* Posts by Nick Kew

494 posts • joined 16 Jan 2007

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EU says dominant Google ILLEGALLY FIDDLES search results

Nick Kew
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Re: Philosophy Majors - start your engines!

Methinks that's essentially what Google do. And what makes Google so much better than its lesser rivals.

They collect user behaviour data, which tells them which pages amongst the results the real-life users like, and which ones they find useless. That enables the algorithms to adjust results in favour of the former and against the latter. And helps combat SEO abuse - which is what really upsets the spammers.

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Nick Kew
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Could this be objectively tested?

An independent statistical analysis could test objectively whether the Goog was doing anything wrong. First, test cases would have to be devised, ideally by independent teams, to test the hypothesis "Google search favour its own services over others that would be equally useful or better for its users". Once those cases exist, they can be tested by anyone with an understanding of A-level statistics.

Devising the test cases is the hard part, because it needs someone to decide what results "should" be shown. You can be sure the spammers who have done battle with Google for years will be very keen to sponsor the exercise and ensure the test cases amount to something like "Google favours its own services over our pages". Indeed, I'd say it's almost certainly some such tests that have convinced the commissioner.

This requires another set of tests closer to the real world, presenting real users with "unfairly suppressed" results alongside the "favoured" ones and watching which ones the users themselves prefer. That's a "big data" exercise, and one which Google is ideally placed to do. If Google had user-behaviour data that demonstrates users persistently shunning $spammer then I'd say Google (or rather its algorithms) are entirely justified in not presenting $spammer's URLs. Or perhaps I should say $wannabe rather than $spammer (anyone remember google results pages full of annoying, useless kelkoo junk)?

My own $0.02: if Google did cook their results as accused, they'd lose their value to the non-paying users, and thus rapidly lose their dominance of the search market and all that goes with it. Like Yahoo (who never claimed google's level of objectivity or sophistication, nor came under such concerted attack) before them.

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Instead of public sector non-jobbery, Martha, how about creating REAL entrepreneurs?

Nick Kew
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Re: Martha Lane-Fox

She became part of the Zeitgeist for Blair Feelgood. The ethos of dotcom, the swaying bridge, the vanity dome, etc. And - unlike the politicians - she's never called on to take unpopular decisions, or to explain herself. A bit like royalty. She'd probably have to be caught on camera eating babies before she could ever be dislodged from secular sainthood.

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Nick Kew
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"The OpenBSD Foundation is a Canadian not-for-profit corporation ..."

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Nick Kew
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Get everyone digitalling? Whatever that may mean????

Actually we're pretty good at that, aren't we? From the BBC micro to the raspberry pi, get them hacking. From Prestel to virgin and sky, get them online.

Oh, er, right, you mean all the most interesting non-commercial efforts - the open source foundations, the campaigners for rights and freedoms - are based elsewhere? Well, fortunately, they're pretty inclusive and welcome Brits as genuine equals with anyone else.

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To defend offshore finance bods looting developing countries of their tax cash

Nick Kew
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Applies here too ...

The Laffer curve tells us (qualitatively) that too much tax destroys economic activity (Britain went bust in the '70s when it taxed both capital and labour at eyewateringly punitive levels). It's not an all-or-nothing, but tax and red tape certainly shift the balance: I'm more likely to invest where I take more and the state less of my profits if the enterprise is successful in generating them. And where the state isn't going to make it impossible to generate profits in the first place.

I think Worstall omits some vital points. But that's no doubt deliberate: the article is long enough already without addressing difficult externalities.

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Post-pub nosh neckfiller: Deep-fried cheesy Hungarian

Nick Kew
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I think I had that ...

Fits the description of what I had in Budapest last year, as the only non-meat option on the menu when out with a bunch of folks at ApacheCon. My first reaction on seeing fried cheese on the menu was hold-my-nose-and-..., but it was surprisingly delicious.

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Virgin Media goes TITSUP, RUINS Tuesday evening

Nick Kew
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Facepalm

Must've been me ...

I returned on Tuesday evening after a weekend's enforced absence from the 'net. Virgin cable worked fine for me - from southwest England - but I had lots and lots to catch up on.

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A Quid A Day for NOSH? Luxury!

Nick Kew
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Re: True poverty still exists in the UK

Sure, there's child poverty (and adult poverty).

But that's a dangerous observation, because it so easily leads to a bogus conclusion that it would go away if benefits levels for their families were higher.

People may be poor here for two reasons:

(1) Where theory and practice differ. People may be poor in absolute terms if they are denied the money the law says they are entitled to, and have to live on much less. Benefits levels are of little relevance to those who don't get them.

(2) Where they cannot cope. A child whose parents have an ample income but spend it all on fags and booze is indeed poor, and through no fault of their own. This is a particularly troublesome case, because the "give them more money in benefits" solution may be more likely to make things worse than better.

A non-financial safety net - like hostels and soup kitchens, and indeed free school meals - have the huge advantage that they can't be diverted into booze/etc.

FWIW (1) has happened to me, most recently in 2003 when I did the basic arithmetic and saw that the cost of travel to London to march against invading Iraq would've been six months food budget. And that's at the special "unwaged" rate the organisers were advertising for the buses they'd laid on!

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TOP500 Supers make boffins more prolific

Nick Kew
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Cause, meet Effect

Move along. Nothing to see.

Universities with strong research activities in relevant areas can justify and afford supercomputers - what a surprise.

In other startling news, our own Met office has more computing power than the corner shop.

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Imagination touts cheap Firefox OS MIPS slab to Chinese kitmakers

Nick Kew
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Re: MeToo

I have to say, I'm surprised and gratified by the number of good replies to my post - thanks folks! Despite having much enjoyed working on them (as an application developer) back in the '90s I'm mostly ignorant.

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Nick Kew
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MeToo

Imagination joins Intel in crying MeToo. Not so much a three-horse race as one impressive beastie and two clapped out old nags in the smartphone and tablet space, but that's not to rule them out of new and different markets.

Alas, this article is short on interesting detail. Intel won the desktop market through the "IBM-compatible" Wintel ecosystem, and stormed the server market when it attained "good enough" to compete with the various incumbents. ARM conquered the mobile through low power consumption and an ecosystem as powerful as 1990-ish Wintel.

Tell us what distinguishes MIPS and where is its ecosystem coming from?

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‘Digital by default’ agricultural payments halted: Farmers start smirking

Nick Kew
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Exclusive????

The BBC were telling this story long before you.

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Are you clever enough, and brave enough, to give a Register lecture

Nick Kew
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Re: I've nothing to say

Is the length correlated to the beer intake?

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Nick Kew
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Re: water regulations

Put that one on early, so folks know the water regulations before they have to pass it.

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Would YOU touch-type on this chunk-tastic keyboard?

Nick Kew
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Pics?

Sounds like a solution to a problem we shouldn't have in the first place. I want my Nokia E71 back, and the bigger blackberries from the same era had some great keyboards too!

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Britain needs more tech immigrants, quango tells UK.gov

Nick Kew
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Re: Zigackly

Mark 65: I get work, including my current main job and its predecessor, by building a reputation. In my case, my Apache work is what mostly matters, though one or two other things (like having served as Invited Expert with the W3C and built some good tools) doesn't hurt.

I expect you could take your pick of major opensource organisations with whom to build a track record. Expect it to take a while!

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Nick Kew
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Zigackly

I first escaped abroad as a young graduate because I was priced out of living in London when I got a job there.

I expect quite a few of today's young grads can identify with that.

Came back to Blighty a few years later, and found myself too old to be employed in a techie role. That is to say, companies looked down on a techie who approaches 30 without having 'progressed' to a Suit role like management or marketing. So I b*****ed off abroad again.

I expect quite a few of today's senior developers, like you, can identify with that.

Back in Blighty, but only 'cos I can telework intercontinentally now. Haven't worked for a UK employer (except myself) since sometime last century.

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Bloody TECH GIANTS... all they do is WASTE investors' MONEY

Nick Kew
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Thumb Up

Tech business engages in speculative R&D in the hope that some lines of exploration will bear fruit. The richer they are, the bluer the skies they can explore. It's seen in other sectors too: think big pharma or oil exploration, for instance.

At least those of us who invest in VC benefit from some juicy tax breaks. I'd far rather lose my money in innovation than see it misused by our government.

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Why does the NSA's boss care so much about backdoors when he can just steal all our encryption keys?

Nick Kew
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Holmes

Re: Why is this guy allowed into a cyberSECURITY conference at all??

Surely for the same reason as one might take an interest in a blackhat like Mitnick. Know your enemy!

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Why IP telephony is about more than just saving money

Nick Kew
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Call quality is great

I've given up the landline altogether since moving house just under two years ago. Signed up with a SIP provider. That enabled me to bring my old number (known to friends&family, hidden from spammers) with me, and to have a "home" number I can get on the mobile. Oh, and save a lot of money: I used to resent BT landline charges not so much for the absolute amount, but because they're so disproportionate when both data and "special services" (like caller display or call diversion) cost extra.

I did wonder about call quality, especially on the move. But my experience is that VOIP quality only starts to deteriorate in the same kind of circumstances as regular GSM suffers likewise. Like a train in a tunnel.

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Vodafone didn't have a £6bn tax bill. Sort yourselves out, Lefties

Nick Kew
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Re: Nick Kew Yes, but

Matt Bryant: whoosh! Why not read what I said before shooting down something I didn't say?

I was posing the question not to answer it, but to try and hint to Worstall (and others with the brains to understand) that the question might be asked. Or insidiously implied, in a manner that obscures what the underlying question actually is and admits of whatever answer the questioner wants.

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Nick Kew
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Re: what is going on with the register these days?

It's been climate denial for years. No point in arguing with pseudo-religious nuts, even when they write for El Reg.

Worstall on the other hand writes a lot of sense, though he does have a bad habit of couching it in exaggeration and intemperate language on occasion.

As for the Wail, surely its only purpose is to rouse its rabble to anger. And UKIP, in common with LibLabCon, the Greens, the SNP, Respect, and others, has some sensible things to say if you can ignore the nasty noise and evil and/or illiterate policies. I'd say Worstall has more to offer, even if some of his stories are ... um ... better than others.

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Nick Kew
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Re: Serious question

Nice suggestion, but I suspect the answer is no. They could simplify as suggested by Tim, but that would be politically ... um ... courageous. Just imagine the headlines about tax cuts for (billionaire?) bigcos. Not to mention the demands they pass on those "savings" to the consumer.

To address your question more directly, the more complex the rules, the more scope there is for playing creatively with them. The expenses issue showed many of our elected politicians to be adept at harnessing such complexity for their own gain. I'd expect the non-grasping politician to be in favour of simplification.

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Nick Kew
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Yes, but

Yes it's the law that's the problem. Your suggestion would make a sensible workaround. Except, it's too simple and easy, and simplicity is the enemy of corruption - whoops!

However, I think you do your argument no favours by progressing it from the entirely sensible (Vodafone not paying Uk corp tax on German earnings) to the contrived. Yes of course Starbucks is doing the right thing given its structure, but the issue there is: was there ever a legitimate reason to create that structure in the first place?

That is, if you don't accept tax avoidance as a legitimate reason. Your argument would be all the stronger if you'd stopped at Vodafone and not taken it into territory that requires that question to be answered. You've given anyone who doesn't accept the legitimacy of tax planning a weapon with which to rubbish you there!

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Hackers fear arms control pact makes exporting flaws illegal

Nick Kew
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Re: Might be worse

I'm not so sure.

I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.

Folklore is full of dark stories of people who had to be killed because they knew too much, or were too good at something that couldn't be shared.

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It's not easy being Green. But WHY insist we knit our own ties?

Nick Kew
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Is a strawman green?

Methinks I see a strawman in your characterisation of greens here.

Sure, there's some association (or at least a perception of one) between a certain kind of greenies and an irrational hatred of big companies and globalisation. But that's successors to hippie rebels and champagne socialists jumping on today's bandwagons, and doesn't mean any incompatibility between green and pro-market views on the whole.

I happen to have both strongly green and strongly pro-market views (and put my money where my mouth is), and deplore the fact that our government is neither, and that our media present the issues in such a muddled manner.

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UK chip champ ARM flexes muscle: Shows strong profit and sales

Nick Kew
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Re: How long can this go on for?

Ah, but from tiny Atoms do great Molecules grow...errr....or something.

ARM's progenitor was of course Acorn. And in Acorn's pre-ARM history, the Atom was succeeded by the BBC Micro and the Electron.

I was mildly amused by full-of-sound-and-fury Otellini's Intel using a succession of names (Atom, Oak Trail, ...) with echoes of ARM history in its attempts to eat ARM's dinner. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but one has to wonder who at Intel had the sense of humour and who was merely clueless.

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Basic minimum income is a BRILLIANT idea. Small problem: it doesn't work as planned

Nick Kew
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Re: What about inflation?

The soaring rent levels were triggered by the last Blue Party administration who abolished rent registration and rent controls

That is just so totally and utterly wrong it really needs answering. So let me recollect my first professional job in London as a young graduate in 1983.

A minor but memorable row from 1983 was the Champagne Socialists denouncing Mrs T for reducing the levels of LHA (it wasn't called LHA then but it was basically the same for benefits claimants). It was reduced to £130/week for a single person in London. That was just over my gross salary (£128), even before PAYE tax took another £44. And that was an above-average graduate salary at the time: many jobs including traditional professions paid £100 or less.

Housing was not at all cheap before Thatcher. But worse, the 1977 rent acts drove honest landlords right out of the market. Tenancies simply didn't exist in the open market. Unless you had a grapevine - like students or nurses - all you could get was a "License" to live somewhere. Nothing exclusive, and no protection against a landlord filling "your" room with 20 other people, Rachmann-style. That's what really badly needed reforming.

I had expected London accommodation to be expensive. But I hadn't expected that I'd end up paying more than 60% of my income, and five times what my student room in Cambridge had cost the previous year, to live in a run-down HMO in Peckham. Nor had I expected to have to take such a big cut in living standards: the student room wasn't exactly luxury, but at least I had basics like hot water available most days.

When you've been through that, you have a lasting distaste for paying tax to help people far richer than you price you out of even a student room. It happened to me a generation ago, and I suspect a lot of young people today will identify with that.

A universal income and no means testing - as advocated here - would fix all that. The more you earn, the better you live. And regardless of what you earn, you have an incentive to look for a lower rent, in that you get the benefit of whatever isn't paid in rent. Landlords would have to accept competitive rents or face voids and no rent.

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Nick Kew
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Re: What about inflation?

What proportions of house price increases do you attribute respectively to,

You're right to say housing benefit is far from the only factor. Cheap and excessive credit and direct government subsidies also push prices up, as indeed did money-printing which prevented a healthy market correction after the 2008 bust.

Wage increases, up to a point, but what matters more is that other things - both necessities and many luxuries - are now so much cheaper than they've ever been, so fewer demands on our pay.

But housing scarcity? The evidence is against that: we have more house per head of population than ever in our history. Scarcity comes through rising aspirations: second homes at the top end, somewhere nice with all mod-cons in the mid-market, and even students expect their own room and reasonable facilities. Sure, the perception of scarcity feeds sentiment, and there is scarcity in the most popular locations and types of property, but not such as to drive prices up across the market.

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Nick Kew
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Re: What about inflation?

I thought wages and scarcity drive rents and housing benefit was capped below 'market rates'.

When were you last in the rental market?

I've actually had this conversation on the doorstep. Going to view a place, waiting for the agent. Turns out the agent is showing prospective tenants round en masse, so I get talking to the other two people there. One of them is a (very) young non-working single mother, who explains exactly how she'll outbid me (she already knows the place because she knew the outgoing tenant). She has an exact benefits budget, so her incentive is to get the best possible place for that money, and she can outbid me. She has no incentive to consider a cheaper place, or even to haggle over the rent. Quite the opposite to my (market-driven) incentive to find a suitable compromise between price and quality and then drive the best bargain I can on it.

It's a vicious circle. Housing benefit puts a floor under rents and drives them up. So yields for landlords are supported, and they're prepared to pay high prices, and house prices in turn are driven up. So government sees homes are "unaffordable" and pours yet more money in, pushing up prices and rents all over again.

It's not a new problem, either. Nor is it so bad now as when the rent acts drove all but the borderline-gangsters out of the market altogether. But it's still a disgrace that hardworking people should have to pay taxes to price themselves out of housing.

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Nick Kew
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Re: What about inflation?

Nope.

Food is bound by competition, and will always be unless and until we fall into famine. Water is regulated, so a little unpredictable but also very sensitive. And rents are massively inflated by means-tested housing benefit which removes all incentive to seek lower rents, and would therefore stand to fall substantially if we moved to a flat-rate basic income where everyone is incentivised to seek value.

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Nick Kew
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The US case

You say that in the US case, it didn't increase overall economic activity.

Can I dig a little deeper into that assertion? What was the alternative system you were comparing to? If it was that vs a "grapes of wrath" scenario without a means-tested rule-bound safety net then that result is exactly what you'd expect. Did the US system in question ever replace something that had actively penalised marginal work and low incomes?

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Nick Kew
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Working through the numbers

Worstall hints at having worked through the numbers. Someone's done it for real here. It makes a lot of sense, but only if it rids us of all means-testing crap.

BTW, high effective taxation on the poor (through byzantine rules and means-testing) is a bigger scandal than on the rich. Once upon a time I was proprietor of a business that was failing to make money. When my savings ran out I found myself in real poverty but also disqualified from benefits. In the worst year (2003) I lost out on benefits worth nearly three times what I earned, compared to sitting at home doing absolutely nothing of value but just claiming jobseekers and housing benefit. In other words, an effective tax rate between 270 and 280 percent. And I've met (and heard of) others in similar circumstances since my own situation radically improved!

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Calling a friend? Listen to an advert. You lucky, lucky thing

Nick Kew
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Devil

Re: It might be useful

So automated telesales calls listen to canned adverts.

Get the 'bots talking to each other, and run a sweepstake for the day they get smart and start plotting against us.

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OH HAPPY DAY! Lawyers replaced by AI

Nick Kew
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Devil

I realise replacing all the lawyers isn't actually what the article is about, but ...

Since replacing washerwomen with robots we've started to indulge ourselves in clean shirts and underwear every day. The robots can do more, and we ordinary people can afford them (and the would-be-washerwomen themselves are freed up to do less-gruelling work).

Now, if lawyers could go the way of washerwomen, we could of course rejoice at the demise of the parasites. But maybe also be careful what we wish for, if the robotic law-machines turn us in to a society that does all our own ambulance-chasing!

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Sly peers attempt to thrust hated Snoopers' Charter into counter-terror and security bill

Nick Kew
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Blair's Chief Henchman

It seems The Great Liar's chief henchman - also called Blair - has been elevated to Their Lordships and is now pursuing the Blair-Blair Police State agenda from there.

That they appear to have Cameron and May on board is all the more worrying. Let's hope an alliance of old-fashioned (individual freedoms and responsibilities) Conservatives and Libdems can hold out for what remains of our Enlightenment values.

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'It's NOT FAIR!' yell RICH KIDS ... and that's a GOOD THING

Nick Kew
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Friends, not Strangers

What you're describing takes place *within* a social group, and is social interaction. I don't see anything in it that would indicate altruism towards the wider world.

Which is no doubt why many of the biggest and nastiest crooks can also be pillars of their communities.

And it puts me in mind of the Paradox of Selfishness. Whereas the act of procreating in an overcrowded world is the ultimate act of selfishness, the subsequent behaviour of (normal) parents towards their children is the ultimate altruism. Though it may involve extreme selfishness towards ones own community: the "in group" where altruism exists collapses right down.

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Demon Internet goes TITSUP: Outage borks ancient ISP

Nick Kew
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Re: Have they sorted out their billing yet?

Wouldn't it have been a useless use of cat without the root access?

I'll get me c[o]at.

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Nick Kew
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Black Helicopters

Have they sorted out their billing yet?

I was with Demon for a while. I think I must've signed up when I returned to Blighty in 1998 and they were kind-of known as the geeks ISP.

I remember I paid a year in advance, so I had no reason to expect them to feature in my bank statements. No doubt there'll be a few weeks notice and then another debit on the anniversary of my signing?

Nope, next thing I know it's a letter from debt collectors. WTF?

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Computers know you better than your friends

Nick Kew
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Re: Sniff

Your facebook "likes" are harvested when some not-quite-pop-up (of the kind adblock doesn't prevent) covers most of a webpage while most is greyed out, and the way to dismiss it is a click which registers your "like" of the page.

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Tax Systems: The good, the bad and the completely toot toot ding-dong loopy

Nick Kew
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Re: Tobin/Robin Hood Tax

How about making it so that shares had to be kept for a minimum of x months before being re-sold?

I would do that slightly differently. A progressive stamp duty to make short-term speculation more expensive and investment more attractive. Something along the lines of, stamp duty at 12%, reduced by 1% for each month the share is held until it reduces to zero after one year.

I'd expect that to affect derivative products (like spread bets) too, since your provider needs to trade shares to hedge your position. Whether that's sufficient to discourage them bubbling I know not.

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Nick Kew
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Re: Tobin/Robin Hood Tax

Given sufficient capital it would be feasible to handle house sales by an agent taking your existing house in part-exchange.

Housebuilders do exactly that, and have done for many years. Furthermore, they offer above the market price for your old house, thus inflating the stamp duty paid. It's a way of pushing up prices: you sell a new house worth £200k for £250k, pay £25k above the true value for your buyer's house, and everyone thinks they've got a fantastic deal. But more importantly, that £250k sets a price point for your other new houses.

That at least was the same back in the days when it would've been a £20k new (4-bed detached) house for £25k.

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Nick Kew
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Re: Land Value Tax

LVT has a profound effect on the use of land, if set at a level to discourage speculation, hoarding, and the trend to treat property as an investment equivalent to gold that never leaves the bank vault.

But it's too progressive for any of our politicians, to tax the rich more and the poor less according to how much of our scarcest resource they monopolise. And of course it keeps house prices a lot lower, as seen in US states where tax levels are $5k/year on a $170k house.

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Nick Kew
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Re: Tobin/Robin Hood Tax

We have one in the UK.

It's called Stamp Duty, and costs 0.5% on share purchases.

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Right to be forgotten? That’s not Google’s call – data MEP Albrecht

Nick Kew
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Careful what you wish for. If he offers, that's our taxes paying.

Of course the law is nonsense in the absence of a taxpayer-funded agency to arbitrate. Which is kind-of what I suspect he's saying, on the basis of a least-nonsensical reading of the article.

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Nick Kew
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The article is infuriatingly unclear on what exactly Albrecht was commenting on. EU law? Google practice? Media representation of either? But it looks as if he was probably talking reasonable sense.

Respect to him for rebelling against being gagged over TTIP.

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NORKS? Pffft. Infosec bods BLAME disgruntled insiders for savage Sony hack

Nick Kew
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Flame

to massacre the language!

One might forgive a Korean (north or south) for the last sentence of the article. It's not their language!

Coming from a journo in an English-language publication it's just painful.

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Why has the Russian economy plunged SO SUDDENLY into the toilet?

Nick Kew
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Take a look in the mirror.

This story is true up to a point.

But Russia has to print to back Rosneft? The west has been printing on a scale that dwarfs Operation Bernhard to back zombie companies - headed by the banks - since 2008. The differences in Russia seem to be the circumstances (sanctions, vs a huge bubble), and more crucially the fact that Russia has been running a surplus in the Good Times and therefore has resources to back action in a crisis. Whereas we were (and are again) running a huge instant-gratification deficit right through our bubble.

Who's right? You could look right back to the biblical story of Joseph and Pharoah's dream for inspiration. Osbrownomics abuses the name of Keynes by running a huge deficit right through a bubble! Not a good place to be, nor where Russia is. Furthermore, we now have a whole bunch of zombie companies kept alive only by special government measures[1]. Our government is picking winners and stifling innovation, particularly amongst its cronies in the (old, established) banks.

And you're comparing Russia to the US. A similar comparison to the UK would look a lot more alarming for us. Whereas Russia may be built on natural resources, the UK is ever more reliant on a zero-sum game of property speculation (is it any wonder that our rich list is topped not by the likes of Gates and Buffett, but by aristocrats with inherited wealth)? Our economy is frighteningly dominated by the unproductive, and our currency is propped up by safe-haven status for the global super-rich.

Given that choice, Russia looks a whole lot less scary than Blighty!

[1] Topically right now, this might be why the Moulton treatment failed to turn City Link around. In a zombie-dominated economy, the turnaround was trying to drag it through treacle.

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Buses? PAH. Begone with your filthy peasant-wagons

Nick Kew
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I don't know about London buses, though London does get a lot more public money than the rest of us.

Around here there's a Great Divide between subsidised and un-subsidised routes. The subsidised ones tend to be the very rural routes where they serve a largely social purpose, while the unsubsidised are those with sufficient demand to make a profit.

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