Monthly Archives: January 2008

Crime and punishment, parliamentary style

MP Derek Conway fraudulently pays his son £40000 of taxpayers money. When it’s found out, he gets suspended for a few days (fairy nuff), and told to repay £13000. A clear message: if you’re an MP, fraud pays, even if you get caught.

I wonder how many other Honourable Members are thinking “there but for the grace of …“. Or why else would he get to keep 70% of his plunder?  Kind-of a plea bargain: admit to just enough to avoid a process noone wants to go through?

It looks a much simpler case than the government’s current funding troubles. The govt. is author of it’s own misfortunes (they made the rules they keep getting caught breaking), but I don’t understand the purpose of those rules sufficiently to comment[1]. Thus Conway’s abuse seems much more clear-cut. On the other hand, it’s a throwback to pre-Blair times, when sleaze came from individual MPs, not from the heart of government. That makes it less important.

[1] My suspicion is that the legislation was directed at big funding sources for other parties. That’s happened before, too.

man ‘flu

I’ve never understood the distinction between a cold and ‘flu.  AFAICT there’s a continuum between a sore throat/runny nose and being flat out.  How do you classify something in the middle?  Answer: coin a new expression that enables you to get a dig at someone.  Hence “man-flu”, which pokes at the only sex we’re allowed to have a dig at in these politically-correct days.

I’d describe what I’ve just had as a cold – probably picked up on my long train+bus journey on Tuesday.  But yesterday I was shivering under my warmest duvet, and struggled to sit at the computer for an hour or two (whereas in current weather I’d normally find that duvet a little too warm).

Could I have gone to work if I worked in an office?  Last week, yes, no problem (and – alas – like most professionals, I’d never have dared take the time off).  Weekend, I think yes with difficulty, though I’d have been utterly unproductive for about two days.  Not that that matters in .co.uk – it’s the bum onna seat that counts. And I’d have been spreading germs to all my colleagues.

I did excuse myself choir on Thursday ‘cos of germs, though symptoms then were still very mild.  I wish more people would make an effort to isolate themselves when they’re likely to be infectious.

And it’s a reminder of one of my reasons for working at home.  Well, some though not all of the offices I’ve worked in have been germ-exchanges.

UK constitutional brokenness rears its ugly head

That the UK constitution is horribly broken is no news. The Liar spent his first few years in office playing with it like a twelve-year-old with his toys. His own party (among others) told him it was broken, and Tam Dalyell famously posed the Westlothian Question.

Now it appears to be leading towards a crisis. First, the Brown government makes some serious-sounding announcements about long-overdue improvements to a horribly-broken energy policy. The EU backs it up by imposing legally-binding targets on us.

Then the Scottish parliament refuses both nuclear and wind power developments. While as a matter of geography, Scotland is much better-suited than other UK countries for clean energy generation.

So, what does that mean? The EU’s target for the entire UK falls by default entirely on England? Or England-and-Wales, if the Welsh assembly graciously accepts inclusion.

In a sense, that’s no bad thing: it imposes much tougher targets on England than the EU negotiators intended when they gave the UK such unambitious targets. But as a matter of principle, it’s clearly wrong, and it will certainly fuel justified resentment.

Perhaps that’s the Scottish Parliament’s game plan. Where they’ve been given power without responsibility, they’re going to exercise it to raise resentment, and with it support for proper independence. Once they have independence, it all becomes clear again. In this instance, if the EU had set England and Scotland each its own target instead of a collective UK one, we wouldn’t have this problem.

Taxing times

Once upon a time, when I was a young student, my then-girlfriend and I suffered the worst service I’ve ever encountered, lunching at a Cambridge restaurant. Instead of leaving a normal tip (shudder) or no tip, we left a tip of one halfpenny. We thought this gave entirely the right message. The other couple at the table (which we shared because the place was busy) fully agreed.

This year’s tax bill reminded me of that. Most tax in the UK is PAYE (pay as you earn), which means that your income, both earned and unearned, comes net of tax. In previous years I’ve had nothing to pay, but rather a small adjustment in my favour. This time, they decided I owed them 10p (that’s ten pence, not pounds). I just availed myself of their online payment facility to pay it by debit card.

I don’t know how much the government’s payment processor charges them per debit card transaction. But as a datapoint, my company gets charged a flat rate of 95p each time we accept a debitcard payment online (that’s different from creditcards, where we get charged a percentage). Big businesses get a much better rate than small ones, but I feel sure HMRC must be making a net loss on a payment as low as 10p.

Heh heh.

Don’t Panic!

The Fed. today joins the US government and much of the financial sector in complete panic mode. They feel the need to print themselves more money since their housing bubble (or should I say pyramid scheme?) collapsed. Like the last desperate gamble in a Hollywood epic, it may even work – subject to suitably adjusted expectations. The losers will be those who didn’t benefit from the bubble, but did expect to benefit from their own prudence.

The UK authorities panicked when they threw unlimited billions into Northern Rock. Just a few short months later, they’re into damage limitation, where damage dwarfs the bailouts of lame-duck heavy industries in the 1970s. And the only reason the government is getting off so lightly in the blame game is that too many people – including opposition politicians – supported the intervention that created the problem in the first place. They, and their paymasters, were panicking too.

I have a suspicion that Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, would have done a much better job if he hadn’t been put under political pressure to throw good money after bad. We’ve already committed to the biggest round of inflation for a generation: let’s hope he can resist the pressure to make it far, far worse than it already is. His current speech sounds like a worthwhile attempt to defend against the worst of it.


p.s. yes of course Northern Rock should have been allowed to go bust! That would have triggered an automatic injection of public money under the depositor protection scheme, but on a less staggering scale than what has now happened. And the other institutions bidding for its assets could have done so with clarity, as opposed to trading taxpayer-funded sweeteners for political expedience, and not even really knowing who they’re dealing with.

p.p.s Another “told you so” moment, as George Soros, in an interview this morning, points out that house price inflation was driven more by excess money supply than by housing supply-and-demand.

Travel hazards

The journey home today was, on the whole, OK.  Both trains were clean and well-maintained, and on time.  Neither train was overcrowded.  The standard of train buffets seems to have deteriorated since the 1980s, but the major improvement of having ridded them of smokers more than makes up for that.

Going via London, I have one long journey leg: three and a half hours from Paddington to Plymouth.   As on any FGW intercity train, I headed straight for the quiet carriage: the one where mobile phones and personal stereos are banned.  I even got one of the end-of-carriage seats with extra legroom (have to give them up if a disabled passenger needs them, but that seldom happens).  There I got out the laptop to do some work in peace and quiet.

But there’s always some flaw.  This time it came in the form of the noisiest brat and most useless mother I’ve encountered in a long time.  They were in the middle of the carriage, but dominated the whole of it. So, no quiet carriage:-(

So, dear, lazyweb, what the **** can one do about that?  As with smokers, it only takes one **** to ruin it for everyone.  Apart from move to another carriage, where the big fella with the personal stereo and the bunch of teenage girls constantly texting and playing ringtones are entirely within their rights to do so?

Fortunately, coach C (or was it D?) was rather better, with nothing too bad going on, and where the (only) small sprog was a delightful contrast to the noisy brat.  But no extra-legroom seat:-(

Wreckage on the beach

I was on the beach at Hove (Brighton) this afternoon. Everywhere along there were lots of timber, in excellent condition, and looking perfectly fit to be used in building work, DIY, or similar applications. At least, by someone who knows what problems immersion in seawater might potentially cause, and how to treat it.

Looking for an explanation, there appears to have been a wreck of a ship carrying timber, and there’s wood along a couple of hundred kilometers of our south coast. The BBC reports that in some places at least it’s being salvaged, but doesn’t tell us its eventual fate. I hope it won’t be wasted!

The BBC report also has a photo of the very stretch of beach I was on. But when I was there it was low tide, and still more impressive, as at the low water line there’s another continual linear pile of wood, that goes on – as far as I can tell – indefinitely.

Our river

There’s a tourist-style notice appeared where the works on our river were.  It tells us what they’ve done.  Or at least, it gives a reason for having had works, though not all the works they did.

As I noted before, the works had a bad effect on the canal.  In fact they’ve revamped the whole of the feeder from the river to the canal.  There’s now an underwater construction, and a robotic contraption to remove leaves and other such debris from it and keep the canal feed clear.  The feed itself has had some kind of mesh put over it, apparently so that the salmon don’t enter the canal and get trapped when they reach the other end, which is (now) a miniature hydro power station at Morewellham, where the canal discharges into the Tamar river.

Mergers & Acquisitions Day

So, all within a day, Sun acquires MySQL, and Oracle acquires BEA.

About the latter, I have nothing to say, beyond “may I be spared having to work with their ghastly software ever again“. But the former is definitely interesting, and probably good news. If nothing else, it removes any risk of MySQL being gobbled up by someone altogether more sinister, as happened to sleepycat.

There are some pretty convincing reasons why Sun should be interested in this. MySQL is by far the biggest database in the Web applications world, which is obviously important to them. And Sun is leapfrogging its big rivals IBM and Microsoft, both of whom have major SQL database products but nothing like MySQL’s market share. Furthermore, MySQL’s approach based on open source with corporate governance should be thoroughly at home at Sun.

As for MySQL – well, apart from the money, I expect the Sun name and worldwide organisation may open new doors for them. Not that they were some startup-in-a-garage, but they did come from low-end origins, and have moved up the market over the years. I expect the alliance with Sun will help MySQL’s image as a top-end product backed by a top-end company, for those who care about such things.

A salutory lesson

Just read the sad tale of the demise of Gianugo’s blog.

In short, it fell victim to a spammer/cracker inserting something nasty, which only got noticed when the entire blog fell out of google.  Gianugo had fallen into the common trap of assuming a personal site too insignificant to be of interest to an attacker (a mistake with which I entirely sympathise).  If I’m not much mistaken, Gianugo knows what he’s doing, and if it can happen to him, it can happen to any of us.

For me, this is a very good reason to host my blog at wordpress.com – one less thing to worry about.  Which is not to say I won’t fall victim to a similar attack, either my own server through something different, or my blog through a successful attack on wordpress.com.  We can but do our best to protect ourselves against known dangers!

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