Political point scoring? Politics by penalty shootout.

I am guessing anyone who has found their way to this page has seen Question time this week in which Shadow Cabinet Minister, Angela Eagle MP, was accused of political point scoring in demanding the resignation of Lord Freud for stating that those who were not ‘worth’ the minimum wage due to disability should be permitted to accept a lower hourly wage.

Lord Freud has been quoted out of context in many places.  In reality the question seems to have been posed by a father who was concerned about the future employment prospects of his disabled daughter.  Without this context the appearance is that Lord Freud is a heartless Conservative ogre with little respect for human rights.  I kind of get the impression that a similar description would suit most MPs so I am not going to dwell on it.  I have certainly met many MPs who have impressed me with their humanity but it seems that once they are given positions of power in the executive they have to make choices between their principles and practicality.  For a prime example of this I would consider the pleas to end ‘Punch and Judy Politics’ before the election by Mr Punch David Cameron.  Another example would be the pro-Europe attitudes of many MPs until UKIP started doing well, whereupon their principles were pushed to the back of the shelf.

Certainly one aspect of the Punch and Judy system of politics is that one must always try to stick the dagger in when the time seems appropriate.  Those who succeed in achieving positions of power seem to have got there partially due to this particular skill.  Naturally Angela Eagle would say that Lord Freud should resign; it is probably the opinion of most people in the shadow cabinet that the entire Tory government should resign, so that can’t really be held against her.  Of course she did seem somewhat surprised that her failed attempt on the point scoring goal seems to have been met with complete hostility by so many people that even those who agreed with her (all across the nation) quietly started examining a bit of fluff they hadn’t realised was stuck on their sleeve whilst feigning a moment’s deafness.

Since then there appear to have been a constant barrage of penalty shootouts against Angela Eagle for having used the opportunity to try and make Lord Freud look bad.  Aside from the fact that Lord Freud was doing perfectly well with making himself look bad already it is the Punch and Judy nature of her response that lost her the opportunity to make an extremely valid point.  In fact she did make the exact point she wished to make but it was completely missed on two occasions because the audience was too intent on scoring points against her for her attempt to score points.  The newspapers have now gotten hold of the political football and are hurriedly scoring political points all over the place.  Angela Eagle only tried to score one point and now there are balls flying all over the place.

The one thing she repeated which should have been heard was that it should not be an issue of money.  It was put to her that Lord Freud’s intent was fully reasonable and everyone knew what he had meant, as though what he had meant was eminently sensible.  Angela Eagle suggested that it was a weakness of the Conservatives that they always brought things down to the issue of money.  The point she wanted to make, at which she should have stopped, is that there could be other ways of doing things.  Employers could be shown how their businesses could benefit from the diversity offered by disabled employees.  There could be ways to balance the work done so that those whose abilities didn’t cover all tasks could take up the slack in areas where they might excel, whilst more able bodied workers could cover for them in other areas.  The efforts of disabled workers could be coordinated to make them more effective.  Fittingly this task could be done by someone who had knowledge of what it is like to be disabled, this would enable many disabled people to be employed in this capacity as well.

Some of those were my own ideas rather than ones put forward by Angela Eagle.  The point I wish to make is that she was right to the extent that all issues cannot be solved by simply throwing money at them.  Whilst one way to get employers to take on disabled employees would be to subsidise wages this is not an ideal solution in our current economic climate.  When all that is on George Osborne’s mind is austerity and saving money the first option in any situation should not be to pay out money to deal with every issue on the agenda.  Subsidising the wages of the disabled is akin to paying employers to make the disabled go away.  Whilst it is the disabled who should be getting paid for the work they are doing, it is the employers who are being paid to hide them from public view.  The system would be ripe for abuse.  At present there are a huge number of people with disabilities in employment and the reason for this is that it has been discovered that many people on the autistic spectrum are actually far better than mentally typical people in many technology jobs.  By subsidising the wages of the disabled, government would only be encouraging employers to continue seeking out the best candidates for positions at a fraction of the cost.  Large companies would become expert in sourcing the best candidates for the lowest prices.  Also how would government accomplish the task of grading each individual to judge how great a subsidy they should receive?  Throwing money at situations leaves them ripe for abuse by those who are most adept at abusing situations for monetary gain.

The most ironic thing is that it was a Labour politician who was complaining about the idea of government paying out more money versus a Conservative politician that was suggesting there might be a way of dealing with the issue by the government paying more money.  It is my belief that most of our problems can be solved through methods other than spending cash.  We have all heard stories where the official line in some organisation has been that things must be done in a certain way that costs hundreds of pounds while the people involved have been saying something like, “If you just gave me the £2.50 for the bus fare I would do it myself.”  Again and again we hear tales of ridiculous amount of money being wasted not because the system allows it but because the system demands it.  During the MP’s expenses scandal there were tales that the clerks involved in controlling the expenses were the ones making the suggestions of how best to take the most money.

There are many times in our daily lives when we can see the absurdity of pricing and costs with the implications that they will eventually have on our environment.  I could waffle on for ages about ways in which money could be better used.  I don’t think that Angela Eagle’s point was too difficult to understand; it was just too easy to miss, especially in the noise of the furor over her ‘point scoring’.  Behind the call for Lord Freud’s dismissal she did make a very good point, one I think could be listened too and adopted by Conservatives, Labour, Libdems, Greens, whoever.  Our first approach to solving any political problem should never be to simply throw money at it.  We are all short of money, government included, but one thing that we all have in excess is common sense, but most of us rarely exercise it.

Dear Microsoft, please get it right next time.

Microsoft currently have a mountain of a task ahead of them.  The number of Windows versions in use at present displays a level of fragmentation that would make Android sit up and take notice.  Despite the dropping of support for XP earlier this year it still accounts for a quarter of computers according to Micromart this week.  This is not surprising considering that large enterprises that use hundreds or thousands of XP machines are able to pay extra to extend support.  There are also a large number of home users that are not too keen on spending over a hundred pounds to get a new OS.  I have a computer that still has XP on a partition because it is far more convenient for the support of older software and hardware.  It also means that the computer in question cost less to buy than simply the disc for a new Windows 8 installation.


Anyone who has been a regular purchaser of computers will know that Microsoft have a reputation for releasing dud operating systems inbetween every decent OS.  At the turn of the millenium they released such a dud that it has all but been forgotten.  Ask most people what came before XP and their answer will probably be Windows 98.  I have seen some machines that are still running the millennium edition.  Perhaps they will have massive value for rarity, it certainly won’t be for memorability.  After XP came Vista, an OS so universally hated that it currently only has 3% market share.  I had one of the first laptops running Vista and it consistently took 15 minutes from pressing the power button before it would recognise that there was anyone present who wished to do any computing.  Windows 7 was the rebound to an OS that was once again pleasant and useful.  As I have aged it feels like no sooner was Windows 7 released than they brought out the current atrocity that is Windows 8.


Atrocity may be a bit harsh as the OS has been significantly improved since it was first released.  It is actually the sort of OS I would be quite happy to use now if it weren’t for the fact that upgrading would cost me more than my desktop computer cost to buy.  When it was first released it only cost £20 for the upgrade.  Cynically I think that may be because it was so bad that they would really have needed to pay people to take it on.  Certainly charging a cheap price wasn’t enough to stimulate take up as only around 12% of users are on Windows 8 compared to approximately half of users on Windows 7.


Microsoft are aiming to fix all this with Windows 9, which is due out late next year.  It will be the unification of computer and mobile operating systems.  It will also reverse all the mistakes that were made with Windows 8.  Fingers crossed.  Despite running betas and doing huge amounts of consumer surveys MS somehow managed to completely ignore everyone’s concerns with their last attempt at a new OS.  It is almost as if they deliberately tried to create the worst possible OS because they knew that the Microsoft curse of the alternating success/failure would ruin it anyway.


It must be frustrating for MS when they see Apple release a new OS every year and the whole mac using clan clamour to get it so fast that the Apple servers clam up for the whole day.  Once Windows 9 has been released it is my hope that Satya Nadella will learn from the past and will start releasing new operating systems in the same way that Apple do.  Instead of releasing an OS so different that everyone hates it and no one knows how to use it.  They could release new versions every year which change only just enough to include new and helpful features that people want to see.  Instead of releasing an OS that has taken four or five years to develop for a week’s wages they could release an OS that has only taken a year to develop for the amount of cash you might spend in a couple of hours in the pub.  That strategy seems to work for Apple.  That is why almost everyone gets each new update.  People even deliberately go and buy new machines just so they can get the new software update.

If the Windows user base started taking up new updates that consistently, MS would reap the huge benefit that almost everyone would be using just one version of their software.  That has got to make support easier.  The problem in the first place is that Satya Nadella is essentially beginning a new era for Microsoft software.  In order to make it work he needs to get everyone on the same starting line.  The people who are still clinging to XP are not going to drop £100 or more for Windows 9 if they didn’t for Windows 8.  There are rumours that Windows 9 will be offered as a cheap upgrade for users of 8 but really it needs to be offered as a cheap purchase for all PC users.  If it was £20 across the board then MS might succeed in getting most users to adopt the new OS when it is released.  If it was free then they would have even more success.  Once the vast majority of users have been converted the wise thing to do would be to adopt a release schedule closer to that offered by Apple and not try to reinvent computing with each new release.  We may all benefit from change but it is in human nature to resist it.

A new approach to slugs.

I have decided that I am approaching slugs in the wrong manner.  Many folk deal with slugs by poisoning them with various types of slug pellets.  I have always been dead set against this method because anything that eats the slugs will also suffer effects from the poison.  One of the great things about a garden is the birdlife.  In fact the birdlife can be a great help by predating on the pests that plague your garden.  It is therefore not desirable for the birds to be poisoned by pellets all over the garden.

Another method of dealing with slugs is the beer trap.  This has always been my favoured method of getting rid of them because they can sink into oblivion after a night of drinking.  It doesn’t seem like killing so much as enabling.  This illusion is helped by the way in which so many of the slugs seem to just get drunk and then go and sleep it off under the lettuce rather than falling into the beer.

The method that I have found to be most effective is to remove the slugs from the garden.  Sending them all over the garden fence keeps them away from my plants for a while.  Luckily for the slugs I have a nice big grassy patch behind my house for them to spend some time in.  If not for that I would be torn between gifting them to the neighbours and throwing them on to the road at the front.  I feel far too sorry for the slugs to send them into the poisoned death traps of my neighbours’ gardens.  Other folk might feel sorry for the neighbours being invaded by slugs but I have some neighbours who I favour slightly less than the slugs.  The road is also not good as I feel sorry for the slugs hitting the tarmac as they soar over the hedge; I also wince every time I hear one hit a car roof or bonnet and worry what the drivers will think when they come out in the morning.

The problem with relocating the slugs is that they apparently have a rather good homing instinct.  I have therefore decided to focus on my new approach.  It turns out that there are about 25 different varieties of slug in the UK.  We are blessed with the kind of damp weather that most slugs love so they have done very well in our climate.  We are even picking up new varieties that are coming up from Spain.  It can often feel like there is only one variety because they all seem so similar.  We assume that the smaller slugs are younger versions of the big black ones we are used to seeing.  In actual fact it is the smaller ones that are the most trouble.  They are adults and they are a destructive army in their own right.

When targeting slugs it is very easy to go out and pick off the large black ones with a torch late at night.  This can help quite a lot, but it is actually the smaller ones that are most likely to be doing the greatest damage.  There are three or four different species of slug that are around 3cm or smaller and it is these that are the trouble makers.  Any gardener will be used to seeing slugs that are over 10cm in length but from my research it seems that these larger ones are less likely to be causing so much trouble.  

The smaller varieties will feed almost exclusively on things that I would rather grow nice and large to feed myself.  The larger slugs will often favour rotting vegetation, dead animals, and even other slugs.  They will only eat your nice fresh vegetables when they do not have access to enough of their preferred diet.  There are some larger slugs who will prefer nice vegetables instead of rotting matter but they are far less numerous than the tiny 3cm slugs that focus solely on your seedlings.  The irony is that as the larger ones are so much easier to see and catch it is they who have been taking flying lessons while the smaller slugs have been allowed to remain largely untouched as they go around eating my salad leaves.  They have probably become even more prolific in the absence of all the giants I have evicted.

My new approach is to keep the large slugs.  Rather than send them next door I am creating slug ghettos in which they can be put to work creating compost for the garden.  It always frustrates me how long it takes compost to break down.  If slugs are going to help me by digesting it then I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.  I have already noticed that some of them, particularly the paler ones seem to remain exclusively in their ghetto areas.

Step two of my plan which I intend to put into action soon is to cultivate the more favourable of the slugs.  The premium slug is the leopard slug.  It is lucky that it is this slug that is most beneficial for the garden as it is this slug that is most easily recognisable.  The leopard slug is covered in dots and dashes, so that it does look as though it has a leopard like skin.  The beauty of this particular slug is that as well as eating rubbish and rotting waste it will also hunt other slugs.  As a killer of slugs it is welcome in my garden.  There is always the danger that it might on occasion snack on some vegetables but this is a far lower risk than the risk of its prey eating my vegetables.

Hopefully the use of knowledge will lead to a lazier and more ecologically sound way in which to run my garden.  If this works it will back up my basic belief that almost anything can be improved by taking a different approach and using knowledge of your barriers to success in order to design methods to achieve your ends that contain fewer of the usual harms inherent in the prevalent systems in place. 

Looks like I have to save the world again.

I feel like today’s post may be a long one.  There seems to be so much despondency in the world that I wish to address.  Mind you, Barack Obama says it has always been like this, it is just that we never had Facebook to keep us continually informed before.  On the bright side it has come to my attention that there are a huge number of people trying to make things better.  There are the heroes who go to the darkest most dangerous places of the world to try and make a difference and end up getting killed or imprisoned, but there are also the heroes that are making small changes to the world around us that barely anyone ever notices.  In the end I wonder which will end up creating the longest lasting difference.  I like the Tibetan Buddhist approach; it will all work itself out eventually, lets just wait and see.

However, I guess that is kind of point number one on my saving the world score today.  For all the harm in the world there is also someone somewhere who is trying to fix it, they are just not all that newsworthy.  Besides which, if you knew about all the good stuff then you wouldn’t need to go out and buy yourself treats to cheer yourself up, the economy would fall, and big fat suited men wouldn’t be able to enjoy the finest cognacs… as much as they would like.  Rest assured there is good stuff going on.

But don’t grow complacent.  People are sorting things out but it is a big world and it needs a lot of people to help fix it.  Point number two on my world saving scale is that people don’t worry too much about trying too hard themselves because they think one person can’t make enough of a difference, but one person times a billion can.  While that might sound a bit preachy, it is actually beneficial for the individual more than it is for the world.  That’s right, being selfish enough to boost your own smugness with good deeds probably helps you more than the world.  The improvement in your own emotional health has been shown to be dramatic. If however you do genuinely care about the world more than yourself do not fret because if everyone selfishly boosts their own smugness by doing good deeds the result will be a better world as well.  How is that for a win win situation.

When it comes to substantive problems one of the worst at the moment is that people are hungry.  A rise in poverty is causing a great deal of people to need food banks.  Whilst there are a lot more poor individuals out there than most of us feel confident enough to help there is a way in which we can do it through selfish self interest if we all get behind it.  It is nice that the way I have in mind also saves us money, it improves our health through helping us exercise, helping us eat better, and helping us avoid harmful chemicals.  If you haven’t guessed, this is a gardening blog post.

Number one on my list of fears at the moment is related to GMO food.  I say related because GMO food has the potential to really help the world and everyone on it.  If a plant was genetically modified to have a massive yield despite the weather and soil conditions not being as great as they could, and there were no side effects then this can only be a good thing.  The problem for me is that currently the number one genetically modified crop being tried out is Roundup resistant maize.  The first problem with this is that being Roundup resistant it becomes possible to soak this crop with Roundup in order to kill all the weeds that might grow around it.  Now while I may be able to think of many reasons why killing the weeds might not be the best plan, such as the fact that any pests now have no choice but to eat the maize, leading to necessity for greater use of pesticides as well, or the fact that this will diminish the biological diversity of the soil and necessitate the need for more chemical fertilisers, it is actually the Roundup itself that bothers me most.

Roundup is a herbicide and as someone who has suffered from digestive disorders due to imbalance in intestinal flora it has worried me that traces of it on food can kill the flora in the intestines.  I have seen charts that show a correlation between increased use of Roundup and increased hospital visits from people who have conditions involving the digestion.  I have also seen correlations between the heavy use of Roundup in third world countries and the increased depression and suicide of the poorly educated farmers there who do not take precautions against exposure.  If you want to find this information a Google search can easily uncover it.  At some future time I may seek out the links but do not have the time today.

As far as I am concerned I am not too bothered by artificial fertilisers.  A lot of them seem fairly innocuous, though I have no doubt there may be a few harmful ones.  Pesticides bother me less than they might bother other people.  Recent testing has shown that there are foods coming into our country that contain banned pesticides such as DDT.  The most recent report showed leading tea brands which contained a number of banned pesticides and permitted pesticides in higher than permitted quantities.  I think that this sort of thing is more of an exception and I don’t think it is as worrying as the herbicides.  Mostly because people assume something intended to kill insects is going to be more harmful to humans than something intended to kill weeds.  It is the herbicides that are not worried about that may get through in the kinds of quantities that may be problematic.

For this reason I have taken to growing food.  This has a number of obvious benefits.  It keeps me healthy and young to keep having to plant seeds and dig holes.  When research has shown that every additional hour of sitting in a chair after hour number one can knock 20 minutes off your life expectancy then gardening is a good idea if you would like an extra five or so years of life.  It has the benefit of exercising my mind.  An active mind has been shown to keep one alive and more healthy as well, how else do you think judges keep working into their 80s?  Learning different varieties of plants and their properties is far better mind exercise than sitting and watching NCIS marathons, which I have not managed to stop doing.  I need to visit doctors far less often because many of the things that ail the population are caused by things in their diet.  The blind faith that people have in modern medicine is akin to the faith that people used to have in religion or magic.  Whilst medicine is taking a scientific approach, it is still in the stone age compared to our technology.  While you can run experiments on computers in a matter of hours dependent on what you want to know, it may take years to run an experiment involving a human’s health.  Not to mention you would need hundreds of humans in the experiment to be sure and there are also ethical problems with human experimentation, and the impossibility of being able to conduct the kind of pure science one can conduct in the laboratory, and the fact that if you could then it would be largely irrelevant to understanding what happens in the world outside the laboratory.  Almost all modern medicines are derived from things that grow outside in our gardens.  Generally the garden variety is healthier than the distilled and amplified chemical variety.

If everyone was out there then everyone would be working their physical fitness, learning and stretching their brains, eating fresh food that maintains all its vitamins in the minute or two it takes to get from the garden to the front door.  Surprisingly even those who prefer to grow floral gardens rather than vegetable gardens are still growing huge numbers of things that can be eaten or used in some way that can benefit your health.  I remember hearing about one person who worked in a health food store and he was always amused by the fact that people would come in and spend several pounds on a bag of chamomile teabags with its associated CO2 equivalent in packaging and delivery, when right outside the door of the shop there was loads of organic chamomile growing wild and fresh.  If we cultivated our knowledge we would all be saving a few quid at his shop.

A big problem of our disconnect with plantlife is that fewer and fewer people have gardens now.  Fewer people consider it a necessity, they are quite happy to move into apartments or town houses.  If more people insisted on gardens then it would benefit those who did not make the cost savings associated with having a store of free food right outside their house because gardenless properties would drop in price.  Our selfishness therefore has begun to help those who do not garden straight away as their rent drops.  As we no longer need to buy so much from the supermarkets it means that the supermarkets will need to become even more competitive and drop their prices more to try and maintain the sales they currently enjoy; our selfishness once again helps those without gardens.  If less food is being delivered and packaged because we don’t want it then the environment benefits; our selfishness is beginning to save the planet.  If the environment is not deteriorating at the previously expected rate then more money that was being used to save the planet can be diverted into improving public services; our selfishness in smugly growing our own food for our own health and enjoyment is just causing no end of good in the world.  With millions of gardeners growing their own food and saving their own seeds the number of vegetable varieties will increase as new varieties adapt to different climates and become ever more developed for size, flavour, etc;  it looks as though even if we fail to fix climate change we will have plenty of plants that have adapted to it, thanks to our selfish insistence of saving money by growing our own food and seeds.

Like I said before, if only one person tries to make a change then of course there is no change but if everyone tries then solutions are not far away.  The important thing is to realise it is not a chore or a pain, it is something that will make you feel happier, more accomplished and healthier.  What I have outlined in this page is not enough to save the world on its own, but I’m not Superman and I think that it is enough of saving the world to satisfy me for one day. 

A tech utopia could be possible in a different world.

Having just read the Guardian article ‘The tech utopia nobody wants‘ it occurred to me that laying the blame on the nerds was unfair.  To some the idea of feeding the poor the artificial food stuff ‘Soylent’ in lieu of food stamps is a mark of a repellent future, just as there are people who rebel against the idea of Google glass becoming ubiquitous.  The problem is not a problem with the technology though, the rapidly changing nature of technology merely highlights flaws that have existed in society since the enlightenment era began.

Certainly there are solid reasons to allow the developers of technology to have less control over our lives.  Almost every piece of software I use has a feeling of being a beta version.  Some software is released in permanent beta; much of the software we use is supposed to be a finished polished version but is far from perfect.  Bugs and flaws are a common experience while we work on our computers; imagine if we had to put up with bugs and flaws in every aspect of our lives.  In fact we do have bugs and flaws running through many aspects of our daily lives because so many things are based around very modern technology.  The hidden pollutants and costs that frequently appear in our power sources, or the health problems caused by food additives are two examples of how technology exists throughout our lives and is not just the domain of silicon valley.

A very broad definition of technology would probably take in much more than the electronic world.  Stephen Fry, who is known for his love of technology once gave the example of the lighter as being the most important gadget ever invented.  We are so used to the lighter that we barely recognise it as something that hasn’t always existed, but almost everything around us is technology embodied.  Go back a thousand years and the average person might only have owned half a dozen things.  They would have had their clothing, which would have been barely more than what we might think of as a potato sack; they would have owned a bowl and maybe a knife; they might have owned a stool to sit on and a scraggy straw mattress to sleep on.  Aside from that there were not a great many possessions for most people; they were lucky to own themselves.  In the time since then technology has furnished almost everything around us.

When we live in what is arguably a tech utopia, or dystopia, already it cannot be fair to complain that the chaps in silicon valley are only now creating a tech utopia we don’t want.  We have had it for years already.  The complaint that it is only just happening now is simply fear of change.

However, it is not change in my view.  It is more of the same that we have been getting throughout the last few hundred years.  Many people are not happy and those who are happy are fully aware of reasons for the others to not be happy.  My opinion is it all comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding of utilitarianism.  Jeremy Bentham was one of the most influential proponents of utilitarianism, which is basically the belief that the greatest happiness of mankind should be the ultimate aim of all effort.  Naturally there are trade offs and under a strict utilitarian view it would be acceptable to sacrifice the happiness of the few in order to guarantee the happiness of the many.  The cruelty of nature prevents more humanistic philosophies from being practical as we simply are not able to prevent all unhappiness, misery and harm.

Bentham’s philosophy has had a strong hand in the dominance of the free market system.  According to the understanding of the free market we should be able to bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people by allowing competition to bring prices down and increase efficiencies so that eventually everybody will be able to afford all the luxuries they could possibly wish for and live in nice warm houses with big screen TVs and plenty of food.

The flaw in this of course is glaringly obvious but often overlooked; the output of the free market does indeed make people happier but as anyone with the most basic understanding of physics can tell you:- for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and, matter and energy cannot be created from nothing, only transformed.  There may be many other ways of saying it but essentially the free market doesn’t only create output, it also uses input.  The output makes people happy but it is often very much overlooked how much the input can make people unhappy.

There are minorities who are unhappy about many of the effects of the free market; unregulated industries creating pollution and other environmental problems comes to mind immediately.  Utilitarianism allows for the misery of the minority so long as the majority becomes happier; for this reason it takes a lot of impetus before many of the complaints against the free market are dealt with.  Often the solution itself is an effect of the efficient operation of the free market in that customers deliver a message by altering their buying behaviour.  There are many different and overlapping minority opinions that eventually become resolved in this way like direct democracy in action.  There is an area where there seems to be an increasing problem that is being overlooked which offends against the principles of utilitarianism and the basis of why we wish to use a free market system – the input that is needed to create the output that benefits us.

When the original English economist Adam Smith travelled through Europe as a tutor he met the French economistes whose ideas inspired his later book, ‘The Wealth of Nations’ and kick-started our modern approach to economics.  The economistes grew to be known as physiocrats as economics developed on account of their view that the wealth of nations depended upon the agriculture of the nation.  It was agriculture that fed the horses and fed the men and thus allowed work to be done and allowed development to occur.  Prior to this, wealth was largely considered to be how much gold and silver a nation possessed.  Since those days, changes in technology have caused the wealth of a nation to be defined more by how much oil it can access.  The more oil a nation possesses the more machines it can power and the more plastics it can manufacture.  The majority of the input needed to create our output is therefore provided by oil fields and coal.  The problem is that there is still a link in the chain that has more in common with the early days of economics when Smith was travelling through Europe.  We may not make great use of horses anymore but production still relies a lot on people.

So while we take out all our products in the hope that we will create the greatest amount of happiness, we must still input our own efforts to produce them.  We find we are not as happy as we wish because we are not producing enough wealth and enough products, and our solution is to streamline our processes, and become more efficient.  We must work our factories harder and create more output in order to create this greatest amount of happiness.  In theory this should work but it seems that at a most basic fundamental level the powers who oversee this process have overlooked the fact that the consumer is also the creator.  The streamlining makes the overall amount of happiness decrease as men become automatons working in streamlined production lines, always aiming for greater efficiency.  The reward for achieving greater efficiency is to be challenged to achieve even greater efficiency by the next appraisal.

Societal happiness decreases.  The solution: push harder to be even more efficient.

This is not the approach in all nations of the world.  Many countries and many companies are well aware of the absurdity of this approach, but often they only have this luxury while wealth is abundant.

To bring this blog around full circle to my beginning point I think one of the major complaints that can be levelled at a technological approach is that we have become so good at inventing and building machines and computers that we have forgotten that not everything runs like a computer.  Our technology may be very advanced but our understanding of medicine, psychology, politics, and economics among other disciplines is nowhere near as advanced.  Our mistake is to think that the lessons we have learnt in technology can be applied across all disciplines.  The analogies do not work.  Society cannot be run like a machine because the happiness we are aiming to create exists outside the physical processes of creation and consumption.  Everyone is aware that as consumers we are not machines, but the thing that legislators seem to have forgotten is that as producers we are not machines either.

Today’s blog has not been optimised for Search Engines

Search Engine Optimisation is an unusual art.  Do you remember the days when you would do a web search and the first page you would click on would simply be a list of all the words you could think of that just happened to include your search terms.  Nowadays of course you can present a website of any sort of content and then simply put your wordlist in the metatags; a mild improvement.  I recently started ditching my independent websites when one of them, a wiki, was taken over by what must have been content introduced by bots.  I assume it was bots because otherwise someone really had too much time on their hands and too little talent to spend it creating anything original.  I am sure there was some esoteric reason for filling up gigabytes of space with complete garbage but I have no idea what it was.   Of course, filling up gigabytes of space with complete garbage is a trade for some people, usually attached to an income from advertising.  A recent trend has been to draw in people with click bait, such as ‘you will never believe the totally amazing thing that this girl does with her swimming costume’, ‘List of the top ten most awesome ways to get your perfect job’ or ‘Scientists discover that using toothpaste has been linked to death in your sleep’.  Most of the times the titles are misleading, not totally amazing, not difficult to believe, etc.  People still click on them though and for that reason the web is becoming overwhelmed with them, especially when the popularity of a link is part of what pushes it up the search rankings to make it more easily visible and therefore more often clicked so that the problem self perpetuates.   A lot of the time the people writing these articles are probably talented writers but like everyone else in the modern world have had to put their ethics and morals to one side in order to obey rules blindly in the short term rush to grab profits.  Websites claiming to be focussed on business are likely to be doing top tens of skimpiest bathing costumes and websites claiming to be focussed on technology are writing misleading headlines that show a complete misunderstanding of an underlying scientific discovery.   The overall effect is a lowering of quality on the internet.  Little wonder that newspapers are disappearing behind paywalls when they find that their quality journalism is being ignored 9 times out of ten by people who have latched onto a ridiculous story that looks like it should have been printed in the Sunday Sport or the Enquirer.  Little wonder that the quality of journalism in the quality press is also dropping.  There are a few quality magazines/papers left and they seem to be as big in paper as they are on the web.  To be on the web is a great way to become lost in an electronic forest amongst the noise of a billion digital trees of rapidly changing cultural memes.  There is no way to really know what will rise to the surface but in general it will be whichever items have made the greatest use of SEO.   Things will change though.  Just like the height of SEO sophistication at the turn of the century was to simply fill a webpage with the contents of a dictionary, we will find that the tricks being utilised today will eventually be picked apart by advanced search algorithms.  Even using a few fresh ideas of how to aim searches could radically alter the way in which we search the web.  As computers become better at filtering out the garbage a lot of the unworthy rubbish that wastes our time will begin to disappear.  Even learning to really use the search boxes in our browsers a little better could allow us to banish a lot of the things that annoy us.   In ten years we may be able to create our own filter bubbles to let us see only the things we want to see.  Much like we can now ask Google to show web results or news results or video results perhaps we will be able to set up our own advanced tabs where we simply click once and suddenly all the cats in boxes are gone and they have taken with them all the candidates for America’s funniest home videos and every mention of what Miley Cyrus did last week.  We can already have a lot of control with advanced search on Google.  Some of the other search engines also offer differing degrees of control but it all takes trouble and thought to craft every search. One day all the trouble that has been take with choosing all the right SEO terms and putting in links to pertinent places may all have been for nothing.  In the short term the sites have certainly gotten the attention they wanted but maybe the tarmac of dross that covers the surface of the internet will begin to crack as weeds start to find their way through into your searches, soon grasses and trees will start to push the tarmac apart and maybe the dross will be replaced by a flourishing ecosystem of information and data, the way the internet should have been, the kind of internet that can change the world.  Perhaps this blog might even be read by some people then instead of them spending their time watching Ray William Johnson telling a dick joke.   Today’s post was inspired by this page from ClickZ – http://www.clickz.com/clickz/column/2354997/is-seo-dead

Jimmy Savile and the Reality Distortion Field.

It is shocking to read the information that has been coming out at the inquiry into the activities of Jimmy Savile.  A lot of what has been said implies further actions that cannot be proven.  A child taken by Savile who is not seen alive again; admissions of strange behaviour in the morgue and abuse of bodies; the keeping of trophies taken from the dead; connections with children’s homes where sexual and physical abuse was now known to be rife.  Worst of all is the fact that all this latest information is only that which is associated with his behaviour within the hospital system.  There is such a huge amount of abhorrent behaviour that it is easy to forget that he would have led a similar life out in the rest of the world.

A lot of the claims being made against Savile in the NHS reports being discussed at Leeds General Infirmary sound so outlandish that if it weren’t known that this is an official inquiry it would be easy to believe that a lot of his behaviour was nothing more than urban legend surrounding a vile criminal.  As it is, the truth is that he very probably did not just the things that have been claimed in the NHS reports but also much else besides.  

Inevitably where there is a likelihood of making financial claims against his estate and claims in tort against the hospital services that enabled him there will be people trying to take advantage of this.  Even if there is no one trying to take advantage there will be a perception that people will try to take advantage.  For this reason each claim of abuse will have to be examined to determine that the claimant is not simply making things up.  Another inevitability is that a lot of real claims may not have the requisite level of proof to satisfy an investigation.  When many of the victims were already dead there is even less proof; dead men tell no tales.

The police have identified fewer than 300 crimes according to one of the reports I have read today.  Over the long life of Jimmy Savile this would not even represent the tip of the iceberg.  Anecdotally, sexual assault was literally something that Savile habitually committed with a far greater frequency than anyone I know has ever had hot dinners.

When I first started investigating Savile I was struck by the coincidences surrounding his connections with The Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe.  One of the victims was left just outside Savile’s home; another was left inside the grounds of a hospital, not one of the hospitals with which Savile was intimately associated, but that would be stupid, however it would certainly cross his mind that a hospital’s grounds would be a reasonable place to dump a body; another victim left at a location that even shared Savile’s name, sadistic humour?  Savile’s friendship with Sutcliffe at Broadmoor; the fact that during Sutcliffe’s teenage years Savile was the manager in one of the local clubs Sutcliffe may well have frequented.  As if all these coincidences weren’t enough I later discovered that during the investigation into the murders Savile was even accused by an anonymous tip off.

I am certain that the crimes of Savile go far further than we will ever be able to prove, far further than we will ever even be able to suspect.  What interests me now is how he could ever have managed to get away with it for so long.  If anyone were to commit half the atrocities the police are certain about they would ordinarily have spent most of their lives in prison.  Savile has been described as being perceived as a National Treasure despite the fact that so many people knew about his personality traits that everything short of public accusations had been made on television.  Somehow he sustained his image as the kindly millionaire doing a lot of work for charity right up until his death.  Once he was gone the house of cards collapsed.

An expression associated with the late Steve Jobs was the ‘reality distortion field’.  Steve Jobs was able to assert his personality so strongly that he could make the impossible real.  His engineers knew that the things he asked of them could often not be done.  Steve asserted that they would be done anyway.  By the time of Steve Job’s death the things they had made were of such excellence that they had reshaped the technological landscape and made his company the most valuable company in the world.  Steve travelled in India in his youth, spent a lot of time meditating, and had claimed to have been enlightened.  These are all the sort of things that one would expect to hear from the sort of person who could have an ability to shape reality with the force of his own personality.  

Steve had the backing of the traditions of eastern mysticism and ancient belief systems in the qualities he used to change the world.  It seems to me that Jimmy Savile exercised a dark counterpart to this reality distortion field.  He could seemingly do whatever he pleased and never be caught.  It was so obvious that his behaviour was conducted in full view of the British public.  He was a regular fixture on British television, often with children sitting on his knee, often with his arms around scantily clad teenagers on Top of the Pops.  He made open admissions of some of the things he did to nurses in the hospitals.  Many of the things he did there were well known to them; he had a reputation.  Yet it was only after his death when his personality was no longer there to exert its influence that the reality distortion field came crashing down.

This all sounds a bit esoteric and I apologise for that.  I am making no supernatural claims about either man.  I am merely observing that there is a similarity in their two vastly contrasting contributions to mankind, a similarity that could certainly appear to more primitive minds to have supernatural explanations.  The psychology behind whatever allows for such forceful personalities to extend beyond themselves is at present something that we are not yet able to fully understand.  The disciplines of psychology and psychiatry are still in their infancy and the number of variables involved, plus the difficulty in making constant enough and accurate enough observations on something as impermeable as the human mind makes it tricky to develop our knowledge further.  

Despite my belief that this could all be explained in purely scientific and rational terms I am convinced that what we are able to observe in these two contrasting examples is an ability to shape the perceptions of others by providing such psychological cues that they could effectively twist reality to their own wills.  The fact that folklore has developed describing such personalities before is evidence that this sort of thing is not previously unheard of.  Where Steve Jobs has changed many of our lives for the better with his ability to push technological development forward, Jimmy Savile has done the opposite, satisfying his own selfish desires and inflicting misery and unhappiness around him.  Where one might have been seen in the past as the prophet (he certainly turned a profit), the other would have been seen as one of Satan’s minions on earth.  Had he lived in an age where such beliefs were prevalent I have no doubt that Savile would have used such a title to enhance his power.

Advice for modern business

A change of tack today.  I am sure I have begun posts before by reminding folk that I am not a fan or corporations.  However today I have advice for business.  I often don’t say anything to people because whatever I am thinking simply seems too obvious, I later discover that the point I would have made was actually never considered by the person with whom I am speaking.  It occurred to me today that the usual polemical debate going on between the two sides in this issue might be a sign that many people did not realise there is a middle path other than compromise.  Most business owners are simply too busy working to give deeper consideration to the environment in which they operate.  This is why there is a necessity for academics to have think tanks in which they address issues on economics, sociology, etc.  Today I therefore offer the following advice to the corporations of the world, and in fact anyone else who wishes to find a gap in the market.  If it is followed then the result should be profits, happy people, healthy world, and even a change in my opinions.


The main aim of modern business is to make profit. If it weren’t enough that this is the desire of the business owners and board it is also enshrined in law by the Companies Act.  When making decisions there is a set of priorities to which the decision makers must adhere.  When it comes to things that affect the environment and greater society there is little more than an optional footnote to consider.  If that weren’t enough to upset people even customer satisfaction ranks well below profit.


Naturally this rule is very easy to enforce.  People like profit.  People like profit to such an extent that it even blinds some of them to avenues by which they might obtain more profit.  Many of you will be aware of the psychology experiment where children were left alone in a room with a plate of sweets and the promise of being allowed two if they could resist the temptation to take one.  For those who do not know this experiment there were two ways in which the children approached the task.  Some of them distracted themselves, playing with toys or looking elsewhere.  Others obsessed on the cakes, staring at them until they could no longer take the tension and had to have one.  The ability to focus on other things turned out to be a valuable trait in later life.  Being able to consider long term benefit over short term benefit helps many people in business and also in their personal finances; imagine where we would all be if we could not prepare for our old age.  One of the theories put about concerning the demise of the Neanderthal was that it lacked our ability to think in the long term.  It always feels necessary to obsess on the bottom line in business, but this is what stops one thinking ahead.


It is a constant complaint read in the business press that thinking in the short term is a continual source of trouble, from businesses being ill prepared for the future to the entire financial collapse.  With larger businesses the fault is difficult to pinpoint as even when the managers care about the long term they have to balance this against a a multitude of smaller issues, the most obvious of which being that many of the little people can only make enough money to live a decent life if they throw away their ethics in pursuit of bonuses.  When I worked in retail I lived in a culture of customer service where the company insisted we believe in making the customer happy and at their ease at all times.  We also had to balance this against the company insisting we must always make more money and compete against other stores in an effort to achieve an unobtainable bonus that had the same chances of being won as the carbolic smoke ball company planned for their £100 reward.  It didn’t matter how ethical the company was because we weren’t permitted the luxury of our own ethics.  Nor did I believe the company’s ethics had been seriously developed.


The result was that our business did reasonably well but superficially skimming the web revealed that hundreds of people hated us, hated our stores, and even hated us approaching them.  The reason this continues is all down to profit; until the enmity is reflected in the bottom line none of the directors will think to do anything about it. Unfortunately at that point the share price starts diving into a horrible spiral from which many companies fail to recover.


The profit motive itself can be damaging to further profit. 


The biggest profits are those being made by banks and utilities, the two most hated types of organisation must be the same.  A lot of people are moving to building societies to escape the first, entire towns are going solar to escape the second. 


Goodwill can be difficult to get.  Obtaining new customers is traditionally reckoned to cost about five times as much as retaining old customers. At present though we are in the middle of a worldwide, highly publicised financial crisis. In addition to this we are more connected than ever.  People don’t even get out of bed before they have read the concerns of their friends and acquaintances.  Many of those concerns are about greedy companies, greedy politicians, corporate mismanagement, environmental disaster, extinction, etc.  Goodwill is rapidly ebbing, bad will is snowballing.  Groups manage to gather hundreds and thousands of signatures on anti corporate petitions in a matter of hours.  Perhaps these petitions aren’t as effective as the public are hoping, but how long will the public put up with that before upping their game.


This might all sound like bad news and negativity but many of the greatest entrepreneurs do not recognise such a thing as bad news, only untapped opportunity.  When people turn away from one paradigm in droves, they turn towards another.  Apple’s Tim Cooke recently told his shareholders that if they didn’t like Apple’s decisions then they had the option to sell their shares.  This was reported as being in reaction to disgruntlement over maintaining environmental standards that were not reflected in profit.  Tim said that Apple did not use profit as its main motivation.  In my opinion he meant that Apple did not use short term profit as its main motivation.  The respect he gained by making the statement will translate to future sales.


The only way to succeed in a competitive market is to stay one step ahead of the competition.  This is easily done in the current business environment.  Where there are a huge number of disgruntled customers the obvious course of action is to give them what they want.  The big reveal is that this isn’t being done because companies don’t know what they want; worse, they think they do know.  It is in general a race to the bottom in prices. In corporate philosophy this is the best method to ensure continually increasing profits.  That is not what the people ultimately want though.  Whilst it is easy to sell things when they are cheap and often things are horribly overpriced, there are other concerns about which people are bothered. The whole conspicuous consumption thing is built into us by our evolution but that does not mean it is beneficial for us in the modern world.  Some trees will keep growing taller until they collapse under their own weight when they are put in an indoor environment.  We will keep handing over cash for junk as long as it is at a good price because we have the built-in desire to consume and compete.  We are as likely to destroy ourselves as the tree because our evolutionary urges use as little thought as the tree despite our ability to think.


We are only just beginning to think at a wider angle.  We are only just beginning to focus in the long term.  This is a great opportunity for business because a broad field is about to open in which the fallen behemoths of the corporate world will lie, destroyed by their inability to adapt with the same flexibility as their customers.  When the public are unhappy then it is obvious their desires are not being met.  Wherever businesses are thinking about how to protect their future they should realise that if they have something people want then they are going to be in demand.   What people are now concerned about begins at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; their safety is paramount, they need a healthy environment to live in; their family is important, they need to leave a world for their children; their health is important, they are beginning to learn that so many substances developed in recent years are damaging to health; their egos are important; they don’t wish to see that they are on the bottom rung of the social hierarchy while a minority sit in extravagant luxury at the top.  Ultimately their spiritual needs are of importance and these are not supplied by filling the world with Tarmac and burning the forests any more than any of their other needs.


If you think it is business as usual when the world is changing all around you and there is disgruntlement en masse then you are not going to be in business for long. If you learn to anticipate and recognise the turning of the tide before your competitors then you may be one of the heroes of the future world just as Henry Ford was one of the heroes of the past.  I am not going to patronise anyone by describing in easy to follow steps how to start a business for the changing world; some businesses will succeed and some will fail, the same as it has always been.  I just wish to point out that supply should meet demand and that the public is now demanding something that is being supplied by precious few entrepreneurs.  

The Inequality of European Equality

The European Union is built on a number of principles based around fairness and the encouragement of cooperation between nations.  Equality is central to the philosophy behind this.  As is so often the case with the law and politics it is subject to continual change as precedents are set in courts and legislation is finessed by the legislatures of various countries and of the Union as a whole.  As is so often the case with the workings of mice and men, nothing seems to work quite right the first time.

Equality is important to Europe largely due to the fact that Europe has been largely under the influence of Christianity for well over a millennium.  Combine this with an inbuilt sense of fairness shared by all humanity and the aims of the Union and we end up with an aim for Union legislation that is important enough to create massive disturbance to the economic balance in some countries.  The idea of discarding equality and delivering preferential or prejudicial treatment to different members of society is more politically daring than the idea of simply brushing our hands of the whole idea of Europe and drawing a curtain on further involvement with the Union.  This is why UKIP and other parties with similar philosophies have grown so much more influential in recent years.

Immigration is a large target for enmity of newspapers and the disaffected.  There are continual complaints that jobs are being taken by immigrants from poorer countries.  There are even complaints that the same immigrants seem to also be claiming all our benefits at the same time.  Naturally they are an unfair target designed to distract the public from the far greater causes of economic problems within our country.  Most people are fully cognisant of the fact that immigrants provide the country with a dedicated workforce and contribute to a lot of our overseas dealings to the overall benefit of our economy.  The greater diversity of our population is beneficial on so many levels from natives of Europe developing tastes for products we can export to fresh DNA entering the genetic makeup of English people.

A far larger problem than immigrants coming into the country is the level of employment amongst those who are native to England.  A very small percentage of benefit claimants are taking money because they can’t be bothered to work and do not wish to look for a job.  A far larger proportion are actively seeking work and are unable to find it.  Public figures such as Edwina Currie echo the sentiment of Norman Tebbit that the unemployed need to get on their bike and find work.  The unemployed say they are looking for work and they are told they are not looking hard enough; they need to motivate themselves harder.  It is in the motivation to find work that the problem is developed.  There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the effect of ‘equality’ on the motivation of the work seeker.

Workers are largely in agreement that what motivates them to go to work is their pay.  If the employer stopped paying them then it would not be long before they would go somewhere else where an employer would pay them.  Likewise if they are being paid half the wage of the man next door who is doing exactly the same kind of work then it will not be too long before they start considering changing their affiliation to their neighbour’s employer.  This might seem obvious but it is central to the complaint that the unemployed are not motivated to find work.  If there is truly equality then there is equality of wage and therefore equality of motivation.  It therefore follows that all the unemployed are equally motivated to find work and that they cannot be at fault for not being motivated enough.  So where does it go wrong?  Why are people who should know better accusing folk of being too lazy to work?

The flaw of the system lies in misunderstanding what equality truly is.  There are so many factors to take into account when discussing equality that it can be difficult to develop an understanding of what constitutes equality without putting some deep thought into formulating an answer.  Naturally there is no time for most people to put deep thought into anything these days because they are too busy juggling a multitude of tasks to try and out compete everyone else in order to earn enough money to spend it on televisions, cars, horses and whatever else can be found to distract them from putting deep thought into anything.  Combine this with a far less rigorous education system focussed on developing vocational skills at low cost in short time and you find that few people really consider equality on more than a very shallow level.

If thought is not put into the subject of equality then it is plainly obvious that £10 in one person’s pocket is equivalent to £10 in any other person’s pocket.  £10 will alway have the exact value of £10.  Hence it is called £10.  If you are thirsty and need a drink then £10 can buy a lot of beverages.  Going on the logic that £10 is always worth £10 we have now found a solution to people who cross deserts dying of thirst; simply ensure they have a plentiful supply of ten pound notes and they will easily make it across.  Quite obviously there is something very wrong with this logic.  The beverage purchasing power of £10 is vastly less satisfying in the middle of the Sahara than it is in the Dog and Duck at last orders.

That is an extreme example but it serves to show that motivation will not always be equal for the same sums of money.  I daresay at last orders in the Dog and Duck I could convince some people to do all sorts of ridiculous and embarrassing things in exchange for £10.  If I was to try and similarly motivate a man dying of thirst in the middle of the Sahara then I would not be able to repeat what he would probably say to me in response, even though he is plainly in far greater need of a drink.

Likewise when motivating the unemployed in England there is the problem that the purchasing power of £10 in London is substantially less than the purchasing power of £10 in a rural village of Poland.  At first this does not seem like too much of a problem until you consider the Polish speaking ability of the average English person.  English folk are famous the world over for their language speaking expertise; everyone knows how bad it is.  English folk are therefore most likely to wish to spend their wages on buying a house, food and all other products in England rather than rural Poland.  A Polish worker on the other hand is far more likely to wish to save his money until he returns to his home country.  He will spend some to stay alive in England but he is no idiot, spending all his wages in this expensive country would be stupid when he knows that he will one day most likely be going home and he knows full well how cheap everything is back home.

The equality of wage is therefore not equal when judged by the ultimate spending power of the money the worker takes home.  The motivation is therefore unequal according to the same buying power.

So far this is all relatively simple and obvious.  Yet this does not seem to have been realised by the majority of crafters of policy.  Either that or they are keeping it well under their hats.  From here on in it all gets a lot more complicated.  Not all English people want to stay in England to spend their wages.  Not all immigrants wish to return home.  Some immigrants come from countries where they can make great use of the money they earn in the nation where they work; other immigrants come from nations where there is not all that much to buy on the shelves and the governance of the nation does not promote fond thoughts of returning.

Within the country that has an influx of economic migrants the government’s main concern should always be the people within its borders.  This does not necessarily mean favouring natives above immigrants but it does mean promoting the best opportunities for those who feel an allegiance to that nation and not demonising those who are restricted to being indigenous.  There are a great many hurdles to be countered in making sense of a system of equality that is inherently unequal but possible methods to deal with it would certainly include enabling greater cross border migration for reasons other than simply finding work.  If all migration is aimed at finding work then the problem will always exist that natives of countries favourable to paying a good wage will always be disadvantaged.  Employers will always be encouraged to pay wages that are not feasible for natives because they will always find employees from poorer nations for whom such wages are feasible.  It must be possible to give the native of that country the same spending power as the immigrant and the only way to do that is to ensure that emigration to poorer nations to make use of money seems as logical to the native as immigration to earn the wage seems to the native of the poorer nation.

It seems natural that language education should be heavily promoted in these economically wealthier nations.  Television and popular culture should also include far more international offerings.  Cross border travel should also be made easier; on an island this is obviously trickier.  Inevitably the only way to end the phenomenon of people from poorer nations having the advantage of greater motivation is the eventual equalisation of living standards.  As Employers take advantage of the availability of a more affordable work force we will ultimately see living standards dropping in England to match those in the poorer European countries.  This will further push the gap between rich and poor.  Naturally this is not ideal.  A way to prevent this eventuality would be to do whatever is possible to raise the living standards in each of the poorer nations.  This is part of the intention of Europe as a single political entity but to leave it up to the evolution of the market is going to create a painful and unenjoyable process for those who will lose out in the early stages of the transformation.  In the long run it seems inevitable that this is going to become a greater problem so it seems a good idea that these things need to be dealt with as soon as possible rather than dragging them out.  There are probably a great many other devices for resolving the problem but the first hurdle is to develop recognition that equality is far more complex than people seem to think or our governments are prepared to admit.

Google’s purchase of Nest may be a far better idea than it seems.

I have found myself drawn into the debate over the recent acquisition of Nest by Google.  As Nest is a maker of thermostats it is not a subject I would have paid the slightest attention to if it hadn’t been so extensively covered on the Tektalk podcast; by covered I mean panned, slated, poopooed, belittled, you get the drift.  A lot of people seem to be somewhat shocked by the purchase as it cost Google 3.2 billion dollars.  When Google itself has just under 60 billion in spendable assets then it makes 3.2 seem like a lot for a company I had never heard of until this week.  Playing devil’s advocate I intend to defend the purchase.  It seems to me that this is a lynch pin in the Google game plan.

My initial reason for looking deeper is that my wife feels the cold really badly.  I mean Really Badly, with capital letters.  When I am walking around the house in a Tshirt she will be wearing two cardigans and two blankets with a hot water bottle and the central heating on.  The idea of being able to turn the heating on when we are still ten minutes away from home is something that we would want to have asap.

My second thought is that this is a perfect additional tile for Google Now.  I have installed Google Now on a couple of occasions but aside from its excellent speech recognition it is of little use to me.  I work at home, I don’t drive, immediately a lot of its use disappears.  I also feel like an idiot talking to my phone in public and if I did I would find that it couldn’t find a 3g signal so I was wasting my time.  Such is the problem of living in the countryside, if I use anything other than an ancient nokia I have no hope of getting 3g.  If my heating could learn to control itself according to my motions then I would have a lovely toasty home all the time and my wife would be far more happy.

The best reason for my optimism in the purchase of Nest though is the money it will be able to save consumers.  I have heard the opinion that this is an expensive purchase, and wasted money but when your heating can learn how best to save electric in doing your will then you are going to save a lot of money.  Nest themselves reckon the saving will be about 20% of your heating bill.  This will pay for itself in no time.  Aside from the benefit of saving cash for your pocket you will also have the huge benefit of easing a great deal of stress on the environment.  Climate change will be reduced, air will be cleaned, customers will save money, which they will probably spend on tablets, phones, and any number of things in the google play store.

The big problem with the whole deal is that everyone expects Google to misuse the information gleaned from these sensors.  Everyone thinks that there is a wealth of advertising opportunities to be had from being able to monitor every movement of the owners of these devices.  Of course everyone is right about this, but Google have promised not to take any sneaky peeks at this data. Google have said that they will only use the data for purposes in the operation of the devices themselves, heating related, etc.  Given the billions spent on heating I am inclined to believe this, why alienate your customers to sell adverts to any other kind of business when you can use your knowledge to influence the sale of contracts that far overwhelm the amounts spent on mobile phones or broadband?

Another key in the puzzle that makes me think that Google will not look at the data is the even more recent news that they are going to be investing in Deepmind AI.  They will not need to look at any data, if they take the AI in the right direction they will be able to rely on the devices themselves knowing exactly how to use the data to maximise profit and there will be no human to see any of the data at all.  The data could be misused and noone would ever know because it could all happen inside the machines.

3.2 billion is a lot of money but in the long term it is less than most of use realise.  Naturally if you or I had this kind of money we would most likely become overwhelmed by the possibilities and disappear off on a long holiday/spending spree that would never end.  In multinational business dealing in the kind of devices that everyone can make use of it seems like a smaller amount.  All the same it is still a lot.  However as stage number one, the opening gambit of a far longer play, it might seem far less.

Nest is run by a team that have Apple pedigree.  This is valuable.  This is part of the legacy of the insight of Steve Jobs.  He may be gone but some of his decisions live on, and his decisions hold a mystique when compared to the decisions of all other CEOs.  There are a number of teams doing similar things with sensors and the ‘internet of things’ but they are all unknown quantities.  When a company has access to the resources of Google and has a serious game plan then there is no point skimping over the odd billion and risking getting stuck with a bunch of numpties who have been mismanaging the company you are buying.  If you buy tried and tested Apple veterans then you know you are getting quality.  That is a weight off your mind because the odds severely suggest you have made the right choice.  It is probable that there were some key patents involve in the acquisition.  Home automation seems like it was the natural next step in Google Now’s design, they could have been balked by the patents held by Nest.  There are other companies doing similar ‘internet of things’ tasks, but of them all, the combination of factors in Nest make it a no-brainer.

It is obvious that Google are playing a long game.  In a way they are far more able to get away with this than most companies.  Most companies have to worry about the next shareholder’s meeting and reporting the maximum amount of profits because they are always in competition with others and therefore need to cut costs all the time.  Google is currently free from this rat race and is still able to dream.  They have always been a very adventurous company willing to innovate to a massive extent and no matter what happens they can fall back on the massive profits brought in by being the go-to search engine, an actual verb in the dictionary.  This allows them freedom from the usual constraints of short term operation that usually control the decisions of companies.  Asimov wrote of a mathematician who predicted a thousand years of future in the foundation trilogy.  Although a thousand years is excessive it is my belief that Google are focussing on the distant future.  They probably have intentions of occupying a particular position in 2035 but in order to get there it is imperative they make this purchase now.

With most companies we all know what they are planning.  We might not know the specs and the design of the next Blackberry or Ferrari, or Conran, but we know roughly what they will be doing.  We know roughly what they are working on at this very moment.  Google is not that kind of company.  They could be working on anything.  Is it software?  Is it a phone, tablet, car, computer?  Are they working on giant robots, drones, space craft?  Nothing would surprise me with Google and for that reason I think that all the criticism of this purchase is looking at this all from the wrong angle.  Nest is an expensive acquisition but it may not be long before it begins to make a lot of sense to the rest of us.  The future is always coming and often it takes us by surprise.  We ought to keep our eye on Nest to see where the next surprise comes from.








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