Friday, September 21, 2012

Last orders at The Devil's Kitchen

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 9/21/2012 01:30:00 am

As regular readers might have noticed, your humble Devil has been struggling to comment on politics for some time—the last couple of years, really.

A number of factors have contributed to this: the loss of anonymity has, though my choice, has made a difference, of course; as has the fact that there are only so many times that one can write the same thing over and over again.

Further, when your humble Devil started blogging, those of us who were of different political opinions still adhered to certain standards of evidence and honesty: that sense of brotherhood has disappeared with the introduction of the financially-backed party political sites.

This has accompanied the ever-accelerating disappearance of those bloggers whom I considered a daily read: not because I agreed with them, but because they made me think, and they made me laugh.

Most importantly, unlike when The Kitchen first opened, I am actually happy in my personal life—I have a fantastic wife and a job that I love.

And it is this last item that has led to this final announcement: I now spend most of my life involved in my work, building and creating things that make people's lives better.

Shortly, I am to take an enhanced and, possibly (at some point), more public role in the business. This is, I feel, incompatible with maintaining The Kitchen—especially given the way that I feel about politics and political blogging anyway.

As such, I am giving my loyal army—of readers, contributors, enemies, political foils and brothers in arms—notice that, in the next couple of weeks, this blog will be retired. Initially I shall put it behind a login and then, after taking a back-up, I shall (probably) delete it.

The Devil's Kitchen has been running since January 13th 2005: in that time, there have been 6,005 posts; 3,776,324 page loads and 3,089,579 unique visits—with my best day (when I published a post assessing the state of the code released during ClimateGate) amassing 24,598 unique visits in just 24 hours.

I think that I can claim the rather more dubious accolade of coining—and embodying—the word "swearblogging".

I am also pleased that the phrase and concept of "fake charities" has also entered the blogging lexicon—not least through my setting up of the site that enabled people to check whether such organisations take government money. I hope to be able to upgrade and refine that resource soon.

Quite apart from the fact that the catharsis which The Kitchen enabled—and which kept me going through some very dark days—I have also met some incredibly nice people through this blogging lark, many of whom I have had great fun with, and who I hope that I shall continue to see.

However, despite all of this, I have felt for some time that politics is an utterly futile endeavour. For the last few years, I have found that my work has allowed me to make a real difference to people's lives (not least my own) in a way that politics—let alone the libertarian position that I occupy—can never do.

Remember, politicians only ever make your life harder—they never make it better, or easier: you have to do that for yourself. And I have found that this positivity is far more healthy and rewarding than wallowing in the stye of negativity and managed decline that is the political arena.

And so, for all of the reasons above, The Kitchen will close within the next couple of weeks. And for good this time.

I shall maintain my online presence through my portfolio site (and I might even update it occasionally!). I shall even still Tweet occasionally about politics. I am also (for those who are interested) pretty active, experimenting with interesting CSS, over at CodePen.

It is my intention, too, to start up a new blog: this will be concerned with technology, software development, management, the exciting developments in HTML5 and CSS3, and the web in general: those who might find such a thing interesting can drop me a line, and I shall let you know when it's up and running.

Until then, thank you—all of you: readers, writers, friends, enemies, colleagues and acquaintances. I have had so many opportunities that I never would have had without all of you. I have had the chance to meet some of the politicos that I excoriate, and the researchers who I slag off; I have had the chance to influence policy, and to drink enormous quantities of free booze. I have partaken of bad tempered political arguments, and still been stood a round; I have met people, both interesting and articulate, who made me very welcome in London when I moved from Edinburgh.

So, until we meet again, farewell to all my friends and enemies—it's been a blast!

UPDATE: thanks to all of you who have left comments, sent messages, etc. I am particularly delighted that I was able to introduce so many people to libertarianism: since I discovered that philosophy through the blogs of others, I am happy that I have been able to, as it were, pay it forward...

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 9/21/2012 01:30:00 am

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Quote of the day...

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 9/16/2012 04:17:00 pm

... comes from a comment under this snobby Grauniad article in which some author called Joan Brady whines about big chain coffee-shops.

Here is Joan Brady, wittering on about those evil corporations daring to set up shops...
Three quarters of [Totnes's] population protested against Costa: Totnes already has more than 40 independent coffee shops. That many people agreeing on anything approaches a miracle, a landslide of public opinion. Costa isn't bothered. It hasn't bothered with the populations of other protesting towns either. But isn't this supposed to be a democracy?
... to which our doughty commenter—one davidwferguson—promptly replies:
And if your idea of 'democracy' is 'a system where me and my condescending arsehole chums get to dictate to other people what kind of coffee they're going to be allowed to drink', then I hope you never develop any kind of inclination towards fascism.
Pithily put, I think you'll agree; and it exposes the big lie behind all of these Islington so-called "liberals"—they are snobs, and authoritarian snobs at that.

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 9/16/2012 04:17:00 pm

Saturday, September 08, 2012

An economic solution I can get behind...

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 9/08/2012 03:41:00 pm

... comes from the Daily Mash...
DRINKING at least three pints of beer at lunchtime could put Britain’s economy back on track, it has been claimed.

As the country sinks further into a double-dip recession, economists believe the decline of lunchtime drinking could be the cause of its economic woes.

Professor Henry Brubaker of the Institute for Studies said: “Throughout the 80s and early 90s, office workers would flee the office like rats out of a trap at half twelve – twelve on Fridays – heading straight for the pub.

“However bosses fell under the influence of soulless foreign ‘business experts’, particularly Americans, who believed that drinking several pints of beer in the middle of the day could negatively effect productivity.

“But it’s only after the shift away from midday alcohol binges towards eating a sad little sandwich at one’s computer that everything went to shit.”

Professor Brubaker believes a mandatory minimum lunchtime beer consumption of three pints could restore Britain’s economic vigour.
Yup—I think that'll work very nicely!

As I always say, the glass is half-empty—and it's your round...

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 9/08/2012 03:41:00 pm

Monday, July 23, 2012

Doing no evil

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 7/23/2012 01:44:00 am

"Don't be evil" has always been the semi-official motto of Google—to those who believe in the company, it probably still is.

However, those of us in the tech industry have been highly sceptical (to say the least) for some time, and a couple of incidents have recently been thrown up that I would like to highlight.*

The Children's Furniture Company has recently gone out of business, directly blaming the change in Google's search algorithms for the decision.
As we are a purely web based business, it has always been important to be somewhere near the top of Google for keywords such as 'bunk beds' and 'childrens beds'. Google is where all our customers look and up until May, that's exactly where we were - page 1. To get to that slot is highly prized and competitive and over the past few years we have both advertised on Google and like many companies, used SEO specialists (Search Engine Optimisation as it's called), to help move us up the natural Google listings. A company we used about two years ago put some external links onto our site that Google now considers as webspam and for this it has demoted us to nowhere land (along with 1,000's of other businesses as well).

It seems that we cannot take these links off and the only option open is to completely rebuild the site. Sadly this would take too much time and too much money, whilst not being able to sell furniture at the same time. So as we couldn't see how people would find us; and as we were about to have to invest in a heap more stock, we decided that there was no option but to shut.
This state of affairs was brought to my attention by an SEO professional writing at SearchWatch.
Were the Children’s Furniture Company a good company? Who knows? Certainly not Google. Nor did they care. What is it to Google if they fufilled all their orders, had great customer satisfaction and a satisfactory range of products? The algorithm trumps all and thus customer choice is lessened and another few mouths are on the dole queue.

If you think that the Google of 2012 is a search engine, you’re fooling yourself. It is an advertising channel. It was only yesterday that a screengrab was doing the rounds showing that just 14% of a Google search result is made of organic listings. The rest? Adwords and Google’s own properties—YouTube, News, Shopping and so on. Throw in the increasing personalisation and localisation of results and tie-ins with review sites you’re left with not much space for the little guy. Even the long tail has been ceded to such “quality” sites as eHow and Yahoo! Answers leaving the middle ground for people to fight over the scraps that fall from the top table.

And maybe that’s fair enough. Businesses used to close all the time because they couldn’t afford to advertise during Coronation Street and no-one cried about it very much. That’s an expensive way to get in front of a million noses and get your brand known that was always closed to small business. If Tesco decided they were going to start selling paint and rollers, then your little round-the-corner DIY shop was often toast by the time the 3rd ad for Tesco Paint was on rotation during Hollyoaks.

Google was supposed to be different: a leveller. If you sold paint out of your little shack on the A650, you could go toe to toe with Wickes, B&Q and any retailer in the world so long as you paid your dues, built a good site, offered good service and worked within Google’s guidelines. And for a while, that held up. It’s still the message they peddle.

But I think we can safely call bullshit on that notion now.
Indeed. And that is only to be expected: Google's responsibility is to its shareholders.

But there have been a number of actions by Google, in the last few years, that blow apart their claim to be an ethical company.

As I've said, those of us in the tech industry always thought that this "don't be evil" bullshit was... well, bullshit.

Let us be clear about this: Google is not primarily a technology firm.

Google derives 96% of its revenues from advertising: it is in Google's interests to provide you with free products, which enables it to show you adverts, which persuade you to buy its sponsors' products.

There is nothing wrong with this: and, assuming that I must be shown adverts, I would rather be shown adverts for products that I might be interested in.

However, in pursuit of this goal, Google has made a number of questionable technological and business decisions: decisions that might be understandable, but which most people would find difficult to reconcile with the company's "don't be evil" motto.

But what about Google's reputation as a hotbed of technological invention? Apart from its search—which is becoming more and more polluted by financial interests—what wonderful, successful technologies have they come up with recently?

Yes, GMail and Reader were built and deployed by Google themselves—and they remain very good products, integral to my daily workflow.

And I am writing this—ironic, I know—on a Google product. But Blogger was invented and deployed by others, and bought by Google.

I also use Feedburner—also invented by others and then bought by Google. And the same applies to YouTube.

Picasa? Mostly lost out to Flickr (and now, arguably, Instagram) but was, in any case, invented by Lifescape.

Google+...? Does anyone actually use it? Regularly?

What we did admire was the way that Google churned out good products: or bought them, made them freely available and improved them. But the reaction to Google's recent acquisition of Sparrow—a brilliant Mac OS email client—shows that even this reputation is at an end.

Daring Fireball has only this pithy comment to make:
Congratulations to the Sparrow guys, I guess, but this gives me The Fear for Sparrow’s future.
Sure enough, Sparrow will no longer be updated and developed. This is, as Matt Gemmell points out, a success for the Sparrow developers—its what, I imagine, they were aiming for. It is, nonetheless, an acquisition intended to shut down competition.

More damagingly, online tech magazine Boing Boing goes further—promoting this short but entertaining video.

The point that I am trying to make is that Google has lost whatever respect it had amongst many technologists—either for its technological prowess, or its radical attitude.

UPDATE: I knew I'd forgotten something—whoops! Android, of course, requires a post all of its own. However, there are two things to consider when assessing Google's way here:
  1. Google loses money on Android.
  2. Android looked very different before and after the launch of the iPhone.
  3. Android is a massively fractured platform that, with every iteration, is demonstrating why the Apple "walled garden" ecosystem—and control over carriers—is, in my opinion, better for consumers.
I will address these points in more detail on a later post.

The other product raised is Chrome: this is a browser running on the Open Source WebKit rendering engine, that is sponsored by Google—but also by Apple and a number of other big corporations. It is not a Google-alone product any more than, for instance, Blogger is. Although the V8 Javascript engine is also worth discussing...

* I realise the irony of the fact that I am writing this on a Google product, and using a video hosted on another Google product.**

** I also realise that the irony is lessened slightly by the fact that Google did not invent or deploy these products—it bought them. Yes—all of them: Blogger, Feedburner and YouTube were all acquired, not invented, by Google.

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 7/23/2012 01:44:00 am

Monday, July 16, 2012

From hell

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 7/16/2012 09:03:00 pm

I was not able to catch Babies in the Office this evening, but luckily the Radio Times gives me a quick summary just long enough for me to vent spleen at this dreadful idea.
Imagine an office where toddlers clamber onto knees during management meetings, toys litter the carpet and it’s fine to bottle-feed whilst on an important phone call. Does it sound like professional heaven, or the very definition of hell?
It sounds like hell.
But could bringing baby to the office ever work for ordinary parents – and their colleagues? A bold experiment in one British firm, captured on film for a new documentary, looks set to find out.

When Liam Griffin, managing director of cab firm Addison Lee, announced that he wanted to try letting some parents bring babies into his company’s London headquarters, staff were sceptical. “There were two camps: mothers were very enthusiastic about it, and those people without kids were massively unenthusiastic,” recalls Griffin.
Well, there's a fucking surprise!

Look, I find babies' whinging, crying and shouting pretty much intolerable on a ten minute train ride—why in god's name should I have to put up with it for eight hours at work too.

My job requires me to spend hours getting "into The Zone" and concentrating really hard (just one of the reason I so rarely blog these days): this kind of mental effort is difficult enough to sustain anyway, let alone having to do so with your damn kid screaming and wittering on for half the bloody day.
More practically, the scheme was a lifesaver for staff struggling with nursery fees of up to 80 a day – or forced into painful choices by the cost of childcare.
For fuck's sake, my taxes pay for your child's education, its healthcare, your Child Tax Credits, your Child Allowance and it subsidises your childcare—how much more are you going to steal from me to fund your baby-bearing lifestyle choice?
“One girl wants to have a second child, but can’t afford to,” says Mitchell.
I want a really expensive made-to-measure suit—but I can't have it because I can't fucking afford it. Why should having children be any different?*
“If we could help her, she’s going to be so loyal to us as a business.”
Yeah? I bet the rest of your employees are already polishing up their CVs.

Or as Chris Snowdon tweeted:
Next time on Babies in the Office: Addison Lee goes into administration. #babiesintheoffice
But as long as the kiddies have "softened the mood" and everyone is happy in the land of unicorns and rainbows, who cares, eh?
More practically, the scheme was a lifesaver for staff struggling with nursery fees of up to £80 a day—or forced into painful choices by the cost of childcare.
Having children is all about making hard choices. Actually, so is life.

Anyway, if only because the idea of watching a car-crash at a taxi firm amuses me, I might now go and find this programme on iPlayer.

*Oh, by the way, if my company decided that buying me the aforementioned really excellent suit would make me "so loyal to [them] as a business", the government would slap a whacking great tax on it as a benefit-in-kind.**

** Yes, yes: I know that there is probably some work clothing allowance of some sort. However, I bet it doesn't apply to really fucking expensive made-to-measure suits.

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 7/16/2012 09:03:00 pm

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Engineering's cool!

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 7/07/2012 09:54:00 pm

I do have a lot of posts stored up—some inspired by the two weeks I have just spent in the USA, some not—but whilst I attempt to pull my thoughts together, here is a video of a train laying its own track.

So cool! And illustrative of the concept that human creativity is largely untrammelled...

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 7/07/2012 09:54:00 pm

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Surface detail

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 6/19/2012 08:32:00 pm

As a Mac fan, you might be unsurprised to know that your humble Devil is pretty underwhelmed by Microsoft's new Surface tablet.* Although, to be fair, the video is not as cringe-inducingly embarrassing as Microsoft's usual promos.

It does underscore one important thing, of course—that Microsoft has understood that having control of both hardware and software makes it easier to create a great user experience. Further, Microsoft are trying to lock down some of the software elements too—restricting the choice of web browsers on the ARM version of Metro.


Many media outlets are hailing the Surface as Microsoft's competitor to the iPad. Whilst I think some serious competition to Apple's iPad is a good thing, I share Justin Watt's opinion that Microsoft is not, in fact, competing directly with the iPad as such.

Whilst I know from personal experience that people in businesses are loving their iPads and iPhones, as Justin points out, the "enterprise" IT-integrated iPad experience is very locked down—for reasons of "security", of course.

Basically, most IT departments that I have encountered are highly conservative at best: at worst, they can be lazy, hide-bound and arrogant. Personally, I think that many IT departments are signing their own death warrants**, but they will be around for a good long time yet.
Enterprise employees can be inspiring, but that depends on said enterprise that they work for. A place that fosters creativity, thinking outside the box, and new ideas leads to happy workers who are open to change if it means making their day to day routine more enjoyable. Let’s just say that having 30,000+ workers doesn’t make for an accomodating work environment for new ideas and embracing change. Integrating iOS and thinking of mobile development in parallel with desktop software development for this many users isn’t an easy or quick task and for that reason the Surface may succeed very well in the enterprise. It’s more of the same. Buried underneath that beautiful Metro interface is Windows. Pure Windows able to run that software developed in 1992, not needing Citrix remote desktop apps, and not needing 100’s of new apps bought to open Office documents that don’t format or display properly on iOS.

Goliath Wants Your Market

In enterprise, Apple is David. The Goliath in enterprise that is Microsoft wants Apple’s market in mobile enterprise. Apple hasn’t entrenched itself nearly deep enough in enterprise. Microsoft has the ability to successfully corner the mobile enterprise market just as it has with the desktop enterprise market. Goliath is bringing the Surface to the table and inside of the enterprise market, it has a fighting chance of succeeding.
I agree with this: the Surface will be largely adopted in enterprise environments.
Outside of enterprise, I think it’s a different story. I think the Surface will fail miserably, but that’s another post I intend on publishing later this week.
I'll look forward to that.

* For a start, there is no firm availability date, nor any indication of pricing.

** In the businesses that I work with, I am finding more and more CEOs and executives are becoming more tech-savvy. And, in all too many organisations, the IT departments are fighting the management.

The result: more and more outsourcing of entire IT functions. This is especially happening amongst many of the smaller, nimbler organisations but larger ones are also started to adopt this trend.

And, of course, if your IT supplier says that they won't support the CEO's shiny new iPad, then it is far easier to change them supplier than it is to fire your IT department.

Especially when more and more of your productive work environments are outsourced to web suppliers or Cloud applications.

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 6/19/2012 08:32:00 pm

It would be the next Eurozone

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 6/19/2012 08:03:00 pm

The idea that Scotland could possibly be independent and yet retain the British sterling is insane.
The former Chancellor said it was “surreal” that the First Minister can claim the remainder of the UK would willingly share control over the pound and interest rates without checking first.

In reality, he said it was difficult to imagine English politicians managing to “sell” this to their constituents. Mr Darling concluded an independent Scotland would be more like “serfdom than freedom” if monetary policy was set by a different country.

The Treasury confirmed that Mr Salmond has had no discussions with the Bank of England about a “currency union” after separation and an independent Scotland would have no influence over sterling.
And why would this be such a bad idea? Because, of course, currency union without fiscal union is precisely what has the current disaster in the Eurozone so inevitable.

To do the same between the UK and an independent Scotland would be the purest folly.

Scotland is not, of course, Greece or Portugal or Spain—it contributes about 9.4% of UK taxes but receives some 9.3% of government spending.

The UK has a 2012 GDP of an estimated $1,557 billion: Scotland contributed a mere £139 billion (or about 8.9%), but then it has only about 9% of the population too.*

Having said that, however, Scotland has the potential to become as bad as the PIIGs: a few years ago, some 56% of people in the country derived their primary salary from the state (I don't know what the figure is right now).

* UK figure converted from nominal US dollars derived from Wikipedia (and corrected—I know GDP is not 2,500 trillion!), at current rate of $1 = 63.5p.

Scottish figure from Wikipedia, in nominal pounds sterling.

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 6/19/2012 08:03:00 pm

Monday, June 11, 2012

Trade negotiations are stupid

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 6/11/2012 12:14:00 pm

As your humble Devil has pointed out a number of times, the point of trade is imports. No, really—it is.

Look at it this way: you can buy a piece of land, and some wheat seeds; then you can buy some books on how to grow, harvest and mill the resulting crop; then you can buy an oven and some books on making bread, and shell out the energy required to do all of this. Hey presto!—you have some bread.

Some very expensive bread that has taken an awful lot of months and huge amounts of man-hours to create. Well done you!

Alternatively, you can export your labour in return for some imports—usually money. You can then export that money in order to import a ready-sliced loaf from the baker (or supermarket).

Or, if you want to by-pass the money stage, you can export your labour to the baker in return for the loaf of bread import.

It is the imports that we want, and that applies as much to cheap electronic goods as it does to food.

Any restrictions on those imports make us poorer. Which is why, as Timmy points out quite forcefully, restricting free trade is a stupid thing to do...
At which point the absurdity of trade restrictions becomes apparent, because imports should matters to everyone involved in trade. Other countries may even be stupid enough to put up barriers to stop their citizens enjoying the lovely things that we make. But why on earth should our reaction be to put up barriers to stop us enjoying the lovely things that foreigners make?

Yet this is what trade negotiations are all about. The UK will reduce tariffs on electronic tat only if Taiwan will reduce tariffs on whatever we export. If you don't stop making your citizens poorer then gosh darn it we'll just make ours poorer to spite you!

It was the more-Keynesian-than-Keynes Cambridge economist, Joan Robinson, who pointed out that other people putting rocks into their harbours is no justification for putting rocks into your own.

The problem we have with trade and trade negotiations is that our politicians are simply too stupid to realise this. Simply declare free trade unilaterally, so that we can purchase whatever we want from wherever. And if Johnny Foreigner doesn't do the same then more fool Johnny Foreigner.
Quite. Let me illustrate this with an actual example...

Rightly or wrongly*, the EU has decided—because incandescent lightbulbs are inefficient and are killing the planet—that we should all use energy-saving lightbulbs. Now, whilst a couple of large companies in the EU do make such lightbulbs, they are not as cheap as those from China.

"Hooray!", you exclaim. "We can all buy those nice Chinese lightbulbs and everybody's happy."**

Ah, well, not so much. You see, the EU slaps trade tariffs on various goods. And in the case of energy-saving lightbulbs, the EU has slapped on a 66% import tariff. So, an energy-saving lightbulb that should cost £1 now costs you £3.

The Chinese are poorer, because we buy fewer lightbulbs from them. And you are now poorer because you have had to pay 66% more for a lightbulb than you would otherwise do.

Thank you, EU!

* Wrongly. So-called "energy-saving lightbulbs" give poor light, contain mercury vapour and are generally bad for the environment. LEDs are far better on all counts. But this is just another example of governments being shit at picking winners in technology.

** Apart from those people who want a decently bright light. Or, of course, those for whom these crappy lightbulbs induce migraines.

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 6/11/2012 12:14:00 pm

Thursday, March 01, 2012

"Are we coming or going?", asks Cable

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 3/01/2012 10:44:00 am

Via the deeply scornful Capitalists@Work, I see that Grandad Cable—the Sage of Twickenham—has decided that the Coalition is going to adopt a "proper industrial policy" and "support the oil and gas industry".
In a move that represents a shift from last year's controversial tax raid on North Sea oil, the Business Secretary said the Government wanted to help the sector "re-energise" its supply chains, which include thousands of small businesses.

In a speech in London, Mr Cable said targeted Government support was needed to create a "different kind of economy" based on manufacturing and trade. Britain could not "just hope it happens naturally", he said. He and Charles Hendry, the Energy Minister, will chair meetings to "see how together we can support this important industry".

Well, Vince, one way of supporting "this important industry" might be not opportunistically taxing it whenever you fucking feel like it. But, then, what do I know, eh?
He insisted the plans were different to the "cack-handed interventionalism of the 1960s and 1970s" and denied that the Government was reverting to "picking winners" rather than trying to create a benign business environment.

Yes, of course it is completely different.
But he argued: "There is a case for being more explicit about the choices we are making and linking them to a clearly articulated economic strategy."

We are now two years into this Coalition government: one would have thought—especially given the current economic crisis—that, if they were going to form a "clearly articulated economic strategy", they would have done so before now.

But, as I say, what do I know?
With a nod to the previous Labour government, Mr Cable said Britain's car manufacturing industry had benefited from the "explicit choices" of government support.

We have a car industry? Who knew...?
Other industries to be destroyed targeted include aerospace, media, film and fashion.

What's that old Reagan saw about the most terrifying words in the English language?

Oh yes: "I'm from the government and I'm here to help".
Mr Cable said: "Revolutionary technologies are often too risky, or simply too complex or resource intensive, for an individual company to make the necessary investment.. for Government, there is a significant role here."

Well, yes: if any organisation is adept at pissing our money up a wall, the government is surely a prime candidate to walk away with that prize.

The mind boggles.

DISCLOSURE: I hold a pretty insignificant number of shares in various oil and gas exploration companies. Most dropped sharply on the 27th and 28th and we have seen increased volatility.

I'm not saying it's linked, but Cable made his speech on the 27th and the Telegraph article was published on the morning of the 28th. Just sayin', is all...

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 3/01/2012 10:44:00 am

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Over regulation kills business

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 2/19/2012 11:28:00 am

As long-term readers might know, your humble Devil gambles a bit.

Every month, a standing order conveys a few tens of pounds to an escrow account with my stockbroker; every few months, when I have built up enough cash to make it worthwhile to buy, I fire up my Instant Messenger client, ask my stockbroker to get me prices on a couple of stocks and then instruct him what to buy.

In the weeks before I do this, I will have done some research—I find City Unslicker to be useful, as well as The Motley Fool—and tracked a few stocks that I'm interested in.

Quite often these stocks will simply be companies that I have read about or stumbled across and which happen to fit my general interests. In building my portfolio, I tend to stick to areas that I know quite a lot about—technology and energy.

And, because I don't have that much spare cash, I tend to look at "penny shares" that might provide a good capital return: after all, if I buy a stock at 4p and it gains a penny, I have made 25%. As such, most of my stocks are on the AIM, rather than the LSE's main market.

As I said, I gamble.

And I do it largely for fun. Although with the added bonus that this particular brand of fun has delivered roughly 40% growth over 18 months.

Well, it's better than sticking it in the bank, eh?

But what I am not really prepared to do is to give my stockbroker the most intimate details of my life, earnings and medical history (this last might be problematic in any case, since I haven't seen a doctor since 1999, am not registered anywhere, and have no idea where my medical history might reside—somewhere in Edinburgh, I'd imagine).

"Surely one doesn't need to!" you cry. Well, I haven't had to yet, but as my stockbroker writes today, it's coming down the line.
The FSA, which does not understand Private Client stockbroking, and therefore does not like this is at serious risk of harming clients by hammering the brokers with often inappropriate demands for record-keeping, and fact-finding. The ultimate effect is to deny decent advice to people without serious amounts of money to invest. If it ain't worth my while spending 3 hours or more finding out your inside-leg measurement and medical history (the former is flippant, the latter is not), I will not be able to advise you about the best way to save for your retirement. You're on your own, or at the mercy of cowboys. Maybe you've inherited a pot of money and you'd like to stick it somewhere for a few years, before buying a house. Maybe you've downsized and would like to supplement your pension with a bit of income from the capital. Few brokers will touch you if it's less than £100k.

As Jackart points out, all of this regulation is killing businesses and, most importantly, reducing choice and service for the customers.
Inappropriate over-regulation is killing the old school advisory business, just as it killed old-school relationship banking where long-term relationships have long provided decent advice to people for a reasonable cost. The only people to benefit are the big banks who have access to more captive customers for their fee-larded "products" sold according to a process, and the regulation sausage factory of the FSA.

I am going to get little sympathy. Though I am just a guy earning a crust by helping clients decide which stocks to invest in to achieve their aims, in the popular imagination I may as well be a "banker". But this nonsense is going on in every industry, not just finance. I am not saying all new regulation is wrong. Much of the new regime is merely formalising what a decent broker should be doing anyway. But to imagine this is without cost is naive. And the cost is borne by customers, who lose choice and privacy as well as paying higher fees. Regulation ultimately benefits government, which gains power over people, and big business, which can absorb the cost, pass it on, and put the insurgent or innovative smaller player out of business.

Ultimately the cost is borne by the nation who have to employ a caste of nose-poker-inners in every industry to check "compliance" with regulations. The only businesses who can influence the regulations are the big, powerful, politically connected ones, and you can bet they're gaming the process to their benefit, and against the interests of the entrepreneur, sole-trader and independent small firm. This crony-capitalist cartel is the real beneficiary of over-regulation. The compliance department, or indeed the PAYE administrator, or the H&S officer may be nominally employed in the private sector, but they're every bit as parasitic as the mandarins of Whitehall, as they are not serving the person who's forced to be paying them.

Worse, innovation may well be beneficial to customers, but the compliance risk means much innovation is not allowed or otherwise stifled because regulators who by their nature are conservative and risk-averse don't like that which they don't understand. Ultimately as we're at the technological frontier, without innovation, we've no growth. And what does the UK desperately need now?


And in the meantime, I will continue gambling: I might lose it all—it's a risk that I take. But, ultimately, if I do then I won't blame my stockbroker, or the bankers, or anyone else. I shall blame myself.

But the reason that I do it is because I get to choose what stocks I invest in, I get to see if my hunch was correct. I don't want some big fund choosing where my money goes (even if I had enough to interest them)—where would be the fun in that?

Ultimately, the fun and the pleasure that I gain from my little bit of gambling is because I get to choose my own path. If I lose the lot, well, I'll get back up and carry on. But every little thing that I do here, every little gamble that I have, is my gamble. It is fun because I get to choose.

And this is true, not only in stocks and shares, but in the whole of life: you might get it wrong, but at least it was your choice. And if it didn't work, well, you can choose something else.

A life in which your decisions are made for you is no life at all—and it probably won't work because you cannot be invested in decisions that you haven't made.

So, make your own choices. Or at least have a little gamble—go on, you might enjoy it!

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 2/19/2012 11:28:00 am

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Quote of the Day...

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 2/02/2012 11:58:00 pm

... comes from Nat Torkington, via Daring Fireball.
Tech Giant IPOs are like Royal Weddings: the people act nice but you know it's a seething roiling pit of hate, greed, money, and desperation that goes on a bit too long so by the end you just want to put an angry chili-covered porcupine in everyone's anus and set them all on fire. But perhaps I'm jaded.


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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 2/02/2012 11:58:00 pm

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Rank hypocrisy

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 1/29/2012 07:55:00 pm

So, it appears that the Parliamentary Labour Party are going to force a vote on the bonus awarded to RBS CEO Stephen Hester.
Labour says it will force a Commons vote calling for RBS chief executive Stephen Hester to be stripped of his near-£1m bonus.

It will hold a debate early next month to pressure the government over the £963,000 shares-only payment.

So, let me get this straight: a vote on Hester's bonus is going to be forced by a Labour contingent which:
  1. is almost entirely made up of MPs who were collaborators in the last Labour government,

  2. the government, in fact, which signed Hester's bloody contract in the first fucking place,

  3. and which overspent by billions of pounds a year (most of which was handed to Labour-supporting special interest groups),

  4. but which now seems to believe that a vote on a million quid bonus is incredibly fucking important.

Seriously, are these bastards possessed of absolutely no self-knowledge...?

P.S. Could I just take this opportunity to point out something else? The bailout of RBS was performed by buying RBS shares; if the shares do well, we taxpayers can get our money back. If the bank doesn't do well, then we won't.

As such, if you are a stupid fucking protester wanking on about the money we threw into bail-outs, then I suggest that you start protesting for big bank profits—because then we can all get our cash back.

Understand? Good.

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 1/29/2012 07:55:00 pm

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Do you trust...

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 1/17/2012 10:48:00 am

... governments and huge corporatist multinationals? No, nor do I.

PIPA and SOPA are stupid, dangerous acts that threaten the internet. And this comes from someone who, by and large, supports Intellectual Property rights...

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 1/17/2012 10:48:00 am

Thursday, December 29, 2011

And so it goes on...

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 12/29/2011 01:48:00 am

As the laziness of the festive season has started to wear thin, your humble Devil has woken up and noticed that the Coalition have quietly pledged to implement some spectacularly stupid policies.

The first of these is the Vickers Report which, amongst other pointless remedies, suggests splitting the retail and investment arms of banks. Despite the fact that this ignores the fact that the collapse started amongst the government-guaranteed retail arms of said banks, the government has said that it will press ahead with the recommendations in full.

The second piece of colossal stupidity is Cameron's reported commandment to implement minimum alcohol pricing: this suggestion really grips my shit for a number of reasons—not least that it won't work, that it will be illegal under EU law, that there is no drinking problem in this country, and that the massively-foreheaded twat has finally shown his true colours.

Most irritating of all, of course, is that we know that Tory aides read many blogs voraciously—and that, therefore, CCHQ are aware of all of the above. And they know that we know that they know. As such, they are pissing into our open mouths.

As such, I feel that some of these issues need to be addressed by your humble Devil—if only for my own catharsis. But, it is late, and so this post is a bookmark, an aide memoire for myself and a menu of things to come for my remaining readers...

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 12/29/2011 01:48:00 am

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Michael O'Leary on innovation

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 12/28/2011 02:36:00 pm

I am, I know, a little late on this—having seen it at numerous places, including Old Holborn's—but I very much enjoyed RyanAir's Michael O'Leary roundly insulting the European Commission, repeatedly, whilst speaking at the laughable European Union Innovation Conference.

Do watch it—and I only wish that our government would heed O'Leary's advice to "get the hell out of Brussels as fast as you can"...

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 12/28/2011 02:36:00 pm

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Herman Cain

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 10/06/2011 12:26:00 am

Counting Cats—who's brief assessment is pretty good—has alerted me to the existence of GOP Presidential Candidate Herman Cain.

Whilst I don't agree with everything he says (the god-bothering in particular)—and nor am I sure that he can deliver what he promises (the President has, in fact, very little power)—I think that it would be incredible if one of our politicians came out with something like this...
Vision for Economic Growth
  • The natural state of our economy is prosperity. Freedom ensures that.
  • We must get the government off our backs, out of our pockets and out of our way in order to return to prosperity.
  • Policy uncertainty is killing the economy.
Economic Guiding Principles
  1. Production drives the economy, not spending.
    • We can not spend our way to prosperity.
    • Government spending IS taxation.
    • Government spending is like taking a bucket of water from the deep end of the pool, pouring it in the shallow end. Then they HOPE that the water level will CHANGE.
  2. Risk taking drives growth.
    • Business formation and job creation are dependent on entrepreneurs taking risks.
    • Investors who fund those entrepreneurs likewise take risks.
  3. Measurements must be dependable.
    • A dollar must always be a dollar just as an hour is always 60 minutes.
    • Sound money is crucial for prosperity.
We Must Unite Not Divide
  • When one party seeks to spend so that the other party must focus on cutting, we must unite around economic growth.
  • Unite all tax payers, don’t divide them into “income” tax payers vs. “payroll” tax payers.
  • Unite those wanting to eliminate deductions with those seeking lower rates.
  • As a first step, unite the “Flat-Taxers” with the “Fair-Taxers”
Economic Growth is the Key
  • This is the worst recovery since the Depression.
  • If the President’s goal was to tie for last place with the previous worst recovery, he failed by 6 million jobs.
  • If we had a typical recovery, 13 million more Americans would be employed today.
  • That means more tax revenue, less government spending and 13 million less people opposed to reasonable spending cuts.
  • The Super Committee must deliver a robust growth solution.
  • America can’t wait for 2012, we need growth NOW
Phase 1—9-9-9
  • Current circumstances call for bolder action.
  • The Phase 1 Enhanced Plan incorporates the features of Phase One and gets us a step closer to Phase two.
  • I call on the Super Committee to pass the Phase 1 Enhanced Plan along with their spending cut package.
  • The Phase 1 Enhanced Plan unites Flat Tax supporters with Fair tax supporters.
  • Achieves the broadest possible tax base along with the lowest possible rate of 9%.
  • It ends the Payroll Tax completely – a permanent holiday!
  • Zero capital gains tax
  • Ends the Death Tax.
  • Eliminates double taxation of dividends
  • Business Flat Tax—9%
    • Gross income less all investments, all purchases from other businesses and all dividends paid to shareholders.
    • Empowerment Zones will offer additional deductions for payroll employed in the zone.
  • Individual Flat Tax—9%.
    • Gross income less charitable deductions.
    • Empowerment Zones will offer additional deductions for those living and/or working in the zone.

  • National Sales Tax—9%.
    • This gets the Fair Tax off the sidelines and into the game.
Phase 2—The Fair Tax
  • Amidst a backdrop of the economic boom created by the Phase 1 Enhanced Plan, I will begin the process of educating the American people on the benefits of continuing the next step to the Fair Tax.
  • The Fair Tax would ultimately replace individual and corporate income taxes.
  • It would make it possible to end the IRS as we know it.
  • The Fair Tax makes our exported goods and services the most competitively internationally than any other tax system.

Can you imagine Potato Cameron or any of his merry men coming out with anything like that? No—because they just had their chance at the Conservative Party Conference and they absolutely failed to do so.

Instead, Cameron pushed the virtues of the nationalised monopoly NHS and other centrist—or outright socialist—shit. And, whilst they promised new jobs, they absolutely failed to point out that the state cannot generate wealth or valuable jobs.

It would be funny if it wasn't so pathetic—and serious.

So fuck the Conservatives—and good luck to Herman Cain...!

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 10/06/2011 12:26:00 am

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Trading in 2011

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 10/05/2011 10:52:00 pm

CityUnslicker has had a shocking trading year as, like me, he had large amounts of money in commodities—an area which has been absolutely hammered over the last year. Luckily, I deal in smaller sums than he does, and since I only started relatively recently, my stocks were higher to start with.

However, just to emphasise the downturn, here are some of my stats and stocks for you...

Obviously, I am massively down on the beginning of this year. On the other hand, I have been ramping up my investments in the last six months: as such, I am taking advantage of prices that I consider to be extraordinarily low.

As always, the Very British Dude is my trader: I should point out, given my current portfolio, that he only performs my trades—in my case, he does not offer any official advice and nor is he responsible for my decisions or stock choices. The Dude is, however, very prompt and responsive and I'd recommend his services.

In other news, the only shares that have consistently climbed are those I hold in the business that I work for: add those in and I massively in profit...!

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 10/05/2011 10:52:00 pm

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

"Credit easing" explained...

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 10/04/2011 11:45:00 pm

... by The Daily Mash.
Osborne's offer of credit to thousands of small businesses will make Britain the first conservative-led communist state when the loans are inevitably defaulted and the government ends up owning and running everything.

Here's a tip, business peeps: if you absolutely need a loan, then you aren't a viable business.

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 10/04/2011 11:45:00 pm

Monday, October 03, 2011

Statement of the bleeding' obvious

Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 10/03/2011 03:14:00 am

Today's statement of the bleedin' obvious comes from the Low Pay Commission...
The minimum wage may be pricing young people out of work because employers are finding it too expensive to give them their first job, Government pay advisers have said.

Firms may be reluctant to create jobs by recruiting inexperienced staff because they are put off by the increased wage bill, the Low Pay Commission has suggested.

No, really? You surprise me.

You mean, if you make employing people more expensive, then you will have fewer employees? Tell me, o sages of the Low Pay Commission, what are your views on increasing employers' NICs?

Oh, they might slightly contribute to unemployment too? Genius! Who'da thunk it...?


UPDATE: Timmy elaborates on why the Low Pay Commission might be understanding this now.
What is so annoying about all this is that we told you so you fucking fools. We said that if you bring a min wage, one which continually rises above general wage inflation, then you will get to a point where it does severely crimp employment prospects. And it will be first evident among the young, untrained and untried.

So, happy now that it’s happened?

The truth is, the minimum wage is almost certainly too high already. Worthwhile Canadian (search for it yourself!) did some work a couple of years back showing that as long as the min wage was below 40% of average (I assume, from memory, mean) earnings, then the unemployment effect was minimal. When it goes over 50%, then the effects become more substantial.

Mean hourly earnings for men are now 16.25 an hour. For women 13.73 an hour (ASHE 2010).

Part time they’re 12.06 and 10.64 an hour.

The minimum wage at 6.08 an hour (the 2011 number) isn’t affecting full time employment all that much and it’s just getting into the range where it might start having substantial effects on part time employment. So far so good.

But, the youth rate is £4.98 an hour. And what are mean wage rates for this group? Again from ASHE: for 16-18 year olds, £4.84 and for 18-21 year olds, £7.62 (both male).

So, in that 18-21 year group, we’ve a minimum wage which is 65% of the mean wage. Well into our territory where we expect to see substantial employment effects. For 16-18 year olds, it’s 3.68……76%.

Are we seeing substantial emplouyment effects? Well, certainly, all the awailin’ about NEETS seems to show that we are.

And you know what kiddies? We fucking told you so.
Official figures last month showed that almost 1 million of the 2.5 million people officially counted as unemployed in Britain are aged between 16 and 24.

As the man said, we did tell you so.

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Posted by Devil's Kitchen at 10/03/2011 03:14:00 am


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