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29 September 2008

What a load of Bankers!

I think, in the current financial climate, that Cockney Rhyming Slang is highly appropriate here .. What a load of Merchant Bankers!

Our lords and masters on both sides of the Atlantic have allowed unprincipled, greedy, selfish, so-called financiers to line their pockets with fat profits and bonuses (even for failing), and have only just woken up to the seriousness of having a poorly regulated capitalistic system operate inside a moral vacuum.

So now we have the ludicrous spectacle of governments (again on both sides of the Atlantic) proposing to nationalise banks. It's even more of a ludicrous spectacle in the USA where the mother of all capitalist systems currently in the hands of a right-wing free-market administration is having to consider what can only described as Socialist measures!

I woke up this morning to learn that a quarter of my savings now rests with a Spanish bank, (Santander having agreed to buy the savings section of our collapsing Bradford & Bingley Bank; the mortgage side of the business, i.e., the "toxic" side, is now in the hands of the UK Government, aka the taxpayers).

I can still remember the far-off days when banks were regarded as safe, respectable institutions. When I got my first bank loan I was interviewed by a gentleman old enough to be my grandfather who quizzed me on my job, my prospects, my salary, and my ability to pay back the loan over an agreed number of years. Now, up and until a few short months ago I could get a loan by telling some minion young enough to be my grandson how much I wanted, and then I just filled in a form. Only the other week, I got a cold phone call from some financial institution or other telling me they had received my loan application. When I advised him I had not request a loan recently he asked if I would like one.

As I said before - what a load of bankers! 

17 September 2008

The dubious joys of Technology

Sometimes our technological wizardry can drive you nearly insane. The pace of change is such that you have to have a strong will to keep up. One of the problems is that designers often seem to design gadgets with themselves in mind rather than the average man or woman in the street who is going to buy it. 

Why, for example, does our microwave oven have control buttons identified with black text on a dark brown background? They are, to all intents and purposes, invisible. Now, the designer knows perfectly well the functions of all these controls, but I don't. I do not spend my working day thinking about microve ovens, so on the occasions I want to do something specific with my device I want to be able to see at a glance which does what without resort to a torch and a magnifying glass.

Then there's the cooker knobs, where the temperature markings wear off after a year's use, so now it's all guesswork.

The nightmare controls of VHS and DVD television recorders is well known. It is often said that if you want to program your recorder to catch your favourite show on the night that you are taking your wife out to a well-deserved dinner then you call in one of the grandchildren to do it for you. Actually the field of TV recording is one in which I am pleased to be able to admit that things are getting better rather than worse. The advent of the digital TV recorder, and in particular the "Sky+" system (and it's equivalents) make the business of setting up future recordings almost a pleasure; you can even tell it to record an entire series, and moreover you can be watching something totally different at the same time.

Don't get me started on personal computers. I love the things because of the way they (and the Internet) have transformed our lives and relationships, but I also hate their ability to crash at a critical moment and I loath the all-pervading influence of the Microsoft operating system and associated software they have imposed upon us. It's good to see, at last, real challenges to Microsoft: people like Mozilla and Google. It took the Mozilla Firefox web browser to show us that we didn't really have to use Internet Explorer if we didn't want to, and I suspect that without them leading the way with their superior browser we would not have had the benefit of the greatly improved Internet Explorer version 7. Now Google has come along with another browser called "Chrome" (still in beta) and I like it. It's faster than IE7 and has some good extra features. In it's current beta form, if you find any web page failing in some regard because you are using Chrome then you can easily notify Google of the problem and send a screen shot of the problem page.

Our cars now have so much technology in them that laws against the use of mobile phones when driving almost seem irrelevant when you consider the host of other potential distractions in front of you: CD players, MP3 players, radios with complex menu systems, automatic climate control buttons, rear window demisters, front window demisters, cabin lights, reading lights, windscreen wiper settings, fuel levels, miles per gallon right now, miles per gallon on average, hours driven, distance travelled this journey, distance travelled since you last had sex, and satellite navigation displays sending you down country lanes leading nowhere or a voice telling you to turn round on a motorway.

Yesterday my wife and I were doing some decorating in the bathroom and every now and then we could hear this electronic bleep. It occured about once every five minutes and at first we though it was something outside the house. We ignored it for some time, but eventually it began to worm its way into our brains and become annoying. The annoyance grew as we began to look around the house at all things electrical to see what it was trying to attract our attention. We disabled the downstairs smoke alarm, we disabled the upstairs smoke alarm, we looked at wireless "mice", we ripped batteries out of electronic weighing scales, we did the same with an electronic blood pressure monitor. The bleeping continued - a tiny little high-pitched bleep (more of a "blip" I suppose) every five minutes - coming from nowhere in particular. We were now reduced to ripping small battery alarm clocks apart, even though we knew that they had never, never given low-battery warnings, and were not designed to do so.  We took the batteries out of a Nintendo "brain trainer". Still it continued.

We forgot about the electronic intrusion whilst we watched evening television, and then when to bed. But we couldn't sleep; there was that bleep again. I tried to ignore it, but you can't, can you? You are laying there with your eyes closed trying to relax but actually you are just waiting for the next bleep. And you are never disappointed. It comes again.

Eventually I leaped out of bed, went across to my wife's handbag, took out her mobile phone. It was still switched on, and there it was .. "1 new message" .. a service announcement from Vodaphone.

The dubious joys of Technology.

11 September 2008

Searching for the "God Particle"

Well, the CERN Large Hadron Collider has been switched on, and God knows what the 10,000 scientists involved are going to find when they start smashing these atomic particles together at nearly the speed of light. One wag has already suggested that, far from seeing what happened a millionth of a second after the "big bang", we might see what happened a millionth of a second before the "big bang" and it might be that what we shall see will be scientists switching on the ORIGINAL Collider!!

Anyway, I suspect that even if they find "Higgson's Boson" (or the "God Particle") I suspect we shall not be any the wiser. After all, assuming they find it, one then has to ask the question "Where did THAT come from?"

Was there NOTHING before that? What is the nature of NOTHING? How does NOTHING become SOMETHING?

Answers on a postcard please ..