Category Archives: Rants

Another update? So soon?

Screen Shot 2013-11-09 at 09.46.57


Every other day, or so it seems, there’s an update to Adobe Flash Player. Yet more bug fixes and security loopholes patched up.  I don’t let it update automatically, much preferring to wait until something useful bugs me about updating. What makes me chuckle, though, is the desperation exhibited by the download screen.

“Did you know…” is simpers, and then proceeds to tell me about games I never play on Facebook (I’ve actually blocked them), video sites that use Flash (only when I let them) and how many “connected PCs” have the bloatware installed (presumably so they can spread malware and viruses more easily).

When movement and animation on a web page was new and exciting I was a big fan of what was then Macromedia Flash. It was a powerful vector-based animation system, which allowed you to build in interactivity and fun to a web site. I never fully mastered the software, and used it for stupid things like animated GIFs and annoying splash screens.

Then Adobe acquired Macromedia, and killed off their arch rival illustration package FreeHand. Around the same time, I began to wonder why some web sites would cause my Mac’s processing to bog down, setting the otherwise mostly dormant cooling fans to hit warp factor nine.

On investigation, it turned out to be the Flash Player plugin. It turned out the player was running banner ads, and nothing actually useful. Flash Player was a complete resource hog, and was being used to drain my laptop’s battery while selling me crap I didn’t want. Best of all, though, were the magical ballooning adverts that suddenly zoomed over to block the actual content I was reading simply because my mouse cursor strayed nearby. Oh, they were the best, no doubt about it. I lost count of how many mousemats I chewed through in my frustration over those.

I installed a Flash blocker in my browser, and browsing became a much more pleasurable pastime once more. I realise that many of the free sites I use have to sell advertising in order for them to remain free for people like me to use, but there has to be a point when the benefit of advertising is outweighed by the sheer annoyance they cause. It’s amazing what a quiet place the World Wide Web can be when you’re not bombarded by buzzing and rolling adverts all the time.

Of course, once Flash is blocked, you realise just how insidious it has become. Uploading some photos to Facebook, for example, uses Flash to allow multiple uploads. This is same on one forum I frequent. If I don’t allow Flash to run, I have to upload one photo at a time, which is a bit tedious. Some sites still insist on Flash—well, at least it’s not Flash’s drunken cousin Silverlight; let’s not even go to that particular hell—in order to play video. Some sites play nicely and will serve up a lovely HTML5 compliant video, but others resist, like a cat that really doesn’t want to be removed from your lap even though you are desperate to get to the bathroom. If Flash is required to view a video, it really has to be a good video to make me let the Player to run. Otherwise, I’m out of there.

There’s also Flash’s younger brother, Adobe Air. You’ll have come across this if you use the BBC’s iPlayer download thing on your computer. I’ve now banished Air from my systems, but when I thought it was worth keeping around, like Flash it was updated virtually every time I ran it. No more. Now, I can access iPlayer through my telly.

I long for the day when Flash and its band of ne’erdowell relatives disappear into Silicon Heaven.

Everything seems a bit shit these days

Tools and clutter

I’m not sure where I’m heading with this blog post, so please bear with me. I’m struggling to find ways to put into words what I am feeling at the moment. The following may get a bit sweary.

I guess we could call it entropy. Despite scientific and technological advances over the years, the steady decline of everything seems to be gathering pace. Be it failing services, failing commercial businesses, failing economies, failing schools, everything just seems to be a bit shit these days.

The last couple of posts I’ve made here just add to the general malaise. Who is this government that it runs roughshod over the poor, elderly, and disabled? Why don’t they listen to the collective roar of anguish and anger that’s growing every day in this country? How can we stop them making this country more shitty every day?

I’ve been having some issues with my car this past few months, as happens with older vehicles. The fuel tank developed a leak due to corrosion. I sourced a new tank, it was fitted, but for some reason it still leaked. It wasn’t a big leak, just an annoying one that gave a whiff of petrol fumes when you cornered and meant you couldn’t put more than half a tank full of fuel in. Our mechanic, who is a friend as well as car mender and who fitted the tank, has tried all sorts to remedy the situation, so far unsuccessfully. Unfortunately, he was incapacitated by a knee injury, so his efforts were curtailed somewhat. Meanwhile, the exhaust fell off. I know, it never rains…

Anyway, we decided to book the car in to the bigger garage my friend uses when he can’t manage, to fix the exhaust. While it was on the ramp, it was suggested the tank should be looked at, and fixed if possible. Two birds with one stone and all that. We eventually got the message all was fixed, all was fine and dandy, please come and collect your car and pay the bill.

Driving home, I still got the whiff of petrol when cornering. When I stopped on my drive, I looked underneath, and sure enough the fuel was leaking just as much as before. Suffice it to say, I’ve booked the car back in tomorrow, and I won’t be paying any more for it to be fixed, that’s for sure. It’s a nice shiny exhaust pipe, though.

This has all left a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth. As I waited for the washing-up water to drain slowly away down our badly-fitted kitchen sink outfall, I was overcome by a nagging feeling of annoyance that I don’t seem to have nice things any more, and those few nice things I do have never seem to last very long.

Nearly twenty years ago, I had a problem with a car. I was recommended to a garage, and I took the machine along to be looked at. The mechanic, also the proprietor, was a proper one in a boiler suit so ingrained with engine oil it would stand up on its own. You knew the dirt on his hands would never wash out. He was a proper car mechanic, who knew his trade inside and out. Cars came, cars went, and he worked on nine of them for us over the years.

We developed a huge level of trust in Tony. We would roll up with a problem, he’d diagnose it and fix it, and let us know there might be something else starting to wear out but it could wait until the next service. There were one or two issues that cropped up due to silly errors, but they were soon straightened out. We could trust Tony to fix things properly.

Tony eventually retired, and his business was passed on to some of his other mechanics. His business had grown quite a bit down the years, and was pretty successful. We continued to use the garage, but they seemed to be more expensive, they would fail to fix faults we had pointed out, and sometimes make things worse. Eventually, we had to scrap a car because they had completely failed to fix it, and it was in danger of becoming a money pit.

They lost our trust. We don’t use them any more.

It’s a hard thing to find a reliable garage, and while I trust my mechanic friend with the dicky knee, I am not sure I trust those he has to rely on for some mechanical services. I want to trust the garage that hasn’t fixed my fuel tank, though. If they deal with my complaint and actually put it right, I might feel comfortable using them again. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, I shall have to see what I can do about that kitchen sink, and draughty back door, and the myriad other things that are making my life ever so slightly shit at the moment.

It’s immoral to have food banks in one of the world’s richest countries | Suzanne Moore | Comment is free | The Guardian

If the recovery is underway – the new mantra – how come people have less money in their pockets? How come youth employment is refusing to budge, and a generation moves seamlessly into “the long-term unemployed”? Pay has stagnated, prices have gone up. To have avoided a fall in standards, one has to be either wealthy or asset-rich. This means owning property in London, as do most of the media/political class, me included.

Nonetheless, my standard of living is certainly affected by the distress all around: by the numbers of mentally ill people wandering the streets; by what happens in my child’s school; by seeing friends and family pushed out of hospital long before they are able to care for themselves. Austerity meant we quickly forgot the happiness index, but we must still comprehend that a decent standard of living comes from understanding rather than undermining mutual dependencies.

via It’s immoral to have food banks in one of the world’s richest countries | Suzanne Moore | Comment is free | The Guardian.

I’m going to get angry again. Why are we letting this stuff happen? Why aren’t we outside the Houses of Parliament or Number Ten, hammering on the doors to get answers?

It’s enough to make a body despair.

Dog Whistle

There’s been even more hot air from our government this past day or two about benefit fraud. It’s been claimed by the Department for Work and Pensions—and ably regurgitated with little analysis by our state propaganda machine mainstream media—that benefit fraudsters should face tougher prison sentences.

Step forward Channel 4 News, and their FactCheck blog.

So if we combine the central estimates from both departments, the total amount of money lost to fraud across the benefits system was a little over £2bn in 2011/12.

To put that into perspective:

Fraud accounts for about one per cent of the total annual benefits and tax credits spend, which ran at £194.3bn in 2011/12.

Fraud isn’t getting worse

DWP says 0.7 per cent of its benefits were overpaid this year due to fraud. The percentage was exactly the same last year, and it was a fraction higher in 2010/11 – 0.8 per cent.

“Error” costs more than fraud.

Across the whole system, fraud cost us £2bn and error – in the form of honest mistakes made by claimants or official cock-ups – cost £3.4bn last year.

This is only a fraction of the money lost from tax evasion and avoidance.

HMRC puts this figure at £32bn but tax campaigners say the real “tax gap” is much higher.

Richard Murphy from the Tax Justice Network thinks tax fraud could be 50 times bigger than benefit fraud.

The cost of fraud is dwarfed by the surplus from unclaimed benefits

The figures are a bit shady but DWP say between £7.5bn and £12.3bn of the six main benefits it administers were left unclaimed in 2009/10.

To this figure of around £10bn we can add several billion more in unclaimed tax credits, although HMRC is reluctant to tell us the real figure.

Huh. So, the actual amount of fraud in the system is smaller relative to the amount of errors made on benefit payments, and absolutely minuscule when compared to the total benefits paid out each year—and the albeit completely legitimate tax evasion and avoidance going on.

If we could get everyone to pay the right amounts of tax, this country wouldn’t be in the shit it’s in. Or is that too simplistic?

Danger! Idiot at work!

I’ve been mucking around with the internet for more years than I care to recall, yet I have never fully got my head round the clockwork and gubbins that makes this informational wonder actually work.

Yes, I learned enough about how to access the back office stuff, and where to put certain files, but I have never felt in the slightest bit comfortable rummaging around in the internal workings of an FTP server. Here’s a classic example: web forms. I have developed a complete aversion to creating forms on web sites. I think I’ve only ever managed to make one form work reasonably, and that was some time in the 1990s using a standard ISP-supplied script.

Now, take this blog thing. WordPress is one of the most popular and expandable blogging platforms out there. It’s used by millions of people every day. Usually, I visit the home page, see a new update is flagged for a plugin I’ve installed, hit the dashboard and click “update”.  Things go wibbly-wobbly for a few heart-stopping seconds, and then it’s all fine again.

Except today.

I don’t use many plugins, to be honest. There’s a spam-catcher, and something that links the blog to my account on RebelMouse (I still haven’t the faintest idea what RebelMouse is all about. I noticed it appearing in Flickr stats, and wondered what it was. I found myself an “early adopter” of something that appears to aggregate tweets and blog posts in an easily accessible form. No, I haven’t a clue, either.) I also had a WordPress plugin called Jetpack. It adds all kinds of useful bits and bobs to the standard blog, and up until today it had been working happily. I’ve even updated it a few times.

Except today.

New update to Jetpack! I clicked through to the dashboard, checked out the update, clicked “Go!”. And waited.

As I said, usually a few seconds elapse and everything is back in the room. Today, it breaks. Today, “maintenance mode” becomes the norm. Seconds turn to minutes, and before things turn geological I decide to pull the plug. But how do you do that? The site in is maintenance mode. Argh!

Anyway, some helpful friends pointed me in the right direction. Sadly, it seems I’m the one with the problem download, and despite deleting the old plugin, and playing around with the others to see if they are clashing, Jetpack is borked.

So, no fancy bits for a while. I’ll try again another day. I need one of those folding boards you get where cleaners have been at work, but reading “Danger! Idiot at work!”

I’ll never understand

I don’t understand WordPress. My brain is unable to encompass what WordPress does.

Yesterday I set up a page to let me aggregate information about my model work. I came back to the page today in order to see what else I can do with it.

All I can do is edit it. Um, so, um, how do I, like, you know, add new posts to the page? I thought that was what it was for.

Wrong. Page deleted.

I’m getting too old for this internet stuff.

NHS among developed world’s most efficient health systems, says study | Society | The Guardian

I haven’t had a rant here for a while. I shall now break my self-imposed embargo, but I make no apology. This is important.

The NHS is one of the most cost-effective health systems in the developed world, according to a study (pdf) published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

via NHS among developed world’s most efficient health systems, says study | Society | The Guardian.

It’s become very fashionable in the UK media to churn out the government line that the NHS is failing. Almost every day recently we’ve been informed of problems, such as increasing death rates, failing hospitals, failing care standards, and more, in a calculated campaign to misinform. Yet, when you actually look at our National Health Service critically, it’s not doing a bad job at all.

The media is helping the Conservative-led government in its ideological destruction of the National Health Service. The government is quietly, without a mandate—none of this was in the 2010 Tory election manifesto—working to privatise our National Health Service. With the scandalous help of our news media, happily glossing over the truth, health services in England are being sold to the highest bidder. The NHS is being privatised by stealth, by a government that hopes we’re all too stupid, too fixated on The Voice, Britain’s Got Talent, a royal baby, or other distractions such as immigration, to notice.

Guess who gets to benefit most from these changes? Guess how many government ministers and associates have fingers in the private health care pie. Here’s a link to a page that lists all the MPs and lords who would benefit from privatising health care in the UK.

Nearly a decade ago, I suffered a urinary tract blockage. I couldn’t pee, and I was in a hell of a lot of pain. I was admitted to A&E—funnily enough, to one of those hospitals now in “Special Measures”, whatever the hell that means—and shortly after underwent emergency surgery. I’ve had follow-up care for several years to ensure the same thing didn’t occur again. All of that medical aid was free at the point of use, paid for through general taxation. I am pretty certain most, if not all of us, can cite examples of how the NHS has helped us through our lives like that.

If the Tories get their way, such treatment would have cost me thousands of pounds, even if I had a health insurance policy. Privatising a nation’s health is NOT the way forward.

The NHS has been there throughout my life. It helped my mother when I was born. It helped me with inoculations to prevent me getting diseases like polio or tuberculosis. It fixed my broken arm when I was five. It helped my mother bring my baby sister into the world. The NHS has helped me and my family and my friends when they needed it, from cradle to grave, and it continues to help me and my partner with ongoing health care. We must cherish our NHS, and which was brought to life 65 years ago by those who realised we needed a better way to care for all the people in this country.

Don’t let short-sighted “here today, gone tomorrow” politicians line their own pockets by selling off a jewel in Britain’s crown.

Don’t let them lie to you about how the NHS is “failing” or “broken”: it isn’t.

An MP calls Commons staff ‘servants’ – what a pantomime our parliament is | Ally Fogg | CiF |

The governance of our nation is conducted through a time tunnel from a rarefied ancient era. The Palace of Westminster still presents itself as one part Downton Abbey to three parts Hogwarts. We should probably be grateful that Chope didn’t refer to the house elves before deciding his place in the division lobby by donning the Sorting Hat. The physical environment was constructed in the 19th century, according to the designs of the late middle ages. Our democracy has 650 members of parliament and enough seats on the benches for 427. The oppositional arrangement cannot naturally accommodate more than two parties. In purely practical terms, the building is entirely unfit for purpose, but actually this is the least of our problems.

via An MP calls Commons staff ‘servants’ – what a pantomime our parliament is | Ally Fogg | Comment is free |

Only the other week I forced myself not to rant about the bizarre way that MPs can be allowed to resign their seat. Essentially, they’re not allowed to resign their seat. Instead, there is some arcane system whereby they become a steward and bailiff of some non-existent manor while a bye-election is arranged. The other arcane method used is stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds. Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

While I think tradition is a good thing, there is a time and a place. The adherence to mediaeval “traditions” in a so-called modern democracy is no longer that place. Time to look at replacing the whole thing, from monarch down, with a proper democratic republic.