Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Copyright, son of ACTA

We all hoped that the draconian copyright conditions contained in ACTA and PIPA had been quashed. But no, they are at it all over again. The EU is now considering, behind closed doors and in secret just as they did with ACTA, the Canadian trade agreement, CETA. And guess what, it’s less about trade than about Intellectual Property rights and it contains just the same sorts of anti consumer legislation and Internet controls as ACTA. 

So far the discussions are so secret nobody knows the exact details, a draft has not been published, there have been no open discussion. Clearly they are hoping to get this in through the back door pretending it's just a trade agreement, but some details are leaking.

I have no problem with granting inventers and artists a reasonable and sensible copyright so they can benefit from their work and ideas, but I have serious problems with everything in our culture belonging to someone, especially when it ends up in the hands of faceless corporations and IT/copyright rights traders.  All artists and inventers lift their ideas, language and skills from their existing culture, copyright should be an agreement respecting all members of society and recognising that innovation sits on the shoulders of existing science and culture. Intellectual property rights should never be a carte blanch imposition over user’s rights in favour of vested interests. This is something to watch carefully.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

An odd thought

One aspect of the EU which causes resentment has been its intrusive, nonsensical and authoritarian regulations and rules.  It has become almost ‘accepted wisdom’ that a large part of the problem is the Civil Service, predominately left wing, mostly Europhiles and riddled by Common Purpose graduates, who have enlarged, gold plated and maximised the impact of EU regulation way beyond other EU countries, and often even beyond even the EU’s intent, to further their own careers and political agenda of drawing us further into the EU.

Recently however I was reminded of a couple of occasions at work when management came up with stupid and nonsensical working procedures. When protesting the stupidity and ineffectiveness of such procedures made no progress an excellent tactic was to implement them, and to implement them as fully, painstakingly and mindlessly as possible.  Inevitably this soon caused problems because simple jobs took longer or became delayed, people were inconvenienced, systems of work fell apart, and that of course resulted in complaints to management, who were then forced to rethink their original plans and undo some of their daft ideas.

The introduction of electrical PAT (portable appliance testing) was one such scenario when the management insisted early computer equipment was all tested in a particular way. “But”, we replied, “If we do that the equipment will be damaged, the test exceeds its design limits.” “The consultants are experts”, we were told, ”you must do it like that.” So we did - fizz, bang, splat! Next week we apologised to users that various items of computer equipment were non-functional and would be out of service until they could be repaired. The following year the protocol was changed.

So with this in mind I wondered what I would do were I working in Whitehall? If I were charged with implementing EU directives for a UK government who were determined to keep us in ever closer union with the EU. That’s right, I would implement every regulation, I would gold plate all its provisions then polish them. I would ensure it affected the maximum number of people and in some way made their lives more difficult or more expensive. Then I would pass the rules along to ministers and government to enforce on the population with a big smile.

Eventually the inevitable would happen and a significant mass of people would get more and more annoyed and frustrated and push back against the rules. Isn’t that exactly what is happening?

I don't suppose this is what has happened, I can't imagine that the Whitehall mob are doing all the gold plating on purpose just to piss everyone off, but whether by accident or design they seem to have finally succeeded!

Friday, 19 October 2012

Energy tariffs: Why does it have to be so complicated?

Ignoring the big issues like their lying, cheating and dishonesty one of the things that continuously puzzles, frustrates and annoys me about this country and our administration is why they make everything so complicated* when there is a very easy simple route.

This has happened yet again with Cameron announcing that everyone should be automatically put on the cheapest energy tariff. Yes, we all know that one of the biggest problems with energy prices is government intervention and taxation, but just assuming a better tariff would help why should this be a problem?

It’s very easy. At the end of the financial year, or yearly at some convenient date, the energy company calculates what a consumer’s bill would have been had they been on the cheapest tariff for that period. If this is less than the amount actually charged the energy company credits back the difference to the customer. Not perfect perhaps but simple!

Over a few years it would immediately be obvious by comparing average bills, which company was overall most efficient and averaged lower payments, that would guide people to changing companies.

Not only would it work with energy it could be applied to phone tariffs. How many people are fed up with trying to predict their usage in advance and pick the best deal? And more importantly how many, as with energy, get it wrong and end up paying way over the odds?

*Of course we know don’t we. Even Ofgem has given the game away commenting that it would reduce competition. The price complication and tariff jungle and impossibility of advance knowledge is needed precisely and exactly to ensure that nobody can easily pick their best tariff or supply company in advance. That’s not open competition it’s sharp practice which disguises taxes, profits and inefficiencies, we would be better off without such so-called competition. 

We could go even better by having two part gas bills. One part would be the energy company charges for infrastucture, taxes and overheads, the second part would be the raw international spot price for gas which would be passed on directly on at that price.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Catcing up with the world

I have been very quiet recently for a number of reasons. 

The first has been that we have had builders in. Well in truth they have been mainly ‘out’ as the main work has been re-roofing my garage/workshop after the existing flat roof rotted away beyond repair. But as this meant emptying the entire building, stripping the wiring, storing all tools and materials and two classic cars elsewhere or under tarpaulins while every available outdoor space was given over to wood, sand, bricks, trestles and ‘stuff’ it’s been hard work. Especially hard as I only contracted them to do the heavy work, skilled joinery and bricklaying while I did everything I was capable of doing. In retrospect choosing the day before the heaviest rain for 30 years to remove the old roof was not a smart move.

The other reason is I don’t quite know what to make of the recent news. The Jimmy Savile situation is distinctly unpleasant, and frightening that he should have got away with it so long while people, including a number of high power people in positions of authority, apparently colluded with his activities. Personally – and I’ll probably annoy some people saying this - I don’t feel there is anything especially significant about midnight on someone’s 16th birthday. Teenagers don’t suddenly change from children needing protection into fully capable adults at the chime of a clock, and they never did, it’s a very individual process, so arresting every person who has harboured sexual thought about someone under 16 would probably end in the arrest of a significant proportion of the 16-20 year old population. From my distant memories adolescence girls often matured socially and sexually earlier than boys and many under 16 girls did, and still do, desire and actively encourage boyfriends who are a bit older than themselves.  That doesn’t make it right of course, but to my mind there is a very clear distinction between someone just under 16 deliberately making themselves ‘available’ compared with the bullying and organised abuse of position and influence over unwilling and powerless victims that’s emerging in this case. I hope the recriminations will concentrate on the abuse of power.

The rest of the news looks much the same now as it did 3 weeks ago, indeed much the same as it did 3 months ago. I note with delight that Theresa May has at last made a correct decision in banning the extradition of Gary McKinnon – although typically for government she has made it for completely and utterly the wrong reason. She has allowed herself to be used by the ‘victim card’ process. What she should have done, years ago, is simply stated that the bloke had never been to the USA, had committed no crime from within their borders, and therefore if a crime existed at all it must be prosecuted in the UK and nowhere else. This being the usual situation of UK law, that a crime is tried in the place it was committed.

The party conference pantomime circus came and went with all the usual pundits jumping up and down to try and read the runes and predict what all the speeches actually meant. I’m afraid that such speeches strike me as having the relevance of third hand cigarette smoke. Maybe Call me Dave is finally being pushed into making Eurosceptic noises, time will tell whether he means it, but I won’t be holding my breath.

And as usual in October we reach that time of year for the energy companies to hike their margins, as they regularly do just before the season when we all need their energy. No doubt next spring, on the week the weather warms up and we no longer need it, they will reduce them again with a token proportion of the overcharging and tell us how nice they are.

And finally, the Strictly come Dancing season restarts. I can’t help think that if the same dancers were to dress in the same revealing clothes and make similar movements, but doing so in a late night bar around a pole, most of the Strictly audience would be shouting for the closure of the disgusting late night sex show venue. Wonderful what a change in attitude a glitzy BBC studio and celebrity studded cast makes, which sort of returns to the Savile story.