23/09/2010

Technology and photography

During the past six months or so I have been spending a lot of time understanding photography. I now understand exposure (shutter speed), apertures and ISO speeds and the relationship between them. I have also spent time understanding depth of field and what is know as the hyper-focal distance. I have learned about filters and how they are used to create those amazing pictures of waterfalls and seascapes that look all blurred.

I have spent time understanding the technicalities of DSLR design and lens design and why lenses can get so expensive - over £10k for some. I now understand how the camera's sensors work and their dynamic range and  why photographers should aim to "expose to the right". I can now interpret those histograms you see on DSLR screens and how they can be used to help get exposure right. I even know when to use manual focusing and how to use those little do things in auto focus to ensure that I focus on the right part of the subject.

I know the difference in file formats between JPEG and what is termed Camera Raw - raw files contain much more information. I even understand white balance and how to use it properly to get some good effects.


This is is all good technical stuff which interests me as an engineer and without the understanding you can't take a decent photograph.

Why am I telling you this? Because all this technology has made photography more accessible to the
amateure to the extent that more and more are having a go at becoming professionals. But there is one bit of technology that really has opened up the world of photography by reducing the cost of the biggest barrier to entry - the cost of lenses. As I said above you can easily pay over £10k for specialist lenses but even good everyday lenses will over £300.

Look at this photo:



When we had finished sorting the house we invited our next door neighbours for a drink and my wife had left the dining room light on and I noticed this scene over my neighbour's shoulder. I liked it so much I recreated the next evening.

Notice how the doors are bowed out? This is termed "barreling" and now you know its there its really annoying and can spoil a good photograph. Although thiswas taken with a standard lens it wasn't cheap with a new one costing around £400. To get a good lens that doesn't distort that much is going to cost well over £1,000. Imagine that cost increase for every lens you would need to buy to become a professional - 4 or five lenses at least, and you have a significant barrier to entry.

Now look at this photograph:

A nicely corrected photograph and all for the price  of a £200 software package, and this is only one benefit. It does all the post processing any photographer could ask for and has all the corrections for all the popular lenses.

Now a career photography really is accessible to all, although not me.

Of course the downside is that reducing the barrier to entry means that the many professional can't make a living and I was reminded of that in a blog comment when someone claimed two of their friends had had to give up the career.

I am well aware that all we have discussed is the technicalities here and just because a carpenter has the best tools available, it doesn't mean he can make a book case. There is a lot more to taking a good photograph than the technicalities and a bit of software, which is why I am going on a landscape photography course next week.

If you believe in the EU you beleive in the new extradtion treaty with all its "pettiness"

I'm a bit late on this and only got energised to blog when I catching up on some podcasts yesterday.
High-profile requests from the US have brought Britain's extradition laws into the news. But Britain actually sends more people for trial to Poland than anywhere else and the architect of the law, David Blunkett, admits there have been unintended consequences. 
 I want to leave aside the US extradition treaty and concentrate on the EU one, not because the US treaty is any better, but because the EU is more pernicious and won't be changed because it is about politics and not security.

In the program much is made of the petty extraditions to EU countries and this is given as an example:

Gregg, a Polish builder and decorator who now lives in Merseyside, wears a look of regret. He is being extradited from Britain to Poland to face charges, in what critics say is a flawed aspect of Britain's Extradition Act 2003.
Five years ago, on his way to a party in his home town in western Poland, Gregg shoplifted about £70 worth of Milka bars.
Gregg, who has since built a new life with his fiancee in the UK and runs his own business, had forgotten about the incident until last month, when British police in his adopted homeland came to arrest him and send him home.
Lets imagine that Gregg had been a scouser who now lived Manchester and had stolen those chocolate bars from Tesco. Would anyone have been making such a fuss about the case? I don't think so, so why all the fuss over it because he is going back to Poland to pay for his crime?

If you believe in the EU project then this is a good thing for it means that we have made one more positive step in the pursuit of ever closer union. The BBC should be celebrating this case with the proviso that the only thing wrong is that they had to go to court first and that he should have been transferred straight to Poland.

Me? Well I am an EU skeptic and would leve tomorrow, but that aside I don't want people to come here as a refuge from their crimes, no matter how petty they seem to us. However the full cost of the case should be paid by Poland, there should be a prima facia case and whatever the "crime" it should be illegal in this country as well.

New things I've leaned about Lib Dems after their conference

1. They don't like power and would prefer to be in opposition so they can live on wishful thinking

2. They aren't liberal they're socialist

3. Like Labour the only thing that binds them is being anti Tory


4. Vince Cable is twat


5. Simon Hughes is a slef deulsional egotist

Nope, nothing new just confirmation of what was already known.

Letters to the Dorset Echo


Sir,

I see from an article on the Dorset For Your Newsroom, Commuters take the Rush Hour Challenge, that Dorset NHS has an employee described as a “sustainability lead”. In these difficult financial time these are the sorts of posts that are a luxury we cannot afford. We need our NHS to be curing us of our ailments and not lecturing us or their staff on the latest green wash at our expense.

If we believe that we need to protect the planet for our children and grand children then we should start by not burdening them with our debts to pay for us to live high on the hog. Let those who occupy these roles go out and generate some wealth so that we can pay off our debts and then our children will be in a position to be able to afford to tackle whatever problems the future has to throw at us, manmade or not.

Yours,

Simon

Vince's attack on capitalism

When I first heard, or perhaps I should say thought I misheard, Vince's attack on capitalism and that:
Capitalism takes no prisoners and kills competition where it can
I thought of all sorts of points to make along the lines of capitalism also creates competition whenever it smells an opportunity. I could have also made the point that it is politicians that make competition harder by creating barriers to entry by working with businesses to create every more and higher regulatory hurdles for new comers - a recent Cato podcast claimed that in some US States more than 1 in 3 jobs is in a licenced occupation including hairdressers and nail technicians FFS.

It would probably have been a rambling post and not very succinct so I'll leave it a Marxist to explain very succinctly why Vince Cable constinues to talk crap:

That “where it can” is doing a lot of work. There is no question that each individual capitalist tries to kill competition, by undercutting his rivals, offering a better product or - let’s face it - lobbying the government for special protection. Every businessman wants to be a monopolist - or at least, he should do.
However, it doesn’t follow that such efforts succeed. The empirical evidence suggests that Marx was wrong. There is no tendency for capital to become more concentrated. Studies show that firm growth is independent of size (or anything else!), and so the distribution of firm size doesn’t change much over time. The degree of competition or monopoly is roughly stable. Tesco or Wal-Mart might seem monopolistic, but they are less so than 19th century truck stores
One macroeconomic piece of evidence for this is the share of profits in GDP. If capitalism tended to kill competition over time, you’d expect this share to rise over time. But it hasn’t. Aside from a fall in the 70s and recovery in the 80s, the profit share seems trendless.
 If it wasn't for the BBC and Guardian Vince would have been confined to the history books years ago, as it is their love of him keeps a deluded population believing we can continue to have our cake and eat it and all we need to do is tax a few bankers a bit more.

14/09/2010

That society thing: Big, small or no such thing?

Society in all its forms is getting a bit of an airing at the moment with Dave's Big Society generating all sorts of discussions. Most of them centre around how vital it is that the state does everything. This morning on R4 there was a discussion on Library funding and the use of volunteers.
We've also had talk of parents running independent schools on a voluntary basis as part of the big  society. But they are all missing the point .


If we quickly go back to first principles we find that we hire the state to do the things that we can't do individually. Defence and crime and justice being the main two functions we need to hire people to do for us and these people we now call the state. The defence bit means we need to have relations with other countries so it also makes sense for the state to do that as well, we can't all be ambassadors for ourselves with every country much is we'd all like the perks that go with the job.

So, having hired a state we have found that there are other things that we would like it to do. Public health is a big issue as we can all be affected by a small minority not pulling their own weight and causing disease and other health problems. In response  we have decided that we will hire the state to empty the bins. It doesn't have to be done by the state and isn't in Ireland. All it needs then is a few rules to make sure its done properly and everyone complies. Those rules can be based on the do no harm axiom, so if you don't put your bin out an pay for it to be collected  and someone is harmed you get punished.

We have also decided to hire the state to provide and deliver health care, it doesn't have to be delivered by the state, many other countries have far better health care than us and all the state does is make sure it is provided, it stays well clear of delivery. The same has happened with the two areas mentioned above, libraries and education and there is no reason at all why the state should provide these, they can be done quite easily by a private company if that is what we want.

But something strange has happened over the past thirty or forty years or so. Rather than us hiring the state to do things we can't be arsed to do or just can't do ourselves the state is now dictating to us what it will do and how much it will charge us rather than us deciding how much we want to pay.

The need for spending cuts is now giving us the opportunity to re-look at what we get the state to do for us and whether or not we want them those things doing collectively and if so is there a better way, cheaper and with higher quality. To which the answer has to be yes, because if this is as good as it gets it time to emigrate.

Lets start with education. I think we can all agree that up to a certain age, lets say 16, education is a good thing and we something we all benefit from. People who are educated to a basic standard are better behaved and more likely to be able to look after themselves in the world of work and be a nett contributor. So how should we provide each child with that education? We could hire the state and let them do it, as we do now, or we could ask the state to collect some money from all of us and give it to those who need education, well to their parents as we can't trust anyone under 16 with a cheque for £8k or whatever it is we decide to give them each year.

The only stipulation we say is that the money must be spent on education and that the education must provide the basics. So maybe we should have a few people to help us decide what the basic minimum a school must provide and then let them get on with it. As it happens I reckon parents will pretty soon decide what it is they are looking for and we won't need that much regulation.


This has been tried in other countries, most notably Sweden, and there they don't rely on volunteer parents setting up schools in their spare time, companies have been formed and parents hire those companies to educate their child. If they don't do it properly they take their children elsewhere. Its worth noting here that those social democratic Swedes don't have a problem with those companies making profit either.

So now we've established that we don't need the state to do everything for us, we can organise ourselves in many different ways can now thank a lot of those people for all the help they have given us in the past but we, the tax private payers, have decided that there are other ways to organise ourselves and whats more we can still call it a society. And at the same time we can tell Unison, Unite and all the rest of the trade union leaders who want to use those we hire to inflict misery on us to fuck off and we'll do it differently from now on.

What we really need now is for the debate on the Big Society to be be a debate on How Big Society and then how we deliver it. For me it should be a small society, but I understand the politics. But anyway, call it what you will, it can't be about the state telling us what it will deliver and how much it will charge us, whether we want it or not.

Wondering about the Autism spectrum

The radio 5 phone today on special needs children reminded about some thinking I had been doing on  autism and the way it is always described as being a "spectrum", with diagnosed children somewhere on it. Don't get me wrong, I have no doubt that some children are autistic, but I wonder if this idea of a spectrum isn't being used by parents, teachers and professionals t?o obtain a quite life or justify their rent seeking?

If there is a spectrum it means that there must be a reference child somewhere who is "normal", yes? All other children must then be compared to that reference child and if they don't measure up then they must be somewhere on the autistic spectrum? And if they are on the autistic spectrum doesn't that mean that they can make special claims on the state?

But we know that all children are different, behave in different ways in different situations, especially in school. Not all children are going to be at ease talking to adults, but that doesn't mean they are autistic. Not all children will be at ease painting, or answering questions. So most of them won't measure up to our reference child.

And doesn't this prey on the sensitivities of parents? My child doesn't seem to be normal therefore there must be something wrong? My child is misbehaving, it must be a medical problem, it can't be me? And as they hear a lot about autism then this is an easy place to look.

And when I look at this website I do get suspicious about some of the reasons for wanting an autism diagnosis:
Over 40% of children with autism have been bullied at school
  Bullying is a real problem, but Bullying UK had a survey and they reckon that 69% of children claim to have been bullied. Again, this isn't to belittle autism or bullying, but charities playing victim poker is a dangerous game when so many are at it.

Over 50% of children with autism are not in the kind of school their parents believe would best support them7
Hmm, could there be some cause and effect here? I can't get my child in the school I want, my child is suffering and isn't happy (parents transmitting their anxiety to their children?), my child must be on the autism spectrum, push for diagnosis, get on spectrum, get in preferred school!

If this is going on then is those with serious autism who will suffer as resources are diverted.

Again I stress that autism is a real disease, my problem is the way it has become something for parents to use whenever there own children aren't seen as perfect of they want to game the system

No doub't this subject will come up again and I'll do a bit more research, until then I'll keep wondering.

We've all got attention deficit disorder now

Anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to the news today will have heard that Ofsted have claimed that special needs are being used too widely
Thousands of pupils are being wrongly labelled as having special educational needs when all they require is better teaching and support, Ofsted has said.
It said up to 25% of the 1.7m pupils in England with special needs would not be so labelled if schools focused more on teaching for all their children.
As expected the this brought out the usual suspects of rent seekers from the TUC and assorted "fake" charities to pronounce that their vested interest shouldn't be blamed and that these children really do need help and that they should have more money.

As could also be expected it provided the topic for this morning's Radio 5 Live phone in. which brought us the usual ad hominem stories and tales of parents fighting to get their children treated as "special". Hey, don't all parents think there child is special and should get special attention at school, usually for being extra bright? But I digress.

It was my misfortune to catch the last 15 minutes as I was out in the car and the excellent Radio 4 program on tax had just finished. The final caller regaled us with a story of how he had struggled at university and was finally diagnose with dyslexia, dyspraxia and attention deficit disorder and had to drop out. He finished by telling us his attention deficit disorder was so bad that when he sat near a window he couldn't concentrate on the subject being taught, especially if it was a boring subject. I still have the steering wheel imprint on my head. What a twat.

Do these people think that the rest of don't have trouble with distractions? Looking out of the window dreaming of golf, or sailing or being away on holiday or how much I hate Labour is far better than work. But like most of the normal population I have to work to those thoughts aside and get on with what needs doing. This isn't a "disorder" its being normal. Now stop feeling sorry for yourself, looking for excuses and blaming everyone else and get over your self you.
 

11/09/2010

There are many reasons not to burn the Koran, threats of violence isn't one of them

I don't have much time for Islam, it is a dead faith that doesn't recognise change in the world, at best it tolerates the mutilation and enslavement of women and non believers and at worst condones it:
 Her in-laws treated her like a slave, Aisha pleaded. They beat her. If she hadn't run away, she would have died. Her judge, a local Taliban commander, was unmoved. Later, he would tell Aisha's uncle that she had to be made an example of lest other girls in the village try to do the same thing. The commander gave his verdict, and men moved in to deliver the punishment. Aisha's brother-in-law held her down while her husband pulled out a knife. First he sliced off her ears. Then he started on her nose. Aisha passed out from the pain but awoke soon after, choking on her own blood. The men had left her on the mountainside to die. 
If you have a strong stomach the picture is very moving.

Yes I know the argument that this is cultural rather than Islamic behaviour, but frankly I don't care. These acts of barbarism are carried out all the time in countries where Islam is the predominant faith and especially where it is the ruling faith, and they use the Koran to justify the behavior. Look at Iran, a country which likes to murder young girls by slow strangulation for the heinous crime of being a girl. That's what an Islamic theocracy leads.

Of all this we hear nothing from the Muslim world's leaders, no angry crowds demanding that the offenders be tried and punished, no effigy burning, no angry condemnation from the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia or anywhere else. Those same leaders who complain, with veiled threats whenever they believe that their religion has been insulted.

Yet one self publicist nut job threatens to burn a copy of the Koran and they are up in arms , an action whilst offensive  doesn't harm the hair of the head of one single person. Lets not forget these threats are made against all Americans and by extension westerners, even the ones who condemn the Koran burning.

And don't they know that it is that same free speech that means that Muslims can build their Islamic Study Centre near Ground Zero?

We cannot be blackmailed on threat of violence into curtailing free speech, no matter how distasteful the manifestation of that free speech is, because it is that free speech which protects us from rule by the sort of people who are happy to allow young girls to have their ears and nose cut off, for rape victims to be sentenced to death because they were raped.

What do you do when you see a child in the road? Drive over them....

..... because its only a 3D image, or it was last time a child was in the road.

Via the ever readable Dick Puddlecote this story of bureaucratic idiocy:
We’re doing something completely different compared to our campaign last year to raise awareness about more kids being on the roads this first week back at school. In fact, our latest campaign is a Canadian first.
Preventable, BCAA Traffic Safety Foundation, and the District of West Vancouver have launched a 3D illusion geared to make drivers slow down at high-risk intersections.



As Dick says, what could possibly go wrong? Apart from distracted drivers slamming on their brakes and getting rear ended or veering across the road into another vehicle or onto the pavement......  If you need me to tell you then you probably shouldn't be driving. The comments on Dick's site and on the original piece say it all.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for trying to keep drivers alert and aware of children, I'm a parent and seen fist hand what kids can do, but that doesn't mean every attempt should be tired, the lame brained ones should be strangled at birth. But there are much better ways of calming traffic and making the roads safer for all, if only people would open their minds:

Riding in his green Saab, we glide into Drachten, a 17th-century village that has grown into a bustling town of more than 40,000. We pass by the performing arts center, and suddenly, there it is: the Intersection. It's the confluence of two busy two-lane roads that handle 20,000 cars a day, plus thousands of bicyclists and pedestrians. Several years ago, Monderman ripped out all the traditional instruments used by traffic engineers to influence driver behavior - traffic lights, road markings, and some pedestrian crossings - and in their place created a roundabout, or traffic circle. The circle is remarkable for what it doesn't contain: signs or signals telling drivers how fast to go, who has the right-of-way, or how to behave. There are no lane markers or curbs separating street and sidewalk, so it's unclear exactly where the car zone ends and the pedestrian zone begins. To an approaching driver, the intersection is utterly ambiguous - and that's the point.
...

In Denmark, the town of Christianfield stripped the traffic signs and signals from its major intersection and cut the number of serious or fatal accidents a year from three to zero. In England, towns in Suffolk and Wiltshire have removed lane lines from secondary roads in an effort to slow traffic - experts call it "psychological traffic calming." A dozen other towns in the UK are looking to do the same. A study of center-line removal in Wiltshire, conducted by the Transport Research Laboratory, a UK transportation consultancy, found that drivers with no center line to guide them drove more safely and had a 35 percent decrease in the number of accidents.
Closer to home one of the towns close to us, Blandford Forum, has done something similar on their main street, although they haven't gone quite as far, and its a lot more pleasant moving backwards and forwards across the road. Even as a driver I don't find it inconvenient as I know that when its clear I keep moving rather than waiting for the lights at empty crossings to change or expecting someone to jump out to try and get on a crossing at the last minute.

Rational ignorance

The Angry Economist doesn't post often, but when he does they are insightful and thought provoking:
The proper version of "ignorance is bliss" is actually "WHEN ignorance is bliss," and it should be followed by "'tis folly to be wise." That's the short version of public choice economics, which points out that your vote counts for very little, and consequently justifies very little investment in making a quality vote. They call that "rational ignorance." Some economists go even further and say that because your vote counts for so little, you can vote emotionally rather than rationally. You can vote for a minimum wage because it makes you feel good, rather than voting against a minimum wage because it actually prices the worst workers (who need the most help) out of the market.
And that's why he's in my RSS feed and on linked on the left. You could do a lot worse that spend 30 minutes on a rainy day going through his blog and adding him to your RSS feed.

Improving broadband speeds and stability

Before we bought the house I did a bit of research and got the line broadband tested and was aware that as the house is some distance from the exchange the available speed would be much slower than we had become accustomed. However, having stayed in the pub which is 50 yards away I knew it would be usable.

The service was installed before we finally moved in and had been acceptable for the odd bit of usage it got. However, having moved in the service turned out to be far below what is acceptable - slow speeds, connection dropping when we used the phone and taking ages to re-sync whenver it was reset. After numerous calls to BT they eventually agreed to send someone out.

After some testing he agreed with my diagnosis - it's crap - and set about doing some fault finding. It turned out the the service was fine at the point where it entered the house but not at the master jack. We followed the route and found that the previous occupants had installed an extension by just cutting the cable and taping the wires together in the loft. As well as being illegal it was technically a very stupid thing to do because of what is known as maximum power transfer theory (if you must know its very techie but you cab find out about it here.) Even if he had been able to make very good connections, which you cant by just wrapping wires together, it would have halved the power in the signal, not good when you are a long way from the exchange.

But that is only part of the problems, because we are talking about complicated signals the inductance and capacitance will have been changed (look it up if you must know, but again very techie) and this will have led to a further power loss but also distortions of the line characteristics and the introduction of noise, which is the same as reducing power.

When the engineer removed the extension and crimped the cable properly the service worked well at the master socket, but was still crap in the office. As this was where BT's responsibility ended and the rest was up to me. The nice BT man did leave me with a new master socket, though.

When I followed the extension to the office I found it went under the carpet and then under a very tightly fitted carpet gripper and so had probably been crushed, again not good for for broadband.

Solution: I fitted the new master socket in the loft ( a bit naughty as that is BT's side, but I have the correct tools and did a module of house wiring when I was still in the army) and cabled up the extension properly. Next I installed my WiFi hub and DECT master phone in the loft, to improve coverage.

Result: A very stable and usable broadband connection.

Lesson: If you want a good broadband connection make sure your internal wiring is installed correctly and this is a pretty good guide.

07/09/2010

Go and sign this.

Rank and Pension of Soldiers Killed on Active Service

 
‘That this House, convinced that the courage and devotion to duty of members of the British Armed Forces who are killed while on active service for their country should be recognised and rewarded in every possible way, particularly by the pensions and help given to the families they leave behind , recommends that the Ministry of Defence’s rule providing that pensions on promotion are payable only after the role for the new rank has been held for a year should be revoked for those killed in the service of their country so that their families are paid the rate appropriate to the rank held at the time of death; and considers that the family of Sergeant Matthew Telford of Grimsby, promoted to the rank in June 2009 but killed by an assassin in Afghanistan in November of that year, along with Guardsman Jimmy Major of Cleethorpes and three other soldiers, should be paid the full pension appropriate to the rank he was proud to honour at the time of his death’.
 
We, the undersigned, support the above motion and urge the Government to act on it as a matter of urgency.
 Back story here


H/T Guthrum

Bob Watch

One of my regular subjects will be Bob Watch, in which I intend to report and comment on the performance of our local MP, Bob Walter. I have already had a couple of email exchanges with him, well his researcher really, and found them to be very helpful in finding a report that had been used to answer one of his parliamentary questions..

The source of my news will Bob's newsletter and the They Work For You (TWFY)  emails which highlight MPs speeches and questions. TWFY also reports in MPs voting record, although this may have to be taken with a pinch of salt as the context of votes isn't always clear as Tom Harris reports in one of his typically whingey posts. Anyway, from a libertarian point of view Bob's record is somewhat chequered:

  • Voted a mixture of for and against the Iraq war. votes
  • Voted strongly for an investigation into the Iraq war. votes
  • Voted a mixture of for and against a stricter asylum system. votes
  • Voted moderately against Labour's anti-terrorism laws. votes
  • Voted strongly against introducing student top-up fees. votes
  • Voted moderately against removing hereditary peers from the House of Lords. votes
  • Voted strongly against a wholly elected House of Lords. votes
  • Voted moderately for laws to stop climate change. votes
  • Voted a mixture of for and against equal gay rights. votes
  • Voted very strongly for replacing Trident. votes
  • Voted very strongly against the hunting ban. votes
  • Voted moderately against introducing ID cards. votes
  • Voted moderately against introducing a smoking ban. votes
  • Has never voted on a transparent Parliament. votes
  • Voted moderately against introducing foundation hospitals. votes
  • Voted very strongly against allowing ministers to intervene in inquests. votes
  • Voted a mixture of for and against greater autonomy for schools. votes
  • Voted moderately against more EU integration.
 In fact he seems quite inconsistent so we should have some fun when he does speak.

Dorset AV Yes camapign kicks off

I'm not sure where I stand on AV, I need to give it a lot more thought and will be listening to the debate closely. As part of this I was pleased to see this letter from the Dorset Echo in my RSS feed:


Fair Votes For Dorset campaign ready for launch

Next Thursday (September 9) sees the Launch of Fair Votes For Dorset’s ‘Yes’ Vote Campaign at Bridport’s No. 10 cafĂ© and bar (7.30pm).


I thought I might go along and listen to their case. Who's running it I wondered?

The campaign includes members of the Liberal Democrats, Green Party, Citizens’ Action Party, the Labour Campaign For Electoral Reform and George Galloway’s Respect Party. 
Hmm, that's quite an interesting bunch. OK, I'd expect the LibDems to be there, its their policy and the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform for the same reason. The Green Party are always up for some publicity and rabble rousing but they too have a long record of wanting PR (most small parties do).

Who are the Citizens Action Party, though? A name like that sounds very lefty:
 We're radical, left of centre, determined to challenge unsustainable consumerist lifestyles and committed to returning power to local communities
Ah, the usual lefty crap about sustainability and consumerism. Presumably their idea about localism is one where they get to call the shots and we all end up living in yurts and scraping a living of the soil while they lord over us.

And finally George Galloway's Respect Party, not the Respect Party, but George Galloway's Respect Party. Bearing in mind this is a letter from the Chairman of the the group and not a journalist's bias, he egotism of George Galloway is their for all to see.


And the letter writer is a Richard Denton-White, Chairman, Fair Votes For Dorset. Now I've never heard of him but one of the comments set some alarm bells ringing so I though I would do some research. It looks like he's one of the self serving types who gets himself on to all sorts of committees and stood as a candidate for the Citizens Action Party - nuff said.

Not a promising start in enticing me along. So does the letter have anything that might attract me and make the journey worthwhile? Well you can judge for yourself but if the meeting follows the tome of the letter it will be one big yawn:
The current, obsolete first past the post method of electing MPs and councillors invariably guarantees bland, centre right governments and self-interested council controlling groups
We've just had 12 years of Labour growing the state to a size that is unsustainable and he thinks they were centre right!
Ranged against the ‘Yes’ Vote are those in the Murdoch Press, the Tory right and the dinosaur tendency of the Labour Party who are desperate to keep their ‘vested interests’ under FPTP.  
To be fair he does make some good points:
The Alternative Vote is not what most reformers wanted, but it does at least require elected representatives to win at least 50 per cent of the vote share in order to achieve election for their ward or constituency
And that goes for lefty as well as right wing parties.

No, it doesn't look like t will be an intellectual debate on the merits of AV over First Past The Post but a long left wing rant at which I am sure an effigy of Maggie will appear for ritual burning.


I think I'll wait for the opportunity to attend a more intellectual debate.

Oh, and that comment I referred to sums it up really:
I don’t know about you but if changing our voting system means giving power to the likes of Richard Denton-White and George Galloway then I would sooner stick with what we have , at the end of the day they all look out for themselves first and all promises and principles go out of the window.
 Quite

Proof positive we have too many MPs

Some people seem to think that the new AV Bill which reduces the number of MPs is a bad thing and somehow undemocratic. Well, if those MPs are so under worked they can come out with this evil bollocks then I say the fewer the better:

Instead of employers deducting income tax then paying gross salaries to employees, the gross monthly payment would go to an HMRC-run tax “calculator”, which would then pass the net salary to the worker.

The reform would mean the end of traditional monthly payslips, because employers would no longer be able to tell workers how much tax they had paid each month.
Yes, that's right, all your money will belong to the state and then they will decide how much pocket money you can have back. This is the same bureaucracy that can't even get you tax coding correct and then demands you pay them back at threat of imprisonment for a mistake they made:

Nearly six million people in the UK have paid the wrong amount of tax.
About £2bn was underpaid via the Pay as You Earn (PAYE) system in the past two years, with about 1.4 million people owing an average of £1,500 each.
Even those who think that the state is benign must have concerns about this? Just think of the scale of this operation, 20 million households waiting for the State to deliver their pocket money so they can pay the bills, buy food and just generally live. That same state which has some of the most militant and unionised employees will control all your money. What a wonderful bargaining position for Unison:

(15/06/10) "If this government picks a fight with us, then we will be ready for them,” declared general secretary Dave Prentis to a packed and cheering audience of members.

"Do not underestimate us. We will be fierce defenders of our members and the services they deliver. The government won’t know what hit them.

And if they get it wrong who do you complain to? Your boss? He'll be just as likely to have been messed about? Your payroll department? There isn't one, your company doesn't have one because it just hands a big fat wad of cash to the omniscient state.

You could complain to your nearest tax office, but they have all been closed (
January 13, 2010):

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) announced that 130 regional tax offices are to close, potentially forcing tens of thousands of taxpayers to travel further for advice and submit their self-assessment returns.

and (The Guardian,

Revenue and Customs is to cut 3,400 jobs and close 90 tax and VAT offices across the United Kingdom in the latest round of government staff cuts, it was revealed yesterday.

No doubt we'll be given the number of a very pleasant, eager, but ultimately unhelpful call centre somewhere in India.

Lets just hope that it is kite flying:
The tax authorities are consulting accountants, lawyers and businesses on the plans to reform the pay-as-you-earn (PAYE) system. 
And they all tell the government to firmly and politely go fuck themselves.

Looks like the new government is just going to take over from New Labour when it comes to idiotic and invasive legislation.

06/09/2010

If Iraq and Afghanistan weren't the priority, WTF was?

General Dannatt again:

It took until 2006, five years into the Afghan campaign and three into Iraq, for the MoD to decide its primary focus was “strategic success” in the two wars “in the context of countering global terrorism”, he writes. “The question of MoD priorities was not clarified until the Defence Board held an 'away day’ of discussions in late October.” The situation “defied logic”, he adds. 
If those two wars weren't the priority, what was? It beggars belief that the whole of MOD wasn't focused on them.

Which is why we get this outburst as well, with which I have some sympathy:

He claims civil servants live in a “cocooned environment”, where vested interests come first, meaning “the man on the ground has been short-changed”. 
One of my last jobs in the army was working in a department with a very high number of civil servants and I had one working alongside me, although he claimed that as his military equivalent rank was a major he somehow had control.

Anyway, without exception they all knew exactly what they ere entitled to and how to get the most out of the system. If we were going away on a job my own civil servant wanted to be picked up at 0555hrs, as this was before 0600hrs, the cut off time for him to get a hardship allowance. He would only go to Cyprus every two years as he only go a warm weather allowance every other year and wouldn't have got one in between. And the amount of time lost discussing which civil servants were entitled to their own desk, carpet, hat stand and other trivia used to send our military boss round the bend.

So I can sympathise with General Dannatt, especially as his civil servants were putting lives as risk:

He describes how nine years after being agreed, a much-needed scheme to acquire a set of armoured vehicles collapsed in a bureaucratic mire. He spent a day with an American equivalent system in 2008, he says. “It nearly broke my heart. They had almost exactly what we needed”. Gen Dannatt writes that when he took over as Chief of the General Staff in 2006, it was clear there was little political appetite for a rethink of the defence budget. 

Ed Balls and defence spending

Ed Balls was interviewed on Radio 5L the other night night and was asked about General Dannatt's recent attack on Labour:
Gen Sir Richard Dannatt criticised Mr Brown for inadequate funding and said Mr Blair lacked the "moral courage" to make his chancellor deliver money.

He, Balls, waffled and whined about the General Dannatt being some sort of Tory stooge because he had been a Tory adviser. Balls is renowned as being one of the nastiest politicians on the circuit so I suppose it would never enter his head that people like General Dannatt have a mind of their own, but more importantly have high very moral values and standards

But that's by the by, what I wanted to talk about was Balls' defence of Labour's defence budgets. He claimed, and wasn't challenged, that in the 10 years before Labour came to power the Tories cut defence spending by 30% and then Labour raised it by 11%. The answer sounded a bit too pat, but lets take this claim at face value, yes I know it's Ed Balls but I haven't got the time or inclination to do the research, and lets do something the interviewer didn't do, think about what he said.

Firstly, lets consider those Tory defence cuts and what happened between 1987 and 1997. A quick check of the history books and we find that the cold war came to an end, signified by the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. With the end of the cold war we were promised a "peace dividend":

The peace dividend is a political slogan popularized by US President George H.W. Bush and UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the early 1990s, purporting to describe the economic benefit of a decrease in defense spending. It is used primarily in discussions relating to the guns versus butter theory. The term was frequently used at the end of the Cold War, when many Western nations significantly cut military spending.
So we had an excuse, real or not, to cut defence spending and from my memory every one, including the Labour Party were screaming for cuts and the money to be spent on the poor.

After a few of years of this peace dividend with not a lot happening we probably could afford to save a bit on defence. Then, as we all know, we voluntary entered not one, but two hot wars. Now it doesn't take a great mind to realise that if you are going to war it is going to cost more, not least because those expensive munitions, like missiles, get used at rate much faster than they do in peace time training. What's more, the enemy has a habit of shooting back and destroying things which also have to be replace; the bastards.

If Labour increased defence spending by 11% all I can say is, it probably wasn't enough

05/09/2010

Hello World!

helloThat's the traditional greeting the those learning a new computer language write to the screen with their first coding. I suppose its not quite apt as I have been blogging for a few years, but have decided to start a new blog.

You can find out about my past blogging life and why I have decided to reincarnate here and maybe follow some of my old posts.

I do intend to be a bit more parochial with this blog and tackle issues around living in the country as well as some of the usual national stuff but all from the same  position, a libertarian, small government, world would be a much better place for all of us.