Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Olympics Tickets Balls-Up

NB: I am not the Devil

Still the whining goes on about Olympics tickets, and still no-one seems to have identified the problem.

Look. I was given a ticket for an event which I won't be attending as it has no value to me. Ain't I the hideous one, eh?

Its original price, according to what I can find out, was £87 if you were to buy it from the official site. I'd have sold it for a fiver and been ecstatic about it, except that I'm not allowed to by law.
The unauthorised selling of Olympic tickets is a crime under the Olympic Act punishable by a £20,000 fine, and police have warned they will take tough action against touts.

It therefore resided, until recently when the council picked it up, in my recycling bin.

We know very well why this approach was taken. It's because there is an attitude in our country which is so fearful of "the privileged" sucking up tickets by virtue of being rich, that every effort has been taken to stop them doing so. It's easy to concede that there is some merit in that, even if it can arguably be seen to be driven by ugly envy.

However, it's been done in such a cack-handed way that they have forgotten how good humans are at sorting themselves out and ending up with a mostly decent result.

The London 2012 organisers had already priced anyone without a massive deposit account from buying the vast majority of the popular tickets anyway, quite rightly too as they are obliged to get return for the tax cash they have spent.

But while those who seem committed to egalitarianism and (presumably) re-distribution of wealth, are happy to see the rich restricted from buying seats at the expense of the less well off, they have woefully overlooked the more important aspect of re-distribution of value.

The value I placed on that ticket was quite literally zero. I would have happily given it away but for the fact that I had no-one to give it away to as no-one in my social circle was interested in one adult ticket (the spectre of over-bearing security and oppressive restrictions on what is allowed on the day of 'celebration' may have contributed to the disinterest, I reckon).

Someone, somewhere, would place a different value on it, though. If I was able to offer it for sale - in a free market - the person who valued it most highly would be able to see the event and be just as ecstatic as I would be for receiving, say, a fiver for something I personally thought was worth nothing.

They might believe it's a steal as they were prepared to pay only half of the £87 asking price, but got it for a fiver. I'd be dead happy that I got £5 for something which wasn't absorbent enough for me to even find value by wiping my bum with.

If the organisers are so dead set against re-distributing the natural value of Olympics tickets - by way of brutal laws involving £20k fines, no less - how on Earth can they be surprised that they are left with empty seats all over the place?

The only possible result is that just about everyone is left unsatisfied. Except, oddly enough, the privileged and the rich who the rules were meant to frustrate in the first place.

Meanwhile, Mrs and Mr SportsFan are allowed to believe that it's a corporate failure, instead of a massive mistake by those who swallow our taxes and refuse to recognise that a free swapping of value could have put bums on many of those empty seats the BBC, and others, are scratching their muddled heads about.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On Responsibilty

Please note: I am not the Devil.

The Aurora shootings have kicked off what some would call a debate, but what I would call the latest rehashing of tedious assertions that this sort of horrific mass murder always brings to the surface. Those with particular axes to grind seize on this sort of tragedy to justify their iterations of their personal prejudices. They seem to forget that people have died and people are grieving and instead use ghastly, evil acts such as these as an opportunity to score cheap political points. Stay classy, fucknuts.

But on and on it goes. So we’ve heard that this tragedy is about lax gun laws, missing the point that humans don’t need guns to commit evil acts. We’ve heard that this is an indicator of some sort of fallen culture/society; an idea propounded presumably by those who favour a better yesterday and this thoroughly and continually miss the point that such a yesterday never existed and violence has always been and remains very much a constant of human existence. They’ll also be those tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy types, who will mutter terms like “false flag” and then go on to explain – normally in a way that redefines the word “incredible” – how the shootings were all part of a government conspiracy to make us all eat more spam or other such shite. And then we hear that it is all the fault of the movie-makers.

A good example of the latter position comes from the Telegraph’s gobshite in chief when it comes to all things American: Tim Stanley. Stanley, one of the few people in the media in this country to treat Rick Santorum as anything other than a feckless fundamentalist (and thus showing himself to possess dubious judgment at best), writes that “movies like The Dark Knight Rises – which glorifies vigilante justice and wallows in sadism – could equally be accused of responsibility.” Evidently he has not seen The Dark Knight Rises, since it does not glorify vigilante justice (indeed, it seems to consider such justice an at best reluctant choice that deeply harms those who undertake it, and if it glorifies anything it is self-sacrifice) and, far from wallowing in sadism, it shows that pain hurts and is catastrophically unpleasant. Of course, that does not mean that movies cannot inspire negative actions from some; after all, the Emperor character in Return of the Jedi apparently helped to inspire Jeffrey Dahmer in his terrible crimes. The point, rather, is that Stanley – like so many others – is, from a position of basic ignorance if his comments on TDKR are to be taken seriously, taking this tragedy and twisting it for his own ends and to support his own purposes. And given this is a tragedy that has left people dead, wounded and in mourning, it is at best a cheap thing to do.

However, the quote from Stanley above does give us a crucial clue as to what all of these people are allegedly trying to do with their witterings – find out who is responsible for these heinous crimes. Which makes them stunningly myopic, in my humble opinion. Because it is very easy to find out what – or rather who – is responsible for these killings and woundings. Based on the available evidence, he’s in police custody: he’s called James Holmes.*

Seriously, he is the one who dressed himself in protective clothing, dyed his hair, put on a gas mark, dropped cans of tear gas into a crowded cinema and then started shooting. From all accounts, he acted alone. Therefore he is responsible for it as he chose to do it.

Of course, no-one exists in a vacuum, and there are all sorts of influences and pressures pushing us towards the choices we make. So maybe Holmes was influenced by the media, or by the easy availability of ammunition and weaponry. But that does not and cannot change the fact that the person who chose to commit these crimes was Holmes. I don’t doubt that there are those reading this blog who have, at times, been tempted to lash out at people they know or to physically vent their frustrations on those they don’t. But they choose not to. And that is the point; we are responsible for what we choose to do. Even if someone puts a gun to your head and says that they will shoot you dead if you do not kill the person sat next to you, you still have a choice. There may be mitigating factors, but you still make the choice and have to take responsibility for the consequences of that choice.

No doubt, if the defence team at Holmes’ trial has any sense, then they will raise the mitigating factor of madness. Now, it is more than possible that Holmes does suffer from some sort of mental illness. Then again, many people do, yet few resort to mass murder as a way of dealing with that illness. Plus, this was not a spur of the moment attack. Everything – from the equipment to the booby-trapping of his flat – shows a calculated, planned attack. Which then leads us back to the question of choice and the conclusion that Holmes was in control and therefore chose to do what he did, which then makes him responsible for it.

Now, I’ll hold my hands up and say that I have been savage at the top of this post with those who have sought reasons and influences on Holmes’ actions, and they could legitimately raise their hands and point out that they are just trying to reduce the risk of this happening again, which is a noble (if often misguided) aim. That may be true, but we all know what the road to hell is paved with. Furthermore, no-one at this point should be seeking to reduce the responsibility of the man who pulled the trigger.

The long and the short of it is this: Holmes could have gone to the cinema last week and enjoyed a satisfying, if overlong, film**. Instead, he chose to go back to his car, get his gun, get his tear gas, and unleash carnage on an audience of innocent people. It was his choice meaning that it is him – not lax gun laws, not a fallen culture, not a shadowy, manipulative government, not Hollywood – that is responsible for these terrible killings. It is both naïve and morally suspect to attempt – intentionally or otherwise – to diminish Holmes’s responsibility for his own heinous actions.

*Ok, ok, innocent until proven guilty. But, from what has been reported, there is a lot of proof heading in his direction to show how guilty that man is.
**I was going to publish a full review of it, but time is not my friend today…

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Morality and Politicians

Please note: I am not the Devil

Ahhh, I love the smell of rank hypocrisy in the mornings. Today’s moron of choice is Treasury Minister David Gauke, who has this to say on the notion of paying for work cash in hand:
"Getting a discount with your plumber by paying cash in hand is something that is a big cost to the Revenue and means others have to pay more in tax.

"I think it is morally wrong. It is illegal for the plumber but it is pretty implicit in those circumstances that there is a reason why there is a discount for cash. That is a large part of the hidden economy.”
So there we have it. If you have ever paid for something cash in hand, you are morally wrong. You shit, you.

Of course, it is perfectly ok to pay someone nothing in return for working for you, as Gauke’s advert for an intern proves. So here we have the warped morality of a Treasury Minister – cash in hand, bad. Not paying people at all, a-ok. Still, I guess there is a certain logic to this. If he is paying his intern the square root of fuck all, then they can’t avoid tax. On the grounds that they can’t pay any because they aren’t earning anything.

For what it is worth, I have no problem with the notion of paying for work cash in hand or with the idea of unpaid interns. When it comes to the latter, well, if you are dumb enough to go work for an MP for free, then good luck to you. As for the former, well, I have no issue with tax avoidance – for me, it is like harm avoidance; it may not always be possible, but that certainly won’t stop me from doing it wherever and whenever I can. After all, if it truly was a problem then Gauke and his odious ilk would surely legislate against it. Just like they do against every other bastard thing that does not entirely float their boat.

But these reflections are tangential to the main point, which is that politicians no longer (if they ever did) have the credibility to tell me how I should live from a moral perspective. They are mired in hypocrisy, cowardly compromise, intellectual vacuity, constant mendacity and stunning ineptitude. The very best a modern day politician can claim for in this country is a certain level of competence; anything more is ambitious to the point of stupid. And until we have a political class that is actually prepared to step out of the long shadow cast by that deceitful, dangerous fool Tony Blair and come to the table with their own sound, well-argued convictions, then you’ll have to forgive me, but I have no time for lectures in morality from those who ultimately serve no-one other than themselves.

UPDATE: Guido has more here. And here. And here. Clearly, this man is a cunt on a cosmic scale and just wading through the myriad hypocrises that surround him has made me want to go and have a wash. With bleach.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Doing no evil

"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.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Get Real!

As some of you may know, your humble Devil's brother writes songs—many of them pretty damn good—and plays with a band known as Gronk and the Body Doubles.

Here's a video made for It's Not Easy—one of the jauntier numbers* from the forthcoming (self-released) EP, Get Real.

You can hear a selection** of other tracks on Gronk's Soundcloud page.

* Actually, in your humble Devil's opinion, it's a pop treat! However, I might be biased...

** I have 663 songs written or co-written by him in my iTunes. Even allowing for duplicates, live versions, etc., there are probably about 300 original songs, spanning roughly 15 years.

Monday, July 16, 2012

From hell

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.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The government we deserve

Whilst your humble Devil has never been shy of excoriating the government, I am one of the few bloggers that has consistently pointed out that, actually, the electorate are a bunch of fascist bastards too.
It's hard to imagine that this is the same public which proudly bosts of winning two world wars, isn't it? Limp, effete, and cowering like timid rabbits at a small cloud of water particles which float for a second before disappearing into history.
As V said, "if you're looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror."

Think about it. Understand it.

And change how you think and behave.

Stop trying to control people because you have been credulously sucked into the belief in any one of the fantasmagorical hobgoblins that the government and media have created in order to keep you stupid, scared and compliant.

In other words, stop being a cunt. Yes, you. Stop it.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Oh, do fuck off

Overweight Shadow Minister for Public Health, Diane Abbott: "I think it's quite shocking that McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Cadbury's, and Heineken are the main food sponsors [for the Olympics]".

This gross woman has decided that she is fit to lecture us all on our health: Chris Snowden disagrees in a fisking of yet another article by an example of the greatest threat to human freedom—a doctor.

Chris is right. Abbott is fat. Doctors are evil.


Sunday, July 08, 2012

Consultations—who gives a fuck?

A great number of bloggers are getting terribly worked up about the plain packaging consultation.

It is inevitable, of course, that because the government have not got the answer that they wanted from the "consultation" that they should "extend" the timescale to let all "stakeholders" respond.

None of this matters.

The power to "dictate the colour of cigarette packs, their shape, the trademarks displayed on them and any labelling" was handed to the Health Secretary solely back in 2009.

And you poor fucks think that we live in a democracy.

The consultation on this matter—just like the "consultation" on the display ban—is simply a democratic fig-leaf: the government simply wants to pretend that it is, in any way, answerable to the people.

Anyone who believes that our democracy is in any way "representative" is an idiot.

Successive governments have passed what your humble Devil called "mini-Enabling Acts" for years: the NuLabour government may have been the greatest transgressors, but that hasn't stopped the Freedom Coalition making full use of those functions.

When you are a disgusting authoritarian bastard, why would you not?

So, here is a prediction: plain packaging will be enacted. And it may or may not go through Parliamentary scrutiny. Regardless, it does not need to.

Many people—including MPs—whinge about how the EU is making our Parliament irrelevant. But, as I wrote some time ago, our Parliament does not need the EU to make it irrelevant: they are doing that themselves.
Once again, our MPs—either through malice or the usual fucking laziness—have voted to abdicate another part of the power that we lend them.

And there are hundreds of pieces of legislation with similar clauses. Parliament is reaching the point where it is simply irrelevant: the government could use these clauses to enact pretty much anything that it wants.

The government could suspend Parliament and carry on ruling as an oligarchy but it simply doesn't need to: why go to the bother of suspending Parliament and risking a revolution when you can simply by-pass the institution altogether?

Our jumped-up chicken Parliament is still running around and around—desperately pretending that it is somehow important—when, in fact, it has had its head cut off.
This is why—though there are a couple of decent MPs in the House—every single one of our lords and masters needs to be hanged.

For those who have not actively colluded in this state of affairs are, nevertheless, complicit in our enslavement.

Related posts:

UPDATE: contrary to what Dick Puddlecote may think, this post was not intended to have a pop at him or any of the other folks who are throughly annoying the government on this matter.

The intention was to highlight the fact that successive governments have quite deliberately attempted to neuter Parliament, and remove themselves from democratic oversight.

But, surely, we have the right to throw these bastards out—that's the point of democracy, is it not?

Well, yes and no. As you might have noticed—if you have taken an interest in politics over the last few decades—the ratchet only seems to go one way, i.e. in the removal of our freedoms. And I don't give two shits about the colour of the rosette worn by the scum who do so.

So, if Lansley has the power to impose plain packaging on tobacco, then he will do so. And the next government will not remove that power.

If you doubt what I say about the freedom ratchet, simply compare the Coalition's liberties-championing rhetoric immediately after the election with their actual record in government.

All of this, of course, means that making your feelings known in the so-called consultation is extremely important. But it is also no shock that the government have changed the rules of the game because they didn't get the answer they wanted: and if they continue to get the wrong answer, then they will simply press ahead regardless.

After all, if the government does not intend to use these mini-Enabling Acts—and really wants to restore our freedoms and the relevance of Parliament (as the Coalition claimed)—then why do they not repeal them?

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Engineering's cool!

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...

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...