Monday, 30 August 2010

Big Government Rolls On...

From the Daily Mail

The Office of Fair Trading says the deals leave shoppers confused and unable to work out the true value of what they are buying. Promotional sales in stores that have an 'end date' which is repeatedly extended are among those targeted.
Masking price rises through promotions will also be banned. Similarly, the practice of baiting – luring customers into stores with cheap products that have extremely limited availability – will also be stopped.

Do we really, really need government to do this for us?

OK, I don't appreciate having my time wasted on a deal with a bunch of charges that aren't up front, and if someone pulls that stunt on me, I'll give them a piece of my mind. I'll also walk out of the shop. Limited time deals? Look, either you like a product at the price or you don't. You have to be a numbskull to not know that shops want you to buy right now rather than next year, but anyone knows that a deal at a price today is likely to be repeated, or replaced with something similar soon after.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Good Riddance, NHS Direct

I used the service a few times, and discovered that it was mostly a waste of time. If I have to call a service, spend a few minutes on the phone only to then go to hospital, then it's cost more than me just going to hospital.

I get the impression that the whole idea was that it was some management consultant wheeze that the government liked the look of because it made them look all 21st century, like all the banks with call centres.

The big difference is that a business generally has the facts at their fingertips about your account, or can ask you questions to solve most problems. With medical diagnosis you often need to examine a patient, check blood pressure and so forth. Can't be done over the phone.

This resulted in a paradox with NHS Direct. They employed fully qualified nurses, yet because of the limitations of diagnosis, were limited in what they could actually deal with.

So, the new 111 service actually makes a lot more sense. Don't employ highly trained nurses, put them into wards where they should be, and hire some people off the streets, train them in 60% of problems that are very routine and get them to tell patients to go to A&E for anything else. That's how ISPs work - put monkeys on 1st line support and put skilled people on 2nd and 3rd line.

The Internet vs Washing Machines

Ha-Joon Chang in the Guardian
The internet may have significantly changed the working patterns of people like you and me, but we are in a tiny minority. For most people, its effect is more about keeping in touch with friends and looking up things here and there. Economists have found very little evidence that since the internet revolution productivity has grown.
The internet has reduced the time of sending, say, three or four pages of text from the 30 seconds you needed with a fax machine down to maybe two seconds – a reduction by a factor of 15. Unless I'm trading commodity futures, I can't think of anything where it's really so important that we send it in two seconds rather than a few minutes.

I might suggest that Mr Chang is ignorant, and perhaps needs to do some more research.
Yes, you can send a fax at almost the same speed as an email, but can you send a customer's transactions in a machine readable form, or information about parts that are going to be delayed in an order, including when it will be available.
Behind the Facebooks, eBays, Amazons, Ocados and iTunes is a whole world of the internet that is unseen by most. They're like the little internet gnomes. Even most employees in companies never see them. There are companies running computers connected to the internet telling the computers of other companies what's going on. These are known in the trade as "web services".
Imagine you're a company making laptops. A customer orders a laptop from you. You can instantly check stock levels and manufacturing time and give them a delivery date. But what you also do is to then consider the impact on that stock reduction.
OK, you need more stock of say, blu-Ray drives in laptops. How do you do that? Does a man phone around to order more? No, your computer automatically trips something which then sends out multiple messages to suppliers to get prices and delivery times and can then automatically select the supplier and place the order.

Having placed the order, the customer will then receive updates on the order of parts. Not by email, but by the supplier computer sending a message to the customer computer to update it. The customer can then factor this into their manufacturing schedule. They might, for instance, decide to increase their staff overtime. Oh, and  this could all be worked out and supplied to a  manager. 

The supplier, having received the order will then factor the order into their stock levels. Again, the computer will automatically do something similar in terms of prices/supplies to the suppliers of lasers, resistors/wiring used to make the blu-ray drive.

Mr Chang seems to think that the internet doesn't make much difference to globalisation, but the fact is that you just can't have this sort of thing without it. You can't have these sorts of complex manufacturing arrangements with faxes. You just can't get the sort of detail that you need.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Mark Thompson in a Muddle

Via the BBC:
Mr Thompson responded to these criticisms, saying Sky was on its way to becoming "the most dominant force in broadcast media in this country".
He suggested that the broadcaster was not doing enough to produce its own original content.
"It's time that Sky pulled its weight... its investment in original British content is just not enough," he told an audience at the Edinburgh International Television Festival.
So, it's becoming the most dominant force in broadcast media without producing enough original content, yet Mark Thompson thinks it should produce more. Nope. Doesn't add up, and as Sky's a private business, I don't see it's anything of Thompson's concern.

More evidence for "Doth Protest Too Much"

Crispin Blunt speaking in 1997 on the debate of lowering the age of consent for homosexuals:-
While I accept that, in law, we should tolerate people's choices to follow a homosexual life style and practice, I maintain that those are not equivalent to heterosexuality—nor should we pretend that they are.
Easier to spot than a moustachio'd bloke dressed in a leather cap walking down Canal Street whistling I Am What I Am.

Because I can't see why any straight man would have a problem with a gay man. Yes, the whole idea of male sodomy makes me feel quite queasy, but no-one's forcing me to be a participant. And the benefits of a man coming out is that there's more totty for the rest of us.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Al Murray - Pub Landlord

It's just Alf Garnett, updated for what would be allowed on TV today, isn't it?


Monday, 23 August 2010

Send in Davina McCall

Thirty-three miners trapped underground in Chile for the past 17 days are alive, but rescue workers may not be able to reach them before Christmas, officials said.
You just need a whole load of cameras, some lights and a Geordie voice-over man. Not sure that you can have weekly evictions, but we could get them to do some challenges for extra food.

Parking at Work

Some lunacy from Nottingham City Council

Nottingham is so far the only local authority to announce plans to introduce workplace parking levies.
Under the scheme employers with more than 10 spaces will be charged £253 a year from 2012, with the bill set to rise to £350 within two years.
So, someone with an office with 10 spaces will have to pay £3500/year for the privilege of parking inside Nottingham rather than 5 miles outside of the city. You could charge £50/year/staff member and people would begrudgingly pay it. But at £350/year, relocating out of the borough will be a no-brainer.

And why do they need this money?
The money raised will fund part of the city's tram extension, refurbishment of its railway station and bus network - but it has come under fire from local employers and motorists.
We ditched trams earlier in the century because buses do a much better job. Anything a tram can do, a bus can do better. You can reroute them quickly, and because they're non-proprietary, you get competition (unlike trams where you're locked into a supplier).

And why is Nottingham funding the refurbishment of its railway station? Get the railways to cough up for it.

Of course, I'm sure that Nottingham won't cut their 5 twin towns.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Vomit-Inducing Arguments for Homeownerism (1)

From Save Coate:-

The main badger route from Day House Copse to Coate Water will be blocked by a school. The otter stream runs through the employment zone. The impact on wild-life in general is not acceptable.
Never mind children being educated, or people trying to earn a living. Let's look after the black and white creatures that only come out at night. It's not even like they're endangered, unless you count 288,000 in the UK as endangered.

Any ideas on what we should do with such species-traitors can be given in the comments.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Wheel Clamping

From the BBC:
Wheel clampers are to be banned from operating on private land in England and Wales, the government has announced.
It follows concerns some parking enforcement companies are extorting money from unsuspecting drivers with excessive fees and unclear signs.
But some critics fear selfish drivers will exploit the move.

If you own a flat with private parking, good luck trying to find a space in future. A friend of mine owned a flat in the 80s and they had no end of trouble with people parking in their bays until they got the clampers in. Without clampers, people will just park there and come back to their car, face some abuse and clear off. That's all you can do with trespass laws.

Equalities and criminal information minister, Lynne Featherstone, told BBC1's The One Show: "This is the right answer, an outright ban. It's come about because of the level of complaints."
She said some firms were operating a "sort of entrapment" with poor signage, extortionate fees and vehicles being towed away.
"Motorists find they didn't even know they were parking on private land," she said.
Currently wheel clampers and the directors and supervisors of clamping companies must hold a licence from the Security Industry Authority (SIA).

Well, well. So, because the government couldn't come up with an effective regulator, they're going to just make the problem go away completely. Just like alcohol, where they get all pissy about 15 year olds getting hold of beer, yet they do almost nothing about removing the licenses of retailers who sell it.

Friday, 13 August 2010

This is Brilliant...

From Tom Scott:

It seems a bit strange to me that the media carefully warn about and label any content that involves sex, violence or strong language — but there's no similar labelling system for, say, sloppy journalism and other questionable content.
I figured it was time to fix that, so I made some stickers. I've been putting them on copies of the free papers that I find on the London Underground. You might want to as well.
I like this one best:-

QOTD (Not safe for work)

If you live on the margins of somewhere cuntish, you may go somewhere less cuntish to do your self-harm.
I've been looking for a way to describe why Vegas has casinos, Calais is full of supermarkets and Luxembourg has wall-to-wall cigarette shops just inside its borders, but Obo has the definitive statement on it.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Francis Maude on Big Society Mutuals

They are very different in ambition and range: from NHS staff wanting to launch an employee-owned social enterprise to help homeless patients, to employees from local authorities getting together to form a mutual to deliver children's services, and further education colleges coming together to see if they can set up a new awarding body.
But they do all have certain things in common. At their heart are frontline public sector entrepreneurs ready to take control of the services they run. And there's often a common focus: the desire to join up the services they know so well so that they are actually designed specifically around their communities' needs, or so they can start using potential economies of scale to generate efficiencies. In a time when we need to save money we have to be ready to explore ideas like this.
Following the mutuals or "doing a John Lewis" is very much in vogue with the Conservatives at the moment. On the surface, John Lewis looks like a model for the public sector. It doesn't make profits for capitalist owners, it works very well and it has very happy customers.

The single point that is missed, the single cog that means that the whole philosophy doesn't roll, is that John Lewis exists in a competitive market. As do Baxi, the Co-op and the people who run the health food shop near me. That means that if they have to get customers, they have to do a good job, and if they don't, like any other fat-cat owned capitalist company, they go to the wall.

I'm not even sure what the model of these mutuals is because the whole notion of a mutual that is to do with government seems to be full of contradictions. Are the owners able to sell the company, like the owners of my health food shop can? Who funds them, and if it's the taxpayer, then are they accountable, and if that's the case, what's the difference to a government department? Is there plurality of supply and if so, what happens to the ones that go to the wall?

Because if they're funded by the taxpayer, then they should be responsible to the taxpayer. If they can make private profits, then these people can put in their own cash and should be subject to private losses. If they're fully private, then making them monopolies would be bad.

I don't understand if these are supposed to replace external, contracted suppliers, or monopoly government departments. But what the government seems to think is that they can create something with all the benefits of the free-market like innovation, but without things like incentives or the downsides of people being put out of business. And that simply doesn't work. Experts left in charge to run things their own way will run them in a way that they think is important. Which might match what customers want, but if it doesn't then you're knackered.

I suspect in 5 or 10 years time, we'll see that this doesn't actually work, and something else will be tried, and eventually, we'll get to what is the only way to do government: reduce it down to what can't be delivered by markets, and deliver those things as close as possible to the consumer.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Mr Gnarr, I Salute You

From the BBC:-

The mayor of Reykjavik has dressed up in drag to mark the opening of the Icelandic capital's gay pride festival.
Jon Gnarr, a top comedian who became mayor in June, appeared on stage on Thursday night in a floral-print dress, blonde wig and bright red lipstick.
But the Crowning Moment of Awesome:-

Addressing the opening ceremony of the gay pride festival on Thursday, his buxom alter ego said the mayor could not make it because he "was busy, even though he promised to be here".
"What might he be up to? Maybe he is visiting Moomin Valley," Mr Gnarr said, referring to the fictional setting of a series of Finnish children's stories that feature a family of white hippopotamus-like trolls.
"This is what we get for voting for a clown in elections," he added.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Councils Just Can't Nail That Market Thing, Can They?

From The BBC:-

The Lanterns on the Lake festival in Swindon will not be held again because it is too popular, the borough council has said.
The event, at Coate Water, had been held since the early 1990s to mark World Peace Day.
Last summer's festival and this year's event were both cancelled.
Parks manager Martin Hambidge said the festival had grown to such a size it was difficult for his staff and volunteers to manage.
For once, a council provide something people actually want, so they don't continue to run it.
Volunteers also attended on the day, so it was principally just about labour and the fact it took up an awful lot of volunteer hours and a lot of staff hours and we wanted to do different things.
Oh, I see. Never mind what the public want. You don't want to provide that, so you're not going to. You'd rather do the things that you want to do, never mind that people pay you.

Bristol Demands Cabs to be Painted Blue

A city council has told taxi drivers they must paint their black cabs blue, or face losing their licence.
Bristol City Council has demanded 800 Hackney carriage drivers repaint their taxis in 'Bristol Blue' by May 11 next year, and fund the £4,000 cost themselves.
I'm not even sure why they're demanding that Bristol cabs have to be blue. The only thing I associate with Bristol and blue is the blue glass. It's not particularly associated with the city.

A Bristol City Council spokeswoman confirmed that any taxi driver who has not repainted his or her cab by 1 May 2011 will have their license revoked. She added that the council want all cabs to be painted in the same colour so that members of the public can be confident they are travelling in a licensed vehicle.
The thing is that the national standard is black. Someone coming from London or Birmingham is more likely to trust a cab that's black rather than blue.


Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Best/Worst Prime Ministers

From The Daily Telegraph:-
Mr Brown, who was Prime Minister for less than there years, scored just 3.9 out of ten by the 106 academics specialising in politics or history.
Both Margaret Thatcher (6.9) and Tony Blair (6.4) were also highly rated.
The accumulation of record government debt was seen as Mr Brown's biggest failure while he was also criticised for not calling a general election in 2007.
He scored negative ratings for the economy, society, democracy and foreign policy.
Mr Blair was found to be a major benefit to society and the constitution.

Just a minute... a lot of that "accumulating debt" might have been with Brown as chancellor, but if this is a poll that's being carried out about what's being done on the PM's watch (buck stops here etc), then Blair is equally, if not more culpable than Brown in this regard.

Now, I don't wish to defend Brown, but Blair did some pretty smart timing - the train derailed during Brown's time as PM. The fact that Blair overstoked the boiler and didn't check the brakes is barely noticed.

Personally, I consider Blair to be a real rotter, a devious man of little character and in it for himself. Benefit to society and the constitution? Trying to lock people up for 42 days? Bringing in some of the worst aspects of the surveillance state? Introducing the smoking ban?

The Village "Destroyed" by "WAGs"

From the Daily Hate
Looking at Prestbury High Street, you'd think this picture postcard village had been badly hit by the recession. 
Dusty shop windows hide empty, unused rooms, the long-serving butchers and Post Office have shut down, and corrugated To Let signs clutter the black and white Tudor buildings - as they have done for months.
'The village is dying,' local residents commonly remark.
I know Prestbury very well. I used to work on the south side of Manchester for a while and stayed there for months. It was quite a posh and prosperous village. Sounds like the footballers have arrived and their wives go and do the shopping online or somewhere abroad.
Bill explains: 'It's stereotypical footballers' accommodation which doesn't look lived-in and half the time it isn't. That's part of the problem - they are always away.
'And meanwhile, young local people have been priced out of the area - children who've grown up here have to move out of Prestbury to be able to afford to buy a property.'
Those are young people who would, of course, be spending money in the village if they lived here.
You know what you could do? You could just build a load more houses. There's plenty of land north of Prestbury, and they'd then keep the shops going. It would mean that it wouldn't look like so much of a museum that it does now, though.

Monday, 2 August 2010


Think tank the IPPR and campaign group Internocracy argue private sector firms are "almost certainly" breaking the law by offering unpaid internships. 
The report says many volunteers could be legally defined as workers under national minimum wage legislation. 
It warns the current position leaves employers open to compensation claims.
"We now have entire industries that rely on the willingness of young people to work for free," said Mr Potter.
"In the long run this is bad for business because it damages the reputation of these industries and makes it difficult for them to recruit for the broadest pool of talent.

No, that's completely and utterly wrong. The benefit of internships/unpaid apprenticeships is precisely that it produces the sort of people that industry wants.

I work in the software industry and the bottom line is that a degree in Comp Sci will give you a good education in how computers work and how to program them to a much greater depth than most workers need. What it doesn't give you is all the stuff that you get from working in an office and on real-live projects, which to my mind is about 30-40% of the job. Which is why industry values experience in a computer department over pieces of paper.

No-one has a problem with people paying for a university education and then not getting paid for their time. Internships are no different. You do some work to gain something that can't be measured in pounds and pence (although it leads to more pounds and pence later). Why shouldn't someone choose to work for free?