Saturday, 28 July 2012

Another thing I don’t understand about technology

<dont mention the Olympics>
My ageing car, like most recent vehicles, has a security system. I get a nice little remote control with two buttons, one to lock it and one to unlock it. The unlock button also helpfully turns on the interior light. Then once in the car it cant be driven until the key is turned in the ignition and the immobiliser is happy with the key.  The key itself folds into a plastic handle so there are no sharp edges in your pocket. Some modern cars dont even need the key, just the proximity of it or a card. This level of security and convenience is fairly standard on a cheap basic mass market car.

My house cost about 30 times as much as a new car. I have a scrappy metal key for the front door which has a sharp scratchy pointed shape and a fiddly small piece to hold and turn once you have found the tiny unlit hole. The back door has a separate key, which although smaller than its ancestors still follows a design that someone from 1000 years ago would easily recognise. There are yet more separate keys for the conservatory door, garage and shed.

So why doesnt my house have an electronic central locking system? One key that opens everything and switches the lights on as I walk up the path on a wet night or that will lock all the outside doors with one button press at bedtime.

I suppose I could get such a system, although it would cost a fortune and the retrofit would be a nightmare. I could get pick and mix, an automated lock here and remote lights there. There is even an iPad app that will remotely control wireless enabled mains outlets or control the heating remotely. Yet none of this stuff is built in nor integrated together, when it would be both simple and cheap to include in a building, essentially a few low voltage wires, some electric locks and sensors and a car type electronic receiver and control module. Why does nobody offer it?

(</dont mention the Olyimpics>

What on earth was that ceremony about? I get much of the symbolism, the stage effects were clever and impressive, but all that NHS stuff and the non-stop metrocentric diversity and plastic steel drums? Not a mention of religion (I'm not religious but our history doesn't work without it) and not a hint to recognise that outside London rural England still exists.

Friday, 20 July 2012

On trust, people and getting a camera stuck up your bum.

There have been a couple of posts about trust recently. One from Anna Raccoon and another from the irascible Captain (thorn in the arse of authority) Ranty.

This set me thinking. Both posts focused on the institutions of society, justice and authority which have let us down, and I find nothing of substance in either post to disagree with. There really are few institutions, public or commercial, that can be trusted nowadays.

But that made me realize how little these institutions have in common with ordinary life and community or even with their own members. Given the appalling role models we see every day in the media, industry and politics I still find that in reality I can trust the majority of ordinary people I meet on an individual level.
Thats because in the real world, as opposed to the ideal one we might wish for, trust isnt nor has ever been a simple clear cut issue, its not a case of yes or no but a matter of sensible degree.  If you dangle temptation in front of people, and especially if that is combined with a lack of disincentive to cheat, you will find virtually nobody that can be trusted completely, 

Yet I happily trust my neighbour with my house key. If we are away and there is an emergency I know he will turn off the water or cut the power or otherwise do whatever he can to help. Likewise I have an elderly neighbours key.  If she presses her panic button and her son is contacted I am able to check for a problem much faster than he can.  If I was on Bob Diamonds salary and our houses were full of priceless antiques or contained stacks of money in the cupboard maybe I would reconsider, but thats not a problem.
When we seduce people with the possibility of power, money and riches beyond the reach of ordinary people we should not be surprised to find ourselves with a whole cohort of lying cheats.  We need to realise that nowadays (and probably for always) almost everyone is potentially corruptible. Business, politics and institutions should be designed accordingly. Put simply we either stop dangling the obscenely huge gold carrots or make the penalties for dishonesty much harsher.

When it comes to institutions the situation is even more complex. Most Institutions do not have morality, they have shareholders and bottom lines and will do anything to enrich those. Yet even then we may find some parts with an uncaring irresponsible ethos while other parts are perfectly OK, it really does come down to the individuals in the front line.

To underline the dichotomy the NHS is a good illustration. There are numerous horror stories of NHS mistreatment, contempt for patients, uncaring nurses, and excesses by administrators. I know these things happen because an elderly relative was on the receiving end of just such treatment. Feeding equipment that didnt work, hydration drips that were turned off, nurses who didnt notice, no doctors available until after the bank holiday then when we complained a senior nurse who made up a completely false report accusing family members of aggression, being threatening, and causing illness by smuggling drinks to the patient causing his death by pneumonia. 

Then two weeks ago I suffered a rather nasty medical situation I went to the doctor, a friendly pleasant chap who I honestly believe sets out to do his best by his patients, I trust him.He wanted a hospital investigation so told me he would contact them and I should hear within 2 weeks, that being their benchmark response time for this issue. This was Friday at 5pm. I heard from the hospital by phone at 10am Monday morning. Could I make a consultancy appointment on Wednesday?  So by Wednesday I was seeing the specialist.

After various poking and prodding I was strongly advised to agree to further investigation. If so, I was told, follow the nurse who would arrange an appointment for the next test. That test needed a minimum of 24 hours medication preparation, so could I start that the next day and make Friday for the procedure? After 24 hours of living in the smallest room after some seriously industrial strength laxative I was back at the hospital on Friday having a camera shoved up my bum. 

The procedure is not one I would advise anyone to undergo for fun. (No, really it is not any fun at all!) Fortunately it showed clear of any real nasties.

There are accurate horror stories of poor treatment by the NHS yet in my case they did everything right, The NHS was fast, almost instant, and every person I came into contact with was efficient, professional, friendly, caring and considerate. So do I trust the NHS? No I dont - but I trust some people!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Welcome to England, the country of children.

Normally I don’t take much interest in sports. The only exception is an occasional snooker match or a tennis match where there is skill and strategy but with enough action to keep things moving..

So last evening I found myself caught up in watching the cliff-hanger Wimbledon match between Andy Murray and Marcos Baghdatis. The thing about tennis, at that level, is that a match can be over quickly or last for hours as each player struggles to gain that all important two game lead. By mid evening the two were neck and neck then Murray pulled ahead, creating a situation that if he could maintain and enlarge that lead to take the next set then the game would be over relatively quickly, but if Baghdatis could pull level it would mean another set.

As the match became more and more exciting, with the audience on the edges of their seats, the realisation struck that the club had an 11pm curfew, so regardless of the situation, irrespective of the state of the game, play would have to halt at 11pm.

My reaction is what the f**k is going on here? We have one of the leading world tennis tournaments, being televised around the world, a nail-biting play situation and everyone is being told that play must stop at 11pm because there is a licence curfew and/or health and safety ruling – I never made sense of which – that would not allow play to continue.

London is trying to sell itself as the leading world city for sports, with Wimbledon leading quickly into the Olympics. We are meant to be a go ahead, lively, modern society. And what’s the message being sent to the world. That we are such a load of children and so under the thumb of authority that the council won’t allow us out at an event after 11pm!

With pubs and clubs a curfew to save the neighbours noise and disturbance on a regular night makes sense, but for a local council to have such control and allow no exceptions for a national flagship event is a completely ridiculous situation.

As for the Wimbledon club, why nobody had the balls to set all the clocks back an hour then dare the council to send in the police or ban next years' event I just don’t know.

Words fail me!