Category Archives: Uncategorized

A poem for Theresa May.

 

What do you think you are doing TM?
In the commons, Thatcher’s den.
That ancient seat in halls of power;
The island with its gothic tower
Where sits the bell that chimed the hour.

Now silent, its a dark omen
How long until it rings again?
So many British people cower;
Your Brexit deal’s turning sour;
Your government’s a hopeless shower.

Why did you want to be PM?
Ordering our union’s end
Do you think you’re doing well?
As this country turns to hell.
Don’t you hear the death knell
That rings out from the silent Bell?

Would you do it all again
within the silence of Big Ben?
Or can it be you do not feel,
that you are creating a deal
to impact on the common weal?
The bell above you will not peel

a joyful call to all Britain,
telling all the voting public when
we’ll tell the union goodbye.
Though most of us still can’t see why
our leader’s too weak to defy

the dwindling group who want an end
But have not planned what to do then.
They’d rather see our country die,
And gladly accept any lie,
Out of the papers that they buy.

Westminster rose out of a fen;
In spirit it sinks there again,
but this time dragging us all down;
Every county, every town,
Into the dark wet murky brown.
We, Britain, and the people drown.

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A Brexit solution

Brexit, the pressing issue that is currently dividing a large amount of the British public actually has a solution available to the remain side that does not seem to have been considered by many people. A point of disclosure that you should know if you are not already aware is that I would very much prefer to remain in the EU. Having said that, this post is not intended to rehash the reasons why Brexit is a bad idea. The news does an adequate job of highlighting that every day, plus there is no shortage of academic study on the likely effects to the economy. I am even willing to concede there may be some advantages to Brexit and that Brexit could be potentially be handled in such a way that some of my chief concerns might be dealt with in a manner that will make me feel a lot better about the whole thing.

Having said that, I still remain a committed europhile and find it hard to believe that it has come to the point that the government is happily accepting a flawed referendum in order to justify continuing the Brexit process despite the serious lack of support they received in the general election.

Personally I believe there must be some machiavellian thinking within the inner depths of whitehall, and the plan is to avoid leaving the EU altogether. As it is the place of the government to protect the British public and to run the country in an effective manner, maintaining our world position it should be self evident that the government would not allow us to make such a disastrous decision to throw away our considerable influence in the EU when it gives us no advantages. Of course it is possible that the seat of power is occupied by people who do not have the wit to understand their duties, but despite the appearance that this is the case we much hold out hope that they do know what they are doing, or that they have the wisdom to realise they need to find a solution to the evident disaster that we are currently being pulled into as surely as a comet that has been caught in the gravity of a black hole.

The question is, how could the government pull themselves away from this course of action. If the country was run by Angela Merckel then the likelihood is that she would have been advised long ago of the deleterious effects of this course of action; she would have accepted this, and she would have backed out. That does not seem to be a problem for Merckel. In Britain there is a different culture though. As we have the disadvantage of the massive direct and indirect influence of the Murdoch press, politicians are very wary of u-turns, or flip flops, or whatever term is currently being bandied about the media. In Britain realising your are wrong and changing direction is not an option. In Britain if you realise you are wrong then the main option that a politician will choose is to plough on ahead anyway and hope that something will turn up. We are governed by a bunch of optimistic political Micawbers. Clearly as nobody is always right, even myself, this attitude of ignoring the fact that as mistake has been made, will, not may, but will occasionally lead to a great deal of problems that are only justified on the childish notion of saving face.

So the solution to the entire Brexit problem is a case of saving face. At this point our government is not able to make a u-turn. This may be something that is not understood on the continent. It may be possible that the culture there does not realise there is a British tendency to continue forwards and never say die. If there is this lack of insight on the part of the EU combined with the unfortunate fallacy of British superiority then we are looking very much at a situation that appears to be an unstoppable force meeting an unmoveable barrier.

There is a way out of this though, which is why I hope that there is a machiavellian scheme being developed by the government. That should be the way in which politics is conducted so my fingers are crossed that they do realise this. In order to prevent our country from falling into the disastrous situation that appears to be ahead of us it will be necessary to win the support of those who object to remaining in the EU. There are certainly flaws with the way the EU is run and the leavers are right to realise this. Before the referendum Yannis Varoufakis made regular appearances in the media arguing that we should remain in the EU so that we could force the implementation of changes to create a better system. It is not only the British leavers who think the union has problems, it is a feeling that runs throughout the EU. If it wasn’t for the example of economic disaster and political incompetence we are displaying to the rest of the EU it is probable that political actors such as Marine le Pen might have achieved power and be moving their countries towards leaving the union as well. Our example has created a fear that has led the European leave contingent to rapidly lose the impetus they were developing.

The only way the leavers are likely to be swayed enough to give a reason for Britain to remain part of the union is if the union fixes a sufficient number of its problems that it becomes something very different to what we voted to leave. If a family voted to leave a house because it was too small, their reason would disappear if a large extension was built that expanded the size of the house. In that instance it would make sense to stay in the house, it would no longer be too small. Similarly if the EU changed so that the impression was created that we would be leaving something other than the entity we voted to leave then there would certainly be a justification to think again about whether it was what we really wanted.

Some of the problems that people worry about are easily resolved without having to make changes to the way the EU works. Immigration was a factor that bothered a lot of people. We already know that immigration can be seriously limited under the rules as they currently stand. The home office simply needs to implement those rules. Another problem that people disliked was the notion of losing control to the European Court of Justice, This was never a serious issue as the court is basically only advisory and has little more authority than it would still maintain even if we were to leave the union. A simple change in perspective will solve a lot of the problems that led to the choice of many leave voters. However aside from internally solving the problems that we are able to change there is still the issue of saving face and avoiding the accusation of having made a u-turn.

At present though, we are in a unique position that we actually have a massive amount of leverage to create positive change within the union. In the past when prime ministers have tried to negotiate to create a more favourable relationship with the EU their main motivation has been simple to get something for Britain from the EU. That would all be very well for Britain but it has quite clearly failed to impress the British voters and it has earned us a reputation throughout Europe as being quite frankly, a little annoying and entitled. Despite this the EU does actually wish to maintain our membership. The EU is weakened by the loss of a principle member state. Their loss will of course be nowhere near as disastrous as our own loss, and they also have to appear to not surrender to our demands. If they do then there are another two dozen or so nations that might also start kicking up a fuss.

Both parties recognise that they will both lose out from Brexit but on our side, we can’t back out and on their side they can’t give in. The only solution we have that is acceptable to both sides is that Britain should use its leverage to achieve change that will benefit the EU as a whole. In the past we have used less leverage and achieved small successes for selfish purposes. If we instead focus on solving European problems that are recognisable to other nations, the sort of things that are highlighted by Yannis Varoufakis then the British public will be given the impression that we have achieved a great victory. We will be part of a union that Britain has shaped to be something better than the union we voted to leave. The EU will also not have lost face because the changes that are implemented will have benefitted the union as a whole. They will probably be changes that would have been made anyway in time, so all we will have done is helped to push them through more quickly. The important things are that the EU will not have been made to look as though it has lost in front of its member nations, so there will be less likelihood of others threatening to leave in order to make selfish gains; and that Britain will have succeeded in achieving positive changes that will make the government look powerful and clever in front of the voter base. I may be a labour supporter but I must admit that such a victory by the conservatives would be a disaster for labour and would probably lead to the government actually looking like they know what they are doing, and may well secure the conservatives a second term, particularly if they are able to pull off the trick towards the end of an extended Brexit negotiation.

Diversity in all things

I am convinced that there are a number of rules that are able to be used in multiple different fields to explain things and to aid in making the right choices. I don’t plan on going into all of them now because I haven’t tried to put together an exhaustive list; I have simply noticed them coming up again and again in life. The one I have noticed is particularly relevant to current events for the last year or so is the rule that strength is found in diversity.

If you are growing a crop, or indeed any kind of garden you may not realise it but the ability of your garden to thrive will be greatly increased by diversifying the plants that you wish to grow. If you have a solid block with only one type of plant in it you will find that as soon as a pest realises how tasty that plant is there will be nothing there to distract that pest. You have made a nice big clear patch of tasty food that is going to attract creatures who will swarm across that area and finish off the whole lot unless you employ all sorts of unpleasant methods to get rid of them.

If you instead have a patch that mixes up a load of different plants then your garden becomes stronger for it. Spurges will deter things that move through the soil, lavender deters many flying pests, nettles make an attractive meal for creatures that might otherwise go for your brassicas. Simply having any plants there can act as a hiding spot for your plants so that pests don’t even realise they are there. Beyond pests bare soil allows water to evaporate off into the air while plant cover can keep the water in so that your other plants can benefit. Even amongst those farmers who do grow a single crop on a piece of land to all exclusion of other plants it is well known that over a four year period diversification in the form of a rotation system keeps the soil healthier.

The rule pops up again in regard to pets. If you have a pure bred dog then you can take it to dog shows and it will look beautiful, etc, but any dog breeder knows that pure breeds have disadvantages that mongrels don’t have. Any faults in a breed are accentuated by being bred into a breed over successive generations. A common complaint in a lot of dogs I have known is weak hind legs, and shortened lifespan. Dogs that have a diverse range of DNA derive greater strength from it. That is a central principle of evolution.

Greater diversity in DNA leads to all sorts of advantages as we take the strengths of both of our parents and hopefully leave the weaknesses. That is why we don’t marry our brothers and sisters. It is not because they are so annoying, it is because their genes are too similar to ours. Without diversity we risk the danger of unpleasant results in our children.

The rule is also clear in investment. If you have invested all your money in housing then a drop in house prices is an utter disaster. If instead you have invested partly in housing, partly in bonds, partly in stocks, partly in antiques, and partly in private business adventures then a loss in any of those areas, while unfortunate is not going to irreparably damage your finances. That diversity is your strength; that is what keeps you afloat in the midst of disaster.

In the running of a business there are also similar advantages of diversity. When building a team for a project you want to have all skill sets represented in order to be able to get the best results. You need people who are good at leading, but if you had nothing but leaders your team would see a lot of conflicts, you also need people who are good at following. You need people who are good at coming up with ideas, but you also need people who are good at putting those ideas into actions. You need people who can get a lot of work done quickly, but you will also need people who are good at ensuring fine details get the attention they need. All these qualities are unlikely to exist in the same person so you need the diversity offered by many different people in order to form the strongest team.

If I racked my brains I could probably come up with many examples of diversity being a form of strength in many different situations. That would detract from the central message I want to get across. The problem today is that people do not realise how important the strength of diversity is. In America over the last few days we have had neo-nazis marching against the diversity that comes from different races sharing a common land. In Britain we are living through the extended process of Brexit because people think that being part of a community of like minded nations makes us weaker instead of stronger.

Personally I support remaining in the EU, but that is because I recognise that diversity gives strength rather than weakens us. There are certainly flaws in the system but those are things to be fixed. Thanks to the diversity of the EU nations it is unlikely that issues will remain unfixed; anything that favours one nation or group above the others will find opposition from the nations it doesn’t favour. If you want to see what comes from losing that diversity then the economic losses being seen in Britain at present are a good place to start looking.

I don’t have a crystal ball to see the future, but I have books on history, sociology, biology, etc, etc. I have too many books to be able to read them all to tell the truth. Those books allow me to see what has been and what currently is. From seeing how things have worked in the past it gives a reasonable impression of what is likely to happen in the future. Where we lose diversity we create gaps in our defences. We need to fill those gaps in order to strengthen ourselves; we can’t build a wall with only bricks, we need mortar as well.

Thankfully there are people fighting to create greater diversity. We have more women becoming politicians, or judges, we have young black women making strides in entering universities like Cambridge which were once homogenous groups of white males. However wherever there are people trying to increase diversity there is also opposition. People need to realise that increasing diversity doesn’t just benefit those new elements that we allow into our societies and groups; increasing diversity benefits all of us. Even when it appears to give individuals disadvantages they didn’t previously have, it also gives those individuals a stronger environment in which to live. It increases competition and makes their world a better place because of that strength.

A few thoughts on Karma

When you think about it on a mathematical and a psychological level karma must exist. Psychologically we all maintain an approximate balance so that we cannot be too happy or too miserable in perpetuity. This can be seen in the difference between people who live in first world nations and those who live in third world nations. Those of us who are blessed to have computers and electric, houses to live in, etc have different things to feel bad about, we can have bad days, we can even feel suicidal. Those who live with none of these benefits, no house, no electric, no food, etc can have good days; they find their joy elsewhere. If someone who is in a 1st world country will kill themselves out of misery then they obviously feel worse than someone in a third world country who is not miserable enough to kill themselves. The result of this internal balance which draws our feelings and sensations back towards a central stable area will mean that anyone who takes advantage of others for their own gain will achieve nothing because their experience will always pull back towards that central average.

It is similar in action to the way a drug user will gradually feel less joy at using their drug and will always want more an more. There is never any way in which a person can have more than others on an internal experiential level on any lasting basis. In fact there is also no way that a person can maintain an average feeling of sensation unless they are mentally damaged in some way because their experience will always be fluctuating either side of the central average or else the highs will have no lows to contrast against in order to be able to recognise the difference in them.

This psychological tendency to always aim for balance works in tandem with the mathematical tendency for numbers to always balance out. If you roll a dice millions of times you will ultimately find that any particular number will have approximately the same chance as any other number coming up. Life may be more complex than a six sided die but the same principle will apply. Over time things will have a tendency to average out. You may have a number of good days but you will also have a number of bad days in how fate tends to treat you. One day you will find a penny and on another day you will lose a penny. If you work harder you will earn more but if you work less hard you will earn less.

Most of the time this principle is very easy to see in action. The outliers are the problem in this theory. Human experience could be represented on a bell curve where most experience will be in the centre of the bell curve and at the edges there will be a few who seem remarkably lucky or remarkably unlucky. I have already pointed out that these outliers will have their experience drawn to a central stable set of feelings so the appearance of good luck or bad luck is merely an appearance as it seems to those viewing their experience from outside. The homeless person has advantages in some manners and, believe it or not, the wealthy person also has disadvantages. For instance, when you can afford anything you want instantly, then where is the joy of anticipation?  You move from one purchase to another experiencing a fraction of the joy any of those purchases would give one of us. Likewise, if you are cold and wet then the sheer pleasure you can feel from the occasions when you step into the warm and put on dry clothes are unimagineable to someone who has never had that experience. So once again we see the action of the psychological manifestation of karma combining with chance to always see that balance is achieved.

When it happens that someone seems to experience misery or joy for longer than seems natural then it is usually because they have imposed that upon themselves. Someone who has done something bad to another person will often feel guilty about it and that sensation of guilt will force them to judge themselves badly, while someone who has brought joy to others will go away with a warm feeling of having done the right thing. This has been proven in experiments where people were given money and told to go out and spend it. At the end of the day their feelings of happiness were compared to the beginning of the day and it was discovered that those who had helped others with the money felt far more happiness than those who had spent it on themselves. This is probably an evolutionary mechanism that is inbuilt by the mutual protection we gain from living in groups above the danger that individuals would have felt if living alone in the wild. This nature of cooperation and sharing would have greatly facilitated communal living and seen reciprocaton from others, which of course is a far more obvious manifestation of karma achieving balance between individuals.

The obvious exception to this would be sociopaths who feel little compulsion to help others due to their limited empathy. Hoever even sociopaths have been shown to have emotions, although on a greatly reduced level, so even they will be able to feel unhappiness or happiness in response to their actions. Additionally the greatly diminished state of their emotional level could be considered by those who have a typical experience of joy to be a punishment in itself. Plus the sociopath will often have had to have been through a horrific experience to damage their mind in that way so the loss of emotion is once again a way in which the psyche tries to achieve the central balance and withdraw from the extreme of the horror that they have already experienced.

In essence it ultimately becomes impossible for anyone to ever experience any joy over and above their fellow humans, no matter how much they take advantage of them, but similarly as karma dictates, noone is able to experience more misery than their fellow beings. Balance will always be achieved in the end.

However I am certain that everyone reading this will be uncertain about this conclusion.  Everyone knows of somebody, or is somebody who has suffered a terrible life changing incident that has greatly reduced their overal happiness.  There is certainly evidence that such circumstances can impact upon a person’s ability to feel happiness in their lives.  Regardless of what conclusions you draw from this evidence there still may be a way for karma to redeem itself, but to do so the conversation must pass into areas that are somewhat more philosophical.  In religion the problem is easily dealt with through reincarnation or the afterlife.  There are certain harshnesses to the idea of hell and heaven but karma is more likely to be associated with reincarnation.

I am not going to step into discussion of contiuity from one life to another but I will propose that in the event of reincarnation, if it does indeed exist, we are unable to retain memories from previous lives.  If we did then there would be little point in reincarnating in a form to learn the lessons of the previous life as we would simply continue where we left off.  Given the lack of memory actual physical continuity is not necessary as much as a mathematical continuity.  Indeed the essence of spiritual issues is their detachment from the physical.  The question should therefore centre around how much spiritual existence resembles physical existence.  All that would be needed for the corresponding and contrasting life to come into existence following the end of our own would be the laws of averages.  To put it simplistically, if at one point a person has behaved heinously and must therefore be taught the error of his ways then a corresponding life must come into existence in which those lessons can be learnt, perhaps the life of a devout monk or the life of a beggar.  As there is no memory from one life to another there is a missing continuity between the death of the one and the birth of the next.  Additionally there is no physical continuity.  There is a ‘spiritual’ continuity but what exactly does that mean?

 

Essentially, do we have individual souls?  The answer according to many religious and philosophical beliefs is that ultimately we are all one.  We all have god within us and we are seeking for reunification, etc, etc, etc.  Unsatisfying though it might seem, the only continuity necessary appears to be that the death of one with the birth of the other must both be connected by being related by both being part of the same existence.  Given the perceived nature of an all powerful god it is not even necessary that the two lives should exist consecutively.  The nature of us all being one, means, that in the formless nature of a fluid universe, we can in our ‘spiritual’ aspect be experiencing two contrasting lives separately and simultaneously.  Such is the nature of being part of a unified spiritual embodiment that is purported to have omnipotence.  To give it any limitation in that regard or to insist it follows the laws of physics misunderstands the nature of omnipotence and the power it has to be governed by physical laws, yet simultaneously not governed.  Naturally this falls a little outside the previous arguments I have made but considering karma is a theory that has always been considered to fall in line with the more esoteric ways of thinking it would probably be inappropriate not to cover some of the less conventional and scientific manners in which the concept could be described.

Naturally, if we need to rely on this final hypothesis, that can be difficult to come to terms with if we do not already believe in some kind of spiritual world already.  The impossibility of seeing beyond death or before birth renders any concerns academic.  The logic falls into place upon certain assumptions, but even if those assumptions prove to be false it makes little difference.  Similarly to a legal fiction this is a fiction that explains an idea and process, but does so in such a way that is not verifiable by material means.  Unfortunately this means that we have to rely on faith alone to accept this final argument as it is a faith based argument.  The positive side is that it makes no difference whether we believe it or not, so the action of faith is to simply take it for granted in the same way as Pascal might wager.

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. 

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.

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.

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2014-01-28/google-nest-heats-up-takeovers-in-race-to-control-home-real-m-and-a

http://venturebeat.com/2014/01/27/robots-nest-now-artificial-intelligence-googles-next-big-buy-is-the-ai-company-deepmind/

http://news.cnet.com/8301-11386_3-57617161-76/how-google-and-nest-could-get-the-smart-home-all-wrong/

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jan/13/google-nest-labs-3bn-bid-smart-home-devices-market

http://www.theverge.com/2014/1/14/5307530/why-is-everyone-disappointed-by-google-buying-nest

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/10570051/Google-buys-Wi-Fi-thermostat-company-Nest-Labs-for-3.2bn.html