An omnibus of tech posts by s Futurologist on software development
Saturday, 31 March 2007
's 10 year stint at the tiller of the UK economy is almost over; but what is his legacy in this relatively stable period since the Major
government of the mid-90s? An interesting question, even if I do say so myself ;)
We've seen how Gordon Brown has made a few changes, and used a lot of spin in his presentation. When he first came in, he introduced special rules:
- Gordon Brown's first rule declares that over an "economic cycle" he will only borrow to invest, but that "economic cycle" term isn't fixed and is open to fiddling by his department of statisticians (first it was 7 years, then 9, 10 and now 12! increasing the duration to fiddle it, to average it out in effect); and that all other spending must come from taxation revenue.
- Gordon Brown's second rule declared that public debt must be kept at a prudent and stable level (whatever that is, in a reasonable interpretation). The economy has been strong, so it's not been necessary to break rule two officially -- however, it has been heavily broken by using PFI contracts which hide the public debt behind a long-term contract with a private company.
The Auditor General, Sir John Bourn, highlighted that by Gordon Brown excluding Network Rail's billions of debt from the government accounts, Gordon Brown has not met his spending rules. He also said Gordon Brown's means-testing and constant meddling has put administration costs at a ridiculous level compared to the total cost of the benefit schemes introduced. Almost as bad as the £25 Billion PFI debts underwritten by the government.
In another case of subterfuge, Gordon Brown changed the way inflation rates are measured to keep them appearing lower. In his pre-budget statement on 10 Dec 2003, Gordon Brown announced he was switching the UK inflation definition from RPI
(reasonably broad base, excluding mortgage though) to CPI
(narrow), cleverly hiding our inflation rate going up. RPI inflation for February 2007 was 3.7%, but CPI was only... 2.8%! -- you can see why he wants to hide the rise, it keeps the Bank of England's monetary policy from setting interest rates (2% above inflation) at the higher rate they should be (as I figure it).
Pensions is a big one: Nothing was taken into account for the fact that people live longer. Nothing was taken into account for if the stock-market didn't continue to rise at a quick rate beyond the dot-com era. On top of this, abolishing share dividend tax credits (aka ACT, essentially no tax on dividends from companies in which they owned shares), took £6 Billion out of pension pots each year since 2000, which compounded means over £100 Billion has now been removed (No wonder over 60,000 company pension funds have been wound up!) -- what a result Gordon!
Public sector borrowing will probably hit £36 Billion this year, not surprisingly the treasury is desperate for cash and is offering great deals on NS&I
fixed-term stock Government bonds these days. So much for prudence Gordon eh!? I'll admit I've never been one to Gordon Brown-Nose, but I don't put him down unnecessarily, his Bank of England call was a good one.
I've broken down my overall points into successes and failures.
- Not taking the UK into the Euro when they had the necessary public support in '97.
- Abolishing share dividend tax credits.
- The public pensions black hole is now close to £90 Billion, which will have to come from somewhere.
- Council tax doubled because Gordon Brown puts the responsibility for additional services on local council budgets (and central government keep blaming local councils for putting it up).
- Hiding the inflation rate, by switching from RPI to CPI.
- Selling the UK's gold reserves at rock bottom prices.
- Passing responsibility for setting interest rates to the Bank of England.
If Brown wanted a genuine legacy, he could have done a U-turn on means-testing, then increase the tax-free allowance to £12,000, making the poorest in society better off; closing the gap with the middle-class. Fund this by introducing a top tax rate of 45-50% if necessary. Or Brown could have voted against war with Iraq.
In summary, the economy hasn't been wrecked, but it doesn't have the GDP vigour it had in the Major years after the recovery from Black Wednesday
. Gordon has squandered to a certain degree a fantastic legacy, replacing it with rampant consumer debt
, a trade deficit, pensions crisis and pubic debt. Brown's kept the UK economy going on borrowed money, the next 15 years will show how in debt the UK is, and will suffer unfortunately. Will history give him a better legacy than William Patterson
? Will Gordon have a Profumo
moment? Would he give an honoury place to Boris Berezovsky around his cabinet table? Anyway, who knows what the future holds, if Gordon Brown gets the top job it will be interesting to see if he fairs better in No.10 at least! The BBC background on Brown's
shows where he cut his teeth. Now let's hope the leadership election is a little more interesting than Michael Howard's coronation... ;)
Labels: Politics, UK
Blair the diplomat
15 British naval seamen arrested, apparently in another country's territorial waters, leaving our PM, Blair, as the best chance of a quick them released, what does he say? He rushes in, brash and bold, demanding their unconditional immediate release! The response? an equal backlash from the other country, what a result Tony!
After nearly 10 years in the top job I would have expected Blair to know very well how to get the most out of situations! (perhaps save NATO + Milosevic
This all leads me to wonder if creating an international spat wasn't actually the intention all along..? Bumping up the anti with Iran as they're already in the spotlight over: Uranium enrichment, allegedly helping insurgents in Iraq and sending Revolutionary Guard
officers. However, Iran just attended a very successful regional conference in Iraq
-- perhaps someone was looking for an excuse to end that cooperation? Lest us forget, the US and Iran both benefit from opposing each other, which neatly keeps the populace focused on something other than domestic policy; as the Power of Nightmares
, if you're reading this, perhaps Tony could do a with a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People
Thursday, 29 March 2007
Seemless streaming media solutions?
In a world of innovation, media streaming is an open field awaiting innovation at present. I'd expected Akamai
to have capitalised and launched a streaming/p2p media system by now, and no one else is even that close. Kontiki
is around, but only thanks to the BBC.
There are the possibilities for the future, Niklas Zennström
founder) has his internet TV app Joost
in the works... but for the moment youTube
/ Google video
is as good as it gets at present.
When will we see something truly revolutionary? I'm sure we will eventually, let's hope it's soon! We can't wait forever ;)
Labels: Future, TV
Will Prince Charles bring an end to the Monarchy?
Will Prince Charles do for us what Parliament
hasn't had the bottle to do so far? Europe has lost most of the monarchies which were around before WW1. Our little island has survived though; with our queen outlasting eight PMs by my calculation.
Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, is known to be a meddler though, and if he doesn't change when he gets the top job he might push things far enough for reform to finally take place. Sweden replaced the head of state with the speaker of the house, we could do something similar ;)
Would be an interesting situation if Parliament did want to remove King Charles III, as we don't have a written constitution and no real relevant historical precedents that I know of!
Labels: Politics, UK
Wednesday, 28 March 2007
The PR facade of the bobby on the beat
This evening's Channel4
political slot had the Labour MP for tooting, Sadiq Khan
, saying what a success moving police on to the beat had been. I'd like to see some accurate figures on this; I really doubt there is any notable reduction in crime rates or an improvement in civic cohesion; Khan only gave sound-bites to backup his points.
Dedicating police staff to what is essentially a PR exercise is a complete waste of tax-payers money in my view. Why not focus on tackling outstanding issues like unsolved crimes, or people trafficking?
Luckily those police walking the streets for no good reason aren't actually fully fledged police officers, and are only Community support officers. Which does lessen the wasted resource at least; it's still a big enough waste of money when budgets are so tight.
However, the real solution is to tackle the underlying social problems which cause the visible symptoms of crime and anti-social behaviour. Poverty and not having a job (for various reasons) are two big factors. Tackle these by building communities, creating jobs, providing social, youth and sports facilities for people to come together and make the most of life.
Let's see if any accurate figures materialise from Labour about the bobby on the beat, or even an independent study!? Or perhaps the next government will simply cut out PR exercises like this..
Labels: Politics, UK
Saturday, 24 March 2007
Corporate email sigs
One of the rising trends, along with health & safety, fear of crime and significant political correctness is what I call "corporate style" email disclaimer essays. Is everyone really so worried about getting sued for libel?
Here's quote for a 121 word sig I received recently:
"No representation is given nor liability accepted for the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in this e-mail unless expressly stated to the contrary. If you are not the intended recipient or have received this e-mail in error, you may not use, disseminate, forward, print or copy it, but please notify the sender that you have received it in error.
Pedantic and bureaucratic, why waste people's time getting us to read that when we could be doing something productive? In fact, nenforceable sigs could be just as time wasting as top posting
. It kind of defeats the purpose of emailing if you're going to attach such conditions to your email. We could interpret it as having to delete the email as a matter of cause as they ask, because they have actually been sent to a mailing list and I don't know if I am the "intended recipient"
Why do we get these disclaimers, what's wrong with the systems before? We should be moving in a spirit of cooperation and community, rather than trying to disclaim any responsibility the email we send.
Sunday, 18 March 2007
Junk caller number withheld ?
It's a shame, the TPS
and the Information Commissioner's
office can't do anything about junk calls, because unscrupulous companies are exploiting a loop hole. When asked why they are calling my non-publicly listed number they just claim the number has been generated using random modification of an existing number as a base -- which gets them off the hook with the IC's and TPS office. The legislation really needs to prevent all junk calls by default, sure if people really opt-into it then its fine, but we shouldn't be subject to interruption by these unscrupulous companies without opting-in. Regulation by "voluntary" industry groups like TPS
isn't working because they are funded and represent financially the same companies they are supposed to be regulating! Conflict of interest ?
Junk calls often have the number displayed as "Withheld" (not to be confused with "Unknown"). I've been looking for a way to reject Withheld
calls outright (aka Anonymous Call Rejection [ACR])
, with a recorded message explaining that anonymous calls aren't accepted etc. I've not found a way to do it at present though. BT have their "Choose to Refuse" service on land-lines, which lets people reject individual numbers, and individual Withheld
numbers (BT obviously knows the real number!). Also BT customers can dial *227# to reject all Withheld
numbers from a BT line, and #227# to receive Withheld
number calls again.. (A lot of legacy company PABX
systems don't set a valid number still, so these won't get through) more info
Apparently it is possible on some mobile networks, this page lists the GSM Caller ID codes
), however *30# sadly doesn't work on o2
! Anyone able to reject Withheld
calls on a UK mobile? Post a comment if you have managed it. This Caller ID
FAQ has some useful info, which makes it sounds like o2
isn't working within the Telecoms Data Protection Directive (97/66/EC)
In practice this kind of feature doesn't need to be server bound though, it could be a local setting to redirect to a special voice mail message etc. I'd code it myself if we had an open mobile phone platform
Update: Samsung D900 can reject calls from Withheld or Unknown callers. N95 comes with Advanced Call Manager, as does Sony's P910i letting the user create whitelists and blacklists.
Labels: Mobile, Politics, UK
The Trap - What Happened To Our Dreams Of Freedom
This is the latest documentary series from Bafta award winning producer Adam Curtis
(The Power of Nightmares
). It's called The Trap, also a three part series, showing on BBC2 from 11 March at 21:00.
The first episode covers John Nash
(as portrayed in A Beautiful Mind
) and his work on Game Theory
. Using examples like the Prisoners Dilemma
and the Nash Equilibrium
Curtis shows how these tecniques and models were applied in the political world. Utilised as a way of ordering the world by individuals working alone, and systems based on numbers like Thatcher's NHS
restructuring of the late 1980s. Curtis examines the notions of freedom, and how a pretty simplistic model of human beings as self-serving, robotic creatures has led us to today's version of freedom. Looking at current affairs he explains that we are in a trap of our own making, showing how narrow and limited the present idea of freedom is.
The next episode (The Lonely Robot) shows how the model of freedom using numbers and the market was applied to other areas of society.
Should be fun!
Labels: Humanity, Politics
Consumers aren't pledging themselves to Digital Restrictions because they deserve better, they have rights too and shouldn't have to settle for second best. This BBC Digital lock's rights and wrongs
article and video make some good points, like the fact that all the current "solutions" have different incompatible restrictions from each manufacturer, be it Apple, Microsoft, RealNetworks or any of the others. It's not a joined up solution -- it's a solution to a problem which doesn't exist, a solution which could simply create a lot of wealthy middlemen by taking a cut of the money we spend which should go to the artists. If anyone proposed Digital Restrictions as a business idea to the Dragons
they would rip them to pieces pretty quickly.
The largest market share is currently with Apple. Their iTunes software and online shop shouldn't be used because it adds DRM to the tracks you purchase from their online shop, don't be fooled by the cute user interface and features.. read the license agreement, then do the right thing and uninstall it! Pass the world and get at least one other person to uninstall Digitally Restricted software like iTunes too!
Returning to the DRM problem, the music industry execs are currently forcing their artists too loose out on plenty of potential digital sales, which is a real shame for all involved. In the meantime online shops like Lavamus
are clearing up in the market. Artist really need to get their music execs to ditch the digital restrictions and sell their tracks in an accessible format which makes them the money they deserve. A lot better than lining Apple or AllOfMP3
's pockets each day.
Artists deserve their money ! ;)
Labels: Future, Music
is showing the network premier of Crossing The Line
) on Thurs 22 March at 21:00. It's the story of James Dresnok
American who has lived in Pyongyang
(Capital of DPR Korea
) since defecting during the Korean War
. It was produced by Very Much So
productions with Koryo Tours
Will be interesting to see things from James' perspective.
Labels: Asia, Films, Politics
Monday, 12 March 2007
Why student loans are a bad thing (tm)
Background: In the UK the Labour Party (who are currently in government) introduced £1,000 fees per annum and scrapped living grants for higher education back in '97. Then they did a U-Turn on their manifesto and introduced top up fees of £3,000 per annum, and will be increasing it again for certain degrees to £7,000 shortly.
Aside from charging for education being inherently wrong, they are going about it all the wrong way. They treat it as a conventional debt (sad that there is such a thing?), you get statements reminding you how much you owe, and you have to make repayments each month out of your earnings (or your employer does). This is like a mill-stone around an already debt laden country thanks to the credit happy culture fostered since the late 90s (still no health warnings on credit cards!).
The only acceptable way to recoup costs of education is to have a higher rate of graduate income tax, 1% would cover all their costs and the person wouldn't have to manage repayments themselves. So how about it Labour? do something which will assist a generation! and simplify the repayment system ;)
Labels: Humanity, Politics
Thursday, 8 March 2007
Free Software Tories
Only yesterday I was highlighting the way Free Software and Open source products have solved the problems that matter (at a fraction of the cost!). Strikingly, today the Tories followed the Green Party's anti-software patent direction last year, leading the way to an Open Source Government
;) Their news piece
by George Osborne
sounds very promising, mainstream politics have caught up with industry trends at last! Does this mean the Tories how have thousands of new Free Software/Open Source supporters? Quite possibly, I'll definitely give them a thought when the time comes.
George is even using Firefox (albeit on windows, see yesterday's post
George!). So they're starting to walk the walk, as much as they are talking the talk. Next step is the Desktop Linux
switch in Conservative central office George!
Meanwhile Labour and the BBC have stuck to the traditional model and struck deals with Microsoft, you can see who is on the ball ! (Sign the iPlayer
petition if you have a moment)
Let's see how these policies get taken forward; elections could well be interesting once more :)
Labels: FreeSoftware, Politics
Wednesday, 7 March 2007
The way M$ Windows was meant to be?
Some people are pretty cynical when it comes to Microsoft and Windows, but not me! I take a broader view on what can be learned. The Vista shutdown menu
is just an example of how heavy weight development processes have bogged the MS engineers down to the point where things just can't get done. Agile processes eliminate many of those problems ..Anyway, back to my point, some things just aren't right
- The way popups are used so excessively, and the way they always display on top of full screen games, films and even VMWare!
- The lack of customisation options, take for example that they could only envisage that users would want a clock as a way to change the time -- so we are stuck with using that widget as a calendar to check the current date or a date in the future!
- Then shouldn't a decent email client (with bayesian spam filtering), a desktop calendar and a word processor come as standard with an OS these days?
... oh wait... you may have realised too, I've been describing things which work fine (and have been for many years!) in Desktop Linux
., developed by companies, and individuals as a group of Free Software/Open Source packages. So the big question, why don't people switch? I'd say its hard to get off the treadmill when its still going at quite a pace, but it is gradually slowing due to the development process problems and also significantly, price! Users should start by switching to Firefox
; then follow it with specific applications you need like Picasa
(Not yet free software) -- before you know it you'll be using the apps which are already all available native on the Desktop
and you'll be ready to make the move! Of cause these products are all available at no-charge, online community support is excellent, or you can buy a support contract from a variety of suppliers. Finally make sure you get your Jabber.org
or Google Talk
account setup, which is secure and authenticated so doesn't suffer spam. Then you can communicate with everyone too!
Happy days ;)
Labels: Future, GNU-Linux
Sunday, 4 March 2007
The story of when Sergey Brin met Larry Page
If you've not already read the excellent article on Sergey Brin
I can recommend it. It talks about his family, background, their life in Soviet Russia, immigration to the US, being Jewish, where he was educated. Also how he met Larry Page and the moment he came up with the idea of ranking based on citations (i.e. Links). The rest as they say is history. Oh and Chernobyl Chili -- "45 minutes in the microwave." sounds yum!
I remember the moment when I was first introduced to Google search by a friend back in spring 1999, it was amazing compared to the other search engines I had plugged away with until then. The key is to make money out of ideas though, and Google have done that so well with AdSense, because the ads are integrated with the results people click them, and I know from experience I'm often looking to buy a product anyway!
The Inside Look at Google
video shows what a great working environment they have there. This all leads me to wonder if the UK could foster such entrepreneurial success? We don't have quite such an environment of innovation and pushing the next generation I feel; things are improving though all the time though. I would love to see more Colleges and Universities helping start-up companies get off the ground and do innovative stuff with technology. Doing all the existing Desktop feature set on mobile is one big area which will be filled over the next 5-10 years -- why not make it our own destiny to full fill that?
This interview with Google's Marissa Mayer
is really interesting too.
So thanks for doing search so well Google, and more fun times ahead!
Labels: Mobile, Tech
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