes And why? yes
Mosquito (Mosquito)
Posted on Monday, December 26, 2005 - 12:33 am:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

So...these customers were confined to a geographical location? Had extra services? Were new customers? Had been customers the same amount of time as one another? Were using fax machines or other hardware besides a regular phone? Had been under a particular payment plan?
David Burn (Woubit)
Posted on Monday, December 26, 2005 - 12:44 am:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

By Mosquito (Mosquito) on Monday, December 26, 2005 - 12:33 am:

So...these customers were confined to a geographical location? yes - Portsmouth, in Hamphsire, England Had extra services? no Were new customers? on the contrary... Had been customers the same amount of time as one another? not necessarily, though some of them were likely to have been} Were using fax machines or other hardware besides a regular phone? no Had been under a particular payment plan? yesish...
Mosquito (Mosquito)
Posted on Monday, December 26, 2005 - 12:51 am:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Did this change apply to all residential BT users in Portsmouth? to the longest-term customers? Were they receiving a new dialling code? Were they the last to experience some kind of modernisation? Was the change bringing them into line with the majority of BT customers across the country?
David Burn (Woubit)
Posted on Monday, December 26, 2005 - 1:02 am:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

By Mosquito (Mosquito) on Monday, December 26, 2005 - 12:51 am:

Did this change apply to all residential BT users in Portsmouth? no to the longest-term customers? no, but there is a good chance that those to whom it did apply would be long-serving customers Were they receiving a new dialling code? no Were they the last to experience some kind of modernisation? no Was the change bringing them into line with the majority of BT customers across the country? yesish
Mosquito (Mosquito)
Posted on Monday, December 26, 2005 - 5:09 am:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Were the relevant customers being changed from party lines to individual ones? Were they getting their cables, switching equipment or other hardware upgraded? Had some sort of lease run out?

Was BT still part of the post office at the time? Does this matter at all?

Had these people somehow qualified for a reduced VAT? which was being revoked? Was there some accounting reason that other charges were listed as VAT, but they were really something else? Were these people pensioners? Is this why they were entitled to a rebate on VAT?
David Burn (Woubit)
Posted on Monday, December 26, 2005 - 9:10 am:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

By Mosquito (Mosquito) on Monday, December 26, 2005 - 05:09 am:

Were the relevant customers being changed from party lines to individual ones? no Were they getting their cables, switching equipment or other hardware upgraded? no Had some sort of lease run out? no

Was BT still part of the post office at the time? technically, no - but in practice, yes:) Does this matter at all? yes

Had these people somehow qualified for a reduced VAT? yesish which was being revoked? no Was there some accounting reason that other charges were listed as VAT, but they were really something else? no, but... Were these people pensioners? indeed they were :) Is this why they were entitled to a rebate on VAT? yes
Johanna (Buzzard)
Posted on Tuesday, January 03, 2006 - 11:04 am:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

If you would be so kind as to provide a recap, I might think of some questions to ask. But as it is, I have no idea what's going on.
Tommy Petersson (Tommyp)
Posted on Tuesday, January 03, 2006 - 12:04 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

"They" in the puzzle statement - the pensioneers? people at the Post Office? people at BT? some other people?
David Burn (Woubit)
Posted on Tuesday, January 03, 2006 - 3:54 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

By Johanna (Buzzard) on Tuesday, January 03, 2006 - 11:04 am:

If you would be so kind as to provide a recap, I might think of some questions to ask. But as it is, I have no idea what's going on. To tell you the truth, I had pretty much forgotten about this puzzle. But Mosquito has done enough sterling work that the whole business is solved for practical purposes, so rather than post a recap, I will put the thing out of its misery.

By Tommy Petersson (Tommyp) on Tuesday, January 03, 2006 - 12:04 pm:

"They" in the puzzle statement - the pensioneers? people at the Post Office? people at BT? some other people? See below...

***** SPOILER *****

When I joined the data processsing unit (the term "information technology" had not been invented at the time) of British Telecom, my first job was to go on strike. BT was still for practical purposes part of the Civil Service, and the trade union to which I had to belong called for "industrial action" (a bizarre term, since it involved inaction) over pay.

The upshot of this was that our senior managers took over the running of the computer systems BT employed to send out telephone bills. Of course, they did not have a clue what they were doing, which was the cause of the Great Portsmouth VAT Disaster of 1982.

A manager at the Portsmouth computer centre had to implement a minor change to the VAT calculation, since certain old-age pensioners were granted a concessionary rate. The details are not worth reporting here, or anywhere, but his amendment had the effect of charging the senior citizens of Portsmouth £66,666.66 in VAT, no matter what their phone bill was. Bills were duly issued on this basis - and one OAP actually sent in a cheque for over sixty grand, which hangs on the wall of Portsmouth computer centre to this day.

The story made headline news in the local papers and even got a mention in the national press. It may or may not have precipitated the decision by our lords and masters to cave in over the pay dispute, but a group of us who did know what we were doing were sent to Portsmouth as soon as the strike ended, to put things right.

We could not start work until the computers had ended their daily grind, so we did what programmers have done since Babbage - we went for a curry and then to the pub. Returning shortly after midnight, I wrote patches to the code and my colleagues ran a series of tests. All seemed satisfactory, so we went home the following morning.

Not until a couple of days later did we discover that the "VAT year" had ended on the previous day. Had we started work then, we would have been required by law to implement all manner of hideous calculations to ensure that the Government of the United Kingdom and the good citizens of Portsmouth received every farthing that was their due. Had we started a day later, we would have been required to backdate everything we'd done by a factor of 1/365.25. As it was, the few simple changes we had made were entirely legal - but if we'd started five minutes earlier, our jobs would have been very much harder.
Johanna (Buzzard)
Posted on Tuesday, January 03, 2006 - 4:12 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Gosh. I'm glad I do a job that nobody cares about. :)
Simon Downham (Beroean)
Posted on Wednesday, January 04, 2006 - 6:04 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostView Post/Check IPPrint Post   Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

When I see an experience like this, it makes me feel glad that I'm no mathematician!

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