VAT ‘offset’? No just a tax rise via the backdoor

Everyone in the UK will be aware that the ‘pre-budget report’ was released this week. Slightly oddly named considering it contained more headlines the most full Budgets.

One of the things mentioned by every media outlet I have seen is the ‘offset’ increase in Duty for Alcohol and Tobacco to counter-balance the temporary decrease the in VAT.

The key word there is temporary. It appears next to the VAT cut, but not next to the increase in Duty to offset it.

So I did some poking around and came across this document: http://is.gd/98Et (pdf)

From page 25 (PDF page 30), paragraph 2.49:

“2.49 As set out in more detail in Chapter 5, alcohol and tobacco duties will be increased to offset the effects of the temporary reduction in VAT. Maintaining these increases after December 2009 will further support fiscal consolidation.”

That is no offset! That is a future tax rise. At the point VAT goes back up, this Duty rise will stop being a tempoary offset and start being an increase in the tax/duty we pay.

My point is not the rise in duty, but the way it has been presented by the Government.

Why have none of the papers and media outlets picked this up? Or have they, let me know!

Whale hunting terrorists

My Dearest Government,

It is really quite simple. Sometimes you suggest things which will infringe our privacy and our rights.

The average person will not like the idea of such things, but you will try and persuade us (and parliament) that they must happen for very good reason, and these laws will only be used in the extreme circumstances they were intended for, with lots and checks and balances.

Now, and here is the important bit so pay attention, when you use this very legislation for something completly unrelated to what it was intended for. Let’s say, oh just for example, using Anti-terrorism legislation on UK based assets of a small country because you don’t like they way they are handling a money problem, then our trust in you disappears. Completely.

And if you can’t be trusted not to mis-use that, what hope have we that your plans to monitor every phone call and email will not be abused, when you feel there is a great enough need?

naughty boys and lots of sheep

I Don’t normally write about this sort of thing, but this is crazy.

Trying to ascertain the facts is almost impossible, even though supposed quality broadsheets have written huge amounts about it.

So what happened?

  • Russell Brand has an evening radio show on Radio 2.
  • This is pre-recorded (really? every week? this is the biggest scandal!)
  • Last week he had Jonathan Ross on the show (presumably to promote his book), though it has never been made clear whether he was co-presenting or a guest
  • Andrew Sachs – an actor who was in Faulty Towers – was due to be interviewed on the phone to promote a TV show.
  • Andrew is 78
  • Russell phones Andrew while chatting to Jonathan, there is much banter going on, both are known for it.
  • When they are put through to the answer phone the banter continues, references about Andrew’s granddaughter are made, including implying Russell has slept with her, though these are done in a somewhat joking fashion (Brand: “Andrew Sachs, I did not do nothing with Georgina – oh no I’ve revealed I know her name”)
  • The Granddaughter is currently touring in Satanic Sluts burlesque group.
  • Various reports (including the Times, which is less inaccurate than most of the press) said she had slept with Russell.
  • Reports keep on referring to them talking about Andrew Sachs killing himself on hearing the talk about his granddaughter, though the one edited transcript I have seen does not mention this at all.
  • After the show was recorded, the Times claims that a junior produce contacted Andrew Sachs to confirm it was ok to be played on air (which I understand is actually normal practice), though does not state if they actually got permission, i.e. what his response was. (from the times) Apparently a senior executive (or senior editor – to me there’s quite a difference between an executive or editor) vetted the recording before going out, presumably due to the new guidelines which mean senior staff (above the show’s producer) have to sign off controversial content.
  • After the show went out there were, apparently, two complaints.
  • Roughly a week later the Mail reports on it, and then 18,000 more complaints are made, one wonders how many have actually listened.

Since Tuesday this has been at the top of every major UK news site, including the websites of the ‘broadsheets’. Ultimately it is all about a few minutes of talk left on an answering machine.

Many news outlets are playing on the actor’s age – how dare they leave comments on the answering machine of an old man! Setting the scene as if they picked on him at random, and insult his innocent granddaughter too! They implied Russell had slept with his granddaughter, how dare they! I was already bored of hearing about all of this before I had heard that it was not a random call to a random old person, and something had happened between Brand and the granddaughter.

Some articles

Ineresting quote: “I have not seen or spoken to Georgina yet. She’s very upset at having put her family through this and she feels very guilty,” – hmmm, if two family members are wrapped up in a media storm, and one has continually spoken to various papers to say she is worried for her Granddad, it seems surprising she has not yet spoken to him at all. (also of note, that direct quote from a Times article ends with a comma, bit of hasty commenting there of their part, what did they decide to cut?)

He also says, from the same article: “Jonathan Ross has personally delivered a letter of apology and some flowers. He made no excuses and was very frank and open. He’s in a lot of trouble and I don’t want to pile any more on him.

Gordon Brown was silly to step in, it trivialises his position, especially if he hasn’t heard it. Of course Journalists will ask him during a press briefing, it’s up to him to say ‘I’m not going to comment on something I have not heard’.

This really wasn’t a very unusual thing: a couple of well known presenters, known for their edgy and sex based banter acting like kids and leaving inappropriate messages. I’ve heard worse. The fact the whole media has pushed this to the top of the news agenda is amazing and disappointing, and anyone who acts on complaints from those who didn’t hear a particular broadcast but did read about it a week later, is making a bad judgement or simply weak.

It’s ironic that the Daily Mail, who are the most ardent that our TV Licence fee is being badly spent, should provoke 18,000 complaints, the processing of which (and dealing with the media uproar) will probably be one of the biggest waste of licence fee money I can think of. I’m always slightly confused why people are so aggressive about the licence fee, how its spent, and its supposed logical entitlement for us all to be the BBC’s owners, yet at the same time the same people are happy to pay far more to Sky and yet have no feeling of ownership or entitlement. Why do people not feel it is their right to demand the sacking of those at Sky when they do something we don’t like, yet we do of the BBC?

It seems that the press have almost chosen which facts to report and which to ignore, and yet they seem crucial in deciding if this is a storm in a teacup or a genuine issue. When were those complaints made? did Andrew Sachs give permission for it to go out? Had he complained about it, and had anything been done (or in process of) as a result?

My main fear is such storms in a teacup kill creativity. If every producer and comminisher lives in fear of this sort of thing, then any risky show will be axed or curtailed to keep within tight restrictions, then new and originally programs will suffer. It’s not about letting childish DJs be rude to an old man. It is about letting them be themselves without having to follow a pre-approved script, sometimes those who create original shows put a step in the wrong direction. That’s the nature of doing something different.

Will the controller of Radio2 take on someone like Brand of Ross again, or give them such freedom? Probably not (in the near future at least), instead ‘safe’ DJs. A sad thing.

UPDATE: Mark Lawson has a good comment piece which manages to cover much of what I was trying to say in a much more elegant manner.

Olympic medals by population

The table below shows number of Olympic gold medals (for the top three countries) as of 18/8/2008. It also shows the number of golds divided by total population (in millions, otherwise the numbers just look silly). It also shows the number of golds divided by the number people participating in the Olympics for that country.

I couldn’t find anywhere on the web details of the number of participants per country. The numbers used below where based on comments made by a TV commentator, and I could only remember the first digit of each! (I hadn’t expected the need to recall it at the time). Needless to say, take these numbers with a bucket of salt.

Country # of Golds Population (millions) Golds per population Number of Olympians Golds per Olympian
China 37 1,321 0.0280 600 0.061
USA 19 304 0.0625 600 0.031
UK 12 60 0.2 312 0.04

Interestingly, China still comes out on top for Golds per participant, even with their high number of Olympiads, congratulations to them (though again, the actual number is between 600-700, not 600 as stated, I shall try and find out the correct number, feel free to correct me in the comments to this post).

The country that comes out best in each column is in bold.

Australia is currently in 4th place with 11 Golds. Australia only has 21 million people. So in ‘Golds per population’ above they would have 0.52 Golds per million people, clearly beating all three above.

As someone who has never really followed the Olympics, I was surprised at how good the UK performance is this year compared to other years (see bottom of page). With the games not over yet, we haven’t done this well since 1920, when we got 15 Golds, and have only got double figures once since then in 2000, we got 1 Gold the time before that (96), and then between 2-5 each time from then back to 1960.

The official Medals list can be found here. The BBC list can be found here. Interestingly I notice some US sites list by total number of medals (as opposed to total of Golds), which happily puts the US first, though the New York Times blog explains that this is more to do with the source of the data than anything else.

The LA Times has written about Golds per captia.

Population figures from Wikipedia, most recent estimates.

Update: SportsReferences.com has the numbers I need as it lists the number of particpants, per country, per year (click on a country for an example). Unfortunately it does not have the 2008 numbers yet, and nor will it do until after the games are over.

Update: see the following site for many more interesting examples

mobile phones, desires, frustrations and musings

I mentioned in my last post that my current phone is a Motorola RAZR2 V8. I got this because of its shape (nice to hold), large screen and large keys. These may not sound like funky features but are actually what are important to me.

I look at the iphone and nokia n95 with envy, the answer to all my problems is in these phones. Why? Which one? Why do I crave these when I do not use the features on my current phone.

What would I use?

  • I like the idea of pain free web on my phone, checking train times, check cd prices on play.com while walking around HMV, reading rss feeds on the train.
  • I like the idea of pain free web without constantly worrying about usage costs, i.e. wireless where available.
  • I liked my old palm pilot. I remember getting a train to Plymouth in December a few years a go (for my sister’s graduation) and wrote all my christmas season’s-greetings cards, palm pilot sat there on the little table as the reliable source of addresses.
  • I’m passionate about everything syncing with everything (another blog post me thinks). I remember in 2001 being frustrated at not being able to sync phone/palm/yahoo/PC (I got close with truesync, just missing the phone). In 2008 I still can’t get this all to work.
  • That includes syncing calendar
  • shopping lists, reminders and e-post-it notes are useful to keep in your pocket, and therefore phone.
  • Cameras and video/sound recorders are great, I was cynical of these until I realised the potential of taking pictures when you least expect it (and don’t have a phone) AND have a cable to move the files off the phone.
  • Media (pictures, videos, audio) would be much more useful if it just sync’d with something else when it had a wireless connection. Something else = PC, or decent online app (a la Google/Yahoo/flickr, NOT some rubbish in-house done-on-the-cheap company app.
  • GPS on a phone sounds cool. I don’t have a car but i see loads of potential (what IS the quickest way to walk from town, where am i, what’s that building/thing i can see, I’m late and need to get to a conference/meeting from this tube stop pronto..)
  • Music/video on a phone is good if it just works, as in Apple works. Putting music on the phone needs to be easy and pleasant, playing it by album, artist, random, not just per song, when phone rings/txt phone reacts in a thought out way, I don’t want to be deafened or forced to answer, or loss where i am in an album, or have to quit a music player.
  • I’m not a gaming person but a few games to while away the odd minute would be nice (god I miss worms), I always thought finding cool games to download would be easy but it has always eluded me.
  • I would use my phone as a read/write device if it has: a large screen, a touch screen for the web and a qwerty keyboard (for note taking, docs, etc).
  • Itemised voicemail messages (iphone) seem like such a brilliant and obvious idea, seeing the dreaded ‘5 voicemail messages waiting’ txt makes me put of listening to them!
  • It needs to act like a mobile thingy gadget, not phone with bits added on.

So what are the current contenders…

iphone

First, the iphone, like the ipod isn’t just a trendy fashion accessory, once the fuss died down a close look shows that is set a new standard.

What’s good about it?

  • Design
  • View voice mail and select which one you want to listen to (this is a brilliant idea, I have a very strange dislike of dialling my voicemail to find out which frustrated soul has been trying to ring me, especially when there are a lot of messages).
  • User interface
  • Internet connectivity.
  • good sync’ing (i think?)

Perhaps the most important aspect was the user interface. Phones have played music for a long time, but always had a bolted on feel. Often stuck away in a sub-menu, and requiring a 3rd party application, and often wasn’t easy to listen to music while doing other things (especially when you just wanted to skip a track, or swap between a phone call and music). I think some techies didn’t get this, especially the slashdot group-think type, by comparing lists of features and specification numbers they would argue that the iphone is nothing special, but they didn’t seem to appreciate that for most of us it can be the small things such as how they are implemented which makes all the difference.

It also got the web right. While Opera Mini Browser is fantastic, and copes with websites well, nothing beats seeing a webpage how you would expect to see it on a PC. The fact that many sites should work better on a phone is not the point (though a good point, a well crafted stylesheet for the small screen size would ensure a design heavy 100px wide page can be rendered nicely on a mobile and just include the essentials).

Iphone cons:

  • no GPS
  • Camera has bad reviews
  • Limited extra apps, and games
  • no proper keboard, all reviews suggest the screen keyboard is fine but ‘takes getting used to’

Nokia n95 / n96 / n82

OK confused. Until recently the N95 was seen as the must have Nokia smartphone, they recently released the N95 8Gb which fixed a lot of the problems with the N95 (eg stability), but now I’m seeing people refer to the N82 as the N95 Successor, and meanwhile seeing that the N96 is on the horizon as well.

The Nokia’s have all you could need feature-wise: loads of apps, good camera, multimedia, GPS and an accelerometer, plus every connection method you could want. However, no touch screen and no Querty keyboard (and small numeric keys) make input a pain. Plus The Nokia’s interface/stability has been critised. It just don’t have a look or brilliant user experience of the iphone, or any phone with a large touch screen. I would be worried after spending money on such a good phone that the limited input options would mena I would not use it as much as I would want (small numeric keys = difficult to take notes / add to-dos, no touch screen mean less than ideal web browsing experience).

Palm

The Nokia N95 and Apple’s iPhone have been compared endlessly, but in my mind another contender is the Palm 750 (and similar models). I like the large touch screen and the keyboard. Running Windows Mobile is good and bad. Good in that it will sync with standard PC software and use familar apps that have wide support (windows media player), bad in that all these apps aren’t as good as the Apple alternatives that of course the iPhone will sync with. At the end of the day, Windows Mobile doesn’t give me the warm fuzzy feeling or feel good factor, but better than crappy phone manufacturer’s software, and does work. Other downsides include the 1.3 megapixel camera (the same as my first camera, not good) and no GPS.

Others

Blackberry have some interesting phones, similar to the Palm above.

T-mobile have a T-mobile branded phone which has a slide out querty keyboard and touch screen.

Conclusion #1

I’m not getting a new phone in the near future so this is all irrelevant.

Conclusion #2

GPS is cool, so is the iphone. What’s key is not just a feature but that is is usable: easy to enter information and view, easy to sync with other systems, automated sync and it needs to feel like part of the device, not just an awkward add on. A cool document editor is no use if you have to use some tiny numeric keys to enter text and the files require manually moving to another device. Wireless seems like another must, paying by the kb to browser the web or download a file when you in sitting next to your wireless broadband is silly.

I’ll watch the Nokia N96 with interest, and reckon a Nokia model with a touch screen (web browsing) or qwerty keyboard (note taking, email) would be a serious contender.

The iphone is another obvious choice, and I like the fact it is Apple and not a MS Mobile based. It’s on screen keyboard, lack of GPS and limited applications at present are my main concerns (again, I’m not a gaming person but a few simple-but-fun games would be nice).

Be interesting to watch how these models are updated, and which new models come out in the next few years.

[this is one of three posts about mobiles (in my head it was going to be one but released I had too much to rant about), see mobiles (naming) and the self obsessed mobiles (and me)]

mobile phones (and me)

I want to talk more about mobile phones. Earlier I talked about why I think they have the wrong name, now I want to talk about ‘the phones in my life’, I can’t promise this will be captivating reading but I know as if I don’t write this now it will come up in later postings as the mother of all tangents, so better to do it now as its own entry. Apologies for such a blatant me me me post.

My first mobile looked like this . It was near the end of my second year of uni (bday pressie). When I started Uni only a few had them, mainly the posh ones, by the end most did. The phone took a credit card size sim card! (the photo was scanned in during my last year of University and put on the webserver running in my halls based room – the contents of that webserver can be found here. If you think it can’t get any worse, it can. I scanned in a pair of my socks and stuck in online, and showing a firm understanding of privacy issues put scanned in copies of my student id cards there too. I need help)

After a year that contract ran out, I was mobile-less for a few months until I got a BT Cellnet contract from the link. The phone was a blue panasonic g250. I loved it.

Now the the deal I got from the Link at the time was fairly common but unheard of now. Pay up front for a year for about 80 quid, and you were considered to be on the same contract as those paying £18 a month, bargain.

Each year they would phone you up to see if you wanted to renew it, you’re mutter something about the handset not being very good, and it all being quite expensive, and they would normally offer you a free handset (well, every other year).

So a couple of years later I joined the masses and got a Nokia (3310), again excellent phone, and I jumped up and down like an excited thing when I got it through the post (I can still remember exactly where it – and its box – were on my desk when it was charging just after opening it). In hindsight it wasn’t that different to the Panasonic, but of course when camera phones and colour screens don’t exist and ‘big memory’ means you can hold 20 texts the little things impress. It did have an important feature: snakes! It should be the law that all phones have this. Every phone since has had crap games.

A year later (~2002) or so I got upgraded again, this time it was a Nokia 8210. This was at a time that smaller always meant better, as big had meant really big. In hindsight, many years later when I found the 3310 at the bottom of a draw, I released this wasn’t true. It was fiddly to hold to your ear (imagine trying to hold a pen next to your face, you have to use a two finger pinch, not comfortable for long periods), and the buttons were too small for my fingers when it came to txt’ing. This model was famous for going wrong but I had better luck than most.

Around 2004 I really needed a new phone. The 8210 was getting temperamental and things had moved on. This was the first time I looked round on the web for reviews before going for one. I got the Sony Ericson t610. Just like all my other phones, I was excited like a little child. Oddly I wasn’t that fussed by the camera and hardly tried it. Probably because there was no easy way of downloading the photos which made them a little pointless. I finally had a colour screen, real music for ringtones (which I instantly set as a ringing sound) and generally a more sophisticated phone all round, a different world to the Nokia.

A couple of years later, the joystick on the Sony Ericson started to play up (which meant lots of txts sent accidentally). I wanted a Motorola RAZR. Why? I liked big screen, I liked big keyboard, and I liked the idea of the closed phone being less easily damaged when I constantly sat on it while it was in my pocket (which had been the story of every phone I owned). It was free (on my still stupidly good value pay once a year contract). The shop assistant confused  me by asking if I wanted the V3i or the V3X, I went the the Motorola RAZR V3X, and it was a good choice. I found the large rectangular clam shell (which opens so that the two halves are at a slight angle to each other) was very natural as an actual phone and was very comfortable to hold. I haven’t had a landline for years so as it is the only way to make calls this is fairly important. I also liked that it used a USB connection for recharging and connecting to a PC (same type as a camera), though it was annoying that you had to install the CD-ROM based software before it would recharge or let you access the files, a real pain when you were low on battery and near a PC but didn’t have the software installed.

That was another thing, the software was crap. The phone, like most, had a calendar, contacts, to do lists, notes, etc. These could have been useful, but only if they sync’d with other web/pc applications. The other really annoying thing was that you couldn’t set a recurring alarm clock. As someone who had used his phones as alarm clocks for years this was annoying, it was something I just presumed come as standard. I was also impressed that it came with various accessories such as headphones/headset, and a memory card.

About 8 months in the phone started to play up. First just switching itself off, then doing odd things and then it just stopped. It took it in to 02 who sent it away for repair. Then they phoned me, it needed a software update and it would cost £30. I was pissed off, 30 pounds for a software update, while in warranty. I could have understood it if it was a hardware thing, which needed replacing and could have been due to my own misuse, but a software update. I decided to think about it but in no time it had been sent back to the local 02 shop and was too late.

So Autumn 2008, having had to revert to the Sony Ericson for a while I finally got a new phone, the Motorola RAZR2 V8. Yes I know, why get another Motorola based on my last experience. To be honest it was the shape. I really like the design, other clam shells are smaller and have a pebble shape, quite small. This was comfortable to hold, and had a good sized screen and keys. It was clearly a step on from the last model. Better camera (though only one, the V3X had two), most importantly vastly improved alarm setting options! Slightly annoyingly due to the smaller size it had a thin USB port, just means it needs a different cable to other gadgets. The V3X has a flash, which I never used as a flash, but you could set it to stay on and it was an excellent touch when leaving the office in the dark :) . It was amazing how I miss this feature, even if they didn’t design it as such. The software had clearly been updated but perhaps not as much as I would have liked in parts, and the PC software was still lame.

It has two screens, the one on the outside is a touch screen. Oddly, this is only used when displaying music controls, and in a limited way. They could have made much more use of this, a real shame. I don’t use it as a much player. Why? First it is the software, its a pain moving files on to there, secondly the interface on the phone. Thirdly you need to use the headset which fits the small usb port on the phone. As I find this very useful for long conversations I’m reluctant to carry it around with me where i will almost certainly loose it.

Odd thing was the jumping up and down like a happy thing was gone. I used to find getting a new phone and equivalent to being told world peace and and end to hunger had been found. No. it was better than that. But somehow the excitement had more or less gone. Have a funny feeling it would soon come back if I got an iphone or Nokia N95 though.

Soon after getting my original RAZR (V3x) I ended up moving off the yearly contract and on to a monthly plan. Basically because I forgot to phone up and renew it. When I wanted to get the V8 they explained that on my contract it was £80, but on the next contract up it was free. The ‘next contract up’ worked out as a bit more than £80 extra a year, but of course I was getting the phone AND better talktime/txts. Oddly the new contact meant any off peak calls I paid for would be 20p a min not 5p (or 2p, i forget), quite a lot more. But here is the funny thing. I went for the new deal, watched the staff member fill out the online form, and put it through the till. She must have done it right as I got a letter thanking me for moving to the new contract and txts regarding the special offers related to the new deal. All that, but they never actually moved me to the new contract! I still pay the same amount and the bill shows me on my old contract. What sort of system do the have where I get the letters and confirmations and the new phone but never actually move to the new contract.

Anyway, I want to talk about why I don’t make more use of the features of the current phone and my musings about the current top-of-the-range offerings. But that’s another post.

Mobile Phones (naming)

First up… The name is wrong. I hear people rant I don’t want a camera on my phone. That’s reasonable. I don’t want my TV to make coffee. You say phone and people think thingy with numbers, a little speaker on one end and a little microphone on the other. It should also go ring ring when someone is calling your number (unless you are in the US, in which case is should just go riiiiing, but enough conversation on the transatlantic differences in ring style already). Only an idiot would want a camera on said device.

A camera on the other hand very much needs the ability to take photos. In fact many would argue that it was failing in one of its core functions should its feature list not contain ‘taking photos’.

Same for your PDA, you want your PDA to have all that contacts, diary, notes stuff (in such a way that it never ever syncs with all the applications you need it to, grr).

Of course, we all know (because all readers of this site are smart, attractive people, god we are great) that  what has happened is that the small box thing most of us carry around has just merged most of these functions. This is sensible, it means we can carry less gadgets in our pockets, and we have things like a camera or mp3 player available to use when we least expected we needed it. Plus these things share a lot of things in common: battery, storage, software, screen, input. To make a phone a camera just requires adding the actual camera bit (note my highly technical term there).

So the ‘talking on phone’ bit is really just one small part of it all. But somehow the name has stuck. It’s not so much a mobile phone as a mobile thingy gadget. Some would say thingy gadget doesn’t sound so good as a name.

You can see this most in kids. You can stand in your local 02 shop (and why wouldn’t you stand around in a crushed shop full of annoying people for fun) and hear comments like:

  • [stressed mother] “well if you must have one then it will be from that range” (points to el cheapo mobiles)
  • [kid] “god, no way, can’t be seen dead with that, its like got nothing” (you’re impressed by my realistic kid street talk no?)
  • [mother] “but it is better than the one I’ve got” (waves nokia 3310 in front of kid’s face)
  • “as if i would ever have a phone as bad as yours”

The thing is that kid is not thinking ‘as soon as i get this i can occasionally make the odd call to alert mother that my bus is running late’. No, you will be shocked to hear they are not thinking this. Instead they are running through a mental checkist in their head when reviewing a phone:

  • can i play loads of dire music to an entire train carriage? [tick]
  • can i  bluetooth loads of dire songs from my mates in a legally questionable manner? [tick]
  • can i download loads of funny (i.e. lots of swearing) videos, sound clips and pictures and impress all my mates? [tick]
  • can i swap all of the above with anyone i meet? [tick]
  • can i take endless pictures and videos of everything ? [tick] (oh and as an aside, I am always disappointed at the average child’s inability to develop a coherent archiving and storage plan for the  photos and stuff which are often only left on the camera until the inevitable day it is lost/broken, the kids today… what are they like)
  • can i sign up to loads of premium txt services which send ring tones plus all of the above, then deny all knowledge of ever doing so when parental-unit sees the bill? [tick]

Notice something? only the last one actually requires them to have any credit/phone-functionality. Kids say they want a phone, but actually want a multimedia device for music, video, pictures and sharing. If it so happens to allow them to talk to others further than shouting distance, then thats just an added bonus.

Old gits moan about why phones have all these none phone like features. but it isn’t a phone, it is a multi functional gadget which so happens to include phone like functionality. ‘What’s that you’ve got there?’, ‘ah my new camera… which also comes with built in mp3 player, contacts list and can act like a phone too!’, ‘pah in my day a camera was a camera why would you want a phone in your camera for’.

Still, wouldn’t mind a phone (sorry, mobile thingy gadget) that makes a good coffee.

Upper Peter…

…or Northern Rock. ho ho ho

There has been zillions of stuff in the press of late about our friends Northern Rock.

They had the genius idea of rapidly increasing their mortgage business, and instead of using deposits as (a good part of) the supply of money to pay for the mortgages, they instead borrowed from other banks. Borrowing from other banks is normal, but doing it to such an extent was the thing that made Northern Rock different. They got all their eggs and placed them all in a basket. Only they kept needing more eggs. And one day there was no one to give them more.

Why am I writing this? I have an ISA with Northern Rock. Had it for years, back when they were at the top of the various broadsheet ‘best ISA’ tables week after week. For years their interest rate has been crap. I keep meaning to move. Will do it tomorrow.

I had no intention of moving my money when they ran in to trouble. For one I saw that my money was safe (I have less than the £30,000 barrier, above which you only get a % of your cash back should your bank go bankrupt, in fact close to £30,000 less!) Secondly I saw it as a very short term thing (I was wrong).

But now I am thinking of moving. Why?

  • They sent me a letter recently. To reward me for my loyalty I was to get a better interest rate! Only it lasted only about a month, and was less than 1%. And, it would still be less than most other high street rates.
  • They also sent me a letter to invite me in for a chat to see if there were any extra services they could offer me. I got the impression this was an automated circular – nothing to do with their troubles – coming at the time it did it almost seem amusing: We may be falling apart, but hey, come and move your business to us!
  • Several years a go I moved flat. This involves walking from bank to bank to inform them of change of address. It includes fighting with the member of staff that I don’t want house/contents insurance (no is not good enough) at every bank. But, they were all fairly helpful, adding the address to their system (on a screen which I could see as they typed to correct any mistakes). They could set the exact date and all offered to put ‘holds’ on so that no letters would be sent out between set dates around the move to avoid any letters going to the wrong place too early/late. Nice. All except Northern Rock. When I told them the people behind the counter (it is always empty so you have all the people behind the counter dealing with your reqauest) said gosh, we can do something about that! Oh, but I haven’t moved yet, moving on the 5th. They faces sunk. This was something highly unusal. Eventually they got over the big office diary. They found the right day and wrote carefully that Mr Keene was moving today to ….! No computer. No hold or fancy features, just a diary and pen.
  • Best of all. I was curious how much money I had in the account. I had paid in a small amount for years, plus interest. They have no online facility, and are open limited hours (bless), but I finally got around to going in while it was open with my passbook. The guy was happy to just take my passbook and get the new amount on it. Then he frowned. Ah, the computer says it has so many updates to do to your passbook that it can’t cope and wont do it. I’m going to have to do them by hand, you just haven’ been in for so long. Now, I’m guessing here, but surely it is not that unusual for savers to set up a standing order and do no other activity with the accont for years. They took my passbook (and, to be fair, wrote down my balance on a bit of paper for me). When it came back through the post many days later, some poor sole had to write row after row (I’m guess 60-90) each one a ‘transaction’, even though they were all indentical, the same amount going in on the same day each month (and the odd yearly interest). It was amazing.

Of course the biggest reason to move is that they interest rates are poor. But they are a joke. I want to move somewhere where I can do all this online. Check my balance, move money in and out. Etc.

Nationwide and Egg both offer good interest (and I’m with both, the fewer companies that have my details the better), but Nationwide offer the facility to move an ISA from another company to them, so i will probably go with them.

As for Northern Rock. Bless.

the socialists, the posh and… the academic elite

Libdems like to make out they are something different to the rest of the parties.

I found it interesting that when the BBC (rather nicely) provided profiles of the likely candidates for Party leader all but Charles Kennedy had been to Oxford or Cambridge.

Shows how much these two institutions to have a strong influence in UK politics. Also of note is that a fair few of them had senior jobs in the private sector before turning to the darkside politics. That a bad thing.