Sunday, June 24, 2012

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Surface detail

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.

It would be the next Eurozone

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.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A taste of their own medicine

After the expenses scandal a couple of years ago, the few actual convictions belied the fact that the entire body of our lords and masters were engaged in widespread fraud, in a scandalous conspiracy against the taxpayers who they are supposed to serve.

Further, all three major parties in this country have proposed spying on our every communication for no good reason at all, something that surely breaks the Data Protection Act's provision that all data held should not be excessive.

Given these two vignettes, it strikes me as being utterly hilarious that one of these corrupt bastards should complain about HSBC demanding that they hand over "sensitive information" in order to prove that they are not corrupt.
HSBC has targeted MPs with demands for sensitive private information as part of a crackdown by the bank on "politically exposed" customers. The move has left some feeling they will lose their banking facilities unless they comply.

A Labour MP who is a longstanding customer of HSBC contacted Guardian Money to say he had been asked by the bank to disclose information about his finances, including accounts he has with other banks, and his "sources of wealth".

At first he thought it may be a "phishing" scam, where fraudsters try to obtain people's private details by masquerading as their bank or an official body, but the letter was genuine, and was followed up earlier this month by a phone call. The MP, who declined to be named, says he explained to the bank that the information being sought was "inappropriate", and when he asked what would happen if he didn't co-operate, the suggestion was that his account may be closed.

The answer, it transpired, is that HSBC has decided the MP is in a category of high-risk customers known as "politically exposed persons", or Peps. Even though, according to HM Revenue & Customs, he definitely isn't one of those. And he hasn't been singled out for special (mis)treatment. It is understood that every MP who banks with HSBC is being quizzed – and, presumably, other public figures, too.

Aaaaaaaaahahahahahahaaaaaaa! Ahahaha. Ahaha. Ha!

How nice it is to see these thieving, snooping, authoritarian arseholes getting a taste of their own medicine!

But, of course, on a more serious note, you might be wondering what the fuss is about? After all, surely an MP is a politically exposed person—how could they not be?*

Luckily, retired international lawyer Tom Paine can supply us with the answer to that little conundrum.
When practising abroad as an international lawyer, I often had to raise with clients dealing with companies associated with local politicians the delicate issue of money laundering. You can imagine how the politicians concerned reacted when informed that English legislation required enquiries as to their past, and contractual provisions as to their possible future, misconduct. I rather tired of apologising for it. I can't quantify how much business was lost because of these laws, but let's face it, the counterparties had other, easier choices.

As I never had to deal with UK politicians, I did not realise until this morning that they had exempted themselves. Here is the HMRC guidance mentioned in The Guardian article (my emphasis);

In some situations you must carry out 'enhanced due diligence'. These situations are:
  • When the customer isn't physically present when you carry out identification checks.
  • When you enter into a business relationship with a 'politically exposed person'. Typically, a politically exposed person is an overseas member of parliament, a head of state or government or a government minister.
    Note that a UK politician isn't a politically exposed person.
  • Any other situation where there's a higher risk of money laundering.

Yes, that's right: as with the tax on benefits in kind, our lords and masters have exempted themselves from the rules which apply to others.

Once again, that old saw of "one rule for us and a different one for them" seems utterly appropriate.

This must stop. An MP is quite obviously a politically exposed person: further, MPs have proved themselves to be a body of people who are entirely untrustworthy every respect—those who are not actively thieves or liars are criminally stupid.

So, when this anonymous Labour MP whinges that his "financial integrity" is being questioned, my response is "well, whose fault is that? Cry me a fucking river."

And, given their plans to spy on everything we do, when this same anonymous Labour MP then asks...
"Why should they want this information, unless there's some indication that there is something amiss?"

... my reply involves motes, beams and "how the fuck do you like them apples, you totalitarian piece of shit?"
So, bravo to HSBC for giving me an excellent belly laugh this morning.

And perhaps this anonymous Labour MP might take a lesson from this; perhaps this Labour MP will drop his anonymity and start campaigning vociferously against the Coalition's plans to monitor our communications?

Or, more likely, he will continue to complain in the Tea Room and quietly continue to use his expenses to steal money from his constituents.

Either way, I am thrilled that he has been insulted and inconvenienced—it is the very least that he deserves.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Diesel exhausts do cause cancer

Yes, this is the announcement from the University of the Blindingly Obvious World Health Organisation (WHO).
Exhaust fumes from diesel engines do cause cancer, a panel of experts working for the World Health Organization says.

It concluded that the exhausts were definitely a cause of lung cancer and may also cause tumours in the bladder.
Whilst smoking has been the bete noire for lung cancer for some decades, the habit's portrayal in the media as the prime cause of lung cancer has never made any sense. Comparing per capita lung cancer rates with per capita smoking rates has seen the data move in opposite directions: whilst rates of lung cancer have increased, smoking has decreased.

Obviously, that is not to dismiss smoking as a significant factor in lung cancer cases, but it has long been obvious that there must be another, far more pervasive, causative factor—and car exhausts have always been a prime candidate (especially since tetra-ethyl lead was replaced with benzene as an anti-knocking agent).

As such, the WHO's announcement hardly comes as a surprise.

However, given that this shocking health risk has been confirmed, I now look forward to the WHO-driven lobbying for a ban on diesel car advertising—accompanied by health warnings on diesel car doors, a ban on driving diesel cars in public, diesel car display bans and plain paint jobs for diesel cars.

Because, with smoking, it is all about the health aspects, right...?
But director of cancer information Dr Lesley Walker said the overall number of lung cancers caused by diesel fumes was "likely to be a fraction of those caused by smoking tobacco".
Um. Yes. Possibly. Although, given the lack of evidence for health effects from second-hand smoke, quite possibly not.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Apple's Mac Pro update

At the World Wide Developer's Conference (WWDC) yesterday, Apple released a slew of hardware upgrades.

Many of them look very impressive—not least the flagship retina display MacBook Pro. However, your humble Devil has always been a Mac Pro user—I require the expansion capabilities that the power tower offers—and, in this respect, I can only echo Shawn Blanc's comment...
Not much new — no USB 3.0 ports like the whole MacBook lineup got today, and still no Thunderbolt. Why did Apple even bother?

Quite. This is the first update that the Mac Pro has had in two years, and Apple have elected to omit all of the pro hardware features.

I would like to think that Apple have given the standard model a small speed bump, and little else, simply to keep sales going whilst they prepare for a massively revised model later in the year.

However, I fear that this is not the case. Instead, this derisory update lends credence, I think, to the rumours of the Mac Pro's imminent demise.

UPDATE: I may have called that too soon. Via Daring Fireball, I see that MacWorld reports that a customer sent an email to Apple CEO Tim Cook, essentially stating something similar to the above, and Cook replied thusly:
Thanks for your email. Our Pro customers like you are really important to us. Although we didn’t have a chance to talk about a new Mac Pro at today’s event, don’t worry as we’re working on something really great for later next year. We also updated the current model today.
We’ve been continuing to update Final Cut Pro X with revolutionary pro features like industry leading multi-cam support and we just updated Aperture with incredible new image adjustment features.
We also announced a MacBook Pro with a Retina Display that is a great solution for many pros.

This is good news.

Regardless of the actual state of the hardware, I love that Apple executives reply to their customers directly like this: Steve Jobs did the same thing.

As far as I am concerned, if the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company can be bothered to respond to a customer via personal email, that is indicative of great customer service across the company.

UPDATE 2: to compound my annoyance, the latest OS X version—Mountain Lion—will not run on my 2006 Mac Pro. So it looks like I shall have to wait until next year until I can upgrade both hardware and software.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Trade negotiations are stupid

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.

At last, a comprehensive report on Fake Charities...

Some years ago, your humble Devil and his Kitchen colleague, the Filthy Smoker, noticed that more and more charities were being cited by news media—and, most especially, the BBC—in connection with government initiatives.

These charities almost always reinforced these policies: and these policies were almost always ones that aimed to reduce freedom and liberty in this country.

Out of curiosity, we started to investigate these charities in a very simplistic way: when a charity was quoted as being in favour of yet more grossly invasive legislation, we went to the Charity Commission website and looked up the public accounts.

In the majority of cases, we found that these quoted "charities" were, in fact, largely funded by the government whose policies they were enthusiastically endorsing.

I would like to say that what we unearthed shocked us, but that would be a lie. What did surprise us was just how many of these organisations there were.

People tend to think of charities as being... well... voluntary organisations, doing actual, physical good deeds in the community—whether that be running soup kitchens, cancer hospices or homeless shelters.

But most of these organisations were indulging in little more than flat-out lobbying. And they were using our money to do it. In our view, these charities were being deliberately disingenuous.

And we came up with a name for these organisations—"fake charities".

We came up with a definition of what a fake charity was:
We define a Fake Charity as any organisation registered as a UK charity that derives more than 10% of its income—and/or more than £1 million—from the government, while also lobbying the government. That lobbying can take the form of calling for new policies, changes to the law or increases in (their own) funding.
And then we set up the website, in order to inform people about these organisations, and to enable them to search a database in order to satisfy themselves as to whether the charity that they gave money to was, indeed, a fake.
Some of these organisations spend a large amount of their time lobbying the state to curtail our freedoms and not all charities are upfront about the amount of money they receive from the state.

When an ‘independent’ charity takes a political stand or attempts to sway public opinion on matters of policy, we think you have a right to know whether they are being funded by the generosity of the public or by the largesse of the state. We think you have the right to know whether you’re listening to a genuine grass-roots charity or are being fed PR from an astro-turfed lobby group. This site exists to help you make up your own mind about who these campaigners are really working for.
A great many other people—mostly recruited through The Kitchen—helped to build up the site's database; but it was a colossal task. There seemed to be so many of them and, in order to keep things current, the accounts had to be checked every year.

As such, website is now somewhat out of date. I hope to switch the site to a wiki-style format over the next couple of months, and I am immensely grateful to those people who have already offered to help.

In the meantime, however, the Institute of Economic Affairs has now published a report on these fake charities. Sockpuppets: how the government lobbies itself and why is a new publication, written by the excellent Chris Snowden.
  • In the last 15 years, state funding of charities in Britain has increased significantly. 27,000 charities are now dependent on the government for more than 75 per cent of their income and the ‘voluntary sector’ receives more money from the state than it receives in voluntary donations.
  • State funding weakens the independence of charities, making them less inclined to criticise government policy. This can create a ‘sock puppet’ version of civil society giving the illusion of grassroots support for new legislation. These state-funded activists engage in direct lobbying (of politicians) and indirect lobbying (of the public) using taxpayers’ money, thereby blurring the distinction between public and private action.
  • State-funded charities and NGOs usually campaign for causes which do not enjoy widespread support amongst the general public (e.g. foreign aid, temperance, identity politics). They typically lobby for bigger government, higher taxes, greater regulation and the creation of new agencies to oversee and enforce new laws. In many cases, they call for increased funding for themselves and their associated departments.
  • Urgent action should be taken, including banning government departments from using taxpayer’s money to engage in advertising campaigns, the abolition of unrestricted grants to charities and the creation of a new category of non-profit organisation, for organisations which receive substantial funds from statutory sources.
Commenting on the report, Christopher Snowdon, its author, said:
“It is appalling that for so long the government has got away with debasing the term ‘charity’. Many so-called ‘charities’ are little more than fronts for state-funded campaigns or providers of state-funded services. It is vital that more transparency is introduced so the public know exactly what the government is funding. We also need much greater measures to prevent government squandering our money on trying to manipulate our opinions and behaviour.”
The report [PDF] is very comprehensive, tracking the rise of this practice—stemming, almost inevitably, from a relaxation of the laws about the amount of political campaigning charities can do. I commend it to you all.

Having read the report, it is no wonder that the few volunteers at were unable to keep on top of the site—27,000 fake charities is an awful lot of organisations to keep track of on a yearly basis.

But it is essential that we continue to try to do so: these organisations are taking large sum of money from the government—money that is taken from us by force. Then these same organisations are then using that money to lobby the state to pass legislation to oppress us.

These fake charities are—in collusion with the state—using our own resources against us: they must be stopped, and the proper meaning of "charity" restored.

This new IEA report is a welcome start in bringing this scandal to a wider audience.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Technical issues

OK, I'm having some technical issues—some super new Blogger javascript seems to be stuffing everything.

I'm dealing with the issue and normal service should be resumed shortly.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Medical bleg

Can anyone help me to find the total deaths attributed to iatrogenesis in a single, recent year in the UK (preferably 2011)?

Google seems to be remarkably unhelpful, since the first few pages of results give figures for the US, or scenarios for particular conditions—such as CJD or AIDS—or are from highly suspect sources, such as chiropractic websites.

The most common figure that I can find is astonishingly high—can it really be true that doctors kill some 52,000 people a year by being utterly crap?

Oh, and if anyone thinks that I want these figures in order to launch a sustained attack on the medical profession then let me assure you that nothing could be closer to the truth.

So, anyone...?

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Baby boomers

Here's a neat little pointed slice from the wife, commenting on Chris Dillow's observation that the roof of today are a bit tame and tedious... [Emphasis mine.]
If you [baby boomers in general, and Chris Dillow in particular] want angry, empowered youth, then don’t spend the first 25 years of their lives teaching them that the bland, unquestioning, isolating conformity which suits your desire to retain cultural and social dominance is for their own good.

Your methods of upbringing are what created today’s 23-year-olds who fret over whether they can afford to buy a house in Barnes. Your parental indulgence is why others of your children still live in your council house with three kids of their own, no spouse, and no job.

You didn’t teach them to see the value in standing up for their future because you didn’t want them to do that—because it might hurt yours. You’ve told them all of their lives that somebody else would sort out their problems, take their part, and make the world right for them; you’ve taught them that dependence has no cost and entitlements have no price and one’s desires are automatically others’ debts to pay—why should they not believe you now? You have no right to complain. You promised them the earth; they’re just waiting patiently for you to provide it for them.

NHS Fail Wail

I think that we can all agree that the UK's response to coronavirus has been somewhat lacking. In fact, many people asserted that our de...