Tag Archives: stop the world I want to get off

Coming to terms

It’s been two weeks since we woke to a slim vote to leave the EU. Since then, having been a remainer, I’ve been through the shock, grief and anger stages. It affected me badly, and is still affecting Best Beloved.

I am still very angry. Angry at the mendacity chiefly from the leave side, angry at the ignorance, angry at what the result has unleashed, anger at those having perpetrated things then decided to just point the finger at everyone else and leave the stage. Anger, too, allied with frustration that the entire political class seems intent on in-fighting rather than sorting out the mess we find ourselves in.

Anger, though, doesn’t change much. We are where we are.

There’s a slim chance the whole thing can be kicked into the long grass. The vote was only advisory, has no bearing in law. The government would be stupid to ignore the vote, but the longer they take to enact Article 50—the official starting pistol for the true leave negotiations with the EU—the more likely it could be some kind of deal to remain properly in the EU would happen.

The thing is, despite petitions and marches, grumbling on social media, and the more traditional hurling obscenities at the television news bulletins, the only people who can do anything about anything are currently embroiled in leadership contests. Until that mud slinging stops, and of course the summer recess and conference season has passed, nothing will happen. We remain in limbo until at least October this year, as our world unravels.

It’s almost as if the politicians don’t care about what’s actually happening out here, in the real world. In their little Westminster bubble, they play their silly games as if it’s all that really matters. It is almost as if there is no constitutional crisis, no urgency to sort the mess out, nothing to worry about at all. Crisis? What crisis?

What we must do, those of us still angry about being told to stop grumbling because we “lost”, is hold our so-called leaders to account. If we have to leave the European Union, we must make damned sure we get the best possible deal, and we must fight tooth and nail to make certain those likely to be hardest hit by leaving will be given as much aid and support as they currently get from the EU.

There’s also the small matter of rebuilding our society. Fourteen days seems to have opened the cracks that many of us had thought filled and lost for several decades. All that has been undone must be done again.

It’s not going to be easy. We must each learn to direct our anger, to channel it to make sure that whatever happens we get to build a great future from the ruins of the past.

Oh, what have you done?

There are times in your life when something momentous or calamitous occurs. Think declaring war with Germany in 1939, the assassination of JFK, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Mandela walking free—those kinds of things. We seem to be in one of those moments.

Perhaps, as a child playing rather too boisterously, you managed to damage or break something precious. There’s no way it could be mended, no matter how hard you screwed up your eyes and prayed that it might miraculously be put back together again. You have a certain feeling, deep in the pit of your stomach, that signifies there’s been a significant shift in circumstances, and not necessarily for the better. There’s no going back. That’s it, done and dusted.

That’s how I feel about the EU in or out referendum our benighted country held on 23 June 2016, a day that will go down in history as most definitely not one of Britain’s finest.

I voted to remain in the European Union. My reasons are not important right now, I just felt it was the least worst option. Taking a leap into the unknown, on the basis of blatant fabrications, falsehoods and downright lies, seemed a little, well, terminal. I believe it still to be better to try and fix things with a hand on the tiller, than be tied to the mast with no say in how the ship is run. If it doesn’t get better, then think about leaving some other time.

Inevitably, immigration came seething to the fore during the campaign, because the failure of western capitalism was all the fault of the foreigners, of course—even though it’s not and never has been. It dominated the discussion, even though it was plain there was no simple solution, and wouldn’t change much if we decided to leave anyway. Another fact that got swept away in the tide of xenophobia.

Although the result of the vote was close, it tipped to leaving. Just over half of those who bothered to vote decided we should take that leap into the unknown. As it turned out, the consequences have been exactly as predicted. Depending on who you believe, the economy is struggling, the pound is plummeting, the world’s stock markets have the jitters, Scotland wants out of the union, other EU member states are hoping they might be next to take the plunge and leave the gang, and we have no sensible government after the prime minister threw in the towel and the opposition decided to start a leadership battle. To cap it all, reports are that racist and xenophobic incidents have increased by over 50 per cent. It seems that some of those who wanted us “out” really wanted the “out” to mean everyone who wasn’t born here or was perceived as foreign purely by dint of their skin colour. Whether the Faragists expected this to happen, who knows? The fact is the dis-United Kingdom is now a grubbier, more violent and unhappy place than it was.

It’s not even been a week since the vote, and already it seems like the end of days! The worst is the feeling that there is no way out. There’s no escape. There’s nowhere to run and hide. We are stuck in this chaotic farce that needn’t have happened, and we’ve broken the country irrevocably. We can’t screw up our eyes and try to will it all back together again.

I find it unbelievable that it has come to this. Did the Powers That Be not foresee this might be the outcome? Were they so cock sure the remain side would win they didn’t consider what might happen if that didn’t come to pass? Indeed, did the leave side really not have any form of plan of what to do in case they won?

Alas, so it seems. No-one expected to lose or win or split almost evenly down the middle, so we’re left with chaos and anarchy and no idea of what to do from anywhere. There’s no reset button.

Forget Article 50 being kicked into the long grass, Scottish Parliament vetoes, rerunning referendums. It’s too late. The genie is out of the bottle. There’s no going back. We have crossed the Rubicon. We are in uncharted waters, with no-one steering the boat.

Everything that I took more or less for granted in my world is suddenly inverted. It’s broken, shattered. There is no stability any more. Everything is twisted, torn and shredded. We are so screwed. Hate, it seems, is winning. I find I am swinging wildly between grief, dread and profound and deepening anger. One moment I’m laughing at the absurdity of it all, the next I’m in tears of sheer desperation.

How dare we be plunged into this chaos for no apparent good reason. Yet, life goes on. The sun still rises in the east; birds sing; we have to eat, shop, pretend our world is not imploding in some calm British sort of way. I don’t think I can cope with pretending it’s all normal much longer. It wasn’t my fault, but I’m tangled up in it, and it’s not fair!

So I say again: what have YOU done‽

Tax doesn’t have to be taxing

Readers of a certain age will recall the title of this piece was a slogan coined by Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs for an advertising campaign some years ago. They were trying to explain that dealing with your tax affairs needn’t be a complex thing—and to an extent, over the past few years or so, this has proved to be the case.

I am self-employed. I’m a sole trader. I have been such on and off for the past 16 years or so. As one of this growing band of entrepreneurs I must fill out a self-assessment tax form each year. Should I be so lucky as to have had a good financial year and ticked over the minimum income tax threshold, then I dutifully cough up what I owe—as well as half of what HMRC think I might owe next year. Don’t ask.

Anyway, the current bunch of cretins in charge of this fair country decided it would be a spiffing wheeze if we “hardworking” [sic] self-employed types should perform the annual tax return ritual four times a year. You can type the words “tax returns four times a year” into your preferred search engine to find any number of stories about it. Somewhat unsurprisingly, a lot of we “hardworking” [sic] self-employed types were a little upset by the notion, and an online petition was started. Of course I signed it.

Anyway, this last week the signatories received the following email from the Powers That Be:

The Government has responded to the petition you signed – “Scrap plans forcing self employed & small business to do 4 tax returns yearly”.

Government responded:

Making Tax Digital will not mean ‘four tax returns a year’. Quarterly updates will largely be a matter of checking data generated from record keeping software or apps and clicking ‘send’.

These reforms will not mean that businesses have to provide the equivalent of four tax returns every year. Updating HMRC through software or apps will deliver a light-touch process, much less burdensome and time-consuming than it is today.

At the March 2015 Budget the government committed to transform the tax system by introducing simple, secure and personalised digital tax accounts, removing the need for annual tax returns.

At the 2015 Spending Review the government announced it would invest £1.3bn in HMRC to make this vision a reality, transforming HMRC into one of the most digitally advanced tax administrations in the world.

One element of this vision will be asking most businesses, self-employed people and landlords to keep track of their tax affairs digitally and update HMRC at least quarterly via their digital tax account.

Many taxpayers have told HMRC that they want more certainty over their tax bill, and don’t want to wait until the end of the year, or even longer, before knowing where they stand with their taxes.

We also estimate that £6.5bn in tax goes unpaid every year because of mistakes made when filling in tax returns. These reforms will make it easier for taxpayers to maintain accurate and up-to-date tax affairs, reducing the scope for error.

With businesses keeping track of their tax affairs digitally, quarterly updates will be fundamentally different from filling out an annual tax return in a number of crucial respects:

  • Quarterly updates will not involve all the complexity of a full tax return. The updates will be generated from existing digital business records. In most cases, little or no further entry of information will be needed. It will be much quicker to complete than the current tax return.
  • As part of the process the business owner or individual will receive a developing in-year picture of their tax position, helping people have greater certainty about what they owe, allowing them to plan their finances more effectively. This differs from the current system where many taxpayers are caught out by their tax bill when it finally arrives.
  • In-year updates will not be subject to the same sanctions for lateness or inaccuracies as apply now to the year-end position. HMRC will consult during 2016 on what sanctions might be appropriate for a more digital tax administration.

The government has already announced that these measures will not apply to individuals in employment or pensioners, unless they have secondary incomes of more than £10,000 per year from self-employment or property.

The reforms will rely on businesses, self-employed people and landlords using software or apps that can connect securely to their digital tax account. The government will ensure that free products are available. The Gov.UK service will signpost taxpayers to the right product, with clear HMRC guidance about how to choose software.

HMRC will ensure support is available for people to get online if they need it. We will also provide alternatives for those who genuinely cannot use digital tools, like telephone filing. This will build on our Needs Extra Support service, which has gone from strength to strength in helping more vulnerable customers.

We’re introducing these reforms gradually. We’ve been in discussion with stakeholders since March 2015 and will be consulting on the details of the proposals throughout 2016.

We will use volunteers to test the new tools and processes and give us feedback. Quarterly updates will be introduced for some from 2018, and will be phased in fully by 2020, giving taxpayers time to adapt.

We want to work with all stakeholders to ensure these changes work for them. For more information about the proposed reforms please search for ‘Making Tax Digital’ on Gov.UK or use the following link:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/making-tax-digital

HMRC

That’s a lot of words effectively saying “stop your whinging and just get on with it”.

In case you glazed over, the important bit—for me at least—was this: “Making Tax Digital will not mean ‘four tax returns a year’. Quarterly updates will largely be a matter of checking data generated from record keeping software or apps and clicking ‘send’.“.

Oh, okay. So what they’re saying is I will have to actually start keeping proper accounts with proper software, rather than maintaining a simple spreadsheet and a box full of receipts which has hitherto been quite adequate. Am I expected to spend money on this software?

“The reforms will rely on businesses, self-employed people and landlords using software or apps that can connect securely to their digital tax account. The government will ensure that free products are available. The Gov.UK service will signpost taxpayers to the right product, with clear HMRC guidance about how to choose software.”

Fair enough, I suppose. However, this still expects me to sit down every bloody quarter and punch in some figures to an online account of my taxes. Just so you know, I haven’t managed earned enough to pay income tax for several years. I don’t find an annual return at all burdensome, and doesn’t actually take me more than a couple of hours with my accountant and about 20 minutes online to complete.

Incidentally, who are these “stakeholders” that have been consulted? I’ve not been asked my opinion on this.

Rather than cutting red tape and the burden of the state, this government seems intent on doing exactly the opposite. (Surprise!) Far from a “light touch” I think it’s going to cause more annoyance than anything else. I’ve got better things to be doing than submitting quarterly updates on my lack of tax-earning ability. Why the hell would I want to keep up with my tax affairs like that anyway?

I guess it’s going to happen whatever we do. My ranting about it isn’t going to change it, so in five years I shall be grumbling about it again as the free software fails to connect to my digital tax account for the umpteenth time because I haven’t updated it or because I’ve had to dig out an old PC to run it because Mac OS or iOS aren’t supported. My guess is it’ll be like every other government IT scheme. It’ll crash and burn, and cost billions to implement, saving nothing in the long run.

This rant is brought to you by HMRC’s web site’s failure to recognise Best Beloved’s online account this year, requiring a postal password reset because he doesn’t have a registered email address with the system. It bodes well, doesn’t it?

I just want to talk to a human

I received a letter from my bank this morning. They appeared to be under the misapprehension I earn a fair salary, and they wanted to let me know my account would be changing from “current account” to “bank account”.

Yes, you read that correctly. A “bank account”. From a current account. A current account will change to being a bank account. I’m now almost confused as my bank appears to be.

What benefit this change would be to me was not immediately apparent. I would seem to retain the same services I already use, plus access to a high interest savings account, and some app to let me get real time balances and statements on my phone.

Great. That’s impressive.

There’s a phone number I could call to let the bank know I might not want this fantastic upgrade to my account. They called it an upgrade, yet it doesn’t seem to be any different to the account I already own, save they expect me to maintain the supposedly high level of income that prompted the original change. Some chance of that.

I picked up the phone, and immediately hit the problem that I don’t use phone banking and don’t recall the last time I had to set up a security number, or even what that number might have been. Of course, I got through the early bits about sort codes, account numbers and dates of birth, but stalled at the security number. There was no option to bypass the automated system to talk to a human being.

I hung up in disgust. I tried to find out if I could sort this out through my internet banking, but there’s not a clue about the impending upgrade there. Back on the blower.

This time, because I earlier punched incorrect numbers in at the security number stage in a failed attempt to attract the attention of a real human being, I was told the number I can’t remember was locked “for my security”. I was transferred to—a human being!

Why, for the love of Bob, couldn’t I do that from the top of the pyramid?

Anyway, we began the process of sorting things out. Hang on, I’m to be transferred where to do what? I don’t want a security number. I don’t do phone banking. I began to rant. I just wanted to deal with this impending change, not set up a system I will never use. I do use the internet banking occasionally, but mostly I smile and pass the time of day with real human beings in my local bank branch. I just wanted to talk to someone to stop this account change, please.

On hold—having been warned not to hang up while on hold. Rubbish music. Obviously some discussion was going on wherever on the planet the phone system is currently operated from about this annoyed (and annoying) customer.

The minutes ticked by.  Ice ages came and went. God got older.

Finally, I was passed on to a lovely chirpy Scottish lady, who dealt with my issue in about ten seconds. I’ve been on the bloody phone for nearly ten minutes, for crying out loud! It’s been costing me money!

Anyway, it’s all sorted now. I am writing it up to lower my blood pressure. All this frustration because I choose not to use phone banking, and therefore don’t have some stupid security number. Is it beyond the realms of reality for the system to let a caller choose to speak to a human being from the start? Really?

Facts, 360 B.C.-A.D. 2012 – chicagotribune.com

A quick review of the long and illustrious career of Facts reveals some of the world’s most cherished absolutes: Gravity makes things fall down; 2 + 2 = 4; the sky is blue.

But for many, Facts’ most memorable moments came in simple day-to-day realities, from a child’s certainty of its mother’s love to the comforting knowledge that a favorite television show would start promptly at 8 p.m.

Over the centuries, Facts became such a prevalent part of most people’s lives that Irish philosopher Edmund Burke once said: “Facts are to the mind what food is to the body.”

To the shock of most sentient beings, Facts died Wednesday, April 18, after a long battle for relevancy with the 24-hour news cycle, blogs and the Internet. Though few expected Facts to pull out of its years-long downward spiral, the official cause of death was from injuries suffered last week when Florida Republican Rep. Allen West steadfastly declared that as many as 81 of his fellow members of theU.S. House of Representatives are communists.

Facts held on for several days after that assault — brought on without a scrap of evidence or reason — before expiring peacefully at its home in a high school physics book. Facts was 2,372.

Well written, and right on the button. I’m actually rather surprised that Facts’ close relative, Reason, isn’t also on life support as I write.

Continual Improvement?

Anyone with even a slightest interest in the tech world will have been unable to avoid a couple of big stories over the past few days. RIM, maker of the Blackberry phone ecosystem, has had a major outage of their service, and Apple has released several new updates as well as a new version of the perennially popular iPhone.

I’m not concerned about RIM. I am not particularly concerned with Apple’s new shiny. I am concerned about steadily having my hand forced to upgrade beyond where I am comfortable. I am talking about system requirements for a couple of the new things emanating from Cupertino.

Screen_shot_2011-10-13_at_09

Let me set out my table. I am a “creative”. I use a Mac for business and pleasure. My Mac is not in its first blush of youth, but it is still quite capable. I am reliably informed I can install the latest version of the Mac OS, version 10.7 aka Lion, and get some more miles under the belt before I need to seriously consider scraping together cash for a new machine.

All of which is very nice. Lion is available from the App Store for not much more than a round of drinks or a Saturday night takeaway. A couple of clicks and away I go.

The thing is, I still use software that relies on some core technologies of older versions of the Mac OS. Apple were incredibly clever when they transitioned from the PowerPC CPUs to Intel back in the day. They engineered code into the OS so it transparently rewrote the PowerPC code in older applications for Intel chips on the fly. You could continue to use older software until the developer updated for the Intel code. Which was (and is) amazing when you think about it.

In the intervening five or six years, most of the applications I use on a daily basis have been updated, and now run on Intel architecture. All, that is, save one or two. My Canon scanner, for example, will never be updated, and even a third party front end software requires the drivers to be present which—wait for it—are PPC architecture. I can get round this, as I have another scanner now, but I can always run it on an older Mac that is unrepentently a PowerPC powered machine.

The other one, which is a bit bigger in my world, is Macromedia FreeHand. Don’t laugh! I still use it, even though Adobe bought out the company and let FreeHand expire in a dusty corner. I use FreeHand because — oh, let’s not go there. It’s not pertinent to this ranty post anyway.

Okay, the FreeHand thing can also be solved by shifting it to that older PowerPC Mac I’ve already mentioned. That’s not the point, really. My point is Apple have just released updates to Aperture, which I use nearly every day for managing my photo libraries and so on. That’s good, yes?

Yes, if you have updated to the latest version of Lion. Otherwise, you don’t get the update to Aperture. I don’t actually think I need Lion. From what I have seen, it doesn’t offer me anything over what I am running now (OS X 10.6.8 Snow Leopard). Apple, it seems, are forcing me to upgrade to an OS I don’t really want or need in order to keep up with software I do want and need.

There’s also this thing called iOS5. This is the latest version of the operating system for iPhones, iPods touch and iPads. Lovely shiny things I don’t own. Along with the iOS update is a change from MobileMe, which I use, to a thing called iCloud. Guess what? I can’t migrate to iCloud without running OS X 10.7.2 or iOS5. 

My hand is being forced into making an upgrade to something I don’t really want to upgrade. Yet to maintain levels of software I use, I don’t seem to have much choice in the matter.

Not wishing to speak ill of the dead, but is this the Apple that Steve Jobs always meant it to be?

 

**UPDATE**

19 October 2011—Apple quietly rolled out the Aperture 3.2 update on the App Store. The update was “recommended” for all users. In the system requirements, the magic numbers 10.6.8 appeared. I checked all over the Apple web site to confirm the 3.2 update would work for Snow Leopard, and happily it does. The only requirement for me to sidegrade to Lion now is if I want to keep my @mac.com email address, and I have until the end of June 2012 to sort that out.