Archive for the 'Rants' Category

Zero Commute

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019

I’m spending a few days virtually back at my desk rather than physically, and it makes a nice change; a good hour and a half more in bed, and a walk to the dining table (or indeed the garden) with a laptop, a mobile and my USB headset compares favourably to pumping the air full of hydrocarbons and NOx on the M5. My usual commute is a particularly wasteful exercise in many ways, taking over 2 hours out of my day at least, and costing both cash and the planet, but my employer is mostly OK, my colleagues are great, and the money isn’t bad. I could do a lot worse, basically. My recovery sees me moving better, but not quite ready to drive to work, so I’m at home with VPN, IP Softphone, and a mobile. That means I get to choose Planet Rock (over Internet radio rather than DAB), get pussy cat company, and get a shorter walk to the kettle and toilet. Oh, and my productivity has gone up, at least on the specific tasks I’ve got to do at the moment, due to fewer interruptions. What’s not to like?

Well, some employers are doubtless concerned that if their employees are out of sight, they’ll be fucking about all day watching Homes Under The Hammer, sloping off to the shops, sleeping, wanking, whatever, but then in this post I discussed that happening right under their noses anyway; this is a fairly simple management question: if your employees aren’t producing, you should be able to tell. People who work for themselves have to be organised about this, and it’s perfectly possible for a wage-slave to do the same: I’ve done a full day’s work, just removed the pollution at time-wasting of the commute.

I know I’ve whined about this before, and I also recognised that telecommuting doesn’t work for some people- in fact, at times it won’t work for me.

But as journey times increase and our roads gridlock more and more, just why do we all travel like this all the time?

Bloody Useless Council

Monday, March 4th, 2019

Against my better judgement, I’ve become more active on Facebook. Under a pseudonym. I’ve got drawn into local groups, and there’s a predictable theme in many of them, something that reminds me of an old Alexei Sayle joke that I can’t find a Youtube clip for.

I’ve been using this toilet for 6 weeks and no-one from the council has been round to flush it for me.

The theme is largely “it is all the council’s fault”, where “it” could be anything from bus price rises, homeless and beggars, crime rates, to empty shops, to anything fucking else, to be honest.

I’m all for taking Walsall Council to task, but let’s be realistic here. People imagine that the council is rolling in cash from “all our council tax” (oh, apart from the proportion of that spent in overseas aid, apparently, despite that being proved as bollocks from the accounts), people think the council can approve or deny planning based on a whim, and that they control rent and business rates.

So then. Here we go:

1) Buses. Buses are run by private companies. National Express, mostly, round here, with a few others- notably Arriva in Staffordshire. They set the fares, and buy, maintain and run the vehicles. The bus stops are maintained by the West Midlands Combined Authority.

2) Homeless People. There’s no council housing. Thatcher sold it off, and councils haven’t been able to build houses for years; the only social housing gets built by housing associations. You can thank the Conservative government’s austerity measures and the bedroom tax for the fact that social housing is in short supply and expensive, and for the cutting of social care too,so the council’s powers are very limited. As to taking over empty buildings- as they don’t own them (see below), why should they take them over? If you owned a empty office lock, would you want it taken over and used as a shelter, or would you want the opportunity to rent it at a market rent?

3) Empty Shops. Shops shut down because there’s not enough money being spent to sustain them, plain and simple. The reason that you don’t have enough shops, or the wrong sort of shops (fast food, charity shops, pound shops etc etc), or no shops at all is called capitalism and market forces; if there’s not enough money coming in, then they can’t pay the rent and rates and their staff. (see 4 below) The shops that do survive survive precisely because people use them, enabling them to make money. You might want a nice focaccia bread and olive shop in Park Street, but unless it stands a chance of making money (hint: it doesn’t), then you’ve got fuck all chance of that. Retail is in decline and changing everywhere. There’s fewer butchers and bakers because we all buy from the supermarket; there’s fewer record shops because of Amazon, iTunes, and Spotify; the list goes on.

4) Rent and Business Rates.

The council should cut the rents and rates so shops could afford it.

The council do not own most of the shops. They do own the Saddler’s Centre (and they will in all likelihood be criticised for buying it, in the future, when the shops are all empty), but that’s about all. The majority of shops are owned (and therefore have rent set) by property investment firms like London & Cambridge. Business rates are set by Central Government, so no chance there, either. Also:

They built all those new shops at [location] and they’re all empty. Waste of council money.

Whoever built it, it sure wasn’t the council.

5) Begging. Again, the cuts in social care, the reduction in addiction support programs, and the basic all-round selfishness of our society means that some poor fuckers have nowhere else to turn. It’s funny how the people most offended by this are so often a close intersection with the bastards that voted for it.

6) Planning.

They shouldn’t allow planning permission for [x] because there’s too many of [x] and [optionally] I don’t like [x].

Typically, X will be a fast-food outlet or a takeaway.

Thankfully, councils don’t have the power to refuse planning on the basis that you don’t like something.

They granted planning for [y] and that ruined [z]

[y] might be an out-of-town shopping centre, for example.

Since national government reduced council’s powers on planning, they couldn’t refuse a reasonable request, so the developer of [y], if he’s clever, can just do it. All that troublesome red tape that we got rid of, see? Red Tape. That stuff that stops people doing exactly what the fuck they like, regardless off the impact on others? Better off rid of it.

I’ve not done an Evil Overlord post for a while. Evil Overlord 22: people who mindlessly blame the council for stuff they aren’t responsible for get to man the phones there for a few months.

It feels wrong to be be defending Walsall MBC, but I just wish people would get their facts straight and perhaps just think.

Hearing You Loud & Clear

Sunday, November 11th, 2018

I’m going to whinge, like the miserable, middle-aged man I am, with a first-world problem.

On Friday, I had an afternoon off, so we went into Walsall, and for a change to The Fountain.

I used to love The Fountain, but my last few visits have resulted in a change of heart, and it’s people that are the problem. Jeebus, I hate people 🙂

Further people to hate materialised when we went for something to eat. We went to Golden Moments, a Indian restaurant that’s been there forever, and that we’ve used for some 30 years now. It’s a step above the ordinary curry house- not expensive or overly posh, but relaxed, pleasant, and a nice place to be, which made their behaviour all the more…irksome.

It’s something I’m increasingly seeing, and it seems really odd to my late 40s mind: not just taking a phone call in a quiet restaurant, but using speakerphone to do so, and having it loud, and shouting, seemingly oblivious that the whole place can hear the conversation.

What is this? Is it learned behaviour from The Apprentice or countless other “reality” TV programmes (where there is at least a reason for it), or is it just total ignorance?

I’m not the only one to wonder this: from Mumsnet to Reddit, via Digital Spy, people are mystified.

My opinion? Some people are just entitled, inconsiderate fucks.

Independent Thought

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

I picked up this article on Unherd via Twatter, bemoaning the loss of bus services in rural areas, and the general loss of non-profitable bus services, especially outside the capital.

It’s a good article, and you can see the impact, even around here, with a good, sensibly priced bus service. As I’ve commented before, some close-by areas in Staffordshire are now unreachable out of peak hours, even if we have gained a service to Lichfield.

Now, my blog was kind-of focused on my restricted opportunities for going on the piss, but also mentioning less well-off workers: the people that are out working for a living but can’t afford the considerable expense of a car.

The article mentions those, and adds another category: pensioners who either can’t afford a car, or indeed can’t drive (perhaps they never learned, perhaps medical conditions prevent it) even if they can afford it.

All of these people are being hit by reduced services and increased prices as subsidies are reduced and the non-profitable routes are stopped or limited. Getting to work, the shops, the job centre, medical appointments etc, and yes, the pub, suddenly gets harder, more expensive, and more time-consuming. People are getting isolated.

All of this because a route doesn’t stack up on a balance sheet. The real social cost of poor public transport acn’t be measured in cash terms. The private-sector model has its place, but it’s not here.

No More Beyond the Northern Wastes

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

With the reduction of subsidies from Staffordshire Council, our relatively recent discovery of Chasetown and Burntwood as places to drink and eat looks like it will end in April, when the NXWM 10 bus route stops going further than Brownhills at off-peak times.

This is a bit tedious; that’s exactly the sort of times I’d be wanting to use it, but it’s just an inconvenience: I don’t rely on that route for work. There’s changes to Arriva services too, which means a Saturday evening trip to The Crystal Fountain is out, too- and even a daytime visit would mean some clock-watching in early evening.

As I said, this is just inconvenience for me, limiting my drinking choices. I’ll live. It could be more serious for working people (let’s not forget that not everyone works 9-5, and not everyone has access to a car).

It is, of course, a direct result of council cuts, caused by government austerity measures, once again most seriously affecting the poorer people the most: those that can’t afford taxis or a car.

The other factor here, of course, is our old friend bus deregulation. The bus companies are private enterprises, with obligations to shareholders. They want t make money, so if a route isn’t profitable, and they’re not being subsidised by a council, they’ll stop running it- and who can blame them?

Why is it a surprise our roads are choked by private cars?

Good old free enterprise, working for the good of all, again. Thank $deity we’re free of the inefficient shackles of public transport run by non-profit organisations.

LMGTFY

Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

A minor intertubes annoyance of mine.

I use Google Maps quite a bit. Not massively for sat-nav, as I’m a terrible luddite for navigation, and don’t have a suitable car holder, but for finding pubs, bars, restaurants, stations, shops etc if walking. I’ll use the reviews as a guide, and I contribute back to it as well: I’ll edit places I know are wrong, I’ve added photos of opening times that Google can scan and publish automagically.

Overall, it’s pretty cool. Yes, you’re dealing with a big evil tech firm, and they’re getting a lot of data for free, but it’s useful for me, and the contributions may be useful (they’d be even better if it would let me add The Jigger’s Whistle, but meh).

One thing, though, is troubling me. Nagging away at me like an untraceable rattle in the dashboard.

Questions. Questions asked by people too damn lazy and/or stupid to do even the most basic research on the computer they are in front of or holding in their hand. The maps app on my phone will occasionally prompt me about a place it knows I have been and say

Someone has a question about [place], can you help?

and like a twat, I’ll view the question, because it’s good to help.

Here’s a typical example, with a fairly succinct answer from another contributor.

FFS. Let me Google that for you.

Really? Not even a full sentence, and the answer should be pretty fucking easy with the fucking Internet in front of you, shouldn’t it?

Looks pretty easy to me. Fuckwits.

Password Authentication Protocol

Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

I’m not known for my love of politicians: I generally hold the opinion that anyone looking to become a politician should automatically be prevented from doing so. Politiciana, I feel, are generally out for themselves, are often involved in debates that they’re ill-qualified to speak in. I know there’s exceptions, I know some politicians are direct and work hard to represent their constituents.

But I also know that there’s also terribly ignorant people in the House of Commons.

Great example, this week. Damien Green is under investigation because a large quantity of e-smut was found on his PC.

Now, let’s be clear: I don’t care about the actual porn. Nothing was illegal, so if he feels the need to knock one out at at work, I don’t see the problem provided he’s alone and has sufficient tissue to hand, if you’ll forgive the expression- if indeed it was him viewing the pr0n.

And there are the problems. First of all, porn sites are famed for introducing malware, so somewhat ironically, if you go looking for Internet sex, you stand a higher chance of encountering a dose of the e-pox.

Secondly, there’s a question that it was him. Nadine Dorries was quick to leap to his defence:

and was then followed by a truckload of MPs saying similar things. Jumping over one another, in fact, to say just how shit they are.

So, essentially, it’s common practice for MPs to share their passwords with all and sundry. MPs that represent us, store our personal data, and make the laws of this country, showing an apalling lack of good practice. For a really good, in-depth analysis of just what is wrong here, take a look at Tim Turner’s Information Law Blog.

In the meantime, just take a while to think about these people who are too important to take your data seriously.

Breaking the System

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

I’ve been in hospital again. Less involved than last time, but another reduction in mobility that sees me off work for a short while, and reduced mobility for a while. I’m grumpy too, because I can’t get out to the pub, and that dancing program is on.

What I’m going to whinge about this time is the running of the NHS at the moment, no, in fact, the systematic disassembly of the NHS by the current government.

Something happened that I’m fundamentally opposed to. Not opposed enough to refuse treatment, obviously, but something that sticks with me.

I was treated in a very nice Spire private hospital, just up the road in La-di-dah Little Aston. I hadn’t suddenly discovered untold riches, and got private insurance that would actually cover my fucked-up body, or tested the limit on my credit card by paying for it myself- the NHS paid. Very nice it was too, pleasant, seemingly unstressed staff, a comfortable private room, decent food after the op. Free parking for my other half to collect me (though there’s a question over if that’s a good thing or not at a large site).

This annoys me in two ways:

Firstly, I would imagine that Spire made some cash out of NHS budgets.

Secondly, NHS hospitals could be more like this. Where it really counts. When I was last in, and the time before, my care was great. Staff were really good, but stressed, and overworked. I didn’t get that feeling in Little Aston- when I was in a bed that I’d bled over, it was changed with little fuss in about 10 minutes flat, simply because the staff had time to do it.

Despite what many would have you believe there’s no reason why the NHS couldn’t be like this. Much of the stuff we’re told about our “failing NHS” is manufactured, precisely to allow the privatisation-by-stealth I’ve played a reluctant part in, and it’s just plain fucking wrong.

If we didn’t have an NHS, I would not be here today. The circumstances of my birth not far off (not far enough!) 50 years ago meant that without the NHS I’d have died, simple as that: my family were not wealthy (not that poor, but not wealthy). I have family and friends who have been saved more recently than that. These same people would, like me, be told to go and fuck off by private health insurance.

Let’s not split hairs here: the objective here is to make money for the rich, and price anyone who isn’t rich out. Stop funding it properly, farm bits out to the private sector (because they’re always more efficient, huh?), preparing the ground to privatise the whole fucking lot. After all, it worked a fucking treat with the railways, buses, and energy, didn’t it- they’re all perfect examples of a well-run private-enterprise system working cohesively and efficiently for everyone’s benefit. The increased competition keeps prices down and efficiency up so well, and there’s no cases whatsoever of near-monopoly funded by the taxpayer to line the pockets of wealthy fucking twats.

If you think you’ll be fine because you’re healthy, you’re young, or you have a good job, take a good hard think: Life can have a good go at fucking all that up and showing you up to be a fool. If you have a hint of a prior health problem, the insurance companies will be off into the sunset before you know it. If you become ill, and lose that job, you’ll be unable to pay the premiums anyway.

Our NHS is one of the genius strokes of government policy (a decidedly rare thing), and we’re allowing it to be wrecked.

I do have a fairly decent job. I pay a reasonably large amount of income tax each month. You know what? I’ll willingly pay more if that is what it takes to fund the NHS properly, and if you don’t agree, you’re a fucking short-sighted idiot.

Make Tech Difficult

Monday, December 12th, 2016

One of the things non-techies hate about tech is the complexity of setting some things up, and the rise of IoT, and the ubiquity of smartphones and home broadband has meant that our homes have more and more tech, and that tech is expected to talk to the cloud, and perhaps talk back.

Manually configuring this gear can be a bit tricky, so there’s a bunch of things making it easier. Your ISP may well provide a router, with default passwords. IP cameras will “phone home” to the manufacturer’s site to register themselves, so you don’t have to manually set up dynamic DNS. That router from your ISP will probably use UPnP so it can open ports for the camera and any other devices. Things like Nest or Hive bypass that by depending on a server in the cloud on someone else’s computer to make the connection.

All nice so far. Even better, these things are putting my favourite OS, Linux out there. As Linux is free, and powerful, and efficient on the low-power chips in these devices, it gets used a lot.

You’d think I’d be pleased.

But there’s a problem. Lots of these devices have poorly implemented security. Others depend on a hosted service, so if someone decides to stop supporting it, or indeed changes the API you have an expensive paperweight.

The Mirai attacks first turned IP cameras into a huge botnet, and now malware has got its hands on routers: the very device you expect to secure your home network, and let’s not forget that if your IP camera (inside your firewall/router) is compromised, it could be used as a tool to attack your PC, and the router will happily help out by opening ports for it: many cameras have poor web interfaces and hardcoded “root” passwords (I have one myself with a password of “123456”)

I realise I’m sounding a little like a luddite here; or perhaps the techie complaining about tech doing stuff itself and therefore meaning people need fewer techies, but here’s the rub: the more of this stuff that gets out there, the bigger the attack surface, the bigger the gain, and the bigger the effect on everyone. So, a little advice:

1. Think if you really need that IoT device.
2. Change default passwords.
3. Consider tossing your ISP-supplied router. It’s probably shit anyway. Turn off UPnP, even if that means you have to get help opening and forwarding ports. There’s a fucking good reason a firewall closes ports, so why bypass that?
4. Consider not buying the very cheapest IP cam like mine 🙂
5. If you invest in cloud-connected devices, entertain the fact that you just lost control of them.
6. If there’s updated firmware, use it.
7. Linux does not mean secure. The kernel itself probably is, but a lot of embedded devices are poorly secured.

Self Serving

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

Is it a necessity that if you design a self-service till for a shop, that you must fuck up the UI so badly that it’s totally unusable?

I’m a techy. I love shopping online, I hate supermarket queues, and I’m not yet old enough to look forward to a chat with the cashier, so you’d think I’d love them.

I probably would, were they not so shit.

First, they’re all touch-screen. Industrial touch screens are shit. Laggy, no haptic feedback, imprecise- so unlike the touch-screen on your phone or tablet. Add to this that they’re usually a lousy bit of software- slow and laggy- and then a bit of ambiguous wording, and the fact that you want the till to verify all the items (and the correct items) are being scanned and bagged, and you have a big, big, fail.

I’ve used 2 recently. 1 in a WH Smith at the QE hospital, and one in a convenience (oh the irony) store in Birmingham’s New St. The WH Smith one, to be fair, asks sensible questions (did you use a bag (or not need to), did you take one of our bags), but it’s still laggy, but by the second time you use it you learn the shitness of the UI and compensate.

The one on New St today was awful, however: the touchscreen worse than normal, it was slow, and it starts with the question “Own Bag?”. This is ambiguous. What it wants you to do here is say yes if you have a bag you want to put on the scale it uses to sense what is being scanned, and no if you don’t, and that scale is directly behind the handy-looking platform you assume is to put a bag on.

Having crossed that bridge with the help of the bloke that could have just taken the 70p for the bottled water I bought, I then encountered the coin mechanism; a mini conveyor belt that takes several seconds to swallow a pound coin (and yes, the WH Smith one does this better, but not well), and longer again to deliver my change. A bloke at a till would do it in a quarter of the time.

Am I alone in this? I happily use pay-at-pump fuel pumps, ticket machines in car parks or rail stations, and vending machines. There’s just something awful about supermarket self-service tills that makes me want to avoid them.

Someone must have costed this out, and decided that the combination of having a member of staff to help people work the tills, and the losses from intentional or deliberate mis-scans is cheaper than staffing tills, presumably, but at least could they be made to work?