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.