An omnibus of tech posts by s Futurologist on software development
Monday, 30 November 2009
Apathetic Voters Elect BNP
It's now four months since apathetic UK voters elected two BNP MEPs in the European Parliament Elections 2009 by not voting.
How did not voting bring in two MEPs you may ask?
Well, the math is is quite simple:
- The electorate is 45M.
- 17M voted in 2004.
- 15.5M voted in 2009.
- Due in a large part to various Government scandals, 7% of past labour supporters couldn't be bothered to vote in June 2009. (Overall 9% less people bothered to vote)
- By not turning out they effectively increased BNP share by proxy.
- Taking the North West region example, where Nick Griffin was selected as a topical the example, Griffin got 134,959 votes in 2004.
- In 2009 Griffin got 132,094 votes, that is 2,865 votes less! Which is a 2% drop in support.
- However, because of the massive drop in other parties votes, the BNP 6.4% vote share jumped up to 8%, a quarter increase simply due to those other voters.
If the apathetic 1.5M had turned out to vote, BNP share would not have risen and Griffin would not be now sitting in the European Parliament, and attending the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen representing the UK North West (he is a climate change denier).
How much is a vote "worth"? Well, it's relative to the population, electorate, and those who vote. Consider:
- UK population is 61M.
- Only 45M are eligible to vote (over 18)
- Only 15M votes were cast in the 2009 European Parliament elections.
- Each eligible voter represents 1.35 people in the populace.
- Each person who actually voted represented 4 people
So your vote is very important, every vote casts currently represents 4 people. If one of those electorate doesn't vote, the electorate that do vote, represent more of the population, and, as with the BNP, their share grows.
A few factual references with the votes cast: Ref1
Friday, 27 November 2009
Scottish pointlessness leaving the UK Elephant in the room
BBC are covering the Scottish Nationalist Party MP Alex Salmond's plan for a referendum
on Scotland leaving the UK. Like Bavaria in Germany, it's one of those things talked about, which should never really be considered.
SNP and their "independence" bid.. well Scotland are still a very separate kingdom within the UK. For those that haven't heard of them, SNP is basically a one party policy, like UKIP.
Due to all EU member states being obliged to bring in the same EU Directives as local laws, there is very little point of Scotland leaving the UK. The main benefit for Scotts is that in the short/medium term they gain control of their finances. Of cause, as soon as the oil runs out, they will only have their Whisky and Salmon industries (sadly also still Alex Salmond!)
The debate is largely anecdote and personal opinions. If anything they should unify Scotland more comprehensively with the rest of the UK, dropping its separate legal system (incorporating any improvements it does have). Likewise get rid of local assemblies in Edinburgh, and Cardiff (N.Ireland can retain theirs, as it was part of the Good Friday agreement)
The only good thing I think could come out of this is adoption of the Euro!
Let's hope when SNP are gone, this debate will be long forgotten, like Political revial of Scots
Sadly Wales is now heading down the same sectionist route as SNP, having just published their very costly All Wales Convention
report. They don't say how many millions have been wasted on the consultation. (They also only publish video in Microsoft's WMV format). I bet some poltians and Quango's really enjoyed getting paid lots of tax player cash to write a report about giving themselves more powers.
The only benefit seen so far from these regional talking shops has been the elimiation of tuition fees and prescription fees. Other countries within the UK could of cause take the same approach already, as fees are from the local council council budget.
Update, SNP to waste more money on a referendum
(12M), and then more on duplicating administrative powers in Edinburgh.
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
We need Wikitranslate engine
There is Google translate, which solicits user feedback, but Google do not apply changes. The wisdom of the masses is better than a single centralised system. I would like this to expand into something which is a systran beater. Where we can click on the translation output, and make corrections, which are fed back into future translations. Like translating from Japanese and getting "Righter" instead of "Lighter"
Supporting UK car production
UK Car production:
For someone who would like to support local industry, for both locality and co2 environmental issues (not importing their car from Japan) a website showing car production in the UK and Europe of popular models would be very useful. A wiki with this information would be most useful, allowing everyone to keep it up2date.
The UK production I know about:
* Honda Jazz, production just moved to Swindon
* Nissan - Sunderland
* Ford - Dagenam
Labels: Europe, UK
Eco power switch
Just registered to switch to Ecotricity
Moved into a new place, needed to start with British Gas, registered, received 3 A5 letters so far welcome letter, direct debit letter, estimated first statement for a 5 day period..), all 3 arrived on the same day, on coloured printed white paper! -- I would have been happy to get a single recycled brown paper envelope! Almost as bad as my bankers, Coventry Building Society (the UK's 3rd biggest), each time I add an additional transfer recipient (like for today's 86p electric bill) they send me a first class letter confirming it..
Next task is to check if can get cavity wall insulation.
Wednesday, 11 November 2009
Reform of UK taxation
The UK taxation system does really need a touch of modernisation.
Gordon Brown spoke about a tax on financial transactions this week. I don't agree with that, I've got a better idea. Simplification and adoption of slightly higher rationalised income tax rates like the modern economies of Scandinavia
Get rid of tax havens using the pound like Jersey, Guernsey, Isle of Man. If they want to be Bailiwicks which are also Crown dependency they should fall under the gaze of HMRC like the rest of the UK.
Tax is far more complicated in the UK than it needs to be. It has only got worse since Labour got into power in '97. I propose some significant simplifications below.
To give an example on the tax paid by someone on 100k (I wish!):
Gross pay £100,000 (arbitrary figure)
Less 12.8% employers NI on most of it
Less 11% employees NI on ~£35k of it
Less 1% employees NI on ~£60k of it
Less 20% tax on ~£35k of it
Less 40% tax on ~£60k of it
Take home pay: £51,750
You can see the 40% bracket is actually only really 30%, because, employee NI drops from 11% to 1%. So for the employee there is only 10% tax more tax, however, the employer still needs to pay 12.8% on the whole amount!
In the UK, your the pay you see on your payslip doesn't give a full picture as there are taxes on top of your Gross Pay that do not see (they even grey them out for some obscure reason on the copy of the P60 you receive at the end of each year).
In other countries they have switched to "flat tax", e.g. Romania now is 16%. I don't agree with this, as it taxes the lower and middle income brackets the same as the higher-earners who can afford to pay much higher rates of tax.
UK tax deductions are:
- Employers NI : 12.8% on salary after the first ~400 per month or so. (You never see the amount of this on your payslip.)
- Employees NI (quite complicated) 11%
- Income tax: Stepped rate, now 20% or 40% (10% rate bizarrely dropped by Labour 2yrs ago, but not for savings confusingly)
- Tax free income up to 6,475 (this is your tax code, with the last digit replaced by L)
- "Emergency Tax codes", this penalises those who arrive without a P45, or those who start working in the UK without an NI card while waiting for it to arrive.
- Your pension contributions to your pension pot are tax free on input, however, any lump some when you retire, or the monthly income is taxable as your pay is now.
- For those people into the 40% tax bracket they have a statutory duty to fill in a tax return to declare the difference between their savings interest rate deducted (@ 20% of the interest, and the 40% bracket).
- HMRC waste time and money each year by sending out "Employers" software CD-ROM and guide on 31 March, and then on 6 April after new budget they send it all out again, with revisions. Then when Labour made the 10% tax mistake which took around £100 per year off the poor, they issued it all again in September.
- I never use their HMRC software as payroll agency does it for me, so the CDs all go in the bin.
- HMRC force companies to run multiple PAYE schemes for different offices, branches and purposes. For every PAYE account they have, HMRC sends all the same communications.
- HMRC lets companies use payroll agencies, they don't make any payments, they just generate payslips and submit end of year P60 information. So they also get copies of every Employers CD-ROM and information pack.
- Gift aid must be declared on personal tax return. It is not like we get any credit from declaring it anyway. No one checks on the information submitted, and it doesn't get calculated into anything useful on personal tax return.
- Stamp duty, 1% up to £250k house value (calculated on total!), and then 3% if you slip over the 250k mark (like many houses now do), kerching, £8k stamp duty payable by the purchaser..
- Tax credits. Labour make you pay tax, then claim it back so you are grateful.
- 50% tax rate for the amount of income above 100k.
- Company dividends tax free to the individual (10% nominal rate considered already paid), because the company has already paid Corporation Tax (~21%), upper rate of 32.5%.
- "Emergency Tax codes" abolished, if someone is a new employee, even with an NI number, they go on the same rate as everyone else. Employer should keep a photocopy of their ID and proof of address.
- The Tax free allowance bumped up to to track the minimum wage @ 40 hours per week, 52 weeks per year £11,897.60 (5.72 * 40 * 52)
- Tax codes abolished, any tax due from a previous year cannot be collected by modifying the following year's tax code.
- Employer's NI moved on to the Employee's side of the equation (with corresponding increase to cover it).
- Keep stepped income tax bands, combined NI+income tax gives: 45%, 65%, 75%
- HMRC only send the "Employee Bulletin" to those who have registered for it, likewise their CD-ROMs
- Notify your bank you are in the 40% tax rate and they will do all the interest deductions automatically, saving you the need to file a personal tax return.
- Gift aid no longer must be declared on personal tax return.
- Stamp duty stepped, not calculated on whole amount. So 1% of amount up to 250k, and 3% on the amount above 250k. Also 5% on the amount above £1m.
- Tax credits are gone, your income is untaxed up to £11,897.60 as a replacement.
- Corporation tax rates increased slightly to 23% for small biz, and dividends taxed at income tax rates, less the Corporation tax rate of 23%.
The final result:
- Tax free income of £12k per year.
- No forms to fill in (tax credits, or personal tax returns)
- Dividends not used to avoid income tax rates.
Labels: Tax, UK
Unsuitable University degrees
The current Labour government has been very keen to widen the university attendance to around 50% of the populace leaving school. All part of the Lisbon Agenda to create a "Knowledge Based Economy" which Tony Blair signed up to. The only problem being that:
- There are not nearly enough jobs for these Graduates
- The glut of graduates is pushing pay down from "reasonable" to "low"
- Pay of practical work like Plumbers and Electricians is booming thanks to the lack of students going into these professions.
- The University courses are often not relevant, useful or effectively targeted at the Industry jobs they are aiming at.
The arguments in favour of "waste of time" University degrees are:
- It's "an experience", learning to live and manage on your own (not unlike you would if you did an apprenticeship with others on a programme).
- University and school should teach learning skills and not teach relevant knowledge which will be directly useful in a Job (like a programming language, project planning, entrepreneurial or business skills).
Debt is the other big issue, I was the last year to receive funding for University, the following year had to pay £1,000 top up fees (and no funding), the years after this increased to £3,250 and I understand it is going up to 6,000 per annum next. You even have to pay £500 fees during your year-out industrial placement/internship! Universities are ironically not regulated by the government as Education establishments, but as private companies under all legislation, like Data Protection etc. Many are making lots of profit from the new government drive for University education. I've written about university top up fees
How many jobs are their really for the glut of Documentary Photographer graduates? Graduating with £15k debt and no job prospects. Or the Video Game Designers, with only around 30 UK companies, and probably 2 designers in each, where are the 200+ graduates going to find work? Tesco or Poundland probably. They won't then be over the threshold to start paying back that £15k debt either then.
Soooo many University courses are not relevant, English Lit (does this really open many jobs.. other than English teacher?). Even Electronics, we have few Electronics jobs in the UK for graduates. Most likely they will work as technical engineers, ordering parts for machines which are maintained, something they could have done without a degree. We need to bring back Technical Colleges, and Polytechnics, teaching/training for jobs which are actually available in industry.
Didn't Derby University get in trouble for running a "Kite Flying module"? A quick search could not find anything on it tho.
Labels: UK, University
UK Postal Competition
Our main postal service is Royal Mail, however, it's largely legacy infrastructure left over from when BT was separated from the PTO (Post Office Telecommunications). There is very little competition in provision of door2door postal service, something that has to change. There are a few bulk delivery agencies licensed, UKMail and TNT being the largest.
With postal workers on strike over pay and conditions I would like to see:
- Postal prices go up to closer to their commercial rivals (39p compared to £2 is unnecessarily cheap).
- Postal workers get pay rises, to be in-line with their commercial rivals.
- Modernisation within Royal Mail, for automatic sorting machines, bar-codes, and RFIDs on sacks etc.
- Royal Mail long-term temporary employed staff offered full-time contracts with pension provision.
- Government legislation obliging both Companies like Royal Mail and Unions like CWU to go through a meaningful arbitration process with ACAS before engaging in any strikes.
- Breaking up Royal Mail if it helps competition. Each Region should be a separate franchise (minimum of 10 different companies running the franchises to ensure competition in provision).
- Ban Royal Mail from delivery of un-addressed door2door junk mail. (Replacing the door2door "opt-out" system which doesn't work)
These changes for a start should stop the current strikes, increase productivity and pay for workers. Even stopping the disgruntled posties which dump red elastic bands on my door step and drive every day!
Labels: Post, UK
Tuesday, 10 November 2009
Modern timezone for the UK? British Standard Time / Central European Time
The BBC had an interesting article the other week: Tundra time call in clocks debate
. It is great the BBC gave some coverage to this safety and productivity issue (also sanity, daylight helps well-being!)"Sir Alistair Horne said it was "absolutely crazy" for the UK to have a different time zone from the rest of central Europe."
He is absolutely right, we all deal with Europeans, travel there on holidays, and then because the UK is still -1 behind Central European time we miss meetings (13:00 telecon with German customer? oops, I'm on lunch break then). Wikipedia has a page on GMT
showing Western European Time on the map so you can get a better idea.
There is a fantastic independent write up of the 1968-71 UK British Standard Time trial, it was a great sucess. With 2,700 less KSI (Killed or Seriously Injured) over the period the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents
reports (section 2.1 in report below), it's not possible to argue with that figure.
"This Note provides an overview of the pros and cons of British Summer Time, as well as details of the latest attempts to change it in the UK.": British Standard Time 68-71
Workaround is start work @ 8:00, and come home at 16:00, the only problem is children aren't allowed to arrive at school before 9:00. Interestingly, 1.3 indicates Norway and Sweden are doing exactly as I suggest already (people work earlier hours in winter months to make the most of the light).
The people who would moan about this reform are likely the same bunch that did last time, the rural crowd saying that this means they have to milk cows in the dark.. (why not just milk them 1 hour later?), and the parents who don't like waking their children up when there isn't a complete sun visible outside (they would rather they walk home in the dark and get run over).
Another post on this matter: RoSPA Calls For Switch To Ligher Nights to Save Lives
BBC article from 2003: Safety call as clocks go back
BBC article from 2006: Clock change 'would save lives'
Daily Telegraph 2006: Majority in favour of double summertime
The Guardian 2006: Whatever happened to Double Summer Time?
For those that argue we are placed to deal with both the US and Asia from our time-zone, just compare the US West coast with Asia/Australia east coast, (both sides of pacific) why not nudge our time-zone to fit best?
Los Angeles is GMT -8
Sydney is GMT +10
See the timezone map
You can see where I am going with this. The blue column at GMT+1 is perfectly aligned to take advantage of this working day :)
It's also a small co2 issue, there is one hour longer every day now that everyone has to have lights on.
It is inevitable that as is always some are hostile to change, but standardisation and safety improvements really seal this one for me. I say bring it on ;)
p.s. I won't get on to this point this time around, but standardising on driving on the same side as the rest of the Europe is also a good thing (like Sweden did, switching in the 60s). Metric is also one worth moving too (no more Miles and Yards signs, yay!)
Labels: Europe, timezone, UK
Thursday, 5 November 2009
Vax Carpet Washer 6131
Amazing bit of kit, we've just cleaned my old flat with the classic orange 6131 carpet washer ;) Definitely worth £89!
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