Saturday, April 26, 2008

Panic Now - avoid the rush

They are not making any more oil.

This is pretty obvious, but I'm just not hearing it from the pundits. They keep mouthing economic platitudes about the market finding a new level, short term fluctuations, and the like.

Buy land. They ain’t making any more of the stuff.
(Will Rogers 1879—1935).

This is the axiom that we need to consider when looking at the increasing price of food. That and, of course, the fact that some mistaken (stupid?) politicians have been convinced that the way out of the fuel shortage is to convert food stuffs into fuel for cars.

Food is going to get more expensive, fuel is going to get more expensive.

I have no doubt that this is correct. People, and politicians, need to understand and accept this and work out how they are going to respond to the impending crisis. I'm guessing that this is going to lead to similar the stagflation of the 1960s or the world-wide recession of the 1930s. So what are the likely impacts?

The poor

The poor are going to become poorer. In the developed world this is going to be uncomfortable and unpleasant. In the developing world this is going to be disastrous - watch for the Four Horsemen: War, Famine, Pestilence and Death. Please don't think I'm predicting the end of the world, but these four nightmares are the synthesis of wisdom from thousands of years of experience of poverty. You might like to note that only death is named in the Christian bible.

The middle class

The middle classes have two basic options:
  • try and keep up, or
  • re-evaluate and adapt.
Personally I'm going for the latter. Enough, by John Naish is a good read if you are thinking about this option. The middle class have the capital or income to cut back and yet improve their quality of life.

Those who try to maintain their current life style are risking running up huge debts.

The Wealthy

Those with considerable wealth run a risk of becoming exposed to the masses. At the moment, their difference is not that obvious. As we drive past their automatic gates we don't feel that jealous. As the gap between wealth and extreme poverty expands exponentially over the next few years they will become more obvious. Painfully obvious. Plus of course, the wealth of many of the people is built on the current economic model. If you are wealthy, my advice is get out of the system now. They won't listen, of course, as I guess that for most of them making money is what they do - and they won't change.

The Politicians

I have a low opinion of politicians. They seem stuck in a model that only looks at the next election at the most. They need to panic. There is cause for panic. Their model is bankrupt. Bankrupt financially, morally and economically. We need a change.

I'll close with a quote. Farewell to Kings...

When they turn the pages of history
When these days have passed long ago
Will they read of us with sadness
For the seeds that we let grow
We turned our gaze
From the castles in the distance
Eyes cast down
On the path of least resistance

Friday, April 18, 2008

Building Schools of the Future, Corruption, Cartels and the OFT.

My initial involvement with BSF was being part of a team proposing a free software solution to an authority. We were not successful. Today I hear the OFT allegation that 112 construction companies have been running a cartel in bidding on high value contracts. I note that 5 of the 6 companies that won that BSF contract are in this list.

See my new blog for more details:

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Climate Change - a world for my grand children.

I'm completely unimpressed with the political response to the clear dangers represented by climate change. So what can we do?

We need a mass movement to make our elected leaders act sensibly. Here is a list:
  • Personally, I'm with James Lovelock on this - we need nuclear power - lots of it and soon.
  • We need to tax car fuel very heavily - a pound a litre is nothing, it needs to be at least 5 times that, maybe 10 times.
  • Motorways have to be used as efficient mass-transport system. Every motorway should have a dedicated coach lane, and we need transport hubs at junctions near all major cities.
  • Planning consent needs to be relaxed for external insulation and solar heating.
  • All spare land needs to be used for firewood and vegetables - we need to dig for victory.
  • All shops and services need to be made as local as possible - with home delivery being available.
  • Plane travel needs to be slashed - heavy taxes and restrictions are the obvious methods.
  • Work patterns need to be changed - we need to work less, do more of it remotely and make long distance commuting socially unacceptable.
  • Buying new must be discouraged - repairing and renovating encouraged.
All of these would lead to a reduction in the amount of carbon that we pumped into the atmosphere, but more importantly they would create a society that was sustainable.

As yet I have no grand-children, but the changes I've outlined here might give them a chance of living in a sane, comfortable environment. Ah well, off to replace the drain pump on my washing machine...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Child Benefit leak - technical opinion

Having a bit of time on my hands I did the sums on the 2 CDs that went missing between the Child Benefit and National Audit offices. There are supposedly details of 7.5 million families - including names of parents, children, dates of birth, NI numbers and bank details, where people have the benefit paid into an account.

Two CDs can contain about 1.3 Gigabytes of data, if it is stored uncompressed, and maybe 2.5 GB with compression. Dividing one by the other gives us about 180 bytes uncompressed or 345 bytes compressed per record - assuming the data is compressed. Using my family as examples I come up with the data occupying at least 200 bytes. This leads me to guess that the data has been compressed. The other reason for this assumption is that the data dump was probably done as a single text file.

Again, I guess that the employee required to burn the data onto CD would have used a simple tool, like Winzip, to compress and split the file into CD sized chunks - and of course Winzip offers 'encryption'. If this is the case, then anyone who gets hold of these disks will only need to spend £49 to extract the data.

I thought for quite a while before blogging this, but it only draws on the published information. It will inform the debate, and to be honest anyone with a small amount of technical knowledge would be able to work this out for themselves.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Brown's catalogue of disasters

I usually avoid writing direct political statements, but feel this is unavoidable. Someone needs to list and point out the disasters the our current Prime Minister has wrought. Before launching into the full rant, I ought to point out that I consider the alternatives to be little, if no, better.

The British Prime Ministers started his catalogue of failure soon after he became Chancellor. He made one smart decision - to move the setting of interest rates out of his command. He then plundered the pension funds, by breaching the concept that pensions were taxed on withdrawal, so money going in, and interest earned on this was tax free. This effectively bankrupted a large number of private pension funds. The consequences of this are still with us, and will be for years - as we can be sure that no new government will reverse this decision.

The comes the Child Tax Credit debacle. Billions of pounds have been lost and overpaid in this absurdly complex scheme. Many people are still being pursued for money that was overpaid. The bizarre logic of the Revenue goes as follows. Yes, you told us the correct figures, and we miscalculated your payments. That is your fault and we should be able to claim back the money. Now if you live in the real world, you tend to spend your income. If the government, or your employer, gives you more money, you spend it. To be asked two or three years later for money back is absurd.

Then we come to the merger of tax and revenue. Why was this necessary? It seems to have been forgotten that this happened because Customs and Excise was a disaster area. Operation Venison showed that they were misleading the courts. Carousel fraud had gone completely undetected and more billions had been lost.

Since then, the new merged department has gone from one disaster to another. The latest cock-up is of momumental proportions, but try regisitering your company for VAT and you will have to wait for months. The previously effective on-line self-assessment systems have collapsed and there is no-one to sue - as tax payers would only be sueing themselves.

The only solution is less government. Much less government. The latest Queen's Speech listed over 20 items of legislation. All this will do is give them more things to cock-up. Stop them now! We need to move to a more logical system. Oh, and please don't trust them with all of our personal data in an ID card. There are at least two commercial companies who could do this, then at least we would have someone to sue.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Green Rural Idyll - Urban Realiity

Listening to the Today programme this morning I heard about a competition for designing a sustainable community. What worried me was that the main strand was for a rural image. Now the majority of the UK population lives in towns and cities.

I live in a former industrial part of the Black Country - and where I live is relatively green (thanks Google Maps). I can walk to shops and train stations, and overall it should be possible to live a low impact life style here. What we need are schemes to make it easier - or cheaper - to live these life styles. Here are a few suggestions:
  • Encourage small markets in urban areas - with greengrocers and the like - and not overpriced 'farmers markets'.
  • Relax planning consents to allow people to add things like passive solar heating - I'd love to add a two floor glazed porch to my house.
  • Relaunch something like the 'Dig for Britain' campaign - say with reduced council tax if you have a productive vegetable patch.
  • Encourage car sharing schemes and cycling - the best way is to get rid of the Tax Disc and make fuel more expensive.
  • Relax the Clean Air Act to allow people to burn wood - and encourage coppicing in Urban Green space.
  • Sort out the behaviour on busses - this probably only requires a little bit more enforcement.
  • Convert larger redundant buildings into small business centres - with lots of smaller units to start-ups and shared workspeces, so people can walk to work.
Spending time discussing how we can build new, green villages on green field sites will only offer a small scale solution in even the medium term - we need to change our towns and cities, and do it now.

Friday, October 26, 2007

France and Linux

I've just got back from a three day break in Lille. Lovely city, good food and friendly people. Anyway, on my way back by Eurostar I stopped at the railway station newsagents. I counted nine - yes nine - Linux magazines on their shelves - compared to maybe 20 MS Windows (tm) based magazines. This is in comparison to the average UK railways station where you will be lucky to find one.

Spain has been using Linux widely for a while, the Extremadura project for example. So why are these countries apparently so far ahead of the UK in behaving sensibly and using Free Software? I can think of a few possible reasons...
  • Language - the regionalisation of Linux may be one reason - it is easier to customise a Free Software solution for your needs;
  • Anti-Americanism - are there countries naturally more suspicious of US products?
  • Money - are there more people looking for low cost effective solutions in these countries?
  • Common sense - are we just slow on the uptake in the UK?
  • Risk aversion - is there something in the UK psyche that makes us more risk averse than others in Europe?
Well, thoughts please!